Harvest House Publishers
Isaac Joppa was not thinking about the criminal charges against him. Not now. Instead, it was a question of living—or dying.
Down in the belly of the ship—a large, triple-masted man-of-war called Adventure, bristling with heavy cannons—Isaac and the other men could hear the sounds of a ferocious battle being waged up on the deck above them. It would be the bloodiest fifteen minutes of naval warfare ever fought off continental American shores.
They could hear the explosion of pistols overhead, the mad clanging of swords, and the scuffling of feet, followed by the dull thuds of bodies as they fell. And there were the screams of men—hideous and tortured cries— that rose up from those who were wounded and dying.
Joppa was one of the few occupants of the pirate ship still remaining down in the hold. He was standing in the stairway—poised to run top-side. But he hesitated.
Though he was only twenty-four years old, he looked older. During the past twelve months, he had lived with the treacherous gang of the most feared pirate in the British colonies. That had transformed him. His time at sea had creased his face, and the sun made his skin dark and leathery— and the terror of the company he had kept had given him a gaunt, harrowing look.
The young man knew that the captain of the Adventure, Edward Teach, was up on the top deck. From the Carolinas, across the Spanish Main, and all the way to England, Teach was known as the feared and ruthless Blackbeard. Now he was ferociously exchanging blows, slashings, stab wounds, and pistol fire with sailors from Britain’s Royal Navy.
Joppa had no way of knowing which way the battle above him was turning. But for him, time was running out.
He clutched at something hidden in his shirt. He quickly pulled out a small ceramic plate—only slightly bigger than a doubloon. He frantically studied the miniature portrait of the blond-haired beauty that was painted on the plate, memorizing her delicate ivory features. If Isaac Joppa was going to die, then he wanted her image to be the last thing that occupied his mind’s eye.
“You run now, Mister Joppa!”
The command came from Caesar, a large, muscular African pirate who stood with a lighted torch in his hand. He was half hidden in the shadows.
Caesar glanced over at the barrels filled with gunpowder that were next to him. Three men—visitors who had stopped at the ship the night before for a drinking party and had stayed the night—now had Caesar surrounded, and they were slowly closing in, each brandishing a club.
“You run!” Caesar shouted again.
That is when the men rushed him.
Joppa stuffed the little plate inside his sailor’s shirt, quickly tied the top laces tight, and fetched a small, short sword in his right hand for the fight above deck. And then he ran up the stairs. He was not moving like a man, but more like some jungle animal—sprinting, arms flailing—into the middle of the battle.
But as he launched out of the stairwell like a cannonball, he slipped on the blood that was pooled on the deck. Flipping up in the air and landing on his back, he narrowly missed the sword of a British sailor who was swinging for his neck.
Joppa kicked the legs out from under the sailor, who tumbled to the ground. Joppa scrambled to his feet.
On the port side of the ship Edward Teach, still standing tall in his long black coat, with his unkempt hair and wild beard flying, was swinging his sword around him like a crazy man—fending off the leader of the English attack, Lieutenant John Maynard, and several of his mates.
Maynard charged him, but Teach sliced his cutlass right through Maynard’s sword, breaking it in two. Then the pirate grabbed one of his many pistols from the leather chest belt with his left hand. But before he could fire it point blank at the English officer, a burly sailor in a tartan coat swung his broadsword from behind and landed a powerful blow to the pirate’s neck.
It would soon be over. Joppa could see that now. He looked frantically for an escape. Several pirates were leaping off the starboard side of the ship like rats off a burning boat. The young man threw down his sword and joined them, leaping into the water. As he did, he heard the English sailors firing pistols at them from the ship.
When he surfaced, Joppa saw one of the pirates, hit by a pistol ball, begin to sink—then another. He dove down as far as he could and swam through the murky waters of the Ocracoke Inlet as long as he could hold his breath—as the shots rained down into the water.
When he finally surfaced again, he was disoriented. He looked about quickly—but then he saw the Adventure drifting in his direction. Several English sailors were lined along the starboard side. Their pistols exploded, and shots hit the water—to Joppa’s left and to his right.
Joppa swam wildly.
Then a third volley. Somewhere in his back there was a numbness and a burning and searing pain.
Still struggling to try to swim to shore, he saw planks and debris from Lieutenant Maynard’s battered ship floating around him. And bodies of the pirate crew—several of them—floating face down.
But now he was dizzy…not sure whether his arms were still working… swallowing water and gagging and coughing.
More shots were fired. But they seemed distant—and Isaac Joppa knew it was the end.
The end of his sorrowful fall from grace—his journey of despair. He had plunged from the earlier promise of peace and happiness he once knew, to being counted among the world’s worst villains. He gagged on the briny water. His mind flashed to the final, ugly picture—his graceless death in the Ocracoke Inlet from a pistol ball in the back.
He only had enough strength to utter a single word.
And then the dark and cold of the ocean waters closed in all around him.
Excerpted from Missing Witness by Craig Parshall. Copyright © 2004 by Harvest House Publishers. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.