After travelling the back roads of the southeast for six months, camping at night and drifting about during the day, he found himself at the southern end of Route 1 in Key West, Florida. And it was here that he settled. He grew a beard and took up the name, Sandy Baker. He found a room to rent and landed a series of jobs as a dish-washer, grounds-keeper, and finally as a first mate on a private charter fishing boat ironically named the “Escape”. Everyone who knew Sandy liked him. He worked whenever he could and when he couldn’t, spent lots of time in small, out of the way bars as far away from the big crowds of Duval Street as possible. He found himself drinking a lot, and enjoying it quite a bit. Although if he had too much, he had a tendency to talk, so he tried to keep his heavy drinking to a minimum. He made no close friends but was friendly to everyone he met. The 100,000 bucks was holding up rather well, even after three years. It was amazing how far money would go when you didn’t own anything, he thought. In his poverty, he had become rich.
He thought about his family very little and about the life he had left behind even less. Every once in a while, usually after a night of drinking, he would allow himself to wonder how the family was getting along without him. One particular night he found himself in a discussion with a twenty-something year old kid named Bobby, who was in deep trouble with his girlfriend and his little son.
“What do you really want to do kid?” Sandy asked. Tears were in Bobby’s eyes and his hands began to shake. He looked up from his drink and whispered, “What I really want to do is get in my car, drive as far and as fast away from here as I can, and never look back.”
Sandy smiled and whispered back, “ Why don’t you do it then? Just disappear!”
“Are you nuts? I couldn’t do that…I could never ever do that. What about my kid?”
“You know what your trouble is Bobby?” Sandy began to sober up and his voice became clear, his diction precise. “Your trouble is that you don’t understand your calling. You are born into this world to be free. But with the passage of time you become enslaved by family and other so–called moral obligations, and before you know it, half of your life is over and you’ve done nothing for yourself. We aren’t placed into this world for the benefit and comfort of others, Bobby. Every man should be a king.”
Bobby stared back at the bearded middle-aged sun burnt face as if seeing it for the first time. “ So, what the hell are you the king of?”
“The rest of my life Bobby, the rest of my life.”
“Well, from the looks of things, the rest of your life is off to a rousing start.”
Only every once in a while would Sandy allow such conversations.
One day it all began to unravel. The Escape got chartered by a group of 10 very loud and boorish salesmen from some bank in New York. One of them, an older man, kept looking at Sandy with a puzzled expression….”Don’t I know you from someplace?,” he slurred, already hammered at 10 in the morning. Sandy glanced up from his lines of bait and hooks only quickly enough to say, “Nope.” For the rest of the day Sandy tried as best he could on such a small boat to avoid the man, but as the sun began to go down and the captain headed back to port, Sandy’s heart began to beat heavily in his chest as a glimmer of recognition flashed in his mind. He had met this man at a trade show in Chicago some years back where he had been manning a a booth promoting his software company. They had a long conversation and had even gone to dinner to discuss business. He couldn’t remember his name and he hoped and prayed that the now totally drunk banker couldn’t either. Sandy felt a hand slap on his back, and the unsteady banker hugged his neck and whispered loudly in his ear, “ I do know you!! It was Chicago, right? You had that software company, I think it was. Yeah!! Well, what the hell happened to you man??! Whatcha doin cuttin’ bait in freakin’ Key West??”
Sandy calmly shuffled away with busy work to occupy his hands. Without lifting his eyes from the work, he assured the banker that he was mistaken. That night Sandy went back to his room and counted his money. Still $42000 left. He really didn’t want to leave the Keys, everything was perfect there. Maybe the guy would never give it another thought. Maybe he was so drunk he wouldn’t even remember it tomorrow. Or maybe the stubborn old bastard would sober up, Google up the whole story and then go to the police.
From the Key West tip the FBI eventually cornered Sandy outside of a Waffle House in Sarasota. When they took him in he had $7800 left. Even without the beard he was unrecognizable and had lost 70 pounds since his lunch of teriaki wings four and a half years earlier. Two days after his arrest and just six hours before his wife was to come and make an identification, they found him dead on a cot in his holding cell. His heart had stopped beating. He had laid out to his full length, folded his arms neatly over his chest and calmly expired. It was as if he had willed the end to come, king of his swiveled life to the very end. He left no note and no explanation of the last four and a half years. His wife said simply, “ Yes, that’s him,” without a trace of sadness, bitterness, or regret. No tears shed for James Duncan. No tears shed for the king.