Blackbeard had become a matter of personal obsession. I had been to Ocracoke several years before, researching a book on small coastal communities. During that stay I had fallen under the spell of the pirate whose spirit wafts, literally and figuratively, from the tiny island's every pore. Intrigued, I returned, hoping to get a better feel for the man whose actual and purported exploits during his surprisingly short piratical career -- 1716 to 1718 -- would make tabloid news look bland. Blackbeard had 14 wives (this is true, though only one marriage was legal). He placed slow-burning cannon wicks in his hair and beard before battles (true) so that he resembled the devil. He removed and boiled an adversary's lips and then made the man eat them (debatable, but innovative). Historians aren't even certain of his real name (true). Perhaps most evocative for modern truth seekers is this: Many believe a portion of his loot is buried somewhere on Ocracoke, a low-lying, largely untouched slice of barrier island with nearly 16 miles of shoreline edged with wax myrtle, yaupon and powdery beaches.