Emmett tosses his breakfast crumbs off the jetty and watches the shitfish
rise to check them out. Blue-green, almost translucent, they wiggle listlessly
in the shade of the hull all day and congregate at the surface near the vapor
lights at night. Shitfish got no urry, the locals say. Just weat for
hands the plate back to Muriel on board. Im going to see if Roderick is there
never comes in till eight. Muriel drops the plate into the plastic suds bucket
thought maybe because of this Whitey and Edna deal—
probably sleep late. They called him down, it must have been what—?
if the paper is in yet. And dont make a nuisance of yourself.
get the Sunday edition of the St.
Augustine paper once a week—news,
want ads, employment, real estate, and funnies crammed into their little PO box
at the marina office. Emmett needles Muriel for reading the obits first.
are people dying now, he says, who never died before. Muriel pretends to
are moored in the section Emmett likes to call the Lesser Antilles, where most of the smaller liveaboards
are concentrated and the walk to the security gates and harbormasters office
is farthest. The shadow of the Ocean Breeze Lifestyles complex barely reaches
them in the morning. The buildings went up rapidly, replacing the funky
collection of waterfront businesses that had stood since before Emmett and
Muriel came to stay. Let the Fun Begin!
says the banner strung up on opening day, still hanging a year later. There are
several units left unoccupied. The marina itself is only two-thirds full, peak
season a few weeks off, and many of the boats lie sheathed in blue vinyl,
owners off the island or sleeping in town.
and Lil are up on the Penobscot though, Bill prepping the cedar decking
while Lil pries open a gallon of goldspar satin.
nods. Morning, Emmett.
working this varnish farm, eh?
grimly sandpapering the foredeck, snorts something like a hello. Bill and Lil
are in their late fifties, small, sun-baked to a tobacco-stain brown with
nearly identical short-cropped gray hair.
at it early.
Got to stay on top of these babies, says Lil. Lot of nasty stuff
floating out there. Emmett had seen them take her out only once, and then just
for a two-hour shakedown. Lil had been a registered nurse and was still handy
with a remedy if you had something more than a headache, while Bill taught high
school and had nothing good to say about it.
folks up for the ruckus?
right through it. Bill heard voices but thought it was those party people in
the motor cruisers.
were a dozen of them out there. Lights, stretchers—
were dead to the world. Some wild stories were flying in the Crows Nest this
morning. But you know rumors on this island.
was the lights woke me up, not the sound, says Emmett. Of course Muriel says
Im deaf as a post.
should be so lucky. This one— Lil jerks her head toward the Scavenger,
a daysailer owned by one of the locals, —has got his radio on all
weekend. Rap music or whatever their version is called here. Makes Bill grind
wraps fine-grade sandpaper around a wooden dowel and goes to work on the
mahogany trim. He and Lil wear the same brand of T-shirt and shorts, Topsiders,
matching hooded windbreakers when they sit out at night. Emmett wonders if they
never figured—Whitey and Edna—
lays out her brushes. I know. Edna was telling me just last week that they
were looking into a condo here.
wife is convinced you cant live on a sport-fisherman, says Emmett. He can see
the tuna tower of the Silver King, Whitey and Ednas old Bertram, over
the forest of masts. Suppose theyll auction it right away. Unless Whitey paid
their mooring through the year.
frowns, staring at her varnish. Condos. They must have been desperate.
season comes around, some folks like solid ground under their beds. What do you
hear about this Cedric?
Cedric is the tropical storm curling in from the Atlantic, possibly mutating
into the first hurricane of the summer.
glances out over the channel. Clear blue sky, flat water. Itll blow itself
out. Peaked too early.
does hit, its gonna ruin your finish.
shrugs. Best way to protect the wood. She chooses a brush, riffling the
bristles with her thumb. No, you buy into that condo life, youre ready to
throw in the towel.
put up some real luxury boxes in the last few years.
ones we looked at, that Pelican Cove outfit? Theyd blow down like a stack of
grimaces. Pelican Cove.
jerks her head toward her husband. Says hed just as soon ride it out in the
gonna be a big one hits this island sooner or later, Cedric or no Cedric. I
cant say theyve knocked themselves out preparing for it.
stop de wind, mon, mutters Bill, mimicking Rodericks island lilt. She come,
dips the edge of her brush into the varnish, careful to avoid dripping as she
starts to apply it. Weve been thinking about Curaçao.
of them speak English. And the prices are right.
a rum collins?
than here, I can tell you that.
suppose. Muriel and I talk about Mexico now and
shrugs. The peso just keeps falling. Our checks could go a lot further—
wipes the section hes just sanded with a damp cloth. Mexico, he says. One good case of the trots and youre
A fishing skiff with a pair of locals aboard chugs around
the reef of auto tires that serves as a breakwater and heads for the fuel dock.
The marina was nothing much when Emmett first tied up here twenty years ago,
rickety, unpainted wood crusted with gull droppings. As the cruisers and their
money grew in importance, the mosquito fleet had been driven to shallower
harbor farther west and a French corporation built the new jetty and
facilities. Now ramshackle boats like this might wander in illegally to
sightsee among the yachts or hustle up charters, but when Roderick is on duty
they dont dare tie up. The man working the outboard waves lazily to Emmett and
Years, he smiles. Bringin the chat round.
of the locals call him by the name of the boat, and Muriel endures being hailed
as Mrs. Golden Years. Could be worse, he likes to tell her. If we had that
catamaran on C Pier youd be Betty Bazooka.
Rut Adams is up on the flydeck of the Squire, nursing a Bloody Mary
and training binoculars on the new arrival at the far end of the marina.
brings his binoculars down, his eyes taking a moment to adjust.
Caught me spying.
dont suppose they spend their time looking at us.
just there one morning, looking more like a space-age hotel than a boat,
dwarfing the Cheoy Lee and Broward hundred-footers in the Land of the Giants. A
forty-plus sportfisherman was perched like a toy on the aft deck, and the
heliport had been used once so quickly nobody saw who jumped in or out of the
got manned submersibles on that thing—those Jacques Cousteau things?
Decompression chamber in the lazarette, satellite dish, large-format screen
like a movie theater. Got two Jacuzzis, personal trainer, cook with a full staff—
saw all this?
shakes his head. Archibald, the local fella who comes around with the crabs?
Hes been on board a bunch of times. Got a thing going with one of the maids. Filipino
still never seen the man, says Emmett. Just people running around in uniforms
setting things up.
been here once or twice.
Imagine being the center of all that. You get a whim to
go out and dozens of people jump into action. Emmett had walked on the pontoon
beside it once, pacing off at least eighty yards, staring up at his reflection
in the tinted plexiglass cabin panels. Nothing stirred aboard. Muriel calls it
the Mother Ship and says its crewed by bulb-headed aliens. So whats he look
clears his throat, recalling. Swarthy fella—remember the one Nixon used
to hang out with? Relleno—Refugio—
enough security hanging around. I dont think hes Spanish of any kind. Not an
Arab either—Arabs dont dive.
no. My guess is hes some Greek, owns one of these international dot-com
outfits. Making money out of thin air.
you think it runs him to keep it floating?
always knows what things cost or has an educated guess. He stands on top of his
big Hatteras, calculating, face glowing red with his first drink of the day.
Damn if I can even imagine. Meggy was here the other day— Ruts wife Meggy
lives in their cliff house and only visits on weekends —her Daddy owned
half the state of Delaware and even her jaw dropped when she got a look
at it. Id say crew and staff alone is a good fifty, sixty grand a week.
whistles, looks back toward the massive yacht. A thing that size, hardly know
youre on the ocean.
sail people, Rut grins, wrestling a hunk of canvas and puking your guts out.
says Emmett. Things have progressed a little.
theres no wind youre still fucked. Hey, whats the deal with Whitey and
details yet. Im hoping to track Roderick down.
both look toward D Pier, to the yellow tape cordoning off the Silver King
in its berth.
think of him sitting out there every evening in his fighting chair, knocking
T, says Emmett.
what it was? Im a Scotch man myself. I could see him from up here—hed
raise his glass, wed toast the sunset.
real gentleman, Whitey.
that I know of.
age, it can go fast.
brought in a black marlin last month. Whitey was in the chair—fought him
four, five hours before he made his last run. Boated him, cut him loose, but he
just floated sidewise on the surface so they circled around and gaffed him in
before the sharks could gather. Good seven, seven-and-a-half feet. You cant
swing that with health problems.
like that will take up a lot of wall space.
caught it before.
said that when they got it on board they recognized the marlin. Scars, the
shape of its dorsal. They were sure of it, couple years ago in the Dry Tortugas.
one for Ripley.
said Whitey was pretty upset about it.
nods. Either that or that it was the same one. He was always saying, I like
to beat em, not beat em to death.
a hook in your lip, drag a quarter mile of line through the ocean for a couple
hours, whats he think is gonna happen? Rut shakes his head. Moody bastards,
fisherman. That Hemingway—
never cared for Hemingway. He liked the dog fella—
Call of the Wild, White Fang—
wrote about boats?
London. Think he drowned himself. Or drank himself to death. Rut
kills the last of his Bloody Mary. Death, where is thy sting?
died of TB. Chase Pomeroy steps out on the Rockin Robin in the next
slip, rubbing his eyes. Or some shit like that. Sailed to the South Seas and brought back all these really gnarly diseases.
is a currency trader still in his thirties who has recently traded up from a
little Sea Ray to a Sunchaser Predator.
thing get airborne? asks Emmett, eyeing the boat.
move. Chase climbs on top of the cabin and lies on his back, covering his eyes
against the sun. Make the Caymans in under three hours.
your hurry? Rut complains about Chase speeding in the channel but always comes
on deck when he brings a new girlfriend around.
shrugs. If I wanted to float with the current Id find some Haitians and build
a raft. What can you do in that thing—twelve knots, max?
depends. Ruts face gets redder. You hear the brouhaha last night?
Saw it. I was at
Zooma till two—dead night, lot of dental hygienists off a cruise ship—then
I hit the Daquiri Shak with Ricky G. till it closed. We got back from the Dak
and theres the whole sorry excuse for a police department and the even sorrier
excuse for a rescue squad—
couldnt rescue a turd from a toilet bowl, says Rut. I ever get in the shit
out there Im calling Key
West and taking my chances
on the wait.
asked us for ID. You imagine that? Ricky goes up to the captain, whatever he
is, the one in charge, and says, You know me. I used to bang your sister when
she worked in my restaurant.
must have cleared things up.
slipping payoffs to every one of these guys, whatre they gonna do?
lights, lotta local constabulary. I think the old folks were already out of
here by that point.
nods. You heard anything more about the storm?
that its supposed to be coming. Chase shifts his arm away from his eyes to
squint up at Rut. Im taking this out today, pollute the environment. You see Stephanie—
the new one? Redheaded gal?
nods. Yeah, with the wide butt. Tell her Ill be at Zooma by ten.
A trio of frigate birds sail over the marina, gradually losing
altitude and seeming to pick up speed as they swoop down into the channel. It
is already hot. A film of diesel oil swirls in rainbow colors around the
pilings and a single turtle paddles between the moored boats, head just
breaking the surface. Emmett likes to think of the marina as a community, maybe
a few more transients than usual, but with reliably suburban rhythms. A bit of
bustle at sunrise, morning errands, buckling down to serious work by
midday, and then the relaxing slide to cocktail hour. He likes to hear
the hardware rattling as the boats rock in their slips, the squeak of rope and
cleat, the sharp luffing of plastic boat covers. He likes to hear the motors
coughing into life, thrumming as they pass on the way out, likes the smell of
polyurethane and DEET. Emmett likes the long tines of the jetty with their
evenly spaced slips, hundreds of boats with distinct outlines and personalities
moored side by side, the blazing, primary blues and reds and yellows of gear,
the stunning white of fiberglass and Dacron. He liked the gulls and pelicans in
the old days, too, but the feeding and dumping regulations have had their
effect and they only pass over now, heading for the smelly chaos of the locals
Roderick is talking with Ricky G., who sits looking
disoriented at the fore of a shiny new Beneteau. Ricky is wearing a shirt with
a Day-Glo parrot fish design and has marks from fiberglass deck beading on one
side of his face.
like somebody passed out on the deck, says Emmett.
needed to rest. Ricky never seems to shave yet never has a full beard,
sporting a perpetual morning-after stubble. These people are up in Vermont or something.
if I trespass you, says Roderick, sleep on Ricky bar some night?
tends bar at the Y-Ki-Ki, which he co-owns, the only bar locals of all colors
go to. He squints at Roderick. Ive pulled you out from under the table more
appen beyond closing time. Surprise me them authority dont carcerate you
while they here last night.
steps closer. Listen, Roderick, what—
he can say more Roderick puts his big hand up for silence.
Alphonse already vex me wit instruction. I got nothing to tell till official
version has been spoken.
me ass out of bed, got to open every gate in creation. Roderick shakes his
head. Why they dont weat till sunup, spear a mon his sleep?
was an emergency.
in that boat that wouldnt keep till sunup.
the dude two Christmases ago, says Ricky, washed up by the old turtle works?
what they always say when they dont know shit. Didnt know where he came from,
what boat he was off of, nada. And nobody ever claimed him.
of that on this island.
the watch he had on, the guy was obviously a tourist—
mon drown, says Roderick, authority dont inquire. White mon drown they declear
is a pause as they all watch the blond divorcée from Sarasota and her teenage daughter in matching bikinis pass on the
parallel pier. Ricky moans quietly.
could go either way with that.
kill you, Ricky. Rum has sap all your powers.
heard a rumor, says Emmett, that it happened three days ago. Whitey and
way. He came in just yesterday. Ricky spends so many of his waking hours
shooting the shit behind the bar that he never has a tan. About four. Sat at
the end, three G-and-Ts, paid his tab and left.
didnt talk with him?
were these Belgian girls, I was feeding them Yellow Birds—you know, with
the amaretto? They were starting to loosen up so I didnt pay much attention to
always drink his cocktail on his boat, says Roderick. Why is he paying double
not my field, man. I just pour em what they ask for.
he always did. Like he just stepped off that battlewagon of theirs with some
twenty-foot sea monster in tow. He had that squinty-lookin smile—
called him the Ancient Mariner.
wasnt so ancient.
years older than me, and Im getting on. Emmett turns back to Roderick. I
think as a resident of this marina, I deserve—
give you a groundation and everybody want to ax me same story.
You tell Emmett here, says Ricky, and the news will fly.
just smiles and starts away. Weat for official story. Then I tell you what
part is a lie.
When Emmett last talked with Whitey hed been fine, upbeat even.
They ran into each other at the local grocery, the one a mile walk from the
marina but half as expensive as the Captains Larder at the Ocean Breeze condo
thing shell eat anymore, said Whitey when he caught Emmett checking out the
four loaves of white bread and dozen tins of ham spread in his basket.
thought you liked to cook?
to. Used to do a three-course layout in that little galley of ours. Baked
bread, pies. Now, its just—you know. Whitey shrugged. Its another
Emmett nodded. Mine wont have anything to do with
fixing dinner. Twenty-five years of feeding the kids—
just fire the old hibachi up—
what—was it amberjack last night?
can smell it.
problem. Just dont let day man catch you.
and I have an understanding. Emmett pushed his items forward on the counter to
make room for Whiteys case of bargain gin. How the fish been treating you?
fair. Whitey and Edna didnt keep much of what they caught, but they went out
almost every day. Punk Loomis got into a bunch of wahoo the other day off the
east tip, we might try that.
are the locals catching?
laughed. As more kids drifted down from the States there were fewer and fewer
locals working in the bars and restaurants, and Ocean Breeze advertised that it
had fully professionalized its staff, which meant most of the black faces
were gone. The little market was one of the few places Emmett still rubbed
elbows with people born on the island.
had to happen sooner or later, Whitey said. That no problem, mon thing only
goes so far and then you need some service. Its something we thought about a
lot before we made our commitment here.
comes here for the culture.
was a carnival once a year that Emmett tried to avoid, people passed out in
unusual places and a couple local bands that played loud enough to be heard
over the water several miles away. What amazed Emmett most about the island was
that it was populated at all, with no fresh water and almost nothing edible
grown in the interior. European sailors had tried leaving pigs and goats on it
for provision, but they quickly died of thirst, and cane and sisal plantings
hadnt done much better. The locals were descended from the workers on these
destitute plantations and escapees from slave ships that ran aground in the
early eighteen hundreds.
other crop feel, Roderick liked to say, but tourist business been very good
circle the globe between ten and twenty-five degrees above the equator, said
Whitey, laying a sack of limes on top of the gin, one port isnt much
different than the next.
youre here for a while.
were here to stay. Like it says in the brochures, Whitey winked at Emmett, Its
always smooth sailing in our island paradise.
The Schmecklers are behind the pilothouse of their big Frers
headsail ketch, spreading engine parts on a tarp. Emmett knows the father and
son are Fritz and Stefan but can never remember which is which.
still hasnt come in?
says the father. They steal it.
injector. The son stares down at the disassembled machinery. They dont know
what it is, but they steal it.
are tall and wide-shouldered, relentlessly en-thusiastic, with thick beards
bleached by the sun. The first day they sailed in Muriel thought somebody was
shooting a beer commercial.
were a friend of the diseased? asks the father.
one who is dying.
Whitey—yes. They were neighbors, sort of. D Pier.
Years? Island Packet cutter?
have seen this.
compared to your rig, but we call it home. Mrs. Schmeckler, Greta, smiles as
she steps up from the cabin to shake a mat out over the starboard side. Whitey
and Edna were eight or nine slips down from us.
were having some problem?
considers. I got the impression they were living their dream. Down here in the
sun, chasing fish, nothing on the horizon but more of the same—
dream now is to circle the world in the Liebenstraum, says the father.
It keeps us moving forward.
when you finish?
we start on another dream, says the son. You have been to Havana?
Cuba? No, Im—were Americans.
be some serious weather coming.
this cylinder is not fixed, says the father, we will grow old here. Become
thinks its a joke, but hes never sure with the Schmecklers. There are worse
have woyage for centuries without a motor, says the son. Maybe we go on with only
think its likely youll find a Mercedes injector in Havana. Pretty lean times, what with the embargo and all. And
berthing this baby without an engine in a strong wind—
father smiles. Sailing is easy, ja? Only the landing is hard.
It had been another
perfect day, maybe two weeks ago, heading northeast in a bracing dance with the
wind, hull slicing through the swells, a half dozen gulls coasting in their
wake. Muriels feel for trimming the sails was instinctive and they barely
spoke, one anticipating the others next move, making a leisurely ten knots
into a slight breeze.
first Emmett thought a cloud had drifted in front of the sun—a sudden
chill, a dimming. Then he felt the hole inside of him, expanding. There was
nothing on the horizon in any direction, nothing. But it wasnt fear or feeling
small in the vast ocean. He had always preferred cruising to somewhere,
somewhere theyd at least stay overnight. A destination. Going out and coming
back to the same port, no one waiting for them, only the mute variables of tide
and weather to define their passage—he felt suddenly disoriented, tempted
to let the wheel go, to turn off all the systems, sit back and see what would
happen. The feeling didnt last more than a few minutes. Blood sugar maybe, or
just some random fantods. He told Muriel to come about and she gave him a look
but didnt question. The trip home was just as spectacular.
Larry is nestled in a pile of life preservers at the base
of the mast on the Zephyr, pecking at his laptop. The power cord loops
over his bare feet and disappears down into the cockpit.
you wanted to crew a ship in the old days, he says without looking up, you
hung out at the sailors bars till a couple likely ones drank themselves stiff,
dragged them off, and threw them in the hold till you were a full day out of
port. Now Im on the fucking web.
happened to your girls?
hit the marina three weeks ago with a pair of girls in their twenties hed
introduced to Emmett as his galley slaves.
out on me.
both of them?
came as a team. I saw the skinny one, Kim, in town yesterday. Hanging all over
one of those boogie-board guys with the blond dreads. Bitch just waves, Hi,
Captain Larry! like she and her dumpy little pal havent totally screwed me.
is in his early fifties, salt-and-pepper beard, a regular at the Y-Ki-Ki since
his Catalina sloop limped down from the Bahamas. He
was gradually heading for Tahiti, he said, once he got the right crew on
know theres a couple young fellas on the island know their way around on a
boat, says Emmett cheerfully. Skip Andersens boy there, Nicky, and that one
that works at the bait shop—Jay? Jordan?—
shakes his head. Only room for one hardtail on this bucket.
shrugs. Youre the skipper.
do that passive-aggressive thing. My wife was the queen of that. She could say
Oh, dont worry, its fine, so it came out You blew it again, you
insensitive piece of shit.
He seems more agitated than usual. At first, from the
bile invoked when he spoke of his ex-wife and her evil lawyer, Emmett thought
Larrys divorce must be recent, the wound still raw. But hed been single a
full eight years, cruising for five, a computer-dating Ahab chasing a wet
if they dont learn jack about sailing, he says, these young ones get to
practice their routine on me.
keeps smiling. So is there some kind of computer shape-up where all the
able-bodied sea ladies advertise?
like that. But you hire one, they bring their whole damn sorority along. If
this wasnt too much boat to single-hand Id be off this rock by now. He looks
up to Emmett. You hear the scuttle on the old couple?
does Roderick know? He didnt go inside the boat.
logs off, closes the laptop, and sets it beside him. Emmett sees now that his
eyes are red, his hands trembling slightly.
the old guy, Whitey, there at Rickys place just yesterday afternoon. Then last
night I couldnt sleep, so I get up, take a walk around the jetty—
three, at least. I get down at their end of D Pier and I hear the radio. Just
weather reports and shit, somebody calling in the update on this Cedric.
was a real weather junkie, says Emmett. Wed be sitting here, shed tell you
it was raining over in the Sea of Cortez.
explained the whole hurricane thing to me once. Most people think its like
straight wind pushing you over? But really youre being pulled, sucked in to
fill a vacuum. Like going down a drain. Suddenly Emmett doesnt want to know
the details, dreads the responsibility of passing the news to others. All that
noise and activity, he says, but inside theres this big nothing.
frowns at his hands. The thing is, it was loud. The radio. I passed by,
but on the way back I figure at that hour, not a light shining on the boat,
they must have spent the night in town and left it running. So Im gonna do
the Good Samaritan thing.
suddenly feels a little dizzy. He looks across the channel. Something, not
clouds exactly but a different kind of sky, is coming together in the north.
hesitate to step on somebodys boat without an invitation. Especially the liveaboards.
just dont do it, says Emmett, upset. Its an invasion of privacy.
feeling pretty fucking invaded right now, says Larry, if you want to know the
havent actually seen Edna for a while, says Emmett, stalling.
No. I dont suppose
you have. Larry wiggles the power cord with his toes, thinking. You know that
shark gun he kept by his chair when they went out for big stuff?
as much wallop as you can get from a rifle. You can imagine, point-blank range,
not shooting through water—he was just down on the saloon couch, the rifle
was still between his knees. And the wife—the blood on the pillow and
sheets was all dried. He mustve caught her sleeping.
Emmett sees a trio of jellyfish working their way along
the pontoon, no color, no edges, just a slight lack of focus in one part of the
water. Was she on her back? Looking up?
she could have been awake. Knew it was coming, even.
some kind of mercy-killing deal?
considers this. He is shivering a bit, the shadow of the Lifestyles complex
covering them both. He shrugs. Who knows what the fuck goes on in peoples
heads? I figure she was already gone three, four days when I sat with him at
Rickys. I asked what was new and he said they were thinking about tarpon.
been thinking about tarpon.
are quiet for a long moment, a breeze picking up and tinkling the wind chimes
on the back of the converted tug two slips down. A succession of hippie-looking
people come down to use it on some sort of time-sharing deal. Muriel calls it
the Love Boat.
hauled my ass back here and got my cell phone, tracked down the cops. I didnt
go back in a second time, just gave them my statement. Id forgot about the
damn radio. Took the locals an hour before they turned it off. Larry looks out
past the breakwater. The fella calling in the weather said he thought this
Cedric might turn into the real thing.
nods. The channel water has a little chop to it now. The frigate birds have
way I feel, just let it blow, he says. Be good to clear the air.
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