I had to delay this last section for several reasons. The most frustrating one is that my hard drive crashed. The dreaded blue screen and the message: Fatal systems error. OK, so I am up and running again, just lots of work to bring everything back: putting in all my favorites, passwords, you know the drill. But here it is: You can read from the beginning starting from the post Sneak Preview on Oct. 10. Don’t expect more for awhile.
Chapter 1, Part III – Night Watch
Men who make their living by taking sailboats into the shallow Bahamian waters know the dangers. Sooner or later a weather forecast will be wrong, an uncharted coral head could take a chunk out of the bottom of the boat, or a drug dealer might even rob and kill everyone on board. These sailors live by a code. They will help each other in distress, even at risk to themselves. This is not purely an unselfish act, because the time will surely come when their survival will depend on a returned favor. But what Carter was about to do went far beyond what anyone would expect. That wasn’t selfish either, he truly didn’t care what happened because he was enjoying the moment for the first time in months.
Carter cleared out part of the area behind the dinette back cushion where he normally stored canned goods and other provisions. He figured it was just large enough for Kat to hide in, if that became necessary. The latch that released the back cushion was unobtrusive, and without a close examination, it wasn’t evident that there was enough room for a person. Leaving the helm to bring down her dishes, he showed her the hiding place. “Hope I don’t need that for too long.”
“Yeah, it could get hot back there real quick. The engine’s right below you.”
“There’s no latch on the inside. You will let me out, right?”
“Well, if I don’t, you could kick hard enough to break the latch.”
“I can’t even straighten my legs.”
“Then let’s just hope you don’t need to.”
At ten they were approaching the questionable passage through the coral heads, thinking they were all alone. Then a speck appeared on the horizon behind them, quickly getting larger. From the engine noise, Carter identified it as a cigarette boat, the fastest boat in these waters. "Crap. Guess you’d better try out your new quarters.”
Kat crawled in, balling herself up in her hiding place and said, “Did I tell you I’m claustrophobic?”
“You’re joking, right? It’s no time for a panic attack. Close your eyes and imagine wide open places.” Carter latched the back cushion behind her. He knocked on the cushioned back.
“You OK in there?”
Her muffled voice answered back. “I’m fine. Just don’t forget to let me out.”
The cigarette boat flew past obviously headed towards the same passage. When Carter got closer to the way-point he could see the cigarette boat dead in the water and a Royal Bahamian Police Intercept boat there with its blue lights flashing. An oversized inflatable tender was tied along-side the speed boat. Through his binoculars Carter counted three policemen crowded into the cockpit of the cigarette boat, and two other officers were still on the Intercept. One looked like Captain Manny, someone he knew. It was too late for Carter to turn away; Manny was standing on the flying bridge, his binoculars focused on Carter. As Carter took his binoculars down he heard a voice on the radio.
“Moriarty, Moriarty, this is Nassau Intercept. Come back.”
Carter recognized Manny’s voice. “Nassau Intercept, this is Moriarty. Pick a channel.” Carter knew Manny could talk on 16 if he wanted to, and while he couldn’t keep it private over any radio channel, he could keep their conversation more discrete by changing to a low-wattage channel.
“How bout goin' up two.”
“Up two.” Carter quickly switched to 18.
“Dat you, Carter?”
“It’s me, Captain Manny.”
“Whatcha doin’ down heah? Ain’t no place for you. Nothin’ but drug runners heah. We gonna plug dis hole. How you know bout dis?”
“Some guy at End of the World bar told me awhile back. Can’t remember his name.”
“That probly be Captain Willie Saunders. He talk all da time.”
“He already in lock-up. Run drugs through heah. Dis dangerous place. You don’t wanna be heah, mon.”
“Thanks for the warning. Capt’n Willie said it was a shortcut to Nassau. Don’t have a charter so thought I’d check it out.”
“Yeah, shortcut to Nassau jail, he mean.” Manny laughed at his own joke. “Say,” Manny continued, “You anchor out on da banks last night?”
“That’s a Roger.”
“Didn’t see nothing of a gal swimming out deer did ya?”
Carter was forced to make a quick decision. “Swimming on the banks? She’d be crazy, with the sharks and currents. She’d be dead in the water in an hour.”
“Dats just what I tink. She jump off police boat. She be shark bait by now. We wanted to question her bout a few tings.”
Carter was well aware that Kat’s story didn’t match Manny’s and he felt guilty about misleading him, they’d been friends a long time, but he hadn’t exactly lied and he wasn’t quite ready to give Kat back to the police.
“Cap’n Carter, dis Manny again. It be hard to get true heah with no lookout on yo bow. How bout I lead you true while my boys have dat conversation wid Mr. Cigarette boat.”
Thank God for that. No way I could put Kat at the wheel with a police boat here. “Much appreciated, Manny.” If this hadn’t been Manny, Carter knew his boat would have been boarded and searched as well. But Manny owed Carter, he had once provided information that lead to a big-time arrest and a promotion for Manny. But Carter wondered, why was Manny doing drug enforcement; he was a captain in the homicide unit?
After Manny led Carter through and the Intercept had turned back to attend to the cigarette boat, Carter let Kat out of her hiding place.
“Thanks. It was beginning to feel like a sauna in there and my imagination was running out of wide open places.”
“Could you hear our conversation?”
“Most of it. Why didn’t you turn me in?”
“Maybe I should have. But I didn’t exactly tell a lie.”
“Not exactly. I’m hungry again. Mind if I fix a sandwich? I can do one for you too, if you like." She seemed eager to change the subject.
“Sure. I’ll have one too. Help yourself to whatever’s in the fridge. Guess you worked up quite an appetite with your little moonlight swim.”
Carter stayed at the helm even though they were in the deep water in the Tongue of the Ocean. He heard bacon sizzling and the fresh breeze wind brought the smell up to the cockpit. He looked at the wind instruments, NNE, 12 knots. Time to put up sails. With all the lines leading back to the cockpit, it was a job he could single-hand. Just as he sheeted in the jib and cut the engine, he heard the radio again. It was Manny.
“Cap’n Carter? Back deah yo didn’t quite ansa my question. Dat girl wanted fo murder. Yo sure yo not see her?” This time Manny didn’t give Carter a chance to switch to a low-wattage channel.
Before he could answer, Kat appeared at the companionway stairs, smiling and holding a plastic plate with sandwiches she had made, obviously not hearing Manny. For a few brief seconds, the person he saw was his daughter Claire. Claire, who did not even celebrate her first double-digit birthday. Claire who would never have to imagine trusting her life to some stranger. Carter gave Manny an answer with far-reaching consequences. Looking directly at Kat, he said, “No Manny, I didn’t see anyone out there. Just running lights from a couple of boats passing in the distance about 10 p.m., that’s all.”
But Manny wasn’t done. “Carter, we go back long time, if you hears any ting, you let me know. She burnt down the Compleat Angler. Piccolo Pete be dead. Burnt trying to get the guests out. You help me here?”
Carter was still staring at Kat. “Will do, Manny.” He slowly put down the radio mic.
Kat’s eyes were wide. She covered her mouth with her free hand, then stumbled and fell. The plate clattered on the fiberglass and bacon, lettuce and tomato went flying everywhere. Kat was on her hands and knees in the cockpit frantically picking up the pieces. “Let it go.” Carter said. But Kat continued to grope for the food, scrambling as though this was more important than Manny’s words.
“I said, let it go.” Carter said, as he grabbed her arm.
Kat sat back on her heels. Tears streaming down her face. “He was my friend. I’ve know Piccolo Pete since I was a child. I was locked in my room. He saved me from that fire. It was my fault.” She pulled away from Carter’s grip and hugged her arms around her body, rocking back and forth.
“Locked in your room? I’m trying to be reasonable, but you’re really beginning to sound like a nutcase. Give me something believable. Piccolo Pete was my friend too. I’ve got to find a way out of my lie. I’m not covering for this!” Carter was speaking rapidly, loudly. He stood up and stepped over her, retrieved a trash can from the galley and shoved it at her.
“Talk,” he ordered and sat back down at the helm.
Kat still sobbing and shaking, continued to pick up the mess, avoiding his angry glare. “Where…what to begin with?” She bit her lip trying to keep it from trembling.
Kat took in a deep breath and began again, her voice controlled. “I guess it started with a phone call from my twin brother about a month ago.