Enjoy stories by Peter Rozovsky, Benoit Lelievre, Charlie Wade, Evil Ray, David James Keaton, Al Tucher, Eric Beetner, Thomas Pluck, Gerald So, Keith Karabin, Stephen D. Rogers, Katherine Tomlinson, Kieran Shea, and Fiona McDroll Johnson.
Bonnie hung onto the bow railing for dear life and did her best to vomit the chunky slurry of Italian hoagie and Miller Lite into the seething, black water of the Atlantic Ocean. Fifteen foot seas slapped her father’s Boston Whaler around like a holdout whore on a North Philly street corner.
“Get back here,” Tommy yelled over the low growl of the twin Mercs, fighting to keep the bow pointed into the battering waves.
“I can’t get the anchor up,” she answered.
“Fuck the anchor!” Tommy grabbed the fillet knife on the magnetic stip next to the console and handed it up to his wife. “Cut that line and get your ass back here!”
They’d lost sight of land thirty minutes ago, but the LORAN told Tommy all he had to do was turn the boat around and haul ass to find their way back to the relative safety of Delaware Bay. He knew they’d drifted smack into the middle of the shipping lanes and he didn’t want to be here when the storm overtook them. It was almost too late.
Tommy was about to turn the boat around when off in the distance, a silent flare cut a sparkling crimson scar against the roiling black clouds. He marked the heading on the compass and cut the engines so he could help his wife back into the cockpit.
“Somebody’s in trouble out there,” he said, “we have to check it out before we can head back.” It was the right thing to do. The Law of the Sea, or some shit like that.
From a kneeling position on the floor of the cockpit Bonnie keyed the mike on the radio. “Mayday, mayday! Can anybody hear me?”
Tommy adjusted his heading and brought the Mercs to full power in the direction of the flare.
“Mayday! Mayday!” Bonny tried again, when through the speaker a calm male voice answered.
“I copy your mayday. Please state your name, position, and situation.”
“I’m Bonny Farrell,” she answered.
“Not your name, babe” Tommy said, “the boat’s name.” He snatched the mike from her shaking hands and fought the steering wheel. The boat was taking a pounding and he battled to stay on the right heading.
“This is the pleasure craft, Cash Cow, out of Reed’s Beach. We’re a twenty-two foot Boston Whaler with twin Merc one-fifties about eight miles south of Cape May and five miles east of Cape Henlopen. We’re experiencing heavy seas and I’m traveling east to investigate a distress flare. Over.”
There was silence on the radio when another flare arched skyward a hundred yards off to the left. Tommy turned the bow into the oncoming waves and slammed ahead as thick droplets of rain began to pelt down on them.
“Take the mike,” he said to Bonnie.
“Tommy, I’m so scared. I’m so scared,” she cried. “What about the girls?”
“We’re gonna be fine,” he said, without a shred of faith in his own words. “So are they. Just keep trying to raise somebody on the radio. We’re gonna see what this flare is all about and be headed back in no time.”
Visibility was growing more difficult as the boat climbed up and over each wave, then skidded down to the bottom to meet the next oncoming wall of frothy seawater with a shuddering slam.
“Hello! Can anybody hear me?” Bonnie screamed at the microphone. “Please, help us!”
Lightning crisscrossed like a net above them, bathing their surroundings in a surreal flash of light, when Tommy saw the orange of a life vest wink in and out of sight.
“Bonnie, you have to take the steering wheel while I throw them a rope,” he said.
“What about calling for help?” she answered.
“Just hang onto the wheel nice and tight and keep us pointed into the waves.”
Tommy wrapped the end of a coiled rope around a cleat on the transom and tossed it between the flailing hands reaching above the life vest.
“Wrap it around yourself and hang on!” He yelled above the din of the wind and the growling engines.
Within minutes he was pulling the man into the boat where he lay face down on the floor, vomiting seawater and choking, his long dreadlocks matted to his face and back.
“Where are we?” he asked.
“What do you mean?” answered Tommy.
“What is our location?” the man asked.
“You gotta be kidding me, dude.”
The man rolled over on his back and Tommy found himself looking into the business end of a dripping Colt Super El Senador. Lightning flashed and thunder boomed around them as the storm tossed the little boat.
“No, dude, I am not kidding.”
Coast Guard Commander Pete McShea completed his pre-flight checklist and fired up the turbine on his Dolphin search and rescue chopper.
“Atlantic City tower this is Coast Guard rescue niner niner Oscar Lima Bravo requesting clearance for takeoff.
“Roger that niner niner Oscar Lima Bravo. You’re green all the way to Cape Henlopen. Watch yourself out there Mac.”
“Copy tower. We’ll be back in time for dinner. Coast Guard Rescue out,” said McShea.
The big orange helicopter rose slowly at first, turned its nose and screamed south to find the beleaguered Cash Cow before the remnants of hurricane Arthur claimed its two souls.
The man staggered to his feet, doing his best to hold Tommy at gunpoint.
“I just fucking saved your life, man. What the hell are you doing?” Tommy asked, struggling to maintain his footing in the pitching boat.
Bonnie’s eyes grew wide with renewed terror when she saw the flash of the silver pistol pointed at her husband.
“Mayday! Mayday! Please somebody! Please help us!” she pleaded into the mike.
“Put that down or I will shoot you,” said the stranger, barely audible above the raging storm.
“Mayday! Mayday!” Bonnie continued.
“Wait!” said Tommy, holding up his hands. “She’s afraid we’re going to sink out here. We have to get back to shore.”
“We cannot go yet. I must find my partner first,” said the man with the gun.
In the seconds since the rescue, Tommy had a chance to check the guy out. A good six inches taller than him and thinly built with dreadlocks down past his shoulders, the man with the gun was dressed more like a traveler than a boater, wearing a vest with bulging pockets over a black t-shirt and heavy black cargo pants, the pockets equally stuffed. Waving the gun at Tommy he moved toward the console and ripped the microphone cord out of the radio before slapping Bonnie across the face with the gun.
“Get on the bow,” he told them.
“We’ll never be able to hang on up there,” said Tommy. “We’ll drown for sure.”
“Then you,” he pointed the gun at Tommy, “come over here and drive the boat. You,” he pointed at Bonnie, “get next to him.”
He surveyed the surrounding water, littered with the flotsam of his own sunken vessel. Bonnie, still stunned from the pistol whipping, sat mute on the floor of the cockpit, pitching back and forth with the thrashing of the sea.
“Get the bitch out of my way or I will throw her overboard,” he said.
“We have to get out of here,” Tommy said to the man, his fury searing a white-hot hole in his stomach. “We’re in the shipping lanes. It’s not safe.”
The stranger put the muzzle of his gun against Bonnie’s head and cocked the hammer.
“No!” Tommy begged, knowing the moment he let go of the steering wheel the boat would be in danger of being swamped. “Bonnie!” he screamed at her. “Honey, you gotta move over here.”
As if a wave of clarity washed over her, Bonnie locked eyes with her husband and stood on shaky legs with a renewed sense of calm. She turned to look the man in the eyes, the gun still inches from her bleeding forehead.
“We have two children waiting for us, so we’ll do whatever you want us to,” she said, the emotion stripped from her voice. “How can we help you find what you’re looking for?”
“I am looking for a man like me,” he said. “He is also wearing a life jacket.”
Lightning flashed and flashed again while the seas grew higher, threatening to capsize the small boat with every wave.
Tommy’s arms ached and his hands cramped around the steering wheel as wave after wave thrashed and battered them.
“There!” said Bonnie, pointing to the orange life jacket careening down a swell off to their starboard side.
“Get over to my mate,” said the stranger, pointing the pistol at Tommy.
Tommy, angled the boat against the pounding swells, inching closer and closer to the man in the water waving frantically at them until they were almost upon him.
“Help him,” the man said to Bonnie. She threw the rope to this new stranger who pulled himself to rest on the transom deck, exhausted from his ordeal.
“Do you have it, Samuel?” asked the stranger. “Samuel, do you still have it?”
Samuel, dressed identical to the stranger, reached into the breast pocket of his vest and removed a red, plastic case the size of a cigarette pack, holding it out at arm’s length for his friend to see.
The stranger leaned over, taking the package from Samuel, and without hesitation, pressed the gun against his partner’s head and fired. The report of the pistol was swallowed by the roar of the ocean and the booming thunder. The stranger tucked the box into his own vest pocket and moved quickly across the cockpit of the boat, placing the gun against Tommy’s back while his partner slid off the transom deck and slipped away into the black water.
He handed Tommy a laminated card.
“These are the coordinates for a beach in New Jersey,” he said. “Take me here if you want to see your children again.”
Tommy started to punch the coordinates into the LORAN, when above them a spotlight appeared out of nowhere.
The wind and rain buffeted the Coast Guard rescue chopper, but these guys were professionals, trained to deal with the conditions. Commander McShea switched on the loudspeaker and keyed the mike.
“Stay with your craft. We’ll come to you.”
This was not Ensign Jim Block’s first sea rescue, but it would be his last. Block jumped from the helicopter and swam, as he’d be trained, to the boat in distress, where Cassius Laurent summarily executed him.
In the chopper hovering above, McShea and his crew watched in horror as their crew mate rolled onto his back and bobbed like a cork away from the Cash Cow.
Laurent swung the gun around to Tommy again.
“Get us out of here! Now!” he said.
Tommy leaned on the throttle and unleashed the twin Mercs for all they were worth.
“Bonnie, jump!” he hollered above the din of the motors and the storm. “Jump!”
Bonnie took two steps toward the transom and leaped as high as she could to clear the engines where she hung for a moment suspended in space. She didn’t hear the pop of Laurent’s pistol, but felt the slam and burn of the bullet before the rising sea came up to swallow her.
“Why did you have to shoot her?” Tommy cried, tears burning his eyes as they mixed with the rain and the salty spray all around them. He thought about his two little girls back at the beach house with his in-laws, and wondered how they would survive without Bonnie, who knew everything about hair ties and dress up. About girls’ clothes and weddings, and how stupid boys could be.
The boat slammed into a valley between the enormous swells when it was tipped up to face skyward. Lightning raked the clouds and thunder shook Tommy’s guts. He turned the wheel hard to stay pointed into the oncoming wave when at the top he saw the lights and silhouette of the supertanker, Seawise Giant, a floating creation of man as massive as the Sears Tower, looming just ahead.
Behind him Laurent fumbled with a water proof mobile phone.
“I will be there shortly,” he said. “Yes, I have the keys.”
Tommy looked down at the magnetic strip along the bulkhead and saw the well-worn fillet knife still fixed there next to the bottle opener. He reached for it instinctively and swung around to slice Laurent’s gun hand, sending the automatic clattering to the deck.
Laurent wailed in pain but swung his left fist around to meet Tommy’s jaw just below the ear. Tommy’s vision fuzzed and faded and he gripped the steering wheel with his free hand to keep from falling while throwing an uppercut with the fillet knife, plunging the rusty blade up behind Laurent’s chin and into the roof of his mouth.
Laurent fell to his back clutching at the knife, his gurgling scream of pain overwhelmed by the roar of the engines and the wailing horn of the Seawise Giant. He pulled the knife out with both hands and sprung to his feet in time to see the supertanker’s massive steel hull block everything from view. Tommy was gone.
“That’s a roger, Seawise Giant. I have visual confirmation of a fireball on your port side. We have a cutter en route.”
McShea hovered over the site of the explosion while the Seawise cleaved the hurricane-whipped seas on its way toward the mouth of Delaware Bay. In the back of the rescue chopper, the crew tended to Bonnie Farrell’s gunshot wound while in the raging sea below, Tommy tended to unfinished business.
Tommy rode the high swells, treading water while his life jacket kept him bobbing on the surface. He’d seen Laurent jump from the boat before impact, so Tommy knew he was close, but he also knew he was hurt. The massive steel wall of the Seawise Giant slid by surprisingly fast, taking with it the remains of the Cash Cow and the gasoline fire that accompanied the collision of the two craft, not much more than a splattered bug on the windshield of the gargantuan vessel.
Above him the Coast Guard helicopter maintained a safe distance, painting the black water around the crash site with its powerful searchlight. Tommy watched and waited until he caught a glimpse of Laurent swimming desperately away from the reach of the light. Tommy picked out a spot out ahead of Laurent, riding the backside of each swell like a body surfer until he was upon the man who less than one hour ago he had rescued.
Fatigued from blood loss and the weight of the gear bulging in every pocket, Laurent raised his arms in one last act of self defense before Tommy spun him around, pushed him under water and snapped his neck in a grinding leg lock. Tommy pulled Laurent’s limp body to the surface, fished the red plastic box out of his vest pocket and pushed him under for the last time.
Tommy stared at the two keys on the table in front of him while the hiss and beep of the machines in Bonnie’s hospital room provided some measure of comfort that her sleeping body still worked.
Two identical brass keys and those lost coordinates had come out of the plastic box Laurent was willing to kill for. Two keys with the numbers “42” and “78” stamped on them, each attached to a short bracelet of orange bungee cord. He picked up one of the keys and examined it for the hundredth time, looking for some kind of marking that would tip him off to the location of the locks.
“Hello, Mr Farrell. I’m doctor Rago.”
Tommy took the doctor’s outstretched hand and said nothing. He was in listening mode.
“She’s going to need some time to mend, but your wife’s out of danger.”
Tears welled in Tommy’s eyes and he hugged the surprised doctor, whose arms hung limp for a moment before timidly returning the gesture.
“I don’t know how to thank you, Doc.”
“You should thank the Coast Guard. They’re the ones who saved her life. And yours according to what I heard on the news. She wouldn’t have had a chance if not for them.
Tommy was so grateful he would have thanked the hospital receptionist if they’d let him.
“No, Doc, really, thank you so much.”
The doctor made some notes on the chart and looked up at Tommy.
“You guys been to Morey’s Pier?” he asked.
The doctor motioned to the keys on the table. “The locker keys. They’re from the water park at Morey’s, aren’t they?”
Tommy’s heart quickened. Laurent had demanded to be taken to a Jersey beach. Morey’s Pier was in Wildwood. Wildwood was in New Jersey.
“Oh yeah, doc. We take the girls there every time we’re down the shore. But we’ll be heading back as soon as Bonnie is okay to go home.”
“I’d say you still have a week or two before she’ll be in any condition to leave,” said the doctor.
The doctor left while Tommy’s mind raced. He stepped outside, lit a smoke and dug his phone out of his pocket. Laurent had guys waiting for these keys so caution was in order. He knew who to call for something like this. He punched in a Philly number and imagined the ring of the payphone filling the cinderblock garage.
“Yo,” a voice answered.
“Rocco, when can you and a couple of your guys meet me at Morey’s Pier?” he asked.
Summer vacation. Yeah right.
Read my short story BEEF AND BEER in the Spring 2011 Needle Magazine of Noir
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