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This page formatted 2007 Munsey's.
As this is a novel, a work of fiction am imagination, all characters, names and incidents are fictional and not intended to represent any real persons—past present.
Frankie and Andy Simpson, the bridge sharps
Telling Hal Anderson about Rose was a mistake. I knew it even as the words spilled out. But this was one time I couldn't keep my fool mouth shut.
It was ten years since I had seen him, and I was still sore about the double-cross he'd pulled on me. So now I wanted to rub his nose in it, but good.
I was sitting in a little bar near the waterfront in Port-au-Prince, waiting while my boat, the Sea Princess, was taking on stores. I almost dropped my drink when the familiar, tall, white-uniformed figure appeared in front of me. “Mickey!” he shouted and began to pump my hand. “For a second I thought I was seeing things. Damn, boy, you haven't changed a bit. Still a tub of muscles, same old hat—even smell the same. Great to see you!”
“Sure. Sit down, Hal, and have a drink on me.”
He sat down, first carefully creasing his drill trousers, and I ordered two more rums.
Hal grinned as he said, “Funny, we should be drinking together again, after all these years.”
“Yeah,” I said, wondering if I'd be as well off now if Hal was still my partner. Of course I wouldn't have Rose.
“What are you doing in Haiti, Mickey?”
“Man, you can see what I'm doing; drinking rum. Lazying around.”
“You haven't changed.”
“Nope. At least I haven't tried to. You have. Why the monkey suit?”
“I'm on the purser's staff of the American Spirit.” He nodded at the liner down in the harbor.
“What do you do, hold hands with the seasick?”
“Cut it out, Mickey.”
“I figured by this time you'd have long finished college, be a free wheeling executive.”
“Stop it, Mickey,” he said calmly. “I did go to college for two years. One summer I signed on as an A.B. I met a girl in Nice and married her on the next trip. Colette and I live in New York City, got us a house there, and two fine kids. She's something, a wonderful girl, an artist, and a...”
“So you got hooked.”
“You're nuts. I'm a very happy guy. What the hell have I to regret? I eat regularly, don't work hard, send my salary home, and see my family every five weeks. Like a honeymoon each time. It isn't a bad deal. My having been an ensign helps and some day I'll...”
“Some day, will you ever be able to stop saying 'sir' to the clucks?”
He fanned his face with his hat and laughed. “My God, still the same old Mickey. Hell, sir is only a word. You used to...”
“No, that was your department.”
He finished his rum, then he said, “It wouldn't have worked, Mickey. Even with the new boat. I'm not made for that kind of life. You see I like having a wife, kids, a home, worrying and plugging for the future. I'm not built like a...”
“A bum,” I added. “Yeah, maybe that does take a kind of talent.” I finished my drink, motioned for another round.
“Still have the Sea Princess?”
“Lord, not with the same rusty converted Essex motor?”
“Nope. I have two turbo Diesels now.”
Hal gave a mock whistle. The rum was making him sweat and I could see how badly he wanted to open his tight collar. “Sea Princess,” he laughed. “What a name for that clumsy double-ender.”
“Yeah?” I winked at him. “You should see her now. Matter of fact, I'm going down to the dock, sailing with the tide. Want to come along?” I suppose it was then, his cracks about the first Sea Princess that made me show off. And I was a little high on rum, too.
I really enjoyed his pop-eyed look when we got to the Sea Princess. It gave me a bang to see her, too, for she's thirty-two feet of the sweetest flushdecked sloop you'll ever see. Mr. Bayard, who sold me supplies, was sitting atop the cabin, his linen suit stained under the armpits, fanning himself with a newspaper. His sun glasses seemed to be the same color as his dark brown face. He waved and came over and told me in French everything was loaded. I owed him a balance of forty bucks and casually handed him a fifty-dollar bill, told him to keep the change. He was so excited he began to sweat more. We shook hands and as he walked down the dock he shouted his thanks again.
Hal was running his eyes all over the Sea Princess as if she were a lush woman. “On the level, Mickey, is this your boat?”
“Want to see my papers?”
“My good Lord, what a job! Why she must have cost twenty-thousand. Or more.”
“More,” I lied.
“She's pure dream.”
“Fellow could sail around the world in this.”
“I may try it some day. Want a drink?”
Hal looked at his watch. “Okay. I have time.”
“I have a half hour,” I said, as he followed me down into the polished mahogany cabin. He came in stooped and I told him, “Straighten up, plenty of head room here,” and wondered why I'd asked him aboard. I had this desire to brag so strong, I couldn't help myself. And all the time I knew it was a mistake.
I broke out a bottle of Canadian rye, to impress him, and some ice. The cabin was jammed with crates—tins of fancy food, books, magazines, a new hi-fi set, and many other things.
Hal inspected the galley, the head, the shower, the bunks, even opened the refrigerator. Then he took inventory of all the boxes and crates. He glanced at me with a slow smile, his eyes asking what was my racket. Then he said it: “Smuggling?”
“Come off it. What's there to smuggle these days?” I gave him his drink and glanced at the wall clock. Actually, catching the tide didn't mean much to me except a little saving in fuel.
“Heading back to Miami?” His eyes were still racing around the cabin. They finally found the snap of Rose over my bunk. The camera had caught her running toward the waves in a bikini. It was my favorite picture.
“Nope,” I said, waiting; a kind of inner voice telling me to let it go, shut up.
He bent forward a bit to see the snap better. “Havana?”
I shook my head. “I bum around, do a lot of island hopping.”
“Mickey the beachcomber!” There was sarcasm in his voice.
“That's me.” Maybe it was the snotty sarcasm that made me forget caution. “And that's my wife.”
“No? I can't believe that!” Hal stepped across the cabin and took a close look at the snap, as he'd wanted to do. “Wow!”
Hal turned to stare at me, his face bewildered. He yanked his collar open. “Are you snowing me?”
“Want to see our papers?”
“Aw Mickey, why in hell would a beauty like that marry a guy with your puss!”
“She's in love with my character.”
“She must be after your money.”
I chuckled. “She has the money.”
“A boat like this and a woman like... How long has this been going on?”
“How come you're so full of questions?”
“Mickey, you know I didn't mean it that way.”
“Guess you don't,” I said, thinking it wouldn't do any harm telling him a little about Rose... and a voice in the back of my noggin screaming at me to keep my trap shut.
I refilled our glasses. I still had a good twenty minutes before full tide. I opened a box of cigars, Havana's best.
“Make sure you never repeat any of this,” I began.
“Not even to Colette,” Hal said. I knew he meant it. A loose tongue had never been one of his faults. At the same time I knew I'd already said too much, that it would be best to play it safe, keep still.
There was a moment of silence as I tried to think up a fast he for an out. Hal glanced at Rose's snap again. “So help me, Mick, I still don't believe it.”
I took the bait like any stupid fish and told him, “One day I got fed up with Miami. The charter boat business was lousy and I'd had it with my few jerk customers. I was only getting five bucks a head and a lot of seasick women and... I sailed down to the Keys for some quiet, to relax.”
“You and your moods—kept us the hungriest boat operators on the waterfront.”
I nodded, thinking I shouldn't have told him it was the Keys, I'd better change it damn fast. “The Keys were full of boats, big and small yachts, so I crossed over to the Bahamas, found myself a quiet little island. A hunk of sand and a couple of ragged bushes. No place to live and no way of getting there without a boat—a sea boat. I anchored late in the afternoon, about thirty or forty feet offshore. I didn't do much of anything but fish for my supper, put in sack time. In the morning I saw this girl on the beach. I'd never seen anything like her before, except in the movies. A tall platinum-blonde, with a face and shape... well, you see the snap. She was calmly sitting on a suitcase, peeling off her stockings and a ritzy summer dress. There was a bathing suit under the dress. I went down into the cabin and put my little telescope on her—through a port hole. Up close she looked even better. She also had a cloth-bag pocketbook, and I could see the heavy outline of a .45 automatic in the bag.” I felt fine now that I was actually telling the story. I even told myself that having changed the locale and a few other items, I was playing it safe.
“But you said this was only a hunk of sand? How did she get there?”
“Hal, let me tell it. I went on deck and watched her, also wondering how in the devil she'd ever got there. There wasn't any sign of a boat. Anyway, naturally she had to see me but she wasn't paying me no mind. After swimming around a little—and she was a good swimmer—she returned to the tiny beach and rubbed herself down with oil, put on dark glasses, and sunned herself. Acted as if she was on the private sand of one of those lush Miami Beach money-trap hotels. I took my morning dip and she still didn't notice me. I waded ashore, said, 'Hello. This a private island or something?'
“'I wouldn't know,' she said. 'I'm merely here for the sun and swimming. And you?' Hal, she even had the kind of exciting, throaty voice that fitted her looks.
“I played it just as cook told her, 'I'm here for the bathing, myself.'
“So we sat for a time, not talking. Her skin was rather pale, probably her first time out in the sun. And if she was beautiful, out-of-this-world-pretty, there was also this tough cast to her face. She'd been around plenty in her thirty or thirty-five. This was a hard chick who wouldn't hesitate about picking up her bag and shooting. The cloth was so thin she could have worked the trigger without opening the purse... and she kept the bag in her hands all the time.
“So I sat there, minding my own business. You know me, I don't go for making a pass if you have to work at it. After about ten minutes I went back in the water. The tide was coming in but it wasn't over five feet deep and I walked, out to the Sea Princess, trying to kick up some clams. I made...”
“This was our old boat you're talking about?” Hal asked.
“Yeah, my boat,” I said. That “our” boat stuff made me mad. “I made coffee and eggs, washed the dishes. I didn't even look her way. She called out, 'I haven't had any breakfast. Could you spare some, please?'
“I said sure and she held all her clothes and the suitcase over her head and waded out to the Sea Princess. The suitcase wasn't small; I mean, it wasn't any overnight bag. When she reached the boat, she put the suitcase and her clothes on deck, then pulled herself up. During all this she hadn't let go of the purse. She held it in her right hand, pointing in my direction. I....”
“You scared?” Hal cut in, pouring himself another belt, unbuttoning his jacket.
“No. Let's say I was careful—not to make any wrong moves,” I told him, knowing I was making one now, talking. But I couldn't stop, I was enjoying it too much. Not only showing-off to Hal; finding Rose was one of the high moments of my life, and this was the first time I had a chance to tell anybody about it. “I had this feeling she didn't want trouble, but she was ready for it. She glanced at the rigging, said, 'A motor-sailer. Not much of a boat, not even a radio or ship-to-shore phone.'
“'That's right, nothing fancy, but a good sea boat.'
“'You're looking at the captain, navigator, cook and bottlewasher,' I told her. I made more eggs and bacon and from the way she packed it in, she had skipped plenty of meals recently. She was sitting on the suitcase, her purse on her lap all the time. When she finished my chow she got a crumpled pack of butts from her dress, took one, and tossed the pack at me. I shook my head and reached over, put the pack on her thigh. It was certainly the best thigh I'd ever been that close to. Of course she knew my eyes were taking it all in and I think she was waiting for me to make a play. But I didn't. Finishing her cigarette she asked, 'Can you make Cuba in this? You said it's a sea boat.'
“'Sure. I've done it plenty of times—with decent weather.'
“'What do you do?'
“'This. I also take out fishing parties, but when I feel like it. Otherwise I just swim around—like you.'