The fire was burning out of control. The black smoke was cascading upwards and hiding the otherwise cloudless sky. Jim was pressing the throttles forward, as far as they would go, willing his boat to go even faster. He hoped to reach the boat, or at least close enough to save anybody alive, before it sank. The biggest fear of any sailor was a fire at sea.
Suddenly, the boat exploded in a huge fireball. Jim pulled the throttles back, as he didn’t want any of the burning fragments raining down on his boat. The burning hulk was quickly sinking in the ocean. In less than a minute it was over. Jim pressed on closer. He couldn’t tell what kind of a boat it was. There was nothing left except except for a few small pieces that were quickly sinking into the abyss.
When he first noticed the fire, the boat was at least a mile from him. It seemed like a sport fisherman, but the fire had burned fast, and when he was close enough to see what it was, the fire had burned the boat to the waterline. Then it exploded.
Jim started looking for survivors among the flotsam. The first thing he pulled in was a life preserver with the name “Perla del Mar” painted on it. Then he saw a green duffel bag, and pulled it out with difficulty, as it seemed waterlogged. He threw it on the transom next to the life preserver, and climbed up on the Bimini railing to try to see from a better vantage point. Oily water from the bilges covered the area. Other than dirty paper plates and a half empty pack of Marlboro’s, nothing larger survived the explosion.
“Anybody here? Hello!” Jim screamed at the sea.
Jim knew it was a waste of time, since now the sea was flat and devoid of any evidence of what had just transpired. He looked all around the area. There was nothing around him or on the horizon. He looked up. Even the smoke of the fire was dissipating. Soon there would be no trace of what had happened.
Jim got ready to call the Coast Guard, when he remembered the duffel bag. He climbed down and sat next to it. It was made of that heavy canvas favored by the military. He pulled the zipper across the top. Inside he saw plastic packages. Lots of them. It took an instant for his heart to jump when he realized that he was looking at bag with money in it. Lots of money. The money was in stacks of $100 bills, stuffed inside plastic freezer bags. Fortunately they seemed to be sealed so he didn’t think there was any water damage.
Jim stood up and looked around. He still could not see anything or anybody around his boat or anywhere in sight. He thought of counting the money in the bag, but thought it prudent to leave the area first. He wasn’t sure what had happened, but sitting around counting money where a boat had just exploded, did not seem to be a good idea.
Jim advanced the throttles on his Baia B40’ and set a western course for Key Largo. Once the B40 was trimmed up, Jim looked behind him at the black duffel bag. This could only be drug money, he thought. Who else carries a duffel bag filled with freezer bags full of $100 bills? What happened to the boat? It had to be an accident, or a bomb had been set to go off on the boat with a timer.
Now that Jim was at least a couple of miles from the location of the explosion, he backed off on the throttles a bit. At the boat’s top speed, the Arneson surface drives threw up a plume of spray about 40 feet high. He didn’t want to attract attention, and driving at 40 knots towards the Keys with a huge rooster tail, was surely to get the attention of the Coast Guard. A few minutes later he entered the traffic lanes between Miami and Key West. He turned his boat northeast towards Miami and kept the speed down to about 25 knots. He quickly grabbed the bag and threw it down below, into the cabin.
A few minutes later he saw some boats fishing nearby and decided to stop and pretend he was also fishing, so he could have a better look at the bag. He dropped his anchor and grabbed a fishing rod he kept on board in case he wanted to get some fresh fish, and set it on the stern. Then he went below and sat down next to the bag. He opened the zipper and started to remove the plastic bags and place them on the table. He opened one bag and counted the bills. When he was finished counting, he thought he had about $3 million on the table. $3 million in $100 bills. No wonder the bag was so heavy. It had 30 kilos of money in it. Fortunately the money was dry. He assumed that the air in the plastic bags had kept the duffel afloat, instead of succumbing to Davey Jones’s Locker.
Jim leaned back and thought about what’d happened, and more importantly, what he was going to do about it. He had ventured far offshore this morning to test a new sonar he bought. He wanted to see how deep it registered. He thought he had gone about 20 miles offshore when he saw the smoke that alerted him to the fire. He was somewhat surprised that nobody else had come running to investigate the fire. It had been over an hour since he fished the duffel bag out of the water and even though he kept an eye out behind him, there was no evidence of anybody else looking for the missing boat, or its contents.
Jim realized that leaving the scene of the crime implicated him more than he realized at the time. He was going to have a very hard time explaining this to the authorities. He knew that subconsciously he wanted to keep the money. This was not money that belonged to widows and orphans. Nobody would miss it. Well, somebody would, but Jim didn’t think they could connect it to him.
Jim put all the freezer bags back into the duffel and carried it forward to the chain locker. Since the anchor was out, the chain locker was empty. Jim dropped the duffel into the chain locker. As soon as he raised anchor the chain would drop in and cover the duffel bag, and unless somebody totally tore the boat apart, it would be safe until he figured out what to do next.
A few minutes later Jim was cruising towards Miami Beach, after verifying that the duffel bag was well hidden. He took a beer from the fridge and sat at the controls in the cockpit thinking of what do do next. He didn’t think he needed to worry about anybody finding out about him. Unless somebody in a satellite, or a drone, was watching this section of the world very closely, he would just appear to be a fisherman or recreational boater out for the weekend.
He realized that he could not just go to the police and tell them that he found the money. That would alert whoever lost the money, and they would be seriously upset that he took it, and probably want to kill him for not minding his own business. He couldn’t even turn it in anonymously. If he did that, the money would wind up in some cop’s pocket anyway. The Miami police was not known for their honesty, specially when it came to drug money. The best thing he could do was keep his mouth shut.
Now the problem was going to be how to launder the money. He needed to make it legally his. How was he going to do this? If he found a way to get it into his bank account he was going to have to pay 35% tax to the IRS as soon as they audited him. A large deposit was guaranteeing that he would get audited. Did he want to give them a cool million? And having lots of money all of a sudden was going to be dangerous if the wrong people found out. Whoever lost the money was going to go to great lengths to find it. He decided to hide the money and give himself time to make the right decision.
All the way to the marina at South Beach, Jim kept thinking about the money. He was not going to be able to stop thinking about it, even for a while.
When he lost his house in the divorce, he moved into a small apartment near the marina. Jim’s problems really got worse when his ex-partner testified in divorce court that Jim was having an affair with his secretary. Unfortunately Jim’s partner had taken his wife’s side in the divorce and had liquidated the company. Jim thought that the gods had conspired against him, as the stupid “affair” was just a drunken Christmas party mistake. It only happened once, and he barely remembered it, he had drank so much.
Jim had already given his wife the house, and now he had to split the proceeds from the business with her. Jim always suspected that his partner was having an affair with his wife, but had never been able to get proof. After all the bills had been paid, there was not much left. Jim figured that he could live for six months, if he was careful and didn’t spend much. His major expense was fuel for the B40. He had thought about selling his powerboat and buying a sailboat, where he could live aboard, and maybe travel a little. His B40 had a pair of 375 hp. turbocharged Cats, that made it nice to drive around Miami at high speeds, but it was worthless to travel any distance, as it was a gas hog. Maybe that was the solution. Buy a sailboat and sail around the world, as he had dreamed of when he was younger. The problem was that he was no-spring-chicken. He had just had his 50th birthday and was a bit overweight. On the plus side, they had great new equipment for single handed sailing these days. He also had met a few guys in the marina that were passing by and were going to the South Pacific via the Panama Canal, and some were older than he was. Maybe this was the answer. He didn’t need much. Just a good boat and a little wind, and the world was his.
All of a sudden, Jim felt good. Once he was out of the area, the concern for where he acquired the $3 million, would disappear and he could live a long time with $3 million.
When Jim arrived at the Miami Beach Marina he pulled up to the fuel dock. As he was trowing his lines to the boy on the dock he noticed the life preserver he picked up from the water, lying on the deck. He quickly picked it up and threw it down below. Jim looked at the dock. The fuel kid was straightening out the fuel hose, and Jim really hoped the kid had not seen it. The fuel dock was one of the best places to get gossip. Once the boat was fueled, he pulled away and slowly motored to his slip. He tied the B40 off and covered it with his boat cover. He stood on the dock and looked at his boat, wondering if there was any sign that he had rescued the duffel from the ocean. Not seeing any, he left the marina and walked a few blocks to his apartment.
That evening, Jim did some research. First he wanted to see if there was anything regarding a fire at sea. Maybe they managed a distress call before blowing up? He found nothing. Even Googling for the Perla del Mar brought up nothing remotely resembling the boat, just a few restaurants in some touristy latin beach resorts.
Then he started looking at sailboats and catamarans. There were advantages to both. According to some sailors, if you were going to sail in heavy seas, the monohull was preferable as it could right itself after getting rolled over. The cat, if you flip it, stayed flipped. Then, if you were going to live aboard and be in temperate climates, the cat was preferable as it was twice as large, and faster. There had been a lot advances in sailboat and catamaran design and materials in recent years. Jim spent the evening studying the yacht listings in the area. He found a couple that merited a closer look in Ft Lauderdale.
After a while he decided to walk over to Monty’s for a drink and something to eat. He walked up to the bar and sat on the far end, so he could check out the action. It was midweek, so it wasn’t too crazy. The juke box was playing 60’s oldies for the old farts.
“Hey Jim.” One of the local barflys said to him.
“Hey Kathy. What do you hear?” Jim said.
“Not much. Things are quiet tonight.”
“That’s good. Quiet is good.” Jim said.
“They lost a boat in Marathon today.” Kathy said.
Jim’s heart skipped a beat.
“Oh, really? What happened?” Jim said.
“I don’t know. They sent off an SOS, but when the Coasties flew by they could not find anything.” She said.
“Do you know who’s boat it was? Anybody famous?” Jim said.
“I don’t think so. It was a sport fisherman.” She said.
Jim’s adrenaline was spiking.
The waiter brought Jim’s hamburger and set in front of him. Jim looked at the food and thought he was going to throw up.
“My stomach is upset. Do you want a burger?” Jim said.
“Oh yeah. Thanks.” Kathy pulled the plate over to her and started eating.
Jim put a $20 bill on the counter.
“I have to to leave. See you around, Kathy.” Jim said.
“Yes, thanks for the burger.” She mumbled with her mouth full.
Jim decided to take a walk to the beach so he could do some thinking. He didn’t think anybody had seen him, but if they were looking for the Perla del Mar he had to be very careful. Why on earth was he stupid enough to think that nobody would be looking for the boat? Especially since it was carrying a ton of money? Of course they would be looking hard, very hard. He decided it was time to get out of Miami for a while, or for good. Tomorrow he would drive up to Lauderdale and look at the catamarans. Tonight he would take a Xanax and try to get some sleep.
The next morning, while he was having a coffee, he scoured the local papers to see if there was any information on the missing boat. The Miami Herald mentioned that a sport fisherman out of Marathon was overdue. They had gone fishing last week and were due back yesterday. Somebody picked up a distress message yesterday. The Coast Guard was expanding the search for them. Jim’s heart moved into overdrive.
He called the boat broker in Lauderdale and told him he was interested in looking at a couple of catamarans. The broker was thrilled, since boats had been hard to move recently.
After lunch Jim found himself standing in the marina looking at catamarans. He figured out that he needed about a 40 foot cat if he was going to live aboard. One of the problems was that Jim had very little experience sailing cats. He crewed one summer on a 40’ sloop when he was 18, but since then he had spent most of his time on powerboats. He knew that he should find somebody to help him crew, but the threat of being discovered was very serious if he did. Crew members were notoriously nosy and loved to stick their noses in other people’s business.
Three hours later Jim drove back to Miami, after having made a tentative deal to swap his B40 for a 46’ cruising catamaran called Athena.
The next day Jim and the salesman went out to do some sea trials on both boats. After finding a few things that needed attending and replacing them, Jim signed over his boat and took legal possession of the Athena. He spent a couple of hours carefully checking out his new boat, and discretely moving everything that belonged to him into the catamaran. Fortunately there was a lot of storage space in the Catamaran. The duffel with the money and the life preserver, he buried in the starboard bilges under the master cabin. He then started a list of what he needed to buy to make an extensive ocean crossing. When he finished, he locked up the Athena and called a taxi to take him back to Miami Beach.
Jim was excited. He was now a real sailor. He no longer had a stinkpot, but a proper sailing vessel. Many sailors didn’t think much of multihulls either, but there was no question that it was a lot more comfortable to live aboard a 40 foot cat than a 40 foot monohull. Instead of wasting money driving around Biscayne Bay in his power boat, he would be using the wind to take him to new places. Places he had only dreamed of before.
When the taxi dropped him off at the marina, he walked into the office to tell the dock master that he was giving up his slip tomorrow.
“Where are you going?” The dock-master asked.
“The bad news is I lost my job and my wife left me. The good news is that now I can travel. I’m going to visit my brother in Seattle.” Jim lied.
He repeated the same story to the manager of his apartment, and told him that he would be leaving by the end of the month. When he got to his apartment he started doing triage. Figuring what he needed to take with him, and what he was going to sell or give away. By dinnertime, he had 3 duffel bags with gear, plus his laptop, iPad and iPhone. He was ready to go. Fortunately there was not a lot to get rid of. His wife had already taken care of that, so he went back down to chat with the manager of the apartment.
“How would you like to make a few bucks?” Jim asked.
“Love to. Who do I have to kill?” He said.
“Haha. Nobody. I have some stuff that I want to sell in my apartment and wondered if you wanted to try to get rid of it for me. I’ll give you 25% of what you get.” Jim said.
“That’s a joke.” He shook his head. “I want half of everything, 50%.”
Jim thought about it for a minute. “Ok. Deal. I’m going to be leaving soon, and when I do, whatever is left you can sell. The TV, the stereo, and the couch are worth the most. Do your best. The proceeds you can deposit in my bank account, Is that OK?” Jim said.
“What about your car?” He said.
“The grey beast? It’s leased. I will give it back to the dealer.” Jim said.
The next morning Jim left the apartment early and drove around to various marine stores to purchase the things he needed for the trip. When he finished, he drove up to the marina in Ft. Lauderdale and worked on the Athena. That afternoon Jim motored out from the marina, and when out at sea, raised his sails and spent a few hours getting comfortable in his new aquatic home.
The peace and quiet while under sail was mesmerizing. He now regretted the time he spent, always in a hurry, in his B40. The beauty of the sea experience had been diminished by the pounding of the hull against the waves, the smoking turbos when getting on the step, and the relentless noise of the engines. This was real sailing!
That evening Jim stopped by Monty’s at the marina to eat. Kathy, the barfly, came up to him at the bar.
“You gonna buy me another burger, handsome?” She said.
“Why not?” Jim said, and ordered a couple of burgers.
While waiting for the food Jim had to listen to the regular gossip of the bar. Jim was hoping that she would volunteer any info about the missing boat of Marathon without having to seem curious about it. Finally Jim asked.
“Whatever happened to the fishing boat from Marathon. They ever get back?” He said.
“Nah. Haven’t heard anything.” She said.
The bartender put two burgers with fries in front of them. The next 10 minutes were spent polishing off the plates. When they finished, Jim said goodbye and went back to his apartment. Kathy moved down to see if she could get a drink from some other locals sitting at the end of the bar.
When Jim got to his apartment he saw the bags by the door. He realized that he was actually ready to leave. He had done everything he needed to do, and the cat was ready. In the morning he would cancel his cable, pay the remaining bills, and leave a forwarding address with the post office. Then he would drive up to Lauderdale and put his stuff in the Athena. The last thing he would do is return the car. Satisfied that he had covered everything, he went to bed and slept soundly.
In the morning Jim was having coffee and turned on the local news on the telly. The coffee in Jim’s stomach almost came right up. They were interviewing a Coast Guard officer about the search for the missing boat. He sat down and listened to the reporter. The Coast Guard said they would have to cancel the search at the end of the day. Then they interviewed the wife of the owner of the boat, as she stood in front of her house. She seemed like any other retired snowbird, with her heavy Brooklyn accent. She cried when she started talking about her husband and his friends who had gone fishing on the Gulf Stream a couple of days ago, and never returned.
Jim didn’t want to think about this any more. He didn’t think he could put up with the pressure if he stayed around. He knew he had to to move quickly and leave no trace.
By noon, he was driving north on I-95 towards the marina where his cat was waiting. Other than a whimsical childhood desire to see the South Pacific, he had no concrete plans. He knew he would have to pick up a crew somewhere, as he was not sufficiently comfortable sailing across the Pacific alone.
He decided to take the cat over to the Bahamas to continue to familiarize himself with the sailing characteristics of Athena. Then he would decide which way to go.
When he got to the marina he topped the cat off with fuel and fresh water. At the convenience store he bought enough food to last him for a couple of weeks. Then he drove to the dealer and dropped the car off, while listening to the salesman tell him that this was going to be reflected badly in his credit report.
Jim had been moving so fast since he found the duffle bag that he had not really thought about leaving the United States for good. It was a big step, and one that he had not thought through entirely. He was about to go off grid, and that was new. It was a bit frightening, but the consequences of staying were much worse. If he stayed he would never be able to sleep without worrying that the narcos would come and find him one day. And they probably would.
When he was finished he realized that it was getting late, and he should wait and leave in the morning, giving him time to sail over to Nassau in the daytime.
The first night sleeping aboard Athena was relaxing. There was quite a bit of gentle slapping on the hulls, caused by the wakes of boats on the Intercostal Waterways as they motored north and south. There were enough hatches throughout, that a soft breeze kept the temperatures very comfortable while docked without having to turn on the air conditioner.
In the morning, Jim went ashore and bought himself a coffee. While he was waiting he picked up the Miami Herald and scanned it for any information on the boat from Marathon. Nothing. Nada.
When he finished, he went over to pay his bill at the dock master. As he was walking back to his cat he wondered if he would ever step foot on this coast again. All of a sudden he had a twinge of sadness. Sadness that he wouldn’t see the Grand Canyon, or the Redwoods in California. Or any of the incredible sights throughout the United States.
Knowing that he was doing the right thing, he turned the engines on and cast off the dock. He motored south on the Intercostal Waterway to the inlet so he could reach the sea. Soon he was raising the main and jib and setting an easterly course across the Gulf Stream on the way to the Bahamas. He turned the radar on and set the autopilot on a course to Nassau. Then he sat in the cockpit and leaned back. He remembered the old saying, “The best two days of boat ownership are, the day you buy it and the day you sell it.” This was the best so far, he thought —if he only didn’t have the spectre of the narcos constantly hovering in his mind.
A little later Jim went over to his chart table to check the charts. He was going to have to zig zag a little. The winds were coming from a southeasterly direction. This was a good exercise for him. Cats were not known for being able to sail very close to the wind. Fortunately if it got too tedious, he could always turn on one of his engines and motor into the wind. After doing some calculations he established that he would be arriving in Nassau in time for breakfast.
Jim had purchased some sailing books in Miami before leaving, so he now was sitting in the cockpit reading a story about a couple circumnavigating the world in a cat, while listening to a favorite playlist in his iPad. He quickly realized that if the winds picked a bit up he would need to get some help sooner than later. Sailing a cat was very different. He remembered, from his days sailing a Hobie cat as a kid, that tacking on a cat was much harder than on a monohull. You had to maintain as much speed as possible, or you would not be able to turn, and would wind up going backwards. It was simple, if you lost your speed, you lost control of the catamaran. He practiced walking around the cat while on autopilot. He went down below and checked the bilges. The duffel was safe. He saw the Perla del Mar life preserver and knew he had to get rid of it before somebody else discovered it on the cat. He took it topsides and looked around the horizon. A few container ships in the distance, but nothing else. If he threw it overboard here it might wash up on the coast somewhere. Then the Coasties would start their search anew in this area. That would not be a good idea. Jim decided to cut it up, and toss the pieces into the gulf stream. He went below and brought up a hack saw and proceeded to saw the life preserver up into small slices, like a pizza. The fabric cover he cut up so as not to be able to recognize the name, Perla del Mar.
When he was finished he threw the pieces into the ocean and watched them slowly disperse in the Gulf Stream behind him. Led Zeppelin was softly playing Stairway to Heaven in the background.
As the day progressed Jim tested the cat. He was nervous about sleeping while sailing. His radar would notify him if anybody came within 10 miles, or was on a collision course, and his depth finder would also make noise if the water below the hull got less that what he set it at, in this case he set it at 50 feet.
Reading was making him sleepy, so Jim took cat naps throughout the afternoon. He was not quite comfortable going below to his berth to sleep, so he found a place to put his feet up on the cockpit, and grabbed a light blanket to cover himself. The night passed quickly. A few container ships passed within reach of his radar and woke him, so finally just before sunrise, he went below and made himself a fresh pot of coffee.
He had sailed about 165 nautical miles without incident, and more importantly without spending a nickel on fuel. Instead of going to Nassau, with the huge Carnival Cruise ships, he decided to stop in Andros Island, which was less crowded. Jim had spent some time in Andros, diving with some friends about 25 years ago, and he loved the peace and quiet of the place. He decided to stay in deep water and sail down to Andros Town, on the eastern side of the island. Once abeam Andros Town, Jim started his port engine and dropped the sails. He motored through the inlet and dropped anchor near the old Yacht Club. He lowered the dingy and motored over to Hank’s Place, where he’d read they had a good breakfast. Fortunately Hank, the owner, was accustomed to this and he called Customs and Immigration man, and in 10 minutes, while he finished his eggs, the entire process was done and he was free to explore the islands.
“Where are you out of?” Hank said.
“Ft. Lauderdale.” Jim responded remembering that the Athena had a Ft. Lauderdale registration.
“Where are you headed?”
“I’m thinking I’d like to sail to St. Thomas.” Jim said.
“Sailing alone?” Hand asked.
“Yes.” Jim said.
“There is a cork board over there. Check it out. There are a few people who are looking for a ride south. Maybe you can use the help.” He said.
“I will. Thanks.” Jim said.
Jim walked over to the board and took pictures of the posted signs, then walked back to his table and finished his breakfast while reading the posted signs on his iPhone. They all looked interesting. A couple looking for work, and a single guy wanting a ride north. Jim decided to call the couple. That could work. A man to help sail and the woman to cook and clean up.
He called the number on the sign and a woman answered.
“Hi, my name is Jim and I just saw your sign on the board at Hank’s Place. I’m sailing south alone, and I’d love to meet you both. Can you come over to Hank’s now?” Jim said.
“Hi. Yeah. My name is Karen. Can you give us 30 minutes?” She said.
“Sure. I’ll wait for you both here.” Jim said.
In under 30 minutes a good looking couple, with wet hair, walked into Hanks. Jim raised his arm, although it was unnecessary as he was the only one in the bar.
“Hi, I’m Karen and this is Paul.” She said
Jim rose from the table and shook both of their hands.
“I’m Jim. Sit down. Do you want a coffee?” Jim said.
“Yes, thanks.” They both responded.
The next 30 minutes were spent getting to know each other. Jim told them that he used to live in Connecticut and moved to Ft Lauderdale when he got divorced and bought a sailboat. Karen and Paul met working on another boat last summer, but decided to leave when the boat owner decided to haul the boat out, and the boat was going to be out of commission for almost a year. They came to Andros a couple of weeks ago, to do some diving, and were hoping find a berth on a sailboat.
Jim thought it was serendipitous, and after looking at their references decided to hire them. The layout of the cat, was owners cabin on the starboard side, and crew forward on the port side, and guest cabin aft on the port side.
“I was thinking of sailing tomorrow. Can you guys be ready?” Jim said.
“We’re ready now.” Paul said.
“Good. Get your stuff and bring it aboard the Athena. Then let’s go see if we need anything else to sail. There is a variety store next door. We can probably find anything else we might need there.” Jim said.
The rest of the day they spent checking the fluids and the food stores below. Jim probably had too much peanut butter and jam, and not enough fruit and vegetables. Karen rectified that. That evening they had a last dinner ashore, and they all hit the rack by 10 p.m.
In the morning Karen made a nice breakfast for them. Then they raised the hook and motored out of the inlet and through the coral reef. Once they were clear, they hoisted the sails, and Paul checked the rigging. The motors were running like clockwork, since they only had about 100 hours on each of them. They were ready to sail. They set a southeastern course toward the Turks & Caicos islands.
After clearing the dishes Karen came on deck and refilled Jim’s coffee cup.
“Did you hear about the fishing boat that went missing earlier this week?” Paul said.
“No. Why?” Jim said, as his adrenalin started to spike.
“Somebody reported they saw an explosion at sea east of Marathon. Just heard this on the news.” Paul said.
“Wow. Explosions are bad anywhere, but very bad at sea. Did they say anything else?” Jim said.
“Only that a guy was fishing on his small boat when he saw the explosion and the smoke. He started towards the explosion, but the boat must have sank, since he couldn’t find anything floating where he thought the explosion took place. He said that the other boat must have picked up any survivors.” Paul said.
Jim was having a hard time swallowing.
“What other boat?” Jim said.
“Oh, the guy reported to the Coast Guard that he saw a fast boat leaving the area minutes after the explosion.” Paul said.
Jim thought that his breakfast was about to resurface violently. He put all of his energy into trying to relax a little.
“Did he see the other boat?” Jim said.
“Naw. Just a fast boat, with a rooster tail. You know, surface drives. Must have been a racing boat or something. Maybe they were smugglers. South Florida is full of them.” Paul said.
“Excuse me. I need to recycle my coffee.” Jim said getting up and going below.
Jim went down to his cabin and sat on the berth. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. The unthinkable happened. Somebody saw him. Jim grabbed his laptop and logged into his account. He started searching for news. After a few minutes he found the story. It was as Paul said. No description of the fast boat, but the Coast Guard was searching in South Florida for any information about this.
Jim was glad he left Florida when he did. The Coasties would be looking around the Keys but eventually they’d forget it.
Then with a shock, Jim realized that the danger was not the Coasties, but the narcos or whoever lost the money. The narcos would search everywhere, not just South Florida, and they would never stop. Jim needed to get as far away as soon as possible.
That evening Jim told his crew that he wanted to sail past the Turks & Caicos and go to straight to Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands. In the Virgins, catamarans were ubiquitous. There were probably more cats per square mile than anywhere else. If anybody was looking for a cat, they would not stand out.
The winds were good and they made good time. Three days after leaving Andros they arrived in Tortola. Jim’s plan was to restore the supplies, and refill the fresh water tanks. The Athena’s desalination system seemed a bit buggy, but Paul thought he could fix it when we landed and he was able to purchase some small electronic components.
The Athena dropped anchor just off the Yacht Club in Baughers Bay in Road Town. Paul was going to stay aboard and check the water maker, while Karen and Jim went ashore in the dinghy. Jim gave Karen $500 to replenish the food and drinks they consumed on the way down.
A large cruise ship had just arrived in port, and the tourists were everywhere. Normally Jim enjoyed the quiet of out of the way places, but now the crowds were comforting. He sat at a cafe near the port and listened to the tourists around him complain about the high prices that the arrival of the cruise ship had brought. When Jim got back to the Athena just before the sunset, he found Paul and Karen huddled in the cockpit engrossed in a conversation.
“How’d the afternoon go?” Jim said climbing aboard.
“It depends. Somebody was looking for you.” Paul said looking down at Jim from the cockpit.
“What do you mean?” Jim said nervously.
“I was below in the engine room, and I heard a couple of guys motoring around the Athena in a skiff. One of them said something like “Do you think this Jim guy is here?” I didn’t hear what the other guy answered.” Paul said.
“What did they look like?” Jim said.
“When I came topside I carefully looked, and saw two big guys in suits headed back to shore. These guys weren’t sailors. They almost fell out of the skiff. Are you expecting anybody?” Paul said.
Jim couldn’t think of any good reason for this to happen. Somebody put 2 + 2 together and now were looking for the Athena.
“Let’s get out of here. Now. I’ll explain more later.” Jim said turning the blowers and ignition on, in the starboard engine.
“I’ll go forward and stow the anchor.” Paul said.
“I’ll put everything away below, in case we get weather.” Karen said.
Jim turned on the Multi Function Display in the cockpit and cranked the engines. He plotted a course to Colon, Panama.
Paul returned to the cockpit and took the helm.
“You want to explain?” He said.
“We have time. Steer west of Norman Island. I’ll engage the autopilot in a few minutes.” Jim said pretending to be busy with the MFD and checking the course, while trying to think of what he would tell his crew.
“We are going to get rough seas on this trip. If we steer a bit north of the course, so as not to go so close to Colombia, we will get less weather, but it will make it longer. Let’s see how it develops. The winds will be astern all the way. There is a fair amount of ship traffic along the way, so we need to keep an eye out.” Jim said.
“If we are trying to hide, I would remove the radar reflector. That will reduce the radar signature significantly. These cats do not have a large profile, so we should be completely invisible beyond a mile.” Paul said.
Jim looked at Paul.
“Good thinking. Can you do it now?”
“On my way.” Paul said.
Jim knew he had to confront Karen and Paul immediately. He had been trying to think of any excuse to explain the strange happenings, and thought that if he lied and was caught, they would not trust him. If he told them the truth, they would demand an equal share, at best. At worst, they could turn Jim into the narcos and get a reward. Either way he was screwed.
A few minutes later they were sitting in the cockpit. Karen came out with 3 beers.
“I need to tell you something. The reason we left Tortola. It looks like we were thrown together by fate, and it’s only fair that you know everything.” Jim said.
He then proceeded to tell them the entire story from seeing the explosion to arriving in Andros. Karen went into the salon and brought back 3 more beers.
“So you have the money aboard the Athena?” Paul said.
“The bilges. It has to be in the bilges.” Paul said
“Ok. Don’t worry where it now. If we make it through, you each have a share.” Jim said.
“You have a plan?” Karen asked Jim.
“Get through the Canal. Ditch the Athena somewhere and get a new boat. Continue towards Fiji and beyond.” Jim said. “My problem was that I sold my boat to the marina -who sold me the Athena. Somebody looking for an Italian speedboat could soon find out what I sailed away in.”
“They’ll be waiting for us in Colon.” Paul said.
“We can think about it for a couple of days. It will take us about 5 days to get there. Depending on the winds close to Colombia.” Jim said.
“Curacao. I have a friend in Curacao who can help us get rid of the Athena and find us a new boat.” Paul said.
“I’m not sure I trust anybody else now.” Jim said.
“This has just become a democracy. Since we are all in the mess together, we all decide together.” Paul said.
“I want to see the money. Now. I want to see what I’m risking my life for.” Karen said.
Jim looked around the horizon to see if anybody was near.
“Somebody needs to be on watch all all times. No exceptions. We’ll go below and I’ll show you the money now. But the watches start in 10 minutes.” Jim said
Then Jim led them into his cabin. He pulled the carpet back and opened the bilge hatch. There in the darkness he found the duffel bag. He pulled it out and pulled the zipper back exposing the freezer bags.
“Can I see one?” Karen said.
“No. You already did. The money I gave you this afternoon was from this. From now on, nobody goes into this bilge without my permission.” Jim said closing the bag and putting it back in the bilge.
“I’ll take the first watch. 4 on and 8 off. Paul, get some rest. You’ll have the midnight watch.” Jim said ushering them out if his cabin.
Everybody returned to cockpit. Jim knew that each of the others was dreaming of what they would do with their share. Jim had already done this in his mind many times. Even though he was giving away $2 million, he was feeling better now, instead of trying to do all this alone. He thought it ironic that he refused to give the IRS one million, but was happy to give total strangers two million.
“Yes, Paul is right. They would expect us to go to Panama, and once we start, there is no turning back. That’s one thousand miles of nothingness. Or we can go directly to the ABCs and stop in Curacao, as Paul suggests. The other possibility is we can skirt the Lesser Antilles and hug the South American coast. Either way, we need to decide fast. We are moving at a nice clip but each hour takes us 20 miles further away.” Jim said.
“We are going to run into the same problem. Selling this boat in the same area we buy a new one. They’ll catch us for sure. We may need to split up. I can go ashore in Guadeloupe, and find us a new boat. Karen and you sail on to Martinique or Trinidad and find a buyer for the Athena. Once I get the new boat I will follow you and pick you guys up.” Paul said.
“That means you will have to take some of the cash to buy the new boat. What prevents you from taking off with the money and leaving us?” Jim said.
“The rest of the money. I figure we can get a good cat for $300k. My share is 1/3, so I would be giving you guys a lot of money. No, I’m coming back.” Paul said.
Karen nodded. “Decided then. Set the new course on the Nav. Next stop – Guadeloupe.” She said.
The next morning they arrived in Guadeloupe. Karen dropped the dinghy and took Paul, with $300k in cash in his backpack, to a fishing dock near the port. Paul would make his way to Pointe-a-Pitre, the capital, and let the others know his whereabouts by SatPhone daily. Karen then returned to the Athena, and Jim and Karen set sail to Martinique.
The weather was sublime. Jim set the autopilot and went below to change into his bathing suit.
“You need anything?” Karen asked.
“No thanks. I’m going to get some sun.” Jim said and walked into his cabin.
When he came up to the salon in his bathing trunks he saw Karen standing naked in the cockpit.
“I don’t like bathing suit lines.” She said by way of explanation.
Jim didn’t know what to respond, so he didn’t. He sat at the controls trying to hide his excitement. After a few minutes he went forward to the trampoline and lay face up in the sun and closed his eyes. Jim was not going to let himself get distracted by a beautiful naked body. He forced himself to plot new courses in his mind to distract himself.
All of a sudden he felt the trampoline move. Someone was next to him on the trampoline.
“We are going to spend a lot of time together. I don’t want to get distracted every time you look at me and get hard. I propose we have sex now and get it out of the way. Then we don’t have to think about it any more.” Karen said while stroking his penis over his bathing trunks.
Later that afternoon the SatPhone rang.
“Any news?” Jim said.
“I found a 2006 Lagoon 440 that has never been chartered. They are asking $350 but they may take our $300. They seemed in a hurry to sell it. It has everything we need, solar, water maker, wind power, air, and so on. Like the Athena.” Paul said.
“Sounds good. What registry?” Jim said.
“If you can get the paperwork signed off without having to insert any names, it would be preferable. We can decide later on the ownership.” Jim said.
“I’ll let you know tomorrow. How’s Karen? She miss me?” Paul said.
“She’s fine. She misses you terribly.” Jim said guiltily, while hanging up.
A few hours later they arrived in Martinique. They took the dinghy, and left the Athena locked up and anchored near the Yacht Club. They had a drink at the bar of the Yacht Club and asked the bartender who was the biggest dealer of boats on the island. When they finished their drinks Jim took a cab to the marina to meet the dealer the bartender suggested, and Karen went back to the Athena to wait. In case somebody followed the trail, he didn’t want to be associated with another woman. He wanted them to think he was alone. Jim had decided to say he was going to sail to Europe, when the news of his mother’s sickness arrived. So he decided to cut his trip short and return to Connecticut. That would give him a good reason to be in a hurry.
An hour later he shook hands with the broker, telling him he would let him know his decision in the morning. Jim took a cab back to the Yacht Club and got a ride to the Athena, where he debriefed Karen.
“We negotiated for a while. He knew I needed the money so he first offered me 200. I cried a little and he finally upped it to 250. I wants to see the Athena, but if it is as advertised, he will pay us 250 tomorrow.” Jim said.
“You are getting ripped off. He only wants to offer you 250? The Athena is worth 350, at least.” Karen said.
“Yes, but he knew I was in a hurry. Is it worth it to stay here, and hope to find somebody who will pay more? And maybe get caught waiting?” Jim said.
That evening Karen made a tremendous dinner for the two of them. Jim put some soft jazz on the iPad and they finished off a bottle of Pinot Grigio.
“Let’s take the offer and leave. The faster we get away from the Athena the better. I say we get a room in town tomorrow and move our stuff, and the money out of the Athena. Then we clean up the boat and take it to the marina to show the dealer. If he can get the $250,000 tomorrow, and we can close the deal, I think we should ahead. Otherwise we should sail somewhere else right away. ” Jim said.
“Where would we go? I thought we were going to wait for Paul?” Karen said.
“We get a nice hotel room and wait for him. We register in your name. Nobody knows your name.” Jim said.
“When do you think Paul will get here?” Karen said.
“Two days, the earliest. If he buys the boat tomorrow, he will need to get it ready to sail, and then a full day sailing it here. In the meantime I’ll do some research on where to go next if we don’t sell it.” Jim said.
“When are you going to do that research?” Karen said with a mischievous smile.
They put the dishes in the sink and went to Jim’s cabin. By the time Jim arrived, Karen was naked lying in bed, with that same mischievous smile.
The next day at breakfast, Karen sat at the table with nothing but an apron.
“Are you trying to kill me?” Jim said.
“I just want to fuck you until I’m out of your system. I want to walk around naked and not see you spring to attention.” Karen said.
“Good luck. What happens when Paul comes back?” Jim said.
“I’m not married to him. We hardly did it anymore. It’s nice to travel with someone. That way men don’t take advantage of you. Or try to.” Karen said.
“He’s going to be pissed off if he sees you with me. And I don’t think threesomes are healthy. Somebody always gets jealous. This could get dangerous.” Jim said.
“Maybe he won’t stay with us?”
“What do you mean?” Jim said.
“I don’t know. Maybe you and I should split the money and run away. We could go far away and nobody would find us.” Karen said.
“Without the boat?”
“Well, maybe after he brings it? We could pay him off. You and I could go far with 3 mil.” Karen said.
“You are treading on thin ice. It sounds like you were thinking of throwing him overboard once we sailed.” Jim said.
“It wouldn’t kill him. He swims well.” Karen laughed.
Jim got up and dove into the water. He swam around the Athena to think and cool off, and when he climbed back aboard, the table was clear of dishes, and Karen was below taking a shower. He took off his trunks and joined her.
Later that morning Jim made a reservation at an Airbnb in Karen’s name. He decided against a hotel, because they hadn’t cleared customs, or immigration, and the hotel surely would ask for his papers, unlike an Airbnb. Before checking in, Jim was going to call the dealer to see if he still wanted to deal at 250. If so, he would move his personal stuff to the Airbnb and deliver the cat empty. Then he called the dealer and confirmed that he had the money. He told the dealer that he would bring the cat to him in a few hours. As usual, he logged onto the internet and checked for stories regarding the explosion off Marathon. There was no news, just recycled old stories.
Jim helped Karen with her bags and took her to the Yacht Club on the dinghy, and called her a cab. Karen went off to the Airbnb to get the room. When she was finished, she returned to the Athena with the key. Jim, in the meantime, packed all his stuff and took the duffel from the bilge. He had his original 3 duffel bags and the “green duffel” waiting on the deck. He also checked the logs, and erased all courses or data from the MFD. He tried to wipe all traces of his previous activities. When he finished he accompanied Karen back to the Airbnb and stored his bags, now all carefully locked. Then he returned to the Athena and motored over to the marina to drop off the cat.
In 90 minutes the deal was done. Jim had a cheap briefcase with $250k in it, and the Athena had a new owner.
“I hope your mother recuperates soon.” The dealer said as Jim was leaving.
It took a couple of heartbeats to remember the story he told him about his mother being ill, and his deciding to cut the trip short.
“Thank you. I hope so too. I will send her your good wishes when I see her.” Jim said.
Jim was very happy. He had finally cut ties with the Athena. Now nothing could connect him with the missing money. For the first time in weeks, he felt safe.
“Let’s have a date to celebrate.” Jim said when he returned to the Airbnb.
“Oh, a date? I’d love it.” Karen said.
That evening they took a cab into town and had fancy dinner at L’Oxygene with a great white Bourgogne. When they got to back to their Airbnb, they fell, full and exhausted, into their kingsized bed. Jim was still excited about the feeling of freedom he now felt, and the new woman lying next to him. He turned to her and they made love noisily for an hour, and fell asleep without hearing the SatPhone ring.
“We had left the SatPhone in the room. That’s why I didn’t pick up.” Jim told Paul when he called him in the morning.
“I bought the boat. I’ll be sailing tonight.” Paul said.
“You can leave in the morning if you want. We also sold the boat and moved into an Airbnb today.” Jim said.
“Ok. I’ll wait for morning then. I don’t want to sail a new boat alone at night. I haven’t checked all the lights and stuff. Besides we are going to need a couple of days to reprovision the boat. Also a few things we will want to get for any long distance sailing we do.” Paul said.
“Good. We’ll chat then.” Jim said.
“Can I talk to Karen before you go?” Paul said.
“Sure. Hang on.” He handed Karen the phone.
He didn’t want to listen in, so he got up and walked out onto the terrace.
A few minutes later Karen emerged and sat next to Jim.
“He asked me.” She said.
“Asked what?” Jim said nervously.
“Asked me if we were sleeping together. I told him we were.” Karen said.
“Oh fuck.” Jim said.
“No. It’s all right. He’s not jealous. We both knew we were just convenient for each other.” She said.
“Then you don’t know men. They will always be jealous of another man. It has to do with survival. It’s engrained in our psyche, or genes. I don’t know which. But either way I am concerned of what his reaction will be. Are you going to sleep in my cabin or Paul’s tomorrow?” Jim said.
“I’m going to sleep in my own cabin. Thank you! I don’t belong to either of you. I’m not a toy to be passed around the crew!” Karen said mad, and walked back in the room, slamming the door behind her.
Jim wanted to give her time to cool off so he waited about 5 minutes and then walked back into the bedroom. Karen was in bed, covered with a sheet, facing away from Jim and apparently asleep.
Jim decided to stay in his room the next day. He didn’t want to walk around town. He remembered the CCTV cameras that were being put up everywhere, to ostensibly protect the tourists from muggings, and he didn’t want to appear in any of them. The least exposure he had the better. Karen woke up refreshed and didn’t mention last night’s argument. She decided to take a walk into town and maybe do a little shopping. While Karen was out, Jim logged on and, as usual, first looked for any new stories about the missing boat. He found none. Then he spent the day looking through the charts of the waters close to the northern coast of South America.
At 3 p.m. The SatPhone rang.
“What news?” Jim responded.
“Be docking near the Marina du Marin, on the south of the island. I should be there by 4 p.m. I’ll call you when I’m there.” Paul said and hung up.
Paul looked at his watch. It was 3 p.m. He thought it best if they all moved their stuff into the new boat before dark. Then a couple of days replenishing the stores and fixing anything that needed fixing, and they could sail towards the Island of Margarita, on the coast of Venezuela. Margarita used to be the playground for rich Venezuelans to spend the weekends, but since the socialist government took over, it was probably fairly abandoned. Jim thought that they would sail off the coast of Venezuela and head for Colon to enter the Panama Canal. Jim knew that they would still be looking for the Athena, but now that they had a Panamaian registered catamaran, they might be able to pass quietly. Jim assumed the bad guys had found a picture of him somewhere, so he thought that he should change his appearance slightly. He thought that if he shaved his head and grew a beard he might pass unnoticed. He walked into the bathroom and grabbed his trimmer. He put the minimum setting on the blades and proceeded to cut all his hair off. When he finished, he cleaned up the mess and got in the shower, where he proceeded to shave the remaining stubble.
When he got out of the shower he walked out into the bedroom naked. Karen turned and screamed.
“What! Oh fuck, you scared the shit out of me. I didn’t recognize you. You shaved. You are kinda cute with your white head.” She said.
“I needed to change my appearance a little. In a couple of days my head will tan.” Jim said.
“You changed a lot. Nobody will recognize you.” Karen said.
“Paul should be docking any minute. He called earlier. He said he would be here at 4 p.m. It’s 4:15 now. I expect him to call any minute. Let’s get this room cleaned up. As soon as he docks we will go drop off our bags, and move into out new home.” Jim said starting to get dressed.
By 6:30 p.m. Jim and Karen were aboard their new catamaran. Her name was Argonauta and she was very similar in size to the Athena. Jim moved into the owners cabin and Karen into the guest cabin. Paul was already ensconced in the crew cabin. After storing their stuff they all met up in the salon and debriefed with a couple of beers.
“I thought we should set sail towards Margarita and the skirt the coast to Colombia and Colon.” Jim said.
“I’m not sure that it is smart for us to to to Panama. If the bad guys are looking for us, they can stand on the Miraflores locks and look down into every boat that passes by. I was thinking it may be better to go to Europe.” Paul said.
Jim nodded thoughtfully.
“I also was worried about that. I like the Europe idea better. It will be a long crossing. We can spend a few days around these islands getting familiar with the Argonaut and figuring out the best way to cross the pond. We need to carefully check everything, rigging, sails, motors, electronics, even the hull fittings.” Jim said and looked at Karen.
“I agree. Let’s go to Europe.” Karen said smiling.
“Ok. Decided then. Once we get through the straights of Gibraltar we can decide where to go. I would probably sail to the Turkish coast. It’s beautiful and relatively deserted. The Greek islands are also full of catamarans, and since they are so broke, it is probably very cheap there. I don’t expect anybody to be looking for us there either. We can also split up and divvy the money at that point, or stay together if we still like each other.” Jim said smiling.
The next few days Jim stayed aboard there Argonauta, checking and cleaning everything. Karen went ashore to buy supplies for a months extended sailing and Paul scraped the hulls and climbed the mast to make sure all the fittings were sound. Finally one afternoon they were finished.
“Shall we sail tomorrow morning?” Paul said.
“I’m ready. The Argo seems ready also. What do you think, Karen?” Jim said.
“I’m going to get a new butane bottle. The one we have is half used, and I’d rather have a fresh one.” Karen said.
“We should carry two, if we have room get three. Get a new one and refill the one we have at the dock. Then we can store the others below in the locker.”
“Then it’s settled. We leave tomorrow at first light.” Paul said.
“The winds and currents are clockwise in the North Atlantic, as you know. We can’t go straight across, as we can get stuck in the doldrums without any winds, but we should go north on the Gulf Stream and around Bermuda. Then we can swing across to the Azores, and then directly to Gibraltar.” Jim said.
“It’s too early for hurricanes, so we should be ok. Also there should be many boats repositioning to the Med at this time of year.” Paul said.
“Ok. Good. If anybody needs anything for the trip, this is the time to go ashore and get it. Next stop Gibraltar.” Jim said.
That night everybody slept in their own bunk. In the middle of the night, Jim got up to pee and heard loud voices coming from the other hull. It seemed Karen wanted to sleep alone.
At daybreak, Jim turned on the music in the salon and woke everybody up. After a good breakfast they motored out of the harbor, and when clear raised the sails and headed past the Club Med into the sea, and south around the point. Then they were on their way.
Soon they were cruising comfortably with the Genoa out. Karen went forward on the trampoline and took off her top to sunbathe, leaving her bottoms on, presumably to keep the wolves away — and from fighting each other. The good sailing and nice weather seemed to defuse the sexual tension, and by the end of the second day, they were operating as a seasoned team. Jim still insisted on having the 4-on and 8-off watches he established earlier. The night before passing abeam Bermuda, Jim woke up to pee and heard voices in the cockpit. He quietly stopped on the steps leading to the salon and listened. The hatch leading to the cockpit was open and he could hear them whispering.
“The man is going to get us killed. Even if the bad guys don’t find us, why do you think he would share the 3 mil with us? If it were mine, I certainly wouldn’t.” Paul whispered.
“I can’t believe you are suggesting anything. Go to bed. Stop thinking this shit.” Karen said quietly.
Jim softly went back to his cabin so as not to be heard. He couldn’t sleep now. This was a mutiny. Paul wanted to get rid of Jim. He didn’t think there was anything he could do to meliorate the situation. If he gave him his share now, Paul would still want to kill him for Jim’s share. The only way to kill somebody at sea was to throw them overboard. The sea would handle the unpleasantness. If Jim did that, it would make him no less than a murderer. Could he live with it? Christ! What had he gotten himself into? Then Jim remembered Karen’s oblique remark in Martinique about getting rid of Paul. Maybe he should talk to Karen soon and warn her that Paul would also want to get rid of her, so Paul could keep the entire $3 million. Whatever happened, it would probably happen as soon as they passed Bermuda and before they arrived in the Azores. He needed to act first, or he may be looking at the stern of the Argonaut slipping away in the darkness. He instantly got a chill. He reached over to his shorts and grabbed his knife from the belt. Tonight he would sleep with one eye open and his knife in his hand.
The next morning after his watch ended, he sat in the salon and pretended to read a book on his iPad. At one point Paul got up and went around and forward to check something on the jib roller. Karen was behind him, cooking something on the stove.
“What’s going on Karen?” Jim said.
Karen looked up and saw that Paul was forward and couldn’t hear her.
“You heard him last night? He’s going to kill you, you know.”
“I think we need to get rid of him before he kills both of us.” Karen said softly.
“How? We don’t have a gun. A knife is dangerous.” Jim said.
“Poison. I can crush all my Xanax and get it into his food. In half an hour he won’t be able to move. We can then toss him overboard. The sharks will clean it up.” Karen said.
Jim was tormented. Once he crossed that line, he was marked forever. He had never killed anybody, even when he served in Iraq.
“How do you manage not to kill me in the process?” Jim said.
“I’ll make him a bowl of chili before his watch. He loves chili, and the taste will mask the Xanax. He’ll eat it and then —goodnight.” Karen said.
“How many of those pills do you use?” Jim said.
“I have about 15, half of my prescription. I’ll crush them all into powder.”
“Ok. This evening. Do it.” Jim said quickly when he saw Paul returning to the cockpit.
The afternoon passed quickly and Karen caught a good sized dorado for dinner. She started the grill on the stern while she cleaned the fish. When she was finished, she put it on the grill, and in 15 minutes we were all eating fresh fish with butter and lemon. The fish was probably delicious, but Jim couldn’t taste anything.
A couple of hours later Jim’s watch ended and Paul’s started. Jim went below to his bunk and waited. He heard voices in the cockpit, but he couldn’t hear what they said. He opened his iPad and started playing solitaire to pass the time. Soon he was asleep.
“Jim. Wake up.” He heard. He opened his eyes and saw Karen.
“What happened? You ok?” Jim said.
“Yes. It’s done. He ate the chili. Now he’s fast asleep, or dead, I don’t know which.” Karen said.
Jim jumped out of the rack. He went upstairs to the cockpit, and found Paul lying on his side, apparently asleep, on the couch.
“Paul? You awake?” Jim said shaking Paul’s shoulder.
“He’s dead I told you. He took enough Xanax to kill a horse.” Karen said pointing to an empty bowl of chili.
Jim looked at Paul. He touched his carotid artery for pulse. He found none.
“How long ago did he finish?” Jim said.
“An hour or more. You’ve been a sleep for almost two hours.” Karen said.
“Ok. Let’s do it. Let’s get him overboard before we get too close to Bermuda.” Jim said.
Karen was tearing at Paul’s clothes with a knife.
“We need to draw a bit of blood so the fish can find him easily.” She said while stabbing Paul’s legs.
“Stop. That makes it worse. Let me carry him.” Jim said and grabbed Paul’s arm and lifted him in a fireman’s carry.
He slowly made his way to the side and unceremoniously threw him overboard. He stood there watching the body drift back in the current. He felt Karen’s hand take his.
“We only did this to save our lives. It was self defense, not murder. Remember that.” Karen said.
Neither Jim or Karen wanted to talk about this now, so they both got busy doing other things. Jim checked the course and weather charts. Karen cleaned up Paul’s cabin and then went to bed. Soon they passed abeam Bermuda as the sun was rising on the East. It was a beautiful sight. Jim went below to Karen’s cabin. She was naked lying on her back in the berth. She slowly opened her eyes and smiled when she saw Jim. She beckoned to Jim with a curled finger and that same smile he used the first time. Jim knew he didn’t have much time, so he shucked off his shorts and jumped right on Karen.
“I was thinking we should maybe stop in Bermuda for a day to rest up. I haven’t had any rest in 48 hours and I’m whacked.” Jim said.
“Shut up and fuck me.” Karen said.
An hour later Jim steered the Argonaut into Hamilton Harbour. He found a nice cove and dropped the hook. He then took a shower and went below to rest. The plan was to rest for a day and then off to the Azores, or if they felt good straight to Gib.
“You’ve slept too long.”
Jim opened his eyes. Karen was standing at the foot of his berth. With one hand she reached back and unfastened her top. Then she slowly peeled off her bottoms.
“Is this how you are going to kill me?” Jim said laughing.
“You complaining?” Karen said as she climbed on top of the berth.
A couple of hours later, they surfaced for food. They had spent the day sleeping. After eating dinner, they retired to Jim’s cabin.
“Can I sleep in your cabin?” Karen said as they entered Jim’s cabin.
The next day they sailed off without even setting foot in Bermuda. They set the course to the Azores. It was going to take them a solid week of sailing. Soon they developed a comfortable schedule, alternating watches.
Karen laughed one morning when she saw Jim at the helm.
“Why are you laughing?’ Jim said.
“I told you I was going to fuck you till you got tired of seeing me naked. Well, I’m naked and you don’t seem to be the slightest interested. I guess I did it.” Karen said.
“Give me a minute and we’ll see.” Jim said.
They both laughed as Jim engaged the autopilot and followed her below.
At dinner that evening Jim told Karen he wanted to speak to her about something serious.
“What do you want to with your money? “ Jim said.
“Are you throwing me out?” Karen said.
“No. No. I was just curious. In less than 10 days we will be in Gib. I didn’t know what you wanted to do, once you got your money. Are you going to leave? Or do you want to stick around with me for a while?” Jim said.
Karen looked at Jim carefully.
“Ah, you are testing me. Do I love you for your money or for your charm?” Karen said.
“Unfair, but yes, something like that.” Jim said.
“You are going to give me $1.5 million first. And then you ask me if I want to stay with you, or depart for unknown shores?”
“Sooner or later we were going to have to discuss this. Ok. I think we are trying to fast track a relationship, and that is very hard. I’d like to stay with you, even if I have my own money. I’ve never been as alive as I am with you. I’ve never enjoyed sex as much as I have with you. I don’t know what you call that, but I like it, and I’m going to stick around as long as you’ll have me.
“What? You say ditto? I declare my undying love for you, and all you have to say is ditto?” Karen laughed.
“I’m very happy you said that. I feel the same way. There is some sort of commitment here. Neither you or I can just walk out the door. We need to communicate clearly.” Jim said.
“Agreed. Shake?” Karen said extending her hand.
Jim then retired to the computer to check the weather and sailing blogs. Half an hour later the hair on his neck stood up.
“Oh shit. I’m fucked.” Jim said.
“What are you talking about?” Karen said.
“They are looking for me by name. They know my name.” Jim cried.
“Where?..” Karen walked over next to me.
“There, they have here in this sailor’s blog, a mention that they are looking for Jim Nelson for questioning regarding an accident in South Florida.” Jim said.
Karen stepped in front of the screen and read.
“I need to change my name.” Jim said.
“Do you have Paul’s stuff below?” Karen said.
“You could pass for him, except for the shaved head. You can be Paul from now on. Do you have any money in Jim’s name?” Karen said.
“Maybe $5,000 in my bank in Miami.” Jim said.
“Forget it. Jim just died. Say hello to Paul.”
Jim thought about it for a few minutes. He couldn’t find any reason why not, and it would solve the problem of the narcos.
“What’s my new name? Paul what?” Jim said.
“I can live with it.” I’m going below to see what we have.” Jim said.
10 minutes later Karen heard a loud laugh and Jim/Paul came bounding up the stairs.
“Paul registered the Argonauta in his own name! He was stealing the boat from me. Wow. Is this poetic justice, or what?” Jim/Paul said.
“So everything is cool? Do you have his passport? Anything else?” Karen said.
“Yes, birth certificate and driver’s license for Florida.”
“From now on you are Paul McCarthy. Jim went overboard.” Karen said raising her glass.
“Let’s burn your old passport. It would be very dangerous if anybody finds it in this boat.” Karen said.
Jim stood on the stern and put his passport in the grill. Then he got lighter fluid and doused it before lighting it on fire.
“The King is dead. Long live the King.” Karen said solemnly.
“Do you know anything about Paul? Where he’s from and does he have family?” Paul said.
“You were born in Rhode Island, Jamestown.” I think you have some cousins, but you won’t run into them in Europe. They are fishermen. Your entire family lives from the sea. You never went to college. You went to Iraq with the Navy, but never saw any action. What else do you want to know?” Karen said.
“Over the next couple of weeks, I need to really become Paul McCarthy entirely. I guess I need to grow my hair back.” Paul said.
“You look fine. Don’t change anything. If you try to look like him too much, you will fail. Better to make it obvious that you are different. That way they won’t notice as much. Make sense?” Karen said.
“Yes. Got it. By the way. Are there any skeletons I should know about? Is he wanted by the cops?” Paul said.
“I don’t really know. I guess we can Google him. See if anything pops up.” Karen said.
Two weeks later the Argonauta was facing the straights of Gibraltar. Paul turned the engines on to make sure there were available in case of trouble. The straights were not the place to run out of power, wind or otherwise. The starboard engine was running rough, and paul didn’t know how to fix it. So they decided to drop into Gibraltar to check the engine and restock their supplies. Paul was excited as they planned to spend a few weeks among the jet-set, cavorting in their yachts in Porto Cervo.
The Argonauta entered Gibraltar, and Paul docked in the marina and went looking for a mechanic. Karen grabbed her purse and took off to get some food from the Ship’s Store. Half an hour later Paul walked back to the Argonauta and was surprised to find the customs man talking to Karen.
“Mr. McCarthy?” He said.
“Could I see your passport?” He said.
“Sure. I’ll go get it.” Paul said nervously as he jumped aboard and went below.
In less than a minute, Paul dropped back on the dock.
“Here you are.” Paul said.
The customs man took the passport and looked at it carefully. Paul looked at Karen and gave her a quizzical look. Karen responded with a subtle shake of the head.
“Could you come with me Mr. McCarthy?” He said.
“Where? Why? I’m trying to fix an engine so we can sail to Italy.” Paul said.
“It will only take a minute, Mr. McCarthy. It’s just a formality. You haven’t registered with the office.” He said.
“I was going to come over. I wanted to get the mechanics to look at my engine first.” Paul said.
“Perhaps your wife can let the mechanics onto the boat, till you return.” He said.
“Ok. Karen, let the guy in to look at the port engine. It’s probably a fuel filter issue. I’ll be back soon.” Paul said and followed the officer to the gate.
A few blocks later they entered the Customs and Immigration Office. The officer led Paul to an interview room.
“I’ll be back in a minute. Please sit.” He said and left the room.
Paul felt that something was seriously wrong. He sat at the table and started to analyze the situation. How did the customs man know his name? Karen must have told him. But why? He didn’t need to register with this office unless they left the port. This was a tax free zone. Why did the guy show up? There was nobody on the dock when they arrived. The only difference… Shit, Karen left the dock to buy food. A plethora of crazy ideas were springing through his head. None made sense.
An hour later two gentlemen came into the room.
“Mr. McCarthy. My name is Inspector Janus. I’m with Interpol here in Gibraltar. Mr. McCarthy, you are going to have to be detained. There is a warrant for your arrest from a Massachusetts court. You were convicted of armed robbery a few years ago and sentenced to 15 years. You somehow escaped and fled the country. We have been trying to locate you for a long time. Imagine my surprise when you showed up in our lovely island.”
“I…I…I… I didn’t do anything.” Paul said.
“Of course. You will have the chance to tell the judge when you see him. A US Marshal is coming to take you back, Mr. McCarthy.”
“Look I’m not really McCarthy. My name is Jim Nelson. My passport and IDs are on the Argonauta. Can I speak to my wife? Please?” Paul said remembering that Karen had suggested burning his passport.
“Ms. Karen said that you would say something like that. She told us she met you when you were hiding aboard another boat in Key West. Then you both left the boat when it went into dry dock, and you decided to buy the Argonauta and sail to Europe for the season.”
“C…can I see her? Please.” Paul was getting desperate. He just figured out that Karen had turned him in when she ostensibly went to buy food.
“She’s already sailed. She said she was going to sail up the coast to Puerto Banus in Marbella.” He said.
“But the engine was rough. We needed to fix it.” Paul said desperately.
“It was just the filter. It was cleaned in a second. She’s already sailed. I’m afraid Mr. McCarthy you are going to be with us for a long time.” He said.
Paul just stood there immobile. He could not believe he had been taken. Now he realized that the signs were there all the time. He had just ignored them.
“Oh, Mr. McCarthy, she left you a note.” He handed Paul an envelope.
Paul tore the envelope open.
“My dear Paul,
The alternative was chili, and I really do love you. Come and find me when you get out. I’ll keep the chili warm.
With all my love,