“It’s fitting the old bastard was found with his dong in his hand.”
“It happens, Charlotte. Even the best of us stand there taking a whiz, backs to the weather—never give it a thought. A big wave hits and it’s ‘Man overboard!’ If the boat’s underway and the dumbass is alone on deck, he’s a goner.”
“Surely that’s an exaggeration.” The whisky-voiced woman rattled the ice in her glass, raised it to her wrinkled lips, and sipped, leaving a waxy pink stain on the rim. She was much older than the man beside her, and the skin-tight, sleeveless t-shirt she wore did nothing to complement her figure. “Why couldn’t he just swim ashore?”
They were the only two people in the bar. Apart from the strip club up the road, there was no place else to go on a Tuesday night.
“Nah, hypothermia sets in long before you can get ashore unless you’re right on the beach.” Tom shook his head and played with a paper coaster in a small puddle on the bar. “Now, if you’re at sea, there’s nothing sticking above the surface but a head, and that’s damned hard to see if you don’t know where to look for it, but in this case, the boat was at anchor, but I guarantee you he was drunk. Maybe he had a heart attack or something. It doesn’t sound like he even tried to swim. Never even let go of his pecker.”
Charlotte made a tsk sound.
“Yachting Times said the crew was ashore and he just wasn’t there when they got back to the boat. By the time they found him, his body was halfway to Union Island. It’s a wonder the sharks didn’t take him.” Tom signaled to the bartender for another beer. “I couldn’t believe he still owned that boat.”
“Mmmm,” hummed the barfly. “Where’s Union Island?”
“Way down in the Grenadines—almost to Grenada.”
“Who found him?”
“Some cruisers radioed the authorities. I told you I used to skipper for the guy, Right?”
“He was a piece of work. There was this one time we were in Corsica for a regatta—”
“A regatta. It’s a yacht race, kind of a pissing contest for the rich bastards. They like to get together every year and find out who has the best boat. It’s all broken down into classes so the boats are evenly matched.”
“The boss was bored one day and he went off exploring Bonifacio on foot. It’s a narrow little harbor—wall-to-wall restaurants and bars. No telling how much he drank. When he came back, he fell right off the dock. Sally and I were working. We didn’t hear a thing, but some French sailors saw him go in. He’d never have gotten out on his own.”
“So’d they fish him out?”
“Yeah. It was lay day—that’s a day-off in the middle of the regatta—and we’d spent the day stocking up and getting ready for the old man’s guests to arrive.” Tom gazed off into the distance as the memory took shape.
“We heard ‘Permission to come aboard!’ and Sally peeped out over the companionway. I saw her eyes get big, and she ran up on deck. I was just coming out of the engine room. When I got up on deck there were these two big Froggies in uniform carrying Fiedler onto the boat wringing wet.
“‘What happened?’ Sally asked. Then she said it again in French then dithered about whether to help carry him or turn around and grab towels.
“‘You go get the towels,’ I told her, and took the old man off the sailors’ hands.
“Sally told the sailors, ‘Merci beaucoup,’ and they left. She always did the translating. I sure did miss that once she left.
“I got my ass chewed the next day because Fiedler’d got drunk and made a fool of himself—like I could stop him!—I had to wonder who saved him from messing up when he was home. It sure wasn’t his wife or his prissy son. He lost his glasses when he went in the drink too, but I fished ‘em out.”
“Sounds to me,” said Charlotte, “like it was a good thing those sailors saw him fall in, or you might have been the ones fishing his corpse out of the water.”
“Probably so. That was a hell of a trip. The next day this big dude named Jäger, like the drink, turned up. Looked like a bear. I never was sure what he did for a living, but he had something on Fiedler. And Fiedler told me the woman with Jäger was a call-girl. Beate—that was her name. She said she was a rep for a drug company. T’any rate, Jäger arrives the next day with his lady friend. Sally had been prepped to do some major entertaining, and she had caviar and champagne chilled; polished the silver and what not, but they wanted to see the island, so they took Fiedler off in a taxi, and me and Sally had time for a nice lunch and a skin full of wine with a Danish couple we knew who were running an aluminum hulled sloop. They were about three slips over, tied up stern-to like we were.
“They all came draggin’ in about six o’clock, and the old man was legless again. The big bear, Jäger, hauls him off to his cabin and they have a shouting match in German, then Jäger and Beate go out again. Nobody seemed to want to talk to us, so me and Sally went out for dinner. Why mess up the galley? Ended up about ten of us yachties at one big table. We got pretty toasted, but we were still compos mentis. Then, way past midnight, after we were all tucked up in our bunks, I hear Fiedler out tip-toeing around calling ‘Beate, is that you?’ Like he was expecting her to come get in bed with him!”
“Did Jäger break his face?” Charlotte asked.
“I wish he had. I ended up clearing up the blocked head he left instead. The two of them were packed and off the boat before breakfast in the morning. He didn’t say ‘thank you’ or ‘kiss my ass’ to me or Sally, and the old man never came out of his cabin—just called for V8 juice and stuck his arm out through a crack in the door when Sally brought it to him. Worst part was that big hairy bastard left the biggest turd you ever saw—like a brick, but I suppose it could have been worse.”
“That is disgusting, Tom.” The barfly made a face and stuck her tongue out. “Don’t you know any stories that aren’t nasty?”
“No darlin’. Those rich bastards are just like that.”
On the walk to his boat that night, Tom kept thinking of Herr Fiedler. That led to thinking about Sally. He did a quick calculation of what time it would be in Australia and fired up his computer.
“Tom! Blinkin’ Heck! What’s the time there?” Sally burbled over the patchy Skype connection.
“Late, Sal, I couldn’t sleep, so I thought I’d see if you were home yet.”
“Yeah. Just pulled in the drive from picking up the kiddos from school. It’s good to hear your voice. How long’s it been?”
“Too long. Listen, what got me thinking of you was I read that old Fiedler died.”
“Yeah, they fished him out of the water down by Mayreau. Boat was anchored up in Saltwhistle Bay, where we used to stop.”
“Apparently, he was taking a piss—”
“Language, Tom, little ears.”
“Right, it looks like he fell in the water, with the boat sitting right there at anchor, and nobody knew it till it was too late.”
“Likely bloody story!”
“The crew were ashore, and there was nobody else in the bay.”
“He was bound to have been paralytic.”
“Goes without saying.”
“If the missus had been there, I’d lay money she knocked him in the head and pushed him overboard,” Sally said. “But what is there for the crew to be doing ashore on Mayreau?”
“No telling. Article didn’t say, but I looked it up. The island got electricity in 2002. There’s a little resort there now.”
“I guess it’s all changed since we were there. Don’t suppose I’d recognize it. You been down island lately, Tom?”
“Nah. I did an Atlantic crossing with Billy Jefferson a couple of years ago.”
“From Silver Fish?”
“Yeah. He’s running a sweet Perini Navi 54 meter called Mnemosyne. Great trip. We only got clobbered once—between the Azores and Gibraltar.”
“Oh! Wasn’t Billy Jefferson the guy who pulled us off when we ran aground in the Port of Andratx?”
“One and the same. I try to forget about that night.” Tom flashed back to their first night sailing with Fiedler and his gay, emo son. The old man had been so excited to be out on the new boat he insisted that they sail onto the anchor. The previous skipper had warned Tom to always set the anchor hard because the boat was so heavy, but Fiedler wouldn’t even let Tom turn the engine on. He was showing off, and they hadn’t established the chain of command yet since Tom was too green to assert himself. They’d all gone to sleep when the boat heeled over and wallowed onto her port side. After falling out of their bunks, everyone had stumbled up on deck to find that they were hard aground, right in front of Ollie’s Bar.
“Thank God the bar was closed!” said Tom.
Sally laughed. “Yeah. It’s a good thing that Billy guy kept it to himself. We’d never have been able to live it down.”
“I thought my career was over and done right there. And Fiedler laughed it off. Remember? He said, ‘Ach, you should have seen the time I went aground in the Bodensee!’”
Pixelated Sally nodded. Her mouth wasn’t moving in sync with her voice. “I’ve wondered about them over the years. What made them so miserable, Tom?”
“I don’t know, Sally, but I can tell you for sure that I have yet to work for a happy millionaire. I should have taken up a trade or gone back to college or something. Too late for that now.”
“Those people ruined yachting for me—I couldn’t deal with their filth anymore.”
“I should have quit with you, Sal, but I thought I had something to prove. I was making good money and I was still immortal.”
“I know, Tom.”
“How are Kevin and the little nippers?”
“Not so little anymore. Julian’s 12 years old now. When you coming to see us?”
“When I win the lottery, I guess, Sal. I need to stick close for my Mom.”
Hearing Sally’s voice brought back a flood of memories from the years they had spent together on Fiedler’s yacht. Tom closed his eyes and remembered the night he and Sally first met the Fiedlers. Sally had pushed him to get his captain’s license. They thought they were in love, and that running a boat together would be perfect. Sebastian and Claudia Fiedler looked like aging movie stars. He had thick salt-and-pepper hair that he wore on the long side, slicked back with a little Hitler ‘stache. She was tall and excruciatingly thin with a thick accent and waves in her hair. Herr Fiedler had been giddy about buying the boat. It was the biggest boat he’d owned, and Frau Fiedler made it clear that she was “allowing” him to buy it for nearly two million dollars because they’d just sold her father’s company.
They were odd, but Tom was twenty-two years old; to him, all rich people were odd. It had been his first real interview for a captain’s job, and he would have agreed to anything. The Fiedlers had been oh-so-polite. The wine had flowed, and by the time it was over, Tom and Sally had signed a shitty contract, but they were happy as the job began aboard the Claudia—the new name to honor Mrs. Fiedler. As he was drifting off, Tom thought, that should have been my warning; you never change a boat’s name…
Sally served boiled potatoes, roast chicken, salad and bread, just like Fiedler liked it. Boring, but it filled the empty spot. They were on an informal trip with just Fiedler and his friend, Mr. Schöll.
“It has become completely crazy,” said Mr. Fiedler. “On these new cable channels, you could even see your next-door neighbor having sex with his secretary.”
Sally looked at Mr. Schöll. “Really? Anybody can just put up a homemade porno movie?”
“Ya. It’s true.”
“That’s disturbing,” said Sally. “How can you stand to look your neighbors in the face ever again?”
Fiedler and Schöll just looked at the table wagging their heads from side-to-side. As he cleared the dishes, Tom wondered if they had filmed themselves with their secretaries. He chucked the chicken bones over the side and came back with a fourth bottle of wine.
“I don’t know what went wrong,” Fiedler said. “I worked my best years away, and now I don’t even know my family. They prefer it when I am away from home. I interrupt their lives.”
“Oh, Mr. Fiedler, surely that isn’t true,” Sally said.
“But it is the truth. My wife is so ugly, I can’t even stand the sight of her.”
“Your wife is a lovely woman, Mr. F.”
“No, Sally. She is horrible. Like the wicked witch. Maybe I deserve such a woman.”
“But, Mr. F., you are such a nice man. How can you say that?”
“I am not a nice man, Sally. I am not a nice man.”
Mr. Schöll nudged Fiedler, and they excused themselves.
Tom woke up with a headache. It took him a few minutes to realize he was not aboard the Claudia. For just a moment, he thought Sally must already be up. Then he remembered where he was and pulled on his shorts and shoes and jogged around the bay to his mother’s bungalow. He’d been lucky to find a job on a sport fishing boat in the little south Florida backwater where his mother lived. He let himself in the back door and found the coffee pot full and biscuits in the oven.
“Mom,” he called.
“I’ll be right out,” came a childlike voice from down the hallway.
Tom poured two cups of coffee and peeked in the oven.
“Good morning, sweetheart,” she said as she came into the kitchen. She kissed his cheek and frowned as she leaned back to look him over. “You look exhausted. Trouble sleeping?”
“Yeah. I tossed and turned all night.”
“What’s the matter? Indigestion?”
“Nah. I was thinking about my old boss. I found out yesterday that he died.”
“Oh dear, that’s too bad.”
“Nah, he was such a miserable bastard it was probably a blessing.”
The little woman frowned at the coarse language, but said, “What happened? Had he been ill?”
“He was an alcoholic. Sad case. Had everything money could buy, but his family were like strangers to him.”
“Which one was this, dear?”
“Fiedler, the German Sally and I worked for.”
“Dear Sally. How is she anyway?”
“Sounds good. I called her on Skype last night to tell her about Fiedler. She sounds happy. Her oldest boy is twelve years old already. Can you believe that?”
“Time flies. Isn’t it amazing to be able to see your old friends—even in Australia? I wish you’d stayed with that girl. She was a keeper.”
“Yeah, Mom, but I wasn’t smart enough to do that.”
“You want eggs?”
“No. Got any bacon or sausage to go with those biscuits?”
“Of course. Give me a minute and I’ll finish off the gravy. Tell me again why you let her leave that boat without you?”
“’Because I’m an idiot, Mom. I stayed for the money—thought the job was more important.”
“But you changed jobs right after that, didn’t you?”
“Old S. O. B. fired me once Sally was gone. Worked my tail off that summer like he was punishing me. Then, when the engine seized up and he had to replace it, he blamed me. I tried to tell him it needed rebuilding before we left Antibes, but he had discovered that the mechanic I’d been using was African, thought a black man couldn’t possibly rebuild his German engine.”
“And you still didn’t go after Sally?”
“She’d gone home to Australia, Mom. I called her, but she blew me off. Said she was through with yachts and the jerks who owned them. She didn’t care if she never saw another sailboat. What was I supposed to do? Give up everything I’d worked for?”
“You were young. You could have started again.” She set a steaming plate in front of him. “Never mind.”
“I should have started again. Here I am, forty-five and not a damned thing to show for all those years of hard work on somebody else’s boat.”
“Okay. You’re an idiot, son, but you’re my idiot. Now, what’s your schedule today?”
“Guests arrive at nine, fishing till mid-afternoon, then home. The usual.”
“You want me to fix a lunch basket for you?”
“No, thanks, Mom. I ordered lunch from the deli. You don’t need to cook for these knuckleheads. They’ll just puke it up. It’s choppy out there today.”
This was originally published in Fall 2017 edition of The Helix.