Cash at the end of the day. That’s all I was after. I knew I wouldn’t be able to trade on my looks forever, but if my bikini helped me to land a job, so be it. Who was I to turn down work on a rich man’s boat? I was winding up a varnishing job in a little marina just south of Ft. Lauderdale in Dania, and I’d gone up to the café for lunch when all hell broke loose.
It started with the big powerboat at the end of the T-dock suddenly going quiet—generators and everything. Next thing I knew people were yelling and running. The cops got there fast. You couldn’t really see much from then on once the ambulance came to take away what was left of the poor guy. Somehow the sign the captain swears he hung on the ignition key in the wheelhouse wasn’t there when the mate switched on the mains. You know, the one that says, “DIVER DOWN. DO NOT START MAIN ENGINE.” He claims the captain radioed and told him to fire it up to test something and there wasn’t any sign. The captain says he wasn’t even there when it happened. He never called the mate, and there’s nobody to corroborate his story. Poor guy. The cops hauled him off.
Pretty much everybody who’d been milling around trying to see what was going on headed to the café for a beer. It was only one o’clock, but the accident convinced us to give up on doing anything meaningful for the rest of the afternoon. It was our way of showing respect for the dead. I found myself seated next to a deep-sea fishing boat captain whose shirt had “Deep Sea Dan” embroidered over his left breast pocket. He had crinkly leather skin, a gold signet ring, and greasy hair slicked back like the Atlantic City crowd that wintered in South Florida.
“Haven’t seen you here before,” he said.
“I’m doing some varnishing up in the yard.”
“That would explain the dust.” He looked me over, taking in the bandana around my head, the clear patches where my sunglasses had been, my bikini top and cut-off jeans—all of it covered in the fine yellow dust that clung to anyone stripping old varnish.
“Yeah, we’re taking a sweet little Chris-Craft back to bare wood. She is going to be gorgeous.”
“Oh right. On the hard. You pass it coming in from the parking lot.”
“That’s the one.” I sipped my beer. “Any idea who that diver was?”
“Some Italian kid. Guarino? I can’t remember. He’s scraped barnacles off my boat’s hull before.” Dan took a pull from his beer and said, “So do you only do varnishing?”
“No, no. I do just about any kind of day-work. I’ll be looking for another job next week. You need your boat washed? Bilges painted?”
“Well,” said Deep Sea Dan, “I might. Do you have a card?”
“Yes sir!” I whipped out my business card. It said, “Olivia Cleans Boats” and my phone number.
That evening, back aboard Gypsy, my guy Talbot and I were just finishing dinner and he said, “So you gave this old geezer your card?”
Tal’s a tall skinny guy who used to do custom cabinetry, but he also used to run drugs from Colombia, and he got caught. He’d nearly finished ten years as a guest of the State of Florida—he only had six months or parole left to serve, and until that was up he had to work at a licensed facility that paid peanuts.
“He wasn’t that bad, but yeah. I got nothing for next week. One of us needs a job that pays something.”
“Don’t get sassy with me, girl. I worry about you. You never know who you’re working for,” Talbot said.
“Maybe, but it beats the hell out of me riding the bike all over Ft. Lauderdale just to find a job every morning.”
“At least get the guy’s name. ‘Deep Sea Dan’ tells me nothing.”
Captain Dan called me early that Friday morning.
“Olivia? This is Dan Johnson. You remember? From the Lulabel?”
“Deep Sea Dan?”
He chuckled. “That’s right.”
“Yes, Captain. How can I help you?”
“I wonder if you might be interested in going out on the boat today? My regular mate isn’t available.”
“What would you need me to do?”
“Helm and clean-up mostly. There’s nothing to it. I handle the fishing lines. A hundred dollars for the day. It’s just the owner going out today. He won’t stay too long. He just likes to take a ride, catch a nice dolphin for dinner. How soon can you get here?”
The old man, Mr. Agnoli, was no trouble at all. He traveled with a fox terrier named Pookie. (I shit you not. Pookie!) I hardly spoke to him. Dan showed me how to drive the boat once we cleared the cut. Lulabel’s big twin diesels made her easy to handle. He went down and looked after the boss. He didn’t just bait the hooks, he even landed the fish. The boss just sat smoking a cigar and enjoying the breeze. Dude wore horn-rimmed coke-bottle glasses tinted a shade of green I’d only ever seen on old men. Little bits of dialogue drifted up to me in the tuna tower. It sounded like they were speaking Italian. When we got back to the dock, Dan showed me how he liked the fish fileted. Then I washed the boat down and went home.
We rocked along like that with Dan calling two or three days a week, and it was almost always the boss. Sometimes with and sometimes without his wife. The only thing that came up was when the missus, Lucile, the Lu in Lulabel, with daughters Laura and Isabella accounting for the La and the Bel, told Dan that I was to keep my blouse buttoned up at all times. Guess the old man had commented on my bikini top. It irked me, but I respected the old girl’s wishes. From then on, I wore khakis, boat shoes, and a buttoned white blouse. I’d only ever strip down to the bathing suit once everybody’d gone, so I could clean fish and wash down.
Dan would go off to the bar with them and leave me to put the boat to bed. He came back one evening as I was finishing up and pulled the creeper routine on me, though. Grossed me right out. When I told Talbot about it, he acted like he was gonna go confront Captain Dan.
“Man! I don’t trust that guy.” He stomped around on deck, grumbling.
“He’s harmless. Probably can’t even get it up,” I said.
“You don’t find many Italians named Johnson. I bet that’s not even his real name.”
“Tal, what is your problem? It’s easy work, and I’m making the money for two weeks’ worth of groceries in a day. Who cares if the dude doesn’t use his real name?”
It wasn’t long after that we took the Desideris out. Captain Dan called later than he usually did. I was already on the bike asking around at the small marinas on 17th Street.
“Can you go fishing today? I got a last-minute charter. There’s some tip money in it.”
Turns out it was a guy named Desideri and his son. The son’s name was Rick, and he might have been twenty. It was hard to tell. He could have been younger too. Dan gave the dad a funny look when they arrived, and the guy smiled and said something I didn’t quite catch, but it put Dan in a bad mood for the whole trip. Never took his eyes off those two. He sent me up the tuna tower immediately—even let me take her out through Port Everglades—like he didn’t trust our guests alone on deck. He came up to spell me for a few minutes about mid-morning and saw I was sweating.
“The boss’s wife isn’t here. You can peel down to the swimsuit if you want. Might add to the tips.”
The Desideris wanted to go shark fishing, and Dan had just poured out the bloody, smelly mess he mixed up to chum for sharks when a huge tiger shark struck. The kid fought for three solid hours. Nobody spelled him. Pissed me off when his dad shot the shark. Dan kept a shotgun propped up on the stern for emergencies, but this guy pulled his own handgun. It was Florida, after all, so I didn’t think much about the fact that he’d brought a handgun. I just figured they’d cut the shark loose. That’s what Dan had told me he usually did with sharks. Instead, we dragged her, all twelve feet of her, in to the dock for pictures. Dan used my phone to take the pictures since his old-school camera used film, and the Desideris wanted pictures they could share right away.
Desideri didn’t even want the meat. Just the jaws. Dan didn’t want the meat either, so Talbot came and butchered the carcass. We still have shark meat in our freezer.
The Desideri boys were gone when Tal got there. He’d had to dinghy all the way around from Lake Sylvia where Gypsy was anchored. It was faster on the bike, but we needed a way to get all that meat home. It was still light out, but only for about an hour. Bottom line is he didn’t get a look at Tommy Desideri until I showed him the pictures we took with the shark that afternoon. He snatched the phone out of my hand.
“What did you say this guy’s name was?”
“Maybe. The Kid’s name is Rick.”
“Do you know who Tommy Desideri is?”
“No, should I?”
“He’s a hit-man, Olivia. Big time.”
“Seriously?” I thought about it a minute. “He did have a gun. And Dan sure gave him the hairy eyeball. Kind of acted like a jerk all day.”
“He was probably scared shitless. I guarantee you Dan knew who this guy was. I’d be willing to bet you Dan has connections working for Agnoli and all.”
Tal had already dredged up an old article that showed Mr. Agnoli walking out of a New York courtroom when he was younger. Apparently, the old guy had retired from the life, but he still knew people.
“Okay, but Desideri’s kid was with him. I’m sure he was just there to fish. Mr. Agnoli probably owed him a favor or something.”
“A favor, yeah. Baby, I don’t want you working for these people anymore. They carry guns. What if Desideri’s visit wasn’t innocent? These guys don’t leave witnesses.”
Once again I didn’t take Tal’s advice. Dan wanted me to come clean the boat. What could be the harm in that? I went down there.
Dan was organizing his tackle, and like an idiot, I said, “Can you believe Talbot thought Mr. Desideri was a hit man?”
“Did he? Wonder what gave him that idea?” Dan didn’t look up.
“I don’t know. He’s from New Jersey, you know?”
I finished my work. Then on the way up the dock to the ATM Dan says, “I’ve enjoyed having you work with me, Liv.” He gave me a weird little sideways nod.
I caught this expression on his face for just a second out of the corner of my eye. It was, I don’t know, regretful? I didn’t know what to say.
Then as we passed by the stern of this big gin palace reversing into a slip, Dan shoved me, hard, into the water. A second later and I’d have been chewed up by those props. I dove right down into the mud and swam under the boats till I had to come up for air. I peeked up over the edge of the dock, and I could see Dan about three slips away looking for me in the water. He had a gun in his hand. He didn’t see me, so I ducked back down and swam to the fuel dock where there were always three or four dinghies tied up. I borrowed one and headed for Gypsy.
“You said what?” Talbot shouted at me. He had both hands on my shoulders.
“I told him what you said about Tommy Desideri.” I clenched my teeth to keep them from chattering. “I’m a blabbermouth.” I half expected Talbot to smack me—he looked so angry—but he let out a growl and hugged me instead.
“So he tried to push you into a running prop?”
“And you saw him with a gun in his hand?”
He let me go and his voice got serious. “We have to move the boat. Now.”
We were almost through the Cut when I heard Captain Dan on the radio.
“Port Everglades Pilot, Port Everglades Pilot, This is Lulabel, Whiskey Yankee Papa sixteen twenty-nine.”
“Oh my God, Tal! That’s him.”
“I hear. Get the binoculars. See if you can see him. We need to disappear.”
I couldn’t see Lulabel, but I knew Gypsy’d never outrun her if Dan saw us. I gave up looking and hopped back into the cockpit.
“What are we going to do now?” I know I must have looked desperate. I was still shaking.
“We’re going to outsmart him. Get the main up. We’ll hide among the other sailboats. It’ll be a good downwind run to the Keys.”
That’s when I remembered Rick Desideri’s number was still in my phone. I had texted the shark pictures to him. Thank God for waterproof cases, I thought.
We tucked Gypsy into a little hurricane hole Tal knew about. It was in the mangroves north of Key Largo—a deep canal had been dredged so sailboats could shelter in rough weather. At least that’s what Tal said he’d used it for. I figured he knew it from his drug-running days. Right now, that didn’t matter. We were hidden—just not very well—especially if you were up on the US 1 Bridge.
It was late afternoon when we heard big engines slow to an idle near the entrance of our canal. We figured Dan would be hunting Gypsy’s mast poking up above the mangroves, so we were in the dinghy hidden back among the mosquitoes in the swamp.
I had the binoculars and saw Dan start down the ladder from the tower. That’s when his head exploded. I swung the bins up to look at the bridge, but I couldn’t see anybody.
“Here we go.” Talbot took a deep breath and gunned the outboard. “Stay low.”
As we had waited for Dan to find us, Tal had told me there was a good chance Desideri would try to take us out too, so I knew it wasn’t over yet.
Tal tied the dinghy’s painter to the mid-ships cleat. He started Gypsy’s engine while I ran up on deck to make sure the anchor chain didn’t foul coming aboard as it so often did. We couldn’t afford to let anything slow us down. Tal steered us straight out to sea.
Up on the bridge, Tommy Desideri clapped his son on the shoulder. “Good shooting, boy.”
Rick watched Gypsy fade into the distance. “You should have let me take them too, Dad.”
“They did us a solid setting old Stefano up for us like that. We can afford to give them a head start. It’s more sporting that way.”
“That’s not what you taught me. I hope you’re right. That girl has pictures of us.”
“We got the one we came for. Crazy Stefano Gabrielli. Not bad for your first contract hit. Old dude was legendary back in the day. He got to enjoy the sun for a while down here, but don’t get cocky, kid. You give out your phone number to a girl again and I’ll pop you myself.”
“Come on, Dad. You have to admit she’s hot.”
“Old Stefano got distracted on account of that girl, and we got lucky. It won’t always be this easy. I think he went soft.”
“Oh? And aren’t you the one who killed the wrong shark when we were out on the boat? I think you went soft.”
“He wasn’t supposed to have any crew on the boat.”
“And if it hadn’t been a pretty girl would you have hesitated?”
This was originally published in Fall 2017 edition of The Helix.