Key West’s sultry summer heat isn't for the faint of heart. But Michal Grabowski is running from a Pittsburgh cocaine dealer intent on killing him in a slow and painful manner, and Key West is the end of the road. Retired Marine Jesse McDermitt enjoys the summer heat and quiet solitude of his tiny island home in the back country. When Jesse discovers that Michal’s would-be killer is connected to recent murders in the Bahamas, he agrees to help the young man. Jesse doesn’t like murderers, smelly crack monsters or drug dealers running amok in his territory. Particularly when one of them was responsible for the destruction of his charter boat. Between a running gun battle with a group of cow hunters stretching from Key West Bight to the Everglades, a shotgun-toting Key West tarot card reader, a retired Jamaican mystic, and a rising body count, there’s little time for Jesse to just relax and watch the sun go down.
Release date: July 14, 2015
Publisher: Down Island Press
Print pages: 370
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Fallen Honor: A Jesse McDermitt Novel
During late July, in the southernmost city of the United States, taking a breath is an exhausting chore. More so if you aren’t used to the steamy tropical climate of South Florida. The very air seems to carry a massive weight, pressing down on this island town at the end of the road, flattening it. Here, the term “hot and humid” loses all meaning. The air is so saturated and heavy with moisture it feels as if you can cut it with a knife. The sun is like a blast furnace, searing into exposed flesh. Stifling and still, the air shows not even a hint of the slightest breeze. The sun bears down without mercy, heating the already hot air and evaporating any moisture lying on the surface of the land. Being surrounded by the ocean, there is plenty of moisture and little land.
Standing on the corner of Duval and Caroline Streets waiting for traffic to clear, a man stood restlessly shifting his weight from one foot to the other. A beat-up old Chevy pickup blocked the crosswalk, its exhaust adding to the heat and misery. Feeling like he was standing on a bed of charcoal, the man waited. Stepping out in traffic was ill-advised on the crowded and narrow streets of Key West.
The few seconds of respite the fidgeting afforded his feet didn’t really help much in his new flip-flops. The pavement only heated up the rubber soles. Late July and the man was sweating profusely, his new tropical-looking shirt already sticking to his skin after only five blocks of walking. Even in shorts, he could feel the sweat dripping down the backs of his knees. The temperature and humidity both hovered near the one-hundred mark, and any cooling breeze that might have come off the sea wasn’t quite making its way down to street level.
A native of Pittsburgh and on his first-ever trip out of the Alleghenies, it was like Michal Grabowski had crossed into a new dimension when he’d stepped off the Greyhound bus late the previous night and encountered the sights, smells, sounds, and the very feel of Key West.
Two days before, very early in the morning, he’d bought a one-way ticket at the main bus terminal near the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers. When Grabowski boarded the southbound bus out of Pittsburgh, he never looked back. With good reason.
The pickup jerked and belched smoke, chugging its way across Duval as Grabowski stepped off the curb to cross Caroline Street. He was nearly hit by two lime-green scooters, jumping back just in time as the riders turned off Duval and onto Caroline, racing and yelling at one another, the scooters belching more smoke. The riders were obviously already drunk and it wasn’t even noon. Or maybe their Friday night just hasn’t ended yet, Grabowski thought.
At only five seven and a hundred and fifty pounds, Grabowski often thought himself to be invisible. It wasn’t the first time he’d nearly been run over. He didn’t have any distinguishing marks, scars, or tattoos, and wore his blond hair short, just over his ears. His unremarkable face now bristled with a two-day stubble. Back home, he looked like a thousand other guys. Here, he stuck out like a sore thumb among the cast of oddball characters that make up Key West. Crossing the street, he stopped to let his feet cool in the shade of an awning covering the entrance to a T-shirt shop.
Looking across the street at a travel agent’s storefront, Grabowski noticed a map of the state that they had taped to the inside of the front window. It was hanging loose from the top right corner, the employees either not noticing or not caring to fix the tape, which had lost its adhesiveness in the humid air.
Tilting his head slightly to the right, Grabowski looked at the map at a whole new angle. Ninety degrees from its usual angle, the long East Coast highway called US-1 now wound its way from left to right, ending right here.
Key West has got to be the reservoir tip of the Florida condom, Grabowski thought. Glancing up and down Duval Street, he could actually see the dense air as the midday sun seemed to melt the asphalt, heat waves shimmering up from everything. Grabowski watched the other people on the sidewalks as they shuffled through the oppressive heat of the day. All the little swimmers moving around in a daze, bumping into one another, then moving on, he mused.
Michal Grabowski had an unusual way of looking at things. He’d learned to just take each moment in time and everything that was going on in it on its own merit. He didn’t have good or bad days, just moments that he accepted for what they were and used for what he could. A practical young man, who acknowledged what fate handed him and enjoyed what he could.
Continuing up Duval Street, weaving in and out of pedestrian traffic on the narrow sidewalk, he hurried through the areas exposed to the brutal sun and slowed under the awnings of the businesses and bars that afforded shade.
Like many, Grabowski had come to Key West on the run. Three days ago, he’d ripped off a coke dealer. He’d been planning it for weeks, building up his courage as he sold off his meager belongings. Finally, when he was down to just a few changes of clothes, with nothing else in his furnished apartment that he could sell, he decided it was time to get out of the Three Rivers area. Grabowski knew he could get away with it, because he knew the dealer and his habits. The two were occasional drinking buddies. Sometimes, they smoked weed together and Michal never turned down the offered line on a mirror. The dealer was small-time, moving grams at street level. An acquaintance, not really a friend.
The fact that the guy would get into serious trouble with the dealer who fronted him a kilo every other week never even occurred to Grabowski. Lenny snorted and partied away all his profits during a three-day binge party after scoring the coke. Grabowski figured there’d just be no way for Lenny to even consider trying to find him, unaware that the dealer who supplied Lenny did so on credit and moved thousands of pounds in the Pittsburgh area. That guy had a bit longer reach, another notion that had escaped Grabowski’s attention.
So, Michal planned the theft as carefully as he could. He knew Lenny’s routine as well as Lenny did. The guy didn’t seem concerned with taking any precautions. Michal knew that Lenny scored a kilo every other Wednesday, late at night, in preparation for the three-day party. Michal had attended a number of the nonstop affairs himself, where coke and weed were passed around freely. So he just happened to be there on delivery night, when Lenny was breaking the brick up into several hundred single-gram packets. He waited, even offered to help by making coffee for the guy.
When Lenny went to the john, Grabowski made his move. He quickly gathered up all the little packets, wrapped the rest of the unbroken brick tightly in its foil cover and stuffed everything in his oversized pants pockets. Driving quickly, he was three blocks away at the Greyhound station, boarding the first bus headed south, before Lenny even noticed that he and the party supplies were gone.
Selling a few grams here and there on the trip south, Michal quickly doubled his meager stash of running cash. He was careful, though. Being small made a person careful. Being invisible helped a lot, as well.
Michal had only bought a ticket to the next stop and kept only two or three grams in his pocket for a possible sale. The rest was stashed in his backpack. He made sure to conduct the actual sale when the bus stopped. And that seemed like it happened in every little town they came to.
If he didn’t make a sale, he bought another ticket to the next stop heading south and reboarded the same bus. If he did make a sale, he let the bus and buyer continue on and he caught the next one. Always headed south.
Wanting to avoid any kind of confrontation, he had to take what precautions he could. Having speed and agility on his side meant that being in the open, where he could move around, was safer. That way, he was certain that, if anything happened, he could outrun the cokeheads he targeted. If that didn’t work, he was capable of defending himself, but not in the confines of a rolling bus.
Michal had always been small. Growing up in a tough neighborhood, being small meant being picked on and beaten up on a weekly basis. Sometimes more often than that. His dad had spent a year in Japan and learned a few judo moves, which he’d taught to his son. At the age of nine, Michal had learned all that his dad could teach him and was enrolled in a judo school across town.
The small boy grew into a small man. He worked hard and learned fast, eventually becoming a part-time instructor at the school. Judo seemed to meld with the way he looked at life. Watch everything going on around you, step out of the way of things that can hurt you and take advantage of the things that can’t.
Standing in the bus’s lavatory halfway between Uniontown, Pennsylvania, and Morgantown, West Virginia, Michal caught a look at himself in the stainless steel mirror, as he held a tiny spoon to his nose and sniffed. I still don’t see the attraction, Michal thought, wiping his nose.
It’d been seven years since Michal had quit the Bushido dojo to work full-time at the foundry. He tooted when the opportunity presented itself, but had never actually bought coke before. Union strikes and layoffs were part of everyday life and he found himself drinking and partying more. He hadn’t worked out, or practiced judo, in several years now. A new location and a new life, he thought. Maybe I’ll open my own dojo in Florida.
Checking his nose again, he capped the small vial and put it in his pocket, always careful to leave a tiny grain or two of the fine white powder on his mustache to attract customers. It worked better than a sign hung around his neck.
The farther south he went and the more of the stolen drugs he sold, the farther south his ultimate destination became. Soon, that destination had a name. When someone asked where he was headed, he’d picked the destination at random because it was the furthest south you could go. As far from the steel mills as he could get. He was through with the gray slushy winters. Key West.
Sales of the little packets increased the further south he rode on the busses. Upon reaching the terminal in Miami, he had a dinner stop and a one-hour wait for the next bus that would take him all the way to Key West. Altogether, he’d sold twelve grams of the white powder and another half a gram went up his nose, one little spoonful at a time. He kept his personal stash in a tiny glass vial, the spoon on a chain attached to the cap. Cokeheads had sharp eyes and could spot the telltale white flakes under his nose from the other end of the bus. He kept the little jar half-full, to entice prospective buyers.
When he finally got to the end of the line in Key West, he had a little over five thousand dollars in his backpack, but at some point his wallet had been picked from his pocket. He figured it had to be while standing in the crowded departure area in Miami, remembering that he’d had it at the restaurant and found it missing after boarding the bus. It didn’t have any cash in it—he had that stashed in his backpack. But it did have his driver’s license and three credit cards, of which two were maxed out. Just another event that he accepted and moved on.
Figuring to start a new life, Michal considered the loss of the cards and license to be part of doing business. With more than a pound of the key unbroken and almost four hundred little packets ready to sell, he thought his prospects were pretty good. Those packets alone represented two years’ worth of wages to him. He’d need to find a place he could buy a lot more of those little Ziploc packets. He’d looked around the bus, wondering if the pickpocket was aboard, but hadn’t seen him.
Thinking back, Michal knew it had to have been in the crowded line, where people were pushing and shoving to get on the bus. Only one person stood out in his mind and that was because he stood out less than Michal himself. There’d been a guy near him in the line, shorter than Michal’s five seven. An ugly little guy with greasy hair, acne, and a crooked, hooked nose. Michal remembered him because he stunk. He’d also sold him an eight ball when they stopped in Belle Glade on the south side of Lake Okeechobee.
Michal had broken his own rule on reboarding a bus after a sale. The next one out of Belle Glade wasn’t until morning. He tried to avoid the nasty little cokehead on the trip to Miami. The guy tried offering him a hit from his crack pipe, but Michal didn’t want anything to do with that.
The crackhead wasn’t on the bus from Miami to Key Largo. He’d looked for him after realizing his wallet was missing. Arriving in Key West late last night, Michal rented a room at the cheapest place he could find, but it was still a hundred bucks a night. In his mind he calculated he could afford that for over a year if he was careful. Being optimistic, he only paid for a week in advance. It was four blocks off the main drag on Fleming Street. Michal envisioned moving up to better digs in the very near future.
Having decided to not drink very much and leaving the bulk of his cash hidden under the mattress in his room, Grabowski went from one bar to another, getting a feel for the bustling little tourist town. With enough cash, it was easy, tipping bartenders and waitresses and buying shots for the people they tended to talk with more than others. Locals hang with locals.
So Michal ingratiated himself with the locals, the big spender looking for some fun. He made a couple of quick contacts and before last call, he’d managed to buy four more little packets, adding them to his stockpile to resell. He planned to limit his own use, but wanted to quickly gain a reputation as a user so he could meet the sellers. To him, that seemed like the easiest way to map out the ground rules and territories and stay out of the dealers’ way.
Now, under cover of daylight, he needed to find a few distributors for himself to get his fledgling operation off the ground. He also needed to find a job of some kind, knowing the quarter million dollars’ worth of coke in his room wouldn’t last long down here. With a part-time cover job, though, he could easily stretch it out much longer.
Hurrying past yet another bar with no awning, this one having roll-up doors beneath big arched windows, one of Michal’s brand-new flip-flops broke and he stepped right out of it, the concrete suddenly very hot on the bottom of his foot. Picking it up, a cold blast of conditioned air from inside got his attention. He hopped on one foot into Irish Kevin’s bar, examining the broken strap. One of the little rubber buttons on the bottom had actually melted and pulled through the rubber sole, which was now frayed and sticky around the edges.
“Leather,” Grabowski heard a voice behind him say. He turned around. Behind the bar, a woman with a Boston Bruins cap looked at him and smiled. A tangled mess of short, knotted hair stuck out from under the cap, but it was her belly that caught his eye. A cutoff T-shirt revealed her flat, deeply tanned abdomen, as she reached up on a shelf above the bar for a glass. The woman had abs a gymnast would kill for.
She tilted the glass under one of the many taps. “You need good Kino sandals, not that cheap rubber crap.”
Grabowski recognized the very familiar red-and-white bull’s-eye logo on top of the tap. He’d drank more than his share of Iron City Beer.
Rounding the little island, I started swimming against the current of the falling tide, pulling harder with every stroke. Changing my breathing to the right side, away from the light chop, I pulled and kicked harder, feeling the pull of the current. I’d only increased the frequency of my three-mile swims a few months earlier. Since then, I was swimming three miles every other day and it felt good.
A few months ago, I’d taken to wearing a small pair of goggles to allow me to see underwater. After swimming the same three miles, every other day for over four months, I knew the bottom terrain like a New Yorker knows the sidewalk in front of his brownstone.
Getting back in shape wasn’t easy. I’d let myself go these past few years, both physically and psychologically. I’d gotten soft. After the first month of swimming every other day, it got easier, and I added a five-mile kayak paddle through the shallow backcountry west of my island. Paddling early in the morning at sunrise allowed my mind to wander, even more so than when swimming. Afternoons were just too hot for any exertion above water.
On my off days, Carl and I worked our little vegetable patch, trimming, weeding, and harvesting in the hot sun. It was backbreaking work, but the results were worth it. Carl and his family live on my little island in the Content Keys and take care of the place. Without their help, I never could have pulled this off.
The Content Keys are a small bunch of mangrove islands north of Big Pine Key, out on the edge of the Gulf of Mexico. It’d been eight years since I’d bought it and four since I built my home here. Now the island sported four small structures, my house, Carl and Charlie’s little house, and two bunkhouses. Carl built his pretty much by himself and I’d built the other three. My house was nice, but Carl and Charlie’s was a whole lot nicer.
After a hard forty-five minute swim, I reached the shallows on the north side of my island by the pier and waded out of the water. The swim left me breathing heavy, but feeling better than I had in a long time. Island time can be harmful if you’re not careful. Drinking too much, especially over the last two years, I’d put on nearly fifteen extra pounds. Swimming to me is the ultimate exercise, using every muscle group to its maximum. Some guys go to the gym, but I’d always found weight-lifting to be very boring.
Since I started working out more, I’d shed the excess weight, replacing it with toned muscle. It took months, but I was back down to what I called my combat weight of two twenty-five.
Whenever I went down to Marathon, I tried to squeeze in a three-mile run as well. At least once a week, anyway. Every Friday, I picked up my girlfriend in Marathon and she stayed with me on the island over the weekend. We always ran the loop around Sombrero Beach before coming back here.
Linda Rosales is an agent for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and we’d been seeing each other for nearly a year now. Just as friends and running partners at first, but we’d taken it up a notch last winter. She works out of the Miami office, but went to Tallahassee last month on an assignment and would be gone most of the summer.
Since fall, my youngest daughter Kim had been living here full-time, but she’d left the same week Linda had, to get a jump on her studies through a summer program at University of Florida.
Walking out to the end of the pier, I rinsed the saltwater off before going to see how Carl was doing on our boat. Carl’s wife Charlie and their two kids, Carl Junior and Patty, met me halfway to the foot of the pier, each carrying a towel. My big dog Pescador was leading the procession.
Charlie smiled as they approached. “Looking pretty good there, Jesse.”
Her comment surprised me. Charlie wasn’t usually the joking around type and flirting just wasn’t in her nature. “I’m feeling a whole lot better lately, thanks.”
“How much have you lost?”
“Not sure, probably a few pounds.” Then as they walked by, I gave Pescador a scratch on the ear and said, “Y’all enjoy the water.”
The saltwater I rinsed off was replaced with salty perspiration before I even made it to the little temporary shack we’d built next to Carl and Charlie’s house. Midsummer in the Keys can be brutal. But it sure beats a lot of other places around the world where I’ve been.
I called out to Carl as I approached the little shack. “How’s it coming, compadre?”
He had the canvas sides of the temporary structure rolled up to take advantage of whatever breeze there might be. There wasn’t much today, just the sweltering tropical heat. Carl was on his back in the forward cockpit of the little runabout, only his legs visible up on the seat.
“I think I got it,” he replied, reaching an empty hand up. “Hand me that multimeter.”
Carl is sort of a jack-of-all-trades. We’d been building this boat since fall and it was nearly ready for a sea trial, except for a problem in the electrical we found after installing the engines. I handed him the device and it disappeared under the dash. A second later, I heard a beeping sound.
“Yes!” he exclaimed. “We had the wires crossed on the ignition. Everything looks good now.” Twisting and turning, Carl extricated himself from the small storage space under the foredeck of the wood boat, his hair plastered to his head with sweat.
Grinning, he nodded toward the console. “You want to do the honors?”
“You do it, you’re the electrical expert.”
He slid under the wheel and turned the ignition key to the on position. A whirring sound from the two large blowers indicated they were working. The air intakes are in the front face of the seat bottom in the rear cockpit, blowing tons of cool air across the twin air-cooled engines.
When he pushed one of the starter buttons, the port engine immediately sprang to life, the unmistakable sound of the powerful V-twin silencing the noise of the small waves lapping the shoreline just twenty feet away. He pressed the other button and the starboard engine added its own rumble as it fired up.
Stepping back from the boat, I yelled, “Holy crap! Those things are really loud.” We’d pretty much finished construction of the boat a month ago and had to wait two weeks for the engines to arrive. We’d decided several months earlier to go with an idea a friend had given us and ordered a pair of big motorcycle engines, each producing over a hundred and sixty horsepower, yet weighing less than the single V8 Carl had wanted, or the single diesel I’d wanted.
Carl revved the engines using the foot throttle, the noise reaching ear-splitting level. The exhaust ports were just below the waterline and would act as the only muffler.
Shutting off the engines, Carl climbed out and stood beside me, admiring the little boat. “It’ll be a little quieter in the water and when it’s up on plane the sound will fall behind it. I think we’re ready for that sea trial now.”
“Now?” I asked.
“Tide’s still high enough. We just gotta get it to the water.”
Carl had scrounged around Skeeter’s boatyard on Big Pine and found a couple of small four-wheeled trolleys, originally designed to pull jet skis up on the beach. He modified them to fit the contour of the hull and the boat now rested on them, ready to be moved to the water.
While we were waiting for the engines to be delivered, we’d cut a narrow path to the water through the dense undergrowth that surrounds my island. Beyond the arching mangrove and banyan tunnel is a natural cut close to shore, created by the twice-daily rush of water around the island during the tide changes. It’s just wide enough to float the boat to the pier at the south side of the island, but it’s very shallow just beyond this cut. We’d scraped the shallow bottom a little deeper on the far side to allow us to get the bow of the boat turned in the channel.
What we’d designed and had now built was a throwback to early years, an all-wood boat, with seating for three in the forward cockpit and a separate rear cockpit for three more. It had a shorter foredeck than modern speedboats and a long rear deck, which covered the spacious engine compartment before sloping downward to the swim platform at the stern.
At twenty-four feet in length, with a narrow six-foot beam, it looked fast just sitting there. The gunwales flared inward toward the stern, rounding out the aft section in what’s called a barrel-back design. The small swim platform was barely above what we hoped would be the waterline. Between the two cockpits, nearly centered fore and aft, was a narrow two-foot deck, with built-in storage. The teak, cherry, and mahogany, overlaid with clear epoxy, gleamed with a rich, glossy shine.
I nodded at my friend. “Let’s do this.”
Climbing out of the boat, Carl went to the bow and crawled under the hull to secure a line to the front trolley. Tying the other end off to the boat’s bow cleat, he threw the loop around one shoulder and across his chest to pull both the trolley and boat at the same time.
I went to the stern and leaned back across the sloped transom, gripping the swim platform.
“On three,” Carl called out. “One, two, three!”
I pushed hard, digging my bare heels into the sand, but it wasn’t really necessary. The fat tires of the two trolleys rolled easily on the packed sand. Once in the water, Carl waded across the narrow cut, keeping the bow centered in the area we’d scraped out, until the stern was clear of the mangroves. Careful to avoid the two trolleys, which had fallen into the deeper water of the cut, we slowly turned the boat so that the bow was facing south, into the current. Floating there like that, with the water moving along the hull, I could tell already that we’d nailed the design. The boat looked just like one of the early racing boats I remember seeing as a kid and the sporty swim platform barely touched the water.
I moved up along the port side, motioning Carl around to starboard. “You take the helm first.”
While I held the boat steady, Carl slid over the low gunwale and started the engines. The sound from the exhaust ports burbled up through the water and as he revved the engines, the boat actually surged forward slightly, just from the force of the exhaust.
He nodded to me, and I climbed over the starboard side and settled into the passenger seat, as Carl put the heavy-duty Velvet Drive transmissions into forward.
When both transmissions were in either forward or reverse, the throttles for both engines were controlled by the foot pedal. They could also be operated independently with the shift knob to allow the boat to maneuver better at low speed by simply shifting one engine to reverse and the other forward.
Beyond the narrow cut, the water is less than knee-deep at high tide. As we idled slowly along the shoreline, I had to stand to lift a couple of low-hanging branches over the swept-back windshield.
To the north and west of my island, the shallows extend all the way past the Contents, before dropping off to the deeper waters of the Gulf. To the southwest is a maze of small islands and shallows all the way to Key West, a jumble of unmarked cuts and channels. There are ways through, but if you didn’t know where to look, you’d end up beached on a sandbar, as evidenced by the many gouges around the fringe of shallow water.
We idled south toward the other pier I’d built on the spoils of the deeper channel that provides access to my house from Harbor Channel about fifty yards away. Going as far as the end of the south pier, Carl reversed and backed up to the other side where we could tie off. Leaving the engines rumbling at idle to warm up, we checked the bilges. Opening the access in the rear cockpit deck, I noted a little water. In the bottom of the engine compartment we found about the same. Both Carl and I checked thoroughly for any water leaks.
Satisfied that the only water we found was from where we’d splashed aboard, we untied the lines and idled out to Harbor Channel. Carl made the tight left turn into it using only the transmissions, first spinning the boat to the right almost completely around before shifting both transmissions and spinning the opposite way until we faced the long channel. Everything worked perfectly and he shifted both engines to forward.
We slowly idled in Harbor Channel, which runs almost straight for four miles to Turtlecrawl Bank. There, it turns north into the deep water of the Gulf.
Carl grinned. “Ready?”
I nodded. “Mash it!”
Carl floored the pedal and the two big motorcycle engines roared simultaneously, launching us forward and accelerating faster than any boat I’d ever been on. She lifted up on plane in a second, seeming to just leap up out of the water. On plane, we continued to gather speed. I started the stopwatch function on my dive watch to measure the time to the lobster traps we had set up exactly two miles from the entrance to my channel.
Responding like a rocket sled on rails, we negotiated the two sweeping curves in the channel. It only took a few seconds to again reach top speed. Looking back, there wasn’t much of a wake off the stern at all, but the twin propellers created two distinct bulges in the water, culminating fifty feet astern with a pair of small rooster tails. Very little of the hull was in contact with the water, just enough to create drag and let the thrust of the props keep the rest of boat up out of the water.
As we roared past the trap’s floats, I stopped the watch and looked at it as Carl slowly brought the speed down. “A hundred and eight seconds!”
“That’s almost seventy miles an hour!” Carl shouted. “From an idle, no less!”
“We need to mount a GPS. We must’ve been going close to eighty-five there at the end.”
“Let’s keep that to ourselves, if Charlie asks.”
He looked at me and I grinned, arching an eyebrow. “A lie of omission?”
We both laughed, knowing that he never kept anything from his wife. “Maybe she won’t ask,” he said, as we idled in the wide part of the channel, just before the curve north to the open Gulf.
Switching seats, I piloted the boat back the way we came at a more sedate speed, planing and weaving back and forth across the channel. Even at half throttle it seemed like we were going as fast as my charter boat, Gaspar’s Revenge.
Charlie, the kids, and Pescador met us at the south pier. “We heard you all the way to the end of Harbor Channel,” Charlie said as she took the line Carl tossed her. “How fast is it?”
“Not sure exactly,” he replied, being somewhat truthful. “We’ll have to put a speedometer in the dash. It’s pretty fast, though.”
“Well, keep it at a slower speed when the kids and I go out with you.”
Once tied off, Carl and I checked the bilge and engines again. Putting on a scuba mask, I got in the water and checked the underside of the hull for any visible stress fractures in the clear-coat finish. We’d added two short stabilizing fins extending two feet back to the prop shafts, with small rudders aft the props. The stabilizers were an afterthought, once we’d calculated that the high speed the powerful engines might produce would be too much for the nearly flat-bottomed hull to allow it to turn at high speed. Declaring the boat to be sound, we decided to go to Marathon for lunch.
Twenty minutes later, after we’d all rinsed off again and put on clean clothes, we idled away from the pier. I let Charlie sit up front with Carl Junior and Carl at the helm and I sat in back with Patty and Pescador.
As Carl started down the channel, I said, “Know what we forgot? To measure the draft.”
Carl turned east into Harbor Channel. “We’ll take the deeper route until we’re sure it can navigate the cuts at idle.” When Carl gassed the engines to get up on plane, little Carl and Patty both covered their ears.
We hadn’t had any kind of wind in days and the water lay as calm and still as the heavy air. Carl followed the cut south of Turtlecrawl Bank, then turned due south into Big Spanish Channel. Cruising along at what I guessed to be forty knots, the boat performed really well as Carl slalomed a few crab traps, the boat barely heeling at all. With the Seven Mile Bridge in sight to the southeast, Carl put his son on his lap and let him pilot the boat for a while. Carl Junior was no stranger to running a boat, even at eight years old. Carl had earned a living from the sea all his life, as had his father and his grandfather before him.
Leaning back and looking over the engine compartment and sloped transom, I could nearly see the waterline, the swim platform now about three inches above the water streaming out from under the hull. I sat back and stretched my legs out. The feeling was incredible. We’d dreamed this up nearly a year ago, sketching and drawing for months. Some parts had had to be built off island, but every single rib, spar, plank, and dowel we’d installed ourselves.
Reaching Bahia Honda Channel, Carl continued south and turned left just before the bridge crossing from Scout Key to Bahia Honda. We followed deep water around the north side of the island, Carl keeping the boat about fifty yards off the Seven Mile Bridge.
Charlie pointed up to the cars on the bridge and shouted, “They have a speed limit. We don’t.”
Carl looked back and I nodded. Bringing the speed up until we were passing the cars in the northbound lane, I could tell by the tone of the engines that we weren’t quite up to top speed, but I guessed we were going at least sixty.
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