Rising Force: A Jesse McDermitt Novel
Paradise has a price. For Jesse McDermitt, that price is his moral compass and a bullet. The retired Marine and charter skipper takes on a passenger in Nassau, a young woman who is a breath of fresh air. She introduces him to the laid-back cruising crowd on an idyllic small cay in the Berry Islands. Jesse takes to the relaxing lifestyle like a fish to water. Living each day on its own terms is a new experience for Jesse, but it doesn't last long. Trouble always seems to find him. When Jesse gets word that someone is destroying nearby patch reefs and poaching sea turtles — and that all this is happening in the same area where a trio of sadistic murderers may be hiding — it triggers his instincts for investigation. Has Jesse's urge to find out the truth cost him everything? He came to the Bahamas on a fool's errand to reconnect with a lost love. The image of her on a beach in the Virgin Islands fills his mind as he passes out from loss of blood...
Release date: August 27, 2018
Publisher: Down Island Press
Print pages: 304
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Rising Force: A Jesse McDermitt Novel
I yawned; couldn’t help it. The sun was well into its downward arc to meet the sea once more, the angle creating a bit of glare off the port side. The water in that direction sparkled with a million winking ripples of reflected light. There were a few scattered clouds off to the southwest and a high haze, so the odds of a beautiful sunset were dicey at best. But it was still several hours before darkness would fall. We were heading west-northwest at thirty knots, so maybe we’d pass beyond the clouds’ shadow by the time it went down.
The water was calm, almost flat, with only the slightest ripples from the nearly nonexistent easterly breeze. The twin diesels droned monotonously, laying down a deep bass line to the constant swish of the bow wave. These things, combined with the calming influence of the cobalt sea all around us, were threatening to put me to sleep. My face sagged, and my entire body felt like it was wilted as well. I stared through dark sunglasses toward the oncoming horizon, my eyes half-closed and shoulders slumped forward.
The run wasn’t a long one, but Tony and I were both running on just adrenaline and caffeine, neither of which were working like they had when I was a younger man. We’d made the turn at the southern tip of Eleuthera, into Exuma Sound, nearly an hour earlier. There was still a little over an hour to go to reach our next stop, the customs office at the foot of the cruise ship pier in Nassau. We’d have to slow soon, as the sound gave way to the shallower waters and coral heads south of Nassau, where this whole crazy journey had started.
“Got it,” Tony said, putting his sat-phone away. “Last flight out to Miami leaves Nassau at nineteen-hundred and arrives less than an hour later.”
His statement brought me out of my stupor. “Will Tasha be picking you up at the airport?”
“Yeah, I’ll be home an hour after that.”
“Tell her it’s my fault,” I said. “You weren’t expecting to be gone two whole days.”
Tony turned toward me in his seat. “She understands, man. I told her everything that was going on.”
I pointed with my chin toward the foredeck. “Yeah, well, did you tell her about them?”
To be honest the view was spectacular. Not the clouds, sun, or sea, but the two young women lying on the foredeck. Charity had brought them out of a seriously bad situation involving murder, torture, and robbery. The girls were psychologically broken, of that I had no doubt. But outwardly, they were in the prime of life and magnificent specimens of young female adulthood.
Tony and I were taking the girls to meet up with Charity at Bond’s Cay. We’d dropped her off at Arthur’s Town Airport only two hours earlier, so she could retrieve her helicopter and take it back to Andros Island.
The two women on the foredeck were half my age, but far from innocent girls. Still, it had made me a bit uneasy when they’d asked if they could get some sun on the foredeck.
“Call it a lie of omission,” Tony replied, yawning, “or punch-drunk from lack of sleep. Anyway, I told her everything about us helping Charity catch the people who killed Victor. She gets it.”
“Probably a good idea to never bring those girls up to her.”
Tony glanced at the radar, pointing out an echo several miles off to the north. Standing, I trained my binoculars in that direction.
“Think she has any chance?” Tony asked.
“Setting those two on the right course?” I scanned the horizon. “Who knows? If anyone can, it’d be Charity.”
I continued to look through the binos, in the general direction of the echo on the radar screen. Finally, I spotted the boat. The large aft cabin and classic lines of an old motoryacht were unmistakable as it slowly headed north. I sat and watched the echo on the screen for a second, to make sure the echo was the boat I’d just seen. There was nothing else on the screen.
“Just a motoryacht headed north,” I said, when Tony gave me a questioning glance.
“What are you gonna do after you drop them off?” he asked.
I thought about that for a moment. Whatever a person is doing on New Year’s Day is supposed to be the activity they’ll be most involved in for the coming year. That’s why couples kiss at the stroke of midnight, though most don’t even know there’s a reason. If the adage was true, I was going to need to buy stock in a fuel company. I’d been crisscrossing the Bahamas for these first three days of the year, burning over a thousand gallons of diesel. Who was I kidding? It was what I’d been doing for several weeks now. Maybe that canceled out the New Year’s maxim.
The current ordeal was nearly over. Having dropped Charity off at the pier on Cat Island, all that we had left to do was a leisurely cruise back toward Nassau so Tony could catch his flight home. Charity had flown her bird to Andros Island, where she had a storage lease. She’d texted Tony thirty minutes ago; Henry had been waiting for her and they were shoving off immediately to cross the TOTO to Nassau, so she could get her boat.
She was likely already under sail; she was due to meet us at Bond’s Cay at sunset. After everything the two girls had been through, we’d decided early on to not put them in a situation where they might be recognized. Hence the out of the way rendezvous. Charity was good at staying off anyone’s radar. At Bond’s, I could finally discharge my passengers and continue my search for Savannah.
“I don’t know,” I finally muttered, glancing over at him.
The smirk on Tony’s face told me he wasn’t buying my cavalier attitude. “Yeah, right. You’ve been gone nearly a month, man. And you didn’t tell anyone at the office where you were going. Even a blind man could see you took off looking for Savannah.”
I hadn’t actually made it a secret. I’d had Chyrel do some online snooping for me, which yielded nothing. I hadn’t told her to keep it under her hat. And, of course, Jimmy knew.
They say that in the Middle Florida Keys there are two ways of getting something known throughout the island chain in a hurry: telephone, and tell Jimmy.
I took a shot. “How’s Jimmy?”
“He’s taking good care of things at your place, I stopped up there last weekend. Saw Kim, too. My phone’s been blowing up since you called Deuce the other day, everyone telling me to tell you to turn yours on. He might have mentioned it to someone.”
“I wasn’t exactly thinking when I took off,” I offered.
“The heart doesn’t think, man. The heart only wants. And if that desire is strong enough, it’ll override the brain and make a man do things that some might find foolish. I don’t think any of us think that. We’re just worried. Had any leads?”
“Nothing,” I replied resignedly.
“Only way to find someone among all these islands is from someone who’s seen them recently.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” I said, a bit too sarcastically. “Sorry, I’m on edge. Truth is, nobody I’ve talked to has seen her—or none have told me anything.”
Tony chuckled. “Well, you do look like some sort of wild man from Borneo, roaring in with this overpowered drug smuggler’s special. I’d be surprised if anyone would even give you directions to a Tiki bar.”
“What the hell’s that supposed to mean?”
“Man, you’ve gotten a long way from your roots.” Tony shook his head. “Before I first met you, Hinkle, Germ, and Scott had painted a picture of you that was bigger than life. Even Deuce said there wasn’t anyone better at infiltrating the enemy. This boat ain’t the best ghillie suit for the mission, man. Just sayin’.”
Something Charity had mentioned had been eating at me. She’d said that I’d never find Savannah with the Revenge. I’d figured that with the advantage in speed, the search would be easier. How many places can you hide a forty-six-foot, slow-moving trawler? But, the speed advantage wasn’t the benefit I thought it would be. Most of the people I’d encountered in the dozens of anchorages and ports I’d visited had been tight-lipped. Was it the Revenge? Cruisers were a close-knit bunch, and a high-speed sport fishing machine like my boat wasn’t exactly the traditional cruising yacht.
“You should take her up on it,” Tony said.
“Take who up on what?”
“Victor’s boat,” he replied, leaning back in the second seat. “No, it’s not as fast as the Revenge, but you’re not hunting an agile, elusive quarry. You need to infiltrate.”
“She told you?”
“It’d sure blend in better.” He didn’t really answer the obvious question. Of course Charity had told him.
“You might have a point,” I said, “but a dead man’s boat?”
Tony shrugged. “He didn’t die on board. And under good wind, that ketch can match just about any trawler.”
He was right on that count. Having sailed Victor’s Formosa, even without it being under full canvas, I could feel the speed and power in the helm. With her waterline length, nine knots wasn’t out of the question. That’s fast for a blowboat.
We rode in silence for several minutes. The audible and visual equivalent of the doldrums soon fell over me again. I tried to keep my mind busy, by reading the Miles to Destination on the GPS and calculating in my head how long it would take at our current speed. The TTD was right there on the display, too. But running the numbers in my head kept me alert.
“I think they’ve had enough sun,” Tony said.
I looked down at the foredeck; one of the girls was turned around waving. The Revenge’s handrails were low, meant for moving around at anchor, or approaching a dock; not while running at thirty knots. Considering their minimal boating experience, I’d told them to let me know when they wanted to return and I’d slow down. As I started to pull back on the throttles, the smaller woman, who called herself Moana Kapena, pointed out over the bow.
I glanced up just in time to see swirling water around something large, flat, and barely above the surface. Gulls took flight, crying and wheeling overhead, as I spun the wheel to starboard. We just barely missed the thing, and both girls slid partway to the side deck, before I straightened the wheel and brought the engines down to idle speed.
“Go down to the cockpit,” I ordered Tony. “We need to turn around and see what that was.”
Tony and I were both civilians now, and friends, but he understood the need for a chain of command aboard a vessel. I was the captain; everyone else followed orders quickly and without question. The why could be discussed later.
He climbed down the ladder, as the girls hurried along the side deck. I started a slow turn, bringing us back to a reverse heading as I stood and looked all around in front of us.
The girls came up to the bridge and, before either said anything, I pointed them forward and told them to keep an eye out. Switching on the sonar, I changed it to forward scanning, in case the thing had slipped just below the surface. I had a pretty good idea what it was going to be.
“There!” Fiona Russo shouted, pointing just off the port bow.
I saw it then; the dimensions, shape, and boxed corners sticking up and out from the sides confirmed what I thought I’d seen.
Container ships carry huge metal freight boxes to ports all over the world. The containers are then lifted from the ship by crane and placed on a truck or trailer chassis to be transported over land. I’ve seen them stacked six high on the decks of some ships, and probably ten deep below deck. If caught in a bad storm, many containers have been known to break loose and go overboard.
“It’s a container!” I shouted down at Tony. “I’ll come up on the lee side, see if you can get any numbers off it.”
“What’s in it?” Moana asked, just as a waft of wind carried the unmistakable, sickly odor of decomposing flesh up to us.
I held my breath, pushed the throttles forward and turned away from the container. “Maybe you girls should go down into the cabin.”
“What are you going to do?” Fiona asked, covering her nose.
“Gotta report it, at the very least,” I replied, watching a fin slice through the water near the giant tomb.
Moana looked as if she were about to retch. “What’s that stink? A dead fish?”
“Or just take off,” Fiona argued. “That’s what I’d do.”
“Leave it for some other sap to run into?” I asked, removing my shades. “What if it’s a family with little kids?”
Tony came up the ladder. “We can’t dive it. See that tiger?”
“Yeah,” I replied. “We’ll circle around and come up on the windward side, but I won’t be able to get as close.”
“Get me within reach of the boat hook,” he said. “Maybe I can get an EPIRB lashed onto it.”
An Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon broadcasts its location on the distress frequency via satellite. The ones I had on board were GPS enabled and could bring rescue services to within fifty yards. The trouble was, EPIRBs are identifiable to a specific boat, and Tony hadn’t cleared through Bahamian customs.
I plucked the mic from its holder. “Let me call Royal Bahamas Defence Force first, so they don’t activate a full-on rescue.”
“What was that awful smell?” Moana asked again.
Tony didn’t attempt to sugar-coat his response as I switched frequencies. “There’s a dead person or persons inside that box.”
The container had less than a foot of its top above water and could likely sink to the bottom any minute. Human traffickers sometimes used them to smuggle people—slaves really—from one place to another. The smell was unmistakably that of death. The container was probably eight feet in height and rode too low in the water for anyone inside to still be alive. There were already light threads of algae blooming on the sides. It had been in the water for at least a week.
Using the single-sideband radio, I reached the RBDF and explained what we’d found and what we believed was inside the container, making sure he understood it looked like it had been in the water for a long time and this was a recovery, not a rescue. I also asked if we should attach an EPIRB, since one of my charter clients had to meet a plane in three hours, and I couldn’t really wait around.
The Bahamian officer asked all the pertinent questions; my name, boat name, home port, current GPS location, destination, and who the EPIRB was registered to. After I gave him the information, he told me to wait. I’d given him the story Tony and I had already discussed for when he got to Customs; we were transiting Bahamian waters from Miami, headed to Turks and Caicos, but one of my passengers had an emergency call and we needed to get to the airport on New Providence as quickly as possible. The radio was silent for a few minutes. I knew he was running my name and my boat through their computer to see if I was a known drug trafficker or something. After that, he’d have to get permission from higher up the food chain to allow me to activate the EPIRB in a non-emergency situation.
Finally, the officer came back on the air. “Royal Bahamas Defence to Gaspar’s Revenge. Yuh have permission to attach di EPIRB and continue on yuh way.”
I looked blankly at Tony, surprised at how easy it had been. He shrugged.
“I have two patrol boats heading toward di location,” the Bahamian officer continued. “How sure are yuh of di contents?”
“It’s a forty-foot container,” I replied, “with sharks around it. We didn’t get in the water to open it, so I’m only going on the smell. No idea what else is inside, but I know the smell of death.”
“Roger dat, Cap’n McDermitt,” came the reply. “Yuh clear to proceed, suh. Di patrol boats will wait on di scene for a freighter to bring di container to Nassau. If yuh like, yuh can retrieve yuh device dere.”
I knew that was an invitation to sit in a conference room for hours on end, answering the same questions over and over. I figured it would be a better idea to kiss off the five-hundred-dollar piece of equipment; I had several on board.
Tony was in the cockpit with two boat hooks in hand, a dock line looped over the end of one of them. I stood with my back to the wheel, using the throttles for steerage. The wind, what little there was, was now over our bow. I slowly backed down on the metal container.
The slightly raised boxes on the corners of these containers have holes for securing the containers to a trailer or one to another while in transit. Tony deftly handled the boat hooks, as I tried to keep the wind from pushing the Revenge against the metal box. Steel and fiberglass don’t mix, and I’d seen the results of a ’glass boat hitting one of those things. It took Tony a few minutes, but he finally got the loop down through the top hole and then managed to fish it out of the side with the other hook. He quickly hauled the looped end of the dock line aboard, slipped the bitter end through the eye, and pulled the slip knot tight to the container. Then he tied the EPIRB’s lanyard to the end of the dock line and tossed it overboard, knowing that it would activate on contact with water.
“What’s our time look like?” I asked Tony as he climbed up and sat beside me at the helm.
He took a moment to tap at his phone screen, then leaned over the chart plotter, shielding the sun’s rays with his hand. “Still plenty of time at thirty knots. I’ll be two hours early.”
“Good,” I said. “It’ll take an hour to clear customs and get a cab to the airport.”
“Was it just me?” Tony asked. “Or did that whole thing with the Defence Force go a little too easily?”
I shrugged. “Sometimes you’re the bug, sometimes the windshield.”
Tony shook his head. “Activating an EPIRB? Leaving the scene where someone might be dead? Sounds suspect to me, man.”
The girls were sitting on the port bench seat. “Just in case the Bahamas officials stop us on the way in,” I said to them, “maybe you two oughta go below and change.”
“Do you think they will?” Moana asked.
I grinned at her. “It’s doubtful, but sailors are sailors. If they see you two in bikinis, they just might. When we head into port, you’ll want to stay inside. We’re only gonna bump the dock long enough for Tony to step over, then it’s about an hour to where we’ll meet Charity.”
“What will happen to us then?” Fiona asked.
I merely shrugged. “Just spend a little time with Charity and get to know her better. She’s good people, and you three have a lot in common. Lay low with her for a while. If the Pences have the kind of reach you think they do, she can keep you hidden and safe better than anyone. Then the three of you can figure out what to do with the rest of your lives.”
I waited until the girls were down the ladder before I brought the Revenge back up on plane. When I looked back, the gulls were landing on the container again. I doubted there were more than one or two bodies inside, not a container full of refugees or anything; the smell wasn’t that strong.
Nudging the throttles back when we reached thirty knots, I again considered Charity’s offer. Even if I agreed, it’d probably take months for everything to go through. By that time, I might find Savannah. Then what would I do with a sailboat? For that matter, I hadn’t given a whole lot of real thought to what I’d do if I found her. Move her and Florence into my little stilt house? Join them on the trawler? And do what with my island, business, and boats? I had a ton of questions, but less than an ounce of answers.
* * * * *
An hour later, I steered Gaspar’s Revenge around the eastern tip of New Providence Island and turned into Nassau Harbour. It was still a couple of hours before sunset, and there were boats and ships of all sizes transiting the waterway. I slowed to twenty knots, just fast enough to stay up on top of the water.
Radioing the port authority, I told them I had a client aboard who had to get home to an emergency and he hadn’t cleared in with customs yet. I told him the same lie that we were transiting Bahamian waters, out of Miami. Tony couldn’t show up at the airport for a flight out of the country with no entry stamp. The customs man was very helpful and said his entry would be expedited. He also said that there was a long line of cabs waiting; a cruise ship was due to arrive within the hour.
Tony climbed back up to the bridge after securing most of his gear down in the cockpit. He handed me a sheet of paper torn from a small notepad. “Here, I jotted the container number on my phone and then wrote it down for you.”
I glanced at it. There were four letters and seven numbers, the last of which he’d drawn a box around.
“What’s the box for?”
“Search me,” he answered. “There was a box around the last number on the container, so I figured it meant something.”
I folded the sheet and put it in my pocket.
Where the harbor narrowed, we passed under the high bridge carrying tourists over to Paradise Island. A few minutes later, we idled up to the customs dock. Tony had his small pack over one shoulder. He’d left his guns with me, and I’d stashed them along with my own.
Reaching out, Tony grabbed the rung of the ladder and climbed up the few steps to the pier and waved. “Hope you find her!” he shouted before turning and walking toward the customs building.
Maneuvering away from the dock, I continued west past the cruise ship terminal, toward the western harbor entrance. Twenty minutes later, we cleared the harbor mouth and I pointed the bow toward Bond’s Cay.
Somewhere ahead was Charity’s antique sloop, Wind Dancer. She’d likely be sailing a little more northerly from Nassau for greater speed, then tacking west and running before the wind for the last few miles.
“Is it okay to come out?” a voice asked over the intercom speaker.
I punched the button next to it. “Yeah, and would you bring me a thermos of coffee? Tony put it on a few minutes ago.”
“Sure,” came the reply, though I couldn’t tell which one of the women it was.
They climbed the ladder to the bridge a moment later, both dressed in lightweight, baggy clothes designed to shield the sun and still keep them cool. Once both women were seated on the bridge and I’d refilled my mug, I pushed the throttles up just a little beyond cruising speed. The Revenge dropped down at the stern, the big props displacing the water under the boat. She climbed up on top of the surface in seconds, as we roared out onto the TOTO.
Call me a power or speed junky; I just like the feel of a big boat powering through the chop.
“Didn’t Charity say her boat was in Nassau?” Fiona asked. “Why couldn’t we have just switched here?”
“Better if nobody sees you,” I replied. “She left Nassau over an hour ago and we’ll be at Bond’s Cay in about an hour.”
“She’s already there?”
I chuckled. “No, it’ll take her a good three or four hours. Her top speed is about what this boat’ll do at an idle.”
“So we’ll see her along the way?” Moana asked.
I adjusted the radar to its maximum range. “Maybe, but I doubt it. Wind’s out of the east, so she’ll take advantage of that and sail a more northerly course for speed.”
More than a dozen echoes began to populate the screen, many moving toward the Berry Islands, as we were.
“What did Tony mean by he hoped you found her?” Moana asked. “Don’t you know where we’re meeting her?”
I glanced over at the diminutive Polynesian woman. “He wasn’t talking about Charity.”
“Who was he talking about, then?”
She held my gaze, her light brown—almost yellow—eyes seeming to convey innocence of all things. Her past told a different story. If what she’d claimed was true, she’d been kidnapped by pedophiles at the age of ten, then killed them some years later to escape. I knew she was probably the same age as my oldest daughter, Eve, who’d turned twenty-five just after I’d left the Keys; but, mentally, Moana was still little more than a ten-year-old girl.
“I’ve been looking for someone for a few weeks,” I said. “I’ll be getting back to that when we meet Charity.”
“Someone who broke some law?” Fiona asked.
“No,” I replied. “It’s personal.”
An hour and many questions later, the sun was nearing the cloud bank that still stretched across most of the horizon to the southwest. It tinged the clouds a rusty shade of red. Apparently, they were moving north also.
As we approached the southern end of Bond’s Cay, I slowed and reached for the VHF mic. I hailed Wind Dancer three times on channel sixteen, with no reply. I didn’t really expect one, though. She was likely still beyond the horizon to the east or southeast. I could probably reach her on the SSB radio—sidebands have a longer range—but opted for the satellite phone instead.
Charity answered on the third ring. “I’m under power,” she said, by way of a greeting. “What happened to the wind?”
“We’re just off the south end of Bond’s,” I said, looking at an echo on the radar screen. “How far out are you?”
“Ten miles,” she replied. “I had decent wind on the first leg, but just a few minutes after tacking west, it died. It’ll take me at least two hours to motor in.”
“Want me to head east?”
“No need,” Charity replied, her voice sounding distant somehow, though she was barely over the horizon. “You were going to anchor there anyway, right?”
“Yeah,” I replied, though I had considered heading over to Chub Cay. “We’ll be in the second cove on the lee side. You can’t go much shallower than that, can you?”
“Roger that,” Charity replied. “I grabbed some steaks at the marina store before I left.”
“It’s like you read my mind. We can grill on the Revenge before turning in.”
“See you in a couple of hours, Jesse.”
I ended the call and placed the phone on the dash.
An echo I’d seen on the radar had been pacing us, five miles back, for the last fifteen minutes.
I switched off the radar and turned to the girls. “Either of y’all familiar with boats?”
“I’ve done a little boating,” Fiona replied. “Nothing as fast as this.”
“Can you handle releasing the safety chain on the anchor? I can do everything else from up here.”
“No problem,” she said, as I brought the speed down to an idle and turned north into the natural channel on the west side of Bond’s Cay.
There were two sailboats anchored in the first cove we came to. When we passed the next spit of land, I was glad to see that the second cove was empty. I turned toward an empty beach, watching the sonar. When we reached four feet of water, I reversed the engines, bringing the Revenge to a stop.
I toggled the windlass switch, taking a bit of slack out of the safety chain, and stood up to tell Fiona to unhook it from the anchor. But she was already bent over the rode. A second later, she turned and waved up at me. “All set!”
I released the brake on the windlass and began backing away from the beach. Once enough chain was out, I engaged the windlass brake and reversed harder, pulling the rode tight, and setting the anchor in the sandy bottom.
Satisfied, I shifted to neutral, shut down the engines, and told Fiona in a low voice to reconnect the safety chain. Sound travels well over water; normal conversation can be heard hundreds of yards away. I went down the ladder quickly and opened the salon hatch. Finn bounded out and stood on his hind legs, looking toward shore.
“How long will she be?” Moana asked, starting down the ladder.
I turned to face her just as her foot slipped. She toppled backward, and I moved quickly to break her fall. As small as she was, I was able to catch her in midair, cradling her small frame in both arms. I doubted she even weighed as much as Finn, and he was barely a hundred pounds. She smelled a lot better.
As I gently placed her on the deck, she smiled up at me. “Thanks.”
“De nada,” I said, then went to the transom door and opened it. Finn came over and stepped out onto the swim platform. We were in about five or six feet of water over a sandy bottom.
“Think you can find us something to snack on?” I asked Finn, rubbing the loose fur behind his ear. He barked once.
“Then get to it, boy. These ladies are probably hungry.”
Finn jumped into the water, going under for a second, before bobbing back to the surface like a cork. Labs can float effortlessly, thanks to a dense underfur that traps tiny air bubbles, making them more buoyant.
Looking around, Finn spotted the shoreline and struck out toward it at a fast swim.
Fiona joined me at the transom. “Didn’t Charity say she was bringing steaks?”
“She did,” I replied, “but a little snack before she arrives isn’t gonna hurt.”
“And your dog will find a snack?” she scoffed.
Finn reached the beach and trotted out onto the sand, his nose to the ground. “He will in a minute,” I said, as Finn disappeared into the foliage. “Right now, I think he’s just looking to relieve himself.”
A moment later, Finn returned to the water’s edge. He moved back and forth on the wet sand at the edge of the water, stopping to sniff at it here and there, before he waded back into the water. When it reached his belly, he began pawing at the bottom with his big front paws, the webbing in his toes kicking up silt. After a moment his head went under. When he came up, I could see that he had a clam in his mouth. He started swimming back toward the boat.
Moana stepped up to the transom on my other side. “What’s he got in his mouth?”
Fiona laughed. “One clam? What do we do? Cut it up into three pieces?”
Finn reached the swim platform and deposited his find, then turned and swam in circles for a moment. Suddenly, he dove. Through the gin-clear water, we watched as he swam down to the bottom and pawed at the sand a moment. When he came back up, he had another clam in his mouth.
“Good boy,” I shouted, as he dropped it on the platform with the other one.
He turned and dove again.
I looked over at Fiona. “Give him ten or fifteen minutes, and he’ll bring up a good dozen. That should hold us over until Charity arrives.” Glancing toward the sun, now just a few degrees above the horizon, I said, “Right now, I’m missing happy hour.”
In the galley, I put four Red Stripes in a small cooler, topped it with ice, and carried it up to the bridge. The girls were already there, Fiona in the second seat, and Moana on the port bench, both facing aft.
“You like to watch the sun go down,” Moana said softly. “But it makes you sad.”
Taking my seat, I removed a brace of the stubby brown bottles. I opened them with a bottle opener that’s always floating around on the console somewhere and passed a beer to each of the two girls, then dropped the opener in the cooler and closed it.
“Not sad,” I confessed, putting my feet up on the aft rail. “Sunset is a time to reflect; to look back on your day and examine what you’ve accomplished. It’s the best time to make plans for tomorrow, so that the mistakes you made today won’t be repeated.”
Fiona raised her bottle. “To better tomorrows.”
We drank, and I relaxed a little. Having a pretty good idea of what was to come, I just enjoyed the daily dance of sun and sea before it did. There was a possibility that this day’s events weren’t quite over.
In the distance, a buzzing sound grew a little louder.
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