Excerpted from Deep Water Blues

 

Up on the hill, in the clubhouse, the grand dinner is now winding down. Bobby’s guests are stuffed with tuna carpaccio and filet mignon. They sip fine cognac while waiting for Bobby’s surprise dessert … There are about twenty-five people at the tables. They will soon return to their yachts and fish boats as lavish as South Beach condos. 

Bobby Little is a short handsome man, deeply tanned from the island life, dressed in an elegant white shirt, slacks, and flip-flops. He walks from table to table, shaking hands, exchanging pleasantries. Bobby is a master chef, a national skateboard champion, a drug smuggler/DEA undercover agent, a surfer, expert diver, insatiable lover, acrobatic pilot, world-class archer, raconteur. 

Everyone in the room wants a word with Bobby, powerfully built but grown just a little paunchy in his middle years. Passing through the room, he brags graciously or makes fun of his belly — whatever opens doors. He finds time for each guest; but more than that, he insinuates with a smile or a phrase there will be many more island nights like this caressed by soft sea breezes to inspire prodigious feats of love on the grand yachts, sweet dreams of record-setting blue marlin trolled up in the corner, and more extravagant land deals. Bobby sells ocean front lots to many of his visitors, although rumor has it, sometimes, in the rush of friendship, he closes deals without having the proper title for land he sells. So what! Bobby’s Rum Cay nights are memorable as the stars in a perfectly clear Bahamian sky, nights when immortality feels stamped in the bliss of new friendships that will last forever …

[Bobby] exchanges pleasant remarks with Dennis, his newest best buddy, who’s about Bobby’s age and height but fifty pounds heavier. Dennis bought land from Bobby, brought in his own building crew from Chicago to put up a trophy house at the far end of the beach. He yearns to be a partner in Bobby’s operation. He’s already invested money in the marine but wants a bigger share …

While Bobby spreads charm and cognac, two hundred yards away, on the end of the narrow peninsula, across the channel from the marina, a skinny black man pulls himself up on the rocks. He is wearing no clothes. Soon five others struggle to work their way out of the surf, all of them bleeding from rocks covered with crustaceans with edges like razors. The men hear the festive sounds coming from the club. They smell the food. They feel their way along the peninsula of sharp rocks and thistles that runs parallel to Bobby’s docks, just across the channel . . .

The men are shivering. The sound of a guitar drifts down from the club. 

The six men make their way down the sandbank of the peninsula directly across from the dock. They say a few words and then plunge into the shark-infested channel across from the club. They are not good swimmers. They splash and churn the water attempting to make it across to the festivities on the other side of the canal. The curious sharks are awakened by all the splashing. They swim beneath the crude swimmers, nudge their bleeding legs and feet. One of the men is pulled under. By a miracle, five of them make it across the channel whole. 

Bobby’s guests are sleepy with food and drink. An older woman notices a tall black man outside, pressed against the window. He is completely naked, his genitals loose and long. Then more naked black men crowd the window. For a moment fear blazes through the room. Where did they come from? What do they want from us? No clothes.  The Florida women are alarmed. The skinny men are all shivering and hungry and speaking in a strange language, tapping on the window. Let us in! The guests are drunk and paralyzed with fear. Don’t let them inside. 

Bobby walks outside to talk to the men, casual as always. One of them speaks a few words of English. They had sailed here from Haiti. Their boat hit a reef some distance southeast of the marina. These men were able to swim to shore. There are others on the boat. 

How many others? Ten? Thirty?

They all speak at once. He can’t make out what the men are saying … 

 

Bobby threw two extra lines and a few life preservers into his beat-up skiff. He asked Dennis to follow in his tricked-out Boston Whaler. Bobby knew his new friend couldn’t resist. He’d want to be part of the action. Dennis coveted glory and power but mostly he wanted to be Bobby. Bobby knew this and it didn’t bother him — just part of the circus of his life. 

They each took two of the Haitian men and jumped into their boats, cranked the engines, and headed into the night. It was exciting. 

 

Bobby led the way heading east, running parallel to the reef, dodging coral heads, easy going with a full moon sowing the way. Bobby knew the reef like his childhood backyard in Miami — he’d been spearfishing this stretch of water for nearly forty years. He followed the broken ribbon of reef for about two miles before spotting a man in a life jacket, drifting in the current. The man was babbling to himself. They eased up to the fellow and his friends and pulled him into the skiff.

No sign of anyone else. They moved ahead, slowly following the reef that showed clearly beneath the water. Bobby stopped again. He turned off his outboard, called over to Dennis to do the same. They drifted, listening to the surf breaking on the outer reef. The man pulled from the sea was muttering and shivering. Someone threw a towel his way. 

Now clouds were shutting down the moon. 

Bobby called to the men in his boat, “Start yelling. Yell!”

“Yell!” he called to Dennis in the other boat. Dennis had an impatient expression. He didn’t want to yell. 

The men were yelling in a mix of languages. They yelled into a building breeze. It felt hopeless. They listened to the wind. The man in the skiff mumbled to himself. 

“Let’s go back in,” Dennis called decisively to Bobby. 

Bobby started the outboard, edged his skiff ahead into the blackness. Now there was something — people chanting, like music, unless it was the wind. No, people were calling. It was pitch dark, the moon fallen behind the clouds. 

He edged his skiff ahead. 

In the other boat, Dennis was nervous as a cat. He didn’t want to break up his new boat on a coral head. 

There was something in the distance rising from the mist and the first spatterings of rain. Bobby drew closer, hit it with a flashlight. The ancient sailing vessel was floating upside down, her bottom splattered gaily with different colored dabs and dots and squares of blues, oranges, grays and yellows — her waterline had thick rectangles of lighter blue, as if a street artist had created an abstraction to celebrate the triumphant escape from Haiti. 

Bobby understood in a glance. The Haitian boat had plowed into the reef and passengers panicked, ran to one side, and the old boat rolled over spilling everyone into the sea. How many people?  No telling. Where were they all?

Bobby pushed men aside getting to the bow. He was wearing his flip-flops, slacks and white shirt, and holding a mag light. He jumped over, grabbed some air and dove …

Bobby got back to his boat, retching. Took some breaths, then he headed for the next clump of coral, collecting people. Dennis in the newer skiff began doing the same thing. By now a bigger boat had come out of the marina and was standing by just offshore of the reef. From time to time they transferred Haitians onto the larger boat. The two skiffs pulled scores of people off the coral heads until there was no one left they could see. 

“Nothing more here,” Dennis called to Bobby. 

Bobby was deciding. Dennis wanted to get back to his big boat at the marina, have a drink. 

Bobby eased the skiff back to the Haitian sailboat. He pulled up alongside the blue hull, looked around. No one here he could see. 

Dennis gestured impatiently, “Let’s go, come on.” Dennis was finished with this adventure, wanted to tell captains at the dock what he’d done. He would have run back himself but didn’t know his way through the maze of coral heads in the dark. 

Bobby didn’t notice or care. He dove back in, swam to the capsized Haitian boat. He climbed onto the slimy bottom and began pounding on the hull. Pounded some more with his fist. Then a sound from inside. Someone signaling back. People were still alive in there. Some trapped air was keeping people alive. But not for much longer. 

Bobby called to Dennis to dive in and help. “Come on, bring a knife!”

Dennis shook his head like a sulking kid. The Haitian boat was a mess of ruined sails, tangled ropes, clothing, floating luggage, soggy mattresses. A swimmer could easily get caught in the debris. There were sharks spinning right below the surface. Dennis shook his head. Dennis had big plans for his life. 

Bobby swam back to his skiff, grabbed a rusty filet knife, and swam back to the Haitian boat. He began cutting lines, clearing away sails, thrashing and cutting like a crazed man. 

 

Then back to the skiff again. He quickly rigged a bridle using a long anchor line. Hardly any time left. Again he called to Dennis. Dennis was a strong swimmer. He needed Dennis to dive in, secure two ends of the bridle to the far side of the Haitian boat. Then Bobby would push his boat into gear and try to flip the sailboat back onto her bottom. It was a delicate maneuver. If he pulled too hard with the skiff, the Haitian boat would keep rolling and end up back with her keel in the air. 

“Please, man. Just connect the lines,” he called to Dennis. “It’s easy.”

Dennis shook his head. No.

No time. Probably they were already dead. He needed to secure the bridle end of the line to the far side of the flipped vessel, then gun his skiff, try to flip her. He tried to explain to the Haitian captain what was necessary. “Gun her when I wave to you.”

Did he understand?

Bobby swam back to the Haitian boat, attached the bridle ends to wooden cleats on the far side of the hull. Then he signaled the Haitian. 

Bobby treaded water, watching. Slowly, very slowly, the boat rolled back onto her bottom. Bobby signlaed with his hands, and the Haitian backed off on the throttle. Almost immediately a surge of old mattresses, clothing, suitcases, food, regurgitated from a square window at the top of the companionway. Now the sailboat was upright, but she was nearly filled with water and the window and passageway were three or four feet below the surface. 

Bobby could see sharks moving below, jerking this way and that, diving into the companionway. They were starting to feed. One of them came at Bobby’s feet and he kicked it away. Wasn’t much time left. Not with the sharks like this. Not with the boat flipped and filled with ocean. He needed to get inside and see if anyone was still alive. If the Haitian pulled the skiff with too much power, the forty-footer would flip again and roll on top of him. He’d be trapped. 

Bobby dove into the hole, squinting, couldn’t see a thing. Should have brought a mask. Almost immediately he could feel hands reaching up to him. He grabbed arms, hands, maybe it was two people. He tried to jerk them both out. But the hole was too small. The three of them were wedged into the hole along with mattresses and suitcases. It wasn’t wide enough. Out of breath. Bobby had to free his hands. He tried to push one of the arms back down into the hole — shoved the guy back down. A little wiggle room. Then with two hands he grabbed a head. He wrenched it up through all the debris. The two of them came bursting through that jammed up hole like a forced birth. It was a kid, terrified. Soon as they hit the surface he was on Bobby’s back like a monkey, biting Bobby on the shoulder. Madness crawling, scratching his back and head. Still, Bobby was trying to reach back down into  the companionway to grab the other person’s arm or head but the man or woman had drifted deeper into the hole and Bobby couldn’t reach him. He or she was gone. The kid was latched on Bobby’s shoulders and no one was helping. He took more than a minute to shake the kid and get him to the skiff. 

Bobby went back to the hole again, pulled out duffel bags and more mattresses. He dove into the cabin. Now he could feel arms, hands reaching up to him from the cabin floor, lots of people. They were all dead. They were drowned. Bobby didn’t try to pull any more of them out. 

Leave a reply

Theme developed by TouchSize - Premium WordPress Themes and Websites