Oct. 14: Here are the next pages in chapter one of Night Watch. Thanks to all of you who gave us your first sentence and commented on our first pages. We’re waitng for your comments. The last of this chapter will be posted over the weekend. Stay tuned.
by Ed and Janet Howle
Chapter 1 continued
“The real problem is I know too much, or at least they think I do. I overheard a conversation no one was supposed to have heard.”
“And that was…..”
“Bad question. I just said I know too much. Believe me, you don’t want to share that knowledge.”
“Right. I have to get along with those guys. But now you’re onboard with me. How do I convince them that you haven’t told me what you heard?”
“You don’t. And it’s really bad. They said they were taking me to jail in Nassau to wait trial, but I know better. That wouldn’t have solved their problem. They wouldn’t want publicity over this. As soon as I got past the Northwest Channel Light and into deep water, I would have found myself overboard with an anchor chained to my ankle.”
“Where’d they pick you up?”
“Bimini. That’s where it all happened.”
She’s lying. “Doesn’t make sense. There’s deep water in the Gulf Stream, just west of Bimini. No need to go to Nassau to drown you.”
“Going to Nassau was the original plan. But just before I slipped over the stern, I heard a message on their single side-band. They were all up on the bridge deck, but there was a radio in the main salon as well. I couldn’t hear everything over the engine noise, but the orders were to be sure I didn’t get to Nassau.”
“Let’s see if I’ve got this right. You overheard two conversations. One that got you arrested and one that got you in the water swimming for your life. I’m supposed to believe this?”
Kat was quiet. “It doesn’t sound believable does it?”
“Not really. But let’s just say I do believe you. What would you have done if you hadn’t seen my anchor light before you went overboard?”
“I honestly don’t know.” They both stared out over the expanse of ocean.
Carter broke the silence. “So, now it’s my ass as well as yours.”
“Are you going to radio the police?”
“I don’t think so. Don’t ask me why not.” Carter paused. “Any bright ideas?”
“Yeah, take me to the Turks and Cacaos. Go into some obscure inlet and let me off. I’ll pay you.”
“Aside from legal issues, I don’t have time for that. Those islands are days away, even if we sailed day and night, and there’s a hurricane down that way. I’ll get you toNassau. Maybe you can fly out from there.”
“With no passport, I can’t fly anywhere. They know I don’t have it. They’ll be watching the embassy inNassau. Airports too. Are you going to Nassau?”
“Yeah, I’ll spend the night there, refuel, pick up some fresh produce and go on.”
“Maybe I can sign on as crew on another boat.”
“Maybe, maybe not. Don’t kid yourself. The police will be searching all boats and asking questions to anyone who picked up crew. It’s a risk for any owner. Like the one I’m taking now.”
“I can pay.”
“And how will you convince anyone? You don’t exactly look the part, no passport, bleached out shirt and shorts no credit card or check book that I see. No way to prove who you are. With lots of wanabee sailors willing to sign on for temporary crew positions, you still have to have some credentials.”
“You don’t believe me.”
“All I know is you risked your life trying to swim to my boat. It may help if you’d tell me what happened that made you take that risk.”
Kat bit her lip and looked at him. “I’m scared.”
“Yeah well, I would think so. I don’t know what trouble you’re in, but I’m not going to throw you to the wolves—or sharks. We’ll think of something.” Am I being taken for a fool? And do I care? I’m not depressed!
They sat, each with their own thoughts. Finally Kat asked, “Where are we now?”
“In about an hour we’ll reach the narrow passage at the Northwest Channel Light.”
There had been no traffic on the radio. Then someone keyed a microphone. They listened. “Reel Time, Reel Time. Dis is Fish Story. Over.”
“Fish Story, Reel Time here, go to our working channel.”
These were Bahamian fishing charter boats headed for Chub Cay. Carter knew these fun-loving captains and their often questionable charters. Guys you’d want on your side in a fight, but they walked a thin line with authorities. He keyed the radio to channel 17, “their working channel.” Hardly subtle.
“Reel Time, come back. Fish Story here.”
“I wid you. Where you at?”
“ ’Bout five miles west a da Northwest Channel.”
“We at da light. Lots goin’ on. Police boats boarding ever boat comin’ off da banks. Never seen dis afore. We be next but dey take their own sweet time. You probly catch up wid us. Hope you sorted out your catch fo you get here or the police sort it fo you.”
“Tanks for the heads up. We be clear. Back to sixteen.”
Carter chuckled. “Guess Fish Story will be dumping their drugs overboard. Won’t be a good day for them. Not for us either. Can’t take you past that light. No way to get off the banks.” He shifted into neutral and let Mo coast to a stop.
“Isn’t there another way?”
“Not without going north of the Berrys and I don’t have fuel for that.” Carter fell silent, then something occurred to him. “You know, a couple of years ago, I was talking to a Bahamian captain at the End of the World bar in Bimini. He was bragging drunk. Told me he knew a way through the coral reefs about four miles south of the light. Said it was complicated. You needed good light to watch depths and spot the coral heads. A look-out on the bow. Claimed you could take about six feet through there at high tide. The guy pulled a piece of paper out of his wallet and showed me three sets of coordinates. I didn’t really believe him, just drunk talk, but I did write them down and put it on my chart. Thought I’d check it out sometime, figured it’d be a short-cut for my run toNassau, if it’s even possible.”
“How much does your boat draw?”
“Five feet nine inches. It’s worth a try. I’ll plot our course if you’ll stay here and watch for traffic. Never could teach Captain Auto to do that. He doesn’t multitask. Good with keeping the course, but shit as a look-out. Don’t take chances; call me if you spot another boat.”
Carter went below with the GPS, turned on the dim red light at the chart table and searched his worn chart until he found the three sets of coordinates. He entered them on the GPS and waited. Soon it indicated a course of 203 degrees and a distance of 8.4 miles. Checking the tide table he saw the next high tide was at 10:56 am. Need to get there about 10:00 to get through a little before high tide. If we go aground on a rising tide I can probably still get off. Calling for help with a fugitive on board is not a good plan.
He could stand on the foredeck and see the bottom and the coral heads, but he’d need Kat at the helm, responding to his signals. Might as well find out if she’s telling the truth about being a sailor. He called to her on the intercom. “Kat, shift into forward, 1600 r.p.m., course heading 203 degrees.”
“Roger that.” He felt the engine shift into gear, rev up, and the boat swing to starboard. Walking forward to the inside steering station, he looked at the instruments. She was dead on course and the engine was turning 1600.
He came back to the companionway. “Was that a test?” she asked.
“Yeah. And you get an A. I’ll need you at the helm when we go through the coral. I’ll stand on the bow and give you hand signals to indicate which way to turn. We’ll go through dead slow. Engine at idle.”
“Roger, Captain.” She smiled as she said it.
Carter looked at the GPS. It showed an ETA of 10:32, “Give her 200 r.p.m. more.”
“Say, Captain, is there any food on board? My stomach seems to be a little empty.”
“Of course. How about an omelet with ham and cheese?”
“Sounds great. You eat well for a solo sailor.”
“This used to be a charter boat. If I fed my guests crap, they wouldn’t come back. Just let me know if you see another boat—any boat.”
“ ‘Carter’s Charter,’” she said. “That’s just too cute.”
Somehow that broke the tension. “OK, wise-ass. For your information it was Carter McDowell’s Charter Service. That’s my last name. Coffee?”
“How you like it?”
“Black is fine.”
“Great. That’s what’s in the thermos.” He handed her an empty mug and went into the galley to fix omelets.
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