Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Chapter 2


The sun comes up softly in the marina. It sneaks up on the horizon, like a whispered threat, a quiet glow in the east. Temperatures edge their way up the scale, and old boats creak and groan at the thought of a new day. That was pretty much how my body felt, sitting up topside waiting for the first morning breeze, listening to the water lap against the side of the Busted Flush.

I knew that some of the creaking and groaning came from my own body. Over the years, I have done a moderately good job of keeping in shape. But, at some time in life, the body starts to win. No matter how hard you try, you find that gravity has consequences. I pushed off from the comfortable deck chair and headed for the beach. Five or ten miles of jogging would loosen up the tight joints, and stretch out the ham strings enough to get through another day. There is a strip of sand next to the water that stays relatively firm, and easy to run on. I tried to stay just to one side of it or the other, getting a little wet or gouging deeper into the sand for an extra challenge.

An hour later, I trotted back toward the Busted Flush. It was still too early for the sun worshipers and beach bums. A few fishermen were watching the eastern glow blossom, and talking quietly. In an hour or so, the tourists and beach bunnies would arrive, and the games would begin. I stopped off for a moment to see if anything was biting. As I looked down the pier, I noticed two young toughs at the gangplank of the Busted Flush.

My generation will never be able to understand poking holes in your body as a fashion statement. Both of these young men wore multiple hoops of gold piercing their eyebrows, and a safety pin or two in other unlikely locations. They managed to set these off nicely with the black leather vests, dirty jeans, and an attitude problem.

The closer of the two was tall and bony. His sidekick was less than six feet tall, but puffed up as if he had soccer balls under his skin. The only thing they seemed to share in common, other than grime and their taste in jewelry, was their closely shaved heads. I thought they might regret that hairstyle later in their lives, when nature starts thinning out the scalp. They seemed more concerned with Sue and her little black nine-millimeter. She was holding them at bay.

Some folding green got me a droopy fishing hat adorned with rusty treble-barbed lures, and a bucket of stinky bait. As I approached the Busted Flush, I gave them a crazy giggle, and said, "Look what I caught boys!"

The stork had perched with one leg up on the safety rail that ran down the side of the Busted Flush. He glanced over his shoulder at me as I sloshed the bucket of bait into his friend's face, then took my new cap off and swatted him on the forehead. At least two of the barbed lures seemed to have found a home. Mr. Muscles grabbed for the hat that was now stuck to his face, but never really got it off. I found a convenient safety pin hanging from the stork's ear, and gave it a quick yank, just before kicking in the back of his single supporting knee. There was an audible pop just before he collapsed on the ground. Sue seemed to be very impressed with me.

I was debating with myself about cleaning up the mess, or just leaving it. I needed a shower. As I tried to decide, Meyer rushed up with Officer Stein, of the Ft. Lauderdale police. Officer Stein may have accepted their fashion statement, if not their foul language. He could not approve of the Swastika tattoos over their hearts. He seemed even less tolerant when the stork called him a pig. It was a poor judgment call on the stork's part. Officer Stein was just over six foot six, and not feeling lenient. I finally decided on the shower. Meyer and Sue were waiting for me when I came out, drying my hair.

Sue slipped into the galley, and banged a few pots and pans. Her trusty little parabellum was nowhere in sight.

"Meyer" I said. "Perhaps you could explain something to me."

"Certainly. If I can."

"Why is it that I'm not sitting somewhere with Officer Stein answering questions, and filling out reports?"

"Oh! Lenny is a good boy. I was at his Brit Milah, his Bris. I’ve known his family forever. When he matriculated, he wanted to spend his time with the JDL, but his mother would not hear of it. Combine that with the fact that Ft. Lauderdale does not have an open arms policy towards lowlifes and drifters, and it becomes simple."

"Ok, next question. Who were they?"

"That I don't know. Perhaps Sue does. I assumed they were just small time troublemakers."

"Right on both accounts" Came Sue's voice from the kitchen. "Who wants breakfast?"

"I'd love breakfast, and some answers." I said.

Sue's omelets were hot, imaginative, and tasty. We sat around McGee's table enjoying the meal, and washing it down with the last of his Carta Blanca. This was the first time I'd had the time to study her without the threat of bodily harm. I placed her age at 27, but she could have been younger, or older. Her brown hair was just over shoulder length and clean. She hadn't done anything extravagant with it. She had a straight nose covered with freckles, wide green eyes, and a mouth that might have been too wide, except that it showed her perfect white teeth when she made a crooked little grin. I would have been tempted to sum her up in one word as "Mischief," but the strain around her eyes said something else was happening there. She was wearing an open necked blue denim shirt that must have belonged to McGee, and short tight cutoff jeans that displayed more cheek than a father would approve of. She stood about five foot six, and was thin except where nubile young girls shouldn't be. Other than the shirt, she was not wearing anything above the waist. Nothing I could see looked surgically altered. It would have been a waste of money. My closest friend gave me a twinge, and I had to remind myself that I was no longer a young stud.

"Ok," she said, "I know them both from back home. They were looking for the book, but I don't have it. I told them that, but they didn't want to believe me. My guess is they’ll be coming back. Probably with friends."

"Whoa there. Let's back up a few steps. Remember that I just got here last night. Who are they? Where is home? What book are we talking about? And, who are their friends?"

"The tall one is called Tall William. The other guy is Bounce. Home is in Northern Idaho. The book belonged to my daddy. And their friends are the Aryan Brotherhood, and down here I suppose the KKK."


"I came to Travis because they were chasing me. When I was younger, he did my daddy a favor. My daddy never forgot the favor, and I never forgot Travis. They want daddy’s book, but I don't have it, and they won't believe me. Travis scared them off once, and then he said he was going to go have a little chat with them. We haven't heard from him since, and now they're back."

"Who is your daddy?"

"Was. Who was my daddy? Agent Scott DeMarko, BATF. He was an undercover agent, and they killed him."

"Why didn't you go to the BATF?"

"I tried, but the agents I talked to didn’t want anything to do with it, because of how my daddy was died. They found him naked in a cheap motel room, overdosed on heroin with a dead fifteen-year-old prostitute. BATF doesn't even want to talk about it. They think of him as an embarrassment. But daddy wasn't like that."

"What was in the book?"

"I'm not sure. He never let me see it. He used to write in it whenever he could make it home. I guess it had something to do with his job, but he didn't talk about his work with me."

Meyer had kept quiet all this time. He shifted his considerable bulk to look at me now. "What do we do now, Mr. Murphy?" It was a serious question.

"M. Both of you please just call me M from now on. First, we need to disappear you two. You can't stay here at Bahai Mar unless you want to take up the martial arts. Second, if we’re dealing with an organization like the Arians, we need to reduce their ability to harm us. Then, I go looking for McGee. Two months is a long time to be missing. On the other hand, McGee is harder to kill than most people."

"But, won't you just be stepping into the same trouble Travis did?"

"Yes, and no. If I'm lucky, I'll be able to find the same people he did. The "no" part comes with making your own luck, which is ninety-nine percent preparation. I don't intend to walk into it alone. It will take me a few days to round up a team, but I have some friends, and I can call in some markers."

Meyer looked uncomfortable. "How exactly do you propose that we disappear? I have obligations to speak at several conferences in the next month."

"Meyer. This is one of those crossroads in life. You can either let Ms. DeMarko here perish from criminal neglect while you expose yourself to certain danger, or you can put the rest of the world on hold and save two lives. Which do you want to do?"

Meyer looked pained. "Of course you are right. I can arrange a substitute lecturer. I just have trouble thinking in those terms. These people, who ever they are, don't seem real or rational to me. I'm having trouble making sense of it all."

"Believe me Meyer, when I tell you that they are real. Rational is another question. I'm trying to keep both your hearts beating, and your gray matter mattering. Now, can we move this barge? It makes sense to me to keep you out of hotel registers."

"Yes, Travis and I have made several trips in the Busted Flush. We'll need provisions. And I'll need a few hours to make arrangements for my lectures."

"Good. Now, let's talk about money, and ground transportation. I am temporarily embarrassed. I wasn't planning any rescue efforts, and this came up pretty fast."

"Money isn't a problem. If we need it, I have quite a bit stashed away in long-term bonds. On a more immediate basis, I know that Travis keeps a store of operational funds aboard. We only need to find it. As far as transportation goes, after we find Travis' funds, I can introduce you to Miss Agnes. She’s just across the street.

It took the rest of the morning to find McGee's hidden strongbox. (Why is it that things are always in the last place you look?) In the process, we came up with a collection of weapons that any armory would be proud of, and an old Fats Waller album that was nearly priceless. Thomas Wright Waller was one of a kind. McGee had always liked his cut of "Ain't Missbehavin'." I thought his rendition of "Black and Blue" might be more apropos to our situation.