By Bob McCrillis
“You know, Press, I didn’t think I’d have the balls to confront you about this,” Bruce Leighton, said.
Preston Dane’s answer was rigid silence.
“Wind’s rising,” Bruce noted. The sound of the waves splashing against the hull was louder. “At least it’s a big boat. Like you said, Press, it’s built for blue water.”
Bruce was silent for a moment, lost in the joy of sailing and reverie.
“Why’d you have to take her, Press? You’ve had a string of models and actresses, even an heiress. Remember her? Never went anywhere without her bodyguard in the big white Roller. Geeze, that car turned heads even in New York.”
Preston Dane was the founder and managing partner of The Dane Group, an extremely successful talent agency headquartered on Park Avenue in Midtown. As a result of Dane’s ruthless pursuit of name talent and bare-knuckles negotiating tactics, the firm grew to represent some of the biggest names in the film and music world. According to the rumors, Shelly Carrington, his first big-name client, was blackmailed into dumping World Creative in favor of Dane. He discovered very graphic film of a wild party at her home and threatened to release it while she was halfway through a film that had already blown its budget by millions.
The other partners in the firm were junior versions of Dane, just unscrupulous sharks feeding on anyone with less power than they had. The joke around the office was that if anyone left a Dane negotiating session smiling, the partner had left money on the table.
Like many predators, Dane was attractive and affable. His suits were bespoke and had just a touch of the iconoclast in their cut. His silver mane was always perfect, and this year-round tan set off a gleaming white smile.
Bruce had met him at the Manhattan marina where the Leightons berthed the Lydia, the couple’s restored thirty-one-foot sloop. All of the rag baggers, sailboats, were docked at one end of the marina, while the stinkpots, powerboats, were docked at the other. This segregation put Dane’s polished sixty-three-foot ketch on the other side of one of the dock fingers from the Lydia.
In May, after the worst of tax season, Bruce went to the marina planning to spend a day off single-handing the boat. He’d barely finished checking the generator and the auxiliary diesel engine when he was hailed by a big guy on the dock.
“Hey, neighbor, are you planning on sailing today?”
Bruce, still standing waist-deep in the machinery space. “Hey, how are you?”
“This is a little embarrassing,” the man said, squatting down to get closer to Bruce’s eye level. “I’m Press Dane, the Great White over there is my boat.” He waved his arm casually toward the big boat.
“Oh, she’s a beauty.” Bruce climbed up to the deck and held out his hand. “I’m Bruce Leighton, and the Lydia here is our money pit.” He smiled and shook the bigger man’s hand.
Dane was a big man, at least three inches over six feet, and built like the Division I lineman he’d been. Looking up at him from the deck of the Lydia he looked gigantic.
“Look, Bruce, I had two guys who were going to go sailing this morning but they both punked out.” A frown flicked across the man’s face. “I can’t handle her by myself and I wondered if you’d like to go for a sail with me,” he said. “I’ve got drinks and food and stuff.”
“Why not? Just let me button up here.”
Over the summer months, Bruce sailed with Dane several times on the Great White, joined once by Lydia, who was suitably impressed. Even when the couple was going out on the Lydia, they often saw Dane around the marina.
Bruce and Lydia were graduate students at Albany State when they met. They had both taken the two-credit course in celestial navigation. Neither one of them was particularly interested, but it was an easy two credits. Lydia asked for help with some of the computations. Bruce was more than happy to spend time with a pretty girl. They spent the summer as instructors at a Lake Ontario sailing school. Shortly after, they became engaged and, after graduation, married.
Living in a dinky New York apartment, the couple loved the ability to get out for a sail after work. Often joking about the dockage costs were nearly as much as their rent. Bruce had occasionally mentioned that they should live aboard the boat.
“Don’t be silly, honey,” Lydia always said. “We both have good jobs and, as much as I love sailing, I’d go nuts cramped into that little cabin every day.”
It was true that Bruce was on the partner track at his accounting firm, while Lydia was now getting byline assignments at Fashion Trends. He still worried that Lydia might be a luxury they couldn’t afford. Especially if Lydia continued with her wardrobe upgrade.
“You have to dress for the job you want, Bruce,” she snapped when he questioned the cost of the clothing that came through the door. “Keep in mind, I’m becoming a recognized fashion writer. I can’t dress from K-Mart.”
It was at the marina’s Dog Days party that Lydia showed her other persona. She strolled into the party in full warpaint, a thousand-dollar black dress, and three-inch Jimmy Choo stilettos. The marina people had never seen her in anything other than baggy jeans and one of Bruce’s old shirts with her hair in a ponytail.
Bruce didn’t notice at the time, but Press Dane zeroed in on Lydia immediately. When Dane and his date joined them at the bar, Bruce and the date were left out of the unspoken conversation that Dane and Lydia were having. Also, he failed to notice that invitations to sail on the Great White dried up.
He did however notice the woman on the deck with Dane one evening when he was coming in from an Indian summer sail. They disappeared below deck before he docked the Lydia but he had no doubt. His wife had become Dane’s new crew member.
Bruce had spent his life avoiding confrontation but tried to work up the nerve to, at least, challenge his wife. But, he couldn’t. He began to scheme. A second-hand runabout with a powerful motor provided him with the means to follow the big ketch when Dane and his conquest went sailing. The couple never went far. They’d sail a little way then find an anchorage and spend the rest of the time below deck.
As cold weather approached, Bruce decided to put his plan into action. He waited at the stinkpot end of the marina until the Great White slid out into the bay. As he had done before he followed the big boat, staying far behind and keeping track with his binoculars.
The anchorage they picked was in the lee of Swinburne Island, perfect for his purposes. The island, used at one time as a quarantine station for immigrants, protected his little boat from the open water of the bay and prying eyes from shore. The outgoing tide, augmented by the electric fishing motor he’d recently purchased, allowed him to reach the Great White silently, tie off his boat to the anchor line, and climb aboard.
Carefully treading aft where he knew that the master suite was located. With the Louisville Slugger in his hand, he settled onto the cabin top behind the companionway that Dane and Lydia would use. He welcomed the love noises drifting up from below. They fed his fury and steeled his resolve to fix this problem.
Lydia came up first with Dane following close behind making lewd comments about her ass.
“Dane,” she giggled. “I’m going to drop the tray. You said you wanted wine and cheese while we watched the sunset, didn’t you?” There was a mumbled comment from below.
As soon as Dane’s head cleared the companionway, Bruce took a good swing with the bat that landed on the side of Dane’s head.
The crunch of bat hitting skull and following crash of Dane tumbling back down the ladder caused Lydia to turn. Her eyes popped open and her hands flew to her mouth. She was winding up to scream when Bruce jammed the end of the bat into her belly driving all the air out of her lungs. She fell to the deck gasping and honking for breath.
Bruce hopped to the deck beside her and quickly bound her hands and legs with the long zip ties he brought. Before climbing down to check on Dane, Bruce inspected him thoroughly from the deck with the spotlight from the helm. Dane was crumpled on his back, arms spread, legs twisted under him. Bat at the ready, Bruce climbed down. Dane didn’t respond.
He was, however, still breathing.
“You’ll keep right here while I get us underway on the final voyage of the damn Great White.”
Back on deck, Lydia spoke. “Bruce, this is crazy. You can’t just go around bashing people with baseball bats and tying them up.”
“Lydia, darling. You’re confusing can with should.” He turned her on her side and shoved a wadded piece of her nighty in her mouth. “It’s a really pretty negligee, dear. I’m sorry I had to ruin it.” He paused. “Of course, you won’t have any more use for it.”
Lydia thrashed and mumbled on the deck until the effort exhausted her.
He looked down at her. “To finish our discussion, you might say I shouldn’t hit people on the head with a bat, or tie them up. It is manifestly clear that I can.”
Bruce wandered away forward. With the runabout tied to the aft rail of the big sailboat, he started the auxiliary diesel engine, then used the electric winch to raise the anchor.
“All the controls, winches, and everything are right here in the cockpit,” Bruce said. “It’s a whole lot easier than on the Lydia, huh, Lydia?” She didn’t answer
After going forward to release the mainsail and jib, Bruce raised both sails using the electric winches. Under sail, with open water around him, he cut the diesel and set a course southeast for the mouth of the bay and the Atlantic Ocean. The Great White handled like a dream, allowing Bruce to stay to windward of the shipping channel making about six knots along the Jersey shore.
“Lydia, you picked a man that couldn’t handle this boat alone. Aren’t you ashamed? He asked. “This beast nearly sails itself.”
Lydia thrashed more on the deck straining against the ropes and moaning through the gag.
“What’s that,” Bruce said, cupping his hand to his ear, as if he was really trying to understand her. “No matter. We can have a long talk later, if you’d like.” He jumped up. “I’ll be right back.”
He went aft to check how the runabout rode under tow. It was bouncing some in the bigger waves. “Don’t want that to swamp. It’s my ride home,” he muttered. It took some muscle, but he was able to pull the little boat up so it rode in the eddy of the larger boat, smoothing its progress.
“Lydia, you won’t believe how hard it…”
The spot where she should have been lying was vacant.
“How in the hell?”
Then he saw the flat cheese knife on the deck.
“Pretty impressive, there, Lydia. But, where are you going to go?”
Bruce was still grinning when he felt the boat surge forward.
“No, you can’t do that,” he screamed and ran aft.
She’d released the runabout and it was already fifty yards behind the Great White. He watched as his faithless wife started the motors and rammed the throttles forward. The little boat squatted down then leaped forward and raced away.
“No, no, baby. You can’t go that fast. The waves are too big…”
Helplessly, he watched the runabout roar one of those big waves at a shallow angle. It flew into the air, corkscrewing, motors screaming before crashing into the water. It disappeared and never came back to the surface.
Even though he knew it was hopeless, Bruce scrambled forward to attempt to turn back and search for Lydia. Something locked onto his ankle with an iron grip. He slammed belly-down on the deck with the wind knocked out of him.
Dane dragged Bruce backward. “I’ll kill you. I broke my leg, you sonofabitch. I’m gonna choke the life out of you.”
Bruce kicked at Dane with his free foot but was drawn inexorably toward the big man. Feeling like he was being drawn into a wood chipper, Bruce took a desperate chance and stopped resisting. He surged toward Dane and slammed his fist into the bloody wound on the side of the man’s head. Bruce felt the crunch of broken knuckles and pain that crippled him for an instant but he was free of Dane’s grip.
Rolling away, Bruce was able to get to his feet only to be thrown back into the cockpit. He landed heavily on the rounded brass compass and passed out.
When he came to, he couldn’t move his legs. Trying to use his arms to drag himself out of the cockpit resulted in a curtain of agony falling across him, wiping away his consciousness.
Later, he realized that Dane was still alive. He could hear his moaning and tortured breathing from the deck above his head.
“Do you suppose she made it?” He said to Dane. “Maybe a seat cushion or something that would keep her afloat?”
After a moment, he continued. “Nah. Probably broke every bone in her body when it hit the water.”
Both victims lay where they’d fallen while the sun went down. The cold wind and spindrift added to their discomfort if that was possible. Still, the Great White sailed imperturbably southeast, ghosting along at a steady six knots into the vastness of the Atlantic with no one at the helm.
After pursuing a career in finance while writing fiction whenever possible, Bob McCrillis has now committed to writing full-time. He and his wife live with two pampered dogs in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. His publishing credits include the Pearl S. Buck Literary Journal, two self-published short story collections, and a short story published by Frontier Tales. www.bobmccrillis.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, FB – bobmccrillis author, tw – @bobmccrillis