The Hemingway Maid (’16)

So, here be the Hemingway Maid, first conceived in the aftermath of a fateful sail from Naples to Lauderdale on Sabrina, my father’s last boat. The particulars of the encounter in the ‘stream with the raft are as it happened, not one little bit of fiction to be had. Of the rest? Well, some names have been changed to protect the innocent and the ‘flight from Havana’ is pure fiction, but Ron, wherever you are now – I hope she’s still sitting on your face.

Here’s to swimmin’ with bow-legged women, mate.

The Hemingway Maid

or, an Essay on the Folly of Not Drinking Enough Rum

‘Always do sober what you said you’d do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut.’ 

Ernest Hemingway

+++++

Long after the ‘Cold War’ ended, relations between The United States and Fidel Castro’s Cuba remained – to put it mildly – strained. Well into the 1990s, when people fled Cuba – usually by boat or makeshift raft across the 90-mile wide Florida Straits – they either died trying to reach America, or were taken into custody by the U.S. Coast Guard – and then awaited a very uncertain fate.

My first encounter, and I should say personal encounter, with this terrible exodus occurred in the summer of 1995. I was with my father on Sabrina, an old, though rather large sailboat we’d had in the family for ages, and we had been sailing from Naples, on the southwest coast of Florida, to the Dry Tortugas and Key West, where we resupplied, and then on to the Miami/Ft Lauderdale area, on the southeast coast. There had been, apparently, a recent wave of repression in Cuba and many hundreds of people had decided to make the trip across the Straits – from Cuba to Florida – and these attempts were made in some very unsuitable craft. Soon enough, reports from news services, and the Coast Guard, were filled with unspeakable fates awaiting these refuges on the open ocean.

I suppose this is an old story, as old as civilization, perhaps. People fleeing the ravages of persecution and war, searching for a better life – I think you could rightly say that, whatever your politics – but as with all things human, things are not always as simple as they first appear. You have to scratch the surface to get to the truth of things, ignore the sidelong evasions and look into the heart of the matter. Then, if you’re persistent – and lucky – you just might get to the end of the rainbow. Still, both my father and I were ‘old school’ – and by that I’d not hesitate to say we were both cut from the same ‘conservative’ cloth, and both found the idea of ‘illegals’ entering the country troublesome, no matter the circumstance.

So – yes, my father and I, sailing around the ass-end of Florida. We’d left Key West early on a windless Friday morning, but by late afternoon on that otherwise unremarkable May day, we were barreling along under full main and rolled-out headsails, with the freshening wind on our starboard beam and the Gulf Stream giving us a steady push to the east. Dad and I were, as usual, talking about life and women and all the various reasons why Dark Rum is better than sex (and yes, I know, but Dad was approaching 80 years old, so cut us some slack) while I was updating our progress up the keys on a paper chart in my lap. Things like our speed and time, calculating distance over the ground and plotting our position on the chart (excuse me, but this was before GPS so these things took time and – effort). Navigating was a favorite pastime for both of us; he taught me how to fly when I was still in diapers, and how to get lost in a boat when I was still learning how to walk.

As I made some notes on my chart some obscure flash caught my eye, and I looked out over the rolling blue water. The waves were perhaps five feet high, and the wind was fresh enough to be blowing foam off the white-capped rollers that marched alongside. As Sabrina bounded up and over these rolling peaks I could see off into the near distance, and it was on one of these brief ascents that I caught sight of, again, something bright and – very out of place. I alerted Dad and we came about, headed in the direction I had last seen this, well, whatever it was. Soon we were approaching what was obviously a raft, but please keep in mind that calling this collection of oil drums, plywood, sheets, and rags a raft was a very loose approximation of what I was looking at.

The Coast Guard had recently advised mariners against approaching these craft, apparently fearing that starving, half-dead refuges would in desperation take-over or attack any would-be rescuers, but the problem now, as I saw it in those immediate circumstances, was that no one on the raft was moving. I could see several people laying out on the plywood surface – rolling around under the sun, and those bodies not tied-down were being tossed about by the swells, but no one, and I mean not one soul was up and about. Indeed, no one appeared remotely conscious.

As we closed on the little raft my father and I watched in silence as a small body rolled from the raft and dropped into the sea.

Dad altered course to try and reach the child, but we were still well over a hundred feet away and the seas were only growing more more restless. As we entered the approximate area where the little body had hit the water, Dad set up a search pattern. It was during times like these that my now very old father, a retired naval aviator from WWII, would suddenly come screaming back into the full rush of life. Where minutes before he had been grousing about arthritis and how all of his friends had passed away, here he was at the wheel shouting instructions and back in complete command of the world around him.

Or so I hoped.

I caught a momentary flash of weathered brown skin bobbing on the surface as we passed by the raft, and pointed it out to Dad; he swung the boat wildly around again, giving no thought to the sails, and we were on the body in an instant. I hopped down the boarding ladder as the body hove into the lee of the boat and just managed to grab the young boy by the arm, and in one smooth motion pulled him up onto Sabrina’s deck.

It took but an instant to determine that the little guy was gone, that he had probably been dead for hours. His sun-scorched skin felt like hot leather in my hands, even after it’s brief rest in the relatively cool waters of the Gulf Stream, and I will never forget that boy’s face as long as I live. I’ll spare you the details, but when I looked at Dad with the helplessness I felt in my heart, I saw his face streaked with helplessness.

I got on the radio and called the Coast Guard, gave them our position as well as the situation on board. Within a half hour an orange-striped white helicopter came screaming in overhead, and an orange-suited rescue-diver jumped down into the churning water next to the raft. The helicopter moved off and went into a hover, the visored pilots looking down on us while I helped the diver aboard. He looked at the little boy and shook his head, then jumped over to the raft when dad swung the stern close enough for a well timed leap.

Soon we heard the diver on the radio. All those poor souls on the raft were gone, too.

The helicopter pilot asked us to stay on station with the rescue diver, as they had just received another rescue call, so we had to wait for a Cutter to come out from Key West and take over operations. The ‘rotorheads’ thanked us and were gone, and we motored as close to the diver on the raft as we dared, and he grabbed the snubber we tossed over and made it fast; we closed the distance a little bit more, tried to lend whatever assistance the guy needed – but there was little to do now but wait.

The diver told us this was his sixth such rescue that week, and that almost all refugees he’d found so far had been dead. The kid seemed hollow and care-worn, too numb by this point to even cry, and he tossed down the orange juice we gave him with the dull ache in his soul apparent in his every move and gesture. An hour later the Cutter arrived, and we helped with the transfer of bodies to the ship and gave them the information needed for their reports, and then they bid us a safe journey.

You just got to love the Coasties. Tough job. Real heroes, those guys.

Dad and I finished our trip to the east coast in almost total silence, and we eventually tied-off along the dock in front of his house shortly after midnight. Up until the day he passed away just a few months ago, the events of that afternoon tied us together in unexpected ways. I think his heart softened a bit; the reality of those desperate people and their hopeless flight really tore him up like nothing I could remember, and the change in us both became a new, common ground.

For as unsuccessful as we’d been trying to rescue those people, the effort to do something, anything, to help those poor souls resounded with us both in much the same way. He watched the bland-faced response of TV journalists – like all the other second-handers he’d run into during his life – talk about these people and he turned away from the sensationalist, ratings driven lingo. I guess from that day forward apathy was a perverse luxury he felt humanity could no longer afford, not if we were to cling to the notion of civilization, anyway.

Yeah, I miss him, but that day changed me too. Forever, and in unexpected ways.

+++++

A little over a year later I decided to visit Cuba, see firsthand the world these people tried to flee, with, apparently, so much despair in their hearts.

And I decided to make the trip on Sabrina.

Several Canadian sailors had told me of their warm welcome in Cuba, and voiced the opinion that my reception in Cuba would be no less hospitable. U.S. policy at the time appeared to be in a state of flux, or at least mild ambivalence, as repeated requests for information – about making such a trip by boat – to both the Coast Guard and State Department went unanswered.

I left Ft Lauderdale one February morning and wound down the ICW, the infamous Intra-Coastal Waterway, to Miami, then went out Government Cut and into the heaving swells of the Gulf Stream off Biscayne Bay. Sabrina took me through the teeth of the stream, straining to the southwest against both current and prevailing wind for clear water, toward the Florida Straits and those deep blue waters of hope stilled. Looking back on it now, Sabrina took me across a seascape of nightmares and broken dreams, a time-scape of blood-worn, tumultuous history towards the north shore of Cuba. I arrived off the coast of Havana late on the second day out from Miami, wet and cold to the core, beaten up by the trip against the current, and ready to just breathe easy now that the Straits were behind me.

And so I was of course greeted almost immediately by a Cuban naval vessel. And I say greeted advisedly, because that was exactly what happened. Very nice, very professional naval officers in a smallish gray patrol boat came alongside and, noting that I was an American, asked if it was my intent to stage an invasion or create some other problem for Fidel Castro. Reassured with my reply that I was indeed the vanguard of a Marine Expeditionary Force and that George Washington and the entire Continental Army were right behind me, they laughed and pointed in the general direction of the Marina Hemingway. I did note that there was an astonishing number of machine guns and larger deck guns on the Soviet-built boat, as well as some very menacing looking missiles and whirling radar arrays. Not exactly representatives of the Peace Corp, I reckon, but nice folks nonetheless, I sailed away on their good wishes.

The Marina Hemingway was named for, well, not for William Faulkner or F Scott Fitzgerald. It seems that, once upon a time, Papa Ernest called Cuba his home away from home for a while, so the marina that bore his name (in honor of his manly exploits on the sea, I reckon) could hardly have been anything more or less than a haven for macho sailors in search of rum, cigars and a right good time. I was not surprised to learn that the Marina Hemingway was also one of the big-time secrets of Yanquis-Yachties looking ever southward for new ways of living – on the cheap.

And here I have to digress for a moment, perhaps help you come to terms with something odd going on among American retirees – and other assorted roustabouts from around the world. Marinas, of course, are around the world full of boats, and more often than not sailboats. That many of these boats should not be called“yachts” is self evident; they are, rather, homes – that just happen to float – and represent a huge, divergently so, group of people with enormous differences in income. With names like Second Wind, or, say, ForRest (and yes, more mundane names like Sabrina), the casual observer easily makes the connection between a group of marina-bound vessels on the one hand and a hard-charging second, much less sedate group. Among this second set, let’s call a subset of this group: ‘the recently obtained status of divorced-white-guy’ group. As many of these divorced-white-guys are also recently retired, and living expenses over time become an ever more relevant issue as age increases, many anxious old guys head south of the border, and they may do so in search of favorable exchange rates or to find a warm, congenial hole in the wall to hang out with their memories. In recent years, Cuba has suddenly popped up on these guy’s radars as a great place to live cheaply – and nicely. And to this group, Cuba may also represent the chance to live outrageously one last time, the chance to make a few more memories to carry along on the big sleep.

So, little did I know I was sailing on into an almost out-of-control Leisure World for divorced white guys, a place where testosterone has aged into a fine old vintage.

But to be fair, I have to relate to you one other key fact about these roving communities, cue you in one of the most important aspects of these “live aboard” communities. A huge percentage of men living alone on board their sailboats are, well, not timid sorts of people. Lots of retired CIA types, pilots, soldiers, and yes, truck drivers, oil patch workers, and even cops, as not many florists and bankers make the leap to cruising distant shores. And while this may not seem readily apparent, and note, this is important, these live-aboard communities are real tight on the loyalty thing. People look after one another, as people in small, intimately small, communities tend to. When these guys turn their back on conventional society and sail away, they do so knowing they won’t ever have to be alone – unless they really want to be, and because this type of community is so protective of it’s own, over time it becomes an extended family. By and large, and I dislike generalizations but here goes, a lot of these folks tend to be hard drinking, fast smoking, and there also tends to be more then enough sex going on for people half their age.

Which was why, in the late 1990s, the Marina Hemingway was such a dream come true for these guys. Cuba was a last frontier kind of place, and you could look upon these folks as cowboys (and cowgirls) headed off toward the sunset, looking for one more good time while the getting was good.

When you pull into a marina almost anywhere in the world, nattily dressed dock boys typically direct you to a slip and help while you dock your boat. More often than not, again, in most places, the process of placing a boat in a marina reflects the size of your boat, and more importantly, the apparent cost of the boat as well. To put it more succinctly, the biggest and the best tend to get the spot next to the yacht club or the fancy restaurant, while the run down little cruisers get shuttled over to the nice smelling slips by the tuna-canning factory next door.

Not so at Marina Hemingway.

What might have passed for a restaurant or a yacht club in the 90s anywhere else in the marina world – even within the diminished standards of Central American yachting – would not adequately characterize what greeted Sabrina as we swung into the Marina Hemingway. Quaint and charming are two words that come to mind as pertinent overstatements, but, well, at least the place appeared clean, after a fashion. The marina was, after all, a remnant of Yanquis Imperialism from the pre-Castro era, and not a lot of Soviet money had gone into it’s upkeep and repair since. Since tourism in Cuba from 1959 through 1989 was in keeping with the Soviet style of travel – let’s just call it economy class and be done with it – the marina had become totally irrelevant – and had been, well, neglected. Everyone knows yachting wasn’t a real big deal with the Russians unless an Olympic medal was involved, so Marina Hemingway had devolved into a real trip down memory lane. As I approached the tree-lined slips, I could see the place was filled with all manner of live aboard vessels, but it was immediately clear that Marina Hemingway wasn’t gong to give Newport, Rhode Island a run for its money.

Still, the place looked friendly – in it’s ramshackle way.

And so it was on that sunny day I met one Pedro Flores, a thirteen-year-old dock-boy who waved me towards an empty slip near what had once been a swanky – by New Jersey standards, anyway – restaurant, and he took my bow line as I drifted into the slip he had chosen. I jumped down and we tied off Sabrina, and he looked expectantly satisfied with his work.

I found over the course of the next few weeks that Pedro – and the other boys like him – worked hard to get jobs at the marina, and each was assigned his own turf to look after. They helped boats in and out of slips, arranged rides into Havana for ‘tenants’ needing supplies, and would look after your boat if you needed to be away for a while. More importantly, as these boys made almost no hourly wage they lived on tips, and so depended almost entirely on the goodwill of the marina’s transients for their very existence. To say these kids were nice would be a grossly unjust understatement, but they were also smart as hell and worked like crazy to earn – and keep – their positions at the marina.

Pedro also introduced me to my new neighbor. Ron Fuller was living on a pristine Westsail 32 in the slip next to mine, and I’d heard about Ron through the cruisers grapevine for years, for his tale was the stuff of legend. He had been some sort of contract spook in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam fracas, and had been, or so the story went, loosely involved with the U.S. intelligence community ever since. He also had, or so the rumor had it, an endless supply of cash, lived modestly, had no credit cards and no debt, and resolutely refused to return to America because, and again, as per rumor was reputed to do wet-work for any government who would keep him in Gucci enchiladas. If any Cuban official knew who he was or what he’d done over the years, Ron probably wouldn’t have hung around Cuba for too long – but who knows? He, apparently, never worried about such stuff, and I was pretty certain if anyone had tried to turn him in, the poor snitch’s body would have turned up in some dark alley with lots of new holes in it. Like I said, a tight community.

When Pedro first introduced me to Ron, he was sitting in the shaded cockpit of his boat, named (fittingly, I think) Blade Runner, sipping some whacked-out 200 octane rum drink under the late afternoon sun. He tipped Pedro for helping bring my boat in, which I thought a bit weird at the time, not yet knowing how these kids made a living. After all these informalities had been seen too, Ron hopped over to Sabrina with two drinks in hand and plopped himself down in the shade of my cockpit awning. He put his feet up while I went about cleaning up the deck and stowing sails and navigation gear, and he never said a word, just stared off toward some distant memory, confronting his demons in well-lubricated silence.

When I was done, which was well before the ice in Ron’s drink melted, I sat down opposite this white haired hermit looking creature and we got acquainted over five or six really stiff bombs made from local rum. He filled me in on the Havana scene; mainly Brits and Canadians enjoying the Caribbean on the cheap, with a bunch of hard screwing Parisians and Germans on hand just to keep things interesting. Food was cheap, rum even more so, while hot and cold running hookers were just about everywhere you cared to look – after dark, anyway.

Large American-style super-markets were not found anywhere in Cuba back then, but fresh produce, fish and meat were decent and plentiful if you hit the various local towns on market day. Havana was to be avoided, of course, as costs for tourists were high and all the best stuff was to be found on the ‘off-limits-to-Gringos’ black market. And that’s where Pedro came in handy, Ron said, because the kid could arrange to get just about anything you wanted (wink-wink, nod-nod), on the black market or – elsewhere, I suppose.

There were a couple of retired Pan Am pilots living in the marina on a huge, phallus-shaped Sea Ray, and together with Ron they constituted the evening variety show known as The Three Amigos. Known principally for their hallucinatory, off-balance antics when they returned from Havana each evening, typically howling at the moon, they had become something like a town council, of sorts. I figured Ron would have fancied himself Mayor of Marina Hemingway, if he’d taken to caring about stuff like that, but then again, no – he had a mean anti-authoritarian streak in him about a mile wide…

As that first evening approached, Ron invited me to join the Amigos on their evening rounds, and I nervously left Sabrina in Pedro’s reputedly more-than-capable hands as we headed off for the car Pedro had arranged, and I had no idea that I was headed for an evening in Havana with three of the craziest human beings on this, or any other planet. I’ll tell you about that night some other time, assuming I can remember some of it. You might think it funny – hell, maybe I will too.

Maybe, but then again…

Because the next thing I knew there was sun streaming though an overhead hatch, and I noticed a really foul taste in my mouth, and…

…then I felt Pedro standing over me, shaking me awake. Or trying to, I think. I had absolutely no idea where I was, or what day it was. For that matter, I was fairly certain I had no idea who I was, only that there were at least three elephants sitting on my head – and one of them had an ass that stank to high hell. Slowly, however, the scene began to resolve into some kind of warped order: Sabrina seemed, well, Okay; the hands and feet I was looking at looked vaguely familiar; but there was a weird thirteen year old standing over me, shaking me…oh, yeah, The Three Amigos! Memories flooded back of rowdy street scenes, a rowdy girl from Hamburg, an even rowdier bar – with one scene involving mustache rides, and then the rowdiest car ride in human history. Then there was that taste in my mouth…a certain lass from Hamburg, maybe?

Well, you get the picture. Debauchery, if you know what I mean, hath no limits.

Pedro was soon shoving a plate of just fried plantains and fresh squeezed orange juice under my nose, and only then did I realize I was lying in Sabrina’s cockpit with only a small blanket over my fetid form, and that’s why my body felt like it had been trampled by stampeding cattle all night long. I felt this was reasonable because my mouth tasted like pure, dried bullshit – and I was raised in Texas, so know the feeling well. Pedro was talking, and there were times when the words coming out of his mouth almost made sense, but then again, I was in the weirdest fog, like lost, only worse…

“Your boat is a mess, señor, so I have hired a woman to clean it for you today,” he said in his thick Cuban accent. “She is also a cook, and will have breakfast ready in a few minutes. The hot water for your shower is ready too, so please, come now, Mr. Jim.”

Sounded like a plan to me, but maybe that’s because my middle name is “Go with the flow”.

So, off to the shower I went, and yes, the water was indeed hot. Unless you’ve lived on a sailboat before, and for more than a few days, that statement is meaningless. Trivial, even. But at that moment I was pretty sure that this Pedro fella was Jesus Christ come back to earth. Hot water, and lots of it – felt great after days at sea. Then it hit me – a woman was on my boat, cooking and cleaning. I started to get a little antsy, and called out to Pedro.

“Just who is this woman – on my boat, Pedro?”

“It is my sister Elise, Mr. Jim. Please do not worry, sir, she has done this kind of work before.” Yeah, I’d had heard that one before. Like the little guy in Saigon who claimed he was selling you his pure virgin sister, and wouldn’t you just know she’d been a virgin – seven times that week already – right before the little prick tossed a grenade in your bed…

So, I held my head under the water until it simply – stopped. If I’d wanted a longer shower, Pedro would have had to carry more to the rooftop tank, but no dice; he was gone – yet fresh clothes, some toothpaste and a razor had magically appeared on a little stool outside the shower!

I wondered if the kid took dollars, then walked back to Sabrina in bare feet, and remembered to quickstep around the rusty nail heads that popped up as I walked along the rough old planks out the dock. As I approached my home I saw piles of my clothes on the dock, odds and ends stacked in the cockpit, and was just about convinced that I was being had, big time – but no, there was Ron, semi-conscious in his way, holding a cup of coffee in one hand, his eyes half open with only the whites showing, talking with Pedro.

I guess I looked confused. Go figure.

So, let’s recap here. I’m in the wastelands of the ultimate morning after, holding on to my head (stop spinning, damnit), hoping against hope I’ve stopped puking – at least for a while – and there’s Pedro – in animated discussion with Ron. My clothes are all over the dock, and Sabrina’s cockpit looks like a yard sale is about to start. Ah, and as I get closer, I note that Sabrina is smoking down below, and that she smells – almost – like a West Texas BBQ joint…and that got me to thinking about the old Coopers down in Llano…

Yes, the day was beginning to look interesting.

But of course, the table was set up in Sabrina’s cockpit – and ready to serve – three?

Alright, take that, Mr Go With The Flow.

I hopped on deck and Ron followed a split second behind me, while Pedro walked off muttering expletives in a language I thought sounded grimly like Latin. I sat down on the far side of the cockpit, while Ron plopped down across from me, firing off a string of instructions (in Spanish, of course) down the companionway (that’s the main hatch and ladder down into a boat). Thin arms stuck up out of the companionway, holding plates of eggs and bacon and more fried plantains, and Ron took it from the slim arms and put the pile in front of me. Another plate appeared, and Ron took that one, too. Then the arms came up the companionway, attached to a body, and lo and behold it was a woman – holding a third plate.

That was the first time I saw Elise, by the by.

I’d love to go on about how drop-dead gorgeous she was, how it was love at first sight, and that it was an enchanted moment. But that wasn’t the case. My eyes were locked onto this plate of food in front of me – a platter that looked like it had just been flown down from the Culinary Institute of America. So shoot me, I’m an American, and can’t help it, but I guess it dawned on me after a minute or three that there was another person eating with us, and I looked up.

Elise was a nice looking woman, maybe thirty years old, maybe more. Kind of long black hair – parted down the middle, swooping bangs flanking deep green eyes, and light ivory skin everywhere I looked. She wore eyeglasses that might have been stylish – when Eisenhower was in office; you know the kind, the round jobs, tortoise shell I think it’s called, very studious. White cotton blouse, knee length navy blue skirt (on a boat!), white socks and old navy blue Keds. She was trim, almost flat chested, but appeared very well groomed – as simply clean wouldn’t describe Elise. Not that day, and probably not ever.

And it was apparent that she was reserved, maybe even shy. Almost Catholic, I guess you could say. But in Cuba, a godless, communist state? Well, Fidel went to a Jesuit school, didn’t he? And anyway, who knew the depths of human hypocrisy better than a Jesuit?

Ron introduced us then. He told me that Elise was one of the “good girls” who worked on boats. Did cleaning and cooking, and nothing else – so of course I met that comment with a blank stare.

Ron explained that outside the locked gates of the marina there was – on almost any given day or night – a queue of women who wanted to be engaged to clean and cook, and, uh, well, to be engaged in just about any other domestic chores the skipper wanted. All for less than a buck US a day. He also explained that Elise wasn’t ‘that kind of girl.’ If I was interested she would come by and clean on whatever basis I wanted, or cook, or any combination thereof. Yet all I could think about, and I know this is really sick, was this plate of food in front of me.

Elise was, I felt certain, the Cuban goddess of culinary excellence.

I asked how much for her to cook all three meals a day, keep the boat clean and do my laundry. And I know what you’re thinking . . . here comes another ugly American flaunting his wealth (Me, wealthy? You got to be kidding?), and exploiting this poor woman. Maybe you’re right, but you weren’t there, you weren’t looking at this Renoir of a meal in front of you. Nor had you been living on a boat for over a year by yourself, and needless to say tired of cooking. And you can probably clean up after yourself better than I do, even on one of your bad days. And I hate, I mean really hate, doing laundry.

At any rate, Elise perked up hearing that. I didn’t know it at the time, but I had just mentioned full time employment, under the table hard currency for someone struggling to survive in a black-market economy. I had just offered her a short-term ticket to security, Cuban style. She wasn’t frowning, either. She’d just been dealt a pretty good hand, and she’d played it safe, hadn’t had to debase herself by offering a devil’s bargain.

A good meal will do the trick every time, I always say.

She didn’t speak English too well, and my Spanish reeked, so Ron consummated the deal. Elise cleared the table, made the v-berth, and did the laundry – before lunch. Now I knew why all the boats around the Marina Hemingway were spotless, and why all they divorced-white-guys were sporting hefty paunches. Hell, for divorced-white-guys fleeing women’s lib and the IRS, this place was fucking heaven.

So, I got to work changing the oil in the generator under the cockpit (you know, oil, grease – kind of a guy thing) and re-sewing a piece of hardware on a sail (sewing? Oh, well…). This marina gig was going to be all right with me.

Pedro returned before lunch with a small cart full of groceries, and passed them down to his sister. He told me Ron had given him money to get supplies for his boat and mine, and he gave me a receipt. I paid my half, about five bucks for a weeks worth of food. A quick run through the numbers and I was shocked at the results. It was going to cost less than a hundred bucks a month for a cook, cleaning service, laundry-goddess, groceries – and rent – at the marina.

I looked over at Blade Runner; the boat was bobbing up and down and there was a fair amount of moaning coming from down below, so I assumed Ron had one of those full service models down below. Yes, this looked like the perfect set-up, then I thought about that raft off Key West, and the little boy’s lifeless arm in my hand.

Oh well, lunch anyone?

+++++

After a week in the marina I noticed that I was getting, well, a little full around the middle. I didn’t have anything to do anymore. Elise was doing literally everything. Well, almost everything, and she always had a smile on her face, too. Occasionally she even had a song to sing while she worked away down below, and I began to fall in love with her lilting voice. She was always done by mid-morning, and would take off for a while, return to cook lunch, then be off again until evening. After she finished cleaning up after dinner she would pack up her things in a little net bag, say adios and be gone. Until the next gastronomic blowout the following morning, that is. She really seemed to enjoy cooking, too, but I soon wondered how much it was going to cost to get the waists on all my pants let out an inch or three.

Ron had pretty much the same deal going on, but like I said, his girl was obviously on a different meal plan, because Ron wasn’t gaining weight like I was, so one morning decided to ask Ron what the score was. He did, in his roundabout way. He told me about all the different girls who worked in the marina, who was screwing whom, which girls didn’t do that sort of thing, which situations were turning into Peyton Place dramas, and which ones were getting serious romantically. Quite a tale in itself, if you think about it, for American style suburbia had come to the workers paradise. Now all Cuba needed was a couple of BMW dealerships and cable TV…

Ron’s girl, Rosalita, was acknowledged by all I’d talked to as the finest looking girl in the marina, and while not the best cook, she could hold her own in the galley. She didn’t have to clean all that much because Ron was an obsessive neat freak, but from what I could tell they were screwing just about all the time anyway. And, Ron said, it wasn’t a money thing, his girl wasn’t in it for the bucks. Some were, he said, but oddly enough most weren’t.

They kind of chose you, he told me, would offer to move in full time if you wanted them to.

Oh, I said, not really understanding.

Maybe it was their ticket out. Maybe it was better than taking their chances on a raft.

I couldn’t get that little kid floating in the water out of my head after Ron clued me in on the Rosalita deal. Wasn’t I just taking advantage of another person’s misery, fucking this poor soul – in a figurative, if not literal sense? What if I got pangs of social conscience and booted Elise off the boat; would she be better off with a return to almost certain poverty? And what would happen to Pedro if I did?

In the end, I felt that by not screwing Elise I was at least not turning a socially awkward – and perhaps ethically neutral situation – into a morally repugnant one. Such was, at any rate, the course of my rationalizations. I’d always heard, thanks Dad, that a stiff dick has no conscience, but what did I know about empty bellies and the ethics of starvation?

Well, I was about to get my first real lesson in Third World ethics, and the limits of American interventionism.

+++++

Ron finally gave me the real scoop on Elise a few days later. She had, or so he’d heard, been the Minister of Something-or-other’s mistress from the time she was a teenager. He related that she had been some kind of cute back then. Like any good communist, Comrade Minister had sent his main girl to Paris, to study history at the Sorbonne, then on to the Cordon Bleu to learn how to whip up a soufflé. Thus educated, she returned to Havana to take up life as Sugar Daddy’s little secret on the side. Ron explained that she had moved with the privileged elite, had been her patron’s favorite plaything, until Comrade Minister had fallen into disfavor. In case you’ve forgotten about what life was like in a Soviet client state, that meant Comrade Minister disappeared. Or was killed, if you just want the basics, and that had been accomplished with Elise in the room, looking on. Elise suddenly found herself a persona-non-grata in the aftermath, exiled to homeless oblivion, her parents murdered in retribution and most of the rest of her family ruined in consequence. Elise became a shell, she had been murdered – if not in a literal sense, then figuratively, perhaps, in a spiritual way.

Elise’s older brother Miguel had managed to flee to Florida in the days that followed, and had been working in Miami ever since. He soon co-owned two successful Cuban restaurants in little Havana, as well as one in Naples. He had managed to get rich the good old fashioned American Way in less than two years, but the rest of his family had been left behind in Cuba, and there was no way to get them out. He couldn’t even get money to them.

Word of their brother’s success finally filtered through to Elise and Pedro, and this only served to drive them into complete despair. Pedro and Elise were starving to death, living in total misery in the mangroves outside the western fringes of Havana. They could see the lights of American towns looming over the horizon at night, taste forbidden opportunities through their hunger, dream sweet dreams of families that would never be.

Then, about a year ago, Pedro had managed to get a job at the marina washing boats, and found that he was good at dealing with the itinerant boaties that came and went. He was promoted to dock-boy, soon made friends with various gringos and became a fixture around the docks. He also made some hard cash, and at thirteen years old was taking care of his almost catatonic older sister. In a country with free medical care, Pedro could not get her help; as a persona-non-grata, Elise was refused all government services and assistance, and she deteriorated further.

One of the first long time residents of the marina Pedro had befriended was Ron, and through Ron’s efforts Elise had begun to make a modest comeback. But it had been rough, Ron sighed, as she was really damaged goods. He had brought her to the marina to cook for him, and she had tried to cook for others, but she just hadn’t been able to adjust to being around other people quite yet, especially men, single men. A lot of the guys in the marina were pretty rough, not the sort to take-in or care for a shattered soul, and Elise had just drifted in and out of the potential opportunities she found there.

And then Sabrina sailed into the Marina Hemingway. Ron had apparently been sizing me up that first day (and, I assume, that abominable first night) and thought Elise might find me tolerable. So, therein lies the tale – the tale that begins with things aren’t always what they appear to be.

Elise had been spirited into the marina and onto my little boat while I had oozed into the cockpit that first night – probably not the best first impression I ever made. At any rate, now I had a pretty fair grasp of what Elise had been through, and I felt even worse about my first rousing performance as The Ugly American. Ron tried to set me straight, tried to convince me that I was doing her a favor, but that didn’t ring true to me – not that day, and not once since.

One thing was certain, however. I was sure the next time I saw her I would try to find out more about her feelings; not just about her past, but about her working for me on Sabrina.

+++++

It was cool out the next morning, when Elise came walking down the dock toward Sabrina, and I guess she was attuned enough to her environment to figure out something was different. Maybe the smell of cooking coming from below as she stepped on board, or that the table in the salon was set for breakfast as she came down the companionway. Hell, just the fact that I was awake before ten in the morning must have come as a physical blow to the poor girl. Anyway, she was on guard, looked wary, not quite suspicious, not yet. I asked her to sit, then passed over plates of pancakes, eggs, bacon, and some juice. Not up to her standards, I’m sure, but it was the best I could do.

We ate in silence, passed the pitcher of juice a couple of times, but otherwise the tension must have been unpleasant, if the way I felt was any indication. I cleared the plates, washed the dishes, and asked her to sit there until I finished cleaning up. Then…

I sat across from her in the salon. I thought I would start simply. You know, like – tactfully.

“Elise, would you tell me the story of your life,” I asked. “Please?”

She looked bereft when my words hit, about to cave in on herself.

“I haven’t the heart for that story, Mr. Jim, and I doubt very much if you would have the stomach for it, either.” Elise now spoke with almost no trace of an accent, and her English vocabulary was obviously much more extensive than she had previously let on, so the mystery was going to go a lot deeper today. “What is it you want to know?” she asked me a moment later – now with almost no trace of emotion in her voice. Perhaps she heard the wings of poverty and hunger beating the air around her lost soul as she braced herself for the uncertainty of my questioning. But I could feel her pain in the air around me too, no doubt about that.

“Elise, it’s more what I want you to know – about me, okay?” She just looked at me and made not the slightest comment or motion. “There’s a part of me, Elise, that feels very bad about having you work here on Sabrina. You do a very good job, and if I keep eating your cooking I’m going to explode; hell, I’m getting so fat so fast I can’t believe it. But that’s not the problem. The problem, Elise, is all of the people on the other side of the fence who are starving to death…”

“Mr. Jim,” she interrupted.

“Just Jim, please, Elise.”

“Jim,” she paused, rolling the name around in her mind’s eye, “Jim, you aren’t going to fix the things in Cuba that are wrong. So…”

“But neither am I going to take advantage of other people’s misery and misfortune.”

“Jim, all people’s lives are to some degree or another well-grounded in hypocrisy. Yours is a gentle hypocrisy, but surely you must understand that. You can not blame yourself for being an American, for the blessings of your material prosperity. If you were not here my brother would have less money to buy food. And there are many children that work here who are like Pedro, Jim. Desperate, nowhere to go. But they are the fortunate ones. The government disenfranchises many families, dissidents whose actions the government disapproves of are systematically exiled from whatever benefits that might normally accrue them in a communist state. So, in a land where homelessness and starvation are simply not allowed to exist, where medical care is a basic right, there are thousands of families starving to death in the streets, who die of diseases so easy to cure that it is simply a crime it is allowed to occur. But these people, people like Pedro and myself, do not exist, we have been erased. We must find our own way to survive, and it is through your blessings now that we might survive. So, Jim, I can appreciate your concern for Pedro and myself, but you must know, I mean really know, that without you our lives would be almost unendurable.”

“Where do you live, Elise?”

With this question, Elise looked down to the floor. She was silent.

“I want to see where you live, Elise. Now. Let’s go.”

“No, Jim, that I cannot allow.”

I was headed up the companionway, then turned to look at her, but how could I do this without implicitly threatening her. “Elise, please, come with me. I need to talk to you, tell you a story, please come and keep me company.” I held out my hand, I reached out to help her make the leap – to trusting another human being again.

She took my hand, walked with me into the cool morning air. We walked out of the marina, turned to the west as we exited the security gate, and I ignored the looks of the security people as we passed, and though I could feel Ron and Pedro and a host of other gringos looking our way, I unashamedly kept Elise’s hand in mine. I told her of my trip through the Straits not so long ago, of the boy in the water, of the helplessness my father and I felt as we confronted so much unmourned misery. I talked of my father’s life, encouraged her to talk about hers. I listened when she spoke, but in truth I think I talked the whole while – as we walked through the varied western suburbs of the city.

We walked a long way from the marina, first through small suburbs of modest beachfront houses and stores. We walked though the dusty, poor neighborhoods that lay further to the west. After several hours we came to the end of the outlying homes, and walked into a jungle of exposed mangroves and palm trees and fairly heavy undergrowth. The way ahead was sandy, full of mosquitoes and, I assumed, other less friendly creatures. Here and there I saw little houses scattered within the grasp of this forest, houses cobbled together from the of remnants of boxes and little scraps of wood, walls made of tarpaper, roofs made of crudely thatched palm fronds or rusty sheets of galvanized steel sheeting. We walked past starving children, their bellies bloated and their faces open wounds of insect bites. We walked to Pedro and Elise’s home.

I stooped to enter the juxtaposed construct of shipping crates and tarpaper, and walked into a bare little space that was a little larger than a king-sized bed, the ceiling height a little shy of five feet. There were two little beds made of burlap sacks stuffed with palm fronds laying on the sandy floor, and a small stove that had obviously come from someone’s boat was sitting on a flat wooden box in one corner. A half-burned candle in an old Campbell’s Soup can provided the light that might keep the night away. If, that is, they had a match.

The space was clean, however, and did not smell of filth or decay, and I entered and sat on the sand floor. Elise followed me in, and she sat across from me on warm shaded earth. Her little black net sack hung on the wall from a nail; there was another shirt in the sack. That was, I presumed, the extent of her wardrobe. She looked at me with all the dignity my humanity lacked, and I looked into her care-worn eyes, but she was not ashamed, was not asking for my pity. And while I was appalled at my total unawareness of her circumstances, I too was amazed at the complete serenity I found in Elise’s eyes. She had seen the depths of hell that man all too often visits on his fellow man, and yet had made her peace with that knowledge. Her’s had been, I thought, a remarkable journey. A journey I wanted to know more about.

We had no food with us, and of course there was nothing to eat in her little house, yet we talked through the rest of the morning and on into the afternoon. We talked about her experiences in Paris, in that other lifetime, and we found that we had places and restaurants in common that we had loved. We had wandered the same corridors in the Louvre and D’Orsay, strolled, perhaps, under the same trees in the Tuilleries, looking at lovers and other strangers. Ours was a small world we discovered that day, and in the sharing of those distant memories we came to know each other in new, completely unexpected ways.

I listened to her tale of teenaged submission to the Cuban Minister with a mixture of revulsion and admiration, attentively cringed when she described her seduction by power and material greed. She recounted tales of debauchery that, frankly, scared me silly with the combination of erotic excess and moral depravity. She told me of her ambivalence to these activities, how she no longer viewed them as something she was ashamed of, yet she felt little desire to wander those byways of excess again. She told me she would never have children, described in nauseating detail how the Minister had forcibly had her surgically sterilized.

As afternoon gave way to evening, as our trust built in the shadow of experience, I learned of her desire to join Miguel in America, her frustration at her inability to help Pedro, and her gratitude for the job on Sabrina.

I expressed my desire to help, both her and her brother, in any way I could; I offered them food and shelter on Sabrina, money and clothing, yet Elise – with all her hard won wisdom – simply extrapolated the eventual outcome of such a move. I would leave eventually, and Elise and her brother would return to the mangroves little better than they were now. Her’s was a grave calculus, the mathematics of uncertainty proving safer than the hollow certainties of my incremental compassions.

Compassion was, I learned that day, not something you doled out when and if it was morally convenient. Compassion was a choice no different than the choice to love. It must consume the soul to the same degree, or it is doomed to the placating hollowness of all such actions.

As the sun set, the feelings we shared for one another as a result of our wanderings that day gave way to the tiredness we felt, to say nothing of the hunger I now felt most acutely. Elise explained that this emptiness had been, for Pedro and herself, their daily bread before he found his way to the Marina Hemingway. Now that she had worked on Sabrina for a while, become re-accustomed to a regular diet, she feared more than anything else a return to this exile, to their poverty, and to the naked starvation of chance encounters.

Elise lay her body down on the rough surface of her burlap bed, and motioned me to her side. She had me lay beside her, my head in her lap, and I felt her fingers as they gently wound their way through my hair. She felt the contours of my heart through her fingers that evening, and as night came I listened to her breathing. Our heartbeats seemed to mingle and join in evensong, our hunger and uncertainty giving way to the gentle arms of sleep.

+++++

I got up in the middle of the night with some urgent business to take care of, and stepped outside of the little shack and into the cool night air. I made my way through the shantytown to the beach and saw Ron and Pedro lying on either side of a small fire, apparently asleep. I walked away from them down the surf line, and looked up at the Dipper glowing in the deep night sky. As I gave my water back to the earth, grateful for the sharing, I heard another stream join mine, and turned to see Ron there beside me, grinning like a ghost.

“So, Pudd-knocker, how stands the union,” he said.

“Who’s got the boats?” I replied, never one for sentimental chit-chat.

“Left the Two Amigo there. Gave ‘em the keys to your liquor cabinet, some really dirty magazines and a fresh jar of Vaseline. When you get back, watch your step, and don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

“Thanks. Helluva day, Ron.”

“Yeah, relativity bites. Here we are in this world, all of us looking up at the same stars, someo f us are comfortable, our bellies full and we have money for rum, and all around us people are rotting in the sewers. I used to keep telling myself I’d fought my wars, paid my dues; but how do you look another human being in the eye when they’re starving to death. How do you turn and walk away from that?”

We stood, looking to the north, across the Straits. I could just barely, away from the lights of Havana, make out the distant glow of Key West in this still night under the stars.

So close. An irresistible force.

Moths to the flame.

“She’s a helluva woman, Ron.”

“Don’t I know it. A might too high class for my taste, though. Thought you might enjoy her company.”

“Wasn’t like that, Ron. We talked. All goddamn day. Fucking remarkable.”

“Yeah, well, Pete and I brought you two some grub. I was gonna get you up before first light; I wanna get back to the reservation before the gomers start their rounds.”

“Jeez, Ron, are you ever gonna leave Vietnam behind?”

“Hey, listen up, bro, this is Cuba, not fucking Puerto Rico. Technically we ain’t supposed to be outta the marina after midnight. Just because some of us have decided to float the local economy by drinking ourselves to death, well, ya know, they cut us some slack. But this is the People’s Paradise, Amigo, and they don’t like it when we find things that don’t mesh with the Propaganda Ministry’s version of Marx. Okay? Man, you liberal pukes can be so fuckin’ naive sometimes.”

“What time is it?”

“See Arcturus?

“Yeah, so?”

“Four-thirty. ‘Bout an hour and a half ‘till sunup.” Ron seemed to enjoy these games.

“I should’ve known,” to which he replied with words I’d rather not repeat.

Ah, the ethology of pub-crawlers.

The evening’s moral philosophy lecture thus finished, Ron sent Pedro to wake his sister. I tried to chew down some sort of jerky and gave up, and tossed down a Coke instead. Pedro came back a few minutes later; Elise followed a while later. Pedro unwrapped some fruit and gave it to her, and we all started the long walk back to the marina. If Ron and Pedro noticed Elise and I falling behind, they didn’t make any remarks about it. Who knows, maybe they didn’t notice when Elise took my hand in hers. Or the smile on my face when she did.

+++++

When the sun set that afternoon, the rhythm of life in the marina seemed to pause. As the outrageous aromas of Elise’s cooking spread out over the surrounding boats, many eyes took in the scene. Pedro sat in Sabrina’s cockpit, drinking a soda long after the time he and his sister usually left the marina for their long walk home. I was up on the foredeck, sanding a couple of boards on the teak decks that needed some touching up. All appeared simply, unjustifiably, clandestinely normal.

The very picture of domesticity. Marina style…

I guess the wandering eyes took in the three of us sitting in the cockpit a bit later, eating dinner together, trying our best to conceal the awkward butterflies that seemed to be hovering all around us. Maybe as it got darker they gave up trying to look at Sabrina, and didn’t see Elise and I sitting in the cockpit, talking at first across from one another, then moving closer together, closer, but not yet touching. Maybe they listened to the tones of our voices as they drifted through the cool evening air. Could they have discerned that moment when casual conversation moved to the beat of distant times and ancient music – and fell into the far more chromatic chords of intimacy?

Even I would have to admit that, later, as night took us in gentle embrace, it would have been hard to ignore the primal sounds that growled and sighed from deep within Sabrina’s amber-glowing belly. Even I was surprised by Elise’s gentle fury as years of horror and despair gave way to the simple honesty of one soul’s ease basking in the warmth of acceptance. But there could have been little doubt as our still, waterborne air was pierced by arrows of need, that in the womb of this night love found new hearts in which to dwell.

As the night wore on, Ron, Rosalita, and Pedro sat in Blade Runner’s cozy interior playing cards, trying to stifle laughs as moans and cries from the boat next door drifted through the air. In time, as quiet returned to the marina, Ron and Pedro took up their glasses and tipped them together, and in conspiratorial shadows made a quiet toast to their success.

+++++

When I look back on that first night with Elise from the perspective of so many years, the one thing that stands out most to me was the gentle, dreamlike quality of the time that passed between us. I remember the warm, gusty breezes the drifted through the palms that lined the Marina Hemingway, people sitting in their boats cooking, playing guitars and reading books. We, Elize and I, had passed from stranger to friend in the course of a days walk through the outskirts Havana, and in the quiet of her mangrove home we grew comfortable in each others company, we explored the unfamiliar terrain of trust and redemption. In the afterglow of our first real dinner together on my boat, we had tumbled little glasses of aromatic Port under our noses and continued our imaginary day wandering through the cool rose-petaled air of Paris, reveling in the perfection of lunch at Le Grande Vefour, and the simple joy of breathing in the timeless beauty of Monet and Sisley at the d’Orsay. We held each other’s hands in the soft glow of evening; even now I remember feeling an almost adolescent sense of anticipation as we drew inward towards the union we could no longer deny.

It started so simply. She had taken my hand to her face, placed one of my fingers in her mouth, and swirled her tongue around the tip as she sucked on it. The cascade of electro-erotic impulses that coursed up my spine as our eyes met sent me reeling down unforeseen byways of memory; my body left its space on earth and drifted inward on the currents of instinct. Hers was a gentle reawakening.

We found our way into the sheltering warmth of Sabrina and shed our sweat-soaked clothes in hurried little heaps, then had fallen into the depths of moon-dappled shadows as we made our way to the forepeak berth. She had hopped up on the berth facing me, and I had dropped to my knees to worship on the altar of her need. As her thighs found their way over my shoulders, my mouth found her vagina bathed in shimmery moonglow. As I gently kissed her lips I looked up over her small belly at the silvered form of her pure femininity, her perfect breasts moving to a deepening flow. The lust I felt for her caressed the balance of eternity’s gentle harmony, of time’s dominion over the hearts of mortals, but the form of our lust gave way to the ancient dance of union.

I had buried my face in her warmth and felt the wetness of her first release, as she shuddered and bucked against the pressure of my tongue. Her fingers had entwined their searching grasp within my hair, and she pulled me deeper inside her need. I ran my hands up her belly to her breasts and took the jutting thrust of her nipples in my fingers. I drew feathery circles over each breast with the electricity that separated her skin from mine, and I felt the shivery response of her skin as she reacted with surprise to these sudden hidden impulses.

Just as quickly, her hips and back arced and she screamed in total release, and I slowly pulled back to ease off the pressure; she reacted by pulling my face back deeper into her spreading fire, bucking harder against my mouth. Elise had run into the rapids of almost perpetual orgasm, and as she bounced and swayed in her release she began to cry. I could not tell where her tears started, or where they might end, and she had just barely managed to gasp out words of love and encouragement when another implosive bolt hit her, and she thrashed into feral contortions.

I was a bit concerned, really.

It wasn’t that I had never taken a woman into such extreme terrain before, but her convulsed reactions seemed to echo with contradictions. I moved up to her side, held her face to mine and kissed her. She looked at me with unexpected tenderness; while I had feared the resurgence of her past into our space, I was met with a frank expression of wonder, as she had not expected either my consumptive lust for her – or her need for release. Perhaps it was that the warm little cocoon of Sabrina’s intimate spaces afforded her a shield from the prying eyes of memory.

Her hands moved to my loins, and she stroked me oh so softly with just the tips of her fingernails. She looked at me with a temptress’s eyes, daring me to resist the pleasures she offered with each gentle stroke. I was soon drifting to the rhythm of her skilled fingers, lost in the music of moonbeams and the gently dancing waves on Sabrina’s hull.

And oh, had I risen to the occasion!

With a sudden rush, Elise dropped down between my legs and made to take me in her mouth – and here I need to digress once again. I’ve been told my equipment is a little on the large side, but what’s truly abnormal about my plumbing is the size of my testicles. They are, to put it gently, on the large side, and the net result of this is that when I cum, I come in buckets. I cum so much that never once has a woman been able to take it all – either in the mouth or in the vagina. Let’s just say ‘my cup runneth over’ – and leave it at that.

Anyway. There was no art of gentle persuasion at work now; this was the frontal assault, and I was completely unprepared for the swiftness of Elise’s attack. Then again, I don’t think she was prepared for what she found when she got between my legs. I felt her hands encircle me, then she kind of drew back and studied the matter in hand – then I heard her muttering words like ‘Sweet Jesus’ and ‘zeppelin’ before I lost sight of her head in a blinding blur of frenzied twisting motions, and my body spasmed almost instantly into a state of total sensory overload. Those first moments – when she first drew me into those immensely un-mortal portals of infinite space – define to me even now my memory of that night.

At my age it is fair to say that she was not the first woman to go down on me, though the list of women is, unfortunately, long and undistinguished, but she shot to the top of that list in about three heartbeats. She did things with her mouth and throat that felt positively inhuman, and followed these sorties with penetrating finger movements that left me shocked and breathless. My response built rapidly. I’m not normally fast off the draw, but this was ridiculous, as this wasn’t even going to qualify as a fast one.

And here I might be impertinent enough to interject that it had been some time since I had been with anyone (other than my right hand, and that a not too regular event), so I knew what was coming was going to be monumentally explosive, even by my abnormal standards. I wish I’d had the presence of mind to warn her.

I truly doubt that any other mammal on earth – save perhaps an elephant or a sperm whale – has ever cut loose with as much cum as I did that first time with Elise. And I’m talking in all recorded history here. Let’s just get adjectives like explosive and cataclysmic out of the way, as they simply don’t apply. The ‘little’ orgasm I had was volcanic – it was the Mt Saint Helens of orgasms. So, here I was, first time ever with Elise, and I start off by blowing about three gallons of cum into, well, her mouth for a start.

Hell, she was game enough to try, I have to give that to her. At least she was through the first three or four eruptions.

But, oh no, ole-volcano-nuts weren’t through, not that night. They had decided to give her their best imitation of Krakatoa!

Elise took the first bursts about as well as anyone could, I suppose, then she sat up, her mouth a devastated landscape of pearlescent cum, her face coated with what appeared to be a quart of the stuff, and she looked very, very satisfied with herself. But were they finished? Oh, no, not in the least. She kept jacking my pole and another, much larger torrent of huge ropey splooge shot through the air – out onto my stomach, onto her face, into her hair – and she stared at me in wide-eyed disbelief. Then I sat up and watched as she took a finger and scooped more of it off her face and onto her tongue, into her mouth, and when that wasn’t enough for her, I looked on in open mouthed amazement as she licked puddles of the stuff off my belly and began rubbing her face from side-to-side through it.

This was, I decided, heaven. I was really dead and was already there. But no, Elise still wasn’t finished with me. Or it – no, them.

She worked her way back down to the offending beast and admonished it with a thorough tongue lashing, though I must say he stood up to her assault rather well. She licked and bit and jacked my cock back into full raging form, then slid up my body and positioned herself over me. With her knees on either side of mine, I felt her feet slide to the insides of my legs, and thus firmly braced she lowered herself onto my cock and began to slowly slide up and down the length of it, the remnants of my first orgasm coating her way with silky smoothness.

With her face above mine, I looked on in awe as I watched the full moon rise behind her head, the pure light of creation pouring in through the open hatchway above us. Her form was backlighted – though flashes of moonlight danced between strands of her hair – and her body took on a deep lavender glow as the moon grew into our space. Her long hair swept across my face as she danced in the light, and I remember catching strands in my mouth, marveling that even her hair tasted like the essence of eternity.

+++++

I woke the next morning to the now familiar smells and sounds of Elise working away in the galley. As I cleaned up I wondered just what the heck Pedro had done all night; I had completely forgotten about him and felt a little put off with myself for that round of selfishness. Even though Sabrina had two separate ‘bedrooms’ there was no way that last night’s activities could have gone unnoticed. Being old enough – well, almost – to be Pedro’s grandfather gave me some room for maneuver, I suspect, but I hoped to avoid this kind of awkwardness in the future. But how?

I made my way to the galley and kissed Elise hard on the mouth; she responded gently but gave a little ‘ahem’, and when I pulled back could see that she was guiding my attention to the company we had in the cockpit. Ron and Pedro – oh my, what a surprise! They were hunched over the little fold-down table by the wheel studying their pieces on the chess board they had set up between them. I made my way up into the brilliant sunlight with a handful of glasses filled with orange juice, and sat down next to Pedro.

“Hey, Puddknocker,” Ron merrily exclaimed, “how’s it hangin’?”

Pedro kind of snorted out a giggle as he looked away. Oh, this was going to be a blast!

“Say, Ron,” I retorted, “I heard you was a transvestite hooker once. Can I get some from ya’?”

“No thanks, Pudd, I’m tryin’ to quit.”

I shook my head.

“Anyone up for a sail today?” Elise called out from somewhere down below.

“That sounds like fun, y’all up for it?” I said, looking out at the fresh breeze blowing over the sea.

“Better check into that first, sport. Cuban Coasties don’t take kindly to nationals out taking boat rides…they might get the idea you’re making a break off the reservation. Bad news if they do, too.”

I could see his point. “Anyway to do it? Permits or such?”

“Yeah, go to the security guys at the gate. I think they can arrange it.”

“Doesn’t anyone go sailing around here?”

“Sure, sport, just not with the locals. Hell, even if you go out alone you’re going to be boarded by the navy – and your boats going to get tossed. They really don’t want folks sneaking off, and they’re kinda serious about it.”

Like I didn’t know that.

O.K., so that explained why no one was out sailing on a day like today.

Elise handed an especially gorgeous breakfast up the companionway: fresh fruit and soft-boiled eggs in their shells stuffed with lump crabmeat and tiny bits of fiery-hot peppers and garlic were heaped on a platter surrounded by slender planks of buttered toast. She came up a minute later with a steaming pitcher of espresso and the little cups I kept on hand for such occasions.

Pedro had never seen anything like this meal, and had absolutely no idea that his sister was capable of such artistry. I was only beginning to fathom the depths of her accomplishments myself, despite the almost ten tons I’d put on in a week. I looked at the feast spread out before us and did not want to thank God for this food…I wanted to thank Him – for Elise.

When love comes to you, you’d better be ready to follow. Ain’t that in a book someplace…or maybe a song?

We ate, and Ron – God bless him – cleared the plates then cleaned the dishes down below. Pedro went off to take care of his marina duties and Elise laid herself down in the morning sun with her head in my lap, and I stroked her hair, the memory of our own little little dance in the moonshadow still fresh in my mind.

“Jim, tell me what you’re thinking – right now,” her gentle voice commanded.

I didn’t know where to begin. My feelings were – to me, anyway – clear, but obviously not so to her. How could I make a life for us all – in Cuba?

Couldn’t be done, could it, wise guy. Reality check. No diplomatic relations, so no consular official to consult for bad advice. So, no legal way out. Getting out illegally almost a certain path to ruin for all concerned.

Then I was aware that Elise’s gentle question still hung in the air.

“I was thinking about tomorrow,” I said, putting it out there in the air apparent.

“Tomorrows are very complicated in Cuba, Jim. Perhaps we should concentrate on all of the todays we might have together.”

“Yeah, well, that’s the bargain this time around, isn’t it. Pay the price for tomorrow’s wasteland in the currency of the moment – so let it ride, boy-o!” I’m spoiled enough to let bitterness take hold of my emotions on even the best of days. Still, I’m not sure Elise understood.

“Jim, I told you, you won’t change the way things are in Cuba. This is Castro’s game, and everybody plays by his rules. If you play your game, you’ll lose. That I will not allow to happen.”

I heard footsteps coming up the companionway.

“Who says you gotta play by his rules,” Ron Fuller, ex-CIA hot-shot said.

With that he jumped off Sabrina and walked off towards the shower. He didn’t even bother to hide his grin.

That shithead!

+++++

It turned out that getting clearance to take Pete, as I now called him, and Elise out on Sabrina wasn’t all that difficult as long as we remained within three miles of shore. We were told we would be boarded as we left the marina and papers would be checked, and our position monitored by the navy to insure we remained within the stipulated distance from shore. And we were cautioned not to violate the three mile limit, or the consequences would be swift – and deadly. No more need be said about that, the smiling military-police guard said.

So, about two that afternoon, off we went on Sabrina – with the Three Amigos on board just for good measure. We motored out of the marina and I checked in by VHF with the patrol boat that always seemed to be on station off the approaches to Havana. They sounded bored and told us to have a nice sail, and Ron and the Amigos shot each other quick glances at that bit of lassitude. As we cleared the breakwater, and with Ron on the wheel, we pointed into the wind and raised sail, then bore off heading directly away from shore under full sail. Ron looked at his watch, the other Amigos, as I mentioned both retired PanAm jocks, hunched over their approach charts and started doing some Time/Distance calculations. Then all of a sudden it hit me: these Three Amigos were acting like a covert operations team; they made little marks on the chart, made knowing glances and comments to each other as the time ticked by.

Pete and Elise picked up on the military demeanor quicker than I had, though Pete seemed to think things were going along pretty fine. The sea wasn’t at all rough, and the sky was as crisp and clear as far as the eye could see, but we were getting, after about twenty minutes, very close to three miles out from shore.

“Uh, Ron…”

“There he goes,” Ron said, and the two Amigos hunched over their chart looked up and over at the patrol boat. “Mark the time: 1438 hours.” The patrol boat was belching thick brownish-gray smoke from its single stack, and it was changing course to run parallel to Sabrina’s heading away from the shore. “Oughta be anytime, now. Jim, go down and flip on the radar, would ‘ya?”

The display up by the wheel flickered then jumped on; the range was set at five miles and the shoreline was now looking to be close to three miles away. One of the Amigos went over and flicked the range markers out to 24 miles. “Bingo, there he is,” he said as looked at the radar. Then, “This oughta be real close. OK people, cover your ears…”

The roar was not simply deafening, it was palpable to the very core of my body and penetrated some deep primal awareness that screamed “RUN!” Within milliseconds awareness to external stimuli kicked in and I was peripherally aware that a Cuban Air Force Mig-29 had just cut across Sabrina’s bow – about thirty feet above the sea. I guessed it’s speed was in the neighborhood of 500 knots.

Ron swung the wheel and took up a course taking us straight toward the patrol boat. The patrol boat throttled down, its bow wave dissipated into the surrounding sea as the boat changed to an intercept course toward us, while the Mig had gone ballistic and disappeared vertically into the sky. The Amigo working the radar picked him up: “There he is. Looks like he’s going to come by for another look see. O.K., his speed is way down. What do you think of those reaction times, Ron?”

“About what I expected.”

I looked around and took note that Elise and Pete were gone, and I saw them down below. Elise looked pale and uncomfortable; Pedro looked up at me with happily excited eyes.

I felt like I needed a drink.

The pale gray Mig flew drifted overhead like a shark – its flaps fully extended, its nose slightly high – and the two Amigos looked at the racks of missiles and bombs hanging under the wings and furiously scribbled notes on their chart.

I was now very, very interested about these clowns’ activities.

They were calculating response times of Cuban naval and air force units and the weapons deployed during that response. In short, they were conducting an espionage operation – a covert operation, at that, while the Cubans looked on.

And on my fucking boat!

We closed on the patrol boat, or rather they closed on us – rapidly – and they contacted us by VHF, telling us in no uncertain terms to heave to and prepare for boarding.

Oh, I was a real happy camper right about then.

+++++

Life on Sabrina after our little excursion took on a nervous, if somewhat happy routine. Pete worked around the marina during the day and generally hung out on Ron’s boat playing chess at night. It seemed that Rosalita had a daughter about Pete’s age who was now staying on board Blade Runner, and puberty being puberty everywhere in the world, things were merrily taking their course with or without our interference, thank you very much.

Ron and the Amigos retired after our little excursion and sat around in the shadows with their slide rules and sat-phones – calling the mother-ship, perhaps. I had no clue, and didn’t want one, either, but something was UP. The Amigos would retire to their boats, and to their women, after these little clandestine meetings, and I noticed their boats were little family affairs. Hell, as I looked around I began to notice lots of Cuban families living on boats with divorced-white-guys. Some girls had their parents living aboard with them, and one was rumored to have a grandparent on board in addition to the normal complement of mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters. If I found it difficult to imagine screwing Elise with even the thought of Pedro on board, I couldn’t fathom what was going on in these guys minds.

So anyway, just what the hell was going on in the Marina Hemingway? Was there something in the water here?

And hadn’t these guys ever seen Islands In The Stream? Not a real happy ending, if you know what I mean.

During dinner that night I voiced my opinion to Elise that the Three Amigos were planning on making a dash for Florida, and taking a whole bunch of Cubans with them – and she dismissed the thought as not even worthy of a paranoid schizophrenic. She worked away on her mojos and salads, not missing a beat, and we ate dinner – as usual – in the cockpit, with the ever-present warm trade-winds rustling through the palms behind us. We had some chilled Sangria that night, too; well, actually, I had a lot of chilled Sangria and Elise sipped hers in amused silence, then she cleared, I cleaned, then we put all our things away together, all on the automatic pilot lovers develop as they drift dangerously towards the comfortable shoals of domesticity.

As I cleaned dishes, in my thoughts I dismissed the idea that Elise could have anything to do with such a wild-assed plot, that until recently she had been so far gone – according to Ron, anyway – that she had been incapable of making even a cup of coffee, let alone be in on the planning of some hair-brained operation to slip a bunch of Cuban families out of the country in the dark of night…

Then I felt her hand. She was looking at me with those eyes of hers, her hand was drifting down to the buckle on my belt while the other rubbed the front of my shorts. Did Krakatoa want to come out and play?

We both had our answer to that question in about three shakes of a, oh, well, you know where this is going so why bore you with the details.

Okay, okay…so you want a few details. She had my shorts down around my ankles before you could say ‘men think with their dicks’ three times, and I swear to God she took my dick in her hand and pulled me to the forepeak. It was almost humiliating, though fun in it’s way, I suppose. I recommend it if you don’t have anything else planned for a rainy Sunday afternoon.

Anyway. We fucked ourselves silly for hours. Nothing takes your mind off paranoid fantasies faster than watching your girlfriend’s cheeks distend around the head of your cock as she tries not to gag while a half-liter of cum blows down her throat.

+++++

I guess after that night I reckoned I’d just drop the matter- let it ride – for the time being, anyway. Life on Sabrina maintained the same comfortable level of nervous domestic bliss that had characterized Elise’s first days with me. Weeks went by while Ron and the Amigos went about there daily chores working on rigging or changing oil or injectors on an errant engine. Pete made money working his ass off, and I’m pretty sure he was proceeding nicely on his plans to marry Rosalita’s daughter by the time he turned fifteen. I just hoped he wouldn’t get her knocked up before that happened.

As summer wore on all thought turned to the looming tropical storm season. Nobody in the Caribbean takes tropical storms for granted, yet hurricane is a ‘four letter word’ no one wants to hear. But it was that time of year, and if you live in the Caribbean or the Gulf you pay attention to those buggers whenever they form-up off Africa. People on all the boats in the marina began sorting through their storm gear, making sure equipment was up to snuff and storm sails ready to set. Cubans living on board the various cruising boats seemed to disappear; they’d either left to go from whence they’d come – or gone seriously to ground.

Like I said, nobody in Cuba took tropical storms for granted. A big one was rumored to be forming out past the Windward Islands, still many days away if it headed this way at all, but you could feel a new tension in the air. Like you’re being stalked, I suppose, by a monster right out of your darkest childhood nightmares.

So, with that tension in mind, on this particularly hot and humid June afternoon Ron came over to Sabrina, a worried grin on his weatherbeaten face.

“Hey, Puddknocker,” he started with the particularly annoying way he had of threading through shoal waters, “ready to go for a sail?”

All of my internal warning lights started going off. My gut spasmed, began to churn. Paranoid? Who, me? Like that guy on the cover of Mad Magazine? ‘What? Me worry?’

“Ron, you got to be kidding me. It’s hot and there’s hardly any wind. You wanna just head out and get fried in the Sun?”

“Sounds good, Sport. Leave in five, O.K.?” He walked off with that stupid grin of his flying in defiance of all good sense, and so of course I knew something was up.

I went down to warn Elise – but she was gone, and everything on the boat had been stowed. Unbeknownst to me, Sabrina had been made ready for sea.

I called out her name. Nothing, then I felt feet landing on Sabrina’s deck.

“You ready to go, Sport?”

“Where’s Elise?” I called up to Ron.

“With Pete and Lupe and Rosalita. Making dinner.”

More feet hit the deck. I looked out and saw the other two Amigos; they had large duffel bags with them, and my stomach did another double flip.

“Hey, Jim!” one of them said. “Flip the radar to standby, would ya?”

“Yeah, no problem,” I mumbled. You ever notice how you go on automatic pilot when unavoidable shit starts to head your way? In those precious last seconds before it really hits the fan?

We backed out of the slip, then motored out toward the breakwater. Ron had the helm, of course, and the Amigos were hunkered down over their chart.

The same chart they used the last time we went out.

One of them pulled a very small hand held radio out of his duffel and plugged-in an earphone, then he fiddled with switches, slipped on his earphones and listened intently.

We cleared the breakwater and immediately turned to the left, to the west, parallel to the coast. We ran along under power about 50 yards off the beach.

“Hey, Jimbo, take the to radar active and go to max range – okay, buddy? Set the gain real high, too.”

Say, there goes Jim the robot! See Jim comply! Watch Jim shit his pants!

“Ron, did they finalize the CAP setup?” That was not my question, by the way.

“Yeah, couple of 14s on CAP, screening the E2. The two queers are coming out of Key West. A couple of 16s outta Homestead will cover the Queers if we need ‘em to.”

“Queers? Out of Key West?” I asked. I knew that town had a pretty dicey reputation, but what would a couple of gays be doing coming over here?

“EA-6Bs, Jim,” Ron said to the blank expression on my face. “Electronic Countermeasures aircraft. Radar jammers. Called Queers.”

“That’s just fucking great, Ron! Wanna tell me what the fuck’s going on?”

“Later. When we get back. I’ll brief you in then, buddy. Just right now we’re going to watch a little airshow. There’s an AWACs up that’s going to watch how the Gomers react.”

“Great, Ron. Glad to be of service. You planning on invading this place, or just trying to get me killed?”

“Radar still looking nominal,” one of the Amigos said. “Nope! There he goes!”

I looked at the radar screen: it was full of electronic noise all around the northern horizon. The screen showed normal activity to the south – along the shore, inside Cuba.

“O.K. boys, here come the Queers.”

I wonder to this day if Ron had any idea of how fucking weird he sounded when he said that?

They sounded close, but I couldn’t see them. The Amigos were checking watches, writing on the chart furiously. Ron watched me searching for the aircraft.

“Jim, down there,” he said pointing off the right side of the boat.

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Two of the weirdest looking jets were screaming along over the water, and I mean just barely over the water – I guessed their altitude was about ten feet above the water! And they were scooting right along, too.

Air raid sirens start wailing. A rocket screamed right over our head. It had launched from land somewhere off to our left.

“Echo 2, Echo 2, SA-7 coming at you. Go active now!” That little bit of information came from the Amigo with the little radio  up to his face.

The Queers went wild. They started changing altitude and heading every couple of seconds, huge flares belched from their bellies and shiny clouds of metallic stuff blew out behind them. The missile flew out over the sea, toward empty sky, then the Queers disappeared into the gray haze and were gone – just about as quickly as they’d come.

Ron swung Sabrina around and gunned the engine, heading right back to the marina. That was it? What a great day for a sail. Whooppeeeee!

Soon the Amigos had Sabrina tied up at the dock, rum flamethrowers in hand, dinner, music, dancing on the dock. Everything cool here, dude, so be careful as you pass, move along-move along.

We’d been back a little less than an hour when Elise came below looking for me, and she found me in the head. I hadn’t quite finished driving the porcelain bus yet, and asked her to please leave me alone for a while.

But she didn’t. She sat behind me on the floor, held a cool rag on the back of my neck. I was consumed with cold sweats and racking shakes, in fact had never felt so physically ill in all my life. But I finally had to ask the question.

“Elise, are you in on this?”

She looked down, then nodded her head ‘yes,’ and the little world world I’d constructed in my mind simply gave way and caved in.

+++++

I slept in the next morning. There were no exotic aromas coming from the galley, no places set in the cockpit. There was no Pedro – and no Elise, either – on Sabrina, only me and my headache. I put some old shorts and a t-shirt on, and headed – barefoot – up on deck. My mouth had that old familiar West Texas bullshit taste lingering on my breath, and it felt like I had suitcases hanging in boggy sacks under my eyes. I saw Ron sitting over in Blade Runner’s cockpit.

“Hey, Sport, how are…”

“Fuck you, Fuller!” I walked away from the little chuckles that hung in the air like insinuations. I think they tried to follow me to the shower.

One of the other dock boys fetched water, started the little propane boiler that heated it to body temperature. I told him to keep the water coming and gave him a twenty dollar bill. His eyes went saucer-shaped and wide and he ran off with empty buckets. I got under the warm water and stood there forever, letting the stream hit the back of my neck for what felt like hours.

At any rate, I think the waters running down my face hid the tears that seemed to come every time I thought of Elise. Which was only about every time I took a breath.

+++++

I was sitting in the cockpit later that morning, charts spread out on my little portable chart table and I was making some notes on the margins of my chart for the Florida Straits. My stomach was empty, and growling like a pissed off tiger, but I had arranged to get the water and fuel tanks topped off later that morning, get some supplies from the market, maybe a bit of food if I could stand it, and pull out of the marina later that afternoon. I would anchor off Key West tomorrow morning, get some barnacles scraped off my shoulders by a dermatologist I knew over there, and get some major provisions loaded on Sabrina. I thought I might head off toward the Bahamas, then on down to the British Virgins. When I thought about Elise I wanted to get as far away as possible, as fast as I could.

“Jim?”

Well, speak of the devil! Time for the wounded-silent act…

“Jim, please?”

“Sorry, Jim’s not in right now. Leave a message at the tone, or why not try back – next year.” Did anyone say I couldn’t throw a childish temper tantrum? What? Me worry?

So of course she hopped onboard, came and sat across from me in the cockpit. I watched her as she moved; her lithe, sure steps, now full of total self-assurance – where a few weeks ago they had been anything but, then I saw Ron in his cockpit, his back to Sabrina, but with an ear cocked our way. My, what a tangled web those two had been working on. This could get interesting, I thought. If I lived.

“Have you had anything to eat?” she asked.

That’s right, go for the stomach. Worked before, didn’t it?

“No,” I said. She got up quickly but I said something dismissive like “don’t bother” and she sat back down. I could see the gears turning over in her mind, and I wondered how strong the link was between her mind – and Ron’s. How long had they been scheming? How long had they been waiting for a ‘mark’ like me to come along?

“Jim, this is very complicated,” she said quietly, directly, “so pay attention.” She stopped, waiting for me to look up, and when I did there was something new in her eyes. Something new, and dangerous, yet she was appealing to me, begging me to listen with my heart – again. “When I was in Paris, you recall, when the minister sent me abroad, I was recruited by the CIA.” She paused again, measuring the impact of these first few words. “Recruited me to go back to Cuba, to report on things I might learn – from him, the minister. Eventually, the link was discovered and the Minister was killed.” Another pause, her eyes on mine like lasers. “I was imprisoned, tortured, left for dead more than once – when suddenly, they released me. During that time the security services killed my parents, and my brother Miguel only just managed to get Pedro out of Havana and into hiding, in the countryside. Then Miguel found me after they released me, down by the beach. It was so obvious: they wanted to release me, he said, then follow me, find out who my contacts were. By that time Miguel had gotten involved with people trying to get to Florida, and was making arrangements to get us, all of us, out of Cuba. He had gone out on a boat with others in his group to try to find the best time to try to make the run, but they were discovered and ran. They succeeded, too. He made it…”

She looked away for a long while, then continued…

“So, Pedro and I made our way into the mangroves and built our house, but I knew we were being watched. And I mean all the time, Jim. So I started to act crazy, then helpless, but Pedro knew what was going on. And you know? He always managed to keep us fed, even when I really started to go crazy. He is an amazing, brave young man, Jim, and he loves you like a brother.”

I sat listening to this with a dull ache spreading through me. ‘Me? I have a 13-year-old brother?’

“After many months the watchers lost interest, and for a while they would only check on us from time to time. Then not at all. Pedro started working at the marina, and he met Ron. He found out who Ron was, what he used to do.”

“Say, Sport, let me take it from here,” Ron “Captain America” Fuller interjected. “So, Jim, there are a lot of people in Cuba who’ve helped us over the years, and a lot of them are here, in the marina. They’re vulnerable, their covers are shaky. And we’re going to try to get them and their families out – before they get taken out.”

“Ron, you keep saying we. Is this a ‘company operation?’ And do I get, like, a pension out of this?”

He bit his lip and shook his head, never once breaking eye contact. “So, sport, here’s the plan. There’s a pretty fair-sized tropical depression building, and it looks like it’s coming our way. All the families gathered here are going to off-load over the next couple of hours, drift back out into the trees, so to speak, while the storm heads in. We’re going to send a couple of boats out, watch the navy board ‘em and toss ‘em, and then we’re all going to make like we’re going to hunker down and sit this thing out, here, in the marina. As the weather gets bad, maybe day after the next, sometime that night we’re going to get everyone back in the marina, on an assigned boat, and get the fuck outta Dodge.”

“You’re fucking crazy, Fuller. You ever been in a full-blown depression, in the Straits, in a storm moving against the Gulfstream. Pyramid waves thirty, thirty five feet tall – that’s the norm. Shit, Ron, even supertankers don’t try to run the Straits in a storm, it’s one of the meanest stretches of water in the world. Why would you…”

“Well, Sport, we’re only going to be using the really strong boats. And yours happens to be about the toughest one here, so you’re invited to the party.”

“Not me, Sport,” I tossed his name right back at him. “I’m leaving this afternoon, thought I’d head west to Mexico, maybe to Belize.”

Ron looked down at the charts I had spread out; of course my Bahamas charts were right there on top.

“Sure thing, Sport,” he said, seeing through that lie in an instant. “I suggest you keep your tail right here. You don’t want that kind of trouble. Hell, it’ll be raining IRS agents everywhere you go for the next ten years.” He sat there grinning, looking like he had the trump card – and the game all sewn up.

“What are the jets and crap all about?” I asked.

“We’re going to leave at night, hopefully when the storm has moved in and the patrol boats have gone in to weather it out in the inner harbor. But they’ll still have radar, and sailboats show up real good on radar. And they’ve got those fucking MIGs, as I’m sure you know by now. All-weather MIGs that could really rain on our parade. So, when we head out, the Queers are going to jam them, which they’re going to think is pretty fishy anyway, but we’re counting on a little indecision on their part. MIG 29s don’t grow on trees, and they probably won’t want to send ‘em up in this kind of storm unless the threat’s real. We’re banking on them thinking it’s just a bunch of gringo yachties bailing out and trying to run home before the storm gets rough.”

“Ron, pardon me for asking, but have you considered that they might have someone inside here who knows what’s going on, and is reporting all of this to the bad guys.”

“It’s a possibility.”

“So, jets jam radar. Then what. What if the MIGs come out to play.”

“They get splashed, shot down,” he said with absolutely no emotion. “You know, they run into trouble in the storm and lose control. Real tragedy. And, oh yeah, there’ll be some of our guys in boats out there, too. Little ones like the Nimitz, that kinda crap.”

“I take it there are some very important spooks in this group?”

“You have no fucking idea, Sport.”

All I could see in my mind’s eye was a leathery-skinned boy floating on the surface of Gulfstream tossed waters. A dead boy, and the helplessness I’d felt as I lifted his lifeless body onto that heaving deck.

“O.K., Ron, if I’m in, I’m in 100%, so no bullshit now. If you even think you’ve got the tiniest bit of information I might need, you get it to me. Deal?” I held out my right hand, looked him in the eye.

“Deal.” We shook on it.

Of course, after that Elise was back in the galley – merrily singing away while she worked, and after Ron left I went down and sat at the salon table, looked on as she produced yet another Condon Bleu inspired feast. I managed to choke a little down, too. Tough life, all in all. Me, the overfed spy who was about to go out in the cold. Well, there are worse ways to go, I think I heard myself say.

Or maybe it was just the wind.

+++++

Ron and the ‘Two Amigos’ came around just before sunset that night, and asked – gasp, that was a first! – if they could come aboard. The Amigos had a weather fax with them, showing the forecast out of Norfolk for the mid-Atlantic latitudes, including the northwest Caribbean. It looked like, they said, two nights from now the weather would be optimal.

“Optimal?” I said. “For what? Hoping my insurance policy is good?”

“Jim,” Ron sighed, “you’re going to be the lead boat out. We’re going to pack all of the important assets in Sabrina; like I said, your boat is tougher than anyone else’s for dealing with this kind of blow, and may be a little faster, too, even in rough water. Also, I’m going to put a couple of Navy Seals on board.”

I tried not to look surprised. “Oh, joy.”

“They’ll get here tomorrow night. A sub will drop them off around dark, if all goes as planned. Someone is going to create a little diversion east of here tomorrow about midnight, so keep your swim ladder down after zero dark-thirty tomorrow night. And have some towels and coffee ready.”

“Right.” Call me Smiley, ready to handle his spies.

“I’ll come over after I see ‘em board. And, oh, they know how to navigate, Jim.”

“Imagine that,” I smiled.

One of the Amigos spread out a new chart on the table, and pointed to some positions marked on the chart. “This is where we’re going to head. There will be a full carrier battle group eastbound outta the Gulf, and for some odd reason they’ll be transiting the Straits about the same time we make our run. Cubans have been advised to keep their distance. We’re only going to have to make it about twelve, maybe 15 miles offshore to get under their protective umbrella, make it two and a half hours from the breakwater to this line – and if any of the boats start to crap out, they’ll have to make it at least this far. The Navy guys won’t leave international waters, not for no one, no how.”

“Where’s Elise going to be?” I asked, not really wanting to hear the answer.

“With me, Sport. Pete will hang out with Lupe on Blade Runner, and you’ll be full-up over here.”

Elise was sitting next to me now, and she took my arm and leaned her head into my shoulder.

The Two Amigos stood and in turn shook my hand, wished me luck and said they’d see me ‘on the other side’ – which meant Key West, I assume – or somewhere back in the States. I wished them luck as well, and turned to Ron as he started to speak again.

“Your real cargo will get here after dark the night after tomorrow. A couple, late sixties. Rig up a couple of storm berths and strap ‘em in. The Seals will give ‘em something to help them sleep. We may have another young girl, if we can get her out of Havana.”

“We?”

“You bet, Sport. We’re going to go drinking tomorrow night with the Seals, maybe bring some girls back to the boat with us. Ya know, have some fun? Why don’t you be ready to roll around eight?”

“You really are too fucking much, Fuller.”

“Yeah, ain’t life grand?” he said as he bounced up the companionway steps – and then he was gone again – with the wind. You can bet he was grinning like a fool, too. Hell, I know I was…almost. Kind of like Death, standing there with nothing left but sadness in his eyes.

+++++

“So, assuming we get across, then what?” I asked Elise.

“I think we’re going to Washington. The rest of us, I mean, but I don’t really know the plan.”

“I hate to sound so self-interested, but what about me, about us?”

“I don’t know, Jim. A few hours ago you hated me, remember?”

“I’ve never hated you, Elise. I was disappointed, if you know what I mean? Nobody likes to be made a fool, especially by someone they love.”

“Do you love me, Jim?” She was blushing, if that meant anything.

“Yes,” I said, though I’m pretty sure my voice cracked a little, “I just happen to, with all my heart.”

“That’s good.” We sat quietly for a minute, watching time slip away. “I would hate to love you as much as I do and watch you sail away, thinking you hate me.”

I got up and walked to the galley, got a couple of glasses and put some ice in them, then went to my secret hiding place and got out my last bottle of Grand Marnier and poured a couple of stiff ones. Handing her the drink while I sat across from her – unconsciously increasing the distance between us – I looked into her eyes. Or I tried to, anyway.

“So, when all this is over and done with, I reckon I get to sail away by myself. Is that a pretty good read on things?”

“Jim, I don’t know how this story ends. It hasn’t been written yet…we haven’t written it yet, but the story I had in mind doesn’t end that way. So,” she said as she held her glass up to mine, “maybe we should have a drink – to happy endings.”

“To happy endings…” I recall saying, but truthfully, I didn’t feel very happy. I felt lonely, exposed and lonely, because there was still something gnawing away in the back of my mind…something that looked and smelled a lot like death. A chill ran down my spine, and I saw Death standing in the galley behind Elise, looking down at her – with a sad smile in his timeless eyes.

+++++

Elise and I lay next to each other in the forepeak later that night, watching the Moon dart out from behind backlighted clouds scudding away to the southwest. We were arm-in-arm on our backs, just listening to each other ramble on about nothing in particular, looking at the clouds through the hatch and talking about what lay ahead. I told her – in unmistakable terms – what crossing the Straits would be like under the forecast conditions, and told her I’d never been caught in the Straits before in a major storm, but had ridden out my share of storms in other seas, more than a few on Sabrina, and most had been far, far away from land. Which was, I explained, a good thing. Boats and land, by and large, are not a good mix because boats tend to break when the collide, but, I added, being in a small boat at sea in a storm was a lonely, frightening place to be. When I look back on events with the perspective of so many years, I often wonder if I made the situation clear to her, if she really understood the risks involved.

But it wouldn’t have mattered, I always tell myself. Not in the least. She listened, she said she understood, but there’s no way a person can, not really. There’s no frame of reference. You can describe waves thirty feet above the deck, but until they’ve chased you, hounded you for hours, even days on end the mind just can’t wrap around the concept. Wind so loud you can’t hear yourself think…wind-driven spray screaming off breaking waves, slamming into you so hard the ‘drops’ leave deep bruises. Walking on deck is a suicidal risk, and just steering it’s better to wear a dive mask and snorkel – so you can see, and breathe. No, really, how do you convey the gut-punching intensity of a storm with mere words? You can’t, not really, because mere words aren’t up to the task.

She turned to me, and in the moonlight her silvered-lavender form seemed to hover in the blue air all around me, and then I had shuddered as another spectral gust tingled lightly through that same deep recess in the back of my mind.

“Are you cold?” she asked, concern evident in her voice.

“No, not really.”

“What is it?”

I tried to shake the feeling. “Baby, I don’t think it’d do any good to talk about my feelings right now. When this is all behind us, well, then we should talk.”

“Jim, you can’t hold everything in, especially your fears. They’ll eat you from the inside out, leave nothing but a bitter shell.”

I looked at her floating there in the infinite space, that place despair hollows out for lost souls to wander in, and I knew she was going to die. I was certain of it. “I just had a bad feeling about things. You know, kind of a cold finger tapped me on the shoulder and went ‘Boo!’” With that little expletive, I dove over and tickled her mercilessly until she lay gasping, begging for mercy, then I kissed her. Gently at first. Then I kissed her with a passion born of total love for her, for the many things she had endured in her life – and the gift her life had been to Sabrina.

And just as suddenly I felt like crying, and somewhere inside the dam broke. I was consumed by fear for her life, of her coming death, and when I thought about loving her as I now did, and then to suddenly, knowingly face life without her – well, the feeling overwhelmed me completely. I felt her holding me, stroking the back of my head – but she didn’t say a word. She didn’t have to.

Ghosts, I knew, seldom have much to say.

+++++

I could feel the sun on my face – and I woke with a start. I felt the reassuring presence of Sabrina’s mass all around me – yet not one whisper of the warmth I’d come to know of Elise’s breath on my neck, or the echo of her legs against mine. Was she gone already; had the dream left so soon?

I heard no footsteps in the galley, no movement on deck, and suddenly I felt panic welling up – at the thought of her death once again, of a life without her. I jumped out of the bunk and dressed in a rush, made my way to the cockpit and there she was, talking with Pedro in gentle, reassuring tones – and like the wind through the palms overhead she washed over me, threatened to carry me away once again, yet I kept to the shadows, didn’t want to interrupt the flow of her words, and so I slipped back to the forepeak. A few minutes later I heard her coming below, and I waited in the berth for her. Leaning over, I watched her come to me, looking me in the eye as she approached. Quietly, she slipped out of her clothes, and still, never did she utter a solitary word.

She climbed up on the berth, then she pushed me down roughly as she lifted a leg over my chest. I lay there – face up – and watched in wonder as she sat astride my face and lowered herself down on my mouth. I reached up and held her hips as she kissed my face with her loins, and I drove my tongue into the musky recesses of her womb. The hatch overhead was still open, and she placed her hands there, hanging by her arms over my mouth, driving away the spirits that consumed me during the night – banishing them with the sheer force of her will. I raked my fingers up her belly, found my way to her breasts as she rediscovered her own secret place, and soon she moaned and wailed, gave way to the force of her need – and then we came adrift. She shuddered so deeply I was sure she would combust in the air above me, and so released, her spirit would flee on the winds I was so convinced were coming to claim her.

+++++

I spent the rest of the day going over Sabrina’s rigging and thru-hulls, then her electrical components for good measure, checking for signs of corrosion or even the slightest loose connection; I cleaned the fuel filters and bled the lines, then changed the engine oil and checked all the seals. Early afternoon saw me up the mast in the bosun’s chair – to check the rigging for signs of damaging corrosion or loose fittings. I fitted the storm trysail to the mast, and took down the sails forward from their roller furling mechanisms and put Sabrina’s storm sails on with their heavily reinforced hanks. All tanks full, both battery banks charged, steering cables lubricated, packing glands checked, anchors tied-off yet instantly ready to let slip, the list went on and on and on. Elise worked down below, wrapping loose belongings with any kind of fabric we had on board, dish towels, underwear, spare socks – you name it, then stuffing everything into drawers and under-berth storage compartments. We stopped to eat a couple of times, just quick sandwiches on-the-go, and then we continued working.

The Sun finally gave up the fight and disappeared behind a wall of thick dark clouds that approached from the southeast, and not long after the wind began to pick up, a light rain to fall. When I had every possible loose item on Sabrina’s deck stowed – each a potential deadly missile in the raging winds of a tropical storm – I looked around the boat and relaxed. The Sun – such as it now was – would set in a few hours; around a quarter till seven, so I went below and set blankets and towels out and prepared a sea-berth, started the stove and put on some coffee. I had no idea when Ron’s Navy Seals were going to show up, or when we were going to head into town looking for this wayward girl that he had decided was going to come along, and Elise had vanished to the forepeak, apparently deciding to keep out of sight. I looked at the barometer and decided I couldn’t blame her. I wanted to be up there too, I thought, as I felt me eyes closing…

I heard a tapping on the hull and looked up. It was dark now and guessed I’d fallen asleep, so I went topsides and stretched. I walked aft to the rail and looked over the side, and there were two guys in black wetsuits, black makeup all over their faces, looking like they’d come right out of the Central Casting.

“You Jim?” one of them said, looking up expectantly.

“Yeah. You guys want to come on up?”

“Where’s Fuller’s boat?”

I pointed to Blade Runner in the slip across the walkway from Sabrina, and the other diver slipped noiselessly away toward Ron’s boat.

“What are you going to do with that gear?” I asked about the scuba equipment hanging off his back.

“Stayin’ here , except for a couple of gear bags. I guess I’ll go hang under the dock.” He disappeared under the water. I looked around at all the crap floating there, and remembered some of the less than friendly animals that hung out in these waters and shuddered. ‘Better you than me, Buddy,’ I wanted to say.

There was nothing to do but wait now. I puttered around on deck, checking this fitting and that fastener, tying lines and generally looking nervous and busy when – bam! – our end of the marina went very dark – as mysteriously, all the power on the west side of the marina had suddenly gone out. Imagine that! I dropped the boarding ladder and listened as it splashed into the water. Seal number 1, who I soon learned went by the name of Buzz, silently levitated out of the water and climbed into Sabrina’s cockpit, only now he was now wearing some real natty Polo swim trunks, and looked for all intents and purposes like a swimsuit model straight out of the pages of Cosmopolitan Magazine. He reached down and lifted two black rubber duffels into the cockpit. Seal 2 followed seconds later, looking like another model from our impromptu Polo shoot. This ugly lad’s name was Scoop. I kid you not. I hadn’t known people could still do that to their kids – not since the 50s, anyway. They dropped below and dried off, pulled some dry shirts out of their duffels, then slung shoulder-holsters under their windbreakers and tucked little automatic pistols in them. I heard Ron talking up on the dock, then felt him hop on Sabrina’s deck.

“Y’all ready to roll?” came the question I’d been dreading all my life, followed by that inevitable Cheshire-cat grin of his.

I slipped up to the forepeak and found Elise curled up, inert. I kissed her on the forehead and told her that I loved her. I heard a faint whispered ‘I love you too’ drift away from her withdrawn body, then a “please be careful,” floated out into the air, apparent to no one but me.

Scoop and Buzz weren’t the only two Seals to have come into the marina that night. My two were joined by four others, plus the Ron and the Two Amigos, and of course, me, yet I think I was along for decoration. I doubt there was a less intimidating person in the marina, so I was perfect cover to counter for all of the mega-he-men that had suddenly shown up. We did the drunk party-hardy gringo two-step though the gate, and no one looked up at us as we waltzed on by and jumped into a couple of forty year old Chevies that just happened to be waiting, and off we bounced, down the road into good ‘old town’ Havana.

The two Amigos and I went on into the fun zone of bars and hookers, and the streets were teeming with Brits and Germans who weren’t – apparently – too concerned about the looming tropical storm. We ducked into a couple of old-time roosts and I tossed down more than a few rum somethings, and you couldn’t see across the room the cigar smoke was so thick. A couple of señoritas drifted by – sniffing the waters, I guess, looking to score – and one of the Amigos grabbed her and kissed her hard enough to make her turn red…

Then one of the Seals darted in and spoke to the Amigos, they nodded and checked the time. Ron sat silently now, took his first sip of rum and swished it around in his mouth before spitting it out, then stood and took off with the Seal, and the rest of us sat around making idle chit-chat for about another hour before we paid up and left. Once outside we each hailed a taxi, not an easy thing to do in Havana, and took off toward the marina in separate cars. We puttered along the back road to the marina, and suddenly, about a hundred yards ahead of the lead taxi, Ron and the Seals – and two women – appeared. Our little caravan stopped and everybody piled in, and off we went again, total time stopped less than 10 seconds – but I didn’t see the last taxi remain in the shadows for a few more minutes. By the time we arrived at the marina the last taxi had caught up to us, and as the taxis stopped we all piled out on the dirt playing the drunken revelers once again, and once we were gathered, still well away from the gate, Ron went to each Seal and said a few words to each, then patted me on the shoulder and said “Good luck.”

Thorough. That much was for certain.

I took up the rear of our little band and straggled in behind them, stopped to joke with the guard at the gate, give him a bottle of 151 rum and wished him Good Night, then tottered on my way after the group. Buzz and Scoop were just ahead of me, and Buzz was holding his partner up with great effort. Good acting, I thought, as I rolled up to them.

“Give me a hand, would ya’?” Buzz said.

“Sure thing.”

I got up on the other side of Scoop and put my arm around his waist; it was warm and moist, and I could smell that hemoglobin aroma that marks the presence of a lot of blood – over all the rum and cheap cologne that was trailing the main part of the group – now about 10 yards ahead of us. We got him to Sabrina and I helped them below, and when I got down I lowered the salon table, made a big triple-wide berth to lay Scoop on. Elise came aft and looked down at the Seal’s shattered belly; it was awash with blood and she gave a little gasp, then asked what was needed.

Ron and another Seal, one that hadn’t been on our little excursion, hopped on Sabrina and jumped down the companionway.

“Cover the windows, get some air circulating,” Ron said. “Jim, why don’t you go forward. This is Taylor, he’s a Seal and a doc. We’ll take it from here.”

Elise came back a few minutes later, and sat with me on the bunk.

“Not exactly how I wanted to spend our last night together,” I said. We sat together in silence and listened to the carefully orchestrated ballet that was unfolding just behind the stateroom door. Buzz must have been a paramedic, or whatever they called them in the military. They were quiet, but we could tell they were working fast, working against time.

Next thing I knew Ron was shaking my shoulder, telling me to wake up. I must have bolted up because he told me to settle down, be quiet, and to come with him.

Elise was back in the galley, making coffee just then. Scoop was in the aft stateroom; there was an IV hanging above his head, and Buzz was stuffing blood-soaked sterile surgical dressings and wad after wad of bloody gauze pads into a trash bag.

“You got any ideas how to dispose of this stuff, Jimmy?”

I looked at the clock. At three in the morning?

“Make a small fire down on the beach, take a girl and go down and burn the stuff, act like they’re making out.”

“You should have been a spook, Jimbo!” Then: “Can you and Elise take care of that?”

Shaking my head, I got some things to start a fire, a couple of blankets, and my last bottle of 151 rum to help the fire get going. Elise and I went up with the huge trashbag and slipped through the shadows down to the beach. The wind was really kicking up now, and waves were pounding the shore in an endless, thunderous procession, but it wasn’t raining yet. There were a couple of stone fireplaces that had been built who knows when, and I set about getting a small fire going in one of them.

“Tell me if you see the guards coming,” I said, as I thought a fire on the beach in the middle of the night might be enough to get one of the notoriously lazy night watchmen off his can and come down to check it out. I started to toss some of the soiled papers into the fire, and the flames took off with gusto. Unfortunately, the smoke took on a sickly sweet smell, like some kind of weird BBQ was cooking away in the night, and sure enough, the little jeep-like truck by the guard shack sputtered to life.

“Here he comes,” Elise said, “in the truck.”

I tied off the trash bag, thankful that it was black, and carried it over and put it under some heavy fronds that lay on the sand near a stand of palms, and I knew the little jeep-thing had to cross about a quarter of a mile to get to us. I tossed some more wood on the fire, and anything that looked like it would burn as I stoked the fire, then I turned and looked at Elise.

She was slipping her skirt down around her ankles, then pulling her blouse over her head, all the while with that smile on her face.

Okay, interesting move, so I lay down and got to work. In fact, we both got carried away. I’m sure the guard’s view would be more than satisfying, too, something they’d tell their grandchildren about years from now, because there in the firelight, glowing like some berserk orangutan in heat, my bare ass must have looked like an out-of-control oil well pumping away – on top of Elise. I was between her vertically outstretched legs thrashing away like there was no tomorrow, and Elise, God bless her, was wailing away like she was being fucked to death by all of the Green Bay Packers – simultaneously. Anally, even. I mean, I’ve never heard such filth as what was coming out of that girl’s mouth…

And I was lovin’ it! Every filthy fucking syllable of it.

And pretty soon old Krakatoa was ready to thunder again, and Elise looked up at me knowingly, the fire reflecting off her face, dancing in her eyes, and my desire for her built like that fire. She grabbed my cock at one point and squeezed, her fingernails digging in as I drove into her, and by that point I felt like a man possessed, and exploded into a frenzy of tectonic thrashing. Elise’s legs wrapped around my thighs, and I felt her shuddering into her first orgasm. Her back arched, sand flying everywhere, and then her outstretched hands started slamming into the sand.

The verbal barrage started again, only this time in earnest. Elise was streaming a non-stop barrage of extraordinarily vile filth from her mouth, and now she bucked and twisted underneath me like a striking serpent, periodically kicking the backs of my thighs with her heels. I kept growing inside of her. It had been years since my dick had felt like this…it kept getting harder and thicker, then harder still, so hard that it hurt on the inside, and then I knew I was about to explode!

All of a sudden Elise tossed me over on my back and climbed on top. She rode me harder still, her language became insanely vile, then she came again, began screamed in ragged, gasping breaths, screaming in Spanish and French and English – simultaneously! In the fire she looked like some kind of sexually charged demon – totally possessed and hell-bent for the biggest orgasm of her life…

And I was totally in love with her by this point. Madly, deeply – a forever kind of love.

Suddenly she slowed, and I could feel the head of my cock sliding inside her, running gently up to the end of her womb, and the sensation was soon driving us both wild. She took these impossibly long up-strokes, the walls of her vagina milking my cock as she soared above me, rising over and beyond me – then she slammed down as hard as she could, repeatedly, over and over, impaling herself on the rocks, driving my cock deeper and deeper with each renewed plunge.

Then I held her hips down and pumped in furious staccato bursts; I felt my head swelling like a cobra’s, just before it strikes, twitching and dancing – hoping for release – and Elise could feel it, too. She watched my breathing, watched my eyes close, and as the moment drew near she hopped off my groin and slid down between my legs, then jacked my cock savagely – with both hands. She held her head about a foot above my cock as she jacked, he mouth wide open, her tongue searching the air for the scent of it’s prey.

Then Mister Krakatoa did his thing. All I could see were thunderstorms and howling winds in the mists that shot through my orgasm, lightning bolts of lust glowing through partially closed eyes. I looked down in time to see huge ropey blasts arcing up into her mouth. Her eyes and mouth were consumed with greedy lust, her mouth darted to and fro, nabbing little globules that shot through the air in random bursts. Watching her only served to increase the strength of my contractions, and the last few bursts flew up with what felt like tremendous velocity.

She tilted her head back, and in the firelight I could see her playing with my cum in her mouth with her tongue, swirling it around in the wind, making little bubbles with it, reveling in the pure energy of our release, in her total mastery of the essence within me.

Out of the corner of my eye I could see the security guard crouched behind a tree, and I think they had enjoyed the show very much. Indeed, I’m pretty sure he had been playing a solo on the skin flute – to a resounding finale of his own.

+++++

After the guards left, we burned off the rest of the waste and sat around on the blankets watching distant thunderstorms growling in the pre-dawn sky. I guessed the winds to be coming out of the northeast at about thirty knots now, so the center of the depression was drawing near.

This storm was beginning to feel like a beast out there, hunting me. I knew the feeling well enough, well enough to know you didn’t go out and play with it, then I wondered if the pressure was going to go lower, and how fast, and if this little beast was going to turn into a monster, turn into a hurricane.

+++++

When Elise and I returned to Sabrina several guys on their boats started applauding – quietly. Whoa. Like burning medical waste by the beach made us some kind of heros! We jumped onto Sabrina, and grinning Ron met us in the companionway.

“Way to go, sport! Wish I’d had a video of that action – I could make some real money selling shit like that.”

I looked blankly at him. “What?”

Jeez, Sport, you were right there,” he said pointing to a spot about 50 yards away where smoke still rose from the little fireplace. “Everybody in the fuckin’ marina was watching you two go at it, and that security guard. That prick, you know, that fat one, hell, he must’ve jerked off five times!”

Poor Elise! I had no idea a human being could turn into a beet so quickly. She rolled her eyes and darted into the forepeak, slamming the door behind her.

“Fuckin-a, Sport, I’ve never seen anyone cum so much in my life. That ain’t normal!”

“You could see us from here?” I asked, sullenly.

“Well, Sport. Binoculars helped!”

“And the horse you rode in on, Fuller,” I said as I walked forward, following in Elise’s smoking vapor trail.

+++++

We slept until noon. In the raging humidity it felt like we were glued together, only now I could hear a fairly strong wind whistling through the rigging. Sabrina was rocking noticeably now, as well.

I felt her hand reach over my waist, slip to my cock, and she rubbed it slowly. I turned to face her, but she pushed me back down and slid up over my groin and placed my cock on her smooth, moist slit, then she sat down on me slowly – again. She let it stand there in the warmth for a moment, then she started gripping it with her vaginal muscles. She was all very smooth now, very rhythmic, and her intent unmistakable: she was jacking my cock off with her vagina, and not moving her body at all! I was shocked! Never in my life had I heard of anyone doing this, except, of course, in Paris. She looked down in silent majesty, her eyes closed, a sly grin on her face, lost in her control of my desire.

She continued to do this gentle milking motion, maintaining a steady pace for several minutes.

I felt every nerve in my body firing simultaneously, building with an incredible, blinding intensity. Her body remained still – and totally silent – yet her inner muscles kept their steady gripping impulses streaming upward, ever locked to my cock, and I could feel every molecule, every atom inside my head blazing with unexpected sensitivity. There was no motion to interfere with this most pure form of sensation; the gripping motion started at the base of my cock and slowly moved up to the tip, then released and started again. Relentlessly.

I could feel the burning intensity of orgasm start in my balls, the muscles in my anus contracting in almost painful spasm, the boiling eruption ran up the vein along the bottom of my cock and exploded into her cunt, and then my cock began pulsing with a will of its own. I could feel my semen coating the walls of her vagina, coalescing with her juices, forming a new matrix that could only stand to define this new love we had for one another. Stand together for all time, I think you could safely say.

I was so lost in this new world she had just created – for me, for us – that I was almost completely unaware of the shuddering ripples that coursed through her belly. Her outstretched arms rested on my chest, and I could feel her trembling in my heart. I fought to remain still, not to breech the sanctity of this moment, somehow willing it to become our one true place to spend eternity.

I felt her tears on my chest, then on my face as she lowered her face to mine.

Oh, thank you my love. Thank you for this place you gave me.

She seemed to flow onto me, melt away from the very essence of this new place, and I held her close to my heart, but in truth I couldn’t tell where her body ended, and mine began. Perhaps on this errant tide we had fused, fused in some aboriginal coalescence of being, lost to the flow of time.

+++++

By late afternoon word filtered through the marina: our little tropical depression was only a few knots away from hurricane force, and the barometer was falling – rapidly. Ron and the Amigos huddled with me in Sabrina’s salon; we were going over weatherfax charts and listening to single side band broadcasts out of Norfolk and Miami. Winds tonight were forecast at 90 to 100 knots, wave heights up to 25 feet forecast in the Straits – possibly much higher near the axis of the ‘Stream.

I shook my head when I looked at the predicted isobars on the fax. “There’s no way, Ron,” I sighed. “Everyone will die out there if we go.”

“Well, odds are Sport, everyone will either be killed or imprisoned if we stay. We drilled a couple of their security people in order to get these girls out, and I’m afraid the trail will lead here before too long.”

“The only way to do anything like what you’ve got in mind would be to get outside and run down the coast. Run to the west, watch the storm, and cut north or south after we clear the western tip of Cuba.”

“Won’t work, Sport. They could keep us on radar all the way, then those Migs would hit us as soon as the weather calms down. We won’t have indefinite air support, and we won’t have a carrier battle group to hide behind. Like I said, we just need to get about 15 to 20 miles offshore. Then we’re home free.”

“Well then, it’ll depend on the axis of rotation, where the eye is,” Buzz said.

I nodded my head in agreement. “If the north-western radius of the eye wall is over the Straits, I’d say we won’t make it five miles before we’re swamped. Not going beam-to those seas.”

Ron nodded his head in agreement with my analysis. “Jim, I can’t force you to go, I can’t and I won’t. But if you stay, Elise will be dead before the week’s out, and you probably will be, too.”

I nodded my head. “Between a rock and the fucked place, I’d say. We can’t use radar, right?”

“No, that’ll cue them in on us immediately. Navy pukes only want to go active jamming if the MIGs come up. Once that happens, the bad guys won’t be able to see shit on their radar. Besides, with these wave heights I doubt radar will do any good anyway.”

“So how do we find the Battle Group?”

“Jim, all you need to do is lead us right here,” he said, pointing at the chart. “Those ships have got enough mass to shield us, and get all our people on board.”

“What? Do you mean I should abandon ship out there? I can’t do that, Ron.”

“After you drop your people, well, if you decide to head for Key West, that’s your choice. It’s your vessel, Captain. Once your mission is accomplished you can take off or join your group on the carrier. Your life, your choice, Jim. Clear enough?”

“Yeah, clear enough, Ron.”

+++++

After a light dinner, Elise and I made up storm berths for our elderly guests, and we got the wounded Seal strapped into the aft berth. He was pale and clammy, but his vitals were good, and the medic was going to stay on Sabrina through the night, as well.

It was going to get crowded, and crowds on boats are a recipe for trouble. Too many flying elbows, too many hard things to slam into.

I got Buzz and the doc briefed on how to set our storm sails, how to strap into the safety harnesses and attach them to the jack lines. These would keep people attached to the boat if a wave washed them overboard, and hopefully someone would be able to get them back on board. Still, with these winds and the towering waves expected, I doubted the lines would hold.

As darkness fell an elderly couple appeared out of nowhere with Ron at their side; he took them below and with Elise got them strapped in. He came back up a few minutes later and pulled me aside.

“It’s a worse case deal now, Jim. Winds are 85 in town, but 104 in the Strait. The eye wall will transit the Strait, as well, westbound.”

“O.K., Ron. When do you want me to start off?”

“I’d like you to head out in about 30 minutes; I’ll be last out, and I’ll try to keep as close to you as I can. With your displacement, you’ll have the best shot at making it, you might beat the worst of it.”

I held out my hand again and he took it, then pulled himself into me and gave me a quick hug. He pulled back and looked at me again, then said good bye – and was gone.

And I assumed that would be the last time I saw Ron Fuller. Elise came up a few minutes later and kissed me once, then she too disappeared into the wind and the rain.

+++++

The wind gauge in Sabrina’s instrument pedestal showed a steady 80 knots – with frequent gusts over 90 – as we motored out of the marina. We set the storm staysail as we cleared the breakwater, if only to steady the motion a little, and I had sea anchors and a storm drogue set and ready to deploy as well.

As we cleared the breakwater the full force of the wind slammed into Sabrina’s right side, her starboard beam, and the force drove her port beam down into the water. I fell away from the wind a bit and she stood back up as we gathered speed, and the little storm sail bit into the wind and began to pull us back up to a heading close to due North.

Buzz pulled out a little Trimble GPS receiver and we began a plot, but what I saw was an act of pure will. The waves were getting vicious after only a couple hundred yards, and I hoped they would settle down as we made deeper water, but doing even the simplest task had – suddenly – become dangerous. And futile.

But the waves only grew taller, even more pyramidally steep as we slugged our way offshore. The full force of the southeasterly winds and waves ran smack into the east-setting Gulfstream, in effect the two forces colliding. In that perfectly dreadful set of circumstances, the waves instantly built to pyramid shaped mountains – moving mountains – that I guesstimated were already at least 30 feet – and growing. Thirty two was half of Sabrina’s mast height, and I’d never been out in conditions remotely like this before, anywhere, in any type of vessel, and as I looked at the waves my confidence level dropped like a rock. Or more accurately, like the barometer over the chart table.

But now I had to fight the wheel with all of my strength just to keep Sabrina on our baseline course, and as she came to the top of each rolling mountain the full force of the wind would hit her broadside like a freight train – knocking her on her port beam – then the old girl would slice down the backside of the departing wall in a roaring, barely controlled fall. The bow would dive into the next wave, and Sabrina began to fight her way up the face of the next mountain. On the wave-tops the wind shrieked and howled through the rigging, in the troughs Sabrina was awash in a momentary silence, resting before the next roaring onslaught.

At the end of 15 minutes we’d clawed our way perhaps a mile offshore, then I heard a different kind of roar.

I turned and saw three MIG-29s fighting through the storm – turning for our little convoy – but I couldn’t afford to take my eyes off the waves for long and turned back in time to see a huge monster wave breaking just ahead – and braced to meet the force head-on.

+++++

Another several minutes of this, then the roaring sound changed yet again and I turned in time to see a fireball erupt on the surface of the sea several hundred yards behind us. Something had been hit; I saw glowing wreckage on the churning surface of the sea, then I felt the roar of jets as they thundered-by just overhead, but I soon lost them in the storm. I couldn’t see anything now, but I guessed they were turning to the west, to our left, and getting ready to come in again.

I never thought I’d live to be happy to see a Queer coming for me, but when that great gray whale of a jet thundered across Sabrina’s bow I started yelling like crazy. So did Buzz, but the doc and all the rest down below were clueless – as all the hatches were sealed shut – so I doubt they heard anything. Which was a good thing…

…because as I’d watched the Queer streak past I lost concentration and Sabrina wandered up the face of the next rolling mountain, and now heading right up the face of the wave she began to stall. This could lead to an interesting maneuver called ‘pitch-poling’ – kinda of like running down your front yard – doing somersaults – only worse. Forty ton sailboats aren’t real graceful when pitch-poling end over end; point of fact, few people have lived to describe the phenomenon.

The only way out was to surf down the front of the mountain and hope to get out of it’s way before it turned into a breaker – and swamped the boat. This I did, and I even managed to find the groove I had been in and slice through the next set of waves.

Then I felt a concussive boom, and seconds later was aware that a MIG had just gone thundering by right behind us, billowing flares out its belly. The pilot had gone super-sonic – in a hurricane, no less – just a few meters off the surface of this roiling sea.

The guy had balls, that’s all I can say.

Then a double boom, and this one knocked me off my feet. Buzz, too.

Two Navy F14s had just flown directly over our mast, also super-sonic, and had disappeared into the rain, and those were the last airplanes we saw that night. Then I noticed something odd: I couldn’t hear, not a thing, then I saw blood running out of Buzz’s ear canal, and reached up to feel the same coming out of mine.

So, almost an hour gone and the storm was only getting stronger – and – we were approaching nine miles from shore. And now, I was deaf as a post.

What the hell, I thought as I flipped on the radar. About three miles ahead there was the promised armada, and I felt it’s presence like an injected rush of adrenaline-fused joy, a feeling you can’t imagine unless you’ve been there. I steered what looked to me like a good intercept course to the biggest thing out there, surely the carrier, and pointed at the screen so Buzz could come see. I pantomimed ‘radio’ and pointed at the radar; he nodded his head and went to the companionway hatch – and I guess the doc figured out we were both deaf.

+++++

We were driving well across the rolling mountains, yet I sensed the waves were diminishing, slightly but noticeably. I could feel the wind falling too, and saw it drop into the seventies on the dial, then the fifties, and then there were stars overhead. We had hit the eye, and strung out in front of us was the entire United States Navy. Well, some of it, anyway.

The waves were still towering, but I could steer with little effort now and made for the battle group. The hulking carrier was oriented north south, beam to the wind, and the doc indicated that they wanted me to maneuver into the dead spot in the lee created by the mass of the huge ship. Soon she was only a few hundred yards away – a piece of cake, I thought.

But as we got closer I saw that the waves there were still a good twenty plus feet – or more. Not a piece of cake, at all. The doc appeared and indicated a platform on the side of the ship, one of the huge elevators used to take aircraft to and from the hanger deck to the fight deck, and pointed to the mass of people waving at us. There were hoists rigged, and men in rescue-diving gear were waiting to be lowered onto Sabrina’s deck.

We slipped behind the carrier and fell into a windless island of near-sane sea conditions. Lines were thrown, men lowered. Medics dropped down, then lowered a litter to hoist up their wounded comrade. The elderly Cubans were hoisted up next. Then the doc. Soon only Buzz was there, standing next to me, pushing me to the hoists, pointing up.

I shook my head, and pointed at Sabrina, and stood my ground.

He nodded his head then was gone. I watched as he lifted off Sabrina’s deck, was carried aloft into the arms of his comrades. Their was one last Navy man there with me.

“What about the rest?” I called out.

He bunched his lips, shook his head.

“Anyone?” I yelled.

He shook his head again.

I felt cold inside, pulled out my chart, told the man I was heading for Key West.

He shook his head, pointed at the carrier with a hitchhikers thumb.

I shook my head again, said an emphatic Good Bye and the man hooked himself into the last hoist – then he did the wildest thing. He saluted me, right there in the eye of a hurricane.

So, what the hell, I saluted him right back – before I jumped behind the wheel.

In a heartbeat Sabrina was free of the lee, and I engaged the motor and bore off to the north. The big carrier silently slipped away, and in an instant Sabrina and I were back in the belly of the beast. I turned one last time to look at the huge gray ship, hoping against hope for one last glimpse of Elise.

But no, of course she was gone. Elise, Ron – and Pedro. Another boy, claimed by the sea. I felt sick, sick and tired of Death and his dominion…

…but the wind slammed home again as the eye passed, the waves rose up in earnest anger once again, perhaps mad at having been cheated out of more victims. Buzz had left his little GPS by the helm, and it was giving me a true heading to Key West. I put Sabrina’s nose on 12 degrees magnetic and off we went, heading slightly into the wind. According to the little unit, we had about seventy five miles to go. Maybe 15 hours, if I was lucky enough to survive that long.

I kept the radar on, thinking there was no need to run around blind out here with all these Navy ships steaming through the straits, and it was peaceful in an odd sort of way: not hearing the wind, relying on sight and touch to feel my way through the storm, some of it’s anger spent now. I’d never had any real idea just how much hearing played a role in sailing, or anything else, for that matter, until that night. You take things for granted until they’re gone.

Had I taken Elise and Pedro for granted? And Ron Fuller, too? I thought of that glowing mass – Blade Runner’s final resting place – and I thought I saw a flashing Cheshire Cat’s grin afloat in the storm, passing by on a gust. I could just make out the carrier on radar – yet there was already more than ten miles between us – and growing, but now all I could see in my mind’s eye was a woman I had loved – disappearing in a flash of thunder.

We had said ‘Good Bye,’ hadn’t we?

No. She had slipped away from me. Slipped away like the wind. All that love. The hope she brought to my life, gone now, without even a passing nod.

Yet Sabrina was not just a boat, not to me, anyway. She was my home, and in an odd way, she was my life. I took care of her, and in her way she took care of me. What had we just done together? Crossed one of the most foul, storm-tossed bodies of water – under the most horrid conditions imaginable? Then it hit me like a body-blow: Ron and the Amigos? Gone?

Dead? Dead and gone? All of them – gone? Just like that? The Storm? The MIGs? What had claimed those poor souls? Was someone looking for survivors?

And then, softly at first, I could hear the wind. The sound was distant and hollow at first, but sounds of the sea and my little ship were returning to consciousness, but I struggled to contain the random stream of anguished thoughts that came to me as I steered.

Hours later and I could make out the mass of Key West ahead on the radar, and I adjusted my heading to keep far to the west. The wind remained constant now, though in the mid-forties, and I could make out the looming gray horizon under walls of scudding cloud. Sabrina was like a horse headed for the barn now; hungry, thirsty, and wanting very badly to be done with this ride. I reached down and rubbed her teak coaming, thanked her for the sheltering grasp she kept on her passengers throughout our wild, malicious night.

Then the Sun was setting, winds were abating, and soon the island resolved through the last shrouds of mist. I sailed through the empty anchorage and dropped my hook on the north side of the town, sheltered Sabrina from the remnants of the storm as best I could. I set as many anchors as I dared, shut down the engine, and reeling with exhaustion, made my way forward and curled up on the berth.

+++++

In my dream, I heard someone’s voice calling out to me.

“Hey c’mon, time to wake up!”

I hate dreams like that, you know, the ones that feel like real life, almost cinematic in their vibrant intensity? But there was this man, shaking my shoulders, imploring me to get my ass outta the sack.

He wouldn’t stop. I wanted him to go away. I opened my eyes, knew that would make the dream go away, but there he was, shaking me.

“Go away.” I managed to say before I shut my eyes again and rolled away from him.

“GET UP! NOW!” the voice said, and I shot bolt upright.

“What are you doing here?” I said to the stranger.

“We need to talk.”

“What are you doing here.” I said again, still deep in the fogs of ‘not enough sleep,’ and desperately wanting to get back there. “Go away.”

“We need to talk, sir.”

Whatever it was, it wasn’t going away. Oh, what the hell, I needed to take a leak anyway.

“Jim, can you hear me?”

“Yeah, I hear you.”

“Get some clothes on, Jim. You’ve been asleep for thirty hours!”

“No shit?”

I was sitting on the edge of the berth, and the man – in a Navy uniform, no less – just shook his head in apparent disgust before he turned away and walked into the saloon. He left the door open and I could see several men standing around in the saloon, and over the stove in the galley. Some wore uniforms, some were in suits, and no one knew how to work the stove.

This was, I told myself, rapidly turning into one of those really shitty, hyper-realistic nightmares. But then I smelled coffee. And – cheeseburgers? My idea of the nightmare from hell! I was still in my foul-weather gear, and became acutely aware that I smelled like a goat, that my skin was covered in greasy, salt-encrusted sweat, and that I was in dire need of the head. I slipped out of my foulies and hopped in the shower. I knew the hot-water system was shut down, but turned on the sump pump and flipped the water on.

Hot water streamed out of the shower head. I looked out the portlight in the shower compartment and saw that I was tied up to a pier. I started to blink my eyes really rapidly then, trying to clear away the foggy remnants of my dream. All of a sudden I realized that I was alive, and that there were a bunch of official looking types down below.

I soaped up, rinsed, brushed my teeth, shaved, and finally – cut loose a really big fart.

Ah, now I was awake! It’s always amazed me that I’m not ever fully awake until I fart – the bigger the better. Anyway, I pulled on some shorts and slipped a t-shirt over my still damp frame, ran a brush through the hairs that hadn’t jumped ship yet – all eight of them – and stepped out into the cabin.

Some navy type shoved some coffee my way, and asked me to take a seat

They had, it turned out, all sorts of questions to ask me. The operation had been a success, but several boats had been hit by the MIG and were lost. The MIG had been shot down by Navy F14s, and there was a very serious clusterfuck in progress between Washington and Havana, but the Navy had picked up the downed Cuban airman, and ruffled feathers had been smoothed.

All of the refuges on my boat, and three others, had been spirited away to someplace in Virginia and would be out of touch for a long, long time. The Cubans could never learn what had happened, who had been smuggled out, or lives here and in Cuba would be put at risk.

A suit from the Justice Department slid a document to me across the salon table. Sign this, he said, indicating that I had been informed about ultra-top-secret information and I had to sign a non-disclosure agreement, agree to keep what I knew to myself.

I signed the paper and slid it back to him.

“So that’s it?” I said. “That’s all there is?”

A Navy captain sitting across from me spoke next. “Jim, here’s the problem. Bunch of reporters were down here covering the storm and they saw your boat come in, then Cuba started screaming about a bunch of boats leaving the country illegally, then the MIG crap came out and the press boys are screaming to talk to anyone involved. Get the picture?”

“Yeah. What do you want me to do?”

All of the men in the salon visibly relaxed. I guess they had been afraid I’d try to capitalize on the situation, maybe go for a movie of the week deal, hell, I don’t know.

“Well, Mr Madison,” said an Admiral (I assumed so – by the number of stars visible on his khaki collar), “I just wanted to thank you. Your country thanks you, and owes you big-time. Oh, by the way, there’s a rumor you’re related to President James Madison. Would that be true, sir?”

“I’ve heard that rumor, too, sir.”

The admiral smiled, shook my hand then left, and soon only the Navy captain and a casually dressed man remained. I just sat there, lost in the realization that I would never see Elise again.

“Jim, this puke over here is from the Agency, and he’s got a check with your name on it. No amount filled in. Name a figure, or let him do it, but we owe you big time for what you did.”

“I don’t want anything, sir. Never have.”

“I understand.”

The agency bean counter sat there, pen in hand poised over his check.

I just waved my hand at him. “Put that away, would you?”

The man wrote an amount on the check, then turned it over and slid it to me. It sat there like an insinuation, glowing with tainted evil.

Then I saw there were still men in the cockpit, Navy ratings working on something by the wheel.

“What are they doing up there?” I asked the captain.

“They’re putting in some stuff for you. A GPS chartplotter and a satellite phone. We want you to know where you are, how to call us if you need us. Anytime, anywhere,” the bean counter smiled.

“I reckon there are some heavy strings attached?”

“Not at all, sir. But in case somebody finds out what happened, who was involved, and they want to toss a little revenge your way. No big deal, really.”

“I don’t suppose there’s something in that stuff that’ll tell you where I am, huh?”

The spook just grinned, then looked away. I was shocked just how much like Ron they guy looked. By the way…did I ever tell you how irritating that grin of his was? No? Sure I did…

+++++

Sabrina lay at anchor off Nassau, in the Bahamas, on a late September day. It had been almost four months since the flight from the Marina Hemingway, since I’d last seen Elise, yet not a day went by that I didn’t think of her.

I’d left Key West almost immediately, and I missed her help getting Sabrina ready for sea again. Everywhere I looked I saw her, felt her presence, and every time this happened I had to turn away from her ghost. I replaced a few worn items in the rigging, fittings that had been stressed in the storm, but I had wanted to get all that behind me. I flew up to Ft Lauderdale and visited Mom and Dad, and told Dad the whole story over drinks.

Dear old Dad, ever the realist. So, what was his first comment?

“What did you do with check?”

Like I said. A realist. “Nothing, yet, Dad. It’s still in my wallet.”

“Want me to set something up with it? I can talk to my broker over at…”

“Dad, I was thinking of giving it to the Salvation Army, or maybe the Communist Party of Central Iowa. Or maybe setting up a fund for knocked-up nuns.”

Big frown. “How much?”

“I never looked, Dad.”

Even deeper frown. “You’ve got it with you?”

I nodded.

Look of total disgust. “Let me see it.”

I never argued with Dad. Futile. Very futile. I took the folded check out of my wallet and slid it over to him.

He opened it up and whistled. It takes a lot to get Dad to whistle, so of course now I was curious.

“If I were you, I think I’d get on the next flight down to Grand Cayman and do something with that. It’s drawn on a Cayman bank, by the way, just in case you’re wondering.” He was spreading the sarcasm a little thickly, I thought, as he slid it back to me.

O.K., I’m weak. I turned it over and looked at the numbers.

I whistled. “Shit…that’s a lot of zeros…”

+++++

Dad sailed over to the Bahamas with me, and it was to be our last trip together on Sabrina. He stayed with me for three weeks, even got in the water and went snorkeling a time or two. He reminisced and groused about his arthritis. We talked, we listened, we got to know one another again. One of the rare things a boat does well – bring people together.

“I guess that Hemingway thing kinda made up for those poor people on the raft,” he said one evening as the Sun was racing for the horizon. “God, I’ll never forget that day.”

“Neither will I, Dad – not ever.”

I watched Dad moving around the boat, the awkward way he moved now, the joints in his feet and fingers swollen with arthritis, the labored breathing as he worked the sails. I hated to watch him endure the humiliation of getting old – men as full of life as he must be so keenly affected by the process. I thought of him and Mom, together since the end of the second World War. How love, true love, comes to so few people. The American landscape was littered with the flaming remains of divorced and shattered families in this, the closing years of our brief American Century. The Golden Age of the Divorce Lawyer, I thought. Disposable values, disposable families – disposable civilization.

But how valuable, how dear true love is, and how common loneliness had become.

And now, there were no Elise’s on my horizons. Only an empty sky, and endless oceans waited.

A few days later I pumped up the Zodiac and ran Dad to the plane for Lauderdale. Life is so short, but damn! He had lived every minute of it to the full. He and my mother had lived through so much, seen so much change, yet in the end they’d only grown stronger together. What happened, I wondered, to the rest of us?

+++++

I wandered through the Bahamas for a few months, stopping every now and then to take in a sunset or pick up some food at a local market. I’m one of those people: I try to fish, I throw a line in the water and I can hear the fish laughing. Give me a market or I’ll starve.

I met new people along the way, made a friend here and there. Couples and lots of single men. Lonely single men, and couples that bickered at one another. What a scene. What a choice.

Why does it seem as if we are so intent on carrying our problems with us everywhere we go? Every now and then I’d meet a couple so very happily in love it was a joy to watch. They would come to me like a painting, like a stylized tableau of hope idealized, and eternity reconciled. Too, every now and then I’d run into a man or woman very happy with their solo wanderings, not lonely at all, just in love with exploring the world around them. Meeting people so different from themselves. Happy in themselves, though, and happy to be alive.

I envied them, because I felt I’d never find that kind of peace again. I’d touched the contours of such happiness when I held Elise in my arms, but then the thought struck me one day: I’d have never been happy with Elise, or anyone else, until I could find happiness within myself.

True, it’s a cliché, but that doesn’t make it any less valid. So. where would my wanderings take me, if only right back into the arms of my waiting cynicism?

+++++

With Christmas coming on, I headed east towards the British Virgin Islands, toward the Bitter End Yacht Club, a hotel, restaurant and watering hole famous throughout the eastern Caribbean as a grand place to pass the time, and to do so in good company. Hurricane season was over, the waters as I approached the Virgins unbelievably blue, the sky warm and clear, and the feeling carried a smile to my heart.

After six months away from Cuba, I was reconciled to a life of solo explorations. I would spend my days photographing people and their homes and lives, walking the towns and villages of small islands by day, reading about their culture at night, and taking care of Sabrina. I was, however, after more than a week at sea looking forward to lavishing some TLC on me.

Navigating the last approaches to the Virgins during the morning, I charted our way to the Bitter End, hoping to arrive by late afternoon. The day remained clear and beautiful, the sea grew swimming-pool blue the closer to land we came, and the islands, once so far away, now surrounded us in green embrace.

Threading my way through moored boats with the late afternoon Sun on my back, I dropped sail and squared away the deck, made ready the dock lines. I approached the local fuel dock and cut power early, drifted toward the dock, then backed down to a soft landing. I tossed the dock lines to Pedro, and went to shut down the diesel.

“Pedro? Pete?” I said, looking up…

“Hey, it’s Puddknocker! Look what the cat dragged in!”

I turned toward that Cheshire Cat grin floating in the mist, and dared not hope…

But yes, Elise was standing there in the palest blue sun-dress, the deep gold afternoon turning her gossamer form into a misty, ghostlike shadow that stood before me in the beauty of her eternal creation. Suddenly I couldn’t see her my eyes were so full of tears, and I was laughing and crying as she flew from the dock into Sabrina’s welcoming arms.

And mine.

I held her with all the force of a hurricane as her mouth found mine, and she wrapped a leg behind my thighs as we fused in the fiery sunlight. Through the shimmering waterborne world of my eyes, it looked as though the world had turned to flame.

“Well, there they go again, Señor Ron,” Pedro said with that little snort laugh of his.

“Shit, I forgot to bring a video camera – again!”

Ignoring the world around us, Elise pulled my swim suit down, reached for me with the desperation of soaring passion long denied. She pushed me down to the cockpit seats, and when she had the situation well in hand she moved her body over mine.

“C’mon kid, Krakatoa is rumbling and we better get outta here,” I heard Ron saying as they scuttled up the white stone steps that led through windblown trees to the hotel.

“Say, Pudd,” I heard him say, “we’ll be up by the pool, and we gotta talk! I heard about this new marina…”

Sure thing, Ron. Be right up…lot’s to talk about, indeed…

Eternity is the road I walk; the way ahead glows in the light of our creation. I held that gentle light in my arms, and caressed her soul while the earth shook.

(C) 2005-2016 AdrianLeverkühn | abw

10 thoughts on “The Hemingway Maid (’16)

  1. Good thing I turned in my reports yesterday, seeing how your stories are bad for my productivity. I looked up the Prowler – still in service. Must be a real headache keeping them flying.

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  2. Posting now turned out to be quite meteorologically (sp?) timely. To picture the conditions the convoy endured as they left Hemingway Marina all you have to do is tune in to any of the weather or news channels to see a hurricane in action.

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    • What amazes me – so far – is that this storm looks like it’s going to hit FL tomorrow, Friday, then double back on itself and hit FL again next Tuesday. Kind of unprecedented for a storm outside the Gulf of Mexico to do that…at least in my memory.
      I don’t like hurricanes. Frightening – if you’ve never been through one, keep it that way!

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      • A couple hit Cape Cod when we still lived there, but I was a little boy, and my only real memory of them is that our house was one of the few with a generator, and our house always being full of neighbors until the power came back. Shortly after our daughter was born we were living in Seacoast NH, and got hit hard by the Perfect Storm. That was a wild ride.

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