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Did the CIA KILL Kennedy?
The Devil To Pay
Gene J. Parola
The OFFICIAL WEBSITE
Matt led a pretty interesting life, but it had certainly never been this interesting. Until yesterday, he had not seen an automatic weapon up close. But now, in less than one normally tranquil, tropical night, his life had been threatened by two.
She stared at him over the muzzle of the Uzi and as he raised his hands, the last remnant of the torn shirt fell away and he stood naked before her.
Once I had thought to begin this report there. My editor had approved that lead when it was a Sunday feature piece. But before it got to print, the several smelly aspects that made up the larger hard news story caused everything to be safely snuffed out. With no explanation.
Sven, the delivery captain, had called it incident number two in his testimony before the Coast Guard Board of Inquiry. But it was actually number four as it related to Gull's delivery. And that series of events, however harrowing and terminal, paled almost to insignificance when placed in the larger context.
And that context began to form in the 1963 meeting at the Chinese restaurant on I Street in D.C. But I have only Carlos' word about that parley. The official records of both sides are, of course, silent about it. No surprise there. And Carlos has never surfaced since the shooting in the wee hours of that pivotal Miami night years later.
But, Leda’s discovery is not the best place to begin this longer version, because Matt would never have been confronted by the Uzi except for errors and chance. Had the giant not mistaken her for his actual target, the power cruiser would not have been a derelict. And if not for Diego's single wild shot disabling the radio, Sven would never have risked stopping at the derelict.
Leda's entry into the affair, while dramatic and early, is not so significant as the pivotal role she played later, at what one Agency report referred to as the "Biscayne Incident".
As for the other women, Flash and the party girl, are not starters either, for they flip into the deck--cards being shuffled--space and time separating them. And there they stay until all are dealt in the single hand played in the dark lower deck of the burning casino ship. That one of them was a trump card, impacts Gull's story only after the fact and she had no effect on the final moonlit confrontation in the Gulf Stream months later.
But, Sybil.... Sybil was the wildest of cards.
Sven was bound, he felt, to relate to the Coast Guard Board Of Inquiry only what he, the Captain, had seen and heard, so he hadn't counted the incident that occurred in the morning before he and Matt arrived at Gull's anchorage.
In separate interviews both men started with the next one.
The engine noise had long since made conversation impossible and the vibration plus the heat from the tropical sun had lulled Matt into a drowsy haze. He hadn't been sure what had aroused him, the pilot's rapping on the side window or Sven leaning over him to squint against the glare of the sun speckled sea below. At first Matt saw only the glare, but then the pilot made a wide banking turn and as the plane came between the sun and the sea, he saw the white cabin cruiser, 55 or 60 feet long, lying partially submerged in a small cove.
Suddenly all the sensations of flight intensified as the plane dropped down to skim breathtakingly close astern of the sunken boat.
"Gaviota," Sven shouted as they passed the gleaming lettering on the transom. Matt had no chance to respond for the roaring engine was straining now to regain altitude.
"Did you see anyone?" the pilot shouted as he leveled off.
"Not on deck," Matt yelled back.
"Most likely anyone still on that barge would be on deck. She's listin’ ta almost 45 degrees," Sven observed.
The pilot completed another turn and now began a long shallow descent, this time rumbling past the length of the boat, 20 or 30 feet off her starboard side and hardly more than that above the water. At the last minute he pulled up sharply over the mildly sloping beach and the low scrub growth that passed for trees on the small Bahamian cay.
Gaviota rested on the bottom, listing sharply to port in 7 or 8 feet of water at her stern, her high bow thrust awkwardly out of the rapidly shoaling water of the cove. Her anchor line was still stretched taut against the pull of the elevated bow.
"Ain't nobody on her, Pete," Sven shouted to the pilot. "Couldn't stand up with her listin' that bad. Woulda gone ashore. Anyway, they'd aheard us the first pass we made and woulda come topside if they was lookin’ fer help."
Pete, trying to raise Nassau on the radio, seemed to sense the finality of Sven's evaluation and having regained altitude, set his course for Elbow Cay.
"Somethin's funny," Sven muttered in Matt's ear. "Can't put my finger on it, but somethin' ain't right about that boat."
Sven enjoyed that special dispensation that nature has bestowed on the male half of the race. He languished in that temporal matinee of robust middle agelessness; maintaining a physical virility under a great mane of wild blonde hair that had only lately surrendered its edges to the inevitable gray. But the shaggy black brows asserted his Mother’s Italian genetic contribution.
Sven had spent his entire life around boats. In the early years he sailed as cabin boy with his Down East, Maine grandfather on one of the last square riggers; as a young adult, the captain of a wealthy man's yacht; his middle years since, primarily as a surveyor and as a specialist for the various Maritime museums around the country, one of which always needed his counsel on some aspect of the rapidly disappearing world of great sailing ships.
In between these bouts with the suit and tie world, he did what he liked best to do--deliver sailing yachts from one place to another. While he spent much of the time grousing about the poor seamanship displayed by most pleasure boaters, he privately enjoyed the task of preparing a craft for a long distance voyage and took great satisfaction in knowing that when the boat was safely delivered it would be in better shape than when he came aboard.
"Nassau says no Mayday report received." Pete yelled. "How long do you figure she's been there, Sven?"
"Hard ta tell fer sure." Sven paused to think. "Not much seagull crap on her yet and very little build-up of sand on the windward side of her hull. Maybe she's been there two or three high tides, not mor'n three though."
Sven's powers of observation fascinated Matt. They were so subconscious, yet so keen. The plane had swooped past the derelict twice at high speed by any measure, and Sven's all encompassing gaze had amassed enough data to fill several typewritten pages if anyone wanted or needed to know that much.
The two men were an unlikely pair, the Down Easter who lived off a depth and breadth of life experience and Matt, the computer type, whose experience was largely theoretical.
They had teamed up quite by accident on a delivery five years before and Matt had been such an eager pupil that Sven had called upon him with increasing regularity when he needed a delivery crew. The label 'computer whiz' allowed Matt to enjoy a very flexible work schedule and since his fledgling business had grown large enough to support a manager, he thought little of taking two weeks off to help Sven run a boat down the Intracoastal Waterway or for even longer trips--with a little notice.
Matt’s trim athletic build and his dark good looks were also in contrast with the blond Viking quality of his older colleague. The two men, like many teams, found strength in their opposing characteristics.
Matt had made a habit of sharpening his own critical eye on each trip he made with Sven. As his powers of observation and analysis had improved, it had become a game between the men to attempt to figure out as much about a boat owner as possible from the way he kept and operated his craft. The effort had paid off for Matt in more ways than one. He now found himself applying his sharpened abilities to his entire world of experience.
"I'll report Gaviota to the Island police and ask around among my insurance company friends," Pete broke in again.
"Ayeah," Sven observed, "ya oughta get a few bucks ‘finder’s fee’."
"That's you down there," Pete responded, pointing beyond the window to the right, and he began a slow, banking turn.
Matt got first sight of the boat they had come for as she appeared in the transparent rectangle for a moment. She lay in a shallow cove created by the two arms of the narrow angular island that, along with several others, was called Elbow Cay. He mentally reviewed the fact sheet that Sven had sent him in the letter inquiring about his availability. Boat name: Gull; 40' on the water line, 60' overall, cutter rig, with a bowsprit, (a modified Herreschoff design), wooden hull, diesel power, latest electronics.... The list went on and at the bottom: Location: Elbow Cay, 24 degrees, 08 minutes North Latitude, 78 degrees, 25 minutes West Longitude, Bahamas Islands. Destination: No Name Port, Key Biscay, Florida.
"S'funny," Sven remarked.
"What?" Matt asked, straining to see.
"Look at her."
Pete, having flown a little beyond the island, banked again and began a long low return glide past the anchored boat searching the shallow water for coral heads.
The plane flashed past; the anchored boat flashed accordingly in and out of view. Matt leaned across the narrow aisle as the plane leveled, then banked to start the landing approach. His pulse had suddenly quickened. Elements of the scene below were contradictory and as he straightened up in his seat he became aware of the 'gaze'.
Sven, instead of looking out of the window, studied Matt's furrowed face and waited--a small smile playing at the corner of his mouth.
"One?" he said.
"No awning," replied the younger man.
"Two?" Sven barked.
"She's anchored perpendicular to the tide flow. She's straining both her anchors in this ebb."
"The dink is fouled under the stern anchor line."
"Companion way hatch closed and boarded."
"No one aboard, unless he's got an air conditioner."
"But the dink is tied astern, so how could he have gone ashore?"
"Swam!" Sven declared and shouted, "Five?" again.
"No tracks on the beach below the high water mark and darn few above it that are fresh. OK so he got tired of waiting for us and left in another boat."
"Looks that way," Sven agreed, as the plane taxied past the tethered dinghy. But Matt knew his friend was not happy with the deduction.
Pete stepped deftly to the starboard pontoon, released the anchor from its mount and cast it off. The plane, having just lost its forward motion, began to drift aft in the 2 to 3 knot tidal current as Pete payed out anchor line. He snubbed the line, stopping the plane before it could foul Gull's stern anchor rode.
Sven poised on the port pontoon, a boat hook in his hand. "Damn fool thing to do," he growled as he stretched to reach the lashing on the dinghy's cover. "Gimmie a hand here, will ya?" he asked as Matt slipped out of the plane. "When I pull it free of that rode, it'll want to drift with the tide. Get a hand on it if ya can."
The dinghy cover was expensive. Two flexible bows, one fore and one aft, held the cover in a gentle curve to insure rain runoff. The tide had caught the small boat under, and perpendicular to the anchor line and raised it up so that the line compressed the cover between the two bows. The higher it rose on the tide, the tighter it had been caught.
With first a push and then a pull, Sven disengaged the pretty little wooden boat from its trap and muscled it, stern to tide, in Matt's direction.
"When ya get the cover loose, take the end of the lashin' an' tie it to the pontoon strut. We’ll dump our gear in an’ retrieve it later when we’re aboard," he ordered. "I'll get yer bag and bed roll."
The dinghy's painter was long enough for the little boat to have swung free beyond the anchor line, but strangely, it was tied up short to the larger boat. A flood of puzzling new questions preoccupied Matt as he fumbled at the lashings with one hand and held the boat against the tide with the other.
Many knowledgeable yachtsmen anchored fore and aft in these waters when the channel was too narrow for the boat to swing on her hook. Another common practice was to drop two anchors an appropriate distance apart in line with the tidal flow, then lead both rodes forward so that the boat pivoted end-for-end with the tide, but remained virtually in the same spot.
Only a dolt would anchor perpendicular to the flow, Matt thought heatedly.
"And why cover a beautiful cedar dink in this heat?" he asked aloud as Sven approached.
"Ta keep th’ rain out."
"And keep the fungus alive and well inside. Hold this will you? This guy couldn't even tie a square knot. Look at this mess."
The narrow pontoon allowed no room for Sven to deposit the armload of sleeping bags, so he squatted, compressing them between his torso and thighs, thus freeing his hand to hold the dinghy.
"I thought you said this guy was a sailor?" Matt muttered.
"Don't know this new fella. This Ramariez. He just come aboard a few months ago."
"Finally!" Matt lifted the edge of the cover, pulling to slack the line all around, and then he peered into the shadowy depths. Suddenly he stopped and looked over his shoulder at Sven. "Does Pete know Ramirez?"
"Better call him. I need an identification more than an introduction."
And so it had begun--even before they had gotten aboard Gull.
Pete had somehow known how to handle things and after a lengthy exchange on the radio with the police in Nassau, he went on about his business. Sven and Matt sat in the sweltering sun for two hours, unable to do anything in preparation for their departure except to immediately weigh the offending stern anchor and stow it on the foredeck. Then they waited for the police helicopter to arrive. Finally it did.
"And how long will you be at Dinner Key, Mr. Olafson?" The Bahamian policeman was very precise; a replica, he was sure, of his predecessor, Major Barnes.
Barnes, a relic of the English presence, had not gone with the flag. When the Union Jack came down in Nassau for the last time and was sent home to Parliament, a few white colonials who had been good at making black friends had managed to stay. Barnes had been one--respected for his efficiency and even-handedness in enforcing the white man’s law.
But he was gone now too--replaced by Inspector Brown.
"Just long enough ta cash th’ owner's check, Inspector, an’ visit a few friends who live aboard there," Sven replied as he eyed the too-polished, too-young police official who posed rather absurdly in Gull's cockpit--consulting his too-lengthy notes.
"Then back to Boston?"
"Dorchester, just outside of Boston," Matt chimed ,hoping to hurry the process.
"Ah, yes. And Matthew Blair.” Matt winced at the sound of his full name but looked steadily at the posing youth before him. Sitting in a pool of sweat, he studied the cocky young official whose milky blackness was in mild contrast to his pressed, white uniform. A descendent of an escaped slave girl and an English shop owner, Inspector Brown had graduated from the Police Academy in London. Now at age 24 with a purchased rank and an inflated sense of self-importance, he stood in Gull's cockpit wasting the last crucial hours of day. A day that had been slipping away ever since the ghastly face of the dead Ramirez had first appeared in the dinghy’s bottom.
"I may have to fly back to Boston without Sven. Since we lost today we'll be delayed in getting back," Matt concluded pointedly.
Inspector Brown had stood in the sun soaked cockpit for two hours, listening, asking questions and taking notes. Even when he went below to poke gingerly into the messy piles of groceries and spare parts that littered the cabin sole, no trace of perspiration dared wilt his collar nor dampen his armpits.
"But we may contact you again. The investigation is not closed." Then turning to Sven: "Three days, at most to Florida, Captain?" He continued, not waiting for Sven to reply, "We shall talk again then."
He pocketed the notebook and stepping deftly up onto the cockpit seat and over the teak splashboard, he straddled the lifeline a moment then jumped awkwardly into the inflatable. The small boat reacted badly and he abruptly sat down on the thwart. And just as abruptly the coxswain cranked the outboard to life and the boat sped away toward the waiting helicopter--the inspector sitting, knees primly together, almost comically erect in the bow.
"About damn time," growled Sven.
The end of English influence in the islands had done nothing, in Sven's opinion, to improve the speed of minor minions in the Civil Service. In fact, it now took noticeably more time, if one were white, to transact any sort of business--a circumstance that tended to enrage Sven. His narrow conception of economics and his memories of the prevailing poverty of these same islanders, made him very impatient with the new Bahamians who appeared to bite the tourist hand that fed them, particularly the yachtsman tourist. And it was Sven’s streak of Yankee stubbornness that made him choose to meet Gull at Elbow Cay--to avoid a Nassau Customs agent who had insulted him years ago.
"Wasted the whole damn day. It'll take ‘til dark now just ta clear a path ta a berth."
The statement was only a small exaggeration. They had arrived just after two p.m. and two hours had passed before Inspector Brown arrival. Now another two hours had been lost to the inquiry. And the boat below deck was a jumbled mess.
According to the prior arrangements, Gull was to be ready to sail upon their arrival. Ramirez was to have been flown back to Nassau by their pilot and they were to have put to sea immediately. Sven had agreed to such an arrangement only because he had moved this particular boat several times before and knew it and the owner well. The yacht was well found, well maintained and sailed regularly. Ramirez, a Cuban refugee, could not enter the U.S. but had been hired full time so that when the yacht was in the islands, it would have a resident crew and not be left unattended when the owner and his guests had to hasten back home to commitments on short notice. Another Cuban immigrant maintained the boat in Florida but never sailed with her because of his young family.
The delivery crew stood in the cockpit squinting down the companionway hatch.
Gull’s cockpit was flanked by two seats seven feet long with a cross seat aft of the helm to complete a horseshoe shape which was closed at the forward end by a raised bridge deck running in a gentle hump athwart ship. This bridge deck was some ten inches higher than the cockpit seats where it met them at each forward end. The companionway, shuttered by two small folding doors, opened off the bridge deck at the center, its steep steps protected by a sliding hatch cover made of narrow, matched planks of finely fitted teak. A few feet forward the first of two transparent, hinged hatch covers gave light and air to the large main saloon below. At about mid-ship, the mast jutted through the teak planking of the cabin top and a Fiberglas deck box nestled aft of it under the gooseneck fastener of the high boom.
The forward hatch and the chocks for the dinghy spotted the fore-deck. A roller furled genny, anchored to the butt of the bow sprit and functioning as a staysail was teamed with a roller furled jib at the tip of the sprit.
Sven spoke first. "No use putting up the awnin' now. Sun'll shine right under it. Let's get a coupla wind scoops in the hatches though. Mebby it'll cool it enough for us ta work down there."
The men had moved forward to the commodious deck box just aft the mast and had begun to unlatch the top when the last throb of the police chopper faded, panting away toward Nassau.
Suddenly a quiet tropical evening was in the offing and a serenity descended on the anchorage that only a sailor knows. Both men straightened a moment as if to retune dulled senses. Subconsciously, they each scanned the horizon, cast a weather eye to the sky, then bent again to the locker and the series of tasks at hand.
Soon, two nylon scoops were gulping the fresh breeze, funneling it into the steaming bowels of the yacht where the men stood staring uncertainly at the chaos before them.
Gull was a beautifully built boat. Her mahogany joinery gleamed in the late sun pouring in horizontally through the portholes. Matt stood to the left of the ladder in front of the chart table which nestled aft beneath the bridge deck. Above the table a short row of books--light lists, island pilots, almanacs--shared a shelf with a VHF radio, a wind speed indicator, a combination depth-finder/anchor alarm and a compact stereo system. At a point directly under the ladder, the transparent lid of a circuit breaker box glowed with red pilot lights.
Along the port quarter a settee, with a deep, richly upholstered seat and a high back, was strewn with books, sound tapes, magazines and odds and ends which had been pulled from the rail-protected shelf running the length of the main cabin above it.
Amidships portside, finely crafted mahogany locker doors stood agape, the contents disheveled or dumped on the sole in front of them.
On the starboard quarter, a pilot berth was tucked into the space beneath the bridge deck and starboard cockpit seats. Its mattress, pillow and linen had been piled at the shadowy aft end in order to gain access to a locker underneath. Spare engine parts from that space were strewn about--some with split plastic bags allowing the grease coated contents to defy quick remedy.
Forward of the berth, a U-shaped settee semi-surrounded a teak dinette table, one-half of its hinged top folded over the other half, and piled high with the contents of lockers that formed the settee back rests. The shelf above had again been emptied onto the disarray of settee cushions. A section of the banister-like rail of finely turned spindles had been ripped from the shelf and it hung perilously from one shattered end by a single gleaming brass screw
Beyond that, the galley--its gimbaled stove tilted under the imbalanced load of utensils and packaged food--suffered the same abuse in every respect as the neighboring areas. Foil wrapped packets had been removed from the freezer built into the back of the forward curve of the dinette settee. They sat defrosting on the flat surface above it. The galley sink and cupboards were backed up against a short bulkhead running down the centerline forming a narrow companionway with the lockers to port. Beyond, a door closed off the forward compartment. Inside it, to starboard was the head, opposite, to port, a hanging locker. The V-berths were commodious but the space between them at the door was the only place in the boat without full headroom. The most forward of the transparent hatch covers opened there onto the foredeck and it was through that, and over the piles of spillage round-about, that they had hung one of the wind scoops.
"Look on the navigation table there an' see if ya can find a stores log, Matt."
"Got it," he replied after a short shuffle. He opened the small spiral binder and quickly scanned the lists of supplies and spare parts.
"Jesus, it'll take a week to stow all this again." Matt leafed through page after careful page, each locker identified by name or location and a list of items stored therein.
"Don't need no log ta see that," Sven growled. "Them piles a-crap do that just fine. See if what's piled next to a locker is what's supposed to be in there. If the piles are dependable that a-way, then go down the list an cross off anythin' that's broke open. Put the open stuff inta one a-them black garbage bags from the galley. If the pile is still too big to stow quick, cross off anythin' we don't need and pitch it too."
Matt heard the emphasis on 'we' and after filling several large bags with spilled cartons, he deftly stroked out the Stroganoff in boil bags, Instant Rice Pilaf, and Keech-in-a-Kan. The lockers readily accommodated the remaining cans of baked beans, beef hash, soup and other 'instant' foods of Sven's definition.
The greasy spare engine and rigging parts were not so simply dealt with.
By the time the heavy trash bags were rowed ashore and their contents buried amid the scrub growth, the pale light of a waning moon flecked the water with silver. An hour later, after a hearty dinner of soup, chunks of cheese and crackers, the two exhausted men sank onto the cockpit cushions. The wind, in seeming sympathy, began to soften and die too.
"Just as well we ain't ready.... This wind is gonna lay fer sure."
"Maybe it'll come back stronger in the morning if it gets a little rest." Matt smiled at his own humor. "If it doesn't, we can motor for a while."
"Not 'til we get the engine a runnin' we won't"
"What's wrong with the engine?"
"Ya think they got what they was a lookin’ fer," Sven asked instead.
"They must have. They left."
"Then why'd they button this thing up tighter than a spinsters thighs? Why not just take the prize and go. Why go to all the trouble? Why not just dump the body?" He waited a few minutes, then went on, "If they didn't want him a'floatin' about, why not take him with them--‘till they got inta deep water."
"What are you saying?"
"Well, if I didn't find what I was a-lookin’ fer I'd lock things up and come back better prepared. After all that trouble and them a killin’ a man, don't you think they'd wanna take a longer, closer look for whatever it is?
“Tell ya what I think. I think they was a gonna take her in somewhere so's they could spend some time."
"What? And they couldn't get the engine started?"
Matt glanced down at the key protruding from the ignition switch. Impulsively, he turned it and hit the starter button. The starter solenoid did not click.
"Ya see!” It was a statement, not a question. “Think about it."
"OK What do we know?" Matt leaned forward and peered quizzically at his older friend who had finally removed his canvas hat, allowing wisps of a mane of sweaty hair to blow dry in the last gentle sighs of breeze.
"Number one: This boat was ready to sail. Pete dropped off th’ owner an his cronies in Miami yesterday. Number two: Ramariez stayed here, waitin'. Number three: Somebody a lookin' fer something came aboard, killed him, then ransacked the boat."
"Wait a minute,” Matt countered. “How about ransacked the boat, then killed him?"
"What's th’ difference?"
"I think they ransacked the boat first."
Matt had opened the cockpit seat behind the helm giving access to the lazarette. English-made outboard motors hung from brackets on each side. The back of the ignition panel and a taped bundle of wires clung to the forward wall. He pulled on each wire until he separated out the disconnected end of a red one.
"They didn’t find what they were looking for and decided to take the boat away, but Ramirez had pulled the ignition wire to keep them from moving her. When he wouldn't tell them what he had done or how to fix it, they got mad and killed him—maybe accidentally, trying to get him to talk." He touched the wire to a terminal, hit the button, and the starter growled momentarily.
"Anybody who knew anything about boats could have found the loose wire, maybe. But not just anybody. Especially if they were depending on an experienced crew."
Matt fished a rigging knife out of his pocket and using the blunt end of the blade as a screwdriver, secured the wire to the terminal. He punched the button to check and the engine responded. He turned the key and the lagoon was silent again. But before the thoughtful Sven could speak the VHF cracked into life with a call to Gull. It was Pete in Nassau.
"Medical Examiner says Ramirez was killed sometime about 11 a.m.," came the report. "Looks like he was pistol whipped, then thrown over the side. He had salt water in his lungs."
"Like hell," Sven growled.
"Something interesting on that cruiser, too," Pete continued. "No report on her loss, but she left Walker Cay two days ago in the a.m. After having fished out of there a couple of days, the owner was met by his wife; she flew in on a private charter--buddy of mine from Nam outa Miami. He said her name was Leda Malone. Dock master at Walker said the guy signed his credit card slip Eddie Malone."
"Yeah, yeah," Sven thumbed the transmit button and broke in. "So get ta the interesting part."
"Dock master at Walker said the day before yesterday, Saturday, a big Cuban--and he stressed that the guy was tall, about seven feet, was snooping around asking about a boat named Gull. When he happened to see Malone leave, he stopped mid-sentence, ran to his boat and started yelling 'gaviota' into his radio. Then it seems he almost had a fit when he couldn't get someone to fly him out. He finally got back on his boat and took off." Pete paused, then, "I think I saw a Spanish-English dictionary on the navigator's shelf when I was aboard today. Why don't you look and see what 'gaviota' means in English? I gotta go. Call me when you get under way."
"We ain't a-goin' nowhere 'til mornin'. We just got the stores off the cabin sole. I wanna take a good look at this rig in the daylight before we so much as heave the anchor."
"OK. Keep in touch."
"‘Bout this Gaviota thing. Did ya get a position on her when we was there today?"
"Yeah. She's at...just a minute...she's about 20-25 miles north-northeast of you. Almost a oh-three-oh or three-five magnetic from you." Pete paused, waiting for Sven to come back. Then, "You going over for a look at her?" The radio crackled again as he waited.
"Naw. Naw, she's outa the way. I gotta sail about a three-twenty-five or thirty. I'll call ya in the morning when we're under way. Out."
Pete, whose livelihood depended on such things, signed off properly and again the lagoon was silent. Sven, who had drawn the microphone from over the navigation table to his perch on the bridge deck, stretched to reach the hook to replace it and Matt asked for the dictionary.
"Don't need it. Back in the late fifties a bunch a smooth-talkin’ Miami real estate types tried to get their hooks inta a bunch a smooth talkin’ Cubans who was gettin' out of Havana with some of their dough ahead a Castro. They was a-gonna build this great big condo in Coconut Grove--one of the first in them days. Seems the Cubans was smoother talking than the Miami boys and they left the locals with real red faces. What made it worse, the Cubans insisted on naming the place Las Gaviotas."
"Damn, you're as bad as Pete. So what the hell is the point of all this?"
"Gaviota is Spanish for gull. The Miami boys was gulled outa their money and every morning they had to look at the building with their shame name written all over it."
"Ahaa. So, two boats named Gull." Matt ran down the implications: "A big Cuban inquisitive about the whereabouts of a boat named Gull seems surprised when he realizes that there may have been a misunderstanding by translating 'Gaviota' to 'Gull'. He takes off in pursuit of Gaviota. Both boats fall to bad luck within a few hours of one another." He paused a moment. "You think that's what happened to the cruiser? The big Cuban got to it?"
"Real possible," Sven nodded. "The guy who owns this boat ain't a marina rat. He likes to be at sea. I'd guess that he didn't make port again, once he cleared entry in Bimini, 'till he had ta hop ashore in Nassau yesterday. Anybody looking to find this boat at a dock would have ta do what the Cuban did: wear hisself out--hell, there ain't no cays north of Walker--and then he’d settle for anythin' that might save a chewin' out by his boss."
"Even to boarding the wrong boat?"
"Somebody smarter than me once said, desprit men do desprit things.” He reflected a moment then, “So they ransacked Gaviota, didn't find anythin’, then found Gull and they know this has ta be the one where it’s at." Then he finished thoughtfully, "Whatever it is."
"How'd they find Gull?
"I don't know. This is way off the beaten track. They musta had a lookout in a small boat lurking around Nassau in case it showed up there."
"What makes you so sure it was a small boat?"
"Well, I think that if they had a big one it would have been doing what the Cuban was doing--out checking harbors. When Ramirez left Nassau right away, it radioed the big boat and then followed Gull here.” He paused a moment, then went on. “Wherever the big boat was, it was too far away ta get here soon and so this morning the guys in the little boat boarded her." He paused, then went on. "If it had a-been a big one, they'd a towed her off somewhere."
"And when they didn't find what they were looking for, they tossed Ramirez overboard."
"Naw. He drowned, if the M.E. says he did, but he wasn't never all the way in the water. Them polly parrot threads he was wearin' would a showed a dunking."
"Polyester doesn't shrink."
"Naw, but it supports a layer of pure salt crystals when the water dries--takes a broom to brush 'em off. If the body hadn't been naked when the M.E. got it, or if somebody had thought to take a careful look at them clothes, they'd a seen salt on the surface of his pants. You could tell how much of him had been in the water by the line of crystals just below the belt all the way around his body."
"I'm missing something here," Matt said. How could he drown standing in water that didn't reach his waist?"
"Naw, ya don't understand. Th’ salt crystals wuz above the line. He was dunked, head first. His pant legs never got wet."
"Maybe he wouldn't tell them what they wanted to know and they over-did it trying to persuade him," Matt reasoned. Then added thoughtfully, "At least that explains why they killed him."
"Makes as much sense as the rest," Sven shrugged. He had backed down the companionway as he listened and now he boosted the bound sleeping bags up to his young friend.
"How do you see the rest of it?" Matt asked, running his fingers through his dark, curly hair. His longish hair was the last vestige of a period of student days and college faculty life. His cropped curls were a sop to the business world he now owed his livelihood to--but they were not very short. He pursed his lips, smelling the faint aroma of the soup he had not completely washed from his full mustache, but he was too tired and it was too hot below to make another trip to the head to wash it out.
Sven was silent as he loosed the ties and spread his bag on the starboard cockpit cushion. Matt began to remove his deck shoes while he waited. "Gets iffy after that," Sven finally ventured. "Let's say Ramirez did loosen the ignition wire. Don't say much fer the bad guys if they couldn't find a problem like that."
"Not if they're lubbers. And I think that's the key here. These guys don't know a damn thing about boats. They tried to sink Gaviota in water too shallow to fill her, they cover a wooden dink...."
"Reason enough for that." interjected Sven. He now lay full length on his back, squinting through the accumulated facts at the stars above him.
"Right, but why'd they leave him? Hide him?"
"Because they planned ta come back with a boat big enough ta tow Gull somewhere so they could dismantle her--piece by piece, if necessary. And they didn't want him floatin' around, attractin' attention while they was gone."
"So," Matt began in summary, "you think it was a stakeout that found Gull late yesterday after the owner flew out, then they jumped Ramirez when it got light enough to see this morning."
“Yeah, Ramirez probably stayed in port just long enough to top up his tanks, so th’ stakeout had ta follow him here.”
By now Matt had also reclined, and seeking some clarity, had begun to isolate the navigation stars. There was order in their location and juxtaposition and that order was reassuring right now.
The wavelets lapped the waterline and somewhere a fish broke the surface with a muted splash. When he finally spoke, his voice had a quieter tone.
"Did you notice the stand of mangrove on the opposite side of the island when we flew in?"
Sven allowed as how he had.
"Let's assume that Ramirez was smart enough not to let his tormentors know he was expecting us. Let's say they were done with their preliminary search and were waiting for the larger boat to come. The tide turns, Ramirez is dead. Why do they leave?"
"Because mebbe he was dumber than that. Mebbe he told 'em what time we was to come. Ta scare ‘em off. But they didn’t scare, they just went off ta meet the big boat--warn it not ta come yet and ta hide when it got here."
"And they were hidden in the mangroves when we flew in and we couldn't see them."
"Yeah, they didn't expect that th’ first thing we'd do was uncork that dink. Certainly not while Pete was still here."
"Damn good thing we called the cops when we did, or they'd have been down on us as soon as Pete left."
"Damn good thing we found Ramirez when we did. If they was a-watchin' from somewhere, they knew right then it was over. We'd call the cops. I'm sure they took off then. They had no way of monitorin' the frequencies Pete uses, but they knew he'd call the cops right away and they had no way of knowin' where a police patrol might be. So I suspect they got out of here pretty fast, sos to be far enough away when the cops did arrive, by sea or sky, that they wouldn't be connected to this cay."
"I didn't hear any motor."
"Naw, with the high spine of the island between us and us not lookin' to hear anything special, we mighta heard it and didn't notice it."
Matt lay down again. "Yeah, they were probably long gone by the time Little Napoleon's chopper showed up."
It was quiet a while, then Matt said, "So they met the big boat...."
"...or radioed it and it stayed away," Sven finished.
Silence lay heavy on the lagoon again. The fish leapt. Somewhere on the island a nocturnal insect ventured a tentative staccato call. The wavelets lapped the water line.
"What if...," Matt started. "What if they were so sure this was the right boat and wanted it so badly for a thorough inspection, that they'd risk being seen by the cops from the air and they'd stay hidden in the mangroves all afternoon...waiting for the bigger boat, stay until it was dark...?" Matt looked over at Sven.
Sven began to snore softly.
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