The WITCH, North Atlantic, 23 nautical miles southeast of Cape May, NJ
Alone at the helm, shivering in the predawn darkness, Hazel Moran listened between the soft rushing of the waves for sounds of any other presence. Guided by the familiar red glow of the compass she headed the boat through the night, while the dim green radar display monitored the empty spread of ocean for unwanted company. To the west the coast had vanished, swallowed by the horizon, leaving nothing but endless sea. Beneath the overcast sky, the Witch surged forward under full sail, cutting through the offshore Atlantic swells without running lights to reveal the small schooner’s position. There was no sound of luffing and no strain on the wheel as the Witch moved in balance with the waves and the steady south-west wind. The damp air was warm and heavy; by afternoon storms would roll through the Jersey shore.
Hazel switched on the flashlight, aiming the beam astern. The weather-beaten dinghy dragged reluctantly in the Witch’s wake, like a sacrificial lamb sensing its fate. It hadn’t sunk yet, but rode low as water seeped through loose seams. She shined the light on her watch for a moment, then switched it off, letting the darkness close back in. It was 3:22 on June 25th. Sunrise was an hour away, and her eighteenth birthday was in two weeks, though over the last night she began to wonder if she’d see either one.
For a moment she caught her reflection in the dark tachometer gauge, her small face framed by a tangle of long, dark curls, her brown eyes wide and troubled. Normally Hazel enjoyed the night watch, miles from shore during the hours before the sun came up, when everything else in the world disappeared. Normally the mahogany wheel, worn smooth from a century of use, was comforting, but adrenalin still raced through her and she fought to keep from shaking. Normally, there wasn’t a dead body onboard.
There was one positive side to the deceased cargo. At least now her father believed her. Only the night before, he said she was just being melodramatic. Actually, “full of shit,” was how he put it, words usually reserved for Micah. She should have been honored. Micah was always ‘full of shit,’ she was ‘melodramatic’, which was just a polite way of saying the same thing. “I think you’ve been reading too many Travis McGees,” her father said when she tried to explain how her P.O.S Miata ended out parked beneath thirteen feet of water. He didn’t buy her story of outrunning masked gunmen in a Ford Explorer. Even his friend Joe agreed that pushed the limits of credibility. Her father alternated between relief that she survived her long drive off a short pier and frustration that she held to such an elaborate lie. Just tell the truth, he insisted, and she’d be in less trouble. Just admit she was screwing around and miscalculated one of her high-speed drifting skids into the lot. It was a maneuver she’d honed to perfection, and yet another driving technique her father banned, arguing she’d either get herself killed or raise his insurance rates. It was hard to tell which worried him more.
“Stop lying,” he said. Over and over. He wouldn’t listen.
But now she had proof. She nearly said, “I told you so,” but the words choked in her throat.
The Witch plunged into a wave, taking spray over the bow as she drifted off course. Hazel shifted the wheel, watching the compass as she returned to a heading of 139o. Her destination was deep water, the deeper the better. The depth finder confirmed the ocean’s bottom, over one hundred feet below, gradually dropping away.
The companionway banged open, startling her. Light from an oil lamp spilled out across the deck as Joe came above. Sweat glistened from his shaved head and thick neck, soaking his shirt and making the octopus tattooed over his arm seem even more realistic. He staggered to the rail, gulping mouthfuls of fresh air, looking like a queasy pit-bull. Her father emerged from below, and he studied her with concern. His broad shoulders hung with exhaustion, sweat slicked back his long hair, and the strain in his eyes made him look older than his thirty-six years. “She’s still in shock,” Ian said, half to himself.
Joe rubbed the stubble on his chin and scanned the darkness. “All clear?”
Do you buy description by the gallon?
This is so over wrought I'm thinking Puccini should write the score.
Contrast this with:
It was to have been a quiet evening at home.
Home is the Busted Flush, 52-foot barge-type houseboat, Slip F-018, Bahia Mar; Lauderdale.
Home is where the privacy is. Draw all the opaque curtain, button the hatches, and with the whispering drone of the air conditioning masking all the sounds of the outside world, you are no longer check to jowl with the random activities aboard the neighbor craft. You could be in a rocket beyond Venus, or under the icecap.
Because it is a room aboard, I call it the lounge, and because that is one of the primary activities.
I was sprawled on a deep curve of the corner couch, studying charts of the keys trying to work up enough enthusiasm and energy to
which is the opening of The Deep Blue Good Bye by John D. Macdonald.
I've stopped reading after paragraph one.