Sunday, August 10, 2008

Sea Wolf Part III

Before continuing I should clarify the dramatis personae of our group. Bill, the owner of the trimaran on which we sailed, had been a professor of chemistry at our local junior college. He was taking a year’s sabbatical to do some sailing. The first part of his trip was interrupted when his longtime lady friend, having found that at sea he was more a Captain Bligh and less the bearded professor she had known in the classroom, had jumped ship.

To continue his adventure he signed on "Memo," (this is what the Mexicans called him), a former New York City cop, and his wife, whom he had met at a marina in Key West, and me.
Memo’s wife, more of a passive observer than participant in all this, is now remarried and a respected educator, and shall remain nameless.

Whoever loves money never has money enough;
whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income.
Ecclesiastes 5:10

I should have known, and did know on a certain level, that it was a mistake to tell them about the exact situation of the Sea Wolf before they left to go diving. There was a certain look in both their eyes that smacked of dollar signs and boded ill. So it was with a sense of apprehension that I rushed back to the Sea Wolf and the command that I had abandoned by leaving the ship to go on my flying excursion with the Escuadron Aereo. By the time I got back there they were all over the ship like a plague of locusts, Bill, Memo, the wife, and a hippy girl they had picked up on the island, a possible replacement for Bill’s former lady friend who had jumped ship.

After a while I was able to apprise them of the situation, and pointed out the watchers on the hill. The previous day’s visitors returned one by one. Antonio came by for a few minutes, and I introduced him to the others.

Shortly after that I heard loud voices. Someone was arguing with Bill at the rail. Roberto had come back with the two goofy American girls. I told Bill that Lefferdink had said it was OK to let him on board, and he reluctantly backed off. I got the impression, among other things, that Roberto had been planning a menage a trois in the master stateroom, and wasn’t pleased to see the new additions to the "crew."

Antonio told me later he didn’t like Roberto. "I don’t know where he is from, but I think he is from somewhere near to . . . " he spat on the ground, "Cuba!" In fact Roberto was from Puerto Rico, and had lived in Brooklyn for a number of years.

"When I was in Brooklyn, I was in your ball park," he said. "Now you guys are in my ball park. And we’re going to play ball my way!"

That evening I heard another commotion on deck, and came up from my berth on the trimaran. Once again Bill was holding someone off at the rail. This time it was a drunken charter boat captain from Islamorada. He had been buddies with the crew that had left, and apparently liked to hoist a cup or two with them. He was totally upset that there were different people on board. I sized him up, and having run a marina in Marathon, knew exactly what we were dealing with. The only thing to do was to let him come on board and have a drink, in this case tequila, which we were drinking out of coffee cups. Plus, he had another bottle of tequila with him.

We spent rest of the evening drinking shots out of the ship’s teacups, garnished with a few slices of key lime. The captain took a shine to Bill’s hippy girl, who was starting to get on Bill's nerves by this time. He turned out to be a "masher," and pawed her pretty good. No one offered to save the damsel in distress, and expediency won out over chivalry that night. It seemed a good way to kill two birds with one stone. We never saw either one of them after that night.

The next day the old crew arrived back in town. From my bunk on the trimaran I once again heard angry voices. Bill was arguing at the rail with someone. I climbed up on the Sea Wolf and saw him having a pushing contest with another big goon. When he saw me, he said, "Here’s the guy who is officially in charge." Great. When there was no outside threat, Bill was the big enchilada. Whenever there was a problem, I got my captain’s hat back. There were four of them, the former captain, a couple of mates, and the ship’s engineer, the guy who had disabled all the systems on the ship. I asked what was going on.

"Look, here’s how it is," says the one identified as the captain. "This guy owes us a lot of money. We’re coming on board and we’re going to take off the Loran set, and a few other things as collateral. And you’re either going to get out of our way, or we’re going to go right through you!"

I had read enough of the ship’s log to know that this guy was a hothead. I said, "Well, since you put it that way, and since we’re in a foreign country (and since there are at least two groups of ‘watchers’ up on the hill reporting everything that’s going on here), you can go ahead and take what you want. Just leave us some kind of a receipt that we can show the guy when he comes back."

They thought this was reasonable, and came on board and took the Loran set and a few other things, leaving a list. They also took what they said were personal possessions. In the meantime Memo "pumped" the engineer for information as to what he had done to screw things up.

I talked with one of the mates, who was from Houston. He’d gone home after the crew had left en masse. His brother worked for a newspaper, and had photocopied a few pertinent pages from a book, The Fountain Pen Conspiracy by Jonathan Kwitny of the Wall Street Journal, which told about what Lefferdink had been up to.

We continued to do what we could to get the ship’s systems working again. Then Memo took me aside, and said, "I gotta tell you something. This morning Bill went into town and sent Lefferdink a message. He said that the Mexicans were about to seize the boat, and that there wasn’t much we could do, unless he wired us $1000 immediately."

"That’s pretty heavy," I said. He’s some kind of international swindler, he leaves me a book about Meyer Lansky, and here we are trying to extort money from him? "What the heck is he gonna think?"

"That’s not all," Memo said. "He signed your name to it."

I went ballistic, and made Bill promise to go back into town and send him a message clarifying the situation. He resentfully went into town and came back saying that he had taken care of things. I found out later that he hadn’t done anything. (I also found out that he had left the message by phone. Memo said that the number rang at a Miami address, where there were at least two phones. A woman dialed another number, and then put the receivers earpiece to mouthpiece, so to speak, so that there would be no direct link between the two phones, thereby preventing someone from being able to trace the call to the second phone. Not for nothing did they write books about this guy.)

The next morning, thinking all was in order, I went was coming back from town on foot. Near the road from the airport, a car screeched to a halt, a door opened and a voice said, "Get in." It was Lefferdink, and he was clearly unhappy. He didn’t seem about to hand over any $1000.

I explained that I hadn’t make the call, or whatever, but that the situation was basically as Bill had said. What he needed to do was to get a generator to get the bilge pumps and other essential systems up an running, just to buy time to figure out how to get the ship operational again. We went back to the ship, and the others explained the situation in basically the same way. He agreed to hire Bill and Memo to get the ship up and running again.

Like an archer who wounds at random
is he who hires a fool or any passer-by.
Proverbs 26:10

The next day a brand new Onan generator arrived in a crate, flown down from Miami by a young man Lefferdink said was his stepson. The stepson, looking fairly amused at the whole situation, left the same day.

Lefferdink, as far as I knew, never found out that we knew there had been a book written about him. He explained that the source of his riches came from something he had invented: the automated teller machine. He claimed that he had sold the franchise to every bank in the United States, had cashed out, and was now embarking on a world tour to sell the "Money Machine" in every country in Central and South America. He even had brochures describing the product and showing the address of the corporate headquarters in California. If we hadn’t know about his other activities, it would have seemed totally plausible and believable.

Bill and Memo still had dollar signs in their eyes, and went along with everything he said. Lefferdink had his doubts about me, probably because he still thought I was the one who had tried to extort the thousand dollars from him.

Next: A prudent man sees danger and takes refuge,
but the simple keep going and suffer for it.
Proverbs 22:3

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