After I tied up Gorda, I went to check Perry’s work with the towing harness. Not that I didn’t want to trust him, but, well, I couldn’t afford to trust him. With every job, I put the name and reputation of Sullivan Towing and Salvage on the line. I could get away with an occasional screw-up in many other aspects of my life, but when it came to towing somebody’s multimillion-dollar vessel, that’s where I became a perfectionist. And my insurance agent appreciated it.
Up on O Solo Mio's bridge, I introduced myself to the yacht’s captain. An Italian in his mid-forties, he had the classic good looks—strong chin and alert eyes—of many yacht captains. I swear they must ask for photos when they advertise for these positions. I’d never seen an ugly one. Apparently, if you are going to drive the yachts of the rich and famous, you must be one of the beautiful people yourself.
He told me to call him Salvatore instead of Captain Lucca, and he asked me if I wanted a tour of the boat. That is one of the best parts of my job—getting to see how the other half lives. Through the main salon with the sleek, mirrored, and brushed-stainless built-in furnishings—including wet bar, stereo, and large-screen TV—he took me through to the owner’s stateroom. I half expected a sound track of jungle animal noises to be playing. The whole room was decorated in exotic animal prints, and in the middle of the cabin was a perfectly round bed that sported a mosquito net draped from above. On the walls were dozens of pictures of the owner and his friends. I was admiring the photos—one with former president Nixon, another with Frank Sinatra. Then I recognized a face.
“Salvatore, who owns this boat?”
In the photo I was examining, a group of ten men, all smiling for the camera, sat around a table in a brick-walled restaurant. One face stood out. I recognized the big handlebar mustache, the zigzag eyebrow. An older version, by maybe ten years, of Yosemite Sam from the Nighthawk photos.
“He is a businessman in New York City.”
“What does he do?”
“I’ve been with him for eighteen years—precisely because I don’t ask exactly what he does.”
He was smiling at me, a twinkle of humor and flirtation in his eyes. I was beginning to understand what Perry hadn’t told me about this job.
“I believe you have been on the water long enough,” he said, “to know exactly what I am talking about.”
Perry’s face appeared in the stateroom’s doorway. “What are you guys doing farting around down here?”
“Captain Lucca here was just showing me around the boat. We were talking about the owner.”
“Hell of a guy,” Perry said, and he gave me an exaggerated wink. “I hear he’s an importer.”
Behind Perry, I saw Salvatore frown. Obviously, Perry did not share his discretion. But he had kept the yacht owner’s affiliations secret from me long enough to get me on the job. Perry knew I usually chose not to work on these yachts.
Perry came up behind me and peered at the photo I had been examining. “Hey, I know that guy.” He pointed to the man with the handlebar mustache. “That’s Gil.” Then he snorted and pulled at the crotch of his pants. “Man, he was just as ugly back then.”
“How do you know him?” I asked.
Perry had a habit of spacing out in the middle of a conversation. Though he generally wasn’t under the influence when he was working, even when he wasn’t high, Perry wasn’t all that coherent.
“The guy in the picture,” I said. “How do you know him?”
“Oh, yeah, me’n him done some drinking in Flossie’s a time or two. That’s all. Was nothin’.” There was clearly more to that story. Perry was a lousy liar.
“Do you know his last name?”
“Nah, just Gil. Dude’s been around forever.”
I turned to the captain and asked him if he knew the man in the photo.
He shook his head. “No, that photo was from many years ago. Before I came aboard.”
Perry pulled at the front of his pants again. I was about to ask him if he had to go to the bathroom, the way my brother Maddy always asked his son, Freddy, before getting into the car, but then Perry said, “We gotta get going, you guys. Tide’s turnin’.”
He was right.
After a quick peek into the engine room and a check on deck, Perry, Salvatore, and I met to go over the plan. The deckhand was given his instructions. We all decided to monitor VHF channel 72, and then we got underway. Red had taught me that the trick to maintaining control of a large yacht was in using two short towlines or hawsers. Gorda had port and starboard towing bitts located in each corner of her stem. With the short hawsers that ran from those bitts up through the chocks on either side of the bow of the Italian yacht, I could quickly and efficiently turn the ship as we made our way upriver. As we negotiated each bend of the river with Gorda's Caterpillar engine revved up, pulling the more than fifty tons of aluminum, and Little Bitt pulling the yacht’s stem around, I went through the motions on mental autopilot, all the while thinking about a trip down island back in 1973. Whoever this Gil character was, he clearly had connections with some serious New York wise guys.
As soon as I finished adjusting the spring line and getting Gorda safely secured to her dock back at the Larsens’ place, I glanced toward my cottage and saw the Windsurfer board and sail spread out to dry on the grass. I gave a whoop and started running. Pit must have heard me because he stepped out the front door and threw his arms around me just as I arrived.
“Hey, little sis,” he said, and stepped back, putting his elbow on my head to show me how much taller he was than me, just as he had when we were kids. “Great to see you.”
I pushed him away and held him at arm’s length. “Where the hell have you been? You drop your stuff off here and then disappear for days. What kind of way is that to treat your baby sister?”
He just grinned that lopsided grin of his and shrugged. “Didn’t know you were going to try to be your brother’s keeper. I’m not used to telling anybody where or when I go.”
“Man, it’s good to see you.” I hugged him once more, then slipped past him into the shade of the cottage’s cool interior. “Come on in and tell me what’s been going on in your life.”
I grabbed a couple of cold beers out of the fridge. It was early, but seeing Pit was worth celebrating. We sat at opposite ends of the couch as he told me a little about what it’s like to be an ocean nomad. He had crewed on the delivery of an eighty-foot racing sailboat down to Rio, flown over to South Africa for some world championship windsurfing tournament, then spent six months in Europe windsurfing the Med’s mistrals. Finally, he’d come back here via the Caribbean and another yacht delivery into Fort Lauderdale.
“So,” I said, “I take it I’m not to expect you to settle down and produce a sister-in-law or any nieces or nephews any time soon?”
He smiled and rubbed his chin for a moment as if he were thinking real hard. “Nope.”
“You goofball,” I said, and kicked him lightly in the shins.
He set his beer down on the end table, turned to me, and narrowed his eyes. “That a challenge?”
“No way,” I said. “Our years of wrestling are over.” But knowing my brother, I placed my beer bottle safely on the other end table. “We’re supposed to be grown-ups now, you know.”
I had barely gotten the last words out before he pounced on me, rolled me off the couch, and had me pinned with my arm twisted up behind my back. “Gonna say uncle?” he shouted.
What he didn’t know was that his little sis had been taking some aikido lessons from B.J., and with a simple twist and roll I was out of his grip and standing on the other side of the trunk that still rested in the middle of the living room. He looked up at me from the floor.