I trotted back to Rusty’s boat and breathed a sigh of relief that no one had rafted another boat alongside it. Once aboard, I threw off the dock lines and gave the piling a good shove so the boat would drift into the canal. The engines purred to life at the first turn of the key, and I silently thanked Rusty for taking such damn fine care of the old girl.
My blue sweatshirt was where I’d left it, tucked up on the dash against the windshield, so I pulled it on, zipped it up, and pulled the hood up over my head. When I was a lifeguard, this had been my uniform on cold mornings, and with my broad shoulders, I’d often been taken for a man. I hoped the same would be true tonight.
Pulling up next to the little ship might attract too much attention, so I slowly idled past her bow and into the large basin with the commercial shipping docks on one side and the yacht yard docks on the other. Just a few days earlier, B.J. and I had towed the Miss Agnes through this same basin. I tried not to look at the Bimini Express as I slowly passed, but out of the corner of my eye I could see three men standing outside the wheelhouse up on the wing deck, two island men close together in conversation, the third man standing apart, talking on a cell phone. I couldn’t see well enough to tell if one of the two islanders was Malheur, but even at that distance, I recognized the third man’s wide mustache and protruding belly. They belonged to Gil Lynch.
I pulled Rusty’s boat into the haul-out slip at the Playboy Marine Boat Yard and grabbed hold of the rungs of the iron ladder that was bolted to the concrete walls of the slipway. We were at about mid-tide but, even so, when I was standing up in the boat, my head was several feet below the top of the wall. I raised the hatch on the seat locker and pulled out the cast net Rusty had shown me earlier. The weight of the net surprised me. The lead weights attached to the nylon were quite small, but there were enough of them that I worked up a sweat just hefting it around. I threw a couple of hitches around the ladder with the bowline, flipped the fenders over the side, and hoped that the barnacle-covered walls wouldn’t chew too badly into Rusty’s flawlessly painted topsides.
Before leaving the boat, I paused for a couple of seconds, checking to see if I’d forgotten anything. How had my search for Solange’s father and my search for the truth about my own father converged on this former drug smuggler on a Bahama-bound freighter on the Dania Cut-off Canal?
At the top of the ladder, I raised my head slowly over the lip of the concrete dock. I didn’t see any movement, didn’t hear anything. Several of the sailboats were propped up on the hard in the boatyard, and warm yellow light spilled from their port lights. Playboy Marine was often used by live-aboards. The dark hulk on the far side of the yard I recognized as the Miss Agnes. She would certainly be stickered all over with U.S. Customs impound stickers.
The Playboy yard butted up against the G&G West Terminal, but I could see that the fence separating the two didn’t extend all the way to the end of the dock. It was simple enough to slip around. Then I ducked down behind some pallets of brick pavers to reconnoiter. To my left, out by the road, was a security guard shack. A spotlight lit the area around the little building and there were about twenty wild cats scarfing down food from dozens of plastic bowls and tins. The music from a Spanish-language radio station was playing inside.
Keeping my body low, I ran across the concrete dock to a small school bus, waiting for transport to some island. I leaned my back against the vehicle. The net I was carrying was so heavy that my thick sweatshirt was already damp with sweat. The security guard’s shack was north of me, and the Bimini Express was south. It was hard to find a spot where I wouldn’t be seen from one direction or the other.
The Bimini Express was stern-tied to the wharf. She was probably no more than eighty feet long, with her bridge and superstructure all jammed up forward in the bow so that everything aft could be used for cargo. There were big doors in her stern that flopped down to form a ramp onto the ship. They loaded her first with the vehicles they could drive on, and then they used a forklift to add the pallets. The cargo looked mostly like building supplies. No doubt in the Bahamas they were doing the same thing as in the Everglades. Like the lyrics to that old Joni Mitchell song my mother used to play, “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” At least this one would be a nice parking lot with pavers.
What I needed to do was to get at her prop. Fishermen throw their cast nets so they open into a perfect circle, and then the weights sink the net down over their prey, little bait- fish. My intended prey was the ship’s prop. I hoped the net would wind around the prop and disable the ship until Rusty, who I was sure must be freaked back at the restaurant, could get here with the cavalry.
At least that was my plan.
I ran from the school bus to a forklift to a huge pile of plywood. As far as I could tell, no one had seen me. I was now only about two hundred feet from the stern of the vessel. They had already raised the transom doors, and they were pretty damn ready to depart. Only a small gangway remained on the dock. I wondered what they were waiting for.
The men I had seen earlier on the bridge had vanished. I could stay hidden among the cargo pallets and the empty shipping containers, but at some point I would have to dash across the wide-open space and run down that gangway onto the ship. That was when I would be the most vulnerable. I worked my way forward, and at one point I could have sworn I saw movement behind me, but when I looked back, directly at whatever it was, there was nothing there. I rubbed my hand over my eyes and my fingers came away dripping with sweat.
I don’t remember making the decision to go for it. I was just standing there one minute and then I was hurtling across the open concrete wharf, my feet pounding across the gangway, then ducking between the stacks of shipping containers that covered the stern of the vessel. I stopped and leaned against a pallet of lumber, breathing so hard that I was sure the guys up on the bridge would hear me. I simply couldn’t catch my breath. When I heard the sound of footsteps on the gangway, I stopped breathing entirely.
They were light footsteps, like someone sneaking. There was no question now that I was being followed, and whoever was there knew exactly where I was. I slid around the corner of a container and onto the stern, but it was far too exposed back there. There was the housing for some crane machinery a bit farther forward up the ship’s starboard side, and it looked like something to hide inside. I eased my way forward, trying to figure out how to use the net as a weapon. I started unfolding it, readying myself to throw it the way I had seen the surf fishermen do. Half the net was over my shoulder, hanging down my back, the other half in my hands in front of me. The crane machinery didn’t provide much of a hiding place, but I pressed myself back into a shadowy crevice and waited.
I heard something like a snort or a sniffle. Evidently the guy had a cold or a bad coke habit. Then I heard it again, so close this time that I tensed, ready to throw the net at the first sign of movement in front of me. I was looking for some giant Haitian captain, and when I finally realized there was someone right in front of me, it was too late to throw the net. Arms wrapped around my waist and a head pressed hard against my belly.
The name escaped my mouth before I had time to think. “Solange?”
She was crying. She didn’t make any sounds other than the occasional sniffling, but I could tell by the way her shoulders were shaking that she was crying hard. It was a good thing she wasn’t bawling like most kids do, because the guys up on the bridge were outside again, talking to one another and pointing toward the dock.