Neither of us said anything more for several minutes. We stood there watching the stars and their reflections on the blackened swells, listening to the rocks’ rhythmic breathing.
“You’ll still get to see her,” he said. “You know, families come in lots of different shapes and sizes these days. You decide what feels right for you.” He slid his hands into the pockets of his cargo shorts and took a deep breath. “You could be Auntie Seychelle. Make Solange and her mother part of the family.”
I leaned back and looked up at the broad bright band of the Milky Way. “I like that: Auntie Seychelle,” I said, trying out the sound of it. “Come on, we’d better get back,” I said, slipping my arm into his and starting to walk down the concrete toward the campfire. “And what about you?” I asked, turning my face up toward his.
White teeth glowed against his dark skin. “Uncle B.J. works just fine for me.”
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BITTER END (Seychelle Sullivan #3)
The sun wasn’t up yet when I rounded the bend in the river and came upon the fifty-foot Hatteras Mykonos, the yacht that belonged to the ex-husband of my ex-best friend, idling in front of the Andrews Avenue Bridge. The sky was a pale, washed-out blue, cloudless, promising a warmer day once the sun rose. But at that hour the morning was cold enough that wisps of steam rose off the surface of the dark river. Nikolas Pontus, the ex-husband himself, was up on the motor yacht’s flybridge. He was alone, which surprised me, because now that he was a gazillionaire, I didn’t think he ever did anything for or by himself. I pulled the hood of my sweatshirt up over my ponytail to drive off the chill that suddenly danced along the back of my neck.
Up on the Andrews Bridge, the bells were ringing and the bridge tender had started lowering the traffic gates. I shifted into neutral, not wanting to get too close to Nick or his boat and hoping the bridge would open soon so the Mykonos could disappear upriver, out of my way and out of my life. Nick was the reason my friendship with Molly had come to an end, and a thing like that you can’t ever forgive.
It was quiet on the avenue for a Monday morning, especially compared to what it would be like an hour from now when the worker bees started filing over the bridge on their way to the courthouse. On the south bank of the river, the Downtowner, my favorite Fort Lauderdale restaurant and bar, stood silent and shuttered. Several white plastic beer glasses littered the tables out front, leftovers from those who had partied past closing last night.
An old woman pushing a baby stroller full of clothing and plastic trash bags emerged from the courtyard next to the restaurant and, after studying my boat for several seconds, turned away from me, passing under the bridge. I often saw her bent body walking the streets downtown, especially along the riverfront, her bones showing through the thin cotton of the plain white blouse she always wore, her white hair neatly pinned up off her neck. This morning, she hugged the ends of a bright red shawl wrapped tight round her shoulders. Beneath her skirt, her bare ankles looked frail above her dirty sneakers, and I wondered where she’d slept during the night.
I was traveling up the river onboard my forty-foot salvage tug, Gorda, bound for Summerfield Boatworks, where I had a 7:00 a.m. appointment to pick up a jittery new boat owner and his recently purchased fifty-seven-foot ketch. The job was a referral from George Rice, a broker friend of mine, who had called and pleaded with me, saying, “Seychelle darling, this is such a goddamn beautiful boat, and this buyer has never even driven a dinghy. The owner says he feels like he’s turning his sixteen-year-old daughter over to a Hell’s Angel, for God’s sake, and he’s refusing to sign unless this newbie gets help getting down the river.” I’d quoted them a ridiculous price, and when they’d said okay, I couldn’t turn it down.
Up ahead, the bridge span began its slow climb. The Mykonos had drifted side-on to the bridge, and Nick began trying to horse her around with alternating heavy-handed squirts to the big twin diesels. He was a lousy boat handler and, to my mind, an even worse human being. I wondered how such a creep could have made it so big in so short a time. When he’d married seventeen-year-old Molly and taken her out of our lives, he’d owned a greasy Greek sub and gyro take-out place on the boardwalk on Hollywood Beach. Now, he was the owner of a chain of high-end restaurants, as well as a fleet of casino gambling boats. I watched as he finally got his yacht lined up with the bridge opening, then gave her too much throttle and flew through the gap on the rising tide. Money hasn’t changed much, I thought. He’s still a jerk.
The Mykonos had just cleared the far side of the bridge, and I was just starting my approach when I heard a loud crack that echoed off the tall high-rises on either side of the river. That was followed by another crack; then from up on the Andrews Bridge came the sound of squealing tires. I caught a quick glimpse of the top of a black car headed north, down off the bridge, and it wasn’t until later that I realized it must have made a U-turn up by the gates. My attention had been drawn to the sight of Nick Pontus slumped forward over the controls.
Nick wasn’t moving, but his boat sure was. My God, I thought, he must have pushed the throttles forward when he fell. The big white sport fisherman’s stern was starting to squat, and her wake frothed as she churned upriver past the shops and restaurants of the Riverfront development, where early-morning employees had stopped what they were doing to stare as the big yacht steamed past the docks, headed for the narrow opening at the railroad bridge.
I jammed the throttle forward on Gorda without thinking. Shit! On smooth water like this, that boat would pick up speed like a Porsche. There was no way my little tug could catch a Hatteras with her cruising speed of over thirty knots, but my years as a beach lifeguard and as a salvage operator had left me with certain reflex reactions to the sight of a person or boat in peril— even if that person was Nick Pontus.
The unmanned railroad bridge always remained in an upright position until a train was approaching. Then a buzzer went off, and a large digital clock told boaters they had five minutes to get clear before the bridge would automatically lower. Fortunately, the bridge was up, and there were no numbers on the clock, but the opening still looked mighty narrow for that Hatteras’s sixteen-foot beam. From my angle, she looked to be lined up pretty square with the opening, but the slightest gust of wind, the smallest wave, or even a shifting of the weight onboard the boat would turn her aside and slam her into either side of that bridge trestle.
None of that happened. Breath exploded from my mouth. Nick still hadn’t moved, and the boat slipped between the arms of the tracks, plowing on toward the huge oaks and quaint historical buildings of Riverwalk. While the boat had not hit either side of the railroad bridge, she was now headed dead-on for the boulders that made up the riprap that rimmed the park in front of the Old River Inn. The converted hundred-year-old pioneer home was Nick’s flagship restaurant, his baby, the last place on earth Nick Pontus would want to crash and burn.