|Mark's Trail, Part 2|
CHAPTER ONE - Cabin Fever
I met her in a bar, which is where most sailors meet most trouble, but no sailor ever met trouble quite like Marley.
She didn’t strike me as beautiful at first, but cute, like how your little sister is cute – yeah, buddy, like how a great white shark is cute. She just had a way of smiling at you and chatting you up that helps a man drift away from reality for a while and nestle in her web. She had a way.
But, I need to stop thinking about her and start working on saving my tail, which is caught in a rather grizzly trap right now.
“Look, I’ll tell you anything you want to know,” I said to the poker-faced detective sitting across the steel desk from me. “I just don’t know how things got this crazy, I haven’t done anything wrong, I swear.”
I was being a bit, well, creative, as I had done plenty wrong in the past two months, just not what they were accusing me of. I don’t know what to say or where to begin, so I’ll begin with the evening Marley barged into my life.
I met her at a bar, like I said, but not really - it wasn’t your typical bar-date, not like we even hit it off real well and drank and danced and swapped phone numbers. No, not at all. It wasn’t even your typical bar, but one of these seafood, waterfront, plywood tables-on-a-pier-type restaurant / bars, the type where you can pull up in a car, pickup truck or boat – I used a boat.
The Man Eating Bear has a surf-and-turf special, a swordfish and bear–meat platter that brings out the tribesman in any person. From the walls, heads of dead fish and fauna stare down at you like they think you're the one who killed them. If you go behind the wall that holds one spectacular moose, mounted with front legs in mid leap, you'll see the rear end of that moose, as if he's jumping right through that wall.
She spilled a tray full of drinks on me, actually. Okay, it was a rack of those “shooters” that come in test tubes, and it didn’t get all over me, but it was quite a scene. Anyhow, she panicked and a few other waitresses came over and helped her clean it all up. I say “other waitresses,” even though I’m not sure she was a waitress or just a friend or relative of someone and she was just helping out, because, well, she seemed kind of young.
Kind of young, I say, but I swear she was 18 - at least I swear she told me she was 18 and she always claimed she didn’t have ID because of some crazy excuse or other. I didn’t care, anyway, and listen, it doesn’t matter because we, well, we were just friends. Just real, close friends.
One of the waitresses got pretty rude at Marley - yeah, that’s her name, at least the name she told me - and Marley started crying and I was just trying to wipe the foolish drinks off my shorts. They mopped up the mess and things calmed down and Marley spoke up.
“Which way you headed?” she asked, looking over my shoulder at the docks.
“Right now, to the men’s room to get some paper towels,” I said. She reached over the bar, grabbed a clean bar towel and tossed it in my lap.
“No, in the boat - I saw you pull up,” she said. "You’re not from around here, are you?” So I told her, briefly, about how I had just bought the boat in Pompano Beach, a few miles south of there, and was taking it up the east coast as far as two months would take me.
“Bucket list?” she said.
“No,” I replied. “Well, isn’t everything?”
“Guess so,” she said, and then she was gone, which was fine by me, I thought. She was kind of cute, as I said, but clumsy, you’ve noticed, and man, was she young. I mean, not too young, I’m saying, but young enough to be my daughter, and in some states, my granddaughter. But old enough, I’m insisting, to take across state lines, no matter what a gentlemen’s good intentions.
I finished my sandwich and drink, paid up and took off. Stopped by the restroom on the way out - some wiseacre had labeled the women’s room “Inboards” and the men’s room “Outboards.” Oh, sailors’ humor. Made my way along the docks past a few drunken parties that were pouring themselves into boats, and I approached my boat, a 21-foot Sea Master with a cuddy cabin and powered by a 3.0 liter Mercruiser. I untied the bow line and climbed in, and she turned over nicely and fired right up. I collected the stern line and shoved off, giving the throttle a hard shove to get some wind in my face against the hot, Florida afternoon sun.
I was set for a decent, straight stretch ahead of me, and ran on a smooth plane for a good two hours, covering nearly 40 miles. I found a decent anchorage - an inlet right off my route - just as the sun was falling behind the sawgrass. I didn’t have to worry about tides, as they are only about one foot in this part of Florida. Everything was perfect, so it’s hard to figure, at this point, just how this could so quickly turn into one of the craziest nights of my life.
After setting the anchor and lighting my anchor light, I shut down my navigation gear, briefly checked the weather radio for tomorrow’s forecast, and got ready to turn in for the night. That’s when I opened the cabin door and looked inside. Lit only by a nearly set sun and a rising, almost full moon shining through the forward hatch, I saw, packed in tightly between all my gear and the starboard bunk, an unusual figure, a figure that even in the twilight I recognized easily.