We're yards apart, really.  She's up when I'm down so in moon-glow I can barely see her legs.  Silver pegs now  dangling over the bow, those legs, but tan willows on the beach and hot pink straps when they wrap around me. Does she think of me that childs way, as one end of a teeter-totter or as a strap lashing her safe? If she needs me at all I wonder who's less safe or ... or who's the dead duck?

Keep thinking --  figure something likely, cause likelihood's popular in hell. I  drag on Edisto kif  watching the end burn red-orange. It clears my mind ... for brightness and warmth that  kif could be Peachys red mouth. Damn the bitch!  Even separated her feral flesh and mind oh yes, her mind suck at me bow-to-stern. Obsessed with her,  you're thinking ... Reynaldo thinks I've run aground. Peachy's a shoal, I'm the keel and  made the world her body.  Cheeky  bastard Reynaldo with his night thinking ...  

Chrome wheel  vibrates under my hand, and  the wooden, rocking  runabout inches forward - it's a solid hull, I trust it and through the planks I feel tide swell ... Gulf-Stream tide with it's stiff, clean ocean salt stink.  It's the ozone ... it's the kelp ... it's the bloody distance. Water's not the same from one tide to the next.  Cleaned, new, the fresh brine doesn't feel itself and doesn't know people. Oceans are pure - they see clean new death -  not the stinking,  thoughtful corrupted death daylight people believe they can hide in swamps like this one.

Quiet too. You figure swamp night animals are noisy?  Wrong, pal! Not those that eat today, eat tomorrow ... cause what listens close isn't your pal. Ever.  So gags-on for the creepy little bastards. You also, pal. Stuff it, thinking  dark modes in dark quiet while working that's for free till tide starts running out. Sure, asshole blame it on the fucking water ...  suns job mostly - that blasted Caroline sun. Even in November it's probing and rotting into the muck ... people too,  rot in the sunlight ... shrimpers and yachtsmen. They're the noisy ones, count on living today and tomorrow.  People.

Trust your own ego, pal. New stars overhead form a bright, speckled carpet against the black.  I  shake our runabout  from  the tidal and  cautiously work  the bow west.  Engines mutter dully, and brine slaps at the hull. Tide rises easy here, almost imperceptible back Island ... along salt-marsh fringes of the Inter-coastal. A man can be careful  with this swamp and this water and not feel embarrassed. Oyster-trees grow up from the pluff-mud beneath us, and should you misjudge the depth by inches they will chew your polished wooden hull and Chezko electronics  to sawdust.

Peachy had said nothing  more about Reynaldo since we left my dock and that too - like brine sting in your nose made thinking easy. Life's short. Good, cause we're all close to somebody.

Last Tuesday a month - I know that day cause the trend-line had bent over like a Spring Creek  fly-rod  - money  just rolled in from shorted wireless stocks.  I rolled profit  over into a Mississippi River barge partnership with a mayor, two accountants and a judge just out of prison.  We filed insurance claims ... for a sunken barge that afternoon. Great day for money ... warm mushy rain fell  day-long on IOP and near the end of that day Peachy had said  ...

"He'll snatch a package for me, now won't he luv ... this bold-face feckin' pirate Reynaldo?"

I said certainly. "That kifir bastard will do no such thing."

"Even a free one?"

"Nothing for free ... from where?"

"In and out of Port-a'-Prince will he ner mind."

"He'll mind like mice in cheeze."

"It's not cheeze, luv ..."

"He'll lose focus. Cat-houses port-to-stern that's Port-a'-Prince. Reynaldo that Latin bastard ... He'll find every cat-house."

"Yer not deny a sailer, would ye Benji ...  Not too far off the track,  anyway, him sailing from Costa Rica and the package ... it's a small one, that. Plain wrapper .. size of a  fiddle. Me faathers yer know, when he played. Certains the word me-luv. Kiss on it?"

"A fiddler?"

"Girls too, and the pipes when we take a mind."

"Why Haiti?"

"It's the Negros."

"Fuck ..."

Peachy laughed. "I should of been there luv, for the winterin' not keeping your own cold white ass warm, but hows a girl ta knew?"

"So I'm keeping you from that hell-hole."

"Yer would know ..."

"Damn! Good timing too ... very good timing ..."

"Everything on Gods green earth's a coincidence, if you give it time. Fiddle's been a good month waiting."

"You also .... maybe Reynaldo says no."

"He'll say whuot yer tell him!"

Quiet as fiddling blue-fish that's me ... what's that you think?  Peachys Gaelic and  Reynaldos Latin temperments made  starting early sin and  arriving late a prayer  - no matter their closest accomplice that's me, dammit close enough that every night   Peachys golden hair graces my pillow and Reynaldos  lean pirate aspects screw  with my nightmares, and no matter thirteen-million dollars of grey-market Costa Rican  sapphire-on-silicon ASICs  I had pipelined to-the-minute for a  bandit Charleston lab  filled the hold of Reynaldos schooner bound in from Bermuda yesterday - yesterday damn him and no matter I  had  graced  both with stainless Rolex Mariners good to the second all this decade and next.  

On-time was a lesson taught not learned. That Charleston lab -  Krauts ran it as night-work alongside a chemical plant - it gold-screened PCI cards and punched in the chips ...

"That's for damned sure," I shouted to nobody in particular!  Peachys face turned slightly, at the shout and I can imagine her lips ... oh yes, that careless full-lip smile both understanding and cruel if you saw it right.

I could stew in clam juice for all she cared. Hell no I couldn't see  into her sky-clear blue eyes, but oh yes they had hells grip on my face. A braid clamps her hair - I'll get no clue from that! I could feel sky-blue, like shrimp feel a flounders bottom-feeding prying, probing teeth. 'hell's wrong now, Benji ... zip it up, won't you ? Keep yer bloody existential swill ter yerself...' I know her minds eye, when it turns on me and I rave like fiends on acid.

But  Peachy said with careless, Gaelic softness. "Three points Nor'west, love,"  her face turned not to me, but intently to the green fish-finder screen.

"Hell's that ... love ...? We'll never see him come round the point ... we keep moving west."

What was she doing here with me? I ask myself that. Brine rippled darkly around our hull, and that color smoothed Peachys ruddy cheeks.  In daylight you can tell when she's pissed, 'cause her cheeks flame red. She had taken the bow-chair.  

"Thanks just tons, Benji," she offered ..."... but drive the runabout won't-you-now a bit more over here ... must be a blue somewhere and don't rumble so or they'll scare-away."

She'd scare some cautious men. Half-hour ago when she last said anything ...  but how do you shout at a woman who talks like that? She went contented casting a split-tail silver spoon into eddys along the Waterways salt-grass fringe for what  fish stupid enough to lurk there at high tide, when  mullet-scavenging  makos thrashed  nearby hell you could see their fins and white crossed teeth  I had no idea.

Better I think about Late! That bastard  Reynaldo. Yesterday too - late again even if he HAD made the long damned fool reach from Bermuda in bright daylight.  Sailing ... sailing ... better a gail blows sending  him to the bottom like a Spanish galleon. And the Germans ... waiting and accusing in the Nazi way every German has when efficiency becomes an issue. Impatient ... they were so fucking punctual when something's in the kitty. Their machines had insertions scheduled for tomorrow.

I couldn't think about tomorrow. Wouldn't do Reynaldo any good anyway, sailing in tomorrow. Coast Guard sweeps across his path - sure of it -  tomorrow, scoop him up like kitty-litter before he made Charleston Bay. Just another Gulf-Stream blue bagged and iced. I didn't think ... tomorrow ... Me, the Germans, Reynaldo and his damned-fool pirated chips ... I slapped at a mosquito and swore on it bloody bitch hell.

"Can ye stop yer swearin', Benji, good Lord it scares the fish."  Peachys face turns quickly, as  something slick and heavy broke water. "And don't kick the guun, God-sakes safety's off ...!"

A week last Tuesday ... a Tuesday ... just another coincidence Peachy and I together mooning over the Convex display. It's wall-size, bright and flat as the earth. We wear sweaters, shivering. Jenni keeps the room at sixty degrees and she has threatened to unlock the screeching, profane, dog-faced security daemon should I fiddle the thermostat one-degree higher.  

The T1 channel to Port-a-Prince is wide open. Reynaldos eyes have the bright black sheen of a sharks eyes. After a week at sea a  lone sailors eyes can look like a sharks.  And the box he  holds  displays a  crinkled, vacant brown paper cover except for Peachys name and post.

"Who's Riva," I say carelessly, "as in 'ATTN Riva' ?"

"Riva's  the maid at my condo."

"A condo in Haiti, too?" My face flushes ...  I'm jealous and for my trouble Peachy gives me a cutting smile. I say. "This maid, Riva,  friend of your fathers ...?"

"My father didn't mail the package, and Riva's the friend of no white."    

"She's a black bitch curl your dick into a radish before she eats it,"  hoots Reynaldo.

I say to Peachy. "It's your package. You trust her?"

Peachy says determined. "She'd kill any man fer me, don't yer know."

"Then mi-lady she's late!" Reynaldo flashed the Rolex and snickered. "On time ever since I welded the links on sen~iors watch ... a gift, no ... hehe? The watch never leaves my wrist, I stay on time, mi-lady and ... and do my business early."

"Yer never touched her ... ner layed a hand on her ter get that package," Peachy scoffed.

"No rough stuff, eh Reynaldo...?"

"Rough? Ha--haha. Sen~ior I had to beat it out of her ass, like your lady sez, but she liked that too much ... when cheeks got red ... eh,  so I started with her tits ..."

Christ ... "Those scratches on your face, big-R?" Reynaldo is five-foot-six and ninty pounds, when he's off the rum and eating mangos. His face has been banged to the right somehow - I have seen him kill a man with his elbow. It's the arm of a starving man, hard and bony.  Now, he's waving the bottle of Barbados rum.

"Scratches, Hricko? You should see the ones on my ass!"

"Feckin' liar."

"Now, now mi-lady. I might just handcuff that  puta to main-mast and drag her along for the ride. "

"Do no such thing, Reynaldo," I snap."

"HA! Reynaldo howls.

Peachy has been snapping freeze_frames, and leans forward in her chair. "Scrape the paper, won't yer now ..."

"Mothers whore ...," escapes Reynaldos lips  before the plasma display fades, twitches, then recovers ... pictures in a stream of swirling, dirty water.  Reynaldos voice too, returns  crooning.  "Play a tune for you, mi-lady fide-fi-do and dance a proper jig."

It's a kind of bleating, the nails-on-wax-paper. "But yer won't shut up, will yer ...?" Peachy fiddles with the hi-fi knobs and freezes those sounds too when she appears satisfied.  "Nere had it out of yer sight?"

"HA! Like a box of Swedish vid-perv.  I squeeze  it like two melons, mi-lady," and Reynaldos gropey paw flicks out clawing air.

"A regular mangler ye are ...  so now turn it around."

Reynaldos eyes stare out from the screen searching for mine. "I have the little-ones, eh Hricko. What's glass and gold ...?" The voice is bitter, and leaps. "All for we bargained for, those ...  Now the puta, she wants my asshole ..."

"Spilt rum. We'll settle later," I say unsurely.

Reynaldo steps back juggling the box. "She's got your balls, my friend as any woman would, but when did she get your pants?"

My guts churn, cause what's MINE is real important when I'm not sure ... what little thing can drive them off ...  a man can spend months with some women and not have that happen. Peachy had just cast  upside clumps of  tall, sharp marsh-grass,  skipping  brine with the silver blade when a blue  hit it. There was the clash slap of oily fishy flesh on water and frothy boil of it in  moonlight.

"Just fucking great," I howl !

Thirty yards from the runabout  a fish boiled surface scum and a Carolina moon already high and full and hot. The metal blade that had arced away so cleanly  now vanished in froth! A blue fresh run from the ocean - its fat glistening body gave THAT away for free. Scared dry piss out of me, hooking a damned fish and I almost dropped the break-handle 357-caliber  when  line started singing from Peachys reel. The blue tail-walked out of  shallows, through  a patch of oyster trees and drove south and deep, diving for the middle of the Intercoastal Waterway where 400 yards of 12-test couldn't turn it. And damned well not either would Peachy's AK-47 ,  her guun, a gift she said from a dead Saudi Mujad who had cartridges custom rifled in Scotland for 800 meters and not a yard less.

If  Mujad spelled success we needed fscking camels wandering over from James Island ...  I thought that, and toked hard on the kif.  Pinched the reefer into a chrome eyelet and felt sad  crabbing forward grabbing for the line. Nice blue! Must be eight pounds, if it's an ounce,  and  fresh-run  Peachy grunting at the bent rod to hold it steady and the line spraying water as it zig-zagged  ... if you're a fishman of any sort you know the thrill,  the brute, animal struggle and its pleasures ...   so it broke my heart - another deep kif hit  then  burning the red tip through Peachys line giving back Peachys fat, blue bastard to the nearest shark.

Mono curled and parted silently -  a mechanical action by me  - understand I'm thinking for all of us here ...   burning line is reasonable. We drop below swamp noise. Sure, Peachy will understand. About us. A wooden runabout bobbing on the Intercoastal. In the dark. Beside the GPS antenna  burned one tiny red running light a moth wouldn't feel and an owl couldn't see. Crap. Sure, I think  about how obvious THAT was, but a  mile east Reynaldo would try punching  through his  schooner sails reefed and single-handed with the tide between Isle of Palms and Bulls Island. Punch between sandbars and sharp-eye Federal watchers on sharp-hulled cruisers with gas turbine engines only the taxpayers bloody dollar could afford. Reynaldo had better watch sharp ... We had to spot him, flag him and hook on. There's a chance then, to avoid the Federals all-seeing eyes, cause  the dredged tidal into my dock vanishes to overhead eyes  - dim green marsh camo even in daylight.  

"Cut my line ...," Peachy snapped.

"Burned, love ..." I teased poorly.  

Well damn it was the angel Gabriel if not me, and Ben Hricko's nothing if not reasonable.

Quick as an eel she swiveled reaching from the bow and slapped me! "That's fer noothin'!" And she kisses my mouth where it starts to bleed some, her tongue licking softly and her sharp little teeth biting into my lip where it bled. "Would we look more natural pickin' our goombs?"

"I'm sorry," I said.

'Course I'm not sorry, not for the fish. Plenty sorry for Peachy ... It's a philosophic thing between us, like the value of time, a sharp scraping edge between two people who otherwise share bed and body  ... a point of emotional and logical contention how a person hides in noise ...  what we all share and don't care about. Or what noise looks like from the outside?

"Give him another two hours."

Peachy says nothing, but is tying onto her mono another stretch of steel leader. Then another chrome-tail spoon. She jangles the chrome splines. Screw-you-matey and the quiet night you drifted  in on ...  it said. Catch a whole school next time the noise said - if she felt the need. That's important now, cause Peachy thinks  we would need to shoot Reynaldo and that  killing too must appear as nothing else, but noise.


It's last night, 3-AM and I wake up alone.  The window looking out on the marsh has been rolled open, and  rain - it slants in sideways from the east beating a  glass tattoo. I've dreamt of a ghost ship and grinning bones and awake shivering in the heat. Some women leave you that way even while you mount them. Not Peachy.  I would have spooned to her back had she been there, warmed, found sleep again ... I pull on cotton sweats and wander into the hallway. Light creeps in a sharp blue slit from  the door to my Convex. Jennie will scream daemon virtual madness if I try that, but two women get along.

I decided that weeks ago, how Peachy and the Convexs' virtual mistress Jenni must share intimacy. They talk in ways I may not share and do not understand. How can one man understand six-million lines of 64-bit assembler? It's like possessing a woman ...

The door opens silently, and clicks shut behind me. Air-conditioning whines on;  in the corner a coffee-pot perks.  Peachy's head kants as I come close, but all-eyes to the screen. Patterns on the screen I understand. They are Bessel-function decompositions of a distorted conic section -  many ellipses from one, a figure that represents and is peculiar to a certain risky and obscure trading strategy in sideways markets. That figure should interest maybe ... thirteen people in the world, and is known by only half of them. After the figure, London Jews call the strategy Christs Crown. The trading strategy fails most always ...  

Peachy flicks at the keyboard, and six images replace the one. "He's got you had, Benji, can you see that?"

"No," I say and go for the coffee. Peachy waits while I bring over two cups. "I see an image of your package. You've got the polarizing filter inline."

"So you see the craft."

"What's rocket science about marking a package? Wax? Course so ... that's why you had Reynaldo scratch the paper. Nail-marks are obvious. But, I didn't know you understood ..."

"It's moony, luv ... me faather taught that early."


"It marks the paper here," she says moving the pointer left, "and the reconstruction's  over here."

"Yep. Same figure."

"Not exactly. Loook, will yer at the cross-correlation!" A single image fills the screen, and at that resolution an asymmetry dances out."

"Wrinkled paper, wet paper, fuzzy printing ...."

"For your minds peace would it be so ... but  noone a' those me luv. A tiny part of the markings were made in X-ray sensitive ink! What you see on the left is my own photo made before the package was shipped."

I leaned over and squinted. "So you're saying ..."

"Noothin' I need to say with that picture shouting so. Between the time Riva got the package and the time Reynaldo showed it to us, an X-ray was taken."

"An X-ray, huh ..." I thought about it. "Taken before it got posted to Riva?"

"No post, Benji luv, but hand delivered."

"By ..."

"By people who know better."

"Better than I should?"

"Not better than love, but much better than vanity ..." She turns facing me, her optimistic Gaelic cheeks seeming to sharpen. "Keep what's yours without asking Benji, from those who would take it. It's a small thing, what's mine and Reynaldo gave that up."

Reynaldo I think would sell his mother for a rum-splash and his sister for a lime juice squeeze, but men do not partner casually.  

"I trust Reynaldo."

"He's turned like sour milk."

"What's really in the package?"

"Nothing, but a fiddle some careless woman might play." Peachy got out of the chair and  walked to the table. It's rosewood, long and narrow ... an extravagance. "Sometimes it must be the song not she who sings it. Have I sung wrong for ye?"  

I  hadn't decided. Damn the woman. I have never just shot down a man. Yes, I have shot a man to save my own life ... I hadn't before Peachy came along, but that must mean nothing ...  intentions count. Cold blooded murder must have different needs. She is peering through the window, onto the dark, featureless marsh, and I am watching her peach blonde hair swirl casually.  Casual death ...  Peachy in secret womans ways knows about such things ... she whispers them to me sometimes during love - we become violent. And other times in sparkling sunlight she speaks plainly, but never in detail along Isle of Palms beachs where we walk.  And I do not press her for how ...or where they came to be hers, these needs  and if god-damn-it  she had ever had a WHEN.

Do people - I mean lovers -   always dissemble by obscurity when they join? What then ties them together ... I don't mean the reasons or social conventions, the socializing ... what makes each one stay HERE and not THERE. Always a there, in my experience not much different than here. Couples ... friends ... they appear out of nowhere like the glue between them. What glue, and how do they share before they share anything worth staying together for ...  what's the medium-of-exchange? The coin of affection? Whose face shows on that coin? I'll have no romantic or spiritualist explanation - what comes before nothing.  But on lifes coin ... it's written there - oh yes - I'm sure of it.

"THERE," exclaims Peachy!

I turn my face to the fish-finder. Its screen swims in a watery, 2-D truth. Yes, there it is. Among sparkling green twinkles of fish here or there beneath us. An oblong yellowish path blotches the screen, and grows in size moving east-to-west. It's a ghost image, an electronic derelict, unreal but prodding us. The yellow blotch  moves round  the eastern point  in the race between Bulls Island and Isle of  Palms.

Big as a whale ... that's what you could tell from the  fishfinder distorted image.  Noisy as a horny blue whale in mating season.  Hydrophones on the runabouts hull are bleating  a whop-whop-whop from the 60-hp blade Reynaldos diesel pushes when his sails are down. I don't see the full harmonics, but Island channels always distort a hulls song; makes one fibreglass  hull look like anothers teak plank. Sometimes ... I 'm peering  east, toward the dark race. It's a mile away and I see nothing. From the screen I read six-knots and 30-db, then 20 and 15 as I change frequency bands.

"Is that his signature, Benji? Are those his numbers?"

His? Numbers? I smile and look at my Rolex ticking faithfully ... " Might be anyones ..."

"Some expert yer be ..."

I look skyward and back to the screen - yes! I can see anyone  with the fishfinder. In truth it's a fisher of men, a Chezko-French design, bitchy and mean-spirited meant to pinpoint underwater demolition teams whether human or cetacean - pinpoint, target, destroy ... the French would sell whores to John-the-Baptist for the hair on his shirt. I paid less.

"Put the night-vision goggles on it," I suggest. She hands them to me. I look. An urge to laugh out loud rolls  silently over me.

Peachy hovers ... she is not a woman to hover ... "A Ta-Ching," she says. "Fifty-seven if it's a foot, but Ta-Ching never made a 57 ..."

Clever woman, I think.  

Persistent, too, her voice crackles. "Took him for a pirate, now, didn't I Benji, what with yer stoories ... rape and pillage and brigand froom the Cape to Haiti. Reynaldo's a dog's wild hair yer said. A tradesman saiid you sailing a rotted Dutchman."  

What starlight shows at a mile shows a green ghost. Yes, the pilot-house schooner  has come over port-side, mainsail and jib still up and taut before the stiff easterly.  

"What tradesman sails a  hull worth a thousand ounces of gold?"

Yes, I nod and say nothing ... straining to see. Even the towed dingy I can make out. Every blue-water sailer tows his fireboat knowing God did not intend men to sail the sea in peace. Fire is His watchman. In that dingy Reynaldos carries 30 gallons of water, flares, raft ... and ... and 70 kilos of Jamaican hash pinched into the keel. Least it did last time. Safe, too if an ax-head  is close to lay on the line should Federal Cutters appear.  Pocket-change  ...  my share wouldn't buy the fishfinder. Risk is another matter ... Whatever you've told her about Reynaldo, no need to bother Peachy with THOSE details.

What's that you  think?  She's an eye sharp-as-sin for detail even when it's only words. Arms ... weapons?  Could it be! The Kifir bastard's smuggling weapons under the chronic? My head yanks up in Peachys direction and I meet with her eyes watching me slowly. I smile, dis-semble ... and she smiles back. What's missing?

Yes ... the missing  engine harmonics. The schooner has sailed  dark into the race, engines beating at low power -  damn fool trick in a narrow channel. Reynaldo will do fool tricks. Just like him, actually, had it been Reynaldos hull.

The Ta-Ching now swings West into the Intercoastal, and  stiffed up reefs her jib. I  give Peachy the goggles. "Better stow the Kalish."

Prescient, or just wary she had  got busy doing that. "You know them?"


"Locals are they, not heathen pirates!"

"Heathens are a matter of taste." I drag the joint down to it's glowing red end and toss it overboard. "But more than local. I know the boat, cause I've sailed it! Stiff little bugger for a pilot-house ... you bring it 3-points to the wind and it won't lay over."

"Damned Slovak lie." She shakes free her hair from the braid and  like a blonde flag it tosses restlessly. "Stiff as those sailing ... that's your story. So  what's their name?"  

"DeLeon. Nick and Eve DeLeon ... Lieutenant DeLeon. My yes ... old-Charleston  stiff if it's a year. We have people in common."

Peachy nods. I think her body  stiffens,  as flags stiffen in a breeze. She comes aft to the wheel and puts her fingers over mine. "People who won't blow down, yer Lieutenant. Not  me, though and not Reynaldo ... "

"Nick likes it his own way. A smart man gives some ..."

She kisses me. "So is it common business or  unlikely pleasures you share?"

"Either way,  I would not point a weapon at that man, or at his wife."

Thought of another woman sailor brought flush to Peachys cheeks. "Even  if it meant your own?"

"Even if it meant yours."

She starts ... then nodding eases herself  first against me, then away to the teak rail and leans back, her body full into the wind.  Women do that, in my experience, expose themselves ... bits of flesh or what might be if you could see it or cared to. They expose that bit in place of what  stays hidden. I cannot think of a part of me not given away at some time to maintain the rest, to survive.

I think Peachy has such parts, parts never given away. She says. "Yer damned Krauts will come looking for payback."  Her voice does not accuse, but it does promise. She is seeing the entire deal sink beneath  Atlantic waves, and those waves she sees washing even further.  

"I have no idea what will hang around."

"Noone, me luv ..."

What she sees she tells, but  who knows what a woman hides?  Yes, I have asked and she has bared her body and dared me to find something  not exposed. Bare flesh for sure is a lie, but ...  I tell what I know for sure. "That Ta-Ching's bound for us. Might as well say the first hello."

Then, I punch at the engines. Bow lifts, planes and turns east  more wake and bubbles than speed  cutting a  noisy fluorescent circle ... a wooden sparrow flying to meet a fibre-glass and Kevlar hawk.


We have drawn up port-side, of  DeLeons Ta-Ching and rock in its bow-wave.  The runabout engine rumbles while schooner hull and spars and mast loom above us ... and Nick too, watching with careful detectives eyes all blacked out by night and careless body-sway  while Eve leans from an open pilot-house window shouting to Peachy "... for gawd sakes don't let him scratch the teak  trim Nicky will go just wild ..."

"Benji pilots like an ox ..."

"God-sakes grab his horns."

I've never seen that - Nick go wild, but I have seen that careless flow in his motions,  a body thinking its way into futures more easily got into than out. That body has before hacked it way into and out-of such futures. Men did that ... in the 15-th Century which is how I think about Nick.  He watches us, his fist gripping port-side rail, and framed by that careless pose he is a very deadly man - 15-th century. You can see the decision being made, with a short aside as he turns his head back to the pilot-house and Eves close-cut hair disappears ... and she appears beside him.

Closer now,  our two hulls one huge and one quick. I maneuver the mating  ... a rope ladder comes over the side. Eve motions and Peachy leaps to it and clambers up. They speak a bit - laugh - Nick and Peachy have spoken before ... perhaps more than I know. Peachy has never met Eve, but quick as moonlight the women are together - first on the deck waving ... some pair they are, aren't they,  Eve in a raw yellow silk sailors blouse  worn by no sailor before and Peachys  linen vest bound up as only  Welsh pirates full of whisky could understand. They mate at birth, I think, any two woman. First a handshake then touching  clothes and stroking.  Them framed in the moon,  flying away  to be hidden at the schooner wheel.  Nick - he's slithering down the ladder jumping in no way like a cat to my runabouts flat bow.

We wait. Lights flicker in the pilot-house, then from the mast. Nick watches ... his Ta-Ching drifts away, toward the channel center while he lights a Straight and tosses the pack to me. Deck of the runabout is dark as hell and quiet as Jesuits telling truth. I put the pack next to my battered chrome Zippo at the wheel and two red-tips glow. Nick sprawls over edge of the deck where it falls off into the wheel well.

Nick says. "You finally got the Mercs tuned."

"Peachys work, actually.  Takes a Gaelic to tune four carburetors on two engines."

"Most would think only honest workman could do that."

"The work's honest ..."

Nicks face scans bow-to-stern. "But not you, huh ...  hasn't  got YOU tuned, now has she. The deck smells like an Edisto Island hash-factory."

"We have our ups and down."

Nick eyes flick over the break-handle 357-caliber sitting next to the Camels. "Not much of a firearm to use on sharks. You are fishing for sharks ...?" I say nothing, and after a silence Nick smooths back his white Panama.  "Fishing like any Isle of Palms couple. Yeah right Hricko ... birds-of-a-feather ... ask me.  So tell me something I don't know."

"The blues are hitting split-tail silver spoons. Try a cast if you like."

"Haha!" Nick laughs. "Some recreation, huh Hricko? Middle of the night ... expensive time for a man like you ... deals, trades, souls  bought and sold.  Course the Bible says '... come, be fishers of men ...' Know that one?"

"I never believed it."

Nick spit off the side, and blows a long thin stream of grey smoke into the night. He looks at the one rod - Peachys - stabbed into it's holder. "A split-tail really made blues rise? I'da' guessed  water moccasins would take it first. That the only rod you brought?"

"I'm resting ..."

He looks down. "Maybe I should try my luck! Must have a 9-footer in the lock-up. Mind if I look?"

"Too bad. I left keys on the dock."

"Damnation, Hricko that's what I like about you - more shell than a crab." He reaches under his windbreak drawing out a black-mat 40-caliber autoload which he points at the lock. "Any port in a storm sailors will tell you."

One southron coppers careful troll past his target ... that's what I think and do not rise for the bait. "Waste of city property, Nick. Twenty-dollars a box, those steel-tips. Now the lock ...  that's a Titanium lock. It melts lead. You could chew through the mahogany, but shellac's hell on your gums." Nick sits back resting the autoload on his knee. The barrel doesn't  exactly point at me. He leans over to flip on the sea-radio. Reception's good. Coast Guard chatter fills the air with storm warnings. I say. "City Station take you off the day-shift?"   

"Not with the union."

"Not with Eve ..." Nicks family  was hard-scrabble Johns Island 'croppers. His wifes ... came on the first boat from Essex and have been wealthy since the French owned London.

Nick's quiet,  listening till  radio-rap drifts north of Georgetown.  Then he tilts back the brim of his white Panama. "Some chatter earlier," he says too casually, "of a stray ship, a derelict - a schooner like my own - a  lost hull without a pilot. Eve and I were sailing back from Georgetown ... one of those charity things for lost boys and underage girls one woman just couldn't handle alone. They should have served pork not dry chicken. The sail back might a' been romantic, know what I mean, Hricko, sail and sea and ... ? Then 5-clicks north a' Bulls Island word comes of the Dutchman."

"A derelict Dutchman?" My mouth tightens. "Who reported it?"

"Tramp freighter outa Norfolk  ... twenty-clicks nor-east. Almost ran the damned thing down, to hear the freighter-men say. A fifty-footer they said carrying  full sheets, making 9-knots and bearing south-east. As I  figure, the course would just about hit the race between Bulls Island and IOP. Just about now. Isn't that the damnedest?"

"Sailors sail at night - even those with good intentions ..."

"Yep. That's what Eve said. Now me ... I'm thinking  no derelict sails at night with full black sails only the smugglers."

"Derelict ships and smugglers ...  that's why we pay the Feds, Nick. You could just sail by."

"That's what Eve said, but dryland or wet, a  Holy City copper's always on duty. Especially when the business gets strange ...".

Nick let that hang, whatever got strange. He let me hang along side. I asked. "So the tramp freighter hailed  The Dutchman, and ...!"

"Hailed? They came about and shipped in close enough to count spars! Then, they blew a flare over The Dutchmans bow. It blew right by them. Haven't seen a schooner with black sails, have you? Didn't think so ..."

"Quiet here as a hungry shark, Nick. But then it's tough to sail through sand. If you ask me,  that  schooner's  rented out of  Myrtle Beach, running auto-pilot  and  carrying six drunk, horny teenagers  sleeping it off below-deck."

"Ya know, Hricko that's just what Eve said. But then ... then there's the dinghy ...  Tramp freighter reported THAT too. Experienced sailors, especially one experienced man sailing at night would always trail a fireboat.  So a dinghy got me thinking."

"I see you trail one."

"Oh that?" Nick swivels onto the bow and stands straight up watching  his Ta-Ching  tack smooth, lazy, fluorescent  figure-eights into Intercoastal brine. "Not mine, Hricko. When Eve and I sail together I figure she'll always come back for me if I take a dive. And if not ... well, what man doesn't trust his dame too much? Hell, bend 'em too far and they can always drill bullets through a pillow."

"So where  ..."

"Well, I've been trying to get there ... just where, cause ya see while that tramp freighter reported nobody on the Dutchmans sailing deck,  they  did report a  figure on the towed dinghy! If ya believe them it was tall ... bare-breasted ... a womans figure."

Ha. I managed a low laugh. "A  lone woman at sea, huh ... have wings and a beak?"

"No Hricko ... no beaks no wings and no snakes growing from her head. Not crooning DIXIE either.  But she was  clawing over tarps - so the freighter story goes -  clawing like something got stowed or wrapped  with those tarps." Nick gives a hitch and jumps down to the wheel-well ... about a face away from me.  "Course men-at-sea  tend toward optimism -  always see women in the water.  Sailors get careless about  woman at sea ..."

"Not you, though ..."

"Not tonight!"

I feel a cold sweat chew at my neck.  "So the dinghy you're trailing  really belongs to the Dutchman!"

"Can't say for sure. When things go wrong ya improvise, adapt, do a jig  ... know what I mean, Hricko?  We plucked the dinghy outa surf  on Bulls Island. East tip where the sand-spits reach out. Quite a coincidence, huh?"

"And ..."

"I gave it the once-over ... not much to see. Hell, it's only a rowboat!" Nick had climbed back up to the bow,  standing tall and over the rocking  bow follows a fluorescent path of his Ta-Ching. Finally he says.  "And the woman? I saw an empty sea. No Dutchman,  no woman and ... and no tarp on that dinghy! Don't think that woman coulda sailed The Dutchman away, do ya? Didn't think so ..."

"Women and sailboats, Nick ... one  sails pretty much like the next one."

Nick spit. "HA! I'd keep THAT plenty quiet, and sleep with one eye open, if I were you, Hricko. 'Course  if that dinghy IS the same one seen by the freighter ... wonder what got wrapped up in that tarp? Maybe something the woman used up and didn't need any more. Can happen to the best man ...  know what I mean, Hricko?"

I'm numb in the quiet dark. Thoughts fly by, of  derelicts, of women at sea and of the men who follow them. Tide has come full. Stars above fuzz in swamp mist as  offshore wind that comes with  the tide has fallen.  The Ta-Ching had reefed sail. Nick has a cell-phone pressed to his ear.  She's quick, Nicks  Ta-Ching  and plants it's stern in a quick port-side heel moving toward us.  

Nick says. "Woman are getting along famous, Eve sez. Regular pals. Not us, though. Get this scow out there a bit, Hricko, won't you? I just painted the hull. Hate to scrape bottom on those oyster trees."

"What about the dinghy," I say.

"Lost and found, Hricko, something here or there. It might mean nothing, cause the ocean, well, it tends ta make things clean. I'll drop it at  City Station dock then it's forensics problem. A copper can't be on duty all the time."

Nobody can ... Nick sits in the fishing chair with the white Panama pulled low over his face while I motor into the main channel. His Ta-Ching too, is on engines, and  hull-to-hull at 3 knots we mate like swan and sparrow. Peachy leans over port-side rail dropping a sea ladder; Eves yellow sailor blouse shows through a pilot-house window.  

Nick jumps to the ladder and scrambles up. "Oh yeah, Hricko," Nick shouts back after reaching the deck. "I forgot something ..."  Peachy has a hand on his shoulder as if to say ... but Nicks arm is moving ...

Then Peachy is climbing down - a glint of silver flys in an arc from Nicks hand toward me. I lunge for it  feeling metal cut into my hand, strike my chest tumbling and falling to the well. I reach for it. Peachy's on-board and waving to Eve. They are forever pals say the careless waving arms. I pull away in the runabout,  feeling the weight and almost hearing the soundless tick-tick of Reynaldos bloody stainless Rolex in the pocket of my windbreak.