Sundog looked over his shoulder. “You’d better step on it, Billy, cause you and The Dog got big trouble.”
I gave a quick glance at Tammy, then jammed the throttle.
Sundog, slapped me on the back of the head. “They’re gaining.”
I watched in disgust as Billy ogled the breasts of that washed-out blonde leaning over the side of the cabin cruiser. I wished I were on that boat where I could get warm, instead of sitting in this stupid testosterone special.
I was an unwilling participant in their stupid little caper. I wanted nothing to do with it, but I did use the press pass. When everything was all said and done, I’d be the one identified. I really didn’t want to know even one silly detail of their idiotic little plan.
I’d thought about leaving Billy many times in the six months we’d been together, but I’d never gotten the courage. But then, I’d never been kidnapped and forced to pretend to be someone else, especially Yamelda Keating. She was my icon. I wanted to be like her, not impersonate her.
The big cabin cruiser was gaining. Whatever was in those soggy pillowcases was either contraband or stolen. Either way it wasn’t good.
I promised myself that if I got out of this, I would never talk to Billy or that sleaze-bag Sundog again.
My second promise was I’d personally turn Billy and Sundog in to the police. I’d walk right into the sheriff’s department and fill out a report that would put both of those idiots behind bars. I made that promise to the Holy Father, The Son and The Holy Ghost. I crossed myself, then slammed Billy with the heels of my hands and screamed over the loud macho motor. “Get us out of here.” I hate men.
I lifted my eyes from those amazing hooters and saw the scowl of a jealous woman. Was it Yemelda? I’d seen that look many times.
Sundog slammed me in the back and yelled, “You’d better step on it, Billy, cause you and The Dog Man got big trouble.”
I was no longer worried about police. I wasn’t thinking about losing the jewelry heist of the century. I, Billy F. Marlin, Casanova of the south side, was worried about another kind of jewels, the ones between my legs.
I jammed on the throttle. The boat leapt forward in the placid water and I prayed aloud for the first time in years.
My ol’ buddy hadn’t really kept the boat in top running condition because when I punched the gas the engine spit and sputtered. It continued to run and picked up speed, but it didn’t have the power it once had.
Sundog gave me another whack on my head. “They’re gaining.”
If Yamelda’s Sunday punch last night was any indication, I was in big trouble.
I glanced back at the big cruiser fifty yards behind us, and it was gaining. When I looked forward again, sitting in the middle of the only channel between us and freedom was that stupid pimply-faced guard. I saw his terrorized look and the little aluminum boat straining against a taught rope. There was nowhere to go.
My only opportunity to get clear of Yamelda, screaming-maniac, fist-flying, Keating, without plastering the kid was to turn.
I’d been happy to sit comfortably and watch the misty morning float by. I loved watching calm water on a winter’s day. The only thing missing was my fishing pole and a beer.
My second love was photography. It was why I liked my job so much and why Keating took me along that morning. I was famous for pulling amazing camera angles from the most mundane scenes.
Since Yamelda said nothing about why she was turning around and failed to answer my question, I assumed she was off on another newsworthy adventure.
My camera was up as the boat panned and chased the ski boat. Although things were bumpier than I wanted, I stood and leaned with the pitching of the boat to take the roll out of the camera. I clicked on the steady cam feature and got a perfect shot of the ski boat skipping like a stone over the calm, flat plane of water. It was fifty yards ahead of us.
Each frame merrily clicked away. Like a mural painter with a ten-story building to paint, I saw what lay before me. I retracted the lens to frame the tops of the drowned houses. I opened the aperture for more light. I saw it coming. The young guard grabbed his starter rope and frantically pulled the engine to life. The little aluminum boat lurched forward and suddenly stopped on its red nylon rope. I slipped the zoom out and brought in very close the guard’s anguished face. Everything was so perfect. There was no place for the ski boat to go but plow into the kid. Some great footage was in the bag. My only problem was anticipating what the ski boat was going to do.
I pulled the zoom back until the boat was in full view. I smiled when it veered to the right. The guard’s expression was excellent. I was in Shawn heaven. I could have died right there, everything was so perfect. My camera, the frame, my very life was running in slow motion. Every second that ticked by, the camera caught another frame of an impeccable shot on another incredible chase scene, which had no other conclusion than a wild ending.
Had I been driving the boat, I would have plowed right over the guard and filmed every detail. I didn’t care why the ski boat was being chased, all I wanted was the shot and it was rolling like a runaway freight train, unstoppable. I felt the shift of our boat. I readjusted my feet to rotate with it. I was still in good shape. As the big cruiser went into a deep spin, I slipped. I wasn’t going to be able to stay on my feet much longer, but I wanted the shot more than I wanted anything. I guess it wasn’t anything new. I wanted every shot more than I wanted anything.
I grumbled as I was forced to pan the camera across the nose of the boat at Henry and Yamelda’s tangled, limp hair. I lost precious seconds scrambling to get footing, to find another camera angle and re-focus, but I slipped on the wet deck. The camera slid from my grip and shot overboard. I grabbed the rail and looked into the murky water as it sank out of sight. I looked up at the ski boat.
Lucky for Yamelda and Shawn, it was me piloting, the stable, conscious of everything going on around me, Henry Ponce. I’d moved back in the captain’s seat to give the wheel room from my overly paunchy belly, pulled my right hand through wavy thinning hair and focused on the scene.
I didn’t care how much that witch Yamelda wanted to catch the ski boat, R.J.’s cabin cruiser was not going to get a scratch. I’d driven the boat too often. I had history with that boat. I loved boats and that classic mid-fifties Chris-Craft I loved more than any other.
As the ski boat reached the guard, I stopped the engines, cranked the wheel and veered to the left.
There was only one thing left to do. With so many witnesses, I wasn’t going to add a murder to the list of things I was about to get caught for. Grand theft, burglary, trespassing and impersonating would lock me away for plenty of time. I’d burglarized the houses of all the local judges, Chief of Police, District Attorney and probably any other attorney working within Marysville County. I had to face the cold, hard truth.
I turned the boat away from the pimply-faced kid. I gripped the steering wheel and braced myself. The boat hit the guard shack and I expected everything to go airborne.
How was I to know that ten years ago, when Tenican Heights was first finished, the guard shack had a big wooden sign on the roof, and that three years later the wind blew the sign down on a new BMW? The sign was never replaced. Since no one ever went up there, the heavy steel brace that held the sign was ignored. Instead of using the roof as a ramp, the brace divided the boat in half.
Head over heels, I sailed through the air. From certain angles during my flight, I saw Tammy, Sundog, and most importantly, the seventeen pillowcases flying with me.
There was a time or two, during one of my many rotations, I could’ve actually grabbed and held onto one of the bags, but I was much too busy hanging onto the family jewels. I was going to hit the water and it would be hard and cold. The boat was moving too fast. When I hit the freezing water, it wouldn’t be fun. I knew one thing for sure, I was getting out of the water as soon as humanly possible. The only likely way out was to accept help from that Black-Widow, the cold-cocking-terror, Yamelda Keating.
In anticipation of hitting the freezing water, I opened my mouth and let out a long, painful howl. The water was coming and I could feel its hard coldness.
When I hit butt first, the surface of the water was like polished concrete. I bounced. When the water enveloped me, one arm dipped into the murky depths. A leg followed. My head wedged in and I dove straight for the bottom. I didn’t know which way was up.
When I stopped, I made contact with one of the famous white picket fences of Tenican Heights. Dazed and confused, I grabbed a section of fence. I yanked it out of the ground. With a death grip, I held onto the wooden debris.
I wanted to take a breath, but there was no breath to take.
I waited for the fence to pull me toward the surface. It didn’t. I was out of time. I let go. I kicked for what I hoped was the surface.
CHAPTER #9 SHE’S A HERO
I watched in horror as the ski boat shifted direction, obviously to miss that stupid, pimply-faced guard. I found myself feeling a seldom-considered pride for a man.
I turned to Henry and pointed. “He turned to save the kid.”
Henry looked at me. “What else could he do?”
From my limited, sparkly-eyed vision, Billy was a hero and that was all there was to it. He could do no wrong.
I watched the boat turn into shredded wheat. A tinge of jealously pierced my heart when I saw the blonde go airborne.
I stood to keep an eye on Billy. I didn’t care that our boat missed the kid in the aluminum dingy by inches. I wasn’t concerned if I fell into the freezing water. I didn’t even care when the five thousand dollar camera slipped from Shawn’s hands. All I cared about was one thing. That thing flipped through the air and bounced on the surface of the water.
I winced and held my breath as he skipped like a stone. When Henry came around to the remaining shreds of the boat, Billy had disappeared.
I slammed Henry on his shoulder and pointed at where Billy had gone. “Get over there, you bastard, those people need help.”
Had I been by myself, I would have definitely saved the bimbo last. Let the bitch sit in the water until hell froze over. The little witch deserved it.
But, I wasn’t alone and there was an image to maintain.
I waited to see Billy resurface. I wanted to be there to save him. He would owe me and that was good.
Billy didn’t surface.
The cabin cruiser slipped over to the closest person bobbing in the water. Shawn pulled him on board. I kept my focus on the place where Billy went down. The boat was on its way over to the blonde before I got worried. Billy should have come up for air. As Henry and Shawn pulled the blonde aboard, I lost all semblance of my precious reputation. “Forget the bitch, let’s find Billy.”
The second the blonde twit was in the boat, Henry leapt to the driver’s seat and pulled the cruiser forward.
“Faster, you idiot. He’s drowning.”
The boat lurched. My eyes were glued to the spot where Billy disappeared. He was still moving fast when he went under, so I calculated his momentum. Then, without thinking, I did something inconsistent with my nature. It was so out of the ordinary with my emotional makeup, it even surprised me. I kicked my shoes off, yanked at my three hundred dollar Cardavan skirt, ripped my hundred fifteen dollar white silk blouse down the center and dove overboard like an Olympic swimmer.