Murder on the Great Loop. Part 8

Headlights winked through the trees that lined the mighty Hudson River. Tail lights too. Red and fiery and diffused through the morning mist that settled above the warm water and hung there waiting in vain for the slightest breeze to clear it away. The banging of dumpsters being tossed about by behemoth trucks reverberated off the hardened walls of the burgeoning Yonkers neighborhood. Graffiti covered vans and box trucks double parked to unload their goods and foodstuffs which were quickly swallowed into dark back doorways of eateries and other businesses. The working day has begun.

Former Detective Gerry Sharpe stood at the upper helm of her latest acquisition, a Great Harbor GH37 named Andiamo. If she had any qualms about quitting her job to live on a boat, watching the cars snake slowly along towards their daily destinations wrenched them from her. She wiggled herself into the captain’s chair and swivelled it around to face the helm. She felt so small in this big chair so high up on this big boat. You can do this Gerry. She grit her teeth.
“You will do this!” she declared loudly, shaking her head so that several locks of grey and black hair escaped from her red scrunchie and clung to the sweat on her long neck.
“August’s a bitch,” she said as she quickly wrangled her hair back into place.
“It’ll be light soon. Tide is slack,” she said aloud to nobody. “It’s now or never.”
She reached forward and started the engines one at a time. The whole gauge panel sprung to life and the Twin Yanmar 54 engines burbled nicely beneath her.
“Just like a car,” she said. Again, aloud to nobody. The words came out slowly, metered, as she fought to contain the excitement of the moment. “Now what?” she breathed.

On the table next to the helm, a copy of Chapman’s Piloting and Seamanship lay open to chapter 6 titled Seamanship Under Power. Over the past week Gerry learned everything she could about boating and all the systems of her new floating home. But reading about it was not enough. I gotta get out there and just do it. Put my hands on everything, get them filthy with the dirt and grime of life. Fail? Maybe, but so what? At least I’ll be out there doing something. Life is a friggin’ gamble, so I may as well make it interesting.
The previous owners had marked the paper charts with every port they used along their Great Loop trip. Even their course was highlighted in yellow. Gerry’s plan, at least for the time being, was to follow that course. Sure, most of the loopers had passed Yonkers weeks ago, but that only meant there would likely be fewer boaters at marinas, anchorages, and locks. A plus for a novice. It’s one thing to screw up, quite another to screw up with an audience. Now was her trial by fire. You bought this damn boat. So let’s drive it! She moved both levers forward. Nothing happened.
“Shit,” she muttered and moved the levers back into neutral. Standing up, she looked down the starboard side to the dock and stared at the four dock lines still firmly wrapped around the cleats.

She laughed at herself. It might go better if I untied the damn boat!
Once untied the boat handled beautifully in the calm mid-tide waterway. Thrusters, both bow and stern, made life so much easier. Andiamo easily moved sideways away from the dock, and in forward gear quickly reached her cruising speed of nearly 8 knots. Gerry scanned the gauges. All looked well and she relaxed a bit. The wide Hudson is a good place to get the feel of her new boat. It’s a weekday and not many boaters are out. She could only see one tug in front of her and according to the AIS it’s travelling faster than her, so no worries there. Her chart had Nyack Boat Club circled with a phone number written next to it, and under that were the words launch service underlined twice. She looked up the word launch in the Chapman’s glossary of terms and was buoyed by the description:
Launch: A powerboat used as a ferry between land and a moored boat.
This is good. Her dinghy is high and dry on the aft deck roof and she hadn’t had a chance to mess around with it, something she planned to rectify as soon as possible. Having a dinghy means more freedom. She could ferry herself to and from the land, but for now a launch seems easier.

The Nyack Boat Club lay nestled at the foot of the Tappan Zee bridge on the western side of the Hudson. Gerry was unsure of exactly what to do when she got there, so she dialed the number and explained the situation. Launch driver Dave was very kind.
“Take a left after you go under the bridge and you’ll see a bunch of white floating balls. Call me on channel 9 when they’re in sight. I’ll come out in the launch and circle the ball I want you to tie up to. Attached to the mooring ball is a length of line with a float on the end of it. Approach very slowly. When you’re right against it, put your boat in neutral, walk up to the bow with a boat hook, scoop up the line, and tie it to your boat. Don’t worry, I’ll be right there to help.”

The mooring went smoothly.
“When you’re ready to come ashore call me on channel 9,” Dave said. He tossed her a friendly wave and powered up the sturdy inboard launch.
“Thanks for all your help,” Gerry shouted.

Intent on making a list of things needed on shore, Gerry armed herself with a pencil and a pale yellow Post-It pad. After a few minutes she sighed in defeat and scribbled down one word.
“Everything,” Gerry muttered. “I need everything.”
She found a collapsible rolling cart in the lazarette and radioed Dave. Within a few minutes he was on her starboard hip and Gerry stepped aboard. In another few minutes she was on dry land again, rolling the cart behind her. She found everything she would probably need a couple of blocks away.

Downtown Nyack was a pleasing combination of quaint and modern. Brick sidewalks collided with walls of stark plate glass windows that were tinted grey enough to hide the secrets of their interiors. Colorful banners hung from every cast iron streetlight, and of course, the requisite fudge and ice cream shops seemed to appear on every block.
The aroma wafting from a corner pizzeria corralled Gerry. It was mid afternoon and a slice and a cold beer would be just the ticket. She stepped around a little black dog leashed to the railing and pushed open the big front door. Sweat froze on her face in the cool interior. She placed her order at the counter, perched herself on a tall stool, and looked around. A gaggle of girls sat in a booth around a massive pizza, faces all in their phones, fingers pecking away. Two men in suits and three well coiffed women in smart business attire occupied another booth. In the far corner, half obscured by a large fern, sat a pudgy man behind a plate of pasta. It was Lee. The man she met at the Yonkers free dock. She was sure of it.

What the hell? Small world, Gerry thought. It was easy to resist the urge to go and say hello after her food arrived. He was gone the next time she turned around.
When Gerry returned to the marina with her cart crammed with provisions, she could see the launch heading out with Lee, the only passenger. Dave expertly brought his launch around the backside of a beautiful Grand Banks trawler moored on the far edge of the field. He was out of sight for a moment, then emerged around the big cruiser’s bow and headed in.
“Hi Dave,” Gerry said as she stepped into the launch.
“How are ya Gerry?” Dave asked. “I see you found the market.”
“Yup. Liquor store too. Hey Dave, that guy you just dropped off…”
“Oh yeah, Lee. Nice guy, A little kooky, but nice enough. Talkative. Just got here,” Dave offered. “While you were out.”
“Is that his boat?”
“Yeah, beautiful boat. Says he’s had it for over twenty years now.”

On board Andiamo Gerry Sharpe peered through her new Nikon Prostaff 12×50 binoculars at the well kept Grand Banks 46 Heritage Classic that floated 200 yards away. She focused on its highly polished mahogany stern. Baby Grand in large gold lettering sparkled in the sun. Underneath, in smaller lettering, it read Webster, NY.
Perplexing, Gerry thought. After thirty years on the police force it’s hard to turn it off. Once a cop, always a cop. It just doesn’t add up. That was definitely Lee, but that was definitely not his boat.
She spoke aloud that age-old question concerning the one thing that bugs the shit out of all cops. “Why is he lying?”

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