A row of streetlamps cast a yellowish light over the cracked and aging Yonkers side-street. Under their electric beams, a warm breeze swirled the humid night air into long flowing patterns. Overworked air conditioners droned on, echoing off rain streaked brick and cinder-block walls. City borne dust and grime collected on every car parked along the curb, giving them all the same matte finish, dull and lifeless and begging for a good scrubbing.
Detective Pete Jansen unlocked the drivers door of the black SUV and slid inside. The suspension creaked under his weight, then settled, and it was quiet. He sat there and stared at nothing, keys still in hand, playing back the tape in his head, trying to wrap his brain around what just happened between him and his now ex-partner, Gerry Sharpe. The fragrance of her hair lingered on his clothing where she had laid her head. He wanted to stay. She had asked him to. “Why didn’t I?” he wondered. “She had wine! She offered me wine for chrissakes,” he said to himself, well aware of the implications. She felt good in his arms. Warm, yielding, so unlike the hard-nosed detective he’d come to know over the past few years. And now he’d have to come to work each day and look into the face of a new partner across his desk. “Probably some old guy with BO and nose hair,” he thought. “Or even worse, a young pipsqueak greenhorn cadet fresh out of the academy.” He suddenly felt very lonely.
“Aw crap!” he said aloud, then jammed the key into the ignition switch and started the engine.
The tide on the Hudson was at its lowest, exposing two feet of dark slime on the wooden pilings as well as the boulders and rip-rap that lined the shore and angled sharply up towards the street. The inky water was becoming more active as it began its twice daily northward migration, and with it, a parade of brightly lit tugs pushing their barges filled with unknown commodities towards unknow destinations, their Captains taking full advantage of the fair current. Spotlights, intensely bright and white, criss-crossed in front of the big vessels. The low pitched hum of powerful engines and the sounds of water rippling past the dock joined a chorus of peepers for the evening serenade. On land the only thing going on was a graffiti covered box truck lumbering noisily up the street and a pudgy old man walking a little black dog.
Gerry Sharpe sat in the comfortable pilothouse of the Great Harbor GH37, her bare feet resting on the gauge console. She cupped a glass of red wine in her hand. From her perch she could see it all and reflected on its beauty.
“So this is how the other half lives,” she murmured and turned her attention to the array of gauges, switches, and levers under her feet. “Now if I can just figure out how to run this thing,” she said aloud. “How hard could it be?”
Her head was still reeling from the recent life-changing events, but she was comforted by the fact that she was now quite literally in the drivers seat.
“I just don’t know. It’s too risky.” the man said. “Yes Layla, it is a pretty boat, but perhaps we should make do with what we have and move on.”
The pair made their way along the waterfront sidewalk to the restaurant that overlooked the Yonkers free dock. The upscale eatery, now empty and darkened, became as unattractive as all the other businesses on the street, shuttered and locked-up tight against the world. The man pulled on the wrought-iron gate on the side of the building and the piece of wood that he had jammed into the catch fell to the sidewalk. He picked it up and placed it where he could find it again. They continued on to the chain-link gate that guarded the docks below. It was wide open. A broken padlock lay at their feet.
“Well it’s about time,” he said to Layla. She looked back at him and remained silent. Together, they went down the long aluminum gangway. He helped Layla up onto the gunwale of the white trawler, unlocked the cabin door, and let her in.
“I’ll be right back,” he said. “I’d better check the lines. The river’s getting choppy.”
“Hello!” a voice rang out.
“Oh. Hello,” the man said. “I didn’t see you there. You startled me.”
“Sorry. Nice night for a walk,” Gerry said. She was looking down from the open pilothouse door, wine glass still in hand.
“Yes it is. Quite nice.” He lifted his chin towards the gate. “It’s open.”
“My friend did that with a bolt cutter. I don’t think he liked the idea of crawling under,” Gerry said amiably. A small wake rebounded the boat off the fenders. Gerry steadied herself and spilled a bit of wine. “Haven’t got my sea legs yet.”
“Yeah. New boater, new boat, new life.” Gerry looked straight up to the starry sky. “New everything.”
“How long have you been looping?” he asked, pointing to the white AGLCA burgee.
“What time is it?” she asked. The man looked perplexed as he checked his watch.
“Almost one,” he answered.
“‘Bout four hours then,” she said. “You? That’s your boat, right?” she sloshed her glass towards the tidy Marine Trader 34 docked in front of her. The name Breeze written in bold blue letters across its transom, up front on the bow rail it had a little flag like hers.
“Actually, I recently acquired her. Looks nice on the outside but a bit messy inside. Haven’t had a chance to clean yet.”
“Well, maybe I can help you, I’m pretty good with a mop.”
“Thank you for the offer, but I’m very particular. I’d probably work you to death.”
“Not if I shoot you first!” she quipped.
“Beautiful boat, the Great Harbor. I used to have one.” he said.
“Oh!” Gerry perked up. “I could really use a lesson.”
“There’s not much to it really. I’m no expert, but I’d be happy to show you what I know. My name’s Lee.”
“Gerry,” she said. “Pleased to meet you.
“Permission to come aboard Captain?”
“Okay. You have two engines.” he began. “More specifically. two Yanmar 54 horsepower diesels. Very fuel efficient but slow. Don’t expect to go faster than ten MPH.” He scanned the console. “It looks like a lot of gauges but that’s because there’s two of everything.”
“Where’s the speedometer?” Gerry asked.
“The gauges only monitor the engines. Speed is reported on your navigation and GPS screens, but we’ll get to that in a minute. These two big ones in the middle show RPM.”
“Like in my car.”
“Exactly, and just like a car, you don’t want to over-rev, but it’s a lot easier to do in a boat, so keep it below the red line here,” he pointed. “Looks to be 2400.”
“You got oil pressure, water temperature, and voltage.” he tapped them all in a row. “You want to see them in the normal range indicated by the green section, but sensors on the engines will cause an alarm to sound if there’s a problem. If you hear an alarm, check the gauges and shut down the problem engine. The best thing about twins is you can make it to port on just one.”
“Well, you’ve got to figure out what’s wrong and fix it, or have it fixed. Most of the time it’s something simple, like a broken belt, or a coolant leak, bad alternator, or maybe a loose wire.”
“Okay. Pretty much like cars. Got it. What if both engines die?”
“You cant pull over to the side of the road and wait for Triple A, but you should drop the anchor to keep from drifting, and call for help on your radio,” he pointed to the marine band radio. “Keep this on channel 16 while you’re underway. Every boat within broadcast range can hear you.”
“Yes it is, even if you can’t see anyone you’re rarely alone.”
“So how do you know where to go? Are their maps?”
“Ahh. You really are a novice,” he said. “There are maps, but they’re called charts.” He opened a cabinet. “I see you have paper ones. Very nice, but nowadays it’s all electronic.” He reached over and switched on the Furuno chartplotter. The instrument booted up and glowed. “See. It looks just the paper chart but it moves along with you anywhere you go. That little triangle is you, this boat, and that magenta line is where you want to go. Your speed is also displayed here,” he pointed. It read 00.0. “That’s about it rookie. The engines start like a car.” He jingled the two ignition keys, one in each hand. They had yellow floats attached. “Diesels like a good warm-up. Fuel level is here,” he said pointing. “This is your holding tank level, you know, waste.” He flipped a switch. “It’s reading one quarter full.” You pump it out every once in a while.”
“Where?” she asked.
“Most fuel docks have a pump-out station. I usually do it when I fuel up. Or they can do it for you, just give them a tip. Five bucks is good.” He flipped another switch. “This your fresh water tank. You got 100 gallons, pretty good. Fill it with a hose at the fuel dock or while you’re in a marina. It’s fairly straightforward. Use the deck-key hanging over there and unscrew the fitting and stick the hose into it, same key also unscrews the pump-out fitting on the side of the boat. Everything is labelled.”
“What about electricity?”
“Ahh, follow me,” he said. They went to the aft-deck. He lifted a small hatch cover and pulled out a thick yellow cable. “Plug one end into the boat here,” he pointed. “I see it’s already connected. The other end goes into an outlet on the dock. There’s no power to connect to on this dock.”
“Why do I still have lights?” Gerry asked.
“Because you have a bunch of batteries somewhere on the boat. They wont last forever, but they’ll go a long time. They charge up by running the engines, like a car, or you can charge them if you’re on shore power, ya know, plugged in to the dock.”
“What about hot water? I don’t seem to have any. It’s kinda lukewarm.”
“There’s a hot water heater. Your batteries won’t run it. It requires too much juice. You have to be plugged in, or if you run the engines for awhile, they’ll heat the water. It takes a good half hour. Let’s start them up so you’ll have some.”
“Great! I could use a hot shower.”
“How long are you staying?” he asked.
“I’m not sure,” Gerry answered. “A forensic team is coming because this boat might be a crime scene. It’s a long story, but for now, I’m stuck here.”
“Like I said. It’s a long story,” she answered with a dismissive hand gesture. “Hopefully they wont take too long, but as a retired cop, I know they’ll probably take their sweet time.”
“How long have you been retired?”
“What time is it?”
“It’s one thirty.”
“About four and a half hours,” she answered.
“Well Miss Gerry, I’ll take my leave. I’m sure it will all work out. Maybe I’ll see you on the water.” He faced her and made a little bow. “It was very nice to meet you.”
“You too. G’night Lee. Thanks for the lesson.”
He made his way back to the little trawler and opened the side door into the helm. Layla was laying on the couch and looked up sleepily when he came in.
“We’ve got to go Layla,” he said. “Right away.” He turned the key and the Lehman 120 diesel engine rattled to life. Layla looked at him questioningly.
“I know it’s dark,” he said. “Just go to bed. I’ll wake you when we anchor,”
The iron smell of blood, though now darkened and dry, still permeated the air in the tight galley. The heap of what once was a living human female lay on its side under an old blue tarp that was unceremoniously thrown over the gruesome scene. Gorey bits of brain tissue, bone, and hair, that clung to the side of the stove and cabinets could not be so easily covered. Layla got off the couch, and after carefully stepping through it all, plopped into her bed with a sigh.