I thought over the situation and yelled up to Bart in the crow’s nest, “Let’s just keep following the Chicken of the Sea. If we see that they’re doing anything suspicious, we should get closer to watch.”
Bard shrugged. I could see him shaking his head. I heard him mumbling. I think he said, “Whatever you say, Kimosabe.”
I wondered if the whole Gang of Four would be aboard. I saw them all, Carlos and the hapless Loretta, Poubelle and the thug, when they came down to the boat, but had they all come on the trip?
And, another thing; was Carlos going to throw Loretta over the side or something equally bad? I didn’t like thinking things like that, but that woman had sounded pretty much like a basket case when I heard them making out back at Poubelle’s. Well, HE was making out. Not sure what that pathetic Loretta was doing.
This business of tailing the sailboat went on for a couple of very long hours. I was beginning to appreciate that Bard had had the foresight to pack a lunch before we took off.
Bard came up with another a good idea: We would make a wide loop around the much slower sailboat and look around for ourselves. Maybe we would find something of interest, like a load of drugs. On the other hand, I kept hoping we didn’t run into a Mexican fishing boat crewed by a bunch of paisanos armed like pirates.
Then finally, something of interest came into view. We were way ahead of the Chicken by now. Probably undetected by the crooks we were following. We found what the Chicken was no doubt here to pick up.
Bard waved his binoculars around and yelled down to me, “Could be a basking shark.”
He pointed farther out in the channel, about halfway along Santa Rosa Island, and turned the boat in that direction.
Bard said we should stay well away from land in order to avoid the swells hammering each other into rough water as the current passed between the islands. We were getting out of the lee of Point Conception and the wind was friskier and the waves higher, so I was glad we might be nearing some kind of discovery. Might have a sea-going drama yet.
Mercifully, it came soon. Bard yelled at me, “Slow down to idle,” which I did. He climbed down from the crow’s nest, the rocking to and fro of which by now was making me a little squeamish just to look at.
Bard took the helm and piloted slowly left and right, me watching from the bow.
There it was!
“I SEE IT!” I yelled. Progress!
I pointed left and he slowly motored that way. I gestured right and left with my hands, him watching through the front windshield, and finally made a throat-cutting gesture as we drew alongside the . . . what I didn’t know. He idled the engine.
It definitely wasn’t a gray basking shark. It was almost white up close, for one thing, and it had no fins.
“No shark-fin soup tonight,” Bard muttered. He poked the thing with a pole, and it wobbled slightly. It looked rubbery and was maybe eight or nine feet long, about a foot and a half wide. What the …I got out my little Nikon and snapped several pictures of it.
Bard was telling me about how big basking sharks are, with their huge fins sticking up while they loll on the surface eating plankton, when I looked over my shoulder.
“Aw jeez!” I yelled. There was a fairly tall sail peeking over the horizon at us. “They’re back there! Whatta we do?” I became instantly confused and was basically lost at sea.
Bard made a quick left turn and motored away from the thing that wasn’t a basking shark.
“We’ll head on over to Santa Rosa and pretend to be fishing. Like you said on the way out here. No problem.” But he looked a bit scared himself.
“Oh yeah,” I concluded meekly. I forgot that I had things all figured out already. These characters had me a little disoriented. OK, scared, frankly. This drug thing was no small potatoes.
As we neared the Santa Rosa Island coast I kept an eye on the sail back yonder – it had to be Poubelle’s. It was heading toward the white rubbery thing we had just pulled away from. We hadn’t seen any other sailboats out at sea this morning.
“Here you go,” Bard said, and he handed me a sturdy rod and reel, the kind used for deep-sea fishing. “No bait?” I asked. I was only kidding, but he went into the cabin and came out with some salted anchovies.
“Get us somethin’ to eat tonight,” he grinned, handing me the pack of little fish.
This was turning into one weird day. I kept one eye in the water, keeping the gang out of my thoughts and hoping to see a fish on the end of the line when I reeled it in.
I kept the other eye on the sail out yonder. It was tacking around where the pseudo-shark was. I figured when they headed home we would wait until they got far enough along to be unable to see us and they we’d follow them.
Actually, I caught two bright orange rockfish, just big enough to feed me and Bard tonight. Better yet, enough to feed Bard and spouse, making me even more of a Good Guy.
Then a surprise: As we motored around, almost in circles, to keep an eye on the sails of the distant Chicken of the Sea, it headed toward Santa Cruz Island. Then we saw it veer into Fry’s Harbor.
I wondered what they’d be doing there. Maybe paying some delivery boy? Maybe just partying? Waiting for darkness to fall? Yeah, I thought, that’s probably it – I’d seen them that other time, pulling into the harbor at dawn, dragging bags of what I figured had to be drugs. Of course!
Hell with it. I had the info I needed, and it made sense. What else could it be besides drugs in that bag out there? No question about it. They would have learned from the Mexicans, only a phone call or email away, that the drugs were floating at such-and-such degrees off Santa Rosa Island, and, as we saw for ourselves, it was easy to spot the thing.
So there was Carlos’s drug supply, a major one, worth thousands and thousands of dollars at today’s market prices. Tens of thousands. Millions, maybe. Some number of zeros beyond my ability to calculate.
I needed to hurry back. I wanted to have them busted before they busted me. Maybe Loretta could stay out of jail by convincing a jury that she was more or less a captive of that swine. I could testify to that.
I would also make it my business to somehow force her away from those creeps, and give my client Mason Stone and his poor messed-up wife Loretta a chance to start over. And pay me very handsomely. Mason had already given me a lot of money, but these hours were adding up, and besides, he could afford a nice tip.
“Let’s go,” I told Bard. “Mission accomplished. We’ll be back in the harbor by dinnertime. At the price we agreed on, your hourly rate is gonna be up to around two hundred bucks an hour!”
“Bard’s hopelessly sun-wrecked face broke into a big, tuna-filled grin. “Plus fuel,” he said.
“Yeah, plus fuel.”
He happily ate a bag of Fritos and drank a beer on the way back. I ate nervously and drank a Coke, fervently hoping I was going to get away with all of this. Clearly, I, admittedly a rank amateur, was playing with fire supplied by a hardened professional. And if he’d killed before, he could kill again. Or rather, have that bastard thug, Diego do it.
My sleep was going to be troubled until I got this over with, but it could be done. I had isolated and clearly defined the enemy. Enemies. Mason would have the evidence he had paid me to get, and the Drug Enforcement Agency was going to have a very hot bit of information. I hadn’t wanted to call them, but I was clearly treading in deep water now. Time to call in the cavalry.