The McNabb-Purtch Crime-busting Crew cruised slowly by Santa Cruz Island's Fry's Harbor, just to be sure, and yes, there was the Chicken of the Sea, anchored alongside the rocky west wall of the harbor. Nice and secure.
Lovely spot - with cliffs rising out of the water. Fairly high hill in the background. The water out there is pristine and a breathtaking, indescribable shade of blue. Blue-green? Greenish blue? Blue-blue? Emerald? Depends on the depth.
No one was topside. They could have been down below with food and drink, or they might have paddled to shore to hike around. I didn't remember whether they towed a dinghy behind them or not. I didn't think so. In any case, they were going to be here for a while.
Then it hit me. Of course they were anchored out here. They would motor and/or sail quietly home during the wee hours and be almost completely unnoticed. This would explain why I had once observed them arriving at Santa Barbara Harbor just before dawn. Virtually secret, the crooks, as they unloaded their cache of the day. (Good one, huh! I smiled at my clever coinage.)
I mulled these things over while we hummed along toward home, the sturdy boat slapping comfortably on waves as it plowed through. I decided to hang out at the harbor, rest a while and then take up my lonely harbor vigil by Marina D, with a good view of Poubelle's slip in Marina C. I needed to be alert so they wouldn't spot me when they entered or exited the marina gate.
We were home before cocktail hour and I wrote Bard his check for a thousand smackers. He looked exceedingly happy for a catch this easy and large in the off-season.
"Good day's work," I said.
"Yeah," he grinned. "That was fun."
I decided that I should be ready for my surveillance any time after dark, so I had a sunset dinner in a Mexican joint by the harbor, thinking meanwhile that dinner would be so much more interesting if I had a female companion. I resolved to find one as soon as I was through chasing these creeps. But Margie? I thought about that choice throughout dinner. An attractive woman, an attractive idea, but she had seemed determined to leave me stranded.
I soon ran out of women to fantasize about, and wandered around the harbor after sunset, but figured it was probably pointless, since Carlos & Co. almost surely would arrive much later.
Then I got a bright idea, a way to use up some expense money: I went around the harbor to the Poop Deck, a bar-restaurant with one of Santa Barbara's best views. If you sat at the bar or at a table on the narrow deck you could watch "those harbor lights" that someone used to sing about. Since I had worn my warm hoodie sweatshirt, I chose the deck and found one empty table. A good omen.
I planned to drink beer throughout the evening. Surveillance woes? No problem!
I supplied some local color for tourists - a grizzled old sailor with a warm, kind smile. Folks wouldn't know if I was a fisherman or not. They all look alike. Especially after dark.
Smiling, I said, "Gimme a nice tall Sierra Nevada Pale Ale," to the smiling blonde in red shorts. The Poop Deck owner knew what he was doing, hiring pretty girls like her. She smiled back and I kept smiling, and she smiled again when she returned with the amber glassful. She kept smiling on her way to the next table. Everybody was happy with my plan to spend Mason's money. And it was easy to keep Margie out of my mind in a place like this.
"Here's looking at you, Kid," I toasted at the girl in red as she came back by. Looked like a fine night ahead.
I was pretty well smashed by 11 p.m. The waitress, whose name was Peggy, said she would set me up with her mother, whose name was Polly. She insisted she wasn't kidding and asked for my business card, which I happily gave her, and she gave me Polly's phone number. A fine night.
But as I finished the … I think it was the seventh beer, I realized through my sodden view of the world that those turkeys out at the island could arrive at any time!
I left a generous pile of cash and ran to see if they had arrived while I drank. I was hugely relieved to see that the slip was still empty. I hurried to my car to get the Elmore Leonard novel I was reading and found a bench under a bright streetlight near the marina restrooms. I could read the night away.
It was a bit worrisome that this bench was quite close to the Marina C gate that the drugsters used … then I figured well, I would see them before they got up on the harbor walk and saw me. No problem.
Except that I awoke with a start at about 1 a.m., as I was slumped forward so far that I had begun to pitch forward onto the walk. DAMN! I had fallen asleep and the boat was back! I fervently hoped that they hadn't got a good look at my face, since I was bent forward, head almost doubled down to my knees. I'd been doing my Drunk Homeless Guy imitation. If they DID get a good look . . . this could be my last night on Earth, I thought. Heart pounding, I sprinted - well, jogged rapidly -- to my car and vacated the premises: cop talk for getting the hell out of there.
I got home in less than 10 minutes, and left the car parked in front of the garage door, as I often do. That was kind of a perennial promise to wash it, and I was in a hurry and would probably be in a hurry first thing in the morning. I walked gratefully onto my nice brick front walk and . . . WAIT! That big car over there in the darkness! Was it the black Cadillac I had escaped from? I turned and started to sprint to the door and . . .