THE TOPIC OF THIS CONTEST WAS:
A brisk breeze pushed through the hatchway, cooling her sunburned cheeks. Saltwater lapped at the hull. A mariner’s lullaby. She smiled, pondering her perfect life. No people. No stress. Just the occasional storm, and sojourns to the mainland for provisions. Just as her tired eyes closed, violent knocking and shouting erupted on her starboard side…
(Stories need only touch on this topic in some way to qualify.)
Eddie Critzer turned his sun reddened face toward the hatchway of the Zaca, closed his eyes as a cooling breeze swept into the houseboat’s cabin, and congratulated himself on being dead.
Eddie was presumed lost at sea when his Cessna failed to reach San Juan on what should have been an uncomplicated flight from Sarasota. While the search and rescue operation had failed to turn up any wreckage in the expanse of water between Florida and Puerto Rico, authorities were positive that Critzer had plunged to his death somewhere in those vast cerulean waters. There was, simply, no other explanation.
Eddie smiled as he settled into his hammock, sipped a glass of high-grade single malt and recalled the well publicized efforts of the authorities to connect him to a manufactured disappearance. They’d analyzed his finances, interviewed his employees and the clients of his contracting business, and examined the books, but found no improprieties. They’d spent hours talking with Dolores, his wife of twenty years, but came away with nothing but a portrait of a comfortable and happy marriage.
After six months they had pronounced him dead. A memorial service had been held at the Presbyterian church, after which a tearful Dolores had returned to their gated-community home a grieving but wealthy widow.
Of course, it had taken Eddie several years to put it all into place. You don’t just choose a new name and a new home, open a bank account and start your life over as someone else. At least, not if you want to get away with it. No, it had been done piecemeal, with Eddie constructing his identity as John Eliot – he liked the manly sound of the name – on the indolent but administratively independent island of Virgen Magra. It was here that he was able to funnel cash into a bank with no reporting requirements, until he had socked away enough to last him the rest of his life.
Pushing with his forefinger against a bulkhead, Eddie got the hammock moving in time with the water lapping at the hull of the Zaca. The name, he’d heard, was Samoan for “peace,” which is precisely what he wanted. The IRS and the whole goddamned American fascist nanny state could kiss his ass, for he, Eddie Critzer, was a free man. Oh. And Dolores, his lovely wife of twenty years. No more Dolores – carping, nagging Dolores with her long, tantalizing, yet eternally closed legs. Now, John Eliot screwed a warm, chestnut brown woman on Virgen Magra four times a week, no strings attached. He was, at last, answerable to no one except the occasional storm that cuffed his island anchorage.
Eddie balanced the glass of Scotch on his chest and closed his eyes. No sooner had naked, chestnut brown Anya begun to ooze into his mind, than a violent knocking on the starboard side of the Zaca jerked Eddie awake. He swung out of the hammock, catching the glass of Scotch before it hit the deck of his cabin, and produced a Glock 26 from the holster at his waist. Even heaven could hold its horrors, and Eddie was rarely without the powerful black handgun.
He pushed through the hatchway and stepped onto the Zaca’s deck. To starboard sat a yacht, white and shining, with an Australian flag painted on the hull. A large, sunburned man in flowered swimming trunks stood on the deck, grinning until he saw the pistol in Critzer’s hand.
“Hold on, mate,” he said, pointing at the Glock, “no need for that. We just put in and didn’t mean to run up against you. Just trying to come alongside, but I cut it too sharp. No harm done?”
Eddie examined the side of the Zaca.
“No harm done,” he said, holstering the Glock. “What’re you doing at Virgen Magra?”
“The little woman and me are taking a cruise of the islands,” said the Aussie. “Never been to this one. You live here, mate?”
Eddie nodded. “On my boat, here in the harbor.”
“Hon!” cried the Aussie. “Come on up here!” To Eddie he said, with a wink, “My sheila’s getting back into her clothes. She’s not in ’em much when we’re on these little cruises. Something about the water, I reckon…the rockin’ motion or something. Lord, it gets her going.”
She trotted up the yacht’s companionway, jiggling inside a purple bikini and holding a wide-brimmed straw hat on top of her strawberry blonde hair. She hurried to the Australian’s side and took him by one of his beefy arms.
“Hon, this is – didn’t catch your name, mate.”
“John, this is my gal, Dolores. Lost her husband in a plane crash about a year ago, didn’t you, hon? Course, she and me was an item long before that, wasn’t we, hon?”
Dolores released the Aussie’s arm and hurried back down the yacht’s companionway. The big Aussie laughed.
“She’s bashful about that,” he said to Eddie, who stared after Dolores. “Guess I shouldn’t bring it up, but what the hell? Her husband was a jerk, and on my trips to Florida we used to shag daylights out of each other. When he crashed over the ocean, and they declared him dead, Dolores and me took up full time.”
The first bullet hit the Aussie squarely in the chest. The second one punched through his jaw. Eddie leaped onto the yacht and paused at the top of the companionway, tightening his grip on the Glock.
He started down the stairs, and congratulated himself on being dead.