Editor’s note: We reviewed Greg Gilmartin’s third novel in our January/February edition (windcheckmagazine.com/article/cant-sail-in-jail/), and liked it so much that we asked the author to share a piece with WindCheck readers. This passage is from Chapter 18 – Ishkoodah.
It was always about the cash with Dr. Z. He grew up with enough of it to want more. He understood how it opened doors and brought things into his life. How it made life more enjoyable, created a sense of freedom even as it presented a path that could enslave him. The more he wanted, the more he needed, the more he had to find it, create it, build it.
Grass seemed an easy way to satisfy his needs. And, at first, it was. The cash flowed as he hoped. And it kept flowing – to the point he had to reckon with the concept of too much of a good thing.
The enterprise he built began to tax his capabilities and put him at greater risk of discovery. Sure, a few folks already knew of his project. Most of them were intimately involved and shared the same risk. His wife, Camille for one, who doubled as his best friend. Her brother, Tony. A couple of sailing buddies. Over the six years of smuggling, all of them did a good job keeping their horizons in check. They had access to money but contained their exuberance. He liked to call it comfortable consumption.
Z didn’t drive the most expensive cars or have the biggest house. They were nice. He did have a second house, of course, and a few sailboats, but that was all a part of the business. He certainly wasn’t hurting anyone. In fact, he was providing a solid service to his many customers. And he had grown in his personal development. His golf game was as good as ever and he could relish his adventurous spirit for unique experiences, like diving from the cliffs of Acapulco. And he did love fast cars and would never have been able to immerse himself in that drama, if he had stayed the leather artisan he once was.
Bill McCoy came to mind before Scarface. Two scoundrels who flaunted the law. The bootlegger supplied the Southern New England coastline with undiluted rum during Prohibition. The cocaine crazed crime boss fed the frenzied fever of drug fiends, real or imagined. He preferred to identify with, and lived, as the friendly, heroic idol of thirsty thousands who would travel offshore in the 1920’s and 30’s, beyond territorial limits to secure their taste for the week. He liked to think Z-Weed was the rum du jour. And yet, he had to feed a fever of some kind because there was so much in motion. And the cracks were starting to appear.
Stronger still was his love of sailboat racing and the need to compete. He often cursed the out-of-balance game and especially felt the power of the ESYRA Championships drawing him this weekend. His boat Smoked was in the thick of the competition, ready and capable of winning with his Billy-led crew poised for another title. And here he was being chased by the law…or, about to be.
The cops didn’t know where he was this Saturday morning. While his boys were prepping for day two of the regatta, he found himself indulging one of his other passions, flying. His mission: to keep his enterprise afloat. There was a problem. Ishkoodah was missing. It had been two months since her last delivery, only two weeks since her last pickup, and she was scheduled to be in the Connecticut River at “Esties”, the drop-off rendezvous near Deep River, on Friday night. He had waited there but no one showed. Repeated efforts on ship to shore radio had gone unanswered. Now he was piloting a rented Cessna out of Hartford’s Brainard Airport to look for her.
It wasn’t the first time he had been forced to hunt out an overdue shipment of Z-Weed from Jamaica. Marine radio communications were unreliable unless you were close to the boat you were calling. There was also a certain sense of privacy that he attempted to maintain when it came to dealing with a boat that was smuggling hundreds of pounds of illegal weed into the country. Schedules were tenuous, based on a plan rather than a reality. A plan that had to be flexible as the reality played itself out.
So, once again he was in the air, trying to keep a low profile at 2000 feet under spectacular VFR conditions, just another lucky pilot flying south through one of the prettiest sections in all of Connecticut with green forests below, blue sky above and a million-dollar payoff gone missing.
Dr. Z had left the airpark literally on a wing and a prayer. He figured Ishkoodah had to be out there along the river somewhere. Airborne for a half hour, about 25 miles downriver, he spotted the missing sailboat south of Deep River. Suddenly, the anticipated discovery was not so pretty. What caught his attention first were the flashing blue lights attached to a pair of small motor craft that were obvious manifestations of officialdom.
“Crap!” he muttered as he circled above the drifting flotilla. He could see the unusual roll bar of the Alubat 50 over the stern section, the auto pilot wind vane and radar dome, all obvious giveaways that this was his missing sailboat Ishkoodah, now fully found. A third boat joined the group, this one larger and more menacing. The flotilla was just south of Chester Rock at the end of Eustasia Island, a couple of miles from the planned drop off point near the Pratt Creek. And Dr. Z, once again, experienced coming face to face with his worst nightmare.
The entire Connecticut River flood plain south from Middletown was a marshy haven of back creeks among the reeds and weeds, that led to docks of all shapes and sizes, ideal for off-loading product without drawing a crowd. At the heart was Deep River, a town known for smuggled elephant tusks in the ‘40s and still a favorite spot to drop off illicit goods.
As long as no one was looking for you.
For whatever reason, and his deep brain was working overtime to try to determine where he had exposed himself, the authorities had chosen this moment, this boat, this 2500-pound load of ganja, to exert their powers.
The third boat was black, sporting a red stripe around its hull, the signature logo of a U.S. Coast Guard vessel. Z guessed rightly that it was the Guard’s 82-foot Point Class workhorse. Normally used to service navigational buoys, it was playing squad car. He could see the unique wheelhouse surrounded in glass with a solid window frame that extended aft along and above each side of the lower cabin before abruptly stopping as if there was no need to further protect anyone beyond the driver.
A crane sat in resting position at the stern, normally used to lift buoys from the water. However, it was the gun placement on the bow with a .50 caliber machine gun under the guidance of a blue uniformed sailor that changed the tone. Maybe out of place, but clearly in the middle of the action. It had been modified to handle the USCG’s expanding mission of drug interdiction. He guessed again it was the Wicopesset stationed in New London.
As he watched, a hard-bottomed inflatable, an HBI, all business looking with twin engines hooked on the stern, and five armed soldiers squatting on the sides, launched from the larger Coast Guard boat, sped toward the surrounded sailboat. The small boats with the blue flashing lights had to be the DEA or maybe EnCon Police. They stood by in front of the sailboat, blocking any forward movement. There was no hi-speed chase in anyone’s future, he thought. A moment later, Dr. Z noticed a small single engine airplane circling the gathering on the river, probably 500 feet below him.
“Crap, crap, crap!” he repeated. He had seen enough. Time for plan B. He increased the throttle and started to climb, turning back to the north toward Hartford. He knew he had to get away as quickly as possible before anyone thought to connect him with the scene on the river. And connect him they would, he knew, because his brother-in-law, Tony Fangioloni, was captain of the sailboat. It wouldn’t be long before the phone would ring at his house in Glastonbury and his wife would find herself up to her earlobes in authorities who would begin asking questions and she would have to deal with another worst-case scenario. Lie or come clean.
They had discussed the possibility, but both dismissed it way too lightly. Both had pledged to say nothing when asked, but they knew they were kidding themselves. Too much money, too much fun, they were in it to win it, enjoy it, live it. It had been woven into the fabric of their lives. They always knew it would end but were convinced they could end it on their own terms, in their own time.
Z and Camille knew they were classically naïve, but too much money, especially easy money, had a way of building great walls. His wife liked to laughingly call it their “room of ignorance”. She couldn’t help but admit to him that “…I like it here!”
On the water below, Captain Tony cut the throttle on Ishkoodah and looked at his two crewmates, as if to say we are foked! The trio had sailed about 6000 miles together during the last five weeks, but all they could share at that moment were looks of dismay and chagrin. The freedom of the open ocean seemed so far away. All three stood quietly in the spacious cockpit of their boat, unmoving, as the HBI pulled up with the squad of armed soldiers. ■
To order a copy of Can’t Sail in Jail! and Greg’s other novels, Crew and Spy Island, visit GregGilmartin.com.