Welcome to Five O'Clock Somewhere, where it doesn't matter what time zone you're in; it's five o'clock somewhere. We'll look at rural life, especially as it happens in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, cats, sailing (particularly Etchells racing yachts), and bits of grammar and Victorian poetry.
Three hours in Albuquerque and I really want to be back in the mountains
We had to go back to Albuquerque before the year ended, in order to take care of some financial matters, including things that needed to be postmarked before the year ended. It was hard to leave Five O’Clock Somewhere, but at least I could look forward to possibly sailing with Zorro if the weather permits.
We made a rendezvous in Santa Fe with Fuego and his family, as well as the folks, to celebrate Fuego’s birthday. It was an excellent dinner. Fuego and MaK have decided this is one of their favorite restaurants, and with good reason.
We then proceeded on to Albuquerque, where we arrived shortly before 9 p.m. We got stuff unloaded, and I settled down to watch the television news – the first television I had watched in more than two weeks. Pat and Gerald worked on some financial stuff, including some of the aforementioned things that needed postmarks. Just before midnight, they set out to the post office to mail an important document.
That’s when they discovered that somebody had smashed in the rear window of the Expedition. As far as we can tell, nothing’s been stolen. It just seems to have been a totally senseless act of random destruction.
So we’ve been dealing with things like filing a police report and making an insurance claim. At least both the police officer who came to take the report and the insurance company person answering the 800 number were courteous and efficient. The cop used his spotlight to help Pat and Gerald clean up the broken glass from the driveway while he was filing his report, and the insurance person booked us into a local glass company’s schedule for first thing in the morning.
Yeah, I know, crime happens in rural areas too. But to have it happen so shortly after we just got back from the country, that just emphasizes one of the differences between the city and the country. I can’t imagine even the more lawless elements in Rio Arriba County smashing somebody’s car window just for the heck of it. They might smash the window to steal something from the vehicle, or they might smash the window as a form of revenge against somebody, but they wouldn’t smash the window for no reason at all.
I was perfectly happy basking in the glow of the fireplace at Five O’Clock Somewhere. I would not have minded staying up there until next Tuesday, when I have a meeting to attend. But there were these financial matters to tend to. And maybe, there’s a chance of sailing with Zorro. I sure hope so.
Up at Five O’Clock Somewhere, the winters can get harsh. We’ve recently had about four feet of snow, as well as a couple of nights when the overnight temperature was in the minus-teens.
When we had the house built, we got the “Colorado Package” – super-heavy-duty insulation in the walls, floors, and ceilings, stronger roof joists to stand up to snow load, plus insulated windows two grades better than the standard. And of course, we got the energy-efficient fireplace, a must-have for any vacation cabin.
But there was one really stupid design flaw. Manufactured homes are, for the most part, designed and built in warm parts of the country – in this case, Fort Worth, Texas. Fort Worth gets the occasional ice storm, maybe once a year, or twice if it’s a really bad year. It doesn’t get the sort of seriously sub-zero temperatures we get at Five O’Clock Somewhere. So the designers of this house (and apparently of nearly all other manufactured homes) never thought of this particular problem.
The problem is that the water heater is located in a closet that is vented to the outside of the house, so the vent can draw in fresh air for the water heater to use for combustion. The problem is that the water pipe leading into the water heater is directly in the middle of the air flow from the vent. If the air coming through the vent is seriously below freezing, that pipe freezes up, and the house no longer has hot water.
We discovered that problem the first winter we had the house. One of the contractors who had helped us to prepare the lot and install the house showed us the flaw, and he assured us that we weren’t alone, that all of the manufactured houses he had helped to set up had that exact same design flaw.
The solution is to put heat tape and insulation on the pipe leading into the water heater and also to block off the air intake so sub-zero air isn’t drawn across that pipe. The owner’s manual for our house says we shouldn’t block off that vent. But the water-heater closet has several openings in the floor to the crawl space beneath the house, so it doesn’t seem that blocking the vent would strangle the water heater.
Two nights ago, the outside temperature was minus-nine when we arrived home, and we had no hot water. The next morning, Pat and Gerald checked things out, and they discovered that the insulation around the water-heater intake pipe had disintegrated, and the heat tape had fallen away, so the pipe had frozen up. The duct tape holding everything in place had gotten so cold that it had shattered like glass. They plugged in a new heat tape, wrapped it with new insulation, and lashed the insulation in place. A few hours later, we had hot water again.
The thing about the weather being so cold is that it isn’t exactly so pleasant for sailing. This is especially true when the lake freezes over. So we have other diversions to pursue when sailing isn’t an option.
We used to have television, but no more. Broadcast signals don’t reach Five O’Clock Somewhere, so we used to have satellite. It’s a fantastic bargain compared to what the saps in the city pay for cable, but we’ve fallen on financial hard times, and even satellite is a luxury we can’t afford right now. That means that we have no idea what’s going on in the world outside, but we do have a great home-theater system for watching DVD movies.
Other entertainment is decidedly low-tech. We have a lot of books. Pat even jokes that we had to get Five O’Clock Somewhere because our main house was getting so full of books that we were running out of room to live in. Of course, since we’ve built the place, we haven’t slowed down our acquisition rate of books, with the result that both places now have ample supplies of reading materials. There is not a single spot within the house that is more than ten feet from at least one bookshelf. And we have a huge variety of genres as well, so any visitor to Five O’Clock Somewhere will find something of interest. We have fiction: mainstream, literature, sci-fi, fantasy, mystery, thrillers, and even a bit of romance. We have non-fiction: travel, biography, cookbooks, self-help (ugh), satire, history, and some other stuff. We’re also introverted enough to recognize when our guests are introverted and just want to read something.
But when the need for more human interaction arises, we also have a closet full of games. Of course, we have the ultimate in basic game material, the standard deck of playing cards – we have several of those. We also have a lot of the traditional parlor games, such as Monopoly and Life. We have dominoes (a double-twelve set), chess, checkers, and backgammon. And we have some of the less well-known games, such as Illuminati and Kingmaker. We have the advantage of playing on a great table, my grandparents’ card table. The original imitation-snakeskin surface had decayed, and I reupholstered both the table and the chairs with indigo velvet (it was a two-yard remnant at the fabric store for $1 a yard). It’s not exactly a perfect upholstery job, but considering a professional would have charged a couple of hundred bucks, I’m not too disappointed, especially since I also put in some plywood to give structure to the chairs that were seriously sagging in the middle.
Anyhow, since Gerald has been home and it hasn’t been good weather to sail, we’ve been enjoying game nights on the game table. The first night, it was Clue. I won the first game; Gerald won the next three. Then another night it was Illuminati. He won that one as well, infiltrating the world’s political and economic systems. This evening, it was Risk. Gerald took over the world with surprising ease. If this is a prophecy of what’s to come, I hope he remembers his dear old mother when he reaches the heights of world domination.
At last, I’ve reproduced the recipe for the best chocolate chip cookies ever!
2¼ cups flour 1 tsp. baking soda ½ tsp. salt 1 cup (½ lb.) lard (manteca)* ¾ cup sugar ¾ cup brown sugar 2 tsp. Mexican vanilla 2 eggs 2 cups (12 oz.) semisweet chocolate chips 1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)
Preheat oven to 375°F.
In a small mixing bowl, stir together flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
With a mixer, in a large mixing bowl, cream together lard, sugar, and brown sugar. Beat until fluffy.
Add vanilla and eggs, one at a time. Beat well.
With mixer on low speed, add dry ingredients a half-cup at a time. When dry ingredients are incorporated, mix well.
With mixer on low speed, add chocolate chips and nuts. Mix until evenly distributed.
Drop teaspoon-sized blobs onto ungreased baking sheets, 2 inches apart. (Give plenty of space; these cookies spread out more than most.)
Bake at 375°F for 8-10 minutes until golden.
Cool in pan 5 minutes, then transfer to wire rack or layered paper towels to cool completely.
Yield: about 5 dozen cookies.
*NOTE: Lard is essential for the texture of these cookies. Vegetarians or those who keep kosher can substitute butter, but it’s not quite the same. Do NOT attempt to use vegetable shortening; you will regret it.
Our original plan for Christmas Day was to travel to my parents’ house to celebrate with turkey and presents. But we’re snowed in. The thermometer on the back porch rail is now completely buried, so baby we can’t tell how cold it is out there. Instead of traveling, we are enjoying staying in. Gerald and I made tamales last night, and there’s plenty of turkey here.
Of course, I have my holiday tunes going on my iTunes, and one that keeps coming back, and that I find especially meaningful, is “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”
The words of the song are based on Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “Christmas Bells,” written on Christmas Eve, 1863, in the midst of the American Civil War. The horrible bloodshed of that conflict would lead many to despair, as the narrator in Longfellow’s poem expresses.
But the spirit of the bells’ message comes through in a message of hope and optimism, that good and right will triumph in the end. Still today, with all of the conflict and misery in the world, it’s a message that we need.
The carol as we sing it today omits two of the stanzas of the original poem.
Christmas Bells Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1807-1882
I heard the bells on Christmas Day Their old, familiar carols play, And wild and sweet The words repeat Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
And thought how, as the day had come, The belfries of all Christendom Had rolled along The unbroken song Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
Till ringing, singing on its way, The world revolved from night to day, A voice, a chime, A chant sublime Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
Then from each black, accursed mouth The cannon thundered in the South, And with the sound The carols drowned Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
It was as if an earthquake rent The hearth-stones of a continent, And made forlorn The households born Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
And in despair I bowed my head; "There is no peace on earth," I said; "For hate is strong, And mocks the song Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: "God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; The Wrong shall fail, The Right prevail, With peace on earth, good-will to men."
or a gift for whatever holiday you happen to celebrate …
Once upon a time, a long time ago, I used to publish some fiction on this blog. Some of my longtime fans may remember the novel Wizards of Winds and Waves, which I published in serial form (but never finished) some years back. More recently, I had a St. Patrick’s Day special in the form a serialization of a longish short story, “What do You do with a Drunken Sailor.”
But it has been a couple of years now since I’ve put any fiction on here. Part of the reason for that is that I’m working on material that I hope someday to publish for money, and the kind of publishers that pay money don’t like works that have been previously published as a vanity project or online. I’ve been working on a series of murder mysteries in which my main character lives on a boat and interacts with all sorts of interesting people around the marina and yacht club. However, she’s awfully busy tracking down murderers, when she’s not getting nearly killed by fleeing suspects or getting arrested on suspicion that she’s the murderer, so she hasn’t had much time to spend sailing.
As a Christmas gift to my readers, I’ve decided to give you all an excerpt from one of the novels – a chapter that actually deals with sailing, sort of. It’s Chapter 4 from Murder at the Yacht Club. By the end of the chapter, you can probably guess who’s about to get murdered. Enjoy!
Murder at the Yacht Club Chapter 4
The next day, Harry dropped Hannah off at the marina before going in to the office. She spent the morning cleaning up the interior of the boat, tidying up clutter, scrubbing the galley and head, and even making a start on polishing the teak wood interior surfaces of the salon and staterooms. It had been a while since the wood had been polished, and Hannah wanted to do an extra good job, so the task was time consuming. About , she decided she needed a break, and she phoned Harry.
“How are things going there?” Hannah asked.
“Tedious,” Harry said. “There are so many people in this case who want to do harm to Worthington. All of those letters in the file, they’re all most extremely credible. I could really use a break right now, but I can’t leave the office.”
“How about I bring you a sack lunch, and we can at least get together for lunch even if you have to keep working.”
“That sounds really good. I’m looking forward to it.”
Hannah drove to the police station, stopping at a taco stand on the way to get a dozen fish tacos and two large iced teas. When she got to Harry’s cubicle with the food and drinks, he got up and pulled up the extra chair for her. They sat at the desk and feasted on the tacos, savoring the slightly greasy, crispy shells and the tender, almost sweet fish, crab meat, and tiny shrimp that filled the shells, topped with just a touch of salsa for extra zing.
“Here’s what we have so far,” Harry said as he finished the last taco. “We’re looking into who might have made the bomb threat, and the trace on the phone call led to a throwaway cell phone, so we can’t trace it. So I’ve been going down the list calling people to find out where they were yesterday evening. Flash Duran was at a gentlemen’s club, and there are about a dozen guys who will verify that alibi, and that he never had a cell phone. Fidel de la Cruz was up the coast in the BridgeCity lockup – the usual disorderly conduct – and he most certainly didn’t have access to a phone of any sort. Diana Worthington was across town, visiting her Uncle Bunbury …”
“Bunbury, eh?” Hannah said. “I think you have a really shallow alibi there.”
“Well, we haven’t been able to reach him to verify Diana Worthington’s story. Why do you think this alibi won’t hold?”
“A play, The Importance of Being Ernest. One of the main characters invents a fictional Uncle Bunbury, and when he wants to get out of doing something or being someplace, he makes up a story about his poor, ailing Uncle Bunbury who needs him in attendance.”
“So Diana Worthington’s story is made up.”
“Yes.” Hannah frowned. “But why would she choose something so obviously made up, that we would spot it right away? It’s almost like she wants to be caught out.”
“Worthington did say she was playing games with him – that thing about the biggest boat in the marina, for instance. Maybe she’s playing mind games with him.”
“With him, or with us? Worthington’s a self-made man, and I don’t know that his education would include Victorian comedy.”
“So did she do it and give us a faulty alibi to make sure we catch her, or did she not do it and make up the blatantly false alibi to make us think she did it?” Harry asked.
“And if she wants to make us think she did it, why? Is she protecting somebody, or just having fun by misleading our investigation?”
“We just don’t know,” Harry said. “But thanks for the Bunbury information. You probably saved me some wild goose chase time.”
“Ah, yes, the pursuit of undomesticated waterfowl.”
“Meanwhile, I’ve been looking through the other files, the ones from the secret safe. There are a whole lot of business dealings with one Vinny Fiorello. He’s never been convicted of anything, but we sure think he’s very much into organized crime – we just haven’t been able to pin anything on him so far. Worthington might have gotten onto the bad side of someone in the mob, and that would be very bad for his health, to say the least.”
“So would the mob phone a bomb threat as a warning that Worthington should either do or stop doing something?”
“That would be a possibility.”
“And which would the warning be: to do something, or to stop?”
“I don’t know that that really matters,” Harry said. “But if he disobeys, things are likely to get ugly.”
Hannah picked up her purse and cane and stood to leave. “I think I’ll go back to work on the boat some more,” she said. “Then I’ll go to your place to get ready for the yacht club party. You make sure you get there in time to get ready, too. You’re not going to be able to get out of this by pleading that you have to work overtime.”
“Aw, spoil sport,” Harry said. “See ya.”
Hannah returned to Nice Ketch and decided she had spent enough time cleaning down below. The teak on the topsides of the boat needed attention; as it was exposed to the weather, it needed refinishing once a year. It was about time for that refinishing, and she had a can of varnish already that she just hadn’t gotten around to applying. So she set about cleaning the foredeck. As she was working, she had a flashback to the daymare of the day before, when that beautiful teak had morphed into the flat non-skid surface of some totally alien sort of boat. She remembered the grin on the pirate’s face, and she shuddered in spite of the warm, bright sunshine. What would he have done to her if the dream had continued?
Before she knew it, it was late afternoon and time to get ready for the yacht club party. She put the cleaning supplies away, locked up Nice Ketch, and drove to Harry’s house to get herself cleaned up and dressed up. She was in the shower when Harry got home, and he was waiting for her with a towel when she got out. “Thanks,” she said as he wrapped her in the warm, soft plush terrycloth and then proceeded to wrap his arms around her and nuzzle her neck. “Now, shouldn’t you be getting ready, too?”
“Oh, I will,” he said. “Just checking that you smelled nice, you know.” Harry took a quick shower, and they got dressed, Hannah in a kelly green cocktail dress that accented her slender figure, and Harry in a suit and tie – Hannah picked out a green tie for him that both matched her dress and brought out the vivid green of his eyes. They drove to the marina and parked in the marina parking lot rather than at the yacht club, since they were planning to spend the night on Nice Ketch after the party. They walked to the club and entered through the front door, where they introduced themselves to the woman at the reception desk, who turned out to be Mattie Phelps, the yacht club’s administrative assistant who had phoned Hannah to extend the invitation to join the club.
“Take the stairs up and take a left past the trophy room to the dining room,” Mattie said, handing Harry and Hannah name tags and tickets that would allow each of them two free drinks from the bar. “We have several prospective new members here tonight, so we’ll be introducing all of the officers during the dinner. Meanwhile, we hope you will circulate and get to meet people.”
The Siete Mares Yacht Club wasn’t as fancy as some of the big, old, established clubs in some of the major cities, but it was still a very nice place. Downstairs were offices, meeting rooms, a health spa, and shower and locker rooms that were available to people who were staying on board their boats – much nicer facilities than the municipal shower house that Hannah used in the mornings. Upstairs were the restaurant and bar. One end of the main dining room could be partitioned off as a separate room for private parties. Both the restaurant and bar had wrap around picture windows that gave a view of the marina and the ocean, and both also opened out onto a broad deck that could be enjoyed when the weather was good – and in Siete Mares, the weather was nearly always good. Also on the upper level of the club was the trophy room, in which hundreds of glittering trophies of all sorts were displayed in mahogany framed glass cabinets, lit to make the trophies sparkle in a way that dazzled Hannah’s eyes as she passed by. They were made of many shining materials – lots of brass, but also silver, gold, crystal, and polished wood. There were cups and bowls and ship steering wheels, plaques with half hulls, models of boats, and a couple of odd ones – she knew she was going to have to ask someone about the giant plastic cheeseburger.
Harry and Hannah entered the dining room to find a good sized crowd, although the large room was far from packed. At one end, a row of tables had been set up as a buffet line, with covered chafing dishes simmering away, emitting tendrils of fragrant steam from around the edges of their lids, awaiting the moment when serving would begin. Servers were bringing more dishes out of the kitchen and setting them up; Hannah recognized a couple of her students, as well as Eddie Montoya, Amelia Alvarez’s fiancé. She had thought he was working as a mechanic’s assistant, but then, many of her students at the community college did have to work two jobs to make ends meet, and that would be especially true for Eddie; not only were there expenses involved with having a baby on the way, but also Amelia had had difficulties that had forced her to quit her job; she wasn’t going to risk another miscarriage. “Hi, Eddie,” Hannah said.
“Hi, Ms. M,” Eddie said. “I hear you’re joining the club.” He was short and wiry, with a shaved head and a goatee, looking somewhat out of place in the suit and bow tie that served as a waiter’s uniform rather than his usual baggy pants and extra-long cotton tank top. The waiter’s uniform did have one advantage in making Eddie look more respectable: The long sleeves covered up arms that Hannah knew were covered in tattoos, some of them, well, not exactly G rated.
“No,” Hannah said. “Just looking around.”
“I don’t know that we’d exactly fit in here, anyway,” Harry said.
“Well, I think you’d like it here,” Eddie said, “except for a couple of people, but you could probably deal with that.” He glanced over his shoulder at the maître d’, a tallish, sandy haired man with a haughty bearing, who was standing by the kitchen door with a frown on his face. “Well, I gotta get back to work. I’m not supposed to socialize on the job.” He straightened the dish he had just put on the table, and then he headed back into the kitchen.
“You and Amelia have been good for that young man,” Harry commented. “Two years ago, he and his buddies were frequent guests at the jail. Now, the buddies still visit us often, but he’s been clean.”
“I’m glad to hear that,” Hannah said. “By the way, did I tell you he’s going to be in one of my classes this term? He went to an Internet coffee house and signed onto the registration system one minute after on the first day of registration just so he could be sure to get into my class before it got full.”
“Well, I’m glad he’s working hard to get into your system and not mine.”
“Anyhow,” Hannah said, “let’s get drinks. I believe the bar is on the other side of the trophy room.”
Harry and Hannah went into the bar, where a couple of dozen members were seated in lounge chairs around small round tables, and a few more were seated at the bar, which was presided over by a red haired, red faced man with a bushy red mustache and a pot belly, wearing a white shirt, black pants and bow tie, and a green apron. Harry looked at the beer taps and then handed two drink tickets to the bartender. “Two red lagers, please,” he said.
The bartender took the tickets. “Prospective members, I see. Welcome to the Siete Mares Yacht Club,” he said, tucking the tickets into a corner of the cash register drawer and pulling out a pair of pint glasses from a small freezer under the bar. “I’m Johnny Mullaney, your bartender for the evening.” He drew beer from the tap into the chilled glasses and handed them to Harry, who handed one to Hannah. “Enjoy your visit.”
Harry and Hannah were just leaving the bar when Augustus Worthington stormed in, nearly colliding head on with them and causing Hannah to wobble on her cane and spill some beer on his French cut navy blazer. “You klutz!” he shouted. “Get out of my way!”
“Sorry, I …” Hannah stammered.
But Worthington had already blustered past and wasn’t hearing her. He was stomping his heavy way toward the bar. “Johnny, you worthless mick!” he yelled. “You’re over serving again! Don’t you know you’re not supposed to allow anyone more than two drinks in an evening?”
“There’s no rule that says that,” Johnny said. “State law just says I should cut people off when they get too drunk.”
“What do you mean, there’s no rule?” Worthington raged. “There IS a rule, because I say there is. And I’m the vice commodore, so what I say goes.”
“Hopewell’s the commodore, and what he says goes more than what you say.”
“What, that wimp? He never gets anything done. Once I’m commodore, then you’ll really see things get done. I won’t have any drunken Irishman serving up drinks to get everybody else drunk too.” Worthington stormed out of the bar.
“I suppose we ought to be mingling with the yacht club members,” Hannah said upon returning to the dining room, “since that was the club’s purpose in giving us the free food and drinks.”
“And it might be interesting to meet the other prospective members, as well,” Harry said. “I wonder who they might be?”
“I’m guessing the new Dean of Introductory Humanities will be among them – among us, I should say. She’s from Maine, and she was somewhat of a sailor there. I would be very surprised if Barbara Yates is not here.”
Almost as if on cue, Hannah saw Barbara come into the room. Recognizing Hannah as a familiar face, she came over. “I didn’t know you were a member here.”
“I’m not,” Hannah said. “The folks at the club seem to think they’d like to have me as a member, though. Oh, allow me to introduce you … Barbara, this is Harry O’Malley, my boyfriend. Harry, this is Barbara Yates, my new boss.”
“Glad to meet you, Harry,” Barbara said. “I know you were in on that murder case last spring. That must have been exciting.”
“Well, since I am a police detective, it’s part of my job,” Harry said. “Not all that exciting, really. Just a lot of worry over Hannah.”
“Oh, yes, that would have been bad,” Barbara said.
Hannah saw Sophie and Jeannine come into the room. Where Sophie was short, dark, and curvy, Jeannine was tall, blonde, and curvy. She was as graceful as a supermodel without being so skinny, and her medium blue eyes often had the appearance of a vacant look about them, so that most people, upon first meeting her, got the impression that she wasn’t so bright – an impression that was reinforced by Jeannine’s nickname, “Boopty Boo,” her former stage name as an exotic dancer. Interestingly, Jeannine and Sophie had ended up with the same last name through marriage, although not to each other – Sophie had been the ex-wife, and Jeannine the widow, of the late and definitely not lamented Jonas Spindle, whose murder Hannah had helped to solve the previous spring. Jeannine also had an interesting circumstance, as a result of Jonas Spindle’s will: She was the conservator of the estate on behalf of a cat to whom Spindle had bequeathed the bulk of his estate. As long as Fluffles, the cat, lived, Jeannine would be able to live in Spindle Manor and spend as much of the Spindle money as she wished, so long as she could justify the expenses as necessary to the health and happiness of Fluffles. Fortunately for Jeannine, the lawyer in charge of such decisions, Edgar Cooper, tended to agree that nice clothes, jewelry, and other such luxuries for Jeannine were indeed essential to the health and happiness of Fluffles. After all, it wouldn’t do for an upper-crust cat’s staff to appear unkempt or shabby.
Sophie and Jeannine saw Hannah and Harry and came over to join them and Barbara. Sophie was wearing a light blue cocktail dress with a strapless bustier and a flaring skirt, both enhanced by patterned patches of sparkling beads. Jeannine was wearing a dark blue halter-topped sheath dress that showed her every curve. Together they made a very attractive couple. “Hi, Hannah, glad you could come,” Sophie said.
“Thank you,” Hannah said, finding herself again making introductions. “Barbara, these are two good friends of mine, Sophie Spindle and Jeannine Spindle. Sophie and Jeannine, this is my new boss, Barbara Yates.”
“Glad to meet you,” Sophie said.
“Charmed,” Jeannine said, in her lilting Southern drawl.
“I’m glad to meet you, too,” Barbara said. “Do you two sail often?”
“We only took it up recently,” Sophie said.
“I inherited a boat last spring,” Jeannine said. “I’ve been learning to sail it ever since. Do you sail?”
“Oh, yes,” Barbara said. “I had my first dinghy when I was five years old, and I’ve sailed a little bit of everything since then – big boats, little boats, racing, cruising, you name it.”
“Maybe you could come sailing with us some time,” Jeannine said. “I can always use extra crew on my boat.”
“That would be nice,” Barbara said. “I plan to get my own boat some time, but until I do, I really would like to get some time on the water.”
The room was becoming more crowded, as more yacht club members and a few more prospective members arrived in a constant flow. Suddenly, Hannah heard a commotion near the door leading to the deck. She saw Augustus Worthington arguing with someone outside of her field of view. Worthington was clearly angry over something having to do with racing. “You can’t do this,” he shouted. “You can’t just block me from protesting. I’ll protest whenever I want, whatever I want.”
“Look, man, you’re wasting everybody’s time and screwing everybody up.” Hannah recognized the lightning fast voice of Flash Duran. “We’re spending more time in the protest room than on the race course. You can’t just keep making up things to call other skippers for. And you’d darn well better shape up your own conduct on the race course – your protests may be silly, but the other people’s protests are for real. You’re gonna get somebody killed!”
“Who’s going to get somebody killed?” Worthington roared. “I grew up sailing boats off North Carolina. Yes, North Carolina. Why do you think they call it THE GRAVEYARD OF THE ATLANTIC, huh? I sailed in that. I have the instinct. But you pathetic lot, you’re the ones who are going to get somebody killed, you’re so incompetent. You think you’re great just because you have this oh so special boat. Well, let me tell you something, if I got a competent crew, I could sail a bathtub and beat you. You all are just plain LOSERS!”
A hole opened in the crowd, and Hannah could now see Duran’s back as he continued to argue with Worthington. He was tall, trim in an athletic way, with shiny, wavy black hair, dressed in a very expensive looking suit in an Italian cut. “Who are you calling a f--- loser, man? I don’t want anything to do with you. You’re the loser, man, you can’t tell me …”
“Oh, yes, I can tell you, and I’m telling you now, I’ve sailed with Olympic athletes, and not some little nothings of club sailors like you who don’t know your mainsheet from your boom vang. I’ve been there big time.”
“So you’ve sailed with Olympic athletes. How sweet. Guess what: I am one.” Duran turned and began to stalk away, and Hannah saw his face – and gasped. Duran was the pirate she had seen in her dream, on the alien boat. He looked up, and their eyes met. Hannah found herself stunned by the anger in his dark brown eyes, and then his face softened into a smile, showing those ever so perfect straight white teeth beneath that line of mustache. He came over to Hannah and Harry. “Hi, I’m Flash Duran,” he said. He looked at Hannah’s name tag. “So you’re Hannah Montgomery. Pleased to meet you.” He held out his hand.
“Nice to meet you, too,” Hannah said, taking his hand and shaking it. “And this is my boyfriend, Harry O’Malley,” she said, gesturing toward Harry.
“Pleased to meet you,” Duran said, shaking Harry’s hand. Hannah wondered if it was her imagination that his smile seemed to fade, just a tiny bit. “By the way, you can call me Flash. Everybody does.”
“My pleasure,” Harry said. “I hadn’t realized that you were THE Flash Duran.”
“The Flash Duran?” Hannah asked.
“Yes, I’m that Flash Duran,” Flash said. Hannah thought maybe his smile had brightened up again.
“I used to follow sailing news avidly,” Harry said. “Pity about the 1980 games and the US boycott – that was really your year. Of course, that means technically you’re not really an Olympic athlete, but I’m not about to let somebody like Worthington get hold of that fact.”
Now Hannah could see that Flash’s smile was really brightening. “And of course, I qualified a couple other times, and nearly qualified a couple other times, and maybe I’m not where I once was, but I’m still good,” he said.
“Yes,” Harry said. “Worthington has nothing on you.”
Hannah heard raised voices behind her and turned around to see what was going on, as did Harry and Flash. Worthington had approached Sophie and Jeannine, who had continued a conversation with Barbara nearby. “Ah, so you dykes are going to make it a threesome, eh?” Worthington said.
“I beg your pardon!” Barbara said.
“Lesbos!” Worthington bellowed. “You’re running the club. Or might I say ruining it! Yeah, we got dykes on deck, all over the place. These two,” he pointed at Sophie and Jeannine, “are the greatest dynamic duo since Romeo and Juliet!”
“And because they are,” Barbara said, “you think I am?”
“Of course you are,” Worthington roared. “They are, and that new sailing school head – oh, the queen she likes to make us think she is, but she’s just another gay gal out to take over the world.”
“I’ll have you know, I was happily married for twenty seven years,” Barbara retorted. “And I mean happily – if you know what I mean!”
“Don’t fool yourself,” Worthington said. “These two were both happily married themselves … and to the same man at that, if at different times. Boopty Boo – that’s what Blondie here used to be called – would still be happily married if her husband hadn’t been knocked off.”
“I ought to knock you off,” Jeannine snapped. “If you think I would have stayed in that marriage a minute longer – I was getting out of it even as the bastard got killed. The murderer just saved me some trouble.”
“I wonder,” Sophie said, “wouldn’t it be nice if a murderer came along and saved the rest of us some trouble, too?”
“Are you threatening me?” Worthington shouted.
“Oh, don’t you wish?” Sophie asked.
At this point, a man stood up on the raised platform at the end of the room near the food tables. He was smallish, with thinning grey hair slicked over his head in a futile attempt to cover the lack of hair on top, and he had a long pointy nose and small blue eyes behind small wire rimmed eyeglasses, and he wore classic yacht club attire: a navy blue blazer and white slacks. He went to the microphone and tapped it a few times with his finger, creating a thunk thunk thunk sound over the public address system. “If I may have your attention,” he said, in a slightly nasal voice. “I’m Ernest Hopewell, and I’m the commodore of this club. Welcome to all of you prospective new members, and I hope this will be a great evening that you all will remember. We’ll eat first, and then I’ll be introducing you to our officers and some of our more prominent members. Meanwhile, socialize and get to know us; I’m sure you’ll like us. Now, let’s serve up the food!” He stepped down. Overseen by the maître d’, the servers began taking lids off food dishes and picking up spoons, forks, and tongs to prepare to serve up the dinner.
“If he wants us to like the experience here, I’m surprised he couldn’t find some way to discourage Worthington from showing up,” Harry commented as he, Hannah, and Flash got into line for the buffet.
“Oh, he couldn’t do that,” Flash said. “You see, Worthington’s the vice commodore, and you can’t very well have a yacht club event without the vice commodore, you know what I mean?”
“How did that happen?” Hannah asked. “Don’t club officers have to get elected?”
“Yes, they do,” Flash said, “but that’s traditionally only once. You see, what usually happens is each year the vice commodore moves up to commodore, and the rear commodore moves up to vice commodore, and the associate commodore moves up to rear commodore. What happened was, a couple of years ago, we couldn’t get anybody who wanted to be associate commodore, and after trying candidate after candidate after candidate, and they all refused, Worthington stepped forward. We were hoping something would happen to him before it came time for him to be commodore, you know what I mean?”
“I hope it doesn’t mean foul play,” Harry commented.
“Oh, no, never that,” Flash said. “Let’s just say, some people may have been wishing less than charitable wishes in their thoughts.”
Hannah heard a crash from the direction of the buffet tables, followed by raised voices – Worthington’s, again, and Eddie Montoya’s. “You idiot!” Worthington yelled as he slammed his plate on the table, breaking it and spattering food all around. “You lousy, no good greaser, you stinking Mexican, you think you can serve up a plate properly! The gravy for the Swedish meatballs goes ON THE MEATBALLS, you meathead. You don’t splash gravy all over everything else too. Swedish meatball gravy doesn’t go on Chinese egg rolls!”
“But, Mr. Worthington, I …” Eddie stammered.
“Look at this! I bet you can’t do anything right, except maybe tacos. Oh, and refried beans – you Mexicans invented those exactly because you can’t get anything right the first time. I ought to have you fired.”
“Look, Mr. Worthington, it was an accident, and it was only a little drop …”
“Only a little drop! And next time, if I let you get away with it, it’s only two little drops, and then you get even sloppier, and then this club’s food service will be disgraceful. I don’t know why they hire you wetbacks anyway. You’re overrunning the country.”
“Mr. Worthington,” Eddie said, standing up straighter, “I was born in this country. And my father was born in this country. And my grandfather was born in this country. And so was my great grandfather. You have got no f--- right to tell me I don’t belong here. I f--- DO belong here, and I’m f--- gonna stay here. So you can take your f--- attitude and f--- go to f--- hell.”
“That’s it!” Worthington gestured toward the maître d’. “Hamilton, fire this boy. He should not be allowed near this club – filthy Mexican with a filthy mouth!”
“I ought to f--- kill you!” Eddie yelled. “Then you can f--- really go to f--- hell!”
Hamilton hurried over to the table, his heavy eyebrows arched in alarm. “Now, I’m sure we can smooth things over,” he said to Worthington. “Eddie, allow me to have a word with you in the kitchen.” He took Eddie by the elbow and led him out the swinging doors behind the buffet table. Some of the other servers hurried to clean up the mess that Worthington had made, as most of the people in the room stood in stunned silence. Gradually, people began conversing again, and slowly the tension in the air dissipated as the buffet line began moving again.
“Well, that was interesting,” Harry said.
“Poor Eddie,” Hannah said. “I’m going to have to help him work on his vocabulary this term so he has something more creative to say when he gets angry.”
“You know that kid?” Flash asked.
“Yes,” Hannah said. “His fiancée’s one of my best students, and he’s starting college this term. He’s going to be in one of my classes.”
“That’s cool,” Flash said. “Not too many people around this club give a s-- about a kid from the barrio – oops, pardon my language …”
“Well, I can help you with your vocabulary, too,” Hannah said, suppressing a giggle that she had no idea where came from.
“The thing is,” Flash continued, “I was a kid from the barrio. And look at me now; I’m somebody important. I get deals from people wanting to put my name in their advertising. I get special treatment at banquets at the university. I got my picture on the wall at the Hall of Fame. Who knows, that kid might be somebody great, too, or any of a million kids in the barrio, but nobody cares s-- about them, you know what I mean?”
“Boy do I,” Hannah said, choosing to ignore Flash’s lapse of vocabulary. And she did know what he meant. A lot of her students were just as smart as kids from anywhere else; they just hadn’t had the chance to show it.
Harry, Hannah, and Flash reached the head of the buffet line and began loading plates up with food. The invitation that Hannah had received had mentioned a “light buffet,” but this was still a huge array of dishes. In addition to the egg rolls and Swedish meatballs that Worthington had mentioned in his tirade – Hannah made a point of getting extra meatballs – there were little dumplings of puff pastry filled with something or other, triangular finger sandwiches with all sorts of fillings on several sorts of bread, chicken wings with a choice of three sauces, flautas with sour cream and guacamole, ravioli with marinara sauce, pasta primavera, fettuccini Alfredo – gee, Hannah thought, three Italian dishes, but only one each of Chinese, Mexican and Swedish; maybe the chef was Italian. Further up the table were the vegetable dishes: latkes, mashed potatoes, succotash, a cheese and broccoli casserole, and green beans. Next were salads: basic green salad, cole slaw, pasta salad, bean salad, Waldorf salad, and red gelatin with black cherries and walnuts floating in it. The main buffet line finished off with breads: white fluffy rolls, crusty sourdough bread, whole wheat rolls, blueberry muffins, pumpernickel bread, and marbled rye bread. There was a separate line for desserts; Hannah chose to skip that for now and find a table to sit at, while Harry and Flash went to grab their desserts.
Once they were seated at a table, conversation lagged while the three of them concentrated on eating. The food was excellent, and Hannah enjoyed the huge range of flavors, from the savory Swedish meatballs to the zesty flautas to the ginger tinged egg rolls to the creamy cheese filled ravioli. Sophie, Jeannine, and Barbara came to join them at their table, and the two remaining seats were filled by two people Hannah had met during the investigation into Jonas Spindle’s murder the previous spring: Edgar Cooper, the lawyer, and his assistant, Rosalyn Booker. Edgar, in addition to being one of the most successful lawyers in Siete Mares, was also the most successful black lawyer in the state. He was short, bald, and a little on the pudgy side, and he looked at the world through very thick, soda pop bottle glasses. But he also had a sparkling smile, which was quick to emerge and which lit up his face and made it attractive in a fatherly way that belied his aggression in the courtroom. Like Flash, Edgar had grown up in a neighborhood that, in politically correct terms, was called “disadvantaged,” and he had fought his way into and through law school with the tenacity that now made him a very good lawyer to have on one’s side and a very bad lawyer to have against one. Rosalyn was tall, slim, tailored, and attractive. Her life had been ruined by the late and not very lamented Jonas Spindle, and she was working on rebuilding it, pinching pennies while helping her fiancé, a former star medical student, to recover from a suicide attempt that had left him an invalid. Hannah knew Gordon Ross was getting better, so Rosalyn could leave him for short periods, such as to attend this party. Rosalyn kept Edgar’s office running smoothly, so he could concentrate on the business of doing the very best for all of his clients. As Hannah looked around the room, she realized she was sitting at the most colorful table, with Flash, Edgar, and Rosalyn – of all the couple of hundred people at the party, there were very few people of color – a brown or yellow face here or there, but no black ones other than Edgar’s and Rosalyn’s.
“Hi, Edgar, Rosalyn,” Hannah said between bites of Swedish meatball.
“Hey, guys,” Flash said. “How’s tricks?”
“Oh, not too bad,” Edgar said. “I’ve been doing some pro bono work on behalf of Fidel de la Cruz. He’s discovered some shady stuff about Worthington’s business dealings, so I have a P. I. investigating.”
“Think you’re gonna bring him down before January?” Flash asked. “I’d really like to see him go before Hopewell’s term ends and he ends up as commodore.”
“What, and put myself next in line for succession?” Edgar laughed. “Nah, this case is going to take time, and a lot of it. And I have a whole lot of paying cases to work on as well, and those clients don’t want their work to wait while I investigate something as silly as widespread bribery, extortion, injustice, and general corruption at the highest levels.”
“All that?” Harry asked.
“It looks like it,” Edgar said. “Of course, I’m still in the preliminary stages of the investigation, but once I get something solid, you’ll be the first to know.” Edgar turned to Jeannine. “How’s Fluffles?” he asked.
“Oh, she’s doing fine,” Jeannine said. “She’s especially happy with that new pair of Manolos I got yesterday.”
“Fluffles?” Barbara asked.
“My cat,” Jeannine said. “Well, really not my cat, my boss. I get paid to keep her healthy and happy, and I get free housing in her house, Spindle Manor, plus a living allowance, as long as she lives.”
“Sounds like a cat’s dream life,” Barbara said. “How did that happen?”
“It was in the terms of Jeannine’s late husband’s will,” Edgar said. “He left the boat to her, and he left everything else to the cat.”
“Well, getting a boat is a lot better than getting nothing,” Barbara said. “You may not have anything to eat, but you can at least go sailing.”
“Well, we’re working on that,” Sophie said. “We’re still learning how to sail.”
“At least I can help you there,” Barbara said. “I don’t have a boat of my own yet, and I’d be glad to help you sail yours.”