John D MacDonald – Travis McGee 10 The Girl In The Plain Brown Wrapper

John D MacDonald – Travis McGee 10 The Girl In The Plain Brown Wrapper

John D MacDonald – Travis McGee 10 The Girl In The Plain Brown Wrapper



IT IS ONE of the sorry human habits to play the game of: What was I doing when it happened?

After I heard that Helena Pearson had died on Thursday, the third day of October, I had no trouble recon-structing the immediate past.

That Thursday had been the fourth and final day of a legitimate little job of marine salvage. Meyer made a lot of small jokes about Travis McGee, salvage expert, ac-tually doing some straight-arrow salvage. He kept saying it almost made my cover story believable. But he did not say such things for any ears but mine own.

Actually it was not my ball game. Meyer gets himself involved in strange little projects. Somewhere, somehow he had gotten interested in the ideas of a refugee Cuban chemist named Joe Palacio. So he had talked a mutual friend of ours, Bobby Guthrie, a damned good man with pumps and pressures and hydraulics, into listening to Joe’s ideas and going to Joe’s rooming house in Miami where Joe had set up a miniaturized demonstration in an old bathtub he had scrounged somewhere.

When Bobby got high enough on the idea to quit his regular job, Meyer put in the money and they formed a little partnership and named it Floatation Associates.

Then Meyer, in one of his mother hen moods, sweet-talked me into donating my services, plus my houseboat, The Busted Flush, plus my swift little Mu¤equita boat to the first actual salvage operation. So I had to take the Flush down to a Miami yard where they winched aboard a big ugly diesel pump with special attachments rigged by Bobby Guthrie, some great lengths of what appeared to be reinforced fire hose, and several 55-gallon drums of special gunk mixed up by Joe Palacio, plus scuba tanks, air compressor, tools, torches, and so on. Once I had topped off the water and fuel tanks and laid aboard the provisions and booze, the old Flush was as low in the water as I cared to see her. Even with all her beam, and that big old barge-type hull, she had to react to what Bobby estimated as seven thousand pounds of extra cargo. She seemed a little discouraged about it.

“If she founders,” Meyer said pleasantly, “we’ll see if we can raise her with Palacio’s magic gunk.”

So we took off down Biscayne Bay with the Mu¤equita in tow, heading for the lower Keys. We got an early start and kept waddling along, and by last light we were far enough down Big Spanish Channel to edge cautiously over into the shallows off Annette Key, in the lee of a southwest breeze, and drop a couple of hooks.

The immediate forecast was good, but there was an area of suspicion over near the Leeward Islands, and there was an official half month of the whirly-girl season left. Also the girls are known to come screaming up through hurricane alley after the season is over.

Later I learned that Helena Pearson had written the letter to me that same Saturday, September 28th, the day after she guessed she wasn’t going to make it, the letter the attorney mailed, still sealed, with his cover letter. And with the certified check.

That evening at anchor aboard The Busted Flush the three Floatation associates were edgy. For Meyer it was simple empathy. He knew the risks they were taking. Joe Palacio had a chance to make a new career in his adopted land. Bobby Guthrie had a wife and five kids to worry about. The three of them had periods of contagious enthusiasm, and then they would get the doubts and the glooms and the hollow laughter. If it worked on a very small scale in the scavenged bathtub, that didn’t mean it was going to work out in Hawk Channel, in the Straits of Florida, in seventy-five feet of ocean.

In the morning we went south down Big Spanish, past No Name Key, and under the fixed bridge between Bahia Honda Key and Spanish Harbor Key. Then the overladen Flush was out in the deeps, and we had a nine-mile run at about 220 degrees to lonely little Looe Key, across a slow heave of greasy swell. Soon I was able to pick up the red marker on Looe with the glasses. On the way, while on automatic pilot, I had figured out the quickest and best way to run if things blew up too suddenly. I would pour on all the coal and run just a shade east of magnetic north, perhaps 8 degrees, and if I could manage to make eight knots, I could tuck the Flush into Newfound Harbor Channel in maybe forty minutes, and find a protected pocket depending on the wind, maybe in Coupon Bight or close offshore by Little Torch Key.

Page: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86 87 88 89 90 91 92 93 94 95 96 97 98 99 100 101 102 103 104 105 106 107 108 109 110 111 112 113 114 115 116 117 118 119 120 121

Categories: John D MacDonald