John D McDonald – Travis McGee 07 Darker Than Amber

John D McDonald – Travis McGee 07 Darker Than Amber

John D McDonald – Travis McGee 07 Darker Than Amber


For Bonie and Bill


We were about to give up and call it a night when somebody dropped the girl off the bridge.

They came to a yelping stop overhead, out of sight, dumped her over the bridge rail and took off.

It was a hot Monday night in June. With moon. It was past midnight and just past the tide change. A billion bugs were vectoring in on us as the wind began to die.

It seemed to be a very final way of busting up a romance. I was sitting there under the bridge in a skiff with my friend Meyer. We were under the end of the bridge nearest the town of Marathon, and it is the first highway bridge beyond Marathon on your way to Key West-if you are idiot enough to want to go to Key West.

My bachelor houseboat, The Busted Flush, was tied up at Thompson’s Marina in Marathon. It had been there since Saturday afternoon. After I got in I phoned Meyer in Bahia Mar in Lauderdale, where he lives aboard his cabin cruiser. I’d been gone a little longer than I’d planned, and I had one small errand for him to do, and one small apology for him to make for me. I said that in return, if he wanted to come on down to Marathon by bus, I could put him into a good snook hole at the right time of year, tide and moon, and then he could come on back to Bahia Mar with me aboard the Flush, and we’d get in late Wednesday afternoon, probably–not that it mattered.

Meyer is the best of company, because he knows when talk is better than silence, and he tries to do more than his share of all the less interesting chores.

Until I asked him to join me, and heard him say yes, I had thought I wanted to be completely alone for a few days.

I’d just finished spending ten days aboard the Flush with an old friend named Virginia, known as Vidge. She had come rocketing down from Atlanta, in wretched shape emotionally, trying to find out who she used to be before three years of a sour marriage had turned her into somebody she didn’t even like anymore. In the old days she’d never been skyrockets-just a quiet, pretty, decent gal with a nice oblique sense of fun and games, and the manifest destiny of being a good wife.

After three years of Charlie, she was gaunted, shrill, shaky, and couldn’t tell you what time it was without her eyes filling with tears. So I took her cruising. You have to let them talk it out. She felt enormous guilt at not being able to make the marriage work. But the more she talked, the more I realized she hadn’t had a chance. She was too passive, too permissive, too subdued for an emotional fascist like Charlie. He had leaned too hard. He had eroded her confidence in herself, in everything she thought she was able to do, from meeting people to cooking dinner to driving a car. Finally he had gone to work on her sexual capacities. Were the sexes reversed, you could call it emasculation. People like Charlie work toward total and perpetual domination. They feed on the mate. And Vidge didn’t even realize that running away from him had been a form of self-preservation, a way of trying to hang fast to the last crumbs of identity and pride.

At first she talked endlessly, but she couldn’t get all the way down to it. She kept saying what a great guy he was and how she had failed him in everything. The third evening, at anchor in a quiet corner of Florida Bay, I managed to get enough of Dr. Travis McGee’s truth serum into her. Clean, pure Plymouth gin. By arguing with her, contradicting her, I edged her ever closer to the truth. And in the final half hour, before she passed out, she broke through the barrier and described how much she truly hated that destructive, domineering son of a bitch Charlie. It was very graphic, and she had no idea I was taping it. When she passed out I toted her to the guest stateroom and tucked her in. She slept a little better than around the clock, and was subdued and rueful the next day. That evening she started handing me the Charlie-myth again, and what a failure she was. I played her tape for her. She had hysterics which settled down into a good long hard cry. And after that she was famished enough to eat twenty ounces of rare steak. She slept the clock around again, and woke up feeling that maybe it would be pointless to give the marriage another big try.

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Categories: John D MacDonald