It was one of those typically blustery mornings in late August when rain squalls march across Kaneohe Bay from the eastern ocean, one after the other like soggy invading battalions. I was in the day cabin of the Travis McGee, my fifty-foot-long Vagabond houseboat, nursing along my first meal of the day, which I had come to refer to as Honey Bunches of Budweiser because it sounded healthier than “swigging beer for breakfast.” The gods were restless, pacing outside the screen door on the covered aft deck, waiting to be fed. The two German shepherds, Kane and Lono, had been on duty all night, patrolling the grounds of the Bayview Yacht Club, a small suburban club on the windward side of Oahu where I kept my boat. As the nominal night watchman, I was the only club member allowed to live on his boat. Keeping an eye on two piers berthing about seventy-five boats, a swimming pool, two tennis courts, and the club’s longhouse and bar wasn’t as difficult as guarding Fort Knox or even Taco Bell, especially with the gods doing most of the heavy lifting.
I took the gods two large metal bowls with dry dog food mixed with leftover spaghetti and meat sauce from the night before, which they tucked into with the restraint of hyenas bringing down a Serengeti wildebeest. They were still wet from their last patrol, so I couldn’t let them inside. I’m not the greatest housekeeper in the world, but you don’t spend a couple of hundred thousand bucks on a houseboat just to have it smell of Eau de Damp Dogs.
I had already taken my morning exercise, diving off the end of A Pier and swimming the half mile along the edge of the channel to the last reef marker and then back. I was still in pretty good shape for a gentleman of a certain age. Nothing like when I was a nationally ranked butterfly specialist, but I wasn’t ready for a walker and ear trumpet just yet.
I finished my breakfast with a last swig and walked back inside. The houseboat came with twin Merc 230-horsepower engines, two seventy-five-gallon fuel tanks, two bedrooms with baths, two wet bars, galley, covered lanais fore and aft, and a day cabin big enough to stage the finale of Oklahoma! The day cabin was ringed by picture windows that let in light no matter what time of day when the blinds were open. It was bordered on one side with a leather sofa facing the big Sony. A wet bar was in the corner, and elsewhere in the room were coffee tables, another couch, and a couple of chairs for hypothetical guests. The galley was separated from the main room by a counter and contained all the usual appliances you’d find in a regular kitchen except for a garbage disposal. There was no sewer hookup.
Upstairs, or up the ladder, as the grumpier old salts at the club liked to remind me, was a second deck with a state-of-the-art flying bridge, the other wet bar, a hot tub, a couple of kayaks, surfboards, and a Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14 Jet Ski. A guy has got to have his toys.
I’m told there are also a couple of anchors somewhere on the boat, but I hadn’t had to use them because I had yet to put the Travis McGee in the water. The thing about a smallish yacht club is that there are only so many wet slips, especially slips that can handle a fifty-foot-long houseboat, and Bayview Yacht Club boat owners tend to hang on to their slips until they die.
You’d think that since the average age of a club member seemed to be about 114, boat slips would become available rather frequently. But it’s the members of the tennis fleet, the ones who get daily exercise and restrict their alcohol intake, who die off regularly. The geezers who own boats, who drink all day in the Longhouse Bar reliving the glorious days of sail when Admiral Nelson ruled the sea, these guys apparently live forever. It must be all those vitamins in the rum.
So the Travis McGee had been sitting on blocks at the water’s edge for the past year and a half, sort of like my life.
I looked at the cluttered desk near the hallway that passed as my office. The red light on the telephone blinked on and off indicating there was a voice message, one I had already listened to three times. It was from Amber Kalanianaole Kam, a girl I had had a huge crush on in high school but hadn’t laid eyes on for probably twenty years. I pushed the button to hear the message a fourth time. Her voice sounded fragile, like a piece of fine porcelain about to shatter.
“Stryker,” she said. “You might not remember me, but we went to Punahou together. My grandfather Wai Lo Fat died in a terrible accident a week ago. Stryker, I think I need your help.”
Copyright © 2013 by Charley Memminger