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The boat was in international waters, just outside the three-mile limit.
The nearest land was Long Beach Island in New Jersey, where it had sailed from. The fifty-foot luxury boat had the name Doral emblazoned on it.
Some might call the Doral a yacht. One of the people who would call it that was its owner, Alex Vogel, because yacht sounded better than boat. Vogel’s deceased parents had been named Doris and Alex, hence the name of the craft. They had struggled financially most of their lives, and Alex junior wished that they had lived to see how successful he had become.
He especially wished they had lived to see and board the Doral. His mother would have been embarrassed to have a boat named after her and Alex’s father, but she would secretly have loved it and bragged about it to her bridge club.
The day was sunny and calm, and the Doral was simply floating languidly on the water. It was a motorboat, but the motor was off and had been for a while.
There would be no obvious reason for any other passing craft to think anything was wrong. No SOS signal had been sent, and the boat was not behaving erratically. It was actually not “behaving” at all; it was just drifting in the relatively placid water.
A passing boat, smaller at thirty-five feet and carrying four people, got within a hundred yards or so. They waved, since people on boats generally like to appear friendly, but no one was on deck to wave back. That didn’t seem odd to the wavers; perhaps the people on the other boat were belowdecks, having lunch or doing whatever.
Then one of them noticed what appeared to be a figure of a man lying on the deck. It seemed like an unusual position for the person to be in. So they got a pair of binoculars and saw to their horror that the man might have been unconscious and had a large stain on his shirt that looked like blood. He might have been worse than unconscious.
They had no way of knowing that two men were actually on the Doral, on the other side of the deck and out of their line of sight. Each of the men had a bullet hole in his chest and had been dead for almost thirty minutes. Their waving days were over.
The people on the boat were understandably worried, and they moved closer to confirm what they believed before sending out an SOS.
They were about a hundred and fifty feet from the Doral when it exploded.
The bodies of the three passengers said to be on the Doral, all pharmaceutical executives, were nowhere to be found and would likely never be recovered, since the depth of the water at the place of the incident was almost five thousand feet. Identifications were not necessary, since a number of witnesses saw the three men as they left the dock.
The Coast Guard conducted a brief investigation, then punted to the New Jersey State Police. Much to everyone’s surprise, they quickly declared it to be a likely multiple homicide. Elements in the recovered wreckage were clearly connected to a man-made explosive device. A bomb, and not a mechanical failure, they concluded, had blown the boat out of the water.
The word likely was added because it was impossible to know if the device was intentionally detonated. Possibly whoever was responsible had not intended to set it off, and the explosion was accidental.
But if that was the case, why take a bomb out on a pleasure craft off the coast of New Jersey?
It did not take them long to learn the answer, though they did not reveal it publicly.
Secrecy was paramount while they conducted their search.
“Dad, can we go bungee jumping?” Ricky asked.
I’ve got to be careful with my answer. He’s asking a serious question, albeit one that horrifies me. I can’t overreact, hurt his feelings, embarrass him, or appear dismissive. I need to imagine how my response will sound when he repeats it to a therapist later in life.
“Are you nuts?” is what I finally come out with. It’s possible that I didn’t fulfill my previously stated criteria for a good answer. So I add, “Bungee jumping?”—a question that merely repeats the subject but otherwise does nothing to advance the conversation or get me off the parental hook. It seems like I spend half my life hanging on parental hooks.
He nods, undeterred. “Will and I watched some people doing it on television. I think it was in Mexico, or Europe, or somewhere. There was this big cliff, and they just jumped. It was really cool. Will said we should try it.”
Will Rubenstein is Ricky’s best friend and clearly a negative influence on him. I, Andy Carpenter, need to intervene and establish control over my son.
“You should speak to your mother about this,” I say. Laurie Collins is my wife and Ricky’s mother; she’s probably more capable of establishing the control that I mentioned.
“She said I should talk to you. And she laughed when she said it.”
I’m not surprised that she laughed. Laurie knows my feelings about scary things; she recognizes that I am scared of them. I’m for some reason supposed to be embarrassed by that. But the truth is that I don’t know why everyone isn’t scared of them … they’re scary. The entire concept of what people refer to as “adventure” or “living on the edge” is one that I don’t understand.
People do things like bungee jumping or skydiving or surfing thirty-foot waves because those things are dangerous. The excitement lies in the fear, the risk … without it those things would not exist. For example, there is another way to reach the ground from a plane rather than jumping out of it: you could just land.
The truth is that fear of all of these “adventures” is legitimate; if things don’t go well, the practitioner, the adventurer, could die.
And what if they do go well? The bungee cord holds and isn’t a few feet too long. Or the parachute opens. Or the waves don’t swallow the surfer up and turn him into shark food. What then? The person lives? Yes, because that’s the goal … survival is the goal.
There are other ways to continue to live. For example, bowling. Or Ping-Pong. Or watching television. Or eating pistachio nuts. There are a lot more, but I’ve just listed four of the best, except for bowling.
I had a roommate in my freshman year of college whose goal was to climb the highest mountain on every continent. My goal at the time was to change roommates. He would frequently tell me that taking risks for adventure, pushing the envelope, was what life was all about. Anything else, he would say, was “just existing.”
I’m not sure when “existing” got such a bad name. What’s the alternative? It’s the only thing I can think of that is both necessary for life and carries a negative connotation. No one says that breathing is a waste of time, or eating is for suckers.
Bottom line is that no matter what you say about someone, if the speech ends with “but he no longer exists,” that’s simply not a positive.
A story was on the news this morning about six guys who went from South America to Antarctica across Drake Passage in a rowboat. I never even knew that Drake had a passage; I did know he had cake.
The six men handled forty-foot waves and giant whales, all of which could have tipped their canoe over at any time. If they had gone into the frigid water, the estimate is that they would have died in two to five minutes.
These half dozen lunatics wanted to be the first people to ever make this trip. By definition, I never want to be the first at anything. That’s because there is invariably a reason no one has ever done it before. You never hear that a person is the first to attend a great concert or read a great book or watch a football game. That’s because if something is good, everybody wants to do it.
But back to the matter at hand. I need to talk Ricky out of the bungee-jumping idea without sounding like a dictator or, worse, a wimp. The best way to do that is to shift the blame.
“Let’s see what Will’s dad thinks of the idea,” I say. Will’s father, Brian, is a friend of mine. As a pediatrician he has taken an oath to do no harm; there is obviously no way he will approve of the bungee-jumping idea.
“So if Will can do it, so can I?”
“If Will can do it, we’ll sit down with your mother and have a family discussion.” No sense shifting the blame to one person when I can shift it to two.
He nods, apparently satisfied, and switches topics. “You want to throw the football around?”
I nod. “It’s risky, but I’ll try it.”
Ricky gets the football and we go out into the driveway. He throws a perfect spiral, with some zip on the ball. I’m not an expert on the expected football-talent level of eleven-year-olds, but I think he’s pretty darn good.
I dread the day he will want to play high school football and I try to talk Laurie into letting him. She’ll think it’s too dangerous, that concussions are too prevalent. I’ll tell her that he should play because just sitting back and watching others is simply existing.
We’ve been doing it for about twenty minutes, and my arm feels like it’s about to fall off. Mercifully, Laurie calls out from the house, “Andy, Beth Morris on the phone.”
“Can you tell her I’ll call her back after I have shoulder-reattachment surgery?”
“I tried that, but she says it’s important, that it can’t wait.”
We stop throwing and I go in the house. As I pass Laurie I say, “We’re doing a family bungee jump next week.”
Beth Morris is involved in dog rescue, as am I. I run a rescue organization called the Tara Foundation, named after my own incredibly wonderful golden retriever. Beth is in a different area; her mission in life is to reunite lost dogs with their owners.
“Hi, Beth,” I say when I pick up the phone. Sometimes my conversational talents stun even myself.
“Andy, I have a problem, a major problem. I need to talk to you.”
“Is it about a dog?”
“In a way it is.”
“Andy, I’m not calling you because you rescue dogs. I’m calling you because you’re a criminal attorney.”
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