THE POKER RUN
It was a dark and stormy night with any expectations of being rescued at sea dismissed hours ago. As the tropical storm tossed his prized racing yacht like a toy in a bathtub Ashton Jacob watched his racing partner, Charles Ashley, work on finding the problem, using the last of the battery life of the only flashlight they could locate. Restoring any kind of electrical power remained their only hope. However, Ashton soon realized they could only hope the boat would survive the storm and they could perhaps be rescued the next morning.
Another blast to the side of the ship sent him rolling against machinery in the engine room. The flashlight bounced on the floor as he heard muttered cussing
“Charles, are you okay?”
“Damn, I’m hurting all over, my arm may be broken. I’ve got no damn clue what I’m looking for. I see nothing lose, nothing disconnected. The damn battery is dead. Why, I don’t know.”
Being so far ahead of everyone in the poker run, Ashton remembered their decision to head out to sea and to enjoy the open water. He concentrated on the moment the boat came to a grinding halt. Something killed the electrical system and thus the boat motors. No backup systems worked. Being late in the afternoon, the timing could not be worst. No one expected them to be in trouble. They were expecting to be in Key West long before the storm hit their area and receiving their last poker card, hopefully winning the poker hand. Their wives would know they were late, but other than contacting the authorities he knew they could do nothing else until in the morning.
“Charles, this is useless. I think we need to bunker down and hope you built this boat as good as you think.”
“You’re right. Let’s make sure the seals to the door are tight and make it to the cabin. We need to find a way to cushion some of this thrashing around inside.
While the Blackjack was a large yacht, it was a racing yacht built for speed much more than comfort. The one small cabin had to be shared with some way devised to keep them from killing each other as they were thrown by one unexpected wave crash after another.
Ashton wrapped any piece of cloth he could find around his head and upper body. He positioned himself between the bed which was securely fasted to the floor and the nearby wall. He could hear Charles working on the other side of the bed doing the same.
A flash of lightning offered a brief moment to memorize his surrounds. Ashton saw nothing else he could use. He felt an impending dampness in the room, a salty penetrating smell making his stomach churn. While he had never experienced sea sickness before, he had never been in a storm like this before either. How much water was leaking in—he had no clue.
He pulled a life preserver closer around his neck. The thoughts of abandoning the boat and being out in the water paralyzed his mind. Surely, the boat would make it through the night. The storm was not predicted to be too large; so much for predictions. He could only hope the storm would pass soon. Another flash of lightning sent his heart beating faster as the thunderous boom rattled the boat.
Ashton concentrated on the boats layout. He spent years in working with his racing partner Charles in designing it. While Ashton made his money in real estate, he loved boating, especially racing. He never dreamed it would become his floating coffin.
Finally at the age of forty five he decided he should perhaps marry his long time girlfriend. Being fifteen years younger made him wonder often if it would work. He knew she loved him mainly for his money. And while she was a very high maintenance type girl, he still loved to spend money on her. His real estate transaction had made him a very good living. That is until recently, when the market collapse. He wondered how she would take it to learn he was almost broke now.
Another crashing wave sent the boat reeling, almost to the point of tipping over. However, he knew the boat was like a cork, and would pop up. That is, as long as it stayed together. The bottom ballast would make sure it stayed upright.
The simultaneous light flash and boom of the next strike startled him. Did that one hit the boat? However, the boat suddenly settled and rain came to a quick halt. Every moment of stability felt like heaven.
“Charles, are you okay?”
“Yea, I’m fine. I think the last one hit us.”
“Oh crap. What do you think?’
He heard Charles stumbling toward a window. “I can’t see anything.”
The boat remained stable. Considering all the storm had thrown at it, the eerie time lingered as he continued to evaluate his life. His relationship with his racing partner Charles had led to his first meeting with Kellie, the girl he later married. Kellie was a good friend of Charles wife, Catrina. His thoughts quickly moved to what the girls must be thinking right now. Both of them were waiting on Ashton and Charles to arrive in Key West.
Several more minutes passed. It appeared the storm was passing over them. He could only hope. A fainter burst of lighting lit up the skylight. He closed his eyes and tried to imagine the rest of the night.
Charles climbed to the top of the bed and opened his cell phone, illuminating his face as he punched in numbers. “Damn, still no connection.”
“You didn’t really think you would have any, did you?”
“I have no clue how far this storm pushed us.”
“You don’t think it will run us aground, do you?”
Charles made the bed squeak as he shifted to the front. “No, we’re too far out at sea. They could be looking for us soon, but with no lights they would never be able to spot us.”
“Don’t we have any kind of flares to signal for help?”
Charles laughed in a mocking tone. “I don’t think a flare will work in all of this.”
“Okay.” Ashton rose on his elbows to try to see anything. Charles had closed the cell phone. The room remained totally dark. “What to hell happened to the electrical system?”
“I don’t know, but I will in the morning when I have better light. Someone will be hearing from me when I find out what happened.” Charles breathed out loud and hit the wall with something. “Damn, this is not good. I know the girls are worried sick about us.”
Ashton would love to hope so, but knew his marriage wasn’t that good. He kept his reversal of fortunes a secret from her. He didn’t want to lose her. Yes, he had to admit it was a physical thing; she was young, beautiful and so sexy. “I just hope they organize some kind of rescue in the morning.”
The swaying of the boat settled as the storm seemed to be passing. All would be good, but he knew it would still be morning before they would be rescued.
Kellie made the call to the coast guard when her husband’s boat Blackjack never showed. It was late in the night when she received the call that the search had been called off and rescheduled for the next morning. After hanging up and without any hesitation she opened the bottle of champagne the guys had ordered placed in the room for their anticipated celebration. Yes, she would celebrate tonight. Years of her life had been lavished on a man that offered her nothing but money. And now she would have it and be able to move on with her life. It was too bad about Charlie and she hated it for Catrina, but Kellie suddenly noticed something she didn’t expect—forced tears.
Kellie pushed two of the four champagne glasses to one side. “I see no reason to let good champagne go to waste, do you?”
Catrina glanced sideways before stepping forward. “It’s a little too early to celebrate don’t you think?”
Since they never showed, I think it’s safe to assume their boats must have gone down somewhere in the Atlantic.” Kellie poured two glasses and waited on Catrina to respond. “I agree with the storm much more severe than anyone anticipated, it will take a long time to find their boat, that is if they ever find it. My husband was older and. . . . ”
“Your husband was faithful. I would have rather had your hand to play. I don’t know who my husband cheated with, but have no doubt he did.” The fake tears dried as rage overtook her actions.
“So, you still have no idea who he had an affair with.”
“No, but now it doesn’t matter. I’ll put this behind me soon. I need to move on. And like you, I’m sure Charles left me fairly well off.”
Kellie lifted her glass. “To the future.”
Catrina joined her. “What makes you so sure they’ll not show up tomorrow morning?”
Finishing the entire glass in a large gulp, Kellie smiled and glanced upwards. “It’s amazing what you can buy with a few dollars.”
A twinkle radiated from Catrina’s eyes. “It’ll be interesting to hear what you purchased, but I don’t think it was necessary. Sometimes it’s best to take things in your own hands.”
“Oh Yes, I know you work with Charles at the boat company. It would be interesting to see what you accomplished, but with the boat in the bottom of the ocean, I think we’ll never know for sure.”
“And you think your methods would be more successful?”
Kellie moved her hands together almost like hands held together in prayer before she parted them openly and mouthed the words, “BOOM.”
Catrina moved her hands to her mouth. “You didn’t.”
“No one will ever be able to prove it. I’m sure they were way out to sea and the storm scattered the wreckage over hundreds of miles of ocean.”
Catrina shifted back into her seat as real tears dotted her eyes. “That had to be horrible.”
“Okay, tell me how you were planning on handling it in a more humane way?”
Catrina reached for the bottle and poured the rest of the champagne into the two glasses. “I arranged for the electrical system to completely die when they reached the deep waters. I knew the storm would finish them and make it look all natural. Also this way he would never know I was responsible for his death.”
“Don’t worry; I don’t think they ever knew what happened. Save your tears for tomorrow, you’ll need them then.”
When the waves calmed during the night, Ashton decided to venture above deck as the slightest hint of the sun appeared in the east. He hoped to have enough light to check out the battery soon and see what came happened. Damn, he spent way too much to have a screw up like this—costing him the win he wanted from the poker run. He remembered the run the previous day. Not only was his boat large and smooth, it ran fast. At a price of several million, it should. In fact, a lot of, if not most, of his net worth was tied up in this boat. His real estate holding were mostly under water. He smiled thinking of the analogy of under water.
Several blinking lights appeared over the horizon. Perhaps it was a helicopter. He held his breath, hoping it was the coast guard.
He heard Charles stumbling up the steps.
“Charles, get up her quick. Where are those flares?”
“Under the seat. Here, move away.”
Ashton watched the flare gun shoot skyward. The burst startled him but allowed him to breathe deeply.
Soon the copter appeared overhead with a coast guard boat pulling up next to them minutes later with an officer tossing them a rope to tie on with. “Why didn’t you answer your radio?”
Ashton helped the officer board their boat. “We lost all electrical service. We’re totally dead in the water.”
“Okay, I understand. Let’s take a look at it and see what we can do.”
Another officer reached for a repair kit and joined them as they opened the compartment to the engine room. Their large lights added a bright new vision of the massive twin engines. The room and the engines appeared almost new.
Several hours later the problem still could not be found. The coast guard officer finally rubbed his eyes. “I think we need to have your boat pulled in to shore and let an expert study the situation.”
“I agree.” Ashton glanced over at Charles. “Who ever you call we want the boat taken on down to the keys where we have our wives waiting on you. We’ll find someone there to repair whatever is going on with the electrical system.”
“That’s a long haul.”
“Don’t worry, we’ll pay for it. And I don’t think we’re too far away, are we?”
“Well, you did drift a lot last night. However, we’ll pull you in that direction until the escort shows up. We also want to know what happened to your boat. It looks strange.”
“I agree. Is it possible we can use you radio to contact our wives. I know they must be worried sick about us.”
“Not a problem. Follow Captain Brock back to our boat and he’ll let you use the radio. I want to keep looking at this and try to understand what’s going on.”
Ashton stretched in the morning light enjoying the change in weather from the night before as he reflected on one of the worst experiences in his life. Thinking he might die any minutes made him think of what really mattered most to him. He had a young beautiful wife. Yes, financially his life was a total wreck. He knew he needed to downsize and move somewhere where he could just relax, walk the beach and enjoy life instead of working all of the time. Money was nice, but he wanted to spend time with Kellie.
Ashton followed the captain to the other boat and smiled as he received a radio to make the call to Kellie. He could only imagine how she felt. The phone rang many times before he heard her respond.
“Hello. Who’s calling me this early?” A drunken slur only so slightly resembled his wife’s voice.
“Hello honey, it’s Ashton. We’re safe but having boat problems. I’m sorry; I know you must have worried about us. We had no way of calling you with the electrical system out.” Ashton stopped to breath, knowing he talked faster than he had ever before.
Ashton thought he heard heavy breathing on the other line but not sure due to the quality of the transmission. “Can you hear me?”
“Yea, I hear you. I’m sorry baby, we didn’t hear from you last night and Catrina and I had too much to drink. I’m glad you’re okay. What about Charles?”
“He’s safe also. We’re going to have the boat hauled in and see what happened. Get some rest honey and we’ll call you when we get there.”
“Okay, how long do you think it’ll take?”
“I think about half a day at least. We may have lost the race, but I think we can still celebrate just being alive when we get there. By the way, the clock you gave me which looks like Big Ben looks great. However, I decided to place it in one piece of the luggage I had sent on with you. I didn’t think it would make the trip in the boat. I’m sure it will look great in my office. I don’t think I ever thanked you for it.”
“Don’t worry about it. I’ll see you when you get here.” A large yawn trailed off to a long silence.
The line died as Ashton wondered just how much she had to drink last night. He realized the shock of not knowing might have caused her to panic and in a way he could understand.
Charles glanced over at him with an intense stare. “It sounds like you woke up the dead this morning.”
“Yea, I think they must have been up late last night. I can only imagine what they thought when we disappeared.”
“I was going to call my wife, but I think I’ll let her sleep and let Kellie tell her when she wakes up.”
“That might be a good decision. It will take a while to have the boat hauled in.
Kellie glanced at the time of ten after six flashing on the clock by the bed. She never woke that early in the morning. Her head hurt as she forced her mind to focus. What happened? She paid top money to make sure Ashton’s boat would be scattered all over the ocean. She needed to make a call but had to be careful. Was the bomb located and disarmed?
And the coast guard said the storm was much stronger than they had anticipated. Somehow, the lucky bastards survived the night at sea. She assumed Catrina’s sabotaged worked on the boats electrical system but failed in having it destroyed by the storm.
Her eyes opened wide. She knew the boat would be examined piece by piece when it made it back to shore. She had t make sure the bomb could not be traced back to her. It would be the responsibility of the hit man she hired to tie up the loose ends. There was a coffee shop about a block away. Perhaps she could find an old fashion phone somewhere she could use. She had to contact him fast.
Kellie stood and strolled toward the shower trying to decide if she should wake Catrina or not. She stopped walking and returned to pick up the phone. She dialed the room next door and waited.
“Catrina wake up. We have problems.”
“Come on over, I just received a call from Ashton. They’re on their way in.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me.”
“No, they’re having the Blackjack hauled in; that’s all I know for now.”
“Let me get cleaned up and I’ll be over shortly.”
“Catrina, I need to make a call but not from here. I’ll come to your room as soon as I get back.
“Okay, I’m going to take a shower.”
Kellie hurried to the shower and hoped to whip her looks into shape fast. She had no idea how much time she had and how she would handle this. What happened to the bomb? Was she lied to by the assassin she hired and swindled out of her money?
After dressing in a pair of jeans and a white pullover, she hid her identity as much as possible with a scarf and hat. She would discard them as soon as she returned. She wanted no one at the hotel to know she had left. She had not seen a pay phone in years but thought they had to still exist.
Entering the small coffee shop she glanced at the locals crowded into side booths. This restaurant looked like a place out of the history books. She walked to the back of the dining area. She found no phones on the wall. Damn, she walked out and down the street. A mobile phone company sign caught her attention advertising disposable phones—perfect. She glanced around to make sure no one paid too much attention to her as she walked in and paid cash for one. Walking out of the store she placed the call using the number she had written on the back of a card.
“Yes.” A deep masculine voice offered nothing else.
“Hi. The boat is being hauled in to shore. I thought you guaranteed it would be on the bottom of the dam ocean floor.”
“I already heard. Don’t worry; I’m working on it.”
“I remember the word—guaranteed.”
“It is, don’t worry.”
She wanted to assert more pressure and obtain more answers, but the line died.
Kellie slowly hung the phone back into his holder. Well, at least he knows there’s a problem. She could only hope he could make good on his word.
She rushed back to the hotel and hoped to learn more about what Catrina knew. Finding her room, she knocked loudly. For what seemed like eternity she waited. Finally, the door cracked. “Hi, I’m moving slow. I’ll come over in a second.”
Kellie studied her, she looked bad. “Okay, make it as fast as you can.”
Kellie paced from one side to the other of the room. She wasn’t hungry but ordered a large breakfast anyway. She felt helpless not knowing what would happen. She hoped the professional would do his job. She glanced at the luggage her husband had sent with her. What clock was he talking about? She opened several pieces looking for it. Finding it, she blinked her eyes several times. It filled most of the inside of a suitcase. Now, why did he think she purchased this for him? Yes, it looked extremely nice. She removed it to study it better. Whatever? She decided to plug it in and smiled at the intricate lighting built into the clock. It would be interesting to hear how it chimed. The time was incorrect but she wasn’t in a mood to correct it now.
Hearing a knock on the door Kellie stood to shake her long blonde hair before walking to the door. She stopped to sneak through the peep hole. A waiter stood by a tray table. Good, the food arrived. Opening the door she saw Catrina walking toward her as well.
“Good timing. I hope you’re hungry.”
During the next four hours they played out one possibility after another. While the odd time on the Big Ben annoyed her, Kellie decided to ignore it. She wanted to call Ashton back again, but scared to do so. What does he know? How will Ashton act when he finds out the truth?
Her newly purchased cell phone rang, startling her. She reached for it as her hand trembled. “I hope you have good news.”
“There has been a change in plans.”
“I’ve just located the problem.”
“Did you by any chance find a clock, a replica of Big Ben?”
“Yes, I have it here. My husband thinks I sent it to him.”
“That would be correct.”
“The bomb. Don’t tell me the bomb is inside the clock.”
“Sorry. I hope you understand. I can have no loose ends.”
“You bastard. You can’t do this.”
“Enjoy the chime.”
The line died as the clock played its first and only note.