Authors: Philip Craig
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To Gen Prada and Joyce Goldfield, and in memory of Al Prada, who, long ago, welcomed me to their island and into their Vineyard Family.
Particular thanks to Dr. Thomas W. Adamsâphysician, poet, potter, gardener extraordinaire, and specialist on poison plants.
“A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.”
The first time I saw the Padishah of Sarofim was the morning when he nearly killed Zee and me with his cigarette boat.
It was just after the change of the tide in the Cape Pogue Gut when Zee hooked a fish. We were drifting in my dinghy and had the gut all to ourselves.
“Hey,” said Zee, “there's life in the sea, after all.” She hauled back her rod and reeled down and hauled back again. “This is a good-sized fish or else a fighting little fool.”
It was the only hit we'd had since we'd putted over from Edgartown to seek the wily blues, so I reeled in and watched her work the fish.
It wasn't hard to watch Zee. She was wearing her short shorts and a shirt with its tails tied around her waist and the blue bandanna she liked to wear around her hair when she fished. She was sleek as an otter.
“Maybe it's a bass,” I said.
“No, it's not a bass,” said Zee. “It's a bluefish. I know a bass when I have one on.”
“Do you want me to help you land it? Fishing is man's work, after all.”
“Pardon my repressed laughter. Where's
“I'm deliberately not catching any so you'll have an improved self-image. Bad self-images are no-no's these days.”
“My self-image is just fine, thank you. Gosh, this guy really is giving me a tussle.”
True. The dinghy was being towed across the slow tidal current. I got interested.
From the other side of John Oliver Point rose the
rolling thunder sound of a powerful engine as a fast boat came up from the south end of Cape Pogue Pond. I hate and fear overpowered boats being driven too fast. They're a danger to their riders and to everyone else in sight.
Around the far end of the point came a shining cigarette boat, throwing a spray of white water behind and riding a roar of sound. The boat curled along the inside of the Cape Pogue Elbow and came full speed into the gut, straight at us.
Jesus Christ! I grabbed the starter rope of my little Seagull outboard and gave a yank. The trusty motor kicked right over, but it was far too late. Before I could swing the dinghy away, the cigarette boat was on us. Zee's mouth moved, but her voice was lost in the roar of the boat's engines.
At the last moment the helmsman altered course a trifle. The boat missed us by a yard, severing Zee's line. A second later the wake capsized the dinghy and dumped Zee and me into the water. When I came up I looked for Zee. She was treading water, still hanging on to her rod. The dinghy bobbed upside down beyond her. We were all drifting slowly out into Nantucket Sound on the falling tide.
“Are you all right?”
Beyond the gut, the cigarette boat slowed and swung around and came back. There were three men aboard. They eased up near us.
“Are you all right?” This from the dark-eyed helmsman. There was a British intonation overlying an accent I didn't recognize.
“You missed us by at least a foot, you stupid man!” Zee was furious.
The helmsman darkened even more, and his mouth tightened. An olive-skinned man with a hatchet face frowned.
A blond young man dropped a ladder over the side. “Come aboard,” he said, leaning down and putting out a hand.
“I don't want to ride with a maniac,” said Zee, coughing. “Get away from us before that fool at the wheel really does kill us both!”
“Please,” said the blond man.
Zee waved her fishing rod at the helmsman. “I had a good fish on, you dunderhead! You cut him off! People like you shouldn't be allowed to drive! My God!”
The helmsman glared, and the man with the hatchet face spoke to him in a language I didn't know.
The water was warm, but we were still slowly being carried out to sea. I swam to the cigarette boat and climbed aboard. “Awfully sorry,” said the blond man, giving my hand a fast shake. “Please, miss, come aboard.”
I reached down a long arm. “Come on, Zee.”
Spitting water, she swam over and handed up her rod, then climbed the ladder and glared at the helmsman, dripping.
“Just to make sure I've got the right man,” she snapped, moving toward him, “it
you who nearly cut us in two, wasn't it?”
The helmsman lifted his chin and looked first at each man on the boat and finally at her. “It was indeed, madam. And what were you doing there, anyway?”
“You incredible jerk! I was fishing there, but this is what I'm doing here!” And before he or anyone else could move she hit him in the nose with her fist.
He gasped and raised his hands to his face.
“There, you wretched man!” cried Zee.
He staggered back. His legs hit the side of the cockpit and he went overboard backwards. Zee looked slightly abashed. The man with the hatchet face looked suddenly deadly. His hand dipped under his light summer shirt and came out with a flat semiautomatic pistol. He was very quick. He swung the pistol toward Zee, and I barely had time to step between them.
“No, Colonel!” The blond man's voice was loud, but he did not step in front of the pistol.
The Colonel did not shoot, but neither did he lower the pistol. It was lined up on my solar plexus. Long before, I had been shot just a bit south of that spot and I still had the bullet nestled up against my spine.
From the water came a strangled shout in that unknown language. The helmsman was thrashing in the water. The Colonel hesitated, then glanced down at the helmsman and back at Zee and me.
Zee leaned over the side. “Now you know what it feels like! Swim over here, if you know how. Or are you as bad at swimming as you are at driving a boat?” It was clear that she had not seen the Colonel's pistol. “Come on,” said Zee, reaching down. “That's it. You needed a little cooling off, hotshot.”
The helmsman came up the ladder, Zee's hand clenching his shirt. I looked back at the Colonel, and the pistol was gone. He and the helmsman held a short intense conversation while the blond man scurried away and returned with towels.
The helmsman glared at Zee, and there was a seepage of blood from his hawklike nose. The Colonel's eyes were hooded like those of a snake. The blond man was conciliatory to all. “Okay, folks, let's all just relax. You, sir,” this to me, “will you take that boat hook and see if you can snag your dinghy's painter when I come up alongside of her? That's it.”
I hauled the dinghy close, tipped it right-side up, and pulled it up the side of the cigarette boat so some of the water would empty out. When I eased it back in the water, it floated. Gone was my good graphite rod, a Penn 704 reel, and a tackle box full of gear. I pointed this out to the blond man and added that my outboard would now have to be rinsed and possibly repaired down at Pirate's Cove, the local boatyard in Edgartown.
“Don't worry, sir,” said Blondie. “We'll take care of everything. We're just delighted that you're both all right. These things happen, in spite of our best efforts to prevent
them. Allow me to introduce myself. Standish Caplan, State Department. My fault, this, I'm afraid. Allowed hisÂ .Â .Â . erÂ .Â .Â . Mr. Rashad to take the wheel at the wrong time. A thousand pardons. You must allow us to take you into Edgartown. May I know your name, sir?”
“J. W.Jackson,” I said, angry about the pistol now that it was no longer pointed at me. “Who's your gunman? We don't see many like him down here.”
The gunman and I stared at each other. He identified himself. “Colonel Ahmed Nagy.” His voice was dark and had a cut to it.
Standish Caplan stepped smoothly between us, now that there was no pistol. “Mr. Jackson, Mr. Rashad. Mr. Rashad, Mr. Jackson. Gentlemen, please shake hands. No damage done, ha, ha, save a few wet clothes. Tempers cooling, I hope. MissÂ .Â .Â . erÂ .Â .Â .”
“Zeolinda Madieras,” said Zee. “Mrs. Zeolinda Madieras.” She was still glaring at Rashad, but her lips were beginning to twitch. I knew a laugh was coming, and it did. She shrugged her shoulders. “Let's call it even, then. Take us home. I need a shower.”
Rashad touched his nose. “In my country women do not strike men.”
“That must be some sort of country! Maybe you should go back to it, where you'll be safe,” flared Zee.
Rashad's eyes grew bright. He lifted a hand.
“Don't even think it,” I said, but I was really watching Colonel Nagy.
“Madam, gentlemen, please.” Standish Caplan was somehow between Rashad and the Colonel on one side and Zee and me on the other. “Please, let us put all this behind us. Let me take the wheel and see if we can get Mrs. Madieras and Mr. Jackson and their boat safely home. Awfully sorry about the fish, Mrs. Madieras. We will be glad to replace everything else, but we can't replace your fish, ha, ha.”
“Ha, ha,” said Zee. But she seated herself on one side of the cockpit and waved a languid arm. “Home, Standish.”
We parted at Pirate's Cove Marina.
“Your names are in the book, yes? Well then, I will be in touch,” said Standish Caplan, handing us each his card. “Now I must take theÂ .Â .Â . erÂ .Â .Â . Mr. Rashad home and get him some dry clothes. Awfully sorry about this whole thing. Terribly glad you're both all right.”
The Colonel leaned toward me. “We will remember you,” he said in a voice like a knife. He looked at Zee. “And the woman will not be forgotten either.”