George C. Chesbro

An Incident At Bloodtide

Chapter One

My brother, stretched out diagonally across the trampoline with his ankles crossed and his hands locked behind his head, said, 'There's a metaphor here someplace, Mongo.'

I was draped across the fourteen-foot catamaran's steel bow support, dangling my hands in the warm, murky water that looked still, but was in fact anything but. I looked around at the vast expanse of water surrounding us, a three-mile-wide section of the Hudson River the first Dutch settlers had dubbed the 'Tappan Sea.' To the west, the setting sun was not so much crimson as the softer shade of a strawberry lollipop that was about to drop out of the sky behind Hook Mountain in Upper Nyack, the model for 'Skull Island' in the original version of King Kong. To the east, the huge banks of windows fronting the General Motors plant in Tarrytown reflected the sun's rays, making the entire building appear like one giant, rectangular stoplight, and bathing the normally mud-colored river in a red glow that was heightened by a recent bloom of microorganisms, a relatively rare and short-lived phenomenon I had heard local sailors and fishermen refer to as 'bloodtide.' To the south, the serpentine span of the Tappan Zee Bridge and the particular dangers it represented were slowly but inexorably drawing closer. The water felt close to body temperature; bodies lost in the river's depths would quickly rot and fill with gas and bob to the surface.

'A metaphor,' I replied. 'Damn, I missed it. It passed without a ripple. Did it go by to port or starboard?'

'Tide will tell, Mongo.'

'Ho ho ho. Tide will tell what?'

'When there's no wind, tide will tell.'

'That's not a metaphor, it's basic earth science.'

'When venturing out on the river of life in a sailboat with no motor, don't count on the wind to always get you where you want to go.'

'I think your metaphor needs some work, brother. It isn't going to float with Mary, assuming she ever sees us again. She's going to say we're the boats with no motors. She warned us when we went out that what little wind we had was going to die, remember? But no, you said it would be really swell to take a little sail before dinner.'

'I didn't hear any demurrals from you. In fact, I seem to recall you being downright enthusiastic at the prospect.'

'Hey, I don't live year-round in a house on the Hudson; I don't get that many opportunities to go sailing. Besides, you know how impressionable I am; I count on the wisdom of my big brother when it comes to situations like this. I actually think you've left us both to drift aimlessly downriver.'

'Well, we can always just sit tight and wait until we get to New York. The river's narrower there. We'll just paddle to shore, tie up the cat, and spend the night in the brownstone.'

'New York's twenty-five miles away. The tide will change before we get there, and in the meantime we'll die of thirst and exposure.'

'Jesus, Mongo, you've become such a worrywart since I moved out. In any case, we're more likely to die of acute embarrassment when somebody takes pity on us and pulls over to ask what the hell we're doing out here on a fourteen-foot catamaran with no motor.'

'I'm simply going to tell them it was your idea to take a quick sail before dinner. That was four hours ago.'

'When caught up in the swift and unpleasant currents of life, with no help from above-'

'Not to mention from the north, south, east, or west.'

'— the wise man applies the paddle.'

'Now, there's a metaphor,' I said, rolling over and sitting up. 'For 'tis better to struggle with two little paddles than to get run over by a barge in the dark.'

I removed the two plastic paddles from where they were secured in the webbing connecting the two halves of the trampoline, handed one to Garth, then climbed down onto the starboard pontoon of the Hoby Cat, straddling it. Garth positioned himself on the port side and we began to paddle, angling toward the western shore where the bright lights festooning the docks of the various boat clubs had already come on.

If we'd started paddling just after the wind had died and while we were still north of Hook Mountain, we probably would have stood a reasonable chance of getting to shore within reasonable walking distance of Garth's home in Cairn, or perhaps even have caught one of the faint breezes that sometimes waft off the land at dusk. However, choosing the path of lazy optimism and least resistance, we had decided to 'sail the tide' for a while and wait for the wind to come up. Two hours later we'd still been sailing the tide, which had carried us right into the center of the deep channel marked by buoys and used by the mammoth tankers and barges that plied the river, servicing the dozens of companies that were located on both shores of the river between New York City and Albany. Tankers and tug-drawn barges had right-of-way over everything else on the river, and for good reason: even if the pilot or captain of one of these floating behemoths did manage to spot a tiny vessel like ours in his path, there wouldn't be much he or she could do about it, inasmuch as it can take up to five miles for a tanker or barge to come to a stop. By the time a captain managed to change course, we would long since have been reduced to flotsam of floating bits of steel, fiberglass, canvas, Mylar, and flesh. The first order of business was to get out of the channel, and so we proceeded apace, huffing and puffing, making agonizingly slow progress at an angle against the combined forces of tide and current carrying us toward the sea.

'Where to?' I asked.

'Let's go for Petersen's.'

I glanced to my right, at the floodlit buildings and docks that were the old and venerable Petersen's Boat Yard in Nyack. We were almost abreast of the landmark shelter, and still at least a mile and a half from shore. 'We're never going to make Petersen's, Garth.'

'Well, we aim for it, and hope we at least hit the outer edge of Nyack Boat Club's parking lot. If we can just get to one of the boats on an outside mooring, we can rest up, then work our way in from mooring to mooring. They'll let us tie up, and we can take a cab home.'

'I don't know about you, but my arms already feel like they're ready to drop. Why don't we just take an angle toward Memorial Park? There's a ramp there. We can call Mary, have her drive down with the pickup and trailer. Then we don't have to worry about coming back to get the cat in the morning.'

'Mary won't be home. Believe it or not, we'd actually planned to eat early. She's got a church meeting tonight that's supposed to resolve a big hassle they've been into for months. She won't be back until late. Don't worry about the cat. You can drop me off on your way back into the city, and I'll sail her home.'

I felt a little flutter of anxiety, a tightening in my stomach. I stopped paddling, looked back at Garth. 'What about Vicky? I'm not sure she's ready to set foot again in any place with crosses on the walls, no matter how benign.'

Garth nodded. 'Agreed. Mary knows the situation, even if she doesn't quite understand the problem; you had to be there. But I've made it clear that there is a problem. We've got lots of friends among the neighbors, and I'm almost certain she'll have dropped Vicky off with one of them.'

Garth had every reason to be as upset as I was at the prospect of our young charge being taken into a church, and so if he was comfortable with whatever decision Mary might have made, there was no reason why I shouldn't be. I turned back and resumed paddling. My pause for a little tete-a-tete had cost us a good twenty-five yards.

Vicky Brown was a very cute nine-year-old girl with blond hair, green eyes, and freckles, whose physical beauty was marred only by her reluctance to smile or laugh, and belied by the fierce, poisonous invective that would still, even after two years of what I considered to be the very best therapy available, spew from her mouth in moments of stress or anger; when Vicky couldn't get what she wanted, the person denying her was very likely to be

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