CHAPTER 13 — You still want ‘a talk to her?

The phone call back to the warehouse out of the way, I thanked Harry and, as I was walking out of the motel office, asked him if Lil had “straightened up with” him on my electric hook-up? I just wanted to make certain he had gotten his five dollars but, judging from the look on his face, you would think I had just asked him if he had strangled his mother. The stare he gave me, along with Larry’s earlier reaction on the same subject, convinced me that I should best keep my mouth shut about the Resort’s utility’s billing department.

It was still early and, rather than head on down to the Stuffed Pig, I decided to look around the complex. There was a chance I might have to leave my boat here in the marina, rent a car at Avis, and get back up the road. Everything was fine at home but something about possible refrigeration problems at the warehouse might need to be … it could wait at least another day.

The pink and lime-green pastel painted time-share apartments were located behind the motel and wrapped around a pool and patio area. It was apparent that maintenance was not a priority and only a few of the units appeared to be occupied, but it was still early. There was also a small restaurant named Chez Bonet’ but, from what I could see, it had been shuttered for years. The pool, from all appearances, seemed to be maintained and remarkably clean. I noticed an outside shower and even MEN and WOMEN signs on two doors into a small freestanding out-building. This was good–maybe I won’t need that quarter and a nocturnal trip to Dockside after all. Leading off from the pool area, and right past Lil’s little cottage, was the pathway back to the docks.

Larry probably saw my shadow pass by one of his port lights and emerged from his cabin as I stepped back on the deck of Le Esperance.

“That didn’t take long. Did you get all your work done?”

I assured him that I had and that I was changing into a bathing suit … then proceeded to invite him to join me at the pool for a swim. Even as the words were coming out of my mouth, the irony in my invitation settled on both of us. It was not yet 9:00 AM and there were a few clouds in the sky, but here was a man that could be cast in Hollywood only as an emaciated Count Dracula and I had just suggested that he go sunbathing.

You can only imagine my surprise when he came back … “I don’t know, maybe I’ll come down there a little later, after the postman comes. My wife’s been telling me I could use a little vitamin D.” Larry scratched his head, gave a little shrug, and crawled back down into his dockside futures trading research sanctuary.

Even mid-morning and out of Season, there are supposed to be people around a pool. There weren’t–I picked out the only frayed patio lounge chair that looked like it might carry my weight and, very cautiously, eased myself down on it.

Every marina with live-a-boards has its own personality and unique players. Banana Bay was certainly no exception but, so far, I was stumped. As I laid back and closed my eyes, my mind drifted to the surrounding cast of characters. There was a dock master that lived on the premises but worked full time in a hardware store. There was a motel manager that, supposedly, had nothing to do with the marina but was taking “kick backs” for electricity. There were now, with my arrival, only vessels in four slips out of twenty-five or so, and one of those might be abandoned. The electrician from Ohio, I forget his name, seemed normal but I hadn’t seen him since yesterday when I first tied up. That leaves a woman I’ve never met that works long hours at the local hospital and her husband …

“It’s a nice day, isn’t it!”

I had company… Larry was standing next to me. He had picked up another of the questionable tube aluminum/plastic lawn chairs and had this “I’m out to play, aren’t you proud of me?” questioning smile on his face. He had on a tucked-in long sleeved white dress shirt, long orange Bermuda shorts with decorative dolphins, an Australian “out-back” hat complete with all the flaps/lanyards and, to complete the ensemble, long black socks and brown street shoes with laces. Pulling a pair of sun glasses and a family sized Coppertone from his pants pocket, he set up his chair and … I had what I had asked for.

It didn’t take long to figure out that Larry was starved for conversational companionship. It was a condition I was very familiar with–spend too much single-handed time at sea, and you end up talking to yourself or, sometimes, even to inanimate objects or unresponsive fellow travelers like, say, a spider. When he found out I had an engineering degree, it was just a matter of time before he began to vent his ambitions and frustrations. I have to be honest, once he got started it was easy to get wrapped up in his enthusiasm. I knew very little about futures trading and nothing at all about Chaos and it was hard to believe that less than twelve hours could separate my life experience from twenty-five cent showers to abstract quantum theory, but here I was and I just laid back and let him enlighten me …

“Jim, what it all boils down to is this: subscribing to the theory of Chaos, all I need to do is find a tiny series of sequential trades that repeat themselves over a relatively short time span. This would be like … up .02, up .02, down .01, up .03, up .01, down .02 … all coming across the ticker tape for pork belly trades in a given one minute time span. If the same identical sequence of price fluctuations went on to occur frequently over the next, let’s say, hour or so, then I can determine that, not unlike the butterfly in China, a set of conditions has been created that will repeat itself on a much larger scale in the, not too distant, future. Example: … having reasonable assurance that an “up tic of .03 and an up tic of .01” will follow every series of “up .02, up .02, down .01″ may not sound like much but, in the fast moving world of leveraged commodity futures trading, it translates out into tens of thousands of dollars in profit in just a few minutes time.”

I didn’t want him to stop talking but I had to jump in: “Larry, I know you’re giving me the over-simplified version and that’s okay. Let’s face it … the course is free and I didn’t bring my text book, but just tell me one thing: Are things happening the way you and your partners thought they would?”

“Yeah, I’m at 71%. That doesn’t sound too great but, with short positions and stops, it’s more than we anticipated. Problem is, there hasn’t been a penny put in play. Whereas the hypothetical tornado in Nebraska has a couple of weeks to crank up after the Chinese wing flap; my action swings into play within, at max, a two to three hour window. Even if I was sitting in the brokerage office in Miami, with the time it takes me to identify a sequence, there wouldn’t be enough time to put the trades in place. By the time I manually feed the individual transactions into my Osborne and the queries give me a target series … it’s already too late. Combine all of this with the fact that I’m down here, I only get the raw trade data from the postman over 24 hours after the fact, then the results can’t get back to Miami until two days later, and … well, do I need to say anymore?”

Shaking my head, I responded … “so what’s the answer Larry? If it can’t be done why are you still trying and, more importantly, why are they still paying you, the postage, and all the other expenses to keep this project going?”

Nodding his head … “They have a plan and I can only hope that I’ll be part of it. Almost from the start, the guys in Miami have seemed more interested in my week-end results reports than any of my daily “real time/but a day late” specific trade recommendations. It’s almost like they ‘knew I would fail before we started but didn’t care’. I’ve heard, by way of the grape vine, that they are working with a rep. from Digital Equipment Corp. and some software outfit out of Connecticut to put an old DEC PDP-11 computer and a tape reader to work crunching the numbers with only a ten or twelve minute delay. If they can replicate my work based on the reports I’ve given them, they’ll be able to move everything “in house” and eliminate a key operating expense–me!”

What do you say to a man who has just opened his heart and orrated his own financial and professional obituary? Larry and I lay there by the pool for another half-hour or so and he talked to me about the future of data accumulation and hardware advancement. He talked of memory increases, chip capacities, satellite relays, and any number of other futuristic inevitables. It was all above my head but we both knew that none of these changes on the horizon would come to pass before Larry would be terminated, forced to pull the plug on his Banana Bay shore power and, hopefully along with his wife, be able to sail away.

The menu at the Stuffed Pig doesn’t have calorie count posted anywhere in the print but if you could, somehow, succeed in eating the cardboard menu itself … you would consume enough soaked-in grease to start your breakfast at 85 before the first plate ever hit the table–Two sunny-side up, smoked sausage, rye toast, and a gravy biscuit … Oh! and I almost forgot … a small orange juice. I was the restaurant’s only customer. Too early for lunch, no tourist in town, and Conchs don’t eat breakfast this late.

I think this is my favorite meal and it’s even better when I’m not rushed, can sit around with a cup of coffee, and leisurely read whatever newspaper happens to be lying around. Since I go days at a time without seeing one, it makes little difference which one it is or, within reason, how old. I check on the stock market and maybe a glance at both the front and sports pages, but it’s a rare occasion when I see anything that tweaks my interest or catches my eye. The only newspaper in sight was over on the counter tucked under a napkin rack and it turned out to be a day-old Miami Herald.

“Need a warm up? I’ve got a fresh pot.”

“No thanks but a glass of water would be nice.”

The market was flat and I resisted the urge to check out pork bellies. I wouldn’t know what I was looking at if I did. I was just getting ready to lay the paper aside when an article below the fold on one of the back pages caught my attention. Someone had circled, with a ball-point, “the Coast Guard in Key West” and “who chose not to be named” in the first paragraph. In the margin beside the circles was “FIND OUT WHO!” and it was underlined twice.

Reading the article …

Coast Guard foiled in Chase

Key Largo:     US Coast Guard Officials report that a third-party incident report on VHF Channel 16 on Sunday afternoon resulted in the CG Cutter Akron being dispatched at 3:45 PM to investigate a collision and possible fatalities. The crash location was reported to have been near the mouth of South Sound Creek in the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. No additional information was available at press time but a supplemental report released by the Coast Guard in Key West indicates that one of the vessels involved was a greenish-brown, possilbly multi-hulled racer with 4 outboard engines. The official, who chose not to be named, went on to say that “by the time the Akron arrived at the scene, no vessel fitting that description was found”. The primary concern of Coast Guard and Custom officials centers around a second report which, our anonymous source indicates, came from a helicopter summoned from the Homestead Air Base. In failing to locate any racing boat, the helicopter pilot went on to state that “the only large boat in the vicinity was a 200 foot plus yacht headed east, well within the International waters of the Gulf Stream. When haled by radio from the helicopter, the Captain’s response, as recorded and relayed back to Homestead was that the vessel was named “Saints and Sisters” and of Panamanian registry.

There was a chance this meant nothing. Maybe I was just reading something into the article that wasn’t there … there was only one way to find out. I didn’t know how to even begin tracking Frank Matheson down in Miami but, before I start running around like a chicken with its head cut off, let me check out one thing right here in the Stuffed Pig.

The waitress didn’t hesitate at all. She remembered the circles on the Herald article and who put them there.

The Coast Guard Station in Marathon hasn’t got any boats and it’s not even located on the water. It’s more of an administrative post and just happens to be on US #1 and only a few hundred yards from where I had just finished my breakfast. “Captain Martin only comes by this post about once a week but you’re in luck. He’s back in the wardroom and yes, I believe he did go to the ‘Pig’ this morning, he always does.” The Guardsman at the front desk led me back to a large meeting room with a couple of GI steel desks and fifteen or twenty folding chairs. Behind one of the desks, and the only person in the room, was the Captain and he greeted me warmly.

Twenty minutes later I was back on the highway and looking for a pay phone. There may have been one in the Coast Guard Station but I didn’t want to chance being overheard. The Captain was quite candid and told me that he had, indeed, been the one that circled the newspaper piece and that his interest had been totally security related. He went on to tell me that the information given to the newspaper reporter was factual and, much to his pleasant surprise, no Coast Guard regulations had been violated by the officer involved.

The real information that I got from Captain Martin, and the reason I was looking for a phone booth, was summarized in a written report that the Captain was good enough to have given me a copy of. The Coast Guard was 100% certain that the large racing boat implicated in a collision with a small fishing skiff that killed a man and a young boy near South Sound Creek was later hoisted aboard the Saints and Sisters. The report went on to say that the suspect craft was probably stored and covered on the deck of the larger vessel so as to appear to be an ordinary lifeboat. The Captain had gone on to tell me that this was not the first time that Coast Guard, DEA, and Customs authorities had come in contact with this yacht. It was common knowledge that the vessel’s owner was a kingpin in Columbia’s most murderous cocaine empire but, since the vessel was well within International waters and of foreign registry, no attempt at boarding could even be contemplated. It was only when I got to the bottom of the Coast Guard report and read the Vessel Documentation Details that I thanked the Captain and headed for the door.

VESSEL NAME:    Saints and Sisters                  Length:   220 ft.      Beam:    47 ft.

CAPTAIN:     Carlos Smith              OWNER:       Carlos Lehder Rivas

REGISTRY:     Panama                     HOME PORT:       Norman‘s Cay, Bahamas

“Yes operator, I’ve got a pocket full of coins and this is a call to the Caribbean Club on Key Largo …. no I don’t have the number ….. no, not person to person, anyone that picks up the phone!”

“That will be $1.10 for the first three minutes” …….. Bong,Bong,Bong, “damn, wait minute, I dropped it”, Bong, ….. Bing

…….. “Hello, Caribbean Club …. this is Hank” …..

“Hank, are you at the bar or in the office?”

“I’m in the kitchen, nobody comes in to open the office until 4 O’clock.”

“Is Nancy, the barmaid, working?” I held my breath … I don’t know why but I had this terrible hunch–I think I was hoping Hank’s answer would be “No”! … but …

“Can I tell her whose calling? She’s not supposed to take personal calls on this line.”

“Hank, it’s real important! Just tell her it’s Jim and I’m calling about Frank. If she doesn’t remember me, just say … ‘the old Chevy that was parked over at the side of the lot last Sunday night’. I’m sure that will ring a bell.”

There was a pause … then Hank came back with: “I don’t have to do that. It rings a bell with me. She told me the whole story and the manager has told both of us that ‘if he doesn’t come get the damn thing by Thursday’ he’ll have it hauled off! … You still want ‘a talk to her?”

Power Boat                   Norman's Cay

 

 

 

 

 

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