Trap line, p.1
Trap Line, p.1Carl Hiaasen
For Patricia Hiaasen
and Vincent F. Montalbano
THEY HAD AGREED to meet at the Omni Hotel, a double obelisk that rises on Biscayne Boulevard near the bay. The businessman had booked a suite for two weeks; bayside, as always.
Manolo flew up from Key West. He had been told to come alone, so he had. He took a Yellow Cab from the airport. It overheated twice on the short trip.
Inside the hotel complex, Manolo wandered like a rat in a maze for ten minutes before locating the right elevator. He stepped out on the eleventh floor and strode across a thick amber carpet to the businessman’s suite. Manolo knocked twice, then shifted the briefcase to his right hand.
The Colombian, lithe and bronzed, answered in bare feet and white shorts with a royal blue stripe. The two men shook hands and exchanged greetings in Spanish, their accents as distinct as Boston and Biloxi.
Manolo followed the businessman along a trail of scuffed sneakers and sweaty socks to a chilled bucket of champagne. He lay the briefcase on a marble coffee table. The Colombian poured two glasses. Manolo, who hated champagne, paid no attention to the extravagant label.
He noticed four new graphite tennis rackets on a toffee-colored sofa.
“For my backhand,” the Colombian explained. “If I improve my backhand, I am unbeatable, I assure you. I have a lesson in one hour.”
Manolo glanced at four large boxes piled haphazardly in a corner.
“Por Dios, Jorge, more Betamaxes? Didn’t you buy three the last time you were here?”
“A primitive model. These are truly sophisticated.” Jorge set his glass on the coffee table next to the briefcase. “Everything is here, no?”
Manolo nodded. The briefcase contained exactly one million two hundred thousand dollars in neatly stacked twenties and one hundreds, nonsequential.
“Good. There are no problems?” The question was rhetorical. The Colombian would have known about problems.
“Things are going smoothly,” Manolo answered, gesturing toward the city’s infant skyline. “The market continues to be magnificent.”
“Did you have a good flight from Key West?”
“Ah, twenty minutes: nothing.”
The Colombian slipped into a canary yellow pullover and attached a gold Piaget to his left wrist. A young woman with coffee-colored eyes and small breasts appeared briefly, nude, in the doorway to an adjoining room. The Colombian waved her away.
“I need a favor,” he said, sipping slowly.
Manolo knew there were no favors, only debts. He also knew that his side of the ledger was perpetually red.
“I have some friends,” the Colombian continued, “who will be needing some reliable transportation.”
“In about two weeks they will be on an island in the Bahamas. They will need a boat to the mainland. Key Largo will do …”
Already Manolo was shaking his head. “It’s no good, Jorge. My people won’t run aliens.”
“You mean Colombians, don’t you? Your people won’t run Colombians. Not long ago, if I recall, your people brought a hundred thousand aliens into this country from a port in Cuba. Mariel, wasn’t it?”
“That was different,” Manolo said, reddening.
“Oh, no, my friend. A lot of your people did that purely for money, not out of decency or love of family. Is that not so?”
“That was different.”
The Colombian picked up one of the tennis rackets and ran strong fingers across the strings.
“Think of this as a family mission, Manny. Like Mariel, but perhaps a bit less heroic, more private. These friends are important to me. I need them here, and, therefore, you need them, too.”
“They will help assure that we do not lose any of this magnificent market.”
Manolo squirmed. The hotel room suddenly seemed small, terribly hot.
“You don’t understand. The boat captains who work for me will not do it, no matter what I offer them. Grass, pills, coke—anytime, by the box or the ton. Even guns, if you like. But not people.”
“But I do not understand. And I dismiss the distinction as irrelevant.”
“Look. People are not bales or boxes. You can’t heave them over the side when the Coast Guard shows up and turns on the blue light.”
The Colombian slammed the racket against the edge of the coffee table.
“Basta!” he commanded. “I need one man for one run. That is all. We will take precautions to see that there are no questions afterwards.”
“No!” Manolo urged. “This isn’t the Guajira. Key West is a small town where dead people still attract a certain amount of attention.”
The Colombian shrugged. It had been an uneven struggle, and it was over. He reached for the champagne.
“Handle it however you must. Go home and get me a captain. The best one you can find. Persuade him, if necessary.”
“I will try.”
The Colombian smiled, and his new American teeth gleamed like perfect ivory tiles. “You will try, my friend, and you will be successful. You are an honorable man, a valuable man.”
Manolo forced an appreciative sigh.
“It has been a good month for us, no?” the Colombian said brightly. “I’m not even going to count what’s in the briefcase. That is how much I trust you.”
The preposterous lie amused Manolo. The cash, he knew, would be sifting through an electronic counting machine within the hour.
“Call me soon,” the Colombian ordered at the door.
“Of course,” Manolo replied. “Good luck with your backhand.”
In the lobby, he patted his jacket to make sure the airline ticket was in his pocket, then walked out into the suffocating heat to hunt for an air-conditioned taxi.
THE DIAMOND CUTTER, a forty-three-foot Crusader, Key West-built with an 892 GMC diesel, cleared Stock Island twenty minutes after dawn. Albury, splay-legged at the helm, drank bitter coffee from a chipped white mug. Jimmy ran a rag across the wheelhouse windshield.
“Engine sounds good, Breeze. Real good.”
“After five days’ work, it ought to,” Albury said. The parts alone had set him back a thousand dollars.
“Well, it sounds fine,” Jimmy insisted. “Gonna be a good day.”
“I hope so. Anybody needs a good day, it’s us. Won’t be long until the end of the month.”
Jimmy laughed through the new gold beard that dwelt like peach down on his sunburned face. Reflexively, Albury turned the Diamond Cutter to the southeast, where the first line of crawfish traps rested on a shelf of coral. He could have found it blindfolded. The fine porcelain sky, the rising white sun, the hot and cool sea hues of the Florida Straits; these were Albury’s birthright. He had first made the trip in another era, with his granddaddy sitting on a sun-bleached whiskey crate steering an old one-lunger with no winch and hardly a wheelhouse.
The end of the month. Surely it had not weighed so heavily on his granddaddy, like the massive, unsheddable shell of a loggerhead. Albury could not imagine the old man fretting in his pine cabin, neatly stacking the bills as they piled up like driftwood.
But now, with his boat cutting a clean vector toward the crawfish waters, Breeze Albury mentally riffled the accounts due that awaited him in the sagging trailer that his granddaddy would have rightfully spurned as a chicken coop. Boat payment, dockage, fuel, parts; then there was the rent—pure robbery—car payments, the electric, and, of course, the installment on the TV.
Against these he weighed the account of Albury, William Clifford. This month it came out worse than usual. Fishing had been good, until the engine quit. The parts had taken cash, plus he still owed for the cypress on two hundred new traps.
And spikes. He had promised Ricky a new pair. Pitching was hell on spikes. His mind held the image of Ricky’s arm flashing, the streaking ball a white pea as it flew to the plate, the foot slamming down hard in a balanced follow-through.
Albury smiled. He leaned back from the waist and let his belly steady the wheel, gentling the lobster boat through the quiet morning sea. He would buy the new spikes, pay on the boat and whatever else he could, then let the unpaids chase him. Wouldn’t be the first time. Let them take back the color television if they wanted it bad enough.
Albury lit a cigarette and nudged the Diamond Cutter on a course that would intersect up-current with the first trail of orange-and-white buoys that marked his trap line.
“Hey, Jimmy,” he called down to the deck where the young mate was coiling rope. “The captain needs a cold beer.”
A few minutes later, Albury jockeyed the boat with unthinking precision as Jimmy hauled the traps. He would snare the pumpkin-sized buoy with a swoop of long practice, fix it to the winch, and watch expectantly as the cypress trap spun to the surface. Albury only half-heard Jimmy’s running count as he stripped the traps, rebaited them with a strip of cowhide, and sorted the catch.
“Breeze,” Jimmy said, “what say we keep a few of these shorts today?”
“No shorts: Toss ’em back.”
Shorts were the undersized crawfish that measured less than five and one-half inches from bony carapace to tail. Get caught with them and it could cost a couple hundred dollars, except that no self-respecting crawfisherman would get caught. If the Marine
Patrol happened by, all you had to do was cut the weighted sack from a line on the stern and let the delicious evidence sink. There weren’t many Key West captains who could resist the shorts now and then; easy to sell and good to eat. Albury could have gotten away with it, but Laurie would have lectured him for sins against the ecology. Risk was another factor. A fine was the last thing he needed, especially with the end of the month coming. You could never tell about the Marine Patrol. One morning they wave hello, next morning they get nasty and board you.
“Hey, Breeze, you been to Miami a lot.” Jimmy had climbed into the wheelhouse with two fresh cans of Bud. Albury drank deeply as the Diamond Cutter plodded dutifully, like a milkman’s horse, toward the second line of traps.
“Sure, I spent some time in Miami. Why?”
“I just wanna know if it’s safe up there.”
“Safe for what? Christ, don’t tell me you never been.” Albury was incredulous.
“Sure, with my dad, a few times. But it’s been a couple years. I want to know is it safe for Kathy, if I take her up there with me. You read about all these murders and crazy shit …”
“How old is Kathy?”
“And you’ve been married …”
“About three months. She wants to go up there and do some shopping.”
Albury laughed. “Sure. It’ll be fun.”
“Well, I asked her what’s wrong with shopping on the island, but she says everything’s too ugly or too expensive down here.”
“Sounds like she wants to see Miami.”
Jimmy ran a calloused hand through his bleached-out hair. “Maybe so,” he said.
Albury drained the beer, squashed the can, and tossed it neatly into a broken lobster trap on deck. He gestured toward the windshield. “Trap line comin’ up.”
Jimmy turned for the deck, but Albury stopped him with a question. “You got enough money for a shopping trip to the city?”
“No, I ain’t, Breeze. Not yet. But I figure you and me gonna pull us some fat fucking crawfish out of the Cobia Hole this morning, and I’ll be fixed just fine.”
“OK,” Albury said. “You got it.”
The second line of traps bore decent fruit. With Jimmy happily babbling a soon-to-be-rich aria for the very young, Albury aimed the Diamond Cutter out to sea, toward the final trap line, the new and private one he and Jimmy called the Cobia Hole.
Albury had discovered the improbable underwater ridge two years earlier. It was four hours southeast of Key West, further than lobstermen normally ventured on a one-day trip. If you believed the charts, the water in this area was too deep, but a good hard look at the color told Albury there was a ledge below. Intrigued, he had investigated, patiently tracking a long and narrow ridge where none should have been. Jimmy, who was new on the boat then, spotted a huge school of cobia churning crazily in Diamond Cutters wake. On a lark, he had tossed a couple of short crawfish into the hungry swarm of brown, half-blind game fish, which had fallen into a frenzy and milled behind the boat for more than a mile.
From then on it was the Cobia Hole. A gamble, too. Albury needed extra fuel to make the trip, longer lines for the deep-water traps. There had damn well better be crawfish, he had warned Jimmy. And there had been. The first two seasons had been bountiful, and somehow the hole had remained Albury’s secret. God bless Jimmy for keeping his mouth shut.
This year it was too early to tell if the gamble would pay off. The first catches had been good, but in twenty-five years, man and boy, of crawfishing, Albury had seen more than one bonanza dry up overnight. And it was only a matter of time before other boats moved in at this hole, too, and then Albury would move on.
On the docks at Stock Island, everybody knew Breeze Albury liked to fish alone. Or not to fish at all: a few knew that, too, the ones who had gone to school with him and watched over the decades as he had dulled from a rakehell all-state fullback into a thickening, middle-aged fisherman who rolled with life’s punches. It was easy to surrender to the potbellied, parboiled ennui of the island.
If you were a Conch, you were a Conch. Simple as that. You could run a bulldozer in Georgia, fell trees in Oregon, drive an eighteen-wheeler cross-country, fix fancy foreign cars in Atlanta … even work for a year in a New York brokerage house, management trainee, for Christ’s sake, suit-and-tie, sorry-you-are-leaving, Mr. Albury … do it all until the Conch called you home in excitement and dismay to the broiling rock where your granddaddy hauled crawfish and ran rum; where your daddy died drunk in his hardware store, slumped across the counter clutching a ball of brown twine at forty-three; and where those goddamned motherfucking orange-and-white lobster buoys danced with false promise in the morning sun.
Eighteen years Albury had been back. Eighteen years: three boats, all owned by the bank; one wife, a slut pickled in alcohol long since; two kids, one nightmare and one dream; and Laurie, sometimes.
At least the boats had served him well. He had had this one—what?—nearly nine years now. She rolled a bit and skittered in a bad following sea, but Diamond Cutter was a hell of a crawfish boat. Albury had commissioned her the Peggy, and she had fished with that name until one night he had walked into the trailer to find the old lady in bed beside an empty bottle and a bald stringbean who drove tourists around on the Conch Train.
Probably it was just as well Albury had been half-lit himself. At first he had resolved to burn down the trailer with the two of them inside, but all h
The boat had stayed that way, its crooked name in red and black, until Albury had repainted her in a fit of off-season energy. Diamond Cutter was a perfect name. Even then, Ricky was just getting out of Little League, but you could tell he was going somewhere.
Boog Powell made it off the Rock. So would Ricky. Good size, a blazing fastball, and good stuff to wrap around it. He pitched smart, picking at batters the way a heron speared glass minnows.
A good kid, too. Last summer he’d hung around the boat constantly, wanting to help. Albury had refused, although he had been more tempted than he’d ever let on.
“Look, champ, let’s make a deal. I fish, you pitch. Fishing is for bums, and you’re going to the majors. If you don’t make it, then I’ll teach you how to catch crawfish. In the meantime, if I catch you pullin’ traps, I’ll break your fucking arm—the pitching arm.”
Ricky had laughed and found himself a job at the Burger King down on Roosevelt Boulevard.
An internal clock snapped Albury’s reverie. He looked at his watch, then at the sea. He could feel the ridge. The boat had to be over it now. So where—? His eyes narrowed, his jaw muscles tensed. He checked the compass by flicking it with an index finger. He turned on the fathometer, and in moments the Cobia Hole rose in graphic relief on the screen. With fists like claws, Albury spun the wheel until Diamond Cutter turned south-southwest to follow the ridge.
The motion awakened Jimmy.
“Hey, Breeze,” he called without rising, “ain’t we there yet?”
Jimmy unfolded and stood up. “Jesus, why didn’t you tell me?” he said groggily, peering out across the bow. “Where are the traps?”
Trap Line by Carl Hiaasen / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes