|Spin of the Wheel
Author: MaudeB PM
For Nittany and Mela, who make my writing better than it really isRated: Fiction K - English - Adventure/Humor - Words: 15,239 - Reviews: 4 - Favs: 1 - Published: 06-15-10 - Status: Complete - id: 6054475
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
SPIN OF THE WHEEL
Andamo stretched out on the couch on the fantail and savored the aroma of the coffee he was drinking. He loved the smell of Chef Giels' coffee and it smelled just as good as it tasted. It was a beautiful morning on the Fortuna II. He enjoyed the ocean sounds from beyond the yacht, the comfortable couch, the delicious coffee and now he also was able to appreciate Lucky's new girlfriend, Eva Virtue, who was leaning over a table in the dining room, slowly turning the pages of a magazine. With Marilyn Monroe platinum blonde hair and figure, the light pink summer dress she wore definitely showcased her finest attributes. She turned in his direction and smiled. He smiled back, thinking how Lucky was, well, lucky.
Lucky came up behind her and lightly kissed her neck. She turned and put her arms around his neck, kissing him deeply. Andamo turned his eyes back to the newspaper in his lap. He had learned discretion early in his partnership with Lucky.
"Andamo?" Lucky was standing in front of his friend. "Are you free this afternoon, around 2:30?"
Andamo lowered the newspaper. "I believe so. Why?"
"Phil Vandenburgh just called. He wanted to stop by then and talk to us about a business proposal. I think he wants to buy the Fortuna."
"We aren't selling, are we?"
"Well, I haven't planned to, have you?"
"No. If we did that we might have to work for a living."
Eva joined them, carrying two cups of coffee. Lucky took one, and kissed her on a peaches and cream cheek. "Thank you, sweetheart," he smiled. She sat in a chair next to the couch and Lucky sat down near Andamo. "I've explained before that we aren't interested, but he REALLY wants to add the Fortuna to his collection of restaurants. It's like a hobby with him."
"I'd like to be able to afford such a hobby. How much do you think he would offer?"
"I don't know, but it would have to be a lot more than the business is worth. It wouldn't be practical for a businessman like Phil."
Eva eased her arm through Lucky's. "What would you and Andamo do with yourselves if you didn't have the restaurant?"
"I could think of a few things," he smiled as he caressed her arm. "But we won't be selling, so we won't have to worry about it."
"Would you sell it to me? I've got more than enough money for that," Eva purred. "Then we could start thinking of those 'other things' you could do."
"A gentleman never takes advantage of a lady," Lucky replied. "It wouldn't be proper."
Andamo looked back at his paper. More likely, you're afraid of matrimony, Compadre, Andamo thought to himself. Even Eva's beauty, money and sensuality would not be enough to put a ring on your finger.
"I knew you'd say that, darling," she said, "but I had to ask." She leaned into the curve of Lucky's arm and kissed his shoulder. "Well, I'm off to meet the girls for some shopping and lunch. I'd ask you along but I don't need the competition."
"There could never be any competition," smiled Lucky. "Have a good time."
Both men watched her, with great appreciation, head for the stairs.
"Lucky, when are you going to get serious about that woman?"
"What do you mean?"
"What do you mean, what do I mean? She's a wonderful girl."
Lucky leaned back on the couch and stretched his long legs out in front of him. "Yes she is, but I just don't know. It takes more time."
"Oh sure," Andamo snorted. "More time for what, if I'm not prying?"
"You are prying, Compadre, and I think I'll change the subject."
"Fine! You can change the subject and I'll finish my paper. And Giels wants to go over menus before lunch – OK?"
"OK." Lucky reached for a part of the paper and they both sat reading for some time.
Phil Vandenburgh was a Harvard graduate and an industry mogul, but he looked more like one of the stevedore's from the nearby docks. He stood a good 6'2", thick neck, broad shoulders and huge arms. He wore blue jeans, a white shirt with no tie and a blue suit jacket. Andamo shook his hand as he came up the gangway, and led him to the fantail.
I like that look, thought Andamo, maybe it'll catch on one day.
"I suppose you know why I'm here," Phil said, interrupting Andamo's train of thought.
"You want to make a reservation for dinner?" asked Andamo.
Phil smiled back. "Not today, but definitely in the near future. I love your restaurant, the cuisine and the profits it generates. I'd like to purchase the Fortuna." He picked up the coffee he'd been served on the fantail, and took a sip. The cup looked very small in his meaty fist.
"We appreciate the offer, Phil, but we're very happy living here and running the business," offered Lucky. "We've had other offers before and turned those down, too."
"Exactly! I realize that you truly enjoy this boat and the business you've built from scratch. You're men after my own heart. You have a passion for your work."
"It's not so much a passion, Phil," Andamo said, moving next to Lucky, "as a fear of poverty."
Phil smiled. "Well, I've come to alleviate that fear. "
Lucky smiled too. "Oh?"
The businessman pulled an envelope from his blazer pocket and handed it to Lucky. "I'll get right to the point, gentlemen. I have an offer I think you might find interesting." Phil picked up a chocolate croissant, fresh from Giels' oven, and ate it in two bites it while Lucky opened the envelope, and unfolded the paper within it.
Lucky and Andamo exchanged looks. They both were startled by the tremendous offer, but neither man reacted.
"It's an interesting offer, Phil, but we'd have to discuss it," Lucky said coolly. "As I said, we are happy here and don't intend to leave any time soon."
Phil bit into another croissant, with a confident smile on his lips. Andamo wasn't sure if the smile was for the croissant, or the fact that he knew his offer would be hard to turn down.
"You know, this offer is good for only a week, and then I'll have to withdraw it. You should take it. This is a two man operation and you never know when one partner might want to retire, he might drop dead from a heart attack or just embezzle the money and run. Partnerships fall apart or businesses start to fail."
Andamo wasn't sure, but Phil seemed to be watching him very intently.
"You never know what the future will bring, but I can guarantee you'll never see an offer like this again."
Lucky stared at the millionaire's face, trying to read what lay behind those cold eyes. "You may be right, but I think we'll pass. You never know, Andamo and I might just surprise you and survive all those calamities."
Andamo tried to think of something clever to say, but he was still shocked by the size of the offer. He'd never seriously considered selling the Fortuna, but he'd never seen money in that amount offered before.
"Remember, you have a week. Think about it." The three men exchanged good-byes and shook hands. Lucky and Andamo walked Phil to the gangway where his personal launch waited. The partners waved as the millionaire sped off.
"Well, what are you thinking, Compadre?" Lucky asked.
Andamo leaned on the rail and watched Vandenburgh's launch disappear. "I don't know, Lucky. That's a lot of money. A LOT of money." He turned back to his friend. "I don't want to sell, but that's a lot of money. I know I keep saying that, but it is a lot of money. What do you think?"
"It is a lot of money, but I don't want to sell either. He gave us a week. We ought to think about it and discuss it before then. What do you say?"
"Sounds good. Who knows, one of us might drop dead from a heart attack before
Lucky laughed. "Stranger things have happened, Compadre. You just never know." He put his hand on his friend's shoulder. "Andamo, I don't want you to make this decision based on what you think I want. I'll go along with your decision if you feel really strong about it."
"I know you would, Lucky, and I don't think I want to sell, but it wouldn't hurt to think about it. After all," he grinned, "that's a lot of money." He leaned against the rail again. "You know, Lucky, sometimes, when I'm looking out over the ocean at night, I wonder what's out there, what countries I haven't seen, what new adventures might be there if I had the freedom and the money to investigate."
Lucky turned and leaned on the rail next to his friend. "I didn't know you felt like that, Compadre, but you know you have all the freedom, and some money, to travel if you like. We both do."
Andamo was quiet for a moment, and then said, "That's true, but I love it here, on the Fortuna, and I wouldn't want to give it up, but that sure was a lot of money on that paper."
"So true, my friend," Lucky grinned. "So I guess we have a lot to think about." He straightened and put his arm around his friend's shoulder. "Hey, there's still coffee and croissants left, how about a rousing game of gin while we finish them off? Ten cents a point?"
"Better make it a penny a point, or I might need Phil's money to cover my losses."
Two days later Andamo was munching on a BLT at his friend Walter Ostonovich's sandwich shop by the waterfront. Walter was an older man with wild white hair framing a wrinkled, but cheerful face. His hazel eyes usually had a twinkle or two in them for his friends and customers. The shop was quiet, four of the five tables were empty, and Andamo was having lunch well past the usually busy lunch time. The older man wiped his hands on his apron as he sat at his friend's table.
"Good sandwich, my friend? You need something else? I know you'll want some baklava – it was fresh this morning."
Andamo washed down the bite of his sandwich with coffee and wiped his mouth on a napkin. "I suppose I'll have to, since you're forcing me, but let me finish this terrible sandwich first."
"Is that the terrible sandwich you eat here two or three times a week?"
"Yes it is, and if it were anymore terrible, I'd have to eat it every day," Andamo laughed. "You'll have to give the recipe to Giels."
"If I did that, my friend, you'd never come by and keep me company. Except maybe to beat this old man at cribbage."
"Hey, when you live with a guy call 'Lucky' you have to beat someone at some game. Are we still on for tomorrow night?"
Just then a filthy, disheveled man in old, torn clothes entered the empty eatery. His appearance and odor were more than bad, but Andamo and Walter smiled in greeting.
"Well, Bob, how are you today?" grinned Andamo.
"Oh, pretty good, fair to middlin'. And you gentlemen?"
Walter stood up. "Good, thanks, Bob. I have a couple extra sandwiches if you'd like to take them off my hands. I hate to throw them away."
"Well, only if you're going to throw them away. It seems like such a waste."
"That it is, my friend, that it is." Walter went behind the counter and pulled out a paper bag that he slipped a couple wrapped sandwiches into, with a small bottle of Coca-Cola. "I appreciate you helpin' me get rid of them."
Bob took the bag with a polite nod.
"Did you want to join us, Bob?" asked Andamo.
"Thank you, gentlemen, but I have an appointment or two this afternoon, so I must hurry along. Perhaps another time?"
"Certainly, my friend. Another time," Walter said, just as the bell at the entrance chimed and Eva entered, with Lucky holding the door for her. When she spotted Bob, she turned and hid behind Lucky as Bob walked by.
"And how are you today, Bob?" Lucky asked.
"Couldn't be better, but I must be going. Wonderful to see you again, Lucky, and you, too, m'am."
Eva smiled weakly, pressing closer to Lucky, and nodded to Bob as he left the shop. Andamo and Walter both stood as she came to the table.
"That man scares me," Eva said as Lucky held a chair out for her. "How can you men tolerate him?"
"Bob's OK," Lucky explained, smiling. Eva didn't look convinced, and moved her chair closer to Lucky, the sweet scent of her perfume taking the place of Bob's odor at the table.
"Sure, Miss Eva," Walter added. "He lives behind that old warehouse on the wharf. He has a little drinking problem, but Bob's a good soul. He keeps an eye on the shop at night for me." He stood up. "What can I get you both?"
Lucky ordered a fried egg sandwich and coffee, but Eva had only wanted an ice tea. "Oh, Miss Eva," Walter sighed. "A beautiful woman such as yourself should eat to maintain your lovely figure. I'm an old man and I have to have something to look forward to, eh?" Eva laughed and agreed to a chicken sandwich, which she ate with a smile. "See, you make my humble chicken sandwich seem like royal fare."
Lucky chicken, Andamo thought. "Are we still on for cribbage tomorrow, Walter?" he asked.
"Of course, my friend, as long as you bring some of Giels' pastries."
"Ah, now I know how deep this friendship goes! Only as long as the cinnamon rolls last."
"Oh, no, my friend. There's his cheese cake, too!"
"Walter, that's terrible!" laughed Eva. "Andamo, I need to fix you up with one of my friends. Maybe we can double date later this week – that would be great fun, right Lucky? Which do you prefer – blondes, brunettes or redheads?"
"All of the above – I'll let you choose. Thank you, Eva, that's very sweet of you. And I happen to know all of your friends are as lovely as you. At least my social life will be improving."
"That's settled then! I'll have to find someone special for someone very special."
"You prefer evenings with beautiful women rather than cribbage with an old man? I'm crushed. I may never get over the insult – that is, unless you take two slices of the baklava," Walter winked.
Andamo finished the last bite of the BLT. "Well, I can't insult my friend, now can I? Bring it on!"
The next night was Sunday, one of the days the restaurant was closed. Lucky and Eva had decided to stay in, but Andamo was preparing to leave for Walter's. He filled a small box with a variety of Giels' flaky pastries, everyone's favorites, and reached for his jacket as Eva passed by the fantail.
"You're leaving, Andamo?" she said. "I wanted to talk to you about the date with Mela next week. I know she's looking forward to it."
"As I am, too. And I'm always available to discuss beautiful women." He pulled up a chair for her. "Would you like to sit down?"
She looked at the box of desserts and shook her head. "No, no – it can wait. You're off to Walter's, I see."
"Well, since I plan to beat him unmercifully at cribbage, I thought it would be only right to take him some solace. But there's no rush, Eva, if you want to talk."
She leaned in closer, her perfume filling the air around him, and kissed him on the cheek. "No, no – there will be time for talk later. Run along, my friend, and say hello to Walter for me."
"When you come to your senses and leave Lucky, please come and find me." He took her hand and kissed it lightly. "We'll hijack the Fortuna and sail off to romantic destinations."
"I just may take you up on that," she smiled warmly. "But for now, you don't want to keep Walter waiting."
"Alas, that's true. I'll see you and Lucky later, OK?"
Andamo headed for the gangway and went down the stairs to the waiting launch. The craft calmly cut its way through the waves as it carried Andamo to the water taxi landing. He jumped off and headed along the darkened and deserted wharf towards the sandwich shop. He had just turned the corner when he felt someone grab each arm and as he tried to turn to see who it was he felt a sharp needle jabbed into his left hip and his legs immediately turned to rubber. Before he could protest, everything went black.
The next morning, Lucky poured coffee for Eva and himself at the breakfast table set up on the fantail. As he sipped his orange juice he couldn't help but enjoy the view of Eva buttering her raisin toast. What a woman! he thought. Not just incredibly beautiful, but warm and loving, and a very intense lover. Why can't I ask her to marry me? Andamo thinks I should, and he's more knowledgeable about marriage than I am – maybe I will – but not right now.
He looked over at Andamo's empty seat. "Darling, have you seen Andamo this morning? It's not like him to miss Eggs Benedict."
"No, and Sam went to his cabin to wake him, but he said his bed hadn't been slept in." She reached for some jam. "Maybe he met someone at Walter's."
"At Walter's – playing cribbage? I suppose stranger things have happened."
"I hope he hasn't forgotten Mela. She's looking forward to meeting him, you know"
Lucky reached over and lightly caressed her arm. "He's not one to miss a date, and he would never disappoint you. Who could?" He leaned even closer and they exchanged a very deep kiss. "We could finish breakfast later, my love."
"Just what I was thinking, Mr. Lucky. I believe you are going to be luckier than usual."
"I'm not sure that's possible," he replied as they headed below deck.e's never
Andamo felt some of the blackness lift, and he could feel that he was lying on something cold in a dark room. He could feel the vibration of engines, and he wondered where the Fortuna was headed. He tried to sit up, but a wave of dizziness washed over him and he blacked out again.
Lucky was adjusting his black tie in the mirror in his cabin when Joe, the maitre'd, came through the open door.
"Did you find him, Joe?"
"Nothing, Boss. He's not on the Fortuna. Pudge said he left on the launch last night, but no one's seen him since."
Lucky turned to Joe and shook his head. "It's not like Andamo to take off without a word, especially when he's scheduled to work - even if a woman's involved."
"What should we do?"
"I'll call Walter and see if he knows where he is. Maybe he forgot he was supposed to be here tonight. Go ahead and go up top. I'm sure it's just some misunderstanding." Lucky watched as Joe headed down the passageway, hoping he sounded more confident than he felt. He went over to the ship-to-shore phone and flipped on the power. "Operator, this is the yacht Fortuna II. Could you please get me Winston 6-1436? Thank you."
"This is Walter."
"Walter, this is Lucky. How are you tonight?"
"Just fine, my friend. What can I do for you?"
"Did you and Andamo meet for cribbage last night?"
"No, as a matter of fact. He said he'd be here by 7:00, but he never showed. I thought he just got busy on the boat or something. Why do you ask?"
A chill ran up the back of Lucky's neck. "Andamo left last night to meet you, and no one's seen him since. His bed hasn't been slept in and he hasn't called in. You don't know if he was going anywhere else, do you?"
"Not that I know of, Lucky. You don't think anything's happened to him, do you?"
"No – no. He probably just lost track of time, that's all. I'll let you know when I find him."
"Sure, Lucky, thanks."
Lucky hung up the phone. He didn't have a good feeling about this.
Andamo managed to open his eyes and slowly sit up. He was still dizzy and sick to his stomach, but at least the room he was in was cool, and he could move a little without being overwhelmed. He looked around and came to the conclusion that he was in a compartment on a boat, but it didn't look like the Fortuna II. The engines were still vibrating along, and Andamo could feel that his clothes were wet and that his head was pounding. He decided to just sit where he was until he could stand and maybe figure out what was going on - he was hoping he was asleep on the Fortuna and this was just a nightmare.
Somehow he didn't feel he could be that lucky.
Andamo didn't know how long he had been sitting there when the door to the compartment opened and in stepped a really big man. The light from the passageway behind him blinded Andamo's sensitive eyes, but he could tell this man was no cruise director. His black hair and beard were a mess, and he wore a black sweatshirt under rubber waders. He spotted Andamo and growled.
"It's about time you came round – get up!"
"If you don't mind, I'll just stay here for awhile." Andamo was shocked at how fast a man that size could move. He reached in, grabbed Andamo by the arm and threw him against the bulkhead with little effort whatsoever. Lights flashed in Andamo's head as he slid to the floor. He was trying to catch his breath when he felt clothes being thrown in his face.
"Get out of them fancy clothes and get dressed. You got a lot of work to do!"
"Who are you and where am I, if I'm not being too nosey?" Andamo asked, clenching his teeth. "What's going on?"
The big man took a step towards him. "You get out of them duds and inta work clothes or I'll pound your head inta da floor. GOT IT?"
Andamo knew it would be utterly stupid to try this man's patience, so he nodded and started to undress.
"Look, Rovacs," Lucky said, trying to keep the anger he was feeling out of his voice, "I know that, officially, you have to wait 48 hours to declare someone a missing person, but Andamo IS a missing person. We can't find him anywhere. I've checked everywhere and anyone, but no one has seen him since he stepped off the launch Sunday night!"
The police detective lit his cigarette. "Lucky, I know you're worried but my hands are tied. And to tell you the truth, 90% of Missing Person cases end up with the missing person coming back on their own power. Look, did you and he have a fight?"
"Does Andamo have any enemies who might like him to disappear?"
"as he talked about taking a vacation?"
Has he talked about taking a vacation?"
"No! Not really."
"It was only an offhand remark."
"No, Rovacs! We got a huge offer on the Fortuna from Phil Vandenburgh, and he talked about how that money could let him travel, but we both agreed we really didn't want to sell. Besides, if he was going on a trip, he'd tell someone, and he didn't take any of his clothes, or money. Isn't that a little suspicious?"
"Phil Vandenburgh?" Rovacs said, leaning forward. "The multi-millionaire?"
"Yes. He said we should sell because partnerships break up. He said you never know what could happen." He straightened up. "I thought that was just an expression. Even he wouldn't make someone disappear just to buy a restaurant!"
Rovacs stood up. "Maybe I'll go ask him. Besides. it's almost 48 hours now, give or take 12 hours or so."
e reached forward and grabbed Andamo by
"I'm going with you."
"No, Lucky. You go back to the Fortuna. This is now a police matter, so let the police handle it."
"Rovacs, I'm going with you or without you. If you're there I might have to refrain from killing him. Let's go!"
The clothes were black, old, a bit too big and definitely hadn't been washed in a long time, so they only added fuel to Andamo's rapidly rising temper. What was going on? Who was this big guy and why had he been shanghaied to this stinking ship?
Don't get mad, he growled to himself. You need to think clearly now. Maybe you can think of a way out of this if you are careful and focused. Don't get mad!
Just then the big man was back and ordered Andamo out into the dirty passageway in front of him and pushed him along until they came to an open compartment with brooms, mops and other cleaning supplies.
"You're gonna clean every passageway and head on this ship, and then you can start top side. Now get to work."
Andamo opened his mouth to refuse, but he realized it would probably be futile, and result in something very painful.
"OK – can I ask the name of this lovely cruise ship? Or your name?"
"Just shut up and start cleaning." Then the man smiled. "Oh, by the way, Mr. Lucky says enjoy the trip"
Andamo shook his head. He knew this was not Lucky's doing. He knew his friend too well. However, somebody wanted him to think so. "If you say so," Andamo grinned, "it must be true. I know YOU wouldn't have any reason to lie to me. We've grown so close these last few hours."
The big man made a move to grab Andamo, but seemed to change his mind. "Get to work, you worthless #%$&."
Andamo laughed again – he figured it would at least irritate the other man, and went to work organizing the cleaning gear.
At least they gave me a job I'm good at, he thought. I can work my way up top, and maybe see where I am and what's going on.
The big man left and Andamo went down on his knees and starting scrubbing possibly years of crud off the floors and walls of the passageway. The hard work helped him concentrate on trying to figure out what was going on, and how he could stay alive on this boat. Time passed but he didn't know how long. The big man, or maybe others, had taken his watch and his precious silver bracelet. He would get them back somehow.
He was trying to scrape some badly encrusted dirt from part of the floor, when a pair of red sneakers stepped into his view. He started to look up when the sneakers slipped on the soapy floor and they, and their owner, stumbled towards Andamo. He had a couple seconds to move but the red sneakered body slammed into him and they both dropped to the floor. Andamo, on his back, looked up to see a small, young, brown haired woman in a peacoat and jeans struggling to push herself off of his chest. They both stopped for a moment to stare at each other. She seemed surprised, but in no hurry to move. Andamo didn't mind.
"Oh, I'm so sorry," she finally gushed. "I hope you're not hurt."
"No, not at all. In fact I can honestly say it's the best thing that's happened to me today." She still hadn't move. "Since we are in this rather personal position, I should introduce myself – my name is Andamo."
She didn't move for a few more seconds, then laughed and pushed herself off of him. "Oh, I'm so sorry. My name is Apple." She held out her hand. "I'm Captain Wade's wife."
"Captain Wade?" he asked, taking her hand. It felt very soft and warm. "Is he the big guy in the waders?"
She looked at him, puzzled. "No, that's Franco. You must have met my husband when he hired you."
Her brown eyes grew concerned. "You know, he hired you to clean up this ship?"
"I'm sorry, lady, but nobody hired me. I was shanghaied."
She threw back her head and laughed. "Wade said you two had a running joke about that. I didn't think it was too funny – male humor, you know – until you said shanghaied. Very funny!"
"Apple." she smiled, a very charming smile, he thought. "You remember."
"Oh sure – Apple - but I'm not kidding. Your husband is in a lot of trouble."
She stood up. "Sure, you guys keep it up. I'm sure it's hysterical somehow." She extended her hand to help him up. Andamo gladly accepted – he enjoyed her touch. He stood, looking down at her pretty face.
"See you at dinner," she said with a smile, and turned and headed up top.
Andamo watched her leave. Whatever this Capt. Wade was, Andamo knew he was at the least a very lucky man.
Lucky and Rovacs entered the lobby of the Vandenburgh building and took the elevator to the 21st floor. Rovacs flashed his badge at the pretty secretary, stating that he needed to speak to Mr. Vandenburgh immediately. She reached over to announce them on the intercom, but Lucky brushed past Rovacs and shouldered his way into the executive office before she could speak.
Phil Vandenburgh was seated at a table with two men, papers and a map spread out between them. Phil looked up and grinned.
"Lucky! It's good to see you, but you could have knocked."
The secretary rushed in. "I'm sorry, Mr. Vandenburgh. He forced his way in."
"That's OK, Maeve. Lucky and I are old friends. Gentlemen, could you please excuse us?"
Both men rose and stared at Lucky as they left the room, just as Rovacs entered.
"I don't believe I've met this gentleman."
The lieutenant showed his badge again.
"This is Lt. Rovacs with the police department," Lucky replied. "We're both here to ask about Andamo, and you better not play with me, Phil. I want the truth."
"Andamo? What about Andamo?"
Lucky took a step towards the millionaire, but Rovacs took his arm to stop him.
"Andamo has been missing for a couple days, and I need to ask you a few questions, if you don't mind, as part of the official investigation."
"Does it matter if I mind?"
"Not really. When was the last time you saw Andamo?"
Phil leaned against the edge of the table. "I haven't seen him since I paid the boys a visit on the Fortuna. By the way, do I need my lawyer?"
"I don't know, Mr. Vandenburgh, do you?"
"I get it, Sergeant," he laughed. "If I ask for my lawyer, I'll look guilty, and if I don't ask for my lawyer, maybe I'll say something you can pounce on."
Rovacs smiled. "It's Lieutenant, and I guess I can't get anything over on you."
"Lieutenant, huh? I guess you must have several advanced degrees to get that title."
"Not really. Most criminals, especially those that think they are smarter than the police, eventually trip themselves up. So, Lucky has filled me in on your generous offer for the Fortuna. What are you planning to do with it if they sell?"
"One would assume, Sergeant – I mean Lieutenant – that if you buy a restaurant, you would operate it as a restaurant."
"No changes? Not even the name?"
Phil leaned forward. "Well, when you buy a business you sometimes rely on its customers' good will to maintain profits. 'Lucky's' is a profitable name, more profitable than 'Phil's', or even 'Andamo's', wouldn't you say so, Lucky?"
Lucky took a breath to control his anger. "As much as I've enjoyed this little conversation, you still haven't answered the big question."
"What question is that?"
"I really don't know that you're in anyway responsible for Andamo's disappearance, Phil, and I hope you aren't, although you did talk about partners disappearing, or dropping dead. If you were responsible, and anything happened to him, as much as a hangnail, I'd have to break you into so many little pieces that even your lawyer, who's used to reading fine print, couldn't find you." Lucky took a step closer to the millionaire. "So, do you know where Andamo is?"
Phil sat for a moment and looked Lucky in the eye. "No, Lucky, I don't know where Andamo is. I don't do business like that."
Lucky knew Vandenburgh was not going to be any help, whether he knew anything or not. He'd need more information before he could judge the businessman. He turned to leave.e let out a deep breath. "no"
Rovacs came to the same conclusion. "We may have a few more questions for you, Mr. Vandenburgh, at a later time. So please don't leave this jurisdiction."
"I wouldn't think of it, Ser – Lieutenant. I still have business in this town, and I'm still hoping to close the deal on 'Lucky's'. Of course, with only one partner to deal with, the offer has dropped by half."
Lucky turned back without a pause and hit Phil full in the mouth, knocking him to the floor. "The Fortuna's not for sale – at any price – Phil."
"I'll own you and the Fortuna!" he screamed from the floor, spitting out blood and a tooth. "You assaulted me for no reason! My lawyers will have a field day taking you apart! And I have a witness! You saw what happened, Lieutenant!"
"It's a funny thing, Mr. Vandenburgh," Rovacs replied. "I'm afraid I was distracted by a shiny object outside your window there, and I didn't see what happened." He smiled. "I'm afraid I can't say with any legal certainty who threw the first punch.
By the way, do you validate parking?"
The passageway was probably cleaner than it had ever been, and the nearest head was half way there. Andamo had spent whatever time had passed scrubbing and disinfecting these areas, and he was tired and even a little hungry, which surprised him after all of the filth he'd touched and smelled. He hadn't seen anyone since Apple had disappeared, and he thought he would rather risk a punch from Franco than starve to death, so he cautiously headed up the stairs until he came to another dirty below deck level that appeared deserted.
I'm pretty sure I'll be scrubbing this dump of a passageway, too, he thought. But if they want me to work they are going to eventually have to feed me.
He wasn't exactly sure who "they" were, but if he was lucky, which he hadn't been so far, he might be able to sneak some food before they found him wandering around the ship. Andamo detected an odor that might be food cooking and followed it down the passage. Halfway down the passageway he saw the light from an open hatch, and some kind of food smell was coming from within. What kind of food he was far from sure. He moved slowly to the opening and peeked around the entrance. It was definitely the galley, although the long table that held about 12 was empty. A small, brown haired figure in an oversized apron stood before the stove stirring a large pot that gave off a less than appetizing smell.
The figure looked up – it was Apple. She looked a little frazzled.
"If you're looking for chow, there won't be any for another hour or so."
Andamo entered and walked into the galley. He stood next to the stove, and leaned into the pot, taking a deep whiff of the odor. He thought his stomach had been queasy before, but this made it worse.
"Pretty bad, huh?" she said, frowning.
"Well, I don't like to say until I know what it is." He looked in the pot. "What is it?"
"You don't sound very certain."
"I'm not," she sighed. "I was going for lamb stew, but we don't have lamb in the supplies, just mutton. Anyway, I think it's mutton."
Andamo smiled. "Well, I don't think that's too much of a problem. What else is in there?"
"Um, some carrots, onions, cabbage, garlic, cinnamon, bacon grease –"
"There might be a problem. Do you have any of the bacon grease left?"
"Yep." Apple bent down and opened a cupboard, pulling out an old can full of grease. She handed it to Andamo. "I found it this morning and thought it would add some flavor."
Andamo took a quick whiff and handed it back to her. "It might have been bacon grease at one time, but I'm pretty sure it's going bad. You really should toss it."
She sighed and dropped it in the nearby sink. "I don't suppose I can serve this stew now?"
Andamo thought for a moment. If the crew ate it and got sick, he might have some kind of advantage, but he didn't want Apple eating it, or any other innocent who might be aboard. "I think you'll need to start over. Do you have any more meat? I should tell you, too, that I believe this meat is actually goat meat, not mutton."
"Goat!" Apple's eyes widened. "Oh, jeez! I thought we got too good a deal on the meat."
"Don't worry, madam," he laughed. "Goat is pretty tasty. I think I can come up with a goat stew recipe, and maybe some quick biscuits – if you have the ingredients. I may be sent back to cleaning duty suddenly, but I can get you started." He went to the sink to wash up.
"Listen, I'll use my influence as the captain's wife to keep you here. You may have noticed that cooking isn't one of my talents. I don't know why Wade thought I could pull this off."
He turned back towards her. "Cooking's not too difficult. Maybe you just need the right recipes."
Apple shook her head. "I've had simple recipes that ended up incredibly bad. It's just not in me."
"Can you cut up some more vegetables? I'll toss this stew before we get started. OK?"
Apple looked relieved. She picked up an onion and started slicing. "Thank God you know how to cook. I was afraid the crew would revolt. I hate to think what would happen if I'd poisoned them tonight."
"How many in the crew?"
"10, plus Wade and I. Why?"
Andamo set a clean pot on the stove. "Oh, I just wondered how many to cook for. Don't want to waste any, or not have enough. I wouldn't want anyone getting crabbier. Where's the meat locker?"
"Lucky, you can't offer a reward like that! $50,000 will bring out every nut and wack-o in this state!" cried Rovacs. "I'm beggin' you, withdraw it!"
Lucky stood on the wharf , with Rovacs on one side and a red-eyed Eva on the other. They were watching as several uniformed policemen scoured the area between the taxi landing and Walter's shop for any clue to Andamo's disappearance.
"Rovacs, I've exhausted every lead I can think of - legal and otherwise! Maybe a big enough incentive might bring someone forward. This not knowing is pretty hard to take."
"But, Lucky –"
"Look, I'm pretty sure Andamo can take care of himself in almost any situation, but if he needs help, I want to make sure he gets it."
"Lucky," Rovacs said softly," he might be beyond help."
Eva gripped Lucky's arm tightly. "We don't know anything of the kind!" she snapped. "We will find him – it's only been a couple days."
Lucky smiled and kissed her forehead. "Yes, we will find him." Still, he knew Rovacs could be right, but it was something he didn't want to face yet.
The cops continued their search as Joe hopped off the newly arrived launch and walked over to Lucky. The maitre'd whispered something in his ear. "Thanks, Joe." He turned back to Eva. "Sweetheart, could you go back to the boat with Joe? Walter has sandwiches for us, and I'll go get them. I need to ask him something, anyway."
She started to protest, but Lucky gave her a small wink. "Well, I could use some rest." She kissed him. "Hurry back, alright?" She took Joe's arm and they headed to the launch.
Lucky walked slowly to the sandwich shop, and tried to look casual as he entered. "You told Joe you had some information, Walter?"
"No cops, right?" the older man said, standing behind the counter.
"No cops. What's going on?"
Walter motioned to someone in the kitchen and stood aside as Bob stepped out from his hiding place. He looked uncertain when he saw Lucky, and looked back at Walter.
"It's OK, Bob," Walter said. "Sit down, and tell Lucky what you saw."
"What's going on, Bob? Walter, what is this?"
Bob sat and Walter stood behind him, holding a small, empty pastry box with "Lucky's" written on the lid. "Lucky, Andamo dropped this box the night he disappeared. Bob saw him."
Bob flinched as Lucky stood over him. "What do you mean he saw him?"
Walter nudged the slightly intoxicated bum. "Tell him, Bob. Lucky just wants to help Andamo, just like you."
Lucky sat next to Bob. "Please, Bob . . ."
Bob fidgeted, and looked down at the floor. "I was a little drunk, not blind drunk, I was just walking the wharf, you know, but I saw Andamo walk by. He didn't see me, but I was going to call out to him when two guys stepped out of the dark behind him." He stopped, and started to cry. "I should have called out or stopped them, but I was afraid, Lucky – I didn't help him."
"It's OK, Bob. It doesn't sound like you could do anything, not against two. It's OK. Did you see anything else?"
Bob nodded. "Well, I think one of them stuck him with a needle, because he dropped like a rock. That's when he dropped the box. I followed them to pier 32 and they dropped him in a small boat. They looked around – didn't see me – and got down in the boat and headed out, northerly. I watched until they disappeared past that Coast Guard ship tied down at the next pier. I didn't know what to do." He was still crying softly. "I thought a drink would, you know, clear my head – but I finished off the bottle and passed out. I must have eaten the rolls – I don't remember – I'd never steal from Andamo, Lucky, you have to believe me. You and Andamo are my friends. You don't treat me like a drunken bum." Bob was sobbing now. "And I was too much of a drunken bum to help him."
"He was afraid to go to the cops, and afraid to face you," Walter said. "But he knew he had to tell someone, so he came in and told me the story. I believe him, Lucky."
Lucky sat back in his chair, taking the distraught man's filthy hand. "Bob, you've done more than you know to help Andamo. I'm thanking you, and I know he will, too, when we find him. You did the right thing – thank you. Did you see their faces, what they were wearing? Did they say anything?"
Bob shook his head. "It was pretty dark."
"Bob, I know you don't like the cops, but I need you to talk to them – please?"
"Oh no, I . . ."
"Please, Bob. It will help our friend, OK?"
Bob looked at Lucky, and then at Walter. He stopped crying and straightened his shoulders, nodding. "I didn't help him then. Maybe I can help him now."e stopped crying and strai
Andamo was enjoying his cooking lesson with Apple when two scruffy looking sailors came into the galley. They were headed to the coffee urn when they saw Andamo and stopped.
"Hey," shouted one of the men. "What are you doing up here? Get below – NOW!"
` Andamo started to remove his apron and obey orders when Apple stopped him.
"He's helping me prepare dinner, or whatever you call it," Apple shouted back," and unless you want a repeat of lunch, you'll just get your coffee and get out. He actually knows how to cook."
"Cap'n ain't going to like this, m'am," said the other man. "Not in the least."
"The Captain and I can handle this without your input, so I suggest you get back to your jobs, and leave the cooking to us."
The two men stood there, not sure what to do.
"I suggest you leave or you'll be scrubbing the heads with your toothbrushes."
They left, grumbling.
"To be fair," Andamo said. "I'm not sure they know what toothbrushes are."
Apple laughed. "You're probably right. This isn't Wade's usual crew – they're a creepy bunch of jerks. I guess they're cheaper labor." She finished chopping up some green pepper and tossed it in the pot. "Wade's been trying to make ends meet, but so far they aren't even in the same hemisphere. I think he even wanted to risk food poisoning and have me cook, instead of paying a cook."
"Is this his boat?"
"His and the bank's, but mostly the bank's." Apple picked up another pepper and started chopping. "I guess you know we might lose the boat, although Wade says this trip might bring in some good money."
"No, I didn't know. You got kids?"
"Yes, three. My mom's babysitting while we're at sea. You?"
Andamo stopped short as three men, Franco and two others slammed in to the room. "Get back to scrubbing, you leach," shouted a tall man with a large mustache and a captain's stained hat. "You go near my wife again and I'll personally cut your throat and toss you overboard. Now get OUT!"
Andamo dropped the apron and headed for the door. The third man kicked him in the backside and into the passageway, knocking him into the bulwark.
"WADE!" Apple cried. "WHAT ARE YOU DOING? HE'S JUST HELPING ME COOK!"
"He has his orders, Apple! Don't interfere!"
Franco picked Andamo up by the back of his shirt and threw him down the hall and then down the stairs to the lower level.
"FRANCO!" the captain shouted. "We need him alive for now. Back off!"
Andamo could hear arguing from upstairs and hoped Apple was alright. He crawled down the passageway until he could sit up again. eH He was relieved he didn't feel like he had any broken bones, but he was getting pretty sore and stiff between beatings and hard scrubbing. It was getting harder and harder to hold back his anger. And it didn't look like food would be offered any time soon. He took a deep breath, rubbed a sore knee and headed back to work.
"Well, it's obvious Andamo was shanghaied, Lucky," Rovacs stated, "or – and I'm sorry to say this, Eva - he was murdered for some reason and dumped in the ocean."
Eva didn't respond. She just turned her head away from Lucky and Rovacs and looked out over the railing of the fantail on the Fortuna.
"Now, there were over 55 ships that pulled in and left the harbor the night he disappeared," he continued, "and by now could be spread out all over the globe. The Navy will search any ships they come across, but they can't spend the manpower or defense resources to run them all down. And you'd have the same problems if you sailed the Fortuna after them."
"I realize that, Rovacs," Lucky growled. "It's worse than looking for a needle in a haystack. I know that. Still, I hired a detective, Peter Gunn, and he and his associates are checking the list of ships you gave me to weed out boats that would be too small to risk taking someone, or too big and too corporate to run their business like that. We think the mid-size freighters and fishing boats might be more likely to shanghai help, so he's sending men out to check as best they can."
Rovacs said nothing for some time, and then stood up. "Lucky, I have to head back to the office. Maybe something's come in , , ,"
Lucky also got up off the couch and shook the policeman's hand. "I understand, and I know you've tried – but it's an impossible task. I know that."
Rovacs nodded slowly and turned to go. "Good-bye, Eva."
She turned and smiled weakly, and then turned back to the ocean view. Lucky and Rovacs walked to the gangway. The cop took a couple steps down, and stopped to look up at Lucky.
"You know, I hope he comes back. There's still a chance."
"There's always a chance, Rovacs. But there is one thing you could do for me."
"Sure. Name it!"
"Bet me five dollars that Andamo won't come back."
Lucky smiled. "I know it sounds bad, but gamblers are a superstitious lot. If you bet me he won't come back, I'll bet you he does. They don't call me Mr. Lucky for nothing. It might give him an edge, wherever he is."
Rovacs was silent.
"I'll give you odds – 10 to 1?" Lucky offered.
Rovacs shook his head, but a smile slowly appeared. "I'd have to be crazy to pass up odds like that. Sure!" He put out his hand. "You've got a bet."
A handshake sealed the deal.
"You're welcome." Rovacs headed down the stairs to the waiting launch.
Andamo worked for hours, his stomach growling. Every time a crew member happened by, he was pushed or in some way knocked around. He was going to return the favors, but knew he had to wait until he had the advantage, or he was desperate – he wasn't sure which one would come first. But there was a plan beginning to brew in his tired mind.
After awhile, a sailor came by and directed him to a small storage room, told him to get in, and handed Andamo a big bowl of food with a couple of cold biscuits. The sailor turned on the one weak light and pointed to a hammock.
"You'll sleep here, Cap says." He started to back out and close the door. ""Food was good for a change." The door shut and Andamo had no doubt it would be locked, but he really didn't care. He quickly finished the cold goat stew, and finished off the biscuits.
Exhausted, he climbed into the hammock and was asleep in seconds. It seemed like only a few minutes passed before the door opened and the same sailor from the night before told him to get up.
"Can I freshen up first?" Andamo asked as he hopped down from the hammock. "I'm not fit for polite company."
"Sure, just wash up and head to the galley. Cap says you're the new cook."
"Wow! You can get promoted pretty fast around here. When do we discuss salary?"
The sailor did not seem amused. "Just hurry it up to the galley. NOW!" And he was gone.
No escort, Andamo thought. Things are looking up.
He scrubbed up as best he could in the freezing water and headed up to the galley. Inside he found Apple and Captain Wade sitting at one of the tables. Another crew member sat near by. The captain stood up and motioned for Andamo to approach.
Captain Wade did not look too happy, and Apple kept her eyes on the floor.
"My wife," he snarled, "has convinced me to let you help with the cooking. The crew wanted it too, since that dinner last night wasn't as bad as most meals have been lately."
Apple still didn't look up.
"Chuck, here, will keep an eye on you so you don't try anything you'll regret." Wade sighed heavily. "Is that understood?"
"Oh, sure – nothing I'll regret." Andamo agreed. "Got it."
The captain started to leave without talking to his wife, and she still didn't look up. The door slammed shut and Apple finally looked up. Andamo could see she had been crying.
"You O.K.?" he asked.
"Sure," she said, standing up. "Let's get this breakfast started, O.K.?"
Andamo showed Apple how to whip up some simple cheese omelets, fried potatoes with onions and bacon. She had little to say and didn't seem interested, but she worked hard to set out the food and prepare toast, something she did well. The small crew came in shifts, and devoured the food, washed down with gallons of hot coffee. Franco told Apple that Captain Wade would appreciate it if she'd bring him some food. Her reply was less than lady like, but Andamo said he'd take him a plate. Franco shrugged and left.
"He's planning on killing you," she said suddenly.
"Who? Franco? But I thought we were getting along so well."
"Did you understand me? Wade basically kidnapped you and because someone is paying him, he's supposed to kill you. You think that's funny?"
Andamo shook his head. "Not funny, but not unexpected. I told you I'd been shanghaied. That's how it usually ends up." He led her to the sink and started the hot water running, to mask their conversation from Chuck, who was working on his third omelet. "Do you know who paid him?"
She looked over at Chuck. "No. Wade said no names were bandied about, just money and instructions. Some guy who said he was working for someone else. Wade never saw him before." Apple turned to the sink and stuck her hands in the water. Tears rolled down her face. "I can't talk to him. He's so desperate to save the boat, he agreed to this – this . . ." She broke down, sobbing. "I didn't know he was capable of . . ."
Andamo wanted to put his arm around her but dropped some dishes in the sink and touched her hand. "Please, it's O.K. I don't plan on waiting around for the big execution. I –"
"Hey!" Chuck was up and headed their way. "Captain's in the wheelhouse and wants his food. NOW!"
"That's the only way you people want anything around here – NOW!" Andamo filled a plate and poured a cup of coffee. "I'll be right back," he whispered to Apple.
and headed up top. If anything he could breathe some fresh air and check out the boat and maybe get an idea where they were.
The cold, clean ocean air hit him as he came on deck. He'd give anything to smell this air on the Fortuna, but wishful thinking wouldn't help his situation any. Andamo figured he was on a 900-foot freighter, an old one, but it seemed seaworthy despite the peeling paint and dirty decks. A few of the crew were moving around on deck, and Andamo caught sight of four 10-foot lifeboats, two on each side of the ship, as he headed for the wheelhouse on the stern.
An old life preserver below a window showed she was named the "Belle Marie."
Captain Wade was the only occupant and he barked at Andamo to hurry up with the food and get out. Andamo set the food down and headed to the door. He stopped and turned back toward the captain.
"You know, if you need money or a loan to save this ship," he said, "my partner and I have some influence back home – no questions asked. You could save this boat and not have to do anything you'll probably regret."
It was quiet for a moment and the other man stood up. "If you don't get out of here I'll finish you off now. GET OUT!" Wade picked up the plate of food and threw it, missing Andamo, who had quickly ducked out the door.
Andamo was 100% sure the crew would kill him in a heartbeat, but he was beginning to think the captain, despite his anger, might not be quite as murderous. If his plan was to work, he might have to gamble on that.
Back in the galley, Chuck was nodding off in front of a cup of coffee, so Andamo quietly made his way to the sink where Apple was still washing dishes. She was sniffling, and scrubbing a large pan furiously. When she looked up Andamo held a finger to his lips and moved beside her.
"I'm going to tell you this," he whispered, "because I don't want to see you so upset." He looked over at Chuck, who was still napping. "I have a plan to get off this boat before anything happens. I just need to know a couple things."
Apple stopped scrubbing and looked up at him.
How nice would it be to see that face every day? he thought.
"Like what?" she asked quietly. She moved very close to him, touching his arm.
"Like how long until the boat docks wherever it's going, and where are we right now?"
"Well, we're about 100 miles off the coast of Panama, heading south to Argentina to deliver some machinery parts. It'll take another 10 days or so if we don't have engine trouble."
Andamo was lost in thought as he dried dishes. "That should work. Thanks." He looked over at the sleeping guard, and then leaned down and kissed her on the cheek.
"What are you going to do?"
"I don't want to involve you. It's too dangerous. By the way, do you have a first aid kit with medications, like cold medicine, pain killers or sleeping pills?"
"Sure – we have all of that, in a locked cabin down below. Are you hurt, or sick?"
"No, but I'm hoping someone else will be."
She shook her head and returned his kiss, full on the lips. "I'd like to go with you, if it's possible. I can't stay here, with him, anymore." She started to cry softly.
"I can't." She put her arms around him, and he pulled her close. They pulled back and stared at each other. All he wanted to do was kiss this beautiful woman, but Chuck snorted in his sleep and they both jumped, turning back to the dishes. They didn't talk or make eye contact while they finished up the dishes, and then it was time to start cooking for lunch.
Even with all the cooking and cleaning, Andamo wasn't ready to fall asleep as quickly as usual. He knew the kiss and embrace were just two tired and stressed people trying to find some comfort, and that he couldn't let it happen again. Still, he couldn't deny the warm feelings he had when she was near. He knew he couldn't take her with him, it wouldn't be a sure thing, but he didn't want to leave her on the boat with such a murderous crew. It was a long time before he finally drifted off to sleep.
The morning, as usual, came too quickly.
The next few days were all about the same, up early, cooking with Apple, a chore he looked forward to. Captain Wade stayed away and took his meals in the wheelhouse. He and Apple no longer shared the same cabin, she told Andamo. There was no repeat of the behavior of that first breakfast, but Andamo sensed that she was trying to control her feelings just as he was.
The crew seemed to enjoy the food he made for them, and soon they weren't watching him as closely, so Andamo was able to hide food and water in his cabin, along with a small knife from the galley, a stray flashlight and flare gun. Apple found him an extra blanket and a black peacoat and cap. All of this fit nicely in a sea bag he kept out of sight in his "cabin." If he was going to act, it needed to be soon.
Lucky was lying awake in his cabin, with Eva sleeping next to him. He lay there for some time, his eyes still refusing to close, when he heard a dull banging sound on the hull of the Fortuna, next to his pillow. He sat up. Eva hadn't moved and he quietly got up, slipped on his robe and went topside. He could still hear the banging. At the railing he looked over the side, and searched the water until he saw something floating in the water. He leaned further over the railing and looked in horror at the sight of Andamo's body, dressed in his white dinner jacket, floating next to the ship, his arm seeming to pound on the hull, his face half eaten away by fish.
Lucky shot up in bed, in a cold sweat, his breath strangling in his throat, the nightmare replaying in his brain, his body shaking.
"Oh, darling," Eva soothed, moving next to him on the edge of the bed. "Was it that dream again?"
He bent over and rubbed his eyes with both hands, barking out a hoarse laugh. "You'd think, after the last couple of times I had it, I'd know what was coming. This has got to stop."
Eva, dressed in a pink baby doll negligee, got up and went into the next room, but came back with a glass of brandy. "Here, my love," she whispered softly, sitting next to him and putting the drink in his hand, "drink this. It might help."
Lucky kissed her cheek and began to sip the drink.
"Andamo would hate to see you like this, Lucky, you know that. He wouldn't want this for you," she said, putting her arm through his. "He's been like family, and I know this not knowing has been tearing us all to pieces." Eva let a tear drop onto his shoulder. "Maybe someday you might have to let go, to be at peace with his loss."
Lucky watched the amber liquid in the glass. "Eva, I'm not sure I can be at peace until I know what happened, if he is truly gone. Can you understand that? I can't abandon him yet."
Eva got onto her knees on the bed and gently put her arms around his neck, her breath warm on his skin. "Oh, sweetheart, I'd never want you to abandon him. I just hate to see you hurting so deeply." She kissed his ear. "I just want you to know that I am here for you, and Andamo, and I'll help you, whatever you need. I'll help you in the restaurant, if you want, or I'll help you if you decide to sell the Fortuna, or whatever you need. I will be right here, my love."
Lucky set the drink on the night stand, and turned and reached around to take her in his arms, his hands grateful for the perfect curves of her body. She sighed deeply, pressing against him, as his hands found her breasts, her lips moist and sensual on his neck. Lucky needed her, and they fell amongst the blankets.
There would be no nightmares for a little while.
Andamo was frying a pan of bacon two days later when Apple entered the kitchen, and handed him a bag with a very large bottle of white pills and a couple bottles of green liquid. She didn't bother hiding them as Chuck hadn't shown up for guard duty yet.
"Those are all the sleeping pills I could find, and the bottles have a mint cough medicine that makes you sleepy. What are you going to do with them?"
"Oh, I have a special recipe I've been working on. I may be leaving tonight."
Apple reached into her coat pocket and pulled out a silver bracelet and a watch, and held them out in front of her. "I thought you might want these."
He dropped the spatula he was using and threw his arms around her. "Oh , gracias! Where did you find them? I hadn't figured out a way to get them back and I was afraid I'd have to forget them!"
He didn't release her immediately and she didn't pull away. "Apple, do you still want to go with me? You know, I can't guarantee anything."
"Um, your bacon is burning."
He stepped back and flipped the bacon with one hand and shoved the jewelry in his pocket with the other. "It's only singed," he grinned. "Well?"
"I don't know – it's kind of scary." She took off her coat and reached for her apron. "But staying here is scary, too. You know, it – Wade and I – we weren't always like this – so angry all the time. Once, it was very, very good."
"I'm sure it was. What happened?"
"I don't know – this stupid ship, the long absences – money, of course. Every penny goes into the Belle Marie. It was suppose to support us, but she eats up every penny. But I'm just blathering on here."
"Not in the least. Money problems can be especially hard on a marriage, sometimes."
"Money is hard, but I thought we could work to save our marriage, but if he's capable of killing for money," she said, tears filling her eyes. "I can't live with that."
"I'm sorry. I wish I had great advice to help you, but . . ."
"I wish you did, too, but thanks anyway."
He didn't answer, but put the last of the bacon in a covered pan and started frying eggs, and Apple began to set out plates.
"I can't tell you what to do, Apple," Andamo finally said, touching her arm, and looking into her eyes, "but if you come with me, I'll take care of you, and your kids."
"Ah, my babies . . ." Apple turned back to her chores and seemed lost in her thoughts. Andamo didn't want to interrupt her. He had plans of his own to complete.
Breakfast went by quickly, and after lunch he pulled out the hand crank ice cream maker he had seen in the back of the galley storage. It took a long time to prepare, but by dinner time, he had a couple gallons of mint ice cream, the cough syrup taste hidden by a healthy dose of vanilla. He had ground up all of the sleeping pills and mixed them in with mashed potatoes and gravy, and whatever was left went in the coffee urn. An hour after dinner, while he and Apple cleaned up the galley, some of the crew had fallen asleep at the table, a few at their posts and the rest had gone to bed early.
As far as Andamo could tell, the boat, except for Apple and him, was sleeping peacefully. He took more supplies and water, as much as he could carry in his already full sea bag, and headed up top with Apple, to lower a lifeboat.
Franco was standing on the stairs leading to the deck. He appeared only a little sluggish, and he didn't seem of a mind to step aside to let them pass.
"Where do you think you're going with all that crap, you f%#$ing piece of fish bait?" he snarled. He turned a hooded eye to Apple. "And with the cap'n's wife?"
Andamo dropped the bag at the big man's feet and started to open it. "We found something I think the captain will want to see. Look for yourself."
Franco lowered his eyes for a moment to check out the bag, and Andamo stepped up to him and hit him with a solid right in the face. The seaman wobbled for a moment and then came towards Andamo, who head butted him in the gut, and then, as the man doubled over, kneed him in the face and threw him down the stairs. Franco was out.
"Well, I don't know about Franco," Andamo said with a grin, "but I know I feel a whole lot better!"
He and Apple went to a lifeboat on the lee side of the ship, and he took off the cover, folded it into the boat and tossed his bag of supplies on top of it. He looked over the side of the ship, to judge the distance to the water and the height of the waves.
"Don't move," growled a voice from behind him. Andamo felt Apple turn to the voice.
"WADE! YOU CAN'T BE SERIOUS!"
Andamo turned his head to see Captain Wade standing behind them with a pistol pointed at him. He raised his hands and turned very slowly to face the angry man.
"I was just checking the safety equipment, Captain."
"SHUT UP! The crew is out, I see. What did you do, poison them?"
"No, sir, just asleep, for a little while anyway. I'm guessing you weren't hungry tonight?"
"I haven't been hungry since you came on board."
"That wasn't my idea."
Apple moved between the two men. "Wade, please don't kill him - you could never live with that, and you know it."
"Apple," Andamo said firmly, "get out of the way."
"Shut up!" she shouted at him. "And you, Wade, put down the gun."
"I have to do it, Apple, I have to – I was given $75,000 to do it and I can't back down."
"Wade, please, don't. It's not worth $75,000 or a million dollars to murder. I know it's not in you to kill!"
"I have to – it's the only way to save the Belle Marie – I've got nothing else." She took a step towards him and slapped his face.
"You have me and the girls, you idiot! Do you want to tell them their father shot a man in cold blood for them? Is that your master plan? Is that what you want them to live with?"
Wade stared at her for a few moments, and then pushed her aside, the gun pointed at Andamo's head. "I have to – I don't have a choice!"
"Wade, please. If you ever loved me . . ."
The only noise was the sound of the ocean and the engines of the old ship. The three stood like statues, not moving or breathing, for moments that seemed like hours.
Andamo looked down the barrel of the .38, sure that his life was now measured in seconds. At least he could still hear the ocean around him, and closing his eyes, he could feel the Fortuna II below his feet.
Andamo opened his eyes to see Wade lowering the pistol, his face flushed and his shoulders sagging as he looked away.
"Damn it! I can't do it." His voice was hardly audible. "I can't do it."
Apple reached over and gently took the gun from his hand. "I knew you weren't that man," she whispered. "I knew you couldn't kill."
Andamo lowered his hands, his breath returning. Wade had been close to killing him, but he couldn't help but understand the desperation that drove the man to it.
"Captain," he said, "do you know who was giving you the money?"
Still defeated, Wade shook his head. "Some guy came on board, a young guy with a wallet full of money. Half before, half after. No names but yours."
"What did he look like?"
"I don't know – young, brown hair, medium build, long, brown coat. Full wallet is what I remember."
"That offer to help still holds. You know, the one I gave right before you threw those eggs at me."
Wade shook his head. "I just now almost killed you."
" 'Almost' is the operative word. I feel pretty lucky to be breathing right now."
"I can't guarantee how long that will last, even now. A couple of the crew were going to get a cut. They might decide to take it all, or kill you just for the hell of it." He looked up at the lifeboat, and at Apple, a softness in his eyes. "You might want to stick with your original plan."
"Wade – " Apple started.
He shook his head. "I knew you were planning to go – I couldn't blame you. It hasn't been good between us for a long time. Mostly my fault. And if you two are leaving you better get going before these guys start waking up."
Apple stood there silently, looking from Wade to Andamo, tears in her eyes.
Andamo held his hand out to her. "Apple?"
There was more silence as she looked from Andamo to Wade. "I'm sorry. I can't go."
Andamo felt a tightness in his chest as he lowered his hand. "No?"
She stepped close to her surprised husband, taking his hand. "We have to try to make it work, like it used to." Tears streaked her face, as the wind blew through her hair, as she stepped forward to kiss Andamo's cheek. "And we have the girls. We have to try."
"Take care of her, Wade," he said. "Because if she ever gives up on you, I'll be waiting. You understand, Captain?"
"Yes, I do. I'd have to be a fool."
Andamo smiled at Apple, turned and climbed into the boat. "Could I get a hand down, Captain?"
Once down below the ship's deck and in the water, Andamo looked up again to see Apple smiling down at him.
"The crew will miss you!" she shouted above the waves. "They only have me as their cook!" He thought he could see her smiling. "Good bye, dear heart! Good luck!"
He waved good bye, pulled the rope on the small motor, and pulled away from the Belle Marie, out into the darkness.
"I'm sorry, Lucky, we've done everything possible for now."
Lucky sat on the edge of Rovac's desk, his arms crossed over his chest, his eyes on the floor. "I know. It was an impossible task from the start. Peter Gunn and his guys haven't found anything either, and I don't know what else can be done."
"We even dragged the bay after he disappeared. We didn't find Andamo, but we did find another body."
Lucky sat up and turned to the detective. "How can you be sure it wasn't him?"
"Nothing about this body matched Andamo's description – at least a decade younger, he was wearing a long, brown coat in a size Andamo could never have buttoned up and even though there was a bullet in this kid's head, I could tell it wasn't Andamo." e lit a cigarette He lit a cigarette and took a deep drag. "I wish I had better news for you. This is one case that'll haunt me."
"Me, too. It's funny, but I'd feel better if we found him dead. At least I'd know." Lucky stood up and extended his hand to Rovacs. "At least we tried. You know, he might turn up yet."
The lieutenant took his hand. "I can't express how sorry I am, Lucky."
"Neither can I, Rovacs," he smiled half heartedly. "Neither can I."
Andamo waved thanks to the men on the ship as he stepped onto the wharf. Years ago he and Lucky had taken a small fishing boat and stepped off onto this same wharf and life had never been the same. He felt just as lucky this time. For two cold days, he had steered the little lifeboat in a northerly direction to what he thought might be major shipping lanes. Two ships had passed him by in those two days, missing or ignoring his flare signal, but finally, a small Philipino freighter responded to his call for help, and picked him up. Their radio was dead, so he hadn't been able to contact the Fortuna, but lucky enough, they were headed to this wharf. He couldn't believe his good fortune – finally. He didn't have to cook to earn his keep, although he wished they had let him. Two weeks of some kind of fish head casserole left a lot to be desired.
Still, there he stood and he could see the faint lights of the Fortuna off in the distance. He was home.
He walked past Walter's sandwich shop. It dark and closed for the night, but his mouth started to water thinking of the BLTs he was planning to order for lunch tomorrow. It would be great to see Walter and Lucky and Eva – he was even looking forward to seeing Rovacs.
At the landing for the Fortuna, he didn't see the launch – it was too late at night – or too early in the morning – to find it ready for any passengers. It would be tied up at the Fortuna, in case Lucky needed it, and it also kept out unwanted visitors. Andamo looked at the end of the wharf and found the small, motorized skiff the crew used to get out to the launch.
I've had a lot of luck with small boats, lately, he thought. This should be just the ticket.
He climbed down into the boat, pulled the starter rope and was relieved to hear the small motor rev up immediately. He slowly pulled away from the dock and then opened the throttle. With the Fortuna in sight, he could not go fast enough. Although seeing his friends again would be great, the thoughts of a warm, comfortable bed, and maybe a nice filet mignon, rare, filled his mind.
Ah, good friends and the comforts of home.
Andamo could hardly take the time to tie off the skiff at the bottom of the gangway, and he took the stairs two at a time, up to the deck. He took a deep breath, stretched, and headed for the darkened dining room. He was surprised to find the door open, and more surprised when Eva stepped out in front of him. She was dressed in a long, revealing black negligee, her platinum hair waving in the sea breeze.
"Eva!" he called out, taking a step forward to embrace her.
Andamo stopped short when he saw her right hand rise, holding a .38, pointed directly at him.
"Eva, it's me, Andamo."
"I know who you are, you jerk," she growled. "I thought I heard someone coming this way in a boat. You just couldn't stay away and die could you?"
"And that stupid ship's captain will pay for failing. All he had to do was shoot you and throw you in the ocean, but no, he couldn't manage that."
"I don't understand – why?"
"Why do you think, you moron? Do you think Lucky would ever sell this dump and come to me, marry me, with you hovering around here all the time? With you gone, he'd turn to me completely and we could spend our lives together. But no! You had to survive and come back here and ruin everything!"
"Eva, you're wrong," Andamo said, shaken. "Lucky was just about to ask you to marry him, at my urging."
Boy, I was really wrong about that! he thought. I don't believe this.
She moved a step closer, but just out of his reach. "But you'd still be around, wouldn't you, always interfering, always taking his full attention from me? You don't know how much I've hated you!"
"I've got a pretty good idea now," he said, his eyes on the gun. "And you can't blame the captain for not earning your cash. I escaped in a lifeboat in the middle of the night. He couldn't have stopped me. But if it's any comfort, they beat me regularly and planned on cutting my throat. That should make you happy."
"So he told you about the money. Obviously he didn't know about me."
"No, he said some young guy handled all the negotiations. A friend of yours?"
"That stupid David. He'd do anything I asked him if I slept with him. He paid the boat captain to kidnap you AND to finish you off. If anyone identified him, there would be no other leads to me. You'll understand that I had to kill him, too." She shook her head. "He looked so surprised when I shot him. You men are so gullible."
Andamo kept his eyes on the pistol. People were pointing guns at him a lot lately, but he wasn't sure he could talk Eva out of using this one.
"You don't think someone will hear the shot?" he asked, trying to think of an escape, "and how will you get rid of the body? I outweigh you by a few pounds."
"I was thinking I'd say I thought you were a burglar, but Lucky might not fall for that, or he might hold it against me. No, I'll just dump you like I did David. So if you'll move to the gangway so I don't have to drag you too far . . ."
Andamo didn't move. "I don't believe I'll make it too easy for you. You're going to have to explain the shot, the blood and the body – and I don't think Lucky or Rovacs will buy any story you come up with."
"Don't be too sure, "she laughed. "They bought my tears when we learned of your tragic disappearance. Most men are just sheep. Except Lucky. Anyway, it's been fun, but goodbye."
Andamo took a desperate step towards Eva and her gun, when Lucky stepped out of the dining room door and grabbed her arm.
"EVA! NO!" he yelled.
The gun went off. Andamo stumbled back a half a step, and his legs flew out from underneath him. He hit the deck hard, and lay still.
"ANDAMO!" Lucky wrestled the gun from her hand. "EVA! WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?"
"He was ruining everything, Lucky! We don't need him, darling! We can still get rid of him and it will just be you and me! Right, sweetheart?"
The look of horror in his eyes was more than she could take. Eva knew it was over.e stopped suddenly, when her right hand rose slowly, holding a .38
The woman let out a shrill, ear-piercing scream and pushed Lucky away. He stared at her for a moment, then turned and knelt down by Andamo.
"Andamo? Andamo? Can you hear me?"
Overcome, Eva shrieked again and headed down the gangway. As Lucky e didn't match Andamo's description. He was younger, his facHis
tried desperately to revive Andamo, he could hear the small motor of the skiff snapping on, and the boat pulling away.
"Andamo! Andamo! Please! Are you hurt? Andamo?"
Andamo struggled to speak. "OK – fell – breath – help me – sit …" Lucky took his arm and pulled his friend into a sitting position, his back against the bulkhead. After several moments, he caught his breath. "I'm OK, Lucky – I slipped and - just knocked the breath - out of me."
"Good God, Compadre," Lucky said as he slid onto the floor next to Andamo. "I thought she shot you!"
"It's a good thing I'm clumsy, and slipped, or she would have."
Andamo turned to his friend. "You losing your hearing?"
"Well, I'm afraid my ears are ringing after that high-pitched scream in my ear."
Andamo started to laugh. "That was pretty painful, wasn't it?"
Lucky couldn't help but laugh, too.
"Lucky, you might want to cover your ears in a few seconds."
"Well, Eva is going to discover that there isn't enough gas in the skiff to make it back to shore."
As if on cue, a banshee schreech of a scream sounded off in the distance. Lucky and Andamo were laughing so hard they couldn't speak. It was some time before they could stop and catch their breath.
"God, Andamo, I've missed you. I was beginning to think you weren't coming back."
"You can't get rid of me so easily, Compadre."
"It's a long story, Compadre. I can tell you one thing, though, I think I've had more than enough adventure to last the rest of my life, thank you very much! Oh, by the way, do we have any beef on this boat?"
"Hungry?" Lucky started to get up, taking Andamo's arm to help him up. "I need to call Rovacs and see if he can pick up Eva. Then I'll fix us some filets, OK? I'm kind of hungry myself."
Andamo got to his feet. "I'm sorry about Eva, Compadre. That has to hurt."
"Hearing her admitting to – well . . . Right now, I'm so glad to have you back, it doesn't matter. Later, though . . ."
"Well, then I say let's get something to eat, Lucky," he said, noting the catch in his friend's voice. "There's time later, huh?"
"Later, Andamo," Lucky said with a small smile, putting his arm around Andamo's shoulders "but now a couple steaks - rare – with baked potatoes and green bean almondine? I think there's some of Giels' pastries, too. My treat!"
"Ah, a big spender! It's too good to be true!"
"It's good to have you home, Compadre."
"It's good to be home, Lucky."
Laughing, they headed down to the galley.
"You offered $50,000 for a reward, Lucky? Oh, the expense!" Andamo sat with Lucky and Rovacs on the fantail of the Fortuna. "You could have done it for, maybe, $5,000."
That's what I told him," the detective said. "By the way, Lucky, did you get any results from that?"
Lucky shook his head as he poured coffee into his cup. "You were right about all the crazies calling. I did offer it to Bob for his help, but he refused, said money was one of his weaknesses. I'm pretty sure he'll be glad to see Andamo back!"
"Well, I better be getting back to headquarters. Maybe I'll get a confession from Eva before she comes up with a new story – ah, sorry , Lucky."
"Don't worry about it, Rovacs. You're probably right. I fell for everything she said. I just didn't know she was psychotic." He stood and shook Rovacs' hand. "And thanks for all your help."
Yeah, thanks," Andamo said sarcastically, smiling, as he settled back in the cushions of the couch. "I couldn't have survived without all of your help."
"So help me, Andamo, one of these days –" He turned to Lucky. "I'm trying to think why I'm glad he's back."
Lucky laughed and steered Rovacs toward the gangway. "Admit it, Rovacs, you missed him."
The policeman shook his head, and reached into his pocket, pulling out a $5 bill, which he handed to Lucky. "Thanks, Rovacs, but what's this for?"
"What? You don't remember our bet?"
"Oh, that's right! But don't worry about it. Here, keep the five."
Rovacs shook his head. "To tell you the truth, Lucky, it's the first time I was ever happy to lose a bet. Keep it! See ya later."
Lucky watched as the detective went down then stairs and hopped into the launch. He smiled as it pulled away and he headed back to the fantail. "Andamo, I – "
Andamo was sound asleep. Lucky went to the coat check room and came back with a blanket. He covered his friend, shook his head and took a seat in a nearby chair. Andamo had told him most of the story, but he was sure there were some details he'd left out. Maybe his friend would tell him someday. Right now, it really didn't matter.
I can't sleep anyway, Lucky thought. I may as well read the newspaper and keep an eye on you, Compadre, so you don't disappear again.
He picked up the paper, had another drink of coffee and sat back in the chair.
In a matter of minutes, he was asleep, too.
e just wants to help Andamo.e hhyhye looked uncertain when he saw Lucky