Day 19 in my novel-in-a-month adventure:

Chapter 18: Piracy

 The term “crime of violence” means—

(a)   an offense that has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person or property of another, or

(b) any other offense that is a felony and that, by its nature, involves a substantial risk that physical force against the person or property of another may be used in the course of committing the offense.

—Title 18, United States Code, Crimes and Criminal Procedure, General Provisions, Crime of violence defined

The events that transpired on Tempe Town Lake over the next 20 minutes ended up being expensive ones. They cost Dedrick, Duckworth, Castro & Paine in money, hurt feelings, and even courthouse cred.

Like many ill fated adventures, this one began with a glance, from one man to another. It might be a fascinating accounting to tot up all of the money spent or wasted on endeavors initiated on the basis of an evil glance between two men. History’s ledger books, I am sure, would be heavy with the ink of their sums.

In later days and years, fair minded observers would admit that all of the blame for the day’s events could not simply be laid at the feet of Claude Dedrick. It may be true that he was the spark. But Ted Castro was pretty willing kindling.

The communication was unspoken, and began rather simply.

Dedrick stared – hard – at Castro.

Castro stared back, for just a moment, and went back to his conversation.

But Dedrick would not be deterred. He focused his eyes on Castro’s face, and waited. And waited. Finally, Ted Castro looked back, locked on, and would not release the gaze.

Castro assumed that Dedrick had begun the most childish of school yard games – to see who would break the stare more quickly. But he soon realized that Dedrick had other ideas.

Without once shifting his stare, Dedrick rose from his seat and walked purposefully back to the boat’s stern. He stood next to the captain, who was idly flipping through a magazine – it looked like Arizona Attorney – while he waited for his next orders, while the boat was at anchor.

Dedrick furrowed his brow and nodded toward Castro’s own captain. Castro looked back blankly.

Dedrick sighed and placed his hand on his boat’s wheel. His captain was still engaged with the magazine – some article about cruel and unusual punishment. The lawyer then furrowed his brow even more and stared at Castro.

It took just a moment, but Castro suddenly understood what the managing partner proposed. Without hesitation, he reached down inside himself, extracted his better judgment, and threw it overboard. He stood up.

The next moments were critical ones, from a strategic and a legal point of view.

Ted Castro retained a shred of lawyerly demeanor. Granted, he declined to reveal his ultimate goal, but he did ask his captain whether it would be all right for him to “take her for a spin.” That was not an uncommon request on the lake, and the poorly paid boat pilot depended on tips from his customers, so he readily agreed. He turned to begin winching in the boat’s anchor.

Claude Dedrick was more single minded in his approach. He was determined not to yield to his opponent, and it never occurred to him to inquire of his polo clad driver whether he could take the wheel. He simply did so. And when the driver looked at him with a raised eyebrow, he performed as a managing partner – a man of action – would: He pushed him overboard. In a brief flash of humanity, he aimed the poor man over the side, away from the propeller, and he tossed a life preserver in after him.

Everything happened very quickly after that.

Dedrick had been watching the captain ever since they left the dock, and he believed he had mastered all there was to know to sail the S.S. Michael Brag. So in what appeared to be a practiced movement, he started the engine and moved the throttle to drive. The boat leaped forward quickly, knocking staff members and their food and drink to the ground. Dedrick shouted “To the buoys” across to Castro, and smiled an evil smile.

But just as suddenly, the boat slammed to a stop, as if it were tied to a dock. Which, in a way, it was, for the boat’s pirate had neglected to raise the anchor.

Angry and distraught, Claude screamed to the associate attorneys for help. Because of Claude’s position in the firm, the apparent presence of an emergency, and the stream of invective pouring from his mouth, the two of them ran to the winch and turned it until the anchor had cleared the water line.

Because Dedrick had never returned the throttle to neutral, the boat surged forward once more, again sending to the deck most of those who had managed to right themselves.

His mistake with the anchor would doom him to follow in the wake of the Elsie Moore. He swore repeatedly to himself, cursing his lack of foresight. But he had not conceded defeat yet. But it was his error – and his redoubled effort to make up for it – that made Dedrick take chances that he otherwise would not have taken.

He was pleased to see Ted Castro glancing nervously behind him with fear in his eyes, as he watched the gap between the boats close. But the buoys were just a few hundred yards away – a hop and a skip for a boat that’s ahead by a length and a half.

Unfortunately for Castro, he had not considered two factors.

First, the S.S. Michael Brag was more powerful than the S.S. Elsie Moore.

And second, Ted Castro retained a semblance of fear and concern for the lives – the “souls” – of his passengers. Claude Dedrick, for all intents and purposes, had forgotten that there was anyone aboard. “Git ‘er done,” he muttered to himself over and over. “Git ‘er done.” He had the gift of single mindedness.

Until now, the captain standing next to Castro had not noticed that his boat was engaged in a race. Sure, he thought that Castro was going a little fast. But he decided he’d let him have his fun, maybe until they reached the buoys.

But when he glanced at his passengers, he saw something in their eyes that a captain never wants to see – fear for a rapidly impending death. They were looking astern, past him, and he turned to see what it was that they spied. And that’s when he understood the situation clearly. His boat was engaged in a race, which was a violation of nautical and company rules.

Being new to his job, and bored, though, he did not discourage Castro in his race dreams. In fact, when he saw that it was Dedrick at the other helm – the same chump who had banished him from the Michael Brag for chatting with the Asian chick – he egged Ted on. Maybe if they won, the captain thought, he’d still have a shot with her. And even if not, he considered with a grin, jackasses like that need to be put in their place.

He began to rethink that decision when he saw that the other driver sought to get around the Elsie Moore – come hell or high water. Dedrick dodged left, then right, and finally got alongside Castro on the port side. His eyes gleamed as they met those of his adversary. But as Castro began to look away from Dedrick, his eyes spotted something else that was even more disturbing.

Ted could see that by passing the boat on its left, Claude had placed his own boat far closer to the shore. In fact, as the shoreline raced by, it also closed in, as the Michael Brag raced headlong toward the crescent shaped land. To Ted, the curving, rock bestrewn shore was coming at them – and especially Claude – fast.

Castro pointed his finger toward the shore, but Claude just laughed and took it as a taunt. Looking more to his starboard side than straight ahead, the felonious boat captain was unaware of the disappearing water.

Ted shook his head in disbelief, but he also knew that he did not intend to lose this race. His pushed the throttle further forward, making the boat jump. Dedrick did the same, and only too late did he turn his head to the left and see the danger.

Such is the nature of human beings, though, that Dedrick did not slow down. Instead, he turned the wheel to the right, trying to carve a way into Ted’s lane. Ted would have none of it, though, and he drove dead on, forcing Claude to his choice: stop and lose, or certain collision.

Claude allowed his ability to judge time and space to be colored by his desire to win. If he could only reach the buoys first, he felt sure he could slow and turn, well before impact.

Of course, he was mistaken. As the bow of Ted’s boat slipped past the buoys first, Claude cursed, threw the throttle in reverse, and spun the wheel hard to the right. But his hard turn caused the boat’s stern to slide in a semi circle clockwise through the water. He was almost successful in avoiding a collision, but with a loud crash and crunch, the boat rammed the wooden dock where they had started the day. Timber and debris flew everywhere, everyone on board fell to the deck, and the Michael Brag came to rest at least partly on the dock.

In both boats, there was silence. All were stunned. The captain of the Elsie Moore quickly resumed command, and he drove alongside the beached boat to see if anyone was hurt. But it looked as if there were just some bumps and bruises.

Because everyone was in shock, it took awhile for anyone to notice anything amiss on shore. When he saw more and more people gazing toward the dock, though, Dedrick also looked – and saw his precious Mercedes, covered in debris.

More than that, it was listing dangerously close to the water, as the combined weight of the boat and the car added a strain to the dock that it was never engineered for.

Dedrick panicked. He ordered everyone off the boat, which would lighten the weight pressing down on the pilings. But still dazed and standing at a crazy angle themselves, no passengers were able to get off easily. Dedrick screamed as he watched his car inch toward the edge, and then lurch toward the edge, and finally launch itself into the Tempe Town Lake.

As the fine German engineering sank engine first into the lake, the boat also loosened itself from the dock, allowing passengers to watch the developing dramady relatively horizontally. They could see that Claude was near tears as he watched his front doors and then his back doors sink beneath the surface. As a final insult, the car came to a rest partially submerged, its tail pointing provocatively toward passers by. The license plate announced to all who cared that this was the final resting place of “DED LAW.”

 

CHAPTER 19 is next.

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