All that she could think about was escaping. Jean-Claude had been such a charmer initially, she had fallen for him hard. The trip to Martinique promised to be something special. Her friend Maureen hinted at ‘a proposal’ being in the works and they giggled together.
That had all changed quickly. Irina learned that Jean-Claude was a fraud, a con man. The tickets had been purchased on a former girlfriend’s credit card and he needed to get out of the country fast.
They sat in a rundown shack. She knew something was wrong. Through tears, he was explaining their predicament. Since neither one of them had any money they needed to find a job quickly. A yellow piece of paper was placed on the tiny stained wooden table. It was a flier calling for a pair of crewman on a sailing yacht. “I think this is the answer,” he told her.
She wanted to get away, protested that she was going home and not going to crew on any yacht with him. He got angry. Told her that he knew people. People that he would ask to hurt her family, the family she had told him about. Having met some of his associates here, she couldn’t convince herself what was true and what wasn’t. Despairingly, she decided she would need to go along with this plan.
The yacht was old and in poor condition. The crew was all male, of course. They had no interest in a woman aboard and rejected Jean-Claude’s proposal at first. She could sense Jean-Claude seething and knew he would be in a violent mood later, blaming her, if this fell through. Fortunately, her father had been an avid sailor and had taught her well. She was able to speak the language and immediately impressed the captain that she was, in fact, a real sailor.
Captain T-John accepted her then and turned on Jean-Claude, “Why should I take you on? I can find better than the likes of you.”
Jean-Claude pushed his luck, “We’re a package deal. Both or neither.”
T-John looked back and forth between Irina and Jean-Claude several times. Finally, he said, “Okay. She obviously knows her way around a boat. You, I can use for chum in a pinch.”
“Chum?” he said testily.
Irina tugged on his sleeve, “C’mon Jean-Claude. We got the jobs.”
Out of the frying pan and into the fire, the deal had been with the devil. T-John turned out to be a drug smuggler and all-around lowlife. Irina worked hard and tried to maintain as low a profile as possible onboard. Jean-Claude’s eyes lit up when he first saw the cocaine in the hold. He was spending his time doing as little as possible to share in as much coke as he could snort. He had forgotten about Irina, it seemed.
The runs were hard work. Keeping the ship afloat was a challenge and a necessity as all their lives depended upon it. Irina kept her head down and earned some small respect through sweat.
A fellow misfit crewman, Kahbo, looked after her, tried to befriend her. He was the one that told her that it was getting into hurricane season. That the captain had lost his mind taking the Hangin’ Gypsy out on the seas in her condition. She agreed but said nothing.
In a way, she felt sorry for Kahbo. He was the butter knife in a drawer of sharper implements. Still, she took her opportunity at his expense. He left her alone for a minute and she took a packet of matches and hid them away with her few possessions.
She was scared to death that someone would discover what she had done, but desperation drove her. No one ever noticed or suspected her though.
The front end of the hurricane caught them as they were making their run. Land was within sight, but the Hangin’ Gypsy was listing heavily, a seam cracked. T-John realized he couldn’t make it despite his profanity filled tirade. They loaded the dingy with the coke and T-John asked for a volunteer. Irina stepped forward.
Jean-Claude snickered and wiped his nose. Several of the others were surprised but kept silent. It seemed like a suicide mission. She got her bag from below and jumped over the side of Hangin’ Gypsy into the dingy and started the little outboard motor. Kahbo cut the line and wished her luck. T-John swore at her, made his violent threats, and continued the stream of profanity when one of the crew told him the Coast Guard would be there inside of five minutes to pick them up. He knew he had been cutting it too fine all along, so took it out on the crew.
The dingy sat low in the water and the rain came down heavy. The yacht was soon a blurry vision behind her as she pushed the little boat forward, half by willpower alone, toward the shadow of the island.
This was finally her opportunity. She cut off the motor and the took the cap off the gas tank. It was frantic desperation for some moments as she tried to get one of the matches to light under the conditions. On the third attempt, the match lit and she set her change of clothes on fire. Quickly tossing them next to the engine, she dove over the side of the little craft and swam away. She had never told any of them that she had trained as a long distance swimmer.
The explosion when the tank finally went sent a fireball into the air. The noise and flames of the burning boat would be noticed by the Coast Guard, she hoped.
She had survived, escaped, and outwitted them. She watched the flames of the burning boat on the waves and smiled. The rain continued to dump down, splattering the surface of the ocean, as she floated. Finally, she settled into an easy, powerful backstroke. The beach could be made within a half hour at this speed. She was free.
Copyright © 2014 Eric Schweitz