Outwitted

This is a revision of a previous post. The revised part is the ending of the story, which I believe fits the spirit of the assignment of Writing 201: Finding Your Key Moment. The previous draft was terse and left much of what Irina was feeling at that point of the story up to the reader’s imagination. In this revision, I have tried to slow down that key moment of the story and convey her feelings more directly.

* * *

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 — he would find her, he vowed — 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.

[Revised ending starts here]

The dingy sat low in the water, barely keeping its gunwales above water in the heavy rain. She had become numb to such trifling dangers — a castaway floating in a sea of perils. The yacht slipped away behind her, a blurry vision, leaving her alone to command the tiny vessel. Groaning, the little dingy’s engine labored towards the dark bruise of the island barely visible in failing light.

She realized she was holding her breath when she took a deep, almost painful, unexpected gulp of air. Her opportunity for escape had been at long last delivered. With a shaking hand, she pushed her black, sodden hair out of her eyes. Her fears grew. Doubts welled up in a sudden turbulent surge. Like a powerful wave crashing over her, her fears and doubts threatened to dash the desperate plan on hidden rocks, break her uncertain grip on the tenuous line of her hope. Could she really do this? Get away with it? What if T-John had tricked her? Were there people on the island? Would they help her? She worried.

There were no answers. Life was uncertain. Life. Ah, yes. She had had that. Once. Before Martinique. The memory glowed, bright and warm now.

She refused to let go of hope. Clinging desperately to the lifeline, she imagined that it thickened and grew more substantial. She chose then to take the gamble, risk the odds whether they were long or short, for a chance to return to her old life, a better life.

Twisting on the seat, she could no longer make out the sinking, distressed yacht clearly, nor hear it through the unrelenting wind and rain. It had not gone far, she knew, but the Hangin’ Gypsy had gone far enough.

She cut off the motor and the took the cap off the gas tank and threw it in the water rolling on the deck at her feet. Then, she stripped down to her underwear and laid her clothes in the boat. She shrugged, hoped it would be enough to confuse and cloud her true intentions. Digging through her sack, she took out the so-called waterproof matches from where she had hidden them.

The wet conditions were a natural impediment and she started to feel frantic as she tried to get one of the matches to light. Finally, on the third attempt, the match lit and she deliberately set her somewhat-dry change of clothes from the sack on fire. After making sure the fire was well started, she tossed the flaming sack of her few possessions next to the engine. Though it may have been her imagination, she thought she could already smell gas fumes and quickly dove over the side of the little craft, swimming deep and away.

She had never told any of them that she had been a long distance swimmer in college. The omission and the instances where she had actively tried to mislead them about her swimming elated her now. Maybe. Just maybe. Muscle memory took over. Her powerful dolphin quick propelled her, slipstreaming through the dark salty ocean water, further away, steadily yet obliquely towards the surface and her next breath of free air.

When she broke the surface, she rolled onto her back and looked back, riding the swells up and down. She didn’t see any sign of the little boat in the murk and gloom of the storm. Had the rain, the wind put out the fire so quickly? she wondered. Had her plan failed? She hung in the sea, treading water in a moment of indecision. Should she go back?

The sudden brilliance of the explosion dazzled her eyes, took her breath away. She felt the shock wave from when the gas tank finally went. Her ears assaulted by the blast, she lingered for a moment watching the fireball soar into the air. The noise and flames of the burning boat would surely be noticed by the Coast Guard. They must be assisting the yacht by now.

With one last look at the burning boat debris adrift on the waves, she allowed herself a broad heartfelt smile. The rain continued to dump down, splattering the surface of the ocean, as she floated. Tension ebbed away as she settled into an easy, powerful backstroke towards the island, each stroke taking her closer to home, towards life and freedom.

Copyright © 2014 Eric Schweitz

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