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The Poseidon Yacht Club

Flanders

ARCHCONSERVATIVE
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Now that suicide and institutional killing have become the order of the day, I thought I'd put up a short story I wrote some time ago. My tale encompasses suicide, prostitution, politics, and insurance fraud —— all of those things that lurk in the dark shadows of every civilized society. There's a lot of poetic license involved; so don't be too hard on an amateur if you read my tale.

The Poseidon Yacht Club

Portugue Bess Baxsarus kicked off her shoes and threw herself down onto the multi-stained sofa in the living room of the pigpen that she currently called home. "Damn, this place needs a good douche," she mumbled as she looked around the room. Just as her eyes settled on the dirt under her toenails, Bess heard her live-in boyfriend call from the bathroom.

"Don't touch that beer it's the last one," Nicky Backdoor yelled in nervous anticipation.

Bess reached over to the scarred coffee table and tested the cans until she found the one that wasn't empty. "I'll split it with you," she shouted before taking a long drink of the warm liquid that had once been cold beer.

As Bess waited for Nicky to finish his business, she contemplated how she was going to get him out of her life without a hassle. She had only hooked up with Nicky eight months before because she had mistakenly thought that his nickname "Backdoor" referred to his Greek ancestry. It was only after he had moved in with her, on the night of the very day they had met, that she learned he had originally acquired his nom de plume from the police because he had always burglarized suburban homes by breaking and entering through the rear door. And the cruelest joke of all was that he didn't even perform there any more because his next felony conviction meant life behind bars. Naturally, prison was not a place in which Nicky wanted to spend a lot of time with a moniker like Backdoor following him around; so he felt compelled to retire from his chosen profession. In short: Bess had teamed up with another loser who thought it was his God-given right to be supported by her.

As soon as Nicky came into the room, he grabbed the can that still contained a few swallows of flat beer and flopped into a ratty reclining chair before saying, "What did they say?"

"The checks stop right now if they find out you're living here."

"Maybe you should try going topless again. You know I got a friend in Miami who's always on the lookout for experienced dancers. I could give him a call."

"I'm sorry I ever told you that I was a dancer."

"Some of those girls make good money, and we could sure use it."

"I'm thirty, you ass-hole! Not eighteen. My nipple-knockin' days are over."

"Come on, Portugue, what the hell does age have to do with anything in a dark bar? Besides, you can look pretty good when you put your mind to it."

"Am I supposed to be flattered by your kind remarks?"

"You know what I mean."

"I know exactly what you mean, but did you ever consider getting a full-time job and maybe helping me out so that I could lay around here sucking on a six-pack once in a while."

"You know I don't feel good."

"Then go back to the doctor."

"I'm going this afternoon. Okay?"

"Listen, Nicky, I can't afford to get bounced off welfare."

"What are you getting at?"

"Maybe you better get a place of your own. Just a room to keep your stuff. You know —— make it look legal if a case worker comes around. You can still come over whenever you want."

"What is this? A kiss-off."

"Call it what you want. It's just not working out for me."

"Are you asking or telling?"

"You're not going to hassle me are you?"

"Nicky Popadoplous doesn't stay where he's not appreciated."

"I'm glad to hear it."

Nicky had known for several weeks that his days with Bess were numbered; so without further ado he decided to bow out with as much dignity as he could muster under the circumstances.

"Can I stay until I find out what the doctor has to say?"

"Just till then. Okay?"

"If that's the way you want it."

"It's better you leave before it gets nasty."

"If that's your call —— I'm gone."

"When?"

"After I see the doctor. Will you drive me over to the medical building this afternoon?"

"What time?"

"I have to be there at four."

"All right. But I can't wait for you. You'll have to get back here by bus. Moe has some work for me at the club."

"Maybe he'll put you on the payroll full-time."

"Moe Fingers doesn't put anybody on the books unless he has to. And you know it's better for both of us if I get paid under the table. Hell, Nicky, I'd starve if I had to live on what Moe Fingers paid me."

"Then why do you work for him at all?"

"I'm learning the business. And I enjoy the work. Computers are too much for guys like Moe, but they were invented for a girl like me. Keeping records, writing letters, looking things up. It's a snap with one of those babies. And it beats the hell out of shaking my tits night after night for a bunch of masturbating worms."

Chapter 2

Bess parked her car at the Poseidon Yacht Club at four-twenty p.m. and quickly walked into the office to find Moe Finkleman finishing a sandwich. “Won’t that spoil your dinner?” she joked; knowing that the three hundred pound owner of the run-down yacht club never said no, day or night, to anything that his stomach could process.

“Never mind the cracks, Portugue. You’re late.”

“Don’t get testy, Moe. I’ve had a rough day.”

“You still with that Greek?”

“He’s on his way out.”

“Don’t bet on it.”

“I told him it’s over. He’s moving out as soon as he gets the results from some medical tests he took.”

“When?”

“Tonight. Tomorrow at the latest.”

“Like I said, ‘Don’t bet on it.’ Guys like that don’t walk out on a good thing.”

“You wouldn’t care to put some money on it, would you?”

“I don’t want to take your money until I know what kind of tests we’re talking about?”

“I don’t know for certain, but he’s been complaining about severe headaches since I met him. Last week he spent two whole days running around taking tests.”

“Sounds serious. Are you going to nurse him if it’s the big one?”

“Christ no. I only know the guy for eight months, and it hasn’t exactly been sex and champagne every day.”

“You should have dumped him as soon as he started complaining.”

“Thanks for the advice.”

“Now he’s going to lay a trip on you.”

“Like hell he is.”

“We’ll see.”

“Never mind about Nick. I’ll handle him. What do you want me to do tonight?”

“I want you to bring the slip rentals up to date. The cancellations are in the box. Then transfer the receipts on my daily boat rentals to the proper account. You’ll find the paperwork under the cash drawer in the souvenir shop.”

“How many boats did you lose?”

“Three this month, four last month, and two more leaving at the end of next month.”

“No new slip rentals?”

“Not a one. And I’m lucky if I get a fishing party or two every week that wants to charter one of my boats for a day on the water.”

“Is it that bad?”

“This place would bury me if I didn’t have a few things going for me down south. This whole damn area is going to hell in a pushcart. Anyone with a decent boat isn’t coming to Poseidon, Florida looking for dock space. Besides being so shabby looking, this town is too far from the ocean to attract any developers with money to spend.”

“Speaking of money, do you want to go over every account tonight?”

“We might as well. Let’s see where this place stands.”

“What are you going to do if the club drops into the red?”

“It’s almost there now. When it gets too bad I’ll dump it on the first buyer that comes along.”

“I thought you were attached to this place.”

“I am.”

“It doesn’t sound like it.”

“What do you know? My father built this place in the early-fifties before labor got out of hand. The buildings are stone. And look at those docks. They’re cement, not some cheap-ass wood. You can’t make things like that anymore. The labor would kill you. Nowadays they throw a pontoon in the water and charge the boat owner ten bucks a foot a month to tie up. What a racket.”

“Why did your father build way up here on the river instead of out on the Intracoastal?”

“Land prices were right and the town looked like it had future, or so the old man thought.”

“So he made his move and got burned?”

“Not at first. This place was doing good business when I left for school. By the time I graduated from college the town was going sleazy and the money was going further south. Building here was the only mistake my father ever made with a buck, and it was a good one.”

“You’re still hanging in there.”

“It was his dream.”

“Then stick it out if it means so much to you.”

“Business is business.”

“You know I could run the place for you. Then you wouldn’t have to spend so much time here. I could take my salary out of the profits.”

“And if there aren’t any?”

“I’ll stay on the rockin’ chair. That way I’d still have a little something coming in from the government until things picked up around here.”

“I’ll think about it.” Moe paused a minute to mull over Bess’s offer before saying, “Myra has been after me to move south and look after our properties down there. Maybe it’s time I gave it some thought.”

“I’d want to fix up the storage rooms upstairs and move in so I could save on the rent I’m paying for that dump in town.”

“What about the welfare people? You can’t give them this address.”

“I’ll use my brother’s address. They never check. How about it?”

“It can be arranged. Just don’t push me.”

“When will I know?”

“We’ll talk about it some more after you unload the Greek. I’m not letting him hang around here. Guys like that give a cat house a bad name.”

Chapter 3

“I’m sorry,” was all Bess could think of to say after Nicky told her the news.

“I’m not going for the treatment. To hell with it.”

“Can you stand the pain? It’s going to get rough.”

“I ain’t putting in with that either.”

“Have you thought it through?”

“There’s nothing to think through. I’m dying. That’s it. Why suffer? I’ll put an end to it a little sooner, that’s all.”

“How much time do you have before the pain gets out of hand?”

“Three months tops. Then I really suffer for a couple of months before I check out. To hell with that. I ain’t waiting around for it all to happen.”

“Don’t rush into anything. Give me a few days to see what I can come up with.”

“What the hell are you talking about? Didn’t you hear me? I’m dying!”

“I heard you.”

“Then what do you want from me?”

“Maybe we can make this little misfortune pay off.”

“I still don’t know what you’re getting at.”

“You’re not going to die for nothing are you?”

“Jesus, Bess, give me a break.”

“Do you want to spend your last days alone in a furnished room? And what about money when you can’t work? Your part-time job will disappear as soon as you start calling in sick.”

“I was hoping that you would let me stay here until it’s over. You know I don’t have anyone else.”

“You can stay here until it’s time, but only if I can shoot an angle. And if you’re going to be selfish about the whole thing you can hit the street right now.”

*

Moe Fingers switched off the miniature TV that sat on the corner of his desk before asking Bess,
“What are you doing here?”

“Nick is dying.”

“Did you tell him to take a hike?”

“Not yet.”

“I knew it. You’re a pushover. Now you can have the privilege of burying him.”

“That’s what I came to talk to you about.”

“No advances, Portugue. If Nicky Backdoor is broke he goes to potter’s field.”

“That’s not why I’m here.”

“Then what?”

“Maybe I won’t have to bury him.”

“You got a big freezer in your place you haven’t told me about?”

“What if Nicky was lost at sea in one your boats?”

Moe leaned back in his leather chair and studied Bess for a minute before saying, “Keep talking. I’m listening.”

“I went over your insurance policies a while back.”

“And?”

“The one that you make your customers take out when they rent one of your boats is interesting.”

“I know what it says. It covers the boat for liability, damage or loss. So what.”

“What if Nicky was to rent the big boat? The Atlantic Sailor. And what if it sank with Nicky on board?”

“If I knew for sure that she was going to sink, I’d talk to my insurance guy. Then I could collect four times what it would sell for.”

“Now do you see where I’m going?”

“It’s too risky. How are you going to get back? If the insurance company investigators take a look at those damn satellite pictures they’ll see another boat leaving the scene.”

“What if Nicky pulls the plug on his own at night? Then if any pictures do turn up they work for me instead of against me.”

Moe was impressed as he smiled at Bess. “Can you talk him into that?”

“He’s already said he plans on going out sideways. All I have to do is point him to where we want him to go.”

“What’s in it for you?”

“His insurance. Naturally, his grieving widow will be the beneficiary.”

“Suppose you marry the cluck and he decides not to die on schedule.”

“Did you ever hear of divorce?”

“Where did a deadbeat like Nicky ever get a decent insurance policy?”

“He’s been straight for six years. He told me that he got the insurance from his union when he was working for a hotel in New York five years ago.”

“Are you certain that it hasn’t been canceled?”

“Positive. He’s covered as long as he pays his dues and works a few weeks every year on a union job. And he’s always careful about paying in advance because he wants to his maintain his medical benefits. That’s why he goes up north every year.”

“I don’t follow.”

“Nicky takes vacation relief jobs out of the union hall in the Big Apple until he’s squared himself with the union rules for another year. He comes back down here as soon as he’s set.”

“How long does he stay up north?”

“It usually takes about a month or so for him to earn enough to pay everything off and get himself back to Florida with a few bucks to spare.”

“And the insurance is part of the package?”

“That’s right. He pays extra for that.”

“And you’re sure the premiums are paid up?”

“I’m sure.”

“It’s an interesting proposition. I’ll give you that much.”

“What about it? Do you think it will work?”

“How much is the insurance?”

“A cool million.”

“The union covers him for that much?”

“The policy does, and it’s only available to union members.”

“If it’s that good maybe I better take out a union card and get some for myself.”

“Forget it. It’s not life insurance. It’s accidental death insurance. It only pays off if Nicky dies in an accident. That’s the insurance company’s gimmick.”

“And you figure a boating accident is covered?”

“No doubt about it.”

“Suppose he didn’t have you. Who gets the dough?”

“His mother would have. She was the reason Nicky took out the policy in the first place.”

“Was?”

“She died a month after he hooked up with me and he never got around to dropping the policy because the premiums were paid up for a year in advance. There’s nobody else.”

“When are the premiums due again?”

“In two months.”

“I thought you said that he had to work so many weeks each year to maintain his standing in the union. How are you going to handle that if the clock runs out?”

“Don’t worry about it. I’ll keep him going long enough to cover the bases.”

“How?"

“If I can count on you for a little seed money, I’ll go up north with Nicky as soon as we’re
married. After he takes a job out of the union hall it will be a snap to walk him through the next few weeks with painkillers. And remember this: He’s not that bad yet. He can still work if I move quickly on this.”

“How long will the whole thing take?”

“That will depend on how long Nicky can stand the pain. My best guess is about four months
from now.”

“And if he decides to fight it down to the wire there’s no telling how long he’ll last. What then?”

“After Nicky takes care of the union we’ll have a year to play around with. That will give us plenty of time to send him on his way according to the plan.”

Moe was impressed with the blue steel he saw in Bess’ eyes and decided to throw in with her. “I want a nice piece of the insurance money if I go in with you.”

“How nice?”

“Twenty-five percent.”

“Now I know why they call you Moe Fingers.”

“My seed money entitles me.”

“Sure it does, but I’ll go you one better anyway. I’ll give you seven hundred thousand for this place if it works. That price includes the three small charter boats you own. That way you get seven from me and another two — minimum — for the Atlantic Sailor. You and Myra can move into an oceanfront condo on a white sandy beach with plenty of extra cash in your pocket and everybody’s happy. That’s a hell of a lot better than you can do if you spend the money to fix this place up and sell it off a piece at a time. Not to mention the aggravation you’ll get if you decide to go that way.”

“My insurance guy gets a piece of the Atlantic Sailor or he won’t go along.”

“Okay, that’s fair. Just see that you get more than two for the Sailor. The extra will take care of his end.”

“Set the deal with Nicky Backdoor. I’m in. But only if he cooperates right down the line.”

Chapter 4

Bess jostled Nicky to be sure he was awake before asking “Are you okay?”

“My head is killing me. The drugs aren’t working that well anymore.”

“Do you still want to do it today?”

“I can’t take the pain if gets any worse.”

“Then we better get moving.”

“Let’s go over it again.”

“You rent the Atlantic Sailor with your credit card. Moe will see that you sign the rental insurance form so that he’s covered for the boat. As soon as you leave the river make a stop at the marine gas station on the Intracoastal before you go out into the open sea. Fill her up with gas. Buy some snacks and beer and pay for everything with your credit card. Those credit card signatures will prove that it actually was you on-board when the insurance companies try to weasel out of their obligations. ”

“What about the gun?”

“It will be in one of the drawers in the wheelhouse. When you’re well into the Atlantic set the automatic steering on due east. After it’s dark you put blankets and water in the dingy and launch it. As soon as the dingy is floating clear you get on the radio and send out a Mayday. Say that the boat is sinking fast. Make sure that someone heard your call before you go to the final phase. If they ask what happened say that you hit something floating in the water.”

“What if the Coast Guard answers the call?”

“So much the better. It will be long past midnight before they can get to you. By then the Sailor will be parked on the bottom. The Coast Guard will waste a few days looking for you before giving up. With a little luck they might even find the dinghy.”

“I got it.”

“Do you know what’s next?”

“I lock myself in one of the cabins so that my body goes down with the boat and stays down.”

“Aren’t you forgetting something?”
“I lock myself in after I put out the Mayday. Then I eat the gun. Right?”

“Wrong.”

“What?”

“Damn it Nicky, we went over this a thousand times in the last three months.”

“What did I forget?”

“First you go below and put a couple of holes in the hull below the waterline. Moe is putting a fire ax just outside the engine compartment. Use that. Make sure there’s plenty of water coming in before you pop yourself. We want the boat to go down as fast as possible.”

“It slipped my mind. I won’t forget it when the time comes.”

“Christ, Nicky, don’t forget to sink the damn boat before you whack yourself. The Coast Guard might get suspicious if they find you dead and the Sailor still floating like a cork in a bathtub.”

“Yeah, yeah, I got it. Don’t worry.”

“Damn it, Nicky, don’t screw this up for me. After all, I am your wife. I’m the only one that’s looking out for you.”

“I’ll get it right. Stop worrying.”

“Are you sure you don’t want to try drowning instead of shooting yourself? They say that your whole life flashes by before you shut down.”

“I’m not that keen on seeing my life pass in review.”

Bess finally decided that Nicky’s mind was made up. After a minute of uncomfortable silence had passed she asked, “Do you want to knock off one last piece before we go?”

“I don’t think so. I got too much on my mind.”

“Then let’s get dressed. The sun will be up in a few minutes and Moe is expecting us.

Chapter 5

Portugue Bess Baxsarus dropped her married name not long after Nicky’s death certificate had been issued. However, she decided to keep the name Poseidon on her business after Moe Fingers gave her the keys to everything on the day that she paid him seven hundred thousand dollars out of her late husband’s insurance money.

As Bess sat in the big leather chair looking out at the long row of boat slips, now mostly unoccupied, she contemplated how she was going to turn the Poseidon Yacht Club into the money machine that it had been fifty years earlier. She knew that she only had a limited amount of time to show a substantial profit before an assortment of taxes and operating expenses ate her alive.

Having Nicky declared dead in order to collect the insurance money had cost Bess more in legal fees than she had originally planned on spending. After she had given her lawyers their piece of the pie, and settled with Moe, she was left with a paltry bankroll of twenty thousand dollars. Now that her welfare checks were history, Bess had to rely on the meager income derived from the souvenir shop, boat slip rentals, deep sea charters, and whatever the restaurant and cocktail lounge brought in after she paid the Poseidon’s small staff their modest salaries.

Still and all, Bess was pleased with herself. Two years before, on the day she married Nicky, she had nothing. Now she was the sole owner of a yacht club. A run-down yacht club in a dirt poor Florida town to be sure, but it was all hers. And if things got too bad the Poseidon’s river front property would bring her at least four hundred thousand even if it had to be sold in a hurry. For the first and only time in Portugue Bess’s life she considered herself financially sound.

The most important thing that Bess wanted to do after taking over the Poseidon was to turn the club into the place to be seen. That was why she asked her old friend, Ruby Taynt, to drive up from Palm Beach for a meeting. Shortly after two p.m. Ruby was sitting across the desk from Bess.

“How do you stay so thin?” Bess asked.

“If only I knew I could make a fortune.”

“Are you into anything right now?”

“Nothing I can’t walk away from. What’s on your mind?”

“One more question before I tell you. Are you with anyone?”

“An all-American square. He’s married and on his way out even though he doesn’t know it yet.”

“That’s what I wanted to hear. How would you like to bring your girls in and run the lounge and restaurant for me?”

“Is it that bad?”

“It breaks even.”

“Even with the girls in tow what makes you think I can turn it around?”

“A big pair of boobs on a slim frame will do it every time.”

“You’ve got that yourself, and you know how to hire working girls without my help.”

“Playing den mother in a lonely hearts club is not my line of work.”

“You always were one of the proud.”

“Never mind the smoke job. This place will be a gold mine in six months if you come in with the old gang from Miami Beach.”

“Pardon me for pointing this out, Portugue, but I didn’t see a lot of money floating around when I drove through town.”

“True enough. But I’ve got a valuable monopoly in this county.”

“A monopoly on what?”

“There’s still a few bucks buried in the yard if you know how to dig it up.”

“And you think some T and A will do the job.”

“We’ll reel them in for fifty miles around when the word gets out.”

“How about the good guys?”

“I told you! I have a monopoly.”

“How did you manage that in this day and age?”

“How do you think I managed it? The local sheriff’s wife doesn’t understand him.”

“How often does he have to be understood?”

“Three or four times a month.”

“That’s not too strenuous.”

“I’m not complaining.”

“And the rest of the local constabulary?”

“The sheriff will handle them. Besides, nobody in authority is going to run new money out of this town if everybody goes about their business in a professional manner. That’s where you come in.”

“What kind of a burden will the girls be looking at?”

“A fifty-fifty split on all tricks. That’s ten percent better than girls with hustling privileges get from the better hotels anywhere in the country. You and I will set the price of a trick after we get started.”

“They never had it so good down south.”

“We both know that. So let’s hope the girls are smart enough to take advantage of the earning possibilities I’m offering them.”

“Where do the girls conduct business?”

“There are a dozen small cottages with a toilet and shower in each one. They’re over behind the trees on the far side of the parking area.”

“That’s convenient! What did the previous owner use them for?”

“They’ve been boarded up for years. They were originally used by the members in the old days; when this place was a real yacht club with paying members. I’ll have them painted and ready for use by the time you come in.”

“Are the cottages rent free?”

“I won’t charge for using them.”

“How about maid service?”

“You’ll and the girls will have to hire maids to keep the cottages clean and supplied with fresh linen between turnovers. If the girls are pros they’ll find a way to hand that cost off to their tricks.”

“That’s reasonable. Anything else?”

“The girls won’t be locked in yet they’ll conduct their business in a fully protected establishment for their money just like in a traditional house. And you can tell them that this operation is not going to be a topless sweatshop catering to field hands looking for bargain prices. They’ll be dealing with a first-class clientele with credit ratings to match.”

“Sounds good. And me?”

“You get your cut from the girls, plus 10 percent of the bar after we get rolling. I pay all of the bills out of the rest.”

“And the food?”

“You get 5 percent of the gross, but the kitchen staff is your problem. I’ll pay them —— you keep them in line.”

“How about larceny?”

“You can steal two hundred a night from the suckers when things are going good. Four when it’s very good.”

“Your words are like music to my ears. The square-apples will never know it’s gone.”

“I don’t care how you pad the bill, or clip the drunks, just make damn sure that your bartenders know you’re not a partner. I don’t want them pouring drinks from your bottles. Everything that’s mine goes into the till. Do I make myself clear?”

“You’ve cut me to the quick, Portugue.”

“Why? I’d do it to you if you weren’t watching.”

Ruby couldn’t help laughing at Bess’ unique brand of honesty before asking, “Does your monopoly cover a few games of chance?”

“I’ll renegotiate if it doesn’t. What did you have in mind?”

“Sports betting; some twenty-one, a crap table, one wheel, maybe a poker game or two, and
a couple of slots to keep the ladies happy.”

“The idea is good, but not for the clubhouse. I don’t want the property involved in a gambling beef with state or federal tax collectors.”

“I was thinking of a boat tied up at one of those empty slips out there.”

“Do you know someone that would pay for the franchise? And more importantly, apply a little state and county grease?”

“If you’ve got a solid local monopoly, I’ve got just the right guy for the rest.”

“Do I know him?”

“I don’t think so. Benny Lota came in after you left Miami.”

“Okay, deal him in.”

“What’s the split?”

“You cut your own slice with Benny. As for me: I want a four hundred a night docking fee from him. And that’s for openers. That fee will cover his local protection. The fee goes up accordingly if I see a lot of suckers going aboard night after night. Can Benny handle that?”

“He’ll manage.”

“Can you think of anything I’ve missed?”

“How about happy dust?”

“Not until after we’re established. Let’s keep it to drinking, good food, light entertainment, a little gambling, and some professional pussy. I want aging preppies to think they’ve died and gone to cool heaven. Now do you know what I’m shooting for?”

“Yes Ma’am. You want a bust-out joint with class. Something right out of a nineteen-forties Hollywood flick that will give the middle-aged jocks one last chance to play Mr. Smoothie before rigor mortis sets in.”

“Now you’ve got it.”

“When do you want me to come in?”

“When the tourist season begins to pick up. Figure on taking over in a month or so. I still have to dump the zombie that’s running the place now. You can clean out the rest of the stiffs after you take charge. In the meantime I’ll see about lining up some radio spots. A little advertising should pull a few early snow birds off the Interstate on their way south.”

“I’ll have the girls call their regulars up north when I get back to Palm Beach. That will start the jungle drums beating.”

“That will help.”

“It will be like old times, Portugue. Leave it to me. I’ll get in touch with everyone. We’ll have a few laughs and make some money, too.”

“Do you want to look the plant over before you leave?”

“I better checkout those cottages you mentioned. And you better give me a line on decent housing.”

“There are plenty of houses in the area that you and the girls can rent at a fair price. Doing it that way will be a lot cheaper for anyone who doesn’t mind doubling up.”

“I see your point.”

“A penny saved is a penny earned.”

“I couldn’t agree more. And not to change the subject —— especially when the subject is money —— are you still working?”

“Not for a long time. I grew up in this town.”

“No specials.”

“Nothing. There’s no future in it.”

“I just wanted to be sure.”

“How about you? Management seems to agree with you.”

“You know me, Bess. Onward and Upward is my motto.”

“Not even a few generous clients on the Q.T.?”

“My girls would lose respect for me if I competed with them.”

Chapter 6

Bess enjoyed that first Winter season as business accelerated according to plan. Before Spring faded that first year the club was attracting a steady flow of the more affluent Florida residents to the bar and restaurant. Better still, the club was well on its way to acquiring a hot name up and down the Eastern seaboard as the spot to break the monotony on the drive to or from wherever.

On any given night that first Winter and Spring, status seeking automobiles bearing license plates from Canada to Florida could be seen hobnobbing in the large parking area. As expected, business fell off dramatically when the humid Summer rolled across the state; prompting Ruby to appoint an assistant manager while she took off on a long-desired European vacation. Ruby, being a superb businesswoman, also had the good sense to leave six girls behind for the purpose of servicing the year-round Florida residents. All things considered, Bess had every reason to believe that when the cooler weather returned with Ruby, the Poseidon’s business would shoot right back up to where it had been before the seasonal tourist slump had descended on Florida.

One thing did bother Bess as she stared out from her office window at the mostly unoccupied moorings. She had hoped that the club’s swinging reputation would entice a fleet of luxurious, custom-built, pleasure craft to her piers. That had not happened and she worried about it; repeatedly asking herself, “What can I do to remedy the situation?”

Finally, Bess reluctantly admitted to herself that her boat docks would remain a losing proposition amidst a steady flow of cash pouring in from the rest of her blossoming enterprise. Just about the time she resigned herself to that annoying fact she remembered a doctor who had been sent to prison for killing people with kindness. Neither the doctor, known as Jack the Dripper, nor his methods mattered to Bess. What mattered was the idea that exploded inside her thoughts. As her brainstorm gathered momentum she burst into laughter thinking out loud, “I’ll make those damn docks pay their way yet.”

Chapter 7

United States Senator Eustus S. Prancer rose to greet a delegation of his staunchest supporters from his home state of Florida. “What brings you boys to Washington?”

As the men took seats, Doctor Charles Keats replied, “We have a problem, Eustus. That Baxsarus woman is rocking the boat so to speak.”

“So my staff tells me. How serious is it?”

“It could become very serious if she’s not stopped.”

“Now boys, I’m sure Miss Baxsarus has broken a few laws along the way. Can’t you handle this out of Tallahassee?”

Chester Wade representing the Florida Bar Association replied, “This is federal. Florida can only slow her down her for a few months. Once she clears away any temporary roadblocks that we put together there will be no stopping her. And even if Florida could stop her, what would prevent her from setting up shop in another state or Canada or Mexico? This thing could go international before you know it.”

Lloyd Lawrance speaking for the Florida morticians chimed in, “We thought we had put enough laws on the books to prevent everyone from going into the burial at sea business out of Florida. We were wrong. That woman has found herself a loophole.”

“What are you saying? This ol’ boy knows that she can’t be dumping bodies at sea without breaking a barrel of environmental laws.”

“She’s not dumping dead bodies, Eustus. She’s dumping live ones. And it’s beginning to hurt our bank accounts.”

King Romon added the concerns of the Florida cemetery owners, “And if the funeral parlors are beginning to feel the pinch what do you think it’s doing to us?”

“If you boys are looking for federal legislation, I’ll need a lot more than you’ve given me so far.”

“Lay this on your fellow senators: That woman has institutionalized the act of dying.”

“Now, now, King, that’s a mighty tall order for one lady of the evening. Retired as I understand it.”
Chester Wade spoke angrily, “Retired or not that hooker has managed to convince a lot of people who don’t want to live anymore to utilize the services of the Poseidon Yacht Club.”

Doctor Keats presented his organization’s complaint, “People with an incurable disease began to flock to the Poseidon from all over Florida. Now it’s spreading to the rest of the country, and it’s my understanding they’re trickling in from overseas. I don’t mind telling you, Eustus, the medical profession relies on the big money we collect in the final months of a dying patient’s life. Without that money coming our way we might as well take up plumbing.”

“Now calm down, Charley, things can’t be that bad.”

“Maybe not from where you’re sitting, but that woman is in the process of single-handedly creating a Medicare surplus. I don’t have to tell you that’s not good for anyone.”

Horatio Lydecker speaking for nursing homes continued, “Every time an elderly citizen of some means turns to Miss Baxsarus instead of us, a nursing home loses a forty thousand dollar entrance fee right from the git-go. And let’s not forget the money that continues to roll in as long as any person is housed in one of our facilities; first-class or otherwise.”

The undertaker threw his two cents into the money talk, “It doesn’t take a genius to see how she’s killing us. And by us, I don’t mean funeral parlors and nursing homes only. It’s also the hospitals, the testing labs, casket makers, florists, monuments, and a whole range of ancillary businesses that depend on slow death and the dead being laid out and buried in the conventional way who will feel the pain if she’s not stopped.”

King Romon added, “And it’s not only the sick who are heading to Poseidon. That woman has everyone dying on the cheap. One would think that she was raised in a Third World country the way she’s acting. Damn it, Eustus, nothing is cheap in America. So why in hell does anyone expect dying to be a bargain?”

Chester Wade, getting angrier, continued, “What’s worse is that they’re giving away everything they own before they commit suicide. That means that the legal profession is losing a lot of money handling estates. Even simple ones. She’s hurting us, too, and she’s just getting started.”

Chester paused for a second then added, “One more thing, Eustus, you might tell your fellow lawmakers that Miss Baxsarus’ little sideline is playing hell with the tax code.”

Upset over Chester’s blasphemous reference to the sacred tax code Senator Prancer responded in what can only be described as a threatening tone of voice.

“Easy there, Chester, you’re hitting mighty close to home with that kind of talk. Mighty close.”

“I apologize if I’ve offended anyone. But understand this, Eustus, a lot of people are disappearing at sea without being listed as dead. In short: They have no estate at the time of their actual death; so the people they give everything to before they die are not legally bound to file any tax returns after a death certificate is issued.”

The possibility that someone other than a government official might get something for nothing finally forced Senator Prancer to focus on the problem at hand. “Exactly what is she doing?”

Chester answered, “She’s been convincing a lot of people who are just plain tired of living to buy a share in an old boat, then take it out to sea and sink the damn thing. She even conducts seminars telling people how to carry out every step of the procedure so the bodies stay down.”

“Not to mention the fact that we were presented with the problem of having to hush up the sudden disappearance of so many boats,” King Romon mumbled.

“I can see the dilemma,” Eustus announced to no one in particular before asking, “How did you boys handle it?”

“The right people in the media have agreed to lay it all off on the Devil’s Triangle if this mess gets out from under our control.”

“My, my, you boys have been busy.”

“We have to be ready for the day the media is forced to put numbers to that woman’s activities. If worse comes to worse, that Triangle nonsense will keep a lid on the truth until we can shut her down without creating a fuss.”

“Until that day arrives what kind of profit is she looking at in all of this?”

“Here’s the good part. Every inch of dock space at her club has been leased to the owners of old cabin cruisers, rotting fishing boats, and anything else that is just barely seaworthy. When she has a load ready to go she makes a deal to buy a boat that will accommodate the number of customers she’s helping to ‘cross over’ as she puts it.”

“I seem to be missing something here, Chester. Where’s the big profit? Aside from renting her facilities to overflowing.”

“For the sake of simplicity let’s say that she has ten clients ready to go. Her next move is to select an old scow with enough space below deck for ten corpses. When she’s ready she cuts a deal with the owner who is begging to unload the boat before it rots away at the dock.”

“How much do these boats usually cost her?”

“It varies. A few thousand will usually get her an old tub that will handle ten people.”

“Great balls of fire, Chester, are you telling me that boats are that cheap?’

“Yes.”

“God almighty, Man, a half-decent casket runs five or six thousand dollars. And it doesn’t have an engine in it.”

“We are not talking about yachts here. New boats, or even a well-maintained one, will generally command a respectable price if the seller is not in a hurry; however, the wrecks Miss Baxsarus deal in belong on the scrap heap —— not in the water.”

“I hear you talking, but I still don’t have the whole picture.”

“After she buys a boat she sells it off in the form of shares. The price of a share is determined by the cost of the boat. Her markup is always one hundred percent.”

“One hundred percent is fine country,” Senator Prancer stated with some reverence.

Several of the Senator’s guests agreed in one voice, “Indeed it is.”

“So ten shares in a ten thousand dollar boat will bring back twenty thousand?”

“Correct. She doubles her money on a fast turnover. Usually the same day because she doesn’t buy until she has a load ready to go. And the bigger the boat the more she takes to the bank.”

Lloyd Lawrance complained, “It didn’t take people long to smell a bargain and figure out that a thousand or two is a damn cheap funeral in this country. Hell, Eustus, it costs five hundred just to dig the hole nowadays. Whatever the final price comes in at it’s all-inclusive when you take body disposal into your own hands. No silk-lined box, no hearse ride to the cemetery, no cemetery plot to buy or visit, no stone, none of the little extras that we all count on in every business. ”

“And no autopsies are performed, which is damned important to a lot of squeamish wimps,” Doctor Keats added with a sigh of resignation.

Senator Prancer was still not convinced that the Poseidon was a serious long-term problem. “Sooner or later she’s going to run out of customers.”

“That’s what we originally thought when we got wind of what she was up to.”

“I take it you boys have changed your thinking on the matter?”

“That’s putting it mildly. It didn’t take us long to see that we were dead wrong in our original analysis; so we made sure that she wasn’t getting a word of media coverage, or a line of advertising space anywhere that counted,” Chester Wade explained.

“What changed your minds?”

“Somehow the word spread like wildfire. Maybe on that damned Internet. Who knows?” Lydecker speculated.

King Romon added, “In any event, she found an audience for her sales pitch. That’s all that matters, Eustus.”

Becoming impatient with Senator Prancer’s apparent inability to grasp the situation, Chester Wade felt compelled to enunciate the conclusions that had brought the select group of businessmen to the nation’s capital.

“Americans are, by far, the most obedient, institutionalized, people on earth. Television is a government institution. In addition to being a tax dollar funded government in its own right television has trained us from birth to distrust individual action rooted in self-interest. That subliminal message is delivered daily by cop shows, doctor shows, lawyer shows, teacher shows, institution shows of every kind depicting individual behavior for the singular purpose of glorifying government entities. Compound that never-ending propaganda with the cohesive demands of organized religion, institutions of learning, team sports, military service, and our corporate life, and it was inevitable that the act of dying would become a congregate event here in the United States sooner than anywhere else.”

Doctor Keats summed it up rather nicely by cynically pointing out, “People that haven’t the courage to commit suicide by themselves are quite comfortable ending their life as part of a group.”

“Group suicides are not all that uncommon as various religious cults have shown us in recent years. You boys can’t lay that trend at the Baxsarus woman’s door.”

“We’re not trying to. What we are saying is that dying alone in your own private minute in time was the last act of individuality that our society tolerated, and even encouraged, irrespective of what the devotees of bizarre cults did to themselves. However, Miss Baxsarus in her infinite wisdom, is transforming dying into a socially acceptable group activity. With the emphasis on ‘socially acceptable’.”

“I see where you’re coming from, but just what kind of legislation did you boys have in mind? Socially acceptable or not, suicide is already against every law of man and God in these United States. As near as I can determine not a one of those laws has slowed anyone down after they’ve put their minds to such foolishness.”

“We were hoping that you could enlarge the Coast Guard’s scope of authority,” Horatio Lydecker cautiously suggested.

“Have you boys considered buying her out? That does seem the way to go if you want this ol’ boy’s advice.”

“There’s no telling how much she’ll demand. And if we are forced to buy her out why do we need you?” King Romon asked.

Rather than address the ungrateful conclusion implied in King’s query, Eustus quickly decided to ask a question of his own. “How far out are these old boats going before they take a dive?”

“That depends on the boat’s fuel capacity, but satellite photos show that it’s always more than thirty miles east of the Barrier Islands,” Chester Wade replied.

“In that case we may have to use the Navy. Let me gnaw on it for a few days. I’ll talk to some of my friends and see what we can come up with. In the meantime, I want each of you to get in touch with your counterpart in the other maritime states and have them put some pressure on their own representatives. Let’s soften those boys up before I lay anything on them.”

Chapter 8

Bess moved her new Lincoln convertible over to the fast lane as she pressed her foot down on the accelerator pedal. “Is the wind too much for you?” she asked.

Ruby Taynt replied, “Let her rip, I have an appointment with the hairdresser this afternoon.”

“Are you prepared for the new season?”

“As ready as I’ll ever be. I have a few additional girls coming over from Nevada who like what they heard about the setup.”

“Jesus, I’m making more money than I ever thought possible.”

“Are you sure you want to keep shipping them out on a one-way boat trip?”

“Why not? It’s the sweetest money I ever made.”

“It won’t be long before they start giving you trouble. After all, we’re not exactly operating a Girl Scout camp here.”

“The right people are getting a taste.”

“That’s only small potatoes in the overall scheme of things.”

“You mean the people at the very top are unhappy?”

“You got it, Portugue. The fact that your little hobby isn’t showing up in the media says the big fix is in. You’re hurting some influential people and they won’t stand still for too long. Muzzling the press is only the beginning.”

“I’ve thought about that, too.”

“You were doing fine with the original setup. Why did you decide to dump garbage in your own backyard?”

“It began as a joke on the Internet. I just wanted to fill my docks. It got out of hand after I got started. Now I enjoy it. Some of those poor slobs I’m helping to cross over look at me like I’m a saint. That gives me a hell of a rush.”

“Saint Portugue Bess. That’s a good one.”

“Ain’t it though?”

“I have to tell you, Bess, I’m going to jump ship if too much pressure comes down the chute. I’m only surprised they haven’t come after me and my girls to get at you.”

“From their point of view you’re a sword hanging over my head. A sword they can use anytime they’re ready. Besides, they have to know that chasing you away doesn’t guarantee that I’ll get out of the dying business. Whatever happens, I’m not going to worry about it until I have to.”

“I just want you to know that I’m out of here when they start playing rough.”

“I understand.”

“You’re not sore?”

“Hell no. I don’t blame you. I’m the one making the big bucks.”

“It’s not the split that bothers me. I’m not exactly working for a minimum wage either.”

“What then?”

“I just don’t want the hassle. I like living in Florida. It’s been good to me.”

“If it helps, I want you to know that I’m only trying to push those hypocrites in Tallahassee and Washington all the way to the edge.”

“Don’t misjudge the edge, Portugue, or you might find yourself going over without a parachute.”

“You only live once.”

“The key word is live.”

“Do you really think they’ll swing that way?”

“They will if they can’t shut you down legally. And quietly. Christ, the town of Poseidon has turned into a three-ring circus with your club as the center ring.”

“It’s not that bad.”

“Look again. You’ve turned dying into an entertainment attraction. That’s not financially dignified from where the big guys are sitting.”

“To hell with their definition of dignity. I saw a need and I filled it. Where’s the harm?”

“You weren’t born yesterday. You know that you have to be stepping on somebody’s patent.”

“Let’s just say that their patent has expired. Body disposal is in the public domain as far as I’m concerned.”

“You’re something else Portugue.”

“Why? I’ve increased the customer base for the girls haven’t I?”

“My end of it doesn’t feel right. That’s all.”

“What doesn’t feel right? The fact that your girls occasionally help a client get off the dime one last time before he checks out.”

“It’s a new wrinkle on an old game. That’s for sure.”

“You and the girls make a few quid from the set-up. Are they squawking?”

“None of the girls are complaining about trickin’ the old dudes who can afford it. In fact, some of them feel like Sisters of Mercy. They think they’re missionaries or something.”

“They could be right. Who’s to say that a good Frenching can’t make the lame walk and the blind see? Besides, it tickles me to think of my clients going through those Pearly Gates with a smile on their lips.”

“Christ, don’t tell me that you’ve become a perverted moralist.”

“Is there any other kind?”

“God help us if you’re serious.”

“Why?”

“The only thing worse than a reformed drunk telling everyone how to live is a reformed tart telling everyone how to die.”

“Who says I’m reformed just because I don’t turn tricks any more? And if it comes down to it, would you prefer that my male clients are flashing a boner when they meet their maker?”

“You’re right when you put it that way. That is a lousy way to show up on judgment day.”

“I thought you’d see it my way considering your chosen line of work.”

Chapter 9

Senator Prancer could sense the carnival atmosphere in Poseidon as his driver slowly steered the limousine past the crater size holes in the blacktop on Magnolia Street. The senator couldn’t help noticing that the unpainted buildings and general run-down appearance of the small Florida town did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of the crowd wandering from shop to shop on both sides of the thoroughfare.

“They look like they’re at an amusement park,” Senator Prancer said to his driver.

“We’ll be clear in a minute, Senator,” the chauffeur announced.

“Take your time, Alfred. We’ll get there when the good Lord dictates.”

Minutes after driving through town Senator Prancer was introducing himself to Bess. When he finished speaking she laughed and said, “We’ve met before, Eustus.”

“I’m sure I would have remembered, Miss Baxsarus.”

“It was at a fund-raiser in Palm Beach when you made your first run for the U.S. Senate.”

“That was sixteen years ago. You must have been a child at the time.”

“I was young in years but experienced enough to be on the entertainment committee.”

“I see. Did we have any personal contact?”

“As I remember it, Eustus, I gave you a freebie when you swore that I was the best little fund-raiser you ever did see. I guess you could call that personal contact.”

“Well I declare. Let me look at you.” The senator stepped back, adjusted his spectacles, and studied Bess. In a few seconds he smiled and continued, “I do remember now. Time has been kind to you, Miss Baxsarus.”

“Bess or Portugue if you don’t mind.”

“How could I have forgotten?”

Bess sat down at her desk, motioning Eustus to a chair, before replying. “It was a busy time for you, and you weren’t exactly looking at my face when we got together in your hotel room. I recall you said something about wanting to relieve the pressure building up behind your eyeballs after a busy day of politicin’.”

“I do apologize for not remembering you, Bess. Truly I do.”

“Don’t bother. Working girls get used to it. Had you lost the election I would not have remembered you either.”

“I understand you’ve retired since then.”

“That’s correct. Now, what brings you here?”

“A few of my more influential constituents are a tad out of sorts with you.”

“They must be if they sent a United States Senator to handle it for them.”

“I was just passing through and thought I would stop by and see what all the fuss is about.”

“Cut the bull, Eustus. Poseidon isn’t on the road to Tallahassee. I saw you with your pants off. Remember?”

“That does make negotiating a trifle more difficult.”

“Not for me.”

“Then I will come right to the point, Bess. How much will it take to buy this place? Lock, stock, and barrel as the saying goes.”

“Oh, five million will do it.”

“You wouldn’t be tuggin’ on this ol’ boy’s candy leg, would you?”

“That’s how much I’ll need to get started in another state.”

“Well now, there’s the bone of contention we may have to chew on a bit. If we can come to an agreement we want your assurance that you’re going out of the dyin’ business forever.”

“Then I’d need a lot more than five million. I’d need a figure that would leave me with five million after taxes.”

“Why is it I’m beginning to feel that pressure building up behind my eyeballs again?”

“You do see my predicament?”

“Indeed I do, Bess, indeed I do.”

“I’d be left without an income if I swore to retire from the dying business. Five million after taxes would see me through any hard times that might be coming my way.”

“And if the price can’t be met for one reason or the other?”

“I could always continue doing what I’ve been doing and have five million tucked away in no time at all.”

“Whatever happened to that sweet child I used to know?”

“It’s that sweet child I’m looking out for.”

“You’re forcing this ol’ boy’s hand. Admittedly, legislation is a time-consuming road; however, it’s one I’ve traveled before.”

“You’re holding something back, Eustus. If you could shut me down without a care you’d have done it by now. Just what is that bunch from Tallahassee afraid of?”

“My, you are the suspicious one. I only have your best interests at heart.”

“When Eustus S. Prancer comes calling with an olive branch in his hand it’s time for me to load the shotgun.”

“Damn it, Bess, we know all about your arrangement with Ruby Taynt.”

“Now, now, Eustus. Are you certain you want to go in that direction with your next reelection campaign less than two years away? You could get bit on the ass by a big ol’ bible thumpin’ gator if your little fund-raising methods involving teenage girls ever became common knowledge.”

“Now calm down, Bess. There’s no need to go to threats. Hellfire, Woman, everybody is entitled to a bowl of soup with some ingredients in it every now and again. The boys understand that.”

“You sure had me fooled from the way this conversation is going.”

“No one wants to see you go back on welfare; least of all the boys over in Tallahassee. Live and let live. That’s how we view these things. If we meant you some harm you and Ruby would have been in leg irons a long time ago. Why I’d even go so far as to promise that Ruby and her girls will continue to harvest the benefits of our wonderful free enterprise system of government once that other matter is laid to rest.”

“I take your meaning, Eustus, but my skepticism is telling me you’re afraid of something I haven’t figured out yet. When I do, I have a feeling my price is going a lot higher then a measly five million.”

“Now don’t go and get greedy on me.”

“You’re a one to talk about greed. I can remember your opponents in Tallahassee referring to you as Stick-em-up.”

“Those boys were only funnin’ me.”

Chapter 10

“We had some laughs for three years, but the time has come for me to head back to Palm Beach,” Ruby announced.

“It’s been a kick,” Bess stated just as the telephone on her desk rang. Signaling Ruby to remain seated she picked up the phone, “Miss Baxsarus here.” Bess listened in silence for a half minute before saying, “I’ll be over.”

“Another boat getting ready to leave on a one way trip?” Ruby asked after Bess hung up the telephone.

“A small one. Only eight shareholders.”

“Business must be slowing down.”

“Not really. It’s a discount trip. I got the boat for next to nothing; so I passed the savings along to some sorry souls who are really too poor to die.”

“Christ, you’ll be handing out discount coupons soon.”

“That’s not a bad idea.”

When the two women stopped laughing, Ruby asked, “Are you certain you don’t want to sell this place and come south with me? We could make a nice living running an escort service.”

“I’m not finished here. Not by a longshot.”

“It’s only a matter of time. That’s why I’m taking my girls and getting out while I’m ahead.”

“I understand.”

“What did that old phony have to say for himself the last time he called?”

“Are you referring to our illustrious senator?”

“Nobody but.”

“Would you believe it? That horny old bastard wanted a freebie after he practically threatened to run me out of the state? ‘For old times sake’ as he put it.”

“That’s the Eustus we all know and love. What did you say to him when he asked?”

“I said I would make an exception in his case, for old times sake, and come out of retirement for a one time call. The price I quoted him, for old times sake, was one thousand dollars —— up front.”

“You sure know how to hurt a guy when you put your mind to it. I’ll bet that he screamed bloody murder.”

“He wasn’t too happy about it.”

“And I’ll bet that he wasn’t about to lay out a grand for a quickie either.”

“The thought never occurred to him. That old freeloader really believes that he’s entitled to use me as a prop in one of his masturbation fantasies without paying for it. That’s what bugged the hell out of me.”

“Well, the old Commies always said, ‘Prostitution is the cornerstone of capitalism.’ You would think that Eustus understood that better than most.”

“I don’t know about Eustus, but I never did believe that Marxist claptrap. If selling sex was good for capitalism your industry would be listed on the New York Stock Exchange.”

“It’s getting there.”

“Not really. If you take a good look at the wealthiest countries you’ll see that the sporting life is still pretty much against the law, or at least it’s well-contained, yet capitalism is busting out all over the place. That should tell you something.”

“That’s too political for me. I’ll have to think about it for a while. For now, it’s time I hit the highway.”

Suddenly remembering her waiting clients Bess asked, “Are you in a hurry?”

“Why do you ask?”

“Walk over to the sailing ceremony with me.”

“You know that whole scene gives me the creeps. That’s why I never went to one.”

“Come on. You’ll get a kick out it. We’ll see this load off together before you go.”

Chapter 11

Bess and Ruby walked past the long dock that had previously moored the unimaginatively named gambling boat Lucky Lady.

“I see that Benny didn’t waste any time getting out either,” Ruby observed when she noticed that the yacht was gone from its usual spot.

“Didn’t he say goodbye?”

“Yes and no. He told me last night that he would be leaving. He didn’t say that he meant to go so soon. He left at sunup this morning.”

“That was fast.”

“We made some money for three years. Then Benny got the word that his grease was no longer good coin of the realm; so he sailed off into the sun. I don’t blame him. He was looking out for himself.”

Continuing on past the crowded boat slips the two businesswomen directed their footsteps onto the dock that was hosting an ancient vessel displaying the name Wet Dream on her stern. As soon as they started out onto the dock, Ruby said in amazement “Jesus, look at all those people.”

“Family and friends saying good-byes,” Bess explained.

“Why am I reminded of the Titanic?”

“Don’t laugh, Ruby. These half-wits are serious.”

“I should hope so since there’s no turning back once you start breathing water.”

“I meant the farewell committee.”

“Oh them! Why do they want you here anyway?”

“I think they view me as a combination minister, priest, rabbi, mullah, guru, or whatever. You name it and I fit the image.”

“This I have to see for myself.”

“No wisecracks when we come down the homestretch. Promise?”

“Would I do dirty in your Easter basket?”

“You would for a joke.”

*

“All ashore that’s going ashore,” Bess shouted after she and Ruby stepped onto the deck of the Wet Dream.

In a matter of minutes the last of the family and friends of the soon to be departed joined the others milling around the dock. “You couldn’t have gotten them off faster had you yelled fire,” Ruby whispered.

“Would you want to stowaway on this tub?” Bess mumbled under her breath.

Before Ruby could answer Bess’s rhetorical question, a middle-aged man joined them at the railing. “We’re as ready as we’ll ever be, Sister Bess.”

“Mister Riley this is Sister Ruby. We studied at the same convent in our youth before giving up the religious life.”

“It’s my pleasure Mister Riley,” Ruby said as she fought to hold back the laughter she felt bubbling up in her throat.

“I’ll just say a few words to those that are staying behind. Then you can take her out,” Bess quickly stated with authority when she saw that Ruby would crack up if she continued to speak.

“There’s still one inside. Shall I call her out?”

“The poor dear probably feels more comfortable this way because there’s no one to see her off. Let’s just leave her below, shall we?”

“Anything you say, Sister Bess. We’re in your hands.”

Bess turned to face the anxious faces on the dock. “Ladies and gentlemen, I assume you have all had a chance to wish your loved one a pleasant trip.”

The crowd onshore and the people onboard the boat mumbled affirmatively. When everyone was still, Bess continued, “Mister Riley has been elected by the owners to captain the Wet Dream on this voyage. The committee has every confidence that Captain Riley will pull the plug without hesitation when the time comes.”

The newly-titled captain interrupted Bess to announce, “Have no fear everyone. Arthur Riley knows what’s expected of him.”

When Riley finished speaking, the pride of responsibility was evident in the set of his jaw and his suddenly erect posture as he deferred to Bess.

“Thank you, Captain. We all know you won’t let us down.”

“Amen,” a deep baritone voice shouted from the dock.

Before taking charge again Bess allowed the crowd to join in the sentiment by shouting “Amen.”

Assuming her most solemn voice in an effort to bring a little dignity to the proceedings, Bess began by saying, “This is a sad occasion to some, while it is a time of closure for others. It is also a time for economic efficiency in the last financial transaction most of us will ever make. Those who choose to attend to the final details of their life before it’s too late have shown a sincere concern for those left behind. Can we ask for more? Do we have the right to expect more? I say no, and no again.”

Bess paused and waited for the amens and hallelujahs that always came at this point to quiet down before going on.

“It is a time to praise the unselfish final act of a loved one. What more can they do to relieve us of the exhausting task of watching them slowly fade, perhaps suffering all the while, perhaps unhappy with their life, or perhaps simply impatient to move on.”

Another pause to allow for more amens and hallelujahs before Bess decided to cut her group eulogy short; aware of the fact that, after all, this was a discount trip.

“Now I think a song is in order. Does anyone have a favorite?”

An elderly woman standing alongside Captain Riley raised her hand as though she were in a classroom.

“Mrs. Gordon, what is your favorite? ” Bess asked the woman who could have been the poster lady for everyone’s grandmother.

“Puff The Magic Dragon,” was the simple reply.

“Would you lead us, Mrs. Gordon.?” Bess gently asked.

Without looking directly at Bess, Mrs. Gordon began to sing the words of Puff The Magic Dragon in a firm voice. Within seconds a dozen voices on the dock joined in as Bess took Ruby’s arm and led her off the Wet Dream.

After more voiced joined the others in song, Captain Riley went to the pilothouse and started the Wet Dream’s engine. As if on cue, several people on the boat pushed the gangway onto the dock before throwing off the small lines that held the vessel to the pier.

The Wet Dream slowly moved away from the slip; pointing her prow toward the center of the river whose water eventually flowed to the open sea. After a time the voices raised in song trailed off; finally stopping when the Wet Dream disappeared around a bend in the river.

*

Bess and Ruby were almost at Ruby’s BMW before Bess asked, “Are you lined up for anything?”

“Nothing concrete. I’m going to take a few months off and look around. The competition is getting fierce in the personal service industry. This gig was the last monopoly I’ll ever see in my line of work.”

“Would you consider opening another Poseidon somewhere closer to the action? I’ll teach you everything you have to know.”

“I’d take you up on it if I thought they were going to leave you alone.”

“So far there’s been nothing except for shutting you and Benny down. To tell the truth, I think I’ve got them by the shorts as far as the Poseidon goes.”

“Don’t bet on it.”

“There’s only one way to find out.”

“Oh God, now what?”

“I’m thinking of franchising the operation. Maybe a few spots up in New England and a few more on the West Coast. Maybe even go foreign, too. You know —— closer to the population centers. Hell, I might even slap my own boats together if I can get them built at the right price.”

“Are you serious?”

“Why not? They only have to make a one-way trip; so they don’t have to be fancy. It’s worth investigating, and I can always buy the wrecks I’ve been buying if I have to.”

“Jesus, Portugue, you’re a glutton for punishment.”

“Eustus and his crowd will nail me for sure if I stand still. Spreading the wealth is my best chance of survival. Do you want in?”

“Deal me in. But only if you can get it off the ground. With my score card, I just can’t run the risk on spec.”

“Don’t sweat it, Ruby. I understand. I’ll save a spot in Hawaii for you if I make it work.”

“Thanks. Maybe it’s time I changed jobs anyway.”

“You’ll be a cinch with your expertise in satisfying discriminating clients.”

“It doesn’t look that hard. All ashore that’s going ashore, a song or two, then take the money from the next boatload before shipping them out. I think I can handle that.”

“Call me when you’re ready. I’ll be here.”

“You call me. I’ll come running if it’s a go.”

“We’ll know one way or the other as soon as Eustus hears about my franchising plans.”

Chapter 12

United States Senator Prancer sat in his Tallahassee office wondering how much it was going to take to shut down the Poseidon Yacht Club before Bess put her franchise scheme together. As Eustus waited for his first appointment of the day he wondered what Portugue Bess would do after she retired a second time.

At exactly ten a.m. King Romon was ushered into the senator’s office. “Did you talk to the others?” Eustus asked his guest.

“Yes. Are you certain that federal legislation is out of the question?”

“Absolutely. The experts couldn’t come up with anything that would stick. Not to mention the noise any such attempts would make. Great balls of fire, King, we’d do more harm than good if we went that route.”

“So where does that leave us?”

“There’s just no way to cut corners on this if you want it done quietly. You boys will have to buy her out.”

“Hell, Eustace, we could have done that two years ago and saved ourselves a lot of grief.”

“That has been my position from the beginning. It was you and the boys who wanted to get it done on the cheap as I recall the matter.”

“We were mistaken.”

“How do the others stand?”

“We’re giving you a blank check to settle this. How much do you think she’ll take to disappear?”

“Somewhere in the neighborhood of nine or ten million should do it.”

“We’ll have to pass the plate out of state in order to come up with that much money.”

“I was hoping we could keep it at home.”
“Forget that you’re a tax collector and look at this like a businessman. We’re talking about hard earned dollars here.”

“What’s your point?”

“There’s no reason that our state should carry the burden for the entire country,” the representative speaking for the Florida cemetery owners stated emphatically.

Senator Prancer meditated for a few seconds before agreeing. “That’s only fair. I’ll get after my colleagues by telephone as soon as you leave. They’ll have their people get in touch with you directly.”

“We’d all like this settled as quickly as possible no matter how we slice it up. We’ve let it go on far too long.”

“I’m flying to Poseidon later today. I’ll call you after I’ve fixed the details and a firm price.”

“Call me at home. The others will be there.”

*

The sun had almost disappeared below the horizon when Senator Prancer was seated with Bess in her office. Eustus wasted no time, “I do believe that you mentioned a sale price of five million.”

Bess responded firmly, “That was five clear as you well know.”

“Now that you refresh my memory, I do recall that caveat.”

“I’m sure you do.”

“Where does that leave us?”

“Nine will do it nicely.”

“Do you recall my condition?”

“I go out of business for good and all.”

“Exactly stated. However, there is one little addition to our arrangement.”

“And that is?”

“You’re not to talk about this business to anyone. No advice. No consulting fees from interested parties looking to try their hand at another Poseidon. To be precise: This place never existed as far as you’re concerned.”

“So that’s what was troubling you and your friends. You’re all afraid that I might start a trend that would put you all out of business.”

“It had crossed our minds. However, your silence will go a long way toward putting this behind us.”

“You’re asking a lot for nine million, but you have yourself a deal.”

“Then it’s almost settled.”

“Almost?”

“I hope you won’t think unkindly of me for suggesting this, but would you consider taking ten million for the Poseidon?”

Bess was puzzled for a second before she burst into laughter. After she regained her composure she said, “Of course the extra million goes to you in the form of a rebate.”

“Miss Baxsarus, you’re not only a fine figure of a woman you’re also a smart one. Why I’d be proud to have you pay me a call if you ever get up to the nation’s capital. Mighty proud.”

“I may do that, Eustus. Between us we just might show those people a thing or two.”

*

Ruby picked up the phone on the third ring to hear Bess say, “Ruby, it’s me.”

“I was just on my way out. What’s up?”

“I’ve sold the club.”

“When?”

“Yesterday evening.”

“How much did you get?”

“Ten.”

“How sweet it is.”

“I won’t get to keep all of it. I’ll probably end up with six after taxes and whatnot.”

“I hope to hell you’re not complaining.”

“Hardly.”

“You made the right move. I was really worried about you.”

“You were on target. I was asking for punishment. Fortunately, I wised up in time to walk away with something.”

“You took the money, Babe, it doesn’t get any smarter than that.”

“You got that right.”

“What are you going to do now?”

“It will take a month to settle everything. Then I thought I might move up to Maryland or Virginia. Someplace close to D.C. Do you want to come along for the ride?”

“That sounds ominous.”

“Eustus promised to introduce me around.”

“Does he know I’m included?”
“Not yet. But I’m sure he won’t mind draping you over his other arm.”

“That frustrated old whore is something else.”

“Are you in?”

“Why not? Sure. I’ll tag along for the laughs.”

“Great! We’ll drive up when we’re ready to go. Who knows what we can get into now that I know how this game is played?”

“Honey, the Poseidon Yacht Club may be out of business, but I have a feeling you’re just getting started.”

THE END.
 

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