* * *
At the time, I was renting a tiny cottage on the north end of the island. During calm summer afternoons, my wife and I trolled the Gulf Stream in an open twenty footer that I bought used in Fort Lauderdale for thirty-five hundred dollars. My father had first brought me here as a teenage boy. In our New York life he had usually been preoccupied with some business deal about to close or he was furious with Mom or with a customer who had crossed him, but on this windswept island he became mellow and yielding; "I feel like a new man," was how he put it. Our island visits imbued a longing that went beyond catching giant marlin or breathing the heavy night air suggesting pleasures I did not yet know. Every year of my life I return to Bimini hoping to alter my life's direction or, more modestly, to feel like a new man.
Jim had spent the past three months cruising the Exumas with his young wife, Phyllis, on a plush sixty-five-foot trawler yacht. That captured my interest. He had been healing, he said, since returning to the States after nearly three years in Brazil. Following this leisurely cruise he wanted to start a new business in Miami. He was going to shop for a house on a canal where he could keep his yacht tied up in the back.
I'm good at making money, he remarked matter-of-factly. I've made a lot of people wealthy.
What a crass thing to say, but I didn't care. I hung on Jim's words.
Why don't we team up for a week? I suggested, trying to hold his interest. I know fishing and you own a big trawler. I'll teach you to fish. I can take you to the best reefs for diving.
I'd never been more awkwardly out front in my life. I barely knew this man.
But Jim didn't seem surprised by my suggestion.
He and his wife had been planning to anchor for two nights off the north end of the island where there was a pristine and mostly deserted beach. He proposed that we should leave for our cruise in three days. We'd meet at the fuel dock of the Blue Water Marina Thursday at noon. We shook on it.
It was past midnight and I was sitting in the bar by myself finishing a bottle. Cornelius had left an hour earlier with the grouper. Jim was gonemaybe he'd stepped outside to take a piss. I'd had a lot of beer. I didn't remember him saying good night. I had this notion he'd put the idea of the cruise into my head. That he'd toyed with me.
I turned off the lights and closed the door behind me. When I walked onto the narrow Queens Highway Jim was nowhere to be seen. The wind had picked up and there was no one around. I walked down to the little jut of beach where I had once left the dying shark. I half-expected to find some trace of it, some lasting marker.
* * *
Three days later my wife and I were standing on the dock at the Blue Water Marina with our duffel bags and fishing rods, looking around. It was twelve o'clock, but there was no million-dollar trawler yacht tied up at the fuel dock. There were a few pelicans sitting on the pilings and it was very hot. I was sweating, embarrassed. Why the hell would some stranger I met in a bar agree to take me on his yacht for a week? You couldn't buy such a trip for five thousand dollars. Sorry, I said to my wife, feeling like a fool and getting ready for the hot walk back to the north end of the island. Right then I spotted the high bow of a trawler coming around the point of South Bimini. In another ten minutes the boat was approaching the concrete fuel dock and Jim and Phyllis were waving extravagantly from the bridge. Jim came in hard against a piling and then he didn't notice the stern drifting off with the tide. He was grinning, not paying attention. He wanted me to take the measure of his pretty boat.
Hey, guys, we need a stern line! I called.
They didn't seem to know anything about boat handling. A lot of wealthy people buy big boats with no idea how to run them or navigate. It is amazing that they survive at sea.
Excerpted from The Dream Merchant by Fred Waitzkin. Copyright © 2013 by Fred Waitzkin. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Dunne Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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