Authors: Benjamin Wallace
Protests of old metal filled the deck of the Rainbow Connection with squeaks as the hoist set the launch on the deck.
Water flowed from the holes in its hull; seawater spilled across the deck, washing fiberglass threads over the sandal-clad feet of the crew. Five rounds from the security team’s shotgun had caused the craft to list, forcing them to limp back to the Rainbow Connection. The launch was crippled, but it could be repaired. The ship’s crew began to measure and cut patches before the boat was completely drained.
The Rainbow Connection’s engineer stood back to inspect the damage. “It’ll be all patches soon. I’m getting a little tired of these Bondo jobs. How long are we going to let them do this?”
“If we get the launch fixed in time, we should be able to hit the island tonight.” Jefferson spit on the deck. “Is Reynolds back with the Zodiac yet?”
“Not yet. He should be.”
David Jefferson looked off at the nearest island; a marvel to some, trouble to him. An entire ImagiNation rising from the gulf was unnatural in its truest sense. He shook off the disgust. “Give me an ETA on repairs when you can. I’m going to grab a bite to eat. What’s in the mess for lunch?”
He cast one more glance toward the islands and then stepped below to eat.
Fredericks sat at a table on the far side of the mess hall. The man was so tall that he hunched as he shoveled food into his mouth with one hand and worked the keyboard of a scratched and beaten laptop with the other. He spotted Jefferson and waved him over.
Jefferson sat across from him and let the bulk of his weight rest on the table. “What’ve you got?”
The wiry man spun the laptop around to face David.
Jefferson leaned in closer and saw an online profile that outlined the man they had splashed. He squinted.
“It’s Steven Bennett,” said Fredericks.
“Bennett? He isn’t supposed to be here.”
“This isn’t good. What’s his background?”
Fredericks turned the screen back around and pulled up a second file. He scanned the information and called out the highlights. “Steven Bennett. 28. Get this? The kid’s a billionaire. He inherited it from his father.”
“Another rich kid playing with Daddy’s money.”
“No. It says here that he didn’t even know he was rich until several months after his father died.”
“They weren’t close, huh?”
“Not at all. Bennett didn’t know whose kid he was until the lawyers tracked him down.”
“Still. I thought he wasn’t coming.”
Conner Fredericks shrugged.
“Doesn’t matter,” David Jefferson stood and shook the concern out of his expression. “It’s too late to do anything about it now. We go ahead with the plan.” The hemp shirt had risen up his back; he pulled it down over his massive frame and made his way to the serving line to get some steak.
# # #
Captain Richards stroked his silvered beard. Each gray hair marked a day running cargo across the Atlantic. This job was his retirement run – easy and safe. All he was hauling now was dirt – earth dredged from the bottom of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. Scoop it up, steam to the Tortugas Banks, and pump it out; that was all there was to it.
He still had the nerves for stormy weather, but spending most of the job in the protected river way wasn’t causing him to complain. If there was anything to complain about it was the distance of the haul. Dirt was everywhere. Soil lined the bottom of the gulf. Yet, they were hauling it hundreds of miles from the Intracoastal.
The reason had been made clear to him. The reclamation project could only proceed in the Tortugas Banks if the project served a greater purpose. Forming new islands near a national park would have been impossible if the company had not agreed to dredge 90% of the reclaimed earth from the clogged transportation route.
The logistics frustrated him, though not enough to add more gray to his beard. At his age he should have been getting his legs back under him ashore, but the money had been substantial enough to keep him off the porch and man one more helm. And since the company had provided him the latest dredging ship to command, he had very little to do other than give orders to the crew and say, “very well.”
There was a time in his life when such little involvement would have made him restless; but that time was twenty years ago. His wife had her eye on some property in the mountains of Colorado, far away from the sea, and, whenever the ship was pointed in the right direction, he would kick back and think about the large log home she told him he was going to build her.
She would decorate the home; there would be no stopping that. His grandchildren would run and play and break the nice things he had brought her from his many trips across the world. But that’s what grandkids were for.
A wood shop out back would be his escape. And that would be his. All his. Dark and quiet, it would have a giant padlock on the door that could be locked from the inside and out.
A chime brought him back from the Rockies as the hopper neared capacity. The sluice foamed as soil filled the large tank in the center of the ship.
“80 percent, Captain.” The crewman working the dredge’s pumps was one of the best in the world. The company had made up for the distance by hiring the best crew possible. “Another half hour and we’ll be ready to head back to the chain.”
“Very well,” said Captain Richards. “Very well.”
The bags hit the floor and Paul hit the couch. “Wake me for lunch.”
“I don’t want brunch,” Paul draped his arm over his eyes. “When they put away the crepes and break out the burgers, you’ll know where to find me. I need a little booze-snooze if we’re having cocktails tonight. I want to be in peak condition.”
“Do you ever think that you drink too much?” Steve sat his bag down and dug his wallet from his pocket.
“No, but I know that you talk too much.”
“See? More talking.”
Steve tipped the porter. Paul began to snore.
Tuning out Paul’s raspy gasps, Steve strolled through the private villa. He was still not accustomed to being surrounded by luxury, and examined everything with the apprehension that touching anything in the room would result in a holler, a leer, and a reminder of a you-break-it-you-buy-it policy from an unseen maternal figure lurking in the wings.
The villa was larger than the exterior had led him to believe. Two master suites, each with a private living area, were connected by common living space and dining area that overlooked the beach. The kitchen was large enough to feed more people than could possibly occupy the space. Steve wondered if the stovetop or oven would ever see use.
The bathrooms were marble and spacious. When he spotted the bidet he decided to step outside.
He continued through the master suite to French doors that opened onto the beach. Thick-cushioned patio furniture lined a wooden deck around a fire pit that popped to life as he approached. A TV mounted under the pergola streamed the financial news. The sand began a few feet beyond it all.
Steve lit a cigarette with the Zippo he always kept in his fob pocket. He snapped the lighter shut and studied it. There was no logo, no design. Not even an engraved sentiment marked the smoked chrome finish. It was chipped in places and the lighter itself was pocket-worn on the corners. There was nothing fancy about it all. It fit comfortably back into the fifth pocket of his broken-in Levi’s. It had felt odd bouncing around loose in the suit pants he had worn most of the day. It was reassuring to have something back in its place.
Past the porch was Paul’s desire; he had fallen asleep only steps away from it. Two palm trees framed the beach in front of Steve. Between them, a hammock rocked gently in the breeze. He walked to the palms and rolled into the hammock, distributed his weight diagonally across the Brazilian design, and stared out beyond the beach.
Islands surrounded him. Roughly one hundred-fifty feet separated each cay, but from his position, there was a beautiful blue canal stretching onto the horizon and beyond. He took a deep breath and held it for a moment. Exhaling with a slow continuous breath, he closed his eyes. The beauty remained, even behind closed lids. He inhaled again, slower this time through his nose and pushed the air out through his mouth.
The scent of crisp sea air and new construction filled his senses. The hammock swayed in sync with his breathing. Then he opened his eyes, rest his head, and felt terribly uncomfortable relaxing in a hammock on the most exclusive beach in the world.
Maybe with enough time in the hammock, he thought, he could get used to being rich.
Months earlier, Steve sat at his desk with the copy of the will in his hands. On the computer screen were several open tabs of information on Henri Delacroix. Image searches had revealed pictures of the man, always shaking somebody’s hand for a ceremony, fundraiser, or business deal.
Campbell was trying to locate more personal photos, family photos, or anything that would give Steve a glimpse into his father’s personal life. It was proving difficult.
There was little personal information about the man to be found on the web. Everything he could find was about his father’s company, Delacroix Holdings; there was nothing about the man himself.
All the articles said the same thing – he had been the third richest man in Canada at the time of his passing; there were no known heirs.
Steve was thankful for this. Campbell had been diligent in hiding Steve’s involvement from the media. There was no doubt that it would have to be addressed, Thomas had informed him, but it could wait until Steve was better prepared for it.
The impending media frenzy frightened him. He envisioned it being covered not unlike Power Ball winnings, only worse. What would he say? How would he answer the inevitable question: “how does it feel?”
The money terrified him. People would accuse him of profiting from a stranger. The world would know him. Money like this didn’t change hands without fanfare.
He hadn’t even told his boss about it yet.
Paul had told everyone. His best friend had quit his job the day after Steve signed the papers, and began daydreaming what position Steve was going to hire him for.
The list had been extraordinary: sports car tester, date pre-screener, personal film and TV critic. His friend’s enthusiasm was overwhelming.
Paul had planned out that first day in writing, and left the to-do list on the fridge in the apartment they shared. It had included: order premium cable channels, call ex-girlfriends and rub it in, quit job in legendary fashion, book flight to Vegas, throw out toilet paper, buy flushable wipes, get a smoking jacket, and a litany of other new purchases.
Steve didn’t have the heart to tell him that he was considering passing on the money and donating it all to charity. It would be easier.
He had wanted to take some time off to think it over, but his vacation request had been denied. HR had been of little help when he requested time off for grievance.
The head of the HR department had asked how he knew the deceased. When he answered honestly and said that he didn’t, she gave him a strange look. It was justified, but he simply told her to forget the request and wandered back to his cube where he loaded the bookmarks about his father.
“What are you doing?”
Stewart Reynolds had been his boss for only a short time, but had already made a habit of surprising his staff. He stood at the entrance to Steve’s cube and grinned. The middle manager took great pride in sneaking up on his underlings.
“Is that PowerPoint going to be ready for the presentation Monday?”
It was Wednesday. If Steve started working on it on Monday, it would be ready Monday. “Monday’s not a problem.”
“See, you say there’s no problem, but I see a problem.” Reynolds reached across the desk and turned Steve’s monitor around. “I see you surfing, not working.”
“I was just looking something up.”
Reynolds removed his hands from the monitor; his fingers leaving orange fingerprints on the white surface. The biggest problem with his rub on tan was that it seemed to rub off just as easy.
“Henri Delacroix? I don’t think the PowerPoint is about Mr. Delacroix. Or am I wrong?”
Steve said nothing.
“Get back to work Bennett and save your online crushes for after hours. Oh, and that reminds me. Call your roommate and tell him you’ll be late tonight.” Stewart Reynolds turned and walked silently out of the cubicle doorway.
A moment later Steve heard his voice from the row over. “Prior. Do you have that report for me?”
“Yes, sir. I just sent it to you. Would you like a print out?”
“Of course. Good work, Prior.” Reynolds continued on his way.
Steve stared at the monitor. The orange smudges drew his eye away from the screen. He looked back at the will in his hands and made his decision.
Paul had performed a skit in his office’s lunchroom during the Monday morning company meeting. He had told Steve that it was an inspired piece, drawing allusions to several classics. For the epic poem portion of the second act he boasted that he had even managed to rhyme ‘orange’ with ‘up yours’.
It had seemed excessive at the time, but now it held a certain appeal. Poetry had never been his strongest subject and he struggled for only a few minutes before giving up on the dialogue to a skit. Instead Steve walked over to the copier, xeroxed his middle finger and left it on his desk with a note that said, “see you.”