Chapter One

Too  Clumsy to Live

By Sandy Huff

 

 

 

The calls came from three different directions.  “Woody!  “Look out!  Jump!”

 

Woody Kapok let go of her Sunfish halyard and whirled around to see  a boat trailer rolling swiftly down the gravelly bank.  It was aimed right at her.  With a desperate lunge, she flung herself out of its path and tumbled backwards into the knee-deep water of Sloop Harbor.

 

 The trailer whistled past her, missing her right leg by inches.  It smashed into the side of her small boat with a sodden thump. 

 

Her Sunfish rocked wildly, the half-raised sail flapping like a giant wounded bird, and crashed into the boat moored behind it.  Both boats ground together, their rub rails squealing,  churning up the water.

 

For a moment there was a complete silence.  Then a  tired  voice said,  “Say,  I’m sorry about that.  No harm done, I guess.”   A pudgy figure trudged down the steep bank that led from the parking lot to the tiny beach.

 

Woody slowly sat up in the warm water and grimaced at the speaker.   Her right hand and left thigh stung, and she  knew she’d landed on some of the sharp-edged oysters that dotted the sandy bottom. 

 

“Actually, there’s a lot of harm done, Flora.  I think Woody has some bad cuts, and  her hull is cracked.”   Crash Caladesi  splashed agilely  to Woody’s side, and pulled her upright with one well-toned arm.  Woody accepted the athletic woman’s help gratefully. 

 

“She certainly is cut.  What were you thinking to let go of your trailer like that?”  Ibis Lagoon joined them, shaking her mane of  titian hair in irritation.  As usual, it settled back  into perfect shape,  matching her perfect figure, oval face, and dainty hands and feet. 

 

“Hey, it was an honest mistake.  Anyone could let go of her trailer in this loose sand.”  Flora Belcher gazed at the indignant women around her.   Little intelligence peered out from her dull, muddy eyes.  Her frayed, too tight “lucky” sailing shirt that she wore every week had long since faded from red to mottled pink. 

 

“It’s OK,” Woody said, as other Windlasses began to crowd around.  Even some of the pram sailors hurried over, their tiny boats left half-rigged in front of the pram shed.  It looked like all 127 members of their women’s sailing club were arriving.  She blushed in embarrassment.  “I’ll live.  Accidents do happen.”

 

“Uh,  I think…. Neither Woody or Lotus will be able to sail today,” came a hesitant voice.  Shy Holly Highland was timidly stroking the bright blue splash board on the boat behind Woody.  “That crack goes through the hull on Woody’s boat, and this piece has been knocked right off on Lotus’ boat.”  She regarded the perpetrator with reproachful eyes.  “It’s even worse than what you did to MY boat last week, Flora.  Are you … uh…. going to…uh… pay for repairs?”

 

“Me?  I can’t afford anything.  Sorry.”  Flora turned away and tugged at her trailer.  “Somebody give me a hand with this.  I think one of the wheels is stuck in a crab hole.”

 

Woody turned away also, breathing heavily through her nose.  Screaming was useless, and she didn’t have anything to throw unless she took off one of her water sandals.   Flora never took responsibility for her actions. Every since she’d joined the club the fall before, the woman had left a swath of damage.  And she didn’t seem to care. 

 

Woody wasn’t the only one worried.   Indigo St. Joseph waded to her side and put one beringed hand on Woody’s  shoulder.  Her diamonds winked in the bright Florida sunshine.   “Flora will certainly not reimburse you.  If I were you, I’d just buy a new boat,” she murmured in disdain.  “Take this one right to the dump.  Or let someone make a nice planter out of it. ”

 

Woody splashed saltwater on the thin trickle of red coming from an oyster cut on her leg, and pressed the shallow wound shut with her thumb.  The blood stopped instantly.  Behind Indigo, up in the narrow lane that doubled as a driveway to the boat club and pram shed plus being a long, narrow parking lot,  the rich woman’s brand new pearl black Jaguar glistened like a giant beetle. “I can’t afford a new boat, Indigo.  I guess I’ll dig out the first aid kit, and worry about my boat later.”

 

She limped  up the ramp that led to the aging boat shed, standing aside as  four chattering women carried a pram toward the floating dock.  They flashed her smiles and friendly greetings, and kept going. 

 

Inside the crowded pram shed, Lotus Canal was licking the inside of a candy wrapper.  The tall, thin woman turned the twisted foil, searching for any missed molecules of chocolate,  then tossed it in a trash can with a resigned sigh.  “What’s this I hear about my boat getting torn up?” she asked.  One long arm snaked out to grab a sweating can of non-diet cola from a bench.  She took a deep swig, and sighed in satisfaction.  “Is it bad?”

 

“Bad enough,” came a  gravely voice from behind Woody.  A nicotine-stained hand thrust the red First Aid box at Woody’s chest.  “Sit down, kiddo, and let’s have a look at that leg.”  Knotty Edgewater stuck her ever-present cigarette into the exact center of her mouth, and gently pushed Woody down on a bench in front of the bulletin board.   “Both of you two are out of the races today, unless you can pop rivet and fiberglass all the broken parts in the next fifteen minutes.”

 

“That’s sure not going to happen,” Woody winched as her fellow Windlass daubed iodine on her cuts.   An ash formed at the end of Knotty’s cigarette, trembled for a long moment, then slowly toppled down to just miss Woody’s leg. 

 

“Since you two are all dressed for the water with no place to go, you’re welcome to come aboard the Gorgeous Bass Gal and help out the race committee. There’s room.”  Skipper Bowline tugged at the bill of her ever present baseball cap.  “Skipper’s Guaranteed Bass Guiding Service” was the logo printed on the cap.  For the hundredth time, Woody wondered what Skipper’s hair really looked like under the ever-present cap.  Maybe nobody knew.  Maybe Skipper slept in her hat when she wasn’t guiding tourists who came to Florida to fish.  But it was a nice offer.

 

“Thanks.  I think I’ll take you up on that,” she smiled warmly back at Skipper.   “You have a beautiful boat, and if you’re sure there is room, it’s the only way I’ll get on the water today.”

 

“Me too, Skipper.”  Lotus chimed in.  Somehow she’d found a package of Oreos, and was busily opening the package with one hand and her teeth while the other hand clutched her cola can.   “I’m  not even going to go look at my poor crippled Sunfish until we get back.”

 

“Just try not to scratch the paint,” the fishing guide tugged at the bill of her cap again.  “I just had it painted, and the gel-coat needs time to harden.  It cost me an arm and half an ankle, but I’ve got four fishing trips lined up, starting tomorrow.  With luck and some good tips, I can pay off the paint job, and put a good sum away for boat payments.”

 

Woody finished blowing on her stinging cuts, and rose to her feet.  “Knotty, thanks for the first aid.  No bacteria would dare invade that cut now.”

 

Knotty nodded gravely,  flinging more cigarette ash to the floor.  “Keep it clean if you can.” She closed the first aid box and sauntered away.

 

Woody called to the fishing guide,  who had wandered to  the open door of the pram shed and was watching the parking lot with wide-eyed attention.   “Skipper,  I’ll get my lunch and join…”  she was interrupted by a loud series of crashes and yells from the parking lot.   

 

Woody joined Skipper on the porch of the pram shed, and looked at the scene before her with disbelief.

 

Flora Belcher’s dirty green sedan was jammed nose first into the side of Indigo St. Joseph’s black Jaguar.  Behind her back fender,  Flora’s empty trailer had somehow jack-knifed, and was actually sitting on top of two trailers parked diagonally against the west curb.  The wheels of Flora’s trailer rested squarely on top of  two boats still strapped to the trailers.  And those trailers had in turn been violently pushed into the neatly parked line of other Sunfish waiting to be launched.  Even from a distance, Woody could see the splintered wreckage.  Half of the boats and trailers in the parking lot were damaged.

 

“Son of a …..” Skipper’s sunburned hand clamped onto her fishing hat.  “What an idiot.”

 

In the hushed silence, Crash Caladesi loped up to Flora’s car, wrenched open the driver’s door, and yanked the ignition key out.  Not saying a word, the muscular woman threw the key ring against the side of the pram shed.  “I’d throw your keys into the middle of the marina,” she grated,  “but somebody is going to have to move your blasted car.  Now get out, right now.”

 

Moving slowly, Flora emerged from her car, her doughy face sullen.  As her right foot emerged, a half-full liquor bottle fell out onto the asphalt.  Flora quickly snatched it up, cradling it like a baby.   “Not my fault,” she whined.  “There’s not room enough to turn around.  Not my fault.  You should have given me some room.”  She shuffled toward the east side of the pram shed, where Skipper’s bright white bass boat sat in a vacant slip between a long line of moored power boats. 

 

“Let’s separate the damaged boats,” called their Captain. This year’s elected leader, she was a lively woman in her 60s who barely looked a day over 40,  “If we work fast, and there’s not too much damage,  maybe we can still get in some sailing.”

 

For the next half an hour, Woody found herself part of a  crew  pulling individual Sunfish out to the mainland side of the marina, where a large parking lot offered  ample spaces to arrange the wounded boats and trailers.    Other crews quickly formed to move the undamaged cars and trailers to the far side of the boat club.

 

 Two of the trailers were too damaged to roll, but the twisted wreckage was slowly unraveled.   Used to working together as teams, the women worked efficiently.  There was an angry buzz in their voices. 

 

Woody winced as sweat ran into one of her fresh cuts.   Their Captain  was conferring with the Race Captain,  a languid young mother that Woody knew held a Ph.D. in linguistics.  Another woman, a retired news photographer, had her camera out, and was busily taking pictures of the damage.   Now and then two other women came up and pointed out possible photos – Woody knew both of them worked as insurance brokers.   The scene was organized confusion with women working in groups and darting back and forth.

 

“Used to be, any time a car scraped another one, you called the police,” murmured Knotty Edgewater as they walked back down the narrow driveway that led from the pram shed to  the  mainland.  Her ever present cigarette bobbed up and down with each word.  “Now they tell you to not even call the police unless somebody’s been murdered. And look at the flag pole – the abandon course flag is going up.  Nobody is sailing today – all the races have been cancelled.   What a mess.  I wish somebody would just murder Flora.” 

 

Woody nodded wordlessly, trying to ignore her stinging cuts as she strode along.

 

It looked like all  the mangled boats, trailers and cars  were finally untangled.   Not for the first time, Woody wondered how Flora had managed to wreak so much havoc.  Ever since she’d joined a year ago, the woman had managed to alienate almost every member of their friendly, loving group.   True, the Windlasses took their racing seriously, but beneath all the competition was a deep sense of … what?  Friendship?  Liking?  Family, she decided.

 

Nodding at her definition, Woody looked around at the moored power and sail boats that filled the slips inside the marina.  It was a pretty sight.  Maybe her boat could be fixed with a bit of fiberglass…..

 

Something pink was drifting just under the stern of Skipper’s bass boat, the Gorgeous Bass Gal. Woody’s eyes went past it, then snapped back.  It looked like… yeah, it had to be Flora’s shirt.

 

Woody pointed toward the bit of fabric.  “Looks like Flora lost her shirt.  It’s going to sink pretty soon. She better borrow a boat hook from  Skipper and pull it out before it does.”

 

“Good riddance,” Knotty snorted, her cigarette bobbing.  “That old rag is a disgrace.  Granted, we sure don’t care about fashion around here, but  that shirt has the stains of every meal she’s ever eaten.”

 

“True.”  Woody grinned at her friend.  “Let it sink.  Now if you can manage without me for a minute, I’m going to the bathroom.”

 

“Have fun,”  Knotty walked over to join two women bent over a dented trailer fender.

 

As Woody walked past the pram shed, headed toward the big, one-room boat club that was used for meetings, pot lucks, and parties,  she  was startled to hear a rising moan.

 

Holly Highland was walking unsteadily along the narrow walkway that separated the slips.  Her breath was coming in gasps, and she seemed about to faint.

 

“What’s the matt….” Woody began, but Holly suddenly darted forward to grasp Woody’s arm in a painful grip.

 

“It’s…uh….it’s… you see…uh…”

 

“What is it, Holly?  Are you alright?”

 

“Flora,” the shy woman burst out.  “It’s Flora.  She’s in the water, and there’s blood all around and her head’s  all misshapen…. and…. and …I think….uh…. Woody,  I think she’s dead!”

 

 





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