To Date: A native Islander (“Call me Becca”) has returned home after many years away, to help her unstable Uncle Abe keep his landscaping business, Pequot, afloat. Abe has a monomaniacal fear and loathing of Richard Moby, the CEO of an off-Island wholesaler, Broadway Nursery. In early 2009, Moby unscrupulously took over one Island landscaping business and undercut five others, thus re-invigorating Abe to try to “destroy” Moby. To further complicate matters, Moby is engaged to Abe’s ex-wife, Gwen. Quincas, a Brazilian who works for Abe (under the table), is Becca’s love-interest. Recently, when Quincas and Becca disagreed about how best to keep Abe from further mischief, Quincas disappeared and Becca learned that he has begun to work for Richard Moby.
May 22, 2009
I’m typing this, shivering in my room at Abe’s house, quilted blanket wrapped around me, cup of tea (with brandy) beside me. My hair’s still wet in that salt-sticky way that only comes from floundering in the ocean.
You’ve been listening to my crazy tales for a year now, but this is the mother of them all, and the only comfort is knowing: it’s over. After this letter there will be no more “guess what crazy Uncle Abe pulled this week” or “Man, I really dig Quincas but I can’t believe he just did xyz . . .”
I need a moment to think about how to start this. I told you last week: Abe’s sons — my cousins Ralph, Waldo, and Emerson — took me to task for being judgmental of Richard Moby. Their mom Gwen is now engaged to him. Quincas defected to work for him. Even if he’s a nasty business mogul, he must be a good man. Otherwise Gwen and Quincas would have nothing to do with him.
Abe got a call about nine this morning, from Quincas, who sounded so agitated he seemed to forget how to speak English. I heard the phone ring and when I came down to the kitchen, Uncle Abe was hauling his foul-weather gear out of the front closet.
“What’s up?” I asked. I already had a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach.
“I need a boat,” Abe said, pulling the waterproofs on over his clothes. “A fast boat. Gwenny’s in trouble. Moby’s planning to kill her, I think that’s what Quincas was saying.”
I groaned. “Didn’t we do the boat thing last summer?” I said. “Aren’t you done with boats? If there’s a problem, go to the police. Nick Walker’s a state trooper now, I’ll call him. What did Quincas actually say?”
“I don’t know, I don’t speak Portuguese,” Abe snapped. “But did you know Gwen’s father finally passed last week? So she’s just come into a big inheritance.”
“Quincas told you that?” I said, confused.
“Don’t be stupid!” he snarled. “Quincas said something about Moby forcing Gwen onto his boat and heading to the north shore, and something about a will, and something about the boys.” He began pulling on his boots. “So I think they’re already married, I think Moby must have tricked her into it and now he’s going to do her in and get the money she just inherited, and my sons will be left out of their inheritance so don’t even think about telling me this is none of my business.”
And he flew out the door. Before I could register the preposterousness of what he’d said, he was already in the truck, peeling out of the driveway. No way I could have caught up on my bike.
The brothers are all on-Island staying with Gwen and Moby, but I don’t know where Moby’s house is, and his number’s unlisted. I had Emerson’s cell number; no answer. I left a message, then called my friend Nick, the trooper. Oh boy, that went over well.
“So let me see if I’ve got this right,” he said. “You think your uncle is maybe planning to steal a boat, which you’re afraid he will use to harm someone he thinks is planning to harm his ex-wife? And he did this because of a phone call from an illegal immigrant speaking in broken English?”
“I didn’t say he was illegal,” I corrected nervously. “But otherwise, um, yes.”
“Swear you’re not trying to get back at me for those pranks I pulled in third grade.”
“When third grade boys do crap like that it’s only because they want to get a girl’s attention. You should have been flattered.”
“Nick, I swear on my parents’ graves.”
A pause. “All right, I’ll make sure the harbor masters know. Can’t do much else.”
I tried Emerson again, got through this time, and told him what was happening.
“Huh. That’s weird,” he said, “Rich just got a call on his cell phone and then he ran out of the house shouting something about his yacht.”
The bad feeling in the pit of my stomach got much worse. “Who called him?” I asked, already knowing the answer.
“That Brazilian guy, I think.”
“Moby — Rich — also has a fishing boat, right? Can we try to overtake him or at least get him on the radio?”
“Let me check with the gang here,” Emerson said, meaning his brothers. “But assume yes. We’ll meet you at the dock.”
After convening at the dock, we discovered the yacht was not on its mooring, but neither was the fishing boat — meaning Moby took one and Abe “borrowed” the other. Ralph has a small tooling-around-the-harbor craft with an outboard motor, so the guys and I piled in, and tried to raise Abe on the fishing boat. No answer. Then we tried to raise Moby on the yacht, and got a bad connection but at least we got his coordinates, about a mile off the north shore, so we headed out as fast as the outboard could take us.
It took us a while to reach them. The weather wasn’t bad but there were no other boats around. The fishing boat’s sea-anchor was out; it was bobbing unattended about 100 feet from the yacht.
Standing on the rear deck of the yacht were three men with facial expressions that belonged in an Ultimate Fighting ring. One was Moby, of course, and one was Abe. The third was Quincas. He was between them, a diminutive figure with arms outstretched, literally pushing tall, lanky Abe and heavyset Moby away from each other.
“What are you doing?” I shrieked.
Quincas looked at me, stricken. “Help!” he cried.
With a flash of exasperation and sympathy, I suddenly guessed what had happened. I still can’t piece together all the details, but Quincas had clearly wanted to stage a scene in which Abe’s life would somehow apparently be in danger, so that Moby could apparently save him. This would (a) show Abe that Moby was capable of doing good and (b) give Moby a chance to feel stronger than Abe (in Quincas’s bizarrely psychoanalytical view, the only reason Moby behaves like an arrogant, amoral bully to Abe is because he feels inferior to him). Quincas, a non-swimmer, had decided to create this “scene” at sea, I guess so nobody could interfere. Because I don’t know the details, I don’t know what went wrong, but obviously something had, because Abe and Moby looked as if they wanted to kill each other, and then immediately kill Quincas.
“Dad! Knock it off! What are you doing? Dad!” the guys all hollered at Abe. Abe turned toward us with a furious glare — and the moment his face was in profile to Moby, Moby swung a fist right at Abe’s jaw, his corpulent torso falling into Quincas from the intensity of the swing. Abe, catching the movement from the corner of his eye, lurched out of the way; Moby’s forward momentum pushed both Quincas and Moby toward the stern. Moby grabbed the ladder up to the pilothouse and stopped himself — but Quincas stumbled smack into the railing and toppled over into the sea. He drank a mouthful of seawater and shrieked.
My reaction was instinctual: I pulled my boots off and dove into the water to help him. That makes me a devoted, loving girlfriend, but also a stupid idiot. The water was freezing, and the sea hath no fury like a drowning man . . . and I wore no life jacket.
I’m sure every non-swimmer who finds himself in a choppy, chilly ocean beside a fellow human being does exactly what Quincas did: he tried to climb on top of me. I panicked, and tried to push him off, and if our lives weren’t at risk it probably would have made great slapstick comedy. I don’t know what all the men were doing — staring at us open-mouthed, maybe. Finally somebody, I think Wally, had the presence of mind to throw two life jackets overboard. Nothing attached to either boat, mind you, but at least things that floated. I hooked an arm over one jacket to steady myself and tried to get the other jacket onto Quincas, but it was like trying to lasso a thousand eels.
“Throw me a line!” I shrieked.
That’s when the fishing boat blew up.
Abe didn’t do it on purpose — I believe that. But however he’d hot-wired it, he’d managed to push the wrong button or send the wrong computer message to some part of the vessel . . . he’d done something wrong, truly accidentally, before leaping from the fishing boat onto the yacht (before we’d arrived), and his mistake caught up with us all, as soon as I asked for a line.
Wally claims that amid the chaos (before the boat blew up), all the men started to order each other to radio for help, just like you get trained to do in a First Aid class (“Somebody call 911!”), but nobody actually made the call, they just kept barking out the order and they all assumed that someone else was listening to them and doing what they said. Somebody needs to change either how those First Aid classes are taught, or, more likely, how men work. Of course they all thought that giving the order was enough, and that somebody else would actually follow up on doing something practical. But I digress . . . where was I? Oh, yes, I was drowning.
So I called for a line and then there was this explosion, and then debris falling everywhere, and a huge chunk of the fishing boat’s hull landed in the middle of Ralph’s little craft, knocking Emerson out cold and shoving all three of the brothers into the water with us because the little boat immediately broke in half and sank with astonishing speed. At least I think it did — it was sinking in the background while we were trying to keep Quincas and Emerson, and ourselves, afloat.
Wally had flown farthest; he was conscious but disoriented. Ralph grabbed Emerson to keep his head above water, then shouted at Wally to help him so that Ralph himself could handle Quincas. Quincas is extremely strong for someone his size, and the adrenaline of panic was giving him far more power than I could handle. Wally began swimming weakly toward Ralph, trying to avoid the flotsam of the exploded boat; Ralph moved toward the yacht to get Emerson to safety. Quincas kept panicking, which meant I kept panicking.
“Quincas!” I screamed, shaking him with my right hand, which was buoyed by the life jacket under my right shoulder. “Calm down! Look at me!” Desperate, I slapped him on the face as hard as I could.
This is going to sound like romantic hogwash but I swear it happened: Quincas froze for a moment after the slap, looked at me, realized what he was doing, and was so horrified at himself for endangering me that he let go at once, even though he immediately started to go under. “Forgive me,” he said, looking stricken, and the waves went over his head.
I screamed and grabbed a handful of hair to pull him out. “Breathe!” I ordered. He gasped, then went under again. I pulled the life jacket out from under my arm and shoved it against him; instinctively he grabbed for it, and I could see his hands frantically trying to make sense of it. I grabbed him by the collar and hauled him up again to breathe, but the effort sent me under and I took in a lungful of sea.
Hacking, I surfaced and looked around to get my bearings. Ralph was beside the yacht; Moby and Abe, working together, were pulling Emerson’s inert body out of the water. They laid him gently on the floor of the boat, and as Abe bent over Emerson, Moby threw a towline out toward Wally. It came nowhere near him.
Wally was starting to flounder and he was still a good 50 feet away. Ralph twisted in the water, not sure what to do.
Moby grabbed two life jackets from the yacht and tossed them down to Ralph. “Help your brother,” he said, just as Abe stood up from examining Emerson and announced, “He’s all right.”
“Thank God,” Moby said. “Let’s get the girl and Quincas.” He pulled in the line that had failed to reach Wally and hurled it in my direction. The end landed just out of reach; I couldn’t get it without leaving Quincas, who was still furiously trying to work the life jacket. I’m not a strong swimmer, and by now I was totally exhausted.
Suddenly, a huge splash a few yards away bobbed me underwater again. Richard Moby had donned a life jacket and jumped overboard with the line in one fist. He reached out with the other hand, grabbed me, and pulled me toward him. “Hold onto me!” he shouted, “I need a hand free for Quincas!” I threw my arms around his neck and wrapped my legs around his thick midriff. He grabbed Quincas under the arms and hauled his head up above the water again. “Pull!” he screamed at Abe. “Pull us in! I can’t swim!”
Abe gaped a moment, flabbergasted, then began to haul the line in.
Next thing I remember, we were all in the boat. Ralph was dividing his attention between his two brothers, and I was anxiously hovering over Quincas, who was rasping with pain as he tried to inhale all the oxygen in the world at once into his lungs. His eyes met mine. “Did I hurt you?” he asked anxiously, voicelessly. I shook my head. His expression relaxed, and he glanced past me. Suddenly he smiled wanly, and touched my shoulder. “Look, Becca,” he managed to cough. “Look! It worked!” I glanced back to see what he meant.
Moby was kneeling, retching salt water, and Abe was steadying him. As Moby settled back on his heels, two men leaned against each other with the casual familiarity of kinship. They looked at the three sons; they looked at Quincas and me (Quincas waved); they looked at each other. Solemnly. Finally Abe nodded, slowly. Then Moby did as well, and held his hand out. Abe took it. They shook.
Ralph piloted the yacht back into harbor; on the way he radioed the Coast Guard with details. Moby and Abe spoke alone together the whole trip. Wally tended to Emerson, who woke up and seemed fine; Quincas and I wrapped our arms around each other like we were trying to grow into a single person. Everything and everyone was unexpectedly peaceful. “So I sort of screwed up, but I sort of got it right,” Quincas said, looking shyly pleased with himself. I nodded.
We pulled up to the dock to disembark — and presumably celebrate the end of all the madness — and there was Nick, the trooper I’d called, in uniform.
“Glad to see you’re all okay,” he said, with typical Yankee understatedness. Then he pointed to Quincas. “I’m here to arrest Quincas Medeiros for being in the country illegally.”
I protested; Abe protested; Moby protested. Nick looked apologetic, but he still pulled out the handcuffs.
I don’t know where they took him.
This concludes the final chapter of Moby Rich, but next week there will be an epilogue.