The Coral Queen
had gone down stern first in twelve feet of water. Her hull had settled on the marly bottom at a slight angle with the bow aiming upward.
She was a big one, too. Even at high tide, the top two decks were above the water line. It was like a big ugly apartment building had fallen out of the sky and landed in the basin.
Abbey hopped off my handlebars and walked to the water’s edge. She planted her hands on her hips and stared at the crime scene.
“Whoa,” she said. “He really did it this time.”
“It’s bad,” I agreed.
The Coral Queen
was one of those gambling boats where passengers line up to play blackjack and electronic poker, and to stuff their faces at the all-you-can-eat buffet. It didn’t sound like a ton of fun to me, but the Coral Queen
was packed to the rafters every night.
There was one major difference between Dusty Muleman’s operation and the gambling cruises up in Miami: The Coral Queen
didn’t actually go anywhere. That’s one reason it was so popular
By Florida law, gambling boats are supposed to travel at least three miles offshore–beyond the state boundaries–before anyone is allowed to start betting. Rough weather is real bad for business, because lots of customers get seasick. As soon as they start throwing up, they quit spending money.
According to my father, Dusty Muleman’s dream was to open a gambling boat that never left the calm and safety of its harbor. That way, the passengers would never get too queasy to party.
Only Indian tribes are allowed to run casino operations in Florida, so Dusty somehow persuaded a couple of rich Miccosukees from Miami to buy the marina and make it part of their reservation. Dad said the government raised a stink but later backed off, because the Indians had better lawyers.
Anyway, Dusty got his gambling boat–and he got rich.
My dad had waited until three in the morning, when the last of the crew was gone, to sneak aboard. He’d untied the ropes and started one of the engines and idled out to the mouth of the basin, where he’d opened the seacocks and cut the hoses and disconnected the bilge pumps and then dived overboard.
The Coral Queen
had gone down crosswise in the channel, which meant that no other vessels could get in or out of the basin. In other words, Dusty Muleman wasn’t the only captain in town who wanted to strangle my dad on Father’s Day.
I locked my bike to a buttonwood tree and walked down to the charter docks, Abbey trailing behind. Two small skiffs and a Coast Guard inflatable were nosing around the Coral Queen
. We could hear the men in the skiffs talking about what had to be done to float the boat. It was a major project.
“He’s lost his marbles,” Abbey muttered.
“Who–Dad? No way,” I said.
“Then why did he do it?”
“Because Dusty Muleman has been dumping his holding tank into the water,” I said.
Abbey grimaced. “Yuck. From the toilets?”
“Yep. In the middle of the night, when there’s nobody around.”
“That is so gross.”
“And totally illegal,” I said. “He only does it to save money.”
According to my father, Dusty Muleman was such a pathetic cheapskate that he wouldn’t pay to have the Coral Queen
’s sewage hauled away. Instead his crew had standing orders to flush the waste into the basin, which was already murky. The tide later carried most of the filth out to open water.
“But why didn’t Dad just call the Coast Guard?” my sister asked. “Wouldn’t that have been the grown-up thing to do?”
“He told me he tried. He said he called everybody he could think of, but they could never catch Dusty in the act,” I said. “Dad thinks somebody’s tipping him off.”
“Oh, please,” Abbey groaned.
Now she was starting to annoy me.
“When wind and the current are right, the poop from the gambling boat floats out of the basin and down the shoreline,” I said, “straight to Thunder Beach.”
Abbey made a pukey face. “Ugh. So that’s why they close the park sometimes.”
“You know how many kids go swimming there? What Dusty’s doing can make you real sick at both ends. Hospital-sick, Dad says. So it’s not only disgusting, it’s dangerous.”
“I didn’t say it was right, Abbey, what Dad did. I’m only telling you why.”
My father hadn’t even tried to get away. After swimming back to the dock, he’d sat down in a folding chair, opened a can of root beer and watched the Coral Queen
go down. He was still there at dawn, sleeping, when the police arrived.
“So, what now?” Abbey asked.
A dark bluish slick surrounded the boat, and the men in the Coast Guard inflatable were laying out yellow floating bumpers, to keep the oil and grease from spreading. By sinking the Coral Queen
, my father himself had managed to make quite a mess.
I said, “Dad asked me to help him.”
Abbey made a face. “Help him what–break out of jail?”
“Then what, Noah? Tell me.”
I knew she wasn’t going to like it. “He wants me to help him nail Dusty Muleman,” I said.
A long silence followed, so I figured Abbey was thinking up something snarky to say. But it turned out that she wasn’t.
“I didn’t give Dad an answer yet,” I said.
“I already know your answer,” said my sister.
“His heart’s in the right place, Abbey. It really is.”
“It’s not his heart I’m worried about, it’s his brain,” she said. “You’d better be careful, Noah.”
“Are you going to tell Mom?”
“I haven’t decided.” She gave me a sideways look that told me she probably wouldn’t.
Like I said, my sister’s all right.
Copyright © 2005 by Carl Hiaasen. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.