They were barely into the foyer of Corey’s condo before the clothes came off. She had missed him, she wanted him even more after dinner. She hadn’t realized tonight was a test until after it was over, but he had passed with flying colors. Kyle delighted Josh. And he didn’t simply navigate around the irritable Kincaid like dangerous shoal waters, he befriended him. It put her in mind of someone taking the time and patience to coax a barking dog. This ex-military man didn’t just have to be a guilty pleasure. He could be paraded around in broad daylight with her friends. In bed, she showed her gratitude.
But thoughts of guilty pleasures put her in mind of A-Game. She was going to tell Kyle, but she found she couldn’t. Would he think less of her? Judge her somehow? And if he did, did it matter? He wasn’t even in the music industry, so in that sense, his opinion didn’t count. But his opinion of her did. She thought of the way he looked at her and it was all wrapped up in her pride, which was all wrapped up in her music, which was all wrapped up in her integrity and her sense of self, and it was all too much to untangle in that moment. This moment wasn’t about thinking. She sighed as they lay breathless afterward.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
“You’ve seen my place, you’ve met my friends. Still think I’m cool?”
“You’ve seen my place and met my friend. Still think I’m uncool?”
“Hopelessly,” she said and they laughed. No, it was too easy not to think, so why fight it? Instead, she rolled onto his chest and said, “You never did tell a story.”
“Rescuing people. Tell me one.”
“I don’t want to bore you with sea stories…”
She pinched him. “Out with it, Popeye!”
“Alright, alright.” He stared at the ceiling and thought for a moment. “Okay, I was an ensign aboard my first ship, a 270 foot cutter called the NORTHWOOD. We were patrolling the Caribbean, looking for drug smugglers bound for the States, which meant we had to board any contacts on a northerly course. I was a pretty green Officer of the Deck, qualifying just a couple of weeks before. This particular night, I was on the midwatch—midnight to 0400.
“I was coming onto watch when the lookout announced a white light 45 degrees off the starboard bow. The off-going OOD had just finished a four-hour watch, and he was tired, and he gave me this look. See, you’re not supposed to turn over the watch without any unresolved business, and the lookout had just announced a new contact at the very end of his watch. But I let him off the hook and said I’d take care of it.
“The lookout and I shot a few bearings of the white light and found it on radar. It was just a speck. It was about six thousand yards away, dead in the water. Nothing else around, visually or on radar. Just that one weak, white light. Given our location, it was probably a small fishing boat or a sailboat at anchor. Except the captain’s night orders said to investigate all northbound contacts or suspicious lights.”
“Was it suspicious?” asked Corey, who was now propped up on one elbow.
“That’s the thing. Completely open to interpretation. It wasn’t headed toward the U.S. It was minding its own business, so we could’ve just steamed right by. Half the bridge team would’ve preferred to do just that. No one wants a busy midwatch. Most everyone just wants some peace and quiet, maybe bullshit a little. Investigating something requires waking the captain, who was a bit of a hardass, and no one wanted him looking over their shoulder in the middle of the night if it could be avoided.”
“I called the captain.”
“Of course you did, Binder Man.”
“What the hell were we out there for otherwise? The captain gave me permission to alter course, not really expecting anything more than a fishing boat. Everyone was hoping we wouldn’t set the boarding detail, which meant waking up the entire ship, putting a small boat in the water, and sending a team over to crawl around a fishing boat in the middle of the night.
“Finally, we got within range where binoculars would work. It was a large pleasure craft, forty feet or so in length, sitting low in the water, its gunwales a foot away from being completely awash. The waterline crept up toward the black windows of the boat’s cabin. The source of the light was in the bow, where two old men were huddling. Then I saw a third man, younger and shirtless. He was waving what appeared to be a baseball bat, and wrapped around it was his shirt. The shirt was on fire. The white light we’d seen was a makeshift torch.”
“Get the fuck out.”
Kyle shook his head. “Water had flooded the boat’s bilges and cut its power, and the men were so desperate they lit a fire. We got close enough then that we could hear their screams over the water, afraid we would pass them by and let the night swallow them whole.
“I ordered the bridge team to energize the spotlight. Imagine the largest spotlight you’ve ever seen on stage, now magnify its power by a hundred. I ordered the crew to put the spot on their bow, and it wasn’t until it was on them, so strong it could knock them over, that they stopped screaming.
“Anyway, the captain decided to dewater the boat instead of just pulling the three men off. It’s always dicey—boats have gone down with engineers onboard trying to pump them out—but they assured us they could get the thing seaworthy again, so we kept station with our big light burning a hole in the night, while the dewatering team did their work until morning.
“What I can’t shake is that we were there, on station, dewatering for hours, and not a single boat sailed past. If we hadn’t happened by, they had another hour max before going in the water, and after that, no one would’ve seen them again. Pure chance we were there, and had I have been a fraction lazier, they’d have vanished.”
“But you weren’t,” said Corey.
“Thankfully,” he said.
Corey thought for a moment, then smacked his arm.
“What’s the matter with you?”
“You saved people’s lives!”
He held his hands up. “The entire crew saved their lives.”
“My point is you did something wonderful and you’re haunted by what could have gone wrong?”
“Well, when you put it like that, you—”
“Are entirely right?”
He laughed. “Maybe.”
“Life is hard enough. You don’t need to make up alternate realities where you fail. Take the fucking win, Williams.”
He smiled. “Aye.”