Mutiny on the Bay
A fierce wind hummed through the cables of the Golden Gate Bridge. A thousand feet below, the hull of "Computer Chip," a thirty-eight foot sloop, repeatedly slapped against the roiling waves, pitched into a swell and righted itself.
On deck, three women fought panic. The fourth, Kathryn Yost struggled with the helm. "Call for help," she shouted above the crack of the jib and the whomp of the fallen main sail flogging against the boom. The boat listed to leeward. Salt water crashed into the cockpit soaking the women. Carol Bixler and Sue Scott screamed.
The bowsprit dipped precariously. Water collected in a drape of the jib. The sloop listed again. Nancy McCann grabbed the helm for balance, wiped the sting of salt from her eye and yelled in Carol's ear. "It's a boat! I see a boat!" She tore off her wind breaker and waved it frantically.
On the bridge of Coast Guard Cutter 41-368, Captain Dennis Coupe lowered his binoculars and turned to his helmsman. "Boat in distress." The helmsman threw the throttle to forward full. "Tell me why we bother posting small craft advisories? Half these clowns think they should be sailing in the America's Cup."
Seven minutes later, Captain Coupe and a sailor climbed into the cockpit of the 'Computer Chip' and into the welcoming arms of Kathryn, Carol, Sue and Nancy .
The women chattered out bits of their experience as the sailor passed out warm blankets.
"We don't know how to sail." Nancy blurted.
"Malcom asked me to hold the steering wheel," Carol's eyes glassed over. She pointed to the bow. "He started up that
Then everything happened so fast..." The rest froze in her throat.
Kathryn dropped a comforting arm on her shoulder. She pointed to the boom. "That thing came flying around and smacked him in the chest. He flew out of the boat. We tried to turn it around."
"We did," Nancy added. "We tried everything--"
"Excuse me," Coupe interrupted. "Hawkins," he said to the sailor. "Radio for help - we've got a man overboard."
He turned to the women. "When did he go over?" The responses ranged from twenty to thirty minutes. Coupe compromised. "The victim's been in the water about twenty-five minutes."
Hawkins handed a large thermos to Captain Coupe, then timed his leap perfectly with a cresting wave and scurried back over the rail to the cutter.
"Something hot inside that?" Kathryn pointed to the thermos.
"Brandy?" Nancy said mumbled through purple lips.
Sue grimaced. "Cafe Latte?"
Coupe grinned and unscrewed the lid. “Close enough.”
"There are cups in the galley," Carol said disappearing down the hatch.
Moments later, she reappeared with five plastic cups.
Kathryn poured coffee as Coupe explained his game plan. "We'll tow you back to the dock. Right now, it's a bit risky to transfer you to the cutter." He eyed the shivering women.
"It’s warmer below. You'd more comfortable inside.
Cocooned in a blanket Kathryn headed for the hatch. Nancy and Sue followed in her wake. Carol stared out to the sea.
"I'll stay here. Malcom's still out there. Maybe we can find him."
Kathryn stopped in her tracks. "Four eyes are better than two."
"Make that six," Nancy added.
Captain Coupe toasted with his coffee cup. "You're quite a group." Each woman smiled to the praise, then watched as Coupe sauntered to the bow, dropped the jib and reefed the main sail.
It took a few minutes for cutter 41-368 to jockey into position. Hawkins tossed two lines off the stern. Captain Coupe caught one then the other and headed for the bow. "May I help?" Carol asked.
"So you want to be a sailor?" He teased.
"Actually, I'd like to find Malcom, get back to land, get into something warm and forget this day ever happened."
"Point taken." Coupe handed her the line. "Tie this to the stern cleat."
Carol started to turn, then stopped with a confused look. "What's a cleat?"
Coupe laughed and pointed to a cleat.
Near Alcatraz, Captain Coupe held out the thermos. "Anyone like a final, final?"
Carol tossed the dregs over the side and held out her cup. "Yes, thank you, Captain."
Kathryn took a last sip. "No thank you."
Nancy 's cup vacillated back and forth, until she gathered it in both hands, then she stared at Coupe. "Have you found Malcom?" Coupe lifted his eyes away. "If you had... you would have told us...wouldn't you?"
"He hasn't been found. When he is you'll be informed."
"I loved him deeply, you understand."
"We all loved him deeply," Carol added.
Kathryn edged closer, "This may seem shocking, Captain.
But at one time or another we were all his lovers."
"And if he's dead," Cynthia said.
"We are all very rich women." Nancy finished.
Against the tide, the trip back to Pier #39, ironically, took exactly 39 minutes. As the bow of the cutter rounded the bullhead Captain Coupe surveyed the women. "It gets a little tricky here. If you're all okay, I'd like to bring in my ship."
The women nodded as one. Captain Coupe pulled in the line, hopped on the deck of the cutter and disappeared.
"Cute little butt," Nancy grinned.
"Cute little everything," Kathryn said. "Did you see him blush when I told him we were all Malcom's lovers."
Two black and white police cars were parked next to the dock as the 'Computer Chip' slipped into the berth. Captain Coupe stood conversing with a balding man in a brown suit. Behind them paced three men in uniform.
The balding man walked slowly down the pier to the cockpit of the 'Computer Chip'. "Inspector Mark Daubenfeld," brandished a gold shield then offered an out-stretched hand. "Would the murderer please disembark first."
There was a collective gasp from the women.
(1) So, was this a murder or simply a horrible accident?
(2) What first aroused Captain Coupe's curiosity?
(3) What act prompted Captain Coupe to call the police?
Coroner's Report (clue 1)
Malcom Ballard's body washed up on San Francisco's beach thirty-two hours later. The Coroner had difficult time determining the exact cause of death. When the boom struck his chest - his left lung was punctured. Hypothermia and drowning - he concluded finally.
Attorney's Comments (clue 2)
Malcom told me recently that he planned to change his will. Incidentally, Inspector. He hadn't kept his decision confidential.
Susan Scott's testimony - "He was white. I am black. Both of us were attracted to the difference.
Kathryn Yost's testimony "We were all his lovers. Malcom had something. That j'nais sais quoi. He chose his trophies well. He loved to teach and open new doors.He was a philosopher."
Carol Bixler's testimony "He never touched me, Inspector." She turned to the other women. "I wanted him too. All he had to do was ask. But he seemed preoccupied. Something else was on his mind."
Nancy McCann's testimony "It was different with Malcom and me." Nancy pulled off a glove. "He'd asked me to marry him." She flashed an engagement ring.
Solution for Mutiny on the Bay
(1) This was no accident
Captain Coupe's had misgivings early. When Carol went for the coffee cups she said 'galley' - non sailors almost always refer to the galley as the kitchen or kitchenette. His suspicious were further aroused when Carol pretend not to know what a cleat was but then walked right to the stern of the sloop. His suspicions were confirmed when she automatically chucked the dregs of her coffee off the leeward side. Carol had already been soaked once. Any novice sailor would have taken a second or two to consider the wind direction, only a seasoned sailor responds instinctively.
Inspector Daubenfeld was surprised by the venom of Carol's confession. "As soon as I found out he was going marry that, that, bitch! I hated him. He knew I could sail. Hell, he'd taught me. When he went toward the bow I threw the helm to leeward, the boat came about in a jibe. And the boom batted him overboard. Broke a few ribs.
If Nancy, did get what happened, but she saw it all. If she really loved him she would grabbed a life-jacket and dove overboard. That's what I would have done,"Inspector. Carol crossed her heart. "That's exactly what I would've done."
Your kids may never hate you again.
The greatest thing about having children is they are children. Through them you can revisit a world you didn’t pay much attention to when you were growing up. To a child all things are bright and new.
Every taste, with the possible exception of lima beans, is an adventure. With a shovel and a pail, mud, clay, dirt and sand they created complicated civilizations. Our kids spent most of one summer engineering two discarded cardboard refrigerator boxes into castles, rocket ships, a store, a cave, a maze, a schoolhouse and a little house on the prairie.
The real joy of children is the time you get to share with them swimming, hiking, camping, fire works on the Fourth of July, birthdays, holidays and amusement parks. And it was an aborted trip to an amusement park that instigated mystery trips.
For weeks Bobbie, I and our girls planned a two day get away to Great America. On the side of our refrigerator, hung a Barney the dinosaur calendar. Bobbie drew a dark red circle around July 12th with a Sharpie.
From the middle of June on, daily our children would X out a day. As the 12th arrived the Spolter abode vibrated with excitement. The kids were dressed and all systems go. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with apple slices were in lunch bags by the front door. I’d already packed the car when the phone rang. My mom was sick and needed me.
I called the kids into a huddle to explain. They already knew something was up. I’m convinced kids are born with a primitive sense of E.S.P.
“We’re not going to Great America, are we?” the eldest went into a pre-sob, sob.
The youngest looked to her sister then to me for confirmation. “Girls, my mom is very sick. I have to take ‘Cool Granny’ to the doctor.” Both girls loved their grandmother, but it’s hard for kids to balance a trip to Great America with that love.
I postponed the trip over wails of utter despair “but, but, but you prom… promised, daddy.”
“You promised,” chorused the youngest. “You did, you really promised.”
I felt like a creep. This had happened more than once. Extenuating circumstances arose, emergencies occurred, plans changed and promises were broken.
Sometime during the three days with my mom a simple solution occurred to me; all I had to do was STOP being specific. Oh, Bobbie and I continued to plan all sorts of kid events; the zoo, planetarium, Golden Gate Park, a ferry boat ride, canoeing on lakes and rivers, visit to the beach etc., but we never told them where we were going until we were in seat belts and on our way.
More than once, a banana split at Swenson’s, or a hike in the woods became a substitute for a water-skiing trip to Clear Lake. .
Our kids loved the Mystery Trips and we never heard the sobbing, or the dreaded, “You…. Prom…. Promised.” Again. And for the most part we never had to see the abject disappointment in their faces again.
Barb and I still plan Mystery Trips for each other. Recently I had to ask Barb if I should pack snow shoes or a bathing suit. It was a bathing suit. I love Hawaii.
Recently our oldest daughter blessed us with two incredible grandchildren and Mystery Trips have become tradition.
Mystery trips are another reason we’re at 50 and still counting. Try them.
FOOTNOTE - I SNUCK THIS ONE IN -- NO MYSTERY BUT A WONDERFUL WAY TO SPEND TIME TOGETHER