The Port Main Yardarm
When the last dish, a sort of gelatin with a lime flavor, had been consumed, Hiram went on deck to settle the sloop on her course for the night. Rick readjusted his position at the table a couple of times, but there really wasn't room for his legs at the table. He then congratulated us again and went on deck to stretch his legs. With just the women and Brad remaining, there was much less sense of occasion. In fact, it was as if we had all dressed up for a skit, and were now returning to normal life. Accordingly, I gave the ring back to Ruth and the dress back to Olga. Brad, evidently wanting to keep the fantasy going, grabbed me around my waist and led me back to my cabin. I caught a glimpse of Rick coming down the companionway steps just as we exited.
This time, things went much faster. My underwear was still wound around my waist when I came. There was then a respite during which we got out of the remainder of our clothing and took turns listening to each other's stomachs. The combination of dinner and sex had set both of them gurgling to a remarkable degree.
The second time, I let out a scream. As soon as I had recovered, I was embarrassed. I said,
"The others must have heard that."
"Oh well, I don't suppose they mind. I doubt that anyone's gone to sleep yet."
I stretched myself out in the bunk and put ny nose against Brad's very sharp shoulder. I slept for some time in that position. When I woke, it took me a few seconds to remember where I had left off. I first recalled the skit, and then remembered that it was real. Brad was awake, and I said to him,
"I feel as if we're a million miles from the office. I can't imagine what it'll be like to go back."
"I'm not going back. I've quit."
I was suddenly completely awake. The romantic fantasy was absolutely gone. I did manage to control myself, I suppose because I felt that so much was at stake. On the other hand, I insisted on knowing exactly what had happened. It came out only by degrees, working back in time.
Unknown to me, Brad had been speculating in his margin account. Worse, he had considerably exceeded his margin before making a rich strike of over ten thousand dollars. He was very righteous about it, pointing out that neither his brokerage nor anyone else was out any money.
I knew better than that. When a customer exceeds his margin, the broker is required, by federal law, to call him and demand that the margin be restored. The client must either reduce the potential obligation or increase the collateral. When it's the broker's own account, he's on the honor system, at least unless his manager checks. What Brad had done was, in effect, to gamble for himself with brokerage money. He had been caught after having won the money back and more, but it was still theft.
To my surprise, Brad hadn't been fired on the spot. Amazingly, the office manager had shown some inclination to cover up for Brad, at great risk to himself. But he had spoken to Brad as the latter's father, the junior high school principal, might have spoken. Brad had reacted predictably. He had insisted that he had done nothing wrong, and had apparently been the picture of maligned innocence. That was stupid. Very stupid. I pointed out to him,
"Your manager apparently wanted to protect you. But a man who doesn't even recognize the problem is too dangerous to try to protect."
I still spoke calmly, enough so that Brad apparently didn't recognize what was going on within me. He actually continued to insist that he had been unfairly treated. I added, with only a slight change of tone,
"He was probably also offended that his very real attempt to help you was received with such arrogance."
This time, I had evidently touched one of those junior high school buttons. Brad acted as if I were being unreasonable! I had the feeling I had had when Jackie first told me about him, but it was now magnified a thousand times. I made Brad stop talking in the midst of his subsequent explanation that he had quit before the manager had had a chance to fire him. As if that mattered!
As we lay silent, still naked and next one another, I exercised my objectivity to the utmost. I was determined to understand the whole thing in a completely non-partisan way.
Having found out what had led to Brad's firing, I now reconstructed the order of events, this time without asking Brad. As I worked it out, he must have started speculating on options within a day or two of his arrival at work. He had already lost and won and been fired by the time that we had lunch with his two colleagues. The other two had obviously not known. That, in itself, was an extraordinary thing. To be fired, tell no one, and then coolly invite two colleagues out to lunch with one's girl friend!
Brad had evidently been allowed to stay on a few days to clean things up, and had carried on as if nothing had happened. Then, very quickly, he had gotten his winnings together and gone to Bret Halvorson with his cashier's check. Just before that, knowing I would call, he had told me that he was going on vacation a day early to get ready. That was an outright lie. He didn't want me to call his brokerage and be told that Mr. Herbstreit was no longer with them. We had then set sail.
It had, of course, been Brad who suggested that Hiram could marry us. Contrary to the impression he gave, he had probably researched the little matter of captains and marriages.
What, now, of the future? Brad would never again get a job in a brokerage house. His former manager would see to that. It would be odd jobs until he ran into the inevitable junior high school principal again. Or not even that. Until he ran into even a quite different sort of person who could be forced to act as if he were a junior high school principal.
I had known from the beginning that I would make more money than Brad. I hadn't been thrilled with the idea, but had put it down to the vicissitudes of modern times. The foundation for our marriage had been laid when Brad had undertaken a real career. Now, it appeared that he would simply continue with his previous desultory work habits. I hadn't bargained for that.
As I heard the others moving into their cabins, and continued to lie silent, I realized, at that moment, that my objectivity had failed me. Brad hadn't cajoled me into marriage. That would have been a failure of will. He had tricked me. I had come to believe that he loved me and was afraid of losing me, perhaps to David.
The thing that had kept me from the truth was my image of myself as a relatively impecunious young person. I had long been used to small commissions and not having much left after paying the bills. I had no savings to speak of. It was hardly conceivable that anyone not on skid row would marry me for my money.
Brad, however, hadn't known me most of that time. He saw a young woman beginning to make real money. Indeed, having seen my little computer program, he knew that my goal was over two million. He must have thought that he could manage on that quite nicely. Moreover, I would be, not only his security, but the one who, by supporting him, would insulate him from everything that he found unpleasant or difficult in his relations with other people.
I found myself fast approaching a crisis. These thoughts were clearly in my mind, but there was also the accumulated romance. That led me in a different path. Did Brad, despite all this, love me? He did have trouble holding a job, but what did it matter, really? I would make enough for both of us, and probably still have enough to stay out of a nursing home if I out-lived him. Like his manager, like everyone, I wanted to believe in Brad.
When I again started to speak, I was still controlled. I was forceful, but fair. I spoke of obvious facts, but made no far-reaching accusations. I wanted him to help me solve the problem. Brad again flared up. He denied everything. He accused me of being suspicious, of putting a false construction on everything. Suddenly, he switched gears. He may have finally realized that I had him dead to rights. He spoke in an injured plaintive tone. He said that he had done it all for me. He also put his hand on my breast.
I hit Brad as hard as I could, right in the face. He jumped from the bunk and stood on the deck with his nose bleeding. He was snivelling as he held his nose, trying to get dressed at the same time. I held my peace until he called me a mercenary bitch. Then I screamed and went for him with my claws. Brad ducked out the door, leaving one shoe behind. I fell back on the bunk, barely able to breathe. I said absurd things to myself. Among them was,
"We've just had our first fight. It'll all be okay in the morning."
I could hear Hiram moving around in the next cabin. He and everyone else must have heard everything. It was humiliating, but that was the least of my concerns. After a while, I glanced down and saw Brad's shoe. It was one of a pair he had bought especially for the cruise. It was a fashionable shoe, the sort that wealthy people wear on their yachts. Brad would ordinarily have scorned it, but he had been trying so hard to fit in with my world that he had bought himself some topsiders.
My mental world then turned upside down, yet a second time. The trouble was that I had pushed the man who loved me too hard. I had tried to force him into a mold he didn't fit. By this time, my objectivity was hopelessly lost. I also wanted Brad back.
Lying still for another minute, I heard Hiram leave his cabin and go on deck. I threw on a shirt and pants and went out into the cramped corridor. The door to Brad's cabin was open, and I tentatively stuck my head in. If he had been there, I would have gone to him and thrown myself into his arms.
As I walked to the ladder and climbed slowly with my bare feet, I felt a partial return of sanity. Something terrible had happened to me, but the financial part of my fortress was almost entirely untouched. If I acted wisely, I could get back to where I had been before Brad.
The companionway faced aft toward the wheel, and I expected to see Dai. Instead, the wheel was lashed and there was no one in sight on the stern. The wind had dropped, and the sloop was moving slowly, just enough to make the wheel move back and forth against the lines looped over one of the spokes. The sky behind was very dark, and, as I watched, I saw a flash of lightning. That much I could see without raising my head above the level of the hatch.
According to my calculations, Dai, Hiram, and Brad were on deck, with the rest below. I listened for voices for some time, but heard nothing. I had thought that Brad might talk with Hiram, or at least that Dai and Hiram might discuss the extraordinary events of the night, perhaps in the pidgin language they sometimes spoke.
After another spell of thinking, I put my head barely above the coaming and looked forward. The sky was much lighter to the east, and, although the moon was behind the sails, I could see its light on the sea. Hiram and Dai were standing amidships by the starboard rail. Hiram was bending forward with the long bill of his cap pointing down at Dai. Dai looked upward and nodded slightly. Hiram was whispering to him, not his usual whisper which would have carried the length of the sloop, but really whispering.
Brad was at the port rail, directly across from them, staring in the direction of the distant invisible shore. He looked like a stick-man in one of those odd angular postures of his. Holding on to a shroud, he had his head thrust up and back in a domineering position. Just by his posture, I could tell that he was in no mood to be reasonable, or even to converse. I guessed that he had come on deck without speaking a word to Dai, and had taken up the exact position in which he now stood. If I tried to approach him, the row would start all over again.
It wasn't long before Dai climbed up the starboard shrouds. Hiram hauled up the corners of the course to the yard above. He then went up to help Dai furl the large sail, apparently in preparation for the coming storm. Hiram then came down and lowered the t'gallant sail for Dai to furl.
Brad was still standing in the same position, not having even once glanced up at the men working above him. It looked as if he might remain where he was until the storm arrived. Indeed, I could imagine him still there even in the wind and rain. My problem was to decide what line to take if and when he did come below. The most sensible thing was probably to shut myself up in my cabin and wait for morning, but I wasn't sure I could be that sensible.
Although thunder and lightning were in evidence on three sides of us, there was hardly any wind to disturb the heavy airless atmosphere. The sloop was virtually drifting toward the full moon in the narrowing part of the sky that was still light.
Dai was clearly revealed as he went out on the port yardarm to a point just above Brad and unwound some line from his waist. He then made fast a block to the yard and rove the line through it. Finally, paying out the line, he made his way back along the yard and down the starboard shrouds. Hiram was waiting there with an object I recognized as the sounding lead. Hiram took one end of the line while Dai ran the other through the lead, tied it, and then bent a loop in the remaining end of the line. It was an odd place to take a sounding, way off shore. Then, for no reason that was apparent to me, Hiram took a heavy belaying pin from the bulwarks and tied it to his waist with a short length of line.
I could now see light clouds scudding across the moon, and then some larger ones which threatened to obscure it altogether. Although it was getting darker, I could see Hiram well enough to tell when he glanced aft. He apparently didn't see me. I remained where I was. The approaching storm would at least wash the dried tears off my face.
For another few seconds everything and everyone remained absolutely motionless. A flash of lightning revealed Brad, holding rigidly to a position that could hardly have been comfortable.
Hiram and Dai, on the other side of the deck, were also far from relaxed. However, there were different sorts of tension in their figures. Hiram, now upright, didn't have Brad's rigidity. His posture instead suggested strength. Dai was hunched, and the compressed nature of his posture suggested imminent movement. In fact, in the closer darkness following the flash, I could see Dai move. His figure, barely visible, showed no agitation. He nevertheless approached Brad rather quickly.
If Brad had turned around, Dai would, I suppose, have dropped the lead over the side. Hiram would have paid out line, lowering it from the yardarm. It would have been a flamboyant and unnecessarily complex way of taking a sounding, but, for all any of us knew, it might have been dictated by nautical tradition. In point of fact, something quite different happened.
The moving figure, that of Dai, came together with the static figure, that of Brad. Dai gave a jump with the loop of rope in his raised and outstretched hand, as if he were a tiny basketball player reaching the ball up to the hoop. In this case, the hoop consisted of Brad's head and neck. Almost simultaneously, Brad was jerked suddenly upward as Dai fell to the deck.
There was then another flash of lightning, much brighter, and it clearly revealed Brad dangling several feet above the rail, but out over the water. In that instant I saw his legs impossibly asplay, as if pictured by a stop-action camera in the middle of a bizarre dance. The thunderclap came, loud enough to indicate a strike on the nearby water, and then sheets of rain. My view was almost entirely obscured, but I did have the impression that Dai moved back across the deck, probably to help Hiram hoist Brad to the yardarm.
It wasn't hard to figure out what had happened. The loop in the end of the line had been used to hang Brad. Hiram had tied the belaying pin to himself to make sure he remained on the deck as he yanked the combined weight of Brad and the sounding lead off it. The timing and teamwork of Dai and Hiram had been impressive. Then, there was the part I didn't see. Having hoisted Brad, they must have simply let go the rope. The sounding lead would then have taken Brad to the bottom, head first.
I next heard feet running toward me, presumably those of Dai, and I ducked down just before the hatch was slid shut over my head. As I moved toward my cabin, I noticed that my hands were shaking. That was odd. It had never happened before. I managed to get into my bunk, only to discover that I was shaking all over. I was quite worried. Would it continue to get worse? Did catatonia begin like this?
I got control of my breathing first. Having done so, I realized that my problem was anger. Without leaving my bunk, I reached for my purse and fished out a ball point pen and small notebook. I then propped myself up as best I could on the pillows, placed the notebook on my knees, and began to write. The writing looked like that of a six year old, but it was legible. What I wrote was a precise and detailed account of the murder of my husband.