Author's Note: This is the Chapter One of a new story. It is a departure from my last two. Have a read, and let me know if you like it the direction it's headed.
Mason Anders narrowed his eyes a little as he watched the native girl approach him across the expansive sandy beach. In the bright tropical sunlight he couldn't make out her features clearly except that she appeared to be tall, topless, and filled out her short sarong nicely. Her hair was the color of ebony that reflected an almost blue light and was arranged so that most of it fell to, and over, her shoulders, making it appear as if she were wearing a halo.
She strode closer, playfully tossing an inflated beach ball into the air and keeping it aloft with well-timed pats of her palm. She was so intent on the ball that she wasn't watching where she was going. She continued to come towards Mason. Seeing a piece of driftwood at the last moment, she hopped over it but missed the ball as it came down.
The ball dropped to the sand and rolled towards Mason. It was then that she became aware of him sitting there under the shade of a small tree with his back propped up against the rough bark. She stared directly at Mason with her dark eyes, forcing his heart rate into overdrive. He began to speculate on her intentions; hoping they matched his. She came closer yet until she stopped directly in front of him and smiled. He held out his arms; she knelt and then fell forward gently into them. His hands roamed up and down her spine and then began to trace lightly around her smooth hips. She giggled and pressed her body hard against his chest.
Mason spoke quietly. "My dear, I hope you've decided to take me up on my offer. My yacht is in the marina behind us and we can be out at sea in ten minutes. What do you say?" Mason finished the last in a husky whisper.
The young woman opened her mouth to speak, showing perfectly white teeth. "Watch your helm, dammit! You're ten degrees off course!"
Slightly disoriented, Mason's attention snapped back into reality. He quickly checked the compass and turned the small wheel to re-establish the ship's course. "Aye, aye, Sir!" He said, perhaps a bit too loud.
He checked the chronometer on the bulkhead next to the engine controls and sighed deeply. Another two hours to go on this watch and then he might be able to finish his reverie. No, probably not. His next off-watch period was supposed to be spent cleaning out the forecastle storage area. He shuddered. The last time he was in there he had found the remains of two rats. He had nothing against rats in general, but when they died they tended to do so in very inaccessible places. It had taken him twenty minutes of breath-holding to pull them out from behind a cupboard. Besides, that sort of thing was supposed to be the duty of the ship's cat.
At the moment, the ship was headed nearly due south at just about twelve knots in an almost-flat sea with long swells. The sun, now nearing the western horizon, cast the ship's long shadow off to port. Mason could even see himself in the shadow through the green tint of the wheelhouse window. Looking sideways, he held up a hand and waved it to and fro. The shadow waved back. Mason held up both hands, the shadow only showed one. When Mason dropped both, the shadow held up two. 'How strange,' he thought. He tried the experiment again with the same result.
A deep grown from behind him. "What the hell are you playing at, Anders?" Said Captain (No Kidding) Bly from the tiny chart table where he was seated laying out the evening's course.
Mason replied quickly. "Nothing, Sir."
"Well, pay attention to your duties."
Larry Gartner, the nineteen year old deckhand they'd taken on three weeks ago came padding on bare feet into the wheelhouse from the flying bridge one deck higher. "Some clouds to the west Cap'n. Don't look like much though." Larry was deeply tanned as only someone who has been out in the sun every day working on a hot deck. His hair was bleached so blonde that it appeared almost white.
Captain (No Kidding) Bly grabbed his binoculars from their holder and stepped to the starboard rail. He hummed and hawed a few times and then announced his findings. "Those aren't clouds you hippy blockhead, it's a large squabble of seagulls." He put the glasses to his eyes again. "Looks like a hell of a lot of them though. I wonder why they're out so far." At the moment they are quite a ways from any large piece of land.
Mason could see the flock now with his naked eye. The off-white cloud changed shape as individual birds wheeled and dipped to the surface. Looks like they're feeding Captain. Want to head over that way?"
"Hmmmm. Maybe. Let me check with the boss." He picked up an interphone and hit a button. A squeaky voice buzzed a query. "Mister VonHassel, there are a lot of seabirds congregating off to starboard. That usually means fish under the surface." He paused. "Yes, Sir, that means to the right." Sigh, slump shoulders, and roll eyes; then pause again. "Yessir!"
The Captain wheeled to Mason. "Come right. Head for those birds."
"Aye, aye," Mason acknowledged, spinning the wheel clockwise. "Speed up some?"
"No. I don't think so. The boss is on a fuel economy kick this trip. It cost him over fifteen-hundred dollars to fill up this time. Same speed - now meet the helm."
"Aye, aye," Mason repeated, steadying on course. The little flag on the bowsprit neatly bisected the grey patch of birds.
Captain (No Kidding) Bly wheeled on Larry and pointed at him. "Go below and get Vern. Rig both stern chairs for fishing. Use the cheaper rods and reels. No telling what we could get into over there."
"Yessir." Larry fled the wheelhouse and bounded down the outside ladder. Mason heard the lounge door slam shut. In his mind's eye, he pictured himself tapping on Mister VonHassel's cabin door. Instead of the old man, he saw his voluptuous daughter, Peeta, framed in the door, smiling her secret smile at him.
"Hello, Mason," she said in her purring, throaty voice. "I was wondering when you would take the time to come see me. I've been lonely. She reached around his shoulders and pulled him to her. Her fingers clawed his back and began to slide downwards, shredding skin at they went.
"AUUUGHHHH!" Mason shouted, returning to stark reality. "Someone get this stupid cat off my back!" Startled, the cat dropped to the deck and began washing one of its paws. "Loopy, dammit, you just gotta stop jumping down from the radio cabinet like that."
Loopy looked up at him and squeezed her eyes half closed. Mason felt a brief - something - flash through his head. It was almost as if the cat was apologizing. She strolled, as only a cat can, from the wheelhouse and went forward to the bow and sat watching the leading edge of birds as they wheeled around. Her ears were tucked forward, listening intently.
The brilliant white yacht continued towards the group of feeding gulls. Loopy, the ship's cat, kept watch on the foredeck perched on a ventilator cover. Every once in a while, her tail would twitch but otherwise she stood stock still; staring intently, her head moving slightly to compensate the rolling of the ship.
Captain (No Kidding) Bly walked to the engine controls and pulled back both throttles almost to idle. Their throaty roar dropped to a gurgle. The ship began to wallow slightly as their own wake caught up with them. He picked up the phone again. "Mister VonHassel, we have reached the birds. Both rigs are set up on the stern and the outrigger rods are also deployed." Pause. "Yessir."
"Are you going to con from the flying bridge, Cap'n?" Asked Mason.
He rubbed the back of his neck and then nodded. "Easier to keep ahead of whatever they want to do. Especially if they hook into something. Transfer the controls topside."
Mason flipped several toggles and took his hands off the wheel. He watched carefully for a moment. "Done, Sir."
Captain (No Kidding) Bly looked around and then leaned close to Mason, cupped his hand against Mason's ear, and spoke. "Now go aft and stand by for whatever those two twits get us into."
Mason grinned, but not too much, tossed a loose salute, and hustled aft along the port walkway to prepare for the arrival of the Grand Poobah and Her highness the Poobess.
He'd been with the crew for over a year now and had not changed his first impression of the owner and his wife. The boss had made tons of money in the stock market and from some invention he'd come up with that he kept hidden away. His wife, although very beautiful, didn't seem to have enough smarts to realize it was raining, much less come in out of it. Their daughter, however, was a completely different story.
Peeta was a platinum blonde who stood five foot eight in deck shoes; her deep violet eyes missed nothing. Mason had been trying his best for a whole year to figure her out. Sometimes she seemed interested in him, but lately she was seeing more of a vacuous dude by the unlikely name of Bernard Freeny. 'Now there,' thought Mason, 'was a genuine, dyed in the wool, twit - in the classic sense of the word.'
Freeny would not look out of place on any muscle beach anywhere in the world. And, according to him, he'd been everywhere in the world. He was a pure-bred snob and proud of it. He loved to pose where Peeta could see him; standing in profile with his bronzed abs, cleft chin, and rippling muscles. Mason hated him with a passion only second to rats and Kamikaze cats.
Mason dropped nimbly down to the aft deck and looked around. Larry and Vern had completed rigging the fishing tackle and then made themselves scarce. The old man, when he managed to blow yet another big fish, always looked around for a scapegoat. His wife, usually sitting behind him with some sort of fruity drink in her hand, would massage his shoulders and try to calm him down. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't. Each time this happened the fish became larger and heavier. To hear him tell it, the last one he lost had been a two-ton grouper that was longer than the yacht - which was a hundred twenty-eight feet long. Three of the hands had to shoulder the blame for that one.
Loopy sidled up to Mason's leg and rubbed it gently. He looked down and shrugged his shoulders. The cat looked back and dipped her head in answer. Then she turned and pointed her ears towards the sliding doors. In a few seconds, they parted the allow Poobah, Poobess, and daughter Peeta to come onto the aft deck.
"Are we ready to go?" Asked Frederick VonHassel. "He examined the rod and reel. "Ah, using the good ones I see. Wonderful."
'Not a clue,' thought Mason.
Alana VonHassel went to the small bar and built a drink. She searched around in a small cubbyhole and pulled out a paper umbrella to stick into the glass. Then she settled down in a deck chair to read a Hollywood star magazine.
Peeta sidled over next to Mason. Her fingers crept along his ribs until her arm was around his waist. He turned to her and gazed into those violet eyes. She puckered her lips and moved her face to within inches of his. As their lips met, her father asked in a louder voice if they were in the feeding area.
"Yes Father. The gulls are all around us now." Peeta looked up from the rail where she had been standing and confirmed with Mason what she had just said. Actually, it was hard to miss the screeching, dipping, and flapping birds all around them.
VonHassel looked about with a frown. "Probably crapping all over my boat too." He grumped. "Well, let's get this show on the road. START TROLLING!" He yelled at the overhead. He was acknowledged faintly from above.
Loopy, who had been watching intently to port, made a 'yikking' noise several times and started vibrating her tail rapidly. Then she jumped up on the deck seat with her front paws on the brass rail. This usually meant she was overly excited about something. Mason looked, but didn't see anything except a raft of birds floating on the swells and gabbling amongst themselves. It sounded like one of the VonHassel's cocktail parties at midnight; all squawk and no content.
Just then, a very strange thing happened. A gull had just taken off from the surface but began to slow in the air. The bird noise seemed to slide down the scale until it reached the very bass notes and then halted. The yacht, which had been pitching gently from side to side, slowed and then stopped also.
Peeta screamed - a long, low note that tapered off with her mouth still open. Her hand slowly rose and pointed to Loopy. Painfully, Mason managed to turn his head and could only watch as Loopy rose up on two legs and held her front paws out wide.
A deep, resonant voice sounded in Mason's head. He realized he hadn't actually heard it through his ears. It just seemed to appear in his brain. "Do not be afraid," the voice said. "You will not be harmed."
Then the engines died and everything faded to black.