Monday, October 6, 2014

What Are Friends For?

Eight days after her captain scuttled King of the Sea, her owner, Tom King, sat drinking with Chip Baxter, who had previously invested to restore the ocean liner from fire damage. I met King briefly before I served as detective for the ship’s final cruise. He left no impression on me then, but this time I noted his curly red hair, thinning at the scalp yet bushy around the lips. Black-framed glasses magnified bloodshot eyes. Most glaring, he and Chip seemed to be buddies again, when I knew Chip was convinced King had paid the captain off.

King blinked three times before he saw me. “Mr. Stone, I’m so sorry,” he said, slurring his words. “Have a drink with me. Rum?”

“Sure,” I said.

We drank without talk in between, but it was obvious he was here to ask for money, so obvious he didn’t have to ask.

“I’d love to help you out again,” Chip told him. “C.J. said King of the Sea was the finest vessel he’d ever been on, but you’ll understand if I’m gunshy.”

King nodded weakly.

“Do have a last drink on the house, though,” Chip offered.

King couldn’t bring himself to even nod this time. He raised an eyebrow, and Chip brought him more rum. One sip and King passed out.

Chip’s smile flashed from warm to cold. “Ballsy bastard. Spends my money restoring his ship from driftwood, then sinks it, and wants me to buy him a new one?”

“Ballsy,” I agreed.

Chip refilled my glass and poured one for himself.

“Do me a favor?” he asked after we drank.

Much the same way he helped King, Chip kept my airline flying after my partner crashed. I’d ferried Chip’s clientele and cargo for years, negotiated the occasional deal, but that was my first time dumping a body.