Chapter 1 Prologue: WATER FOUL

It was a little after eight p.m. as the sixty foot Hatteras motor yacht cruised along the city front, with its passengers enjoying a world class view of the twinkling lights of the San Francisco skyline. The people aboard were out here for a bachelor party, and the man at the helm, Daniel Hedwick, was the son of the owner of the yacht. He was also the best man and normally would have had his father’s captain aboard to pilot the vessel. Unfortunately, the captain had a propensity for giving Daniel’s father detailed reports of his son’s activities, so, tonight, Daniel decided it would be best to keep his potential depravity on the down-low by piloting the boat himself.

     To make sure his best friend’s bachelor party was particularly special, Daniel had brought aboard a literal boatload of food and alcohol, and he had hired four extremely capable strippers to serve as the night’s entertainment. The groomsmen, as typical of twentysomething males, had already devoured all the food and were now gazing out at the view and power drinking in anticipation of the show that would soon begin. Daniel, drink in hand, was looking particularly happy as he set a course that would take them around the lee of Alcatraz before heading north across the bay to anchor just off the town of Sausalito.

     The evening had started out rather pleasant, but storm clouds coming in from the west were kicking up the wind and waves, and it was sending sea spray up over the bow. Daniel eventually had to turn on the wipers, though he wasn’t concerned, for they were in the relative safety of the San Francisco Bay, and the big Hatteras was a seaworthy vessel that could easily handle the conditions. Daniel’s best friend, and the evening’s obvious guest of honor, came over and stood beside him at the helm.

     “Dude, this is seriously awesome,” he said.

     “As your best man, it was the least I could do to give you a proper send off, and I’m not exaggerating when I say that you’re going to shit your pants when you see the entertainment. In fact, it just might make you reconsider getting married.”

     “Let’s hope so,” the groom responded, as they clinked their glasses together and took a sip of their drinks.

     Just then, the lights dimmed, and music started playing on the yacht’s sound system.

     “The show’s starting! You better go take a seat and get ready!” Daniel said, with a knowing smile.

     The groom went and sat in the chair that had been strategically placed for him, and, a moment later, a stunning Asian woman in red thong underwear and matching bra came strutting into the center of the room. She made a seductive pass in front of all the groomsmen then walked to the temporary stripper pole that Daniel had installed for the party. She leapt onto it, threw her legs into the air, then did the splits before sliding down to the floor and rolling onto her hands and knees. It was an athletic move and hinted that the girl had probably been a gymnast. She crawled over to the groom then leaned back and snapped open her bra to expose her breasts, which she shook back and forth in front of his eyes.

All the men in the room started cheering, especially Daniel, whose attention was now completely off the task of steering the yacht, and, instead, was focused entirely on the girl. She stood up and straddled the groom and dry humped him for a brief moment before returning to the poll and dropping down into another full split. At that exact moment there was great grinding noise, and the yacht abruptly came to a halt, sending everyone tumbling onto the floor. Daniel immediately turned his attention back to the helm and throttled back the engines.

     “Dude! What happened?” the groom yelled, as he stood up and ran over to join him.

     “We went aground,” Daniel said, sounding panicked.

     “What the fuck do we do?”

     “I’m going to try and back off,” he said, putting it in reverse.

     He gunned the engines, and the boat started inching backwards, but, as it came free, it was obvious the bow was riding a little lower in the water.

     “Go below and see if there’s any damage!” Daniel said.

     The groom disappeared down the stairs to the lower level, and, when he returned a moment later, the three other strippers were with him. Standing beside him was a brunette in a sailor’s outfit, a redhead in a cowgirl costume, and a blonde in a gold bra and matching thong underwear, and all of them had worried expressions on their faces.

     “Dude, we’re seriously taking on water,” the groom said.

     “Call the Coast Guard,” the girl wearing the little sailor outfit said.

     “No, we’re not calling the Coast Guard,” Daniel responded nervously.

     “Why not?” the same girl asked.

     “Because I’m drunk, and I’ll get arrested.”

     “OK, so what do we do?”

     Daniel took a moment to think then appeared to have an idea.

     “Fuck it! We’ll lower the dingy into the water, and I’ll take us ashore myself.”

     “Will it fit everyone?”

     “I don’t know, but there’s only one way to find out.”

     They headed out to the back deck, and, in spite of the wind and rain, Daniel and his friends managed to lower the fifteen foot Zodiak rigid inflatable over the stern and into the water, where its air-filled rubber sides kept it from being damaged as it banged against the Hatteras’s hull.

     “All right, let’s get the guys aboard first so they can help the girls climb down into the raft,” Daniel said.

     “Wouldn’t it be easier if the guys lowered the girls from up here?” the girl in the sailor’s suit asked, as she was obviously not too thrilled about Daniel’s plan.

     “No, because if they fall, the guys will be able to catch them.”

     “Fine,” she said.

     Daniel went first, and then the other guys followed him into the raft, and it was looking as though it was going to be a tight squeeze, but everyone would be able to fit. A good sized wave rolled through at that moment, and the raft pitched sideways and looked as though it might capsize. It recovered shortly thereafter, but Daniel, who had already started the engine, was looking panicked as he took in the scene.

     “Untie the lines!” he said.

     “But, what about the girls?” one of the guys asked.

     “Yeah, what about us, you fucking asshole!” the girl in the sailor suit yelled from the deck of the Hatteras.

     “It’s too dangerous. The waves are getting bigger, and we’re going to capsize if we stay here. I’ll take these guys ashore then come back for you when the raft is less top heavy. It’ll only take me ten minutes at the most, I promise,” he said.

     “No fucking way!” the girl responded.

     “Untie us!” Daniel yelled.

     The guys manning the lines, unsure what to do, followed his orders and untied the raft, allowing it to drift free, whereupon Daniel put it in gear and headed away from the boat and towards the San Francisco waterfront. The four girls stood at the railing and watched as the bachelor boys disappeared into the stormy night, and, thirty minutes later, there was still no sign of Daniel, and worse still, the storm was growing in intensity. Just then, a series of especially large waves rolled through, and the boat lurched and began sliding deeper into the water.

     “What the hell are we going to do?” the blond girl wearing the gold bra and underwear asked.

     “Yeah, I think this fucking boat is about to go under,” the redhead in the cowgirl costume added.

     “We could swim to Alcatraz,” the Asian girl suggested.

     “Too dangerous. Those waves would tear us apart when we reached the shore. Fuck it, I’m going to radio the Coast Guard,” the girl in the sailor suit said, as she headed back inside the boat.

     The girls followed her to the helm, then she reached up and clicked on the VHF radio and turned the dial until it was on sixteen—the designated channel for emergencies.

     “Mayday, this is the…”

     Suddenly, the entire boat went dark, which meant the sea water had flooded the engine room and killed all of the electronics. The girls screamed and started to panic, but their unofficial leader, the girl in the sailor suit, told them to stay on the back deck while she went downstairs to try and find her iPhone. Without light, she was forced to operate from memory, and she was able to feel her way down the stairs and to the stateroom on the lower level where she and her fellow strippers had left their things. The water was now up to her knees, but she soon found the room and managed to feel around the bed until coming across her jacket. In the left pocket was her iPhone, and, ultimately, their only hope of survival. She pulled it out and used the flashlight feature to make her way back upstairs, where she opened her browser and immediately did a search for the Coast Guard’s number. She found it, hit dial, and it took three rings before a guy picked up on the other end.

     “Coast Guard Station Golden Gate,” the man said.

     “Hello, I’m on a vessel that went aground, and we are sinking and need immediate assistance!”

     “Can you give me your location and a description of the vessel, ma’am?”

     “We’re just off of Alcatraz, and we’re on a sixty foot powerboat.”

     “Do you have a life raft?”

     “No, it just left.”

     “Excuse me, Ma’am, but I’m not sure I understand.”

     “The assholes who own this boat left on the life raft about thirty minutes ago—without us!” she said, angrily.

     “Roger that, Ma’am. I will contact the appropriate authorities immediately.”

     “Appropriate authorities? I thought you were the appropriate authorities.”

     “Only in cases of extreme distress.”

     “Well, let me tell you something. This fucking boat is definitely in distress, and the lucky fuckers to arrive first are going to find four really fucking hot and grateful strippers if they can get their asses out here before we sink and die!”

     The girl in the little sailor suit was obviously smart and knew exactly what to say to get the young guardsmen to get off their asses and get out there as soon as possible.

     “Roger that, Ma’am. Help is on the way.”

     The guardsman she had been talking to quickly gathered his boat crew and waited until he was halfway out the door before making a quick call to his friend who captained a vessel assist boat out of Sausalito. That friend, a man named Greg, answered on the second ring.

     “Dude, you’re never going to believe this one!” the guardsman said.

     “What’s up, Adam? Did someone call for help?”

     Adam went on to explain the situation, and his friend listened in rapt attention before responding.

     “Don’t worry, I’m just off Angel Island and can be there in a minute,” Greg said.

     “Unless we get there first.”

     “Loser buys the beer.”

     “Fuck that, winner buys.”

     “Yeah, I suppose that’s only fair,” he said, before they both hung up and turned their attention to the task at hand.

     Meanwhile, the girl in the sailor’s suit joined the others on the back deck, and they all huddled beneath the roof to take refuge from the storm while they waited for help. The yacht shifted once again and dropped ever lower into the dark turbulent waters of the bay, and the girl in the sailor suit walked to the railing and stared into the deluge of wind and rain, and, off in the darkness to the north, she thought she could see the lights of a boat heading in their direction, and she prayed with all her heart that they would arrive in time.

Chapter 2: WET WORK

It was eight forty-six p.m. on a stormy December night, and it was by all accounts a terrible time to be out on the San Francisco Bay. The rain was coming down in buckets, and a strong westerly blowing in off the coast was kicking up a ferocious chop and making for a decidedly uncomfortable ride. That generally wouldn’t have been too much of a problem had I not been sitting on the tiniest of toilets in the smallest of bathrooms, where I was taking an unplanned dump aboard my good friend Greg’s thirty-five foot Protector Yacht. Greg was the captain of a Vessel Assist boat, the new marine version of AAA, which came to the aid of stricken mariners, thus alleviating the Coast Guard from all but the direst of sea based emergencies. He had called me earlier in the day and asked if I would like to go on a ride-along tonight, as the weather would supposedly be lovely and, should any emergencies arrive, I could fill in for his usual crewman dimwit Dave, who was home with the flu.

Greg had been trying for nearly two years to get me to join him on one of his nightly forays because of my background as a United States Air Force Parajumper. He figured, rightly so, that my former occupation as a hybrid between a Navy SEAL and a medical corpsman, would make me the ideal crew. Now, what had started out as a beautiful calm night under a full moon had quickly deteriorated into a personal nightmare. Rough waters and extricating the bowels were two things that should remain mutually exclusive, and, for me in particular, it was a disastrous combination. I made a point of never doing anything more exciting than a number one when I was out and about in the world, and therefore couldn’t believe that I was currently in the middle of a number two—on a bouncing boat no less. I had eaten a sandwich before leaving home and never imagined that the extra pressure on my innards might induce an emergency deuce. That is, until the feeling arrived five minutes ago as we crested a particularly large wave, and I found myself clenching my butt cheeks together as I ran down below and entered Greg’s head—so to speak.

     The boat was bucking the incoming waves, and the water sloshing around the bowl was making an unpleasant experience even more unpleasant. As I tried to get comfortable, I looked down beside me and was surprised to see that Greg kept a full accompaniment of magazines in a rack beside the toilet. Two thumbs up for Captain Greg, as I was on the cusp of release and therefore desperately in need of reading material. I rifled through the various magazines, which all turned out to be adult in nature, and settled on a two month old Playboy Magazine—something I hadn’t seen since the internet had begun its unintended assault on print media. Oddly, a gentleman’s magazine wasn’t my preferred entertainment, as taking a dump in my world was more about reading than gazing at beautiful naked women. I had no problem with nudity, but should it incur unplanned blood flow to my gentleman region, it became a logistical nightmare because even a semi hardened member sent my urine flying high and potentially beyond the bowl, and, needless to say, a full-blown erection negated any ability to pass urine, thereby sabotaging half of the reason that I was here in the first place.

     I therefore turned past the air brushed beauty on the cover and let the magazine open to its most natural fold point, the centerfold, then, disregarding a long male tradition, I proceeded to turn the page over and read the supposedly hand written details of the girl in question, who, in this particular instance was Miss October. This section had always been one of my guilty pleasures because of the cheesy Miss America Pageant kind of sensibilities often portrayed, and it seemed particularly ridiculous to place a giant nude spread of a beautiful woman then counter balance it with a bunch of contrived details that were most certainly put together by a marketing department rather than a twenty something beauty queen turned Playmate.

     With everything in place, it was time to set my eyes to the words on the page and let loose a mighty dump. As it turned out, Miss October, real name Fiona Blake, was from Woodside California, and was the second of two children. Her parents were both high school teachers, and she had supposedly attended Santa Clara University and earned a bachelors degree in sociology as well as a Masters in the same subject. She enjoyed hiking, biking, and guys who weren’t afraid to get wet. She loved horses, as all girls did, and her favorite family pet was a golden retriever named Petunia. Her lifetime goal was to use her education to join her older brother’s foundation, which organized aid for underprivileged peoples around the globe. Cue the applause and the tears. What an incredible load of shit and likely no more meaningful than what I was currently dropping into the toilet below.

     Regardless, the story of Miss Blake, however ridiculous, was doing its part in making an otherwise unbearable dump bearable. Unfortunately, the tiny porcelain bowl was awash with both solid and liquid, and it was time to flush and clear the breach before the next salvo. I hit the small rubber coated button that resided just to the right of the toilet paper holder and instantly heard a sound more akin to a garbage disposal or high powered blender. Boat toilets, unlike their land based brethren, were a world unto themselves and definitely a counterpoint to the glamour of yachting. The electric ones, like the one I was currently on, flushed by utilizing a pump and macerator unit that was noisy as all hell. Worse still, the aforementioned process generally relied on water from outside the boat, and that meant that a tube went from the sea to the toilet. In theory, this wasn’t a big deal except for the simple fact that seawater was alive with all manner of life, and, when that life reached a darkened hose inside a boat, it died and created an awful lot of rotting material and, ultimately, methane. So, flushing a marine toilet brought with it a great swath of odor generally far worse than anything that may have come out of a person’s bowels.

     There I sat, literally up to my nose in onerous odor and decided I needed a perk. The second salvo was about over, and that meant I would treat myself to a quick glance at Miss October. I turned over the page, and there before me lay the massive spread of a blue eyed goddess. She was of course beautiful, long legged, lithe, and had long brown hair and ample breasts, though I had to wonder how much was real and how much was Photoshop. I suppose that would just have to remain a mystery, as she likely lived off in Los Angeles, where she was in actual truth pursuing a career as a model-actress. Suddenly, there was a loud banging on the door, and I heard Greg just outside.

     “Finn! Hurry up!”

     “Shouldn’t you be driving the boat,” I yelled over the din of the droning engines and pounding sea.

     “You’ve gotta pinch it off and get up here! We’ve got an emergency and you’re not going to believe it!”

     “OK, give me a minute, you fucker.”

     “Why? Are you whacking it to one of my Playboys?”

     “No, I’m whacking it, thinking about you in your fucking overalls.”

     Greg, for some inexplicable reason, always wore dark blue overalls when he worked. Needless to say, I wasn’t a fan of overalls—generally on men or women.

     “Well put the hammer down and get your ass up here,” he said, before stomping back up the passageway to the helm.

     Greg left, and I gave it a final glorious push, making sure that I had indeed cleared the baffles. Satisfied that I was empty, I wiped, flushed, and washed my hands before joining Greg up at the helm. He was giddy as a schoolgirl as he steered his vessel and kept his eyes fixed on the churning sea ahead.

     “OK, what’s got you all excited?” I asked.

     “Stripper boat!”

     “Excuse me?”

     “A stripper boat!”

     “I still don’t understand.”

     “Apparently, a boat full of strippers hit Little Alcatraz and is sinking and needs assistance.”

     “No shit?”

     “No shit!”

     Greg’s face was glowing in the red light of his instrument panel, and his smile was stretching from ear to ear, making me think that this was clearly one of his lifetime dreams finally come true. I suppose it made sense when you considered the nature of his job. His usual clientele probably consisted of boozed up day sailors, and, while a few of them might be attractive females, most would be dressed in foul weather gear and looking haggard from a day in the wind and saltwater spray. So, what could possibly happen that would be as exciting for Greg as rescuing a boatload of scantily dressed women? Not much, I imagine.

     Ahead, I could see Alcatraz Island and, in turn, its little brother of sorts—Little Alcatraz—a collection of rocks lying about ten yards off the northwest corner. It had been the site of many maritime disasters and originally had been called Paul Pry Rock, which was named after the steamer that struck it on December 22, 1862. Now, it would be infamous, at least in my mind, as the location for the shipwreck of a boatload of strippers. There were no other rescue vessels in sight, not even the Coast Guard, so it appeared that we were first on the scene, which I suppose meant more fun for us—and especially Greg.

     As he steered in closer, I could see that the vessel in question was a white sixty foot Hatteras, and it was a beautiful and sea worthy motor yacht that could generally only succumb to disaster by the fault of an act of God or a particularly negligent captain. It was listing heavily to starboard, with its bow pointed towards the Golden Gate, and that meant that they had been coming around the island when they struck Little Alcatraz. Now only a boat length away, I could see four scantily dressed women screaming and frantically waving from the stern of the beleaguered vessel. I could understand their concern, as the thought of going into the cold, dark waters of San Francisco Bay on a stormy December night would be daunting to say the least.

     “So, how are you going to work it?” I asked Greg.

     “My vessel draws a lot less, so I’m thinking we can come alongside and offload the girls first then deal with the Hatteras second.”

     “Girls first. I like your thinking.”

     Greg smiled and throttled back as he kept his focus continuously moving between his GPS chart, depth gauge, and the stern of the Hatteras—a feat made considerably more difficult by the rain, wind, and current.

     “It looks like we’ll be fine. The Hatteras is between us and the rocks, so we have plenty of water.”

     “Well then, let’s get those girls off—no pun intended,” I said.

     Now that we were side to side with the stricken vessel, I could see the tears and frantic expressions on the girl’s faces and had to wonder where the hell everyone else had gone. Perhaps they were down below manning the bilge pumps and dealing with the damage to the hull.

     “Vessel Assist, is everyone all right? Are there any medical emergencies that I need to call in?” Greg asked.

     “No, we just want to get the hell off this boat,” the girl in the sailor’s suit yelled back.

     “Are there others aboard?” Greg asked.

     “No, just us,” the same girl said.

     “That’s odd,” I said.

     “Very,” Greg added.

     I moved to the aft rail and saw the violence of the wind and waves firsthand as it brought the two boats crashing together—the only things keeping us from taking damage being the massive rubber pontoons that extended the entire length of Greg’s vessel. On a break between waves, I reached out and got a hold of the first girl’s hands. She was a pretty blond wearing a sparkling gold thong and tiny matching top that barely covered her massive, likely augmented breasts. She was quite a sight this cold night on the bay, and I could imagine Greg grinning behind me as he watched the rescue unfold. A wave hit just at that moment, and I used its momentum to lift her up and onto our boat and down into the cockpit before turning my attention back to the other girls. They were eagerly waiting to abandon the Hatteras, whose deck was sinking ever deeper into the waves. I still had three more people to save, and we were running out of time.

I reached for the next girl, who was a pretty redhead dressed in a cowgirl costume, and she too was sporting some very ample breasts. They weren’t as big as her friend’s, but they certainly made an impression. During a break in the waves, she managed to cross the void and make it into my arms. I returned for number three, a beautiful Asian girl wearing a matching red bra and thong underwear, and saw that she, like her friends, had also very likely been in the company of a plastic surgeon. At least if she went in the water, I was pretty sure that she would float. She was frantic and practically clawing at me, and her long manicured nails were digging into my forearms as she reached across. A small wave hit, and again I used its momentum to lift her up and into the cockpit of our boat, where she took a seat with her friends beneath the bimini top. One more girl to go, and the most critical part of the rescue operation would be over.

     I moved back into place and finally got a good look at the last girl. She was a brunette, beautiful by all accounts, and unlike her peers, seemed fairly calm in the face of adversity—probably the reason she had been their unofficial leader and spokesperson. She was dressed in a tiny sailor outfit that consisted of a blue thong and a tight white shirt tied in a knot just below her ample bosoms. In the chaos of the moment, I couldn’t be sure if they were real or fake, but my professional opinion was that they were home grown and certified organic. She moved to the rail and took hold of my hands, but a sudden set of waves came crashing in and slammed the two boats together before pulling them violently apart. The motion caused the girl to slip off the other boat’s deck, and it left her dangling from my arms between the two vessels, where she was in danger of getting crushed. Greg hit the port throttle to get some distance between the Hatteras and us while I tried my best to hold onto her. Our hands were wet and slippery, and, when a large wave rolled through, it pulled her from my grip, and she fell backwards into the dark turbulent waters. She popped up a moment later, but the current was already taking her away from the boat and towards the rocks.

     “Girl overboard,” I yelled to Greg.

     “Shit, we have to get her before she gets pounded onto those rocks.”

     I grabbed a life preserver and a line then tied one end to a cleat on the stern and jumped over the side. It wasn’t a particularly smart move because it now put two lives in dire jeopardy, but we didn’t have much choice at the moment with the treacherous rocks of Little Alcatraz keeping Greg from moving his boat any closer towards shore.

     Fortunately for the girl and me, this wasn’t my first sea born rescue operation. In fact, I’d performed many of them across the world, both as an Air Force Parajumper and later as a member of the CIA’s Special Activities division. Of course, none of that mattered much when you hit the water and instantly felt that bone-chilling cold shoot straight into your soul. But, it was in moments like this that the training kicked in, and you had to turn off the pain and shock and focus on the task at hand—namely a girl in dire distress who was drifting farther away and getting closer to hypothermia with every second she spent in the water. I swam hard, and the current helped me reach the girl, whose teeth were already chattering uncontrollably as she struggled to keep her head above the crashing waves. I slipped her into the life preserver then waved at Greg. He left the helm and started pulling us in, which was no small task, as he was up against the current, the waves, and the wind. Seeing him struggling, I threw my legs back and kicked along, and the added momentum allowed us to reach the side of the boat, where Greg had unfolded the boarding ladder. He reached down and took hold of the girl while I helped push her from below, and soon we managed to get her up and into the cockpit, where she joined her poor huddled friends beneath the bimini top.

     “Permission to come aboard,” I yelled.

     “Get up here, you idiot!” Greg yelled.

     I climbed the ladder and felt greatly relieved, as the air now felt warm compared to the icy waters of the Bay.

     “Finn, can you take the helm a minute while I go below for some towels and blankets?”

     “Sure,” I said.

     I took hold of the helm, put her in gear, and idled against the current and wind and felt extremely relieved to be out of the weather. I took a moment to look at our beleaguered passengers and realized that their makeup running down their cold, wet faces, made them look a bit like a family of waterlogged raccoons. Still, they were busty and beautiful water logged raccoons. Greg appeared a moment later with an armload of towels and woolen blankets, and the girls dried off and cleaned up their faces. The towels were now stained with makeup and would be a complete loss, but I doubted that Greg cared, as he had at last experienced his dream rescue. Now that the girls were mostly dry and looking a lot better, he passed out blankets then looked at me with a sad grimace.

     “Sorry, I only had four,” he said.

     “It’s OK. You can share mine,” the girl I had just rescued from the water, said.

     “Thanks. It’ll be a lot warmer with two of us under it anyway. It’s standard cold weather survival technique to combine body heat.”

     I moved over and sat down on the seat, and she threw part of her blanket over me and snuggled up tight against my body.

     “I’m Fiona, by the way—and this is Stacy Tease, Daphne Pumps and Tiger Wells,” she said, between quivering lips.

     “Are those real names or stage names?” I asked.

     “Well, Stacy, Daphne and Tiger’s are stage names, but my name is actually Fiona—Fiona Blake.”

     I saw Greg’s head turn so quickly that I worried it might snap free from his body and land in my lap. I was wondering what the hell the big deal was when realization suddenly dawned. She was Miss fucking October, and it was obviously by some bizarre twist of fate that the girl who, only minutes ago, I had glanced at on the page was now sitting beside me on a boat in the middle of the San Francisco Bay. I looked at the cold, wet woman, and all my thoughts about Photoshop were quickly put to rest, as Fiona, regardless of her miserable situation, was indeed just as beautiful in person as she was in her pictorial.

     “I’m Tag, and this is Greg. It’s nice to meet you, though it’s too bad it had to be under such terrible circumstances.”

     “No shit. I can’t thank you guys enough,” Fiona said.

     “No problem. It’s what we do,” I said, smiling at Greg.

     “It’s what I do. Finn just happened to be riding along tonight,” he said.

     “Well, lucky for me as it turned out. I don’t know what might have happened if he hadn’t jumped in the water and saved me.”

     It became quiet as we considered the gravity of that statement, but Greg, being the conscientious vessel assist captain, soon spoke up and broke the silence.

     “So, just to be sure—there aren’t any other people still aboard?” he asked.

     “Nope—just us.”

     “Where did the others go?” I asked.

     “The assholes left in an inflatable about thirty minutes ago.”

     “You’ve got to be shitting me! Why in the fuck wouldn’t they take you with them?”

     “The guy in charge was a cowardly piece of shit and was worried our presence would make the raft too top heavy.”

     “So, they fucking left?”

     “Yeah, though the asshole did promise to come back after dropping off his friends.”

     “And broke that promise, obviously, though he at least called for help.”

     “Wrong again. This was a bachelor party, and the very same asshole who crashed the boat was worried he’d get in trouble for drunk driving, so he refused to call for help. I managed to do that myself after they deserted us and didn’t come back.”

     There was a great gurgling rush of air, and we all turned to see the Hatteras slip deeper under the water until only its aerials and radar tower were still visible above the surface. Who the hell would abandon passengers on a dark stormy night like this? A group of cowards I suppose and one that I looked forward to meeting in the near future. What they did was criminal and tantamount to attempted manslaughter, so I would see to it that the little chicken shits got a little payback.

     “There’s nothing more we can do for the boat, so I guess we need to get you girls somewhere warm and dry. Where do you live?”

     “In the city, but none of us drove. The bachelor party bus picked us up at our homes and delivered us to the boat.”

     Fiona was still ice cold and needed some serious warmth, and she needed it soon. The fastest way to get her core body temperature back up would be to get her into something like a hot bath, and, fortunately for her, I had a brand new Jacuzzi back at my place that would do the trick.

     “How about we go back to my place to warm up, then I’ll figure out a way to get you all home from there,” I suggested.

     “Great idea,” Fiona said, moving ever deeper into my arms.

     Greg looked over and shook his head.

     “Always the hero, Finn—always the hero.”

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