I looked forward to having a beer with the sailor who’d murdered my wife. Sanchez was one of those friends we all have; the kind you don’t like but are resigned to having around. We had an arrangement. He’d murdered my lady and now I had to kill his. He expected me on board the Thiri Sanda that evening to go over just exactly how I planned to do it.
It took me an hour to make my way through the busy Baltimore traffic to the city center. Got through the Jones Falls Express, diverted away from the main roads then weaved through a long, winding alley until I reached McComas Street and the Cruise Maryland Terminal.
Parked my Jag behind a cement truck. The Thiri was pulling up anchor at sunrise and setting off on a Hong Kong run. It was important for Sanchez to know that Delphi suffered before she died and he made me promise I’d give him a moment to moment account of her murder when he got back. That was a tough request to hear. For a decade I’d been secretly in love with Delphi and the thought of hurting her made me sick—but a deal’s a deal.
A small, red and grey vessel—the Thiri Sanda was privately owned by another shipmate of mine, Captain Gunther Mueller. He’d brought the Thiri back from the cusp of scrap and refashioned it so as to be able to handle the difficult conditions they’d come up against on the way to a multitude of exotic and remote locations. The vessel could best be described as a rust bucket but Gunther selected her because the tapered bow and deep draft would help to maintain stability when they traversed an angry ocean. From the outset, Sanchez had involved Gunther in the murder plot. I had no problem with that. All three of us were Brits who’d relocated to the USA and I trusted Gunther.
With only hours until they set off, the entire crew were hard at work. On deck around twenty sailors worked up a sweat. Not a word was spoken. On my left, six of them covered a containment trough with a rain tarp. Every crewman was ex-military and it showed in their confident economy of movement. The primary interest of Gunther’s operations was smuggling and he needed men he could trust. Human trafficking, narcotics, weaponry—nothing was off-limits for Gunther.
At the top of the gangway, an Asian lad of about thirteen whistled and cheesed a rope. The Quartermaster formally greeted me. I asked for Sanchez. For a couple of seconds he scrutinized my appearance then mentioned Captain Gunther would be joining Sanchez and me.
“There are no civilians coming on-board this evening, are there?”
“I was under the impression Sanchez and I would be meeting alone in his cabin.”
“Captain’s orders, Mr. Peterson. Captain’s orders.”
In the Navy that’s a command you don’t argue with—and I didn’t. Maybe Gunther didn’t think I was up to the kill that night and he was taking over. At that point, anything was possible.
The QM summoned the Bosun’s Mate and had him pipe for the Captain’s cabin then pointed to an empty corner beside a hatch where I would have a viewpoint of the deck while I waited. So thoughtful. I smiled cooperatively, decided against lighting up a Marlboro, leaned against the bulkhead and examined the environment as the deck beneath me gently rose and fell.
Never before had I seen anything like the Thiri. It had something of the look of a liner, the facilities of a cargo ship and the atmosphere of a Destroyer Escort. Gunther still ran his crew within the Royal Navy framework. No crewman was in uniform but their khaki work clothes reminded me of the number 8 work dress we wore when on duty. In unison, the dogs on the hatch beside me rotated, the door swung open and Gunther struggled out and onto the deck. He gave me a throttling handshake and told me there’d been a late change in plans. We could find Sanchez ashore in the Angel club, at the base of the dock.
At one point Gunther had been my Divisional Officer and I naturally deferred to his leadership. The two of us never really had any problems and from time to time we spoke on the phone just as a way of keeping in touch. I knew he considered me to be something of a nerd and maybe he was right. Even though like all military men I can get dangerous if a situation leaves no other option, I’m only five ten and wiry. A wild night out to me was always one spent updating OH&S guidelines. Sanchez, Gunther and I became friendly when we all drafted onto type 42 Destroyer HMS Glasgow. The two of them began their careers in Gunnery, while I always worked in Administration. As a ship’s clerk, log books and paperwork were my thing.
Sanchez knew I was no natural born killer but he’d witnessed and commented on the toll my wife’s affair had carved into my worn-down facial features. It wasn’t just any affair. I caught her in bed with my son. I’d become a father at age seventeen and when, seventeen years later, I stumbled into our bedroom to find my boy in bed with his stepmother, he couldn’t face me and returned to his real mother in England. Disappeared from my life and broke my heart. The encounter left my wife pregnant and without a word of discussion she had an abortion. That for me was the final straw.
Gunther had aged and put on weight. The long beard combined with his rough, salty features and shabby raincoat to give him a kind of Rasputin look. His primary role in the unwanted wives project, was the provision of alibis. He’d put me in the clear by writing out a sworn statement that I’d been at sea with him when Sanchez did the hit and run.
We made our way to the club and I listened closely as he clarified the change in the plan.
“So my old friend Peterson. You all good with that?”
Yeah I approved. The adjustments to the operation meant Sanchez was in for a shock. A little over a decade earlier it had been me who introduced him to Delphi. She had gorgeous hazel eyes and a sweet little girl’s voice. It took me five minutes to fall in love with her but Sanchez sailed in and scooped her up. The time had arrived to put things right.
The Angel club belonged to Gunther. The diminutive building resembled a church, though its windows were adorned with signs promoting an Eight Ball competition and the tap beer on draught. On the door a notice announced there were rooms for rent. Homeless people especially welcome.
Gunther led the way into the bar where a grizzled tramp stared into his beer. Dressed in rags, his eyes were those of a prisoner going to the gallows. Sanchez, still a bear of a man, rose from his barstool wearing a huge grin. Oil and sweat stains covered his khaki shirt. Those massive shoulders were intact while his hair had been buzzed down to a shadow. Four very demure Asian girls—the type that look fifteen but are probably in their early twenties—had apparently been keeping him company. He dropped a fifty on the bar and told a pretty girl he called Vera to take a tip on him. Vera giggled and snatched the note up.
After moving to the privacy of the backbar, we located a table in a secluded corner and ordered three steaks and a round of beers. The four girls had followed us in and locked the heavy oak door behind them. Gunther directed Vera to bring him a bowl of French fries.
“Who’re the little beauties?” I asked.
“We can trust them,” replied Gunther. “They’re the Angels.”
“Jesus I’m tired,” said Sanchez.
“You’ll sleep well tonight,” replied Gunther.
“Hard work’ll do that.”
Vera placed the bowl of French fries and cutlery on the table.
Sanchez told her to scram, took a sip of his beer then got down to business. “So your missus is gone and that’s my half done. I do the Hong Kong run on the Thiri this evening. While I’m heading out to sea you kill my Delphi. I can’t wait. I want it done tonight. Tell me how you’re gonna do it.”
I didn’t answer him, I just stared into my beer. What if I really did kill Delphi? How would I feel? How would I live with myself? I’d had no trouble organizing for my own wife to get bumped as she’d gutted my family, but Delphi never hurt anybody. Okay she’d changed after the son she had with Sanchez passed away at the age of five. Predictably enough, her and Sanchez drifted apart.
“Before we get into that, are you getting any heat from the police?” I enquired.
“Wasn’t even questioned.”
“I know I’m in the clear on that one.” I nodded across the table at Gunther. “The captain here gave me a rock solid alibi.”
“That he did.” Sanchez smirked at Gunther but his expression quickly faded. It was as if he sensed there was something off-kilter in the atmosphere between the three of us.
“You know, Mr. Sanchez, you never were cut out for this business,” said Gunther. He leaned back in his chair and stared through Sanchez like he wasn’t even there. “Your moment has arrived.”
“Change of plans,” I said. I hadn’t had time to fully assess what we were about to do and needed a Marlboro. I pulled out a cigarette and lit it. All three of us were silent. The line of smoke wafted from my lips and hovered over the top of the table. Gunther munched away on the French fries and maintained his focus on the girls at the bar. When Vera caught his eye, he winked at her.
Sanchez did his best to maintain a nonchalant front, but that old facial twitch was such a giveaway. He guzzled the rest of his drink down and placed the glass in front of me. “Why don’t you get me another beer, Peterson?”
Fuck you thought I.
Gunther reached for another French fry but Sanchez grabbed his hand. “And why don’t you tell me what’s going on?”
All I knew was that Sanchez would die that night and Delphi was safe but a much deeper game was at play and I looked forward to Gunther’s clarification.
He shook off Sanchez’s grip. “We had some good times at sea. Shame it has to end this way.”
“You’ve been abusing Delphi for years. Peterson here has always loved her. They want to be together. And they will be.”
Sanchez clenched his fists; his cheeks reddened. He pointed a finger in my face. “Don’t give me that love bullshit, you’re set to knock off Delphi tonight.”
Gunther’s laughing eyes were those of a man enjoying his work. “Wrong. It’s all over Sanchez. Your beer is full of tranquilizer.”
“You wouldn’t do that to me.” He wore the expression of a hostage tied to the train tracks. “This is a joke, right?”
“Nothing personal,” replied Gunther. “We need you alive for a few hours. Delphi is selling you for body parts.”
“The hell she is!” Sanchez shot up to his feet, then stumbled to one side. He tried desperately to maintain balance but his eyeballs rolled in their sockets and his legs were jelly. He grabbed me by the neck and wrenched me out of my seat. His sweaty hands were crushing my throat. I grappled. I tried desperately to fend him off, grabbing a steak knife as we crashed to the floor. He tightened his hands around my throat; I instinctively plunged the blade into his solar plexus.
“Do it, stick him, do it, do it.” Gunther egged me on, his voice a sinister chant reverberating around the room. Finally, he said, “Not in the heart Peterson, it’s the dearest organ.”
For more than a decade the thought of Sanchez making love to Delphi had been the blade in my own heart. The subtle bullying—I’d had years of it. “Get me another beer, eh!” I slammed that knife into his liver. “Get me another beer.” I stuck him. “Get me another beer.” I sliced him.
I didn’t hold back until his arms fell limply by his side. Blood bubbles dribbled from the corner of his mouth and ran down his chin.
I pushed myself up, dropped the knife and rubbed a hand on my constricted throat, focusing my eyes on our naval crest tattooed on the back of his hand. I’d never hated him, I just loved Delphi too much and couldn’t pass up a chance to share my life with her. “That was cruel, Gunther. Delphi selling him for body parts, please.”
“Of course she is.”
It took a second for that to register, but when it did I stumbled back to our table. “What the hell are you talking about?”
“Don’t worry, I will when I see her.”
“Turn around; you can see her now.”
Gliding down the wooden staircase, Delphi could have been strolling onto the set of a Hong Kong crime movie. The love interest, of course. Her soft mane of hair had a yellowish tinge and it hung down around her shoulders. The formality of her gray cotton dress stood in total contrast to her well-worn pair of pink running shoes. How tiny were her feet? In her left hand was a small but expensive looking camcorder. Clearly, she’d filmed the fight and strange as it sounds knowing she’d recorded the melee left me feeling very small. A pawn in a chess game.
Without looking at the girls by the bar, she moved to Sanchez’s side then clicked her fingers and all four of the girls came running. She was yet to acknowledge me as her attention was fixed on Sanchez’s bloodied frame. One girl carefully picked up the knife and placed it behind the bar at the far side of the room, then returned.
“We can harvest that fat.” She gazed at Vera and prodded his ass with her toe. “Call Dr. Lee in Palm Springs. We’ve got buttocks and belly for him. Quick smart get this body to the ship’s hospital. The liver and kidneys are wanted in Hong Kong.”
Vera directed the girls to take hold of Sanchez’s hands and feet. They proceeded to drag his limp body towards the cellar door, giggling all the way.
“And clean up this blood.”
“Your Angels?” I asked.
“That’s right,” she replied, handing the camcorder to Gunther. “My business.”
“May I have the film?”
Before she could reply Gunther insisted, “And now you’re a business partner too, Peterson.” He opened his jacket to display the pistol in his shoulder holster. No wonder he hadn’t been too concerned when Sanchez got angry. His deadpan stare told me not to even think about making a move for the camera.
“You gonna be a problem?” She glared at me.
Now I knew exactly where I stood. My mind was all over the place. Could have vomited right there and then. That iron stench of blood hit me and I backed away. For what seemed like an eternity no one said anything. Delphi awaited a response.
Four months back, Sanchez had found out about the hatchet job my wife had done on my family and contacted Gunther to sound him out about the feasibility of me killing his lady and him murdering mine. Could I be trusted? Was I up to it? Gunther assured Sanchez I’d do anything to get rid of my wife and the plan was solid. Then he contacted Delphi and tipped her off. He insisted she was frightened and wanted to get rid of Sanchez so she could be with me. She got a message to me via Gunther which he’d delivered during our trek to the Angel club. If I let her live and killed Sanchez there was nothing to stop us being together.
I was supposed to spike Sanchez’s drink that evening on the Thiri Sanda and Gunther would dump his body overboard when they were cutting across the Atlantic. Some plan. Right there in the Angel club I admitted to myself that I didn’t know Delphi. Didn’t know her at all.
“No problem.” What else could I say? I went to sit back down at the table but she grabbed me by the elbow and stopped me cold.
“Gonna kill me, were you?”
“I couldn’t have gone through—”
“Don’t ever make that mistake again. We leave for Hong Kong on the Thiri tonight.”
“Go home pack a bag and get your passport. I’ll meet you onboard at midnight.”
I was out of options. As I made my way to the massive doors, I couldn’t help but stop and turn around. Delphi gestured with those tiny ivory white hands as she stood in front Gunther, both of them oblivious to the pool of blood on the floor. Clearly she was giving the orders. Did she have something on Gunther too? Commanding Officers were the only characters I’d ever witnessed ordering Gunther around, but then again I’d never really looked into Delphi’s sparkling eyes and seen who she truly was. One false move would see me turned into spare parts for some wealthy foreigner’s sickly body.
Not only could Gunther pull his alibi and get the police looking into me for my wife’s fatal traffic accident, he, Delphi and her Angels had witnessed me stabbing Sanchez to death. They had it all on film.
She spun around and gave me a look that said, what do you want?
“How did you know to have the camera? How did you know I’d kill Sanchez?”
She shrugged. “Because you love me, Peterson. And I want you to go on loving me.”
The black widow had trapped me in her web. And I had to find a way out.