The Stranger in the Lifeboat (8 page)

BOOK: The Stranger in the Lifeboat
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It is time I wrote about Dobby. You need to know. The world needs to know. I will start by saying I am unaware of what happened to him—though I imagine he is dead along with the others. We did not speak that last night on the
, not after I told him “I won't do it.” He was furious. He felt I betrayed him. Inasmuch as he thought I shared his rage, I understand that.

But it was his idea to blow up the
, Annabelle. Not mine. Had he not arrived on my doorstep last summer, shortly after you left me, I would have gone along my way, quietly bearing my resentments.

Dobby was more actuated. As a boy, he argued with our schoolteachers, fought the local bullies, led the rest of us kids down dirt paths on our bicycles, always speeding ahead, taking the turns first. He was a rebel in a boy's
medium T-shirt, loud, unruly, his dark hair mussed, his brow often furrowed and his lower lip hanging down, as if constantly being scolded by someone. He and his mother came to Boston two years after we did, after Dobby's father, my uncle, passed away back in Ireland. I was nine. Dobby was eleven. I remember overhearing his mother telling mine, “That one runs with the devil in his shoes.”

But Dobby was smart. Incredibly smart. He read all the time, borrowed books from the library and read them as he ate breakfast, lunch, and dinner. He was the reason I took to reading, Annabelle, and writing. I wanted to be more like him. We had little competitions, like who could come up with the most shocking ghost story. He always won. He had a better imagination. He also burned for justice before I knew what the word meant.

I remember once, when he was fourteen, Dobby terrorized these four older kids who were throwing stones at a stray cat. He grabbed some metal trash can lids and hurled them at those kids, all the while screaming “This is how big a stone feels to a cat, assholes!” When they scattered, he gathered that cat into his arms and became a different person, tender and patient. “You're all right now, you're safe,” he whispered.

No one in my little world acted like that. How I looked up to him! He was only two years my senior, but at that age, two years defines the leader and the follower. He
would greet me with a wink and an exaggerated “What's uppp, Ben-
?” It always brought a smile to my face, a sense that I was connected to someone who would rise above our poor little neighborhood. We were just kids back then. But I idolized him. And those you idolize as a child can hold sway over you years later, even when you should know better.

* * *

“These people are pigs, Benji,” Dobby said, when he first read about the
voyage in a newspaper. I was scrambling eggs in the Boston apartment we'd been sharing since he'd showed up broke and drunk and singing “Bella Ciao” in my doorway. I had not seen him in several years. The hair at his temples had turned gray.

“They think they can gather like lords of the planet, decide what's good for the rest of us.”

“Yes, well,” I said.

“I can't believe you're working this clown show.”

“It's Jason Lambert's boat. I work on it. What am I supposed to do?”

“Aren't you disgusted by that guy? He says he wants to change the world. But look at how he treats you.”

“Yes, cousin,” I sighed.

“Why don't you do something about it?”

I looked up.

“What are you talking about?”

“I have a friend . . .” His voice trailed off. He grabbed the newspaper again, found a paragraph, and read it silently. Then he looked me straight in the eye. His expression was dead calm.

“Benji,” he said, “do you trust me?”

“Yes, cousin.”

He grinned. “Then
going to change the world.”

That's how it began.

* * *

Dobby's “friend” was a road manager for rock bands, including Fashion X, which was slated to perform on the
Friday night. Over the years, Dobby had worked as a road crew member with different acts. It was how he earned what little money he had. He was good with musical equipment, and he liked the travel, the action, the fast setups and breakdowns.

I always knew this. What I didn't know was that he was parlaying his roadie connections into a terrible plan that involved me. His idea was to get his friend to employ him for the Fashion X concert, then preload equipment onto the
, including instruments, amplifiers, mixing boards, and one object that looked like it fit in but did not:

A limpet mine.

I did not know what a limpet mine was, Annabelle. I
do now. Dobby told me. It is a naval explosive device that attaches with magnets to the underbellies of boats. Frogmen often affix them to hulls in secret, then blow them up from afar. Limpet mines have been used since World War II. How Dobby got access to one, I will never know.

But apparently he snuck this limpet mine in with the musical equipment. It was Friday afternoon, the last day of the Grand Idea voyage. He asked me to help him carry a drum case along the second deck. When we were alone, Dobby stopped, unlocked the top, and lifted it slightly.

“Look, cousin,” he said. Inside I saw a round dark-green device, a foot in diameter and six inches high.

“What is it?” I said.

“Something big enough to take this whole yacht down. And Jason Lambert and his rich friends with it.”

I was too stunned to respond. My breathing accelerated. My eyes darted down the corridor. Dobby began whispering about how I could lower him on a rope at night, when the
was anchored, then he'd attach this mine to the hull below the water line, where it could inflict the greatest damage.

I barely heard him. A thrumming sound had started in my head.

“What are you
about?” I finally stammered. “I never—”

“Benji, listen to me. Do you know the effect this will
have? There's a former president on this yacht! There are high-tech billionaires who have been ripping people off for years! There are bankers, hedge-fund guys, and best of all, that pig Lambert. All these so-called Masters of the Universe. We can take them all out. It'll be historic. We are gonna make history, Benji!”

I slammed the top shut. “Dobby,” I seethed, “you're talking about

“People who are awful to other people,” he said. “Who manipulate them. Exploit them. Like Lambert. You hate him, don't you?”

“We can't play God.”

“Why not? God isn't doing anything about it.”

When I didn't react, he gripped my forearm. His voice lowered. “Come on, cousin,” he said. “This is our moment. For all the crap we put up with as kids. For your mother. For Annabelle.”

When he mentioned your name, I swallowed so hard, I thought my tongue went down my throat.

“What happens to us?” I mumbled.

“Well, we're the captains of this idea.” He blew out his cheeks. “Captains go down with the ship.”

“You mean—”

,” he interrupted, squinting at me, “either something's important to you or it isn't. You want to make a
statement? Or be a doormat the rest of your life, polishing thrones so rich people can sit on them?”

The thrumming had turned into a pounding in my temples. I felt dizzy.

“Dobby,” I whispered. “Do you want to . . .

“It's better than living like an ant.”

It wasn't until that moment, Anabelle, that I knew he was mad.

“I won't do it,” I said, the words barely audible.

His eyes flashed.

“I won't do it,” I said, louder.

, cousin.”

I shook my head.

I can barely describe the look he gave me then. Sorrow, betrayal, disbelief, like I could not have let him down more if I tried. He held that gaze a long time, his lower lip drooping like it did when he was a boy. Then he closed his mouth and cleared his throat.

“All right,” he said. “You are who you are.”

He lifted the case, turned his back to me, then walked down the corridor and disappeared through a door. And I did nothing to stop him, my love, nothing at all.


“Jarty?” Patrice yelled down. “Who called?”

LeFleur sighed. He had hoped she was already asleep.

“Nobody,” he yelled up.

He heard her footsteps on the stairs. He tucked the notebook in his briefcase and raised the volume on the soccer game.

Patrice appeared in the doorway.

“‘Nobody' doesn't call the house on a Sunday night,” she said. “Jarty, what's going on?”

He ran a palm across his forehead, squeezing the skin as if trying to lure out an answer.

“OK,” he said. “It wasn't just junk that floated up on the north shore. It was a raft.”

“What kind of raft?”

“A life raft,” he said.

She sat down. “Were there any—”

“No. No bodies. No people.” He didn't mention the notebook.

“Do you know what ship it was from?”

“Yeah,” he said, exhaling. “The
. The one that went down last year.”

“With all those rich people on it?”

He nodded.

“Who just called?”

“A reporter. The
Miami Herald

She reached out and touched his arm. “Jarty. Those passengers. The news said they all

“That's right.”

“Then who was in the life raft?”


The water today is a thick sapphire shade, and the sky is rippled with cottony clouds. It is two full weeks since the
sank. Our food is gone. So is the fresh water from the storm. Our spirits are hollow and our bodies frail.

I've been thinking about the word
, Annabelle. How this “Lord” refuses to save us. How Mrs. Laghari tried to save the binoculars and fell into the sea. How perhaps I could have saved all those people on the
if I had only stopped Dobby and that limpet mine.

I think back to that final afternoon, after Dobby and I parted company. For hours, my head pounded. My stomach hurt. I was yelled at twice by the crew master for not responding to guests quickly enough. I searched for Dobby every spare moment, looking down the halls, peeking over
the rails. I never saw him. It was the final day of the event, and there was so much activity.

Perhaps I was in denial. Perhaps I thought Dobby would never really go through with it. I'd never known him to be a killer. Angry? Yes. Resentful? Yes. He could argue a blue streak about class, wealth, privilege. But a murderer of strangers? Could a person truly change his nature so much? Or is it a case of what you can't imagine, you won't believe?

“Benji?” I heard Jean Philippe say. “Come out of the sun.”

He was under the canopy with the others, all except Yannis, who had dragged out to relieve himself over the side. We move so slowly now, like infants crawling.

“Please, my friend,” Jean Philippe said. “You are burning.” It was midday, the worst time to be exposed. I hadn't realized how long I'd been out there. I slid back toward Jean Philippe until I was just inside the canopy.

Everyone was quiet, their burned and blistered legs extended between one another like logs. Lambert was poking at the car magazine. The Lord caught my gaze and gave me a goofy smile. I turned away and saw, outside, that Yannis was on his knees, staring at the sky.

“Oh my god,” he mumbled. “Don't anybody move.”

“What?” Nina said.

“A bird.”

Our eyes popped open. A bird? Nina rose to peek out, but Geri blocked her with an arm and motioned for her to be silent. We heard a small fluttering sound. Then a shadow appeared on the canopy.

The bird's feet were moving just above us.

“Benji,” Yannis whispered, “it's coming toward the edge.”

I stared at him and flipped my palms. What did he want me to do?

“When I say so, reach around and grab it.”


“You're the closest. You have to grab it.”


“Because it's

I began to sweat. I saw the others looking at me. Lambert made an angry face.

“Grab the stinking bird,” he said.


“Yes, you can! Grab it!”

“Benji, please,” Nina said.

“It's walking to the edge,” Yannis said, his voice low and steady. “When I say so . . . reach up and grab its feet.”

I was mortified.

“Get ready . . .”

I raised my hands up toward the flap. I tried to imagine
what the bird looked like. I prayed for it to fly away, save itself, save me.

“Here it comes . . . ,” Yannis said.

“Easy, Benji,” Geri said.

“You can do it,” Jean Philippe said.

“I don't want to,” I whispered.

grab it
!” Lambert said.

My hands were trembling.

“Now,” Yannis said.


“Now, Benji!”

“No, no, no,” I groaned, even as I shot my hands up and, with one sharp motion, swung them around and slammed them down. I felt the small bumpy talons in my fingers and I squeezed hard. The bird squawked, flapping its wings manically. I spilled out of the canopy, and its feathers whipped my chin as its long white body tried desperately to flee, twisting, yanking, pecking at my fingers. I tightened my grip and squeezed my eyes shut.

“What do I do?” I screamed.

“Kill it!” Lambert yelled.

“I can't! I can't!”

The squawking was horrible.
Have mercy!
it seemed to be screaming.
I am not one of you!
Let me go!

“I'm sorry! I'm sorry!”

“Don't let go!”


“I'm sorry!”

Then Yannis was on top of me. He snared the bird's head and twisted it fiercely. It died with a snap. Its plumage fell against my chest. Tears were streaming down my cheeks. I looked at the dead creature. I looked at Yannis. I looked at the rest of them, including the man who calls himself the Lord, and all I could blurt out was “Why?”

BOOK: The Stranger in the Lifeboat
3.48Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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