Short - Adrift

"The drone of the Yamaha four-stroke couldn’t cover up the sound from Mike's .357, and when I felt the pressure wave from the shot in my gut, I knew I had a bad night ahead of me."

Short - Adrift
Photo by Guillaume Bleyer / Unsplash

For my younger readers, I'd say this story is rated T - Teen. There's death.

This previously unpublished story is one that also has echoes of Edgar Allen Poe, which I never realized until now when I reread it. As I was first learning to write fiction, I used short stories as ways to try out new techniques, not ever really intending to sell them. This is my early attempt at hard-boiled detective, first person narrative style.

The drone of the Yamaha four-stroke couldn’t cover up the sound from Mike's .357, and when I felt the pressure wave from the shot in my gut, I knew I had a bad night ahead of me.

I throttled back and flicked on the spreader lights--hoping to disorient my friend before he could take aim for a second try. Having heard Sally's confession this morning, I assumed the shot signaled Mike's attempt to resolve the issue, but that a well-timed encounter with a wave had saved me. Ducking into the cabin would have offered some protection, but a glance towards my friend showed me that I didn't need it.

Mike staggered against the gunwale fish locker on the port side, with the gun hanging from his right index finger by the trigger guard. He looked like his muscles all decided to relax at once--the look of a passed-out drunk or of someone who has accepted his own death. The stern wave caught up to the Scout and knocked Mike to the deck in a well-armed heap. Should I help him?

“I guess I screwed up, huh?” Blood dribbled out of the corner of his mouth and down his chin to mix with the neon colors of his tropical shirt and the dark stain that expanded from the hole just below his heart.

“Yeah buddy, you sure did.” I couldn’t just let him die though, he was my friend after all, and besides, everyone and their lawyer would think I did it. Even if I managed to convince a jury that the fool shot himself, I would still be exposed to my old colleagues from New York, and then the courts would be the least of my worries. No, I had to try to save my girlfriend’s lover.

I talked to him while I worked, told him everything would be alright. The wounds weren’t serious. He would live. I didn’t care about him and Sally. Whatever he wanted to hear. Anything to preserve give him a reason to stay alive. I propped him up against the stern seat with towels over the wounds in front and back, secured in place with a piece of rope I stole from one of the bumpers.

“Don’t talk, Mike. I’ll get you to a hospital. You’ll be fine.”

He sat there on the deck behind me, gasping for air, while we raced for the coast. The Scout bounced over waves, which must have hurt him, but he didn’t have much time, and I didn't have much sympathy. We were friends and all, but he had been screwing around with my girlfriend behind my back--and he had brought a gun on our fishing trip for that matter. I plotted a course back to Venice Beach and hit every wave.

What would I do when Mike died? I knew it was when, not if--never lie to yourself, that’s my rule. Lie to everyone else as much as you want, but if you’re honest with yourself, you’ll never be the source of your own problems. A shot from a .357 at close range, yeah, Mike would have died even if he’d shot himself while standing in line at the Emergency Room.

I suppose that’s why I didn’t call the Coast Guard for help.


There are some sounds which have the power to trigger our deepest fears, evolutionary fears left over from the bad old days when humans weren’t at the top of the food chain. Soldiers fear the snap of a twig breaking somewhere off in the jungle, made-men fear the click of a cocking gun, and boaters, we fear the sputtering of an engine thirsty for fuel. My stomach went hollow at the sound. Damn. After the initial engine cough, the fuel held out for five staccato minutes, but when it sputtered more than it ran, I cut the engine and drifted, staring out into the night. What now?

Mike sat in the dark, no need for the lights, better he didn’t see the sticky red towel tied to his chest. We sat there--two wise men knowing the future--saying nothing. Waves fondled the boat, making it bob in time with their timid slaps. So peaceful. I could do nothing more for Mike.

His blood drained from the hole in his gut and pooled on the deck, while his life evaporated into the humid night. I watched his eyes twitch in the reflected glow of the console and then dilate for the last time. He was gone.


What now?

Take it easy. Take stock of the situation. Take a Bud from the cooler. All calm-like. No problem, you can figure out what to do.

Panic circled just out of sight, waiting for me to drop my guard so it could start the feeding frenzy, but I wouldn’t let it. The beer would calm me, help me think it through. If I focused on one step at a time, everything would work out, right?

First, check out the engine. Fuel gauge empty? Huh? Sip beer. Hell, take a swallow. I fueled up yesterday and the gauge read three quarters when Mike and I headed out this evening. OK. The engine ran out of gas.

Second, figure out why. Did Mike screw with the tank? Gas cap in place. What about the fuel line? Shit. Swallow. The fuel line. Gulp. Another beer. The bullet had nicked it, leaving a hole that let the gas pump into the ocean as much as into the engine, and the gas had leaked out while we motored towards shore. If I’d been lucky, the bullet would have blown the line in two, and I would’ve caught it when I had time to do something about it.

Another beer.


The cans rattled when I kicked them at Mike, but that didn’t bring back the gas. It did, however, give me a sense of doing something, and right then, I needed action, movement away from my predicament. In a moment of weakness, I extracted a half-empty whiskey bottle from the cabin, but now it hung from my hands, disappointed that I still needed to focus. It did, however, give me something to stare at while I pondered the situation.

When Mike and I set out this afternoon, I was pissed. This morning, Sally told me that she’d been having an affair with him. Shit. Why’d she have to tell me that? And why the hell did she have to ruin a good night of fishing by telling me today?

I looked up from the bottle of whiskey. Mike stayed dead. His eyes still stared at me, dull, no spark of life. I’d seen those eyes on dozens of bluefish after they finished twitching. That bastard. Why the hell did he bring a gun on board? Did she tell him that she was going to confess today? Did he think I’d care? What an arrogant son-of-a-bitch.

Thinking about it got me all worked up--Mike had been my best fishing partner. Now he was a Jersey Barrier forcing me down a bad road. If Sally hadn’t told me about the affair, I’d have no motive, no reason not to call the Coast Guard. For that matter, if she and Mike had kept their hands off each other, he wouldn't be dead, and we’d be fishing and boozing it up.


Trapped out on the ocean with no way out, and a blood spattered deck pointing an accusing finger at me. How did I wind up here? I was a good guy. I treated my friends right and never hurt anyone. What did I ever do to piss off the universe? I’m sure those jerks back in New York would love to see me now. They would probably say it was divine justice for skipping town with their cash, but what do they know?

Mike, that bastard, kept on staring at me. His dead eyes made me sit up and shiver. Creepy. No, wait, it was just a cold breeze. I couldn’t get a break today. The wind ran before a storm that peaked over the invisible horizon. It made no sound as it sailed towards me from the Gulf, but flashes of lightning signaled its unfocused aggression, like a pack of shoppers at a Black Friday sale. God’s way of punishing me even more.

The approaching storm pushed me into the whiskey bottle. I needed more than beer to calm me down. I needed to clear my head. I needed to gather up all the shit in my life and flush it down the toilet. And I needed to start with Mike.

I reached for the radio and dialed up the emergency frequency. I’d explain what happened and how I had to stay hidden or else I’d get killed. If I called it in, they’d believe me, right? Yeah, up until they asked why I didn’t call when it first happened. I traded the handset for the whiskey bottle.


Mike’s blood coated the back of the cockpit, but when the storm arrived, the rain diluted it, washed it down the drain. Good riddance.

The wind picked up and drove pummeling rain under the boat’s hard top. Angry waves groped the stranded Scout like horny frat boys and rocked it back and forth, while lightning flashed all around. I could have gone below, but it seemed fitting to take my punishment and keep Mike company. His head rolled in time with the waves, shaking at me in disappointment.

“#$@! you, you bastard!”

The empty bottle made a wet thunk when it hit his chest, and then fell in his lap. I couldn’t help but laugh--I’d seen him like that before, passed out in the rain with an empty bottle. How fitting.

I pulled myself up from the captain’s chair and staggered over to the cooler for a beer. The gunwale leapt up and punched me in the gut, damn waves--it wasn’t the whiskey. Once I got my balance, I fumbled in the cooler to discover no more beer. Even worse, I noticed the fuel line, still sporting a mortal wound. Damn.

The radio called to me again. It would be easy enough to get home. Call the Coast Guard and get a tow. Home in no time. But what about the bastard in back? I couldn’t call for help with him out in the open, and if I hid his body, I’d look even guiltier. Still, there was all that ice melting away in the fish locker...maybe I could smuggle him back to shore and make it look like a suicide. The last thing I needed was the cops hunting me too.

This whole situation made me laugh. There I was, retired in Florida, hiding out, enjoying my cleverness, when this idiot and my girlfriend strand me. I wasn’t about to get busted for the one crime I didn’t commit, and I had zero chance of avoiding an investigation.

My only other choice involved dying out there with him, and that would make it hard to enjoy my retirement.

“Why did you leave me like this? What did I ever do to you?”

Mike still stared back at me, but now he looked different. With the rain washing away the crimson stains, Mike appeared at peace. The old Mike returned, full of forgiveness, telling me everything would be OK. And I listened. He wept, sorry for Sally, sorry for leaving me with this mess. He didn’t want me to get in trouble. He told me what I had to do. And once I had his blessing, I knew I’d be fine.

The storm lightened up, which made it easier for me to climb up on the front deck and haul the anchor out of its locker. Once I finished tying it to Mike’s body, I dumped him over the side. We said our goodbyes as he sank out of sight. Short and sweet. The way he would have wanted it.

The rain washed away the blood, all the signs of sin. I tossed Mike’s gun and replaced the damaged fuel hose. I tossed that evidence too. Then the last of the storm passed and took the rain away.

It was done.

“Coast Guard, this is the Tackle-Box. Damned if I didn’t forget to fuel up this morning.”

I’d been wanting to check out the Bahamas anyway. Maybe I’d just keep on going once I got there.

Copyright © 2024 Todd Edwards, All rights reserved.

Todd Edwards © . All rights reserved.