Friday morning, June 6th
After a morning of dozens of unrewarding calls to marinas, Kathy got a positive response. A busy marina operator told her the Night Lady left his Hilton Head Island mooring at 8:00 AM. It was a seventy-foot, white Azimuth Fly bridge Cabin Cruiser. The captain paid cash for fuel and mooring charges.
Kelly was listening to the rapid fire phone calls to locate the Night Lady to get the plane ready with a flight plan. She was just coming to understand the extent of the Brandon wealth. New cars, luxury hotel suites, private plane, and nobody seemed to worry about expenses.
Kathy called Jack from the bedroom and said, “We barely have time. The boat left Hilton Head, South Carolina this morning. When it gets in open waters it can run at 25 to 30 knots. They can be in Amelia Island the day after tomorrow at the latest. Is the plane ready?”
“It is standing by. Gather what you need. Don’t leave anything behind that could help anyone to find us. We can eat on board. Let’s go.”
Kelly ran for her overnight bag. Shadow saw the action and jumped up, wagging his stubby tail. He was ready to go. Enough of this luxury hotel stuff.
Three hours later, the Learjet was making its final approach into the Jacksonville Airport. After loading their baggage into the back of the Chevrolet Suburban and getting Shadow settled, Kathy got behind the wheel. She loved to drive and was better at moving through traffic. Jack had no trouble with his passenger status. He needed to call a lead he had on buying or renting a suitable boat. He preferred to buy. Fewer questions and no awkward questions about damages. His goal was to have the boat in the water in a few hours. Kelly was driving a Ford Flex. Both cars were rented in aliases, using documents Jack’s contact in Pittsburgh had supplied.
Kelly’s job was to buy windbreakers, navy blue with the word Navy or Coast or some other official nautical law enforcement organization prominently displayed. With white boat sneakers and blue baseball caps, Jack thought they could pass for officials for the critical first few minutes. Not many other props were required, a loud hailer, big American flag, a 10x telescope and 4x binoculars. The shotguns and handguns came with the plane.
Before long, Kathy pulled into a shopping mall in Fernandina Beach with Kelly following. Through his contact Jack had found a used patrol boat to buy. Jack’s lawyer was now talking to the broker, arranging finances and transfer of ownership. Jack told them to fill it up with gas and he would be there with a check in 30 minutes. The boat was a three-year-old FPB 15M. It was designed to be a coastal law enforcement patrol boat, capable of top speed of around 50 knots. A local developer had used the boat to show clients oceanfront property until he went broke in the housing crash. The boat had been sitting in the marina for two years but had been kept seaworthy by the broker. The broker told Jack not to be put off by the plastic replica of a .50 caliber machine gun on the forward mount. If he took it off it would mar the deck. The previous owner used it to impress clients. Jack told him to leave it in place. He would deal with it later.
At Jack’s request, the broker said he would have the boat delivered to the shrimp boat docking area in two hours. Jack walked over to join Kelly and Kathy in the Ford Flex. He said, “In two hours we’ll be afloat. So let’s get the stuff we need. Kelly, add three sleeping bags to your list. Kathy, pick up rations for living on board for four days. Plenty of drinking water. Shadow will need a bag of his favorite kibble. There is an onboard galley but pick up some basic cooking utensils and tableware. I’ll meet the boat alone and take care of the paperwork. I don’t want to expose anyone else. We’ll load everything into the suburban. Turn the Flex in, we won’t need two cars. I want to be underway in three hours. I’m familiar with this type of boat. I’ll pick up the charts we need. The broker told me all onboard electronics are in working order.
“Kathy, after you turn in the Flex, get a taxi back here to do the shopping. Kelly and I will pick you and the groceries up at the Publix. Wait inside for us. We’ll find you.”
Jack dropped Kelly in downtown Fernandina near the shops carrying outdoor gear and clothing. He remembered where maps and charts of the local area were sold and quickly picked up what he needed to cover the Cumberland Sound and the Amelia River. He also bought charts for a hundred miles north and south of Amelia Island.
Jack arrived at the dock in time to see his FPB 15M coming in to tie up. The boat looked a little shabby. But that was better than having it looking new. He would polish the brass though. No official law enforcement craft would have dingy brass. The broker’s agent stepped ashore and introduced himself. He presented the sales contract and asked Jack if he wanted to inspect the boat before buying. Jack said, “No. You got it here and if there is anything critically wrong with it tell me now. If I find something seriously wrong with it in a couple of days, your broker will be in world of hurt. I paid a good price and expect good value.”
The agent said, “It is a bit shabby. But I’ll guarantee all operating systems work well and I would take it right now to the Islands.”
“That’s what I wanted to hear. Thanks.”
“Do you want me to check you out on the boat?”
“No. I’m very familiar with this class and have all the papers required. Here is your check. The local Bank of America is expecting you. My manager has set everything up. I’m too rushed for time to drop you back at the marina. Sorry about that, but that’s what taxis are for.”
Jack knew he had been abrupt but there just wasn’t time for pleasantries. When the agent left, Jack got Shadow out of the shady parking spot. Shadow knew about boats and at Jack’s command jumped on board. Jack followed Shadow. He saw that it looked better on the inside. He made sure the refrigerator was running. The water tank and fuel tank were full. Battery showing well. GPS was operating. In one of the lockers he found some vintage casting rods. Jack left Shadow on board and told him to guard. He locked the cabin door and left to pick up Kelly and Kathy. Kelly was standing outside the shop that sold outdoor clothing and equipment.
Jack pulled into the curb and opened the back hatch door. Kelly said, “Got everything and then some. Added several flashlights. Did you think of anything else?”
“No. Good job. Let’s go pick up Kathy.”
Kelly found Kathy just inside the store with four carts full of groceries and kitchen equipment. One entire cart was filled with water bottles and a case of Bass Ale. Jack was waiting at the loading curb when they came out of the store. With everyone working, they were on the way to the dock in a few minutes.
Fernandina Beach is a small town. Nothing in town is very far from anyplace else. Kelly gasped when she saw the boat. “Jack, it’s so damned big. Can we handle it?”
“No problem. One person can run it. It helps to have a few lower-ranking crew to help with tie-ups and clean ups. Let’s get it loaded up. The refrigerator is running. All systems are working. I want to get out of here at high tide. I want four feet of water under us. Kathy we have another…”
“Yes, I know you want me to turn in the suburban because we may not be coming back here,” she cut him off.
“That’s right. You’re always one step ahead. Kelly and I will get all this stowed and be ready to push off when you get back.”