The steady cadence of waves slapping against the boat would put the ordinary fisherman to sleep. But Billy McCurdy considered himself a step above any ordinary fisherman. Hell, more like ten steps.
As the line of one fishing reel played out, he baited and tossed out the next until every available inch of the deck stood at attention. The Cathouse may have appeared derelict by some standards, but she was one workhorse of a fishing vessel. The old girl had it where it really counted.
Best of all, she was his. Not tied up by a partner nor a bank, but one-hundred-percent his own, and McCurdy treated her with the touch of a lover. When he’d make port and sell his catch he always brought her back something special. Each time her engines started up now, the purr threatened to give him a hard-on. In no time he’d have her rigged up right nice if the fish kept biting. Get the hydraulics for the crane and nets functioning again, maybe next season he’d be in a position to hire a real crew.
For now, he put up with his good-for-nothing son for a crew. Joey didn’t have the common sense of an onion. On the day God passed out personal gumption, Joey was likely sleeping off the drinking binge of the night before. Running a boat required a minimum second set of hands, and at least Joey had the hands, if not the brains, to fulfill that requirement.
Speak of the devil. “On deck!”
Joey’s hulk blocked the sun as he leaned over the wheelhouse railing.
“That radar thingy has a pretty big area showing just off this way,” Joey said as he pointed to his left.
“My right? That would be starboard, son. Starboard!”
McCurdy took the steps up the ladder two at a time and glared down his son as much as their identical six-foot-five frames allowed.
“Learn the damn terms, boy. Now get down on deck while I assess the target.”
As Joey slunk down the ladder, McCurdy entered the wheelhouse and reviewed the depth finder. He let out a low whistle as he surveyed the shadowed mass on the sonar. The school of fish arrayed on the screen would give him a pretty hefty payload in short order. It looked like no other fishing vessel was close enough to reach it before he secured the choicest pick.
Hot damn. Maybe there was hope for Joey after all.
“Weighing anchor,” McCurdy called over the loudspeaker. “Pull in the lines and get ready to work your ass off, boy.”
The engines rumbled up from idle into full power as he angled the Cathouse out of Pocomoke Sound and into the Chesapeake toward a nice chunk of change – hopefully. Less than fifteen minutes later they pulled up in deeper waters just southwest of where sonar showed the school. The anchor released with a rattle of chain as McCurdy set the engines back to idle.
The familiar briny scent greeted him as he stepped out of the wheelhouse and ploughed down the ladder. Down on deck, McCurdy directed, “Pull out the small nets and rig the poles so we can get them in easier. I don’t want to waste this opportunity with standard fishing line.”
Since they both had to work the deck manually with an inoperable crane, they’d be unable to tow nets and follow the school. After the first scramble, maybe they could move on ahead and take a second shot at the mass, but larger boats would likely be on them by then and they’d lose out. The school’s sheer size gave them a good chance to fill their tank in one go-around if they played it right.
Movement in the first nets relayed the arrival. Father and son jumped into action and started reeling in as fast as their bulging arms allowed, then heaving the wriggling catch into the tank before lowering nets back into the water. The furious pace continued.
McCurdy’s heart thundered against his chest as he strained against the nets. He couldn’t tell if it was strictly from exertion or excitement – probably both. When it appeared the school was moving on, they released the catch right onto the Cathouse’s deck to facilitate returning the nets back to the water until they came up empty.
The school had advanced toward the dark recesses of the Atlantic.
The fishermen stared at each other, arms limp at their sides, faces drenched in sweat and saltwater. McCurdy let out a whoop. The deck swam with writhing fish – the biggest single catch of his fledgling fishing career. Joey had surprised him by sticking to the task right alongside him. Yep, there was definitely hope for the kid yet.
As they set about shoveling their catch into the tank, McCurdy mentally calculated the payout. Soon as they got to port, he’d make a call to schedule the Cathouse for her crane and hydraulics repair job at season’s end. Then maybe he’d make a trip into the city to get rid of some pent-up excitement and fatten some one else’s wallet a bit. Might even take Joey along and introduce him to his first stripper-fest.
Joey’s exclamation ended the delicious thought. “It’s only fish, boy! Grow a pair.” When McCurdy turned to laugh at his son, the shovel clattered to the deck. “What the hell?”
Near the bottom of the wriggling mass, they stared in horror at the swollen and half-eaten remains of a human body.
Too many details. So many names.
President Thomas Noel Durksen stared at the papers strewn across his desk. No, not his desk – the People’s desk. The Resolute desk. Fredrick Douglas Warner’s desk.
His former Commander-in-Chief.
Some day he’d planned to occupy the Oval Office and sit in this very chair. The victory celebration sweet. The swearing-in ceremony a hallowed event followed by the triumphant walk down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House.
Instead there was a funeral, a somber swearing-in, and no walk down the avenue. The Secret Service wouldn’t allow it. Did it matter too that he couldn’t stomach the very idea of pomp after the assassination of a sitting President? The title felt as if it had been bought instead of earned, a taint on his Presidency. It didn’t sit well with him.
It was no secret in the inner circle that he and Warner rarely saw eye-to-eye. However, as a political team they were able to accomplish much when they put personal differences aside. At one time, Warner and his wife had done the same in their former days of glory. He never understood whatever had initially drawn a wedge between them. Warner’s indiscretions eventually caught up to him and became his downfall.
Weeks had passed since the funeral with no real work accomplished. The country continued to mourn. The press and public had accepted the report of Warner’s heart attack – for the most part. Rumors surfaced here and there, but the public largely rejected the majority of conspiracies as the conjuring of overwrought imaginations. Their government wouldn’t lie to them, would it?
If they only knew.
In the meantime, resignations flew into the Oval Office faster than he could read appointment recommendations. Some days his head spun wilder than a Midwestern tornado. If it hadn’t been for Benjamin Forsdale, he’d have already ground his teeth to the gums.
But today was Ben’s last day as Chief of Staff. With Gabe Portenski settling into the Chief’s role, the real test would come tomorrow with Ben’s absence. It felt like the proverbial double-edged sword.
Ben Forsdale was good at his job – invaluable even. No one could ever fault the man for anything less than a job well done. However, something about Ben made him uneasy. There were the numerous sluts he’d hired for the sheer sake of satisfying Warner’s appetites. Within context he was doing the will of the President at that time, no matter how repulsive.
Yet over the years he’d noticed something more unsettling in Ben’s brilliant mind. Something dark. Almost sinister. Moments passed when the façade fell ever so slight and a glint shimmered in his eyes before the mask snapped back into place. Durksen knew he couldn’t have Ben stay any longer. He didn’t trust him. The resignation letter offered reprieve from a difficult decision.
Ruminations were interrupted as the side staff door opened to admit Ben and Gabe to the Oval Office. Durksen stood to offer his hand of farewell.
“Well, Ben, off to greener pastures?”
“A change of scenery, Mr. President,” Ben said as he accepted the offered handshake with a smile.
“So how goes our new Chief of Staff?” Durksen asked. “Do you think Gabe’s ready for the challenge?”
Ben laughed. “Very able, sir.”
“That I am, Mr. President,” Gabe offered, adjusting his wire rimmed glasses.
Gabe Portenski had proven himself while serving as an assistant during the Vice Presidency. Durksen’s choice had been simple, though much more would now be required of the young man.
Ben continued, “With your permission, Mr. President, I’ll gather the last of my things and be on my way. I’ve already sent for a car.”
“You are relieved then. Your efforts will be missed, Ben.”
“Thank you, sir.”
As Ben sauntered from the Oval Office, Durksen grabbed the latest staffing recommendations from the desk and handed them off.
“Have a seat, Gabe. We’ve got to make some headway on these. It’s going to be a long afternoon.”
After clearing the painting through the final stages of security, Ben bade a farewell to the White House staff. The remainder of his office goods and gifts were boxed up and waiting for clearance to be transported to his home, but he’d never let the painting of the HMS Resolute out of his possession after all he’d gone through to purchase it.
The waiting limousine surprised him – he’d only requested a car. Perhaps the President felt his exit should be high class. That suited him just fine. He deserved it anyway, considering he’d remained on staff three whole weeks after submitting his resignation. Maybe President Durksen wasn’t quite the stuffed-shirt he always portrayed.
The driver came around and opened the door for Ben to climb into the plush vehicle. Before his eyes adjusted between the glare of the afternoon sun and the darkness of the interior, a familiar feminine voice oozed from the cushions.
“Mr. Forsdale, I have a proposition for you.”
Ben glanced up into the face of Abbie Warner – former First Lady of the United States.
Excerpted from "Piercing the Darkness (Deepest Darkness) (Volume 2)" by D. A. Bale. Copyright © 0 by D. A. Bale. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.