Newport - Summer of '22 Book III - 2. Sailing & Piracy
“He knows how to sail.” A grinning Jake Cruz pointed at CJ. “I wanna be in his boat, just in case.”
“SPIKE!” CJ hugged the man so hard his friend begged to be set free.
“You know how to sail?” The wedding planner had arranged an outing Friday morning, and the woman asking was one of the day’s boat captains. Likely a college student with a summer job, she licked her lips while scanning CJ.
The white V-neck beneath the unzipped Georgetown Hoyas hoodie was tight enough it showcased his flat stomach and defined chest. He smiled, realizing although he had dressed for his husband, the woman obviously approved. Owen liked how CJ’s dark chest hair peeked over the shirt’s neckline. The battered boat shoes looked incongruous against the blinding whiteness of the shirt and the old-fashioned blue and white-striped seersucker shorts. Owen vetoed his initial plan to wear a pair of ratty, old cutoffs, and CJ acquiesced to his husband’s request. Whatever made Owen happy worked for him.
“I do. My husband and I both do.” He threw a thumb in Owen’s direction. “Friends own a cat, and we’ve taken it out countless times.” He hoped the husband reference was sufficient to keep a horny coed at bay.
“I didn’t know you’d be here this weekend, Spike. When did you get in?” Owen appeared concerned the CIA agent had suddenly shown up.
“Did you forget Paul and I were on Georgetown’s crew team together? I was a volunteer coach after I graduated too. Anyway, just got in a little while ago after catching an early flight. Sawyer tells me you guys had an interesting evening.”
When CJ stared at him, Carson shrugged. “Hey, we’re sharing a room this weekend, so I thought he should know what’s been going on. And stop staring at me like that; you and Jay are all everyone’s talking about. Behind your back, of course.”
“The hell? Why? I didn’t do crap.”
“Maybe because every time you face off against someone, they wind up on the ground, bleeding?” Jake lifted his sunglasses and winked at CJ.
“Screw you! I don’t wanna be your friend anymore.”
“Even if I came bearing gifts?”
Most of his friends knew Jake worked for the CIA, but not about his involvement in covert operations. His business card claimed he was a facilities planner at the agency. CJ kept his voice barely above a whisper.
“You can’t bribe me, Spike. You, more than anyone, should know that. Don’t forget who handed you people a Russian spy on a silver platter. You keep this up; next one I give to the FBI.”
“Damn! Already whispering? Before the two of you start spilling secrets and have to kill me, wanna hear what happened after the ambulance took Mr. Fanning away?” Carson tried to act nonchalant while staring at his fingernails. He had somehow figured out Jake was more than what his business card proclaimed months before and had been sworn to secrecy. “It was way too early for a wedding party gathering this morning, but since I’m a groomsman, I had to be there and got to hear the rest of the story.”
“Spill already.” Owen’s interest surprised CJ. It was not like the Aussie to want to hear gossip.
“So, Mrs. Fanning rode in the ambulance with her husband. By the time they reached the hospital, he was supposedly awake and cursing up a storm. She was enraged.”
“How do you know this?” CJ was not interested in listening to third-hand accounts.
“Hang on. I’ll get there. Anyway, they cleaned up the cut on his forehead, put a bandage on it, and sent him home. When he complained of it hurting and begged for painkillers, hospital personnel told him to take Tylenol. All that came straight from Mrs. Fanning.” They all looked surprised.
CJ was the first to recover. “Damn! How the mighty have fallen. I’m sure somebody took pity on him. I mean, he’s like a big shot in Rhode Island, isn’t he?”
Carson again shrugged; he was doing it a lot. “He sure as shit isn’t in his own house. Mrs. Fanning called him a ride and sent him home with orders to be moved out by Sunday when she returned.”
“Bloody hell… He won’t be at the wedding at all?”
“Nope. That’s why we met this morning. Back at the hotel after returning from the hospital, Mrs. Fanning huddled up with Molly and Paul. They decided that Logan, the older brother, would walk Molly down the aisle and do the first dance.”
CJ wasn’t happy. “Fuck! I can’t believe all this shit happened because I couldn’t keep my mouth shut.”
“Don’t even think it.”
CJ turned to find the hand clasping his shoulder belonged to Paul.
“How’s Molly handling this crap?” Owen sounded as concerned as CJ was.
Paul sighed. “You know those stages of grief everyone talks about? She’s stuck on anger. Guys, I’m so gonna be a saint for the rest of my life. After seeing her mother turn on full pissed-off mode last night, and getting a glimpse of Molly heading in the same direction this morning, I ran away. I don’t ever want to see her upset with me like that. Filling people in on the recent developments was my excuse to escape. So, Molly and I are gonna skip the sailing, but we’ll see you tonight.”
Not everyone at the rehearsal dinner was part of the outing. However, several guests had arrived the previous night or early in the morning, as Jake had, and they were on hand for the expedition. In addition to Carson and Jake, David and Stephanie joined CJ and Owen on one of the boats. CJ suspected the couple would become regular visitors at their home once they moved to Washington.
While Paul chatted with everyone else, CJ and his companions stripped to bathing suits and sunglasses—the day was sunny nd rapidly warming—and made themselves comfortable aboard the Dream Weaver. The wedding planner had contracted with Newport Wind Sports Academy to use school vessels. The facility on the western side of Aquidneck Island would be their embarkation and debarkation point.
In typical Carson fashion, as soon as the sails were up and their captain headed north, he stood by her side and flirted. CJ suspected he would disappear for a couple of hours in the afternoon.
“There’s way too many lighthouses around here.” CJ pointed at a rectangular, white building with a cylindrical protrusion atop. “Which one’s that one?”
“That’s the Rose Island Lighthouse.” David reached for Stephanie’s hand and gave it a soft squeeze. “Remember when we stayed there?”
“You can do that?” CJ was intrigued.
“Yep. David and I did it once.” Stephanie inched closer to her husband and pecked his cheek. “It was sooo romantic. We watched one of the best sunsets I’ve ever seen, drinking wine and munching on cheese and crackers.”
Owen took preemptive action. “We’re not extending the trip so you can spend a night in a lighthouse, Ceej. I’m already missing Liebe. We need to call her when we stop for lunch.”
“I can’t believe David and I are older than you, but you already have a kid. I’m so ready to be a mom.”
“We have two more on the way if you ever want to borrow one.” CJ ducked in case Owen decided to slap his head. “The new ones will be ready around year’s end.”
“Really? Congratulations! Do you know their sex yet?”
“Two boys,” Owen said. “Identical since the doctor only implanted one embryo in our surrogate. Whenever you and David get to Washington, we’ll add you guys to the list of potential babysitters.”
Rounding Rose Island, they tacked south toward their starting point but stayed west of the small peninsula where they had boarded. David pointed at the tip of the land spit. “That’s the lookout point for Fort Adams State Park, where they hold the Newport Jazz Festival every year. And we have another lighthouse coming up for you, CJ.”
“Really? How many of the suckers are there?”
“About a dozen, I think. You gotta remember this is New England, and our coasts are rocky. All of them warned sailors off the shoals before GPS technology came around. Next one coming up’s Castle Hill. It’s one of two guarding the bay’s entrance.”
“Are they all still in use?”
“Most of them have been decommissioned.”
The pharos was visible when they rounded the island’s southern tip. Sailing past it, the woman at the helm pointed the bow eastward. CJ was aware their destination was Bailey’s Beach, where the planner had promised lunch, cocktails, and a rest before returning to the dock.
There was a sandy expanse in the cove, but rocks near the shore precluded them from beaching the boat. Once the anchor was dropped, everyone dove in and swam for dry land. CJ was thankful it was a short dip since the water was chilly. As promised, the organizers had towels, food, and drinks waiting. While chatting with a couple of guys who had also been rowers at GU, he ordered a vodka cranberry and went to sit next to Owen and Jake. They both had cocktails already.
“I could get used to this life.” Having left their phones behind on Dream Weaver, Owen used their waterproof camera to snap pictures of the location and his companions.
CJ noticed Jake furtively glancing around as if waiting for someone to approach or, more likely, for everyone to be out of earshot.
“Guys, while we’re alone”—Carson was chatting with their captain while David and Stephanie mingled with other guests—“let me tell you about that present I mentioned before.”
CJ raised his torso and leaned back on his elbows. Considering what Jake did for a living, a touch of secrecy did not come as a surprise.
“Carson and I were chatting about you guys traveling to Cuba next month.”
“That man loves to talk; he’s always been a great gossip.” CJ chuckled, and Owen nodded. “Not next month. August. The Nature Conservancy asked Ozzie to be part of a delegation. I’m tagging along ’cause there’s no fucking way I’m missing the chance to visit the country my grandparents were born in.”
Jake nodded. “Understandable. Anyway, let’s talk more about it when we’re back in D.C.”
“Why?” Owen’s clipped tone signaled he was wary of Jake.
“Although I do not know this for a fact, I suspect the Cuban government’s invitation’s part of a tectonic shift in politics. We think the moves are partly due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine and the Cubans realizing the West’s support for Zelenskyy means Putin will not be around forever. We’d love the opportunity to turn Cuba from foe to friend.”
“Why are you telling us this? And what do you want with us when we’re back home?” From clipped to frigid, Owen’s tone had rapidly deteriorated.
To Jake’s credit, he did not react to the quasi-hostile comment. “I’d like to stop by your place about a week before you leave. I’ll bring a friend along to ensure what we installed on your phones remains current. And I’ll give you a name and number in case you run into any trouble down there.”
“No bloody way, Spike.” Owen’s head might have spun off his neck if he had shaken it harder. “I’m traveling with an NGO, and he’s a tourist. We will not get involved in any chicanery of yours. Keep your name and number, and don’t bother with the phones. We won’t need that crap.”
CJ cracked up. “You tell the fucker, Oz. Damn! I love it when you’re this assertive.” CJ glanced at his crotch. “I think I got a stiffie.”
“Go jump in the cold ocean. I’m serious here. What happened in Mexico was enough. Yevgeny fucked with us, so I had no problem fucking back. But we’re not bloody spies. You get it, Spike?”
“Loud and clear. But before you scream at me again, consider no matter what, you and CJ won’t be anonymous travelers. Even though he’s young, your husband’s already accomplished more—with you at his side all along—than most people do their entire lives. There’s plenty of publicity to back me up. The Cuban government will be aware of who you are. Considering how you guys nudged a Russian Station Chief to defect, and CJ’s Cuban heritage, I’ll bet you anything you’ll be trailed as soon as you step off the plane. It’s what I’d do.”
“That bloody sucks.” Owen sounded exasperated. “I don’t want to spend the rest of my life worrying when we travel overseas. Or always looking over my shoulder to see who’s behind me.”
“It’ll mellow out eventually, Ozzie. But right now…” Jake shrugged. “On the bright side, if you were traveling to Australia, or Canada, or another friendly country, it wouldn’t be an issue. Just try to keep a low profile for a while.”
Grinning, CJ raised his right hand. “Ummm… That’s not gonna be as easy as you make it sound. I’m already working on a book about our time in Mexico. I’m sure you’ll read it when I submit it for approval.” He knew the CIA, the FBI, and the State Department would have to sign off on anything he might want to publish.
Jake smirked. “Not the best way to keep a low profile, CJ.”
“Oh, you’re gonna love this part then.” CJ’s grin grew. “Our attorney in L.A. emailed us before we left D.C. Seems a couple of people or studios have inquired about us after seeing clips from the White House visit. I’m pretty sure the book will be turned into a movie. We’ll invite you to the premiere.”
Having eaten and not wanting to get drunk so early in the day, CJ stood, shrugged, ran to the water, and dove in.
Getting out a moment later, he shivered while Owen laughed and tossed him a towel. “What was that all about?”
Owen cracked up. “You sound like Liebe. Why can’t you relax and maybe take a nap?”
“Because I can nap back home. We’re in a new place, and I’d rather explore.”
“Me too. And it’s not even a new place for us.” David held Stephanie’s hand when they stood close to CJ and Owen. “We’re bored out of our minds. The crowd’s mostly Paul and Molly’s friends, and compared to the two of you, bland.”
“Do you guys really know how to sail?” Stephanie spoke softly so only their foursome could hear.
CJ and Owen nodded. “We both do. CJ took lessons before I moved to Washington, and I did the summer after.”
“You look as if you’re up to no good, Dave.” CJ reached for Owen’s hand. “If so, we’re in.”
High fives and fist bumps flew between the two couples. Even the often more sedate Owen appeared interested.
“Can you guys handle the Dream Weaver alone?”
An excited CJ jumped and punched the air. “Yes!” He looked around and lowered his voice. “We gonna steal it?”
Stephanie grinned like a fool. “I’d say borrow instead of steal. David’s idea, but I liked it. You guys up for a little illegal stuff? Wanna abscond with it?”
“Hell, yeah!” CJ cupped his mouth and shouted. “Cruz! Sawyer! Get over here.”
Once they pulled up anchor and started the outboard motor, their captain realized what was happening and ran to the water’s edge, waving her arms and shouting. “Get back here! You can’t do that. Insurance won’t cover you.”
Carson was kind enough to reply for them. “We’ll return it to the school later. Don’t worry about insurance; CJ and Ozzie are rich. You can catch a ride back in one of the catering vans.” The comment about his friends’ wealth earned him an elbow to the ribs from Owen; CJ was busy raising the sail.
“Head east and watch out for the shoals, Cap.” A grinning David stood next to CJ.
“That’s my dad’s nickname. Retired Marine Corps captain.”
“Paul mentioned your brother’s in the Air Force?”
CJ chuckled. “Kinda. He’s at the Academy out in Colorado. Kid’s wanted to fly fighter jets since he could walk.”
“Then I’ll assume your family’s big on supporting the military.” David draped an arm over CJ’s shoulder and squeezed. “Which makes me happy since that’s our biggest customer. A couple of Pentagon big shots are coming to the wedding. I’ll make sure I introduce you if you don’t know them.”
“Let me surprise you.” David turned to look at his wife. “Steph, wanna get my phone out of the waterproof box? I want a picture of the two of us before we’re arrested and hung for piracy.”
CJ cracked up. “Asshole. But I guess it’s something to add to my resume when I go looking for a job.”
“Oh, that’s cute. If we had any bars, I’d post it right now.” Stephanie snapped a few more shots before handing the phone to Carson. “I want one with the pirates.”
As she joined the two buccaneers, Owen photobombed the picture. Done, he shoved CJ away from the wheel. “Go hang with those two”—he nodded at Carson and Jake sitting on the bow—“Carson was asking about Yevgeny. I’ll drive for a bit. Steph, did you say we could see Cliff Walk from the water?”
“Yeah! Well, not the actual asphalt, but the route. We should head north along the coast, and once we hit The Breakers, we can turn around. You’ll get to see bits of some of the houses.”
Winding its way along the island’s eastern shore, Cliff Walk was a famous public-access path offering views of Newport's shoreline and the opulent Gilded Age mansions the city was known for.
Paul frowned. “You guys need to remember Steph and I don’t know all the players. Who’s Yevgeny?”
CJ chuckled. “Just wait, and you’ll find out. Carson! Stop talking about me behind my back.”
“Ha! Too late. I asked Spike something, and he’s playing dumb.”
“I am dumb. I barely graduated.”
Carson shoved Jake aside. “Bullshit. Anyway, CJ, I asked him why the CIA outed you about the Russian’s defection.”
“What did you say?” David looked bewildered. “What defection? Is the guy Owen mentioned the Russian?”
While Carson nodded, CJ and Jake laughed. Taking pity on David, CJ sat and patted the spot next to him. “Take a load off.” Sighing, CJ extended his legs and leaned back. He recounted their involvement with a Russian intelligence officer in Mexico. Barely deviating from what the CIA had leaked and the press published, he did expand on the episode with the naked dancer at the Bolshoi Ballet’s performance. The straight guys groaned.
“That’s the exact same thing Spike told me—minus the uncut horse-dick details—but I bet there’s even more to the story. Maybe CJ will write about it in his book. What bothered me’s the CIA declassified the operation rather quickly and what they gave the press had enough details CJ’s friends could figure out it was him. And so could anyone who knows how to use Google. Some of us were afraid to text him, figuring the CIA would read anything we wrote.”
“And as I mentioned to Sawyer here, I don’t get involved in that type of decision.” Jake raised a hand to stop Carson’s imminent interruption. “However, since I’m in facilities management, some things I do know about. I’m certain there are cameras from several countries aimed at the Russian Embassy’s entrance. The papers said CJ shook hands with the man outside, and there’s probably a gazillion pictures of them.”
“Spike’s right. Those cameras are there, and I saw some of the footage. But there was something else at play.” CJ did not want to lie about Jake’s involvement, so he phrased the comment to avoid the disclosure. There could be national security ramifications to outing his friend as an operative. “The Russians requested permission to talk to me about the guy’s disappearance, and it was denied. Something else that hasn’t been mentioned’s that the handshaking was really me trying to hurt the Russian. I’ll just say his arm was in a sling when he showed up at our embassy’s front door and asked the Marines for asylum.”
The fallout from the boat theft was minimal. Owen handled the conversation with the wedding planner’s representative and the one from the sailing school.
When they were confronted, the swashbucklers had returned the boat and even begun to rinse it with the dock’s hose. Inside the school’s office, fed up with two people yelling at him and taking a page from CJ’s book, Owen slapped his American Express on the counter. “Mate, I don’t know what the bloody hell you’re making such a racket for.”
CJ grinned, noticing the Australian accent was out in full force. Owen did it on purpose when wanting to ensure people listened to what he was saying. Everyone loves an Aussie accent.
“I’m not interested in being berated. What’s the bloody boat worth? Pull up the price somewhere so I can see it, then put it on my card.”
Two unmoving, silent, slack-jawed individuals stared at him. The disagreement ended on the spot. He did not have to buy the Dream Weaver.
The school representative pushed the card in Owen’s direction and shook his head. “Just get out, okay? Take your card, and leave.”
“Gladly.” Owen was followed out the door by his companions and wildly cheered once out of earshot.
In mild disbelief of the view, CJ shook his head when the taxi turned into their hotel’s driveway. He thought Everhope, their home in Washington, was spacious and beautiful, but it resembled a shack compared to The Chanler at Cliff Walk.
Completed in 1873—a mere fifteen years before Everhope—as a summer retreat for a New York congressman, the palatial mansion-cum-hostelry offered garden villas, rooms within the manor, and ocean-facing cottages. Owen had agreed with CJ’s preference for the Chanler over the other options the bride and groom suggested.
With only twenty guest rooms available, and the wedding scheduled at the height of tourist season, they had made the reservation as soon as they received the save-the-date announcement. “Oz, wanna go for a stroll?”
“The Cliff Walk?” One of the inn’s attractions was direct access to the path. “Yeah. Let’s check in on Liebe first, but we have plenty of time before they pick us up.” A shuttle would go around every hotel guests were staying in and deliver everyone to the beach before sunset.
Inhaling a lungful of salt-tinged air, Owen sighed and reached for CJ’s hand. “What a gorgeous view.” In front of them, water extended to the horizon. “We made the right call with the hotel. It has to be one of the most romantic places we’ve ever stayed.”
CJ stood on his toes and kissed his husband. “You know? Between The Chanler and The Breakers, I think I can forego looking at more old houses. Instead of a walk, why don’t we go back to our room and see how romantic we can get?”
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