Authors: Bryan Mooney
ALSO BY BRYAN MOONEY
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The POTUS Papers
Eye of the Tiger
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Text copyright © 2016 Bryan Mooney
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by Lake Union Publishing, Seattle
Amazon, the Amazon logo, and Lake Union Publishing are trademarks of
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Cover design by Janet Perr
To my loving wife, Bonnie. Thank you for all your patience.
To those who have loved, to those who have lost love, and to those who have rediscovered the wonders of love.
To all of you—never give up hope.
Robert James Macgregor, the eldest of the three Macgregor brothers and the patriarch of the family, stood tall at the front of the old Boston Whaler aptly named
. His floppy Hemingway hat covered his long, dark hair, revealing just a few wild, curling wisps of gray peeking out from underneath. His eyes scoured the water in front of the slow-moving craft, searching for his treasure. It was a hot and humid June day, with the Florida heat scorching his back, as the sun began to set below the purple horizon. On the water there was only the slightest of breezes. His mind wandered while his eyes searched in front of the boat. A hot shower, a cold beer, and a fresh-grilled fillet would be something to look forward to at the end of the day, he thought to himself.
His son, Bobby, stood high above him on the captain’s perch; they were both scouting the shallow water for the same thing—cobia. The elusive fish, nicknamed “the fighting king,” would often swim in these sea-blue waters off Key West.
It was their last day on the water. Father and son had been on the boat since early afternoon and had come up short in their quest. They had caught three small pompano earlier in the day, but they had been too small to keep. Within the last hour, the two fishermen had caught four barracuda, great fighting fish but hardly edible. That might explain why the other fish were nowhere to be seen: no fish liked to swim with barracuda around—too risky. The sun was setting, and they were both tired and hungry. They were determined to catch their dinner for that evening, but it would soon be time to head home.
At last the younger Macgregor stood tall and grinned, shouting, “Starboard side, a hundred fifty yards out, in deeper waters.” He pointed excitedly to a spot in front of them as he throttled the powerful Mercury engine into position. The outboard sprang to life and covered the distance quickly. He loved the responsiveness of the engine. His father had salvaged and rebuilt the abandoned motor until it growled like a tiger. The younger Macgregor swung the longboat around, slowed the skiff to a crawl, and waited for a signal from the deck below.
His father baited a large fishhook with a flopping sardine. When the boat came to a slow troll, he waited, then shifted his old cap around for a better view of his target. There ahead in the clear, blue waters was what they had been searching for all day—cobia—a large one.
“Forty-pounder!” Bobby shouted eagerly from the bridge above.
“Fifty, if not more,” responded his father. “Bring her around, son, nice and slow. And don’t spook ’er.” The elder Macgregor readied the huge rod as the boat pulled into position and, with one long, deliberate motion, cast the baited hook far beyond the boat, well past the scavenging fish. Robert was in for a battle, and he knew it. These were fighting fish, and they did not give up easily.
He reeled in the bait, steady-like, near the large, cautious fish. There was an art to fishing, a certain patience, a rhythm that one had to learn in order to be successful. An ebb and flow, just as in life. He had mastered it years ago, and he felt the rhythm as the boat began to gently rock from side to side. He held the fishing line loosely in his fingers, letting it out patiently, waiting for the slightest movement. He continued to let the line out, slowly.
Wait . . . wait . . . wait . . .
The bait drifted past the cagey creature, which appeared to take no notice; then without warning the enormous fish turned and took the bait. The fish struck it hard. Robert was pulled forward. A lesser man would have landed in the water along with the fish, but the Scotsman was about to show this fighting king who was boss. Robert held on tight as the hook sank deep inside its mouth. The mighty fish ran for the safety of the dark-blue deeper waters; it was running and pulling hard, but Robert knew it was only a matter of time. The shiny, silver-white fish jumped high in the water, signaling its defiance, then jumped again, fighting for its life.
Robert’s strapping shoulders and muscular arms pulled the massive fishing rod back with long, steady movements, his hand turning the reel at the same time. With each measured stroke, the fish battled closer and closer. The fighter continued to struggle against all odds in its losing battle. The regal fish was defiant to the end, even as it was hauled aboard and weighed.
“Fifty-six pounds,” said the elder Scotsman, proudly hoisting the bright-silver delicacy with his portable scale. The older man held it high in the air before he gently set it down in the boat out of respect. Robert was all about tradition, for he felt that without it there could be no life worth living.
He bowed his head, saying, “Cobia, master of the deep, we salute you and your valiant effort,” paying homage to his worthy adversary. The ritual over, he looked up, put his hat back on his sunburned head, and said, “Come on, son, let’s head ashore and have dinner. Take us home.”
“Aye-aye, Captain,” Bobby said and jumped to the wheel. He gave the boat its lead and opened the throttle, and the huge engine replied with a sudden surge of power, leaving a frothy trail of white water churning behind them. They headed for the dock, the salt air blowing in their faces as the afternoon sun brought back some not-so-distant memories from Robert’s past.
He remembered the times he had been on this very boat with Tess, his wife and best friend of thirty-five years.
Tess had lectured him repeatedly—it was time to retire. She was right, as usual. He was going to try to enjoy life and retire in the fall; October was as good a time as any to retire. He liked the fall. He decided it was time to turn over the family business to Bobby.
It was then he had made another decision, without telling Tess, and secretly placed an order for two new matching sports cars, a huge extravagance for any man, but unthinkable for a Scotsman. A retirement gift for the both of them. He chose his car in a dark British racing green and ordered hers in a bright ruby red, her favorite color. It had always been her dream car.
She had retired three years earlier from her position as a nursing shift supervisor at Saint Mary’s Hospital and immediately begun to encourage Robert to do the same. They were going to enjoy life while there was still time left to do so.
In October of that year, Tess was healthy, a ten-year cancer survivor, and they were going in for her annual checkup before they drove to their weekend cabin in the Florida Keys. They were going to spend some time together to regain some balance in their life. Tess was giddy about their upcoming time away together. For two whole weeks, he would be all hers, and she was going to make the most of it. They had always had a life filled with family, work, and, of course, doctors, tests, and numerous medicines. Now all that would be changing; now it would be just the two of them, just as when they were first married, and both of them could hardly wait. They were like kids on the last day of school. Life was good for the Macgregors.
At the doctor’s office came the bad news: the disease had returned and spread to her lungs, her hip, and her blood. The oncologist gave her six months to live. He was wrong; she had lasted only four. That was two years ago.
“Goddamn the world,” Robert had said in anger at the funeral. “Goddamn the world, and those who have to live in it.”
Robert missed her more than anything. He missed her smile, her laugh, her companionship, her humor, her crossword puzzles, her constant teasing, her quirky humor, her mumbling in her sleep to someone named Harry, and her color-blindness—her inability to match any of her clothes. (They clashed regularly about her choice of clothes to start the day. To make life easier for her, Robert finally sewed labels inside her clothes listing the colors.) But most of all, they were comfortable together, and now that was gone from his life. He had put his plans to retire on hold and decided to work part-time.
“Prepare to come about,” his tall son boomed overhead, breaking the mood and bringing him back to reality.
Bobby had pushed him for this week away together, before the baby came. His wife, Patti, was due soon, just about the time of Mary Kate’s upcoming wedding. After that it would be tough to get away from the store for a whole week. Mary Kate was getting married in two weeks, and time would be at a premium as the wedding approached. This would be his and Bobby’s last time together at the cabin for a very long time, and they both knew it.
Bobby needed his father’s strength, as always—the whole family did—and they relied on him and looked to him for direction. He was their moral compass. Now Robert was hurting, and Bobby felt helpless, watching the proud man struggle with the loss of Tess. He too missed his mom, more than ever. She had always been someone special in his life.
Friends said “Give it time,” but things were only getting worse for his dad. Gone were the generous smiles, the hearty laughs, the pranks, and the humor of the big man. Bobby needed to talk to this stubborn Scotsman. He needed to do it soon, before it was too late.
The boat slowly pulled into a secluded cove just north of Key West. Robert had bought the overgrown homestead some fifteen years earlier, along with the dilapidated old cabin, creaking dock, and sunken fishing boat. He loved to fix things, and this had been a perfect weekend project.
He bought the property for less than the cost of a used car from the family of the old man who had lived there. The deceased owner’s relatives arrived from Minnesota, and after the funeral, they visited the property and decided they had no use for it. “Get rid of it before we have to pay any more taxes on it,” the heirs told the Realtor after their rental car became stuck in the home’s muddy driveway.
Robert spent most weekends over the next five years clearing the land, draining the mosquito-filled swamp, paving the road and driveway, redoing the plumbing and electricity, fixing the sewer and water systems, and rebuilding everything from the cabin to the boat to the dock. It was a beautiful bit of paradise on the water, it was all his—and Tess’s. She loved the place even more than he did, when she was alive. Now she was gone.
That was then, but now—and Robert would never admit it to anyone—he was lonely. His son came down regularly to help around the property, fixing things, but after Bobby got married, those visits became fewer and farther between. Bobby’s second wife, Patti, was not really a water person, so he saw his son less and less, except at the store. He loved her like his own, but Robert understood—either you had salt water in your veins or you didn’t.
“Look alive there!” Bobby shouted, and his dad sprang onto the dock, grabbed the tether ropes, and secured the boat to the newly rebuilt wooden pier.
Once ashore, Robert quickly filleted the fish like an expert, carving out huge steaks from the once-proud prince of the sea, as Bobby fired up the outdoor brick pit grill to cook it. They ate well, gorging themselves, with plenty of fish fillets left over for later.
Bobby sat back to proclaim, “That was the best. Nothing like a fresh-caught fish, hot off the grill.”
When they finished, Robert cleaned the plates and table and grabbed a couple of beers from the outdoor cooler. He looked around with pride at the property he had brought back to life, filled with so many memories. The tall grasses at the water’s edge swayed in tune with the gentle breeze. Handing a can to Bobby, he sat back in one of his newly refurbished Adirondack chairs to watch the sun set. A gray-blue heron glided by overhead, looking as if it had nowhere to go and was in no particular hurry to get there, but that was typical of life in Key West.
Last summer Robert had learned that a neighbor had abandoned some chairs at a nearby cottage, and the Realtor was going to pay someone to haul them to the dump. So he rescued them from the trash heap and refinished them, then gave them a fresh coat of paint. They looked brand-new. Robert was handy that way, and that was how he made his living. He could fix anything, and the name of his store said it all: the Frugal Scotsman. Robert owned the largest secondhand variety store in South Florida. The store was immensely popular and had tripled in size over the last fifteen years. He had kept adding on to the original store and had then hired his son, Bobby, to help manage the place. Bobby had also expanded the store’s offerings to include more newer, high-priced items, much to the chagrin of his father.
“Bobby, do you want any of those fillets to take home? I can’t eat all of ’em,” his father said.
“No. Thanks anyway, Dad. Patti doesn’t like when I grill fish. She says it stinks up the house.”
“Well, use the damn outdoor grill, for Pete’s sake.”
“Can’t, it broke last week. Patti was going to the store to order one while I was away and have one of our guys deliver it tomorrow.”
“Hell, don’t do that. I can fix it. I’ll come over and take care of it when I . . .”
He held up his hand. “Dad, thanks, but Patti wants a new one. The old one was over ten years old, and she wants to have neighbors over for barbecues this summer. She wants to show off a little bit. It’s fine, really. “
“Well, if you say so, son, but don’t throw the old one out. I’ll come by and pick it up, no problem. Maybe I can fix it?”
“Dad, I already set it out for the trashman before I left. Patti insisted.”
“Okay, okay, it’s your life and your family, and I’m not about to interfere. No big deal. Besides, I got enough old damn barbecue grills around the store to last a lifetime. And those new ones are selling really well at the store. Thanks to you.”
Bobby smiled. Selling the new grills at a separate grill store had been his idea, which his stubborn father had fought every day, saying they would never sell. He grinned in triumph as he sipped his beer.
“I’ll ice down the rest of the fish and take ’em to your uncle Eian tomorrow. You know him; he’ll eat anything.” When he was done, the older Macgregor looked away to the changing sky and sighed. Sailboats glided by on their way home to the downtown port. He sat in silence watching the orange-and-amber sun set on the calm waters, just as he had done when his Tess was still alive.
Bobby reached out to touch his father’s arm and said, “I love you, Dad.”