Charley Fabian's 68' Hatteras was to die for - if your luck ran out.
Artie Logue, my contact at Archer All Risk, needed confirmation. Insurance guys are like that. One of his boats (it wasn't "his" technically, but tell that to an insurance guy) had gone up on a reef off Santa Paula Island with a commercial load of seven swordfish aboard. Babaloo wasn't insured for commercial use, and Artie didn't want to pay the three mil in hull insurance. Who could blame him?
He told me to find Babaloo's crew - Padowski, Ryan, and Duchek - find out what really happened. That's what I get paid for. So I spent the afternoon walking the fishing docks at San Pedro, finally stopping at Sharkey's Chandlery - eventually everyone does.
Sharkey is dark and huge, like Al Capone without the great sense of humor. He hadn't seen my guys, but he knew he would. I gave him my card wrapped in a C-note to pay for the phone call when one showed up.
The docks here are a funny place, but no one's laughing. It's crawling with Serbs and Croats and Bosnians, all hating each others' guts. Maybe Nick Duchek was one of them. So I went to the Serbian Union but got nothing. I tried the Croatian Brotherhood. Two Ducheks-one of them a Nick. The old man I talked to had a voice that'd been hoarse since birth. He told me that Nick didn't come in often.
"I need to talk to him," I said.
The old man's eyes crinkled like an old paper bag. "So talk. He just walked in."
The kid at the door was in his mid-20s, tall, black-haired, with mournful eyes that had some miles on them.
"Nick Duchek?" I said.
He smiled tiredly. "What kept you?"
I liked Duchek about as much as you can like a guy who's holding out on you. He told me he just did his job and spent his pay. He'd worked on Babaloo four or five times.
I still liked him, so I gave it a shot. "Do they do anything on Babaloo besides fish?"
He thought a beat too long. He said no, but by then, it was just a word.
"What happened that day?"
"It was night," he said. "And there was a heavy fog."
"Who was at the helm?"
"Padowski was captain."
"How do I find him?"
Duchek's head shook. "I heard he's in Hawaii. Look, I'm a deckhand. What do you want from me?"
There was a roomy silence, but I knew that look. Something in him had switched.
"You sleeping okay, kid? You look beat up."
"Yeah, well…" It was a complete sentence.
"Come on." I led him out to my car. Funny thing about sitting in parked cars-people feel as if they have to say something.
"I want out of this," he said at last. "Padowski and Ryan are scary-and I don't want to think about Fabian." Charley Fabian owned Babaloo and lots more.
"I'm not a cop, Nick," I said. "But I need to know what happened."
Duchek took a moment, then started.