Gasping for air, Minnie lunged at
the metal post which anchored the chain link fence, gripping it with both
hands. Her quivering legs could not have carried her another fifteen feet. The
fishy smell of the waterway mingled with that of her own pungent sweat. There
was not a hint of breeze from the gulf, and the humid air of the South
Florida night offered no relief. Her matted hair prickled under a
woolly cap and she rubbed the side of her head against the pole to relieve the
itching, wondering what on earth had come over her. The riskiest thing she had
done in her life to that point was wearing shorts and a halter top on her
A half-hour earlier, while
dressing all in black, her mind had spun with anxiety. As she stuck the kitchen
knife into her pants pocket she felt like a cat burglar, except that they were
slim, agile people who knew karate. She was a fifty-seven-year-old divorcee who
had gained thirty pounds since learning about her cheating husband.
While her legs recovered from the
run, she checked the sky and saw that the waning moon cooperated, staying
behind thick clouds. A single bulb dangled high over the entrance to the
marina. Though no more than forty watts in strength, it seemed to expose her
like a floodlight in a jail yard, and Minnie knew she could not stay there
long. She allowed herself a couple more deep breaths then reached for the
tumbler lock. Now, the darkness was against her; it was almost impossible to
see the small numbers.
“Damn,” Minnie whispered. She
seldom cursed but this seemed to be the night for breaking patterns. She
recalled another thing about cat burglars: they don’t need reading glasses.
Squinting, Minnie slanted the lock this way and that under the meager light.
Even though it had been over a year since that boat ride with the Castleburys, she recalled the combination. They had
explained that the condo association changed the marina code every January
first but they kept it simple. It was the four digits of the current year,
backwards. Minnie found the number one and the zeros by feel. She rolled them
to the center line. After only two misses she found the number two. The lock
Hunched over almost double,
thighs burning, Minnie crept along the dock. Jimmy Simm's
boat, built solely for speed, hunkered low in the water. There was a cabin
cruiser moored on one side and a lofty fishing boat, complete with satellite
dish, on the other. Its size provided Minnie some protection from any
insomniacs who might be standing behind darkened condominium windows.
At close range Simm's boat looked wide and firm, so Minnie thought it
would be stable. But when she stepped down the boat responded to her weight and
shifted away from the dock.
She cried out before she could
clamp her mouth shut. Her legs were spreading apart, one foot on the dock, one
on the boat. She flung her body forward and fell onto the hull. Splayed on the
slick surface, she stayed still for an agonizing few minutes expecting to see
lights pop on and hear doors squeak open. But she heard only the slosh of water
as the boat settled and the hum of a car several streets away.
Minnie felt her way past the
seats and over a couple of duffel bags to the rear. Two huge engines loomed
against the glimmer of the water. Taking the kitchen knife from her pocket, she
felt for exposed screws which she hoped might be holding the motors in place.
Her fingers traced inch after inch, foot after foot, of smooth fiberglass. If
there were screws involved, they were buried. Why hadn't she studied a boating
magazine and been better prepared? Too eager to act, she may have sabotaged
Her groping fingers did find what
seemed to be a gas cap on the outside edge of the boat. Looking for something
to use as a scoop, Minnie unzipped one of the duffel bags and came up with a
thermos. With its cup she dipped water and poured it into what she hoped was
the gas tank. In the stillness, the sluicing noise seemed as loud as the rush
of a stream. After a few well-spaced dips, Minnie replaced the cup and the
thermos and sat back on her heels.
Searching for gas or water lines,
she returned to the front of the boat and felt under what would be the dash if
it were a car. She stretched her arms into the narrow space and felt two lines.
She sawed at one of them with the serrated edge of the knife, but since she
couldn’t see anything beyond her elbows she had no sense of how much damage she
was doing. She chose the other line and, after a couple of minutes of sawing,
felt an abrasion begin to form. The line was coated with a braided fiber which
was shedding and falling through her fingers. She felt the knife hesitate...it
had gone through to the rubber. Flushed with success, she worked harder,
perspiration soaking her long-sleeved T-shirt. When she felt a trickle of
moisture on her fingers she grinned. Then she heard a car approaching fast.
Minnie scrunched down to a ball.
The car stopped in front of the marina gate, brakes squealing. Minnie clamped
her eyes shut as if to render the night even darker.
"You're a slimy pile of
carrion fodder," a woman screamed. A car door slammed and high heels
clicked on the pavement, moving in the opposite direction, toward the
"Don't be so damned
touchy," a man's voice called.
you!" she yelled, her voice catching as though tears would be next.
A window slid open. "Hey
down there, it's in the
morning!" The window slammed shut, and the car sped off.
It was suddenly so quiet that
Minnie heard her heartbeat in her ears. What a stupid idea this was; she could
so easily be caught. She waited a full five minutes, then stepped out of the
boat, crept along the dock, relocked the gate and ran.
Fifty-seven-year-old Minnie Zuccarelli has always been a law-abiding citizen. But when
Minnie sees a callous neighbor, Jimmy Simm, endanger
a manatee and her baby, her fighting instincts are aroused. At in the morning she creeps along
the waterway toward Simm's boat, with a knife in her
pocket. The consequences of her rash act are not what she expects, and Minnie
begins to fear the moment the police will arrive at her door.
Further complicating her life,
Minnie is attracted to a man who is keeping an astounding secret. Both
situations jolt Minnie from the lethargy which she slid into after her divorce,
and she learns that a life without risks is only half a life.
About the Author
Minnie and the Manatees is
Marlene Baird's third published novel. It was inspired by a visit to Florida
where she became enchanted with the peaceful creatures represented in the story.
In 2003 this book took first place in a nationwide contest sponsored by the
Arizona Authors Association. Marlene lives in Prescott, Arizona with husband,