Tuesday, November 30, 2021

The Beach Boy Chronicles

Marco’s Artful Dodger

Photo by Mael Balland


Over the years, the Marco Beach Boys and the beautiful crew of Marco Beach Girls have always had a favorite watering hole for the happy hour after work. Many popular taverns on the waterfront have played host to the Beach Crew, and as a result, the Beach Boys and Girls have been spectators to some of the most outlandish and diabolical schemes ever. Almost every bar with a happy hour will have a character that knows no strangers. This will be the animated person holding court and telling stories. This will be the hail-fellow-well-met individual who is always ready to buy a round of drinks, tell a boisterous joke, or make new friends with the possibility that self-serving goals might be on the horizon. 

This story began several years ago in the summer of 2007, and just before the beginning of the financial meltdown and the beginning of the Great Recession. In July of 07, a newcomer arrived on the island along with his wealthy wife from New England. Let’s call him Jack Bryce, and his wife, we’ll call her Marybeth (yes, these are fictitious names but the story, not so much). Bryce immediately bought a big house on the water and an offshore diesel dive boat. He then started buying all the real estate that he could get his hands on. Apparently, this was a very bad time to buy real estate.

None-the-less, Jack was a very determined and outgoing gent who had a silver tongue and never missed a happy hour. Jack was always at the Beach Boy’s favorite waterfront bar and was always ready to buy drinks and make friends with anyone. This was before the real estate collapse, the financial meltdown, and all of Jack’s houses and properties went upside down in the housing market.

When Jack realized he was in trouble, he unloaded a lot of property fast, but he took big losses and Marybeth was running low on disposable money. This is when Jack thought up a plan and he really cooked up a beauty. It seems that even though Jack was upside down financially, Marybeth still had a monthly trust fund so Jack could maintain his middle-aged playboy image at the waterfront bar. After the Wall Street mess and the real estate collapse, Jack was forced to curb his enthusiasm but that never seemed to impinge on his daily happy hours at the favorite bar. After about a year into the Great Recession, Jack, very quietly, took out a big insurance policy with Marybeth as his only beneficiary.

One day in August of 09, when Jack was up to his usual, playing Ernest Hemingway at the bar and buying drinks for everyone who would listen to his stories, he came across two young couples that were interested in diving an old shipwreck about 50 miles offshore from Marco. The dive site is a British Honduran freighter sank by a German U-boat and the two couples were complaining that no charter would go out that far or that deep. When Jack heard the complaints, he at once offered to take the wreck divers out to the old Honduran freighter and then launched his plan.

The following day, the summer weather was perfect. The Gulf of Mexico was flat and calm as a millpond and Jack, with his two couples from Cleveland, loaded up the Snake Eyes just before dawn. They were going out for a real picnic. Not only did they have the latest scuba gear, underwater cameras, and dive tanks, but they also had a catered lunch with every kind of sandwich and beverage imaginable.

Snake Eyes was the name of Jack Bryce’s dive boat. He even had a pair of rolling dice painted above the name on the stern alongside a sneaky looking snake wearing a dealer’s visor. Just before sunrise, the Snake Eyes motored out Capri Pass and Jack set the autopilot and GPS on a heading that would lead them to 50 miles offshore and the wreck of the Baja California. This wreck is a big ship – a freighter loaded with jeeps, trucks, and glassware and it has been under water since it was torpedoed by the U-boat in 1942.

The ride out to the wreck site was fast, like cruising on a lake, and Snake Eyes pulled up over the old ship at about 10:30 AM. There was a big sport fisherman anchored nearby and Jack promptly told the young couples to stay away from the northwest direction of the fishing vessel, as the local anglers were not fond of divers that disturbed the fishing. Everyone agreed and they all geared up and jumped into the perfectly clear and 80-degree water at about 11:00 AM.

Of course, normal diving procedure always insists on safety in numbers and always recommends the use of the buddy system. With the buddy system in place, even if a diver gets into trouble, he always has a partner to help him out. This, however, was not part of Jack’s plan, so he insisted that the two couples from Cleveland remain as partners and he would tag along behind one couple or the other.

When the divers went down, they knew they had a limited amount of bottom time at 100 feet of depth, so they all went into the side of the ship where Jack had explained the giant Goliath grouper were waiting and living as a colony.”

Later, the Cleveland couples would recall that Jack insisted the Goliath grouper were bigger than Sumo wrestlers, and a diving sensation that would make any bucket list. The big grouper were certainly there in the hold, just as Jack promised. After the two couples were distracted by the giant fish and had taken all the photographs time would allow, they were suddenly very concerned when they could not find their host and dive captain who did so resemble a modern day Ernest Hemmingway.

They searched inside the ship with dive lights and then outside and all around the hull until they were all overdue on their bottom time and the scuba tanks were running low on air. When the kids from Cleveland surfaced, Jack was not on the boat. After another ten minutes of scanning the water with binoculars, looking for a floating diver that might have surfaced injured or out of air, the two couples from Cleveland freaked out.

Just as Jack had planned, the kids from Cleveland believed that the nice rich guy that had taken them diving for free had died on the shipwreck and had been swept away by the current. They called for help on the emergency VHF channel and within the next two hours, a helicopter arrived and lowered an investigation team down to the boat. The helicopter crew did a preliminary rescue dive and found nothing. 

The next day an extensive diving investigation followed. These divers also found no body, no scuba gear, and no evidence of foul play, but a week after the underwater survey, the announcement was official: ‘Death by Misadventure.’

The week after that, Marybeth Bryce filed the claim on Jack’s life insurance policy. Marybeth might have been a newfound widow, but she was certainly ready to inherit two million dollars.

The trouble for Jack was the insurance company smelled a rat. They wanted a body and not just a fairytale on how one of their clients disappeared. As it turns out, many of the reported diving fatalities that do not have a body are indeed insurance fraud. Unfortunately for Jack, he didn’t know this when he swam away from the couples excited by the Goliath Grouper and surfaced alongside the fishing boat that had been waiting for him by pre-arrangement. The sport fisherman was a sixty-foot Viking and easily took him to Cuba where Marybeth funneled her husband’s money through an offshore bank in the Caribbean.

The insurance company sent investigators to follow the money trail, and after a few discrete inquiries, the investigators found good-ole Jack Bryce down in Cuba with a newly grown Ernest Hemingway beard. He was up to his usual, buying drinks for all the Canadian, English, and Russian tourists at a cabana bar just outside Havana. He was even calling himself Papa Hemingway.

When Marybeth learned the insurance company was investigating her, she jumped on a cruise ship in Miami, left the ship at the first international port of call, and flew to Havana where she joined Jack at a local waterfront bar for happy hour.



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