Jules Bartlett hosed blood off the bow of the Ginsberg. She was stress cleaning; everyone knew it and wisely let her be. As captain of both the Ginsberg and the Eleanor, she now had crew for these kinds of things. Twelve men in total at her command, but this morning she’d reached her threshold and needed to do something rather than give instruction. An hour into their morning run, her usual spot at the helm had been stifling, and by the time they’d retrieved the last crab pot, the often-entertaining banter of the guys was grating on her tired nerves.
Rather than taking her crap out on them, she’d handed the helm over to Skeet, her second-in-command, and was now mindlessly hosing the deck in a valiant effort to ignore everything save the water washing pink across familiar steel. The wedding invitation now resting soggy in the pocket of her bib overalls had arrived as expected. Spotting it, all sweeping script and fucking doves, on her parents’ kitchen counter that morning beneath a bill from her daughter Bella’s dentist, Jules would have feigned indifference had anyone else been around. But she’d been alone in the early morning quiet, and despite years of history that left her firmly planted in reality, the whimsical folds of expensive paper still crashed over the bow of her life like a rogue wave and knocked her off balance.
She was going to throw the damn thing away while her coffee was brewing but then thought better and shoved it into her pocket as if that would make it disappear. Jules no longer believed in that kind of magic, but she also had a habit of shoving trash deep into her backpack or her pockets in this case.
Hours later and thermos sadly empty, she was still wrestling with why something as harm-less as the expected was messing with her normal and creating a sense that she was chasing some invisible clock like one of those stupid princesses tripping over their shoes.
“So, I know you’re all Captain Ahab today, but you’ve gotta see this shot,” Skeet said, coming to stand at her side. “The camera on these new phones is insane.”
Jules turned expressionless.
“Ahab. The book. Moby-Dick?”
“I got the reference. Ahab was a man, and who’s driving while you’re here annoying me?”
“Fine, Captain Ahab-y.” He chuckled like a clever child. “Mikey’s driving. You told me to give him some time at the helm, and now’s as good a time as any.”
“So you can show me a picture?”
“Yeah.” He swiped at his phone in that perpetually excited way he did most things.
Jules wanted to spray his face and his phone, but it was cold for March, so she refrained. Skeet lifted his phone to show her yet another picture of his puckered face air-kissing a crab. It was stunning that she often trusted this man with her life, her crew, and their clients.
“Why am I paying you for this?”
“What? The guys think it’s my best work.” Clearly disappointed by her response, Skeet put his phone away, pulled on his gloves, and rubbed his hands together for warmth. “You know, my social media skills are what business experts call a ‘value-added benefit.’”
Jules laughed, oddly grateful for the distraction that was Skeet. “Are you listening to that podcast again? I thought we decided that guy was full of shit.”
“That guy was full of shit, but this new one is—wait for it—Million Dollar Mind.” He flashed his hands like a marquee. “It’s gold.”
Jules shook her head, the still-running hose now at her side.
“Don’t judge. He’s awesome. He’s an entrepreneur.”
“Oh, well, in that case.”
Skeet shook his head and flipped his cap backward before the wind carried it away. “I’m not letting this negativity crush my dreams.”
They stood in silence before Jules turned away to give the bait tanks one more spray down. An entrepreneur. Yeah, exactly what she needed. Jules had fallen for a smooth talker once in her life. She’d been lured in by promises of grand adventures, love, and acceptance before being tossed right back into the waters of Bodega Bay.
Six years wiser, she now spent nearly three hundred days a year on her family’s fishing boats either bringing in catch or taking tourists on a menu of deep sea experiences. When she wasn’t on the water, she was raising her daughter Bella, which meant she had zero time for bullshit, dreams, or million-dollar minds.
“They’re pictures. A little bit of fun.” Skeet made to take the hose, but Jules held firm, closing the bait tanks. “You do remember what fun is, right?”
She turned the hose on him this time, aiming for the face, but he held up his hands with a laugh, so she spared him again. “Now, that would’ve been fun.”
“So crabby,” he said. “Get it? Crabby? Maybe that should be today’s caption—‘Feeling crabby.’ Or better yet, ‘feeling’ and then the little crab emoji. Yeah, that’s good.” Skeet nodded as if he’d discovered something revolutionary.
Jules wanted to appreciate his enthusiasm, but the veiled insult was one she’d often heard, and the invitation in her pocket whispered again.
“I am completely fun.” Her voice cracked as if it didn’t even believe her.
Skeet raised a brow.
“I don’t need selfies to prove that I’m fun. Selfies are—”
“Fun, that’s what they are. I’ve actually started calling them shellfies. We’ve got our own hashtag and everything,” he declared.
She shook her head. “No one wants this.”
“Everyone wants this.” He turned off the hose and began coiling it into the bow compartment. “We’re in a competitive industry, and every little bit helps.”
“Did the Millionaire Mobster tell you that too?”
“It’s the Million Dollar— Oh, never mind. The point is we have over two thousand followers. We don’t even have two thousand people in this town.” He waved his hand across her line of sight as if presenting the approaching shore of Bodega Bay on a game show. “Branch Fishing, thanks to my mad skills, is steps away from becoming a global phenomenon.”
“A fun global phenomenon.”
He nodded. “Laugh now, but you’ll thank me.”
“I will not. Check that loose starboard dock line and tell Mikey he can throttle down.”
Skeet sighed dramatically and did as he was instructed.
In what felt like an instant, he was back at her side. “I hate your crabby mornings.”
Jules unzipped her jacket.
“Are you pissed I ran the lines when we were only hauling in pots?”
She shook her head. Skeet always baited the lines for rockfish even when they only went out to collect. It never bothered her. They usually sold whatever they caught to the restaurants, or Grant, Skeet’s husband, made the world’s best fish stew. Not that her parents, who also owned The Crab Shack, needed to know about Grant’s otherworldly talents.
“I’m not… crabby or Ahab-y,” she finally said. “I’ve got things on my mind.”
“What kind of things?”
“That pinging thing when we throw the Eleanor into reverse. I’m thinking about that, and Bella’s play is tonight. Things.”
“I’ll get Eleanor into the boat doctor on Thursday.” If Skeet knew she wasn’t telling him what was actually on her mind, he didn’t let on.
Jules nodded and instructed the rest of the crew to prepare the dock lines as she returned to the helm, Skeet still at her back.
They rounded the breakwater, the morning’s sunrise a burst of tangerine and a welcome reminder that the envelope in her pocket was not a big deal by comparison. The ocean made her feel small, which, while frightening when she was younger, was a helpful reminder when she returned home six years ago.
Small meant her problems back then were small too. That no matter how massive the pain seemed in those first few weeks and months, it was a speck, a drop in the collective well of struggle so many people survived every day. The ocean gave perspective, her father explained one night.
“Do we honestly have that many Twitter followers?” she asked Skeet.
“Is that the one with the pictures?”
“Yeah. Do you have the app?” Skeet asked, confusing her renewed calm for renewed interest. “Give me your phone.”
Jules pulled off a glove with her teeth, the other hand still on the wheel, and gave him her phone.
“Damn.” He tucked his own gloves into his back pocket before passing the admittedly older model iPhone between his hands like an ancient artifact. “Does this thing even have a camera?”
“Yes, it has a camera.” She reached to take it back, but he was faster.
“This is sad, Cap. Don’t let Grant catch you with this. Neglecting upgrades is blasphemy in our house.”
“Yeah, well, it works just fine for me.” She managed to snatch the phone and shoved it back into her pocket. “Upgrades are not my religion.”
Still smiling, Skeet radioed their approach before they returned to silence, shoulder to shoulder, watching as Bodega Bay welcomed them home for the thousandth time.
“That’s not a phone.” The man couldn’t help himself.
“Well”—Jules signed the logbook he held in front of her—“at least I’m not kissing crabs so people will like me.”
“True. You’re not kissing crabs or anything else,” he mumbled, returning the logbook.
He inhaled to speak again.
“Could you please quit critiquing me and go do your job? Get me off this boat so I can drink more coffee and take my kid to school.”
Sensing her limit, as he often did when he was driving her nuts, Skeet saluted and joined the rest of the crew on the bow as they brought the Ginsberg to the dock and watched as the Elea-nor followed close behind.
After stuffing her coat through the strap of her backpack and running through her checklist twice, Jules handed things over to Skeet and thanked the crew on both boats for jobs well done.
Hopping onto the deck, she made her way toward the parking lot, debating if she had enough time to stop for coffee before meeting Bella. Jules started her truck and realized she’d have to tackle the next hour caffeine-free. She’d survive. She always did.
Tyler Pace had learned to juggle when he was thirteen, working at the only grocery store in Bodega Bay. He’d started with walnuts, and by the time he left for college, he was deftly tossing lemons for Mr. Beaman and their patrons in the small coastal town where he grew up. Working at Beaman’s had been a bright spot in an otherwise dimly lit childhood. Juggling taught Tyler so many things, not the least of which were hard work and practice. A good juggler needed both. Practice had given him something to focus on and a way to entertain his brother Dylan when their parents’ fighting drew out the neighbors, the sheriff, or both to the Pace front yard out of “concern for the children.”
Tyler and Dylan, younger by less than a year, were often found sitting out back on their di-lapidated deck. Dylan would count to see how long Tyler could keep whatever he was juggling in the air until the storm of their parents’ anger and excess passed.
Hard work and its connection to money came early to Tyler too. Adding any job he could find, either before or after school, initially kept him and his brother in snacks and shoes that fit. Once their mom left for good, his extra money helped pay the mortgage on their small crappy house while their dad sunk deeper into the bottle.
Tyler met every setback and learned more every time he dropped literal and figurative balls until the day he left for Cal Berkeley, the only major university willing to give him a full academic scholarship. He earned a double degree in economics and marketing, worked endless hours to pay for things scholarships didn’t cover, and applied every algorithm for success until he had made more money than he could ever spend. He was a machine back then, driven at first by the fear of ending up like his parents and eventually by the power to effect change with what he’d learned—what he had earned.
Now, years away from Beaman’s, Berkeley, and several courses of expensive therapy, Tyler leaned back in his chair, lacing his hands behind his head. The unopened email glared at him bold from the otherwise orderly inbox of his laptop, and he understood, maybe for the first time, that no amount of practice, hard work, or juggling could change his past.
“Are you sleeping with your sweet elderly neighbor and buying her water heaters in exchange for homemade cookies?”
Tyler was already grinning as he glanced up at Addie, his assistant, leaning in the doorway of his office, one high-heeled foot resting behind the other and a plastic wrap-covered plate in her hands.
“Guilty. Who told?”
She held up the plate and walked across his office. “You must be quite the neighbor.” Her dark eyes lit with humor as she set the cookies on his desk.
Tyler inhaled. “Walnut chocolate chip. My favorite. And for the record, I didn’t buy her a water heater.” He closed his laptop, more than happy to leave the email right where it was for now. “But I did teach her the art of negotiation. When that didn’t work on her son, I showed her how to buy a laptop, set up Wi-Fi, and purchase her own water heater.”
“Sounds like you fixed him. Is there anything else I need to know about you and Gertrude?”
Tyler checked the time and reached for his jacket. If he didn’t get moving, he would be late for his favorite eleven-year-old’s school play.
“No, I think her cookies speak for themselves.” Sliding into his navy suit jacket, Tyler peeled back a corner of the plastic wrap and offered Addie a cookie. She shook her head. He tugged his cuffs into place before biting into his own cookie and relishing two of his favorite things—butter and chocolate. Gertrude did bake a mean cookie. Or he was a complete sucker for all things dessert.
Addie handed him a few folders. “Okay, well, those cookies are, as you already know, from your adorable neighbor Gertrude, who told me you, and I quote, ‘liberated her from her evil son who is hell-bent on putting her in one of those old lady homes.’ She also wanted me to let you know she’s ordered your Christmas present from Lithuania. And that the next time you’re at the apartment, she needs you to show her how to create a Bitmoji.”
Tyler widened his eyes and finished loading his leather messenger bag. He had nine minutes to get upstairs. “She told you all of that? Wait, did she drop off the cookies?”
“No.” Addie rewrapped the plate. “She had an Uber driver deliver the cookies. But”— she held up a finger for effect—“she was skeptical that the ‘young man’ would deliver her cookies, so she called me to confirm.”
“Got it.” Tyler popped the remaining bite into his mouth.
“We had a twenty-minute conversation about how you are her hero and some lucky person should snatch you up. She then asked me if I was single and sounded downright disappointed when I told her I was married and my two kids would miss their father if I threw him over for the ‘adorable’ Tyler Pace.”
“Gertrude does like to chat.” Tyler fastened his jacket button. “And play matchmaker.”
“That she does. Lovely woman.” Addie leaned on the desk. “Her son, on the other hand, not so much. He called shortly after Gertrude hung up. I told him you were tied up for the rest of the day but would return his call tomorrow as priority one.”
Tyler made to answer, but Addie held up her hand. “To which he said, ‘tell that meddling prick to quit filling Mom’s head with ideas about being powerful.’ And that if the two of you were sleeping together, he was calling a lawyer. I informed him you would not be calling him back.”
Tyler removed his glasses to clean them on the cloth he kept in his suit pocket. “That would be Randy. He’s always accusing me of sleeping with his mom.”
Addie cringed. “Seriously?”
Tyler nodded and put his glasses back on. “He’s an interesting man.”
“I sensed that.” She checked her watch. “Four minutes.”
Tyler slung his bag over one shoulder and put his phone into his pocket.
“Today’s mail is scanned and on the H: drive,” Addie said, running through her usual mental list before the elevator dinged and the doors opened to rooftop level. “Flowers are waiting in the helicopter. Anything else before I leave you?” She held the elevator doors open.
“Not that I can think of at the moment, but I’m sure I’ll email tonight.”
“Okay, well then”— she gestured with mock demure—“they’re ready for you, Mr. Pace.”
Tyler shook his head and stepped off the elevator. “Never gets old, does it?”
“Nope.” Her eyes glinted. “Be safe up there.”
“I’ll do my best.” He made his way toward the double doors that led to the helipad, cookies and conversation almost canceling out his earlier edge.
“Ooh, one more thing. Did you get a chance to read that email from your father’s doctor? They called earlier to follow up, and I wasn’t sure what to say.”
And there it was. Tyler was at the top of his building, one of three he owned in downtown San Francisco. He was about to climb into a helicopter he also owned, and somehow all it took was a mention of his dad for Tyler to revisit that dirty-faced kid the school principal used to buy lunch for when his stomach growled so loud the other kids in class made fun of him.
Well versed in managing nearly everything, including his emotions, Tyler glanced back. “I did, but I need to review in more detail. I’ll follow up directly. Thank you.” He smiled before facing Newman, Pace Capital’s helicopter pilot, who was patiently waiting at the door of the 525 Relent-less. This was his reality, he reminded himself on a slow exhale. “Have a good night, Addie.”
Pushing through double doors to the helipad, Tyler gently rebuked Newman’s efforts to take his bag and climbed inside the sleek black machine. There were several factors to consider when buying a helicopter—distance without refueling, interior details—but Tyler would admit only to himself that the model’s name, Relentless, had sealed the deal before he even knew the damn thing could go over five hundred nautical miles on a single tank.
Relentless. Yeah, he liked that word.
Newman announced his standard greeting as they lifted off the top of the Pace Capital building and banked left out of the city.
Resting his head on the plush leather seat, Tyler checked his phone before setting it face down on the table in front of him, determined to enjoy the colors of dusk instead of obsessing. He managed a whole thirty seconds before flipping the damn thing over and tapping the email that read “Marvin L. Pace Test Results, Diagnosis, and Treatment Plan—Confidential.”