Bayou water lapped seductively at the sides of the low-slung, deceptively fast, motorboat that Higgins had towed to the HighWater Bait & Tackle dock well after sunset. His customer, Jemain Lucerne, had been low-balling him for the last twenty minutes.
“Ahndrew, leese let me hear dat engine purr. You gotta give me sumtin’, you tryin’ to steal from me, right unda my nose.” Jemain sat in the pilot’s seat, tucked under the hardtop, working the wheel back and forth.
Andrew Higgins, the designer and manufacturer of what he claimed to be the fastest light-launch in the Gulf, wouldn’t budge. He pulled another squat, brown Jamaican beer from a bucket sitting on the dock and handed it to Jemain. He, himself, had been judiciously sipping a bottle of orange Nehi. “Mr. Lucerne, I most certainly intend to give you more than just a listen, I intend to strip the tears from your eyes and drive the white of your knuckles up to your elbows.” The last of the neon liquid slid down his throat. “But not until you agree to my terms. Three-fourths cash, here and now, the remainder as investment in your enterprise.”
Negotiations proceeded until Higgins held up his hands. “Alright, I understand. Listen to this.” He cranked up the motor. The deep rumbling, like that of a dozen longhorn bulls, all vying for the same cow, vibrated Jemain’s very bones. “There. Satisfied. We’ll work out the final price after I give you a tour.”
“Ooh, mon. Dat be the song I be hopin’ fo’.” He motioned for Andrew to cast off. “Ah, right, Ahndrew. I take your offer, we work de price, you let me drive.”
“And have your run us into a cypress tree? I know this bayou well enough to give you a taste without the risk.”
“Ah right, ah right. You drive, le’ me get anudder beer, first.”
Higgins shifted the boat’s transmission forward and guided them out under a gibbous moon. A number of houseboats, their lights glimmering to show the banks, led the way out to the the big water. The launch nosed from side to side, yearning, it seemed, for the reins.
“Here we go, Mr. Lucerne. I suggest your grab the gunnel.” Higgins shoved the throttle forward.
“Woowee, she be like a hound on scent.” The two-hundred and forty horse diesel-six—geared to drive the prop to extreme rpms—leapt out of the water and sat high on plane as it dashed across the bay. The buzz of the engine, quieter than most rum runners of the similar design, put a shrill note to Jemain’s voice, “Sheeit, I tink I peed myself back der.”
The boat skipped across the moonlit water, its hull barely touching the water.
Higgins pushed the throttle higher. “She’s got more than this, but I’d rather not risk it. What do you think, Mr. Lucerne?”
Jemain yelled his creole right next to Higgin’s ear. “Dat true what dey say ’bout you sellin’ this boat to dem Coast Guard?”
Higgins throttled back letting the sleek boat settle its belly back in the arms of the bayou. “This boat? I sold the Coast Guard boats, that is true.” He turned the wheel to set them on a return course. “But I did not sell them this boat, Mr. Lucerne.”
Jemain nodded deeply. “Dat good, dat good.” He rubbed his hand across the lacquered dash. “I take three, den.”
[Author’s note: Andrew Higgins was a New Orleans lumber magnate who designed boats. He sold a design to the US Armed Forces for the famous launch that landed thousands of US troops on the beaches of Normandy. His company built and delivered those boats. He “may” have designed and built other boats that plied the waters of the Gulf of Mexico.]