About 1900 words
Victoria Desperado's Mansion of Despair
by James Foley
In Annapolis, Maryland, Andy Bannock stood on a sixty-four-foot ketch, watching the night get wetter and wilder. He was under contract to move this boat to Baltimore before tomorrow noon. And Andy's one-man crew, Michael Ward, had retired. Actually, Roger Wang, Andy's partner in their yacht delivery business, had found a replacement, who hadn't arrived yet.
But now someone was approaching, vaulting over the boat's lifelines onto the forward deck. She looked like a fashion model, and with her flying blonde hair soaked by the downpour, she came striding aft—her arms and long legs swinging inside her foul-weather clothing. Then under the shelter of the companionway dodger, she stood smiling for Andy. But he wasn't smiling.
“I'm Victoria” she said. “Roger sent me.”
Now Andy smiled. “I like girls, but not out at sea in a savage storm.”
“Then I'll act like a guy.”
“You know anything about boats?”
“Yes! Don't worry. My family were rich once. We had a sailboat almost this big before we went broke.”
So Andy lent Victoria a foul-weather cap, and they cast off lines. As Victoria removed the last spring line, she coiled it quickly, then came aft as Andy gunned the engine in reverse—with the wind blowing the boat down onto the dock. But they missed it.
Yeah, they were clear of the dock, and Andy shoved the throttle lever into forward gear. Soon they'd be on the Bay, past the last red nun buoy. Victoria had both sails up, but well reefed down. And as the sails filled with the wind, Andy set the helm on autopilot and they went below.
There was coffee, kept warm in a generator-powered microwave oven. As Andy passed Victoria a cup, both braced themselves in the cabin, shivering a little.
“You're fine,” Andy said. “My apologies for questioning you. What makes you so adventurous?”
“I've got to be!” Victoria blurted out. “My sister and I have nothing. Just my family's old house. And now we're losing that. I bet your business makes money. I've got to learn how to makes money. To save our house and us.”
Her impulsiveness touched Andy. “Victoria, I'm really sorry about your trouble.”
She smiled. “When we get to port, come home with me and meet my sister. I want to talk. I want to get your advice about making money.”
“Where is your house?”
“Well, it's on Canaan Beach. You ever heard of the Langford place?”
“Your house is the Langford Mansion?”
“Sure. That's my name, Victoria Langford.”
“Your house is one of the most famous on the East Coast?”
“Please. Don't exaggerate. Come anytime anyway. But quick, because the house will be sold soon. If I'm gone, Sis will be there. She never leaves.”
This girl's problems seemed bewildering. And Andy had often heard of her house. So he soon took her advice and drove to the Delaware Shore. The weather rocked that morning with clear and breezy skies, as he took Route 50/301 to the Langford mansion by the sea.
Then, swinging off the road into a gateway between stone fences, he was driving down a long spit of land to the old brick house with its white porches wrapped around both stories. There were six or eight tall brick chimneys and a white-painted widow’s walk . . . and gulls crying as he parked and walked out onto a long dock that stretched into the ocean.
Then, turning back, he noticed a tall blonde girl seated on a rear veranda. Cool: she'd let him explore without accosting him.
“Good afternoon,” he said. “You must be Sis. This is a great house.”
She smiled. “Thank you. It’s almost sold. Some people want to turn it into a bed-and-breakfast. But they haven’t got the financing yet. You want to buy it?”
“You think I could afford this house?”
“Can you afford that 911 you’re driving?”
“You know Porsches?”
“I know they exist. You're Andy, right? Victoria's inside. Let me ask you something very strange. Try to make Victoria more normal. She's so frantic to save this house that she may try to rob a bank. I call her 'Victoria Desperado' because I know she's going to end up like Bonnie and Clyde.”
Andy smiled. “Bonnie and Clyde? I'd forgotten about them. They died in 1934?”
“Yeah, just a half dozen years before some sixty million started dying in World War Two.”
Andy was impressed. “You know you're smart, Sis.”
“Thanks. That's my curse.”
“Well, anyway, you've lived out your youth in a great mansion.”
“So welcome to our mansion, Andy—the Mansion of Despair.”
Then, in the days that followed, Victoria and Andy kept delivering yachts. And he began to wonder how much she meant to him: this Bryn Mawr beauty with Ivy League style. To a world-class loner like Andy she seemed like happiness forbidden since before Eden—therefore, all the more desirable. And who wouldn't desire her? But what good was desire?
Desire was just nights spent awake with wild dreams. They could be endless.
Then on an evening in July they moved a Blueport sloop to the Eastern Shore Boat Works. The engine’s six-cylinder head needed to be pulled and machined. It was dark when they arrived, star dark, no moon, only the compass binnacle blushing and the small masthead and running lights. And suddenly Victoria became very confidential.
“Did it ever occur to you that we'll never go to war, Andy? We won't discover a new hemisphere or explore Antarctica. And we won't fight in any revolution bringing about a better world.
“You're a sailor. That's risky and challenging. Were you ever tempted to do something even wilder, Andy? You have a yacht delivery business. Such a business can deliver anything, along with the yachts.”
Andy hesitated. “Deliver like what?”
“Oh, just some medical supplies—like for relieving pain. Just herbs, nothing heavy.”
“I'm all for relieving pain—including my own pain in prison.”
Now Victoria laughed and clung to Andy respectfully. “You're too clever for that to happen, Andy. Anyway, it'll be totally okay in the states where we get it and take it.”
“And in between?”
“Andy, I've got to save this house that's been in our family for centuries. I can't let them take it. This could involve immense dollars. You're a master skipper. The danger seems negligible. You'll be saving our house. It'll be your house. Wouldn't you like to have my house?”
She turned her face away shyly. “Along with the girl that comes with it?”
One wonders if Andy seriously believed what she was proposing. But back at the mansion that weekend Sis clarified things:
“Andy, Victoria has taken every cent we have, including the money that the potential buyers put down in their option contract. Victoria used that to buy a load of valuable stuff—like jewelry and antiques. Then she sold that to buy something she calls 'cargo', which she says she can sell for a fortune to save the house. But I think I know what the 'cargo' might be. I better not tell you, though. You may be a very straight guy.”
“You don't need to tell me.”
“Andy, stop her. She'll destroy herself.”
Anyway, that summer passed. Then shadowy circumstnces began to pile up. Sis reported that she'd had a call from a gentleman named Cowper who identified himself as Victoria's court-appointed attorney.
“This guy Cowper said he's having problems keeping in touch with Victoria,” Sis said. “And Victoria has been missing court dates, not appearing at hearings. But when I questioned Victoria, she shrugged it all off.”
Then one very concrete occurrence: Victoria and Andy delivered a 37-foot Guanato sloop to a Virgin Island yacht dealer. On returning to the States, Andy passed through customs normally, but Victoria was arrested on what was called "an outstanding warrant". She was led through the airport in handcuffs with her pockets turned out. Andy immediately started raising holy hell in defense of her, which only got him into trouble too.
Later, Victoria laughed the incident off, saying, "I knew I'd have a problem returning to the States."
“ Victoria, why didn't you tell me about this? You didn't have to make this trip.”
“You had nobody else, Andy. Believe me, I'll never let you down.”
Victoria and Andy's last delivery together was a large Hatteras power boat which they brought from the Eastern Shore on a foggy autumn day. This was fog plus: a feeling like being ingested by a ravenous oyster. No distance; no horizon: where they were was everywhere.
In Annapolis, Victoria helped to tie up. Then suddely she turned to Andy and said, “I wouldn't be good in prison, Andy. And I have to make the decision that's right for me. I’m not going to any trial.”
Andy shook his head. “Victoria, whatever this is about, you need to face it. Let me help. Let's handle all this straight.”
“No, Andy. I’ll go away for sure this time. I’ve got no funds—nothing to pay a lawyer with. I used mine and Sis's last nickel in my dumb venture.”
“I'll put every penny I've got behind you, Victoria. We'll get through it.”
She was in his arms now. “It’s over with me now, Andy. I went too far. I was a fool. I lost my way. But somehow even now I can’t seem to regret it.
“Andy, don't hate me because I tried too hard and fouled our lives up. Because I really cared for you. I wanted our old house to be your house too. Forget me now and let me just fade away. Live for yourself now, Andy—for yourself and Sis. And forget there was ever a wild girl called Victoria Langford who loved you and her sister like crazy, and so ruined her own life.”
She was hugging him close as she said, “It should have worked for us, Andy. Maybe in some other world.”
Then it was just a matter of minutes. Andy was below, doing some paper work, while Victoria finished straightening things on deck. When Andy went above, she wasn't on deck. Wherever she was, she was in the fog—this girl he'd probably not hug again until the end of forever.
“She's dead,” Sis said simply when Andy told her what happened.
Andy shook his head. “She just disappeared. I can't get beyond that.”
“I think she's dead. She loved you, Andy. She loved you unbelievably. She wanted us all to be happy.”
“Sis, let me say something too abrupt. We may never see Victoria again. But living without her would be hell for me. And I can only stay near her by being with you. I don't say that I can save this house, but we can try. We have to stay together.”
“But can we do that? Can we live together under her spell?”
Then as if on a common impulse they were walking from the house down to the shore and out onto the long dock. There was no fog here now. It was a clear day with white cumulus clouds flying from the northwest—moving out over the Bay past the gulls towards the Atlantic. The sun flashed from the gulls and the clouds and the whitecaps on the water. And truly it was a great day for being alive, and for being together.
And for remembering someone who was once very amazing and very alive.