September 8th, 1970
An early evening shadow cast from Pickett’s Wax Museum loomed across Menendez Boulevard, where Henley parked his motorcycle to visit the St. Augustine Marina. Unlike the Medical Examiner earlier, Harbormaster Pete Sims would be there. He was always there. World War II had imprinted something on Pete that would never leave him. Pete ran with US Army intelligence through Germany and Poland near the end of the war. Sargent Sims had seen the absolute abhorrent worst that humanity could inflict on each other in the Nazi Death Camps immediately after their liberation.
Peter Sims was never the same after the war. He never married, living in a small room at the marina for the past 20 years, he was a legend among locals. He knew Matanzas Bay like the back of his hand. His knowledge of every sandbar and shallow along the bottom and where they would drift and shift after a storm; made him a well-seasoned harbor pilot. Every type of fish and where they were biting; made him an exceptional fisherman’s guide. As St. Augustine Marina Harbormaster, Sims kept records of the arrivals and departures from the marina. With his connection to boat owners and passengers, Pete was often a reliable source of information for both investigators and the local gossip circles.
Henley walked out towards the harbormaster’s quarters, his long shadow ahead of him across the worn wooden planks. The evening sun aglow over his shoulder. The officer was never much for fishing; the damp, greasy, organic, amphibious, stench along the narrow pier was probably the main reason. But as he got closer to Peter’s shack over the water, the smell shifted from the stink of fish blood and salt to the warm aroma of a battered fish being fried up in a skillet.
“Good evening Pete!” Henley called into the harbormaster’s open door from a few feet away.
Henley heard a heavy iron skillet being moved from one stovetop burner to another before Pete emerged from the door, smiling at the officer.
“Frank, how are you?” the harbormaster asked with sincerity, as his warm green eyes seemed to smile in the evening sun.
“I’m doing well, Pete. What’s for dinner?” Frank inquired.
“Just a piece of Red that someone hauled in offshore and didn’t want to clean,” Pete responded. “Would you like some? Maybe take a few fillets home to the Mrs.”
“Thanks, but no thanks, Frank,” the officer declined.
“Well, I didn’t think you came out here for my cooking,” Pete grinned, “This must be about the events of last night. When our deceased hero sailed out of town.”
“So what happened, Pete?” the officer asked.
“Well, right at dusk, a schooner radioed the bridge tender for passage through the Bridge of Lions. The tender sounded the horn, raising the drawbridge, and I stepped out the door here. Before the span was even completely raised, the bowsprit came through of what became a wooden fifty-five-footer. It was a majestic two-masted vessel, and I don’t know how they got her through so quickly,” Sims recalled, staring out over the water.
“What was the name of the schooner?” Henley asked.
Pete answered with a single word in a majestic tone, “Ampoletta.”
That night, Pete watched as a skillful helmsman took the craft through the opening, the eye of the needle with such swiftness and mastery, bordering on negligence had the ship struck the bridge. He watched as the ship, flying no colors, and having no markings of nationality or origin, came alongside the edge of the farthest dock. Pete walked a brisk pace down the ramp to the waiting ship, helping out by tying her off on the pier as crew members deployed rubber fenders along her starboard side to protect the elegant wooden craft.
A beautiful young woman was the first to disembark from the Ampolleta. Even in the fading light of dusk, Pete knew that he was privileged to be within her glowing presence on the waterfront. She was tall, almost as tall as him, his wide eyes meeting her shining blue-green iris gaze. Pete guessed that she was probably in her late twenties, her features were flawless, wearing dark double-button high-waist bell bottoms and a white untucked button-down collared shirt, tied at the waist. The radiant olive complexion across her face contrasted against her lengthy dark black hair, as black as crows, an entire murder of them.
“Sirianna,” she said, smiling with a slight foreign accent, extending her hand towards the spellbound man.
“Pete… Pete Sims, St. Augustine Marina Harbormaster,” he stammered as their hands briefly touched, as an electricity seemed to flow from her relaxed grip and into his chest.
“What brings you into St. Augustine, Miss?”
“We lost a member of our crew last week, he fell overboard off the coast of Canaveral,” the women explained.”
All of the woman’s allure seemed to diminish after her statement. Pete could sense that she was not being honest or speaking half-truths and what he saw as her charm quickly diminished to skepticism.
“Did you notify the Coast Guard? I haven’t seen any bulletins or heard of any searches for a missing sailor,” Pete asked.
The women looked away, out over the water, and under her breath, she exhaled a single word, barely audible, “Fatalist” as she rolled her exquisite eyes out of his view. “No, not exactly, sir.”
“Why would you not notify the Coast Guard?” Pete looked the magnificent ship over before asking more questions, “What are you carrying? Contraband? What’s your cargo?”
Sirianna looked back at him, “Do I look like a smuggler, sir?” The silhouettes of several disheveled hulking men were standing on the deck of the Ampoletta, watching the exchange. “We’re from the island of Minorca, in the Mediterranean, ever heard of it? We are working on a documentary film about the history of our people in America.”
“Heard of it? Lady, I’ve been there. During the war, we flew in briefly for refueling before reaching Athens Greece”, Pete had interviewed enough Nazi prisoners to know lies and cover stories when he heard them. “So why didn’t you call the Coast Guard?”
“Not all the men on board have proper papers,” she answered, hoping to put an end to his interrogation. “Can you direct me to your hospital, or not?”
More questions came from the harbormaster, “What makes you believe that your man is here, in St. Augustine, at the hospital?”
“When we were down at New Smyrna, I saw a news report about the man who saved the girl at the parade. I think it’s him,” Sirianna explained. “Are you going to help us, or not?”
Pete stared at her for a moment, he was prepared to help but was aware of the deception the woman seemed to be weaving, “From what you’ve told me, I could call the authorities and have this vessel searched. Instead, I’m going to allow you and one member of your crew to disembark. You’ll need to fill out some paperwork, and I’ll need to review your passports before you can go into town.”
Officer Henley stood next to Pete, overlooking the Matanzas Bay as he listened to his account of the night before.
“Normally, I wouldn’t have checked anything. Hell, I’ve let new arrivals borrow my pickup truck to get groceries or supplies over at the Sail Shop at English Landing. But there was something about her, that entire ship, that seemed downright spooky,” he explained, looking deep into the Officer’s eyes. “And I’ve seen some spooky things out there, Frank.”
Frank felt a chill as the harbormaster seemed to peer into his soul. “So you gathered as much information as you could, from their papers?”
“Exactly,” nodded Pete. “Recording all the information they would provide into a file and the logbook: their passports, the registry of the Ampoletta, everything was done by the book. For once,” he said, ending with a smirk and a wink.
“The Ampoletta,” repeated Henley.
“It’s Spanish for marine sand-glass, a ship’s timepiece, today we call it an hourglass. An ampoletta was used for navigation during the age of exploration, by the likes of Columbus and Magellan,” Pete explained.
As Henley listened to the harbormaster, the horn from the Bridge of Lions burst loudly across the Matanzas waterway. Traffic across the span slowly froze, and the center segments of green iron groaned, parting and lifting high into the air. Allowing the passage of a single shrimp boat named Mary Ann.
“It got more interesting and even more chilling. Sirianna spoke to the men up above on the edge of the ship; if it was in Spanish, I couldn’t make any of it out. Her tone to me became cold as she climbed back up the gangplank,” Pete continued. “She said she would meet me in my office, with the proper documents. I’m not easily spooked, Frank. But when I went back up to the office, I made sure my sidearm was near my desk, out of view, but within reach.”
Pete was at his desk near the opened door in the tiny room, logging the arrival of the Ampoletta when Sirianna and a hulking figure with long dark hair arrived in the doorway.
“Come on in,” instructed the harbormaster.
The bewitching Sirianna stepped inside, placing three passports along with a cruising license on his desk. He looked the women over in the dim flicker of the cool fluorescent light. Standing before him, with her olive skin and stunning face staring out an east window over his shoulder, emotionless.
The first passport Pete picked up was well-worn, almost in tatters, and in flipping through its pages, he realized it was hers.
Date of Birth: May 8, 1945
Date of Issue: August 10, 1965
City of Issue: Mahòn (Menorca)
Date of Expiration: August 1975
Citizen of Greece
The harbormaster looked up at her and back to the photo identification of a slightly younger Sirianna. He flipped through the thin pages filled with stamps from nearly every European and North African country, most from seaports but some from air travel as he spoke to her.
“Born the day after Victory in Europe Day,” he commented.
“Yes sir, I was born at a beach on the Greek Island of Tinos,” was her reply.
Pete looked up at her from his cluttered battleship gray desk, “I was in Dachau in May of ’45,” he said.
Sirianna looked down at him for the first time since entering his office, “Barbarians,” she uttered.
Pete nodded as he copied her passport information onto a visitation form.
“How long will you be staying?” Pete asked.
“Long enough to get Duran aboard and take on some freshwater. Hopefully, just a few hours, sir,” she replied.
The harbormaster flipped open the next Spanish passport, even more ragged than Sirianna’s, finding a black and white photo of an older gentleman with gray hair and bright eyes on the identification page.
“Your deceased crew member?” he asked, looking out at the strapping young man just outside the open door, smoking a cigarette, and then back at Sirianna.
She nodded, “An experienced pilot and an exceptional navigator.”
Diego Marcedal Duran
Date of Birth: April 16, 1912
Date of Issue: July 14, 1952
City of Issue: Mahòn (Menorca)
Date of Expiration: December 1970
Citizen of Spain
Pete paused, watching a Snowy Egret swoop down to land on the railing of a ramp not more than a few feet from himself and Henley.
“I took down all of their information. The big guy had an Italian passport, Domenico… something. He didn’t speak any English. The women asked for directions to the hospital, and I explained that it was just a few blocks south along the shore, pointing it out in the distance.”
“So what did you do after they went into town?” asked Henley
“I kept a watchful eye on the Ampoletta, first by going down and giving the crew a water line in my best broken Spanish,” looking at Henley with a slight smile before changing his expression back to sad seriousness. “Now Frank, I witnessed a lot of absolutely horrendous things at Dachau during the war. I don’t spook easily, except maybe in my own nightmares. But the arrival of the Ampoletta with its ragged passengers made the hair on the back of my neck stand up the entire evening.”
The Spanish woman with her Italian crewmate was gone for about ninety minutes when Pete heard the squeaky wheel of a cart coming closer to his office. Pete stepped out his door to see Sirianna leading the way down the pier, as the Italian pushed a large wheeled hospital gurney across the bumpy, uneven wood planks. Atop the stretcher was a cardboard box the size of a coffin. The box’s seams were closed and sealed with red tape and labeled with stenciled red letters “Human Remains.”
Seeing this sight before, but never under cover of darkness, made it all the more ghoulish. Pete gestured to Sirianna to step into his office.
“I’m sorry about Diego,” Pete offered. “He is a hero in this town, not to be forgotten.”
The humidity and the tension of having to claim Diego’s body seemed to have taken their toll on Sirianna. She stood in the doorway more deflated than the once vibrant women Pete had seen earlier.
“The crew will miss him,” she said.
“Will there be a burial at Sea?” Pete asked as the squealing cart bounced over the planks, passing the office door, towards the waiting vessel.
Sirianna only nodded her response. Her once bright green eyes now dim.
Pete took two pages from his desk and handing one to the weary woman, along with a pen.
“Here, just sign and date the bottom; I’ll fill the rest out. Basically, it says that I gave you this next sheet of paper with recommendations for a proper burial in coastal waters,” the harbormaster explained. “It should be done at a depth of at least 600 feet. If you go at least 40 miles out, that should be fine.”
She nodded again, taking the pen and signing the sheet against the faded door frame and returning it to Pete, who then handed her the other sheet of paper. Sirianna stepped a few feet away from the doorway when she turned and looked up at Pete one last time.
“We’ll be leaving in just a few minutes. Do you think you could help us shove off?” Sirianna asked.
“Sure, the tide is perfect for your departure. Heavy Water.” Pete said, looking out the doorway at the exotic women whose fiery glow from earlier seemed to diminish.
Henley listened to Pete as a refreshingly cool breeze rolled through them from across the water. Both men looked to the north, out past the Bridge of Lions. A dark storm cloud was mixing with gray skies and the golden light of the setting sun.
“I noted some details in the marina log and went back down to the waiting schooner, retrieving the freshwater line and untying the Ampoletta’s lines as Sirianna instructed on starboard,” Pete recalled.
“The ship took a hard port side tack directly towards the bridge. It was a good thing that the bridge tender wasn’t asleep at the switch. The craft cut it just as close through the span which was still opening on departure, just as it had done on arrival, on that fine line between swift and reckless,” the harbormaster concluded.
“Thanks, Pete. If we need any of the written details or a statement, we’ll be in touch,” Henley said as he and Pete both watched the approaching storm front, “I should probably be getting out of here.”
Pete grinned as a flash of lightning flickered in the distance, “What’s your hurry?”
Frank looked back at the seasoned harbormaster as he began taking strides across the dock, “I almost forgot, I rode the motorcycle here,” Henley chuckled. “Thanks again, Pete.”
The officer reached the pavement, mounted, and kicked the motorcycle to a start. Engine rumbling beneath him, Henley gazed out over the waterway, past the marina and at the island on the other side. Towering above the horizon of green trees, along the eastern side of the island, stood the lighthouse. Henley saw the beacon ignite. Radiantly announcing the beginning of nightfall as the gray stormy darkness descended over St. Augustine’s historic coastal town.