Not Far Enough
Hot damn, I’ve got a new job.
There were a lot of things I was going to miss about Dahab—the food from Falafel King, the house on the hill, the serenity of the Blue Hole. Friends.
But my last employer was still dealing with the aftermath of a fire and was nowhere near reopening. All the staff was either employed at other dive ops in town or had shipped out for new adventures. The guy who’d convinced me to come to Egypt in the first place had moved back to France, trying to repair relationships and legal complications.
And Sasha was dead.
It had been a triple-gut-punch holiday season. First Sasha went missing, next the shop burned down, and then I’d started off the new year finding his body. We’d brought him back from his watery grave, said our goodbyes, and given his ashes to his parents, but his presence still hung over the town. The only way to move on was to leave his ghost behind.
Our boat’s captain had already moved on to a new opportunity and had reached out to offer me a job. Captain Rich needed an expert diver, which was really all I had to know before saying yes. He had given me three weeks to pull myself together and get out there. I had said I’d be there in two.
I took the first week easy. Did some climbing. Visited some friends. Took one more dive to watch a team of archeologists and divers hurriedly empty a wreck before it slid into the deep.
And then I spent the next few days cleaning my Dahab digs, a house loaned to me by a friend of my mom. Once it was respectable, I left a note apologizing for the pillaging of the wine cellar, the destruction of the motorcycle, and the scratches on the bicycle, then locked the door for the first time in months.
On my way to the airport, I stopped by the local police department, where I had recently become somewhat familiar with their jail cells. This time I had only one task—drop off the house keys for a certain senior detective.
I was done with Dahab.
Sharm El Sheikh International Airport, a bit after midnight, was sleepy. I’d arrived with plenty of time to spare, for no other reason than wanting to begin the next phase of my life as soon as possible.
Other than a large duffel bag containing my dive gear, all I brought with me was a knapsack with a few clothes and toiletries, three paperbacks for the flights, one last box of falafel, a brand-new passport, and a one-way ticket to Thailand. I was first in line at the counter, half an hour before they even opened, and was seated at the gate two hours before boarding. That was a mistake. I never got past page 5 of the first novel. I spent the next two hours dwelling on the craziness of the past two months and all the things I wanted to leave behind.
Once airborne, though, I felt the tension begin to slip away. With each hour, I thought more about the future and less about the last few months.
I didn’t ask for a lot. I just wanted to put as much distance between myself and the past as possible. Half a world would have been good, but I settled for forty-five hundred miles. Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, to Istanbul, Turkey, to Bangkok, Thailand. Three flights. Thirty hours. Leaving behind a monumental pile of misery and trading it for a few months in paradise.
This was why I became a divemaster.
By the time I finished with an overzealous customs inspection at Phuket International Airport, explaining several times that my gear, which included multiples of pretty much everything, such as four dive computers, was typical for a divemaster and not for resale, I was in no mood for pleasantries.
“Howzit, beautiful?” Leaning out of one of the ubiquitous Thai three-wheeled transports, and with incredibly poor timing, was Captain Rich in all his glory. The only thing louder than his greeting was his shirt. On his six-and-a-half-foot body, it was more appropriate for a rugby player than a yacht captain. The thing had enough material to be a sail for a small boat. Not that I would ever say that to his face.
“None of that flattery stuff, OK? First, I know I look like shit. Second, we agreed no friends-with-benefits action on this voyage. We have separate cabins, right?” Captain Rich’s childish pout just made me want to smack him. “Third, my follow-up discussion with my parents while I sat on a sticky airport floor during my layover was the worst phone call of my life. The topic, before you ask, is off-limits. So, let’s just head to the boat and get started. All right?”
His wince seemed less theatrical than the pout. I might have actually scared him.
“Right-o,” he said after a long pause. “Flattery is a no go. Separates on board, and I’ll be getting my jollies elsewhere. Radio silence with regard to the parents.”
With that, he heaved my big gear bag and carry-on into the open-air back of the tuk-tuk. “Easy in—this is a Frankenstein build . . . I’ve made a couple of modest modifications.”
At least one was immediately obvious. The middle passenger seat had been replaced by a boxy contraption that I assumed was a cooler for Captain Rich’s beer stash. I climbed into one of the two lone passenger seats in the second row as he squeezed into the single driver’s seat in front.
The moment he turned the key, I nearly jumped out of my shoes. I’d been expecting the puny, typical two-stroke whose weak sound gave the tuk-tuk its name, but what we got was a roar. And a deep, bone-shaking vibration to match. To emphasize the point, Captain Rich gunned the engine a half dozen times before turning back with his trademark grin.
“Modest modifications?” I was already white-knuckling the roll bar with one hand and a handle on the center contraption with the other.
“Six hundred cc engine. Local guy smashed up his bike pretty good, but the engine was still primo. Can you imagine that? People should have better respect for fine motor machines.”
Having just trashed a $15,000 custom motorcycle during one of my last days in Dahab, an incident he was intimately familiar with, I bowed my head and inspected my feet—I might have blushed.
He adjusted the rearview mirror so he could better see me.
“Sorry. Too soon, yeah?”
It seems like longer, but it was only a little more than a month ago.
“No, yeah, you know everything is interlinked. You still mad about the bat?”
“Nah, sorry to bring it up. We’re good.”
Captain Rich had stayed at my house in Dahab following a police raid that had torn it apart. Not my fault. Not really. Loaner house from a guy who turned out to be a hacker and, unbeknown to me, happened to store a lot of things I’d end up getting blamed for. That was just one more reason for abandoning the Sinai Peninsula and heading around the world.
Anyway, Captain Rich had moved in after the raid and some ugly business involving guns. He took on the role of casual bodyguard and roommate without benefits. I was still dealing with a lot of fallout from the whole artifacts mess and was a bit on edge. His presence helped me maintain a degree of balance. As an additional safety measure, and knowing I have an aversion to actual weapons, he’d left a cricket bat by the door for protection when he wasn’t around.
Mistake. In a moment of justifiable rage, after a particularly distressing phone call, I had thought of a better use. By the time I was done, Captain Rich’s treasured cricket bat was little more than a carpet of splinters in the driveway.
But we’d both left the Sinai behind. He’d helped me get a new job. I was still enforcing the without-benefits rule, and the motorcycle mayhem would soon just be an embarrassing memory. So, I felt guilty about making him feel guilty about raising the subject. But it worked—he seemed sufficiently chastened. His mood, though, lasted only a minute. He was nothing if not irrepressible. Pausing for just a beat, he wiped his palms on his board shorts, goosed the engine one more time, gave a quick warning—“Tighten your seat belt and welcome to Phuket!”—and then zipped into a ridiculously small gap in the line of traffic.
Having been in Thailand before, I hadn’t expected there to be a seat belt and hadn’t even looked for one. But as we peeled off down the road to the sound of screeching tires and honking horns, I did. And when I found it, I cinched it up tight, then resumed my white-knuckling of the handholds. And my thoughts about the mess that was waiting for me back in the States.