Misfits et outcasts aux Bahamas

Dans un de ses romans à succès, The King of Torts, un « legal thriller » selon la spécialité de l’auteur, John Grisham donne dans un des chapitres une description très réaliste et amusante des paumés américains exilés aux Bahamas, voir extrait ci-dessous. On s’y croirait, c’est tout à fait l’ambiance. Le livre lui-même appartient à la catégorie classique « ascension et chute », ascension, toujours fulgurante, et chute, toujours brutale… Balzac a inauguré le thème, dans le roman en tout cas, avec ses Splendeurs et misères des courtisanes, où le héros des Illusions perdues, Lucien de Rubempré, propulsé par le mystérieux et machiavélique Vautrin agissant dans l’ombre, frôle le Soleil pour tomber dans la nuit noire. Avec Grisham, qui n’est pas Balzac, livres courts et épurés, « page-turners » aux ingrédients classiques, ça se passe (pour celui-là) à Washington DC, dans les milieux d’avocats, de la politique et des grandes firmes, autour des thèmes de l’argent rapide et fou, de la finance, des Class Actions et des Mass Torts.
Dans le même esprit, Douglas Kennedy, dont on se demande pourquoi il reste inconnu aux Etats-Unis, inverse le procédé, ses romans utilisent souvent la même ficelle : le héros ou l’héroïne tombe d’abord dans la déchéance, et l’essentiel de l’histoire réside ensuite dans la façon dont elle ou il se relève. Le suspense est lié à cette remontée, qui peut porter sur des décennies et devenir un roman fleuve, du maccarthysme à Bush comme dans La poursuite du bonheur.

So the great Jarrett Carter became a fishing boat captain in the Bahamas, which to some would sound like a wonderful life. Clay found him on the boat, a sixty-foot Wavedancer wedged into a slip in the crowded marina. Other charters were returning from a long day at sea. Sunburned fishermen were admiring their catches. Cameras were flashing, Bahamian deckhands scurried about unloading coolers of iced-down grouper and tuna. They hauled away bags of empty bottles and beer cans.

Jarrett was on the bow with a water hose in one hand and a sponge in the other. Clay watched him for a moment, not wanting to interrupt a man at work. His father certainly looked the part of the expatriate on the run – barefoot with dark leathery skin, a gray Hemingway beard, silver chains around his neck, long-billed fishing cap, ancient white cotton shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his biceps. If not for a slight beer belly, Jarrett would have looked quite fit.

« Well, I’m damned! » he yelled when he saw his son.

« Nice boat », Clay said, stepping aboard. There was a firm handshake, but nothing more. Jarrett was not the affectionate type, at least not with his son. Several former secretaries had told different stories. He smelled of dried perspiration, salt water, stale beer – a long day at sea. His shorts and white shirts were dirty.

« Yeah, owned by a doctor in Boca. You’re looking good. »

« You too. »

« I’m healthy, that’s all that matters. Grab a beer. » Jarrett pointed to a cooler on the deck.

They popped tops and sat in the canvas chairs while a group of fishermen staggered along the pier. The boat rocked gently. « Busy day, huh? » Clay said.

« We left at sunrise, had a father and his two sons, big strong boys, all of them serious weight lifters. From some place in New Jersey. I’ve never seen so many muscles on the boat. They were yanking hundred-pound sailfish out of the ocan like they were trout.

Two women in their forties walked by, carrying small backpacks and fishing supplies. They had the same weary, sunburned look as all other fishermen. One was a little heavy, the other was not, but Jarrett observed them equally until they were out of sight. His gawking was almost embarrassing.

« Do you still have your condo? » Clay asked. The condo he’d seen four years earlier had been a run-down two-room apartment on the back side of Marsh Harbor.

« Yeah, but I live on the boat now. The owner doesn’t come over much, so I just stay there. There’s a sofa in the cabin for you. »

« You live on this boat? »

« Sure, it’s air-conditioned, plenty of room. It’s just me, you know, most of the time. »

They sipped beer and watched another group of fishermen stumble by.

« I’ve got a charter tomorrow », Jarrett said, « You along for a ride? »

« What else would I do around here? »

« Got some clowns from Wall Street who want to leave at seven in the morning. »

« Sounds like fun. »

« I’m hungry », Jarrett said, jumping to his feet and tossing the beer can in the trash. « Let’s go. »

They walked along the pier, past dozens of boats of all varieties. Small dinners were underway on the sailboats. The fishing captains were drinking beer and relaxing. All of them yelled something to Jarrett, who had a quick retort for each one. He was still barefoot. Clay walked a step behind him and thought to himself, That’s my father, the great Jarrett Carter, now a barefoot beach bum in faded shorts and unbuttoned shirt, the king of Marsh Harbor. And a very unhappy man.

The Blue Fin bar was crowded and loud. Jarrett seemed to know everyone. Before they could find two stools together the bartender had tall glasses of rum punch waiting for them. « Cheers », Jarrett said, touching his glass to Clay’s, then draining half of it. Serious fishing talk then followed with another captain and for a while Clay was ignored, which was fine with him. Jarrett finished the first rum punch and yelled for another. Then another.

A feast was getting organized at a large round table in one corner. Platters of lobster, crab, and shrimp were laid in the center of it. Jarrett motioned for Clay to follow, and they took seats at the table with a half dozen others. The music was loud, the conversation louder. Everyone around the table was working hard to get drunk, with Jarrett leading the charge.

The sailor to Clay’s right was an aging hippie who claimed to have dodged Vietnam and burned his draft card. He’d rejected all democratic ideas, including employment and income taxes. « Been bouncing around the Caribbean for thirty years », he boasted with a mouthful of shrimp. « Feds don’t even know I exist. »

Clay suspected the Feds had little interest in whether the man existed, and the same was true of the rest of the misfits he was now dining with. Sailors, boat captains, full-time fishermen, all running from something – alimony, taxes, indictments, bad business deals. They fancied themselves as rebels, nonconformists, free spirits – modern-day pirates, much too independent to be constricted by the normal rules of society.

A hurricane had hit Abaco hard the summer before, and Captain Floyd, the loudest mouth at the table, was at war with an insurance company. This prompted a round of hurricane stories, which, of course, required another round of rum punch. Clay stopped drinking; his father did not. Jarrett became louder and drunker, as did everyone else at the table.

After two hours the food was gone but the rum punch kept coming. The waiter was hauling it over by the pitcher now, and Clay decided to make a quick exit. He left the table without being noticed and sneaked out of the Blue Fin.

So much for a quiet dinner with Dad.

NB Le livre a été trouvé, comme tant d’autres dans ces croisières, dans une Book exchange de marina, on prend un livre, on en dépose un. Ahurissant que le système, courant dans le monde anglo, et aussi en Turquie, n’ait pas été adopté dans les marinas en France. Il est vrai qu’elles ne méritent guère ce nom, tant le charme et le goût sont absents. On devrait plutôt trouver un sigle pour les désigner, comme ZIBSB, « Zone industrielle en béton pour stocker les bateaux », ainsi la ZIBSB-StRphl, la ZIBSB-Hrs, la ZIBSB-Antbs, pour les « marinas » de Saint Raphaël, Hyères ou Antibes.

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