The Pirate, Part 1: The Traitor

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The Pirate – High-seas naval action/adventure

When Jack Turner was arrested for stealing a car in LA, the judge gave him a choice: Two-years on probation or join the military. Now Jack is aboard the US Coast Guard Cutter Almayer, 45-nautical miles south of Key West, Florida, standing watch as a lookout, searching for illegal aliens and drug runners.

Young deckhand Jack Turner is 45-nautical miles south of Key West, Florida, aboard a Coast Guard Cutter. He’s standing watch as a lookout, searching the open ocean for illegal aliens and drug smugglers. When he spots a speedboat that is trying to avoid detection, the chase begins. And so begins The Pirate, Part I: Treason a novel of adventure, thrills and crime that takes you from Los Angeles, to Miami, Key West and Puerto Rico, along with Drug Enforcement Agents, Coast Guard officers and ruthless drug King Pins. We ride along with Jack Turner as he goes on secret missions, gets involved on the wrong side of the law, connects with an old girlfriend who has a secret she’s not sure Jack wants to hear.

 Book Data

Edition 1st Smashwords
ISBN 9780986022937
Pages 39
Publication Date March 18, 2017
Publisher MT Press
Series The Pirate, Book 1
BCRS Rating CA-18
(BCRS ratings? Learn more)

ca-18

Malcolm Torres

Malcolm Torres

Malcolm Torres is the author of several novels including Sailors Take Warning and Sailors Delight. He also writes The Sea Adventure Collection, an ongoing series of stories about life aboard ships at sea and adventures in ports of call around the world. Many book reviewers have commented on Malcolm's ability to write vivid and gritty sea stories that put the reader right into the action alongside interesting characters.

After serving in the US Navy, Malcolm earned a Bachelors Degree at the University of Colorado in Boulder. He has worked in diverse career fields, including mechanic aboard the USS Enterprise, German-Jewish delicatessen cook, high school English teacher, microelectronics factory worker and renewable energy project manager.

Malcolm's writing has appeared in the Viking Monthly, the Colorado Daily and High Times Magazine. He is a scuba diver, a sailor of small boats, a mountain bike rider and an avid downhill skier. He lives with his family in the forest outside Portland, Oregon.

You can contact Malcolm through his website: www.malcolmtorres.com. Be sure to subscribe to his twice-annual newsletter, and look for his upcoming podcast: Lost at Sea with Malcolm Torres.
Malcolm Torres

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the-pirate


THE PIRATE

Part I: The Traitor

By Malcolm Torres

Look for the continuation and the conclusion of THE PIRATE

Part II: The Kingpin

Part III: Big Daddy

Works by Malcolm Torres

Novels

Sailors Take Warning

Sailors Delight

The Pirate

Short Stories in the Sea Adventure Collection *

Sixty-Four Days

Shark Tooth Rosary

Back to the Philippines

Making Peace with Japan

Pacific Northwest Crossing the Line

iTunes Podcast: Lost at Sea with Malcolm Torres

* Stories in the Sea Adventure Collection can be read in any order. They are often free. For more information about Malcolm Torres and to read the Ships & Sailors Blog go to

www.malcolmtorres.com

Smashwords Edition

Copyright 2017 by MT Press All Rights Reserved

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you are reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your favorite ebook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.


THE PIRATE

Part I: The Traitor

By Malcolm Torres

 

CHAPTER 1

Six months after volunteering for service in the US Coast Guard, Jack Turner stands lookout with a pair of high-powered binoculars on the bow of the cutter Allmayer, 45 nautical miles south of Key West. He scans the sea slowly as he was trained to do during his recent boot camp and basic seamanship course. He’s looking for boats and ships or rafts of any kind. His position on the ship’s bow affords him a circular view to almost all points on the compass. Three days at sea and all they’d seen were pleasure cruise ships out of Miami, a few oil drilling platforms, and a couple of deep sea fishing charters. The sea is running rough as the bow of the cutter rises high out of the water, the humid breeze blows in Jack Turner’s face. Then the cutter crashes down between the swells, a spume of foam and salt blasts up around him.

The watch leader had stuck Jack Turner out on the bow because he didn’t turn green and start barfing when the ship left port and began tossing about on rough blue water. And Jack already had a deep tan, so there was no risk of sunburn. During his four-hour watches Jack put his ball cap over his crewcut, clamped the headset over his ears and braced the steel toes of his boots against the scuppers. He rode the bow up and down, scanning the open sea, checking in via radio every few minutes with the watch leader on the bridge.

He hadn’t seen any rafts even though the watch leader had made a big deal about keeping a sharp eye out for rafts. The watch leader said he had seen many rafts over the years. They were loaded with Cuban or Haitian refugees. He’d said it was the Coast Guard’s job to turn them back. The watch leader also stressed that Jack should look out for speedboats and low flying planes because they might be drug runners. They’d call in a low flying plane and let the DEA go after them, but speedboats they’d intercept and do a board and search. The watch leader said DEA stood for Drug Enforcement Administration.

With fifteen minutes until his watch is over, Jack wonders what they are serving in the kitchen for dinner. Then he remembers he isn’t supposed to say, ‘in the kitchen for dinner.’ He reminds himself that he’s supposed to be wondering, ‘what kind of chow are they serving in the galley?’

Jack lowers his binoculars and looks down at the sea sweeping past below the ship’s railing. He sees his boots wedged against the scupper. He has to admit he doesn’t mind being in the Coast Guard even though he’d never considered military service, not until he got arrested for stealing a car in Los Angeles, that is. The judge offered him military service instead of probation. His court appointed lawyer called it the jailbird program and encouraged him to take it. “Get out of LA,” the lawyer said. “You’re only eighteen years old. Do something with your life,” the lawyer said. “Wouldn’t you rather be in the Army or the Navy than on probation?”

Jack wasn’t sure at first. He was such a knucklehead. He had laid in bed in his aunt’s basement, where he’d lived since he was twelve years old, and he thought being on probation would give him street cred’. Being on probation would make him look tough among his friends who were a bunch of punks and thugs. Looking back, Jack realized all they did was peer-pressured each other into petty crime and drugs when they weren’t riding skateboards or wind surfing or playing Skyrim on X-Box.

Jack looks down at his black boots and his blue uniform. He sees his name, TURNER, embroidered over the Coast Guard logo on his right breast pocket. He feels, ever so tentatively, that he is starting to belong to something. He belongs to the US government, that’s for certain, but he belongs to something else. He belongs to a ship’s crew of men and women. They are from all over the US and most of them are from a similar background — divorced or no parents. Most have a high school diploma or a GED. The smart ones have a few junior college credits. Prior to signing up and swearing in most of them had no prospects, no plans at all. Back in Los Angeles, living in his aunt’s basement, under her dilapidated ranch house in Boyle Heights, Jack never thought beyond the next weekend. He was making a thousand dollars here and there stealing cars and SUVs. He thought he had it made. Then he fell for a glossy green Honda Civic that turned out to be a bait car. He remembered popping the driver’s side door with his slimjim and going to work on the ignition. Suddenly two LAPD cops and a Channel-7 news crew surrounded the car. Guns drawn. Cameras rolling. After they put the cuffs on him, the girl who had been holding the pole with the mic on the end, told him, “See yourself on TV this Thursday night at 6 and 10.”

He focuses his binoculars on the horizon, then zooms in on a faint white contrail at one o’clock. It seems to be a couple miles away. He stares for a moment but it’s gone. Maybe it’s nothing. Probably just the wind blowing the top off a big wave.

He lowers the binoculars and looks down just as two dolphins break the surface and leap through the air together before plunging back beneath the waves.

He smiles spontaneously, realizing what an incredible sight he’s just seen. Something so beautiful he’d never have seen on the rough streets of LA. Two sleek and dark-skinned dolphins leaping out of the sea right before his eyes. He knows, but isn’t sure how he knows, that seeing dolphins jumping ahead of the ship is good luck. He thinks maybe he’s channeling some ancient mariner energy there on the bow of the ship. He wonders what good fortune lays ahead for him.

And that’s when he looks thorough the binoculars and sees the white spray on the horizon again. He can see it’s a speedboat and it’s moving fast.

Jack mashes the transmit button on his radio and says, “Watch leader, this is bow watch, I have a bogie at one o’clock off the bow.”

“Roger, bow watch, keep ’em in sight.”

A few seconds later he hears the ship’s public address system, with speakers in every compartment and on all the exterior decks, announce, “Launch the alert helo’.” And Jack knows the pilot and the aircrew are already sitting in the chopper on the small flight deck on the Allmayer’s aft end because he immediately hears it firing up its engine. The low whirr grows louder and louder and the thwock, thwock, thwock sound of its rotating blades echoes off the ship’s metal decks. It fills Jack’s ears with a sense of awe, because he realizes that he has kicked off a board and search mission. The metal deck begins to vibrate and shudder, because down in the engine room they’ve fired up the engines and put the ship in high gear. In the blue sky the helicopter shoots past. Jack sees the pilot’s helmet as he speaks into a mic wrapped in front of his mouth. And to his surprise, Jack hears the pilot say, “I’ve got a visual on the speeder at twelve o’clock. Now in pursuit, over.” Two aircrew crouch in the chopper’s open side door as it takes off across the blue sky growing smaller each second. Jack has a weird sense of vertigo as he realizes how big the sky surrounding him actually is.

“Bow watch, keep an eye on that speeder,” the bridge watch’s voice crackles into his headset.

“Roger, he’s at twelve o’clock, dead ahead,” Jack reports and sees that the ship and the chopper are both making a beeline straight for the speedboat.

“We’ve got a runner,” the pilot’s voice in Jack’s headset, followed by several verbal interactions between the bridge watch and the chopper pilot. Being new to the Coast Guard, on his first actual deployment at sea, Jack doesn’t understand it all exactly. Between bursts of static there are short terse statements between men and women. Jack listens and understands that the speedboat is trying to run away and the chopper is authorized by the captain to go after it. The Allmayer is speeding up as fast as it can and something else about how far they are from Key West. Jack is surprised to hear that a DEA helicopter might be scrambled to help intercept. There is also something about a Navy ship somewhere nearby that can join the chase if needed.

But it doesn’t take long. Jack watches through his binoculars and sees the helicopter bank around and come in at the speedboat.

It hovers for a few seconds.

“Shots fired,” the helicopter pilot’s voice again.

Jack watches the chopper pitch and weave in what looks like an evasive maneuver.

The Allmayer’s captain tells the chopper crew to fire back.

The Allmayer is crashing across the waves for real now. Jack pulse ratchets up like it did when he’d broken into a car and was scrambling to hotwire the ignition. And then he sees smoke rising from the speedboat.

The pilot’s voice again: “Shooter is down, we’ve taken out one outboard engine and the shooter. The shooter is down.”

“Have you taken any fire?” the Allmayer’s captain asks.

“We might have,” the pilot’s voice comes into Jack’s headset, “but all flight control systems appear to operating within normal limits.”

They are close enough now for Jack to see a tall lean guy with black hair, sort of Latin looking, standing in the speedboat with his hands raised above his head. The chopper hovers a little way off with both aircrew leaning out the side door, their rifles pointing at the guy on the speedboat. The Allmayer circles but doesn’t get too close. A team on deck lowers a Zodiac raft and a minute later they are motoring across the water. Jack looks around. There are at least a dozen guns pointed at the speedboat.

Jack wonders what is on the speedboat. What made the Latin guy try to run away? Why did they shoot at the helicopter? He figures it has to be drugs. Probably marijuana, but more likely cocaine, meth or heroine. He’d heard that decriminalizing marijuana in the US has been driving smugglers to harder more expensive drugs. The sleek green fiberglass hull bobs on the water. It’s designed for a driver, maybe two passengers at most with its long, pointy bow and small cockpit. A hot looking lady in a black bikini appears on deck from down below. Jack raises his binoculars to get a look at her equipment. After all, he’s been at sea for several days and he is a sailor. There are women on the Allmayer crew, but they aren’t bouncing around in bikinis.

The team boards the speedboat cautiously, pointing their handguns and rifles at the Latin guy and the woman in the bikini and what Jack figures is a wounded or dead guy on the deck. All three are quickly handcuffed. With the speedboat secured, the boarding party climbs back into the Zodiac and tows it back to the Allmayer.

As soon as the Latin guy, the wounded guy and the chick in the bikini are brought on board, Jack is amazed to see his fellow crewmembers descend on the speedboat with chainsaws and pry-bars. They quickly tear up the boat’s decks and uncover plastic sealed packages of white powder. Jack wonders if it’s coke, speed or heroine.

The watch officer tells Jack to leave his post and go aft to help offload the speedboat. He hustles back there. A senior officer tells him and a few others deckhands to go below and get some large plastic evidence tubs. They bring the tubs up from below and toss them to a few other deckhands who are down on the speedboat. A work crew forms and they set up a metal arm with a pulley on it, then feed a rope through and lower a cargo net to the speedboat. They fall into a steady rhythm of hauling tubs filled with large packages of drugs up from the speedboat to the deck. Then they pass the tubs down the ladder into a compartment that has EVIDENCE in black stencil on the watertight door. This is way more dope than Jack has ever seen. He wants to pull out his iPhone and snap a selfie with the shimmering blue sea in the background and a fat package of dope in his hand. It will be cool to post it a pic like that on Facebook for all his friends to like and comment and share. But he knows taking such a picture is totally unauthorized. Besides, he thinks proudly, I haven’t been on Facebook since joining the Coast Guard eight months ago.

The chainsaws cut open the speedboat’s decks and bulkheads, filling the air with a tearing sound and the smell of burned gasoline. The crew hauls up dozens of big plastic tubs filled with packages of white powder. Several tubs come up full of fat vacuum-sealed packages of green weed. Through the clear plastic, Jack sees vibrant green marijuana covered with gold hairs. It’s so weird because he knows it has a pungent odor, but since it is sealed inside plastic there is no smell at all. He wonders if the smugglers had sanitized the packages to outsmart drug-sniffing dogs that might come aboard at sea or upon arrival in Florida.

Jack takes turns with the other deckhands, hoisting the tubs up from the speedboat. When his arms get tired of pulling, he takes a turn lugging tubs below. They go through a watertight door on the main deck and climb down a ladders to the evidence room below. He can’t believe all this dope. It must be a million bucks worth on the street. Just being around it gives him a crazy contact high. He imagines having all these drugs and weed in his basement room, back at his aunt’s house in LA. That would mean parties and cash. Lots of parties and lots and lots of cash.

After all the contraband is unloaded and taken below, a couple mechanics climbed down to the speedboat. They unbolt the twin outboard Mercury engines and those are hoisted aboard the Allmayer. Next, they lower a hose and siphoned the gasoline from the speedboat’s tanks. Jack wonders what they’ll do with the gutted craft, certain they aren’t going to tow it all the way back to Key West. That doesn’t make any sense because they are supposed to stay at sea for another three days.

Jack thinks it is pretty cool when the Allmayer’s captain appears on deck. They are lugging the last few tubs of weed below. Jack is helping fasten cargo nets over the outboard Mercury engines.

The captain is a short man and lean with a strong look like Teflon about him. He wears the same dark blue pants and shirt as Jack and the other crew working on deck. The captain’s last name, HALL is stitched above his right breast pocket. Of course the captain has eagles embroidered on the points of his collars. His white hair is trimmed short and combed forward. His eyes and mouth are set in a serious look as he observes the activity on deck. Jack’s memory flashes on the first time he met Captain Hall, a couple weeks ago. Jack’s division officer introduced him. Captain Hall had shook Jack’s hand, asked where he was from. Hall had looked Jack right in the eyes and said, “Welcome aboard, Son.” And Jack truly did feel welcome. And he felt something else; something good down in his bones. Hall had called him ‘Son.’ Nobody had called him son since he was a little kid, since before his parents died when he was twelve.

The captain walks over to Jack and says, “Good work spying this drug runner, Seaman Turner.” Jack stands up straight and says, “Thank you, sir.” Then he fidgets, not knowing what else to say. “You get the honors, Turner,” the captain says.

“Honors, sir?” Jack asks.

Several crew members standing nearby smile the kind of smiles that tell Jack he is about to experience a seafaring tradition, a secret ritual like crossing the equator or something.

“Oh, you’ll see,” the captain says.

One of the senior guys smiles and nods at Jack and Jack feels something unusual, some raw emotion he’d never felt before. It’s a positive feeling; he knows that much right away. Honor maybe? Jack wonders. What is honor?

Right then a deckhand who is carrying the last tub of contraband stumbles and drops the tub on the deck. One of the packages breaks open. That dank gold-haired weed is strewn all over the gray steel and black nonskid at their feet.

“Clean this up,” the captain says, then waves his hand and the speedboat, “and cut that loose.” Then he turns to Jack and says, “You come with me, Turner.”

Jack follows the captain up two ladders and right onto the bridge. The captain gives orders to the helmsman and the navigator who immediately take to action. Outside the big windows, Jack looks in awe at the cutter’s bow jutting out over the vast sea. The wide blue sky arcing over it all. What a spectacular view he thinks at the sight of waves pitching and rolling in all directions.

Jack puts his hand on a railing mounted just below the window to steady himself as the cutter turns sharply. The captain and bridge crew shout commands, repeating each other to confirm what was ordered. Jack doesn’t exactly understand them, but he can tell they are making a hard turn and activating a weapon of some kind.

“Over here, Turner,” the captain waves him to a panel of dials and buttons.

A junior officer stands at the wheel with a headset on. She turns to the captain and says, “Sir, we’re locked on now.”

“It’s not every day you get to sink a smuggler’s wreck, is it, Turner?” The captain points at a computer screen where Jack sees the gutted remains of the speedboat bobbing aimlessly on the waves.

“Locked on,” the junior officer says again.

Captain Hall flips open a hinged plastic cover over a large red button that is embossed with the word FIRE in white letters.

“Fire when ready, Seaman Turner,” the captain says.

Jack’s smile beams from ear to ear, “Really?” he asks.

“Absolutely,” the Captain says boldly.

Jack places his thumb on the big red button. He looks from the button to the screen where the wrecked speedboat bobs on the waves. Then he presses down firmly and feels the button click.

For a half a second nothing happens.

From aft, Jack hears a bell ring, then a mechanical sound of gears turning and a loud click. And then a great roar and a ripping sound all at once. On the computer screen a stream of tracer fire like a laser goes directly at the remains of the speed boat. The water around it boils and foams and the speedboat disintegrates in a cloud of splinters and smoke.

Jack stares at the screen. He’s amazed at the power he has just unleashed.

He knows exactly what he’s done. He has fired the ship’s Close in Weapons Systems or CIWS as he’s heard it referred to. It is a computer controlled Gatling gun, mounted aft on the ship. It has at least a half dozen barrels and a long mechanical belt full of chunky bullets. The CIWS looks like R2D2 from Star Wars except the CIWS has a mass of gun barrels poking out.

The captain puts his hand on Jack’s shoulder and says, “You’ve got good aim to go along with your eagle eye vision, Seaman Turner.”

Jack doesn’t know what to say to the captain except, “That was awesome, sir, thank you so much.”

“The pleasure is all mine, Seaman Turner. Keep up the good work on lookout. Now you may be dismissed.”

Jack walks proudly across the bridge and exits through the door he’d entered a minute earlier.

Outside on deck, he scans the ocean but there are no signs of the speedboat. Only the humid breeze and the warming rays of the sun and the now familiar steady pitching and rolling of the Allmayer’s steel decks beneath his feet. Jack walks toward the ladder and holds up his thumb, the one he’d used to press the FIRE button. He looks at the swirl of his thumbprint and whispers, “Wow!”

He climbs down the two ladders and sees that the deckhands have put away the pulleys and ropes used to hoist the contraband. Without a thought, Jack glances at the deck and is startled to see a bananasized bud of that gold-haired weed sticking out from under the deckedge scupper. He glances forward and aft and sees that he is alone. Without thinking twice, he quickly leans over and picks up the big bud. Not seeing anyone after glancing forward and aft again, Jack tucks the big bud between the buttons on the front of this shirt and walks aft.

He opens a big metal door into the ship, and it occurs to him that by grabbing the bud and sticking it in his shirt, he is a pirate. After all, he thinks, I spotted the speedboat which ordered the crew to board and pillage it. The crew had seized the smuggler’s cargo. This bud — Jack runs his hand over the bulge under his shirt — is my plunder. My booty, he thinks. He growls, “Aaarrrggg,” under his breath.

Coming at Jack down the passageway is a guy Jack recognizes from the propulsion plant. The guy holds up a high five and says, “Hey eagle-eye!”

Jack reaches up and smacks hands with the guy and feels a pang of guilt in his gut.

He continues down the passageway and thinks about dropping the bud into a trash can or throwing it over the side, but now there are other sailors walking past him in the passageway. He puts his head down, stares at the deck and walks aft.

Damn, he thinks. Now I’m a pirate and a traitor to the Coast Guard. They all think I’m a hero because I spotted the smugglers. I fired the CIWS. I sunk their boat. They all think I’m a hero but I’m the exact opposite. I’m a traitor.

CHAPTER 2

Max has his dreadlocks tied back with a red bandana because he is bent over waxing his sailboard and he doesn’t want to get wax in his dreads. He heats the wax with an old iron he bought back in LA at Goodwill and then he applies the wax carefully to the board. All this on two sawhorses in the middle of the living room.

A ratty cloth couch with no legs sits flat on the floor. The couch doubles as his bed when it isn’t being used as a couch. A second-hand flat-panel TV on a side table. There’s surfing and sailing gear — nylon straps, wetsuits, sails in sail bags, greasy winches, coils of rope — crammed in everywhere in the tiny living room. A disassembled capstan and a mug full of ball bearings sits on an end table next to the pimp bachelor kitchen. In the kitchen, a tiny countertop, two burner stove, an ancient fridge and a microwave under plywood cabinets. Two sailboards, several masts and wetsuits hang on a rack of nailedtogether two-by-fours that looks like it might fall off the ceiling.

Max is totally at home in this dump with his music mix of punk and ska playing on his iPod set in a plastic Tupperware bowl. The bowl amplified the little speaker. Max is bopping and rocking and doing an occasional funky dance step to the music as he waxes his sailboard.

And that’s when Jack Turner barges into the pimp bachelor kitchen from outside with his seabag slung over his shoulder. “You better have a cold beer for me,” Jack says.

“Dude,” Max shouts.

They fist-bump.

“Dude,” Jack says.

“How was it?” Max asks.

“Mostly boring up until we busted a speedboat loaded with cocaine and weed.”

“Damn, dude, it’s your fault?”

“What’s my fault?”

“All the locals say we’re in the middle of the biggest drought in South Florida history.”

“Yup, totally my fault,” Jack says as he opens the fridge and pulls out two cans of beer. “I spotted the speedboat and they sent the chopper after it —” Jack tosses a beer to Max and they pop the tops and bang their cans together.

Jack tells his tale of adventure on the high seas. Recounts the gun battle, the bikini girl, the boarding party, tearing up the speedboat with chainsaws. “It was crazy,” Jacks says. “Then the bales started coming aboard.”

“Bales?”

“Yeah, big fat bales of weed.”

“How big were these bales?” Max asks.

“Five pounds each, at least,” Jack swigs his beer and laughs. “Fat packages of white powder too.

DEA guys said it was cocaine.”

“Bales of weed and cocaine,” Max is amazed.

“Did you know they smuggle coke pure and cut it after they get it over here.” “Pure cocaine,” Max says in disbelief.

“DEA guy said it’s a waste to smuggle the cut. So, yeah,” Jack continues, “We were taking these big bales onto the ship and one of the guys stumbled and dropped a big plastic package, must’ve been ten pounds of weed compressed in there —”

“Ten pounds,” Max says with a big smile.

“It busted open on the deck.”

“Weed all over?”

“Yeah, weed all over.”

“Did you get your hands on it?” Max wants to know.

A big grin spreads across Jack’s face and stays there beaming. He tries to stop, but he can’t make his smile go away.

“What’s that goofy smirk?” Max says.

Jack unhooks the metal clip on the top of his seabag. “Several pounds of stinky buds all over the deck,” Jack says.

Max frowns. “Man, I called every dealer I know but there’s no weed in the Keys.” “So sad,” Jack says fumbling around in his seabag.

“And it’s all your fault,” Max says.

“Literally, it is my fault, dude,” Jack smiles. “You guys are choking off the supply lines.” “It’s terrible.” Jack’s smile still beaming.

“Not even George in Key Largo can score and that guy knows every dealer in Miami.”

Jack pulls several items from his bag. A stack of t-shirts and rolled up socks. A belt. A pair of tennis shoes. From one of the shoes, Jack pulls out a plastic bag with the big banana bud wrapped inside.

Max freaks out. He leaps across the room and seizes the bag in his greedy hands. He holds the package up like an offering to the Gods. “Oh, the universe provides. It does provide. It does!” he says.

Jack bursts out laughing. “It’s all yours, my friend. All yours,” he says. “Smoke it at your leisure.”

Max grabs his bong and dumps the dirty water into the pimp bachelor kitchen sink. “This calls for fresh water and ice!” He grabs an ice tray from the freezer and cracks out the cubes, pops them down the bong’s throat. He uses the Tupperware bowl he had the iPhone in to ladle cold water from the kitchen tap to refill the bong. On the end table, Max pinches out a small serving of the precious bud. He holds his breath and examines it closely, like a prospector gazing into a pan of mud and seeing gold.

“Wait,” he declares, leaping to his feet, snatches up the iPod and fiddles around with the controls. He chooses one of his favorite classic rock hits. Winking at Jack, who approves the song selection, Max carefully packs himself of one-hitter bowl. He sits back on the couch, clutching his bong and savoring the moment before the unexpected high.

Jack stands up and heads for the door. “Second hand smoke, bro’, can’t have it. Don’t want to get popped on a UA!”

“Do you want me to go outside?”

“No need,” Jack says. “It’s cool.” The door swings shut as Jack walks onto the creaky deck. “Let’s go shoot some pool and knock back a few cold ones,” he says from outside.

“Sounds good,” Max says. Then he sparks his Bic lighter and presses the bong to his mouth. The flame bends down as he inhales slowly, catching fire to the bud. The chamber gurgles and fills with smoke. Taking his lips from the bong, Max exhales and holds the bong aside. He admires the thick gray smoke inside. Then he removes his thumb from the carburetor and puts his lips back on the mouthpiece. He inhales, drawing smoke out of the bong and deep into his lungs, filling them to capacity. Removing the bong from his mouth, he smacks his lips and hums — the approval of a refer connoisseur. After several long seconds he exhales a great gray cloud of smoke that swirls against the ceiling. His eyes close halfway, then all the way. He reclines on the couch, his head goes back until he’s blowing smoke straight up at the ceiling. The sound of the classic rock hit fills the little living room. Even though it’s just an iPod speaker, the low-fidelity doesn’t matter, it’s still a hit. “This is some good shit,” Max says as he stands. He rolls up the plastic bag with the bud in it and shoves it into the front pocket of his Levi’s. He steps toward the door and says, “Let’s go get some brews and shoot some pool, bro!”

* * *

The evening is like many others — handshakes with friends at the bar, tough choices made at the jukebox, air guitars played, cash handed to the waitress as she parks fresh pitchers on the pub table where they stand between incredible bumper shots, scratched eight balls, quarters fed into the gadget on the side of the table. In the alley out back, guys ask Max where he got the shit. Several state emphatically that it’s the biggest drought they can ever remember. Rumors about a drug lord purchasing a submarine from the Nicaraguan Navy because it’s the only way to get past the US Coast Guard, which has completely sealed off the drug smuggling routes into Florida.

The night turns to barhopping. They head for another nightclub.

Jack steers his hooptie pickup along the streets of Key West, playing it cool, not wanting to get pulled over out of fear of getting a DUI. He keeps it under control, takes the side streets, drives slow, brakes at intersections.

It’s the same scene at each place they go. Tunes blasting from speakers, pool balls ricocheting on green felt. Pitchers of beer drained. Clusters of friends gather outside in the shadows. Max is the center of attention. He is the only person on Key West with weed. He’s a popular guy.

Around four in the morning they go to a diner for steak and eggs. Laughing about old times in LA, Max tells Jack that Wendy has been calling. Jack doesn’t want to hear about Wendy, his ex-girlfriend back in LA, from before he joined the Coast Guard.

When they walk out of the diner, a van slows at the curb and a bundle of newspapers is tossed from the back. It lands on the sidewalk at their feet. On the front page there’s a picture of armed Coast Guard sailors and DEA agents standing shoulder to shoulder behind a hip-high wall of drugs — weed wrapped in plastic, white powder sealed in see-through bags. Behind them, the Allmayer is tied to the pier. The headline over the picture declares, Coast Guard Seizes Record Shipment.

* * *

Jack and Max are both wearing boxers and T-shirts. They are slurping spoonfuls of Captain Crunch from overflowing bowls at their tiny kitchen table.

X-Men cartoon on the flatpanel.

“Dude,” Max says.

“What?” Jack says.

“You heard from Wendy?”

“No, dude.”

“She called me,” Max says.

Wolverine is hit by a Peterbuilt hauling dual trailers.

Max grimaces.

“So,” Jack says.

“You and her need to talk.

“Dude, we broke up.”

Wolverine crawls out from under the tractor trailer.

“I don’t want to talk to her.” Jack tries to say it with conviction, but Max sees a look on his friend’s face that says it might not be over with Wendy.

“You need to call her,” Max says.

“No.”

“You don’t get it, dude.” “What?” Jack asks.

“You really need to call her.”

“Seriously, dude,” Jack says. “She’s from a rich family. There’s no way me and her are working out.”

“You have been off the grid for what?”

“Eight months,” Jack says. “You know I’ve had a new phone, nobody knows the number. I haven’t checked Facebook or email the whole time.” “You are out of it, dude,” Max says.

“You go off the grid,” Jack says. “It clears your head.”

“Whatever, dude. You and Wendy need to talk. It’s important. She said she’s —”

On the table, Max’s phone rings. He shows it to Jack. There on the screen is Wendy’s picture. Jack has seen this picture before, months ago back in LA before he joined the Coast Guard. They were together for a few months after high school graduation, before Jack got busted stealing the green Honda Civic. Before he was on the news. Before he stood in front of the judge. Before he volunteered for the Coast Guard. Jack swallowed hard at the sight of Wendy’s face. A few freckles on her nose. A swoosh of red hair across her forehead. Her pretty eyes, there on Max’s phone, looking right into his heart.

Jack bolts from the kitchen, through the living room and into the little bedroom at the back of the mobile home.

Max answers with loud exaggerated enthusiasm, “Hello, Wendy. How you today?”

Wendy is bed in her house in Los Angeles in the Boyle Heights neighborhood. She’s a short distance from where Jack’s aunt’s house where Jack use to live. The shades in her bedroom are closed and it’s dark outside. The sun hasn’t come up on the west coast yet, but it will soon.

“Hi, Max,” Wendy says.

“Hey, guess who got back off the ship last night?”

“Does he want to talk to me?”

“Let me see.”

Max walks into Jack’s room and they face off.

Jack scowls, shakes his head.

Max smiles and says, “Wendy, he’s here, but he’s still asleep.”

“Let him sleep, but tell him I called, ok?”

“No, no. I’m gonna wake him up. Hey, Jack, buddy. You got a phone call. It’s Wendy, that sweet girl from back home?”

Jack tries to dart around Max, but Max blocks the door.

They collide.

“Come on buddy, wake up. You got a phone call.” Max is bracing himself in the doorway, refusing to let his friend pass. Jack is pacing angrily, glaring at Max, shaking his head. Florida sunshine fills the room. Outside the window, there’s a branch with oranges on it and the neighbor’s mobile home a few feet away.

In Wendy’s bedroom, even in the predawn, posters are visible tacked to the walls. A boom box and a laptop on a desk beside the bed. The walls are pink and so are the blankets. Wendy’s red locks are black in the dark. She rolls over on her side, bites her lip, thinking now finally she may get a chance to talk to Jack. God, she wishes she had tried to contact him sooner. But she can’t change that. Now is the time to tell him.

“Wake up, Jack,” Max yells. He holds the phone out and smiles. “Wake up, Jack. Wendy needs to tell you something.”

Jack is gritting his teeth. His fists are clenched at his sides. He stands rigid straight, nostrils flared. “Wake up, Jack,” Max says calmly. “Wendy needs to tell you something.”

Jack exhales hard in resignation. He reaches out and takes the phone. He stands there for several seconds, like he’s counting to ten trying to calm down. He looks out the window and notices the oranges on the branch outside.

“Hi, Wendy,” Jack says, monotone.

“Jack,” Wendy practically squeals. “I’ve missed you. How’s the Coast Guard?” Oh, man, her voice is so sweet. He says, “Ah, it’s pretty good —” Awkward silence.

Jack can’t understand why, after eight months, she even wants to talk to him anyway. He hasn’t written or called. Can’t she take a clue? She’s a really good girl. Smart, pretty, cool. Her family has money, unlike him without anything. She’s got lots of friends. He knows she can find another guy easily. Why has she been trying to get a hold of him?

He fills the awkward silence. “I’m a deckhand on the ship. We went out to sea. We arrested some drug smugglers last week.”

“Sounds exciting.” The first rays of daylight are filling Wendy’s room. Her dark red hair now distinguishable against the pink pillowcase. One hand holds her mobile phone to her ear, the other is still under the covers. Wendy rolls onto her side, feeling a bit better now with Jack on the phone at least.

She’d messaged him a million times on Facebook but he never answered — hadn’t updated his status since they said goodbye when he left for the Coast Guard eight months ago.

“Yeah, it’s pretty cool,” he says. “How’s LA?” For the first time he wonders, seriously wonders, why she’s calling him. He likes the sound of her voice. He remembers the two of them going to the beach, cruising, running around at night to house parties. They snuck into a bars with fake IDs. They made out a bunch of times. He’d really fallen for her, but deep down he knew he wasn’t ready for any kind of serious relationship. That’s why it wasn’t hard saying good bye to her and joining the Coast Guard.

“Things are going good here, but ah —” she knows what she has to say, except the words are stumbling around in her head. She is thinking it through again as if thinking about it will somehow change the situation. She knows there’s no more time to think anymore. She has to say it. She considers not telling him, taking care of it herself. Maybe her mom was right.

“But, how are you doing?” he asks suddenly genuine. “What are you up to, Wendy?”

The sound of him saying her name propels her over the line. She’s going to tell him. She knows she’s going to tell him. She thinks for the first time, just by the way he said her name, just from that little spark of genuine interest in his voice, she thinks things might just work out ok for them — for Jack and Wendy Turner. She pushes the blankets off and slides her legs out of bed. She’s wearing tight black bootie pants and a pink pajama top. She slides over to the edge of the bed. “I’m glad you asked, Jack.

I’m doing well, real well as a matter of fact. And the reason I’m calling you is that —”

She pauses again. Rubs her hand across her stomach, feels something move inside. Her eyes open wide and she smiles.

“You there?” he asks.

“Yes, we’re here.” The room is filling with the LA suburb sunshine. It’s streaming in, dissolving the shadows.

“So, what is it you want to tell me,” he asks. He’s such a dopey 18 year old guy. He has no clue. He’s totally oblivious of what she is about to tell him. If he was forced to guess, like a hand had just put a pistol to his temple and a voice said, “Guess what she’s about to tell you, Jack. Guess or I’ll shoot you, Amigo.” He would not have guessed correctly. He’d say she wanted to tell him that she’d signed up for classes at the community college or that her parents had bought her a new car, or that she was going to a concert or she’d ask why he never called. Why hadn’t he returned her messages on Facebook?

But there in her bedroom she rubbed her swollen belly and feels the baby’s little tiny foot pressing against her hand. It moves slightly and she can feel a bone in the pinky toe rub against her palm. “Well, Jack, I’m calling to tell you that you are going to be a dad.”

CHAPTER 3

Long cool blue waves are rolling in toward the sugar-white sandy beach on Boca Chica Key. Jack and Max and a dozen other sailboarders are catching the wind, launching off the crests, gliding through the sun shot sky. The water is as clear as gin. Patches of coral and kelp strands are visible here and there. The wind freshens, an earnest gust begins to blow, to really stretch their sails and Jack forgets everything except the power of the wind and the board strapped to his feet beating against the water. The muscles in his arms are tense so he stretches out, leans back and holds on. He’s sliding across the tops of breaking waves. The swells rise and sink and he rides them up and down wanting to just keep right on going to Cuba or Jamaica. He wants to just keep going and never come back.

* * *

“How do I know it’s even mine?”

“You don’t,” Max says. “But the timing points to you.” They are lying on the sand sipping cans of beer.

“She’s eight months pregnant.”

“And that’s about the time you left LA,” Max smiles. “You know, every time I saw her after you split, she asked about you and she was lit up, like stars in her eyes.”

“Stop, man.”

“Hey, the only way to know for sure is a paternity test, right?

“Yeah.”

“But, I’m just saying, I didn’t get the vibe like she was spreading it around, did you?”

“No,” Jack admits. “She’s a real sweetheart. But, dude, I’m making like seven hundred and change a month.”

“Love is all you need.”

“No, man, you need cash for diapers and baby bottles. You need a house and appliances and a four door sedan.”

“I can totally see you in a four door.”

“Can we just stop talking about this, besides, we got plans. We’re gonna buy a sailboat and head out across the Caribbean.”

“Maybe that has to wait,” Max says.

“I’m too young to be a dad.” Jack is irritated.

“You’re not too young to make a baby.” Max smirks. “Besides a boat is like twenty thousand dollars. Even if we had that kind of money, Dad, buying a boat would be irresponsible.”

“Don’t even talk about responsibility, man, like I gotta choose between a baby and a sailboat.”

Right then, a forty footer cruiser crosses right in front of them a little ways out from the beach. A few guys and girls are crewing. It’s leaning way over and everyone is sitting up on the high side. A full spinnaker, black with the skull and cross bones, pulls her along. Jack looks at the boat with heartbreak in his eyes. He sees himself on the bow of the Almayer, riding up and down on the ocean swells. He feels the sailor’s carefree attitude calling him back out to sea. But he’s on land right now. All the stress of daily life is clawing at him. He just wants to be out at sea where life is simpler.

“Responsibility,” Max says. “Life is thrusting responsibility on you.” Max snickers. “Thrusting,” he whispers and moans, pretending like he’s making passionate love.

Jack snaps back to reality. “Listen to you; you grass-smoking, windsurfing, table-waiting beach bum. You have no responsibility.”

“Responsibility, Daddy.” Max is in full ballbreaker mode now. “That sounds so harsh, like open a bank account or pay the water bill or shop for appliances.” Max makes a face like he’s in pain. “Change a dirty diaper,” he says. “Can you say dirty diaper, daddy?”

The sailboat flying the Jolly Roger swings around so close to the beach, they can hear the crew shouting and laughing as the boom swings around and the crew works the winches.

“Give me another beer, will you?”

Max says, “Here, this is exactly what you need, another beer. Drink your troubles away.”

“Don’t talk to me about responsibility, please.”

“Responsibility,” Max says. “Another word for condom —”

“Lay off, will you, Max.”

“You and Wendy should have thought about wrapping some responsibility around your junk, Jack.”

The sailboat has turned away from the beach and is heading out onto the open ocean. Max and Jack sit on the sand, sipping their beers, watching it shrink as the wind sweeps it away across the surface of the blue sea.

* * *

Later they are driving down the road. Palm trees swaying in the breeze, nice little beachfront bungalows behind hedges and flowering shrubs.

Jack is thinking back to LA, to the weeks he and Wendy were together before he left to join the Coast Guard.

He remembers it all clearly. He has long hair and a soul patch and they are sitting on a blanket at Redondo Beach but the situation is very tense between them.

Wendy is in a bikini, a skimpy pink number with strings. Her knees are drawn up to her chest. Her arms are wrapped around her knees and her chin is stuck down. She is in a stressed-out fetal position.

“The judge said either join the military or go to jail,” Jack explains.

“How can a judge force you to join the Army?”

“I didn’t join the Army, I joined the Coast Guard,” Jack says.

“A judge can’t force you to do that!”

“The judge didn’t force me. Like I said, him and my lawyer gave me a choice.”

“Either they forced you or you volunteered, Jack,” Wendy insists. “You can’t have it both ways.”

“It’s a little more complicated than that.”

“I’m not stupid. Don’t talk to me like I’m stupid.” Wendy looks incredulous.

Jack’s sure she’s not stupid. He’d readily admit that she’s smarter than he is and she has the grades to prove it. “Baby,” he says, “there was that Honda Civic, remember. I told you about it. I just took it for a ride. I wasn’t stealing it.”

“You stole a Honda Civic?”

“My lawyer and the judge agreed it was joy riding.”

“That’s what I’m saying, Jack. They can’t force you to join the Army for joy riding.”

“It ain’t the Army, and they’re not forcing me to join, I told you they gave me a choice. I could either join the Coast Guard and they drop the joyriding charge, or if I didn’t join, they woulda charged me with grand theft auto. I coulda got five years in jail.”

“Jack, you can’t just walk out of my life right now, I mean —”

“I have no choice, besides, it won’t be so bad. The recruiter guaranteed me a special training program.”

“What, digging foxholes?”

“That would be the Army, I told you I’m going in the Coast Guard. I’m gonna learn how to handle small boats and handguns.” Jack reaches over and rubs her back.

Wendy immediately cuddles up to him. “But, you can’t go away now, Jack, we’re really starting to

hit it off.” “I’m sorry.” They kiss.

“When are you leaving?”

“Not for another two weeks.

“Good.” She presses against him. They kiss and grope passionately.

Nearby, a middle-aged Mexican lady with several small children are building a sand castle. The lady notices Jack and Wendy making out. She rolls her eyes and distracts the kids from looking at the teen lovebirds.

For the next three weeks Jack and Wendy are inseparable. It’s a three-week make out session — at Wendy’s house on the family room couch, with their shirts off on Wendy’s twin bed atop her pink comforter, making out on the couch in Jack’s basement apartment, and stripped down to their jimmies in the plush backseat of a new Acura MDX, and finally, the grand finally, on a picnic blanket beside a babbling brook, naked, with a shiny Jeep Grand Cherokee parked nearby.

At LAX International Airport, Jack wraps an arm around her waist, an overstuffed gym bag dangles off his shoulder. They kiss as travelers move busily past them with their wheeled suitcases rolling on the dirty marble floor.

Wendy pulls away and wipes her eyes with a tissue.

Right then Jack is snapped back to reality as his little pickup truck starts making a loud banging noise. It’s coming from the driver’s side, rear.

Jack knows what it is. He’s blown a tire. He steers to the side of the road and climbs out.

Sailboards are sticking out the truck’s bed.

Max climbs under the back to figure out how to loosen the spare.

“Tread is showing on this spare, dude.”

“Will it get us home?”

Max shoves the tire out from under the bed and crawls out after it. Jack lifts it and rolls it around to the driver’s side rear, where the flat is.

“Yeah, this thing is in bad shape.” Jack looks closely at the steel belt sticking out where the tread is worn away. “How much is a new tire, fifty bucks or so?”

“Heck, I don’t know, probably.”

Jacks got flip flops on, and his feet are squishing around as he pries the lugnuts loose on the flat.

Cars and trucks are whizzing by a few feet behind him.

Max is ratcheting up the jack, positioning it to lift the truck when Jack has the lugs loosened.

“It can’t be my kid,” Jack says, frustrated. “Me and Wendy only did it once or twice. Definitely not enough to get pregnant.” He works one of the lugs loose and places the nut on the ground. Max starts working the jack handle and the truck rises, the flat leaves the pavement.

Jack quickly loosens the remaining lugs and hands them to Max one at a time.

Max holds up one of the nuts, he closes one eye and squints with the other, pretending he’s a jeweler with a loupe. He studies the lugnut as though it is a precious stone.

“What are you doing, goofball?” Jack asks.

“You know it only takes one nut to make a baby, right?”

Jack bangs the lug wrench on the pavement. “It ain’t easy going from being a GED, stealing cars for a living and now I gotta deal with being a sailor, wearing uniforms, calling college guys sir.” Max backs off, gives Jack some space.

“I’m earning like no money, and now this with Wendy.”

“Sorry, dude. I’m only jazzing ya.”

“I got all the jazz I can handle, Max. I can’t support Wendy, not her and a kid, even if it is mine.” Jack begins tightens lug nuts. Silence smolders between them broken only by the sound of car tires zipping past on the hot blacktop.

“I don’t mean to pile on, bro’, but this tire is wasted.” Max indicates the just-mounted spare. “We gotta get some new rubber on this rig.”

”That’s what I’m trying to tell you,” Jack says emphatically. “I can’t even afford a tire, never mind supporting a wife and kid. Besides, if there’s money laying around, we’re buying a sailboat.” Max tosses the flat in back of the truck.

“Let’s roll,” Jack says, hopping back behind the wheel. “I gotta go on watch in an hour.”

CHAPTER 4

In a small office on the Coast Guard Base on Key West, Petty Officer Doogle, a 45-year-old, slightly overweight guy in an unkempt light blue shirt and dark pants, leans back in a cushioned office chair watching an old style WWF wrestling match on a tablet computer. In one hand he holds a can of Mountain Dew and in the other a bag of Flamin’ Hot Funyuns.

“Pile driver! Pile driver!” Doogle shouts excitedly as the men on the tablet’s screen engage in hand to hand combat. One wears dungaree coveralls with the legs cut short revealing black high-top boots laced up over bright orange hunting socks. This is Haybaler, Doogle’s hero. The other giant in the ring is Indian Chief, who wears only high-top moccasins and a short deer-skin skirt held up by a colorful beadbelt with feather’s dangling on leather strings. Indian Chief has long black hair that flies wildly as he kick’s free from Haybaler’s grasp, lands on both feet. Indian Chief dashes across the ring, bounces off the ropes and lunges at Haybaler, grabbing him around the neck and twisting savagely.

“Oh, no!” Doogle screams, “Not a lock jaw! Haybaler, get away from that injun!”

Jack Turner enters the office through a door with a window that is covered by old style metal blinds. The blinds rattle as Jack closes the door behind him. Jack is wearing his Coast Guard blue utility uniform. He props his elbows on the counter surrounding Doogle’s desk and stands there looking bored. A radio and a nightstick hang from his web belt. He watches the WWF match over Doogle’s shoulder.

“Can you believe this?” Doogle asks the tablet’s screen. “What a joke. There is no way Indian

Chief puts a lockjaw on Haybaler. This is a total crock of nonsense!”

Jack picks up a pen. He writes a brief entry in the logbook that is sitting open on the counter. “I’m checking in, Doogle,” Jack says. “It’s eleven-thirty. That’s twenty-three thirty for you die hard military guys.”

Through a mouthful of Fiery Funyuns, Doogle says, “Just write it in the book, Turner. Yes!

Haybaler, takes the redskin to the mat!”

“The warehouse is all secure, but I haven’t checked the doorknobs in over ten minutes, anything could have happened —”

Doogle is not listening.

“Mexican drug lords are probably breaking in right now, trying to retake all their controlled substances —”

“Just write it in the book, Turner.” Doogle’s eyes are glued to his tablet.

“Did you hear those gunshots?” Jack whispers, looking around with mock concern, making a silly face. “I think we’re under attack . . . you better sound the alarm —”

Doogle has gripped his Funyuns so tight he’s crushing them. He throws a punch and Mountain Dew sloshes from the can. “Kick his ass, Haybaler! Yeah! Kick his aaaaaaaassss!” Jack walks out, the blinds on the back of the door rattle as he goes.

Far down the long dark hallway on the opposite end of the warehouse from where Doogle sits watching his old school wrestling matches, Jack leans on the wall. Perspiration is beading on his brow. Rattling around in his head the worried voice of a teenage boy fretting about his uncertain future. What am I supposed to do, get a four door with good tires and a car seat? Behind the beads of perspiration on his brow, Jack begins to form a dismal vision of his future —

He sees himself standing in the living room of the mobile home where he and Max now live. The mismatched furniture crammed into the tiny space. He sees himself standing there in uniform. The nightstick and radio are still hanging from his belt. In his hands he holds a screaming infant with a bloated diaper. Wendy is there, but now she looks much older. Poorly applied make-up decorates her face. Her hair is a mess, as if she’s had a few too many discount die jobs. The smell of whatever is bloating the baby’s diaper fills the inside of the cramped mobile home and makes Jack gag. It’s hot, unbearably hot. Jack looks at Wendy’s unwashed housecoat and it’s clear that she is pregnant again. And she’s smoking. Jack hears a little girl singing a song, a lullaby of some kind. He can’t make out the words, but it’s surely a little girl’s voice burbling away. He turns slightly, careful not to drop the infant, and sees right behind him, a toddler in droopy underpants standing there with a black Magic Marker held high over her head, like a psycho with a dagger about to stab. But she’s not stabbing, she is scribbling on the faux-wood paneled wall.

Wendy screams at the toddler in a smoker’s rasp, “You stop that you little brat!” Then she glares at

Jack and demands, “Make her stop, Jack! Beat her if you have to. I don’t give a shit.”

A pit of anxiety opens in Jack’s belly and his entire existence slips into the cesspool of swill and darkness that he knows is waiting for him down there.

There in the warehouse, late at night on watch, with his hands hanging at his sides, Jack brain is working so hard it’s crying tears of salty sweat that trickle down his reddening face. In his imagination, he watches his future self, as if he’s standing in the corner of the impossibly-cramped little living room like an invisible observer. He’s certain that Wendy and the kids can’t see him. And the weird thing is he sees himself turn and look directly at himself and he sees his lips pinch into a tight circle. And as he shakes his head, he hears the word, “NOOOOOOOOO!” first a low growl, then louder until it starts to shake the tin and Styrofoam and cheap paneled walls. The infant wails, and the little girl drops the Magic Marker on the dirty carpet in fear and springs to her mother who clutches her close to her ratty housecoat. Wendy and the little girl cower as Jack, who clutches the infant in his shaking hands, screams so loud the wall behind him trembles and explodes outward as if torn loose by a sudden hurricane gale.

In the dark warehouse hallway Jack gulps at nothing, like an anxious dog swallowing imaginary food. A single bead of sweat drops from his nose and lands on the front of his shirt. “No way,” he whispers. “No way is that happening to me.”

He walks back along the hall, exhaling slowly as if trying to get the smell of a low budget life out of his nose.

He pauses for no reason beside a tall metal cabinet standing against the wall. “I don’t want to get married,” Jack says to the cabinet. “I don’t want a kid, either.” His voice kind of whiny. “I want to buy a boat and sail off across the Caribbean.” His brow wrinkles and it looks like he’s gonna break into tears. His head drops in desperations, but suddenly he lifts his head and looks curious. “What is that?” he whispers.

From under the cabinet, an ever so slight smear of dim yellow light shines on the black Formica tiles. Jack glances aside, down the long dark hallway and sees, way down at the far end, the window in the watch office where Doogle is sitting.

He steps over to the metal cabinet. It’s a standard military unit. There are countless numbers of them in hallways and storage rooms on military installations all over the world. Without even opening it, Jack knows it contains toilet paper, mop heads, scrubbing pads. Jack’s only been in the Coast Guard for seven or eight months, but he knows this for a fact without looking inside.

Why, he wonders, is light shining from underneath this cabinet?

He steps over beside the cabinet and can now see the metal strip of a doorframe in the wall. Without thinking about it, he slides one hand behind the cabinet and pulls it out from the wall. Sure enough there’s a door in the wall.

Following his watch orders, Jack grabs the doorknob and to his absolute amazement it clicks and turns easily in his hand. He pushes but it won’t budge. So he shoves the locker out from the wall and applies his shoulder to the door and pushes harder. It gives a fraction of an inch; not enough to see what’s inside the room though. Something big is blocking the way. Jack figures this is one of the garage bays lining the long side of the building facing the pier. He considers telling Doogle, because there’s probably a three-ring binder with instructions on exactly what to do if a doorknob is found unlocked in the warehouse. But, Jack is too curious, so he bends his knees, sets his feet at angles on the floor and presses his shoulder to the door and begins to shove in earnest, but it still won’t budge. So he presses harder and harder, and sure enough, it gives a tiny bit.

* * *

In a plain unpainted room, where the dry-wallers hadn’t put tape and putty over the seams or the heads of the screws, several banks of florescent lights hang on metal rods from the high ceiling. One of the lights is blinking and flickering intermittently. There’s a garage door shut tight against the night outside where several large padlocks secure it. On the wall directly across from the garage door there’s a metal door behind wooden pallets. The door opens less than an inch where it bangs against a pallet; one in a row of pallets stacked with pillow-sized, plastic-wrapped bales of marijuana. From outside the door, the sound of someone grunting, pressing shoulder and pushing as hard as possible. Then the door closes and it opens again, this time hitting hard against the pallet, nudging it over ever so slightly. The door closes again and quickly it opens, banging against the pallet, pushing it over a little more. Then in rapid succession, the door is closing and opening, banging against the pallet, pushing each time a little further until finally, Jack Turner sticks his head through into the room. His face is red and slick with sweat after exerting himself and his heart is pounding inside his chest and he’s excited, caught up in the moment. Not really thinking clearly about what he’s doing — which has proven to be a behavior that has gotten him into quite a bit of trouble in the past. But, that’s how he is; not much conscious. He’s always done stuff without thinking it through and that’s the look on his face now as his eyes pop open like a person who, in that exact moment, has learned that he has in fact won the lottery.

Jack’s mouth pinches into a dorky sort of kiss shape, and in total disbelief he mutters, “Dude!”

* * *

The sky glows white from bright-lamps mounted high on utility poles. Across from the pier where the Allmayer is tied up, there’s a parking lot with a few cars scattered here and there. A cargo crane sits silent on railroad tracks. Silent warehouses, stocked with Coast Guard war supplies like mops, desks, paint, inflatable rafts, a hundred thousand boxes of toilet paper, crates full of canned whole chickens.

One of the warehouses, according to a sign outside the office where Petty Officer Doogle sits watching wrestling matches, is the headquarters of the Joint Drug Enforcement Agency / Coast Guard Task Force. It’s a storage building for contraband taken from smugglers who were trying to bring it into the United States. Crates of cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, guns, produce, flowers, knockoff designer clothing and Cuban cigars.

A door at the end of the warehouse opens. Jack turner sticks his head out and looks around. He scans the pier and doesn’t see anyone. He squints and searches the deck of the Allmayer from bow to stern not seeing anyone. He stares at the ship’s quarterdeck where the gangway comes up from the pier. He knows there is a watch posted there twenty-four-seven while the ship is in port. He doesn’t see any one. He pushes the door open further and walks briskly to his pickup truck in the parking lot. He has two bales of weed under each arm.

CHAPTER 5

A narrow wooden plank leads down from the back porch into tall grass behind the bungalow. Beyond the grass there’s a swamp. A man’s voice says, “Here, little fella.” The man makes clicking noises with his tongue against the roof of his mouth. “You guys gotta see him. I’m training him.” The man’s voice takes on a little sing-song, “Heeeeeeere, little fellaaaaa.”

A big raccoon comes out of the grass and waddles up the ramp and onto the porch.

Max and Jack are there with George. George is a 30-something long-haired, tough-looking stoner. He’s crouched down, holding out a bit of food for the raccoon. As the raccoon approaches across the porch, George stands up and raises the bit of food so the raccoon has to stand up on its hind legs. As it grabs with its outstretched paws, the guys see the creature is gigantic.

Its mouth opens and it hisses.

Jack steps back at the sight of the coon’s discolored pink gums and sharp teeth.

“Look at the size of that critter,” Max says.

“Watch, he’ll do a little trick,” George says.

“You could get rabies if he bit you,” Jack says.

“He’ll never bite me, we’re buddies,” George says.

The raccoon stands on hind legs, hops up and down, clapping its front paws.

“Hey, look at that,” Max says. “He’s kinda cute.”

George holds the food closer and the raccoon takes it; then scurries back down the ramp into the tall grass. “Alright,” George says, “enough fun and games, let’s do business.”

“Let’s get going.”

They walk down along a path leading to the front of the bungalow toward Jack’s pickup truck which is parked in the driveway.

* * *

Heavy traffic on a highway on the outskirts of Miami. It’s bumper to bumper but the cars and trucks are going 70 miles an hour like a herd of metal beasts stampeding between the guardrails.

Jack is driving, he keeps his eyes on the road, and asks, “How do we know we can trust these people? I mean, they’re drug dealers.”

“Right now, Jack, you’re the biggest drug dealer in Florida,” George chuckles.

“The only drug dealer in Florida,” Max adds.

“What I mean is,” Jack gets all serious, “is how do we know these guys aren’t gonna pull guns and rip us off?

George unzips his fanny pack and pulls out a pistol. “That’s exactly why I’m packing.”

“Put that away!” Jack swerves a little and a baby-blue Lexus zipping along beside them beeps its horn. The car’s smoked-dark driver’s side window drops five inches and a hairy-knuckled one-fingerwave pops out. Putting the pickup back between the lines, Jack says “Let’s not get in a shootout with a bunch a drug dealers, okay.”

“Don’t worry,” George says.

“I’m not so sure I want go through with this,” Jack sounds scared.

“Don’t worry, these guys aren’t gonna start any trouble.”

“Yeah, Jack, calm down,” Max says. “We’re practically giving this grass away.”

“This is way out of my league,” Jack admits. “I hope you guys know what we’re getting into.”

“These cats will be armed but not dangerous,” George says. “If we don’t get weird, they won’t either. I’ve dealt with them before. They’re almost friends of mine.”

“I’m still nervous.”

George points the pistol at the big green sign over the highway and says, “Get over, this is our exit.”

“Put that thing away!” Jack says.

At the bottom of the exit ramp, they enter a light industrial area. Warehouses and cramped parking lots surrounded by barbed-wire-topped cyclone fences. George has Jack make a few turns, and the situation, in Jack’s opinion is deteriorating rapidly. There’s hookers strutting along the sidewalks and lowriders parked at the curbs. It reminds Jack of his old neighborhood back in LA. Boyle Heights was bad, but not this bad.

“Pull over here,” George says.

“I got a bad feeling about this,” Jack says, but pulls over anyway.

Two muscular guys in clean white wife-beater T-shirts approach. One Caucasian, the other Hispanic, in their late 20s but from the way they are dressed with their faces shadowed under the brims of their crisp Miami Heat ball caps it’s hard to tell. They wear saggy dark blue jeans with thick black leather belts and plaid boxers up over their hips.

To Jack, they look like hip hop gangsters.

They approach the driver’s side window.

Jack is having an alien encounter, especially after being around Coast Guard people in military uniforms and being at sea aboard a ship that is way cleaner and more organized than any normal person could possibly understand. The whole situation is strange to say the least.

“Hey, Georgie,” the white guy says. “How ya doin?”

“I’m great. But I don’t wanna waste time on small talk. We’re holding, you know what I mean?” No, I don’t know what you mean, Georgie,” White Guy says. “What do you mean?” “Major fucking felony,” George says.

“Show me some green and we’ll get to work then,” White Guy says.

“No,” George says, sticking his head in front of Jack, closer to the windows. “That’s not how it’s going down.”

White guy looks at his Cuban friend and smiles.

Cuban rolls a toothpick from one side of his mouth to the other. “We show some green as soon as we get off this street. Ok?” “What’s a matter, you don’t trust us?” Cuban asks.

“Just like it says on the money,” George says slyly. “In God We Trust.”

“You wanna see some green, George?” White guy says, reaching down the front of his pants and pulls out a thick stack of dirty looking twenties. “What’ that?” George asks. “Your lunch money?” The hip hop stars laugh.

“Cheddar,” Cuban says.

“Cheese for lunch!” White Guy says and they laugh again.

“That’s green, but it ain’t enough,” George says.

Out of nowhere a police car siren squirts through the air and Jack turns his head to the passenger side and almost shits himself when he sees a Miami PD cruiser parked inches away. The cop has his window down and is signaling Max to lower his window.

Max cranks the window down.

Jack imagines white guy and Cuban running away down the sidewalk, disappearing into an alley while the cops pull him and George and Max from the truck. He can already feel the handcuffs on his wrists. Fear competes with disgrace as he imagines Captain Hall when he hears that Jack Turner has been arrested in Miami selling marijuana that he stole from the DEA / Coast Guard warehouse.

But none of that happens.

Max rolls down his window and the cop says, “How you guys doing?”

Jack sees the interior of his truck and himself and George and Max and even White Guy and Cuban all reflected in the cop’s gigantic mirrored Ray Bans.

Jack opens his mouth to speak, but Cuban speaks first, says, “It’s a fine day here on the street, officer.”

“That it is,” the cop says. “That it is.” He smirks and gives a mock salute to Cuban. Slowly the cop car rolls away. His siren is off but the lights on top of his roof are still flashing.

“Look man,” White Guy says, suddenly quite serious. “I’m not here to play around with you,

George, so you better not be here to play around with me.”

“Sorry if I hurt your feelings,” George says. “That’s a big wad of cash you got there, but it ain’t a fifty thousand dollar wad of cash. Like I said on the phone, we got forty five pounds of killer green and we ain’t selling for anything under fifty thousand dollars.”

Cuban turns around and gives a signal to a kid standing by the alley. The kid jogs down the alley and a few seconds later he comes jogging back with a gym bag dangling from his hand.

The Cuban takes the bag and pulls open the zipper. White guy reaches in and pulls out two bricks of cash bundled in tight blue rubber bands.

Jack sees some hundreds, but can’t tell what else is in the stacks.

“That’s more like it,” George says. “But we can’t just hand you this merchandise here at the curb.

Where can we do this deal?”

“Pull around in the alley. We’ll be waiting with the garage open.”

Jack puts the car in gear and drives to the corner. He turns left and then goes left again into a narrow alley crowded with dumpsters and trash bags piled against brick walls covered in graffiti and gang tags. A little ways down he sees the Cuban guy standing outside an open garage door. Jacks turns in and white guy closes the door behind them. Jack gulps, knowing this deal is beyond the point of no return. He’s a felon now and it bothers him. What am I doing, a voice in his demands. His mouth is dry and his hands are shaking. It’s like he’s not even operating his own body as he climbs out of the truck. He imagines this is what it’s like when you get in a serious car accident and you are burned or have a broken leg, you’re in shock, but there’s so much adrenaline in your veins you are walking around. He can barely feel anything.

George says something.

Jack says, “What?”

“Get the shit from the back of the truck,” George says.

Jack opens the tailgate and pulls out his seabag. He expects the cops to come busting in as he unclasps the hook at the top of the green canvas bag. He takes out two of the large bags of marijuana.

White guy takes one of the bags. Cuban tears the corner open and sniffs.

Max and George stand nearby.

“This is the shit, homeboy,” Cuban says.

“Yeah, it’s decent,” White Guy says unimpressed. “So, what are we talking about here?” “We didn’t come to negotiate,” George says. “I told you on the phone, fifty thousand.” White Guy reaches in the gym bag.

George immediately reaches into his fanny pack on the front of his pants.

White guy hesitates, glaring at George. “What’s up with that?” White Guy points his chin at George’s hand.

“I’m just getting ready to make change if you need it,” George says.

“White Guy’s hand shifts around, pulls out a couple stacks of cash.

“Go on and give it to him,” George says.

“So, you’re the money man,” Cuban says to Jack.

Jack ignores the question, pulls two more big bags of weed from his seabag. “Where do you want this?”

White Guy glances at the kid who ran down the alley earlier to get the gym bag full of money, and quickly the kid rummages in some junk off to one side and produces a black carry-on sized suitcase. “Put it in here,” White Guy says as the kid lays the suitcase down and unzips it.

Jack turns the seabag over and dumps all the packages of weed right into the suitcase.

White Guy hands Jack several bundles of bills and says, “With all of Florida in a major weed drought, where’d you connect with this kind of weight?” Jack doesn’t answer.

Cuban grabs Jack’s seabag and points at the Coast Guard insignia sewn on the side.

White Guy is smirking ear to ear as he steps close to Jack and makes a show of studying his short trimmed hair.

“Coast … Guard … connection,” White guy says.

Jack is stunned. He’s thinking, How could I be so stupid?

They’re all looking at Cuban who is holding the seabag, showing the big Coast Guard patch sewn on the side.

Cuban points at Jack’s license plate and says, “Key West.” “Just be happy the drought is over.” George says.

“Ain’t it the truth, though?” White guy says to Cuban.

“What’s that?” Cuban asks.

“Law enforcement guys always have the best dope.”

CHAPTER 6

A muscular tire salesman with a tight cropped afro and clean pin-striped shirt wears a nametag over his left breast pocket that identifies him as Maurice.

Maurice is standing in the Tire Guy’s Warehouse showroom in Key Largo. He touches the pen and tire pressure gauge he’s placed in the pocket protector in his left breast pocket, and then slaps his hand on a display tire, an oversized 4×4 black rubber donut with aggressive-looking treads and raised white lettering that shouts DUNE DIGGER 4×4.

Jack, George and Max stand beside Maurice. They are all practically drooling at the smell of fresh black rubber tires and shiny custom rims on display in the air conditioned showroom. “These treads are scientifically engineered,” Maurice says, “to give you extra traction.” “Scientifically engineered,” Max whispers.

George giggles, then whispers, “Science,” with a weird sort of reverence in his voice.

Maurice had figured these guys were baked out of their minds because the odor of burned marijuana was hanging around them like a cloud when they entered the showroom. But Maurice can tell that Jack is the customer in this situation, so he focuses on him. “If you’re climbing sand dunes or mucking around the swamps, this tread is going to give you the traction you need.”

“Traction,” Max whispers to George who tries unsuccessfully to contain another chuckle.

“They maximize fuel efficiency,” Maurice says, making his voice warble just a little, purposefully messing with the stoners. “Especially when you’re driving at high-way speeds for extended time periods.”

“I like ‘em,” Jack says. “How much for a set of four?”

“Let me tell you a few more things about these tires before we talk price, fair enough?”

“Sure,” Jack says, he feels his consumer confidence, which he’s never experienced before, going up.

Maurice senses he might have this sale locked in and he’s already trying to calculate his commission as he continues his pitch. “Underneath these treads you’ve got three steel belts and a reinforced side wall so you can count on at least fifty thousand miles before they start wearing out. This is definitely the tire you want on your sport utility vehicle.”

“How about a set of these,” Jack points to a display of custom rims.

“Oh, sweet,” Max says in stoner awe, as if a winged angel just flew into the showroom. He’s so high he’s repeating Maurice, and that simple act is pushing his mental horsepower beyond its capacity.

George is right there with him — so far baked out of his mind all he can do is giggle about this whole kooky deal.

“We can absolutely put your tires on a set of new rims,” Maurice says. “These will make your rig look good!”

Max and George wander over to a display that showcases heavy duty shock absorbers. Max is pointing at them, and George seems so overjoyed he can’t speak.

“I was just about to suggest upgrading your shocks to take maximum advantage of the traction capability of these new tires.” Maurice wonders if these guys have the cash or credit to cover this sale. He hopes they aren’t just shopping prices. He decides to push it to the point of no return. “Let’s put your rig up on the lift so my mechanics can get the correct specifications for your upgrade, ok?” “No problem,” Jack says handing Maurice the keys.

“Are you guys going cash or credit today?”

Max and Jack look at each other and snicker, then in unison they say, “Cash.” George bursts out laughing again, and this time he doubles over and puts his hands on his knees and lets the rip-snorting run away with him.

* * *

Jack’s truck is high on the lift with three mechanics scurrying around it.

The old tires come off and one of the mechanics walks around the truck blowing out the wheel wells with compressed air. Dust and dirt fill the shop area for a few minutes as it gradually dissipates.

Two of the mechanics grab impact wrenches and tear out the rusty old shock absorbers and install beefy new ones while the third mechanic mounts the new tires on sporty white rims.

Inside the showroom, Jack and Maurice are watching through a big window.

“Let’s do an oil change while we’re at it,” Jack says.

“Good idea,” Maurice says. “How about a new belt and I’ll have the guys check the hoses too?” Maurice wonders how much cash he can wring out of this deal.

About an hour later, Jack’s truck rolls out of the garage on new, oversized tires and custom rims. It’s clearly riding several inches higher off the ground. One of the mechanics climbs down from the driver’s seat and Jack shakes his hand. Jack, Max and George get in and drive into traffic on the busy main street.

* * *

The raccoon pokes his head up above the grass and looks around. He can hear the guys laughing up near the house, so he waddles over and climbs up the narrow wooden ramp and onto the deck. He climbs onto an overturned bucket, puts his paws on the windowsill. Inside the kitchen he can see the three guys sitting around the kitchen table drinking cans of beer.

“Three thousand dollars, just like we agreed,” Jack says and plunks down a fat wad of cash.

“Not a bad day’s work,” George says as he scoops up the money. “Thanks a lot. And you guys call if you want to move anymore product.” “Sure thing,” Jack says.

“Do you think you’ll be getting another shipments?”

“Definitely not,” Jack says. “They’d put me away for life if I got caught, and besides when we were in the garage with those guys, I was scared shitless. I don’t want to have anything to do with those guys ever again.” Jack stands up.

Max finishes his beer and stands up.

They shake hands all around.

“Don’t let that raccoon bite you, George,” Max says, pointing toward the window. “That ‘coon is my buddy,” George says. “He won’t bite me.”

CHAPTER 7

Captain Hall walks along the weatherdeck on the bow of the Almayer, conducting his daily walk about the ship, when a petty officer approaches him and says, “Sir, Mr. Banks is here to see you. He’s waiting on the quarterdeck.”

“Ok,” Hall says. “Let’s go see Mr. Banks straight away then.” Hall follows the petty officer back along the siderails toward the quarterdeck. He glances outboard and absentmindedly sees the warehouse and beyond that the low skyline of Key West. Palm tree tops sway lazily in the breeze. He thinks about the recent news headlines: “Coast Guard Seizes Another Big Drug Shipment.” Hall squints at the rows of garage bay doors along the side of the warehouse and imagines the bales of marijuana and plasticwrapped packages of cocaine. It feels good to know that his crew had prevented all those drugs from reaching the streets where it would have undoubtedly done damage to hundreds of young people all over Florida — all over North America for that matter.

Hall knows Mr. Banks quite well. Banks is a senior investigator with the Drug Enforcement Agency. The Coast Guard and the DEA work together all the time, with the Coast Guard patrolling, intercepting and boarding ships and boats. The Coast Guard seizing contraband and drugs, and handing it over to the DEA who does investigative work. The DEA files the paperwork necessary for search warrants, investigates interstate trafficking, makes arrests and interfaces with police, the FBI and the courts. Captain Hall and Mr. Banks have some history, both having come up through the ranks of their respective organizations over the last many years. They see eye to eye on politics and procedures and have worked cooperatively with each other on many joint operations.

“Good morning, Sir,” Banks says when Hall reaches the quarterdeck.

“It is a good morning,” Halls says as the two men shake hands. “Let’s go to my office.”

Banks follows Hall up a ladder, through a watertight door and down a narrow passageway. Inside the ship it seems pitch black as their eyes adjusted.

Hall has a suspicion about why Banks has coming to see him. Several days earlier when the Almayer had arrived back from patrolling the Gulf with the huge haul of marijuana and cocaine, the two men had met to do the formal handover of the contraband. They oversaw the process, which included weighing and taking pictures of each package of drugs, filling out forms and signing them and then setting it all up for a display picture for the news media. Neither man spoke to reporters. Neither had his picture taken. The last thing either of them wanted was their pictures and names on the news. If one of the disappointed thugs who’d been waiting for the drug shipment that never arrived, saw Hall’s or Banks’ pictures on TV or in the newspapers, things could get ugly for them. Back in the early days of Coast Guard and DEA cooperation, several proud captains and investigators had posed for the media in front of piles of seized drugs, and in a few rare cases, good men had their cars blown up and their houses burned down by drug kingpins seeking revenge. Hall had read several classified files documenting cases where criminals had kidnapped, tortured and killed a Coast Guard captain or a DEA agent after they proudly smiled for the cameras while standing next to a mountain of seized drugs. When the drug dealers saw the faces of the Coast Guard officers or DEA agents, and read their names and duty stations in the caption or the article, they became targets. So, Hall and Banks were sure to keep themselves out of the news. Like the drug smugglers themselves, both men did their difficult work behind the scenes, out of the spotlight.

In Captain Hall’s sea cabin Banks says, “Kudos for you have been coming into my office all the way from the Attorney General’s office.”

“It’s good to know the big guys upstairs appreciate sailors doing the dangerous work.”

“Absolutely, you can count on another commendation in your service jacket.”

“I’ll make sure it’s cascaded down to all hands who were involved in the operation.”

Banks sits down and looks around for a moment wondering what it would be like to be a captain aboard his own ship at sea. Of course he doesn’t see it as it really is, what he sees is his own impression — no wife and kids, no lawn mower, no having to run to the grocery store for milk and bread late at night, no malfunctioning garage door opener to fiddle around with for hours when he finally has a day off. The practically empty cabin, to Banks, looks like the perfect man-cave. It’s a place where he can go and not be bothered. A small sleeping bunk folded against the wall. A shelf with a few good books strapped down with a bungee cord. A lamp. What a perfect life this must be, Banks thinks to himself.

“Well, Captain,” Banks says, “the word on the street is that the marijuana and cocaine supply has dried up across all of the southeastern United States.”

“Joint operations are proving to be very effective,” Hall agrees.

“Yes, they are, and now we’re going to take it to the next level.”

“I assume that’s why you are here.”

“Yes it is. The Latin gentleman you snagged on your last bust, well he started singing once we sat him down with an interpreter.” “Interesting,” Hall says.

“He led us to a major kingpin based in Puerto Rico, and we put a tail on him. Alfredo Packeto’s his name. He does pharmaceutical manufacturing in Puerto Rico, and now we have good reason to believe he’s up to something.”

“And how can I help you?” Hall asks sitting back and crossing his arms on his chest to signal a slight reluctance. Even though he wants to help Banks, he knows the DEA will try to operate the Coast Guard at a tactical level if given half a chance.

“Well, we’re resource constrained right now and we need more boots on the ground to pull surveillance in Puerto Rico,” Banks says.

“I know the Coast Guard is supposed to cooperate on these joint operations, but the admiral’s staff is coming down to inspect everything from my engine rooms to my personnel files. I don’t think I can spare a pair of hands right now.”

“I understand your situation, captain, but this is a very important operation. If you could spare a few senior enlisted for a week or two?”

“It really is a bad time to ask,” Hall resists, thinking that he’ll give Banks what he’s asking for, but he wants to make sure there’s a favor to be returned at some point in the future.

“Well, how about a deckhand who’s good with small boats and handguns?”

Hall thinks for a moment. Faces of different members of the crew occur to him. Then he remembers Jack Turner, the kid with eyes like an eagle. Turner spotted the smuggler’s boat during the most recent deployment. Hall happily remembers the look on Turner’s face when he fired the gun and sank the smuggler’s boat.

Banks says, “We’re talking about bringing down a major king pin. We suspect this guy might have a submarine. He could be moving large, and I mean large quantity into cities all along the east coast.”

“Well, maybe I can spare one man to you for a couple of weeks, would that help?”

“The ideal person will have small arms training, able to handle water craft, excellent eyesight and experience with large quantities of contraband,” Banks says.

Hall makes like he’s thinking about it, but he knows already he’s going to volunteer Seaman Jack

Turner to Banks for this joint operation. “I have someone in mind, a young man named Turner, Seaman Jack Turner. He has eyes like an eagle and he was our good luck charm on our last deployment.”

“Sounds like the guy I’m looking for.”

“It makes sense assigning Turner,” Hall says. “He was the young man who spotted the smugglers and led you to this Packeto character you’re tracking now.”

“Then it’s appropriate he stay on the case.” Banks sits back happy to be getting a man to help his operation. He wonders if he can get Turner right away, have him in time for the next team meeting in Puerto Rico in a few days. “When can he deploy?” Banks asks.

Captain Hall says, “I’ll call Turner’s division officer right now.” He reaches for the phone on his desk. “Turner can be yours for the next few weeks starting immediately.”

CHAPTER 8

Cars pull up to the backstreet corner constantly. Windows go down, cash and small baggies are exchanged and the cars drive away. It’s like a Taco Bell drive through because all the kids do have Late Night Munchies, even in the middle of a sunny Miami afternoon.

White guy in the muscle shirt is keeping a look out while his friend the Cuban slings baggies and collects cash. They’ve been pulling so much green the past couple days they’re talking about an investment account. Imagine that.

White guy watches a car roll up to the curb. Cuban does another transaction and pockets a hundred dollars.

This time the car doesn’t pull away. At the wheel, a tough looking guy in a cheap suit and tie, an actual tie, opens the baggie and sniffs it. Then he hands it to whoever is in the passenger seat and quickly gets out of the car. White guy thinks, is this a fucking detective and considers bolting down the alley. Instead he takes one step backwards, poised to run if the tough guy makes like he’s drawing a gun or a badge. White guy knows in these situations cops draw the gun first, handcuffs second and maybe the badge later as a formality.

Tough guy has a leering greasy smile — almost drooling. White guy is convinced he’s not a cop.

It’s worse. He’s a hardened criminal.

Greasy tough guy says, “Drought’s over, huh?”

Cuban says, “Yeah, it sure is.”

“I need some quantity,” Tough guy says. “How about an ounce?”

Cuban glances back at White. White guy says, “Two-twenty.”

The tough guy is standing there with his car door open and his engine still running. He pulls a fat roll of cash from his suit-pants pocket and peels off a few fifties and twenties.

White steps over and pulls several small plastic packages from his baggy-saggy pants pocket. He shuffles through them and pulls out an oh-Z, hands it over. Both Cuban and White step back, like they’re packing up, vacating the corner.

Tough asks, “Where’d you guys score?” “That’s confidential,” White says.

“Sure about that, because I’m gonna need to know.” “We don’t divulge our sources,” Cuban says.

“You will,” Tough guy says threateningly and flashes that slippery smile again. Looks like his teeth are coated with sour milk.

White and Cuban start walking quickly and they’re a half block away when Tough cruises slowly on the street beside them with the window down. They glance over and see inside the car, a man in the passenger seat, silhouetted in the dark inside the car. He’s holding a shiny pistol, moving it so it catches the light, sparkles.

“Fuck,” Cuban whispers to White. “These are Scabado’s guys.” White doesn’t like the situation at all.

Tough guy leans out the window and says, “We’ll be back. You can count on it. And you will tell us your source.”

“It’s confidential,” Cuban shouts.

“Hey,” Tough guy says, “I think I already know where you got this.” “Then why you asking?” White guy shouts back.

“I just want to be sure,” Tough guy says.

The passenger reaches a hand out his window and points the pistol at them over the roof of the car and fires a bullet in front of them.

They stop, poised to run.

“This is our dope,” Tough guy says. “Either you stole our shipment or you got this weed from the Coast Guard.”

White and Cuban look at each for a split second and then they turn around and run away down the sidewalk.

Tough guy stomps on the gas pedal and his car races away down the street.

CHAPTER 9

Jack and Max are climbing from the dock into a sailboat. There’s an old guy in topsiders and shorts already onboard. A Margaretville T-shirt restrains the old guy’s big belly. A flattened old skipper’s cap on his head shades a face that is mostly hidden by a ZZ-Top style beard and Ray Ban Aviators.

“This here is a 28 foot xx,” the old guy starts his pitch.

Max climbs into the compartment below and opens the in engine hatch.

Jack climbs forward onto the bow.

“I don’t know, this boat is almost forty years old,” Jack says.

“Let’s just give it a once over,” Max says.

“I guess you’re right.”

The old guys says, “Sure look this rig over.”

“We’ve gotta figure out what’s on the market.”

Max is poking his head in around the engine, a black and gray mass of hoses and greasy cast iron manifolds.

“I’ve got over twenty boats for sale,” the old guy says.

“We need something with newer sails and a good engine,” Jack says.

“And it’s gotta have GPS navigation equipment,” Max shouts from below where he’s tinkering with the knobs on a radio built into a navigation console.

“These lines are old and the rigging is rusty,” Jack says to the old guy.

The sun is climbing into the sky and passes noon. Jack and Max are still looking at boats. They follow the old guy from one boat to another.

They’re asking a million questions, climbing rigging, squeezing into engine compartments, unfurling sails and cranking winches.

CHAPTER 10

Back in Los Angeles, Wendy is lying in bed eating a fig with one hand and slathering stretch-cream on her enormous belly with the other hand. On the night stand, the tub of stretch cream sits next to a picture of her and Jack taken that day they were laying on the beach blanket. The old Mexican lady with the brood of little kids is photo bombing the picture with a goofy smile in the background as she covers her little son’s eyes.

Suddenly, the door burst open and Phyllis, Wendy’s mother, burst in and flips the lights on. Phyllis is 54 years old, her hair has been died so many times it doesn’t know what shade of red or orange it’s supposed to be any more. She has an overbite, but she’s kinda hot in her tight pantsuit that shows off her Kardashian hips and a cute little camel toe. She leers at her daughter’s belly, and Wendy protectively, yanks up the covers.

“Are you ready to talk about it yet?” Phyllis’s voice is a desperate screech.

“Oh my God, mom, we’ve already talked about —” Wendy stops. Her eyes harden against her mother. It’s been a stretch for Wendy, at 19 to get her mind around exactly where her mother is on her pregnancy. She knows her mom is against being a grandmother and recently she’s been pushing the late term abortion decision. This is the first time she’s referred to the baby as it, though.

Unable to restrain her impatience with her daughter’s immaturity, Phyllis continues, “You are running out of time. You have to open your eyes to the reality of your situation, young lady —”

“Do not start lecturing me, mother!”

“How are you going to go to college and care for a child? Would you mind explaining that to me . . .

your father seems to think —”

“Stop, just stop. Don’t ever talk again, I’m serious!”

“You have to hear this. It’s for your own good! As your mom, it’s part of my job description to tell you all the unpleasant things that you don’t want to hear. Now, dammit, your father seems to think —”

Wendy slowly gets herself upright and leans on the headboard. She glares at her mother and in a controlled even tone, she says, “I’m warning you, don’t even mention adoption or abortion to me again. It’s too late for an abortion, I’m over seven months along, mom.” Wendy slides from under the covers, puts her feet on the floor and steps toward Phyllis. She takes her mom’s hand and tries to press it to her tummy.

But Phyllis pulls away, jumps back with a look of disgust and disappointment on her face. “Your father found out about a doctor in Mexico, and he’s making arrangements for you. They can —”

Wendy covers her belly with her arms and steps back, shocked. “A Tijuana clinic!” Wendy blurts.

“It’s not in Tijuana, and besides it’s for your own good —”

Wendy is mortified. “In a few months you are going to see this newborn, mother. Your grandchild.

How are you going to look at this beautiful baby knowing that you wanted to kill it?”

Wendy’s mom completely freaks out. “Be reasonable, damn it! How are you going to get a career off the ground with a child and no husband?”

Wendy is struggling to stay calm. She sobs and tears roll down her cheeks. “As long as you’re talking about an abortion, we have nothing to talk about —”

“I’m not allowed to ask who the father is, and now I’m not allowed to mention abortion. Great! See how far that attitude gets you in this world, young lady.” Phyllis snatches the photo from Wendy’s nightstand. “Is he the father? Is it Jack?”

Wendy tries to grab the photo but Phyllis turns away. In a mocking voice, she says, “He was a nice enough guy, but where is he now? Floating around the ocean somewhere?”

“Give me that picture.”

“If you’re having a sailor’s baby, young lady,” Phyllis’s voice bends to sarcasm. “I hope you don’t think he’s going to be any kind of real father.”

Wendy shoves her mother toward the door. “Get out! Get out of my room you bit —”

Phyllis is laughing now. “Good luck trying to get a sailor to the altar.”

Through sobs, Wendy says, “You’re going to be a grandmother whether you like it or not! Now get out!” Wendy pushes her mother into the hallway.

Fed up now, Phyllis flings the picture at Wendy, striking her in the chest. It hits the floor and the glass shatters. “I might be a bitch. I might even be a grandmother someday —” Wendy slams the door.

Phyllis shouts from the hallway. “— but I was never a slut, Wendy! I always knew when to keep my pants on.”

“Maybe you wouldn’t be so uptight if you got your pants off once in a while, mother!” Wendy is shaking and sobbing as she pulls a suitcase from the closet and tosses it on the bed. She opens a dresser drawer and snatches handfuls of underwear and socks and drops them in. From the night stand she grabs the package of figs and the stretch cream and pitches them into the suitcase too.

* * *

From the outside, the house is large, set back from the quiet residential street with a contoured front lawn, neatly-edged flower beds and several properly placed stunted palms — a picture of suburban bliss. But, if there were someone walking by outside, which there isn’t, they’d be able to hear two women screaming in fits of rage at each other inside. The words are not clear, muffled by the sturdy walls and filtered by the well-kept foliage, but it’s clear the women inside the house are having a good old fashioned catfight.

The thick wooden front door whooshes opens and now the voices can be heard clearly.

“Where do you think you’re going?” Phyllis demands.

The storm door bangs open and Wendy emerges onto the shaded slate patio with her suitcase in tow.

“Wendy!” Phyllis insists. Her voice trailing off with a desperate defeated squeal because now she’s certain that she’s lost any hold she’s ever had over her dear daughter.

Wendy storms down the sloping front walk to the driveway and stops at her black Volkswagen Jetta.

Phyllis darts down to the driveway and frantically runs around the car. “Wendy, please, honey, please don’t leave. Not in your condition!”

Wendy tosses her suitcase in the backseat and slams the door. Then she climbs into the driver’s seat and starts the car.

Phyllis runs to the passenger side and attempts to open the door, but Wendy revs the engine. Her tires screech as she backs out onto the street.

Phyllis runs down to the sidewalk, balling and yelling at the top of her lungs, “Wendy, come back! Please don’t go!” Tears are flowing freely down Phyllis’s cheeks as she watches her daughter zoom away down the street.

Driving way too fast, barely stopping at intersections, Wendy stomps on the clutch and jams the transmission through its gears until she’s out on a major avenue. She’s crying as she glances up at a highway sign over the entrance ramp and reads Santa Monica Freeway, Interstate 10 East.

Jack and Max are sitting in a booth at a roadside diner in Key West drinking frosty pints of beer. The waitress sets platters full of deep fried seafood and wet-looking scoops of coleslaw and French fries on their table and they dig in.

“You know,” Max says after washing down a big mouthful of fish and chips. “A few days ago, I could understand where you were coming from on the whole Wendy situation, what with us use to being broke and all, but now things are a bit different, bro’. I mean with you having an actual bankroll now.” “I thought about calling her,” Jack admits.

“For real?” Max smiles. “You gonna do right by her?”

“I was just thinking about her, that’s all.”

“You should send her some money, like, I don’t know, how much do kids cost?”

“Fuck, I don’t know. Probably a few thousand for sure.” “With a thousand dollars she could buy shitloads of diapers.” “Shitloads of diapers,” Jack chuckles.

“Damn, didn’t see that coming.”

“But I’m not sure sending her money is the right thing to do,” Jack adopts a morally upright tone.

“Why not?”

“It’s admitting the kid’s mine.”

“Probably is. And you know something, maybe we shouldn’t be buying a sailboat. Maybe you should be buying a little house and a —”

“And a four door sedan?” Jack gets his back up. “Don’t even say it. I might as well buy a burial plot in the cemetery while I’m at it.”

“Come on, a house, a wife and a kid, it wouldn’t be so bad, you could —” “What? Wash dishes? Fold clothes? No fucking way, man!” People at tables around them glance at Jack.

“Chill out, big guy.”

“We finally got the money to buy a boat and cruise the islands,” Jack whispers. “Can’t you feel it, man? We’re about to set out on a real adventure!”

Eduardo Scabado’s luxury home is pimped out with white carpets, chrome and glass tables, a plush white leather couch, a matching loveseat and easy chair. Off to the side, in what’s supposed to be a dining area, there’s a bar with a few stools. Thug-1 and Thug-2 are sitting there but they aren’t having any drinks. There’s even a bartender in a tuxedo, a black guy, but he’s not serving any drinks. The bar is closed because Eduardo is taking care of some business. Even though he’s reclined in the middle of the gigantic sofa, which looks like a marshmallow, with a bikini-clad chick kneeling to each side of him — one is filing his nails the other is stroking his thigh. Eduardo has tight-fitting synthetic powder-blue pants on. A garish shirt covered in loud stripes and spangles, unbuttoned down to his belly button, revealing a hairy thick chest and several gold chains. He’s clearly got an erection bulging his crotch area into a pup tent, and clearly the big-breasted girl stroking his thigh is causing it, because every few strokes she shifts her hand over and rubs the pup tent.

Behind the couch, outside three tall art deco windows, orange fire, miles long has burned the clouds and the heavens above them a beautiful shade of orange and black. On the table in front of Eduardo, several bags of marijuana are scattered on the glass coffee table.

“Where did you get this shit?” Eduardo asks in a thick Cuban accent.

“We can’t give up our source, Eduardo,” White says. “That’s a bad business practice.” Thug-1 stands up from the bar and steps over behind White guy.

White guy looks warily at Thug-1 and says, “You sickin’ the dogs on me, Eduardo?”

“No disrespect, Eduardo,” says Cuban, “but if you can, like, tell us what’s going down, maybe we can, like, help you out.”

“Like,” Eduardo mocks Cuban, “you punks are selling my grass.” “We didn’t boost this grass from nobody,” Cuban says.

“Like,” Eduardo’s tone is biting, sarcastic. “If you didn’t boost this grass from nobody, where the fuck did you get it?”

White and Cuban are slow to respond.

“Don’t tell me this shit washed up on Miami Beach?” Eduardo says.

“This grass came from an outta town source,” White Guy says.

Eduardo glances at Thug-1, who quickly pulls out a pistol and points it at White Guy’s head.

“Hey, whoa, whoa, whoa, now,” White guy says. “Let’s not get hasty, no reason for violence.”

“Like, I don’t wanna spill your blood on my rugs, punk. So start telling me about this outa town source.”

White guy slowly looks at the gun and then back at Eduardo.

“You better start talking right now, motherfucker,” Eduardo says. “Because if you don’t, you will die.”

It’s Cuban who cracks and says, “Alright, alright, I’ll tell you what you want to know. There’s this cat named George on Key Largo and he —”

Jack Turner is standing at attention in front of Captain Hall’s desk sweating bullets. Jack thinks he’s been busted for stealing all that grass from the storage room. Ever since he tossed it in his truck, he’s been worried that a surveillance camera caught him running across the parking lot with those big bags of grass in his arms. And if that’s not it, he figures, an inventory revealed the missing bales and now he’s about to be questioned about what went on that night he was standing watch in the contraband warehouse.

Captain Hall has a real poker face, with that steady look that pulls his lips down in a skeptical frown. His demeanor says, I’m already pissed off and I know what you are about to say will disappoint me even further.

There’s a guy in a suit sitting in a chair off to his right, and the longer Captain Hall makes him stand there without talking, the longer Jack becomes certain that the guy in the suit is a cop or an FBI agent who is there to arrest him. Oh shit, Jack worries. I knew I shouldn’t have stolen that grass. And the money — it’s blood money, it’s filthy. Jack is about to speak up, to confess. He’s about to open his mouth when Captain Hall inhales deeply through his nostrils and sneers like he’s about to speak.

Jack knows his worst possible nightmare has come true, because Hall says, “This is Mister Banks, and he is with the DEA. Do you know what DEA stands for, Turner?”

“Drug Enforcement Agency,” Jack says, now certain he’s about to be put in handcuffs and taken away to a federal prison. He’s going to be raped daily in jail for the rest of his life. There’s no doubt. He figures if he speaks up and admits what he’s done before the captain accuses him, maybe they’ll go easy on him. But he can’t bring himself to admit the horrible treason he’s committed. It’s weird, the thought flashes across his mind, since he didn’t smoke any of the marijuana, he only sold it, there’s a part of his conscience that tends to think he didn’t really do anything too wrong. All he did was change a few bags of dead plants into cash. What’s wrong with that? And he suddenly resolves to give all the cash to Wendy. He decides right then and there — makes a solemn promise to God — if he gets away with this, he’s going to give all the money to her and the baby, even if the baby is not his. Just please don’t arrest me. He can feel himself perspiring profusely under his shirt and across his forehead.

Captain Hall’s voice breaks through the worried thoughts in Jack’s head. “Correct, Turner, DEA stands for Drug Enforcement Agency, and Mister Banks,” Hall points at the guy in the suit sitting off to Jack’s side, “has asked me to volunteer a member of the crew to assist him with a surveillance operation.” “A surveillance operation?” Jack asks, not making the connection.

“Yes, exactly, Turner, a surveillance operation that may last a couple of weeks. And I’d like you to volunteer. What do you say?”

Jack thinks it’s kind of cool that Captain Hall is asking him to volunteer. He knows he could have just sent orders to his division officer without giving Jack a choice. Hey, Jack realizes, this is all about me spotting that speedboat. Captain Hall was so impressed he’s actually calling me up here to his office, just like he had me on the bridge to fire that rocket. Jack throws his shoulders back, stands up straight. “Absolutely, sir. I’m honored that you personally are asking me to take this assignment. Of course I’ll do it, but can I ask what it is I’ll be doing?”

“Well, go ahead and tell him, Mr. Banks,” Captain Hall says.

“You’ll be helping out with surveillance on a drug trafficker in Puerto Rico,” Banks says. “It should take about ten days, two weeks tops.”

The fear of being arrested vanishes from Jack’s mind along with the thought of giving all the money to Wendy and the baby. He is totally up for a two week assignment in Puerto Rico. He’d never been there before and wonders exactly what he’ll be doing — imagines himself on lookout with binoculars in the jungle, or patrolling off the coast on a small boat — maybe even flying around in a helicopter which would be very cool. This is exciting, Jack realizes.

“I’ll pick you up on the pier at zero five thirty tomorrow morning, okay, Turner?” Banks says.

“Sounds great,” Jack replies, thinking that Max can shop for a sailboat on his own.

Road trip music plays as Wendy cruises across the dessert. A row of tall wind turbines spin lazily atop a tan mesa beside the highway. Ahead, as far as she can see, there’s only blue sky and dessert dirt speckled with wind turbines and twisted Joshua Trees. Indio next exit, announces a green sign on the roadside, and Wendy realizes this is the furthest east she has ever been. A couple years ago she went to the Coachella music festival in Indio with friends, and that had been quite an adventure, but nothing compared to the trip she is taking now. According to the map app on her phone, there’s 2700 miles between her and Key West, and almost all of that is on Highway 10. When she looked over the directions during her last stop for a snack, she saw that she’d stay on Highway 10 all the way to Florida; from there she’s confident, she’ll figure it out — take a right turn and another couple highways all the way down to Key West. Her biggest concern is breaking down on the dessert or running out of gas. She decides not to let it run below a half a tank. She’s determined to make it to Phoenix tonight.

Her phone starts to vibrate on the passenger seat, but she doesn’t answer it. It’s her mom, calling for the like the 80th time. The hell with her. Just don’t shut off the credit card, Wendy thinks, and everything will work out just fine, Grandma.

Cruising along like this on the wide-open dessert, knowing she has at least a week of driving ahead of her, having now committed to the fact that she has left her parents for good, she feels an incredible sense of freedom. Her entire life, for the first time ever, is right in front of her. It’s so real she can feel it coming at her at 65 miles per hour. The future is smooth, she believes, like blacktop rolling under her wheels. It kind of freaks her out, realizing that all these years her driveway, right out in front of her house, was connected to the street, and that was connected to the highway, and the highway she’s on right now, this thing made out of melted rocks or whatever, is a continuous ribbon all the way from her house to Key West, almost 3000 miles away. All those years playing jump rope and drawing with chalk on her driveway, and now she really understands that her driveway was connected to Key West all that time. She doesn’t have to slash her way through a jungle or climb a mountain or fight off wild animals or bandits or anything. It makes total sense to her that all she has to do is point her car east and step on the gas and follow the lines on the highway and listen to music and at the end of this long road she’s going to find Jack Turner. She just knows when they see each other they’re going to fall in love again. They’re going to get married and get an apartment and have a baby and live happily ever after.

She decides to pull off in Indio for something to eat.

At a buffet restaurant, Wendy loads up two plates with baked chicken, mashed potatoes, mac n cheese and steamed broccoli and cauliflower. There’s a mini ice cream scooper in a big bowl of butter and she can’t resist the thought of butter melting all over her hot veggies, so she dollops on two of those little scoopers. While scarfing down she glances at herself in the mirrored wall and sees that she’s gulping her food after barely chewing, so she forces herself to slow down. Wow, she thinks, I’m ravenous! I’ve never felt this kind of hunger before. It’s like there’s a hollow craving inside her abdomen and the food is just falling into this giant hollow space and not even filling her up at all, just disappearing into empty blackness. She wipes both plates clean with a couple of dinner roll. Insatiable, she returns to the buffet for a third plateful. This time she experiences feelings that border on lust as she peruses the metal pans full of tasty food under the sneeze guard. She chooses two pieces of spicy Thai chicken, shovels on another scoop of Mac n Cheese and two pieces of corn on the cob. It’s very relaxing, this sense of anonymity she feels. She is so far from home and she doesn’t know any of the seniors or any of the horribly overweight people who are in the dining area. She places a brownie in the bottom of a bowl and covers it with vanilla soft serve and then pumps on two blasts of chocolate sauce, whipped cream and sprinkles. She hasn’t had sex in over 8 months, since the last time she was with Jack Turner, and right now she doesn’t miss sex at all. Who could miss sex, she thinks while looking at the bowl of sugary sweets, when there’s this?

Back on the highway, the Jetta is zipping along effortlessly at 70 miles per hour. Wendy wonders if she’ll start plumping up, especially if she continues eating like a horse. For the first seven and a half months, her appetite barely increased. The baby had grown into a volleyball-sized bump pressing her bellybutton outward a little more each week. But a week or so ago, when she hit 8 months, she started waking up at night because her stomach was growling for food. She’d eat a banana and go back to bed, but she still couldn’t sleep, so she’d go back to the kitchen and toss down a bowl or two of Cheerios. Ever since then, she was piling in the food like a garbage disposal. Even though it was a little scary, she had no problem eating anything. One evening while helping her mom make a salad, she ate the heels of a half-dozen tomatoes sprinkled with salt. They were so good. And cucumbers, all she had to do was dash on a little salt and gulp — they tasted awesome. She kept one hand on the wheel while rubbing the other down her thigh and she wasn’t really worried about consuming so much food. She could still feel her hipbones in the front and around the sides. Above the baby bump, she felt her ribs, same as always like piano keys. Her kneecaps were the same way as they’d been before she got pregnant.

She turned up the radio, and punched the button to scan to the next station. A country western song came on and normally she grew bored with the folksy twanging voice and the cheesy slide guitar, but out here on the open range, with buttes and mesas rising above the cactus-speckled sunset, she let it play. She could feel the soulful sadness. It must have been a solid block set, because she didn’t change the station, even after a half a dozen songs. They cycled through all the typical CW themes, including broken hearts, broken-down pickup trucks, parties at the lake, patriotic war ballads and honky-tonk drinking binges. She felt like the world was opening up to her, and these songs were becoming her own. After all, Jack was in the military and their relationship had been bitter sweet so far. She was on a romantic quest from coast to coast to claim her man and she realized with a smile that her situation would make for a heart-aching country western song. She wished she knew how to play guitar.

CHAPTER 11

The raccoon raises its head above the weeds and looks around.

The sound of someone getting punched in the face hard comes from the window. Then the sound of a man groaning in pain. A man’s voice says, “I think I broke my hand! This guy has a hard skull. I’m telling you.”

The raccoon ambles up the wooden ramp to the porch. It climbs onto the bucket and puts its paws on the window frame to look inside.

The raccoon sees Eduardo Scabado and Thug-2 standing in George’s kitchen. They are looking at Thug-1 who is looking at his hand as it swells and begins to turn a shade of purple.

George is off to one side, out of the raccoon’s sight, tied to a kitchen chair.

“You ready to talk yet?” Thug-1 says. “My hand is getting sore.”

“Fuck you.” George spits out a tooth. It clinks against the glass window on the front of the oven.

Thug-2 steps over and quickly socks George in the nose twice — bam bam — quick rabbit punches that smear busted cartilage, skin and snot across George’s face.

George groans.

“Come on, George,” Eduardo Scabado says. “Make it easy on yourself. Tell us who your dope dealing buddies are.” George groans.

Thug-1 grabs the toaster off the kitchen counter and walks toward George. He says, “Let me see if this makes him talk.”

Suddenly George is scared. “No, man, come on! Not my hair, man, not my hair —”

The raccoon sees Scabado smiling and his eyes lighting up. The raccoon senses primal savagery. There’s a crackling sound. Electrical sparks. The light of a fire glows in the kitchen. The raccoon crouches down low so only his bandit eyes are peeking over the window sash. A thin growl beginning to purr in its belly.

George is howling in agony as his hair bursts into flames.

“Holy shit,” Thug-2 chuckles. “His head is on fire.”

George screams, “AAAAAARRRRGGGGHHHH!”

Thug-2 opens the refrigerator and grabs a gallon of milk. He twists the top off and step toward

George, pouring milk all over him. “Alright, alright, you fucking cry baby. Stop whining.”

“You should have allowed him burn a little longer,” Scabado says. “You ready to talk yet, punk?” “You guys are such assholes!” Scabado shakes head, disappointed.

Thug-2 says, “Burnt hair, smells nasty!”

“Georgie, you’re not gonna do me any good dead,” Scabado says, “so I’m gonna explain my situation, okay?”

Thug-1 chimes in, “And if you don’t talk, I’m gonna burn your fucking face off, got it?” Still George doesn’t say a word.

“It’s like this, Georgie,” Scabado says, “a recent shipment of my grass never made it to the pier in Miami, right? I come to find out that the Coast Guard busted the shipment out on the Gulf. Now, shit like this happens in my business, so I didn’t lose any sleep over it. But then, I’ll be damned, I come to find out that you and your buddies show up in Miami with a large quantity of the same high grade grass that I was waiting for on the pier. You follow me, George?” “Yeah,” George grunts.

“So, I start asking question and the trail leads straight to you. Now just tell me who these other guys are and we’ll be on our way, okay?”

“I can’t just give up my friends like that. How about you give me a message for them and —” “Well, George, you are about to suffer a major injury,” Scabado says.

Still George doesn’t talk.

“It’s gonna limit one of more your major life function,” Scabado says as he grabs a wine bottle off the kitchen counter and steps toward George.

“No,” George says. “Please, please, don’t hit me!”

The raccoon’s back paws scratch at the lid of the bucket and the growl rumbles in its chest.

Scabado bangs the wine bottle hard on George’s knee and George howls in agony. “Alright, alright,” George blubbers. “I’ll tell you. I’ll tell you!”

* * *


If you enjoyed The Pirate, Part I: The Traitor, please post an honest review on the eBook site where you downloaded it. Thank You, Malcolm Torres

Look for The Pirate, Part II: The Kingpin and Part III: Big Daddy on

www.malcolmtorres.com

* * *

If you enjoyed The Pirate, you’ll also enjoy Sixty-Four Days, A Sea Story. It has over 200 good reviews and it is always FREE on all eReaders. You’ll find links to Sixty-Four Days on all the eBook sites here:

www.malcolmtorres.com/free/

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About

Malcolm Torres is the author of several novels including Sailors Take Warning and Sailors Delight. He also writes The Sea Adventure Collection, an ongoing series of stories about life aboard ships at sea and adventures in ports of call around the world. Many book reviewers have commented on Malcolm's ability to write vivid and gritty sea stories that put the reader right into the action alongside interesting characters. After serving in the US Navy, Malcolm earned a Bachelors Degree at the University of Colorado in Boulder. He has worked in diverse career fields, including mechanic aboard the USS Enterprise, German-Jewish delicatessen cook, high school English teacher, microelectronics factory worker and renewable energy project manager. Malcolm's writing has appeared in the Viking Monthly, the Colorado Daily and High Times Magazine. He is a scuba diver, a sailor of small boats, a mountain bike rider and an avid downhill skier. He lives with his family in the forest outside Portland, Oregon. You can contact Malcolm through his website: www.malcolmtorres.com. Be sure to subscribe to his twice-annual newsletter, and look for his upcoming podcast: Lost at Sea with Malcolm Torres.
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