Part I: The Traitor
By Malcolm Torres
the continuation and the conclusion of THE PIRATE
III: Big Daddy
Stories in the Sea Adventure Collection *
Peace with Japan
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This is a work of
fiction. Any resemblance to real people or actual events is purely
© 2017 by MT Press
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
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 slim-jim 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.
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
"Bow watch, keep
an eye on that speeder," the bridge watch's voice crackles into
"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
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
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
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
The captain walks over
to Jack and says, "Good work spying this drug runner, Seaman
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.
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
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
"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.
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.
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.
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
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
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 banana-sized 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.
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 nailed-together 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.
“How was it?”
"Mostly boring up
until we busted a speedboat loaded with cocaine and weed."
"Damn, dude, it's
“All the locals
say we're in the middle of the biggest drought in South Florida
"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.”
"Yeah, big fat
bales of weed.”
“How big were
these bales?” Max asks.
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.”
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 —”
Max says with a big smile.
“It busted open
on the deck."
"Weed all over?"
"Yeah, weed all
"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.
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.”
Jack says fumbling around in his seabag.
all your fault,” Max says.
“Literally, it is
my fault, dude,” Jack smiles.
“You guys are
choking off the supply lines."
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.
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
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?”
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.
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
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
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
“You heard from
“She called me,”
Wolverine is hit by a
Peterbuilt hauling dual trailers.
“You and her need
“Dude, we broke
Wolverine crawls out
from under the tractor trailer.
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.
get it, dude.”
“You really need
to call her.”
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?”
Jack says. “You know I’ve had a new phone, nobody knows
the number. I haven’t checked Facebook or email the whole
“You are out of
it, dude,” Max says.
“You go off the
grid,” Jack says. “It clears your head.”
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
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.
“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
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.
“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.
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
Jack says, monotone.
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 —”
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.”
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.
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,
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.
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.”
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?”
Max says. “But the timing points to you.”
They are lying on the
sand sipping cans of beer.
eight months pregnant.”
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.”
“Hey, the only
way to know for sure is a paternity test, right?
just saying, I didn’t get the vibe like she was spreading it
around, did you?”
admits. “She’s a real sweetheart. But, dude, I’m
making like seven hundred and change a month.”
“Love is all you
“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.
young to be a dad.” Jack is irritated.
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.”
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
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.”
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
to me about responsibility, please.”
Max says. “Another word for condom —”
“Lay off, will
“You and Wendy
should have thought about wrapping some responsibility around your
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
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?”
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.”
forced you or you volunteered, Jack,” Wendy insists. “You
can’t have it both ways.”
little more complicated than that.”
stupid. Don’t talk to me like I’m stupid.” Wendy
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
“My lawyer and
the judge agreed it was joy riding.”
what I’m saying, Jack. They can’t force you to join the
Army for joy riding.”
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.”
“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.
cuddles up to him. “But, you can’t go away now, Jack,
we’re really starting to hit it off.”
“When are you
“Not for another
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,
Jack knows what it is.
He’s blown a tire. He steers to the side of the road and
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
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
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
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
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
“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.
earning like no money, and now this with Wendy.”
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.
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.”
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
Max tosses the flat in
back of the truck.
roll,” Jack says, hopping back behind the wheel. “I
gotta go on watch in an hour.”
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’
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 bead-belt 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.
Doogle screams, “Not a lock jaw! Haybaler, get away from that
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
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
“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.