Part I: Treason
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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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 was
standing lookout with a pair of high-powered binoculars on the bow of
the cutter Allmayer, 45 nautical miles south of Key West. He scanned
the sea slowly as he was trained to do during his recent boot camp
and basic seamanship course. What he was looking for were boats and
ships or rafts of any kind. His current position on the ship's bow
afforded 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, a couple deep sea fishing
charters. The sea ran rough as the bow of the cutter rose high
above the water, the humid breeze blowing in his face. Then the
cutter crashed down between the swells, a spume of foam and salt
blasted up around him.
The watch leader had
stuck Jack Turner out on the bow because Turner didn’t turn green
and start barfing when the ship left port and began tossing about on
rough blue water. And Turner already had a deep tan, so there was no
risk of sunburn. During his four-hour watches Turner put his ball
cap over his crewcut, clamped the headset over his ears and braced
the steel toes of his boots against the scuppers and 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, said he'd seen many over the years loaded
down with Cuban or Haitian refugees, and it was their job to turn
them back. The watch leader also stressed that he 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 them, do a board and search.
It was only another
fifteen minutes until his watch was over. He wondered what they were
serving in the kitchen for dinner. Then he remembered he wasn’t
supposed to say, ‘in the kitchen for dinner.’ He reminded
himself that he was a sailor in the Coast Guard, and he was supposed
to be wondering, ‘what kind of chow they were serving in the
Jack lowered his
binoculars and looked down at the sea sweeping past below the ship's
railings. He saw his boots were wedged against the scupper. He had
to admit he didn'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
actually thought that being on probation would give him street cred'.
He knew being on probation would make him seem tough among his pals
who were a bunch of lower middle-class thugs. Looking back he could
see that all they did was peer-pressure each other into petty crime
and drug dealing when they weren't riding skateboards or wind surfing
or playing Skyrim on X-Box.
He looked down at his
black boots and his blue uniform. He saw his name, TURNER,
embroidered over the Coast Guard logo on his right breast pocket and
he felt, ever so tentatively, that he was starting to belong to
something. He belonged to the US government, that was for certain,
but he belonged to something else, he belonged to a ship's crew of
men and women. They were from all over the US and most of them were
from a similar background—divorced or no parents, high school
diploma or a GED, the smartest ones had a handful of 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 an LA 'burb
surrounded by expressways and exit ramps, 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
glossy green Honda Civic that turned out to be a bait car. He popped
the driver’s side door with his slim Jim and went to work on the
ignition. Suddenly two undercover LAPD cops and a Channel-7 TV 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, “You can see yourself on TV this Thursday
night at 6 and 10.”
He focused his
binocular out at the horizon, then zoomed in on a faint white
contrail at one o'clock. It seemed to be a couple miles away. He
stared for a moment but it was gone. Maybe it was nothing. It was
probably just the wind blowing the top off a big wave.
He lowered the
binoculars and looked down just as two dolphins broke the surface and
leaped through the air together before plunging back beneath the
spontaneously, realizing what an incredible sight he'd 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 knew, but wasn't sure how he knew, that seeing
dolphins jumping ahead of the ship was good luck. He thought maybe
he was channeling some ancient mariner energy there on the bow of the
ship. He wondered what good fortune lay ahead for him.
And that's when he
looked thorough the binoculars and saw the white spray on the horizon
again. He could see it was a speedboat and it was moving fast.
Jack mashed the
transmit button on his radio and said, "Watch leader, this is
bow watch, I have a bogie at one o'clock off the bow."
"Roger, bow watch,
keep 'em in sight."
Within a second he
heard the ship's public address system, with speakers in every
compartment and on all the exterior decks, announce, "Launch the
alert helo'." And Jack knew the pilot and the aircrew where
already sitting in the chopper on the small flight deck on the
Allmayer's aft end because he immediately heard it firing up its
engine. The low whirr grew louder and louder and the thwock, thwock,
thwock sound of its rotating blades echoed off the ship’s metal
decks, filling Jack's ears with a sense of awe as he realized that
his sighting of the speedboat had kicked off a board and search
mission. In the soles of his boots, he felt the metal deck begin to
vibrate and shudder, and he knew that down in the engine room they'd
fired up the engines and put the ship in high gear. In the blue sky
the helicopter shot past. He saw the pilot's helmet as he spoke into
a mic wrapped in front of his mouth. And to his surprise, Jack heard
the pilot say, "I've got a visual on the speeder at twelve
o'clock. Now in pursuit, over." Two aircrew crouched in the
chopper's open side door as it took off across the blue sky growing
smaller each second. Jack had a weird sense of vertigo as he
realized how big the sky surrounding him actually was.
"Bow watch keep an
eye on that speeder?" the bridge watch's voice crackled into his
"Roger, he's at
twelve o'clock, dead ahead," Jack reported and saw that the ship
and the chopper were both making a beeline straight for the
"We've got a
runner," the pilot's voice again in his 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 didn't understand it all exactly. Between bursts of
static came short terse statements between men and women. Jack
listened and understood that the speedboat was trying to run away and
the chopper was authorized by the captain to go after it. He
understood that the Allmayer was speeding up as fast as it could and
something else about how far they were from Key West. He was
surprised to hear that a DEA helicopter might be scrambled to help
intercept. There was also something about a Navy ship somewhere
nearby that could join the chase if needed.
But it didn't take that
long. Jack watched through his binoculars and saw the helicopter
bank around and come in at the speedboat.
It hovered there for a
the helicopter pilot's voice again.
Jack watched the
chopper pitch and weave in what looked like an evasive maneuver.
The Allmayer's captain
told the chopper crew to fire back.
The Allmayer was
crashing across the waves for real now. Jack felt his pulse
ratcheting up like it did when he'd broken into a car and was
scrambling to hotwire the ignition. And then he saw 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 asked.
"We might have,"
the pilot's voice came into Jack's headset, "but all flight
control systems appear to operating within normal limits.”
They were close enough
now for Jack to see a tall lean guy with black hair, sort of Latin
looking, standing up in the speedboat with his hands raised above his
head. The chopper hovered a little ways off with both aircrew
leaning out the side door, their rifles pointed at the guy on the
speedboat. The Allmayer circled but didn't get too close. A team on
deck lowered a Zodiac raft and a minute later they were motoring
across the water with more guns pointed at the speedboat.
Jack wondered what was
on the speedboat that made the Latin guy try to run away and shoot at
the helicopter. He figured it had to be drugs, probably marijuana,
but more likely it was cocaine, meth or heroine. Decriminalizing
marijuana in the US had been driving smugglers to harder more
expensive drugs. Besides, Jack figured, this craft wasn't big enough
to hide more than a few illegal immigrants. The sleek green
fiberglass hull bobbed on the water. Jack could see it was designed
for only a driver, maybe two passengers at most with its long, pointy
bow and small cockpit. A hot looking lady in a black bikini appeared
on deck from down below and jack raised his binoculars again to get a
better look at her equipment. Wow, he sighed. After all, he'd been
at sea for several days and he was a sailor even if there were women
on the Allmayer crew, they weren't bouncing around in bikinis. Damn!
The team boarded the
speedboat cautiously, with their handguns and rifles pointed at the
Latin guy and the woman in the bikini and what Jack figured was a
wounded or dead guy on the deck. All three were quickly handcuffed.
With the speedboat secured the boarding party climbed back into the
Zodiac and towed it back to the Allmayer.
As soon as the Latin
guy, and the wounded guy and the chick in the bikini were brought on
board, Jack was amazed to see his fellow crewmembers descend on the
speedboat with chainsaws and pry-bars and quickly tear up the boat's
decks where they uncover plastic sealed packages of white powder.
Jack assumed it was coke, speed or heroine.
The watch officer told
Jack to leave his post and go aft to help offload the speedboat. He
hustled back there and stood around with a few other deckhands. A
senior officer told them to go below and get some large plastic
evidence tubs. They brought the tubs up from below and tossed them
to a few other deckhands who were down on the speedboat. A work crew
set up a metal arm with a pulley on it, then fed a rope through and
down to the speedboat. A few minutes later they fell into a steady
rhythm of hauling tubs full of plastic-wrapped packages up from the
speedboat to the deck and then passing them down the ladder into a
compartment that had EVIDENCE in black stencil on the watertight
door. It was way more dope than Jack had ever seen. He wanted 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. He thought it
would be cool to post it on Facebook for all his friends to like and
comment and share. But he knew taking such a picture was totally
unauthorized. Besides, he thought 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 gas and smoke. The crew hauled up
dozens of big plastic tubs filled with packages of white power.
Several tubs came up full of fat vacuum-sealed packages of green weed
that looked to be very powerful. Through the clear plastic Jack saw
vibrant green marijuana covered with gold and purple hairs. It was
weird because he knew it had a pungent odor but since it was sealed
inside plastic there was no smell at all. He wondered if the
smugglers had sanitized the packages to try and outsmart
drug-sniffing dogs that might come aboard at sea or upon arrival in
Jack took turns with
the other deckhands, hoisting the tubs up from the speedboat. When
his arms got tired of pulling, he took a turn lugging tubs below,
through a watertight door on the main deck and down two ladders to
the evidence room below. He couldn't believe all this dope. It must
be a million bucks worth on the street. Just being around it gave
him a crazy sort of contact high. He imagined having all these drugs
and weed in his basement room, back at his aunt’s house in LA.
That would have meant parties and cash. Lots of parties and lots and
lots of cash.
After all the packages
were unloaded from the speedboat, and the prisoners--the bikini girl
and the two twenty-something felon-looking Latin guys--one not
looking so tough since he'd been shot in the log--were taken below, a
couple mechanics went aboard the speedboat and unbolted the twin
outboard Mercury 500 horsepower engines. Those were hoisted aboard
the Allmayer. They lowered a hose and siphoned the gasoline from the
speedboat's tanks. Jack wondered what they'd do with the gutted
craft, certain they weren't going to tow it all the way back to Key
West. That didn’t make any sense because they were scheduled to
stay at sea for another three days.
Jack thought it was
pretty cool when the Allmayer's captain appeared on deck. They were
lugging the last few tubs below. Jack was helping fasten cargo nets
over the outboard Mercury engines.
The captain was a short
man and lean with a strong look like Teflon about him. He wore the
same uniform as Jack and the other crew working on deck, dark blue
pants and shirt. The captain’s last name, HALL, stitched above his
right breast pocket. Of course the captain had eagles embroidered on
the points of his collars. His white hair trimmed short and combed
forward. His eyes and mouth set in a serious look as he observed the
activity on deck. Jack’s memory flashed on the first time he’d
met Captain Hall, a couple weeks ago, when he’d first come aboard
the Allmayer. Jack’s division officer introduced him and Hall had
shook his hand, asked him where he was from. Hall had looked Jack
right in the eyes and said, “Welcome aboard, son.” And Jack
truly did feel welcome, but he felt something else, something good
down in his bones. Hall had called him ‘son’ and nobody had
called him that that since he was a little kid.
"Good work spying
this drug runner, Seaman Turner," the captain said.
Jack stood up straight
and said, "Thank you, sir." Then he fidgeted, not knowing
what else to say when the captain just stood there looking at him.
"You get the
honors, Turner," the captain said.
Several crew members
standing nearby smiled the kind of smiles that told Jack he was about
to encounter a seafaring tradition, a secret ritual like crossing the
equator or something.
"Oh, you'll see,"
the captain said.
One of the senior guys
smiled and nodded at Jack and Jack felt something unusual, some raw
emotion he’d never felt before. It was a positive, he knew that
much right away. Honor maybe? Jack wondered.
Right then a deckhand
who was carrying the last tub of contraband stumbled and dropped it
on the deck. One of the packages broke open. And that dank
gold-and-purple-haired weed was strewn all over the gray steel and
black nonskid at their feet.
"Clean this up,”
the captain said, then waved his hand and the speedboat, “and cut
that piece of shit loose." Then he turned to Jack and said,
"You come with me, Turner."
Jack followed the
captain up two ladders and right up onto the bridge. The captain
gave orders to the helmsman and the navigator who immediately jumped
to action. Outside the big windows, Jack looked in awe at the
cutter's bow jutting out over the vast sea and the blue sky arcing
over it all. What a spectacular view he thought at the sight of
waves pitching and rolling in all directions.
Jack put his hand on a
railing mounted just below the window to steady himself as the cutter
turned sharply. The captain and bridge crew shouted commands,
repeating each other to confirm what was ordered. Jack didn't
exactly understand them but he could tell they were making a hard
turn and activating a weapon of some kind.
Turner," the captain waved him to a panel of dials and buttons
off to the side of the ship's wheel.
A junior officer stood
at the wheel with a headset on. She turned to the captain and said,
"Sir, we're locked on now."
"It's not every
day you get to sink a smuggler's wreck, is it, Turner?" The
captain pointed at a computer screen where Jack could see the gutted
remains of the speedboat bobbing aimlessly on the waves.
the junior officer told the captain and the captain flipped open a
hinged plastic cover over a large red button that was embossed with
the word FIRE in white.
"Fire when ready,
Seaman Turner," the captain said.
Jack's smile beamed
from ear to ear, "Really?" he asked.
the Captain said boldly.
Jack reached over and
placed his thumb on the big red button. He looked from the button to
the screen where the wrecked speedboat bobbed on the waves. Then he
pressed down slowly and felt the button click and for just a second
From aft Jack could
hear a bell ring, then a mechanical sound of gears turning and a
mechanical click. And then a great roar and a ripping sound. On the
computer screen a stream of tracer fire went like a laser directly at
the remains of the speed boat. The water around it boiled and foamed
and the speedboat disintegrated into a cloud of splinters and smoke.
Jack stared at the
screen, amazed at the power he’d unleashed.
He knew what he’d
done. He’d fired the ship’s Close In Weapons Systems or CIWS as
he’d heard it referred to. It was a computer controlled Gatling
gun, mounted aft on the ship. It had at least a half dozen barrels
and a long mechanical belt full of chunky-looking bullets. The CIWS
looked like R2D2 from Star Wars with a mass of gun barrels poking
The captain put his
hand on Jack’s shoulder and said, “You’ve got good aim to go
along with your eagle eye vision, Seaman Turner.”
Jack didn't know what
to say to the captain except, "That was awesome, sir, thank you
"The pleasure is
all mine, Seaman Turner. Keep up the good work on lookout. Now you
may be dismissed."
Jack walked proudly
across the bridge and exited through the door he'd entered a minute
Outside on deck, he
scanned the ocean but there was no sign 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
black boots. Jack walked toward the ladder and held up his thumb,
the one he'd used to press the FIRE button. He just looked at the
swirl of his thumbprint and whispered, "Wow!"
He climbed down the two
ladders and saw that the deckhands had put away the pulleys and ropes
they’d used to hoist the contraband. Without a thought, Jack
glanced at the deck and was startled to see a banana-sized bud of
that purple-haired weed sticking out from under the deckedge scupper.
He glanced forward and aft and saw that he was alone. Without
thinking twice, he quickly leaned over and picked up the big bud.
Not seeing anyone after glancing forward and aft again, Jack tucked
the big bud between the buttons on the front of this shirt and walked
As he opened a big
metal door into the ship, it occurred to him that by grabbing the bud
and sticking in his shirt, he was a pirate. After all, he thought, I
spotted the small craft, ordered the boarding and pillaging of it.
The crew had seized their goods. This bud—he ran his hand over the
bulge under his shirt—is my plunder. My booty, he thought. He
growled, “Aaarrrggg,” under his breath.
A guy he recognized
from the propulsion plant, held up a high five and said, “Hey
As Jack reached up and
smacked hands with the other man, he felt a hollow pit of guilt open
in his gut.
He continued down the
passageway and thought about dropping the bud into a trash can or
throwing it over the side, but now there were other sailors walking
past him in the passageway. He put his head down, stared at the deck
and walked aft.
Shit, I’m a pirate
and I’m a traitor to the Coast Guard but nobody knows. They think
I’m a hero. I spotted the smugglers. I fired the CIWS and sunk
their boat. So, he thought, that’s the essence of a traitor. They
think I’m a hero but in secret I’m the exact opposite—I’m a
Max has his dreads 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 along with
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, 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 said.
“Dude,” Jack says.
“How was it?” Max
"Mostly boring up
until we busted a speedboat loaded with cocaine and weed."
"Damn, dude, it's
“What’s my fault?”
“All the locals are
saying 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
"Yeah, big fat
bales of weed.”
“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 week 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 got tripped
up and he 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.
“And it busts open on
"Weed all over?"
"Yeah, all over."
"Did you get your
hands on it?" Max wanted 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, cousin?" Max says.
Jack unhooks the metal
clip on the top of his seabag. "Several pounds of stinky buds
all over the deck."
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."
Jack’s smile still beaming.
"Not even George
in Key Largo can score and that guy knows every dealer in Miami."
Jack pulled several
items from his bag, a stack of t-shirts and rolled up socks. A belt.
A pair of tennis shoes, and 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 does provide, 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,
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, he
pinches out a small serving of the precious bud, holds his breath and
examines it closely, like a prospector gazing into a pan of mud and
declares, leaping to his feet, snatches up the iPod and fiddles
around with the controls and chooses one of his favorite classic rock
hits. Winking at Jack, who approves the song selection, Max carefully
packs himself of one-hitter bowl and sits back on the couch,
clutching his bong and savoring the moment before the unexpected
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
“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 places his lips to the
bong’s mouthpiece. The flame bends down as he inhales slowly,
catching fire to the bud. The chamber fills with smoke. Taking his
lips from the bong, Max exhales, holds the bong aside, admiring 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 weed-smoke that swirls
against the ceiling. His eyes close halfway, then all the way. He
reclines on the couch, his head going back until he’s blowing smoke
straight up at the ceiling. The sound of the classic rock hit, a
guitar riff we’ve all heard so many times it triggers memories of
good times with friends. 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 and steps toward the door, leaving the iPod playing. “Let’s
go 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 roadhouse.
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. A mix of hits and classic tunes blasting from
speakers, pool balls ricocheting on the 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.
As 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
“Dude,” Max says.
“What?” Jack says.
“You heard from
“She called me,”
Wolverine is hit by a Peterbuilt hauling dual trailers. Max
“So,” Jack says.
“You and her need to
“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
“You need to call
“You don’t get it,
“You really need to
Jack says. “She’s from a rich family. There’s no way me and
her are working out.”
“You’ve been out of
touch for what. . .”
“Eight months, I’ve
had a new phone, nobody knows the number. I haven’t checked
Facebook or email the whole time. You should try it, being off the
grid. It clears your head.”
“Whatever, dude. You
and Wendy need to talk. It’s important. She said she’s—”
Max’s phone rings. He shows it to Jack. There’s Wendy’s
picture. He’s seen this picture before, months ago back in LA
before Jack 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
exaggerated enthusiasm, “Hello Wendy, how you today?”
Wendy is in bed in her
bedroom in her house in Los Angeles, in the Boyle Heights
neighborhood, a short distance from where Jack and Max grew up. The
shades 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
“Hey, guess who got
back off the ship last night?”
“Does he want to talk
“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.
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 absence of
light. 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, my friend.”
Jack exhales hard in
resignation, 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
“Hi, Wendy,” Jack
practically squeals. “I’ve missed you. How’s the Coast
Oh, man, her voice is
so sweet. He says, “Ah, it’s pretty good—”
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 looking girl, her family has money, unlike him without
anything. She’s got lots of friends. He knows she can find
another guy easy. Why has she been trying to get a hold of him?
He fills the awkward
silence. “I’m a deckhand on the ship, been at sea a lot. We
arrested some drug smugglers last week.”
The first shades 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. God, 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, sneaking into
Bars with their fake IDs, making out a few 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 that 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 as if thinking it through one
more time will change the situation. She knows there’s no more
time to think about it, 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 and she thinks for the first time,
just by the way he said her name, just from the that spark of genuine
interest in his voice, she thinks things might just work out ok for
them—for Wendy and Jack 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
“Yes, we’re here.”
The room is filling with the first rays of Los Angeles suburban
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 ask
why he’d never called. Why hadn’t he returned her messages on
But there in her
bedroom she rubbed her swollen belly and could feel the baby’s
foot. She could feel a little tiny foot pressing against her hand.
It moved a tiny bit and she could feel a bone in its 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, beneath
cloudless heavens. 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 does
what windsurfer’s do when they are hauling ass across the tops of
breaking waves. The swells rise and the valleys sink and he rides
them up and down wanting to just keep right on going to Cuba or
Jamaica, to just keep going and never come back.
“How do I know it’s
“You don’t,” Max
says. “But you gotta admit the timing points to you.”
They are lying on the
sand sipping cans of beer.
“She said 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.”
“Hey, the only way to
know for sure is a paternity test, right?
“But, I’m just
saying, I didn’t get the vibe like she was spreading it around, did
“No,” Jack admits.
“She’s a real sweetheart. But, dude, her family has money and I
can’t keep her in high style like that. 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.
“I’m too young to
be a dad.” Jack is irritated.
“Too young to be a
dad, but not too young to make a baby.” Max smirks. “Besides
the right kind of boat is like forty or fifty thousand dollars. Even
if we had that kind of money, daddy-O, buying a boat would be
“Don’t even talk
about responsibility, man, like I gotta choose between a baby and a
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 disposition, but now he’s on land and he can
feel the stresses and strains of daily life clawing at him. Suddenly
he wants to be back out at sea where life is so much simpler.
Jack,” Max says. “Life is thrusting responsibility on you.”
Max snickers. “Thrusting,” he whispers and moans as passionately
as an 18 year old wigger can.
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 is a harsh
word, kind of like bank account and water bill or washing machine
owner.” Max makes a face like he’s in pain, under duress.
“Diaper,” he says. “Can you say diaper daddy? Dirty diaper.”
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.”
Not letting up, Max
says, “Here, this is exactly what you need, another beer. Drink
your troubles away.”
“Don’t talk to me
about responsibility, please.”
Max says. “Another word for condom—”
“Lay off, will you,
“You and Wendy should
have thought about wrapping some responsibility around your Johnson,
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 flowing 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. The mood is tense.
Wendy is in a bikini, a
skimpy pink number with strings instead of straps, but 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
“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
“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
“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 two
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
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
“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 truck 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
“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
“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.
Jack says, hopping back behind the wheel. “I gotta go on watch in
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
“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 sox. 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.
“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
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
“Mexican drug lords
are probably breaking in right now, trying to retake all their
“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
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—