Young deckhand Jack Turner is 45-nautical miles south of Key West, Florida, aboard a Coast Guard Cutter. He’s standing watch as a lookout, searching the open ocean for illegal aliens and drug smugglers. When he spots a speedboat that is trying to avoid detection, the chase begins.
The Pirate, Part I: Treason
by Malcolm Torres
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 galley.’
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 waves.
He smiled 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 headset.
“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 speedboat.
“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 few seconds.
“Shots fired,” 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 Florida.
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.
“Honors, sir?” Jack asked.
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.
“Over here, 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.
“Locked on,” 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.
“Absolutely,” 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 nothing.
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 out.
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 so much.”
“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 earlier.
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 aft.
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 eagle-eye!”
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 traitor.
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,” Max says.
“Dude,” Jack says.
“How was it?” Max asks.
“Mostly boring up until we busted a speedboat loaded with cocaine and weed.”
“Damn, dude, it’s your fault?”
“What’s my fault?”
“All the locals are saying we’re in the middle of the biggest drought in South Florida history.”
“Yup, totally my fault,” Jack says as he opens the fridge and pulls out two cans of beer. “I spotted the speedboat and they sent the chopper after it—” Jack tosses a beer to Max and they pop the tops and bang their cans together.
Jack tells his tale of adventure on the high seas. Recounts the gun battle, the bikini girl, the boarding party, tearing up the speedboat with chainsaws. “It was crazy,” Jacks says. “Then the bales started coming aboard.”
“Yeah, big fat bales of weed.”
“Bales?” Max asks again.
“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 the deck.”
“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.
“What’s that 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.”
“It’s terrible.” Jack’s smile still beaming.
“Not even George in Key Largo can score and that guy knows every dealer in Miami.”
Jack 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 seeing gold.
“Wait,” he 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 high.
Jack stands up and heads for the door. “Second hand smoke, bro’, can’t have it. Don’t want to get popped on a UA!”
“Do you want me to go outside?”
“No need,” Jack says. “It’s cool.” The door swings shut as Jack walks onto the creaky deck. “Let’s go shoot some pool and knock back a few cold ones,” he says from outside.
“Sounds good,” Max says. Then he sparks his Bic lighter and 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 intersections.
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 flatpanel.
“Dude,” Max says.
“What?” Jack says.
“You heard from Wendy?”
“She called me,” Wolverine is hit by a Peterbuilt hauling dual trailers. Max grimaces.
“So,” Jack says.
“You and her need to talk.
“Dude, we broke up.” Wolverine crawls out from under the tractor trailer. “I don’t want to talk to her.” Jack tries to say it with conviction, but Max sees a look on his friend’s face that says it might not be over with Wendy.
“You need to call her.”
“You don’t get it, dude.”
“You really need to call her.”
“Seriously, dude,” Jack says. “She’s from a rich family. There’s no way me and her are working out.”
“You’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 says.
“Hey, guess who got back off the ship last night?”
“Does he want to talk to me?”
“Let me see.”
Max walks into Jack’s room and they face off.
Jack scowls, shakes his head.
Max smiles and says, “Wendy, he’s here, but he’s still asleep.”
“Let him sleep, but tell him I called, ok?”
“No, no. I’m gonna wake him up. Hey, Jack, buddy. You got a phone call. It’s Wendy, that sweet girl from back home?”
Jack tries to dart around Max, but Max blocks the door.
“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 outside.
“Hi, Wendy,” Jack says, monotone.
“Jack,” Wendy practically squeals. “I’ve missed you. How’s the Coast Guard?”
Oh, man, her voice is so sweet. He says, “Ah, it’s pretty good—”
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.”
“Sounds exciting.” 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 asks.
“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 Facebook?
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.”
* * *
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THE PIRATE, PART I: THE TRAITOR
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