He was alone
now; he could feel it. The ambient environment had become suspended. It was not something
he could see; it was something he felt. There was no sound, no car or truck engine running,
no dog barking, no bird's chirping, nothing. Complete silence. It was deafening. This is wonderful,
he thought. Throwing his arms
wide and palms up he threw his head back and shouted, “Yes! At last! At long last!
Oh God, YES!”
Nobel was always a loner. Even as a little boy he much preferred the company of himself
to anybody and strived to do just that. He would walk around the neighborhood and daydream,
sometimes looking straight up into the sky at clouds as he walked. One day he was so preoccupied
with looking up at the clouds he had not noticed that he wandered dangerously into the
middle of the street when an annoying honk jolted him out of his daydream. He sheepishly
looked at the driver at the truck three feet behind him and waved, moving off the road
only to watch the driver shaking his head as he roared past.
In his teens it was apparent
that he was not going to be killing the ladies with his looks, so he dove deeper into his
hobby, which was daydreaming. Occasionally it was broken by reading a book or watching
a movie, but he would always find his way back to his favorite hobby and devote a few hours
a day to it if not more. The best thing about
daydreaming is you do it alone, and that is what Edward liked best, was to be alone.
In his early
adulthood, he chose a profession that would allow him to work alone, mostly. He was a lab
technician, and he tested blood samples for various different diseases or tested organ
tissue for a myriad of different reasons. He liked his work; he enjoyed it because it gave
him ample time to sit in his lab and ponder.
When another technician entered his workspace,
it was like another person had invaded his home and urinated on his bedding. That is how
it felt to Edward and so he worked better alone and resented having to share his space
with anybody, even if it happen to be a fairly pretty female technician. Edward enjoyed
female company but only occasionally, and only on his choosing the time and the place.
He found that women wanted more than he was willing or capable of offering in the way of
personal interaction. So he chose to date women that weren’t necessarily looking
for a relationship.
looked up and down the street and reveled in the solitude. Nobody was around.
Not a creature is stirring, not
even a mouse. I am going to LOVE THIS!!
Edward smiled and wondered how he got here,
to this place, wherever this was.
It doesn’t matter. He thought. I
am alone! Blessed solitude! Peaceful solitude! Me time!
walked down the empty street and then looked up at the sky while he kept walking just like
he did when he was a little boy. He realized this was his old neighborhood that he grew
up in, same houses, same yards, same empty lots with overgrown bushes and trees. He looked
around the neighborhood again and then up at the sky and kept walking, he knew every inch
of this road; he grew up on it. He remembered the diversity of the Queen Ann neighborhood
of Seattle where he spent his childhood. Back then this section of the city was bustling
with noise and activity. Now it was close
to total silence except for the sound of his footsteps on the ground. He looked up at
the sky again and this time he noticed that the clouds weren’t moving, at first glance
he had thought it was a still day and in a few hours he’d see a different sky when
he looked up, but it was exactly the same sky a few hours ago.
How could that be!? Am I suspended
in time? I’ve heard of stuff like this, a different dimension, or universe?
around his old neighborhood until he’d seen everything that he remembered and then
he walked around some more and saw things that he didn’t remember. He walked into
houses and upstairs and into the bedrooms and even into closets and attics. He walked around
all the shops and went into all the offices in the back of the shops and down the alleyways.
He looked everywhere and recognized this must be the same neighborhood that he grew up
in, down to the minutest detail.
What is that noise? It sounds
like a power source. Maybe over those foothills in the next valley.
aware of a low hum, barely audible but constantly there. It had been with him since he
got here only he did not hear it or even realize it was there until now.
How long have
I been here, it feels like a long time, maybe 3 or 4
days; maybe a week at most?
was at a lake now from his childhood. His father used to bring him to this place from his
earliest memories until his early teens when he decided it was even better to be alone
in his room, rather than have to spend two or three hours in a boat hooking worms with
I’d give anything to have one of those
hours back with him, talking about baseball, the weather, listen to him gripe about local
politicians, heck I would love to just stand at the waters edge and say nothing at all
if I knew he were here; even thirty minutes, heck five minutes!!
all parts of the lake just as he did when he was a boy and on some of those occasions his
cousin Tommy would come along with them. Tommy didn’t like Edward that much, but
that was okay with Edward. Tommy was athletic and loved to play sports. When he asked Edward to play ball with him, he always made excuses not
to go so he could be alone. So the lake was almost the only time they ever got together,
aside from the occasional family picnic or holiday. They would walk along a path that went
almost all the way around the lake, stopping at the dam on one end of the lake. A bridge
made of rope and wood walking planks crossed the river on the other end. He went to each
outlet and stared at the water and then up at the unmoving sky above him. It was hard to
tell how long he’d been there at the lake after a while, a month, maybe two. The
sky never changed; it had the same cloud formation as when he first arrived in this world.
sat at the wooden picnic benches in the trees a couple of hundred feet away from the lake
shore and thought about his circumstance.
How long have I been here? A couple of
months ago I walked around and explored every inch of the shore. The clouds are not moving
and there’s no night time, just daylight, there’s not even any wind. Everything
is perfectly still unless I move it and then when I turn around and observe it again it’s
back in its original place.
I haven’t eaten anything since I’ve
been here or gone to the bathroom.
A shiver ran through him even though he didn’t feel cold. This
shiver was a shiver of anxiety and dark feelings running through him when one comes to
a cathartic realization of their own situation, and it’s not a good one. In other words, it was one hundred times
worse than an ‘oh shit’ moment.
I must be dead!! It’s the
only explanation! I can only see things from my past; memories of my childhood and
as a young man! I’m not hungry! I don’t go to the bathroom! I don’t sleep! The
sky never changes, but why doesn’t the sky change? I thought heaven would have clouds
that move at least, and a night and day? I guess I was wrong about that, unless this is
not heaven, or wherever the dead go for eternity.
An even darker, sinking feeling washed over him then, splashing
his body with enough anxiety to bring an elephant to its knees.
So is this hell?
Jaysus! What did I ever do wrong? So this is my fate,
and depression began to seep into him.
Okay! Okay, let’s just calm down.
I cannot even remember how I got here! He paused a long while staring out through the
tree limbs out onto the still lake, and eventually had an idea. So far I’ve been able to go to places in this world just by thinking
about them. So what if I go back to where I used to live. The last place I remember. He
closed his eyes, and he remembered the apartment and the street where he used to live.
He thought of his job as a lab tech and his office building and the lab itself. He thought
of the Chinese food restaurant in the strip-mall on the way home where he used to grab
It has been
years now since he has been back in the neighborhood where he used to live. He didn’t
sleep in this place either, even though he felt more lethargic and weaker than he ever
did. He could not remember the last time he slept. Was it years ago now? The low hum that
he’d noticed years ago was now a buzz. The buzzing sound was constant; always there,
inside his head, with every thought, every movement. He
desperately wanted to take a nice long nap, but every time he tried, he lay still, unable
to sink into that blessed state of sleep. He became tired of looking around and seeing
the same things. He became weary of walking everywhere and tired of looking at items in
store windows and inside shops. He desperately wanted to see somebody, anybody. He liked
to find a standee in a theater or video rental store and pretend it was a real person and
would have a one-sided conversation. He longed to hear animal noises, like birds or dogs
barking; he was beginning to forget what they sounded like.
He’d give his soul to hear an engine roaring down the street and the occasional
boom box thumping from some punk’s low-rider, but mostly he was tired. Tired of being
alone and tired of the silence and tired of that blasted humming sound! Tired! Tired!
“YES, I GUESS I’M SAYING I’M
LONELY AND I’D LIKE A LITTLE CONVERSATION!!!” he shouted as loud as he could,
piercing the dead silence.
“ANYBODY!??” he paused a few seconds, “YEAH!
THAT’S WHAT I THOUGHT!! THANK YOU VERY F***ING MUCH!!!”
God, WHERE AM
I? Why have you forsaken me? I wasn’t that bad
was I? Or was I? What did I do to deserve this, God? Can you answer me? Can anyone answer
me? I was a good boy, I ate all my peas and carrots, never hurt no one, uh ugh!! No sir!
Not little Edward, not me, no sir!! My mama used to say that ‘God is in the stillness’,
well where is he? WHERE ARE YOU!??? I’d give my soul for one f**’ing conversation!
Just one word spoken from another human being! One glance! One smile! Someone to flip me
the bird! Punch me in the face!!
He lifted his face to the unmoving sky
and yelled with all his might, “AAAAAHHHH!!!!”
Dr. Tushar Samaik,
and Head Physician Frank Williams, spoke
quietly inside the patient’s room.
long has he been here Sams?” asked Dr. Williams.
“He arrived here yesterday already in a deep comatose state.
His boat capsized when he was out fishing on a lake, and he was pulled to shore by two
guys fishing close by. His brain activity was almost flat-line when he came in, but now
there’s nothing except for a few jumps in the hippocampus area. I have him on oxygen and we’ve been keeping
his fluids up.”
The low hum from the equipment that surrounded the patient became loud.
get that breathing machine checked; it just started making that noise.”
Said Dr. Samaik, a little embarrassed.
“Good, make sure you do, with all
the cutbacks we can’t afford a new one,” said Dr. Williams, he paused, and
then followed with, “and apparently we are going to need it a long time. This guy’s
only living relative, a cousin named Tom Nobel, gave us the green light to run some of
the experimental drugs. So as long as we have a live test subject with a dead brain to
run our tests on we’ll get our grant from the Government, which means more money
in our pockets and we can keep this place running.”
“Gotcha Chief, I’ll
call a tech today.”
we need to keep Mr. Noble alive a good long time; well, you know what I mean,
we need to keep his ‘body’ alive.”
Both Doctors smiled and almost chuckled
before Dr. Williams turned and left the room.
|Art by Steve Cartwright © 2016
Michael S. Stewart
I couldn’t remember being arrested. I vaguely
recall my feet being kicked. They didn’t feel like my own. And the first thing I saw were
rays of light streaming in through bars above me. I blinked and felt a sense of
peace suffuse my body. I stretched. My dream, still
with me. It was an old one. Same dream I always had about being a boy in Australia, sitting by still
water, watching moonlight glint off the surface.
always, in the dream, there was a dark element lurking just beneath, unseen, like a crocodile licking
their chops in want of a fat morsel on shore. But I didn’t care, I felt like I was floating
on a handful of painkillers and every ache in my body had vanished.
“---mira bella durmiente.” I heard a voice and remembered.
I was in Mexico. And I remembered why. The next part was a whirl in my memory, but I will tell it
as best I can.
A bucket of sewage was thrown on me. I jerked
up, instantly, and any feelings of tranquility I had, were gone. I wiped the back of my hand across
my face, wary of the voices and laughing, blinking hard and trying to focus. The pungent aroma of
urine and feces hit my nostrils. My gorge rose and I
barely made the bucket in the corner after lunging on all fours, wretching horribly.
I missed, mostly, and stayed hunched over, dry-heaving what was left of the chicken fajitas, Spanish rice and Corona we had the night before. Good
thing the bucket had been recently emptied, as I was trying my best to fill it up when I heard voices
in the shadows.
“---chico blanco se ve como una mierda, eh Manning?” I heard a grating
voice, full of malicious intent, while the echo of my own wretch filled my ears. I knew enough Spanish
to know they were concerned about my welfare. Or not.
“Sí, jefe, muy enferma,” the second voice, nasal-pitched, came from a smaller man a second before he kicked
me in the stomach like he was delivering a winning field goal through the uprights. A blast of pain hit me on the end of his boot while I left
the ground, my wind knocked out, sending me crashing into
the bars on the far side of the cell.
“Le di al camarero un poco de dinero para deslizarse que un
mickey,” said the grating voice. “ Uh, disculpe,
Lo siento--- I am sorry, you are feeling so--- ugly, my friend. But
you did have good dreams, hey, chico?” He laughed.
I couldn’t breathe, I was going to
pass out, panic struck as I opened my mouth to suck air, but nothing came. Pressure was
building in my head and chest.
“entonces tenemos que la policia
te va a recoger por intoxicacion publica, in case
you wonder where you are,” he confessed, laughing from the shadows.
against pain, I forced a crack in my lids and saw feet moving towards me, I was
snatched up, arms held tight while I tried in vain to suck air into my lungs. I pushed back with
my legs until we stopped, up against the bars. I passed out briefly.
must have loosened his grip when I became dead weight, because my lungs expanded, supplying
much-needed oxygen to my body. The cell whirled. And I saw steps coming out of the shadows, cowboy boots with a paisley design.
His fists clenched.
I heard behind me. A baritone voice in pidgin
English I’d grown to love, filled me with relief.
The cowboy in front
of me continued. I could see it coming. The step, the windup, the coupe de grace.
I was still being held from behind and craned my neck to
the side to avoid the blow. An explosion of
pain hit my head and ear. But the brunt of it was absorbed by my captor behind me. His arms went
slack, and I wrenched free, falling to the floor. I later
found out, Henry; the baritone voice behind me, had reached through the bars with his huge hands and choked him out, so when his hombre delivered the death
blow, he was nice and steady to receive it.
I reached for my
knife strapped to my beltline. Not there. They took it. Boots stepped towards me, hands outstretched.
I swept my leg swinging my hips with all my strength. He went flying,
and his back hit the concrete with a thud. I heard more laughing. It was guards outside the cell
just beyond reach of the bars.
boots went down by no means was he out. Surprised, wild-eyed,
his glare cut at me through his long black hair. He became a blur of button-down long sleeve cowboy shirt, brown pants and silver belt buckle scrambling to get up.
I knew I had one shot at this. I drew the same leg back again,
and as he leaned forward on all fours to get up, I threw
a jab with my heel catching his jaw. He was out before his body hit the floor. He
spun, fell back like a sack of potatoes, ass in the air.
I heard a few
expletives in Spanish I couldn’t decipher, then silence.
I kept my eye on boots to make sure he was out.
“He got something on
you, bro? He know you?” Henry leaned his face against
the bars, still holding on to the smaller man, unconscious, then let him slump to the floor.
are we, Henry?” I stood, still sucking wind, wiping
my face on the front of my shirt.
“Jail, chief!” he
laughed, a hardy, big laugh of a man without a care in the world. I always envied Henry and Sam,
his brother, their sense of mirth in the darkest of times, as if ingrained to float above the agitating
fray of life with the gaiety of children at play.
“Adivina qué, muchacho
blanco, usted y
su amigo grande tonta acaba de publicar
su propio fianza!” an older-looking gentleman was saying, he had
a thick mustache, black eyes and the gait of a tired jailer. His eyes told me he’d just as
soon shoot me as let me go free. He rattled a bunch of keys on a metal ring until he found the right
one. “Too bad your cell mates couldn’t finish what they start--- they gave me forty
bucks to get in your cell, Gringo.“ He looked at them disgusted
and spat at boots who was closest to the bars. “But, you deserve your freedom, I think,”
he said without looking at me, “I think I let them sleep here, until they give me more dinero, hey?” he smiled.
swung the door open, and without looking at me, motioned with his head. I needed no further
coaxing. He opened Henry’s cell next. I saw four men sprawled on the floor like a bomb hit,
in various form of unconsciousness, a few teeth and blood spatter. And Henry, with a grin like a
just walking out of the Playboy Mansion.
We left in a hurry.
Our eyes blinded by light as we left the shady recesses
from within. My head throbbed, and I knew vaguely what boots
had told me in the cell; something about slipping us a mickey at the cantina. But it was hard to
remember anything with my head throbbing.
The cement walkway gave way to cobbles and stucco white buildings, arches
leading into cactus gardens, dirt roads, wire and wood pens containing chickens and small goats.
A green Jeep Grand Cherokee passed us kicking up dust, a sidewalk vendor selling shaved ice with
sugary blue and orange colors in a cone kept a wary eye on us while we walked towards the
marina. The Jeep Grand Cherokee made a U-turn.
Before this tale goes further, I should introduce
myself. My name is Daniel Delgado, my father, from Spain, met my mother from the U.S., in a traveling circus that hit every port and town Down-Under. They
were part of a high-flying act; which might explain my inane
ambition for adventure. My friends, the Tongans, Henry, and Sam, are two brothers
I met at age thirteen when I followed my Dad to New Zealand to open a grocery store near the sea
port of Timaru.
my way to school, the second day, I was taken by surprise when a group of cavorting bullies decided
to trip me, rip open my lunch bag, contents flying, and began to use me as a punching bag while
encircling me like a pack of wolves. Instead of becoming frightened of getting my ass kicked, like
most kids my age, cowering and slinking away with my tail
between my legs, I got pissed. I don’t know why I was so angry, possibly because I had enough
of life’s knocks and bumps by then to last me a good long time, and possibly because these
assholes standing around me were just one more pothole in the road that was unnecessary. And
bumps in the road that are unnecessary really light my fuse. So I picked out a taller red-headed
kid with yellow eyes and freckles and swung hard, hitting him square on the mouth. His head snapped back,
and a string of blood flew, hitting a kid behind him. They pounced on me, and I was
on the ground in a heartbeat trying to protect myself the best I could. Kicks and punches rained
down on me so fast I panicked, thinking about how my dad would find me, beaten, bloodied and
bruised, limp, in a puddle of my own bodily fluid.
I kicked out,
knocking a boys’ feet out from under him. I reached out and grabbed another leg, swinging
up, using his leg as leverage to deliver a good kick to someone’s head.
got picked up, punches pummeled my head and body. I swung at everybody and everything. I felt
my body being moved, tumbling along with a wave of arms, legs, fists and feet, like rolling down
a hill inside a ball of body parts. Finally, I made it to my feet again and the entire group of
goons, including the red-haired kid holding his mouth, were sprinting down the dirt road, away from
me. My crimson rage was roaring, I wanted more, I
wanted to beat them all into the ground with my fists until
there was nothing but blood and dust. I watched them running, the cowards, my blood boiling. I yelled
after them, my hands in the air like King Kong, “AAAAAHH!
You bloody bastards!”
had subsequently found out, while I was down taking a beating, my Tongan neighbors had seen me being
surrounded, and when the shit hit the fan, to my great surprise and everlasting gratitude, they
jumped in to save me, probably from ending up in a hospital, fubar
as we use to say.
crazy, Australia,” I heard a chuckle behind me. I whirled,
and my eyes fell on my Tongan neighbors, I’d seen them out in their father’s fishing
boat, helping roll the nets, stow their equipment below deck, fastening lines. I looked at my
liberators, inquisitively. Dark-skinned and big for their age. As big as any grown man, but not
quite as big as the behemoths they would become. Their hair, wild, black and curly, with amusement
crossing their faces, their heads shaking in disbelief, “You crazy, brah.”
you,” I managed to say, spitting blood from my cut mouth,
the anger in me gave way to a curious, amiable feeling towards these two. Looking back now I can
even say I felt relief, and hope like a castaway adrift on a raft hearing a foghorn come through the mist.
and his brother Sam introduced themselves, and we became good friends. The next ten years were spent, mostly out of school,
boating around the Islands of New Zealand, Northern coast of Australia, and some of Malaysia. We all knew how to work a fishing
boat, every aspect of it, but when it came down to fixing the diesel engine, or rigging
something from scrap metal, a piece of plastic and a few car batteries to keep us going, I was the
guy who figured it out. So they began calling me Captain. The
‘Jack’ part came later when we were making more money on some fishing
runs than they’d ever seen in their lives. ‘That’s a lot ‘o’ Jack,
Captain,' I remember Sam saying when we got paid for bringing
back a stolen yacht to their owners in Malaysia.
And so I earned my moniker. We had guessed where the pirates might be headed,
and we just happened to be right, dumb luck, that one. They docked the yacht in plain sight, and we waited for the crew to head into town.
don’t expect them to call me Captain, but I don’t correct them either. It works well
this way. How does the saying go? Every man rises to the level of his own incompetence. I’m
no better than my Tongan friends, I just haven’t found my level of incompetence yet. And I
say that with the utmost humility, and reserved fascination at how easy certain disciplines seemed
to come to me. Albeit most of academia could have been my
oyster, it’s not my thing, never was, from the earliest onset I’ve taken a more exasperating
road, preferring the one less traveled rather than the traditional
you might say. I yearn for the seas, adventures in
every port, buried treasure if you will, you get the picture. And have had plenty of scandalous
liaisons; one with a French Ambassador’s’ daughter, another with twin sisters I met
in Astoria, Ore.
Excuse me for rambling, suffice it to say, my
Tongan brothers and I have found ourselves, an accumulation of all life’s’ crazy moments,
here, just south of the U.S. border with Mexico, scrambling for our lives to make it out of town
via the inlet waterways.
Anyway, when the Grand Cherokee made its U-turn,
I tapped Henry on the shoulder, and we bolted. My throat
was dry and full of dust as we ran through the back alleys, skirting trash cans, hopping chicken-wire fences, ducking under clotheslines.
A large canal appeared in front of us, we headed for it. Hopefully, it’d lead
us to the Marina. The Grand Cherokee, in a cloud of dust, slid around the corner after us. I knew
that couldn’t be good, shaded windows glinting in the sunlight, I glanced over my shoulder
only long enough to see a shiny black object appear out
the passenger window, before tumbling over a wooden crate. Henry picked me up on the go, and bullets
hit a wall behind us. Chunks of stucco flew.
We ran to the other
side of the road, trying to duck, making a small target, we flew into the water under a walking
bridge made of rock. We heard the brakes screech, backup, and wasted no time diving into the water, murky as it was, eyes closed, holding our breath downstream.
came up for air and tasted water full of brine, swiveled my head back to the stone bridge where
the Jeep was parked. Two men stood peering over the top searching the water for movement. I saw
them pointing and leveling their weapons towards us. “Down!” I shouted to Henry, but
he needed no more appeal from me, his head submerged before the word left my lips. I kept my mouth
shut and eyes closed, but could hear the periodic splice of water as some of the bullets tore through,
pulling a stream of bubbles with them.
I kicked Henry,
accidently, until I had to come up for air. I breached the surface and found ourselves a few feet
away from the docks mooring safely in the marina. I pulled myself up on the floating walkway and
gave Henry a hand. I spared a New York second to look up the canal,
and the Jeep was gone.
Henry and I ran sopping wet down the gangway towards the end of the
docks looking desperately for the seiner. It was no longer at the end of the pier. Movement from
the corner of my eyes told me there were others on the docks, working their boats, walking on the
beach. A small Ketch was taxiing out, another coming in, but no seiner. I hadn’t expected
to see it. We left Sam behind with the cargo, and he knew
better than to stay if we didn’t make it back by nine the night before. But we sure
could have used him now.
“She’s out of port, Capt’n!”
Henry shouted, not slowing our pace down the wood planks to the end of the pier. A disturbance not
going unnoticed by the fishermen stowing their gear and the onlookers on the beach. “Keep
moving, Henry!” I shouted, and just as I got the words out a bullet whizzed by; others splintered
the wood planks in front of us. Behind us, the Jeep had parked by the gates and the two gunmen were
on foot moving fast down cement steps to the docks. I heard screaming, and people
got real low in their boats.
The end of the pier,
fifty feet ahead seemed like the end, and panic struck me
like an electric shock just as the bow of our seiner, the Kelsey Nichole, came around the breakwater
offshore. That beautiful white, blue, and rust colored chum
bucket, powered by two diesel engines, looked like a slow-moving float sent from heaven.
and I never slowed, we hit the water on a dive,
swimming as far under the surface as possible. We surfaced just to gulp air and kept swimming for
what seemed like an eternity until I saw Sam, on a surface breach. He threw an orange buoy over
the starboard side attached to a line.
Sam slowed to three knots, and when Henry and I finally reached the line and took hold, he shifted gears
to full throttle. We looked back, holding tight to the buoy,
splashing through the sea of Cortez, picking up speed to nine knots. The two men watched us from
the end of the pier as they disappeared from our eyesight when rounding the
breakwater heading north and further out to sea.
We pulled in to the private cove of Mr. Carmine just north of San Diego, a few other multi-million
dollar homes lined the cliffs, but it was clear to his neighbors who owned the beach rights. He
was waiting for us at the end of his pier. The seiner was too big to pull in close without running
aground so we dropped anchor a few hundred feet out.
He and two of his men dressed more for a trip to the bank than a visit to my floating bucket of bolts,
came closer. They wore sunglasses and scowls that bespoke of breaking up their beloved monotonous
routine and brought their skiffs to the port side, we threw them a rope ladder to board.
had dinner ready, steaks; BBQ’d rare. Henry was working
the makeshift grill the good part the afternoon, starting three hours out, chucking
in briquettes and mesquite periodically to make it white hot. Mr. Carmine liked his steaks crispy
on the outside and so rare on the inside it practically moo’d when you cut into it. Sam was busy cooking spaghetti and throwing together
a salad in the galley, another favorite. I had a foldout table set
up on deck with a white table-cloth, some flowers
we picked up on the way set in the middle of four place settings. It was clear skies, a beautiful
afternoon and the water was calm.
We three; Sam, Henry
and myself waited for Mr. Carmine, (“call me Frank”), to sit before we took our own
seats and his men slowly began to pace the deck.
Mr. Carmine, Frank, fixed
me with translucent green eyes. His raven-dark
hair combed back with something slick that made it look greasy.
you receive the cargo, and bring it safely across the border?” He spoke with a smooth, educated voice, chewing his meat and tossing it back
with red wine he brought with him for the occasion.
it’s below deck, in the hold.”
“Any slowdowns? Were you stopped and searched by the coast guard?”
an overnight stay in jail. And it wouldn’t have mattered if we were stopped by the coast
guard, we have a false bottom in the hold full of squid floating in inky water,
they would never have guessed anything unusual.”
He smiled at me like the Cheshire cat, his white capped teeth looked abnormal. A smile I’m
sure that lingered as a last thought for many people.
“I’d like to see,
if you don’t mind,” he threw down his napkin.
had Henry dump everything from the hold with the false bottom just for this. I got up and
pulled open the trap door and stepped down the ladder, the smell of the fish
hold was overwhelming. Frank waited above peering down at me through the
opening. I reached down and opened the second trap door, the rusty metal creaked when I opened it.
he grinned, even wider, if it was possible, “you’re a goddamn genius, Jack, I could make a fortune off you if you weren’t so goddamn insolent ---who’s idea was the
“Mine,” I said, unimpressed with his
insulting compliment. “Henry welded it on the way down, and Sam kept ‘em fed and comfortable
through a secret panel leading in from the galley on the way back.”
few coughs echoed up from below, the light, which they’d barely seen for forty-eight hours,
only when Sam slid them food through the fake panel in the galley, must have seemed bright streaming in through the hatch above them.
A few shaded their eyes, palms up, as they looked at us.
“Six thousand ahead is what we ended up with,” my voice echoed
in the chamber as I spoke to him, leaning over. “Had a nasty scrape with one of
the coyote’s in town, who figured we were stealing his business---” I turned
down to look at peering eyes, “One more hour, y
yo te llevaré a la orilla” I held up a finger
to signal one more. We needed to conclude our business with Frank before we
could ferry them to shore.
“Yeah, yeah, that’s good, Jack,
you are one resourceful guy,” he smiled
and laughed as I climbed out and shut the lid to the hold. I put the hundred-eighty
grand on the table, in a gym bag, on the table next to him. “You’re smart, Jack---
a hard worker, but I’ll never see what my Louisa saw in you.”
felt the pang of her memory hit me hard and what came out was a reflex to his words, “maybe
it was a life away from you.” His cold eyes fixed on me, he squinted, and I had a
sense of what his antagonists might have seen before they disappeared forever.
It was sobering. And I waited for him to speak again.
“Sit down,” he
motioned to my chair. I sat, he followed. Henry and Sam hadn’t spoken a word,
they knew better. He took two bundles of bills out of the bag, twenty grand, and shoved
them towards me.
“Listen to me, Jack, and listen good. I’m going to say this once. I don’t
know why my granddaughter wanted me to have you do this as a task, because I asked her a while ago,
what would be a good mission to send your Daddy on next—,” he took another long sip
of his wine, “and lo and behold, she came up with this!” —he laughed, and threw up his hands— “A run south of
the border to pick up as many illegals as possible and bring em’ back to the states,”—shaking
his head in disbelief— “maybe for a better life, who knows, but it’s what they want, and it’s what she wanted,
for some bullshit humanitarian reasons, I don’t know, I don’t try to figure out kids
nowadays,” he leaned in. “So, despite her bleeding-heart liberal motivations,
I had to agree with her, it would be a good test of your resourcefulness— I agreed.” He picked up his oversized wine glass and looked me over. We began to sway from the wake of a passing boat, the gulls
cawed, hovering off the stern. “If you ever hope to see your daughter again, if you hope
to spend a little time with her next summer, maybe,
just maybe this Christmas if you’re lucky, lose the attitude, and do as you’re
told.” He took a gulp and put the glass down. Waves lapped against the side of
“Can I see her?” I said, swallowing
my pride and my intense hatred for this man. He pulled out his wallet and fished out a school-sized
picture and slid it to me. My heart sank and broke at the same time. I looked at her thirteen-year-old face,
halfway between a cherub and a beautiful woman, like her mother, Louisa, had been.
I felt a comfortable breeze.
want you to go North—,” he leaned in,
folding his hands, elbows on the table, satisfied from the meal and the control he exerted
over me. Seagulls hovered and dipped close while one of his men threw pieces of
bread overboard, watching them dive and fight over the scraps.
a mining operation up there, Gold,” he said, “a big one— a ‘bonanza’ as they say.” He took out a toothpick from a small metal case he produced from his breast pocket. “Just south
of Nome, it’s a big operation. I want you to disrupt it somehow —slow down their processing
a bit, just enough to make ‘em miss a payment or two so I can relieve them of their struggle
for financial freedom.”
Obviously, Frank was behind footing the finances for
this poor sap who was sitting on a Gold Mine, literally, and by missing a payment, he would be able to swoop in and assume ownership if not operations. And as
he kept his eyes on me, reading me, he sensed my thoughts.
I don’t want to operate the god damn thing, mind you, but if he misses just one payment, it’ll
give me a lot more leverage towards a bigger percentage of ownership.”
“I see,” I said, looking at Karysa’s, picture. “Then, can I see her? For a few
weeks, this Christmas?”
“Oh, well —of
course!” He threw up his hands as if it were a given. He didn’t even have to
think about it. But I knew his mind was subject to change on a whim. Hadn’t he sat quietly
smiling at the wedding he gave Louisa and me by the cliffs
of his mansion and hadn’t he smiled like a proud grandpa
when he heard Louisa was pregnant with Karysa? But how cold
and hard he turned in a blink when Louisa died of complications in childbirth.
How his heart turned black at the site of me.
My last summer being
a full-time dad was when she was six. She
had spent most of her time, up until then, hopping between my Aunt’s house in Astoria
and his mansion in Southern California, when he decided it was best if
she stayed there, permanently. This, he told me over an espresso
at a coffee shop he had arranged to meet me at. He had (“dui”) shots, holding up his fingers
in a peace sign to the waiter, a half grin crept over him that told me he was anything but
joking. Sure, I protested, I put up a fight, I got up from the table and swore
while his henchmen gently put their hands on my shoulders
and sat me back down. What could I do? Throw a punch at him? A fat lot
of good that would do, his men would have killed me. Fight
him in court? Another dead end, since he golfed with half the judges in the county and had half
the politicians in Southern Cal in his back pocket. I was, as we put it distinctly
in the fishing business, fucked.
Karysa was already starting her school year at his
place. A private school. She had tutors for school work and
a piano teacher that gave her lessons every Tuesday. She had a horse in a million-dollar stable
and a stable man to take care of it all. She had a driver-bodyguard. She had the best of
everything, things I could never give her. What could I give her? I’m a
fisherman. But my heart ached for her, and when he did let me see her, we spent the
most wonderful times together, fishing and exploring the coast all the
way up through the straits to Alaska.
At one point, he
decided that Frank Jr. his son, Louisa’s
younger brother, needed to get away for a while. The perfect hideaway? A deckhand on my boat.
I’m not sure why he had done that at the time, I thought it was to keep an eye on me. But
what reason would he have to do that? I had nothing of his, he had everything of mine. Maybe it
was to get a handle on my loyalties, my emotions and see
what kind of guy I was.
Frank Jr. confided
in me one rainy afternoon in the cabin. He said he really didn’t want to get
involved with his father’s business; something his father wished Frank Jr. to take over
for him someday. ‘But first I need a little adventure,’ he said, and then it’s
off to one of the Ivy League schools back East. Frank graduated some years back and was working
with his father; also back East. He wrote me an email, and
told me he wanted to get back on the water someday, do something simple, ‘give it all up,' he said. I wrote him back and told him he’s always
welcome on my boat, his adventure awaits, as long as he realizes I’m captain. I put a
smiley face after this last.
“Hey!” Frank snapped
his fingers and waved his hand in front of my face, “you still with me?”
—sir,” I looked up.
send you the address of the place when you’re on your way,” he got up and wiped
his mouth with a napkin, climbed down the rope ladder and as he and his men
were pulling away in the boats he yelled up, “and on your successful return, let’s
talk about a few weeks with Karysa, this summer.”
There it was, ‘let’s talk about a few weeks…,’ Nothing carved
in stone, a malleable nothing, an air sandwich, thank you very much, that
tastes great. Another goddamn errand by his puppet before even talking
about seeing my daughter.
He left me with the
picture. And I took it below and taped it to the cracked mirror in my quarters.
I ran my fingers over it, while Sam and Henry ferried the cargo to shore and gave them each a
small ‘welcome to the U.S.’ package consisting of a small velvet bag with a compass,
a map, a fake ID and a basic ‘Spanish to English’ translation book.
her long brunette hair with my fingertip. It resembled her mothers. I remembered Frank commenting
after she was born, “thank the good Lord she didn’t come out with some half-mutt Jew-fro, like you, huh Jack?” My hair had always
been curly, like my mothers. He laughed jabbing me with his elbow. No,
I suppose she was spared my feral mop. I’m not sure there was any resemblance to me at all, she was a carbon copy
of her mother Louisa. Beautiful cheeks with rosy apples, pouty lips, dainty nose,
without the slightest knowledge of how beautiful she really is. The kind of kid you
knew was going to be a knock-out as soon as puberty had left the station, and the kind of kid a
father would worry about, always. Never one to play with dolls; more of a tom-boy.
I looked at my daughter standing in the doorway
dripping from head to toe. She wore white shorts and a pink Roxy surf-shirt, her fashion at the
moment between her and friends.
“Karysa!” I snatched her up at once and held her, kissing
her wet hair, her body trembled in the folds of my arms. “What are you doing here? Did you
swim out here?”
“Yes, from the end
of the pier as soon as Papa’s men tied off their boats, I wanted to see you,
Daddy,” —she was crying,— “are you happy? Are you happy to see me? Please say
you are— I’ve thought about this for so long.”
“Yes! Oh my God!
Yes! But, you know what’ll happen if Frank, catches you here?! God, it’s good
to see you, baby—“ I drew back and took her in, already up to my mid-chest, she
had grown five inches since the last time I saw her.
“I couldn’t help
it, Daddy,” she buried her head in my chest, “I had to see you, I wasn’t going
to wait any longer. I want to go to Alaska with you, or wherever
I said nothing, just held her. I knew the consequences
of my actions, I knew the risks and took total responsibility for what happened next. How could
I not? I was her father, I could have said no, I could have reasoned with her and convinced her
I would be back again, but just like a hundred times before, it would have faltered and
sounded weak, and that’s the last thing I wanted to do right then. What kind of shit would she think me to be? She was the only thing in
my life worth dying for, and I wasn’t going to disappoint
her again by saying ‘not now, maybe later,' just because
her asshole of a grandfather had me dancing by strings. A string of crimes I had committed for him, a string of love and commitment to my
daughter, so I said nothing, just hugged her and dried her off.
We sat in the wheel-house and waited for Sam and Henry to return
while we got caught up and talked about her friends in school.
were just as excited to see their god-child as she was to see her uncles. My last thought
before pulling up anchor and leaving the cove
was, this is probably a big mistake, but it’s one I had to make, for her sake and
my own, no matter what the cost.
|Art by Lonni Lees © 2017
Here They Come
Michael S Stewart
I smiled at Daddy and watched myself change completely, hypnotized as my
hair dropped to the floor in clumps. Daddy read a magazine and peeked over it in the
mirror. My hairdresser, Kim, I think her name was, continued to gab about her boyfriend,
telling me embarrassing details about a scandalous friendship she’d
unearthed, by accident no less, behind her back and under
her very nose, if you can imagine that.
couldn’t imagine it, and it held no interest for me. I felt she had finished
with me long ago but continued to primp and comb subconsciously making a snip here,
a snip there while she spoke and danced around me like a performer in the Ice Capades.
much as it bored me to listen to her personal life it was a nice break. Mind-numbing
but relaxing, almost.
One hour later the reflection of a waifish girl in bib overalls stared back
at me. It made me think of Allysa Milano
with a short spiky do. I liked it, I smiled in the mirror and took a quick selfie
with the new phone Daddy bought me, and posted it so my friends could see. A thick perfume of hair
product hung about the shop, even with the front door open the breezy morning offered little relief.
I took tiny breaths through my mouth so I wouldn’t get sick and the occasional gush of wind blowing through offered little comfort.
red numbers on the wall-clock blinked five ‘til noon and my butt was numb. A man across the
street paced left, then right. He had sunglasses on, like
an FBI agent even though the weather was a Seattle-gray outside. Kim’s voice faded as
my attention drifted to the man outside, still pacing. His hand to one ear,
lips moving, he looked at the front of the shop. I felt like his eyes studied me even though I
couldn’t see them through his shades.
at Daddy, my eyes pleading for his attention.
He looked up, smiled and shrugged.
he thought I was referring to the hairdresser. After all, Papa, (“Frank Sr.”), taught
me, we pay for all things with time or money and still other
transactions, like this one, ‘requires us to sit and
listen to someone’s stories, ad nauseum.’
glanced up again. And my eyes darted to the front of the shop
where the man across the street had his hand to his ear facing our direction. His lips
still moving, talking to an invisible man.
Daddy’s eyes widened, he stood and threw down his magazine.
Let’s go, he motioned
with his head and dug in his wallet, fishing out money. I popped out of the chair, took off my apron,
and brushed off as we moved. Glad to be out of that
chair. Kim, stood still, frozen by the sudden movement.
“Gotta go, Kim!”
Daddy smiled and threw down a wad of cash, “You did a great job, I love it! Keep the change.”
he said and waved. We flew out the door. Someone yelled after
us, “Thank you! Don’t let Kim’s love life chase you away—oh, wow! Thank
you! Come again!”
From the corner of my eye, I saw Mr. FBI wannabe staying parallel
with us, moving down the street as we headed towards our boat. He had short dark hair with gray highlights, curly, middle-aged. Dark blue
windbreaker, tan khakis, and dark shoes. His
stride was broken like his body wasn’t made for moving fast and he began to limp and fall
crossed the road and stayed behind us, fading back a block, then keeping pace.
Daddy called Sam and put him on speaker. He held
the phone close as we walked, speaking loud so he could hear us over the street noise. My legs pumped
hard trying to keep up.
come here, bra, dey swarm da boat when I
go fo smokes, dey barely miss me!” Sam said
over the phone.
beer can, left by a homeless man, clattered down the pavement after us. And I
caught a glimpse of a hunched over body in a doorway.
I could smell the dank city air and small specks began to hit my face as we moved.
Daddy paused a moment weighing his options, “change of plans, we’re headed to
the Shilshole marina— Shipwreck and Gunner have a boat there, remember? We’re
about six blocks away, let Henry know where
we’re headed. And tell him to hurry.”
“Sure thing, Cap'n.”
He hung up.
“Where we going, Daddy?” my shaky voice betrayed me and things were moving sideways. And
even though I had complete confidence in Daddy and my uncles,
my heart raced with chaos and uncertainty. We walked, too fast, his hand
holding mine. He said:
remember him don’t you, hon? He’s got the big boat, use to be a Navy oil
barge.” He gave me time for this information to soak in, I nodded, “and he owes
ran a few steps. Walked two. Ran a few more.
“I’m tired of
running, Daddy,” I whined and saw hurt in his eyes,
instantly mad at myself for saying it.
“I know—I know you are,” He said, slowing down, “I’m
tired too.” He studied me, the fine mist on his face made his sharp features shine. “Frank—your
grandfather, found us. We’ve got to have a better plan than just running away.
And we’ve got to get out of here, first, so I can think. We have to have better
heard the frustration in his voice, and
below that, sadness. Our options, if we had any, weighed heavy on him.
last six months had been like that. It all started when Daddy docked his boat off Papa’s
private dock in Orange County, California. He had brought back a hull full of illegals for a sizeable
amount of money. Papa didn’t need the money, God knows, but he liked to keep Daddy busy and
away from me. But it almost got Daddy and my uncles killed.
My uncles, I should
explain, Sam and Henry, the Tongans, were childhood friends with Daddy and practically grew up together
on a boat making money however they could around the waters of New Zealand.
ten years later, Daddy met Mama when he had been working at one of Papa’s
industrial ports, running guns south of the border. He had been Papa’s favorite
captain before he met her. The way Daddy explains it, she had been sunning herself lying on a stretch
of lawn in front of the office building when she smiled at Daddy and that was all it took. The rest
is history, as they say. Daddy and Mama were head over heels, and Papa was beside himself. And when
mama died to give birth to me, Papa was
devastated and went from an uncomfortable tolerance of Daddy at the dinner table to a
full-on hatred at the sight of him. After nine years something inside him snapped and he had his
lawyers draft papers of legal guardianship of me, claiming Daddy was incompetent and never around.
happened fast and I never knew any details. Papa always told me Daddy was busy working for him and
I had no reason not to believe him, after all, it was the truth and for the first six months of
living at the mansion in Orange County, I was happy. After a year I was lonely. And after two I
was heart broke and only thought about being with Daddy and my uncles again, back on the boat. We
only spoke on the phone during that time, me and Daddy. The next couple of years I
saw him at Christmas for a tearful holiday and heart-wrenching
departure. After two more years, I understood, fully, what was going on and my
loneliness and heartache mingled with anger.
It wasn’t until he came back from Mexico six months ago
that I broke away and decided it was now or never.
On a whim, I swam out to the
boat when it was docked off Papa’s pier with nothing but the shirt and shorts I was wearing.
I pleaded tearfully with Daddy to take me, take me anywhere, and against his better judgment, we
left, together. Daddy, my uncles, and me.
We had been skulking up the coast
for months, staying hidden in bays and inlets by coastal Islands. San Clemente, San Miguel, then
up to the Farallons and the Sound near Seattle. We stayed hidden from the Coast Guard, who had surely been alerted. Papa could manipulate them with nothing more than a phone call, by claiming
a stolen boat or tips he came by on the smuggling
circuit, etc. He dealt with gray areas and knew people on both sides of
he donated to Coast Guard causes generously. One Christmas, at the mansion, we
had a party with a lot of people, probably hundreds, and he gave the sitting Admiral and
his small circle of commanders nautical watches made by Rolex. And before the night was over a good
portion of people at the party received a gift from under our tree. A Club membership, expensive
liquor, a box of Cubans, etc.
Anyway, point is, Papa had enough sway to set the government
on our trail. We ended up here, in Ballard, North of
Seattle. Daddy had brought me for a haircut, even though I knew he didn’t want
it cut. He liked my hair long. But, I felt, I was finally working on the boat like
I dreamed and, as part of the crew, I didn’t want to bother with it anymore. After all, at
thirteen, it was time to grow up.
We hurried with Mr. FBI close behind. Daddy mumbled under his breath, saying
something about Frank, calling off the
dogs, then he mumbled, ‘ecce autem venerunt’. He spoke in Latin sometimes, but I didn’t
know what it meant. I was frustrated. And on the verge of tears. It broke
my heart to see him worry about me. I’d do anything
for him. But I wanted him to stay alive too. Right
now I couldn’t hate Papa more, I wanted him to leave us alone.
Let me be with him.
Daddy glanced at me, saw my face and slowed his pace a bit.
Sails and boats appeared through trees lining the
street. A man in front of us, suit and
sunglasses, rounded the corner standing between us and freedom. He faced us. And stood
expressionless half a block away, beneath a tree growing out of the sidewalk. Nothing abnormal stood
out, but his body language said everything. And panic shot through me.
I knew what was coming
and without breaking stride, I let go of Daddy’s hand.
I let my steps fade, my legs wobbled, mind numb and on autopilot. Daddy focused on the man like
a wolf on prey.
expressionless man slid his hand inside
his windbreaker. “Mr. Delgado—,” he
began. Daddy reacted with a speed that was hard to match. He reached into
his pocket and faked throwing sand at his face. The man ducked. And Daddy threw an uppercut like Sugar Ray Leonard, smashing his glasses.
His head snapped back, sunglasses flying and Daddy kicked him hard in the stomach with his heel.
He flew and slammed against the side of a brick building, slumping, his hand to
his middle. He groaned. Daddy was on him in a
second, hands inside his windbreaker and pulled his gun
out. Then a man ran up behind us. Swinging, hitting Daddy in the back of the head. He lost his feet,
and the man jumped on him. And I screamed.
I looked for something to throw,
a rock, anything.
was struggling with Daddy on the ground, trying to lock his hands behind him
with a zip-tie. I wanted to hit him with my fist but I couldn’t get a good angle and
danced around them in a panic.
“Daddy!” I screamed, “Let him go, you shit!” I was going to jump on him and hit him when Sam launched into the frame
like a college linebacker. His entire body off the ground like a missile when he hit
the man. They hit the ground hard and rolled.
“Yes!—get him!” I yelled, “Get—get
his hands, Sam!”
Sam stood and used the man’s own zip-ties
he found in his windbreaker to tie his hands behind him. Then he jumped
on the one Daddy hit. And zip-tied him, too.
Daddy groaned and blew dirt
off his face by contorting his lips. While Sam, a dark hulk with his knee squarely on the back of
the FBI wannabe, stood, making the man beneath him gasp
for air when the pressure lifted.
Sam grabbed Daddy’s knife and cut his tie and helped him
stand. He braced against the building and felt his head wound.
“Who are you?”
Daddy asked, looking at the men on the ground. People started to gather.
heart raced and breath hitched while I tried to make sense of it. Papa had his men track us. He
had to! God, I hated him. Did he want Daddy and my uncles dead? Or just roughed up and detained
for a while? And just as I asked myself these questions, one of them spoke:
Shock bolted through me. They really were
the Feds! I digested this information and wondered what he was
going to say next. The day turned dark and I smelled the ozone in the air and the rain
came, soaking us all. It had no effect in dispersing the crowd, which angered
me. I looked at the Marshals and then at Daddy.
But that’s all he said, at first. Was he buying time? Waiting
for backup? I started to breathe hard and Daddy came near
and put his arm around me.
“What do you want?” he finally asked the men.
to hear something about a stolen boat, or drug running. Something Papa would use to get Daddy out
of the picture for a good long time. My body was shaking. My heart beat uncontrollably. They were
after us now, for real. Papa would have the Feds put
Daddy away for years, if not a lifetime. And I’d never see him again!
breath hitched, and I tried to quiet myself.
looking for—,” he groaned and took in a breath, “Daniel
Delgado— also goes by Captain Jack,” he struggled while Sam moved
him like a sack of potatoes, next to his buddy.
Daniel,” Daddy said. “What do you want?” his voice firm and short.
“I want to
question you,” the Marshall said, “we need to talk.”
said nothing, just looked at us with one eye like a fish face-down on the
nothing. Daddy sighed:
“Well, no time to water-board you or play loud music through
megaphones until you talk,” he looked at the people gathering, “I suppose I could have
Sam break one finger at a time, but you’re on the right
side of the law, and I still respect that…,” He studied the man on the ground, “despite
my checkered past. Had you been working directly for Frank, this would be a
different story, entirely.”
“I appreciate that—” the man said, face pressed hard against
the cement, his one eye examined us. “As it is,” he spat and blew dirt off his lips,
“I’m in no position to have a civil conversation, even though I’m grateful as
hell you kept your friend from breaking my fingers.”
Daddy waited, “That’s
Daddy told me later, the fact he was a Federal agent and wouldn’t say
why he was looking for us, set off all kinds of warning bells. I understood that to be
on, eh, Capt’n?” Sam said, looking around at the gathering crowd. Sirens in the
background coming our way.
“Let’s go,” Daddy grabbed my hand and we ran
the next four blocks. My mind went blank. It was hard to think. I wondered what the agents wanted
as the rain whipped my face. Daddy pulled me faster towards the marina and Shipwreck’s boat.
A homeless man with a shopping cart full of bags came around a corner at the
wrong time. The cart exploded and his life’s belongings flew all over the street. Daddy
shouted sorry and we kept running.
made the marina, entered a chain link gate, flew down steps leading to
a floating wood plank. I remembered the boat the minute I saw it. It was big. Shipwreck sat in the
wheelhouse, all white hair and beard, smoking a cigarette and looking at the dials on the dash.
His sizeable arm hung out a sliding glass
window like he was pulled up at a drive-thru, ordering coffee. Gunner
must have been below.
When we got close Daddy whistled with his tongue rolled against
his teeth, a high-pitched sound.
“Shipwreck!” he waved and we clomped our way towards
him on the floating dock.
climbed aboard, and he came down the staircase to greet us, extending his hand.
Daddy took it and squeezed, shaking hard.
“Thank you, for this, my friend,” Daddy smiled with
he said, “I’m in debt to you and that Tongan crew. I’d be stone-dead and cold
in Davey Jones’ locker, if you hadn’t showed
up that day, in the middle of the Bering Sea, with diesel fuel and tools!” I
could see him smile through his beard.
“You’ve paid your debt in full today. We’re
goi—,” Daddy began, but Sam still running on adrenaline, interrupted:
bra?” Sam said, reaching for his hand.
Where’s that brick-headed brother of yours?”
Shipwreck shook, vigorously, whiskers contorting in huge curves on his face.
tryin’ to fin da kine, hana hou, you know? He like to get lolo working
on da boat…” Sam smiled as big as he was, putting his pinched fingers to his
lips and sucking in.
Just as Henry was mentioned, graceful as a moose
balancing on a beach ball, he burst on the scene clomping down the gangway from
which we came, grocery bags swinging in hand.
Gunner emerged from below, checking the engines.
time fo da kine, brah!” Henry barked, spilling over the bulkhead, “We go, now!
Hele on! Dey right behind, brah!”
Things happened fast.
Gunner—,” I waved, my head swiveled to Henry throwing grocery
bags and hoisting his enormous mass over the side. Groceries spilled, oranges rolled across the
deck. Everyone moved with one purpose, to launch the
“Hey, Karysa!” Gunner barked, slapping my palm,
still in the air, as he ran by. “Hey Sam, Jack, Henry!” he said in
“Shipwreck, let’s go!” He pulled Shipwreck’s
sleeve, jerking him into motion and flew down the ladder.
stocked!” Shipwreck shouted as he moved, “Bring her back
in one piece, Jack! We’ll hold ‘em
up!” And they dropped to the dock facing suits with sunglasses thudding towards them.
clear, Capt’n?!” Sam shouted, bounding up the stairs to the wheelhouse in two
and Daddy scrambled to the stern, bow,
and starboard clearing the lines. And Henry shouted:
And Sam cranked the diesel engine alive and we pulled away from the dock, slowly.
Way too slowly.
heard a noise like a car backfire and turned fast enough to see Gunner falling,
holding his knee, blood between his fingers. He rolled and clutched in agony. Three agents
restrained Shipwreck like handlers in a zoo trying to subdue a wild beast with white fur. He struggled
while others darted around the gaggle, and hopped over Gunner.
Ten feet of water
between us and the dock. Two knots, then five, too slow— excruciatingly slow. Sam was being
conscious not to draw attention on the way out of the inlet, but his sense of calm turned my insides
into a milkshake.
The agents sprinted. Twenty feet of water between us and the
dock now. We were pulling away, far too slowly.
first two hung in the air, and hit the side like a bag of hammers, clinging desperately. A third
missed completely, hitting the water with a splash. The rest
drew up short and watched us get further away.
Henry walked to the side and
pounded on their hands until they let loose and plopped in the water, bobbing like corks in our
wake, fading like the rest.
My emotions were running high.
“What do you
want with my father?” I screamed and shook, I didn’t know if the agents heard me over
the engines. And I clenched Daddy’s arm, glancing up at him. I looked back at the agents on
shore, and the one Daddy hit. His eye, puffy and bleeding, the front of his shirt, dirty from lying
face down. His countenance, angry. One hand on a gun, the other on a phone.
need to talk with Daniel Delgado!” he shouted.
“What for?” Daddy called.
seconds passed in silence. And he shouted:
“In relation to the murder of August
Ingersoll!” He held his phone to his ear. “If you turn the boat around, I
won’t hold your crew on obstruction!”
your name, agent?” Daddy shouted, “I’ll call you!”
Silence again. I’m not sure the agent heard. He was pointing towards our boat, talking on
his cell. Then he shouted:
Allen—Thomas Allen! U.S. Marshal’s Office, Seattle!” He held up his gun hand to
funnel his voice, barrel up.
A Coast Guard cutter gliding around the bend in the inlet passed
us on the port side. I saw agent Allen pointing our way and talking on his phone while we
rounded the bend and they disappeared. Sam increased our speed without drawing
attention, and before I knew it we were out of port, up the coast. We ducked around
the other side of a freighter heading north, saw the cutter come out of
Salmon Bay and turn south. And we sped up.
“Seven months ago,” Agent Allen’s voice, full of static,
came over the phone. “That’s when we found the body, it was frozen by the roadside leading
out to the mine. Somebody wanted us to find him.
“But he’d been
alive the previous week. A lot of eyewitnesses saw him in
town, he drank at a bar, signed the bar tab and he was even caught on camera at a supermarket and
bank the same day.”
boat lolled to the side when the waves of
a passing boat finally hit us. We were moored offshore
of Vancouver Island, Canada. A private inlet, except for a yacht two hundred yards away. We sat
in the galley. All of us.
leg was on automatic, bouncing up and down like a piston. Elbows on the table,
head in my hands, I looked at Daddy and saw confidence come over him, which did a lot to
alleviate my nervousness.
eyes lit up when agent Allen gave us this last bit of information. And he shot
months ago, I was in La Paz, Mexico fighting for my life in a shit-hole jail
off the Baja.” There was silence on the phone.
“Can you prove it?” Agent Allen finally said.
I looked at my uncles, Sam and Henry, passing a bowl between them, taking
turns lighting it. Their eyes were red, but they listened close to what was being
said. Sam caught my eyes and nodded as if to say, ‘it’ll be
alright.’ Then he stood
like someone stuck him in the butt with a needle and darted out of the galley and through
the hatch towards the living quarters.
“Well, it shouldn’t be hard. I’m sure the jailer will remember
me. He was taking bets on my survival, Henry was in the next cell—yeah, I’m sure he’ll
“We’ll make some phone calls,” Agent
Allen said, “In the meantime can I get you to come in?”
“Sure, in a
bit,” Daddy looked at me and winked, “I want to take my daughter up through the channels
and do some camping on the way.” My heart leaped, I love
to camp offshore with Daddy and my uncles. It’s like we’re the
only ones in the universe and I cherished having them all to myself.
burst into the Galley waving a small piece of paper, leaned across the table and handed it to Daddy.
“Wait a second, Agent,” Daddy looked up and smiled at
Sam. “How about a receipt for diesel from the La Paz marina?”
Long pause on the phone, I
could tell the agent was thinking about it on the other end.
certainly help—does it have your signature?”
“Well, that will certainly help, yes, fax it to me and
bring the original when we meet. Where can I catch up with you, Captain?” That was the first
time he called Daddy ‘Captain.’
“Can you meet me in Nome,
in say—a week?”
“I’ll meet you there, you have my numbers. And I’ll follow
up with the jailer. ”
next week was one of the best times of my life, I’ll never forget it. Just as
I’ll never forget the weeks that followed which were the worst and changed my
life forever. But for the time being, I had my Daddy, and I had my uncles and it was us and only
us in the universe for a while. And I was happy.
|Art by Steve Cartwright © 2017
Michael S. Stewart
My uncle Harry was bigger than life. I
didn’t know who would show to pick me up but it was him. I expected him to roll
up in a Lamborghini this time or a chauffeured stretch limo or even a fire truck
with sirens blaring. It wouldn’t have been out of character for him. But as it was,
this foggy evening, out of the mist, bright headlights flashed at me on the wet curb. He
beeped his horn twice and swung in front of me, popping the trunk. He drove a classic ’73
Corvette with a paint job that changed colors like a chameleon under the florescent lights.
“Hey, Michael,” he
said, rising out of the driver’s door, thick black hair blowing in the wind as he
rushed around the car. Overcoat flapping.
Cars drove by and others pulled
alongside coming to a squealing halt to pick up passengers. People bustled by pulling
baggage behind and porters helped them. A plane flew overhead and the tumult
was lost in the roar.
I couldn’t make out what Harry was
saying when he glided up and wrapped me in a bear hug, squeezing me with a
strength I thought left him long ago. Such was Harry, he had an effortless way of slicing
through traffic, and crowds, red tape and difficult situations, like a hot knife through
“…the flight?” he was saying.
“The flight? Yeah, good
flight, all good, Harry,” I shouted over the cacophony of cars, planes, whistles
and loud conversation.
“How are you feeling?”
felt better,” he smiled and patted his chest, “Let’s get out of here,”
had to agree, he looked good. And I wanted to get away from the noise.
But right in the middle of the hubbub of the airport,
he looked at me, his eyes resonating a peace from within. It drew me in and for a second
I sank into a lull. The clamor of the world disappeared
and a stillness came over me like staring into a silent universe, one inside another, and
another, and on and on forever.
I snapped out of my reverie,
and Harry grinned. Something about him. More confidence? More vigor? I couldn’t decide.
I threw my one bag in the trunk. Harry said, “We’ve got to make a detour on
the way to the house,” his overcoat swished in the wind before he disappeared on
the driver’s side.
I hopped in. Nice interior. Warm, plush,
and very quiet. So quiet I couldn’t hear the outside discord of the world. I
turned to Harry who looked straight ahead, collar up, long hair obscuring his
“Where to?” I said.
“A detour,” he said
and sliced through traffic like a thought on the wind.
Lights whirled as he sped up. Harry, always a reckless
driver, seemed hell bent for time. His
arms straight out, gripping the wheel tight. We swerved around cars faster and faster
until I stopped looking out the side windows. It was making me dizzy. I stared straight
ahead and watched the lights pass us on the sides until my insides went giddy and I shut
A memory rose in me of a time
before high school when I spent a week with him, my aunt and cousin, racing his
Mercedes sedan down the highway, playing cat and mouse with some unknown driver,
ending with Harry reaching into the glove box and brandishing his .44 Magnum
revolver, barrel waving in the air at the motorist. The man’s eyes widened, and
he moved on shortly after with his middle finger in the air. And Harry laughed.
“Whoa, Harry,” I
said, almost sick to my stomach, “what’s going on? Can you slow down?”
as I asked the question I felt my insides lift like someone pumped me full of helium. Time
slowed and a perfect sense of calm and peace took over. I didn’t care if we exploded
or careened off a cliff. I was carried, weightless through a vacuum in perfect
synergy with circumstance.
I began to feel the sensation of moving backward, floating. In apprehension, I cracked
my lids and stark realization hit when I
was still seated, but the lights outside were moving backward like going warp speed
in a tunnel. It was all around us, long streaming lights
of purple, blues and gold, and colors I’ve never seen before. My mind, having trouble
working this out, closed my eyes on reflex. And after a period when I felt nothing at all,
I ventured to open them again.
I found myself seated on a wooden
bench, surrounded by boys around nine years old, dressed in baseball uniforms. I had
the sensation of participating and observing at the same time. Sitting on the
bench among friends, loud baseball chatter, spitting sunflower seeds, throwing
gloves against the dugout, sunshine in our eyes. The smell of cut grass and
leather mitts was strong.
I took a deep
breath, unconcerned with how and when I got here, but rather, illogically, accepting and
sinking into the role, acquiesced.
Simultaneously, I saw my nine-year-old
self, inside the dugout, turning attention from the
action on the ballfield to a loud, raucous Harley Davidson motorcycle pulling up to the
ballfield in the dirt parking lot. Bike revving and dust flying, everybody in the stands
turned to look.
The fact it was loud was disturbing to me. It broke
the sanctity of the game which had been a church to me. It was my aunt Mel and her new
boyfriend, Harry. They were both eighteen. My aunt, in hip-hugger hot pants, young, with
long brown hair and hot as hell, had every man’s attention as she lifted off the
back of the bike and shook off the kinks of the road. Including my coach, who said:
“Damn, who is that?”
He couldn’t take his eyes off her.
“My aunt, and her boyfriend,”
my brother, Pat, said. Embarrassment and jealousy shot through me. After all, my hot-looking aunt, just a few years
older than I, was with this young man with long hair. An interloper, an intruder, to
the family and to the sanctity and purity of baseball.
“Very cool,” an older teammate said.
I scoffed, but a kernel of pride
began to swell pushing aside any sense of embarrassment I might have felt. And they
were very cool, and almost ten years
older than me, despite their unreserved tone they set on their entrance.
They sauntered up to the back of the dugout made of
“Hey, Mel,” I said, and more reluctant,
“Hey, Mikey, Pat,” my aunt chimed, “you
“Yep, O’course,” my brother said
proudly. It was the year we were champions.
“Your Dad couldn’t make it,” Harry said,
discreetly, almost in a whisper as he got
close to the chain-link.
“Okay,” my brother said, looking down.
But he recovered quickly, infatuated with Harry’s long hair and bike.
I nodded to my aunt and her boyfriend and I knew my
father wasn’t at the game because he had too much to drink and was probably home
nursing his second or third highball. And even though I was sad and hurt he couldn’t
make it, I was grateful they did. More than I could say. It meant a lot to me that someone
from my family was there to watch. It was the game that made us regional champions. And
I knew if it hadn’t been for Harry, my aunt’s new boyfriend, no one would have
shown. He seemed to take a liking to me and my
brothers, for whatever reason and liked to show
up unexpected at our sporting events. And the thought made me soften towards him a
I became the observer and melted into my
senses. I became filled with the warm breeze, the smell of cut grass, the splash of orange
poppies in the field next to us and a sky so beautiful, John Constable couldn’t do
it justice if he tried to paint it.
I had a sense of fading backward and it all vanished in a blink as I became
suspended like floating in the air.
Before my eyes opened I was being pushed, then hit in
the breadbasket, I couldn’t breathe. I sucked air and pushed back, tried to swing
against whomever and caught nothing but air. I gasped
and opened my eyes to my boyhood home in Santa Cruz. Standing in the family
room, TV blaring, my brother before me. He grabbed my collar with one hand and drew back
for a haymaker. I rushed him, hitting him in the wind and pushing against his bodyweight
with all I had, stumbling into the wall, both of us in tight grips on each other. Pushing,
shoving, trying to get a punch in. He outweighed me by a hundred pounds and I was about
to get my ass kicked.
“Hey, Hey! What’s going on?!” I heard a
Harry, now my uncle, squeezed his body
between me and my brother, separating us. No small task. On pushing us apart my
brother reached me with a roundhouse and hit me a good one, sending sparks of light
shooting through my brain and making my eyes water.
“Come on! That was a cheap shot!” he barked
at my brother. He pushed my brother against the wall and stared him down until he
wilted. He turned and asked if I was alright. And swallowing the lump in my
throat I mouthed the words, ‘Yeah, I’m okay.’ Then I felt his hand on my
shoulder as he walked me outside.
My heart pumped and I brushed away a
“You’ll be okay, bud,” he said, patting
my back in a paternal way, “life is going to deal you some cheap shots, believe
me. All of us have to take them, including me.” And I looked at him, grateful
as hell he’d been there. And not just for breaking up the fight but for the small
pep talk I was receiving.
“And someday you’ll be older and bigger
and able to kick your brother’s ass!” he said, shaking his fist in my face grinning.
And I laughed. He broke the seriousness and lent it the brevity I needed to
lighten my heart.
“Thanks, Harry,” I mumbled as we walked,
his hand on my shoulder. We talked until I had calmed down.
Again, the observer, I watched
my thirteen-year-old self and Harry talk, but I
had no sense of point of view, I was looking at them from all angles. Then my
consciousness was sucked into the vortex, falling backward,
tumbling. There was no up or down. No sense of how long
I’d been there. Then breath came and my eyes opened.
The chartered boat rocked horribly,
stern to bow. I felt sick and green in the gills. I wanted it to end, to be on
dry land. Harry walked up to me, put his arm around my shoulders, “You look pretty
sick, devil-dog, do you want to go back?”
“No---,” I said.
On leave from the Marine Corps, I decided to give
my favorite aunt and uncle a call and spend the weekend.
Uncle Harry took me fishing in the Bay, and lunch on the pier. We were on a charter boat,
five hours already, and I wasn’t looking forward to lunch anymore. The other clients
on the boat looked hardcore, fishing hats, working man’s pants with plaid parkas,
weathered faces and calloused hands that had been dealing with fishing hooks for a lifetime.
I wanted to say ‘yes’, I wanted to say, ‘turn the boat
around, please!’ but I was too
embarrassed and ashamed. My twenty-one-year-old
pride wouldn’t allow me. And Harry looked at me with eyes that not only asked
the question but eyes that cared what the answer was. I tried to smile and lost
my breakfast over the railing to the disgust and amusement of the men on the
boat. I sat down to breathe, my arms crossed on the rail, my head down. Harry left
me to speak to the captain, and when he returned he sat down, patted my shoulder and said;
“We’re going back,
“Harry,” (gasp), “you didn’t have to---“
“It’s okay, buddy,
we're going back.”
“I don’t want to ruin everyone else’s
fishing trip, Harry.”
“They’re being compensated for their
loss, believe me” he patted my shoulder, “enough to come out another day and
catch as many fish as they like.”
“Ah, ah, ah---” (holding
up his hand), “I don’t want to hear it, Michael, you’re sick and miserable,
buddy, we’re going back.”
“Okay,” I relented.
“Thank you, Harry---,” I spewed over
the side one more time and the ocean became a whirling kaleidoscope of glass and color
before I got sucked back into the cyclone, suspended, until I found myself floating
along the road in Harry’s corvette, once again.
I looked to my right, Harry’s
face, still hidden in shadow looked straight ahead.
“Harry---,” I could
barely breathe, “What the hell was that!?”
Shaking, my heart pounding.
he said, simply, and I heard the smirk on his lips.
The car roared and slowed to
a stop in front of his house, and I sat motionless. Out of sorts and
out of breath. Drained of emotion. I felt the soft leather seat against
my legs and back. I turned to Harry, and he looked at me with eyes glowing from within,
no longer dark brown but an amber hue. My mind no longer questioned it. It couldn’t.
It didn’t know where to begin. My beating heart slowed when his gaze locked with
Uncertainty gave way to a comfort that
resonated with me. Permeating every fiber
of my being.
“I have to go,” he said, sticking out
his hand and I stared at it.
“I have no doubt,” I said, ignoring his
hand and leaning across the seat I hugged him, fully. Then he sat back and I
got out. My body, still trembling, felt like a fluffy bag of helium about to
lift off the ground. A giddiness rose in me. He popped the trunk and I grabbed my bag.
I leaned down into the car.
“What do you want me to tell Mel?” I
asked, my clarity sharpened and I heard his response
not so much with words vibrating on air but as thoughts I could feel:
“Tell her--- I’ll
be back.” And I felt what he said, resonate through me, sinking in, worming its way
to my core. It left me without a cross feeling in the world and forced me to smile.
“Okay,” I said, simply.
He smiled back,
sinking into the shadows. The window rolled up. The engine roared and he disappeared into
traffic, shimmering purple, green, then blue and was gone before I could blink. Or did
I blink and then he was gone? I can’t remember. I stood on the curb looking down
the road after him. But I do remember Mel
and a handful of relatives pouring out of the house when they heard the
corvette engine so close.
Mel ran up and hugged me. She’d been
“So glad you made it, Mikey.”
“I came as quick as I could.”
she sighed, struggling for words, she looked tired.
“Harry picked me up--- said he’d be right
Her eyes widened, concern and disbelief in them.
“He’s gone you know?
You just missed him,” she choked, “just this evening. It was a beautiful sunset
outside the hospital window and I sat and held his hand as he passed,” she broke
My cousin Sam ran out and hugged me, her eyes brimming
you! Where were you? Why didn’t you call when you got here?” She stammered,
excitement masking the sadness in her eyes. “I thought your plane was landing a
few hours ago?”
“It did--- I,” searching to find words
in my bewilderment, I remember what Harry had said, “I went on a detour,” was
all I could say. “Let’s go inside, I’ll tell you about it if I can, but some of
it’s beyond me, so I don’t know if it’ll make sense.”
Thank you, Michael, I needed to see myself through your eyes. I heard Uncle Harry’s words
as plain as day, and looking at the others I knew I was the only one that heard them. After
a pause, I said:
“Come on, Mel. This story’s for you,
We walked inside and joined the wake
that had already begun for Uncle Harry.
Michael Stewart works as a Designer/Architect for a major high-tech
company in Puget Sound, North of Seattle.
spent 4 years in the Marine Corps and held various jobs including
working in an Animal Clinic, swamping cherries in the orchards, driving a cab, a personal
trainer, digging ditches with a hand shovel, and bus boy.
He is married to a wonderful woman who supports his writing. A nurse with years
in the spotlight as a circus performer and fitness professional. His step-son
has an adventurous spirit, like his mother and is a mechanical engineer on a fishing boat
in the Bering Sea. He has two talented and beautiful daughters currently attending UW.
He and his wife enjoy an outdoor
lifestyle, and their peace and quiet.