Saturday, July 22, 2017

The Wreck of the Medusa

"The heavens were overspread with black clouds; the winds unchained, raised the sea mountains high; terror again rode triumphant on the billow; dashed from side to side, now suspended betwixt life and death," M. Savigne


This is an excerpt from

THE BOOK OF-SHIPWRECKS, AND NARRATIVES OF MARITIME DISCOVERIES

Published by Charles Gaylord, Boston, 1840


The Wreck of the Medusa


In July, 1816, the French frigate the Medusa was wrecked on the coast of Africa, when part of the ship's company took to their boats; and the rest, to the number of one hundred and fifty, had recourse to a raft hastily lashed together.  In two hours after pushing off for the shore, the people in the boats had the cruelty to bear away and leave the raft, already laboring hard amid the waves, and alike destitute of provisions, and instruments for navigation, to shift for itself.  "From the moment," says M. Sevigne, from whose affecting narrative this account is chiefly taken, “that I was convinced of our being abandoned, I was strongly impressed with the crowd of dark and horrible images that presented themselves to my imagination; the torments of hunger and thirst, the almost positive certainty of never more seeing my country or friends, composed the painful picture before my eyes; my knees sunk under me, and my hands mechanically sought for something to lay hold on; I could scarcely articulate a word.  This state soon had an end, and then all my mental faculties revived.  Having silenced the tormenting dread of death, I endeavored to pour consolation into the hearts of my unhappy companions, who were almost in a state of stupor around me.  No sooner, however, were the soldiers and sailors roused from their consternation, than they abandoned themselves to excessive despair, and cried furiously out for vengeance on those who had abandoned them; each saw his own ruin inevitable, and clamorously vociferated the dark reflections that agitated him."  Some persons of a finer character joined with M. Sevigne in his humane endeavors to tranquilize the minds of these wretched sufferers; and they at last partially succeeded, by persuading them that they would have an opportunity in a few days of revenging themselves on the people in the boats.  "I own," says M. Sevigne, "this spirit of vengeance animated every one of us, and we poured vollies of curses on the boat's crew, whose fatal selfishness exposed us to so many evils and dangers.  We thought our sufferings would have been less cruel, had they been partaken by the frigate's whole crew.  Nothing is more exasperating to the unhappy, than to think that those who plunged them into misery, should enjoy every favor, of fortune."

After the first transports of passion had subsided, the sole efforts of their more collected moments were directed to the means of gaining the land, to procure provision.  All that they had on board the raft, consisted of twenty-five pounds of biscuit and some hogs heads of wine.  The imperious desire of self-preservation silenced every fear for a moment; they put up a sail on the raft, and every one assisted with a sort of delirious enthusiasm; not one of them foresaw the real extent of the peril by which they were surrounded.



The day passed on quietly enough; but night at length came on; the heavens were overspread with black clouds; the winds unchained, raised the sea mountains high; terror again rode triumphant on the billow; dashed from side to side, now suspended betwixt life and death, bewailing their misfortune, and though certain of death, yet struggling with the merciless elements ready to devour them, the poor castoffs longed for the coming morn, as if it had been the sure harbinger of safety and repose.  Often was the last doleful ejaculation heard of some sailor or soldier weary of the struggle, rushing into the embrace of death.  A baker and two young cabin boys, after taking leave of their comrades, deliberately plunged into the deep.  "We are off," said they, and instantly disappeared.  Such was the commencement of that dreadful insanity which we shall afterwards see raging in the most cruel manner, and sweeping off a crowd of victims.  In the course of the first night, twelve persons were lost from the raft.

"The day coming on," says M. Sevigne, "brought back a little calm amongst us; some unhappy persons, however, near me, were not come to their senses.  A charming young man, scarcely sixteen, asked me every moment, 'When shall we eat?' He stuck to me, and followed me everywhere, repeating the same question.  In the course of the day, Mr. Griffen threw himself into the sea, but I took him up again.  His words were confused; I gave him every consolation in my power, and endeavored to persuade him to support courageously every privation we were suffering.  But all my care was unavailing; I could never recall him to reason; he gave no sign of being sensible to the horror of our situation.  In a few minutes he threw himself again into the sea; but by an effort of instinct, held to a piece of wood that went be yond the raft, and he was taken up a second time."

The Raft of the Medusa, Théodore Gericault, 1819 (The Louvre, Paris, France)


The hope of still seeing the boats coming to their succor, enabled them to support the torments of hunger during this second day; but as the gloom of night returned, and every man began, as it were, to look in upon himself, the desire of food rose to an ungovernable height; and ended in a state of general delirium.  The greater part of the soldiers and sailors, unable to appease the hunger that preyed upon them, and persuaded that death was now in evitable took the fatal resolution of softening their last moments by drinking of the wine, till they could drink no more.  Attacking a hogshead in the center of the raft, they drew large libations from it; the stimulating liquid soon turned their delirium into frenzy; they began to quarrel and fight with one another; and ere long, the few planks on which they were floating, between time and eternity, became the scene of a most bloody contest for momentary pre-eminence.  No less than sixty-three men lost their lives on this unhappy occasion.

Shortly after, tranquility was restored.  "We fell," says M. Sevigne, "into the same state as before: this insensibility was so great, that next day I thought myself waking out of a disturbed sleep, asking the people round me if they had seen any tumult, or heard any cries of despair? Some answered, that they too had been tormented with the same visions, and did not know how to explain them.  Many who had been most furious during the night, were now sullen and motionless, unable to utter a single word.  Two or three plunged into the ocean, coolly bidding their companions farewell; others would say.  'Don't despair; I am going to bring you relief; you shall soon see me again.'  Not a few even thought themselves on board the Medusa, amidst everything they used to be daily surrounded with.  In a conversation with one of my comrades, he said to me, 'I cannot think we are on a raft; I always suppose myself on board our frigate.'  My own judgment, too, wandered on these points.  M. Correard imagined himself going over the beautiful plains of Italy.  M. Griflen said' very seriously, 'I remember we were forsaken by the boats; but never fear, I have just written to Government, and in a few hours we shall be saved.'  M. Correard asked quite as seriously, 'and have you then a pigeon to carry your orders so fast?'"

It was now the third day since they had been abandoned, and hunger began to be most sharply felt; some of the men, driven to desperation, at length tore off the flesh from the dead bodies that covered the raft, and devoured it.  "The officers and passengers," says M. Sevigne, "to whom I united myself, could not overcome the repugnance inspired by such horrible food; we however tried to eat the belts of our sabres and cartouch boxes, and succeeded in swallowing some small pieces; but we were at last forced to abandon these expedients, which brought no relief to the anguish caused by total abstinence."

In the evening they were fortunate enough to take nearly two hundred flying fishes, which they shared immediately.  Having found some gunpowder, they made a fire to dress them, but their portions were so small, and their hunger so great, that they added human flesh, which the cooking rendered less disgusting; the officers were at last tempted to taste of it.  The horrid repast was followed with another scene of violence and confusion; a second engagement took place during the night, and in the morning only thirty persons were left alive on the fatal raft.  On the fourth night, a third fit of despair swept off fifteen more; so that, finally, the number of miserable beings was reduced from one hundred and fifty, to fifteen.

"A return of reason," says M. Sevigne, "began now to enlighten our situation.  I have no longer to relate the furious actions dictated by dark despair, but the unhappy state of fifteen exhausted creatures reduced to frightful misery.  Our gloomy thoughts were fixed on the little wine that was left, and we con templated with horror the ravages which despair and want had made amongst us.  'You are much altered,' said one of my companions, seizing my hand, and melting into tears.  Eight days torments had rendered us no longer like ourselves, At length, seeing ourselves so reduced, we summoned up all our strength, and raised a kind of stage to rest ourselves upon.  On this new theatre we resolved to wait death in a becoming manner.  We passed some days in this situation, each concealing his despair from his nearest companion.  Misunderstanding, however, again took place, on the tenth day after being on board the raft.  After a distribution of wine, several of our companions conceived the idea of destroying themselves after finishing the little wine that remained.  'When people are so wretched as we,' said they, 'they have nothing to wish for but death.’  We made the strongest remonstrances to them; but their diseased brains could only fix on the rash project which they had conceived; a new contest was therefore on the point of commencing, but at length they yielded to our remonstrances.  Many of us, after receiving our small portion of wine, fell into a state of intoxication, and then great misunderstandings arose.

"At other times we were pretty quiet, and sometimes our natural spirits inspired a smile in spite of the horrors of our situation.  Says one, 'If the brig is sent in search of us, let us pray to God to give her the eyes of Argus,' alluding to the name of the vessel which we supposed might come in search of us.

"The 17th in the morning, thirteen days after being forsaken, while each was enjoying the delights of his poor portion of wine, a captain of infantry perceived a vessel in the horizon, and announced it with a shout of joy.  For some moments we were suspended between hope and fear.  Some said, they saw the ship draw nearer; others, that it was sailing away.  Unfortunately, these last were not mistaken, for the brig soon disappeared.  From excess of joy, we now sunk into despair.  For my part, I was so accustomed to the idea of death, that I saw it approach with indifference.  I had remarked many others terminate their existence without great outward signs of pain; they first became quite delirious, and nothing could appease them; after that, they fell into a state of imbecility that ended their existence, like a lamp that goes out for want of oil.  A boy twelve years old, unable to support these privations, sunk under them, after our being forsaken.  All spoke of this fine boy as deserving a better fate; his angelic face, his melodious voice, and his tender years, inspired us with the tenderest compassion, for so young a victim devoted to so frightful and untimely a death.  Our oldest soldiers, and, indeed, every one, eagerly assisted him as far as circumstances permitted.  But, alas! it was all in vain; neither the wine, nor any other consolation, could save him, and he expired in M. Coudin's arms.  As long as he was able to move, he was continually running from one side of the raft to the other, calling out for his mother, for water, and for food.

"About six o'clock, on the 17th, one of our companions looking out, on a sudden stretching his hands forwards, and scarcely able to breathe, cried out, ' Here's the brig almost alongside;' and, in fact, she was actually very near.  We threw ourselves on each other's necks with frantic transports, while tears trickled down our withered cheeks.  She soon bore upon us within pistol shot, sent a boat, and presently took us all on board.  We had scarcely escaped, when some of us became delirious again; a military officer was going to leap into the sea, as he said, to take up his pocket book; and would certainly have done so, but for those about him; others were affected in the same manner, but in a less degree.

"Fifteen days after our deliverance, I felt the species of mental derangement which is produced by great misfortunes; my mind was in a continual agitation, and during the night, I often awoke, thinking myself still on the raft; and many of my companions experienced the same effects.  One Francois became deaf, and remained for a long time in a state of idiotism.  Another frequently lost his recollection; and my own memory, remarkably good before this event, was weakened by it in a sensible manner.

"At the moment in which I am recalling the dreadful scenes to which I have been witness, they present themselves to my imagination like a frightful dream.  All those horrible scenes from which I so miraculously escaped, seem now only as a point in my existence.  Restored to health, my mind sometime recalls those visions that tormented it, during the fever that consumed it.  In those dreadful moments we were certainly attacked with a cerebral fever, in consequence of excessive mental irritation.  And even now, sometimes in the night, after having met with any disappointment, and when the wind is high, my mind recalls the fatal raft.  I see a furious ocean ready to swallow me up; hands uplifted to strike me, and the whole train of human passions let loose; revenge, fury, hatred, treachery, and despair, surrounding me!"




If you enjoy a good Sea Story . . . 


these two salty tales are free on all eReaders:

Amazon KindleApple iBooksBarnes & Noble NookSmashwords and Kobo.



Malcolm Torres is the author and editor of sea stories and nautical fiction.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Reading Recommendation: The North Water by Ian McGuire

"The North Water, Ian McGuire’s savage new novel about a 19th-century Arctic whaling expedition, is a great white shark of a book — swift, terrifying, relentless and unstoppable." NY Times




A Review of 

THE NORTH WATER by Ian McGuire


As you know, I love a great sea story, but it's only once every few years that a great new one comes along.  For this reason, I'm always on the look out for a nautical yarn that will hit me like a punch in the gut.  Not that I like to be punched in the gut--I mean this metaphorically.  When I read a book, especially a sea story, I want it leave a dent in my hull.  So, for me, a former Navy sailor who likes a powerful rush, I greatly enjoy reading tales of adventure, crime, violence, horror, saucy romance and thrills, preferably set aboard a ship at sea or among sailors visiting a port of call.  Today, I'm happy to report that THE NORTH WATER by Ian McGuire meets all my requirements for a great sea story.


I knew right away I was going to buy and read this book after opening it at the book store and reading the first paragraph.  We have one of the main characters emerging from an alley, "he rubs his bristled head, and readjusts his crotch.  He sniffs his fingers, then slowly sucks each one in turn, drawing off the last remnants, getting his final money's worth."  And, of course, I'm standing there in the book store wondering if this character has just paid for a meal or a whore, and what residue exactly is he sucking from his fingers?  I liked the fact that the author was doing nasty things to my mind and for this reason I decided immediately to purchase and read this book.  The answer to the question:  What was the character licking from his fingers? is not answered, but it doesn't matter because the character, Henry Drax, quickly becomes so much more horrifying with each ensuing sentence.


After that initial shock, I wanted (and received) so much more.  The author delivers plenty of dents, scratches and shocks to the reader's imagination as the voyage of this story runs along.  Without giving away any spoilers, here's an excerpt from one of the book's many glowing reviews:


“The North Water,” Ian McGuire’s savage new novel about a 19th-century Arctic whaling expedition, is a great white shark of a book — swift, terrifying, relentless and unstoppable.  It is also as epically bloody as a Jacobean drama or a Cormac McCarthy novel.  One man has his head bashed with a brick, and “there is a fine spray of blood and a noise like a wet stick snapping.”  Another is bludgeoned with a piece of whalebone.  A sailor is nearly decapitated with a saw blade.  Two boys are raped and murdered.  Two Eskimo hunters are killed while they sleep.  And an oarsman’s arm is ripped off by a polar bear." (NY Times Book Review, by Michiko Kakutani)




Continuing along in the spirit of this NY Times review, I'll tell you (without spoilers) that there are countless things the author sets on the page that are blatantly objectionable.  In addition to those actions mentioned above, The North Water describes drunkenness, whoring about, several surgeries performed without anesthesia, the killing of adorable and endangered animals, double crossing bad guys, shipwrecks, near death experiences, no-strings-attached sex with a married Eskimo woman, and many putrid odors.  Quite a few authors attempt to write about these sorts of things, but most authors lack the literary chops to pull it off successfully.  For example, consider the difference between an Oscar winning film (say John Travolta in Pulp Fiction) and a B-rated flick (say John Travolta in Be Cool).  Well, now that you have those films in mind, please understand that Ian McGuire's The North Water is an Oscar winner written for the big screen inside your mind.

"Here's the description copied off the book's Amazon description page for the recently-released paperback (this hooked me right way):

Behold the man: stinking, drunk, and brutal. Henry Drax is a harpooner on the Volunteer, a Yorkshire whaler bound for the rich hunting waters of the arctic circle.  Also aboard for the first time is Patrick Sumner, an ex-army surgeon with a shattered reputation, no money, and no better option than to sail as the ship's medic on this violent, filthy, and ill-fated voyage.

In India, during the Siege of Delhi, Sumner thought he had experienced the depths to which man can stoop.  He had hoped to find temporary respite on the Volunteer, but rest proves impossible with Drax on board.  The discovery of something evil in the hold rouses Sumner to action.  And as the confrontation between the two men plays out amid the freezing darkness of an arctic winter, the fateful question arises: who will survive until spring?

With savage, unstoppable momentum and the blackest wit, Ian McGuire's The North Water weaves a superlative story of humanity under the most extreme conditions."



So there you have it, all the ingredients that make for a wonderful sea story!  Now, as I summarize my review, just in case there remains any doubt, let's be absolutely clear that this book is for readers who enjoy rough characters in harsh environments committing brutal acts of violence.  Supporting this thesis, the settings include harbor towns in England and isolated bays east of Greenland.  Further, the characters are all the lowliest whalers living aboard a wooden ship on an ill-fated voyage.  All this the author sets down on the page in such a way as to make you shiver in the biting cold as you come to know all the sleazy characters personally.  Best of all, every grimy scene is described with exacting precision and literary artistry.

After reading this tale in only 3-days, I slipped it onto my book shelf right between two similar favorites; Jack London's Sea Wolf and Donald Ray Pollock's The Devil All the Time.



If you enjoy a good Sea Story . . . 

these two salty tales are free on all eReaders:

Amazon Kindle, Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble Nook, Smashwords and Kobo.


Malcolm Torres is the author and editor of sea stories and nautical fiction.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

A Book of Sea Stories by Cyrus Townsend Brady

"The reason we love the sea . . . is this Homeric spirit of the Ocean Masters that tills the dreams of youth and stirs the memories of old age."




Introduction 

by Cyrus Townsend Brady


MOST of us have passed through a period of life during which we have ardently longed to be, if not actually a rover, a buccaneer, or a pirate, at least and really a sailor!  To run away to sea has been the misdirected ambition of many a youngster, and some lads there are who have realized their desire to their sorrow.  The boy who has not cherished in his heart and exhibited in his actions at sometime or other during his youthful days, a love of ships and salt water, is fit for — well, he is fit for the shore, and that is the worst thing a sailor could say about him!


The virile nations, the strong peoples, are those whose countries border on the sea. They who go down to the great deep in ships are they who master the world.  On the ocean as well as on the mountain top dwells the spirit of freedom.  When men have struggled with each other in the shock of war, or the emulation of peace, when they have matched skill against skill, strength to strength, courage with courage, the higher quality of manhood in each instance has been required upon the sea;  for there the sharp contention has been not only between man and man but between nature and man as well.  A double portion of heroic spirit is needed to meet the double demand.  That is the reason we love the sea. It is this Homeric spirit of the Ocean Masters that tills the dreams of youth and stirs the memories of old age.


In these dreams and memories the veriest boy catches glimpses of the perpetual Titanic struggle of, and on, the deep; dimly discerning in his youthful way, a thousand generations of heroic achievement before, and through which, he begins to be; and he realizes that the ocean affords such a field for the exhibition of every high quality that goes to make a man as may be found nowhere else.  The deck of the ship is the arena upon which he can play a mighty part, and he loves it.  In imagination the boy now discovers a new world, like Columbus and America;  in dreams he opens a vast empire to civilization, like Perry in Japan;  sometimes he fights the battles of the free, like Nelson at Trafalgar;  or he strikes for his own flag on the decks of some gallant Constitution.  If he be a sports man, he may pursue the great fighting sperm-whale, or angle for Jack Sharkee;  if an adventurer, he may seek to pierce the icy barrier of mystery ringed about that polar star by which he guides his ship;  if a trader, he may visit strange lands and seek new markets for his product;  if a missionary, he may carry his gospel of good tidings to dark peoples, ignorant of the meaning of that southern cross which flashes in splendor above them in the midnight heavens, and tell to them the story of the Ruler of the deep.  Wherever men achieve and do, wherever nations grow and prosper, they have a mastery of the sea.


In these pages are gathered stories of the heroes of peace, not less kings of the sea than those who have startled the mighty depths with the thunder of their war-ship guns.  The freshness, the freedom of it, the joy and delight, the calm and rest, the strenuous life, the labor and sorrow, the peril and danger, the reward and success, all are here. We turn back some hundred years to go a-cruising with Cleveland.  We hunt the cachelot with Bullen.  Our own Cooper takes us breathless with the romantic Pilot over the dangers of the Devil's Grip.  Under the Antarctic Circle we watch the sea lions play. Here a mighty monster of the hideous depths seems to spread its tentacles across the printed page in a struggle which Victor Hugo immortalizes.  Flame and smoke are those deadliest of perils to ships toward which gentle Jean Ingelow conducts us.  The sudden mutiny, the long cruise in the small boat, the lonely islet affording the shipwrecked a haven, appeal to us in these pages.  We drift through the teeming waters of the Gulf Stream.  Daniel DeFoe, and Melville and Marryat and Cupples and Russell and Kingston, unroll before us the panorama of the ocean.  There are also men great in other fields of letters who have felt the witchery of the sea and tell us what it says to them — Charles Dickens, Pierre Loti, Stevenson, Charles Reade, and Kingsley.  We envy the boy or girl who reads these tales for the first time.  Fain would we again enjoy such a happy privilege.  And our envy deepens when we think of the wide range of literature to which this volume will introduce them. Lucky young people who open such pages for a first glance!

A Book of Sea Stories is free on Google Books on this link here.


Two Free Sea Stories
by Malcolm Torres


If you enjoy a good Sea Story, these two salty tales are free on this link right here.  These stories are free on all eReaders, including Amazon Kindle, Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble Nook, Smashwords and Kobo:


Malcolm Torres is the author and editor of sea stories and nautical fiction.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Attention All Hands: Sea Stories Wanted

Writers of original sea stories are requested to submit their work for consideration to be published in The Sea Adventure Collection.




Do you have a story with characters aboard a ship, boat, yacht or submarine?  How about a story that takes place ashore in a port of call?  If your story involves the navy, coast guard, marines, merchant sailors, fisherman, yachtsmen, a harbor pilot, lighthouse keeper, stevedore or any other seafarer, you should submit it for publication in the Sea Adventure Collection.  We're open to stories from the military, pleasure cruising, pirates, smugglers, and all other boating enthusiasts.

Stories must be original works of fiction, written in English and approximately 500 to 4,000 words.  Plots may include, but are not limited to adventure, war, thriller, crime, sci-fi, comedy, history, disaster, horror and / or romance.  R rated stories are okay, but X rated stories will not be considered.

Author Guidelines:

  • Submit stories to:  malcolmtorres1@gmail.com in MS Word or any other popular word processing format.
  • Expect to hear back within 1-month on whether or not your story has been accepted for publication.
  • Proofread and spell check your story before you submit it, but the editor understands that a good sea story is sometimes written by a sailor who is unfamiliar with the rules of writing in the English language (and that's ok).   Appropriate proofreading, spell checking and editing will be done to improve every published story as needed.
  • If your work is accepted for publication, you will be asked to sign a release form granting the publisher, permission to publish the story in print, eBook and blog formats.  The author will retain all other copyrights.
  • Proceeds from the sale of The Sea Adventure Collection will be dispersed as follows:
  • 60% of proceeds will be donated to a Seaman, Mariner or Veteran's Service Organization such as a retired sailor's home, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Wounded Warrior Project, etc. or other organization serving Seaman or Mariners.
  • 40% of the proceeds well be retained by the editor to pay for book cover artwork, book design, proofreading, advertising, website hosting, book printing and shipping expenses.
  • Send all questions and comments to malcolmtorres1@gmail.com


Malcolm Torres is the author and editor of sea stories and nautical fiction.


Saturday, May 27, 2017

Vatican Museum's Gallery of Maps Includes Fine Nautical Artwork

Last week I was very fortunate.  I was in Rome, Italy and spent an entire day at the Vatican.  I did not do much research before going, because I wanted to take it all in without a lot of preconceived ideas.  I wanted my mind to be fresh.  I wanted to be surprised.

So, there I was making my way through one long hall after another, each filled with the most amazing artwork in the world.  Everything from Egyptian coffins and Etruscan pottery to paintings by European masters and Greek sculptures.  Every doorway was a colossal arch held up by marble pillars, every ceiling decorated with frescoes and ornate golden trim.

Here's the scene as I entered the Gallery of Maps.


A few steps down the corridor I looked back and up and here's what I saw:


To say this is art and architecture on the grandest scale is an understatement.  Descriptions such as profound genius and epic masterpieces seem to fall short.  As I walked along the corridor, I listened to the audio guide and learned that Pope Gregory XIII, back in 1580, commissioned a map maker to draw and paint detailed maps of Italy along the corridor which is over 100-meters long.  The maps look like this:








As I walked along and gazed on theses amazing maps, my eyes were constantly drawn to the ships, sea creatures and port cities painted in all along the Italian coastline.  I felt like I was in heaven.




The intricate detail showing wooden ships with their sails full as they crossed the Mediterranean to Greece and Egypt made me wonder about the adventures those sailors must have had back in the 1500s.  The elaborate paintings of sea creatures made my imagination run wild.




As you well know if you have read this blog before, I love nautical artwork in all its forms, including sea stories, novels, movies, tattoos, drawings and paintings.  All I can say is that I was very happy, surprised and impressed with the fine details found in these old paintings.  I would give almost anything to be able to travel in a time machine back to the mid-1500s and be able to meet with the artist who painted these marvelous pictures.  I would give almost anything to be able to sail with the sailors back in those days, when the sea was full of mystery and monsters.

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If you enjoyed this blog post, I'm sure you'll enjoy these free sea stories.  Grab them with no strings attached here: www.malcolmtorres.com/books/


Free on Amazon Kindle, Apple iBooks, Nook, Kobo and Smashwords.

*     *     *


Malcolm Torres is the author of sea stories and nautical fiction.


Friday, April 7, 2017

Making Peace With Japan, A Sea Story





There’s a sculpture of a carp with a pearl in its mouth, another of the Buddha surrounded by burned-down incense sticks in clay pots.  Over it all, a high arching roof with a stained glass window filtering sunlight.  Deuce is snapping pictures.  I’m studying the artwork in the roof.  I spin on the soles of my tennis shoes and realize I’m looking at a green-scaled dragon, blasting fire from its open mouth at a tiger sinking its claws into the dragon to keep it from flying off on flapping wings.  I look closer and see the dragon is actually in flight over a snow-capped mountain, but the tiger hangs on, its claws dug in.
“Amazing,” I say.
“Fuckin' A,” O’Don whispers as we bump into each other.
Outside, a cloud crosses before the sun and the streaks of color vanish.
“Check it out,” Deuce says.
There’s a large black and white photo on an easel.  In the photo we see a pond and in the clear water there are large carp swimming under lily pads.  The next picture shows an old man in a simple white robe tending to a delicate Bonsai.  Another shows two sumo wrestlers facing each other with their hands on their knees.
A marquee says this is an exhibit by a renowned Japanese photographer.  Metal poles with felt ropes guide us to the entrance.
We wander through checking out the black and white pictures, mounted on cardboard, hung on partitions.  They depict rural life in Japan years ago.  We wander through a maze leading us deeper into the exhibit.  The pictures are amazing.  Laborers in a rice paddy.  People in simple garb shopping at an open air market.  A Samurai with a hand on the hilt of his sword.  A temple beside a tranquil pond.  People pulling nets of fish onto the beach.
My wanderlust stirs.
I want to hop on a bus and go up along the coast or into the mountains.  The Navy, though, doesn’t give us enough time off to get past the waterfront bars, and even if we had more time, we don’t have any way to make travel plans before we arrive.  Here in Sasebo, it’s the same as every other port—take a cab into town, walk around, go to a bar, get shitfaced.
We drift apart as we meander through the photos.


I round a turn and it hits me.  The people who set this up tricked us, they lured us in with beautiful pictures, but now I’m deep in the middle of the maze and they’ve got me, like a bug stuck in a spider’s web.  There’s a photo of a Zen garden outside an ancient pagoda.  A path through the garden leads my eye into a grove of dense evergreens.  This scene in this photo shows the most peaceful and idyllic place I’ve ever seen.  In the photo beside this one, taken after the bomb went off, the pagoda is a toppled pile of smoking rubble.  The evergreens torched to blackened trunks, their branches incinerated.  Another photo shows rows of school children in uniforms.  Boy girl, boy girl.  The next picture, a doctor in a dirty lab coat doing something painful to a child who has been burned severely.  Two distressed women hold the screaming child on a cot covered with a gray sheet.
A ball of guilt in my gut.  I remind myself that I’m not responsible.  I think about my grandfather as a young man, maybe it’s his fault.
The next picture shows a row of women in silk kimonos hiding their heavily made-up faces behind elaborate fans.  Their striking eyes draw my attention into a building behind them where big pillows and low tables fill a shady room.  Geisha girls.  They’re beautiful.  I’m intrigued but then I glance at the next picture—several corpses crumpled on cobblestones surrounded by decimated city blocks where all the wooden buildings were vaporized, only black scorch marks on the ground remain.


My guts twist and I don’t know what to think.
This will leaving a mark, I realize.
It’s a lot more powerful than 10,000 people waving signs.
Slowly walking through the maze looking at every picture leads me back to the beginning.
There’s an old man, tranquil and calm, sitting behind a table.  I wonder if he’s the photographer.  His blank look tells me he was there, he saw the flash in the sky over Hiroshima or maybe Nagasaki.
On his table there’s a card with a quotation: “The new generation can learn from the past and out of this rubble create something good.”
I remember being in the tailor shop and how they greeted us.  I bow slightly.
The old photographer nods.  Deep wrinkles and brown age spots around his eyes.  I think I’ll never look like him.  Not Japanese, of course I’ll never be Japanese.  What I’m thinking is I’ll never be as old as him.  I’m 19.  I’ll never get old.
Something inside my chest moves and I wonder if it’s my soul, but it’s probably just the hot sauce and the beers.
I find Deuce and O’Don.
"Those photos were heavy,” I say.
They don’t say anything.
I wonder if they’re both just brutes, living unexamined lives.
“What did you think of those pictures, O’Don?” I ask.
“Old times,” he says.



*     *     *

This is an excerpt from Making Peace With Japan, A Sea Story by Malcolm Torres.  In this story, we follow three young sailors off the USS Enterprise as they come ashore in Sasebo, Japan.  They are greeted by thousands of anti-nuclear protesters.  After weeks at sea, the sailors only want an exotic meal and a cold beer, but this port visit turns into a reckoning with history after they meet some friendly locals and find themselves Making Peace with Japan. This is one of the short stories in The Sea Adventure Collection. These stories are often free on Amazon, and they can be read in any order.If you enjoy it, please post an honest review.  Click here to see this story on Amazon.



Click here to see this story on Amazon

*     *     *

If you enjoyed Making Peace With Japan, you will also like this sea story.  

It's free on all eReaders HERE.


*     *     *

Malcolm Torres is the author of 

original Sea Stories and Nautical Fiction


Find out more at www.malcolmtorres.com









Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Pirate, Part 1: The Traitor (Free Thriller on Smashwords)



Young deckhand Jack Turner is aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Allmayer, 45-nautical miles south of Key West, Florida.  Jack is 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:  The Traitor

by Malcolm Torres

FREE on all eReaders at Smashwords and Amazon.


CHAPTER 1



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.

CHAPTER 2


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.

They fist-bump.

“Dude,” Jack says.

“How was it?” Max asks.

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

"Damn, dude, it's your fault?”

“What’s my fault?”

“All the locals 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.”

“Bales?”

"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?”

“No, dude.”

“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.”

“No.”

“You don’t get it, dude.”

“What?”

“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.

They collide.

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

In Wendy’s bedroom, even in the predawn, posters are visible tacked to the walls.  A boom box and a laptop on a desk beside the bed.  The walls are pink and so are the blankets.  Wendy’s red locks are black in the 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—”

Awkward silence.

Jack can’t understand why, after eight months, she even wants to talk to him anyway.  He hasn’t written or called.  Can’t she take a clue?  She’s a really good 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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Sea Story
Nautical Fiction
Crime, Thriller, Adventure