ACTION! ADVENTURE! End of War (As We Know It)
An Erotic Romance & Suspense Novel
NUMBER ONE FANTASY
My search for the meaning of life was up in the air—near naked girls were dancing on a yacht in Miami Harbor as my mind drifted with all the laughter, music and foreign words around, imagining a fantasy I confessed to no other. Two or three or more women overwhelmed me, grabbing, squeezing, pulling, escape was impossible; too many members of the opposite sex torturing me with mind-blowing pleasure that went on, and on. It was by far the number one fantasy of girls as well as guys, I read somewhere.
Then a huge wave crashed into the sea wall and broke the spell. We jumped a few hours ahead with all the sexy dancing. Earlier tonight this was a good chance to meet girls and do exciting things, that sounded great since I was getting so lazy it worried me. But, after pulling into this rundown marina with my new friend, Captain “Gun” Gunderson, I saw the dive boat we were sailing on and my instincts shouted CANCEL! She was a grimy ivory color, 60 feet long with repair patches and cheap wooden letters spelling the boat’s name, BULL SHARK.
“Um, but, Gun…what is this?” I let my jaw hang open to express as much doubt as possible.
“Now don’t say anything yet, Caleb,” Gun replied in a gravelly voice. “Let’s get you a good bunk.” He hoisted a worn sea bag and a banged-up guitar out of his truck, then led me aboard.
Gun was 52 with a true seafaring look, thick gray beard, flashing blue eyes and a long deeply lined face that made him seem vibrant and wise. His hair was a grayish blond color cropped short, and he had a little bald spot centered in the crown of his head.
The sun was full but low on the horizon; the atmosphere was stagnant and moist with heat. Crossing the gangplank I felt how much the boat bobbed around while tied to the dock in calm water. And she smelled of nasty things—gas, body odors, fish. Pops of air sounded on deck as a man with a wet cigarette dangling out of his mouth filled rows of scuba tanks from a noisy compressor.
Terror hit right away when the wake of a passing boat struck the hull and I only avoided going overboard by snatching a handrail with both arms! Anyone could tell I was no sailor but this boat felt as unstable as me! Fighting to balance myself on the rocking deck it was clear my life was heading out of control unless I backed out now. Heat waves rippled in every direction while I gazed around in shock or bewilderment at the countless boats, searching for any “signs” to help me decide.
A spectacular sunset blazed over the harbor, making things evermore intense as yellow and orange and red hues flared off every piece of metal or glass in sight. Vapor haze from the extreme humidity, plus the sunset and many lingering gas fumes altered my views of what looked real, even reflecting a hazy premonition I had about this trip altering my life. Before backing out, though, I hustled below to claim a bunk I might be able to live with, putting off any final decision about going while feathering my nest just in case hot women divers showed up.
After testing all the bunks and settling into one, I returned on deck but the sun had gone down by then and the twilight glow almost faded to night. More bad things happened—a boat that passed us was followed by a sleek warship with a diagonal stripe across the bow, mark of a Coast Guard cutter. She swept along fast and menacing as a torpedo, barely splashing up waves while the dark silhouette bristled with antenna clusters and pointing weapons. Multiple bright lights flashed on. The cutter was chasing something. Brilliant beams were trained on the boat that just passed, lighting her up like the noon sun and many surprised dark faces shrank back in hiding.
“Boatload of Haitians. Or Cubans,” Gun informed me. “Probably Haitians.” He spoke as if it was commonplace, and plunked down on the bench to sort his gear.
A sharp siren blew, then a loudspeaker rang out from the cutter’s tower. “Halt! This is the United States Coast Guard! Stop your engines!” Shrill toots cut through the night.
The refugee boat veered toward shore, trying to beach itself. It was a brief but fast chase while more police vessels with sirens wailing and powerful red, white and blue strobing lights converged on the boat from all sides. Then a deafening CRACK—a cannon blast! The shock fractured space for an instant, followed by an echo that boomed past us in the thick summer air.
Poorly dressed men and women began screaming in a foreign language and leaping from the boat in a desperate bid to reach the shore.
“They fired a blank as a warning shot,” Gun told me. “Sounds different. No splash, either, see?”
Boat passengers poured into the water like cascades. Coast Guard and Miami Harbor Patrol skiffs buzzed around the scene to pull many of them out. Life preservers flew amidst the frantic screaming and pleas of, “Asylum! Azil! Asylum! Azil Politik!” Countless police lights hunted for illegals in the dark water.
Unable to watch the tragic event I focused on my own bad situation right here. Steamy vapors seemed to hang around and some almost stuck to me. The boat’s up-down movement kept my body unsettled. The rest of me was a jumble of nerves and confused feelings. One thing was not confusing after almost going overboard earlier, though—taking this trip meant facing mortal danger. The only unknowns were how much, and what kinds.
I paused behind a ladder and listened while Gun began telling a story to a large man with a pointy shaved head. “Carl, I kid you not, on this occasion it was either me or this shark,” Gun said. “He just would not leave me alone.” He smeared a piece of wet crud across the deck with his foot. “First I tried shooting my spear into his head. A one-timer—swooossh!—then blood everywhere. I couldn’t see. But, it was not a good kill shot. I got all gut.”
The man looked delighted, and laughed. “Not a good kill shot!” he repeated. Drops of sweat rolled down his scalp.
“So, the fish remained impaled on the spear shaft,” Gun continued in his coarse voice. “Very lively.” He had a small smile as he enjoyed telling the story. “So, I got this bad boy in a headlock, under my arm like this—like a big loaf of bread like this—stabbing it between the eyes with my knife.” He demonstrated with jam-and-twist motions but I turned away, imagining the fish’s agony. “Stabbing it right into his brain. To kill him humanely.” When I looked back Gun was stroking his beard, amused. “It was two six-footers. Reef sharks. One was the girlfriend.”
“Well, God, no, they sure weren’t nurse sharks!” said the man named Carl. He had a small beak nose and large black eyes. Then, he wiped the glistening moisture from his scalp so it had an even glow for a minute.
Listening to this violent story with more furious life or death action in the background was creeping me out. “Had to cut his head off in pieces before the pecker finally gave up and died,” Gun spoke in a thoughtful tone. “He still wiggled after his head was completely off. But, that was not the scariest thing on the trip.”
“Another trip from hell?” a strong voice surprised me from behind. “We heard about you.”
I veered around, but smacked right into a tall African-American guy with a massive build. He walked by me with a sober face, like armor. His glance resembled minimal acknowledgment instead of a greeting. “Hello, I’m Killis…” he presented himself to the group.
Nobody shook his hand right away, as if we were waiting for him to extend his hand first, or he was waiting for one of us to do so. Then everyone extended their hands at almost the same time.
“Gun Gunderson here. At your service. I’m the Captain.”
Big Carl rubbed something off his hand before introducing himself. “Hello, Carl Iman. Didn’t we meet once? It was a day dive at Paradise Island?” Killis seemed to agree with a half nod of recognition toward Carl.
Ongoing chatter in English and Creole crackled back and forth from the police boats, punctuated by shouts of “Asylum” and “Azil Politik!”
“Anyway, we all came close to dying several times on that job,” Gun resumed his Trip From Hell yarn. “The boat was taking on water the whole way.” He chuckled. Maybe Gun could take big leaks in stride, but that sounded scary and even reckless to me. It also gave me a strange feeling of security, though. With Gun in charge, even a leaking boat might not mean death.
Strobing red, white and blue lights shot up the night. The black guy raised an arm over his head to grab hold of a rail, then, he leaned over the side to survey the refugee spectacle taking place. He had some wiry gray hairs showing in the light, and his razor-sharp hairline resembled a rim. “So, what did I miss out here?” he asked.
It almost sounded like a rhetorical question, which everyone hesitated to answer.
“What it looks like,” Carl replied. “A lot of Haitians tried to Hit the Beach!”
Killis acknowledged as much with another half-nod. His hair was trimmed up high in the front and slanted forward to stand out from his head like a brim, similar to the Statue of Liberty the way her crown was also slanted forward. “You think any will get away?”
“Oh, sure,” cheerful Carl replied. “They’ll be rounding ‘em up for days!” Droplets appeared on Carl’s smooth scalp again.
Gun winked. “Some will still make it.”
Then, a tremendous ship four times the length and height of ours appeared in the harbor mouth, lit up full of dancing, happy faces. Impressed by how swift and graceful she looked I couldn’t help comment, “That boat’s all rigged for merriment.”
I almost expected Killis to say something but he didn’t move a muscle. Set against the background of the magnificent ship with the bright city and harbor lights, Killis’s profile actually did resemble The Statue of Liberty with one arm way up high and head crowned by the forward-slanted prow of hair.
Police squawking in the background and the cries for help began to die down. Gun ignored the gorgeous yacht cruising into full view. As she sailed by a few hundred feet away I wanted to be on that boat. A thin man with facial hair was visible on the open stern pulling the arm of a smaller woman, and she yanked hers away. Another man stepped in between them and made hand gestures of, “Let it be… Okay… Cool it out…”
Laughter roared from the yacht’s high bridge. Manning the helm was a tall guy in euro-briefs with an overhanging belly, flanked by two barely-dressed beauties.
When the ship turned and maneuvered into the docking area, I saw her name was The Rapture. From a considerable distance I heard someone yell and a bad word boomed across the open water, followed by the strong wake of the turning ship. A festive crowd including limousines and valets were gathered on the dock to welcome the passengers. There was a red cordon around.
This time I was ready for the wake sweeping toward us, and braced myself against the railing while our boat shuddered like a trolley on bad tracks. Manning the bridge was Captain “Jockey Briefs” who looked foolish except for the women by his side. He barked orders and made hard flailing gestures with his arm.
“High society fishing and boating festival,” Gun informed me.
“Look at that jerk in the panty briefs ordering everybody around,” I replied. “He looks stupid.”
Another newcomer climbed aboard our boat and stated in my direction, “He looks stupid ‘cause he is stupid! That lazy-ass voice on The Rapture belongs to the world’s biggest loser, Seaweed Joe!” The man stood next to me, a crotchety-looking old timer wearing a World War I aviator-style skullcap.
“Oh, God, no! Look out, Jimmy’s back!” Carl announced, and he threw a make-believe punch at the new guy. “Heard you was making this trip!” Carl’s bald scalp and beak nose wrinkled in amusement. “How ya doing, Big Guy?” Carl seized the skinny old man in a playful headlock and rubbed the leather aviator cap into his head. The old guy handled himself surprisingly well, though, unloading a not-so-playful punch into Carl’s kidney that caused him to let go in a flash.
“Oh, no!” cried Carl. “Not there, my friend, you know, not there.”
“Not there, either!” Old Jim removed his floppy-eared skullcap and pointed at it with a big grin. “You know that, my friend.” He wore his cap with the earflaps turned inside out, or was the cap itself turned inside out? I couldn’t tell he was such an odd fellow.
Each passing minute I was more fearful about this venture. Gun spent his whole life at sea. I was a suburban kid. Pavement, lawns, curbs, that was me. If I was so worried at this point, how would it be when there was nothing around but ocean, and these people?
Police lights flashed dazzling colors across our faces while everyone watched The Rapture approach the dock. Somebody on shore fumbled the mooring line, and the second person dropped it. Then, another line hooked on but failed to hold fast, and it also fell into the water. The Rapture glided out of control in front of the baffled crowd, and all broke out in Oohs! and Aahs! when she scraped hard against the pilings. Accusations about speed and screwing up were exchanged. “Captain Briefly” tore off the bridge screaming ugly things at the crew.
Gun turned and smiled like he knew something but wouldn’t want to talk about it. Instead, he inquired, “So, Caleb, what was that you wanted to know about sharks?”
Also turning away from the accident scene, I asked, “Well, for starters how do you know which sharks are dangerous?”
“No whiskers,” old Jim butted in again. His gaunt face glowed with enthusiasm.
“Long and slender. Very high tail,” added Gun. “But I knew it was real trouble when I saw those white fin tips.”
“White tips, never good.” Carl laughed in a half-snorting way.
Killis tightened his lips in disapproval, and descended the stairs into the main cabin as if he was making a statement about not being interested. He had a wide forehead to go with his neat haircut and the trimmed-up rim of hair.
“So, white tips mean they’re killers?” I asked.
“These were man-eaters,” Gun replied like there was a big difference. “I should say man-biters. Once they get the taste.”
“They’re everywhere.” Carl grinned my way, and donned a cap with a Hammerhead shark logo. “You get used to it.”
The shaved-head man was serious. If I was going to dive with these pros I would run into sharks, and my adrenaline pumped at the actual vision of it.
Gun smiled. “Relax, Caleb,” he said. “I have a spear.”
“What if you’re a second late? Or you don’t get a good ‘kill shot’? I’m dead.”
“Nah, you don’t die right away!” Spurts of laughter rolled out from Carl’s large mouth. “Gun always misses his kill shots! Don’t forget that guy last year, you know the one!”
Gun couldn’t help laughing, too. “He’s just messing with your head,” he assured me and kept smiling.
Carl followed the black guy into the main cabin below, addressing Gun on the way down, “Bull, Gun, you couldn’t hit a money shot if your life depended on it!”
Jim also had a good laugh. I was too worried to laugh. The old timer moved a short distance away from us to secure his gear; then, Gun leaned over to inform me that Jim was 76, a former Petty Officer in the Navy who lost control of his bodily functions on the previous voyage and defecated right here on the main deck. Why tell me such a thing? It was dismissed as an accident, which Jim cleaned right up and apologized for, but it was still an awful embarrassment. Well, I’ll bet!
A couple seconds later a glass object smashed below deck, followed by rumbling which sounded like an all-out physical struggle between Carl and the other big man, Killis.
“Hey-hey!” yelled Gun. “What’s going on down there?”
Carl re-emerged on deck, grinning, but there was a small cut on his arm. “That guy can’t take a joke. I just said he was the Brown Bomber.”
“Ignorant redneck!” Killis barked from below deck. “I warned him not to call me that!”
Jimmy came over to check the cut on Carl’s big bicep, dismissing it as nothing.
Carl tried explaining to the rest of us, “That guy, Killis, we were on another dive trip, he’s an ex-Navy SEAL…you know, a commando like the ones that got bin Laden. They’re demolition guys, too. So, he’s, you know…a person of color. Just making a joke, that’s all.”
“Beat-down fool!” shouted the ex-SEAL Killis.
“You’re too sensitive, you know that? You got a bad-ass anger problem there, pal!” Carl shouted back down the hatch.
Gun chimed in with a single loud strum of his guitar, and sang in his best raspy voice, “War—what is it goo-od for?”
“It’s good for kicking ass where it needs to be kicked,” skinny Jimmy answered in a crusty tone. He examined the razor-sharp barbs on his fishing hooks.
“War this, war that. You’re just an old war head!” Gun joked. “You can’t kill every bad guy. Christ, we got bad leaders in this country.”
“Not all bad,” Jim declared, meeting Gun’s skeptical expression dead on.
Carl unsheathed a gleaming long knife, adding with a smirk, “Oh, I don’t know. War is fine…” He twirled the knife like a toy, then blurted, “As long as you got the baddest weapons in history!”
“Amen to that, brother!” Jim shouted, and he high-fived with Carl. “But don’t let anyone else have ‘em. That’s where I disagree with these Washington Big Wigs, giving our weapons to bad guys who use them on us down the line.”
Gun got up quick. “Yeah. Even teaching all those foreigners to make nukes at places like MIT.” With his knee, he shoved a cooler across the gritty deck in front of us, and lay down on top with the guitar resting on his chest. Behind him, the refugee roundup continued but the authorities seemed to have it well under control.
Jim blew dirt off a fishing hook, then he picked out another hook and compared their array of barbs. “All these ungrateful countries, they turn on us no matter what,” he said like he just couldn’t figure out why.
Carl drew a string of fancy fish lures from his tackle box. “That’s the nature of the beast,” he concluded. Each lure was eye-catching, made of tiny separate parts hinged together and shimmering. Bit by bit, he knocked hardened sand and dried bait off them. “Sure, America should keep its weapons to secure the homeland, instead of trying to make a better world.”
“See there, you’re right for once! He’s right!” Jim got all enthusiastic again. “We don’t need anyone else. Even our economy’s better off without worrying about the world.”
When Carl began to polish his intricate lures I could see that fish had Zero Chance against these people.
Gun plucked a few more guitar strings and added, “Big Wigs don’t care a bit. They just build better weapons to destroy the ones we sold off.”
“Fine!” Jim exclaimed. “But don’t share our technology. And keep kicking ass now and then to keep everyone honest.” He wagged his finger in different directions.
“You’re just an old war head, you old war-hee-ad!” Gun repeated. “Whatever goes around comes around, that’s all I know.”
Police lights continued whirling in the background. Feeling like it was my turn to either leave or participate, I weighed in. “Other countries want our fancy weapons even more than they want our food, or medicine.”
“The leaders do,” Carl replied in my direction like mine was a decent comment. “They don’t care if the people starve.” Sweat soaked through his Hammerhead cap and beaded over his face and neck.
Across the channel people already had spotlights focused on The Rapture’s hull to check for crash damage. Such a contrast between the poor refugee spectacle and the pressing priorities of wealthy types. No one was struck by it. Gun practiced scales on his guitar and everyone else except for Killis went about their trip preparations like nothing more important was going on.
“Leaders only care about one thing, keeping their power,” mentioned Gun.
Carl responded with an excited expression. “Speaking of which, nothing says ‘Power’ better than nice weapons!” He held up what resembled a sawed-off speargun, with dual barrels. “This is my brand new baby, very compact. Shoots these little spear bolts.” He admired the shiny weapon. “Yes, you like?”
Jim sucked his cheek. “Oh, sure. Not bad. But, how about all them super weapons the government’s working on, eh? Newfangled electron beams. Conquer the world with those things!”
“Da-aamn!” hollered Carl. “Everyone’s looking to get them mothers!” He adjusted his cap again. “I know someone who’d pay big money.” He winked as if it was joke, and practiced pointing his new pistol at a police boat, or at the flailing refugees it was chasing.
“They already used something like those ‘electron beams’ in Iraq,” Gun replied, tuning up his guitar. “Why do you think it cost so much to rebuild the place?” He played a chord. “They burned through every transformer and generator in the country.”
Carl loaded the spear-like darts into his gun’s barrels. “That’s two different weapons you’re talking about,” he pointed out.
“How do you know?” Jimmy inquired like he was both annoyed and interested.
“Two different weapons? Oh, I don’t know…” Gun spoke in a quiet tone. “What’s the difference, two new weapons, ten new weapons? It’s all the same problem.” He twisted a guitar screw, and picked notes.
Jimmy stood up, though, wagging his finger again. “What our fighting boys need most is a weapon to knock out these improvised bombs. Put a big dent in this terrorism, by God.”
I jumped in again, proposing, “Why stop there? How about something that blows the bombs back up in their faces!”
“Yippeeee!” Gun bellowed.
“Count me in on all those new weapons! You know me!” Carl laughed, and ratcheted back the firing mechanism on his new sawed-off toy. He aimed over the side, and fired a bolt into the water. “Agh! We missed ‘er…lucky little fish. I’ll git’cha next time.”
Gun sighed. “I don’t know about this trip. Someone’s looking for weapons of mass destruction, someone else is hunting for treasure. Another guy just wants sex and adventure.” He stared at me and shook his head pessimistically but almost amused, too, like he was ready for anything coming over the horizon.
Sure, sex and adventure were my goals. I didn’t care about what was out of my control like world war. Plus, I couldn’t get into this whole hunting and fishing thing after seeing the ridiculous advantage of their arsenal. How they enjoyed trapping and killing helpless creatures was diabolical. If space aliens wanted to catch and torture helpless humans for sport or just because they tasted good, they wouldn’t do things any different than these people did to fish. Still, Carl and Gun and the old guy Jim did not seem like bad people, at least they were interesting. I didn’t know anyone like them. I wasn’t so sure about Killis, though. And, maybe there was no real sex or adventure so far, but there were fist fights, rescues, crashes, almost-naked girls, and we hadn’t left the dock yet!
Across the channel, lights from The Rapture cast shifting shadows over the marina. The open sea sounded better and better to me as the humidity made the evening feel like a wet blanket. Rotting fish smell was everywhere but I already noticed it less. Not much a crisp ocean breeze wouldn’t cure, I had to hope.
I crisscrossed the open main deck. With the illumination across the channel and all the police activity there was enough light that I saw my reflection in the oily water slapping against the hull. My face seemed too long and rippled on the rising and falling waves, looking dark and stretching to its limits until it broke up around the edges.
Gun wandered over. “Something interesting down there?”
“Just my reflection in the water, making those weird shapes.”
“Oh, yeah?” He looked over the side with me. “That’s not weird. I can even make out the copper highlights in your hair!”
I stopped him from walking away by saying, “Sometimes a weird reflection shows how you really look. Does that make me look stupid—with the eyes all sunken-in?”
“Na-ah…you? You need big stupid ears to look stupid!” He wiggled one of my ear lobes. “But, nah, you got those pretty blue eyes. Not to mention that nice little butt, and 30-inch waist. I haven’t had a 30-inch waist since high school.” He rubbed my arm in a mocking sexual way which I ignored.
“Yeah, but my face… See, I thought my face was rounder. But that reflection in the water, if it was a cartoon say, it would be longer, see? Uglier—that’s what I’m saying, if it was longer—which I’m not even saying it is. What do you think?”
“What are you talking about!” he almost yelled. “You’re even uglier than these damn things!” Gun threw open a big hatch in the deck. It slammed to rest against a railing to reveal the boat’s two soot-encrusted engines. He glanced at me. “Ever seen one of these babies?” He watched me shake my head before climbing down into the shallow compartment with a toolbox, and stirring up black water at the bottom.
“Is that the bilge?”
I thought it was a smart question but he replied, “Those right there, Caleb, my friend, are famous Detroit Diesel engines, workhorses of the fishing industry.” His straight beard shined with sweat as he stroked it down with his hand. He proceeded to use wrenches on the engines for who-knows-what, while singing refrains of, “Ca-leb, mah belle…these are words that go to-ge-ther well,” and smiling up at me now and then. He must work that refrain in with all his new friends.
“So, Gun, you don’t really think my face is dumb-looking like that reflection, do you?”
“Who the hell cares? What do you want me to say—you got the cutest little baby face? Okay.” He yanked the wrench. “Oh, you’ll do all right, don’t worry. Can’t get into those silly copper highlights, though.”
When he brought up the highlights I spotted their red sheen in the sparkling beads of oil-soaked water. Parts of the reflection were sharp and true and changed every moment with the wave action, so trying to determine anything by that was itself stupid. At least he mentioned my baby face and blue eyes, I had to lean on them for my limited sex appeal.
Members of the famous Hammerhead Diving and Sport Fishing Club continued loading equipment, lining the gunwales on either side of the boat with cooler after cooler of food and drink. Then came the spear guns, diving gear, big boxes of hooks, lures, and fishing rods of all sizes. Many coolers had “SELZ” written on them, which I guessed meant seltzer water. This had to be the strangest place to find myself, knives, spears, and filth everywhere. No doubt stranger experiences involving violence against other living things and more excitement were in store. But I wanted surprises, intense new stuff to make me feel alive.
The Bon Voyage barbecue was well underway after 7 pm when we arrived at the marina. I waited for women passengers to show up, but got an unexpected shock instead. There were no women going on this trip except for one that I was not attracted to named Joni. She was robust and pulled up to the docks in a gold Lincoln Town Car with real estate company signs on the doors. Joni had scribbled out her own diagram of the sleeping assignments after settling myself into the good bunk I wanted. Worse yet, according to her diagram I would be sleeping with someone named “Jonah” in a bunk I considered just big enough for myself.
Gun glanced at my disappointed and angry face and offered to share his privileged accommodations, the top bunk of his cabin, a cabin that was supposed to be his alone. At first I thought he was too kind. Then, it did not bother me if Gun felt guilty. There were no women and I didn’t even get a decent sleeping arrangement. Everything seemed to support canceling again.
“Sorry, Cal.” He enjoyed mutilating my name. “This is the first I heard of it.” He handed the bunking diagram back to me and threw a heavy scuba tank onto each shoulder, then he marched across the gangplank with me following. “I could order them to change it,” he added. “But, the Hammerheads book all these diving trips we depend on.” With a smooth motion, he slipped both tanks off his shoulders and cradled one in each arm before dropping them gently into their secure deck-slings.
“Okay,” I answered. “But, I will not share my bunk with another man. A Jonah, no way. I’m already bummed out there’s no women. She’s the only one.” I pointed at Joni who was expressing her excitement and anticipation with the light-skinned black guy, Killis, the only passenger besides me that was neither too skinny nor too fat nor too middle-aged. Unlike Joni and the rest, this Special Forces warrior was naturally serious and quiet, 6 solid feet of commanding presence with, of all things, a generous smattering of freckles that softened his hard-edged appearance. Natural camouflage, I joked to myself.
Killis extended his hand to shake with veteran Navy colleague, Jim. “Don’t think we met yet. I’m Killis,” we heard him say.
Jimmy looked down while shaking hands as though taken off guard, or trying to remember an earlier introduction. “Jim. Jimmy Peers,” he replied. “Just an old Chief Petty Officer.”
Gun grinned across the deck at Killis, and remarked, “So, you heard about me before, eh? And you already know this bad boy, Carl Iman.” Killis glared at shaved-head Carl, who smirked back. With his deep tan and Mediterranean looks, Carl was almost as dark as the light-skinned Killis. However, those freckles around Killis’s body were downright unusual for black people. I wanted to ask him about it. “And, that’s my shy young friend, Mr. Caleb Todd, hiding back there.” Gun pointed me out to the group. “Caleb’s been my downstairs neighbor for a year, but until a couple weeks ago we never said two words to each other!” he informed everyone. “Then, a good house deal came along. So, yeah, taking the plunge, buying my own house in a couple weeks!”
“Congratulations, Gun. Really, Good Luck,” all the divers joined in saying.
“Never figured you for a property owner,” Jim remarked.
It was true about Gun and me, we hardly spoke for a year except for polite greetings and a superficial knowledge of one another’s lives. Now the idea of catching a trip on one of his dive charters had more urgency since we might never see each other again unless someone made a point of it. First, I had to get over that grouchy twang in his voice which was often just kidding around, and sometimes he was cranky, but he was also a generous hard-working guy and since we became better acquainted I regretted the distance we kept from each other. His mail was addressed to “I. I. Gunderson” but he liked the nickname “Gunner.” Once I asked him why and he roared, “I love gunning the engines!”
While he busied himself with mechanical repairs, the dive club members kept to themselves, prepping the boat. Except for old Jim at one extreme and me at the other, all the divers were between 40 and 55, most with protruding bellies. Joni looked strong but she had a chunky figure. They were all talking about successful real estate transactions but now the focus was on the tax benefits of investment property. I would never fit in with this crowd, having sold off all my possessions because they seemed to “weigh down” my life. Perhaps that’s why I was alone—I had nothing to offer.
Mangy derelict-types gathered around the docks, including the willowy man who filled the tanks aboard the Bull Shark. By midnight, I ate three chicken breasts, four char-burgers, two hot dogs, and drank nine Heinekens. In this humidity the beers must have evaporated because they had little effect on me. I was so unhappy with the prospects of the trip after seeing the boat then finding out Joni was the only woman. Disappointing as things were I didn’t even try to paint a bright side on it for myself. The boat was a garbage scowl, the two closet-sized heads were odorous and the company I had little to say to, which seemed mutual. Most puzzling of all was why I was still going along on this voyage, neither discouraged nor terrified enough about avoiding sharks and other mortal dangers to back out, incredible as it was, hoping instead that the trip leads somewhere better than where I am.
At that moment I spotted a man and woman floating by the Shark’s hull, then emerging from the water and dripping loudly as they dashed hand-in-hand into a clump of trees overhanging the shoreline. They saw me watching them, both dark figures, exhausted lovers but not from making love. Their eyes were bulging with fear and their black faces strained in desperation. Refugees from the Haitian boat.
A police vessel chugged around the bend of an adjoining canal, scouring the channel with searchlights. With hands and fingers to their lips the refugees pleaded for me not to give them away. At the moment of truth I could not bring myself to turn them in. I pictured my own grandparents, and glanced into the eyes of the Harbor Police as they motored by. They blinded me with brilliant lights, which made me cringe and block with my arms up. When they did that for no good reason, I was glad about not giving away the Haitian couple, and managed to hold the police’s attention by defiantly trying to stare back against the lights. Deciding peoples’ fate was a powerful new feeling. Perhaps I just became a criminal, too. By not lifting my index finger, destinies however small, changed. They might make good lives here and recognize me one day. At least they were not terrorists. They willingly risked horrible deaths just for a chance to reach our country, so it mattered more to them than anything including life itself. Whatever opinions people had about immigrants, these people had great courage and would probably jump at the chance to fight for this country and what it stands for just to be part of it, since what it stands for is why they risked dying here in the first place. What more proof of allegiance or good intent is there? Thinking ahead, this trip might not be fun but I could survive a few days.
Stars dotted the moonless sky. We were sailing out to the Bahamas at midnight, crossing the Gulf Stream and arriving at the first dive site after clearing customs in the morning. Crossing the forty-eight miles of ocean in this boat would take seven hours.
Gun instructed me on the use of the Magellan Global Position System, a handheld satellite triangulation instrument. I knew some things about navigation from books and movies but Gun was impressed with my understanding of the readouts that calculated speed, coordinates, arrival time, everything needed to make the crossing to Bimini at one corner of the Bermuda Triangle. What I did not realize was how difficult and dangerous a crossing it could be in this type of craft in the dead of night.
Just before midnight, my mood became hopeful when Gun boarded the boat with a new passenger named Ally who looked about my age, late-twenties with multicolored eyes and wavy brown hair tied in a bun atop her head. Everyone introduced him or herself to Ally, and she greeted the crew with wide smiles, promising, “I’ll learn all your names eventually.” I wasn’t sure if she was possible for me.
“There’s your girl,” one Hammerhead whispered to another.
Gun told me the same thing. “She’s available.”
Ally was friendly and also lanky, with a spine that was not just straight but she even leaned back the slightest bit when she walked, her arms moving in a graceful profile and legs striding ahead. She disappeared below with Gun and some Hammerheads, leaving me staring at the magnificent Rapture across the channel.
A tall stunning blond was standing beside “Captain Briefly” and several other men in Dockers and Polo shirts. Under the halogen lights, the men with cameras and clipboards evaluated the damage, disagreeing about it. Why they were doing this at 11:30 at night was a mystery. Unless they were heading back out to sea again and this was the only time to document it. Finally, my mind began to spin from all the beer and the heat.
Waves splashed against the barnacle-crusted walls of the marina. That tall blond from The Rapture was radiating sex. Wearing low stiletto heels, a see-through yellow skirt and matching thong bathing suit underneath, each satin-smooth curve of her flesh was highlighted by the powerful night lamps as she moved back and forth among the men. Lightheaded now, I wanted to reach across the channel and seize her incredible juicy ass and thighs in my vice-grip fingers; I wanted her so bad I actually fantasized being able to do it! Imagine what those guys were feeling right next to that heart-stopping womanhood of hers.
She gave rise to another side trip of my imagination and that fantasy about being forced to have sex with too many beautiful women at the same time. Women had that Chase Me, Catch Me, Conquer Me thing, the whole concept of passionate romance and getting the worthiest mate was tied to that fantasy. But, to me the whole idea of men being submissive or subdued sexually didn’t seem normal. I imagined trying to escape from all the girls but being pushed down again and again with creamy soft breasts and smooth legs wrapped around my head, captured in the rushing pleasurable sensations as they all have their way—that had to wind up in a way-big orgasm! What could be better? How about ten orgasms in a row! Sure, that must be mind-blowing! Ten or twenty orgasms in a row like women could have, well, some of them, if they really liked the guy. Maybe liking the guy was not the most important part for some girls. Maybe just getting the orgasms was.
At midnight I left the boat for my last bit of dry land before sailing. The docks and parking lot were almost deserted but for a few black kids speaking Spanish and fishing with strings. The scruffy guy who filled the air tanks aboard the Shark earlier was wheeling two big coolers to the marina gate when suddenly a shiny limo pulled up. The doors opened with many tinkling noises as three bikini-clad girls jumped out to speak with him. They all bent over to see inside the coolers, their necklaces and breasts dangling. He pulled out helplessly thrashing lobsters, which all the girls got excited about and giggled. Their jewelry jingled and flashed in the limo headlights.
One dark-haired beauty drew most of my attention with such a curvaceous body and coppery skin, wearing only a bathing suit top and tiny skirt-wrap showing her broad shoulders and toned thighs. She even glanced my way to reveal some exotic or Asian looks. She was the girl that yanked her hand away from the athletic guy on The Rapture a few hours before. Her jewelry, which included several bracelets and chains on both ankles, glinted in the lights as they paid for the lobsters and hopped back in the limo. Now that’s what I dreamed about, what my heart and loins ached for, someone just like her! I wondered if she was still looking at me from inside the limo and did not move in case she was.
“Hey, Caleb, we’re shoving off!” Jim shouted to me from the Bull Shark.
We got underway, and the big engines roared when we picked up a little speed. A few people remained topside while Gun leaned way back in his Captain’s Chair with both hands clasped behind his head, and he lazily steered out of the harbor using one foot on either side of the wheel to control the boat. We set course for Bimini Island but the boat seemed unstable in the open ocean. It swayed around on small waves and its maximum speed was six knots, or seven miles per hour. There was always a near-deafening drone of the dual diesel engines and generators in the background. I overheard one of the Hammerheads mention these engines did not have mufflers.
Gun had not slept for days and the Hammerheads took bets on how long before he fell out of his chair. Until this morning he was in the Indian Ocean, doing emergency underwater repairs on a leaking oil tanker. Then, he had to skipper this charter. I felt bad for my hardworking new friend.
He told me, “I’ll be up all night. It’s no problem, though.” However, he was nodding off. As he leaned back in the chair with his feet controlling the spokes on either side of the helm, I tried learning how to do it in case he couldn’t go on. He operated the helm with no effort and it seemed straightforward, so I didn’t ask many questions. Every now and then the boat veered with a large wave or a gust of wind, but I didn’t realize how Gun unconsciously adjusted to all those forces by anticipation, watching over the sea and judging the waveforms around the boat along with the wind’s effects, and prevailing currents.
Spindly 76 year-old Jim stopped talking about adventures of his life long enough to inform me the Hammerheads had assigned watches to each person, and my shift was coming up at 2:00 am, meaning that in less than two hours I had to steer the boat which I apparently had no choice about! Not wanting to cause trouble for Gun I didn’t complain. It was their prerogative. Instead, I considered getting some rest but still didn’t feel too tired after all the beers and food. Gun needed the sleep more than me. The dive club members didn’t care. Neither did anyone seem to care that navigating on the high seas in the dead of night was not a five-minute learning experience.