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dealer clusters smallpsd

Dealer

By

Eric T. Stiller

 

On the third day, Bernie kicked over the last jug of water. In a frenzy to escape the sweltering heat, he clamored over the stern, delirium driving his desperation across an endless sea of slow syrupy swells to a frosty mirage on the horizon. Augie and Ruck lunged to wrestle him back into the lifeboat, as two gray dorsal fins sliced the surface inches below his chin.

“What? Are you nuts?” yelled Ruck.

“We’re gonna die out here,” moaned Bernie, tucking into a fetal position, in the bilge water sloshing around the hull of the tiny dingy.

“If you wanna be fish food, have at it,” said Augie. “Just swim away from the boat, so the sharks don’t come lookin’ for more.”

“You said we’d be rich not dead!”

“If you guys had checked the sump, we’d be sippin’ Sunrises in Key West by now,” snapped Augie, pulling a grungy green Jets tee-shirt over his head, scant protection against a blazing tropical sun oozing into the horizon, as he curled his lanky frame into a shadow in the shallow curve of the bow.

“I checked it,” said Ruck. “No way to know we were going to get hammered by that storm. We got swamped by twenty foot waves and even two of them couldn’t keep up.”

“So, we lost the boat and a half a ton of primo weed,” whimpered Bernie. “Even if we do survive, how’re we going to pay everyone back? They’re gonna kill us.”

“We’ll do it again, only this time we’ll use boats we can trust,” said Augie. “Three days stranded is long enough to realize that we’ve gotta get organized. We’ll succeed because there’s too much demand and too much money. We just need to learn the rules of the game.”

The blast of a horn interrupted his ramblings, as a Cuban gunboat approached out of a scalding sunset. A sailor, manning a machine gun mounted on the foredeck, eyed the three desperately sunburned young men in the tiny skiff with a smirk, “Gringos!”

An officer stepped out of the bridge and yelled, with the barest hint of sarcasm, “Hola! Are you in distress?”

The boys sat up, hands above their heads.

Augie called out, “Our boat went down in that storm three days ago. We sure could use some food, water, and a lift to dry land.”

“You realize that you are violating the sovereign territory of the Republic of Cuba and you will be detained by the authorities as spies or illegal aliens, at the very least. If convicted, the minimum penalty is three years hard labor. Considering the tension between our two countries, diplomatic arrangements might be difficult and expensive.”

Bernie yelled, “So, you’re suggesting we can float around out here without food or water, until we die, or surrender to you?”

“Si, Senor.”

Ruck quipped, “I’m votin’ for terra firma, myself.”

“Permission to board?” shouted Augie.

~

La Cabana, a heavily fortified 18th-century bastion perched on a rocky outcrop guarding the harbor entrance, served as a military prison during the Batista regime, a dungeon where prisoners disappeared without a trace. After the rebellion, Che Guevara administered ruthless trials and executions for the remnants of the defeated establishment, with brutal efficiency, but most patrons of the government fled long before the revolutionaries stormed Havana. Currently, the crumbling garrison housed enemies of the state and criminal detainees, separated from the general criminal population in the city jail for political expediency.

A squad of guards in tattered uniforms removed the handcuffs and shoved the boys into a dank overcrowded cell in the bowels of the complex. Rats scurried and roaches flitted around a lightbulb in the ceiling above a hole in the floor that served as a toilet, flushed by a stream of gray water dripping from a broken faucet.

Undeterred by the new arrivals, a small crowd huddled at the back of the cell for a boisterous game of dice, while most sat on the six cots lined up against the walls or leaned passively, staring at the Yankees. Two stout thugs started towards the new meat, grinning like starving mongrels stalking easy prey.

Bernie backed against the wall of rusted iron bars, “Fuck, this doesn’t look like a Tupperware party to me.”

Augie brushed Ruck out of harm’s way and, without warning, punched the first hulking boar squarely on the nose with a straight right, toppling the giant in a heap. He spun to batter the smaller goon with a flurry of four quick shots. He scanned the pack of potential muggers, motionless with mouths agape, but no one made a sound or moved to tend to the two fools on the floor for a long moment…before the tiny cell erupted into chaos and they morphed into a raging mob, closing on the boys in slow motion.

Keys rattled at the door and a guard burst in, discharging a pistol into the ceiling. He surveyed the moaning bodies on the floor and motioned for the boys to exit the cell.

Thirty minutes later, they were admitted to the Commandant’s office, a sparsely furnished room with piles of paper stacked on every surface. The guard saluted and closed the door, as the warden stood and pointed to a wooden bench with a riding crop, “Sit!”

The boys sat obediently, as each had so many times in the Monsignor’s office at Sebastian Academy.

The sweaty man, clothed in a rumpled uniform and worn boots, strode back and forth beneath a ceiling fan that barely moved the sultry blue haze of a stale cigar, thumping the crop against his boot. Finally, he stopped, tapping several times, and said in mildly accented English, “If these walls could speak, they would tell tales of torture and horrific deaths wrought at the hands of desperate despots, defending a fleeting moment of power. Today, we house enemies of the State and the most dangerous criminals in absolute security. You three arrive and cause chaos in the first five minutes of your incarceration and you haven’t even been charged yet!”

“We didn’t start it,” said Ruck.

“Silence!” yelled the officer. “It would be easy enough to make you disappear, as if you’d never been found floating around in the Gulf, and, I’m sure, your cellmates would relish a rematch.”

Augie stood, “These guys didn’t have anything to do with it. I took them out.”

“I might have suspected. Sit!” He turned back to his desk, “I fought alongside Fidel and Che but, now, I have become an administrator, merely a cog in the revolutionary machine. Even in this insignificant role, I realize that we must be seen in the foreign press as benevolent, if we are to expand the fight for the freedom of our brothers and sisters throughout the region. Public sympathy is a powerful weapon.”

“What does that have to do with us?” asked Bernie.

“Arrangements have been made for the Red Cross to evacuate you to the Swiss Embassy, where you will await the court’s decision. I can not predict the outcome, but I would hope that the authorities see the practical benefits of your repatriation, rather than internment where you would surely die.” He leaned on the edge of the desk, with the slightest smile, “Besides, there is no honor in the senseless deaths of the three stupid young Americans. That is counter-revolutionary!”

“What you’re really saying is that you don’t want the responsibility, if we happen to die on your watch,” smirked Ruck.

“You do have a point, young man.” He waved his hand around the stacks of paper, “I have more important things to worry about than filling endless forms with fiction.”

~

Bernie slumped into a chaise in a tepid breeze wafting through open French doors and turned to Augie, who was flipping through an aged National Geographic, “Not that I’m complaining, this sure beats the hell outta that rat-infested hellhole, but that General guy didn’t spring us out of the goodness of his heart.”

Augie held up a double page spread of topless African natives and smiled, “Someday, we’re gonna have to go on safari!” He tossed the magazine on the table, “Think about it, they have nothing to gain by holding us, we’re a bureaucrat’s nightmare, and they sure don’t want the parents of damaged American youngsters spouting off to the press. Besides, they’ve got crucial things to worry about, like whether an armada of Yankees is going to appear on the horizon or how they’re gonna feed their people. As far as they’re concerned, we’re a bunch of spoiled kids, who were lucky to survive our own ignorance.”

“Yeah, but there’s more to it than that,” added Ruck.

“I’m guessin’ the Red Cross got in touch with our parents and the old man is making sure that we’re well cared for with a generous donation…and you can bet he’s pissed.”

“Makes sense,” said Bernie. “He’s definitely got connections in all the right places.”

Augie smirked, “Asshole owns the right people.”

“I’m thinkin’ we should have taken up boxing or judo or something, back in junior high, when you did.”

“I’m thinkin’ you’re right,” replied Augie.

“So, when are we getting out of here?” asked Ruck, who looked absolutely tropical with his dark hair slicked back, a white linen shirt opened two buttons down from the collar, loose beige pants, and sandals.

“Relax, the wheels are turning and we’re just along for the ride. In the meantime, we’re safe and well fed until things get worked out.” He handed out long, fragrant cigars, “We might not have dope but these are pretty sweet.”

The boys puffed, “Speaking of sweet, did you check out our ‘minder’? She can’t be any older than we are.”

“Yeah, and she’s built too, even under that baggy uniform,” laughed Bernie. “First one to get her in the sack wins the title of ‘The Man’!”

Augie grinned, “You guys already lost.”

~

Diffused by a fog of blue smoke, the warm cast of a green glass desk lamp framed the orange glow of a cigar clamped in his father’s mouth. “You okay?”

Reluctantly, Augie stepped into the darkened study, “Yeah.”

“Sit.”

His butt barely touched the chair, when his father leaned his massive girth across the imposing desk, screaming, “Augustus Constantine, what the fuck did you think you were doing? You punks cost me a bundle and more than a few favors.”

“Trying to make a buck.”

“How does a screw-up, with a lifetime on the sea, get caught in a squall, sink a yacht in Cuban waters, and paddle around in a lifeboat without supplies for three days?”

“Profit potential. It’s simple math. We bought the boat for twenty grand and the load of pot for twenty-five. We should have spent more on a better boat but the storm that got us was a killer, so I’m not sure it would’ve made any difference. If we’d completed the trip, we would have cleared two-hundred grand, after expenses.”

Julius sat back, “That’s a lot of money.” He took a deep drag on his stogie, “Where’d you get the dough?”

“A bunch of people pitched in.”

“And they’ll be wanting repayment, at the very least, if not a piece of your ass.”

“I’ll find a way to pay everyone back with interest,” snapped Augie.

“Damned right, because no LaGuerre ever welched on a debt and you won’t be the first!” He rocked back, puffing on the cigar, “You’ve putzed around the factory and you’ve had offers for some pretty good jobs, so why are you doing this?”

The son rested his elbows on the edge of the desk, “First, because every job I’ve ever had taught me how not to run a business. Everyone I worked for survived in spite of their own stupidity and a complete lack of imagination. Everything was done the way it had always been done, so there was no potential to make more than a salary, unless I figured out how to buy the company and fire the entire management staff. Second, because this is a brand new market and supply is spotty at best. No one’s organized a system to import and distribute the product efficiently. The demand is phenomenal and the profits are unbelievable.”

“What about these other drugs…the hallucinogens and junk?”

“I don’t mess with them, they’re bad karma. Grass is different. It’s a natural plant that grows from the earth and it’s been used as a sacrament for thousands of years all over the world. And I’m pretty sure that no one ever died from smoking a joint. The only people with a problem are the cops and the politicians, and even that was conjured up by the government to control the Mexicans and the Blacks back in the Thirties.”

Julius stared at his son, no longer a gangly kid, rather, a tall handsome graduate who still bore that mischievous glint in his intense dark eyes. No doubt anxious to begin his own quest to conquer the world, yet too naïve to comprehend the toll that ambition drains from the soul. “So, you’re trying to imitate the old man, eh?”

“No, I’m trying to create my own capital to do what I want, instead of having to depend on you.”

“You want for nothing! Nothing!”

“True…but it’s yours and, like it or else, there are always strings attached. I want to earn my own.”

“My son the drug dealer!”

“Hey, I know you’re involved in a lot of deals that can’t possibly qualify as kosher, so don’t give me that crap! I count fifty-eight different checkbooks in the office and those are only the ones that aren’t locked up.”

“I came up from the streets and I’ve busted my ass for forty years to provide for my family!”

“And so will I!” screamed Augie. “And by ‘family’ are we talking Mom and the kids or Carlito and Uncle Vinnie and all the rest of the clan?”

The old man leaned forward, his eyes blazing, “I wanted a better life for my children, including you.”

“The old ways are changing. Look around, all these long-haired kids are smokin’ dope and they’re perfectly willing to pay for it.”

“In the old days, a few of the smaller families handled the drugs but it was considered a dirty business. It was not a trade to be respected.”

“But prostitution and gambling and jamming every union in the city was any different?”

Julius’ eyes glared through a swirl of blue smoke, “You’re a grown man and I can’t direct your life, in spite of my misgivings, but I’ll make two demands. Do not disgrace the family name and keep your little brother out of this,”

Augie stood, “I’ll be discreet.”

The old man rested his heels on the desk and leaned back, “Damned right! You and your little buddies owe me fifty grand for the ransom and I expect to be paid.”

“Fine, I’ll have you paid off in ninety days.”

“If you don’t, I’ll take it out of your ass with interest!” laughed the old man, groaning, as he hauled himself out of the chair to lean on the desk. “The Lollipop is in Charlotte Amalie and needs to be brought up for servicing before winter sets in. Cappy’s got a drydock for us in two weeks. You supply the crew.”

Incredulous, Augie just stared, “But…?”

“If you sink my boat, make sure you drown, because I won’t be bailing your butt out of jail, I’ll be lookin’ to grind you into chum." 

~

The glass door groaned and slammed as Augie pushed through the foyer of the old Graystone and trudged up five flights to the flat, thinking, “If I cashed the trust, I could just about pay everyone off and be done with it…or, I could use it as seed money. Basic economics – research, plan, prepare, and make your move. When you succeed, expand into the next opportunity. When you lose, you learn, you find the mistakes in the business plan, and, if the premise is still valid, you continue.”

The frosted transom above the door was dark, as he reached to insert his key into the lock, but the door creaked open. The apartment was dim, save the faint glow of streetlights creeping through the blinds and a sliver of amber firing across the planked floor from his bedroom door. He tiptoed down the hall and peaked through the gap to spy Abby, beautifully naked, nestled back into the pillows on the king-size mattress, thrusting a giant vibrator between her legs.

She looked up without interrupting the rhythm, “Come ‘ere big guy, you’ve got just what I need.”

Augie sauntered over, dropped his bag, and leaned over for a kiss. Abby unbuckled his belt, popped the button on his jeans, and pulled down the zipper to grab his cock. “Still work?” smirked the little blond, squatting on the vibrator, as her tongue flicked from stem to head and her lips parted.

~

Abby was leaning on an elbow, blowing smoke in his face, when he opened his eyes, “So, ya’ wanna fuck or are ya’ gonna tell me the story or what?”

He slowly focused on her blue eyes peeking through a veil of thin blond hair, tan skin, button nose, and perfectly round little everything, “Mind if I wake up?”

“Wanna smoke a joint?”

“How ‘bout coffee?”

She stood up and sauntered into the kitchen.

“Nice butt,” said Augie, pulling a pillow over his head.

The little blond padded into the bedroom to deliver two mugs and a tray of bagels, cream cheese, and Welch’s jelly. Her eyes squinted through the smokey trail of a Marlboro, with a two-inch ash, clamped in the corner of her mouth, “Coffee and food.”

“Thanks,” said Augie, sitting up and ruffling his dirty blond curls.

Abby poked his ribs, “You don’t look like you lost any weight.”

“I’ve been eating Cuban steaks for a month.”

“How’d you manage that?”

He took a sip of coffee, “Look, I’ll tell you about the interesting stuff but I think you’d be safer, if I left out the business side of things.”

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t want you to be in a position where you might be forced to testify against me or be suspected of being involved.”

“So you went off to buy some pot and you came back paranoid about the Federalies?”

“Importing is a different game than just buying a pound and dealing it out to your friends. If someone’s going to succeed at this, they’re going to have run it like a business.”

“Fine, Prince Charming protecting my honor!” laughed Abby. “All you want is my pussy.”

“That too,” smirked Augie through a mouthful of bagel.

“So…the steaks?”

“Oh, we got swamped in a storm, sank the boat, and lost the load. We floated around in a dingy for three days with no food and a couple of little jars of water before a Cuban gunboat picked us up. The authorities dumped us in the kind of dank, ancient, rat-infested jail cells you see in creepy old movies, jammed with Cuban criminals, who didn’t like Yankees much. With some prodding from my father, the Red Cross got us out and put us up in the Swiss embassy. They took care of us until we finally got cleared to fly out to Mexico City.”

“Sounds like quite an adventure,” said Abby, stretching out on the pillows. “I’m sure you didn’t find time for any ass, while you were gone?”

“Well, there was our beautiful Cuban minder, who followed us around whenever we left the embassy.”

“You asshole!” shouted the ferocious little dynamo, swinging a pillow at his head. “C’mere, I want some of that.”

A banging at the door interrupted. Abby sat up, disappointed, “I’ll get it.” Her tight buns bounced in perfect rhythm as she trotted down the hall and stood on tiptoe to peer through the peephole, “Shit, it’s your buddies from Cuba.”

“Let ‘em in.”

The little blond unlatched the bolts and pulled the door open to give Ruck and Bernie a hug, “I’m glad you two survived.”

“Us too,” laughed Bernie, trying not to stare at her pert nipples or the tiny puff of blond hair between her legs.

“There’s coffee on the stove. Augie’ll be out in a minute.” She turned and strolled back into the bedroom, swinging her hips, with a big smile. “Well, their day started better than yours.”

“How come?”

“They both had hard-ons before I finished hugging them.”

“Put some clothes on,” smirked Augie, dragging on a pair of bell-bottoms and a burgundy shirt. He grabbed his cup and a cigarette and headed for the living room at the front of the flat.

“You guys okay?”

Ruck grinned sheepishly, “My folks weren’t too happy about any of it. Lots of yelling and screaming about how I disgraced the family and being disowned and stuff.”

“Heck, my ol’ man said it was too bad we didn’t drown,” said Bernie, “and meant it.”

“Well, are you up for getting this right?”

Both nodded.

“Fine. Let’s break this up, so the tasks suit the talents. Bernie, you’re the scholar, so, transform yourself into a hip college professor and go see this PR guy.”

“What do we need advertising for?” asked Bernie.

“We don’t. We need research. You’re writing a thesis on the history of smuggling - including slaves, liquor, weapons, and any kind of contraband during the wars – from the revolution right through Vietnam, and the current exportation of guns and importation of drugs and humans to and from South America and the Caribbean. To shore up the research, you’re specifically interested in how the fortifications around the borders of the United States and Canada have moved and changed in relation to the threat. If he gets inquisitive, simply tell him that you’ve got a publisher lined up who doesn’t want you talking about the project, because you’re taking a different perspective on the whole thing, sort of outside looking in.”

Bernie rubbed his sparse mustache, “Makes sense to know your adversary’s strengths. I can do this.”

“Great,” said Augie, turning to Ruck. “Now, the ol’ man wants the Lollipop brought up from Charlotte Amelia.”

“How’d you manage that? I thought he’d skin you alive.”

“We had a…confrontation and he was pissed but…I’m not really sure how it ended up this way. Anyway, you head down to St. Thomas and get her ready.”

He turned to Bernie, “After you set up the research, catch a flight to Montego and hook up with Wilfred. No doubt, he’ll be hangin’ at that record shop off Market Street. I’ll have it set up but you’ve gotta make sure we get quality product, none of that soggy moldy crap he tried to pass off on us the last time. If we’re buying a half-ton at a time, it’d better be primo, weighed and packaged, or we’ll go find another source. Make sure he understands that, if he acts like a pro, we’ll be steady customers. You good with that?”

“No problem, I can handle him, but I think his mother, Nell, is the brains behind their deal. What are you going to do?”

“I’m going to do some research on other sources and get our scratch together, then meet up with Ruck on Wednesday, so we can connect with you by Sunday. We should have the wind with us all the way and storm season’s pretty much over, so maybe the old tub with the broad beam might make good time.”

Bernie looked up, “We better not screw this one up or everyone from your ol’ man and our parents to the Cuban government are gonna be lookin’ for a piece of our asses.”

~

Landing on the runway at Cyril E. King Airport in Charlotte Amelia, a jetty extending a thousand feet into the sea, created the illusion that the craft was certainly going to bellyflop into the drink until tires bumped on pavement and the knot in Augie’s stomach released. He marched down the stairs from the 707, slimed by a blast of soggy tropical air, and strolled across the tarmac with a beige linen sports coat draped over his left arm and an expensive leather briefcase in his right hand. His long curls were shorn to just below the collar of a touristy Hawaiian shirt he wore over crisply pressed khakis and shiny penny-loafers with mercury dimes in the slits.

He grabbed his bag, got his passport stamped, and, yes, he was certainly visiting as a tourist. Within minutes of departing the plane, his body was crushed into back seat of a small taxi-van tearing down Route 30 for the marina in Long Bay. The driver leaned over the seat at sixty miles an hour, with total disregard for lanes or other traffic, to offer a warm welcome. His bloodshot eyes left little doubt about his mental state and Augie suspected that his brains were swaddled inside a swirling rainbow knitted cap, pulled down to his eyebrows, which surely contained at least a bushel of dreadlocks in a pouch at the back.

Augie started to scream but the driver turned back to the road, “Relax Mon, the Jah is watching over us and, if you believe, we will come to no harm.”

“Turn around and watch where we’re going, so we don’t run over this Jah guy.”

The driver burst out laughing, “You Americans just don’t understand.”

“What?”

“The Rastaman inhales the sacrament to be close to God or Jah. He is the shepherd and we are his flock, his ignorant children seeking illumination. The sacred herb soothes the mind and opens the soul to purity and truth.” He laughed, “Yankees just want to get high on the whacky weed but they don’t want to take time to follow the righteous path to enlightenment.”

“Why are you telling me this?”

“So that you don’t make a grave mistake.”

“What’s that?”

He turned around again, his bloodshot eyes hypnotic, his voice a melody, “The herb is not a commodity, it is a sacrament. If you treat it with respect and honor, use it as the gods who provided it intended, you will reach understanding and equilibrium with the natural world around us. You’ll find balance and purpose and Jah will watch over you.”

Augie curled into the back of the plastic-covered seat, as the van swerved between two slower cars, spun hard right and screeched to a stop on the street above the docks. He exhaled slowly, feeling the blood beginning to rise back into his brain. “What do I owe you?”

“Ten dollars.”

“Ten? The sign said six!”

“You didn’t scream, so that’s extra,” laughed the slender man with an enormous smile of perfect pearly teeth. “And the information that I provided is certainly worthy of the investment, if you’re as smart as I think you are, Mon.”

Augie handed him a twenty and dragged his suitcase, briefcase, and coat out of the cab, as tires screeched and the car sped away. He piled his stuff on the curb and extended his arms to stretch an aching back. Long distance travel aggravated an old football injury and his spine was twisted for days after a flight unless he could find a good masseuse.

He grabbed his bags and lumbered down the steps to find the Lollipop, docked at the third pier, taking on fuel and water. Ruck popped out of the bridge, “’bout time you showed. I was gonna leave without you!”

“Yeah, right,” laughed Augie, hugging his slender friend. His dark hair was slicked straight back and he was sporting starched blue shorts and a dress white shirt with epaulettes and little golden anchors on the collar, knee socks and deck shoes. “Do you always have to look like you stepped out of a Saks ad?”

Ruck looked down at his clothes, “What’s wrong with this?”

“You’re way too…yachting mod.”

“Mod, I’m not a mod, I just like nice clothes. Besides, this is perfect for the skipper of a fine vessel like this.”

“Shit, whoever marries you is going to have competition in front of the mirror!”

“You asshole! Have you looked in the your own mirror lately. You look like some business guy trying desperately to be hip.”

“That’s exactly how I want to be perceived. The cops are looking for hippies. We don’t look like hippies.”

“Good point.”

“So, how’s she check out?”

“All systems are go. Pumped the bilge, changed the oil in both engines and the generators, got supplies for three weeks, charted our course, and checked in with the harbormaster. There are no storms between here and Africa, so we’re cleared to make way tonight,” said Ruck. “How’d it go on your end?”

Augie grinned, “I just needed to check some things out.”

“Like what?”

“Well, Jamaica is one source for fine weed but there are plenty of others. The more I think about this enterprise that we’re building, the more I see it from a different perspective. I know that doesn’t make any sense but look at it this way, we’ve been focused on a specific little piece of the market in our own backyard. If you zoom out a little, you notice that there are other backyards and neighborhoods and cities that all want pot. It’s enormous. So, how do you supply customers in different parts of the country?”

“You’ve either gotta create an overland network or find the source closest to the market,” mused Ruck, smiling. “Columbia’s known for growing fine weed and, that kid from the neighborhood, Antonio’s whole family is from Bogotá or someplace. I bet we could learn a lot from him.”

Augie smirked, “Already did. If we pull this off, we’ll split our profits between another round of this and one on the West Coast. I’ve got people waiting.”

“This could get out of hand real quick.”

“Yeah, I know.”

~

The old cruiser eased into the docks of the marina in Montego Bay, just as the sun was setting in a blaze of red and yellow streaks fanning across the sky behind the bluffs to the west. Bernie staggered out of the clubhouse bar, meandering along the wharf until he lurched into a piling and leaned over the stern of the Lollipop, stammering, “Perr-rmisss-sion to commmme a-bort!”

Ruck tossed a line and the drunk dropped his beer in the drink, fumbling to catch the rope. “How long have you been hangin’ in that bar?”

“Oh, since…uh…’bout noon.”

“Great, just what we need, you fucked up. I sure hope you’ve got your shit together.”

“Yes, sir, captain, I do. It’s all been arrrrrangged for Mon-day, yeah, that’s tomorrow,” said Bernie, now hopelessly tangled in the line between the boat, a pylon, and a cleat.

Ruck jumped onto the quay and snatched the rope, lashing it neatly on the tie-down. He stood up to grab Bernie by the collar of his plaid shirt and slam him against the piling, “We’ve got work to do. You can get fucked up at home but not on our time. You got it?”

“But you guys were late and I was bored,” moaned a listless Bernie.

“You could always chase some pussy or just hang out at the beach and smoke a little weed but, no, you’ve gotta get shit-faced. We’ve been rotating watches for days and I’m definitely too tired for your shit, man.”

“Alright, alright, I’ll get it together, I promise. Besides, I’ve had things ready to roll for a couple of days now, so this is just a tiny little dimple on an otherwise smoooooth road ahead.”

“You better be right about that,” said Augie from the stern. “We haven’t got time to screw around. Get on board and we’ll make some coffee, then we’re going to eat a big steak, because I’m sick of boat food already.”

Bernie sat precariously on a stool in the galley, sipping black coffee and trying desperately not to puke.

“So, how’d it work out?” asked Augie.

“You were right, Wilfred’s a cool kid but he’s a gofer for his mom. Nell’s got a finger in every brick of weed that moves through this town and she isn’t afraid to let you know about it either. She’s one tough dame and big enough to back it up.”

Ruck chuckled, “Your kind of girl.”

Bernie couldn’t hold back and heaved in the sink. He turned on the water to rinse his mouth and wash his face. He brushed his sandy hair back as he settled on the stool and picked up his coffee cup, “That feels better.”

“You’re a dumbshit, you know that?” said Ruck. “Tell me about your girlfriend.”

“I’d guess she weighs in at about two-fifty, minimum, and you could pick her voice out of the cheering crowd in a soccer stadium. She’s real bright, right up front about everything, and seems like she’s talkin’ straight but, I’ll tell you what, I sure wouldn’t want to get on her wrong side.”

“Yeah, but what’s the product like and how’s it gonna go down?” asked Augie.

“The weed is primo. I’ve got a brick in the rental but you’ll approve. Deal’s gonna go down in Tom Piper’s Bay, down the coast, tomorrow night. She claims her family’s been fishing out of that cove for generations.”

“Sounds like we’ll be playin’ on her turf,” said Ruck. “Not sure I like that.”

Bernie shrugged, “I have no reason to believe that this whole thing isn’t going to go down as agreed. I just feel like they’re real folk, who want to sell to customers they can trust.”

“Then, I guess, we have no choice, but we’ll be prepared in case things head south. Now, are you sober enough so we can get something to eat?”

~

The Lollipop motored west along the rugged northern coast into dusk and idled through the mouth of Tom Piper’s Bay, heading for the lights in Elgin Town. Three battered skiffs, with outboards that whined like angry insects, pulled along side and a voice, akin to melodious cannon fire, called out, “Is my Bernie aboard?”

Ruck cut the engines and Bernie leaned over the rail, “Lovely to see you on a beautiful night like this!”

“You’re an old charmer, that’s what you are!” laughed the huge woman. “Now get your skinny butt in gear and help me up there!”

Bernie opened the gate at the stern and lowered the diving platform to grab her hand. Augie took the other as Wilfred and another boy pushed from behind. With concerted effort, she stumbled on deck and straightened up, “Thank you, gentleman. I appreciate your help. Now, can we get down to business?”

“Could I offer you something cool to drink,” offered Ruck, guiding her into the salon.

“Two fingers of dark rum on the rocks, if you have it?”

“Coming right up.”

She took a seat in an armchair facing the door and Augie sat down opposite. “Bernie tells me that this relationship might be true romance, if we all get along.”

“That’s what we’re hoping. We have an anxious audience and it’s expanding geometrically.”

“Then I want to make sure you’re satisfied with the product and with our service.”

“Show me what we’re buying.”

She put two fingers in her mouth and whistled. Wilfred appeared with a kilo brick wrapped in red cellophane and handed it to his mother, then stepped back to the doorway. A large fishing knife flashed in her chubby hand and sliced open the binding.

Augie broke the slab in half and inhaled, then held it up to the table lamp. Finally, he tossed back onto the table, “It’s fresh-picked, hasn’t been cured, and it’s moldy.”

Bernie leaned back on the coach and reached behind a pillow, which meant Wilfred had a gun. Ruck walked over from the bar to offer their guest her drink on a silver tray with a Beretta underneath.

Augie raised his hands, “Before this gets out of hand, let’s back up a minute. It seems to me that, if you’re trying to export the teachings and sacrament of Jah, and making a tidy profit on the side, then you probably want the help of people like us. You provide the best of your harvest, we provide cash to expand your enterprise and spread the word across the whole country. We all win.”

Nell smiled and winked at Wilfred, who pocketed the pistol. “You might not understand Jah but you feel it, don’t you? It is a warmth in your soul, an assurance that there is someone looking out for you, an Almighty, an energy binding all of us with the cosmos of living things.”

“And that’s something that everyone should understand.”

She snapped her fingers and a kilo wrapped in blue foil sailed across the cabin. “You are a very bright young man and honest in your heart. I think I will like you.” She slit the foil and smiled, presenting the package like an offering. “I think you will find this to your approval.”

The scent was fresh and minty, the texture of the plump six-inch manicured buds was firm with just a little suppleness when squeezed. Too wet and the product will mold, two dry and potency is diminished, water weight lost, and it burns like lint. He pulled several buds from each half and inspected them. “No seeds.”

“The female plants are segregated from the males, so all their energy is focused into making flowers and resin in a desperate quest to be fertilized.”

“The potency increases.”

“By more than fifty percent. We do have our own chemists and agricultural consultants working to create a sustainable orchard, rather than dealing with amateurs hacking clearings out of the jungle, trying to make a few bucks.”

“That’s the spirit I was talking about. I’d like to see your grow the next time.”

Wilfred said, “You’ll be impressed and surprised.”

“So, is this really the product you’re selling us or are we going to play games?” asked Bernie, sniffing a bud.

“We can load you now, if you have the cash?”

“Then why did we have to go through this deadly little drama?” asked Ruck, tucking the Beretta in the back of his waistband.

The fat woman laughed, “Because I wanted to make sure you guys weren’t trouble, first, and that you actually know what you’re doing. I don’t have time for amateurs or pirates.”

Augie smiled, “We’re just hippie businessmen who want to spread joy across our sad, sad land.”

“Amen to that,” said Ruck.

~

Ruck eased the Lollipop around the north end of Gardiners Island in the darkness of a moonless night, then south through Cherry Bay to nestle in the protection of a long curving spit of sand. Before the old cruiser’s anchor dropped, a trawler, with a long flat aft deck for the tourist anglers, idled alongside. “Ahoy Mates!” yelled the bearded skipper. “Can we see your papers?”

Augie leaned over the rail and smiled, “Right on time but screw you anyway!”

“Safe journey?” called Teddy Parsons, a gregarious bull with dark flashing eyes, framed by a thatch of black curls and a bushy moustache. His old man owned half of Manhattan but he and Ashton ran a little guided-fishing business over the summers, then headed to the Caribbean for the winter months.

“Smooth and calm,” said Bernie as he tossed lines to tie off fore and aft.

“Worthy of the effort?” yelled Ashton Lambert, son of a Wall Street Banker.

A mischievous grin crinkled Augie’s eyes to slits, “Heh, heh, I’m pretty sure you’re gonna like this, if we can offload it without you guys dumping it in the drink.”

Teddy stepped out of the little wheelhouse, “We’ve got nets!”

“Great!” yelled Ruck, rolling a dolly of boxes onto the aft deck. “Let’s get busy.”

They transferred more than fifty boxes in less than an hour but all five were dripping with sweat. “We’ve gotta get some labor to help out,” laughed Ashton. “Call the union!”

“Yeah, just what we need,” moaned Augie, stretching his back. “Inspectors!”

“That’s far out,” said Teddy.

“Are you trippin’ again?” asked Ruck.

“Naw, just flashin’, man, just flashin’. I can handle this.”

“You better!” said Augie quietly. “They’re dredging out Napeaque Harbor and they’ve installed a utility dock at the north end of the bay. Donny and Hank’ll meet you there with the vans in thirty minutes. Easy in, easy out.”

“You guys be safe,” yelled Bernie, as the trawler cast off and turned south. “We’ll catch you tomorrow.”

~

Abby awoke to a knock at the door and padded, naked, down the hallway to peer through the peephole. Donny and Hank were leaning on a stack of brown cardboard boxes. She opened the door, “Don’t you guys ever show up at a reasonable hour? I was actually asleep!”

“Shhh, keep it down,” said Donny, with a peck on the cheek. “We’re just delivery boys but there’s a lot to bring up, so why don’t you go put some clothes on?”

Hank added, “Yeah, you’re definitely a serious distraction.”

“You wish,” smiled Abby, strolling down the hallway, swinging her hips.

“Bet she’s a handful,” said Hank, lugging a stack of boxes to the dining room.

“I’m bettin’ she’d hurt you so good, you’d be begging for more,” laughed Donny.

“Or mercy, one!”

“Next load.”

After nearly two hours of creeping up five flights from the alley behind the building, daylight glowed under the window shades. Abby brought a tray of coffee and Danish, “Thought you might need a little boost after working so hard all night.”

“Thanks,” said Hank, grabbing a sweet-roll and a mug.

Abby tossed a packet of rolling papers on the table and flicked a switchblade to slice open one of the boxes, “I’m thinkin’ we ought to test this out, just to make sure.”

She pulled out a kilo brick bound in blue foil and knelt beside the table to slice the wrapper. The sweet fresh aroma wafted from the packing and she grabbed a large pinch, stripping good bud from the stems. The little blond placed a paper between two fingers of her left hand and filled it with crumpled pot. The paper disappeared with a flick of her digits and she licked the gum to seal a perfectly cylindrical joint.

“That’s amazing!” said Hank. “How’d you do that?”

“My ol’ man rolled his own and taught me how to do it for him when I was just a little kid.” She popped a kitchen match with the nail on her thumb and lit the joint, inhaling deeply. “Oh yeah, that’s what I’m talkin’ about.”

Donny took a drag and coughed, “Sweet.”

Hank grabbed the reefer, “I could get to likin’ this.”

Abby laughed, waving her hand at the wall of boxes, “I think we might finally have enough!”

The latch clicked in the door and Augie sauntered in, spying the brick on the table, “So, what’d ya’ think?”

Abby exhaled a huge cloud of smoke, wheezing, “Dynamite!”

“You guys have any trouble?”

“Naw, just haulin’ all this shit up five flights.”

“So, how’d you feel about taking some of it back down?”

Abby stood up on tiptoes to French-kiss him, making sure the boys had a nice view of her ass as she rubbed her crotch up and down his thigh, “How long since you slept?”

He laughed, “Not quite as long as it’s been since I had any good lovin’.”

“Nothin’ slowin’ you down,” said Abby, grabbing a paper to roll another joint.

“We’ve got customers waiting for product. The sooner we get it out there, the sooner we finish the deal.” He pointed to the stack in the dining room, “That’s all gotta be gone in a day or two at most.”

“No rest for the weary,” said Donny. “What needs to go where?”

“Five boxes to Ned’s garage, over in the Bronx. He said he’d be in around nine and it’s Sunday morning, so you can take your time getting there.”

“Yeah, I know where he’s at,” said Hank. “Let’s get crankin’.”

“Get some rest and come by tonight. I’ll have another delivery ready to go,” said Augie.

“Right,” said Donny, stacking up three boxes and heading for the door.

Augie put a briefcase on the table and opened it, removing a blue file. He grabbed a cup of coffee and settled back on the leather sofa, “Jets don’t start until noon.”

“I bet I can find something to do in the meantime,” said Abby, slipping off her robe and snuggling against him. “I’m cold.”

Augie laughed and wrapped a wool throw around her supple body, “Give me a few minutes to read this report and I’ll fill your order, Ma’am.”

“What’s in the report?”

“We had a PR firm look into where the border patrol is most active and where they’re lax. Bernie dressed up like a college professor and claimed to be doing research for a book. They only charged us three hundred bucks,” he said, holding up a thick volume. “This is golden.”

“Yeah, if you’re planning to bring in more than a boatload once in a while.”

“Hey, I told you that I would not and could not talk about the business part of this for your own protection and that’s the way it’s gotta be, okay?”

“Fine!” she said, stomping off to the bedroom and slamming the door.

Augie leaned back and turned on the table lamp, “Welcome home.”

He scanned the summary, which indicated that the government’s current primary concerns were illegal immigrants arriving from Cuba and the Caribbean, Eastern block countries slipping spies across the Canadian and Mexican borders, and illicit arms shipments heading for Latin American mercenaries, or, at least, those working for our enemies. The seizure of drug shipments was a minuscule eighth on the list of priorities.

Other than normal patrols by the Coast Guard and Customs control around the major ports, there was no systemic security from northern Georgia to North Carolina or from Los Angeles north to Oregon, with the exception of San Francisco. The press reinforced public awareness of the presence of Soviet submarines along our coasts, just as our own monitored the movements of their fleets and radio traffic in the Barents Sea in the north and the Bering Sea along the Pacific Rim, but there was no threat of invasion by sea. The central coastlines were open to leisure and commercial traffic with limited monitoring.

He dropped the booklet on the table and snatched a Marlboro, “They can’t be making it that fucking easy, can they?”

He leaned back and puffed, thinking. The trip from Charlotte Amalie to Jamaica to Bahia Mar in Ft. Lauderdale was a breeze and the inspector took one look at the familiar old yacht and stamped their papers with a wave of the hand and a C-note for his troubles. They motored into traffic through the Inter-coastal Waterway to St. Augustine, then north along the coast, just as they had, year in and year out, since he was a kid.

“That’s it, isn’t it? If you look like you’re going about normal business, nobody pays any attention. That’s one of the secrets. High noon is better than midnight and a businessman is less conspicuous than a hippie.”


© rick stiller 2017