A Short History of Jeremy R. Radatz

I knew Jeremy from the beginning.  Almost.  I was born one day and he was born the next.  We became somewhat cognizant of each other at about three years of age.  Before that we just crapped our diapers and screamed a lot.

About the time I first remembered him we were shirtless, in diapers, in the yard in front of his trailer.  We all lived in trailers in cheap trailer parks for years.  Its where your mother went when she split from the guy that impregnated her.  Anyways, Jeremy was screaming in front of his trailer.  He wanted his mom.  But mom was watching soap operas on the teevee lying on her lifeless ass on the sofa drinking lukewarm Falstaff beer.  Jeremy, being no fool, crapped the hell out of his diaper and screamed to high heaven.  That got things moving!  Then my mom came along.  Craving attention I crapped my diaper too!  Learned that from Jeremy!

I met up with Jeremy three more times in my life. Ten years later, 15 years later and somewhere down the road.  The first time was in a boy’s ranch where the county government sent waifs that looked all the world like they were going to make trouble.  No argument here.  The criminal life stood before me in all its glory.  Until I got pulled by the collar by a policeman who knew me quite well, sadly during the actuality of a crime being committed.

Being in a boy’s home is tons better than living in a trailer park!  Who cares if the place used to be a roadside prison with guys wearing ball and chains and supervised by loaded shotguns?  Got my own bed in a room of 6.  Got three squares and got to attend public school.  That meant GIRLS!

The first thing I needed to attend to was repeating the 7th grade.  The most humiliating thing for a very long time in my life.  I made the honor roll consistently and the teachers were quite amazed.  I’m the criminal kid.  But I’m smart.  I’m not smart.  I did the same thing last year.  Look at all the GIRLS!

After a few months Jeremy was sent to the institution also.  Happy to say he quit crapping his nappies.  We joined the sports teams at school, did well, and became very popular.  One of our buddies, who had already failed two grades, had a car.  In the 8th grade.  He also knew where to get a quart of beer on Friday night school dances.  Somehow we got more popular.  At the dances at school on Friday nights we could ask a girl outside the gym and the chaperones would let that happen.  Went off in the shadows somewhere and you learned how to make out!  I sometimes think that the chaperones thought we needed that.  Jeremy would take four or five trips outside during every dance.  He had a way with people.

Jeremy and I were on the football and basketball teams just created for the jr. high that year.  We were written up in the school paper as small superstars with our high scoring antics.  The cheerleaders were always rah, rah Jack, rah, rah Jeremy!  We never lost a game by less than 40 points.  Forty points!

By some portent I’ll never understand I got adopted out of that boy’s home in the ninth grade.  I moved up to Connecticut.  Yes. it was fine by me.  My life got exponentially better.  Jeremy quit school and joined the navy.  He went to Viet Nam for three tours. I started to pay attention at school.  Then I found things other than beer.  And I liked Connecticut girls just fine.

The peace and beauty you see on North Main Street in Suffield, Connecticut is something to be admired.  Elms and century old oaks throw shadows across the sidewalks and the highway.  As peaceful as peace can be.  Then a mortar explodes offshore!  This ain’t Suffield!  No it ain’t!

By 1972 I was in the navy serving temporary duty as a coxswain serving anchored ships just off of Da Nang.  Delivered the mail, took officers from ship to ship.  Had my own little boat and I was my own captain.  According to navy law I was God!  Another liberty boat pulls up alongside.  The captain asks if I want any dope.  I know the voice but I don’t say anything.  My two crewmen absolutely want to do business.  And business they do.

I jump over to the other boat and shoot the breeze with a guy that had crapped his diaper all those years ago.  Yeah, we smoked a fatty.  So nice to see an old buddy.  Then the mortars from the Viet Cong start falling again.  Not close enough yet to scare us immediately but any numb skull can adjust a mortar.  Jeremy has a BAR and loosens a few rounds towards shore.  We part company.

Somehow I ended up in Key West.  Pretty much a retired guy not looking for trouble.  I go fishing everyday at a specific bridge out in the middle of nowhere.  Its amazing how many things I have witnessed from this bridge.  Murder, mayhem, the end of civilization.

I almost never fish late in the day but this one day I said what the hell.  I cast off my line and stared off into the horizon towards Cuba as usual.  I heard some kind of noise under the bridge and it led me to believe there were people down there in boats.  Doing some kind of business.  I yelled out a greeting/warning.  I got curses in return.  Familiar voice.

It didn’t take us long to recognize each other.  It was getting dark and we talked into the nether.  In ten minutes I was caught up in his life and he with mine.  After a while i could tell by all his side conversations in Spanish that he was not alone.  And I wanted no part of that.  Jeremy suggested I drive away before he departed on his boat.  I agreed.

Just before I left he yelled out, “remember that old blind lady that sold us quarts of beer in the ninth grade”?

Indeed I did.

 

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Wingnuts in Heaven

I was out by the canal under the tiki hut.  I was playing guitar in the dark the day after John Prine died.  Hadn’t done it in awhile as my fingers are fucked.  But, damn if I didn’t surprise myself.  I should do it more.

A week later I was on a sailboat with a very nice lady.  She was having a great time and it would kill me to tell her I stole the boat.  So, why bother?  The owner only saw it once every three years.  We were out of Key West and heading for the southern Caribbean.  Whichever island came first.  That one over there looks good!

So, she gave me a week’s worth of her personal political status.  I actually heard some of it,  It was very detailed.  Man, I was getting a great tan!  “What, sure, I can see that”.  I asked her for the tanning butter.  A little motherfucking this and a little motherfucking that.  She asked what I liked about her and I said the bikini was nice.  Wrong answer!  There was absolutely nothing wrong with her bikini.  Shoot me.  Best bathing suit ever!  Set sails for another island.

I think we were on St. Judas.  Pretty island.  Bikini chick jumped ship and hooked up with a millionaire.  At least it was quiet.  I tossed a line over and caught several red snapper.  Cleaned ’em up and had a nice fish fry.  Smoked a big fatty and fell off into whatever realm I was meant to be in.  The moon moved across the sky.  The stars tinkled a  tiny rain shower.  I was hardly wet.

In the morning I had a bikini clad chick in my lap.  I forgave her.  She made western omelets and mimosas.  We got out of St. Judas.  I could see she had a new gold watch.  What would Jesus do?

Somewhere down the line we got back to Key West.  She wanted to move in.  Hell, I can’t stand myself.  Why would I want a roommate?  Apparently what I said didn’t seem to matter.  Now I have two kids in nursery school.  She has the car most days.  She gives me a 12 pack per week.  PER WEEK!

Out in the back yard on the clothesline hangs a two piece bikini.  When she’s gone in the car I take out my 22 caliber pellet gun and shoot holes in the bottoms.  Makes me feel manly.

 

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Brains matter/Brain matter

Jacques had bought a convenience store at the corner of Caroline and Williams Streets.  The first Anglo Saxon to own the place in thirty years.  He knew that there could be problems.  Multitudes of homeless and drug addled hung outside by the front door.  Shoplifting was a local hobby.  Robbery wasn’t unheard of.

From the very first Jacques had a plan.  When he initially bought the store he padded the wall opposite the register with two Serta mattresses, some pillows and an inch thick blanket of rubber mat.  This was all covered by an artistically designed curtain that featured fish, boats and girls in bikinis.  Everything else was just stocked store shelves with a continuing give and take.  Sell and re-stock.  Customers coming and customers going.

One day two low lifes came in to rob him. One smelly middle aged shirtless man and one mostly toothless female with greasy hair that looked like rope.  Old rope.  The worst kind.  The shirtless man stuck a gun in Jacques face and demanded the money.  Can’t say Jacques was aghast.  This instant had been coming for months.

“Gimmee the money”, said the shirtless guy.

“Get to it”, said the old piece of rope.

“Sure thing”, said Jacques, “I’m all over it”.

The robbers were not aware that Jacques had pressed a button with his foot that notified the local police concerning his situation.  He was as cool as a stork on a German rooftop!  “Hey”, he said, “I’ve got a surprise”.  A panel behind his head moved from left to right.  When it was full opened one could see what looked like a small cannon pointed towards the customer desk.  Head level.  It was, in fact, a harbor cannon.  One of those gadgets used in the 1700-1800s that would fire to let anchored boats know that now there was dock space so they could unload their cargo.  Gunpowder charge.  No ammo.

These guns had no rifling.  There was no need to load it with anything.  It was a signal gun and no more.  Until Jacques got a hold of it.  It was full of powder with a lot of broken metal kitchen implements inside.  It had a serious attitude.  “Still wanna rob me”, asked Jacques?  The two losers decided to get aggressive.  The shirtless guy started swinging his gun at Jacques.  The rope woman started singing out curses.  Jimmy Buffett was playing on the radio.  Jacques stepped on another button.

The harbor cannon spit out its vitriol consisting of a six piece place setting for a dinner of that many.  The Serta mattresses, pillows and rubber matting held two separate heads.  The robbery attempt was essentially ended.  Just then the police showed up.

Florida has a stand your ground law.  Jacques was in a bit of trouble for going over the line but in the end, hey, he was getting robbed.  They made him get rid of the cannon.  The defeated and dead robbers were buried in paupers graves in Miami.  Jacques paid for the transport.

When Jacques re-sold the store a few years later he showed the new owner the panel behind the register and how to re-load his newly acquired Gatlin gun.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Truth

I can’t tell anyone else what to do.  I can’t take in their opinions on what I should do.  Apparently it doesn’t work that way.  There’s shit tons of people just waiting to tell you how to run your life.  Everyone knows better than you.  You think so?

I came into this life to be the baddest mother ever to be beheld by those in charge.  I say this while eviscerating a large shark that had eaten somebody I couldn’t stand.  In fact I had fed this particular shark with somebody who wasn’t worth living.  And he doesn’t anymore.  I put on my rubber gloves and pulled the remains from the shark.  I packed them in tin foil, placed them on ice in a large beer cooler, and sent who used to be to an address in Miami.  Only a hundred and fifty miles away the addressee was going to get a delivery of huge stink!  Never fuck with a professional!

***

I was a pretty good kid.  Couldn’t get enough to eat.  My mother always said I could make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich if I was hungry.  Yeah, and you could get off your ass and separate yourself from the soap operas on the television!  I thought that.  Didn’t act on it.  Came home from school and went fishing.  Nobody cared.  In some ways it was the best life ever.  A nine year old kid out in the universe learning how to be Huck Finn.  A lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  You learned to adjust.  But, the freedom to wander the shoreline and fish and inspect all the flotsam and entirely useless things that floated ashore.  That was a wonderful life.  Chasing fiddler crabs, catching barracuda,  putting your plastic model ships in the water and throwing rocks at them.  Coming home and watching my step father beat my mother into a bloody pulp.  For reasons it took me years to decipher.

There was a divorce.  My mother, sister and I moved up the peninsula of Florida and lived in penury.  Really tough to find a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  I stole a bicycle and spent my days when not in school collecting bottles for the deposits.  Bought a lot of Pepsi, chips and candy bars.  Rotted the hell out of my teeth. What you gonna do?  By degrees and layers you become a killer.  Since I had been forced to attend church on most Sundays I knew that you didn’t kill just for the thrill of it.  You went after those that deserved it.  Man, there were a lot of candidates.  It would be years before I acted on my leanings.  There were times of normalcy.

The state of Florida removed me from the lack of my mother’s embrace and placed me in a boy’s home.  I have to say, it didn’t suck.  Went to the local jr,/sr. high.  Played on the football and basketball teams as a starter.  Won best liked in my class in 1967.  Mostly because I stood up to a bully and broke his nose.  I’d never known adulation like that!  My English teacher took me under her wing.  She was also the adviser to the cheer leading team.  I made a lot of trips to varsity football games with some of the hottest babes I’d ever seen.  I was at the age where Viagara would not have been an issue.

Started to have my first romances.  What a sweet little time.  Boys and girls with the same general idea.  My friend, Tommy had a ’55 Ford Fairlane.  He picked me up at the boy’s ranch and we’d head over to the small crap store one town over where we knew the old lady blind proprietor wouldn’t know 14 from 84.  Two quarts of Schlitz for less than fifty cents.  Downhill from there but we never got caught.  Somehow I had learned caution.  Caution has saved my ass so many times.

One day I woke up in Connecticut.  Apparently I was adopted.  Two of us in the universe thought, “what a long, strange trip its been”.  Also still in the romance stage.  Then, I graduated and found myself in the navy recruiter’s office.  There’s a spot where I feel disappointed with myself.  What you gonna do?  They sent me to a school to be an assassin.  I was their kinda guy.  Because I broke a bully’s nose.  Sometimes, at night, I go out on the dock and stare up into the stars.  Like everyone else has since the beginning of time.  Just because I broke a bully’s nose?

Well, things got bad and things got worse, I guess you know the tune.  Oh, yeah, I’m supposed to kill somebody!  We twisted a few arms overseas but never came close to killing anyone.  I didn’t see the point to it.  This, of course, got me transferred.  I became a Boatswain’s Mate.  Kind of like the janitor of the navy but with a few cool exceptions.  I got to drive liberty boats when we were in port.  Can’t begin to tell you how lucrative that job was.  Especially overseas!

One day I woke up in northwestern Connecticut.  The best calming, soothing point I could be.  The freedom was immense!  There was some romance.  It went on and on and the years passed.  Sometimes I got messages.  I ignored them.  I couldn’t do those things.  I escaped all the lunacy until I ended up at the end of the road in Key West, Florida.  Nobody, but nobody knows where I am.  I thought.  Doesn’t work that way.

I signed a contract.  Probably wasn’t valid in this country but sign it I did.  Where’s F. Lee Baily when you need him?  Funny thing is they wanted me to eradicate my ex-stepfather.  He’d been dead for 27 years.  Yeah, sure.  What did he ever do?  I mean, other than to my mother?

*********

I bought a gutted pig under the premise of a picnic roast.  I took the carcass out to the underside of a bridge and fed it to the bull sharks I knew would be there.  My handlers had left me with a huge caliber gun that I shot the biggest bull shark with.  I could have collapsed the bridge with that fucking gun!  After a lot of work with some fishing line and a hand held harpoon I retrieved my prize!  I packed it in some styrofoam and crap and sent it off to Miami.

I’m an assassin like the milkman is your father.  Did I say that right?

 

 

 

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Christmas in the Islands.

Yeah, I could say I didn’t need the money.  Coulda said it was a stupid job and no way did I want to get involved.  But, it was the syndicate.  I owed them.  They were supremely aware of that.  They knew my phone number.  They had a general idea where I lived.  So, sure, I’ll clock the guy.  Put the money in the same post office box.  Cash only.  Please!

Some shit head constantly beating his wife but one of the guys up north knows her and wants to do the right thing.  Wants me to do the right thing.  Damn, the money’s good.  Sure.

Its a good day of fishing down to the bridge.  I’m actually catching stuff and no one is stopping to ask about my luck.  That’s a good day right there.  If the fish don’t bite you just look off into the distance and daydream about Havana.  And old girlfriends.  Thinking about old girlfriends is way, way better than thinking about a fish.  Then an old friend that used to play for Belichek in Cleveland stops by.  Wants to share a doobie.  Sure.  Its Christmas eve and we regale each other with football stories.  He tells me about Jim McMahon keeping chewable pot in his athletic socks during the games.  Man, what an absurd world!  But I gotta plug somebody.  I gotta go.

Scoping out my victim from about a hundred yards I can see through my binoculars how the “client” is treating his wife.  The kitchen curtains are pulled and I can see plainly the daily life inside.  The dude is kissing his wife in every place where skin is exposed.  Damn, so would I!  I feel guilty just watching this scene.  Sure do seem to like each other.  Hell, I’d like her too!  Is it Christmas?  Am I some kind of weird porno freak? Do I need money that bad?

You know what I need?  A break!  I need a break!  Ain’t gonna do no shooting with my Glock and silencer on Christmas.  Especially towards a guy giving his all to try and re-establish a relationship!  Looks like good Karma to me.

Some of the boys from Jersey came down and slapped me around a bit.  I knew it was coming.  But, they also laughed because I had a soft heart.  I could move 15 times but they would still find me.  They let me go this time because they believed the story of how I thought the guy truly loved his wife.  Italians have really big hearts!  Every now and again.

On the way home from my beating at a nondescript motel I emptied my Glock on a huge orange iguana eating weeds by the side of the highway.  Kind of felt like I got something done.

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A Calm Sedate Life

I had been away for several months.  Most of the time on the eastern seaboard, the Catskill mountains, Connecticut and Newport, Rhode Island.  Mostly just to get out of the islands and see old friends.  Attending music festivals was an added bonus.

But the time comes when you have to go home.  There’s weeds to pull and trees to trim.  The islands suffer the pain of the summer monsoon which means it rains three times per day and causes massive growth to all organic entities.  A shit ton of growth!  And its still the monsoon season with hurricanes lurking around every corner.  Its hot and the humidity is through the roof.

To get back into an old routine I begin my daily trips to the bait shop for beer and shoot the breeze with my old friends.  On Tuesday I still play trivia down to the Tiki bar across the highway.  I get caught up on what I’ve missed and it seems I’ve missed a lot.  The local characters never cease to amaze.  One of the best parts of being away is that you are not involved in the local shenanigans.  That’s a very good thing.

Just yesterday Harry, a local laborer of sorts, got arrested for drunken driving.  He had just gotten a regular job with an air conditioner company and was driving one of their vans.  Sadly for him he was driving the company van while extremely intoxicated.  Got his picture on the Sheriff’s web page with all the advantages warranted therein.  I always thought of him as a dope.  Mostly because he was a doper.  That isn’t unusual down here.  Drugs are part of the culture.  But most people have the inner smarts that keeps them off the road.  If you want to drive the sheriff’s department will make you famous for a day.  Its entirely up to the individual.

Sometime in July another buddy, Alonzo, got into a fight at the Tiki.  Seems that a local insulation contractor decided to deride Alonzo’s girlfriend.  Over and over again.  He’s a big guy and known locally as “stupid”.  Everyone had a good buzz going and Alonzo was quite forgiving to a point.  He gave a few warnings but apparently they went in one ear and out the other.  Alonzo left to take a leak but came back with a plan.

The Tiki is basically an outdoor bar with a thatched roof and open sides.  There’s a railing on the outside edges with a counter to set your drinks on.  The deck is about two feet off the ground and is open to the grass below.  Stupid was standing next to one of these railings.  Alonzo came out of the restroom with a plan.  He had also snorted four or five lines of coke.  Instant courage!  He came around on the outside of the bar and caught stupid by the legs.  He dragged him under the lower railing onto the grass below.  Then he proceeded to pummel this 250 pound man to sensibility.  Or a lack of sensibility.  Apparently he got what he deserved.  Alonzo got a standing ovation and the three piece band stopped their set to join in the festivities.  When it was all over the band did a rendition of Jimmy Dean’s, “Big Bad John”.  Wish I could have been there.

A week after I got back Alonzo and another friend, Benny, decided to go on a bender.  This was an alcohol, cocaine fueled bender.  I saw them down to the bait shop one morning after their first day.  Total wrecks!  They asked if I would like to join in.  Nope.  Not at my age.  They put in another drug fueled day spending the night on lawn chairs at the Tiki after it closed.  At the bait shop the next day I saw them again.  Zombies!  Safe to say there was one wife and one girlfriend that showed up and threw appropriate shit fits.  If it wasn’t so pitiful it would have been funny.

Just after I got back the bait shop changed hands.  Time marches on.  Its still in good hands and will continue to make money.  Bought by a nice young couple whom I like a lot.  The bait shop owners historically have appointed the mayor of northern Lower Sugarloaf Key.  A position I’ve occupied for the past year.  I issue dictates and platitudes that no one pays attention to.  You just expect that.  If I say you guys should lay off the drugs for awhile I get laughter.  Then the guy that got arrested for drunk driving shows up and they all head to the cab of a pickup truck in the parking lot to do some more lines.  None of these guys will reach the age of 60.  But that’s their business.  Pretty good human beings in all other facets of life.  Preaching to them would be a total waste of time.

I still go down to the bridge every morning for a little figurative fishing and some peace and quiet.  As always someone will come by in the early morning that want to shoot the breeze.  How the hell do they find me?  Who wants to talk at 7:30 am?  The hurricane is off in the distance and I get a few rain squalls because the storm is sucking up all the atmospheric energy it can.  Every drop of rain means another weed I have to pull.  God, I wish I was still in Newport!

So I continue to pull those weeds and trim those trees.  On and on it goes.  Its so hot and humid that I have to hit the air conditioning multiple times.  When I go outside after one of these rest stops the recently arrested drunk driver shows up on a bicycle and asks if he can borrow my car.  Borrow my car.  Not yet convicted but soon to be and wants to borrow my car.  Are you bat shit crazy?  Hit the road, bud!

Twenty Coast Guard cruisers have arrived in town to load up supplies to take to the
Bahamas.  Another sad situation.  A private organization is starting up a plan to take supplies and personnel to Freeport to help with the recovery.  All three of the above mentioned dopers volunteered for this endeavor and were accepted.  Two of them have serious carpentry and electrician skills.  The drunk driver is a good boat coxswain.  Maybe God has a plan for them.  Won’t be any drugs in the Bahamas in the near future.  And the beer is sure to be warm.  I guess the destruction they will see will be a form of rehab.  Any port in a storm.

So, I continue to pull weeds and trim trees.  Has to be done.  Going to play trivia at the Tiki tonight with Marty.  Marty just got fired from the new restaurant in front of the Tiki for fooling around with the owner’s 24 year old daughter.  The owner chased him around the kitchen with a baseball bat.  To hear Marty tell it he just gave the daughter a hit off a joint and then gave her a harmless peck on the cheek.  Somehow he’ll come out of this smelling like a rose.

Just had three downpours in the last two hours.  Weeds everywhere.  Sure could have used another two weeks in Newport.  Maybe next year.

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The Bridge

People tend to think that a bridge is a place to cross over a body of water.  Or maybe a gully or even an industrial complex.  A structure to get from here to there.

That would be missing the point.  A bridge is a symbol of where you are in accordance of where you must go.   It represents your birth into adulthood.  Your loneliness into romance.   Your success and your failure.  How you adjust to your surroundings.

Almost every day I pretend to fish on a certain bridge where over the horizon lies Cuba.  Its contemplative fishing.  I like being there totally alone although I’ve shared it with people important to me.  Its a place where the sun shines on my face and infuses me with happiness.  And exceptional joy.  There’s palm trees and mangroves and tarpon and birds of every size and color.  There’s waves and the tide and manatees, and, finally, just me and the universe.

One day I’ll have to cross it.  See the other side.  I don’t fear it.  I believe there are other bridges far beyond here.  Hopefully when I get there no one will stop by after seeing my fishing pole and ask me if I’ve caught anything.

The bridge is you and your life.  Careful how you cross.

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Social Security

After 10 years my job was done.

For all of those years I worked under contract for the DEA, ICE, ATF, NSA and once for the CIA.  Ten years of my life basically undercover and pretending to be retired with a fishing habit.  I made more money than I can ever spend.  Especially now.  I have been diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer.  I put the Bogart in Bogart!  Forced to retire and given a death sentence.  Oh well, I’m not in any pain.

Most of the work I did was investigating large drug cartels in the Florida keys.  I’ve put hundreds of people away.  I’ve also let some people slide.  As judge and jury I found some people that were not a detriment to society.  Just good people that took some wrong turns.  They never knew the power I had.

During these years I was befriended by some people that made my life a bit less lonely.  There was Max, Jack, Joe Beans and Flo.  The first three were also connected to the federal government in some way.  I knew about this in an awkward sort of way but none of us talked about it.  We did, however, work in conjunction from time to time.  Mostly dealing with bad people that needed a good ass kicking.  Sadly but rightly several of these people were removed from the roster of the living.  We didn’t work as a government team.  We worked as individuals that saw something horribly wrong and attempted to rectify it.  Flo had something going on with Max but none of us talked about that.  To all the world we looked like a bunch of aging retired fishermen.

Joe Beans appeared to be an extreme eccentric.  He threw parties, ran for political office, and drank heavily.  He is a very wealthy man!  The other guys and gal are pretty secretive about their lives.  If Flo is with the government she never lets on..  She is certainly everyone’s best friend.

When I first found out about the cancer Flo came to visit me in the hospital.  She brought special snack meats from Fausto’s grocery market.  The doctors said there was no need for any kind of special diet.  I’m in no pain and I can eat whatever I want.  What a way to go.

In the capacity I was given by the several government agencies I did a lot of undercover.  My successes were achieved by the information I gleaned at the local bait shop.  A bunch of the local boys and myself would show up there at the end of the day chugging beer and smoking cigarettes.  They all told great stories.  They all used names in their stories while bragging about this or that.  All those names ended up in jail or dead.  The boys at the bait shop themselves were strictly off limits.  I made this damn clear to whomever I was working for.  To keep my cover I sometimes partook of some of the drugs they had at parties and cook outs.  A little coke.  A little pot.  I was always the first to go home.  I was the oldest.  They all expected it.  Besides there were reports to write.

When I first heard about the cancer I was working on a human slave trading organization.  The boys at the bait shop knew nothing about this.  They were good ole boys dabbling in the minor drug trade.  They looked at me as the old retired guy.  That was my front.  Carl Marsh.  Beer drinker.  Retired guy.

The human trafficker was a Cuban.  Had all his papers in order.  Appeared to live a sedate life.  But he didn’t.  He mostly smuggled teenage girls and he acquired a desire to befoul each and every one.  From another undercover source I was able to get near him at the Green Parrot one afternoon.  His name was Franco.  He was the brother of a guy named Smut that Max and the county sheriff had disposed of some years back.  Smut was a piece of shit child molester.  Nobody misses him.  I’d bet that even the bull sharks that consumed him couldn’t wait to crap his remains out.

Franco and another guy were discussing a new cargo of girls in regular voices that no one was paying attention to.  Except me.  They had ALL of my attention and from two feet away I took it in.  All of a sudden I had a coughing fit.  I hacked for a good three minutes.  I went out on the sidewalk and hacked up pieces of lung and blood spattered phlegm.  Woke me right up!  Took a ride up to University of Miami hospital and checked in.  They said I was gonna die.  Nothing to be done.  Nothing to fix.  Weirdly, except for coughing spells, I wasn’t in any pain.

I went back to Key West and hung out with Flo for a few days.  We went out for drinks and dinner.  I told her I was dying.  She cried a little and then I cried a little.  I called Max.  He would take care of Franco based solely on what I told him.  I learned later that he did.  Again the county sheriff was involved.  Again there were bull sharks in the mix.

I continued to go down to the bait shop and hang with the boys.   Good bunch of fellas!  If I felt a coughing fit coming on I left.  Nobody needed to see the result.  My birthday came and I was officially retired from all government work.  I had a ton of money in the bank and few worries.  Except for the pieces of lung and blood that kept coming up.  I thought of ending this very suddenly but the doctors all assured me I would go peacefully.

I finally quit smoking.  My reasoning was that I didn’t want the cigarette smell in my clothes when I was viewed in my coffin.  I also converted to Judaism because I had heard that they don’t believe in hell.  Just wanted to cover the spread.  Max dropped in and told me the deed was done.  And seventeen teenage girls had been rescued.  Nice thing to have in mind as nature took its course.

I died on a Thursday and was buried the following Monday.  Joe Beans bought me a Gravestone.  It said, “Here Lies Carl.  He Liked To Hang Out On Bridges”.  The boys from the bait shop showed up all sniffling from a shared 8-ball.  After I was interred they all went down to a strip bar and paid $50 for lap dances.  Like I didn’t know that was going to happen!  None of them ever knew that I could put them all behind bars for over twenty years.  Whatever they were they were friends.

Joe Beans, Max and Flo rented a boat and went out into the Atlantic to throw me a ceremonial wreath.  Then they all lit up a cigarette and popped a Busch beer.

Nice to have friends.

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The Last Leaf on a Frangipanni

This guy from the marina told me about a bridge to fish at in the morning.  Says you don’t catch much but the location is a liberating experience.

Truer words were never spoken.  I was also advised to skip buying bait and just use a lure or a spoon.  You weren’t likely to catch anything anyway.  Besides, why spoil the reverie with cutting bait?  Just a bloody mess anyway.  I fished in the morning and usually met up with the guy from the bait shop and some retired football player and his ancient dog.  They mostly kept to themselves and were always swearing about Cubans that defiled the bridge.  They were right but they also picked up the trash and broken bottles every morning.  After my short stint I headed off home.

I live off the boulevard on a side street on an island called “the Loaf”.  To the locals its the half baked loaf.  No argument here.  In the driveway I see a leaf blowing around from my favorite tree.  Its winter and some of these sub-tropical plants shed just like up north.  Casually I empty the car of fishing stuff and my coffee cup.  When I’m finished I head over to the back yard.  Everything looks the same.  Hot tub didn’t blow up.  The dock didn’t float away.  The frangipanni still had half a dozen leaves on it.  That certainly won’t last.  Its the shortest day of the year and this tree needs many hours of sun.

*************

One night I head off to the Tiki Bar across the highway.  They have a girl playing guitar and she is above adequate.  I get a gin and tonic and gaze off into the distance taking in the mangrove islands and boats heading into the marina for gas.  A woman I’ve never met sits down next to me with her dog leashed to her bar stool.  She just starts talking.  She’s attractive, petite, well spoken and well read.  It was an entertaining two hours and she never accepted a drink.  Doesn’t mean she didn’t have several.  A smart woman who knew how to keep her distance.  Me and distance?  We’re good pals!  We made some kind of informal promise to meet again in a few days.  I went home and watched the History Channel.  They were blowing up an island, as they always do, looking for buried treasure.

Sometime before midnight I turned on the outside lights and checked the frangipanni.  It had four leaves left.  Always sad to acknowledge that winter is actually here.  The hot tub and dock were in their regular places.

Over the next several weeks I chartered several boats to fish for mackerel and tuna.  Its an expensive proposition but being so far out to sea brings a lot of release.  And peace.  On each charter I caught a substantial sized black fin which I immediately sold to the fish market up the street.  Completely washed out the charter money.  Breaking even has always appealed to me.

***************

Somewhere down the line I went back to the Tiki Bar.  As always I’m there early so that I get back by nine.  My friend is there.  Her name is Mary.  She knows me by Hank.  I didn’t say that that was my name.  She said I looked like a Hank.  How in the hell I look like a Hank is beyond me.  There was another girl guitar player at the mike.  Sweet voice.  Mary and I shot the breeze for a good while.  Eventually we were in the parking lot and then we were at her house.  There’s no sense in going on about that.  Things went how things go.  later we had a nightcap and I went home.  I noticed on my short drive that I was embraced in a sort of happiness and well being.  I parked in the driveway, lit up the backyard and checked on my tree.  Two leaves left.  I didn’t know if it was sad or appropriate.

There were more mornings at the bridge fishing and listening to those two nut cases talking about Cubans and football games.  They mostly left me alone and I never left any garbage for them to clean up.  I saw the marina guy at the bait shop once and we had a few beers.  A bunch of other guys showed up.  All drinking beers and telling stories.  Most of these stories had an element of illegality.  Low level stuff.  No murder, robbery or rape.  Guys who lived their lives to the fullest!

Eventually I went home and had another beer while the sun was still up.  I turned on the radio and listened to bad rock music from the late 70s.  I checked the frangipanni and found one leaf left.  Damn!  Winter can get you down.

***************

A frangipanni in the spring will flower blooms of several shades of pink and white.  A good gardener can create some other colors through their witch’s magic.  I never learned those tricks.  I just waited till April when the leaves would return.  Not long after I had beautiful blooms that grew out of soil that was manifested mostly of coral and salt.  And a tiny bit of fertilizer that I was always unsure about.  Unsure.  Funny.

One night I went to the Tiki to shmooze with Mary.  She hadn’t arrived yet so I got the obligatory gin and tonic.  A bunch of the boys from the bait shop were there telling stories and laughing it up.  We shared friendly greetings.  Out of the corner of my eye I saw a uniformed deputy sheriff walk in.  He was a casual acquaintance.  Conversed with him several times in Mary’s company.  He saw me and asked me to come outside to the parking lot.  Sure.

“Hank, Mary was broadsided by a dump truck on Marathon with a 20 ton load about noon today.  There was no chance.  I’ve notified her husband”!  Then he left me standing there.  Dump truck.  Husband.

I went home.  In the driveway was the last leaf.  I got out of the car and picked it up.  I put it in my shirt pocket.  I went to the tree.  It was naked and mostly dead to the world.   Dump truck?  Husband?   I…

*****************

In the late Spring I saw two dozen blooms on the frangipanni.  They were white and blessed and chaste.  I didn’t feel worthy.  I found the old last leaf from the previous year in the pocket of a shirt I hadn’t worn in months.  I put it at the foot of the tree on a windless day.  It was gone the next morning.

 

 

 

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Going Down

The local radio station sometimes has a trivia contest.  I’m pretty good at trivia.  Mostly because it doesn’t mean anything.  So, I won a free trip for two for the sundown cruise in Key West harbor.  I call Flo.

Several days later Flo and I get a little happy and walk on off to the waterfront.  We make a few stops including the Schooner Wharf.  Get happier.  At some point we walk down the pier to our sunset cruise boat.  We settle in, get some boat snacks and a couple of glasses of wine.  The boat with about thirty of us takes off into the harbor.  The sun still has 45 minutes of life.  There’s a few clouds but nothing that will block the sunset.  We head aft for a smoke and enjoy our wine.

There’s a lot of boats out.  Everybody wants to enjoy the sunset and the boat owners are making tons of cash.  Flo and I shoot the breeze with our shipmates and sip our wine.  The sky is full of biplanes and navy jets and airliners heading for the airport.  A damn beautiful day with no worries.  The wind blows through our hair and the world is all good.  The sun is beautiful and the world means no harm.

Suddenly there is a loud crash and the boat slows down.  The boat slows way down.  It has double diesel engines and a mainsail.  The sail is mostly aesthetics.  The engines die and the sail is taken down.  The boat begins to list to port.  We begin to understand that there is a problem.  I’m beginning to worry a bit.  Within minutes I’m worrying a lot.  The crew starts handing out life vests.  This may seem like a life threatening emergency but the harbor is full of Coast Guard boats, FWC, Harbor Police and hundreds of private boats.  I don’t see death as a possibility.  I just see a pain in the ass towards our evening.  The left pontoon on our boat goes under water.  We’re going to get wet!

Our wine glasses are empty.  On my way overboard I pass by the bar and grab a bottle of Merlot just opened.  Flo has her cup and I have mine.  We slip quietly into the water.  Harbor sirens are going off everywhere.  My only worry is that the deep channel surrounded by shallow water is the feeding ground of hammerhead sharks.  I keep that to myself.  Flo and myself are floating together near the sinking boat.  Somehow I pour the both of us a glass of wine.  We’re not worried.  Flo left her purse at home and my wallet was locked up in my car.  Its kind of a lark.  We see boats coming our way.  Another ship wrecked fool lights up a joint.  Don’t ask me how.  The weather and the water is September warm.  We watch our boat begin to go down.

Then Flo tells me that she is moving away soon.  Had enough of the rock.  The expense is just getting stupid.  This is a horrible shock to me.  I’m watching two ships go down.  I pour two more glasses of wine.  We just float around awaiting our rescue.  A private boat picks us up and delivers its human cargo to the dock at the Schooner Wharf dock.  The breeze dries us up quite nicely so we go to the bar where we are greeted like heroes.  We are given free drinks and shrimp cocktails.  It was an adventure but we were never in any danger.  A couple of hours later after much congratulations and more shrimp we walk back to Flo’s place.

We sat out on the porch on her second story apartment and called out greetings to the tourist parading below on the street.  Flo went to bed eventually and I crashed on the sofa on the porch.  I went home the next morning and a few days later Flo moved away.  It was a few years of good meals and cocktails in weird places.  Going to miss it all.

The harbor cruise company sent me two free tickets to a sunset ride of my choice.  On the same boat they had raised from the bottom.  Always liked Karma!

 

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