Part I

 

The insidious sounds of my phone alarm only rang louder than the jack hammer pounding in my head. It must have been a good night, I thought and I’m sure the girls that run the bar will tell me all about it when I get in this afternoon.

The last month or so had just been a pure hell, my wife had left. I came home to find she had just packed up while I was gone, no note, no trace. She had always paid all the bills, managed what little bit of money we had and kept the rent, electric and water paid up. She must have planned it for months, hiding evection notices, moving savings, hording the Tarpon season money, and timing it when I had just made our nut for the year. When she left, they changed the locks and I had 3 garbage bags of my stuff sitting on the front porch. She did leave a note for me, it said “enjoy your life, loser”. Jess never understood how I survived with so little ambition; I often wondered how she survived with so much of it! I am just content to have my little charter business and live a fairly uncomplicated and simple life. The fact was, she was gone, she left me alone and penniless, but I didn’t really care, we weren’t peas and carrots. Anyway, I had my truck and poling skiff paid off, and a half dozen trips lined up throughout the dog days of what was left of this relentless summer.

My friends all have families and kids, I knew I could stay on a couch for a night or two but really didn’t want to inconvenience anyone. I had a shower at Sandy’s so if figured on sleeping a night or two in my truck and see how it shakes out, Sandy’s is a upscale dive bar with ok oysters and a really good Philly cheese steak, cold beer and a great crowd. It’s on a small peninsula and has a bay side pier and a small lagoon marina in the back. I keep my skiff on a lift there. Jack named the bar after his wife; she fell ill with cancer and died at 22 years old, 2 years after they married. Jack crawled into a bottle and came out five months later; he took the insurance money and went to rehab, got straightened out, and bought this old bar. It was their hangout, it was close and cheap for a young couple. That was 20 years ago. He still does not drink liquor, but he drinks his beer.

I had made a deal with Jack, to sleep in the unused office he built off to the side of the property by the banyan tree. It is a one room cracker shack; it has a/c, cable and a kitchenette. Kinda reminds me of the Jimmy Buffett song “this hotel room”. Once I got on my feet I told Jack, I’ll be out, he said we’d just see how it shook out. My 13 year old yellow lab Cornbread (pronounced slowly with a southern almost ethnic draw, the r drawn-out as if there were several of them quick n and a harsh stop on the D should come out like this: Cone breaD) Jack loved my old dog and said he could stay too and he would help me with him while I was out on trips. Jack loves to fish reds with a long rod, key word is fish, he’s really rather clumsy with a fly rod and less than graceful, but he got his first red on fly with me and he enjoys the stalk as much as I do. He gets it.

I had planned to fish solo, a soul needed cleansing and a briny flat and a crimson fish with an ice blue tail usually works for me. As I rounded the last bend of the river and shot through a narrow cut in the mangroves, I felt like I was shot lout of a cannon, the process had begun. The bay was slick and the sun was just breaching the horizon the sky looked like an inferno reflecting on the still waters. The clean salt air and smell of a fresh day and I knew my soul was home.

There had been a small school of reds tailing on the high tide in the spartina grass, both are strange as our redfish tail on low tide here, and that may well be the only patch of spartina grass in the entire bay. My plan was to scout it out today and pay my rent tomorrow with the Jack. I brought the boat off plane and settled into the motionless flat , as the sun gained momentum, I sat on the deck in only raggedy shorts, August in Florida , 90 degrees at daybreak, with 100% humidity just existing makes you sweat. Cornbread made his way up to the deck and sat beside me, licked the sweat off my shoulder as I sat with my feet dangling. I scratched my buddy behind the ear as we watched the horizon be defeated by the sun. , I took a long deep breath. I almost reached a meditative state, this has become a ritual for me and my morning clients usually enjoy a moment of sheer beauty. Sometimes you have to take a break from life, to live it.

I pushed forward and my skiff “Occupational Hazard” came to life she ran fast and smooth almost like she was over the water, not in it. I neared the grass, trolled into position and staked off the boat, found a nice spot on the cooler, cracked open a cold beer, switched from the ball cap to the straw hat. Even though I am on the water nearly every day, I still burn. Making a living on the water has its own set of occupational hazards this is just one of em. I had spent the last 10 years guiding, and the last 5 living solely off that income. The suit and tie life wasn’t for me, neither was the labor. I wanted to enjoy thoroughly my career, because in the end, that is what people remember, you are what you do, and I fish! My skin has a permanent deep tan, I shave maybe once a week, but really just use the beard trimmers ‘cause I hate how my face feels clean shaven. I let my hair grow, never knew it was that curly and it has become bleached by the sun.

The fish began pushing, I watched how they moved, where they went when the tails dropped, I slowly got on the poling platform and pushed towards the fish, they didn’t move. I raised the pole high they were buried to their eyeballs, these fish would eat. I made several false casts to knock off the rust before I got close to the fish. I eased over the side and trudged over to where the flags were flying. I actually made the cast perfectly, a roll cast, then I had to mend the line as it moved with the current for a moment I felt as if I was trout fishing a north Georgia stream, the tail dropped in a loud silence breaking swirl and my line came tight. At this point landing the fish is kinda a no brainer, it was the take that purged my soul, and while releasing the fish I felt the stresses of life escape me, dissipate into the water and flush out with the new moon tide.

 

Part II

 

Fridays at Sandy’s are usually hoppin’ and as the tradition goes, Jack sets up a temporary Tikki bar at the end of the dock, for one minute on each side of the predicted sunset time all shots are a buck and draft beer is free. Rain or shine. it’s really a pretty cool deal, every bartender gets her Friday on rotation and Jack lets the girls have all the cash made at the end of the night. We call it “burn to a cinder Friday’s”

It has been said “Interesting things happen at the bar as opposed to grabbing a table”. This is where I met Hank. At 6’6″ he’s kinda imposing, but once he speaks in his soft voice he puts you at ease quickly. I knew I had seen him around town and he asked if I was Reese, I said I was. Hank is eccentric , he has very large features and looks very much like a Cro-Magnon man, he’s the guy going in the liquor store at 8ish in the morning and I seem to recall he rides around in his suburban with a stuffed ape that looks just like him, kind of weird but interesting. Hank wanted me to take to the Hatteras to the Bahamas and dock it at his rather gawky mansion. He had clients coming over on puddle jumpers and needed me for a month. He was conducting some sort of business there. He would arrange to have a mount for my skiff installed so we can stalk the ever wary bonefish and permit on the sandy flats on the days in-between. He did not go into details, and I didn’t ask but I was to run the boat for these business deals and guide him on fly and keep my mouth shut….I threw out a rather large number, he bit and I had a gig lined up, and a little funds in reserve. Hell the 25% deposit was more than I made in the last month, all said and done I would be like having another Tarpon season. Evening things out a bit since Jess had left with all our cash.

Busying myself with the task of gathering provisions and some fly tying material around town I almost forgot to grab some cigars. I stopped off at the local shop and spent the rest of the allotted money from the deposit on some Fuente’s. I had felt odd all morning, Not sure what it was but I just had a kind of pang in my stomach one not from hunger. I walked in a said slangy and excitedly “Cone bread”! Nothing. I said it louder, in his old age he only seems to hear dog food or a Froot Loop hit the floor but that’s about it. His eyes are glazed over; I often wonder if he wonders why it’s so foggy all the time. I looked around the corner and he was lying on my cot sleeping, like always, the only thing that dog ever guarded was the spot he ate and the spot he slept, the rest was up for grabs in his eyes, except me he guarded me too, one time.

I leaned against the wall, I felt like I needed it, I looked at him and thought about that one time.

I had just started guiding, I was out scouting, Cornbread went, he always did he balanced the boat well while I poled. The dog had a way of spotting tailing redfish and finning tarpon, he would point them like a bird dog points a quail or pheasant, sometimes he’d point a mullet. I think he was either fooled for a second or messing with me. I have never heard a dog laugh, I’ve seen a few smile, but never laugh, though I have to think they do have a sense of humor, albeit a very dry one.

After a morning of poling therapy and locating some good fish I eased up to the dock my buddy grabbed the dock line tied to the grab rail in his mouth hopped on the dock and took the line around the pole and gave me the free end. Cornbread stood guard over the skiff (forgot about guarding the skiff, he loves that boat)while I went and grabbed the truck and trailer, once loaded and making all the straps and such fast another captain walked up, this guy was new to the business too and had spent his first couple years burning a lot of bridges. Reminds me of something I once read.” It’s a long road to wisdom, but a short one to being ignored”. Let’s just say he took the short road. He started off with small talk, I didn’t really care much for him, but I try to get along with the competition and keep things friendly. It’s only fishing! Anyway I see him at the dock often. He began his typical negative bullshit I began tuning him out, until the comment about me following him to the fish. I told him, I was born here and I was fishing these waters while you were battling winters in some godforsaken northern state, by now things were getting louder. Any way I said, why do you think you own whatever part of the bay you are in? I noticed his weight shift onto his back foot, I heard Cornbread on the deck of the boat behind me begin a quiet growl, I remember thinking I have never heard him growl. I told him, I am done with you, I turned my back on him, he grabbed my shoulder and began to try and turn me, I went low, as he swung high, I felt something on my back for an instant, as I righted myself I saw Cornbread had jumped from the deck and sprang off my back, he had the perpetrator pinned to the ground, his mouth slobbery and large canines on soft neck ready to clamp down and to death. I quickly called for him to drop; he did, and came to my side. I never heard him growl again. Ever.

Come to think of it I never heard that guide talk shit again either. In fact, I rarely saw him after that, I’m sure he dwindled away like the majority of them do. Full time or part timers no matter, if it’s in your blood you last. Many are looking to have a “cool” job, and can’t hack the business. Living a laid back life style is a lot of work, it’s a tough business and you have to be tough to handle the work side of it and smart to handle the business end, things have a way of sorting themselves out though, he has been sorted for some time now it’s the outing that is taking a while.

. That was the end of my dog attacking humans days and the end of my caring what people think and petty drama days.

“ConebreaD” I yelled and dropped some food on the floor, he didn’t stir. I knew it. I could feel in in my gut, He had died. I spent the next 10 minutes or 2 hours not really sure, sitting there petting him and talking to him like he was a human and understood, like I always did and he always did. I like to think he got the gist of it. I buried him under the mango tree that evening on Dog Island just after we watched the sun sink softly into the horizon. My buddy was gone, I had a shot of Patron and a cold beer raised my drink and toasted the best dog and friend I have ever had. It was a lonely ride back to the dock.

 

 

Part III

Change of plans Cap’n, Hank said as I answered the phone trying to shake the fog of a deep REM sleep. Huh? What? Who, who is this I said stumbling through the words. It’s Hank, Wake up Reese, you’re on your own, Ray is going to take you and the skiff to the other coast he said. You’re not going? I asked. Hank had explained he had some issue to deal with and that he was going to fly over and meet me at the Althea Estate. Ray works as a bouncer and caretaker at Sandy’s, one drunken night he was saddled with the nick name, Razor, a little later that same night Raisin came out, and both have stuck. He’s short and stocky Italian looking guy very soft-spoken and he fly’s under the radar. He has a way of getting guys to leave the bar without causing a scene, the rather large and drunken ones too. He was in the Special Forces and a lone survivor of some battle. Jack had said that was all he knew about his past, and Jack didn’t really much care about that, they have known each other for 10 years and Ray had never given him a reason to not trust him. That was good enough for me, I trusted Jack and Ray didn’t toss me out when I gave him the Raisin nickname, Ray was going to ride across the state with me and launch the boat and bring my truck and tailor back after helping me get settled.

Once we made it to the marina and found a ramp I brought the boat around and got her situated nicely on the lift Hank had installed. The guy at the marina was super helpful and friendly. Hank, I found out, had arranged for him to be around to help me out. I went through the checklist and made sure all alarms and buzzers were in working order, along with some minor provisions for the short trip. I triple checked all the bilges to make sure they were working properly, one bad experience can spook you for the rest of your life, but you have to repress that and know that you survived and learned a valuable lesson. Everything was in working order, I was going to sleep on the boat and head out in the morning, one night of R&R then off to the vacation land for a month of putting around in the Hatteras and poling the skiff.

Hanks boat was christened with the name “two cents worth”. I called and told him the float plan, and that all was fueled and ready to ride the tide tomorrow. I was really curious about how he got the name so, I asked. He had heavily invested with a firm in New York, his advisor called one day asked Hank if he trusted him, Hank said the amount of money we have made on your hunches, absolutely. He told Hank to pull out now. He had a hunch the stock was going to tank and he told Hank, pull out, retire and buy that Hatteras you always wanted, that’s my two cents worth. So he did.

The sun was setting behind me as I eased through the small harborage and out into the intercostal and through the inlet. I was going to sleep on the boat just not in the marina. I needed to put some horizon behind me. I was ready to leave!

The way the nearly gone sun was illuminating the masts of the sailboats nestled into the basin made me think of the things that slipped away from me lately. Cornbread and Jess, were both haunting me. I pressed on another hour or so and decided I would stop for the night. The unfiltered stars are comforting. The sweet sizzle of raw meat against grill grate was nice music and the rain freshened air and now cooking flesh made for a nice aroma. I kept thinking about Jess, how she once was singing along with the radio while washing dishes, not knowing I was watching her. She was singing the song “Hallelujah”, as I neared I could see she was watching something outside and singing, as if the song was a theme to what was happening. She leaned over the sink in her yellow flowered sun dress to open the blinds; her bright blue eyes became almost transparent in the late day sun as I came closer. I remember what she was looking at and I know that what she was singing was a song of beauty, innocence and purity. I decided then that was how I wanted her to look at me, and I would not complain about her dog and its silly name again, what kind of name is Cornbread for a big goofy lab anyway? I wanted to see her look at me like that. I treated the dog so good trying to get the look from Jess that the dog took to me and never gave Jess the time of day, she never looked at him like that again, and she never looked at me like that ….period. I chased the beef and memories with cold beers until I began to feel numb and made my way to the rack for the night.

Something made me wake up but not move or open my eyes and then I heard it. Something was on the boat. I opened my eyes into darkness and laid there until they adjusted a little to the dark night. I looked through the portholes and saw nothing, I went slowly about maneuvering in the dark on an unknown vessel, checked the skiff on the front; it was fine nothing loose or banging. As I headed to the stern, I saw a flash of blinding light, felt a sharp pain in the back of the head. As if it were in slow motion the lights began to dim in time with the deep cracking noise echoing in my head. Everything was draining into a tiny spec of faraway light and then, it went out.

Part IV

Slowly I began to become aware of myself and my predicament. Thinking back to what happened I was pretty sure of all of it up to the flash of light. I could hear water slapping the hull and judging by the purr of the motor I knew we were underway. My hands were bound with some kind of makeshift rope handcuffs with a length of about 2 feet apart the middle draped over some kind of pipe. I felt something on the side of my face and tasted a salty crusty glob of something I figured to be blood. The head was pounding, I was on the floor. My world was dark. Moments, seconds, hours or days later awoke to a door slamming open and a light illuminating my dark world, then it was dark again, I was being checked on and taken captive by the unknown. I had to figure out how many captors and a way out of this. I heard my heart pounding in the chest and felt a rush of adrenaline. I focused myself on getting out of this alive.

Sometimes, when you least expect it, life throws you a bone, literally. I heard the creaking of the door behind me and heard something hit the floor. I struggled to reach it and finally made my leg stretch far enough to touch it with the big toe, and slowly move it towards me. It was dinner. Apparently grilled pork chops was the meat of choice, bone in. I gnawed what was left of the meat off the bone, and used the edge of a metal something to sharpen it enough to cut through the rope that bound my wrists. I was free. Feeling fairly certain that there were only 2 of them by the voices I heard above me I felt good about my odds. There were no other options; I would wait for the next one to come check on me to flip the light switch. The advantage was mine, but he had to go down quietly.

One was coming, the door creaked open again, I watched a dark hand reach for the switch. It didn’t work, I had loosened the bulb, as he reached up to check it he was venerable, I took the bone and stuck it deep into the flesh of the neck as my other hand crushed the larynx. One down, I grabbed his pistol and stuck it behind my back in the waist band, I slung the beat up AK over my shoulder, only taking a second to pause and think of what I had done. I had to keep moving or I would begin thinking instead of reacting.

Bare feet made for a stealthy approach as I looked for number 2. He was taking a leak over the side of the boat, only took a solid shove to knock him off balance. I heard deep thud and a second later I heard him splash into the abyss of the Atlantic in the dark night. Checking the vessels GPS, I figured I was about 100 miles south of the Bahamas, judging by the bearing we were heading towards Cuba. Pirates had captured me and I beat them off!

The boat was in neutral idling and suddenly there was a crash and a jerking motion of the hull. I switched off the lights and grabbed the pistol from my waist band. Making my way to the stern, I saw the bow of the “Two Cents Worth” it had been in tow. The damage was devastating for my newly acquired ride, water was pouring in. Figuring I had about 20 minutes or so before she got real heavy with water, I jumped on the “Two Cents Worth” and checked her over for any stowaways. There were none. My skiff was still situated on the deck. Pillaging for supplies I found a small arsenal and grabbed a blanket loaded up the pistols, rifles and ammunition on to it and drug it to the “Two Cents Worth”. One last check and I saw a hundred dollar bill sticking out from under a seat, opened the seat and found 3 duffle bags packed with 50’s and 100’s, so those went too. I cut loose the tow line and watched a boat sink and the sun come up. I waited until noon to be sure the boat would float up, it didn’t and I turned on the sonar and could see her sitting on the bottom neatly. I marked the spot on the GPS then began the trek back to Hanks place, but not before grabbing a wooden plank off the deck that had been floating, not sure at the time why I grabbed it but I did. I had some time to think of how I would explain what happened to Hanks vessel and I could just say the bags were mine that would be believable. The damage looked superficial, scratched gel coat and thin cracks, nothing structural; anyhow, there are 3 bags of cash to cover repairs. I remembered Hank talking about how he had rammed the dock right after he got his boat, and how he beat up the bow, he had told me he had it reinforced so if he did it again it would not cause as much damage.

I would be there in the morning and needed a story to explain my tardiness that reminded me I still needed to figure out how long I was out. According to the GPS It was Friday and Hank wasn’t due in until Sunday. Maybe all I would need to explain is the damage up front. I was out if it for 2 days. I washed off the caked on blood from my head, I guessed they banged me in the head with a bat or something. The headache was gone, the boat underway to her destination. A tall cold beer and a shot of something clear were overdue. I breathed deeply and recounted the day’s events in disbelief while decompressing in the shower as the water ran over the back of my head and the blood washed off and swirled down the drain. A fresh pair of cargo shorts and a thin T shirt made me feel like a new man.

Hank was a drinker and he stocked the bar with some odd brands of gin, whiskey, tequila, moonshine and rum. Rummaging around through his stash I found some patron silver, poured a tall shot and slugged down an ice cold beer while fresh meat was sizzling the grill.

. Leaning back and stretching in the captain’s chair steering with my feet I was enjoying one of the Cuban cigars that was found in a pelican case aboard the now defunct hijacker’s vessel. I wondered if anyone would come after me. I felt pretty confident that I was in the clear. No one knew I left early and unless they had radioed ahead no one knew that anything had happened.

Part V

Traveling on the ocean at night is not only serine but kinda spooky too. It feels as if the vessel is moving swiftly and effortlessly under the clean night sky.But I had simply passed out from the mental stress of the recent events. Plus, I had one hell of a story for the guy’s at the bar back at Sandy’s. Jack would call bull shit on it for sure. But I know the truth. I grabbed the satellite phone and gave Jack a call. We chatted a few minutes. I let him know I was most likely going to need a deep water slip at the marina, and wanted to move the skiff to be next to the deep water slip. He asked what I was up too. I just changed the subject and asked if he had seen Jess. He hadn’t or he lied about it, either way I was better off not thinking of her.

Instead I turned my thoughts towards my childhood and my friend Danny. We had many adventures along the banks of the Alaphia River. We lived the life, hunting snakes, stalking Bass around the cypress knees, and the old rope swing by the spring we were both too scared to try. Legend had it a kid broke his neck on a deep water ancient stump that no one had ever actually looked at. We learned how to catch snook on artificials deep into the winter and where the juvenile tarpon would congregate on which moon and tide. This is where we learned to fly fish, after a couple of years of fruitless efforts with live bait and artificials we figured it out with a little help.. Using an old bamboo whip, and using a fly made of animal hair and red flash an old timer we had met on the exposed sand bar by the spring gave us. It was the one! We learned to tie flies in our old wooden shack we called a club house. Life was fun and easy at 12.

Years later Danny was back in town and we fished the Alaphia for to recapture the moments of our youth. We were fishing topwaters early, the walk the dog types, we had thrown our arms off all morning to no avail. We sat in my skiff, it seemed almost ironic that we were eating Cubans on a poling skiff worth 50k, quite a step up from the ratty old Jon boat we had beached on the same exposed sand bar right by the same old rope swing some 20 years earlier and ate bologna sandwiches plain . Hell, Danny said, that fly rod and reel combo under the gunnel is worth more than all the tackle we had as kids, I disagreed and after a minute, Danny did too. Drinking cold beer or two apiece we thought of the cheap beer we drank in our mid-teens and the old, perfectly named “leaky tiki” our Jon boat. The rope swing with knots tied in it became a topic of conversation. We dared each other, didn’t do it and drank another beer.

This ratty old guy in a banged up skiff beached next to us. He looked like the guy in the Jimmy Buffett video nautical wheelers, the one on acid. Danny recognized him immediately. He uttered something along the lines of “you fellas, gimme one a dem beers and I’ll tell you da secret of dis here riva”. He said it with a raspy coughing laugh and the way he talked it sounded as if his words were mostly misspelled. Obviously he had smoked for way too long. It was barley noon and he was starting on his second pack of camels.

I opened the beer for him before passing it on. He lit his cigarette and took a long drag as he squinted down river. The exhaled smoke made Danny cough as he whispered to me while motioning to keep it quiet with a pointer finger to the lips, “this is the same guy with the fly”. He hadn’t heard it so we played along. He said “fishin’ be fishin’ , e’ryone over think it. De’s here plugs will work but dare be things about fishin’ in a riva you boys don’t know”. He talked about how to watch the shore line for trees with big limbs missing. He told us to try and figure where they fell if the fell in the river. He showed us a couple spots on a crude sand drawing that always held fish, and explained to us the tricks to fishing eddies without snagging “shit” and bout a hundred other things that sounded like a guy making up a story for a free beer.

We found it quite entertaining, when he asked for another beer, we obliged. We found out the guy’s name was Marvin but his friends called him “Stumpy”. I laughed, probably too loud this guy was easy 6 foot tall. What gives I asked. He said when he was in his 30’s he was crabbing the bay and when he came in to dock his boat, some guy had was rummaging through his truck and he caught him, as he chased the guy down and he ran into a stump and split his shin wide open. He hobbled back to his truck loaded up the boat and went on about the rest of his self-described shitty day. He said he stopped at a bar and the guy was in there drunk and bragging about stealing some dumbass crabbers pistol at the ramp. Stumpy said he grabbed the guy up by the back of his neck and beat the hell out of him, he took him to the stump he busted his shin on took and tied him to it. He was found a week or so later, the buzzards gave away his stumpy grave. So Stumpy it was. We never did decide if his story was true but figured it was his story to tell. Maybe that’s why we never saw him again, he must have went to prison I remember thinking.

He was easy into his 5th beer when he started talking about the boom in Florida. Dat wuz was da beginning of da end, of my Florida. What a profound statement, from such a crusty old timer. Florida appears different to everyone, if you think about it. If you think of Florida and what it means to you it would be different than what it means to me. My old Florida consists of live oaks and soft breezes on the banks of the Alaphia River, listening to the water sweeping effortlessly around a slow curving bend, the out of site offering visions of large Black Bass under a rather heavy palm tree that almost looks as if it is elegantly swooping. That’s my old Florida. Yours is vastly different I’m sure. Stumpy said it, “da Urban be da decay of Florida”. Unfortunately it is inevitable, the cities build and grow. Florida has become relative term I guess.

Stumpy had talked us out of our last beer, as he opened it he said, “der be a secret to da riva, Ta catch fish in da riva, you have to be the riva, , flow with it and follow da tides, watch da mouth. Find where da tide meets da natural flow, learn da curves, da sweet spots, den once you find out just how deep she is, press her, de only way to learn is to open your soul to her”.

“The secret” he said chuckling to himself in a gravely salted voice ,” der used to be two long haired cotton top kids that ran this river in a beat up jon boat n cutoff jean, dat was 20 some years ago, but dey know da secret.” We shoved the old skiff off the bar and Stumpy went towards the bay, around the bend and out of our lives again. That was the last time I saw or talked to him and later that afternoon was the last time I saw Danny. He is in the secret service and has a detail that keeps him out of touch.

I must have been in a trance because it was morning and I was an hour from the dock. I made my way to the galley, grabbed a breakfast bar and decided I needed to tell Hank the whole story. We needed to have the boat painted as soon as I got her docked. I grabbed the sat phone and called Hank.

Sometimes life comes at you wave after wave. I was walking down the dock after tying off. He had not answered my call because it appeared he was down by the pool deck slumped over in a deep sleep in an overstuffed deck chair. As I neared him I saw his drink had spilled, there was a deep crimson, once flowing river originating from his neck. It traveled the left arm, dripped slowly off the long middle finger onto the spackled cream colored pool deck, it drained from the lake under his finger into one of the manmade stress cuts in the concrete and into the pool, diluting and filtering away. I stopped and slowly made my way to the shed by the pool house; it was the closest place to the dock and had a good vantage point. I figured Hank to have been dead since the morning, it was now almost 3. I figured quickly that my captors had not worked alone and I wasn’t sure how Hank played into this. But how could they have known Hank’s location, and that he would be there? Lots of unanswered questions I found myself whispering aloud. I began to fit all the pieces I had into their spots, still too many blank areas. I was holed up in that shed one way in, one way out, waiting on the sun to set to make my move. I had plenty of time and began playing with the blanks spots trying to figure out what they may include. Pirate’s maybe, they are out there for sure but they seemed too organized and had a common goal, pirates didn’t fit.

I needed to find a way to contact Jack. To see if he was safe, the meeting was held at his place. I was pretty sure that Hank may not have had any business here; I think he was looking to rid himself of his boat for then insurance money. Now I needed to call Danny, he had extensive background in fraud, drugs and finance during his time at the ATF, they are all intertwined. Hank was dead and I began to think that my escape and retaking of the boat may have had something to do with it, but what? They are coming for me I’m sure of that. I waited until dark and I saw no one stir. I felt pretty certain I was not being watched and no one was there. I got the skiff launched. After detaching the skiff I made my way in stealth mode to the Rum Cay marina-bar-fine dining-and dental office, their version of a strip mall. I asked the weathered man behind the bar where the phone was. I guessed it safer than using my cell. I called Jack, he didn’t answer but Danny did.

I explained the whole thing to Danny from the start. Gave him all Hanks information and he was going to look into it the following morning. I had the cash stowed on the skiff and needed to off load it and come up with a plan. I called Bird from the same pay phone, he answered too, explained I needed a place to stay for a day or two. I made my way around the marina and to the next canal over where Birds place was.

Bird is a white guy in his late 30’s; his skin is weathered by a life in the sun. He has long straight stringy brown hair streaked blond by the sun a deep tan with glowing white stripes on his feet from where his flip flops rest on the top of his foot. He’s a retired guide from Charlotte Harbor, we have been friends for years. We fished in the Red Fish Cup. We were an unstoppable team in those days when sponsorships were not too hard to get and everyone that liked to fish wasn’t on a pro-staff. He won the Powerball for 350 million and retired to the Bahamas at 3o years old. I laid back in the recliner and tried to sleep, it was a long restless night with too many scenarios going on in my head.

Danny called as I was stepping out of the shower. Hank had some severe financial issues, his boat was heavily insured but that would not set a man up for life, just a little while. Danny said. He asked if there was anything on the boat of value but there really wasn’t. I did remember one thing , I remembered a bilge alarm going off, I looked at the bilge area and in the forward inspection hatch to be sure there was no water inside ,there wasn’t. But there was something stowed down there, but I never checked it out. Danny told me to stay put and he would have a team come down and check it out, they would be here by noon and I was to talk to no one and go nowhere.

Jack called my cell but I let it go to the voicemail. I ran down to the corner and found a phone and rang him back, he answered on the first ring. “What the hell have you gotten into?” he said. Jack went on to say that some really rough guys had been there looking for me and asking about Hank. Hanks dead, I said and told him my story. I asked but he said no one was watching him, he said people meet at bars all the time to wind up business deals so they probably figured this was one of those times. Do they know I keep my skiff there? I asked. He said he didn’t think so he went on to say that the girls that work the bar acted like they didn’t know who I was, they figured Jess had sent them. I told Jack to lay low and I would be in touch this afternoon. I walked back to Birds place; he calls it a nest…. He is kinda goofy. Danny called at 1, said they found Hank by the pool and the Hatteras was still at rest at the dock. He said to meet him at Hanks in an hour. I did.

During the search they found the stash, they pulled out 110 pounds of cocaine. A Street value of around 5 million dollars and the marking on the wrapping, 501 is linked to a drug cartel, Hank had you running drugs Danny said, and he wasn’t scamming an insurance company. I was hijacked but not by pirates, but by a drug cartel. I had Danny call Jack, the FBI was on their way to take him to a safe house. Danny and I went back to Birds place. I had a bunch of cash I had yet to mention and was being looked for by one of the largest and deadliest Cartels in the world. I flew back to Miami and I had made arrangements with Bird to hold on the rest of my cash and I would be back for it and my skiff once the dust settled. I had brought in 100k, it was stowed in a rather large suitcase, not hard to bring in that kinda cash on the governments dime. I met Danny at the luggage pick up and we went to a safe place down near Coconut Grove. Jack was to meet us here and we were going to wait until Danny got back to us on the next move.

Part VI

Sometimes life comes at you wave after wave. I was walking down the dock after tying off. He had not answered my call because it appeared he was down by the pool deck slumped over in a deep sleep in an overstuffed deck chair. As I neared him I saw his drink had spilled, there was a deep crimson, once flowing river originating from his neck. It traveled the left arm, dripped slowly off the long middle finger onto the spackled cream colored pool deck, it drained from the lake under his finger into one of the manmade stress cuts in the concrete and into the pool, diluting and filtering away. I stopped and slowly made my way to the shed by the pool house; it was the closest place to the dock and had a good vantage point. I figured Hank to have been dead since the morning, it was now almost 3. I figured quickly that my captors had not worked alone and I wasn’t sure how Hank played into this. But how could they have known Hank’s location, and that he would be there? Lots of unanswered questions I found myself whispering aloud. I began to fit all the pieces I had into their spots, still too many blank areas. I was holed up in that shed one way in, one way out, waiting on the sun to set to make my move. I had plenty of time and began playing with the blanks spots trying to figure out what they may include. Pirate’s maybe, they are out there for sure but they seemed too organized and had a common goal, pirates didn’t fit.

I needed to find a way to contact Jack. To see if he was safe, the meeting was held at his place. I was pretty sure that Hank may not have had any business here; I think he was looking to rid himself of his boat for then insurance money. Now I needed to call Danny, he had extensive background in fraud, drugs and finance during his time at the ATF, they are all intertwined. Hank was dead and I began to think that my escape and retaking of the boat may have had something to do with it, but what? They are coming for me I’m sure of that. I waited until dark and I saw no one stir. I felt pretty certain I was not being watched and no one was there. I got the skiff launched. After detaching the skiff I made my way in stealth mode to the Rum Cay marina-bar-fine dining-and dental office, their version of a strip mall. I asked the weathered man behind the bar where the phone was. I guessed it safer than using my cell. I called Jack, he didn’t answer but Danny did.

I explained the whole thing to Danny from the start. Gave him all Hanks information and he was going to look into it the following morning. I had the cash stowed on the skiff and needed to off load it and come up with a plan. I called Bird from the same pay phone, he answered too, explained I needed a place to stay for a day or two. I made my way around the marina and to the next canal over where Birds place was.

Bird is a white guy in his late 30’s; his skin is weathered by a life in the sun. He has long straight stringy brown hair streaked blond by the sun a deep tan with glowing white stripes on his feet from where his flip flops rest on the top of his foot. He’s a retired guide from Charlotte Harbor, we have been friends for years. We fished in the Red Fish Cup. We were an unstoppable team in those days when sponsorships were not too hard to get and everyone that liked to fish wasn’t on a pro-staff. He won the Powerball for 350 million and retired to the Bahamas at 3o years old. I laid back in the recliner and tried to sleep, it was a long restless night with too many scenarios going on in my head.

Danny called as I was stepping out of the shower. Hank had some severe financial issues, his boat was heavily insured but that would not set a man up for life, just a little while. Danny said. He asked if there was anything on the boat of value but there really wasn’t. I did remember one thing , I remembered a bilge alarm going off, I looked at the bilge area and in the forward inspection hatch to be sure there was no water inside ,there wasn’t. But there was something stowed down there, but I never checked it out. Danny told me to stay put and he would have a team come down and check it out, they would be here by noon and I was to talk to no one and go nowhere.

Jack called my cell but I let it go to the voicemail. I ran down to the corner and found a phone and rang him back, he answered on the first ring. “What the hell have you gotten into?” he said. Jack went on to say that some really rough guys had been there looking for me and asking about Hank. Hanks dead, I said and told him my story. I asked but he said no one was watching him, he said people meet at bars all the time to wind up business deals so they probably figured this was one of those times. Do they know I keep my skiff there? I asked. He said he didn’t think so he went on to say that the girls that work the bar acted like they didn’t know who I was, they figured Jess had sent them. I told Jack to lay low and I would be in touch this afternoon. I walked back to Birds place; he calls it a nest…. He is kinda goofy. Danny called at 1, said they found Hank by the pool and the Hatteras was still at rest at the dock. He said to meet him at Hanks in an hour. I did.

During the search they found the stash, they pulled out 110 pounds of cocaine. A Street value of around 5 million dollars and the marking on the wrapping, 501 is linked to a drug cartel, Hank had you running drugs Danny said, and he wasn’t scamming an insurance company. I was hijacked but not by pirates, but by a drug cartel. I had Danny call Jack, the FBI was on their way to take him to a safe house. Danny and I went back to Birds place. I had a bunch of cash I had yet to mention and was being looked for by one of the largest and deadliest Cartels in the world. I flew back to Miami and I had made arrangements with Bird to hold on the rest of my cash and I would be back for it and my skiff once the dust settled. I had brought in 100k, it was stowed in a rather large suitcase, not hard to bring in that kinda cash on the governments dime. I met Danny at the luggage pick up and we went to a safe place down near Coconut Grove. Jack was to meet us here and we were going to wait until Danny got back to us on the next move.

Part VII

Danny called promptly the next morning, Reese, we’re moving you and Jack to a remote part of the state to wait this out, he went on to say there was a plan being formulated to find Hanks killers and my captors, they were trying to trace Hanks steps and he could not give any clues as to what they were doing. Danny said he would call if he had any more questions and hung up.

An older Pontiac Bonneville pulled up to the curb an hour later. Jack and I were chauffeured to somewhere just north of Dade City, we made a right turn off a north bound path on highway 301. We followed a barley paved road till it finally gave way to solid dirt, another couple minutes we were in a one lane trail across a broad pasture with rolling hills and tons of green. I began to recognize the area. I asked the driver if we had turned just before the BBQ place. He said yes. We were at Danny’s grandparents place. Danny and I always spent part of our summers exploring the open lands surrounding his grandparents place. As we pulled in I saw the old half a wagon wheel we found and buried by the entrance to their property. His grandparents had died years ago and he inherited the place. It hadn’t changed a bit.

After a week they let Jack go back to his place, Danny said there was no danger for him. I was to continue to stay. I felt week and soft after a week of eating George and Glady’s BBq and sweet tea everyday twice a day. I woke with the sun the next morning and helped Pablo with the chores, feeding animals reworking fence, hauling posts and clearing out fence lines. I ached at the end of the day. Pablo had been working for Danny’s grandparents and when the land fell to Danny he kept Pablo on to care for the property and gives him a generous cut of any profits made off the cattle and planted pines. My hands feet and back ached, I felt good. The next day it was up and feed animals and clean stalls and we were done by 10. Having a lot of down time I rummaged through the old shop and found an old 5 weight. I bet there were 2 I thought, digging deeper, I found the other one. We had marked them with our initials in the cork. We learned early on that a fly rod is an extension of not only your arm, it is an extension of your entire being, once matched to your hand your fly rod carries with it a part of your soul. That’s what the old drunk Indian at the post office used to tell us , but I don’t recall any stories of Native Americans fly fishing . We believed it though, because we wanted to, I think we both still do. Fly fishing seems to be the deepest fishing, and yet it is done in the shallowest of waters.

I hiked to the creek and dug out an old bug fly out of the rusty old fly box, the hook looked ok, I was only after bluegill. One roll cast later and I had a fat bluegill. The ones that have then hump on the top of their head and are more purple than blue. I got a few more and made a little fire and cooked them over the fire on a stick just like when Danny and I were kids. After a week of this daily routine I was lean and feeling strong again.

Danny called; they had a plan in play and needed my help. They had set up a meeting with the cartel through one of the moles they had planted a year ago. The meeting was taking place 20 miles of the coast of Cuba. They had an old homemade house boat that they were going to use. Problem was the guy that was going to captain the vessel fell ill with appendicitis no one else in their group knew how to navigate a boat like that to Cuba or had any experience operating one. They wanted me to handle the boat so they could focus on their jobs. I felt obligated to help; after all I kinda started this whole thing.

A helicopter landed in the field behind the barn and I was scooped up. I had to be moved to a secure spot until further notice. Danny said probably a couple days. We landed in a pasture just east of Englewood. I hadn’t been there in years but I knew where I was going. Danny’s uncle owned a stilt house in Bull Bay. After throwing my bag in the back of an old Ford F100, I jumped in the back and was taken Gaspirilla Marina. I was given a manila envelope with 2 sets of keys and a note that read “You know what the keys are for use them. The team will be there tomorrow. I found the “Green Acre” sitting in the water by the fuel dock I jumped in turned the key and the new four stroke whirred into life. The “green Acre “was an old 24 proline flat back that Danny’s uncle had reworked it before it was popular, he did the outside in a deep green , he said it blended with the mangroves, the inside was enormous and painted a light shade of green with the same deep green spattered on thick for traction. Danny added a tower and new four stroke and a porta bracket. The sun was still high as I left the marina. I meandered slowly on plane from the old railroad trestle out to the pass, spotted a couple tarpon and a wad of snook in the ever changing Gasparilla Pass. I went through the old non-working span and hit the cut between the two bars as I eased int the trough at cat fish creek I stopped and looked at the pothole Danny and I, but mostly Danny caught 40 overslot redfish on a skitter walks, the literally beat the paint off of them! I jumped up on plane and made my way through t the maze of mangroves heading into Whiddens creek and going into Bull bay the back way. I took the long way though. I went deep into Whiddens creek and followed the mullet schools and just bounced around enjoying the ride. I pointed the long nose of the skiff the direction I thought was right. It was.

I had made it to the stilt house. I tied off and opened the door, filled the generator with the gas can on the boat. I tossed a jig caught a trout and had dinner. After eating my grilled trout I sat on the wooden deck swing hanging from the rafters lit a cigar, opened a cold beer and watched the big orange canvas God was painting. The large orange sun setting into Boca Grade Pass framed by the a few slender sweeping clouds and a silhouette of mangroves at the mouth Bull Bay as the water was letting the moon pull it away.

Ice cold beer sure is good.