*If you have not done so already, please first read the following before continuing:
"Another Haul, Part I"
Even after three years, Cal’s first pickup still struck him as the most miserable day of his of his 38 years. Between extreme paranoia that he was entering a criminal world he never dreamed he would ever encounter, the stress of avoiding arrest, appearing normal, and lastly, not screwing up the transfer itself, he was unbelievably morose.
Jim had advised him that the secret to his success would be to change nothing at all. Don’t alter routines, don’t stop hauling in tuna, and make no indication that this departure into the gulf was any different from the fifteen years prior. As always, this would be a three day venture. Cal and his crew would pilot “The Aspiration” out to their standard waters, fish the whole day, and at 6:15PM he would switch to a prearranged frequency for exactly five minutes, during which time coordinates would be radioed to him – encoded. To prevent any triangulation of his position or indication that he was the intended recipient, he would not even respond to the call. They would trust he received them, and he would have to trust they sent them. If there was nothing, the delivery had been cancelled. If coordinates were in fact transmitted, he would slowly pilot his “Aspiration” in that direction and at 2AM, would be anchored in the designated location, with his nets out - fishing.
“What happens then?” he’d asked.
Jim was vague. “A boat will pull by you, drop some stuff in the water, and you haul it aboard when you haul in your nets. That is the extent of your interaction with them.”
Cal opted to ask no further questions. Payment would be waiting in the parking lot when he returned – if there was a delivery.
After further thought, the $100,000 figure didn’t go as far as he had originally thought it might. His crew of two would need a payoff for their silence and to maintain their lack of curiosity, his first mate would need an even handsomer sum for his extra assistance, and the rest would be simply tucked away for safe keeping in a location he had not yet determined. As they were motoring out that morning, he had explained to them that they would be doing pickup that night and would be paid superbly for it. Carlos and his brother, Mike, broke into grins and knew better than to ask about it. Dale, his first mate, gave him a strange look, said nothing, and didn’t speak to him for several hours. When he did, Cal had already prepared his response. Midday, Dale wandered into the cabin and leaned against the map table.
“Cal, what the hell are we doing?
“Pursuing side work.”
“Is this what I think it is?”
“Why not? Nothing is changing, Dale. We’re still fishing. You’re just going to make an extra ten grand on this trip for helping out.”
“Did it occur to you to consult your crew prior to embarking on such a lawless endeavor?”
“Yes, and I figured it would be easier to tell you out here. If you want out, it’s fine. I’ll still pay you for this trip.”
“I don’t want ‘out,’ Cal, I just want to be in the loop.”
“I know very little myself, and I believe it’s better that way. I’ll tell you what I know, though.” He explained his encounters with Jim, what few details of the shipment he knew, and the delivery in the parking lot when they returned in three days. “That’s where I’m going to need your help.”
“And how is that?”
“I’ve been told that this is approximately a 300 pound parcel, and it will need to be divided between your luggage and mine.”
“Shit, man! So you’re telling me we’re just going to walk across the whole damn harbor to your car with our bags stuffed with cocaine, pass it off to a waiting car, and drive out of there?”
“You realize that we face life in prison if we’re caught once?”
“Yes, though I ‘m trying not to think about it.” Cal didn’t even like SAYING it.
“God help us.”
“Something like that. But, we’ll be able to retire early. If ‘they’ like our business, I have been told there will be more of it. If you want out, that’s fine.”
“Let’s just do it, alright? The more we talk about it, the less I want to do it.”
At 6:17PM, the radio squawked their coordinates, which when decoded, placed them 15 miles south of their present location. It wasn’t far, really, but they got started early lest something go awry. Dale stayed unusually quiet, and Cal really couldn’t blame him. He was nervous, too, unsure if they would be met by a Coast Guard vessel, gunned down by whomever showed up, or perhaps nobody would be waiting at all. Cal had asked Jim about that, over another hurriedly-eaten dinner.
“If nobody shows, give them thirty minutes, and keep on fishing. There is always the possibility that they get delayed or stopped. Such is the nature of this business. In fact, we’ll know about it before you do, actually, so it’s not like we’re doing to be dockside waiting or anything. We’ll just try again next time.”
At midnight, the crew had the nets out, and would keep them out for the next two hours, which was somewhat longer than normal (especially while anchored). By 1:30, Cal was wishing he was broke, struggling to make ends meet, yet at least honest. He regretted agreeing to this. He regretted not bringing a gun, and he regretted trusting his freedom to the silence of his crew, Jim, and some unknown number of people that undoubtedly had planted around him. This was a dumbshit idea, and it would probably land him in jail. But it was too late now…
At precisely 2AM, the spotted the navigation light for a distance craft, which, judging by the engine racket, was not only old, but also small. As it entered the dim illumination of the “Aspiration” deck work lights, its age was confirmed. Rusty, rickety, and no more than forty feet in length, it was a pathetically small boat, and probably sailed an outrageous distance from some unknown coast to be here at this time. If they were caught in a hurricane, they’d sink without a doubt. The only clean part of the hull was where the ships titling and numbers should have been. They were taped over with duct tape, preventing any sort of identification. Three Latino males with hostilely blank faces stood at the bow, their hands at their sides – no doubt waiting to draw weapons. Two more leaned against the starboard side rear, balancing two blue, 55 gallon drums on the railing. As they passed within shouting distance of “The Aspiration,” they dropped their barrels into the water, gunned the engines, and left. With no other lighting but their navigation marker visible, they were quickly lost in the dark.
“Well, I guess we bring in the nets now.”
An hour later, they had stowed the barrels under a growing heap of tuna, electing to pack the barrels into their bags when they were much closer to harbor. This way, should a snap inspection be conducted, there would be evidence aside from that buried under a few tons of fish. No federal employee wanted to dig in fish guts, which worked to their advantage.
“Where we going to put the barrels, Cal?”
“Overboard, but later. Our routine isn’t changing, remember?”
For the remainder of the night, and throughout the next day and a half, they dragged their nets like they always had before, and came away with a fairly decent haul, all things considered. It was definitely better than the week before, which was nice. But all their efforts, the normal excitement that would feel with such a good catch was diminished. The greatest profit lay buried under the fish. The fish, suddenly, were nothing but a cover. It was a strange feeling for Cal, and he wasn’t sure he liked it.
Thirty miles from Royal Harbor, Carlos and Mike jumped into the freezer and tossed fish until they came to the barrels, handing them up with difficulty, Dale and Cal rolled them into the pilot house and shut the door. Unscrewing the band clamp seals, Dale sucked in his breath. Both barrels were half full of brick-shaped packages of white powder.
“Shit. I’ve never actually seen this stuff, you know?”
“Neither have I, except on TV. And I really don’t want to see it now, either. Let’s throw it in the bags.”
In short order, their three rolling luggage bags, normally almost empty save for some spare clothing and snacks, were packed with packaged white power and nearly full. They were all exceedingly heavy.
“I’m not sure how well these things are going to roll. These plastic wheels look like they’re not made for this sort of weight.”
“Let’s just hope they work for now. When we get to the parking lot, we’re just going to hand them the bags and they’ll hand us back some of the same kind. Jim already arranged to do that. If we change, we need to let Jim know.”
“We’re gonna need to change. If they make it to your car once, I’ll be surprised. I don’t want to risk using them again.”
“That’s fine. Jim seems relatively flexible about this stuff. It’s pretty minor all things considered.”
“I still can’t believe we’re doing this.” Dale shook his head. “I mean, what if we get caught?”
“I’m avoiding thinking about that. And we’re not going to anyway, alright? Todd doesn’t even come on the boat anymore, and what’s he going to find anyway? Nothing. Just fish, and for cranky guys who want to unload, go home, and drink a beer. Same as usual.”
“Let’s just do this, alright?”
As he always did, Todd walked up to their dock, chatted with Cal about the weather, how the mosquitoes were particularly bad that year, and asked about his wife. Devoting every bit of his concentration to looking and acting normal, Cal patiently answered his questions, asked a few of his own, and Todd eventually wandered off. Some inspection. But that’s what he always did. Until today, there was nothing at all to find.
When the fish were unloaded, Cal handed $5,000 in cash to Mike and Carlos, who were both still grinning and saying nothing, and told them repeatedly to not do something stupid. If they were arrested, he’d claim he had no idea what they were talking about.
“No problem, boss. We keep quiet.” They practically skipped off, chattering back and forth in Spanish.
“They’re the weakest link here, you know.” Dale looked miserable.
“I know this, but I also don’t know what else to do about it.”
“Neither do I. You ready?”
They heaved their bags ashore, double checked the moorings, locked down, and headed for the car.
Parked next to Cal’s Chrysler was a sad looking Buick, well over fifteen years old.
“I don’t like this.”
“Just keep walking.”
As the approached, three more Latino men stepped out, two of whom kept their hands out of sight. The third opened the rear driver’s door, revealing the dummy luggage. Opening his own rear passenger door casually, Cal rolled the bags between the two cars and grabbed the three inside the Buick, throwing them into his car. The nearest Latino quickly threw Cal’s into back seat of the Buick, and handed him an envelope. In a moment, they had climbed in and driven away, leaving Cal and Dale still standing there.
“Did you look at their license plates?”
“No, I was trying NOT to look.”
Cal sighed hard, clutching the envelope in his hands. “You wanna grab a beer before I drop you off?”
“Yes. I’d like to grab several, actually.”
They drove towards Naples, not talking. The mosquitoes WERE bad this year.
To Be Continued…
Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw All Rights Reserved