Trouble Is My Name by John Corcoran by John Corcoran - Read Online

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Trouble Is My Name - John Corcoran

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83

I got my finger in the bullet hole.

The one in my leg.

I got it jammed in there to stop the blood from gushing out like a fucking geyser, like maybe the bullet nicked my femoral artery or some other kinda important body part.

And it ain’t fun, you know, trying to run with the finger of one hand jammed in the bullet hole in my leg, while carrying the heavy Kalashnikov in my other hand, as I trip and fall and clamber over heavy coils of chain, knowing for absolute fucking certainty that if I stop for one second I’m gonna take a couple AK rounds right up the ass from the Masai warriors that are chasing me. Some of them have obviously traded their famous spears for weapons a little more practical in today’s wacky world of escalating, senseless violence. They’re still dressed as traditional Masai warriors, though, taller’n shit and sporting blood-red robes wrapped around their black, sinewy bodies. It’s like I’m stuck in some surreal National Geographic nightmare.

I’m in Africa. Fucking Africa. Elephants, lions, gorillas, Tarzan, all that shit. I was living on a boat by an idyllic, tropical island in the Caribbean and working as a professional salvage diver and sometimes private eye. And now, now I’m running across the cluttered deck of an ancient, rust-streaked freighter in the squalid port city of Mombasa, Kenya, being chased by seven-foot-tall maniacs who wanna kill my ass. And all because I came to this wonderful place doing a favor for this fucking broad.

Yeah, yeah, I know, it’s incredibly rare. I’m probably the first guy in history to have his life fucked up by a woman.

I’m a fucking idiot.

So.

I came here with a friend of mine.

Guy called Crazy Dave.

Why Crazy Dave?

Example: When I tell Dave I’m going to Africa, he says to me, Hey, why don’t I go with you? I always wanted to wrestle a gorilla. Maybe that Goodall chick can hook me up. And yeah, he was serious. I figured it was sound reasoning and said, Sure, Dave, why the hell not.

We didn’t know what to expect. Think we were thinking we’d get off the plane and see some lions and tigers running around on the veldt, maybe some Zulu tribesmen running around throwing spears at wildebeests, that kinda shit.

Boy, were we in for a rude awakening.

Africa’s changed a bit since Tarzan’s time. I was here two days before I even saw a single animal, and that was a stray dog with the mange and a bad case of the shits that left a steaming pile of kinyesi on the front step of our rented wiki hut.

Not exactly a National Geographic moment.

Yeah, things have definitely changed a bit in Africa. What we stepped in was more like Dante’s Inferno. The seventh circle of hell.

Wait, why the fuck am I talking? OK, asshole, stop the travelogue and focus on getting your ass out of this mess.

I slip in oil and go down hard, the AK skittering across the cluttered deck of the old freighter. Dave spins, pumps lead from his own AK, covering me as I crawl for my rifle, praying that I didn’t fuck it up. I grab the rifle and roll to my side, sight down the AK’s barrel at some mujahideen fucker wearing a turban and a white robe, pump some rounds and dye the guy’s robe red.

Sayonara, pal.

Dave slaps in another banana clip and turns just in time to strafe two fucking Ruskies that have snuck up on us. I hear the Russians curse as they’re blown backward over the ship’s rail and into the sea.

Got a real ethnic mix chasing our asses: Masai warriors, Russian gangsters, and a bunch of guys in turbans from one of those countless fucked-up countries whose names always seem to end in STAN. Oh, did I mention the psychotic ex-con who’s really into torture? Like it fucking matters. There’re more than enough bad guys here to make us dead.

My gun runs dry.

I pull a thirty-round banana clip from my belt, slam the clip home, and keep firing. A slug lays open my left bicep, and a bloody mist coats my face. AK rounds shred a wooden crate by my head, and as I duck behind the crate I feel a searing pain in my right shoulder.

I check out the shoulder problem.

So much for the Masai giving up their spears. My right shoulder’s pinned to a wooden crate by the gleaming steel tip of a seven-foot spear.

A spear.

A fucking spear.

It’s the twenty-first century, and some crazy fucker just tried to kill my ass with a fucking spear.

What the fuck?

I grab the spear shaft with both hands, pull and twist, feel a special kind of pain as I wrench the bastard free.

Great. Fucking great. Three holes in me now. I keep getting holes in me I’m gonna run out of fingers to plug ‘em.

Dave yells, points.

—Breezeway!

He doesn’t wait for an answer. I roll to my feet, feel my head swim from blood loss, and stumble toward the breezeway that bisects the freighter’s superstructure. We keep low, running past dozens of wooden crates dogged to the freighter’s deck with countless lengths of chain. In the dark we trip and fall and climb over the chains as bullets rake the air over our heads.

Shit flies around us: AK rounds, splintered wood, shattered chain-links, spears.

What’s with the fucking spears?

Ahead, a steel door.

We race for it, and find it chained shut. Of course. Well I can fix that. I hose it with the AK, blow up the chain, spin the door-wheel and kick the door open. We pour inside and slam the door as a hail of lead peppers the door from the outside.

I look at Dave.

His face is a mess, lacerated and bleeding heavily from large wood splinters that stick from his face porcupine-style.

He pulls the splinters from his face, grins at me.

—Well, I’ve had better days, brother.

I shove my finger deeper into the hole in my leg.

—Can’t argue with that.

I point with the AK.

—Cargo-hold entrance is that way.

Dave nods.

We run.

Hallways. Steps. A maze of twisting, turning narrow corridors. A Russian spins out of a hatchway and slams into me, his thin fighting knife held tightly in his right hand, the wicked blade arcing toward my throat. I catch the hand, kick the guy’s legs out from under him and throw on an arm bar, snap his elbow, rip the knife from his hand and put the knife in his throat.

I stick my finger back in the bullet hole in my leg.

I look for Dave, see him choking some guy in a turban. The guy’s eyes roll back and Dave grabs a piece of the turban and pulls, like he’s starting a lawnmower, and the guy spins around like a top as I blast him with the AK.

Dave looks at me.

—How many of these fuckers are there?

I grunt, point forward.

—Main cargo-hold should be down there.

I slip on turban’s guts, catch myself, and make for a stairwell that leads down deeper into the bowels of this ship from hell. We hear noises above us: running, yells, an occasional shout, all getting closer. I race down the steps and into a maze of dimly-lit corridors. Well, race isn’t a good description. More like lurch, stumble, slip, fall, crash against bulkheads, any of the above.

We pass through the ship’s galley, and I temporarily lose sight of Dave. I feel myself falter from blood loss and shake my head to clear it. I’m used to this shit. I can take it. Not the first time I’ve had to fight for my life. Hopefully, won’t be the last.

Dave rejoins me, and we move down a trash-filled hallway that leads to the main cargo-hold door.

It’s locked.

Go figure.

It’s a big lock. Kinda lock a bullet ain’t gonna fix.

I look around, my vision blurred, and spot the open hatchway of a machine shop. I race inside the shop, scan the room and spot a solution to the lock problem. Chained against a wall. Cutting-torch set-up. Oxygen and acetylene. I grab the bottles and drag them back to the main cargo-hold door. Dave gets what I’m thinking and helps me wrap the bottles with the heavy lock and chain that secures the door. We get it set, step back around a corner, and let fly with the AKs.

It’s a helluva bang.

Loud footsteps.

Yells.

Closer now.

We make for the shattered door, rip it off its twisted hinges, and we race into the ship’s main cargo-hold.

And there they are.

Chained down to the steel deck.

Artifacts from the not-so-distant past.

Massive.

Menacing.

Terrifying.

And I feel awe, just like the day I found them, buried on the bottom of the sea.

Angry curses. Russian. Other languages. Getting closer.

I sidelong Dave, wave a thumb at the artifacts.

—OK, we know they’re here. Let’s get the hell outta Dodge.

Dave wipes blood from his face.

—I ain’t arguing, brother.

We run for the far side of the cargo hold.

A beckoning hatchway.

Steps that lead deeper into the ship.

We have no choice but to take them.

Down. Down.

To the seventh circle of hell.

The bilge.

Ever been inside the bilge of an ancient, third-world freighter, were crewmen too lazy to walk to the can, shit and piss, and over the decades have dumped or spilled probably every toxic chemical known to man?

I didn’t think so.

Well let me tell you, it ain’t fucking pleasant, man.

We lift the hatch to the bilge and a plethora of gag-inducing fumes envelop us: piss, shit, diesel fuel, heavy metals, stink, rot, decay, mold, age. A toxic stew that overwhelms the senses. My eyes water, my throat reflexively tightens, and I think about all the new and interesting infections I’m gonna get in all the new holes in my body.

Lucky me.

Footsteps.

On the stairs above us, coming fast.

Dave shrugs, drops into the bilge.

Got no fucking choice.

I follow him in.

And it’s as bad as I thought it would be.

Nah, I’m lying. It’s worse.

We slam the hatch closed above us, and Dave shoves his AK into the wheel, jamming the wheel in place. Seconds later the wheel is slammed back and forth, probably by the giant fucking Russians as they try to muscle the door open.

They give it their best.

No dice.

We hear running on the deck above us.

Smart fuckers.

They’re sending the swift-footed Masai to another compartment to open another bilge hatch before we can secure it.

Yeah, gotta admire these sneaky Ruskies. Cunning bastards, they.

We move.

Through the black, oily, fetid water that reaches to our waists.

Scurrying rats.

Red eyes in the darkness.

I bang my head on an overhead pipe, feel skin tear, barely notice ‘cause I’m so fucked up.

We climb.

Over a maze of slimy, moss-covered pipes that lead off in a hundred different directions. An obstacle course for the damned.

A light.

In front of us.

Black heads lower into a bilge hatch, swivel as they look for us.

Masai.

I hose them with the AK.

The heads go away. The bodies don’t.

The headless corpses drop into the bilge.

Dave moves forward, grabs the hatch, slams it shut and dogs it with his ammo belt.

We move on, over the bodies, climbing, twisting, grunting, cursing, my one hand still on my leg, finger jammed in the bullet hole, stopping me from bleeding-out.

A red light beckons.

Far ahead.

We make for it.

In front of us, stairs that lead up.

A hatchway.

Unlocked.

Ain’t I fucking lucky.

I cover Dave as he cracks the hatch, peers out.

And I see a sight that almost gives me a hard-on.

Almost.

Black sky.

Stars.

A full moon.

Life.

We’re on the fantail of the ship, about twenty feet above the water.

I kick the door wide, and below us I see our small Panga boat that we used to sneak onto the ship in the first place. It’s still tied up to one of the aft mooring-lines.

Dave points.

—Gotta drop in the water, man. No steps.

Great. Fucking great.

Mombasa Harbor.

One of the most polluted harbors on the planet. The fish here actually glow in the dark. Not fucking kidding. They’re actually creating new life forms in this harbor. They dump dead bodies in it. Cheaper than a fucking funeral. And the smell, man, it stinks worse than the ship’s bilge.

One of the most popular names for marinas around the world is Safe Harbor. A salvage-diver friend of mine who once did work underwater-welding on ships in Mombasa harbor told me all the work-divers there called it Staph Harbor. That’s staph for staph infection.

And I got two bullet holes and a spear hole in me.

Germs are gonna go hand-to-hand to see which one gets to kill me.

I hear babbling on the open deck above us and realize it’s the Masai searching the stern of the ship. They look over the stern rail they’re gonna see the open hatchway and us leaning out of it. If we’re gonna go, we gotta do it now.

I look at Dave.

He’s drinking a beer.

What the fuck?

I point.

—Where the fuck you get that?

He shrugs.

—When we ran through the galley. Saw a big fridge and thought, Let’s take a look.

He holds up the beer.

—Just got lucky, man.

Can’t help but grin at the crazy fucking bastard. Got a whole assortment of psycho-killers chasing us, and all he’s thinking about is scoring a beer.

I shake my head.

—You’re fucking nuts.

—Yeah, well.

I wave a thumb at the water.

—Better go.

He holds up a finger, vacuums the beer, tosses it over his shoulder.

—OK, let’s do this.

On three, we both leap from the fantail of the freighter, aiming to get as close to our moored boat as possible.

Dave aims a little too well and goes right through the bottom of our Panga boat. Not part of our plan.

He comes up, looks at me treading water next to our now-sinking boat.

—Oops.

I point to the docks a couple-hundred yards away.

—Swim for it, brother!

Only I’m not sure if he hears me ‘cause it’s really hard to hear right now, you know, on account of all the AKs being fired at us and all. Bit of a noise problem.

I swim.

No. Correction. Michael Phelps swims. With my finger jammed in the bullet hole in my leg, I attempt what some might call swimming using my one available arm. In reality, I spastically splash around like a monkey with a jalapeño up its ass.

It ain’t pretty.

But we make progress and move closer to the docks. It seems to take a lifetime, and the bullets geysering the water around our heads doesn’t help.

Something floats in the water in front of me, something I can hold onto to help me stay afloat and swim with my one good arm. Hell, maybe my luck’s come back.

I see what it is.

It’s a dead dog. Bloated. Eyes bugged. Skin sloughing. Its stink impressive even by Mombasa standards.

Yeah, I’m lucky, alright.

But fuck it, any port in a storm.

I grab hold of the dog and lie on it, stroke with one arm, and move closer to the dock.

The dog’s bad. Real bad. But at least it ain’t human. A boated human body? That would be too much. Yeah. That would definitely be too much.

The dog starts to slip from my grasp and I squeeze tighter.

It explodes.

That shit that splatters me? I’m not even gonna bother describing it. Less said the better.

We’re almost at the dock, when suddenly we hear the outboard motors on two tender-boats that are racing toward us, the two boats loaded-up with Masai warriors, and every fucking one of them carrying AKs and seven-foot spears.

Oh good. I was getting pretty bored. The swim alone wasn’t challenging enough.

We’re fifty feet from the docks when they catch us. They race around us like angry hornets, their AKs spewing lead that chews up the water around us.

Dave and I gulp air, dive for the bottom, and discover to our dismay that the water is only six feet deep.

Fuck.

The Masai spears are seven feet long.

I was never good with math. Fact, I flunked math in school, mainly because I was a punk and didn’t give a shit. But this math is simple enough even I can figure it out. Six feet of water plus seven-foot spears equals fuck-me-sideways.

I cling to the bottom, right hand clasping a lump of something. Hopefully, not a dead body. In the moonlight I see flashes of steel piercing the water as the Masai stab again and again with their spears. I argue with my oxygen-starved brain that’s telling me, Surface and breathe, you stupid fuck, before you black out and drown.

And as I lie here, clinging to what I can now clearly see is, in fact, a dead body, I say to myself, How the fuck did I get into this mess? And I need look no farther than two feet to see the reason clinging to yet another corpse.

Crazy Dave.

Asked me if I would do a favor for this fucking broad.

And like a sap, I said yes.

And here I am.

Aren’t friends great?

***

Three weeks earlier.

Cowboy Billy’s Marina

Key West, Florida

—Gotta problem?

—Yeah, Billy, I gotta problem. I got a lot of fucking problems. Like for instance, your being an asshole. That’s a problem.

I point at some guys working on my boat.

—Another problem I got is, What the fuck are those knuckleheads doing?

He takes a step forward, looms at me.

—Gotta problem with my fuckin’ workers, spit it the fuck out, boyo.

I wave a thumb at his workers.

—These laborers you got working on my boat, they’re fucking homeless guys. These guys just spent last night over there in the mangroves hitting the pipe and swilling dago red, and now you got these skilled laborers grinding the bottom of my boat.

Cowboy Billy scratches his grizzled jaw, spits a long stream of Redman onto the white, limestone gravel.

He looks over at the homeless guys, back at me.

—Your point?

I pull a smoke from behind my ear, screw it in the corner of my mouth.

—My problem is, Billy, that you’re charging me thirty-five an hour for skilled labor, and you’re paying these guys seven an hour to fuck up my boat. Now, I’ve got nothing against homeless guys, but these guys don’t know what the fuck they’re doing. I pay thirty-five an hour for skilled labor, I want skilled fucking labor.

I thumb my Zippo and fire up the smoke, wait for the eruption I know is coming. Regular Mount Vesuvius, this fucking guy.

Billy works the chaw of Redman in his massive jaw, points a kielbasa finger at his workers.

—Number one, smart guy, that ain’t a boat you got. It’s a fucking toilet.

He backhands his mouth.

—And number two, I was runnin’ marinas back when you was just a little fucking sperm. So don’t you go tellin’ me ‘bout skilled fuckin’ labor, boyo.

Cowboy Billy.

Hands down the world’s biggest asshole.

Only that’s not an insult to Billy. The guy loves being an asshole. Hell, he’s even proud of it. He revels in it. Even had some T-shirts made up that proudly proclaim to the world in large block letters, I’M AN ASSHOLE. He’s wearing the T-shirt right now.

I size him up.

Mammoth. Hulking. Cyclopean. Ape-like arms bulge from his white tee, his Chesterfields tucked in a sleeve-roll. Levi’s, of course, tucked into bullhide shitkickers with chromed toecaps. His arms are fully sleeved. That means completely tatted-up for you yuppie assholes reading this.

Ancient, faded images adorn his arms: mermaids, anchors, a battleship, naked broads.

He’s an old fucker, too. How old? Who fucking knows. Dinosaur old.

He stands six seven, weighs about three fifty, and when he walks into the baddest bars on the island the crowds part for him like he’s fucking Moses. When crazy fucking shrimpers see him coming they cross to the other side of the street. Look up badass, or asshole, in the dictionary, and you’ll see Billy’s smirking mug.

And now I got this guy all over me like stink on a monkey.

That’s just the kinda life I lead.

I glance around Billy’s marina.

Huge.

The biggest in the Keys, and the only place can handle hauling out boats the size of mine. But the place is old, man, falling in to disarray. Ancient airplane hangars filled to the rafters with rusting boat parts and unidentifiable crap. Acres of condemned ships, now orange husks of oxidizing steel slowly working their way back to their original element. Old-time liveaboards who’ve been here for years working on their decaying boats, knowing damn well their boats will never again be embraced by the sea.

It’s a forlorn place, but it reminds me of old Key West before all the Ritchie Rich-types came down here and bought up all the old marinas and turned them in to mega-yacht basins and pretty much ruined the whole fucking place, so I still like it.

Can’t say the same for Cowboy Billy, though. Guy’s a fucking pain in my ass. But like I said before, guy’s got the only marina and boat lift in the Keys that can handle a boat the size of mine. And if you got a big boat, like I do, you gotta use him. And he knows it. That’s why he gets to be such an asshole. Well, that’s one of the reasons, anyway. Another reason could be that he makes King Kong look like a little bitch. Or, that he’s truly fucking crazy. Or, maybe it’s because he’s always strapped with a .44 magnum, and he’s used it to kill people.

Any of the above.

Billy once drove a boat from the African Congo back to Key West. It was an old, 1950s tugboat A riverboat. Riverboats are designed for rivers and only rivers. What they’re not designed for is Trans-Atlantic ocean voyages. You tell anyone who knows boats what Billy did, and they’ll tell you it’s impossible.

But the guy did it.

He bought the dilapidated old tug from a French guy in Brazzaville on the Congo River. Paid the frog about fifty large. When Billy says he’s gonna drive it back to America the guy starts laughing, till he realizes Billy’s serious. Then the guy starts flipping out, telling Billy it can’t be done, begging Billy not to make him responsible for Billy’s death and blah, blah, blah. Billy just laughs it off and sets out on his journey to Key West. He brought along two shrimpers from Stock Island to help crew the boat.

It was bad.

About halfway across, somewhere around the Azores, they run into a violent storm. They start taking on water. None of the fucking equipment works. And then the bilge pumps shit-the-bed. Billy’s driving the boat, screaming like a madman, while the two shrimpers run up and down from the bilge on bucket brigade, bailing water. They keep this up for two days without a break. Finally, the shrimpers have enough and pop off an EPIRB, an emergency signaling device, and alert the Coast Guard. They do this without telling Billy. When the Coasties arrive, a few-hundred miles off the U.S. coast, the tug is floundering in twenty-five-foot seas, taking forty-degree rolls, and any sane man can clearly see that the tug is doomed.

But not Billy. He’s just pissed at his crew for going behind his back, and he’s chasing them around the boat, threatening to kill them. When the SAR guys jump into the water with the rescue baskets, the shrimpers throw themselves into the sea to get away from Billy. The Coasties get the shrimpers into the helicopter and then use the marine radio to order Billy to abandon ship.

Billy replies, Fuck you, you little sissies. This storm ain’t shit.

He refuses to abandon ship.

The Coasties argue with him for over an hour, and then they finally give up.

Two days later Billy pulls the tug into his marina on Stock Island. I was there. He comes into the marina in a rare Key West fog. The tug is almost totaled. Just totally fucked. Like a ghost ship. Like the Flying Dutchman or some such shit.

The marina’s packed: friends, family members, police, Coast Guard, media jackals, probably several-hundred people. Billy pulls the tug up to the dock, cuts the engines, walks to the bridge railing and flips-off the Coasties waiting to give him a world-record number of citations, and then drops his pants and moons the entire crowd.

That’s Billy.

And now I got the crazy bastard in my face.

I take a long drag on my smoke, blow a lungful toward my boat.

—Let me show you something, Billy.

I walk toward my boat, sidelong Billy in case he decides to casually reach over and rip my head off.

There’re four homeless guys standing under my boat holding Dewalt grinders, hand-rolled Drum cigarettes hanging from their cracked, keratosed lips, a short-dog of Thunderbird in the back pocket of one guy wearing a fez. They squint at Billy and I through red-rimmed eyes.

I look up at my fiberglass hull, at what they’ve been grinding.

I point, talk around my smoke.

—That there, Billy, in your professional opinion, would you consider that professional work?

Images, ground into the paint: a smiley face, a crude hand holding up a middle finger, a male stick-figure having sex with a female stick-figure, a giant, erect penis.

They’ve been ground into my good bottom paint, not the chipped spots they’re supposed to be feathering out.

I see the blood in Billy’s face rise like in a thermometer. He grabs two of the guy’s heads and clunks them together like when Moe would fuck with Larry and Curly.

Clunk!

One of the guys goes down and out, and the guy sporting the fez staggers backward grabbing his head.

—Ow! Shit! Dude, not cool!

Billy grabs the guy by the throat, lifts him off the ground, and points at the giant penis.

—What. In fuck’s sake. Is that?

The guy blinks.

—Umm, it’s a dick.

Billy’s eyes slit.

—I know what the hell it is, you fucking ass clown! Why the fuck is it on the man’s boat?

—Umm, we was just making sure the grinders worked and such.

Billy throttles the guy.

—Listen, Michaelfuckingangelo, you just ruined the man’s good paint! Now grind that horseshit off and work on the bad paint.

The guy goes to move and Billy grabs him.

—And next time leave the fucking fez home with your flying carpet. You’re in fucking America now, Aladdin.

He smacks the fez off the guy’s head, and the guy runs across the parking lot trying to catch the hat as the wind takes it for a ride.

Billy turns and looks at me, holds up a finger, takes a deep breath and lets it out.

—Don’t you say a fucking word, Flynn.

I don’t say a word.

Billy hyperventilates a few times, eyeballs me.

—I’ll drop it down to twenty an hour. That’s fair. Take it or leave it.

I grin at him.

—You’re a helluva guy, Billy. I don’t care what everyone else says.

His eyes narrow.

—Fuck you, and your horse, and your dog, and your cat.

He turns and storms off across the marina, yells back over his shoulder.

—And fuck the cockroaches on your shitty fucking boat.

I stand there for a while.

I smoke.

I look up at my shitty fucking boat.

***

They say that the two happiest days for a boat owner are the day he buys the boat, and the day he sells it.

Ain’t that the fucking truth.

Boats are nothing but a hole-in-the-water that you pour money into. Like what I’m doing right now, getting a long-needed bottom-job and some new zincs. I was losing a couple-knots speed and figured it was time.

My boat’s an old shrimp boat that was previously owned by the world famous treasure hunter, Mel Fisher. He’d rigged the boat out for treasure hunting and used it for years to excavate and recover millions of dollars of treasure from the lost Spanish galleons, Nuestra Senora de Atocha, and the Santa Margarita.

Eventually, the Fisher Family upgraded to newer boats, and I was able to buy the old shrimp boat for a song. It’s called the Bastard. I spent about a year refitting the boat and turned it in to one hell of a liveaboard. I gutted the old crew’s quarters and turned it in to a nice salon and library, and I turned the back deck in to a giant tiki bar complete with bamboo tiki torches, tribal masks and a good-sized wet bar. I’ve got two good Detroit diesel 1271s and an Onan 20kW generator that are in pretty