"THIS ISN'T THE END OF THE WORLD BUT YOU CAN SEE IT FROM HERE," a small hand painted sign declares on the way in from the Kodiak Airport. Mack is sitting on a picnic table, waiting, when Sam gets off the plane on the island in the Gulf of Alaska famous for the world's biggest bears.
"Good to see you. Some bet you wouldn't make it, but here you are. Let's try to keep her off the rocks this time. Charlie came in yesterday, said you'd stayed behind in Seattle because you needed to take care of business with Libby. I always wanted to, hell, anybody who sees her wants to. How was she?"
"Good to see you too, Mack. Like old home week, eh? Libby is fine. She's got a brain and a sense of humor besides that awesome body. I met her at the airport and asked if she'd let me take her to dinner. She asked what about after dinner. I said it's up to her. She stripped down to her panties behind the truck door in the parking lot, changed into a dress. She's not a shy girl, showed me the dangerous curves, indicated the slippery when wet spots and laughed. We watched fireworks after dinner and made our own until the cabbie rang the doorbell before daylight. I made the plane. Didn't get a chance to take a shower. You want to smell my dick?"
"Thanks for the offer but no thanks. Charlie and the rest of the crew are waiting on board the ship. I don't know how you do it. You're either the craziest or the luckiest scammer alive."
"I think it's a little bit of both. On the edge of control there's a good possibility you may crash and burn but the possibility you may soar is worth the chances you take. You have to believe you're lucky, even through the lapses. You know what I mean?"
"I know what you mean. Here's our ship."
Mack takes Sam on a tour of the holds, processing tables, shop, galley, quarters, bridge: the ship smells of diesel, fish, grease and moldy rubber. They head topside. Gulls wheel, turn and dive, shrieking. The ship rubs against earthmover tires hung off the tarred wooden pilings of the thick planked pier, hundreds of fishing boats tied up in the harbor. The sea air is salty, sharp, chilly, with a fog bank in the distance stretching into fine mist skyward. Charlie and Ziggy appear on deck. Everybody's smiling, hugging, happy to see each other. Charlie puts his arm around Sam's shoulder.
"Come on. We're taking a ride into town. I want to explain to you what your job is. We can talk it over and work out anything that needs adjusting. I've got to do this today because we're leaving in the morning, halibut fishing. You want to take my place?"
"No thanks. I think I'll pass on the seafaring. I don't want to puke for five or six days and come back to port. How long are you going to be gone?"
"About a week."
"I rest my case. No thanks."
"So how was Libby?"
"Libby was delightful."
"I always wanted to..."
"I know. Too bad you didn't."
"She is a beautiful woman."
"You don't know the half of it."
"Here's the trailer. We rented this trailer as a cover. Notice all the antennas on top? Nobody cares in this neighborhood because nearly everybody on the island is connected with fishing. Everybody has radios, RTTY's, every imaginable communications device, makes it handy for us to monitor the Navy and Coast Guard from here without looking suspicious.
"I've got the back bedroom, the front bedroom is for the equipment and then there's the living room and kitchen. Make yourself at home. You're a filmmaker on Kodiak doing front work for a documentary. Gives you reason to be running all over the island with cameras and equipment. The phone and electricity are hooked up. Oh, one last thing, Cassie is coming up in a few days. The two of you will be a husband and wife team. Is there anything I missed?"
"Charlie, it was fine, a solid setup except that very last part. Are you out of your fucking mind? You want to stick me babysitting your old lady so she doesn't run amok in California while you're up here working? How long are we supposed to keep this absurd bullshit going?"
"Six months. Hey, it's not that bad. Cassie likes you, you like her. You two get along fine. What's the problem?"
"That's exactly the problem, amigo.”
“Sam, this is the deal. You don't want to go to sea? You do this. You're part of the crew, come through. OK?"
"No problem, captain. Aye, aye. Are any of the other guys willing to baby sit Cassie?"
"No, but they're willing to go to sea."
Kodiak bars proudly sport macho biker and fisher women: flesh, flab, grease, tattoos and grins spiced with noticeable spaces between yellowed teeth. Kodiak women worth a fuck are married. Celibacy seems like a viable alternative, near celibacy anyway.
The local classifieds lead Sam to a rusted out oxidized red Land Cruiser. A new exhaust pipe and expandable house foam let him breathe air instead of carbon monoxide. A driver's license and he's cruising the eighty-seven miles of roads on Kodiak. A .357 with hollow points and a 12-gauge double rail with slugs and double ought complete the scenario.
Sam rescues a 120-pound Black Labrador-Newfoundland named Josh from the pound. Josh skins his slobbery black lips back and shows rows of gleaming white teeth and pink gums when he's pleased. Josh smiles as Sam drives him away from the pound.
Cassie looks good coming off the plane, blonde, busty, tanned, arms loaded with packages. She brings in a sunny morning, a good omen. Sam introduces Cassie to Josh. Josh smiles.
"Look at us, playing house. The place looks great. I was expecting a real dump. You've done a wonderful job. This is going to be cozy for the two of us. What do you think about us being married?"
"It's a job, Cassie. We need to do it well. You're still the wife of one of my best friends so maybe we could skirt the issue for now. How about lunch?”
“I'm starving. I'm going to unpack my things. There's a dress I brought I want to show you. How about a glass of wine now?"
"Certainly. Married life agrees with you. You're looking good. Here's your wine."
"Thanks. I'll be out in a while."
"Take your time."
Cassie comes out in a form-fitting cream-colored dress with a high lace collar, tight lace-cuffed sleeves and flaring ankle-length hem. She's wearing cream leather high-topped lace up boots with a slight heel. Cassie's green eyes glow, like she's been waiting forever for someone to pay attention to her. She laughs, happy.
"Well, what do you think?"
"Cassie, you're beautiful, that's what I think. Awesome, Toots. Charlie's a really lucky guy. You two are great together."
"Yes, he is lucky and he doesn't realize it. May I have another glass of wine?"
Cassie doesn't talk over lunch, devours it and with it the remainder of the Chardonnay. Sam gets another bottle, fills her glass and leans back in his chair. Cassie stands up, turns slowly around in a runway pose, comes over to Sam, hikes her dress up waist high displaying anatomical treasures he had seen before but passed on for practical reasons. She straddles him, grabs hold of his face, plants a kiss, tongue probing past his Adam's apple, deliberate, slithery. Sam likes the heat and moistness of her crotch, breasts mashed against his chest, how she wriggles with her lizard tongue. What he doesn't like is the trouble this will bring.
"No," Sam pushes Cassie off.
"What's the matter? Don't you like it? I thought this is what you wanted."
"Cassie, are you out of your fucking mind? We're in the middle of a scam in Kodiak fucking Alaska. You're married to Charlie, who is one of my best friends. We can't do this, goddamn it! What the fuck do you think is going on here? You think you and I are going to fuck our brains out while Charlie and the rest of the crew are out on the ocean taking risks? I warned Charlie about this but he wouldn't listen. Why don't you go home and find somebody to play with there, where you can't cause any trouble? No. Better yet, I'm getting the fuck out of here and all you can do what you will to and with each other each other. You guys are fucking nuts. Work it out with Charlie. Don't lay it on me. Take the pussy and put it where it belongs, I've had more than my share. I don't want yours. Pussy is more trouble than it's worth. Remember the Smuggler's Creed: If it flies, floats or fucks, rent it. A guy's got to believe in something. I believe I'll get the fuck out of here and see if Charlie's back."
"I'm going with you," Cassie says. "I don't want you to leave. You can't go. They need you. I refuse to be the reason you're leaving."
Half a mile later Cassie is screeching. Sam turns the radio up as loud as it will go to drown her out. Cassie's decibel level is close to the max and rising. She punches him. Sam's patience gives out. He slams on the brakes, veers off the road into a ditch. Cassie's face smacks against the windshield. He grabs the back of her neck and pushes her head to the floor, doubling her over. She's furious. A syncopated gurgle emerges from her face flat against the muddy floor. Sam leans on her as hard as he can, until she runs out of breath and stops struggling.
"Listen you bitch, you fucking sleazy cunt. You try any more of that shit, I'll beat you to a pulp and feed you to the crabs. Settle down and clean up your face. Pretend you're a loving wife on her way to greet her loving husband, home from the ocean, you stupid piece of shit. Consider yourself fortunate."
Cassie cleans her face, sits for a minute thinking, cocks her fist and shatters the windshield. They drive on in silence. The ship is in, tied to the dock. Cassie yanks the keys out of the ignition and heaves them into the harbor.
"You're not leaving," she shrieks, runs up the gangplank and disappears below.
"What the fuck is that all about," Mack asks on deck.
He relates the entire manic, trauma-laden incident to him. He chuckles.
“Do me a favor and get Charlie to come out here. OK?"
"Sure, he'll be up in a minute."
From the look on Charlie's face he sees Cassie has already fabricated a version and fed it to him.
"What's this all about, Sam?"
"This is exactly what we talked about before you left. You wouldn't listen and here we are."
"She gets out of hand when she drinks."
"No shit. I noticed. You could have warned me."
"You're right, I should have. What now?"
"I'm out of here, Charlie. I came here to do a job, not get involved with your insane wife."
"What are you saying?"
“I'm leaving. Fuck this. Good luck. I'm moving my stuff out of the trailer, into the woods. At least I know what's going on around me there."
"Come by the trailer tomorrow at six. I want to talk with you after I think about this. Don't leave until we've had a chance to talk this out."
“I'll be there."
Next evening Charlie appears calm, Cassie nowhere in sight. They know this isn't going to be easy. Charlie begins.
"I want you to reconsider and stay. Finish up the job. Cassie promised me she'd be on her best behavior. She won't cause any problems. I want you to stay."
"Charlie, do you believe what I told you yesterday?"
Charlie doesn't answer, doesn't look at Sam, looks down at the table like the truth or the lies live somewhere beneath his nails, which he inspects intently.
"That's what I thought, amigo. You and Franck keep pushing the crew into more and more scams, when we all know that the DEA is onto us. You're a two-time loser. Do you think nothing can stop us? It's a matter of time and not all that much. We keep taking on more and more people. Sooner or later somebody's going to give it up and we're all going down. Since we met we made money together and had good times. You also nearly got me killed and I'm looking at ten to life no matter what, the cost of doing business. This is friendship? They're onto us, there's nowhere to go. Dump the fucking load. Take a hike, give it up, let Franck take the rap. Fuck him."
"I'm not going to quit now. It's the last one."
"It's the last one until somebody comes up with another one. There's no future here. You can't get over the high. You have to keep doing this like a junkie needs skag. Dump the fucking load. Let Franck answer for it. Fuck that fat weasel. Look inside, Charlie. It's time to take a real risk. There's no future here."
"You're right, there is no future here. But you can't leave, you're a security risk."
Sam feels as though someone packed his heart in ice at that moment, looks down at the table to control his rage, deliberately reaches around and grasps the .357, pulls it slowly out of the belt, places it on the table in front of him, index finger resting softly on the trigger, thumb on the hammer. Incredibly long seconds go by. Sam looks from the table to the pistol and back, says nothing, finally speaks when the constriction in his chest and throat releases enough for him to get the words out. Sam hardly believes what comes out.
"Charlie, I'm leaving. Live with it, please. If you try to stop me, I'll kill you right here, right now. I have had enough. It's all yours. I'm no risk to you. You can put your faith in that. I am going to kill that worthless cocksucker Franck. The world will be better off without him. I just got a revelation about what to do to make the world a better place. Goodbye. Keep the faith."
Libby meets Sam at the airport, visibly shaken, not nearly as friendly as their previous meeting. She gives Josh and Sam a ride to the airport Holiday Inn. She's startled when Sam pulls the stainless .357 out of his pack.
"What's the problem, Libby?"
"Why do you have that gun?"
"I make my living as a scammer. This is standard issue in my neighborhood. I'd rather do unto them before they do unto me. Understand? Or do you live in lala land too? Where the fuck is Franck?"
"He left yesterday after a call from Charlie. He seemed extremely shook. I booked him on a flight for Singapore. I have no idea if he's still there. Other than that I don't know. Can I leave? I'm very uncomfortable."
"Certainly. You can do whatever you like. Thank you for your help. I have things I need to do. Goodbye, Libby."
Finding Franck takes precious little effort. Sam follows Libby to Franck's house the next morning.
Libby lies because she's a secretary, a sperm deposit who works for a pathological liar. Sam lies because he wants this world to be a better place. Franck lies because that's what he does best.
Franck's house is in exclusive Capitol Hill, a multi-million-dollar neighborhood with hedges, gardeners, maids, privacy, long driveways, and a spectacular overview of Seattle. True to form, Franck set himself up on the hill with a commanding view of everything. He makes this easier than Sam imagined.
After Charlie calls Franck from Kodiak with news Sam is coming to kill him, Franck gets as far as downtown Seattle. He never leaves for Singapore. Franck knows if he uses people Sam trusts, he can lie his way out of this. Not so. Sam knows the players, their habits, whims and predilections. When Libby tells Sam Franck left for Singapore, Sam knows Franck's in Seattle.
Franck figures he's safe, after he gets everybody to lie. Franck has no respect for anybody, including himself. He assumes everybody is stupid because he's not. He gets Libby to deliver a platter of bullshit with a red herring on it. He assumes Sam swallowed the red herring. How would Sam not believe her? Assumption makes for dangerous situations, like believing in things you don't understand.
Franck is on a roll, desperately trying to get away from himself with nowhere to go. This is the end of the line. In desperation he reaches for escape, which comes in the form of an old habit: Bolivia's finest marching powder.
The only light in the room comes from a blank computer screen. The front door is open, nobody in the house except Franck in the den, hunched over the screen illuminating his torso. Sam steps softly, carefully, in a well-broken in pair of New Balance cross trainers. Franck doesn't hear him coming. The cool stainless barrel chills Franck's right ear, startles him. Sam distinctly hears Franck gasp. Cocaine and adrenaline have him shuddering.
Sam eases Franck out of the chair by lifting the .357 up. Franck stands, shaking. Sam pulls the gun out of his ear and faces Franck, points the .357 between his eyes. Franck's mouth does a classic coke freak grind. This isn't as much fun as Sam thought it'd be. Franck is in front of him, but there's hardly anybody home. Franck is on vacation, too coked out and scared to say anything. Sam levels the gun a few inches above Franck's brow and pulls back on the hammer with a distinct two-part click.
Franck chokes, grinding his small yellow teeth. Both his hands go to his throat, eyes skinned back wide. His hands quickly shift to his chest, fingers clawing hair, skin, fat. Franck loses balance, falls, jolted like he's got a high voltage cattle prod stuck up his ass. He vomits. Tweaky vacant eyes roll back into sockets. Franck lies still on the floor. One last spasm passes through him. Sam waits, .357 cocked, checks Franck's carotid. Franck's dead as you can get. Sam doesn't administer CPR. Franck shit his pants. What a stink. Libby will find him in the morning, stiff in shit, powdered in coke.
Sam strolls out of the house chuckling up the street to the used beater Lincoln he bought in the Post Intelligencer classifieds. What can this be besides divine intervention? Mission accomplished. Josh is glad to see him. He steers south, on I-5 for Portland in minutes. Josh sniffs him, licks Sam's face. The world is already a much better place. Sam leans into the cracked old leather of the Lincoln's expansive seat.