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"Antonio J. Hopson writes with a subtle power and a minimalist's sense of economical prose. His affecting style comes on slowly and dances beneath the surface, evoking abstract emotions that stretch beyond the short boundaries of his flash-fiction. Layered and dense, his writing belongs to the prose genre but employs the artistic precision of poetry."
--Mike Dell'Aquila, Editor, Farmhouse
Antonio J. Hopson
Available as an audiobook on Audible
Copyright © 2017 by Antonio J. Hopson
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from Antonio J. Hopson. Writers are welcome to quote brief passages in their critical studies, as American copyright law dictates.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author's imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
Front Cover Design: Anew Kyle.
Nefarious: A Novel Antonio J. Hopson—1st edition ECOPY.
1. Sports & Recreation—Sailing—General. 2. Fiction—Action & Adventure. 3. Fiction—Romance—Contemporary.PN3311-3503: Literature: Prose fiction813: American fiction in English
Wildboy Concepts | Seattle Washington
Thank you Dan, for showing me the race boats.
Thank you Craig, for showing me the words.
If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there. I can’t go back to yesterday—because I was a different person then.
You’re so vain—you probably think this song is about you.
I've often thought the Bible should have a disclaimer in the front saying, 'This is fiction.'
For no good reason, people tended to become a friend or a foe of Dan Swardstrom. He was not particularly benevolent, nor was he physically or intellectually intimidating, but there was something chancy about him. Perhaps it was the crookedness of his smile, the boyish, cocksure gleam in his mercury eyes, the way he positioned his body while sailing as if he were about to take a punch on the chin, or the way he somehow, through no fault of his own, ended up with your girlfriend sitting on his lap at the end of a party.
Despite his modest demeanor, Dan Swardstrom stood out among his peers; a consummate gentleman among pirates, assholes, vandals, and picaroons—words that accurately describe every one of his friends. His wintery hair and smart, mercurial eyes were deceiving. Your only warning of what he was truly capable of lay just below his right eye where a broken halyard once lashed out and left him with a compelling story to tell over a drink. When he smiled from the other side of a bottle of rum, the little scar frowned at you.
Today, he proudly steered his race boat through picturesque Lake Union, a Farr 30—a class of sailboat well regarded in the Seattle fleet. It was sleek and fast, designed to carve through water as smoothly as a Ferrari devours blacktop on a racecourse. The wind was at his back, blowing his thinning hair out in front of him, obscuring a fresh, excited face. Only a few scattered cumulous clouds speckled the sky. The sun was out, and the day was young.
“Sir, I need you to kill your engine!”
Harbor 1, the Marine Patrol unit that operates a 37-foot, cabin cruiser with twin diesel engines patrols the busy waters of Lake Union. It was called to the area to intercept a party boat, but what the captain found instead was S/V Nefarious; its sails stowed, motoring speciously along the cut at an easy pace. No wake. Five knots, not fast enough to disturb the charming houseboats or the posh, float restaurants with diners enjoying an early lunch. Why would a broken dock be tied to the hull of a sailboat? The captain put away his binoculars and picked up his bullhorn.
“Sir, did you know—”
“Yes,” Dan said, nodding at the flotsam. “It’s mine. My bowman neglected to untie us, and my crew didn’t notice it until you started tailing us.”
“Well, that solves one of our problems.”
The captain motioned his pilot to close the distance.
“Have you been drinking, skipper?”
“Most definitely,” Dan said. “Problem three?”
Harbor 1 drifted closer and the captain was not amused by the smirk on the skipper’s face: a handsome face with a neatly trimmed, silver beard stuck to it. He set down his bullhorn and turned off his flashing lights.
“A woman reported that someone on your vessel yelled ‘hot soup’ and then emptied a bucket of urine overboard onto her kayak.”
Dan scratched his beard.
“Yes, that’s true,” he said, “but, to be fair, she did not give me right of way while approaching my vessel.”
The crew was quiet, like refugees caught in the night, and it was a miracle that they resisted the urge to sip their beers or drink from the lucky bottle of rum.
“Isn’t your vessel equipped with a head?”
“Let me ask you this,” Dan said. “Would you ask the owner of a Ferrari if there was a commode under the seat?”
The captain boarded Nefarious. When he stepped on a beer can, he sneered. This was unsafe. This was sloppy yachting. He removed a fresh citation from his pocket and looked hard at the refugees as they pretended to be sober.
“Skipper,” he said while scratching his pen on the citation. “What is the destination of this vessel?”
“Race Week,” Dan said.
The pit-girl stepped up to the bar. Pink, fuck-tower, six-inch-heels with little tassels tied into bowline knots. Pink lipstick. Pink pantyhose, lacy and torn for fun. Pink eyelashes, and for good measure, a pink satin ascot.
“What’re you having?” the bartender asked.
The pit-girl’s blouse was a vintage navy uniform with silver first class stars buttoned to the sleeves, borrowed from Esther, her adorable godmother whose closet was full of swooshy, jazzy, swing-town fun. In her day, Esther took zero-shit from the world, lived free and loved free; she dated Negros, Degos, Wops, and, as it turned out, she had a real special thing for sailors in uniform.
“Let me ask you something,” the pit-girl said to the bartender. “What do you think a woman dressed like me would order?”
The bartender looked her over slowly, pausing thoughtfully. Her sheer skirt was pink. Her vinyl nail polish was pink. Her blush was pink, and it sparkled on her pink, freckled cheeks like the Fourth of July.
“A Pink Pussy,” he said.
“Good!” the pit-girl said and smacked the bar. “I’ll have twelve.”
The bartender began pulling out martini glasses and lined them up one by one.
“You’re not from around here are you?” he said. “Mind if I ask you why you’re in town?”
“Race Week,” the pit-girl said.
Ortun Hurley kissed his sleeping girlfriend on her fair-skinned cheek. He was restless and drowsy because the night before he’d dreamt of a watery chasm swirling downward into a warm, pinpoint of eternal light. The vision wasn’t terrifying, but it awakened him suddenly, and for the rest of the night he grappled with an itch in his arm that radiated outward from his bones. Ortun knew it was that time of the year again, and there was only one of two ways to scratch the itch.
She awakened; reluctantly opening one eye and then the other.
“Good morning,” she said skeptically.
Ortun was busted. He was already carrying his guitar, slung over his shoulder like a rock star, his canvas bag, and a six pack of Coors Light—on account that he was a diabetic.
“Where are you going?” she said sleepy and sweet, as if she didn’t already know.
“Race Week,” he said.
The writer sipped coffee at Starbucks. He was irritated with the company for removing the nipples from their little mermaid insignia, and was busy drawing them back onto his paper cup when he received a text.
HI, DARLING, his girlfriend texted.
HIYA, he replied.
WHAT RU DOING? she asked.
WRITING, he replied.
The phone rang and he answered.
“No, you’re not,” she said. He could barely hear her through a crowd of singing sailors on the other end. “Are you drawing tits on coffee cups again?”
“Awww,” she said sympathetically. “Pack your shit and meet me in Oak Harbor.”
“What’s going on?” he asked.
“Race Week,” she said.
Kai opened the curtains and went over the numbers again, this time without a calculator. A calculator could not gauge emotion. It could not approximate passion. Once you considered these intangibles, there was no other way around it. He gazed at the rising sun as it crested the rough-hewed Cascade Mountains. The scene was just like the sunrises he’d seen back home: golden-amber, glorious. He poured a fresh cup of Ceylon tea, creamed it, and watched the sun’s colors brighten. In the courtyard, a tent was being perched and the morning’s amber light made it look magical. Another year had passed and Oak Harbor was coming alive.
No, there was no other way around it. Not when you factored in heartbreak, envy, false hope and pain. The time had come to make a run at it. A real run. This year, there were no columns for hope or wishes on his spreadsheet. That kind of calculation, he had learned, was for sentimental fools.
Yes, Jupiter was a passion.
Ney, he thought, a fetish.
A pet tiger shark restrained by a studded, leather leash—which required blood sacrifice.
By his new estimations, being the owner of a Farr 30 triggered the same neural pathways as taking a cold shower while burning thousand-dollar bills; only each time you lit one on fire, the dominatrix you’d hired pointed at your junk and laughed. That’s what it was like to sail a Farr. And the other skippers knew it, too. They used their boat as an extension of their cocks and every year a new gaggle of novices lined up in the crew-circle; all of them doe-eyed and ready to sail. So what if he only selected the pretty ones? Sure, the smart ones moved on, like Nefarious’ pit-girl, but some of them stayed. Robin Mac Brádaigh was too good for the fleet anyways, so when she jumped ship after racing for Jupiter, he didn’t take it personally. But crewing a woman had a tactical advantage. If you found a sturdy woman to man the pit, it equated to less weight on deck, allowing for larger men, who easily outweighed their counterparts in the amount of beer and steaks they consumed alone. Mac was a prize, and would soon turn pro. Earning her salt on a Farr 30 would get her a spot on a Santa Cruz 70 next season, then maybe a sponsored boat, then maybe America’s Cup. Everyone around Mac knew what she was after, and it didn’t take her long to master Jupiter, or its skipper.
Kai speed dialed his broker.
“Fly the kite,” he said into the phone, the slang for raising a spinnaker with the wind at your back. “Fly it, now!”
“I haven’t changed my mind,” the broker said. “Numbers don’t lie.”
“You work for me, big guy!” he barked.
Kai called everyone ‘big guy,’ on account that he was short.
“You’re not my boss,” he said. “I’m the Skipper.”
“Very, well,” the broker said. “I’ll deposit twenty-seven thousand into your Seattle account.”
“Forty,” Kai said.
“Fine,” the broker said, and Kai could hear him typing on his computer. “That leaves you with little room, sir.”
Kai looked down on the courtyard where Scamp Rum, the event’s premier sponsor was untangling the main event tent. He sipped his tea and watched as the workers erected it, a hideous, maroon and gold monstrosity that looked like afterbirth. In Thailand, only the poor peasant farmers and fisherman, whose sad eyes misted in the sweltering heat, worked as hard as these flunkies.
“I don’t need a lecture from you, big-guy,” Kai said. “I worked my way up from the bottom rung! Lest you forget, you work for me. Now, give me my money or I’ll pull everything! No more ballet classes for your pretty blonde daughters.” The idea that his broker wouldn't have enough money to afford dance classes was ridiculous, but he cursed at him anyway.” They’ll have to learn square-dancing with hillbilly Bob, or ‘drop it like it’s hot’ with boys from the south end.”
The broker hung up the phone.
By now, the fleet was headed to Oak Harbor and the skippers would moor their boats in little rows resembling rice paddies along the harbor, but he had the best spot in the marina: Dock 1A. It was the spot where billionaires like Gates and Bezos parked their yachts, right in front of the bay side window of the clubhouse. Five hundred dollars per day for five days; chump change for the elite. Kai was not elite, not financially, and tuning the boat cost him a shit-load. In a month’s time, he had replaced Jupiter’s sails with faster Mylar sails, re-rigged her with halyards, glassy Kevlar, speed waxed the hull and hired a diver to clean her before every race. A halyard was a rope, and he learned the hard way that a real sailor never called them that. A halyard had a job, it was used for raising and lowering a sail, spar, flag, or yard on a sailing ship. His uncle taught him this on a junky Macgregor, a sailboat with a large enough engine to cruise long distances without raising a sail. No one ever took the boat, or his uncle serious. Uncle Aat was only a cruiser, but he loved the water. Upon immigrating to America, he opened a Thai restaurant in Tacoma and was content to make enough money to live aboard his boat the same way he did back home on the muddy Pak Nam Pho.
It was time to kick it up a notch. Money was a means to an end. Use it, or die not spending it.
But half of his Race Week funds had already been spent on the non-material, professional sailors he’d hired to sail Jupiter to victory, and housing them was a small fortune. To keep them from consorting with the other sailors, he put them in Oak Harbor’s finest establishment, far away from the marina. At this moment, they were probably eating Dungeness crab cakes and caviar like it was cornflakes.
Jupiter would win the day.
The flunkies in the courtyard pulled hard on the corners of the rum tent, filling it with air and space.
Kai smiled as he imagined the air being sucked right back out as he took the trophy into his hands at the annual, post regatta bash. As the winning skipper, he reserved the right to throw a themed party, and this year it sure as hell wasn’t going to be a Dan Swardstrom toga party.
The devil was bored, so he took up sailing and made friends with Dan Swardstrom. He mastered the craft instantly, of course. Really, there was no place better for him to be other than Race Week. July in Oak Harbor—when after the steeping tide had washed up a carcass—wrapped it in its clutches—left it to rot in the water that these men would sail upon—well, let’s just say, he wasn’t homesick.
The devil walked the shore looking for things that made him smile; a seagull tearing out the abdomen of a live crab, an eel that had culled flesh from a dead baby seal after a transient killer whale took a bite out of its flipper, played with it like a beach ball in the surf and then left it bleeding on a muddy flat. In a tide pool, he chased a sculpin into the waiting arms of an octopus. Bedazzled, he surveyed the cephalopod as it murdered the fish with its secret beak. When the butchery was complete, the water stilled and the octopus’ skin changed from cinnamon to bright red.
“What ch’a doin’ here, mister?” A group of teenagers with skateboards approached him and with eyes the color of the octopus, he turned to face them. “You a tourist? This is my ol’ man’s beach. No trespassers!”
“If we forgive those who trespass against us,” the devil said, “our Heavenly Father will in turn forgive our trespasses.”
The teenagers stopped.
“Never mind,” one of them said, and they all backed away.
The devil smiled, looked them up and down and focused on one of the boys in the group who showed promise. The boy was wearing a leather flight jacket, stolen from a retired airman stationed on the island. The airman was a Vietnam vet who flew more than five hundred strafing missions and dropped thousand-pound bombs on villages, leaving only tears to fill the craters he left in his wake. In that jacket, the airman had fathered a dozen bastards, left their mothers with diseases, and once, on a dare, he drank enough whiskey to beat a nun. But this morning when the jacket embroidered with a laughing devil suddenly went missing, the sins of his past crept through his veins like poison, and crystals of fear took root in his heart.
“I haven’t seen this in years,” the devil said, and he slowly approached, touched the jacket and transported the teenager to a garage where the airman was coughing and gagging in a cloud of smoke. In that instant, the teenager understood who was touching him, and he saw how the jacket had insulated the airman from the hell he personally raised on earth. The airman had sealed his garage with wet towels so that the fumes from his running car would stop the pain that was caught in his heart, forever. The teenager coughed, tried to tear away from the devil’s touch, but he was frozen, and the air was thick with poison and the motor droned like a death rattle. The airman fell to his knees and then to the floor. He called out, but there was no sound, no sweet air to inhale or scream into, and no one left in this world to care about him, or forgive him—only the teenager standing above him, cloaked in the flight jacket, gazing at him in horror.
“Don’t worry,” the devil whispered in the teenager’s ear. “I’m only here for Race Week.”
The devil walked down Main Street admiring the quiet little stores that busied themselves for a week of sopping up the last dime of every sailor. Soon, the taverns would be filled and he imagined the whispered secrets and deeds to be done. Beer, amber to golden, would flow into pint or pitcher. Good whiskey would be ruined in syrupy cocktails and decorated with those awful little umbrellas. The odor of sex, salt, and fried things would linger and impregnate their clothing. They would carry the scent home with them and not recognize it until they were clean again, and caught a whiff of it on their pile of reeking laundry.
At the end of Main Street, he stopped at a vista and congratulated himself.
Even by his standards, Deception Pass was a marvel. These sailors would have to navigate it, a narrow pass that injected two hundred and forty-five cubic feet of icy-water through a rock infested inlet. It was forbidden for boats to race here, but sometimes the conditions were just right and a skipper might be tempted to catch a rogue wind and ride in on its tidal surge. If they weren’t mindful, The Eye would appear, a whirlpool caused by an ebbing tide as the water drained back into the Salish Sea. Anything it saw was taken forever into its bottomless dream.
The Eye was not evil. There was no such thing as “evil,” only carelessness. It was the actions of people who decided to be near the channel that were evil.
On the beach, the devil smoked a Marlboro and watched a sand castle disappear into the sea. The tide was coming in and the waves would not be large in the protected bay, so he stayed long enough to watch the entire thing fall flat. First the waves lapped at the walls, slowly eroding the base as bits of it slipped under the murky water; drowning and dissolving into silt.
The devil sighed.
This was only the edge of space and time; just one tiny portion of it, merely a fractal, imbedded in a fractal that stretched out into an ocean that opened into a sky filled with chaos. Outside of the bubble, there were stars hotter than hell, and nebulas tearing at them, pulling them apart, and recycling them into new stars. There were planets and mountains and oceans for sailors to die upon, and for their loved ones to write stupid sea shanties.
Power they could never understand. Not in verse, or song, or craft.
The sea was a force, but the violence it was truly capable of took its own sweet time, and this is exactly why no one believed in him anymore. Real destruction takes its sweet time. There were no rivers of blood, or demons, or hellfire or brimstones. All those things were figments of human imagination. Real destruction was beyond their comprehension.
The devil spotted Dan in the marina and smiled.
“Captain,” he said and saluted. “Reporting for duty.”
“You again,” Dan said. “I already have a tactician.”
“Ah,” the devil smiled, trying to make Dan smile so that he could see the little scar under his eye. “Ortun! The musician. But will he actually show up?”
“He texted me an hour ago,” Dan said, not returning the smile. “Says he’s on his way.”
“Is he up to the challenge this year?”
Dan knew what the devil was talking about, but he didn’t let on. Sometimes before your very eyes, Ortun was known to go AWOL, even while you were talking to him. He was moody and emotional, which on a good day made him a good sailor. But on a bad day, he was aloof and required coddling. Dan was no good at coddling. He’d sooner massage a fish.
“He did a fine job for at Swiftshore,” Dan said.
“Swiftshore is for pussies!” the devil cursed.
“Listen,” Dan set down his box of supplies. He’d heard enough. The devil of all people, knew better than most that offshore racing along British Columbia wasn’t for pussies. It was premier racing; dangerous and fast. The only reason he liked racing here was because most of the sailors were not professionals and therefore, easily tempted by distractions. In the winter they did not train, they did not travel to latitudes that suited their talents; instead, they drank, they slept, they remained walled by their professions. Some of the better ones moved up to more serious programs, but most were content to remain semi-pro. “You give me the willies, you really you do. Why don’t you head over to the crew circle, see if some of the other skippers need an extra hand?”
“Oh, I only sail with Nefarious, you know that, captain.”
Dan picked up his box of supplies again.
“Boat’s full,” he said.
“I can do mainsail,” the devil said.
“That’s like asking the Pope to officiate a farmer’s wedding,” Dan said. The devil could surely handle the position, no problem. Mainsail was more brawn than brain, a position that required a strong crewmember to keep the sail in its full, powerful shape. This was the gas pedal and what gave a sailboat it’s power to accelerate or to slow down when needed.
The devil flinched and put his hand on Dan’s shoulder.
“How are you this year?” he said, frowning.
“What do you mean?”
The devil knew the news before Dan, and he decided to let the surprise catch up to him at a better time.
“You know, Kai is really gunning for you this year,” he said changing the subject. “He’s got new sails, new rigging, new crew.”
“Unless he’s received a brain transplant,” Dan said. “I’m not worried.”
“Our deal is that you sail and you throw a party in my honor when you win,” the devil said. “That’s all I ask.”
“I know the deal,” he said. “I always sail to win.”
The devil looked off into the perfect, blue sky.
Then he gazed out at the lovely green water.
“Have you ever built a sand castle?” he asked.
Dan stopped and opened one of the beers he was loading onto the boat, looked at the water with the devil.
“Sure, when I was a kid.”
“When did you realize it was a futile endeavor?”
“What do you mean?”
The devil took a beer from the case.
“You know, when did you realize that no matter your efforts, the tide would soon come and wash your work away?”
Dan thought this through for a moment. “Honestly, I never stopped making them,” he said. “I made that one over there just a little while ago.”
“Ah, yes. A fine effort,” the devil said spotting the lumpy mess. “But why?”
Dan thought again.
“I don’t know,” he was getting annoyed, and the scar on his face started twitching. “I suppose because every time I build one, I want it to be better than the one that was washed away.”
The devil smiled.
“And how long could you go on doing this? Rebuilding and rebuilding, chasing after some ideal castle that can never exist?”
“Forever,” Dan said and pulled a swig from his beer.
“Exactly,” the devil said. “That is why I can only sail on Nefarious.”