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Excerpts from "Potluck," a novel by Jack Rudloe
Excerpts from "Potluck"
a novel by Jack Rudloe
Our tale starts...
Captain Preston Barfield was trying to keep awake. With
heavy eyes he looked out over the distant lights of other shrimp boats working
in the Gulf of Mexico. He wiggled his shoulders and stretched his legs.
The clock on the wheelhouse wall of the Lady Mary read 2 a.m. In
another fifteen minutes it would be time to wake up Charlie, his deckhand,
and get the nets on board.
Preston was a bear of a man. At more than six foot four
inches, his head almost touched the cabin's ceiling. His stubble-rugged
face was weathered by sun and sea far beyond that of a forty-year-old man.
Listening to the north wind moaning and rattling the windows, he flipped
on the radar, which started the T-shaped beacon on the cabin roof revolving.
Three white electronic blips flashed back at him, leaving comet-like tracings
on the luminous green radar screen. They faded away until the revolving
line picked them up and they flashed again.
Each blip within the concentric circles represented another
shrimp boat, roughly sixty-eight feet long, the size of his own Lady
Mary. The captain's callused fingers adjusted the knob, extending the
range to sixteen miles. He wondered if there were any more fools besides
himself out there in the wintry off-season trying to scrape up enough shrimp
to pay for fuel and groceries.
Suddenly, there was a large flash at the edge of the screen.
Strange, he thought. It looked like a tug pushing a string of barges, but
they were outside their normal shipping routes. Again it flashed, and this
time he was certain it was a ship, roughly three hundred feet long. And
in that remote North Florida coastal area, where there was no commerce,
that was even stranger.
Then he understood. His eyes grew wide. Another blip about
the size of a shrimp boat appeared on the screen. He watched the small blip
closing rapidly until it merged with the ship's and became one big blip.
Much later on, a different sort of trawler being run
by Barfield is boarded by Marine Patrol officers...
Miller looked at the splintered doors, the tattered webbing
and the stretched chains encrusted with limestone mud. That part of Preston's
story sounded authentic enough, but there was something that bothered him.
He had never seen Barfield looking so haggard and worn, usually even in
the midst of the grueling work, he managed to shave now and then.
And then there was that hippie deckhand with the ponytail.
He was too polished, suntanned, his body muscular and athletic, his jeans
weren't faded and eaten with shrimp acid enough. Not like the rags good
ol' Charlie wore.
"Oh crap," Miller thought with a sinking feeling.
"We got our mother ship." And it wasn't being run by some mangy
low-life with a gold earring and an eye-patch who would slit someone's throat.
It was his friend.
But the idea of storming on board, finding a load of pot
or residue, drawing his gun and handcuffing Preston Barfield made him physically
sick. There was no prestige in making a bust like that, and Ted Miller liked
to feel good about himself. His neighbors would despise him for it, his
wife would be upset, and for what?
Right now, if he were on a jury, he'd have a hard time
convicting any commercial fisherman and sending him up for years under Florida's
mandatory drug sentencing law. The new fisheries regulations made it almost
impossible for fishermen to scratch out a living now. Shrimpers were a dying
breed and would soon be replaced by retirees in condominiums and yachts.
Ted Miller thought the new laws were garbage.
Every day he'd have to look at Mary Barfield, struggling
along with a child to feed, living on food stamps. He'd heard about the
cussing match Preston had with G.W. at the oyster house a month ago. Barfield
was a proud man, and so was his wife. He'd have to watch their kid growing
up in rags.
Screw it, he thought bitterly. Goddamn it, screw it. I'm
not gonna do it. If this authoritarian piss-wad next to me doesn't have
the sense to bust him, why should I?
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