Kyle’s mind was racing, and the adrenaline was pushing him along faster than his body, frail and weakened from eleven days stowed-away, could take him. He had started poking around at the first mention from the crew of Antwerp, but in his haste and delirium, he played his stealth a bit too clumsily, and had outed his presence by shuffling about in plain day.
Where could he run? The cargo ship was sizable, but without land to flee to, he was beyond capture for only moments at best. As he darted off of the container he had called home for almost two weeks, he tried to catch a glimpse of land in his periphery, but he saw only hopeless blue seas. His legs flopped down on the weather deck of the Eugen Mærsk and the pain brought him back to when this all started, redoubling his determination. I can’t let them send me back now. I’m not going back to New Jersey. I won’t live under my parents’ stupid, fascist rule any longer!
“So who’s that over there, looks like he’s passed out?” Dale tried his hardest to be observant as Jack gave him the tour of the docks on his first day at work.
“That’s Mr. Meers. Good to point him out. You are never, ever, ever to disturb him if he’s on the property. Even if he’s sleeping on the flagship, or if he yells at you, or throws your broom into the water, you are never, ever, ever to cross him. Do you understand?”
“Probably gonna have to sell this thing,” said Randy. “Tide’s just a bit too rough on land for it to make sense. You know, financially.” Blubbins continued scrubbing his own boat intently as Randy bleated on in his usual uninspiring tone. “I blame the economy. You just can’t sell paper anymore. I don’t get it, Blubbins.”
Blubbins skipped a beat of scrubbing to silently acknowledge Randy’s imperceptive dullness, then huffed even harder as he resumed scrubbing. “And don’t even get me started about Oba-meow-care,” Randy continued. “I cut everyone back to 19 hours. Even m'self.”
“Y'know, I get a lot of questions about that, but I’ve never actually told the story.” His nephew had asked why Buster’s boat was named Nuts ‘n’ Bolts.
“So, it was back in '04 I think,” started Buster, two Tom Collinses over the line of decency. “I was doing that custom hardware machining business. You remember, right kiddo? Fabricated Solutions? Yeah, your dad worked with me for a few months too, remember?
"So back in '04, I knew this guy, Ray Miller or something, I think that was his name, and he said he knew a guy who did government contracts for the army in Iraq. We got in touch and, you know, eventually we started shipping parts to Iraq. We’d get maybe 10% margin here in Michigan, but to Iraq we’d get, y'know, 100% margin on our orders. It was crazy.
"So we’re doing this thing for like 18 months, but I’m trying to get out of it, cause your aunt was starting the cupcake business, so we figure we’ll milk it as hard as we can before our contract runs out. We start billing double, triple, whatever, they still paid it. Last order we did was an envelope of nuts and bolts, we put $934,050 on the invoice. Well what do you know, Uncle Sam paid us a million bucks, a million bucks for nuts and bolts!
Skittle was high on his success for the third day in a row. He had completely turned the record company around after six bad quarters. Signing all four of those bands that sounded exactly like Mumford and Sons was the salvo, a real stroke of genius on his part. If there was anyone who knew this record business, it was him, dammit.
“Look at me, Tom!” Kelly had run over to a rowboat right at the shore and hopped in. She was quite stimulated from the new surroundings, and had been taking in the whole morning’s tour of the bay-front with a jittery and chatty enthusiasm. Tom was slightly apprehensive, and hoped that Kelly’s perkiness wouldn’t become a source of disapproval to members of his family, who were meeting Kelly for the first time after nearly two years.
“Look Tom, I’m your Uncle Charles!” Tom’s lungs dropped and the blood ran out of his face. He remembered that he had told her about Uncle Charles last April in a candid, drunken haze. It was the Family Secret, the unspeakable blemish on the Halloway name. Charles Halloway, the womanizing, seafaring megalomaniac, the dejected runt of the Halloway litter, the self-styled pirate. A regretted man who was never to be spoken of, to anyone, ever. But it was too late. Tom had brought a loose cannon home from Brown, loaded her up with forbidden fodder, and set her off in front of everyone he loved. He could feel his family’s piercing disdain bearing down behind him. At that moment, the week at home felt like it was going to last for years.
“Bitcoin?” remarked Goober, his mischievous smile emerging in a Pavlovian reflex. “Fish in a barrel. I’ll give you one better: fish in a barrel who have never seen water before. Way too easy. You can scare them right into your net.” He kept his eyes fixed on the distance, still smiling devilishly at Colin’s question. “That’s why I come out here, for the challenge. At least the fish here fight back!”
“Do you ever wonder what’s really out there?” asked Jeff.
Maria was delighted at the question. That old-soul depth was one of the only things she missed about Martin. The further from the divorce she got, the more Martin’s scant positive qualities surfaced in her mind. The drinking, the taunting, the fits of crying, all of that was just a little paler, and his slivers of inspired humanity had been coming forward in her mind, bright like stars dropped in a cold, hostile universe.
Jeff was the reflex, the calculated opposite of Martin: level-headed, functional, and overwhelmingly shallow. So his question sounded foreign, as though it had been posed by a real being haunting his body. Maria pressed him to elaborate.
“What do you mean?” she asked sensitively.
“Hah! It’s a joke! You know, something smart, like some French guy would say. On a stupid boat like this!” He took a swig from his unaspiring bottle of beer, and grinned oafishly to himself.
Casper thought long and hard on the teachings of his guru, Purrandha Kittenattva. What use have you of nine lives, if you do not live the first fully? Does not the first life wasted open the floodgates to the waste of all lives remaining? You cannot live one life just to arrive at the next. You must live this life now, with no regard to the eight lives that have been or may be.
Though respectably accomplished in his path to spiritual enlightenment already, Casper was often caught in distraction by the daydream of synthesizing his own new-age philosophy. Half of his motivation was out of egotistical greed, the other half out of an unreleasable confirmation bias toward his own warped view of the world. Unbeknownst to him, such an aspiration actually eroded his progress toward spiritual enlightenment.
Nevertheless, he plowed on with his clumsy plot. All he needed, he thought, was a set of vague and well-worded mantras. And so his meditation turned to shallow brainstorming. “When you bury the turd in the litter… does it not continue to be?” He let the thought float for a moment. Needs some refining, he concluded. But I can work with it.
“Ugh, I just need to get home,” Bonnie muttered to herself, as the ferry finally began to drift out onto its route. “All I want is a glass of chablis, a tin of Fancy Feast, and two hours of Poirot. Is that too much to ask?”
Chantel yawned as that familiar dusk chill crawled down her body. She was beginning to feel restless on the forty-foot sloop, craving the inflated chaos that accompanied her illustrious executive career in Silicon Valley. There was nothing of the sort in an Orange County marina, and by her seventh week on the Angel II, the lack of intensity began to dull her passion for life.
She pined for the days as COO of Sociald, that startup that–ah–what did they even do again? She remembered not, as most days were spent in the throes of a bender, at the behest of their 18 year-old founder. Or ActivizeMe, where for three months she was the VP of Revenue. What does a VP of Revenue even do, she wondered. Between private jetting to venture capitalists’ offices and giving keynotes at C-list conferences, she couldn’t quite remember. Or what about ShopProQuo, that was five months she’d never forget–but now she could barely recall where the office had been. Maybe it was in Jason’s apartment? Her ex did have a large industrial loft with desks, after all.
She ruminated on those years fondly. Taken as a whole, they seemed much more tolerable and enticing, a stark contrast to their true nature as a nauseating dance between hungover and bankrupt. But for all the turmoil, her pockets came out of the Valley lined with pilfered seed money, and a résumé longer than her boat’s mainsail.
“This next piece was previously thought to be lost, but was rediscovered in 2008 in a basement in Copenhagen. This oil on canvas is titled Pattes de Guerre, by French painter Jean-Yves Lechatroux.
"This painting is believed to depict Swedish shipping magnate Karl Kittunge. Historians are not certain that this is actually Kittunge, as he was very furtive and avoided being photographed, but it is known that at least one painting was made of him before his exile. Kittunge was believed to be behind a clandestine shipping company that serviced both Axis and Allied powers in the Second World War. After coming under investigation for his activities and for tax evasion, it is rumored that he took one of his ships and escaped to the Mediterranean, where he converted the ship to a luxury yacht over an eight-year period.
What now? wondered Joseph. His plan was now fully realized. He had stripped his worldly possessions down to what could fit on his back. All of his money was put aside to be used only in emergencies. And after months of hand-wringing, his divorce from Francine’s toxic aura was complete.
Now across the Atlantic, he sat waiting for some fateful spark to reignite his life. But nothing happened. All he felt was a widening sense of how empty and open his life was now. He had become a whitewashed canvas. He reflexively pined to paint over that stark existence with distraction. But he knew he had found for himself a coveted life, a still life, one worth fighting to keep.
Fritz kept his detached stare plastered on his face as his father’s rage rolled on undeterred. “What would the Chancellor’s office say? They’d say Oh Karl, we cannot take your son for an internship, we don’t employ thieves! That’s what they’d say! You jeopardize my very reputation with the whole Bundestag when you do reckless things like this! And what will we say to the city? That Karl Huber’s own son is a criminal?”
Fritz stayed close to his nonchalance. The blaring ire of his father burned hot like the sun, but stepping out of Karl’s shadow was the only way Fritz would ever make a name for himself. Let him yell, Fritz thought, digging into his seat on the stolen boat. That means I’m winning.
Phillip moaned as the fever ravaged him from the inside out. The seas were already enough of a burden without being sick, but in the throes of this virus he was suffering greatly at the hands of an otherwise mild tide. “I d-don’t damn need a-anyone,” he choked, shivering. That was the point of the boat after all, to get away from dreaded other people. But secretly, what he wouldn’t give to be nursed back to life by any of the people he distanced himself from over the past ten years. But, four miles off shore and incapacitated by his violent illness, he was as good as wasting away in another universe.