Shiver Me Timbers: A Short Story

Punching in his favorite song on the jukebox whenever he spotted the tune among the musical selections at the Pirate Lounge, Denis always sang along, sometimes as loud as he could. Drawing laughs depending on the crowd, usually tourists digging everything about their Florida beach experience, the song helped set a vacation mood. One time Denis played the song 14 times in a row until Mongo the bartender pulled the plug on the jukebox and threatened to break both Denis’ arms if he played the song again.

“All right, man, be cool,” Denis said.

Then he played that song about Casey Jones and the train by the Grateful Dead. Mongo just shook his big head of thick hair and unruly beard, reminding Denis of a buffalo about to stampede. When Mongo charged, look out. Denis saw him take a gun off a biker one night and bend the barrel in half with his bare hands. At least that’s what he thought he saw. High on coke at the time, Denis wasn’t always sure what he saw.

Back then Denis always wanted more blow. He could handle doing without. Shit, he did without all his life until his first Ft. Lauderdale snort in 1973. But sharing a beach cottage with three bartenders meant doing with, not without. All his far out buddies were holding a variety of drugs anyway, which he usually scored for free. Pot, speed and amyl nitrate stored in a plastic Vicks inhaler were fun. But cocaine appealed to his very being, his sense of self, identity and image.

Almost 50 years later, just closing his eyes and swallowing mimicked the bitter taste at the back of his throat where the flavor hid below and behind the nostrils ready to leap out with a jolt. Man, he could taste the toot now. Just saying the words snow, blow or nose candy almost made him high. But not quite. Coke itself did that. Man, did Denis ever want some coke.

But he was 71 years old. All that shit’s supposed to be out of his system by now. Who did you call for cocaine nowadays, anyway? Trevor, the kid who lived down the street, would know. Trevor knew everything.

“Let me ask my brother,” Trevor said. “He’ll be home from West Point on spring break tomorrow before he leaves for Florida. Him and some other cadets are renting a house on the beach.”

Ah, the good old days.

Even though Denis protested the war in Vietnam when he was in college, he always respected guys who went, usually drafted. He never knew anybody who attended West Point, though.

Trevor’s brother looked like a young Rambo with black licorice dark roots you could see ready to sprout through his buzz cut, reminding Denis of Mongo in a way. With arms like canned hams and a smirk that reminded Denis of barbed wire strung tight on a POW camp fence, the kid asked Denis if he had money to pay for real good coke. Denis put on the old bravado that more than once kept him from getting killed in Florida.

“I’m loaded with senior citizen cash, Rambo,” Denis said. “Social Security keeps me happy.”

“I guess you want to buy a gram, then.”

“Sounds good.”

“I usually sell pounds.”

“You deal pounds of coke while going to school to become a future military officer?”

“Would I lie to you, gramps?”

“Guess not. West Point’s got an honor code against lying, right?”

What’s with this gramps shit? That got to Denis although he didn’t let on.

 “Two hundred for a gram of pure, 100 percent Colombian high octane blow,” Rambo said.

“One fifty,” Denis said.

“Sold, American.”

“I’ll take two,” Denis said.

A gram’s about ten lines or 25 bumps off the little silver spoon in the tiny bottle Denis found in his souvenir box from the old days. The box included, among other things, one pair of tan hand-stitched Italian leather platform shoes with Cuban heels, a black silk shirt with red flowers, a Sterling silver pinkie ring in the shape of a mermaid, one gold Blessed Mother medallion the size of a dime, a pair of pastel blue bell bottoms with cuffs, a bottle of Sambuca, a mango scented candle and six worn T-shirts from the Pirate Lounge showing a skull and crossbones wearing an eye patch.

Lines worked better than bumps.

One for the money.

Two for the show.

Three to get ready.

Blow cat blow.

Dumping both grams of coke on a record album cover (Spirit) like when he was young, Denis took a razor blade he found at the back of the bathroom drawer to separate the blow into five lines so thick they looked like fat garden slugs or pieces of vanilla salt water taffy. Rolling a ten dollar bill tightly he placed the tip above the first line and the other end of the bill into his left nostril, leaned into the past and snorted.

Oh, yeah.

He did it again.

Pinching his nostrils he stood, licked his forefinger and ran his finger over the leftover white powder before rubbing his finger across his top gums. If his life depended on it he couldn’t tell you why he did that, just that he saw everybody else in South Florida performing the same routine when he first started doing coke in ’73.

Starting to dance in the kitchen now, he repeated his “one for the money” mantra eight times, getting louder each time until he was screaming.

Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.

The phone rang. Wrong number. Denis wouldn’t hang up.

“How do you think you got my number by mistake instead of who you’re calling? Actually you’re calling me. But who are you trying to call? I bet I know him. Want to come over? I got cold chicken and beer in the refrigerator. My mother used to ask me when I was little if the light went off when you closed the door and I never knew. I still don’t know. Do you know if the refrigerator light goes out when you close the door? When I was a kid I went to first grade at Willow Elementary. Where did you start the first grade? Did you carry your lunch? Peanut butter sandwiches, man, peanut butter sandwiches on white bread.”

The doorbell rang. Finally hanging up, Denis raced to open the door.

“Good day, sir, I’m selling Girl Scout cocaine,” Rambo said.

Dressed in full West Point gray uniform with a service cap, Rambo stood saluting on the front porch. He looked like he had been out all night because he had been out all night. Denis shoved his finger in Rambo’s face.

“Where you been? Dunkin’? You got powdered sugar all over your nose,” Denis said.

Two hours later Rambo and Denis were on the front lawn where a small crowd had gathered to watch the two men re-enact the raising of the flag at Iwo Jima despite the fact that the men who raised the flag on Mount Suribachi were Marines and Rambo was in the Army.

“Live free or die,” Rambo said when somebody in the crowd questioned their behavior.

When police arrived, Rambo ran. Because he was in better shape than the cops he got away without any difficulty. Denis wanted to argue about defunding the police.

“You guys are why people hate cops,” he said. ”Shouldn’t you be out arresting rapists and killers rather than hassling senior citizens and West Pointers defending their country? I pay your salaries, you know.”

Film at 11 showed Denis throwing a straight-armed salute and calling the police Gestapo. When local cops searched his house they missed what coke granules remained on the Spirit album cover and only charged Denis with summary disorderly conduct, releasing him to the custody of his first cousin who owned a used car lot and whose daughter had married the chief of police.

When Denis got home from the magistrate’s office, Rambo was sitting in the living room smoking a joint.

“You ready to party, gramps?”

“God bless America,” said Denis. “For tomorrow we may die.”

Running to the portable CD player, Denis turned on the machine, inserted the disc and cranked up his favorite song. Both men started to dance like loons, swinging their arms, singing along and bridging the gap between generations, signaling the start of a new era, one in which young and old alike cooperate in the spirit of forging a new beginning for the species, a new dawn of liberty.

Who says the future holds no hope for the nation?

“Wait, wait,” Denis said.

Running out of the room he returned a few minutes later wearing a Pirate Lounge T-shirt and a black eye patch.

“Yo ho ho,” he said.

Rambo laughed so hard he fell off the couch.

“Arrrgh,” he said.

A week later a headline in the local paper caught Denis’ eye.

“Five West Point Cadets Die in Florida from Fentanyl Laced Cocaine.”

“Well shiver me timbers,” Denis said.

If you can’t trust your coke dealer, who can you trust?

You never know who’s going to walk the plank nowadays, do you?