My Ship of Fools

"They dragged them out of a little house there and chained 'em to a light pole on the dock. There was two of them. Everyone was running around grabbing tires, kids and women rolling tires up the dock and dumping 'em around the pole. Me and Monkey Betts was coming back on the road from town drunk as lords and saw the whole thing. They lit the tires and started dancing around the pole. There was a couple hundred of 'em. Everyone was drinking Barbancourt and singing and screaming, and they burned 'em to death right there on the dock. This was right after Duvalier came out of power, and they say the men was Tonton Macoutes. I says to Monkey Betts, `Let's pull up the hooks and sail for Miragoane, get away from here.' Monkey Betts, he say, `Not a fuck. Sit down and keep calm. You seeing history.'"

Johannis Connors, captain of the coastal freighter Helena Sea Change

He came creeping through the door like an unrequited vampire, looking hungry and mean. "Christ, I feel like a hyena," he said, settling in next to me at the bar and ordering a wet gin martini. "I hit a cement truck on South River Drive. A pack of wild youths beat me with sticks and tried to set me on fire. I threw them the keys to the limo and swam across the river. Savages!"

He said he had been out all night driving aimlessly, trying to think up his Sunday column. He still hadn't found a topic. "Help me," he begged, whacking his palm on the bar. "I'll give you anything you want! I've got a satchel of Krugerrands buried at the foot of Mount Trashmore. We can go there tonight. I can offer you stock options." He downed his drink and stuck out his hand. "Lawrence," he announced, spitting an ice cube at the mirror behind the bar. "David Lawrence. Call me Junior."

I eyed him with disdain, and Conrad the bartender gave me a frightened glance. "Well, Dave," I said, swatting his hand away. "This is America, and time is money. I'll help, but it's going to cost you. We'll discuss the terms later. For now, let's get serious. You've done Tanya Glazebrook, right?"

"Check," he said, whipping out a reporter's notebook. "And Jorge Mas Canosa?"

"Affirmative," he answered. "And H.T. Smith, too."
"Well, forget about past glories. Dave, I want you to tackle Sarkis Soghanalian."

"Who's that?" he asked suspiciously.
"Lebanese," I explained. "International arms dealer. Some people say he's helped kill thousands and thousands of people, but don't believe it for a minute. He's a pillar of this community. Quiet type, lives on Hibiscus Island, but I wouldn't suggest you go over there right now. He's got the moat electrified, and there are armed Yanomamo Indians patrolling the dock. However," I added slowly, "I've got his private line."

He jumped as if someone had slapped him suddenly in the head, and stood up from the bar stool. His eyes were full of greed and murder. "Give it to me!" he shrieked. I told him about the secret passageway that leads from the bar up the back stairs to the New Times offices. "The number's on the wall in the bathroom," I told him when we got there. "Right down near the bottom of the urinal on the left side. Go on in there and copy it down."

As soon as he was inside, I slammed the door and fastened the padlock. I took the key with me back downstairs to the bar and handed it to Conrad.

"Goodness," Conrad said. "I was afraid he might turn violent. Who was he, anyway?"

"Just another poseur," I explained. "The city's full of them this time of year. Look, I'm going to Haiti. Hang onto that for me until I get back. Whatever you do, don't let him out. He is an extremely dangerous person."

It was almost dawn. I stumbled down to the Miami River. There was nothing to do; my head hurt and the river stank, but I was too weak to go anywhere else. The wharf beside the Miami Avenue bridge was littered with bums, who were just starting to stir. Among them, on battered chaise longues, sat a scattering of white boys in sunglasses. They were spraying each other with beer and watching the freighters come in, as they do every Saturday morning in that exact spot, whooping it up for no good reason, waiting to see the coke busts.

They didn't have to wait long. The bridge rose, and the steel prow of the St. Charles, inbound from Haiti, pushed its way upstream. The entire crew was out on deck, looking nervous. On land, a Customs truck sped past, followed by a green Border Patrol jeep. It took the feds a while, but they found 40 kilos of cocaine sealed in plastic tubes sunk in the bilges.

"This big Cuban bastard took me down to the engine room and beat me with his gun like a dog, but they finally let me go," one sailor said later. "I didn't even know about the stuff. It makes sense now - in Haiti the owner kept trying to get all of us off the boat all the time. I don't think the captain even knew about it. They planted it at night while we were partying."

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