Ugly American
Chapter 1

Copyright© 2012 by cpete

What is worse than having the flu so bad you can barely get out of bed?

Not being able to locate the TV remote, when you have the flu so bad you can barely get out of bed.

And what is worse than having the flu so bad you can barely get out of bed, and no TV remote?

Having the flu so bad you can barely get out of bed, and no TV remote, and your wife of 13 years leaving the TV on some inane Woman's Morning Talk show!

As I was laying in bed, debating if the expenditure of energy was worth changing the TV channel to Sports Center. On TV, a female talk show host was praising some author pimping her new book.

The two ladies did the hug and cheek kiss routine, which always reminded me of two prizefighters shaking hands before a match, then the author launched into a spiel for her book.

"A mere 16 days after my youngest son's third birthday, I walked out the door of my Brooklyn, N.Y. brownstone with one piece of luggage. I was leaving my family. Two sons, age 5 and 3, and my childhood-sweetheart husband, my partner for 20 years. I had been awarded a grant to live in Japan for six months to interview the survivors of the atomic bomb. It was an honor that my husband had encouraged me to apply for, and we were in complete agreement, in fact he insisted, that I should go."

"How exciting for you!" the TV host exclaimed.

"You would think." continued the author. "But while I was in Japan I would get phone calls from my husband saying that the kids had been throwing up all night, and were pillows washable? I didn't like that -it was very unpleasant. I then found I like being out on my own. Just me, being my own person. Not labeled someone's wife or mother. I had this idea about motherhood that it was just going to take me over, completely swallow me up, and now I saw it was true. What began as a research trip, turned into a journey of immense self-discovery, that ultimately caused me to put an end my 20-year marriage."

"Wow that was so brave of you to finally act on your true feelings." The host prompted.

The author sighed before continuing. "Everybody has their own choices, but my choice works for me. I think it's not so selfish for women to say 'okay, I would like to have my own priority, I would like to have something in my life, I would like to be able to do my job, '" she said. "I've had a lot of women write to me to say 'thank you for telling your story, '. They may not have the exact same story, but they've been ambivalent, they've struggled."

The host was nodding her head like a bobble doll, than chimed in. "Women feel pressured to get married, have children because that's what they're 'supposed' to do. I feel bad for you, because you obviously felt that pressure. Maybe thought it would be different than what it really was. At least you have the courage to do the responsibl­e thing, leaving instead of being miserable, dragging your family into misery."

If I had not had nausea from the flu, this babble from the TV would have made me vomit.

"When the kids came to visit me it was a disaster." The author continued. "I had no idea what to do with these bouncing balls of energy. Even feeding them, finding them a bathroom, was a challenge. After a mere four months on my own, I found that I no longer wanted to be a "full-time mom."

The host took the author's hand in sympathy. "That must have been a very hard decision for you."

The camera went in for a close up, as the authors kept talking on. "A male full-time caretaker is a 'saint, ' but a female full-time caretaker is a just another 'mother.' It is an equation we do not question; in fact we insist on it. We punish the very idea that there are other ways to be a mother. I believe that by not being there all the time, I am now a better mother to my children."

"I know our audience has some questions." The host said, as the camera cut to a young women standing, with a mic being held in her face."

"I love your book." The young lady began. "I have two children age 4 and 7. I have been offered a medical residency, but it is in another state, and this will mean being away from my family for a year. What should I do?"

"I cannot make that decision for you." The author began. "But why not go for it? Look at it as a win-win situation in your favor. You get a year to be yourself, a chance to decide if you want the whole family, Mommy thing. If so –then you just go back home. If not, you are that much farther in your career, without the anchor of kids, and a husband holding you back."

"Yes." The host broke in. "You can always go back to hubby and kids if you change your mind years later down the road. I mean seriously, what's hubby going to do -turn down your return? It is not as if a divorced dad with two kids is a babe magnet. You on the other hand, will be a young, successful, single, unattached medical professional, with lots of future prospects."

That was it- I couldn't take this noise anymore. Summoning up a reserve of strength, I launched myself off the bed, changing the channel to Sports Center.

A few days later Anita my wife and I were doing dishes after dinner. Our son, AJ was in the living room working on his schoolwork.

I began to give Anita a hard time about leaving me with no TV remote control, when I was sick in bed earlier in the week. I reviled her about the talk show, and book pusher I was forced to endure.

"Oh she is my FAVORITE author!" Anita blurted out, surprising the heck out of me. "Darrin I so much enjoy her writings. She is such a valiant, bold, courageous lady."

"Anita please tells me you did not pay money for that piece of drivel."

"Darrin it is not drivel! I'll have you know the first time I read her book, I checked it out of the library. Then I enjoyed it so much, I went to meet her at her book signing, buying a copy of her book to sign."

When I made a face, Anita added. "I used the gift card your mother got me for Christmas."

"Jeeze Anita," I began. "Wanting to meet an author because you like their work, is like wanting to meet a duck because you like pate'."

Anita laughed, she had that high musical tone that I loved so much.

I put away the last dish before speaking to her. "OK Anita for the 'Special Needs' member of us in the class, that takes the short bus to school, can you explain to me what you found so fearless about a mother walking out on her two preschool children, and marriage of twenty years."

"Darrin you have to read the book to understand. She had to leave her children to be a better mother. Do you know that now when she has time to be with her children, she never takes phone calls or texts. For those 4 or 5 hours, she totally devotes her full attention to the children."

"Damn Anita, she is a regular Good Housekeeping 'Mother of the Year'," I said with sarcasm. "It's like somebody who adopts kittens, realizes that they are work, and drops them at an Animal Shelter. Somebody who dumps their kids because they want to "realize" something is a selfish flake. Putting somebody like that on TV is like putting somebody on TV who likes raising dogs to fight them."

Anita slapped me playfully with the dishtowel. "Forget about that part Darrin. I got into her part about traveling the world, meeting different people. You know what we were going to do before..." Anita tapered off and pointed with her chin toward AJ in the living room.

We had been high school sweethearts. Anita and I had married, when I knocked her up during a R & R from my first, and only Navy hitch. We did the right thing, getting married. AJ, our son, was a blessing. We saved and scrimped to put together a nest egg. We had planned to travel the globe for a year, showing AJ the world, while enjoying our time together as a family. At 4 years old, AJ was diagnosed with cancer.

Our life became a worrying blizzard of tests, treatments, hospitals and specialists. The insurance from my small company was not very good, the medical bills almost broke us. We sold everything we had of value, begged or borrowed any money we could. I got second, and third jobs to pay for top specialists, the best medical care. One of my jobs, a weekend gig cleaning grease traps was the worst. I never seemed to be rid of the smell. But that dirty job got me waste oil I converted to biodiesel. This saved us on fuel costs for our one shared car, a used rusty VW Jetta. We had sold off Anita's car, and my truck, in effort to add funds that gave AJ a fighting chance at survival.

AJ beat the cancer and then relapsed. Adding to the misery, Anita's parents passed away. As an only child this whole ordeal was a lot for her to bear. We gave up our home, moving into my Moms house. More treatments, more chemo, and more bills. Then the miracle happened, AJ defeated the malignant cells. He was now cancer free for over three years and at 10 years old AJ was a typical preteen boy. I became "Mister Dad", the scoutmaster, school parent, even being coach on every team, every sport AJ was on. I did not want to miss a minute with my son. I was not a great athlete, but as the saying goes "Those that can Do. Those who can't Coach."

When Mom retired to Florida, Anita got a job, so we had a more normal life. Together we were chipping away at the mountain of debt, but sill managing to salt away some savings.

I grabbed Anita around the waist giving her neck a kiss. "Anita you have been through a lot, but we need to be patient. We will get there, it is just going to take a little more time, let's get this debt down some more before heading off to Bora Bora."

Anita gave me a sad smile. "I know Darrin, it's just hard. I don't want us to end up like my parents, with empty passports, always planning, but never going anywhere. They died with a box full of travel brochures, living off the postcards of others."

We had this conversation countless times, so I tried to inject some humor into the situation. "Anita most folks travel to faraway places, to look with fascination at people, and customs they would ignore at home."

This always got a laugh out of her, but not this time. I tried a more serious note. "You know I want AJ to see the world beyond his laptop, but we'll do this as a family."

"OK Darrin" Anita said, giving me a kiss

The distinguished older lady, sitting across my kitchen table, had just crumbled my world. She was the wife of Wesley Stanford, one of the three partners at the real estate law firm Anita worked at. Originally a small outfit, they had expanded greatly during the housing boom, adding staff, and offices at an alarming rate. They had expanded into home inspections, insurance, even household moving, and repair. Anita had gone from being a part time temp, filing papers to a full time assistant, in less than two years.

Six months ago Anita came home so excited, announcing she had been chosen to help with a seminar being put on by her firm. Anita would be travelling to the capital, to assist her boss Wesley, who was speaking on new ways to get mortgages to buyers who normally would not qualify. Our state capital was not exactly Paris, or London, but to a small town girl like Anita, it might as well have been.

For the past half year now, at least once a month, Anita accompanied her boss Wesley, who had been speaking at conferences around the state. Wesley was in big demand on new exotic mortgages. Anita said it gave the firm great exposure, touching a new client base. Apparently that was not all Anita had been touching.

In front of me on the table, were copies of four Hotel registration sheets. Each one was in my wife Anita's neat handwriting, they read, 'Mr. and Mrs. Wesley Stanford."

"Surely there is some explanation," I asked the lady in front of me. Maybe they were suites with several bedrooms ... that kind of thing." I was grasping at straws.

She looked at me, giving a sigh. "I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but these are single rooms with one bed. Wesley is too cheap to spring for anything nicer, as he would have to explain the additional cost to the firm. As you can see Wesley even cheapened out on the Hotels, these barely make AAA's ratings."

I was clutching at a sliver of hope. "Are you sure it was Anita?

She took a deep breath before answering. "Darrin you seem like a nice man, with a fine family. I just thought you should know what your wife has been doing on these seminars with Wesley."

I looked over the papers again, as she continued. "As for me I have already been down this road once with Wesley, when he turned forty. Back then it was hair plugs, a flashy sports car and screwing the secretary after hours. When I busted Wesley then, he agreed to a post nuptial agreement. It pretty much leaves him nothing, if I caught him stepping out again. I am 63 years old, and have no intention of going thru that again, or staying with his lying ass."

She stopped to look at me. "Darrin, I only have definite proof of Wesley with your wife, these past four trips. There are photos also I can make available. Nothing graphic, just kissy face -lovely dovey touchy feely stuff. But if you have any thoughts of saving your relationship, I would not look at them."

She got up, collecting her purse to depart. "I am serving papers on Wesley the minute he tries to walk in the door today from this trip. I leave it up to you if you wish to repair, or abandon your marriage." She put her hand on my shoulder. "I wish you the best of luck on your decision."

I walked her to the door, than slumped back into a chair at the kitchen table. I was still in the same spot hours later, when Anita walked into the house, wheeling her luggage, while holding a computer laptop bag.

Thanks God AJ was at my brother's for the weekend. My brother had twins that were home schooled and AJ's age also. AJ thought spending the time at his cousin house playing video games, watching DVDs, were just this side of Heaven.

"Hi" Anita said breezing in, giving me a quick kiss. "What are you doing sitting at the table?"

I ignored her question, than asked in a monotone voice. "How was your trip?"

"Same old same old." Anita said opening the refrigerator "Interest rates this, Deductions that."

"How about the hotel, how was the room?"

"About the same." Anita sat down from me with a soda in her hand. "Nothing special. Why do you ask?"

"Must have been something special in the room. What kind of beds?" I inquired.

Anita gave me a face. " Um ... I don't remember ... maybe couple of double beds I guess. What kind of question is that?"

"Must have been crowded in the one bed for you and Wes then, Anita. Or did you only screw in one bed then sleep in separate beds after banging each other?"

"Darrin his name is Wesley. And what are you talking about?" Anita said as a look flashed thru her eyes. "Nothing is going on. This was a seminar for God's sake. I go on them about once a month now. You know that, you agreed to it. Stop being dense."

"How long you been fucking Wes?" I asked pushing the hotel forms across the table at Anita. "Or should I call you Mrs. Wesley Stanford."

Anita picked up the hotel papers, leafing through them one at a time. She then pulled a cell phone from her purse, pressing a speed dial. Turning away from me she spoke into the receiver.

"Wesley -yes it's me. It's about Darrin ... he knows." A pause. "What? She did what? Served you right there?" another pause. "OK then I guess we got to do it now. I'll be waiting for you."

Anita closed her phone, and then turned to faced me. "Darrin, it was not supposed to be this way. I wanted more time to prepare you for this. I just didn't ... didn't have my exit strategy fully planned out yet. Looks like I'm going to have to wing it with what I got now though."

I was still in a state of shock as Anita retrieved her suitcase. "It's not your fault Darrin. I love you and AJ, but I just not in love with you anymore. I need to get away, go places. You'll see it will be better this way. I can allocate a lot more time and attention to AJ as a part time mother then I can now."

I was surprised I could speak. "Anita you can rationalize it any way you want. You are doing nothing but abandoning your son and family for a man old enough to be AJ's grandfather. Does the Viagra make Wesley that good in bed?"

I could see I hit a nerve as Anita flinched. "Don't go there Darrin, It has nothing to do with sex. Those occasions never took away from my time with you or AJ. I only started sleeping with Wesley a couple of times at the last few seminars, -no other instances. And really only then because ... well ... it just seemed like the thing to do. You know for all the places he was taking me."

"Anita, are you telling me you whored yourself out for frequent flyer miles?"

Anita waved her hand at me before answering. "I don't want to talk about that Darrin. Just know that I will be there for you and AJ whenever I can."

"You intend to be a part time wife also."

Anita bit her lip and looked at her watch before answering. "Darrin we can still be friends. We have been together for almost 12 years. That should count for something."

"Judas was one of Jesus first and longest apostles. Did his seniority matter in that betrayal?"

Just then Anita's cell phone tinged signaling a text message. She looked down, and then grasped the handle of her luggage rolling it to the door.

I saw a white Lexus pull up to the curb as Anita opened the front door. She turned to me. "Darrin it's time for me now, this is something I need to do. We'll always have our memories. I'll send you postcards."

I called my brother, explaining what was going on. He instantly agreed to keep AJ for the day. I spent the rest of the weekend in a stupor. I called in sick on Monday so I could make plans.

I was trying to figure out what to do. Cancel credit cards? Get the money out of the bank? Contact a divorce attorney-if so who do I hire? A million decisions but I was frozen in place. My whole world was upside-down. It's as if I had lost all equilibrium, was off balance. The front door bell interrupted my thoughts, I almost welcomed the break from my contemplations.

Surprise, surprise, looking thru the peephole I saw my wife's boss, Wesley on porch with two other guys.

"Jesus H Christ" I muttered. "Just when I thought things could not get worse."

"Hold on a second!" I yelled thru the door. I wanted to take a minute to get my act together. I had no idea why this A-hole was on my porch but I wanted to be prepared.

It took more than a second, but finally I was pretty sure I was half way organized, or at least I was somewhat ready. Taking a deep breath I opened the door. Wesley was standing there flanked by two guys. A large panel van with a lift gate was at the curb, I could see a white Lexus parked in the driveway. Wesley looked every inch the successful lawyer decked out in a suit, salt and pepper mane, with every hair in place. His two companions' resembled refugees from a gym, as both guys were huge with bulging muscles, one had a tee shirt on from some weight lifting establishment.

"Darrin." Wesley began speaking. "I have come to remove your wife's personal belongings from the residence." He held up a sheet of papers in one hand, then tried to hand me a folder with his other hand.

I made no move to accept the documents, which seemed to irritate Wesley. "Look Darrin, let us try to make this as painless as possible. I have brought some movers from the office with me. Anita has given us a detailed list so we will be in and out quickly." Wesley motioned to the two monsters who began to move forward.

I put up my hand to stop their motion while addressing Wesley. "Listen Wes." I purposely called him Wes, recalling my wife Anita telling me how Wesley hated that version of his name. "This is my house, and I am not giving you or your boyfriends permission to enter, let alone remove possessions from my home."

Wesley looked annoyed as he pulled out a paper from the folder, and then held up the official looking form with a seal at the bottom of the page. "This is a notarized document from Anita that allows us to remove said contents from this dwelling. Now, please step aside so my movers can do their job."

"Well Wes your name is not on the house deed, and in this state a man's home is still his castle." I saw that Wes and his guys were making no effort to leave. "So I am asking you to take your hired beef minions, and get off this property before the police arrive."

Wesley just smirked. "Darrin, I am an officer of the court. I am telling you to make way before I have you arrested."

I figured Wesley was bluffing so I held my ground. "Wes, you're just a frigging real estate lawyer not a law enforcement officer. Unless I see a metro cop with a warrant, -you and your muscle headed boy toys can hit the road. I am not letting you in this house, -again I am asking you to leave."

The bigger of the two guys, a bald headed hulk spoke up. "Look Pal, just get outta the way. I don't have time for this bullshit. Now move, before I make your ugly mug sorry you were born."

I tried to look amused as I addressed Wesley. "You better get your Conan the Barbarian clones home. They seem to be going thru steroid injection withdrawal, getting cranky."

This pissed "Baldy" off, who stuck his massive arm into my chest shoving me backwards. I stumbled from the porch back over the threshold, ending up against the wall inside the house foyer. As I regained my balance "Baldy" was in my face with his companion and Wesley right behind him.

Mustering more courage then I felt, I yelled "All of you get the Hell out of my house!"

"Baldy" just chuckled. "I had enough of your crap Pal." With that he reached out with a limb the size of a tree trunk grabbing onto my throat. "I'm just gonna make sure you stay nice and quiet until we leave." He looked over his shoulder at his buddy. "Gonna be a light workout from the looks of it."

Several thoughts went thru my mind, primary was I didn't want to pass out from lack of oxygen.

"Baldy" had about six inches reach on me. I could only flail at his arm as he squeezed my throat. "Baldy" then pulled me in closer to him, getting a better grip, putting our faces inches apart. "Where is the big tough talk now Pal?" he hissed at me.

In a movement so smooth it even surprised me, I pulled a gun out of my waistband. Placing the barrel against the left ear of "Baldy" I pulled the trigger three times in rapid secession.

You ever fire a pistol off in a small tiled room? Damn it is LOUD. Sounds like a bomb going off. Both my ears rang as the gunshots echoed off the walls.

Several things occurred almost instantaneously. "Baldy" released his hold, falling to the ground screaming, while holding his head with both hands. "Baldy's" companion froze, then backed up against the door jam with his arms raised shouting "Don't shoot man! Don't Shoot!"

And Wesley? He ran out the door. Wesley moved so fast I never saw him leave the house, just papers fluttering in his wake. Wesley may have had an urgent appointment as I saw his Lexus tear across the lawn. Wesley's car jumped the curb and sped down the street.

"Baldy" was still rolling around yelling while holding his head. A stain was growing at his crotch, with a foul order competing with the gunpowder smell. I barked at the other guy. "Down on the ground! Face first! Hands behind your Head!" He complied, which surprised me as I really did not know if that really worked, but a lifetime of watching cop shows was all I had to go by.

The gunshot echoes faded away. "Baldys" screams turned to moaning. I reached into my shirt pocket retrieving my cell phone, turning up the volume.

A tinny voice was coming out of the cell phone speaker. "Sir, can you answer me? Sir, are you still on the line?" It was the 911 operator I called before answering the door. "Squad cars are on the way. Sir, are you there? Sir, are you there? Please answer me!"

Hearing the voice on the phone "Baldy's" muscled buddy on the ground started yelling. "Send help! This Dude is Crazy! He's got a gun Man! This Dude is Wacko! He is going to kill us all!"

Just then my son, AJ, appeared at the top of the steps. "Dad what the FUC ... I mean what the heck happened!" His eyes were wide, taking in the scene of his Dad holding a gun on two men.

"AJ go outside and wait for the police." My boy seemed frozen in place. "AJ!" I said sharply to snap him out his stupor. "Move now! Be careful not to knock over the video camera on the stair landing step."

AJ cautiously made his way down the stairs. He steered clear of the video camera I had set-up that was still recording, threading his way past the two weight lifters before darting out the door.

As you can guess it was tense when the Metro PD showed up. "Baldy" was transported to the hospital, while both Baldy's muscle buddy and I were cuffed, being placed in separate squad cars until things got sorted out.

I endured a short but uncomfortable time sitting in the squad car before a grinning Metro Policewomen pulled me out, removing the handcuffs.

As I rubbed my wrists her partner held up an evidence bag with my gun in it. They both laughed, and then she said. "You shot one guy, and held down another with a STARTER PISTOL full of BLANKS!"

I shrugged. "My wife Anita never allowed guns in the house once AJ was born. I'm a volunteer assistant coach for my kids track team, had to use what was available."

Now that the drama was over, my adrenaline rush was gone, I had to concentrate not to shake like a leaf. Addressing the female cop I asked. "When can I get that starter pistol back? Our team has a track meet on Saturday."

They could not stop laughing. "What a set of balls! Bald Baby Huey could have crushed you like an eggshell. But after that blown out eardrum, his one ear is only good for hanging eyeglasses."

"What happened to their boss, Wesley?" I inquired.

"Mister BIG?" The older of the two cops replied with sarcasm. "He headed straight to the police station from here. I understand he has a very different version of events then what our 911 operator heard."

Wesley attempted to spin some fabrication about me forcing everyone into the house at gunpoint, trying to shoot them all down in cold blood. Anita backed Wesley up that I was a jealous jilted husband, who most likely had gone berserk. The Detectives let Wesley and Anita talk for a while, even got Wesley to sign a statement on his version of events. I would have loved to be there when the Detective played back the 911 recordings, and he had not even seen the video recording yet. As they say, the big camera eye tells no lies, but I was keeping that to myself for the moment. Wesley invoked his right to remain silent after hearing the 911 recording. I understand Anita scurried off to get legal reinforcements and bail money.

What about me? Well I filed a TRO (Temporary Restraining Order) against Wesley and Anita that same day with the help of the Metro PD. The TRO was only good for 5 days until the hearing, but it gave me some breathing room, a chance to think. So you can imagine my surprise when I saw Wesley's Lexus parked in my driveway two days later. I do not know what to expect, but seeing Anita sitting at the kitchen table drinking wine was not one of my top ten guesses.

"What are you doing here Anita?" I asked.

"It is still my house too," Anita said, motioning me to sit at a chair across from her.

I kept standing. "You should not be here Anita. What I meant is, did you not the get the TRO?"

Anita just waved her hand at me. "Oh do not be such a horses ass Darrin. If the judge's youngest boy was not on same track team as our son AJ you never would have gotten that bogus restraining order."

"Anita you are free to make that argument at the hearing on Thursday. The Judge felt that you, thru your lover boy Wes was a threat to my safety. So please leave."

"His name is Wesley. Hear me Darrin, WESLEY." Anita was not in a good mood. "Did you really have to get him arrested? That was just spiteful. Do you know what kind of people there are in jail? He was there overnight, it was a real ordeal for Wesley."

If this was not so tragic I would have laughed out loud. "Gee Anita I am sorry. What happened? Did Wes not play nice with the other crooks? Did Wes forget to keep his back to the wall or did he drop the soap in the shower? Have a run in with some "harden" criminals."

"This is not funny Darrin. Wesley could be disbarred." Anita took a drink, than seemed to calm herself before continuing. "Listen Darrin this has gone way too far. You think you hurt me by draining the accounts, plus canceling the credit cards?" She shook her head. "It was petty of you to have my cell phone turned off. Any judge is just going to make you give it all back, or force you to sell the house so I can get my fair share."

Anita leaned forward on the table. "Let's end this vindictiveness now, get on with our lives. Wesley has agreed to pay for the divorce plus handle the paperwork, that way we do not have to have any other lawyers involved. You can keep the house, while I will take what was in the savings plus half of your 401K. Agree to this so we can file under irreconcilable differences. You can have primary care of AJ, we'll share joint custody-but I won't pay child support. You will only need to contribute limited alimony."

I glanced down at my watch before answering. "Wow Anita I hope you do not think I am as dumb as I look. For starters alimony is like buying oats for a dead horse, it's just not going to happen. You make a decent salary plus whatever you get for screwing Wes." Anita made a face, but I continued. "I did not drain the saving accounts. Remember the prepaid college plan we enrolled in when AJ was born? I paid it off in full."

"Darrin!" Anita sputtered. "You had no right to do that! That money was half mine. I had travel plans for my portion!"

I leaned back in the chair. "Your signature is on the original contract with all the terms and conditions. I took the upgrade clause, opting for the full dorm package with health insurance and books, including fees."

Anita took another drink before answering. "Well Darrin, we'll just see what a judge says about that."

I tried to keep a smile off my face. "Courts are concerned about what is in the best interests of the child, Anita. What do you think a judge will feel is in the best interest of our son? Let's see, AJ's education on one hand, or you flying business class with your boyfriend on the other hand?"

Anita was nonplussed, gesturing around the room. "So I guess you'll be willing to sell your boyhood home here or give up your 401K. Makes no difference to me, but make no mistake after 12 years I am not walking away from this empty handed."

I took a breath before replying. "Anita, I cannot stop you from leaving me and AJ to chase your dream of travel. But you are not going to trot the globe on our dime. Too bad you feel AJ's welfare is interfering with your exit strategy. You can walk away, run away, or hopscotch away because my 401K is already gone away. I used it to pay back some of the money Mom loaned us for AJ's medical bills. I see you are making no mention of the debt we owe."

"Darrin, if you want the house you should shoulder the debt."

"Anita, you know this house is not really ours don't you?"

Anita's eyes narrowed before she answered. "What are you trying to pull Darrin? Your Mom GAVE us that money for AJs bills. I know she also gave us the house to live in when she moved to Florida, that makes it joint property."

I got out of the chair, walked over to a drawer to pull out some papers, throwing them on the kitchen table.

"Anita, my Mom was a seamstress. She did not have that kind of money. Mom took out a 2nd mortgage on the house so we could have money for AJ bills. This house..." I tapped on the table. " ... is still in Moms name. We have been only paying the loan each month. Mom willed us the house when she passes. But when I spoke to her yesterday, she was in fine health, alive and kicking."

Anita drained her wine glass. "Darrin, what has come over you? I know you are hurting, but this is for the best -why are you trying to punish me? You were never this malicious a person. We have been together for too long, to say nothing of all we have been through together. You are destroying all my plans. This being mean spirited isn't like you. It doesn't have to be this way, we..."

The ringing doorbell interrupted Anita. I got up to answer, returning with two Metro Police officers. They were the same pair that had been at the house days earlier. I had called the number on the TRO paperwork when I first saw Wesley's car in the driveway.

Anita was shocked when the Officers placed her in cuffs for violation of the Restraining Order.

"Darrin" Anita said to me in a panicky voice as she was read her rights. "You are not going to allow the Mother of your child ... your wife to be arrested are you?"

It was hard to see the women I once, and still loved be taken away, but there was nothing I could do. This was of her own making.

"Look at it this way Anita, you wanted to be a part time wife and mother –this is the part of the time you're not my wife or AJ's mother."

The hardest part was explaining to AJ that his mother and I would no longer be together. After all AJ had been thru this was difficult for him to understand. I tried to explain that our family relationship was not over, just changing. This did not seem to help. Thank God for my brother and his family, they had always been there for me and this time was no exception. While I was going thru all the B.S. one encounters in a divorce, they took AJ on outings with their kids, generally kept him occupied. Thus giving me time to adjust, lick my wounds.

Several weeks had gone by. The hearing on the restraining order had been interesting. Anita's side had put a good spin on events but then her admitted relationship with Wesley, the 911 tapes, added to the Metro Police officers testimony, led the Judge to extend the TRO for 60 more days to allow all parties to "cool off", as he had put it.

Neither of us had filed any divorce papers yet. I had had no contact with Anita for three weeks, until a member of Anita's law office called to ask for an informal meeting. I found myself sitting in a diner across the table from a grandfatherly looking man who's business card identified him as the senior partner in my wife's real estate law firm.

"May I call you Darrin?" He began as I nodded my head. "I wish to see if we can come to some sort of resolution over the recent unpleasantness that has occurred." When I made no response he continued. "The firm is not at all pleased with the actions of one of our partners concerning your spouse. The resulting fallout has caused a distraction that is affecting both the quality and quantity of work product. Not to mention the non-billable allocation of resources we have had to devote to this disruption."

"Yes I too, am very sad about the beak-up up my family and end of a decade plus marriage. It was heartless of me not consider the firms condition." I said dryly.

The man was unruffled, but tried a different tact. "I apologize Darrin, I did not mean to come off as uncaring. I have empathy for you situation. I have been married 42 years, and can only imagine what discomfort you must be going thru." He paused a moment as the waitress set down our coffee before continuing. "However, I have the welfare of my employees to consider. Wesley was a top earner, so as distasteful as it is to you the disbarment, not to mention conviction of one of our senior partners would have negative consequences on innocent employees and their livelihoods, people who had no part in this incident."

I started to speak but he raised his hand to stop me. "Now wait Darrin, Let me put all the cards on the table. I know you wish to seek some measure of vengeance on Wesley for his part in the dissolution of your marriage. I have understanding of that feeling. But is it not sufficient to know that Wesley's wife is going to inflict much more financial injury on him then you can imagine. I do not mean to be crude or caviler, but marriages terminate every day. Life goes on."

I took a sip of my coffee before responding. "Whenever someone says they are putting all their cards on the table I always make sure to look up their sleeves. While it is true that marriages end every day, it is also true that Attorneys get disbarred every day. Lawyers go to jail just as often."

I saw a small frown cross his face. "And you Darrin, have admittedly made keeping Wesley out of jail much more difficult with your little video stunt."

I laughed inwardly to myself. I had released the tape of the confrontation with Wesley and his gym pals onto the internet and to several TV stations in our area. It must have been a slow news week because the 15 second clip was the kicker comic ending on most all the local news shows. The sight of Wesley flinging papers into the air before fleeing the scene after the gunshots had a slapstick, almost cartoonish quality to it. Several stations had added wacky sound effects with Looney Tunes like music to make the video even more hilarious. A national cable show had featured the event in its "Stupid Criminal Tricks, Folly of the Day" segment.

"Darrin you should be aware the Assistant State Attorney was not at all amused by you withholding that cinematic bit of information."

I poured more sugar in my coffee. "If I read between the lies, you mean it killed the deal the ASA had cooked up to reduce the charges on Wesley to some minor misdemeanor. Perhaps a small fine, with no jail time, about the same penalty as a parking ticket. Am I right?"

He kept a poker face but I knew I was on the money. "Look I may not have gone to college nor had four years of law school, but I have high friends in low places. I know how things work. Every profession has its own little fraternity. This is a small town. I figured Wesley would reach out to some contact that was in the 'Courtroom work group', to get some type of 'Professional Courtesy' handling. That video was my insurance that Wesley might get the same treatment as any other lawbreaker."

"Well Darrin you certainly seemed to have acquired some leverage. However, the purpose of this friendly chat is to see what can be done to make all parties whole. On that note what happened to Wesley's white Lexus? It was a leased company car. The firm is responsible for it. Although in the end it will be Wesley's liability if he allowed a non-lease holder to drive the automobile."

I tried to keep the smile off my face. "You may wish to check the tow yards or maybe chop shops. I do recall seeing a white Lexus in my driveway after my wife Anita was arrested. But sad to say that car was heavily vandalized. Later some urban youths agreed to tow it away. I am sorry I cannot remember their names or anything."

He gave a big sigh. "Darrin that was not wise, that type of action will have an effect on what we can do for you." With that he pulled out a pen, then wrote a figure on a napkin, folded the napkin, pushing the napkin across the table at me. I did not look at the napkin but wrote my own figure on a napkin, placing my written napkin in front of him. I saw his eyes open wide."

"We are not a large organization Darrin. Surely you must jest, this number is outrageous."

I could not resist the opening "I am not jesting and don't call me Shirley."

Either he had never seen the movie "Airplane" or decided not to comment because he said. "Darrin, I do not wish to spout legal advice, but you do understand we do not have any Alienation of Affection laws here in this state, nor does the firm have any moral clause or prohibition against what two consenting adults do on their own time. There is just no justification for a sum of this magnitude."

I sat back in my chair before speaking. "This has nothing to do with my soon to be ex-wife Anita, and her consenting or not consenting. I intend to go after your firm in civil court for breaking into my house, trying to cause me bodily damage."

"Darrin the firm had no knowledge of Wesley's actions that day, nor did we condone or approve of any such behavior of the people Wesley had contracted as a private matter between him and your wife."

I adjusted my seat cushion, and then answered. "Let's see if I got this right. A senior member, Wesley, of your firm shows up with two employees, also of your firm, in a moving van owned by your firm. Wesley was holding paperwork notarized by a firm's employee, for a firm employee, during business hours, and was acting as a supervisor with the two firm employees. Yet Wesley made no attempt to stop the assault by his two firm employees he managed. Hell, Wesley unlawfully charged into my house, then refused to leave. I about got it right?"

He motioned to the waitress for a coffee refill. "Darrin, while I am not admitting Wesley may have acted rashly, civil court cases can sometimes take decades to play out."

I shrugged. "I am not going anywhere. Several law offices have already expressed an interest in taking this case on a contingency basis."

I named a well know firm, that caused an intake of breath from him before I continued. "The question you need to ask yourself is how are you and the firm going to deal with the constant depositions, endless legal proceedings, not to mention court time, cutting into the bottom line? Think of it as a 'Stupid Tax', a fee or fine if you will -that Wesley, and your firm need to pay for allowing this to happen."

"Darrin, what are you looking for, revenge? Take some friendly advice from an old man, it is not going to make you feel any better."

"I am not looking for revenge, just my little piece of justice. Some say there is no justice, in or out of court. But in this country, justice means you get a check. The way I understand it, the bigger the check, the more the justice."

He picked up my napkin with the figure before looking at his watch, a very nice Rolex. "Darrin, I will take your suggestion up with the other members of the firm."

I got up to leave, pulling some bills from my pocket, throwing them on the table. "Just to make sure there is no communications error. That number is neither a suggestion nor open to negotiation. You may have the watch, but I have the time."

I thought I was in for a long legal battle. Yet Monday morning brought a court server bearing a thick folder that included divorce papers as well as a large check in the amount I had written on the restaurant napkin. A long contract was attached, so I spent the afternoon with an attorney friend. The contract had the firm admitting no guilt, but required I not interfere in any extracurricular legal matters of its senior partners concerning the event at my home. The divorce let Anita walk away with only her personal possessions and no attachments or funds, but she got half our debt. Joint custody of AJ, with me as primary caregiver. No alimony, or child support on either side.

I was advised to sign the papers as quickly as possible. The divorce was the best deal I could hope for. The check would pay off debts, get me and AJ some spending funds. As far as "interfere in any extracurricular legal matters of its senior partners concerning the event at my home." I could care less what happened to Wesley. It was the Assistant States Attorney's call anyway -not much I could do but make a lot of noise. Besides any man that takes your wife deserves her. I recall an old Groucho Marx saying that when a man steals your wife there is no better revenge then to let him keep her. I hoped that was true, at least I would get that Karma payback.

About a year had gone by since the divorce from Anita was made final. All visits with AJ were made thru my brother who had Anita pick-up and drop off AJ at his place. This was at my request. I still loved Anita, and I knew it would tear my heart out each time I saw her. I hoped some time with distance between us, would eventually lessen the pain. My brother and sister-in-law tried to fix me up on a few dates with some nurses at the hospital, but I was not ready for the dating scene. My right hand took care of most of my needs. The good thing about masturbation is at least you do not have to get dressed up for your date. However at the end you are just screwing with yourself. I threw myself back into working out to fight off depression. I found swimming to be relaxing, a good way to tire myself out so I could sleep at night. Our local gym had a nice indoor pool, and I spend hours there just swimming laps, losing myself in the water.

Naturally there was trouble in Paradise. AJ was at the age of normal teenage rebellion, then add in resentment at his mother ... well you had a combo for problems. It did not help that Anita kept sending postcards to the house of all her "travels". I had to laugh as they never seemed to venture beyond the tri-state area. No exactly the globe trotting I had expected. However, these trips several times made Anita miss her scheduled visits with our son AJ, that built up his resentment toward her. I warned Anita thru my brother that if this kept up I was going to ask the court to give me sole custody of AJ. As much as AJ was upset with what his mother Anita had done to our family –her blowing off her visits with him were taking a toll-as with this last visit.

I hung up the phone with my brother and swore to myself. "AJ!" I yelled "Come in here now please."

AJ appeared at my door. "Yea Dad?"

I motion AJ to sit down before I began. "I just got off the phone with your Uncle. He said your Mom was very upset with how you acted on your visit. You want to tell me what happened?"

"Dad, I hate going over there when Wes is around. That guy is a dick!"

"AJ you do not call adults by their first name. No matter how you feel about that ... man. He is your mother's friend and you should at least try to be civil."

"See you cannot even say his name. He is still a dick, Dad."

I tried to speak but AJ rushed on. "Dad, he said Uncle working at the hospital as a pediatric nurse was not real "manly". The assclown keeps making stupid comments about 'girly' jobs. I thought college made you smart. He is sooooo stupid."

I was amused by that bit of information. My brother had a purple heart from the Gulf war. He had also been awarded the bronze star when his medevac chopper went down and he fought off an insurgent attack staying with the downed bird while keeping his wounded comrades alive until help had arrived.

It was hard to keep a straight face after AJ's little speech. "AJ, I know you think that man is an idiot, but look at this as a lesson that college just makes you educated, it does not make you smart. Only a fool talks like that. We both know your Uncle is more manly then the Pittsburgh Steelers defensive line."

AJ tried to say something, but I held up my hand to stop him.

"AJ, did you tell your Mom you were going to put her in a second tier nursing home in Mexico when she got old?"

AJ grumbled something, so I told him to speak up. "Yea Dad, but their computer blows chunks. I think you gotta shovel coal into that relic to get it started. They don't even have a flat screen monitor! I try to use my laptop, but the wi fi connection sucks. If the download speed was any slower we would be going backward in time."

I let AJ vent for a while. When this whole visitation thing started, I explained to AJ I would prefer he not give any information to his mother concerning my private life. I also let him know I did not wish to hear any details about Anita's life. However, being a typical kid this just went in one ear and out the other. Between him and the details my brother kept letting slip from Anita's rants during her visitation pick/up drop off, I knew more then I cared to about my ex-wife's tribulations.

For instance, Anita complained endlessly how Wesley's wife had really raked him over the coals with the post nuptial agreement. During the divorce he lost the house, forfeiting a large portion of his share of the business. Wesley's wife had sold her share to a group of venture capitalists, which had demanded some measures that did not sit well with the firm. The other partners had not been pleased with the "Stupid Tax", they were making Wesley pay for it out of his share of the profits and bonuses. This put a considerable crimp in Wesley's life style.

Anita had threatened to go "Sexual Harassment" on Wesley if he did not put a significant carat ring on her finger. Anita was planning on the gala wedding she always wanted, our marriage event being a small family only affair. Wesley was fighting the "shotgun wedding", arguing for a week in Vegas, with a wedding chapel, due to financial constraints

By now AJ had run out of stream, he was merely whining.

"Dad, I do not want to be in Moms wedding. It is the same day as the Salander swim meet. Can't I just skip this one and go to Mom's next wedding?'

I had to cover my mouth to stifle a laugh. This was going to be a long conversation.

You know the law of unintended consequences? How everything affects everything else, the butterfly flapping its wings causes a hurricane in the Caribbean kind of thing.

Well mine started with a simple question from my Manager. "Darrin, you got a valid passport?"

"Sure both Anita, I and AJ got one before he got sick, then um well..." I just trailed off.

My manager was a good guy. He had cut me a lot of slack during the marriage difficulties, so he just jumped right in.

"Well look Darrin we just got an urgent call out from the suits at HQ. There was a car accident that injured our team from the South Florida Division. You are going to leave Friday to fill in with an engine job on a cruise ship." He grinned at me. "Not a bad change of climate considering the weather." We were in his office so he motioned at the window outside where snow was piled up, while the temps were well below freezing.

"Um thanks ... I think. Why me?" I stuttered. My company has been bought out by a large Multinational organization a few years back. Why they would want a small specialty control machine engine shop in an even smaller northern town I could not understand. But I was grateful for the improved health care and benefits they brought.

My manager leaned back in his chair. "Well you were in the Navy..."

"I served one hitch and never left Pax River after training at Great Lakes. Hell, I've never been on anything bigger than a dinghy." The Navy found I had a knack for tech stuff, so I spent my military career (If you could call it that) working on Jet engines at the base in Maryland.

"So what." My Manager replied. "That's more then most guys, plus you do that biofuel thing, and this has to do with fuel additives, that kind of junk."

"But Boss -I just brew biodiesel in my garage! I am not a professional or anything."

"Darrin, you do know that professionals built the Titanic, while amateurs build the Ark don't you?" He tossed a thick binder full of computer CDs at me. "You are the best programmer-slash-jet turbo tech we have. That combo makes you the one eyed King in the land of the blind."

"Be serious." I pleaded. "I can't leave my son now."

He leaned forward on his desk. "Darrin, I know your situation, I have done my best to help you out. However I really need you on this one. Consider it a personal favor to me, calling in a marker if you want."

I did owe him, so I nodded my head, looking down at the binder full of info I'd have to learn.

"Oh Well" I thought "Either Be Good, Get Good, or Get Gone."

I learned modern cruise ships no longer use diesel engines to turn shafts with blades at the ends. Some of the current breeds have jet turbines that generate electricity that powers dual electric "Azipods" hung aft below the ship like outboard motors. Theses Azipods gave the ships great maneuverability, being able to turn 360 degrees, allowing these vessels to do a complete circle within itself, or even move sideways.

While the electric jet turbines are cleaner burning then the diesels, the jet like fuel was far more expensive compared to diesel bunker fuel. Our company was testing out both camelina oil' & algae-based biofuel HRD-7. It required changes to complex sets of computer controlled variables on the jet turbines. However, a small fortune was at stake if our company could prove it works -as we also sold the controls, electric generator jet turbines, while also having a controlling interest in the biofuel refining for marine applications.

Thus the reason I was seated next to a scowling senior engineer, originally from Scotland, named Shane MacIssac. I had referred to him as "English", which from his reaction was as bad an insult as one can give to a Scot.

"Call me Mac you bloody fool," Mac told me as we sat on a plane for a set of flights headed to a port I had to look up on Google earth. "If you have anything to say, now would be the time to keep it to yourself. We are boarding a ship of the Royal Ocean line, She's called the ROYAL VIKING."

"God I hope I do not get seasick," I muttered

Mac rolled his eyes. "This isn't no tug, you stupid Yank. She's over one hundred thousand tons and is 17 decks high (16 as I found the ship had no deck 13). If she pulled aside your Statute of Liberty we'd be looking your Lady Liberty in the eye. This monster vessel has an indoor ice skating rink, Hospital, TV studio, nightclubs, conference center, movie theatre, shopping center, bars, everything you would expect from a small city, even a Farris wheel for the kiddies on the top deck, who have their own swimming pool by the way. The damn lifeboats alone are over 10 meters long, that is 30 feet to you Yanks, and they hold 150 passengers with supplies for a week."

"Mac, if this is such a big deal, why not just wait until later when your team heals up from the car crash?"

"Couple of reasons laddie. Our company is not the only one in this race and we are already behind. We need to get a proven product out there on the market fast. The emphasis on "PROVEN". Ships captains and staff are a conservative lot, leery of any new ideas. They don't trust nothing that could leave them dead in the water. Sometimes I think the damn blokes would still have sails on the ships. Second reason is it is tough to get berths on a good ship-them buggers is always full up. Any cabins they give to the likes of me and you is lost revenue. We had planed this trip way in advance because cabins would be open due to the ROYAL VIKING's repositioning and pirate fear."

"Pirates? You mean like Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean?"

Mac rolled his eyes. "Have you looked at your plane ticket you dumb bastard? The port we are headed to is near the African coast. I'm talking about them Somalia Pirate buggers. Don't you watch the news? I be talking about the kind of pirates your Navy SEALs took out." Mac stopped a flight attendant asking for a drink before continuing. "I'm from Special Boat Service myself, still we all tipped a drink or two to them SEAL lads on that operation."

"Shit Mac, I didn't sign up to be walking the plank." I was getting a bit worried.

"Now Darrin you need not be getting your panties in a wad. Our ship be so far off the coast them little pirate boats never be reaching us. Besides you being a young single cowboy there be plenty of lassies in the crew to save you, should we spot any Somali Blackbeards.

"Mac, I not a cowboy. I have never even been on a horse."

"Just the same, you keep your pecker in your pants until we get the job done." Mac took a long gulp of his drink. "Did you bring the stuff I told you?"

"Sure Mac." I answered. "What is all the candy and bottles of Aquavit for?"

"Listen my young charge, four things are currency on a ship to get things done. Booze, Porn, Candy and Internet phone cards to call home off the ship." Mac reached in his pocket and pulled out a fistful of phone cards. "Our satellite division handles the data off the ship so we can hand these out. The ROYAL VIKING's officer staff is Norwegian and the Aquavit gets us a lot of goodwill with the Captain, Staff Captain, and Chief Engineer. If this was a Greek flagged ship we would bring Ouzo, on a British vessel the officers prefer scotch or whiskey."

"You're kidding me Mac, right?"

"No my boy, I am not." Mac paused as the flight attendant took away his empty glass. "Look Darrin we are asking these guys to put in a lot of work hours on top of their normal duties without any additional pay, so any bones we can throw them helps. This crew can make or break the project for us."

Mac turned in his seat toward me. "The workers from the Balkans love tootsie rolls, while the eastern Europeans go crazy for bubble gum, Philippine guys crave milk chocolate. Got it?"

"Whole different world Mac. Whole different world" I said.

"With over a hundred nationalities on the ROYAL VIKING you got that right." Mac pulled out his laptop. "Let's go over our plan."

Mac knew his stuff, he was greeted warmly by his old friend the ship's Captain, a blond giant named Sven. The bottles of Aquavit smoothed my introductions, while the crew was more than willing to help as we liberally handed out phone cards. I felt like it was Halloween, passing out pockets full of candy, but I was going to follow Macs lead as he had been right so far.

Our project was going well. After the first day of trial and error, I made the necessary computer adjustments to the turbines to accept our biofuels for maximum efficiency. The Chief engineer was wary, still wishing to run on their standard modified JP jet fuel. He kept delaying operating completely on our alternate fuels, even after running short time periods without any issues.

Mac was trying to cajole the Chief Engineer into a full scale test when I turned around banging my head into a bulkhead. This invoked a round of laughter from the crew. It did not hurt but my forehead was bleeding from a small cut. Dispute my protestations, the Chief Engineer told a junior Pilipino engineer to bring me to sick bay."

At the sick bay (or "Medical Center") I was stuck filling out countless forms, so I guess the ship's hospital really was just like any hospital on land. Then I heard something, when I looked up there was the ship's nurse calling out my name.

Her nametag had her country as one of the 'Stan's of the old Soviet Union, it read "Zoie" with a last name that I think contained the chemical symbol for Boron. But it was not the nametag I was looking at. This raven haired beauty was stunning. She had curves in all the right places, while her face had high cheekbones below oval eyes, a gift from some mogul ancestor, that were colored blue matching her medical smock. The smock did nothing to hide a killer figure. She looked to be in her late twenties, with her shining hair swept to one side, almost covering one side of her face. A megawatt smile revealed a neat row of white teeth. When she called my name the voice had a combination of Eastern European and British accent. The pain in my forehead was instantly forgotten.

Zoie, the nurse asked me to follow her into the medical center. I stared at that sexy ass that was imitating two cats fighting in a sack, vowing to follow her anywhere.

As I was seated Zoie looked at my paperwork before speaking. "So Mister..."

"Please call me Darrin." I interrupted her.

"Certainly Darrin." Zoie said, giving me a hint of her 300 watt smile.

As Zoie took my blood pressure and vitals, I did my best to engage her in conversation. Zoie was gentle and professional, but my charms seemed to bounce off her like bullets off Superman's chest.

The ship Doctor came in, another blond Nordic giant, after a quick exam proclaimed me a bit clumsy, but fit, with no injuries, except to my pride. With that he shook my hand, then left.

"Darrin." Zoie addressed me.

"Yes!" I said almost jumping to attention.

"Let us get you some aspirin, for if you have a headache later."

"No problem Zoie I have a tough noggin" I tapped my head with a knuckle.

Zoie looked confused. "What is this noggin?"

"Forget it Zoie." I was trying to figure some way to keep talking to her. Having been out of the dating scene for over a decade, I was not sure what to do. "Umm ... Ah ... Zoie ... will I see you later?"

"Zoie gave me kind of a half smile. "Well Darrin, I will be in the Officer bar at 2200 tonite."

She paused for a moment as I tried to do the math in my head. "Darrin, that is 10PM in your American time. I would as you say ... much enjoy to see you there."

I bid Zoie goodbye than saw my Pilipino junior engineer still in the medical center lobby staring at me.

"What?" I said.

The small engineer chuckled. "I never saw Zoie smile before. We call her "Ice Queen" on the ship. She is always nice, but holds everybody at bay. You wanna share some of those New York City or Los Angles lines you laid on her with me?"

Now it was my turn to laugh. "Not all of us are from New York or LA, lots of America between those two coasts. Let's get back to the engine room."

That evening the Officers broke out the bottles of Aquavit I had brought. The bar was a whirlwind of accents -Nordic, German, Eastern European, Caribbean Island, with several others I could not understand. I found the biggest language barriers to be with the crew members from "Across the pond" -as the UK residents like to say. I found as an American, the United Kingdom and USA shared the same language, but not words. "Torch (flashlight)", "Spanner (wrench)", "Lift (elevator)","Petro (fuel), Bonnet (hood), had us united by the same tongue, but divided by a common language. I saw a Spanish crewmember ask his Dutch counterpart if they were to speak English or American. At first I thought it did not make sense-now I understood.

These people could really drink. Mac had warned me on the airplane "Look Darrin my boy, I do not care how well you think you can hold your booze. Any twenty year old Aussie girl will drink your ass under the table. Unlike the States there is generally no age limit for alcohol in most countries, so while you were sneaking beers at your prep school graduation, these kids were already quaffing down a liter of ale."

I heeded Mac warning, sticking to ginger ale after a few toasts with the Aquavit. I could not see what those pale monsters saw in that drink. Damn stuff tasted like lighter fluid.

Mac was engaged in a heated debate about firearms with the Israeli Chief of Security, when I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned to see Zoie standing above me.

"Darrin, may I sit and talk a while at you." She asked.

"Sure Zoie" I replied, grabbing a chair from a nearby table. "What would you like to drink? We brought some Aquavit."

Zoie wrinkled her nose, before placing her hand on my leg as she sat. "A glass of white wine please Darrin."

I returned with Zoie's drink, we were alone at the table as an impromptu dart game had sprung up in the bar, roping in most of the patrons.

"Thank you Darrin." Zoie said, sipping her glass.

"No problem Zoie." I racked my brain for something to say. "Um ... how long you been on ships?"

"This is my second contract on this ship." Zoie replied. "I did two other contracts on the ROYAL VIKING's sister ship."

"How long is a contract?"

Zoie smiled at me before answering me. "My contracts range between six and eight months shipboard, with about six to eight weeks off."

"Do you go home then? Where do you call home?"

Zoie paused before answering. "I mostly stay a few days here and there with various members of the crew I have made friends with. Otherwise I camp out at a hotel. Home ... well that is a long story."

I could listen to this lady talk all night. However, I felt this was not a story I would hear now.

"Do you like it?" I asked, trying to keep the conversation going.

"Yes Darrin, it is not so bad a life. Enough about me, tell me about you and your life in America."

I gave Zoie the short version of my little town, showed her a picture of AJ on my phone display, explained how I had come to be on the ship.

"Zoie returned my phone with AJs picture. "You and your wife must be very proud of him."

"Sad to say Zoie, we are not together anymore. AJ stays with me now."

Zoie seemed a little shocked. "Your son's mother is not with him? What kind of women would..." She stopped for a second. "Sorry Darrin, none of my business." Deftly, changing the subject Zoie asked "We are going to do the Caribbean run out of Miami and Fort Lauderdale this season. It will be my first time in North America, I look forward to it. Are you near those Ports?"

"No" I shook my head. "But my Mom is retired, she lives in South Florida now. AJ and I have been meaning to come visit her. Perhaps we can meet up.?"

Zoie gave me another smile. "I would like that Darrin."

Just then the dart game broke up, so the table became crowded again. I saw that Zoie had became quiet, more reserved. It was if there were two Zoies, the polite professional with the staff, and the friendly lady I had just been chatting with.

I really was enjoying my time with this international group, but felt my energy level start to drop after a while. Zoie must have noticed, as she drained her glass of wine then turned to me. "Darrin I must get up early, would you walk me to my cabin?"

Talk about an energy boost. I jumped up as Zoie bid our table mates good night.

As we walked the ship, Zoie nodded to passengers, stopping every now and then, saying a few words to various guests. From the conversations these people had recently visited the sick bay (excuse me-"medical center"). Zoie took great interest in their answers. I was impressed by her concern with people she had just met, and may never see again in a few days.

Finally we reached the officer area of the ship, standing in front of her cabin door.

Zoie turned to look me in the eye. "Darrin, I enjoyed talking at you, and would like to see more of you. But as large as this ship is, it is still small and I do not wish to be as you say ... another belt notch."

She then gave me a kiss that knocked my socks off. When I sought to embrace Zoie, she pushed me back.

"Darrin, there is something you need to see first." With that Zoie pulled back her hair with one hand exposing the left side of her face. The other hand pulled over the neckline of her blouse showing off her left shoulder.

All of Zoie's skin, from the far left temple into her hairline, down her neck and over her shoulder disappearing under the shirt, was an ugly mass of mottled discolored membrane, pockmarked and rough.

I stared for a second until Zoie turned away releasing her hair to cover the disfiguration, while rearranging her top to hide the ghastly scars.

Zoie spoke as she revolved to face me. "Childhood accident Darrin. I understand if you are offended."

I finally found my voice. "So what Zoie? What does that have to do about what a great person you are?" I shrugged. "You didn't have to show me that, but I am glad you did."

Zoie smiled at me, putting her finger on my lips. "You are kind man to say so, -even if you did not mean it." She shook her head as I tried to speak. "Darrin, I let you sleep on it. If you still feel same way, I meet you for noontime meal on top deck tomorrow."

With that Zoie disappeared into her cabin.

I could not wait until lunch to see Zoie. Mac was in better spirits, now that our major issues seemed to have been overcome. However, he was still having no luck convincing the Chief engineer to run full out on our fuel.

At noon Mac, with me in tow, met an elderly group of his countrymen that were on Holiday with their wives. They spent some time talking and swapping war stories. The older Scotsmen were telling what sounded like tall tales of "the good old days". I was awaiting Zoie's arrival, wandering away, leaving the group on the on the top deck. When one of the Scotsman wives peering over the railing shrieked "PIRATES! PIRATES!'

We all rushed over to side railing, were I was astonished to see two zodiac boats with a bunch of raggedly dressed armed black men up against the side of the ship. In the distance, four more zodiac boats were racing toward our vessel.

The ships security officer dashed to the stairway pulling out his radio as he ran. "Code POPPA, Code POPPA. This is not a drill- this is not a drill. All Security Personnel to stations. Prepare to repel boarders. I repeat this is not a drill. Code POPPA."

We all continued to stare over the railings, when one of the guys on the zodiac raised an AK-47 in our direction, firing off a volley of bullets.

"Jesus Christ!" I shouted, throwing myself away from the railing like everyone else. I hit the deck, crawling away as fast as I could, when I saw Mac leap to his feet.

"COME ON LADS! DON'T JUST LAY THERE!" Mac shouted, waving his hands, pointing to the railing. "Let's show these bastards what happens when they get a Scotsmen's BLOOD UP!"

Suddenly a cry rose up from this elderly group of men that shook me to my bones. This crazy mob of Scots jumped up off the deck, rushing to grab bottles off the tables, jostling each other as they raced to the railing. Then they started throwing wine magnums, jugs and decanters over the side of ship down at the pirates. After the bottles were all used up, they next hurled deck chairs at their attackers heedless of the gunfire coming up from the small boats below. I watched in disbelief as these old men picked up entire tables, flinging the counters over the side down at the zodiacs. It was not just the men. I saw the wives chucking their high heeled shoes at the bandits. Umbrellas, ashtrays, dishes, cups, glasses, and then whole coffee services became hand thrown missiles. Anything not bolted down was tossed at our assailants.

I couldn't believe it, but it looked like the antics of these William Wallace "Bravehearts" were holding off the boarders! The zodiacs backed away from the ship, as the trash onslaught continued. On a deck above, I saw the ships security staff fitting parabolic looking devices onto mounts, as the ship leaped forward.

Mac pointed up at the security staff, and then started yelling. "Give them bloody bastards the sonic blast!" Mac had a big grin on his face as he pulled me up off the deck, pointing out the devices, and the zodiacs surrounding the ship. "One of our divisions makes them noise toys. Them things will blow out them goddamn asshole eardrums with a narrow sound beam."

I was terrified, but Mac looked like he was having the time of his life.

"Look there Laddie," Mac said pointing out a larger boat in the distance. "That is them fucker's mother ship. Them bastards never would had made it out this far to sea if that mother ship had not brought them."

"Mac can't we just outrun them" I said, while trying to stop from shaking.

"Gotta get that damn mother ship, or them pricks will just follow us around the ocean."

As if Captain Sven had heard him, our ship turned and headed full speed at the mother ship. Meanwhile, the old Scots were crowded at the railing, shaking their fists at the zodiacs, calling the pirates foul names, cursing them out, most daring them to come back and fight. One elderly man undid his pants to bare his ass, whirling around to "moon" the pirates. Then all of them, men and women, began releasing belts, dropping trousers, lifting skirts and turning their naked backsides until over three dozen pale white wrinkled buttocks were on display, hanging over the railing.

Even as terrified as I was that sight made me giggle. Our ship was bearing down on the pirates mother ship full speed. A dozen zodiacs were trying to keep up with us, like angry sea dogs. A few saw what the captain was doing, and started firing both small arms, and hand held RPGs at the ship. As the two ships closed, our captain poured on the steam. The Pirate's mother ship tried to pull away, but Captain Sven was having none of that. Our ship shuttered for a moment as we rammed the Pirate ship in its aft section. The hit tore off the mother ship's props, and most of its tail.

A triumph shout went up from group as Mac yelled. "That buggers done for! She's dead in the water!"

I was elated for a moment, but saw we had another problem. The pirates in the zodiacs were now redoubling their effort to board the ship. With their mother ship knocked out, their only choices were our ship, or being stranded in the middle of the ocean. Which could mean a certain slow death.

I ran for the engine room, being thrown against the hallway bulkhead walls as Captain Sven made swooping S turns trying to overturn the smaller zodiacs with the ship wake. Reaching the engine room, I explained quickly to the Chief Engineer what I wanted to do.

The big Nordic gave swift orders to his staff, and then turned toward me to speak. "Go Darrin! We give them pirates some Viking Thunder!" the blond giant then slapped me on the back so hard I almost fell over.

I followed the Philippine junior engineer holding a box, who raced ahead, leading me to an upper deck. Standing at the railing on the back aft of the crew deck, we saw at least a dozen zodiacs closing in on the ship. A loud GUSH came out as the dump pumps discharged hundreds of gallons at a time of the modified JP jet fuel from the ships tanks into the waters below. The Filipino and I grabbed a handful of flares from the box as the pirates got closer.

Now I am certain at some point in my life I have done dumber things then throwing white hot lighted flares onto an ocean of jet fuel. But at that moment, I truly could not recall committing a more inane dim-witted act.

The first few flares went out, or had no effect. I knew that the fuel was lighter than seawater, so the fuel must be on the surface. I tried to keep the rising panic down as a pirate zodiac almost reached the ship. Suddenly I remembered it was not the fuel that burns, -it was the vapors coming off the fuel that burns. We were down to throwing out our last flares when unexpectedly a massive WHOOSH of air crackled thru the sky. The churning wake from the ship had agitated the fuel enough for vapors to be developed. These vapors had ignited!

Little did we know I had unintentionally created a small Fuel Air Bomb close to the surface of the water. A mini mushroom cloud rose up as a fireball spread out, sucking oxygen from the air. The Filipino was faster and wiser ducking down behind the ships railing plate. I was still standing there with my mouth open, staring at the sight when the concussion blast reached the ship, slamming into me hard.

Last I remember was being picked up, and then hurled several yards into the aft bulkhead before darkness slid over me...

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