Call me Ben. Ben Dover. Parents can be thoughtlessly cruel, sometimes.
I've always been a fairly smart guy, at least until I started drinking to get to sleep.
I got interested in computers early on and made a living out of programming them, installing them and fixing them. I've averaged about ten years per job. Lately I've been holding down a gig that's taken my shop through the conversion of a busy server room to three machines. It's called virtualization: One company's interpretation of it is called 'VM-Ware'.
Let me tell you that the conversion process is not the neat and clean or sanitary thing that the salesmen describe. We lost our Exchange server-cum-domain controller mid-imaging and had to recover everything the hard way. My doctor put me on ulcer medications so fast it damned near made my head spin. Everything after that was been greeted with a expectation of immediate failure if not absolute collapse. I was not very damned happy with our vendor.
A server image went sideways and I had to go in after hours to recover it. While driving home during a sleet storm a woman that had no business being on the road T-boned me. If I'd been a younger model I'd have shrugged it off with no problem. The difficulty lay in the fact that I was definitely not a younger model. At fifty-four and having two different heart problems as well as full-blown diabetes my quality of life generally sucked.
Well, guess what. It was about to suck a little more. The doctors agreed that my leg had to come off just below the knee as the compound fracture would never heal: witness the diabetic lesion that I'd been sporting on my left shin for the last fourteen years. As a counterstrike I employed a lawyer and did my level best to skin that woman alive--financially.
Oh, she was rich enough to afford to throw a few million dollars my way. The trouble was my lawyer anticipated taking over eighty percent of that. I smartened up and hired another lawyer to recover my judgment from the first lawyer, limiting the fees and expenses of each lawyer to fifteen percent of any dollar value in question.
The judge must have thought me a breath of fresh air as I won the judgment, and retained over seventy percent of the initial damages, i.e. there were no taxes. In Illinois legal damages are not taxed while penalties are. I "walked" away with just over 7.7 million dollars. These days that's not one hell of a lot of money. Granted, it's more than most will ever see but since I had to live on it for the rest of my days I got a squirmy feeling every time I looked at my bank balance. My one consoling thought was the old broad that T-boned me had to give up her license and be driven everywhere after that. I spent a good while in the hospital recovering from major surgery then going through rehab, learning how to use and care for a fake leg. I was told that it would be over a year until I felt comfortable with it. I was ecstatic that I'd talked my boss into keeping me on the books on extended medical leave. My insurance would cover everything after the first thousand dollars. An uninsured year in a hospital would have eaten all of my funds and left me in debt until I died.
I couldn't drive, I couldn't walk without a pair of crutches, I couldn't afford a 24x7 minder, driver or live-in for the rest of my life. I had no damned idea what to do with myself. All I knew was staying where I was would bury me fast. I reduced the huge piles of crap (stuff I'd previously decided that I couldn't live without) down to a couple of duffle bags' worth, a long rolling steamer trunk for my firearms and kitchen gear as well as some computer equipment that fit into a big Samsonite suitcase. I also kept two aluminum-cased tool kits that made up my electronics lab.
I bought a high-end titanium-cased laptop with a 'bullet-proof' keyboard and copied all my porn, stories and electronics data into it. I kept a high-speed switch and a big buffalo-box (external RAID-based on-line storage unit). Regrettably I sent my stereo equipment and enormous monitor to a resale shop. I kept my movies and CDs. I could always buy a new monitor and stereo. Storage would cost more in nuisance value than replacement would cost financially except for the few items that were irreplaceable.
I moved south on general principles. When you're shy a limb ice and snow are your mortal enemies. Atlanta is huge, and one more guy in a wheelchair just blended in. I rented a wheelchair-friendly first-floor efficiency apartment with available Wi-Fi. (I hacked my neighbor's encryption and paid him forty a month not to squeal. He was happy to have his Internet underwritten by yours truly. We occasionally had beer and pizza on Sundays.) We were sitting around pounding down the suds and sucking up tomato pie when I bemoaned my lack of options. Todd, my neighbor, brought up a coastal option--houseboats. Once you owned it the slip rental was (relatively) cheap and if you didn't like the neighbors you could flip 'em off and move!
Houseboats come in three major classes. First, there's the redneck special: put a house trailer on floats and party on! Naah. It wasn't my idea of fun. I didn't want to die with my last words being "Hold my beer and watch this!". Nope. Nope. No way.
Next there's the factory built houseboat that is massively underpowered and steers like a drunken water buffalo. Meh. I've got to be able to do better than that.
Next we get into the naval engineered solutions. There's a whole spectrum of offerings. If you start with a catamaran you can go longer, wider and higher as your budget and ego demand. A builder out of Sydney, Australia has sold multi-floor catamarans that look like they would cover a city block. A one-story catamaran with staterooms above and storage in the two hulls gives you a lot of options.
If you look for vessels under 50 feet long and one diesel per hull there's a lot of used boats for sale out there. The parameters appear to be age, repair (general condition and hours since last overhaul), number of bunks, engine size (hence fuel consumption), bunkerage (fuel capacity) and last but not least appeal. Since I'm not a gold-faucets type of guy I looked for a 'commercialized' boat. Slip rental fees are tied to the length of your craft. Things go up fast at the fifty foot point.
I bought a used 48-foot diesel-powered catamaran registered out of New Orleans. I didn't have the skill or dexterity to run around trimming sails on a sailboat, even though the fuel costs would be dramatically reduced if I relied on wind-power for my travels. I would use the engine or engines when needed. It was diesel or nothing for me. There was no way I'd want to be out on a big body of water with a gasoline fire.
The boat was built in 1984 and was "showing some age". I found it up on blocks at the back of the broker's yard. The deck was a disaster. The interior stank of moldy carpet padding and decaying foam-backed upholstery. It was difficult to see through the helm windshield as it was hazed over from the sun. It needed a lot of work inside and out. What sold me were the seven-foot-six ceilings. The thing felt open. Some clod had named her the "Argosy", what must be the most used and abused name in naval history. I found the keel plate and looked up the original manufacturer. From there I managed to track down a set of the original plans.
She had four staterooms, a generous helm and a nice salon, all built into one large cabin above the water-line. I had the whole thing gone over with a fine-toothed comb and paid the broker for what it was worth. He was so amenable I think he just wanted the damned thing off his lot. It was then towed to the contractor's shipyard in Mobile Alabama.
Outside, the hulls were re-painted and the zincs were replaced. (Zinc anodes keep your rudder and propellers from oxidizing and crumbling away from an electrovalent reaction enabled by the sea water. The metallic zinc decays first, thus the term 'sacrificial zincs'.) The penetration seals were inspected and if needed, renewed. All windows were replaced and waterproof seals replaced everywhere. The superstructure was repainted as well. The deck was torn up and replaced with synthetic materials, not wood. The fly deck was torn out and roofed over. A permanent table was mounted on the aft deck and a retractable Bimini (sun shade) was installed to cover everything aft of the cabin. (The fore-deck was just big enough to get around the cabin so the windshield could easily be cleaned and the boat tied up or brought to anchor--I believe a catwalk is the term.)
Inside, all four heads were consolidated into one and the staterooms were expanded. All the carpeting, bunks and upholstery were ripped out and new installed. Each stateroom received a queen-sized bed. Most of the wood trim was replaced by fireproof synthetics. The electronics were brought up to modern standards and the engines were rebuilt while a propane-fired water heater and galley equipment were installed. The ship's head was big, airy and sported a six foot by six foot spa with a hand-held shower. I'd been informed that LP gas lines aboard ship invariably leak due to repetitive stress, and LP gas tends to accumulate at the lowest available point. Rather than owning a floating bomb, blowers were installed in both of the hulls.
The battery farm and generator were replaced. The fuel tanks were steam-cleaned, inspected via a fiber-optic microscope and the final fuel lines were replaced. All the interior walls and their crappy, musty cellulose insulation were torn out. A good grade of insulation was installed in its place. All the interior spaces were repainted with glossy white epoxy paint. All the appliances, a desk, comfortable chairs and a couch were put aboard before the windows went back in so that the contractor's team had easier access. After looking around at all that glossy white in the salon I had the walls refinished in a light, figured faux birch. The sliding glass door between the salon and the aft deck was replaced by a pair of french doors with large glass thermopane panels because I hate sliding glass doors with a passion! The little rollers they ride on have crummy lifespans. Several lightweight mirrored panels were added to the staterooms and the salon to make them feel larger.
The full refit made me feel comfortable as I headed out by myself. The massive fuel tank made me feel independent. I had GPS navigation and marine radios in case things went pear-shaped. A small weather radar was added to the helm instrumentation. I had a multi-band half-wave ham antenna installed and an ICOM multi-band short wave transceiver put in. I dusted off my call-sign and log book, then paid to have my license renewed.
Since I anticipated living south of the Mason-Dixon line I insured that the air conditioning was in top form. To cover my bets I also had a heater installed as well as a good de-humidifier. All this was backed by 12-volt fans everywhere to circulate the air. I didn't want condensation pockets starting mildew farms anywhere, including inside the walls! All the hatches and passageways were made wide enough for the small wheelchair that I bought for the times that my leg hurt too bad to walk on or when tiredness made me clumsy. The bathroom was equipped with grab-bars and the toilet was installed four inches higher than the norm. A small water-maker was shoe-horned into the engineering space to insure that I'd never be without drinkable water. A spare set of filters for it went into one of the hull lockers.
A catamaran that big was classed as a salt-water cruiser but I certainly wouldn't want to ride out a real storm in one over pelagic (really deep) water. It is my firm belief that roller coasters belong on dry land. I would begin as and remain a faithful shore-hugger.
While waiting for the refit to be completed I took a course in general seamanship and navigation. I found the hardest thing to do was tying the ship off when coming into dock. The documentation they handed out gave me lists of what to do aboard ship on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis. I saw that several of the daily tasks could be compressed into the weekly regimen: things such as washing the deck and cleaning the windows, for god's sake. I didn't even clean the carpets weekly when I lived in an apartment! However that course did convince me to invest in a good vacuum cleaner and a pressure washer.
She gained her certifications and I got my master's papers. Because I'm quirky I had her registration changed to "The African Queen". I always did like Humphrey Bogart's movies even though he died before I was born. I had her insured as a live-aboard.
During my early years I spent two of them working in a restaurant. I learned that it was necessary to maintain a checklist or spreadsheet for managing the food inventory and its cost. Stores had to be checked for aging and turned over as well as stocking levels kept up for anticipated sales of various menu items. Outside of a restaurant environment that last task was much simpler. I only had to stock for the recipes that I habitually used and maintain a fixed inventory of certain standard staples for the times that I'd improvise something for dinner.
Since I was running single-handed I felt justified in having one of the staterooms converted into a pantry. (or galley stores if you want to keep it nautical) The room was lined with modular plastic shelving. I kept the heavier, canned and jugged goods, over the vessel's center line to keep the boat in trim. I had a highly efficient little ten cubic foot chest freezer installed that ran on propane or 110 volts. If I had tried to run that bugger on 12-Volt power it would have sucked my battery farm dry in no time!
I had a small ink-jet printer installed at the desk in the salon. That gave me the facility to print out my stores spreadsheets, whether to hand the lists to a ship's chandler or run carts through CostCo. (CostCo is the name of a wholesale club. They like to think that if you can't find it at CostCo you don't need it.)
I looked over the floor plan and thought to myself "What am I missing? What do I do every week that isn't covered here?" When I thought about clothing and oilskin storage it hit me. The laundry. Where the hell was I going to put a washer and dryer? I'd already put one stateroom out of commission. It got a stackable washer/dryer socked in there as well as that chest freezer. Good! The laundry supplies would go in there as well. I'd have to make certain to use un-scented supplies to keep from tasting laundry soap in my mashed potatoes and cereal.
Her sea trials were amazing. She topped out at 34 knots! Of course, that was pushing the hell out of the engines and we weren't loaded with galley stores. After various trials I plotted the speed vs. fuel consumption and found a sweet spot at about 27 knots. That would be my cruising speed. Not bad for a flippin' houseboat!
I spent months and months cruising around all the little back-waters, coves and draws around southern Florida. After I had exhausted my interest there I headed for Louisiana. I spent over a month touring Lake Ponchatrain. I tied up at Brennans and had lunch there just have bragging rights to say that I'd done it.
I tied up at a marina occasionally to fuel up, have my poop tank pumped out and my stores replenished. I also took advantage of the Wi-Fi offered at most marinas to keep in touch with the world and check my bank balances. After I explored the New Orleans area I headed north, up the Mississippi to Baton Rouge and a bit further. From there I traveled sea-ward and explored the little islets and estuaries making up the delta. There were thousands of miles of coastline compressed into a 100 by 180 mile area. You could throw out a net or a hook and easily catch dinner with no problem.
I stopped and anchored anywhere I felt like doing so. Whenever I saw a local watching me do my thing I welcomed them aboard and we shared a beer or two. Life was easy and slow. I kept several half-pints of chicken hearts, gizzards and livers in my freezer for a constant supply of bait. I sat and fished off my nice, comfortable deck chair more days than not.
That was until I hooked that damned alligator. I thought it was a snapping turtle until it surfaced and rolled. I put a .357 round between the bastard's eyes and spit down his throat. I heard an old man laugh! Laugh like hell! "That old bastard ate my goddamned dog last year. He finally got his comeuppance!"
I yelled back "I hear 'gator's good eatin'. You wanna show me how?"
He stood up tall. "Hell, yes!" Bring 'er on in and tie up to th' dock. We'll have us a good ol' party! I gotta make some phone calls. You start strippin' off that tail and them upper laigs. The rest can go to hell."
Well, that's how we got started. We made one hell of a lot of deep-fried alligator tacos. I thought that it would be fishy, but no way. It was a lot like veal, once you cooked the toughness out of it. We must have fed forty people off that goddamned nuisance of a 'gator. We had one hell of a time. The beer flowed like water.
The folks brought out guitars, mandolins, banjos and ukuleles, not to mention drums, harmonicas and spoons. Oh, the dirty, dirty songs they played around that beach fire!
I cruised down the coast until I hit Galveston where I decided to drop anchor for a while. That bayou serenade had put a bug in my ear. I looked through the music shops until I found a place that I felt comfortable with. I bought a nylon-stringed guitar and took a couple of lessons to get started. I learned to finger-pick a few songs and learned what fake-books were all about. I bought a couple of instruction books to teach me bar chords and progressions. It was like going back to school all over again. What a bunch of bullshit ... But I couldn't complain. I was the one who signed up for it!
Since I couldn't get around too well I spent more money than most owners did on maintenance. The twin hulls were mostly taken up by fuel and water tanks, a waste-water tank, the battery farm and the engine compartments. Altogether I considered them as engineering space. There were several lockers down there as well. I toured both hulls once a week. My physical presence wasn't needed down there daily as the engine, power, fuel and pump gauges were repeated on the helm console.
I weathered my first big storm while sheltered in Galveston Bay. I was proud that I came through without a problem, other than a few things falling off of shelves.
I spent over a month exploring the lakes, bays, bayous and coves all around Galveston Bay and Trinity Bay. I tied up and spent some time on land while my boat got a search-and-destroy from a professional cleaning team. (Let's face it, I'm not the world's best housekeeper.)
I rented a better-than-average hotel room in Texas City and went exploring. After devouring a wonderful char-grilled porterhouse steak I resolved to have a propane grill mounted on the aft deck. I made arrangements with my marina to have it done while I was off peeing on light poles. (marking my territory?)
I already had four one hundred pound propane tanks mounted in a ventilated locker. One more occasional demand wasn't going to put a significant drain on the system. They were plumbed to be used either all together or one at a time. My strategy was the latter, so that when one tank came up empty and the low pressure alarm went off, I'd adjust the valves and re-light two pilot lights. (The freezer and the water heater had pilot lights. The stove and oven had piezoelectric igniters.) Then I'd disconnect that tank, cap it, tag it and have it refilled.
There were plenty of things to do in the city. I visited several museums including one that featured memorabilia focusing on the Texas City disaster. In April of 1947 a cargo ship full of fertilizer exploded, blowing the port to hell and levelling most of the city itself. People were knocked off their feet ten miles away in Galveston.
Now that I was finding myself at home on my boat I added a few things to make it more comfortable. I visited three large department stores, purchasing towels, rugs, pillows, linens, clothing and a few pieces of electronic gear. I had a home theater installed as well as a very, very basic gym. A pull-up bar was installed in an interior doorway as well as a toe-bar below it for sit-ups.
I began accumulating old black-and-white movies and movies from the beginning of color films, all in DVD format. I collected a lot of what used to be shown on prime-time television during the sixties and early seventies as well. I didn't neglect books, either. I couldn't collect encyclopedia or anything stupid like that but I did start a nice collection of Sci-Fi reprints. I had thrown away my library of QST ham radio magazines and now had them on DVDs.
I'd made friends with a few other live-aboard people in various harbors. They taught me a thing or two, such as how to keep down the trash by re-packaging all the commercial foods that I brought aboard, installing a remote doorbell at the end of my gangway and a lot of little tips for getting along with less. There's no room for knick-knacks on a live-aboard boat. Storage was the most valuable resource in my little floating ecology. I had to resist keeping stuff in my unused stateroom to keep it from looking like a garage. The temptation was always strong.
They also convinced me to cut down on the booze. They told me stories about absent friends that had a habit of taking a nip too many and disappeared, supposedly over the side on a dark night. Since I couldn't swim for shit I took to wearing a jacket with an auto-inflator built into the lining. It became a normal part of my outer-wear.
I took to only drinking around others, and if I got hammered then I slept where I lay. I stopped peeing over the side of the boat. I hosted a few parties since I had an unused stateroom and plenty of couch space in the salon. We'd watch movies or football games, play cards or sit around lying to each other. The camaraderie was something that I'd missed since I left college, all too many years ago. I learned to stock a few card games for the kids and provided them Internet access when they were aboard. They were plenty tech-savvy.
I was sitting on a stool listening to the radio and cutting up an onion for meatloaf when the doorbell signaled a visitor. I de-perched and made my way to where I could see the dock. What I presumed to be a girl was dressed in a girl scout uniform and stood there smiling and waving. I waved back.
I shouted across the ten feet or so to the dock. "Sorry, miss. I'm diabetic and can't eat your wonderful cookies." I pointed down the way to another boat that was tied up and wired in. "Try the Thomases down there. They've got three kids and will probably buy everything you've got!" I waved again, turned and started back inside.
"Mister? Mister! Can I use your toilet? I've been out here for hours and need a bathroom!"
Something wasn't right here. Kids weren't that stupid. The little green plastic shacks were universal around marinas and several stood within a stone's throw from where she stood. I pointed to a couple about twelve feet away from her. "There's the bog. Use it, foolish girl." I looked around carefully. There were a few new vehicles in the parking lot. They had police plates on them.
I went back inside and fired up my laptop and printer. I printed up a nice "NO TRESSPASSING" sign, slipped it into a plastic sleeve, duct-taped it shut and fastened it to a clip-board. I took it, a camera, a hammer and nail to the dock-side of my gangway. I fastened the sign just below the doorbell, stood back and took a picture of it with the date/time function turned on. I got a good picture of the 'girl' and then turned around and took pictures of all the cars in the lot, being sure to get readable pictures of all the license plates. I went back in and made phone calls to all the local live-aboards warning them that perhaps a sting operation was going on. I took off my jacket, donned a shoulder holster and my .357 then put the jacket back on. Aboard my own vessel nobody could say shit. I put four reloaders in my jacket pockets. If I couldn't resolve a situation with thirty rounds it was time for an IED. (I'm sure everyone knows what an IED is by now. It's perhaps the first new word added to the dictionary in the twenty-first century. It stands for Improvised Explosive Device, and having one will bring the government down on you with great speed.)
I started thinking about the mechanics of creating and using IEDs. There was purchasing and storing the acid, glass funnels, filter paper, measuring flasks, hydrogen peroxide, litmus paper and a reaction vessel. A misspent youth studying the anarchist's cookbook among other underground guides, along with some much-needed advice on chemical lab safety from a U.K. grad student made me a moderately proficient--and dangerous--chemist. Oh, I didn't do anything stupid like brew meth, but I could certainly arm a practice hand grenade. The detonators used in them were real, live grenade detonators and a bit of welding would seal the base of any practice grenade.
World war II German-style potato mashers were easy to make, too, and held over four times the charge of a baseball grenade (if you use a pint can to make 'em like I did). Granted, the baseball grenade was designed to fracture the weak steel coil comprising the inside of the case into lots of little surprises for a surgeon, but as trade-offs go, I preferred the ability to flip over an armored car to the shrapnel.
I'd been a good boy for over thirty five years. I didn't even have a traffic ticket on my record. If the local fuzz wanted to play games and bait me with drugs or child porn things were going to escalate way, way beyond their comfort zone. I had no reason at all to restrict myself to conventional responses. I'd wipe 'em off the goddamned map.
I knew that Black Talon teflon-coated bullets were well and truly off the market. (They go through police vests like a hot needle through styrofoam.) The thing was, teflon-coated frying pans were not. Anybody can rent an acetylene welding rig with full tanks. I bought reloading kits for 30.06 rifle rounds and .357 rifle/pistol rounds, including new brass and some solid copper bullets. I also bought a .50 cal ammo can and four scratched-up teflon-coated frying pans at Goodwill. I stripped the plastic handles off the frying pans and hammered the pans in half, then put them in the ammo case. The .30 cal bullets each got a tiny hole drilled into its base. A sheet of aluminum was given twenty holes, then twenty drywall screws were driven through them with the thread exposed on the reverse side. Each screw had a bullet carefully threaded onto it. The assembly of bullets, pans and aluminum plate was clamped shut in the ammo can. I used an acetylene welding rig with a diffuser to heat the box. I let it cool without opening it.
After using a hammer to break the seal I found what I expected--the Teflon had vaporized, and on cooling had coated everything within the box including the bullets. I carefully loaded twenty teflon-coated rounds with hot (high power) loads. I owned a New England Firearms single shot 30.06 rifle with a 4-12 power scope. It had one hell of a thick breech so I didn't worry about it blowing up in my face. I used the same powder load with an un-coated bullet and checked the trajectory at 100 yards. Yup, it was high by about four inches. the kick was more that I'd expected, too. I used the same ammo box contraption to coat twenty .357 rounds and loaded them as well. (There was plenty of Teflon left from the pans and covering the inside of the ammo case, and it just re-vaporized under heat.)
This didn't take long--a day. Did I wait for the cops to show up to re-enact Ruby Ridge? Nope. I scampered. A short distance up the coast lay Port Arthur, Texas. I dropped anchor and got busy.
How do you find your acid? easy. Find a lab supply house and an extra hundred dollar bill got you anything your black little heart desired. I bought big amber glass carboys filled with the stuff. I didn't fuck around with making my own detonators. That was an easy way to lose a hand or a face. I got turned on to a bent guy at a road construction company. I bought sixteen number eight blasting caps. That's all he was willing to part with.
Ever since the mid-'90s or maybe before, by international law commercial explosives have been laced with what are called taggants. I've been told that they're little chips of nearly indestructible plastic that have the manufacturer's ID and batch number encoded on them. Even tasers spew taggants every time some poor bastard gets electrocuted at a distance. Curiously, detonators are overlooked in that law so whatever I did could not be traced back to me or my source. That's what prompted him to even attempt to sell his product.
I also bought two goose guns--old-style shotguns, four-gauge, that were used for commercially harvesting geese for the market. I carefully wire-wrapped the breeches and barrels, then coated the wire wrapping with brazing compound and heated 'em with a diffused welding torch. They were sure ugly when I was done but wouldn't blow if used for firing off rifle grenades.
Commercial and military explosives are chemically engineered to remain stable over long periods of time--years and even decades. the stuff I anticipated cooking off had a life span of maybe three weeks before it became statistically unstable and in a month it could be dangerous to breathe on. I kept the feed stocks on hand and would only produce the reaction products when and as needed. The titration was bathtub but it would do the trick, using litmus paper and hydrogen peroxide. I didn't anticipate keeping the product on hand less than two days. As long as it was properly neutralized I felt 'safe'.
I had two industrial fans prepared to blow the fumes away from the rear deck so that no bleaching or staining of my boat would occur. I had a nice sized ice maker ready to set up the processing reactor. I had a 5 gallon glass carboy with the top cut off for a reaction vessel, and a big white polyethylene pony keg cooler to use as an ice bath.
Everything but the beer cooler got stored in a couple of steel-covered footlockers stored on the aft deck. If necessary I could kick it all overboard and deny all complicity, or open the covers, fill the ice bath and have wet product in hand within two hours of getting the carboy and acid down to a working temperature.
I posted a letter to the Texas Rangers recording the events that I'd experienced and a copy of the photographs I'd taken, including one of the woman that I believed was posing as a girl scout. I expressed my disbelief that a supposedly law-abiding Texan police department would stoop to such despicable techniques and threatened to explosively express my displeasure upon finding said tragically mis-trained persons were ever to darken my doorstep again.
I received by return mail a missive on official Texas Ranger letterhead that declared any bushwhacking done by law enforcement agencies within the great state of Texas were to be considered contemptible and any citizen would be considered fully within their rights to perform a citizen's arrest to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Well, so mote it be. I paid to have both letters published for a solid week in the daily newspapers of Galveston, Houston, Texas City, Corpus Christi, Dallas and Fort Worth. I accompanied the letters with a brief precis iterating the powers and conditions under which the arrestor during a citizen's arrest, up to and including the use of deadly force, could act. Seeing as how it was an election year, anything and everything got printed. Gawd, I wished that I'd been a fly on the wall of the police commissioner's office in Galveston when that hit the streets. My, my. Imagine the new words I'd have learned.
A caller came to visit not too much later. A shorter, stocky fellow in a brown suit, boots and a Stetson hat came by. I invited him in and offered him a coffee and a couple fresh donuts. I got a big grin and a hand-shake. Texas Rangers were real people. We talked for a while, then he brought up the subject of a few of my purchases. I told him about my chemistry education and brought up the fact that I never started a fight but I always finished one.
He smiled an easy grin. "That's our motto, son." I got a badge proclaiming me to be a deputy Texas Ranger. We agreed on all the important things, and that's what counted. I signed on the dotted line and got sworn in as an officer of the great state of Texas.
I asked him "How much of a mess can I get away with making?"
He thought for a bit, sucking on a tooth, and came back with "It boils down to whatever your ass can cover. Since it's an election year what you sent out to the press gives you a pretty big blanket right now. Later, not so much." I nodded, as I understood where he was coming from. I promised not to intentionally raise a stink. He gave me some paperwork specifying that my mission was anti-piracy work. We shook hands and I left him with a six-pack of Sam Adams beer for later.
From then on I flew a little Texas Rangers pennant on my mast. It was a baseball pennant but I had my own interpretation.
Instead of keeping dangerous, home-made explosives or their feed stocks around I wanted to buy into some military-grade stuff.
In Texas, if you want to look for an under-the-table gun dealer or two go to the local Saturday flea markets and look for the guys flying flags. Texas flags. I withdrew a hundred thousand dollars from the bank and rented a pickup truck from Hertz. I threw a big tarp in the back end before Saturday rolled around. I had trouble making contact until I flashed first my pistol, then my badge. Then I got grins and big handshakes. One fellow had 60-mm mortars and shells. Another good citizen had cases of hand grenades. He had a friend that had M79 grenade launchers and cases of HE grenades for sale. I asked around and found twelve kilograms (that's about 26.4 pounds) of C-4 plastic explosive. That's one HELL of a lot of C-4, in case you were wondering. C-4 is one of those wonder-chemicals, an explosive with a consistency close to that of clay and was stable for years and years if kept relatively cool. I bought the C-4, two cases of hand grenades, two grenade launchers, sixty HE grenades and forty rounds of HE for the mortar. I had to re-pack the deck lockers and the arms locker but it was worth it! The galley stores now had hand grenades. Think of them as meat tenderizers...
Before I left town I took all three of my revolvers to a gunsmith who added aiming lasers to the barrels and made sure that the lasers, barrels and iron sights all agreed. They made for larger units, but I insisted on lasers that used 123A batteries rather than button cells. They'd last a lot longer and I could stock the batteries. I had to replace my holsters to fit the new revolver profiles.
I promised myself to never go back to Texas City or Galveston, if for no other reason than to not disappoint the ranger I'd met. Besides, there was no sense in taunting a crazy dog.
I steamed down the Mexican coast to Veracruz. It's a big shipping and tourism port. I was slimming down and building up my shoulders. for a 54 year old guy I think I looked pretty good, since I no longer weighed 330 pounds. I was down to about 240. I needed new pants because I kept sliding out of my old ones.
Once I was out of the U.S. I decided to try to protect myself from being rolled and anonymously dumped somewhere. I had reduced-size copies made of some of my more important I.D. papers. These I had laminated, rolled them up and pushed them down inside my fake leg along with a few twenty dollar bills. I pushed a small inflated balloon down on top of them and covered it over with the reddish goop electricians use to fill wall penetrations for fire code compliance. It dries to something like lightweight brick mortar. That way it looked like the leg was filled.
I found a purpose in Veracruz. A Catholic orphanage was badly in need of a patron. I invited the Mother Superior aboard for a dinner and an after-dinner drink. She hadn't always been a nun and welcomed the opportunity to drop the pomp and circumstance involved with her office. I fed Agnes within an inch of her life and got her drunk on blackberry brandy fizzes. She woke up with a bit of the 'wine flu' with all her physical and mental attributes intact. We discussed what the orphanage needed. I arranged for a shopping trip. Clothes, toys, books, music and players, Internet access and computers all went into the carts. The orphanage needed carpeting, a paint job, a new roof and a heating/air conditioning unit. They asked and God found a way, eh?
I asked the Mother Superior if any graduates would perhaps fit in aboard ship with me. She looked deep into my bones. I revealed that I no longer had the gallant reflex but once a month or so, due to my diabetes and high blood pressure. At her furthering I agreed to give any of her brood that agreed to sign on with me a chance at a higher education. Hell, I'd insist!
Andrea and Tillie came aboard to occupy my spare staterooms. At first they were worse than useless. Soon they were cleaning daily, which was more than I could say for myself.
Andrea was tall, dark and slender. Tillie was shorter and curvy, with streaky blonde hair and blue eyes--almost an impossible genotype to be found in Mexico but it did crop up occasionally. They were both quiet, and hesitantly explored the boat as I relaxed with a book.
They seemed happy with the dinner I prepared and had no problem helping with the pots, pans and dishes. I found two extra-sized T-shirts for them to use as sleepwear. I promised them a shopping trip the next day and shooed them off to their showers and beds.
I woke later that night to find two bed warmers bracketing me. I smiled in the dark, hugged them to me and went back to sleep. I was glad that they felt comfortable enough to cuddle.
The next day we went to a mall to get them clothes, personal supplies, swim wear, books, music and whatever else they wanted. I must admit that they tried to be frugal but I wouldn't let them. I made sure that they bought good quality. I made sure to pick up two big 24-packs of toilet paper. I recalled living with one girlfriend; I swear was eating the stuff, it disappeared so fast.
I purchased two basic laptops for them and downloaded some things that had gone public domain, such as editors and compilers, as well as a generic java-based Microsoft Office clone.