An action adventure in the Sea of Cortez.
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Hetta and her husband, Bob (Jenks) Jenkins, have finally broken free from the rat race of corporate America. Having forsaken the shackles of deadlines, they have been enjoying the soul liberating life of freedom. For the past five years, they have traveled on their boat, HighJenks, meeting new friends and finding their true selves. Freedom, however, comes with a price. As the Jenkins find, the sea is an unforgiving mistress. Hetta and Jenks meet up with an old friend, Bud, a fellow water rat, to discover he has a new flame- a much younger lady (too young, too lithe and too evil, Hetta muses). The Jenkins happen upon a Gps unit and several packs of cocaine when they land in Mexico. Soon, they find that Bud's loyalty seems as shallow as his mistress' personality. Finding themselves followed Â constantly by two men, they go to the local police for help. However, they seem to care less about this and begin to suspect Hetta and Bob are drug mules. The U.S. Coast Guard finds a boat similar to the HighJenks adrift in the Sea of Cortez; its occupants butchered by machetes. They find in a satellite photo that a small Panga has been blown up, and trace the HighJenks to being in the area. Soon, the Jenkins find themselves caught up in a world of drug runners and arms dealers. On the run from drug cartels and the Mexican police, they are running out of time.
Spawned by fierce Santa Ana winds in Southern California, the gale gathered strength as it roared south across the Sonoran Desert, and then lashed the turquoise waters of the Sea of Cortez into a white frenzy.
In an open fishing boat—a panga—a determined driver wrestled a seventy-five horsepower outboard for command of his craft as it caromed off one six-foot wave, and crashed into another. Bare head bent into blinding spindrift, he stood with his feet spread wide for balance, knees flexed to absorb the shock of the boat bottoming out in the troughs. Covered only by his weatherworn jeans, his legs were numb from cold and fatigue. Arm and shoulder muscles burned with the effort of maintaining his grip on the outboard motor’s extended steering handle. As forty-five knot winds shot salt bullets into his scalp and through rips in his ratty slicker, a less determined man would have turned around, put the wind to his back and ridden south with the seas.
But Pedro Gomez was not a man.
Using an electronic instrument he barely understood, thirteen-year-old Pedro had set out alone, leaving his sick brother, the intended driver, back at their fish camp. He managed to successfully navigate to the center of the Gulf, pick up the intended cargo, and head north before the brunt of the storm hit.
Though weary and battered, Pedro was unafraid. The tears streaming from his eyes were whipped there by wind, not fear. If he feared anything, other than failure to complete his voyage, the hubris of youth and generations of seafaring genes eclipsed it. The boy’s iron blue eyes told of a Dutch sailor in his family’s past, but his dark skin and coarse hair were his grandmother’s, a coastal Indian girl whose heart and reputation had been broken by a transient European.
Pedro had driven pangas like La Reina del Cortez since he was five. And La Reina, her patched hull and peeling paint belying her majestic moniker, was as durable as any of her sisters plying—no, ruling—the Sea of Cortez. Although she charged headlong into tall waves and lurched from gunwale to gunwale in the confused sea, this Queen of the Cortez shipped surprisingly little water.
Airtight flotation chambers serving as seats divided La Reina into three sections. In the V-shaped forward compartment, a rusty propane tank ground against shards of glass from its broken lamp attachment and only water slop prevented sparks and explosion.
A jumble of green nylon nets, cork floats and long heavy lines spiked with three-inch fishhooks slewed in a malodorous, greasy mixture of seawater, gasoline, rotting fish carcasses and motor oil in the center hold. Under all this lay the precious cargo.
Pedro’s chilled feet shared the aft cockpit with thirty liters of gasoline in a plastic mammilla, named for its resemblance in both color and form to an oversized baby bottle nipple. This panguero’s version of a gas tank had a rag stuffed into the top to replace its long-lost tapon, and with each impact rivulets of fuel trickled down its sides. A length of rotting surgical tubing, stuck through the center of the wadded up rag, served as a gas line. Next to the mammilla rode a gallon jug full of drinking water. Pedro had already jettisoned three empties; environmental science wasn’t a subject taught in his local elementary school.
Although unaccustomed to a motor as large as the seventy- five-horsepower Evinrude, Pedro skillfully battled the maelstrom, steering by a star and dead set on making his delivery and collecting five hundred dollars. A fortune.
Pedro didn’t know that he and his cargo were expendable.
Nor would he understand that his brother’s employers factored pangueros like himself and his brother into their “acceptable loss” column. The cost of doing business.
Mentally spending a portion of his future fortune, perhaps on an almost new pair of warm rubber boots and slicker, Pedro never saw the ten-foot comber. Tons of water slammed him to his knees and threatened his grip on the motor’s throttle handle. Pulling himself up, he threw the full force of his wiry frame against the rubber handgrip in an attempt to force the bow back into the prevailing wind. He miscalculated.
Seventy-five horses drove the boat broadside between two waves which, as if applauding their own strength, slammed the panga with watery fists. La Reina rounded up, bucked violently, careened to the left, then snapped right, launching Pedro headlong into the center net compartment. As he struggled to free himself from the tangle of fishing gear, another breaker swept him overboard.
Weighed down by his oilskin slicker and trailing nets, lines, and cork floats, Pedro plunged eight feet underwater before being violently jerked towards the surface. Staring up through turbulent green water he watched a brilliant whirlpool of yellow green phosphorescence generated by the spinning propeller. As the sharp steel blades relentlessly gobbled the net and reeled his head ever closer, line bristling with three-inch fishhooks tightened around his body. Polypropylene cut into his soft flesh. Steel barbs embedded in his bones.
Pedro—fading, praying, drowning—gaped into the greedy jaws of the prop until it finally took on more heavy line and net than it could chew and choked to a stop. Joy, adrenaline, hope, and survival instinct activated the boy’s feet. He catapulted himself to the surface with a swift kick and managed one gasp of air before his water filled slicker pulled him under. He kicked again.
With each buck of the boat, the line trussing him like a Christmas turkey jerked him up and he was able to get one precious breath before honed blades chased him down. During these dizzying dunks Pedro worked to free one arm, the one skewered by only two hooks. Ignoring the pain he reached through a hole in the net and managed to trip the motor’s elevator lever. The shaft sprang skyward, yanking Pedro, like the catch of the day, a foot above the surface. There he dangled, sobbing and terrified, half in, half out of the water, as the wind began to die.
At first light, a curious, ringbilled gull circled gracefully in the lulling gale, hovered, then glided down to perch on the outboard motor housing. Cocking his head, the bird fixed one yellow eye on the netted, unconscious, Pedro, and then his interest shifted to the shiny plastic packets washing back and forth in the panga’s center compartment. Hopping lightly onto a package, the bird used his wings for balance, surfing the gasoline-slicked package. Two swift blows of his powerful beak shredded the plastic wrap. Shaking bitter white powder from his bill, the gull squawked in disgust, launched himself skyward, and flew twenty feet before his heart stopped.