Dave (everybody called him Shark Boy) awoke at first light and took his dad’s dinghy ashore for breakfast. On his way back to the Flying Circus, the sun was out but the seas were running high, too high to dock anywhere on Lovango. And the dinghy trip had already become longer than he wanted, because he couldn’t wait to tell his dad about the news he heard about Mad Jack McCall.
At last, Dave scrambled aboard Flying Circus, fastened the dinghy’s painter to an aft cleat, and called out, “Hey Pop, guess what?”
“What?” asked Shark Boy’s dad, who was just waking up.
“Some people on St. Thomas found Jack half dead on the beach in a clump of seaweed. After Hurricane Earl had gone past, hundreds of hardwood planks started washing up on the beach. While the wreckers were dividing them up, they noticed movement in a pile of seaweed. One of them poked it with his cane, and was shocked to see an eyeball glaring at him.”
“The wrecker asked, ‘Can we help you?’ and Jack—that’s who had been washed up in the seaweed—said, ‘My God, yes, get me a bottle of whiskey.’ His wooden leg was missing and so was his glass eye,” Dave said, “but he’s alive and ornery as ever.”
“That old coot will outlive Methuselah!” said the captain.
“How did you first meet Jack?” asked Dave, who was really curious now. “What’s his background?”
“I ran across him in Boss Penny’s bar. He capsized a boat and was nearly drowned by the weight of his metal prosthesis. He finally got it off and saved himself but, of course, the artificial leg sank to the bottom. Penny told him I was a boat carpenter, and he asked me to make him a wooden leg. While I was making his leg he told me his story.”
“Jack said he wasn’t born but crapped out on a stump by a big bird near Detroit, Michigan. He was raised in an orphanage, he said, where he was used and abused as farm labor. He ran way from the orphanage, lied about his age, and joined the military. It was the beginning of the Vietnam war, when the military badly needed pilots, so he made it into the ranks of transport pilots.”
“President Johnson was at that point bombing the Ho Chi Minh trail and had started a secret war inside Laos. Jack ended up working for the C.I.A.’s Air Force, ‘Air America’ so it was called then, and was soon flying guns and ammo to drug lords and returning with contraband he called sticky bricks.”
“After the war he was discharged in Detroit, where he joined up with a man from his orphanage who was by then a member of the post war version of Detroit’s Purple Gang. Since Detroit had an insatiable appetite for contraband, a marriage was made in hell. Jack brought in the goodies and the gang converted them to cash. Whenever they were about to change sources, Jack loaded his suitcases with counterfeit hundred dollar bills and exchanged them for product. According to what Jack claimed, at that time, about half of the hundred dollar bills in Mexico and Central and South America were counterfeit.”
“Eventually Jack was flying between Guatemala and New Orleans and working for Deep Pockets Carlos when his luck turned terrible. He took on a load of contaminated fuel in Guatemala and crash landed short of the New Orleans’ Louis B. Armstrong International Airport. He lost his leg and one eye in that accident, and before he was discharged from the hospital he was taken before a judge and brought up on smuggling charges.
“What happened at that point was very interesting. Jack was wearing a big gold diamond-encrusted finger ring similar to the one the judge was wearing. After studying the charges against Jack and giving him a long hard look, the judge asked, ‘What do you do for a living?’”
“’I’m a traveling man,’ answered Jack.”
“’Where are you traveling to?’ asked the judge.”
“’East,’ said Jack.”
“’How far east?’ asked the judge.”
“’All the way,’ said Jack.”
“After a lengthy silence the judge said, ‘Mr. McCall, the prosecutor has made several mistakes in filing your case and therefore I must dismiss the charges. Case dismissed.’”
“Jack moved out of the U.S. after he recovered but his luck continued on a downward spiral. He was running a cigarette boat loaded with kilos when he stuck it on a reef. He got out to push it off the reef, and a foul current took his boat and left him stranded on the reef. Another time, he was running a powerboat towards the intracoastal waterway, when a tropical storm forced him into the Bahamas; they arrested him there and threw him in jail. He had to post $30,000 dollars to get out, and was afraid to ever fall back into their hands again. Near rock bottom, he bought an old lumber schooner, and started hauling hardwood from the Orinoco River in Venezuela up to Port Everglades, Florida.”
“But now it looks like Hurricane Earl must have sunk the schooner. Sometimes it looks like, if it wasn’t for bad luck, Jack wouldn’t have any luck at all.” To be continued …