Men With Similar Interests
Northern Spain 1950’s
Francisco Alvarez sat on his boat on a warm August morning. His schooner was docked as he awaited a group of Americans that had chartered his boat for a day of sport fishing. He prepared bait and lines as his dog Bruno watched him pensively. Bruno was an African Ridgeback he had purchased many years ago from a young French Yachtsman. He never kept a deck hand or co-captain. It lowered his expenses. He made a living as a fisherman in the Bay of Biscay. As the sun rose above the Cantabrian sea the city of San Sebastian became a hive of activity. The bulls were running just twenty miles south in Pamplona. This time of year brought in an influx of English and American tourists seeking to empty their pockets for a thrill. It was a very lucrative time of year for Francisco and the small port town of San Sebastian. The life of a fisherman is a simple one.
“We need you to take us out, we will pay you,” said a tall skinny man who was now standing over him.
He hadn’t noticed the three men walk up along the dock to his boat. The tall skinny one who spoke to him wore a very nice suit. He had long blonde hair which he had slicked back. His long nose and strong jawline made him look villainous. From the way the men were positioned he seemed more managerial than the other two. The other two men also wore suits but of lesser quality. One of them was short and stubby like a thumb. The other one looked like an average man except for he sported a thick black beard and was missing three fingers on his left hand.
“Con permiso senor,” said the skinny man, “but we are eager to depart.”
Francisco noticed submachine guns slung around the shoulders of the other two men. They were all carrying black briefcases. They looked like Mafia henchmen in the midst of a turf war.
“I apologize but my boat’s been chartered for the day, the party has already put down a deposit,” said Captain Alvarez
“I’m afraid this isn’t negotiable,” said the tall skinny man
“How so?” said Francisco “I may charter who I please.”
The tall man lifted his jacket revealing a silver pistol. He reached for it and pumped one round into the head of the dog. Bruno lay on the floor of the boat in a pool of his own blood, still wearing his pensive face. Francisco acquiesced to the situation rather than reacting. He put his face in the palm of his hands as the three men boarded his boat.
“Take us north to Biarritz and don’t get too close to the coast,” said the tall skinny man.
Francisco Alvarez pulled his 28’ boat out of the slip in the dock and headed north along the Spanish and French coast. They must be French he thought. What kind of shady dealings were they doing in San Sebastian? What’s in the briefcases? Money? Drugs? The speculation and the sight of his dead dog made him queazy. He could hear the sound of blood and water sloshing around on the floor of the boat. The three assumed French men stood towards the bow of the boat discussing their plot. He stood at the helm offsetting the current of the ocean with a subtle tilt of the helm. Francisco listened to them converse with each other. He could barely hear them over the sound of the ocean, they spoke French to each other.
“Why haven’t we killed him yet? The stubby one asked the tall one.
“Do you know how to pilot a sailboat?” Replied the tall skinny man.
They all looked at each other.
“How much did we get?” Asked the bearded man.
“Let’s not worry about that until we get to Biarritz. I saw a row boat hanging off of the side. Once we get anchored close enough to the coast, we will waste him and row to shore,” said the tall skinny man.
They continued talking but Francisco discontinued his eavesdropping. He felt his heart and stomach drop to the floor. He knew immediately what he had to do. He thought about his family. His dog still lay dead on the floor of the boat.
“I have some food below deck if you gentlemen are hungry,” said the captain.
“We’re not hungry,” Replied the tall skinny man “but what about to drink?”
“Only Grappa,” said the captain “there are two bottles below deck in the cabin, you may help yourselves.”
The stubby one went down and came back from the cabin with the two bottles in his hand. He uncorked one and took a long drink.
“Give it here you hog!” Shouted the tall man.
He snatched it and took a large gulp then handed the bottle to the captain. Francisco poured the warm Grappa into his mouth like a man preparing to complete an unwanted task. He was going to do something he didn’t want to do, but he had to.
“Do you make a good living as a fisherman?” Asked the tall skinny man.
“I make an honest living and I enjoy the tranquility of the ocean,” replied the captain. “I would never work just for the money.”
“Then why work at all? What other motivation is there besides money?” Asked the tall skinny man.
“I do what I have to do to provide for myself and my family,” replied Francisco.
“We are men with similar interests then,” said the tall skinny man.
“I don’t agree,” replied the captain “I don’t fraternize with criminal enterprises and I don’t steal from the working man.
“It’s like you said captain, I do what I have to do,” replied the tall skinny man.
The sea rolled as the distance between the men and their destination shortened.
“Hey you!” yelled the captain looking at the stubby man. “Come man the helm for a second while I check on the engines.”
The stubby one walked to the wheel with the machine gun still slung over his shoulder.
“What do I do?” He asked the captain,
“Just keep her on a straight line, don’t let the wheel deviate, I’ll just be a minute,” Replied Francisco.
He glanced toward the bow of the boat where the other two men were standing facing the ocean. They were passing the bottle of Grappa back and forth to each other. Francisco turned around and descended into the engine room which was located at the stern of the vessel. He felt a slab of concrete slide from his throat down into his stomach. He reached down and opened his toolbox that contained his pistol. The toolbox had carried the pistol for many years on the open seas and never came close to being used. Francisco always wondered why he kept the pistol on the boat. He realized that this was the moment it was meant for. He was filled with nerve and he prayed the gun wouldn’t jam. Francisco Alvarez ascended from the engine room and he got that cold feeling you get right before you kill a man. The stubby one was still at the helm as Francisco approached him from the rear. He raised the pistol to the back of stubby man’s head and pulled the trigger. The muzzle was so close to his skull that it bounced off of the pistol as he fired. He aimed down his sight at the bearded man and let off two shots in quick succession. As he swung the pistol towards the tall man and pulled the trigger, he heard a shot from the pistol that killed his dog. Pop! Pop! Pop! Francisco emptied his clip at the tall man and simultaneously felt a sharp pain in his shoulder like someone was plunging a fire iron into it. The impact of the bullet made him fall down behind the steering wheel of the boat. He pulled himself up and leaned against the helm and waited a few moments to investigate the fate of the tall skinny man. When he finally peaked over the steering wheel he saw two men lying next to each other in a pool of blood. He walked over to the bodies and discovered the tall skinny man, still alive, and writhing on the floor of the yacht. The tall skinny man was hit in the neck and had his hands clenched around his throat in an attempt to stop the bleeding. Blood gushed from his neck and as he gasped for air you could hear it filling up his lungs. Francisco felt the cold murderous feeling subside as he watched blood spray from the tall man’s mouth and his eyes roll to the back of his head.
Francisco felt no pain, only the cold wet blood running down his chest. He put pressure on his wound but to no avail. He didn’t feel an exit wound, the bullet was lodged in his shoulder blade. He went down to the cabin of the boat and grabbed a small emergency hand flare that he never had the use for either. Francisco unbuttoned his shirt and put it in his mouth and bit down hard. He activated the flare which glowed hot and red even in the daytime sun and pressed it hard against the bullet wound in his shoulder. All Francisco could smell was burned skin and blood and death and the ocean. The adrenaline went away as he turned his boat back towards San Sebastian.
The floor of the boat looked like the Nile river after the first plague of the Egyptians. Francisco stared out at the ocean but wondered about the contents of the briefcases. One of the briefcases sat down next to the body of the stubby man. Francisco picked up the briefcase and opened it up revealing stacks upon stacks of crisp US dollars. They were federal reserve $100 notes. He immediately shut the briefcase and brought it down to the cabin with the other two. Francisco then dragged the corpse of the stubby man over to the other two frenchmen. His shoulder stiff with pain and his arm hung with limited movement. He detached the rope with the anchor from the bow of the boat. He ran the rope through the belt of the stubby man then through the belt of the bearded man then through the belt of the tall skinny man where he tied it off. He threw the anchor overboard which assisted him in lugging the corpses of the Frenchmen into the ocean. When he got the last body over he tossed the machine guns into the cold bloody water. He kept the pistol which killed his dog. Francisco wrapped the body of Bruno with a blanket and put him below deck next to the black briefcases that were filled with cash. He would have traded all the money on the boat for the life of his dog. Francisco thought about how money changes people.
As Francisco and his boat re-entered the port town of San Sebastian there was a boat similar to his passing close by. From the deck of the passing yacht a dog barked at Francisco. Francisco locked eyes with the captain of that vessel and they nodded at each other as they passed. The acknowledgment of men with similar interests.
I drew inspiration for this story from an Ernest Hemingway book To Have and Have Not. When I pictured the dialogue I wanted the characters to be speaking French and Spanish but for the sake of my demographic they are speaking English. This is the first story I’ve written in which I’ve done actual research. I don’t know anything about yachts or fisherman in Spain in the 1950’s. When I was researching about the currency Spain used in the 50’s I found out they used pesetas which were coins of copper, nickel and silver. I felt the aesthetic of Francisco looking into the briefcases and seeing stacks of cash was better. I tried to tie in The Running of The Bulls in Pamplona and how the foreign currency most likely came from the Frenchmen robbing a bank there. I tried to use a lot of implied morals and I left it up to the reader to decide what Francisco does with the money.