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Stories by Mike Humfreville

Bad Habits    ( Posted July 11 - August 7, 2005 )

Part 1 July 11

His habit was to sit on his deck for an hour or more at night after dark. Every night a small unlighted boat made a direct line to the south end of the bay. It returned to the village two hours later and was still unlighted. He had no idea what the purpose of the nightly voyage was, but it was of no concern to him and he otherwise ignored it. Fishermen setting nets perhaps.

He was occupied with friends and family who were visiting in abundance. They we up late nightly. Rum and beer were the drinks of the hour and there were many hours in the day. The men were up early and off fishing hard during the morning hours. There was always an abundance of cold beer in the onboard ice chest. Many were consumed before the daily trip was underway, all the fish hauled into the boat, the return trip completed and the fish cleaned and packaged. Evenings started with cocktail hour and seemed to always run into early morning.

Alcohol was a way of life in these conditions, had been for him for years. Lately his appetite had been off. His urine was always a dark yellow-orange in the morning in the bowl as he stood looking down there. He'd need to discuss this with his doctor back in California when he made a trip north in a few months. In the mean time, life continued.

He often wondered how he had arrived at this point, knew it was from his ridiculous childhood filled with his parents and his own misdeeds. Those were water under a long ago burned bridge he knew but the past was the past and nothing he could do now would alter the facts of history. It wasn't that he felt badly about his upbringing anyway, it was just the way it was. To a child there was no right and wrong, just the actuality of reality as it was lived on a daily basis.

But he knew he'd need to deal with his current life soon. After his friends had headed south he'd come to grips he thought to himself late at night after another round of drinking. Then he´d deal with it, he thought.

Part 2 July 13

After his friends had left he continued sitting on his balcony nightly after dark, drinking heavily and watching the dark sea, the small swells that reached the south end. Nightly the unlighted boat worked south, not always visible based on the configuration of the moon. It worked north two hours later. On a night with a partial moon he sat and listened for the sound of the outboard motor late into the evening but it was not there.

He poured a final rum, grabbed his book, went to bed to read. His mind listened for the motor on the boat but never heard it.

Somewhere in the night something woke him. He stood naked on the balcony and scanned the ocean below; could see nothing. He heard sounds from the north, a brief scraping, a boat pulled onto a sandy beach? Couldn't be certain. Then he heard hushed voices and saw shadows of men moving formless packages from a small boat to a truck backed down to the shoreline. There were no lights on the boat or the truck and the moon was partial and the entire scene was almost invisible, but his mind was set and he knew what was happening.

The events were beyond his control and outside his ability to offer influence and what did he care anyway. He was going back to bed, hit the john before to check his urine, growing darker daily, and heard a second, larger outboard on the ocean.

Back on his balcony he spotted a second boat arriving. Its reflection was thrown by the partial moon. The offloading boat on the shoreline was oblivious of the new arrival, they were apparently focused and intense only on their own activities.

Suddenly he saw several flashes from the incoming boat, heard several seconds later the pop pop pop's. Gunfire?

Part 3 July 15

He could clearly hear panic from down the beach, knew drugs were involved, and the theft of same by the larger boat. Or could it be the smugglers had been nailed by the Feds? That didn't make sense unless the Feds were stealing the drugs anyway. Why would they have fired without provocation? He stood for an hour or more on his darkened balcony, his mind racing, scanning for more vague shadows but could see nothing. Finally he went back to bed. He tried to read, sequestered in his room. The pages of his book reflected a tiny light. Bugs skidded across the pages in the false light, providing punctuation points in the printed words to the point he gave up, arose and poured another drink.

He awoke early and wanted nothing to have happened the night before. Was it a dream? But he knew better. He was afraid to scan the beach, even from this distance for fear of detection and unwanted involvement. There was no VHS chatter on the local channels of anything unexpected. He waited until evening, hoped that his scoping of the troubled area from inside his house was unseen. From this distance he could see nothing unusual; no boat, no bodies, no unusual markings in the sand.

After several days he went into the town for supplies. He could tell from the behavior of several of the locals that something was going on, but he didn't want to ask, didn't want to know. He knew also that he shouldn't turn his back on a serious potential crime, but he didn't want to get involved.

In the end, he remained aloof from others, some his friends talking in hushed groups. He returned to his house. That night he sat inside, lights off and fans turning, avoiding any further potential activities visible from his balcony. To hell with the whole affair he told himself as he poured heavy rum over ice. Maybe he'd take some time and clear the area in the morning and let things cool down.

Part 4 July 18

He slept fitfully the entire next night. No further fearful events took place, but still he couldn't sleep. Who could under the circumstances? He thought, as he lay sweating on the bed.

In the morning he packed a couple of clothing changes, grabbed a bottle of rum and headed north for Ensenada. He needed to avoid the local problems for a period and to replenish his booze and a few lesser supplies. Considerably south of the city in the central desert he's whisking along doing 80 or so and passes through a speed trap before he could hit the brakes. The officer is behind him now with lights flashing and a whoop whoop whoop of his siren, which he clearly didn't need; there was no one around except the two of them and he had already begun slowing. He stopped and waited for the officer to approach.

"May I see your license and paperwork for the automobile sir?" The officer asked. "Do know the limit here?"

"I wasn't paying attention." He answered.

"What about the bottle of liquor on your seat?"

"It's for the hotel when I arrive."

"Is the liquor on your breath and on the front of your shirt for the hotel as well? Please step out of the vehicle."

The man struggled out and stood unevenly on the dirt beside the roadway. "You are driving drunk in my country. There are two ways we can handle this sir." The officer said. "You can relinquish your license, go to Ensenada, pay a fine and get your license back. Or you can pay me directly. I will save you the trouble and pay the fine for you."

The man didn't need to think this one through. He'd been here many times before. But he'd been drinking heavily all morning. "How much you want?" He asked the officer.

"200 dollars."

They argued. The man was angry. Too angry. He grabbed the paperwork out of the officer's hands and tried to run for the car but was too drunk to make much progress. The officer began to draw his pistol, realized how drunk the man was. He was behind him before he reached the car, slammed him hard in the back of the head. The man dropped into the dirt, unconscious. The officer went through the man's rear pockets, extracted a wallet, liberated its contents and turned to go. He hesitated, turned back to the puddled heap of the drunk, checked his pulse. He looked for other traffic, found none, and drew his cruiser into the southbound lane of the highway.

"How could that drunk be so stupid?" He wondered to himself.

Part 5 July 22

The man woke, wondering what had hit him, several hours after the officer had left. He struggled to his knees, slowly stood, and brushed off whatever dust he could. His head and neck were throbbing and he knew the officer had struck him with his flashlight or something heavy. He sat along the side of the road until he could drive, and continued slowly through the desert toward Ensenada.

"I'll get that SOB if it kills me." He thought.

He checked into the hotel and lay down on the bed. He did not arise until the following morning.

He showered and dressed and was hungry after not eating the afternoon or evening before and wandered slowly and stiffly down Avenida Lopes Mateos, found a small café and sat. He ordered a small plate of eggs and meat and a glass of Coke. It was not yet 10 in the morning and he was worried they wouldn't serve him beer or a drink so he poured rum from his flask into the glassed and iced soda when no one noticed.

He watched the tourists off the cruise ships building along the boulevards and side streets by the thousands. Earlier he had seen three large ships docked in the harbor, worried they might interfere with his scheduled activities. He watched them with disdain as they wandered through the shops and stores and restaurants. "What do they think they're doing here?" He thought. "Just look at them, with their tourist shorts and their bright colors and just wandering aimlessly everywhere. What could they hope to ever see when they know so little? They float down from Los Angeles protected by their ship all night and land here during the day. Then they head back to the ship in time for an overstuffed meal and late night partying with their on-board pals, enter stifling cabins to sleep and they repeat the same thing tomorrow in another location. What a bunch of crap!" He thought.

He filled the morning buying his heavy supply of rum, loading the cases into the back seat of his car, bought his secondary supplies. All the while he thought the events of yesterday and how to handle them. "Just before I'm ready to head south, I'll file a complaint." He thought. "That's a great idea."

Part 6 July 28

He found the police station on one of the main streets, well away from the tourist area, parked a distance away to avoid license plate ID in the event of unforeseen circumstances. Before he left the car he took another hit or two, just for fortification, he told himself. The walk to the station took him a few minutes along a secondary street in the center of the town. The curbs served only to separate the street grime from the empty lot grime. Everywhere was filth. The world is filth he thought. A truck had emptied a load of trash in the lot adjacent to the street. Two children were sitting, picking through the rubbish for anything remotely edible. One found a discarded ice cream wrapper, who knows how old, and began licking the sweet, sticky goo.

He approached the police station, entered and found a person behind a counter that was otherwise unoccupied in helping others. He told her we wanted to file a report. She directed him to the Sergeant in charge. The Sergeant offered him a chair beside his desk, pulled out a pencil and a blank report form. "Tell me what happened," he said.

"I was doing the speed limit south of Ensenada and was pulled over. The officer asked me to pay him a bribe. I refused and he hit me and took all the money in my wallet. Then I came here."

"Do you have a ticket?" The officer asked. He did not.

"Do you understand that I have no way to trace this problem?" The officer said. "Do you have a badge or license plate identification?" He did not.

"You are welcome to file a report sir, but without any further information there is little that can be done."

He left the police station disgusted, returned down the disgusting streets toward his disgusting car. It was noon of a disgusting day. He drove back to his café and ordered a double, sat drinking and watching the gawking tourists. "Good thing I keep little cash in my wallet," he thought, "Otherwise that cop'd have it all." He ordered another drink, sat lazily gazing down Lopez Mateos.

"Check this guy out honey," one of the Hawaiian-shirted tourists said to his wife, nodding toward the drunk seated in the café. "How could you spend your life like that?" he asked her. "He probably asks that same question about us," she thought but kept to herself. "We're no winners either."

During the afternoon he polished off several more doubles. With a languid sun dropping into the faded western harbor behind grey military and tourist ships he struggled to his feet and wandered back to the hotel. He turned on the television, found the English channels and tried to focus on an uninteresting non-descript movie. He found himself irritated as he was focusing more on the Spanish subtitles than he was on the movie itself.

"I'm going back to the bay tomorrow," he thought. "At least I don't have to get up early."

There was no reason to worry. He was asleep on the couch before nine, spent the night there.

Part 7 July 29

He gets a full nights sleep and wakes with a stiff neck, pours two fingers to alleviate the pain. No need to dress as he's slept in the same thing he wore the day before. He gathers his loose items and throws them in his small duffle. There's an ashtray sitting by the nightstand. In it is a crudely written note from the maid for tips. He wads the note and tosses it in the trash, puts the ashtray in his bag. "What'd she do for me?" He thought.

He's on the road now, bound southward. He stops midmorning for breakfast and continues. About half way home he pulls off the side of the road, dust flying, and retrieves a plastic bottle of coke from his tepid ice chest. He drinks half the bottle, reaches under the driver's seat for his rum and refills the coke to the rim. "Yeehaa, now we're cooking."

He's back on the road and soon feeling the pain in his neck lessening. The traffic is nonexistent and he's riding the center line.

Off the right hand shoulder in the distance he notices unfamiliar activity. As he draws closer he spots an older automobile and slows his own. A family is standing outside the older car, tipped precariously over a steep berm. A man is waving for him to stop, please; He needs help. That much is obvious. A woman and several young children, dressed in simple clothing are standing nearby looking afraid.

His curiosity satisfied and his sleepiness from long hours at the wheel relieved from the stimulation of the family's plight, he drives on. "They can deal with their own damn problems." He thought. "They're not mine."

By the time he's near his house his bottle is almost empty and his neck is hurting again. He hits the dirt road between the town and home, slows, glad the trip is almost over. He's ready to be home, turn on the television and mix a better drink. As he pulls into the drive at his house, something isn't right. He is seeing reflections from his headlights where there should only be beach stones.

He turns off the engine, rolls down the window and listens to . . . nothing unusual. He pulls the flashlight from under the seat, shines it toward the reflections as he gets out of his car, walks across the drive. A window has been broken, a latch undone and the window raised. There are still no sounds from inside the house. If there was someone in there they surely would have heard him pull in . . .

Part 8 August 4

It was obvious someone had broken in. He knew they would have scampered if they heard him driving up. Sound carried a long was on the beach. He'd lived here a number of years without a break-in. But petty theft was bound to happen eventually, to every unattended house along the beach. Bummer, he thought.

He unlocked and checked out the downstairs bedroom where the glass was broken. His flashlight beam threw irregular glints from the shards of the window pane, but there were no other immediate signs of damage. There was no easy access to the upstairs, where he lived. The most they could have gotten were his tools and tanks for water and propane. He checked it all out and nothing was missing, nothing big anyway. Why did they break in if they didn't steal anything?

After he was convinced nothing was missing he went upstairs. No break-in's here. Everything was in order. He poured a drink and turned on the power, water and satellite systems, flipped on the television, sat down in one of the kickback chairs, wondering. Maybe he got back just as they were breaking in? His habit was to be north of the border for several months this time of year, but liquor was cheaper here and he'd decided to stay. Maybe I surprised them, he thought. He poured another drink, straight, wondering how the first had gone down so quickly. By midnight he was sleeping in the chair fully dressed.

During the moonless night, he had no idea what time, he heard hushed sounds coming from below. Was he dreaming? The solar had run down and quit and it was pitch black inside the house and on the beach. He located his flashlight, kept it off, and walked silently to the balcony where he could see below, the driveway, the beach. A small shadow was nestled along the shore. What looked like cloaked men, only in shadows perhaps, silently carted cartons from the garage to the boat. What the hell was this he asked himself. He hadn't checked out the garage the night before, There was nothing of value there. What could they be doing?

He turned from the balcony, wanting a drink. As he turned, his shirtsleeve caught on a nail. He turned and, with his free arm, tried to undo the tangle.

Then he dropped his flashlight.

He froze, could watch it falling as if in slow motion. As it struck the stones below the balcony and fell apart, small components of the original battery seemingly hovering in the air before they came clattering down onto the stones. The scene on the beach, the men, the boat pulled just ashore, all the tiny beach sounds, froze. From between the boat and his drive came a muzzle flash and a loud pop and thud . . . he was knocked to the railing of the balcony, then found himself on the floor, wondering what had happened. He heard another flash, pop and thud, wondered what was happening . . .

Part 9 (Conclusion) August 7

He sat somewhat upright on the floor of his balcony, his legs resting on the baseboards, his back against the outer wall of his second floor. There was no pain. He felt the pool of warmth forming underneath him. What the hell happened, he asked himself. Below he could sense the resumed activity, the men hauling boxes from his garage to the boat at the shoreline. He realized too late that in his presumed absence, the men had used his garage as a staging area between sea and land transportation for the smuggling of cocaine.

I've got to stay still, he thought. If I don't move they'll think I'm dead. I've got to lay still and let the bleeding stop.

Hallucinations often occur in a time of panic and they hit him now. He wasn't quite sure what was real and what was imagination. There was a dance of lightning over the sea to the east and he could see men rushing about their work, stocking shelves of groceries in his mind like a supermarket. He saw his sister with her family at a meal they'd shared at their table, flatware, napkins in holders, fresh glasses of red and white chilled wine. He heard a motor fire and sensed a boat pull quickly from the beach, turn and head north into the wind.

He reflected back over his life in what seemed like real time, reliving his first moments of sweetness, a caress from his mother, hug from dad after winning a field game. His first good pals in elementary school and learning that Christmas didn't include Santa Clause and that his best friend had once lied to him, and when he'd lost the stuffed deer doll, Bambi, his aunt had given him year's before and how hard, how hard he'd cried knowing there was no getting it back, and his first love sweet girl when he was 12 and living in a strange place and how tender she was and how sensitive and caring toward him, how soft he felt when she was there with him as they hiked the desert in places new to him but not to her.

His bubble burst, if only for a moment. Where did I get all this hardness? He wondered. What is it that had made me so cold with life? I never saw it coming, it just somehow crept up and devoured him. Maybe it's an age thing. Why have I been so bitter, so hateful? He had no answers. And there he was again in his middle teens proud to play his guitar at campfire on Venice Beach and share the times with his close friends, gathered together in the warmth of the small and illegal firepit in the sand. He was riding to high school in his buddy's Model A with a bedsheet for a roof, the cold early morning air flowing freely through nonexistent window glass and the two of them whistling at Colleen and Margie as they neared the parking lot and how he trusted his fifth period teacher who was always open and honest with him while telling him he wasn't working up to his potential and his first dance and how awkward his feet were and how his hands didn't want to fit her waist and hold her close, and how lonely he had been for his family and close friends when he's been shipped away to boarding school in an unfamiliar town and the coldness of the hard cots at night and the sounds of so many other boys snoring and turning and sleepless like him, perhaps, in a new world and how uncomfortable he'd felt about his mother getting remarried and the three of them traveling to places he'd never dreamed of and it was all, somehow, all coming together in his mind.

He realized, in a sudden glaring light of truth, that this was his life as it had been. Somewhere something had happened that had turned him hard and it seemed as if from that point everything around him had also turned hard. Maybe he'd not given it a chance. Life, that is. Maybe his life was a simple reflection of him.

He could feel himself growing weaker and his mind wandered, again into and out of reality. But it's all real he told himself. It's all real. It's all real. Then he was at a wedding and she was walking down an aisle in a most beautiful white flowing dress and heads were turning toward her and her father was passing her hand into his and all was as perfect as it could be and the room, the world, filled with love and a few years later small children carried life full circle and he, they, were rewarded and fulfilled and very much in love and walking all of them on the nearby paths of the rural city park against the foothills and holding hands, the four of them holding hands and singing. And singing. He remembered the singing. He remembered the late evenings when the children were asleep down the hall and he'd wound down listening to slow music in their living room as she watched television in the den and later how they'd sit and watch the news and just be happy to be together and still very much in love and filled with the inner warmth that only builds on a foundation of security and love that starts at the very beginning. At the beginning. He was so proud of his life at that point, earlier, he sensed, than the present. Perhaps this was the end of his life and he was reliving it through the present. Or was it the past? Where did it all go from here? He had no clue.

And then he was there for his son, just as his father had been there for him, cheering him on in the midst of a game they were losing and happy with his son regardless of the goodness or badness of the shot or of the score. The game ended and the two of them returned to the stands where family was waiting and they were in their favorite place for dinner with the rest of the team and shared pizza and cokes and joy, simple joy over winning or losing who cared it was just the challenge that mattered, the stimulation of life as a whole that made things work. He knew now, he knew, that life didn't end at all. It simply recycled on another plane. Not like being born again or reborn as reincarnation, rather, like starting over in another frame of mind, in another iteration of the same existence. Perhaps this was his mind dealing with impending death. Or perhaps it was fact. Regardless, it was warming for him to review his past and to realize that once everything had been warmth and love and dancing and friendships and now he saw his mother and father as he'd never seen them before, young and restless and in love and the world unfolding before them in its many mysteries and challenges and they're facing the issues together and bearing and raising children, him, raising him and loving them and never letting them go. Don't let me go, mom . . . dad. Never let me go. His consciousness dimmed again and his mind was absorbed with a single thought and he wondered if this thought was the net result of his entire life waiting to be reborn as a new entity in a universe full of entities. He wondered but knew he'd never know. The thought was in his head now and looping through the slowing synapses of his mind and he couldn't shake the thought, he just couldn't shake it. It was abstract non words just an abstract and he wondered how he could wrap this abstract up and carry it with him to his life waiting, he knew it was waiting to just finish this current episode and be renewed. How can I wrap it up he asked himself over and over. Over again.

You are what you give. Your life when it's about to recycle itself is a net result of everything you have brought with you, have given back to life. You are what you bring with you. There are no additional requirements. You get out of it what you put into it. He knew he had it with that abstract nondescript thought. He would have to live with that and carry it with him to his rejuvenation as he thought of it in his mind.

You get out of life what you put into it.

Copyright 2003-2006 Mike Humfreville

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