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"Some days the man conjure the fish,

most days the fish conjure the man.”

Every spring since 1970, an odd ritual has taken place in Houston. On a specific date, which shall remain unstated and held in confidence, the invitations to The Port O’Connor Offshore Invitational Fishing Tournament are mailed out. Professional assistants and secretaries who work for some of the city’s wealthiest and most powerful men have the event marked on their calendars. Their assignment on this day is one of the most important things they will do all year—people have been fired for screwing this up. Each must obtain an advance copy of the invitation, complete its entry form, and deliver it to the office from whence it came, with the entry fee, before 5:00 p.m. The successful completion of this task secures a prime dock space for the boss’s sport-fishing yacht, and one of only ninety spots in the tournament. This is the invite to the Poco Bueno.

POCO BUENO is the story of every man's fantasy - escaping the life-numbing prison of his nine-to-five existence. Stokes is a 31-year-old executive in the lucrative Texas oil business. His marriage to the boss's daughter is on the skids and his true love, an over-restored 70-foot Hatteras fishing yacht, has him panicking in debt. Following his heart, and the naked-truth of his fun-loving boat captain sidekick Jean Paul, the two fishing buddies throw caution to the wind on a quest for genuine adventure and meaning. Like the ever-churning margarita blender onboard the boat, Poco Bueno is a crazy blend of thirty-something angst, bikini-clad willful women, testosterone-fueled antics, and off-the-charts fishing. Based on the very private, but oh-so-real, million-dollar Port O Connor Offshore Invitational Fishing Tournament held off the coast of Texas, this book might very well be the next great American western, albeit a watery one! Yes, this is a novel about fishing - fishing in one of its most savage and primordial forms - but it is really a story about the ultimate inevitability of what life serves up and our ability to eat well at the feast.

 

Chris Parks

Chris Parks lives in a parallel universe between the Gulf Coasts of Louisiana and Texas, and the mountains of Colorado. In one continuum he is a trial attorney, in the other a writer. In both he is a keen observer, a devoted family man, and an outdoor enthusiast. Poco Bueno is his first novel.

PUBLISHER'S NOTE: After I read Chris Park's Poco Bueno I was pretty sure I wanted to help him bring it to market. He had successfully tapped into both the angst and the exhilaration every man feels at some point in his life. It was a fun and worthwhile read, and I was genuinely entertained. But more important for me, it was an accurate read. So spot-on was Chris in his knowledge of the Gulf Coast, the Texas oil syndicates, outdoor television production, and the business of big game fishing, I was convinced that anything he wrote must be true, at least in its interpretation for this novel. Knowing that gave me the freedom to dream while I read; there was no reason to be suspect. But it wasn't until after I discovered a small essay by Chris on why he wrote Poco Bueno that I knew I wanted to be part of what is probably going to be a whole lot more than just one book. 

“Why I Wrote Poco Bueno” - by Chris Parks

Most of the guys I know muse about wanting to quit their jobs and escape.  This feeling, this longing for adventure, is what the series that begins with Poco Bueno is all about.  These books will trace the arc of the main character, Stokes, through his life and his new career.  In this first novel, Stokes breaks free of Houston society and launches a television show which features glamorous, million-dollar yachts with crews who compete in exotic tournament locations around the world.

But why would I write something like this?  To answer the question honestly, and allow a full assessment of my motives, I feel it is necessary to share some information about myself.

Twenty-five years ago, a story of mine appeared in Tulane Law School’s quarterly magazine.  It was based on a near-death experience while driving a Porsche.  In the story, however, the experience was not near-death, but death.  The narrative followed my thoughts in the minute or so after my head was severed by a collision with the trailing edge of a flatbed truck.  The stump of my neck landed on a discarded Coke can on the floor, and my face lay in the path of a warm pool of blood seeping across the coarse, gray carpet.  Anyway, that was what happened before the cop picked me up by the hair—but I digress.  The point of the action was to grab the attention of my fellow students and professors with a gruesome event and then to slip them the message that it’s later than we think and we’d best get on with living our lives rather than incessantly planning for the future—which is what we were doing.

Today, I can recall three distinct conversations where classmates wanted to discuss that story:  what possessed me to write it; the effect it had on them in law school; and, whether I had published anything else.  These conversations were both flattering and distressing: flattering,  obviously, because others had read my work and been influenced by it; distressing because I had obnoxiously huge debts and two small children.  Writing on spec did not seem like a viable option, so I practiced law.

I kept writing: stories for my kids; a piece for the six children of a close friend who died of cancer—telling them about their dad.  I also wrote a screenplay for an animated feature which I pitched to Disney.  They passed.  Along the way, I scribbled out dozens of book ideas, short stories, diary entries, and notes to myself in the course of financial scheming and planning.  But my focus was law and, fortunately, I was good at it.  One day, twenty years after I started practicing, I found myself able to pursue writing. 

Again, I confess all this so you can assess my motives in writing Poco Bueno.  What I have tried to put in this novel is the secret life men lead today—the quiet struggle between acting responsibly and earning a living and taking a risk.

My job, as I saw it when I began this series, was to entertain, to communicate an uplifting message to guys who were stuck in their jobs. But long before I started to write, my world view was shaped by my own experiences practicing law across the Gulf Coast.  The subject matter was what I know best, and I have no desire to run from my past.  I do, however, feel a deep obligation to give a guy—like the guy I was for twenty years—an escape from his routine and allow him to experience a realistic, modern adventure through the characters of this story.

My motives in writing Poco can roughly be placed in three categories: ego; taste; and my attempt at tapping into some kind of truth in order to shape the outlook of a reader.

I’m an unapologetic egotist.  I want people to talk about my work.  I’m obviously bragging when I recall the conversations where students asked about my law school story.  And, this is certainly one of the prime driving forces behind Poco Bueno.  I have my own personal standards that have been forged over time, and these guide my judgment. Fortunately, they also guard my ego, protecting me from the criticisms like a thick skin, and allowing me to enjoy the little triumphs, like having someone say, “Heh, I liked your story.”  For that, I’m eternally grateful.  I also decided years ago that if I wanted something, no one was going to give it to me, I had to take it.  Not illegally, not immorally, but by force nonetheless.  When I started this story I thought, someone is going to write the next great “guys book,” the book you buy your dad for Father’s Day or as a present for a divorced friend on his birthday.  Someone is going to be the next “men’s novelist,” and I wanted, and want, that someone to be me.

To me, taste is second only to tension in a story.  Tension keeps the pages turning, but taste—the correct arrangement of words and gestures and characters—is what builds trust between the reader and the writer.  The wrong adjective or a clunky bit of dialogue can ruin any passage.  One of the reasons I’ve always written, and rewritten, is the aesthetic challenge—to craft just the right combination of words to deliver a story that feels real to me and, hopefully, to others.  In short, part of the reason I write is that I want to read something I like.  And, getting back to my first motive, I’m enough of a narcissist to believe that if I like it, others will too.

Finally, I’m a believer in the theory that if you can document real life in an authentic way, your story will resonate with readers.  In Poco, I tried desperately to place Stokes in real-life situations, like divorce; fear of losing a job; and the shock at the betrayal of others.  I also tried to write dialogue as it really sounds to me (especially when I’m on a boat with the guys for three days.)  My motive in doing this was to draw readers into the story in order to skew their view of the future ever so slightly.  My hope is that when a guy finishes Poco, he’ll walk away with a good feeling that lingers for a while after he puts it down.  And maybe, if I have done my job right, that reader will have a slightly more optimistic view of his own daily struggles, a view that acknowledges it is the struggle itself, the simple tedious details of the day, that can add up to a nice life.  It’s a view that says we can all go on if we can find some joy in the details.

Naturally, none of these motives worked alone in my head when I was writing this story.  They fought it out amongst each other.  But with this background I can tell you that I wanted to construct a story an outdoorsman would enjoy (Not necessarily a fisherman, but a guy who enjoys being outside and active.).  Stokes has the characteristics all men relate to:  he’s honest, hard-working, and enthusiastic.  He’s not whining about his lot in life, but he is trying to better himself.  There was a specific feeling I tried to tap into in Poco; the thought—maybe even the myth—that one day we can escape our private, repetitive lives and have real adventure; that we might someday take that perfect trip, with that perfect someone, and just . . . extend that feeling forever.

Writing this story, and outlining the rest of the series, has been a joy: to take a thousand snippets of truth and lies and cobble them together into a good yarn with a little message; to entertain myself—make myself snicker stupidly over a subtle joke; and to hope someone, sometime in the future, will get the joke, laugh to themselves and go on; that is why I wrote it.  I’m selfishly writing for that one high . . . the hope that, for a moment, I can connect with the reader and make him smile.

My guess is that most people would love to write if they had the opportunity.  Personally, I know if I had only six months to live, I’d spend it with my family and friends, but each night, after I retired from the world, I’d write for every spare minute, trying to record on paper the thoughts that were in my head.  That must be vanity, but I believe I would do it even if I knew my papers would be burned; even if I were the last soul on earth, I’d do it.  And, I’d scratch things out too.  I would try to combine words on a page in a way that pleased me, even if it were only me that would ever read them.  Why I would do such a thing, I have no idea, but I’m sure writing makes me feel like I have a purpose and a reason for being here.  It’s challenging and engaging.  Unlocking the potential of a story, putting what strengths I may have into it—my experience, my own unique, gathered store of facts and knowledge—shaping a set of expectations on paper and then rewarding them with conclusions, all these things have a magnetic draw I don’t bother to comprehend.

But there is one thing I’m sure of:  if someone does read something I’ve written and expresses appreciation which I deem sincere, the connection that is established with that person, however fleeting, that to me is the very essence of life.  Twenty people have read Poco Bueno, a dozen for their individual expertise on subjects in the book, and a few because they are close to me and could help edit the manuscript, but a few have been total strangers.  One stranger in particular, the adult son of a professional fisherman and captain, read it and told me this:  “You know that law degree you got, you might as well just throw that mother fucker away and keep writing because this is great!”  That—that’s why I wrote it.  That’s why I’ll keep writing.

 

 

Sample Chapter: Forty-Five

Precisely twenty-one hours after the Calcutta auction concluded, the rain was coming sideways.

All ninety boats in the tournament were occupied: ghostly figures in yellow slicker suits moved about their decks and surrounding docks, keeping their backs to the wind. They looked like monks in their bulbous yellow hoods. Occasionally someone turned into the wind and a hood flew backwards, eyes squeezed tight, an exposed head was rinsed, and the victim pulled his hood back over his head and held it with one raised hand. Inevitably, the water drained out of the righted hood and ran down the back of the newly baptized boater.

Precisely twenty-one hours and thirteen minutes after the auction, the rain quit.

But the wind continued to gust.

Stokes’s little phone rang as he sat at the helm. The driving wind had numbed his senses, but the ringing inside his thick, yellow slicker woke him from his stupor. He considered letting it ring, fearing he would get wet unzipping. My back is soaked anyway. Another ring provoked him to unzip and pull the Velcro tab from his dry, front shirt pocket. He felt the split in the plastic shell embedded deep in his pocket and then squeezed the phone between his extended fingers. When he withdrew it, it slipped from his grasp, bounced off the steering console and slid across the wet fiberglass deck toward the stairway. He fell to his knees and thrust two heavily mantled yellow arms toward the phone. It teetered over the edge of the stairwell before he grabbed it, stabbed at the green button and held it to his ear.

“Hello!” he yelled over the howling wind.

“Stokes?”

He barely heard his name. “Hold on,” Stokes shouted. He looked around for a place to get out of the squall, then crawled to the space between the driver’s bench and the console. He opened the door under the steering wheel, removed the empty trash can and stuck his head in the cramped cabinet.

“Hello. Who’s this?”

“Never mind,” the voice said. “Can you hear me?”

“Yeah.”

“Then don’t say who this is.”

“Pat?”

“You follow directions so well.”

“What?” Stokes yelled. The phone’s tiny speaker made Pat’s voice nearly impossible to hear. Stokes pushed inside the cabinet as far as he could, contorting his body into a fetal position.

“Can you hear me?”

“Yes.” Stokes twisted, spastically jerking inward until he bumped the top of his sore skull on the front interior wall of the cabinet.

“Then listen close,” Pat said. “Get the fuck out of the marina as soon as you can.”

Stokes finally could hear clearly, deep inside his cabinet turned cave.

“Why? What the fuck are you talking about?” He rolled onto his back, feeling dizzy. His head throbbed. His shoulders were wedged tight and he could not move his arms.

“Listen, I could be thrown out of my own law firm and I could probably lose my law license for calling you and telling you this. Where are you? Are you alone?”

Stokes’s eyes rolled, searching the dark cabinet. “Yeah. No one’s in here with me. What’s the big fucking secret?”

“Your boat is about to be seized by–”

Stokes heard “seized” clearly but lost the rest in the roar of a fresh onslaught. Rain bombarded the front of the cabinet, just a quarter-inch of fiberglass away from the top of his head.

“Did you say seized?”

“Yes. Mimi and Lovey pulled an end run around your judge,” Pat yelled.   “After he refused their motions this morning, they went to federal court in Galveston and convinced the judge there to sign a writ. Danny swore out an affidavit stating you owe forty grand in fuel charges and the judge agreed to seize your boat for the charges.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Stokes yelled. “I don’t owe that.”

He paused. Rain beat on the cabinet wall–like it wanted in.

“Well, maybe I do . . . but this is bullshit Pat!”

“Calm down. This isn’t about money. This is about fucking with you for embarrassing Mimi. They’re trying to ruin your weekend. This is Marguerite’s way of showing Mimi and Lovey she has balls.”

“Fuck her! The shotgun start’s at midnight.”

“I know that. But Marguerite doesn’t know that.”

“What time is it?” Stokes asked.

“Ten-fifteen. If they’re not there yet, they may not be able to find you. I just learned about this myself.”

“Thanks for the heads-up Pat.”

“Stokes?”

“Yeah.”

“Please Stokes, don’t tell anyone.”

“Ten-four.”

Pat’s phone clicked off. The rain that had been pelting the cabinet’s outer side suddenly stopped.

Stokes considered his position for a moment.

While talking to Pat, thousands of raindrops had clung to the top of the waxed dash above, forming a uniform sheet of cold liquid. Inside the dry, dark chamber, Stokes looked at the illuminated keypad of his cracked phone, which he held between his face and the low ceiling–a space of about five inches. With his elbows tight to his side, he lowered the phone and clutched it to his dry chest. Outside, thick drops fell steadily from the mouth of the cave and onto his waist.

He considered his position again. How could he get out of this?

The best way was to stay on his back, put his calves on top of the bench seat, and slip his torso out of the cabinet with a twist. It was a tight spot; it would take the moves of a gymnast. And, I am up for the challenge.

He raised his calves onto the seat outside.

The water puddle marshaled for its assault.

Stokes left his phone on his chest, slipped his hands up behind his head, and shoved. His execution was flawless. In one fluid motion, he removed himself from the cabinet, twisted his body, and lay liberated on the floor between the seat and the console. It had taken only a second. Only a drop had dampened the crisp, dry cotton on his chest. Free from his confinement, he beamed a broad, Cheshire cat-grin toward the radio boxes recessed in the ceiling, satisfied with the clever gymnastics of his maneuver.

The water sheet, with characteristics strikingly similar to those of his wife and mother-in-law, finished its own clever maneuver. It had shaken with Stokes’s effort, swayed forward when his hands pushed against the front of the cabinet and then, as Stokes’s weight shifted to the back of the console, the aft edge of the sheet had broken the invisible dam holding the water on the top of the dash. In one fluid motion, the entire contents of the puddle rushed down the angled backside of the dash, past the thoughtfully laid out screens and dials and instruments and shifters and throttles. Just as the smirk sprawled over Stokes’s face in celebration of his emancipation, the puddle–trillions of molecules strong, but only about a cup and half in volume–fell through the air in a wavy, broken sheet and landed deliberately; first on Stokes’s new phone and then, immediately afterward, on the still dry front of his fishing shirt. The rain began again and flew sideways in the wind.

At the same moment the water dam broke, J.P. opened the sliding glass door of the salon. He stood inside the Break Wind, listening, just as the furious sound of blowing rain began anew. Despite the deafening noise, he heard his buddy Stokes yell two separate and distinct words at the top of his lungs: “Mother! Fucker!”

Stokes crashed down the stairs, past J.P., and into the salon. Neither spoke. J.P. closed the door. The air-conditioner kicked off and the whir of air being forced through the metal vents ceased. There was a low hum and a tick as a disc changed inside the stereo cabinet. Stokes stood on the stairs, just inside the doorway, and put his wet phone on the bar. Water trickled onto the floor at his feet. A stream formed and dribbled into a bronze drain. The phone commenced vibrating and tried to ring. It had never vibrated, not in the whole eight hours Stokes had owned it. It made a curious sound, then shook again.

“It’s dying,” Stokes said.

He flicked one end of it. It spun and rocked while it twirled, like a dead June bug on its curved back. No more vibration. No sound.

“It’s dead,” J.P. said.

“That was a pretty good phone.”

“Pity. We all gotta go sometime.”

“Speaking of going, we need to get the fuck out of here,” Stokes said.

“Why?”

“Trust me on this, you don’t want to know.”

“Well, trust me on this,” J.P. said. “You don’t want to go.”

They turned together and stared out the wall of heavy glass doors spanning the breadth of the salon’s stern. Each of the four panes was neatly held by its polished stainless frame. They had argued about installing these doors for months while rebuilding the boat, until J.P. found a pressure-lock, and a redundant sensor, to hold the doors open. J.P. knew Stokes–the designer–was admiring the view.

“There’s not another sportfisher in the world with a sliding glass wall at the stern of its salon,” J.P. said.

“Too bad for them, ‘cause that looks pretty damn cool,” Stokes said.

Outside, their fishing lights cast a brilliant halo over the cockpit. A fisherman could re-spool a reel under those lights and never want for daylight. Beyond the lights’ realm, the world appeared black. The wind whipped the rain in every direction. Spray swirled around the salon like it was blasting from unmanned water hoses, slashing back and forth behind the aquarium-like wall of glass.

Stokes peeled off his slicker top, revealing a yellow fishing shirt soaked to the skin, front and back. Water dripped from the rolled up, button-tabbed bulk of his sleeves and he felt something in the thigh pocket of his board shorts. He ripped open the Velcro flap, then reached inside and removed a hard knot of brown strings.

“Dude,” J.P. glanced at Stokes, “you’re supposed to zip that top. When I wear one, the water stays on the outside.”

Stokes held the cord up between them and shook it. When Elsa’s crochet bikini top fell open in his hand, both he and J.P. unconsciously sighed in unison.

“God, she has a great rack,” J.P. said.

Stokes tossed the bikini on top of the deceased phone and stared at the rain flying away from the salon windows. “Mimi has federal marshals on the way to seize the boat as we speak.”

The wind turned a passel of drops to the right and they darted away like translucent minnows in an aquarium. Another group followed them, then the wind blew the rain straight away again.

“Leave the radio off,” J.P. said. “Not even the Coast Guard can make us talk to them if we never hear ‘em. The girls are all staying here. Their choice. Blaine feels like he should stay with Busch since he invited him, but he’ll go if we need him.”

“That makes you, me, Jordan and Wayne,” Stokes said.

“And the Chechens,” J.P. said. “How long before the marshals arrive?”

“No idea. I’m surprised they’re not here already. Listen, I really need to talk to you.” Stokes put a hand on the back of a bar stool. “I made some decisions today . . . I need to tell you what I decided.”

“I guess you decided to go with the white curtains instead of the dark blue, huh?”

“No. Here’s the deal: Like I sort of told you earlier, there’s a chance, a good chance, really, that I’ve fucked up. I trusted Mimi. I thought this divorce would be easy, but it’s anything but. I also assumed I owned the boat free and clear. It looks like I was wrong on that too. We sent the paperwork in to transfer the boat a few months after I agreed to buy it, but the title didn’t change until months after the wedding. The O’Donnells don’t know that yet, but once they do, I have a big problem. If I lose the argument on the boat, I still own half of her but I can’t afford to buy Mimi out so I’ll have to sell. I can buy another boat with the money. Not like this, but another one. There’s nothing I can do about all that now. The facts are going to be argued and the O’Donnells will stick together. I’m persona non grata.

“So . . . here’s where you come in. I’ve decided what I’m going to do but I don’t expect you to feel any loyalty to the cause. You need to do what’s best for you.”

J.P. yawned.

“Here’s my plan: Mishka and I talked yesterday about finishing the pilots. Anyway . . .,” Stokes stalled, thinking again about John’s call.

“I started this project and I intend to finish, even if that’s all I finish. Yesterday I hired Mishka and Heytu for another two months. We’re going to work 24-7 and crank out a couple of good shows, hopefully on this boat. I also want to hire Suzanna and all three of the girls for any open time they have between now and the end of the month. When I hired this lawyer for my divorce, I told her to move as fast as possible.”

J.P. shifted beside him, looking at his watch.

“The judge announced today, at our ex parte request, that we’ll finish all discovery in this case in thirty days. Now that he’s said it, we’re in no position to say we want to delay. And, to be honest, if I’m going to lose six or seven years of my life and most of my money and be driven into bankruptcy, I’d just as soon do it quick and start over. If I lose the boat, actually I’m thinking it’s when I lose the boat, and it could be any minute now,” he laughed nervously, “we won’t be able to film on it anymore. Even if this works, it’ll take a while to package and sell the show. If not, hell, I tried.”

Stokes adjusted his feet and stuck his hands in his pockets.

“Oh, yeah, there’s another thing . . .”.

Stokes jingled the coins in his pocket, thinking once again about John’s blunt call today.

“I . . . uh, there is . . .”.

He gritted his teeth, the jingling ceased, and he stood there for a full ten seconds.

The silence caused J.P. to turn and look at him.

Tell him straight up. No bullshit. “And John fired me today J.P. I’m no longer employed by O’Donnell Oil.”

“So what?”

“So, I’m about to be broke. Mishka and Heytu and all the equipment, hiring Suzanna’s firm, purchasing studio time. Other than the Colorado royalties, which are shrinking fast, I have no source of income if I’m not drawing O’Donnell Oil checks. I’ve got nothing left to sell but the boat. I owe a shit load. At this rate, I’m burning thirty K a week. I’ll be tapped out in two or three months. And then the bank is gonna seize the boat if Mimi hasn’t already.”

They stared at each other for a moment.

“And?” J.P. asked.

“And, what dude? Did you hear me? Tapped out! As in down to fucking zero.”

“And what’s the fucking question?” J.P. yelled.

“Are you in?” Stokes yelled back, matching J.P.’s volume and continuing at the same level. “There might not be an up-side or a future here J.P. If I fuck this up, I’m toast. I can’t pay you a salary when the money’s gone. I won’t have any money to live on myself. And I won’t be able to play big boy games anymore.”

J.P. shook his head.

“Dude, you seriously think I care?” he asked in a calmer voice. “We’ve had more fun together in the last few years than I’ve ever had in my life. You’re like a fucking brother to me Stokes. A rich brother.” J.P. laughed. “I’m not going to miss out on being a part of this show. We’ll make a hit out of this, we’ll get rich, and we’ll do it while we fish and party our asses off. I have no doubt whatsoever that you can pull this off. I never have. And if we fuck up, who cares? We’re right back where I started. I’ll teach you how to get a real job. We can work together in a shipyard.”

They both laughed.

“At least we went for it. After all, we’re just a couple of dirt bags. Adolescent dirt bags.”

“We are not.”

“Stokes . . . come on. We spent twenty thousand dollars on underwater lights that we only use because they look cool. We spend all our time at fishing tournaments because we like boats. We gamble. We drink. We don’t take care of ourselves. Our bodies are being abused 24-7. Angie says we’re both so fascinated with tits we remind her of a pair of twelve-year-old boys. And, our great plan is to get rich producing a TV show for other adolescent dirt bags.”

“Angie said that? Twelve-year-old boys don’t think . . . well, I guess they do.”

The stereo played softly over the speakers and the air-conditioner now droned, but J.P. did not respond.

“Okay. You’re right. Angie’s right. But you know what? Fuck maturity. I like tits. Hell, I like adolescence. I like all this shit J.P. I’m sick of living the way other people want me to live. This . . . this,” he put both his hands to his chest, “This is what I want to be when I grow up.” He paused, then added, “It’ll be a good show.”

“Yeah, you picked a good fight.”

“What?”

“I didn’t see it at first, but this show’s a good idea. It’s a good place to focus your efforts.” J.P. stared at the floor. “The good thing about fishing is you’re just fishing. You’re not thinking about the past or the future. You’re in the moment.”

“Seriously,” Stokes said. “I’m not trying to be rude, but sometimes the shit you say--”

“By thinking I mean worrying.” J.P. looked up at Stokes’s reflection in the glass. “When you’re out there, you’re not worried about your future. You’re not regretting your past. It’s all about the present. The rod, the reel, your buds, the fish—you’re just fishing, you’re not worrying.”

“Okay, I follow you.”

“People might forget their worries for a while when they watch your show.”

Stokes looked away from the glass and stared at his feet.

“You’ll look back on this and realize it was the best part,” J.P. said. “It’ll be a good show if you throw yourself into it. And you will; you’ll mean it.”

“We’ll mean it.”

“Yeah.”

J.P. looked Stokes up and down.

“You’re already wet. Run and get the guys. I’ll undo the electrical and warm the engines. Tell ‘em not to bring anything but what they’re wearing. We’re gonna hit those fish hard, catch ‘em, get back here and weigh in. If this shit keeps up, we’ll come back tomorrow evening with the winning marlin and take the Friday bonus as well.”

Stokes yanked the slicker over his wet shirt and then immediately arched his back as if he’d been shocked. The moist cloth had cooled, and chill bumps erupted on the skin of his arms. He felt his hair stand on end.

“You’ll get just as wet the minute we leave,” Stokes said.

“I know, but right now I’m dry,” J.P. said.

Stokes cracked open the back door. Before he stepped out, he turned to talk to J.P, who had just pulled a beer out of the refrigerator.

“This is my first one of the night,” J.P. said defensively.

The wind howled outside and a whistling sound came from the doorway.

“Do you really want to go?” Stokes said.

J.P. handed Stokes the beer he had just opened. Stokes took a swig. J.P. went back to the refrigerator, removed another beer and opened it. He pulled out a bowl filled with dried slices of lime, walked back to Stokes and placed the bowl on the bar. Stokes squeezed a slice into his Coronita bottle. J.P. did the same, then pulled two plastic-tipped cigars out of a red and white paper box in his chest pocket and handed one to Stokes. He peeled off the clear wrapper, as did Stokes. J.P. pulled a yellow plastic lighter out of his pocket, cupped his hands and lit his cigar. He then held the lighter toward Stokes.

They stood there, smoking and watching the rain. Neither said a word. The wind gusted harder now and made its weird whistle at the door. J.P. blew a cloud of smoke towards the opening and the pressure sucked the smoke cloud outside. Raindrops raced in the wind.

“Nobody else knows about that rip,” J.P. said. “Nobody else knows about those fish. And nobody else is going to win this tournament. We ain’t gonna let some fucking federal marshals stop us without a fight.”

Stokes puffed hard on his cigar, clutched his beer and stepped outside. When he cleared the mezzanine’s porch, he clenched the white plastic tip in his teeth and drew hard again, knowing the cigar would go out. Rain assaulted him. The cigar got doused. The paper cover went from its normal light brown to a dark, syrupy black, the burning tip from red to ashen.

Stokes hopped over the gunnel and onto the finger pier, put his left hand to the top of his hood and hustled down the dock, holding the last few ounces of beer in the bottle in his right hand, his shoulders up against the rain. The cigar swelled heavy with the water it absorbed. He winced and shivered as a stream of water snaked down his left forearm, passed his elbow, and chilled his armpit. He squeezed his upper arm close to his chest, cocked his head to his left shoulder and ran on, keeping his hand on the brim of his hood. When he reached land, he straightened his head, released his grip and relaxed his left arm. The jostling movement of his feet hitting the asphalt parking lot broke the wet cigar where it joined the white plastic tip. The hood flew backwards. The waterlogged cigar fell away, tapping lightly on the chest of his yellow slicker before plopping into a puddle on the ground. He ran toward the condo, shoulders down, head exposed, smiling like a goon in the driving rain.