Thursday, September 15, 2011





Now retired from the L.A.P.D. and captain of his own fishing charter business, Calico Jack Walker pays for ignoring his instincts when he hires out to two shady characters who try to hijack his boat and almost murder his son.

Walker’s ex-partner and lover, Tina Tamiko, has promoted to detective. She’s deep into an investigation leading to a plot to hijack an L.A.P.D. property barge loaded with confiscated drugs and weapons slated for ocean dumping.

With another ex-partner framed for murder, somebody playing Robin Hood with stolen drug money, and a gang of dirty cops desperate for redemption, Walker and Tamiko know they’re in deep water and it’s time to gun up and throw down . . .




“I don’t like them."

"Why not?"

"I don't know. I just don't like 'em."

"Pop, you've been retired for a year now. When are you going to stop thinking like a cop?"

"When the flesh drops off my rotting corpse."

Calico Jack Walker plunked down into one of the director's-style chairs scattered around the charter fishing boat office. Tearing the metallic paper tab off a can of grapefruit juice, he took a swig from the can and glared at his son from under bushy eyebrows.

"I don't understand how this cop instinct thing of yours works," said Ren to his father. "We're trying to make a living here. We charter out our fishing boat." He jerked his thumb in the direction of a large man who stood with his back to the office's ocean-view picture window. "We have a good setup handling the overflow business from Lars' boat, but it barely keeps us going. And now we have two guys come along who want to charter Thieftaker at an outrageous price for a half day, and you don't like them?" As if the exasperation in Ren's voice wasn't clear enough, he emphasized his feelings by raising his hands toward the ceiling.

"Got it in one," replied Calico sullenly.

"Arhhh!" Ren exclaimed, and slapped his thigh. He turned to the other man in the office. "Lars, can you talk sense to him?"

The big man chuckled. "I wouldn't even try." Lars had a Scandinavian accent, a constant tic under one eye, and the physical look of a storybook sea captain. He cultivated the impression as being good for business.

Lars and Calico had been friends since they'd fought together in Korea. Lars was also mainly responsible for Calico entering the charter boat business. For the last ten years, between being a cop and following the local rodeo circuit, Calico had ridden shotgun on Lars' charter boat. He'd learned the ocean and the fishing spots, and he'd begun to see it was a business he could turn to when he retired from the department.

Through the window behind him, Lars' twin sons, Jan and Sven, could be seen readying his boat, The Struggle for Life. "You might as well take the lubbers out, though," he said, glancing toward Calico and taking a hooked pipe from the pocket of his cable-knit sweater. "I'm only running half full myself today. It's a slow Monday, as usual. There won't be any other business. Take what you can get and be happy."

Calico grunted and crushed the now empty fruit juice can in one meaty hand. He was a couple of years past his mid-century, but still looked in good shape. Washed-out Levi's rested loosely on his hips and stovepiped down to his bare feet. A pelt of thick, curly black hair spread across heavy pectoral muscles and trailed down to a flat stomach. His face was more rugged than handsome, a genetic endowment he'd handed down to his son. A white, low-crowned straw Stetson with a horsehair hatband rode low on his forehead.

"Those two guys don't know the first thing about fishing. They didn't even know what kind of fish they wanted to go after. One of them says 'marlin,' like he's pulling the word out of the blue."

"We have marlin in these waters," Ren piped in.

"Yeah, I know, but it's not the general fish for this area. If you really want to fish for marlin, you go down to Mexico. You know as well as I do halibut, bass, or yellowtail, even shark, are a much better catch up here. If I'd asked him what event he wanted to enter in the rodeo, he would have said bull riding just because it was the first thing to pop into his head."

"So what? Maybe these guys have got some kind of Hemingway macho hang-up. Who cares? For a thousand dollars, cash on the barrel, all-day charter, they can fish for mermaids, as far as I'm concerned."

"Hooter doesn't like 'em either, do you, boy?" Calico said, grasping at straws in the losing argument with his son. At the sound of his name, the giant Airedale lying on a rug in a cor¬ner of the office raised his head and wagged his stubby tail energetically. The dog had been a gift from his young rookie partner, Tina Tamiko, when Calico retired from the Los An¬geles Police Department after thirty years as a street cop. Cal¬ico was still close to Tina, and the dog was a shared bond between them.

"Hooter has a thicker head than you do," Ren said. "Any animal that turns around six times before it decides to lie down can't be all squared away upstairs." Ren snatched off his tortoiseshell glasses and began polishing them on his T-shirt.

"Don't you be picking on my dog ..." started Calico, but he was cut off by Lars.

"You better make up your mind one way or the other 'cause here come the lubbers now."

Calico and Ren looked out the front office window into the King Harbor parking lot. They watched as two men stepped out of a nondescript beige sedan. Ren switched his gaze over to his father but didn't say anything further.

"Okay, okay," Calico said in agitation. "Quit staring at me, and stow the gear on board."

"Way ahead of you, Cap'n," Ren said. He had a silly grin on his face which made Lars laugh.

Calico snorted in mock disgust and eventually came out with a smile of his own. "Kids. You bring 'em up, buy 'em nice clothes, send 'em to school, and they end up running your life for you. I don't know." He shook his head. Putting on a black sweatshirt with the sleeves cut off at the shoulders, and sticking his feet into a battered pair of rope-soled espadrilles, he prepared to make nice to the customers.

"Howdy, glad you could make it," he said as the two men entered through the office door. "You all ready to go?"

"Yeah, sure," said the taller of the two men. Both carried large and obviously new tackle boxes.

"I'll need to see your fishing licenses," said Calico from behind the office counter. He pushed his Stetson back on his head to present a friendlier appearance.

"Pop!" said Ren under his breath.

"Go fire up the boat, son. This won't take but a minute."

Followed by Hooter, Ren walked out onto the dock. His resigned look forced Lars to stifle another chuckle. Calico turned back to his customers expectantly. The two men were looking at each other. The taller one eventually turned back to Calico and spoke again.

"Can we buy the licenses from you?"

"Sure thing," Calico said. He reached under the counter and pulled out two forms. "Can't have the fish and game wardens getting our customers in trouble. Fill these out with some proof of identification and we're in business."

The two men bent over the countertop after borrowing pens, and scribbled for a few moments. Each man then handed back the pen and application.

"And your ID, please," asked Calico as he scrutinized the forms.

The men dug out wallets and produced California driving licenses. The name on the license of the larger man was Wes Bailey. The other man, Otto Wells, was built like a pro lineman and had a face like a bouquet of elbows.

"Okay, gents, if we can just settle up the financial side, we can get on the water. The cost of the licenses are included in the charter."

Bailey pulled out ten one-hundred-dollar bills from his wallet and handed them over to Calico. Calico, in turn, handed the bills to Lars, who placed them in a round tin as his sons entered the rear of the office to deal with several other fishermen who had arrived.

"If you'll step onto the dock and head on over to the Thieftaker," Calico told his charter, "my son will get you squared away. I'll be right out."

As Bailey and Wells walked out, Lars touched Calico on the shoulder. "We don't sell fishing licenses. Those were registration forms for next week's bass tournament you had them fill out."

"I know. But I accomplished two things. I proved these two lubbers don't know what the hell they're doing, and I confirmed who they are."

"Suspicious bastard, aren't you?"

Calico pulled the brim of his Stetson back down to its accus¬tomed position. "Yep. Keeps me alive."

"See you stay that way."

"You'll keep an eye out for my return?" Calico asked.

"As always," said Lars, and in front of the other astonished fishermen, he popped out the false orb from his left eye socket and caught it with a practiced move of his hand.

By any standards the Thieftaker was a beautiful boat. A forty-six-foot Egg Harbor, the vessel sported a high bow, a forward flying bridge, and low stern with a short diving platform attached. It had a three-foot draw, and the inboard engine compartment housed turbo-charged Caterpillar twin diesels. The boat was painted a glossy black with light blue trim and had sparkling brass fittings. When Calico and Ren bought the party boat, the full instrumentation had all been upgraded, thanks to a bet Calico won during his last shift as a cop.

The engines throbbed happily as Calico guided the boat out of King Harbor and into open waters. Hooter sat attentively at his feet. Some good-size striped marlin, around 150 to 175 pounds, had been hauled in recently off the east end of Santa Catalina Island.

"Okay, gents." Calico spoke loudly so his passengers could hear him. "We're going to try and get you hooked into some striped marlin." He figured since the men were lubbers he'd give them a basic initiation. All part of service with a smile, he thought. "The fish are named for the conspicuous stripes which appear along the length of their bodies after death, and they're considered a close second in angler's choice to their larger cousin the blue marlin. But even though they're less vibrant in appearance than the blue, the striper is far more inclined to make repeated, spectacular leaps out of the water and is classed among the greatest fighting fish in the world." The men didn't appear to be listening to the travelogue, so Calico shut up and set a bearing for the resort island. If Bailey and Wells really wanted to fish for marlin, he would do his best to see they had their money's worth, but he didn't have to waste his breath.

On the deck below Calico's position on the flying bridge, the two passengers lounged in a couple of lawn chairs. A large marmalade cat stuck its head through the below decks hatch, looked left and right with disgruntled resignation, and withdrew its presence again. The cat was a stray who'd adopted Thieftaker as his home shortly after the boat docked in King Harbor. Calico had never given the animal a name past "Cat," and seemed to tolerate it only because it displayed the same prickly personality as his own.

Near the stern, Ren had clamped down two fighting chairs, complete with fishing harnesses, and was busy stringing trolling lines through Thieftaker’s bamboo outriggers. Secured within easy reach of the chairs were three heavy-duty fiberglass rods, each ending with an ash butt. Standard roller line guides and tip-tops ran the six-foot length of each rod. All the rods sported Penn reels with star drags. Eighty-pound braided Dacron ran to a snap swivel and a fifteen-foot monofilament leader. The trolling lures were odd-looking contraptions with plastic heads and long streaming tentacles.

With the expertise born of practice, Ren ran eighty feet of line from two of the rods through the outriggers so they would troll on opposite sides of the boat. The third rod ran its line about thirty feet directly into the wake of the boat. The effective trolling system gave lift and separation to the lines and presented a varied choice of bait to attract the gladiator fish. Finally satisfied with the setup, Ren climbed the steps to the flying deck to check with Calico.

"Nice job. Anyone would think we actually know what we're doing out here," said Calico, observing the trolling setup.

"Hey, Cap'n. You got glasses and ice on this tub?"

Both Calico and Ren looked down at Bailey, who was holding up a bottle of vodka he'd removed from his fancy new tackle box.

"Sure, coming right up," Calico called down before giving Ren a jab with his elbow. In a softer voice he said, "I knew they couldn't possibly have tackle in those things. This must be a day to get away from their wives and get drunk."

"Not like we haven't had customers before with the same goal," said Ren.

"Too true. Too true."

As Ren slid down the ladder rails alongside the flying bridge steps to retrieve the requested items from the galley, Calico surveyed the scene around him. It was the beginning of a beautiful day. The sky was clear and so blue it almost hurt your eyes to look at it. The sun's rays were quickly chasing the morning chill away with the promise of summer heat. Behind Thieftaker's stern, out of sight of the deck level, a long, slim, yellow, Cigarette-style speedboat raced across the slight ocean chop.

"You heard the latest about Berserko?" Ren asked when he returned to the bridge.

"You call your mother that just to irritate me, don't you? I called her Berserko once in the middle of an argument, and you'll never let it drop."

Ren laughed. "I can't. It was the perfect tag."

Calico grunted. "Okay, I'll bite. What's Marsha up to these days?" he asked after a pause.

"She's moved in with Sal Fazio."

"What!" Calico turned Thieftaker's wheel so abruptly Otto Wells spilled some of his drink.

"Hey!" yelled Wells.

"No worries, gents," Calico said in a soothing voice. "Smooth waters ahead." With his left hand he eased the throttle back to a five-knot trolling speed. "She's moved in with the jerk? I can't believe it."

Ren made the situation slightly clearer. "Actually the jerk has moved in with her."

"Sounds more like Fazio. What a match made in heaven." Calico shook his head in amazement. Sal Fazio had once been a close friend, but he now wrongly blamed Calico for the breakup of his marriage. He'd become bitter and tried to screw Calico over at every opportunity, even trying to have Calico fired from the police department so Calico would lose his pension. Fazio had amorously pursued Marsha, Calico's ex-wife, because he knew it would get to Calico. Marsha had her own axe to grind with Calico and had gone along with Fazio's game plan. Now, it appeared, they'd actually become serious with one another.

"Fazio's been promoted too."

"Never," said Calico in amazement. "The Peter Principle strikes again. Lieutenant Fazio. I'll be damned."

"Probably," Ren commented.

"Do you know where he's been assigned?"

'Yeah. West Valley Division."

"Poor Tina."

"Can't seem to get away from the guy, can she?"

Fazio had never forgiven Tina and Calico for making a fool of him during Calico's last duty shift before retirement. It infuriated Fazio that Tina and Calico had become not only partners but close friends and lovers. Fazio had originally assigned Tina to work with Calico because he thought it would drive an old-time copper like Calico nuts working with a female rookie. But Tina had proved to be exceptionally competent, and Calico had surprised even himself with his flexibility.

Recently Tina had also been promoted. She'd found a slot as a detective trainee, finally out from under Fazio's scrutiny in Van Nuys patrol. The only problem arose from the fact her new assignment was in West Valley—the same division of LAPD where Fazio had been reassigned.

"At least Fazio is still in patrol, and Tina is assigned to detectives. It should give her some breathing room." Calico shrugged. "Oh, well. She's got big shoulders, she'll handle it."

"You really love her, don't you?"

The question was surprisingly personal, even from his son. Calico looked sharply at Ren, but saw only intense interest, as if he was trying hard to figure out something about his father.

"Yes," Calico answered after a beat of silence. "A love I never knew I was capable of. I even arranged for her to get flowers at West Valley today."

"You sent flowers! Berserko would have fainted dead away if you'd ever done that for her."

"I know," said Calico. "But I'm trying not to make the same mistakes this time around. I'm not too old to learn new tricks."

The expression on Ren's face suddenly changed. He pointed ahead forty-five degrees to starboard and shouted, "Marlin!"

Calico looked up in time to see the huge fish break the surface. "Stand by, gents," he called down to his charter. "We might have ourselves some action."

With Thieftaker still trolling at between five and six knots, Calico maneuvered to intercept the fish as it cut through the water at one to two knots. When Thieftaker came abreast of the marlin, Calico bore left and began to move away from the fish. This action had the result of presenting the starboard outrigger bait about two feet in front of its quarry.

The striper saw the bait and moved in to pursue.

"Take over," Calico said to Ren, and handed over control of the helm. He then slid down to deck level. "Hit the chairs, gents," he said to Bailey and Wells, who looked at him blankly. Calico looked back at them. "You want this fish or not?"

Neither man said anything, and Calico felt a rising irrita¬tion. "Okay, okay. You've never done this before. I understand. I'll try and get the fish hooked for you and then you can take over from there."

Hopping into the starboard chair, Calico settled himself just in time to see the striper race up to the bait and give it an almighty smack with its bill in an attempt to stun it. "Reel in these other lines," Calico yelled at Bailey and Wells. The two men finally seemed to break out of their trances and move to do as they were told.

Calico watched as the fish resurfaced and came after the bait a second time. "It's a big one," he called over his shoul¬der. This time the fish came up and swallowed the lure, sound¬ing deep and causing the outrigger clip to release the line and leave Calico in direct contact. Calico banged the rod back to set the hook, and Ren, watching the action from the flying bridge, throttled back to two knots.

Feeling the sting of the hook deep in its gullet, the striper made a run across the stern of the boat from left to right. Calico quickly secured his rod in the fighting chair's gimbal and called for either Bailey or Wells to take over. Neither man came forward. "Oh, hell," Calico said out loud. He wasn't going to lose this beautiful fish because a couple of lubbers were too weak-kneed to do their part. He'd haul the damn thing in himself and let the lubbers take the credit and their picture with it at the trophy hanger. It wouldn't be the first time.

The fishing harness Ren had placed at the back of the chair easily slipped around Calico's lower back and snapped into the metal lift rings attached to the upper portion of the Penn reel frame. Thief taker was now stopped in the water as Ren monitored the marlin's progress. With the weight of the fighting fish distributed between the fishing harness and the gimbal, Calico began to reel in line with his right hand, guiding the line into the reel through the gloved thumb and index finger of his left hand.

Calico gave the striper its head as the fish sounded again. As he sat back in the fighting chair to rest, the weight of the fish was taken by the harness, while the fish worked at peak power. After a short period, he began pumping the fish to the surface—lowering the rod and then leaning back, pulling the fish up with him. When the rod reached its highest possible angle, he quickly lowered the rod and reeled in as much line as he could.

Again and again, Calico pumped the rod, his feet braced against the fighting chair's footrest, the muscles in his arms expanding with the blood flowing through them. Suddenly the striper broke the surface in a magnificent leap which displayed the fish in its full splendor. Crashing back into the water, it leaped again and began to tail-walk across almost a hundred feet of ocean. Calico was mesmerized, his whole concentration centered on the battle between himself and the gladiator from the deep. Abruptly, though, the almost prehistoric battle was startlingly shattered by the crack of a weapon from a much later era.

Hearing Ren cry out, Calico's head whipped around in time to see his son fall to the bridge deck, a gout of blood spurting from a hole in the middle of his forehead. Bailey was also on the bridge. A smoking Smith & Wesson 9mm protruded from his hand.

Before Calico could react physically, he saw Hooter leap off the bridge deck, jaws clamping onto Bailey's gun wrist, the power in his huge body driving the killer over the bridge railing and into the ocean below.

Calico hit the release catches on the fishing harness and rolled to the deck as Otto Wells, on deck level, pulled an Uzi machine pistol out of his tackle box and cut loose with a burst of bullets. Splinters tore out of the back of the fighting chair and began to track Calico across the deck.

With a survival instinct born of desperation, Calico grabbed one of the six-foot rods which had earlier been reeled in, and whipped its length toward Wells. The tip-top of the rod caught Wells in the cheek, gouging out an egg-shaped chunk of skin. Wells screamed and put one hand up to his face. Calico pulled the rod back and jabbed it into Wells' gut.

The fiberglass pole bent and snapped at the tip, but the lethal remainder continued forward, impaling itself in Wells in the chest. The big man stumbled backward, dropping the Uzi, but not before squeezing off another burst of bullets which crashed wildly into Thieftaker's cabin area. Calico threw his weight behind the fishing rod and drove Wells over the side of the boat.

"Ren ..." Calico called out desperately as he stumbled up the stairs to the flying bridge.

The boy was crumpled on the deck showing no signs of life. Gore was seeping across the deck from the back of the boy's head.

Taking off his sweatshirt, Calico folded it and placed it under his son's head to staunch the blood. He felt for a pulse in Ren's carotid artery, but the blood in his own body was puls¬ing so hard he couldn't find it. Moving quickly, he grabbed up the marine radio mike to call for a Coast Guard helicopter. There was no response, not even static. Racing to the cabin below, he found the source of the problem. The last burst from Wells' Uzi had blasted through most of the boat's instrumentation, including the radio unit.

A hand threw itself over the starboard side of the boat, and Calico screamed in vengeance when he saw it. Grabbing the gaff used to pull the striper aboard, Calico speared the hand and shoved it away from the rail. Bailey cried out in pain and fell back beneath the ocean's surface.

"Hooter! Where are you?" Calico called out for his dog. There was a reassuring bark and Calico looked over Thieftaker's stern and saw Hooter scrambling up onto the boat's short diving platform.

"Good boy, good dog," Calico repeated over and over as he hauled the animal aboard and gave him a huge hug. Realizing his priorities, though, he left the dog and bounded back to the flying bridge, turned Thieftaker around, and headed for the closest landing. He had to get Ren to a hospital fast if the boy was to have a chance.

He began to pray there was a chance . . .


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