Deck Hands – Guns & Flip-Flops

Holding Cell, Marbella Police Station, Spain. Right now.

Statement of Mr. Wendall Strickland:

‘ My name is Wendall Strickland and I’m in a lot of trouble right now. The first question they ask me is where did I get the gun, when I tell them I lifted it out of an empty police car they get even madder as I guess it makes them look even more stupid than I know them to be. The next question is where did I get the gold fob watch that I’m holding tightly in my hand. I explain to them it’s my fathers and they seem to accept it. Any more questions must wait, as I want to tell this story MY way, in MY own time. So best I start at the beginning.

This paper they’ve given me to write my confession on is thin like the pages of those bibles you find in hotel rooms, the pen keeps popping through so I hope you can still read it ok? I’m a month shy of my thirtieth birthday and if what these pigs have told me is true it looks like I’ll be spending it and the next few birthdays behind bars. You want to know the sickest part? Because I stuck-up a yacht rather than a car they’re actually thinking of charging me with Piracy. PIRACY? What the fuck? What a prick I am, what was I thinking?

I don’t want your pity, I don’t even expect your understanding, but all I’ll say for truth is that desperation leads a man to do crazy things he wouldn’t normally do. That and being in love and being greedy and so full of how you THINK you deserve to be living. Ah hell, as you can probably tell already, I’m no good with words, so I’m just gonna tell it how it was, no fancy bumfluffery just the cold hard facts. It’s roasting hot here in the cells, my tongue feels like a slug that’s had salt put on it and my stomach thinks my throats been cut. But there’s fuck all I can do about it, so guess I better just get on telling my story. OK, here goes…

I’d been living here on Spain’s Costa del Sol for about the last three years: great life, killer apartment up in the mountains, beach parties and cheap booze. But all on the never never. The credit crunch hit around the same time I hit a losing streak at the casino, a run of bad luck you wouldn’t believe. By June this year I’d run out of money and was looking down the barrel of having to return to London with nothing but chewing gum in my pocket. For reasons I don’t really want to go into now London was not a good place for me.

Anyway. So I’m hanging with my mate Paul who works as projectionist at the cinema down near La Canada, he’s a good guy, I met him when I first moved out at a local poker game and we pretty much met up most Saturdays in that small smoky projection room to smoke weed and watch whatever film he was showing.  I can finally admit that he is a much better poker player than me. It’s taken me a lot of hard thinking to be able to say that. But in the early days we had a typical sort of male dick-swinging rivalry with our poker and casino, now I can see he’s simply a better player. I got into the online gambling whereas he always stuck to live cash games along the coast. I was losing badly. I’d think nothing of doing six hundred Euros a night yet go to the Supermercado the next day and buy their Value vegetables’ and cheap cuts of meat.

I always loved gangster films, you know? Casinos and even online gambling made me feel part of it all, that feeling of walking into a casino and being comp’t drinks, the atmosphere and promise of riches, dazzling glitz and glamour in the neon lights yet under the surface I could feel the shady deals and kickings in the back-alleys. I fucking loved it. I got sucked right in. Stupid huh? Guess I’ve always had a problem separating fact from fiction. I totally blame my dad. Compulsive gambler and all round shady character but to a young kid he seemed like the coolest guy on earth. You could say I had risk-taking in my blood – even my unusual name Wendall, chosen by my dad after winning a fortune at an Indian Reservation casino with the same name. That’s about all he left me though before fucking off and leaving me and mum to struggle on. That’s when I decided I wanted to be a gangster. To have the good things in life. Dad had always taken us out on holiday to Marbella, he had some business contacts out here, and when I say ‘business’ I mean gangster. He always looked so cool, sharp suits and sunglasses, always seeming to be mentally flipping a silver dollar in his hand when he entered a room. My mum said he looked dangerous in a sexy way- like he was always secretly carrying a gun even though he wasn’t. I’d tried to emulate him I guess as best I could. Gambling and a little hash running up and down the coast, no great shakes, sometimes I’d bring my digital camera to Paul’s projection room and video the new release, uploading it Online for a few bucks. VERY minor league stuff you understand, but just enough to keep me in wine, women and song… if you get me?

Paul had never met dad but the stories I told him made him laugh. He was always warning me to get my head in the game, that I was hero-worshipping and painting a child’s view of an adult, a two-dimensional character. He was right of course, looking back I realise now I was trying to live up to a two-dimensional character, like a film. Real life is always in glorious 3D, huh?

I guess what really swung it for me, what really stuck a bug up my arse to go through with this ridiculous two-dimensional plan was sitting on my balcony last Saturday, I remember it must’ve been about nine in the evening because I could hear the shit karaoke from the bar down the road, I sat on my balcony with my air pistol shooting the tails off lizards when I saw her appear on the balcony of the apartment block opposite separated by the swimming pool and a line of palm trees. Man she looked perfect. The sort of woman I’d honestly give my little-finger to get with.

Hang on, I can hear a guard opening the outer door, I want to try and bum a smoke – I’ve got a little rolling tobacco left but it’s so sweaty in here that my hands are dripping probably as much with nervousness as heat and my cigarette papers are all damp and stuck together. Useless.

Update: The guard was alright. He gave me his packet which had three left in it. I think I’m getting a kind of warped respect from them for what I attempted, ha, I’m a gangster at last. But how empty and stupid it feels now locked up.

Where was I? Right, oh yeah, so this girl in the apartment opposite is just killer. I see her pick up her swimming costume from where it’s hanging over her balcony. I figure she’s going for a swim. What must it be like to sleep with a girl like that, have her on my arm as I enter the casino? Anyway what I’m trying to get across to you is how desperately I wanted to stay in Spain and how crazy much I needed to make some fast cash.

That Saturday night in the projection room me and Paul are smoking and watching ‘Goodfellas’ of all films – a special midnight showing for the heads. One of my favourite films – even with De Niro speaking in dubbed Spanish. Our conversation went something like this:

Me: ‘Paul I gots to find a way to stay. Some sort of crime or fraud is all I can come up with.’

Paul reminds me last time I tried crime was stealing cables and metal to sell as scrap back in London. I told him the story myself when we first met. Me and a few lads busted into a large park and stole this big sundial sculpture thing. We got four-hundred pounds for it, then on the news later feeling pretty clever we saw it was by some guy called Henry Moore and was actually worth about half a million. This amongst other things facilitated my quick exit from England.

‘How about Football gambling? asks Paul, ‘Some big games this weekend, easy money’.

Fuck soccer.’ I tell him. ‘If I wanted to watch somebody struggle to score for 90 mins I’d take my friends to the bar. I’ve come to the conclusion I’m not very good at poker, least ways not as good as I think I am. Either that or I have the luck of a cursed Gypsy. Had a rare spare tenner so am playing a few two dollar cash games. The beats I’m getting you would not believe and couldn’t write in a story as it wouldn’t be deemed believable or true to life. I swear to ya. Also, when the stakes are so small I would argue that you can’t even HAVE a proper game of psychological poker because dickheads will call you all the way down to the river with rags on the hope of catching something exactly BECAUSE the money is so small. They’d never do that if it was a nifty. I despair.’

I stand up all stressed, knocking away the flies that were circling round my beer. ‘How long am I expected to go on living like this?’

Paul shrugged his shoulders. ‘Don’t ask me, how in the hell would I know.’

I  began clapping at the flies missing them all but looking like a nutter.

‘How’s your game anyway?’ I ask, ‘ You’ve got that big game coming up Saturday, hey?’

Paul had strained his head towards the air-conditioning trying to catch some of the icy-wind.

‘Say again?’ He moved his head back away from the whirring motor.

‘I said, you got that big game coming up Saturday?’

‘Yeah’, he put his face back to the air-conditioning.

I stopped clapping and sought solace in another cold beer from the fridge he had under the projector. That’s when I hit him with it.

‘Look, I got an idea. It’s a bit out-there, so hear me out before you respond, ok?’

Paul pulled his head back once again, ‘hey man, I can’t hear ya. What’s up now’.

I tried a different approach. ‘You know I’m desperate yeah… financially, I mean, you know I’m really up against it?’

Paul nodded.

‘The poker games a fat one isn’t it?’

‘Yeah, it’s on Pat Coons yacht down in Cabopino. Rich flounders, better angling for fat fish than the harbour. The buy-in alone is a thousand Euros so you can easily times that by fifty once they’ve had a skin-full.’

‘Exactly, there’s gonna be a lot of cash on that boat, hey?’

‘Yep and it all going to be mine all mine’. Paul laughed and knocked back the cold suds.

‘No, it’s gonna be mine.’ I say.

‘But you ain’t playing. Not with your luck…’

‘I know, but I’m gonna make my own luck…’ Bam, I lay it on him:  ‘I’m gonna hijack the boat…’

I expected Paul to fall about laughing, but full respect to him he took me seriously. Perhaps it was Goodfellas showing through the projectionist hole, perhaps it was the smoke, but he went along with it, hoping I guess to let me work out myself in the nitty-gritty detail that it wasn’t such a swell idea.

Still we talked it through. Even though these big games are only Paul’s bag not mine, there’s still a chance someone might recognise me – it’s quite a small community of ex-pats here on the coast, everyone sticking their burned noses into each others business. So we decide I should use a fake accent and some sort of mask. The only accent I can do half-convincingly is American or Scottish. The American sounded so camp that even with a gun pointed at them these six dudes would still probably just laugh. I try the Scots, not much better, the Sean Connery sounds too stupid even for my tentative grasp on reality and so I settle for a sort of Billy Connelly drawl. Paul falls about laughing as I test it out:

‘Alreet, give me the fooking money’.

I waved my fingers around the room aping a gun, pointing at the projection console and saw a blister pack of blue diamond shaped pills. He told me he’d been staying at his uncle’s and found them in the medicine cabinet in the bathroom. Viagra, full strength, not the shit you buy online but the real deal prescription only. I’m always up for a new buzz so necked one washed down with a fresh cold can of Cruzcampo lager. Twenty minutes later, nothing. But my mind was racing with the plan. Paul could see my mind was made up and had to admit the plan was totally risk-free for him. We’d split the loot fifty-fifty.

Being a good friend he tried to put me off one last time. Did I listen? Did I fuck. I’d set my mind to the wheel. It was going to happen. But where to get a gun? I knew a couple of places along the coast, a few ex-pat bars who would know some people who knew some people. So off I went on my scooter. Any thoughts of how stupid I was being were pushed and stamped down under the boot of my excitement at finally living the life. How cool am I trying to get a gun to stick up a poker game on a yacht? Fucking idiot looking back.

First bar there’s no joy. Second bar fares better but the guy won’t be around for a week and the game was less than three days away. I took the back roads back towards my apartment feeling bummed-out. I remember there was a beautiful sunset that night, the orange light was streaking through all the half-built and empty complexes never to be finished now that the arse had fallen out of the Spanish economy. It looked like a post nuclear holocaust world with nothing left but empty husks of concrete with little oil drum fires competing with the sunset started by the Spanish kids with no jobs or money sat around getting stoned. Spurred on by the thought that pretty soon I’d be joining them if I didn’t get paid in full I tried the last bar that was rough enough to help. I hit my first bit of good luck, or as I should’ve seen it if I hadn’t been so whacked-out, major bad luck. Big fight breaks out in the bar over a pool game. Guardia Civil the local police rock up and launch out of their car as bottles are flying out the window, one cracking the bonnet. In the hurly-burly I walk past their cop car and what do I see through the open passenger window? Yep, unbelievably a gun in its holster sticking out the glove compartment. You couldn’t make this shit up, but there it was. I’m thinking this whole heist must now be sanctioned by the gods, so without having to be asked twice, in my hand goes and out comes the gun. Looking behind me, the two cops are totally engrossed in sorting out the punch-up, I quickly stuff the gun down the front of my pants where the barrel lays hanging to the right. Somehow it felt so right. Back on the scooter I skedaddle out of there faster than a shit-house rat.

Back at my apartment I cracked open a good bottle of Hennessey brandy, one I’d been saving for a special occasion like a big win at the tables, drank about a fifth immediately, then laid out the gun on the outside table overlooking the bright lights of Fuengirola. I know how shit it sounds but damn that gun felt sexy and powerful. Holding it and pointing it I felt anything was possible. Next I needed to get a boat. I figured that would be the easiest part of the plan. ‘Barry Armpit’ as he was known along the strip of Marbella had a small motor boat which he used to rip off tourists on dolphin watching trips. He owed me a few favours and wouldn’t miss the boat for a few hours I was sure. There’s the sound of banging music coming from that girl’s apartment and I can see figures dancing through the light mosquito screen. Again, she comes out onto the balcony and picks up her bikini. I swear she looks at me as she leans over the railing almost falling out of her tight top. This time I decide a moonlight swim would work for me too and leaving the gun on the table I strip down to my boxers and come down in the lift.

By the time I reach the edge of the pool she’s already doing lengths. The under floor lighting gives off a magical yellow and blue light through the water and the outline of her body moves as lithe and fluid as a dolphin. I jump in and stretch my arms out on the edge trying desperately to look nonchalant waiting for her to see me on her return pass. She does, she smiles, she pauses and then it hits me. An ancient and permanent wood. An erection so profound and final it’s like a Maypole with a hundred fertile goblins dancing round it. So brutal is the hard on it rips through my tight boxers like the Incredible Hulk tearing his shirt. Fucking Viagra. No warning, no stirring in the loins, just a nought-to-sixty length in under ten seconds. I look down at her pretty feet distorting in the rippling water. A girl’s feet are really important to me. I figure if a girl can’t keep her nails clean then imagine what her pussy must be like. But this girls feet were cute, no hammer-time. I imagine sucking her toes must be like tasting peaches and cream. Christ these thoughts don’t help the conviction of my length to remain undiminished. It is now so hard that you could hang a garden basket from it, or bang in a rusty nail. I’m silhouetted by the light and she looks down seeing the news. I figure I’m going to have to stay in the pool till dawn, but no. She smiles and winks at me.

‘We’re having a party Saturday night, I’ve seen you watching me from your apartment’ She looks down again at the broadsword, ‘And it sure looks like you know how to party. Wanna come? She drags out the word ‘come’ and brushes past me, softly caressing my tent-pole with her foot as she kicks off and begins swimming again.

There and then all doubt in my mind vanished. God damn I was going to get that money. Saturday it was to be. Take the gun, take the boat, get the money, get the girl.

Only things didn’t work out like that.

I’m breaking off again. The slat in my cell door has just been opened and I’m being watched. Keys turning, door opens. Ah food. At fucking last. The only good thing about a Spanish jail-house is the food. Fantastic chorizo and tortilla and even a small glass of watered down red tinto de verano. You sure wouldn’t get fed like this in a London nick. Now with a full stomach and a couple of smokes left things suddenly seem a little brighter and I’ve got enough focus to get this confession finished. So…

Borrowing the boat off Barry Armpit was no trouble at all. I found him stuffing his face down at a beach bar and I had the keys in my hand within the time it took him to order the bill. Stand-up guy. A real goodfella. I hopped on the scooter down to Cabopino and checked out the boat. Small but fast. I checked the fuel lines, the gas gauge and took it out for a quick spin around the bay just to quieten myself down, burn off some of the adrenaline that was starting to build up in my system. A dry run if you like. The boat handled like a dream and as I pulled back into the harbour I felt a surge of excitement that this was going to work. Carefully stowing the gun, a rucksack and a fancy-dress mask of a werewolf head that I’d picked up from a kids store, I literally danced back along the harbour wall waiting on tomorrow afternoon.

The stick up. Cometh the hour; cometh the cunt.

It went down like this.

Saturday morning I wake up and the sky is overcast, first day in about two months that it hasn’t been sunny. This gives me a slight uneasy feeling made worse when I scoot down to the harbour and see how choppy the water is beyond the break-wall. Quick phone call to Paul to check the game is still happening and all is fine. He’s already on board and using the shoreline as a compass he tells me where they’ve dropped anchor. The game is about to start and the bundles of Euro bank notes are sat on the table for all to see. I’m licking my lips already.

Pushing out beyond the harbour wall the boat starts bouncing around, it’s altogether so much rougher than yesterday’s test run. I instinctively feel for my dad’s gold pocket watch and take it out of my shirt pocket, resting it above the wheel to keep me focused. This is all I have to remember him by, and despite all the years and hardships I’ve never once considered pawning it, no matter how tough things got. It’s my only connection to him and I wouldn’t gamble or take any sort of risk without it. It’s a complicated one, the relationship with my dad. Part of me resents him for walking out on us, but part of me still wants to impress him and show him that I can be a cool gambler come gangster too. It’s a boiling mess of emotions, anger, love, jealousy, respect, fear inside me as the cold spray hits my face over the boat’s windshield.

All this bullshitty introspection goes clean out of my mind as I see the white fleck on the horizon of what I’m guessing must be the poker yacht. As I barrel towards it I can almost make out the six men sat at the table on the top deck. A couple of girls are wandering around too. I hadn’t planned for more than six people, more people to watch meant more chances of someone getting to a radio or phone to raise the alarm. I look at my mobile phone to check for any last messages from Paul. No bars, no signal. Too far out from shore. Fuck it. In for a penny in for a pound, I’m committed now, and if I can see them, they sure as hell can see me, so on with the werewolf mask, pocket watch back in shirt and shooter stuffed in the front of my shorts.

Let’s fucking have it!

I cut the motor before it can be heard and drift like a silent surfboard towards the yacht. I see Paul on his mobile as I pull round the side. He sees me and makes a cutting motion with his finger along his throat. He repeats it as I throw a rope round the yacht’s access ladder out of sight of all but Paul and one guy engrossed in looking at his cards. Desperately trying to keep the element of surprise I leap up the slippery white plastic steps wishing I’d worn shoes with grip rather than flip-flops. I take a quick mental photo of the layout. Paul and four other guys, mostly fat perma-tanned with silver back hair and gold-watches. I make a mental note to remember to take their jewellery too. Two girls are sunbathing to the stern, headphones on, eyes closed. This is good. Another lucky break.

Leaping the gunwale I take the card-players unawares, the first they know about it is literally this werewolf storming the deck brandishing a Heckler & Koch 9mm. In the mayhem that ensues I totally forget about the Scottish accent and just scream in natural broad Essex.

‘Put the fucking money in the fucking bag..! Do it..! Do it now…!’

The men literally freeze and just sit there not sure if this is some sort of joke. I squeeze the trigger aiming for the centre of the green baize where it shoots a stack of chips into the air. This has the desired effect on them and they realise I’m not fucking around here.

‘Don’t nothing move but the money…’ I’d always wanted to say that. ‘…and stick your fucking watches and pocket-books in too’. I throw the rucksack centre-table where the bullet has made a neat hole. Still nothing, no movement, just confused looks. It’s then I see why nothing is happening. Paul has all the chips and money on his side of the table like a gambling squirrel. What are the fucking chances, eh? He’d totally smashed the game. Why should he settle for fifty percent from me when he’d already nearly the whole hundred? Fuck, fuck, fuck!

My heart is beating out of my chest and the plastic mask is causing the sweat to blind my eyes. The eye holes are so small that I can only pretty much see straight ahead, no periphery vision at all. Something else I should have factored in before starting off. Fucking amateur night. I don’t even clock that there are only five men sitting down at a six seat game.

The sixth man must’ve come up from the galley having fixed himself a drink, got some ice or maybe even just gone for a massive great shit – I don’t know and guess I never will. But what I will always remember is him coming at me from my blind side and the smash of a high-ball glass on the back of my head. Stars and fucking stripes just like in the cartoons. The force of the impact causes my gold pocket watch to leap out of my shirt and skid along the smooth wet deck. Now with blood as well as sweat in my eyes I stumble dazed trying to grab the watch before it’s lost overboard. I can feel shards of glass wriggling through my skull towards my soft brain, but looking back I’m kind of proud that even in that moment of high anxiety I still put family connections over greed and went for the watch not the Euros. For all it was fucking worth though.

I catch the watch with my left hand just before it skids over the edge, my right hand still feebly trying to point the gun over my shoulder. Again, coming from the side I feel a well-judged flip-flop connect with my arse and hoof me over the side of the boat. A perfect shot delivered with animal force. As I somersault over the rope railings I have just enough time to see the foot that launched me before the water swallows me up. I recognise the foot. Definitely male, I pray it isn’t Paul’s having changed his mind now he’d got all the money and was fixing to improvise. But no, with the cold splash of the water on my sunburned face I realised the foot looked a lot like mine. I think of the girl’s foot in the shimmering blue pool as I swim up through the much darker seawater. As hard as I can I try to pretend I’ll break the surface next to her back in the pool but it all feels wrong, and this time my dick is as soft and small as a prawn.

Fighting for breath I surface, immediately pointing my left hand back up to the deck. The pocket-watch points at the owner of the foot, the gun descending beneath me into the slimy depths. The years may have added a few pounds and wrinkles to the body but the face is unmistakable.

‘Dad!’

He looks as shocked as me leaning over the rail, cigarette hanging from his tight-lips.

‘Wendall? Wendall is that you? It IS you! What the fuck?’

From this position we have the family reunion. Such is my confused state that the little hurt child I’d been repressing in me all these years comes out.

‘Dad. Why did you leave? I only did this to be like you.’ Salt water tears mixing with salt water ocean.

‘Bloody puff. Man up.’

His next words will stay with me forever, cutting deeper than these handcuffs ever could:

‘I left because you were growing up to be a right little cunt…. Seems I wasn’t wrong either…’

The cell lights have just gone out so I can’t even see what I’m writing anymore. Probably for the best, hey?

Wendall Strickland

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Comments
  1. Hey, thanks! Your comment’s made my day.
    All the best,
    Michael.

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