Memoir of an Overseas Contractor

by Jonathan B. Ferrini

Maybe Einstein was wrong? What if, the “Theory of Relativity” was just an exercise in “group think”, accepted as the truth, by a world seeking answers to large questions in an uncertain time? Furthermore, why do we accept the laws of mathematics as always being true? If you solve for “X” or “Y” in an algebraic equation, you subtract from one side, add to the other, end up with a fraction, divide, and achieve the value for “X” or “Y”. You might feel a sense of satisfaction from performing this equation, but what does it reveal about reality, fantasy, love, hate, or loyalty to those you hold dear?

Living and working on an isolated, volcanic atoll, in the Pacific for two years, made me question logical, lifelong beliefs, and, everything, or anyone, I’ve ever known.  I learned there are no easy answers, no convenient solutions, mathematical or otherwise, to what life throws at us. What is for certain, I’ve got to get off this island, and return home, quickly. I have to protect the lunatic business world my stepdad created on this island, because in somebody else’s hands, his empire will blow up like a volcano, hurting those I love, namely  my mother, girlfriend, and the ragtag group of misfits working with me on this desperate island.

I stood at the end of the long runway which was built as an emergency landing strip for the Space Shuttle, but fortunately, never utilized for an emergency landing. I was relieved to see the approach lights of the Cessna which would take me off this island for the hour long flight to the Marshall Islands Airport where I would catch a flight to Guam, board a non-stop flight to LAX, and then catch a flight home to Vegas.  I remembered the evenings my girlfriend, Jade, and myself, would smoke weed, lie on our backs at the end of the runway, and stare into the star filled sky. The stars appeared so close we could grab a handful, and on occasion, the weed made us believe we held stardust. It was a real “trip” to see satellites, meteorites, and unexplainable objects pass through the sky. The moon and mars appeared so close; we felt we could touch them.  I’ll miss Jade but can’t take her with me. The less she knows the better.

The Cessna 208 smoothly touched down, and taxied, towards me. I’m happy to see the pilot is Kai, a very capable pilot, and native of the South Pacific. He knows the islands like the “back of his hand”, and most importantly, he understands the unpredictable weather conditions. Kai is an employee of our company, and responsible for mail and supply deliveries to and from the island. He wasn’t instrument rated, so he flew by the “seat of his pants” in bad weather.  As the plane taxies down the runway, I feel a sense of relief that I’d finally be leaving the island.

In the distance, I hear a horn honking, and see the flashing headlights of a Jeep quickly approaching, driven by my girlfriend, Jade. As the Jeep draws nearer, I hear the lyrics of her favorite rock band, “The Doors” blaring from the Jeep’s speakers,

Are you a lucky little lady from The City of Light?
Or just another lost angel?

Jade believes the lead singer of “The Doors”, Jim Morrison, who died and was buried in Paris in 1971, is still alive, and she claims to have met him when he stopped off on our island while touring the South Pacific. She’s wearing her Doors tank top she claims was signed by Morrison. I never questioned the validity of her claims, because isolation and boredom creates the need in some people to invent an alternate reality for themselves.

Jade was determined to get off the island and would stop at nothing to board the plane.  Kai brought the plane to a rolling stop with the engine running. I jumped in, threw my duffle bag into the back seat, and screamed, “Take off, Kai!”

“Hey man, that chick looks crazy! I think she’ll drive the jeep right into the plane if I attempt a take off!”

Kai brought the plane to a stop, keeping the engine roaring.

Jade pulled the jeep to the side of the plane, left the engine running, jumped out, and ran to the plane. Kai reached out, grabbed her hand, and pulled her into the cockpit. All of Jades’ possessions were in a single duffle bag. Jade took a deep breath, threw her arms around me, saying, “You didn’t think you could split without your baby, did you?”

KaI was eager to take off, “You guys cool? We’re burning fuel so I have to leave with or without you.”

Jade gripped my hand tightly. I didn’t want to take her with me, but she’d been so damn good to me, and, she looked so sexy in her cut off jeans and tank top, I instructed Kai, “Take off, man!”

“Ok, boss. Strap yourselves in. You know these South Pacific weather conditions can change “on a dime”. ETA is about an hour to the Marshall Islands Airport.”

Jade hummed the lyrics to”LA Woman” playing inside her ear buds, Motel, money, murder, madness
let’s change the mood from glad to sadness

Kai took off smoothly, circling the island before setting course to the Marshall Islands Airport. I looked down upon the island, and it was just a dot in the Pacific Ocean. I felt trepidation as I recognized the ramshackle assemblage of buildings which was my home and work; the beat up shipping containers lashed together which comprised the commissary and makeshift bar called, “Jimmy D’s”;   the metal warehouse where we serviced the “underwater autonomous vehicles” known as, “AUV’s”; and the office trailers serving as the administration building and bunkhouse for our company employees. I saw JamesD and Griz, looking up towards us, and waving, as if to say, “We’ll see you again soon”. I prayed they were wrong. It would take a long time to shed the experiences I lived on this island

Jade was my friend and lover but her past was murky.  She never spoke much about herself, and didn’t ask much about me. I liked it that way. It didn’t make sense she’d be the only female crew member on the desolate island, working amongst a rough crew of hardened, retired sailors. She worked as a manager in the administration office, handling payroll, and all of the company’s paperwork with the mainland offices. She never told me how she arrived on the island but some of the crew speculated she was dumped by her surfer boyfriend. Jade was a beautiful Japanese-America woman who wore her long, straight, black hair, in a braid which hung low to her waist. Her petite body was shapely and toned.  Jade loved the ocean and the beach. She awoke at dawn every morning and jogged the circumference of the island. Jade also loved to swim after work, just before sunset. Despite my warnings about sharks, Jade took advantage of the infrequent swells caused by storms out at sea, and was a damn good surfer.  Jade was from Honolulu where her father was a “high ranking labor union official”. She completed an MBA from the University of Hawaii, rejecting lucrative job offers on the mainland, to live and work in her beloved Hawaii, eventually accepting a position below her qualifications as an administrative assistant to the CFO of an HMO. Jade hated the grind of working “nine to five” and quit. She confirmed the rumor amongst the crew by confiding in me that she had met a pro surfer and accompanied him as he competed in surfing competitions. Jade had a brother in LA who owned a pool cleaning business to the “stars”. She was an accomplished bass guitar player. Although in her late twenties, she never married, and had no children.

Having Jade with me will only complicate my life as I fight for control of our company. When we get to LAX, I should dump her, but something about Jade, told me I’d keep coming back to her, even though I wanted to resist. We had chemistry, and bonded. We were lovers and best friends.  Jade made me feel good when I needed it the most.  She took care of me like a wife or mother. Jade cleaned and mended my clothes, cut my hair, and nursed me back to health from a flu bug or a cold.  Jade motivated me to keep moving forward despite the boredom and the homesickness we both suffered. She listened intently to me, permitting me to vent, without offering advice or condemnation. I had to vent because I was holding a secret which was filling with air like a balloon, and would soon burst, taking me, this whole damn island, and its inhabitants with it. Nobody knew I was the boss’s stepson, including Jade, so I believed her love for me was genuine.

The plane finished its circle of the island and onto its flight path. I looked back upon the runway, remembering my special times with Jade, staring into space while the trade winds cooled our bodies, and the weed opened our minds.  We’d do Tai Chi and yoga together, early in the morning, as twilight was replaced by the rising sun. After a stressful day, we would get high from booze and weed, flown in with the other supplies by Kai.  Sometimes when we were high, the trade winds brought with it the sounds of battleship canons booming, and the death screams of sailors whose ships were sinking. The older guys on the crew said only the “sensitive” can hear the ghostly sounds, but they never denied the reality of what we heard.  We witnessed beautiful, and sometimes, strange, eerie, sunsets. The older guys on the crew said the sunsets were created by the lingering fallout of nuclear tests in the area decades past.

Jade fell asleep in my lap with “LA Woman” blaring from her ear buds,

Midnight alleys roam…

Kai shouted, “Turn off that music. I can’t concentrate on flying this crate!”

I recognized the sound of Kai’s engine from his monthly, late night, fly over’s as he dropped parcels wrapped in black packaging, marked, “Top Secret. Security Clearance Required”. Only Griz and I could open the packages, and the crew was remanded never to touch them.

The plane caught a gust of wind and was buffeted sideways. My heart skipped a beat. Jade gripped my hand tightly. Kai wasn’t upset, so, for the moment, everything seemed under control.  I closed my eyes and remembered the events which brought me to the island.

I loved my father. He entertained me as a child with elaborate playing card shuffles and slights of hand with the playing cards. My father was a Vegas card dealer with one of the independently owned casinos in Vegas. The indie casino operators still had the muscle, and the means, to punish crooked employees.  Dad employed several methods of skimming money from the poker tables which provided our family with a middle class lifestyle, until he got greedy, fueled by a coke habit. The casino owner punished dad, leaving him with only his thumb, and pinky finger, on his dominant hand. Dad was blacklisted in Vegas.  He split from home in the middle of the night, never saying goodbye. I awoke the next morning, only to find mom sobbing in the kitchen. My father never taught me to play poker. His rebuke to me was “If you ever sit at the poker table, you’ll be playing as a “high roller” and not a card dealer like your old man!”

Mom was a beautiful showgirl nearing retirement age, but kept up with the younger dancers in a popular casino revue named, “Show me the Money”. It was similar to the 1930’s motion picture musicals designed to lift the spirits of a depression era nation. I guess mom’s show was designed to lessen the gamblers pain of losing the mortgage money or kids college fund to the casino. She was determined to find another husband, and this time, a well to do “meal ticket”.  She saved money on babysitters by taking me to work with her. I’d sit in a booth by myself, eating gourmet dinners, watching her and the beautiful cast member’s dance. She took me back stage to meet movie stars, politicians, and other “VIP” men.  I always dreamed of growing up to be rich and powerful like them. Mom would tell me, “Sweetheart, study hard, get your college degree, and you can be just like them when you grow up!”  Despite my admiration for these powerful men, I didn’t respect them for using my mom and discarding her. I’d awake in the morning, only to find a “VIP” making a hasty retreat after leaving mom’s bedroom. Mom would enter the kitchen, prepare breakfast, and say, “It’s just a numbers game, honey. Mommy will find a fine daddy for you soon!” Needless to say, none of these men asked for a “second date” with mom. Mom worked hard at dancing, and I remember her aching muscles, sore feet, and ice cold buckets of water to soothe her pain.  I wanted to provide her with the best retirement money could buy.

The Pacific Ocean is the largest ocean in the world. You realize it when flying over it in a slow moving, propeller plane like Kai’s. Kai didn’t talk much. He preferred to hum the lyrics of Polynesian folk songs I couldn’t understand.  I realized how vulnerable we were without Kai. There was nowhere to land, and Kai was the only person capable of flying the small plane which was being buffeted by the strong trade winds. The plane would suddenly, dip, climb, and be thrown sideways by the winds. The skies were clear but in the distance, I could see a dark wall of ominous looking clouds facing us.

Mom met a man named, Drake, who was visiting Vegas on a gambling and womanizing junket. Mom knew she had hit the “jackpot”, and with her womanly skills, determination, beauty, and charm, convinced Drake to divorce his wife, move to Vegas, and marry mom.

As a kid, I desperately craved a father figure, and I was impressed by Drake.  Every time I grew closer to him, he’d pull away leaving me broken hearted. He was a former Navy Chief Petty Officer, who thrilled me with his stories of the sea. Drake was about 6’2” tall, square jawed, clean shaven, hair cut into a crew cut and in good shape for a man in his seventies. He had seafaring tats on each arm. He’d take me with him to visit his company’s offices at the seaports in Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco. He showed me the important work his business, “Overseas Services Company”, performed, involving the repair and maintenance of sophisticated “AUV’s” used by the Navy.

I became a rebellious teen and resented Drake. I missed my father who never wrote, and, I resented mom for never mentioning dad, who I believed had written mom for money.  I was ambitious and set out to become a successful consulting engineer.  Although I was good with numbers and my engineering courses weren’t challenging for me, Vegas and its distractions were interfering with my engineering studies.  I began smoking pot, drinking, and was placed on academic probation by UNLV. Mom was disappointed and implored Drake to “straighten me out”. Drake suggested I consider joining “OSC” as a crew member, saying, “Go off and make some real money. By the time your classmates graduate, you’ll have banked enough money to buy an engineering firm.”  Drake’s suggestion resonated with me, and I hoped his offer of employment would provide me with the income necessary to permit mom to retire, and make my father proud, knowing his son would sit at the poker table as a “high roller”.

I quit school and Drake hired me as an “apprentice” crew member, drove me to the airport, and firmly shook my hand.  I was hoping for a hug which would never be forthcoming from Drake. He looked me squarely in the eye, and said, “It’s up to you to “sink or swim”. You’re a young guy just starting the “party” which won’t last forever. Make “hay” while you’re still young.” Drake grabbed me by the shoulders and said, “Son, always consider the other guys motivations. Always ask yourself, what are the vested interests of the parties? Be on guard that relationships, of any kind, have strings attached. This advice will guide you throughout your life, particularly with women on the prowl for a suitor, and your business dealings.”  At the time I didn’t realize it, but Drake was providing me with a crash course on life and business, he learned the hard way. It was the tough, old bastard’s way, of providing me with a sendoff gift, of sorts. He taught me to think like a hardened businessman. These were last words he spoke to me, dying of a stroke just a couple months shy of completing my two year contract with OSC.

I flew for almost 24 hours, eventually landing on a volcanic atoll somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. I was met by the crew’s foreman, who introduced himself as “Griz”, saying, “So, you’re the new hire Drake sent. Follow me.” We began walking towards a metal warehouse and some office trailers on the otherwise deserted island. The sun was intense and the wind whipped across the island which was flat and devoid of any shade trees.  Griz continued, “The Island has no name, just coordinates on a map. We don’t even know what nation owns it, but Drake’s Company has a 99 year lease on it. He also has shoreline facilities in Manila, Guam, Honolulu, San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.  I’ve been Drakes “right hand man” since our time together in the Navy, and I’ll be your boss.”

“What do we do here, Griz?”

“We repair and maintain AUV’s which we send out to sea. We can coordinate their destination anywhere as long as they have battery life.  We send them to survey the ocean floor as far away as Guam, the Philippines, Hawaii, LA, Alaska, and San Francisco.”

“Where are we, exactly?”

“You’re 17 hours from home, son. You’ll be living and working on a volcanic atoll in the Pacific Ocean, somewhere between Hawaii, Guam, and the Philippines. Some call it, Micronesia.”

Drake led me to an office trailer. The wall mounted air conditioner cooled the small office in which sat a beautiful Asian girl in her twenties.

“Here’s our new hire, Jade.  Get him squared away after I introduce him to the rest of the facilities.”

Jade looked me and up and down, returning her attention to the computer screen, and simply nodding her head in agreement. I was taken to a prefabricated trailer which served as a bunkhouse for six male crew members.

“Grab a bunk and get some shut eye, kid.”

I was already regretting my decision to accept the job.

“You’ll hear the dinner horn blow; just follow the crew to the mess house. You can meet your fellow crew members at dinner.”

I fell into a deep sleep. I dreamed mom was in danger but I was too far away to help. I was awoken suddenly by Jade who sat on the edge of my bed. She smelled like fresh cut flowers. She was beautiful except for a tattoo of a black widow spider on her shoulder which was unsettling.

“Hello, Mitch. I’m Jade. I run the business office on the island. Missing Vegas already?”

It was obvious she knew my background.  I smiled, and quipped, “Ask me tomorrow.” Jade grinned, handed me an ice cold bottle of Heineken, saying, “This will quench your thirst, honey.” Jade pulled out a handkerchief from her pants, and gently wiped the beads of perspiration from my forehead.

“You were having a nightmare when I sat down? What’s troubling you, honey?”

“I was dreaming about my mom being trouble and I couldn’t get home in time to save her.”

“Don’t worry about it, sweetheart. It’s the isolation of the island getting to you. It tends to make us all homesick. I’ll always be here for you to talk about anything troubling you. Just ask me.”

When she spoke, she looked directly into my eyes. Jade radiated a nurturing, loving, and caring persona. It was like a mother-son or wife-husband bond we immediately shared. Whatever it was, I craved more of it.   It was the beginning of our beautiful relationship.

“Dinner’s about two hours away. I’ll leave this payroll paperwork for you to fill out and return to me. Your money will be wired weekly to your bank account.”

Jade rose, and walked to the door.  Before exiting, Jade turned, and remarked, “It might interest you to know, you’re the second highest paid crew member behind Griz. You must be some important dude!”

I fell back asleep and was awoken by the dinner horn, rose from the bunk, and followed a group of older crew members to a makeshift commissary consisting of lashed together shipping containers. Fans kept the dining room cool but it was still hot and sticky. If the food was as dreadful as the dining hall, I was in for a hellish two year employment contract. There were a total of seven employees including myself, Jade, Griz, JamesD, and three salty looking, old sailors.  Aside from Jade, “JamesD” was the only other non-Caucasian crew member. JamesD was an African American man, born and raised in Mississippi. He developed a love of cooking from his grandmother who raised him. JamesD escaped the poverty of rural Mississippi by joining the Navy where he quickly rose through the ranks of Navy mess halls on ships and shore. JamesD was such a fine cook he was invited to cook for the Secretary of the Navy and dignitaries for special events. JamesD refused offers to join elite restaurants in favor of remaining in the Navy, and attaining the rank of Chief Petty Officer. Prior to retiring, he had the formidable responsibility of running the mess hall at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center. He never volunteered the reason for the “D” attached to his name, and, everyone had the good sense not to ask!

We stood in line, cafeteria style, as JamesD carved off a healthy slice of expertly cooked prime rib, scooping up fluffy mashed potatoes, spooning on fresh vegetables, and placing a jar of au jus sauce on our plates. Beverages included wine, ice cold bear, soft drinks, and bottled water. We ate at a wooden picnic table and bench. I was pleased to have Jade sit by me who never hesitated to bring me seconds, desert, or a cold drink. It felt good to have her discretely and gently stroke my thighs. There wasn’t much talk as everyone was hungry and enjoying the delicious meal. The squeaky ceiling fan drowned out the silence until Griz stood, and introduced me, “The new hire is Mitch. He’s under my supervision. My job is to make certain he learns our system quickly and correctly. He has top security clearance, got it?”

The room roared, “Ahy, ahy, Chief!”

Griz looked towards me, “The remaining crew members are Jade whom you already met, “King Pin”, “Dog Face”, and “Baller”, all seasoned, career sailors. Have a question, ask me. Got it?”

“Yes, Sir!”

Jade gently nudged me, approvingly.  I suspect she already knew about my security clearance which motivated her statement, “You’re one important dude”. Our desert consisted of fluffy homemade chocolate cake, pineapple upside down cake made with a healthy dose of rum, coconut ice cream, and make your own hot fudge sundaes.

The island had the basic creature comforts of the mainland. Fresh water was flown in for drinking. Porta potties were serviced monthly.  Electrical generators powered by petrol provided electricity. Communication with the mainland was via satellite internet, and a single, satellite phone, used sparingly.

The five crew members were a handpicked group of old Navy vets. The senior crew member was Griz who was the foreman. Drake saved his life in Vietnam during an underwater demolition accident, and, was loyal to Drake.   King Pin, Dog Face, and Baller, were retired, career, enlisted Navy sailors in their seventies. They felt privileged to have an opportunity to clock in; complete the repetitious tasks each day, clock out, play cards, and drink themselves to sleep seven days a week.  They were paid well, and life on the desolate island, was better than dying slowly in a VA facility on the mainland.  They never talked to me but respected the fact that I reported to their boss, friend, and fellow sailor, Griz.

I was at work early the following morning.  My job was to watch, learn, and keep quiet as Griz opened up the AUV’s with a key hung around his neck. He carefully removed sensitive sonar and computer systems like a surgeon performing surgery.  My stepfathers company serviced and repaired AUV’s. The oil and gas industry uses them to map the seafloor before drilling or laying pipes, and for inspecting underwater oil rig platforms. Our largest client, the Navy, uses them for intelligence gathering, mine countermeasures, mapping the seafloor, payload delivery, and anti-submarine warfare. They’re powered by rechargeable batteries which we performed on the island. They look like torpedoes or cruise missiles; about 19’ in length, 21” in diameter, and weigh 1700 pounds. Their sophisticated sonar and computer systems transmit images of the ocean floor which are beamed up to a satellite, and interpreted by Navy intelligence. They operate for about 16 hours on pre-programmed missions which take them as far away as the West Coast, Hawaii, or Alaska, where they are met by our company personnel, serviced, and sent back out to sea.

Opening the AUV’s required a top security clearance, and a key issued by the manufacturer. The keys were only issued to those with top security clearance.  Drake earned his top security clearance from decades of loyal service as a Chief Petty Officer in the Navy. I suspect Drake arranged for my security clearance through his high level Navy contacts.  We were required to always wear the key on a chain around our necks like a dog tag. The Navy ordered the fleet that any AUV found afloat, ashore, or under any circumstances, was to be sequestered, held under tight security, and never tampered with, until a member of our company with the top security clearance and key arrived.

The new AUV’s arrived by military transport plane which took advantage of the long runway. They were carefully placed on carts, and wheeled to our metal warehouse where they would be readied for service. When the AUV’s were ready for deployment, we’d hall them out on a trailer to a launching ramp similar to launching a boat. We placed them into the ocean, remotely start them, and they began their missions.

About a week into my work, I was becoming proficient in opening up the AUV’s and recharging the batteries.  The interior of the AUV’s were packed with  state of the art, sonar, computer systems, battery packs, recording, transmitting devices; America’s best underwater surveillance technology. Like modern automobile engines, they are difficult to repair given the fact there was little room to reach each component. We were very proficient in removing and replacing the sophisticated components, and the Navy trusted our work.

Drake loved adventure honed as an underwater demolition expert during Vietnam. As he got older, seeing the end of the line, he devised a method of making enormous money by trafficking Fentanyl, a very lethal narcotic, manufactured in sophisticated laboratories inside China, and smuggled out of China through “The Golden Triangle”; the border of Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar. The packaged Fentanyl was sealed in airtight, chemically coated plastic bags, masking the scent of the Fentanyl, oblivious to drug sniffing canines. Drake and Griz devised a way of packing the Fentanyl within the nooks and crannies of the AUV’s. Because Drake’s company only had access to the interior of the AUV’s, and the responsibility of launching them, Drake and Griz could direct the destination of the AUV’s to any port on the West Coast, Alaska, and Hawaii where his trusted employees would remove the AUV from the water, sequester it for repair and maintenance, remove the Fentanyl, and deliver it to the purchaser. Drake did it more for the action than the money.  The profits he made enabled a simple guy from Oklahoma, with limited career horizons, to make millions, and allowed him to live a luxurious lifestyle with my mom. Drake was “rolling the dice” because if found out, the Fentanyl trafficking would be traced solely to him.

One evening, Griz awoke me in my bunk, and instructed me to follow him to the warehouse which was empty and dark. Without saying a word, Griz opened the AUV with his key, and began removing components which he handed me, until the shell of the AUV was empty. Griz told me to retrieve a black bag marked, “Top Secret. Security Clearance Required.” He tore it open, and emptied the contents which included tightly packed baggies of white powder on to the floor. He threw me a roll of duct tape, saying, “Your job is to tape the bags to the bottom of each component. On the first of each month, you’ll hear our pilot, Kai, do a late night fly over. He’ll throw the black bags from the plane. It’s your job to immediately get out of bed, fetch the bags, take them to the warehouse, place them in the gated store room, and lock it. Got it?”

“Yeah, but what the hell is this white powder?”

“Always wear surgical gloves and a face mask to protect you from the toxic drug. If you imagine Lincoln’s head on a penny covered with Fentanyl, that small amount is enough to kill you. It’s our money maker, kid. Have you checked your bank account lately?”

I was now an accessory to Fentanyl trafficking, and in violation of numerous Federal laws, which would place me in jail for the rest of my life. Drake knew he wanted somebody with “skin in the game”, assisting in his drug business. Drake knew that if he died, fight for control of the company would expose his drug smuggling scheme. Drake needed a family member to carry on the business, and he chose me. Mom didn’t know about it but enjoyed the spoils of Drake’s success. Aside from me, Griz, Drake, and some unknown persons at our West Coast operations, nobody, not even the five other crew members on the island, knew about the Fentanyl trafficking business. We performed our “packing” in the middle of the night, inside the warehouse after the other crew members clocked off their shift. They were told that evening work within the warehouse required top secret clearance and warned never to enter. The doors to the warehouse were bolted shut as we performed our work.

We ate well. Prime meats, seafood, fresh vegetables, and fruit were always included with the supplies arriving by plane. Despite the good food, living and working on an island was difficult. It was flat, hot, and humid. There were no trees providing shade. At times, the wind was so strong; it felt like it would blow you off the island. Our “down time” was brutal because of the lack of diversions. Satellite TV was the only recreation. There was no cell phone reception on the island, and the only satellite phone was the property of Drake’s company. It was used only for emergency purposes under strict Navy regulations. Jade and I fought the boredom with exercise, weed, and plenty of lovemaking.

The old crew members preferred beer, liquor, and nightly poker games including the telling of Navy yarns. Conspiracy theories were the highlight of their conversations. King Pin claimed to have been the young sailor driving the grey Navy hearse transporting the slain President Kennedy to Air Force One as the First Lady sat in the front seat beside him. King Pin said Mrs. Kennedy sat “stoically, not shedding a tear”, but exhibiting “great restraint and dignity”. He vividly recalled her pink dress heavily stained with her husband’s blood. King Pin admitted to shedding a tear or two during the short ride to Air Force one, and was handed a silk handkerchief by Mrs. Kennedy embroided with her initials, “JK”. She graciously thanked him for his service, and muttered, “They killed, Jack. They got their vengeance!” King Pin choked up after finishing the story, reached into his wallet, and produced the neatly folded handkerchief he carried for decades.

Dog Face claimed he was the Senior Chief Petty Officer in charge of burying Osama Bin Laden’s body at sea. However, Dog Face proclaims the body wasn’t that of “OBL”, and, in fact, “OBL” is serving a life sentence in the Federal Government’s Supermax prison in Colorado under an alias, kept out of sight from other prisoners, and monitored by handpicked guards who signed federal government nondisclosure agreements. Dog Face said the United States has benefited greatly from the intelligence provided by “OBL” and thwarted many terrorist attempts

Baller said a private jet unexpectedly landed on the long runway. He recalls an “aging, long haired, hippie, wearing a tank top with the insignia, “The Doors”, climbing out of the jet, and marveling at the long, emergency Space Shuttle runway. Baller pointed to Jade, saying, “Jade recognized the guy as the rock star, Jim Morrison, ran up to him, and he placed his arm around her, reciting some poetry.”  Jade interceded, “It was lyrical poetry Jim wrote, Baller. Jim was referring to the long runway he saw from the sky, and had to see for himself, when he repeated the lyrics from “The End,”

Ride the snake, ride the snake
To the lake, the ancient lake, baby
The snake, he's long, seven miles

Baller said, “He removed his tank top, signed it, gave it to Jade, hugged her, got back on the plane, and took off. Can you imagine that?”

Jade was smart. She knew everything about the company, except our Fentanyl trafficking. During our love making, Jade whispered, “Why is it that you and Griz only have top secret security clearance? Why is it only you and Griz work on the AUV’s at night?” She was determined to learn our secret.

Servicing, repairing, and packing AUV’s with Fentanyl was my job for the next two years. A kilogram (approximately 2.2 lbs) of Fentanyl is purchased for approximately $6,000, and sold for approximately $1.6 million dollars. The reason for this vast difference in pricing is that the potency of Fentanyl is so great; it can be cut into heroin, and other drugs, to expand their volume.

Griz confided in me that he and Drake concluded, if they increased the 1700 lb weight of the AUV by only 10%, or, 170 lbs, they could transport 77 kilos of Fentanyl purchased for $464,000, and sell it in the States for $123,200,000. The company’s fee for the transport was 1%, or, $1,232,000, multiplied by the number of AUV’s packed with Fentanyl. The profits to OSC were enormous and the risk was irresistible. Our trafficking fees, in the millions of dollars monthly, were wired from Chinese banks to accounts in Russian banks controlled by Drake. The Russian banks “looked the other way” to launder the money for a fee, or no fee, when Drake exchanged the intelligence gathered from the AUV’s with the Russian KGB. Drake didn’t mind paying a laundering fee to the Russian banks, but he resented sharing the Intel from the AUV’s with the Russians. Although Drake didn’t mind being a drug runner, he detested the thought of being a traitor to the United States. Money, evidently, assuaged his guilt. I speculated the only buyers with the hundreds of millions of dollars available to purchase the Fentanyl from the Chinese were wealthy, powerful, Mexican cartels, attracted to the high grade Fentanyl, produced for a fraction of the cost in China, without the burdens of DEA interdiction and smuggling costs. Most of all, the cartels preferred to “hide in plain sight”, so, they liked our method of trafficking. What better way of getting the Fetanyl to the States but inside a US Navy AUV!

Jade was technically talented, and she managed to hack into the video feeds coming from the AUV’s. To kill the boredom, many a night, we’d sit in her office, and watch her computer screen display the underwater images being bounced off a satellite, and back to the Navy.   The ocean floor resembled an underwater Grand Canyon. We saw sunken battleships, planes, antiquities, and even a Ford F150 whose story we speculated upon.  The whales swam alongside the AUV’s as if family members. The dolphins raced the AUV’s, leaping across them, as if to say, “We’re faster than you, and can leap higher. If you’re not careful, we’ll tell your secret!”

When Jade wasn’t practicing her bass guitar, she engaged in target practice with her 9mm Glock pistol. I pitied the poor bastard who attempted to take advantage of Jade. About once a month, natives would visit us from islands dotting the Pacific, rowing across the ocean in canoes like their ancestors. They’d bring items to trade, dance, sing, party, and stayed the night.  They liked our booze, steaks, and we enjoyed their native cuisine, tropical fruits, and female company. The visitors livened up our desolate and humdrum lives. Even the hardened old sailor’s loosened up, trading their uniforms for loin clothes. The visitors spoke a language few could understand. It was a combination of Samoan, Tongan, and Fijian. They prayed to deities and spoke of rituals and ancient belief systems they held for centuries. We welcomed their monthly visits.

Like Drake promised, I was making more money than any engineer or the president of any engineering company. My payroll checks were deposited directly into my account but there was nowhere to spend any of the money on the island. All of my living necessities were provided by the company, and I was prohibited from touching the enormous balance in my account. I suspect Drake didn’t want to attract attention to myself and the company with extravagant purchases. Although Jade was making the direct deposits to my account, she wasn’t able to see my account balance which assuaged my suspicions she loved me for my money.

I never considered the moral implications of my work, that is, the death and carnage I was now responsible for. I rationalized my drug trafficking by saying to myself, “I’m just doing my job.” My ambition to be a “high roller” and provide my mother with a luxurious retirement was more important than any pain I was inflicting on strangers. In this regard, I was my father’s son, and now understood, he was committing larceny to provide for his family. I speculated his coke habit was a necessary to assuage his guilt.  I wondered if he’d be proud or disgraced by my drug trafficking and financial success. I guessed the former. I’d  locate his whereabouts when I return home, and, help him out financially, if he’s still alive.

My mom never mentioned being sick, but I suspect she was fighting the “Big C”, contracted from years of chain smoking, when I heard her terrible coughing and spitting on the emailed audio tapes, she sent me.  It sounded bad. “Your mama is very sick with lung cancer, honey. I’m being admitted to the hospital. Your stepfather died from a stroke while we were on a world cruise. He told me on his deathbed, you were bequeathed ownership of the company upon his death. However, I received a strange phone call from a man claiming to be the “key holder” on the West Coast who is contesting the ownership of the company. He’s a Filipino American man in Los Angeles who claims Drake is his biological father, who supported him and his mother. Drake was good to us, honey, but in the end, he was just another sailor with a “woman in every port.”

Drake’s drug trafficking operation now became clear to me. The bastard son was my equivalent on the mainland, and responsible for opening the AUV’s, removing the Fentanyl, and delivering it to the cartels. Knowingly or unknowingly, Drake pitted us against each other, or perhaps, envisioned a partnership. I wouldn’t know until I met this guy in person. Aside from being my last opportunity to be with my mother before she died, I had to get back home, and defend my interest in the business.  Leave it to Drake, never to put his succession plans in a proper legal document. Although the old, tough, bastard, always kept his emotions to himself, I felt a sense of closure with him by being named his successor, but also felt like he wanted to test me by putting me through the misery of earning control of the business by fighting for it.

During the flight, I fell asleep and had night mares of the eerie sunsets, native chants, exotic dancing, but was awoken by Kai’s engine sputtering. It didn’t sound good, and heavy rain was pelting the plane. I couldn’t see out the windows.

“Kai, are we cool?”

“I don’t know man. This is the worse tropical storm I’ve seen in some time. I’m having trouble maintaining the horizon”.

Jade was calm. I never saw her agitated or afraid. Jade placed her arms around me, “After I visit my brother in LA, I’m coming to be with you, baby.”

“That won’t work right now, Jade. I have important family business to contend with.”

Jade removed her arms from around me and pouted. As the plane headed deeper into the storm clouds, the wind and rain pelted the small plane, thrashing it about the sky. In one moment, we must have lost a thousand feet in altitude. Despite Kai’s familiarity with Pacific weather conditions, I could tell he was having difficulty controlling the plane.

“I love you, Mitch, but I won’t be left out in the cold, empty handed.”

“We were just island lovers.  I never promised you a future together!”

“I’ll make certain you’ll have no future, Mitch! I’ll apply for a whistle-blower award from the Navy when we reach the mainland.”

“Why would you be paid a whistle-blower award?”

Jade removed her Smartphone, and displayed videos she recorded showing me and Griz packing the AUV’s with Fentanyl. They were date stamped, and, to make matters worse, the video sound recordings included Griz and I discussing the amount of Fentanyl being shipped, and the destination ports of the Fentanyl packed AUV’s. The video recordings, along with the unusually high, payroll deposits into my account Jade was instructed to make, created an ironclad case of drug trafficking against me, resulting in jail, and the destruction of the company.

“How did you get these tapes, Jade?”

“I didn’t make the tapes, Mitch. Drake did! He’s been snooping on the warehouse for years, off and on, but more consistently since you and Griz started “working” together.”

“You didn’t answer my question, Jade. How did you get the tapes?”

“I got them with resourcefulness, Mitch. I see every income, expense, and inventory report coming into the office from the OSC controller’s office on the mainland. The expense item, “CCTV”, jumped off the expense report, and stared me in the face. It only took a vague inquiry with a friendly bookkeeper at headquarters to get a computer file name which led me to a user name and password challenge. With a little “elbow grease”, and hacking knowledge, I was watching and recording you and Griz nightly, babe.”

I didn’t feel betrayed because Jade was protecting herself. I would have done the same thing if I were in her shoes. She planted a soft, wet kiss on my lips, and said, “This changes the game, Mitch. I’ll expect you to send for me when your business is concluded in Vegas.”  I couldn’t help but remember Drakes advice to me, “Be on guard that relationships, of any kind, have strings attached.”

If you stick with me, you’ll be an accessory to drug trafficking, and can spend the rest of your life in prison. Is that what you want?”

“I’d rather be an “accessory” to the man I love, than an “accessory” to nothing, which is what I’ve been my entire life.”

Kai was a “company man”, one of Drake’s first employees, and was loyal to Drake for giving him a job and flying lessons. He overheard Jade’s threat and sensed the urgency of our situation. He held up a pistol and pointed it at Jade saying, “Boss, I can take her out now and throw her corpse from the plane.” Jade reached for her Glock inside her duffle bag. I grabbed her hand, preventing her from removing the gun. The last thing we needed was a shoot out in a small plane, during a storm, with nowhere to land, and nobody to fly the plane should Kai be killed. I waved Kai off from shooting her. Kai muttered, “I never trusted that chick!”

Lighting struck the plane, the engine stalled, and it took a sharp dive.  I couldn’t help but think this experience was in keeping with my previous experiences on the island, where the unexpected, becomes the expected. Jade put on her ear buds, held me tight, and recited the lyrics to “LA Woman,” hoping that chanting the lyrics would force the plane to level off from its rapid descent,

“Mr. Mojo Risin’, gotta keep on risin’

Risin’, risin’…”

Kai began reciting the words to a beautiful, and calming Polynesian prayer I heard the visiting islanders chant on their monthly visits. Kai’s prayer made the horrible, seem bearable. Although Kai was struggling to keep the plane from crashing into the ocean, he wasn’t giving up, pulling back on the yoke, and attempting to get the engine to turn over. I prayed Kai’s deities were listening to his prayers, and would be merciful to us. I also prayed they liked, “The Doors”!

Jonathan Ferrini is a published author who resides in San Diego.  He received his MFA in motion picture and television production from UCLA.