View more books by Bruce Brown: A Long Way From Paradise, Violence of Action, If You Think Somebody's Out to Get You

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$29.95 / Hardcover (DJ)
ISBN: 9781457510588
184 pages
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Excerpt from the Book
Chapter 1

OLD MEN FREQUENTLY SIT DOWN and write their memoirs, whether anyone’s interested in reading them or not. My ego isn’t quite that out of control, but something happened 30 years ago that was a defining moment in my life. I’ve thought of writing about it ever since. As a writer, you’d think I would have put pen to paper, or fingers to keys, long before this, but much of it was just a little too close to my heart. The magazine and newspaper accounts at the time got about a half the facts right, but now that time has passed, I feel the other half of the story should be told.

It was 1985 and, to plagiarize Charles Dickens, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Reagan was in the White House, the markets were up, nobody had a Facebook or Twitter account, and the AIDS scare was in full swing. My story has nothing to do with any of this, but my editor tells me it’s always good to set the scene.

You could say it had all started 20 years earlier at Ban Me Thout, South Vietnam, where MACSOG units were posted for clandestine missions run into Cambodia and Southern Laos—but that would be going back too far. Much better to start in March of ’85, at a cantina in Puerto Escondido, Baja California. The cantina was on the ground floor of a small hotel on the outskirts of the then-small town. The hotel was two stories, Spanish architecture with whitewashed plaster walls and red tile roof. It was built in a square, around an open unfired tile-floored courtyard with a badly chipped cement fountain. The cantina took up one side of the square, spilling out into the patio, with the lobby taking up another side and the dining room, two. The dining room was hung with some truly spectacular trophy fish: marlin, swordfish, tuna, black sea bass and mahi mahi. A 12-foot hammerhead was also on display.

I had been ignoring a quintet of mariachis while enjoying my first cerveza of the day along with some homemade tortilla chips and really ono salsa cruda. I was also reconnecting with a friend from those bad old days in Ban Me Thout. Then I found myself holding his .45 automatic, threatening ten angry men with knives and guns and thinking about how I hadn’t pointed a gun at anyone in 20 years. I hoped I remembered what came next. I’d already checked that there was a slug in the snout, so it’s safety off, squeeze the trigger. Don’t jerk it! Squeeze again and again until whomsoever you’re shooting at is down. Then move to the next guy. Yeah, I had it all. The author in me says this is a dynamite way to start a book, but I guess I have to back up a little to tell you why I was threatening these men and why they had knives and guns.

My name is Richard Logan; I’m a journalist by profession and a freediver, sailor, and surfer by inclination. My friend was Chris Hutchinson, “Hutch” to most everyone who knew him. During my short time in Ban Me Thout, Chris had been a staff sergeant with a green beanie. Later, he had become a master sergeant with a chest full of ribbons including the Purple Heart (three times), the Silver Star (twice), and a bunch of ARVN medals I can’t pronounce. Then he became a dishonorably discharged civilian, but that again is a different time and story.

Chris made his living by writing freelance articles about diving and by guiding freedivers in the Sea of Cortez. He claims he has me to thank for this state of affairs because I introduced him to freediving on an R&R in Hawaii. I think a serious case of PTSD deserves the blame for his lifestyle more than I do.

We were talking about small stuff—my latest magazine gig, my latest divorce, and his latest fish—while waiting for some clients of his. I was working for NEWSVIEW at the time, but at my request, they had seconded me to one of their sports publications to write a feature on Chris and his freediving. It was to be one in a series of pieces on high-end, offbeat vacations. Remember, this was the mid ’80s, and high-end was in. We were waiting for R. Paul Jennings and his party. They had chartered a boat out of the Escondido Marina, and Chris was going to take them up to Caleta de San Juanico, where he would put them in place to spear some pretty sizable fish.

When Chris and I had met at the cantina, Chris was fresh off his boat, Vagabundo del Mar and I was fresh off a plane that was way too small to fly over the Baja desert comfortably. When we arrived, the cantina had been hosting a single couple at a small table. I’m paid to notice people, places, and things, so I immediately noticed she was in her early 30s, wearing a low-cut tank top and shorts, that she had a cute little saddle of freckles over her nose, a nice tan, a good rack, and wonderful legs. He was about ten years older, dressed the same, and probably had a tan too.

Having not seen Chris for nearly fifteen years, I had pondered what to expect, but he looked great. At 6’2”, he weighed maybe 210 pounds. His sun-streaked brown beard and ponytail were shot with gray, but his blue eyes were sharp even if the sun wrinkles around them were deep as canyons. His arms where chorded with muscle, and his dark tan nearly hid the sun-faded red and green dragons tattooed there. I felt a bit self-conscious about the middle-age roll I had started to develop. I also wondered if I could keep up with him in the water.

Shortly after we had arrived and taken a white-painted wrought-iron table near the fountain, a party of two men and five women entered. If we’d been in a club in Hollywood, I wouldn’t have thought anything about them, but they were a little strange for a cantina in the middle of Baja Sur. The two men were Japanese, fit-looking guys in their 30s. They were wearing slacks and long-sleeved shirts, which seemed a bit formal for our surroundings and the weather. The women were all ten years younger and had a certain professional look about them. The one thing you could say for them was they were not overdressed for the Baja heat.

Chris and I were on our second cervezas when four Anglos arrived. My first thought was that they were Chris’ clients, but they went straight for the table with the Japanese and the party girls. Three of the Anglos were under 40 and dressed in tennis shirts and slacks or shorts with the kind of wraparound shades favored by military or ex-military. They also had the look of men who knew their way around a gym. The fourth guy was twenty years older, and if he’d ever been to a gym, it was just to pass through on his way to the buffet. He carried an extra 35 pounds under his lightweight suit.

“Busy place,” I commented to Chris. I had to speak loudly because he’s spent so much time underwater that his hearing’s shot. I would spend the week remembering to talk loudly, then go home and everyone would ask why I was shouting at them.