Chapter 1 | Part 1
On the Gulf, the weather had been kind to the crew of the Cat’s Catch and after twenty days at sea, they would be on leave for holiday that night in New Orion. The boat had come in and out of port periodically to release its cargo, but no one except the first mate had stepped on land past the docks.
From an outsider’s perspectives, the boat’s exterior was questionable in upkeep and maintenance, but it suited the fishermen’s needs perfectly. With a medium sized deck and small cabin, the boat was built for speed and accessibility, though not quite big enough for six men.
At the wheel, Captain Cassidy smoked one of his cigars while ashes flew into his black beard. He always wore his white, sweat stained t-shirt and old military cap with his black Irish curls peaking out the sides. Tentatively he watched his first-mate, Luca, mentoring the new greenhorn, Riley. The boy had finally stopped fumbling around the deck and throwing-up over the bow. He earned his sea legs and survived his fist journey.
Riley joined the crew a few weeks ago. It was his first week in New Orion when Luca found him. All the crewmembers weren’t from anywhere in particular, but they were all drawn to New Orion and found company in each other. All of them had broken families and discouraging pasts that brought them to where they were now. Riley was one in the same, just like them in almost everyway.
Cassidy cut the engine of the boat. Standing beside Riley, Luca stopped what he was doing and squinted his eyes in Cassidy’s direction. The captain winked as he stepped on deck, stroking an orange and white lifesaver hanging on a wall.
Luca stepped back and motioned toward some of the other men. Riley kept working as Luca and the crew picked him up from behind and tossed him over board headfirst into the ocean. The men laughed as Riley surfaced, his long brown hair covering his face.
Luca bounced up and down on the rail. “Your officially one of us now.”
Cassidy threw the lifesaver over the rail with a wide grin. “Welcome to the crew, laddy!”
The sun had set as the boat got into port. They all decided to go to a bar before heading their separate ways for the weekend. His hair now dry in a ponytail with new clothes, Riley wasn’t too keen celebrating with the others. He was grateful to be part of a family now, but he had other things on his mind, other plans after their celebration.
He was still sipping his first beer leaning over the bar while Luca, his new best friend, pounded down shot after shot like sport.
Luca pulled back his orange hair and slapped Riley on the back. “So we are finally off the boat! I know I’ve got to get some tail.”
Riley laughed. “More ways than one?” he said taking another pull of his beer.
“I’m thinking her,” Luca leaned out of his chair looking past Riley, “over there, the strawberry redhead in the skirt.”
Riley turned around as Luca waved to her and she returned the gesture. “Pretty hair… I’m guessing that’s your only type.”
“Yah, shiny, long, gorgeous hair,” Luca said. “You want me to get you hooked up with a friend of hers?”
Riley didn’t doubt Luca had that kind of power, but he wasn’t interested. “I think I’ll sleep at a hotel after this.”
Luca laughed. “Why pay for a hotel when you can get a free night?” He winked.
Riley chose not to comment. He really liked Luca, but he didn’t agree with the lifestyle he lived on land.
Luca saw the discomfort in Riley. For a brief moment, Luca sobered up. “I know how I may look right now, but we all got our dark side. The secret we live… it gives us a confidence like no other. Who wouldn’t take advantage of that?”
Riley knew he wasn’t a saint himself, but it shouldn’t be an excuse for the wicked. Many times he was faced with the dilemma, but he chose to take the high road. Usually.
He thought back to the time he first met Luca.
Starting a new life in the city of New Orion, Riley lived in the streets, eating scrapes from strangers and sleeping with rats. Life could have been worse and it could have been better, yet he didn’t take for granted the choice to start over and find a new life. But one night he was hungry and cat scrapes wouldn’t cut it anymore.
Despite is ragged appearance; he walked into a hotel restaurant with glass cedar French doors called The Juliet. Immediately the host greeted him with slight distain. He fidgeted with his own blue bow tie before guiding Riley to a table. The host’s nose crinkled as Riley brushed against him when he sat down. He forced an insincere smile to Riley upon his hurried departure.
Riley ordered one of the most expensive meals on the menu and then got caught when he tried to walk out. However, he may as well have been the luckiest guy in the world to be stopped by one of the prettiest girls he had ever met; life could have been worse.
Riley hadn’t technically bathed in weeks, and he wasn’t maintaining his brown shoulder length hair or over-grown stubble. The clothes he wore were shoplifted from a second hand shop. His sneakers were no more valuable than the box they were plucked from in an alley. So nervous and full from his meal, he felt sick from the anxiety.
She had platinum blonde hair no longer than her jaw line with bangs and wore a similar getup like the host, silky blue with pale grey and black. Smiling while looking him up and down with green eyes at his appearance, she said, “I could never get my hair to grow that long,” she commented. Turning around, the woman handed him a gold room key with a small wooden plank on it. “Don’t worry about anything, I’ll take care of it. Spend the night and don’t let anyone see you.”
“What? What are you doing?” he said in a rough voice. “Are you crazy?”
She stood up straight and stayed firm. “You might want to go before I call the manager.”
He leaned in, “Why are you doing this?”
She smiled. “Just go,” nodding to the stairs.
Stunned, he turned around and walked upstairs to the hotel room with the key. Before returning to her post to greet new guests, she looked back at him and smiled. Embarrassed, Riley just walked on fidgeting with the room key.
Room 306 was white and black with yellow accents. Stripes of black and white wallpaper wrapped the room with a small crystal chandelier hanging in the center of the room. After rinsing in a long, hot shower, washing his dirty clothes, and shaving his face, he stepped out of the bathroom in a soft white robe.
Slipped from under the main door, a note laid on the floor. He approached it, afraid and excited for what it might say. It was embossed in the hotel stationary, blessed with whom he thought was the writing of the blonde woman.
You’re meal has been taken care of. Have a good night. Be out before 9 A.M. Sleep well.
He flipped the note around, hoping she would have left a name, but she didn’t. He tossed the note on the vanity beside the room key. He caught himself in the mirror, realizing how long he hadn’t seen his true face. Trying to remember if she wore a nametag, he turned off the lights, opened one of the windows for cool air, and got into bed. Accepting he wouldn’t know the pretty blonde’s name, he let himself fall into a deep sleep.