Lime Merchants

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Action and Adventure  |  House: Booksie Classic

Another writing exercise, this one on action.

Dominic Vespucci and Caleb Cattherway sheathed their oars in the waters of the Bay of Campeche, two shades colder than the limes nestled in the hull between them. Though American and ignorant of Spanish, the two-man crew of the canoe Felicity had earned a good reputation among the local farmers who grew a few limes for export. Dominic chalked this up to his family’s history in the area. They had moved from Italy in the late 1800s, a fact which he often mentioned to the farmers in passing, before heading for America in the 1950s, a fact which he often excluded. Caleb, on the other hand, attributed their good rapport to solid business practice, timeliness, and their kind demeanor. Whatever the case, the two co-workers and friends had now two thousand limes in crates between them that were on their way to Veracruz, then Florida, then on to the counter tops of hundreds of American kitchens.

“We ought to stay further against the shore, Dominic. Hurricane season is here, and we barely missed Hurricane Iella that one time.” said Caleb, pulling his oar up into his lap.

“You’ve said this every year for the past ten. We missed Iella by three hundred miles and made a rather profitable second trip, as I recall. Navigators move in straight lines, Caleb, not in curves and coves. Besides, we’ve got an eight a.m. deadline, and I don’t think we’d make it if we follow the coast.”

“Eight a.m.? You didn’t tell me it was so early. Why isn’t it five as usual?”

“They retired the Coraline and the new ship and captain prefer to make more, rather than less profit, so does the company.”

“And you didn’t tell me this ashore?” Caleb asked. Dominic wiped his brow and pulled his own oar onto his lap.

“No, and we don’t have the time to be arguing about it now. We’re cutting it rather close already.”

“I’d think we’d be fine if we took the coastal route.”

“And that’s why I don’t fill you in on things. You’ve got anxiety. You let it get the better of you and we end up losing time and money because of it.”

“Since when do you care about the money?”
“Listen,” Dominic said, pointing the oar at Caleb and thrusting it forward, “I intend to eat for the next month. I don’t know about you...and I can’t eat limes for a month. So unless you want to be stuck with crates of these instead of crates of actual food, you best get back to rowing.” As he jabbed the oar forward at Caleb, he accidentally knocked a lime into the water.

“Okay fine we’ll get back to rowing. I’ll get it.”

“No! Don’t!” Dominic shouted, reaching forward to stop Caleb. The motion of Caleb reaching into the water dipped the shoddy canoe beneath the water line. It rapidly filled with turquoise water, tilting it, and allowing the limes to escape into the bobbing waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The two starred at the limes as the current carried them off into the deep waters of the Atlantic. For a moment, both were silent.

“You idiot,” Dominic shrieked. “You idiot. You idiot. You id-i-ot. We’re screwed now. We’re screwed. We were contracted for two thousand and there’s barely a dozen left. We’ll have to pay back the difference. Two thousand minus twelve limes, that’s how much we’re going to owe the shipping company. We’re not only going to be broke, we’re going to be in debt. Agh!”

“Okay, Dominic, I’m sorry. Let’s just… I mean I’m sure we can find an answer here. We have until eight tomorrow to…”

“Where are we going to get two thousand by tomorrow morning, huh? It took us weeks to get these, going to every farmer in Campeche, Tabasco, Veracruz, just asking if they could throw us ten or twenty. How can we get two thousand by tomorrow? How?”

“We’ll just have to explain to the company that…”


“Explain to the company? Explain? They hear two kinds of reasons, those having to do with them making more money and those that indirectly lead to the first. You’ve just cost them at least a couple thousand bucks. They aren’t going to listen to that. They’re going to get angry, and they are going to get their money’s worth outta you and me one way or another.”

“I…”

“We’d be better off fleeing the country and going back to the States before we get found out. We’ll get an apartment in Palm Beach and...oh we don’t have the money for that. We have to get those limes back. Start paddling and gathering.” Dominic dived into the water and began scooping out limes as if he was hugging the waves, tossing a loose one or two into the boat.

“It’s no use, Dominic,” Caleb said. “We’ll need to try something else.”

“Well unless you want to…” Dominic trailed off, a smile slowly growing across his face.

“Unless I want to, what?” Caleb asked.

“Unless, you want to steal them?”


“Steal them?”


“No, no think about it. How many private, large citrus farms are there in the whole state of Veracruz? A single one of them would have far more than two thousand we could take.”

“We can’t possibly.”

Dominic jumped back into the boat and grabbed Caleb’s hands. “Ah but we can possibly, we can easily. We could go out tonight and take an easy couple of thousand right off the orchard tree, toss them in the crates – we still have those – and get them back to the boat before sunrise. You said you wanted to follow the shore, so let’s follow the shore. Let’s follow it to gold, and out of our miserable situation...unless you’d rather wallow in debt slavery for the next ten years?”


“I couldn’t bring myself to steal anything. What about the farmers?”

“The farmers? The farmers? The poor farmers we take a dozen limes from growing in the outcrops of the ejido, think about those farmers. What life have they had? These rich families have come in. They’ve bought up the land. They’ve turned it into exports only, and what has been the result? Less land for corn and beans, less land for the poor farmer, less land for the common man just trying to scrape by, that’s been the result. We can’t just sit idly by and let this theft from the common man go unanswered. Not only would it be okay if we stole from these wealthy jerks, but we have a moral obligation to do so. We need to steal these limes, for the people!”


“We’re just Americans, Dominic. We can’t possibly justify getting involved here in that kind of issue. We don’t know what all the consequences will be.”

“If you won’t help me, fine, just don’t rat me out. I’m going to save both of our skins, whether you want to save your own or not. What are you going to do, go back to the company and admit defeat? Have them pull out the contract on you? Have the captain come down, all bloated with whiskey from the deck and stare at your putrid soul and scowl? Is that living?”


“You’ve become frantic, Dominic.”

“And you’ve become soft, Caleb.”

“Then, I suppose this is where we part. You can take the canoe for your fool’s errand. Just drop me off on shore and I’ll bus it into the city.”

“Suit yourself. Until we meet again,” Dominic said holding out his hand.

“Until then,” Caleb replied, shaking it.

 

Caleb grabbed the overnight bus to Veracruz that evening and by morning walked out into the city. He could not bring himself to admire any of the buildings, though he had long wished to walk through the streets, but instead made his way to the dock where he hoped the new ship would be waiting. Along the way, he stopped by a newspaper stand and purchased the daily paper, perusing it for any indication of what had happened to Dominic. However, there was no story, not a story of a thief caught in the act, nor a story of a prosperous family awaking to find much of their precious crop stolen. Caleb imagined that perhaps Dominic had managed to steal just enough to satisfy the ship owners, without alerting whatever unfortunate family he targeted. Caleb became hopeful as he tossed the paper and walked up on to the bow.

“Caleb Cattherway, sir,” he said to the captain. “Has Dominic Vespucci already been here?”


“I don’t know you and I don’t know him. What do you want? A job? Are you Americans?”


“Yes, we are Americans, but we already have jobs. We are merchants and boaters. We normally bring a supply of limes or lemons to this ship. We used to bring it to the Coraline, but as she is no longer in business…”

“You have a contract?”


“Yes, I do,” he said, procuring the desired paper from his inside jacket pocket and unrolling it before the captain. The captain read it briefly.

“I’ve not come across any Dominic Vespucci, and it’s almost eight fifteen. I won’t be waiting on him.”

“But, sir, I’m sure he’s just…”


“The shipping industry doesn’t run on ‘I’m sure’ s. It runs on ‘yes, sirs,’ and ‘here you go’ s. So unless you have the limes and are prepared to give them to me and say, ‘yes, sir. Here you go,’ you best be on your way.”

“I won’t have a job, then.”

“Well you have quite a bit of debt to pay off to the company, it seems. You can join us.”

“I don’t really knowanything about boating, to be honest. We have a small canoe, and I can paddle, but that’s about it.”


“Well that’s not going to be good for you, then. Stay here a second,” he said, waking away and leaving Caleb with a sailor.

 

Dominic walked onto the dock and stared at the green waves. He was remained of his previous life as a merchant, and of the joy of plying the cresting waters. He noticed a small canoe, one he had not seen in two years, bobbing in the gentle current below him. He jumped down and began to crawl along the hull, feeling each floorboard, running his fingers over old knife holes, sliding his palm down lines of rope that lashed the small boat to the shore. For the first time in nearly two years, he felt safe again.

“Get away from that,” he heard a voice shout from above. He looked up to see Caleb, who jumped down and jabbed a finger into his chest. “I said get away. You want trouble?”

“No, I’m just looking for a place to go,” Dominic replied. “Somewhere else would probably do just as well as here.”


“Dominic?” Caleb asked, slowly matching the image of his old friend’s face to the despondent, bearded features in front of him. “That you?”


“It is me, yes.”


“Well, then… I should have stabbed you instead of just asking you to leave. Get out.”

Dominic looked down and said nothing. He noticed that Caleb was disembarking several crates onto the dock.

“I said get out,” Caleb repeated. Ignoring his friend’s request, Dominic continued to stare downwards. He reached out and Caleb jumped backwards. Placing his hands on a crate, Dominic hoisted it to shore next to the others. Caleb said nothing, but retracted his finger. Dominic moved another box. Caleb watched him silently and then joined him.


Submitted: July 20, 2021

© Copyright 2021 Ryan Wesdock. All rights reserved.

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