Rich walked down the dock to The Odyssey. The big Polynesian with his arms folded leaned against a piling, waiting.
Rich stopped about twenty yards from him.
“You know,” Rich said. “I can’t beat you in a fight, but I can outrun you.”
“No you can’t,” he said. “The cab driver, Speed. He’s my cousin. I can outrun him.”
“Seems like everybody around here is your cousin or wants to be your cousin,” Rich said.
“Don’t worry,” he said, “you paid me to look after your boat and that’s what I’m doing.”
“You like beer?” Rich said.
“Let us say we belong to a mutual admiration society,” he said.
“My name is Rich Larsen,” Rich said reaching out to shake hands.
“They call me Ham; they say when I hit a man it feels like they been hit by a canned ham.”
Rich felt like his hand was a kitten’s paw inside Ham’s thick bear-like claws.
“Climb aboard,” Rich said.
“Can I have two?” Ham said.
“You can have the whole case if ya want it,” Rich said.
“I was kidding,” Ham said. “One is fine.”
Rich grabbed the beers and they sat in the cockpit.
“I get the feeling you’re not here just to watch my boat,” Rich said.
“What makes you think that?” Ham said.
“I think you’re the kind of guy who would just tell everybody to leave my boat alone and nobody would come near it,” Rich said.
“I can be mean, but my wife says I’m gentle,” Ham said.
“How many wives do you have?” Rich said.
“That’s a lot of people left who don’t think you’re gentle,” Rich said. “So what’s up.”
“Word already got out what you did back in Tahiti,” Ham said. “We respect a man like that. So I’m showing you respect.”
“So those people I delivered the pearls for, are they cousins?” Rich said.
They laughed and sipped from the beer.
“All good people are cousins,” Ham said. “If anybody asks, I am your cousin. A son or daughter of your father’s or mother’s brother or sister. A brother or sister will abandon you before a cousin. Jesus’ brothers did not believe he was the Messiah, but his cousin, John, did. A brother or sister would think, my brother would give his life for me, so why should I die for him? A cousin will not even think about it.”
“A man’s word is his bond,” Rich said. “What is a man without his word?”
“This is good beer,” Ham said.
“Have you ever had bad beer?” Rich said.
“Yes,” Ham said, “when you drink with bad men.”
“What else do you know?” Rich said.
“On the island, we will tell a lie to not make a person feel bad,” Ham said. “If a man has a long way to walk and he looks very tired, we will tell him he doesn’t have to walk very far even though we know it is a long way.”
“So am I walking into anything?” Rich said.
“I don’t want you to worry,” Ham said.
“If I am swimming and I ask about sharks and you say don’t worry, there are no sharks, and there are many sharks, are you my cousin?” Rich said.
“Some people have asked about you,” Ham confessed, “here, there, other islands, and so on. We don’t know who they are, but we know they are no good. You can smell a bad fish.”
“How many know?” Rich said.
“Just a few of us me and Speed,” Ham said. “Speed knows everything because he has a cab and hears everything. I work as a bouncer at a bar. I say nothing and hear everything.”
“Do you know Major Oaks?” Rich said.
“Bourbon,” Ham said, “Says nothing. I think the bourbon pushes away whatever he thinks and what he knows further away.”
“He doesn’t seem to like me,” Rich said.
“He likes only Marines,” Ham said. “and he likes me. A few locals thought they’d rob him. I evened things up. Truth is, he didn’t need a whole lot of help. He took care of two and I took care of two. His shirt didn’t even come untucked. I was panting like a dog. He buys me a beer every time he comes in and tells me I should get in shape. I tell him I have a shape – round.”
“Is he a cousin?” Rich said.
“All Marines are cousins,” Ham said.