The raft, p.1
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       The Raft, p.1
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           Christopher Blankley
The Raft


  THE RAFT

  or the Case of the Barefoot Detective

  by

  Christopher Blankley

  Copyright © 2013 by Christopher Blankley

  other books by Christopher Blankley

  The Cordwainer

  The Bobbies of Bailiwick

  The Bobbies of Bailiwick and the Captive Ocean

  Zombpunk: STEM

  Zombpunk: ARROW

  That Nietzsche Thing

  Prologue

  Jerry knew he'd never get a good night's sleep until something was done about the Raft.

  He sure as hell hadn't gotten one last night and he knew tonight he'd do no better.

  Jerry stumbled around his kitchen, making the motions of brewing coffee.

  He huffed and paused, defeated by the seal on the coffee can and looked out of the bay windows of his kitchen, out at the panoramic view of the Puget Sound beyond.

  Here he was with a front row seat to the Extinction of the American Working Man. Bastards, Jerry cursed at the black shadows of the boats floating out in the water. It was raining, the clouds low and heavy, dumping a sheet of the signature Northwest drizzle over the Sound. But Jerry could still make out the mosquito fleet of tiny craft moored just beyond the shore of his waterfront property. Goddamn Rafters, Jerry cursed again. It was all their fault. Why couldn't the government do something about them?

  Linda came out of the bedroom with the dogs in tow. She had their float toys, and they were scampering to snatch them out of her hand. It was time for their morning exercise and Linda was taking them down to the water for a swim. It was their morning ritual, Jerry's wife and the dogs. The dogs would swim for fifteen to twenty minutes, out and back, dutifully retrieving the thrown float toys. They'd do it until they drowned, Jerry was certain, if Linda's arm didn't always tire before the dogs did. They'd come back soaking wet and leave wet paw prints all over the hardwoods. They'd curl up before the pellet stove, lit or not, and pant pools of drool onto the floor.

  There was the thunder of dog feet on the stairs down to the basement as Jerry returned to his hapless attempt to make coffee.

  Thirty years Jerry had spent at Boeing, welding jumbo jets and the tail assembling for strike fighters. Thirty years on the job and his hard work had bought him his dream home. He'd built it mostly himself, on weekends and vacations. The patch of waterfront property had been the most dear expense. The commanding view of the Puget Sound, and the skyline of Seattle beyond, was worth a pretty penny, at least it was back when Jerry had bought it. Before the Raft. Now those vagabond, good-for-nothing freeloaders were driving the home prices into the toilet, stealing money from honest, hardworking folks like Jerry. Who wanted to spend five to ten million dollars to look out at a cluster of ramshackle, barely seaworthy eyesores? A fleet of tax-dodging hobos. Not even Jerry. But Jerry was stuck with it. Even if he wanted to, he couldn't sell his house. Not with the Raft practically camped out on his shore.

  The whole system was upside down. Guys like Jerry couldn't catch a break, but the floating refuse out there could happily shit all over Jerry and no one lifted a finger. Why didn't the government do something? Clean up the mess. Even the courts had told them that they could, that the Rafters didn't have a legal leg to stand on. But still, there they all sat, out in the Puget Sound – and almost every other major body of water in the United States. It was a goddamn social phenomenon. It made Jerry sick.

  He finally had the coffee grounds in the machine. He flipped the switch and watched the brewed coffee as it started to trickle into the pot. Linda would want a cup when she returned upstairs with the dogs. It was cold and rainy out there, she'd need a cup to warm her up.

  The whole thing was stupid. A stupid loophole some smart aleck thought he'd found in the 2020 revised tax code. The text stated that any US Citizen who failed to set foot on US soil during the preceding tax year was exempt from paying taxes up to a fixed maximum of two hundred thousand dollars.

  It was the language that tripped up the IRS: set foot on US soil. Some wise-ass interpreted this loophole to apply not just to US Citizens abroad, but to any US Citizen that literally didn't set foot on US soil. Sat up in a tree, for example, for a whole calendar year. Some people actually tried it, with varying and humorous success.

  Of course, it was all a bunch of bullshit and the IRS treated it as such. But when the tax protesters took to the water and cast off on the inland waters of the US, they seemed to grab the popular imagination. After all, there was a strong motivation behind the attempt to dodge income tax, and a lot of grassroots sympathy, with the base marginal tax rate topping over forty-five percent.

  The whole movement was known as the Raft. Not a single vessel, but a whole fleet of ragtag, dispossessed ships. Essentially anything that floated and kept a bum from setting foot on solid ground. That was the Raft. With each and every deadbeat skipping out on his fair share of the tax burden.

  But damn it, Jerry paid his taxes, even on his social security, something his father's generation had never had to do. If Jerry could pay his taxes, why couldn't those bums? The government needed to come in and arrest the lot. It was obscene, the sight, floating out there flipping the bird at Uncle Sam.

  And on Jerry's doorstep, too. The politicians back in Olympia and even Washington, D.C. didn't have to deal with it. But Jerry did, every day. All those tiny little craft, each holding a stinking hippie. God knows where they were all going to the bathroom. In the Sound, Jerry wagered, and then that refuse washing up on Jerry's beach.

  It just wasn't fair. A guy who works his whole life, does his time, pays his taxes, he gets screwed over. But those deadbeats...

  The coffee was ready. Jerry poured himself a cup.

  When Jerry first heard the screams, he was not concerned. His wife was prone to hollering at the dogs if they swam out too far from shore. But when her screams didn't die away, he began to grow alarmed. He crossed the dining room to the window and looked out through the rain-spattered glass. The dogs were out of the water, rooting at something at the very southern edge of Jerry's property. His wife was sprinting back towards the house as fast as her age and bum knee would let her.

  “Jerry!” she screamed up from the back basement door. She screamed with such blood-curdling force that a cold shiver shot down Jerry's spine. Something was wrong, very wrong. He'd never heard his wife's voice betray such fear. Jerry dropped his coffee mug on the dining room table, dumping its contents across the oak surface. He sprinted for the basement stairs.

  His wife was standing at the door to the mud room, her face sheet white.

  They didn't speak. Jerry crossed the small patch of lawn between the house and the water's edge, shuffling in his slippers. “Leave it! Leave it!” he commanded the dogs, but they ignored him, sniffing curiously at the dark mound. When Jerry was on top of them, he smacked each animal roughly on the haunches, sending them whinnying off in the frigid surf.

  Jerry already knew what he'd find. The abject terror in his wife's eyes had spoken volumes.

  Jerry leaned over the mound gingerly, struggling to keep his footing in the loose gravel of the beach. He could feel his heart pumping a thousand beats a minute, the blood thundering in his ears. He reached out and turned the dark mound over. Behind him, Linda let out a horrified cry and began to sob.

  It was a young woman, or had been, her face white, her lips blue. Her dark hair was a tangle of flotsam and mud, wrapped in the heavy, coarse, hemp fabrics of handmade clothes. But it was her feet that instantly marked her as a Rafter. Jerry looked down and stared at her white, porcelain toes.

  She was barefoot. The Rafters were always barefoot. There was no need for shoes when you lived your days aboard ship.

  She'd died and fallen into the water. Jerry looked out at
the countless silhouettes that bobbed out in the Sound, hidden by the haze of the Northwest morning. She'd died and fallen off one of those vagabond craft and washed up on Jerry's beach. She was dead. Back on US soil.

  Jerry's gaze returned to her cold, dead, sheet-white toes.

 
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