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Thin Slice of Life

Miles Arceneaux

Publication Year: 2012


Charlie Sweetwater returns to his hometown to visit his brother but arrives to find he is a no-show: The Coast Guard has discovered Johnny’s shrimp boat drifting abandoned in the Gulf. Is it “death by misadventure” as the authorities presume, or something more sinister?
Meanwhile, Fulton Harbor, where Charlie’s family have docked their shrimp boats for generations, has changed—and not for the better. Hard-working Vietnamese fishermen are under the thumb of Col. Nguyen Ngoc Bao, a ruthless exiled gangster who aims to recreate his criminal enterprise in a New World setting.
Confronting Bao and his thugs are Charlie and a mismatched group of good guys (and gals): a fast-and-loose Cajun hustler, a salty cast of “Third Coast” barroom regulars, a handful of courageous Vietnamese émigrés, a menacing ex-convict, and a misplaced Texas Ranger who discovers a slice of the Lone Star State that the cowboy movies of his boyhood never prepared him for.
Along the way Charlie finds himself falling for his brother’s girlfriend, whose zealous desire to see justice served tests his own limits for loyalty and commitment. Unlikely heroes arise from improbable circumstances, and the denizens of the small seaside community find their fortunes and fates ebbing and flowing like the tidal flux of the ocean itself.


Published by: Texas A&M University Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-7

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pp. 9-10

We would like to thank the wives, relatives and friends who have gone on the journey with us as Thin Slice of Life took shape over the past twenty-four years. ...

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Chapter 01

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pp. 11-14

From above, the calm waters of the Gulf of Mexico reflect the deep blue of a bright October sky. A meandering seagull soars on a thermal updraft, alert for forage fish. From this height the occasional oil and gas platforms look like abandoned toys. Far off over the horizon the shoaling waters lighten to a translucent green ...

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Chapter 02

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pp. 15-19

The highway ahead shimmered in the morning heat and Charlie Sweetwater felt sweat pooling under his arms. Hot, humid air rushed through the open window, but the light had the slightest metallic edge that foretold the approach of autumn. His truck was a temperamental piece of crap ...

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Chapter 03

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pp. 20-25

Charlie, Raul and Ringworm filed into the Key Allegro marina’s combination cafe/bait-shop/and beer-joint. Seating himself at the bar, Charlie ordered three breakfast tacos, a Pearl beer, and a bowl of water for the mutt. They were alone in the cafe except for the sullen, muscular figure hunched over the griddle ...

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Chapter 04

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pp. 26-34

Charlie got bored waiting at the harbor for his brother so he decided to look in on another member of the family. Charlie glanced over at Raul, who was riding shotgun. (Ringworm preferred the bed of the pickup truck.) The boy was watching the bay as if he was expecting to see the Ramrod chugging toward Fulton Harbor any instant. ...

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Chapter 05

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pp. 35-38

The next morning Charlie rubbed his eyes and wondered if the disjointed images rolling around in his head were just a lingering bad dream. The specter of Neddy’s soggy body being heaved onto a stretcher, the soaked shirt clinging to the folds in his doughy torso, stained by the blood, was still too vivid for comfort. ...

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Chapter 06

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pp. 39-41

Texas Ranger O.B. Hadnott cruised across the Copano Bay Bridge in the still coastal dawn. Because O.B. thought the prowl car radio distorted the focus necessary for clarity of mind and purpose, he drove in silence. He wondered why anyone would single out Pinky Cudihay, or any other particular Texas senator, ...

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Chapter 07

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pp. 42-46

Later that morning Charlie and Raul motored the Ramrod across the harbor to the processing plant and offloaded the shrimp that was still iced down in the hold. Afterwards, the two of them tried to busy themselves on the boat while they waited for news about Johnny. ...

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Chapter 08

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pp. 47-50

The Coast Guard called off the search for Johnny Sweetwater after three days. Both Charlie and Rupert pleaded with the coordinator to extend the search and rescue mission, but to no avail. Due to the low statistical odds of survival, the case was downgraded from “active” to “suspended,” pending further developments. ...

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Chapter 09

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pp. 51-60

Charlie’s old truck rumbled down the bumpy two-lane asphalt of Highway 35, past a couple of shipyards and a hulking carbon black plant that looked like some sinister Industrial Revolution throwback. He needed to get away from the boat and the harbor for awhile, needed a break from the black thoughts buzzing around in his head. ...

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Chapter 10

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pp. 61-65

After the breakfast crowd cleared out, Miguel squinted out the window of the marina cafe and bar and spied a wavering vee of geese heading for the rice fields inland to feed. He plucked a toothpick out of the little toothpick deal by the cash register and stuck it in his mouth. He was starting to like this sleepy little town. ...

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Chapter 11

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pp. 66-70

The next morning a representative from the Rockport Bank—from the company’s parent bank actually, out of Houston—delivered some documents regarding the money Johnny had borrowed to upgrade the Ramrod. Charlie opened the official looking envelope and glanced over the papers. ...

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Chapter 12

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pp. 71-81

Neon Leon Guidry paused on the cracked cement sidewalk in front of the He’s Not Here Bar & Grill, on an anonymous side street in Houston’s teeming Fifth Ward. As he opened the door, the late afternoon sunlight cut a swath of gold across the liver-colored carpet. ...

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Chapter 13

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pp. 82-84

Bruce Lee’s chiseled torso had been striped with blood by Han’s razor-sharp Bear Claw prosthetic. Anyone in the harbor watching the film could plainly see that Bruce was really pissed off now. After an almighty fight in Han’s chamber of mirrors, Bruce emerged victorious, ...

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Chapter 14

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pp. 85-89

The next day Charlie Sweetwater reclined in the gimbal-mounted captain’s chair with his bare feet propped up on the Ramrod’s wheel, thinking dark thoughts. A steady breeze ruffled his sun-bleached hair as he took a long drag at a Mexican Delicado cigarette and gazed out at the Gulf. ...

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Chapter 15

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pp. 90-97

The retail seafood store, located street-side in front of the tin warehouse called the Sea-Tex Fish Company, seemed empty when Hadnott walked through the door. The small room had two long horizontal glass counters where the fresh seafood was artistically laid out on beds of ice like an undersea buffet. ...

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Chapter 16

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pp. 98-103

The following day, after breakfast and another chart reading, Charlie switched off the radio and surveyed the horizon. It was overcast and gusty but not stormy yet. He and Raul took advantage of the relative calm and spent several hours doing minor repairs and adjustments to the boat. ...

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Chapter 17

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pp. 104-111

A gloomy, blustery dawn revealed the inconspicuous landmarks that marked the entrance to Cedar Bayou. As an unofficial passage (not even a passable passage according to most), no official markers indicated the narrow cut that divided Matagorda and San José Islands. ...

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Chapter 18

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pp. 112-121

O.B. Hadnott sat alone in a corner of the bar, his chair tipped back and his boot heels cocked in valiant repose on a nearby table. He either didn’t notice the politico’s chemically fueled condition or didn’t choose to. Mostly, he tried not to let on that he was scared shitless. ...

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Chapter 19

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pp. 122-130

“…power is in the process of being restored in the affected coastal counties. According to a representative of GCP&L, repair and cleanup efforts are being hampered by the many roads either damaged or washed out entirely by the Category Four hurricane, and by the high water that remains in many low-lying inland areas.” ...

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Chapter 20

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pp. 131-135

By midday, with the help of the guests, the interior of Shady’s began to resemble its old self again. A hung-over but otherwise enthusiastic work detail removed the plywood from the windows, bagged up bottles and cans, and cleaned off the foul smelling storm slime from the front entry steps and the support pilings. ...

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Chapter 21

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pp. 136-142

Col. Bao dropped a ship-to-shore radio microphone on a metal government surplus desk and sighed with fatigue. The storm had ionized the atmosphere, and wireless service remained spotty. His head buzzed with static and garbled half-legible conversations. ...

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Chapter 22

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pp. 143-146

In Fulton, the afternoon light that lay on the land had a crystalline, preternatural clarity. In the aftermath of the storm, it was a beautiful day. Down by the breakwater, the Viet hands at the Sea-Tex Fish Company wandered around the rambling, steel-sided building wondering what to do and where to start. ...

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Chapter 23

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pp. 147-157

“If you watch the horizon, you won’t puke.” Jake Jacoby spoke matter of factly from the flying bridge of his forty-two foot Bertram. O.B. Hadnott slumped over the rail, staring forlornly at the four-foot swells undulating beneath him. He squinted up at Jake and nodded, then proceeded to throw up over the side again. ...

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Chapter 24

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pp. 158-160

The sun shone down on the tangle of wreckage, stinking mud, dead fish, swamped boats and roofless ruins that had once been the quaint twin bayside communities of Rockport and Fulton. Coast Guard helicopters and watercraft ferried the displaced and dropped off supplies. ...

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Chapter 25

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pp. 161-172

After leaving the bank, Charlie wandered toward the harbor in a daze, thinking about the newest member of the Sweetwater family. He wondered how he’d missed the obvious blood connection when he’d met the boy the first time. In his mind he began to compare line of jaw, the epicanthic arc of eyelid, ...

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Chapter 26

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pp. 173-177

Neon Leon Guidry moved like a Mardi Gras float through the dim lights that lent the Cloak Room a sepulchral air. Leon wore a shocking pink Hawaiian print shirt, crumpled white linen slacks, and a sweat-stained porkpie straw hat. The legislators and lobbyists who inhabited the deep booths ...

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Chapter 27

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pp. 178-185

Charlie looked at her blankly. His adrenaline high had disappeared since the fight and he felt himself fading. He hadn’t fully recovered from the hurricane ordeal or his wounds, which were beginning to hurt like hell. He felt like a nickel’s worth of dogshit. ...

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Chapter 28

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pp. 186-190

Hebert, in turn, regarded Neon Leon with equanimity. His manager/lawyer/record company president/booking agent and general all-pro fixer obviously had something on his knotty little mind. L.C. knew there was a certain amount of social discourse to dispense with before they got to it. ...

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Chapter 29

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pp. 191-198

The marina was empty except for Melba and the Ranger. Melba had long auburn hair, an attractive if somewhat weathered face and an athletic figure that looked like it had gone over its share of hurdles. She was starting to make O.B. very nervous. ...

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Chapter 30

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pp. 199-208

“How the hell did you get a shrimp boat through these shallows, Charlie?” asked Jake as he carefully maneuvered his Bertram over a shell bottom reef in Ayers Bay. “I’ve never seen the tide this high and I’m still skimming the bottom here.” ...

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Chapter 31

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pp. 209-215

A knock at the door roused O.B. from his bed at the Sea Gun Inn where he had been laying awake in the dark, thinking. Not expecting visitors, he slid his .357 quietly out of its holster and held it behind him as he went to the door. ...

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Chapter 32

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pp. 216-225

Charlie was awakened by a creaking board on the landing at the top of the stairs. During the three nights he had stayed at Johnny’s place on Rattlesnake Point he had learned the sounds of the old pier and beam house—the lone palm that brushed against the southwest eaves, the gurgling and popping of the rusty water heater, ...

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Chapter 33

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pp. 226-234

Charlie and Marisol awoke from a light sleep the instant they heard a distinct splash in the bay. The sound was very close to the shack. Marisol raised her head from Charlie’ shoulder. A moment later, they heard another unmistakable plink as a second fishing lure hit the water almost directly below them. ...

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Chapter 34

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pp. 235-242

Captain Joe wasted no time maneuvering his jon boat into one of the Ransom Island boat slips. The two red-haired boys jumped onto the storm-damaged finger pier and scurried to throw lines over short creosote pilings while Charlie helped Marisol out of the boat. Captain Joe grabbed a short metal bat from his bag of gear. ...

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Chapter 35

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pp. 243-247

O.B. Hadnott received news from the DPS radio dispatcher that a Mr. Charlie Sweetwater and Miss Marisol Cavasos were safe and unharmed after reporting that they had been forcibly abducted the previous night. He also learned that local citizens at the Shady Boat and Leisure Club were holding three men ...

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Chapter 36

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pp. 248-257

Llewellyn Cudihay could not believe his eyes. The stainless steel handcuffs that encircled his wrists gleamed in the overhead fluorescent lights. There was a gleam, too, in the eyes of the tall, laconic Texas Ranger. ...

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Chapter 37

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pp. 258-264

Trinny waited until she got to O.B. Hadnott’s door at the Sea-Gun Inn before she fell to pieces. The Ranger sat in his jockey shorts and a T-shirt, completing a report about the incident at Shady’s, when a light, frantic tapping on the door intruded on his concentration. ...

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Chapter 38

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pp. 265-268

Standing in a payphone booth outside an Exxon station near the harbor, Marisol told her sympathetic supervisor why she had overstayed her vacation…had to help some Fulton friends put their homes and lives back together after the storm. Such ruin! Such devastation! She felt she just had to pitch in. ...

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Chapter 39

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pp. 269-271

Colonel Bao tossed two heavy duffle bags over the stern, where they landed with a thud on the crab-slick deck of Nu Dang’s shrimp boat. Both Nu Dang and Sammy recognized one of the bags instantly. It was the same bag they’d collected from the fat politician—and the same one they’d handed over to the Texas Ranger. ...

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Chapter 40

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pp. 272-276

Charlie lined up his shot and punched the eight ball into the corner pocket. With O.B. Hadnott and seemingly half of South Texas law enforcement running interference for him, he felt like he’d been given a new lease on life. ...

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Chapter 41

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pp. 277-283

Lua Xuan caught up with O.B. Hadnott as he walked out of a U-Totem located near the bridge between Rockport and Fulton. She still shook from fear and rage after seeing Bao hijack her husband and nephew. In a cacophony of Vietnamese, pidgin English and pantomime, she finally managed to make Sergeant Hadnott understand what had happened. ...

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Chapter 42

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pp. 284-290

The boat swap and a hostage were precautionary steps. Even though the Mexican jefe had called to confirm the exact location and time of the exchange only that morning, and even though no one appeared to have noticed his departure from Fulton Harbor, he was taking no chances. ...

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Chapter 43

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pp. 291-300

It was raining in the Gulf, so Charlie hunched down behind the salt-crusted window on Billy Donathorn’s Boston Whaler. Sergeant O.B. Hadnott stood to one side of the steering console, enduring the rough seas and the stinging rain with stoic resolve. He glared fiercely ahead, bending his knees and gripping the rail ...

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Chapter 44

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pp. 301-306

Charlie awoke in Marisol’s upstairs room at the Tarpon Inn. He listened to the trade winds rattle the palm fronds outside the door and wondered if he hadn’t somehow dreamed the whole thing. Then he noticed the indentation beside him where Marisol had laid and decided that, nope, it was real life its ownself. ...

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Chapter 45: Epilogue

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pp. 307-311

With his eyes closed, L.C. Hebert rips through a guitar solo on an up-tempo version of “Bad Luck Shadow” by Johnny Otis. His new Grammy award sits on top of his amplifier. He carries it everywhere, in a velvet Crown Royal sack, like a charm. (“Don’t let nobody tell you different,” Leon Guidry had told him the day after the awards ceremony. ...

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About the Author, Back Cover

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pp. 313-314

Miles Arceneaux is the storytelling alter ego of Texas-based writers Brent Douglass, John T. Davis and James R. Dennis. The inspiration for the story comes from roots that run deep on the Texas Coast and from the characters, stories and experiences absorbed there along the way. ...

E-ISBN-13: 9781622880003
E-ISBN-10: 1622880005
Print-ISBN-13: 9781936205844

Page Count: 300
Publication Year: 2012

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