Little Aleppo had a natural harbor. The northernmost Segovian Hill sank into the ocean and curled around the shore of the neighborhood, forming a small, calm bay the shape of an inverted horseshoe and there was no sloping beach, just a drop off that allowed boats with a deep draw to enter and dock at the Salt Wharf. Metal piers as wide as a football field is long and stretching into the harbor dotted with wooden shops and offices and outhouses. Cranes and gangplanks and ropes thicker than you’d imagine possible, and the stevedores in their stevedore caps. Passenger ships used to berth here by way of New York via the Cape, or from the Philippines, Hong Kong, Yokohama. The immigrants were herded into the Customs House, where doctors would look at their balls while they coughed, and papers were issued, and then it was out the other side and welcome to America.
Now it was all cargo from China. Every pair of gas station sunglasses on the West Coast arrives via the Salt Wharf. Wigs and bike wheels and pillows made specifically for the tiny-headed. Drugs and guns and slaves, too. The foremen point and yell and make obscure notes on clipboards. Occasionally, fruit is left out to rot to prove a point, and there is no theft that has not been sanctioned. The forklifts take the containers next door to the Warehouse District; locals stay out of the Warehouse District.
The footprint of the district wasn’t large enough to hold all the warehouses. The mathematicians at Harper College had offered up an explanation: the real estate the Warehouse District sat upon was hypercubical. The neighborhood had responded: that sounds made up. The mathematicians said: well, don’t ask weird questions if you don’t want strange answers. Rats the size of political constituencies swaggered in between buildings like they weren’t scared of anything up to and including the Lord. Animals in the Warehouse District followed the same rules as people did: keep your eyes on your own work.
And work was all there was at the Salt Wharf and its environs; no one wanted to be there or stayed an instant longer than they were paid to.
This was not the case at Boone’s Docks: people snuck in and usually refused to leave.
Schooners and catamarans and funky houseboats with shag carpeting. The Dancronis in slip J1 had been preparing their twin masted ship, the Whistlewind, to circumnavigate the seas for about eleven years now. Buddy Bowie used to be a cop; now he lived on the Stubble in B5 with a pet alligator named Dion. The Gabacho brothers owned the cigarette boats in C9 and 10, the Pussy and the Pussy II. Kenny Coral owned a 42-footer named the Ben Franklin’s Porn Stash that bristled with fishing equipment: overlong rods whipping back and forth in the snappy breeze of the shore, rods the diameter of one of those hamburgers that’s free if you can finish it, and spotlights and blippy radar thingamadoodles and deedads and all variety of gimcrackery. And the chair. You know the chair. The one in the back that swivels on a solid steel pole that went through the deck and attached to the ship’s hull. With the padding and it reclined so you could reeeeeeeeeel in that catch–she’s a fighter!–and the metal stirrups that make the whole affair a bit gynecological. The seatbelt. The chair with the seatbelt. The one from the movie. You know the chair. No one had ever seen Kenny take the boat out, but he could tell you stories about sea monsters he’d battled all night if you were willing to let him.
The slips radiated from the piers branching off the main jetty; from above, it looked like a communal teevee antenna on an apartment building’s roof. To the south of the main jetty was the slipway and the parking lot and the Banyan Bar, which served much the same purpose that the Customs House did for the Salt Wharf but then didn’t tell the government about it afterwards. Big stuff, well, big stuff had to come in via the Salt Wharf, but little things? Things you could fit in a duffel bag or two? It was so much easier to bring it in to Boone’s Docks. Less paperwork. It was a “What Uncle Sam doesn’t know won’t hurt him, but I’ll hurt you if you tell him” sort of situation. When the cops came to the Banyan, it was for drinks and cash that came delivered under the napkins of their bread baskets. Precise figures were, obviously, unavailable, but economists from Harper College once presented a paper arguing that Boone’s Docks did as much in trade as the Salt Wharf. Shortly thereafter, the paper was retracted, the author fired, and the Economics Department moved into a brand-new building with the fanciest bathrooms you can imagine; it was paid for by an anonymous donor.
No heavy machinery. That was the rule. You had to be able to carry it off your boat yourself, and not four big guys straining, either. Duffel bag was the sweet spot, plus one would expect a duffel bag in a nautical setting. Pardo Hectoralis tried using a hockey bag, but everyone yelled at him, “Why would you have a hockey bag on a boat?” and he struggled to come up with an answer. “Maybe my son’s on the team?” and everyone said, “Why would his hockey gear be on your speedboat?” and Pardo said, “Ballast?” and the whole bar threw cocktail napkins and olives at him until he agreed to use a duffel bag like everyone else. Appearances were important, the regulars at the Banyan Bar figured. There were people who could not be bribed out there. Powerful people. No one at the bar had ever met one of these people, but everyone was sure they were out there.
In the marsh grass, the off-billed santicos spread their wings in the sun and go ooWAHahee ooWAHahee. There are no waves here, protected from the ocean and her wine-dark temper, just a gentle lapping against the littorals that causes the cattails to sway and makes a sound like shlip shlip against the wood of the piers.
To the south were the breakers at the entrance to the harbor, and then the sea which went on forever until it ended in the Philippines, Hong Kong, Yokohama, in harbors just like this, those rare accidents of geography that went humanity’s way, and if the Segovian Hills couldn’t stop commerce, than neither could the Pacific Ocean; cargo ships and pleasure cruisers and boats with no manifest crawling with topless chicks, they all came floating into Little Aleppo, which is a neighborhood in America.