Warnings - See Part 1.
BENEATH THE SURFACE - PART 2
"You wanted to see me, Cap?" Daryl McCreery was standing in the wheelhouse doorway.
I nodded and put down the paperback I was reading - a swashbuckling tale of a dashing pirate and beautiful damsel in distress. "Come in, and close the door behind you."
He frowned a little at that, but did as I asked.
I leaned back in my chair, clasped my hands comfortably across my stomach, and looked up at the bearlike crewman. The silence stretched. He was the first to cave in.
"Well?" he grunted. "Was it something specific, or do I have to guess?"
I gave him a mirthless grin. Something, it might have been alarm, flickered at the back of his chocolate brown eyes.
"You've been messing with something that belongs to me, Daryl."
He scratched his belly through his stained sweatshirt. "Are you sure, Cap? A fisherman's property ... well, that's sacred. I wouldn't touch your stuff."
"I thought I knew you, Daryl ... by reputation at least. Hard worker, so the scuttlebutt said. Bit of a troublemaker ...but what fisherman isn't? Likes his beer a bit too much ... but since I run a dry ship, that's no problem."
"So," I continued airily, "I hired you. I thought: Fine. As long as Daryl does his job the way he's supposed to, and keeps his hands off my things, the way he's supposed to, we'll get along." I hardened my expression. "Seems I was wrong."
He shifted uneasily. "I'm sure it's just a misunderstanding, Cap. We can sort it out."
"Well I certainly hope so."
"So," he prompted. "What exactly are we talking about here?"
I raised one eyebrow. "A Captain must have her privileges, don't you agree?"
"Uh ... sure."
"And it just so happens..." - I drew out the pause until he was almost shitting himself - " ... that a certain beautiful, green-eyed-blonde is one of those privileges."
You could have heard a porpoise leap 200 miles away in the silence that followed. He had to clear his throat before he could speak.
"You ... and the boss's daughter?"
I regarded him icily. "You got a problem with that?"
"Uh, no. It's just ... well, no one warned me ... no one said ..."
"Jesus, Daryl." I rolled my eyes. "Do I have to spell out every little thing? Next you'll be telling me you thought 'sharing my bathroom' meant sharing my bathroom."
"Well ... " Sweat beaded his upper lip and he swiped it away with the back of one meaty hand. "I did." He looked sheepish.
I raised an eyebrow. "So it was a misunderstanding after all?"
He nodded so many times it reminded me of one of those nodding dog car ornaments.
"That is such a relief." I unlaced my fingers and stood up so swiftly he actually flinched. But I merely smiled at him and held out a hand. "Let's shake to show there's no hard feelings." He regarded my hand suspiciously then sucked in his breath and took it.
Hauling longlines is guaranteed to develop a swordfisherman's upper body strength. I kept mine up by working with free weights in between trips. Daryl though .... well it was clear Daryl preferred to spend his free time watching videos and swilling beer. My grip made him wince, and I could see it dawning on him he was going to lose this little contest.
"No more messing with what doesn't belong to you." Another shake, another wince from Daryl. "No more even talking to Piper unless it's to say something polite. Got it?" Shake, shake. He had gone quite pale I observed idly.
I let got of his hand, and watched him massage the circulation back into white fingers then turned to look at my charts. I gave him a few seconds, then looked up.
"You still here?"
When the sound of Daryl's boots clattering down the gangway stairs had faded, Piper emerged from her hiding place behind my stateroom door. She looked uncertain whether to laugh or cry.
"I can't believe you did that, Cordie ... Or that Daryl fell for it." She shook her head in wonderment. "Suppose it hadn't worked?"
"Then I'd have had to fight him for real. Which is what I wanted to do in the first place, if you remember."
She looked sceptical. "But you couldn't possibly have won. He's huge!"
"Oh yeah, I'd have won all right." I gave her a complacent smile.
"What's so special about Lonesome fucking Dove anyway?"
After tonight's dinner, Piper had retreated to the galley to watch videos. Now she was back and standing in my wheelhouse doorway. The night breeze wafted her perfume across to me, and I inhaled it appreciatively.
"Hey! Just be thankful the guys picked a Western and not something set during World War 2."
She grimaced. "Yeah. I suppose it could be worse ..." - she came to stand beside me at the table - " ... but not by much." She eyed the chart. "You always seem to be working, Cordie."
I marked the position of the last of the 40-mile slots currently being fished by 16 other fishing boats. "Goes with being at the pointy end."
"You know," I teased. "The front of the ship?"
I straightened and smiled down at her. "Anyway, once we start fishing, those lazy so-and-sos will more than make up for their downtime."
"And when will that be? Tomorrow night?"
"More like the night after."
I sighed. A quarter of an hour earlier, her father had asked me the same question over the SSB radio. When it came to swordfish, these Redmonds were nothing if not single-minded.
"I have to find us a new berth, Piper. Someone's fishing our old one."
"Can they do that?"
"Sure." I glanced at a small blue box and on my notepad made a note of its red digital display: 59 degrees Fahrenheit. "No biggie. Conditions have changed, and the fishing is probably slacking off there anyway."
"What's that?" A small finger was pointing at the instrument I had just read.
"Surface water temperature. There's a transducer on the bottom of the hull."
"And we need to know that ... why?"
"Well, swordfish like warmer water. If we were to try fishing here, for instance, we'd catch nothing but sharks."
She nodded and I took that to mean: go on. With a sigh, I reached for a printout and spread it on the table in front of her. "This is the latest chart of the fishing grounds. We get one daily from the NOAA. It shows the sea surface temperatures."
Piper peered at it for a moment then looked enquiringly at me.
"The steepest breaks - that's temperature gradients," I explained, "occur where the warm water meets the cold."
"And that's where the swordfish are?"
I nodded. "If we're lucky." I refolded the chart. "There's a bit more to it than that, of course."
"Of course." She looked at me expectantly.
"But a captain has to have some secrets."
I watched her realize I was serious and get a hurt look in her eyes.
"Nothing personal," I added quickly. "I've never told your father how I achieve my catches either."
Thoughtfulness replaced hurt. "I guess that makes sense. If everyone knew how you did it, they'd be hauling in record catches too." Her grin showed she was no longer upset with me.
I keyed into the autopilot the new course I had plotted, one that would take us well away from the other boats, then crossed to the window. It was a crystal clear night, the new moon lying low on the horizon, the stars so close I could almost reach out and grab them.
"So." Piper came to join me. "Are you seeing someone?"
I blinked at the sudden change in topic and turned to regard her curiously. "You mean romantically?"
"Why do you want to know?"
"Well, the guys all have wives and girlfriends -"
"Even him, surprisingly."
I digested that information for a moment. "Things all right between you two now?"
She nodded. "He seems a little nervous being near me, actually. You have quite a fearsome reputation, you know."
I returned my gaze to the brilliant stars outside. "Me? I'm just a great big pussycat."
"Right." She didn't sound convinced. "But you didn't tell me. Are you? Seeing someone, I mean."
The darkness and the hypnotic thrum of the engines lent the wheelhouse an intimate air and I had a sudden urge to confide in her.
"No," I said. "No one special. Most women don't take it too well when you tell them: thanks for the great sex. Oh, and by the way, I'm off fishing for the next 30 days ... hope you don't mind."
"Hmmm. I can see that would be a problem."
"Yeah. I'm not exactly a great catch."
"Oh, I don't know, Cordie. If you spent a little more time and effort on your grooming and personal appearance ..."
Her impertinence took my breath away then made me laugh out loud. Well that sure broke the mood!
She looked startled, then embarrassed. "I'm so sorry. That was ... incredibly rude of me. I guess it's going to take me longer than I thought to shake off the fashion mindset." She sighed. "You won't believe this, Cordie, but it was ages before it dawned on me how superficial the whole business is."
"All those walking coathangers?"
"Believe it or not, catwalk models are even skinnier in real life. The camera has a 'plumping' effect." She gestured wryly at herself. "I used to feel like a whale next to them."
I gave her the once over. "You look just fine to me."
Her cheeks pinked up nicely, and I suppressed a grin.
"Talking of superficial," I continued, taking pity on her embarrassment, "what about all those drama queens and their posh frocks?"
"Tell me about it!" She shook her head in disbelief. "Once, I was at the American Ballet Theatre, and two society hostesses literally fainted because their designer had put them in the same pink dresses."
I grinned. "So. Is that the kind of thing that made you give it up?"
"It certainly added to the growing need I felt to see what's beneath the surface, to get a dose of " - she gestured at our surroundings - "reality. But that wasn't the catalyst."
For a moment, I thought Piper wasn't going to answer. Then, as though she'd reached some silent decision, she gave a tiny nod. "When I came home one night and found that my lover of three years had left me."
Words were inadequate but I tried anyway. "I'm sorry. That must have really hurt."
She turned towards me, her green eyes intense. "That's what everyone thought: my parents, my work colleagues, my friends .... But you know what, Cordie?" She turned to stare at the moon. "That wasn't it at all. The real reason I had to get away from Manhattan and all it stood for was: because when I found out Helen had left me, it didn't hurt at all."
Breakfast the next morning was a stilted affair, as though Piper regretted her frankness of the previous night. The revelation that her lover had been a woman had had an interesting effect on me too. Piper herself had made a glorious guest appearance in my dreams. It made me go hot just thinking about it.
I cleared my throat and pushed that thought away. "You don't have to worry about last night, Piper. What you said won't go any further," I told her. "I'm flattered you confided in me."
She laughed slightly hysterically. "I don't quite know what came over me."
"I do. The night, the moon, the sound of the sea ... "
She gave me a tired smile. "Let's talk about something else, shall we?"
"Have you got any more of that Chap Stick stuff?"
Relieved to talk about something so mundane, I dug in my pocket and pulled out another tube. "Here you go."
She caught it deftly. "Thanks. This stuff is worth its weight in gold." Then she vanished down the gangway to help the rest of the crew with what remained of the gear work. I shrugged and let her go.
I spent the morning steaming northeast, stopping for 15-minute drift tests, and taking readings of the surface temperature and that at 12 fathoms deep. At likely places, I also used the Doppler to measure the speed and direction of the current at preset depths. As the morning progressed, the surface temperature rose steadily into the 60s and the green-tinged water began to turn the colour of Maine blueberries. The Doppler figures were also promising. My optimism grew.
The crew had at last finished all the gear work and were lounging around playing poker. Piper joined in and seemed to be holding her own even against Kev. The card game couldn't hold their interest for long though, and towards noon, bored individuals were making excuses to come up to the wheelhouse and sneak a look at my instruments. I had just shooed Pete away for the second time when through the window I saw Storm Petrels and shearwaters filling the sky, gliding over the water, looking for food.
"Is this the 'productive' berth you've been looking for?" Piper was standing in the doorway.
I gave her a cat-that-ate-the-canary grin and stretched the accumulated tension from my shoulders and back.
"I certainly hope so. Tell the guys to get the bait out for tonight."
After a snatched lunch of sandwiches and diet soda, I radioed Ollie and told him the good news. I planned to set about 5 p.m. - the bait would be on deck in the sun all afternoon and should be properly thawed by then. He expressed satisfaction, as much as he ever did, then I signed off.
"We'll be having dinner early tonight," I warned Piper, who had stayed with me while I made the call. "Won't be any time to eat once we start setting out the gear. Which reminds me ... it's a messy business - we'd better get you kitted out."
I led her to my quarters. Once there I reached into my closet. "You'll need these." I handed her my spare set of oil gear: rubberized bib overalls, hooded jacket, and knee-high rubber boots.
"Bright yellow?" She made a face. "Is that this season's 'look'?"
Manfully, I refrained from commenting and left her to put them on.
When she rejoined me in the wheelhouse, I was hard pressed not to laugh. I had forgotten Piper was a good bit shorter than I was. She had had to roll up the jacket sleeves. The boots hid the no doubt rolled up trousers.
"You look like a kid playing dress up," I told her.
She wrinkled her nose. "Thanks. That does my self esteem a ton of good."
I strode to the door and yelled down the gangway. "Kev, get your butt up here."
Moments later, my shortest crewmember was peering anxiously round the doorway. He gaped at Piper then grinned widely.
She rolled her eyes at him. "Don't say anything."
He mimed zipping his lips, then turning the key and throwing it away.
I blinked at his little display of good humour. Still, it would make this next negotiation easier.
"Kev. Piper needs to borrow your spare set of oil gear."
I expected him to grumble but he merely nodded meekly. "OK, Cap. Shall I fetch it?"
"Are you sure this is necessary?" asked Piper when he'd gone.
"Definitely. Besides, you want to experience fishing up close and personal, don't you?"
She gave me a dubious look. "Do I?"
I nodded. "No point coming otherwise."
She sighed. "Guess I do, then."
Moments later, a panting Kev was back, clutching his oil gear.
It was five minutes to 5 p.m. when I finished up the last mouthful of Pete's baked stuffed shrimp. I carried our dirty dishes down to the galley and stacked them in the sink. Then, while a yellow clad Piper clumped grumpily out on deck in her borrowed boots, I returned to the helm.
Through the wheelhouse's aft window, I could see that the guys were at their posts, waiting for the signal to start the set. Pete was in the starboard corner of the stern with the first beeper buoy; Will was in the port corner, ready with the first float. On either side of the bait table, meanwhile, surrounded by lightsticks and trays of squid - some left their natural ripe eggplant colour and some dyed red or blue - were Daryl and Kev. In the centre of the deck, Chris was dying more squid ready for when the baiters ran low.
I took another look at the surface temp. It was now or never. I leaned out of the window and yelled: "Let her go."
Pete dropped the beeper buoy over the side and as the mainline attached to it began to pay out in our wake, the drum began to spin. While I concentrated on steering the Dawn Piper from hot water to cold and back again, the men baited leader hooks with squid, attached activated lightsticks, then clipped the leaders onto the mainline rushing past them.
Piper seemed alternately fascinated by the men's absolute concentration - the vicious hooks and lines whipping past could be dangerous - and disgusted by the impaled squid ... Well, she'd wanted 'reality'. I shrugged and concentrated on doing my job.
It was five hours later, with only a couple of breaks for a mug up, when Pete attached the end beeper buoy and flung it over the rail, and I cut 40 miles of baited mainline loose. While storm petrels swooped noisily on the stray scraps of squid that now littered the deck, the guys inhaled well-earned cigarettes.
"Pete." My first mate looked up. "Can you make sure the guys prepare for haulback?"
I went in search of Piper, slightly concerned that I hadn't seen since it got dark. The knock on her stateroom door received no answer, so I turned the handle gently and went in.
She was curled up sound asleep on her bunk, still wearing her oil gear. My presence, or maybe it was the click of the light switch, woke her. She blinked sleepily at me.
"Are you all right?"
She groaned and sat up. "I'm fine. I only came down for a nap." Groggily she glanced at her watch. "Ten o'clock already! Have you finished the set?"
"Yep. Few minutes ago."
"I can't believe you have to work so hard! Is it always like that?"
"Did you think swordfish caught themselves?" I raised an eyebrow.
She shrugged. "I had no idea how you caught them to be honest." She yawned widely and I tried not to let her set me off too.
"So. What happens next?" she asked.
"Well, the men are scouring the deck and getting us ready for the haulback."
"But it's the middle of the night."
Piper yawned again.
I regretted waking her. "Looks like it's bedtime for you," I told her.
"What about you?"
Shouts and watery hisses drifted down from the deck - it sounded like the crew were hosing off their oil gear prior to getting ready for some shuteye. Lucky so-and-sos. I had to head the boat back to the start of the set - a 4-hour trip, this time, since we wouldn't be zigzagging.
"My night to drive," I told her. "I'll take a nap during the set tomorrow."
"How on earth do you keep doing this month after month, Cordie. It must be exhausting."
I gave her a wry grin, but my answer was serious. "Recently, I've been asking myself the same thing."
I nodded. "Maybe it's time for a change. I could go back to Maine ... take up lobstering perhaps. The hours are better."
"Does Dad know you feel this way?"
I gave her a look. "No, and I'd rather you didn't tell him, Piper."
"Why not? Perhaps he can -"
"He's done enough for me already. It's up to me to find a solution to my problem."
She was struggling hard to suppress another yawn, but it broke past her defences and left her batting sleepy eyelids at me.
"Go on," I said, giving her grin. "Get some rest."
She nodded reluctantly. "OK. Goodnight, Cordie."
"Sleep well." I closed the door behind me on the way out.
At 3 a.m. the Dawn Piper reached the first beeper buoy - I had been listening to its Morse signal on the RDF speakers for the past hour. I pulled up near it, knocked the boat out of gear and waited.
At 3.15 a.m., the eastern horizon began to turn from black to shades of grey and I ran downstairs and banged on the men's stateroom doors, including, after a moment of indecision, Piper's. She should witness one haulback, I reasoned, but she could sleep through the others.
While five grumbling crewmen and one shell-shocked blonde got themselves dressed, I went to the galley and put some coffee on to brew, then returned to my stateroom for a quick shower. The hot water woke me up a bit, for which I was grateful.
Afterwards, I pulled my hair back into its usual ponytail, then tugged on my yellow oil pants, white rubber boots, and a kayaking shirt. A brand new pair of gloves - hauling is hard on them; I go through a pair a day - and a lucky purple baseball hat, jammed firmly on my head so the wind couldn't shift it, completed the ensemble. God! Piper's vocabulary is rubbing off on me.
Ready for action, I went through to the wheelhouse, rerouted the controls through to the remote helm, then went out on deck. As I waited by the helm station at the starboard rail, the bracing salty air finished the job of waking me that the hot water had started.
By 3.30 a.m. the crew and Piper had joined me on deck and there was enough daylight to begin. The first haulback of a trip is always tense - the crew find out whether their captain's chosen a productive berth or not - and the men's anticipation was almost tangible.
I took a deep breath. Money where mouth is time, Cordie. "Ok, guys," I called.
Pete reached over the rail, grabbed the beeper buoy by its antenna, and hoisted it smoothly on board. Then Will uncoupled the end of the mainline, threaded the chunky monofilament through a block and round the drum, then tied it off with a barrel knot. We were ready to haul.
"Here we go."
I opened up the throttle slightly, and the drum began to turn, taking up the slack. I put the boat in gear and edged it forward, parallel to the mainline. With my right palm resting on the line - this is why my gloves wear out - I could literally feel if we had caught something.
The first leader came up slack, its squid intact. Quickly I snapped it free of the mainline and handed it on to Pete to deal with - he would remove the lightstick and squid and repair and coil the leader ready for reuse. The unencumbered mainline continued to spool snugly round the drum.
The next five hooks also came up empty. Piper shot me a worried glance and I shrugged. "Patience."
Then my hand felt a difference in the line tension. I eased the boat to a stop and slowed the drum to a crawl. Then I signaled to the men.
Daryl leaned over the rail and began hauling up the line, hand over hand. Kev and Will stood either side of him, gaffs at the ready. First the lime-green lightstick came into view, then the familiar shades of electric purple and blue, iridescent pink and silver that meant a swordfish.
200 pounds, I'd say. A good start. I made a note in my fishing log.
Beside me, Piper's face was full of awe. "It's beautiful."
For a moment, I allowed myself to see it with her eyes. This magnificent creature was much more than the dollars per pound its flesh would bring at market; it was wild and free, streamlined and muscular, a warrior whose weapon could easily pierce through a man's boot and ankle alike. When Kev and Will sank their gaff hooks into its wildly thrashing head and pulling it onto the deck, I was almost shocked. Then I snapped back to the reality of how I earn my living.
Though the horror in Piper's eyes saddened me, I grabbed a steel meat hook and went to help the men. Once the fish was dead, Kev reached for the meat saw and began stripping off the deadly 3-foot long bill. The fins and head were next. I heard the sound of retching and turned to see Piper vomiting over the rail.
"Take over, guys," I told them, handing them the meat hook.
The blonde was almost in tears. "How can we butcher something so magnificent?"
I patted her awkwardly on the shoulder. "We're fishermen, they're fish. It's what we do."
A bloody string of entrails flew past us and over the side, to be pounced on by a screeching mob of hungry seabirds. Piper took one look at it then turned and vomited into the ocean again. I regarded Kev reproachfully.
"Sorry," he mouthed and reached for the deck hose to finish cleaning the gutted fish. I rolled my eyes at him, then turned back to the blonde.
"Perhaps you'd be better below," I said gently.
She wiped her mouth on the back of her hand and looked at me. "No, Cordie. I have to do this."
I shook my head. "You don't have to do anything, Piper."
"But I promised my father ...."
"Maybe this just isn't the right job for you. There's no shame in that."
The men were looking expectantly at me, waiting for me to get back to the helm, and I was torn between wanting to get on with my job and wanting to comfort Piper.
She sighed. "Perhaps I will go below for a bit."
I nodded encouragingly. "Eat some dry toast, or a biscuit. It'll settle your stomach."
"I doubt if that'll make much difference."
"You never know until you try."
I stepped back and let her go, watching her dejected figure head for the galley and wondering what I could do to lessen her anguish. Let's face it, Cordie. There's nothing you can do.
Resolutely pushing aside all thoughts of distressed blondes, I returned to my position at the helm and put the boat into gear.
"Right, you guys," I yelled. "Let's fish."
"I wanted reality," said Piper ruefully. "But this is a bit more real than I expected."
The rest below decks had done her good, and she seemed to have recovered her colour and equilibrium.
"What are you going to do?" I asked her. "Tell your father you want out?"
We'd finished haulback an hour ago, and the Dawn Piper was steaming to where I wanted to place our next set. I was more than happy to fill the lull before work resumed with the company of a pretty woman.
"No." The blonde jutted her jaw. "That would be hypocritical. I eat fish, so I'll just have to face up to the fact that means killing them." She sighed. "It was just a shock, that's all. Somehow, whenever Dad talked about swordfishing, I pictured nets, not lines and hooks. As for killing the fish, I thought they just ... well, flapped around a bit and suffocated or something."
"Some do. Usually we gaff them though." I reached for the sharpening stone I kept on the chart table and which did double duty as a paper weight. "Your father really should have put you in the picture."
"He's always believed in letting me get on with things. It can be tough, a bit like being thrown in the deep end, but it usually works out."
I pulled my knife from its belt sheath and began methodically to sharpen it. The rhythmic sound of steel stroking stone filled the wheelhouse, and Piper's eyes glazed over.
"Did your Dad throw your brother in the deep end too?"
My question seemed to jar her awake. "What? Oh ... No. I benefitted from the mistakes they made with Rob." She glanced at me and tilted her head to one side as though considering something. "Have you met him?"
I shook my head.
"Just as well," she said decisively. "You two wouldn't get on."
No kidding! I tested the blade then resumed sharpening. "My brother would probably have tried to talk you into bed," I told her. And if you weren't Ollie's daughter, so would I.
She laughed. "You have a brother?"
"Did. Andy. He's dead now."
"Do you have any other family?"
I took a breath, then resumed the rhythmic strokes. "Sure. Mom and Dad. Haven't seen them in years though."
"Really? How come?"
"Let's just say, my parents and I don't see eye to eye."
Even though it had happened a long time ago, it still hurt ....
"Here she is, Mr. and Mrs. Bellamy." The police officer shoved me forward.
I cringed when I saw horror replace the worry on my parents' faces. OK, so I was a mess. Blood - my earring had got torn out and taken part of my ear lobe with it - had stained my T-shirt, and my jeans were ripped. And that black eye Jimmy Devereux and his buddies had given me must have matured nicely while I was sitting in the cell. I'd got him back good though. He wouldn't be in a hurry to bad mouth Andy again.
I threw a sneer at the officer who had refused to let me clean myself up, and he sneered right back.
" You'll be relieved to know that the other parents aren't going to press charges," he said, as though he were doing us all a big favour.
"Thank God," said Dad faintly.
Mom grabbed me by the shoulder and shook me so hard I felt dizzy. "How could you, Cordelia? No more fighting. You promised us, after last time ..."
"It wasn't my fault," I protested. "They were waiting for me by the quay."
"Three against one!" said Dad. "You should have run away, gone for help."
I scuffed the toe of my tennis shoe on the brown tiled floor and scowled. "Didn't need help," I muttered.
"Did you hear that?" Mom let go of me as though I'd burned her. "Even after everything that's happened, she hasn't learned a thing. It's too much, Jonathan." She burst into tears. "She's going to end up on a mortuary slab just like her brother. I can't take it. I just can't take it any more."
"Now look what you've done," hissed Dad.
"But, Dad, I only -" But he was too busy comforting Mom to have time for me, so I fell silent.
If Andy had been here he'd have soon joked Mom out of it, made her see the funny side. The comic look on Jimmy's face when I kicked him in the balls, the way the bully puked all over his second-in-command's brand new sneakers ... But that was just the trouble, wasn't it? Andy wasn't here any more. And though the counsellor had assured me my parents didn't really blame me for Andy's death, I knew different.
The next day, I left home for good.
"Do you still keep in touch with your parents... you know ... send cards at Christmas, on birthdays?" asked Piper.
I tested the blade's edge with my thumb, and, satisfied, resheathed my knife and put away the stone. "No."
I thought she was going to ask more questions, and was relieved when she simply looked at me and said softly, "I'm sorry. It must be hard not to have any family you can turn to when you need them."
I shrugged. "Got used to it a long time ago." Then I turned back to the plotter and checked our position. "We're almost there. Tell the guys to get their butts ready, will you?"
She nodded, stood up, and headed down the gangway.
Luck was with us and the weather stayed fine for the rest of that day and the next. The second set and haulback went without a hitch; by the third haulback, Piper had overcome her squeamishness and was well into the swing of things. Of course that's when we hauled up the first mako of the trip
If there's one thing I hate, it's mako sharks. But since they eat the same things as swordfish, it's inevitable we come across them now and then.
I left the remote helm, dashed up to the wheelhouse, found what I was looking for, then rushed back down the gangway again. By the time I returned, Piper was standing next to the gaffers, peering over the rail.
"Stand back," I told her, peering down to where the 8-foot long shark was pinned against the green paintwork of the hull. It was twisting and squirming, while Daryl and Will desperately held it in place with the aid of gaff poles stuck into its snowy belly.
"Hurry it up, Cap," panted Daryl.
The mako's dark eyes were fiercely intelligent, and I knew if it succeeded in grabbing the gaffs in its powerful jaws, those teeth like a row of curved knives would instantly splinter them. I raised my shotgun and aimed.
Piper did a double take when she registered the gun. "Don't tell me you're going to -"
The shark's head disappeared in a spray of bloody fragments.
"- Agh!" The blonde clapped a hand to her mouth.
"OK, guys." As Daryl and Will hauled the carcass up onto deck, I became aware that Piper was giving me a horrified look.
Captain Barbarian strikes again, I thought ruefully. "Policy," I told her. "I never allow a live mako on board the Dawn Piper. Much too dangerous."
"But you let blue sharks go, and that turtle."
I nodded. "That's true. But makos make good eating." I gave Pete the shotgun to put away in the wheelhouse then guided Piper away from where Kev was bloodily butchering the shark.
"As for why I blew its head off ... I once served with a guy named Jack Lang," I told her. "He was a good friend."
She frowned at me but said nothing.
"We were crewing on the William Lively. It was our first trip out and boy were we green! Anyway, on the second haulback, we caught a mako, killed it, and hauled it up on deck. Jack was butchering it, severing its head, fins, tail ..."
"And?" she said impatiently.
"What neither of us knew then was that you can trigger a mako's jaws, even when it's dead, just by touching them."
Her eyes widened. "Jack touched it?"
I nodded solemnly.
"What happened? Did it bite him? Was he injured? Did he die?" Her voice grew louder with each question.
"Yep. He touched it. And the jaws snapped closed ...." I drew out the tension.
"... on the gaff pole he touched it with."
For a moment she simply blinked at me, then she slapped me on the arm. "Cordie!"
I held up my hands in self-defence and backed off. The crew had stopped work and were watching us curiously but I didn't care. "Please don't hurt me." I grinned at her. "I surrender."
For a moment it was a toss up which emotion would win - anger or laughter. Then Piper was trying not to smile and shaking her head at me. "Sometimes you're infuriating, Cordie. Anyone ever tell you that?"
I pretended to think. "Nuh huh."
"Hey, Cap." Pete had returned from his errand to the wheelhouse and was standing watching us, his arms folded across his chest. "Think you might get around to helping us catch some more fish?"
I shot my first mate a glance, then sighed. He was right. Larking around with Ollie's daughter was fun, but her father would be expecting a record catch ... as always.
"Yeah, Pete. I might." With a regretful glance at Piper, I resumed my place at the helm.
A yawning Piper was trying to keep me company in the night hours again. I had given up trying to get her to go to bed.
"So," she said. "Tell me about Andy."
I suppressed a sigh and fiddled unnecessarily with the autopilot. "He was my twin."
"Really? How fascinating! I've always wondered what it must be like to be a twin." Her face fell. "How did he die?"
"How awful." Her brows drew together. "Does it bother you to talk about him?"
I appreciated her concern and smiled at her. "As I said. It happened a long time ago."
"God. I don't what I'd do if Rob was killed. And it's not as if I even like him much!" She chewed her lip thoughtfully. "You must have been devastated."
I nodded. That didn't even begin to cover how I'd felt. But I could see from her surreptitious glances that she was filled with curiosity. I sighed.
"It happened when we had just turned 17 ... "
"Did you have to bring her?"
I kept my voice low so the 'her' in question - Andy's latest girlfriend Geena Devereux - couldn't hear. She seemed more concerned with making sure her skimpy shorts didn't ride any higher up her butt crease than listening to our conversation though.
I suppressed a sigh. Since Andy's hormones had kicked in, he'd been targeting pretty much anything in a skirt.
"What's the problem?" hissed Andy. "There's plenty of room."
It wasn't her taking up room I resented. It was her taking his attention away from me. These days, it was rarely just him and me, chatting about our hopes and dreams like we used to. This trip had been meant to rectify that.
I'd got us an antique outboard motor. Like its owner, the little boat had seen better days. Since his wife died, Mr. Hoge seemed to spend his time flat on his back, often under a bench, snoring and reeking of whisky. The twenty dollars I'd given him for the loan of the boat would pay for a bottle or two.
"We've only got two life jackets anyway."
"You call those things life jackets?" Dubiously, he eyed the battered pair that had come with the boat. "Geena can have mine."
Then he turned his Spaniel look on me. It didn't work as well as it used to - the crewcut made him look silly - but as always I gave in.
"Oh ... all right."
He jogged over to Geena, said something that made her giggle, then the two of them walked back towards me, hand in hand. I slipped one of the orange life jackets on and handed the other to Geena. She made Andy fasten it for her, of course, and her squeals and giggles told me he had accepted her rather obvious invitation to cop a feel.
Grumpily I waded into the shallows then climbed aboard the boat. "Come on, you two. We haven't got all day."
Once they had waded out to join me and made themselves comfortable on the narrow seat, I started the engine - it took several attempts - then the boat was puttering slowly out into the bay. I headed us towards the imposing silhouette we called Shipwreck Island but which in reality had some other boring name. It was larger that Guillemot Island, and inhabited. Situated on the south-eastern edge of the bay, its pebbly beaches were washed by Atlantic breakers ....
We had just reached the halfway point when the mailboat passed us, its wake rocking us slightly. Its skipper gave us a cheery wave.
"Ya doing OK?" he called.
I smiled back and waved, but Andy was too involved with the giggling Geena to notice. I sighed. It looked like, as I feared, I was a third wheel on this little trip.
I became suddenly aware that my feet were wet and glanced down. Seawater - not much, but enough to soak my sneakers and socks - was slopping around in the bottom of the boat. It must have come over the side when the mailboat's wash hit us.
Now I'm a third wheel with wet feet. Just great!
We had travelled on a little further when I realized the problem was more serious. My stomach lurched. "Andy. The boat's leaking."
He looked up sharply, his pale blue eyes fixing on mine. "What?" For the first time I had his undivided attention.
I repeated my assessment and he glanced at the sloshing puddle in the bottom of the boat then laughed. "Probably just a sprung seam. Shouldn't think it's serious, Cordie."
I wasn't so sure. "Maybe we should turn back."
Our conversation was apparently worrying Geena, so Andy winked at me and turned to her. "Don't worry, baby. You've got a life jacket, remember."
He reached over and pulled the inflate cord, and seconds later there was a hiss. As Geena's life jacket inflated, I couldn't help reflecting that if she hadn't looked pneumatic enough before, she certainly did now.
Andy grinned at her. "That's better, isn't it?" She nodded. He turned to me. "Your turn, Cordie."
I grimaced, not wanting to feel constricted by the life jacket but knowing he wouldn't let me get out of it. With a sigh, I located the cord and tugged it. Nothing happened.
He regarded me impatiently. "Come on, Cordie."
I tried again. Nothing. I shrugged. "Guess it's broken." Rather relieved to be free of the encumbrance, I unfastened the useless life jacket and shrugged it off.
Andy examined it. "Useless piece of shit," he muttered.
"I'm a strong swimmer. Won't need it anyway," I told him, hoping to hell I was right.
"That's the spirit!" He flashed me a reassuring grin then settled down next to Geena again.
We continued on our course for a little while, until the growing amount of water began to get on my nerves. I cursed under my breath, then made a unilateral decision and put the boat into a wide turning circle.
Andy blinked at me. "What the hell are you doing?"
"Don't be stupid! Shipwreck Island's closer." He disentangled himself from Geena, and began to make his way unsteadily towards me. The boat wobbled alarmingly and water slopped over the sides adding to the growing pool in the bottom.
"Andy, What do you think you're - "
He grabbed the tiller, and in spite of my efforts to get it back - he was stronger than I was - returned the boat to its original heading.
"Are you crazy? It may be closer, but what about the undertow?" I hissed.
He gave me a stricken look. "I hadn't thought of that." His brows drew together then he shrugged. "Oh well, too late to do anything about it now."
Water was coming in faster now, and I knelt, took off my hat, and began to bail.
Andy snorted. "Fat lot of good that's going to do."
Geena was watching the two of us wide-eyed. "Are we going to drown?"
"No," I said shortly. This wouldn't be the first time the two of us had had a boat capsize under us. Usually though, we were in calmer and shallower waters. "We'll have to swim for it though."
"I can't swim."
I stared at her in disbelief. "It's lucky you have the life jacket, then." I turned to regard Andy meaningfully.
He gave me a tight smile. "I'll look after her."
"I'll help you."
He nodded as though he had expected me to say that ....
We almost made it. We were only forty yards off Shipwreck Island's nearest rocky shore and the sound of the surf was deafening, when the boat finally went under in a gurgle of bubbles.
Geena panicked, until she realized the life jacket actually would keep her head above water. I breathed a sigh of relief and trod water while Andy showed her how to do a basic crawl.
The three of us were heading slowly towards the beach, bracing ourselves for the ordeal to come, when Geena went under with a shriek.
I blinked in startlement. "Andy!"
But he had already seen what had happened - somehow her life jacket had lost all its buoyancy - and was diving after her. Moments later, the two of them surfaced, coughing and spluttering, Andy supporting a panicking Geena and trying to calm her.
With my help and a lot of soothing words, he got her to lie on her back. We each tucked an arm through one of Geena's, and used our free arm to resume the swim towards the shore.
We were making good headway, when a wave swamped Geena's face, and she screamed and flailed around, clouting me in the eye and making me release my hold on her out of sheer self defence. Andy eased himself behind her, tucked his arm under her chin so that her face was above water and whispered calming words in her ear. It seemed to work.
When I tried to resume my former position, he shook his head and gestured that he was fine. I was to go on ahead, they'd follow, he insisted. Reluctantly, I left the two of them to it and swam for the beach.
One minute the surf was throwing me out of the water, the next it was sucking me under and rolling me on the pebbles, bruising and scraping every inch of me. At one point, I really thought I wasn't going to make it. Then, as though Mother Nature had decided Not Today, the waves spat me up and out, and I was through the undertow.
I waded wearily up the steeply inclined beach and for a moment simply bent and braced my arms against my thighs in an effort to relieve the fierce stitch in my side. Then I turned to look for Andy and Geena.
At first I couldn't see them. Then I caught a glimpse of denim in the turbulent surf. He was hanging grimly onto her, or maybe she was hanging on to him - it was impossible to tell - but as the surf tossed him about like a rag doll, his movements seemed weaker, more desperate than they had.
I raced back down the beach, and dived headfirst into the surf. It was much easier swimming away from the beach than towards it, and in no time I had reached my brother. I saw at once that his screaming girlfriend had him in a stranglehold, which was making it difficult for him to breath let alone swim. There was only one thing for it. I knocked her out with an uppercut to her chin. Her grip round his neck loosened at once, and I pulled her into my arms while Andy gave me a weary smile and mouthed, "Thanks."
"I've got her," I told him, and turned back towards the beach. "Come on."
The next five minutes were some of the most exhausting of my life. The undertow kept sucking the two of us down, bashing us against the pebbles then spitting us back up. Once, my grip on Geena slipped, and for one frightening moment I thought I had lost her. Then something banged against my thigh - it proved to be her arm - and I caught hold of it and held on.
When I finally reached the beach, I had barely enough strength to haul myself let alone Andy's girlfriend above the water mark, but some passersby who had by then noticed what was going on came to lend a hand.
While they tried to revive Geena - and after a few minutes intense effort, I heard her spluttering and coughing - I shaded my eyes and looked for any sign of Andy. Nothing. Then I caught a glimpse of a jeans clad leg and dragged myself to the water's edge, shouting his name until I was hoarse. I wanted to go to him, but I knew in my weakened state if I did I wouldn't come back ...
A burly onlooker pushed me gently to one side, tied a rope round himself, and waded out in my place. The undertow was so strong, it almost took him and the people holding the shore end of the rope. At last, though, the rescuer reemerged.
In his arms was the limp body of my brother....
A hand squeezed mine and I found myself back in the present. I grimaced. "Sorry. For a moment it was 13 years ago."
"My fault for making you tell me," said Piper softly. "So Andy and you saved Geena's life, huh?"
I snorted. "Not to hear her or her parents tell it. But then, she was either scared shitless or out cold for most of it." I shrugged. "Police blamed poor old Mr. Hoge for lending us an unseaworthy boat and useless life jackets. And me for not realizing the state of them sooner...."
She frowned. "That hardly seems fair."
"Yeah, well. Hindsight is 20:20." I shrugged off the gloom that had descended on me and gave her a tired smile. "Besides. Whoever said life was fair?"
The fourth day of hauling was proceeding according to plan. We'd caught no more makos, thank God, and the swordfish were plentiful and good sized. After a quick cheese-and-tomato sandwich lunch, we began hauling again.
I stopped to ease the kinks in my back and shoulders, and eyed the dark clouds building far to the south of us. A low-pressure front was on its way and as the clouds dimmed the light, the ocean's choppiness died away.
Earlier, I had warned Piper about the bad weather heading our way, and had a little fun at her expense. She'd looked baffled when I told her to expect cold showers in places south ... until I explained I was referring to the toilet which became more of a bidet in rough weather. She turned that becoming shade of pink then flounced off to her room. Just thinking about it now made me chuckle.
The men were going about their tasks with hushed voices, as though in sympathy with the eerie calm.
"Is this what they call the calm before the storm?" asked Piper worriedly.
I patted her shoulder with one gloved hand. "Don't let it spook you."
"Easy for you to say."
"Find something to do. It'll take your mind off things."
She shrugged. "OK." She went to join Daryl by the rail, walking slightly clumsily in her knee high rubber boots.
A breeze was blowing from the southeast now, and whitecaps peppered the ocean.
I edged the boat forward, following the string of orange floats, keeping one hand on the remote helm's throttle and the other on the line being spooled onto the drum. A few minutes later, a change in line tension alerted me. I eased the boat to a stop and slowed the drum speed to a crawl.
"Looks like we've got one," I yelled. While Kev and Chris hurried over with their 16-foot gaff poles, Daryl leaned over the rail and began hauling, putting his back and shoulders into it. Soon the three of them were wrestling a large swordfish onto the deck.
Pete and Will came over to help, and the crew went into their well-oiled routine. In minutes another swordfish was having ice packed into its body cavity and being stuffed in the chill bin in the hold.
The waves were now curling and splashing over the rail, sending heavy droplets of spray onto the deck. Piper looked a little green around the gills and suddenly dashed up the gangway to my stateroom. When she came back down, looking a little better, I took her to one side.
"Are you OK?"
She smiled, but her heart wasn't really in it. "You were right about the toilet, Cordie. It was like riding a bucking bronco!"
"Why don't you take it easy for a bit? Go below, see if you can get some sleep or something?"
But she shook her head, and went to join Daryl by the rail again.
That's some plucky kid you have there, Ollie.
The wind had risen considerably - I could hear it whipping across the rigging - and there was quite a swell. Every time the Dawn Piper's bow hit a wave head on, there was a loud slap and the vibration juddered through the deck. And underneath the noise of the wind and the ocean was the steady drone of our generators.
It was getting more and more difficult to fish in these conditions. The mainline was strung taut between the high wave crests, and the swirling motion of the water was spinning the leaders and ball-drops. Tangles were becoming increasingly common, and I was constantly having to stop the drum and cut them out of the mainline.
I was about to call a halt to the haulback when what seemed like a wall of water hit the Dawn Piper from astern. It rushed over the rail and I found myself waist deep, trying not to be dragged away from the helm controls.
"Hang on, everyone," I yelled.
Kev and the swordfish carcass he was butchering were washed right along the deck. Fortunately both ended up wedged in the scuppers. I turned to see how Piper and the rest of the crew were faring ... just in time to see two yellow clad figures disappearing overboard.
CONTINUED (AND CONCLUDED) IN PART 3
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