Blogs by Walker Joe Jackson
A Fish Tail or is it Tale
4/27/2008 6:46:49 AM
Jackson's "The Old Man and the Sea"
A Fish Yarn
All Rights Reserved/Walker Jackson
This excerpt is taken from the McTrite Mystery "Cayo Hueso - Island of Bones." Hackney has taken wife Sarah and the adopted children to Key West, Florida, for a vacation, and they go fishing.
Captain Ted Flint, a handsome cavalier, stood near his thirty-foot outrigger, the Cayo Hueso. I guessed he was nearing forty. Sun blackened face, neck, and arms suggested he was a sea lion…loved the sea…loved a boat. He stood an inch over six feet. Midnight hair, wavy and shiny, overflowed his sailor cap. His jaunty posture and masculine physique explained why Sarah and several younger women slyly scrutinized him."Something about the Captain you find interesting, Sarah?" I said, glancing sideways at Sarah, half expecting any minute to see drool dribbling all over her light yellow, long sleeve dress she'd worn to avoid the sun's burning rays.
"Mema, Donald's chasing the seagulls," tattled Catherine.
"Donald, stop that right now. What did you just say, luv. Oh! Yes! The Captain will do in a pinch."
"Come on, Sarah, I saw you eyeing him."
"Well, he wears the tight slacks and polo shirt manly. He has an interesting face, sharp, intelligent features, and beautiful blue eyes. If he has a personality and doesn't sound like a damn Yankee when he opens his mouth, I'll give him a seven."
Good morning, folks," the captain said, with a polite salute. "We're ready to lift anchor, but first a few safety rules. Children remain seated at all times. No one leans over the sides. Everyone wears a life jacket. Thomas baits and removes fish from hooks. Those over sixteen can troll going to and from the fertile fishing grounds. Everyone over fifty trolls at their on risk." He chuckled, and glanced at Sarah and me.
Very funny, I thought, watching Sarah come to a boil.
Sarah stepped closer to me. She whispered. "If we walk away, he'll feel like a nincompoop. How much are we paying him?"
I nodded and grinned.
"After an hour of bottom fishing, we'll troll for awhile and then return to the dock. And my word is law. I'll be steering us into the Atlantic in the direction of the famous Bermuda Triangle. Welcome aboard."
Captain Flint backed the outrigger slowly from its slip, turned right, advanced the throttle, and headed for the Atlantic side of Key West. Sarah and I sat in deck chairs at the stern. After Thomas helped us with our harnesses, he fetched our rods and reels. He tossed the hooks over the side each baited with a fish large enough to cover a dinner plate. Anticipation crept over me watching the bait skipping on the placid surface of the water. I'd remembered another fishing trip years ago when I'd caught a nine-foot Tarpon. Sarah's eyes glistened with excitement. She'd never been deep-sea fishing. I could imagine how she felt.
The sky blue, and adorned with scattered puffy clouds, was a mirror image of the Atlantic. The children's eyes were bright; they'd never been in a boat. Thomas gave them a soda and told them a pirate tale.
I was half-asleep when my rod bent in half. The powerful jerk wrenched me forward. I would have been overboard had I not braced with my feet against the hull. The reel whined as line peeled off, the fish running and diving for its life.
Thomas yelled, "Tighten the drag… tighten the drag…" I fumbled with the unfamiliar equipment. Finally, I located the drag-set. The whine of the reel slowly softened. Tension in the line increased.Sarah squealed as her rod ripped from her hands. Thomas moved quickly to help, but the rod and fish were gone. "Well, I would guess it was at least a nine-footer. Anyway, that's what I'll tell my craft group at church."
Three hundred feet, directly behind the stern, an eight-foot sailfish leapt into the air twisting like a worm being baited on a hook. Its silver underbelly glistened in the sun, before it plopped into the water and dove for the ocean's depths.
Thomas yelled to the Captain, "Sailfish on line."
"Wa-hoo, look-a-there," I yelled.
"Mepa's got a fish! Mepa's got a fish!" Donald darted towards Mepa.
Sarah said, "Go back and sit down, Donald. I'll come back and tell you a story. Mepa is going to be busy."
"Do I have to? Can't I watch?"
Sarah, sitting by Donald now, leaned down to kiss him on the cheek and saw his puckered lips. "Okay, precious, we'll all watch from here out of Mepa's way."
The sailfish dived deeper and deeper pulling my arms towards the deck. Fresh as I was, I fought back. The vertical forces gradually diminished. Seconds later, it exploded from the calm waters jerking its head franticly trying to reject the hook. Thomas, thinking I would soon need relief, occupied the chair Sarah had vacated. He schooled. "Lift the reel man! Use your arms! Your back! Your legs! Lift! Reel! Lift! Reel!"
I was pathetically out of shape. After thirty more minutes of lifting and reeling, my heart pounded in my throat. I gasped for breath. Sweat poured down my face. The sailfish had yielded just twenty yards. I had an urge to pass the rod to Thomas. My alter ego grabbed me by the balls and yelled in my head, "You give up now and you're done old man."
The sun moved westward for another half-hour or so, while I lifted and reeled. My clothes were drenched with sweat. Every muscle in my arms, back, and legs ached. Blisters formed on my hands and the salty sweat burned. I tasted sweat and was reminded how dry my mouth had become. I'd never been so thirsty. But nothing was going to stop me. I wanted this fish. I wanted to mount it. Hang it behind my desk.
"Are you okay, sir?" asked Thomas.
"No! No, help! I'm exhausted…miserable, but, no help. He's mine alone." A spurt of adrenaline, spawned from my competitive nature, coursed through my being. The excruciating pain in my hands subsided. I lifted and reeled faster, until the sailfish was forty feet from the stern.
My breathing eased. I sensed the thrill of winning. The aching and pain was more bearable.It swam idly left and right for a time as I reeled it closer and closer. Suddenly, with great agility, it jerked its head from side to side. The line snapped. I slumped back hard into the deckchair. I watched him swim away. I didn't feel like cheering, but deep in my soul I was pleased he'd won. It was a splendid example of a living creature so totally obsessed with living and being free. "Go make babies. You earned your freedom."
"You lost him," said Sarah sympathetically.
"Poor Mepa, he got away," said Catherine.
"Mepa," said Donald, "he was really big wasn't he. I want to catch a fish like him someday. Do you think I will?"
"Maybe, Donald. But, remember you don't always win, I didn't. If you give your very best to the challenge, then you walk away proud, even if you lose."
Thomas returned with salve and rubbed it on my hands. I stood and flexed screaming muscles and walked over to where Sarah and the children were sitting. Thomas handed us all a cold drink after I sat down. Shading my eyes, I looked up to the captain and called, "Captain, why don't we go where the children can fish?"
"Mister McTrite, that boat about four hundred yards off the starboard is adrift. I'm going closer and check it out."
I looked to where the Captain pointed and yelled my agreement.
Captain Flint increased the revs and steered towards the boat, an eighteen-foot Cris Craft. He circled the boat at close range. "I don't see a soul on board, he said, "I'll call the Coast Guard. Then, we'll let you and the children do some bottom fishing."
"Fine, Captain," I called out, my curiosity soaring. The deck was bare, as though someone wanted no evidence left behind. 56079FL. My mind clicked and filed the number away. My intuition told me the scenario was cloaked in mystery, and I do love a mystery.
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