The day was calm. The Blue Fin, my faithful fishing vessel, rocked gently on the Atlantic Ocean forty miles out of Newport, RI, at 5:30am. We were hunting for tuna that day and I had a full charter, ten seasoned fishermen going for the big ones. My first mate, Marty, had set the lines and opened the chum shoot to entice the tuna. Everyone was sitting by their poles chatting sports and fish tales, and drinking coffee.
Then Jesse Steiner’s voice crackled on the marine radio. He was west of me by ten miles. “Hey, this is Jesse from The Crab. My fuel filter just went and I’m forty out from the point. Anyone have an extra? Over.”
If he had to get towed into shore, it would have cost him a bundle of money and time, not to mention how irate his fishing people would be.
Not many of us liked loud-mouth Jesse who believed the world owed him a living even though he had the biggest and best boat. He also liked to keep a watchful eye on all of us. But out in the ocean, anything could happen. We helped each other.
I had an extra fuel filter and I radioed him back. We were the only two fishing boats out on the water that morning. Charters weren’t cheap and the fishing season was fading fast.
I remember how he responded when I told him I was on my way. He said, “Hey, Don, that’s great. Thanks for the help. Appreciate it. Over.”
No problem. Got the fuel filter to him, helped him put it in, and was on my way.
One of my charter guys caught a twenty pound tuna while he waited for me to return to The Blue Fin. Good day for him.
We filleted the tuna in the water before we got back to shore. It’s much easier that way and it saves time. At the dock, I was cleaning up the boat with Marty when a Department of Environmental Management Agent came over to me. He handed me a ticket as several more agents boarded my boat.
“You’re not allowed to fillet fish in the water anymore, Mr. Anderson,” The agent said. “Today was the first day of the new law.”
I remembered reading that the law past, but didn’t remember when it would begin. Didn’t read the paper that day either. My stomach knotted. I opened the ticket and nearly fainted. I was to set an example for the others. The fine was 10,000 dollars and they would confiscate my boat for a month.
“How did you find out that I was filleting the tuna?” I asked.
“We cannot reveal who called it in. That’s confidential.”
I was burning. Losing a month’s pay even at the end of the season, and then the fine, would almost cripple me—with the boat, house, and kid’s school payments due without the work to pay for them, the lost revenue would cost me twenty thousand dollars!
I found out, through my buddies, that Jesse was pissed because one of my clients caught a big one in “his” waters, right next to “his” boat; the fish was bigger than anything caught that day. I knew it, in my gut I knew Jesse was behind it. There were only our two boats out that day. All Jesse had to do was tell me about the date.
I remember repeating “Goddamn Jesse” every day for thirty-one days.
After that, all the charter people snubbed Jesse. He wasn’t asked to our annual Labor Day clam shindig—we had changed it to a different location. But, we were blessed with a warm September, a charter-boat businessman’s dream. It was as if the universe wanted to thank me for my kind deed and gave me, and all the other charters, an extra month on the water.
Then it happened again. A call came from The Crab. Jesse had run into a lobster pot and its thick ropes had wrapped around his prop. He had no air tank to dive down and cut it free. Could someone bring him a tank?
Greg of The Mermaid and I were both in the area.
“I’ll take one to him. Over.” Greg offered, but he was further away. I knew he was doing it for me, although Jesse had reported Greg for taking a fish that was too small, although the size was still in question.
“No, I’ll go. I’ll throw him the tank and leave. We’re chumming for tuna now. Not much action today. Over”
“Okay. Slow here, too. Over.” Greg replied.
Luckily, he was only five miles away, and I only had four people on the boat, all seasoned veterans. Two had heard the story and thought I should let him pay the fix and tow. I might have, but he had a full charter, and those people’s day would have been ruined.
“Thanks Don,” Jesse had heard the conversation. “It’s been slow here, too. Over.”
I remembered muttering, “Yeah, over and out.”
I pulled up next to Jesse’s boat. Jesse was set to dive, wet-suit shorts and flippers on. I handed him the tank.
“Hey. If you want to wait a few minutes, I’ll return your tank.”
“Nah, you can return it after you fill it. It’ll take you much longer than a few minutes.” I stepped off the boat before he could say anything else.
The chaos started when I stepped onto The Blue Fin. One of the men’s reels spun out of control and Marty raced to his side. By the bend in the poll and the speed of the wire being released, the fish was huge. Jesus, I thought, another big Tuna right next to Jesse’s boat. I wanted the line to break. But the fisherman was an expert and he wanted his trophy, or his dinner.
The shocker came when we could see the fish near the surface, still far back. It was a Mako shark; they were unpredictable, the fastest of all sharks, generally shy, but could be very aggressive. To my relief, after a struggle between man and fish, the fisherman jerked the line in his excitement and snapped it, and the shark swam free.
As I exhaled, I spotted another shark fin. What was bringing in the sharks? The chum! Did Marty close the chum shoot?
I yelled to Marty. “You close the chum shoot?”
Marty turned to face me. “Yeah. Nothing was left anyway.”
I yelled over to Jesse’s first mate. “Jesse back yet?”
“No,” he answered.
“Did you close your chum shoot?”
He went white. He raced over to the shoot. He turned toward me. I knew it was empty. It had been a slow day. Hopefully, the sharks weren’t hungry.
I left Marty on the boat and boarded The Crab.
I walked over to Jesse’s first mate who was gazing off the side of the boat. “He thought he would miss the lobster pots when he passed the buoy.”
I glanced over the side. “He knew where they were? Are they his traps? He doesn’t have a lobster license, does he?” They were near impossible to get.
The first mate said nothing.
I eyed my watch and spotted bubbles at the same time. For an instant, I wanted him dead, eaten, torn apart limb by limb. He had caused every charter boat misery in one form or another over the years.
Profuse bubbles came closer to the surface and I could see my tank. I spotted the back of Jesse’s head and not the top. There was no blood, but something was wrong. Repetitious moans were muffled by his mask. He was writhing in pain, but there was still no blood.
We both reached down to grab his free arm. His feet were kicking and his other hand was pushing something away. We strained to pull him up out of the water, heavier because of the extra weight of the tank.
Lobsters had clung to his one arm, his vest, his ankle, and to his thigh. I wanted to laugh, but I knew how painful a lobster claw-bite could be. The sweetest revenge, for me, is the one you never planned.
Patricia L. Morin is a published author and a licensed psychotherapist with masters in Counseling Psychology and Clinical Social Work. She has won awards for her short stories (Deadly Ink, NJ, and Words for Dollars) and has been published in numerous anthologies. Her latest, “Rap Sheet”, was released in April 2010 in Murder in La La Land. On October 1, 2010, Mystery Montage, her collection of short stories will be released by Top Publications, Ltd. Look for her next published short story, humorous “Gin and Piels” in House with Many Rooms, by Weaving Dreams Publishing, due out in late Fall.