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East of The HAGUE LINE
By Gordon Holmes
Trafford PublishingCopyright © 2012 Gordon Holmes
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIt was early August, one of those hot Maine summer nights without a breath of air. Even living that close to the water, it was still sticky. Reed had just finished supper and was stretched out on the living room couch, watching TV, when the phone rang. "I'll get it, Ma," he said as he grabbed the phone. When he heard her voice he couldn't believe she was calling him.
He said, "Hi, what's going on with you?"
She said, "Oh, I'm all right. I want you to come in town tonight." Reed sat up immediately. "Are you sure it's okay? You want me to come in tonight?"
"That's what I said, didn't I? If you don't want to come you don't have to."
"Are you crazy? Of course I'll come."
"Come late," she whispered. "The back door will be open. So I'll see you later then." She hung up.
Reed lit up a Marlboro and hollered, "Ma, I'm going to take a run into town. I won't be back until late or maybe even tomorrow morning." He ran out the front door, letting the screen bang itself shut as he ran down off the porch of the old cottage. He hurried down the steep path toward the water, across the pier, down the gangway, and out onto the float. His seventeen-foot flat-bottomed skiff was tied there. The sun was just starting to set. He fired up the forty-horse Johnson that powered the boat. He let the lines go and opened the skiff up and took off to the west. He was headed for Portland Harbor. It only took him about twenty minutes to get there. He slowed the skiff and ghosted up to one of the floats beyond where the Jubilee was tied. He got out, secured the skiff, and climbed the ladder up onto the wharf. He walked up Commercial Street and headed for the bar. It was early, but he wanted to have a few drinks before his old pal Tom showed up.
It was after ten when Tom Anderson pulled into one of the parking spots on Clark Street.
He was meeting Reed at Popeye's Ice House. The place was a fishermen's bar that had a reputation for getting a little wild at times. The roof of the place had the back half of an old airplane sticking out of it. On the inside there was a dummy dressed as a pilot hanging in the rafters like he had fallen out of the plane after the crash. Anderson crossed the street and walked up the sidewalk toward the bar. He wasn't really a big fan of these places. He had certainly done his share of drinking in them though because he'd always enjoyed being with the guys that hung out here.
Anderson had grown up in Falmouth with Reed. They had become friends as young boys and had stayed that way all their lives. Their common love of the ocean is what had bound them together. As kids they had both fished lobster traps in the bay and spent as many nights sleeping on the uninhabited islands of Casco Bay as they could get away with. Anderson was of Norwegian decent. He had fishing boats deep in his family history. His grandfather had been a fisherman in the old country. He and his wife had come through Ellis Island back in the early 1900s. There were uncles and great uncles that had sailed on all kinds of vessels, including one that had hunted for whales on the coast of Africa.
Anderson was a little over six feet tall and weighed just over two hundred pounds. He was what Maine people referred to as rugged. He had thick blond hair that wasn't combed very often, which gave him that "wild boy" look that the girls really liked. His eyes were such a crystal-clear blue that they startled some people when they looked at him.
Growing up, Reed and Anderson sold their lobsters to a guy named Harlan Barnes. He was the biggest dealer in Portland. Anderson liked to haul his traps as quickly as he could so he could get in town early enough to watch the big guns unload their catch. He had seen, firsthand, men unload over a thousand pounds of lobsters from one day's hauling. These guys had big beautiful boats with huge diesel engines. They were outfitted with the best radars and automatic haulers. They drove brand-new oversized pickup trucks and walked around the waterfront like they owned the world. That's what he wanted—to own the world and be like one of those guys.
As much as the lobstering interested him, he was always watching the big boats that tied up at some of the other wharfs in town, the seventy—and ninety-foot draggers that went out for long trips a hundred miles offshore. They brought home tens of thousands of pounds of fish. When he could, he used to like to hang out around the wharfs and watch the guys getting ready to leave for their trips. He loved the activity late at night. The activity of the men loading the supplies on board their boats was fascinating to him. The huge boats fully illuminated with their deck lights on, guys hollering orders to each other—it was great. From an early age he knew that if he ever got the chance to go, that was what he really wanted to do, fish the North Atlantic in the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank.
As a kid Anderson had worked hard for what he wanted. It had to be something on and around the water though. He hung out, as much as his mother would let him, down at the boatyard in Falmouth. He painted sailboat bottoms and worked the old barge setting and hauling moorings in the fall. The winters were long, but spring would come, and it would be time for him and Reed to set their lobster traps. That was his favorite time of year. There was plenty of work to do to get ready to go lobstering, but they loved all of it. Anderson started out just like a lot of kids from the coast. You got a dozen or so traps and then built them up to around a hundred or more by the time you were in high school. The old-timers always say that once fishing is in your blood, it's there for the rest of your life. The freedom, the money, the risk—it's all part of what attracts a man to the fishing industry.
Now for the last few years Anderson had been going to college in Portland. He felt like he was there more to please his parents than he was going to school for himself.
Reed had worked really hard for what he had too. Higher education definitely wasn't for him, but fishing was. Over the years he had built up a gang of over four hundred traps and owned a great little twenty-six foot Novi boat he named the Ruffian. He had a job as deckhand on an offshore dragger and worked the traps as much as he could between his fishing trips. He liked the lifestyle and the money, but at twenty-eight he was looking for more than being just a deckhand on a dragger and a small time lobster catcher. He wanted to change things as soon as he could.
As Anderson made his way up to the front door of the bar, he could hear the loud noise coming from the crowd inside. The place was a full house when he walked in. The jukebox was blasting a Willie Nelson tune, and most of the patrons were pretty drunk. He recognized a lot of the guys that were there from down around the waterfront. There was an assortment of pretty tough-looking women hanging off the men, looking for free drinks and a little companionship. There were very few wives at Popeye's Ice House. He spotted Reed at a table across the bar, sitting with a guy he recognized, Stefan Bonczak.
Anderson had heard a lot of stories about Bonczak, but he had never met the man in person. According to what he had heard, Bonczak had been a deckhand on a Polish fishing boat that had been driven inshore near the New York Harbor by a late October storm. When Bonczak saw the lights on the shore, it meant only one thing to him, a chance at freedom. The story was that he had grabbed a lifejacket and jumped overboard into the cold waters and swam his way in. He managed to obtain political asylum and had been here in the States ever since. That was over ten years ago now. Anderson knew him by reputation as being one of the toughest and best captains to ever fish out of Portland. He and Reed were talking and laughing as Anderson approached the table.
"Hey, Tom, where the fuck have you been? Meet my buddy Stefan here. He's just gotten in with a huge trip of fish he caught off Georges Bank." Anderson stuck out his hand. "Good to meet you. I'm Tom Anderson." Bonczak shook his hand with a grip like a vice. "Sit the fuck down, Tom Anderson, and drink with us, boy!" Reed and Bonczak were loaded to the hilt. The waitress knew Anderson from seeing him here a few times before. She smiled at him and said, "What's it going to be, Tom?"
"Whatever is on tap, Mary. Thanks." When his beer came he reached in his pocket to get some money out to pay for it. Bonczak grabbed his arm, looked him in the eye, and said, "Not tonight, my friend. All the drinks are on me!" He threw a wad of bills on the table, which Anderson knew had to be at least two thousand dollars.
Anderson said, "Thanks, Stefan."
Bonczak said, "So, Thomas, are you a fisherman? You better be a fisherman if you're going to sit here and drink my beer! Your friend Skip here is a fisherman, and I am a fisherman. What are you?" Anderson could feel his face start to flush, as he was now the center of not only Bonczak's attention but also everyone around him. Anderson said, "I grew up on the bay lobstering, but I'm planning to go fishing with Skip and Joey Scanton on the Jubilee."
Bonczak started to laugh. "Lobstering ain't fishing!" Bonczak had a thoughtful look on his face. He said, "Joey Scanton ... Joey Scanton, I know this Joey guy. He's a friend of mine. But you ain't never been fishin' though? Joey's going to hire him a green man? Is this right, Skip? Joey is hiring green men now. Is things that bad on your boat, Reed?"
Reed said, "No, Stef, we've been looking for a guy, and Anderson here needs a chance. The other guy with us, Pat Chase, and I will take care of him."
Bonczak said, "Pat Chase? I know him ... sure he goes with Joey two, maybe three, years now. He's a good man on that boat. I would take Chase with me and make some real money. The bad weather don't bother Chase none. He would like it fishing with me."
A rough-looking woman of about forty or so snuck up behind Anderson and wrapped her arms around his neck. She was drunk and smelled of liquor and cigarettes.
She said, "Tommy Anderson, what's going on, honey? You're such a good-looking boy. I want you to come over to my place and have some fun with me tonight. What do you say, handsome?" Anderson said, "Not tonight, Janice. Why don't you go try one of these other guys? I'm sure they'd be happy to spend some time with you." Anderson was so uncomfortable he squirmed in his chair.
"But I want you though, Tommy. Come on, baby. I'll do whatever you want."
Anderson said, "I'm asking you nice, Janice. Please take you arms off me and go talk to someone else."
Janice said, "All right, tight ass. You don't know what you're missing!" Oh yes, I do, Anderson thought. She finally staggered off and left him alone.
Reed was laughing, "Are you going to be ready to go fishing tomorrow? Why don't you plan to come over to my place around two or so in the afternoon? I've got to help Joey get the grub, and we're setting sail around five. We can take my skiff in town and leave it there. I'll get somebody to take it back to Falmouth for me later."
Anderson said, "That sounds good to me. I've got to get my dive gear off Sewall's boat to take with us. I'll be there."
Reed said, "Who's hauling your traps while we're gone?"
"Teddy Atherton's getting them for me. Ben Sewall's getting the bait for him. Teddy loves that shit, and he'll have plenty of lobsters for his trouble. Somebody told me you got Andy Brown hauling you stuff. Is that right?"
Reed said, "Yeah, he is. I think he can do it. It's a good split for me."
Anderson didn't say anything more. He knew Andy Brown. He was a big pot smoker and wasn't much good to himself or anyone else. Anderson didn't say a word. That was Reed's business and he was staying out of it. Another beer arrived. Anderson took a drink, and someone spun his chair around hard and almost set him on the floor.
Anderson said, "What the fuck?"
A big man in a T-shirt and old ripped-up jeans was standing over him. "What? You think you're too good for my girl Janice?"
Anderson was stunned. He said, "What are you talking about?"
"You heard me, asshole! You think you're too good for her?"
Bonczak was out of his chair in two seconds and had the guy by the throat. He lifted him up so quickly he appeared to fly through the air. He slammed him against a wall. The man was so terrified he made no attempt to fight back.
Bonczak screamed in the man's face, "Now I tell you something one time! You get that whore of yours, and you leave this place before I break your head. You understand what I am telling to you?" Anderson and Reed started to laugh when they saw that the guy had pissed his pants. When Bonczak put the man back down, he ran for the door. Janice stayed behind.
When things settled down, Anderson lit up a Winston and finished his beer. Reed was getting Bonczak to tell some great stories about rough winter days offshore and two sinkings that he had survived fishing out of Poland. Anderson was getting ready to head out though. He finally got up and said, "All right, Skip, I'll see you tomorrow. Thanks for the drinks, Stefan. I'm going to take off."
Bonczak said, "Okay, boy! You go become a good fisherman with Joey Scanton, and maybe someday you'll come fish with me. You want to make some big money fishing, you go fishing with me." They shook hands. Anderson thanked him again, left the bar, and drove home to Falmouth.
Reed stayed until the last call and left the bar on foot and headed back toward the waterfront. When he got to her house, he opened the back door and stepped in. He climbed the stairs quickly and walked into her bedroom. It was so quiet he wasn't sure she was awake. The room was hot and smelled of her. He leaned over the bed and kissed her on the cheek. She stirred and smiled at him and pulled back the sheet that was covering her. She was naked, and the sight of her was almost more than he could handle. He hurriedly stripped his clothes off and got in the bed. The sex was incredible. It always was with her. He couldn't believe that he was here doing this.
After their lovemaking they laid back against the pillows.
She said, "This is really going to work for us. I know it is. It's all so close now."
Reed looked over at her. "It is, baby. It's going to be great. Just you wait and see." As much as he wanted to stay longer, he said, "I've got to go now. I'll call you tomorrow afternoon before we leave." She rolled over onto her stomach and looked at him.
He kissed her good-bye and slipped out of the house and walked down the hill and crossed Commercial Street to his skiff. It was tied there just like he had left it. The wharf and the float were in total darkness. He started the outboard and headed back out into the harbor. He motored slowly past the Jubilee. There were a couple of deck lights on, but the rest of the boat was dark. After he passed the no-wake zone in the inner harbor, he opened his boat to full throttle and headed back for Falmouth. He flew past the green-lighted buoy just off the eastern promenade. He couldn't get his mind off her. It was almost 3:00 a.m.
Chapter TwoThe next day turned out to be another hot one. The heat bugs were buzzing in the trees, and you could see those waves rolling off the blacktop of the street. It was early afternoon when Anderson walked down the hill at the Falmouth town landing. The sand left over from the winter plowing was grinding under his sneakers. He was anxious to get going. He'd been looking forward to this day for a long time. It wasn't very much farther to Reed's house, but he had an important stop to make first.
He was carrying his fishing boots and a duffel bag. He had brought everything he thought he would need to be at sea for a month. He had his shaving gear, a towel, a few changes of clothes, and three cartons of Winstons. He had stuffed a couple hundred bucks of cash in a sock, just to have some spending money for the layovers when they sold their fish. He wasn't sure if Reed would be home, but he was headed down to his house anyway. There was a lot of planning to do to get ready to go fishing. Reed had been living this life for a while now, and he had it down to a science. He had his life at home with his lobster boat and traps and his life at sea on the big boat. Anderson was surprised that Reed had been around as much as he had this past summer. He'd have to remember to ask him about that.
Anderson thought it was strange that Reed had decided to have Andy Brown haul his traps for him while he was gone. He bet Andy Brown was probably pretty excited about that plan. Reed's traps fished like hell, and Brown's gang was old junk and not worth the bait he put in them. Anyone who knew Brown also knew that Reed would get screwed with that deal before it was over.
Excerpted from East of The HAGUE LINE by Gordon Holmes Copyright © 2012 by Gordon Holmes. Excerpted by permission of Trafford Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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