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Mr. Faherty Announced That No One Was To go out after dinner.
"How come?" his son, Shadrach, asked.
"Do as you're told," Mr. Faherty replied, and he set Shad to sort a huge pile of rusty screws and bolts.
Usually, Shad's father went out after dinner to have a smoke with the men on the dock while his mother sat by the door and read. Then Shad and his younger brother, Brian, could do what they wanted.
That night the tense looks on his parents' faces, the fact that they too were staying inside, allowed Shad to guess what was happening. The smugglers were coming. And when the smugglers came to Lucker's Island, the island belonged to them.
As it grew dark Mrs. Faherty began to read out loud from an old magazine to help pass the time. It was a story about heroic wireless radio operators during sea storms. Ordinarily, Shad would have been spellbound. That night he couldn't keep still. The thick, heavy feel of coming rain made him restless. His fingers were dry, rust-red from plucking at the metal bits. In the middle of his mother's reading, he said, "These aren't worth a thing."
For a moment no one said a word. Then Mr. Faherty said, "Something."
"Not much," Shad declared, shoving the rusty pile away.
"Got any money in your pockets?" his father asked softly.
Shad colored up. "No, sir," he said. "I don't."
"Well, said his father, I don't either. But I figure something's worth more than nothing. They're worth something."
At about nine o'clock the warnings came, raps on front doors along the row of houses, like the ticking of an angry clock. That was the usual way, a single knock on each door, followed by the slap of steps down the wooden walkway.
Hurriedly, Mr. Faherty reached across the table and turned the key of the hurricane lamp. The flaming wick rolled down, sputtered, and went out. Shad took a deep breath. The stale, heavy smell of kerosene hung in the air.
"Mama," whispered Brian, who didn't like the darkness, or the reasons for it, "Mama, they coming now?"
Gently, his mother touched his hand. "Shhh," she said. "Be patient."
Sitting in the dark, Shad tried to stay calm, wondering what was happening outside. He wished he could see the smuggling for himself.
He could picture the island's dock. Just a few paces from their front door it jutted fifty yards into the bay. And he could almost see the fishing fleet, what was left of it, a dozen small, motorized boats. They rubbed against the dock pilings, making scratching sounds that sang of idle emptiness. Other boats, hauled ashore, lay abandoned, sinking on the beaches, drowning beneath the sand. There were plenty of fish in the sea, but no one on land had money to buy them.
About four months before, the smugglers had first come to Lucker's Island, bringing in cases of rum, whisky, gin, slipping past the Coast Guard pickets. It was risky. Very risky. Smugglers who got caught went to jail. Shad's father had warned him that the smugglers carried guns.
But smuggling was worth the risks. Because of Prohibition, liquor was outlawed. Get liquor to the mainland and you could make real money. And in 1932, because of the Depression, lots of people, like Shad's father, had no money at all.
After the light went out, the first sound to break the silence came from the channel bell. Shad couldn't tell whether the bell had been blown by a freshening wind or jostled by the sweeping swell of a passing boat. It rang only once. Now the silence seemed harder for Shad to bear than it had before.
No longer able to keep still, he got up, scraping his chair.
"Sit down!" his father barked.
Ignoring him, Shad went to the window, pressed his forehead against the cool glass, and looked out. At the far end of the dock a single lamp was lit. In the damp blanket of the night the lamp's glow looked like a ripe, fuzzy peach.
The channel bell rang again. This time its one loud clang was followed by two short strokes. It wasn't a natural sound. Took a hand to ring it that way.
Shad wondered whose hand.
Suddenly the dock light went off. All became shadow.
Shad couldn't stand it anymore. He went to the door and pulled it open, rattling the doorknob. His father, springing up, tried to grab him, but Shad moved too quickly. As he went out he shut the door behind him.
Along the street all of the twelve houses were dark.
Clouds, reaching in with fat fingers, blotted out the stars. Only a thin white edge of moon creased the darkness. The air reeked of sea. The rain was coming closer. All Shad could hear was the licking of the water. Yet he knew that someone was out there, that the smugglers were coming in.
Afraid his parents would come after him, Shad moved through the darkness away from the house, across the space that was the street. His bare feet, shoeless since the weather had turned warm, hardly felt the rock chips or shell shards that lay upon the ground.
He came up against a large wagon, once used for hauling fish. Eyes riveted on the dock, Shad climbed the wagon, using the wheel spokes as rungs.
Gradually, he was able to make out the shape of a boat. Motor cut off, it was gently coasting, slipping through the water, coming closer.
There was a muffled thump as the boat struck the dock. Wooden posts creaked as they shifted with the impact. A surge of waves washed against the shore.