These killers of fish, she thought, will do anything.
Through the streaming windscreen Anna could just make out a pale shape bobbing in two-meter waves gray as slate and as unforgiving. An acid-green blip on the radar screen confirmed the boat's unwelcome existence. A quarter of a mile to the northeast a second blip told her of yet another fool out on some fool's errand.
She fiddled irritably with the radar, as if she could clear the take fog by focusing the screen. Her mind flashed on an old acquaintance, a wide-shouldered fellow named Lou, with whom she had argued the appeal or lack thereof of Hemingway. Finally in frustration Lou had delivered the ultimate thrust: "You're a woman. You can't understand Papa Hemingway.
Anna banged open her side window, felt the rain on her cheek, running under the cuff of her jacket sleeve. "We don't understand fishing, either," she shouted into the wind.
The the hull of the Bertram slammed down against the back of a retreating swell. For a moment the bow blocked the windscreen, then dropped away; a false horizon falling sickeningly toward an uncertain finish. In a crashing curtain of water, the boat found the lake once more. Anna swore on impact and thought better of further discourse with the elements. The next pounding might slam her teeth closed on her tongue.
Five weeks before, when she'd been first loosed on Superior with her boating license still crisp and new in her wallet, she'd tried to comfort herself with the engineering specs on the Bertram. It was one of the sturdiest twenty-six-foot vessels made. According to its supporters andthe substantiating literature, the Bertram could withstand just about anything short of an enemy torpedo.
On a more kindly lake Anna might have found solace in that assessment. On Superior's gun-metal waves, the thought of enemy torpedoes seemed the lesser of assorted evils. Torpedoes were prone to human miscalculation. What man could send, woman could dodge. Lake Superior waited. She had plenty of time and lots of fishes to feed.
The Belle Isle plowed through the crest of a three-meter wave and, in the seconds of visibility allowed between the beat of water and wiper blades, Anna saw the running lights of a small vessel ahead and fifty yards to the right.
She braced herself between the dash and the butthigh pilot's bench and picked up the radio mike. "The Low Dollar, the Low Dollar, this is the Belle Isle. Do you read?" Through the garble of static a man's voice replied: "Yeah, yeah. Is that you over there?"
Not for the first time Anna marveled at the number of boaters who survived Superior each summer. There were no piloting requirements. Any man, woman, or child who could get his or her hands on a boat was free to drive it out amid the reefs and shoals, commercial liners and weekend fishing vessels. The Coast Guard's array of warning signs Diver Down, Shallow Water, Buoy, No Wake were just so many pretty wayside decorations to half the pilots on the lake. "Go to six-eight." Anna switched her radio from the hailing frequency to the working channel: "Affirmative, it's me over here. I'm going to come alongside on your port side. Repeat: port side. On your left," she threw in for good measure.
"Um . . . ten-four," came the reply.
For the next few minutes Anna put all of her concentration into feeling the boat, the force of the engines, the buck of the wind and the lift of the water. There were people on the island-Holly Bradshaw, who crewed on the dive boat the 3rd Sister, Chief Ranger Lucas Vega, all of the old timers from Fisherman's Home and Bamums' Island, who held commercial fishing rights from before Isle Royale had become a national park who could dock a speedboat to a whirlwind at high tide. Anna was not among this elite.
She missed Gideon, her saddle horse in Texas. Even at his most recalcitrant she could always get him in and out of the paddock without risk of humiliation. The Belle Isle took considerably more conning and, she thought grumpily, wasn't nearly as good company.
The Low Dollar hove into sight, riding the slick gray back of a wave. Anna reached out of her side window and shoved a fender down to protect the side of the boat. The stem fender was already out. Leaving Amygdaloid Ranger Station, she'd forgotten to pull it in and it had been banging in the water the whole way.
I'll never be an old salt, Anna told herself. Sighing inwardly, she pushed right throttle, eased back on left, and sidled up behind the smaller boat. Together they sank into a trough.
The Low Dollar wallowed and heaved like a blowsy old woman trying to climb out of a water bed. Her gunwales lay dangerously close to waterline and Anna could see a bucket, a wooden-backed scrub brush, and an empty Heaven Hill bourbon bottle drowning in their own little sea on the flooded deck.
Two men, haggard with fear and the ice-slap of the red through the bilge to grapple at the Belle Isle with bare hands and boat hooks. "Stand and off, you turkeys," Anna muttered under her breath. Shouting, even if she could be heard over the wind, would be a waste of time. These men could no more keep their hands off the Belle Isle than a drowning man could keep his hands off the proverbial straw.
There was a creak of hull against hull as they jerked together, undoing her careful maneuver.
The man at the bow, wind-whipped in an oversized Kmart slicker, dragged out a yellow nylon cord and began lashing the two boats together as if afraid Anna would abandon them.