Ed and his childhood friend Danny are gearing up in Kodiak, Alaska, preparing to join the Angie Piper's crew for another season of crab fishing. Ed is a relative newcomer, but despite the perils of the trade, he sees no reason to fear for Danny's safety. The Angie Piper has always been blessed. She has a stalwart captain, Fred, a crack engineer, Dave, and two time-tested pros to keep the rest of the operation running smoothly, exuberant Loni and the more reticent Salazar. Every season has a greenhorn, the one who works for a pittance in order to learn the ropes. This time around it is Ed's friend Danny, no ordinary crewman. Their shared history is complex. Though strong, brave, and hardworking, Danny is a simple soul, and Ed is weighed down by guilt, dark memories of the many times he failed to defend his friend against the inevitable bullying. And cantankerous Dave believes Danny is a bad omen, so much so that his bitter opposition may endanger them all. The season starts off strong, and the crew is elated by the bounty of their catch. Then their luck turns. The skies grow dark, the waves swell, and Mother Nature bears down on them with her full arsenal. When the storm finally abates, who will live to tell the tale?
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|Publisher:||Epicenter Press, Incorporated|
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.60(d)|
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The front door to McCrawley's — made of solid oak, wrapped with wrought iron, and as heavy as a seven-by-seven-foot crab pot — swings open toward the harbor to reveal a stunning view of Kodiak's main attraction: fishing. An array of seiners, trollers, crabbers, and other commercial vessels are moored fifty yards away. If not for the fishing industry, Kodiak would be nothing more than a muddy village. Open during the day, the bar supports its town's commercial endeavor by serving an excellent fish and chip basket for lunch, which goes down quite well, I might add, with a pint of McCrawley's Three Sheet Porter, its signature ale. According to several outdoor magazines, nothing gets a person ready to tackle the last frontier better than a night out at Kodiak's finest brewery.
But on those nights prior to the opening of crab season, unless a person is well known in the fishing community or just a bona fide idiot, it is prudent to stay the hell away from McCrawley's. On those nights, the joint is ruled by the Alaskan fishermen — some of the world's craziest, and sometimes meanest, individuals.
And so, on our third night in town, I wasn't too sure about bringing Danny along to McCrawley's. We had spent the last several hours of the day preparing the Angie Piper to set sail the next morning, and even though I was anxious to let off steam that night, I still had my doubts about dragging my life-long buddy into one of the roughest places on earth.
"But what about Danny?" I asked, after Loni hollered for us to go get in the truck.
"What about him?" Loni replied.
"Well, he doesn't even drink. He'll probably get bored."
In response, Loni gave me a shocked stare, as if I had just asked him how many crab were in the sea. "You think Danny would get bored in McCrawley's?" he said, sliding into his coat and zipping it up. "And sitting alone on a ship he gonna live on for the next couple of months will be good?"
Even so, I returned Loni's bewildered gaze with a concerned one of my own.
"You know, Ed, I'm betting that boy can arm wrestle something good now, eh?" Loni added.
And then it hit me: of course. Even though Danny's presence would most likely get us into trouble, as it often did back in high school, it was just as likely that he would end up winning us a shitload of money arm wrestling.
"Go get in the truck, Danny," I said.
McCrawley's is located along Rezanof Drive, west of the general store. Every fisherman, processor, and local yokel has made his or her way through the door of this establishment at one time or another. No one would argue that McCrawley's doesn't carry with it a certain "homey" atmosphere, one that is punctuated by a floor littered with peanut shells. All those salted peanuts make a person thirsty — and the broken shells do one hell of a job at soaking up spills — but people appreciate the hospitality found in free food, especially here in Alaska, where the winter nights are so cold and so lonesome that sometimes the only thing that will get a person through to the next light of day is the warm familiarity of food and drink.
Danny and I were born and raised in Anchorage, a place that gifted us with its own sense of familiarity. Life was much different in that city than in Kodiak. In Anchorage, we had comfort and stability. Our routines were common to the average person. But we were adults now, so our priorities had changed. At least mine had, which was why I got into commercial fishing — a career with routines like none other. Dangerous and difficult as this job was, the prospect of earning more money than I knew what to do with was tempting, to say the least. Danny simply didn't think this way. He was here because of me. This had something to do with the guilt I'd been harboring for much of my life. That I'd failed to defend Danny against his many bullies was only the half of it. At one time, my friend had seen the worst in me, and I had yet to reconcile with that. I owed Danny. Bringing him on board the Angie Piper was my attempt at redemption. The job offered good pay and an adventure on the high seas. He'd never come any closer to becoming what he desired most in the world — a Navy SEAL.
When we got to the bar, I had second thoughts about bringing Danny. "I don't know, Loni," I said, once we'd pulled into the parking lot. A sea of rugged vehicles surrounded us — stout four-by-fours with flared fenders caked in mud, shotgun racks, and bulky tool chests mounted high in their beds. Above, the sky was a nameless shade of black and gray. Flashbacks from our high school days hit me, and when I stepped out of the truck I thought about those times when Danny had been thrown into trashcans or had his head dunked into a toilet.
"Maybe this isn't such a good idea after all." But before I could say another word, we were walking through the front door of McCrawley's, into a smoke-filled room containing a fifty-foot-long mahogany bar. A hundred glassy stares greeted us from the dead animals mounted on the walls. Another hundred or so lively (albeit watery) stares from the fishermen and regulars tracked our entrance.
"Just find us a booth," Loni said, motioning to Dave and Salazar sitting at the farthest end of the bar. "I'll be right back." Our crewmates had a head start on us. They were already a few drinks into the night. Though I still worried about whether Dave welcomed Danny as one of our crewmen, the situation with him had calmed over the past few days. As the Angie Piper's engineer, he had spent the majority of those days below deck, making sure the engines were running nice and tight. He stayed out of our way while Danny and I prepped the boat, and we were happy to stay out of his. But here we were in McCrawley's, confronted by Dave's glowering face. I couldn't help but wonder how the night would end. And how tomorrow would begin. Once we started fishing, we would all be on deck working in tight quarters for what would seem like an endless stretch of time. It was going to be hell, even without this trouble. Alaska's winter seas could be ruthless in their own right.
"You let me know when you want to leave, Danny," I said. We sat down at a nearby table. Loni had told us to get a booth, but we were lucky to find what seats we did. Although still early, the bar was near capacity. "Just let me know," I repeated. But Danny's Grand-Canyon-wide smile and lively blue eyes told me he was nowhere near ready.
"This place is like where SEALs hang out," he said, looking around.
"Yeah," I replied, halfheartedly, "I suppose you're right." Danny had seen every Special Forces movie ever made. And since the vast majority of those movies seemed to have a bar scene in them, I had little doubt as to what my friend was thinking about at that moment. "Always living the dream, isn't that right, buddy?"
Danny looked at me, nodded, and shouted, "Hooyah!"
A few minutes later, Loni walked up with a beer in his hand. "You tell Jill to put your drinks on my tab. I'll be buying for you, brothers."
I looked around the bar and spotted Jill standing near the back, loading a tray of drinks. Her long black hair trailed past a checkered blouse, a slim waist, and curvy hips, ending at a pair of smooth legs. Jill often wore shorts, no matter what the time of year, and she was a dream to look at, especially at the end of a long fishing season. A true Alaskan beauty queen — picturesque, but with a temperament as formidable as a grizzly's. Jill took shit from no one.
"Thanks, Loni," I replied, "I'll let her know." Then I motioned to a tall rectangular table in the middle of the room. Absent of any chairs or a stool, this table was McCrawley's designated wrestling booth. "So hey," I said, "when should we get Danny over there at the table?" My anxiety was still turning screws inside my gut.
"Let 'em get a few down, Ed," Loni replied, with his customary smile. "Let 'em get stupid drunk, then we'll see."
I cracked my knuckles and looked around, wondering just how drunk people were, until my stare once again settled on Dave. He was sitting on a stool behind the bar, a shot of whiskey touching his lips. He looked like an overfed transient, with his boxlike head, unkempt, dishwater hair, and scraggly beard. There was a certain ugliness below his surface as well, and I had seen it only days before. Danny had seen it too. Dave made sure of that. He was hell-bent on keeping my friend from working on board the Angie Piper. But it wasn't clear why.
"Anyone know when the captain'll be here?" I asked. I figured that if Danny was going to wrestle, it would be a good thing for Fred to witness — further proof to my claim of how abnormally strong my friend was. Even though many arm wrestling enthusiasts would argue vehemently that "technique" was more important than sheer muscle, I doubted many of them had ever witnessed the inhuman strength and mental tenacity of a kid like Danny.
"Yeah," Loni replied. "Be here soon. Could be now, could be later. Could be much later. You know the captain."
Jill strutted over to our table just then through the sea of grimy peanut shells, pen and tablet in hand, her full smile and curvy figure commanding the attention of every leering fisherman in the place. "What'll it be, boys?" She turned and gave Danny a double take. "And who's your friend, Loni?" she asked rather hesitantly.
"You know Ed." Loni raised his beer in my direction. "But this here is our greenhorn — Danny-boy. And he's gonna be our wrestling champion tonight."
"Oh, really?" Jill replied. She gave Danny an affectionate smile, but I could tell she believed Loni's claim as much as she would've believed Danny was a Navy SEAL.
"Okay," Jill said. "Well, good luck with that, 'cause he'll certainly need it. No offense to you, Danny, but Sleet Wellens is here tonight. He's a former state champ." And with that, Jill took our order and returned to the bar.
I watched her leave, thinking about her skepticism. If she only knew . ... Briefly, I thought back to the time I'd seen Danny unload eighty-pound bags of concrete out of his dad's truck or the times we'd wrestled and he'd pinned my face to the ground. When we were sixteen, he dead-lifted the rear-end of my first car — a '79 VW Bug — so I could change the tire. People underestimated Danny, probably because of his size, certainly because of his looks. It always felt good when he proved them wrong, though.
Thirty minutes later, the captain came in and sat down at our table. He was looking relaxed, his eyelids drooping, a permanent grin spread across his face. We were ready to get on with the season, and no one showed it more than Fred. As wonderful as Alaska is — with its untamed wilderness and sea, its bounty of wildlife roaming heedlessly, and its charming pockets of humanity found in the many rustic villages and cozy fishing towns — Alaska was still plagued with "Rumor's Disease." And the rumor on that night, in McCrawley's, was that the following tanner-crab season was sure to be one of the best in years. Nothing could make a captain smile more than a rumor like that — nothing other than running into port with a ship full of crab.
"We don't need no season, Captain," said Loni. "Danny-boy gonna make us rich tonight."
"You don't say?" replied Fred.
"No, I do say. Danny's gonna take the bar, own it for sure." Loni smiled and nudged his beer toward the wrestling booth. Two men were there getting ready, hands clasped together, their faces ugly and grim.
"Well, shit," Fred said, with a smirk. "What the hell do I know?" He looked around, spotted Dave standing at the bar, and waved. Dave nodded in return, and I was reminded of the tension I'd been feeling for the past couple of days.
"Keep your eye on those guys, Danny," I said, wiping a bead of sweat from my brow. "See how they do it." Danny didn't seem too interested in the wrestling match, however. He was still eyeballing the surroundings, a stupid smile on his face, guzzling 7UP like it was on its way out.
He sat like that for a solid hour, happy as a clam three feet in the mud. And after a while, I too began to relax, mollified by the dim yellow lights, the smell of peanuts and stale beer, and the ubiquitous cackling of excited fishermen. It seemed that with each gulp of ale and each passing minute, my concerns drained away, one by one. I even let go of Dave and his grumpy attitude.
But then, out of nowhere, Loni stood on the table and yelled across the bar, "Hey! You fat boys wanna see muscle? I got it for you!" He held his beer mug high. "We gonna kick your asses now, you see." Then he stumbled and fell down into Fred's arms. The captain laughed, swore, and then laughed some more.
"Captain, I think Loni might be drunk," I said.
"Oh, this ain't nothing, Ed. He's just getting started." Fred hoisted Loni from under the shoulders, settling him back into his chair. "Ain't that right, you crazy Poly?"
"We gonna kick some asses now — right here," Loni shouted in return. "Give 'em hell, Danny-boy!"
Danny stood, raised his glass, and hollered, "Hooyah, master chief!" He gulped down the last swallow of his 7UP and walked over to the wrestling booth.
During this briefest of moments, I sat in my chair, slightly befuddled. I don't think I had ever seen Danny act like this — almost as if he were drunk. There was something about that bar, about Loni, maybe even Kodiak, or perhaps the anticipation of getting on with the crab season. Something had brought out a side to Danny that I had never witnessed before. Sometime later, it occurred to me that he might have been in his element that night, standing smack-dab in the middle of the bar scene in a Special Forces movie, loving every minute of it.
"Let's go, Danny-boy," cried Loni. "Make us some money!" Even before me, Loni was up and out of his seat, trailing Danny to the booth, cheering him on.
It came to my attention that I was a nervous wreck. My hands felt clammy, my knees weak, and my breathing was shallow. Why was I feeling this anxious? After all, the worst that could happen would be that Danny would lose. Then I'd be back in my chair drinking beer. Of course, I'd hear about it from Dave, but that wasn't the main source of my anxiety. I had made claims regarding Danny's strength, and I wanted them to prove true.
Behind Loni, several fishermen were laughing hysterically. In their cups, these men could be cruel. They pointed at Danny, spit beer from their mouths, heckled and mocked my friend. Even Jill, leaning against a corner of the bar, shook her head and rolled her eyes. It all seemed so familiar.
Standing next to her was Dave. He wasn't laughing like the others. His face was a mask of disgust and his eyes were as cold as the Bering Sea. He stared right at Danny, and then right at me. There was something else there, on that face of his — something in his stare that established a surprising, yet ugly understanding between us. An "aha" moment of sorts, but one that did not sit well with me. It was as if Dave had suddenly recognized a darker shade to my character. Perhaps he suspected a certain history with Danny. Whatever the case, the man was obviously bragging with his eyes, gloating. He could have been just another schoolyard bully, at that moment, shoving me against the wall while he took a cruel swing at Danny. But more distressing was the heavy, sinking feeling his stare left me with — as if I was somehow looking into a mirror. I'd felt this way before, in the past, more than once ... when I'd let my friend down. Back in high school, a bully named Robbie used to give me that same look, whenever he gave Danny a wedgie. With one glance, he dared me to do something about it, adding that if I didn't, I was condoning his actions.
Danny stepped up and tapped the current victor on the shoulder. "Hey," he said, in a voice both innocent and non-threatening. "Can I have a turn now?"
The man's name was Brandon and I knew him. He was a middle-aged fisherman with a barrel chest. His forearms looked like sacks stuffed with rocks. He laughed in Danny's face, laughed real hard, from the gut, and then said, "What ... you?" That's when I put my money down. Next to mine came Loni's, the captain's, and then, to my great astonishment, Dave's.
Two minutes later, Brandon stared in disbelief, rubbing the pain out of his elbow, cursing his luck. Danny had dethroned the current lord of the booth.
Excerpted from "The Sinking of the Angie Piper"
Copyright © 2017 Chris Riley.
Excerpted by permission of Coffeetown Enterprises, Inc..
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