A Special Charter
A SPECIAL CHARTER
Normal procedure would have been to pick them up at the town dock, the usual spot for charter boats to meet tourist clients, but Denise told me this group wanted to be picked up at the ferry dock on Gravina by the airport. It was no problem. Docking was docking. Our SOP would be the same. Rickie, my lanky sixteen year old deckhand, would jump off when we were close enough and secure the spring line, and after it became taut, the tension would ease the Samantha Lee gently up against the dock. But that’s not the way it happened.
When we were about ten feet from the dock with Rickie standing on the gunnel, spring line in hand and ready to leap, a man stepped forward to the edge of the dock and began waving his outstretched arms and gesturing with his hands to throw him the line. His creased trousers and highly polished dress shoes belied any idea of him being a stray deck hand trying to help, even his orange and brown plaid mackinaw looked urban. Rickie turned to me in confusion. The man became more insistent by vocalizing his hand gestures, “Come on, throw it to me; just throw me the line.” Rickie shrugged his shoulders at me, wanting to know what to do. I shrugged back at him in a way he accurately took to mean, “What the hell. Throw it to him if he wants it.”
I’m not certain, but Rickie may have been a little aggressive in tossing the line, because the coil went right through the man’s outstretched arms, smacking him in the face, and falling to the deck before he could catch it. Scrambling to retrieve it, he frantically gathered it up, and wrapped it several times around the wrong cleat, thereby totally defeating the intended purpose of the line. Fortunately, there was a negligible current, which would allow me to accomplish the spring line’s function by maneuvering the Samantha Lee in under power.
Rickie was immobilized. He just stood there gaping in opened-mouth fascination at the farcical parody of a docking exercise. Rickie, was tall and skinny, and awkward in most situations, but on the water in a boat he had the grace and skill of a toreador. He turned to me again this time the message of his raised eyebrow was clear, “What a doozy! Right, skipper? We got a real lulu here, huh?” I answered by canting my head, squinching my eyes and twisting my lips, thus removing any ambiguity from my non-verbal directive, “Get your ass in motion!” With bow line in hand, he jumped off, and removed the over-wrapped, misapplied spring line, and replaced it with the bow line, quickly and efficiently securing it with a proper cleat knot.
It was hard for me not to laugh, but I have an inherent empathy that aligns me with any victim of humiliation, and therefore, in hopes of salvaging a remnant of the man’s ego, I tossed him the stern line and pointed to the correct cleat. He nodded, but it was a haughty nod, as if to say, “Of course. I know that.” and wrapped the line as before until the cleat could hold no more; but this time, to his credit, having watched Rickie, he did manage to crisscross it a couple of times. I ignored Rickie who was hoping for confirmation-at least a hint-that I agreed that we had indeed encountered a buffoon. I knew that in retrospect, I was going to consider this little vignette a prelude to our “special” charter.
BOOKING THE CHARTER
It had been three days before on Wednesday night that Denise asked if I were interested in doing a special charter. Her parents owned Ketchikan Fishing Charters and she often filled in for her mother as the booking agent. The company had an exclusive contract with most of the cruise lines, which meant that ninety percent of the charters they booked were for people from the cruise ships; now, however, Denise was asking if I would like to do a private charter, one not off a cruise ship.
We were in the Arctic Bar and grill, our favorite watering hole for the past two months since I met her. As usual we were sitting at the bar rather than a table. Our view consisted of three sample t shirts hung in front of and over a row of liquor and whiskey bottles. The logo on each shirt was the same, the face of a Native American, the nose of which was an optical illusion, and which when looked from a certain perspective became a naked woman. It was a visual magnet, and no matter how many times you had seen it your visual focus would return for one more metamorphing from schnoz to nude.
Denise said her mom thought that the Samantha Lee would be the best boat for this “special” charter, and it was mine if I wanted it. When I asked what made it a “special” charter, she told me that a couple was flying in from Dallas, Texas to do an overnight fishing charter.
“They’re flying in from Dallas? From Texas to go fishing? For two days?”
“Well yeah. That’s right. Ketchikan is the salmon fishing capital of the world, you know?” Of course I knew about the claim, but had always wondered which international committee on nomenclature had arrived at that conclusion– having fished successfully for salmon in a few places outside of the Ketchikan area. To solidify her case she went on, “And Ketchikan is Alaska’s first city. Right?” My interpretation of “First city” was that it was the first populated place you could land by boat after leaving the Canadian waters of Dixon Entrance. Ketchikan’s main claim to fame was that up to five tourist ships a day docked in its downtown port and discharged a privileged multitude for a lucrative descent on a couple of square miles of shops dedicated to the resentful and begrudging acceptance of and dependence on a burgeoning tourist trade.
Presupposing a certain esoteric gravity to “first city” she persisted, “So why not? Right?”
It made no sense to me, but it didn’t need to. I was happy to get the charter, hoping that “specia might translate into more money and a bigger tip. “Sounds good to me.” Moreover, I didn’t want to dampen the rest of the evening’s potential with Denise, all previous evenings having developed into comprehensively satisfying happenings. “No kidding, it does.” To dispel any doubt, I insisted, “It sounds great to me, and I appreciate the business.” Trying not to sound skeptical.
Her smile assured me we were on the right track, ready to move from business to pleasure. Besides, I smiled to myself, remembering from previous charters that Texas clients had always been an interesting experience, most of them evangelically dedicated to a largeness fantasy about everyone and everything in Texas, a delusion that ignored Alaska in the equation. Moreover, we were guaranteed a few good laughs from the post charter recap, since we could be assured of there being at least one insane asshole in any group from Texas, or LA.
It was not my relationship with Denise that had earned me the charter. Her mom, Janet, was an astute business woman, who ran the company efficiently and with profitable success. Fortunately, I was high on her list of charter skippers, and rarely was a cruise ship in that I didn’t have a charter. This was true before I even met Denise
And it was not my fishing talent, because my clients seldom caught more than average compared to other boats. I knew little about fishing, all previous experience on the water had been in sailboats, this was in sharp contrast to the other skippers who had an intuitive knack for choosing the most alluring flies and irresistible bait, and for whom angling was bred in the bone. On the other hand, their skill sometimes worked against them when it took the form of a superior attitude, frequently manifesting itself in an overt disdain for the tourista greenhorns when they would display their piscatorial ignorance.
It also impressed Janet, a graduate of Bryn Mawr, when I told her I was a graduate of an ivy league school back east and had worked in theatre in New York City, all of which added little to a fishresume, but which did prove to be a conversational advantage when there were slim pickings on the fishing grounds. It also helped that she usually got good feedback from clients who had enjoyed charters with me, many people seeking a good time even more than wanting to catch fish.
Also to my credit was agreeing to take her husband on a couple of charters. Wally, was a superfluous factor who had become an obligation both from the standpoint of the marriage as well as the business. And to make him feel more a part of the operation, supposedly as a kind of monitor, I took him with me on two of my charters. Poor Wally. His entire life force, his raison d’etre, was centered in the immense vastness of his belly, and it was always a great relief when we made it back to the dock without his expiring; because even to a medical neophyte it was apparent that the unholy trinity- diabetes, emphysema and a heart stopping obesity – were in a ferocious race to be the first to cross the finish line of his mortality.
It was three months after I had starting working with Alaska Charters, and was rock solid in the good graces of Janet as her top of the line charter boat captain, that her daughter, Denise, came home from UC-Davis. She was in her second year of an MBA program, and it quickly became obvious that in the business world she was indeed her momma’s daughter, an exact replication of Janet in terms of business savvy, an equal adeptness at being able to handle the different facets of the business with exceptional skill and aptitude.
But in most other aspects she was the opposite. While Janet had beauty magazine looks, created by skillfully applied make up to enhance and balance her features, Denise made no effort to amplify or enrich hers. She was the embodiment of “You get what you see.” And the result was a natural, unadorned a countenance that was remarkably alluring, at least to me. Nor was she making any attempt to thwart or manipulate nature by molding her body to any popular aesthetic standard. Some might even say she was a little chubby, although I would describe her, sans euphemism, as more fully curved.
I would like to preserve some of my ego by claiming that she scoped me in her sights the first day she saw me, but the truth is that she knocked me on my ass that first time we met. There was a fullness to her physiognomy that charged at me with a feralistic sexuality, trouncing me from the tip of my nose to the tip of my toes, and all tips between. Without a doubt, and with no reservations I was in love, as only an old fifty plus fool can be.
More than twenty years her senior, I had no illusions of future possibilities, only a hope that as Tennessee Williams put it, “For a little while there will be pity for the Wild.” To me she was a miracle, a miracle of mammalian freedom. And it was easy to back pedal a few generations and proudly join her in a student’s proclivity for alcohol, pot and sex, with the result we both discovered that together we were up for some exotically wild times.
For my part it was not so much that I made a choice, as it was a matter of going with the flow. It was also a way of my reclaiming a couple of years of youth I had forfeited through an abortively early marriage. And this is not to deny the presence of a mid-life crisis, but simply admitting the need for a little embellishment. Denise was my love, and for the first time I was committed to someone as long as the relationship lasted. It didn’t seem to bother Janet, whose main concern was running a successful business.
MEETING THE DETWEILERS
Without explaining or introducing himself the Buster Keaton impersonator stood with his hands on his hips, and, after surveying the docking arrangement, announced, “O.K. that looks good. I think we’re ready.” Then he turned and called to a couple at the top of the ramp, “O.K. we’re all set. Come on down.” Which identified him as part of the charter, but did little to justify his bumptious and pretentious behavior. The only logical explanation was that he was from Texas.
With a thirteen foot low tide the ramp down to the floating dock where we were tied was quite steep, and as soon as the lady started down, the “special” aspect of the charter took on a new dimension. She was dressed for a Republican presidential candidate fund raising luncheon. Her heels, while not six inch spikes, were high enough to upgrade the ramp from steep to precipitously steep. And they were only the tip of a fashionable iceberg. Emerging from the patent leather pumps was a pair of softly tinted silk stockings covered to the calves by a silk satin brocade dress, which in turn was covered by a cashmere cardigan. It was far beyond any anti-fishing ensemble ever to board the Samantha Lee. The only possible connection to fishing I was able to make was the salmon pink shade of the dress, complimented by the muscovado color of her sweater.
As she was cautiously negotiating the precarious angle of the ramp, her husband, who looked as though he had come straight from the office, except for a safari jacket, obviously purchased for his Alaskan fishing trip, started down. Definitely an executive type, whose handsome face under a well- groomed head of hair, and his body, except for an over fed stomach, was that of a one-time athlete. With a confidence indicative of a personage of serious importance, he began to stride down the ramp, only to be betrayed by his leather soled wingtips that instantly slipped on contact. Barely able to keep himself from falling, he found himself in the ignominious position of having to wrap both arms around the rail. And once he stood back up, he was forced to adopt a pace inferior even to that of his high heeled wife. As he slowly descended we were able to watch the wonderfully contradictory picture of a man clingin to the rail in mortal fear while trying to maintain the dignity of his elevated station in life. Both Rickie and I were gazing in an amazement.
Eventually they made it down. Rickie had put a two- step platform on the dock and was standing by to assist them aboard, but was nudged aside by the inadvertent comedian, who, by his bearing and actions was identifying himself as a man servant, or butler or lackey or one of those positions that define sycophant. But by this time Rickie had caught on to the dynamics of the routine, and graciously moved aside, not even glancing in my direction
The lady took the assistant’s hand to steady herself, but when she lifted her leg over the gunnel the hem of her dress rode up her thigh to a level making it impossible for me to avoid a spontaneous glimpse that revealed a purple garter at the top of her stocking. I quickly averted my eyes, but not quick enough to avoid a brief moment of eye contact with her. With the meeting of our eyes it was as though she had caught me peeking, but the color I felt rising in my cheeks was diffused when I realized she might be more amused than accusatory—but that might have been my exculpatory interpretation. I couldn’t tell. As she raised the other leg a second garter appeared, but determined to maintain eye contact and not be caught peeking again, my glance was only peripheral.
“Hello, Captain.” She extended her hand. “I’m Margery.” As I took her hand I wondered whether our smiles were a mutual acknowledgement of my voyeuristic activity. Mine was. However, “Welcome aboard.” was as far as I got, so struck was I by the complexity of her facial expression. My focus was briefly drawn to her lips she had molded into an ambivalence somewhere between a smirk and a smile, the red lipstick attenuated to a plum red shade that blended perfectly with her rosy skin. She was attractive in the same way as Denise’s mother, Janet, artistically made up, all features perfectly blended, all capable of focusing in an active smizing; and it was her eyes that stopped me before I could say my name. They were a sparkling blue-violet and projected an ambivalence equally as mysterious as her mouth. I was stymied. I felt like I was dangling on a meat hook, all limbs and speech useless, unable to tell whether she was drawing me into her depths or penetrating mine. Was it a message of stabbing contempt or a stripping of all but a raw nakedness of my humanity, or was it just a good old fashio goat-eye stare. In any case I was dumfounded, standing there holding her hand, mouth half open in a verbal fetecide.
I didn’t realize I still had her hand, until I heard her husband say, “I got it”. I released her hand and watched as the man, after refusing the proffered hand of his man servant or butler or whatever he was, did a rather flashy vault over the gunnel and extended his hand to me. His introduction had what I would call a CEO tonality. In his case it seemed like he was in the process of acquiring it. “Hello Captain. Graham Detweiler.” I felt a twinge of doubt about calling him by his first name, but perservered in my civil rights stance, “Glad to have you aboard, Graham.” The twinge turning to a slight self-reprimand for questioning it at all.. “Mark Frampton. And this is my deckhand, Rickie. “
“This is my assistant, Dryfus.” saying this as he took in the features of the boat, “He can give you a hand.” Then turning back to me, “Well Captain, are they biting?”
“Hard to say til we start fishing.”
“Well what the hell are we waiting for?
“OK, let’s get you squared away and we’ll be underway. Rickie’s gonna show you to your quarters.” The bags Dreyfus was passing to Rickie looked more appropriate for a weekend in Paris than for an overnight fishing trip. Maybe that was their next stop.
TO MOUNTAIN POINT
After helping them stow their gear in the fo’c’s’le Rickie began casting off the lines.
“Make yourself useful, Dreyfus.” The voice of authority seemed like a reach for Graham Detweiler.. “Give the boy a hand.”
“Roger that.” The assistant seemed at home in his role. But by the time he was on the dock, Rickie had cast off all but the bow line. Dreyfus looked at the empty cleats and nodded as though they passed his inspection. Rickie climbed back on board holding the end of the bow line which he had doubled around the cleat and was holding so that I could kick the stern out with a little forward thrust and back away from the dock. To Dreyfus, who was about to be left on the dock, Rickie suggested, “You better get back on board.”
“Right.” As though that were his plan exactly. But with the vessel starting to drift away from the dock he had to dive for it, smacking his chest as he reached his arms over the gunnel, requiring Graham’s help in order to clamber aboard. I would have felt sorrow for the guy, but with his pretentious approach to everything the most I could credit him with was doing a pretty fair Pulcinella, and you are not supposed to pity Pulcinella. His purpose is to make you laugh.
Once away from the dock I put her in neutral and called down from the fly bridge, “It’s going to be about twenty minutes before we hit the first fishing spot. You folks will probably be more comfortable in the cabin out of the wind.” Graham disagreed, “No, no, we’ll be fine. The air will be good for us.” He was probably right. The water was almost flat, as smooth as it ever got in Tongass Narrows, which heralded a smooth ride.
However, once we were up on plane it was less than five minutes before every one was inside, except Rickie, who was pulling in fenders. After stowing the fenders and coiling the lines he climbed up to the bridge and asked me whether he should offer to fix them drinks. “Why don’t you just show Doofus where everything is.”
“Doofus? His name is Doofus? I thought it was Drey . . Oh I get it. Doofus. Yeah, Doofus. That’s good. Doofus. That’s really good.“ He laughed.
“Yeah, but you don’t call him that, right?”
“Come on, Cap’n Mark, I know that.” Rickie was sharp, and one of his best qualifications as deck hand was his appreciation of my oblique angles of humor, and an unusual teen age sensitivity to discretion. He had a knack for becoming invisible when the language and scenes were not appropriate for a sixteen year old, although the extent of his own experiences was not known. I trusted Rickie.
We were almost to Mountain Point, our first fishing spot of the day, when I saw a charter boat on the starboard side of the channel. It was dead in the water with several people at the rail looking down at the water. When I realized what it was all about I slowed down, which brought everyone out on deck. I pointed to the other vessel. We were close enough to see that the people were looking at a couple of orcas swimming right near their boat. I was pleased that my clients were getting the special treat of seeing killer whales less than thirty yards away.
Then a bit of drama happened. We watched as the bow of the whale watching vessel abruptly lifted a couple of feet out of the water, with everyone on board doing a sudden and dramatic deep knee bend while clutching the rail. It looked like they were trying to press the vessel back into the water, and I suspect this impression was only half illusion. My clients, conflicted between astonishment and fear, were wide eyed as they looked up at me on the bridge. They were silent waiting for some kind of assurance. “Oh it happens all the time.”although I had never even heard of such a thing happening before, but I couldn’t help having a little fun. “But nothing to worry about, it’s been a long time since a whale got the best of a boat and turned it over.” What I had heard was that one time a drunk fisherman had capsized when he ran into a hump back. And I wasn’t sure myself whether to consider this flamboyant encounter with nature a benevolent sign or an omen of things to come on this special charter.
When we arrived at Revillagegido Channel there were a half dozen charter boats already fishing at Mountain Point; but I thought it worth a try, and being crowded in this location now might even add to the appeal of fishing in more remote spots later. We joined the line of boats that were trolling in a circle, the fish obviously biting along a fifty yard spot near the shore. As Rickie and I were setting out the gear, Margery asked, “Did Earnest Hemmingway ever fish in Alaska?” Before I could answer Graham informed her, “No, of course not. He only fished out of Miami and Cuba.” There was an edge to his words. “You didn’t know that? I thought everybody knew that.” This would prove to be a pattern.
For the rest of the charter anything she said would evoke from him a pontification, designed to either rebut, correct or denigrate her, which in turn would evoke from her a contemptuous look, which was how she was respondeing to the current Hemmingway information. But when she realized I was watching her, the look turned into an undecipherable smile, somewhere between provocative and collaborative, a smile which in a different situation, I might have interpreted as a salacious overture, but I was conscientious about my standard of maintaining a professional distance from clients, and had never violated the parameters I had set for myself, and was not about to now, since Denise was more than satisfying any need I might have in that direction.
FISHING AT MOUNTAIN POINT
The first time we trolled the hot spot by the shore there were no bites. But on the second time around, Doofus got a hit, and immediately handed the rod to Graham, without setting the hook. Graham began to reel in. As low key as possible I advised, “Don’t forget to set the hook.” But too late. Predictably the line went slack. Without blaming anyone I diplomatically explained how crucial it could be to give it a good yank when you get a bite, because, “These leather mouthed Alaska salmon are very talented hook shakers.” I intended no blame, Graham looked at Doofus, “Why didn’t you set the hook?”
“I’m sorry. I wanted to give it to you as soon as I could, but I know it was my responsibility. I should have set it. Really sorry about that.”
When Doofus had gotten the hit and given it to Graham, Margery had given her line to Rickie to reel in, and as he brought it up out of the water there was a twisted hunk of kelp caught on the hook. When Margery saw it she said, as though nauseated, “Eeeuuh! It looks like an erect penis.” Rickie burst out laughing, but immediately stifled it, as he realized no one else was laughing.
With a school mistress sterness, Graham corrected her. “What are you talking about? That’s not what it looks like. It doesn’t look like one at all.”
She turned to him with a lifted chin truculence, and a look of defiance, but her voice was deliberately calm and subdued, the perfect pitch for an effective bit of vituperative sarcasm, “You’ve seen numerous erect penises, have you? Have many, exactly, does one have to behold, before you are qualified as an expert.?”
Under his breath, to himself, “Not as many as you.”
Rickie had quickly busied himself as though not paying attention, not even hearing, but the intensity of his body language indicated his encephalic recorder was full on. Likewise, Doofus.
But it had not been under his breath enough, because she asked, slowly and willfully, a threatening fierceness in her voice, “What did you say?”
During the course of the charter there was a raw viciousness to the exchanges that made me wonder whether, in essence, it was any different than were the clashes between the hordes of mongols and barbarians, aside from the physical savagery, although in this melee. . . well, a little physicality might have been a relief, or at least a denouement. Just being a witness to this marital fracas was creeping me out, and quickly as I could, I tried to mitigate what I appraised to be a demolition derby of combustible emotions. “You know there’s another spot I want to try, and there won’t be this waiting in line. Let’s get the gear in and we can get out of this metropolitan crowd.” With a perceptible haste of relief both Rickie and Doofus, while I was still talking, went about getting the gear secured.
As I headed up Higgins Passage, Graham and Margery climbed up on the bridge, which I hoped meant they were under a flag of truce. I asked Graham if he would like to steer, and when he took the wheel I told him just to keep it on a compass course of 310. Without looking at the compass he informed me he was familiar with boats, having done a lot of fishing in the gulf, but before he could begin any of his fish stories, Margery asked, “Is that island inhabited?” She was pointing to the island on our port which had large swaths left by logging operations. Before I could answer, Graham jumped in with his didactic impatience, “Of course. All the islands are. There’re people on all of them.” And in his best declaiming tone, “Someone lives on all of the islands.
Which was not exactly true, but I didn’t feel the need to correct him. Instead I offered what I thought was innocuous information. “That’s Annette Island. It’s a reservation, the only reservation in Alaska.”
“A reservation for eskimos. Ha Ha. Do they replace the igloos for teepees in the summer time? Ha Ha.” Laughing with pride at his clever joke. Margery executed a deeply audible sigh.
I didn’t want to be adversarial with a client and I surely didn’t want to align myself with either side in what was revealing itself as a serious ongoing matrimonial fray, but I did feel a need to tell the truth, if not actually defend the Native American culture; consequently, with as little rancor as I could manage I said, “There’s a thriving little town on the Island, called Metlakatla. Most of the people who live there are Native Americans and they do quite well.”
“Doing what, selling blankets to the white man?” with a condescending chuckle.
I had to clench my jaw. I was close to losing it. But I did not want to become part of their game, but I couldn’t keep myself from saying, “They actually do very well in the logging and fishing industries.” I should have stopped there, but didn’t. “This boat belongs to man who lives in Metlakatla, a very successful businessman. I run it for him. A native American.”
I knew I had pushed it too far, but fortunately we were close to the fishing spot, and before he could verbalize the vitriolic dilation of his eyes , I said, “Well, here we are. It’s the south end of Gravina, the airport island, and I think we might do some damage here. At least we won’t have to wait in line.” It worked, the tension unknotting as he focused on the fishing.
We soon had all three lines out, and in less than ten minutes of trolling Margery got a nice hit. She squealed but immediately, without being told, set the hook with a vigorous jerk that made me think that this was not the first time she had fished. As soon as she started to reel it in the rod bent in a way that suggested she was dealing with a big boy. I moved in next to her and reached in to adjust the drag on the reel, but as I got close I was inundated with the most exotic fragrance I had ever smelled on a woman. It wasn’t the overpowering that happens from an excess of perfume. It didn’t clobber me. It was more like a synesthetic caress. It felt like pineapple, or maybe mango. I wasn’t sure. I took my time adjusting the drag in order to allow my nostrils a couple of deep elongated whiffs, which confirmed that it was indeed a mango pineapple combo, an aroma which auraed her and me with a carnal ambience. Utterly discomfited, I could feel my reason trying to abandon me, which would have left me a puppet in the hands of a somatic manipulation.
Another reason for prolonging my drag tweaking action was that by reaching across her, my arm had come in contact with her breast. It was unintentional, but as the aroma wafted across my brain waves, I wanted to see whether she would move it. She didn’t and I was glad, and able to enjoy a momentary pleasure, vibrations of which found a salacious path all the way to my groin.
Graham was coaching her, “Don’t let him get away. Just reel that puppy in.” Making the onerous sacrifice, I finally managed to break contact with her breast and recover my professional stance; however, I did remain close, and quietly advised, “You’re doing fine. Just keep the tip up.” And when the line began to sing out of the whirring reel, Graham began to shout, “Reel! Reel! Don’t let him get away.”
Screening out his tirade, she listened to my encouragement. “It’s O.K. He just wants one last fling; doesn’t want you to think he’s easy; he’ll get tired soon.”
The line finally stopped humming, and I reached in again to readjust the drag, confident that I had snapped out of my aromatic trance; but when the bicep/breast contact resulted in a repeat of the groin centered fibrillation I realized that my descent from the erotic high of the succulent bouquet was at best minimal.
She managed, however, to bring it in close enough for me to gaff. With the gaff hook through its gill I held it up, and complimented her, “Good job. You got yourself a nice king salmon.” She looked at it, then at me, and this time there was no ambiguity in her eyes when she asked, “Do you really enjoy it?” And the question and her look were vexatious enough to take the honesty out of my smile. I felt her look was probing some depth of me that was off limits without my permission.. “I mean, do you get a kick out of killing them? Does it thrill you to kill them?” It was a soulful deep place of me to which she had no right. I looked into her eyes, unable to see anything, only feel the sharp ocular thrust of her question. I hesitated, afraid that the look on my face was as confessional as it felt. Although I didn’t do much thinking about it, the truth was I had no passion for fishing. I would rather be sailing. I was running a charter fishing boat for the money. The tension was building. “Godammit” I thought, “This is not the time for that kind of Truth.”
I became conscious of my breathing, trying to use it to relax, and was greatly relieved when Graham broke the silence. “It’s a man thing. Like Hemmingway.” The CEO tone had taken on a rugged quality. “ Something a woman can’t understand.” I thought about Mary Hemmingway, ardent fishing companion as well as wife, but had the discretion not to make the point. I was beginning to feel like a medicine ball the Detweilers were tossing back and forth for emotional exercise. As she turned her look on him it was dismissive, and without comment she climbed up on the bridge.
We had fished for about twenty minutes without getting a hit when Margery called out from the bridge, “Oh look!” We all looked up at her. “Look, at those birds there. They’re beautiful.”
“We didn’t come all the way to Alaska to bird watch.” Will you come down here and fish one of these lines?”
There were three of them sort of checking us out, maybe hoping for a hand out. “I’ve never seen a bird like that before. What are they?”
“Jesus! We’ve come a coupla thousand miles to bird watch?” Only a tiny residue of CEO left, almost red neck.
Hoping this was not going into one of their feuding duels, but felt I needed to answer. “They’re puffins. Very much at home on the water.”
And they had come quite close, skimming along the water.
“Look at their beaks. They’re so bright. What’s that word? Luminescent, that’s it, a luminescent brightness. God, they’re gorgeous.”
Afraid I was being sucked in to a perverse game of dodge ball with me as the target, but felt a responsibility to explain. “The beaks get bright like that when they’re breeding.” I was right. I had taken the bait.
“Really? Makes sense. A bright beek for breeding. Ha Ha. You hear that, Graham? You need a bright beak for breeding.”
Graham mumbled, “All the fucking way to Alaska to bird watch. What the hell? There are plenty of birds in Dallas, if that’s what you wanted.” She heard him, and mumbled back, “Not like these.”
I didn’t want to be part of their perverse game of killer ball, and attempting to shake the role of target, I tried to be neutral. “I hear the bald eagle is making a big come back in Texas, so many they are going to take them off the endangered list.” Both were poised to attack, but fortunately Graham got a hit. We all watched as he brought it in without any help. I was discreet enough not to adjust his drag.
I gaffed it, brought it in, a nice sized coho. I held it up and praised him, “Way to go, Graham.” Doofus clapped.
His bask in glory was brief, however, and was quickly shattered by Margery who called down, “That’s nice, but mine was bigger than yours.”
Both ends of his mouth drooped, but refusing defeat, he looked up at her, “Maybe” he countered, “but as you well know, size is not everything. Mine was the fighter, a real fighter, and that’s what fishing is all about, fighting. You couldn’t have handled this one. You would’ve lost him.”
This persistent, ill- tempered badgering seemed to have little effect on Doofus, who in obsequious obeyance, with an unruffled expression of compliant optimism, was constantly offering a variety of services, from getting drinks and food, to holding lines and lighting cigarettes, et al; but for me it was like my brain was being sandpapered. It took a tremendous amount of intense concentration to keep from shouting out, “Will the two of you shut the fuck up! Can you just chill for a couple of minutes and give me a little break.”
He had demeaned her achievement but she didn’t say anything. She just looked at him with that disgusted look of raw abhorrence. Then I was truly weirded out, because as she slowly turned her head to look at me I witnessed a true metamorphosis. From the untamed shrew, she turned into a smile that could have provoked more than an incipient stirring in my groin were I to indulge my penchant for the licentious; but there was no way I was going to violate my self- imposed parameters. What I had with Denise was way too good to jeopardize.
There had been a couple of clients who I felt were entertaining the fantasy of the romantic charter boat captain, but even before Denise it was taboo to take advantage of their neurotic needs; and while a little flirting had seemed okay, even responding to this woman’s smile felt precarious, a succubus overture, which made it all the more surprising when she asked, “Are we going to be able to catch one of those big flounders?”
What didn’t surprise me was Graham’s need to reassert his omniscience. “They don’t have flounder in Alaska. They are halibut.”
Wary of getting embroiled, I tried to stay on middle ground by clarifying and providing more harmless information. “We have a lot of bottom fish, sole, fluke, turbot. And you know what’s funny? A lot of Alaskans will only eat halibut. That’s true, some of them won’t even eat salmon.” When I realized they could care less about the eating habits of Alaskans, I tried another tack. “There’s a great place called Misty Fjords, a really scenic cove where I’ve caught a few Halibut. I thought maybe we could head there now, anchor for some halibut fishing, and then have dinner and spend the night.
“Sounds like a good plan, Mark.” I could not help but notice his choice of Mark instead of Captain, wondering what significance it had for him. I never found out what he did for a living. It never came up, and I never asked.
FISHING AT MISTY FJIORDS
We went back down Nichols passage and headed up Revillagigedo Channel. I stayed up on the bridge until we arrived at Misty. We anchored without incident, and I was hoping that looking at two thousand feet of snow covered mountain with ferocious waterfalls bursting out its side would quell their fiery tumult. I chose not to mention the fairly recent conflict between the US government and Alaska over the use of Alaskan land dealt with by Jimmy Carter, fearing it might prove to be a short- fused, incendiary topic for them.
But of course it was easy for them to find their own provocative detonator. She was looking through my pair of expensive Swedish binoculars, which had been a special gift to my last sailboat, the love of my life, and was now one of my few precious possessions.
“Oh my god, there’s a goat, way up there, right on the top.” I had given them to her and told her it was rare to see one, but there were definitely some up there. “He’s white, and really hard to see with all the snow. That’s incredible!”
And of course his comeback was, “Believe you me, there are a lot more goats in Texas than in Alaska.”
And here we go; they’re off and running.
“But this is a mountain goat, Graham. That’s altogether different.”
It was getting beyond the pale. . . I really wasn’t sure how much more I could take.
And for some esoteric reason, he used an obnoxious British accent to declare, “A goat’s a goat.”
She took the binoculars from her eyes, and looked at him. And in the strange tone of a scholarly virago, she informed him, “You put a goat from Texas, a Texas goat, up there on that mountain and he will bust his ass.” She turned to me with that smile with its arousing potential. But I was getting better at diversion. “Why don’t’ we reel in the lines and check the bait. “
Doofus quickly reeled in his and had a little rock fish. Then Graham brought in a nice thirty five pound halibut. I gaffed it and brought it aboard and rendered it temporarily immobile with a couple of serious blows to the head, so that he could hold it up for a picture. He held it up, posing with the immense pride of a Napoleon who had just conquered a continent.
Meanwhile, Margery was struggling with her line that seemed to be caught on the bottom. I asked her, “Do you feel any movement at all? You might be caught on the bottom.”
“I’m not sure. Maybe.”
“There’s no movement on that line.” Graham’s voice of certitude. “You’ve got the bottom.”
“If you’re caught on the bottom, it’s no biggie.” I told her. “I can cut the line. If you’ve got the bottom I’ll just cut it,”
“You’re not supposed to let it get on the bottom. Remember. He told you to keep it a few inches off the bottom. So just cut the damn thing, and let’s have a drink, and next time try to keep the damn line off the bottom.”
“I think I felt it move a little.”
“That line’s not moving at all. Go on and cut it.”
“No. I think it came up a little. It might be a big halibut.”
“Bullshit. You’ve got the bottom. Go ahead and cut it, Mark.”
And then she actually reeled in a little. “Did you see that? There’s something on it. It must be huge.” Graham was silent. She reeled in a few more feet, and looked at him with a smile, abbreviated but full of odious intent, followed by the transforming turn with a brief but provocative one for me.
Forty minutes later, refusing any help, she had worked it up to where I could gaff it, and administer the coup de gras with my 45 caliber semi-automatic. When we winched it up on the scale it weighed in at an impressive one hundred and fifty seven pounds. She was ecstatic.
He shook his head but left his thoughts unsaid, and I was glad he didn’t verbalize what I feared was going on in his mind. But even to me it was beginning to seem a little freaky, though, that she was out fishing him in every species, not that I was entertaining any theory of providential intervention on behalf of woman’s lib. It was strange, though.
Later, as an appetizer I served smoked halibut cheeks and a Dungeness crab salad. They had several drinks while I limited myself to one, fearing I might fall prey to the in vino veritas syndrome. For dinner I served baked salmon over a combination of sautéed onions, mushrooms and peppers, and a sweet potato with butter and brown sugar. I was quite proud of the meal, but I didn’t have to worry about any one becoming over-effusive with compliments, as there was only a brief respite before the gloves came off for another round of bare knuckle fun.
Margery asked what I was going to do with all the meat from the fish I had cleaned. “I’ll put it in a box with dry ice and you can take it back with you on the plane.” Graham was all for that. “That’s great. We can have people over, and serve them fish we caught In Alaska.”
To which she responded, “Wouldn’t that be sweet. And who’s going to cook it, honey?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well you know damn well I’m not. Are you?”
I tried not to look at him but couldn’t help it. He was doing a kind of bull breathing through his nose. I was unable to look away, fascinated by the dilation of his nostrils.
He finally said, “Fuck it then! Just throw them back.”
To me that was the same as a generous tip. “Well, if you guys don’t mind I’ll take it home and freeze it. It’s enough to last me the winter.” They continued the bantering throughout the dinner, fortified by two bottles of wine and the fawning Doofus who would laugh to excess at anything Graham would say, sometimes so toadying that everyone, including Graham, would turn and look at him.
After dinner, while Rickie cleaned up, we were on the stern deck. It was not quite twilight, and the windless calm was in sync with the crepuscular mood of the day as it gave way to night’s darkness. The combination of an abundant amount of alcohol with a long tiring day had exhausted their combative energy, without which there was little reason to stay up. A pulsating silence was unaffected by two more drinks, and they went to bed.
A NIGHT AT MISTY
The Detweilers and Doofus were sleeping in the f’c’s’le which was forward and down five steps from the wheelhouse where I was sleeping on an extended cushion. The wheelhouse was my choice, centrally located with all around visibility, the best place to be in case of the anchor dragging, or any other emergency. I once had to chase a belligerent sea lion out of the dinghy. Rickie was sleeping in a small state room off the galley. The f’c’s’le had its own head, while Rickie and I used one that was between the wheelhouse and galley, which allowed privacy for the clients. It had been a long unusually stressful day for me trying to keep things on an even keel, and I was looking forward to a few hours of sleep.
At some time after 2:00 am, when it had become as dark as it was going to get, I started to come a little awake, but I was still partially in a dream in which I was flying a helicopter for the first time without any lessons. The inside of the cockpit was thick with the glutinous aroma of pineapple and mango, a scent viscous enough to feel. As I became more awake, slowly emerging from the dream, I became aware of a sexual link in the dream, but was not sure of its nature. . .And then, waking to a full awareness, I was barely able to keep myself from screaming, “Jesus Christ!” as I realized that Margery had me in her mouth, with me well on the way to a full scale blast off.
I went through a series of abortive hand gestures that were accompanied by soundless shapes of my mouth. First I put my palms up as though warding off a lead ballasted medicine ball, my mouth forming the beginning sound of “What the hell?” Next the finger of one hand vertical and one of the other hand horizontal with the beginning of “What about . . . With no pause in the action, she looked up at me, and I recognized the smile in her eyes to be identical to the one of amusement when she had caught me peeking at her garter.
It didn’t take long. She kept me in her mouth until she was sure I was drained of the last drop. With a final squeeze she kissed the tip. Then she stood, and with that same smile she waved with that singular motion used by the beautifully innocent and loving woman waving goodbye in Fellini’s LaStrada. I wondered how the hell she could know that the image of that woman waving was one of very few movie scenes I would carry with me to the other side of eternity.
RETURN TO KETCHIKAN
The next day I took them to a spot in Behm Canal between Revillagegedo Island and the mainland where fresh and salt water currents run opposite to each other; and provided you can find the depth where the two currents pass each other, the fish will be ravenous. We found it, and with the lore proving true, every one caught at least two fair sized salmon, either coho or chum. The fishing kept everyone too busy to squabble, at least at that serious level of altercation. I made no eye contact with her.
On the way back to Ketchikan the weather started kicking up, the rain becoming so heavy it was impossible to see land on either side of the channel. We had to negotiate a stretch of Clarence Strait before reaching the sheltered waters of Tongass Narrows, and were soon bucking a contrary three foot chop. It was a rough bumpy ride, but at least the clients were too focused on their own bouts of queasiness to even argue. All three were sitting in the main cabin, and while no one was throwing up, each had their own distinct shade of green.
The weather seemed appropriate for my mood. Most of the time charters were fun. This had not been one of those. Moreover, I was pissed. I felt very used, wondering if this was anything like a girl feels after she’s been raped. Of course, it was different. I could have stopped it, and that was part of what I was feeling, my part in it. I didn’t choose it, but I didn’t stop it. “But goddamnit” I concluded to myself. “I had been molested. That was molestation.” I was angry as hell. But also wondering why I felt absolutely no masculine accomplishment, actually was feeling asexual, a first for me. I felt I had been used by both of them, and . . . well, particularly abused by her. I was disgusted, as much at myself as at her.
I looked at the fuel gauge and realized it was time to switch fuel tanks. The tanks were in the bilge below the main cabin, and in order to switch them I had to open a hatch in the cabin sole, and reach down and move a couple of levers, port to on, starboard to off. As I opened the hatch I got the attention of all three. Graham, Margery and Doofus all leaned forward, having no idea what I was up to.
What I did next was totally spontaneous. Unobserved by them, I covertly adjusted the levers, then I leaned down and hollered into the bilge, loud enough to have been heard in the bowels of a large ship, “Awright, Morrie, you can stop releasing them now. We’ve pulled in all the lines.” They really leaned forward then, asses barely touching chairs, with three green faces trying to peer into the bilge before I closed the hatch.
For the first during the trip Margery looked genuinely concerned. I had broken her perpetual mask. “Doesn’t he get cold down there?” Graham quickly donned his authoritarian robes to inform her, “No, no. It’s warm down there. The engines keep it plenty warm. It’s quite comfortable down there.” Doo was nodding in unctuous agreement.
In that moment, for the first time in two days, I experienced a ginormous feeling of . . .what? liberation? No. Emancipation? No. Vindication? Yes! That’s exactly what it was. Vindication for high heel shoes and dress pants on a fishing trip. Vindication for being pressed into the role of witness for the vulgarity of a private fight. Vindication for being part of a non-consensual sex act. For the first time in two days I felt that the next time I smiled, it would be honest. And there was no guilt, because there had be no premeditation, no forethought. I didn’t even feel guilty for taking revenge, because it had not been planned, was out of my hands, as it were, a spiritual impromptu, in some way related to Margery catching all the big ones.
Maybe it wasn’t as big a deal as it seemed, but it was enough to make me feel I was having tlast word in a Texas free for all coterie. It put me on a high, in which I could hardly wait to have drinks with Denise and enlighten her to the true nature of a special charter.
BACK AT THE ARCTIC
As we sat and watched the nose turn again and again to a naked woman, I spared no detail. I didn’t know how she would take, but I could not lie to Denise, or even selectively omit. When I described the assault my eyes welled without any actual tears. It surprised me, and made me wonder, “Had I really been raped? By a woman?” But she didn’t seem to notice, just listened, her expression becoming increasingly rapturous until she was tearfully lost in unrestrained laughter. “Oh good god amighty, that is the funniest thing I’ve ever heard. But don’t you dare tell that to mom. I mean it. Just tell her what a great . . what a special charter it was.”