Containers For Death
The line cut through the following sea like a strand of silk through Listerine-colored water. High behind the stern of the forty-year old slug of fiberglass, the desert wind blew the foam off the wave’s crest in ragged strips, where, inside the wall of gargling water, dark shapes danced, back lit by the sun. The doorknob exploded from the face of the blue cliff, throwing slack into the line, quickly made taut by the charging boat. The knob bounced twice off the tepid sea, throwing spray in all directions, before it dug itself back into the ocean. A split second passed, then two dark shapes turned and exploded out of the blue wall and surfed down the face of the wave, their swords slashing left and right, trying to murder the orange doorknob. A rooster tail of seawater sprayed from the line as it again came taut; the marlin—their dorsal fins erect—charged the lure.
“Senorita, ally. There, there. Hold the tip up, drag—watch the drag.”
“Not my first rodeo, Gregorio. I see them.”
Sharon O’Mara jumped from the fighting chair, slammed the butt of the rod into the gimbal on the leather belt strapped to her full hips, gulped hot air, and braced herself. Jesus, the deck hand, cinched up the buckles.
“Gracias, Jesus. Gracias.”
“She is coming Senorita, there, there. Be ready!” Gregorio yelled from the make shift deck and tower attached to the top of the old cabin, like a stainless steel Mexican tree house. “She is rising.”
O’Mara held the rod loose and studied the wake in the following sea as it rose full high on the next wave. Jesus yelled something to the captain and pointed at the wave; Gregorio grimaced and nudged the throttle a bit. The boat climbed the next wave and, at its peak, she could see two, then three, torpedo shapes attack the lure; their swords slashed at the knob, each trying to beat the other to the orange chunk of plastic. They pushed each other aside and charged, their heads thrashed the ocean, spray exploded. The largest crashed through the chaos, knocked away the contenders, and ripped through the cobalt water straight into the lure’s path and snagged it. O’Mara’s reel began to sing the song of a thousand nails being dragged across a thousand blackboards. She turned to Gregorio, backlit by the sun, she—blinded by the glare.
“Now, now, now, rapido, rapido, go!” she screamed.
The Cummins diesel roared and the boat charged forward down the face of the wave; O’Mara locked the reel and struck the fish. Again the line cut through the wall of ocean rising up behind the boat, but now it carved a slash across the sea to the right, the black marlin’s shape held in the clearness of the wave like it had been caught in one of those cheap Lucite blocks holding spiders, and scorpions and other stuff, but this was not Lucite and this was not dead; this was 525 pounds of very pissed off fish. O’Mara braced her hips against the rail and heard the line scream out as it chased the fish, hoping the 850 yards of monofilament line would be enough. Gregorio, sensing her thoughts, turned the boat to parallel the flight path of the fish as it jumped once, then twice, and then, on the third leap, appeared to hold itself in the air for so long that Michael Jordan would want to trade in his face on a Wheaties’ box for the chance to float that high for that long and for that wonderfully. When the marlin stopped being an eagle, to again become a fish, a hole opened in the Sea of Cortez and she sounded.
O’Mara slept for two days straight with only brief stints at the breakfast table, dinner table and the bar. The bullet holes were pink scars now, but only scabs a week before; the mental scars were being slowly washed away by piña coladas and Black Label, not together, but separately and with ample amounts of Bohemia to insure a modicum of space between the two. There were no nightmares, no cold sweats, and no regrets, other than having to leave her live-in boyfriend at the kennel. Kevin Bryan was on leave visiting his mother in the east, so Basil lost his usual second home for the few weeks that she was on the East Cape in Baja.
“R and R—just like in Iraq,” she told herself. “Fight like hell for three weeks, get two days off and then back into the furnace. Maybe that’s why I like this part of Mexico, hot and dry and clean. Compared to Iraq, two out of three ain’t bad, and the food and the fishing is fantastic. Iraqi goat was never my favorite, no matter how it was cooked. A carnitas enchilada, covered in guacamole, cheese, and sour cream is all I need to get by, that and a tequila shooter or two.”
After the thing in Lafayette with the Clayburn Company and the serious fuck-up that resulted in her being fired and the three weeks in the hospital with the hole in her leg that was trying to close up, she regained enough sanity to realize that she needed to get away. She wanted to get far enough away where cell phones don’t work and there is nothing on TV in the room because there is no TV in the room. She needed warm water, dry nights, a handy bar, a trashy book, and fish, big fish, fish that would eat you for lunch or at the very least try to kill you for disturbing their peaceful life of terrorizing sardines and mackerel.
O’Mara remembered the first few times she came to this side of Baja and the East Cape, dirt roads, no air conditioning, great food, clean water, cold beer, and no tourists. The ocean, hers and the boat’s for days at a time, no others, and about a quarter of what charters cost in Hawaii and without the big seas. Baja offered a horizon uninterrupted by the spikes of outriggers and towers, where, when you had a fish on, no one would pull up to watch, or try to parallel the run to snag one of the others in the school. Those days are now gone. Now there’re huge PG&E towers on the boats, air-conditioned rooms, fancy onyx tiled washrooms on the golf courses and god damned well-oiled and sun-burned tourists in Tony gear, silly hats, 36 handicaps, fat wives, fat boy friends, too much tequila, flabby cruising day trippers, and all (soon to have Montezuma’s revenge churning their stomachs) turistas.
She needed a new business plan, and only in Cabo, she assured herself, could she find it. She needed a clear head, sometimes, a clean room, maybe, and mostly only herself for as long as it took. She established a daily program for herself, consisting of getting up early, having a shot of juice, taking a run down the beach (that used to be a runway where Crosby and his cronies would fly into to dry out), going fishing, eating dinner, and the next day—doing it again.
“And it’s working,” she thought. The stiffness in the leg is loosening up and she felt a lot healthier than the days she had spent with a bitchy physical therapist and besides, the view is ten times better. A week of her personal therapy had bronzed her Irish hide, pushed up the graying roots of her red hair, and had put two yellow fin tunas, one sailfish, and a thirty pound roosterfish on her caught and released list, or at least the sailfish and the roosterfish made the list; the tuna were the proud dinner guests that night, along with their dates of butter and cilantro.
She leaned toward freelancing, a helper of those needing help. Kevin already suggested a few things with some kids with family problems.
“Just what I need, more family problems, me, an orphan who has lived a hundred miles from any kind of family structure,” she said to Bryan. “The only nuclear family I know is what I see on TV Kevin, I don’t think so. I need to make a living, not just scratch by, real dinero, real dollars. I have special talents and, with some of the connections I have, maybe I can get a gig or two. I might go into salvage, find lost stuff, maybe even become a Travis McGee with tits.”
“And a nice ass, but that will only get you the kind of work that requires nights, not days, and if I remember correctly, you’re an early morning gal,” Bryan added, with a leer.
“I’ll slap that grin off your face,” Sharon said, with a matching smirk. “No, I’m serious; people lose things all the time, sometimes stolen things, sometimes lost things, and even sometimes illegal things. There may be a few who would pay well to get them back.”
“Kind of close to the edge,” Bryan added. “Wrong guess and you’re on the opposite side of me. That’s someplace I don’t want you to be.”
“Vetting, it’s all about vetting and investigation. No handshakes, no verbal promises, all contractual with signatures and retainers. McGee got deals where he kept half of the recovery, most of the time it was half of nothing and that’s nothing in my book. I want an hourly plus expensesso, if the check bounces, I leave. I’m paid weekly or adios Sharon. Besides, I will run, breathless, to you to vet anything that smells and then only if the money makes it worth the risk. And the client will know it.”
Kevin Bryan only shook his head and muttered something about settling down or some other inanity. Sharon crooked her head and laughed.
The rod tip pointed almost straight down and line kept running into the deep canyon, a thousand feet under the keel. She slowly turned the drag, putting more and more pressure on the rod, the line, and the hook.
“Senorita, please be careful, don’t want to lose her,” Jesus said, softly.
“I won’t, just a bit to slow her down, just a half turn.”
It began to work; the fish slowed his decent, then held—like a tuna. O’Mara slowly raised the rod, nothing. Again she pulled, and again nothing. Then the tip went stiff, like it had just sat down at a strip club; the limp line started to pool on the ocean’s surface.
“Gregorio, now, now, now!” O’Mara reeled in as fast she could, knuckles just missing the rail. Gregorio gunned the boat to pick up the line`s slack. The bend returned to the rod and she continued to gain line, maybe a hundred yards still spooled out. A seagull, seeing something, dipped and carved a sharp curve over the water; a spray of sardines exploded from the trough between the waves, followed by the biggest goddamn fish Sharon O’Mara had ever seen.
“Madre Dios,” muttered Jesus. “She is one big feesh.”
O’Mara pulled hard and the black head thrashed and frothed the water with its sword. Sardines flew in great handfuls from the surface; more birds appeared from nowhere and dived on the bait. The ocean churned with small fish, predators, and seabirds.
“Frenzy in the middle of all this, what a fantastic sight,” she said, scanning the roiling surface, the rod still taut to the fish.
Every once in a while, if enough time is spent on the fertile areas of the seas, the lucky mariner may happen on one of nature’s most spectacular and chaotic mass murders. When bait fish are pushed to the surface by predators, such as tuna and maybe dolphin (the mammal not the fish), and are set upon by seagulls, pelicans, and terns that gorge themselves until the bait runs out or escapes, there may not be one single bait fish alive in that frothy melee. Her marlin charged up from the deep ocean into the middle of this feeding frenzy and added to the anarchy and every fish for himself, total madness.
She slowly worked her fish to the boat, then it would run again, then get reeled back in. Seagulls still screamed across the sky, but the frenzy had moved away. She glanced at her watch, an hour had gone; the longest she ever fought a fish. Jesus handed her a beer, it disappeared as fast as she could breathe it in. It felt wonderful, even though the sinews in her arms were shrieking, the reel was now held close to her hips with a back brace and harness as she took a second to shake out her arms. She would have one hellava bruise tomorrow circling her waist; the rod dipped, and the line screamed again.
“She dives again, Senorita, maybe not so deep this time,” Jesus hoped.
Again the play began, third act, usually the last, but sometimes playwrights can be tricky and will fool with you. Again the pull, then reel, pull then reel in, crank the son-of-bitch until either your arm or the leader breaks the surface, pull the rod, then reel. Jesus laid a wet towel over her head.
Swivel, leader, and wire broke the surface. O’Mara looked back up to the bridge.
“Gregorio, let’s get her in now and tag her. She deserves to live.”
“Si, Senorita, that she does,” he answered from overhead.
He slammed the boat into reverse and backed down on the fish; she held the black marlin in place and reeled to take up the slack, as the boat pushed backwards. A wave churned over the transom, drenching Jesus and O’Mara with refreshing seawater.
Jesus grabbed the tagging stick with the release tag locked to its tip. The fish slowly carved its way to the side of the boat, exhaustion held tightly at both ends of the line. The blue and black striped colors rippled along the side of the fish, flashing its excitement and anger. She rolled an eye up toward its tormentor; O’Mara stared back at the giant.
“How long?” She yelled to Gregorio, now standing next to her, the wire leader wrapped around a heavy leather glove.
“Eight feet, with bill, eleven,” he answered. “Maybe 500 pounds, maybe more.”
“You sure, she’s a good fish. Mucho dollars.”
“No tag her, her children will give you work for years, comprendes?”
“Si, but she would be the biggest of the year,” the captain said with a smile.
“Yes and you are the big cock at the dock, no, tag her, let her go.”
Gregorio yelled toward Jesus, who leaned over the transom and stuck the tag below the dorsal fin, then grabbed the bill of the fish while Gregorio pulled the hook from the jaw, and, as he held onto the sword, he could feel the fish strengthen, its power returning. He released the bill just as Sharon clicked pictures with her camera. The giant hovered, then slowly sank and disappeared into the blue black of the ocean.
The captain turned to O’Mara with a huge smile. She returned the grin and yelled “Bueno, bueno,” and stuck out her tired hand to get a handshake.
O’Mara watched as the captain’s face turned white, the grin gone, only panic staring back at her. He leaped to the ladder and up to the bridge, gunned the throttle and spun the wheel to the right. The hard turn knocked Jesus to the deck. O’Mara held onto the rail, the only thing keeping her from joining the marlin, and watched the massive red box skim by the rail of the boat with letters three feet high announcing its name to all: PCL.