The Fishing Widow ….. How It Begins…..

Prologue

 

September 2006 Aboard Fairweather off the coast of Southeast Alaska

“Gall damn son of a bitch!  Nathan, you asshole!  What’re you doin’?” Matt screamed into the radio as he throttled back on Fairweather’s engines and cut the wheel hard to port. Spray and rain washed across the wheelhouse windows as the seine boat dove across crests and troughs suddenly. Matt’s brown eyes grew wide, his heart raced as Fairweather’s superstructure groaned under the strain of the sudden change of course.  Angry, slate grey water topped with white roared over the bow and Matt braced himself against the con as Fairweather slammed bow-first into a trough.  The wind shrieked in the wires, the sound accompanied by the crash of unsecured objects sliding recklessly through the wheelhouse and the main cabin below.  Matt’s reaction came too late, and Fairweather slammed, broadside, into the boat that had loomed, suddenly, off her starboard beam in the storm.  Revelation.  Matt’s hand tightened on the wheel as his 58’
foot seine boat rebounded away with a bone-crushing jolt. “Shit!” he swore again and tried to shear away from the pitching seiner that rolled, lightless, in the storm beside him.

Below in the fo’c’sle of Matt’s boat, six deckhands were startled awake, four of them tumbling from their bunks upon impact.  Only a few of them had managed to sleep
during the storm  that pitched and rolled their fishing boat, the others only closing their eyes and praying their skipper could keep the boat upright in the onslaught.

“Son of a bitch, Colin,” Ethan started with a dazed shake of his blond head.  Ethan reached up for a firm handhold to pull himself to his feet. His blue eyes snapped to
his friend as Colin struggled to his feet, reeling against the pitch of the boat, his hands grabbing madly for the side of the bunk.

“Shit, Ethan. That wasn’t a wave.” Colin’s voice was hoarse.  “We hit something.” The alarm was evident in his green eyes.  Colin pushed his brown hair out of his eyes as he looked around at the others in the fo’c’sle.  “You guys okay?”  There was a general groaning and murmur of assent.

“Screw this, Col,” Ethan began harshly as he moved, hand over hand, toward the ladder that led up to the main cabin.  “I’m not stayin’ down here in this shit.”

Colin began to follow Ethan up the ladder as the rest of the crew attempted to make the best of their situation in the fo’c’sle.  Colin did not blame them; they were all exhausted from hours of fishing.  Matt had run them ragged over the past 17 hours, and the coming of the storm to rock the Southeast Alaskan waters only made matters worse for the crew, who had endured lousy fishing over the past 47 hours of the trip.

“Right behind you, Eth–” Colin’s voice was caught short by the sound of their skipper’s voice on the intercom.

“Colin! Ethan!” he barked into the handset.  “Get your Mustangs on and get up to the deck! Now!” Matt yelled.

“What the hell, Col?” Ethan muttered, his eyes wide as he pulled himself up the ladder.

“Move your ass,” Colin told him as he headed, a little unsteadily, up the ladder to the main cabin.  As Colin scrambled for the gear lockers, grabbing survival suits, Ethan punched his fist against the intercom.

“What the hell, Matt?” Ethan yelled into the intercom.

“Shit, boys!” Matt’s voice sounded panicked.  “It’s Revelation.  She’s drifting!  She’s not answering!  I don’t know what that asshole Nathan is up to, but we gotta get a line on her!”

Ethan shot Colin a panicked glance.  “He’s insane–” Ethan started, his voice going dry.

“Suit up, boys!” Matt yelled.  “And get up on deck!”

Colin and Ethan hurriedly pulled on their Mustang suits and lurched toward the bulkhead door. They headed out onto the deck.  Fairweather pitched in the storm.  The mast rolled toward the sea as a swell caught her broadside, and then rolled the other way as the swell passed.  The bright orange bumpers that lined the sides of the vessel glistened with spray, awash in water that flew across the rail, the force threatening to knock Ethan and Colin off their feet.  Ethan grabbed at the ladder that led to the
weather deck as the shadowy figure of Revelation loomed off their starboard beam, coming closer until the two boats slammed up against one another again.  Ethan
re-secured his grip, turning quickly toward the bulkhead as the impact tore
through his entire body.

The rain fell in sheets, the wind blew—shrieking eerily through the lines and wires, screaming as the storm and stony grey sea continued  to batter Fairweather.

Ethan wiped the rain and spray from his face as he looked across at Revelation.

Darkness.

She was abeam of the waves.  No lights at her masthead.  No lights in the
cabin.  No lights in the wheelhouse.  Ethan glanced at Colin who met his eyes
briefly.

“C’m on, Ethan! We gotta try!” Colin yelled desperately, but his voice was
doubtful.  Ethan shook his head and swore again as he grabbed up a coil of line and dragged it to the starboard gunwale, dropping it to the deck.  Colin grabbed the
free end and began to tie on a grappling hook.

“We’ll never catch her, Col!” Ethan shouted at him as the boat pitched and they struggled with their balance.  Colin shook his head and secured the knot.

“Grab another coil!” Colin yelled at Ethan.  “Tell Matt he’s gotta get me closer!”

Ethan grabbed wildly for the rail with one hand and grabbed at Colin with his other as a wave broke over the side of the seine boat.  “Closer?  Colin, you asshole!  You’re gonna kill us!” Ethan yelled back at him.

“Do it!” Colin snapped suddenly.  Ethan hesitated only for a moment, staring at
his best friend through the curtain of rain that pelted his Mustang suit, plastering his hair against his face. Ethan cursed Colin under his breath. Turning, Ethan staggered back to the intercom on the bulkhead wall.  He punched at it.

“Matt!” he yelled. He hesitated as he shot a doubtful look at Colin.  “You gotta get us closer!”

“One shot, Ethan!” Matt yelled back at him.

Ethan grabbed up a second coil of line and headed back to the starboard rail.  “One shot, Col!” Ethan yelled above the storm, and Colin watched as Ethan quickly tied on
a grappling hook to the line at his feet.

Colin set his feet and Ethan did the same as Fairweather rocked perilously and her
power plant sprang to life.  Matt had throttled up and edged closer to the drifting Revelation.

“Som’bitch,” Ethan swore under his breath as the 58’ seine boat swung closer to the side of Fairweather.  He chanced a glance at Colin. Colin was timing the waves, timing the storm, timing the pitch of both boats…. Waiting for his opportunity to throw.

Revelation suddenly bowed to Fairweather and Colin saw his chance.  “Ethan! Throw!” he yelled, and the two of them let their hooks fly.  They whizzed loudly through the air, landing with a metallic clank against the deck.  Revelation rolled upwards and they both
pulled on their lines.  Colin could barely believe their success at managing to put two lines on the bucking boat.  They struggled with their balance as they quickly wrapped the lines to cleat them off.

The waves of a following sea broke dangerously over the stern of Fairweather as Ethan
staggered back to the intercom.  “Two lines on ‘er, boss!” he yelled into the intercom.

Silence.

“Boss?” Ethan asked again, his eyes on Colin.

“You’re gonna have to get on ‘er, Ethan,” Matt’s voice sounded apologetic.  “Jesus, I
don’t know what’s wrong.  Nathan’s not answering.  Nobody is–”

“We’re on it, boss,” Colin said over Ethan as he pulled his friend away from the intercom.

“Colin!  You’re nuts!” Ethan yelled above the wind.

Colin grinned. “Since when are you not?”

Ethan looked over at the pitching Revelation and then back at Colin.  Ethan smirked at his friend.  “Yeah, well,” he laughed.  Colin broke into a laugh.

“Shit.  C’m on, Ethan.”

The two moved to the starboard side of Fairweather.  Their lines held Revelation fast, but she continued to buck and pitch wildly, lightlessly, in the storm.

“Don’t miss!” Colin yelled at Ethan.

“Asshole!” Ethan shot back with a grin.

They leapt.

Ethan’s knees bruised as he hit the deck of Revelation, but he had hit the deck of Revelation, and that seemed to him to be a miracle beyond anything imaginable in that storm.  That Colin was beside him seemed equally miraculous.  Waves washed over the two of them as they struggled to their feet.

Ethan followed Colin up the ladder to the weather deck.  They lurched across the deck, and Colin made a grab for the wheelhouse door, wrenching it open and shoving Ethan inside before heading inside himself and slamming the door shut.

Silence.

Darkness.

“Shit, Col,” Ethan’s voice was suddenly quiet as he watched his friend begin to flip at switches on the instrument panel.  The radios were still tuned, and Colin grabbed up a handset.

“Matt, we’re on,” he said and let the transmitter fall back to the instrument panel.

“What the hell, Col?” Matt’s voice sounded scared through the crackle of static.

“Don’t know. There’s no one in the wheelhouse,” Ethan told Matt as calmly as he was
able.  There was a roar as Colin managed to restart Revelation’s engines.  “Col just got her up and running.”

“Thank God,” Matt sighed.  “Got your lights–”

Colin had switched on the masthead lights as well as the lights in the wheelhouse.

“I’m goin’ below,” Ethan said as he headed back to the wheelhouse door.

“Ethan–” Colin started and his friend turned back to him.  Colin hesitated.  “Be careful.”

Ethan hesitated for a moment, and then swung himself out the door, down the ladder, and made for the bulkhead door that would take him into the main cabin.  He stepped
inside and closed the door behind him. The steel managed to block out some of the sound of the wind, but not all of it.  Under engines, Revelation pitched a little less
violently, but she remained hooked to Fairweather, and Colin could only maneuver the seine boat so much.  Ethan reached beside the door and clicked on the main cabin lights.

Empty.

“Hello?” Ethan called.

Silence.

His blue eyes scanned the cabin, and he pulled the hood of his survival suit back from his head. His long blond hair hung wet and straggly around his face.  His eyes missed nothing.  The crew had eaten supper, all the dishes and silverware had been stowed.  A
coffeemaker bungeed against the bulkhead wall on the counter still had half a pot of coffee sitting on the burner.  Ethan reached out a hand and felt it.

Warm.

“Nathan?” Ethan ventured.

Ethan looked down. Books were scattered around the floor, evidently thrown from the table as Revelation pitched in the storm.  Several magazines lay open on the bulkhead bench on the port side of the cabin. There were smashed out cigarettes in several ashtrays in the galley sink.  Ethan moved forward cautiously,fully aware that the fo’c’sle below him was shrouded in darkness.  He knew the crew of Revelation.  They were
usually a noisy bunch.  It made the quiet even more unnerving.  Eerily quiet.  Ethan hesitated before he moved further into the cabin.

No one could have slept through that last collision, and certainly no one would be sleeping once Colin got the engines restarted.  Ethan took another step and steadied himself with his hand against the table.

“Peter?” He called. Ethan’s eyes continued to dart around the cabin.  No response from Revelation’s First Mate.

Ethan looked around at the sound of the wind beating against the glass.  The rain had turned to sleet, and it was pelting the windows relentlessly.

“Will?”

Nothing.

“Mitch?”

Nothing.

Ethan had reached the ladder that led down into the fo’c’sle.  He stared down into the darkness.  “Timber?”

Nothing.

“Otter?”

Nothing.

Ethan took a breath. “Orion, you boys down there?” he ventured.  Ethan realized that his voice was becoming weaker as every name he called went unanswered. “Shit,” Ethan muttered nervously under his breath.  He felt his heart racing as he turned,
grabbed at the ladder, and slid down into the fo’c’sle.  Ethan shut his eyes, only opening them after he had found the switch and clicked on the light.

Bunks.  Unmade bunks.  It was as if the crew had been sleeping.  Sleeping and then roused.  Roused, but not on deck, not in the main cabin.  They were nowhere.   Ethan moved forward and placed a shaking hand on the first top bunk.

Warm.

Ethan pulled his hand back abruptly.  The bottom bunk was equally warm.  Wherever the crew had gone, they had not been gone long.  His brow furrowed as he continued through the fo’c’sle.  At the very bow of the boat, one bunk, and Ethan knew it was Nathan’s bunk.  The blankets were drawn up as if it had been made, as if Nathan were still in the wheelhouse fighting the storm and had not headed down for any sleep.  Ethan heard a noise and glanced back behind himself. He paused, listening.  He shrugged it off as being the sound of the sleet against the steel superstructure.  His eyes turned back to the bunk and he immediately noticed that the blankets lay across it haphazardly, not immaculately, as was Nathan’s custom. Ethan grimaced.  He and Colin had crewed with the man the season prior, and Nathan had proved to be such a son of bitch that both he and Colin had cut their losses after only two weeks and jumped ship on him.

The blanket was wrinkled.

Ethan stepped closer.

The blanket was moving.

Ethan felt his throat grow dry.  “What the–” he muttered to himself.  With a shaking hand, Ethan gripped the blanket and began to pull…

 

Colin turned suddenly as Ethan flung the door open and threw himself into the wheelhouse. Ethan pushed past Colin and grabbed at the radio handset.

“Matt!” Ethan screamed, his voice desperate, “Get us off this boat!  Now!”

Colin grabbed at the transmitter, but Ethan stiff-armed him as he continued to yell at Matt.

“Ethan! Give me that!” Colin yelled.

Ethan pushed Colin away and punched the transmit button again.  “Off this boat!  Matt!  Now!” Ethan howled.

Colin stumbled back, staring at Ethan as the latter continued to shake uncontrollably and yell into the radio.

“Please, Matt!” Ethan begged desperately, breaking into sobs.

“Ethan!” Colin barked suddenly.  Ethan shot Colin a wild-eyed glance, and the two of them started as the wind drove the sleet harder against the glass.  Colin grabbed at Ethan’s shoulder to steady him.  “They’ve cut us loose!  We can’t get back!”

Ethan felt his heart drop to his feet.  He shook his head, pulling away from
Colin.  “Matt!” he wailed again.

Colin lunged for Ethan, taking both hands off the wheel, which spun wildly. The boat jerked and shuddered until Colin got a hand back on the wheel to steady her. “Ethan–” Colin’s voice was desperate. He watched as Ethan collapsed to the deck, screaming and covering his head with his arms.

Colin shook his head in disbelief.  He and Ethan had known each other for over
two years.  In all that time, in any situation, he had never seen Ethan react like this to anything.  Colin’s hand was shaking as he picked up the transmitter, his eyes never leaving Ethan. “Matt,” he said as calmly as he was able, his voice echoing in his ears.
“Call Ketch.”

 

“Call Ketch,” repeated a calm voice from across a desk.

“Yes,” Colin replied shakily.  “That’s what I said.  To call–” Colin broke off as Ethan, who sat beside him, took a shuddering breath and let it out slowly.  Colin glanced at Ethan and then turned his attention back to the man seated at the desk across from him.  “To call Ketch.”  Colin looked down into the Styrofoam coffee cup in his hand, looked into the blackness, into the darkness.  The echo of his words aboard Revelation was fading in his ears.  Ketch… call Ketchikan. “I thought the crew was dead,” he finished quietly.

Jack drew back and nodded quietly, casting a glance at his partner, Ezra, who stood in the shadows near the door.  Somewhere outside, a telephone rang, they could hear the punching of computer keys, voices.  There was no sound of wind, or rain, or sleet, or a pitching sea.  Jack watched as Ethan raised a lit cigarette to his lips and took a drag on it.  While Colin had been forthcoming with any information he had about Revelation,
Ethan had been quiet, nervous, and, Jack was sure, hiding something.  Jack watched as Ethan started at the knock on his office door.  The Alaska State Trooper behind the desk said nothing, but shot a glance at his partner who walked to the door and opened it.

Jack Burnsed leaned back in his chair and smirked at the two Coast Guardsmen who entered. Jack, when he was standing, was an imposing figure at six foot five.  He was in his early forties, solidly framed with dark brown hair and brown eyes that missed nothing.  “I figured I’d see you two,” he started.

The two Coasties did not return Jack’s lopsided smile, but stood, serious and stony faced, by the door.  “I figured you’d be all over this, Jack,” said the taller of the Coast Guardsmen.

“Ethan, Colin,” Jack started easily, “These two guys are Michale Simek and Roderick Lee. They’ll want to ask you questions, but I’ll also remind them, respectfully, that they’re out of their jurisdiction.”

Jack watched as Ethan leaned forward and stabbed out his cigarette in the ashtray on Jack’s desk before he drew back into himself.

“Your partner remains as cooperative as ever, Ezra,” Michale grinned.  Ezra Galen, Jack’s partner, returned the smile.  Ezra was a full four inches shorter than Jack with blond hair that had started to grey and hazel eyes.  Ethan had decided the moment
he had entered that Ezra was the more sympathetic of the two Troopers.  He had hesitated to answer any of the questions put to him by Jack, letting Colin, instead, answer for the two of them.

Ethan looked away as Michale moved closer to where the pair of them sat on the other side of Burnsed’s desk.  “Ethan,” he started gently.

Something inside Ethan snapped suddenly and he was defiant.  “Look,” he said more harshly than was necessary, “what the hell, all right? I’ve already been through this with these guys, I don’t want to talk about it anymore.”

Colin glanced worriedly at his friend before looking away quickly.  He noticed that Jack had leaned forward and eyed Ethan with renewed interest.

“I’m sure this is hard for you,” Michale continued quietly and set what he believed was a comforting hand on Ethan’s shoulder.

Ethan visibly bristled and was on his feet in a moment.  “Back off,” he said harshly,
pulling himself out of arms’ reach of the Coast Guardsmen.  Ethan’s blue eyes snapped to Jack.  “Are we done? ‘Cause I’m done talkin’ about this.”

Jack noticed that Ethan’s breathing had changed.  While he had been agitated before, something else was causing him even greater anxiety. He glanced at Michale who met his eyes. Jack shook his head slightly to warn Michale off.  Jack folded his hands quietly on his desk.  He looked down at them before he looked up at Ethan.  “Is there something else?” he ventured quietly.

“No,” Ethan said much too quickly and much too loudly to be believable.  He moved around the room as if he were caged.  “I’ve already told you everything.  Colin was in the wheelhouse, I went down to the fo’c’sle and the crew was gone.  They were gone.”  Ethan hesitated, his chest rising and falling as if he were beginning to panic.

“Ethan,” Colin started gently.

“No, Col,” Ethan continued harshly, “that’s it.  End of story.”  Ethan spun around and faced Jack.  “I want to leave now.  I haven’t done anything wrong.  You know everything I do.  I want to go home!”

“You and Colin have been crewing with Matt all year, haven’t you?” Jack asked quietly, attempting to change the subject.

“What does that have to do with anything?” Colin asked, confused.

“You’d crewed with Nathan aboard Revelation in the past,” Jack said simply, casting his eyes down at his notes on the desk.

“Two weeks last season during March.  So what?” Ethan retorted.

Jack shrugged in a non-committal kind of way.  “Just an observation,” he said quietly.

“Yeah, well,” Ethan started uneasily, and Jack could tell the abrupt change of subject had put Ethan off balance.  “Nathan’s a real son of a bitch, ya know?  Col and I cut our losses and found another boat–”

Roderick suddenly smiled.  “Nathan had that reputation,” he started.

“He earned every bit of it,” Ethan replied, his voice sounding a little calmer.  He shot Colin a furtive glance.  “We were lucky to end up with Matt on Fairweather.  Awesome boat, awesome crew.” Ethan hesitated.

Roderick suddenly wagged a finger at Ethan.  “I know you,” he started, a smile sliding
across his features.  “I saw you at the first opening of the Sitka sac roe fishery in    March–”

Ethan shrugged and smiled.  “Yeah, well, maybe,” he admitted.

“No,” Roderick continued and switched his glance between Colin and Ethan.  “The two of you.”  He paused, thinking.  “Colin,” he said suddenly, “you’re Matt’s tender pilot, and Ethan, you’re his wing man.”  Roderick turned to Michale. “These boys are amazing, Michale. I’d never seen anyone set a seine net faster,” he grinned.

“Um, thanks,” Colin said awkwardly.  He realized what Roderick was doing and he
watched Ethan carefully to see if he had noticed.

“So, I’m thinkin’ you’re the one who got her engines to come around,” Roderick continued with a smile as he patted Colin on the shoulder.

“Um, yeah,” Colin replied awkwardly, his gaze turning warily toward Ethan who had remained quiet.

Roderick turned what he must have believed was a nonthreatening smile to Ethan. “So you went below–”

Colin’s eyes closed, realizing immediately the tactical error that Roderick failed to see.
“Ethan,” he started, trying to forestall another outburst.

Ethan drew back, and Colin could sense the drawing was not only physical.  “Done,” he said flatly as he turned to Jack.  “I told you, I’m done talking about this!”  He began to move toward the door.  Roderick put out a hand to stop him.  Ethan recoiled, his hands closing into fists as Roderick set a hand on his shoulder.

“Ethan–” Roderick believed his voice to be soothing, but Colin could foresee the result.

Ethan grabbed at Roderick and attempted to throw him off.  “Done!  Damn it, Jack!” he yelled, “I want to go home!”  Ethan fought harder as Roderick’s grip on him tightened.

“Home’s all the way over in Port Saint Anne, Ethan,” Jack said, not unkindly.

“Please! Don’t!” Colin’s voice was desperate as he got to his feet and wedged himself between Ethan and Roderick.  Ethan fell back and kicked violently at his chair.

Jack was on his feet and moving around the desk.  Ethan gasped and stumbled back quickly as Jack backed him up against the wall. Jack’s height was daunting, and he towered over Ethan.

“Jack! Don’t!” Colin pleaded, his voice breaking.

Ethan fell back against the wall, burying his face in his hands, breaking into sobs, and tearing at his hair as he slid to the floor.

Jack jerked away from Ezra who had crossed the room quickly and taken hold of Jack’s arm.  “Jesus, Jack, he’s just a kid–” Ezra said softly as he redoubled his grip.

Jack turned and met Ezra’s eyes grimly.  He said nothing.

“Nineteen. Just a kid,” Ezra said again, more softly as Ethan’s body folded in upon
itself and he continued to wail.  Ezra glanced at Colin.  “Col’s barely old enough to walk into a bar,” Ezra continued. His hand on Jack’s arm loosened. “Kids, Jack. They’re just kids.”

Jack glanced down at Ethan and then up at Ezra.  Jack slipped to the floor beside Ethan. “I’m sorry,” he started quietly.

Ethan shook his head, continuing to sob.

Jack slipped his arm around Ethan’s shoulders.  He sighed and stared at his shoes for a
moment as he crossed one leg over the other. “Ethan,” he said quietly, but Ethan continued to shake his head, unable to stop his tears.

Ezra stood above them, looking down at the two of them quietly.  Jack glanced up at Ezra for a moment before turning back to Ethan. “Ethan,” he whispered.  Jack hesitated for a moment.  “What did you see down there?”

Ethan let his hands fall from in front of his face.  His blue eyes flashed as they met
Jack’s.  He took a shuddering breath to steady himself.  “You wouldn’t believe me
if I told you,” Ethan shot at Jack harshly.

Jack sighed and smiled sadly.  “Try me.”

©2010 A.K. Marshall