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 shuddered across crests and troughs. 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. Unsecured objects crashed, sliding recklessly through the wheelhouse and the main cabin below. Matt’s reaction came too late, and Fairweather pitched up, smashing broadside, into the boat that had loomed, suddenly, off her starboard beam. Revelation. Matt staggered, his hand tightening on the wheel as his 58’ foot seine boat rebounded away with a bone-crushing jolt. “Shit!” he swore again as he spun the wheel in a desperate attempt 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. True sleep eluded them as the storm roared beyond the bulkhead and pitched and rolled their fishing boat. At best, the boys below only shut their eyes and prayed their skipper could keep the boat upright.
“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 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; Matt had run them ragged over the past seventeen 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 forty-seven 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. “Mustangs on and out on 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 survival suits and lurched toward the bulkhead door. They headed out onto the deck. Fairweather pitched in the storm. Her 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 battered 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. 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 tensing 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 cleated 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.
“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. While their lines held Revelation fast, 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.
Ethan’s knees bruised as he hit the deck of Revelation, but miraculously he had hit the deck of Revelation; that Colin was beside him only added to it. 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.
“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 yellow-white sodium lights at her masthead 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. 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.
“Hello?” Ethan called.
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 on the counter still had half a pot of coffee sitting on the burner. Ethan reached out a hand and felt it.
“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.
Ethan had reached the ladder that led down into the fo’c’sle. He stared down into the darkness. “Timber?”
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.
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 lurched, his hand tightening against the smooth metal wheel as a roller crashed against Revelation, sending white capped water raging over the wheelhouse. He steadied his feet, his hand scrabbling madly for the radio’s transmitter as the boat’s superstructure groaned. The roller drove him, hard, up against Fairweather again.
“Matt!” Colin’s voice was hoarse with desperation. “Matt! Get those lines cut!” Through the wildly scattered sheen of the sodium mast lights, Colin could see his shipmates hacking wildly at the lines that held the two boats fast. Revelation shuddered as the following trough removed the sea beneath her. Colin watched rain-slicked orange figures stagger as Fairweather slid down after her. One line parted suddenly, snapping away as the two boats continued to pitch.
“One!” Matt yelled.
“C’m on, boys,” Colin pleaded in a whisper as two axes began tearing fiercely into the second line. Colin started, turning suddenly as the bulkhead door behind him banged open. Ethan flung himself into the wheelhouse. He made a mad grab for Colin.
“Get out!” Ethan’s hands closed on Colin, pulling him from the wheel. Colin stumbled away, falling against the starboard bulkhead as the boat pitched.
“Ethan!” Colin yelled.
Ethan turned, his blue eyes shining insanely in the shifting light. He stumbled aft, grabbing at the fire axe.
“Oh, shit, no,” Colin breathed, his eyes wide. Colin let out a yell as he flung himself aft. His hands closed on Ethan and he hauled him forward, slamming him down against the con. Ethan struggled, punching at Colin. Ethan’s fist connected and Colin fell back, his hand fumbling for the wheel. Ethan screamed as he kicked at Colin before tumbling to the deck. Colin’s eyes widened as Ethan leapt to his feet and turned.
They suddenly reeled to starboard as the second line parted and Revelation rocked free of Fairweather. Ethan’s fingers found the radio mic as he slid, his other hand grasping wildly for the wheel.
“Matt!” Ethan wailed desperately.
“Ethan!” Colin lunged for Ethan. The boat jerked and shuddered, sliding sideways through the worsening swell. Ethan and Colin fell, grappling, against the port bulkhead.
“Let me go!” Ethan screamed as he covered his head with his arms.
Colin turned wildly as the bulkhead door banged, thrown open and shut in the wind. The gale swirled through the wheelhouse—spinning charts and papers from their places beneath the con.
“No! Let me go!” Ethan wailed. Colin ignored him; he lunged for the door, wrenching it shut before he staggered to the wheel, his hands struggling to steady her. Ethan howled.
“Ethan–” Colin’s voice was desperate. He watched Ethan writhe against the deck, screaming, his fingers clawing madly at his survival suit.
Colin shook his head in disbelief. His hand trembled as he picked up the transmitter, his eyes never leaving Ethan. “Oh, God, Matt,” he breathed, his voice echoing in his ears. “Call Ketch.”
“Call Ketch,” repeated a calm voice from across a desk.
“Yes,” Colin replied uneasily. “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.
The Alaska State Trooper across the desk from Colin and Ethan drew back and nodded silently, casting a glance at his partner who stood in the shadows near the door. Somewhere beyond the office, 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. He watched as Ethan started at the knock on his office door. He said nothing, but shot a glance at Ezra, 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.”
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 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.”
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 net like that,” 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 uneasily, 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. “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 slammed his hand flat against the wall beside Ethan. “Where are they, Lindgren?” Jack snarled, his brown eyes flashing.
“Jack! Don’t!” Colin pleaded, his voice breaking.
“Where?” Jack shouted, pounding the wall again. Ethan flinched.
“Please!” Colin begged. He grabbed at Jack who jerked away.
“Where?” Both hands hit the wall, trapping Ethan between them. Jack’s eyes narrowed menacingly.
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 crossed the room quickly and grabbed 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’s 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