Of all the women who had come and gone, and there’d been more than a couple, only one had ever netted him.
She was Finnish. Olga. Olga Kuuhimo. Almost four decades had passed but it may as well have been four weeks. True, a half-century of drinking had done his memory in. True, he told his deckhands the same jokes and could forget entire conversations from the night before. But when it came to Olga, he remembered everything. Everything, down to the turquoise bra she wore when he first saw her behind the bar, bending for ice at The Thirsty Whale. She had come by sea with her cousin, who later drowned off Georges Bank during the storm of ’71. He courted her for six weeks. Two months later, she moved in. He’d never been happier. Then one day he decided that to be the best fisherman in the Gulf he had to go it alone. That’s what his 19-year-old mind thought. So he told her they were done. She moved out. Five months later she returned to Finland. His other relationships never went anywhere. “Compromises,” he called them. “No spark.” And then one dark and stormy night, during the easterly that blew half the shingles off Cody’s shed, he Googled “Olga Kuuhimo.” He found her halfway down the page: Olga Kuuhimo Haveri – Finland |Facebook. He could have quit right there. Pretended it was another Olga. But he clicked on the link. There she was, her arm around some blonde yuppie asshole. You could see the strap of her blue bra. The next morning he woke, face down on the keyboard. Broken glass everywhere. He was still drunk when he set off for Cox’s Ledge. Only five days later, when he returned and checked his emails, did he realize what he’d done that night. The title of the latest email read “Olga Kuuhimo Haveri confirmed you as a friend on Facebook.”
This was trouble. He always said he couldn’t tolerate the whole Facebook scene. Now he was its poster boy. He shut down the desktop.
His niece had set up his Facebook account last week. He forgot to delete it. She’d never asked first for his consent, at least not when he was sober. It was just another reason to quit drinking. Not that he would. Drink was the cause of his problems but also the cure. So he did the next best thing. He headed to sea.
He didn’t bother to call Wade. They’d steamed in last night because it was picking up southwest. It wouldn’t make sense to go back out chasing jumpers. One can’t throw harpoon in that weather. Besides, he wasn’t going out for tuna. He was going out for himself.
He was 50 miles offshore when he sighted a sperm whale. It’d been a good two decades since he’d seen one. They’re sighted in the Gulf of Maine only once every two or three years. He could tell by the blow. A right whale’s blow looks like a V, while a sperm whale blows rearward at 45 degrees.
There’d been strange sightings this summer. A few days ago, a tuna chummer said he “chummed up something biblical.” The crew saw the fish come up in the chum slick and then go down. Maybe a monster mako, maybe a great white. Normally he wasn’t one for signs, but “something biblical” followed by a sperm whale wasn’t something to blow off.
At sunset he jigged for a cod to fry up. Within a few minutes, there was a bite. He could tell by the pull it was a dogfish. Small one. Those green-eyed bastards were everywhere. He hauled the doggie up out of the water, holding it by the jig, and then smashed it with an overhand swing against the hull. You can’t work the hooks out by hand because of the poisonous barbs on their spine.
The impact ripped the hook out of its mouth. No point in jigging for dinner anymore. Puppies travel in packs.
Watching the dogfish float away, his mind soon drifted to bluedogs, then to bluebras, then to Olga. So much for relief in the open seas.
He steamed back towards his desktop. His pride could wait. A message needed to be sent.
By sunset the Lordy Lord was in coastal waters. The sky had clouded over but there were holes in the cloud cover. In places the sun shone through and made pools of orange radiance in the gray water. The vessel moved in and out of these scattered spots. One moment it was dark and gray and then the bow would pass into a wall of light that would advance sternward in a clean diagonal line until the whole boat was bright and orange.
There was an unnatural brightness to the light, as if digitally manipulated. He reckoned it was the pollution from the Eastern seaboard. Pollution wasn’t without its charm. Next time someone gave him hell for burning plastic he’d point to the spiral of stinking smoke and say it was for the sunsets.
It had been an unnatural year. Four swordfish had been harpooned within twenty miles of the Gulf of Maine. It was rare to see them up inside like that. Usually they were 200 or 300 miles offshore out by Georges Banks and Grand Banks. And then there were the tropical storms that had swirled everything up. Fish that used to be southwest of Platt’s Bank could be 50 miles northeast. It was a crapshoot out there.
But nothing like the crapshoot he was steaming towards right now. He was ready though. It was time to unbury the past. Once Ron set his mind on something there was no turning back.
Ron had never turned back from his teenage decision to reject his dysfunctional upper class family and lawman’s future and take up a seaman’s life. But it wasn’t easy. He’d had to fight the whole way. Climbing down the social ladder proved as hard as climbing up. The other fishermen initially saw him as a trust fund brat with preppy illusions about working class life. When he outworked the best of them, it quieted them down some, but not much.
It wasn’t until Lev stabbed their father to death that the gibes ended. The community could have ostracized him, driven him out. Instead, they welcomed him in. The spoiled brat cliché didn’t hold water anymore.
His eldest brother Jacob, meanwhile, went the other way. He detached from the world and vanished into his online gaming universe. Ron rarely heard from him. As for Lev, he’d served his time and was now, against all odds, the manager of an Olympus camera store.
Ron knew he carried within him the seeds of his dead father’s temper and alcoholism. They often wreaked havoc on his private life. But this time he wasn’t going to give in to them. He had unfinished business at hand.
Other vessels were also steaming inshore, their work day at a close. Ron looked out upon the shore, which came into relief in the sun’s mellow last rays. It was just after low tide and the coastline was layered in color. Where the water met the shore was the red seaweed and then the brown seaweed. Above that was the dark green seaweed and then the black wet rock and the dry gray rock, which went up until the evergreen trees began and merged into forest. After the forest there was only sky.
At low tide on full and new moons, the brilliant jade seaweed was visible just above the surface. At high tides there would only be a sliver of the black wet rock along the coast and the rest would be gray rock and forest and sky. The coast was uneven and jagged and in places rose from the water as cliffs and it was wild and very beautiful. To live there and breathe of that air also made one uneven and jagged and if alongside these there was integrity and nobleness of heart, then beautiful too.
Ron shook his head as he steamed into the harbor. It was rare for lyrical moods to overtake him like that, but when they did, he was as much a sucker for them as anyone else.
He left the slop bucket on the porch, dropped his duffle bag inside the front door and went to the freezer. He filled a tumbler with ice and poured himself a rum and coke. He stood for a while by the bay windows, holding the drink, staring out at the distant water through his reflected image. He ran his fingers through his beard. He’d worn one since the day Lev killed their father. No particular reason. That’s just how it played out. Some things were constants in Ron’s life: the sea, the rum, and his beard.
“What do you say, Ron?” he murmured. “Time to unbury the past or what?” He took a drink and then went upstairs to the bathroom. After clipping his beard off, he took a shower and then shaved off the remaining growth.
Ron stared at the unfamiliar face that gazed at him in the mirror. He looked two decades younger. He wasn’t sure just what to make of it. He ran his hand over his face, feeling strangely exposed, even violated. He gave a scornful laugh and looked away. The damnedest things were going through his head lately.
He went downstairs and poured another drink. He stood briefly at the window again. Then he went to the computer. He knew exactly what he was going to write. He’d written and rewritten the message out in his head all afternoon. And he would have sent it, too, had Olga not already beaten him to it.
The title of Olga’s message to him was “coming to hagan harbor on thursday.” Had it been a TV show, Ron would have spluttered up his drink. Instead he just sat in stupefied silence and read on:
i was so surprised and so happy to get friended from you on facebook – i have to tell you that at first i was nervous to write to you because of… well you know of course. it’s been so long. thats why i waited to write you this news… my husband and my two children have always wanted to visit america so we decided at long last to come so I can show them the places from my history…
i never would imagined you were still living in hagan’s harbor… i always guessed you went back to your family’s town. but i should have known you wouldnt by how stubborn you are…
we arrive this friday aug 28 until sunday sep 6 and will be staying at hagan harbor lodge. i would like it for you to meet my 15 year son Ransu and my 24 year daughter Annikki. they have grown up hearing stories from me about the fishing life on hagans harbor.
i cant wait to hear about you. (your family?) there is no information about your personal life on your facebook page. you always were private… i hope you get this message and we can have a chance to catch up with our lives. do you still drink your rum and coca cola and play “Walk Over the Line” until everyone’s ears falls off? Ekkk!
with wishes of love and happiness, olga”
Ron shut down the desktop and sat there a long time. Then he went to the bedroom and returned to the office with a white envelope and a candle. The envelope was clean and smooth except for along the jagged top fold where it had been torn open by finger. Ron turned the envelope over and looked at the return address and the faint stamped date – 1971. Inside was a yellowed handwritten letter. He lit a candle and, after switching off the light, unfolded the letter behind the flame. The letter was stained and creased with wear and in places the ink was smudged. Ron read it through slowly and by the time he came to the end his eyes had reddened. He folded the letter and tucked it back into the envelope. Holding the envelope between his thumb and forefinger, he put a corner into the flame. Thin black paper chars floated off as the fire moved along the paper. When the fire had traveled down to his fingertips, he dropped the paper torch into the empty wastebasket.
Ron did not write back to Olga. But by the time Friday came around, his bar was freshly stocked with vodka and kahlua and there was a gallon of milk in the fridge.
He’d already gone out fishing for the day when Olga knocked on his front door, alone, early Sunday morning. She was convinced Ron had never received her Facebook message. Aside from the two of them becoming Facebook friends, there was no activity on his page since the day the account was opened.
She’d planned to call Ron first – he was the only Hearth in the phonebook – but after three aborted phone calls decided it would be easier to stop by. It hadn’t helped that the manager of Hagan Harbor Lodge, who had handed her the phone book, told her Ron was single and lived alone.
She was both disappointed and relieved he was out. She set on his doorstep the jug of spiced rum and wrote a brief note stating that, in case he hadn’t received her Facebook message, she was at Hagan Harbor Lodge with her husband and children and would love to see him. She paused and then wrote: “My husband knows. It’s o.k.” After another pause, she signed off, “Please come. With love, Olga.”
While she was writing the note on his doorstep, Ron was steaming along the cliffs south of Hagan’s Harbor, mulling over what to do about Olga. The sun was low in the east and the shadows of gulls gliding across the rising sun moved enormously across the cliff face, distorting upon the irregular rock.
For several years after Olga had moved out and returned to Finland, Ron would occasionally hike out to those cliffs at night. He would go when the moon was low and bright on the water. The clouds drifting slowly under the moon made the night eerie and imminent and profound. It was a good place to stand and be alone and think.
And it was a good place to not think. The stars were good for that. He would lie with his back on the cold granite and study the constellations and he forgot about himself and all his cares and concerns went out of him and into the stars and the stories of the constellations.
But sometimes, even under the stars, he could not forget himself. Sometimes he had too many thoughts and felt he could not manage them and nothing seemed worth doing except sorting them out. Fishing was good for that. And if he could not sort them out, at least he could unload them out to sea like a crate of junk metal.
But that was decades ago. Ron hadn’t sorted out or unburdened himself of anything when he returned to find on his doorstep a letter under a jug of spiced rum. Spiced? He wasn’t sure if that was a joke or bad memory. About the only thing spiced rum was good for was abstinence.
Ron read the letter two dozen times that night. “My husband knows. It’s o.k.” That line kept him up most of the night. By morning, he’d made up his mind by a simple process of elimination. If he went, anything could happen. If he didn’t go, he was only assured of more sleepless nights.
He bagged up all the tuna steaks in his freezer and headed to his truck. Five minutes later he was banging the knocker on Apt. 4, Hagan Harbor Lodge.
The door opened. There before him was the Olga he remembered. The same bobbed platinum blonde hair, the same wide set ice blue eyes, the same unflinching gaze. It was Annikki, Olga’s daughter.
Olga’s daughter broke the silence. “Yes?”
Ron had blanked on her name. “Hi. You must be…” Her bra strap was light green. Not turquoise but close enough.
He cleared his throat. “Yes.” He glanced into the empty room behind her. “I’m an old friend of Olga.”
“Of course I know who you are! I’m Annikki. Mama told us all about you.” Her cheeks dimpled just like Olga’s once had. “We were hoping you’d come by.”
She waited for Ron to speak. The words had gone out of him. Ron raised the ziplock. “Tuna steak. It’s for you… for your family. Just tell your mother that—”
She swung the door open wide. “Mama would hit me over the head if I let you leave!”
“No, I can’t stay. I’ve—”
Annikki hooked her elbow around Ron’s arm. “No chance!” She was a foot shorter than him. She leaned in and pulled on his arm, smiling. The collar of her sky blue dress hung down, displaying her pale breasts and the light green cups of her bra. He turned his gaze away.
“They’ll be here in a second. Mama and Ransu just went next door.”
Ron let himself be pulled into the room. “Is your father here–?”
“Stepfather,” she interrupted. “No. Pellervo’s next door too.”
Annikki was still tugging Ron into the apartment when Olga appeared, silhouetted in the sunlit doorway. Annikki released his elbow. He turned to face her.
They both stood motionless. Then Olga walked up to him. “Oh, Ron,” she said softly and hugged him. Ron just stood with his arms hanging at his sides. He raised them in a halting motion and feebly returned the hug. He was still holding the bag of tuna.
There were footsteps along the walkway. Olga abruptly pulled away from him. A guest walked by. Olga said something in Finnish to Annikki, who had been watching in the corner. Annikki slipped out of the apartment, smiling at Ron as she shut the door behind her.
Olga turned her back to him. “I’m sorry,” she said, wiping her eyes. She laughed and her voice cracked. “I didn’t think this would happen after so long.”
She turned back and looked up at him. “You look good, Ron.” Her face was furrowed with lines. It wasn’t the face he remembered. Not even the face from her Facebook picture, although he had been drinking that night.
“Maybe for an old washed-up sunovabitch.” Olga waited for him to say something else. She lowered her eyes. “I’m sorry. This is too much.” She walked to the bathroom. There was a rush of water from the sink tap. Splashing sounds.
When she came out her face had smoothed over. “Ransu and Pellervo should be back soon. They’re having coffee with a new friend from Lisbon who’s staying a few apartments down. She convinced Ransu he must visit Portugal some day. She even gave him a book of translated poems from a Portuguese writer. You’d like Ransu. He was hoping you might take him out fishing…” She clutched her hands. “I’m sorry. I’m talking too much. You’ve barely said a word.” She looked up at him. “Please, Ron. Say something.”
Ron held up the bag of tuna steaks. “I figured you don’t get much Gulf of Maine tuna up in Finland. I also got you some vodka and kahlua, but I thought the husband may not appreciate that too much so I left it back at the place.”
Olga took the tuna “You couldn’t have brought a better gift. Keep the bottles for your bar. I stopped drinking fifteen years ago.”
Ron couldn’t get the image of Annikki from his head the entire way home. The sleepless nights weren’t going to end. He drove back twenty over the limit. He hated drivers like that.
He spent the rest of the day shingling the roof of his shop. He stayed on the easterly side, which wasn’t visible from the road. He skipped lunch and worked on into dark until he smashed his thumb.
After a long shower, he brought an ice tray, a jug of rum, and mixer to the couch and flicked through the channels. American’s Next Top Model. The Real Housewives of Atlanta. NASCAR. Colbert Report. The usual trash. Nothing even to distract him. He shut the television off and stared at the blank screen and drank.
Ron had left Hagan Harbor Lodge before Olga’s husband and son returned to the apartment. But not before Olga asked if he would take Annikki and her brother out tuna fishing. He said he would. Tomorrow.
None of it made sense to him. Not how Annikki had been so warm with him. Not how Olga had been giving him the eyes of a single woman. And sure as hell not how in a single glance he’d managed to forget about the woman he’d dreamt about for decades and discover he was an old lecher.
Everything he’d believed in all these years had proven a hoax. Olga wasn’t the Olga he remembered. Instead Annikki was. For decades he’d been in love with a memory, a mirage from the past. Only now, upon nearing the oasis, could he see the illusion for what it was.
Ron went to his bar and unscrewed the cap off the Spiced Rum. It smelled like crap. He looked at his black thumbnail and laughed. He drank straight from the bottle. He poured it down his throat until he sputtered up a spray of rum.
He put his fist through the drywall before passing out on the couch. Letters and photos were scattered around him. A Shakespeare passage torn from a book lay in a puddle of rum:
Away treacherous love!
Puff me up never again with your deceits,
Your youthful vows of eternal bonds,
Your scorn and spurn of the inexplicable
Disappearing act performed by the
Slippery duo, Time and Absence.
Away with you!
Back in Apt. 4, Olga was lying on her side in bed with her back to Pellervo. She hadn’t had time to tell Ron. Or she hadn’t mustered the strength. The same reason she hadn’t told Annikki yet. When they returned from fishing she would reveal the truth. She could no longer hide it from them. Ron was Annikki’s uncle.
The gillnetter Jealous Tides was the only vessel they’d seen all morning. Ron had brought Annikki and Ransu out thirty miles offshore to The Fingers on the northern edge of Jeffrey’s Ledge. He’d intended to stay in coastal waters but Annikki pleaded he take them out. The spiked coffees he’d been drinking made it easier to sway him.
Alka Seltzer hadn’t done the job that morning. The Robert Benchley quote “The only cure for a real hangover is death” spoke from the fridge door magnet like a grim prophesy. He’d never been one for hair of the dog and he never drank before fishing but he hadn’t been in his right mind recently. So he jacked up his coffee with Kahlua and Baileys. It eased the headache. A few more cups and he almost felt himself again.
It was flat calm with steel blue skies. The Fingers was a classic spot for tuna, a place where you could run into big fish. But there hadn’t been much going on out there recently. It would likely amount to a day of glorified whale watching.
At 24, Annikki was almost a decade older than Ransu. She mothered her brother over everything from sunscreen to seasickness. Ron had expected Ransu to be the one enthusiastic about fishing and Annikki the one lukewarm but it was the opposite. Ransu was as morose as she was upbeat. In baggy jeans and a hoodie, he spent most of the day slouching on deck while Annikki and Ron sat in the tuna tower.
“Don’t mind him,” Annikki told Ron, looking back at Ransu, who was sitting on an overturned bucket near the stern looking out at sea. “He’s just shy.”
Ransu wasn’t sulking out of shyness. The previous night he overheard Annikki speaking with Olga in low tones about Ron. It was then he realized his mother had feelings for another man besides his father. In that instant Ron had transformed to him from a friendly fisherman to a threat to his parents’ marriage.
Annikki, on the other hand, wanted nothing more than her mother and Ron to reunite. She’d felt this way even before meeting Ron. She resented her stepfather, whom she saw as frigid and undeserving of her mother. Olga first told Annikki about Ron last year, about how she’d been unable to bury that part of her past. It was Annikki who’d suggested the trip to Hagan’s Harbor. She even tried scheming a way for Pellervo to stay behind but her mother wouldn’t hear of it. Olga was convinced the trip would serve to put old demons to pasture. Annikki had other plans. She was sure her mother’s future happiness lay with Ron.
By noon it had climbed to eighty degrees. In the distance a whale spouted, its vapor hanging in the air. Annikki removed her sweater and tied it around her waist. She wore a short tank top. She and Ron worked their way through a thermos of coffee and kahlua, buzzed and laughing, as Ron told her about tuna fishing, or if you were down on your luck, tuna wishing.
He told her how he and his deckhand spent a good part of their summers in the tuna tower, the days long and hot with the summer sun high in the sky. From the tower’s height they would scan the ocean for signs that tuna might be nearby: schools of mackerel or a fishy smell or circling birds or larger sea life like whales or porpoises, for where there is life there is more life. If it was morning they might sight the splashes of feeding tuna or in the afternoon see their long wakes running into the breeze. They could go for days without sighting tuna and Ron’s feet would be sore from standing and his eyes tired from searching. But then they would have the tuna running before them and Ron would climb out to the tuna stand, which projected twenty-two feet out from the bow. Soon he would be perched in the basket, guiding the deckhand with quick gestures – to the left, cut right, faster, slower – the tuna still running before them. Then all the long days of fruitless searching were worthwhile, worth every empty-handed evening, and he forgot the fatigue of his feet and his eyes and there was nothing but the chase.
In his mind he saw the tuna running before them. The harpoon raised, poised, hurled. For a moment hanging there in mid-air before the hit. A flurry onboard. Hoisting up that beautiful creature. Making the bleeding cuts behind the pectoral fin. The gas hissing out of the puncture. Sawing off the head. The insides spilling out. The blood dyeing the boat’s wake. Scraping out the cavity. Packing the fish into the ice hold. Slicing open the stomach, long as a woman’s thigh, out of nothing but curiosity to see the herring and squid and whatever else once served as the tuna’s fare. Washing the death from the deck. And then, in the nights, waking to climb up and urinate under the stars with the sea splashing glitter and climbing down below again to fall asleep to the sounds of whales swimming under the hull.
“Show me what it’s like,” Annikki said, snapping him from his reverie.
“To hold the harpoon. On the tuna stand.”
Ron paused. “Ransu,” he yelled, motioning him up. “I need you to take the helm.” Ransu climbed sullenly up the ladder. “Just hold her steady,” Ron said, giving him the wheel. He pointed to the shocker, the button that triggers the current that runs through the throwing line and harpoon that electrocutes the fish. “Just whatever the hell you do, don’t push this button.”
Anniki and Ransu were arguing in Finnish so Ron climbed down the ladder. A few minutes later Annikki descended. With her arms overhead the bottom of her tank top came up high on her lower back. Her jeans were ripped in several places below the seat, exposing the pale skin of her upper hamstrings. She looked down and he turned aside, pretending to be busy at the side rail.
They went to the bow. “Careful. Hold on with both hands,” he told her as she walked out along the tuna stand over the water. The harpoon lay perched crosswise over the basket. He followed close behind her. Once she climbed into the basket, he freed the harpoon and brought it around so the dart pointed forward with the bow. He reached around her with one arm and showed her where to grasp the rod.
He leaned in, his chin just above her shoulder. The mix of coffee and alcohol, of salty ocean breeze and faint perfume, made for a heady combination. Standing in the basket with his arms around Annikki and the ocean sprawling before them, he was happier than he’d been in years. It wasn’t to last for long. Within the hour one of them would be dead.
*THE 2ND RUNNER-UP, OLAF WAS ELIMINATED AT THE END OF ROUND 10
Considering nine shipwrecks came before me I can’t complain. I was hoping for fair winds and following seas the rest of the way but the wind finally came around and I steamed right into it.
I’ll keep her brief. I’ve had a hell of a time. I wasn’t sure in the beginning if anyone would be interested in anything I had to say. But I won’t go sentimental on you, not yet at least. No point saying goodbye when hello is around the corner. Since I didn’t kill someone off like I was supposed to in my last writing, I thought I’d use the parting post for that. It’s not the ending I wanted, but the vote forces it upon me.
See you out in the bluewater.
Ron shut his eyes and went back in time four decades. In that moment, he was no longer with Annikki in the tuna stand. He was with Olga. The old unruly impulses of youthful love rose up within him. He felt as alive as he could remember. But for fear he’d lose track of the present and make a blunder, like place his lips on the neck before him, he opened his eyes.
That’s when he saw the pair. Big ones, running deep together, just ahead of Annikki and Ron. Tuna have to be up at about two feet below the surface to make a wake. With the polarized sunglasses, Ron was able to spot them through the surface glare where they were running side-by-side, six feet under.
“Get out of the stand!” he said, swinging around and pressing himself against the side of the belly rail. “Come on, go! Go!” He experienced a brief pang of regret at his sharp tone, at not offering her the sunglasses so she could see the fish for herself, but his fishing instincts immediately thwarted the remorse. It was too late anyway. He would explain afterwards, when they had one of the fish on deck. The tuna would spook any moment.
Ron leaned up into the belly rail and lined up his shot. He glanced back at Annikki, who was clutching the guy wires, scuttling back along the tuna stand towards the trunk. “Stay away from the throwing line!” But in Annikki’s confusion and excitement, his words didn’t register.
The pair of fish were right under him. He threw at the one on the right. Normally from that distance he would have easily hit it where he was aiming, in the center and top of its body. But the kahlua and his nerves over Annikki’s safety threw off his aim. Instead the dart drove in by its tail and came out the other side.
Ron spun towards Ransu. “Hit the button!” he yelled. “Hit the button!”
Ransu pressed the shocker, but because the dart had passed through the fish, most of the electricity dispersed into the water. Had Ron harpooned the fish where he should have, the charge would have snapped its vertebrae.
The toggled tuna raced off. The snaphooks, which clipped the throwing line to the guy wire, popped off in rapid volley. “Hit the goddam button!” Ron hollered at Ransu. “Goddam you, hit it! Hold down on that little black button!” The machine gunning of the throwing line snapping out of the clips coupled with Ron’s shouting scared Annikki. She stumbled backwards into the basket where the pot warp attached to the throwing line was coiled. The basket overturned, spilling the line across the trunk. Ron, who was already halfway down the tuna stand, began running towards Annikki. “Watch your feet!”
The speared fish was now traveling at over 50 miles an hour. Within seconds fifteen fathoms of throwing line had gone out. In panic at the line whizzing out around her and trying to get out of the way, Annikki stumbled into one of the tangles of the overturned basket near the first pollyball.
Ron had just stepped onto the trunk when the pollyball whipped out towards the stern, looping around Annikki’s ankle and tripping her up. It happened so fast, she didn’t even cry out. Her body bounced off the trunk by the windshield and went over with the heap of spilled warp.
Ron’s vision sharpened and a buzzing exploded in his ears. Ransu was screaming from the tower, but to Ron it sounded like it was coming from afar. He grabbed the section of warp that hadn’t gone out yet and whipped three turns and a half hitch around the mooring bit. Annikki must have been 40 or 50 feet underwater. He could barely control his shaking hands. He hoped the harpoon would rip out from the fish, but because the fish was buttonholed by the dart, it only checked the tuna’s flight.
Ten seconds later, Ron was running the warp through the hauler, cursing and choking. Ransu was still in the tower, in a state of shock, his fingernail white from pressing down on the shocker.
Ron began hauling the line up. By now Annikki had been underwater for close to a minute. He was getting close to the pollyball when a huge tangle of warp came over the block and jammed between the hauler and the fair lead. It was the spilled warp from the bucket that had gone over with Annikki. The hauler squealed and beads of water sprung from the taut warp that slanted out of the water as the tuna fought.
Annikki would be dead by the time Ron untangled the mess in the hauler, if she hadn’t drowned already. Desperate, he looked over the wash rail into the water. And right there, six feet under, was Annikki’s foot. A small cloud of blood drifted up from where the rope had chafed her ankle. Her limp body hung upside down, motionless in the flat calm. Ron doubted he’d be able to cut through the throwing wire but there were no other options. He snatched the knife from the dashboard and dove in.
He was wrong. In seconds the knife sliced through the line, freeing the wounded fish from the hauler. But in his disorientation underwater, he cut the line that was between her ankle and the healer instead of her ankle and the fish. Several loops had tangled around her foot so that even with a loose end the tension was enough to keep the warp locked around her ankle.
His other arm was wrapped around her knees when the knife sliced through, freeing the wounded fish from the hauler. He released the knife, hugged his free arm around Annikki’s legs, and holding her tightly began kicking for the surface.
As he felt the two of them being carried down through the water, Ron realized what had happened. He tried yanking Annikki free as the tuna sped deeper towards black water with the two of them in tow. Unless the tuna stopped, which it wasn’t going to do anytime soon, it was impossible to free the warp. Ears popping, swallowing water, he hung on. He didn’t let go.