Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/1849335-Pinky-Finger
Rated: 18+ · Short Story · War · #1849335
How the Sea Captain lost his pinky finger.
          I drummed my fingers on top of the rail, moving them fast enough so they escaped the Puerto Rico heat nesting in the metal. Behind me the radio crackled nonsense, I tuned it out and kept my focus on the little waves leaping up at the lines of boats that swayed in the marina. I sized up the largest one raising it’s head and shot it a glance that said if they made even one of my passengers sea-sick, I was going to come down there and kick the ass of Neptune himself.
         I was especially worried about the couple that had managed to ignore the ladder jutting from side of my vessel. They had then decided the best point of entry was the narrow canyon between the front railing and one of the metal poles supporting the upper level where I was watching them try to sweat their way in. The boat swung under the weight of their sunburned legs.
         At last, success. I smothered my laughter in my moustache as they heaved their way across the deck and landed at Adam’s tanned white feet.
         “Well hey there, are you here for Kelpie Diving Shop’s Underwater Diving and Exploration tour?”
         They panted in confirmation.
         “That’s great,” he exclaimed, “I think you two were the last ones we were waiting for, so after some brief safety instructions we can be on our way and do some diving. Who’s excited?”
         I blocked him out more than I did the radio, the radio didn’t up wake every morning thinking it was God’s gift to the world, though chances were it had more thoughts inside its little wire brain than Adam did. He wasn’t listening to himself either, just firing the words off with muscle memory while smiling at the blonde who’d come alone with a hickey on her neck.
         She at least looked like she knew what she was doing. Most of the others sat away from the tanks at the back of their seats, slapping away any stray hose that touched them like it was a spider. Those upright kept stumbling with every wave that slapped the boat. If they had this much difficulty now, how would they do it when they were at sea? I could see them inching forwards along the white plain of the bow like they always did, trying to get more sunburned and then all it would take would be one lone monster of a wave to send them tumbling over the edge. Or what about underwater? What damage would they do with their unstable bodies to what lived below?
         “And that’s all for now, just keep those rules in mind and everything should be smooth sailing. Anybody have any questions?”
         The male of the couple raised his hand. “Where are we going exactly?”
         “Well sir, usually we head out just to the tip of the mainland, but what I’m thinking is, since you all seem like experienced divers, we’d go somewhere a bit more secluded. We have a dive point right past that island and the view is gorgeous there, so if our good captain can get us there safe and sound, I’d say you’re in for a treat.”
         This was new.
         “And afterwards, if any you don’t have plans for the evening, you could pop in to Cristobal’s, the little restaurant just right there on Esperanza beach, where me and my band are playing from six to eight.”
         Also, the radio had good music.
         We left the marina with little difficulty, despite Adam’s hooting about my playing “bumber-boats.” Just as I expected, the moment we hit the sea, the passengers crawled onto the bow and opened themselves up to the sun, marring the white of the ship with their angry red skin. I could see them sweating but they didn’t care, they never did. They were like lizards, trying to absorb all the heat they could before they put on their wetsuits and had to shiver in the cold of the ocean. 
         Adam flung himself up next to the blonde, and I from what I could see of his lips he was rolling his r’s, using the adopted accent that he was convinced the tourist girls loved. I didn’t understand. Why would this appeal to them? It was their language that owned the islands, why would they want to hear a language that had nothing more in it than heat and insects?
         I began to weave back and forth in my driving, making the boat push against the oncoming waves, which sent the bow tilting upwards. All the little red people came sliding down against each other, and Adam even tumbled out onto the deck.
         “Hey Andre, would it kill you to be a bit more careful?”
         “Sorry man, this is how I learned in Nam, had to watch out for Charlie.”
         “Yeah well, just don’t do it here.”
         I kept it up a little longer to make him work to get back on, and then let the boat settle back into its rhythm. I knew where I was going, but it wasn’t the laid back auto-pilot route I’m used to. Usually I like to wander, to take in the ocean splayed out ahead of me and look for shapes in the shadows of the clouds, or search for the blurry outlines of animals that I can fill in from memory, but now I focused.
Then I heard steps coming up the ladder behind me. I didn’t turn around but from the wheezing I pictured the male half of the couple and the voice sounded right when he asked, “Hey, sorry to bother you but you said you were in Vietnam?’
“Yeah man, I was in the Air Force.”
“I was just asking because my dad fought in it, I don’t know what division. I’m Connor Napier, by the way, sorry for being so late.”
“I’m Hector. Napier…was your dad’s name Jimmy?”
“No it was Martin.”
“I served with a guy called Jimmy Napier, great guy but fifty one cards short of a full deck. I’d say, there’s Charlie, Jimmy, take em out, and he wouldn’t use his machine gun or nothing, just fly down with his plane and get em. I saw him decapitate a guy with his propeller once and then turn around and smash another two on his wings.”
I could hear him switching from foot to foot, pacing in place.
“So are you from here?” he asks.
“No man, I was born in Tallahassee Florida.”
“How’d you end up here?”
“After the war I sort of just wandered around, decided I liked it here and now I do this.”  I said, sweeping my hand over the controls.
“Seems like a really nice place here.”
“It is.”
It’s funny the way they feel they have to make this as long as possible, like I’ll be offended that a complete stranger can’t ask me a simple question without following it up with an enthralling conversation.
“Well, I should probably go back down, nice talking to you though.”
         I laughed a little at his retreat, and then I started to remember Jimmy. He’d been the crazy one in our squad. Whenever we found a tunnel, he would always be the one to flush it out. He had done a good job of it too, never triggering traps and never rushing the job. It was a snake that finally got him, curled up like a broken trip-wire. They never brought up the body. Everyone was too scared to go down after him.
         The sound of footsteps again came clanking against the ladder and at first I thought it was Not-Jimmy’s son coming back for a second round to discuss what I thought of the weather around here and how I felt about my job and if I ever wished I lived somewhere else, like say, a suburb in Texas. But this time the voice is feminine and by the look on Adam’s face sitting alone at the bow I assume it’s the hickey girl.
         She laughed, “Dude, you really freaked that guy out. He was all shaking and shit, muttering to his wife.”
“I’m sorry.”
“No no don’t be, I thought it was funny. But what did you say to him?”
“Just told him what I did before I did this.”
“And what’s that? Oh and I’m Crystal, sorry, should have said that at the beginning.”
“ I’m Martin. Well, I told him how I, at one point in my life, worked for the CIA. I never did much, mainly just information gathering until one day this guy, said he was Roosevelt’s grandson, called me up saying he needed me for an operation. Turns out we were supposed to overthrow the Prime Minister of Iran.”
“How did that go?”
“It worked, man.”
“Damn, what happened after that?”
“Crazy shit. I needed to get away from it all, so I came here, and now I do this.”
“Can you tell me stuff like that? I mean, isn’t that supposed to be classified?”
She bit her nails when she asked this.
“Nah,” I laughed, “It’s old news, the stuff I can’t tell you is way worse.”
She laughed too, and then got quiet and just looked over the rail.
“So crazy shit huh? Any of that classified?”
“Not really, just not something I talk about a lot.”
Before she could throw out an apology, I stopped her with a raised hand and said, “Doesn’t mean it’s something that upsets me, it just doesn’t come up a lot.
“After Iran, I head out to New York, and there was this protest there, big, big protest, against Vietnam. I went, you know, just to look at the kids and their signs, and then all of a sudden this big, big cop comes out and starts whaling on me. I counted how many teeth I lost and decided it was time to get my ass back home.”
She pulled back from the ocean, “God, I’m so sorry,” she said.
She stared one last time at the blue hollowed out around us, and went back down.
I’m thinking about that kid, and how he could never stop talking about the time he spent with his precious grandpa, when I see Adam struggling to stay upright on the bow and whirling his arms to get my attention.
He yelled, “Hey Andre, where the hell are we?”
I looked, but I couldn’t answer him. The little island meant to be our point of reference was gone, and so was anything else I could recognize. The ocean splayed out under us was empty, not even decorated with reflections of clouds for me to lose myself in.
“I don’t know man, we must have gone the wrong way.” I shouted back.
         Then the screaming started below me.
         “Hey, calm down, it’s not that bad, it’s not like I don’t know how to get back.”
         It continued and more voices join in. “Jesus Christ you’ll get a refund, store credit man.” I leaned over to explain that they could also get rescheduled, that we have tours every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, and then I saw the fins cutting through the water.
         First one, the another, and then five in total were stroking towards the boat. They moved in a pack at first, but one by one they peeled off and formed a sort of watery pentagram around us, their wakes tracing the lines of satanic constellations. I could tell by their markings that they were whitetip sharks. Jacques Cousteau once described the whitetip as, “the most dangerous of all sharks,” and I wasn’t about to argue. They moved slow and divers had been known to swim alongside them without harm, but when the frenzy hit, I’d prefer to take my chances with a great white. Luckily, they didn’t seem particularly excited at the moment.
         Then, before I could even put my hands on the wheel to turn us about, I was hit with a spray of water followed by an all around collective gasp of shock. The hickey girl had dived in.
         There she was, waving her hands less than a foot from one shark’s jaws while tendrils of her blonde hair brushed against the back of another. All the passengers hung over the rails in disbelief. She waved to them.
         “It’s fine.” She called “They’re really friendly, I’ve dived with them before.”
         Connor’s wife almost passes out, but this seems to have calmed the rest of the passengers down. The screaming had stopped, and now they just stared with eyes forced open by the sheer disbelief of what they saw. A few of the braver passengers leaned over, and one even dangled far enough to pat the snout of a whitetip. I took in the sight of Connor trying to do same, and I worried that this time my moustache wouldn’t be enough to put out the laughter filling my belly. He was not so much jumping as he was flopping himself forwards, using his powerful gut to at once anchor himself to the rail and yet also drive himself sharkwards. He managed to get a decent perch going, his stomach flopping over the edge, and he stretched out a sausage-like hand to the shark below.
         The shark ignored the hand, but it flared its nostrils at the lone drop of blood that, most likely loosened by his maneuverings, spilled from Connor’s nose and down his arm, and came to a dangling rest at the tip of his fingertip. He considered it for a second, and then let it drop into the water below with a look of stupid awe.
         The drop dissolved when it hit the water, exploding into a cloud of rusty particles that grew darker as more and more drops flooded from Connor’s surprised nose. “Someone pull him back!” I shouted. The group of passengers was struggling to do just that. It was too late of course, the frenzy had already begun. The sharks were thrashing about, shooting up mountains of white foam and fighting each other to get at hickey girl, who by some miracle hadn’t yet been reduced to strips of skin caught in a whitetip’s teeth. Instead she had managed to jump on top of the back of the biggest shark, whose convulsing attempts to bend itself in half had so far served to keep the others at bay.
         Not knowing exactly what good it would do, I grabbed the rescue buoy, and after tying the rope in place, I tossed the tube out to her. She grabbed it, slipped it over her head. Behind her one of the sharks got wise. It leapt, and wriggled its way up the back of its big brother. Its teeth kept gnashing away, each bite propelling it an inch closer to a foot struggling to stay upright. The shark’s snout smashed against her heel.
         Surprised by the rough leather grating against her and thrown off balance by the impact, she slipped and fell, hovering within the tube just as the teeth reached where her foot had been before the fall. She now swung back forth above the hungry backs of the two sharks, hanging like a worm on a hook.
         I saw this, and decided to reel her back in. I grabbed the already taut rope and struggled against her deceptive heaviness. I felt like my wrists would break off, but I had this. If I could punch a Hell’s Angel’s ear off ten years ago, I could sure as hell save the life of one would-be diver now. With every tug, she got a little bit closer to safety.
         Still, I was relieved to see that the rest of the passengers had finally managed to haul Connor’s bulk over the side, and were now rushing up to help me. She was coming up, but it wasn’t fast enough. The largest of the whitetips, without hickey girl on its back to restrain it, was keeping away its brothers as it paced within the shade she cast. Then it turned, and dived out of my sight.
         “It’s gonna jump,” I shouted at the hand searching for a place on the rope, “hurry up.”
         They found holds, and fifty fingers began to drag her back. As she was raised, her shadow on the water became wider, expanding as if to make room for the dark patch inside it that was growing even faster as the whitetip raced towards the surface. But as I said, they’re fierce, but slow. She was going to make it.
         Just as she reached the top of the rail, I realized someone was going to have pull her over the side. I ran over to the shuddering shape, and took her out of the tube. She was freezing to touch, the water that dripped from her seemed warm by comparison. She grabbed me and squeezed with what little strength hadn’t been shook out of her arms. I didn’t know what to do with my arms, so I just left them sticking out, didn’t want her getting the wrong idea. She opened her eyes, and I saw that despite the fear in there, there was a still little light bulb of the laughter I had heard before that burning on. Then the shark jumped.
         The bastard flung himself with elegance and perfect form, flying upwards in a straight line to the swinging tube, and caught the would-be pendulum in the middle of its arc. He also caught my finger with the side of his tooth, and then brought the rest of his mouth down on it, or at least that’s what they told me. I didn’t even realize it at first, just thought there was some odd spark of pain at the base of my finger, and then I looked up and saw a little leaking chunk of bone where my pinky used to be.

“And that’s how I lost my finger.”
“Woah,” Luis says, taking a sip of his cerveza, “That’s a hell of a story man” The white tourist next to us, who’d been the one to inquire as to the fate of the missing digit, nods in drunken agreement before Luis could finish up with, “Too bad you’re so full of shit.”
         I laugh, at that and the look of confusion that cuts across the tourist’s simple face. “Wait, what? That didn’t happen?” he slurs, bringing his glass down on the ruddy wood of the bar.
“No man, it totally happened, don’t listen to him. I mean, do you see a pinky on this hand?”
“No…no, there’s nothing there.”
“Exactly, so it got bitten off by a shark.”
         He hesitates, considers what I’m saying, and nods, secure in the sound logic of my words. He then gets up, encounters a stray chair and falls right back down onto a group of pool players. Finally, he stands up for one last time, stumbles to the door and announces, “Well, I have got to get back to the M, but it has been fantastic talking with all of you. I’ll see you all later.” And then he’s out the door.
         Luis doesn’t say anything for a while, just watches me not look at where my finger used to be. Finally, “You think maybe you should’ve told him the real story?”
         “I don’t know, better than telling him a shark bit it off.”
         “Really? Because I don’t think you can beat the ‘I lost my finger while rescuing a girl out at sea’ route.”
         “A girl with a hickey.”
         “I was adding realistic details. Makes for a better story.”
         He doesn’t say anything, just takes a bite of his enchilada and wipes it off on his jeans. He tries to laugh, except it comes out dry and rattling like fish bones.
I look at the bump that rises from the corner of my hand. It starts to itch.
I don’t see it open, but insects begin to flow from it. It pulses with ants that drag their jaws across its length, making furrows in the skin where pinpricks of their venom take root and rise up in a forest of needles. The forest runs it branches up my arms, making new rivers to course next to my veins and covering my skin in bark. Splinters dance up my shoulders and embed themselves in the back of my neck, leaking fire. The leaves of my body begin to burn. My eyes grate in their sockets and my heart swallows itself. I remember the way grass cut my hand and the weight of the street corner and the blanket of heat that covered me every time I lay down. Then I remember the screaming rising from my mouth and the drops of beer flying from the bottle I’m waving around. I look, and I’m grateful everyone but Luis has already gone.
         Luis is dripping, splattered with beer that leaves his hair flat and gleaming. I offer him my jacket, to dry himself, but he shakes his head and puts his hand on my back.
         “Nah man,” I say, “I like my story better.”
© Copyright 2012 TheDevilSotnia (thedevilsotnia at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
Writing.Com, its affiliates and syndicates have been granted non-exclusive rights to display this work.
Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/1849335-Pinky-Finger