by Graham B.
A man who can't help himself, helps others instead.
Tommy placed his finger in his mouth and resisted the urge to throw the fishing fly as far as possible.
Willard leaned forward, took the unfinished fly, and gently pulled Tommy’s hand from his mouth.
“It’s not bad,” said Willard. “You were lucky you didn’t catch the barb.”
“It still hurts!” said Tommy, though the blood had already stopped welling from the pinprick left by the hook.
Willard leaned back in his rocking chair and ran his fingers through his iron-grey hair. As the sleeve of his threadbare denim jacket rode up, a tattoo caught Tommy’s eye, a winged skull beneath a stylized parachute. Beneath it were the words, “AIRBORNE.”
“This? Got it a long time ago, in the Army.”
“You were in the Army?” asked Tommy, his eyes widening.
Willard sighed, and lines in his face turned into crags.
“Yeah, I was. Good times and bad times, as they say.”
The boy hesitated, then asked, “Did you kill anybody?”
The blue eyes impaled Tommy, then softened. Willard held up the fly and pulled a short length of monofilament from the nearby work table.
“Let’s get this baby finished, shall we?” he said.
Passersby would have seen a man in his fifties and a small boy sitting in front of a decrepit shack just a few yards from the waters of Peugeot Sound. Strewn about were the husks of old cars, recently acquired copper wire, and rusty rolls of chain-link fence. Dense foliage almost completely hid an old boathouse. A gravel road snaked from the yard into the woods, connecting to the single road which looped the island.
The lonely sound of a distant ferry’s horn drifted through the trees, which hid the terminal from view.
“I need to go!” said Tommy. “Mom’s taking me to the barber.”
“I thought kids hated haircuts,” said Willard.
Tommy flashed a gap-toothed grin.
Tommy hopped on his bike and pedaled for the road.
Willard finished the fly and placed it in a small plastic box. He grabbed his backpack and followed in Tommy’s wake.
It was a thirty-minute walk, but Willard didn’t mind. The exercise kept him relatively fit, and his meager income from the sales of tackle went further when he didn’t have to maintain a car. Besides, there was always something to see on the road to Greenough, the largest town on the island.
As he entered the loop, Willard heard a hiss. Peering into the shade of the forest canopy he saw an old fencepost, nearly rotted away, a testament to a prior resident now long forgotten.
Someone had placed a tortoise atop the post.
The tortoise’s legs dangled helplessly, and it hissed again with irritation. Willard approached the reptile and grasped it by the shell, making it withdraw into its mobile sanctuary before he placed it in the grass. He watched as the tortoise cautiously emerged and lumbered away toward the forest. Shaking his head, he continued on his journey.
About halfway there, he saw a young brunette sitting on a fence by the side of the road. She was dressed in a large blue parka, despite the balmy weather, and had a stud in her nose with a tiny diamond in it. Her loose hair hid her right eye as she looked up at him through makeup which had run from crying.
“Hello, Mr. Barnes,” she said.
“Hello Jess,” said Willard. “What’s up?”
Jess didn’t answer. The wind blew Jess’s hair aside, revealing an eye swollen almost shut. Willard blanched.
“Your father again?”
Jess remained silent.
“What did Drea say?
“I haven’t seen her, yet.”
Willard sighed and sat down next to her.
“He won’t accept it,” Jess said. “Me and Drea. He wants to send me to one of those…”
“Yeah, that. I told him I couldn’t…”
Jess began sobbing, and a breeze lifted her hair, making her black eye shine in stark relief, a parody of the makeup on the left.
“It’ll get me off this island, at least.”
“What do you want, Jess? You’re old enough to decide.”
“Is that your father talking? Sixteen’s old enough.”
“I want to leave! I want to go with Drea somewhere nobody can find us!”
Live happily ever after, Willard thought. A car appeared around the bend, and from the corner of his eye, Willard saw the brake lights flash. The car sped up, headed toward town.
“Come by my house later today,” he said. “I can help.”
“What can you do? You’re just a bum who lives on scraps!”
Jess jumped off of the fence and ran off toward town.
The crags on Willard’s face deepened. He resumed walking.
Nestled in a valley, Greenough had the look of a vintage town carefully preserved. The old lumber mill was visible through the trees on the hillside next to the river. Just downstream was the paper mill, the property of the immensely wealthy Scott family, and more specifically, Fitzherbert Scott.
Willard continued down the central drag until he arrived at a small brick building sporting a hand-painted sign: MIKE’S BAIT AND TACKLE. He went inside.
“Hello, Will!” boomed a portly man wearing a Seahawks tee-shirt.
“You got some more of those flies? I can’t keep ‘em in stock. They…fly right out of here!”
Mike guffawed at his well-worn pun, and Willard smiled in reply as he drew out his plastic box. Mike looked inside, then opened the register and counted out four twenties – two dollars per fly. Mike sold them for ten, and the regular customers paid.
“As always, pleasure doin’ business!” said Mike.
“Hey Mike, have you heard anything about the Scotts lately?”
“Ya mean about the missus and Billy Horton? That one’s all over town. Only one who doesn’t know is ol’ Fitz!”
“Hadn’t heard that. No, I mean about the daughter.”
“The one who swings the other way? Can’t say I have. I know it’s been hard for her, being the way she is in this town, you know. Not that I would judge!”
Mike leaned in closer.
“Something going on? The Scotts are a real traditional bunch, you know.”
“Nothing that anybody can do anything about,” said Willard. He handed back one of the twenties and bought a pound of beef jerky and a liter of water.
“See you around, Mike.”
The sun warmed Willard’s fishing hat as he headed toward the bank. He was inside just long enough to take an envelope from a safety deposit box. Then he headed to the only pay phone booth in town.
Willard dropped a quarter in, dialed a number in Seattle, and waited.
The woman’s voice made Willard’s breath catch in his throat. He tried to speak, but only succeeded in coughing. Outside, a white limousine slowed as it passed.
“Mom, who’s that?” asked another voice in the background. The voice was of a boy about Tommy’s age. Willard hung up. He slid down the inside of the phone booth, tears streaming down his face, sobs silently racking his body.
Soon, he thought.
Moments later Willard composed himself and exited the phone booth, taking a short cut through an alley back toward the main strip.
The limousine zoomed in behind him and screeched to a halt.
The door opened and a young, athletic man wearing a charcoal suit and bearing a vague resemblance to Jess exited. He stepped aside and another man emerged, an older version of the first.
Fitzherbert Scott’s steel blue eyes regarded Willard for a moment before he spoke.
“One of my employees saw you speaking to Jessica out on the road today, Mr. Barnes,” he said. "Where is she?"
“I don't know.”
“My daughter is not well,” said Scott, almost disinterestedly. “She may have gotten some ideas in her head that aren’t in her best interests...”
“I don’t think you know what’s in her best interests, Mr. Scott.”
The young man stepped forward until he was almost touching Willard.
“Don’t interrupt my father!”
He grabbed Willard’s coat.
Willard aimed a palm strike at his chin, which the younger man deftly deflected.
I’m really slowing down, Willard thought, an instant before the younger Scott’s right hook crashed into his temple, knocking him to the ground. A wingtip thudded into his ribs, and Willard thought he heard a crack.
When the stars cleared, Willard felt hands going through his pockets, finding the envelope.
“Look at this! There must be fifty thou here!”
“Put it back.”
“We are not thieves, Douglas. Give it back!”
Douglas pulled Willard roughly back to his feet and stuffed the envelope into his coat pocket.
The elder Scott now turned his full attention to Willard.
“Don’t fight me on this, Mr. Barnes. Remember who runs this island. And I take my daughter’s welfare very seriously.”
“Enough to put her through bogus therapy?” said Willard, rubbing his head.
“That’s not your concern. Tell me, what else did you talk about?”
“Maybe being away from you is in Jess’s best interests, Fitz.”
Douglas stepped forward again, but Fitzherbert raised his hand.
“Do you speak from experience? How’s that family of yours in Seattle?”
Willard remained silent, rubbing his head.
“It doesn’t matter. If she’s planning on running away, the ferry terminal employees won’t let her leave without contacting me.”
Douglas opened the car for his father and waited.
“Don’t mistake my largess for weakness. My family means more to me than anything, even my fortune.”
The two men entered the car, which purred almost noiselessly away.
Willard shrugged away the pain, picked up his backpack, and continued on his way. At the edge of town, three boys on bicycles rode by, playing cards making motor noises in the spokes of their wheels.
“Hi, Mr. Barnes!” they called.
Willard waved, trying not to grimace at the pain lancing through his side. It was almost dusk when he reached his house. Sitting on the rocking chair was Jess, and next to her stood a willowy blonde.
Jess rose as he approached.
“Will, this is Drea.”
Drea smiled, showing a gleaming set of braces. Willard smiled back.
Jess took Drea’s hand in her own, interlacing fingers. She nodded.
“Come with me,” Willard said, heading for the boathouse.
“We’re leaving,” said Drea. “Going to Seattle, or somewhere else far from here.”
Jess nodded, squeezing Drea’s hand.
Willard continued walking as he spoke.
“And you’re taking the ferry?”
“How else are we gonna go?” said Jess.
“You think you’ll just get on that ferry without your father knowing?”
The girls were silent as they approached the boathouse. Willard pulled the shrubs from the door and opened it. Inside was a dust-covered rowboat, old but intact. He carefully pushed it into the water.
“If you take turns rowing, you can be in Port Angeles in four hours. I’ve done it myself. From there, you can take the ferry anywhere you want.”
Willard pulled two lifejackets from the wall.
“Why are you doing this, mister?” asked Drea.
Willard didn’t answer. He pulled out the envelope and handed it to Jess.
“Take it. Start a new life. Don’t ever come back to Weeping Island. There’s nothing for you here. “
Jess suddenly threw herself into Willard’s arms. She squeezed him tightly. Willard managed not to grunt in pain and relaxed slightly in return.
With no further word, the girls donned the lifejackets and entered the boat. Drea took the oars and with a shove from Willard’s boot, the boat glided onto the still water. Willard watched as Drea pulled the boat further and further away, with Jess watching him from the stern until they rounded the spur.
The sun had set and the sky had taken on a deep blue color. Willard saw the distant glow of Seattle, as he always did, the promise of a city rather than the reality of it.
Soon, he thought.
He sat on his rocking chair, grabbed a hook and feather from the table and went to work.
Word count: 1999