by John S
A fisherman finds trouble in his adopted home.
|The fishing had been good. It was a real shame his customers had been such jackasses. He’d moved down here, south of the border, ten years ago and loved it. The weather was great, the women beautiful, and on most days the fish were abundant. He couldn’t wait to get back to the dock so he could drop off the three stooges who had chartered his boat. They weren’t ugly Americans, they were ugly Germans. The arrogance and Heineken oozed from their every pore as they walked up the gangway that morning.
They started out by trying to get a discount because the wind was up a bit. The trip had been all downhill from there. After many failed attempts the three took some of his advice and began catching fish. Instead of being grateful the drunken bastards bitched and moaned when they had finished off all the beer. They passed out on the way back in. He was tempted to toss the three in the drink and let the sharks teach them some manners.
In the ten years, he’d been running his charted he could count on one hand the number of jackasses who had hired him. He would need two hands to do the count now. Damn where had the time gone. I seemed like only yesterday when he’d left the cold of Rhode Island for the warm tropical breezes of Playa del Simon, Mexico. He’d been a fisherman his whole adult life. After years of working the boats of others he’s saved enough to buy his small, but sturdy boat and make his move south. It had taken him years to gain the skill and knowledge of fishing the Mexican waters to catch Marlin, Sailfish, and Barracuda, it had been well worth it. Word got around and soon he had more charter work then he could handle.
It was still early afternoon when he dumped his three drunk Germans so he decided to go out by himself to check out a couple of new fishing spots. The natural route out of Playa del Simon harbor brought the boats out and steered them to the west. As of late the traffic in and around the harbor was getting pretty heavy. With a few hours of daylight left he decided to head east and see what was out there. He’d asked around the docks if anyone knew what was out to the east. All the locals could tell him was to stay away from the area. No-one could or would tell him why.
More out of curiosity than anything else he went east. He took it very slow and easy. The depth finder was telling him that there was plenty of water under the keel, so he wasn’t going to run aground. He scanned the horizon and saw nothing but deep blue sea. He was almost crawling, making about 5 knots. After hearing all the warning he’d been given ashore he’d expected to see fire and damnation by now. He could see nothing but calm sea. Soon he grew bored with the whole expedition. He wasn’t seeing fish on his fish finder, so he was thinking of reversing course. He thought he felt something bump the boat. He stopped and checked around the entire length of the boat and saw nothing. He revved the engine until he was back to 5 knots and began turning to return to port. First another bump and then an explosion. He was tossed at least ten feet in the air and slammed into the water twenty or thirty feet from what was left of his flaming boat. He was unconscious and heading for the bottom. He woke and made a desperate push for the surface. He reached it and gasped for all the air his lungs could take in. All he could see was his beloved boat in flames and debris floating all around him. He couldn’t catch his breath, some of his ribs were fractured. He took an inventory of the rest of his body. He could feel a large gash in his forehead. He felt blood flowing from the wound. His right arm and maybe his left ankle could be fractured. At least he hadn’t been burned. Burns and saltwater weren’t a good mix. He found two floatation seat covers from the boat and could barely stay afloat using them.
A loud cracking sound diverted his attention from his own misery to his boat. The boat breaking in half caused the sound and he watched as it gracefully slid into the sea. He was in a real shit storm. His forehead was still bleeding and before too long area sharks would get a whiff of his blood and they would come. He had no protection, this wasn’t a movie, they would tear him to shreds. He scanned around and couldn’t see any dorsal fins. He’d lost all sense of direction. He couldn’t try to swim to shore, he didn’t know where the shore was. Total darkness would come shortly and every sound he would hear would be fraught with danger. He also felt like passing out, maybe from the blood lose. He might be better off if he did pass out, He wouldn’t feel the first rip of his flesh from the sharks and all that would come after. “No,” he told himself, “stay awake.”
Someone had to have heard the explosion or seen the flash of light in the dusk. What had caused the explosion? He knew the boat was in good repair. Was it the bump he felt? It had to be. The only thing that he could think of was that the area was mined. There was nothing on the charts indicating that. Why would anyone mine the area? He had many questions and no answers.
It was dark now; the moon was almost full and the stars were bright so he wasn’t engulfed in total darkness. Hours passed and he slipped in and out of consciousness. Each time he slid off the cushions and hit the water he woke and climbed back on. The terror he felt waiting for a shark to attack gradually turned to optimism when none did. He heard a small splash in the water nearby. Every nerve of his being woke and was on edge. Something brushed his submerged right leg. He panicked, he’d always heard that you should just stay absolutely still when a shark was near. Bullshit, he slapped the water and kicked his legs until he was exhausted. He waited for the strike and the pain, it didn’t come. He’d never been very religious, but he prayed now. Swore to God if he made it through the night he would spend the rest of his life doing good works. There were no atheists in foxholes or those in the ocean waiting for that first shark bite to tear off his leg. After what seemed like hours, to him, the first rays of orange and golden sunshine appeared on the horizon, it wasn’t light yet, but he could feel it coming. His head finally stopped bleeding, so maybe the sharks wouldn’t have him for breakfast.
The sun was rising in the east so he at least had his bearings. He needed to push his cushions north if he was to reach shore. He was barely making way. At least he wasn’t feeling as helpless. He had a goal now, probably an unreasonable one, but it was better than staying in one place hoping to be rescued or eaten alive by a great white. The sun was almost directly overhead when he heard a faint humming. Then he saw a black dot in the sky, it was a helicopter. He tried to wave his arms, but he was too weak to get much waving done. The Mexican Coast Guard helicopter spotted him. They hoisted him out of the water into the copter in a steel cage stretcher. He passed out as soon as he was safely inside.
Two days later he woke in a hospital bed. A nurse came as soon as he lifted his head. She explained that he came in close to death. They had done everything they could and he would eventually be well enough to go home. She whispered that there two Federal Policemen outside his room waiting to speak with him.
Two uniformed officers entered his room, and neither looked very happy to be there. The larger of the two asked him why he’d been in a restricted area. Without so much as a “how are you?” or “do you know what happened to your boat?” the officers were looking to blame him for his boat exploding. The Mexican police had a habit of always blaming the stupid gringos for crimes committed against them. He’d been in Mexico long enough to know he couldn’t win this battle. He played dumb and assured the police that he was wrong for being in a restricted area. He’d realized almost immediately that the cops showing up so soon could only mean one thing, the drug cartels were somehow involved.
It was clear to him now that no-one fished east of Playa de Simon because the cartels told them not to. It sure would have been nice if someone had told him. His fellow fishermen had always been a clannish around him. He was an outsider, and it didn’t matter if he was there for fifty years, he would never really be one of them. He couldn’t believe his body and boat were both in ruins because not one fellow fisherman had given him a head’s up.
Of course, he’d been shunned when he first arrived in Playa de Simon, but steadily over the years they had come over to his side. He tossed and turned in his hospital bed getting madder and madder. He wasn’t mad at the cartels; no, his anger was directed at his fellow fishermen some who had drank and laughed with him on many nights at many a cantina. He thought some of them were his friends. He’d attended the Christening of Arturo’s third daughter. He’d been invited to weddings and funerals, but no-one had come to visit him in the hospital. He’d learned his place in this society the hard way. It had taken a mine planted by the cartels to make his realize he was a stranger in a strange land, and he would always be one.
Plans of terrible revenge to the cartels and his fellow fishermen rumbled through his head. Instead of maiming and killing those who had wronged him, he remembered his night of terror and the promise he had made. He slipped quietly out of the hospital without paying his bill. He returned to his shack, packed his few things, and hopped a bus for the border. He had dual citizenship so crossing over to the United States was no problem. He eventually returned to Rhode Island. He found work on the docks and froze his butt off for most of the year. He didn’t mind, he was finally home.