Hank came to the window again. It was sunny and blue but still too windy, whitecaps all the way to a tiny freighter that held down the far horizon. On the beach, waves were tall and broke far from shore, giving long rides to the kids on boogie boards. A perfect day—except for boating, at least for launching through the surf. The boat was a problem; it altered his way of looking at the ocean, where winds, tides, and currents had never much mattered for fishing or swimming. The first year they came to the island, they didn’t even fish. The second year, they dug for clams in the flats of the sound, discovered oyster beds in the marshes. Third year they caught mullet out of the surf. In following years came the crab traps, flounder gigs, pier fishing, live bait, and lures.
Now the boat, a small inflatable Zodiac. Not quite right for catching kingfish, Spanish, or amberjack. Possibly a mistake altogether. But without the kid, Hank might put the boat out of mind, yet there he was, a lanky teenager, stretched on the sofa in wet red surfer trunks, staring at a TV greed show: buzzers, flashing lights, hysterical contestants. Hank wished the kid would go down for a swim with the others. Jim, his father, came up the boardwalk, shaking the stilted house, and opened the door. “Joey, c’mon, we’re gonna play some ball.”
“Nah, I’m gonna stay,” the kid said, “In case Uncle Hank needs some help with the outboard.”
Hank said the outboard was going to stay put for a while.
“Joey,” Jim growled, “Take a break, take a break.” The kid moaned, and Jim gave out with that hoarse barrel-chested laugh, an eruption of delight.
From the shady porch, Hank watched Jim and the kid cross the dunes and vanish behind the glisten of seagrass. Arms and heads of a few swimmers poked from the big glassy rollers. In no time, Jim would have children from other cottages playing baseball, too. Forty now, with salt-and-pepper hair on his chest, a square cleft chin, Jim was in love with sports, Pittsburgh teams in particular. He had a gift for the moment and lived with a steady deep level of cheer that to Hank was a disturbing mystery.
Slumped in a new hammock of white cord with varnished oak spreaders, Hank rocked himself with a mop handle, pushed off the porch wall. Years ago at the lake his father had strung a navy hammock between two oaks. The old photos showed uncles and aunts in the hammock asleep or posed in front of their new postwar Fords. Arms around each other, always a beer bottle in hand, squinting, laughing, they seemed to be having a perfect time. Hank wondered if he and his cousins had pestered them much? Of course the lake had no giant waterslide or miniature golf. But Uncle Pep had a Harley, and Uncle Bat had an Indian, and the kids always begged rides. And got them.
The cover of Time showed a terrorist with a gun to the head of a pilot. Hank didn’t feel like reading. His mind was held hostage by something else—that feeling just before the wave gathered and rose toward the bow of the Zodiac, when he yanked the pullcord frantically, and the kid rowed, trying to get them past the worst of the breakers. He never quite saw the wave, nor his nephew jump clear. Hank remembered a sudden bottom of shiny black cobbles from the top of the curl, then falling, the boat tumbling over him in the surf, the motor striking him between the shoulder blades. When he finally got free, came up for air, the boat was already in the shallows, bottom up in the foam, the prop like a glossy black pinwheel. Jim and his wife, Connie, were right there and, with the help of the boys, quickly righted the boat, retrieved the red gas tank, but one of the fishing rods was broken in half, the other gone, and the motor, full of sand, would have to be hosed off, WD-40 squirted into plugs, cylinders, air cleaner, and carburetor. The worst was being seen by people in the flanking cottages. A tall guy padded with inflamed baby fat rose from his sand chair, folded The New York Times, and laughed. “I knew you’d never get that thing launched.”
“Our timing was off,” said Hank, “We’ve launched through the surf before.” His breath was coming hard.
The guy laughed again. “It’s easier just to go down to the fish market and plunk down a coupla bucks.”
Before Hank could speak, the kid said, “Everybody knows you can buy fish. That’s not the point.”
Hank turned his back on the neighbor and said to the kid, “C’mon, let’s get that motor off the transom. It’s full of sand.”
“Hey,” laughed Jim. “Take a break, take a break.”
Hank felt the porch shake: somebody was coming up the boardwalk. Water from the outside shower splashed on the planks, then made a secondary patter in the sand below.
Standing over him, toweling her hair, Ellen said, “Water’s great. You going in?”
“I’ve had my dunk, remember?”
“Aren’t you going to fix the motor?”
“Of course,” said Hank, “Give me a break.”
“Your son would like to go fishing.”
“I know, but he’s too small. You saw what happened.”
“Are you okay?”
Hank nodded and watched five olive Sea Stallions with twin rotors fly low toward an island firing range in the southwest.
“Funny, a year ago, Joey wouldn’t have said boo to an adult.”
“Did he give you some lip?”
Hank told her about the guy with the Times.
“That’s not so bad.” Her hair was slicked to her skull, droplets falling from the nosetip, chin, and ears. She looked toward the beach.
“Then what’s the problem?”
He swung himself with the mop handle. “This is the first year we’ve had a TV and I hate it. We’ve always come here to get away from that kind of thing.”
“Weren’t you watching the French Open yesterday?”
“Keeping Jim company.”
A hobie cat with a bright orange sail moved quickly out of the framing posts of the porch.
Ellen smiled. “We should get a sailboat next.”
Hank made a face. “Next? Life is a game show, right?”
Ellen’s laugh turned into a string of coughs.
“This isn’t funny. I was thinking how when we first came here there used to be empty dunes, unpaved clamshell roads. Now look.”
Ellen said, “I am. The beach is still uncrowded.”
“But listen and you’ll hear hammers and a skillsaw. Lousy developers.”
Ellen rolled her eyes toward the porch ceiling.
“The shore is supposed to improve your mood. But every year there are more people, like that guy with the Times. Pretty soon it’ll be wall-to-wall yahoos, like southern France.”
Ellen said, “I thought we promised each other.”
Hank said, “Didn’t you ask me something?”
“I asked about the motor,” she said.
The surf boomed. At the end of the boardwalk, a white-eyed grackle switched its stance on the railing, rose a few feet into the air, then hovered by merely adjusting its wings. “Maybe we ought to find a different place to vacation. One of the lakes in Maine maybe.”
Ellen said, “What about people?”
“I’m not thinking about people so much as change, a change of scenery.”
The grackle landed again on the railing.
She laughed, then shook her head. “This beach is never the same two days in a row. Sky, water, sand—it changes every day.”
“Maybe we’re too jaded.”
“Speak for yourself.”
When Hank was still a mile from the swing bridge at the east end of the island, traffic was thick by the surf shops, zip marts, bars, clam shacks, and marinas. Teen-agers on motorcycles, teen-agers performing for each other from jacked-up Jeeps with fat tires and from Trans Ams with surfboards strapped to the roofs. Teen-agers with radios blasting beach music. All that energy. Joey, too, had energy to burn, but this year he didn’t care to burn it at the pier catching flounder, spot, and croaker. Now it was the hard-fighting Spanish mackerel you caught offshore or nothing. But the boat was the problem; surf conditions had to be just right. Hank teased Joey about last year, about how they had to drag him sunburned from the pier at midnight, then teased him about how they had to buy fish now, but the kid would just yawn, continue to stare at the TV and mutter, “Hey, bottom fishin’ gets old, man.”
The humidity and heat were worse on the mainland side of the bridge. He should have had the work done at Island Marina, but a mechanic would have charged for every breath he took; and the plugs themselves would be double the price, say, of a discount store. But K-Mart didn’t carry marine plugs, and Hank again drove at trolling speed on glary streets past the fish market and run-down houses of blacks sitting on skewed porches, rocking and fanning themselves. Across from a tobacco warehouse already smelling of broadleaf, he pulled into a gravel lot under a NAPA sign and parked next to a pickup with a gunrack in the back window. A man with a Quaker State patch on his shirt took his feet from the counter, untilted his chair, and stood up. “That little American girl they interviewed at Hiroshima,” he was saying. “You see that on the TV?”
One of the guys said, “Yeah, I seen it.”
“It had to of been her mommy and daddy got her all hyped up, crying like a damned fool, saying she’s ashamed a bein’ American. Hail, I’da dropped a hundred A-bombs on them little Jap bastards.”
The two younger guys laughed, one slapping himself in the thigh. “Stay calm, Red, stay calm!”
He turned to Hank. “Yessir, can I hep ya?” Tall with pale thin skin, he had blood-red freckles on his cheeks, pouchy eyes and long earlobes. His hair was still faintly rusty where it had not yet turned thin and white. A wooden match with a red tip jumped from side to side in his mouth. Hank said he needed two marine plugs and a standard size plug wrench.
“What kind of outboard?” He stood behind a bank of greasy dogeared catalogs, looking at Hank over half-moon reading glasses.
He glared, removed the glasses. His long upper lip had beads of sweat like shiny blisters. The matchstick danced. He cut his eyes to his buddies sitting on Coke crates, riffled pages, and without looking back as he walked away, said, “We don’t carry parts for that kind of product.”
One of the buddies hooted. “Stay calm, Red, stay calm!”
Behind the great storage shed at Island Marina, by some rusty barrels, Hank, shirtless and shiny with sweat, grunted the motor out of the car trunk, swung the lower unit into the test tank, and tightened the clamps to a 2 x 12 plank.
The motor sputtered and died, leaving a dirty blue cloud of smoke. Choking it didn’t help.
“You got problems?” A guy wearing a Coors hat walked toward the dock with a wrench and a rag in one hand, a Coors in the other. He was grinning, happy about something. Hank told him the motor had gone in the drink. No, he hadn’t touched the air cleaner—tools got lost when the boat flipped.
“Lessee,” the guy said, smiling, intrigued. “You got fire, because it sputtered. When you tried to start it, you might could of pulled sand into the carb and clogged the valve.” He laughed. “I’m just guessing. It’s cheaper”—he lowered his voice—”to guess than have to put one of these part-replacers what call themselves mechanics on the clock. I’ll be right back,” he said, “I got a toolbox on board.” Whistling, he walked away.
Hank squinted toward a jetty made of huge blocks of gray quarried stone. An air wrench went off inside the boatshed— it sounded like an automatic weapon. Without sunglasses, the light was brilliant, his eyes hurt, and he had no trouble imagining an atomic white-out. He watched a seagull tack, glide, and release a clam which took a long fall to the jetty below where two other gulls quickly converged on the first in a squall of screams, an explosion of white feathers. Stay calm, Red, stay calm.
When Hank got back to the cottage, wind was from the southeast against the tide, and the ocean was heaving itself into steep white crests. Ellen asked if the motor was fixed.
Connie asked what was happening on the mainland. “Make it good. We could have used another pair of hands to shuck these blueshells.”
Connie liked Hank’s humor, the exaggerations everyone had grown to accept. But the guy in the parts store couldn’t be exaggerated, and there was no humor to his potent hatred. Both Hank’s uncles fought in the Pacific jungles, had nightmares, but never said a thing about the war. Never. Uncle Pep was the only uncle still alive, and he was in a V.A. ward staring at a wall.
Connie laughed, “I can’t believe you didn’t have a comeback.”
Hank felt suddenly ashamed. He should have said something, triple-teamed or not.
Jim said, “Take a break.” He was making g-and-t’s, glass rod clinking against the side of the pitcher.
“Dad, wanna play Trivial Pursuit tonight?”
Hank looked at his son, blond, nose red and peeling. “We’ll see.”
“How come you can never say yes. It’s always”—he mimicked his father’s voice—”We’ll see.”
The other boys cackled from the sofa.
“I say that,” he said, trying to put some John Belushi into his voice, “bee-cause the few-chur is ve-ry un-cer-ten.”
While Hank was watching the ocean, Jim said, “Whyn’t you say you were going? I could’ve given you a hand.”
Framed by the porch posts, appearing and disappearing in the leaden gullies was a white shrimp boat with its nets lowered; it seemed to be making no progress.
Jim said, “No reason Joey can’t fish on the pier.”
Joey groaned from his place in front of “All In The Family.” He said, “Man, bottom fishing don’t make it.”
Jim said, “It used to make it!”
Joey said, “Hey, you gotta try new things.”
Connie arched an eyebrow and said, “Flipping the boat was quite a novelty.”
Looking at the plunging shrimp boat made Hank anxious, but he heard himself say, “I’m not going out just for Joey. I want to go out.” He laughed. “We haven’t put any fish on the table yet. We’ve bought everything.”
“Well, you’d better be careful,” said Ellen.
In the bay window on the other side of the room, the Times guy appeared on his porch to watch the shrimper.
After dinner, Hank avoided Trivial Pursuit and got into bed with a novel and few inches of gin in a jelly glass. The wind gusted and the house swayed on its stilts. Vents whistled and the surf slammed. Hank kept seeing the white shrimper rising out of the dark sea gullies. If the wind prevailed, he wouldn’t have to go out tomorrow with Joey. Only a few more days—he might get out of it completely.
The novel was pleasantly boring: a banana plantation, the stain of a crushed cockroach that grew and diminished with the husband’s jealousy and hatred . . . . Had there been a murder or only the murderous thought? Hank fell asleep and was twitched about by a dream.
When Ellen slid into bed, he bolted up with a muffled shout, thinking it was already the next day, time for him to take the Zodiac through the surf. “It’s just me,” she said. He groaned, fell back, and rolled away from the light.
The next afternoon Hank watched an electrical storm with zigzag bolts that reached down to the horizon, but slowly it moved away. Wind out of the northeast lessened. Stringy storm scud was moving out to sea. The waves were still bangers, but regular, and the whitecaps beyond were faint. He wanted millpond conditions and hoped somebody would discourage him, but it wouldn’t be Joey, and nobody else seemed worried. Rain had driven bathers indoors and the sands were fairly deserted, but most likely gawkers were at the plate glass of flanking cottages tasting their first g-and-t’s of the day, getting ready to guffaw. Hank’s stomach was tight, his mouth metallic. For some reason, standing in the shallows, feeling the downpull of water on his ankles, he saw Red’s face in close-up, the pale skin, the red-tipped match jumping on his lip. Stay calm, Red. The gas coupling was on, choke half, motor out of gear and ready to flop down. Jim and Connie were on opposite sides of the boat, holding on to the gunnel ropes. Hank was timing the waves: every fourth was a giant. “Now,” he yelled. “Go.” The boat gave a long sandy scrape, then floated. Hank jumped in. Connie and Jim pushed until they were chest deep. Joey pulled himself up, flopped over the side, and quickly hauled on the oars.
“Come on, Suzuki.” One pull on the cord and it started with a cough and a blue cloud. Joey dropped the oars and hung all his weight over the bow, as Hank popped the motor into gear. The bow lifted, hiding the view, but the giant fourth wave swelled harmlessly astern. Another, though, began to break thirty feet ahead and slightly to the starboard but the boat was now on plane, skimming fast, and Hank, moving parallel to the wave, easily outran the curl, his fear becoming small, like the figures shrinking and waving from the beach.
A hundred yards out, he cut speed and eased into the wind, moving away from the beach. Joey said, “Man, that was the easiest one yet.” Hank breathed deeply and made himself comfortable at the tiller.
They bucked the wind and ran parallel to the shore, three hundred yards off the beach. Low chop slapped the bow and, with little freeboard, water sloshed in and inched up the transom. To keep up with it, Hank sponged with his free hand.
“All the conditions are right.”
“And Spanish are afternoon fish,” said Joey, playing out line.
Hank said, “We ought to get something.”
“Man, we deserve some luck.”
“Well, deserve is a little strong.”
Clouds were on the move, but none were dark. The sun came out and scattered a path of orange chips on the water. In places the shore was empty of houses and surprisingly duney—perhaps defiant owners saying no to greed. A rear guard action.
Distance had a softening effect, the shore a white ribbon of sand with a whiter fringe of waves, the turquoise bulb of a watertower, toothpick utility poles, house fronts of various colors and shapes: a buff rectangle, a white square, a yellow triangle. Tiny figures walked the sand. Another cluster seemed to be playing baseball.
“Is your father always so calm?”
Joey said, “Yeah, mostly. I get him hot once in a while.”
“Got sent home for fightin’ a few months ago.”
“What did he say?”
“Said I should ignore jerks, walk away.”
“You like to fight?”
Hank breathed deeply, the air was clean. He could stay out here forever. The sun had become the same red color that spelled out Suzuki on the hood. He liked being with his nephew, the boy’s skin dark and smooth as it was on Ellen’s side of the family. A good kid, not a whiner. A long teenage jaw that showed a few skips of the razor. He was a senior in high school. Next summer he might not be back here with his parents. “I might go in the Navy.”
Hank asked why.
“Learn navigation, be a charter boat captain.”
Hank thought about serious talk but decided against it. “You better learn about fish. I don’t see you getting anything.”
He laughed. “They could be deep. We need rod planers.”
“Tackle’s too light for planers. You need a thicker rod, heavier line.”
They were quiet again. The cottages were more elegant on this end of the island and built high on the dunes, wooden stairs to the beach looking like ladders the cliff dwellers used to haul up against enemies. He pulled the tiller toward his belly and headed further out.
Hank was almost mesmerized by the water and motor but noticed the gulls, a cloud of them, circling and diving. “Joey, look.” But before the boy could answer, his rodtip plunged and the drag sang out.
Hank said, “Look at ‘em jump.” Spanish mackerel were making quick silver arcs, cutting through a school of menhaden.
When the drag slowed, Joey tightened down and reeled. He had a fine sense of how much tension would snap the line. Close to the boat, the fish veered, and made another a brief run, but Joey soon had it over the side, slapping the varnished floorboards. Hank grabbed it with a towel, removed the hook, and dropped it into the cooler, pausing to look at the bronze stipples on its flanks. In order not to drive them deep, Hank held the boat on the fringes of pocked water that was the school. Soon they had five more, one a four pounder for sure. Joey was all teeth and laugh lines.
On the next pass, he had another strike, but the rod tip really dove this time, almost touching one of the aft-cones, and the drag whirred at a higher pitch. “God, he’s still running. I’m not kidding. This is something big.”
“Take your time. No hurry.”
Whatever it was, it took almost all two hundred yards of line before Joey could apply more drag. Slowly he won back line, more than half; then the fish took off on another run, stripping most of the spool.
Hank killed the motor. Waveslap echoed in the vinyl airtanks. It was very quiet. In the cooler, one of the dying Spanish fluttered, scaring them both into laughter. Joey kept his eyes on a spot where the fish should be. Almost an hour measured itself in drag clicks and return windings. Joey said, “I wish he’d jump so we can see what we got.” With the motor off, the boat turned, and the fish seemed to be towing them out to sea. A light steady wind had swung around to the northwest, but how fast they were moving from land was hard to tell. Hank squinted. Land disappeared at fifteen miles— they might be half that. Distance over water was impossible to judge. The swells were becoming chop and the sun was a red ball balanced on the cottage roofs. Not another boat in sight. Hank suddenly realized the Zodiac amounted to no more than a speck out here. He saw the face of an old black guy at the fish market, recalled his comment about a boating death: “You caint mess wid Mother Nature—she always got the las’ word.”
Hank was all for cutting the line and being content with six Spanish, but the kid would be upset. “I don’t know, Joey, they’ve got teeth like razors.”
“We can keep him away from the airtanks.”
He laughed, “Oh really?”
“Absolutely. We hit him with an oar while he’s still in the net.”
The sun, low in the sky, sunk deep shafts of light into the jade-colored water and thirty feet off the port bow, well below the surface, in a brilliant lightshaft, Hank saw it turn slowly, roll its long silver-white length.
Joey pointed. “There it is!”
“I see it.” Then he could only see green again as the fish went deep and below the boat. Joey reeled and line rubbed along the gunnel.
“He’s going for the prop!”
Hank quickly tilted the lower unit out of the water. The drag sang out again and the bow of the boat turned toward shore. It was a short run and minutes later the fish circled the boat at 15 feet, slowly, maybe a dozen times, line taut, the sun striking flanks that were a silver brown, the fins tipped a brilliant yellow. “Look at those eyes,” Hank whispered, “He’s looking right at us.”
“A king,” said Joey, “he’s a beauty.” His rod was nearly bent into a circle. Hank had never caught anything this big, or even been close to anyone who did. “We’ve got to make our move,” he said.
“Do it,” said Joey.
Leaning overboard, Hank grabbed for the trolling lead, missed, then got it, wrapping the line around his fist; it tightened painfully, making three fine lines of blood on the back of his hand. With no rodflex or drag, the thing pulled wickedly. The floorboards banged—Joey was on his knees with the net. The fish, ten feet down, flashed and shot under the boat. Suddenly the line went horribly slack.
Joey slumped against the opposite gunnel. The two read each other’s faces for a long moment. Hank shook his head and looked at the floorboards that were bloody from the Spanish. “I’m sorry,” he said. “Those first Spanish must have frayed the leader.”
For a while the boy said nothing, then: “Hell, it wasn’t your fault.”
Hank repinned the oar.
“Besides,” said Joey, “the fight is the best part anyway.”
Hank had been too absorbed to notice how far the current and the offshore wind had carried them. The coast was just a smudge and the houses, backlit, were tiny game pieces. Not another boat in sight. Hank said, “We’ve gotta haul ass.” He tilted the lower unit back into the water, and yanked the cord. The motor didn’t start and goose bumps stood quickly on his arm. But the third pull had them underway, shouting to each other over the motor and waveslap about what could have been done differently. “Do you think,” Hank yelled, “this could ever get old, you know, like bottom fishing?”
Once past the end of the long fishing pier, the cottage bobbed into view. Seas were pitching higher now, and Hank knew that landing could be as treacherous as launching out. You had to keep the following, sea well astern without riding up the back of a breaker and pitchpoling. Joey said, “Look, they already spotted us.” Ellen waved. Everyone was filing down the boardwalk to the beach, the kids running ahead. It could have been a scene from the lake, Hank and his uncle returning with a stringer of big calico—a quiet moment, oar knocks and echoes. Not like the hiss and boom of this surf. Hank held the boat between breakers, gunned the motor after the last big banger fell forward, then hopped into the shallows. Joey grabbed the gunnel ropes, and they hauled the boat half onto the sand.
One of the kids looked at the bloody floorboards and said, “Oh, gross.”
“All the brothers were valiant,” teased Jim.
Connie followed suit, “Home is the sailor,” and winked.
“You were gone so long,” said Ellen, “I was going to call the Coast Guard.”
Jim said, “After a while, we couldn’t even see you with the ole binocs.”
Everyone helped, and they lugged the boat up past the line of tidewrack. Joey had the cooler open. Neighbors and strollers gathered around the boat. Hank watched Joey dangle the biggest Spanish by its red gills from a hooked finger, and bask.
Jim focused his Nikkon and snapped. “Perfect. Now, let’s get a group shot. C’mon, everyone at the bow of the Zodiac.” And he snapped again.
A small boy with sun-boosted freckles said, “Look at them teeth,” testing their sharpness with his finger.
“What kinda bait did you use?”
“Joey said, “Clark spoons.”
A jogger stopped to ask if they could be caught from the beach.
Joey was enjoying the moment. “Nah, you gotta go way out, troll for ‘em.”
Hank looked up toward the Times guy’s porch, which naturally was empty.
“Quite large,” said a wrinkled woman with bleached hair.
The story of the king came out in fragments. Hank let Joey tell it, then added details. Remembering how his uncle used to praise him, Hank said to Jim, “It was more than a fair fight, what with only twelve pound test. We never expected a king. Joey really knows how to use drag, played that fish like a pro.”
“How big was it?” asked Jim. “No fish stories now.”
Joey looked at Hank. “Fifteen or twenty pounds.”
Hank nodded. He could still see it slowly circle the boat, trying to pull free of the diamond-shaped spoon in the side of its jaw.
Even at the dinner table, he felt himself rise and sink on the swells of the sea, saw the king flash in and out of those deep shafts of light. At the end of the great room, on the TV screen, the President, color boosted with cosmetics, wagged his head and delivered a message of supposed importance to the nation. This was followed by aftermath images of a terrorist bomb in Beruit, then something about the anniversary of Japan’s surrender. In spite of everything, Hank felt alive all over.
After dinner, after Hank and Jim had filleted the Spanish mackerel and thrown the gurry to the crabs, the boys came pounding down the wooden walkway. “Can we play Trivial Pursuit?”
“Sure,” said Hank, “but without me.”
“Dad, we want you to play too.”
Hank said, “Let me think about it.”
Jim said, “Hey, guys, take a break,” and followed them inside.
The ocean was going dark. Hank took the binoculars and trained them on a trawler; its nets were hauled, and he could make out two men at the fantail under dim lights. Only a few gulls hovered and plunged, and after a few minutes even these left the boat and headed for night roosts. He thought of his parents, of their time.
Jim yelled from the doorway and hoisted a beer can.
Hank nodded yes.
Jim came down the stilted walkway. Delight crinkled his eyes, creased his cheeks. He put his hands on the rail, the skipper of something outward bound. He cleared his throat. “Well, Mr. Gump, it looks like we’re in for a nor’easter. Best see that the hatches are battened down.” His face was pure pleasure. He squinted and scratched his oily forehead.
Hank knew he was supposed to play along. “Aye, aye.”
“Yes, Tuan Jeem.”
“Is there something wrong?”
“Not exactly, sah, Why do you ask?”
“You’re—well, you’re all gumped up!”
“I can’t help it, sah, it is my nature.”
Jim clapped him on the back. “Very well, Gump, carry on.” They laughed and clanked beer cans. “This friggin place is great,” Jim said. “I’m having a great time.”
Hank knew he was. They stood looking out, lights now brighter on the trawler. The offshore breeze came in freshened gusts, its briny scent perfection. A great wave detonated on the beach. He remembered the quiet, the water’s glassy green, the shore far. Hank felt lucky. It was luck that hooked the fish and luck that let it go. He was glad the king was gone.
Jim said, “You ready?”
“I am,” said Hank, opening the door.
In the corner of Ellen’s eyes were a fan of white lines from squinting in the sun.
“He’s on our team,” smiled Joey.
“Prepare to lose,” warned Connie.
“Just roll the dice,” Hank said confidently, sitting down between the boys. “Just roll the dice.”