Of all the hooks in all the bays, this bird had to bite into mine.
Have you ever had a seagull on a striper line before? I wouldn’t rec-o-mmend it. It’s about as much fun as catching a flying cobra.
I mean, this thing was squawking and beating his wings like I was pulling his liver out through his nostril. The hook must have been jammed in there something bad, because playing him was like flying a kite. He may have been strong, but he wasn’t going anywhere but the breakwater.
“What do we do?!”
“Here birdy, birdy.”
“Jimmy caught a seagull, Jimmy caught a seagull.”
The sports commentary from the twister sisters wasn’t helping. I had to think fast.
“Benj, get the pliers from my tackle box!”
Benjamin started climbing down the breakwater wall. I looked around for the nearest body.
“Mer, I need a hand. You’ll have to bring him in. Hold the line tight ‘til I say the word. And don’t let it go slack!”
Meredith gulped and took my rod. The gull was about six feet from the edge of the wall, wriggling like nuts. I knelt down on the granite and braced myself. This was bound to get ugly.
“Benj, where are you?” The pliers appeared beside my left ankle. “Somebody better make sure we stay on the wall!”
John seized the back of my T-shirt and twisted it in his hand. Dillon and Katie did the same for Meredith.
“Okay, Mer, haul away!”
The seagull came in hollering. He was a lot bigger than I expected. Like twelve tons bigger.
“Man, he’s pissed,” Ricky said.
I ignored him.
“That’s great, Mer.” I was trying to keep the panic out of my voice. “A few more inches.”
Meredith may have been tiring, but she held onto that reel like grim death. I’ve never been prouder of a girl in my life.
“Okay, got him!”
I grabbed hold of the neck with my left hand and pulled his body gently against the side of the breakwater. Whatever I might think about gulls in general, I didn’t want to hurt an animal. So I let him flap around for a minute, then I took my pliers and went for my circle hook.
I tell you, it was a real battle. The barb had done its job and that thing was stuck like Congress. When I wasn’t being smacked in the kisser with a five-foot wing, I was swearing and sweating and trying not to pitch headfirst off the wall. Worst of all, the other gulls had come to see what was going on. I had an airborne bleacher section jeering at me.
Finally, I got the hook a little loose. Then a little looser. Then, there—it was out!
I was so excited that I fell backwards with the bird still in my hand. I’d be a nasty plate of spaghetti and meatballs if John hadn’t caught me in time.
“LET HIM GO!” Dillon yelled.
I opened my hand and the gull went rocketing skyward.
“Watch out for poop bombs!” Pips shouted.
We all ducked as the birds emptied in excitement. Globs of white rained down from above.
They missed everyone.
Except for Chaz.
“Ewwwww,” said Katie. “It’s in your hair.”
Chaz made a face like a sucked lemon and went to go dunk his head in the cove. I stuck around on the wall and hooted. Danny had to call me twice before I heard him.
“Hey, Don Quixote! Odysseus! JIM!”
I looked down.
“Just got word on Channel 16 that the Coast Guard is headed up the Bass.”
I wrenched my head towards the south. A red and grey boat was vanishing round the bend. I crossed my fingers and hoped Da was listening to Channel 16. If everyone was in the Bass River, I’d have a clear coast from here until suppertime.
“The Phantom can unmask himself now.”
Unmask myself, heck, I wanted to pound my chest like the Hulk. In less than eight hours, I’d taken on a seagull, the Fisher Harbormaster, and half the Coast Guard and I’d bested them all. Even Granddad couldn’t beat that one-day record.
“Jim only got away because Katie lied for him,” Ricky noted.
“When I get bigger, I hope I don’t have to hide behind a girl,” Chaz added.
“No girl would let you,” Meredith shot back.
I climbed off the breakwater, packed up my tackle box, and took a walk. Everyone who was left on the wall followed. I must have looked like the Pied Piper headed to the pier.
“My word, Leif Erikkson, you’re lucky you didn’t set the Bay on fire.”
Danny was standing by the Rita Anne and pointing to a shimmery rainbow slick at her stern.
“You, sir, appear to be oozing gas.” He got down into the boat and took the plastic hood off the outboard. “Let us inspect the artery.”
I jumped in after him and watched as he traced the fuel line from the fuel filter round to the other side of the engine.
And, holy freak, there was a leak!
The stainless steel worm clamp that connected the fuel line to the carburetor was as loose as spare change. Someone, and, yeah, I guess it could’ve been me, hadn’t tightened it properly the last time round. I’d been in such a rush with the filter that I’d completely missed the second problem.
“You’re lucky we caught this, young Jim Hawkins.” Danny gave the clamp a good turn. “You could have ended up twenty leagues under the sea.”
Da’s talk about the engine being squirrelly was beginning to make all kinds of sense now. He’d probably seen the sheen on his last trip out and not had time to check the source. Or maybe he figured that the lower unit was leaking oil and turning the insides into mayo. Easier to have T-Bone overhaul the whole thing than fiddle around with repairs.
“But will it run?” I asked Danny.
“Think so,” he said. “Though you’ll probably want to stay close to shore. You got a radio?”
“Yeah,” I lied.
I hopped out of the Rita Anne and headed for the fuel shed. But before I could get to the Jerry cans, ten Garrets surrounded me.
“Where are you going?” asked Benjamin.
“Out,” I told him.
I wasn’t really sorry. Hanging with family is fun and all, but it can get kinda noisy. I was looking forward to having more time with my thoughts on Mom.
When the Garrets kept on crowding, I backed myself out of the huddle and retreated to the boat.
“Have you heard the weather report?” Danny frowned. “Rather indecisive. There may be a quick cold front coming through.”
I took a peek at the sky. Yeah, there was some grey stuff blooming over New Hampshire, but nothing serious. You’re not likely to get a crackerjack thunderstorm in early June.
“Are you sure you’ll be all right?”
This was getting annoying. The more I talked, the more I got nervous that somebody was gonna stop me from fishing. I couldn’t wait any longer.
“Hold this,” I handed Danny my rod and climbed back into the Rita Anne.
“I’d hate to have to inform your father of your demise.”
“I won’t go far.”
I held out my palm and Danny passed me the rod.
“Where are you headed?” Katie called.
I revved up the engine. I guess it wouldn’t hurt to tell them.
“Haul About Point.”