“You see anything?”
“Nah. Stupid effing kid.”
What with the swearing and the swishing, it took me a moment to remember where I was. Luckily, I had the good sense not to rock the Rita Anne. Judging by the wake from his boat, the Harbormaster must have been about twenty feet away.
“You wanna keep looking?
I held my breath.
“Nah, let the Coasties take care of him. Little…”
The last word got swallowed up by the roar of the engine. I lay back and waited ‘til the sound faded away.
To tell you true, I was kinda disappointed in the Harbormaster. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from Granddad, it’s that you’ve gotta have grit. He didn’t give up when the tornado totaled his trailer or the fire ants ate through his underwear. No, he whipped out the Raid and kept right on going.
This joker had spent, what, half an hour? chasing me and now he was running back home to hide. Some people are no fun.
Anyway, it looked like I was on my own again for a while. The Coastie boats were too big to bring up the estuaries. They’d be lurking down by the mouth of the Fisher, waiting to snare me as I headed into the Bay.
Which I wasn’t gonna do for at least another hour or two. There’s good fishing in the river, especially after sunset. I remember one night, when the stars looked like fireflies, me and my Da caught three keepers in a row.
So I revved up the Rita Anne and we headed out of the creek. I figured we’d anchor off the back end of Hog Island for a while and see what the stripers were biting on. The water was still kinda cold for spawning, but you can always get lucky.
It was turning out to be a pearl of a morning. That’s the part about June that most folks around here miss—the days when the clouds are just clearing and the water’s like rippled glass.
Sure, we get plenty of yahoos showing up in July, doing donuts and sunburning their brains out. But by that time the light is as hard as a ballpeen hammer. Da says you gotta appreciate nature in her Sunday best.
It wasn’t long until I ran into Maverick. He’s a Great White Egret with the best fishing technique you’ve ever seen. He’ll spend hours staring at the water, beak like a huge needle over the skin of the sea.
He’ll strike. You won’t even see the hit. All you’ll spy is the blood trickling down his neck.
Maverick is what the folks round here call a “snowbird”—he flies to a retirement village in Florida for the winter—but he’s always back in the same spot each spring. He’ll probably still be here when I’ve up and started my charter boat business.
Seeing Maverick on the make got me back to pondering on Mom. She used to love watching egrets. Loved watching any kinda animal. Whenever she was feeling antsy, she’d strike out in a kayak and not be home for hours.
“Jim,” she once told me, “we all have a little wild within us. Give a girl the chance to roam, and she’ll always find her way back.”
And that’s when it hit me!! The thought I was trying to remember before I conked out in the catkins. Mom had a house and a family and a life by the ocean. There was no way she believed her leaving was forever. She was simply having one of those times when she needed to run. And telling Da she was staying put was just another way of royally ticking him off.
It turned the whole year round for me. Now that I knew what the problem was, I was ready to work on a practical solution.
As I pulled out my bait bucket, I started to reason things out. If I could find the right al-lure-ment, something that Mom couldn’t do without, then I had a reasonable shot at bringing her home.
Only it would have to be good. Because if there’s one thing you need to know about people and stripers, it’s that they’re unpredictable.
Up river, stripers tend to favor sea worms for bait. You know, the spiny pink suckers that burst out of people’s eyes in horror movies? Granddad says he once found a sea worm that was four feet long. I didn’t ask him where.
But a lot of other times, you’ll find stripers eating all kinds of stuff. Herring, smelt, clams, shrimp, crabs, eels, you name it. And once they latch onto something, they eat ‘til they chuck.
Some fishermen call ‘em the trash trucks of the sea, but I don’t figure that. I’ve seen stripers shy away from fresh seafood and turn up their fins at lobster fry. They’re smart. Like Mom, they want what they want.
Da’s pretty good about stocking bait, so I had a nice assortment of frozen herring and clams to choose from. I figured if the fish weren’t interested in a gourmet selection, then I’d beach the Rita Anne by a mudflat and dig up a few worms.
All in all, it was pretty pleasant to be sitting there with the sun beating down, musing about Mom, with a bunch of dead clams in my hand. I could just hear the bell buoy, which told me that the wind was picking up over the Bay. We’d have a nice breeze in a minute or two.
I had the rod baited and was ready to cut the engine when the voice of doom arrived.
“Young man, does your father know you’re out here?”
It was Barrington Reds.
Barrington Reds isn’t his real name—it’s what I call him behind his back. Da calls him a crusty old trust fund baby who’s never had to work an honest day in his life.
Now, don’t be mistaking me. I’ve got nothing against money. I plan on earning a lot of it when I’m older.
But Granddad always says that the more a man has, the humbler he should be. When you’ve got a gajillion dollars in the bank and nothing to do each day, you don’t go around suing a man cause he’s not painting your shutters fast enough. Barrington Reds bullies everyone—even the Mayor.
And what, I hear you asking, are Barrington Reds?
They’re pink pants! No, not just pink. Pinky orange. In fact, Barrington Reds are exactly the same color as roe. That’s the crumbly muck you find inside a lobster’s butt.
“Are you listening, young man? I said, ‘does your father know you’re out here?’”
This guy loves wearing ‘em. Sometimes he’s in a polo shirt, sometimes he’s in a blue blazer, but he’s always in his Barrington Reds. As soon as the first of April hits, he hauls up those pinky pants, tightens his embroidered belt, and heads for the water.
“I heard ya!”
See, the thing that really galls me about Barrington Reds is that he owns a beautiful catboat.
Normally I go for Hinckleys, which Da calls the racecars of the Atlantic. Sails like daggers, lines so sharp you could shave with them. But the first time I saw the Prissy I wanted her badder than a trip to Alaska.
She’s not exactly a supermodel—catboats have snub noses and wide berths—but there’s something about her that makes my heart sing. She’s forest green with a creamy sail and a mahogany tiller. When I first saw her, she instantly made me think of Mom sitting on our stoop and laughing at some dumb joke of Granddad’s.
“In my day, little boys answered questions put to them.”
“Yeah, he knows I’m here!”
You gotta be straight with characters like Barrington Reds, otherwise they’re liable to waltz all over you.
“You know, James Tucker, you keep going the way you’re going and you’ll end up in county prison!”
That’s the other thing that irritates me about Barrington Reds. He likes to use words like “prison” instead of “jail.”
“Then I guess I’ll see you there!”
I goosed the engine and pointed the Rita Anne down river. I wasn’t gonna sit around fishing with a man like that in the vic-i-nity.
As I headed off, Barrington Reds started bumbling around on the Prissy’s deck. I watched him wrestle for a bit with the mainsheet then I turned away. The pink was hurting my eyes.
Thirty seconds later I heard a thump.
And from way, way behind me came a teensy tiny…