William B. McCloskey

Highliners

From HIGHLINERS

[Radio message about fishing vessel Nestor, with protagonist Hank Crawford and crew headed to fish king crab. Hank's girlfriend Jody is the cook aboard.]

Bad bow list to starboard. Possible Mayday. Request Coast Guard assistance. Fishing vessel Delta. Mayday." The distress call was delivered in a voice that showed no more emotion than his old orders to Hank and Seth to hop to, when they had been slaves on the deck of his shrimper three years before.

The radio bands became tensely busy with relays. The others aboard the Nestor had gone to bed, but one by one they appeared in the pilothouse to listen. The event was taking place to the north of Kodiak, miles away, but it shared with them the same wind.

"He can't buck into that," said Jones on the sideband from another boat. "He's too far from land to make a run for it; he'd better put his stern to the wind and ride it."

"This is Delta. I've reversed course to slow icing. Boat has little control. Got a strong set toward Sealion Rocks. Icing has slowed, but sixty-knot wind still piling it on. Inflatable raft standing by. Request assistance. Mayday."

The Coast Guard station near Kodiak started talking. A he1icopter had just taken to the air, and the cutter Storis was steaming from Womens Bay en route.

"That Coast Guard chopper," said Jones Henry, "He's committing suicide to fly night rescue in this weather."

"At least he's got the moonlight," said Hank.

Nel's emotionless voice spoke again. "We're hammering the ice, but she's pulled us below the starboard rail, flooded part of the engine room. Men not holding out good, not my best crew. I'm signing off to go hammer, make 'em hop to it. Not going to abandon."

"Can't even stop now shitting on his guys," muttered Seth in a husky voice.

"What's he got the life raft for?" said Hank.

Andy cleared his throat. His voice was husky also. "Ever been on a raft with icing in that kind of blow?"

An hour later the Coast Guard said that the helicopter had begun icing at search altitude and was forced to abandon the search until morning. ETA of the cutter Storis was another two hours.

No further communication from the Delta. Outside in their own bay the wind howled and moaned, and the moonlight continued to burn on the snow mountains.

"I reckon," said Jones, "he was chasing that one last deckload before the season closed. Poor Nels was a fisherman through and through, he pushed to the limit."

"Poor fuckn' crew," said Seth.

Both their voices were hushed.

At 4:00 A.M. the Coast Guard announced that the cutter Storis had taken aboard two survivors of the fishing vessel Delta and that their search continued for the third. No names, pending notification of next of kin.

Jody started to cry. Hank was choked himself as he held her. His feeling against Nels had long ceased to matter, whether as a survivor or the missing. He didn't know the others. Collectively they were his own blood and body.

His arms held Jody tightly as he stared at the terrible glistening ice that made a monolith sculpture of his pots and rigging, that weighted his stern to sluggish incapacity. "Marry me," he murmured. "We might have died tonight. Life's as tricky as that."

"Hank, darling," she said quietly, "we've got it all without the preacher bullshit. What difference?"

"To me, if not you. I want it declared and known."

"Then you'll want kids."

He knew she was right; that some day he might try to force it, but: "Only when you do."

"What if I don't, ever, want to be tied like that?"

"Your choice, Jody." In the years ahead, something would happen to make it work out.

The wind exploded in a williwaw that shook the boat. He kicked the bow into it to ease the anchor strain, then returned to the subject.

"You know I have a past, Hank. From time to time you'll come up against talk."

"But your present and future's with me."

"Yes. Yes ....."

Their watch continued in the pilothouse to sunrise. Hank sat in the upholstered skipper's chair with Jody on his lap. The radio sputtered intermittently with voices but no news. At eight, with the snowtops glowing pink and the wind continuing to blow, the announcement came: Nels and a crewman rescued, one crewman presumed dead but the search for the body continuing.

"The dead are dead," said Hank. "We're alive. Marry me today." She studied his face, then nodded.

Selected Works

Fiction
(New manuscript unpublished)
Warriors
Older "Highliners Trilogy" characters (including Japanese) end of WWII as they enter the Alaskan fisheries.
Fiction
(in print 1979-2006, all rights returned)
Highliners
Alaska commercial fishermen for crab, salmon, halibut. Re Kirkus: "Raw and bracing as icy seawater"
Fiction
(novella stowaways and short stories)
Stowaways, Ice of March Month, Toiletpaper Sopa etc.
Seafarers–merchant seamen, sealers, military–face challenges to their personal and national loyalties.

Quick Links

Find Authors