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Tales of the Fish Patrol

A Raid On The Oyster Pirates
Of the fish patrolmen under whom we served at various times, Charley Le Grant
and I were agreed, I think, that Neil Partington was the best. He was neither
dishonest nor cowardly; and while he demanded strict obedience when we were
under his orders, at the same time our relations were those of easy comradeship,
and he permitted us a freedom to which we were ordinarily unaccustomed, as the
present story will show.
Neil's family lived in Oakland, which is on the Lower Bay, not more than six miles
across the water from San Francisco. One day, while scouting among the
Chinese shrimp-catchers of Point Pedro, he received word that his wife was very
ill; and within the hour the Reindeer was bowling along for Oakland, with a stiff
northwest breeze astern. We ran up the Oakland Estuary and came to anchor,
and in the days that followed, while Neil was ashore, we tightened up the
Reindeer's rigging, overhauled the ballast, scraped down, and put the sloop into
thorough shape.
This done, time hung heavy on our hands. Neil's wife was dangerously ill, and
the outlook was a week's lie-over, awaiting the crisis. Charley and I roamed the
docks, wondering what we should do, and so came upon the oyster fleet lying at
the Oakland City Wharf. In the main they were trim, natty boats, made for speed
and bad weather, and we sat down on the stringer-piece of the dock to study
them.
"A good catch, I guess," Charley said, pointing to the heaps of oysters, assorted
in three sizes, which lay upon their decks.
Pedlers were backing their wagons to the edge of the wharf, and from the
bargaining and chaffering that went on, I managed to learn the selling price of the
oysters.
"That boat must have at least two hundred dollars' worth aboard," I calculated. "I
wonder how long it took to get the load?"
"Three or four days," Charley answered. "Not bad wages for two men - twenty-
five dollars a day apiece."
The boat we were discussing, the Ghost, lay directly beneath us. Two men
composed its crew. One was a squat, broad-shouldered fellow with remarkably
long and gorilla-like arms, while the other was tall and well proportioned, with
clear blue eyes and a mat of straight black hair. So unusual and striking was this
combination of hair and eyes that Charley and I remained somewhat longer than
we intended.
And it was well that we did. A stout, elderly man, with the dress and carriage of a
successful merchant, came up and stood beside us, looking down upon the deck
of the Ghost. He appeared angry, and the longer he looked the angrier he grew.
"Those are my oysters," he said at last. "I know they are my oysters. You raided
my beds last night and robbed me of them."
The tall man and the short man on the Ghost looked up.
"Hello, Taft," the short man said, with insolent familiarity. (Among the bayfarers
he had gained the nickname of "The Centipede" on account of his long arms.)
 
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