Fish Stocks Limited by Michael Summers - HTML preview

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Chapter 28 – The Same Boat

The rum, as it was served in the galley at smugdown, swelled in the bottom of the narrow-topped tankards in sympathy with the great vaporous rollers overboard. Mungo knocked his back in one greedy tide, glad of something to wash away the image of the cruciform man suffering on his pedestal. Stan was sick and didn't drink, whilst Ambrosius sipped his cautiously, the strong liquor burning his lips and his tongue. Jerry gulped his tot without flinching and set his tankard down on the table.

“There, we have paid our service to inebriation, such a shame we could not do it further justice. Fishmael should be here for his rum shortly, so look sharp - or at least less blunt.”

“Whilst we are alone,” said Ambrosius. “I want to know what, as experienced sailors, you make of this mission of ours.”

“What we make of it?” asked Jerry, raising an eyebrow. “We don't make anything of it. It is what it is.”

“Har, har,” trumpeted Mungo. “That man should be a politician. Aye, we do make of it in truth. The last fish? At once it is a fisherman's dream and his nightmare. Who could beat the title of the world's last catch? Then again, who could shake the infamy? I think Fishmael is motivated by both the dream and nightmare of our mission, the mad old dog. For that man rides like a skiff; in his troughs he wallows in his lowness and at his peaks he soars as high as the gulls. When a man lives a wavelike life he savours every part of the crazy cycle, no matter what the height.”

“Why did you ship?” asked Ambrosius.

“What else could we do?” asked Jerry before Mungo could answer. “'T"was double pay for a start. That and I would rather die out in the mist than in that stinking City.”

“Do you think we'll find this fish?” asked Ambrosius.

“Aye, we'll find it,” said Jerry, something slow and almost angry in his voice. “We're bound to it, in every possible sense. That fish has already shown itself – I think it has plans for us.”

Ambrosius laughed. “How can a fish have plans?”

“Mark my words, this is no ordinary fish. It can raise us up to heaven or it can drag us down to...”

“Look sharp,” Mungo said. “Cap'n's coming.”

“Ho there, shipmates,” rumbled Fishmael. “I smell rum!”

“Aye, cap'n,” said Jerry. “Let me draw you a measure.”

“I draw my own measures, laddy, don't you forget it.” With this, Fishmael placed his tankard under the grog barrel and turned the spigot. He didn't stop the flow until his vessel was brimming. Jerry and Mungo looked away, Ambrosius couldn't help a smile. Stan couldn't hide a look of disgust.

“Any problems with my measure?” asked Fishmael after a mouthful. “Any of you whipper-snappers thinking your two fingers are thinner than mine?”

“No, cap'n,” said Jerry.

“No, cap'n,” said Mungo.

Ambrosius was a bit slow on the uptake. “No, cap'n,” he said at last. Stan coughed. “No, cap'n,” he muttered.

“Good to hear it,” said Fishmael, setting himself down at the table and taking another pull at his rum. “Now, Jerry, fetch some herring and let"s have supper.”

“Beggin' your pardon, sir, but shouldn't we be saving the supplies?”

“For what?” roared Fishmael. “For another few stinking weeks trapped in this mortal coil?”

“Livin' is somewhat dear to me, sir,” said Jerry.

“Pish!” splattered Fishmael. “What more will ye do, half-starved on half rations? Suffer for a little longer? No, that is not for me.” Fishmael now lowered his voice to a growl. “Anyway,” he said, “we will have plenty of food when we land this bass. As big as a house, she is, and God knows I made her my house for long enough. We will have enough food for a year off her if we cure it properly.”

“And how long do you expect us to be chasing this fish for?” asked Stan.

“How long? She has shown already. She mocks us now, but pretty soon she'll get too bold and we'll get a dart in her.”

“A dart?”

“Aye, a dart. A harpoon, laddy. Its how they used to fish, back in the days before the City. I have mine in my cabin, sharp as a thorn and a thousand times as strong. It's attached to a rope, so when the head is lodged in the beast's side, she takes it and runs with it. Then we can yank her about, tire her, and then haul her in. 'Tis my dream to see her spout black blood from a dart thrown by my own hand.”

“Har, har, I wouldn't like to see what your nightmares are like, cap'n,” laughed Mungo.

Fishmael shot the jolly sailor a look that could strip paint, before his features softened. “Aye, lad, aye. Haha. I laugh, but what do ye think the grog is to drive away? I drink all night so that in the day, when I sleep, those terrors will be dulled.

Vain are all efforts for my peace, save my pursuit of the white fish.”

Mungo nodded. “Aye, we all see your mission, cap'n.”

“My mission?” started Fishmael. “Why, 'tis our mission, maties. Our glorious fishin' mission. Would any of ye back out of what's ahead?”

Some silences are incriminating.

“Very well, then,” said Fishmael. “We're all agreed. To the death of the fish!” And they all drank.