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Fishing with Miguel

Don't mess with the old man and the sea

Fishing with Miguel

By DiVitto Kelly

Two men approached the dock, both looking suspicious and twitchy. If not for the forty thousand dollars stashed in their avocado green vinyl suitcase, they could be perceived as vagrants.

The taller man leading the way had receding silver blond hair and sported a two week-old peppered beard. The other, a past his prime weightlifting type, must have had a prolonged encounter with a tanning bed, his skin sporting an all-encompassing carrot-orange hue. The latter called out to a man hosing down a charter fishing boat.

“Hey, buddy.”

The elder gentleman didn’t respond.

“Yo, old man,” he called out again, more boisterous this time.

Still no response.

The seasoned citizen turned off the hose and craned his neck. “It’s Sir.”

The stocky man looked over to his partner and shrugged his shoulders. “Uh, sir, we need a boat to do some . . .” He glanced up at the white and red-trimmed sign and spat out the words, shark fishing.

“That’s better,” the man replied, thoroughly entrenched in his sixties. He was a shade over six feet tall with bleached white hair, slender yet muscular. His celery green t-shirt read Miguel’s Reel ‘m and Weep Shark Fishing in bold red lettering. On the back was a gregarious cartoon shark sporting sunglasses and a toothy grin.

The taller man whispered to the other. “This dude looks like he’s straight outta Old Man and the Sea.”

“Which sea?” asked the stout man, a fledgling GED type and smart as a bobber. “Like Gulf of Mexico, sea?”

The other man sighed. “Just hold onto the suitcase, bunion head.”

Johnny, the taller man, was centimeters from ditching his friend Eddie for good, but when his shorter sidekick got an inside scoop on an irresistible bank job, he reconsidered.

“So what can I do for you two gentlemen?” asked Miguel Hernandez, a seasoned fisherman for nearly half a century. He gave up a life of working on Pontiacs and Oldsmobiles at his father’s auto repair shop back in the seventies to pursue the shark fishing trade.

The Jaws films, even the God-awful third and fourth editions, were a boon for business. Unlike his counterparts, Hernandez always made it a point to release each catch. His ‘take a picture, leave the fish’ mantra was well known among local west coast fishermen. Slaughtering God’s creatures was a major taboo in his libro.

“We both wanna do some shark fishing. I assume you take cash?” boasted Eddie.

It was nearing eight in the evening. Normally Miguel was ready to down a couple of Presidente beers chilling in the cooler, but he decided some cash under the table would be a nice fit right about now. Besides, business had been in the tank since Hurricane Hillary screeched ashore almost a month ago. Thankfully, his paid off 1968 Striker 44 aluminum hulled twin diesel boat christened Senor Tiburon was spared of any damage.

“Yeah, cash is always a good thing,” smiled the boat captain.

Miguel quietly sized up the two men, thinking the only time these two clown fish go fishing is probably at the seafood section at the local supermarket. “It’s three hundred dollars per hour, and that includes the use of a rod and reel, bait, and all the free ice cold beer I got in the cooler. We have a deal?”

“Money ain’t no problem,” grinned Eddie, looking at his friend. He discretely opened the suitcase and dug out a small stack of fifties. “And here’s an extra fifty bucks if you bait our lines; I ain’t touching no stinking fish.” The craggy fisherman always baited the lines for free but conveniently failed to disclose that information.

“How’s that for starters?” asked Johnny.

Miguel took the cash, counting it. They were nice and crisp; maybe a bit too crisp. “You just bought yourselves six hours with the best charter boat captain this side of Ibor City.” The two men grinned and nodded. “Alright folks, climb aboard and make yourselves comfortable.”

Johnny boarded first, grasping the gray painted wood pylon topped with a white plastic cone shape. Eddie followed, nearly taking a Neste plunge into the marina waters. They settled aboard the forty-plus foot vessel, grabbing a seat in the back bench as Miguel cast off from the dock. He surveyed the rest of the boats in the marina. Ninety-nine percent of the skippers had already called it quits.

“Weather should be good for fishing,” said Miguel. “After a big storm, water likes to lay low as a stingray’s tummy. Still, I hope you got your sea legs on.”

Eddie gulped. “Sea legs? Why do we need sea legs? What the hell are sea legs, for Christ sake!” Eddie was already feeling apprehensive and ill. The fumes coming from the twin diesel were churning his gut like a boat propeller. “I think I better go to the front of the boat.”

“Bow,” said Miguel.

“Bow? I ain’t bowing for you, old man.”

“No, no, the front of the boat is called the bow, the back is called the stern,” replied Miguel. “You also get a crash course on boating 101 at no extra charge.”

“Thanks, Gilligan, I’ll try and remember that.” Miguel squinted his eyes at the dissipating sunset and shook his head.

“So how far do we need to go, you know, to catch a great white or something?” inquired Johnny, cracking open a chilled can of Budweiser.

“Very rare to see a white shark here in the Gulf of Mexico, but that’s what I like about saltwater fishing; you never know what you’ll catch,” replied Miguel, who estimated another hour, maybe more. “You might land a hammerhead, tiger, or bull shark; those are more common out here.”

“Tiger sharks?” asked Eddie. “They ain’t orange and black, are they?”

Miguel couldn’t believe the ignorance or sheer stupidity of the shorter man. “The big bad adults got a dash of light orange, but the youngsters are the ones with all the color; beautiful creatures.”

“Are they dangerous?” asked Johnny.

“Oh yeah,” answered Miguel. “In fact, where we’re going, all the sharks are dangerous; wouldn’t want to be out here in the water alone at night. You’d be dead meat.”

Eddie glanced up at Johnny and winked. “We’ll keep that in mind.”

The boat cruised on the placid waters for a full hour. The two men polished off another can of beer each and chucked them in the water without the boat captain knowing.

Miguel slowed the weathered craft to a crawl and then cut the engine. He was about to drop anchor but decided the waters were so calm it wasn’t needed. “Okay folks, let’s do some sharking.”

The charter boat captain pried open the large white cooler marked bait in big black letters. He took out a pair of nice sized mullet and pierced each one onto the hand-sized J-shaped stainless steel hooks. Miguel cast out the lines on opposite sides of the boat, hoping the two dunderheads wouldn’t snag their lines together. He handed the poles to each man and popped open a ginger ale.

“What, no beer for you?” asked Johnny.

Miguel tipped the bill of his Cincinnati Reds baseball cap. “I never drink on the job. Cheers.”

Nearly two hours passed. Eddie kept glancing at his watch. He looked over at Johnny mouthing the words, ‘where are they?’

Johnny saw Miguel heading towards both men with a bowl of pretzels. “These will help settle your stomachs if you’re feeling seasick,” said the boat captain. “Everything okay guys?”

“Uh yeah,” hesitated Eddie. “Just wondering if we’re gonna catch something.”

“Oh, we’ll catch something. I promise or your money back,” said Miguel, who started chumming up baitfish again and dumping it into the warm gulf water. “You just gotta use the right touch.”

A churn of water suddenly uplifted the boat. “Did you feel that?” asked Eddie. Johnny stepped back, feeling queasy. It was dark now with only the floodlights providing visibility.

A sudden boom came from the stern. “Alright boys, it’s feeding time,” smiled Miguel, catching a glimpse of a large slate gray colored tail slapping the aluminum vessel.

The two men tightened the grip on their fishing poles and scanned the lightened waters. The captain noticed the tip of Johnny fishing pole quivering. The novice felt a slight tug.

“Make sure you don’t jerk the line,” explained Miguel. “Let ‘em swallow that bait. Sometimes they like to play around with it. Sharks aren’t stupid.”

A light appeared about a mile off the starboard side of the Senor Tiburon. Miguel didn’t seem concerned, probably just another charter boat calling it a day.

The line took off from the heavy Penn wide spool reel like string on a runaway kite. “Holy mother, I got a bite; I got a bite!” yelled Johnny, sounding like a school kid.

Miguel glanced at the approaching vessel then tended to his client. “Alright now, start reeling. Remember, keep the tip of the rod up and reel it in slowly.”

“By the way, what pound test are we using,” asked Johnny, about the only tech lingo he knew about fishing.

“I got about a thousand yards of hundred-pound test on these reels. If played right, you can bring in a quarter ton of shark,” replied Miguel. He saw the newbie struggling. “Here, let me see what we’re dealing with.” Miguel grabbed the fishing pole and could tell it was a big one. Johnny stepped behind the boat captain and peered over his shoulder.

Johnny gestured for his partner to take a few steps back. He was getting antsy for letting his shorter partner make the arrangements. “Shit, that’s not our rendezvous, is it?” he whispered.

“For your information, his name ain’t Ron DeView, whoever the hell that is,” answered Eddie in a low tone. “It’s Smitty. And don’t worry, he’ll be here in that jalapeno hot speed boat I told you about.” Johnny’s gut told him otherwise.

There was a click sound and a cold sensation pressing against the back of Miguel’s neck. “Don’t move,” uttered Johnny, sweating. A tip top 27-foot white Boston Whaler 270 Dauntless approached alongside the Senor Tibruon. An off yellow interior light shined on the young man standing at the helm, sporting a Polo shirt and tailored beard.

“Ahoy, everything okay?” called out a voice, a slight accent, possibly French. Before Miguel could answer, Eddie pulled a Glock from his back jeans pocket and fired, killing the man instantly. He slumped forward onto the center console, pressing on the throttle. The boat sped off in seconds.

“Damn it, we coulda used that boat to escape,” barked Johnny. “Where the hell’s our rendezvous?”

“That’s not his name,” answered Eddie. “Besides, I’d rather have this baby. It’s got beds and even a stove. It’s like riding in an RV . . . only we’re . . . on the water.”

“Shut up, you moron,” bellowed Johnny.

“Look, folks, I don’t want no trouble,” said Miguel, still holding the fishing pole.

“Well, you found it pops,” said Eddie, who ordered the captain to sit on the bench just outside the cabin. Johnny grabbed the pole from Miguel’s hands and made himself comfortable in the teak wood fighting chair. “So what do we do now Johnny, make him walk the plank?”

“Pulpit. It’s called a pulpit,” said Miguel.

“Shut up,” shot Eddie, pointing the gun at his face. “I don’t need no nautical nonsense from you!”

The taller man tried to focus but was excited as Christmas Day as he battled the great fish. “Just keep tabs on skipper here,” said Johnny. I’m gonna land this monster son of a bitch.” Johnny’s eyes grew bigger as he sensed the shark reaching the surface.

“Be careful son, you don’t know what’s attached to that line.”

“I’ll figure it out. Now shut the hell up,” scoffed Johnny. “Eddie, find something to tie up old Salty Dog.”

“I guess we’ll be taking back our hard earned money if you don’t mind,” boasted Eddie, meandering over to the boat captain. Miguel slowly reached into his khaki front pocket and pulled out the cash.

“I don’t want your stolen money anyways,” said Miguel, who ‘accidently’ dropped it on the deck. “I suspect you boys don’t value hard work, am I right?”

Eddie suddenly pistol-whipped the boat captain across the side of his head, knocking him to the ground. Blood trickled just above the ear.

“Now hand me the money properly, okay pops?” barked Eddie.

Miguel grimaced and righted himself back into the bench. Johnny ordered Eddie to turn the floodlight towards the port side of the boat.

“Which one’s that again?” he asked.

“Haven’t you been listening to him? My God, he’s told us a million times already! Over here numb nuts,” pointed Johnny. Eddie didn’t like being belittled; most of the time he didn’t even realize his friend was busting his balls.

Suddenly there was a thunderous whack against the aluminum hull. The sound vibrated throughout the length of the boat.

“What the hell was that?” quivered Eddie. He nervously aimed the gun in the water. “Why don’t we just dump him into the ocean and head for Mexico?”

“It’s the Gulf, not an ocean,” corrected Miguel, his head now throbbing in pain.

“You’re a glutton for punishment, aren’t you old man?” Eddie slapped Miguel with the back of his hand. The gaudy rings on his sausage-link fingers caused a bloody gash on his cheek. “Now shut up or we’ll be chumming with you.”

“I don’t like cursing on my vessel,” angered Miguel. “Show some respect.”

“Jesus, will you tape his freaking mouth up,” yelled Johnny, who turned his attention back to fishing. “Man, it feels like I hooked a Lexus.”

Eddie raised the gun, posed to hit Miguel again. “Where’s the tape, Quint?”

“It’s in the cockpit up top,” answered the boat captain.

“Cockpit? Oh, so now we’re on an airplane; what a dumbass.” Miguel pointed up towards the steering wheel. He glanced back as the ogre trolled up the ladder. I don’t see it, old man!”

“It’s near the helm.”

Eddie scoffed. “Yeah, like that helps!”

The heavy-duty rod bowed as Johnny continued fighting with the fish. “Come to daddy!”

The shark emerged from the water, its conical snout breaking water. The hook was lodged in the corner of its crescent-shaped mouth. “Holy shit, I think it’s a great . . .”

Miguel charged off the bench and steamrolled the unsuspecting man into the water. Before he had a chance to scream, the fish was upon him, snatching the thief around the waist and pulling him under. The low-life screamed as the serrated teeth sawed away at his midsection.

Hearing the commotion, Eddie raced down the ladder only to find his partner in crime missing. “Where the hell is Johnny? You bastard, speak up or you’re a dead man!” He thrust the gun barrel at Miguel’s temple, pressing it hard.

There was an ear-piercing cry. A hand reached up just above the stern. Eddie rushed over and grabbed his friend’s arm, hanging only by a thread of flesh. He could see the gaping wound in his side, a ham-size bite taken near his torso. “Oh my God -- holy shit!”

“Help me, please,” wailed Johnny. The floodlights illuminated the blood-stained waters. The massive shark emerged just below the tattered man. In slow motion, like a rising submarine, the maw opened wide. Rows of porcelain white triangular teeth gleamed at Eddie, the round black eye as big as his fist. He turned milk white as the shark engulfed his friend around his waist. It bit down hard. The two-ton fish submerged, pulling part the sinewy line of flesh like yarn. Eddie was still clutching Johnny’s throbbing forearm before dropping it in the water.

He stammered to the starboard side of the boat and puked whatever he could muster. He sat crunched on his knees, hyperventilating. Trying to regain his composure, the stump of a man wiped his mouth and picked himself off the damp boat surface.

“You!” His eyes swelled with hate, his teeth clenched in anger. “You did this to him.” Eddie raised the gun. “You’re fucking toast.”

Miguel inched back with his hands up. He spotted the suitcase near his feet. Thinking quickly, he snagged the handle with the tip of his shoe and flung it into the air. Eddie freaked. He instinctively leaped for the flung case like a wide receiver in midair, catching it with his outreaching hands.

Unfortunately, the momentum carried him straight into the water.

It happened so fast. His crazed grin quickly vanished as he saw the shark surface. The huge dorsal fin glimmered in the artificial light, standing out like a sail. It dropped below the water and zeroed in. It seized the man’s lower limbs in its mouth. Eddie disappeared into the night water without a sound.

Miguel peered out. Even with the dimming floodlights he could notice the large slick of human blood in the water. He picked up a clean rag from the cushioned bench and doused it in the melting ice of the cooler. The boat captain slumped back into the fighting chair and wiped the blood from his face then gently pressed it against his throbbing head.

“Not the best of fishermen, but they did make good bait,” he uttered, glancing at the bright red stain on the white cloth. He heard another thunderous whack from the shark’s tail. He stood up from the chair, flinching a bit from the floodlights.

From the corner of his eye, Miguel spotted something floating on the surface just past the stern. He picked up the long gaff pole resting on the floor of the boat and reached out as far as he could. A wave pushed the object closer, enabling the boat captain to hook it. Miguel pulled up the waterlogged object and plopped it down on the fighting chair. He flipped open the suitcase, discovering it filled with neatly stacked twenties and fifties.

The seventeen-footer surfaced, thrashing its crescent tail. It provided the wounded fisherman with a briny shower before torpedoing into deeper water. The fisherman waved. “Goodbye, my friend, and thank you.”

The weary man scaled up the ladder with the suitcase in tow before slumping down in the cushioned captain’s chair. Miguel reached for the red cooler tucked under the helm and grabbed a can of Presidente beer. He grimaced as he gently pressed it against the wound just above his ear.

Feeling relief, he popped the can open and consumed half its contents.

“I think it’s safe to say this is the best catch I’ve ever made,” mused the fisherman as he glanced over to the suitcase.

“I hear Mexico is nice this time of year.”

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