Posts Tagged ‘abattoir’

Bone Island Abattoir / Part 1: A Pilar Preamble

January 9, 2011

Author’s note:  This is the fourth book of The Shades of Hemingway series.  While reading this installment, Bone Island Abattoir is complete in itself, it is recommended that the reader search out the begining of this incredible story…

~

It was a perfect dream to be awakening on the Gulf waters, the waves pitching the Pilar in a slight, bobbing loll alternating back and forth as a watery hammock. I could not have imagined a bluer sky devoid of all but a slight willowy wisp of clouds swirling off like over sprung, cotton corkscrews. I was seated in an elevated Windsor styled wooden chair with an enormous fishing rod clutched in my hands. A gruff, familiar voice spoke from behind me.

“Better cinch that belt down tightly there, Sport. You latch onto a black marlin all loosey goosey like that and it’ll pull ya ass over tea kettle right into the drink! …along with that expensive rod and reel of mine!”

I spun around to face the person speaking to me. It was Hem, grinning and pointing a large cigar at me with all the bravado of a salty sea captain. Standing at the wheel was a man I recognized to be Goyo, his expert guide and companion.

“We are going after fish that are big enough to pull me off this boat?” I asked in disbelief, still trying to figure out where my dreams had taken me this time… and why. I was far from the confines of Jake Barnes and the Villa Vinales de Eden.

“Not just any fish, Sport… marlin! Best game fish on the planet! And yep… powerful enough to net ya up and over topside; hook, line and sinker!”

“Hem, I don’t think I’m prepared for this!”

“Relax… all you need do is hook ’em. Pilar and Goyo’ll do the rest!”

Hem came up and helped me tighten the harness that held the fisherman to his seat. He was robust and crusty, wind whipped and sun blown with a canvas billed cap perched atop of his head. The swaying of the Pilar seemed to jostle his mood and sent him sauntering to the ship’s console like a half drunken pirate. Goyo placed his hand to the throttle and eased us forward. I faced our slight wake with morbid trepidation.

“What? Where are we going?” I yelled, startled at the boat’s growling gasoline powered engine slowly trolling us forward.

“There’s a school of shiners off our port side, we’ll try to get around behind ‘em with our backs to the sun.”

“Why?” I shouted. I thought the fish came to us. All of my fishing experience was on a lazy river bank back in the Midwest under a shade tree. The actual act of catching a fish was only secondary to the art of incidentally fishing.

“Marlin like to follow schools of fish but if we don’t position ourselves right the sun will keep him from spottin’ your bait.” Hem spoke as Goyo steered, allowing his voice to be carried back to me by the hollow of the cowl overhead. “We get too close and the fish will scatter. We’ll get your hook behind ‘em and troll for a bit… might get lucky.”

“Where’s the school? I don’t see anything!”

“Look off to your right! See that area of little smatterin’ fish tails breakin’  through the water with them seabirds overhead?”

I turned in the fighting chair, looked to my right and sure enough, there was a span of nearly half a football field filled with minor disturbances just below the surface of the water as white gulls drifting in the updrafts above. No sooner had we placed my bait behind the school of shiners did I get a strike. The reel revved like a small motor and spun out hundreds of feet of fishing line. The marlin vaulted out of the water twisting and turning.

Immediately I panicked. “What’ll I do?”

“Let him run with it!” Shouted Hem as Goyo maneuvered Pilar to circumvent the marlins escape. Instantly the line went limp.

“I lost him!”

“No, you didn’t! I’ll tell you when you’ve lost it! Reel in that line!”

I tugged and pulled while I clasped the reel in my excited fingers, working the line back around the spindle as quickly as I could. Just as Goyo had swung the Pilar around and I had reeled in a mile of fishing line, the marlin bolted once again. The rod lurched forward as the line screamed off the reel.

“Loosen up that drag!” Bellowed the voice behind me.

Next thing I knew Hem was at my side pouring the contents of an iced drink on the fishing line remaining on the reel causing the steam of a miniature Mount St. Helens to erupt. Instinctively I pulled back on the pole that appeared to be on the verge of snapping in two. Time and again I recoiled the line only to have the big fish repeatedly surge lightning fast through the waters pulling hundreds of yards of yarn with it. Seemingly hours of battling the marlin passed and yet the sun hung motionless in the sky, as if Joshua himself had petitioned the God of Israel to make it stand still over the plains of Gibeon. Goyo expertly maneuvered the Pilar anticipating the direction of my catch, allowing him to run unhindered but still well within our control.

“Easy, Sport… let him run! All you can do is out last the big fella.”

It was the marlin’s last surge and somehow Hem knew it.

`“Out last him? What on earth… you mean until he’s tired and gives out?”

“Marlin fight to the end, Sport. It’s not uncommon for them to be dead or dying by the time you’re all through.”

“But why? What is the sense in that?”

“It’s in their spirit, hard to break that in nature.”

I am spinning the line back in now as rapidly as I can. Just as sudden as the fight had begun it seemed to be over. Soon I could see the massive fish coming up towards the surface just off the stern of the Pilar.

“Okay, I’ve caught the fish, now I’d like to let him go.”

“Let him go? After all you’ve put into it? Mount the brute, Sport… this is a day you’ll remember for the rest of your life!”

“I will remember it. I’ll remember coming this close to a leviathan and letting him go back to his world unharmed. He lived there peacefully before I came along and disturbed it.”

“It seems like an incredible opportunity wasted if you ask me… but, if you insist.” Hem took the rod from my hands as I undid the harness that held me in the fighting chair.

“Grab the bill with one hand but be careful … it’s like grabbin’ hold of a cheese grater. Now use that pair of fishing pliers and remove the hook with your free hand.”

Doing as I was told I lean out over the back end of the boat and gently caress the fish. Hem reaches with one hand and latches on to the waistband of my jeans. Effortlessly the hook pops out of the jaw it has lodged into.

“ Hold the bill and push it down so the fish’s entire mouth is underwater.” Hem’s voice is calm and soothing, an abrupt turn from the dismayed and obvious disappointment from just a moment before. “As the boat starts forward, water will run through the mouth and over the gills.”

My face is down, inches away from the gulping marlin. The Pilar’s engine throttles forward and we slowly advance. It is all I can do to contain my excitement. The black marlin seems to be responding.

“You’ll feel the fish comin’ back to life soon. Watch and you’ll see the color start to return to his body. Feel the bill beginnin’ to twitch? The big fella is tellin’ ya that it’s time to let him go.”

Gently I do as I am told and release the massive fish. I watch as it gracefully sinks down and out, then swims off with quiet satisfaction. Hem’s hand clasps down upon my shoulder.

“Well, you’re no Louis Schmidt… but you’ll do in a pinch.”

“Thanks Hem, that was exhilarating!”

“Yep, ya let him get away… to live and fight another day.”

“And what’s the harm in that?” I feel all smug and sure of myself. “If he can be caught once, he can be caught again.”

“Oh, ya thing so?” Hem’s eyes lock onto mine. “Not every decision you’ll make on this trip will be so cut and dry…”

We are left floundering in the water for a moment. Hem reached down and pulled out a machine gun that heralded back to WW II and began polishing it with an oil rag. It appeared more of a caressing than a chore for him but I was surprised at his ease in producing such a weapon.

“A machine gun? I thought this was a fishing boat!”

Hem smiled but did not look up.

“This is a Thompson, Sport. A great equalizer in the field of battle.”

“Are you expecting a fight way out here?” I mocked, “ and do the bad ol’ fishies get to fire back?”

Hem propped the butt of the relic upon the seat and smirked at me.

“Ya never know…”

“How’d you manage to find a gun like that in the first place?”

Hem picked up the weapon and aimed high into the air, placing his eye down the sights like he was following a target. Then he brought the Thompson back down and offered it to me, but I refused it. Hem pulled the machine gun back and returned to polishing it with the oil rag.

“We did a stint during the war, patrolling the coast and the Florida Straits hunting U-boats. This piece has traveled with me halfway ‘round the world… saw the liberation of Paris, among other things.” Hem thoughtfully let his fingers caress the stock and trigger guard. I probably didn’t act all that suitably impressed because the owning and operating of guns never interested me. Instead I look off to one side and spotted land off in the distance.

“What’s that over there… Cuba?”

Hem looks up where I am pointing to as he leans the Thompson back into the corner. Stuffing the oil rag into his back pocket Hem gets off of his perch and moves to the railing of the Pilar.

“Naw… that’s Bone Island, Sport… you’re home away from home.”

“What’s a Bone Island? I’ve never heard of it before…”

“That’s Key West.” Hem drops back in the fighting chair and wipes his brow with a handkerchief.

“Key West? Why did you call it Bone Island?”

“That’s what Ponce de Leon called it when he discovered it back in 1513. Casa Hueso… ‘Isle of Bones.’ “

”I don’t get it.”

Goyo approaches and puts a bottle beer in Hems hands, which Hem uses to cool his forehead with before taking a long, thirsty chug. Finally he wipes his mouth and pulls a stogie from his shirt pocket which Goyo immediately offers a lighted match to. Hem puffs the life back into it and then leans back into the chair.

“Legend has it that when Ponce de Leon arrived on the shores of Key West he found it littered with bones… the skeletal remains of a tribe of Calusa Indians.”

“What happened? They die of a fever or something?”

“No… it is thought that they were chased out of Florida by a rival group of Indians, clear on down through the Keys until the reached the end. Apparently the Calusas made a stand on the beach and were slaughtered then… their bones were left to bleach out in the sun.”

“So Casa Hueso was deserted when Ponce de Leon discovered it?”

“No, and that’s the interesting part. The Calusa Indians were here when ol’ Ponce first showed up and they seemed to get along fine. But when Ponce de Leon came back a few years later they were hostile towards him and tried to turn his ship away. Originally they sent out a few canoes full of Calusa warriors but the Spanish turned them back. The next day the Calusas showed up with about 80 canoes and managed to persuade the Spanish to leave, wounding Ponce de Leon in the process.  The Spanish retreated to Cuba and poor Ponce ended up dying there.”

“What made the Calusas so angry with the Spanish when they seemed to get along so well the first time they met?”

“I dunno.” Hem took another swig of beer and gazed out across the blue Gulf water towards the sliver of land on the horizon. “Maybe the ship’s sailors were going after their women or desecrated the beach where all those bones had been left scattered about. One thing is for certain… they were one tough brood.”

“Why do you say that?’

“Well… the Spaniards were armed with the latest weaponry of their day. The Calusas only had knives and axes made of stone or coral, maybe some spears… possibly bow and arrows. They turned back a group that represented the most powerful nation of that period. It took 200 years to finally relocate the Calusa Indians over to Cuba. I’d say to turn Ponce de Leon on his ear and force him to show his tail feathers and flee took some doing.”

“Casa Hueso… Isle of Bones. Sounds like a bad horror story.”

“Reality is sometimes stranger than fiction, Sport. The abattoir Ponce de Leon found on Key West probably signaled the beginning of the end of world domination for the Spanish.”

“I’d say that is pretty powerful stuff, Hem… what’s an abattoir?”

Hem rose from the chair and downed the last drops of beer then pitched the bottle out towards the water which made a bloop when it dropped in. He clapped and rubbed his hands together as if to remove any grit then wiped them on his shirt. He looked at me and grinned.

“A slaughterhouse, Sport… that’s what an abattoir is. To Ponce de Leon and his men Key West was an abattoir… the end of the line for the Calusa Indians and eventually for him, too. Key West was a friggin’ island slaughterhouse…”

Hem took up the Thompson and began rubbing it with his oil cloth slowly, appreciating every mechanism including the short barrel and wooden stock. He smiled at me as contentedly as a boy with his Christmas BB gun.

“Bone Island abattoir,” I looked to the horizon, “ the beginning of the end…”

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