Man's Allotted Span
Not a one of them gets through opie season without damage, not even Gib, who slips coming down from the wheelhouse and twists his knee, bad enough to swell up the size of a cantaloupe by the time they reach the processor.
Dean's turned into what passes for a ship medic, and wraps Gib's knee tight, then Larry's bum wrist. His own back is still royally pissed at him, but he can at least mostly straighten up now, and it's the kind of injury that'll heal on its own, probably better than Gib's will.
"Got any crutches on board?" he asks. "You're gonna need 'em."
Gib shrugs and pats his shoulder. "I stay put, mostly, and when I don't, I got you boys."
Dean smiles. "Go to a fucking doctor, dude."
"All in good time."
The crab look good, still wriggling, and according to Gib they did "all right," which Dean's brain translates from Gib-speak as "fucking excellent." And weird, but Dutch Harbor looks like home, brightly lit in the darkness. It's snowing heavily, wind driving the flakes straight into his face, but Dean feels warmer, seeing Dutch ahead.
"What's next, Lucky?" Alex asks brightly, already jittering from foot to foot like a little kid needing to go to the bathroom. Probably just excited to see Alicia.
Dean accepts one of the cigarettes Alex holds out, manages to get it lit in the stiff wind, and shakes his head. "Catch up with my dad, see what's up. Said he had a job for us when I get there."
"Back next year?"
Dean smiles, looks at the harbor lights beckoning. "Not sure yet. Maybe."
Gib's already got a table at the Elbow Room when Dean gets there.
"First one's on me," Dean tells him.
"All right, then."
But when the other guys straggle in Gib gives them a look, tiny shake of the head. Dean frowns. "What's up, skip?"
"Wanted to have a word."
He waits until their drinks arrive, and toasts Dean silently before downing the bourbon like water. "Coming back next fall?" Gib asks without preamble.
"I saw you, the way you work with the men. Keep them going, keep 'em level." Gib pours them each another shot, pushes Dean's glass at him. "Aren't many men can keep themselves on their feet, not to mention help the others. Gary's thinking about getting out, starting his own business. Dry land. That puts me short one deck boss."
Dean swallows the shot, feels the burn like welcome fire in his throat. "I see."
"You'd be my first choice."
"Alex's too young. Good kid, making a fine fisherman, but he's got some growing to do. Larry, well, he don't like to give orders, and Dave – Well. You've seen Dave."
Dean nods slowly, and reaches over to take the bottle. "Gib," he says slowly, "you know me and my dad, we -- I don't always know where we'll be, what's gonna happen. If I did, I'd shake on it right now. But that's the truth, man, I gotta wait and see. Business we're in."
Gib drinks his booze, makes a face. "Mind a little unsolicited advice?" he asks.
Dean smiles. "Just this once."
"Maybe the business you and your dad are in -- Maybe it ain't the business you oughta be in."
Dean draws a long breath. "Now wait –"
"Tell me you don't love this crazy shit we do."
"Man, you know I do, just –"
"All I'm asking. Think about it. Another two, three years, I'm gonna retire. This fucking knee needs replacing, known it for fifteen years now, and I'm not getting any younger. When I retire I'd like to see you skipper this boat."
"I call them like I see 'em," Gib lumbers on, solid as granite. "You were a fisherman who hadn't found the sea yet. Now you have, and you sit there and try to tell me you don't know that. Know it in your bones. Experience is all well and good, but a couple more years and you'll have all of that you need, and you already got the sense of it, the feel of it. Being skipper ain't all about knowing where the crab are, Dean. Being skipper's about a whole lot of other things, sometimes far more important things. Those, you got. You had, first day you threw up on my boat."
Dean sits with his mouth open, saying nothing because he can't think of a word to say.
"You know I don't own this boat, but the man that does'll hire you on my say. Already mentioned you to him. Work next to me, couple more seasons, you'll have all the training you need. The men like you, Dean, hell, I think a couple of 'em love you and would throw themselves in after you if it came down to it. That quality -- It's rare, Lucky, rare as hens' teeth."
"Skip," Dean says weakly. "Come on."
"Want me to make it easy on you?" Gib asks, and snorts. "Fuck that. I'm dead serious here. I won't push you to decide now, but I'll make damn sure you know what's at stake. It's good money, and it's -- Well, you know it's a good life. Dangerous, insane, but you already love it. So you think about it. You think long and hard about what it is you want. Not your daddy, you." He slams a fourth shot of bourbon, smacks the glass down on the table. "And then you got my number."
"Yeah," Dean says after a moment. "I do, skip."
Gib lumbers to his feet, wrestling with his brand-new crutches. One hand lands warm and heavy on Dean's shoulder. "Take care of yourself, Lucky. See you in October."
"See you got the cast off."
Dad nods, gives him a fast, distracted smile. "You hungry? Diner next door, not too bad."
Dean slings his duffel on the second bed and shrugs. "I could eat."
Over thick burgers and the best fries he thinks he's ever tasted, Dad says, "So, this job."
"Was thinking we'd take care of this revenant, then head on over to Florida. Got a guy I need to see there."
It isn't Dean's job Dad's asking about, he realizes, and takes a sip of his Coke. It's a hunt, the real job. Like he'd never left. Like none of it had ever happened, except cashing the check.
He swallows his bite with difficulty. "Fill me in," he says steadily.
That evening, Dad's sitting at the table with papers slung every which way, head down and that groove between his brows, the one Dean learned as a kid to notice. Dad's "I'm thinking, do not disturb" frown.
He grabs his jacket before going outside, sees the mermaid curled on the back, that seductive look. Calling him back. His smile fades, and he puts on the jacket, smells salt and fish and sweat.
It's almost warm outside, barely needs the jacket. It's two blocks to the supermarket, and the Western Union chick is still there. He wires the money, and then picks up another case of beer, a few groceries. M&Ms.
There's a seafood case at the back of the store. Stinks, smells like money. He stands staring down at the fish, few lobsters moping around in salt water. Packages of crab legs, expensive as shit.
"Can I help you with something?" a girl asks behind the counter. "Crab legs? They're worth it."
Dean looks at her and grins. "Trust me. They're worth more than that."
Her smile fades, and she looks puzzled before he turns away.
Back at the motel, he sets a beer by his dad's hand, and says, "Gonna hit the sack."
Dad gives him a distracted smile. "Night, son."
"Night, Dad," Dean whispers.
The gods do not deduct from man's allotted span the hours spent in fishing. (Babylonian proverb)