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  • “Benjoy, what are you fellas doing alongside the wharf? Beautiful day like today why I figured you’d be offshore railing ‘em.”

    I blinked up into the snow that was changing to rain. The Harbor had a good lee in a nor’easter; tucked behind the ridge of rough granite and spruce that ran out to the lighthouse. The spatter of cold rain and the swell carried in by the flood tide were the only clues to the mess outside. Even so, George stayed safely back from the edge of the wharf, under cover of the bait shed.

    We hadn’t been out in a month, no one had, what with a series of storms racing one after the other from the west and not a day between them. The six-pack in the dented twelve-quart bucket took our last folding money along with the fifty-three cents we dug out from under the seat in the truck.

    “She ran a little rough this morning when we put bait aboard. Mick’s,” I shrugged and nodded toward the open hatch in the bulkhead.

    A wrench flew out of the cabin and clattered off the stern.

    “Tinkering?” suggested George. I heard his boots shuffle forward half a step on the worn planks then a gust above us drove down a slant of sleety rain and the boots shuffled back.

    “Benjoy, hand me over that pair of vice grips outa my toolbox. Last time anyone had the carburetor offen this engine they was setting gear for dinosaurs.”

    I dug through the rusty collection jumbled in a blue five-gallon bucket, found a pair of vice-grips that weren’t completely frozen with rust and passed them through the hatch. “You need a hand?”

    “No, got two and can’t find room for them. Christ, it’s tightern’ the bark on a tree down here. Who’s that out there talking?”

    “George,” I told him.

    “Figures,” he muttered. “We’ll have the whole goddam board of selectmen down here.”

    There was a rattle, clink, and scrape of buckets, empties, and tools shifting, the clatter that must have been the camp stove and set of cooking pots finding a new location and, a grunt as he settled in for another round.

    “I dunno Benjoy,” the way George’s voice went up I knew he must be going up on the balls of his feet and back down again. Hands jammed in the pockets of his red and black check wool coat, eyes bright behind his glasses, flaps securely down on his blaze orange hunting cap. “Seems a pair of vice grips and repair go together about as well as onion gravy and apple pie. You remember back when you had that outboard that wouldn’t go Mickey?”

    “Fuck sakes George which one was that? The old man says they go for no reason and stop for no reason. Ain’t that the truth.”

    “You musta been ten, eleven that year. Let me see, it was the summer I was up to Bangor for my back, must been 19 and 73, no, that was the year my shoulder gave me all kinds of hell. Could have been ’74. No, that was the year I shot that 14-point buck way to hell and gone back in the old quarry on Black Island and liked to give myself a heart attack hauling him out.”

    A gull perched on the stern and eyed the bait buckets. A gust of wind swung the fleet of lobster boats on their moorings. A flock of old squaws, pecking for mussels and snails, squabbled under the pilings.

    “Sometimes,” Mick muttered. “Sometimes, those birds make more kinda sense than the gabbing that goes on up there.”

    “You know, it must have been the summer of ’71. You had that old flat-bottomed MFG and a twenty-five horse Evinrude.”

    “Took gear clear out to Duck Island,” said Mick. “ I was nine. They said where you taking those traps, Duck Island? Laughed. So that’s just what I did.”

    “He was in the Pool down to the island just a cranking her over and over. Kept pulling until the handle broke off the starter rope. Took the cover off and wrapped what rope was left around the cylinder and cranked on that until he wore that to a frazzle too. He stood there in the stern, spinning around and around in the tide, holding that rope. Then he picks up the oar. Eight-footer. Solid oak.”

    “If I could only brace my feet on something and get a grip on this little fucker.” Mick grunted. The Mister Chris listed.

    There was a crack, a stumbling thud, and then silence.

    Mick ducked out through the bulkhead, the vice grips in one hand, the other dripping blood. He walked to the stern and heaved the vice grips out into the mist and uneasy grey water. He stood there a moment, bareheaded, T-shirt streaked with rust and blood and rain, like he was waiting to hear the splash the way you might drop a pebble down a well and listen to know the bottom.

    He walked back without saying a word. Pulled a beer from the bucket, popped the top and drank it, threw the empty up on the wharf, took out two more, tossed one to me and started his second.

    I glanced at the mismatched pair of oars lashed to the side of the shelter back.

    Mick laughed. “Didn’t help any then, besides there ain’t room enough down there to swing one enough to feel good about it. You know,” he called up to George. “The old man come by at that afternoon. Said he seen my skiff drifted in along the shore of the Inner Pool when the tide floated us high enough so he could see over the bar. I was just sitting there. He threw me a line and towed me home. ‘Bout half way over I noticed the friggin’ gas line had come off the tank. Hooked her back up, one crank, and she’s running like nothing happened. I ran up along side the old man. He didn’t say nothing, just untied the line and off I went. Hauled all my gear that day, didn’t get into the wharf to sell until after dark. The old man was right there, painting buoys. Only thing he said was, ‘Extra pair of oars in the shop if you want ‘em’.”

    George peered into the mist like he could still see the trajectory of the vice-grips. “You know,” he started. “It seems like you mighta…”

    “Seems like if you’re going to lighten your toolbox, vice-grips are a good place to start,” said Morris.

    “Jeezum crow, how long you been there Morris, I swear you’re the only man I know can creep in hipboots.

    “Long enough,” said Morris. "No boats out today. I’m going to the house for dinner, you boys want to ride with me we can stop by Lyford’s shop. If you can’t find the part you need there it’s only because you ain’t dug deep enough.”

    “You oughta get that looked at,” said George.

    Mick held up his hand like he’d just noticed it. The slush on the deck was red where he was standing. He found a bit of rag from the mess on the bulkhead and wrapped that around it. “It’ll heal, “ he said. “Wish we could get the engine to grow a new carburetor though.”
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