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Winter 1997

Defiance

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Guadalupe Island was six hours away. They carried Tony into the galley. The race was on. Six hours, an eternity. Anxiety, failing hope, the truth seeping in. Finally, with the anchor down and the doctor aboard, an official pronouncement.

"He is dead," the doctor said in clear English. "The body must come ashore, the Federales, you know."

Anton and Johnny whispered together. When the doctor left, Johnny said, "Start her up, chief, we're getting out of here."

The anchor chain rose slowly with loud clanks. Defiance swung around and slipped out to sea. Anton headed her straight for San Pedro. They put Tony in garbage bags and secured him with duct tape. "Move those boxes of chicken up to that third shelf," said Johnny, and they laid Tony out on the freezer floor.

The crew was tired from the long hours of fishing and the run to Guadalupe, but no one slept that night. A few of the men paced the decks, unable to sit still. They gathered together and replayed the accident over and over. The chief hid below, working furiously, keeping busy with small repairs. Only after the sun was high the next day did the men, one by one, turn into their bunks for a few hours of fitful sleep. And now, evening again, they were gathered together in the galley.

"Raul threw up again," Johnny reported when he returned to the galley. "His eyes still don't look right. What do you think, Augie?"

"Oh, he'll be all right. It'll just take a little time. I'll keep an eye on him." When Raul came back in, Augie handed him a can of ginger ale from the fresh box. Despite the noise from the engine, the galley was silent.

The chief sat with his coffee in front of him. His round, stubby fingers began to drum on the table. His face was set and angry. When his cigar went out, he relit it, then blurted out, "Johnny, you got someone to help me work on the small air compressor?"

Johnny studied the chief for a moment, then squeezed up one side of his face. "Now?" he asked. "Why you gotta work on it now? It's been down the whole trip." "Because it needs to be done," the chief said, jumping up from the table. "Forget it. I'll fix it myself." He disappeared toward the engine room.

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