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Winter 1997

Defiance

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Anton rang up "slow ahead." The chief responded; the big engine slowed, the noise and vibration quieted, and Defiance settled, like a bird, into a smooth, wakeless glide across the harbor, heading for the channel markers blinking, one above the other, on the old warehouse. In the channel, they passed two tugs pulling a tanker away from her berth, and at Bethlehem Shipyard, bright welding flashes signaled the activities of the graveyard shift.

Johnny stood at the rail taking in the smell of land. That last set, he thought, would always be with the crew. The shock, like a wake of a passing ship, would travel through the fishing families. Then, radiating further, it would evoke sympathy, concern and curiosity in the maritime community; until, finally, it would be absorbed into the crowded city and disappear.

Augie sat alone in the galley, writing in a notebook. Johnny came in and went to the sink to rinse out his coffee cup. "You making out the grocery list, Augie?"

"Yeah, might as well. When do you think we'll go back out?"

"Christ, who knows!" Johnny dried his cup with a dish towel, then hung it in the cabinet by the stove. He stared out the window at the passing docks. "We'll be back out before you know it," he said finally, then added, "We'll unload the fish at the cannery in the morning." Johnny left the galley and went up to the bridge deck. He glanced inside, then leaned against the wing rail.

Anton, on the wheel, brought Defiance slowly across the channel. The fish dock stood lonely and silent, an empty stage. Anton gripped the wheel tightly. Defiance moved down the dock, the sound of her engine echoing against the building and waking the gulls on the roof. She entered the fishing slip and glided past the Paramount, dark and deserted. There was room ahead of the City of L.A.; Anton brought Defiance further to port, and she closed in. He searched the dock when it came into view. He shuddered. They were there: the ambulance and Pete's green Buick. The ambulance was dark. Anton had envisioned flashing red lights. He saw Pete get out of the car.

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