Pulling into port, Gary set the ship’s trajectory and throttled back to slow and straighten further.
She rode different now as she was filled to the brim with fresh dungeness crab. As the dock approached, he could see Rich on deck running bow side. Throwing up his arms and cartwheeling once, he then jumped over the rail. Gary’s chest tightened and he grit his teeth as his ex-brother in law hit the deck and rolled to a stand. “I told you not to fuckin’ get off the boat until it’s stopped! You’re gonna break your fool leg one of these times, and who really pays the price when that happens!?”
Rich seemed to give no mind to his grumbling as Dusty began to fish rope down to him so he can tie the boat down to the dock cleats. Like clockwork, together they lashed the front and back of the boat, then made their way securing the center lines. Once fastened, Dusty opened the starboard gate and began to climb the ramp leading to the crab crane. Gary had grown up with the dockmaster, so he had a choice spot in the harbor. Most boats had to wait in line quayside unload on the north part of the docks. This part of the dock shaved an hour or two of waiting off daily.
Tiptoeing to get a good eyeshot of the fishhold, Gary flicked the switch to open it. He knew all too well that the damn sprockets tended to strip and jam. It opened with steady hum and clicked into place. Satisfied, he turned off the engine, pocketed the keys and stepped out onto the deck. Peering up at the crane and seeing its lack of movement Gary cupped his hands around his mouth and hollered, “ Hey Dust, what’s the story up there?”
A moment later, Dusty popped her head over the ledge. With waving arms she yelled back, “It’s down again, Andy says it’s gonna be an hour before they get it running! Are we going to the other crane southside?”
Gary shook his head, “Nah, we’ll sit here. Go grab one or two of those kids and a couple wheelbarrels, we’ll shoot it up the ramp old-fashion-like.”
“Okay dad” she shouted and ran off.
Turning, he hollered over his shoulder, “Heya Rich, I told you not to use the damn pump when the engine is off!” Gary could hear him as he continued to spray behind the wheelhouse unheeding his words. “You’re gonna burn through the battery!”
Making his way astern he could see Richie jetting the last few bits of bait from the deck through the scuppers. Everything looked nice and clean, but that was beside the point.
“Richie!” Gary shreaked.
Startled, he threw up his arms. The hose flailed showering them both, then caught on the crook of one of the crab pods shooting water straight up into the misty morning sky.
“Jesus man, there you go again sneaking around like a friggin’ alleycat!” Richie bellowed as he wiped the water from his face.
Grimacing, Gary marched over to the pump and turned it off.
“Alright, alright, I know, I know…” Richie continued. “It was just the last bit I had to finish, I didn’t want to have to deal with it tomorrow when it is crusty as shit and take me twice as long. Just tryin’ to save you time Gar, it was just a couple minutes.”
Gary gave him one of his dry glares and walked back down the dock. Just down the way he could see Dusty running tandem with a boy pushing two oversized carts. The lightweight wheelbarrows bounced up and down against the uneven planks as they pattered along.
“Couldn’t find another eh Dust?”
“Nah dad” she blurted through heavy breaths. “All of ‘em are workin’. I guess the southside crane is down too. Word is it’s more broken than this one.”
Gary sighed and sized up the new help. He was a stout lad around thirteen years old. He wore a neatly tucked in polo and slacks that were cuffed over some well-polished work boots. Short, but muscled for his age.
“Nice to meet you sir” the boy puffed. Gary offered his hand and the lad shook it with a hearty grip.
“You’re a little overdressed for this kind of work aren’t ya son? What’s your name?”
The boy straightened a bit more and squared his shoulders, “Names Felix. I like to keep professional so’s I can rack up clients and keep’um. I work time an’ a half harder than the other help in the marina too so’s I can seal the deal.”
“Is that right?” Gary smiled and pat the boy on the shoulder. “I’ll give you ten dollars for an hour’s worth of work.”
“Can’t do it,” Felix said. “Give me fifteen with five up front. Nobody else’s around, plus like I said, I work almost doubly hard as the rest of ‘em.”
Pursing his lips, Gary now noticed the boy even had a makeshift name tag over his right breast pocket. Appreciating his attempt at professionalism, he fished out his wallet and pulled out a ten dollar bill. “I’ll give you this, and another just like it if we get the job done in forty-five minutes. We load up, and you’ll be doing most of the pushing up the ramp you hear?”
“Yessir” Felix grinned from ear to ear and stuffed the bill alongside many others in his homemade duct tape wallet. “Lemme grab some more barrels up the way so you can load faster an’ we can get it done nice and quick.”
“Rich! Rich! Help this young man get some more carts so we can expedite this experience.” He scanned the boat. “Where the hell are you now?” Looking back to the docks Gary could see Richie stumbling down the way about to round the corner.
“Damn it Richie! We still got work to do, we don’t have time for drunken walkabouts.”
Richie stopped, body swaying like a cattail in a breeze that wasn’t there. His shoulders rolled and he began to shutter. Burying his head in his hands, he drug them through his face and hair. In one abrupt motion, he swung around to face Gary and stood at attention, his face placid and dazed. “I uh uh...have to--” he sputtered. “I have to go to my second job. Mr Whitline is waiting.”
“You got a job right damn here to finish first. We aren’t done yet and--”
A gaunt man in a gray three-piece suit rounded the corner whistling a happy tune.
He threw out a leg and stood at attention next to Dusty’s uncle, almost mocking Richie’s previous motion. The whistling stopped and he tapped his shiny black cane three times against the rotting wood at his feet as if to finish the melody. A smirk stretched across his face below eyes shadowed by his stiff-brimmed hat. He nodded in acknowledgment at Gary and gave the slightest of waves to Dusty, tapped his cane again and continued his chorus of whistles through his unperturbed face. Throwing his leg once more he turned to leave as casually as he came. Richie lumbered after him in a stupor.
“Oh no no no you don’t!” Gary growled as he broke into a run to catch up with Richie with Dusty trailing behind. “You’re shitting away a third of your wages if you leave now you son of--”
He could hear the happy tune not far away. A gust of wind blew seeming to damper the odd man’s fifing as he circled the corner. A long stretch of dock greeted Gary’s eyes, Richie and the suited man nowhere to be seen.
Dusty bumped into her dad and began to scan the dock as well. “Where’d he go, dad? What’d they do, jump in the water?”
“I dunno Dusty, but we don’t have time to find out. Your uncle bailed on us and that’ll make for a long load. Let’s get back to it, I hope Felix is worth his salt. Go take the boy and wrangle up a couple more barrels and I’ll start filling the ones we have.”
She waved Felix over and they ran up the ramp towards the crane. Up top, men were loading and weighing their catches on large industrial sized scales. A line of discarded carts skirted the broken crane. Andy the crane operator was noodling around inside it, tools splayed out and a helper behind to hand them at his beckoning.
Dusty ran over to the carts and began to give them each a quick rolling test. A lot of them had bad wheels from overuse. She glanced back to see Felix standing there, seemingly awestruck. “Let's go! My pops will have your ears if you don’t pick up the pace!”
Felix shook it off and ran over to test as well. “This one seems pretty good. Don’t take that one”, he pointed. “ The wheels are good, but the bottom’ll break out if there is enough weight on it. See the crack?”
Nodding, Dusty grabbed her second choice and began to roll it back towards the boat. Felix ran to catch up after making his selection. “Heya” he puffed “ Your dad okay? None of my business, but he sure yells a lot. What is he going on about? Who’s Richie?”
“He’s my uncle, he helps out on the boat. Him and my dad fight sometimes, but he’s usually okay.”
“Ah, I see.” Felix scratched his head and gave Dusty a sideways scan. He shrugged and picked up speed. “Race ya to the boat!”