With Felix and Gary running carts up the ramp and Dusty tossing crabs, they were making good time.
Every time they would come back with their empties over half of a barrel was already filled. They’d gang up on loading the rest of the crabs and Felix would run the odd cart up the ramp and be back just as the last cart was topped off for another run.
“Whoa there!” Gary croaked as Felix skid to a stop empty wheelbarrow in hand. “We’ve been going hard for close to an hour, let’s take five and wet our whistles. You haven’t skipped a beat boy, you weren’t lying with all that time and a half talk.”
“I aim to please sir! “Felix stood up nice and straight and gave a contented nod. “I do boat work too--fishin’, cleanin’, all that stuff. So’s next time you need a hand come an’ find me yeah? Rate’s the same as I told ya today.”
Gary dipped his head back. “That’s mighty kind of you son. How about you give us your phone number and we’ll call you.”
Felix’s bit his lip and hoofed some muck off of his shoe. “Ah geez mister, there ain’t no phone where’s I can be reached. Jus’ ask the other harbor boys. A good number know me by name, and the ones that don’t know me as the kid with the name tag.”
“Alright,” Gary shrugged as he walked to the helm. A moment later he came out with three extra large bottles of water. “Heya Dust why don’t you take a minute or five.”
Dusty’s head popped up and then down again. “One second dad, almost done with this one.” Half a dozen crabs went flying into the cart, then Dusty appeared again. She wiped her brow and hoisted herself up. Gary tossed her a water and she caught it reflexively as she walked toward the two.
Felix shoved his beverage in his pocket and shimmied up a couple tall pilings, ensconcing himself on top of one. Gary grabbed a cart, upturned it and plopped himself down and Dusty did the same. They all sat there in silence, enjoying the gentle rock of the docks and the cool morning air. The boy chugged his bottle and tossed it below into a bin below.
“Ah hah” Felix chimed. “I do believe you are quite efficient with your time sir.”
“Why’s that?” Gary replied.
“Crane’s movin’ again” he beamed. “I’ll run that last crate and queue us up top. They’ll be able to lift the rest out, and we’ll be done in ten or fifteen I imagine.”
“I thought I was calling the shots around here Felix?” Gary creaked to a stand and put a leg over the cart as he squinted up at the boy framed by the late morning sun.
Felix hopped down looking rather chagrined and rosy.
“I’m just kidding kid, go do just that. Dusty, you go run up the empties.” He smiled and clapped the young man on the shoulder. “You guys did good.”
Dusty pulled her upturned cart on top of the one next to it began her trek back towards the crane as Felix heaved the brimming wheelbarrow behind. She glanced back and smiled halfway up the ramp.
The boy’s face scrunched. “It ain’t nice to poke fun of a man that’s about to get ran over by a ton of crabs on wheels.”
“No silly!” She giggled, “My daddy must really like you. He never kids with people until he gets to know them. Consider it future work for you. He never jokes with my uncle, and he’s been working with us since we moved back to Tworoger.”
“Yeah, I’d reckon he doesn’t much like’m.” he panted. “Givin’ all the yelling and whatnot. None of my business. Mind picking up some speed? This thing is a lot lighter the faster I go. ”
“No problem”, she shrugged, scurrying over the ridge. A dockhand took her empties and joined his coworkers wheeling them back to the dock house. Reaching the summit, Felix wheeled to a stop near a recessed portion atop the landing. Pulling a pin on the front of his barrow, he swung its hatch over the pile of crabs and emptied them into the bin below.
Dusty waved Andy down and signaled towards their boat, in reply the crane operator held up his hand showing two fingers letting her know her queue in line. Giving him a thumbs up she ran back down the slope. The boy threw a few escapee crabs into the pit, handed his cart off and followed her. Some minutes later, the crane came their way. The goods moved nice and easy with the only to-do being the actual loading of the crabs--the lift took care of the grunt work. Gary and Felix filled the crane buckets as Dusty finished detailing the boat to get it ready for the next day. As the last bit of cargo was loaded, Gary squared up with a buyer on the upper level.
With her dad gone, Dusty brought out the statue she found and began to examine it. Brushing the pocket lint from it, she turned it over in her hands, it felt warm to the touch. She gasped “Look, look, look!”
Felix bounced up from a crouch and hustled over.“Ahh geez, where’d ya find that! I’ve seen some neat stuff like that at the flea market before. Never had the bits to buy any of it though.”
Dusty gave him a disgruntled look. “Silly, you can’t find stuff like this at a place like that, this is from the deep sea. I’ve seen stuff like this on TV. It’s from Atlantis or something. It’s old. Look right here.”
He reached for it and she briskly pulled away. “I jus’ wanted to take a closer look. No worries okay. You always this jumpy?”
“Just look” she traced the contours of the face at its head. “This looks just like my Uncle Richie don’t you think?”
“Wouldn’t know” he shrugged. “Never really got to meet him.”
“Er hrm” Gary cleared his throat and the two turned around. “You guys ready to call it? Best day we had this season yet. Made good time to boot considering the setbacks. Felix, we may be short a man tomorrow, you feel like working?
“Yessir that’d be great!” Felix ran over to shake her dad’s hand. Gary paused mid-stretch to his wallet and complied. Reaching again for his money he pulled out a ten and a five dollar bill.
“Here, this is for the work” he pushed a ten into Felix’s hand. “And consider this a tip for showing up at 4:30 a.m. tomorrow” Gary laid the second bill.
The boy saluted “Thank you much sir! I do gotta get goin’ though. Hope ya don’t mind, the day is still young. Could be I rack up some more clients yet.”
“Go on ahead” Gary gave Felix a pat on the shoulder and sent him off. “I’ll see ya tomorrow. You ready to go Dust?”
Pushing two coolers stacked and strapped together, Dusty clamored over the aluminum threshold between the dock and the boat and dropped to her knees chuffing away.
Gary chuckled and rustled his daughter’s hair. “There is no doubt in my mind that you are my daughter. Let me get that Swea’ Pea. You go on ahead and do your thing.”
Catching her breath, Dusty stood, brushed down her overalls and walked past her father. Gary dug in his pocket for a quarter as he knew his daughter would want to feed the ducks when they hit the vending machine around the bend. As she turned the corner he flicked the coin her way. He smiled as he knew she would flip around last second to catch it and sprint away so she would get more time with the animals before he caught up.
But the coin hit the old wood sounding a hollow thunk and rolled into the water below. Dusty wheeled the corner without notice.
Gary’s face clenched with concern. First the stammering on the boat, and now this. He grabbed the ice chests and sauntered after. Watching Dusty up ahead with her head down, her trademark curiosity and vigor were adrift. She was concentrating on something in her hands. Barely using her peripherals, she managed to bump into an old man on the stairwell. Without a pause or any kind of acknowledgment, she continued her trek to the truck.
They crunched through the gravel parking lot and Gary loaded the coolers in the back of his pickup. He could see something in her hands as he loomed over her in the bed of the vehicle. It must be that thing she was worked up about earlier he mulled. New things often drew her in, but more than not she was excited to share when she had the chance. That was her way. And right now, this just wasn’t her.
He climbed into the cab and leaned over to open Dusty’s door. Without a peep she pulled herself in and plopped down into the seat.
Dusty continued to look out the window. The cab was stuffy and hot, but she seemed oblivious to it.
“Are you okay?” Gary’s face pinched and he nudged her with the back of his hand. Dusty shuddered in response and her eyes fluttered wide. “Uhh... yeah dad”, she shook her head, “I’m fine”. Promptly she rolled down the window, took a deep breath of the ocean air and began to bounce on the springs of the bench seat. She smiled.
Gary sighed and started the engine.