The Saga of “Hang-On Harry”
The best thing about being a night owl is also its greatest drawback: lots of wonderful and/or alarming things happen around two o’clock in the morning and you’re awake to witness it. Over the years I have seen my share of both, some I can’t fully recall and others I would dearly love to forget. One event in particular stands out from the others for sheer comic lunacy, perpetrated by a hapless drunkard in the dark of night, and it is this event which I will share with you now.
Early in the previous decade, I found myself unemployed, broke, and living with two asshole actors in the most unsavory neighborhood of the seaport city of Portsmouth New Hampshire. I had a bicycle for transport and a small stipend from NH Unenjoyment, enough to care for my most basic material needs, but with little left for entertainment.
My roomies and I hated each other; the relationship having deteriorated to the “Casual Bitch-Slap” level. They knew to give me a wide berth and I avoided them as well, sleeping during the day and prowling the waterfront at night. It was then that I discovered the inexpensive joys of 40oz malt beverages, one or two bottles of which became boon companions on these nocturnal rambles.
Mostly, I fished. I had an old surfcasting rod found in the attic and a few hooks and jigs. Far out into the harbor, on the edge of the vast, gray, swelling bosom of the Atlantic Ocean I dropped hook and pulled up legions of slimy sea creatures. Under a gibbous moon, I’d drink and fish and drink some more until the first rays of day bloodied the eastern sky. Once I realized I could see the Islands offshore, I’d climb onto my bike and wobble home.
Many nights I was joined by my buddy Barry. He was a Born-Again Puerto Rican transplant from Jersey City. An inner city guy, the rural nature of New Hampshire life alarmed and enchanted him. He couldn’t get used to the fact that HERE it was safe to hang out on a bridge in the dark. Back home that could get you killed. He had a day job, but he’d fish all night with me. I wondered when he slept. Later I discovered he didn’t sleep at all – he was afraid to go home because he believed a demonic presence was assaulting him while he slept. So he hung out with me all night on the bridge.
We were quite a pair: a Drunken Atheistic Fish-Bum and Demon-Chased Teetotaling Christian. Could it get any weirder?
Of course it could, and it did.
Our favorite spot was a bridge, well out into the harbor, on the southern side of the river, across from the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. On the outgoing tide we’d face the lights of the Navy Yard and all the cranes, barges, Nuclear Hunter/Killer Subs, and overnighting seagulls would keep us company. Behind us a series of small rocky islands and the back tidal bay lurked in the gloom, lit at the edge by the Grand Hotel “Wentworth By The Sea”. We liked the outgoing tide best, the baitfish were lured up into the muddy, grassy shallows of the marsh (for seaworms and shrimp) by the high tide would be forced to run to the ocean as the water became shallower. The predators knew this and lurked at choke points to nab them. The Newcastle Island Bridge was one such choke point. Only we were there too – human predators hunting the fishy ones.
Barry didn’t drink. He was high on Jesus. Probably fatigue toxins too. I didn’t care – I liked the company. He really DUG being able to hit water and catch food. It made him feel like a MAN. He kept all his coworkers in fish – brought it into work, gave it to them and they ate it. He was probably right: finding and killing game and feeding people is an man’s oldest role and there is satisfaction at fulfilling it.
Personally, I hate fish.
It was an outgoing tide, I don’t remember what night – probably a tuesday or wednesday. That’s when the weird shit always happens. I’d been there since 6, jigging for baitfish but with no luck. Something had spooked the little fuckers all away. I leaned over the rail and peered into the black water, dead high, full of seaweed and styrofoam cups from the party boats that plied the run out of the harbor and out to the Isles Of Shoals, seven miles offshore and back, and sensed a deep disquiet. Something was wrong down there. The bait was scared.
A good sign.
beside me Barry stiffened. His urban survival sense was tingling.
“People coming.” he whispered.
I looked over at him. He was heavily built, squat, with shiny black hair and brown glossy skin. His hand was in his pocket. “Jesus Barry, you don’t have a knife in that pocket do you?”
He nodded. I rolled my eyes and sighed. “Only rich people cross this bridge, dummy. You going to stab a millionaire jogging back to his mansion on Newcastle Island?”
Barry remained obdurate. “If they bad you gonna thank me.” he said.
The west end of the bridge was lost in gloom. I heard voices. Somebody was coming, and they had not come in a car. Barry’s paranoia infected me – teens on a tear? I hooked a filet knife out of my tackle box and held it in my right hand, hidden behind the outside seam of my jeans. Whoever they were, they had best have brought a gun.
Two figures trotted out from below the shadows, men in their 30′s wearing shorts and tank tops. They saw us and waved. “Helllooooo BOYS! Whatcha doing? Can we play too?”
I laughed my ass off. Barry flushed scarlet. “Good thing you had the knife! They might have raped us!” I said.
The rich faggots jogged past us and onto the island. We went back to fishing. I wished I had saved enough money to bring some beer or cheap wine, but I was broke and undrunk.
The tide got rolling around midnight. The beer (and the trouble) showed up then too.
Barry was always lecturing me on his “Urban Instincts”, like they were some sort of Innner-city crime radar. He actually worried that life in NH was softening him: that if he went back to his old neighborhood in Jersey City he’d walk into the wrong Bodega during a drug deal and get blown away. I scoffed, but as a native I had reason to. I could walk into any patch of woods in this state and unfailingly find my way out a day or two later. This was my home, my environment and it fit me like a tortoise fits his shell. Barry was the odd one, not me.
At midnight we had to add lead weight to our lines to keep the baits down. The tide was running nicely, but still no fish. The tugs and commercial boats had tapered off, nothing ran out of the harbor. We jigged steadily, but no baitfish either. It was looking like a wash. Then Barry stiffened again.
“More people coming.”
I clapped my hands agains my cheek like a 1930′s torch singer and dialed my sarcasm-o-meter to full blast. “Good, maybe they’re chasing after the last two!”
“I was wondering if this shirt matched my pants, maybe we can ask as they go by! What do you think?”
Barry ignored me and his right hand strayed to his pants pocket. “What the HELL do you have in there?” I asked. “A knife? A gun? Pepper spray?”
He flushed. “A rock.”
“Um, is it POINTY rock?”
“No. It’s just a rock I found as we walked over. It’s better than nothing.”
“Ok, I guess you’re right. I have to tell you though, the best thing to keep awaythe people we’ve been seeing would be a bottle of domestic wine and an NFL Highlights tape.”
“All it takes is one bad guy. Two – I can hear em talking.”
Two figures came out of the shadows at the far end of the bridge. They were carrying something, but we recognized instantly the unmistakeable gait of men laden with tackle boxes and fishing rods. We relaxed.
They set up not too far away: a tall skinny one and a shorter fellow. The tall one set down what appeared to be a case of beer. 16 oz cans. My interest piqued.
“I am going to try the other end.” Barry said, reeling up his line.
“Ok, I want to try this spot some more.” I replied.
“Watch them.” he said.
I pulled my tackle box a bit closer and focused my attention on the water. Then I heard the familiar “FSSST!” of a beer cracking open. Happy hour had begun. I turned.
“Hi guys!” I said.
They turned. The short one took a step into the road, paused (as if making sure I wasn’t going to attack him), then scampered over to me.
He stopped about an inch from my nose and began yammering in a sharp, stacatto monolgue.
“Hi! My name is Harry! I fish here all the time! I ain’t seen you here before! Those your rods? Cool! I got rods too! I customize them! They’re lots better than yours! What you gotta do is break off the top six inches of your rod and then tape on a new tip! Like mine!” He waved a dilapidated surfcasting rod in my face like Darth Vader brandishing a lightsaber. I flinched, and felt like a pussy. He didn’t notice, he was on a roll. “See? I bet you’d never guess I found this rod in a dumpster! a DUMPSTER! Amazing huh?”
“Amazing.” I mumbled.
“I been fishing this bridge for YEARS! I caught HUNDREDS of fish! I’m the BEST fisherman in this STATE!”
“Cool.” I took a step back. This guy radiated craziness like a microwave oven – I could feel my psyche crisping. “How about your buddy?”
Harry gulped down his next monolgue. His eyes crossed (presumably from the effort of thinking) and he put a grimy finger to his temple. “I met him tonight in the park! He said he wanted to go fishing! He bought BEER! Do you like BEER?”
Oh. Tough question. I like beer fine, but did I like beer enough to share it with maniacs in the dark? But then again, is it the Beer’s fault it was bought by manianacs? Beer is innocent, beer is just beer. Beer can’t help who bought it.
I slapped him on his scrawny shoulder. “Sure! I love beer! You got some?”
His face split into a carous grin. “TONS!”
Three sixteen ounce beers later, Harry hadn’t gotten any saner, or quieter for that matter. He fed me and his dullard buddy brewskis and a constant stream of slightly disturbing chatter and we drank them and pretended not to be slightly horrified. Harry had PROBLEMS.
He couldn’t keep still: his wild tales were punctuated with a host of extravagant facial tics, fluttery hand gestures and lots of leaping about. I put up with it until he began talking about his knife collection and produced a very large Gerber Parabellum Combat Knife, whereupon I excused myself to tend my lines. Harry and his moronic buddy (a local bum, I found out later) set up a couple dozen yards away and set to drinking with gusto.
Things would have worked out fine but fate had another plan for us. Around two o’clock in the morning we heard an odd splattering sound out in the dark. Even Harry stopped drinking long enough to listen. It got louder.
“What is that?” he shouted over to me.
I didn’t say anything. But I knew damn well what it was. A few seconds and he’d know too.
Directly below me I heard a splash. Seven or Eight fins broke the surface of the water. Then a dozen. Then a score.
From one side of the birdge to the other the water erupted into a furious boiling maelstrom.
“HOLY FUCKING SHIT!” Harry Helled. “LOOKIT ALL THOSE FUCKING FISH!”
Yes indeed, the fish were in. Fate had lured the four of us into her trap and in twenty more beers Harry would snap the lid shut.
To fully appreciate what happened next, dear drunkards, you will have to indulge me; I need to tell you some technical details about the kind of fishing we were doing.
The Fishermans’ Dilemma can be expressed quite succinctly in a three-part syllogism:
(Point 1) The Ocean is wicked big.
(Point 2) Fish are comparatively small.
(Therefore) Chances are excellent that the spot you are fishing doesn’t have a fish anywhere fucking near it.
But sometimes you get lucky. The fish were in and they were in BIG-time! We all leaped to our lines and started throwing baits and lures. But something odd happened. We got no bites.
The water was in a wild frenzy – the fish (Striped Bass) were rolling and flipping, leaping out of the wavetops. But they consistently refused our baits. What was happening?
After an hour or so I stopped angling, lit up a smoke and leaned on the rail to watch for a bit. Then I saw the problem: the fish were feeding on minnows! I could see clouds of tiny silver bodies, each about the size of a cigarette butt, scattering and darting as the larger Stripers plowed up from the depths to engulf them. One inch-long baitfish: the smallest lure I had in my tacklebox was about six times that big – no wonder the stripers weren’t interested.
Watching fish is almost as much fun as catching them, so I resigned myself to the role of observer for the rest of the night. But others on the bridge weren’t as philosophical as me.
Harry went nuts.
He took it as an insult. The fish were there but they weren’t biting. How DARE they? And the more they didn’t bite, the madder he got. He ran up and down the brige, muttering and cursing, throwing every beatup plug in his tackle box at them, pausing only to chug beer after beer after beer. His manic hoppy gait metamorphosed gradually into a drunken lurching stagger. I stayed out of his way.
Shortly after mid-tide he took some time off to consult his idiot buddy. I ignored them. Then he staggered up to me holding out a huge swimming plug. “Here. These’re what them fish’re eating. Look.”
Impaled on several tines of the treble hooks attached to his plug were three or four little minnows. They were so thick in the water below that the plug had literally snagged a bunch on the retrieve. Harry pulled one off and handed it to me. “Maybe you can use it for sumthin’.” he said. Then he lurched off. I noticed something dragging on the tar behind him.
“Harry, you’re caught on something.”
He spun and fixed me with a wild grin. “OH! I’m not caught on anything! I tied it on! That’s my ROPE!” He reached behind him and hooked up a length. “Pull that! Pretty strong huh? What do you think that is? Three hundred, four hundred pound test?”
I examined the rope. “Harry, this is cotton twine. Like for clotheslines. I’d say maybe one hundred pounds, two at the most. Why?”
He pulled the line out of my hand and said cagily “S’ok. That’ll be enough!” Then staggered back over to his idiot buddy.
Enough? Enough for what?
Suddenly the farthest side of the bridge became incredibly attractive to me. I grabbed my gear and sprinted down as far away as I could. Then I set up and put on a big set of mental blinkers. What were those two fucking morons up to? I did NOT want to know. I stared fixedly out and down at the patch of water boiling out to sea directly below my rod and did not move my head a single inch to the right or left. Let the two drunken dummies enjoy their brain-damaged shenanagans – it was nothing to do with me. I was just here, fishing all by myself, minding my own business. I couldn’t see anything.
But I couldn’t help hearing things. Alarming things. It was like a retarded radio play, and it went like this:
My Evening With Harry
His Idiot Buddy
The Atlantic Ocean
Idiot Buddy: (Nervously) Harry, this doesn’t look too safe. I can’t swim you know.
Harry: It’s fine, I’ve done this a million times!
Idiot Buddy: I don’t know, Harry, that water’s moving awfully fast.
Harry: Don’t be such a pussy. Give me more slack!
SLACK? Don’t LOOK! Keep fishing…find a happy place…find a happy place…
Idiot Buddy: But what if something goes wrong?
Harry: Tie that around the top rung. Nothing’s gonna go wrong.
Idiot Buddy: Here?
Harry: No, there. Loop it around.
Idiot Buddy: Like this?
Harry: No, not that way, the other…GAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH! (SPLASH)
Idiot Buddy: HARRY!
Harry: GAAAAAAHHHHHHH! PULL ME UP! PULL ME UP!
Idiot Buddy: OK HARRY! I’m PULLING!
Idiot Buddy: PULLING AGAIN!
Idiot Buddy: PULL!
Idiot Buddy: YOU GOTTA HELP ME HARRY. TRY TO CLIMB THE PILING!
Harry: GAAAH! STOP PULLING! STOP PULLING!
Idiot Buddy: HARRY…
Harry: I CAN’T BREATHE!
Idiot Buddy: OK HARRY! Hang on! I’LL GO GET HELP!
I willed my neck to function once again and looked up and down the bridge. It was empty. Barry had slipped off, his urban survival skills for once standing him in good stead. Harry and The Idiot Buddy were likewise not in sight. I was forced to wonder who “Help” was supposed to be.
AH shit. “Help” was going to be ME!
Sure enough, a moment later The Idiot Buddy came up from under the brige and climbed over the rail. He ran up to me and stopped, his eyes wild and black with panic. Then he blurted out the stupidest question I have ever heard within the context of the event and locale.
“Hey man,” he panted “Can you SWIM?”
Can I swim? That’s one hell of a question to ask a guy on a bridge at two o’clock in the morning. For a moment I was tempted to punt – to look him right in the eye and say “Nope. Not a stroke. SCREW YOU – you’re on your own, dipshit!”
But I didn’t. “What’s going on?”
“It’s HARRY! He’s in BIG TROUBLE! You gotta come help me!”
Okay, I will admit I was intrigued. I wanted to see what trouble those two had fallen into. And I knew that, like it or not, I was involved. “All right, where is he?”
“He’s over here! Come on! Hurry!”
The Idiot Buddy beckoned me as he sprinted to a section of rail next to a lampost. I walked up and took a deep breath. He pointed down at the water on the outside of the rail. I leaned over and looked down.
I saw the rail first; weathered steel stained by decades of salt and seagull poo. On the other side was the lamppost, made out of the same stuff I suppose, gray metal, dull. Below it the tar glowed grainy and a bit orange in the helium light, a gritty layer on top of bridge-concrete, like the frosting on a cake. Three corroded iron railings were set in the underside, rebar – nothing fancy. Then a piling, six or seven splintery creosote wood poles banded together with steel cable. And below that…
Harry, doing his best imitation of The Human Tea Bag.
He clung to the pilings like a barnacle, half in and half out of the water. The tide surged up around his shoulders like a rippling watery cape. His clotheline rope came up from his submerged waist, took a hitch around the top rung, then plunged back down. It was all that kept him from floating out to sea: he was well and truly stuck.
“Help me pull him up!” The Idiot Buddy said. “Come on!”
We climbed over the rail and down to the slippery pilings. I took a a twist of the thin cheap rope and The Idiot Buddy did too. “Harry! We’re gonna PULL! Try to climb up!” The Idiot yelled.
We counted three and heaved. Harry scrambled and scratched at the wood, kicking for traction, but the rope was so thin and his sodden weight so dead we couldn’t get a grip. He shrieked and fell back into the water, coming up short with a bone-cracking jerk as the slack ended abruptly.
“No morrrre!’ He wailed. “It’s cutting me in half. Can’t breathe!”
“He tied a slip knot around his waist.” The Idiot Buddy said. “I think it’s getting tighter and tighter every time we pull. I think it’s strangling him.”
Well that’s just peachy. What the hell do I do now?
“Mongeaux? Need some help my man?”
It was the first calm voice I’d heard since this retard-carnival began, floating down from above us. I breathed a sigh of relief. “yeah Barry. We got big problems.”
I looked up and saw him grinning down at me. He still had his rock. “That dude all right?”
“Nope. We need the cops. Go get em for us, okay?”
Barry grinned. He knew what that meant: for the first time in his life he would able to race through a town at crazy speeds, HOPING to get stopped by The Law. It was Puerto Rican Heaven. “I’m on it.”
He disappeared. A moment later the squeal of tires told me that Barry was off on the race of his life. At least somebody was having fun. Harry moaned below us “NO! NOT THE COPS! DON’T CALL THE COOOOPS!”
I grabbed the rope again. “Let’s give it another try.”
We tried a few times. Maybe we shouldn’t have, but we did. It hurt Harry, I could tell that. He screamed and shrieked and eventually stopped kicking. We gave up then, there was nothing left to do but wait for the cops. Only, how long was that going to take? Did Harry have that long? The rope was cutting into him badly, his breathing reduced to short, panting gasps – an ugly sound, like a winded dog. He couldn’t yell anymore and had lapsed into weak moans and gurgles. What could I do?
Harry had an idea. It came up from the water in his weak raspy voice. We both heard it and it filled us with dread.
“I can’t breathe. Please.”
“Cut me loose. Please, cut me loose.”
Dear reader, put yourself in my place – it’s around two in the morning, you are about a hundred yards away from the open North Atlantic, you’re hanging on a slippery piling around which the third fastest tidal current in the nation is rushing out to sea. And the drunken fool dangling below you from a clothesline is begging you to cut him loose. Would you do it?
I had worries, to be sure, and they could be summed up in two simple words: Slip Knot.
The Slip Knot is probably the most wonderous, notorious and pernicious bit of ligature in the world. For those of you who are not Riggers, Cowboys or Executioners a few words of explanation are in order.
The Wonderous, Notorious and Pernicous Slip Knot
The slip knot is easy to tie: make a loop in a rope, thread the other end through it and draw down until you have another loop.
You are now ready to do any of the followng:
1. Snare a Rabbit.
2. Lash a load.
3. Lasso a Cow.
4. Hang a man by his neck until he is dead.
As you can tell by the list, the Slip Knot is more properly associated with confinement and death than Human support. This is because the great virtue (and evil) of a slip knot is that the more force you exert upon it the tighter it gets. If you want to prevent a log from rolling off the back of your truck as you barrel down the highway at 75 Mph, sipping a beer and looking for cops, that’s a good thing. However if you are dangling from a clothesline under a bridge it is decidedly BAD.
Why? Because as the slip knot draws tighter around your ribs, the loop prevents them from expanding and contracting with your lungs. And you need to do that to breathe. And if you can’t breathe, you die.
Harry was breathing, but not well. His earlier moans and howls had subsided to raspy gurgles. I knew the cops would be here sooner or later, but I didn’t know if Harry was going to last that long.
There had to be something to do. There had to be a way to help him. Work the problem, what’s the issue? The knot – his body weight, he ‘s half out of the water. ..
Then I had it! “Hey, go get my knife.” I told his idiot buddy. “I know what we can do.”
The idiot buddy shook his head. “I don’t think we should cut him loose!” he stammered. “That water’s going out fast! We could lose him!”
I pointed at the line. “Look, the rope goes up from his waist, under those three rungs, takes a hitch around the top one then goes back down to his waist. His weight is only on half the line! If we cut the other one we can lower him down so he’s all the way in the water and his body weight won’t be on the knot! He can loosen it a bit and float and he will be able to breathe! Get it?”
The idiot buddy looked down at the line. “Ok but I still don’t think we should cut him loose.”
“We’re NOT going to cut him loose! We’re going to cut the other rope and lower him down into the water to take the pressure off his chest!”
“Ok, but I dont think we should cut him loose.”
“Just get the damn knife.”
He got the knife. “Get ready Harry! We’re going to lower you down into the water!” I yelled.
I took a good bind on the line and gave the knife to the idiot buddy. “See that line? Lean down and cut it as far down as you can. Then grab it right away! I’m gonna be holding all of Harrys weight for a second by myself and I don’t want to end up in The Drink too. Got it?”
He laid down on the piling and nodded. “Ok, but I don’t think we should be doing this.”
I braced myself and counted him down. “ONE!”
He cut. I pulled.
The rope went slack, which is exacly the opposite of what I had expected it to do. Instead of struggling with a few hundred pounds of sodden weight I flew off the piling at a sharp angle, arms windmilling for balance. There was a splash below. Just before I fell off the piling, a girder floated by and I barely managed to snag it, regaining my perch. What the fuck?
Harry was swimming. The line was limp.
He cut the wrong rope! That moron cut the one that was holding Harry up!
Harry clutched at a pilling, hugged it for a moment as the current swung his body around, under the bridge, then dragged him loose. He rolled onto his back and stroked with his arms.
“HANG ON HARRY! HANG ON!” His idiot buddy yelled.
Harry grabbed at a second set of pilings, but was torn lose again. He disappeared under the bridge. The idiot buddy scrambled up over the railing.
Harry was heading out to sea. Next stop?
The Idiot buddy scrambled up the rungs screaming. Harry drifted under the brige and out of sight. Adrenaline surged into my blood, cancelling the effects of all the cheap beer and I started up after him. Then I heard something familar.
I stopped for a moment and searched my memory. Sirens? Had I not been hearing them for a while? I closed my eyes and concentrated, willed through the fog of panic and searched my short term memory.
Yes. Yes, I had been hearing sirens for at least five minutes, but in the drama of the moment I had ignored them as the usual urban static. Only they were quite loud now, and getting louder.
Arcs of blue light sizzled from above. The roiling tide below shimmered actinic and foamy. I heard car doors slamming. I heard yells.
Cops. Cops were here!
I started up the first few rungs, then stopped. A thought tickled at the back of my mind. Cops. Cops were here to take charge.
Did they really need ME? I mean, there wasn’t anything I could do now. The authorities were in charge – who was I? Some reprobate with a snootful of cheap beer and a knife who cut Harry free and turned him into a navigation hazard?
How INVOLVED with this mess did I really want to be?
SO I sat back down and did what any civilized man would do: I lit up a cigarette. I sucked in the sweet brown smoke, savored the flush of nicotene and gathered my thoughts. I didn’t even bother listening to the shouts and howls coming from the downstream side of the bridge. None of my business – I was just some nearby angler, right?
So I smoked my butt, secure in the knowlege that Harry and his idiot Buddy were garnering all the attention. After a decorous period of time I climbed back up the rungs and slipped onto the bridge nice and quiet and unobserved. Three cruisers were parked in the lane, doors open and lights blinking. The strobe effect was surreal – concrete and rails and black seawater all winking frosty blue. My syste, flushed with booze and fatigue and panic toxins had me staggering between cop-bumpers like an epileptic as I worked my way across the brige. The seagull-shit crusted railing took my weight as I surveyed the human wreckage below.
Under the bridge, in various stages of undress were six town cops. They stood in the tidal muck with assorted aquatic rescue gear draped over their shoulders or poised in their outstretched arms. It was like a tableau from a 17th century painting: “The Saving Of The Drowned Drunk”. All of them had their cop-lights out and focused on a single point about thirty feet away in the water.
He had fetched up on a sand bar. He was standing in water up to his chin, long hair in his eyes, unmoving. I couldn’t see more but I sensed that below the tide his hands were clenched at his side in defiant fists. It was a standoff.
One of the cops yelled. “UM, YOU GETTING PULLED OUT?”
“No.” came the sullen reply.
A confused silence as the cops processed the response.
“Well, then COME IN!” One yelled.
“No. Go away.”
The cops looked at each other in exasperation. “We can’t go away! You have to come in you idiot!”
“I’m fine. I’ll come in when you go.”
The cops were mad now. “Listen, genius, either you come in or we go out and get you. If we have to do that then we WILL arrest your dumb ass. So come in!”
Harry saw the light then and came in. He squelched into shore the perfect picture of sullen defiance. The cops dragged him up to the bridge to a waiting ambulance. He protested “I’m WET, not HURT!”. They tried to coax him into the ambulance but he refused over and over. Finally they forced him to sign a waiver and let him go. I watched from a decorous distance, but not far enough away, because the cop in charge noticed me.
He came over and stabbed a finger at me. “Who the HELL are YOU?” he demanded.
“I’m just a guy fishing off the bridge.” I said.
“Were you here for this…this…whatever it was?”
He deflated, all the anger puffing out like gas from pricked balloon. “Can you explain to me what happened?”
I opened my mouth to talk, but stopped. I thought about what I had seen. I tried to arrange it in some sort of sensible order. But the words didn’t come.
“Well, no.” I said “I can’t EXPLAIN it. All I can do is DESCRIBE it.”
So I told him. “There were no fish, then they came in with the tide, but we couldn’t catch them because we didn’t have the right bait. So Harry got mad and apparently decided he could improve his chances by lowering himself off the side of the bridge from a rope. And it didn’t work out so well. He got stuck.”
The cop sat on a slick boulder and took off his hat. He looked tired: too many months on night shift, perhaps. No sleep, kids making noise all day. Nothing making sense anymore.
“He lowered himself.” the cop said.
“On a rope.”
“To catch fish.”
The cop held up his cap and examined the silver insignia on it like it was an ancient, inscrutable rune carved on a cave wall. I felt bad for him, nothing made sense anymore. We were, at that moment, brothers in puzzlement.
He looked up. “How many fish?”
“Zillions. They’re still out there.”
The cop grabbed my comment like a drowning man grabs a life ring. “Really? That many?”
“Yeah. Come see. It’s amazing.”
So we went up and I showed him all the fish. He was amazed. He called up all the other cops to see. They were amazed. They pulled a million-candlepower spotlight out of the trunk of one of the cruisers and beamed it into the water. The fish thrashed obliviously in the glowing water, doing whatever fish do when they are in like that. Amazing.
Then the cops went home. Everybody went home but me.
I gathered up my rods and my buckets and tacklebox. The eastern sky glowed a shade lighter, promising dawn in an hour or so. My buzz was gone. I strapped my stuff to my touring bike and took a final survey of the bridge to make sure I had not forgotten anything.
Then I saw something under a rail. Something white.
A forgotten six pack. Harry must have tucked it away for later. It was cheap suds – and warm, but the first 16 oz can went down like a draft from the fountain of youth. The second and third too. The fourth, fifth and sixth were a bit gassy, but suffered the same fate as their brothers.
My buzz back, I climbed onto my bike and wobbled home.
Who says fishing is boring?