Tuesday, August 10, 2010

And now for some Tassie fiction

By my old mate, our man in The Netherlands, Andrew Balcombe:

Logging magnate eaten by white shark

A fictional story about fishing and the ever widening blood slick on the surface of the water.

The dinghy came off the runners and the old man walked into the shallows. The water was flat and smooth all the way from Northwest Bay to Bruny Island. The row would only take twenty minutes before he reached his favorite fishing hole.

Voices of children and the clunk of a cricket bat hitting a ball reached out across the water. He took it slow. It was hot for this time of the morning and there was no cooling breeze.

The large sinker took the bait rapidly to the bottom, a few moments later there was a tug and he began pulling in the line with his hand. A flathead landed on the floor next to his shoe. He used it to hold the fish down and removed the hook.

The flathead gasped for air and stared into his eyes, he struck its head with the backside of his knife blade and it lay still.

The eyes continued to stare into his until he remembered to take a breath. His gaze shifted to the shore. Cliffs stretched towards a small pebble beach. Swells from a passing ferry rolled onto the beach, making a gentle shushing noise.

With a plop, the sinker plunged into the water again ahead of a freshly baited hook.

He waited out its descent, and felt like he was being watched. The sound of breaking water behind him made him turn and the dingy rocked on a fresh swell.

The white belly of a shark disappeared below the black water. It had been a large one, he thought. The great whites in these parts rarely showed themselves and he felt privileged to have witnessed the site.

Quiet returned and his gaze moved to the open water around him. The mirror-like surface of the channel remained smooth all the way to Dennes Point. A far-off smudge of gray hung in the air, materializing into a flock of shearwaters searching for fish shoals. White triangles of yacht sails punctured the horizon, going no-where in the dead calm.

He felt the tug of the next fish and gave the line a yank to set the hook. When the tugging increased, he pulled the line into the boat. The fish was bigger than its predecessor. It flapped on the dinghy’s bottom sending vibrations through its hull into the water. It took two strikes from the knife to make it stop.

Again the old man felt like he was being watched, he turned and saw the slightest of ripples across the surface of the water behind the dinghy. Beneath the ripple was a flash of white.

He had read that commercial fishing forced some species of sharks to find other food sources. He wondered if the flathead he was catching, were now on the white sharks menu.

The freshly baited hook dropped into the darkness, by the time it struck the bottom, the white shark was forgotten. He focused on his own reflection in the water.

The distant chug of a marine diesel intruded on his thoughts then suddenly went silent. He lifted his eyes and saw the Bayliner drift to a halt fifty meters away. He recognized the luxury yacht. It belonged to Gary Smyth, the logging magnate.

He exported hardwoods as woodchips to places like Japan. Some people said the company was also responsible for dirty tricks against those who opposed it. But what did the old man know, back in his day, trees were seen as an obstacle for farmers clearing land. Now, all that he ever heard and saw was that they needed more trees, because the earth was getting too hot.

A white figure stripped to a pair of swimming trunks appeared on the yacht’s foredeck. The sight reminded the old man of the white shark. He recognized the man from his shock of dark hair from the newspaper photos.

He had read that Smyth had used an army of lawyers to deal with a troublesome nature activist. The case had been wrapped up in six months. Smyth’s bulldozers were back in business and the activist had declared bankruptcy.

The catgut in his hand jerked and he gave it a yank. It tugged back and he began pulling it into the dinghy. This time, a rock cod rose to the surface, its belly distended from a busted woofer valve. The fish were common and none too tasty. It went back into the water and he watched it struggle towards the bottom. He saw a dark shadow move over the fish and it was gone.

The din of a harsh laugh cut through the silence and the old man saw Smyth joined on deck by a woman. She held a green bottle out to the man. He took it and gave it a shake. There was a pop and he sprayed foaming champagne towards her.

“Hey, that’s my new blouse you bugger,” she shrieked.

“Oh no, your all dirty, looks like you need a wash then.”

With a single heave the woman was dropped over the rails of the Bayliner and into the water. Smyth stood at the yacht’s railing laughing.

“There, all clean now. You hate doing the wash anyway you lazy cow.”

Smyth then stripped off his shorts and shoes and dived head first into the water. A moment later the woman hooted with laughter.
“Stop it Gary, we’re in public.”
“I don’t see no-one except that old geezer, chill out sweets.”

The old man knew that this activity at the best of times was probably hazardous when alcohol was involved. The presence of a shark in the area meant it was even more hazardous than usual.

He cupped his hands together over his mouth and hollered.
The two faces above the water turned as one in his direction. He was about to yell again when Smyth responded.
“Hey yerself, old man, we’re just having some fun, go back and play with your tackle.”
“Ha,” snorted the woman. “Tackle, good one.”

The old man was about to shout ‘shark’ when he saw the flash of white. It had been just beneath the surface between his dingy and the pair in the water.
Some people never listened to reason he thought to himself.

“Shark,” he yelled.

The dark grey dorsal sliced through the surface of the water at what the old man guessed was about twenty knots.
He didn’t waste his breath by yelling again, instead he just pointed. It was not necessary now as. Smyth and his wife had already seen it. Both however failed to come up with a joke to describe the sudden appearance of a four-metre white shark coming towards them.

The fountain of water from the shark’s massive tail washed over the deck of the Bayliner. The old man expected more of a fight from the couple, but it was soon still after the initial frenzy of thrashing water and terrified screams.

A few minutes later he wound in his fishing line and rowed across the widening blood slick and tied his dinghy to the B,ayliner’s stern.

He swung his legs over the gunnels and stepped into the yacht’s cockpit. An open bottle of champagne was sitting on a silver tray. So he lifted it and took a swig. The police would take a while to arrive, so he put up his feet and threw some champagne over the side, just in case the shark was still around to taste it.