We’ve now been over two years at sea. While the crew is getting a little restless, the captain is flourishing in what certainly is his natural environment. Just yesterday he set his own hat on fire in prank that delighted both the Blackbeard and biblical devotees among the crew. Yes—he strides the deck with more vigor and purposes each day now that he can sense we are finally closing in on our prey. At last the day of reckoning seems to be at hand for the great beast that has dogged all our days and haunted all our nights since we set sail. At first it was just a rumor. The captain’s thoughts are hard to read from his blank visage, but Rummy, the first mate, and Wolfie, the bosun, never missed a chance to whisper a covert word of encouragement to the crew. “Keep her squared away, Condi,” was Rummy’s favorite greeting. “We’re after bigger fish than you know.”
They were particularly focused on appealing to Powell—our chief harpooner. “Keep ‘em sharp and ready, Mr. Powell. You won’t get more than one chance.” But, Powell, though a fine harpooner and expert sailor, was initially slow to adopt their verve. Oh—he kept up a good front on the deck—always grinning, laughing, and playing along, but he told me more than once, “That fish the captain wants is a dangerous one. He doesn’t think like the others. We’ll be wanting help to tackle that beast.” Of course, once the barnacle incident occurred, and Rummy and Wolfie were able to prove that those blasted vermin were in league with the fish, Powell had no choice but to waver.
Rummy and Wolfie, though, still sensing a trace of reluctance in Powell—and knowing full well the figure he cut among the harpooners and the rest of the crew, missed no chance to offer him praise and curry his friendship. Then, after they persuaded the captain to address the crew about the perils of falling overboard while polishing harpoons, Powell’s hesitance played out and he became rapt in the pursuit as well. Even below decks, well out of sight of peering eyes and range of listening ears, he now never lets up his new refrain: “That fish is the captain’s—we’re sure to take him.”
As they imagined, winning over Powell sent a great ripple of excitement through the crew. Now that Powell was on board they would follow the Captain straight to hell if he asked. Powell was no one to fly off the handle. If he was after the fish, it was no fool’s quest. It was their duty and their privilege. They would spare no sacrifice in their determination. Of course, Mr. Fleischer, our navigator, was quick to point out that the crew, including Powell, had always been one hundred percent behind the captain, and to suggest otherwise was mutinous.
And, yes, I, too, have been caught up in this wash of enthusiasm. Although I must confess that even if I was not of that mind, I would have scant influence on the crew. Though the captain fancies me learned and enjoys trotting me out before the assembled crew to offer an opinion on the weather or the prevailing winds, my place has always been well defined. Not that it matters—as I said, I, too, fall in line squarely behind our purpose. That fish is a scourge. We must take it for the captain, for ourselves, and for the other crews whose watery demise he would surely cause if left unchecked.
Our captain knows. His father, too, dueled with that fish. Having desperately wounded him, though, the Captain Senior let him off the hook, so to speak, confident that, having felt the bite of steel, the fish would seclude himself and stay out of trouble. He should have known better. Rummy and Wolfie knew. They sailed with the old man before carrying on with the son. They knew how base and vile that fish was from the moment they first became aware of him. They knew they had to convince our captain to finish what his father left undone. Of course, he was not a hard sell once Rummy and Wolfie pointed out that the rogue tuna that leapt onto his father’s boat during a recent pleasure cruise had really been an assassin sent by the fish. Our captain swore an oath of revenge—and he is nothing if not a man of his word.
This is not to say we haven’t had our trials and tests. First we sailed across a German boat, whose captain regaled us with tales of horror. “Zat fish ist best left alone,” he concluded after a story that would have turned back a lesser crew. Our captain was undeterred, however, uplifting our flagging spirits with sincere wishes to the cowed German that he find good health on his return home, and that he—our captain—would be glad to send over a tissue if the German could not find one in his purse.
Next up were the scalawags from the French “Save the Fish Society.” They harangued us for the better part of 2 days until a strong westerly blew in and we could make sail. Their poor excuse for a boat could scarce be seen in our wake after the midday meal. And we must not forget the Russians and the Chinese. But that’s really not a worry. Father Ashcroft—the captain would never sail without a ship’s chaplain—is always quick to remind us about the Red Menace, present disguises notwithstanding. Oh, they are out there. They are always out there—complaining that we take all the big fish, but always keen on the lookout for their own opportunity to claim the prize.
Yes, the seas have been full of danger, but now we are close. The ship is alive with the buzz of activity and anticipation. Powell and his men have their harpoons out on the deck. Wolfie has supervised one last coat of pitch for the boats. The lookouts have come to blows over the honor of the next watch. We are all ready—waiting only for the captain to give the word to lower the boats. The fish will be ours!