Much better than conventional tagging methods. If it worked, it could revolutionize everything. You could track a fish's migration, begin to understand its life cycle, its mating habits. Steal a look into the secret life of that mysterious fish. But she and Andy weren't thinking of its commercial value when they designed and assembled it from salvaged computer parts. The pod was a gift to their dad, their attempt to take part in his consuming obsession.
Andy used a tiny ice pick to activate the unit, then clamped it just behind the sharp point of a customized harpoon.
Morgan hauled the fish closer and could see its blue shadow rising through the water. Listless, on its side. Either defeated or playing possum. It was impossible to tell.
Andy leaned over the transom, cocked the harpoon back, picking his spot.
Her mother called down to Andy. In her tense voice, telling him to be careful. Very careful.
Andy leaned another inch or two, then stood back up.
"It's too far, Dad! I'm going to have to wire it, bring it up closer."
"Morgan," A.J. called. "Keep the line tight. Keep it close so Andy can work."
Andy grabbed his glove from the back pocket of his shorts and pulled it on. Another of his creations. An ordinary blue denim work glove with a thick cowhide pad stitched across the palm and sides. Even a medium-sized fish could badly bruise a hand, or sometimes crush bones.
Johnny seized the biggest gaff from the holder.
"We're not gaffing it, Johnny," A.J. called. "We're just attaching the pod."
"But this is a world record, Dad. This is the all-time big mother."
All of them laughed and from that moment, Big Mother was her name.
"Tag and release, Johnny, that's what we're doing."
Stubbornly, Johnny held on to the gaff, planting himself at the starboard side of the transom while Andy stood to port, the harpoon in his right hand. He was touching the metal leader wire with his left, stroking it lightly as if wanting to establish some connection with the giant.
Morgan had handled the wire on small sails and yellowfin tuna. It was dangerous, but thrilling. The saying went, "One wrap, you lose the fish, three wraps you lose a finger." Two wraps was right. You took two wraps of the leader wire around the gloved hand, no more, no less.
Andy took three.
Morgan wasn't sure if she'd seen right. Her mind so foggy. Her tongue so swollen, she could barely speak. Maybe he took one more wrap for extra measure, because the fish was huge, maybe he made a mistake, or she was simply wrong about what she thought she'd seen.
A.J. backed the boat slowly.
"Okay, Andy. Pick your spot, jab it in hard and true."
Johnny edged closer to his brother, gaff at the ready.
Slowly the bill appeared as Andy hauled it up.
"Jeez, it's way over a thousand pounds. Maybe fifteen hundred."
Andy had the fish at the transom. Its bill was longer than any she'd ever seen in photographs, on walls, anywhere.
Johnny leaned over the edge to touch the fish.
"No, Johnny. Let Andy do his work."
The fish must have seen their shadows because it shied away. Andy braced his knees against the transom, leaned back, using all his weight to drag the fish back into place. Morgan could see the muscles straining in his back, in his arms and shoulders. A wiry boy, narrow-waisted, wide shoulders and rawhide-tough. But the fish was strong, very strong.
Andy cocked his arm, held it for a second, then plunged the point of the harpoon into the second dorsal.
"It's set, Dad! I felt it lock on."
He shouldn't have done it. Shouldn't have turned his back on the fish to beam up at their father. With a fish that big, it was reckless. But he was so proud, so hungry for a morsel of their dad's approval. In that half second his back was turned, the fish swung back and made a slow pirouette, disappearing into the transparent blue.
Copyright 2002 by James W. Hall. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of the publisher, St Martins Press.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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