Chapter 1 - Preview
The moon shone as bright and silver as Captain Alonzo Smith could ever recall on the creeks off the Nukusi River, and that was after nearly twenty-five years of shrimping these southern Georgia coastal waters. Lonzo was a grizzled, white-haired, and bearded man. He was worn and toughened by shrimping the intricate, twisting, turning creeks, mudflats, and rivers of the Canaan’s Crossing area a stone's throw south of Savannah. The wrinkles and lines he had accumulated on his face over many years out on the water were as deep and soulful as the stories he would tell while drinking a cold Pabst Blue Ribbon beer after tying up the Dreamweaver, his time-worn shrimp boat, at the local shrimp dock conglomerate, known simply as “The Co-op.”
Located where Blanding Co-op Road dead-ends near the far southeastern side of town, the Co-op is a group of shrimpers who work together, each shrimping these waters individually but selling their shrimp at a per pound price at a joint dock site on Shell Creek. The Co-op consists of a long dock, nearly one thousand feet long. It was built with a concrete processing building, coolers, and freezers along with a small administrative staff to process shrimpers’ catches.
On this particular early November night beneath the silver dollar moon Lonzo and his first mate Bones, called a striker in these parts, were trolling along Admirals Narrows, dragging their huge shrimp net through the coastal waters. The Dreamweaver purred along, one of the most historic shrimp boats in the southeast; well-renowned for large catches and high speeds. The vessel is an original stick-built wooden trawler, hewn from choice heart cypress, constructed around nineteen sixty or thereabouts in North Carolina, a magnificent maritime beauty. Most of the shrimp trawlers still around and in use were built starting in the early nineteen hundreds, using various woods, white oak, cypress, and even mahogany in parts of Louisiana.
Lonzo was in the cabin, behind the wheel, with his hands on the Beckett pins staying the course. They were almost done for the evening and about to finish off with their last drag and pull.
“Midnight and all is well!”
A loud screeching rang through the cabin and across the water through one of the open polished brass portholes, breaking the still calm.
“Jesus Galileo!” said the Captain, admonishing the thirty-five-year-old parrot on his perch beside the wheel. Galileo was a red, blue, and yellow brilliant Scarlet Macaw. Lonzo had obtained the bird in a bet five years ago back in sixty-eight in a card game from a sailor named Johnny “No Bait,” who didn’t have any remaining cash or collateral after a losing hand. On that humid night at a party house over at Coffee Bluff marina in Savannah, fortune smiled kindly on the Captain, and his four queens trumped Johnny’s full house with aces over tens. When it came to light that Johnny was playing with empty pockets at that juncture, Lonzo decided to keep the bird when offered as payment. He figured he could be a companion for those lonely, long, extended times out at sea and in the rivers and creeks.
Johnny, whose “No Bait” moniker aptly alluded to his typical financial situation, was a little overly fond of gambling which contributed significantly to his monetary difficulties. He had trained the bird to say various phrases with reputedly two hundred or more classic, or shall we say infamous, expressions in his extensive repertoire. Lonzo was quite perplexed though as to how in the hell the bird would utter those particular words at exactly midnight every evening. If he weren’t preoccupied he would have been expecting it, but this evening felt a little different to him; eerie and haunting if you will. He’d never felt this ill at ease before in twenty-five years out on the water and he had no idea why.
“Bones, enough for tonight, pull the trawl-net up,” yelled Lonzo.
Bones was about five feet ten inches tall weighing in at a gaunt one hundred twenty-five pounds. He first mated on multiple shrimp boats over a few decades, starting with the High Roller back in the late fifties.
“Alright Cap, pulling the trawl net up,” said his haggard striker.
There was indeed something different this night, the dew level had changed, and a flash fog had come up all of a sudden, settling in over the creek and the marsh. Now the brightness of the full moon overhead began to be surrounded by thin bands of clouds. The air was thick, humid, and the temperature dropped several degrees within the last few minutes.
As the net came up over the stern of the proud boat, a large catch was apparent, causing the net to overflow. Bones stood ready to evaluate and funnel through whatever was dumped on deck. The main edge of the net gave way. As it opened, the contents streamed onto the deck, pouring over several feet of the stern. In the now pale moonlight obscured by the newly formed fog Bones stepped back, perplexed for some reason as something had tumbled onto the deck that didn’t seem to belong, something big. He strained to focus on what he couldn’t believe was on the deck. He stood petrified as a sinking realization overcame him. He was able to make out what had tumbled onboard amongst the plethora of shrimp, pogies, yellowtails, spots, and crab.
“Cap, um, Cap, I think you need to come see this!” he stammered, fear tainting his high-pitched yell.
“What in the hell is it Bones? We’re wasting time!” the sea captain said, now annoyed as he moved across the deck over to where Bones was transfixed by something near the net. As he got closer Lonzo noticed a dark, large form on the deck. The closer he got to it, the more he was able to make it out. His heart was in his throat as he approached the thing there on the deck, and his pulse quickened at the sight of it.
“Good God, what is that?” he exclaimed as he knelt to get a closer look. There on the deck lying on his stomach, was a male corpse. Judging by the clothing, with crabs crawling on his body and fish in his pockets and on his clothes, he was down in the depths for a while. Spartina marsh grass and pluff mud were on his shoes and in his hair, well, what was left of his hair. The body was bloated, pale, white, and swollen from being in the river for God knows how long.