Chapter 39

After a while, during which a couple of my fish actually make it into the ice chest, the boys notice a power boat way off in the distance coming in our direction. Pablo jumps down from upstairs and takes six fish out of the ice chest, and stashes them somewhere in the cabin. I don’t know what’s going on, but these guys don’t look too happy, and this time it’s not about me.

A few minutes go by and the mystery boat comes up alongside us. It’s an official-looking white and red powerboat with a red light on top of the cabin and two spotlights on either side of it. Pablo stops our boat, and the other boat pulls along side.

One of the men on the other boat throws a rope. Ernesto catches it and ties it to a metal thing on the side of our boat. Two uniformed men with tan cowboy hats, Highway Patrol-like wire rimmed sunglasses and thick black mustaches, smile and talk to Ernesto and Pablo like they are old friends.

They introduce me as their primo and I smile and nod. The police smile and the taller one asks me a question, but I don’t understand him. The police or wildlife officers, or whatever they are look at me, and then at Ernesto and Pablo. I feel a lot of tension in the air as Pablo and Ernesto try to make small talk with them.

I just stand there smiling, not knowing what else to do. I wonder if Pablo and Ernesto have fishing licenses. Ernesto tells them that I am simple, or slow, and Pablo heartily agrees. Ernesto tells them the story of how I threw three fish overboard, and Pablo corrects him with “Quatro.” Ernesto corrects himself and finishes telling them I killed the first one after riding it like a horse. The two uniformed men turn and look at me with incredulous expressions. They look at each other, and then laugh. I feel so stupid. I was wrong a little while ago about not ever being able to feel more embarrassed. I look down at the deck and pretend not to understand much, which is pretty close to the truth, but I do understand more now than I’d like to.

A police radio of some kind makes raspy, murmuring sounds in the background as Ernesto walks over to the ice chest with the two men, who inspect it admiringly.

Pablo picks out a nice-sized fish and holds it up for them. They both smile and nod and the taller man takes it and puts it in their boat. He comes back and they stand there waiting, and then Pablo jumps and pulls out another fish. They both smile and nod again, and the same man takes it from him and places it inside their boat. When he returns again they talk like friends for a few minutes, and one of them nods towards a beer sitting in a cup holder in one of the folding chairs and Ernesto goes to the cooler and pulls out a couple and hands them to the officers who graciously accept such a kind and generous offer. They speak a bit longer, asking about family and such, and looking over at me from time to time.

They finally say they have to go. The officer who didn’t put the fish in their boat, walks over to the ice chest and pulls out four more beers, still in their plastic six pack holder, before getting back onto his boat, while the other officer unties their boat from ours.

“Aaaadiiioooos Paaaanchoooo,” they say to me, slowly and loudly. They leave at half the speed they arrived. I wave and do the best simpleton impression I can.

Pablo and Ernesto take a deep breath. Pablo looks at how many beers are left in the cooler, grabs one and solemnly climbs up the steps to the steering place. Ernesto looks at me. “Pinche Policia,” he says, along with some other stuff.

Ernesto grumbles back into the cabin and returns with another six pack of beer. This must happen a lot. They know better than to keep everything in plain sight.

We keep fishing, and sweating, and drinking beer. This beats the hell out of the bus!

After catching about twenty fish, not counting the couple I lost, Ernesto and I put the rigs away, and Pablo drives us toward a small bay, that later I see is really a large island separated by a narrow channel and a beach as far as I can see in either direction. We pass the island and head for a small village on the edge of what I think is Baja California. We pull up to a small dock that leads to a general store, a few shacks, and small houses. This is an authentic Mexican coastal village. Cool.

Pablo pulls us up to the dock and Ernesto grabs a rope and ties the boat up with a few quick motions, then runs to the front and does the same. Pablo turns off the engines and whatever else he has to do up there, and then climbs down off the bridge. We all grab a fish in each hand, holding them by the gills, and walk up to the store, which thankfully, is not far; these fish are heavy.

A few small kids dressed only in cut-offs and smiles, run up to us, look at me, and ask who I am. Pablo just says “retardito,” or something like that and they laugh briefly, then realizing it may be true, they hide their amusement as best they can, before running away, bursting with laughter, unable to hide it any longer.

The man at the store smiles at my friends and they talk like they are old pals. Ernesto introduces me as his primo, and we both nod and say, “mucho gusto.” Pablo, ever the serious one, points to the fish and asks about them. The store owner, a thick, balding, middle aged man, with dark leathery skin and large, wrinkly hands, looks the fish over. He admires them and says “bonita,” which is a type of tuna I think. He says something about business being slow and he doesn’t have much money. The brothers nod and say they understand, or agree. We all put our fish on a table behind the cash register area. I guess the deal has been made.

The man hobbles slowly and painfully over to the cash register, and takes out some bills and counts them while looking at the fish. He hands the money to Pablo.

Ernesto walks over to the beer refrigerator and returns with a beer for each of us. Ernesto offers to pay for the beers, but the man refuses. He wants to be kind and generous to us and he would not accept our money in his store. Ernesto and Pablo smile and thank him profusely, like he was the most generous and kindest man on earth, which makes him smile proudly and not limp so badly.

Ernesto says something and the man looks at me and replies, but I’m not understanding much. Ernesto says, “California,” really slowly, and I smile and nod. The man looks at me sadly, and says some more things I don’t understand. Ernesto and Pablo say, “Gracias,” several times. I smile and nod, feeling very uncomfortable at the relative ease I seem to be acquiring the aura of stupidity. We head outside toward the boat.

Ernesto tells me about a truck driver who will come by soon and they will ask him to give me a ride to the frontera, or frontier I think. Wow. I’m getting closer to home all the time. This is terrific. I thank my fishing buddies like they thanked the shop owner. “Necessario mas?” I ask, reaching for more fish to give to the man at the store, and they both say, “NO!” at the same time, and with the same, no fricking way, inflection. Pablo says something about more money at the next village and I think they will fish all the way home and make more money when they get home. We talk, admiring the day, and drinking our beer. These guys are pretty good fellas. I’m already going to miss them. This is the most fun I’ve had in a long time.

Ernesto nods at a truck pulling into the parking area of the store, which I notice is very close to the highway. I say my goodbyes to Pablo as best I can, Ernesto grabs a beer and we walk up to the truck.

When the driver has finished doing business with the shop owner, Ernesto explains my situation to him and asks him if I can ride with him to the border. He smiles and accepts a beer from my very kind and generous friend. Does that mean yes? The man jumps into the cab and Ernesto shakes my hand and bids me farewell. Yes! I’m almost home.

“Muchos gracias Ernesto.”

“De nada Pancho.”

“Vaya con dios.”

“Tu tambien, primo.” Ernesto and I smile at the family reference.

People must have been very kind to Ernesto growing up, or maybe he was just born that way. I get into the truck and as we pull out, I wave goodbye to my new Mexican friends and begin heading home. I wonder if I’ll ever see them again.

Mike J Quinn About Mike J Quinn
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