I Have Met the Enemy
I had heard a lot about the Minots from the Coffin Underground, but I had only ever seen them from afar — a few of the young ones in Floyd’s, a few of the old ones down at the docks. But I hadn’t spoken to any of them, so I decided that it was time to bridge the Gulf and cross from Coffinland to MinotWorld. I drove the Island Car to The Larboard early last evening, bought and sucked down a beer or two in an effort to be polite, and then I asked Cory where I could find Archie Minot, the patriarch of the clan — and the guy who supposedly shoved Chester Coffin into the deadly sea.
Cory gave me the kind of look that most people reserve for those who cheerfully suggest that they kill and eat the family dog, but after some prodding (and drinking) on my part, she grudgingly jerked her head toward the ocean.
“Down to the docks,” she said, scowling up at me. “If he’s conscious, he’s there.”
I finished my beer and headed down the gently sloping street toward the waterfront. “Down to the docks” is about as specific as “in the parking lot” would be at Disney World, but I got the idea. I figured that if I wandered the docks for a while, I would find him.
It took until close to sundown. Turns out that “down to the docks” was a bit of Cory Coffin humor, given that Archie was on a boat that was moored a hundred yards out in the harbor. He didn’t row in to the actual docks until it got too dark for him to work on his boat.
I watched the dinghy come in from a lobster boat with “Minnow” painted on its stern. I figured that would be Archie’s boat — minnow is roughly what Minot would sound like if you were French. I’m sure that whenever the Coffin Crowd is down to the docks, Archie has to listen to a lot of Gilligan’s Island jokes, but he’s probably used to it.
The mate was a crappy sailing man, the skipper was unsure.
But somehow they set sail that day for
a three-hour tour.
A three-hour tour….
The ship struck ground on the shore of this enormous well-marked rock. Investigators decided that
the skipper was quite crocked.
The skipper was quite crocked.
I’m making this up, but I’ll bet it’s not too far off. Coffins can be so cruel.
So I watched as this lanky, gangly assemblage of a skeleton clambered over the gunwales of the Minnow and dropped awkwardly into its little dinghy. To Archie’s overwhelming credit, the dinghy had Roe painted on the stern. Not bad punning for an old fisherman.
The skeleton pulled hard on the oars, and the dinghy surged and halted like a tortoise making love. With each stroke of the oars, the little boat nearly lifted off the water, but then it settled with an inefficient splash as Archie reached back for another pull. After a few minutes, it lunged for the dock I was standing on.
“Can I give you a hand?” I asked politely, relying on kindness and helpful generosity to break the ice.
“Don’t need a hand,” Archie answered, tying up his little boat and flailing his way up the barnacle-and-kelp-encrusted ladder. He moved like the Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz, his joints bending without the benefit of connective tissue. He’s the only person I’ve ever met who could flop up something. “I’ve been rowing that little dinghy and climbing this ladder for more than forty years,” he continued, wiping his hands on his canvas jacket but not offering to shake. “I first came out here four decades ago, when I started lobstering with my daddy. I was just a young tyke then, but I knew a thing or two about how to bring in the lobsters. My daddy always said I was a bright one. Even on my first trip out with my daddy, when I was just a young tyke, I knew how to catch the floats with my pole. I wasn’t strong enough then to pull up the pots, but I would catch the floats with my pole and then my daddy would cut the engine and come over to pull up the pots for me. And he hadn’t pulled up more than two or three before I took over the job of plucking the lobsters out of the trap. I just instinctively knew how to flip open the little door and grab the lobsters right behind their claws, so I wouldn’t get pinched. It wasn’t long before my daddy and I were quite the pair, going out every morning and hauling in the lobsters. We made good money in those days, too — not like today. Back then, people valued a good lobster, and they were willing to pay handsomely for one. I remember a time when my daddy and I — ”
He went on like this for more than ninety minutes. From the time we first met, through walking up the hill, wandering into Cory’s, ordering and eating some chowder with that great thick bread of hers, downing a couple of beers, and hiking down Front Street toward the Minot side of town, my entire side of the conversation was completely contained in that “Can I give you a hand?” line I opened with. Archie told me about his daddy (great man, hard worker, strong as a whale, tough as a barnacle), his wife Chandra (great woman, hard worker, strong as a whale, tough as a barnacle), his son Tommy (great boy, hard worker, not real bright but a great boy), his daughter Emma (now there’s a great catch — you should stop by and talk with her sometime), and pretty much everyone else who currently lives or ever once did live on Grand Seal Island.
The hour-and-a-half mark rolled by as we were standing at the end of Front Street, looking to the north over the docks and off to the distant hills of mainland Maine and New Brunswick. The sky was fully dark, and a billion flickering stars were rolling their eyes and laughing at me for getting myself so fully trapped. There was nothing I could do but stand there and listen. Oh, I tried to toss in a few words now and then, but Archie’s elongated neck and bouncing Adam’s apple just kept steaming ahead like a freighter cutting through krill. It was obvious that my only allowable role was silent nodding.
At last, with my feet aching and my inner ears whirling in dizziness — either from the verbal barrage or as a strategy to toss me to the ground and hence escape further vocal torture by feigning epilepsy — Archie stopped talking and looked at me closely, as though he wasn’t sure that there had actually been a breathing human being with him throughout the entire soliloquy.
“What did you say your name was?” he asked. It was his first non-rhetorical question of the evening.
“Donovan Graham,” I said. I was going to add “call me Van,” but I thought that might set him off on a series of tall tales about some old VW microbus he owned back in the goodolddays.
“Donovan Graham,” he repeated, staring out to sea. He chewed on the name for a while. “Sounds fancy. I’ll call you Van.”
I suggested that was a perfectly acceptable substitute.
Then he looked at me again.
“You’re not that guy who’s writing stuff about us for the newspaper, are you?” he asked, displaying the full vigor of his mental grasp.
“Huh,” he replied. He paused a while. “You seem like a nice enough fellow. Want to go lobstering with me some time?”
Did I want to go lobstering with Archie Minot? Did I want to hove out into the bay and commit the wholesale and senseless slaughter of innocent animals in the name of profit? Did I want to decimate a breeding population in the name of greed? And more important — did I want to spend quality time on a lobster boat with someone who is purported to have killed the last guy who accepted this offer? I tried to think of something to say, but I wasn’t fast enough.
“Good,” he said. “It’s settled. We’ll go out soon. Not many people are willing to go out on a boat with me, ever since Chester died.”
— Donovan Graham, “The Shadowless Writer”
Comment — Gemstone: I think it’s good that you’re spending time with the Minots. They can’t be as evil as the Coffins say they are.
Comment — Orson Van Dyke: If he really did kill the former mayor, you shouldn’t spend time with him. Depending on what you do and say together, you could be charged with being an accessory after the fact. Even if you just went over to the Minot house, you could find yourself in a great deal of legal trouble.
Comment — George Reynolds: Oh, Archie’s harmless. I never did believe that stuff about murdering the mayor. It was an accident. That’s all.
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