The Catch

bySpencerfiction©

Drew loved to fish, any kind of angling he was prepared to try. Coarse fishing occupied a lot of his spare time and he'd enjoyed a few holidays in Scotland over the years, hunting wild salmon and trout with a fly on a gossamer line, but his real love was sea fishing.

His uncle John introduced him to the pastime when he was a kid. Drew lost his dad to emphysema when he was very young and inherited a string of temporary uncles, few of whom bothered to give a snotty-nosed Drew the time of day. Uncle John wasn't around for long but he took him fishing for carp at a flooded quarry a couple of times and, in that old cliché, Drew was hooked.

Losing his dad to an occupational disease put Drew off coal mining, so when he came to choose a career, he sold insurance, mostly life, health and investment plans. Drew didn't break any industry records but he did all right. The business had changed wholesale since he started, most of it done over the phone nowadays but at the beginning he was put out there doing a lot of door-to-door leg work. He wasn't a bad-looking kid, he looked after himself, dressed smartly for the job, so he got a lot of offers from bored housewives but he turned them all down. He didn't consider himself a prude, he was as randy as the next man, but these desperate housewives reminded him too much of his poor Mum.

Drew's mum had been lonely, desperate for love. She considered herself too young and pretty to be a widow hampered by two young kids, Drew's sister Alice is two years older. Drew's mum had to settle for short relationships, too much alcoholic drink and, Drew suspected, occasional recreational drugs. As a consequence of his Mum's desperation for affection and seeking attention elsewhere, there wasn't much time or love left over for the children, and both siblings found it difficult to establish lasting relationships themselves.

Drew didn't blame Mum for his crappy childhood, they were just the hands that both of them were dealt; three duff hands if he included his sister. Both Drew and his sister Alice were still single, now well into their thirties, and both of them cold fish when it came to lasting romance. Drew only seemed to love cold fish.

That's why he cultivated his friendship with his best friend Alan when they were about ten years old. Alan's dad had a little boat moored up in an estuary about twenty miles from their mining village and, by palling up with Alan, Drew wangled a few fishing trips each summer.

Drew broke off the friendship briefly when they were both 15 and Alan started courting Janice, a girl Drew was rather sweet on but much too shy to ask out.

After a couple of months Drew realised how much he missed Alan, even more than he missed the sea fishing, they really turned out to be good friends, after all. So, he approached Alan and Janice straight after school, shook Alan's hand and asked if they could be friends again, and Alan had embraced him without embarrassment in front of everyone. Then Janice kissed and told him that Alan had been really miserable without his best friend to bounce off.

Drew didn't tell either of them exactly how he felt about Janice at the time, he would have been far too embarrassed, but that didn't stop him telling everyone at their wedding reception eight years later, through the hilarious medium of the best man's speech, the full story of how he loved them both and always would.

Apparently, everyone knew already, had always known, but it did Drew good to clear the air. Janice kissed him gently when it was his turn to dance with the bride, assuring him that the couple would both always love him as the very best of theirbfriends. He was later godfather to both their kids and now they had a third one on the way.

Janice kept trying to fix Drew up with her own friends with little success. The last few years they had almost exclusively been divorced or single mothers. He smiled at the recollection. No, if he was going to fall in love it was going to have to be someone very special, unfortunately Janice had set the bar way too high.

Alan was on board the boat, of course, it was now partly at least his boat. His dad had lasted longer than most, but you don't get many old miners draining the pension fund for long. Alan didn't seem to spend much time fishing on this particular trip and the previous one. He was busy tinkering with the blasted engine again, ensuring he got it going again before the tide turned, in time to take them home. It had taken forever to get to the fishing grounds as it was.

Alan had gone down the mine like his father, from his sixteenth birthday, but the mine had been shut for over ten years now and he was currently employed as a forklift driver at an out-of-town supermarket. He needed to take the boat that he shared with his three brothers out on his turn every four weeks with a guest or three prepared to chip in for the beer, sandwiches, bait, gas and mooring fees to make the boat pay for itself. Today, Alan's brother-in-law Jack and a friend Andy from work were invited but each had cried off at the last minute for one reason or another.

Drew knew the score, and insisted Alan took fifty instead of the usual twenty. Alan knew the score too, and accepted the crisp folded notes without objection or argument, the bond between them so strong.

Drew hollered down the engine hatch, "Time for a beer break, Al!"

Alan poked his head, with one cheek streaked with grease, through the engine room opening, just as Drew closed up the cool box. He smoothly caught the tossed can.

"Cheers!" laughed Drew.

"Likewise," grinned Alan. He clambered out and joined his crew-mate sat on a bench next to the half-dozen rods trailing their lifeless hooks and lines behind and to the side of the boat.

"Wow!" exclaimed Alan, looking around. "What a lovely day."

Just a few puffy clouds punctuated the azure sky, a light swell barely disturbing the quiet water all around them.

"You should be up here enjoying the trip, not messing about with that engine. Get that spare one put in that Pat keeps offering you."

"We can't afford it, Drew, you know that, especially with the baby coming."

Drew knew the situation and wished he could help. He was working on it, actually. Old Pat down at the ships' chandlers was a shrewd old sea dog, he knew the dilemma that was faced by the owners of the boat and had come up with a solution that Drew was still mulling over. Alan and his brothers couldn't afford to replace the engine but Drew could. The engine would cost half the value of the boat, so if he had a mind to he could probably negotiate a half share in the boat without the brothers having to fork out the capital investment. The difficulty then was with the running costs, which made it such a delicate matter. With the four brothers having equal shares, they could each take the boat out once a month, with two or three paying guests at a time and break even. With a fifth wheel, even if he just took the one turn every five weeks instead of every second week, the balance would shift and the brothers would eventually be unable to maintain their share and have to drop out. That would end Drew's friendly relationship with Alan's brothers and probably damage his best friendship with Alan. A prickly problem, no easy solution.

Pat's plan was that Drew quietly pay for half the engine, Pat would then offer it at half-price to the brothers on easy repayment terms. Drew was still considering it.

"Your father ordered that engine before he died, you know."

"Yeah, I know," Alan admitted. It wasn't common knowledge, but it wasn't that much of a secret either and he'd noticed that Drew had become pretty pally with Old Pat of late so assumed it must have come up in the conversation.

"Da' had banked on still drawing his pension to pay for it and him going so quick and Ma's onset of dementia, meant every penny of Ma's pension and more goes into paying the nursing home's fees."

Alan felt sorry for Pat and the shame arising from the situation he shared with his brothers. Pat had paid out good money for that engine, still greased up in its packing case three years on. A lot of the other boats looked at that wooden case with covetous eyes but everyone moored in that estuary were in the same boat, so to speak.

There was no-one in view within the horizon in any direction of the sound but scruffy little vessel today though, and no matter how many problems the boat may have suffered there was only brilliant sunshine and sparkling water under the clear blue skies. There was just a slight swell running, east to west, the boat easily riding up and down the gentle waves. It really was a beautiful day. They both thought this was simply perfect.

"Just ten more minutes, putting the engine together," Alan promised, "And I'll fire it up again."

"OK, just make sure that's all," grinned Drew. "You know, if you got Pat to put that engine in, you'd be up here enjoying the sunshine, the fishing, and the company."

"Yeah, sure," he grinned, "You know I only bring you with me so I can be sure you're not chatting up Janice while I'm away?"

"Alan, she's seven months' pregnant."

"You still think she's the most beautiful woman you've ever seen, though," Alan's smile was sympathetic, he felt for his friend, knowing how devastated he would be if he ever lost Janice.

"Yeah," Drew agreed, lost in his thoughts for a moment. Then another thought came into his head, one he'd harboured for a few weeks now, waiting for the right moment. Now, thinking about tangled relationships, seemed to be the most appropriate time.

"Don't take this the wrong way, Al," he said, seriously, watching his pal take another pull from his can of John Smiths, "talking about the subject of extra-marital, reminded me of your sister."

"Oh yes?" Alan still had a smile on his face at his friend's clear embarrassment.

"Yeah, I've been hearing rumours that Jack is up to his old tricks again."

Alan sighed. He'd been putting this off too, Janice had been chewing his ear to do something about it for a month now and, as urgent action was required, he had mulled over it for long enough and had intended bringing it up with Jack today. Only Jack shied off, no doubt so he could meet some woman he was seeing. Sherry deserved better than that slimy toe rag.

"Yeah," he admitted, "I heard that too. What we gonna do about it?"

Alan wasn't slow or dumb, but he was hardly a man of the world. Married at 23 to the one and only girl in his life, he had a simple naïve existence which he was reluctant to complicate. He drove his forklift all day and hardly spoke to anyone at work, at home he was surrounded by his loving wife and two adorable little angels. His hobbies were his family, making wooden toys in his workshop, caring for his racing pigeons and the boat, not necessarily in that order. Simple, uncomplicated, a life relatively without stress.

Drew on the other hand was out in the community all day and many evenings, selling, networking, juggling different complicated insurance plans and gearing them to the requirements of his clients. Alan had taken on what insurances and saving plans he could afford too, and knew that Drew was straight as they come. Any advice he gave on any subject would be insightful, considered and therefore worth considering.

"I was hoping Jack'd be here today," Drew said, "So we could have it out with him and, if he didn't change his ways we'd lash him to the anchor and bump him along the bottom for a couple of hours. What'yer think?"

Yeah, thought Alan, that was considered, pretty much what I would do. He laughed and drained his can.

"Sherry always had a crush on you," he grinned.

"When?" Drew's eyebrows raised.

"Since she was about 9 and you started coming round to see me again after our little trial separation," Alan admitted, "And she still says nice things about you whenever you come up in the conversation."

"When do I come up in the conversation, then?"

"All the bloody time," Alan grinned, as he clambered down the engine way, before an empty can came his way, "We hardly talk about anything else!"

Then he was gone, leaving Drew alone with only the empty ocean for company.

Just then one of the reels clicked, indicating a nibble. Drew picked up the rod, felt the bite and struck the hook firmly with a flick of his wrist, noting that the fish was hooked, off and running.

Drew began the process of reeling it in, letting it run and reeling in once more. Sooner than usual the fight was over and he could reel his first catch of the day in. He knew by the feel of it that it was a sizeable specimen and he'd need the gaff to get the monster out of the water, but that was well out of reach in the wheelhouse and Alan was also out of sight and earshot with the engine.

The fish was totally played out and was hauled to the surface with barely a flap of its broad tail. What a strange fish, Drew thought, he had never seen anything like it. It was about three feet or so long and looked like a mirror carp but of course he knew that carp were freshwater fish that couldn't possibly survive this far out to sea.

He estimated it weighed about 40 pounds. It lay there placidly in the water, as if it was completely played out. It would be a stretch, he knew, but he could reach down and pull it out, although it would be a strain. Drew kept himself pretty fit but this was risky. All the while the fish rested it was naturally garnering its strength for another run, no doubt hoping for success this time.

Damn it, thought Drew, I don't want to lose this fish.

He stretched down over the gunwale, wrapped his hands around and under the large fish and braced himself to lift the monster onto the boat. He took the strain slowly and careful, drawing the beast forth from the reluctant suction of its native environment. Remarkably, the fish didn't react adversely to being lifted, almost as if it sensed that Drew meant it no harm.

At the moment he lifted that fish, Drew could honestly say that the only thoughts running through his head were of wanting to see this beautiful specimen close up, not even an inkling of any other event or consequence occurred to him. There was no malice, triumph in winning a battle, sense of achievement or otherwise, only an overwhelming admiration for the indescribable beauty of one of God's exquisite creations.

As the water streamed off the fish and it emerged into the clear as crystal air, the sun shone on the golden scales, each individual mirror reflecting a contorted image of Drew's face, while he himself was filled with wonderment at this glorious sight.

His strong arms hauled the fish over the side of the boat, fluids draining off the body streamed to the deck around his feet and down his trousers. Drew kicked a towel off one of the benches and spread it out carefully with a foot as he balanced the heavy fish in his arms, trying his best not to rub off scales or damage it in any way. He got down to his knees and laid the fish on the now very wet towel and carefully removed his arms from underneath, draping the ends of the towel over the fish to prevent it drying out.

He sat back on the bench and regarded his capture for a moment while he caught his breath. He was sure he had held in his breath during the whole of the extraction process. The fish just lay there on its side, looking at him with its baleful eye, mouth open, almost as if it was breathing like a mammal rather than gasping like an aquatic out of its natural element. It languidly flapped its tail and one end of the towel slipped away. Drew got down on his knees once more and adjusted the towel, overlapping the ends and thus reducing the risk of it falling off, leaving only the head and tail fins exposed to the desiccating air in the welcome shade of the gunwale.

"You are beautiful," he breathed, hardly able to contain his sense of wonderment at the glorious creature of the deep immediately in front of him. He had never seen anything so stunning in all his life. He bent down and kissed the fish on its head without a second thought.

He had kissed fish before, never quite as reverentially as this particular one, of course. He laughed inwardly, remembering that his first kiss was not with a girl, no it was five or six years earlier than that! His first smacker, planted on the very first muddy reservoir carp he caught at the age of nine, was tentative at best. Later specimens were pressed to his lips more enthusiastically, accompanied by an appropriate exclamation of joy or triumph as well as appreciation, typically such as "You absolute beauty!", but none of those triumphant milestones had touched him to his very soul as this latest piscine treasure had.

Drew glanced back at the engine hatch to check that Alan hadn't seen his brief act of devotional reverence. Then he thought he needed to get some seawater to keep the fish wet, and pour the water across its gills to keep it alive longer. He toyed with the idea of putting it back in the water as soon as Alan had seen it. The thought of gutting, filleting, freezing and later cooking and eating it never even crossed his mind.

In the wheelhouse were a stack of buckets, all with ropes attached. He fetched one and tossed it in the water and dragged it back to the boat, filled to overflowing with bright seawater. As he did so he leaned over the engine hatch and yelled to Alan to come up and see what he had caught.

The echoey reply was somewhat short-tempered and conveyed the muffled message that did he realise the boat's engineer was right up to his armpits right now in muck and bullets and would be another three or four minutes if it pleased his lordship and master?

Drew grinned at the reply and turned around to view the fish where he left it safely in the well of the boat and dropped his bucket in surprise. The water sloshed up his trouser legs and splashed across the deck and ran out through the scuppers. The fish was no longer there!

In its place, or rather sitting on the bench above the well where it had previously lain almost inert, was a creature which could only be described as a ... mermaid!

Drew stood there, his mouth dropping open as his jaw muscles failed to respond to any positive signals from his brain, which had gone completely into overdrive. There in front of him was that object of legend, part female, part fish!

It couldn't possibly be real, could it? But his eyes added the evidence of substance to any notion of incredulity. This was no heat-haze mirage, no smoke and mirrors trickery, nor projected CGI hologram as an elaborate if belated April Fool, but a real embodied, heavenly bodied he noticed, creature of substance, flesh and blood.

The towel was wrapped around her, hanging from her shoulders. The being was clearly feminine, although the recognisable biological gender indicators and the somewhat alien transition between the species was conveniently (for her, not him) veiled by the damp cloth, the effect not unlike that of a wet teeshirt was not totally lost on Drew's cognitive senses. Her tail glistened in the sunshine, the fin laterally undulating languidly. He raised his eyes from the fin to the face again to realise that what should be a manifestation of unmitigated horror was actually a vision of unbelievable beauty, lithe in shape and elegantly attractive in appearance.

She was carrying an enigmatic smile on her heart-shaped face, which was unblemished and stunning, decorated in delicate freckles. Her hair was outstanding, thick and long lustrous tresses like spun gold flowing over her shoulders and tumbling in shimmering waves down to her waist. Her delicate shoulders were flat and square, her arms slender and pale in colour the upper surface covered in pale freckles reminiscent of the scales which were probably their original form.

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bySpencerfiction© 7 comments/ 11918 views/ 11 favorites

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