Captain Mullet and the Compass Rose
Captain Mullet and the Compass Rose
Chapter 1: the apprentice
"Silly bitch almost ran me over," Henry shouted to the leathernecks as he pedaled his vintage Huffy ten-speed up the drawbridge. The men along the rail turned and nodded, then continued fishing - winding their spinning reels, baiting their hooks, working the late morning nibbles. It was too hot for conversation, and Henry expected no reply – just an opportunity to vent his endless agitations and to openly hold the world in contempt, "as is everyone's God-given right."
He ducked under a fishing rod cocked over a shoulder for a fresh cast - bait dangling - a drop of water hit the pavement. Henry thought he could hear it sizzle as he pedaled along, reeling over the bloated redhead who'd been yakking on her cell phone in the Jaguar convertible that had almost hit him as he crossed Federal Highway. She'd tried to beat the cross-traffic by ripping a right-on-red until Henry's sudden appearance in the crosswalk forced the lumbering cat to a full and proper stop. She slammed on the brakes, dropped her cell phone, and then had the nerve to honk.
Henry laughed at the Jag's feeble British horn, and as she drove by him up the bridge, he saluted her appropriately, flinging the gesture skyward with such intensity that his bike swerved and hit a plastic bait bucket, which ricocheted off the curb, bounced between passing car fenders like a pinball, then exploded.
Water cascaded down the bridge. Shrimp floundered, horns blew, cars skidded, and the leathernecks scurried about, tripping over their rods to rescue as many of the twitching crustaceans as possible, herding slippery handfuls to the safety of their buckets before the hot asphalt cooked them.
The traffic came to a stand-still. Henry smiled and crossed effortlessly over the draw-span to the bridge-house. He parked his bike, looked back at the chaos and denied culpability. "See what happens when they close the fishing pier? Idiots end up crowding the right-of-way," he said aloud, before noticing his favorite Topsiders were splattered with blood from a gaffed barracuda tail-slapping the pavement by the bridge-house door.
"Morons," he mumbled, looking up at the sign that he, himself, had put up - NO FISHING WITHIN 30 FEET OF BRIDGE-HOUSE, widely disregarded.
He shoved the 'cuda off into the water with the side of his foot, yelled something unintelligible to the leathernecks, hosed his deck shoes and grumbled, knowing his sockless feet would squeak against the leather insoles for the rest of the day.
He rinsed the fish blood from the sidewalk, slung the hose over the faucet, fished-out the bridge-house key from his pocket, and opened the big metal door. He walked in and slipped the key over a nail on the inside wall. His scowl tightened at the smell of burnt coffee as he squeaked up the stairs, shaking his head, knowing old Frank had left the pot on all night...again.
The snarled traffic, the fat redhead, the wet shoes, and the burnt coffee – the usual, Henry thought. The stifling heat drained his spirit, drew away his tolerance, and attenuated the misery his life had become. He anticipated the usual venting of his torment on poor Frank, who thankfully, was senile enough that he had no memory of Henry's prior tirades. Frank would respond the same way he always responded: "Well, don't that just figure," which only fanned Henry's fire.
Whenever it got this hot, Captain Henry would remember his years in the Navy - the South Pacific, the heat waves rising off the deck of his ship, the humidity, the sweat. He'd helmed ships large and small; commanded crews young and old; stood his vigil in wartimes and peacetime. From the vantage of his ship's bridge, he had navigated through calm waters and