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Cutting Bait


I wasn’t there the morning they found old Bill Yawley with a knife in his chest at the fish camp, but you can be sure I heard all about it when I got back. Story went, and this was from several reliable sources, someone shoved a filet knife straight into Darryl’s chest, clean through his yellow rubber waders, and either he fell back into his chair or he was sitting when he got stabbed. Don’t really matter much either way. They found him sitting there, on one of those cheap, white plastic chairs you see in pictures on the internet making fun of a storm that never quite happens, where one of them is blown over. Bill was just sitting there in front of his trailer, no one paying him any mind at first, assuming he’d passed out in his chair the night before. Nothing unusual about that. That was until Dale Rennick walked passed and realized Bill’s eyes were wide open and he wasn’t breathing. That’s when Dale saw the knife sticking out of his chest. 

Evelyn from the management office told me that the crime scene—that’s what she called Bill’s lot for a few days until someone told her to cut it out—she said the yard was strangely clean when Dale found him, him being stabbed and all, because whatever blood had leaked out of Bill’s scrawny ass had simply filled up his bibs, the way you’d fill up a water balloon. Now you wouldn’t think a man as skinny as Bill would have that much blood in him, but you’d be shocked how much a man can bleed. I’ve seen it first-hand and it’s a sight. Evelyn said when they went to move the body, blood spilled out everywhere and made quite a mess. Dale helped the Sheriff and one of the EMT’s clean it up, the best they could, but you can still see dark patches in the dirt in front of Bill’s trailer. Like black oil, soaked into the dirt.

Funny thing Dale told me though, he said Bill had a surprised look on his face when he got up on him, which if I’m being honest here, almost made me spit out my coffee when he told me. I’ll bet he was surprised, I told him. 

No one else was though. Everyone in that camp knew someone was going to kill old Bill sooner or later. He was dumb as a stump, and couldn’t keep his nose out of everyone’s business. Insisted on a constant stream of chatter that was as annoying as it was constant. Bill was widely disliked in camp, but he’d been here longer than anyone else, so everyone treated him like the fixture he was. Sort of like the big old gull that everyone just puts up with at the dock. You know as sure as look at him that he’s gonna steal your catch the moment you let your guard down, but you feed him anyway, just to shut him up. Assholes got to live too, dumb and chatty or not.

That was the funny thing about Bill though. You’d have thought he was most popular guy in camp, the way he went on about himself and the stories no one wanted to hear. Wouldn’t have occurred to him that anyone would want to kill him, let alone have a disagreement with him, but kill him someone did, and no one really seemed all that upset about his sudden demise. It’s no wonder he died with a look of surprise on his face. I guess someone had finally had enough or Bill had gotten his nose into someplace he shouldn’t. It was most likely the latter. There are some rough characters around these parts, to be sure, but not so much that they’d kill you simply for being annoying. Wouldn’t be anyone left standing. If I was betting man, I’d guess Bill’s curiosity got the best of him, and he weren’t no cat. 

People at the fish camp are a different sort. Most keep to themselves, even though it’s a small place, without much privacy. Folks are friendly enough in a casual manner. Offer you a can of beer. Sit and talk about the weather, and what’s running maybe, the price of fuel and the Phillies when they’re winning, but you keep your own counsel when it comes to your personal affairs. Like I say, it’s a small camp, and not too much goes on without everyone else knowing about it, but it’s a quiet affair. Maybe a nod or a whisper. But it ain’t loud and it’s never in the open. Except with Bill. He didn’t have any secrets, none that you’d know of anyhow, and he didn’t figure you were gonna have any either. It was pretty widely known that if you wanted to make sure everyone knew something, you just told Bill and before you get out of our front door, the whole camp would know.

Fisherman are a different sort of breed. Working the boats in season. Man can make a fair bit of change if you hook up with a decent boat. Not a lot of sense in paying taxes in the minds of lot of these characters, so a lot of them exist off the grid, paying bills in cash, and no one knowing where they are, or how to find them.

I’m not saying they’re criminals or bad men, but let’s just say that everyone here has bent the rules on what the government decides is legal or not, and who hasn’t hauled up a bundle or two, wrapped in grey plastic, and worth more than you can make in a season. What’s legal or not is arbitrary anyway, made up according to who gets paid, by stiffs in suits. No, most of these guys are not too keen on the law, or anyone asking too many questions.

A man’s worth around here is what he can pull from the sea. You have to be worth your salt, or you won’t last. Fish or cut bait, as they say. Get to work or move aside and let someone who knows how.

That’s what happened to old Bill I would guess. He never really was worth a damn, but I suppose he got to be a might too expensive for someone, even worthless as he was. For at least one soul, Bill knowing what he knew, and not knowing when to shut up, was a price too high, and they decided to cut bait rather than having to move on.

That’s life on the salt. Can be unforgiving as fuck and messy to boot. Good people lose everything, scoundrels skate free, and fools get cut. It’s always been like that. Since I been around anyways.

A few days later I saw the Sheriff at the post office and asked about Bill. Sheriff, tipped his baseball cap a bit and looked at me to get a sense of what I was asking. I made no move respond further, so he said, “No one saw nothing. No one heard nothing. Nobody ever does. I don’t suppose you know anything,” he said. It wasn’t a question really. Just for a foregone conclusion. I didn’t answer so the sheriff walked to his truck and got in. I walked to my truck and got in. The sheriff was still looking at me, so I waited for him to say whatever it was he was going to say.

“Don’t suppose anyone is going to miss old Bill,” he said slowly. “But I don’t like to see dark business like that happen around here. Sets a bad example. Makes my job harder than it needs to be.”

He turned his truck over, thought for a minute more, then said, “You tell them folks at the camp, I’ll be looking into this. Anyone I find might have had a reason to kill a nosey old man, I’ll be looking at extra hard. You tell em.”

I knew exactly what he meant and repeated what he told me to Dale that afternoon over a can of Coors. Come morning, three of the guys had checked out. Left early, telling Evelyn at the office they didn’t expect to be back.

Like I said, doesn’t take long for word to travel in camp.

About the author

David Todd McCarty

David Todd McCarty is a writer, director, photographer and cinematographer. He writes fiction and nonfiction essays as well as journalism. You can see his commercial work at http://www.hoppingfrogstudios.com

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Writer | Journalist | Storyteller


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