Gray Ghost

THE ALARM IN STONEY CALHOUN’S HEAD jangled at 2:55, five minutes before the redundant wind-up clock beside his bed was scheduled to go off. Calhoun’s internal alarm hadn’t failed him yet, but he still didn’t quite trust it.

He lay there for a minute, looking out the window at the woods and sky. The stars were bright up there beyond the pines, and clouds shaped like cigars were drifting over the face of the gibbous September moon. It was a few days shy of the full Harvest moon.

He focused on the pine boughs. Not a needle was quivering. Not a breath of breeze. With luck it would stay that way for the next few hours, and the Bay would be flat calm, and they’d find fish working the surface. The bluefish and striped bass were on their southward migration. They moved fast and unpredictably, and sometimes the whole damn ocean seemed empty of fish. But when you found them, they were hungry and violent and happy to crash a fly stripped fast across the surface.

Clear skies and no wind in Dublin, thirty-odd miles west of the sea, didn’t mean clear skies and no wind on Casco Bay, of course. But it was a hopeful sign.

Calhoun switched on the light beside the bed. Ralph Waldo, his Brittany spaniel, was curled in a ball and pressing hard against Calhoun’s hip. He scratched the dog’s ribs. “Hey, Bud,” he said. “You want to go fishin’?”

‘Fishin’’ was one of those many magic words that got an instant response from Ralph. He jerked up his head, cocked his ears, and peered into Calhoun’s eyes to be sure he wasn’t making some kind of cruel joke.

“Hop to it, then,” said Calhoun. “We don’t want to find Mr. Vecchio already waiting at the landing for us. Kate doesn’t like it when the client gets there before the guide.”

Ralph yawned, slithered off the bed, stretched, and trotted to the door.
Calhoun got up, turned on some more lights, and let Ralph out. He switched on the electric coffee pot, turned on the classical music station from Portland, and went back into the bedroom to get dressed. He liked his music loud. Music wasn’t for background. Music deserved to be listened to, even if you had only one useful ear.
Calhoun found himself humming along, but he couldn’t place the composer. Sibelius, maybe. The symphony was lush and melodious, the way he liked it, and he was pretty sure that he used to know it.

He pulled on a pair of old jeans, a flannel shirt, and his Topsiders. Then he let Ralph in and gave him his breakfast. While Ralph was eating, Calhoun loaded his cooler with the ham-and-cheese-on-pumpernickel sandwiches he’d made the night before, a couple of Hershey bars, a few apples, and half a dozen bottles of frozen water. The water served two purposes. You could drink it, and meanwhile it would keep the food cool.

A lot of guides packed beer for their clients, but not Calhoun. He didn’t see the point. You could drink beer anytime.

He filled a Thermos with coffee, poured himself a mugful for the truck ride, clicked his tongue at Ralph, and lugged the cooler outside. He hefted it into the truck bed, then opened the door for Ralph, who scrambled into the passenger’s seat.

Calhoun went back inside to turn off the lights and the music. He stood there on his deck for a minute, looking up at the black starry sky, happy for the isolation of his little house in the woods. Some wispy clouds were gathering over toward the east, which might mean overcast on the coast. The air smelled cool and clean and piney. At the foot of the slope out back, Bitch Creek gurgled over rocks and gravel, another kind of music that Calhoun paid attention to.

A pair of barred owls were talking back and forth in the woods. Who-who-ha-whoooooo. One was calling from behind the cabin, and the answer came from up near the road.

Calhoun put his hands around his mouth and gave his own barred-owl call. Who-who-ha-whoooo. That shut them up. He smiled, thinking of those owls trying to figure out where this third party, some new interloping barred owl with an attitude, suddenly came from.

He checked the trailer hitch, made sure all the gear was lashed down and the motor was locked up, then climbed in beside Ralph. He turned on the ignition, found the Sibelius on the radio, and cracked Ralph’s window open.

“Let’s go have some fun,” he said.

Ralph didn’t say anything. He was ready to go.

* * *

Calhoun munched a donut and sipped his coffee as he followed his headlights eastward along the empty road. Ralph stood on his seat with his nose poking out his cracked-open window. The Sibelius filled the cab.

Calhoun always felt especially alert and virtuous when he was on the move in the pre-dawn darkness. The roads were empty of other traffic, and no lights glowed from the windows of the scattered houses and gas stations along the roadside. I’m awake, thought Calhoun, and you’re still asleep. I’ve already started living this day. I’ve got the jump on you.

Passages from novels and essays, and sometimes entire poems, had a way of sticking in Calhoun’s memory, further cluttering his brain. Now he recalled something Thoreau had said. “The morning, which is the most memorable season of the day, is the awakening hour. Then there is least somnolence in us; and for an hour, at least, some part of us awakes which slumbers all the rest of the day and night.”

It was still dark when he arrived at the East End boat ramp. Calhoun didn’t wear a watch. He usually didn’t see any point in knowing what time it was, but when he did want to know, he always could tell, whether it was by the angle of the sun or the moon or just the quality of the light or darkness. Now, according to his internal clock, it was about 4:15. Mr. Vecchio was supposed to arrive at 4:30. High tide was around seven. A perfect morning tide for stripers. The sun would rise a little after 6:15. Calhoun liked to be on the water about an hour and a half before sunrise.

There were a couple of trucks with empty trailers already parked in the lot — fishermen even more virtuous than Calhoun, out on the water already. Or maybe they’d been out all night. Some guys did that, mostly chunkers and deep-trollers and eel free-spoolers. Those guys caught a lot of big fish.

He backed his trailered 18-foot aluminum boat, a Lund Alaskan, into the water, got out, unhitched it, tied it off, and parked the truck. Then he let Ralph out and lugged the gear down to the boat.

Some lights on tall poles cast the parking lot and the boat landing in a fuzzy orange light. Beyond the reach of the lights, the darkness was absolute. You couldn’t even see the horizon where the sun was supposed to rise in a couple of hours. Here on the coast, the foggy air was moist and dense and smelled like old seaweed, and no moon or stars lit up the sky.

Somewhere out there a foghorn honked. Otherwise it was still and dark and silent.
Ralph was staring at some comorants that were sitting on top of the pilings. When he decided they weren’t partridges and were therefore unworthy of his attention, he wandered around the landing, sniffing seaweed and clamshells and seagull shit. He peed on the pilings, then hopped into the boat and lay down on the bottom, trying to be inconspicuous in case Calhoun changed his mind and banished him to the truck.

Calhoun had no intention of leaving Ralph behind. Ralph was good company in a boat, and he loved to go fishing.

Calhoun set up three rods, clamped on reels, strung them up, and tied on flies — a yellow foam Gurgler on the eight-weight floating line for the surface, a tan-and-white Clouser Minnow on a full-sinking nine-weight line for going deep, and a big chartreuse-and-white Deceiver on the nine-weight intermediate line with some wire leader in case they ran into bluefish. He mashed down the barbs with needle-nose pliers and sharpened the hook points with a file. He made sure the foul-weather gear and lifejackets were stowed away in the watertight lockers. He lowered the 40-horse Honda outboard, started it up, listened to its quiet, confident hum, and turned it off. Then he tested the electric trolling motor.

All systems go.

Just about then, headlights swept over the landing. Calhoun figured it was 4:25. Mr. Vecchio was right on time.

He climbed out of the boat and walked up to the parking area to meet Mr. Paul Vecchio, with whom he’d be sharing his boat and his dog and his favorite striper holes, rips and flats for the next eight hours. This was an intimate experience, and it mattered a great deal to Calhoun that he liked his client. If he found the man self-important or humorless or bossy, Calhoun became taciturn and sarcastic. He tended to steer clear of his favorite fishing spots with such a client aboard.

Kate kept telling him that he needed to improve his attitude, and Calhoun guessed she was probably right. But it went against his grain, and he never gave it much effort.

So he hoped he was going to like this Paul Vecchio. All Kate had told him about the man was that he was a history professor driving down from Penobscot College in Augusta. He’d written a few books, Kate said, and he was a competent angler, although he hadn’t done much saltwater fishing.

Calhoun knew a couple of writers. He found them to be day-dreamy and cynical and surprisingly uncommunicative, which suited him just fine. A lot of loud talk didn’t go well in Stoney Calhoun’s boat.

He didn’t much care how skilled his clients were. It was always fun to have a good fisherman aboard, but Calhoun liked teaching anybody who knew he needed it and was receptive to learning, too.

By the time Calhoun had walked up the ramp to the parking lot, the man was coming toward him. In the fuzzy orange light Calhoun saw that he was tall and rangy with a long creased face and a dark beard peppered with gray. He wore a Red Sox baseball cap, blue jeans, and a green flannel shirt. He had a couple of aluminum fly-rod cases in his hand, and a black gear bag was slung over his shoulder.

“Mr. Calhoun?” the man called.

“You Mr. Vecchio?”

The man waved and came toward him. Calhoun figured he was somewhere in his fifties.

“So do I call you professor?” said Calhoun.

“Call me Paul,” he said. “Please. Anyway, I’m not really a professor. Just a lowly adjunct.”

“Adjunct,” said Calhoun. “What’s that?”

Vecchio smiled. “A college teacher who better have another source of income.”

“Lowly,” said Calhoun. “So what’s your other source of income, if you don’t mind me asking?”

He shrugged. “I’ve written a couple books.”

“About what?”

“Narrative history. For the mass market. Books that people might actually want to read. I did one about the submarine warfare off the New England coast in the second World War?” He made a question of it.

Calhoun smiled. He hadn’t heard of it.

“They made a PBS movie out of it,” said Vecchio, “brought it out in paperback.” He waved the back of his hand in the air. “More than you wanted to know. The royalties allow me to be an exploited adjunct professor and go fishing once in a while.”

“I’ll have to check it out,” said Calhoun, who once again was reminded of everything he didn’t know, all the stuff he probably used to know before he got zapped by lightning.

Paul Vecchio held out his hand. “I’ve sure been looking forward to this.”

“Yep. Me, too.” Calhoun gripped his hand. It was strong and rough. Not what you’d expect from a college professor, even a lowly adjunct. “You should call me Stoney. So you all set to rock and roll?”

“I lay awake all night thinking about it,” said Vecchio. “Excited like a kid. I literally didn’t sleep a wink. I don’t get fishing enough.”

“Can’t promise we’ll catch anything,” said Calhouon, “but I’m pretty sure we’ll have some fun trying.”

Vecchio grinned. “That’s why they call if fishing, not catching. Suits me fine.”

Calhoun decided right then that he liked this man. He knew that snap judgments and first impressions were supposed to be unreliable, but he relied on his, and he was hardly ever wrong. It wasn’t just the man’s open smile or the way he sort of jangled when he walked or the fact that he liked fishing, though all those things were pluses in Calhoun’s book.

No, it was more than that. Stoney Calhoun had a feel for people that sometimes got downright spooky. It was as if he could climb into their heads and know what they were feeling. When somebody was lying or dissembling or withholding some truth, or just being a phony, Calhoun got a jittery, uncomfortable feeling.

“I got some rods all set up,” said Calhoun. “If you’d rather use yours, that’s okay, but . . .”

“No, that’s fine,” said Vecchio, “let’s use yours. I wasn’t sure what I’d need.”

“Another thing,” said Calhoun. “I got some rules in my boat.”

Vecchio shrugged. “I don’t mind rules. Hell, it’s your boat.”

“So what’ve you got in that bag?”

“This?” Vecchio patted the bag hanging from his shoulder. It was shaped like a miniature duffel bag, and the letters L. L. Bean were stitched along the side. “I got a windbreaker and a camera, pair of pliers, fish knife, couple boxes of flies. Dry pair of socks. Sunscreen and bug dope.” He shrugged. “Is that a problem?”

“Nope. Tie your own flies?”

Vecchio grinned. “I’m not very good at it, but I find it relaxing.”

“Me, too,” said Calhoun. “We can try some of your flies if you want, once we figure out what they’re eating.”

“It’s always fun to catch fish on your own flies,” said Vecchio.

“What about electronics?” said Calhoun. “On my boat, no damn cell phones, no pagers, no laptop computers, no Palm Pilots, no GPS.”

Vecchio reached into his pants pocket and took out a cellular phone. “I understand about the GPS,” he said. “Somebody could mark your secret hotspots.” He smiled. “I guess I understand the rest of it, too. Confounded devices. Incompatible with fly fishing. You mind if I bring along the camera?”

“I got no problem with cameras,” said Calhoun. “Leave the damn phone.”

Vecchio went back to his car, opened the rear hatch, and shoved his rod cases in back. Then he went around to the front door and leaned in for a moment, putting his cell phone away. Then he returned to where Calhoun was waiting, and they walked down to the boat.

Vecchio didn’t seem surprised to find an orange-and-white Brittany lying on the floor, and Ralph didn’t seem surprised when the tall guy hopped in. Vecchio patted Ralph’s head, and Ralph sniffed Vecchio’s hand, and that was that.

“All set?” said Calhoun.

Vecchio put his little camera in his pocket and stowed his L. L. Bean bag in the watertight compartment under the middle seat. Then he took the front seat and said, “All set, Captain.”

Calhoun started up the motor and steered his way slowly through the fog and the dark among the buoys that marked the channel. Here and there the silhouette of a moored sailboat or lobster boat loomed up, and over the soft burble of the motor came the clank of some rigging and the squawk of a gull.

Paul Vecchio sat on the front seat sipping from his coffee mug. He didn’t ask a lot of questions or try to make conversation, which was a big relief. Calhoun figured Kate had prepped the man for a morning in his boat. “Stoney hates small talk,” she probably said. “Start asking him personal questions, he’ll clam right up. And he ain’t particularly impressed with credentials, so it don’t do any good to brag about your accomplishments. He don’t mind talking about fishing and dogs. That’s about it.”

When they cleared the harbor, Calhoun goosed the motor, the bow of the Lund lifted, then settled, and they were skimming across the flat water. Vecchio turned in his seat and pointed at the islands they passed, and Calhoun named them for him, yelling over the drone of the motor. Great Diamond. Peaks. Long. Little and Great Chebeague. He shrugged at some of the smaller ones. They all had names, he supposed. But he didn’t know them.

After five or six minutes, he cut the motor. As the boat drifted on its momentum, he pulled the rod with the sinking line out of its holder and tapped Vecchio on the shoulder with it. “We got a nice rip running up ahead there,” he said. “Climb up on the casting platform and throw your Clouser in there a few times, see if anybody’s home.”

The rip was an area between a couple of little islands where ledges and rocks funneled the currents across a sandbar on an oncoming tide. The place was no secret among the Casco Bay regulars, but nobody else was here this morning, and it usually held a few fish. Paul Vecchio handled the heavy sinking line and the lead-eyed Clouser well enough. If a man could cast that rig, he could cast anything. He dropped the fly along the edge of the current, held his rod tip low, and stripped it back.

After five or six casts with no hits, Calhoun said, “Try throwing it all the way across and let the current swing it. Just keep a tight line and follow it along with your rod.”
Vecchio did it that way, and on his third cast his line went tight, and his rod bowed. “Got one,” he grunted, and Calhoun heard the glee in his voice. “Feels big.”

After a few minutes, he got the fish alongside, and Calhoun reached down and grabbed it by its lower jaw. A nice striper, 24 or 25 inches, nothing special. He slid the barbless Clouser out of its mouth and let it slide back into the ocean.

“How big was that fish?” said Vecchio.

“Couple feet. Decent fish.”

“I was thinking of getting a picture.”

“Sorry,” said Calhoun. “Guess we better catch ourselves a bigger one.”

They fished the rip for another ten minutes with no more hits, so Vecchio reeled in and Calhoun cranked up the motor.

They worked a rocky point off the back of Great Chebeague with no luck. They found some stripers swirling and sloshing on a grass flat near Cliff Island, and Paul Vecchio took three or four small ones on the surface with the Gurgler before the fish disappeared.

They cruised around for a few minutes, and then half a mile off to the east where the horizon was growing silvery through the fog, Calhoun spotted a swarm of birds. He gunned the motor. As they got closer, he could see the spurts and sloshes of blitzing fish under the birds. They had corralled a dense school of baitfish. Peanut bunker, probably. The predators were bluefish, Calhoun guessed, though there were likely some stripers mixed in. Big striped bass sometimes lurked a few feet under the schools of bluefish and smaller stripers that slashed the bait at the surface, waiting for some bloody hunks of fish to sink down to them. Easy pickins for the smart old cows.

Paul Vecchio was standing up in the boat snapping photos with his little digital camera. “Lookit that,” he kept saying. “Will you lookit that! Holy shit. This is awesome. What fun!”

“You here to have fun,” said Calhoun, “or to fish? Grab a rod and get to work.” He handed Vecchio the rod with the wire leader and the Deceiver. “Let her sink a little before you start stripping.”

Adrenaline filled the air. Diving, screaming gulls and terns. Panicky, leaping baitfish. Marauding, slashing blues and stripers. And, of course, the fisherman and his guide, pumped and predatory themselves. Calhoun felt his own pulse racing.

Paul Vecchio began casting. He was sloppy, trying too hard, and his fly kept landing short.

Calhoun didn’t say anything, and after a few minutes Vecchio found his timing and winged the Deceiver into the midst of that bloody chaos.

And for about half an hour it was a fish on every cast. Calhoun and Vecchio didn’t say much. When the fish moved away, Calhoun turned on the trolling motor and caught up with them. Vecchio grunted and laughed and cursed happily. The bluefish ran to a size — ten to twelve pounds, big, strong, toothy gamefish — and there were a couple of two-foot stripers, too.

When Vecchio finally calmed down a little, Calhoun said, “Let your fly sink for a count of ten before you start bringing it back. The big smart girls like to hang out under all that commotion on top, let the little guys do all the work chopping up the bait, and then pick off the hunks that sink down to them.”

“That could work as a metaphor,” said Vecchio.

“Metaphor?” said Calhoun. “I’m just trying to tell you how to catch a big fish.”

“The big ones are girls?” said Vecchio.

“Mostly. All the smart ones are. And that ain’t supposed to be metaphor, either.”
Vecchio made a long cast, let it sink for a count of ten, began to strip it back. Then something really heavy latched onto it.

Fifteen minutes later Vecchio muscled the big fish alongside, and Calhoun lifted it into the boat. “Big cow striper,” he said. He put the tape on her. “Thirty-eight inches. Not quite a keeper, but an awfully nice fish.”

“Wouldn’t keep her anyway,” said Vecchio. “Fish like that, she should keep having babies.” He grinned. “That’s the biggest fish I ever caught on a fly rod. Thank you, captain.”

Calhoun used Vecchio’s digital camera to take a couple of photos of him holding his big fish. Then they let her go.

Vecchio collapsed onto the seat. “You’re wearing me out, Stoney,” he said. “How about we take a little break? I gotta stretch my legs, take a leak, have some coffee, let my heart get back to normal.”

Calhoun shook his head. “Nope. Not now. Those fish ain’t going to hang around waiting for us. Stoney’s Rule. Never leave feeding fish. God gave you a pecker so you could pee over the side of a boat.”

Vecchio smiled.

“Go ahead,” said Calhoun. “Ralph won’t be offended.”

“Come on, man,” said Vecchio. “Give me a break.”

“You got up with the owls, hired me to bring you all the way out here . . . why? To find you a good place to take a leak?”

Vecchio grinned. “I’ll just take a minute. I’ve got to stretch out these old muscles.”

Don’t argue with the client, Kate was always telling him. He’s paying his money. Give him what he wants.

Calhoun shrugged. “Okay. We’ll go ashore, and you can take your leak. Let’s make it quick.”

While they’d been following the blitzing fish, the sun had cracked the horizon. Now it filtered through the haze and misty fog. The sea was flat as far as you could see. The rocky islands that peppered the bay were lumpy gray shapes.

Vecchio turned around, lifted the lid on the middle seat, got out his gear bag, and turned around so that he was again facing forward. He sat there with his back to Calhoun and the bag on his lap, rummaged around in it, and finally came out with a bottle of sunscreen. He squirted some into his hands and rubbed it over his face and neck, all the time looking around at the ocean and the islands.

He turned around and held up the bottle of sunscreen. “Want some, Stoney?”

Calhoun shook his head.

“You should always wear sunscreen,” said Vecchio.

“I know,” said Calhoun. “The ozone layer and all. I got some. I use it.”

“Okay. Good.” Vecchio put away his sunscreen, zipped up his bag, stowed it back in the waterproof locker under the middle seat. He looked around for a few minutes, then said, “So where we going to go ashore?”

“First place we can land on, I guess,” said Calhoun.

“How about that island over there?” Vecchio pointed off to the left at one of the larger lumpy shapes.

“Okay by me.” Calhoun started up the motor and putted over to the island. There was a sheltered cove where he spotted a little patch of sand. Otherwise, the shoreline was a jumble of boulders.

“This island got a name?” said Vecchio.

“It’s got some Indian name I can’t pronounce,” said Calhoun. “Folks around here call it Quarantine Island. And me, being a salty Maine guide, I can tell you the story, if you want to hear it.”

Vecchio turned around in his seat and grinned. “Of course I want to hear it. Me, being a writer, I love stories.”

“It’s not a happy story.”

“Too late to tell me that,” said Vecchio. “I still want to hear it.”

Calhoun throttled down the motor so that they were barely moving. “During the influenza epidemic back during the first world war,” he said, “the government build a kind of halfway house out on this island. Don’t know why they picked this one. I suppose because it’s rocky and godforsaken and no good for anything else.” He swept his hand around the bay. “They call all these the Calendar Islands. Know why?”

Vecchio smiled and shook his head.

“Someone figured there are as many islands on Casco Bay as there are days in a year. I guess if you count the rocks that stick up on low tide that’s pretty close.” Calhoun shrugged. “Anyway, they erected this hospital-type of place here on Quarantine Island for newly-arrived immigrants. They kept ‘em here before they’d let them set foot on the mainland. Anybody they thought might have the flu or even might’ve been exposed to it — or just anybody they didn’t like the looks of, probably — were sent here. Men, women, old people, babies. They were mostly Italians. Catholic nuns ran the place. They didn’t treat the people with medicine. It wasn’t really a hospital. They just kept them here so they wouldn’t infect any citizens. Anyway, one night in February of 1918 the place burned to the ground and everybody died. Nuns, children, everybody. A couple hundred people. They had no fire-fighting equipment, of course. Nothing they could do. Between the fire and the terrible cold, nobody survived.”

Vecchio shook his head. “That’s awful.”

“That ain’t the end of the story,” said Calhoun. “There was a lot of right-wing patriotic feeling during that war. Powerful anti-immigrant prejudice, plus panic about the flu. And there was that need that ignorant people always feel to have somebody to blame for anything that goes wrong. The suspicion was that some good Maine citizens came in their boats that night with torches and set fire to the place. Nothing was ever proved. Officially it was an accidental fire.” Calhoun paused. “Nowadays, folks hereabouts claim that on a winter’s night when the wind’s not blowing too hard out here on the bay, if you’re on one of the nearby islands or in a boat, you can still hear the screaming and crying and praying to God of all those poor people being incinerated.”

Paul Vecchio was staring at Calhoun. “Ghosts,” he said.

Calhoun smiled. “If you believe in ‘em.”

Vecchio nodded. “Sometimes I do.”

Calhoun, who’d had some encounters with ghosts, just shrugged. “You still want to go ashore here?”

“I suppose I wouldn’t want to do it at night,” said Vecchio, “but right now I’ve got a bladder that won’t wait.”

“I can’t move any faster,” said Calhoun, “unless you want a shipwreck.” He weaved slowly in and out among the big jagged boulders that were scattered in the cove. Now, on the high tide, they lurked just underwater, waiting to rip open the hull of a boat.

“You know your way around,” said Vecchio. “I never would’ve seen those rocks.”

“You can’t see ‘em until you’re right on top of ‘em,” said Calhoun. “You gotta know they’re here.” He nosed the boat onto the sand. “Hop out, then,” he said. “Pull the boat up a little and go for it. Ralph’ll probably want to join you.”

At that, Ralph lifted his head, yawned, stood up on the bottom of the boat, and stretched.

“You can go with Mr. Vecchio,” Calhoun said to him, “take a leak if you want. Then come right back, before we lose our fish.”

Vecchio stretched his arms, bent over at the waist, and flexed his legs a couple times. Then he said, “C’mon, Ralph. Show me the way.”

Calhoun watched his client and his dog climb over the rocks along the shoreline and disappear through some bushes. In a minute they’d come upon what was left of the quarantine building just over the rise. Now it wasn’t much more than a big concrete-walled hole with a few charred floor joists still in place. The rest of it had burned into rubble that February night in 1918.

Every time Calhoun thought about it he got the willies.

He poured himself some coffee and sat there in his boat. It had been a good morning so far. They’d found fish and caught a few of them. The sea was calm, the sky overcast, the client competent. Paul Vecchio was good company in a boat, and so was Ralph, and Stoney Calhoun was content.

The tide had turned, and he was trying to decide where they might find fish stacked up on the outgoing when Ralph came scrambling over the rocks. Instead of jumping back into the boat, he stood there on the shore with his ears perked up and started barking.

“What’s up?” said Calhoun. “What’d you do with Mr. Vecchio?”

Ralph barked again, looked hard at Calhoun, then turned and trotted back through the bushes.

Calhoun figured he got Ralph’s message. Well, shit, he thought. All those fish out there waiting to be caught, and something’s happened to my client.