Congratulations to overall winner Adam Gauntlet whose short story won the hearts of our judges. “Trouble with the Mate” was praised for its “adept structure and characterisation that made the short story successful—it’s a well-told little yarn combining diverse characters (including a dog), engaging dialogue and humour, and an historical context.” Adam received a cash prize of $500.
In the poetry division there was a tie between two beautiful and very different pieces, Nancy Anne Miller’s “Water Logged” and Debbie Lombardo’s “Norf Rock.”
Look out for runner-up and honourable mention entries in both the short story and poetry divisions posted on TheBermudian.com.
Our thanks go to four wonderful judges: Meredith Ebbin, Rosemary Jones, Alan Smith and Yesha Townsend.
Trouble With The Mate
By Adam Gauntlet
Alex Moran, supercargo of the rumrunner Swan, bitterly contemplated the Dockyard breakwater, as his motor boat, whose engine had failed for the fourth time that day, sputtered out.
“If we hit that,” he said, “It’ll be the perfect capstone to my whole bloody day.”
He spent the next few minutes fending off with a boathook, while Bob Cooper, the Swan’s new mate, tried to get the engine running again. Cooper’s dog, a mutt with a face like dirty tapestry, barked joyfully. Cooper got her going on the third try, and the motor boat bobbed over to the dock, bouncing all the way.
“We here long?” Cooper asked, as he tied her up.
“No,” Moran replied. “Just need some spares, an anchor and chain if they have it, and a new jib.”
“Long enough?” Cooper eyed him. The dog did too.
Moran sighed. “You’re going to get yourself in all kinds of trouble, you and that bloody dog.”
Cooper laughed. “Not if they don’t catch us, and Dockyard’s as far from St George’s as you can get.”
It was a neat trick; Moran had seen Cooper pull it off three times. He would go into a bar, or to a field where people were playing football. Talk would come round to his dog, which, Moran had to admit, was a scrappy little animal, and a good ratter. Would he sell? Oh, no; Bingo was like a son to him. What if he were offered, say, three pounds? No, couldn’t think of it. Five pounds? Well …
Bingo had many fine qualities, and one was that he knew his way home. It was almost uncanny how the little terrier, with no more to guide him than his nose, found his way back to Cooper within a day, at most, hopping a ride on a boat when he needed without any qualm. His former owner, puzzled, might go over every road in the parish, but by then Bingo was safe and sound at the Swan, with nobody the wiser.
“You do as you like,” said Moran, “But mind you be back here in an hour.”
It had been a miserable day, but at least, Moran reflected, he had something to report. He wondered if there was a telegraph office at the Naval Dockyard. Probably not, but there would be one at Hamilton, and he could stop there on the way back to the Swan. The receipts from the last New York haul had been banked, and the Boss was a little over $15,000 to the good, after expenses. Not bad for the first run.
Moran shivered. It had been a hellish cold run, sat three miles off New York with a hold full of booze, eyeing each passer-by in case it turned out to be a pirate. The Swan had come to the rescue of one unlucky victim, adrift without cargo. Swedes, they had been, a fishing family that had gone all-in to make their fortunes, only to find themselves staring down the barrels of a half-dozen rifles at their first attempt.
“Damn lucky they left you alive,” the Skipper had told them. Aside from a few bruises and an almighty fright, they were fine, and went off to Nassau, swearing never to return.
So far, the Swan hadn’t met with that sort of trouble, but she’d met with everything else, hence the need for a new anchor and chain, among other things. Unfortunately for Moran, the Dockyard had nothing to spare, though he was able to pick up a new jib and foresail, and arrange for it to be delivered to St George’s.
The quartermaster, a bluff Mancunian, winked. “One of the fraternity, is it?”
Moran gave a noncommittal grunt.
The quartermaster smiled. “Bet it must be something, booze running. Like taking candy from a baby. Wish I could go!”
Moran nearly snarled. “You try it, and see if you like it. I wish I could find a sailor or two willing to make the trip, good men, who know what they’re doing. None of ‘em want to go, too scared they might get caught and have their papers pulled. That’d be a hell of a note for a working man, might even see the inside of a jail cell before you’re through. But if you fancy it …”
The quartermaster grinned and shook his head. “Good job here, innit? Why risk it?”
Which, Moran thought ruefully, was the problem. The only ones he could hire were the ones who had no prospects otherwise, and that meant he got the scrapings from the bottom of the barrel.
“Hey,” said Cooper, as they met at the dock. “You got a minute?”
Moran snorted. “I see Bingo’s not with us.”
Cooper grinned. “Naw, he’s making his own way home. I want you to meet someone.”
A man stepped forward, as like Cooper as not, but with a broken nose and lopsided grin.
“This is Norwood, my cousin.”
He and Moran shook hands. “What about it?” asked Moran.
“Well,” said Norwood, “It’s this way. I was going to take ship with the Dandy, you know her?”
“Aye. Nasty business, that.”
“Sure. But I was all ready to go, had two hundred cases of my own, when the Dandy had her troubles, and now here I am with two hundred cases that I can’t sell.”
“He’s a good man,” Cooper chipped in, “Grew up on the water, knows his onions. We still need a few crew, right?”
“You’d crew for us?”
“And give you three dollars a case. That way I get my cargo out to New York, where it’ll do me some good. Otherwise I’m stuck with it, and they don’t pay anything like New York prices down here.”
Moran looked him over. He was young enough, and well built, with a boxer’s pugnacious face. The hand he’d offered had been thick with callus; no stranger to hard work here. Yet there was something that sat not quite right.
But he needed crew. If he turned Norwood down, Cooper’d be none too happy; like as not he’d jump ship, find a berth on one of the other rumrunners anchored at St George’s.
“You’re hired,” Moran told Norwood. “Coming with us now? I need to get to Hamilton and send a wire to the Boss in New York, before we go back to St George’s.”
“You go on ahead,” Norwood replied. “I need to see some people here, about my cases. Won’t be long before I get up your end of the island.”
The uneasiness grew.
Moran’s business in Hamilton concluded, he tried to find out more about cousin Norwood. Despite trawling through all the bars he could think of – he wasn’t familiar with the island even now, on the second trip – he couldn’t find anyone who’d say anything, one way or the other. Perhaps everything was as it seemed.
The Swan swayed dreamily at anchor, moon painting the ocean around it a glittering silver. It was a warm night, warm enough that Moran’s cabin became stuffy, so he went up on deck to stretch his legs. The lights in St George’s winked cheerily, and he began to regre
t, not for the first time, that he hadn’t taken a room ashore. What with the trade getting so prosperous, rooms in St George’s were going at exorbitant rates, and Hamilton was a little too far out for his purposes. The Boss was due down from New York in a day or so. Perhaps when he arrived, they’d take rooms in a hotel for the rest of the Swan’s time in harbor.
He stuffed and lit his pipe, his mind half-asleep even though his hands were moving through the familiar ritual. What was that buzzing sound?
His muddy mind sorted through it, and told him: someone was talking, below.
It was Cooper, he realized, as he began to awaken. Cooper and, now, who … must be Mac, the ship’s engineer, the only one of them apart from Moran himself who’d been with the Swan since she’d left Belfast, back in the summer of 1921. What were they talking about? He couldn’t tell. Cooper’s voice was raised, and Mac, now, what was he saying? He seemed to be none too happy about it, whatever it was.
The talking died down. Moran wondered if he dared creep below, see if he could get closer. No; he had a better idea.
“Bacon and eggs, Mac?”
The engineer nodded. “Sure. Let’s go ashore.”
The rowboat took them across the harbor, as the early morning sun showed her face. One of the rumrunners was getting ready to go to sea. A crewman from another rumrunner was up on deck, lazily scraping at his fiddle, tuning it as he went haphazardly though Timour the Tartar, sparking a memory of many a long session back in Belfast. Otherwise the harbor was as sleepy as ever Moran remembered it, though on reflection, compared to the first time he’d seen St George’s, the harbor was a hive of activity.
“What do you think of our Mister Cooper?” asked Moran, as he pulled at the oars.
Mac looked away. “Fair enough sailor, I suppose.” No enthusiasm there, Moran noted.
“Fair enough? Well, I reckon,” Moran replied. “Still, it’s a good thing his cousin’s going to be on hand. We could use a reliable man, this trip.”
“Eh? What’s that?”
“Cooper’s cousin, Norwood. He’s shipping with us, so he can get rid of a few cases of booze. Paying for the privilege, too. Looks like a good man, does Norwood.”
“Does he?” Mac’s sour grimace went further south by a notch or two. “I’d be happier without.”
“Don’t you like Norwood? Didn’t think you two’d met.”
“Not met, nor want to meet, and that’s flat. I don’t like the looks of this, super, and I’ll tell you why: you know what your Mister Cooper asked me, last night?”
Moran rested on his oars. “Do tell.”
“He wanted to know where I’d stand, if a few friends of his came aboard and took the ship.”
Moran whistled. “As bad as that?”
“As bad, and worse. Now here’s you telling me Cooper’s cousin’s shipping with us, and I bet you cash on the barrel that, before we leave St George’s, Mister Cooper will dig up another friend or two, fine sailors, who can take ship with us. Then where will we be, one dark night, after we’ve left harbor? It’s a long way to New York, and a long swim back – always saying they’d let us swim, which I doubt.”
Moran remembered the look on the Skipper’s face, talking to the Swedes. Sick with fear the Swedes had been, but the Skipper was worse. It was why he’d left them, when they got back to Bermuda. One thing to face a gale, or dodge the Coast Guard with a hold full of rum. Something else again to go down in the cold, unforgiving ocean, perhaps with a knife in you, and no way out again.
“Well then, here’s the play. You give me till three in the afternoon, while I go make my preparations, and then you go back to the Swan and tell Cooper I’ve got his dog, Bingo. Tell him Bingo’s hurt, lame or something like, and I’ll meet him at that place on One Gun Alley, Nancy’s. You follow?”
“Sure. But what will you do?”
“Me? I’m going to see a man about a dog.”
Bingo whined, but Moran kept his hand firm on the dog’s collar. “Good fellow. Sit, boy.”
It was a hot day out there. Moran had been in Nancy’s for about an hour, lazily sipping at a beer, not so much tasting it as going through the motions. He’d found what he wanted to find, after a bit of looking, and by stroke of luck also came across Bingo sitting on the wharf, waiting for his master to come ashore. It hadn’t taken much to persuade Bingo to come along to Nancy’s with him.
By now, Cooper should be on his way.
A big man blocked the light as he stood in the doorway. Cousin Norwood had arrived, something Moran hadn’t been expecting. Norwood looked over the bar, spotted Moran, and made his way to Moran’s table.
“How’s you?” he said, conversationally, as he settled into a chair.
Big, thought Moran, big and ready for anything. He wondered if it had been a boxing mill that broke Norwood’s nose, or if it had been something else again.
“All’s well. Glad we caught up, in fact; I wanted to tell you that there’s no place on the Swan for you.”
Norwood grinned, the least pleasant thing Moran had seen in weeks. “Is that a fact?”
“Yes, it is.”
Cooper chose that moment to arrive, and Bingo leapt joyfully towards his master. Norwood turned his head. “Guess what?”
Cooper ruffled Bingo’s ears. “What?”
“Skinny boy says there’s no room for me.”
Cooper looked at Moran. “Is that a fact.”
“It is,” said Moran, “Nor is there room for you either, Mister Cooper. You can come by in the morning and be paid off.”
“My, my.” Cooper slowly looked about the bar. “Nobody else drinking today? Place seems awful quiet.”
“Maybe, since it’s so quiet, we should have a talk with skinny boy.” Norwood’s grin widened.
“Oh, I wouldn’t,” said Moran. “It’s going to get busy in a minute.”
“How so?” Norwood wanted to know, but Cooper had already seen them, as they trooped through the door. Norwood plainly didn’t recognize any of them, but Cooper knew all three: Bingo’s former owners.
Moran got to his feet. “Dear me,” he said, as one of Bingo’s masters stepped forward. The man, a stone mason with ten long years’ limestone cutting in his thick arms, was already measuring up Cooper’s face for a fist. “Perhaps I should fetch a constable.”
He did. It took a while, since he went the long way round. By the time he returned to Nancy’s, Cooper was on the floor, after apparently being used as a shoe scraper. Norwood was still standing, as were two of Bingo’s masters; the third was sitting in a chair, contemplating life and trying not to breathe too often, his face badly marked and his belly heaving. Bingo was nowhere to be seen.
“Come by tomorrow,” Moran told Cooper as the constable lifted him off the floor, “And get paid off. We’ll say no more about it.”
Moran left Nancy’s whistling Timour the Tartar, slightly more artistically than the rumrunner’s fiddler had managed.
By Debbie Lombardo
It was a flat calm day
When I set off from Bailey’s Bay
No gale goin’ blow in
No way today
I’m off to Norf Rock &nb
Wif my mask and a snorkel Two odd flippas
And a couple of socks
Been called by my Granny
As she sends me out
“A good for nothin layabout”
She sure can shout and shout
What she wants is a lobster
No mussels, no breams
Not even a snappa
So I’m borrowed a punt
Wif an outboard and such
Now I’m bound for Norf Rock
Wif my hands in my socks
When I get to the ball
For the divers and all
It’s like glass
All the way to the bottom
But I get all distracted
When I put my face in
Cuz I’m seein’ this thing
That causes chagrin
All around down there
Larger than life
Is brains on the rocks
Now a bye sure feels foolish
Seein’ somethin’ so ghoulish
As bigger brains than his
All stuck to the rocks
They are higgly-piggly
But not one of them wiggly
As I stare down
In awe at the sight
Them brains are so big
They gotta know stuff
Like where is the lobsters
They’re not gonna say
They don’t speak no English
But the message is clear
Take your hands in your socks
And get out of here
I can’t though, I plead
There’s one thing I need
A lobster for Granny
On this Christmas Eve
Well, I dive and I dive
An’ it’s just getting’ dark
Them brains, they’re just laffin’
And haven’ a lark
I’m kinda scared, I admit it
But I daren’t go back
Finally, I see one
Comin’ out of his hole
So quick like, I grab him
Wif my hands in my socks
Chuck him into the punt
An’ haul myself out
Hope Granny’s happy
I say to them brains
Cuz I ain’t comin’ back
To Norf Rock again!
By Nancy Anne Miller
Not a log like Nathaniel W. Hutchings,
a sea captain, kept of weather, sea tides,
although the Longtails dip, crease the sky
which he recorded, resemble the dimples,
lines across her skin the coral water makes.
Neither is it the log of letters her grandfather
wrote, sent to family from London, Azores,
Jamaica. Mail spouted through the front
door letter slot like waves flow down,
or birds land before flying off again.
But rather logged like when something
shrinks, wrinkles at edges, becomes smaller,
deflates. The sea’s hand presses fingers in
to feel for ripeness to take, pluck, own, engulf,
put in a pocket, take home, leaves wobbly
prints. As if, if she stayed in, she would become
the size of a fetus again, turn in a mother’s belly
over, over inside a rhythmic washing machine.
No, not logged like men in the Northwest
negotiate trees downriver, but yes, adrift,
floating away as if felled from the blue stream sky.