Chapter 2

On Saturday morning, the sky was still dark when they arrived at the Big Rock boat launch. The boat trailer behind Jay’s truck rattled and bounced across the gravel parking lot when they pulled in.
Jay swung into the line of trucks waiting for their turns on the ramp. Waiting, he drummed out a rhythm on the steering wheel. Trevor turned his attention to the Cape Mudge lighthouse, across the water on the southern tip of Quadra Island. It flashed out a lazy warning: bright flash, count three, dull flash, count five, bright flash. Too slow, he thought, couldn’t a ship lose its way between flashes? Maybe not. Probably not.
The light ricocheted off the dark water of the strait. Trevor was trying not to think about the water, about being on the water or in the water. But there it was, blacker than night. He began to feel nauseous.  
He turned away from the water and looked out the truck’s back window. There was the bright orange inflatable boat they were towing. He smiled. He had bought the boat at the end of last summer. It was a beautiful thing. Just like in the Jacques Cousteau specials he had watched when he was a kid.
It looked so sturdy, with its aluminum hull and inflatable sides. Unsinkable, they said.  It hadn’t been put in the water yet, but today, damn it, he was going to do it.
They had gotten as far as the ramp a few times in the past month, but each time Trevor had changed his mind at the last minute. Each time, his face grew pale as their turn to launch approached. The ramp kid just shook his head when they drove off.
The Big Rock boat ramp took its name from a boulder that resided, like a fossilized motor home, between the Island Highway and the ocean. In case anyone happened to miss the point, the ramp’s owner had redundantly painted the words “Big Rock” on it.
As they waited, Jay provided a running commentary on the navigational skills of each new driver’s erratic reverse descent to the water.
A shining red 4x4 carved a serpentine path down the ramp, jack-knifing, pulling ahead and then jack-knifing again. The driver swung open his door and leaned out to get a better view of the ramp. A flashlight rolled out of the open door, bounced down the ramp and splashed into the ocean a few feet from shore. A group of seagulls nearby took flight, crying angrily into the morning air.
“See that?” Jay laughed. “What an idiot.”
“Yeah, quite a jerk off.”
“Dolt,” Jay said.
“Fine,” Trevor said, “what a dolt.”
“Buffoon would work.”
“Buffoon? Do people ever really say that? Cause I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone use that word, ever.”
“Not much, I guess. But it’s better than ‘jerk off.’ And doesn’t it sound familiar to you at all? Cause, of anyone I know, I’d figure you’d have heard it a few times.”
“Was that supposed to be an insult?”
“Look at this guy,” Jay said, ignoring Trevor’s question, as Mr. 4x4 hopelessly locked up his trailer in another jack-knife. The crowd of spectators gathered at the top of the ramp groaned in unison.
“It sounded like you were calling me a buffoon.” Trevor said.
“Hey, I’m just trying to help out with the vocabulary here,” Jay smiled innocently.
“You know what I’ve been through in the past year,” Trevor said, hurt in his voice, “and you start making jokes about it. Yeah, I’m a buffoon. Thanks. Nice to have so-called fucking friends.”
“Ah, shit, man. I didn’t mean…”
Trevor looked solemn for a moment, hurt, hang dog. Then he chuckled. “Got you, man. Listen, I’m going over to the store. You want anything?”
“Fuck off.”
Trevor had to cross the Highway, or at least that’s what they called the two lane strip of rotten pavement that ran up the Island’s inside coast, to get to the Big Rock store.
“Don’t take too long,” he heard Jay shout after him. “We’re up pretty soon.”
But something ahead had already captured his attention. A woman at the store’s gas bar was filling a sky-blue Karmann Ghia. She was slim as a thread, wearing blue jeans and a sweatshirt imprinted with the logo of the Sea Otter Pub. She seemed to have no make-up on, but, without a doubt, she was the most beautiful woman Trevor had ever seen.
Just as he realized he was gawking, she looked up. To his astonishment, she nodded ever so slightly and smiled. He nodded back, but then looked at the ground ahead of his feet and hurried on.
Taking one more glance at her as he entered the store, he felt sure he must know her, must have known her, but couldn’t recall from where.
Inside the store, he went to the magazine section to find something to read when he was out on the boat, supposing that a distraction might help him overcome this water thing, this anti-water thing he was feeling. Perusing the titles looking for something interesting, he noticed that the Sea Otter woman had come in.
Without looking he grabbed a magazine from the shelf and hurried to the till, just as she arrived there. He stood back and gestured for her to go first.
“Oh, thanks,” she said, handing her credit card to the man at the till. Then, glancing at the magazine in Trevor’s hand, she added, “a gentleman and a scholar.”  
“Huh?” Trevor looked at the magazine in his hand, a Batman comic. Great, he thought.
“Nothing wrong with Batman,” she said, conscious of his embarrassment. “Men can be divided into two types, you know? Superman men and Batman men. It’s much better to be a Batman man.” 
Trevor had no idea what she was talking about or what to say. He felt like a man who could not swim suddenly thrown into the ocean.
The woman watched him struggle for a response for a moment, and then she turned away. She signed her credit card receipt and left the store.
Trevor showed the clerk the comic and dumped some money on the counter, but didn’t wait for change. Compelled by a force he couldn’t describe, he hurried after her. Catching her before she reached her car, he began to talk, and for the first time since the accident the words flowed from him.
“My friend and I are going fishing,” he said, pointing across the road. “That’s my boat, over there. It should be a good day, looks like there won’t be much wind. My name’s Trevor.”
“Well, glad to meet you, Trevor,” she said, amusement in her eyes.
“We’re going to be fishing for blue backs. Do you know what those are? Young Coho. Salmon. You know? Do you fish?”
“No,” she said. “I always feel bad for the fish. Imagine what it must be like, to be pulled out of your world like that. Not able to breathe. I can’t imagine anything worse.”
“Huh,” Trevor said, “I guess I never really thought about it that way.”
The woman probed his eyes with hers. “That’s a nice boat,” she said, glancing across the highway.
“Yup,” Trevor said. “It’s brand new.”
“It’s nicer than your truck,” she said.
“That’s not my truck,” he said, “I don’t have a car. My car was ruined in an accident. It was really bad. Went right into the river. I’m okay now though. My friend saved me. That’s him in the truck.” He paused. “Hey, what did you mean about Batman men?”
“Oh,” she said, “it always seemed to me Superman was boring because nothing could hurt him, you know? Guys who think they are like that are never very interesting.”
“Huh,” Trevor said.
The passenger door of her Karmann Ghia opened and a large man unfolded from the car. Trevor was struck by the strangeness of someone so big emerging from such a small vehicle. Standing upright now, the figure dwarfed the car and even the gas pumps. The overhead lights of the gas bar turned his eyes into black sockets.
“Well, have a great day out there,” the woman said, taking a step back. “And sorry to hear about your accident.”
“Thanks,” he said, suddenly self-conscious. Why had he been talking about the accident? Or the car? Or the boat? Jesus, he thought, I am a buffoon.
As he walked back to Jay’s truck, he glanced over his shoulder and saw her talking to her passenger. The man seemed upset and he gestured several times in Trevor’s direction. Trevor stuffed the Batman comic in his jacket pocket and crossed the road. Behind him, the Karmann Ghia accelerated, shifted, and accelerated again as it sped toward Campbellford.
             “Who was that?” Jay asked as Trevor climbed into the truck.
“I don’t know. A girl.”
“Good looking.”
“Yeah, that’s for sure.”
“You didn’t ask her name?”
“What were you talking about?”
“She likes Batman men.”
“She said Batman men were more interesting than Superman men.”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“Superman men think they can’t be hurt.”
“Superman can’t be hurt, you know, by almost anything. And guys who think they are like that, she thinks, are not that interesting.”
“I don’t see what’s wrong with Superman.”
“I don’t know.”
“There’s nothing wrong with Superman.”
“She was really nice.”
“Crazy, maybe. What did you say to her?”
“I’m not sure.”
“Jesus,” Jay rolled his eyes. The truck ahead of them pulled away from the ramp. “Look, we’re up. Guide me, will ya’?”
Jay turned the rig in a wide arc away from the launch ramp, lining up the trailer to be backed down to the water. Trevor walked behind and to the side, offering directions to Jay.
At the water, Trevor held the boat’s bowline while Jay pushed it from the trailer’s skeletal frame. The push was a little too hard and Trevor, who was still thinking about the girl in the gas station, was caught off balance.
Suddenly, he was sliding toward the water. He tried to set his heels into the gravel of the beach, but it was too loose and the weight of the boat pulled him forward. If he let go, he would lose the boat. If he held on, he was going into the water.
“Shit. Shit, shit, shit.” 
Jay jumped from the trailer and grabbed the end of the rope just as Trevor was about to topple forward.
“Shit,” Trevor said, sweat on his forehead, as they pulled the boat in, “that was close.”
“It’s just water.”
“We don’t have to do this,” Jay said.
 “Unsinkable,” Trevor said, holding onto the boat’s bow.
Trevor was fairly sure this was a big mistake, but today he wasn’t going to back out.
Jay parked the truck and ran back down the ramp. “Supplies,” he said, holding up a thermos in one hand and a bag of snacks in the other.
While Jay climbed into the boat, Trevor stood a good six feet back from the water’s edge, holding the bowline. Jay spent a minute putting their food into a compartment, and then pulled a paddle from under one of the gunwales. 
When it was Trevor’s turn to climb in, he gathered the rope as he came forward and put his hand on the bow as though he was going to leap in. Instead, he just hunkered down in the gravel.
“Don’t know about this.”
Jay didn’t say anything, giving Trevor time to come to his own decision.
After a minute, Trevor stood up and pushed the boat out a foot or so, then pulled it back in. 
“What the fuck.” He put one foot over the bow and pushed off with the other. The boat rocked and he grabbed anxiously at the gunwales, quickly dropping into a seat.
“All right,” Jay said. He paddled them away from shore and turned the bow to face the strait. Once the water was deep enough, he lowered the outboard engine shaft into the water.
“You okay, capeetan?” Jay said.
“You want to drive?”
“When it’s a boat, you ‘pilot’ it,” Trevor said.
“Jesus, you want to drive, or not?”
Trevor didn’t answer, but looked across the still waters to the lighthouse. 
“Pilot, then, do you want to pilot the boat today, captain?”
“No, not today.”
Jay started the engine and took them out through the launch channel, past the sprawling beds of kelp, to the passage that separated Quadra from the big island. Once they were clear of the rocks and weeds, he folded the boat’s accelerator forward, slightly at first and then further when Trevor seemed to be all right with it.
The boat rose in the water as its speed increased, until it was riding almost entirely on its anti-cavitation plate, skipping across the water like a tossed stone.
Instead of heading east to Quadra’s lighthouse, where most of the boats had gone that morning, Jay pointed them north to Campbellford. The boat was traveling faster than the car headlights they could see moving along the Island Highway. Trevor tightly gripped the edge of his seat with one hand and a gunwale with the other. Jay had a big grin on his face.
They raced through the Forestry Hole – a fishing spot in front of the local Forestry Service office. Later in the summer, this would be the place to fish for the big Tyee, Spring salmon upwards of thirty pounds. As they approached the marina in Campbellford, Jay started a broad, flat-out turn that tipped the boat on a steep angle. The grin on his face widened even further. They flew past a sign that read, “5 MPH MAX.”
Jay cut the power and the boat settled in the water, like a bird coming to rest.
“She really goes.”
Trevor tried to smile. 
The marina was home to a fleet of commercial fishing boats, trawlers with their long poles raised like antennae and seiners with their nets rolled around giant spools.
They drifted up to a barge with the words “LIVE BAIT” painted on its side. A blonde girl in her early twenties came out of a shed on the barge and Trevor threw her the bowline.
“Debbie?” he said, as she pulled the boat in.
“Hi, Jay. Hi, Trevor,” she smiled, tying off the rope.
“Working here for the summer?” Jay asked.
“Beats planting trees,” she said.
Debbie Johnson had graduated from high school with Trevor and Jay, but instead of settling into a local job she went on to a university on the mainland. 
“Trevor, you okay? You look like you’re going to be sick,” she said.
“Yeah, no, I’m okay,” Trevor answered, although he was fairly sure that if he’d eaten any breakfast, it would have come up by now.
“Jay and Trevor,” Debbie shook her head. “How can I help you?”
“We need some bait,” Jay said.
“Come on up here,” Debbie held out her hand and helped Jay up. “You can get whatever size you want. $15 is the rate. That buys you 24 of the little ones, 12 medium or 6 jumbos.”
“It was only ten bucks, last year,” Jay said, slow to let go of her hand even once he was on the barge.
“Yeah,” her eyes sparkled, “but you didn’t get to buy them from me.”
“Uh huh. Well, what do you think?” Jay asked Trevor. “Little ones?”
“I guess.”
“Yeah, we’re just going after blue backs.”
She lifted one of several lids on the deck of the barge, revealing a holding tank where a thousand silver arrows flashed in the half-light. Debbie picked up a net on a long handle and scooped up a writhing mass of herring.
“Hold this,” she said, handing Jay the net and pulling a zip-lock bag from her back pocket. “How many?”
“At your prices, we can only afford 24 of the small ones.”
“That’s all you need,” she said, filling the bag with water and counting the fish as she scooped them into their new temporary home. “We’ve trained these ones to look extra enticing. If you can’t limit with these little guys, you’re just not trying. But I’ll give you a couple of extra just in case.”
Jay smiled as he watched her work.
“What?” she said.
“Oh, uh, nothing,” he took the bag of fish from her and handed it down to Trevor. “Nothing, but listen, we’re going to the Sea Otter tonight. You think you might want to come?”
“Well, let me check my schedule,” she looked skyward for a moment and then laughed. “Yeah, I think that’ll work.”
“You want us to pick you up? Eight?”
“You remember where I live?”
He gave her money for the bait and then climbed back into the boat. Trevor was holding the bag of fish up, studying the herring as though they were tropical fish for a fish tank. From Jay’s perspective, one of Trevor’s eyes was hideously magnified by the curve of the bag.
“Hey, Quasimodo, you ready to roll?” he said.
“Never mind. Put those fish in the bait box and let’s get going,” Jay gave Debbie a knowing look. She shrugged.
Trevor wondered if the startled, flitting creatures could see the ocean so close at hand, if they imagined being free once more. He poured them into a bait box under one of the passenger seats.
Pulling away from the barge, Jay waved to Debbie, inadvertently turning the boat off course. Debbie gestured for Jay to look forward and he turned to see the harbour’s wall of boulders looming ahead. Swerving abruptly, he coolly, or so he hoped, gave Debbie another wave. She shook her head and turned to her next customer.

Jay and Trevor raced along the western shore of Quadra Island, passing miles of forest that bent and blurred in the wake of their speed. After fifteen minutes, the white tower of the lighthouse appeared, luminescent against the dark green forest.
A traffic jam of boats had already formed off the lighthouse. A blue cloud of two-stroke exhaust fumes hung in the air above them. Eight of the boats were white Boston Whalers with the words “Avril Point” stenciled on their sides. Avril Point was a resort on Quadra, and their guides were equally despised and admired by the locals.
If anyone was catching fish, it was the Avril Point guides. Unfortunately, they were in the business of helping tourists catch fish; fish that, according to anyone who lived in Campbellford, belonged rightfully to them.  
Jay pulled up at the edge of the small fleet, attracting several glares for the wake he sent into the crowd. He waved and smiled in response.
Scooping a herring from the bait well, Jay, with the concentration of a surgeon, fed a hook through the fish’s nose and another through its back, just behind the dorsal fin. He tightened the line between the two hooks, drawing the small body into an arc that would force it to spin slowly in the moving current, as though it were injured, easy prey.
Jay lowered his bait into the water as Trevor still struggled to push a hook through the nose of his herring.
“You want a hand there?”
Trevor shook his head without looking up. Finally he had the two hooks in place and he tightened the line, observing the spine of the herring curve ever more deeply. He put the fish over the side. It spun helplessly in broad, slow circles a foot beneath the surface.
“Looks good,” Jay said.
Trevor watched the fish spin for a minute and then pulled it in. He unhooked it and let it go, expecting it to dart away. Instead, the fish continued to loop awkwardly, eventually sinking into the black water.
“What did you do that for?”
Trevor shrugged. He cut off the bait hooks and put them in the tackle box. Instead, he tied on a steel lure.
“You’d do better with the bait.”
“I’ll try this out for a while.” Trevor lowered the silver lure over the edge. 
Jay shrugged and turned his attention back to his own fishing rod. The sun had risen and its warmth felt good after the cool air of the early morning.
Across the water, a tourist in an Avril Point boat shouted, “I’ve got one! I’ve got one!” The small boat rocked precariously as the tourist stood up in his excitement.
The guide reached up a steadying hand, “Sit down, Sir. Please.”
The fish, which had been running parallel to Quadra Island, suddenly veered away from shore and started racing directly toward Jay and Trevor’s boat, the fishing line it towed slicing through the water behind it.
“I guess we should reel in,” Jay said. Even for a tourist, you didn’t want to mess up a catch. Trevor began reeling in his line as fast as he could when suddenly something struck and his rod doubled over into a question mark. 
“You’ve got one too, buddy,” Jay said, watching the line peel off Trevor’s reel.
Trevor’s fish started running toward Quadra Island, in the exact direction of the Avril Point boat. His line and the tourist’s were racing to exactly the same point, as if the two fish were rushing headlong at one another. Trevor’s fish broke water, a silver torpedo rising above the surface, nose skyward. It was a Coho, and a large one for the season.
For a second, the fish appeared to be suspended on a single line that ran from Trevor’s rod to the tourist’s. People in nearby boats turned to watch the drama unfold. Laughter curled across the water. They had the same fish.
“Cut your line,” the guide shouted.
The tourist whipped his fishing rod back and forth maniacally. “LOWER the rod when it jumps,” the guide reminded him. 
“Cut your line,” the guide shouted again.
“What should I do?” Trevor asked Jay.
“Well, they hooked it first.” Jay handed Trevor a knife from the tackle box.
The fish started running fast and again jumped clear of the water. Trevor was reaching up with the knife when someone in a neighbouring boat shouted, “Don’t cut it.”
Trevor and Jay looked over to see the tourist staring disappointedly at his fishing rod. It was no longer bent to the weight of the fish.
“Hey, man, he’s yours!” Jay said.
It took five minutes to bring in the salmon. They called these young Coho blue backs this early in the season. Just over five pounds, it had fought with a fury and run like something much bigger. Jay held up his hand for Trevor to high-five. Trevor couldn’t take his eyes off the fish.
The Avril Point guide offered the tourist a cup of coffee but he pushed it away, staring sourly at Trevor.
Trevor put the fish into a plastic baby bath under the bow cover. Jay handed him a small wooden club to finish the job. Trevor watched the fish writhe painfully as its gills scraped desperately at the air, searching for breath.
He gave the club back to Jay and lifted the fish into the water, letting it slip gently into the ocean, careful to keep his hands clear of the water.
Jay watched, speechless.
The fish was still for a moment, allowing water to wash over it and then, with a snap of its tail, it was gone.
“What the hell?” Jay said.
“We’ll catch him again sometime.” Trevor turned away from the water, shaking his hands of the drops that had splashed on him, drying them on the knees of his jeans in anxious swipes.
“That’s the craziest fucking thing I’ve ever seen,” Jay killed the engine, allowing the boat to drift away from the crowd, carried by the current toward the more open waters of the strait south of Quadra Island. Jay considered the possibility that the damage to Trevor’s mind was worse than anyone had imagined.
Trevor pulled the Batman comic from his back pocket and flipped it open.
Jay opened a bag of Cheesies. In the distance lay the muted-blue mountains of the mainland, the sun rising above them. From their vantage point south of the recreational fleet, they saw one, and then another and another of the Avril Point boats pull up their lines and speed away. In a matter of five minutes, they were all gone. 
“Wonder where they’re headed,” Jay said.
“These guys are all on radios. Something must be going on.”
“You want to follow them?” Trevor asked.
“Why, so you can let more fish go?”
“Nah, let’s just drift awhile,” Jay slumped in his seat, letting the sun warm him.
They floated along the rocky reef that strung off Quadra Island; Jay’s line was still in the water. He studied the tip of his rod, watching for the quick dip or tug that would show signs of interest from below.
Trevor reached over to the bag of Cheesies and took a handful.
“Crap,” he said a minute later, trying to brush orange powder off the open page of his comic book.
Jay shook his head, but kept his eyes on his fishing rod.
Trevor put down the comic and rubbed his hands together, but when he inspected them, they were still covered in orange residue. He wiped them on his shirt, leaving patches of orange behind.
“Just rinse them in the ocean.”
Trevor looked over the side and considered that option.  
“It is just water,” Jay said, looking at Trevor.
Trevor reluctantly reached over the port gunwales and rinsed his hands, but then drew back quickly, shaking free the drops of water.
“Jesus,” he said, wiping his hands on his pant legs, “that’s cold.”
“Yeah,” Jay said, watching Trevor’s face.
Suddenly, an explosive sound of released air caused both of them to spin their heads around to the starboard side. A huge black fin, hooked over at the top, but still as tall as a man was fifty feet out and bearing straight in on them.
“Holy shit,” Jay began reeling in his line as fast as he could. In his panic, he accidentally dropped the rod, snatched it up and began reeling again.
The fin disappeared for a moment and then resurfaced, now only 15 feet out. Trevor stood up in the small boat, transfixed by the approaching killer whale. It was so close he was sure he could reach out and touch it. His Batman comic dropped to the boat’s floor, landing in a pool of water and salmon scales.
Jay pulled Trevor down and braced for impact. Only a few feet out the whale dove again, the small boat rocked in the creature’s wake. Trevor and Jay looked over the edge together and watched the monstrous form pass beneath them, its black and white pattern clear under the water. They switched to other side to watch the whale rise again.
“Orcas,” Jay said, as explosions of air erupted all around them. Fins of various sizes rolled past, the pod following their leader north.
“Oh, man,” Trevor watched the whales swim away. “Did you see that?”
“Yeah,” Jay snorted, “hard to fucking miss.”
“Come on, start up. Let’s follow them.”
Jay stared at him like he was an idiot.
“No, come on, let’s go.”
“You are completely fucked up.”
“Come on.”
Jay shook his head, but started the engine. They followed the whales at a healthy distance.
As the orcas rolled past the fleet of boats off the lighthouse, lines were reeled in and rods put away. The whales’ sonar would send the salmon to the depths, and no one would catch anything more that day. The Avril Point guides must have gotten advance notice that the whales were coming.
Trevor climbed up to the bow of his boat and leaned on the canvas splash cover. The whales breeched and rolled ahead of them, their black fins mirrored in the glassy water and their breaths echoing off Quadra’s ancient cliffs.
Jesus, that was something. He wondered how you could ever tell anyone about a thing like this. This is a moment you would have to see for yourself. It was a goddamned shame. Everyone should be able to see a thing like this.
They followed the whales for an hour or more and Trevor tried to digest the image. He’s seen whales before, of course, but somehow, this seemed more, more something, just more, than he had ever experienced of them before.
Eventually Jay killed the throttle and they sat, watching, until the whales were gone from sight.
“That’s really something,” Trevor said.
Jay shrugged.
Trevor picked up the bait box and watched the herring race around it, seeking an escape route. He tipped the box over the edge and the fish poured into the sea.
“I guess we’re going in,” Jay said.
The herring flashed silver, then disappeared into the black water. Jay pushed the accelerator handle forward and spun the boat around to point them home.