Caught in the crossfire
Editor’s note: Almost 20 years ago, Crash Barry lived and worked on Matinicus, Maine’s most remote island. This is another of his true stories.
I was walking down to my shack by the shore on a cold and foggy Halloween night. I’d been up to the Parsonage, where the schoolteacher and his new bride lived, to help stage a haunted house for the island kids. I’d had a couple of drinks and was looking forward to slumber. I was almost home when another islander, driving his truck, spotted me on the road.
“You better watch out,” he warned. “Shoe and Buzz are on a rampage. Drunk and wanting more whiskey. They’ve been fighting each other, all night long.” He sighed. “Damn near destroyed the fishhouse. Windows smashed. Door torn off the hinges. Shoe’s dad is gonna be right pissed.” He shook his head. “You be careful, ’cuz they’re looking for trouble.”
These two fellas were my only neighbors. They lived in Rockland but spent a couple nights a week on Matinicus, staying in a shack a hundred feet away from mine. They worked as sternmen for Shoe’s dad, Captain Red, who was one of the island’s worst thieves and cheats. Red also lived on the mainland, but fished from the island. I wasn’t friends with these dudes, but we weren’t enemies either.
I heard Stevie Ray Vaughan blasting from their shack as I rounded the corner onto my wharf. Then Shoe jumped out of the shadows, grabbed my coat, spun me around and jacked me up against a wall.
“I need a ride out to my mooring,” he snarled. Even in the poor light, I could see Shoe’s nose was bleeding and he had blood smeared all over his face. His fist was drawn back, ready to sock me if I disagreed. “You gotta row me out there. And we gotta be quiet.”
“Sure,” I said, my heart racing. “No problem.”
We walked to the end of the wharf and launched my captain’s skiff into the water. He followed me down the ladder.
“Where you going?” I asked as I rowed toward his mooring.
“Rockland,” he said. “I’m getting the frig outta here. Off this friggin’ no-good rock.”
It was almost midnight, foggy and drizzling with a chance of hard rain and heavy wind. Shoe was drunk, bloody and ready to drive his 14-foot outboard across 20 miles of Penobscot Bay, a good chunk of wide-open ocean.
“Don’t tell Buzz you saw me,” he slurred, climbing into his boat. “Thanks for the lift.”
He started the outboard, released his mooring and disappeared into the misty dark.
I rowed ashore, positive Buzz hadn’t heard Shoe take off because of the Black Sabbath blaring from their stereo. I climbed the steps to my room above Captain Edwin’s shop. As a precaution, I closed and locked the big wooden storm door from the inside — the first and only time I ever locked my door on Matinicus.
I couldn’t sleep. Laying on my futon, I wondered how Shoe’s trip across the bay was going. He was either a helluva sailor or an idiot. Or both. Then I heard footsteps on my wharf. The shack shook as Buzz climbed the stairs.
“Crash!” he yelled, pounding on the storm door. “Open up! I know you’re in there. I know you got some whiskey to share with your old pal Buzz!”
I didn’t answer. He grabbed the door handle and gave it a pull. A yank. It didn’t budge. He pounded for another minute, then gave up. The building trembled again as he stormed down the stairs.
My sense of relief lasted less than five minutes.
“Crash!” he boomed from outside my window, standing on the gravel road behind the fish house. “I know you’re in there. And you got whiskey. I’m giving you one more chance.”
I didn’t move from my bed, so I didn’t know he had a shotgun.
BOOM! His gun fired once. Over the roof of my shack. BOOM! He fired again.
“Whiskeee,” he whooped. “Whis-keeeeeee!”
Frozen on the futon, I’d never been more terrified. I knew the downstairs shop door was unlocked. And if he wanted to kill me for my whiskey, he could easily fire his shotgun through the floor vent. That’s what I was thinking, laying there in a shack with no telephone or radio. Could I reach the nearest neighbor, a quarter mile away, crawling, wounded, on my hands and knees?
Then I heard the crunch of his boots on the road. Sounded like he was headed home. But I wasn’t gonna get up and check, that’s for sure.
Soon after, I fell asleep.
Crash Barry’s novel, Sex, Drugs and Blueberries, is available at is available at select independent bookstores and at crashbarry.com.