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Salmon Season

It was Cliff’s idea to call the cops. I thought maybe we should wait awhile, see how the fish were biting. At least wet a line. But he was adamant.

“There’s a dead guy lying face down beneath the urinal, Will. What the hell do you want me to do?”

“Did you check his pulse?”

But he was already dialing 911. The cops were there in less than five minutes. This kind of thing never happened in Benicia. Maybe Vallejo or Crockett. But not Benicia. I always called it Mayberry by the Bay.

It was the middle of September, the start of salmon season, which used to be gangbusters every fall. The whole town would come out. Fishermen from all over – Vallejo, Martinez, Napa, Fairfield. They staked out a spot on the rocks, shoulder to shoulder, lining the inside of the cove across from Sailor Jack’s. But the past few seasons had been tough, with hardly any fish running.

I had a hard time fishing while trying to watch the cops at the same time. Finally, they took the body out on a stretcher and loaded it into the coroner’s van. A few cops stayed behind to talk with Cliff and some of the other guys, but I was done fishing.

The next day, I read in the Herald that he was some guy from one of those ships that come in and out of the Strait. This sailor from Japan had walked down to the Bottom of the Fifth and had a few beers the night before. Apparently, he left with two guys from the bar. How he wound up dead in a public bathroom was unknown. The coroner was awaiting toxicology results, but it sure sounded like an OD.

Here’s the thing I found most fascinating – his ship, the Guangzhou Highway, one of those giant, four-story car carriers that drop off Toyotas, was still waiting at port. They were supposed to leave the next morning, but it was still tied up. I wondered what his family must be thinking all the way back in Japan. If they would have to fly over here to get the body or if his body would be loaded on the ship, and, if so, where would they keep it? In a walk-in freezer with all the food? And how many days does it take to sail from Benicia to Japan?

The next day, nobody caught a damn thing either. It was foggy as hell and it didn’t help that a sea lion was thrashing around near the pier, feasting on salmon after salmon. One guy threatened to get his shotgun, but his buddy talked him out of it.

“Last thing we need is to call the cops down here again,” said Rusty, one of the guys who worked down at Benicia Bait and Tackle.

After a handful of casts, I decided I’d had enough of fishing. As I was loading up my gear, I saw the Guangzhou Highway creeping along past Ryan Island, totally silent in the fog. Everybody else was too busy fishing to notice. The guy who had threatened to shoot the sea lion was now throwing rocks at it and a few other guys were trying to pull him away, telling him to sober up.

As the Guangzhou passed by, I stopped what I was doing and took off my Giants hat and held it over my heart, like they were playing the national anthem or “Taps.” And I watched that majestic ship make its way out of the Strait and disappear into the fog before it reached the bridge. Never did hear if it was carrying the body or not.


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