The Trap Lifters can be found in






Sea Stories, October 20, 1922

The Trap Lifters

By Ernest Haycox

There are pirates and pirates—and some kinds survive even in this civilized twentieth century. Those in this particular story were fish pirates, but they were quite as bloodthirsty and murderous as their cousins who sailed the Spanish Main some years ago; and there is quite as much action in this tale of their activities.

NORTHWARD from Seattle sweeps the Inside Passage, bounded on one side by the rocky and broken coasts of Canada and Alaska, protected from the sea on the other by a chain of long islands. Where these islands meet, point to point, wide straits open to the sea.

Dixon's Entrance is one of these, opening into the passages at the southernmost end of the Alaskan coast; a treacherous piece of water through which many a purse- seine boat has drifted and never returned.

Where the currents of the entrance and the passage meet huge tide rips boil, pluck at the bottom of the small fishing craft and spin them around while the steersman holds an idle wheel and watches with sharp concern the jutting point of Cape Chacon, on the southern tip of the Prince of Wales Island.

In rough weather the wind sends great rollers toward the mainland, and they go smashing against the ragged fingers of rock thirty-four miles away, or, if the blow comes from a more southerly direction, the wind rounds the cape and sweeps in wild fury up the passage, pushing drift and water and boat in front of it.

Rushing along it passes Moria Sound on the inside shore of the island, and, shortly after, it piles up the water in a great wall of spray against Moria Rock, just above the entrance.

Past the rock and into the sound chugged the Star, cannery tender, late in the afternoon of a hot Fourth of July. Heading toward the outer end of a floating fish trap it gave a long blast of its whistle. A moment later two figures hurried from the small frame shanty on the shore, jumped into a rowboat and followed the long lead boom of the trap toward the incoming tender.

The latter idled up to the heart of the trap—a boxlike arrangement of logs and planks from which is suspended the net—and made fast to a cleat in one of the logs. Shaughnessy, skipper of the Star, put his head out of the window of the pilothouse and greeted the two men as they came up.

"Hello, Gus," said he, "how's things?"

The larger man stood up awkwardly, hanging to a fender of the Star.

"Oh, dey ban purty gude. De fish dey begin to run. Ve got five or six hoondret in de heart now. Ven you goin' to lift dem?"

Shaughnessy stepped out of the wheelhouse and looked over the rail into the heart of the trap. "Pretty looking fish, ain't they? Not enough to bother with yet, though. Lessee, this is Sunday. Tell you what, I'll drop down Wednesday and do it. By the way, Gus, you'd won the rifle contest if you'd been in Ketchikan today. It was easy."

"Dot so," answered Gus, grinning. "Vish I'd been dere." He looked around. "Vere's Eddy?"

"Soused," replied Shaughnessy. "He's down in the bunk sleeping."

Gus caught sight of a new man on the afterdeck coiling lines. "Who's dat?" he asked.

Shaughnessy looked back. "Oh, that's a new fellow I picked up in Ketchikan. We're short down at the cannery. Name's Heilig."

The man heard his name spoken and looked up. Gus shook his head. "I don't like dot face," he mumbled half to himself.

"Hey there," called Shaughnessy; "leave that rope be. Pitch in here and help pass out this stuff. Plenty of time to coil lines when we're moving."

Heilig moved forward. Gus eyed the heavy-jowled face with increasing disfavor. The man was nearly as tall as he, and Gus himself towered, square and solid, six feet and a half in the air. The new man's face was lined with a reddish stubble punctuated by a huge beak and a thin hard slit of a mouth.

"I don't like dot fallow," Gus repeated under his breath.

"My name's Heilig, not 'hey there,'" said the man, picking up a case of canned stuff.

"All right, all right," agreed the skipper in good humored assent. "Get a wiggle on."

Gus reached up for the case and, to steady himself, rested one hand on the deck. Heilig saw it, and quite suddenly a cruel twist of his lips set his whole face in a devilish, saturnine expression. He swung the case forward to the Swede, and deliberately stepped on the hand.

The reaction was immediate. The Swede's free arm described an arc, encircled the man's legs, and a huge jerk brought Heilig toppling over the handrail. The case of canned stuff went crashing to the bottom of the dory, spilling over the other supplies. Now the hand of Gus was free. He grasped Heilig's body around the waist with both arms, and with a grimace unpleasant to see on his usually stolid face clamped his wrists together, squeezing the other's body.

Heilig struggled, suspended in the air. His arms flailed about and fell on the Swede's back. His face contracted with pain; and then he screamed. Gus slid his hands up beneath the other's armpits, gave a prodigious shove, and pitched him into the water.

He went down and came up, threshed the water with his arms, and struck out toward one of the logs of the heart. Reaching it he crawled up, slowly and painfully.

Gus nursed his hand. "Dot vill teach you," he said solemnly, "to keep avay from my hands. Und next time you do dot, I vill kill you."

Heilig climbed back on the large boat...

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