'98, Buck Meloy

Our fishing trip did not get off to an auspicious start.

Gregor, Dan, and I had joined Capt. Bob Brown (names have been changed to protect the guilty) on the deck of Bob's seiner at noon, the appointed hour, to do a few things to get ready for the late-season coho opener over in Valdez.

We were replacing the regular crew who had left at the end of the regular season. Dan and I already knew each other, and we were both old friends of Capt. Brown. We were willing to join this expedition because our gillnet season had closed prematurely, and we might still salvage part of it this way. We also figured that paticipating in the two-day hatchery coho derby would be interesting entertainment. What else could we do that would be more fun?

Gregor needed the job. Only two years in America, this hulking young Russian was anxious to do anything that might lead to a better future than moving furniture in New York City, his previous job. And he had been learning english rapidly.

So after Bob and I had fixed a few small problems in the skiff, Gregor was asked to drag out the chains so we could chain-bind it to the seiner's deck. We were preparing for the heavy weather in tomorrow's forecast, when we would make the eight hour trip to Valdez.

I was beginning to like Gregor. To be helpful, and also to test the limits of Gregor's english, I would say things like, "You need to flip the chain-binder over, and grab a link further down the chain with the other hook." From my vantage on the skiff, just above him, I could see the translation machinery switch on, hum for a moment, and produce the appropriate russian equivalent.

"Is like this?" queried Gregor, placing the several components correctly. It was obvious that Gregor was quick and able, and that language would not be a barrier.

The chain binder was difficult to tighten, as it was lower than the web pile on which Gregor had to stand. To improve leverage, the captain handed him a cheater bar. Watching, I realized that the odd angle might be putting him at risk, and was about to say something when, just before the binder could lock into place, the cheater slipped off releasing the enormous tension through the handle. It caught him full force right in the forehead.

I won't provide the gory details, other than to say that flashes of images from Pulp Fiction leapt into my mind. Bob had already grabbed Gregor to steady him as I jumped down to provide whatever aid I could. There was plenty of blood, and it looked bad.

I had greasy papertowels in one hand and a handkerchief in my pocket. I gave him the handkerchief to press against the wound to stem the flow. He was dazed, but able to do as I requested -- a good sign. When Bob saw that I would prevent him from falling overboard and was providing the only help that could be given at the moment, he disappeared. I made Gregor show me the wound. It was a deep and ugly gash, running from left eyebrow to hairline. Nothing grey was coming out. "Let's move down onto the hatch or into the cabin," I suggested, worried that he might faint, fall, and need to be rescued from the harbor water.

Eventually we moved to the cabin. His color was okay, his brow warm, and, though he had been stunned, he had never been weak or dizzy. I thought he would want to sit down, but he sought out a mirror to appraise the damage himself. "Aw, shit!" he exclaimed, plus a few words in russian. Many things must have been running through his mind, but the one I could clearly read was that he was afraid that this accident may have cost him his job. Now I really liked him.

Just then Bob returned. I suggested that maybe we should walk up the dock. Gregor readily agreed. Bob announced that an ambulance would soon be here. We met it at the head of the dock and put Gregor's fate in the hands of the paramedics.

Later, with Gregor thoroughly stitched up, bandaged, and comfortably ensconced in Bob's house with a bowl of chicken soup, the remaining three of us set about finishing up the chores. About an hour into them, diesel fuel started running off the top of the house onto the deck. The stove tank had filled, and the pump was still filling it! We scrambled and managed to prevent fuel from flowing overboard, building dikes of papertowels, rags, and oil diapers. Three hours later, thoroughly dieseled ourselves, we got the last of the oil-soaked lines off the boat and the mess completely cleaned up. It was way past time for supper.

Bob picked up Gregor, whose gauze-wrapped head made him look like The Return of The Mummy's Curse. The only place serving food this late was a tavern, so we went there. We smelled like the sputtering oil torches that provided illumination in the mummy's tomb, and hulking Gregor was saying things like "Is not much hurtink. Feelink svell."

"Please excuse my friend", I said to the startled and staring bar crowd, by way of explaining his unusual accent and appearance. "He's Egyptian. It's been a long day." They seemed to understand.

The next day we departed for the opener. And, like the fabled archeologists, we had an exumed mummy on deck but reaped no benefit from our efforts. Our seined plunder consisted mostly of the reeking corpses of dead humpies and an ancient outboard motor. One should not doubt the Mummy's Curse.

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