FICTION

The Ailing Whale

Gunnar may have been a mite slow on the uptake, but with a girl like Nikki and a gas boat like the Sea Otter, how could he lose?

ARTHUR MAYSE September 1 1946
FICTION

The Ailing Whale

Gunnar may have been a mite slow on the uptake, but with a girl like Nikki and a gas boat like the Sea Otter, how could he lose?

ARTHUR MAYSE September 1 1946

The Ailing Whale

Gunnar may have been a mite slow on the uptake, but with a girl like Nikki and a gas boat like the Sea Otter, how could he lose?

ARTHUR MAYSE

I'D JUST about finished unloading the Sea Otter’s dinghy when Nikki came out of the doghouse with her face all damp and pink from the galley stove. She was wearing a red-and-white checkered apron with ruffles on it, her hair was in tight yellow curls, and she looked like a little girl except for her curves.

I made to kiss her, but she fended me off with the egg beater she had in her hand.

“That smell,” she said. “Gunnar, what on earth ;. . And on my nice clean hatch cover too!”

“You won’t be scrubbing any more hatch covers, baby,” I said to her, and lifted the last of those big grey chunks from the dinghy. “You and me, we’ll be heading out of Vancouver on a yacht, with half a dozen hired hands to scour decks for us.”

Still Nikki didn’t get it. She just stood staring at me, while her face got pinker and more puzzled.

“It’s ambergrease, baby,” I told her. “Comesout of a sick whale’s stomach. They make perfume with it cost« 10 bucks a whiff. Nikki, honey, wè’re rich!” “Ambergris,” Nikki whispered. “Oh, Gunnar, 1 can’t believe it . .

She came inside my arm then, all messed up as I was. We stood together at the stern, watching Mr. Eliasen, Nikki’s pop, waving and hollering at us from the cove beach where he’d gone to hunt firewood. He wanted me to fetch him aboard, but I was in no hurry—I’d been dead against him tagging along on this trip with Nikki and me, and us only six weeks married. Now, though, I ’ivas kind of glad he was here. Just let him sound off again about how I don’t even have sense enough to come in out of the rain !

“I’ll fetch him,” Nikki said. “You’ve been working hard, dear —you go below and rest.”

She kissed me again, and skipped over the side into the dinghy; I never see her quite so happy before. People around Mechitna sometimes wonder why Nikki married me, a real pretty girl like her. Well, I thought, rolling myself a cigarette, maybe this’ll show those biginouths why.

But Nikki wasn’t smiling when she brought the dinghy alongside the Sea Otter with her pop squatting comfortable in the stern. She looked more like she was fixing to cry, and she stepped past me as if she didn’t even see me standing there with my mouth hanging open.

It was different with Mr. Eliasen, though. He hauled out of the dinghy and planked himself in front of me. What with his bristly little mustache and his pale blue eyes and the way he tapers from both ends toward the middle, he looked like an angry hair seal.

“Gunderson,” he said, “you’ve done it again.” And before I could ask him what he meant, “I knew you were asleep under a bush when the brains was handed out, but this tops everything. This -this ambergris of yours. This mess you fished out of the saltchuck—”

“It’s the richest mess you’re ever likely to see,” I told him. “If you’ll quit miscalling me for a minute, I’ll let you in on how I got it. I was rowing back from Port. Orea with grub for the supper you’re going to eat most of when Mike Sanderson’s nephew hailed me from their fish packer —”

“Sanderson!” Mr. Eliasen brought the name out like he was a seal barking for a fish. “You got yourself mixed up with that thief Sanderson again?”

“Mike wasn’t even on board,” I said, “and he owed his nephew two months wages. The kid spilled it to me how they’d found this batch of

ambergrease adrift off Race Island and how Mike was fixing to hog all of it. He sold me eight hunks as big as your head.”

“And near as solid as yours,” Nikki’s pop barked. “For how much?”

“Twenty dollars a hunk,” I told him. “Makes a hundred-forty all told. But you can be darn sure Mike’s nephew didn’t know what I knew—that the stuff’s worth humpteen bucks an ounce.”

“Makes $160,” Mr. Eliasen said— he’s the storekeeper at Mechitna and good at figures. “All you’ve earned in a month’s fishing, the way salmon are running this year. And ounce, pound or ton, it’s worth just exactly nothing!”

He was hollering so loud now that Nikki couldn’t help but hear him. “Gunderson, you slugwit, you’ve been took again. That isn’t ambergris, it’s waste from the soap plant over at Port Orea. It’s laying around in piles on the beach yonder where the tide dropped it. Mike Sanderson played you for a sucker—you can bet he was below decks busting a gut to keep from laughing while his rascally nephew was deadfalling you. I tell you, it’s bad enough having a trollerman for a son - in - law, but that he be should the biggest fool this side of Alaska is too much.”

He bristled his whiskers at me again, and ducke I below. I kicked the soap waste overboard, wishing I could kick myself along with it, and scoured the deck good. Then I sat and studied, while Nikki clattered around in the doghouse like she does when she’s real mad, and Mr. Eliasen fetched his second wind and got rid of a few more opinions about dumb trollermen.

Listening to him, I began to get mad too, and the madder I got the faster my brain turned. She turned and she turned, like a gas boat flywheel on a frosty morning, and then—Bang!—I had it.

After a long spell, Nikki looked out. “It’s raining, Gunnar,” she said in a voice that sounded more sad than mad. “Hadn’t you better come in out of it? Anyway, supper’s ready.”

“Hadn’t noticed,” I told her, “and I’m not hungry.”

“Yes, you are,” Nikki said. She reached up and gave my hand a little pat. “I can’t pretend I’m not hurt. I’d counted so much on buying an evening dress in Vancouver next month, and you were going to have the Sea Otter rigged with power gurdies so we could catch more salmon . . . and now we won’t be able to afford either. But you can’t help being dumb, Gunnar. You’re my husband, and after all, I took you for better or

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The Ailing Whale

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worse. You come in out of the rain now. I’ve told father I won’t have him browbeat you any more.”

Dumb, e/i? I thought. Baby, just you wait till you hear what I've studied out!

BUT IT wasn’t until we were snug in our bunk and Mr. Eliasen was snoring his head off up forward in the bows that I told Nikki. She came awake first shake I gave her—maybe she hadn’t really been asleep.

“Nikki,” I whispered to her, “you’ll have your clothes-buying spree in town and I’m going to get those power gurdies for the Sea Otter after all.”

“But how can we?” Nikki whispered back. “You’ve lost all we’d saved, Gunnar. Every cent of it.” She snuggled into my arm with a sigh. “Don’t talk about it any more. You’ll just make me mad all over again.” “Listen,” I said, and gave her a good shake this time. “I’m not just making big talk, Nikki-honey. I’ve got it all figured out.”

She didn’t say anything for a minute but I knew she was taking notice.

“All right,” she said at last. “How, Gunnar?”

“If that stuff had been sure-enough ambergrease we’d be rich, wouldn’t we?” I asked her.

“Yes ... I suppose so,” Nikki said. “And ambergrease comes from sick whales’ stomachs, doesn’t it?”

“Yes,” she said. “But—”

“No buts about it, baby. It’s so plain I’m surprised it didn’t hit me sooner. All we’ve got to do is find us a whale.” Nikki stiffened, and I could feel her drawing a long breath. “Gunnar,” she said, “if I got mad at you every time you’re stupid I’d be mad all the time. Can’t you understand? It’s got to be a sick whale! We could spend the rest of our lives prowling the coast and not see anything but perfectly normal, healthy whales. Please forget about it and let me go to sleep.”

She flipped over on her side, and even when I shook her a couple more times she kept right on making like she was dead to the world. Then her pop began to have a nightmare, probably dreaming one of the Indians he clips at his store was on his tail with a fish knife, and after a spell he hollered himself awake. By the time he’d grumbled off to sleep again, Nikki was really pounding her ear, and even full of my idea as I was, I didn’t have the heart to rouse her.

Next morning I rolled out early, and before Nikki was even stirring I had the Sea Otter chugging north through the Straits with the dinghy on the doghouse roof and the spring poles triced alongside the mast.

We were well into Windy Alley when Nikki came to me at the wheel. She looked cute as a bug’s ear in her denim pants and open-throat blue shirt, with her brown eyes all surprised and her curls pushed back by the wind. Even in work clothes she’s a very pretty girl, my Nikki.

“Why, Gunnar,” she said, “I thought you were going to troll off Race Island today. We’re at least 10 miles north of Race, and you haven’t got a line over. You know perfectly well you should be fishing—”

“I am,” I told her, easing the Sea Otter’s bow over a dusty one.

“But what for, away up here?”

“For a whale,” I told her as the whitecap went snorting by and the boat tipped into the trough.

“Then you were serious last night?” Nikki asked me.

“I sure was,” I said.

Nikki said slowly, “My father was

right. Just ordinary dumbness I can stand, Gunnar, but this is too much. You’re to put me on board the next tugboat or packer or troller we pass heading south. I don’t intend to spend the rest of my days with a—a lunatic, searching for an ailing whale!”

She made to go below, but I caught her by the wrist and held her there, with my other hand on the wheel. I held her even when she kicked my shins and tried to bite me. There’s times, I’ve found, when you have to be firm with women.

“Now get this straight,” I said to her. “I’m not crazy, and you’re boarding no southbound packer. You wouldn’t pay me any heed last night, but now, Nikki-honey, you’re going to. I know as well as you we don’t have a cat-in-hell chance of finding any sick whale flummoxing around tossing up chunks of ambergrease. That’s not my plan at all.”

Nikki didn’t say anything, but she’d stopped hacking my shins and was looking up at me with her eyes big and round.

“So we find us a whale,” I went on. “Any old whale. When we spot him, we don’t just tag along and hope he’s fixing to toss his cookies.”

“Then what—” Nikki was beginning, but I checked her pretty stern.

“If our whale isn’t sick when we catch up with him,” I said, “wejust set to and make him sick!”

Nikki’s eyes had got even rounder, and she was looking at me with her mouth open.

“If you say ‘but how’ again, I’ll turn you over my knee and spank you,” I told her. “Answer me this, Nikki: if you were looking for a whale this time of year, where’d you expect to find him sure-fire?”

“On the other side of Cape Toivo,” Nikki said in a scared squeak, “chasing herring in the lagoon.”

“Well, that’s exactly where we’re going,” I said, and gave her bottom a little pat to start her for the doghouse. “We’ll find us a whale in the lagoon and I’ll do the rest. Now it’s time you was rustling up a bite of breakfast.”

“Yes, Gunnar,” Nikki said, still looking at me with her big round eyes. “I’ll fix you a nice breakfast. Only please don’t strike me again!”

It didn’t dawn on me what was the matter with her until later in the morning when we were closing the Cape, and her pop skipped past me real spry, as if he more than half expected me to jump him.

“Just you take it easy, son,” he told me with his voice downright anxious. “Don’t you fret that peanut brain of yours over whales or salmon or Mike Sanderson or anything. How’d you like me to take the wheel and let you lay down for a spell?”

“All I want you to do is keep out of my way, pop,” I told him. “If the luck’s riding, I’ll show you by tonight whether I’ve stranded my rigging or not.”

We’d seen two, three whales already, fluking and blowing in the open water, and I was feeling so good that when Mike Sanderson passed us, heading on along the Cape to pick up salmon from Quinnat Cove hand liners, I even waved to him where he was hanging out of his wheelhouse with a grin smeared right across his ugly red puss.

When we were halfway down the inside of the Cape we sighted another whale, a big old bull humpback cruising lazy and slow. He kept moseying along on a straight course like a fat man heading for his favorite hash house, and when he was something under half a mile from the lagoon, up go his black flukes into the air. He sounded in a boil a couple cf acres across, and when the

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back of his flat head broke water he was right off the turny-twisty neck of the lagoon.

I shoved my hand into my pants pocket where I keep my lucky lead quarter I got stung with at Victoria and wrapped my fingers around it tight, hoping the breaks would keep coming our way. They did! That humpback rolled into the bottleneck smooth as a battle wagon easing through the Panama and kept right on around the jack-knife bend and out of sight.

“We got him,” I shouted to Nikki, where she was sitting cross-legged on the doghouse roof. “Baby, he’s in the bag!”

NIKKI DIDN’T make any answer that I could hear, but Mr. Eliasen gave his head a sad kind of shake.

“What d’you propose to do next, Gunderson?” he asked me.

“He’ll be busy gulping herring until evening ebb,” I said. “That gives me just time enough to build a whale trap.”

“And how had you figured on doing that?” Mr. Eliasen asked as if he was talking to a little child.

“Easy,” I said. “I wouldn’t expect you to know, but there’s only 40 foot of channel deep enough for a gas boat to navigate without stranding except on a spring tide, and a whale draws a lot more water than a gas boat. You see those two big hemlocks at the top of the sidehill? All I’ve got to do is slide them into the gut where she narrows past the bend. Then that whale stays in the lagoon just as long as we want to keep him there, like a bull in a corral.” “Sounds fine, Gunderson,” Nikki’s pop said, “except for one thing your poor spavined wits haven’t compassed. What’s to stop your hemlocks from floating out on the ebb?”

“You wouldn’t know this either,” I told him, “but green hemlock don’t float worth a darn. There’s enough old boom chains on the beach to sink those timber sticks across the channel right where I want ’em.”

Nikki’d stopped looking at me in that queer way, and it was plain she was paying real close attention. “And then?” she asked me.

“Then,” I told her, “we go to work on our whale. It may take a week, or a month even, but we’re sure going to make him sick.”

“It sounds awfully cruel,” Nikki said, still kind of doubtful. “If the SPC A heard of it, I’m certain there’d be trouble, Gunnar.”

“Right now, baby,” I said, “that humpy is in there loading himself past the Plimsoll with herring. Chances are he’ll eat himself good and sick without any help from us. All I figure on doing is just hurrying his indigestion along a little.”

Not wanting to scare the whale, we didn’t go right in—just far enough to make sure he was still there, shovelling up herring like this was the last school in the whole North Pacific. I left Nikki and Mr. Eliasen on the Sea Otter while I went over the sidehill to a handlogger’s hack and borrowed the tools I needed. They weren’t many, just a falling axe, a crosscut saw and a Gilchrist jack to start my hemlocks skidding for the saltchuck if they hung up after I felled them.

They didn’t hang, though; the slope was so steep they bounced off the stumps and sailed down into the gut like they were riding on oiled skids. By the time I got them down, the tide was in the last half of the flow and the sun was slanting toward the west.

I skidded in a fir sapling, maybe a 70 foot tall, 12 inches through the butt and with hardly any taper, then went down to finish off my whale trap. Nikki’s

pop, I noticed, had borrowed the handlogger’s skiff and rowed out to the mouth of the gut. He’d anchored in deep water on a long line and was jigging for cod, sprawled back in the stern with a foot trailing over each side. He likes to be comfortable, Mr. Eliasen does.

Nikki was still on the Sea Otter, though. She’s grown up with gas boats, and she helped me a lot. A trollerman makes his boat work for him just like one of those cowpunchers does with his pony, and this day the Sea Otter was fairly eating out of my hand. We towed the pair of green hemlocks into place, and before the sun was behind the islands we had them sunk with boom chains right were I’d figured they should go.

“There,” I said to Nikki. “That does it. I tell you, baby, it’d have to be a pretty tough, skookum humpback to bust his way out now!”

“He looked terribly large,” Nikki said. “Gunnar, I didn’t like this at the start, and I’m liking it less every minute. Won’t you please put this notion out of your head?”

“Just you leave it to me,” I told her. “Now take me inshore so’s I can hop off alongside that fir sapling yonder.” I topped the fir, split the thin end with a wedge for maybe six feet, and blocked it with a hunk of driftwood. Then I hand-signalled Nikki from the beach while she eased the Sea Otter’s stem into the split.

“What’s that for?” she wanted to know.

“Hold the boat as she is till I get aboard,” I told her. “That sapling, Nikki, is what’s going to make our whale sick. It’s a whale prod.”

“You—you mean you’re planning to ram him?” Nikki’s voice had a little shake in it, and I could tell she was scared.

“Prod him right in his fat old belly,” I said. “As I see it, his stomach ought to start churning like your ma’s washing machine when the butt end of that sapling has dinted him a few times.” Nikki began to cry then, not loud

but mighty earnest. “Oh, Gunnar,” she choked out. “Please, please give up this crazy business. I don’t care about the money you lost—we can make more. All I want is to keep you in one p-piece. And you won’t be if you ram that w-w-whale. Even if my father’s right about you, Gunnar, I still love you—”

“And me you, baby,” I told her, cheerful as I felt. “Now you just scoot in along that sapling to the beach and watch me start making us our fortune.”

Nikki dabbed at her eyes with the bitty lace handkerchief she carries even in her work clothes. The tears were still dripping off her little snub nose, but her chin had stopped trembling.

“Then you’re determined to go ahead and prod that whale?” she asked me.

“Nothing to it,” I told her. “Like shooting fish in a basket!”

“All right,” she said. “If I can’t make you change your mind, I’m going with you.”

I tried to talk her out of it, but it was no use. She just stood beside the wheel, not saying a word, but shaking her yellow head every time I opened my mouth. The ebb was starting, and there was no more time to lose, so I got the Sea Otter squared away for the lagoon with the sapling sticking out in front like a spear. She steered hard, but that humpy would be a plenty big target.

Looking back over my shoulder, I noticed a tugboat with a log boom inching along the Cape from the west. East a half-hour’s run, Mike Sanderson’s fish packer was loafing back from Quinnat—you can trust Mike never to hurry on company time. All I hoped was the big robber wouldn’t get down soon enough to poke his nose into our show.

We bucked the current up the gut and into the lagoon.

“There he is,” Nikki whispered. “Over by the rock bluff. Oh, Gunnar. Oh-h-h . . .”

Her words trailed away; and I have to admit it was a sight to make anyone lose their voice.'

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THE WATER in the lagoon was smooth as a sheet of silver, and right in the middle of it that bull humpy was floating. He’d gorged his fill and was laying there dead asleep with his back awash. It come to me as we eased out of the gut at half speed that he was bigger—one hell of a lot bigger— than I’d figured. From stem to stern he was all of 60 foot and the part of him that stuck up above the surface was as long and round and black as a submarine.

For the first time since I got my idea I started to feel a mite nervous. Then I remembered all the fancy talk I’d made coming up from Race Island, and I thought hard about how much 100odd pounds of ambergrease would fetch us. A whale that size should cough up a barrel of ambergrease . . .

“Get yourself a good hold on the mast, Nikki-honey,” I said. “Here we go!”

I wrapped my fists tight around the wheel spokes, aimed my whale prod right at the humpback’s midships, and gave the Sea Otter everything she had.

We headed across the lagoon with my new secondhand medium - duty Klamath pounding fit to start herself clean off the engine bed. The blunt end of the sapling was throwing up a bow wave out front, and the whale was dead ahead, getting bigger and larger and blacker and uglier every second. He appeared to be watching us sideways out of one little eye, and when we were 15 fathoms away he opened his mouth in the awfullest yawn you ever did see.

Nikki let go the mast and wrapped her arms around me. She took one last look, then tried to hide her head under my shoulder. A second later we hit.

I’d expected the prod to sink in like when you slam your fist against an overstuffed pillow. But it didn’t— it was more like hitting a stone wall. The fir butt socked him just aft of the floating ribs with a jar that didn’t just stop the Sea Otter but shoved her back a good half length. The prod split away from the bows, the engine gave one sickly sounding sneeze, then died.

For the time it took me to suck in a long breath, the humpback just lay there. Then things began to happen faster than I could keep track of.

That whale reared a third of the way out of the lagoon from a standing start. He landed with a crash you could have heard a mile off, and while I was still smearing the water out of my eyes, the Sea Otter started climbing for the sky as if an earthquake wave had rolled up under her keel. The air was full of spray, Nikki was all wrapped around me and shivering fit to shake herself apart, and a big black side was ripping past so close I could have reached out and snagged it with a salmon gafif.

Holy old baldheaded, I thought, maybe we didn't make him sick, but we sure made him mad!

He smoked past us, all 60 foot of him, like one of those streamliner trains trying to catch up on its schedule. When he was 50 yards astern, and while I was still getting my head swivelled around, he gave his tail flukes a twirl and a toss and sounded.

The Sea Otter was still rolling and bucking in the cross rips he’d kicked up, but Nikki had her head out from under my arm and was screaming in my ear.

“My father! Gunnar, my father. He’s anchored right in the mouth of the channel!”

I’d clean forgot about Mr. Eliasen in all the fuss and flurry. My heart that had just begun to drop down out of my throat kept right on toward my boots.

“Your pop’ll be all right, baby,” I said, still spitting salt water. “You’ve forgot all about my log jam by the

channel bend. That’ll stop the brute.” g But after what we’d just seen, I

i didn’t believe it any more than

^ Nikki did.

I I started to count off the seconds to 3 myself. I’d got to seven when there was 3 a dull boom like a shot of 60% Titan 3 stumping makes when you touch her off under a snag. We saw two ends of a 3 busted hemlock go sailing into the ! air, and while they were still spinning

3 end over end, there came the darnedest

yell I ever hope to hear.

“My father!” Nikki screamed again, j “Sounds like it sure enough tor[ pedoed him,” I said, and dived into the j doghouse.

[ The engine was still on her bed, and she caught hold first flip of the flywheel. [ We chugged down the lagoon and into [ the bottleneck, scared stiff of what we were going to find when we got round ; the bend.

» If anything, it was worse than I’d counted on—and that was bad enough. ; Last I’d seen of Mr. Eliasen, he was [ sleeping comfortable in the sunshine [ with his red bandanna spread over his face and the cod line hitched around one , big toe. Now he was standing up in the . stern of the skiff, leaning back on the f painter with both hands. He was [ travelling faster than one of those , beach dudes that get themselves towed on a board behind a speedboat. The skiff’s nose was clean out of the salt, chuck, the anchor line was stretched , straight out ahead, and the anchor was , fouled solid on one of the humpback’s flukes.

The whale was scorching along the surface like he was late for a date with a lady humpy near China, and Nikki’s pop was sounding off in one steady yell.

The tugboat I’d seen half an hour before was past the lagoon now, but its drag of logs was square across the bottleneck. Couple of hundred yards to seaward I spotted Mike Sanderson’s packer, with Mike capering around on deck.

That crazy whale headed for the boom without dropping a knot or changing course a point. Fifty yards off it he sounded slick and clean; the log sections rolled like a rug when you shake it hard by one end, and the anchor line tore the forward thwart clear out of the skiff. But the skiff had so much way on her she didn’t stop. She lifted her nose over the outside swifter that holds the boom together and skated across the logs till she was sitting high and dry, plumb in the middle of the hindmost section.

Still hollering, Mr. Eliasen plopped down on the bottom boards. The whale surfaced on the far side of the boom, and things began to happen beyond on Mike’s packer. He and his nephew had a boat over, and they dropped into it, feet first, together like they were training for a circus act. While Mike was still scrabbling to get the oars into the rowlocks, the engineer popped up from below. He took one look at that humpy highballing straight for the packer and tossed himself over the side. Mike started rowing for nowhere in particular, catching a crab every other stroke. The whale sounded again. He came up on the weather side of the packer, and kept right on going like he had a bonfire on his tail.

I GAVE the Sea Otter full speed—that fool enginner hadn’t even killed his Diesels, and the packer was still jogging along under power. Ten minutes of that, I thought, and she’d be aground on a reef.

“Take the wheel, Nikki,” I said. “Put me close enough so’s I can board her.”

Nikki swung the Sea Otter in on a slant, and I jumped for the packer’s

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deck. I had her nose pointed away from the rocks when it came to me that someone was shouting loud and urgent astern. It was Mike Sanderson, and between every whoop he wasted breath in a bout of cussing.

“Stop them engines!” he yelled. “Gunderson, you let me git back on that vessel!”

“All in good time,” I called to him, remembering how he’d beartrapped me into spending every nickel of our towngoing money on soap waste. “Just you lay into those oars, Mike. Clever man like you should be able to catch up with me easy!”

“Wait,” Mike hollered. “Gunderson, listen!” The engineer had the oars now, and Mike was waving something in his hand. From the wheelhouse it looked like a fistful of folding money. I slowed up a notch and let them pull closer.

“Two hundred bucks, Gunderson!” Mike was hollering. “More than I took you for. Ain’t you got any heart at all?”

“Eh?” I called to him. It began to sink in he was offering me that wad of bills.

“All right, 300!” Mike was getting pretty hoarse. “Only for the luvva’ Pete, let me back on board.”

When Mike starts growing softhearted, I right away get suspicious. No one ever knew him to give anything to anybody yet. So I nudged the throttle and widened the gap.

“Five hundred!” Mike hollered. “I can’t go no higher, you pirate! As it is, I’m digging into company money.

Five hundred to turn my boat back to me!”

Maybe I am a bit slow on the uptake, but when someone is doing their darnedest to make me a present of 500 clams I’ve got wits enough to grab them. I killed the engine and let Mike claw alongside.

Mike stuck up his fist with the money and I lifted the roll out of his fingers. He swung himself to the deck like an overgrown ape; there was a look on his red face that I didn’t like at all, so I just eased across and stepped down to the Sea Otter that Nikki was holding close in on the starboard side.

Mike was still cussing me as we hauled away, but Nikki kissed me so hard it tingled me right down to the soles of my rubber boots.

“I’ve misjudged you, Gunnar,” she said. “You’re not dumb, you’re clever . . . Why, you’ve got a brain like Einstein’s!”

“Guess you mean Weinstein, the timekeeper down at Mechitna Cannery,” I said, feeling pretty pleased, because that dude is smart as a whip.

“Using your head like that,” Nikki said, all out of breath and snuggling in beside me at the wheel. “I just can’t get over it, Gunnar . . . the way you realized you could tie up Mike Sanderson’s packer for months with a foolproof salvage claim!”

Slewfooted, jumped - up Peter, I thought, so that’s why Mike was almost shoving his roll down my craw!

But with Nikki looking up at me all proud and pleased with her big brown eyes, I just couldn’t tell her I’d never once caught on.

: “Shucks, baby,” I said, “I may be

a mite slow on the pickup, but when my , brain gets to turning it takesa good man r to trim me.”

f “I can hardly wait to tell father how

> wrong he’s been about you,” Nikki said, t The tugboat had stopped, and they

were putting over a boat to take Mr. 7 Eliasen off the logs.

“You can’t tell him right away, i Nikki-honey,” I said, and tightened i my arm around her slim little waist. “Unless I miss my guess, that tug won’t

> be down to Mechitna for three-four ; weeks, and after what your pop’s been

through he could do with a nice quiet ; cruise. Us, we’re lighting right out of » here for Vancouver. While you’re : splurging on clothes, baby, I’ll begetting

our Sea Otter rigged with those power i gurdies. Then we’re going to paint * the town red!”

Î We were still standing there like that when Mike Sanderson circled his i packer back. He hailed me, sour as if he’d downed a dipper of lemon juice:

, “One thing I got to know, Gunderson.

What in thunderation was you up to in i that lagoon?”

i “Whale-prodding,” I told him. “Fig; ured a few prods and the ambergrease i would come hopping out of him like when you hit the jack pot in a slot machine.”

“Ambergrease?” Mike yelped.“From a humpy? Gunderson, I thought even t you’d know you don’t get that stuff ’cept only from a sperm whale!”

1 “Well, Mike,” I told him, “maybe i you’re right. But with you around, : what do I want with ambergrease

anyhow?”