The Saga of Ellis Continues

Note: This is all true.

Chapter Four

In the year of our Lord, 1700, it’s a gentle breeze that pushes the small sailing ship southwest, towards the northern coast of Cape Ann. The master and owner of the ship is John Lane who, together with his wife and children, is coming from Falmouth, Maine, after being run out by Indians during the First Indian War. It is a new century and a new beginning for the Lane family.

As the ship approaches land, John sees the dense forests he had been told about. His plan is to first clear a parcel in which to build their house. Then he and his sons will fell trees and sell the wood for the making of ships. There certainly is no shortage of raw material.

The ship anchors ten miles north of Gloucester Town, off Flatstone Cove. John and his eldest son, James, row a small dory to the shoreline. There is no beach, no soft white sand to set foot upon. The coast, as is the entire island, is made of granite. There is a small hill overlooking the cove, and it is there that Lane decides to build his house. The family will live onboard the boat until the house is inhabitable.

By 1704, John Lane had been given a grant of ten acres in and around the cove. It has been four years since the Lane family set foot upon the rocky shoreline. There were six children in the Lane clan when they landed, now there are nine. Before they are finished, John and his wife, Dorcas, will have brought a total of twelve new souls into the world. Not all of them will make it to adulthood, but enough of them do so. The land is eventually named Lanesville. And, in time, Flatstone Cove becomes known as Lane’s Cove. So it went, generation after generation of Lanes populating the northern region of the island known as Cape Ann.

• • • •

The year is 1974. The place: Cape Ann Marina.

Ellis and Wayne have just come in from a day of tuna fishing. The men who had charted the Cape Ann for the day are a happy lot. They got themselves a tuna—almost 800 pounds. By now, the Japanese had discovered the tuna-rich fishing grounds off Gloucester. And any fish they could not catch themselves, they bought from the local fishermen. The price had risen from the three cents of Ellis’ youth to six dollars per pound. There’s a lot of sushi sold in Japan.

After having taken numerous pictures with their prize, Ellis’ customers gave him the tuna, as a tip, to dispose of as he saw fit. He sold it to a Japanese buyer for $4,800.00—without having to leave the dock. He split the cash with Wayne and he headed over to the bar.

Everybody in Gloucester knew Ellis, and that included all the people in the bar that evening. It took him a few minutes to respond to all the salutations he received as he walked through the door. It was a big room and he had to make the rounds, shaking hands with the men and winking at the women. Luckily, the barmaid knew his poison, and it was waiting for him when he finally sat down on the barstool.

He sipped his drink slowly. It was early and he was wound up from the day’s adventures. He thought he’d have one more drink and then order dinner. After that, he’d see how things panned out. It had been a good day. And with money in his pocket and a gleam in his eye, he was looking to make it a good night as well.

As Ellis sat on his stool contemplating his drink and looking in the mirror behind the bar, a vision of loveliness caught his eye. She had legs that just would not quit. Her hair was auburn, her eyes green, and her smile brought joy to the hearts of men. She was a direct descendant of John Lane.

“Who’s that girl?” he asked the barmaid.

“She’s the new waitress.”

“Why haven’t I seen her before?”

“Probably because she’s the new waitress,” came the sarcastic reply.

“You know what I mean. I know every female on this island between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five and I’ve never seen her before. What’s her name?”

“It’s Laura … something. Wait. Now I remember—it’s Laura Lane.”

“Where is she from?”

“Jeeze, Ellis. You want her phone number and bra size too? I was just introduced to her when I came on shift. You can do your own dirty work. I got drinks to serve.”

The young barmaid walked away in a huff. Probably because she was an ex-lover of the man who was asking all the questions about another woman.

Ellis moved to the end of the bar, to the serving area where the waitresses picked up their drink orders. It was a safe bet he’d be able to get in a few words while the beauty was waiting for her orders to be filled.

He let her come and go twice before he said anything. He was letting the line run out. On her third trip back, after she had just placed an order for two vodka martinis on the rocks and a draft beer, Ellis tried to set the hook.

“Hi. My name’s Ellis. I’ve been watching you and I gotta say that you are sensational. I’m not trying to hit on you or anything. I just want you to know that I think you are beautiful.”

The girl smiled, and her eyes grew wide. “I know who you are. Everybody knows who you are.”

Ellis thought, This is going to be easy. But before he could go on with his spiel, the girl continued. “And everyone knows that you are the horniest hound dog around. You’ve bedded three of my girlfriends that I know of, but … I must admit … they all speak quite highly of you. And that’s amazing, seeing as how you dumped each of them after a few romps in the sack.”

Just then her order was placed before her. She put the drinks on a small tray and departed without saying another word.

The hook had not been fully set.

Well, it might not be that easy, thought Ellis. But it may be a lot of fun trying.

When she came back, Ellis asked, “Wanna have dinner with me some night?”

In spite of herself, Laura was attracted to the smiling man who looked straight into her eyes. After she gave her drink order to the barmaid, she said, “If dinner is all you have in mind, then I see no reason to decline your kind offer.”

“That’s great. When is your next night off?”

“I’m off Mondays and Tuesdays. Take your pick.”

“I think Mondays are the best day of the week to sit down to dinner with a beautiful woman.”

Laura blushed at the compliment. She wrote her phone number on a bar napkin and handed it to Ellis. “Call me Monday afternoon to confirm. For all I know, you’ll be entangled with some other woman by then.”

With a light laugh, Ellis replied, “Don’t worry. I’ll fit you in somehow.”

Laura rolled her eyes and said, “I would appreciate that considerably,” before leaving with her drink order.

Monday finally rolled around, and Ellis, after having called to ascertain the address and confirm that he was still looking forward to seeing her, was at Laura’s apartment at eight on the dot.

Ellis held the car door open for her. As she slid in, he once again appreciated her long legs. He took her to a small and intimate place on Rogers Street, owned by a friend of his. Out back there was an enclosed garden with one table—“Ellis’ Table.” When Ellis walked through the door with Laura, the proprietor welcomed him as a long-lost friend and escorted them to Ellis’ private dining room.

It was a warm summer night and the scent of flowers filled the air. Colorful Japanese lanterns adorned the walls of the garden and soft music emanated from unseen speakers. No menus were presented, only a bottle of crisp, dry white wine.

While the waiter uncorked the bottle, Ellis said, “I hope you don’t mind, but I called ahead and ordered our dinner. And I hope you like white wine. I’m not big on the red stuff. But you can have whatever you’d like.”

“No, white is fine. What’s for dinner?”

“Why not be surprised?”

Laura consented to be surprised and shyly sipped her wine.

“Okay. Now that we have that out of the way, tell me about yourself.”

Ellis had downed his wine in two gulps. He was a little nervous. He raised the wine bottle out of the ice bucket and refilled his glass.

Looking at Ellis from over the rim of her wine glass, Laura countered, “Most men like to talk about themselves. Why don’t you go first?”

“You’ve already told me that you knew all about me. I’m the horny hound dog, remember? So, I’d like to know a little something about you. For instance, how long have you lived in Gloucester? Where do you come from? And how did you get to be so goddamn beautiful?”

Laura put her glass down and thought for a moment before answering.

This guy’s on the make alright. This place would soften up any woman. Stay on your toes, Laura girl. He’s just asking about you to put you off your guard. I have to admit, he’s done everything right so far. But just remember that he only wants to get into your pants. Enjoy the meal, enjoy your night out, and then have him drive you straight home. No going over to his place for a nightcap.

“Well, Ellis, I’ve only lived in this part of Gloucester for a few weeks now. But I was born on the island. In fact, my family has been on Gloucester since the year 1700. You ever been up to Lanesville?”

“Many times.”

“That’s where I’m from.”

“Why haven’t I ever seen you before?”

“Probably because you don’t hang out at high schools all that much. You’re about ten years older than I am. When I was in school you were down here doing your fishing … for both tuna—and the way I hear it—women. When I graduated high school, I went off to college. I’m home for the summer now, but there’s no work up in Lanesville or the vicinity. I thought it would be cool to go to Gloucester and get a job. I didn’t want to commute, so I got myself an apartment down here. It’s small but cozy. There you have it. My whole life story.”

Ellis refilled her glass and said, “Not quite.”

“What do you mean?”

“You haven’t told me how you got to be so goddamn beautiful.”

Laura laughed and said, “You’re too much, Ellis.” Ellis tilted his wine glass toward her in a silent toast and said, “I try to be.” Then they talked about this and they talked about that. Small talk mostly, until dinner was served. During dinner, Ellis confessed that his family had also settled in the area during the 1700s. “But a little later than yours. I think it was about 1750 or thereabouts.”

They lingered over dinner, enjoying the food, the company, and the conversation.

On the way back to Laura’s apartment, Ellis was talkative, but did not mention stopping by his apartment for a nightcap or anything else of that sort. He asked questions about her family history and seemed genuinely interested in her answers. At her place, he again opened the car door for her and escorted her to her apartment.

Here it comes, she thought. He’s going to ask to come in “for just a little while.”

However, he did no such thing. Instead, he held out his hand and shook hers, saying, “I’ve had a wonderful evening, Laura, and I’ve enjoyed your company. Goodnight.”

With a perplexed look on her face, Laura watched Ellis’ retreating figure as he descended the stairs.

He didn’t even try to kiss me goodnight. Maybe I was wrong about him. Either that or he didn’t like me.

She got out her key and let herself into the apartment. After making sure the door was locked, she leaned against it and was stunned to realize she was a little disappointed that Ellis had not made a move on her.

Chapter Five

Five days went by before Laura heard from Ellis again. It was over the phone that he asked her, “Tomorrow is Monday and I was wondering if you’d like to shoot a little pool?”

Laura smiled into the phone before answering. He’s interested in me after all.

“I don’t know how to play pool.”

“Neither do I. So don’t worry about it. There’s an Irish pub right down the block from you. Perhaps you’ve seen the green and white sign. The name’s Mulroney’s.”

“I’ve seen the sign, but I’ve never been in there.”

“They also have dartboards and they make the best hamburgers in town. If you’re free, I thought we could meet there about sevenish. We could play a few racks and throw a few darts while drinking draft Guinness. Then we’ll have us some hamburgers and call it an early night. I’ve got a charter Tuesday morning.”

“Sounds like it might be fun. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

They met at the prescribed time, played the aforementioned games, and consumed said beer and burgers. In the course of the evening, they got to know one another on a slightly deeper level. Even though things were lighthearted, or maybe because no one was trying to impress anyone, they let their true selves show through. And they both liked what they saw.

Ellis was quiet as he walked Laura back to her place. He hadn’t meant to feel this way. At first he was just out to bed a beautiful woman. And that was all. But a monkey wrench had been thrown into the mix. She had turned out to be more than a set of long legs and a pretty face.

She’s smart and fun to be around and so much more. This one, Ellis old buddy, you’ve got to treat a little differently. You’ve got to show a little respect.

“What are you thinking about, Ellis?”

“I was just thinking. Seeing as how you’ve got the day off, I was wondering if you’d like to come over to my place tomorrow night and have dinner. I haven’t told you before, but I’m a gourmet cook. I’ll dazzle you with my cooking.”

If it had not been for the first two dates with Ellis where he behaved as a perfect gentleman, Laura would have declined the invitation. But now … she wasn’t so sure she would mind Ellis getting into her pants.

“Sounds like fun. What time?”

“We dine at eight. I live on T Wharf over in Rockport. There’s a long staircase on the outside of the building going up to my place. You can’t miss it. But if you do, just ask anyone to point the way to Captain Ellis. You’ll find me.”

At her door, Ellis did not ask to come in … or shake her hand. He leaned into her and gave her a kiss on the cheek and then he was gone.

Ellis had some work to do before the next night. Rockport was a dry town. That meant no bars, no liquor stores, no nothing. Hence, his apartment became the de facto place to hang out at night. There was always a crowd. The young guys came to have a few drinks and watch the Celtics or Bruins play. Or if the season was right, the Boston Patriots. The young girls came because that’s where the boys were. There was a party happening every night up in his apartment, regardless if Ellis was there or not.

He passed the word around that his apartment was off limits for one night. If anyone felt the need to hang out, they could drive down to Gloucester. It was only ten minutes away.

Laura showed up a few minutes after eight. Ellis met her at the door with his signature smile. “Please come in. Did you have any trouble finding me?”

“Nope. You’re right where you said you’d be.”

He sat her on the couch and said, “I’ll be right back.”

He came back holding two glasses of wine, one of which he held out to Laura.

“Thank you,” she said.

Ellis sat down on the couch, but not right next to Laura. He sat at the other end so that he could turn sideways and look at her as they spoke.

They sipped their wine in silence for a few minutes, and then Laura asked, “What’s for dinner?”

“I want to surprise you again.”

“Do you need any help?”

“No, thank you. I’ve got it covered.”

Laura looked around the apartment, and just for something to say, remarked, “Nice place you’ve got here.”

“Yeah. I had to pay one of the neighborhood girls to clean it while I was out fishing today. I didn’t want you to see me in my natural habitat.”

She laughed nervously. She was feeling differently toward Ellis. She couldn’t quite put her finger on it. But then it dawned on her. What if he doesn’t make a pass at me tonight? How am I’m going to feel about that?

Being the straightforward type, she decided to get it out in the open before dinner. She could deal with whatever the answer was, but she wanted it out of the way before she ate or else the food would lay heavy in her stomach. No matter how good it was.

She steeled herself, took a deep swallow of wine and then blurted out, “What’s the matter with me?”

Ellis was taken aback. “As far as I can see, nothing.”

“I mean, why haven’t you tried to talk me out of my clothes?”

“Do you want me to talk you out of your clothes?”

“Yes. I mean, no! But it would help my ego if you’d at least try.”

Ellis smiled a crooked smile and put his wine glass down on the coffee table. He moved over and took the glass out of her hand and placed it next to his. He touched her cheek with the back of his hand and said, “I’ve held off because you’re special.”

Looking into her bottomless green eyes, he leaned over and softly … gently … kissed her. She responded. All their pent-up inhibitions dissipated as they caressed one another. They were free. Ellis whispered in her ear, “The hell with it.” He stood and scooped her off the couch and carried her to his bedroom. Still holding her in his arms, he kicked the bedroom door closed with his right foot.

Two hours later, when the door next opened, they emerged with contented glows on their faces. Laura sat on the couch while Ellis went to retrieve the bottle of wine. Once their glasses were replenished, Laura inquired, “I suppose your dinner is ruined by now.”

“Not by a longshot.”

Ellis reached for the phone sitting on the coffee table. With the receiver in hand, he dialed a number from memory. “Hello. Tony’s Pizza? This is Captain Ellis. I’d like the large deluxe, the one with everything on it. Of course, with anchovies.”

When he had finished with Tony’s, Ellis lifted his glass toward Laura and said, “Here’s to you, Beautiful.”

“Not so fast, Captain Ellis. Didn’t you promise me a gourmet dinner?”

“I promised you a dinner. I said I was a gourmet cook, but I lied. What are you gonna do about it?”

“This is what.”

Still holding her wine, Laura wrapped her arms around Ellis’ neck—spilling a little wine in the process—and gave him a great big kiss right on the lips.

“What are you going to do about that?” she wanted to know.

“As soon as we get the pizza out of the way, I’ll show you.”

The summer of ’74 was the time that Ellis came the closest to being hooked, reeled in, and put on display. Even though their schedules were different—he worked days, she nights—they spent as much time together as possible.

During the days that Ellis had no charter, he’d take Laura out on the Cape Ann ostensibly to teach her to fish. However, very little fishing was ever attempted. Laura always packed a picnic lunch and Ellis brought a cooler of beer. They would anchor a few miles out and enjoy the warm sun on their bodies, each other, and the vast expanse of blue ocean that lay before them. Those were idyllic days.

A few years back, a woman had spied Ellis walking out of a restaurant and approached him. “Hello. My name is Patty Sullivan and I’m kind of a talent coordinator. Have you ever thought of modeling?”

Ellis grinned and said, “You gotta be kidding me.”

“No, I’m not. I can get you what’s called catalogue work. Most male models are what I call soft-handsome. You have a rugged look about you. You’d be perfect for catalogues that are selling manly items. Like hunting gear, cars, that sort of thing.”

“How much does it pay?”

“By industry standards, not a whole lot. But it’s more than an average Joe makes in a day. Besides, it’s not hard work. All you’ve got to do is stand there and look ruggedly handsome.”

What the hell? It might be fun, thought Ellis. He agreed to give it a shot as long as it didn’t interfere with his charter business.

That’s how Ellis became a model, and modeling is what landed Ellis a spot as an extra in a film starring Liza Minelli and directed by Otto Preminger. The movie was called Tell Me You Love Me, Julie Moon.

When Ellis got the call from Patty asking him if he was interested in playing a man sitting at a table in a restaurant while the stars of the movie cavorted around him, he had two questions: How much does it pay? And can my girl be in it too?

“It pays a little more than you’d get for a day’s modeling. And I’m told the shoot shouldn’t take more than two hours. But it could go on longer. As to your second question, I had to send over your picture to the movie people for their approval. But knowing you, Ellis, I’m sure the girl is a knockout. So I’ll set it up.”

Ellis only agreed to participate because he thought Laura would get a kick out of it. It would give her something interesting to tell her friends about when she went back to college in the fall. Little did he suspect that he would dominate her conversations with her girlfriends when she returned to school.

By happenstance, the part of the movie that Ellis and Laura were to be in was being filmed at The Blacksmith Shop restaurant located right next door to Ellis’ apartment. A crew member seated them at a table on an aisle. They were told to look like they were in a deep conversation as the camera was wheeled past them. The setup was that the camera would go down the aisle and end up taking a shot of the harbor through a big plate glass window at the back of the restaurant.

As people ran around setting up for the shot, making sure the lighting was perfect, that the microphone was set properly, and all the other things that go into making a movie, Ellis noticed that where he was sitting was a little narrower than the rest of the aisle. The camera just wouldn’t fit through the gap. So, Ellis being Ellis, he stood up and moved the table back a foot or two.

Well. You would have thought that he had kidnapped the Lindbergh baby, killed Cock Robin, and any other number of sundry things. Otto Preminger came storming down the aisle, yelling and screaming. “Don’t you dare touch anything! You do nothing unless I tell you!” And on and on he went. He moved the table back to its original position and with a final omniscient glare in Ellis’ direction, stomped off to his director’s chair.

Ellis said nothing. When the tirade was over, he looked across the table at Laura and winked.

Eventually, the camera operator was ready, the sound man was ready, the movie stars were ready, and most importantly, Mr. Otto was ready.

“Action!” yelled the director.

The camera started on its way down the aisle. When it got to Ellis’ table, its movement was halted. It couldn’t fit through the gap between the tables. Ellis shrugged and Laura laughed. Preminger sent the assistant director to move the table back to where Ellis had placed it, and the filming resumed with no further mishaps.

Laura quit her job in late August so she could spend more time with Ellis before she had to go back to college. Ellis thought that was just dandy and whisked her off for a romantic week in Bermuda. While on the island, Laura broached the subject of continuing the relationship while she was away.

They were walking along the beach, holding hands. The water was topaz-blue, the white sand scrunched under their feet, the sunlight warmed the two lovers as Laura began to speak. “This summer has been the best time of my life, Ellis. What do you think? Do you want to keep it going? We can write each other and keep in touch. I’ll be back in just a few months for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Maybe you could come to Lanesville and meet my parents.”

Ellis tightened his grip on her hand. He had a deep affection for the beautiful redhead walking next to him. She was wonderful. She was intelligent, fun to be with, a sensual lover, and best of all, she laughed at his lame jokes as though she really found them funny.

He sighed and told her the truth. “Baby, you are the best. You can have any man you want and I am so flattered that you want to be with me. But I’m not the marrying kind. I like you too much to bullshit you. We’ve had a wonderful summer and I will always remember it. In later years, when you’re surrounded by your children and grandchildren, I’ll have only my memories of this summer … and of you. I’ll never forget you and I’ll always love you. But you have to steer a different course than the one I’m on. To come onboard with me would only break your heart in the long run. Can you understand that?”

Laura looked into Ellis’s eyes and saw the love he had for her. A love that would let her go rather than lie to her. A love that treated her as an equal, a love that was profound and perhaps never ending.

Now it was Laura’s turn to sigh. “When I am surrounded by all those kids and grandkids, and even though my husband will be standing next to me, within my heart there will be a small place for you and this wonderful summer that you have given me.”

When they returned to Gloucester, Laura spent one last night with Ellis. They made slow and sweet love all night long, knowing that it was to be the last time.

The next morning, Laura said her final good-bye to Ellis.

He never saw her again.

 

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Ellis

 

Something I’m working on:

 

Prologue

 

Long after the mighty sheets of ice known as glaciers retreated back from whence they came, leaving the primeval stone of the island both smooth and scarred, the first of the Dorchester men landed at Half Moon Bay.

They did not last long. The land was not suited for farming. The dense forest precluded clearing land before winter descended upon them. And even if they had cleared the land, inches under the soil lay the pervasive granite that was the island.

Three years later, the men of Dorchester abandoned their short-lived colony and fled to nearby Naumkeag, which in later times would be known as Salem. However, within two generations, men were once again living on the island they came to call Gloucester. They named their county Essex after the Earl of Essex and they called themselves Gloucestermen. They were tried and true Englishmen.

In 1614, another Englishman by the name of John Smith, subsequent to his encounter with Pocahontas and while exploring the land he had named New England, came upon the island. He named it Tragabigzanda after a Turkish princess. However, at the request of Prince Charles, Smith renamed the island Cape Ann after the prince’s mother, Anne of Denmark.

Rather than farm the land, the Gloucestermen farmed the trees of their island. They cleared great swaths of the forest for the building of sailing ships. They fished the bay for their sustenance, but did not venture far from shore. At least not in those days.

Years before Englishmen first set foot on the island that would one day be called Gloucester, the great schools of codfish of the George’s Bank were known to the fearless explorers sent out by Queen Elizabeth. The cod were so plentiful along the New England coast that the Mariner Bartholomew Gosnold changed the name of Cape Saint James—a sandy peninsula he had explored in 1600—to Cape Cod.

In 1680, the men of Gloucester “went down to the sea in ships” to fish for cod in earnest. At first they fished the George’s Bank, one hundred miles to the east. But in time, they made their way to the Grand Bank, one thousand miles from their home port.

By the early 18th century, it had become obvious that the ships they sailed were not ideal for fishing the numerous cod. The ships were slow and their holds could not contain enough salted fish to make the two-thousand-mile round-trip journey profitable.

In 1713, Captain Andrew Robinson designed and built a ship that had a larger hold for supplies and the multitude of fish he hoped to catch. Her sails were bigger and set higher to gather more wind. She was a two masted fore-and-aft rigged vessel. All the better to get to the banks faster and get home all the more quickly where the cod could be sold before the other ships returned, hence getting the best price possible.

As she was being launched, a spectator exclaimed, “See how she scoons!” At the time, scooning was the act of skipping a flat rock upon the water.

In response, Captain Robinson shouted, “A schooner let her be!”

His schooner was an improvement over the fishing ships of the day and it was widely copied both here in America and in Europe. But it did have one flaw—it was top heavy. Between 1866 and 1890, three hundred and eighty schooners were lost at sea, taking 2,450 men to their watery graves. In one day, August 24, 1873, nine vessels, carrying one hundred and twenty-eight men, were lost over the Grand Banks.

In 1882, in a published article in the Cape Ann Weekly Advertiser, Captain Joseph Collins asked the rhetorical question, “When will the slaughter cease?”

Still the men of Gloucester went down to the sea in ships.

It was not until 1902, when Captain William Thomas commissioned a ship with a short deep hull and a rockered keel for stability, that fishing the Grand Banks became somewhat safer. The design was copied and used in the construction of fishing schooners until the days of sail were no longer.

Still the men of Gloucester went down to the sea in ships, but now their ships held no sails.

From this tradition—from this fearless and audacious heritage—came forth a man who would be the embodiment of the Gloucester fisherman.

 

Chapter One

 

The year was 1949. The boy was out of bed and getting dressed, even though the sun had not yet come up over in the East. It was summer, but there was a nip in the air.

This was the day. The day that the fourteen-year-old boy had looked forward to for weeks. He had saved the money he made from his paper route, delivering the Gloucester Times, to finance the adventure. He and his friend, Peter, had eagerly anticipated this day. For today, they were going to show the men how it was done.

Gloucester businesses were all about selling fish and outfitting fishermen. But it involved mostly codfish. However, there was another fish that preyed the vast underwater banks of the North American continental shelf. This fish was worthless in the eyes of the Gloucester fishermen. The average weight of the fish ran to nine hundred pounds. It could take hours to land one of the monsters. And for what? Its flesh was worthless. You would be lucky to get three cents a pound after all your trouble. But the boy was bound and determined to land a bluefin tuna that day.

The path down the hill that led to the Ipswich River was well known to the boy. He had traversed it many times. The darkness did not impede his progress. There was a slight fog, but it only added to the mystique of a magical day.

Peter was waiting for him at the river’s edge. “I’ve got the bait and the hooks we bought last night. Did you bring your father’s hand-line?” Without a word, the boy showed his right hand which held said object.

Silently, they climbed into the small skiff and shoved off. The boy sat at the bow with Peter aft. It was Peter’s boat, so he had the honor of pulling the starting cord on the ten-horsepower outboard engine. The engine caught on the third pull and he sat down to steer the little boat downriver.

Although it was still dark out, there was enough ambient light for the boys to make their way through the marshes.

Gloucester was coming to life. The occasional house they passed had its lights on. Soon the sun would drive out the darkness and they would have to share their world with others. But for the moment, they were the only two human beings extant on the planet.

The boy in the bow stared straight ahead and fidgeted with the hand-line. Peter knew not to speak when his friend was in deep thought.

The boy was thinking of the tuna he was setting out to kill. Did the tuna know he was coming? Did the tuna know this was to be its last day swimming in the cold waters of the North Atlantic?

The boy weighed ninety pounds. The tuna he was out to catch—with a hand-line nonetheless—might weigh a thousand pounds or more. It was just as likely that the tuna would pull the boy out of the skiff and drag him to the bottom of a very cold ocean and to his death. The boy figured it would be an even match. Let the best species win.

After an hour, they came to the mouth of the river and entered Ipswich Bay. They were headed for open sea. The bay was calm which meant the ocean would not be too bad. By now the sun had risen; its rays glistened on, and reflected off, the water. The boy raised his hand to shield his eyes from the brilliance as the small engine pushed him toward his destiny.

In due time, they were ten miles off the coast. It was time to fish.

They’d only enough money between them to buy three mackerel, so they would have to husband their bait and hope that a tuna did not snatch it and make off with it, leaving an empty hook. They had only three shots at the prize.

The boy baited the line as Peter looked on. This was the boy’s show. Peter was only there to document the struggle and declare a winner … whoever that may be.

The Atlantic is a mighty big ocean, bigger still if you’re in a fourteen-foot boat. The expanse of nothingness that lies before you can be daunting to the most intrepid men of the sea.

The boy let out the line … slowly … three feet … ten feet … twenty feet … forty feet. When the line hit the sixty-foot mark, he put on his gloves and sat down to await his fate. Would he return still a boy? Or would he return a man, trailing a thousand-pound tuna in his wake?

The day wore on. There was very little conversation between the two friends. The sun continued on its journey across the blue sky. Time was running out. They were only boys, they had to be home before dark or people would worry. The star we call our sun showed no mercy on that day. Still it moved at an alarming rate across a clear sky.

Late in the afternoon, the line jerked. The boy instinctively knew it was a bluefin. Through his gloves he felt the line running out to sea. It was a good feeling. He waited … he waited until he was sure. Then he jerked back on the line. He was almost pulled from the boat.

He had set the hook.

Now it was a waiting game. Darkness was fast approaching, but no matter. The boy would not return to Gloucester until he had won the battle.

The great tuna took off to the north. The boy held fast to the line. An hour later, the tuna turned east. The boy held fast to the line. His shoulders were aching. The line was wrapped around his hands, and despite the gloves, it stopped the flow of blood to his fingers. They were numb. Still he held on to the monster.

He thought of the great fish below the surface, fighting for its life, and he felt a pang of guilt. Did he have the right to take this beautiful creature’s life? That was his moment of doubt. He would have cut the line if doing so would have allowed the fish to live. But that was not the case. Even if he had cut the line … with a hook in its mouth and trailing sixty feet of line, the fish was already dead.

The boy set his jaw and said a prayer for the bluefin.

At length, his adversary tired. The bluefin had run for hours and now it was full dark. The boy pulled in his line. His hands were numb, his arms were on fire. The bluefin was dead. It had died from lack of oxygen. A bluefin must continuously swim for the oxygen-rich water to be forced through its gills.

The boys tied the fish to the stern and started the engine. They were going home.

They had been missed. The Coast Guard had been called out. The local fishermen cranked up their boats and were crisscrossing the bay looking for the wayward youths. Somehow, the little skiff made its way through all that activity and docked up the Ipswich River.

The boy found his fair share of trouble when the adults caught up with him. But he had caught his tuna … all 750 pounds of it.

Around Gloucester—from that day forward until he became an adult—he was known as “The Boy Wonder.”

However, he was no longer a boy, he was now a man. His name was Ellis Hodgkins and what follows is his story.