A private collector in New York had promised $10,000 for a breeding pair of the elusive diamondback terrapin, but so far the crew had found nothing but rotting wood and river reeds. The marshes gleamed with the full moon and little tendrils of mist curled upwards like a will of the wisp. "This is alligator country," George whispered as he and Harry hauled another net on deck.
The rope slipped and sliced through the bunion on his right thumb. George yelped and kicked out and the boat lurched sideways violently. "Watch it!" Harry hissed as he pulled the net with a final effort and dumped it into the shallow basin.
Downstairs the captain's gin pail tottered and fell to the floor with a thud, spilling the sweet alcohol everywhere. The galleycat dozing in the corner yowled and looked aggrieved. Seeing no one to blame, she curled back up and resumed her dreams, a hazy muddle of flying fish and promenading poodles.
George closed his eyes and wished he were home in bed. His idea of a good time was reading a good book, not fishing in a swamp in the middle of the night.
This load was heavier than the others but it was only a pair of old boots. Harry thrust them at George with a snigger: "Your mother wears Army boots." George frowned and pressed his torn thumb against his lip.
"Oy! Cut the snark and get on with it," the captain snapped. George looked at her as she started climbing through the hatch. A plump woman in her mid forties with a grey crew cut, she emphasised her squareness with thick-rimmed glasses and a long shirt over comfortable pants. She wore a grubby pair of old Reeboks rather than army boots but Harry's comment still stung.
George's mother had always been different. If she had just been gay it might have been okay but she was mostly asexual. She didn't even make her living in a normal way. The other boys at his New England prep school had mothers with glamorous jobs like charity fundraiser or literary agent, but George's mother was a faux eco-warrior. In reality she was an illegal poacher and the Everglades were a regular haunt, where there were rich pickings in rare orchids and the occasional terrapin. When it was her turn to have George for the holidays she always dragged him with her. 'It's not like Dad doesn't pay her enough alimony,' he thought bitterly, suppressing the flickering thought that to his mother he was just cargo that doesn't pay its way.
The boys flinched as a roar came from beneath the deck. The captain had discovered the upturned gin pail. She reappeared on deck with a grimace. "We're aborting the mission. Drop everything and give me ten... books. I have an interview with Bat Segundo tomorrow and if I can't talk about terrapins, it'll have to be books. George, I need you."
Miss Snark looks up "faux eco warrior" in the classifieds to contemplate a career change after this contest.
Scoring to come.