Pally, a pub regular, was happy to show Hugo his route as he wheeled from the bar past the men's urinals, through an unmarked door which led to a caged storage cooler full of beer kegs. On the far metal-skinned wall, double doors opened to a loading dock.
"Fitz put that in for me," said Pally, the grizzled patron in the off-brand wheelchair as he pointed to the handrail-less plywood ramp that connected the street level with the bar.
Hugo was speechless.
The Dillon outpost was a far cry from the toothy farm shacks that randomly dotted the aging farms on the north coast. The modern structure was unexpected and yet Hugo found it completely in tune with the headlands and admired its confident perch not twenty yards from the cliff face which dropped to the thundering Pacific below. The building inspector would later confide in Carmen that the beach cottage was not as much built as it was woven into the landscape.
All in, Hugo couldn't shake a scent of defiance flagged by the red-painted barn doors cloaking the cottage. In defense of the ravaging north coast winds, sure, but something was off.
Dan Merten, the Sheriff of Mendocino County, looked across his beaten-up, battle-scarred, institutional desk at the Fort Bragg Substation at T. Ray slumped in a worn club chair.
“Someone sank the Tango II in the harbor last night,” the Sheriff said in a business-like tone. “You wouldn’t have any idea who could have possibly drilled a hole from under the bow, now would you, Ray?”
T. Ray knew Dan was a tough, no-nonsense sheriff, but sending a pair of deputies to fetch him from his home at dawn seemed a bit reckless, not to mention rude under the circumstances. Without a warrant, it was a long shot that he would have gone with the detectives willingly, but the Sheriff was betting on T. Ray’s good-natured curiosity.
“Look, the last thing my head needs this morning are stupid questions, Dan. I might have been clocked hard yesterday, but when they peeled me off the deck of that fishing boat I’m guessing the Coast Guard would have noticed if she were on the bottom. Those Coasties down in Noyo are pretty sharp,” he shot back.
“Why did you go down in the harbor?”
One of Dan’s deputies fetched a cup of coffee for the guest.
“I wanted some chowder but Sally’s was closed.”
“No bullshit. Why did you board the Tango II?”
“I know the captain. He wasn’t there. I’m not saying he was with Sally, but you never know. Small town and all,” said T. Ray
The fleet was in, twenty shrimp boats tied up two, three boats deep along the pier lashed to each other like they were holding hands.
Marlowe's dock and bar stand in the way of development - but he not going anywhere, at least not until Hugo arrives
Blind Key with its twelve miles of endangered sea turtle habitat protects North Captiva against storms and sea level rise.
"It's only a matter of time," Marlena bravely told Hugo although he knew she and her brother Izzy were betting on her island's survival
T. Ray was happy to be on the water again. When the bow parted the wakes of other boats, the taste of the salt spray took him back to the years he lived as a beach bum, forgotten years before he met his wife Daisy.
Izzy circled a cluster of shacks sticking up in the open water. T. Ray shouted above the motors, and pointed west, “If I remember correctly, Blind Key is that way.”
“One stop at Fred’s, then it’s on,” smiled Izzy. “I thought you might remember these,” he said swinging around to give his old friend a tour of the historic fishing shacks floating in the middle of Pine Island Sound.
T. Ray had always thought they looked like quaint Caribbean huts—especially the red one romantically perched on a sandy shoal. Nearby a small mangrove island protected a larger white shack with its broken riprap planks and board game-like catwalks, but others stood on their own, knee deep in the water, perched on an old oyster bed. T. Ray was amazed that they had survived after all that nature had thrown at them over the years. When he pointed to the most beat-up one, he shouted to Izzy, "That's me; there I am."
Sandino and Hugo worked their way through the storybook outpost of Moss Landing interviewing anyone who might have seen a Zodiac head out to sea from Elkhorn Slough on Thursday. While Sandino checked a catamaran, Hugo scanned the harbor.
Mostly old shacks wedged onto the spit of the Salinas River, Hugo saw that the slips showed a revival with a new mix of slick private yachts, impressive research vessels, and tour boats while cormorants with their guttural clicking noises made their way along the old pier posts and severed docks.
What boats remained of the fishing fleet were in the harbor thanks to the suspension of salmon season. Hugo feared their days were numbered like the shrimp fleet of Matanzas Pass or the urchin divers in Noyo Harbor.
Half of a weathered billboard holding an old icehouse together told him that the years of paying a buck to fish off the pier were over.
Stacked high with a patchwork of containers, the incoming cargo ship cruised under the Golden Gate Bridge flanked by a tug and a pilot boat. The monster tanker's profile completely blocked out the Marin shoreline while its 157-foot hull parted the waters of the Bay.
Hugo waited for the boats to pass before searching for the diminutive Lime Point Light Station, his favorite. Nearly three miles across the turbulent isthmus perched on a rock spur at the base of a cliff, Lime Point was dwarfed by the bridge. Although its light tower had been torn down, the fog signal building survived.
Known for its tenacity, Hugo would often tell the story of when a cargo ship rammed the station in the fog. The damage to the ship was substantial; the damage to Lime Point, the loss of one toilet.