Authors: Keith Thomson
Copyright © 2005 by Keith Thomson
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
GUS OPENSHAW’S WHALE-KILLING JOURNAL.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations,
places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any
resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Don’t make me relive the details just now. The short of it: A
whale ate my wife, kid and right arm. And he got away. For the
Now, there are these Indians in the state of Washington.
They have one of those licenses you can get—because of a special
religious dispensation or whatever—to kill one whale a year. For
probation agreement reasons that I can’t get into, I had to get
myself one of these licenses before I could go back out on the
water—let alone set a toe on a dock—without getting shot at by
the damn Coast Guard. So I went up to Washington to powwow
with those Indians.
Prior to the incident, I worked on the line at a cat food
cannery. Literally the worst stinking job you can get. Point is,
I was earning just north of squat. But I’d married way better
than I’d deserved. And when she died, I was worth—including
everything from the house to my boxer shorts—$515,200.
Oddly, the Indian chief priced the whale-killing license at
$515,000, take it or leave it. I took it, gladly. I later learned that
my wife’s estate lawyer had “coincidentally” done some “legal
work” for the very same Indians that very same day, for which he
got himself a check in the amount of $51,500.
I was too busy readying my boat to care about the
lawyer by then. My thoughts were on getting to the neck of
the Caribbean where a particularly fat sperm whale had been
sighted. I’d taken a bus down south and bought an old wooden
cabin cruiser from a geezer in Port Helslop, Texas, for $20.
(Wood boats are a bitch is why they’re so cheap. It takes a good
couple hundred hours to scrape and paint the hulls every year.
The invention of fiberglass made wood boats’ asses obsolete. So
folks with wood boats they don’t use no more are left with this
dilemma: “Do I keep writing a check for two grand every year
to keep this sucker in dry dock, or do I pay some guy twice that
much to come over, chain saw my family heirloom apart and
haul her off to the dump?” So the price for these craft is often
zip. Literally. The twenty bucks I paid was for the gas in her—and
it was a good fifty bucks worth of gas.)
A few days later, a few leagues north of the equator, I
upgraded to a sleek, 180-foot, fiberglass-hulled superyacht that
came with this laptop computer I’m writing on right now plus a
wireless modem. I’ll get to how I got this stuff next time I do one
of these posts. Right now I got to hit the head.
The other day, a few leagues shy of hitting the equator, I was
dozing at the controls of the cabin cruiser I’d gotten in Texas.
I’d been sitting there like a statue for three straight days.
Suddenly I looked up and realized I was about to broadside a
I grabbed the wheel and spun for all I was worth.
Unfortunately, my damn body keeps forgetting that, thanks to
the blubbery bastard, I got no right arm no more. So I wasn’t
worth much. It was enough though to swerve just in time to
miss burrowing through the superyacht’s stern.
I got to thinking that it was odd that the yacht hadn’t
so much as honked at me. No one seemed to be aboard. It
was doubtful everyone on a boat that big’d be below deck at
one time. None of her lifeboats had been lowered. There was
a copter still on the helipad. No swimmers were in the water
around her. It seemed she was empty and adrift.
Curious as much as anything, I flung a line from the cabin
cruiser up to her stern and climbed aboard. My panting from
the two-story climb (forgot again that I’ve only got one damn
arm) was the only sound on the whole craft.
I nosed around. Most of the staterooms had people’s
clothes and stuff in them. Nice clothes and nice stuff. Dinner
for a dozen or so—three-day-old steak and flat-as-my-fourth-grade-
girlfriend champagne—was sitting untouched on the dining table
on the foredeck. A bunch of clothes were splayed out on the
quarterdeck. Weird as crap, huh?
Here’s what I think happened: There’s an old maritime
tradition that when you cross the equator on a new brig,
everyone—passengers, crew, chef, chihuahuas, whoever—jumps
into the sea. My guess was that this champagned-up bunch
must’ve stripped down on the quarterdeck and hopped over
the rail without realizing they had no way to re-board. There
were no ladders. These sleek superyachts oftentimes don’t have
them (it’d make them less sleek, I suppose), and the hulls are
too sheer to climb up unless you’ve got suction cups tied up and
down your limbs. More than likely, everybody drowned. Poor
bastards, I thought. Truth is, though, I always feel a bit better
on the few occasions people are stupider or have worse luck than
There’s another old maritime tradition. It goes something
like, “Lost at sea, belongs to me.” It basically means if you’re
enough of an idiot to lose your brig, you don’t deserve her, and
whoever’s the finder is the rightful keeper. I doubt that it’d
stand up in court. And if it gets even within a whiff of a court,
I’ll probably take the rap for the missing passengers and crew.
But I’ve got bigger fish to kill. With that in mind I cut loose the
SS Piece of Crap (my cabin cruiser), which at that point was only
afloat cause the termites were holding hands, and took the helm
of my new superyacht. Unlike the cabin cruiser, she’ll be able
to keep pace with the bastard (sperm whales can do 30 miles an
hour). Then turn him into cold cuts.
I anchored her off St. Kitts. I motored ashore in a lifeboat
and pawned a bunch of Rolexes and stuff like that I’d found
aboard the superyacht. Netted $44,500 in cash.
I then went to a seamen’s bar and tried to hire some crew.
Found a couple older guys with harpoon experience. Best I
could get otherwise was a couple drug addicts who might well
have waited around the rest of their lives without getting another
berth. When you go into a fish-stinking seamen’s bar on a small
island and offer cash for a whaling job of uncertain duration on
a boat you won’t name, the best and the brightest sailors don’t
usually line up with their résumés.
I’ve got to log off now because one of my new hires just
came into the captain’s quarters and wants to kill me.
P.S. Here’s the bar I hired my crewmen at, scrimshawed by one
of the harpooners, a West Indian guy named Flarq. (For those
of you who haven’t heard of it, scrimshawing’s an old whaling art
form where you do pictures on whale’s teeth.) As it’s been some
time since his last whaling gig, Flarq’s been forced to scrimshaw
on bar napkins. He’s been doing caricatures to make ends meet.
He and I both hope to get him some whale teeth now.
A crew’s gotta have a cook for a long journey. It could take us
several months to get the whale. On a tip from the barkeep at
the Blowfish, I stopped off at a boarding house down by the St.
Kitts dock. There I found an unemployed cook named Duq (he
pronounces it “Duck”). He was doing some cooking right then
as it happens—lowering a live lobster into a steaming pot. This
seemed to give Duq a freakish amount of joy.
The barkeep had told me that prior to joining the
Vietcong as a kid, Duq had never cooked up anything more
complicated than a pot of tea. During the war, he became a top
interrogator. After the war, his knowledge of the tools of the
interrogation trade—knives, cleavers, boiling water and oils—got
him a job in a slaughter house in Hanoi. The chance to earn
a better salary led him to prep work in the kitchen of a pretty
fancy French restaurant in North Vietnam. There Duq realized
he had a flair for the culinary arts, especially seafood that was
boiled, chopped up, or skewered. This enabled him to rise to the
position of sous-chef. A short time later, the position of head
chef opened when the job’s previous holder was found lying in
the alley behind the restaurant with a shiskabob skewer stuck
through his heart. Duq filled in to some acclaim. In the late ’70s
he was hired to be the personal chef for some rich guy’s yacht.
A few months into the job, when he heard one of the rich guy’s
guests comment that the corn was too salty, Duq stuck one of
those little corn cob holder things into the guest’s face. This
began a couple decade cycle where Duq’s skills got him hired
and his psychoticness got him canned. And each gig was less
and less prestigious. When I met him, it had been a year since
his last job, manning the deep fryer at a conchburger stand on
St. Martin. He was eager to work again, and I was lucky to get
someone with his know-how. Or so I thought.
Then the other night he rushed into my captain’s quarters
waving a cleaver. He was after the fifty grand in my desk. And I
was in the way. He swung. The cleaver struck me where the right
elbow meets the upper arm. Luckily (in this case), I have no right
arm, having lost it to an equally psycho whale.
The blade lodged in the thick oak desktop. I then
whacked Duq in the skull with this laptop computer that I’m
typing on right now. He dropped to the floor like a sack of
manure. For good measure, and to make sure he wasn’t faking,
I kicked him upside the noggin. I’m going to dock him a week’s
pay for this.
P.S. A number of folks reading this blog have written in asking if
the bastard is white. I don’t get it. Is “white whale” some kind of
P.P.S. Here’s a scrimshaw by Flarq (done on a paper plate) of my