A Sprauling Family Saga

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Chapter 33

We’re going to die, Madison thought, not for the first time. She could see no more than thirty feet beyond the lobster boat’s bow, and as Irv Clifford cut back on the throttle, all she could hear was the aah-oogha of the lighthouse horn somewhere in the fog above them. “Sixty feet,” called the grizzled old lobsterman from the helm, reading from his depth sounder. All across the passage the water beneath the boat had been between two hundred fifty and three hundred feet deep, but now it was rapidly shallowing. “Fifty-five. Still nothing?”

“No.” She strained her ears into the mist, shivering. The sun was up there, but she could not even guess at its location. Not even on mornings at the point had she seen fog this thick. She sensed movement on the deck behind her, and turned to see Wayne, his beard wet with droplets underneath the hood of his yellow slicker, join her on the bow. She knew his eyes would be useless, nearsighted as he was, but he could help her listen for the sound of the surf on the rocks all three knew had to be close. The horn bleated again, but Madison could not have said from what direction the sound came. It seemed to be all around them.

“Coming to two-seven-zero,” the old man called out from the stern. “If we’re gonna miss, we’re gonna miss north, so we’ll see the cliff.”

“If we don’t run into it first,” Madison muttered. Wayne had tried to talk her out of coming along. But the thought of leaving him on the dock, as he headed out into the fog, had been too much to bear. For a few more hours together, she deemed the risk worth taking.

She felt the boat turn, but still saw nothing. “Forty-nine,” Irv Clifford called. He throttled back to almost nothing; the big boat rolled in the swell. She strained her ears. Somewhere a bird cried, and the horn moaned again. Madison reminded herself that the fog was their friend. It had concealed their departure, and would cloak the Deborah Mae’s illegal arrival in Canada, along with its fugitive passenger.

But first they had to find their way into Seal Cove, and to do that, they had to get around the southern end of the island, marked by a lighthouse atop a 300-foot cliff. They had seen neither lighthouse nor cliff, and though Irv Clifford had told them he had made the crossing a few times in his youth, he admitted that he hadn’t been to Grand Manan in decades.

“Ain’t had no reason to,” he’d said when she’d asked. “Years ago, we used to get a baseball team together and go over, and they’d come play us, once or twice a summer, but them days are long gone.”

The Deborah Mae was a large boat, more massive and higher in the bow than the lobster boats that plied the waters around her mother’s house. It was built for the open sea and the extreme tides of the Bay of Fundy. During the crossing the swells had been gentle and regular, but now that they were near land the water had become choppy. There was a bit of a breeze, but of more concern was the current, which Clifford had told them could reach several knots along the unbroken cliff face that Grand Manan turned toward the United States. They had left Cutler almost two hours ago, at half tide on the flood. The fog had shown no signs of lifting. The captain explained that the current would set them to the north of their compass course, and once they spotted the shore they would be able to follow it around the point and up into Seal Cove. To the south lay a collection of menacing ledges and shoals, but the cliff itself was bold, dropping into deep water.

“Forty,” Clifford called out. “Thirty-seven. Twenty-nine.” The Deborah Mae had only three feet below the waterline, and the chart showed deep water right up to the base of the cliff. But Madison was concerned about the asterisks. On the way over, the captain had let Madison look at the chart, and he had told her that the asterisks represented stray rocks a few feet out from the shore, easily skirted in clear weather but dangerous in low visibility. Some might be awash or just under water, depending on the tide.

And so they listened, in the thick gray dampness, against the low purr of the engine and the periodic belching of the unseen horn on the land above them, for the telltale sound of surf breaking against the shore.

Clifford had just called out twenty feet when Madison saw the rock. It stuck out above the surface, though each successive swell dunked it again. A necklace of seaweed bobbed up and down with the waves, which Madison still could not hear.

“There!” she shouted back toward the cockpit, and pointed with her whole arm. “Just off to starboard. Can you see it?”

“Got it,” Clifford’s response was calm, businesslike. He turned the boat, initially, to her alarm, toward the rock – but the captain knew what he was doing. He cleared it with several feet to spare, putting it on the opposite side, and in a moment she saw another rock, and then another one beyond that. She called out each one, and each time the captain said, “Got it.” Madison exhaled slowly. They had found the shoreline.

Irv Clifford steered the Deborah Mae carefully just outside the line of rocks, glancing occasionally down at his compass and depth sounder. Madison continued to stare into the fog and call out sightings. She thought she saw a darkening of the gray wall to her left, but she could not be sure that it wasn’t a psychological effect of knowing that the cliff was there. Every ten seconds the horn moaned high above them. But Clifford was picking his way from rock to rock now, and they could see larger ledges that appeared to reach out from a sensed but still unseen shore. And their course was changing. They were rounding the point. Now it was just a matter of following the shore until they found the harbor.

And suddenly, through a small break in the fog, Madison spotted an actual shoreline, a rocky beach of sorts, backed by honest-to-goodness trees. She nudged Wayne and pointed. “Look.”

He followed her outstretched arm. “Canada,” he said.

She did not know what to feel. Relief, that they had made it safely across without wrecking the boat on the rocks below the cliff? Gratitude, to their captain and particularly to Paul Bremerton, who had called Clifford and loaned out his car, at considerable risk to himself? Sadness, at the imminent parting from her husband? Anxiety, at the return trip she must make without him, and the immediate future of raising two kids in his absence, under a cloud of suspicion from local and federal law enforcement? She felt all these things, a potent mixture of emotions she did her best to suppress, hoping that Wayne would mistake the tears on her cheeks for moisture from the fog that surrounded them.

Without warning, Clifford swerved the boat away from shore, and the land disappeared. “What’s going on?” she called back.

“Fish weir,” the captain said. He pronounced it “ware.” The captain nodded to the side, and she saw that they were passing a circle of ragged wooden poles, barley sticking up above the water. “They’re harder to see at high tide,” the captain said. He gave the structure a wide berth, and then eased the boat back toward the shore, which emerged again out of the gray. “They’re all over the place up here. Ain’t on the charts, either. Keep a sharp eye out.”

“How far’s the harbor?” Wayne asked.

“’Bout another four miles,” Clifford said. “They don’t lobster in July, so we ought to have room to tie up. If not, you’ll have to swim for it.”

Gretchen and Wayne looked at one another. She felt a dry spot in her throat. The captain chuckled. His delivery had been so deadpan that she had half believed him.

But they weren’t in safely yet. Clifford steered the boat deftly around two more weirs, both nearly underwater, and the fog closed in again. Madison tensed, but Wayne assured her of what she already knew, from her look at the chart – by following the shore northward from the point there was no way they could fail to run right into the harbor, which was enclosed, the captain had told them, behind a high wall. The manmade harbor was divided into two sections, one of which emptied out completely at low tide. If, in the fog, they missed the first one, they could enter the second section and remain afloat for at least a few hours. Plenty of time, she thought, for a final goodbye.

The shit had hit the fan four days ago – four days that for Madison had passed with the dizzying speed of a car-chase scene in a movie. Wayne had come home and kissed her quickly and hard. Serena had been at school and Graham had been in his crib taking his mid-morning nap, and they had made love with some urgency. She had not seen him in two weeks – he had been off working in the woods – and he had sucked the air out of her world by telling her as they lay in bed afterward that he would likely have to leave the country, for an unspecified period of time, perhaps for good. She should, in fact, pack a bag for herself and Serena and have the baby’s stuff ready so that they could leave at a moment’s notice.

She had demanded to know the whole truth, and he had told her. Acting on an anonymous tip from someone who had been hiking in a remote area of the north woods, the state police had located a large marijuana grow maintained by Wayne and several of his friends in a clear-cut left behind by the company they legitimately worked for. The number of plants alone was enough to send them all to prison, he’d revealed, but that wasn’t the worst of it. The grow site had been booby-trapped, and one of the officers had stepped on a wire attached to a shotgun mounted in a tree. He was now in Caribou Hospital in critical condition. No one had given Wayne up yet, but two of his friends were in custody, and there was enough cover-your-ass going around that he didn’t doubt his name would come out eventually. He was the only foreigner in the bunch, a convenient fall guy. And if the cop died…

He swore up and down to her that he had known nothing about the booby trap and its potentially deadly consequences. “I wasn’t even there,” he said. “You Americans and your guns. In Canada we would have used a bear traps\. Somebody might’ve lost a foot, but that’s all.”

This didn’t mollify Madison. She knew he had been growing pot, but had had no idea of the scale, or the steps his friends had taken to protect the crop. Under the law he was as culpable as they. And what was her risk, should she protect him?

But doing anything else was out of the question. She did not want to see him sent to prison, have Graham grow up with a convict father he talked to through glass on weekends. When Serena got home from school, he had helped her pack up some things for herself and the kids, and they had left the camp under cover of darkness, first for a motel in Skowhegan and the next day to the point. The day after that, when Paul Bremerton walked to the head of the driveway to get his Bangor Daily News, pictures of Wayne and his four fellow suspects adorned the front page. The likeness wasn’t a good one, and Madison wondered where the paper had gotten the picture. Wayne didn’t often get his picture taken; this one had to be at least five years old. But what did that matter? They had his name, and no doubt his height, weight, date of birth, place of residence and nearest known relatives, and even in a family as large and scattered as the Spraulings, he would not be hard to find. The local lawmen were bound to come calling eventually.

They parked Wayne’s truck around the back of the summer camp, between cabin and ocean, where it could not be seen from the driveway or the turnaround up by the house. Annabelle cried, and Paul reprimanded her for her weakness a little too sharply for Madison’s liking, but she gave him credit for knowing what to do. He made the call to Irv Clifford in Cutler. Wayne could have passage out of the country if he could be ready in two days, when the forecast called for fog.

They had driven Paul’s car to Cutler that morning, leaving before daybreak. On his last night in the United States, Wayne had laid the rest of his stash – about two and a half ounces – on Everett as they smoked a farewell doobie on the rocks below the high tide line. Madison wasn’t entirely pleased by that, either. Suppose her brother parceled it out and sold it at school and got caught? That’s what she would have done at his age – well, except for the getting caught part. But it was different now, in the eighties. A new uptightness filled the air. Men cut and styled their hair. School administrators knew about drugs. And Everett was an innocent, eager to please everyone, likely to be the first kid ratted out if someone got into trouble.

Kind of like the man next to her now, she thought, staring down into the green water rushing past the light-blue hull of the lobster boat, wondering what to do. Wayne made friends too readily, trusted them too easily, liked to be liked too much. What were they to make of their marriage, now that he was a fugitive?

The plan had been for Irv Clifford to take Wayne across alone, but when they got to Cutler she insisted on going with him. “I want to see where you’re going,” she said. “I want to know you’re safe, not hear about it from somebody else. Besides, it’s foggy and the captain could use another pair of eyes and hands, and you don’t know a boat from a hole in the water.” Irv Clifford had reluctantly acquiesced.

More shoreline and trees appeared. Then a rough stone dock, a field, and an actual house. And another. Madison exhaled at her first direct confirmation that people actually lived here, on this forsaken rock. She knew, from brief research, that Grand Manan had been settled by British loyalists fleeing New England in the wake of the American Revolution. All she needed to know was that the Maine State Police could not arrest him here; Wayne was going to be all right. Maybe not with her any more, but he was going to make it.

And just as she thought that, the fog thickened again, squeezing visibility down to only a few boat lengths. Irv Clifford swore, and slowed the throttle. “Now where is that damn harbor?” he growled.

Madison peered into the pea soup but could see nothing.

“Shit,” Clifford spat, and swung the wheel hard, just missing the edge of another weir. “Can either of you see anything?”

“No,” she and Wayne called back in unison.

“We gotta be getting … Jesus, there it is.”

It took Madison a couple of seconds to see it, and by the time she did Clifford had drawn the boat parallel to the outer wall and was scouting for the opening. The wall was lower than she expected, more like a fence, but held in place by posts the girth of an elephant’s leg. She could see the tops of boats over it. And then she realized that the tide was in, and that she was only seeing the top of the structure.

As Irv Clifford nosed the Deborah Mae through a gap in the wall perhaps three times the width of the boat, Madison moved toward the bow and bent to grab the docking line. The inside of the harbor contained two floating docks held in place by poles, which, like the wall, were almost completely underwater. On one of the docks stood a small shack. Several gigantic lobster boats, and one small sailboat, were tied up to these central docks. A float and ramp, nearly level with the high tide, lay alongside the harbor’s outer wall, the one they had just rounded, which Madison now saw was the width of a small road and filled with earth. A few boats and an assortment of dinghies were tied up here, too. As Clifford cut the engine back to a whisper, a whiskered man in orange slicker overalls and a Boston Red Sox cap emerged from the shack on the dock and waved.

“Matter where we tie up?” Clifford called out.

The man straightened and surveyed the small harbor. Madison saw that he had a hammer in his hand. “I imagine you could tie up most anywhere. Don’t matter to me. I’m just down here workin’.”

Madison saw that there was space on the float against the wall, from which they could simply walk to land. “How about over there?” she called out to the man, pointing.

“Don’t see why not,” the man said. “The near end, the part closest to shore, that dries out at low. The far end, you’ll still be floatin’.”

“Oh, we won’t be here that long,” Clifford said. “Much obliged.”

The man shrugged. “Season’s over, no one’s gonna bother you to move. Hell of a fog, ain’t it?”

“Yep,” Clifford said. “Thanks.”

With a nod and a smile, the man in the orange slicker got back to whatever he had been doing. “Didn’t even ask where we came from,” Wayne said beside her. “It’s none of his business, so he keeps his nose out of it.”

“He’ll know when he sees our stern,” Madison said.

“Yeah, but he won’t care. And he’s too polite to come right out and ask. Now I know I’m in Canada.”

Madison wished he didn’t sound so happy about it. But she said nothing more as she gathered the docking line, and as Clifford eased the boat in, she jumped onto the dock, held the line until the boat stopped, and secured it to a cleat. Wayne stepped out of the boat and stood beside her. Clifford shut off the engine, and silence descended, interrupted by the calls of birds somewhere in the fog and the pounding of a hammer out by the shack on the dock.

None of them said anything for several minutes. Wisps of fog sailed just above their heads on the breeze that had followed them into the harbor. A few cars and pickup trucks were parked near the top of the dock. They could make out the outlines of a nearby building, big and boxy, metallic gray and factory-like. The hammering continued intermittently, but otherwise there was not another human being in evidence.

“Well,” Irv Clifford said at last. “What now?”

Madison looked at Wayne. Droplets of fog moisture clung to the ends of his curly hair and his four-day-old beard. He raised one side of his mouth in a sad smile, a gesture she’d always loved, and she almost swooned right there on the dock. Instead she turned to the captain. “We’ve got an hour, don’t we? Before we have to go back?”

Something in Clifford’s eye told her that he’d caught her meaning, and he said, “Paul just asked me to get him here, he didn’t say when. You weren’t part of the deal one way or the other. But I guess I can hold out here a bit.”

A few minutes later, at the top of the dock near a telephone booth and a wooden bench, Wayne hefted his gunnysack and shook hands with the captain. There had been an awkward moment when Wayne had tried to pay him with a hundred-dollar bill, and the captain had refused, to the point of awkwardness. But now Irv Clifford solemnly wished him luck and Godspeed.

“An hour,” Madison said over her shoulder to the captain, as she followed Wayne down the road toward the hulking building and others she could now see beyond it. On her shoulder she carried her small knapsack, which contained two towels and two condoms. The bank above the dock was lined with pink flowers of a kind she could not ever remember seeing in Maine. She looked back at the harbor and saw Clifford’s boat, the Deborah Mae, nestled among the others, looking not a bit out of place. They walked past more pink flower bushes and came to the second harbor, which was full of water but hosted no boats larger than fishing dories, some piled high with nets.

Over the land the fog was less thick, and after the factory or warehouse or whatever it was came houses with small fenced plots. A woman waved to them from a vegetable garden; a dog with no visible owner crossed the road.

They made hurried, urgent love in a secluded spot in the back of a graveyard they found alongside the main road. Though they had walked a kilometer in each direction from what appeared to be the town’s main intersection, they found no store, no post office, no open business – no other signs of a town, in fact, save for the cemetery and two side-by-side, nearly identical churches. A few cars had passed and their drivers had waved, but neither Madison nor Wayne thought to flag anyone down to ask for directions. They took their time putting their clothes back on; Madison saw real regret in his eyes when she clasped her bra and pulled down the front of her shirt. Until we meet again, she thought ruefully, and pushed the thought away. She needed to get back to the boat.

“So you’ll hitchhike to the north end and get on the ferry,” she said, as she tucked the shirt into her jeans.

“Uh-huh,” he said. He was rummaging around in his gunnysack for something. “That’s the plan. Once I get to the mainland I’ll probably work my way back west and head into the woods for awhile.” He looked up at her. “Another good thing about Canada. There’s a lot of country to hide in. Here.”

He held out a package to her, something wrapped in a black plastic bag, a little larger than a brick but smaller than a loaf of bread. “Wayne, are you crazy?”

“It isn’t pot. Why would I smuggle dope out of the United States? Madison, I might not be back for a long time. I don’t want to leave you and Graham high and dry, but I’m not gonna be in a place where I can send regular payments, if you know what I mean.”

Madison peered inside the bag. She gasped. It was filled with cash. She thumbed back the corner on a stack of U.S. hundred-dollar bills.

“Wayne, there’s a lot of money here,” she said. “Thousands of dollars.”

“Thirty-six thousand six hundred American dollars.” He showed the sad smile again. “Ill-gotten gains,” he said. “Nobody knows about it but me. It can’t be traced. It’s not much in the long run, but it’s yours.”

“Wayne, I can’t…”

“Maddie, I’m not leaving this graveyard with it. You’ve got two kids. Spend it on them. Get Graham some hockey lessons. Send Serena to college. Find a house to buy and fix up. Use it to give yourself and your kids some nice things. You deserve it.”

She thought of her modest apartment, and the camp in the woods that would likely be seized and would surely be searched. She thought of the nights Wayne had helped Serena with her homework. She thought of Graham, fated to grow up without a father or grandfathers, because Wayne’s parents had never been in the picture, and her own father was dead.

She hung her head and thanked him, and only cried a little.

“I’ll kiss you goodbye here,” she said, “and we’ll part on the road like we’ll see each other tomorrow.”

He wiped away a stray tear with his thumb. “You’ll hear from me,” he said.

They kissed for a long time, but if anyone saw them take their leave of each other a few minutes later, they would have witnessed only a brief hug and a wave as the tall man shouldered his gunnysack and started north along the main road, while the blonde woman clutched her red knapsack to her chest and skittered down the small road toward the harbor, looking back over her shoulder several times until the man was gone.

When Madison got back to the boat, she noticed that the tide had dropped a couple of feet but that the fog had lifted a little. From the top of the dock she could see the fish weir they had almost hit on the way in, and some of the shoreline they had followed. Irv Clifford was standing in the cockpit, whittling a small piece of soft wood, and from the way he frowned at her she knew she had exceeded the allotted hour. “I’m ready,” she said, and ducked below to store the knapsack in a dry, secure place.

She undid the lines as he got the engine started, coiling them neatly on the deck as he steered the Deborah Mae out of the enclosure. The small tasks of getting under way soothed her, kept her mind occupied, lest the enormity of the sudden change in her life rise up and overwhelm her. The fog had indeed softened, so that the fish weirs along the shore were visible and easily avoided. They could see the base of the cliff as they rounded the southern head and set course for Cutler, but the moaning lighthouse high above them remained shrouded in fog. The shore, too, soon disappeared as Clifford moved the Deborah Mae out into deep water and opened up the throttle. Madison did not look back.

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