Anyone less experienced would most likely have run aground, but Asa Clark knew the channels and side channels in Kidd's Creek as well as any fish. And as he sat in the stern, gripping the handle of the fifteen horse motor, his eyes traced the darker edges of the main channel. Now and again he adjusted the flight of the trim, fourteen-foot lapstrake skiff, but here, in the middle part of the creek, with the tide still having a long run out, he ran with the engine wide open. The water was deep, twenty feet or better in the channel and the creek ran wide as any river. He suppressed a grin as they came around the turn below the ledges and he changed the angle of the bow ever so slightly.
Ike, fair haired with pale green eyes, a lean and wiry boy the same age at fourteen as Asa, sat in the very front of the boat, his back cushioned by his life vest where he rested against the tapering inside point of the bow. Both boys wore vests. The Coast Guard required them, but more to the point, their fathers required them, and getting caught without a vest meant losing the boat. And though they would rather have gone without them on a hot summer day, neither boy considered taking off his vest. On the water you wore a life vest. Only fools thought otherwise, or so they had been taught since they first stepped into a boat.
As they passed The Ledges, Asa eased the boat toward the old white oak that grew on the edge of the right bank. Two summers ago they had tied a rope to the limb that hung out over the creek and once the tide reached its halfway point the water was deep enough so they could swing out over the creek and let go. Usually the rope was tied to the trunk of the tree, but it must have come loose in the wind because now it dangled out over the water. Asa aimed the bow so the fat knot on the rope would conk Ike in the back of the head. Even at this speed it wouldn't hurt, but it would surprise him some, Asa thought, as he watched the rope come closer and closer and then just as it was about to collide with his noggin, Ike ducked and suddenly the rope hung right in front of Asa, and because he had expected quite a different result, he couldn't react fast enough to dodge and it tunked him squarely in the forehead and knocked his sunglasses onto the floor of the boat.
And then all he could do was laugh along with Ike who clearly thought he had never, no not ever in his life seen anything so comical. And finally when he began to calm down enough to catch his breath, Asa called out over the drone of the motor. "How did you know when to duck, you creep?"
"I knew you were up to something because you kept edging the boat toward the shore. And then I remembered the rope and I waited till I could see the reflection in those dumb mirror sunglasses."
Asa grinned. One of the best things about having Ike as a friend was the way he could surprise you. Just when you had him figured, he'd do something that caught you unprepared. Best of all he was a good sport. If he'd got hit by the rope he would have laughed just as hard. As they swung past the ledges, Asa scanned the water ahead with greater care. From here on they moved into the shallower water below the curve at East Hook. The channel narrowed and grew less and less predictable in the way it wandered, switching back and forth across the creek.
They watched a snowy egret a hundred yards away, bright white in the sun, picking its way along on black stick legs as it hunted little fish. Sometimes the bird walked quickly to stir up the minnows, stabbing its long bill like a sword, and it always seemed to come up with a fish. Then it would stop to stand on one skinny leg and wait and wait and suddenly stab its bill downward, grab a minnow, and gobble it up.
Both boys liked to watch the creek birds, the ospreys, the egrets, the green herons, and the enormous great blue herons, the shitepokes, that looked as big as the storks in fairy tales. The creek was alive with birds; bitterns, gulls, terns, hawks, eagles, snipe, rail, sandpipers, yellowlegs, black ducks and mallards, and more others than you could count. Underwater it was even busier with hermit crabs running willy nilly in all directions and thousands and thousands of tiny fish following the tides and the big blue crabs scuttling about on the bottom.
Now he ran at half-throttle, following the narrow, twisting channel which showed only as a dark streak where the deeper water absorbed the sunlight and prevented it from reflecting off the bottom the way it did in the shallows. They rode easily along, the boat pushing aside the clear water as the motor forced it upstream against the tide and the current, shoving the bow of the boat up and over the water coming at them.
Ike dangled his hand in the spray as he looked down at the water, watching the reflections of the clouds and thinking, as he did so often, about pirates and particularly about Captain William Kidd and the lost treasure. He'd never doubted that Kidd had buried it here, though everyone told him it was nothing but a legend. And in truth, all his digging around at the library had never turned up a shred of evidence to suggest that Kidd had done anything more than sail up the creek to escape a British man-o'-war. Still, he knew the treasure was here somewhere, buried in the vast marshes, waiting for someone to find it. What an adventure! The search for Kidd's treasure....
But Ike, who like Asa, had been raised to trust a more practical turn of mind, had another reason as well. He wanted a trail bike, not just any trail bike, but the red Honda down at Bousquet's Motorcycle Shop. Asa wanted the same bike, except in green. Everytime they went down to King's Point they went to Bousquets to look at the bikes. But no kid who came from a fishing family got a present like that. To get those bikes, they'd have to earn the money and that's why they were headed upcreek. The more clams they dug and sold, the more money they made. But it sure would happen faster if they found Kidd's lost treasure.
Asa throttled down the motor as the channel continued to narrow, holding just enough speed to carry them upstream, and then suddenly the engine sputtered and coughed and he quickly gave it more gas and a cloud of blue oil smoke drifted out over the water.
"You forgot to change the plugs, didn't you," Ike said.
Asa shifted to neutral and reved up the engine trying to burn off the oil which had fouled the spark plugs. "I also put too much oil in when I mixed the gas."
Ike laughed. "Jeez, Asa, that's the kind of crazy stuff I do."
The engine began to run more smoothly and Asa throttled it back and shifted into forward, and despite the risk of running the propeller into the mud, held his speed a little higher.
"Pretty dumb not changing the plugs," he said. "I put two new plugs right out on the work bench where I couldn't miss 'em yesterday afternoon and then forgot all about it."
"We don't have far to go," Ike shouted over the noise from the engine. "And if it won't run later, we'll just row down on the tide."
"I hate rowing," Asa said.
Ike changed the subject before Asa got himself into a full blown grouch. "Do you think Captain Kidd buried his treasure here?" he asked over the drone of the outboard.
"What got you into that again?"
"It's called Kidd's Creek isn't it?"
"Only because he sailed his ship up into the creek once when he was being chased by a British man-o'-war."
"But don't you see? Kidd sailed a sloop and he could have outrun any man-o'-war unless he was carrying a lot of gold to weigh him down. So he sailed into the creek, buried the gold, and then sailed back down, and without all that extra weight all he had to do was get to open water because then the British couldn't catch him."
Asa didn't answer, though he liked the explanation well enough. It made sense. What's more it was just the kind of thing Captain Kidd would have done. Tricky and clever.
"Couldn't have sailed the ship above Boulder Bend," Asa said, "too shallow."
"Sure," Ike said, "but he could've hauled the treasure by long boat from there, and then he could've gone a long way up, probably to The High Ground so the treasure wouldn't get flooded out."
Ike could make the wildest story sound possible and more than once they had gone off on one of his wild chases. But not this time. They had come to dig quahogs in the old clamming ground they hadn't used since last year, and when you went clamming you didn't waste any time or the tide rushed in and put you out of business. Just now the tide had a way to run before it hit dead low. They could begin digging before slack water and still have enough outgoing tide to drift back down. You saved gas that way, and any money they paid for gas cut their profit.
Asa slowed the motor till their speed matched the tide and current, and the boat held steady, neither gaining nor losing as he stood up and checked the channel ahead. Finding treasure sure would beat the heck out of digging clams. So far he had saved only a hundred bucks and that left him a long way from that red Honda. Eleven hundred dollars away. If he was lucky he might make it by the end of next summer, and then he'd be fifteen and he'd only have a year to ride it before he turned sixteen and got his driver's license. Not that he wouldn't still ride it after he got his license, but it wouldn't be the same. He twisted the throttle grip on the motor and the boat moved forward again.
Ike looked over the bow and signaled with his left hand for Asa to steer to port, and Asa brought the boat to the left over a small sandbar and across the channel to the far bank of the creek. Then using the current and the push from the outboard he brought the boat in against the bank and Ike jumped ashore with the anchor and disappeared among the thick reeds where he set the points of the anchor into the soft ground of the marsh.
Neither boy talked now. They muckled onto their clam baskets and rakes and stepped into the knee-deep water, both eager to begin digging. But what once had been as good a bed of clams as you could find on the creek, had not improved by being left alone. They dug only cherrystones and a few medium sized quahogs and not the great old monster quahogs which brought double the going price at those restaurants which specialized in stuffed clams.
Oh, there were clams enough all right, and plenty of the small sized cherrystones and even smaller littlenecks, but they had come upcreek planning on harvesting a mighty profit. They dug both upstream and downstream along the bank and even waded out chest deep, but the largest clams they found did not measure up.
"Ike?" Asa called as he carried his basket back to the boat, "you find any?"
"No. Just the same old stuff."
"Maybe we ought to go farther upcreek," Asa said.
Ike shook his head as he looked down. "You know the rule. No farther than Boulder Bend."
"Yeah, I know." Asa looked off across the creek at the solid wall of reeds.
"Maybe we could go up to the flats at Boulder Bend," Ike said.
"It's all rocks there and we've tried the flats plenty of times."
"Asa, my father'd probably kill me if he found out I went upcreek."
"And anyway I'm afraid of going up there."
"But we've been there before," Asa said.
"Yeah, but our fathers took us and they know where the quicksand is and where the holes in the bottom are. Suppose we got stuck in the mud and climbed out to push the boat and got into quicksand. We could be in awful trouble, Asa."
"Okay, okay, I know it's dangerous. But if we stay out of the Fingernails and keep a rope tied around our waists and back to the boat, what can happen?"
"It's just too dangerous." Ike set his clam rake into the boat and hoisted his clam basket, half full of cherrystones into the boat behind the rake. "All my life people have told stories about men who went up there and never came back, and how they found their boats drifting down the creek on the tide, and how nobody could find the bodies."
"Last fall when we went up duck hunting into the first Fingernail on the right, do you remember the narrow creek going in? Do you remember what the bottom looked like? I know there's quahogs there, Ike, big ones and we can get them."
Ike leaned down onto the boat. "Where would we say we got the clams?"
Asa set his rake in the boat and then lifted his clam basket over the gunwale and set it on the flat duckboard floor. "We can make something up."
"It's risky, Asa."
"Sure it's risky, but we want big clams and that's the only place we haven't tried. If we go now we can make it before the tide turns."
Ike thought about the dirt bike and how much money they could make if they found big quahogs. All the tourists that came through King's Point wanted those stuffed clams. All they had to do was find enough of them and maybe by the end of summer they'd have their bikes. "Okay, let's go," he said, "but we have to be more careful than ever."
Asa grinned as he climbed into the boat. "Get the anchor," he said, and as Ike climbed the muddy bank to retrieve the anchor, Asa picked up an oar and pushed the stern of the boat out into deeper water and started the outboard. Now they were cooking. No more messing around with clams that anybody could find. He aimed the bow upstream, standing now in order to see where the deeper water lay.
He glanced down quickly to make sure he'd put the tool box in as he thought about the shallow water ahead. It was a long row home if they hit bottom and sheared a pin on the propeller. But he had extra shear pins in the tool box and the tools he needed to change the pin.
He looked at Ike's back as he hung over the bow looking for shoals and rocks. Having him so far forward helped by lifting the stern and allowing the motor to run through water where it would normally hit bottom. They were doing it right, just the way they'd been taught and yet... yet he could not overcome the sudden deep foreboding he felt. He tried to write it off to having disobeyed their parents, but it did not go away. In fact, the farther upcreek they went, the more certain he was that they were making a mistake. There was trouble ahead and he could feel it.
"How's it look, Ike?"
"Okay," Ike called back over his shoulder, turning his head to the side so he didn't have to take his eyes off the bottom. "Just take it slow in case something big pops up."
Asa nodded. "Okay." The key, he thought, was to be ready for whatever might happen. And when you were in a boat it was hard to see ahead, becuse you couldn't always see down through the water. In fact, as he thought about it, Asa decided that it was never possible to see very far ahead.
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© Copyright 2005 Frost Hollow Publishers LLC & Robert Holland, (860) 974-2081.