Anchor Management

wadin' boot

Donny, you're out of your element...

Wadin' Boot


In the early hours of May 29, 1993, Trent Stills drove an Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme into two kids riding their bikes up Schoolhouse road. He graduated high school the day prior, he’d been up all night, and the kids were riding in the middle of the road, or so he said. No one could prove he’d been drinking because no one checked him for it.

It was his mother’s car, a powder-blue mid-eighties model, low in miles and with good brakes that never helped blacken that road with skids. His lights were out, the boys he hit were wearing dark hoodies and no helmets. One of the kids, Joe Field, died that night, and the other was airlifted to Harborview for emergency surgeries.

Stills was on the verge of going off to college, out East, on scholarship. His parents, not particularly well off, gave him all the advantages they never had. They didn’t need to dote, though. He was smart, focused and well liked. He played football, he had a perfect score on his SAT. He volunteered in a nursing home. He made Eagle Scout and dated a girl named Samantha Rose who was as beautiful as he was.

“He made that one mistake,” that’s what his lawyer said, “and doesn’t everyone who makes a mistake deserve a second chance?” The jury agreed, he went to school a year late, scholarship intact, left the courtroom with his parents and Samantha weeping over him, as though that was the tragedy, that his being dragged through a trial for vehicular homicide was somehow a sidebar on a life where destiny was always meant to be throttled for the win.

I was the other kid, Joe Field’s buddy, the one that lived. And we were drunk, we had just graduated high school, we were high, we were riding down the middle of the road, whistling and shouting. We had been to the same party as Trent Stills.

The last I remember of Joe that night was him turning under a streetlamp as we rode our bikes home. He was wearing a Halloween mask, a day-of-the-dead skeleton thing with an ember of a cigarette poking out, fumes coming out his eyeballs and from other gaps in the mask. I also had one on, though with the face backwards, over the hoodie that cocooned me. (Come to think of it, I wonder if Trent Stills has nightmares about that face staring him down, and smashing into his windshield- I hope he does- and if not, I wish it on him, a haunting now and then...)


In my medical history, which there is a lot of, the pages start like this: “Mr Martin is a 24-year-old incomplete C7 paraplegic who returns with complaints of….” The latest chapter ends this way: “refills were written for a one month supply of baclofen 10 mg tid, clonazepam 2 mg tid, and sixty vicodin, Chas is to call us if he is having any problems or concerns.”

You know no-one ever talks about Trent Stills that way. No sentences begin with "Mr Stills is a 24-year-old sociopath and has been since a young age" no chapters end with “Cognitive therapies combined with olanzapine are helping.” They should though, Trent Stills was an asshole even before the accident. A righteous, entitled, deceitful prick who wasn’t shy about throwing elbows where none were needed. A bully who never got caught. A guy who got things easily, who had a black heart, and who in my mind never meant to brake on the crest of that hill, and worst of all never learned anything at all from that trial, from where he left me or from the death of Joe Field. He never once tried to apologize, never once owned up for screwing us over. Tried to blame us for riding without lights, helmets, and drunk, tried to blame us when he was just as messed up and stupid as we were.

So imagine my surprise then, one October morning, on my parents deck, sipping coffee and listening to Delta Blues (Me and the Devil) and watching the fog clear, there’s Trent Stills. I am 9/10ths sure it is him. I haven’t seen him in a while, since the trial really, 6 years prior. I have to concentrate, it’s almost clonazepam time, the arms are a little shaky and the baclofen’s not helping. I have to rest my elbows on the deck table and lock the chair in place and really concentrate to keep the binoculars still.

It’s him alright. He’s got that same lantern jaw, eyebrows as monotonous as an Iowa horizon, that unmistakable small Orion’s belt of facial moles. He looks older, though not old. He paddles a kayak, a sleek red exclamation point of a thing. He moves fast over Rich Passage. He surfs the low ferry wake at a respectable distance. He made it look like some Hawaii 5-0 B-roll only instead of Diamond Head and Waikiki there was a backdrop of an autumnal Fort Ward and a paint-wanting Issaquah class ferry, the Kitsap, all of its 2500 tons on their way to Bremerton.

Kitsap, named after a chief of war and a medicine man. What would a man like that make of a moment like this- a chance to heal, or a chance to harm? Some malignant ghost paddles out of the sea towards you, lurking through the last tendrils of unburnt fog, his long two bladed paddle moving to the music drummed out through earbuds, he must be up to no good. Chief Kitsap would see that, he could recognize threat, right?

Stills continues to head straight towards me- 75 yards- 70- 65- 60…. My pulse is racing now, what could he possibly want with me? Where are those clonazepam?

And then he stops and lets the kayak coast. He’s fumbling for something, a bucket attached to a rope, and he throws it overboard into the soon to roll flood-tide. It’s his anchor, and he plays it out until the line draws taut and holds him. The kayak swings in a slow arc and finds a neutral place side-on against the current. He has tethered the anchor rope to the midpoint of his kayak, and leaves it there. He’s got an anchor trolley that he could take the line to either end of his boat so he’d swing into the current and ride higher, but the dope doesn’t do it.

Instead he undoes a flyrod from deck webbing. He ties something on, something red, white and blue, and he begins to cast in long graceful arcs the length of a basketball court, way further than I could cast, longer than my dad, even with a Spey rod.

I know what he’s fishing for. Down there, all along this beach are sea-run cutthroat trout. They like the ripples and boils where the current flows quick here over combs of bedrock that jut up between keys of small boulders. It’s ambush water, and if your old man is cool like mine, he’ll tow you behind his small dory while you float over all of it, your stupid useless trunk and legs in the belly of a pool raft and your good arms bracing up on the pontoon edge, holding your head in the water so you can look through a facemask, breathe through a snorkel and check out the weird world below. Arms of kelp, seagrass hair, starfish, crabs, their molts and if you’re lucky, cutthroat in the distance so well camouflaged you’d blink and miss them.


There are at least four good sized Cutthroat that run zone over the 75 feet of beachfront we own. And Trent Stills is targeting them with his fly. He wants nothing to do with me. It’s not even about me, he is here to fish. Part of me is relieved, I am no longer as concerned about what Chief Kitsap would do.

I watch him cast again and again. No luck. Predictably, Stills is very good at what he does. He switches flies and this time, casts to a recognizable boil of one of our fish. He is on, hooked up, fighting, but the fish makes a spectacular leap and shakes his hook.

Over the next half hour, Stills doesn’t seem to notice the flood tide is staring to really move quick and roil the waters. A wind has picked up from the west to oppose the tide, and between the two, the kayak sits, balanced side-on against both. It shimmies like a short-stringed kite. When Stills casts his kayak wobbles, the gunnel dips, but it always comes up again. A guy whose legs work can keep a narrow kayak balanced with some ass-muscle torque and a heel to pivot on. Me, it would flip in a second unless I could use my paddle like an outrigger…

He is again on to a fish, and again this Searun throws his hook. Trent Stills retrieves his line and ties on a new fly, and moves back to cast. He has hooked two of the four that ought to be there and now he throws towards where number three likes to hide. He has no trouble enticing that fish to take, he is again on to a fish and this time the fish is brought to hand, it looks to be solid, 18 inches if not more, and he works at the fly in his mouth for a long time, far longer than it should take for a barb-free hook to pull.

The fish thrashes, Stills grips tighter, it thrashes more, and in a surprisingly fast and gruesome move Stills moves his fingers under the gill plates and rips them. He contorts the fish’s head back, smashes the fish against his kayak repeatedly, and, when satisfied it is dead, rinses the blood from it, unhooks it with more power, unfastens his spray skirt, slides the fish into the belly of the kayak and then cinches himself back in.

I am revolted. I recheck what I have seen, was it a hallucination? As to that Stills rinses his hands again, and I know what I saw was real. I unlock my wheels, back up, slide the porch door open and make my way through, looking for the phone but it is nowhere to be found. I want to call my dad, he’d know what to do, but the phone is nowhere. Not only that, a big box of Halloween decorations my Mom left out lies between me and my parents room, the last place the phone may be.

The box is slightly open, and as I turn I knock it open further. There, staring back at me, is the day-of-the-dead-mask, maybe the one that I wore May of 1993. Why my mother kept it was beyond me, some weird memento of Joe Field? Had she recovered it from the scene? Was it mine or his?

I stare at it longer. The shakes are getting bad and the sight of the mask is strangely comforting. As though Joe Field was here to be with me, to give me strength. I fish it out. On it are some spatters that could be old blood, or perhaps some kind of cleaning solution. Jesus- maybe it was Joe's brain, because there was stuff on the inside also. I look at it close, put it on, the elastic proves a yellowed imitation of what it once was, it barely holds. I wheel back out, right to the edge of the deck, any further and I’d tumble down the stairs. I look down at Stills some thirty yards away.

Stills is casting towards where the fourth fish lies. The currents are at a slow jog now, and at this time in a flood tide, it’s as fast as they will get. The Kitsap is outbound now, moving back to Seattle, just turning into Rich Passage and moving towards Fort Ward. Stills has his back to the ferry now and today, now that the fog is gone, there’s no shrill blast to warn us of its passing. I don’t move at all. I must look like a decoration, yard art, no better than a scarecrow, set to spook a young ferry passenger with a sharp eye.

He casts five more times, changes flies, casts again, each time he seems comfortable with how deep his gunnel cuts into the current when his weight shifts, even though now the kayak seems to wobble more.

There is a lag time of about seven minutes between the ferry passing and its wake. In the five feet of water Stills is working in, a two foot ferry wake will swell up in ways that can be unpredictable. Most times the current neutralizes those wakes, but today’s look meaner than usual. Stills casts, he hooks the fourth fish.

That’s when I decide to whistle. I can cat call with just my tongue, and should you ever develop such a skill, I would advise against doing it while wearing a tight fitting day-of-the-dead mask. Not only does the sound focus back to you, the spittle that moves out of the mouth gets aerosolized in an unpredictable manner, including into the eyes. It had the desired effect though.

Stills looked up towards me and froze. I was already frozen, but my chair faced directly at him some sixty feet away, face on, sun a little above and behind me but not enough to mar the features that looked at him. Maybe that spittle, vaporized now with the whistle and backlit by the sun, looked like smoke coming out of my eyes. Nevertheless that skeleton head, the blackened face, the atrophic legs, the spindled chair of a madman, neither alive nor dead, all of it directed towards Stills.

“I am Joe Field” I shouted it slow. I shouted it again and again.

Fish number four leaped and twisted and came free, Stills didn’t move. In the background was the first salvo of waves from the ferry. The early rollers would incrementally alert Stills to the impending disaster, how the current was too strong for his stuck anchor line to do anything but pull his boat into the wave itself. The fourth one, a mature wave, would take the kayak and roll it. The gunnel would dip into the current, and that immutable tidal force, with Still’s anchor line stuck fast, would cause him to flip

Stills, if he knew what he was doing, would have a knife to cut the anchor free. He’d probably lose his rod, and then he could roll his kayak back up. Worse case scenario he could wriggle out of the spray skirt and swim to shore. He could do all that but he didn’t.

Like a dumb bathtub boat, keel free and top heavy, his kayak flipped throwing Stills under. His hand reached up for his anchor rope, trying to pull it free. Later, it reached for his trolley line to pull the anchor line to one end, but he lost steam, or hit his head on one of those sharp combs of rock below. Or maybe he didn’t have a C7 partial’s superhuman upper body strength to do his own rescue.

Either way, Trent Stills flipped his kayak in front of my parents place because he failed to anchor up the right way, his anchor management sucked. he flipped because he didn’t have a knife to cut himself free. Because he didn’t have a life jacket or common sense. This time, he didn’t get away with it.

There will be an inquiry no doubt. Why didn’t I call? I couldn’t find the phone. Why didn’t I get help? I whistled for help and no one came. I shouted, no one came. But at no point would the inquiry piece together that the man who drowned just beyond my parent’s back yard, a body of water known as Rich Passage, was the same one who left me for dead years ago. At no point would motive be suspected. My parents knew and said nothing. My side of the story would never make the press. No-one else would know except maybe the spirit of Joe Field. I don’t feel good about it, I don’t feel bad. It ought to be remembered somehow though, maybe best summed up in these opening and closing lines:

Mr Martin is a 24-year-old sociopathic C7 paraplegic with polysubstance isssues... Cognitive therapies combined with olanzapine are helping…”

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Itchy Dog

Some call me Kirk Werner
Hauntingly dark, and long overdue, Boot...been hankerin' for your writin's and this one did not disappoint. :thumb: