“Damn, what have we caught there?” asked Jamie, the youngest crew member.
Jack had seen it all before. Tangled in the ticklers and, therefore not quite inside the net, was a body. Even as it came out of the water, it was obviously in a corrupt state, although most of its clothing seemed intact.
“Get the fish in first,” said Jack, “and we’ll sort that mess out after.”
The three crewmen brought the cod end aboard but couldn’t avert their eyes from the unpleasant sight.
That work complete, the main tackle and nets were raised from the sea and lowered on to the deck. The body hung from its legs but remained attached. It then lay in an ungainly mess on the deck.
“Oh my God,”said Jezza, “it’s Bernie.”
Bernie’s boat had been lost about six weeks earlier with nothing but an empty lifeboat being found. An inquest was held followed by a funeral which all of this crew but Jamie had attended.
“What are we going to do?” asked Jamie, feeling a bit queasy.
I’ll tell you what we’re going to do,” said Jack with considerable authority, “We’re going to drop him back in the sea.”
“Shouldn’t we call the coastguard?” asked Jezza. He was right of course.
“No bloody way,” Jack replied, “He’s already dead and buried as far as the law is concerned, do you think that poor woman, what’s her name, Diane, wants to face this, an autopsy and another inquest? Let her grieve without any more fuss.”
The men worked to untangle the body. These were men who spent half their working hours up to their elbows in fish guts, but a dead comrade made them feel sick to their stomachs. Carefully, they disentangled the corpse, trying not to look and wiping their hands on their overalls again and again.
“Get me a piece of chain,” Jack ordered Jamie.
Jamie obliged and the chain was roped to the body.
“Dear Lord have mercy on our friend,” said Jack as a short prayer and the men returned the body to the sea. Jack would mark the spot on his chart as a hazard or wreck to be shared with other boats.
“Not a word about this, not a bloody word,” ordered Jack.
The men nodded in agreement.
Then it was back to work sorting and gutting the catch. They worked in uncharacteristic and solenm silence. Jamie broke down in tears and was sent to his bunk.
Was Jack right? Personally, I think he was. Bernie belonged there, “until the sea gives up its dead.”