The Twenty-first Century . . .
The Fancy Annie plowed through
waters speckled by midmorning sun. A fine catch of groundfish filled
the hold, all gutted, sorted and iced. The yellow-slickered creweight
weathered fishermen who'd worked the sea together since boyhoodhad
already hosed the decks and stowed the gear. Matt Foley kept a tidy
The smaller boats
couldn't handle the winter seas, but these men would risk the rugged
weather on trawlers like Fancy Annie. They had families to
feed, and the big boats could command high market prices for a winter
had hit some chop this time out, but the weather held and the fishing
was good. When the crew talked of being home with their families
for Christmas, Matt cut the ten-day trip to eight. On that brisk
winter morning, he radioed his wife to say that the wind was on
their tail and they'd make Killybegs by eight o'clock that night.
Her response was the same as it had been for over forty years: a
squeal of joy and a promise to have his supper ready. After a week
at sea, thoughts of Annie's cookingand Anniehad Matt
He left the wheelhouse
and planted his six-foot frame on the forward deck. The sunny skies
offset the cold salt air that stung his cheeks and blew at the curls
peeking from beneath his wool cap. His hand shaded his eyes while
he scanned the horizon. We'll pay for such a fine stretch of weather,
he thought, and then he saw it.
The men had seen
it too. After a week of hauling nets and dressing tons of fish,
they cheered the sight of the salt-sprayed rock. They were on their
The tip of the
ancient volcano rose eighty feet above the rolling ocean. Named
for its single granite ledge, Fargan served as a navigational guide
in the Irish Sea lanes two hundred miles off the Donegal coast.
The ocean around it provided some of the finest fishing in the North
Atlantic, at least when the oil companies and their sonar weren't
scaring all the fish away.
Matt was about
to give the order to turn southeast when he caught sight of a vessel
drifting north of Fargan. He sprinted to the wheelhouse and snatched
his binoculars. The boat was too far away to decipher her markings,
but Matt knew her for an English gunboat, one of the fast attack
craft used for coastal patrol and training exercisesbut not
in Irish waters.
He lowered the
binoculars, though his gaze remained fixed on the gunboat. "Keep
your ear to the radio, Eddie. That boat might be in trouble. Ronnie,
cut the throttles."
slowed until she rocked in the swells. A dinghy drifted from behind
the gunboat. One of three men sitting in it started an outboard
motor and steered the craft to the edge of the rocky outcrop. Laden
with backpacks, the other two jumped onto the tiny island.
While the dinghy
returned to the gunboat, the men scaled the rock and hoisted themselves
onto the ledge. One man drove a pole into a fissure and raised an
English flag; the other set up a small survival tent.
Matt stared in amazement. "What in holy hell are they doing?
The gunboat glided
toward the Fancy Annie. Her name was clear now: HMS Coulter.
Armed men had gathered on her deck.
A voice boomed
through a bullhorn. "This is Captain Andrew Mayne of HMS Coulter.
Heave to, Fancy Annie, and prepare to be boarded."
Matt had no bullhorn
and didn't care if Captain Mayne heard his bellowed response. "The
hell I will, you bastard. What do you think you're doing? These
are Irish waters!"
Concerned now for
the safety of his crew, Matt shouted to his first mate: "Get
underway, Ronnie. Full speed ahead!"
The engines growled.
Fancy Annie turned to starboard and cut through the swells.
Smoke wafted from Coulter's forward-mounted gun turret. A
moment later a loud boom thundered over the water. A shot had crossed
the trawler's bow.
Grabbing the handset
from Eddie, Matt called out to any and every nearby vessel, though
the nearest, according to the radar screen, was more than two hundred
miles away. Switching from frequency to frequency, he shouted into
the radio as if the mere loudness of his voice could get his message
Matt slapped the
top of the receiver and flung the handset back to Eddie. "Keep
trying, lad. Reach anyone you can and tell them what's happening
He flew down the
stairs to his quarters. Pistols couldn't defeat a gunboat, but he'd
be damned if he'd cower before pirates.
As he always did
when he entered his cabin, Matt glanced at the photograph of his
wife hanging over the gun cabinet. "Keep my supper warm, darlin'.
I'll be a little late."
He'd just snapped
magazines into two of the pistols when a thunderous impact knocked
him down. The guns went flying.
Matt seized the nearest pistol and shoved it into his belt. He raced
up to the deck. Fancy Annie was listing to port. Her burst
of speed had placed her in Coulter's path. Unable to stop,
the gunboat had rammed the trawler. Now ten English marines, all
armed, stood on Fancy Annie's slanting deck.
A pallid man in
his mid-forties swaggered before them. His choice civilian attire
didn't conceal the beginnings of flabbiness around his middle. He
glanced about the trawler, plainly seeking whoever was in charge.
Matt wasted no
time obliging him. Fists clenched tight, he charged across the swaying
deck and confronted the intruders. "I'm the captain here. Who
the hell are you?"
The man's strange
eyesone was blue, the other brownsettled on Matt. "We
didn't mean to hit your boat, Captain. I'm Prince Geoffrey Wessex,
Regent of the Kingdom of England. These men are my royal marines,
and you're trespassing. We will, of course, escort you safely out
of English waters."
because you say so?" Matt spat on the deck. "Never happen."
face reddened. Before he could reply, Matt's first mate came running
from the stern.
on water, Matt. If we don't seal her and start the pumps, she'll
Matt thought of
the fine catch of groundfish in the hold and started chuckling.
The chuckling grew to wild laughter. The laughter stopped when he
tore the pistol from his belt and fired a round into the air. "Get
the hell off my boat."
His first mate
seized a gaff hook and hefted it with deadly precision. The rest
of the crew grabbed gutting knives. All stood ready to fight.
Matt was proud
of them. Still, they were sinking. "You gobshites will patch
my boat, and learn some manners in the process." He raised
the pistol to add weight to his demands.
different-colored eyes widened in alarm. He pointed his weapon at
Matt and fired, crying "Shoot!" as he did.
The marines obeyed.
A pistol and gutting knives were no match for semiautomatic weapons.
Before the gunshots stopped echoing over the ocean, Fancy Annie's
crew lay dead on her deck.