Later that afternoon, at the head of River Road, I was trying to explain the situation to the deputy.
After the first wave of the storm surge, the water on River Road had dropped to three feet, down from eight the day before, when Ike made landfall. In his driveway, Frank and I had loaded his aluminum boat with two Stihl chainsaws and five ice chests of food and water. We were hoisting ourselves into the boat from thigh-deep water.
Frank had just said there was one good thing about the hurricane—the Calcasieu River was quiet. No barge traffic, no jet skis, not even a fishing skiff.
Right then, a bay boat with a 90 Merc came cruising smack down the middle of the road at half speed, shearing off a two-foot wave. If he had planed off, the wake would have been smaller.
Frank had the round, happy face of a Norman Rockwell boy, and he stayed on the alert to help people. “Neighbors first,” he always said.
“Hey!” he yelled to the guy. “What are you doing?”
The guy cut the throttle and turned into the driveway like it was a boat stall. Holding a beer and pushing a toothy Hemingway smile at us, he said, “Just looking around to see what I can see.”
It wasn’t that he was harming anything that hadn’t already been water-damaged. The surge had topped out at eight feet on the road, six in our driveways, and five in the houses. For Frank, it was the principle of the thing.
Frank just stared at the guy. This guy was drinking, but not drunk, and he made a quip to bring the heat down a few degrees. When it didn’t, he shrugged his shoulders and popped the boat into reverse. The propeller tossed up parts of Frank’s lawn like a salad. Just when the boater shifted into forward, Frank took three Paul Bunyan strides and grabbed him by the collar. The guy stopped, but the boat kept going, sliding him over the gunwale into the yard.
Holding the front of the man’s shirt with his left hand, Frank hit him three times with his right, pulling him forward each time, like a child working a Bolo paddle.
“Okay,” I said, pushing my arm between them. “That’s about fair.”
The man staggered back, then pivoted around, looking for his boat. It was passing over the road headed for the river, where he wouldn’t be able to retrieve it.
Then the boat took a long, lazy left. You can tell my account is true because boats always turn left from the propeller’s torque. The deputy nodded.
The ghost boat made a sweeping arc and glided between two palm trees on the river side of my lawn. With the evil-seeming intent of a guided missile, it passed over the road, aiming for my house.
A movement in the water drew my eyes down. A school of mullets swam by, working their mouths in a gossipy motion. I don’t mean those big mullets. These were finger mullets, just the right size for catching big redfish.
When I saw the boat was going to hit my picture window, I had enough time to expect a sound like a tray of martini glasses breaking in a far room. Instead, the slow-motion impact ended with the sound of a transformer exploding. Right away, I remembered the pane was made of safety glass. It had shattered into thousands of tiny crystals.
The windshield caught on the casing and kept the boat from entering the house. The boat had been moving so slow its bow wasn’t even dented.
The boater’s hands clasped the top of his head. “Now look what you’ve done to my boat.”
“Your boat?” Frank said. “Your dumb ass has ruined yet another man’s property and you’re worried about your boat?”
Frank hit him again and he sat back in the yellow-brown water, his hands behind his back, bracing himself like a Raggedy Andy doll propped on a pillow, his face looking skyward, barely above water.
When he stood up, watery blood ran from his nose down his chest.
“Now look,” he complained. “Look what you’ve done to my shirt.”
That’s when Frank hit him the last time, with the flat part of a paddle.
The deputy frowned at me like he didn’t fully comprehend why a man would get so upset over a shirt. My third explanation did the trick.
“It was an Orvis fishing shirt, made of a quick-dry poly/nylon blend, lined with moisture-wicking fabric, eight front pockets, four interior pockets, two cargo bags on the back, completed by mesh armpits and a vented back for breathability.”
“Okay,” the deputy nodded, spinning his clipboard around on the hood of his car and tapping. “Sign right here.”