This is the opening segment of my first novel, a WWII novel of intrigue and suspense that crosses three continents. Inspired by true events, the story follows a stash of plundered Nazi treasure. The novel was a quarter-finalist in a contest that Amazon ran, and also won the Florida Writers' Association Royal Palm Literary Award.
Let me know via email if you would like to see this story make it to print.
All the best,
G. Thomas Gill
LAND OF FIRE
Jose Guzman peered through the darkness as he piloted the battered old fishing boat upriver. “Keep a sharp watch, boys,” he called. “The channel along here is as twisted as the penis of a pig. Remember, there will be no money for any of us if we don’t get a full load of shrimp.”
“Yes, Papa.” Tomas rubbed his sleepy eyes nudged his cousin Miguel, “Wake up,” he whispered, “or Papa will use you for bait.”
Miguel jerked, “I’m awake,” he complained, “stop poking me.”
“How long before we get home, papa?” Tomas asked, holding his nose against the pungent smell of the salt marsh. “It stinks here.”
“Get used to it son, it’s the smell of money.”
Jose rigged a lamp to the end of a pole and hung it over the bow. All through the night they dipped their nets into the pool of light, and filled their tubs to overflowing. Shrimp weren’t the only things that gravitated to the light. As they drifted through the Rio Plata marshes, droves of insects swarmed toward the glowing lamp, causing the fishermen to curse the buzzing hordes that flew into their ears and mouths. A large school of pejerreye, feeding on the smaller crustaceans that swam into the light had accompanied the shrimp into their nets. The shrimp ran large and would fetch a good price on the docks of Buenos Aires. And the pejerreye were prized for their delicate flavor; the sale of these silver fish would provide a welcome bonus. The night’s work would keep the family fed for two weeks at least.
Homeward bound, a a mild chop disturbed the river’s surface, and it was a good thing for the fishermen. The weight of the catch caused the small boat to ride low in the dark water. Occasionally, a larger wave would wash over the gunwale, causing the boys to grab for the bailing buckets.
Jose listened carefully to the chugging of the Gray Marine engine as it powered them upriver. The steady firing of the four cylinders assured him they would have no trouble reaching home before breakfast. The sound of the engine blended with the slapping of waves against the bow to create a monotonous rhythm that made him fight to stay awake. Jose gazed at the stars as he steered the craft and wondered if the night’s work would net enough profit to allow him to freshen the faded and scabby remains of the paint that now clung reluctantly to the lapstrake hull. He knew the boat was sound and worthy of investment. It wouldn’t take much to make the old twenty foot workboat as good as new. Perhaps there would be some money left over for paint.
“Papa, something is floating in the water, straight ahead!” Tomas called. The cry split the night and Jose spun the wheel. Reluctantly, the laden boat came to starboard. In the dim pre-dawn light the boys could barely make out a shape in the water. “Good eyes, Tomas,” yelled Jose. He didn’t want to risk losing the crew, the boat or the catch as he slowed the engine for a better look.
“Is it a log?” Jose called. Sometimes, logs would float downriver from deep in the interior. If it was the right type of wood, like algarroba or ebony, it would be a valuable find. “Bring it alongside and let’s see what it is.”
Miguel grabbed a gaff and dragged the debris alongside the boat. He struggled to raise the gaff. “It’s heavy, Uncle, it must be a log.” Grunting, he added, “Tomas, give me a hand here.” Together, the two boys strained to lift the burden.
“You don’t have to bring it on board, just raise it up enough so I can see what type of wood it is. If it’s worth anything, I’ll tow it behind us. Hang on, here I come.”
Jose cut the engine and edged forward, lamp in hand. Miguel and Tomas renewed their grip on the gaff and heaved. The burden began to rise. “Just a little more,” Tomas grunted.
Both boys screamed as a man’s face, white as the belly of a fish, bobbed above the gunwale. Miguel nearly dropped the gaff as Tomas crossed himself, muttering softly, “Madre de Dios.”