Jaws Fanfiction: Captain Quint Shark Hunter - 11. Chapter 11 Herbie Robinson
Chapter Eleven: Herbie Robinson
In a corner of one of the disused wrecking yards Abel set up a bench and constructed a set of makeshift weights out of sawn-off scaffolding poles and breeze blocks. He followed a punishing exercise regime of bench presses and push-ups, morning runs around the base perimeter, and regular three mile swims across the channel to Pike Island.
At the end of September he went to the quartermaster to request a new uniform and fatigues. His biceps were stretching his shirt sleeves to the limit. The coach of the base’s football team approached him and asked if he had any experience as a quarterback. But Abel wasn’t interested. He wasn’t honing his body for a game. He was preparing for the day that must eventually come when he went into combat.
At the end of every month he would march over to the administration block and request a transfer. On each occasion Lieutenant Archer treated him with the same mocking disdain, and seemed to take perverse pleasure in denying each request. Abel stood to attention, clenching his fists so hard his nails dug into the palms of his hands.
Sundays he allowed himself a respite from his exercise regime. He would lie on his bunk and read Melville, or maybe amble over to the bleachers to watch a baseball game. He sat way in the back and ate his lunch out of a brown paper bag, sipping on a bottle of Coors that warmed in the sun.
One afternoon a fight broke out over a disputed call by the plate umpire. It started with a couple of players shoving each other in the chest. Then a punch was thrown and suddenly it was a free-for-all. Incidents like this were common enough. Abel never got involved. He wasn’t the type to pick fights, and he liked to keep to himself.
Meal times it was difficult to avoid company. He always looked for an empty table. If anyone joined him he would acknowledge them with a brief nod, but make no attempt at conversation. Often as not the space across from him was left untaken. It was understood that Abel Quint liked to eat alone.
One Thursday evening Abel was hunched over his plate of beef stew when he became aware of somebody standing over him. He looked up into a face he vaguely recognised.
‘Anybody sitting here?’
Abel finished chewing, swallowed, and shook his head.
‘Mind if I join you?’
Abel took another bite of meat and then gestured with his fork.
‘Thanks.’ The young man set his tray on the table and sat down. He put out his hand. ‘Robinson. Herbie Robinson.’
Abel looked at the extended palm and went on chewing. The hand was withdrawn.
‘Say, I’ve seen you at the game.’
Abel realised now who this guy was. He wore the number six jersey for the engineers’ team. The shortstop.
‘You got a pretty good looking pitcher’s arm on your there. You know Bob Feller? Pitcher with the Cleveland Indians? 1936, he got seventeen strikeouts in one game. Boy, that was some mean fastball. You know, he signed up two days after Pearl Harbor. Can you believe that? He did his basic training out at Norfolk. Plays some exhibition games sometimes, I hear. Wants to see combat, they say. Put in for the USS Iowa. That figures, huh? The Indians aren’t doing so well without Bob Feller, that’s a fact.’
The shortstop paused to take a bite of food and waited for the big man across the table from him to take up the conversation. Abel continued eating in silence.
‘You ever been to Cleveland?’ Herbie Robinson didn’t wait for an answer but went on speaking in a high eager rapid tone. ‘Sure gets cold in the winters. Real heavy snow. Lake freezes over. As a kid, used to go ice fishing with my pop. You ever done that, ice fishing? One time we caught us a rainbow trout this big. Another time, I fell through the ice. Pop had to haul me out, thought I was going to die. I pulled through, but the doctor said the cold had done something to my head. That was on account of why I didn’t do so great in school. Ice fishing, boy, we had some good times. Where you from?’
Abel swabbed the gravy on his plate with a hunk of bread.
‘Back east,’ he said.
‘New York City?’
Herbie Robinson looked blank, waiting for an elaboration, but none came.
‘Say, I’m gonna get me some of that apple pie. You want some?’
Abel shook his head.
‘Okay,’ the shortstop picked up his tray. ‘I’ll be right back. Keep my place for me, huh, buddy?’
Abel gave him a mock three-fingered salute, and then turned his attention back to mopping up his gravy. A sudden clattering sound made him look up. Three rows down Herbie Robinson lay spead-eagled on the floor. A group of men at one of the tables were laughing. The biggest of them picked up a pitcher of water and poured it over the shortstop’s head.
‘Why don’t you look where you’re going?’ The man’s voice had a Southern drawl. ‘You tripped right over my foot there. I think you ought to apologise.’
At the other tables men craned their necks to get a look.
Abel narrowed his eyes, as if weighing up a decision.
He pushed back his chair, got up, and started to walk towards the group of bullies, his right fist clenched.