Jebediah Hugee idled up to the dock, throwing me a rope without instruction. I dropped my camera bag and pretzeled the rope around a cleat, securing the bow. He eyed my work, the curvature of his brow implying disapproval. 

Jeb stood 6 foot, 4 inches, a lean frame towering over the center console of his weathered Carolina Skiff. An abundance of wrinkles left his face reading like a topographical map while sunspots speckled his forehead like splotched leather. His hair, a few blond hairs away from gray, was tucked beneath an oil-stained Clemson baseball hat. He lit a cigarette, inhaling from one corner of his mouth and out the other, bringing it to its butt in short work. He flicked the butt into the water, remarking unapologetically, “Sometimes you gotta feed the fishes.”

“Is that your trademark secret?” I asked.

“A fisherman never shares his secrets.”

I clicked a photograph of him hunched over the dock, untangling the mess I left around the cleat.

“So, Harry, you’re from the paper.”

“Yes, Mr. Hugee…”

“Jeb.”

“Ahha. Yes, Jeb. We’re running a series on the heart and soul of the community and wanted to highlight your legacy as…”

He raised a hand, “Climb in. Clock’s tickin’.”

We exited the Ashley River, turning southward. Three pelicans followed our path, encouraged by the sight of Jeb, a warm autumn morning, and his watercraft stinking of wet rope and carcass.  

“That’s Mo Brown, Betty Anne and Stu,” he said, pointing to the pelicans. I turned my camera toward them and snapped a shot. 

“Friends, them. I spend more time with those three birds than I do any other living creature.”

Jeb remarked on his kinship with a perfunctory stoicism, a failed opportunity for me to glance into an otherwise boarded window in hopes of finding a man worth writing a story about.

The skiff came to a crawl at the sight of the first crab buoy, Jeb pulling on a set of gloves. 

“You gonna point that thing at me all mornin’?” 

I snapped a final photo of Jeb before placing my camera in its bag, “OK. Done for now.”

By my feet I noticed a clump of hair, matte black and thick, wedged beneath the cooler. I picked it up, curious, and dropped it overboard. 

Jeb pulled up the first trap, massive blue crabs clinging to its walls. He opened it, turned it over and dumped them into the well, tossing it back overboard.

“You aren’t resetting your traps?” I asked.

“Not today.”

“How come? I…” 

“You the expert?”

“No. You are. You’re regarded as the best crabber in all of the Lowcountry.”

“I reckon that’s the prize for everything I’ve done.”

We idled from trap to trap, the three pelicans following us.
They all brimmed with blue crabs, Jeb throwing back those few that did not meet the limit.

“How did you become so successful at this, Jeb?”

“Persistence. A willingness to do whatever it takes,” he said.

I jotted the quote down, studying him as he worked without thought or care, the way one does after years of repetition, long after the task has gone sour, long before its done for good.

“You want to pull up a trap?” Jeb asked, and I agreed, excitedly.

“Do I need gloves?” 

“You need the callouses more.” 

I reached down to the buoy, collected the rope and pulled upward. Within a few moments, the pot was at the surface.

“Not so hard,” I said, giving him a wink.

Jeb pulled the pot onto the edge of the skiff. Frenzied crabs crawled atop one another, many of them missing a claw, a leg or two.

“What a haul!” I exclaimed.

Jeb turned over the trap to dump it in the well, a few crabs spilling over the edge. I jumped toward one, hoping to endear myself to Jeb, to assist in whatever way I could.

Cornered, the crab raised a lone claw in defense, something clasped between it. I stretched a hand outward and it dropped the item, plunging its pincher toward me before fleeing. I picked it up. 

Stark white, picked clean of flesh as if polished with a museum display in mind. The bone was curved on one side, a fissure spreading from its base up to an unmistakable trio of molars, a shiny filling in the deepest tooth. 

I dropped the piece of jaw, clamoring to my knees, looking toward Jeb who looked at the jaw and then at me. 

He bent over and picked up the bone, admired its weight, and tossed it into the water like a frisbee.

“Stand up, Harry.”

I struggled to my feet, Jeb’s shadow towering over me.

Jeb removed his glove and lit a cigarette, puffing the smoke out the side of his mouth in great, cancerous plumes. He grasped my shoulder and used his free hand to usher my chin up to face him.

“Harry, I’m going to ask just once: Are you the kind of man who shares another man’s secrets?”

About the writer …
Aaron Wood lives in Charleston with his wife, son and two bird dogs where he spends the majority of his free time scheming up ways to travel and fly fish.