A Fish Story

By Noel Marcovecchio
Copyright 1995, 2017

“Hey Mangiapane, give me ninety bucks.” I turned and saw looming behind me the Honorable Frank Capogrosso, Judge of the Superior Court. I wondered why he was asking. Where I grew up if a judge asked you for money you handed it over.

“We’re going fishing, Ralph. Abalone Ron introduced me to the skipper of the Courageous Caruso, a charter boat out of Sausalito. I signed us all up for three weeks from this Saturday, so give me ninety bucks.”

I knew Abalone Ron on sight. For some reason, he had unlimited access to the hallway that separated the courtrooms from the judges’ chambers. Every week Ron would go from judge to judge selling the fresh catch of the day. They must have been great customers because Ron had been showing up for years.

I had never been fishing in my life. The only boat I ever been aboard was the Staten Island ferry. Somehow I couldn’t picture myself on some tub chugging into the swells of the blue Pacific. I told Capogrosso that I wasn’t a fisherman and didn’t want to go.

“Cut it out Ralph, and give me the money. I got a bunch of guys from the DA’s off and the PD too. A few cops too but I want some guys from the private bar, so you’re coming. Look, you’ll bring home some salmon; it’ll make your sister happy; how bad can it be?”

I tried to explain that I knew nothing about salmon fishing but he assured me that there was nothing to know. The skipper used an electronic fish finder; the crew baited the hooks and when you caught something they netted it into the boat. I left Capogrosso ninety dollars lighter.

The day arrived and I woke up at 4:30 am. I stumbled out of my house, into my car and drove over the bridge to Sausalito. I parked and saw Capogrosso’s other victims. What a dismal looking group, but Capogrosso was like a bumblebee buzzing from one sleepy victim to the next with a thermos of coffee. The group included my best friend Norman Coombs, assistant DA Billy Figiarino, an assortment of lawyers, homicide inspectors, Dr. Rusty Podcoddler from the coroner’s office plus defense lawyer and self-proclaimed fishing expert, Hugh O’Toole.

O’Toole seemed to share Capogrosso’s enthusiasm. He was wide awake and talked constantly about all of the websites he had checked for the latest hot spots and of previous fishing adventures. Not bad I thought, somebody with a little experience… but then O’Toole managed to get snarled in his own tackle before we boarded the boat.

Now awake and resigned, we climbed on board and headed out. The Courageous Caruso surged through the Golden Gate, rising and falling through the incoming tide. I didn’t feel too well and I could see that I wasn’t alone. Norm yelled, “I think I’m going to die!” Capogrosso thought that was funny and shouted, “Hey Doctor Rusty, I think we’re going to have some customers for you in a minute. At the end of his laughing fit, Capogrosso turned to O’Toole. “I hope this trip is better than the last time.”

We chugged out to sea. The skipper kept checking the fish finder and radioed other boats in an attempt to find salmon. After about two hours of seemingly aimless search, he declared that we had arrived where the fish were hiding. Everyone got ready. The hooks were baited with anchovies and each attached it to a rig that was weighted with something like a small lead cannonball. After that, we stood elbow to elbow for hours dragging lead spheres through the waters off Marin County without a hint of salmon.

Grumpy would be a kind way of describing our disposition. People were muttering comments about Capogrosso’s fish wisdom. Of course, the lawyers couldn’t say too much. We had to appear in front of him and were afraid that he’d hold a grudge. On the other hand, the cops, who had more than a few Irish coffees, began to let him have it. I could see Capogrosso stew and start to boil over. It wasn’t his fault that the fish weren’t biting but he planned the outing and made us all chip in so it was his brunt to bear, but suddenly there was a cry. “O’Toole’s got one; O’Toole’s got one!”

To be continued… be sure to look for the end of this story in the coming days.

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