'Yeah. But unless-'

We both turned at the sound of a powerful engine behind us, saw a rack of very bright lights on the bridge of what appeared to be a commercial fishing boat, or maybe the Coast Guard. Both the red and green running lights on the bow were visible, which meant the boat was coming directly at us, and at high speed. I tossed my paddle onto the canvas trampoline, stood up on the pontoon, and gripped one of the steel shrouds. The small mountain of lights and rising cascade of sound kept coming on the same course-directly toward us. At the rate he was going, he would be on us in less than a minute. He was going to be close-too close. Even if the captain of the boat saw the cat in time to turn away, there was a good chance he would pass close enough for his wake to capsize us.

I said, 'It may be about time to abandon ship, brother.'

Garth held up his hand. 'Wait. If we jump off, and he veers away in the wrong direction, we're in trouble.'

'It looks to me like we're in trouble right now.'

Suddenly the roar of the boat's engine became a purr as the captain cut back on the throttle and veered sharply to his right. A few seconds later his wake arrived, but it was directly to our stern and rolled harmlessly under us. We bounced up and down a half dozen times, and then the water became still again. The brightly lighted boat, its engine thrumming in idle, had stopped, and was positioned about thirty yards off our port beam. One of the spotlights on the bridge swiveled in our direction, bathing us in a blinding, white glow. We shielded our eyes with our hands and squinted, trying to see who was on the boat. Garth saluted tentatively. If it was the Coast Guard, we were going to get a ticket for being on the river at night without lights, but at least we'd get towed to shore.

Very slowly, so as not to create too much of a wake, the boat circled around and came alongside us on the port beam. Then the spotlight that had been kept aimed on us was turned off. I blinked and rubbed my eyes. When I looked up again I was able to make out the figure of a burly black man, about six feet tall, standing at the stern of the boat, one hand on the helm and the other resting on his starboard gunwale as he stared down at us, a big grin on his face. The boat was a trawler, perhaps thirty feet long, with a phalanx of tires strung along the side to act as fenders. The man was dressed in baggy khaki shorts and a tank-top T-shirt that emphasized his athletic build. He had sharply chiseled features, piercing black eyes, and gray hair and beard that made him older than his well- muscled body would indicate.

'Help is at hand, brother,' Garth said to me, then turned and waved to the man at the helm of the trawler. 'Hello, Tom. You're probably thinking that we're happy to see you.'

'Yeah, I might think that,' the man replied drily in a deep, rich baritone that could easily be heard over the subterranean murmur of his boat's engine. 'You're a long way from home, Garth. How the hell'd you get way down here?'

Garth shrugged. 'Expert seamanship. What else?'

'Want a tow?'

'I thought you'd never ask.'

The man pulled ahead slightly, then reached down and picked up a coiled line. He attached one end of the line to a cleat on the stern on his boat, then tossed the coil onto the center of the trampoline. I took the other end, tied it around the bow frame, at the base of the mast, with a bowline knot. Garth lowered the sail and tied it around the boom, then raised the flippers. Thus secured, the cat would track fairly straight in the calm water, with minimal risk of pitchpoling.

'Mongo, meet Captain Tom Blaine,' Garth continued as we clambered up over the stern of the trawler. 'Riverkeeper, relentless scourge of polluters, and on occasions like this a friend indeed.'

The man smiled, revealing even, white teeth that shone in the bright lights. His grip was very firm, that of a man who'd spent a good part of his life working with his hands. 'You must be Garth's famous brother, Robert,' he said. 'I've heard a lot about you, and it's a pleasure to meet you.'

'Well, I'll plead guilty to being Garth's brother, Captain, and my friends call me Mongo. This rescue at sea definitely qualifies you as a friend. Glad to meet you.'

Tom Blaine nodded, then leaned over the stern to check the rigging and knot I'd used to secure the catamaran. Apparently satisfied, he turned back to the helm, put the engine into gear, and brought the throttle up. He slowly brought the trawler around, pointing upriver. With its flippers out of the water, the cat swung wide as we turned, but then obediently fell into line behind us as we headed north.

'There's a jug of iced tea and a thermos with a little coffee in the galley. Sorry I can't offer you hydraulic sandwiches. I don't believe in taking alcohol out on the river.'

'Iced tea sounds just about right to me,' Garth said. 'I'm so dehydrated that I'd probably pass out if I drank a beer right now. Mongo?'

'Actually, I could use a double Scotch, but I'll have some of the coffee, if there's enough. Otherwise, make it two iced teas.'

Garth nodded, then ducked down into the galley while I seated myself on a large, coiled hawser. To my right were three green plastic jugs, scuba gear, and a black rubber diver's wetsuit that was sitting in a puddle of water, as if it had been recently used.

'You dive in the river, Tom?' I asked. 'I wouldn't think there'd be much to see.'

The big black man grunted, then half turned his head and spoke to me over his shoulder. 'The Hudson ain't the Caribbean, and that's for sure. It's got a silt bottom, always stirred up by current and tides. You can't see a damn thing, but sometimes you have to go underwater to get what you've gotta get. As long as you know exactly what you're looking for, where and when to go down, and which way is up, you'll be all right.'

'Garth called you a riverkeeper. That's an official title? This is your job, patrolling the river?'

'Between Palisades and West Point, yeah.'

'You work for the state?'

Tom Blaine's response was a humorless laugh. 'Hardly. The Cairn Fishermen's Association pays me. It's my job to monitor pollution.'

'You've got a lot of territory to cover.'

'You're telling me. I put in seventy, sometimes eighty, hours a week.' He paused, then added, 'But it's good work. I love it. I like to think I make a difference, which isn't something too many people in this world we live in can say. I've lived on this river all my life. Grew up in what used to be a shantytown just south of Haverstraw. That's when the river was used as a dumping ground and toilet by all the rich people who hadn't figured out yet how nice it could be living next to the water. They all had their big mansions inland, and we lived off the river, fishing and crabbing. Sometimes we'd find shit-I mean that literally-washed up on the shore when the tide went out. It's taken a lot to get this river back to where it is now. I was with Pete Seeger when he and some other folks were organizing to build the Clearwater, and working to clean up the river. I used to do this kind of thing on my own, as a volunteer, but after I retired, the Fishermen's Association hired me to do it full-time. I keep my eyes open, watch out for polluters, and turn over evidence to the association to use in court when they sue to stop the sons-of-bitches. You'd be amazed at the attitudes of some of these people. They seem to believe-no, they do believe-that God put this river here for their private use, to pour shit into and take money out.' He paused, half turned to look at me, then nodded in the direction of the green jugs sitting next to me. 'Some people's attitudes are worse than others'. Those are the bastards I love to get.'

I glanced at the jugs and diving gear. 'What do you have to dive for that you can't find on the surface, Tom?'

He again looked around at me. He seemed about to speak, but then glanced in the direction of the galley, where Garth had gone, and apparently had second thoughts about answering my question specifically. 'Some of the crap-dumping bastards are tricky, Mongo. Or they think they're being tricky. You've got to be a little tricky yourself in order to catch them, and prove them guilty in court. It takes time to build a case, and it's not a good idea to talk too much about it before you turn what you've got over to the lawyers.'

Which, I thought, was a polite way of telling me to mind my own business-or there was something he didn't want Garth to know, which I found unlikely, unless it had something to do with the fact that Garth was now a local resident.

Garth must have overheard the last part of our conversation, because he was laughing when he emerged from the galley, a glass of iced tea in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other. 'And nobody's trickier than Tom,' he said, handing me the coffee. 'He's a polluter's nightmare. If he got even a small percentage of what he's cost some of these companies in fines, lawyers' fees, and court costs, he'd be a rich man. Powerful men in certain factories

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