Long before Clancy came out to shoot the dogs the Fish Wars had been escalating at a pretty rapid clip. What had started as a simple case of bald-faced trespassing had grown ugly over the past few summers with a touch of class-warfare, a few thinly disguised physical threats and at least one nasty screed nailed to the door suggesting in its nearly indecipherable illiteracy that the place might just come ablaze if I didn't back off. For months now the low rumble of trucks coming down the long, dirt road at dusk – different in pitch from the lobstermen and trawlers beating their way around the Point – signaled the arrival of the motley caravan of bait-fishermen heading to the beach below the Bluff for a night spent swilling coffee brandy and checking the viability of a half drowned eel, hooked through its leathery lips and tethered to a twelve ounce sinker ten yards out past the breaking surf. Gates had been dismantled, cables had been cut, signage ripped from trees and posts and cast into the roadway in an unavoidable, personal rebuke.
Some nights I'd trudge up there in futility to confront them; winding my way through the fleet of rusted Rams and F-150's, the panel-vans and box-trucks flagrantly bearing the logos of local seafood wholesalers pulled off the roadside in a jumble and crushing whole swaths of rugosa and bayberry, lichen, lady-slippers and tiger-lilies. I'd shuffle my feet and stare off at the sun-red western horizon while hot rage crept up my neck as one or another of these guys would offer up a feeble excuse or belligerent retort. At the time there was a ban on commercial fishing and a one fish limit on these mammoth bass, but this seedy crowd were gut-hooking fish on live eels, keeping everything and, rumor had it, shipping fish to Fulton Street under flats of haddock and flounder.
Fishing the rocks and beaches by our place had been a major draw for the summer tenants who rented the cottages and the notion that the best spots had been hammered away at all night long could be pretty discouraging to someone on a week's vacation who'd made the effort to rise before dawn and slip away to the Bluff at sunrise armed with little more than high hopes and a plastic lure. Indeed, most mornings you could follow the trail of quarter-sized fish-scales down through the gorse to your favorite spot to find the eviscerated remains of foot-long eels entangled in a mass of discarded monofilament as thick around as a pencil, designed for catching sharks and tuna. On one such August morning a guest woke me well before dawn with news that there was a drunken man sitting atop a mountain of beer cans shooting at bluefish in the cut below the Bluff with a revolver. As this appeared to be a confrontation I could not avoid, I pulled on my boots and slicker and set out through a warm, gentle rain before the fog of sleep had lifted sufficiently for me to wonder what I might say to an armed and surly inebriate.
As I topped the Bluff I could see the birds still working furiously over the fish seething below a man in chest-waders, splayed out on the barnacles and crushed Pabst cans. I could hear the click of the empty chambers as he pulled the trigger and tried not to flinch when he waved the gun in my direction. He told me he'd go where he wanted and do as he pleased. I told him he had half an hour to pick up his mess and clear out or I'd call the cops. He told me he was a cop, in Bath, and that his father, Clancy, Senior, was the town Constable. I turned my back and started home, muttering something about calling the State Police. Clancy, Junior muttered something about somebody getting hurt.
I guess I shouldn't have been too surprised a few days later to find my mother and sister, pale and shaken, after Constable Clancy's unexpected appearance. Mom liked to fish on occasion but preferred her filet atop a bed of watercress, under a blanket of champagne sauce to the mild violence inherent in actually hooking, landing and cleaning the beast. My sister was a vegetarian with no interest in angling and, as a consequence, neither had any idea what Clancy's visit was in regard to. He had simply come all the way down that mile-long, dirt road to the back of beyond to pick a fight with me and, finding me absent, cast about before the perplexed women for some trumped up violation that might serve as vengeance. Eying the aging dogs, he informed my mother that, as they were off the leash and technically within the confines of the Town of Phippsburg, he had every right - nay, obligation – as Constable to shoot them. While my sister pulled and prodded the two flatulent labs back in to the kitchen, Mom must have shamed old Clancy, as I'm told he rode off in a huff without firing a shot.
One bright and lovely, early morning after the beach and air had been scrubbed clean by a heavy passing storm, the dogs and I set out for the Bluff. Cresting the rocks a few yards ahead of me Sam and Gus suddenly began mewling and barking frantically, breaking away and bounding down the blueberry path towards the beach below. The tide was low and incoming beneath a cloudless sky and a thick, vaguely chilly mist had just begun to lift above the vast expanse. At first I couldn't quite make out what had set the dogs off and, laying down my rod and gear I hurried after them, fearing it might have been the ubiquitous porcupine or skunk. In a second I stopped short as the rising mist revealed a pair of legs, encased in waders, jutting straight and stiff and lifeless from the sand. I scrambled down the rocks and weed in a panic, shouting at the dogs to stop as they began to dig. Creeping slowly towards this horrific scene I mustered up the courage to touch one swollen, rigid thigh before dropping to my knees and joining the dogs at their work. The last person I'd seen wearing waders just like these was Clancy the younger and he'd been sprawled out on those rocks not thirty feet away. It wouldn't have taken much of a wave to fill those waders, sweep Clancy off his perch and pummel him up for a few days before thrusting him from the waist up into the beach.
Alas, no such luck. What we'd come upon was indeed a pair of waders, packed with sand but entirely devoid of Clancy. They might have been his; they could have belonged to anyone and I made no effort to hide my disappointment from the dogs who must have felt the same way as they began a tug-of-war that had soon ripped the things to shreds. They might have been his, and he might still be out there; I never saw either Clancy again. As the fishing diminished under such round-the-clock pressure and the economy began to improve, the Yard hired half these guys back on the night-shift, the trucks gradually stopped coming and the interlopers became more manageable and respectful. Some years later I read in the Times Record that the elder Clancy had been caught with a young boy, buns-up-kneeling in the bushes along a notorious stretch of the park and had absconded to Florida. No one has ever been able to tell me what became of Junior.