But they were moving to the wrong end of the islet. I knew that because I had earlier investigated that area. There was a sweep of tide there, and they wouldn't be able to hold ground with their sinkers, or not for long, anyway. As I watched them, I again felt the hit of a red drum and my rod doubled over. I doubled over, too, my back to the invaders. If I was lucky, I thought, they might believe I was hauling in a bunch of seaweed.
I wasn't lucky. I saw that immediately. Arms were raised and fingers were pointed. And now the entire line began slowly shuffling toward me. The nearest angler was still 50 yards away, but I could foresee how a small party might detach itself and move in on my far side to complete a pincer movement. So steaming hot was my paranoia that I didn't realize until much later that my actual fish score that morning was proving to be even better than that of the previous days.
Nor did I notice that the wind had begun to shift to the east and the sky to darken. What did register was that the fishing began to slow up, which proved that red drum were better at forecasting a sideswipe from Hurricane Kate than was the All Weather Radio from Hatteras.
In the meantime, Austin's Ocracokian weather antennae were at work, too. Our arrangement had been for him to pick me up at 4 p.m., but three hours earlier than that I saw the white hull of his boat approaching. I also noticed that at least half of the guerrillas had quit fishing and were gathered around the two boats that had brought them across. I started to pack up. Rudy would not have come over early just for fun. I trudged across the island. On a dropping tide, it was a 300-yard trip.
I would never have thought I could feel sympathy for the interlopers, but I did now. One of their boats was already high and dry, and its crew tried desperately and uselessly to haul it into the water through soft sand. I lent them a shoulder, and when I looked at their faces I discovered that they were not depraved storm troopers on the rampage but actually quite ordinary people. Some weren't even wearing camouflage.
Now, though, Austin shouted to me to wade out as far as I could in the increasing chop. I made it to the stern, threw my rod in the boat, and wriggled over after it. We pulled offshore a little ways, then both of us uttered the same thought: "What should we do about these guys?" One of their boats was now afloat and loaded. But the other guerrillas—no, fishermen—stood disconsolately around their stranded craft. "I can take just three of you with your gear," shouted Rudy over the wind. Holding their rods clear of the water, a hastily selected trio boarded our boat. The others faced a night on the island waiting for a new tide to lift off their boat. I savored no victory, as I might have a day earlier. I just hoped the marooned ones had bait.
By now, the normally calm waters inside Ocracoke Sound were a maelstrom and the rain had arrived; visibility was down to a few hundred yards as we started to cross. On the way home, we took two more small boats into our convoy. It was Rudy's moment of glory. "If you want Ocracoke, fall in behind me!" he roared majestically across the turbulent ocean. Less stirring remarks have become naval history.
That night in my cottage, as the winds of Kate beat up on the island, I savored the thought of my catch—close to 50 fish by the end—and talked with Austin and Miller about the miraculous little island, its birth and probable fate. For a while my paranoia had dissipated. When word got round of the stranded fishermen, I might even have the island to myself again next year. Unless, magically and mysteriously, on a full-moon midnight, Drum Shoal slips under the waves before I can return.