At the foot of the gin pole was an electric winch. Quint switched it on to make sure it was working, then turned it off again. He gunned the engine and moved the boat toward the barrels. He drove slowly, cautiously, prepared to veer away if the fish attacked. But the barrels lay still.
Quint idled the engine when he came alongside the barrels. He reached overboard with a gaff, snagged a rope, and pulled a barrel aboard. He tried to untie the rope from the barrel, but the knot had been soaked and strained. So he took his knife from the sheath at his belt and cut the rope. He stabbed the knife into the gunwhale, freeing his left hand to hold the rope, his right to shove the barrel to the deck.
He climbed onto the gunwhale, ran the rope through a pulley at the top of the gin pole and down the pole to the winch. He took a few turns around the winch, then flipped the starter switch. As soon as the slack in the rope was taken up, the boat heeled hard to starboard, dragged down by the weight of the fish.
“Can that winch handle him?” said Brody.
“Seems to be. It’d never haul him out of the water, but I bet it’ll bring him up to us.” The winch was turning slowly, humming, taking a full turn every three or four seconds. The rope quivered under the strain, scattering drops of water on Quint’s shirt.
Suddenly the rope started coming too fast. It fouled on the winch, coiling in snarls. The boat snapped upright.
“Rope break?” said Brody.
“Shit no!” said Quint, and now Brody saw fear in his face. “The sonofabitch is coming up!” He dashed to the controls and threw the engine into forward. But it was too late.
The fish broke water right beside the boat, with a great rushing whoosh of noise. It rose vertically, and in an instant of horror Brody gasped at the size of the body. Towering overhead, it blocked out the light. The pectoral fins hovered like wings, stiff and straight, and as the fish fell forward, they seemed to be reaching out to Brody.
The fish landed on the stern of the boat with a shattering crash, driving the boat beneath the waves. Water poured in over the transom. In seconds, Quint and Brody were standing in water up to their hips.
The fish lay there, its jaw not three feet from Brody’s chest. The body twitched, and in the black eye, as big as a baseball, Brody thought he saw his own image reflected.
“God damn your black soul!” screamed Quint. “You sunk my boat!” A barrel floated into the cockpit, the rope writhing like a gathering of worms. Quint grabbed the harpoon dart at the end of the rope and, with his hand, plunged it into the soft white belly of the fish. Blood poured from the wound and bathed Quint’s hands.
The boat was sinking. The stern was completely submerged, and the bow was rising.
The fish rolled off the stern and slid beneath the waves. The rope, attached to the dart Quint had stuck into the fish, followed.
Suddenly, Quint lost his footing and fell backward into the water. “The knife!” he cried, lifting his left leg above the surface, and Brody saw the rope coiled around Quint’s foot. Brody looked to the starboard gunwhale. The knife was there, embedded in the wood. He lunged for it, wrenched it free, and turned back, struggling to run in the deepening water. He could not move fast enough. He watched in helpless terror as Quint, reaching toward him with grasping fingers, eyes wide and pleading, was pulled slowly down into the dark water.