The Butlers Did It

"Sim, quick! Hold the turtle while I get the other pole ready."
Simonne leans over me and holds the animal. I prepare the larger pole. As Simonne holds the wildly tossing turtle, I put the other end of the cord through the eye on the larger pole, make another noose, and put it around the turtle's neck. I draw the cord up tight and push the turtle down. I've got it this time.

Another half-hour passes. The turtle appears dead. The instant I loosen my grip on it, it thrashes madly and tries to escape. I know turtles don't drown easily, but I thought an hour should do it.

We are both tired, not to mention hungry. Funny, we have spent three days with almost no food, and we're not all that hungry. Now, with food at hand, we can't wait. It's time to cut this exercise short.

"Sim, let's bring it on board."
"Are you sure? It's still alive."
"Put the sailbag on my lap. I'll lift it up and put it upside down on top of the sailbag. You hold the line around its neck taut. Stay away from the beak. Cover its flippers with the bag. Ready?"

I flip the turtle onto my lap. It struggles wildly for air and life. It must weigh all of twenty pounds. Sim holds the bucket with one hand and the line around the turtle's neck with the other. I lift the turtle over the bucket with one hand. Claws at the end of the flippers flail wildly. I reach for the knife and saw away at its throat.

The turtle jerks and exhales air and blood with a gush and a gurgle. Blood sprays us and the whole inside of the raft. A whistling sputter surges from its windpipe. Sim flinches but holds the turtle firmly. Strength ebbs from our prey as its blood drips into the bucket. The intensity of its struggle lessens; its laborious breathing weakens. A spasm shakes the entire shell, and it dies.

I wanted to save Sim from this mess by drowning the turtle, but if we ever catch another one, we'll cut its throat right off. It's obvious now that turtles don't drown or asphyxiate easily. One of our more primitive animals, they've got to be tough to have survived through the ages.

Sim calls out. "Bill, watch out! Look, near the tail. What are those?"
"Remoras!" I hadn't noticed two three-inch black eel-like remoras, similar to eels, fastened to the carapace near the turtle's tail. At the precise second when the turtle died, the remoras released their hold and wiggled free. They search for something live to attach to with the suction device on top of their head.

"Quickly, hand me the can," I call out as the remoras slither on my lap in search of flesh. I push them into the can with the knife. "I'll keep them for bait." They squirm out of the can and head for Sim. She screams.

"Get rid of them. They'll grab onto one of us." I scoop them back into the can and throw them over the side.

Head down, the turtle remains over the bucket. Blood rains as Sim and I catch our breath and recover. I have never killed a turtle before. In fact, I've never seen a turtle butchered. General Electric stationed me at the naval base in Key West in 1952, on an assignment testing torpedoes. Most of the local eateries advertised turtle burgers. They were good, but that's as close as I'd ever been to a dead turtle.

When blood no longer drips out of its slashed neck. I turn the turtle bottom-up on my lap. I saw through the soft bottom carapace, lift one half of the shell and cut away under it. I saw around the outside edges of both halves. In no time, the bottom of the turtle is loose and off. Vivid greens, oranges, blues, and reds cover the entire shell. All I can see are lungs and intestines.

Baffled, I question: "Sim, where's the meat? All I see looks terrible."
Sim is a good cook and meat handler. "Here. Try cutting there in the muscle that moves the flippers."

I follow Sim's finger and find dark pink meat, not unlike the dark meat of raw turkey. I slice off a piece and hand it to Sim.

"Ladies first." She takes the piece with hesitant fingers, looks it over with a skeptical expression, shrugs, and puts the piece into her mouth. I wait for her reaction. Her face explodes in delight: "Delicious," she says, turtle blood on her lips.

"Really? Let me try." I bite down. It has the texture of rabbit. Mmmm! I can't believe it. It's so good. It has a sweet and not a fishy taste at all.

We slice more pieces and eat without restraint. The meat is tender and tasty. Our hunger is such that we cannot stop. We slice and eat until we can no more. We rest, than eat more. I keep the last few pieces for bait. One of the two empty cans becomes the bait can. The other can is still the pee-pee pot.

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