My old friend, Dr. Marcus Feely, recently spent four days here at Fish in a Barrel Pond. He will be back in August, with his wife and family, and again in September, with some lucky young receptionist from his office. Last week, however, he was here by himself.
I hate to say it, but when he is alone he gets lonely and if I stopped to chat every time he wanted to talk I would never get anything done.
I don’t exactly hide, but I can be difficult to find and I don’t exactly skulk, but when Doc Feely is here I do tend to skirt the edges a bit more than usual. My stealthiness is tested during his visits, especially when he stays in the Cahill camp, which I must pass on my way to inspect our overflow spillway. I got out there just fine on Tuesday, crawling on my belly beneath the kitchen window while Doc sat on the front porch, listening to the Red Sox game, but coming back, as I drew near I heard ice in a glass and froze.
Doc Feely was making a drink in the kitchen and I had to think fast. I could stay right where I was and wait, sauntering past after he toddled back out to the porch or I could find an alternate route and be on my merry way. Instead, I panicked when I heard the kitchen screen door squeak open and slap shut, followed by the approaching tinkle of ice in a drink.
I don’t remember the lie I must have told when Doc Feely asked what I was doing 35 feet up a pine tree, but I remember a few of the lies I tried when he insisted I come sit on the porch with him. They weren’t very good ones and I finally climbed down, figuring that if I was going to spend the next part of the afternoon listening to Doc prattle on I might as well do it on the porch with a drink in my hand instead of halfway up a pine, getting covered with sap.
Knowing just the way I like it, Doc brought me a generous pour of fire water, straight up, in a dirty glass. I set it on the table and watched the fumes ripple the air in the late afternoon light.
“Oh, Quill, you’re going to like this stuff. Cost me a bundle but it’s worth it. Go ahead, take a swig. The exquisite charring of the oak cask really comes through, doesn’t it? And the peaty overtones! Go on, drink up!”
I took a tentative sip and gazed thoughtfully into the distance until the searing pain in my gullet eased. The hairs in my nose wilted as I exhaled.
“Can’t you just taste it? The smoke and water and peat just shine! Scotland in a bottle is what this is! Close your eyes and tell me what it reminds you of as you let this nectar pass over your tongue.”
My tongue recoiled into the back of my burning throat and I was unable to speak, which was just as well because I have never been to Scotland and the image that came to mind as I swilled that poison was of a tire fire in a swamp. Holding my glass to the light I swirled the liquid within, hoping to increase the rate of evaporation and when my vocal chords regained feeling I managed to let out a strangled, “Wow”.
“Nice, huh? Say, as long as you’re here, why don’t you let me show you some pictures from my trip out west a few weeks ago? Sit tight while I get my camera!”
Heedless of my own well being, I finished the drink I’d been handed and I sat tight alright, but only to let the dizziness and temporary blindness pass. Doc returned with his camera and its tremendously large-capacity memory card. Refilling my glass, he said, “Gee, you really like this stuff, don’t you?”
“Eeep,” I replied.
“Look at this fish,” said Doc, scrolling through the hundreds of images stored in his camera. When he held the viewing screen up to my face I saw Doc with his rod in his teeth and one hand on the back of a very large rainbow trout.
“Who’s that guy?” I asked, pointing to the young man who was actually holding the fish in the picture.
“Oh, him? He was just my guide.”
The booze in my glass refused to evaporate away so I choked down what was left and poured myself some more, realizing that, much like diesel fuel, it was actually possible to get used to the taste.
“What was his name?” I asked.
“Oh, I don’t remember. Eric or James or something like that. He was just my guide. Who remembers those things?”
“Why does he look like he’s about to cry?”
“Yeah, I don’t know what his problem was. All morning long he insisted there were fish where he pointed but I never saw them. I think he was smoking dope or something. He was seeing fish behind rocks and under logs but all I saw was water so I took matters into my own hands and cast where I thought best. Used my lucky fly, too. He wanted me to tie on one of those little nymphs like you use, Quill. You know I don’t believe in those things. I don’t know why a bright pink Zonker would bother a supposed “professional” like it did, but it did.”
Knowing darn good and well that Doc Feely’s “lucky” fly hasn’t worked in more than four years, I poured myself another round and lifted my glass to Eric or James or whatever his name was. Then I poured another and drank a silent toast to all guides everywhere.
“What happened to his hat?” I asked. “Looks like it used to be a really nice Stetson.”
“Oh, he stomped on it. I think he was superstitious or something. When we stopped for lunch he told me he couldn’t believe I hadn’t caught a fish yet, then he punched his truck, threw his hat on the ground and stomped on it. He even shook his fist at the sky and cursed his bad luck.”
“Wow,” I said as I refilled my glass with Doc’s volatile swamp water.
“Good thing I buy that stuff by the jug, eh, Quill? I’m glad you like it.”
“So how long did it take old What’s-his-name to get you that fish?”
“Oh, it was close, Quill. Got it on the last cast of the day. I felt bad, listening to him think he was helping me, so I finally let him tie on one of his little nymphs and a piece of yarn he said I should watch. What kind of fishing is that, Quill, watching a piece of yarn? But I did what he said so he’d feel better. He grabbed my arm as I cast and my fly went where I never would have put it. I still say it was sheer luck, but when I pulled back to cast where I meant to, my rod bent and there was that fish.
“I thought he was going to cry, too, Quill, but he held it together, we took the picture, and got back to the lodge just in time for me to change my clothes for cocktails. It was hard work, but I got that fish, just like they guaranteed.”
“Cool,” I said. “Will you go back?”
“I asked but they said they were suddenly all booked up for the next five years.”
“Funny, that. Hey, wait a minute! Who took the picture?”
“Oh, wait until you see this! My new receptionist Tiffani. Look at this picture of her in a bikini! She’s wearing my hip boots!”
“I see that, Doc. So how did Tiffani enjoy your fishing trip?”
“She took a real shine to fly fishing, Quill. She’s a real learner, too. Every chance she got, she put on those hip boots and went off for another lesson with one of the guides. In fact, she’s still there. Private lessons for a month! Cost me a bundle but I think it’ll pay off in the long run.”
Unable to imagine any better investment than leaving one’s potential young mistress in Montana for a month with a dozen rugged young men, I asked Doc to let me know how it all worked out for him and he said he would.
“But,” he added, “not a word of this to my wife, okay?”
Don’t worry, Doc. Your secret is safe with me.