It had been a very long way from the wire-back chairs of the little bistro on Rue Bouillabaisse in the old French quarter of Paris and the eager American girls cradling tiny cups of espresso between their sarcastic breasts.
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The sensual pewter water of Tenakee Inlet buoyed us now as the café con pana-dopio and absinth had buoyed us then and as I coaxed the Big Fish closer, Jacque Jean Mari Paul Gaston, my old Basque companion from the halcyon days of the Kalahari, watched me from beneath hooded eyes, whites of the color of the Alaskan Amber empties that rolled in the bottom of the Lund like the dead and expended shell casings had rolled so long ago in the Rover as we returned from safari. But this hunt was not yet over, the victor not yet declared; hunter and hunted were still locked in a damp ballet a deu de mort, each a prisoner of the gossamer thread of nylon line that would let neither of us go.
"Let us go to a far country," Jacque Jean Mari Paul Gaston had said when, for the third time that afternoon, two American girls whose preferences in cognac had far exceeded their ability to appreciate its subtleties, had suddenly remembered a previous appointment and were, alas therefore, unable to accompany us to the actual loft, where we assured them Van Gough had painted his Sunflowers and which now waited empty, its present tenant in the ungentle hands of the Surete.
Editor's note: The Juneau Empire dared Southeast Alaska to get tight and take a stab at some bull, in a mock-Hemingway contest to glorify spring and the return of salmon season. The bell tolled for 28 guerillas, and the Empire's cracked team of judges deemed three bad to the groan.
"Let us go north to the land of London whose books you have given me," he said. "There we will catch fish who will ask nothing but that we permit them to give themselves to us. Not like these stuck-up Frenches, who only want our money that we don't have anymore since the racetrack man moved from his hotel and we cannot find him."
The Big Fish paused in his struggles with his inevitable fate, and for an instant of time, my mind flashed back to the tiny table on Rue Bouillabaisse, to the tiny cups of espresso and to the smooth tanned fish on which they heaved as the sea heaves; sans blemish, sans bra, sans gravity.
Through the filament of line, Big Fish sensed my fleeting reverie, and seizing the moment in high salmon carpe diem, he rose in a great explosion of water, flinging the hook with the disdain that only the truly Big Fish knows. Shining hook and wisp of line swept in a great flashing arch of sea and salt and insolence that embraced the world ending at my feet on the wad of Juneau Empire that cradled the last of the Alaskan Amber in the bilge of the boat that was slowly turning to unreadable mush.
It was high noon, the clear hour when truth will out. The universe spoke to me through the ancient one in the bow of the boat.
"Maybe that racetrack man has come back."