Bob waves to Ken and George as he steers his boat away from them toward Hooker’s Cove. They are going after big pike but he wants Diablo. That walleye had eluded him and Joe for years but this year he swears he’ll hook the wily fish.
“Good luck,” calls George, his voice small in the widening distance between them.
Bob squints into the morning sun, squeezing his eyes tight. Damn he misses Joe. No warning just that heart attack. Boom and his best friend is gone. Overhead an osprey soars, its sharp eyes scanning for unwary fish.
The fish finder beeps and Bob knows the drop-off is coming up. He slows the boat and lets his bottom bouncer do its work. Nothing like walleye and nothing like finally catching Diablo. Bob remembers how Joe, five years earlier, hooks the big walleye and fights it right to the boat. Then the fish had dives. Joe’s line snaps and Diablo is gone.
The two old friends build the Diablo legend each time they fail to catch the fish. Diablo eludes their best efforts but not their imaginations. Their obsession grows despite the reality that the big fish might have been caught be someone else, succumbed to a predator, or died of old age. There is no debate. Diablo lives.
Bob, lost in his memories, almost misses the bite when it comes.
“Son of a gun,” he says, snapping his rod back to set the hook.
“Fish on, Joe. Fish on.”
He puts the boat engine in neutral and stands up for the fight.
The brakes on the reel sing as the fish runs with the hook. Holding his rod tip high, Bob tightens the tension and continues to reel in at a steady pace. It isn`t hot yet but sweat pops out on his forehead. There is no chance to wipe it away.
Walleye don’t fight like trout and Diablo is no exception. The drag on the line is heavy and Bob’s wrist tires.
“This could be it, Joe,” he said. “This could be Diablo.”
Reeling in takes forever. Bob hopes the fish is Diablo but he knows it could be a big pike. The angle of his line into the water increases. Soon he’ll be able to see what he’s caught. Bob holds the line taut and draws the fish nearer. It dives just the way Diablo had five years ago.
“Not this time, Joe. I’ve got him this time,” says Bob. He continues the steady reel-in, ignoring the jerks which occur less frequently. Diablo is tiring.
Then he sees the fish.
“Oh, God, Joe. It’s Diablo.”
The fish flashes gold he pulls it closer. Then Bob, holding the rod high in one hand and grabbing his net with the other, ends the fight. Diablo slips into the net and dropping his rod, Bob lifts the big fish into the boat.
Diablo thrashes at his feet and spits the hook but it is too late.
Bob sits, legs apart, his energy spent. Five years and he’s caught Diablo. If only Joe could see…
Diablo is the lone fish that Bob catches but the 10 pound walleye will feed him and his fishing buddies like royalty. Bob waits for the other two to come off the lake. He wants to show off the fish before he cleans it. Ken and George doubted him and Joe and dismissed Diablo as just another fishing story.
As Ken and George approach, Bob lifts Diablo by his gills and holds him high.
“Holy shit, Bob,” was all Ken can manage. George stares in envy.
“We told you. Diablo is real and once I clean him we’ll eat in high style.”
The men meet for supper at six. Ken and George bring the beer because Bob is cooking. The smell of melted butter fills the air and Ken and George watched as Bob dips the fillets in seasoned bread crumbs. No fancy batter, the flesh of the walleye will be the star of the meal.
“Help yourself, boys,” said Bob as he sets the platter of fish on the picnic table. They don’t need to be told twice.
It is quiet for the first little while.
Then Ken says, “You know, it was Joe taught me how to fillet so that there aren’t any bones.”
Bob holds up a forkful of walleye, the firm white flesh gleaming.
“Nothing better,” he says, gobbling it and following with another generous bite.
George and Ken looked their friend in alarm. His eyes bulge and he grips his throat. He stands and staggers around the campsite.
“Bob, damn it, Bob,” yells Ken, running over to where his friend now lies writhing on the ground. His distorted face turns grey.
“He’s got a bone in his throat,” says George. “Hold him up. We’ve got to do the Heimlich.”
Ken lifts Bob whose struggles diminish. George gets behind and with hands under Bob’s diaphragm, tugs and lifts. Nothing. Ken jerks against Bob again. He tries a third time. No response.
Minutes pass. Ken wanders around, hand to his head, saying, “No…no. Not like this.”
George, too stunned to speak, kneels by his dead friend, tears filling his eyes.
They cannot know that Bob’s voice box has contracted around a walleye bone. There is nothing they can do.
George sits back and retrieving his phone from his pocket, dials 911.
Across the lake in Hooker’s Cove, a fish jumps, a golden flare in the setting sun. Joe welcomes his old friend, Bob, home.
Linda is retired and uses her time to pursue her desire to write. She has a novel she is re-writing and has published her work in on-line and print in magazines. She lives in Alberta where the winters are long and the nights dark. Summer is always welcome. Linda maintains a blog The Mild Side at http://what-doi-know-now.com.