by Richard Chiappone
Bonefish guide Skip Reardon stands over the body of Amiri Akaru’s pig, thinking, Once you’ve shot your brother-in-law’s pig, things are bound to change.
The old pink sow is sprawled across the picket fence that, until just now, separated Skip’s vegetable garden from his manicured lawn. He touches the muzzle of his rifle to the bloody hole in the sow’s head and looks at his watch. His two clients this morning are waiting at their rented bungalow a mile down the beach. They are Americans like him for a change. Well, he was American—Wyoming born and bred—until he moved to the Islands and married a Maori woman.
He’s looking forward to guiding his former countrymen. But he’d better call Amiri Akaru first. The law in the islands says that a man can shoot another man’s livestock to protect his property. He’s within his rights. Even so, he wishes someone else—anyone else—would break the news to his brother-in-law.
He walks back to the house and dials Amiri. Out on the lagoon, baitfish explode across the surface. A school of mullet pushes nervous water. Everything fleeing something bigger. If his sports are watching all the fishy activity, they’ll be champing to get on the water.
As Amiri’s phone rings and rings, Skip watches two brilliantly white fairy terns wing past, bait flashing in their beaks, on their way inland to their nest ahead of black thunderclouds building over the lagoon. He wishes he could do that: flee to the jungle and wait out the rain squall. And the one his wife’s brother is sure to bring. Not to mention the one his wife will kick up. Well, they’ve had a good long marriage. Let’s hope that means something.
Amiri Akaru answers the phone on the tenth ring.
“It’s your sow,” Skip says to him. “Better come get her. You’ll need your brother’s truck.”
He hangs up and calls his wife Dolly at her office in the city hall. She offers to send her cousin Tommy, the cop. But that will only make Skip look weaker in Amiri’s eyes. He assures her he’s all right, hangs up, and immediately wishes he had taken her up on her offer.
The squall is coming down hard when Amiri Akaru shows up on his motorbike, appearing among the curtains of rain like a giant demon from some watery hell. Some days Skip finds the sight of his big Maori brother-in-law perched on the little bike comical. Today is not one of them.
Amiri looks from the dead sow to Skip and back again. The pig has a head of bright green lettuce clamped in its jaws. He shuts down the scooter, sets the kickstand.
Skip thinks about getting into his truck and going to pick up his clients before Amiri says or does anything. The storm is already moving on, and by the time the sky burns clear, he can be at the boat launch and then across the lagoon spotting bonefish minutes later. But he has a feeling that leaving his brother-in-law standing alone in the rain with his dead pig isn’t a great idea.
Reluctantly leaving the rifle on the porch, he strides across the yard and stands next to Amiri in the pouring rain, hoping he looks confidently justified in shooting the pig. “Amiri,” he says, “I’m sure you can see what happened here.”
Rainwater runs off Amiri’s nose and his ponytail, but he doesn’t shift his eyes from the dead sow.
Skip takes a step away, out of Amiri’s reach. In the ten years he’s been married to Dolly Akaru, there have been dustups with her brothers, of course. What in-laws don’t have differences? But, so far, nothing physical. Then again, he’s never shot one of their pigs before.
Skip wishes he was already out with his clients poling the skiff across the lagoon that some hotshot travel writer has described as “the most beautiful place in the world.” And that guy didn’t even fish.
Amiri inhales deeply, lips pursed. His lime green T-shirt tightens across his massive chest. He exhales and shakes his head. “She was a good pig.”
The rain stops abruptly, just as Amiri’s brother Hehu’s Toyota pickup splashes into Skip’s driveway. The sight of the two big Akaru brothers standing side by side now—biceps like boulders, necks taut with rage—prompts Skip to drift toward his own pickup. “I’ve got sports waiting,” he says. “Sorry.”
Skip eases his truck down the driveway. In the rearview, he can see the two brothers struggling to heft the dead sow into their pickup bed. Should he have offered to help? Who knows? Twelve years on this island and he still isn’t sure about things like that. He’ll ask Dolly later. She’ll know how to smooth this over. If there is a way.
At the Oceanside Bungalows, the manager informs Skip that his American clients are newlyweds. Both Olympic skiers, of all things. Apparently famous. “The man took a bronze in his event, and the woman a silver in hers!” Skip raises his eyebrows, but of course he’s never heard of them. If he were remotely entertained by the maniacal competitiveness of the Olympics, he wouldn’t be living on a tropical island.
The husband looks like a cop—shaved head, a close-cropped Vandyke—but a cop who has never eaten a donut in his life. Stomach flat as a plank. The woman, a good-looking blond with a near-white ponytail, is just as taut and fit.
Skip hadn’t expected a married couple. The names on their reservation said Bill Robertson and Charlie Green. Charlene maybe? He almost asks when they trade introductions, but the woman loads her gear into his pickup with such serious intent he decides against small talk. The man isn’t a lot warmer. Well, however frigid these two ski machines turn out to be, it’ll be better than spending the day on shore with the Akaru brothers and that sow.
He has guided a boatload of newlyweds in his years on the island—mostly Kiwis and Aussies—who just want to say they caught a bonefish, and don’t care how it’s done. Usually, they can neither see fish nor cast to them, so Skip has them drift the muds, dragging a sinking line and a lead-eyed fly through the murk. That will produce big bones, but is about as exciting as bait fishing for bluegills. Still, it’s Skip’s job to put clients on fish, not judge them, and that’s what he’ll do today. However uninteresting.
The honeymooners shatter his assumptions. They’ve got top-of-the-line rods, equally first-rate reels. None of it new. They are not first-timers.
“Sight fishing only,” the husband, Bill, says to Skip, as they load their gear in the boat. “No blind casting in mud.”
“No blind casting, period,” Charlie, his wife, adds. She lifts her high-end wrap-round shades and stares at Skip with icy green eyes. “I’m not casting ’til I see the fish?”
“Sight fishing’s all I do,” Skip lies. “What else is there?”
“Good,” she says. Her husband nods.
As far as Skip can tell, they haven’t said one word to each other yet.
He takes them across the lagoon to Pig Island, which reminds him he isn’t done with the Akaru brothers and their dearly departed sow. He shakes off the thought. Pig Island is a good spot for this tide and this time of day. The water is too deep to wade, but clear and sandy bottomed. There is nothing like putting your sports on fish to take your mind off everything else.
Skip cuts the engine and climbs onto the poling platform. The couple stands, and Charlie holds out her hand to her husband Bill. “A hundred for the biggest bonefish of the day? A hundred more for the most landed. Deal?”
“What about GTs?” Bill asks her. He turns and looks up at Skip. “Hey, Reardon! We gonna get shots at giant trevally today?” It sounds more like an order than a request.
Skip nods. “GTs are always possible. Sure.”
Husband and wife face each other again, unblinking. “Two hundred for the first GT,” she says.
Bill nods. “Deal.”
They shake, neither smiling.
Good God, this is the honeymoon! Skip thinks. I’d hate to see them in ten years.
Charlie produces a coin. “Call it.” She flips it and smacks it to her wrist. Winning the coin toss, she climbs up on the casting deck, rod in hand. She looks up at Skip. “Put me on some big fish, Mr. Reardon. I’d love to pay your tip with my husband’s money.”
“Sure,” Skip says, “only the big ones.” He thinks of his own wife, Dolly. She will be on the spot now, choosing between Skip and her brothers. And this dead pig situation is like none before. Things might be shaky around the house for awhile.
He forces his mind back to his job and stands on the platform, pole in hand, watching Charlie stripping out what looks like a whole fly line onto the deck.
Her husband Bill sits in the forward seat and looks at his watch. “Twenty-minute rotations on deck,” he says to her.
Skip realizes he’s set a timer. Man, these two aren’t fooling around. Suddenly all the days spent knotting on flies for honeymoon couples new to the sport seem oddly pleasant memories. He’d better find these two some hungry fish, and fast. Not for the first time, he thinks that depending on the whims of cold-blooded creatures with brains the size of macadamia nuts is a hell of a way to make a living.
Skip poles half the length of the island before he spots moving shadows. It’s nearly at the end of Charlie’s turn on deck. “Two bones! Eleven o’clock,” he tells her. “A hundred feet out. Coming our way. Get ready.” He plants the pole in the sandy bottom, turns the boat and steadies it. “They’re at nine o’clock now. Still too far. Wait until they get closer.”
Charlie points with her rod. “I see them.”
Then Bill’s timer goes off. “Time’s up! Let me at ’em.”
Charlie ignores him, rolls out line, and hauls it into a long, tight backcast.
“Charlie! Time’s up,” Bill says again.
But she already has the rod loaded, and launches a 70-foot cast that puts the fly right in the path of the lead bonefish. Skip can see that the fish is a monster, but doesn’t want to make her nervous. “Nice cast,” he says. “Let it sink.”
Bill says, “This isn’t going to count.” He taps the face of his watch. “You’re overtime, Charl.”
Charlie ignores that too, never takes her eyes off the fish.
From his high vantage point, Skip sees the big bonefish move on the fly. He’s about to say, “Strike,” but, once again, Charlie is on top of it, and strip-strikes.
Her line cuts a rooster tail across the surface as the fish arcs away from the boat. Skip expects her to scream with delight. But she’s all business, shifting the rod against the fish every time it turns.
Skip thinks, Jesus, what does she need me for?
Bill is still muttering, “This isn’t going to count.”
Charlie ignores him, concentrates on the fish.
Skip ties off the pole, climbs down. One more powerful long run, then Charlie deftly steers the fish alongside and Skip scoops it up in the net.
Bill lifts his wife’s fish out of the rubber mesh, holds it up for her to see. “That’s a big fish,” he says. “Too bad it doesn’t count.”
“Say that one more time, Bill.” Charlie gives him a look that could freeze the South Pacific.
“Just saying, you know the rules.”
Crouched on the deck now, Charlie reaches out one hand to touch the magnificent fish. Bill dumps it back into the water like he’s emptying the trash. Her face falls, but she just stands and reels in her line.
Skip hasn’t even gotten a chance to take a photo. He looks at Bill. “That’s one of the biggest bonefish I’ve ever boated, and I’ve been doing this for years. Ten pounds. More, maybe.”
“Still doesn’t count,” Bill says. “The score is nothing–nothing.” He picks up his rod and replaces Charlie on the casting deck, looking at his bride defiantly. Again, Skip thinks she’s going to say something. But she just sets her teeth on her lower lip and stows her rod under the starboard gunwale.
The score? Skip has never seen anything like these two. He’d like to say something about showing a little respect for a trophy game fish, but holds his tongue. It’s way too early in the day to lose it.
Bill gives him a look and says, “Clock starts whenever our guide here decides to do his job and start poling again.”
Jaw clenched, Skip climbs back up on the platform, unties the pole. He can’t help thinking how easy it would be to just swing it and wipe Bill off the deck into the drink. But the first rule of guiding is Never let the sport know how you really feel about him. He plants the tip of the pole against the bottom and pushes off with too much force. Bill staggers and nearly goes over. “Oops! Sorry, Bill,” he says. He thinks he sees Charlie’s shoulders vibrate with muted laughter. He’s starting to like her.
The fishing drops off, as fishing will, and Bill gets the only other fish all morning, a smallish bone. He gloats and says, “It’s not just the only fish—because that first one doesn’t count—it’s also the biggest. You owe me two bills, Charlie.”
“Time for lunch,” Skip says.
Only half a day left to go. And he thought facing Amiri Akura was going to be the low point of the day.
After lunch Skip takes them to a sandy, wadeable flat. He anchors the boat and Bill and Charlie climb out into the knee-deep water, wielding their bonefish rods. Skip joins them carrying a thick 12-weight with a trevally fly the size of a brick. Fishing is very good, and they’re tied with four bones apiece by late afternoon. Charlie has the largest one of the day, a beautiful 8-pounder. So now Bill owes her a hundred.
Near quitting time, Bill hooks his fifth fish. If he lands it, he will be one ahead of his bride and cancel out the money he owes her for having caught the largest.
Skip was hoping Charlie would prevail. She’s a cold one, but that stunt Bill pulled that morning with the disrespected bonefish is still rankling him. As Bill plays his fish, Skip scans the flat, hoping to spot another bone for her, but can’t see anything in the low, afternoon light. Reluctantly, he will have to shut it down once Bill’s fish is in hand.
Then he notices something big charging through the shallows behind them. “GT!” He takes Charlie’s bonefish rod and hands her the heavy rig. Charlie begins stripping out line. Busy playing his bonefish, Bill is unaware.
The giant trevally is moving fast. There will be time for only one cast—into the wind. Charlie lets the stiff breeze carry the backcast high behind her, then punches a tight side-arm loop low and under the wind. The giant trevally attacks in an explosive lunge that almost yanks her into the water. She plants her feet in the sand, cranks down the drag on the reel, and hauls back. The line is so tight it’s humming. Although Skip is not really surprised that she knows how to play a GT this size, he’s still plenty impressed.
At the end of the tight line, the big fish swings in a great arc toward Bill, who has his bonefish almost at his feet now. When he notices that his bride has hooked a monster, and that the trevally is on a collision course with him and his fish, he yelps, “Charlie! Control that thing!”
But instead of turning her rod opposite the direction—as she certainly knows how to do—Charlie applies just enough pressure to steer it right at Bill. The trevally crashes through her husband’s leader, cuts his bonefish off, and knocks his rod out of his hands.
“Goddamn it, Charlie!” He ducks as her fly line nearly garrotes him.
“Sorry, honey!” Charlie says, turning the trevally back her way, smiling broadly at Skip.
On the ride back to the dock, Skip can just hear Bill over the engine noise, whining, “My last bonefish should count! You did that on purpose!”
The day had started badly. But now, as his skiff skims across the lagoon, Skip is thankful to be here, to live here. Yes, Dolly will be caught between him and her brothers over that dead sow, of course, and that will cool her mood for some time to come. But, really, the pig had it coming. In the past few months alone, the beast chewed a chunk out of the plastic bumper trim on Skip’s truck, ate one of his new wading shoes, and uprooted the young mango tree Skip had planted to surprise Dolly for their tenth anniversary.
But now, all is well in Skip Reardon’s personal paradise. At least one of his two clients is happy today. And so is Skip. Happy that the pestiferous pig is dead at last. Happy that nobody saw Skip kick his own fence flat that morning to make it easy for the beast to wander into his lettuce patch—and into his gunsight. And especially happy, knowing that Dolly loves Polynesian roast pork more than anything, and that nobody in these beautiful islands cooks that as tender and juicy as his brother-in-law Amiri Akaru does.
Richard Chiappone of Homer, Alaska, is a two-time recipient of the Robert Traver Award. His most recent book is Liar’s Code: Growing Up Fishing (Skyhorse Press, 2016). “The Honeymooners” will appear in the May/June 2020 issue of Gray’s Sporting Journal.