There was a bluegrass duo at the bar and after the 13th request for “Dueling Banjos” the guitar player jumped off the small stage and grabbed the requester by the throat.
This is a place that flips switches. It’s where Wallace Stevens threw down with Robert Frost and tried to punk Hemingway. The guitar player’s response fell within acceptable parameters. But it was time to leave.
The Canadian had built a pickle-fork flats skiff that ran 74 and he put in a foot pedal throttle, like a car. In the morning he intentionally ran over cormorants as we blasted across bayside waters from Big Pine. He hit a well known flat and killed the engine and trimmed up. We did not have a push pole. We drifted and, unbelievably, spotted a group of four bonefish. I tried to strip line off my reel and saw a shrimp impaled on a Mustad fly by my head and the Canadian jumped past me on the bow; saltwater mist shot from the spool of his spinning reel as it gained velocity.
He felt bad about it later. He decided to run oceanside to a channel marker and drop pinfish for barracuda the size and girth of a railroad track cross beam. I hooked one and it jumped and ran and dove deep in a lightning fast counter move, and I slammed my knuckles on the gunwale and split them open.
The thunderstorms rolled in on the afternoon and knocked out the power at the hotel, and with no air conditioner the room quickly lost its cool. The rain stopped but the Canadian had taken the boat to fix the jack plate we bent. I walked out behind the hotel building and past the camper lot to the small beach. I made a few blind casts and hooked a nine-inch barracuda. I pulled it in by hand and green shards of bucktail from the abused clouser stuck to its skin and my fingers.
The Canadian was late coming back so I drove down to Key West myself. I couldn’t find the locals bar where he intimately knew the waitress, so I bought a traveler and walked the streets. The strangers moving in and out of the buildings and along the walkways blended together but one face caught my attention.
The guitar player from the bluegrass band; it was him, asleep on the front step of a shaded porch, an unlit cigarette in his mouth. I took two steps then stopped, turned back and threw my half-full cup in his direction. I ran off before I could see the impact and probably wasted three dollars worth of vodka, but I didn’t care.
I love Dueling Banjos.