FATTY’S FISHING EXPEDITION by EW Farnsworth
Ox-eye daisies and red opium poppies filled the meadow leading to the freshet meandering toward the river. Fatty had taken his place where the tiny stream combed through a thicket of watercress, leaving a pool above and a running conduit below. He cast using both hands whipping his line overhead to land his fly on the edges of the pool while his tentacle tickled brook trout below the surface. The sheriff breathed the fresh country air as he surveyed the citizens in ones and pairs exercising or lounging in the greensward near the copse of trees and the highway.
A boy about eight years old had fetched a flat rock to skip across the pool. He stopped with his arm cocked as he regarded Fatty’s fly on the surface. A fish took the fly delicately so rings ran out from where it had been taken down. The boy watched fascinated as Fatty brought the fish to the side of the pool and lowered his net so it would not frighten his prey. With a deft swipe, he netted the fish and quickly removed the hook and set the fish free. Then he smiled at the lad and prepared to cast again. The boy had dropped his stone, mesmerized by something he saw in the pellucid water.
“A tentacle! Mommy, I see a tentacle in the water.” The boy ran off shouting the same refrain while Fatty shrugged and withdrew his appendage from the water and restored it to the place where it belonged when close to his body. He had dropped his fly in a few places when the boy returned breathless and dragging his mother by the hand.
“Right there it was, near where that man is fishing. It was moving slowly underwater as if it was feeling for something.”
“I’m afraid I don’t see anything at all.” She asked the fisherman, “Mister, my boy thinks he saw a tentacle moving in the water near you. Did you see it?”
Fatty smiled. He stopped fishing and took off his hat and greeted her in the old-fashioned way. “Good morning, Madam. If the boy said he saw a tentacle, then he must have done so.” He winked at the boy, who frowned at being patronized.
“I did see it. I really did. It was long and pink and lined with slimy suckers. An octopus tentacle it was.”
The woman crossed her arms over her bosom and shook her head. “You’ll have to pardon my son, Mister. He is most imaginative. Just last week he claimed a milkman was receiving a solid bar of pure gold for delivering two pints of white milk and a pint of cream. One of the sheriff’s deputies came to investigate, but no bar of gold was found. So his pa gave the boy a hiding for telling fibs.” She looked at her son with a disapproving eye.
“I’ll not comment on what he saw or said, and I won’t comment on your family’s sense of propriety. I do hope, though, if your son is lucky enough to observe details—which most people are not—he should be encouraged to develop his gift.”
“You call it a gift all you like, but I think it’s trouble. Today it’ll be stories, tomorrow it’ll be newspaper lies, and the day after he’ll be a politician speechifying. What is this world coming to?”
“We do seem to be in a muddle, don’t we?”
She looked the fisherman up and down. She shook her head and took the boy by the hand. “Come along, Alfred. I won’t tell your pa what you said you saw. He’d only give you another hiding.”
“But, Ma. I did see a tentacle.”
“If you want to tell your pa about it, fine. You’ll see what he has to say soon thereafter.”
The boy instinctively rubbed his behind as he went home with his mother scolding.
The sheriff looked around and, seeing no one close by, let his tentacle reach into the water to tickle a trout while he whisked the fly far out across the pool to the place where cattails swayed in the rising breeze. He became lost in thought, and he worked mechanically for a while.
“Fisherman, fisherman,” a small girl said, looking up at him. “My name is Annie. What’s yours?”
“Fatty,” he said as he continued to watch his dry fly floating on the surface.
“That’s a fit and funny name,” she said, covering her mouth with one hand. In her other hand was a posy gathered from the meadow.
“Why do you say that?” he asked with a smile. He noticed she was around ten years old. He hoped she would not notice the tentacle, which he curled back beneath the near bank of the rill.
“It’s fit because you are fat. It’s funny that your name admits the fact.” She had a serious look in her eyes. “Your fly is standing upright on the water. Are you going to cast again?”
“When the fish have had their chance to decide against taking the fly, yes, I’ll cast again.”
“I saw you put your tentacle back into the water.”
“What do you suppose it’s doing out there?”
“Fishing just as you are. My father told me one day long ago the waters of this country were full of octopuses. They even came onto the land. Some of our neighbours say the creatures bred with humans.” She hesitated and turned her head to watch his reaction to what she was saying. He saw her two blond braids, her freckles and shiny blue eyes.
“What do you think of that theory?” he asked as he worked his fly rod to reposition the fly. He whipped the line back and forth while he kept one eye on the girl. When she looked the opposite way, he pulled his tentacle out of the water and under his clothing.
When the dry fly was sitting on the surface again, the girl seemed satisfied. She pursed her lips and furrowed her brow. “Well, octopuses are supposed to be frightfully intelligent. We could benefit from breeding with such creatures. Otherwise, we’ll be utterly lost. That’s what I think.”
“You have a most enlightened view, Annie.”
“Yes, well, I have to be very careful who I tell. Don’t you think it’s wise to gauge this sort of thing?”
“Absolutely. Did you come up with this idea by yourself?”
“No. My mother taught me. And she should know.”
As if she were summoned by mention of her name, Annie’s mother sidled up to join the conversation.
“There you are, Annie. And who are you chatting up this morning?”
“Annie, you’re being so very rude. I’m wondering whether I should not march you home and have a discussion in a closed room with you.”
Annie was not perturbed by this threat. She turned to Fatty and said, “Tell her.”
For the second time that morning, off came the sheriff’s fishing hat. “Madam, your child is quite correct. My name is Fatty. Everyone calls me that. How can a man take offence with his given name?”
The woman put her index finger on her cheek and thought for a moment. “The only real Fatty I know is our sheriff.”
“At your service, Madam. I am the sheriff.”
“He may be the sheriff, Mother, but he can cast a fly with the best of fishermen. And he has a secret way of fishing too.” She looked at Fatty with the knowing eyes of an adult.
Fatty tried hard to concentrate on his fly. He decided he would reposition it. While he did this, Annie took off her shoes and socks and stuck her feet in the gelid water. His tentacle felt another tentacle rubbing alongside it.
Annie’s mother seemed to be looking at something far away. “Annie, put on your socks and shoes. I think I see your father on the other side of the meadow. Mr. Sheriff, I want to thank you for everything you have done to make Picklock Lane safe again. We never thought we’d live to see the day when cutpurses and vandals no longer controlled the city. Yet here we all are in a new age.”
Annie had restored herself and stood with her posy ready to walk. “Goodbye, Sheriff Fatty! I hope you have good luck fishing. Please practice catch-and-release rules, for everyone’s sake. And if you should catch an octopus, remember how intelligent they are—and please let it go.”
The mother and daughter trekked across the meadow, with Annie stopping now and then to pick more flowers for her posy or to wave at the fisherman, who was now trying his best to focus on his fishing. This proved to be nearly impossible as he was puzzling out what to make of Annie, the remarkable girl with the tentacle just like his.
Fatty’s third encounter of the morning was a total surprise. A reporter from the tabloids dropped his fishing gear on the bank not ten feet away. The man, Vinevar Snoop, was well known to the sheriff from his scabrous, mostly false reportage.
“Well, if it isn’t the inimitable Fatty, the Sheriff of renown. Mind if I join you casting a few?”
“The last I looked, this was a free public park. You’ve already taken a pew. Just be careful not to cross our lines.”
“Not much chance of that. You’ll be fly fishing in the surface. I’ll be using my new contraption to tickle trout under the surface.” He made a show of unpacking his robotic tentacle and immersing it underwater. With his control console, he flexed the appendage. Then he ran it under the grassy ledge of the bank.
Fatty shook his head. “Do you expect to fool a trout with your mechanical device?” he asked. Snoop just smiled and kept working his console.
“Well, Sheriff. You’ve made quite a name for yourself making the peace on Picklock Lane. To what do you attribute your success?”
“Are you always looking for a story?”
“Why not? You’re a living legend standing not ten feet from me. Captive to your hobby, you can’t escape my questions.”
“To your question, I attribute my success to the citizens, to a new high in arrests per crime and to pure luck. Crime will always be with us. The question is how to manage it.”
“You’ve evidently spent a lot of time honing your response. I’ll ask a question which, to my knowledge, has not been posed to you before. Why have you not married? Dozens of single women, some recently widowed, would swoon at the thought of wedding a hero like you.”
Fatty smirked. “Marriage is not for everyone. I haven’t time to devote to anything other than my job. I’m slaving twenty-four hours a day. What self-respecting young woman would put up with sheriff’s hours? Besides, a public servant like me is paid very little money. A woman needs to go shopping all the time. She must have pin money for knickknacks and gewgaws. Then too, I’m naturally fat. Women like rake-thin, athletic men these days.”
The newshound laughed heartily. “I might say the same about women and newshounds.”
“The difference is that a sheriff must enforce the prosaic laws of the land—and enforce them equally like the blind justice he serves.”
“And the so-called fourth estate?”
“I do like your choice of the epithet ‘so-called’.”
“I hope, Sheriff, you’re not insulting me. I can sue for libel and slander and calumny like everyone else.”
“As you know, the truth is the best defence against all three offenses. When was the last time your articles were about the truth?”
The newshound was concentrating now on his console. He was looking into the water and then fiddling with his controls. Fatty could see the machine tickling the unwary trout beneath the surface. Snoop tried to grab his prey too soon, and the trout slipped through the tentacle.
“Drat! I must be doing something wrong. Every time I get close and tighten my grip, the slimy fish swim out of my grasp.”
“Have you thought of using your tentacle’s suckers?”
Snoop’s brows furrowed. “I’m going to have to read the manual on those.”
“It’s just a suggestion.”
“I’ll bet. From the rumours I’ve heard, you know all about tentacles.”
Fatty did not answer right away. “What rumours?”
“People down Picklock Lane say you were once accused of being an alien creature, half octopus and half human.” The reporter waited for the sheriff’s answer to his implied question. When no answer was forthcoming, he continued. “Anyway, I don’t like aliens. And I don’t like half aliens. I don’t even like quarter aliens or octoroons.”
“Finally, you’ve piqued my imagination. I’ll have to ponder the idea of an octopus octoroon. Would the phrase mean, ‘one-eighth octopus’?”
“What if it did?”
“If it did mean an eighth octopus, the creature would have only one tentacle of its usual eight.”
“I suppose it would. But where would it put that tentacle?”
Now the sheriff was quiet for a spell. He listened to the iridescent black male grackles gabbling with each other as their glistening brown females continued feeding in the meadow. “You’ll have to catch one and discover for yourself.”
The newsman chuckled. “I’d like to see all aliens run out of the country. What about you?”
“Folks have been settling here for thousands of years. How much ancient blood runs through your veins?”
The reporter’s face was reddening while his hands were turning white on his control console. “You know what I mean. You’re just being difficult.”
“Even if I weren’t a law officer, I would appeal to your innate sense of decency and order. What would our civilization be worth if we were constantly at war with each other?”
The news man smiled as if he had elicited enough for the story he wanted to write. He stood and began packing his gear. “Maybe there’s something in what you said.”
The sheriff was bewildered what he had said to evoke this comment. He was pleased to see the man preparing to depart.
“Have a nice rest of your day, Sheriff. Thanks for the impromptu interview. My story in tomorrow’s paper will, I hope, do you justice.”
Fatty watched the cripple hobble off with his toupee jumping from side to side on his head. Under Snoop’s right arm was the case which held his ridiculous tentacle. Halfway across the meadow, he met his photographer, who was frantic for instructions. The reporter pointed in Fatty’s direction and gestured. The sheriff could not hear their conversation, but he could guess trouble was coming in a second dose.
“Sheriff, I need your picture for tomorrow’s issue of The Real Dirt. If you’ll just act naturally and continue fishing, I’ll take a few pictures. Do you mind?”
“In fact, I do mind, but I’m a captive. So what can I do that would not be uncivil?”
“You’re a real card, Sheriff. Just focus on your dry fly, please.”
The photographer’s session included half a dozen shots. When he had finished, he handed Fatty his business card: Wilton Shapes. “Look in the morning’s paper for your twenty seconds of fame. Thank you for your courtesy and your time. I hope you catch the big one I shook off my line when I stood in your place.”
“You weren’t perchance using a robotic tentacle, were you?”
The photographer’s eyes squinted from his effort to comprehend what he had just heard. “I don’t think so. Wait. What did you just say?”
“Don’t break your brain over it. I’ll take a look at your yellow rag tomorrow. Goodbye.”
The newsmen had spoiled what promised to be a fine day fishing. Fatty packed up and went home to change into what he called his ‘lounge lizard get-up’ in dark green with a ruffled white cravat. He walked to his favourite pub on Picklock Lane and sat at his favourite table near the back. He had just ordered a pint with bitters when a small man with his hat in his hand approached in the dim light.
“Sheriff, do you mind if I join you for a moment. My name is Dupree. I’m Annie’s dad. She met you while you were fishing near the meadow today.”
Fatty asked the man to sit down and signalled for the barkeep to bring him a pint with bitters. “Now what can I do for you?”
The man nodded and said, “It’s just that I want no trouble about my girl’s tentacle.”
“Sir, I don’t know what you are talking about. Will you be more specific?”
The barkeep set down the pint, and Dupree took a sip. His courage restored, he said, “Today my daughter sat by the edge of the rill where you were fishing. She saw how you were fishing with a fly on one level and your, ah, appendage on another. Annie is serious, but she likes to play sometimes too. She didn’t mean any harm.”
“You mention harm, but I can attest your daughter did no harm whatsoever in thought or deed. Why are you telling me this?”
“People can be funny about aliens. I’m comfortable about you as my wife, you see, is part alien. That’s strictly off the record.” He took another drink from his pint.
“If you’re trying to bribe me or extort money on account of my status, you can forget it.”
“I’m not trying to do anything like you’re implying. I know how things work. I only wanted to be sure no one else found out about my daughter’s condition.”
“Annie’s secret is safe with me, Mr. Dupree. For that matter, so is your wife’s. I do hope you have not been harsh with either of them for a harmless day in the park.”
“I’m at wit’s end always having to protect my women from predators.”
“Mr. Dupree, I am no predator. And if anyone wants to take unfair advantage of your daughter or your wife, I hope you will come straight to me so I can help you. Come now, give me your hand. We’ll shake on our secret deal.”
The two shook hands, and immediately Mr. Dupree sat back in his chair and relaxed. Now they talked about how precocious Annie was as a student. She was also a talented musician. By the time the afternoon was waning, Mr. Dupree rose to go home. He said, “Sheriff, I didn’t vote for you last election, but you surely have my vote next time. No matter what the others say, I appreciate what you’ve done for this city—and for Picklock Lane. Salt of the earth you are. God bless!” Fatty watched the man go to the exit and pull on his hat. With no look back, he stepped into the lane and disappeared.
The next morning The Real Dirt was delivered to Fatty’s pub. The front page was a mélange of file photos around the centrepiece, which was captioned, “Fatty, Your Sheriff, Fishing on Holiday.” The usual tabloid rubbish was thrown into the mix to raise the public interest to fever pitch. The old mantra about Fatty’s being an alien was raised, and his reputed connections to organized crime. No explicit mention was made of his esteemed friends, but the newshound had ways of insinuating his political affiliations. To make the setting of the meadow come into focus, the writer mentioned having been corrected about the proper use of a robotic tentacle for tickling trout: “Who but an alien would know the suckers of the tentacle are used to catch the tickled trout?”
When he served Fatty his afternoon pint with bitters, the tapster laid the rag in front of his guest with the comment, “Doesn’t it figure the newshound is incorrigible?”
Fatty, who had read the gutter tripe from cover to cover for hidden meanings, said, “A man must make a living, but this one has no useful trade. One day he’ll go too far. But today, let’s be glad he stopped short of slander. I’ve already seen my barrister once, and twice in a day is unlucky.”