"There is nothing," said Truman, casting his line, "quite so good for the soul as an afternoon of fishing."
"Amen, Sheriff. Amen."
Cooper's fishing line may have been tangled, his reel hopelessly jammed, but the sentiment was true just the same. There was nothing quite like being out on the lake on a sunny afternoon with a good friend and a bucket of worms.
"Have I ever told you the story of Otis Redmund?"
"The name does strike me as familiar. A musician, I believe?"
"No, you're thinking of Otis Redding," said Truman, humming a line. "You know, Dock of the Bay?" He very nearly had to break into song before Cooper caught the tune.
"Right!" He hummed along with him for a moment in nearly the same key, until they both started nodding in time with each other and broke into matching smiles. "No, then, I don't believe you've ever told me the story of Otis Redmund."
Truman finished the chorus and reeled in. "Almost got a bite that time, I could feel it," he said wistfully. "So Otis Redmund, he was a local, lived here all his life. Over there, as a matter of fact." He pointed at the far side of the lake. Cooper squinted and saw only acres of majestic trees. "Used to come fishing on this lake nearly every day."
"Clearly the logical location," said Cooper, biting at the knotted line with his eye teeth, trying to break it.
"It'd be a very different story if he'd headed up the road to Hanged Man Lake," agreed Truman. "Otis was quite the fisherman. Quite the ladies' man, too, in his day. Old friend of Dougie Milford. Folks used to see them together at the Roadhouse with a different lady every week."
"The Roadhouse has quite the history. Been around for some time, I take it?"
"Long before my day," said Truman. "If something interesting happened around here, you could bet the Roadhouse was somehow involved. Say, speaking of Dougie, God rest his soul, I've been meaning to ask you. What did you think of Emma Preacher's red dress?"
"The one with the... revealing bodice?" Cooper asked, straight-faced. Not a man with a pulse could have missed seeing Emma Preacher's red dress at the wedding, not even next to the luminous future Widow Milford. "It was quite flattering. I don't know what Lucy's going on about."
"Well, you know women," said Truman, and cast his line.
"Do I?" said Cooper. "Do any of us, really?"
"So Otis, one morning Otis he was out here fishing -- and I'm telling this story as he told it, you understand -- and he wasn't getting so much as a nibble."
"Like today," said Cooper, fumbling around the tackle box for a knife. The fishing line had wound around his finger, quite on its own, and the fingertip was starting to turn an alarming shade of purple.
"Like today," said Truman. "Now the thing you have to understand about lifelong fisherman is, they've all got their whoppers."
"Tales of the one that got away," said Cooper sagely, yanking. "By reputation, notorious liars."
"There's always one that got away, bigger and longer than anything anyone else had seen. So, Otis, he was just starting to think about packing it in and heading to shore, when he feels this jerk on his line. Like this." And he grabbed Cooper's sleeve and jerked, right quick. "Just a jerk, then it was gone."
"Well, I have to tell you, Harry, as far as one-that-got-away stories go, that one's a lame duck."
"Oh, that's not the whole story," Truman assured him. "You, uh, need a hand with that?"
"No, I think I've got it," he said, and with a vicious grunt he started hacking away at the knot in the fishing line.
"Wait, wait." Truman grabbed his wrist and plucked the knife from his hand, deft as only a seasoned sheriff could be. And held on gently as he unwound the line and massaged feeling back into the finger. Cooper took a deep breath and visualized his tension flying away. "Here, let me take care of that rod for you, too."
Truman had it back in working order in under two minutes, though Cooper'd left his watch back in the truck so he couldn't be exact. Time wasn't meant to exist on a Sunday afternoon, fishing.
"Thanks, Harry," he said, propping the rod up next to him. Truman already had his line back in the water. "Really got to learn how to do that one of these days."
"Stick around here long enough and you won't have much choice," said Truman. "So you think you'll be staying, then?"
"As long as I'm needed here, I'll be staying," he said, cautiously turning the reel. Everything seemed to be back in good working order. "Can't say how long that'll be, but given the general course of things in your fine town, Sheriff, I'd venture a guess that I'll be around quite a while."
"No complaints here," said Truman, clearing his throat. "Your, uh, expertise is always welcome. So Otis, well, once he got that nibble, he knew there was something down there to be had, and he wasn't giving up. Three more times he felt a jerk on the line and three more times it got away, but the fourth time..."
"Fourth time lucky," said Cooper. "It's never the third, is it, no matter what they say."
"Not in my experience, no," agreed Truman. He started humming Dock of the Bay again as he reeled his line back in.
"Though three is still a mystical number," Cooper elaborated. "A great many things do happen in threes. I've seen too many of them in my years with the Bureau to doubt that."
"Except, apparently, fish bites," said Truman. "So anyway, on that fourth nibble, the fish latched right on, jerked so hard he almost took Otis over the side of his boat. Oh, he knew he had a good one on the line."
Cooper dug around in the bait bucket and pulled out a nice fat worm. Not because he thought the fish might prefer it, but because he thought it might be easier to impale on the hook without loss of life or limb.
"That fish fought him for the better part of an hour. Took him clear from one side of the lake to the other. And in a spectacular leap from the water" --which Harry demonstrated with his free arm-- "Otis could see what he had on the line, a magnificent specimen. To the day he died he insisted that fish was over thirty pounds."
"A trout, out of this lake, over thirty pounds?" said Cooper.
"That's what he said. He was just getting somewhere reeling it in, when he heard an angry shout from shore. And there was Betty Anne Kromer, who he'd left in his cabin at dawn when he'd gone fishing."
"A man with priorities," said Cooper, bracing the rod unsuccessfully between his knees.
"Well, that moment of distraction was all it took. He stared at Betty Anne for just long enough to ogle her calves poking out from under his bathrobe, and it was all over. That mighty fish snapped the line and was gone without a trace."
"The one that got away."
"Both of them, turns out. Miss Kromer didn't take too kindly to being left behind that day, and packed her things and three months later she was engaged to Frank Hemlock from over near Pine Junction."
"Pine Junction," mused Cooper. "You know, I don't think I've had the pleasure."
"We'll have to make it a point to go," said Truman, looking back over his shoulder with a knowing grin. "The view is unbelievable."
Cooper watched him turn. "The scenery around here does tend toward the spectacular," he agreed. Then caught his rod before it slipped away from him and ruined their sandwiches.
"So Otis, he shows up in the diner that afternoon and he tells all his buddies about the thirty-pounder, and wouldn't you know it, not a believer in the bunch."
"Do you believe him?"
"Thirty-pound rainbow trout?" said Truman. "Not on your life. Not when I first heard and not now, not in these waters. But Otis, he was persistent. Never gave up on that fish, came back out here every day."
"And every night at the Roadhouse, looking for another Betty Anne."
"You know it," said Truman, shooting him another smile. "Well, Otis brought home a nice seven-pounder that day, but it just wasn't the same. It was the last fish ever pulled out of this here lake."
Cooper stared at him. "We're fishing on a lake that has no fish?"
"Well, fishing's not about the fish," said Truman, "it's about the fishing. And there's some folks around here still holding out hope there really is a monster trout down there waiting to be reeled in. Just ask Pete Martell."
"I might, at that," said Cooper, then snagged his index finger on the fishhook. He watched the spot of blood well up, larger and larger. It was almost ready to drip when Harry shook his shoulder.
"You all right, Coop?" he asked, then grabbed his wrist. "Oh, ouch, let me take care of that for you." And he popped the finger in his mouth, sucking away on it like a lollipop. "Old home remedy," he explained when he finally released Cooper's hand. "Saliva seals it up every time. Bet it doesn't even sting."
"Nope, no stinging," Cooper had to agree. The sensation was something else entirely.
"So that's Otis Redmund for you," Truman concluded, patting the inside of Cooper's thigh. "Taught half this town everything they know about fishing, and the other half everything they know about women."
"And you, I take it, were an apt pupil in both disciplines?"
Truman chuckled and turned away again, looking out over the open water. "Well, I'm not really much of a fisherman," he said, casting his line again. "And of course, since I met Josie, I haven't had eyes for anyone else."
Cooper grinned at his back. "It strikes me, Harry, that you're no stranger to whoppers yourself."