Authors: John Larison
Copyright Â© 2011 by John Larison
Lyrics to Grateful Dead songs Â© copyright Ice Nine Publishing Company.
Used with permission.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
John. Holding lies : a novel / John Larison.
ISBN 978-1-61608-255-0 (alk. paper)
1. River life--Fiction. 2. Fathers and daughters--Fiction. 3. Fly fishing--Fiction. 4. Murder--Investigation--Fiction. 5. Northwest, Pacific--Fiction. I.
Printed in the United States of America
Especially for Navah and Naomi
At times when man is overcome by the horror of the alienation between “I” and “world,” it occurs to him that something might be done.
I and Thou
Fare you well,
Fare you well.
I love you more than words can tell.
Listen to the river sing sweet songs,
To rock my soul.
âRobert Hunter and Jerry Garcia, “Brokedown Palace”
ERE HE WAS
straddling an alder limb above the Ipsyniho River, the bluegreen currents melting by, and through the shimmering tension of the surface, a gray space sliding back and forth from obscurityâthe opalescent back of a steelhead. This was it: suspended between the worlds of water and wind and being paid for the privilege.
And yet Hank Hazelton couldn't shake the nagging sense that despite a lifetime of living right, of caring for his friends and his watershed, he'd nevertheless fucked up something crucial, something a better man would have gotten right. He was fifty-nine years old now but only half as sure as he'd been at thirty. Could it be,
this was it?
Because it sure felt like this moment and this river and this lifetime had been severed from their proper place and sentenced for all eternity to flow in circles.
“Right there,” he again called to his dude, who was casting from the bank. “Along that seam.”
Those fish and this river were inexplicably linkedâany thought of one conjured images of the other. His clients thought of them differently; the fish were the trophy and the river the field of play. Maybe that was part of the problem.
Steelhead. Their recovery had been a grim prospect even thirty-five years before, when he'd turned down the insurance job in Portland, bought his first boatâthat grungy
that wanted nothing more than to stall in a rapid and flipâand registered with the state marine board as a fly-fishing guide. He'd known even then that it would be a life of endless battles and increasing hardship. Though he also knew this campaign to save America's last salmon would require that much and more, from him and everyone else. But what did it say about him, about how he'd used his life, that those fish were closer to extinction now than they'd ever been?
What would she think, his daughter Annie, when she arrived next week, thirty-one now, twenty-six years since they'd last lived together, fourteen since they'd last seen each other, since she'd said, “You mean nothing to me.” She was so cosmopolitan now, so removed. She wouldn't understand.
He couldn't forget standing on the bank of this very pool with her as a four- or five-year-old, when she still went by her given name of Riffle, when she still looked at him like he possessed something worth knowing. The sun was setting, and her hair was damp from swimming, and she was barefoot and gripping his fingers for balance as they negotiated the rocks. He had gestured toward a white sail above the water and explained that it was called an osprey and that it had naturally polarized vision and that it could dive deep into the river to capture fish. She raised an arm to block the light and said, matter-of-factly, “Catch him, Daddy. I want to ride him.”
“Am I reaching them?” the dude called. Stan Burke, a regular, came up from San Francisco twice a year for a long weekend, three times if his construction business was doing well. Married, four children, two of them married themselves, a granddaughter on the way. To him, the river was a lighthouse on which he could take a bearing; every dollar earned brought him a step closer to the Ipsyniho's protective harbors, to his retirement along the water. They'd first fished together in the early nineties, right after the movie, when Stan decided to “make the switch” to fly-fishing. Like so many of Hank's clients, Stan seemed to
think the most pressing ethical concern was which type of tackle you cast. “I can't believe they let people fish indicators on this river,” he was prone to quip. “I mean, where's the sport in that?” Despite this fervency, and a half-dozen half-baked theories on politics and religion, Stan wasn't a bad guy to spend the day with. And he tipped well too.
“They're on the far-side seam,” Hank answered. “You can make the cast. Sweep deeper into the D-loop, and come over the top. Let the rod do the work.”
The fish always chose that ledge over the run's other holding lies. The migration route up the river, the fish's path of least resistance, delivered them right to its protective lee. In the early years, or
early years, the late sixties, before the headwaters were logged, the tributaries dammed, the hatchery built, fish would be scattered all through this run they called Governor. The biggest fish would often sit on that ledge, the smaller ones dispersing to other lies in the pool. He'd even caught them in the knee-deep bucket on the near side, before the silt from the new road filled it in. Back then, forty thousand native steelhead spawned in the watershed. You could find a fresh fish or two in most pools most months of the year. Which, according to the old-timers, was nothing. “They're practically extinct,” Mickie McCune, the river's first guide, was saying then. “My first year, back in twenty-five, the cannery gillnetted eighty thousand out of the estuary and I still landed two hundred fish!” These days, the young guides were relieved when eight thousand natives returned.
It was an even sadder story across the Northwest, with most salmon runs completely gone and the few that remained returning at 1 or 2 percent of their historic levels. The Ipsyniho, with its rugged headwaters and vicious whitewater, was one place where there was still hope.
The young guides. They were different, too hopped-up on proving themselves to see the whole picture, to appreciate the gravity of what was happening around them. The river to them was a basketball court or a half-pipeâa place to demonstrate how “badass” they were. “Chargers,” his longtime friend and fellow guide Caroline Abbot
called them. “Just listen to them,” she said. “When they land a few in a session, they âslaughtered them.' When they get skunked, they had their âass handed to them.' It's the language of evisceration. It's the language of war.”
Hank didn't know about that, but he did know that he couldn't stand their phony regard for the fish. They preached restoring the habitat, preached safeguarding the gene pool, but then they didn't do shit to help. They didn't help drop logs in the spawning tribs, count redds, fight the State's new broodstock program, nothing. They talked like they were the most pious on the river, more pious than you, but they didn't
anything. Except allow their clients to catch too many fish.
For as long as Hank had been working the river, there had been an unwritten rule among the guides: two fish and you're out. Once a client had caught two fish, the guide was to ensure he didn't get another one. Sabotage on a steelhead river was an easy thing. Hank knew a dozen runs that looked greasy but never held a fish. And he must have known a hundred submerged boulders or ledges that even to the most experienced eye looked idealâwalking-speed current and foam dotting the surfaceâbut that had a secret upwelling or swirling eddy or some other glitch that ensured no fish would ever hold there.
It was a speed difference, really, between the generations. These young guides rushed everywhere. They talked like they oared like they fished: too fast. Like if they didn't say it or do it now, somebody else would. Maybe the humbling thirties would slow them down, teach them the truth about living, that it is better savored than devoured. And if not the thirties, then definitely the fifties, when their balance wavered, their bladders contracted, and they became invisible to the girls in town.
Poor Annie: these were the men of her generation. He only hoped they had deeper regard for women than they did for watersheds.
The worst of the new breed was Justin Morell. “As in the mushroom,” he'd said when they first met at a ramp three years back. Justin was a body counter. Like all these young guys, he had a website, and he posted how many fish were caught on each trip, as if that was the
indicator of how excellent the day had been. Two landed, four hooked. Four landed, eight hooked. Impressive stats, for sure; the guy's clients almost always caught something, but still . . . Surely a guide had other responsibilities.
What made Justin's crime worse, what made it a crime in the first place, was that he wrote articles about the river for the national magazines touting how many fish could be caught here. Of course, Justin came off looking like a chest-pounding chimpâlike one of those guys so common out West who spends thousands to jack up his truck until a Prius could drive straight through unscathed. But now the clients were showing up expecting to land multiple fish. Twice in the last year, Hank had had dudes, anglers who'd each caught two fish, tip him twenty bucksâas if they'd been skunked! One of them had said, “It was fun, but I was expecting better fishing.” The other had said, “Do you know Justin Morell?”
“Do you think we could try from the other side?” Stan asked as Hank neared. “I don't think I'll ever make that cast.”
Hank never fished from that far bank. It just wasn't something locals did. You fished Governor from river-right; that's the way it had been for eighty years and that's the way it should stay. Respect the ritual; something in this world had to remain consistent. “Lots of trees over there and a tough wade.”
Stan examined the far shore, holding the rod now, not casting. He'd all but given up. “I'd sure like to try. I'll never get a cast to those fish.”