Enraged by this new predicament, the marlin went into a tantrum, thrashing the water, lifting and rocking the boat, trying to disimpale itself. The hull around its bill began to splinter as the hole enlarged. But the marlin couldn't work free. The boat was tipping in the direction of the fish, taking on water, and the men splashed and flailed for a handhold. Still, the marlin pitched and lurched.
It's sinking us, Arménio realized. Blood streamed down his face from his fall. In a daze, he crawled into the hold for the ax that he kept to kill sharks, then slid down the crazily tilted deck. He began chopping at the marlin's bill. Four feet of it had pierced the hull, and it was as thick around as his calf. Arménio chopped at it wildly, missing as often as not while the fish thrashed furiously to get free. He must have hit the bill a dozen times before it finally broke off.
When it did, the boat righted itself and the marlin fell away, spinning swiftly toward the stern, a great eye passing a few feet from Arménio's face. Then it disappeared into the darkness.
The man who had hooked the fish, who had been clinging to the fighting chair in terror, pulled the rod out of its holder and flung it into the sea. In any event, they would have had to cut the line. The hole in the hull was taking in water faster than the bilge pump could bail it out. Had the wind not been behind them, they might not have made it back to port at all.
That night, and in the weeks to come, when others doubted the tale, or accused Arménio of exaggerating the fish's size, he had only to show them the four-foot section he had hacked off the marlin's bill to silence them. Oh Magnífica, they named the marlin.
"So where is this Oh Magnífica?" Kingsley asked when Arménio had finished. "We must find him."
"Her," said Arménio. "All the truly great fishes are the females." Then he gestured grandly toward the sea. "And she is out there. Like all men, we must look for her and keep looking. But when the time is right, it is she who will find us."
The weather continued to deteriorate that afternoon, and Arménio grew progressively more somber as the day wore on. It had been 17 days since his last marlin. His other boat, in the meantime, had landed six. Fisherman's luck is a living thing, he explained, that prefers to move from boat to boat. But this was a long time for the luck to be gone. Perhaps it had grown tired of his sandwiches, always onion and tomato and liverwurst. Tomorrow, he would bring a new variety of sandwich.
"Could you bring some bread pudding?" Kingsley asked as we parted. "I'm told that Lady Luck loves her bread pudding."
Arménio smiled at him fondly. Then he said to me, "You must remember one thing about Kingsley. He is very British. Perhaps he is too British, I'm not sure."