The fish was out 100 yards and broad to us, its big body like a drogue in the current. It was gathering its reserves as Drake, clearly disgusted, examined the reel. Working between my hands he tightened the screws, then neatly cinched Monel trolling wire around the outside of the case. It was a jury rig, but the permit was tiring and I thought it would hold. Drake backed off and watched me pump the fish. I felt grease on my right hand, and the grip to the Wonder Rod was slick. "Fifty minutes," said the Chairman.
The battle entered a new intensity as we all wondered aloud whether the old reel would hold together. Its action was again smooth, but I cranked carefully. It was obvious that the fish was tired. So was I; my right forearm was screaming for a break.
Drake told me to bring the fish right in when he was about 60 feet out. I looked back and saw him poised with a landing net and saw the Chairman's grin beneath the body of a Nikon. The dog stood on the stern tower like a free safety, alert and ready to move.
It came so fast I felt what can only be called horror, because my eyes knew what was happening even before my mind sensed it.
There was an enormous boil in the water behind the fish. The permit turned and streaked straight for the boat, and as the line went slack, there arose a great triangular fin in the water. I screamed, "Hammerhead!"
The permit, in terror greater than the unknown it had been struggling against, ran for the skiff, and the shark bore in with huge slashes of its tail. The dog went airborne off the tower and in a bounce was clawing and raging over the gunwale. The Chairman ducked and narrowly averted the big push pole that Drake launched through the air like a harpoon. The fiberglass missile struck the broad hammerhead either flush in the face or on the back, but the shark's determination was broken, and it flared off 10 feet from the side of the skiff. The permit ran right down the side of the skiff and under the stern, and in a clear instant I saw its big eye look at me with exhausted fury.
The hammerhead doubled back off the bow and raced in again for the fish, but Drake fired up the big Evinrude with a roar that split the wind. He ran right at that shark, bow high, water flying, the dog and the Chairman crashing to the stern amid flying tackle. I was fiat on the foredeck with the rod in my greasy hand, pinned for the moment by the violence of the high-speed assault. Drake repeatedly ran at the shark, driving it off to the edge of the bank in hopes of giving the exhausted permit a chance to escape.
The line had parted, probably when Drake first slammed the boat in gear. We never saw the permit again, but the shark hunted frantically for it as we continued our harassing action. Eventually the hammerhead bore off toward deeper water, vanishing as quickly as it had come. I was stunned by the rapid sequence of these final events. The Chairman quietly packed away his camera. Drake was troubled.
"Only the second time that's ever happened to me—with permit," he said. "Those things just occur," said the Chairman. "At least you saved the fish—it's a fate worse than death."
We ran down to another spot and fished for an hour, but the tide was at full flood and the magic broken. Eventually the wind got too strong. We turned back for Key West under a low gray sky.