"Shhh!" they explained. And Art carefully put down his rod and climbed out of the dinghy.
First thing, he stepped into an oozy, Cro-Magnon hole and began to stagger. Sideways, arms flailing helplessly, he staggered, lurching from hole to hole, splashing, reaching out to grasp at the tree roots to keep himself up. Roy and I looked at him—in that faded striped shirt, that floppy straw hat and whiskers, with that wild look in his eyes.
"Escape from Devil's Island," Roy muttered.
Art stopped and looked back at us. "Hurry, you guys," he said. "I can hear those bloodhounds now."
So I climbed out and began tugging at the dinghy, floundering through the water while Roy sat in the boat like Katharine Hepburn, shuddering delicately and urging me on. "C'mon, Bogey," he hissed. "Pull it through, man!"
And, sure enough, the bonefish were in the pond waiting for us. Thousands of them. Parading, pirouetting, dancing the boogaloo. And just as we were about to catch them, every single one of them, there was a great splashing and churning of water behind us. The bonefish flashed away in panic, and the three of us looked up. "Hippopotami?" said Art, his eyes opening in wonder.
Roy threw his favorite spinning rod and reel and eight-pound-test line and pink wiggle jig into the sunset. "No," he said. "Look."
And there were Patty, Maxine and Harry, belly-deep in the water, tails wagging wetly, barking hello in three-part harmony. They did a few choruses of "Don't sit under the apple tree with anyone else but me" and a few splashy dance steps, until there weren't any fish left anywhere on that side of the world.
We cruised on down to Staniel Cay, backing Rufus' cumbersome 40 feet into a narrow berth against a crosswind as if we had been doing it all our lives, so seasoned by sun, by salt and adventure that we no longer paid any attention to the reactions of the fancy people on the towering sloops and gleaming cabin cruisers. At the bar that night we were in a den of yachtsmen. They were all clean and crisp, and their women were in Balenciaga summer frocks. The men wore turtlenecks, tailored shorts with wide leather belts and real, solid-brass buckles. Everyone wore sandals, and occasionally in the candlelight there was the flash of jeweled rings and fingernail polish on the women.
We were in our Rufus uniforms: shorts, all wrinkled; saltwater-washed shirts; sneakers stained with barracuda blood. At the bar one of the men leaned over and explained to the others: "Those are the houseboat people." We loved it. Imagine. Houseboat people. It has a ring to it.