With the potential of hole No. 2 exhausted, Rosalito showed every sign of wanting to go to a third. Art cut this plan short. "Pez Maya!" he said definitively, pointing to where the orange tower of the fishing camp showed above the trees. We buzzed back, executing a high-speed turn as we passed Roy and Bob wading on the flats near camp, sending them a good-sized wave to liven up their fishing. Roy had something small on a fly rod, but it didn't look as if any fighting furies were hurling themselves skyward in their sector either.
Back at the bar, though, the afternoon was quickly dismissed as unimportant, a mere pipe-opener. With as efficient a mastery of fishing alibis as I have encountered anywhere in the world, Roy explained that the sun was the wrong way and the wind was the wrong way and the tide wasn't right. At this point we were joined by a hearty, burly, bronzed man bearing a striking resemblance to the mature Julius Caesar. He lost little time in telling us that he had taken 18 bonefish that afternoon. Bob and I, inexperienced fellows, began to congratulate him. Art was made of sterner stuff.
"Any permit?" he said, chancing everything on the single throw, subtly implying that bonefish catching was really for junior anglers.
The imperial-looking gentleman, who now introduced himself as Mr. Jones, had to concede that no permit had come his way. Art relaxed and listened indulgently to many tales of other fishing exploits that Mr. Jones had to offer before we excused ourselves for an early dinner and an early night. Tomorrow was going to be the Day of the Permit. It was essential that we be well rested.
I did not sleep well, though. Around four a.m., strange, strangulated cries had come from Art's corner of the cottage. The psychological pressures of permit-seeking were to blame, I suggested to him kindly at breakfast time. He ignored this, choosing instead to bluntly accuse me of snoring.
Indulgently, however, he was willing to allow an hour to be spent on the bone-fish flat before the serious grail seeking started, negligently catching a few as I struggled to accustom myself to the newness of the fishing and to overcome my incapacitating attack of bonefish fever as hundreds of them, on every quarter, showed at the edges of the mangroves. Word has trickled through to Britain about this species, but the impression we have is of single, very shy fish approached with infinite difficulty. It wasn't a bit like that at Pez Maya. Battalions of bonefish, regiments, whole divisions, sported in the shallows. I reckoned I just had the measure of the casting when Art, the permit lust overtaking him, issued sailing orders.
So the gay regatta of waving bonefish tails faded behind us as Rosalito started up the motor and we roared off into the Yu Yum water maze, threading the channels at high speed for half an hour until the mangroves opened out again and we were in the mysterious, permit-haunted waters that Art's heart longed for. Rosalito cut the motor and took up his pole. With loving care, Art put a fresh hermit crab on his hook and assumed a position in the bow. We slid along through the shallows while birds from a hallucination—flamingoes, roseate spoonbills, pelicans—got up from the mangrove tangles and slowly flapped away across the sun. Huge mushrooms of sand burst up from the bottom as rays swam laboriously out of our path. A flurry of fish broke surface away to our right and I started. "Mullet," said Rosalito dispassionately. "He says it's only mullet," Art translated. The slow rhythm of the poling, the gentle surging through the water, lulled me again. A pair of ospreys soared, the sun rose higher. Barracuda hung like arrows just under the surface. And Rosalito, even without Polaroids, saw the quarry first.
"Per-met, per-met," he gave out, in a kind of quiet yell. Art in the bow took up a crouched, sumo wrestler's stance. It was a curious phenomenon when I eventually picked it out. A long, thin, black sickle of fin, weaving and swaying out of the water as if something beneath was manipulating it like a clumsy puppet. Art crouched lower still, and I checked the bail on my reel, picking the line up ready on my forefinger. Rosalito poled on silently. The crazy black sickle came nearer, almost within range.
Art's tension shimmered around him almost visibly. Ten more seconds and the fish would be in range. Then Rosalito's high giggle rang out. "Spooked!" he burbled happily. A broad arrow of water accelerated rapidly away to our left. Art slowly creaked upright. "They nearly always spook," he said. But Rosalito was already yelling "Per-met!" again and poling purposefully in another direction. This time I saw the black fin straightaway. And then beyond it another group of fins in a comic ballet. Suddenly I realized that there were permit everywhere.
Rosalito selected one he could approach from upwind, and this time we sidled right within range. Art's hermit crab whistled past my ear and plopped somewhere in the water. I allowed what I thought was a decent pause, then sent mine after it. An anguished cry came from Art, and he teetered dangerously forward. "He was just going to grab it when your bait hit him on the tail!" he yelled.