The pulse of the river came to the tent in the predawn on muffled, even steps, like an army tiptoeing. Paul had his woolly orange and aqua Miami Dolphins cap pulled down over his ears but he could still hear the river. He said if it wasn't for the brass knob that had grown in the valley of his shoulder blades he would as soon get the paddle right now and go take a few more slaps at it. Just for fun.
"It'll wait 10 minutes," I said, my eyes closed, listening for the consolatory twang of crickets. "Make a false move in the dark and Marshal's liable to shoot you."
"Do you think he sleeps with it on?" Paul said.
"No. But it's probably right there in the tent next to his trigger finger."
Marshal has a thing about falling out of the canoe. He is a born insurance man. He says if we were all swept over in a sudden reckoning he'd be the only one with anything left to face the wilderness. Shotguns, fishing rods, flashlights, compasses, our five-day supply of fruit and cookies—all over the side. Everything that's not strapped to us. Over and gone. In my mind, in the snug tourniquet of the tent with the sleep leaking out of me, Marshal's calamity is very clear, except that I am unable to resist a garnish. We are all wearing holsters, but as we capsize into the brawling water down some yet unseen (and unlikely) gorge we grab for our holsters and only Marshal has a gun. The rest of us are packing Mallomars.
"Maybe he's right," I said. "Maybe the Ochlockonee takes no prisoners."
"I don't think it's that tough," Paul said. "Just a lot of nice curves and some tricky places. And pretty. Per-retty."
"Are you talking about the river or your secretary?"