Eddie stopped laughing. "Last plug?" he said. Something had put him on his mettle. "Take up slack," he said. He started the motor and we inched in, following the line, suicidally close to the breakers. "I see him," Eddy said, tossing the anchor over. Then he dived over the side and I, too, could see in the clear water the line running under the coral and the big trevally hanging on the other side of the reef, the plug across his jaws like a bone in the mouth of a bull mastiff, with Eddy's dark shadow approaching him.
There was no chance, of course, even if the weaponless Eddy had been able to grapple him with bare hands. A shake of the great head, and the fish—and my plug—was gone forever.
"Bad devil," said Eddy, back on board again, shaking his own head. It was a losing game, and we both knew it. "We better go 'way now, catch some bonefish. Moon is right, big bonefish on this moon. They get a hex in the belly, come in from the deep ocean. We should go to Paris."
I knew where Paris was—right across the channel from London, naturally, and 10 miles north of Poland. Nobody lived in Paris these days, but London had 740 people, Poland 175, and down the road from London there were 350 more in the settlement of Banana.
When Captain Cook arrived, he had noted that "should anyone be so unfortunate as to be accidentally driven upon the island...it is hard to say that he could be able to prolong existence." Since then, the island has received occasional, thin emigrations from the Gilberts to the south when workers have been needed for copra production, but much more ominous temporary visitations have occurred.
And they have left their mark. The village of Banana, for example, is served by an airport with a runway of 6,900 feet, capable of handling big jets; there is an even bigger, and quite deserted, airfield at the uninhabited southeast end of the island. If you drive from Banana to London, moreover, suddenly, among the coconut palms, you will come upon a complex of deep-dish antennas and mysterious white constructions agleam with stainless steel that look as though they came off the cover of Analog, the science-fiction magazine.
All of which is somewhat extraordinary for a coral atoll, which, if you discount its tiny sister atolls of Fanning and Washington, must be the most isolated on earth. Honolulu, on the nearest landmass of consequence, is 1,335 miles away. Christmas Island is also part of the world's newest nation. Until July 1979 it was attached to the British crown colony of the Gilbert and Ellice islands. Now a new flag of blue waves, golden sun and soaring white seabird flies over it, symbol of the nation of Kiribati—pronounced kiri-bass—which comprises 33 ocean specks straddling the International Date Line, 264 square miles of land scattered over two million square miles of Pacific.
And for the moment, in spite of that airfield and the sci-fi buildings, it is still one of the world's remote places, with only a ham-radio link with Tarawa, Kiribati's capital, 2,015 miles away. Since 1981, though, it has had an air link with the outside world; Air Tungaru, Kiribati's national carrier, flies there once a week from Honolulu.
And, of course, it is possible to have lunch, or at least a picnic, in Paris, so named by a 19th-century Catholic missionary, something of a freebooter, who quit the Church to raise copra on the island. Now in Paris there are only a few scattered stones left of Father Rougier's settlement and, as we found after lunch, many acres of bonefish flats and bonefish by the thousand. As it turned out, these fish were as particular as any much-cast-for sophisticate that swims around the Florida Keys, but because they are in army-corps strength they offered many more opportunities. They also hit Florida fly patterns and made the line scream out in the same way. Inevitably, there were many small ones, but there were also plenty of five-and six-pound fish and, once, an eight-pounder. For the record, Lefty, there are Pacific bonefish for the fly rod.
After Paris, London turned out to be bustling. Under a drying copra stack a few locals sat around drinking beer beneath a sign that read: E TABU TE MOOI BEER IKAI AO TE TAKAKARO, which forbade loitering and the drinking of beer, the legitimate place for which turned out to be Ambo's Bar on the wharf. At Ambo's a blue-water sailor from Tarawa with flowers in his hair told us his name was Rudolph and apologized because, he said, "I am not very much pretty, I am ugly brute," but nevertheless invited us to join him inside the wire-mesh fence that surrounds the bar so that the local cops can seal it off should trouble come. Gilbertese sailors you can find in all the merchant fleets of the world, and Rudolph was a cosmopolitan. "You like Christmas?" he asked. "It is like Florida. It is flat and it snows not too much." We couldn't linger, though: Eddy's father, Eberi, was waiting for us downtown.