That night, after the near crash and the dire political news, we ate cabbage soup in Poliny Osipenko's tiny hotel and watched, barely comprehending, the bland TV bulletins being put out by the junta, or the Bloody Eight, as Galliulin was calling them. He also cautioned us to lock our doors that night. He needn't have bothered. Poliny Osipenko was a grim sort of place, with posters left over from the Brezhnev days.
By the next morning, though, like the rest of the Soviet Union, Galliulin was grinning with the news of the Yeltsin miracle. He had also had word that somebody was sending a helicopter to pick us up, as the airstrip had been closed during an official inquiry into the crash. Even then, though, the trip would not end without another surreal touch. The crew of the helicopter, true to the emerging spirit of enterprise, had hauled a ton of eggs with them from Khabarovsk.
But nobody in Poliny Opsipenko wanted the eggs enough to buy them—at least they pretended they didn't—and the entrepreneurs were apparently going to end up, so to speak, with egg on their faces. They would either dump their cargo or dump us and take their eggs home. Somebody told us the egg men were asking $500 for the load, and Jerry Jergins said he was seriously thinking of paying it himself and making a present of the eggs to the village. He was too late, though. The crafty villagers had been holding out for a better price, and they closed a deal with the desperate crew. The eggs were unloaded, and at last we left.
That night, in a villa in Khabarovsk, I spoke with an official of the Russian outfitters who warmly congratulated me on my big fish. But he also wanted to know if I had ever come across the great Amur River pike.
"It is like your muskellunge," he said, "but it is possible it reaches 100 pounds. Only, it is very rare, I think. Some think the odds against catching it are about 1,000 to 1 for a fisherman. Would you be interested in trying it?"
I thought of what a similar conversation with Dr. Hensel had done to me all those years before. "I'm sorry, but I don't want to hear about the 100-pound Amur River pike," I said firmly. "I really don't have another 20 years to spare."
He looked at me strangely as I rose to go to bed.