Usually in her studio.
Or spending time with family.
Or any number of places.
If those have to do with writing,
they'll be listed





















PART ONE: The Cast

"An excellent angler, and now with God."
--Izaak Walton
The Compleat Angler, 1653-1655



Chapter One

Fishing can be an important connection
between generations, as well as a way to
practice good stewardship.
--Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife


Her legs were long and curved and dark as bronze, with smooth knees and slender ankles supported by tiny, delicate feet.
Jeff Talbot gazed at her and sighed. She looked better than she had in years and, although the cost had been high, it had been worth it.

She had seven sisters in varying stages of disrepair, but the one standing before him now was the first to have received a face-lift.
The eight matching Chippendale chairs were fashioned of mahogany, with cabriole legs and bow-shaped crest rails. The chairs weren't actually period pieces from the latter half of the 1700s, but rather Victorian Revival antiques, so Jeff's path didn't lead him to the nearest Antiques Roadshow taping or to any of the top auction houses of New York. Instead, he took them to a man who was a veritable magician with antique furniture. That man had coaxed to the surface the original integrity of the first chair, and he would easily do the same with the others. It didn't matter that the chairs were 100 years younger than the style from which they'd been copied. Jeff predicted that they would be more valuable than last year's Pontiac.

His discovery of the eight side chairs had been a right-place-right-time circumstance. But his acquisition of them had come years later.

He'd happened upon a pack rat of a woman-ancient, even back then-coming out of a neglected, abandoned-looking house. Jeff approached her, explained that he was an antiques picker, and inquired whether she had any old items she'd like to get rid of. She'd told Jeff that she lived next door and used this extra house for storage. She'd gone on to explain that she had neither the need nor the desire to sell anything. When Jeff had glanced in the direction she'd indicated as her residence, he'd seen a house in roughly the same condition as the abandoned one. Although he had finally gotten the old woman to accept his business card, he hadn't expected anything to come of it.

The phone call he'd received, announcing her death and asking if he might still be interested in "all this junk," had come from a benefacting grand nephew (the sole survivor, it turned out) who couldn't wait to be rid of the contents so he could have the structures razed and a prefab erected in time for the holidays as a surprise for his wife and kids.

Jeff had moved swiftly, scanning the contents of the two houses and offering a price for the lot. The new owner's eyes lit up like Christmas bulbs, and Jeff scratched out a check.

He'd felt as if he'd unearthed a stash of presents, each with a gift tag that read, "Happy Holidays, to Jeff." It was the best deal the picker had made to date.

He'd taken the chairs to Sam immediately upon discovering the distinctive marks that told him who'd originally crafted them.
Now, Jeff turned his attention back to the chair that stood before him. "Sam," he said to the craftsman who'd renovated the piece of furniture, "you've outdone yourself. She's as beautiful as she must've been when your great-great grandfather made her nearly a hundred fifty years ago."

Sam Carver beamed, his teeth blindingly white next to his dark skin. Like many middle-aged black men, Sam had a quality of perpetual youth. In fact, he was five years older than Jeff's thirty-eight. Sam was lean, with arm muscles strung tight from years of carving and sanding and buffing the fine woods of the world. He was a fourth-generation wood-carver and restorer. After the Emancipation Proclamation, Sam's ancestors had chosen to use their vocation as a last name, rather than their former master's surname.

Sam's talent as a restorer had earned him accolades from customers on both sides of the Atlantic. The foundation for those skills had been handed down from eldest son to eldest son, along with the tools of the trade.

Those antique tools commanded a higher insurance premium than the building in which Sam worked. By Jeff's estimation, the hand tools alone-planes, clamps, and vises with elaborately etched brass fittings, rosewood handled chisels and carving tools with warm patinas created over decades by the firm grips of craftsmen-would cost more to replace than a blue-collar worker might earn in a year.
Over the years, Jeff had been aware of his friend's desire for a son, the fitting offspring to carry on the family business. And he'd seen Sam's concern increase as each and every one of the woodcarver's five offspring had come swaddled in pink. Fortunately, though, Sam's middle girl, Maura, had taken to wood carving like a duck to a decoy. She'd practically grown up in Sam's shop and had officially joined the business when she was sixteen. That was ten years prior-and in the past decade, the Carver business had tripled.

Jeff nodded appreciatively. Yes, he thought, Sam's forebears would be proud.

Sam rubbed his hands on a once-white rag, which now showed various shades of furniture stain, then stroked the chair's curved back as if she were a lover. "The old gal just needed the touch of a good man, Jeff."

"Don't let Helen hear you talk like that. She'll suspect you've got some young thing on the side."

Sam laughed. "My woman knows she's the only two-legged female I can handle. She's got nothing to worry about."

Jeff turned serious. "We're lucky, you know. At least our wives appreciate what we do for a living. Some women don't care whether the competition has two legs or four. Or none, for that matter. If they're not the center of attention, then they're jealous."

"Got someone in particular in mind?"

Jeff raised a brow. "That obvious, huh?"

"Only because I've heard that tone before."

Jeff leaned against the bead-board counter. "I've been thinking about Bill Rhodes. You missed our last fishing trip, so you haven't met his young bride." They'd be seeing Bill later that afternoon when they stopped at his bait shop for fishing supplies.

"Bride? Hell, I'd about forgotten that he had one, let alone a young one. Robbed the cradle, did he?"

"Looks that way. Which wouldn't matter, if they seemed like a match. But this one acts like she'd scream bloody murder if a live fish got within fifty feet of her."

Sam raised his brows. "Yeah, well I bet she doesn't bat an eyelash when she sees the bank deposits. That place is a gold mine."

Jeff nodded. Bill's store, the Northwest Territory Bait and Tackle Shop, was a big success, thanks in no small part to Bill's uncanny knack for predicting where the best catches could be made. It didn't matter whether you were fishing for cutthroat, chinook, Dolly Varden, steelhead, coho-whatever your game, Bill Rhodes had your game plan.

In addition, Bill had the state rules for his region memorized. With trout, it was easy and it rolled off Bill's tongue like a tape recording: "Catch-and-release except up to two hatchery steelhead may be retained." Then, he would add, "That's year-round, of course." Rules for salmon were trickier, but he had those committed to memory as well, right down to that tiny window of time during which you could actually keep a chinook.

Sam swiped at a speck of dust on one of the chair's arms. "Reckon she'll try to keep Bill from playing poker? I've been counting on winning a new rod and reel from him this trip."

Jeff noted a touch of Sam's native Southern drawl in his speech. It only happened when the transplanted Texan had had a few beers or was comfortable with the company. Jeff considered it a compliment, and enjoyed hearing an accent in his homogenized Washington. It was a fascinating combination of good-ole-boy and ebonics. "What do you need a new rod and reel for? Your Bamboo Bomber catches more than a dozen of those new combos would." Jeff and Sam had nicknamed the bamboo rod, which had been a present from Sam's mom to mark his thirteenth birthday, then gave it every possible chance to live up to the moniker during Sam's stays with Washington relatives.

"Now, that depends," said Sam. "You can't figure Gordy's replacement into that. That kid might have the corner on beginner's luck."

Gordy's replacement, Jeff thought. Nobody could replace Gordon Easthope, especially someone half his age. Besides being one of the FBI's top agents, Gordy was, by Jeff's estimation, the best fisherman this side of the whaler Jonah. Gordy had been Jeff's mentor, best friend, father figure, you name it, since their early days together with the Bureau. Contrary to workplace statistics, the two had remained tight after Jeff's sudden departure from government work a half-dozen years before.

"The Judge thinks this kid will be a natural, if he can take his enthusiasm down a notch or two."

"This kid," as Sam kept calling him, was Kyle Meredith, a young attorney who'd been pestering Judge Richard Larrabee to include him in his monthly poker games. According to the Judge, Kyle had recently become hooked on fishing (so to speak) after watching "A River Runs Through It," and the Judge decided to include him when Gordy had to cancel at the last minute. This, the Judge had said, would give Jeff and Sam the opportunity to get to know the young attorney and see what they thought about including him in the regular poker games.

"So, what do you think?" Sam prompted. "Will Bill be in the games?"

"Hard to say. He showed up last time, but watched the clock like a kid out on a school night."

"You see there?" Sam said. "Much as I love Helen, I'd never take her with us. A man just can't be himself on a fishing trip if there's women around."

Jeff investigated a mahogany table showcased near the chair Sam had restored. They were a remarkable match. "Hell, Sam, you'd better not let some women's libber hear you."

"Too late."

Jeff looked up at the new speaker. Maura Carver walked in through a back door. She'd succeeded in sounding upset, but her smile gave her away. Her bronze skin and delicate features put Jeff in mind of the newly refinished chair.

Maura gave Jeff a quick hug, then turned to her father with a loving but warning look.

The warning appeared not to have registered. "See there, Jeff? Can't even speak my mind without one or the other of my brood eavesdropping. You don't know how lucky you are that Sheila can't traipse along after you. Sometimes I wonder how the hell I've survived all these years with six women under foot."

"Dad." Maura squeezed her father's arm and looked at Jeff apologetically.

"It's okay, Maura," he said. "That's just your father's way of apologizing for his good fortune. If I didn't think he knew how damned lucky he is, I'd have decked him a long time ago."

"Damn, Jeff, she's right. I didn't mean anything against Sheila by it." For a brief moment, Sam's expression hinted at pure self-admonition. Then, without any indication of a shift in gears, he returned to a quasi-irritated state of being overrun by members of the opposite sex. "It's just that our fishing trips are my only chance to get a break from all these women, and missing out on the last one has surely taken its toll."

"We'll fix that in a few short hours," said Jeff.

His thoughts drifted to his own home life. Only a handful of people knew about his wife; fewer still knew that she was agoraphobic. The early stages of her illness had been present when they'd met. It hadn't mattered to him then, and it didn't now. In retrospect, however, he had to admit that the day-to-day challenges were different from what he'd imagined. But he was crazy in love with Sheila, and constantly surprised that so young and beautiful a woman had ever given him a second glance.

Every relationship has something, he told himself. His wife's terror of leaving the house was less traumatic than any number of other demons they might have had to face.

"Jeff?" Maura touched his arm, bringing him back to the present.


"Are you okay?"

Jeff smiled. "I'm fine." He nodded his head toward the table. "You're tempting me with this, aren't you? It's a great match for the chairs."

"You've got a good eye, and good instincts. Someone has to market all the stuff that Dad takes on barter."

"I figured you were the driving force behind the success of this place."

Sam grimaced. "She's plenty aware of that without you reminding her."

Jeff studied the table more closely. "Can you hold it for me till we get back Monday?"

"Sure thing," Maura said.

Jeff checked his watch. "If I don't get on the road to-"

"Stop right there!" Sam clamped his hands over his daughter's ears. "That fishin' hole is the only secret I've got left from this brood of females, and I'll be damned if you're gonna take that from me."

"You're right. A true angler doesn't reveal the location." He grabbed the doorknob. "Are you sure you don't want to ride over with me? There's plenty of room in the woodie for your gear."

"No can do," Sam said. "I promised this one she could leave early today, since she's gonna hold down the fort while I'm gone."

Maura smiled. "Sorry, Jeff, but I'm holding him to it. And if he doesn't stop complaining, his brood will go to an NOW meeting instead of shopping."

Sam appeared to give this some serious thought. "Honestly, I don't which would cost me more."

A victorious Maura disappeared through the back.

Jeff told Sam he'd see him later at the cabin, then headed out the front door.

The backseat of Jeff's 1948 Chevy woodie was virtually always folded down to make room for his antique finds. Today, the back was full of fishing gear, duffel bags, and lidded plastic bins of food.
Most people Jeff's age, it seemed, used their station wagons to haul children, beach toys, and soccer equipment, a noisy cargo. But Jeff's passengers were always silent, and he wondered sometimes about what he was missing. He and Sheila had agreed not to have children. Sheila had worried that, if her condition never improved, she wouldn't be able to attend school plays, sporting events, recitals. In the beginning, Jeff had argued with her about it, but as he watched her withdraw more and more from the world, he realized that she'd been right.

Today, they'd parted on good terms, despite the fact that Jeff had felt guilty for leaving her. He hardly ever thought about it when he left every day for work, but to leave for a long weekend of fishing with his friends seemed selfish somehow. Sheila had assured him that she had more than enough to keep her busy.

The cleaning crew would be in on Friday. Although Greer, the couple's butler, was in charge, Sheila voiced her belief that as mistress of the mansion she had a certain responsibility to at least look like she was the person in charge. While Sheila relied heavily on Greer to run the household, Jeff had come to depend upon the young butler's comforting presence, which made it much easier for the picker to spend hours away from home in order to earn the money it took to keep everything running smoothly.

Fortunately Jeff had inherited the home-although some would argue that inheriting the huge Victorian on Seattle's Queen Anne Hill was bad fortune. Funds well beyond a typical mortgage payment were earmarked for the cleaning, maintenance, taxes, grounds upkeep, and a dozen other daily requirements of the fifteen-room monstrosity. But Jeff had grown up there and had been taught to care for the place as if it were a member of the family.

Sheila's weekend, as she'd laid it out to Jeff over breakfast that morning, would be busier than his own. She planned to experiment with some new recipes, make a little "shopping trip" to the personal antique store she had set up for herself on the third floor, and go antiquing at her favorite on-line auction houses.

All this proved that, as usual, she seemed more adjusted to the situation than Jeff was. That was fine with him, less for him to be concerned about. He found this train of thought reassuring, and filed his concerns about leaving his wife comfortably in a mental drawer under "secured" so that he might turn his focus toward his driving.

He headed toward the waterfront. On the way, he decided to stop by Blanche's. He would have just enough time to get to the docks before the commuters started stacking up at the landings. Besides, he thought, he'd have plenty of time for reflection tomorrow morning on the river.

(End of Chapter One)



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