The Secret Life of Walter Troutty

The Secret Life of Walter Troutty

Imagination is so much finer than reality.

  • By: R. C. Hooker
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Editor's Note: RC Hooker was the pen name of Ron Kruger, who passed away in autumn 2009 shortly after the 2009 Traver Award-winners stories were announced.The following story was judged Second Place in the 2009 Traver competiion. 

Crack-clop, crack-clop, crack-clop. Walter cringed when he heard Eleanor’s hobnail boots march across the polished oak floor. The Supreme Allied Commander was about to lay siege to his fly-tying solitude. His slender body assumed a cadaverous rigor, with every corpuscle, every block of bone at attention. Crack-clop, crack-clop, crack! The snappy cadence stopped abruptly in the doorway to his inner sanctum. She hovered beneath the lintel like a thousand-pound buzzard. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the wattles below her chin flutter as she cleared her throat.

“Walter?” He looked up from his new fly-tying vise. It was a Dyna-King Barracuda, and still a virgin. If Eleanor found out how much it cost, she would have ruptured her spleen in apoplectic rage. Or worse, his.

“Yes, dear?” he said in a tremulous quiver.

“The grass needs cutting again.”

“I cut it three days ago.”

“The trim looks awful around the azaleas. And you missed a strip behind the shed.” Walter heard the Barracuda whisper his name and he stole a quick glance at it. With its sleek lines, the silky-smooth rotation, the snap-on centering gauge, it almost took his breath away. It was a metaphysical work of art.

“Walter! Stop staring at that morbid chunk of metal. I’m talking to you. When are you going to cut the grass?”

“Today, dear.”

“Good. I’ll be leaving soon to get my hair done.”

Walter wondered why. No matter what she did to it, her hair looked like a feathery mix of ostrich, teal and turkey. If he were she, with a head full of Schlappen hackle, he would have shaved his head a long time ago just to avoid embarrassment.

“Then the girls and I are going shopping at Abercrombie & Fitch,” she added. “So cut the grass while I’m gone. The sound of that infernal machine gives me a headache.”

“The muffler has a hole in it.”

“Then fix it. And after you cut the grass, I want you to call Dr. Yossarian.”

“The veterinarian?”

“Yes, Yossarian, the veterinarian. Our little Cici needs a checkup.” As if on cue, the thousand-pound beast came pid-padding into the room. It rubbed against Walter’s leg, taunting him. He would have kicked it away had his wife not been watching. It wasn’t that Walter didn’t like the cat. He liked it just fine, the way a mongoose likes a cobra. Destiny had declared them mortal enemies after the cat shredded his prized collection of Metz hackle capes.

“Checkup?” Walter sneezed.

“My baby’s losing patches of fur.”

“Fur?”

Walter looked at the Lucite containers of pelts and parts surrounding him like circles of ice. The fur and hair ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous—antron, kip tails, hare hair, micro mink, monkey pelt and yak. There was even a container of fur that looked a lot like...Cici’s? “Cici, remember, is a Balinese-ragdoll cross,” she said. “From Asia.” Walter knew the feline’s pedigree was longer than the trout in the Babel River. With what she had paid for the despicable creature, he could have bought a hundred Barracudas. Then again, what could he expect? Eleanor was an unrepentant ailurophile, a dyed-in-the-wool lover of cats. “Right. An Asian from Balinesia,” Walter said, muttering under his breath.

“I’d call but I’m running late.” Eleanor crack-clopped into his room and picked up the cat. “Come, my little precious. Let mummy get you a snack.” She then held the cat in front of him. “See? Right there. Another patch of fur, gone.” “It’s just the heat. It’s shedding.” Walter sneezed again. “It’ll grow back.” “We’ll let the doctor decide.” She walked to the door and then stopped, adding, “And don’t forget to clean the litter box.” While she clonked and banged in the kitchen, preparing Cici’s favorite gourmet pate’—mouse liver—he wondered what his first creation on the Barracuda should be. A PMD or a Trico? A Matuka Sculpin? A Zonker? But what size? And most important, what color fur? Eleanor’s visage drifted through his head and several other patterns came to mind. A Bitch Creek. A Madame X. A Regurgitating Leech? No, she wasn’t helping at all.

Frustrated by the endless choices, Walter plunked his elbow onto the table, letting his head settle like a puddle of wax into the palm of his hand. Maybe he could re-create a chalk-stream classic, something respectful, something British. He could pay homage to the likes of Dame Juliana Berners, the first Englishwoman thought to have fished with flies. She published a book in 1496; Treatyse of Fysshynge Wyth an Angle. There was a woman he could sink his teeth into. In the vast cavern of his mind, he heard a faint, but distinct... Rap-bang-rap-bang...

Walter dragged his ball and chain over to the dungeon-like door. He struggled with the heavy iron bar and unfastened the metal hasp. The door swung open, revealing a buxom young lass.

“Dame Juliana. How nice of you to come,” he said. Her long blonde tresses reached nearly to the floor. A fairer maiden was not to be found in all the land.

“To cheer thee up, Sir Walter.” She held out a dish covered with a tea towel, her milkmaid hands soft and milk white. “I have brought thee a thousand-pound cherry tart.”

“Thine kindness humbles me.”

“Methinks the queen so cruel for imprisoning thee. But I come bearing good news. The alewives are running.”

“Gadzooks! The alewives?”

“Yes. And I need for thee to tie another of your deadly flies. What pattern dost thou suggest?”

Without hesitation Walter said, “I recommend the Rat-Faced MacDougal.”

“I fear the MacDougal clan would not take kindly to your naming another fly after them. Old MacDougal would surely ask for a duel.”

Walter felt the scar over his right cheek as he recalled the last MacDougal duel. It had been a ragged affair full of sound and fury. At ten paces, using Spey rods and large-arbor reels loaded with 10-weight, weight-forward torpedo tapers with size 00 salmon hooks, they had snapped each other to ribbons. “If MacDougal wants a duel, so be it. At the age of two score and ten, for me it is a matter of honor. Dueling is not just sport for youth.”

“Oh, Sir Walter, I am so proud of your courage. But I must now be off to have my tresses trimmed...Goodbye. I love you....”

Now Walter was alone and could focus on his first fly. All he needed was inspiration. He eyed the cabinet where he kept the vodka locked. A little nip of the Grey Goose wouldn’t hurt. On the rocks, in the rocks, under the rocks, it didn’t matter as long as it had a twist of lime. It might be just what the doctor ordered. The doctor? Walter decided to call Yossarian before he forgot. Besides, getting the cat out of the way might help him think more clearly. “Hello. This is Walter Troutty calling about a balding ball of fur.” “I’m afraid you have a severe case of Epeorus pleuralis,” Dr. Yossarian said. Walter wanted to know if there was a cure. “I’m afraid not. At some point, the malady afflicts everyone who ties flies.” “A malady?” “It’s the inability to find the perfect feather or swatch of fur. The mind wanders incessantly. It’s a dreamlike state. It’s transient, however. But if it persists, you might try Fly-Tiers Anonymous.”

“Does it affect the youth in Asia?”

“Euthanasia?” Dr. Yossarian said. “Poor little Cici. It must be the heat. Bring her in tomorrow morning and we’ll put an end to her suffering.” Walter hung up the phone, congratulating himself. Now that he had taken care of the cat, he decided to put a hook in the vise and see how it looked. Maybe that would inspire him.

First, he put in a Dai-Riki 2X heavy wire Sproat bend. Then a kink shank, followed by a reverse turned-up O’Shaughnessy. Walter sucked on the tip of his pen. Poetry was supposed to be inspirational. He decided on a limerick: “There once was a buxom young lass, Who was admired for the swing of her….” Failing again, he looked at the liquor cabinet. But overriding the honk of the Grey Goose was Eleanor’s strident echo of doom. It was a disturbing mantra, a rhyming incantation; lass, cast, pass, gas, grass. Grass? Maybe I’d better finish the grass first, he thought. It shouldn’t take too long. As Walter stepped onto the cement patio, a fist of broiling heat slammed into his chest. The yard looked more like a festering desert than a middle-class oasis. Sweat pooled instantly on his brow. It was like a tropical inferno, a white-hot, seething volcano.

Grudgingly, he yanked on the cord of the mower, and then turned his wrath on the gasping grass. ‘Pocketa-boom, pocketa-boom...’ “Sir Walter,” the outfitter said as they skimmed the dunes in the monstrous Humvee going ‘pocketa-boom, pocketa-boom.’ “You’ll be fishing the Anza-Borrego Desert. It’s the largest desert state park in the U.S.” “It’s part of the Sonoran Desert in Arizona, right?” “Technically, yes. But regardless, you’ll have an exclusive stretch reserved all to yourself. Over a thousand acres of prime sand-trout habitat.” “Sand trout, eh?” Walter tugged at the brim of his kepi, the sun-flap flapping at the back of his neck. “They’re a hybrid, of course. Rather odd history.” “Salmo silica, correct?” Walter felt proud that he knew the genus and species.

Salmo silica silicus, to be exact.”

“From Sandia Labs, if I’m not mistaken.” “You amaze me, Sir Walter. Originally, a small group of rebel geneticists were studying piscatorial mutations from DU…” “Depleted uranium.” “…shells that had been used on the Yuma Proving Grounds about 80 kilometers east of here.

The trout in Coyote Creek mistook the shell fragments for emerging caddis pupa. Due to the high concentration of uranium oxide dust in the casings, devolution took place almost immediately. The trout eventually acquired the ability to live in hot and hotter water, until they were able to live in pure sand.” Walter felt like a little kid about to sniff his first tulip.

There was nothing more exciting than to ply new waters, to cast a fly where none had ever been cast before. Fly-fishing was his sole passion, his mistress. The searing heat be damned. Any sacrifice was worth it to catch a rare sand trout. The Hummer breached a rise in the dunes and then dropped into a valley surrounded by a thirsty envelope of Spanish yucca. There was a small man squatting in the middle of the dry creek bed. “That’s your guide, Chester Groin. He’s a full-blood Melungeon Indian. Chester knows how dangerous a desert can be. He did time in Iraqistan. Listen to what he says. It could save your life.” The outfitter tossed out a kit bag, along with a sweating, calf-skin botella. “Good luck, Sir Walter.”

The Hummer roared off, ‘pocketa-booming’ over the dunes. Walter extended his hand in greeting to the ephemeral specter before him. The man couldn’t have weighed more than a sack of mackerel. Groin grunted, put his hands together, steeple-like, and said, “Namaste.” Indian or not, Groin didn’t look healthy enough to be a desert guide. Walter thought his skin had the color and texture of tan larva lace, and his eyes looked like ancient coins burnished by a blistering sun. “Lather up,” Groin said, handing Walter a tube of 1000 SPF Coppertone sunblock.

“And put this antivenin auto-injector around your neck.” “Antivenin?” “To protect you from the newest mutation. Some trout have been feeding on baby scorpions. The trout evolved a poisonous spine at the tip of the caudal fin. Their sting isn’t lethal. At least I haven’t seen anybody die from the poison. Yet.” Walter’s heart raced. He was feeling faint. The stakes were a lot higher than he thought. He needed a drink. “We’ll start light,” Groin said. “Here, try this 3-weight.” “Orvis?” “Loomis.” Walter took the light rod and swished it back and forth like a fencer wielding an epee. “It’s a flea rod, Mr. Troutty. We’ll be using a Size 42 imitation of a sand flea.” “A sand-flea fly?”

“Yes, a sand-flea fly on your flea rod.” Walter took a few false-casts until he got the hang of the shortened rod. Then he said, “Let’s hit the heat, Groin.” “Not before we hydrate. The desert sun will suck you dry in minutes, turn you into a mummy. So drink deep.” Walter tipped the botella to his lips and savored the bitter-sweet tang of the lime elixir. He belched and then saluted the vast expanse of heat and grit. “Groin, Sir Walter of Hoboken is ready to join Sir Lawrence of Arabia.”

They began a slow crawl across the hot sand, slithering through the grainy moraine like human lizards. The sun was a relentless disk of molten fury shining down on them. Walter’s nose was barely an inch from the hot sand and he sneezed.

“Shh,” Groin whispered. “These mutants have lateral lines wide as the Letort. They’ll react aggressively to any unnatural sounds.” Groin pulled out a pair of opera glasses and scanned the desert floor. “Oh, my god. A big one’s headed this way. It’s a Brown Moombus.

Quick, the auto-injector.” “Yeeeeeeeeow! Son of a...” Walter looked at the scarlet bubble of blood forming on his finger. He had nicked it on the hook in the vise. He had wanted to see how sharp the hook was. Now, he wondered if he’d need to call Dr. Sturgeon, the vascular surgeon. But business got in the way. Ringa-ringa-ringa... “Hello?... Ah, Mr. President, how nice of you to call.” Walter held the phone at an odd angle so the blood wouldn’t trickle onto the Barracuda. “How goes the new war in Balinesia?”

While Walter listened to the report—casualties were light, except for the poor civilians the General was trying to save—he searched the desk for something with which to staunch the flow of his vital humors. He didn’t notice the blood dripping onto the polished oak floor. “Well, Mr. President, my advice is to have the Pentagon order some really smart bombs. The new MENSA class. Out-sourced to Albania, yes, that’s right.”

Walter began calculating how much the new arsenal would cost every man, woman, child, cat and dog. Cat? The fuzzy monster had sneaked in unannounced and curled up beneath him. Its beautiful fur, or what was left of it, was mottled with splotches of red. “You little...”

As Walter bent over to grab the cat, his head smacked the Barracuda, which, in turn, toppled the bobbin wheel that sent a pair of Dr. Slick scissors into the air, headed straight for the cat.

“Walter! What was that horrid screech?” Eleanor’s voice, now on the other end of the phone, descended upon him like the blade of a guillotine.

“Nothing, dear.”

“Is little Cici okay?” she queried.

“Yes, dear. The cat’s fine. And don’t worry, Dr. Yossarian will take care of her in the morning.”

“Good. Now in case you run out of things to do this afternoon….” “Eleanor, I really have to go. I’m in the middle of an operation here.” “Well, don’t forget to clean the litter box.” Walter hung up the phone and looked at the cat. Now what was he going to do? Elenore’s precious little furball looked like it had cat pox. As an honest man, there was only one alternative. He had to accept responsibility. “Our honored guest tonight is Dr. Walter Troutty. He is accepting our prestigious conservation award, ‘The Dali’, for single-handedly cleaning up one-thousand pounds of litter along the Poopkill River.” Walter wiggled uncomfortably in his formal chest waders and black cummerbund. Sweat-drip, sweat-drip, a shower of himself filled his waders. “But even more than preserving the integrity of piscine habitat, we are honoring him tonight for saving the sport of fly-fishing. His pioneering research into salmonid nociceptors has been hailed by the scientific community as unassailable proof that fish do not feel pain when hooked.” Walter felt the blush of humble embarrassment. The master of ceremonies continued. “To further ensure the health and well-being of our finned friends, Dr. Troutty has invented the auto-anesthetizing fish hook. It has even been praised by PETA as an inspirational work of genius.” “Speech...speech...speech...speech...” The crowd was going wild. Walter solemnly held up his hand to silence the frenzied mob. He then raised his glass of icy Grey Goose and proposed a toast. “To fly-fisherers everywhere, in passionate pursuit of tranquility and transcendence, I commend you to the briny deep...” “Walter!”

Walter lowered his glass of Grey Goose vodka and saw the love of his life standing in the doorway. With flaming red eyes Eleanor looked like a desert mirage. He suppressed a chuckle when he noticed her hair. Obviously, her hairdresser had a sense of humor. Perched on her head was what looked like an amethyst pheasant about to deposit a clutch of eggs. “Yes, dear?” Walter donned his suit of armor plate and steeled himself for the fusillade that was certain to follow. “What happened? You’re covered in kitty litter. How disgusting.” “Kitty-Schmitty. It’s confetti. I’ve just been given the conservation award of the year for service above and beyond the call of…” “Meow.” “…duty.”

Eleanor scanned the room, her feathered head swirling like an eddy on the Neversink. “What was that noise?” “What noise?” It felt like his tongue was covered with fur. “Have you been drinking?” Walter hiccupped.

“Walter Troutty, you’re nothing but a lazy, good-for-nothing wastrel. All you care about is fish, flies and fur.” Her words sizzled like frying fat. “You’re obsessed! Do you know that?” Walter lowered his voice and replied in a dashingly handsome, Clark Gable way, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn, even if I am gone with the wind.”

Again came the scratchy, “Meow.” This time there was no denying its location; the liquor cabinet. “You traitor,” Walter mumbled to himself. “Where’s my baby Cici?” He watched Eleanor crack-clop over to the cabinet and yank open the door.

“Oh, my god, Walter,” she screamed. “What have you done to the cat? This is torture.”

Torture? Ex-Navy Seal and spy extraordinaire, Major Walter Troutty, was ready for whatever torture his ruthless captors would cast his way. He laughed disdainfully while they placed a black hood over his head. Then, brandishing a bamboo fly rod in one hand and a graphite rod in the other, he balanced himself precariously atop the unstable wooden crate. Beneath him was a snarling dog with its open mouth of spittle and foam. No matter what happened, he would always and forever have the fond memories of his fly-fishing adventures. Every trout a joy to behold, every stream a flowing paradise, every moment etched in stone. Fly-fishing was the ultimate solace.

Nothing and no one could ever take that away from him. Not even Eleanor.