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Fish Story, Episode 3

Written by Dave Freer, Eric Flint and Andrew Dennis
Illustrated by Barb Jernigan


The Flashing of the Loch Ness Monster

This episode of the fishy tale borders on the hallucinatory. I'm not too sure if I should be telling you. Assassins from MA-6, the militant arm of the ancient pagan Brotherhood of the Angle, might come and dose my angling permit with a mixture of anthrax and mackerel oil. I've seen them stalking through the rain in their hooded ponchos armed with the folding chair of extreme prejudice. Still, the tale should be told and told to as many people as possible, so if I'm found clubbed to death by folding chair, showing signs of disgorger torture, and suspended from the ceiling by a Boca grip, everyone will know who killed me.

It all happened because, having listened in to the story of the Wandle Pike and the Tinta Catfish, the pub owner had invited a few foolish drinkers to stay on after closing time. That included myself, whom we can keep calling Ishmael for the moment, along with Sheila Rowen—she of the tattoos—MacParrot, Steven Speairs, Kevin Bagust and Dexter Guptill.

A lock-in, where, as guests in theory, we could avoid the evil that is closing time. A scanty half hour before and we'd all been part of that great mass of humanity engaged in the important activity of purifying the water by extracting the alcohol out of beer, using our own livers. It's a public duty, because alcohol can be toxic. It is one of the redeeming features of my fellow men that so many are willing, nay eager, to bravely perform this service to mankind.

The pub was empty now, except for us. I didn't think I'd ever seen the place with quite that few people in it. It echoed oddly, but we did our best to make up for it with vocal volume and the sounds of liquid moving.

"Well, then," said our host, whose name turned out to be James Watters. He was in possession of a very large glass, with a generous amount of golden liquor on the iceblocks in that glass. He subscribed to the glacial theory of inherited racial memory, to wit:

Iceblocks need lubrication, otherwise the sounds of the grinding of ice can cause subharmonics which instantly transport us to an ancient Europe covered in glaciers, and to the hunting of mastodons, and the harpooning of seals and walrus. It is therefore vital to your survival—and for the furniture—to keep the ice lubricated at all times. Being as Watters was of Congolese descent via the West Indies proves either that we know zip about the ice-age or that racial theories are a crock.

Watters must have had iceblocks in his throat too, judging by the way he was putting the scotch back. "I've heard tell of your little Wandle Pike."

Sheila bristled. "'Little!' I'll have you know—"

"But I think it might be that it has grown somewhat since then," he said smoothly. "It must be at least one and a half times that size now. An angler down Merton way hooked it last year."

The pride and, of course, the probity of Sarf Lunnon revivified, Sheila sat down again. "And?"

"Ah, it is a very sad story," said Watters, with a suitable expression of gleeful tragedy. "The angler slipped on the top of the embankment, just as he brought it to bank. Straight down the slope he went. A brave man and a fine angler. He kept the tension on the line somehow as he slid, raising his rod, with his badly mauled Rapala still in the pike's upper lip."

"Good fisherman that," said Steven approvingly. "Nearly as important as not dropping your beer."

"Normally yes," agreed James. "But not when you are falling onto that open mouth."

He paused, to save the iceblocks from friction again with another application of scotch, then tugged at his little goatee, shook his head, and said with an unholy sadness: "And never with your legs apart."

Glasses were arrested halfway to lips, as we all winced in unison.

"Still, it was his own Rapala that did the worst damage. The pike got away in the chaos. And it has a taste for man-flesh now," he said with ghoulish delight.

Steven snorted. "Man-flesh. Bloody hell. All we need is a dildo with hooks and we're in."

That was said with the sort of jeering bravado that I knew could only lead to one thing—us prowling sleazy sex shops at 2:00 AM in search of a large pink appliance, before heading, with a horrible déjàvu for the Wandle in a minicab driven by a khat-chewing illegal immigrant. It was the time of morning when ideas like that take root and flourish like weed at any new-clone Glastonbury concert.

"The vibration would give it a good movement in the water . . ." said Kevin thoughtfully.

"Which end do you attach a treble hook to?" I asked, in spite of myself.

Dexter shook his head. "Trebles are no good. You've got to put on short shank 2/0 for that sort of fish."

"Ach, those circle hooks maybe?" suggested MacParrot. "Ah saw thim on a programme about Ta-teatty."


"Aye, named after the wimmen. Topless," he said nostalgically. "Ah think ut's somewhere near Majorca. I went there once. You have to wear dark glasses tae look at the view."

"Ah. Tahiti. Very close to Majorca," I said. MacParrot had an almost American knowledge of geography.

"Tahiti, yeah, they do use circle hooks there," said Kevin, displaying his ichthyological knowledge, "but that's only for deep water, where you get a lot of drag on the line and you can't strike. No, what you need is short-shank hooks. I have to agree with Dexter, even though that goes against my principles. You get better leverage on short-shanks. But I'd use something bigger than a 2/0."

"At least 5/0," said Steven, with all the confidence of the instant expert. "And you attach one fore and aft, I reckon."

"And how are you going to keep the water out, is what I want to know?" I was starting, belatedly, to think of excuses.

That silenced the eager chorus.

"A knotted-off rubber raincoat," suggested Dexter.

"They're built waterproof . . ." said Sheila and dived into her beer.

Alas, for the birth of a lure that could have changed the way the fishing tackle business was perceived forever, to say nothing of what it would have done to the term 'bloodworm' bait. . . .

"You've got it wrong," observed the barmaid, who had now joined the drinking crew and had her feet up on the table. Vicki Keith, her name was. "It was his thigh. I've seen the scars."

"You have?" asked Steven.

"Yes, and trust me, it wasn't worth it. There was someone who would claim a tadpole was the Loch Ness Monster."

MacParrot beamed and stood up, fumbling in his trousers as he swayed. "Ach! The Loch Ness Monster. Ah've got priff."

Dexter looked at the fumbling. "You filthy beggar. A course of antibiotics will sort that out."

MacParrot blinked. "Ma wallet. Ma wallet's missing!" he yelled.

"It's in your other hand, you drunken Scots blart," said Steven.

MacParrot stared at the tatty wallet as if it was a holy apparition. Shook his head in amazement. "Ach. I ha' sworn ah lost it. That someone ha' stolen the priff that'll mak ma fortune." He sat down again, a process mildly improved by his missing the chair. He retrieved himself from the floor and gained the comparative sanctuary of his seat. He put the wallet down, with exquisite care, into a pool of beer. Opened it, to reveal the usual joys of a bachelor male existence: very little money, a pack of that everlasting chewing gum you buy from coin-operated dispensers in the gents, a large number of receipts . . . and some battered Polaroid photographs.

In this day of digital cameras, you could somehow rely on MacParrot to have the last surviving Polaroid. Most of the pictures were pink and quite ingenious. Even as totally bladdered as he was, MacParrot had the grace to hastily shuffle them.

"Ach. Just some holiday snaps," he said airily.

"Of the spine by the looks of it," I jeered.

Mc Parrot ignored me. "Ut's the Loch Ness Monster ahm looking for. Ah've got priff. Photographic priff." He leafed through more principally pink and ample pictures. "There really is a monster."

"I think she found it," said Sheila.

"How many humps did it have?" asked Kevin.

Steven began to sing in a fine tuneless baritone the nursery rhyme: "Sally the camel's got . . ."

MacParrot looked darkly at him. "How did ye know her naem wus Sally? Eh? She's no' been seein' a great southern Jessie like you. . . ."

It took the combined efforts of more beer, and our magnificent singing in chorus, to convince MacParrot that if Speairs was sleeping with his bit of fluff, we all were. The fact that this seemed, in his mind, to be a distinct possibility complicated matters a bit. It might have been easier just to let them fight it out, but Watters had indicated that he'd take this unkindly and might just respond by kicking us out. That was a mighty big lever. According to Archimedes, with a big enough lever you could move the earth—and with one that size even have a fair chance at budging a Scots drunk, although it is asking a lot of the lever.

At least a temporary cessation of hostilities was achieved with the barmaid calling for the intervention of the blue helmets—a concoction of Parfait d'Amour, Baileys Irish Cream and cognac. This is a drink which is not surprisingly vastly unpopular in every civilized country, and most uncivilized ones. It had a remarkable pacifying effect, though, as all the combatants united in demanding beer and agreeing that it was possibly the vilest drink of their experience.

"It compares favorably with chili beer," said Steven, sticking his tongue out.

"British beer is always too bloody warm," grumbled Kevin, doing the oral temperature test. "Back in South Africa they damn near freeze the stuff, because otherwise you might taste it. Chemical-flavor lager."

"Not cold beer. Mexican stuff. It has a chili in it," explained Speairs.

"That's an abomination," I said, speaking as the resident Vindaloo connoisseur. "Chili and beer should only be simultaneous coming up, not going down. And I bet it was lager."

"Yeah." Steven nodded, his face set in a real-ale grimace. "Kind of fitting really."

"I had a cousin in the merchant marine who brought me some Japanese saki once," admitted Sheila.

"And what was it like?" asked Dexter.

Sheila grimaced. "You understand why the beggars committed suicide, but become mystified as to how the hell they ever hit something the size of an aircraft carrier when they did it. It still wasn't as bad as that concoction." She pointed accusingly at the empty glasses scattered among the other debris on the table.

This is the stage of the evening when mixing drinks is even more unwise than usual, because it made me say "Well, let us see the picture of Nessie then?"

So MacParrot did his famous wallet hunt and the "it's been stolen!" performance again. We gave a standing ovation and then Sheila went and ruined it by pointing out that his wallet was still sitting on the table in its puddle of beer.

MacParrot leafed through the entertaining pink pictures of Sally-the-camel and hauled out the second last picture in the pile out for us to all stare at.

His pictures of Sally were taken with a less shaky hand, and in much better light. Even the moon was blurred. That could have been something with three humps sticking up out of the water. It could have been hay bales covered with tarpaulin, sunk in shallow water. It could also have been the pyramids at Giza.

I said so.

"No, Nessie wus definitely a lass," said our Scots instant cryptozoology expert. "No' a geezer."

"He means one of those fountains of steam associated with geothermal activity," explained Dexter.


I intervened. "I mean that picture is too shaky to be used as evidence of anything except delirium tremens."

"Whut? Weel, there's this one." He produced another picture without the slightest hint of camera shake.

It was also without the slightest hint of a Loch Ness Monster. It did show a series of neat splash rings on the moonlit water, and the back of a boat. For a picture taken using a cheap Polaroid at night, it was a great photograph. For proof of a monstrous dweller in the chilly waters of a Scots loch, it was rubbish.

"She wus startled by the flash. No' me. The camera," he said, forestalling us.

"You mean you flashed her as well?" Steven asked with a grin.

He blushed. He really blushed. You wouldn't have thought it possible but plainly a streak of deep prudery lurked in the Calvinist soul of MacParrot. "In a manner o' speakin', I did," he admitted.

"No wonder she left in such a hurry. The poor beast's probably having therapy." Sheila grinned and appropriated one of my smokes.

Steven reached his large mitt across the beery table and the debris of dead soldiers. "I'm honored to shake the hand of the man who flashed the Loch Ness Monster. I mean plenty of people have seen her, but just how many do you think have flashed her?"

MacParrot's first brush with fame, if not fortune, seemed to embarrass the Scot further. "Ah wus answering nature's call," he explained. "Ye see . . . Ach. we'd just gone for a wee romantic sail in moonlight."

It appeared that MacParrot had, in a fit of drunken gallantry, "borrowed" a rowboat to take his light-of-love for a bit of passion on the ocean . . . well, loch.

"Wuch, is where things went just a wee bit wrong," he explained, while proving that a man can set fire to the filter end of cigarette if he tries long and hard enough. "As ma experience on the water was a wee bit limited. And I might just have been a bit fu'."

"How unlike you!" Sheila's sarcasm can crack rocks, whereas her biceps and forearms are merely limited to walnuts. "Quite out of national character."

MacParrot took the coffin nail out of his face. Squinted at it. Broke the filter off and lit it again. Coughed spectacularly, and continued, oblivious. "Aye. Otherwise I might have taken oars."

George blinked away from the difficult problem of getting his eyes to focus. "How did you get away from the shore?"

MacParrot shrugged. "Ach., it wus tied tae a wee pier. We just pished her off. And then we got a little distracted like."

"The famous Sally?" I asked. It would appear that she was an enterprising lass.

"Aye," MacParrot nodded. "And a bottle of scotch. Ut might have helped if we'd discovered the lack of oars a wee bit earlier." He grimaced. "Ye might say we were adrifting up Loch Ness without a paddle. And out of drink." He looked tragically at his glass. "An' there wasn't any bathroom facilities on board. I had just liberated mesel' from my trouser-buttons at the stern, when I found that I was lookin' down at the monster."

Steven sniggered. "MacParrot's so modest, isn't he?"

So did Sheila. The rest of us of course kept dead straight faces. "So she came for a closer look? And didn't swim off into the night, shrieking?" asked the barmaid Vicki.

MacParrot nodded. "Ah've nivver seen anything like it. It must ha' been forty foot long."

Vicki took a long look at the squat young Scotsman. "That's what I call a grew-some monster."

MacParrot nodded. "Aye. A great long snaky neck and a wide body—wi' those finnys things instead o' legs. I just stood there wi' my fly down. And she just floated there and stared at me. I just had tae get a picture—and when the flash went off she dived."

"So all we have to do is go and expose ourselves on Loch Ness, in the middle of the night, and we're bound to get a glimpse of the holy grail of cryptozoology, the legendary Loch Ness Monster. A plesiosaur that has somehow taken a perverse interest in the undercarriage of small Scotsmen. It's another griffin I tell you, " I said.

"Makes sense to me," said Dexter, grinning. "That's why they wear kilts."

"It's too cold up there to flash, or they'd have a petting zoo for Nessies by now," said George. "We should go and try it out!"

"To flash Nessie. Sounds like a project to me. Shall we go tonight?" said I, happy and secure in the knowledge that Scotland was probably not within reach, even by transdimensional minicab, at one in the morning. The blue helmet was having its legendary pacifying effect and I was thinking about that Zen state where you become one with the top of table.

"It can be arranged," said Watters.

When someone says that, in that tone—especially a pub owner—you should find your feet, stagger to the john and lock yourself in.

Really. It's the wisest course. Do not say "and the fucking pudding. It's five hundred miles! You got a Lear jet out the back?"

Whatever you do, do not say this.

As it happens, I faithfully followed my own advice and said nothing.

But bloody Steven, the UK's gift to determined foot in mouth disease, said "and the fucking pudding. It's five hundred miles! You got a Lear jet out the back?"

Watters smiled. "No, something much faster. Something known only to the inner circle of the Brotherhood of the Angle. I see recruits among you. Believers in fish. Come with me."

I should have followed Speairs into the john instead, where I believe he went to bark at the porcelain. I could have quietly fallen asleep there. Instead I joined the rest of the drunken cavalcade into the nether parts of the pub.

* * *

There should have been, at the very least, pentacles. Sigils scrawled in blood, guttering candles, that sort of thing. Alternatively, high voltage blue arcs of sparks dancing in jagged lines between the insulators, great monstrous switches to be pulled, the air heavy with the reek of ozone.

It was totally out of the best tradition. There weren't even instrument panels full of flashing lights. How were we to know what we were in for?

It was simply a cupboard under the stairs smelling of brass polish, with maybe a hint of ammonia-based floor cleaner. There was a bucket and a mop in it.

James Watters waved us forward with a showmanlike air.

"Wow . . . it's amazing," said Dexter.

"I've never seen anything quite like it," I agreed.

"No you haven't, and yes it is amazing," said Watters. "The churnel tunnel doesn't look like much. But if you just let me adjust the settings before you step through, I can have you in Scotland and on the banks of Loch Ness in the twinkling of an eye. The churnel penetrates the very fabric of reality. Reality doesn't want us there, so it spits us out. We've learned to control where it spits us to."

He seemed to be offended that we found it funny. People are like that. When they own the pub, you stop laughing quickly. He moved and twisted the mop. Nodded. And said: "Well, who is first?"

"First for what?" I asked.

"A trip through the churnel," said James. "Don't all shout at once. Just step into the cupboard."

Now we were all in a fine and plummy state. Even Sheila, and she has a head like cast iron. We'd have probably been good for a session of fishing on the Wandle with vibrating lures. Or climbing Nelson's Column to go and put a copy of the Daily Worker under the statue's right arm. Or harpooning swine in the fleet ditch . . .

But being asked to step into a cupboard under the stairs was a bit of a let down. Had the man no sense of drama? Besides, even if only dimly, we got the feeling that we were going to be the butt of some complex and horrible joke, a feeling reinforced by Vicki saying "Not me. Not again."

"How many of us do wish tae put into the broom cupboard?" asked MacParrot, doubtfully.

"All of you, if you like," said Watters. "Or one at a time, if you prefer."

"And how long before you let us out?"

For an answer James took the key and held it out. "Here. Take it with you. Give it back on the other side."

So in a fit of foolishness MacParrot did. He stepped into the cupboard. Watters swung the door closed.

I expected a bolt.

He opened it again.

The cupboard was exactly as it had been. Only it was empty of a short-arsed swaying little Scot.

"This has immense possibilities!" I said eagerly. "How do you get bank managers to step into it?"

"Clever!" agreed Kevin. "There must be bloody panel at the back!" He marched into the cupboard to look for it, closely followed by the rest of us.

It was very dark and somehow there was enough room for all.

Now, according to Douglas Adams in The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, going through hyperspace is unpleasantly like being drunk, and therefore Arthur Dent will never be cruel to a gin and tonic again. Going through the churnel tunnel was actually more like being eaten. Or rather, more like being digested. And the black tunnel treated us as if we were a bad curry. It didn't help that the process left me feeling like I'd had one too, complete with all the light and sound effects that would go with stomach cramps, if Andrew Lloyd Webber put them into a stage show.

Then the churnel spat us out into darkness, and in a confused mass we pushed our way toward the only crack of light. The door opened and we fell out, en masse. We lay there groaning in a small, somewhat used pile, next to a rubber plant, in an almost generic 1970 lounge-bar.

I say "almost" because there were signs that some confused designer in the process of making the typical chain Irish pub (a concept which is in itself an abomination and a sin against nature) had got hooked up on bad-taste tartan and thistles, instead of green and shamrocks. Possibly the only other evidence we had that we had traveled the severe digestive problems of time and space were the other occupants of the bar. Such sights can only be the result of the distortion of space time and causality.

Staring amiably at us was a man in a blue turban and a kilt. From his appearance, a south Asian of some sort. It is possible that he may have been wearing other garments too, but those were the bits that will remain etched forever in my memory. He also had a long curled moustache that would have made your average walrus die of envy.

"Greetings," he said, bowing. "What can I be getting you to drink, guests? Och of the noo'," he added as an afterthought. "I am sorry. It is being very late. I am forgetting the traditional accent."

"Who the hell are you?" demanded Sheila, finding her way to her feet first.

"And where are we?" I asked, taking in the scene. There were three people playing "fuzzy duck" and ignoring us at a table across from the bar.

"Where is the bathroom?" quavered Kevin.

"He is the Indian equivalent of Manuel," said the fellow standing behind the bar, with a glass cupped in his hands. "Except that he stays sober and is efficient. You're at the Loch Ness Highland Experience Inn. And the bathroom is over there, but I see it is too late."

Kevin was being sick into the potted rubber plant. "That's a plant with an unenviable diet. Still, it seems to thrive on cigarette butts and used beer." He waved at Watters, whom I suddenly realized had come with us through the churnel. "Hello, James. To what do we owe this pleasure?"

"They want go hunting for Nessie." He said that as if it were a perfectly normal statement, like "they're in need of a bathroom" and just as relevant.

"I see," said the barman, unwinding himself from the slump over his glass. "Harpoons? Nets? High explosive?" He was one of those individuals with a lot of spare slump. Yards of it. He was tall and skinny, and, as befitted one of the custodians of the churnel, had a glittering and inscrutable eye. It could also have been his glasses.

"Last I heard," said Sheila, "it was to use guided muscles."

The barman nodded. "Novel," he said, with just a hint of a smile. "Different. Is entry to ancient Brotherhood of the Angle now requiring new recruits to drink a gallon of scrumpy, catch Nessie and make love to Eskimo Nell, and now that they've done the first bit, they've got a little confused?"

He look at the sorry bunch of us, still stunned by our first experience of being rejected by the very fabric of reality. "Drinks, gentlemen and lady? And who is Nessie's first date? She'll be spoiled for choice."

Looked at in this light, it all seemed a little dimwitted, rather like the two guys playing fuzzy duck in an attempt to charm the third, undeniably female part of the game. They were not assisted by the fact that they were both, by now, losing nearly every second round. The woman wasn't.

Sheila shook her finger at the barman. "You're threatening the spectacle of a lifetime. I'm looking forward to watching this. I wouldn't be surprised if the Loch Ness Monster laughs herself out of the water."

"I have it on good authority," said the woman at the table, "that the Loch Ness Monster is a male."

MacParrot looked at her in pure affront. "How can ye say that!"

"My lips move and the words come out." She looked him up and down. "And anyway, it's these two's theory. About bedroom hackle for tying flies with."

"That was salmon," defended one of the male fuzzy duck players, the one with the goatee. "The record for salmon is held by a woman."

"Is it?" asked Dexter.

"Was, anyway," said the other male drinking game loser, with a faint slur and a vacuous smile that went very well with his ponytail. "You should never let facts stand in the way of a good story."

His rival nodded. "It must be the pheromones."

MacParrot looked puzzled. "Pharaoh moans? Ach, Like the mummy's curse?"

"No," said Dexter, "not quite. Scent communication."

"Exactly," said the fellow with the goatee. "That's why fish're attracted. Salmon only enter fresh water to breed. Horny fish that are thinking of nothing but sex, even to the exclusion of food. That's why women catch more."

"It couldn't just be that women are better fishermen?" demanded Sheila, flexing her biceps.

"I really prefer the theory that fish are zoophilists," said the woman, "even if the latter is true. It makes haddock justifiable. Deserving of being poached in milk."

"Time for last orders, folks. Closing time passed a good two hours ago." The barman yawned. "We bend the rules, but Dryck here gets up at dawn. And his practiced accent's going. That means that he'll fall asleep when he's supposed to be working."

The turbaned and mustachioed man nodded. "For religious reasons, you understand. Besides, everybody else has gone to bed. Business is slow. My name is Dryck Spivey, by the way."

I squinted at him. "Meaning no offense, but you don't look like someone who'd be named that."

Spivey smiled serenely. "I was not born with the name, of course. It was given to me by my swami, Aniruddha Tucker—who changed his own name in order to elude the attentions of . . . well, never mind. It's a long story, which perhaps some day I shall recount."

"Quick. Order drinks," said Sheila. "And kick MacParrot if he tries to make any Indian jokes."

"It's your round," I said, getting in before she had time to think. It was, actually, but it usually took a fair amount of solid persuasion to this effect to get her to agree. Armlocks were good, if you could manage it.

In the important business of staving off incipient drought, the sex of Nessie and the rivalry between the groups was forgotten, especially as Dexter was set on making sure everyone was double parked. So too was travel across the secret routes of the Angling Brotherhood. After all, what did space-time have to compete with strong drink? Anyway, it was that stage of the evening when everything is a little surreal, and I have often found myself in places which I have no memory of getting to or plausible reason for being at, like the time we ended up in a campsite in Woking.

Introductions happened in a sort of desultory fashion. "Marc Robertson. And that's Donald Vaughan with the pigtail."

"Lisa Satterlund," said the statuesque woman, taking her gin and tonic. "Do you often just drop in here at about one thirty in the morning or is this a special occasion?"

"They've come to flash Nessie," explained Sheila, as if she had done nothing to encourage this.

"Could work more effectively than the plan these two had to fly-fish for Nessie," she said, gesturing with her glass.

"And you, Lassie?" MacParrot was peering at her cleavage.

She shrugged. "Me, I'm just researching an article on traditional highland hospitality, as provided by your traditional Scots hosts." She looked at the barman and his sidekick. "From Birmingham or the Punjab."

"We're all Scots, at least by descent," said the barman. "I answer to the name of Matthew Duncan, but if you go into your nearest Tartan seller, you will discover that somehow we're all sept and kin. Even those customers from Nigeria, Peru or Melanesia, who are broke from buying yards of checked tablecloth material, definitely not made in China."

"We're all descended from McAdam," said Robertson.

I pondered this. I was at a stage of the evening when I was taking this sort of statement quite seriously. "I've never heard of a McEve."

"She emigrated to place where the climate is better," said the barman. "That's why the sheep are so nervous around here."

His Indian sidekick nodded. "Indeed. It is a beautiful country even if it is being raining too often to be seeing it though that is good for the bar trade. And it has very good mutton."

In the meantime, now lubricated, the rest of the conversation had turned to the arcane and bizarre art of fly-fishing.

"I tie my own, you know," said Donald proudly. "To suit the local target species, and match their local prey animals."

"So what sort of fly do you tie to catch a Nessie?" I asked.

He blinked. "Have to be something Scottish. Resembling their natural diet, but with super-attractant features."

"A haggis fly," suggested Duncan.

"They're a protected species," said Donald.

"What, Nessies?" asked Sheila. "And to think that they were going to threaten them with exposure."

"No, haggises," explained the flytier. "You don't want to be caught casting something that even looks like one. The constabulary take haggises very seriously indeed."

"Surely that's Haggisi, like Hippopotomi," said Dexter.

"A deep fried Mars bar fly," offered Lisa.

Donald snorted the foam off his beer. "There are some things that defy even the consummate flytier's skill. And that is one of them."

"They look like floaters. Don't you guys tie floating flies?"

"Dry flies. Which are what wet flies are before they go in the water," explained Dexter. Kevin seemed to have deserted his rubber plant and disappeared into the bathroom.

"Well," said Marc, "most sightings happen in the area that has the highest plankton counts, so maybe there's a sewage outfall there."

"This is pure pristine Scots water we're talking about," said the barman.

"Indeed it is. Water passed personally by the pure pristine Scots," agreed Donald. "Look, Nessie is a myth."

"Is no'," said MacParrot. "I've seen her mysel', and I've got priff!"

"And who are you?" asked Lisa.

MacParrot had one of those faces that are so ugly that women notice him. Rather like a bulldog. Some people find those cute too.

"Angus Macintosh," he said, making an effort, for her, to de-psittacine his name.

The story got repeated, in between Lisa expertly fending off her two suitors and Sheila taking side-bets with Dexter about their chances. It was quite funny to watch them both playing gooseberry for the other, and her encouraging the game. I could have told them from experience that the bottom line of this behavior pattern was that she fancied neither, and if they played their cards right tonight they could both end up blind drunk, broke and sleeping alone.

Lisa peered at the photograph. "Couldn't you have taken a better picture?"

MacParrot sniffed. "Ach . . . I was only usin' one hand. Ah was . . . busy."

"Never ask a man to do two things at once," she said.

"Aye. This multi-taskin'. I've heerd aboot it. Wimmen dae it." He looked into her cleavage, being of roughly the right height to either develop a crick in the neck or to stare her in the chest. "Male minds are too highly developed for that. Ach. Y'see wimmen, they've sort of generalist minds, no' so refined," he explained kindly. "Ut's like toilet seats. No matter how often ye try to teach them, wimmen cannae learn tae put them back up."

Sheila and Lisa gaped. The rest us of wisely kept our mouths shut and did not cheer. We were drunk but not that drunk.

But he'd planted the seed, alas. Lisa and Sheila decided that there could only be one suitable treatment—and that involved, willy-nilly, the rest of us in a collective Loch Ness Monster-flash.

"You were offering to take me for a little night cruise earlier," said Lisa sweetly to Donald. "You were telling me what a lovely boat you had. And Marc, you were saying what a fine bottle of single malt scotch you have. Let's go and take them with us to try out this new style of monster hunting."

MacParrot seemed to be visited by a momentary lapse into good sense. "Ahm sure it wus just happenstance," he insisted. "Pure chance."

"Ah, but it worked. It drew the monster from its lair. Some of the greatest discoveries of science have happened by pure chance," said Sheila, exerting herself to sound as convincing as possible. "Just think, you may have finally hit on the Great Nessie lure. It may be why plesiosaurs became extinct elsewhere. There could be great Nessie flashing festivals with thousands of spectators. It could be the beginning of the great new tourist boom that Scotland dreams of. You'd be heroes. They'd probably put up a flashing statue."

"Ach. It could a'so be a chance for you to laugh at us," said the Scots reprobate that had got all of us into this in first place.

Lisa smiled sweetly. "That too, Mr. MacIntosh. Carpe diem!"

"Seize the day? It's after midnight," I protested.

"Get in early, then!" said Sheila, pushing us toward the doors.

We were herded out rather like drunken and reluctant cats towards our doom—which took the form of a small cabin cruiser tied up at the end of a pier, outside in the cold night air. We were up in Scotland. If you listened carefully you could hear the sounds of Scots night: sheep running and water freezing. And before us lay the dark waters of Loch Ness.

A word on Loch Ness. Now, every year thousands of tourists peer at the deep blue waters, and sometimes the gray and rain-swept waters, hoping to see the Loch Ness Monster. Perhaps wearing a plaid bonnet and playing "Scotland the Brave" on the bagpipes. There are a steady number of odd sightings and tall tales, going back many centuries. Some have been exposed as hoaxes, and others as inconclusive evidence. It seems that a lot of effort has gone into finding very little, true—but the lake is twenty-four miles long, about a mile wide, and more than seven hundred feet deep. It apparently has a surprisingly featureless underwater landscape, and a lot of effort has been put into searching it.

If the searchers had been watching that particular night they'd have seen a monstrous sight all right, as we headed away from the sleeping village of Drumnadrochit towards the ruins of Urquart castle. Clouds scudded across a gibbous moon as we headed for the black silhouette of the broken castle keep-tower. It was cold. "Look," I protested, knowing that I had more chance of falling pregnant than I had of getting out of those two women doing exactly what they wanted to—or wanted us to do—but trying all the same. "Won't right here do for this charade? We can get it over with and go back in to the warm."

"Many of the classic sightings happened over there," insisted Lisa. "Here, have some scotch."

The pained expression on Marc's face, as we chugged his twenty-year-old single malt straight from the bottle, was worth the chill from the lake and the cold night air. Besides, there was something knight-errantish about dropping your trousers in front of an ancient Scots castle. By general quiet male consensus it had been decided that it was not flashing Nessie, or the unoffending shoreline that was going to happen, but mooning our tormentors.

So we plowed steadily across the wind-riffled silver water, with Lisa taking oddly precise sightings. We should have smelled a rat, but as the scotch went around it would have had to be a rodent of elephantine proportions with a bouquet of 8 on the Limburger scale for us to have noticed anything out of the ordinary. The boasts as to the Nessie-pulling power of various of our wedding tackle was being discussed when Lisa announced that the fateful moment had arrived. The moon was out and she'd taken us relatively close to a small headland just across from the castle. It was an uninspiring spot, with nothing but an old caravan to compete with the castle.

I felt this was an affront our manhood and dignity. If I was going to flash anything it really ought to be a medieval relic not a sleeping caravan.

"Here," said Lisa firmly.

"Now," said Sheila, in her best this-brooks-no-argument tone, which has even been known to influence judges, and simply overwhelmed our weakened wits. It was the single malt's fault. If it had been a young, rough and abusive scotch we might have been wary, or drunk less of it.

Dexter shrugged. "You'd better lead the parade, Mac."

"Ach, let's do it all together then," said that worthy, his throat well lubricated with Marc's scotch. "On the count o' three."

"You take the wheel, I'll count," said Sheila to Lisa.

So we lined up, fumbling with belt buckles at the stern, the boat puttering along, the prop barely turning.

"A one."

"A two."

"A three. Drop 'em!" They demanded in chorus.

The scene was suddenly torn by a terrible and plaintive cry that could have issued from no human throat. . . .

Except that it obviously did. But zipper accidents will have that effect on a man's voice.

That sort of shriek can also affect your steering. Lisa pulled the wheel hard over, and pushed the throttle levers to full.

We did a wonderful job of falling like ninepins over the transom. Now, to be fair, with the wisdom of hindsight, she had probably intended to do the throttle trick from the start. But it is very unlikely she'd have caught Dexter, Kevin or even Donald with that trick—they were all experienced seamen—even with their trousers around knees, mid-bend for the moon, except for the addition of the sudden turn. And if she'd intended the sudden turn, surely it would have been away from the shore?

The water was cold and wet. We were about ten yards off the bank. Fortunately the water was only about two feet deep. In a ragged trouser-hauling chorus line of curses, we made our way in to the stony shoreline along a slippery and slightly squidgy bottom, to the vast appreciation of the pair of women cackling helplessly, especially when it was unsteady going and we all fell over again. Other than that, only fleeing sheep and a little winking red light witnessed our show.

It was either the local red light district (and hence the fleeing sheep) or we'd just put on one of the most spectacular monster shows ever seen on the Loch Ness Live webcam.

Then, of course, the door to the caravan opened and matters went downhill from there. It would appear that serious researchers into cryptozoology have just no appreciation of quality viewing. Among the terrors of the deep and the monsters of legend that have crawled out of it, this one ranked.

A cry of "Avast, me boys, out harpoons!" would have been appropriate. For some obscure reason, the cryptozoologist was seriously steamed, despite being a lot worse dressed than we'd been for his audience. We were merely in part unclothed, where he was stark naked.

Mind you, he did have some beads and a few novel piercings. His English, too, was interesting and informative. Also imported, it seemed, being liberally mixed with what could have been Swedish swear words.

Alas, in amongst the charmingly intemperate and odd words being uttered I distinctly heard "called the police."

A strategic retreat, leaving Kevin and Sheila as rearguard, while we pushed Donald's boat off seemed the better part of valor—especially as I did not like the idea of having the court enjoy the live webcam replays. So we pushed the boat out and refloated it in haste.

"The bus is leaving with or without you." I yelled, once we were on the water.

Kevin and Sheila came running. A wise decision, as I saw car lights bumping towards us.

The new-age cryptozoologist was now trying to get back into his caravan.

The door, it appeared, had swung closed behind him.

"Come back you bastards!" yelled Kevin.

"Can't," said Dexter. "Remember how shallow it was, Kev. We'll chew the prop up. Wade out."

So they did. . . .

And about three feet from the shore, they both suddenly disappeared underwater.

They surfaced, swam splashily to the boat, and we hauled them on board, shivering.

"What the hell happened to the mud-bank?" asked Kevin.

"I don't think we should stay here to find out," Dexter said quietly. He pointed to the scene on the shore. Cloud had covered the moon again. Up against the caravan a large, naked cryptozoologist was impaled by the lights of the panda car. Two of Scotland's finest were approaching with trepidation. The wind carried their voices to us, as it pushed the boat away from the fateful shore.

"Come along quietly, sir," said a very wary Scots voice.

This did not seem to be something the naked man was willing to do. He was being quite vocal about stupid fascists.

"The caller wasn't kidding aboot a naked lunatic," said the other policeman, edging away.



Dexter and Donald quietly unshipped the emergency paddles and we slipped away further into the night, and a sudden blessed rain-squall.

"You know," said Kevin thoughtfully, after the squall passed. "All I can think is that we did it. We found the monster."

"Living in a caravan? Got to move with the times," said I.

The ichthyologist shook his head, giving us all a shower. "Nope. Think about it. A mud-bank can't simply disappear. That was no mud-bank—it was Nessi herself. We must have walked over her back. And now get that motor started. I'm bloody frozen."

* * *

When our shivering, dripping crew returned to the portals of the Loch Ness Highland Experience Inn, we found James Watters and the barman, Matthew Duncan, sitting and drinking Irish Coffee. They were discussing the eternal verities.

Or fish, at any rate. By now, after the Wandle Pike and the Tinta Falls Catfish and the Loch Ness Monster, it was becoming hard to distinguish between the two subjects.

"I see that your enthusiasm seems to be a little dampened," said Duncan. "Where's the trophy then?"

"Still in Loch Ness. It wasn't big enough so we threw it back. We need drink!"

"Where's Lisa?" asked Donald, looking back at the door.

Frowning, Marc said: "I haven't seen her since we got back."

Sheila grinned at the two of them. "Mac invited her to go for a wee moonlit sail. She said that it was the only real highland hospitality she'd come across, so she thought she'd better experience it. I'd guess she's finding out if there really is a monster out on Loch Ness."

"Moonlit? It's raining out there."

Sheila shrugged. "She'll be fine. She's got a little Mac to cover her."

"I hope that he remembered to take oars this time."

I shrugged. "He can always get Nessie to push him back to shore. I wonder if he's got his Polaroid camera with him again."

Marc shook his head sadly. "How come blokes like that get lucky? She drank, and gave away my scotch, all he does is insult her, and he's pulled."

Donald put a sympathetic hand on his shoulder. "She scratched my boat's paintwork, got my private parts on the late night moonbat show—and we still couldn't pull."

Kevin grinned. "You need better bait. Let alone her, we couldn't even pull the Loch Ness Monster."

"It's the cold," said Marc. "Also, I've heard that plesiosaurs taste terrible."

"Oh, they're strictly catch and release these days," said the barman of the Loch Ness Highland Experience Inn.

"Anyway, plesiosaurs are small fry, and not even a true fish," said Watters. He seemed to have a twinkle in his eye. "I think you're all finally ready. We'll take the churnel again and I shall introduce you to one of the greatest fishermen of all time."

I eyed him suspiciously. "And I suppose he's another member of the ancient Brotherhood of the Angle."

That was definitely a twinkle. "Oh, indeed. You might say he's the founder of the order."

* * *


Eric Flint is the author of many novels and some short fiction. He has also edited a number of anthologies. Dave Freer has written a number of novels and short stories. Andrew Dennis has co-authored books with Eric Flint. This is the first time the three have worked together.


To read more work by these authors, visit the Baen Free Library at:

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