Terry was from the Texas Panhandle. He never spoke in a rush, each vowel the length of a short story. He was a competent angler, so much so that I often wondered why he bothered to pay for a guide, except to have someone to laugh at his jokes and tie the occasional fly on for him.
Three or four times a season he’d load a couple of rods in his Suburban then head to the mountains, sometimes alone, sometimes with a buddy. One such buddy was Butch. Even in waders, Butch looked and walked like a cowboy, his calloused handshake as firm as his eye contact as we introduced ourselves.
“I’ve been trying to get him to turn his damn phone off since we left Amarilla,” Terry complained. “Damn thing rings every five minutes.”
“I warned you,” said Butch. “The ranch goes to hell in a hand basket without me.”
We headed to the river, and weren’t ten minutes into the float when Butch’s phone rang. Stifling a curse, he set down his rod and fumbled it from a pocket beneath his life jacket.
“He did what!!!!……….How in the………well……..tell him it’s coming out of his paycheck. Get the backhoe over there and do the best you can.”
Butch shook his head in resignation and took up his rod once more.
“I told you to turn the darn thing off. How’s me and him supposed to enjoy our day on the river?”
Terry nudged me in the back as he spoke before casting his line toward the bank, landing his hopper a couple of feet shy. He gave it a cursory twitch, waited a few seconds then picked up and cast again.
“Slow down Terry. A little patience goes a long way. Let it sit a bit, maybe twitch it a time or two more.”
“You wanna see the way he drives,” muttered Butch, reaching for his phone as it rang a second time.
“You’re kidding me……those things cost a hundred and fifty each. At this rate, he’s not going to have a paycheck left……”
Terry murmered in my ear. “Oh, did I mention Butch just had one of those defibrillator things put on his heart?”
“No Terry, you didn’t mention that.”
“Darn thing works too. Yesterday, we stopped on the way up to fish one of the creeks. The hike down was a little too much for him, I guess. Kinda lost his balance then it kicked in. He was right as rain in a few minutes, but you might want to keep your eye on him.”
Thanking Terry for the information, I made a mental note to not take what people wrote on their medical waver at face value in the future.
Butch’s phone fell silent. Perhaps peace had come to the cattle business at last, but more likely the cause was drifting into the canyon where cell service was slight to non-existent. Ignorance being the better part of bliss, I decided not to tell him, for two reasons. Firstly, his phone’s silence would hopefully imply the world would still manage to turn without him, and secondly, it would lessen the chance of that other marvel of modern technology, nestled next to his heart, having to work it magic.
“So Butch, how often do you get away from the ranch?” I asked.
Butch grunted. “Only when he drags me away.” He nodded in Terry’s direction. “And when the wife wants to visit the grandkids in Dallas.”
We floated deeper into the canyon. Free from distraction, Butch hooked and landed his first fish, a buttery brown with sparse, vivid spots.
“Now that’s pretty,” he remarked, inspecting the fish as it lay in the net before I released it.
“Damn right it is,” replied Terry. “Just what the doctor ordered.”