A brand-new story from the legendary Harry Turtledove about Governor Bill Williamson, a sasquatch with a plan.
Darkness reigned outside the governor’s mansion in Yreka. November 4, 1980, had been a cold, gray day. Daylight Savings Time had gone for the year, bringing night on all the earlier. It was only six o’clock, but it felt like midnight.
Gloom also prevailed inside the governor’s mansion. Bill Williamson was a Democrat. So were the men with whom he watched the Presidential election results: Al Rafferty, the lieutenant governor of the state of Jefferson, and Hyman Apfelbaum, the attorney general. Their party was getting trounced.
Bill was halfway down his second gallon mug of beer. He’d started drinking when he started watching: at four o’clock Pacific time, when polls back East started closing. He was a sasquatch. At nine feet two and somewhere right around five hundred pounds, he needed a lot of beer to get a buzz. He needed a good deal more than he’d drunk, in fact.
Apfelbaum nursed a scotch. Rafferty’d gone through a lot of bourbon for a little man. Bill gave a mental shrug. He’d seen Al do plenty of drinking, but he’d hardly ever seen him drunk.
Most of the furniture in the recreation room was made to sasquatch scale, including the sofa Bill filled. The lieutenant governor and the attorney general sat on long-legged little-people chairs so they wouldn’t have to look up and up and up at him . . . and so they’d look less like nine-year-olds at the grownups’ table.
“We’re going to cut away to President Jimmy Carter in the White House,” David Brinkley said, “for his concession to Governor Ronald Reagan, who is now President-elect of the United States.”
“For his what?” Al Rafferty sounded as loud and shrill as if he’d suddenly sat on a tack.
“Stupid backwoods shmuck,” Apfelbaum said. “Doesn’t he know the polls out here don’t close for another two hours? Doesn’t he care how many votes for the down-ticket guys he’s kakking away? He can’t do that.”
But he could. There he was on the TV, in a dark jacket and a red-and-blue striped tie. “I promised you . . .” he said, and then had to pause and gulp and start again: “I promised you four years ago that I would never lie to you, so I can’t stand here tonight and say it doesn’t hurt. The people of the United States have made their choice, and of course I accept that decision, but I have to admit not with the same enthusiasm that I accepted the decision four years ago. I might say, I have a deep appreciation of the system, however, that lets people make a free choice abut who will lead them for the next four years.
“About an hour ago, I called Governor Reagan in California, and I told him that I congratulated him for a fine victory. I look forward to working closely with him during the next few weeks. We’ll have a very fine transition period. I told him I wanted the best one in history, and then I sent him this telegram, and I’ll read it to you. ‘It’s now apparent that the American people have chosen you as the new President. I congratulate you, and pledge to you our fullest support and cooperation in bringing about an orderly transition of government in the weeks ahead. My best wishes are with you and your family as you undertake the responsibilities that lie before you.’ And I signed it, Jimmy Carter.”
Lieutenant Governor Rafferty clapped a despairing hand to his forehead. “Ronald Reagan! Good God in the foothills!” He drained his latest bourbon, looking like an Irish Mask of Tragedy. “That’s that. The United States is washed up. All fifty-one states, completely and totally fucked.”
“I dunno. It may turn out better than you think, Al,” Bill said. “He left office down in Sacramento before I got to be governor here, but I met him a few times when I was in the State Senate. Say what you want about him, but he’s nobody’s dope.”
“Wonderful!” Rafferty said. “That’ll just help him set the country back a hundred years. Christ! He wasn’t even a good actor.”
The phone on the end table chose that moment to ring. Bill reached out to answer it with a certain sense of relief. He didn’t feel like getting into a shouting match with his lieutenant governor. The phone was a standard model; the handset seemed a toy in his big, hairy mitt (when he made calls, he punched buttons or spun the dial with a pen).
“Bill Williamson here,” he said. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Hyman shushing Al so he could hear whoever was on the other end of the line.
It was the evening operator. Phyllis Ward, his administrative assistant, had already gone home for the day. “Sorry to bother you, Governor,” the woman said, “but I have a game warden from Grants Pass on the line, and he says he’s got to talk with you right away.”
“Well, put him through, Iona,” Bill said. “Whatever he’s all excited about, it has to be better news than the election returns.”
Iona sniffed. By that, she’d voted for the ex-governor of California herself. Jefferson was fairly evenly split between bleeding hearts and flaming reactionaries. Elections often turned rowdy. They would have been worse if both sides hadn’t had a certain amount of live-and-let-live (or at least of leave-me-the-hell-alone-and-I’ll-do-the-same-for-you). People here did try to get along. It didn’t always work, but they tried.
A click said she was connecting the game warden. “Go ahead, Mr. Bishop,” she said. Another click announced that she’d left the line.
“Hello?” A male voice, deep for a little man’s.
“Go ahead. This is Bill Williamson.”
“Hello, Governor. Good to talk to you. I’m Eric Bishop, game warden up in Grants Pass. Reason I’m calling is, a fisherman just pulled a speartooth out of the Rogue River four or five miles west of town.”
Bill laughed out loud. “Sure he did. And rain makes applesauce. Thanks for the call, Eric. I appreciate it, believe me. It’s a hell of a lot funnier than what’s on TV right now, and that’s the truth.”
Speartooths (or, if you happened to be feeling Groucho Marxist, spearteeth) inhabited that Bermuda Triangle whose corners were marked by the dodo, the unicorn, and the jackalope. Maybe they’d swum in these rivers millions of years ago. Maybe they were mythical. Or maybe they were nothing but fast-talking wise guys’ bullshit.
Bill had always leaned toward the unicorn corner of the triangle himself. Indian legends in Jefferson, and in southern Oregon and northern California as well, spoke of big, fierce, toothy fishes in the rivers. So did sasquatch legends, which were (or at least might be) older yet. How big? How fierce? How toothy? Hey, they were legends. Nobody really knew.
Eric Bishop blew out air through his nose: an exasperated noise if ever Bill had heard one. He heard this one very clearly; they had a good connection. “Governor, honest to God, I’m not pulling your leg. Greg Donovan caught the damn thing. I happened by not fifteen minutes after he did. He was about ready to shit himself, pardon my French. So I’ve seen it. I’ve touched it. I’ve got photos—I had an Instamatic in my pickup, and I filled a roll and a half of film. I wanted to call you before the story hit the papers.”
“I’ll be damned. You mean it,” Bill said slowly.
“Bet your ass I do, uh, sir,” the game warden said.
“Jesus,” Bill muttered. Back before the Second World War, that South African scientist found out fishermen had caught a coelacanth. How impossible was that? Only about 70,000,000 years’ worth of impossible. But there it was, and they’d brought in others since.
So why not a speartooth?
“Tell you what,” Bill said. “Give me your office phone. Give me your home phone, too. I may just have to make a trip up there tomorrow.”
Without hesitation, Bishop gave them. Bill wrote them down. If Grants Pass had a game warden named Eric Bishop, and if he had those phone numbers, maybe this wasn’t one of the all-time practical jokes. If it wasn’t, the world had just got even stranger than a Grade B Hollywood movie star moving into the White House.
And they said it couldn’t be done!
Bill called the Jefferson Department of Fish and Game. It was, not surprisingly, closed for the evening. He called the Jefferson State Police. They were open. Once he managed to convince them he was who he said he was, and that he didn’t aim to screw Eric Bishop of Grants Pass to the wall, they coughed up home and office phone numbers for Bishop. The numbers matched the ones the guy on the phone had given.
“You don’t really believe there’s a speartooth up there, do you?” Hyman Apfelbaum said. “I mean, if they really existed, somebody would’ve caught one a long time ago, right?”
He’d been a prosecutor, and a good one, before he got elected attorney general. He followed logic the way a bloodhound followed a lamb chop. What he said almost always made good sense.
But brute facts had a way of knocking the fanciest chain of logic into a cocked hat. “Right now, I don’t know what to believe,” Bill answered. “I think there may be something up there. I don’t know if I’d even trust photos. If I go up there and see a hell of a big fish with pointy teeth, though, I’ll know what’s what.” He stuck a large, russet-fuzzed finger in the air. “Hang on. Be right back.”
“Where are you going?” Apfelbaum asked.
“I need a book,” Bill said on his way out. He returned a couple of minutes later with a Jefferson State Ashland catalogue. Flipping through it, he explained, “They should have an ichthyologist in the biology department. Here we go. . . . Yeah, they do. Guy’s name is Mervin McDougald.”
“Mervin?” By the way Apfelbaum said it, the very sound of the name offended him.
“He won’t be in his office this time of night,” Al Rafferty put in.
“So I’ll call him at home. How many Mervin McDougalds d’you think there are in Ashland?” Bill reached for the telephone again. Directory assistance showed—surprise!—exactly one Mervin McDougald in the college town on the way to Grants Pass. Bill wrote down the number, then dialed it.
Ring . . . Ring . . . “Hello?” A woman’s voice.
“Hi. This is Governor Williamson,” Bill said. “I’d like to speak to Professor McDougald, please.”
“You would?” The woman sounded dubious. In her place, Bill would have, too. But then she called, “Merv! It’s for you. He says he’s the governor.”
A faint male “You’re kidding” came over the line. A moment later, the same man spoke loudly and clearly: “This is Mervin McDougald. Who are you?”
“This is Governor Bill Williamson,” Bill said again. “Reason I’m calling is . . .” He explained the call he’d just got from Eric Bishop.
A long silence followed. Then McDougald said, “Governor—if you are the governor—I don’t know if you’re pulling a fast one on me or if this Bishop character is pulling one on you. Assuming you are who you say you are—you do sound like him—then the latter is the way to bet.”
“Sure.” Bill nodded, though of course the prof couldn’t see him. “But suppose, just suppose, he isn’t. Don’t you want to be in on it? It’d be the biggest discovery in Jefferson since . . . since I don’t know what, wouldn’t it?”
“Certainly in terms of ichthyology,” McDougald agreed. “I don’t know how it would stack up against striking gold or something like that, but it’d top anything fishy I can think of.”
“Me, too,” Bill said. “So how about I pick you up at your house about half past eight tomorrow morning, and we’ll go on up to Grants Pass and see what they’ve got there.”
“Can you pick me up at the biology building on campus? I need to get someone to cover my lectures or else let the department know so they can cancel them. And I want to hit the library and do a little research before I go.”
“I’ll see you there,” Bill said. “But how can you research something that everybody thought was nonsense up till now?”
“There are some possibilities,” Mervin McDougald answered, which told Bill nothing. Then McDougald said, “I’ll see you tomorrow,” and hung up.
“You’re gonna be in Ashland at eight-thirty tomorrow morning?” Al Rafferty said. “You poor sucker.”
“That’s why God made coffee,” Bill said resignedly. He looked at his watch. The speartooth saga had chewed up an hour, anyway. He sat down on the couch again. “Polls here close in forty-five minutes. I’ll see what’s what with our elections, and then I’ll hit the hay.”
“Stupid goddamn Carter,” Hyman Apfelbaum said. “If he costs us that House race by giving up early, somebody ought to kick him in his big, prayerful teeth.”
“Line forms on the left,” Bill said, and gave his attention back to the idiot box.
Jefferson was not a big state. Oh, it was fair-sized in terms of area, but people were thin on the ground. They’d been even thinner on the ground in 1919; California and Oregon hadn’t thought they were losing much when the new state broke away from them. Quite a few of the people who did live there, pot-growing freaks and moonshining Birchers alike, wanted authority to have as little to do with them as possible. Left and right united in keeping the state government small and puny.
All of which meant that, if the governor felt like getting away for a couple of days, he could. Nobody would miss him. Hardly anyone would even notice he was gone. His wife noticed when the alarm went off, though. “Good God!” she said. “What time is it?”
“Six o’clock. Sorry, Louise,” Bill answered around an enormous yawn. He’d stayed up with Al and Hyman till almost midnight. The Democrats were going to lose that House race. Hyman had had some more interesting things to say about Jimmy Carter.
“Good God!” Louise repeated, and put her pillow over her head.
Bill lurched into the bathroom. He took a leak, cleaned his teeth, and ran a brush over his red-brown pelt. When he came out, he put on the same beige shorts he’d worn the day before. They saved his modesty and gave him somewhere to stick keys, wallet, and comb. Sandals on his feet and he was ready to go.
In the kitchen, Ray had a big pot of coffee waiting. “You’re a lifesaver, man!” Bill exclaimed, filling a sasquatch-sized travel mug and securing the plastic lid. “How did you know?”
“What do the news guys say? I never reveal my sources,” the steward answered. “Want a couple-three danishes to eat with the coffee?”
“You bet I do.” Bill wrapped them in paper towels and carried them out to the Mighty Mo, which was parked by the flagpoles flying the Stars and Stripes and the Jefferson state flag, a dark green banner with the state seal in the center of the field. The seal was a gold pan emblazoned with two X’s, symbolizing the double crosses Jefferson had got from Sacramento and Salem before becoming a state in its own right.
A state of confusion, Bill thought. A state where legends come to life. He opened the Mighty Mo’s left rear door. The 1974 Cadillac Eldorado—the last of its kind, a monument to the days of cheap gas, and nearly as big as its battleship prototype—would fit a sasquatch who drove from the back seat. There was no left front seat, only a long steering column that housed the ignition and the shift.
Bill turned the key. The humongous engine under that long, long hood rumbled to life. It sounded a little rough; the Mighty Mo’s odometer showed over 100,000 miles. Bill didn’t know what he’d do when the car crapped out on him. They didn’t make ’em this size any more, and he didn’t fit into anything much smaller. Well, that was a worry for another day—he hoped.
He put the Eldorado in drive and headed for the northbound onramp to the I-5. He drove past the domed state Capitol. Like the governor’s mansion, it had gone up under Charlie “Bigfoot” Lewis, Jefferson’s first sasquatch governor, during the prosperous 1920s. The ugly, square state office building next door dated from the next decade. It looked like what it was: a WPA special.
The onramp wasn’t far past the state office building. Bill sat at the red light, waiting for a green arrow so he could turn left. He didn’t have to wait long. His own big foot—a size thirty-two—came down on the accelerator. He swung onto the Interstate and rolled north.
Haven’t been in Ashland since I saw A Midsummer Night’s Dream this past spring, Bill thought as he pulled off the highway and drove east toward the university campus. His daughter had played Miranda in that Ashland Shakespeare Festival production. He muttered under his breath. The director, an out-of-stater who didn’t grok how Jefferson worked, had wanted to cast her as Caliban. Some gubernatorial arm-twisting took care of that.
He didn’t need to worry about the theatre arts department today. Neither did Nicole, who’d graduated in June. Now she was doing what so many new theatre-arts graduates did: hustling for anything she could find. It was tough for everybody. It was, no doubt, tougher if you were female, more than seven feet tall, and covered with hair.
Parking on campus cost $2.50, which seemed outrageous to Bill. Many spaces were marked COMPACT ONLY, and didn’t come close to fitting the Mighty Mo. He finally found one that did. He didn’t bother locking the car. Only another sasquatch could have driven it. By the nature of things, his kind weren’t really into grand theft auto.
A man outside the entrance to the yellow-brick biology building waved as Bill came up. Bill waved back. “You Professor McDougald?” he called.
“Call me Merv. Everybody does,” the ichthyologist said. He was lean and, for a little man, tall. He had hair down almost to his shoulders and a bushy brown mustache with some gray in it—he was in his mid-forties. His style wasn’t cool any more; he either hadn’t noticed or didn’t care. After shaking hands with the governor, he went on, “I still think we’re chasing fool’s gold, but I’m not as sure as I was when we talked last night.”
“Tell me more while we walk back to my car,” Bill said. He slowed his pace to let McDougald keep up without jogging. He didn’t have to slow much. His companions moved athletically, as if he’d been a decent high-school basketball player who hadn’t slid too far out of shape since.
“If the speartooth isn’t just the figment of your people’s imagination—” McDougald began.
“And the Indians’. Don’t forget the Indians,” Bill broke in.
“Right.” McDougald grinned up at him, which made him smile back. “Like I was saying, if the speartooth is real, I think it’s most likely to be a survival of Oncorhynchus rastrosus, a fossil fish that lived in these parts from the Miocene to the Pleistocene.”
“How long is that in years?” Bill asked.
“From about seven million years ago to less than a million. It seems to have gone extinct some time during the Ice Age,” McDougald said. He grinned again when he saw the governor’s Eldorado. “That’s a hell of a ride you have there, man, but what kind of mileage does it get?”
“Godawful. Worse than godawful. Price I pay for being a sasquatch in a world full of little people,” Bill said mournfully. Food was part of the price, too. The only things he saved on were clothes and razor blades. He returned to the business at hand. “So if it didn’t go extinct . . .”
“Then it may be what we’ve got in Grants Pass. Or it may not. We’ll find out when we get there,” McDougald said. At Bill’s waved invitation, he slid into the Mighty Mo’s right front seat.
`Bill got behind the long-shafted wheel. As he started the car, he said, “Pronounce the name again for me so I don’t sound like a goofus if I have to say it to a reporter or something.”
“Oncorhynchus rastrosus.” Mervin McDougald said it slowly, several times. He went on, “Oncorhynchus is also the genus of modern Pacific trout and salmon. The Atlantic varieties are in Salmo.”
“Salmon,” Bill murmured, piloting the Cadillac back to the I-5. He thought they were delicious, but that wasn’t what gave the murmur a certain edge. The Indians of Jefferson also thought they were delicious. So did the merfolk, out in the Pacific. Keeping the two groups from fighting over who got what was one of the more interesting things he’d had to do lately—if you meant interesting in the sense of the Chinese curse.
From Ashland to Grants Pass was a little more than forty miles. Bill got there in a little less than forty minutes. The double nickel speed limit remained the law of the land. It also remained the most widely ignored law of the land in the history of laws of the land, possibly including Prohibition. You needed to go somewhere, you floored it and you went.
Bill got off the Interstate at US 199. He took the smaller road west and south, across a bridge over the Rogue River, to Rogue River Highway. The Fish and Game Department had plainly been at its current digs for quite a while. The building reminded the governor of the state offices, though it was much smaller. It had that same blocky, homely practicality. Sure as hell, a bronze plaque by the front door declared that the Works Progress Administration ran it up in 1936.
That front door was tall enough for sasquatches. Bill didn’t have to duck in the reception hall. Even that early, the WPA had noticed that Jefferson was a different kind of place. A secretary looked up from her IBM Correcting Selectric and said, “You’re the governor, aren’t you?”
“Guilty,” Bill said. “And I’ve got Professor McDougald, the ichthyologist from Jefferson State Ashland, here with me.”
“You’ll want Eric Bishop.” The woman punched buttons on her phone, spoke into it in a low voice, and hung up. “He’ll be right out.”
Bishop wore a Smokey Bear hat, a forest green shirt with a badge on the left breast, khaki pants, and hiking boots. He shook hands with Bill and with Merv McDougald, and then said, “I’ll take you over to see Greg Donovan and whatever’s left of the speartooth. I left my film at the Fotomat a couple of blocks from here. I had ’em do the twenty-four-hour service, so the pictures’ll be ready this afternoon.”
“That all sounds good.” Bill remembered the days—they hadn’t been that long ago, either—when you had to wait a week for your photos, and you’d forgotten what some of them were about by the time you got them back. He went on, “Meeting you in person makes me start to believe this may be real. I sure didn’t when we were on the phone.”
“Oh, it’s real, all right.” The game warden tilted his hat back so he could scratch his forehead. “If Greg’s neighbors don’t know how real it is today, they sure as hell will by this time tomorrow.”
Bill held his nose. It was flatter than a little man’s, so his gesture was slightly different: he pushed the tops of his nostrils down instead of pinching them together. But it meant the same thing. Pitching his voice as high as he could, which wasn’t very, he said, “What’s that offal smell?” McDougald winced, so he noticed what Bill had perpetrated, poor bastard.
Eric Bishop didn’t. “Come on with me,” he said, and then paused to take another look at the governor of Jefferson. “Um, maybe you’d better follow me over, huh?”
“That sounds like a plan,” Bill said dryly. No, he and unmodified little-people cars didn’t mix.
Bishop’s Fish and Game car was an aging Plymouth the same color as his shirt—about the same color as Jefferson’s flag—with a yellow light on top. It was easy to follow, in other words. And, since Grants Pass had only about 15,000 people, following a car wasn’t exactly the kind of thing that would challenge the FBI.
Greg Donovan lived in a big white clapboard house near the west edge of town, on a lot full of pines and spruces a couple of hundred yards from the Rogue. A Steller’s jay screeched in one of the trees. A golden retriever ran up to Bishop’s car and Bill’s, barking its head off. As soon as Bill got out, stood up, and stretched, the dog ran in the other direction even faster. It might not fear strange little people, but a sasquatch was a different story.
The dog’s racket made Donovan and his wife come out to see what was going on. He was about fifty, with a neat graying beard. He wore a Pendleton, beat-up jeans, and Nikes. His wife looked at least ten years younger than he was. Her hair was redder than Bill’s pelt. Her sweatshirt and jeans did more for her shape than Greg’s clothes did for his.
“Holy moly, Eric!” Greg called. The retriever trotted over to him. He patted it and scratched its ears. “You said you were gonna call the governor, but I didn’t think you meant it.”
“You’ve known me twenty years. How often do I say stuff I don’t mean?” the game warden answered.
“There is that,” Donovan allowed. He nodded toward Bill. “I know who you are. This is my wife, Kelly Ann. Who’s your friend?” After Bill introduced Mervin McDougald, Donovan nodded again. “Good to meet you, Professor. I can see why you’d want to come along.”
“My curiosity got the better of me,” McDougald said. That was as polite a way as Bill could think of to say he still didn’t fully believe the Grants Pass man had caught a speartooth. Since Bill didn’t fully believe it, either, he understood the ichthyologist’s doubts.
Eric Bishop took the bull by the horns: “How much of the fish is left, Greg?”
“There’s a whole bunch of meat in my freezers,” Donovan answered.
“It looks a lot like trout,” Kelly Ann put in. “It’s not red the way salmon is. It tastes a lot like trout, too. I pan-fried some for supper last night. It was good. Fried up some potatoes to do with it.”
“I was going to feed the guts to the dog,” Greg went on. “Then I thought, How many speartooths are there? I went to 7-Eleven and Safeway and bought all the ice they had. So that stuff’s in trash bags in one of the sheds back here.”
“It is?” Merv McDougald’s eyes went wide, wider, widest. “I love you! Will you marry me?”
“Hey, I saw him first,” Kelly Ann said. If Greg was as straight as he seemed, Bill didn’t think she had to worry about the competition.
“I saved the skeleton, too, and the whole head,” Greg said. “I cut the fish into four parts so I’d have manageable chunks to deal with, but I didn’t toss any of it in the trash.”
“I do love you!” Merv said.
“C’mon back. I’ll show you guys,” Donovan said. “Somebody’ll have to keep Rex out of things, but I expect we can cope.”
As they walked around the house and back toward a sheet-metal shed with a corrugated roof, Bill asked, “How’d you manage to go fishing on a Tuesday afternoon, Greg?”
The local sent him a crooked grin. “You mean, how come I wasn’t stuck in an office somewhere, shuffling papers from one pile to another and writing more for other people to shuffle?”
“You said it that way,” Bill responded. “I didn’t.”
“Yeah, yeah. But that’s what you meant,” Donovan said. “Reason I wasn’t is, I don’t like it and I don’t have to do it. I’m a computer programmer and a writer, and I can work right here. I do things for a lot of little companies, write articles for magazines like onComputing and Byte. I can send ’em what they need on floppy disks.”
“On what?” Bill asked.
“Information-storage goodies,” Greg answered patiently.
“Oh.” Trying to show how up-to-date he was, Bill said, “The state government’s using more and more waddayacallits—word processors, that’s it.”
“Those babies are okay now, but they’ll be obsolete like a Model T in a year or two,” Donovan said. “I’ve been doing some freelance work for Apple, and the GUI they’re working on’ll blow the doors off the way people use computers.”
Bill began to realize how out of his depth he was. “The what? The gooey?”
“G-U-I. Graphical User Interface. I can tell you that because you haven’t got any idea what the hell I’m talking about. Otherwise, I’d have to kill you.” By the way Donovan said that, maybe he was kidding and maybe not.
“Can we see the fish, please, and worry about computers some other time?” Merv McDougald, by contrast, sounded plaintive, or perhaps desperate.
“Oh. Yeah. Right.” Greg, who’d slowed down to talk with Bill, got moving again. “Sorry about that. The governor pushed a button, I guess.”
“You think?” Kelly Ann said. He gave her a look. She stuck out her tongue at him. They’d been together for a while, all right. Bill recognized the signs.
Greg Donovan took a key ring from his pocket and unlocked the stout Yale that secured the shed’s sliding door. The door slid without vibration or squeak, which said he took good care of gadgets other than computers and floppy disks. As soon as air wafted out of the shed, Bill’s nostrils twitched. “Fish in there, sure enough.”
“Funny how that works.” Greg flipped a switch on the wall. A bare hundred-watt bulb hanging from the ceiling blazed to life. The fish smell got stronger as Bill ducked inside. He stayed ducked; the ceiling wasn’t high enough for him to straighten up again. But it didn’t smell like old fish. Not all the ice in the plastic bags Greg had bought was melted yet.
Rex the golden retriever thought it smelled fascinating. He charged into the shed in spite of Bill’s intimidating presence, mouth open in a doggy grin. Greg Donovan grabbed him by the collar and hauled him away from the goodies. “Outa here, you dumb mutt,” he said.
Kelly Ann turned to Bill and Merv. “What are you supposed to do with a guy like that?” she said. “He talks to me the same way.” The spark in her eye made Bill believe her about as far as he could shot-put the Mighty Mo.
“Hey, sweetie, I never called you mutt in my life,” Greg said.
“Something close,” Kelly Ann returned.
Laughing, Greg shook his head. He gave his attention back to the governor and the ichthyologist. Merv McDougald was shifting from foot to foot as if about to pee in his pants. “Here—this is the tail end,” Greg said, picking up a dark green Hefty bag. “Like I said, after I gutted the thing I cut it into four pieces so I could get it into my truck without killing myself or rigging a block and tackle.”
Careless of his clothes, Merv undid the paper-wrapped wire tie that held the trash bag closed and reached into pull out the hunk of fish. “Oh, my,” he said softly, examining the big tail the way a teenaged kid examined his girlfriend’s body the very first time he got lucky. “Oh, my.”
“What does it tell you?” Bill asked.
“It’s definitely Oncorhynchus,” McDougald said. “The shape of the tail and the raying tell me that at first glance. The adipose fin, too.” He tapped a small, fatty fin on the back, near the front end of the butchered piece of fish. “It’s much bigger than any species of Oncorhynchus I’m familiar with, though.”
“How did you land it, anyway?” Bill wondered. If the rest of the fish was in proportion to that tail, it was ginormous, all right.
“First thing I asked him when I drove by,” Eric Bishop said.
“I was at the edge of the river, going for trout,” Greg said. If he’d told the story once, he didn’t mind telling it again—he was a fisherman, all right. “And I got this strike, and it damn near pulled me into the water. The fish jumped, and I saw how big it was, and I kinda freaked out. I felt like Ernest goddamn Hemingway with a swordfish or something. I figured it’d break the line and get away and nobody’d ever believe me if I talked about it. I hardly believed it myself, and I was there.”
“You’re lucky it didn’t pull you in,” Bishop said.
“Yeah, that woulda been all she wrote, huh?” Greg said. “But anyway, it jumped again, and it must’ve hated the hook so much, it came right out of the water and onto the bank. I bashed in its head with a baseball bat.”
Merv McDougald made a small, distressed noise. “May I see the head, please?”
“Sure. Here you go.” Grunting a little at the weight, Donovan picked up another bag and gave it to the ichthyologist. He seemed to know exactly which bag held what. A bit slower than Bill should have, he notice a stick-on label, with HEAD neatly printed in Magic Marker. The others bore similar tags. Greg was organized, as a programmer ought to be.
Hands trembling in excitement—and, no doubt, worry with it—McDougald undid the tie, opened the bag, and reached in. He gave forth with a loud sigh of relief as he lifted out the head. “It’s not as bad as I was afraid it would be,” he said. “Damage to the dorsal region, and some to the left side, but the right side is in excellent shape.”
“That’s one way to put it,” Eric Bishop said. “You wouldn’t want to swim in any river where that baby lived.”
“No kidding!” Bill agreed. The speartooth’s golden eye was dull and dead; its green-and-brown speckled scales no longer shone. But there could be no question about how it had earned its names. It bore some of the longest, pointiest teeth Bill had ever seen on anything this side of a crocodile. They included an upward-projecting tusklike fang in the lower jaw and a matching downward-projecting one in the upper jaw.
“It’s not quite identical to the fossils we have of Oncorhynchus rastrosus,” McDougald said. “Clearly a close relative, probably a descendant, but not identical. The relationship would be something like the one between Homo habilis and modern man.”
“Homo sapiens, you mean,” Bill said dryly—he didn’t roost on that branch of the primate family tree.
Anthropologists still argued about where sasquatches and yetis did roost. Some said they were related to Gigantopithecus, the enormous extinct Asian ape. Others claimed they were an odd offshoot of Homo erectus, which would make them closer kind to little people. Bill, like most people big or little, didn’t waste a whole lot of time worrying about it.
“Can we go out and buy more ice?” McDougald said. Or maybe visit a funeral home and get some formaldehyde? We have to preserve the specimens till I can take them down to Ashland and freeze them or prepare them properly. Who knows when—or even if—we’ll ever see another speartooth?”
“Blows my mind that we’ve seen this one,” Bill said. “All this time, I thought the legends were a lot of hot air, but I was wrong. There’ve been just enough of them here and there for people to come across ’em every now and then. Who would’ve thunk it?”
“You know what I’m gonna do when I get back to Ashland?” Merv said. “I play racquetball with Steve Halvorsen, from the anthropology department. Tracing how legends grow is part of what he does. He’s talked about it till I almost think I could do it myself. This might be right up his alley.”
“That sounds great,” Bill said. To the ichthyologist, it was a scientific question. Oh, he’d gain prestige when he announced it, the same way the gal who found the coelacanth had. When you made a big discovery, the glory stuck to you, even if it was the discovery that was big and not your own self. Bill, a politician, viewed the speartooth through a different set of lenses. The first thing that cross his mind was what will this do for Jefferson? The second was What will this do for me when I run for reelection in two years? Some politicos—Al Rafferty sprang to mind—would have found his second question first.
“This will be a book. It has to be. Articles and a book, in fact.” Yes, visions of academic sugar plums were dancing in Merv McDougald’s head. If he wasn’t already tenured, he would be after he started publishing.
“We have the speartooth—” Bill began.
“The specimen,” Merv broke in.
“Okay, the specimen,” Bill said equably. “We’re gonna have the photos. When will those be ready, Eric?”
“Kid at the Fotomat promised me by four o’clock,” Bishop answered. “And I ordered double prints, so I’ll keep a set and you and the professor can split the other one. I’ll have the negatives, too. I’ll make more prints whenever somebody needs ’em.”
“Will you give me some from your batch?” Greg Donovan asked. “I don’t want to be one of those guys who tell fish stories with nothing to back ’em up.
“Hang on, everybody,” Bill said. “I’m gonna call a press conference down at the state Capitol in Yreka Monday morning. I’ll announce it tomorrow, so the news people can get their act together. I’d like all of you to be there to talk about the speartooth and what finding it means. Merv, if you want to invite Professor, uh—”
“Halvorsen, thanks. If you want to invite him, too, that’d be great. We may even see Jefferson on the national news. Last time it happened, I think, was when the Yeti Lama visited summer before last.”
“And this would be because of something that happened inside the state, not because somebody from the other side of the world was paying a call,” Eric Bishop said.
“You betcha!” Bill beamed at the game warden. Somebody got it, maybe even almost in the estian sense. The governor went on, “So—can everybody be at the Capitol Monday morning at, say, nine o’clock?”
“Why so bloody early?” Greg asked, miming a tormented, or at least a decaffeinated, soul.
“Because that’s already noon on the East Coast,” Bill said. “Gotta give the news crews some time to put their stories together and get ’em ready to air.”
Nobody told him no. The programmer who’d caught the speartooth gave a theatrical groan. Kelly Ann Donovan, by contrast, said, “I’ll be there with bells on. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
“Can I see some more of the speartooth, please?” Merv asked Greg. “The stomach and intestines, if you can find them in a hurry. They’ll tell me what the speartooth ate.”
“Anything that didn’t eat it first, is the way to bet,” Eric said. “That would be just about everything except people.”
“When they’re full grown, sure,” Merv said. “When they’re still little . . . This one won’t tell me anything about that. I wonder if we’ve been pulling babies out of the Rogue for years and just thinking they were funny trout. If the big teeth don’t grow in till maturity, it’s possible.” Greg handed him a Hefty bag labeled GUTS. He smiled like Christmas as he opened it.
Bill backed out of the shed. His spine creaked gratefully as he straightened up. He’d brought Mervin McDougald here to examine fish guts. That didn’t mean they interested him.
Kelly Ann stepped outside into the fresh air a moment after he did. she took a deep breath. “It did get a little smelly in there when he undid the tie on that one,” she said.
“Yeah, just a big,” Bill said. The odor wafted out in her wake. He and Kelly and moved farther away. Rex the golden retriever tried to go inside again. Whatever McDougald was doing smelled great to him. Greg shooed him away.
Kelly Ann lit a Virginia Slim. She glanced at Bill. “You don’t mind?”
“I’m not rude enough to tell you what to do on your own property,” he said. “I hope to God I’m not, anyway.”
“That means you do mind but you’re too polite to say so,” Kelly Ann said accurately. She didn’t step on the cigarette, but she did move downwind of him.
Inside the shed, Merv kept making little excited noises. Every so often, Eric Bishop echoed him. The game warden seemed to know a good deal about how the insides of fish worked. Well, that was part of his job, even if not all of it. The dominant refrain seemed to be Will you look at that?
After a while, Greg Donovan stepped out of the shed. Shaking his head, he said, “I’m glad I saved the offal, but I’ll be damned if I can get excited about it.”
“I’m with you,” Bill told him. “I’m glad you saved everything, too, and I can’t get excited about it, either.”
Greg turned to his wife. “Let me bum one of those off you, huh?”
As she gave him the pack, she teased, “You want the governor to see you smoking a women’s cigarette?”
“Like I care,” he said, lighting up. “They’ll rot my lungs same as my Marlboros, and this way I don’t have to go in the house and find those.” He held the pack of Virginia Slims out to Bill. “Go for one yourself?”
“No, thanks,” Bill answered. “I already have plenty of bad habits. I drink beer. I drink scotch. I do politics.” Greg chuckled and gave the cigarettes back to Kelly Ann.
Merv and Eric showed no signs of coming forth any time soon. They would have been happy pawing through the speartooth’s entrails for the next week. Bill took a surreptitious look at his watch.
“What time is it getting to be?” Kelly Ann asked.
“Close to eleven,” Bill said. “I crawled out of bed early to pick up Merv in Ashland before we came here. I’m getting hungry. Where’s a good place to go grab some lunch that isn’t too far?”
“If you want, I can fry up some more of the speartooth. Lord knows there’s enough of it to feed an army.” Kelly Ann paused, thinking. Then she said, “Heck, I’ll bring it outside for everybody. I’m sorry, Governor, but our house is little-people-sized.”
“Most of them are,” Bill said easily. “A lot more people your size than mine.” Even in Jefferson, sasquatches were a small minority. Accommodations laws here said hotels and restaurants and other public buildings had to make allowances for them, but you couldn’t hope to pass legislation like that for housing. The governor waved. “It’ll be fine. It’s a nice day—a lot nicer than yesterday—and this is a nice place.
“You’re a nice man, is what you are,” Kelly Ann said. She went inside. Pretty soon, savory smells floated out of the kitchen.”
Not quite out of the blue, Greg Donovan said, “You know something, Governor? I think I’m the luckiest fella alive.”
“Well, I understand that. I feel the same way with my Louise,” Bill replied. “Find the right one, she’s worth her weight in gold and them some. You guys have kids?”
“Boy and a girl, senior and a sophomore at the high school.” Greg dug out his wallet. He wore it in his left front pocket, not on his hip the way most little men did. “Wanna see pictures?”
“I’ll put up with yours if you put up with mine,” Bill said. The deal was made. Bill pulled out his own wallet. Each agreed that the other’s spouse and offspring were superior specimens of their kind. Ritual satisfied, both men stowed their billfolds.
Kelly Ann slid the kitchen window open and hollered “Lunch!” through the screen.
Merv and Eric failed to come out of the shed. “Hey, you guys!” Greg said loudly. “Better get it while it’s hot! C’mon out and clean up. When’ll you get the chance to eat speartooth again?”
That did the trick. The ichthyologist’s arms and shirt were somewhat the worse for wear. They cleaned their hands at the garden hose. Most of their talk flew straight over Bill’s head. He knew no more about the intricacies of scale and ray counts than they did about the gears and wheels and pulleys behind passing legislation.
Kelly Ann passed out plates of fried fish and fried potatoes. When she got to Bill, she said, “I know you’ll want more. Don’t be shy. I’ve got plenty—it wasn’t a little fish.”
“Shy? Me? I’m the governor, remember? If I were shy, they would’ve run me out of town a long time ago.” Bill ate a forkful of fish. He chewed thoughtfully. Yes, it was closer to trout than to salmon—definitely in that range. Whatever it tasted like . . . He nodded approval. “That’s mighty good!”
None of the little men argued with him. Greg fed Rex some scraps. The retriever wolfed them down, then tried to climb his master in hopes of getting more. “Forget it,” Greg told him. “If you had your way, you’d be a basketball with legs.” Rex did an excellent impression of a dog that didn’t speak people—excellent, but not good enough for seconds.
Bill, on the other hand, took not only seconds but thirds. “You don’t get any extra salary or allowance because you’re a sasquatch, do you?” Kelly Ann asked.
“I wish!” Bill said sincerely. “But I don’t. The taxpayers, Lord love ’em, would come after me with pitchforks and tar and feathers if I asked for one.”
“I don’t see why. You’re as big as three of us. You eat like three of us. Seems only fair you should be able to afford to,” she said.
“You are a nice lady,” Bill said. “But it depends on what you mean by ‘fair.’ Most people think it means everybody should be treated exactly the same no matter what.”
“That’s dumb. People aren’t all identical, like the stupid Farkel Family on Laugh-In. We’d be boring if we were,” Kelly Ann said.
He was inclined to agree with her. Even in easygoing Jefferson, the vast majority of the voters weren’t. Anything that smacked of special privilege for anybody was a political kiss of death. You might not like that particular fact of life, but you flouted it at your peril.
Eric and Merv hopped into the game warden’s car for a run to get more ice and possibly some formaldehyde. They came back with the frozen water but without the embalming fluid.
“Wouldn’t work.” Merv sounded said. “I’d have to cut up the specimens and put them in bottles. We don’t have the bottles and we don’t have the time. I’ve got got to keep everything cold till I can get it down to Ashland and into the freezers in the lab there.” He glanced over to Bill. “Governor, I can use your trunk to move things, right?”
“Well, there’s plenty of room,” Bill said, which wasn’t exactly assent. It was true enough; the Mighty Mo’s trunk would hold anything this side of a 747. All the same, Bill added, “Make sure you close all the bags up good and right. Otherwise, I’ll be remembering this trip every time I open the trunk for the next five years.”
Greg laughed. “Isn’t that why God made air freshener?”
“I don’t think God or Procter and Gamble ever made air freshener strong enough to beat old fish,” Bill said. Greg spread his hands, yielding the point.
Eric Bishop pulled a Fotomat receipt out of his wallet. “May I use your phone for a minute?” he asked Kelly Ann. “I want to see when the pictures will be ready. I told ’em to hurry as much as they could, so maybe we won’t have to wait till four.”
“Sure. Go ahead. There’s one on the wall by the fridge,” she said.
Bishop walked inside. When he came out, he was grinning from ear to ear. “They’ve got ’em!” he said. “The kid in the booth put in a special rush on ’em, bless her heart. I’ve got to find something nice to do for her.”
Money works, Bill thought. But that was the game warden’s business, not his. Eric piled into the Fish and Game Department Plymouth and peeled out of there at the best speed its small, unexciting engine would give him. Plainly, he would have liked to burn rubber on his way to the Fotomat. Just as plainly, the car wouldn’t let him.
“If I’m working that Fotomat now, I’d tell him, ‘Sorry, none of the pics came out,’ just to see the look on his face,” Greg said.
“That’s evil!” Kelly Ann sounded more admiring than not. Bill would have said the same thing, but perhaps not in the same tone of voice.
Half an hour later, Eric Bishop came back. By his expression as he got out of the car, he hadn’t got any bad news at the booth with the yellow roof. He held up two envelopes full of prints. “I put these on the state’s nickel, Governor,” he said. “I figured they’re official business.”
“That’s fine.” Bill nodded. “Your boss grumps, tell him to talk to me.”
“Okay. And I gave the Fotomat girl ten bucks out of my own pocket for hurrying the orders. I had to talk her into taking it. Can you believe that?”
“Can we see the pictures? They’re as close as I’ll come to the speartooth in vivo.” Merv McDougald had literally salivated over fried speartooth at lunch. He seemed much droolier now on account of the photographs.
“Here we go.” Eric Bishop pulled prints out of the first envelope. Everybody crowded around him for a look. Bill bent forward to get as close a view as he could.
“Oooh,” Merv whispered. Bill doubted whether the sexiest, nakedest Playmate of the Month could have coaxed that noise from him. He’d seen naked women before. A naked speartooth? Nope.
There it lay, on the muddy bank of the Rogue. It was greenish brown above and silvery below. Greg Donovan stood beside it to give a sense of scale: it was about as long as he was tall. That’s a hell of a lot of fish, Bill thought. The speartooth’s golden eye stared back at the camera with what the governor imagined to be reproach.
Other photos were tighter shots of the speartooth’s head, of its fins, and of its tail. One, taken from a little too close for the Instamatic’s lens, tried to show its toothy mouth.
“Okay, on to the next roll,” Eric said. He put the first batch of photos back into their envelope and took the second batch out of the other one. On the first picture here, Greg was digging into the speartooth’s belly with what looked like . . . “Is that a bayonet?” Bill asked.
“Sure is,” Greg answered. “Came off the M-1 I carried in Korea almost thirty years ago. Still as good a utility knife as I’ve ever found.” Something dark passed across his face. “I’d sure rather use it on a fish than—” He broke off, shook his head, and didn’t finish.
“Hey, babe,” Kelly Ann said quietly. He put his arm around her.
There were the speartooth guts, spilled out onto the riverbank. Bill had to glance away from the photo for a second. The entrails looked too much as if they’d come out of a human belly, not a fish’s. He hadn’t been ready for that; his stomach’s slow lurch caught him by surprise.
Merv McDougald, on the other hand, focused on the picture like a burning glass. He made learned comments on the shape of the liver and the relative lengths of the small and large intestines that did nothing to help Bill’s poise or equilibrium.
The last pictures were of Greg cutting up the salmon so he could lift the pieces—and the guts, for which science would bless him—into the back of his pickup. That made Bill find another question: “How many times have you hosed down your truck bed?”
“Three or four so far,” Donovan answered. “That may do it—or it may not.” Bill nodded. He wouldn’t be able to clean out the Mighty Mo’s trunk the same way if something went wrong on the way south.
Eric kept one set of photos for himself. Bill and Merv divided up the other set, except for a couple that went to Greg. “I’ll have ’em make you a full set from the negatives,” the game warden promised.
“Good. I want ’em,” Greg said. “When I get old and stupid—”
“Stupider,” Kelly Ann put in.
“Stupider.” Greg accept the correction without a blink, which seemed to disappoint her. “When I get old and stupider, I’ll be able to pull ’em out and remember it wasn’t just another bullshit fish story.”
“Well, now I’m gonna call the Daily Courier. You can pull that story out, too,” Eric said.
“And I’ll be getting hold of the Daily Tidings in Ashland,” Merv added.
“And I—or my publicist—will be talking to every reporter and his brother-in-law,” Bill said. “That’s why we’ll want you at the press conference Monday.”
“We’ll do it,” Greg said. Kelly Ann nodded.
“That’s right,” Eric agreed.
“With these photos, you couldn’t keep me away,” Merv added. Bill smiled. He’d got them all moving his way.
But you had to give to get. That was a basic lesson of politics. Even so, a certain number of lardbrain politicos never got it. Bill had it down solid. He kept right on smiling when Merv and Eric filled the bottom of the Mighty Mo’s trunk with bags of ice. Then Merv and Greg took bags of fish parts and set them on top of the ice. Bill sniffed. No, it wasn’t bad. With luck, it wouldn’t get bad. Still more ice went on top of the Hefty bags. Bill slammed down the trunk lid—thud!
“That’s a hell of a big trunk, Governor,” Greg Donovan said. “And you’re a hell of a good sport about this, too.”
“I’m excited about it,” Bill said. “My ancestors were probably telling stories about speartooths before the Indians ever got here. Nice to know those stories weren’t total bullshit.”
“There you go.” Greg nodded.
“Yup. Here I go.” Bill raised his voice: “C’mon, Merv. I’m taking you back to Ashland and me back to Yreka. The sooner we get to Jefferson State Ashland, the less time your specimens have to spoil.”
“I’m coming.” McDougald came with such alacrity that Bill smiled his inward smile again. He’d been in this game a while. He knew which buttons to push, all right.
He found his way back to the I-5 with only a couple of little fumbles. Grants Pass wasn’t like Ashland or Yreka, where he knew his way around without needing to stop and think. Once you were going the right way on the Interstate, though, you could turn off most of your brain till you got close to where you wanted to swing back onto surface streets.
One trucker had turned off too much of his brain. His rig lay sideways on the soft shoulder of a curve he’d missed. Several tons of grapes spilled onto the shoulder and the field around it. The driver hadn’t hurt himself. He stood by the overturned cab and stared glumly at the mess he’d caused.
“He’s kissing his job good-bye,” Merv said.
“Uh-huh.” Bill nodded. “And if he had a beer or two at a truck stop in Grants Pass, he’s in worse trouble than that.”
The accident cost the Mighty Mo about five minutes on the trip back to Jefferson State. By the way Merv McDougald fidgeted in the right from seat, he either needed a rest stop or he was picturing the Hefty bags full of rotten, stinking speartooth.
But everything seemed fine when the governor parked near the biology building. He sniffed anxiously at the Eldorado’s trunk as Merv hauled bag after bag to the freezers. Bill dropped the ice bags into a dumpster. Then he did some more sniffing. Everything still seemed okay. He hoped that, unlike Fotomat prints, the stink wouldn’t take twenty-four hours to develop.
“Thanks for everything, Governor.” Merv held out his hand one more time.
Bill shook it. “Thanks for coming along. The speartooth isn’t a myth—and we’ve got the pictures to prove it.”
“And the specimens,” the ichthyologist agreed. “I’ll see you Monday morning in Yreka.”
That saved Bill the trouble of nagging him about it one more time. He slid into the Mighty Mo instead and headed back to the Interstate.
Thursday morning, Bill knocked on Barbara Rasmussen’s open door. He didn’t go any farther till his publicist said, “Come on in.” He knew he intimidated little people if he just suddenly loomed above them. It was too much like Godzilla coming over the hill and descending on the village.
“Got something to show you,” he said.
“What’s up?” Barbara was a tall, well-made blonde, certainly publicist-pretty, very possibly starlet-pretty. She was pretty enough to carbonate Bill’s hormones. Like a lot of members of small minorities, he got most of his ideas about beauty from the larger society in which he lived. He hadn’t done anything about them with Barbara; he liked being married to Louise. But that didn’t make them go away.
“Check these out,” he said, and set some of the best speartooth photos in front of her. Not all of his ancestors had been so scrupulous as he was; if family stories had it straight, one of his great-great-grandmothers was a little woman.
“Good God!” she said, staring up at him. Her eyes were big and improbably blue. “They said you went up to Grants Pass yesterday for something that had to do with a speartooth, but I thought it had to be a joke or a hoax. It wasn’t, was it?”
“Sure wasn’t. I ate some for lunch, matter of fact. Can’t very well do that with a hoax.” Bill smacked his lips. “Oncorhynchus rastrosus, in the—pretty tasty—flesh.”
“Oh-kay.” Barbara made two very distinct syllables of it. She peered down at the photos again. “The speartooth looks . . . pretty much like a speartooth’s supposed to look, I guess. Wow! It’s really big.”
“I know. Isn’t that crazy?”
She looked up at him again. He went a little weak in the knees. You are a happily married man, he told himself. If you want to stay a happily married man, keep your mind on business. She helped, tapping the pictures with a fingernail and saying, “What do you want me to do with these?”
“Call a press conference—Monday morning. Let’s get Jefferson national notice for something besides growing weed,” Bill said. Police in Jefferson turned a blind eye toward that part of the state economy. The Feds loved them for it. He went on, “We’ll do it at the Capitol, at, say, nine o’clock. We’ll have the guy who caught it here. He’s a computer programmer. His name’s Greg Donovan. A game warden named Eric Bishop took the photos. And Merv McDougald is an ichthyologist from Jefferson State Ashland. He identified the fish. He damn near creamed his jeans when he did it, too.”
Barbara grinned as she scribbled notes. “Donovan . . . Bishop . . . McDougald. Maybe I won’t tell the networks that last bit.”
“Spoilsport.” Bill grinned, too. “We’ll have a Jefferson State anthropologist along, too—Steve, uh, Halvorsen—to talk about the legend of the speartooth. And you can tell people the governor’s car carried some of the speartooth’s remains from Grants Pass to Ashland.”
“The Mighty Mo?” Barbara had ridden in the Eldorado lots of times. She wrinkled her pert nose. “What’s it smell like?”
“Well, it was okay when I got back here yesterday afternoon. The guts and the head and all were in Hefty bags, and we had a ton of ice.”
“Gotcha. If it gets bad, you can dump in a gallon of lemon juice. If anything’ll kill the stink from old fish, that’s it.”
“Sounds like a plan. Anyway, can you fax those photos to the networks and the press agencies?”
“I’ll try. I don’t know how well they’ll come out. They may just be big black squares on the page. If they are, people will think we’re playing April Fool’s games in November.”
“If you talk to Al Rafferty, he’ll tell you the voters did that day before yesterday,” Bill said.
“I sure didn’t vote for Reagan,” Barbara said.
“Neither did I, but a whole bunch of people did.”
“Didn’t they just?” she said mournfully.
Bill went off to do other things, confident Barbara would take care of everything that needed taking care of with the speartooth. He found out how right he was a few minutes after he came back to his office from lunch. He was reviewing a proposal to create a state park not far from Port Orford when his phone rang. He shoved the proposal aside with relief; the prose was at best uninspired.
“This is Bill Williamson,” he said.
“Hello, Governor,” his administrative assistant said. No, Phyllis wasn’t nearly so decorative as Barbara, but she was damn good at what she did. In Bill’s mind, that counted for more. She went on, “I have Charles Kuralt on the line.”
“You do? Well, for heaven’s sake put him through!” Bill said. The bald, folksy newsman was one of CBS’s heavy hitters—a heavier hitter than Bill had expected to deal with.
“Governor Williamson?” Those deep tones were as familiar as an old friend’s, all right, from the evening news and from his Sunday morning show.
“That’s me.” Bill’s voice was deeper still, but not so mellow.
“I talked with your charming publicist—” Kuralt began.
“I’ll tell her you said so,” Bill broke in. “It’ll make her day.”
“I told her myself,” Kuralt said. “But I wanted to hear it straight from the horse’s mouth. You’re the governor of Jefferson. You don’t do puff pieces—I hope not, anyway. Are you telling me on your word of honor that a computer programmer out there really and truly pulled a speartooth out of the Rogue River?”
“On my word of honor,” Bill said solemnly. “I saw the photos. I saw the fish. Hell, Mr. Kuralt, I ate the fish.”
“I couldn’t be much more astonished if you told me you’d had dragon steaks,” the newsman said. “But okay, I believe you. Because I believe you, I’ll fly out there for your press conference Monday. And I’d like to ask you for an interview afterwards, if I may, with an eye toward running it on the news next Sunday morning.”
“That sounds wonderful,” Bill said. Or whatever is one step up from wonderful, he thought giddily.
“Okay. I’ll see you Monday, then. ’Bye.” Kuralt hung up.
Bill picked up a pencil and punched the numbers for Barbara’s extension with the eraser end. When she answered, he blurted, “Charles Kuralt!”
“I know! Isn’t that fabulous?” she said, and then, a beat later, “He’s such a nice man.”
“He sounds like one, anyhow,” Bill said. “We’ll get to meet him Monday and find out for real.”
“I know,” Barbara said. “I can hardly wait.”
A hallway led to the press room in the Capitol. Bill stood there with Barbara, Greg, Eric, Merv, and Steve Halvorsen, who looked professorial in a tweed jacket and cords. They waited for the clock on the far wall to say it was nine. Kelly Ann sat in the press room with Vicki Bishop, Donna McDougald, and Ellen Halvorsen. Bill hadn’t met any of the last three or Steve till a few minutes earlier.
Most of the people in the room, though, were newspapermen and TV reporters. The television lights made Bill want to blink. Somebody plainly from out of state said, “How come this damn room’s so huge? The Jolly Green Giant could do a news conference in here.”
“Jerk,” Greg Donovan said, sotto voce. Bill nodded.
“It’s time,” Barbara said. She walked to the podium and took her place behind the lectern. On the podium were chairs and easels with blowups of two of Eric’s photos: the one of Greg by the speartooth and the closeup of the fish’s head. The head itself sat in a big jug of formalin on a table by the closeup. No trick photography here. They had the goods.
“Welcome to Jefferson,” Barbara told the crowd. “I’m Barbara Rasmussen, the state public information officer. Governor Williamson will give a brief statement, and then we’ll let you talk with Mr. Donovan, Mr. Bishop, and Professors McDougald and Halvorsen. Ladies and gentlemen, here’s Governor Bill Williamson.”
When Bill came out, the guy who’d wondered why the press room was so big went “Ohhh.” Hadn’t he ever seen, or even heard of, a sasquatch before? If he came from somewhere like New York or Massachusetts, you never could tell.
Bill tilted the extra-long microphone stalk up so it reached his mouth. “Thanks very much, Barbara,” he said. “Like you, I want to welcome everyone here to Jefferson. The speartooth is a fabulous fish that’s been the stuff of legend in these parts for as long as anyone can remember. Now, thanks to a fisherman’s lucky catch, we find that the legend turns out to be true after all.” He waved to the head in the jug. “Effective immediately, Jefferson has declared the speartooth to be a rare and endangered species. Any others that may be caught must be released at once. We have also asked the EPA to issue the same order for national parks, national forests, and Indian reservations in Jefferson, and they have agreed to do that. We must protect the speartooth if we possibly can.”
He introduced Greg, Eric, Merv, and Steve, then sat down in the chair made for someone of his bulk while they told their stories in turn. He quickly decided Halvorsen was someone from whom he would have wanted to take a class in his own college days. The anthropology prof talked about other surprise discoveries. He mentioned the coelacanth. He talked about the platypus, which people in Europe had thought to be a jackalope-type creature when the first skins came back from Australia. And he talked about the okapi, a large, not particularly rare or inconspicuous mammal Europeans had somehow missed till the end of the nineteenth century.
“This is what makes science fun,” he said with a little-kid grin. “We find new stuff, and so we have to try to work out what the dickens it all means.”
Then it was question time. The first one was for Greg: “Mr. Donovan, what did you think when you got a good look at the speartooth?”
“I thought, Holy, uh, moly, that’s the biggest, uh, darn fish I ever saw,” Greg answered. He drew some laughs for his edited-for-television thought process. He went on, “The next thing I thought was, Gosh, I hope it doesn’t break my legs or squash me, because it was flopping around on the bank right next to me. You don’t want to get clobbered by a fish that’s as long as you are tall, believe me you don’t.”
Someone asked Merv McDougald, “What did you think when you heard a speartooth had been caught, Professor?”
“That somebody was playing a practical joke on me,” the ichthyologist said. Bill nodded to himself; he’d thought the same thing. Merv continued, “Being wrong never made me so happy before.” He got a laugh, too.
He also got a follow-up question: “What is this speartooth doing in modern Jefferson, anyway?”
“Well, you have to understand that its near relatives lived here for millions of years. Probably the closest relation we have fossils of is Oncorhynchus rastrosus.” Merv thoughtfully spelled the scientific name for the reporters. He added, “The people who know about it often call it the tiger-toothed trout.” That won him some more chuckles.
“Is the speartooth a surviving, um, tiger-toothed trout?” The reporter who asked that had the sense not to try to say Oncorhynchus rastrosus.
“I thought so when I first saw it, but I don’t now,” Merv answered. “Enough details are different to convince me it’s a new, related species. When I publish, I’m going to propose the name Oncorhynchus jeffersonensis.” He spelled jeffersonensis, too.
“In the legends, the speartooth can do things like fly and breathe fire,” a newspaperman said to Steve Halvorsen. “This is a great big fish, but it’s just a fish. Are we sure it’s what caused the legends?”
“Are we sure? No. Is it very, very likely? Oh, yeah,” the anthropologist answered. “Look at the siege of Troy, three thousand years ago. There was one; archaeology makes that clear. Was it full of magic and Greek gods, the way Homer tells the story in the Iliad? Probably it wasn’t. Legends are stories that grow in the telling. That’s what makes them legends.”
Charles Kuralt raised his hand. When he was recognized, he said, “Mr. Bishop, when you saw Mr. Donovan there on the riverbank with that enormous speartooth, did you ask him if he had a fishing license?”
“No, sir.” Eric shook his head. “I didn’t need to, on account of I sold him the license myself.”
“That will do it,” Kuralt agreed. “What were you thinking when you saw that fish and realized what it was?”
“It blew my mind. I don’t know how else to put it,” the game warden said. “It’s blown everybody’s mind who’s had anything to do with it. You don’t think something that’s always been just fancy talk will turn out to be for real. But there it was.” He pointed to the preserved head. “There it is.”
TV cameras swung from the lectern to the big jug. There it was, all right. You could see it with your own eyes. If that didn’t make it real and not legendary, Bill didn’t know what would.
A few more questions came. The conference wound down. Finally, Barbara stepped up to the mike and said, “Thanks very much, folks. We appreciate your coming, believe me.” Newspaper reporters hurried out of the press room to file their stories. Most of the blowdried, hairsprayed TV guys went outside to film their reports against the imposing backdrop of the Capitol. One enterprising fellow stayed behind so he could be shown in front of the state seal.
“I think that went well,” Bill said to Barbara.
“Me, too.” She nodded. “We made as much of a splash as a speartooth can—and that’s one big fish.”
That afternoon, Charles Kuralt interviewed Bill in the covered patio behind the governor’s mansion. The weather stayed decent. It was in the upper sixties. Flowers bloomed in the garden the patio looked out on. Birds hopped and pecked and chirped.
Bill had offered his office as an interview site. Kuralt took one look at it and shook his head. “No, thanks,” he said. “I’d feel like Gulliver in the land of the Brobdingnagians.”
“Sasquatches aren’t as big as all that,” Bill said, but he didn’t argue very hard. It wasn’t as if he hadn’t felt like Gulliver in Lilliput more than a few times himself.
The CBS crew aimed one camera at Bill, one at Kuralt, and one from the side at both of them. They set up lights on metal poles. Several lamps hung from the planks of the patio roof, but the crew sneered at those. A white-crowned sparrow perched on one and watched the setup proceedings as if it knew what was going on.
A makeup girl powdered Kuralt’s bald dome so it wouldn’t shine too much under the fierce lights. “Joys of television,” the reporter said ruefully. “You ready, Governor?”
“Ready as I’ll ever be,” Bill answered.
“You’ll have done this kind of thing before. You know how it goes. Don’t worry about fluffing. We’ll film way more than we need, then edit it down to a couple of minutes of good stuff for Sunday morning. People won’t just want to know about the fish. They’ll want to know about you, and about your state here.”
“I hope so,” Bill said.
Kuralt glanced at his cameramen. One by one, they gave thumbs up. So did the sound guy. “Let’s do it, then,” Kuralt said. The little lights under the TV camera lenses went red. Just as quickly, the newsman went from ordinary fellow to personality. “This is Charles Kuralt,” he declared, as if anyone could be in any doubt. “This afternoon I’m in Yreka, the capital of Jefferson, talking with Governor Bill Williamson. Thanks for inviting me to your state, Governor.”
“Thanks for coming,” Bill answered. “I was thrilled when I found out you would be.”
The newsman cocked his head to one side to study the governor. Almost at the same moment, and almost with the same gesture, the sparrow cocked its head to study the newsman. “And this is a remarkable state you have here,” Kuralt said.
“We do like to think so,” Bill said.
“Remarkable,” Charles Kuralt repeated. He scribbled a note in a little book held together by a spiral wire at the top. Phyllis Ward used the same kind for jotting things down. Kuralt went on, “Sometimes it seems as though the rest of the USA hardly hears about Jefferson, and it should. It really should.”
“We aren’t one of your big, crowded states,” Bill said. “The people we have, most of ’em hope to get left alone most of the time, and they pretty much leave the rest of the world alone, too.”
“But that’s a shame,” Kuralt said. The white-crowned sparrow fluttered its wings, as if about to take off from the lamp. It sat tight, though. The CBS man went on, “Everyone I’ve met has been warm and friendly, ready to give me the shirt off his back.”
“When you’re here, you’re our guest. We try to treat guests right,” Bill said. “We wish we had more of them. With our mountains and forests, there’s a lot to see in the state.” The Jefferson Tourist Board would be proud of him.
“There’s a lot to see other ways, too,” Kuralt said. “Take you, for instance. As far as I know, no other state has had a sasquatch elected to anything above local office. You’re the second sasquatch governor of Jefferson. There have also been state legislators and Senators—”
“I was a state Senator myself before I ran for governor,” Bill put in.
“Yes, of course. And you had a sasquatch Congressman back in the 1950s,” the newsman continued. “So what is it about Jefferson that makes the state so different?”
“Well, for one thing, this is where most of us have always lived, ever since the Ice Age,” Bill said. “And everybody in Jefferson, big and little, has a live-and-let-live attitude. It’s the flip side of wanting to be left alone, you might say. People here do leave other people alone. They don’t hassle them for being different. And, because of our accommodations laws, sasquatches just fit in better here. They literally fit better, here, too.”
Kuralt took more notes. The sparrow flapped again, but didn’t fly off. “It all makes sense when you explain it, but Jefferson still seems . . . exotic to the rest of America,” Kuralt said. “A sasquatch governor! And now a speartooth pulled out of the river! Amazing!”
“If Professor McDougald is right—and he knows his business—speartooths and their relatives have lived here for millions of years. They’ve lived here longer than sasquatches have.”
“But they’re still here! And so are you.” Charles Kuralt waved his hands. “The Romans said, ‘Out of Africa, always something new.’ With us, it’s ‘Out of Jefferson . . .’ What should we expect next? A live dinosaur?”
That wave was finally too much for the white-crown. It flew out toward the garden, right over Kuralt. And, as it flew, it left a souvenir behind. “Sorry about that,” Bill said.
“It got my notebook, not my suit.” Kuralt tore out the soiled page and gingerly crumpled it. “Just another editorial.” He glanced after the sparrow. “Stupid little bird.”
“Always Something New” copyright © 2020 by Harry Turtledove
Art copyright © 2020 by Red Nose Studio