Liar’s Code

TUESDAY, I SAW KELLEHER between second and third period. He told me that, in the slower water, you couldn’t keep the smallmouths off a black Mister Twister. “Seventeen inches, some of them,” he said. “You’re going to love this creek.”

“My folks aren’t too sure,” I said. “They want to know what time we’ll be back.”

“Sunday late. My father and I like to make a full weekend of it. That’s the way we are down there in the woods. Late Sunday, tell them. Very late.”

A full weekend at a cabin in the wild Southern Tier sounded great to me. Most weekends my
father played accordion at weddings; I don’t think he’d ever been south of Cheektowaga in his life. Fish were something he brought home from DeSalvios on meatless Fridays—breaded and fried, with coleslaw.

“How many bass have you caught?” I asked Kelleher as the bell rang and a stampede of enormous men dressed as boys blundered around us.

“How many?” Kelleher repeated. He trained those weary, hooded eyes on me and nodded like an old sailor giving up a treasured detail of an epic voyage. “More than you can shake a stick at.”

He slammed his locker shut and hurried down the now empty hall, and I stood there. More than you can shake a stick at. It sounded like something my grandfather would say. But all I really heard was, bass, trout, mountains, cabin, bass, trout, mountains.

Father Moretti gave me detention for being late to class. I used the time to make a list of things I’d need at the cabin.

WEDNESDAY IN THE CAFETERIA, over Spanish rice and gray string beans, Kelleher casually mentioned that we could always catch “a mess” of native brookies. “If we want to bother with them.”

The only brook trout I’d ever seen were either on a Winslow Homer calendar down at the Mobil Station, or lying on a bed of fresh-plucked ferns in a Genesee Cream Ale ad. Kelleher said “hundreds” of them lived in the feeder streams that flowed into the creek by his cabin. “They don’t get big. Twelve inches, maybe.” He forked a heap of Spanish rice into his mouth. Around it, he added, “Fourteen, tops.”

A fourteen-inch brook trout.

“Can your father call mine?” I asked.

His face went dark. He stopped chewing. “What about?”

“You know, that it’s okay for me to go with you and sleep over and all.”

“Look,” Kelleher said, “I don’t see him every day. I live with my mother.”

I felt my face flush.

“I just mean . . . well, my parents will want to talk to—”

“I don’t like to bug him,” he said. “We’ll pick you up Saturday morning, seven-thirty. They can meet him then. Good enough?”

He went back to eating, silent and more serious than I’d ever seen him.

“The brookies,” I said. “What do they hit? I mean, if we bother with them?”

“Anything.” He was smiling again. “Everyone knows they’re the easiest trout to fool.”