Permit to Heaven

by John Agricola

There were three of them. Anglers can only operate in groups of three because a skiff, a Hell’s Bay to be more precise, can only fit three comfortably.  The participants of this adventure seemed to be in search of adrenaline.  They seemed to be desperately gazing—for fish perhaps— even more likely, they were looking to feel alive.  

The guide of the journey was Jesus (Heyzeus), a dark swarthy individual with a square jaw, and even temperament.  When he communicated to his clients he always used an even tone and clear messages. He never got excited or yelled at them when they missed shots.  And these two clients missed a lot of shots in the purgatory between good caster and great caster.  When they were line wrapped Jesus would just turn his stubbly check the other way and look for more fish coming.  They were somewhere on the salted flats in about two feet of water.

Gus was an enormous fellow, and was built like a nose-guard.  Dylan was slight and sinewy, wiry perhaps.  Gus had written airport security language for TSA all his life, and Dylan was a mechanical  engineer.  They were really just acquaintances as this trip was put together on a micro skiff forum chat 9room.  They were actually planning a job involving the smuggling of cocaine from a Caribbean island to the Florida Keys.  

Yet just now, Jesus had them standing in their wading booties looking for black tailed devils rooting around for crabs.  They were located on the Flats of Exodus, but unlike the name which evokes thousands of people in migration, the only creatures migrating anywhere were the surfacing poon.  But here the bastard tarpon never ate.  Gus reaches into his chest pocket for a snort of product, and his chubby fingers spill the powdery substance into the pristine and sun soaked waters on the Flats of Exodus.  Jesus exclaims, “What the fuck, man?”  

Then they realize the horizon line around them are walls of mangrove too thick for white men or effete modern men to traverse.  A siren sounds in the distance.  Perhaps it was Guantanamo, or some other earthly hell where sirens interrupt fishing trips.  Dylan yells at Gus: “Goddamnit Gus, I told you the Flats of Exodus were no place for cocaine.”  “I’m sorry!” Gus yelled back still clutching his fly rod, looking for permit, and doing his best Chris Farley impersonation. The siren was deafening and this alarm seemed to be spooking the fish.  Suddenly the water was only nervous when fish were moving away from the wading anglers.  Big pushes of nervous water and tails left the dream-like-basin.  Swarms of birds came, and a shark devoured a rolling poon right before their eyes.  The water reddened by the blood and the sky began turning greenish like an aurora borealis.

An aerial view of this site appeared as a labyrinth of walled up mangroves with roots thicker than Bo Jackson’s thigh.  

“It’s okay,” Gus shouted across the flat to Dylan, “We still have the Patagonia dry bag,” which was incidentally full of coke bricks.  Jesus shook his head, and turned the other cheek as a croc swallowed up a bird of prey.  “Vamonos,” Jesus said.  The two anglers reeled in.  “Well, you have several options from here,”  Jesus said to the men.

“Phew, I thought we were done fishing.” Dylan said to Jesus.  “The wind has grown too violent in this bay, and the pelicans have smashed most of the bait.” Jesus said of the Flats of Exodus.  “Fuck it, let’s motor.” Jesus said with confidence in his decision to leave what had been a very productive fishing zone for permit for other less unscrupulous clients.  Some people say, “if you are living right you’ll catch fish.”  These men were in a purgatorial plane where they might not have been living at all.  The alarms still rang loudly over the birds squawking.  Suddenly, a group of Peter’s PT boats came flying up a channel to inspect the men’s gear.  Peter had a flowy white beard and was wearing a white bamboo cloth fishing shirt.  Jesus had been here before, and so he started to throw the Patagonia bag overboard.  Gus grabbed Jesus by the arm and said, “Take this rig to Florida, man.”  

The pt boats began to fire when they saw Jesus start up the Hell’s Bay Marquesa. Smoke poured out of his 90 hp Mercury two-stroke.  Smuggling was a real problem near Heaven’s Gates.  So these pt boats were ready to send some folks to hell.  The boat’s skag began scraping and crunching on an oyster bar when they moved into the shallow flat.  And then the Hell’s Bay sent a rooster tail skyward as Jesus jumped out of the hole, easily escaping the heresy that was a pt boat bottoming out in the Flats of Exodus and sticking the vessel. Purgatory was known for prop scars.

Jesus radios: “Florida’s gate must be opened!  We have passports and we have all been devoted fishermen in life,” Jesus said to some unknown authority.  Of course he was lying, after all Jesus was a fisherman.  The tagline on his guide service card read “Fisher of Men,” but failure to follow his instructions sometimes resulted in losing a fishing hand to sins of all variety.  Thou shalt not bring a banana on board was the first commandment for stepping aboard.  The second was to not get gravel in the boat by missing the towel he laid out for a client’s feet.  The third was “thou shalt not bring blow aboard a heavenly mission like permit fishing.”  Gus had written airport announcements during most of the cold months when he could have been in the Keys fishing for permit, and Dylan had spent his whole life working to innovate machine parts never really finding time to fish much.  

When the two boarded Jesus’s boat Gus said, “you did not bring any bananas did you?”  It was almost a trite thing to ask, because everybody knew it was just a setup question for telling a newb bystander the story of bananas being bad luck and frowned upon by the fish gods.  Dylan always wanted to have time to fish and now he had an eternity with Gus, a fellow he barely knew.  Dylan responded dumbly, “I had a banana smoothie from the marina.”  

The skiff slips through a break in the mangrove walls and suddenly they were beset by choices.  It looked like Trump’s designs for the Mexican-American border wall, only it was a natural mangrove wall.  One break in the mangrove dense forest said “Fish On Ranch, Centennial, Wyoming,”  which stirred in Gus a memory of guerrilla fishing one afternoon by repelling to the bank off a bridge.  The barbed fences did not go all the way to the rivers edge and he wore out some heavy rainbows that were probably pellet fed; yet, the joy had sustained his life when he was a poor fisherman.  Dylan saw a vision of his own life; instead, he saw a steelhead destination up in Klickitat, Washington.  It was there that Dylan and his father had discovered their love for chrome.  The sign read simply WA, but Dylan knew what it meant.  Still, the Hell’s Bay could only go to one destination.  The men had died together on their smuggling mission when they were shot by Narcos at the Bogata airport.  Jesus explained, “You won’t need the cocaine in heaven.”  “Toss it,” he said.  

“But…” Gus tried to argue.  “Captain, I need it to feel whole.”  “If you had given your heart to me in life perhaps we wouldn’t be in this mess,” Jesus yelled over the engine.  His tone was changing.  Perhaps these clients were grating on his even temper.  “Now, you must go to Hell.  The South doesn’t even want this place.”  The next walled gate said, “Florida.”  Dylan slyly said to himself, “Oh please don’t throw me in that mangrove patch.”  It was a Brer Rabbit move to say “don’t throw me into the briars,” or mangroves as it was, where Dylan believed he would be most at home. “Can we take the Patagonia bag?”  Gus asked Jesus.  “You won’t need it where you are going.”  Jesus said through gritted teeth.  

He was starting to lose his cool with these assholes.  The pearly gates were made of oysters and they were you guessed it, full of pearls.  The pearls were lined up in a way that spelled Florida.  Jesus idled through its vined gates.  Tarpon rolled all around them as they entered.  He motored the men to a vast flat in Islamorada.  “Get the hell off my boat.  You guys stick to wading for bonefish.  You can work up to your permit-permit.”  “Amen.” They said simultaneously getting out onto the new flat.

What they did not know was that they were in for an eternity of rusty hooks, rum runner hangovers, and endless opportunities for permit that would never eat.  Every morning they would check the sky for good light and there was a cloud of omen-like darkness, yet just enough wormholes of light to see an occasional permit blowing up next to the boat.  Sometimes the sun glimmered with a terrible glare, but just to tease Dylan and Gus they would see the fins of a permit.  It might even eat their fly occasionally, but at the last moment the rusty hook would break—  a Sisyphean torture of epic proportion. 

About the Author

John Agricola is an outdoor writer who has been working on his craft for close to a decade. He is inspired by the game he pursues and the wild people he meets along the way. He has work published in The Drake Magazine and has several stories forthcoming in the Flyfish Journal and Strung.