Capt. Gary Henderson, Florida

September 27th, 2004

The Showdown
By Captain Gary (Flats Dude) Henderson

The story you are about to read was inspired by Gardenfish, and a few others that swim and lurk in the saltwater bulletin board. All names weren't changed to protect the innocent... couldn't find any "innocence." "A Challenge" was leveled at the members to come up with a situation. And did they ever. ~ Captain Gary Henderson

Everyone has a story down on the river front. Here is mine...

It was one hell of a thunderstorm that night, as I arrived on Bourbon Street. I had finally responded to an email sent from a total stranger, and it read like an old detective novel. The lightning lit up the darkness, delivering the flavor of the street to me; Bourbon, and that sounded good as I slipped into one of the smoky bars that lined the street in "Naw'lins." The neon light above the door flickered, missing several letters burned out by nights like these. It just read "Po' Boy's."

I wasn't really sure where to meet this guy called "Tapply," just what the hell was he all about; said somethin' about payin' somebody back for somethin'.

A guy in the corner banged on the strings of an out-of-tune guitar, singing an almost-recognizable, "Staggar Lee." His instrument's case sat open on the floor in front of him as he swigged beer between verses, spillin' some of it over a few coins that had been dropped in the case under a sign that read, "Singin' to Angler Dave".

Just as the entertainer got to the chorus, a slight man walked up to me, and whispered in a coarse, raspy voice, stained with whiskey. "You the Flats Dude from Florida?" He had a kinda mixed Texas-Cajun accent I found refreshing.

"Yeah, who wants to Tapply?"

"Naw, he's the guy in the trench coat in the corner drinkin' scotch, I'm Burke...James, to my friends."

I looked at Burke out of the corner of my eye, never removing my hand from my rain slicker, refusing to shake the outreached hand of Burke. Burke just stood there as if he expected me to run, but I was here to meet Tapply, still wondering if I had walked into some kind of set up. I lit a smoke, pulled down my cap and walked to the bar.

"Bourbon" The barkeep kept his eyes fixed on the television as he says, "Sure that won't be a coconut rum and pineapple juice?" The bartender's voice was out of town, but sounded familiar. "How 'bout a nice bowl of hot clam chowdah?" I just nodded as he slid the steaming cup in front of me. The rain intensified, beating on the tin roof of the smoky room. The "chowdah" was good and I hadn't realized I was hungry. "Stripah Dave from Ispwich," the man behind the counter extended his hand. "You "The Dude?" I tipped my hat in his direction, never taking my eyes off of Tapply.

Tapply sat surrounded by a few cheap lookin' women with lipstick too red and jet-black hair; cigarettes dangled loosely in the corners of their lips. I had heard about these Cajun women and the spells they could cast, I wanted no part of 'em. Tapply gave the impression of a godfather in some old gangster movie. "Angler Dave's" guitar kept spittin' our chords, and I thought to myself, "Is he ever gonna play a different tune?"

"Stripah Dave" chimes in and says, "We all know who you are. Tapply's sizin' you up. Come with me and I'll introduce you two."

I was led across the barroom and stood lookin' at Tapply from the other side of the round, oak table. His graying beard hid part of his whimsical grin that seemed permanently affixed to his puss. "We have business in the back room, Dude." He shushed the girls away and walked to a door at the back of the bar. I followed out of curiosity.

The out of place door led into another room, lit by old hurricane lamps; several salty-lookin' boys sat around fly-tying vises. The room was busy, but soon ceased all activity as I removed my rain slicker, revealing my watermelon-colored flats shirt; my signature, if you will.

They were all there now, Tapply, Burke, Micus and a now-sober Angler-Dave. A short, balding man appeared with three more bowls of "clam chowdah." Tapply introduces him simply as "Lagasse". We all find seats around a long, well-worn table.

I broke the silence. "What can I do for y'all boys?"

Tapply begins. "I have called for your help, Dude. Seems this Lagasse fellow wants to start a chain of restaurants and needs our backing. I have agreed to throw in my two-cents provided he can cook up anything we ask him. Our draw was for some fried up 'gator. Seems Burke and I were reading some of your work on some fly-fishing web site, and noticed you had become quite famous down in Florida for catching alligators on the long rod. We figured if you could catch one of our Louisiana 'gators, Lagasse might be able to cook it up several different ways, thus satisfying the taste buds of the conglomeration of us gathered here on this miserable night. What do you say?"

I peered from under the bill of my favorite fishin' cap, glancin' into the eyes of each gathered there. Thunder rumbled outside the old bar and fly shop. "Po' Boy's," huh, and I thought that was just a sandwich. I looked at Lagasse and asked, "Can you build me one of those muffaletta things I've heard y'all folks down here are famous for?" He just steps back and yells, "BAM!" and leaves us to do our dealings.

The next morning I found myself on the bayou standing next to some guide in a pirogue. His thick, Cajun accent was, at first, hard to understand. A "Robicheaux Fish Camp" ball hat covered most of his black hair. I only knew him by his first name, Dave; a guide never to be forgotten. He poled the narrow boat around cypress knees and through thick pond lily beds, and told many a joke about Boudreaux and Thibodaux. "One of 'em said like dis", says Dave...

"Poor ole Boudreaux up and died one day. Upon arriving at the gates of Heaven, St. Peter greeted him, "Welcome to Heaven, dere Boudreaux!" Boudreaux exclaimed "Mai, tank ya, cher!" St. Peter explained to ole Boudreaux that there was one stipulation before he was allowed through the gates of Heaven...he had to answer one question and get it right. Boudreaux scratched his head and said, "Mai, ok, cher. What dat be?" St. Peter says "What is God's first name?" Boudreaux answers, "Mai, cher, dat be easy, it's Howard." St. Peter (laughing himself silly).

"HOWARD? May I ask you, Boudreaux, how'd you come up with that name?"

Boudreaux, smiling proudly, says "Mai cher, dat be an easy one.....Our Fadda who art in Heavin, HOWARD be dy name."

St. Peter, still chuckling, says "I can't argue with that one, Boudreaux! Come on in!"

About the time my guide finished the joke, and right before I was about to fall out of the pirogue, the biggest ol' lizard in the swamp nailed the poppin' bug and off we went crashin' through the trees and branches, Ol' Dave hollerin' somethin' spicy in Cajun slang.

Before long, that ol' gator was skinned out and on the Lagasse kid's cuttin' board. We had 'Cajun fried ' gator tail, crawfish and 'gator pie, barbequed 'gator ribs and 'gator jambalaya; we had 'gator fifty-seven ways. Beer flowed, zydeco music played in the background. Even Angler Dave managed to bang out a rhythm on the washboard and spoon.

Years later I fondly remember back on that trip. As I said, it read like an old musty private-eye paperback. Tapply and Burke turned out to be a couple of amateur authors. Lagasse is now some famous chef with his own TV show, and still yellin BAM! every chance he gets. Angler Dave? Well, he's still playin' a mean guitar with some Naw'lins blues band, but they won't let him sing. Stripah Dave got into writin' stories and hangin' out in sleazy joints to get a scoop.

Me? I'm getting' a royalty check every month from a certain cookin' show, and occasionally I wander the flats with the long rod, wearin' my watermelon flats shirt and lookin' for a story myself; a story where shady characters, smoky bars and stormy nights all come together to make sense of things...Things that go bump in the night.

Flats Dude walks away under an old street lamp down Bourbon Street, disappearing into the dark, rainy night, singing to himself...

"Goodbye Joe, me gotta go, me oh my oh
Me gotta go, pole the pirogue down the bayou
My Yvonne, the sweetest one, me oh my oh
Son of a gun, we'll have big fun on the bayou..."

See y'all next week, shweet heart... ~ Capt. Gary

About Gary:

Gary grew up in central Florida and spent much of his youth fishing the lakes that dot the area. After moving a little closer to the coast, his interests changed from fresh to salt. Gary still visits his "roots" in the "lake behind the house."

He obtained his captain's license in the early '90's and fished the blue waters of the Atlantic for a little over twelve years. His interests in the beautiful shallow water flats in and around the famous Mosquito Lagoon came around twenty-five years ago. Even though Captain Gary doesn't professionally guide anymore, his respect of the waters will ever be present.

Gary began fly fishing and tying mostly saltwater patterns in the early '90's and has participated as a demo fly tier for the Federation of Fly Fishers on numerous occasions. He is a private fly casting and tying instructor and stained glass artist, creating mostly saltwater game fish in glass.

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