>Old Harris Burton burst into the bar, letting in a swag of sea wind and the soul-chatter of pounding surf. He had red, startled eyes and a mouth of such unusual sorrow nearly all of us put down our glasses and turned around on our stools. Old Harris Burton shook the rime of hoarfrost from his overcoat—that innate fisherman’s reflex—but made no other clue to move.
Tarner Willis placed a big arm on the Guinness tap. Need a drink, there, Harris?
Harris dropped to his knees with a deep thud, and the effect was so startling that some of us let out a breath, wasting precious warmth.
Harris, Tarner said, eventually, what is it?
Harris looked him in the eyes with a clear, compressed gaze
I caught him, said Harris with a grim leaden voice. I finally caught him. Old Salty.
That’s right m’boy. Old Salty himself. And didn’t he put up a good fight what’s more! Harris shook his head back and laughed.
A different silence settled on the bar. Slowly, measuredly, Tarner leaned his weight against the counter and said, Can’t be Old Salty, there, Harris.
Harris looked up. What’s that?
Tarner ran his tongue across his lips. The rest of us avoided his eye like rotten sou’wester. Thing is, said Tarner, Old Salty got caught last year. Those big sleek types from up the coast, with their radar and harpoons and that.
Harris’s face cracked. What?
You remember, said Tarner. They had it strung up by the harbour, tentacles all spread out for the photos.
Then what … Harris struggled for words … what did I catch? He opened the palm of his right hand. In it was a small cassette, the black audiotape protruding slightly from where the spools had loosened.
Let’s have a look, said Tarner, coming out from behind the bar. He prised the cassette from Harris’s hand, looked at it, let out a low whistle. Well I’ll be, he said, shaking his head. That is quite a catch.
What is it? said someone.
You tell ’em said Tarnter, handing the tape back to Harris.
Harris held the cassette up to his face, squinting. Billy Joel, he said, The Stranger.
And that was the day we all agreed that a decent set of adult contemporary pop songs was better than a giant squid any day of the week.