I'm sure you have all heard of Rodney Phipps. He is the renowned multimillionaire Yo-Yo manufacturer and sportsman who was recently in the news when he inadvertently sank his own yacht while fishing for marlin. As the story went, Rodney made it a practice to heave surplus World War Two hand grenades at the fish whenever he ran across them. Of course, it was an easy matter for Rodney and his crew to net the stunned fish, and, inasmuch as his method remained a well-kept secret, his fame as the best game fisherman in the world soon spread.
What proved to be his undoing was the sighting of a giant school of sharks. It so unnerved Rodney that he dropped the grenade he was prepared to chuck at them onto the deck after he had pulled the pin. The resultant explosion sank the yacht immediately. There was no loss of life; however, Rodney and his crew were adrift for ten days on a life raft. The crew was quickly disenchanted and tempers flared because of Rodney's inequitable distribution of the drinking water. He insisted that his ration be double that of any crew member, because, as he put it, "I've got to be able to bring this ship in and I can't think when I'm thirsty."
Ominous grumbling by the crew met his observation. Whereupon Rodney threatened to thrash all of them within an inch of their lives. The crew, on the other hand, voted to throw him to the sharks. Rodney recanted by saying something like, "Well, if that's the way you want it, boys—let's forget it."
Soon afterward, the raft was sighted and the disgruntled crew leaked out the story of the hand-grenade tactics Rodney had used. It ruined his reputation as a fisherman and, as a result of the bad publicity, his Yo-Yo business went into bankruptcy. I didn't hear anything about him for two years, and then his wife, Blossom, called me one evening and prevailed upon me to come at once. She said that something too horrible to discuss over the telephone had befallen Rodney. She was at her wit's end and, if ever she and Rodney needed a friend, then this was the time.
I sensed that this was a genuine cry for help and went at once. Blossom Phipps ushered me into their apartment. When I asked her what had happened to Rodney, she was silent for a moment. Then she led me to another room, where I found Rodney, dazed, bewildered and morose. He was wearing a checkered shirt and hip-high fishing regalia, which he wore regularly. He was sitting in a rocker near a window.
I said, "Hello." He stared, vacant-minded, then said something that sounded like "Ribber, ribber, ribber." Whereupon his wife burst into tears and ran from the room. I went to him and asked what was the matter. It became plain that something was amiss when he said, "Ribber, ribber, ribber," again. This time I was sure that I had heard him correctly.
When I questioned him as to the meaning of the words, he sprang from his chair and attempted to strangle me and I beat a hasty retreat from the ugly scene.
All Blossom was able to say was that he had appeared quite normal when he had left on a big-game fishing trip. It seemed that a man named Mr. Swift had written to Rodney describing a mysterious sand reef off the Reparian Islands where a vast armada of game fish would gather on the second Tuesday in April every fifth year, commencing at 3:32 a.m. It was sort of a fish "happening." Furthermore, he said, they had such ravenous appetites that they could be caught for as long as the fisherman's strength held out.
For a rather large fee, Mr. Swift offered to take Rodney to the sandbar. Rodney accepted the offer by return mail along with a threat that he would personally thrash Swift within an inch of his life if his story was untrue or even slightly exaggerated. Rodney departed. However, upon his return, Mrs. Phipps immediately ascertained that his vocabulary was limited to the one word, "ribber." She had taken him to various psychiatrists who could do nothing for him, but who all concurred that the key to his cure lay somewhere with ribber.
Naturally, I had to help Mrs. Phipps, so I wrote to Mr. Swift and we arranged to meet in the Reparian Islands. I was hopeful that he could throw some light upon what had happened to Rodney.
He wasn't what I expected. He was a man in the prime of life, a friendly man with a thin, flat face. He had trouble with the letter V. We dined and he ordered fried libber with onions. Then he told me what had happened. He had accompanied Rodney to the sandbar and had witnessed it all.
The fish had gathered as he had promised. In the space of an hour, Rodney caught eighteen swordfish, twenty-seven marlin and twenty-two bonita. The fish literally flung themselves onto the sandbar after they were hooked and Rodney found himself hip high in fish.
What Swift hadn't counted upon was the appearance of a species called a "giant ribber fish" which also made its appearance at 3:32 a.m. on the second Tuesday of April, but only once every twenty years. As luck would have it, it was the twentieth year and Rodney hooked a giant ribber.
The ribber, or river fish, if it is to be pronounced correctly, is a specie which inflates itself with water when it is hooked. After the hook is removed, it spouts water from its mouth, creating a Mississippian stream in which it swims back to the sea. Apparently it was this escape tactic which had given name to the species. Unfortunately for Rodney, his entire catch gleefully swam back to the sea in the newly created river.
It was a nightmare for Rodney.
"What's happening?" he screamed.
"It's a ribber fish," Swift explained quickly.
Rodney broke into real tears and ran into the ocean in an abortive attempt to recapture sixty-eight fish barehanded.
Now that I had unlocked the mystery of "ribber, ribber, ribber," I returned, sure that I could help him. I confronted Rodney and made light of what had happened. "A ribber fish," I said. "It's nothing. It can happen to anyone."
He immediately sprang to his feet and scornfully exclaimed, "A ribber fish? What's that? Have you taken leave of your senses? There aren't any ribber fish."
I had cured him, once and for all.
I am a firm believer in the adage that one good deed deserves another and, if you will read the exciting stories that follow, you will be doing one for me.