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14: Solving problems

Go and find a noisy bar
Kick the carpet with your boot
Sit and wonder who you are
And who gives a hoot

But—hey! That’s not the way

There has to be some laughter I can share
There have to be some flowers still out there
Maybe I’m not looking in—the right place
Compass, swing one-eighty and—about face

compass in binacleFour year’s worth of Jack Smarten was more than David had figured on. The bargain he’d struck to gain possession of the yawl had seemed like a short-term proposition to him at the time. The broker he’d made it with though, had other ideas. He’d figured on keeping his good fortune going as long as possible and had been working the deal he’d made with the marina owner for all it was worth.

     He would keep his old floaters at other marinas, running up berthage bills until he figured his wares would be confiscated for the overdue amount. Then he’d make a small payment on the account or move boats from wharf to wharf, making it almost impossible for boatyard operators to keep track of them.

     Night and darkness covered a multitude of sins where marine movements were concerned.

     Sometimes a fast paint job or a change of rigging would make a boat unrecognisable at a quick glance, so that even if a marina operator started looking for it to seize it for payment it wasn’t that easy—and even if found, the boats were sometimes considered not worth the trouble of legal action to obtain ownership of them.

     They did try to go after Jack, but they soon learned they couldn’t get money where none was available—and having the man thrown in jail wouldn’t help anybody unless they were truly vindictive, which most of them weren’t—they just wanted their money. Some of them even tried to go after David, because Jack touted his alleged association with that boatyard as often as he could, to give himself some credibility.

     Once a boat got to the point of being close to spontaneous eruption, Jack would often simply anchor it out somewhere, or then move it to David’s marina for free lodgings while his efforts to find a buyer became intensely serious. He didn’t want them hanging around the marina too long. It would cost him in credits to the yawl. Besides, he didn’t want other yard owners to come looking.

     The balance owing on David’s darling declined at an ever slowing rate. His marina crew began to make jokes about his yawl, calling her the shady lady. David took it with wry good-natured laughter. He was beginning to agree with them. He loved his boat, but the price he was paying for that love sometimes made him reflect grimly on the deal he had made with this lesser devil he’d met up with.

     While the marina owner had been busy with building on the barge and then running the casino, Jack’s ongoing larceny had sailed free and unhindered, being regarded as legitimate half the time and not even getting much of the yawl owner’s care the other half. David’s easy-going attitude of a little leeway had usually kicked in, but three years of business, both at the yard and with the casino, had done much to polish and tighten his business skills.

     Once he’d been grounded and contained within the city, with not much else to worry about for a year, apart from how to avoid going to jail and how to pay bills with non-existent cash, Jack’s perfidy became an ever apparent and growing irritation to him. Details of it were constantly rising to the top of his paperwork like an underwater oil leak, popping up in blobs and slicks.

     They floated beneath his eyes, demanding attention and scrutiny.

     It became evident to him at last that Jack was taking him for a ride. The broker abused the privilege of using the boatyard for repairs by inviting all his friends to avail themselves of freebies, always under the guise of selling the boat which was being ‘touched-up’ on the ways, none of which sales were through club leads, of course. He was acquiring things from the shop as replacement parts to such an extent that David realised the stock was actually being given away or resold under the table without being credited to the yawl account. The documented repairs were always minor and inexpensive. David’s crew got wise and told him, now that he had the time to listen.

     Jack was also bringing hordes of friends into the club and running up enormous bar tabs with the remark of—’Take it off David’s yawl account’—to the bartender. The food which went along with it as they lounged in the lounge was also taken care of that way, but bar tabs weren’t big enough to make a dent in the yawl account—in fact it hardly took care of the interest.

     Not only was his business being pillaged, but he was getting something of a bad reputation he didn’t deserve because Jack kept using the boatyard name to cover his own underhanded deals. Bailiffs were beginning to make regular visits to the marina. David shuddered whenever an old boat was sold using his club as a hook. He also had to designate an out-of-the-way corner of his marina for Jack to keep his flotsam and jetsam in until it was sold because some members, and others who leased space, were beginning to make remarks about the place becoming a junkyard.

     A couple of times the marina owner had flatly refused to allow the broker to bring his bargains into the marina. Jack argued he had an agreement. David argued that Jack was breaking the terms—but he had to put an anchor on his wrath because of TJUTELA. He didn’t want to lose her and, now that he actually considered paying Jack off with cash—he didn’t have that. Short of involving his Gram or Li in his affairs again, he had no recourse but to put up with the man.

     Things got hot and loud sometimes, as with the boat Harry Currie had bought.

     She was in terrible shape, nobody knew how old she was, and Jack Smarten hadn’t been too anxious to find out. He knew nothing of her smuggling adventure which had ended in a mudbank. He didn’t want to. Let some zealous idiot go dig up the past. He was interested only in her future direction, which meant he figured there were more Fools than Fish in the sea these days.

     He had towed this prospective water-borne gold mine into the club marina, her engine being somewhat dysfunctional at that time, and found the only space available just then happened to be immediately astern of the TJUTELA, which was a deliberate piece of space insurance held open by the owner of the establishment. Undeterred by this little detail, Jack took out a contract for that berth while David wasn’t around, wresting it easily from an unsuspecting and obliging new office clerk who was charmed by his smile and manner, and he tied the latest of his speculations up.

     A few quiet and noisy discussions had occurred between David and Jack after that. The gist of the matter, overheard by more than one eavesdropper and some people who would rather not have been in on the details, usually ran something like this watered down version:

     “I want to know when you intend to get that filthy old wreck moved off TJUTELA’s bright transom. Can’t you haul it to the public wharf? It keeps raking over my stern. Varnishing takes a lot of work—and you didn’t have the right to let that berth anyway!”

     Jack kept assuring his associate that he was the best boat salesman the world had ever seen, as he gave David’s stern another raking.

     “Hey man, for every boat I acquire there’s a buyer around, with money in his pocket, ready and anxious to buy. I only need one. I just haven’t come across that one yet. He’ll turn up though, sooner or later. As for the contract to the berth—that was an unfortunate mistake, but—a contract’s a contract—unless you want to buy it out—penalties and percentage and future value for breaking it, because there’s no ‘if’ or ‘depending on’ or ‘unless’ or ‘buy out’ clause in there—but a purchaser will soon turn up though. I’ve got two or three prospects—I’m working on it—not to worry.”

     David worried, and added a couple of extra fenders to the stern of his boat while telling himself he needed to have his business contracts reviewed before anymore such overlooked loopholes turned up to screw him.

     He gave up arguing with Jack and tried to think of ways to get that thing gone. Dreadful scenarios, like poking a hole in the hull—bigger than the leaks she already had—or jamming open the seacocks below decks, occurred in weak moments, but that wouldn’t have worked because everyone would have known who the guilty party was.

     Jack suggested helpfully, with what he thought was a humorous twist, that David should buy the boat himself and get rid of it if he were all that concerned. David thought, instead, about what a joy it would be to give the old crone a Viking’s funeral, but other matters intervened to take his mind off that boat and onto another floating menace.

     The barge casino necessitated his presence in court, and there were days after that when he wished he’d kept himself firmly landlocked and far away from Shalisa Creek Bay. However, having had the good fortune to have been stumbled over by a lawyer who took on cases, not only in the interest of a fee, but in the cause of justice and freedom as well and, more importantly, who’d had more brains than the prosecution, David had at last been allowed to go his own way again without let or hindrance and without further court appearances.

     It had been on the very first afternoon of those days of newly regained freedom that he and Harry had run into each other—rather more of a run from Harry than David’s contribution to the meeting.

     Here he stood on this day for celebrating, faced with the new owner of the object which had caused him so much distress and had received nothing but his lowest thoughts for some time, trying to find words of praise for it, and could only reply,

     “Oh yeah. I know something about her. I’m sure glad you bought her. I thought she was going to cement herself to the wharf along with all the other molluscs and crusty sea creatures she’s associating with.”

     He didn’t see the poor old boat flinch from that unkind remark because he thought maybe he’d overstepped the limits of familiarity as Harry looked thoughtful, then walked to the bow of his boat, regarded the rectangular space clearly delineated in spite of the deadening battleship green paint which had been used in an attempt to cover up the place previously occupied by a name board, and which had been laid on the complete exterior of the boat as well, nodded his head and murmured,

     “Crusty—that’s it. We’ll call her CRUSTY! That’s great.”

     Nobody asked the boat what she thought of this rechristening, but then, she’d been through so many that she figured one more wasn’t going to matter and, she reflected, maybe she had a right to get a bit crusty in her old age anyway, considering the treatment she’d been receiving along the way.

     “I guess you’ll be moving her out now?”

     This was said with a delighted smile of hope and expectations.

     Oh glorious prospect! Short-lived delusion.

     “Not for awhile,” replied Harry, with a big smile of his own. “I got a year’s moorage, and membership in the club with her too when I bought her. I’ve been trying to think of a good name for her but none sounded right. CRUSTY. That’s great. You’re great.”

     “You have—a year’s moorage—and—membership?!

     “Yeah—isn’t that great? Boat and all came as a package. This must be a great club. Hey, this calls for a beer. Come on aboard and have a look around.”

     <Geeze!That dishonest, lying, cheating, sleazy sewer! He didn’t let me know he’d put someone up for membership again. Maybe I’d better hit the club bulletin board a bit more often to find out what’s going on. I’ve told him I don’t know how many times to quit promising people that. I’m the one who always has to get out front and say ‘no’, and explain, and be the lousy wharf rat because they think I’m running a fraud. Enough! I’m not going to put up with him any longer. I’ve had four years of his sneaky, underhanded, dirty ways. I’ll go right now and find Jack and... .

     <Hey—HOLD IT—don’t slip your bitter end, as Li would say if he were a seaman—you’ll lose anchor, rode and boat that way—don’t get angry. Besides, this sale lowers some of the numbers on the yawl account. Okay. Maybe I’ll just pay off the balance for TJUTELA and boot him out, floating gin palace and all—contract or no contract—member or no member—oh yeah? What with? No cash! Damn! Can’t even get a loan, with no assets. I don’t care. I’ll find the money somewhere. He’s outta here!>

     David had put his gear down on the wharf, fully intending to go back to the clubhouse, have it out with Jack and be rid of him, but Harry, taking that action as an acceptance of the invitation to board, got hold of his arm and almost hoisted him bodily onto the old boat in his enthusiasm to show someone his prize.

     “Oops—watch your step,” cautioned Harry as David almost fell down the companionway ladder. “Seems to be a loose rung there at the top. Think I’ll have to do something about that. Look at all this space. Isn’t it great? We always wanted a big boat.”

     Finding himself inside the hull he’d so despised from the outside, David refocussed his vision from an inward view of a sunny future without Jack Smarten in it, looked around and then closed his eyes quickly, with a pained expression, behind Harry’s back.

     The entire interior of the boat had been painted the same heavy, military green as the exterior, including the fittings. David recalled a conversation, half heard, to the effect that all that varnish below would cost too much to redo, and the thing was probably going to turn green on its own very shortly anyway, so why not.

     <Only Jack’s gross mind could have thought of something like that. Cheap paint, fast work. Latex over varnish—oh, the outrage of it! The stuff hasn’t even bonded too well with the shiny finish beneath and it’s already beginning to crazy-crack.>

     “Guess you’ll be doing a bit of refinishing,” suggested David, tactfully he hoped, after he’d opened his eyes again.

     “Well, green’s not my favourite colour.”

     “Mine either!”

     The remark came out before David considered Harry’s feelings.

     “I’ll have to ask Bettina to help with that—Bett’s my wife. Ladies know more about things like that. She’s really pleased about it all.”

     “Maybe revarnish it,” came David’s suggestion to what he thought was obvious.

     “Yeah, I guess it was varnished before, but—come have a look at the engine. It’s really something!”

     It really was. Built somewhere in the fifties, also mostly green paint now—at least any part which could be reached with a paintbrush.

bag of beer cans

     David watched in puzzled silence as Harry got down on his hands and knees, lifted a floor board and scrabbled around in the bilge, until he arose hoisting a well-stuffed and dripping plastic bag, all angles and bumps, which was giving out a friendly and familiar rattling metallic sound.

      “Keeps nice and cool down there until I can get the fridge going,” Harry grinned, taking out two cans and polishing them on his coveralls. “I like cold beer. Usually drink my own home brew, but bottles don’t take to all that banging around. When I get the boat finished I’ll stock my own stuff. Here y’are.”

     He popped a can open, handed it to his guest and opened one for himself.

     “Here’s luck,” wished David with feeling, and swallowed half the contents of his can before he stopped.

     “Think I’ve been lucky already,” returned Harry, “Getting a great boat like this with moorage and membership all at the same time. Jack said she fits all the requirements for her to stay in the club too.”

     David finished the other half of the beer from the can he held.

     <Fits all the requirements. Well, it’s old, made of wood, still floats—sort of—and has a history, most of which is yet to be discovered. All of the club boats are loaded with history, some good, some bad and some hilarious, but history nevertheless, and lots of class—class being one reason why Jack Smarten is going to find himself in a somewhat difficult position trying to justify his qualification of Harry’s boat for entrance into the club. True, no one has ever been crass enough to demand that a definition of class be included in the memoranda—but this may prompt someone to it!>

     Before he’d dropped his elbow with its forearm, hand and emptied can attached, Harry repossessed the hollow aluminum from his grasp and was thrusting a full one out to him, pleased that his guest seemed to enjoy beer as much as he did.

     “Boy, is this gonna be fun. Look at this. It’s a B&W three cylinder and each one can operate independently if something goes wrong with one of the others. Go forever. Power to spare and built like a Swiss watch. Just look at this machining. Real precision.”

     Harry Currie had bought his particular big old wooden hole in the water for none of the fatuous reasons Jack Smarten espoused when working his possible purchasers, nor had he been in love with her beauty as David had been with TJUTELA, since at the moment, she had none. He had his own measure for worth and it had nothing to do with shape or age.

     It had been the diesel engine.

     David was not an antique engine buff, never mind a ‘B&W’. Although he was used to keeping his own machinery going he didn’t take kindly to mechanical work. He’d done his best to avoid too much nut and bolt twisting although, when his business had been as young as he had been at the time, there’d been no one but himself to do it. He admitted freely that he’d been overjoyed to find someone else who wanted the job. Skinned knuckles, split thumbs, and sprained fingers interfered with his flute playing. He now had another young man to take care of engine problems for his customers.

     This genius of all things mechanical had been despaired of in the world of academics because no one there would recognise where his real talent lay. It was not with books but with a tool box, a wrench and an unerring ear, which could tell a ping from a rattle or a rasp and know where it came from and what was causing it. He could look at oil and know why it looked that way. Spark plugs spoke to him and told him things. Metal could not lie to him. With one glance he could tell bronze from a cheat, and stainless from adulterated without a magnet. He was a master diagnostician and surgeon in the world of mechanical bodies. He could take old, abandoned junk and make it work again.

     David got immense satisfaction out of seeing this youngster doing what he loved to do—running his delicate touch over things and gently applying force where it was needed, talking to engines and encouraging them until he found out what was wrong. Then a little laugh of triumph would arise, he would fix what was wrong and set it right.

     His employer treasured him, admired his skill greatly and paid him well. This was one employee who came to work smiling, enjoyed every minute of his day and went home stress free to enjoy himself some more working on his own machinery. David knew the boy must love what he was doing as much as he himself loved playing his flute.

     Listening to Harry going on about his B&W, he wished his young mechanic were there instead. He got a lot of what Harry said, although some of it was so technical that his brain began to reel from the amount of information coming at him, and his attention began to flicker.

     As his eyes wandered around the engine compartment an odd fact began to make itself known. There were some tools laid out on a sheet of canvas. Clean canvas. Various pieces of machinery were set beside the collection and the whole lot was spotlessly gleaming.

     He regarded the diesel engine and, in spite of its age, the parts Harry was working on looked new. They were clean, shining clean, as was the whole unit. Maybe, speculated David, Harry had wiped it all over with himself, because it shone and Harry didn’t.

     “You pretty good with engines?” he enquired, genuinely interested now.

     “Oh—yeah—not bad. I’m a diesel engineer.”

     Harry looked a bit embarrassed when bringing this bit of information reluctantly into the open, as though he didn’t want anyone to think he was bragging and would rather they didn’t ask.

     David was thoroughly surprised. Who would have thought that under that greasy old blue coverall was a stubby, somewhat paunchy engineering expert in diesels.

     “You’re going to be popular around here,” he assured Harry. “Got lots of cruddy motors in the club. Almost more than we can handle.”

     “Yeah? Maybe I can help. I love engines. Isn’t it beautiful?” enthused Harry, wrapping warm looks around the machinery the way an art collector would regard a Renoir. “When I saw this baby down here, boy, I was sold. Couldn’t resist it. Always dreamed of owning one like this. Don’t know much about sailing though. I figure the boat was built mostly for motoring but it might be nice to be able to use the sails if the engine should ever give up—which I doubt. Maybe you could help me with the sailing bit. Are you good at it?”

     “I’ve done some—I’m not blue water though—mostly inside passage and coastal sailing.”

     “Well, that’s all I figure on doing, and this is a pretty long and interesting coastline.”

     “Sure is. I’ve seen a lot of it. Started puddling around home as a kid in a Sabot I built.”

     “What’s that?”

     “Oh—a little plywood sailboat just the right size for a kid to build and handle, with some help from his brothers—some adult kids liked ’em too.”

     The talk and the beer got together and, what with all that engine and whistle grease and Harry’s happy enthusiasm, David found himself agreeing that probably all it would take was some cleaning up, a bit of hard work, and she’d soon be shipshape again—maybe—with a—lot of—hard work.

     “Seems like she was well put together,” he remarked, beginning to really look around the cabin at the wood and workmanship now.

     “See this?” he pointed out as he tore a bit of peeling green paint from an inset brass locker pull. “Don’t get fittings like that anymore. Bet its all dovetailed inside too—yeah—look at that. Intricate cabinetry, like TJUTELA’s. Bet she was a beauty once.”

sabot under sail

     The two began agreeing that the boat had obviously been well built to begin with and it was only neglect and stupidity which had brought things to this state of ruin—along with some help from people like Jack. Maybe, they wanted to believe, the process was reversible.

     It was Harry’s turn to look a bit perplexed when David began to talk about recaulking, refastening, replacing and all those other lovely things which happen to boats after they get sailed to the edge of no return and then are retrieved from oblivion by someone whose eyes see only what they want to. Harry admitted he hadn’t realised all the things which could go wrong with a boat.

     He’d actually bought the diesel engine.

     David was so sorry for the look on the other man’s face after all he’d said that he blithely volunteered to help set things right in exchange for some work on TJUTELA’s motor—something he’d have to square with his young wrench-wielding genius, who felt that all things mechanical pertaining to David’s property were his responsibility.

     He finally fell off Harry’s boat onto the wharf as he tripped on the top companionway step again, having forgotten the warning, saying he’d see Harry at the club meeting that evening, and Bett too of course, because that was when new members were considered and accepted, so it would be a good thing for them to be there. Harry hadn’t known that—not having been given that information by Jack who had his own reasons for not doing so—but now that he did he’d look forward to it. He’d be there all right—and Bett too.

     David picked up his gear and stood swaying gently with an incoming tide which wasn’t there, commenting laughingly,

     “I’d have thought she’d get called HARA KIRI when I came aboard, but she’s a pretty good old girl after all. ’Bye Harry. See you.”

     As he rolled with more than a seaman’s gait along the wharf and onto the TJUTELA he didn’t hear Harry reply that he liked CRUSTY better.

     David started up the engine of his sailboat, cast off and motored out around the breakwater, during which time it became obvious to him that the intended diving expedition would have to be abandoned and cancelled.

     “Hi Al. Have to back out of the diving arrangements with you guys. Got hit in the face with a bagload of beer and I can’t go down in this condition. You can buddy up as triplets.—Yeah, celebrating early. Sorry about that but, it put a hammerlock on me and wouldn’t let me go.—No it wasn’t a woman! How come you always think that?—You’ve been listening to nasty gossip. You know me better than that.—Hey, I don’t care if I ever see one again for some long time into my immediate future.—Well, not that it’s any of your business why we split but, I was giving Ulf and Gurth their dinner and Tina told me I paid twice as much attention to my dogs as I did to her, so I said that was because there were two of them and—then she grabbed a bag of dog kibble and dumped it on my head—and then she dumped me.Agh! Who needs it?—Well I’m not telling you to get celibate. Save my breath on that one. Go ahead and do your own thing tonight.—NO! Don’t double me up or I’ll double you up ole buddy. See you tonight at the club then, and after that we’ll all pick up where I left off.—Yuh, seven as usual. Have fun.”

     As an alternative engagement to the diving, David had found a nice calm anchorage close by. The yawl floundered a bit under conflicting orders from her slightly tipsy skipper at the helm, then turned to and moved quietly with the waves while her anchor was set.

     Full of beer and kind feelings toward his latest club member, with all unworthy thoughts about arson and sinkings gone from his mind, and Jack Smarten put aside for future treatment, David handed his cares over to the keeping of his beautiful, expensive sailboat and slept peacefully and well in his cabin for the rest of that afternoon, figuring he’d had enough celebrating of his freedom for awhile—at least until that evening.

kibbles dump'd on David's head

- - -

The meeting of the Vintage Yacht Club was well under way before Bettina and Harry Currie put in an appearance. All the business matters, the whole agenda and one little piece of new business, that of approving the latest member, and associate member Bettina, wife of the aforementioned Harold Currie, both having been sponsored and put forth by Jack Smarten, had been taken care of.

     The addition of a diesel engineer had not been questioned by the membership which heard about the latest pledge. His profession was one which was well regarded. He owned an old wooden boat. Only four members, including the two latest initiates, knew which boat it was but, when a few people had asked him about it before the meeting, Jack had assured anyone whom he couldn’t avoid answering that the boat was big and vintage. These facts he could deliver with a clear conscience and a straight face, and he did. He honestly couldn’t give the name of the boat because he hadn’t yet heard if it had one, and he said so.

     Nor were any other members aware that the membership which had just been approved and the moorage which went with it had been conditions written into the very bent contract of sale when Harry Currie had purchased his antique motor in its packing case of barely floating wood. This somewhat classified information might have accounted for Jack’s non-show at the meeting which was now in progress.

     No one was too concerned that the latest member and associate, as well as their sponsor, had not arrived. It was taken for granted that the couple would turn up at some future meeting. No doubt Jack had probably forgotten to tell them about it, since he seemed to have mislaid that information for himself, as usual when he was sponsor.

     Anyway, it was bandied about, they’d probably only joined to get moorage for their boat. Space was at a premium everywhere and finding a berth for a large-sized vessel was no easy task in these days of ever larger floating condos.

     People were getting a bit blasé about new members. They were arriving rather fast lately. The loss of some who had left because of David Godwin’s arrest over the barge affair had made room for others who didn’t know or care. They just wanted to get into a yacht club, preferably one which had berth space, and the sooner the better. As well, the membership list at this club was still mighty impressive and they figured they’d make it more so. If they had to buy an old boat to qualify, they would.

     Some of the men, with yearnings toward old style virility, also thought that what David had done gave him and the club an image of defiant rebellion which they’d like to have accruing to themselves but didn’t have the nerve to acquire. Maybe they could get him to take up racing again. Maybe they could get some good challenges going with other clubs and sail the keels off them. A few more nicely polished awards to fill the cabinet in the lounge would certainly add sheen to the reputation they were hankering after. His boat club was definitely the one to be in—a leader with panache and daring—along with their own daring selves.

     David hadn’t heard this splendid version of his escape from a pending metaphorical diet of bread and water, or he would have told them very emphatically that having your daily life on hold and your mind and viscera tied in knots for the duration of a year or so would not be his first chosen and favoured route to fame and glory.

     For ordinary boaters who just enjoyed a quiet cruise, moorage space at other marinas and clubs was not available for some years into the future, including dry berthing. Waiting lists were the norm. Put your kid’s name on one and by the time they’re ready to handle a boat—maybe they’ll get in. It seemed to some that openings in this club were something of a miracle not to be questioned.

     There had been a rush of applications. Prospective members struggled to outshine each other for admittance. Those who got in not only added money, they brought prestige, which was becoming important to the upwardly mobile who were infiltrating the original organisation. They wanted their club to be the top, and some who had left it in indignation now wished with regret that they’d shut up and stayed put, still enjoying the right to a directed thumb influence at such meetings as the one which had just approved the latest application.

     After taking care of the Currie business, Membership assembled in the lounge, everyone dressed in trousers or skirts of summer white—which was rushing the season—topped with featherweight navy blazers sparkling with crests of embroidered velvet, silver, and gold braid, denoting various degrees of status and accomplishment, some real and some fancied.

     Conversation was sprinkled liberally with talk of computers, travel agents, engineered environments, investments, and the guest list of the latest one-hundred and fifty body party thrown by whomever, while all of these information contributors devoured the food and wine at hand to the tune of whatever, which seemed more to their taste than the strains of Vivaldi, who’d become lost in the Babel of tongues and had retreated into background sound as the softly tuned p.a. lost its bid for aural and mental attention.

     Into this atmosphere of sophistry entered Bettina, carrying a large cardboard box and behind her came Harry, hugging another, open at the top and displaying the necks of various-sized corked bottles.

     One of the members nearest the door, thinking to save the club floors from the grubby shoes of catering personnel murmured coolly, while looking just over Harry’s right shoulder,

     “Deliveries go to the back entrance.”

     “Not this one,” smiled Harry, walking around the intended repulse, “It goes right here.”

     Spotting the only person in the club he knew except for Jack Smarten, who was nowhere to be seen, he greeted David heartily with,

     “Hi there! Sorry we’re late, but I had the old beater apart and it took longer to put it back together than I figured. Brought something for the party. Where shall we put it?”

     Heads turned. This couple knew Godwin?! Probably a gambling crony. Owed them money, no doubt. Would he never learn? The nerve of him, bringing them here to soften them up. Unfortunate that they couldn’t get rid of him because he happened to be the founder and owner of the whole thing.

     David, quick to note some lack of cordiality by the doorway, walked across the room and greeted the couple with,

     “Hi Harry. So this is your lovely wife? I’m David Godwin, Mrs. Currie. Here—let me take that. May I call you Bettina?”

     “Of course,” smiled that person, surrendering her load, “That’s my name.”

     “I’m glad you were able to make it. What have you got here?”

     “Oh, just a little home made wine,” explained Harry. “Bett’s brew is the best you ever tasted and she made a couple of big angel food cakes too.”

     There stood Bettina, hair carefully combed and fastened back, in a new dress not yet crushed, as round as her husband and with a smile to match his.

     David rumbled around in his head, wondered if anyone present would blow the whistle on them for having illicit liquor so openly on the premises, figured that no one there actually gave a damn, and decided that if everyone partook of it they’d probably be even less inclined to mention that fact, and reacted with,

     “Mmmm! Just what we need to get things going. Let’s put it over on the bar.”

     As he walked David raised his voice saying,

     “People, these are our latest members, Bettina and Harry Currie. They’ve brought some goodies to our party.”

     New members?!

     Ice in glasses trembled as some people turned to look, a few turned away pretending not to have seen, and some others were so surprised they didn’t know what to do, so they didn’t.

     No one had ever called a meeting a party before, much less brought anything to it, nor was anyone ever late these days without a very good reason. Better they should have stayed away. Original members, who were getting outnumbered, waited patiently for proceedings to take their course.

     With both large boxes deposited on the bar, Harry looked around at all the navy and white and said,

     “Gee, I didn’t know you had uniforms. Guess we’ll have to get some too.”

     His remark, as he stood there in his casual cotton suit with its complementary dark blue shirt, open at the neck, brought an appreciative smile from David. The Curries had come obviously expecting a less regimented gathering, the way it had been when he’d started the club.

     He commented quietly,

     “Glad you don’t own any. It’s not my idea. I used to come in jeans and sneakers but—times change I guess. Rules sneak in when I’m not around to throw them out. Votes and democracy and all that. They take advantage of me sometimes. I can’t exercise my absolute veto if I’m not at a meeting, even if I am the head push dictator.”

     He gave a tug at his tie to loosen it, feeling a bit pompous as he saw Harry eyeing the crests on his jacket.

     <Well, I have to outshine the rank and file, don’t I? Sometimes I wonder if I shouldn’t just dump everything I have and go live in a cave for awhile to get my real self back. Maybe I should walk in with jeans and sneakers again. I’m getting tired of these self-important money grubbers I associate with all the time now. When I started the club it was to attract people who were honestly interested in restoring beautiful old boats, preferably not plastic. Now it seems it’s mostly attracting wooden heads and plastic money.>

     His conscience had balked at another principle down the drain. Problem was he needed that plastic money to keep himself surrounded by the things he loved—his grandmother, the house he shared with her, his dogs, his music, his plane, his boat and his business. Recent legal complications and the commercial recession which had followed had made him do a lot of things he wouldn’t have considered before.

     <It’s TJUTELA’s fault really. I probably wouldn’t have started this club if she hadn’t cost so much, but I had to have her, so here I am, trapped by my own brand of self-delusion.>

     “Head push?” enquired Harry in some astonishment. “How come you didn’t tell me?”

     “Didn’t think you’d be interested in that crap,” grinned David. “Anyway, that guy over there’s the commodore. I’m just the nuisance president and owner.”

     Harry’s eyes got even bigger.

     David didn’t ask what Harry would have. He simply ordered scotch on the rocks and a sherry for Bettina and stood one all around for the welcoming toast to the new members.

     Harry’s aside comment to Bettina was,

     “Oh, hard stuff,” as though surprised, and Bettina, taking a sip of the sherry, said nothing, restraining herself from wrinkling her nose at it as David made his welcoming address, extolling the fine qualities of his new members—diesel engineer extraordinaire, much travelled with his lovely gourmet chef wife, all around good fellows, classic vessel CRUSTY, the beginning of a long and happy association with the club—then he began personal introductions by steering Bettina and Harry away from the hawks and toward the least abrasive couple he could find.

     He got a conversation going between the Curries and the young Frasers who were as yet a little innocent about things themselves, being the latest members taken on before this. The Frasers flew their own helicopter, so David reasoned maybe the two men could talk machinery and the ladies would have to do the best they could. He hoped Bettina’s straightforward no nonsense approach might jar the young woman into something similar if it didn’t send her into shock first.

     Feeling somehow obliged to be protective of his new friends, he smiled down a couple of disdainful members who were making derogatory remarks in an undertone, some of which his ears got a hint of.

     A couple of curious people edged over and sneaked a peek at the contents of the box of bottles and at least those facial expressions didn’t offend David.

     After a short while, when a few of the more generous-spirited, long-standing members, like Yu Ching Li with his kind and perceptive understanding, had welcomed the Curries, Harry said to David, with an anxious tone to his voice,

     “Nobody’s tried the wine yet.”

     His experience at the parties he and Bettina attended was, that he could hardly get in the door before everyone grabbed his box of bottles and made for some glasses.

     “Ummm,” murmured David, “Well, it’s sort of like bringing champagne to a beer bust. Everybody’d like to, but no one has the nerve to be the first. Come on, let’s you and I open a bottle to start it going.”

     He walked bravely over to the bar, followed by the Curries, lifted a bottle out of the box, called for glasses—wine glasses—took the corkscrew from the bartender and opened the bottle himself.

     “It’s all right to drink it right from the uncorking like this is it?” he asked, starting to pour three while noting with an inner grin that Bettina surreptitiously deposited her glass of sherry on the bar and nudged it away from herself. “I mean, it doesn’t have to sit open for an hour or something, to improve the taste?”

     “I don’t think so,” laughed Harry, “But then, none of our bottles have ever stood around that long when they’re open, so I don’t know if it would improve or not.”

     As David poured and poured, thinking it was white wine, Bettina, regarding the large glasses, raised her eyebrows and gave Harry a danger signal, but the look she got back prompted her to say nothing.

     “Well, here’s to the two of you and CRUSTY,” pledged David.

     He raised his glass, looked at the clear, effervescent liquid with the light glinting invitingly through it, swirled it a little, inhaled approvingly, and took a cautious sip, but he didn’t swallow immediately. He held it in his mouth and let it caress his tongue.

     For a horrified moment Bettina thought she was going to be subjected to one of those taste test exhibitions to which she’d been witness a few times, at which all the people sloshed the wine around like mouthwash and then spat it out as though they’d suffered an insult by having taken the stuff into their mouths in the first place. She thought they were revolting displays of pretentiousness and a waste of good wine—but then she saw David swallow.

     “Geeze, Harry, what is this?” was his surprised and honest assessment. “I don’t know when I’ve ever had anything this good from a home brewer—or any other vinery for that matter!”

     “It’s my parsnip wine,” returned Bettina modestly, greatly relieved at its favourable reception. “We like to take it to special occasions and we figured this was one.”

     Then, as David took another more serious mouthful she added,

     “Uh—a little goes a long way.”

     He was to learn that, indeed, too much parsnip wine might make a person go a long way on many short visits, and that ‘extra wind for a win, skipper’ might well be the comment of a crew aboard a sailboat after they’d imbibed more than their fair share of the delightful brew the night before the race, to which the skipper might return that ‘it’s an ill wind indeed which blows nobody any good’, but with this taste of real, genuine home-made wine produced from unpackaged, unprocessed ingredients, David imagined it was as innocent of practical jokes as fruit juice.

     “What else have you got there?” he asked, poking among the bottles. “Dandelion, Rhubarb, Wild Blackberry, Mead, .. .”

     With each name the tone of his voice expressed more pleasure.

     “Gram still talks about things like this. She even used to make some, but after Gramp died she quit, and before that I was too young to get any of it.”

     “Here’s your chance to make up for lost time,” urged Harry.

     “We thought the ladies might like the Blackberry,” commented Bettina, having seen that lots of the women present were drinking the sherry David had brought her, and thinking they’d be grateful for the changeover to her own product.

     “You mean you can take humble things like parsnips out of the garden and turn them into this?!” enquired David, having another taste from his glass with rising enthusiasm.

     “Why not?” returned Bettina. “That’s all grape wine is made from. Just plants in a garden. Really good parsnips won’t grow in hot climates so they have to use grapes. I guess if that crop didn’t grow so well they’d use something else which did.”

     “I’ve never thought of it quite that way,” he laughed, “But you’re right of course. Tell you what. Why don’t we hide all this behind the bar and save it for ourselves? Nectar for the gods.”

     “Oh, there’s lots more at home—everybody likes Bett’s brews,” Harry assured him.

     “Okay then, we’ll take it all out of the box and tell the bartender to start it going on the next refills. Man, you’re something else. First I find you’re a diesel engineer, and then you walk in with an angel who can cook like one. You two are full of surprises.”

     Harry and Bettina smiled at each other a little self-consciously and got set to enjoy themselves.

     That was one meeting which was permanently engraved on a collective memory. People sang. People danced. People actually enjoyed themselves. People got caught driving under the influence while on their way home. Everybody credited or blamed the home made wine.

     The only thing it didn’t do was make them accept Bettina and Harry. The new couple were too different. They made things instead of buying them. Bettina wore awful clothes—at least in their opinion. She cooked, which somehow seemed to offend those who didn’t. One female member was heard to say that she could bake cake mix too if she had a new stove, to which her husband had replied that he’d buy her a whole new kitchen if she’d turn out cake like that.

     This does not go down well with a person eating someone else’s cake, made from scratch, which is found to be too good. Black mark against Bettina.

     As for Harry—Harry got dirty—(Did you see his hands?!)—and he didn’t like the latest jokes, although he laughed a little in polite embarrassment and pretended to. Some of them he didn’t want to pretend about and thought they shouldn’t be told in front of ladies. Furthermore, he said so, which made the jocks telling the jokes back off and look for other company more compatible with their own ideas of fun.

     The term ‘lady’ got him into trouble with a group which didn’t want to be seen as fragile, helpless females, so when he opened doors and pulled out chairs for them he got labelled as an MCP. They thought he was definitely out of step with the times.

     Also, he and Bettina had grown up in the country and loved it. Much of Harry’s working years had been spent in places which most of the members considered to be crude, uncivilised outposts. It was the reason why Harry, with his great skill and cheerful personality, had managed to amass an amount of wealth which now allowed him to retire long before most of the members present could even think of such a thing. He and Bettina had revelled in the supposedly crude outposts and were dreaming about getting back to one somewhere, only this time, water borne, not on snowmobile, horseback or camel.

     This they actually told to people who relied totally on the electric grid, would have been completely helpless without it, had electronic gear around them to the point of ridiculousness, played fierce games of squash and video trivia, popped frozen dinners into microwave ovens, and were as slim and trim as sufferers of anorexia—(Look at those two hippos!).

     Some of these people might even have been guilty of not knowing that snowmobiles were actually used for something other than as amusing toys, camels really did deserve to be called ‘ships of the desert’, food grew in dirt, or what a horse ate for breakfast. The groom at the stables fed their horses of course, so such things were of no concern to them.

     The fine qualities of the Curries fell on hard rock. Fortunately the loss was not theirs. They were too busy enjoying themselves to think that other people were not, and because of them.

     Then there was the grease problem. It surfaced very shortly after Harry’s acceptance into the club.

     Grease didn’t bother Harry. It was his ally in his fight against wear and corrosion. He always used a lot of it before he closed an engine up. He also took large quantities of old dirty grease out of those same engines.

     When one member, who was finicky to the point of paranoia, heard that Harry was good with engines, he’d made haste to get himself across the room to where the just initiated members stood, and there he more than hinted to Harry that the expensive diesel on his beautiful boat wasn’t running well, with the twin ulterior motives in mind of getting Harry to fix it as a favour for a fellow member, and expecting to save a large quantity of money at the same time.

     Both things came to pass—plus the grease problem David had been introduced to on his first meeting with the engineer.

     Promptly after the hint had been dropped, early the very next morning in fact, Harry went on board the boat, found the problem, fixed it, gave the whole engine a tune-up and departed, cheerfully whistling, leaving the key of the boat with the minder at the gate along with the happy remark that the engine was purring like a kitten.

     As the minder told it—later, when the fellow came to get aboard his boat there was a terrible shout, followed by several vile and violent curses best directed at tin ears.

     There was the engine, sparkling clean and just waiting to purr like a kitten, but the rest of the boat looked like a greased pig had wallowed up and down the route to the engine compartment many times.

     It took two bottles of extra-strength cleaner plus some help from the man’s son to get the boat looking as disinfected and sterile as it had been before, except the owner was left moaning that he was afraid some stains would never come out. There were remarks out of his hearing, which generally erupted into laughter, to the effect that all that elbow grease had better be cleaned up too.

     The word got around. Don’t ask Harry to fix your engine unless you’re desperate. Don’t even breathe a word of a faulty nut or bolt, because Harry would be there to fix it, as a favour, immediately. The engine would look like a million, purr like a kitten and need to be removed and put on a clean boat. That is, unless you were willing to use up lots of cleaner and elbow grease once the repairs had been effected.

David falling down steps

     There was also the ‘Gee, I’d better do something about that’ problem.

     Anything to do with engines or the operation of his boat in forward or reverse mode got instant attention. Everything else fell into the category of ‘Gee...’, and a couple of times David almost fell into Harry’s boat head first when he forgot and stepped on that nefarious first rung of the companionway ladder, which wasn’t quite firm and flipped if a foot landed on it a little off exact centre. Bettina and Harry never seemed to be bothered by such a slight inconvenience. They simply stepped over it and on to the next one.

     This attitude of acceptance for things imperfect had been formed from their days of making do and taking things as they came while living in geographical locations where repair parts were generally unavailable for long periods of time, if at all.

     Everybody there fixed everything themselves with more or less success, or simply let things reach the point of no return until whatever it was disintegrated beyond usefulness, discovering, after it would no longer function, that they really hadn’t needed that particular item in the first place or—maybe it could be replaced—one day.

     On board CRUSTY the pulpit, stanchions, handrails and cleats were all loose and in need of repair, much like the companionway ladder, but Bettina and Harry knew they were loose and certainly wouldn’t have trusted their lives to them. They never got into trouble with their unsound surroundings. It was always somebody else. They never stumbled on that first step. They used the second one.

     That was why David Godwin was sitting at his desk on this grey, windy, rainy spring morning, crowned with his shining, undeserved halo, staring at his unopened bills while he scratched around the top of his leg cast with the blade of his silver-handled letter opener.

     He’d been visiting on CRUSTY a couple of days after the club meeting and had been enjoying some of Bettina’s good home-brewed wine. They’d been hoisting a few because they’d been discussing taking a long sailing trip.

     Rather, Bettina and Harry had been talking about it and David had been earnestly trying to dissuade them, inventing all sorts of ridiculous reasons as to why they should not go, fearing for their lives if they turned themselves loose in that leaky old boat with no one between them and disaster except Harry’s incredible favouring gods, only he didn’t want to come right out and tell them that.

     Instead, he’d come up with the suggestion that CRUSTY could go on a shakedown cruise in company with TJUTELA.

     “I’ve been thinking of going on a bit of a jaunt myself in a week or so. I know of a great place you’d probably like. Maybe we could go together. I’ll get the guys to give a bit of priority to CRUSTY and when the hull’s in shape we can head out.”

     <I’m going to hit Shalisa Creek Bay anyway, now that I’m free to go. At least if we travel together I can pick them up out of the water if something goes wrong, presuming that their old dinghy holds out long enough and if they have time to get into it to begin with. Besides, they’ll probably get just outside of the marina before TJUTELA will have to turn tow boat and return CRUSTY to her berth at a rapid pace, while all hands on board her bail frantically in the flooded engine room. Maybe that will discourage them from going on long cruises alone—at least until they get the hull tight.>

     The discussion had ended with the promise that David would phone and let them know when his plans for leaving were firmed up.

     Came time to leave CRUSTY, and David, well-primed with home-brewed good cheer and the Curries’ happy plans, committed the seaman’s sin of trusting his weight to his feet instead of his hands. He should have hauled himself up by the handrails—and he forgot about that top rung on the companionway ladder.

     Harry didn’t though, when he helped to get him off the boat and along the wharf to drive him to the hospital.

     “Watch that top step!” had come Harry’s warning, as David pulled himself, one-footed, out of the cabin.

- - -

Weather had decided to side with David’s mail on this spring morning. It was unpleasant and belligerent. Listening to the cold rain hammering on the roof and dripping off the eaves, staring at the unfriendly envelopes in his hand and scratching at the itch on his leg at the top of his cast with his letter opener, David rocked a little in his old office chair, reflecting on his plight.

     <So maybe I’m not in jail, but I’m just as effectively restrained from doing what I want to. My plane’s grounded for its mandatory engine overhaul, my movements are restricted by a broken leg, my control over my assets is non-existent because I don’t dare do anything with them in case somebody makes a move for unpaid accounts, so I have to leave it with Gram, and my ideas seem subject to review by Li, who seems to be holding the position that he needs to safeguard me against unruly thoughts. Guess he’s so used to doing it he’s forgotten he isn’t responsible for me anymore because the custody bond he had to sign when they let me out is now defunct. And to top all that off, a large portion of my money—at least my cash—is locked away under a board on the barge at Shalisa Creek Bay.

     <My whole monetary system has collapsed. How can I make deals when I don’t have anything to deal with? Guess my brilliant incisive lawyer didn’t know what would happen to me when she divested me of my material wealth. That wasn’t her problem. She just concentrated on getting me off and saving my assets, not dealing with the fallout afterwards—and I was glad enough to grab at the lifesaver she threw me. This would be one smart-assed gambler anchored securely in one place for some time if she hadn’t come along.

     <Might just as well be in a jail cell though. I feel like a prisoner who’s been given parole, dependent on good behaviour, under house arrest with limited privileges and an ankle chain. Eight or ten weeks of this until I can walk around again and I’m gonna go stir crazy. I know Gram and Li are concerned about me but—geeze! I’m not a kid. Guess that makes me ungrateful. At least I can have a cup of coffee when I want it, and Gram and Li are so damned understanding and considerate I’m beginning to feel like I owe them the world. Come to think of it—I probably do.

     <Wish it would quit raining. Even Ulf and Gurth are starting to look at me like I’m a problem. Yesterday when I took them for a walk—make that a crutch marathon—I got soaked and frozen because I couldn’t move fast enough to keep warm, they got soaked because we were out too long, I had to take ouch relief when I got back home, they had to get rubbed down, and Gram dosed me with everything she could think of in her herbal medicine bag to ward off pneumonia—along with a big mug of hot, honeyed brandy with lemon. That was nice.

     <Did Tina have to dump me too right about now? Who’s gonna hug me and coddle me and kiss it better and tell me everything’s okay? Agh—she never did that anyway. She just saw me as an interesting nut bar with a flute and a plane and a boat, to have fun with for awhile—until she thought I wasn’t hugging and coddling her enough. Hey! I’m singing the blues here. When’s the sun gonna shine?>

     Weather showed not the slightest intention of replying in the positive. Groups of gulls gathered in sheltered places, their backs to the weather, commiserating with each other. Sea, pushed roughly about by Wind, slapped morosely against the little office barge, and the boats at the marina huddled tugging at their lines, looking unhappy and ignored.

     David sent his gaze out to where TJUTELA danced in the rain and wind, as though asking him why she was being so neglected lately. He shifted his eyes to the big fibreglass power boat hogging space at the end of a float and tried not to get angry and assign blame.

     <It’s my own stupid fault. I should have watched what I was doing—in more ways than one—but if he hadn’t sold Harry that old hole in the water I probably wouldn’t look like this right about now. Wish I could get rid of Jack but I don’t have enough cash. Why couldn’t some mean, overbearing jerks have bought that old thing and then I could have kicked them out with impunity. I can’t kick out Harry. He’s too damned nice.

     <Jack and his gloriously ornamented sales pitch—great boat, wonderful restoration project, go anywhere in it, just your size, pride and pomp and circumstance—and some soul food aboard her that Harry couldn’t resist. Just like me with TJUTELA. Seems like Harry was a lot easier for Jack to get at than I was though, and I was pushover enough—except I got what I wanted. I don’t know if Harry deserves what he got. That con artist can reel out such a line I’m surprised Harry swallowed all that, but having seen some of the floating calamities Jack has fobbed off, I guess people will believe anything they want to—including myself.>

     David dropped the hand of five letter draw he held, and took a firm grip on his letter opener.

     <Spring! Yeah well, the garden is beautiful with all Gram’s flowers coming into bloom... .>

     He thought then of Spring in Shalisa Creek Bay.

trilium flowers

     The little wild strawberries would be getting ready to open their small white flowers, with tiny yellow violets playing among the shelter of the toothed-leaved fruit-bearing plants. Trilliums would be filling the forest floor with three-petalled light. There would be birdsong mornings full of excited avian conversations and swift wings, as comings and goings of ravens, swallows, finches and all the rest of the bird population took place in mad spring abandon. Show-off flights from hummingbirds, as each individual shot earthward and up to sky again in a spectacular whirring loop, flashing scarlet throat feathers, and kipping songs for a mate. The nights would be full of frog symphonies, overflowing the margins of swamps so passionately that a person anchored close to shore would be lulled to sleep by the pulsating sound. Everything would be awash in pale yellow-green with cattails on the alders, and the maples trailing green seed plumes.

     The letter’s on his desk glared at him. David sighed, picked up a letter, wielded his long-bladed opener for the purpose it had been intended, and slit the first envelope open, glanced at its contents, tossed it aside with another sigh and opened the next one.

     <Paid? That’s what it says—Paid! That tugboat company has just sent me a copy of a bill marked PAID!>

     There was also a note written on the bottom of it, large, definite and brief, stating, ‘Paid in full by your barge tenant, Fitz Jolly, as advance rent’. The signature was so unique that he couldn’t make it out.

     <What tenant? What rent?! What the hell is going on?!>

     David pondered. Obviously a mistake had been made in the tugboat company’s office, but in the meantime, while it got straightened out, he couldn’t be blamed for taking advantage of the situation. He sincerely intended to pay his bills, but there was a hitch in his good intentions. The money to pay them with was not freed up yet. The road to hell still demanded that he proceed along it, laying paving stones as he went.

     He’d wanted to get to his little floating castle ever since he’d been arrested. There was that certain board in the office floor which, once he got underneath it, could solve his financial problems immediately, but court orders restraining him from leaving town had held him stationary for the past year and more. He’d been ordered not to go near the barge—or anywhere else for that matter. His soaring seabird had sat with hobbled wings, doing bus hops from one float plane base in the city to the next and back again. The profit was not good.

     He hadn’t dared fly out of town. For one thing, he’d have to file a phony flight plan for a local destination, and he was already in enough hot pitch—he didn’t need to enhance the stew by throwing feathers at it. He hadn’t wanted to take the chance, considering the odds and the stakes. Any interested person taking the trouble to watch the direction he took as he disappeared up there might guess where he was heading and make a check on it. He’d thought of taking TJUTELA, but she was too visible out on the water. He’d been careful to stay close to home when he took her out.

     The idea of being caught skipping bail had not been appealing. It seemed there were enemies out there he’d never realised existed who’d be delighted to get him. Jail he did not like. The very thought of it had deterred him mightily. Two days in the Shalisa Creek strongbox had been quite enough, to say nothing of the threat of losing all that bail money, and causing trouble for Yu Ching Li, because he held David’s custody bond.

     The day his case had been won he’d thought of going to the bay, because things were getting pretty tight and it would be good to have the cash around just in case somebody got a little too feisty with their threats, but he’d managed to restrain himself. First the law and then caution had kept him from it, and he’d still felt it wouldn’t be wise to break out with a lot of cash too soon. Better to just hang fire a bit. Besides, his bird was in for treatment and TJUTELA would take too much time away from business, which time he couldn’t spare right then.

     Now he had the freedom and the time he didn’t have the ability. Even if he had the plane he felt he really shouldn’t fly with a broken leg, stuffed with pain killers, all by himself. Sure he could manage it, but it could get difficult. TJUTELA might be the better bet. Also, she didn’t eat so much unpaid for fuel. Now he was at liberty to retrieve his treasure and get all these bill collectors off his back, as well as Jack Smarten, here he sat with a grounded plane and a leg cast.

     He had ideas for using his floating capital too. He saw his barge castle, waiting. Waiting to be turned into a restaurant.

     <I can haul her down here somewhere closer and less difficult to get at and have a real going concern, somewhere in between Shalisa Creek Bay and the city. Then in the off seasons I can have the barge as a halfway break, and overnight there instead of sailing straight to Shalisa Creek Bay in one stretch, then carry on the next day or so to the bay for the peace and quiet and everything else I enjoy there. Terrific cruising schedule!

     <A gourmet diner’s club for all those connoisseurs out there and all those who pretend to be. Fresh seafood, right from the water, served sumptuously and with finesse to all those boaters who are sick and fed up with on board canned cooking. Also to all those people who never go near a boat but keep looking for unusual places to eat so they can brag about all the money they’ve spent at their latest find in dineries. I could have them ferried aboard in a neat little boat run by—well, I’ll have to be a little more careful who I get for a pilot this time, but that shouldn’t be too difficult since I won’t be breaking the law. Too bad, but—no gambling—at least not for money. Maybe those rumours about legalising it will come true and I’ll be in clover again. That would be great, legally. Meanwhile—food!>

     He knew all about the search for gourmet anything, because he’d heard enough of it from some of his so-called friends—so-called because many of them had done their best to avoid him after his arrest, and now were trying sweetly to pick him up again since he’d been found ‘not guilty’. A few phone calls of congratulations had made him aware of that.

     Harry’s phone call to his office the day before had been to let David know that he’d been assured by the marina crew that the leaks in CRUSTYs hull were fixed and he and Bettina were all set to go whenever David was, and if David felt he couldn’t make it just yet, that was all right because the two of them could take a little cruise first to try CRUSTY out. Would he please call back anyway, so they could get a little information from him about good places to sail to?

     David hadn’t called back. The idea of those two landlubbers sloshing off in that old wreck gave him nightmares. He didn’t care if the hull didn’t leak anymore and the motor was in top shape. The rest of the boat wasn’t, in spite of what Harry had been told by Jack Smarten.

     <I know the guys at the yard have done heroics on that hull, and Harry’s got the engine in shape, but—’You can take that boat anywhere’? Sure, if you don’t care whether you get back or not. Hoist those old sails and they’ll fall into rags at the first puff of wind, if not on the way up the mast. Everything on deck will disintegrate with a good bow wave over it.>

     Thinking about it, as he sat rocking at his desk, a solution for two problems at once presented itself.

     <Hey! Why don’t I tell them I’m ready to go on a cruise. We can help each other. Sailing in consort would get me to the barge. I can keep my eye on them in case anything goes wrong, and I can count on Harry for help If I get into trouble because of my leg. It’ll get me away from here for a bit—I’m going up the wall just sitting around here worrying. Apart from the money, I’ve really missed being able to go to Shalisa Creek Bay. It’ll be great. I’ll be able to visit that board in the office, and start making plans for getting the barge moved. I can go walking—well—make that limping—ashore with Ulf and Gurth and play my flute by the big old tree again. Then we can light a nice fire in the fireplace and... . The weatherman says it’s going to clear up in a couple of days. That’ll give us enough time to get things together aboard our boats here. Maybe Li will help me get TJUTELA ready.>

     Pleased with this inspired solution to a lot of problems, David put down the no longer troublesome bill, along with the others which still were, and reached for his phone, planning a carefree stay in peaceful Shalisa Creek Bay—just the way he remembered it when he’d last been there—minus the furnishings.