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18: Bottoming out



Hey!
How come that thick fog bank took over my space
Who shifted the rocks in this difficult place
The tide’s running fast and I’m fighting a leak
Just who brought the dragons to Shalisa Creek
I’m tired and ticked off and starting to see
That the fool who created this whole mess is Me


lighthouseYu Ching Li came in from his garden, in early morning light, with an armful of flowers. He selected a tall, slender, black vase, set it on the stone hearth beside his fireplace, whose screen of cranes calling and preening closed the mouth of the unit for summer, and was arranging the spikes of varied blue delphiniums he had just brought in when the phone rang.

      Hearing Edith Godwin’s voice he pushed the speaker phone button and replied as he continued his work,

      “I am here, Edith.”

      “Hello Li. Isn’t this a beautiful morning? The garden really breaks loose with everything when it gets a good dousing at this time of year. That rain we had a few days ago was just what it needed.”

      “I have opened the door wide,” replied Li. “I too love the sunshine, even though rain has its own beauty, as you say. The sound of it falling from the sky is the music of life. Without it we would shortly have nothing.”

      “You certainly have that right, and you express it so eloquently.”

      Li stood back a little and admired his flowers as he said,

      “It is good to hear from you—so early in the morning.”

      Laughter surrounded the flowers.

      “You’ve anticipated my thoughts again—and I do want something.”

      “It is yours if I have the ability to give it,” came the willing offer, as Li sat down at his low table and poured himself tea which had been brewing in a little ancient teapot while he had been busy cutting and arranging the flowers. “I am having tea. I now make believe you are here with me also enjoying it and the flowers I have just brought in. They are fine delphiniums which I have taken from the plants you gave me.”

      “I’m enjoying the tea and admiring the flowers,” returned Edith, sharing through space as they often did. “I’m so glad the plants did well. Slugs and snails are so eager to clear them off, given half a chance.”

      “Ana’s friend Chin is very good at finding a meal among the greenery. I’m sure he had something to do with it,” Li told her, giving praise where it was due.

      “Maybe I should get a tortoise like Chin to help with controlling the villains among the flowers, but I rely on the frogs and garden snakes and the hungry spiders to keep things in order, and speaking of snakes—I feel dragons around—the wrong kind.”

      “I knew it was something other than gardens which brought you to my house this morning,” was the reply with conviction in it.

      “Just something which has been bothering me a little. I was sitting here wondering—are you busy this morning? It’s David. Ever since he came back from his trip to the barge he just stays up in his room playing mournful music on his flute, or else he goes and hides at his office. He was quiet enough before he left but this is getting to be a bit much. I’m used to a lot of happy noise. He keeps saying he’s fine and coming up with phoney smiles. I know his leg must be bothersome, but—I’m suspecting it’s his head.”

      “I too have noticed much quietness lately,” agreed Li. “It is not like him.”

      “I’d hoped,” Edith told him, “That now he’s won his court case, he’d be absolutely ecstatic in that way of his, but apart from a subdued blowout with his buddies that evening and the little celebration dinner we had there’s been nothing. Not like him at all. He’s gone to his barge office again this morning saying he has to keep up with his work. When David starts thinking about work I start thinking about David.”

      “Is it perhaps the loss of the young lady he has been escorting lately?” enquired Li, knowing of the break between David and Tina.

      Ana's tortoise”That may have added to it,” she laughed. “He played a flute version of ‘Pavan for a Dead Princess’ this morning, which didn’t sound too auspicious but, no, this was going on for awhile before that happened. Finding out that the casino has been totalled seemed to put the cap on it. I hate to see him so down. He can’t even go for runs with Ulf and Gurth anymore. He tried it once just after he’d broken his leg, and he just about drowned the three of them out in the rain. I’m not sure how he managed to hop back home. He’s not very talkative about things either, which is unusual. I had the idea that you might know what’s bugging him.”

      “I have not heard from him since he came back two days ago,” Li told her. “I did leave a message on his answering machine, but when I get no reply from that—I leave it alone, knowing it is what he wants and that he will get to me. I hope to hear from him soon. It is not his way to remain silent for too long. Has he told you much about the trip?”

      “Not really. We had tea as we always do when he comes back, but this time it was late, and he went to bed quickly, saying he was tired, and he looked it. He just told me that the casino had been wrecked and there were people living there now—some children and an old seaman and his lawyer—of all people. Very odd—he’s usually so animated when he comes back from a sail. I think getting stuck with my company all day and having to ask me for help all the time is making him think he’s a nuisance and he doesn’t want to bother me any further. I know there’s something eating him but he hasn’t come out with it. I think it’s been accumulating. This past year or so hasn’t been good to him.”

      “You are right with that,” agreed Li. “He was always so busy going everywhere and doing everything that it was difficult for him to have such restraints put on him, and now this further mishap with his leg and the discovery of his vandalised barge.”

      “I thought maybe you could dig around a little—have a talk with him in that way you have of reaching him.”

      “You would like me to become a mole.”

      “Do you think you could spare the time to just drop in on him this morning and have a go? It would probably cheer him up.”

      “I will do this,” Li gave his ready assent. “I have not planned my day yet. He will be first priority.”

      “I’ll tell you what I’ve been thinking, and you can maybe try it out on him and add some of your own,” suggested Edith.

      “We are plotting and planning again,” laughed Li. “I think he already suspects me of undercover activities, but let me have yours.”

      “Now that I consider it, I feel we’ve been neglecting him—not in the every day sense, but perhaps for some time now. We left him alone to mind his own business quite awhile back, but even the smartest of us will get lost and wander off into the woods every so often, and he’s always been one to roam farther than is safe. He enjoyed the involvement with the construction of the casino so much, it was as though he were off in another dimension but, in retrospect, maybe we should have discouraged him from it, except it seemed like such a—harmless fun thing at the time—for all of us.”

      “This feeling has been with me ever since the arrest,” Li told her. “I have since felt more guilt than was his. It is true we left him to his own ways, which of course is as it should be, but a little advice here and there such as we have been doing recently is perhaps acceptable. He is so volatile and immediate, it may be such a one needs a little ongoing guidance and a brake for his ever exploding ideas. It is not that he will not listen, it is that we do not speak. We also have strayed into the woods by standing by as he did so. As you say, we were afraid that we were interfering with his life, but as sailors look for guidance to a lighthouse, so perhaps he looks to us as such. We are the only ones to whom he can turn for discussion of his ideas and problems. Is it possible that we have retired the light too soon?”

      “Well, if so, we’d better quickly set it back in service again,” was the remedy offered. “We have been influencing what goes on with him recently, but that was more circumstantial than voluntary. I wouldn’t want him to become one of those people who lose their way because no one says anything helpful when it’s needed.”

      “It may be that we have come to our dark lighthouse in time. We have been holding back from telling him which way to steer, but a little help with the navigating when things get difficult might not be out of line. I will visit him this morning and see if we are right.”

      “Thanks so much Li. I thought this evening the four of us might have one of our get-togethers... .”

- - -

castle chess piece

Sun hit the water outside the barge office with concentrated enthusiasm, as though it also knew that the occupant within needed a cheering friend. It dusted the shadows off the colourfully painted office and made sure that everything looked bright and happy. It shone up the faces of the geraniums sitting in two big pots, one at either end of the shack, and set the hanging baskets of blue pansies and ivy to lilting. The deck itself, which had been hosed off, still glistened from its shower, and Sun towelled it off briskly, raising little spirals of steam as a warming finish to the cold water washing.

      Inside, David sat at his desk, papers before him there, but his eyes were far out over the water and his thoughts farther away, at Shalisa Creek Bay, as he debated with himself about things which had happened there. This self-debriefing of events was not coming up with very positive results.

      It wasn’t until Ulf and Gurth gave a couple of soft barks, that he brought his mind back to the office as the door opened and Yu Ching Li came in.

      “Hey!—Li—what a nice surprise. What brings you here this morning?”

      “Let us say I wanted to contemplate a problem and I thought this place and your company would be exactly right for it.”

      “Problem? Anything I might help with?”

      “Oh, it is only a request from a friend which I hope I may be able to do something about. I have brought flowers for the space on your desk which has been empty while you were away.”

      Li hung his jacket on a stubby branch of the coat stand David had made from a salvaged young maple tree trunk, having noted that the door to the office had been closed on such a sunny day, which was unlike the usual exuberant nature of the occupant, saying,

      “Don’t get up. I will take care of the flowers.”

      “Thanks Li. I am a bit slow these days.”

      “It is unfortunate, but it will mend.”

      “Sure will take its time,” returned David glumly. “Good thing it wasn’t my arm. At least I can still play my flute. Want a cup of coffee or something?”

      “I will do the honour of putting on the coffee pot if you will allow me,” offered Li, filling the vase with water and taking it and the flowers over to the desk. “There. While I do so, you may have the pleasure of arranging them. Some mornings friends are uppermost in our minds, and today you are at the top of that list because I need a friendly place to relax in while my thoughts gain cohesion, so I have come to your cosy office.”

      “This is a good spot for it. I’m doing the same thing myself. Let’s disable the phone here and have it all to ourselves,” replied David as he pulled the jack on the phone and pushed his cell to the back of his desk.

      He was silent for moment, then gave Li a searching look and confessed with a little laugh,

      “I’ve been sprouting beans—you know that, don’t you.”

      “Since you did not return my call—yes.”

      “Came to get it in person huh?”

      “I am sure you will forgive my unannounced visit,” smiled Li.

      “Love ’em. Actually, I was just going to call you. Got tired of my own thoughts and company. Do you think maybe a fast game of chess might help to stimulate your thought processes?”

      “With you it is always fast,” laughed Li. “And I believe I am needing just such an engagement this morning. You are not tied up with affairs?”

      “No, only one appointment this morning,” returned David, as he reached in a drawer, took out his chessboard and began setting up the pieces, “How about finishing those two games we left hanging some time ago?”

      “Two?!” exclaimed Li.

      “Yeah. One from the computer and one in which you were slaughtering me when we got interrupted here—remember?”

      “I do remember the interruption but how can you recall the game?”

      “No problem. It’s like remembering music. What are the stakes going to be?”

      “Mmm—since you have brought up the subject of music—should I succeed, let yours be from your flute. I will give you a theme—your own carefree outgoing self.”

      Li got the raised eyebrow treatment of surprised consideration.

      “Well, if that’s the way it’s going to be—if I become the master—you’ll have to give me a poem on silence as a creative tool for sound.”

      Li gave him back the raised eyebrows and his wide-opened eyes as he pulled a chair over to the desk.

      “We are very thoughtful this morning.”

      “Let’s start with the slaughter,” came the reply.

      Forgetting, Li reached into his pocket and brought out his case of cigars, then, seeing David’s eyes following the action and the look of resignation on the younger man’s face, he quickly put them back again.

      “You can have one if you want,” David told him. “Just because I’ve quit doesn’t mean the rest of the world has to.”

      “I could not be so insensitive and impolite,” smiled Li. “Forgive my memory slip.”

      “Sure do miss ’em,” returned David with a little sigh, followed by a half-hearted smile to mitigate the complaint, “But a deal’s a deal. You could light one up and I could sniff the smoke.”

      “I would not tempt you so,” came the considerate reply.

      “I’ve sniffed a few others,” David laughed with a wry face.

      “If that is as close as you come to breaking your word you are honourable indeed.”

      “Sometimes I think maybe I carry it a bit too far,” was the other man’s opinion.

      “You had a quiet stay at the bay this time out?” enquired Li, discreetly changing the subject.

      “Not really. Sure was a surprise to find a real live tenant backing up that receipt I got, and some castaway kids, and to top it all off—Rose Hold.”

      “That is your lawyer whom I have met?”

      “Yeah. You remember—that was her home base and why I won my case. Well, she’s back there again. Quit her practice and went back home. That’s why I couldn’t get in touch with her before. She’s going to check over some contracts for me. I’ll fly them out to her sometime when the plane’s ready again.”

      “No doubt you will be returning often with TJUTELA to the bay now you have friends there,” suggested Li.

      “Don’t think so Li. Navigating’s getting a bit dicey there. Too many soggers and hidden rocks.”

      Li didn’t take that remark literally.

      “You have never been troubled with these obstacles before,” was his rejoinder. “You know the area well.”

      “True, but I sort of have the feeling I could run aground in some places if I don’t watch it. I don’t want to get a dose of over-confidence and push my luck. Maybe I’ll look for new waters to cruise.”

      “Perhaps you are already sailing them,” responded Li.

      “Real waters Li, real waters,” corrected David.

      “Of course,” agreed Li, “Of course.”

      “What’s this ‘of course’ response you’ve adopted lately Li?”

      “It means—’of course’. You are a navigator—it means everything is proceeding in the right direction which you have chosen—does it not?”

      “Geeze! I’d better start recalculating then, because lately nothing seems to be headed where I figured—Li, I got bad vibes at the bay this time out.”

      <Could it be that the people David just spoke of have more to do with this latest quiet retreat into himself than either I or Edith realised? Perhaps he has been made unwelcome there, which would be a great misfortune. He has a deep fondness for that place.>

      Li got up, poured the coffee and brought the mugs back to the desk, asking,

      “How so?”

      David took a sip from his mug and then continued, slightly hesitant,

      “Not from anyone else—from myself. I felt there were dragons around waiting to pull me back into the water and, worse than that—I was the one bringing them in.”

      He stopped for a moment, then added,

      “Am I being childish—talking about dragons?”

      Yu Ching Li received an unexpected shock.

      “Has it been so long since we have spoken together of such that you now feel you must put distance between us?” he returned, distressed. “If so, I have indeed myself been too reserved, believing it was as you wished. You and I have grown up together with dragons, since you were a young boy, and I, that much younger than I am now. If you so desire, we can speak of it as allegory, which is reasonable logic, but it has always been our way. I had never—until this very moment—questioned our dragons.”

      Li saw the relief come into the younger man’s face as David said,

      “Stuff the logical category. I think I’m as hooked on dragons as I am on gambling. They restore my faith in magic—and maybe in myself. That other world has been my sanctuary.”

      “We are both of that mind,” smiled Li, also relieved that reality had not destroyed the possibility of creative, imaginative worlds.

      “I don’t know what it was at the bay, but I just felt uneasy with myself. It was kind of disturbing to find everything changed so much. This time I felt I had no business being in there with my big ideas about money making. That sort of thing doesn’t belong there anymore. I wanted to run home like a scared kid—as though I were lost and didn’t know where I was at.”

      “The feelings you describe having sensed are perhaps to be investigated. You say things have changed. It may be that what seemed right to you when you first entered there has since shifted in your mind. One must always be ready for change. The stressful times we have come through recently have made us all question things. It is perhaps good that we recognise a need to be flexible. But—you doubt yourself?! Doubt is corrosive. It does not belong with you. Where has this doubt come from? The past year?”

      “You got it, and then some.”

      “That was something we all swallowed as a salutary bitter. It was good for our systems. It reminded us that the sea is cold and deep and filled with violent creatures ready to eat us. “

      He paused, seeing the thoughtful attention of the younger man, then continued,

      “You know there is the belief that dragons are considered both good and bad. Those who are on the other side of clouds have lost themselves. Their scales no longer shine. Their fire has cooled and has no warmth. Their eyes cannot see through clouds. They see only dullness. They strike out at everything, and harm not only themselves but those around them with their violence. Especially, they are jealous of bright and beautiful. They lurk, waiting to prey on such. It is difficult to avoid being dragged into that realm of grey coldness and indifference by these others. It must be resisted strongly—I know this of myself. The coldness of these others has chilled your spirits, that is all. There is sunshine now and we all see clearly again.”

      After a silence David responded,

      “Guess I’ve been in a deep fog. Two days in jail and a lot of harassment later, and now I feel vulnerable and out in the open and having to constantly repel attack. I’m watching things I never paid much attention to before, suspecting everyone and everything, including my own shadow, but I don’t like being so constantly on guard. I’ve thought a lot about it for some time now. I’ll have to watch my back in future. Once something like this happens people start looking for gaps where our scales should meet.”

      “It is well to be on guard, and perhaps we are guilty of not having done so enough, but one must not suspect everything,” came the opinion. “If you find now you are not so open—perhaps this needs your adjustment. We must face these situations with our own certainty. It is perhaps natural that you should doubt yourself when so many others have tried so hard to convince you that you were wrong. Once we have realised there is a problem we take steps to solve it. Your own firmness is required here.”

      “It’s just—I feel like I’m running aground in a swift current without a rudder. Everything seems to be moving out of my control now. Guess that’s why I’ve been hiding out. I need to think things over.”

      “Retreat to quiet places is an honourable defence when used for such a reflective purpose,” responded Li, “But it is not a permanent solution. Hermit behaviour has never been part of your makeup. I would not like to see you become remote and sequestered. Now that you have your freedom again, this will pass quickly away I am sure. I know you to be thoughtful and a lover of solitary places, but when you have come back from that it has always been with laughter, music and new ideas.”

      “Well, my solitary place is full of people now and the new idea I took there this time got done away with very quickly,” David told him. “Didn’t get much music in either.”

      David considered the chess board, made his move then continued,

      tiger tail”I think I’ve been blind-siding myself. I’ve been running around figuring I owned my own little world and that other people’s forces really didn’t have much impact on it. It was mine. I ran it. I loved it. It worked for me but—it seems to me now that it was totally self-centred and—maybe arrogant. I knew damned well that what I was doing with the casino was off the map. I knew it would stir up a tiger if it got out—and it did. It seemed harmless to me when I started it, but I got you and Ana and Gram as well as my family into trouble along with a lot of other people—and Ulf and Gurth. For a few moments there on the barge when I asked the sergeant what would become of them—in my mind I saw the two of them dead. It gouged me.”

      “Ah!”

      The comment was one of deeper understanding.

      <Our young dragon’s collision with the hard world has demoralised him. Now, as he considers others, he thinks very seriously of matters. This perhaps should have happened earlier in his rather wayward career. He has been left somewhat bewildered and defensive.>

      “This has indeed been a stern lesson for all of us,” Li told him. “We did become careless and—perhaps even a little arrogant. That is deadly for dragons, as we discovered. Just as you found those close to you threatened, Ana is a trusting and happy follower whom I must also remember to protect. We who were with you shared your awareness of the tiger which is always lurking and also knew of its bite, but we chose to take a chance. It is in our nature. Perhaps we were remiss in not looking further as to the effect of that bite. We must learn how far to push without toppling things. We leaned too hard, without gauging what would happen if our house of cards came down around us. Innocents like your parents and Ulf and Gurth were also carried along—that was unforeseen. We allowed ourselves to forget this and also what lies below in the sea, waiting.”

      David watched silently while Li made a move he could counter, but which he chose not to because he wanted very much to hear what Li might have to say about his own recent opinion of his ‘carefree and outgoing self’.

      Li noted the silence. Usually their games were punctuated with little remarks of laughing triumph or warning such as ‘clouds are present’ or ‘a dragon has not been wise’ or ‘gottcha’. This game had been very quiet from the beginning, but he took this particular silence toward his move as a warning, regarding the board as he removed his hand from the piece, realising what he had done wrong, and getting a surprise when his ordinarily swift and brilliant opponent did nothing about it. He had expected a ‘gottcha’ but instead David said thoughtfully,

      “You’re right. I’ve been pretty foolish, and thinking that the bay was all mine and would never change was about the stupidest thing of all.”

      <My young friend has been made to see that his enchanting bay must now be shared with others who may also view it in that light.>

      “We must all remember,” cautioned Li, “That the world is not ours alone, although sometimes it is wonderful when everything seems to go our way, but have you thought how interesting it now might be, having someone to share your joy in the bay with?”

      “Rose Hold’s a lawyer Li. I don’t think she’s into dragons and—teddybears. She’d probably think I was a case of arrested mental development.”

      <It was of all at the bay I spoke. He has told me of whom he is thinking about there. This is indeed interesting.>

      “One must not make judgements too quickly. You have just said yourself you really do not know what she is like. As you are aware, one cannot discover the contents of a book by studying its cover. Perhaps neither you nor she has reached the point of opening this new book and turning its pages yet.”

      “Got me there. I retract.”

      “You must also lose this concept ‘stupid’. We both know it is untrue.”

      “I don’t know—I’d better start being more cautious before I dump that. I’ve neglected to think about the clouds and the sea and the path I was walking. I’ve just taken for granted the idea that what I was doing was great.”

      “Thank you for reminding me also, for I might have saved us,” Li said, revealing his guilty feelings as he himself opened up to the younger man, “It was I who put the killer of dragons into our midst at the casino, but my sight was clouded by my heart. Number One Son did not succeed, but it is well to know how to protect ourselves against such attacks in future. I must not put us in such danger again.”

      “It wasn’t your doing Li,” David disagreed. “He was just an angry kid who got used, and I probably should have seen it coming. I knew what was out there too. If those who turned us in had wanted only me I’d have dodged and taken my whacks—probably got off with a fine, but—it spread like oil on water, out to kill everything. It was vicious. After my arrest the vultures who gathered, waiting for my carcass, weren’t just after me. They wanted to get others. They used me to go after anybody they could drag in indiscriminately—and they wanted a body, not just a fine.”

      “We must now concentrate on how to recover from this incident,” encouraged Li. “Perhaps we have both been too negligent, but this does not mean that life is now one large oily pool of trouble. We are above it once more. Let us take precautions to see that it remains that way. I too have thought much on this. Your Grandmother, you and I have tried hard to keep our little mischiefs in check. We know we have faults, and we forgot those around us. “

      “Guess we’re the advance guard and should know better,” commented David. “Too wrapped up in our own ideas.”

      “We have forgotten, in our busy lives, not to be too intent on things other than those which lead to the right way, and peace of mind.”

      There was silence between the two as the game was played out.

      “Ah—have you let me win for a change? Mate! You concede? Let us have your music then.”

      David laughed a little, picked up the flute lying on his desk, played five notes up and the same five down again in a minor key and put the flute down.

      Li waited, then realising there would be no more he remarked,

      “That is it?”

      “That’s it.”

      “I asked for your carefree outgoing self. I know this is not it.”       “It is now,” replied David, resetting the chessmen. “This last year has taught me not to be so carefree and outgoing. Guess maybe carefree and outgoing doesn’t describe me anymore. Maybe just as well, since all it did was get me into trouble up to now.”

      “Carefree and outgoing,” explained Li carefully, “Are good things in my eyes, especially in the honest, happy manner you have always used. Perhaps you took my use of the word ‘carefree’ the wrong way. It was to mean joyful optimism in spite of everything, not as the term ‘care-less’.”

      “Well I sure haven’t felt too joyful lately.”

      “It is to be hoped that it is only a stone in the path,” Li told him with a smile hiding concern.

      “Maybe, but I’m not sure I like being seen as a foolish joker anymore. Even the kids at the bay thought I was a joke, to say nothing of Rose Hold. I’m sure she figures I should calm down and act like a normal human being.”

      <His visit to the bay does not seem to have been a happy one. I can understand that finding his delightful creation in ruins did not help his spirits any and his unexpected meeting with his lawyer does not seem to have gone too well.>

      “What would lead you to believe that she would want you to join the ranks of the plain and ordinary? Perhaps she herself has had too much of this and sees you as something entirely other.”

      Remembering his conversation with Rose when she had said, ‘I hope you don’t change’, David agreed,

      “Hadn’t thought of it that way Li. It’s just that—other than you and Gram and Ana, I’ve reached the point where I’d like to earn the respect of someone else I respect myself.”

      <Even more interesting. I have never heard him suggest that he wanted respect from a young woman. That has always gone from him to the other, and he seemed rather to look for approval.>

      “Perhaps she sees only your fire and flashing scales and does not know what lies beneath this bright exterior. If, as you say, she thinks as a lawyer, of course she mistrusts this fascinating display. It is for you to show what true depth is covered by such a charming façade.”

      “You think she sees me as a flamboyant, shallow, conceited person? The way things have been turning out, I figure I’d better shut up and quit being a clown. Your move, Li.”

      “This would be sad indeed. The world needs jesters. They are the laughter and the wisdom of the world.”

      “Maybe I laugh too much and don’t have enough wisdom,” returned David, considering his move. “I’m learning that there’s another world out there with a different set of rules to mine. I can’t apply my ideas of what I think ought to go on in the universe anymore, because if I do I get taken. If I’m dealing with a cheat I’d better learn his rules fast, if he has any, and start treating him the way he treats me. QR6 Li.”

      Li looked at his friend and felt alarm.

      <He has been wounded too deeply. He has found that the world does not necessarily give back in kind what is put forth. His, generous, trusting attitude has become definitely wary. He begins to think of becoming sharp and unforgiving, like those he deals with. I would not like to see him become bitter and hard like these others.>

      “Bad examples are not to be followed, but avoided,” Li advised as he moved a piece. “And it need not be only one way or the other. Let it be both—wisdom and laughter. That way you will add more bright scales as well as further depth to your already shining self. Ah—I see your smile—that is what the world is about.”

      “That—and—gottcha!—you’re in perpetual check here Li. It’s a draw.”

      “So?! This fast? There, I have just illustrated one of the points we have been discussing. I have been careless and not paid attention, talking too much and letting you get the advantage, you young rascal. You are right—I cannot get out of this. I will resign and let you call it a win, since indeed you have outwitted me.”

      The two laughed together, a sound of pleasure in each other’s company as David said,

      “Thanks Li. I couldn’t wait any longer. Your stake was too tempting. My poem please. I’ll give you five minutes. I know you don’t need any more than that.”

      “It is already composed,” returned Li.

      Taking out a small notebook with a pen attached he tore out a page and handed it to David.

      “Hey!” complained David, turning it over, “There’s nothing here. It’s blank.”

      “It says volumes,” returned Li. “It is a silent poem, about silence, to be read silently, not to be turned into noise. Words run the risk of being read aloud. This is for your spirit. Read it well—in silence. It is indeed a creative element for sound. One can take silence and hear in it—space to be filled with happy music.”

      “ Geeze! “ laughed the younger man. “Are you smoke and mirrors or am I just a fool who knows nothing?”

      “The mirror will tell you. Look into it—and be fair with yourself. As for smoke—you have cleared at least some of that away and I myself have been caught in your wise decision. If a man does not have his best friend to smoke with it is not such a pleasure. I bow to your better judgement.”

      “Hardly my call. Maybe you remember that I got conned into giving it up by my lawyer. I think she has more wisdom than I’ll ever have.”

      “You are fortunate that such ones you meet know much and will share it with you. Such a flow of knowledge to draw from can only be good if you will remember it and use it well.”

      “I’ll try to do more of that in future,” returned David, reaching over to the vase holding the flowers Li had brought, and lodging the blank piece of paper in among the blooms. “Think she taught me a lot when I was at the bay. She sure gave it to me—like not to be so self-centred and take so much for granted and to remember that there are other people around besides myself, like you said, who also have a vision of what the world should be like—certainly much more faceted and noble than mine.”

      <He has mentioned his lawyer many times now. Perhaps it is not so much that he speaks of a lawyer but of a woman. She was indeed pleasant to look at when I met her. It seems she also speaks as well as she appears, but does not take into consideration our David’s effervescent and distinctly different personality. He is not as others in his approach to most things.>

      “Those who purport to have such knowledge,” Li cautioned, “Must also be most careful in what is dispensed to one so willing to learn and the student must gauge for himself what applies. Severity in teaching is sometimes not the path to take with a willing and intelligent student. Your grandmother and I have always tried to let you add your own view to things. It perhaps also has been taken for granted, as you matured into such a successful and confident businessman, that you did not need or wish to hear from us more.”

      David looked over at Li, surprised.

      “I hope you know I do value the help and advice you and Gram give me—I need it and I want it. I know I get off the path a lot, and sometimes a friendly kick in the butt is exactly what I need to set me straight.”

      “I am deeply pleased to hear this. You have gone your own way for a long time now without our input, which has been happy indeed, but we have been remiss in not being aware that you still look for our opinion—and I find that I also need our friendly discussions. Your views give me balance and inspiration.”

      “Really? Hearing that from you makes me feel much less of a fool.”       “Edith and I have also become careless. The path is indeed beset with tigers at times if we ignore the idea that there are other, better ways, and become rigid in our own opinions. In truth, you can keep your own way, but must avoid arousing what ugliness is out there which, you have found once more, is much rougher and not as pleasant as you.”

      “Yeah, but—I can’t resist tweaking the tiger’s tail sometimes when it lies across the path like a stubborn opposing lump and won’t move. Sometimes I pinch the tail and forget the other end bites.”

      “We can only hope that such encounters do not leave lasting scars and that the tweaking, if it cannot be resisted, will be done more cautiously. We are all fascinated with the tiger, but it must be handled carefully or it becomes extremely dangerous.”

      “Well, I suppose this was a bad one, and I did get careless, but maybe next time I get any such ideas I’ll take a chair and a prod along—and I’ll also keep in mind those who stand behind me and may not have had a chance to grab some such comparable defensive mechanism.”

      “It is perhaps better to step over the tail quietly and go away quickly,” advised Li. “Fallen dragons have nothing more to offer except the example of their lost valour and they are, nevertheless, fallen.”

money envelope

     Li broke off, saying,

      “There is a man coming David. Is this the appointment you were expecting this morning?”

      “He’s it. Been looking forward to it actually—for some time—with anticipated pleasure.”

      “Ah, business deals as usual now?”

      “The end of this business deal.”

      Seeing who it was as the man came closer, Li exclaimed,

      “Oh—that man. I will leave then, rather fast.”

      “No need to—it’s just Jack—this won’t take long,” David reassured him. “We’ll all have a drink together for the finale.”

      “I am not sure I want to drink with this man,” demurred Li with something close to disgust in his voice.

      “Today’s the day to get sure, believe me. Stick around,” David urged, pushing himself up from his desk.

      As Jack Smarten came in with his usual big up front smile David opened the meeting with,

      “Hi-Jack. Great morning. You know Li?”

      “Oh sure. Hi Dragon Man.”

      <That is insolent. David should not ever have made deals with this one.>

      Li inclined his head ever so slightly in recognition and did not reply.

      “Got some good news for you,” continued David, warming glasses under hot running water at his little bar, and setting out a bottle of brandy.

      “Really?!

      There was genuine surprise in Jack’s voice as he sat down. David’s usual approach had definitely never been good news for the broker.

      “Yuh. Good for both of us,” returned David, setting out the glasses and pouring the brandy. “For you, Li—and you—ole buddy.”

      Jack was impressed. The invitation to have a drink in this office had disappeared some long time ago and it certainly hadn’t included Yu Ching Li before.

      “Here’s to what has been a most interesting and educational association,” came the salutation.

      Jack’s amazement showed in his face, and something resembling the sound of a warning bell, like that of the closing on bets at the racetrack before he could reach the wicket, went off in his head as the three men lifted their glasses.

      “And here,” David told him, holding up a well-padded envelope, “Is the balance of TJUTELA’s account—finished as of today. May you find another harbour as safe and generous as this one has been—and I have no doubt at all that you will.”

      Jack sat there, stunned, and finally got out, laughing,

      “You and your damned jokes.”

      “No joke. It’s all there,” David assured him.

      Jack blinked and took another drink.

      “It’s monopoly money, isn’t it,” he stated, unbelieving.

      “Real spendable stuff here,” came the reply.

      Pouching the envelope David took his thumb and slowly riffled the little pad of bills it contained as he held it out for Jack to see.

      “I even included the amount—with interest—which your membership and moorage would have been until the end of the year.”

      Jack’s eyes hit the thousand dollar bill out front and followed the rest as they flipped by.

      “You robbed a bank or—you printed it yourself?”

      “Jack, you ole horse thief, you have mistaken me for one of your own. You should learn to deal with people as they are, not as you’d like them to be. Sooner or later every sucker wakes up—some not as soon as they should. Fortunately, I’m not waking up broke and in the gutter, but you sure tried. Congratulations. You’re the best bilker I’ve ever had to deal with—and I want that floating gin palace of yours out of here—today.”

      “You’re making jokes again,” Jack tried, with a sinking feeling in his mesenterics.

      “I don’t usually make jokes about deals.”

      Jack stared at David and David stared steadily and happily back. It finally got to Jack that this was for real.

      “Hey man, you can’t do this!” he protested. “We have a contract.”

      “Had—a contract. I just terminated it. Nothing in it says I can’t pay it off any old time—and don’t say penalties and all that, because if you take it to a lawyer I’ve got a smarter one than you have.”

      Jack didn’t have a lawyer. Like David, he relied on his own brains which he thought were better than those of most lawyers he’d come across, and his own intelligence didn’t cost anything. Now, looking into the steady, unretreating eyes of the man opposite, he knew that this sprightly dark horse had run it’s last race for him—and had just come across the finish line—finished.

      He bowed to the inevitable.

      <Hey man—he doesn’t cheat. It’s cash—a lot of it—take it and run.>

      “Oh—great. Thanks a lot David.”

      He reached for the envelope—which David moved quickly away from his hand.

      “Ah ah!

      David hitched himself back to his desk, took out some papers, motioned Jack to come, and leaning over his shoulder indicated,

      “If you’ll just sign here and mark it paid in full—and please note, I have a reliable witness standing by, who is also going to sign this.”

      Li was pleased that David considered him reliable, but he didn’t like the idea of giving this man cash because there was nothing to prove payment. He hoped Jack wouldn’t be smart enough to claim non-payment in court. Everybody knew of the ongoing battle between David and Jack. Even if the signed papers were presented they might be accused of coercion and threatening. He wished David had come to him first to have a cheque issued.

      “Never thought I’d see the day—but—,” remarked Jack, signing.

      “Right there—yeah!

      “Okay, good enough?”

      “Done.”

      Except—Jack couldn’t resist one last swipe with his riding crop at this lovely thoroughbred which had run so well for him.

      “Okay. I’ll find a place for my boat—maybe by the end of the month.”

      “Today, Jack.”

      “Hey man, that’s hardly fair to spring it on me like this!”

      “Fair?! Today—Jack!”

      Jack Smarten, never one to go out whimping—unlike the other fast buck artist who had heard a similar toast aboard the casino—didn’t dump his glass onto the floor. He thought he had class—albeit of the forty thieves variety. Unwilling to show his immediate desire to count the money in front of these two, whom he also considered classy, and not wanting to lose his dignity under the circumstances, he pretended disdain for such a move, as he took the envelope David handed him and tucked it into his jacket pocket. Keeping his pride intact, he drank the rest of his brandy slowly and appreciatively, holding it in his mouth and enjoying it.

      Then, cradling the empty snifter in his hands to keep it warm, he gave David one of his most beatific smiles and said,

      “Ahhh... .You always did have the best brandy around, David. How about one for the road?”

      The laughter of three men rang out from the office and over the water.

      When Jack left, a bottle of David’s brandy went with him. Watching, as the man went along the wharf with a bit of a jaunty swagger, Li told his friend,

      “It is not wise to make enemies David.”

      “Oh, he’s not an enemy. You might say we’ve been opponents in a chess game, and he had a well thought out game plan and paid a lot more attention to the moves than I did up to now—and I’ve had to pay a lot of money over time for my carelessness. Actually, I’m going to miss him like a tick which was tucked into a sensitive place, but I kind of got used to him. He kept my adrenalin running and my senses on constant alert. I have a sneaking admiration for that low sneak.”

      “One must look to the future in these matters.”

      “I’ve looked, Li. Jack’s just a larcenous leech, not a knife man. He’s a survivor like I am. Granted, he has a different way of operating but—when we hit bottom we push ourselves back off, and right now I think I’m bottoming out along with him. Probably, if we meet somewhere in the future, we’ll have a drink and laugh about all the ways he cheated me, and he’ll probably tell me about a few I haven’t even been aware of—and then he’ll try to take me again.”

      Li was surprised to hear what he considered to be such an astute analysis of the situation, but caution still came to the fore.

      “I would have wished you had given him a cheque instead of cash. There is no real proof of payment. One does not trust such a one with such a large, clean amount.”

      David started to laugh.

      “Rest easy Li. Like he said, I did print some myself. I switched envelopes behind his back when he was busy signing.”

      “You have cheated him?!” asked Li in utter disbelief.

      “Not a bit of it. For a moment I thought he’d look at it right here, which would have spoiled some of the fun but, knowing him, I figured his phony uptown act would get the better of him. Now just wait. As soon as he gets aboard his boat he’s going to sit down, pour himself a drink of my good brandy and, to make sure I didn’t do him like he would have done me, he’ll take out my funny money to count it. It’s got my face on it, sticking out my tongue and waggling my fingers in my ears. When he sees that he’ll have a fit, and then he’s going to come charging back in here screaming obscenities like the crud he is and try to slug me, and then—after he and Ulf and Gurth have all calmed down a bit and I’ve picked myself up from the floor from laughing too hard—I’ll give him this nice, documented bank draft—and—I know I’m a sucker, but—maybe I’ll let him stay until the end of the month.”

      “You must not shock me like this,” Li admonished with a shaky laugh. “I did not see the switch.”

      “Sorry, Li, but it’s not supposed to be seen. Have to keep my fingers limbered up somehow don’t I? I just had to get at him, after all this time of his working me over—and I said I don’t usually make jokes about deals. Couldn’t resist it this time though. Yuh—here he comes already. Maybe this’ll teach that cheap horse punter not to screw an honest poker player.”

      Watching the furious, red-faced man stomping toward the office, Li opened his eyes wide.

      “I am pleasantly surprised,” he told David. “If you should keep seeing through clouds in this fashion I will be asking you for help and advice.”

      “I doubt it Li, I doubt it,” returned David, laughing and laughing.

      Li felt the role of mole he had come in with had been well fulfilled.

      <We should no longer be concerned for our young joker. He is still very much the impulsive, carefree one, who has tripped on his own shoelaces and feels betrayed by the world—but he is already preparing to go out and try it again. He is what he is and he will certainly recover his good spirits soon. He is even now showing some of his usual good humour.>

knight chess piece

- - -

After Jack and Ulf and Gurth had calmed down and Jack, crestfallen, had retreated with his real payment, David, still laughing, told Li,

      “That’s a happy end to a horrible beginning.”

      Li laughed too, saying,

      “You have surprised me again. You have produced money from air once more.”

      “Just one of my stashes which I couldn’t get at due to restrictions—the last one I had. Good thing it was a big one, because I was getting pretty thin in the cash department. Winning my case was an outcome I’d almost given up on for awhile there before Rose Hold came along. Wasn’t it great that she got me court costs and damages too? That sure helps.”

      “I am so glad it has worked out well,” smiled Li. “Now we must think of things which are beautiful and belong in this beautiful day. The sun is for the flowers. Have you noticed they are all around us?”

      “Oh yeah! Remember the broom blooming at Shalisa Creek Bay when you were up that way, Li?”

      “Yes—it must be at this season they are out, I remember? Truly, that is a place paved with gold at such a time.”

      “Yuh. Total mother lode there right now. Just realised, this trip, how the broom has such a hold on the rock cleft we line up with to get through the Gap. Strength and beauty. Formidable.”

      “Ah, some flowers which look so fragile have strong roots. Have you also noticed that the cherry trees are blooming? Your grandmother has asked Ana and me for dinner this evening.”

      “Oh? She didn’t say anything to me about it.”

      “Perhaps that was because you had left so early this morning and the plans had not yet been made. She will no doubt call you. You have not forgotten? It is to be our usual get-together for welcoming back this fine season while we sit on the bench which circles the big Queen Anne as the fragrant petals falling give us the warming touch of a returning friend. We will drink our wine and lift our faces up and watch the petals drifting down until we are covered with the pink and white confetti of Mother Nature and then we will go in and have one of Edith’s most excellent little dinners. It will be delightful. Ana will bring Chin to confound Ulf and Gurth as usual. We have been invited to come early so that we may enjoy the garden and talk of things we all love.”

      “Let’s see,” speculated David, “That’ll be poetry, art, flowers, music, good games of chase the ball and how to turn an animated tortoise into a solid, unmoving rock, garden bugs and living in the slow lane, and anything else we can think of if there’s any time left over.”

      cherry tree in bloom”I am looking forward to it.”

      “Me too, now that I know about it.”

      “I must leave now to go and do what the world thinks is my purpose in life. It has been a long, hard path for you this past year and more, but we must not let these events become such a block in your way that it turns you from the cheerful, thoughtful and kind ways you have always followed. Let us reinforce these things for all of us this evening, beneath the cherry tree, among the flowers. I will see you this late afternoon. I know you will not forget.”

      “Bet Gram wouldn’t let me,” laughed David. “See you then. Did your visit here help with the problem you came in with?”

      “Indeed, I believe it has solved it admirably.”

      After Li had left, David smilingly put the chessmen and board back into the drawer, aware that the smile had been brought about by two caring people.