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22: Pilot’s day off



Wings—that’s the stuff I called freedom
Only myself and the sky
Happy the days of my learning
Just like the birds how to fly
Vying for space on green runway
Using a slip and a yaw—
Then came umpteen regulations
Clipping my wings with the law
Paperwork fuel and upkeep
Also of cash came a dearth
Planned routes and schedules and tourists
Brought my free floats down to earth
But—I know other devices
Flight’s not just fettered to wings
I can go anywhere quickly
Every time my old flute sings


Fog stretched up from Sea to Sky, reaching for the approaching float plane, but the pilot kept enough altitude to give the bank of vapour plenty of elbow room, circling down behind it for a circuit and scan of the touchdown area before descent.

     Below lay Shalisa Creek Bay, blue, green, sandy, sunny, hidden from seaward view by the white, shifting banner put there by Fog laying claim to that favourite playground once again.

     Early that morning David had flown from his busy marina in the city to a remote village, taking back to his home a man who spent his time fishing, when he wasn’t arguing with government officials about it, trying to inveigle them into giving his community a better deal.

     The flight had been a pleasant one with Ulf and Gurth along, the conversation had been interesting, and the transition from city to northern coast had slid easily up on him. It had seemed the natural thing to do, rounding off at Shalisa Creek Bay. He’d kept his attaché case in the plane for some time, vacillating over taking a trip only for the purpose of getting papers checked. This fare had given him the opportunity to do that without extra expense. On his return route he’d called Rose and told her he was on his way.

     Now the morning, still early, lifted his spirits, spreading the bright waters and the green surrounds of the bay invitingly below him and its pull was irresistible.

     “Know what guys?” he enquired of Ulf and Gurth. “We’re going to take the rest of the day off. Home can look after itself for awhile. I need some down time.”

     His passengers were nothing but agreeable. The bay had always been an exciting place to visit, and they also felt they hadn’t had enough of it lately. After rambling around the beach, home seemed small and confining by comparison.

     “Nice ripple on the water—but look at all those soggers and—geeze guys!” David exclaimed as his eyebrows shot up, “Look at all the boats and—there are people buzzing all over the place. What’s happened to paradise?”

     Ulf and Gurth looked at the back of his head as though they figured he ought to know that paradise anywhere was open to pillage, and sooner or later people and the snake would sneak their way in. After all, he’d been one of the first, contemporarily speaking. Then they looked at each other and looked away again, hoping he’d get it.

     Everyone below turned their faces skyward when the flash of wings and the sound of the engine which brought them appeared over Shalisa Creek Bay.

     “Yuh, they’ve seen us. If I read it right, all those frantic signals they’re making seem to indicate there are a lot of boats and soggers down there. Guess they figure we can’t see what’s going on—blind dragon up here. Got your seat belts fastened?”

     The two samoyeds grinned at each other behind his back and kept their silence. Glancing over his shoulder as he asked, he caught them at it.

     “Oh yeah—you can laugh, but I’m the one responsible for everything here. Everybody thinks it’s a ho ho. I’ve had passengers get up and lean on my shoulder so they could take a better video out the windshield while we were going in—so don’t forget to stay put until we’re stationary. This is serious business. Okay—here we go.”

     His two passengers kept on laughing as the plane banked and came in for its approach. They’d heard it all before and weren’t a bit concerned about not making it down. He always did.

     Tide, heading in with the load of soggers, eyed him in his descent and mischievously shifted a couple his way just for fun. David lofted over them and touched down, swearing.

     “Damn—he did that deliberately. Dirty old sneak. Must be a current from that rock over there. Better file it for future reference.”

     As he stepped out to tie up at the wharf there were shouts of,

     “Uncle Twimby! Uncle Twimby!” as the twins headed his way, running along the old boards and skipping over missing slats with sure-footed abandon. They were followed more slowly by the other three children and Rose, none of whom told the twins to be careful—they’d given up on that one and were used to following up the misadventures of the two with help, bandaids and solace.

     “Hop out guys and have fun,” David invited the two eager, impatiently waiting samoyeds.

     They did, hopping into the water instead of onto the wharf, splashing their fully clothed friend with a wash of saltchuck.

     “Hey!” he complained to them, as the children and Rose came up. “I still have to wear these things.”

     Ulf and Gurth didn’t pay any attention. They were too busy having fun.

     “Hi guys,” grinned David as the exuberant ‘Uncle Twimby’ twins made a grab for him. “How about that! My own fan club.”

     Bernice, hugging his right leg, made the discovery,

     “You’re not wearing cement anymore. Is your leg all better?”

     “Well, it’s getting there,” laughed David, picking her up and swinging her around in a circle as he asked, “What’s going on here Rose? Haven’t seen this many boats in the bay since casino days. Are you starting a tourist trap?”

     “We’re fortunate not to have any of those. I heard we scared them off with our reputation.”

     “Let’s go play with Ulf and Gurth,” broke in Bernice to Walter.

     “Yeah, we can look at the plane later,” was the agreement and, with the immediacy of childhood, the two yanked off tee shirts and cutoffs and jumped in after the dogs.

     “Yup,” observed David, “You can sure tell them’s Soggers all right.”

     “We all go swimming that way,” Isabel told him, a little indignantly and defensively.

     “Is that the reputation you’re referring to—no law against nude bathing here?”

     “Could be,” put in Morgan. “Some nerds have their minds in the sewer. They think we’re all thieves and hooligans here—drunks and druggies, and all the time throwing raves in the buff.”

     “We’re all buddies under the skin,” chortled David, patting Morgan on the shoulder. “That’s what they tried to get me for.”

     “You have to forgive them,” said Therése thoughtfully. “It’s because no one ever taught them any better.”

     “You young people have such an honest and refreshing view of things,” laughed Rose, after that remark.

     “Oh great!” exclaimed Isabel suddenly. “The twins are getting out of their depth again. Come on team, we’d better go get them.”

     The three children took off running along the wharf for the beach, as David commented,

     “No problem—Ulf and Gurth wouldn’t let them drown. What’s this about drunks and drugs?”

     “Oh—people keep wandering down here looking for real estate and of course they see us on the beach swimming the way the twins do. I’m afraid we’ll have to ignore being looked over by these insecure types. They seem to figure that—just like what happened to you—if you have one fault in their eyes you have them all.”

     “Think you’re right about insecurity,” he agreed. “A man has to be careful who he’s with when he takes his clothes off. I went over the side once like that with some company aboard TJUTELA, and I’m so used to doing it with the guys I dive with it never occurred to me that anyone would mind. I mean, they tell all sorts of dirty jokes and discuss lewd things in language I hate to admit I get to listen to all around me, but let someone act like a human being and everyone freaks. The evening really hit the prop after that. My reputation got another warning sign posted on it.”

     “One more sign won’t even be noticed,” came Rose’s dubious endorsement.

     “Hope you don’t mind my dropping in on you so unexpectedly,” he told her, swallowing that unflattering assessment, “But I have to squash things in when I get the time. Just dropped a fare off farther up the coast so I thought, since it was a nice early flight, I’d hit here on the way back and stay the day. He’s a regular and doesn’t mind if I haul the dogs along. Wish they were all like that.”

     “I was actually wondering when you might get around to it when you called. You did bring your contracts with you didn’t you?”

     “Oh you bet,” he returned, then, looking around the bay he exclaimed enthusiastically, “Geeze—I don’t know how I stood it so long away from here—and speaking of standing—I’m not too good at it yet. Left my cane in the plane. Hold on—I’ll get my attaché case too.”

     “Been up there long?”

     “Couple hours. Sure could use some coffee.”

     “We can fix that up shortly. Tell you what, why don’t we have coffee on the barge and you can meet the people. We’d better make it fast though, because they’ve planned a trip to the village to pick up a lot of things they need. Did you know Bettina and Harry are here?”

     “Really?!” he asked in surprise as he retrieved his case and cane and they started along the wharf. “Thought they were heading for the village last time I spoke to them. What’s going on around here anyway? You’ve sure had a population explosion, and the traffic outside there on the water reminds me of opening day on LEGER DE MAIN. Is there some sort of public happening in the village or something? I saw boats all over the place and all heading that way. Used to be only felons like myself got up this way.”

     “Public happening is about right,” Rose told him. “We’ll have to get used to it I guess. The property up behind and around here has been posted for sale and the prices must be good. We’ve had people swarming all over. They keep getting lost and winding up here wanting to buy me out. I guess you saw all the building going on outside the village.”

     “Yeah—kind of surprised me. I’m used to nice empty green below me as I come in. Who are all the visitors at the wharf? And tell me about that big fascinating two-masted wench anchored out there.”

     “The de Marincourts own it. Armand’s a doctor—and she’s not a wench, she’s a wastrel like you.”

     “Love the compliments I get around here,” came the ironic comment, with a face to match.

     “Any time,” Rose assured him. “Can’t you tell by the name—METHUSELAH? All boats aren’t ‘she’ you know.”

     “Oh?” queried David. “I thought they got called ‘she’ anyway, no matter what the name—you know what they say—difficult, demanding and damned desirable.”

     “I’m glad you’re not saying it,” returned Rose, giving him a sideways glance, “Or I’d have to put you down as a male chauvinist.”

     “Oh—hey—no—I have great respect for women. My Gram’s the best. I think they’re extremely interesting and intelligent—like you for instance.”

     “I guess I’ll let you talk yourself out of it with your flattery again,” she laughed, thinking that she liked it, even if he was just being smart with his last words.

     “I meant it—so enlighten me some more.”

     “Anyway,” obliged Rose, “At least from the Shalisa view of the world, some boats have the spirits of maidens and others have hearts of warriors, so to speak—those which have to earn a living usually—BRIGHT LEAF, WESTMAN WILL, HAI-SO, METHUSELAH. He got here through the Panama Canal. Maybe you can get his history from Armand if you’re interested—and they’re not visitors, they’re here to stay. The marinas in the village raised their rates so high after the real estate boom that just about nobody around here could afford it anymore so they started looking for something cheaper.”

     “I’d say they found it,” observed David with a grin.

     “Oh, they offered to pay for it,” explained Rose, “But I don’t need the money. Besides, Grandfather would have been very severe with me for taking advantage of people in difficulty, especially since there’s so much space here and no one’s using it. He always wanted to help people with problems, not make more for them. It took a bit of tact to arrange it so nobody had to pay, but I’m learning. I was really impressed by the way you handled the situation with Fitz that time, even if it was sort of under the table.”

     “You learned something good from me?” enquired David, amused.

     “That just goes to show how nice you can be when you try. I’m beginning to suspect you’re not as bad as you’re made out to be.”

     “Coming from you, I’ll cherish those words for a long time,” David applauded, pleased. “They’re probably the last nice ones I’ll get for awhile.”

     “You earned them so keep trying,” she smiled. “They’ve agreed to fix up the wharf and do all sorts of things in exchange for staying here. I’m sure that’s exactly what they would have done anyway, so everybody comes out winners. Oh, and you won’t believe this, but the captain of the tug there is Bud Westman, the man you owed that towing bill to for LEGER DE MAIN.”

     “Oh—geeze! Won’t my lurid past ever stop pursuing me?” groaned David. “He’ll probably take after me with a baseball bat.”

     “It’s all right. He’s really great. In fact, Harry found out you’ve already met. Seems he was one of your heroes in the pub last time you were around here.”

     “He probably wouldn’t have rescued me if he’d known who I was,” he laughed. “Which one is he—French, Oriental or Hercules?”

     “He’s the big one. All three of them are here. Wait until you meet Shiro and Tashakawa Kamisaki. She’s so beautiful. We were talking one day about their friends in the village and she told me how expensive and difficult it was for them to keep their boats at the government wharf, so I said she should tell them they could moor here too if they wanted, so that’s why Bud and Armand came.

     “Bett and Tash have found soul sisters in each other because they both love to cook and garden. See all the flower boxes on the barge? Doesn’t it make the whole thing look really lovely? We all helped to mend them and build a few more, but Tash mostly looks after them now they’re operative. If you don’t watch out you’ll leave here with baskets of flowers hanging from TJUTELA’s bowsprit and spreaders. I’m inclined to just let nature do the decorating, but Tash is a real artist with plants.”

     “It does kind of make it look like a romantic old enchanted castle, doesn’t it,” agreed David, admiring the masses of colourful flowers which sprawled from the large planters all around the deck of the barge and drifted down from the boxes at the windows of the spire and turrets. “Just like I always wanted—a blooming busy little troll’s castle.”

     “Are we trolls? Is that better than Soggers?”

     “Depends whose point of view—I think they’re both as happy as each other.”

     “I’ll accept that. We do have fun. Harry has every piece of machinery around here running like new too.”

     “It follows that everything else in the vicinity got scrubbed down afterwards, so this must be the cleanest place on earth,” laughed David.

     “Well, he does leave a bit of grease around. You should have seen him get hit with diesel fuel when he was fixing the generator and pump, but the results of his work are worth the cleaning up that goes with it.”

     “He got the generator working?! Well, I warned him. It got me too, that’s why I left it alone.”

     “He certainly knows what he’s doing in spite of the glitches.”

     “If he could fix that thing he sure must.”

     “I’m really glad it’s turned out this way. I thought when I first came back that I’d be all alone with Grandfather and the Old Ones, but Fitz was here, and then the children came, and now everybody else. It’s almost like old times when I was a kid myself and my folks and the other families used to be around and everybody helped everybody else with all the work and playtime.”

     “So who am I to complain about the crowds—here come the twins again—Ulf, Gurth—don’t you shake yourselves all over Rose and me—agh!

     Before he could finish both dogs shook, grinning wickedly.

     “Come and see our treasure chest Uncle Twimby,” offered Bernice, running up and taking his arm as he and Rose tried to wipe themselves off.

     “Go ahead,” laughed Rose. “I’m leaving this danger zone. Give me your case—I’ll get the people and coffee together.”

     “We’ve got double looneys an’ silver dollars an’ things,” Walter told him in what the little boy thought was a whisper, but which Rose heard clearly as she walked away, “But before we tell you where it is you have to swear an oats not to tell anybody.”

     “It’s our secret,” added Bernice, “Except for Morgan an’ Isabel an’ Therése—an’ Rose an’ Fitz—an’ Aunty Betty an’ Uncle Bounce—an’ Aunty Flower an’ Uncle Hero—an’—let’s see—Doc an’ Uncle Tugboat—’cause they all helped us find it all.”

     “Sure there’s nobody else? “asked David, having a hard time keeping his face straight as he got ready to keep this ill-kept secret.

     The two looked at each other, thinking hard, then agreed together,

     “Nope—that’s all. Let’s shake on it.”

     David put out his hand quickly but Walter instructed,

     “No, you have to spit—like this.”

     He anointed his small right hand vigorously with a small amount of saliva as Bernice did the same.

     “Oh, of course—I should have known—being a pirate myself,” David excused himself, and obligingly followed suit.

     “Okay, swear,” said Bernice as the hands got together.

     “Say after us,” instructed Walter, “I won’t split to anyone, or strike me pink for the rest of my life.”

     “Sounds familiar,” grinned David, then he swore and added, “Your secret’s safe. I sure wouldn’t want to be pink for the rest of my life.”

     “Yeah,” grinned Walter, “Then everybody would know you were a liar an’ a rat an’ can’t keep a secret.”

     “Well—maybe you could tell Ulf and Gurth,” Bernice reconsidered. “I’m sure they won’t split on us.”

     “They’d love to be in on it—they’re absolutely split proof,” David vouched for his two friends.

     Three moist hands having firmly shaken to seal the oath, the twins hauled David along the wharf and on to ELFINSHOE and, while Ulf and Gurth stood by with interested noses, the two got down on the cabin sole and pulled out from under their bottom bunk an old wooden box, banded stoutly with imitation brass metal straps—Isabel’s paintbrush work—and fastened with an old, rusty hasp and lock, which didn’t, because it was broken. The corners too were reinforced with painted on brass.

     “That’s a chest to be proud of,” admired David as the box came out.

     “Well, we found it floating out there on the beach,” explained Bernice.

     “So we thought it must be an old pirate’s chest somebody robbed,” added Walter.

     “An’ Isabel fixed it up strong,” Bernice informed him. “Now don’t forget your sweared oats.”

     With a great flourish and lots of pride in their faces they removed the lock from the hasp and slowly opened the old box.

     “We have lots of double looneys,” Bernice informed him, and lifting out a cardboard box she opened the lid to reveal a collection of sand dollar shells, scrubbed clean to reveal their distinctive five-looped imprint. “Big Ranulf showed us where to find them an’ how to go sort of careful into the water so’s not to step on things an’ squish them, an’ pick up only the light coloured ones with the hole in the middle on the bottom. The black ones aren’t ready yet. They’re little double looneys still growing.”

     “Yeah,” agreed Walter. “They’re not ready to be treasure yet. It takes time. Isabel showed us how to scrub them all up without breaking them.”

     “Wowsie!” exclaimed David, appropriately impressed. “No wonder you keep this well hidden.”

     “An’ look at all our silver pieces of eight,” invited Bernice, proudly picking up a big jar filled with the flat, silvery-translucent seed pods of lunaria, the honesty of Rose’s garden, held up for viewing and now displayed with their common name of ‘silver dollars’. “Rose says if we put some in the ground next year, they’ll grow oodles more.”

     “Maybe we’ll plant ’em all,” Walter suggested, getting growth investment ideas. “An’ we’ll be the richest pirates around.”

     “Oh, I love those,” smiled David. “Did you help to uncover the treasure? I used to help Gram find silver that way. It was hidden under the old shabby coats we took off them.”

     “You know how to find silver too?” exclaimed Walter, delighted. “You’re a real pirate.”

     “See? We’ve got diamonds an’ rubies an’ stuff,” continued Bernice, opening a big flat cookie tin and revealing a collection of old costume jewellery, undoubtedly contributed by the women of the bay.

     “That is some chestful of treasure!” enthused David. “If I come across any more could I add them to the collection and leave them safely locked up here?”

     “Oh yeah,” agreed Walter. “We pirates have to stick together.”

     Joining into the enthusiasm as the twins displayed their prized accumulation of trinkets and shells, David knew that no amount of real coins in a jar could ever outdo the worth of the shining seeds, nor any paper dollars find a place in this treasure chest of childhood. It was a pirate hoard, which would keep its value over time and in memory, never to be replaced with ordinary pelf.

     They came to a cardboard box full of small stones—some smoothed by the action of tide and grinding sand, some perfectly round from tumbling down with Waterfall and rolling along Creek bed—white agate and common green jade, slate, pieces of shining purple glass-like obsidian, pebbles streaked with red iron oxide or flecked with the bright glitter of iron pyrites, some just shaped into interesting forms.

     Lying on the bottom underneath the lot was a shapeless dull lump, looking out of place because of its undistinguished appearance. David picked it up, felt the weight of it, hefted it, tossed it up and down.

     “That’s an interesting stone,” he said thoughtfully.

     “Do you like it?” asked Walter. “It’s not as pretty as the others, but Rose says all stones have a spirit of their own and can talk to us if we listen.”

     “This one sure does,” agreed David.

     “Can you hear it?”

     “What does it say?”

     “It says it’s very special,” returned David.

     “See, it talks to him.”

     “You can have it,” Walter told him, “As a token of our secrecy between pirates—don’t you think so Bernice?”

     “Sure if you like it.”

     “You really want to part with it?”

     “I think the other ones are lots prettier, but since that one says things to you I guess it’s chosen you.”

     “Where did you find it?”

     “Over by the creek where it comes down,” replied Walter.

     “Uh huh. You found it at the bottom of the waterfall?”

     “Yeah, just like it had kind of fallen down.”

     “It’s not pretty, but we kept it ’cause we liked the funny colour,” Bernice explained away its homeliness, “Kind of yellow.”

     “Have you got a treasure chest?” asked Walter.

     “Oh yeah—two or three of them—not as nice as this one though.”

     “I guess it’ll be safe in one of them.”

     “Actually—since it’s mine now—I think maybe I’ll toss it overboard into the bay and make a wish for peace and good luck here, like people do with coins in a fountain.”

     “But you can’t,” objected Walter. “It spoke to you and we gave it to you as a token of secrecy.”

     “You should keep it as a good luck piece,” Bernice told him.

     “Oh. I guess you’re right. Has anyone else seen it?”

     “No. We only found it two days ago and nobody goes into our treasure chest without asking us first.”

     “You’re the only one who’s seen it except us.”

     “That is good luck. We’ll just keep it our secret, otherwise the luck of the bay will disappear, along with mine.”

     “We sure wouldn’t want that,” said Bernice earnestly as Walter asked him,

     “Why?”

     “Well—I’ll tell you something—but first you have to swear not to tell anyone else. Okay?”

     “Okay,” came the agreement, and three wet palms met again.

     “Once—it was on one of my very first flights when I was younger—I found some of these little rocks up north when I was flying up that way and that’s where they spoke to me. We’ve been talking ever since—but you have to be very careful what you say to them, because they can be very naughty sometimes.”

     Bernice and Walter looked at each other, then Bernice said solemnly,

     “We don’t want any naughty rocks.”

     “Have they been naughty to you?”

     “They were at first, but now I know how to talk to them—sort of.”

“You better keep it, ’cause you know how to make it be good.”

     “Yeah. Do you see anymore in here?” asked Walter.

     “No, this is the only one.”

     “We won’t pick up anymore like that if we see any, will we Walter?”

     “No. We’ll throw them in the bay and wish for good luck.”

     David considered those words for a moment, then said,

     “If you like I’ll put this one with my others and it’ll grow bigger and better and then I’ll bring it back for you one day when it’s all grown up.”

     “Would it be good then?”

     “No guarantees, but I’ll do my best to make it that way.”

     “Let’s swear on it,” suggested Walter seriously.

     David figured one more swearing ceremony wouldn’t do any harm.

     “Boy we’ve sweared lots of big oats today!” declared Walter, afterwards.

     “Have we ever got secrets!” agreed Bernice.

     “Me too,” returned David. “Why don’t you put all your treasures away safely and we’ll go get some coffee and maybe cookies and such over on the barge.”

     With the treasure chest carefully restowed, three secretive pirates and two absolutely unsplittable samoyeds stepped off ELFINSHOE to join the bay residents on board LEGER DE MAIN.

- - -

’Such’ on the barge went on and on, and might have continued indefinitely, except that David looked at his watch and said,

     “Hate to break this up, but Rose has to do some work for me before I take off and I have some explaining to do.”

     “That’s about his contracts,” qualified Rose as everyone laughed at the unintentional allusion. “Okay, let’s hit my place and we’ll have a look at your commitments.”

     His attaché case was resting expectantly on the table as they came into her kitchen and Rose told him,

     “Pull up a chair and we’ll get at it.”

     David was about to do that when his eyes landed on a guitar leaning against the wall by her desk.

     “I didn’t know you played guitar, Rose,” he told her in surprise, as he walked over, picked it up and ran his hand over the shining curved wood. “It’s a beautiful old instrument. Where did you come across this?”

     “I got it from a friend.”

     “Did you study it or are you one of those who just naturally knows how?”

     “Oh—I’m just an amateur. He taught me.”

     “I know people who’d sell their eye teeth for this shoulder strap,” he remarked, admiring the hand-woven work of it.

     Something drifted up in his memory. He had the vague notion that he’d seen both guitar and strap somewhere before, but he didn’t pursue the thought as he struck a few chords. “Bit out of tune. You haven’t been using it lately.”

     She didn’t reply. He set his fingers on a peg to adjust it and his memory sang again. The peg was like the one he’d found under the Tree. He turned around sharply to look at her, but she had her back to him.

     <I got it from a friend? He taught me? I’m walking on private space here.>

     “Really lovely,” he murmured, leaned the guitar carefully against the wall again and walked back to sit at the table.

     “Would you like a beer?” she asked as he came up.

     “Sounds good, but—I have a thing about taking Dragon Wings up if I have anything to drink.”

     “Dragon Wings?!”

     David grinned and gave a little shrug, saying, “Therése names everything.”

     “That’s an odd name she chose.”

     “My fault. I told her I was a dragon.”

     They smiled steadily at each other until Rose asked,

     “Are you?”

     “Well—I’ve kind of been called that since I was a kid.”

     “Oh—I’m sure there was a good reason for that.”

     “Uh huh,” he returned noncommittally, opening his case and setting out his paper work.

     They discussed a couple of contracts until she looked at one and asked,

     “What’s this you’re doing? Running airline limo?”

     “Oh—that. Mother’s friends. She’s always looking out for her eldest darling behind her husband’s back. She thought it would keep me on the straight and steady. Hate it, but I took it because it’s really lucrative—cash. They throw money around like it’s sawdust from a busy lumber mill.”

     “Cash? What’s this contract for then?”

     “That’s so they can’t screw me. You’ll notice it says the cost of flights may vary from time to time—no specifics as to amount. I arrange it by the occasion.”

     “Is that so you can screw them?”

     “You catch on fast. I make them give me humiliation and suffering pay by the mile—ahead of time.”

     “Good idea. If you don’t make it there and back the money’s in your estate for your heirs.”

     “Or in my pocket along with the rest of the crunched up bits—and somebody has to assure Ulf and Gurth’s future.”

     “Never mind—unlucky in love, lucky at cards.”

     “You’re too damned perceptive. Just check it out.”

     “What’s the ‘suffering and humiliation’ you mentioned?”

     “Takes me half an hour to clear the air in the plane from all the exotic chemical fragrances they bring aboard as excess baggage. Just about chokes me. I have to wear a tie and shirt, neatly creased dark trousers, polished shoes. Got a cap like the jet jockeys—with my wings pinned front and centre. Some fares think a pilot is supposed to look like a liveried servant—and act like one.”

     “That’s an interesting definition of suffering. I’d really like to see that.”

     “If you’d enjoy that you’d howl if you could see me bowing and scraping and touching my visor when I unload my plastic people at the resorts. I’m turning into a real ham. I hear from the usual low gossip that the women love it. They think I’m cute and racey. Their husbands throw big tips at me to put me in my place and get rid of me fast. Can you imagine? Tipping a pilot?! But hell—I’m not going to say no if they want to be that stupid. Money’s money and right now I need it. As Li would say, ‘Those too proud to eat humble pie are entitled to go hungry’—not this boy.”

     “I’m sure you’re a very resilient door mat. You probably rasp the soles off their shoes just for fun before they know what’s happening. For a moment or two you reminded me of that man I coached into looking like a total innocent, pretending he hadn’t the slightest idea that he’d broken any law. Ham indeed. I think you know very well what you’re doing—every step of the way.”

     “Consummate shill man.”

     “Hold on—here come the kids, looking for more stuffing,” sighed Rose. “They’re bottomless pits.”

     “Just growing fast. I can remember cleaning out the refrigerator every time I went past it, along with all my friends who came home with me to do just that. Used to send my father into screaming tantrums.”

     “Cookies and apples,” announced Rose as the five came in, while Ulf and Gurth stood politely outside the door after being waved back by David.

     “I’ll get it,” offered Isabel, heading for the cupboard. “Morgan, you can get the apples.”

     “Yeah yeah. Where’s the milk?

     “You can’t have any,” Therése told him. “You know we’re short of milk and cream and stuff.”

     “No milk delivery today?” queried David, laughing.

     “No. Daisy got chased by something and hasn’t gone home yet,” explained Isabel.

     “Daisy’s the cow we buy milk from,” explained Rose. “Something got into her enclosure and chased her.”

     “It was a bear!” announced Walter.

     “I don’t think so,” smiled Rose, not wanting to be outright contradictory. “They figured somebody’s dog got loose and took after the chickens and, Daisy being Daisy, she chased the dog. She’s not taking anything from anybody. Chickens and cow disappeared while their owners were in town. The chickens are filtering back, but Daisy is still at large.”

     “Big Ranulf told us he got chased by a bear when he was off sailing,” Bernice intoned dramatically. “It was a big bear with a cubby.”

     “There aren’t any bears around here are there Rose?” asked David. “I seem to recall you told me that there weren’t any.”

     “If I remember correctly, what I said was, ‘If there are any, the dogs are probably the reason why you never saw any’.”

     “Um—come to think of it—yeah—that’s exactly what you said. You have an elephantine memory.”

     “Most good lawyers do. You’re not doing too badly yourself.”

     “Yeah—that’s why I’m lucky at cards. So—are there any around here?”

     “You redirect very well. My opinion is that the peninsula doesn’t offer enough space for those big fellows. The last one which showed up here got so frightened when everybody made such a noise, the poor thing ran off scared stiff, and we never saw another one. It probably went home and told all its relatives that this was a terrible place to visit—just like the tourists are saying now. That was years ago—but then—I haven’t been here for years either.”

     “I bet it was a bear,” persisted Walter.

     “It was dogs Walter,” stated Rose.

     “Bear!” stated the twins together.

     “Oh, come on, get your cookies and take an apple and stop arguing with Rose,” ordered Isabel.

     “Can we have a cookie for Ulf and Gurth?” asked Bernice, taking a couple anyway.

     “May we,” corrected Morgan and Therése together, as Isabel glared at them.

     “Geeze!” laughed David as the five filed out, food in hand. “They wear me out just listening to them. I don’t think I was cut out to be a daddy type. Good thing I’m just Uncle Twimby.”

     “You may not be a daddy type but you sure know how to be one of the kids,” observed Rose. “Maybe that’s even better. Dragons—oh yeah!”

     “Watch your language. The critters may be listening and they can be very outrageous sometimes if they get insulted.”

     “You’d better not or you’re out of here,” Rose warned him.

     “Don’t throw me out yet,” pleaded David. “I was kind of hoping to get in a bit of flute playing in peace and quiet after we’re through here. Thought I’d go up to the waterfall pool and appease the spirit there because I think I insulted her once.”

     The look which came into Rose’s face at this suggestion caught him by surprise.

     “You were up at the waterfall?!

     “Yeah. I went for a walk and climbed up there. It’s a fascinating place. I guess you know that.” Watching her face he added, “You look sort of surprised.”

     “Well—it’s not just somewhere to go climbing around. People—fall off the cliffs, and—things happen.”

     “I was careful. I didn’t fall. See.” He held out his arms. “I’m still here.” Then, remembering the experience which had kept him from a repeat visit to the pool, which he now considered to be unreasonable caution, he asked, “What are ‘things’?”

     “I probably shouldn’t tell you this—you’ll probably laugh—but—it’s an ancient legend. The Old Ones said it wasn’t a place for anyone to go just for fun—and certainly not by themselves. There were supposed to be just two legitimate reasons for going there. Only a Leader Elect went there alone. The idea was that a true leader would cross from one side of the falls to the other and return safely as proof of their fitness to take on the job from the one who went before. Those with impure hearts and unkind thoughts would be taken by Waterfall Spirit.”

     “Geeze—have you done that?!”

     “Of course not. Do you take me for an idiot? I’m fond of living and I’m not about to be sucked in by superstition. I’m not going to go crawling around under that waterfall. It could sweep me off and I’d wind up at the bottom like they said they found all kinds of other people.”

     “They found—people—at the bottom?!”

     “So I was told.”

     “Like dead no doubt.”

     “No doubt after a fall like that.”

     “Oh—well—don’t worry about it. You don’t have to go. Some people have greatness dumped on them,” misquoted David. “What’s the other reason for going there?”

     “The other one was that it’s supposed to be a place of love. Couples would go up there to pledge their lives together. It was said that those who went together in love stayed together through their lifetime. They were allowed to go back together after that to—discuss things.”

     “Guess it took some guts to go up there with somebody. You’d have to be pretty sure of your direction for the rest of your life.”

     Rose was silent for a moment, then replied lightly,

     “Well, I understand a few came down very disillusioned—also, a few wound up at the bottom probably more so.”

     “Got into an argument about the outcome, did they?” queried David.

     “Offhand I’d say you got that right. It was supposed to be that those couples who heard her song of gladness and freedom and saw her beauty and felt her spirit together, fell under her spell and were given wisdom and everlasting love for life or something like that.”

     “What about the ones who fell over the cliff? Maybe they were too busy with other things and didn’t listen,” suggested David.

     “You might have that right too.”

     “What’s the problem with going alone?”

     “I was told people lose their senses and don’t know what they’re doing with no other human around to keep their feet on the ground, and they may not choose wisely when Waterfall Spirit offers a place in her open circle of togetherness and continuity. Some said she pities human beings for their loneliness and takes them in her embrace for her own. Some have gone with her willingly because they’re tired and overwhelmed with care. Some have gone with her to share her joyfulness. Most were said to have been seduced by her offer of joy, not knowing what that entails. If anyone goes with her alone they leave behind everything and never return. Strangers who are unknowing or uncaring aren’t aware of danger and are taken. It comes upon them because they have hollow hearts and the sound of her siren voice fills that space and its weight carries them away because their spirits are too weak to support its burden. They’re enchanted so to speak. They see only the lovely little pool with the ferns and the flowering tree and the rainbows in the mist. It’s said they get driven mad. Only the Leader who is strong and at peace within goes there alone without harm.”

     The two sat in silence.

     <She knows how to describe the little pool and she said she wasn’t there to run under the falls—and ‘he’ taught her how to play the guitar. She’s been up there with someone.>

     <He must be very strong within to have heard her voice and to have come back safely. He’s very unusual.>

     At last, into the quiet he said,

     “That’s some fascinating legend. Now you can laugh. I heard the song of Waterfall—very clearly—damned near said ‘yes’. As for strength, it was a hummingbird which told me reality. It came over and faced me and sent me back, and an arbutus blossom warned me by falling on my face, and finally—something told me I shouldn’t be there. Am I nuts?”

     Rose’s dark eyes seemed to be searching his mind.

     “You’re different. You hear, and you see another spirit, which opens your eyes and guides you.”

     “You speak to spirits—was it Grandfather?”

     “Only you can know who that was. You were there.”

     “We’re believing this legend then, are we?”

     She laughed, looking suddenly embarrassed, saying,

     “Silly, isn’t it?”

     “Sure doesn’t stack up with reality.”

     “Is reality everything?”

     “You got me. So—how about dragons? Shouldn’t we have enough room in our minds for more than we already know? Isn’t that what learning’s about?”

     “If you like—why not dragons? As long as we have enough reason not to be taken in by every mad scheme which comes along.”

     “Okay—like I said before—am I nuts?”

     “I’m not sure I know you well enough to answer that but—if you are, then—so am I.”

     “You and I,” he said, “Seem to operate on the same wavelength.”

     “Let’s get this work out of the way,” smiled Rose, “Before we begin to believe we’re both nuts and you take your work back because you think I’m not mentally competent to handle it, while I’m deciding whether you’re totally unhinged and maybe I shouldn’t bother doing it.”

- - -

Afternoon found the adult bay population reduced to Fitz, Rose and David, as the others boarded METHUSELAH for the sail to the village. The twins though, were too busy with collecting things to go along. They headed for the meadow with Ulf and Gurth, leaving David to give up his his plan of a solitary ramble there instead of to the waterfall pool. After listening to Rose’s tale, he was rattled enough not to try that again, and as well, he decided his leg wouldn’t have liked the climb anyway.

     <After all, if I go along with Li and dragons—who knows? So I’m over-imaginative and superstitious—so what?>

     He decided he’d risk a walk to the Tree, hoping for a session by himself and wondering if Friend might be there, or if his imagination had been playing tricks on him all along and he was indeed nuts.

     He lifted his old flute out of the plane, threw his cane in, figuring he didn’t need it for a little careful short walk, and headed back along the wharf. Cutting up from there, he walked slowly along enjoying the sun and sea and peaceful surroundings. Coming to the garden where Rose was busy, shovel in hand, David paused outside the fencing which fended off deer and other predators.

     “Hi Rose,” he called as he stopped outside the barrier. “Good looking groceries you’ve got growing there.”

     “Thought I’d better earth up the potatoes. Things are really coming along fine. I missed having a garden in the city, but it didn’t really hit me until I came here. Guess I was too busy doing other things.”

     “I sure enjoy helping Gram with hers. Nothing like a home grown tomato.”

     “Or anything else for that matter. Where are you off to?”

     “Thought I’d go blow my horn out of earshot down by the beach.”

     “Not going to sit here and amuse me while I work my butt off?”

     “Oh—never thought of that, but if you’d like me to.. .”

     The conversation was terminated by the sound of barking dogs and screams from the direction of the meadow path as two twins came racing and shrieking unintelligible things.

     “What the hell’s up with them?” asked David, alarmed as he started toward them. “Hey! Hey! Slow down and take a breath. What’s the matter?”

     “Ulf and Gurth,’’ gulped Bernice.

     “Yeah!” shouted Walter.

     “Okay—calm down—what’s the flap?” demanded David.

     “They’re chasing a bear!” cried Bernice.

     “Yeah, it’s in the bushes there.”

     “They’re chasing a b...a BEAR? Ohgeeze!

     Fear for his two companions took over completely. David ran for the path to the meadow, flute in hand. Forgetting that a bear would have even less respect for an unarmed human—forgetting instructions that he was to walk carefully and use a cane to aid his mending leg—he tore toward the path and disappeared into the bushes.

     “David you fool!” Rose shouted after him. “You’ll get killed!”

     Ignoring her own cautioning she grabbed the shovel she’d been using and headed out the gate after him, running toward the path in pursuit, mental visions of David’s head being used for handball by a furious bear lending her speed as she yelled to the children,

     “Kids, go get Fitz!”

     As she ran up the path there came a piercing whistle, followed by,

     “Ulf!Gurth!

     Sudden cessation of barking, then David’s shouts of,

     “Heyback off here you—!”

     There came a loud bawling of an animal intermixed with David’s loud, vitriolic expostulations—then an ominous silencing of the man’s voice, immediately after which came the sound of a heavy body disturbing bushes directly ahead of her up the path.

     Rose stopped. Now it was too late to retreat. She knew she couldn’t outrun a bear. Thoroughly frightened, but unwilling to abandon her friends, she stood at the ready—an urban lawyer in old jeans and a tee shirt—brandishing a shovel with which to assault a wild animal, and not the slightest idea of how to go about it.

     She got behind a tree and froze.

     Around the bend in the path came a soft, pale, velvety nose, attached to a large, prancing, silky brown body bearing a well-filled udder between the hind legs.

     Holding on to the halter around the neck of the cow as he tried to settle the riled up animal, was David, with two panting dogs at his heels.

     “Hey!” he grinned, seeing her standing rigid behind the tree. “Don’t make so much noise. You’re scaring Daisy.”

     Rose threw her shovel aside and sat down abruptly.

     “YOU...YOU...!!

     David stopped—staring—hauling on the feisty cow’s halter.

     “Well—what?

     Telling Ulf and Gurth, “Watch Daisy,” he let go of the cow.

     Cow, trying to ignore persuasive suggestions from Dog, tried to amble back up the path to the meadow again for some more sweet grass and succulent flowers, as David knelt down beside Rose.

     “Geeze, Rose, it’s just a cow!

     “You idiot!” she exploded, fear turning into indignation, “If that had been a bear it could have killed all three of you.”

     “Yeah—and you too—but it wasn’t.”

     “Don’t you think ahead at all?”

     “Well—I just think as I go along.”

     “What were you going to do? Hit the bear over the head with your flute?!

     He looked at the instrument, still clutched firmly in his left hand, then replied,

     “No way. You think I’d use my pet flute to whack a bear? I just happened to be holding on to it when I ran up here. You gotta hold on to ’em firmly ’cause if you drop ’em things get bent sometimes.”

     Rose gave him a look of utter disbelief.

     “At least you seem to have your priorities straight. You’re impossible!”

     He reached out and put his arm around her.

     “Hey, big sister, quit giving me hell. I get that from everybody else. You’re supposed to be supportive.”

     “Oh—get away!”

     She gave him a push and he dropped his arm, saying,

     “What’s the shovel for—to bury me with?”

     “I ought to.”

     There was a moment of silence between them, until he whimped, trying to soften her up,

     “Geeze, my leg hurts like hell. Couldn’t you give me a little sympathy?”

     “David—I got the wits scared out of me—didn’t you?”

     “Since you mention it—yeah—I sure did.”

     He gave a little giggle of relief, and in a sudden release of fear and tension the two began laughing hysterically together when up the path rushed Fitz, flare pistol in hand and solid determination in his face, only to be confronted by a frustrated and angry cow which was being herded by two anxious and agitated dogs, trying their damnedest to do their friend’s bidding while keeping their mouths shut as they’d been ordered.

     “What the hell—is this their bear?!”

     “That’s it,” laughed David, wiping his eyes on his sleeve.

     “Next time the kids come up with an emergency maybe we’d better enquire into it a bit,” Rose suggested. “Poor old Daisy won’t be giving any milk worth using for some time.”

     “Good thing she didn’t bring the chickens with her,” said David, getting up and taking hold of the cow’s halter again. “Ulf, Gurth, playtime. Let’s go show the kids their bear.”

- - -

”Too bad we have to go back so soon guys,” David told his two companions as all three looked longingly downward from the plane in the late afternoon. “Hey! Don’t you think the castle looks great from up here? Spire’s gorgeous with all those flowers. Think I’ll get moving on fixing up the barge again. Oh—get that look off your faces! Not for money, just for fun. Some white paint to cover up that abominable green for one thing. Look around for some freebies in windows. Maybe we could get things together for some time around the end of August or start of September. Find a sea truck and ship some stuff up. Then we could sail up in TJUTELAyeah! What do you think?”

     There was absolutely no disagreement from behind him—absolutely none! As Shalisa Creek receded below them, David remarked,

     “You know, I didn’t see any dragons hanging around this time, and Rose wasn’t so scary either. Betcha she could be a real person if she’d lose all that legal jargon she uses as a fence. Think we can coax her out from behind it? I like having a big sister.”

     Ulf and Gurth weren’t about to get into that one. They still remembered seeing their nice big bag of kibbles all over David and all over the floor, consequence of his last attempt to get someone out from behind something.

     Big sister? They looked at each other, shook their heads in resignation and settled down for the flight.