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28: Rogues and rum runners

So we bend a few laws
And we twist a few noses
We think life is fun
And it can be all roses
It’s just that some folks
Always wallow in rules
They think that we’re rogues
And we think that they’re fools
So we do disagree
And we do think it’s dumb
That people can’t have
A few possets of rum

METHUSELAH drew carefully in to the finger of the Shalisa Creek Village wharf and was made fast by Fitz and David, bow and stern.

     The schooner had been delighted to be chosen as the vessel for this trip because space and strength were needed to transport heavy articles back to the bay, and the morning was supplying enough wind to carry her in to the village without use of her engine, which would give those aboard her an exhilarating and quiet sail to her destination—plus save on fuel.

     Quiet in that sense of Wind laughing as booms shifted across from port to starboard when the schooner came about, the sound of Sea boisterously lifting and shouldering her to carry her onward, METHUSELAH revelling in the rush of water along her hull as she rode easily into it, Rigging holding firm and talking back as they all went on together having fun, along with those enjoying the working of her.

     Everyone who had an interest in seeing what she could do under sail participated, the sailors among them particularly enthusiastic. Getting their hands on a real live wooden coastal schooner to actually run her didn’t happen often. She was a heavy sturdy boat, and light winds didn’t please her. Motoring was usually the norm because of the practical necessities of time and tide, so that taking her out just for the fun of it didn’t happen often. At bare minimum she needed a two man crew for this, and knowledgeable experienced ones at that.

     On board were all the residents of the Bay except for Dancing Water, the children, Ulf and Gurth. This had been slated as a serious shopping trip, and the thought of keeping track of six children and two samoyeds while trying to collect the things on everyone’s shopping list had reluctantly been viewed as a definite detriment to efficiency. Things had to get done. As well, cramming that many people aboard might have given the Coast Guard nightmares, should they have come across the scene.

     Apart from that, the shoppers had decided, with an in-camera meeting, that a little adult entertainment wouldn’t hurt anybody along the way either, café and pub being on the possible agenda, depending once again on time and tide.

     Not at all interested in visiting the nearby centre of commerce, Dancing Water had quickly offered to stay with those left behind, soothing six disappointed youngsters and two dogs with promises of a ramble and stories to go with it.

     David, having explained to Ulf and Gurth that dogs and shopping didn’t mix, left the two sitting on the old wharf, watching the schooner sailing off. This was too much for Gurth. Being left behind was not his idea of a good start to the day, and although rambles were great, stories always meant sitting down and being quiet.

     Disobeying orders for once, he jumped into the water and taking a determined run at following the departing boat, with hopes of being hauled aboard. Ulf, vacillating as to whether he ought to participate in the rebellion or not, danced up and down on the old boards and barked disapproval and encouragement. David, startled to see this piece of unexpected mutiny, shouted an order for Gurth to go back and behave himself. Clearly having lost his bid, and knowing he had broken rules, Gurth turned back and headed for the beach, feeling as disappointed as the children had earlier.

     METHUSELAH cut smartly along, pleased with the comments of approval and admiration which came from the sailors aboard regarding the way she stood up to her sail, her ability to point close to the wind, as well as the finesse she displayed in coming about. She modestly admitted to herself that she did have the abilities most sailors admired in a sailing ship in spite of her age but, of course, good handling helped a little.

     The schooner’s arrival at the village wharf was met with the same admiring looks and remarks from those already there as she came in to berth under sail.

     The group which disembarked, having secured her and closed her up, was headed along the wharf discussing their shopping agenda when the conversation was abruptly interrupted by David who stopped in mid-stride, almost tripping himself up.

     “Geeze! I don’t believe it!”

     Tied there at the public wharf, sporting a ‘For Sale—information with wharfinger’ sign, hung the remnants of a once sleek, elegant, swift power boat, drowsily dozing at the finger, gently rolling to and fro in her salty rocking chair, musing on old glory days.

     David’s face got the look of a little kid who has just been confronted with a tricycle, an old-fashioned antique one, painted bright red, with fat black rubber hand grips decorated at their ends with streamers, a round shining bell on one handlebar, a whizzer on the other, and rainbow makers and a clacker on its big front wheel.

     Just like a kid, he was ready to hop on the seat and pedal away with it.

     “Will you look at that?!” he exclaimed, heading for it. “A real old express commuter!”

     “Ugh—please don’t,” was Rose’s suggestion as she regarded the housing and decks of the old boat, which were generously loaded with remnants of broken small shellfish and the results of the unmannerly behaviour from the winged diner who had left them there.

     “Give that a hard look and the damned thing will sink,” was Bud’s astute opinion.

     “Thought littering was illegal,” said Shiro.

     “Don’t touch it!” warned Armand. “It probably has some ancient virulent plague in its bowels.”

     Their warnings went unheeded. David was already swinging himself aboard.

     “I want it!”

     At this unexpected attention the old boat sleepily opened her eyes, and began to regard this oddball who had just jumped onto her decks. Everybody else who passed by seemed to think she was a joke. That was fine with her. She liked fun—except no one took her seriously enough to have a real look at what was underneath the offensive offal which covered her. Suddenly she got her hopes up. She batted her eyes and did her best to reveal the femme fatale she’d once been and which she believed, like all such femininity, she still was if any discriminating viewer would really take the time to find out.

     David was enchanted with her efforts. He started taking the time.

     Then began a counter-effort to convince the bewitched viewer that he didn’t want to buy that old wreck, as they all tried mightily to dissuade him from his purpose.

     “You have better boat sense than that, David—it’s a derelict,” advised Fitz.

     “Like you’ll be, if you don’t quit getting suckered by every old hooker you lay your eyes on,” Bud told him.

     “Yeah guys but—look at it,” urged David. “That’s mahogany on oak, probably some gumwood around. I’ll b—guess there’s teak down below—and look at the fittings!”

     “Delightful. Green oxide, grey fuzzy mould and dry rot,” Rose summed up the accoutrements. “Just what every well appointed lady should have.”

     The old boat regarded her, outraged, and replied,

     “Well I don’t suppose you got launched with champagne and caviar. Wait until you’re my age and we’ll see what you look like.”

     “And it’s all original,” continued David, disregarding the disparaging remarks from all sides. “I’ll b—I think I could get it for a song.”

     “Hide his flute!” Tashakawa ordered.

     “He’s got the wind on his nose and he’s backed his mains’l around his mast,” surmised Fitz. “Haul in your sheets, come about, and tack away from that thing before it rafts up with you.”

     “He just needs a good lunch to set him right,” was Harry’s prognosis.

     “Push him over into the saltchuck—that’ll cool his brain off,” was Bud’s prescription.

     “If he’s got one, which I doubt right now,” came Shiro’s assessment.

     “I know how to get him,” laughed Rose. “David, I’ll bet you lunch that you’ll buy it.”

     David opened his mouth to reply ‘Double or nothing!’, closed it again as he realised what she was up to, and then replied,

     “Oh no you don’t! You can’t get me that way anymore. I’m not gambling today.”

     There was an astounded silence from the rest, and then guffaws of laughter and disbelief.

     “Guess your lunch is dutch then,” Rose told him, as Harry hooted,

     “Oh boy—if you’ll believe him on that one you’ll buy real estate on Mars.”

     “Are you saying the world’s going to end today David?” asked Bettina as their laughing remarks continued.

     “What’s so funny? You think I don’t have any backbone?!” demanded the self-styled ex-gambler.

     “Not in that department,” Bud answered.

     “Well you’re wrong—I have so to—and I think she’s an old beauty—and I will buy her—so there—but since you almost got me Rose, I’ll stand you lunch.”

     Then, returning to the object of his interest which had almost made him break his promise to Grandfather, he continued,

     “Wonder what her name is.”

     The old boat, delighted that someone had actually asked, replied promptly,

     “LEAF WINE.

     The man on her deck didn’t seem to hear. She hoped he’d look over her stern and decipher the almost obliterated name on her transom which spelled it out in graceful gold lettering—or had, once upon a time.

     David was too busy trying to peer through a window.

     “Oh yeah! Look what she’s got below decks. I’ll b—I figure she’s from the late twenties. She looks like she was built for speed. Look at that slim hull. Guys used to race them, but they were really made for what they’re called—express commuting—getting you there and back fast with all the comforts of home, if she wasn’t revved up too much. Rattle you teeth loose that way. Might even have been used as a rum runner back when liquor was a no-no south of the border. This old girl must have been coddled and undercover for years.”

     “Not enough of them by the look of it,” said Tashakawa.

     “Guess they had to hide it from the neighbours,” was Bettina’s opinion.

     “How do you figure all this about her?” asked Fitz, curious.

     “Because there’s a picture of something like this in Gram’s old family photo album. Used to be my childhood dream to zap around in something like that until I fell in love with sailboats. My father always bought big, ugly party boats. Okay—this one’s mine.”

     “You grab his arms and I’ll grab his legs and we’ll lug him up to the Rascals,” ordered Bud, addressing Fitz. “A cool jug of beer should bring him around.”

     David, standing there on the old deck, grinning and wondering where the attack would come from, decided to call in reinforcements.

     “Hey Harry. Come and take a look at this engine.”

     “She’s got a diesel?” responded Harry immediately. “Let’s have a look.”

     Having no restraints on his own particular brand of vice he climbed quickly aboard with David and started poking around.

     “Back everybody—the plague is upon us—it’s obviously contagious!” warned Armand.

     “I’m not Contagious, I’m LEAF WINE!” came the indignant objection from the boat.

     Harry’s voice rode over her own.

     “That’s not a diesel, it’s gasoline,” he declared with disappointment in his tone, “But—oh boy—what an old goody!”

     “Aw come on you guys,” pleaded Bud. “I’m hungry.”

     “Yeah, but... .” began David.

     “You’re gonna get a kick in yours if you don’t get off that thing Davey,” retorted the hungry tug skipper. “It’s lunchtime.”

     “Wonder where the wharfinger is,” wondered David.

     “Don’t have to look far for him,” commented Shiro. “He’s always in the pub when he’s on duty.”

     “Oh—well in that case—hurry up guys, it’s lunchtime,” laughed David, grabbing hold of Harry’s arm, and hauling him off the boat.

     “What did you tell him that for Shiro?” demanded Bud. “Now the damned shark will never quit. Come on everybody—lunch,” and he headed the party up the wharf.

     “Let’s eat at the Rascals,” David suggested, with wharfinger and not food in mind.

     “I want something to eat, not a snack,” came the objection from Rose. “We’re going to the Urchin.”

     “Keep him in the middle or we’ll find him back on that thing,” advised Shiro as they turned in the direction of The Sea Urchin.

     “Okay, we’ll hit the pub after,” agreed David, seeing the tide was against him as the loose formation closed in around the reluctant luncher.

     “We can have pretzels and peanuts for dessert,” laughed Tashakawa as he kept throwing looks back at the old boat who kept her hold on him until he went out of her sight behind a building.

     She sighed, settled back into her rocker and rolled back and forth again as Crow, who had been watching from a nearby mast, decided that it was his lunchtime too. LEAF WINE’s old decks were just the right hard surface for cracking the packaging on his chosen meal. He’d been using her as his private reserved table for some time.

     Now he cruised the beach, scanning until he found an exposed small clam. Grabbing it he flew high and dropped his prize down on the old deck, recovering it and repeating the process over and over, touch-and-go, until the shell finally broke open. Down came Crow again, side-slipping against the wind, deploying his sensitive ailerons and trimming feathered elevators, to perfect a final landing. Then he happily enjoyed his food, scattering package and slippery crumbs all over the old boat as she grumbled,

     “Why don’t you go patronise somebody else? I’m tired of getting hit on the head, and I have to wait until it rains before all the junk you leave behind gets washed away. No wonder nobody wants to buy me.”

     “Get stoned, you old crow,” replied Crow derisively “You’re junk to begin with.”

- - -

Lunch was an enjoyable affair, but all the way through it in the back of David’s mind was the vision of an old boat, restored, shining, fast and ready to show off her stuff again. He imagined handing her engine over to his young mechanic.

     <The kid’ll freak. Probably won’t eat sitting down for a week while he’s hanging over the thing—and the gang’ll get a great hoot out of fixing up this one just for the joy of it, without some stingy, mean, tasteless, penny-pinching owner trying to get them to do cheap, shoddy work in a hurry. Guess I can rig up some sort of temporary pump aboard her for towing—power it from TJUTELA’s engine—keep her afloat until I get her to the yard. Yeah—wait’ll the guys see this!>

     “Okay, is everybody ready for the Rascals?” he asked, as people began toting up the tab and figuring out who should pay for what.

     “Are you still aground on that?” asked Fitz in disbelief.

     “No harm in asking about it,” grinned David, with his mind already made up.

     “Tell ’em if they’ll give you fifty bucks you’ll take it away,” advised Bud.

     “Hold on!” objected Tashakawa. “We have some shopping and things to do before you lot go jugging it. We need your muscle to wrestle a lot of things onto METHUSELAH.

     “You’ll forget that old thing in no time once they work you into a sweat,” laughed Harry. “Okay ladies, where to first?”

     Somewhere around three hours later David hadn’t forgotten.

     “Okay—yeah!” he exclaimed with satisfaction as he finished helping to stow a new, heavy cast-iron wood stove aboard. He dusted off his hands, clapped them together and announced, “Everybody to the Rascals—I’m standing the first round—and that wharfinger had better be there.”

     By this time the men were ready for it in spite of the tacked on last remark. Everybody seemed willing to sit down somewhere and cool off—except Rose.

     “You go ahead,” she told them. “I’ll just have a cup of coffee aboard and wait for you here.”

     “To the Rascals,” ordered David determinedly, taking hold of her arm. “You’re not dumping us like that. We’re all in this together and I may need you to help me make a deal.”

     He didn’t see the look which came into her face, because he was standing a little behind her, and he thought the slight resistance she gave his friendly hold on her was a playful gesture as she finally acceded to his pressure and went along with the rest.

     The pub was cool after the outside heat, and the early afternoon patrons already there were relatively quiet. The soapbox stood deserted and the bartenders lounged, waiting.

     As the group walked in, Rose hesitated in the doorway saying,

     “Hasn’t changed much in all these years. I haven’t been here since I left.”

     At this point David gave her a closer look.

     “Did you really not want to come?” he asked, sudden concern in his voice, “We don’t have to... .

     “Oh no,” she told him, “It’s okay, just—lots of old memories.”

     <Old memories? It’s him again. Okay—don’t ask—mind your own business.>

     “Well—maybe we need to revisit old places to settle the ghosts,” he suggested gently, remembering some of his own.

     The look she gave him at his last word and which she quickly changed to a smile, made a dent on his psyche. He wished he hadn’t insisted on her coming, but it was now too late as everyone, laughing and joking, pulled two tables together and settled themselves.

     When the bartender came to take their order David asked, getting to his actual reason for this pub visit,

     “Do you happen to know if the wharfinger is here?”

     “Yuh, right there at the end of the bar on his favourite stool,” came the reply accompanied by a knowing smile.

     David turned his head and saw the living representation of an old skald there at the bar, the waves of his silver hair carefully drawn back from his thin, well-boned face and tied at the back with a braided leather thong. His beard was longer than most clipped back versions in vogue right then, but it was well in order. His clothing did nothing to distinguish him because he was wearing the uniformity of the here and now—tee shirt and faded jeans—but it was what he had on the bar before him which evoked an intense scrutiny from David. There sat a very large, intricately worked silver tankard, around the base of which languidly lay a thin aristocratic-looking hand.

     Like a minstrel of old, this one took his treasured harp everywhere with him, and when it wasn’t resting gracefully on the bar waiting for a refill, it was carried on a lanyard attached to his belt. Like those others before him, this bard carefully tended his partner of the muse.

     Here was the instrument which, when filled with stimulating brew like the mead of ancient times, struck the chords which began the oral recitation of events remembered from a coastline whose history—colourful, varied, ribald, heroic, tragic, hilarious, shameful—had found few others interested enough to document it in ways apart from dry, dull, lifeless statistical facts.

     It was only now that the far reaching memories of such people as the wharfinger, who had lived seventy-five years up and down this vast dramatic stage, were beginning to be as treasured as his own drinking horn. Those memories had only recently started to take on an aura of interest much like that being shown in saving a bit of the fast dwindling wilderness from which they had come, once gone never to return.

     David turned back to the table, asking in surprise,

     “That’s a wharfinger?!”

     “That’s him,” replied Armand. “Haven’t you met him before?”

     “No, I haven’t been here that often—a couple of times maybe—and I anchor out.”

     “He’s a barfly,” smiled Fitz, recognising the genre, which he’d come across so often before in his wanderings, “But worth every bit of his keep if he’s a good one.”

     “Depends on your ’druthers,” laughed Bud. “If you want to hear everything that’s happened around here since the day one—he’s good.”

     “I’ll just go over and have a word with him,” grinned David getting up. “Excuse me for a moment.”

     “He’s off already,” sighed Bud.

     “Who? The wharfinger?” asked Bettina.

     “Him too—I meant David.”

     “Well you have to admit the barnacles don’t get a chance to grow on this boy’s hull,” commented Fitz.

     “You can’t have just a moment with Erle,” warned Armand. “He’ll throw his shining net over you and you’ll be caught for an hour or two. You can wiggle out by going to the john and not returning.”

     “Just keep the beer coming and he’ll entertain you royally with his stories,” added Shiro. “They’re all really very interesting and he can sure tell them, but if you want to talk business don’t fill his mug—it’s a big one.”

     “Well if he’s that entertaining I think we should share the performance as well as the price of admission,” laughed David. “Think I can pry him loose from that bar stool?”

     “Oh yeah! Just invite him nicely and carry his mug over here. He’ll follow like one of your dogs,” instructed Bud as David started over to the bar.

     “Hi,” he began as he approached the wharfinger, smiling as his eyes ran all over the piece of silver art on the bar. “I was told you’re the wharfinger.”

     “Yup. Want to pay the moorage on the schooner?”

     “Uh—it’s not mine, but I can do that,” agreed David, startled. “How did you know I belonged to that?”

     “This seat here gives me a great view of everything going on down there at the wharf and I can get down there pretty fast if I think someone’s trying to sneak off without paying. Armand wouldn’t do that though—and I saw you get off with him.”

     Impressed with this explanation of shrewd intelligence, David hauled out his old wallet and as he paid up he remarked,

     “Actually, I was going to ask you about a boat for sale down there—and that’s the most beautiful receptacle for cradling honeydew that I’ve seen in a long time.”

     A surprised smile brightened the wharfinger’s thin face as he asked,

     “You a poet?”

     “Musician, actually,” laughed David, “And I recognise a fellow artist when I see one. I heard you were the poet.”

     “Just an old blabbermouth,” the man grinned in return, “And this always gets people. My begging bowl. It’s an old family relic. My grandfather gave it to me when he thought I was old enough to be considered a man. Filled it so the froth ran over and told me, ‘Erle, don’t drink hard liquor or that damned wine—the first’ll kill you fast and the other’ll do nothing at all except make a fool of you and give you a headache the next day. You stick to beer. That’s a man’s drink.’ I took his advice seriously, as you can see, and he seemed to be right, because I’m still here, and I like to think I’m not an old fool yet.”

     Laughing, David looked into the tankard and remarked, picking it up as per instructions,

     “It’s a beauty, but I think it needs some more froth to set it off properly. How about coming over and joining us? I guess you know some of them over there?”

     “Sure do, and thanks.”

     In very short order David arrived at the table, tankard in hand and Erle in tow.

     “This is the friendliest damned table I’ve ever come across,” the old man remarked to the people there as he sat down in the chair they’d pulled over for him. “Sure miss you fellows since you moved your boats.”

     “We’re drying out a bit ourselves,” Armand commiserated. “David here wants to ask you about that old commuter for sale at the wharf.”

     “Is that the one he meant?”

     The bright blue eyes started to shine and a big smile came onto the face of their guest as Erle leaned his arms on the table and told them,

     “She’s an old humdinger. A real classy old doll from rum running days. She’s run through a few hands since then. Old fellow who owned her died and the estate dumped it on my doorstep and forgot to pay the moorage when nobody bought her, so I had no choice but to take her over.”

     David held the empty tankard up higher than his head and the young barman, recognising the gesture, came over with a full jug.

     “Anybody else want a refill?” he asked, his grin indicating behind the wharfinger’s back that the jugful was a one man dog.

     “Not yet,” returned Armand, “But don’t give up hope.”

     “Enjoy,” came the reply, as David promptly lifted the jug and poured into the tankard.

     Erle picked up his harp which was once again frothing and bubbling with high spirits, and saluted the table with,

     “Skol!”, and took a well-drawn draught, the heartiness of which got David’s surprised, raised-eyebrowed admiration.

     <Geeze! I’d love to take him out with the guys so he could show them how it’s really done!>

     “Are you interested in buying that old siren?” asked Erle. “I sure wouldn’t mind having that space for a paying customer.”

     “I sure am,” David affirmed. “Can you tell me a bit about her?”

     “Can I! Engine like POW! Way back when she was new somebody who had a house by the water used to take her back and forth between home and business. It was a wealthy neighbourhood and all the men had them. Used to have friendly races, trying to beat each other into the city every morning. Had a standing bet on it to make it more interesting. Got them in to work faster too. Gave them something to look forward to at the start of a day. Think she mostly won. She was also used for a bit of smuggling way back when, so I was told.”

     “I knew it!” exclaimed David softly.

     “There was a lot of it going on along the coast,” said Bud. “I recall my Grandad telling stories about those boats.”

     “Here we go,” said Shiro quietly to Armand as the wharfinger carefully set down his treasured piece of silver at last, running his fingers up and down its ornamented surface as though it might actually produce music.

     “She was one of those, but she was a dilettante—out there just for fun—a couple of young rich kids who did it just for the hell of it ran her. Guess they got bored with all that money. I’m told they were handsome devils. Both were blond—like our buyer here, and one had that kind of red gold hair they say the guys who came from Brittany have. He was French, or at least French background—like you Doc. Had curls that made the girls faint with envy—along with other things they possessed which steal the senses.

     “Used to call them the Angel and the Demoncart, although both of them were hellions. The Demoncart got his tag sort of because of their boat and what he was like. He’d slug anyone for anything. Temper like the devil. The other guy was sort of laid back and easy going and wouldn’t fight unless he really had to. That was the Angel, always hauling his buddy off and getting him out of trouble.

     “Apparently they were real gentlemen though when they weren’t in a brawl. Used to go into town and buy everybody in the pub a round or two. That’s what they did with the money they got—threw it around playing poker and drinking. Not at home though—out here. Kept quiet about that back home. Had a partner here with a well hidden boat house.

     “Became a bit of a legend at the time, because they snuck past the cops so often. That boat went so fast nobody could challenge them. Made maybe thirty-five miles an hour I heard, which was fast for that time, and they’d go out in weather nobody else would touch so they got away with it a lot. They had a place which was a well kept secret where they’d run into and hide after they shook the cops, or when they were waiting to deliver. Turned out to be Shalisa Creek Bay, a place only reckless devils will go near in the dark or bad weather, unless they know what they’re doing.

     “The people who lived ashore there were totally uninvolved and wouldn’t have anything to do with it. They were tacitly ignorant about all the action which went on. They didn’t want to get involved. Cops used to go out there and grill them and they’d just say they hadn’t seen or heard anything. Nobody could have been that blind and deaf, but they stood their ground and held to their story. Of course no one out here would tell on the two because they used to give a lot of money to poor folks they heard about all around and in the village. What the hell were their names—lemme think.”

     “So much for glory,” laughed David, waiting. “They all get forgotten.”

     “Ah—got it. The Angel was something like Godfred—something like that—most people found his first name unpronounceable so they used to call him Leaf. He owned the boat. Called it LEAF WINE, kind of a play on his first name—and mebbe on their operation. Other one was—Daniel?—yeah—had a twin sister called Danielle. She was a beauty. They had some high falutin’ name like Demancar or something. Nobody could pronounce that either. Maybe that’s where they got the Demoncart from. Mind if I have another beer while I tell you about it?”

     As the words and beer frothed and flowed in the pub, all the attention she had received had jump-started LEAF WINE’s own nostalgic memories down at the wharf.

     “Those were the days,” she told a kingfisher who had settled on the spreaders of the sailboat ahead of her to scan the waters below for fish. “Fun, excitement, races and chases. I was their darling wild flapper. What great little intimate parties we had aboard after we’d run the tail off the chasers. That unfrequented little bay not far from here was our very own private hideout until some low, boorish money-makers pushed their way in. Too bad the rocks didn’t get them. Hah! I still cherish the thought of that evening when they tried to oust us.”

- - -

A sliver of Moon just risen. Tide thinking of heading in for an evening visit. Rippling waters blissfully caressing Beach. Seals busy with fishing. Peaceful evening sounds ashore.

     Lying quietly to her anchor, close in, was the shallow draught, thirty-six foot power boat LEAF WINE, gleaming in the faint moonlight, looking pleased with herself. She had just come in, and Guardian of the Gap was pretending she didn’t see the slim craft there because she was always outsmarted by it. Anyway, it never seemed to do any harm and she quite liked its beautiful lines.

     Aboard her a mild altercation was in progress between the two young men in her cabin, one lying quietly in his bunk with his eyes closed, the other in the companionway, gazing out over Bay.

     “Aw come on Daniel, at least let’s go for a row. It’s gorgeous out there on the water at night when the moon’s like this. We don’t have to meet them until just before the tide turns again and that’s hours away.”

     “Uh uh.”

     “You still killing yourself over that dumb Ethel? There’s lots better than her around here. Come on.”

     “Don’t really feel up to it Leaf.”

     “I can see that. You drink enough to knock out a horse, and I wish you’d quit taking that other stuff.”

     “You know I just take it to help me sleep.”

     “Oh yeah. Well just make sure you’re awake when we need to be. And forget that little flirt. She’s just jail bait.”

     Getting no answer, Leaf told his companion,

     “Well, I’m going for a row anyway. Okay?”


     “And don’t drink any more huh?”

     “Yeah—okay,” returned his companion, drowsing off.

     “Keep a good watch will you?”

     There was no answer.

     “Oh fantastic! Now you’re out for a couple of hours.”

     He sighed, feeling sympathy for a man who had been totally in love and now was suffering the misery of total rejection.

     <Damned fool really got stuck on that silly girl. She’s nothing but fluff. He deserves something better than that.>

     He lowered the dinghy, dropped lithely into it and set out to enjoy rowing in the dark, quiet night, watching the silver quivering of Moon’s path across Sea, and the dancing tails of reflected stars, listening to the night sounds of the wild things ashore and to the snorting heavy breathing of a harbour seal somewhere nearby in the water.

     His oar locks made no noise, he’d seen to that, and his skill with the rowing made barely a ripple, but the boat’s movement through the water brought out the seemingly magical green phosphorescent glow of the noctiluca to trail beside and behind the hull and surround the dipping of the oars, as though they were fairy wands striking light from water. Sea’s myriad of little sparkling lamps always fascinated the rower, which was an enticement for him to take these summer evening sojourns.

     His muscular expertise was part of the rowing team success at his club, and this strength allowed him to go out through the Gap even though Tide had just begun turning toward Beach. Once past Guardian he lounged there leaning on the oars, letting inward bound Tide carry him back toward the Gap. Sounds of a rowboat pulling came to him from the bay and he envisioned a shore inhabitant taking his boat out to set nets there by moonlight. He drifted close to the rocks, pulled away again and rounded a small, deep bight, intending to carry on along the shore.

     The sight of a large, fast power boat, tied stern-to by a rock outcropping there shocked the joy out of his quiet evening musings. There was no light on it, and no sound from it—and no dinghy aboard.

     <What the hell?!>

     Swiftly reversing his direction he rowed like a champion for the Gap, but sudden caution slowed him as he approached the point where he would be visible to anyone ashore who cared to look. He rested on his oars again. Things which had seemed normal before began to take shape as something else.

     <That sound of the boat rowing in the bay—the bay dwellers don’t row—they paddle, silently.>

     All of Leaf’s instincts for survival arose.

     He manoeuvred cautiously around the point of the Gap, close in, and as he did so he caught a glimmer of light along the shore which was quickly extinguished. Leaf thought it was the kind of flickering light which might be made by someone lighting a cigarette.

     <Something’s wrong! Somebody’s on to us!>

     Quickly he reversed his direction, sent the dinghy back behind the point of the Gap and headed for shore there. With difficulty he pulled the little boat onto the rocky, steeply sloping shore, up beyond high tide line, and hid it as best he could under overhanging cedars, then started cautiously on foot, climbing around the rocks and along under the overhanging trees, heading toward the place where he thought he’d seen the light. He stopped a little distance away from his target, crouched down beneath sheltering cedar branches and waited, listening.

     There was movement farther down the beach. Two men were headed in his direction. Low voices came to him as the sound carried over the water.

     “Where the hell did he get to? I’m sure that was a boat coming in.”

     “Probably just a log. See—there’s a couple more. We just have to wait. Sit down and shut up. He’ll be here. We just wait till we’re sure they’re both aboard. Gotta have patience. We’ll teach those little beggars not to poach on our territory.”

     “We got more’n half an hour left before it blows though. I set it for twelve on the nose.”

     “Okay. So one’s better than none if he doesn’t come back. At least we’ll get that one and the boat. I don’t think the one who’s left’ll bother us again after his boat and his buddy are gone. Just wait. I wanna make sure it goes up. Otherwise we’ll dust ’em from here. Maybe we’ll do that anyway just to make sure.”

     “You positive you got it aboard without defusing it like you did last time we tried to get somebody?”

     “This one’s good. It’s sitting in the cockpit ready to blow. I just reached over and set it down.”

     “Guess the loudmouth didn’t know we could hear him. They’re so stupid it’s like catching fish in a barrel. We’ll just wait like you say till it goes.”

     Sudden knowledge of the danger they were in made Leaf’s heart jump. He and Daniel had never expected to come up against this sort of violence. Dodging the cops was one thing but—killing people?

     <They heard me talking to Danny. They knew he wouldn’t be on watch. We’re in real trouble here. They’ve planted us. How do I get out there without being seen? If I try swimming they’ll spot me for sure.>

     He sat in the darkness looking at the boat and thinking, as a last desperate measure, that he’d get the dinghy and row for it.

     Tide, bringing the usual complement of soggers and downed trees, gave him the answer as he grappled with this horrifying emergency.

     A fledgling sogger floated by, dark, bulky, branches sticking up. Suddenly he grinned to himself, remembering tales he had heard about bay dwellers finding enemies floating in on logs, back when raids up and down the coast had been in style.

     Making his way back to the dinghy he took off his jacket and boots, shirt and trousers, stowed them in the dinghy, went down to the waterline where a small, branchy dead tree lay and heaved and shoved it out into the water. Hanging onto its branches he kicked his way through the Gap with the help of Tide who was picking up speed.

     Tide, just warming up for his usual rush, and always willing to help soggers along, carried the burdened floater in, letting it be guided by the strong leg strokes of the young man hanging on to it and directing its course.

     It came up against the commuter on the side facing away from the beach. Leaf pulled himself aboard, crawled along the deck and slid like a snake into the cockpit.

     There on the stern seat sat a small object. His first instinct was to grab it and throw it overboard, but now as he peered at the innocent face of the clock being used for such a purpose, caution once more arose.

     <Damn them! I’m not going to give us away like that. They’ll wipe us with their guns.>

     Remembering the twelve o’clock deadline he’d heard mentioned he decided there was plenty of time left to do something else. He eased himself head first down into the cabin, shivering from cold.

     “Danny,” he hissed to his friend.

     Danny was comatose.

     <How the hell do I get the anchor up? They’ll see me. Don’t. Let it go from inside. Detach the bitter end.>

     He worked himself slowly forward trying not to make noise, took out his boat knife, flipped out the tools folded into it and backed out the bolt holding the chain, leaving it ready to be released.

     <This is going to make a row. The tide helped me in but I can’t turn us loose without the motor—we’ll get taken ashore, and if I start up they probably will start shooting.>

     He sat on the cabin sole, looking at Danny sleeping through it all.

     <Damn! Shouldn’t have left him alone like that. So bloody quiet here I can hear the clock ticking.>

     <I’d like to get those bastards—and I think I will. Too bad I can’t take this and stick it in their own boat, but—I know—set the thing afloat, let it blow up and then get the hell out when the noise starts. Easier said than done. Let’s see—if I waterproof bag it—blow some air in the thing to keep it afloat. How much time—almost fifteen minutes left. Lots. Okay Leaf—do it.>

     He pulled a rubberised canvas bag from a locker, crawled out to the cockpit, carefully lifted the dangerous mechanism and slid it inside the bag. Heart thumping, fearing they might see him, he slid on his stomach along the deck again, pushing the bag slowly and carefully ahead of him, fastened it to a branch of the sogger which was still resting against the hull, then pushed it off and away with his feet.

     Tide headed shoreward, carrying a branchy dead tree, a small ticking object heading in with it. The sogger bumped against the beach and stayed there. Beach and Tide held their breath. Moon looked on. So did two men who paid no attention to the branchy sogger which had come in close to them because their eyes were trained on the Gap, hoping for a rowboat to appear.


     Then Loon, once twice, three times his call, out by the far end of the beach, close to Gap, then... .

     The beach exploded in a huge flash! There were shouts from two men who had expected something like this to happen elsewhere. Leaf yanked the end of the anchor chain loose, whipped back to the steering console and turned the key in the starter. The motor of the commuter spoke smoothly and the slim craft slid swiftly away through the Gap.

     “What the hell wuz that?” came a fuzzy and not too concerned enquiry.

     “Don’t worry about it Danny. Just me giving you hell. We’d better go get the dinghy.”

Now though, the thought of retaliation came into Leaf’s mind.

     “Maybe we’ll pick it up later,” he told Danny, but his companion had gone back to sleep.

     Leaf headed his boat around to the small bight where the large power boat was tied, manoeuvred up to her and rafted alongside.

     Pulling himself aboard, he yanked the anchor rode up until he was sure it was loose. Leaving the anchor dangling he cut the line holding the boat astern. Line in hand he scrambled quickly aboard LEAF WINE, fastened his captive prize to the stern of his own boat and towed her out. Motoring to where he figured Tide was the most swift and direct toward the Gap he turned her loose.

     “Okay you guys—you want to play rough—have some of your own.”

     He took the commuter to a distance and watched as Tide, now fully into rushing the Gap, carried the pilotless craft along until her dragging anchor snagged a rock. She traced an arc and Tide swung her in hard against the reef.

     Leaf heard the battering sound as she struck. He flinched, and unexpected regret and remorse arose. The sound of a boat arguing with rock is not a pleasant one to any mariner’s ears.

     “Sorry old girl, it wasn’t your fault, it should have been them,” he murmured as he headed away, while the rocks of Soggers Gap made a midnight snack of the big power boat.

- - -

”The families are still around in the big city, but they seem to have calmed down some over time. Guess the blood gets thin and cool over the generations. There was one little outbreak recently though when some young son got himself into trouble gambling. Got mixed up with the big time and didn’t know whose tail he’d got hold of. Shoved his own private floating casino in their faces, up the coast here. You don’t play around muscling in on that. He was lucky to get off alive I hear. Guess they don’t cut people up with machine guns anymore though. They use the legal machinery now. Tried to stow him away in jail. Sure no fun in that kind of story.”

     Client and lawyer hit each other’s eyes on the same instant, and then David began to laugh quietly as he reached over, lifted the jug which was a second for refills and topped the tankard up again, saying,

     “You certainly know a lot about the coast history, Erle, and you sure do make it come alive.”

     “Thanks,” returned the story teller with a big grin for both the compliment and the beer. “That’s great. Everybody else around here seems to have heard it all at least twice and they’re not interested anymore. They’ve practically hung me out to dry on that barstool. My pension doesn’t go too far these days, and I’m sure learning how to nurse a fill along. I appreciate this.”

     He raised the tankard again, and the rest of the table saluted with their own glass vessels.

     Later, as the group left the pub, Rose and David trailed a little behind.

     “No wonder those vultures were so zealous to get me,” David told her. “It must be an old feud from away back. LEAF WINE—Leofwine—uhhuh. My family pronounces it Lefvin. Took me awhile into that interesting story. It was just a helluva good tale until then, but it finally dinged when he finished off. Just wait until I show dear old Dad what I’ve got for the family album—genuine, original and hands on artefact. His poor old high horse is gonna be cut off at the knees. How about that? My great grandfather was a hell raiser and a rum runner—hah! Nobody ever talked about this skeleton in the closet—not in those terms anyway. Guess I’m not such a rogue after all. I come by it honestly—it runs in the family. Wonder what else he got up to.”

     Rose, laughing along with him, cautioned,

     “Don’t dig too far into that. It might give you ideas and you have enough of your own—and I imagine Erle can tell a few tales about my family if he ever gets around to it. Maybe the two of us should just stick to the coffee shop in future.”