28: Rogues and rum runners
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 destinationplus 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 didnt happen often. She was a heavy sturdy boat, and light winds didnt 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 didnt 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 everyones 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 wouldnt 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 didnt 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 schooners 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 dont believe it!
Tied there at the public wharf, sporting a For Saleinformation 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.
Davids 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!
Ughplease dont, was Roses 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 Buds astute opinion.
Thought littering was illegal, said Shiro.
Dont 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 funexcept 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 shed 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 didnt want to buy that old wreck, as they all tried mightily to dissuade him from his purpose.
You have better boat sense than that, Davidits a derelict, advised Fitz.
Like youll be, if you dont quit getting suckered by every old hooker you lay your eyes on, Bud told him.
Yeah guys butlook at it, urged David. Thats mahogany on oak, probably some gumwood around. Ill bguess theres teak down belowand 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 dont suppose you got launched with champagne and caviar. Wait until youre my age and well see what you look like.
And its all original, continued David, disregarding the disparaging remarks from all sides. Ill bI think I could get it for a song.
Hide his flute! Tashakawa ordered.
Hes got the wind on his nose and hes backed his mainsl 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 Harrys prognosis.
Push him over into the saltchuckthatll cool his brain off, was Buds prescription.
If hes got one, which I doubt right now, came Shiros assessment.
I know how to get him, laughed Rose. David, Ill bet you lunch that youll 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 dont! You cant get me that way anymore. Im 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 boyif youll believe him on that one youll buy real estate on Mars.
Are you saying the worlds going to end today David? asked Bettina as their laughing remarks continued.
Whats so funny? You think I dont have any backbone?! demanded the self-styled ex-gambler.
Not in that department, Bud answered.
Well youre wrongI have so toand I think shes an old beautyand I will buy herso therebut since you almost got me Rose, Ill 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,
The man on her deck didnt seem to hear. She hoped hed look over her stern and decipher the almost obliterated name on her transom which spelled it out in graceful gold letteringor had, once upon a time.
David was too busy trying to peer through a window.
Oh yeah! Look what shes got below decks. Ill bI figure shes 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 theyre calledexpress commutinggetting you there and back fast with all the comforts of home, if she wasnt 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 Bettinas opinion.
How do you figure all this about her? asked Fitz, curious.
Because theres a picture of something like this in Grams 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. Okaythis ones mine.
You grab his arms and Ill grab his legs and well 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.
Shes got a diesel? responded Harry immediately. Lets have a look.
Having no restraints on his own particular brand of vice he climbed quickly aboard with David and started poking around.
Back everybodythe plague is upon usits obviously contagious! warned Armand.
Im not Contagious, Im LEAF WINE! came the indignant objection from the boat.
Harrys voice rode over her own.
Thats not a diesel, its gasoline, he declared with disappointment in his tone, Butoh boywhat an old goody!
Aw come on you guys, pleaded Bud. Im hungry.
Yeah, but... . began David.
Youre gonna get a kick in yours if you dont get off that thing Davey, retorted the hungry tug skipper. Its lunchtime.
Wonder where the wharfinger is, wondered David.
Dont have to look far for him, commented Shiro. Hes always in the pub when hes on duty.
Ohwell in that casehurry up guys, its lunchtime, laughed David, grabbing hold of Harrys 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 everybodylunch, and he headed the party up the wharf.
Lets 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. Were going to the Urchin.
Keep him in the middle or well find him back on that thing, advised Shiro as they turned in the direction of The Sea Urchin.
Okay, well 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 WINEs old decks were just the right hard surface for cracking the packaging on his chosen meal. Hed 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 dont you go patronise somebody else? Im 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 Youre junk to begin with.
- - -
Lunch was an enjoyable affair, but all the way through it in the back of Davids 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 kidll freak. Probably wont eat sitting down for a week while hes hanging over the thingand the gangll 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 towingpower it from TJUTELAs enginekeep her afloat until I get her to the yard. Yeahwaitll 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 theyll give you fifty bucks youll 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.
Youll 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 hadnt forgotten.
Okayyeah! 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 RascalsIm standing the first roundand 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 offexcept Rose.
You go ahead, she told them. Ill just have a cup of coffee aboard and wait for you here.
To the Rascals, ordered David determinedly, taking hold of her arm. Youre not dumping us like that. Were all in this together and I may need you to help me make a deal.
He didnt 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,
Hasnt changed much in all these years. I havent 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 dont have to... .
Oh no, she told him, Its okay, justlots of old memories.
<Old memories? Its him again. Okaydont askmind your own business.>
Wellmaybe 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 hadnt 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 nowtee shirt and faded jeansbut 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 wasnt 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 historycolourful, varied, ribald, heroic, tragic, hilarious, shamefulhad 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,
Thats a wharfinger?!
Thats him, replied Armand. Havent you met him before?
No, I havent been here that oftena couple of times maybeand I anchor out.
Hes a barfly, smiled Fitz, recognising the genre, which hed come across so often before in his wanderings, But worth every bit of his keep if hes a good one.
Depends on your druthers, laughed Bud. If you want to hear everything thats happened around here since the day onehes good.
Ill just go over and have a word with him, grinned David getting up. Excuse me for a moment.
Hes off already, sighed Bud.
Who? The wharfinger? asked Bettina.
Him tooI meant David.
Well you have to admit the barnacles dont get a chance to grow on this boys hull, commented Fitz.
You cant have just a moment with Erle, warned Armand. Hell throw his shining net over you and youll 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 hell entertain you royally with his stories, added Shiro. Theyre all really very interesting and he can sure tell them, but if you want to talk business dont fill his mugits a big one.
Well if hes 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. Hell 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 youre the wharfinger.
Yup. Want to pay the moorage on the schooner?
Uhits 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 someones trying to sneak off without paying. Armand wouldnt do that thoughand 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 thereand thats the most beautiful receptacle for cradling honeydew that Ive seen in a long time.
A surprised smile brightened the wharfingers 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. Its 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, dont drink hard liquor or that damned winethe firstll kill you fast and the otherll do nothing at all except make a fool of you and give you a headache the next day. You stick to beer. Thats a mans drink. I took his advice seriously, as you can see, and he seemed to be right, because Im still here, and I like to think Im not an old fool yet.
Laughing, David looked into the tankard and remarked, picking it up as per instructions,
Its 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 Ive ever come across, the old man remarked to the people there as he sat down in the chair theyd pulled over for him. Sure miss you fellows since you moved your boats.
Were 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,
Shes an old humdinger. A real classy old doll from rum running days. Shes 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 wharfingers back that the jugful was a one man dog.
Not yet, returned Armand, But dont 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 Davids surprised, raised-eyebrowed admiration.
<Geeze! Id love to take him out with the guys so he could show them how its really done!>
Are you interested in buying that old siren? asked Erle. I sure wouldnt 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 dilettanteout there just for funa couple of young rich kids who did it just for the hell of it ran her. Guess they got bored with all that money. Im told they were handsome devils. Both were blondlike 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 backgroundlike you Doc. Had curls that made the girls faint with envyalong 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. Hed slug anyone for anything. Temper like the devil. The other guy was sort of laid back and easy going and wouldnt 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 werent in a brawl. Used to go into town and buy everybody in the pub a round or two. Thats what they did with the money they gotthrew it around playing poker and drinking. Not at home thoughout 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 theyd 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 theyd 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 theyre doing.
The people who lived ashore there were totally uninvolved and wouldnt have anything to do with it. They were tacitly ignorant about all the action which went on. They didnt want to get involved. Cops used to go out there and grill them and theyd just say they hadnt 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 nameslemme think.
So much for glory, laughed David, waiting. They all get forgotten.
Ahgot it. The Angel was something like Godfredsomething like thatmost 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 nameand mebbe on their operation. Other one wasDaniel?yeahhad 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 thats 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 WINEs 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 wed 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 didnt 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 didnt 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 lets go for a row. Its gorgeous out there on the water at night when the moons like this. We dont have to meet them until just before the tide turns again and thats hours away.
You still killing yourself over that dumb Ethel? Theres lots better than her around here. Come on.
Dont really feel up to it Leaf.
I can see that. You drink enough to knock out a horse, and I wish youd quit taking that other stuff.
You know I just take it to help me sleep.
Oh yeah. Well just make sure youre awake when we need to be. And forget that little flirt. Shes just jail bait.
Getting no answer, Leaf told his companion,
Well, Im going for a row anyway. Okay?
And dont drink any more huh?
Yeahokay, returned his companion, drowsing off.
Keep a good watch will you?
There was no answer.
Oh fantastic! Now youre 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. Shes 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 Moons 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, hed seen to that, and his skill with the rowing made barely a ripple, but the boats 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. Seas 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 itand 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 baythe bay dwellers dont rowthey paddle, silently.>
All of Leafs 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.
<Somethings wrong! Somebodys 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 hed 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? Im sure that was a boat coming in.
Probably just a log. Seetheres a couple more. We just have to wait. Sit down and shut up. Hell be here. We just wait till were sure theyre both aboard. Gotta have patience. Well teach those little beggars not to poach on our territory.
We got moren half an hour left before it blows though. I set it for twelve on the nose.
Okay. So ones better than none if he doesnt come back. At least well get that one and the boat. I dont think the one whos leftll bother us again after his boat and his buddy are gone. Just wait. I wanna make sure it goes up. Otherwise well dust em from here. Maybe well 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 ones good. Its sitting in the cockpit ready to blow. I just reached over and set it down.
Guess the loudmouth didnt know we could hear him. Theyre so stupid its like catching fish in a barrel. Well just wait like you say till it goes.
Sudden knowledge of the danger they were in made Leafs heart jump. He and Daniel had never expected to come up against this sort of violence. Dodging the cops was one thing butkilling people?
<They heard me talking to Danny. They knew he wouldnt be on watch. Were in real trouble here. Theyve planted us. How do I get out there without being seen? If I try swimming theyll spot me for sure.>
He sat in the darkness looking at the boat and thinking, as a last desperate measure, that hed 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! Im not going to give us away like that. Theyll wipe us with their guns.>
Remembering the twelve oclock deadline hed 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? Theyll see me. Dont. 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 cant turn us loose without the motorwell 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! Shouldnt have left him alone like that. So bloody quiet here I can hear the clock ticking.>
<Id like to get those bastardsand I think I will. Too bad I cant take this and stick it in their own boat, butI knowset the thing afloat, let it blow up and then get the hell out when the noise starts. Easier said than done. Lets seeif I waterproof bag itblow some air in the thing to keep it afloat. How much timealmost fifteen minutes left. Lots. Okay Leafdo 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.
Dont worry about it Danny. Just me giving you hell. Wed better go get the dinghy.
Now though, the thought of retaliation came into Leafs mind.
Maybe well 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 guysyou want to play roughhave 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 mariners ears.
Sorry old girl, it wasnt 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 didnt know whose tail hed got hold of. Shoved his own private floating casino in their faces, up the coast here. You dont play around muscling in on that. He was lucky to get off alive I hear. Guess they dont 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 others 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. Thats great. Everybody else around here seems to have heard it all at least twice and theyre not interested anymore. Theyve practically hung me out to dry on that barstool. My pension doesnt go too far these days, and Im 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 WINELeofwineuhhuh. 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 Ive got for the family albumgenuine, 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 runnerhah! Nobody ever talked about this skeleton in the closetnot in those terms anyway. Guess Im not such a rogue after all. I come by it honestlyit runs in the family. Wonder what else he got up to.
Rose, laughing along with him, cautioned,
Dont dig too far into that. It might give you ideas and you have enough of your ownand 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.