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41: Unmasking

House lights go up with the curtain fall
The solo flutist walks down the hall
He wove a spell—now he starts to see
His place in the world of reality.

Among those leaving the gilded space
Where images of sound took place
A woman turns and looks once more
At the stage where he opened a magic door.

As memory of it still rebounds
And she feels the touch of now silent sounds
She knows just as he that enchanted space
Needs a gentle heart—and an honest face.

The door to Yevy’s Café, older and more worn but still hanging in there, leaned sleepily in its unaligned frame, enjoying a quiet evening on its own side of the street, regarding the noisy busyness going on across the way in a brightly neon-lit establishment which had recently opened and was basking in the rush of patrons which usually comes to something new. The place had a lot going for it—burgers and fries, pizza and loud music, a pool table, plus computer screen gambling. Also beer and wine.

     Door had decided some time before that it didn’t want to be part of that scene. The clientele it got pushed around by wanted something different—Yevy’s plain no-nonsense cooking and—no beer. Not that it didn’t like beer—it just couldn’t get a licence. The struggle for customers was becoming one-sided and that side was on the other side of the street.

     Door was pretty happy with its own place in the world though, having acquired yet another coat of new paint which had been finished off with colourful and whimsical flourishes put there by the brush of an imaginative workman. That was the same person who had also applied new hinges, routinely oiled them and had recently replaced a broken window. Nothing could be done with the out-of-square frame which allowed the entrance to maintain its lounging look and, as a consequence, Door had learned over the years to enjoy its one-foot-over-the-other attitude of friendly, casual loafing. It knew how to act the part for the kind of people who appreciated that. Trouble was, there weren’t so many of those around anymore. The new ‘hyper everything’ attitude in the neighbourhood was driving them away.

     Most of the people who just happened by now usually ended up across the street. They didn’t carry backpacks—they had fanny packs. They stood in front of Door, looked through the window and made remarks like, ’this is just a greasy spoon, let’s go across the street’, or ‘I don’t care if it is crowded over there, I’m not going into this place.’ Some remarks were made in languages Door couldn’t understand and considered itself lucky that it couldn’t, judging by some of the faces which were pulled to go along with the unknown words. Therefore, leaning and lounging had become more and more the norm, and opening and closing something of an incident to be appreciated.

     That was why Door, had it been able to do so, would have straightened up in astonishment this evening when a small four-by-four vehicle pulled up in front of the café. It wasn’t the set of wheels which got the attention but the sight of the two people who got out of it. Nothing like that had ever had the good sense to grace this portal in all its long years of leaning—not even when it had been young and able to stand tall.

     As a big hand took hold of its doorhandle, opened it with casual familiarity instead of the usual wrestling match to jerk it loose which others used, and the two people went into the café, Door tried its best to look appropriate. The one in the cutaway was an old friend who had cleaned and painted it many times, but certainly not dressed in that fashion, and the lady with him was something else which hadn’t passed through into this precinct before. Door thought she was gorgeous. Closing quietly behind them with just a little hitch to get back into place, it watched to see how the evening would progress as the pair walked in.

     Door and David were trusted buddies.

     The tables and chairs inside the café were members of the same society. They had been mended so many times that a few of them had fallen by the wayside over time and had been replaced by others—found in the usual fashion of second-hand store gold-digging which was a favourite method of dealing with such emergencies. When cleaning failed to make the newly acquired furniture look respectable other methods were resorted to. The chairs got painted and the tables got tablecloths, which hid a multitude of dings and repaired fractures.

     Voila! A whole new look for Yevy’s Café.

     After that first success, new looks became the norm. A colourful collection of table toppers and a mismatched group of chairs gave the place an air of individuality it hadn’t had before. True, the nonconformity didn’t please those used to white and black, but Yevy’s usuals had taken to it immediately, even helping with the redecorating by breaking a few chairs, and spilling things on tabletops until the cloth was stained beyond recognition and was replaced by another cheerful piece of material, usually hemmed up by Edith Godwin, who also did the laundry.

     At the back table, which was covered in a traditional checkered cloth usually seen in old country inns, sat a man past middle-age, balding, hawk-faced, regarding these two customers with pleased surprise as they came in.

     “Aiy yai yi shepherd boy!” exclaimed the proprietor with delight, actually getting up out of his chair, “What you been up to?”

     “Hey Yev,” smiled David. “Played my flute like a real pro tonight. You should have come. We’re in need of coffee. Got a couple of clean mugs around somewhere?”

     “Maybe you go wash ’em and make sure,” Yevy suggested with a grin, using the old put down of his friend whenever that man made a long-standing and on-going joke about the cutlery and china in the café.

     Then, regarding Rose, he asked,

     “You got a new assist at holdin’ you top hat? Hoo—yeah! She sure better’n ’at last one you brung in here ’at time. ’At one too uppity. Glad she ain’t around no more.”

     “This is my lawyer Yevy,” laughed David, colouring a little. “The genius I told you about who got me off from that gambling charge. We were heading home to eat just now but I told her about this place that had the best coffee and good food around, and since neither of us felt like cooking—here we are.”

     “Lady Law huh?” grinned Yevy as David introduced them, “How come you keepin’ company wit’ a scruffy bum like him?”

     “Bums,” smiled Rose, “Seem to need lawyers. They get picked on.”

     “You got ’at right,” Yevy agreed. “Specially ’round here. Cops all over grabbin’ people—like neighbourhood street-cleaner-uppers. Pretty soon nuttin’ left ’cept fancy tourist guys.”

     “Sounds like that might be good for business,” Rose suggested with a smile.

     “Nah. ’Em people comin’ in here now, ’ey look around an ’ey walk back out again,” Yevy told her in disgusted tones. “We don’t got no caffie latties and fries an’ stuff an’ ’ey don’t want real food. Somebody come in here ’is mornin’, turn up a nose an’ ask can I tell ’em where to get a good breakfast. Whatsa matter wit’ good oatmeal an’ eggs an’ fruit an’ stuff I ask, an’ ’ey want package stuff what crunches. Me, I cook good. I make good food. If ’ey don’t wanna eat, okay. Go sit in one of ’em new fancy joints like at acrosst from here an’ get ripped off.

     “Em healt’ department guys keep comin’ ’round too askin’ about bugs an’ stuff. We ain’t got none. Shepherd boy here, he figure out long time ago how to get rid of ’at lot comin’ in from next door. When ’em pesterin’ guys usta come ‘round complainin’ an’ tellin’ ever’body ’ey gotta clean up or shut down he get smart an’ start a no pest place. Get lottsa business from ’at now. Guy next door for one. We keep at ’im.”

     “Yev’s talking about my pest control business,” grinned David. “We try to be environmentally conscious since Yev won’t let anything in his café which he thinks might hurt something. Birth control pills for the lady bugs and sterilisation for the gents along with ecology friendly specifics. That goes for the four-footed free-loaders too. These methods don’t always work on two-footed things though—like feisty restaurant owners for instance.”

     “Don’t need to kill little people for keepin’ a place nice,” Yevy interjected, as David’s joking innuendo went over his head.

     “We used to try all sorts of things to get that pawn shop next door cleaned up,” David recounted. “Yev would try to get him outside the shop while I dumped stuff around but he wasn’t about to let some young guy wander around his place without supervision in case I swiped something. Finally I got one of my buddies to pretend he was an inspector who was going to close him down if he didn’t do something, and then we moved in as pest removers. Boy, was that some job. There were whole villages of the things in there and they all tried to run into Yevy’s to escape.”

     “Yeah. Got me shut down a week,” recalled the proprietor, “But okay now.”

     “I guarantee no bugs,” added David. “My earth friendly no poison company took care of it—geeze—this is some dinner conversation. Do you still feel like eating?”

     “Having just lately survived a field trip complete with plenty of bugs I’m not about to complain,” laughed Rose, “And anyone who thinks bugs are people is all right to my way of thinking.”

     “So okay—what you gonna have Lady Law?” asked Yevy, pleased with that assessment of himself, “I got some real good stew—shepherd boy potful from way back, wit’ home made bread—well—inna little maker machine anyways—fresh today, like alla time. Lottsa nice fruit stuff an’ cheese for dessert. Sound good?”

     “Let’s have the chef’s special,” agreed Rose, “Sounds wonderful.”

     “Great!” applauded Yevy. “Come siddown at my table—we talk. I get you coffee while you two talk.”

     “We’re being honoured,” David told her in a low voice as he blew some cigarette ashes off the table and put his flute case down while Yevy got the coffee, “Nobody gets to sit at his table unless it’s pretty special.”

     “I think he’s totally delightful,” replied Rose as David pulled over two chairs, “Just like you said. Uh—shepherd boy?”

     “When I turned up with my flute asking for a job,” he grinned, “It was a natural conclusion for Yevy. I think all flute players were sheep herders where he came from.”

     “It fits you—in places. Mmmm, look at the lovely fresh flowers.”

     “Gram’s, jars and all,” he told her, as two large plates of stew arrived along with half a loaf of bread in chunky slices and a generous quantity of butter.

     “So how’s it going?” asked David as the food was set on the table.

     “Me’n Bert, we t’ink we quit,” Yevy announced, sitting down with them. “It ain’t like it usta was around here no more. What you t’ink about ’at?”

     David put down his mug of coffee with a laugh.

     “You’re always saying that.”

     “Yeah but ’is time I mean it. Ever since ’em rehab an redo an’ fixup people come in ’round here ’ey been tearin’ stuff down an’ puttin’ stuff up an’ all ’em fancy glass tower guys move in. Next taxes go up so high ’ey take a year wort’a hard work to pay for. You know what I sayin’. You come ’round here. We gonna quit. I got no help no more, ’cept you’n Bert. Cost too much. Only got ’nuff for basic pay an’ ’ey don’t want ’at.”

     “Like always, but what about all the kids and people around here? Where are they going to go?” David queried.

     “Hah! Already gone. People don’t got money to live ’round here no more an’ ain’t no more young kids what need sumpin’ or wanna work for it. Get more money from bein’ welfare so ’ey can have caffie latties acrossta street. Bunch of smart-ass li’l no-goods, ’at’s what.”

     “Think I heard that last remark the day we met,” reflected David with a laugh.

     “Yeah? Well it ain’t changed. You know ’at window what got broke last week? Cops tell me kids in a gang do ’at inna night just for hell. I don’t need ’at. Not like kids when you first come. Not hungry—just lookin’ for trouble. After Stella she gone, ain’t no more like her. Cops move ’em out ’cause new owners of all’ em fancy shops yell. Now ’ey freeze an’ starve on some udder corner. It ain’t right—’ey gotta live too. We quit.”

     “Well, If you ever get serious I think you two should throw in with me at the marina,” David suggested. “I could use some good partners in my chandlery.”

     “I guess ’at a good deal but me’n Bert, we don’t know nuttin’ ’bout boat stuff. I cook food, he cook books.”

     Seeing the surprised, amused look on Rose’s face David put in hastily,

     “Bert’s just a terrific accountant. He taught me.”

     “Oh—that explains your complicated mathematics,” she replied, “Plus a dash or two of your own seasoning while you cook.”

     “Yuh, well, we all do our best,” he grinned, then asked Yevy, “So what would you do if you quit?”

     “Dunno. Mebbe open up somewheres else.”

     “That’s quitting?”

     “Okay, so I quit here and go somewheres else,” was the elaboration on the plan. “I get lottsa money for ’is place now. It wort’ a lot since ’em new bunch move in. Bert say so. We set up somewheres else an’ have some left over. Me’n Bert, we do good somewheres else. Ain’t no fun here no more—like him.”

     Yevy jerked his head toward David.

     “He gettin’ to be deadhead. Won’t play poker wit’ us no more ’cept for fun. No girls even. Only alla time work. Deadhead like ’is place. I gonna quit. Find sumpin’ what’s alive. You too Lady Law. You can do better’n him. I show you. Jus’ watch ’is.”

     Yevy reached under the counter and took out a box of cigars, held it out to David and offered,

     “Go ahead—take two—’ey small.”

     Laughing a little David reached out, took a couple and said,

     “Thanks Yev. That just cost you.”

     “Sure. Now watch.”

     The restaurateur grabbed some matches and plunked them in front of David.

     “Here. Go on. Light up.”

     Laughing harder as he picked up the matches, David told him,

     “Not right now Yev.”

     “Yeah. You gonna give ’em to some udder guy.”

     “Well I wouldn’t want to waste them,” he got told. “I’ll take them to the bay and give them to Fitz. He’ll appreciate them.”

     “See? He stickin’ ’em in jacket. Won’t smoke cigar. ’Tink maybe he sick? Maybe you get him hoppin’ some.”

     “Actually,” explained Rose, looking at David’s reddening face and laughing along with him, “I think I’m part of the problem. I’m the one who got him to quit smoking.”

     “What for you did ‘at?!” asked Yevy in surprised indignation.

     “It was a deal we made when I took on his case,” Rose confessed. “We both gave it up together on a bet.”

     “Oh yeah! ’At sound like shepherd boy. Alla time bettin’. Don’t know when to quit. Tole him he gonna lose big one day. Now see what he done.”

     “Yev, it was worth it,” replied David. “I think I’d have done a lot more than that to keep from going to jail. Hey, I was in some sort of happy trance for days after I won my case—your case actually, Rose—and you won it. I guess you wouldn’t remember, but for me it was like I’d been transferred to another world. I was free again.”

     “Oh I remember all right,” she assured him. “Apart from getting you off I got that most important precedent—but what really finished the day off was the flowers you sent to my office. When everybody saw that bouquet march in they started to laugh and ask me who I’d scored with the night before, and Ed remarked that guys like that usually disappeared immediately the day after and never paid their fees, figuring they’d already done so.”

     “He gets everything wrong doesn’t he,” laughed David. “I’m still around and I paid—in cash. I didn’t mean to embarrass you. It was just that it seemed like I’d already been in prison for a year and all that time I was scared spitless of the thought that I might actually wind up in a real one for awhile. Suddenly I was free and—I don’t know how to explain it. I guess the words which come to mind are ‘joyful exaltation’. Suddenly everything was untangled and I could go out and be human again.

     “Did you know that’s what you do for people when you win a case? I guess I acted like a brain-blown idiot for awhile after. I just wanted you to know you’d done something spectacular for me. That’s why the flowers. I’m sure I was off the ground for days.”

     “Hah! He alla time be flyin’,” Yevy told Rose. “If he ain’t bouncin’ offa ground here he goin’ up in ’at plane or on ’at boat he got. Oughta tie ’im down ’fore he kill himself.”

     David laughingly changed the subject back to Yevy’s alleged retirement.

     “Well just make sure you tell me your new location if you ever get around to it, because I sure don’t want to miss out on your coffee and stew.”

     “You figure I let you off from wash dishes an’ fill in for help when ’ey don’t come? You got stock in ’is place too, not to forget. I ain’t got no charity here. All ’em free coffees and stuff you been gettin’—you gotta pay.”

     “Can’t get out of it nohow,” was the smiling rejoinder.

     “Okay. Enjoy you dinner. Free, onna house.”

     “My part or Bert’s or yours?” asked David.

     “You—me—Bert—all mixed togedder like he say. What I mean—no money—wash dishes.”

     “I knew there was a hook. You’d better enjoy this Rose, because this man drives a hard bargain.”

     “Shepherd boy,” Yevy explained himself with a shrug, “He allus tellin’ me like I tell him first—trade an’ cash deal only—no debt. So I get trade outta him.”

     “I thought I heard the word ‘free’ somewhere along the way,” David reminded him. “But okay, I’ll be here tomorrow night. A deal’s a deal.”

     Yevy gave a shout of delighted triumph.

     “Hah! Gottcha—like you allus sayin’ at me. So I jokin’. Tonight—real free. Special night. Lady Law, she deserve it puttin’ up wit’ you. I teach him business way an’ now he allus yappin’ at me an’ tellin’ how he run stuff. I got my own way for doin’.”

     “That’s for sure,” agreed David. “Only good thing is that you have an automatic dishwasher which works. I make certain of that. Anyway, you wouldn’t leave this place. You’ve been here too long.”

     “Yeah, so ’bout time I get out an’ see some of ’at udder world you allus talkin’ about. I gotta live too.”

     “Some of it’s not that great Yev,” David warned.

     “You tellin’ me? I be ’round longer’n you. I take care of me so far.”

     “True,” agreed David, “But it’s getting a bit rougher all the time out there.”

     “Yeah, I got eyes an’ ears—an’ glass in door window. So okay, I find me nice place somewheres what ain’t rough,” replied Yevy, undeterred. “Hey, we gonna play some music togedder for Lady Law since you got a music night? We close up early. Nuttin’ doin’ anyway. I go get my mandolin an’ some brandy. We have a nice gentleman time. Yeah?”

     “Music, okay, but maybe just one small snort Yev—I’m driving tonight and flying tomorrow.”

     “See? Alla time flyin’.”

     Yevy got up, went to the door, locked it and turned the sign hanging in the window so that CLOSED was visible to the outside, thereby making Door smile.

     Something special was going on in there.

- - -

Big-fat-white-fluffy-cotton-wool clouds lazed around Sky in the early morning as Rose, looking out the window of the float plane, remarked,

     “Aren’t those clouds up there something. I’ve seen them from way up in a jetliner, but never this close before. They look solid.”

     “They’re harmless nice guys,” David reassured her. “You know, the first time I saw that configuration from above I just went airhead. They looked inviting enough for me to get out and run around and jump up and down and bounce on them like a trampoline. I flew through and around and over and under them like a nut case. If anybody in authority had known about it they’d have lifted my licence.”

     “Sounds like fun,” she laughed.

     “Want to try it? Okay, no officials around—or anybody else—just the three of us, so... .”.

     He elevated the nose of the plane and cut through the moist air, coming out above it and saying,

     “Look at the sun on that—fantastic. Let’s hit the next one—yeah, see how beautiful they are, and the way they move? And now we’ll go down under again where we’re supposed to be.”

     Down went the nose of the plane and as it came out underneath the clouds once more David remarked,

     “When the air is kind and pretty like this it’s a real hoot. Isn’t this terrific?”

     From the seat behind him came the remark,

     “If I’d known this flight included aerobatics I’d have taken the bus. Would you mind sticking to regulations? I’m a sailor. Seasick I don’t get, but playing tag with clouds I can do without.”

     “Oops! Sorry Doc, I got carried away,” apologised the pilot, “It’s straight to the bay from here on.”

     Armand tried not to hear the giggling going on in front of him, saying,

     “I actually hated to leave the city. It was such a great evening we had.”

     “It certainly was that,” agreed Rose. “You missed out on meeting Yevy. He’s such fun and he certainly can play that mandolin.”

     “Maybe next time, Armand,” suggested David.

     “Oh yes,” groaned Armand, “There’s a next time. I’m sure your friend is much more pleasant than that.”

     “For sure,” David agreed, “You know, Yev can dance too. I’ve seen him stack glass stemware pyramid-style on his head and dance around the café. Some sense of balance. I think he was behaving last night because he was impressed with the way we looked. Guess that’s what he meant by a ‘nice gentleman’ evening and, hey Rose, except for that mad dash out the window, the two of us managed to keep our deal to behave. Now who was it said I couldn’t?”

     “Did I say that?” asked Rose, surprised. “I thought I just said I’d wait and see.”

     “Um—well if you didn’t say it in so many words you sure have intimated it with lots of others at various times,” he reminded her.

     “Oh—well let me tell you right now that last night you were the perfect gentleman.”

     <If he’d been any more gentlemanly I’d have felt like I was out with Grandfather. Whatever made me agree to that silliness about a polite evening? He kept introducing me as his lawyer, as though he didn’t want people to get the idea we’re a couple or something—not that we are.>

     Back came the reply,

     “And you’ve been the perfect goody.”

     <How long am I expected to keep up this ‘good behaviour’ bit? Is it simply that she isn’t interested and is keeping me politely at a distance? If I’m nice I don’t get anywhere and if I’m not I’m afraid I’ll get the boot. I’ve had the uneasy feeling lately that I’m not really doing all this good behaviour stuff just to keep me on the right and straight path. In fact I’ve had a hunch that I’m actually being a sneak somehow and I don’t like it. I need to do some heavy thinking here.>

     Armand, sensing an undercurrent in the conversation which he was not a party to, interjected,

     “Your grandmother is such a lovely lady.”

     “You’re preaching to the converted,” laughed David. “She is a bit of something different all right, but be careful she doesn’t lead you too far astray. I don’t mean to blow the whistle on her but I have to tell you, she looks like a sweet, elegant, porcelain figurine, but stand clear when she unbends and sheds the glaze. Then she gets to be a coast county balloon seller made of good old earthen pottery. She can raise hellery like you wouldn’t believe.”

     “Indeed? It sounds very interesting.”

     “Oh, it is—downright delightfully embarrassing at times,” replied David. “When she’s out walking she politely goes after people for throwing cigarette packages and pop cans around, telling them how beautiful the world would be if everybody would just be a little more thoughtful and considerate, and if that doesn’t make an impression then she tells them what a big fine there is for littering, and once she actually thumped a man who was mistreating his dog.”

     The laughter from Armand and Rose made him continue,

     “Yeah, you can laugh, but I was there and I wouldn’t want her to take after me. I had to do some fast talking to the cop who arrived while Gram stood there not backing down a bit and threatening to charge the dog owner with cruelty to animals while he was trying to charge her with assault.

     “She can get into all kinds of fixes. One of her friends is the wife of a professor who’s Chinese, and you know how the Chinese love mah jong. Well, one time Gram and Ana got together with some other fans of the game and were having a wonderful time in the back of someone’s grocery store—with a bit of petty cash around to make it more exciting and helping to grease the gears of their brains—when the cops arrived and they got busted and spent the night in jail. Somebody getting even, I guess, just like they did with me.”

     “She takes after her grandson,” laughed Armand.

     “Geeze!” grinned the pilot, “Is that where she gets it from. Hey, there’s the bay way over on the horizon.”

- - -

David sat at the base of the big fir by the beach playing his flute. He had left the company of the others with the forthright words,

     “Hope everyone won’t mind if I take off for a walk by myself. I haven’t been here for so long I’m forgetting what it’s like to just wander around like a deer and enjoy doing nothing, so before I have to get back to business, maybe I’ll do that for awhile.”

     He had walked slowly barefoot along the damp sandy beach, shoes, socks and flute in hand, holding an argument with himself. When Tide came in, warm and inviting with Breeze riding along on small crests as waves broke a little on the shore, he took the invitation, threw off his clothes and swam, using in turn every stroke he knew, his mind as busy as his body. Treading water, he finally turned over and floated on his back, gazing up at Sky with its white clouds soft against the blue, feeling something of what it might be like if he could bounce and float on them as he let Tide drift him ashore like a small sogger, the way it had done so often before.

     He had a problem and he knew he had to deal with it—and the time for that couldn’t be put off any longer. It was now.

     Wading ashore he sat down beneath the big fir tree, picked up his flute and played for awhile. Then, warmed and dried by Sun, he put his clothes back on, and in the process came across the two cigars he had brought in his shirt pocket, forgotten in the welcome from the bay residents as he’d tied up at the wharf.

     He fingered them as they reminded him what was at the bottom of his dilemma.

     The bay was a shining, peaceful place of sunshine, lilting with the music of Tide singing with Beach, behind him the richness of varied green growth everywhere, the strength of Cliff rising at either end of the sweep of sheltered water. LEGER DE MAIN, his little troll’s castle, sat smiling under the riot of flowers the bay residents had grown in all the planters and pots aboard, and the sounds of the children far down the beach came across the distance separating him from the gathering of small houses there beyond the old log skids.

     David held a deep and respectful regard for this place, something which he had given to nowhere else apart from his grandmother’s home—it was as special as that. Looking out across the water, and at the surroundings which had become his respite from that other world he was part of, he sighed.

     <Well—I guess I’m for it. I’d better go square myself with Grandfather.>

     The route he took to the meadow was deliberately lengthy and circuitous as he pondered what he was about to do. It took him along the ridge where Deer regularly rested comfortably on the mossy bluff overlooking the tops of maple, alder and willow swamp, as fir and arbutus above them offered moving sun and shade while they chewed their cuds.

     He went out to a bald knoll high above Sea where clumps of wild sweet peas, their long swaying vines lifting spikes of magenta and white flowers, sprawled downward over the face of rocks and sturdy grasses. He stood looking down on Sea, shielding his eyes as Sun struck sparks from moving Tide, dazzling his sight. When he lifted his gaze, Horizon held that long grey line of the mainland.

     At last he turned his direction toward Meadow, where foxgloves, taller than himself, towered their minarets of flowered stalks above the daisies along the way as invitations to hummingbirds. The faint scent of wild wintergreen came up from beneath his feet as he stepped on their spreading, low-growing mats of small-leaved growth and tiny, pale lavender flowers, until he came at last to the edge of the meadow.

     Twinbells ran down from rocky hillocks to meet him as he went along the path, and he felt all around him the Spirits which he believed were there and which he figured he was about to affront. He was reluctant to do this, but he had become convinced that it had to be done, even if it meant that this place which had become such a part of his life might not be so welcoming in future.

     He went, through the sun and birdsong and flower-filled morning, the fragrant roses there making him even more slow-footed with his thoughts and his determination until he reached the far side of the meadow with its old trees, which seemed to be waiting for him, quiet and reserved as he came up to them.

     A small red squirrel, busy holding a conversation with the treetops, seeing David approaching, reproached him loudly for interrupting.

     “Tell you what,” suggested the intruder, “Maybe the things I’m about to say aren’t fit for small innocent ears like yours so—how would you like to get lost?”

     Squirrel, seeing that the person making the suggestion was bigger than he was and showed no signs of backing away, backed off himself and disappeared into the trees farther away, leaving the man in silence.

     Standing in the semi-circle of trees, knowing the veneration which was a part of this place, David got the impression that he had just walked into a courtroom and was about to be judged. Not the feeling he had experienced when he’d been before the court over his barge case, but a deep sense of being judged personally—his own self on trial.

     He hesitated for a few moments, then raised his flute and played, a quiet improvised composition inspired by the moment, an offering of music to open the discourse he was about to enter into.

     Then, feeling like a supplicant, he looked up and started his address, not finding it was at all strange that he was talking out loud to some trees. He saw something else there.

     “Grandfather... .”

     At this point he faltered in his resolve, balancing between retreating and carrying on, but he was convinced that what he was doing was right and he had to continue.

     He began again.

     “Grandfather, you and I have got a problem—mostly mine I guess. When I first came to this bay I was completely unaware of everything here. I was just looking for a place to pull off another of my projects, but it didn’t take long before I found out that a good spot for a barge casino wasn’t the only thing I’d stumbled into. I was so unknowing that I didn’t even recognise an old friend down there by that big fir tree when I sat down to play my flute, although I should have. I’d found his guitar peg and had it in my pocket. Then there was that loon who kept telling me things I didn’t understand. As if that wasn’t enough I had to go climbing up into Waterfall’s place, and that really made me aware of something different here. Even LEGER DE MAIN took on a different personality.

     “Then when I started coming to the bay by myself I woke up to the Spirits all around me. I saw all the things of nature here in a different way. I found magic of a different kind than that of hiding money or picking locks or getting something to appear out of a hat. It meshed with the magic of my music, and dragons, and Bjorn Behring, and all the things that go into making up my spirit.

     “After I got to know Rose better I found out about you, Grandfather, and that’s why I’m here now. It’s about that pledge I made some time ago—about not gambling. When I heard her talk to you about having the kids become Shalisa she made me feel that I ought to be better than I am, so I made that promise about quitting gambling. It sort of included not smoking and generally behaving myself too, and I’ve pretty well lived up to everything so far, but... .”

     Here he paused, looked down at the ground, looked up again and continued,

     “Grandfather, I’ve been feeling for some time now that I can’t keep on doing this. I’ll admit that my breath control on the flute has been something else since I gave up cigars, but I miss the damned things once in awhile. Maybe I don’t need to have one in my face all the time, but Li and Yev and I used to have one every so often just because we’re us. I don’t know how to explain it. It’s just a friendly thing we do, sharing peanuts and beer and cigars, and the poker games with Yev and Bert are just not the same.

     “That party last night has just finished it off. That wasn’t me last night, that was a big lie. There I was, all decked out like a silly twit with my hair stuck down, trying to act like the rest of them. I don’t mean the musicians, because that’s part of their performance and it adds to their classiness but, for pete sake, those people at the party, dressed like they were last night, do it for real all the time. That’s what I wear when I’m play-acting as a magician, or I get into a suit when I have to make a deal I don’t want to—like going to court. Maybe my father’s right and I’m weird or something, but I can’t be like that. My buddy Al had it straight when he said I’d be back to my old self sooner or later, and Rose saw it when she said it wasn’t the ‘me’ she knew.

     “It’s just—I keep catching myself getting ready to do things you wouldn’t approve of—like swearing at Clarence—or creaming that nerd Ed and—when Tina kissed me—I got ideas about your grandaughter. I’m not a gentleman like she said.”

     He stopped speaking again, took a deep breath, held it for a moment or two then blew it out.

     “Grandfather, what I’m trying to tell you is—I’m going to welch on you. I’m going to break my pledge to quit gambling and all the rest of those things I’m trying to pretend I don’t want to do. I’m not what you’d like me to be. I’m a gambler. It’s in me. Not just playing poker and mah jong and other games. I gamble all the time on everything. I take chances. It’s me. I can’t quit. I regret having lied that way to you when I told you I would, but I did it honestly—if there is such a thing as an honest liar—and I don’t want to be a liar to you or your grandaughter anymore. I just want you to know that I did my best to stay on the path I think you see as right, but I can’t walk any farther that way. It’s not me.

     “Don’t misunderstand me—I’m not going to run right out and start roistering around, smoking and drinking and carrying on. I’ve learned a lot from you and Rose and it’s changed plenty of my ideas. It’s just that some things maybe shouldn’t be changed, like Dancing Water told me. Believe me, I tried, but I can’t keep on being a liar, not just to everyone else but—to myself—and I’m not going to do that anymore.

     “I’m sorry if you expected anything better from me and I’m deeply apologetic. I hope you’ll get around to forgiving me sometime, and I guess until I get up the courage to come here again I won’t be back for awhile. This was one bet I didn’t want to lose but—you get to keep your shell, Grandfather, and—I’m sure going to miss coming to the bay but—I’ll just take my dishonoured pledge away so it won’t insult you further and we’ll call it quits for now.”

     He walked over, knelt regretfully down by the little white shell and lifted it gently from its place.

     One small cube, its face displaying one small dot, looked up at him, eagerly expectant. Beside it rested the cracked guitar peg he had first seen under the big fir by the beach.

     He looked back down at the little cube, then regarded the guitar peg, surprised and puzzled.

     “Hey! I put my best set under this shell and—what’s this peg doing here?”

     He rocked back on his heels, shell still in hand, considering, then tilted his head back, looking up into the trees, as he asked,

     “Okay, what’s going on? Did one of you guys swipe half of my pledge?”

     There came a soft, almost tittering whisper like smothered laughter as Trees and Breeze seemed to share an in-house joke.

     “Something funny?” he enquired as his mind went over possibilities while he regarded the little shell in his hand.

     He studied it, noting the place where the piercing for attachment was broken. The more he looked at it the more it took on a certain familiarity.

     Recognition came to him.

     It was a very close relative of the ones he had seen the night before, gracing the person of Rose Hold as part of her elegant presence. It looked like a piece from—Grandfather’s necklace.

     “Oh yeah!” he exclaimed, “Something funny all right. I get it. Grandfather told her I’d quit huh? Now who’s the liar? Are you in on this too, Chant? Is she telling us we’re two of a kind? I’m being had again—right?”

     He picked up his die, put it in his pocket and set the shell firmly back down.

     “Grandfather, you’re being used and I’m going to get to the bottom of this, that I promise, and it’s one promise I’ll keep, I guarantee it.”

     He stood up, backed away a little, looking up at the sunlit, silent trees, then turned and started determinedly back down from the meadow, flute firmly in hand.

     There was a quiet, perturbed silence in the sunny space as Grandfather and the Old Ones regarded each other with thoughtful looks of anxious trepidation.

- - -

Rose was sitting on the big warm stone which held its place in front of her house, surrounded by the flowers of her own name, when she saw David walking toward her—smoking a cigar!

     As he approached he took another out of his shirt pocket and held it out to her, saying as he came up,

     “Hi Rose, have a cigar.”

     She sat there with disbelief in her face.

     “Go ahead—take it—Yevy’s best.”

     She did, and got, up standing there with it in her hand, looking at David in shocked surprise. Holding her gaze, he laid his flute on the big rock, then reached into his hip pocket, took out the deck of cards he still carried for solitaire, shook them out of the case, put that down beside the flute on the rock and with a deliberately theatrical flourish he snapped the pack swiftly fanwise in his right hand saying as he held them out to her,

     “Take a card, any card, put it back, cut it, I’ll shuffle ’em, and I bet I can tell you what your card is.”

     “What is this?!” she asked in total bewildered confusion.

     He went into his shirt pocket with his left hand, brought out the little die, and tossed it up and down in front of her.

     “You tell me.”

     When she didn’t answer he stopped playing catch with it and held it out toward her on his open palm, stating,

     “Just one. Should be two of ’em.”

     As she still didn’t say anything he continued,

     “No? Going to hang in to the end are you? Been pillaging any little white shells lately? Grandfather told you I’d quit gambling did he? Shame on you, using him to manipulate people. I’ll bet you have six to go with my one-eye.”

     Rose saw then, something in this man’s eyes similar to the betrayed look he’d had the day she’d met him when he had turned from Ed to her.

     “Oh my!” she breathed, then told him, “Yes, I have six—or we can make it snake-eyes if you want it that way.”

     “So!” he continued, “You and I sat down together one day, solemnly declaring that we wouldn’t lie to each other, and it turns out we’re both liars. Not only that but we’ve been lying to ourselves, which is the worst kind of lying. I can quit smoking, but I can’t quit gambling. You can quit smoking, but you can’t quit being a lawyer. So what kind of shell game are we playing here?”

     He saw real concern in her eyes as she paused before replying earnestly in her own defence,

     “It’s not a game at all. When I first came back to the bay I put that shell there as a token to Grandfather and the Old Ones that I’d never leave here again. That morning when I went up to Waterfall I got pretty disenchanted with the world, and I yelled at Grandfather, and when I went to put Chant’s guitar peg there so that he could be with the others I saw your dice. I just knew what they were there for, and yes—I believe Grandfather told me that you’d quit. How else would I have known, if Chant and I hadn’t gone up to Waterfall the way we were supposed to—and it was you who egged me into it.”

     He couldn’t help laughing as he asked,

     “You yelled at Grandfather?

     “You can think of me as silly and naïve if you like,” she retorted, “But I know what Grandfather is to me. I took one of the dice to have a reminder close by so that when my own doubts and weaknesses got the better of me it would be like Grandfather and Chant and you standing by as examples and I’d stay on the right path. As to whether you think I just use him as a manipulative device or not—it’s for you to decide.”

     He saw the hurt sincerity in her eyes and felt sudden guilt at having accused her of using Grandfather to gain her own ends.

     “Your shell—Chant’s peg. If you mean they’re good examples my dice don’t belong there—and I wasn’t laughing at you, I was laughing at your audacity. I figure I’m pretty nervy but no way would I yell at Grandfather. He means a lot to me too. You must know that.”

     “I did think so,” she told him, “Since it seemed we’d both committed ourselves there with Grandfather and the Old Ones. I did believe up to this point that you thought of the bay and everything in it the way I do—as a place apart from what we know anywhere else, holding something different which doesn’t need the proof of reasonable existence which everything else I do seems to require.”

     They looked at each other in silence for few moments until he answered, with the same sincerity as she had shown to him,

     “I apologise. Shame on me. I should have known better than to accuse you of manipulating, but on the other hand, I’m greatly relieved. You’re one of the few people I’ve come to really trust. I’ve been operating in a world where I trade so much with cynical, sceptical, unscrupulous users and dealers I’m beginning to suspect everybody. This is a place apart and—thank you for setting me back on the right path.”

     “It seems you’ve been on it all along,” she smiled, “And just stepped off for a moment to see what was by the wayside. You don’t need to be ashamed.”

     “Oh yes I do. I get a double dose. Know what I just did? I welched on Grandfather and I’d always bragged I never welched on anybody. That’s how I found you out. I took back my pledge not to gamble so as not to offend Grandfather anymore, because I’ve found I can live without a lot of things except being myself. That damned party last night threw me. Between Gram hinting about my swearing, Al getting at me about being a saint and Yevy telling me I’m a deadhead—and you finishing it off with that ‘gentleman’ stuff—I quit. I didn’t see it quite that clearly until everybody pushed me but I’m not going to pretend I’m something I’m not anymore. I’m not a gentleman, I’m just me, faults and all.”

     As they looked at each other Rose saw something of her own recent thoughts and feelings reflected in his eyes.

     “You’re not the only one who’s tired of that,” she confided. “I was ready to quit too that morning I was there. I’ve wandered off, doubting a few things myself at times—and yes, I see what you mean about lying to ourselves. We both should be ashamed. I’ve had much of the same ideas myself recently, and I wish now I’d had the courage to do what you’ve just done.”

     “Well I sure understand why you didn’t,” he confessed, “Because I thought Grandfather would drop a tree on me or something, but he hit me with you instead, since you thought I was an example—a pretty bad one you shouldn’t follow. Guess that was a worse punishment. So how are we going to manage all this?”

     “I think we should stop trying to please other people and just be us,” she returned promptly.

     “Smart!” he exclaimed, “Sounds like a good start.” Then he suggested, “Let’s make a deal to replace the one I just dumped.”

     “Sounds exactly like you,” she laughed.

     “Great! I’ll bet you a box of good cigars that you can find some way to keep on practising law for the benefit of humanity while still being Shalisa Leader, and I’ll bet you just about anything else, that I can find a way to use my gambling skills for the same purpose, as well as just having fun with them, and we’ll both be happy. How about it?”

     There was a long silence as they eyed each other, considering, then she replied,

     “Sounds like I’m out two boxes of cigars, you double-speaker—and you can just damned well stop thinking that you’re the only one who’s been put upon by Grandfather. Talk about liars—when I came back here I figured I could meet the kind of standard he’d set so that I could be the kind of leader I thought he expected me to be. I even started to convince myself I could. What puffed-up conceit. I’m not like him and never will be even though I try. I have no idea why you want to reform, but stop putting your program off on me, calling me a’ goody’ all the time. Just quit backing Grandfather up by treating me like some sort of purity case and making me think I have to act that way around you too—so if you call me ‘goody’ just one more time I’ll slug you. Light me.”

     He set his cards down on the stone and took out matches, exclaiming in laughing delight as she lit up,

     “Hot damn! Seven, come eleven, I think we’re winners. I thought I had to reform to please you around here, in case you got really mad at me and told me not to come back,” then he added, “Geeze this cigar is good!”

     “Geeze!” she returned, “So’s this one. Now why don’t you and I go back up to Grandfather’s place and make peace there with this sweet grass?”

     She got a startled look from him.

     “You mean—after I’ve just welched on him I go back and—make peace? I thought I’d never be able to come here again!”

     “Why not? Grandfather and the Old Ones aren’t vindictive. It seems to me you did all the right things by ’fessing up and apologising, so go back and tell them that you’re not a lying welcher anymore and you’re not going to be again—no more pledges in future—and I’ll tell them the same and that I have to work my own way in the world—with their help of course.”

     “Damned good idea,” he agreed enthusiastically, “Sounds like you’ve got your courage up you no-goody. No yelling this time though. I think we’re in enough trouble already.”

When Grandfather and The Old Ones saw the two walk into their quiet sunlit space, wafting smoke from their cigars in all directions and looking contrite as they came, they and Breeze laughed with relief, shaking their heads at the behaviour of the younger generation as the two miscreants stood asking forgiveness there in that space of unproven existence.