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51: Penny-ante



Penny-ante may seem like a game just for fun
But sometimes at stake there is more to be won
One hundred small copper coins make up a buck
If you’re holding just ninety-nine you’re out of luck
When the bet you would make is a dollar no less
So the shortfall is something you’d better address
Small things which can fall into place where they fit
Will connect a large whole like the thumb does a mitt
And a word to the wise when it’s put in its place
Gives an unfocussed picture a wholly new face


David had been correct in his assumption that Howard would be less than alert the morning after his sailing escapade. Fearing that his brother might wake up in alcoholic confusion during the night and fall overboard looking for the head, or get himself into some other sort of trouble, TJUTELA’s skipper had slept aboard wanting to keep watch over things, but apart from the wrenching sound when the young man got up and relieved his suffering stomach of the results produced by his injudicious and ill-chosen first-aid medications, there had been no other unfortunate incident.

     TJUTELA was delighted to have David and the samoyeds aboard once again. She was thoroughly fed-up with her slothful amateur crewman. Her feelings had been hurt because she’d felt that David had deserted her, and also because he hadn’t gone down to see just what a bad scrape she had suffered while out cruising with the two young people who had treated her so badly—at least in her opinion. She wanted some comforting attention. She forgot to take into consideration that David had been told by Armand to stay ashore, not to go diving, and that the face mask he needed for the job of inspection had taken the deep six in the little bay where she had been anchored by her inexperienced crew.

     Now, resting against the old wharf where David had moved her at Armand’s suggestion so that he could keep an eye on both brothers, she felt a little mollified as David and the dogs peacefully had their breakfast on the foredeck, which had been the usual procedure on their unaccompanied sails before. David had given up trying to rouse Howard to join him, so he sat on deck enjoying his meal along with Ulf and Gurth who were doing the same with theirs.

     Morning was calm but, watching a few clouds drifting up from the southeast, TJUTELA’s skipper began to wonder if the weather just might be turning its fair face away. He finished his breakfast, had a second cup of coffee while Ulf and Gurth ate the second helpings they had asked for, then cleaned up the dishes, and said to the two,

     “Okay guys, I think we can leave Howard to take care of himself now. Let’s go see what Rose is up to.”

     Rose was up to another leisurely cup of coffee, and the two sat on the big flat sun-warmed stone in front of her house, enjoying the quiet, watching Squirrel scrambling along branches and swinging from tree to closely grown tree until the thick growth hid him from their view.

     “Busy little guy,” remarked Rose.

     “Yuh. Which reminds me I’d better follow suit. I’ve been wondering—would you let my young mechanic spend a few days here working on LEAF WINE’s engine?”

     “Of course he can,” agreed Rose, “But—I thought you were taking her back with you.”

     “Well, I’m thinking I shouldn’t try hauling her all that way. She’s only temporarily patched and the weather looks like it might be getting ready to break up. It could get dicey if that happens.”

     “You could be right—probably isn’t a good idea—in case another sogger falls for her charms again,” Rose cautioned with a laugh, recalling the emergency. “Send your young genius over. We’ll make him welcome.”

     “Great. He’s a good kid and wouldn’t give you any trouble. I think he’d enjoy it here,” speculated David. “He doesn’t get away much. Spends all his time and spare cash on his antique motorbike and an old four-by-four of a like vintage and then doesn’t have the time and money to take them anywhere. He’s already looking forward to working on this engine, and maybe a bit of a holiday to go along with it would be okay too. He and Harry can share trade secrets. If we got LEAF WINE’s engine going I could get her back home in short order then, and she’d be fixed up in no time.”

     “Sounds good. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind crashing aboard the barge, or anyone here would be glad to take him over and put him up—his choice—and I’ll get my fast patrol boat sooner.”

     “Speed demon—Vrooom! Vrooom!” accused David with a grin.

     “Absolutely,” admitted Rose, laughing with remembrance of her appreciative time sitting at the old commuter’s wheel. “As well, there’ll be no need for you to worry about her floating idly at anchor pining for time on the water, because I really do need to make my presence known on the point. Last I heard, the land poacher was making a rumble and threatening to go ahead with his building anyway, so thank you for at least trying to give us a tool to keep our eyes on things.”

     “Sounds like we’d better get at it.”

     “When are you leaving then?” asked Rose, voicing a question which had been with her for a couple of days.

     “Thursday, I think. I’ve been watching the weather forecasts and it looks like if I don’t go by then it would be better not to for awhile, but I do have to get back.”

     “Well—all good things have to come to end sooner or later.”

     There was something of a wistful silence between the two then, which each tried to hide from the other.

     “Which means, “ said David at last, “I’d better get TJUTELA into shape. I’ve been neglecting her shamefully and letting Howie have his way, which is pretty abominable where housekeeping and care of boats is concerned.”

     “He is a bit of a slacker with his responsibilities,” laughed Rose, “But—maybe we should remember what it was like to be his age—and he’ll get enough harassment when he gets older.”

     “Yeah—don’t we all,” returned David, “And we never know when we’re going to be taken out permanently, so we’d better enjoy things while we can.”

     “That hit on the head seems to have turned you into a deep thinker,” she told him with something of surprise in her voice.

     “Well it sure gave me lots to think about. There I am sailing along figuring I owned the world and wham, it sure told me who does—nobody. So while I’m still renting space in it I’d better get the boat in shape for the trip. Thanks for the coffee. I’ll go find out if Howie got up yet. See you later.”

     Howard had got up.

     When David went aboard TJUTELA he found his brother in the head wielding a pair of scissors.

     “What the hell are you doing?!” exclaimed David, getting a fleeting impression that Howard was about to stab himself.

     “Cutting my hair,” was the brief reply—and after the first snip,

     “She called me a freak—she said my hair was freaky,”—Snip! Snip!—”So okay, I’ll cut my hair off and maybe she’ll think I’m as straight and upright and boring as everybody else she knows.”

     “Hey—don’t!” protested his brother reaching out and trying to wrest the scissors away, “Quit that—leave it alone or you really will look like a freak.”

     “You sure as hell don’t look straight with all that pile of hair,” complained Howard bitterly, holding on, “How come she doesn’t call you a freak?”

     “What makes you think she hasn’t—and anyway, nobody says anything about my hair—and nobody said anything about yours either except the twins, and they only said it because they decided you should be a cool alien from outer space. Lucy didn’t mean you’re a freak. Saying something’s freaky is just her way of saying something’s different and interesting. You think it’s our hair people judge us by? Okay. Gimme the scissors—I’ll take mine off too. We’ll see.”

     Thoroughly jolted by the unexpected idea of his brother with his hair cropped off, Howard held the scissors high over his head away from David’s reach and yelled,

     “Get away! You’d look like a nerd without that compost heap on your head. Nobody would recognise you.”

     “How do you figure that?”

     “Because that’s your logo.”

     “You ass,” David told his brother, “I don’t need a logo and neither do you. People here don’t give a damn about our hair, or theirs either, or anything else like that. They don’t have to identify themselves in any way shape or form. They’re individuals in their own right and they wear their hair any way they want to. As for me—I’m used to mine—it keeps my neck and ears warm.”

     “It probably keeps your brain warm too and that’s why you’re always boiling up kooky ideas—like that barge,” came the barb.

     “That was a good idea,” protested David, “Made me a lot of money and gave the bay a community centre.”

     “Yeah, and damned near landed you in jail for a few years,” he was reminded.

     “That too,” admitted David, “You win some—you lose some. Put those damned scissors away and leave your hair alone. You live too much in the world of herd animals, following all the other sheep as they run off a cliff.

     “Try using your own head for a change. A young woman like Lucy needs to be thought about a bit. She’s grown up independent and self-sufficient, probably not so much because she wanted to but because she had to. Maybe she’d have liked to be soft and cute and selfish and slinky like the girls you know but she hasn’t had the time, and now she’s got to the point where she sees all that as silly and frivolous and she has better things to do.

     “So maybe you’d better start trying to figure what’s inside Lucy—intelligent, beautiful, and well aware that every man who looks at her is trying to grab a piece of it and she’s not into that. She has more self-respect. You should be flattered that she actually looked at you twice, never mind calling you a freak. You should hear what she’s called a few others.”

     Howard put down the scissors.

     “Probably doesn’t matter anyway,” was the observation in defeated tones, “Guess I’ll never see her again.”

     “You give up like that and it’s a certainty,” advised David. “Did she say anything like that?”

     “She didn’t have to. I know when I’m dumped.”

     “Uh huh. Well guess that’s that,” returned David, with tongue-in-cheek acceptance of the statement. “If that piddling effort is all you’re willing to put into the pot for your interest in her maybe it’s just as well. Tell you what, How. We’d better start cleaning TJUTELA up for the trip home.”

     Howard looked surprised.

     “We’re going home already?”

     “Already? Thought you couldn’t wait to get out of here.”

     “I didn’t say that,” objected Howard.

     “Oh? I kind of got that impression. Anyway, I can’t stay away from business forever. I’m getting anxious phone calls from the guys, so yeah, we have to think about heading back. Let’s start cleaning. You can just pick up all that stuff you’ve thrown around in your space—and mine. We have to be ship-shape and battened down before we take off out of here. I don’t want stuff flying around every time we hit a wave.”

     “You’re too damned fidgetty fussy,” retorted Howard.

     David gave him a hard look, telling him,

     “This is a boat. It moves. So does everything else in it and on it if it isn’t tied down and secure, including us, so we’d better start tying.”

     “Yes sir, Your Admiral Lordship,” flung back Howard as he headed back to his bunk, “Get busy and do that. Right now I need sleep. I’m so hungover I’m no good for nothin’.”

     “That’s no lie,” agreed David as he started to pick things up, “Hungover or not. Maybe you better go have a shower ashore and clean up. The hot water will be good for your bumps and bruises.”

     “Later Bro, later,” was the answer as Howard settled himself in his bunk

     “Yuh. Good ole Bro’ll do it all, as usual,” sighed David, continuing to tidy things up, and got so absorbed in his work that he didn’t see what was happening right then outside the sphere of TJUTELA’s saloon.

     Around the southern arm of the bay shot a small, swift catamaran, like a bright, quick, colourful water nymph. The man aboard was using all his sailing skills and physical power to maintain a semblance of control as Tide on the turn and Wind as companion, pleased with this bright toy which they had caught in their combined force, rushed the little boat along with them as they headed into Gap.

     Keeping his craft upright, skimming the top of the water on the edge of one hull set at a sharp angle of heel, it was a precipitous career which made it appear as though the operator was headed for certain disaster.

     To a novice observer this apparently imminent calamity would arrest the attention while the inevitable capsize was expected, but to Fitz Jolly, who stood at the stern of LEGER DE MAIN, watching the performance as the boat was thrust skimming through the Gap, the skill of the man on the rainbow-hued craft was what held his attention. He knew that the impression which all small, competently handled catamarans give to the uninitiated was that of total unthinking abandonment which must surely end in a collection of wreckage, but having tried his hand at the sport himself he also knew that the kind of skilful handling he was seeing meant that sort of outcome was not likely.

     While he watched, the little boat broke free from the grip of Wind and Tide as those two forces were dissipated a little on their entry into Bay. The mainsheet was released and the small craft dipped its airborne hull onto the water, bringing the platform to an even keel and allowing the man aboard to let up on his concentrated efforts a little.

     The skipper took this time to look around, taking note of his location, then changed course and sailed at a more leisurely pace toward the barge and JOLLY ROSE. He was as obviously as interested in the ketch as Fitz was in the catamaran.

     As he sailed close and both men looked at each other they waved and Fitz called,

     “Beautiful day for a fast sail.”

     “Sure is—faster than I expected,” came the reply as the small boat came alongside, and Fitz recognised the sailor as police sergeant Percival Winfield from the village, wearing the mini-version of a wetsuit favoured by catamaran and surfboard addicts. He couldn’t help wondering what this unexpected visitor was doing in the Bay, knowing as he did that the officer and Rose Hold were at different swings of the judicial pendulum.

     “Guess it didn’t take you long to get here from town,” he hazarded, considering the speed with which the boat had approached.

     “Not too bad,” agreed the officer.

     “Got time to come aboard?” was the invitation.

     “Rest of the afternoon and then some,” smiled Percival, “But I’m not sure if I’m persona non grata around here or not. I didn’t intend to come into the bay but the tide grabbed me and the wind added to that didn’t give me much choice. I think I’d better go make peace with Leader Hold first, if she’ll have me. Okay with you?”

     “Oh—by all means—if you have something to settle with Rose you’d better do that fast,” urged Fitz. “Come back aboard when you’re finished.”

     “Sounds great if I’m allowed to stay,” grinned Percival. “Can you tell me which house is hers?”

     Receiving directions he headed the little catamaran for shore, pulled it up on the sand and, soft-footed in his reef runners, he walked toward Rose’s house. She wasn’t in the house, but in the garden, and his quiet approach caught her unaware, as she turned to see a man in a surfboard outfit walking toward her, and was even more surprised when she saw it was Sergeant Winfield.

     “Good-afternoon Miss Hold,” he smiled. “Sorry if I startled you. I’m not here officially and I didn’t intend to trespass, but I sailed too close to the peninsula shore and got caught on the incoming flood. I’d heard the tide here was something else, but I didn’t realise that when it turned around here it acted with such force. When it ripped through your Gap it ripped me along with it—wouldn’t listen to any arguments from me either. Looks like I’m stuck for awhile until it calms down. I hope you’ll forgive my unexpected arrival.”

     “You did give me a jolt,” she admitted, “And I’m glad to hear it’s a friendly visit. Tide does get pretty swift when it comes through into the bay and it has a mind of its own, so you won’t be able to get back out for awhile. Stay as long as you like—as long as it’s unofficial.”

     “It is that,” he assured her. “I have a couple of days off and thought I’d try my new rig out. It shot me out of town and along the coast faster than I’d expected and I sure didn’t intend to wind up here, although it’s a great place to finish up a sail.”

     “Then—welcome to the home of the Shalisa,” she smiled.

     He didn’t miss the meaning of her words. This was Shalisa land and he was being accepted as a visitor here, not an officer of the law.

     “Thank you Miss Hold.”

     “We needn’t be formal here,” she suggested, “Rose will do fine. It’s nice to meet you outside of the halls of justice.”

     “It’s nice to be outside of them,” he told her. “I guess you know I’m called Percy.”

     “Oh yes, and a few other things,” she laughed.

     He rubbed his hair, laughing too, a little ruefully, and replied,

     “I’ve heard some of them. Please—not from you too.”

     “Of course not. Would you like a cup of coffee?”

     “Oh—thanks—but Fitz Jolly has already put the pot on for me—so to speak.”

     “Go enjoy yourself,” she smiled. “His coffee’s much better than mine.”

     “Thanks again for your hospitality.”

     He turned then and went back to the beach, got aboard his catamaran and headed back out to the barge, tied up to the boarding ramp and went on deck saying, as he went over to regard JOLLY ROSE who was tied alongside,

     “Sure admire this boat of yours. She’s a beauty. I’d love to have a little ship like that, but I wouldn’t dare. Soon as I got it safely anchored they’d transfer me to the middle of the continent just for spite, and you can’t sail one of these on an alkaline slough. WUTTERFLY here is the best I can do without tempting the powers that be. What I like about a catamaran is that when I get a bit of time off I can get far away in a hurry.”

     “Not a bad choice to my way of thinking,” agreed Fitz, “Care for coffee, or a beer?”

     “Beer sounds good,” accepted the visitor. “Just let me get out of this.”

     He removed his wetsuit and followed Fitz into the big room, regarding the interior with interested eyes.

     “Sure has changed since the last time I was aboard,” he commented.

     Fitz, busy at the bar getting glasses and bottles, turned in surprise.

     “You’ve been aboard?!”

     “Yeah. First I ever had to do with it was when I raided it as an illegal casino—at least I thought it was at the time. After that it became a pretty regular visit for awhile when some kids took it over to trash it and raise hell on it. Haven’t been back since then. What’s this? Home brew?” he enquired in pleased surprise, as Fitz set two glasses, and two bottles guiltless of advertising, on the table.

     “Bettina’s,” Fitz informed him.

     “Well, chimo,” Percival responded, pouring, and lifting his glass in salute. “And the health of the lady who made it too,” he added as he tasted.

     “I’ll second that,” came Fitz’s agreement.

     “Yeah,” continued Percival, “Always wanted a big boat, but, guess I should have taken up a different profession. I was born on the coast and most of my working life has been spent away from it.”

     “It’s nice that you’re finally able to enjoy it.”

     “I hope I didn’t interrupt a good game of solitaire,” said the sergeant, noticing the cards Fitz had pushed aside to make room for the beer.

     “Oh, no,” Fitz assured him. “It’s just a habit. Like smoking, which I don’t do anymore. It’s something to occupy my hands and mind while I get myself together to do something useful.”

     “Say, do you play poker?” enquired the visitor with obvious enthusiasm in his voice.

     “I’ve been known to,” smiled Fitz.

     “Great! Feel like a friendly game right now? I haven’t had a good round of poker for I don’t know how long. I guess, since Bill wrecked his back and I wound up with two buddies instead of one. Penniworth’s into jogging and frisbees, and Lawson’s idea of an exciting time is a hot and exhausting session of computer games. Whatever turns you on, I guess.”

     “Can’t leave a fellow player out in the desert,” laughed Fitz, gathering up his old deck in preparation for a game. “What’ll it be?”

     “How about penny-ante? That’s about perfect for me right now since I didn’t bring much cash with me,” laughed Percival, indicating his tee shirt and shorts, “Do you take IOUs?”

     “Well, I guess I can trust the law,” decided Fitz, “But just to keep it on the level I’ll use them too.”

     The two men laughed together, knowing that this game was just for fun.

     As Fitz was shuffling, David’s voice came from astern, calling,

     “Hoy JOLLY ROSE—anybody aboard?”

     “Here in the barge David,” called Fitz. “I’m receiving visitors.”

     “Who owns the cat?” enquired David as he came into the casino room, then stopped in startled wariness, saying, “Oh—Hi Winfield. You here to arrest somebody or—just cruising around?”

     “Haven’t seen you for some time,” was Percival’s greeting. “You done something I need to take you in for?”

     “Not lately,” laughed David.

     “Good—but you’re safe even if you have. I’m off duty for a couple of days, and this is Shalisa territory, so don’t worry.”

     “Glad to hear that, although I’ve heard of off-duty officers quickly putting themselves back on the roster if the occasion demanded.”

     “So don’t make any demanding occasions,” grinned the sergeant.

     “Mmhm—so, not today” came David’s decisive reply, then, voicing his reason for being there, “Is that catamaran yours?”

     “All mine.”

     “Nice. Maybe I could persuade you to let me take it for a spin. TJUTELA’s great, but the feeling of fending off catastrophe all the time is mostly lacking—mostly.”

     “You thrive on that do you?” suggested the officer meaningfully.

     “It does add a little spice to life, Winfield,” admitted David, “But sometimes a little goes a long way.”

     “My friends,” said the sergeant pointedly, “Call me Percy.”

     “Percy it’ll be,” conceded David, his eyes on the deck of cards in Fitz’s hands. “I sure wouldn’t want to seem unfriendly.”

     “We were just about to have a few rounds of poker,” explained Fitz, seeing the direction of his gaze.

     “Really!

     Both Fitz and Percival laughed at the surprise in his voice, and the sergeant told him,

     “Out of uniform I’m my own man as long as I don’t do anything which might disgrace me when I’m in it.”

     “There’s a difference?” enquired David, amused.

     “It’s a fine point, but it’s there,” replied the sergeant.

     “Okay—got room for a third?”

     Then, seeing a look of caution cross the officer’s face, David added,

     “Fear not, oh keeper of the laws, for I will do no cuff stuff.”

     “Actually,” enlarged Fitz, feeling David was being wrongly judged, “I understand David learned about cheating to stop other people from taking advantage of him, not the other way around.”

     “Very commendable. I’m into a bit of that myself. Think like a thief to catch a thief,” offered Percival, as something of an acceptance for the person possessing the dangerous knowledge. He also thought that anyone who owned such skill and had the integrity not to use it for his own ends had to have a few positive things going for him. “By all means, join us. The more the merrier. I guess you know how to play poker.”

     David didn’t miss the inference as he seated himself while Fitz shuffled the deck and passed it to Percival.

     “Alas, all too well,” he admitted. “As for thieves, none of those around here, I’m sure. Uh—just one thing though—no stakes if you don’t mind. It’s kind of—one of my principles,” then, seeing the laughter of disbelief rising in the sergeant’s face he added, “At least not around here.”

     Fitz and Percival digested that for a couple of seconds before the officer said,

     ”Actually, we’re just penny-ante on paper. Wouldn’t want anyone to violate his principles.”

     “Uh—can we put a hold on the pennies? I’m sure even you would admit that I’m not so contemptible that I’d cheat in a game with no stakes.”

     “Granted,” surrendered Percival. “At least until it’s proven otherwise.”

     “I’ll bet you hedge your bets,” laughed David.

     “I am a most cautious person,” he was told. “Probably why I’m still alive.”

     “I get your point,” murmured David.

     “Cut for deal,” said Fitz, wanting to deflect the direction of the conversation.

     “Your deck Fitz,” said David, having the last cut, low.

     “Help yourself to a beer,” offered Fitz as he started dealing, “And bring a couple extra while you’re at it, if you will please.”

     They were well into their game when Fitz discovered his small store of beer had run out. David, who had just folded his hand, volunteered to go and get a further supply.

     His return was nosier than his leave taking. Following him onto the barge came Shiro, Armand and Harry.

     “Had to round up a few bottles,” explained David with a grin, as they came into the former gambling hall, which was now beginning to smile and feel like the good old days had arrived again, “And after that I needed help to get it aboard. This should change the odds a bit. Anyway, I think I heard you say the more the merrier, Percy.”

     Seeing recognition in the man’s face as the officer looked at the additions he had brought to the game he remarked,

     “Guess you know all the present company?”

     “Oh yes, very well indeed!” returned the officer, as the brew delivery men deposited their load in the galley, “Old friends you might say. I miss you lot in the village. Very quiet around the place now. Where’s Bud?”

     “He’s off in the tug being good, making money—at least I think he’s being good,” Shiro told him, then offered, straight-faced, “Armand and I could come back and raise some hell if you’d like though, just to keep you in trim.”

     “Not I,” Armand backed off from the suggestion, “I have found paradise—and it seems even here I can get into enough trouble.”

     “We’re not going to discuss business,” stated Fitz with smiling friendly authority. “Percy’s here for a day off from work.”

     “That’ll be the day,” grinned Shiro.

     “Thought you were going to have a game without us did you?” enquired Harry.

     “Welcome,” laughed Fitz, “But it’s just a friendly game, or did David tell you? No stakes.”

     “Not that friendly, surely,” said Armand in disgust. “Something has to be in sight.”

     “He’s the gambler,” said Percival, indicating David, “And he set the table. We’ll keep our cards close to our chests and our hands in sight.”

     “Fagh Davey. Nothing?!” exclaimed Armand.

     “It’s one of my principles,” reiterated David.

     “Oh—gamblerholics anonymous,” hazarded Shiro.

     “Something like that,” agreed David with an embarrassed little laugh, colouring a little and keeping his eyes on the glass of beer he was pouring for Fitz.

     “It would seem he is not a decadent, immoral, unscrupulous, debauched, unrepentant law-breaker like the rest of us,” intoned Armand. “He has principles.”

     “Well,” retreated David as the laughter from that remark subsided a little, “Tell you what—maybe we could keep the penny-ante you two started with. I’ll exempt myself. If I win anything it goes back in the kitty as loose change. If I lose, I’ll pay.”

     “Sounds like penalties instead of pots,” laughed Harry, “And what do we use for betting chips?”

     “We were planning to write it down,” explained Fitz, “Since neither of us has too many pennies on us at the moment.”

     “No pockets in these,” elaborated Percival, once more indicating his tee shirt and shorts.

     “Wait a minute,” frowned David, continuing to struggle with his problem, “Will I still be gambling?”

     “Mon dieu—spare us the reformed libertine,” pleaded Armand.

     “I wish the whole world would reform,” sighed the sergeant.

     “Then you’d be unemployed,” Shiro brought it to his attention.

     “Yeah. Maybe I could start over as a fisherman.”

     “Bad swap,” Shiro advised, shaking his head. “No money, lousy hours, no pension, man-eating waters.”

     “You do make it sound horrible,” agreed the officer. “How come you stuck at it so long?”

     “Wife and kids get hungry, along with myself. Besides, there were times when I could sit around mending my nets and the world was a beautiful place.”

     “What if we consider David’s losses, if any, as a donation toward the Indigent Sogger Fund,” broke in Armand coming up with a solution, “And with pennies it can’t do much harm—or good for that matter.”

     “What a good idea—agreed,” David accepted.

     “Just how do we keep tally of all this?” enquired Harry, more concerned with the machinery of the game.

     “Would slips of paper do it?” asked Fitz. “We can just write our antes and raises on paper, like chips. You raise me five, I raise you five more, you see me and so on and we just sign the chits. I’ll get some paper and pencils.”

     “Serve the deck!” David pronounced as the implements for betting were distributed, and he reached for his refilled glass.

     “Ah ah!” reproved Armand, snatching it away from his hand, “I believe you are confined to non-alcoholic refreshments for the sake of your health.”

     “Agh—geeze—I forgot. How long does this go on for?”

     “Until you stop having headaches, at least.”

     “I think you’re giving them to me,” David returned jokingly. “Besides, I’ve already swallowed some,” then, seeing the look of concern the doctor threw him he capitulated, “Okay—sorry—where’s the juice?”

     Shiro, seeing Percival giving David’s discoloured face an interested perusal, explained,

     “It was a gamble he took with the boom aboard his boat and he lost—maybe that’s why he’s stopped gambling.”

     “Oh, bad luck,” commiserated the sergeant, “Thrice over. Bad enough getting slammed with your boat’s boom, but having to give up gambling and beer as well—how bad can things get?”

     “So don’t rub it in,” grinned David.

     “Now—David,” clarified Fitz, “You’ve agreed to stick any winnings you might have back in the pot, but if you lose you take the consequences, all this being donated to the Indigent Soggers Fund, so this arrangement exempts you from the taint of gambling—yes?”

     “Uh—What’s the Indigent Soggers Fund anyway?”

     “Let’s just say it might go for school books or something like that,” invented Fitz. “Agreed?”

     “Yes!” the pledge was confirmed.

     “Okay, let’s play,” prompted Harry.

     The game was on.

     That first hand was tight, and bluffing mushroomed immediately while players added pledges to pledges, the little pile of papers in the middle of the table grew, and the scrutinising of the dealt hands got more intense as the game progressed, the laughter became louder and the betting wilder, since nobody took pennies seriously.

     It wasn’t until close to lunchtime that the game broke up and chaos took over.

     It seemed that the chits had been somewhat hastily written out and there was much scratching of heads trying to figure who had signed their names to which bits of paper and how much was owed to whom until finally Percival suggested,

     “Think we should get an accountant? Otherwise this will take all day.”

     “It’s hopeless,” groaned Shiro, holding his head.

     “Maybe we should just hand out so many apiece,” was Harry’s equitable suggestion.

     “A real Gordian knot,” stated Armand with conviction.

     “In that case,” decided David, “I guess somebody has to play Alexander,” and reaching over the table to where Fitz was trying to solve the problem he said, “Here, let me have a look.”

     He gathered up the bundle of papers, patted them into a neat heap in a businesslike manner and then—with a devilishly delighted grin on his face, he got up, ran out the door, down the three broad steps, over to the railing and hurled the lot over the side into the water, to the accompaniment of the startled exclamations from the others.

     “Why, you RAT!” exploded Harry, into the shouts of disapproval which followed his act as they all rushed out onto the deck after him.

     “That’s downright criminal,” was Percival’s laughing condemnation.

     “We can’t let him get away with that,” complained Shiro.

     “Over the side with him,” ordered Fitz. “That’s fit punishment for such a heinous piece of work.”

     “No! No!!” protested David in mock fear through his laughter, as he ran behind Armand and tried to use him as a shield, “Tell them I’m a sick man Doc, and they can’t do this,” but there was no hope of withstanding the indignant and outraged movement in his direction.

     “Arretez—stop! He’s a recuperating invalid! You’ll cause him to have a relapse!”

     Armand’s anxious objection was completely ignored. The other four clutched at him, raised him over their heads and dropped him, struggling and protesting through his laughter, into the water with the lost pledges.

     He surfaced, gasping from the cold shock but still laughing, as he did a wobbly back stroke until he could control his breathing, then he shouted,

     “I don’t recall anyone dumping Alexander in the salt chuck,” and he swam swiftly for the TJUTELA while threats and names followed him.

     The laughter and hoots brought the children and samoyeds out onto the foredeck of ELFINSHOE to add their voices to the uproar, rooting for David because they had no idea what it was all about.

     Cries of, “Go Uncle David!” mingled with shouts of, “We forgot that wharf rats know how to swim,” and, “We should have tied an anchor to his ankle,” rang out across the water along with happy woofs, added by Ulf and Gurth just for the fun of joining into the free-for-all bedlam.

     As he climbed aboard the yawl, David yelled back, laughing as he stood in the cockpit removing his wet clothing,

     “That’ll teach you not to gamble, you decadent, immoral, unscrupulous, debauched, unrepentant law-breakers,” then he disappeared quickly below decks.

     “Got a good memory hasn’t he?” enquired Percival of the others.

     “How do you think he got to be such a good poker player?” Armand asked back.

     “Will you listen to that maniacal cackle?” snorted Shiro, as David’s laughter bounced out over the water.

     “Easy come, easy go,” shrugged Harry, good-naturedly, “And considering that most of it was recirculated by him anyway, I guess we don’t have much to complain about.”

     “I think he did me a favour,” admitted Armand, “I was down quite a few pennies.”

     “A fitting end for a farcical morning,” was Fitz’s verdict. “Time to call it quits, before we all start pushing each other overboard. Anyway, it’s lunchtime.”

     “Yeah,” agreed Harry. “I’m gonna go have a good lunch and a nap.”

     “Good idea. See you later guys,” said Shiro, then added, “And no setting nets for paper fish while we’re not looking.”

     As the poker participants departed Percival remarked,

     “I haven’t enjoyed myself like this for I don’t know how long.”

     The two men went back and collected a lunch together in the galley and Fitz asked, as they finished eating,

     “Want to stick with beer or would you like to try Bettina’s mead?”

     The latter was an innocent suggestion and it was accepted innocently, but Bettina’s mead had caught the spirit of the morning, and as they sipped the sweet liquor from Fitz’s little crystal glasses the friendly atmosphere of LEGER DE MAIN cradled Percival in a feeling of comfort, kindness and relaxation which he hadn’t experienced for some time, as he remarked with a thoughtful smile,

     “That David’s something else. Reminds me of a buddy of mine. We used to raise a lot of hell together.”

     “He’s certainly full of the devil sometimes, but he’s a good man to have around if you need one.”

     “You could be right,” agreed Percival, then after a pause, “There’s real peace here in this bay isn’t there. I used to dream about living in a place like this—kids, wife, boat. Damned near got married once, but I could tell it wasn’t going well when she started saying things like, ‘When we get a little money ahead you could quit’, or ‘You could quit right now. My father will give you a job.’

     “That was when I knew it wouldn’t work out. I didn’t want her to get torn apart trying to manage a future she couldn’t handle, so one night I told her I didn’t love her, and then I applied for transfer. I think I was right as it turned out, because she married an oil company executive and didn’t have to wait to get money ahead or have her father give him a job, and he didn’t get punched up and shot at and called obscene names half the time.

     “Guess I kind of sank my career after that, because I didn’t seem to worry about those things too much anymore. I also got into the bad habit of saying what I think and people don’t like to hear it.”

     “It does kind of get a person into trouble when they’ve been a bit indiscreet with words,” commented Fitz.

     “That’s part of it,” returned the officer, “But that came later, after I saw my buddy shot in front of my face. I’d have been taken out too, except Ted fell against me and shifted me out of range, so I got my cap blown off instead of my head. When I got my hands on the guy I wasn’t very gentle. It took the back up team to get me off him. Then before I knew it I found myself in front of some martinet, getting lectured about discipline and self-control, most of which I didn’t have much of right about then, so I said a few things which had been on my mind for awhile.

     “Got a nice long holiday out of that one. Police brutality, insubordination. Interesting thing—he didn’t mention the brutality of my buddy getting killed. That goes with the territory. We get paid for that, don’t we? I almost quit then, but the only way they’ll get rid of me now is if they kick me out, or I retire with a pension, or I go out to the tramp of dress boots doing the dead march.

     “Sergeant is as far as I go. It’s damned difficult sometimes. I can never be one of the boys, and the elite have shut me out. I’m a go-between. Not much doing in the area of friends either. Go out for an evening and as soon as they hear you’re a peace officer a sudden invisible wall goes up. Can’t see it, but it hurts just as much when you run into it. The attitude is—’Watch your mouth around this guy’. It sure gets me sometimes when I’d just like to be treated the same as anybody else but—this is what I am, and this is what I do, and I’m good at it.”

     Percival was silent then, and Fitz let the morning stay that way, while they watched Sun ducking a cloud and there were the sounds of subdued voices and quiet laughter from shore, until the sergeant remarked,

     “Boy, I think I’ve really tied one on. I’m, running off at the mouth, and that’s a no-no with me. What’s in this stuff anyway?”

     “Lots of bottled sunny summer days and happy memories, I’m told,” smiled Fitz.

     “I thought there had to be something sentimental in it. I’m getting maudlin. Sorry about that.”

     “Don’t apologise. I guess we’d better pack it in before I start, and we wind up crying on each other’s shoulders. I got broken up by a lady once too. Never forgot it after all these years. Let’s have a potful of coffee to straighten us up.”

     “Good idea,” accepted Percival, “And maybe I’ll go walk it off later—get in shape for the sail back to the village.”

- - -

WUTTERFLY was being readied for the return from the bay and Percival Winfield was getting into his wetsuit when David walked down to the beach asking,

     “Need a hand for launching?”

     “Oh, thanks,” he accepted, “She is a bit high on the sand. Sorry I didn’t get the chance to let you try her out.”

     “Hey, not to worry. Maybe some other time. Hope you enjoyed your day off. I sure did.”

     “If you can’t enjoy a day here there’s not much around which will brighten up your life,” smiled Percival.

     “For sure. It certainly has a hold on my sensibilities as a place for relaxed tranquillity.”

     “Rose Hold is really getting it back into a live area like I was told it once was—houses all fixed up, gardens and everything.”

     “Yeah, they sure do get a lot of good green stuff growing here,” laughed David as he helped to carry the catamaran toward the water.

     The sergeant looked directly at David then, and said,

     “I met your young brother while I was walking off my beer. He seems to be enjoying some of the green stuff himself.”

     Not quite sure what Howard and Percival might have talked about David offered,

     “Well, he let’s everybody else do the work and he enjoys the results. He’s not into growing things back home.”

     “Undoubtedly, good for him,” came the answer, accompanied by a little laugh as Percival asked, “Is that a new leaf you’ve turned over—gardening?”

     “I am pretty good at that,” admitted David, deciding to ignore the dig and thinking of his grandmother’s garden, “And I help things out around here when I come. Weeds grow like a sonovva gun around here. Gotta keep everlastingly at it. Everybody needs a hand with their crops. I have a green thumb with that stuff.”

     He thought he got a surprised look before Percival replied,

     “Well, just as long as the results of your efforts are confined to Shalisa Creek Bay I guess you and your brother can get away with your blundering efforts,” and then, as he took the tiller and WUTTERFLY sailed free he finished with, “Didn’t know Rose Hold was much of a gardener that way but—what she does here is her own business—thanks for the help and the fun morning.”

     “See you around, no doubt,” grinned David, as he waved Percival away.

     He stood for awhile, amused with the thought that the sergeant figured he had reformed to such an extent that he’d been reduced to the point of planting vegies for something to do, as he watched the colourful little boat until it went through the Gap and out of sight, then he returned to TJUTELA where she sat at the deep end of the wharf.

     He was checking his jeans and tee-shirt where he’d hung them over the starboard lifelines to dry when he saw Rose coming alongside in BRIGHT LEAF.

     “Hi David,” she called, softly, “May I come aboard?”

     “Sure, glad to have you,” he called back.

     “I saw them toss you in the water while I was out for a paddle,” she told him as she came onto the boat, “So I thought I’d better check to make sure you didn’t feel too rejected.”

     “That’s nice of you,” he smiled, “But it was all in fun. Come on below. I’m just making some hot chocolate to go with an afternoon snack. Want to join me?”

     “Thanks, I’d like that,” she accepted, giving her attention to Ulf and Gurth, who had returned from their rambling to ensure that they didn’t miss lunch.

     “Want it spiked? I’m putting something in mine to ward off a chill—but don’t tell Armand or I’ll get hell. I haven’t had a drink for so long I’ve forgotten what it tastes like, never mind not playing my flute. I admit I’d do that too except he’d hear.”

     “I gather you’re feeling totally yourself again.”

     “You betcha! Sure feels good to be me again,” he assured her. “Brandy?”

     “Yes please. I guess the water was cold.”

     “Not bad as long as you don’t stay in too long.”

     “I’m glad the bum’s rush didn’t leave any permanent scar—if any impression at all.”

     “Hey! Bums know how to handle all kinds of rushes. That was an easy one.”

     “I won’t go into that. What did they pitch you in for?”

     “They didn’t like the way Alexander the Great solved a problem,” was his laughing explanation.

     “Oh—you did something outrageous I gather, Mister Great?”

     “They thought so. I thought it was a pretty good solution. We were playing penny-ante poker on paper and at the end of it nobody could figure out who had signed what, or how much was owed to which, so I just dumped the lot overboard.”

     The look on her face made him say hastily,

     “Don’t look at me like that. I wasn’t gambling. If I won I put it back in the pot. I told them right from the start that I didn’t gamble here.”

     “Oh, I see—not here.”

     He got the smile which he had said could melt a polar  icecap as she told him,

     ”Thank you for that. Grandfather would be pleased and so am I. From what you’ve said it sounds like you won a bunch of nothing at all.”

     “Mostly, except a lot of fun.”

     “That little laugh of yours makes me think that the others got taken for quite a lot of pennies, and you must have pushed a bunch back into the pot.”

     “You play poker and drink and you forget what you’re doing—or rather—they did. I wasn’t drinking. Doctor’s orders,” then he corrected, “Well—I snuck one because I forgot, in the excitement of the moment.”

     “Like you’re doing now.”

     “Oh no. This is purely medicinal.”

     “Okay,” she agreed, “You go ahead and medicate yourself and I’ll just be a pig and enjoy it.”

     “You got a deal.”

     “How much did Howie lose paddling among you sharks?” she asked, laughing at the thought of the young man trying to hold his own against such a formidable group.

     “Nothing. He was asleep aboard here—hungover from yesterday—so he didn’t join in. He took off somewhere while I was on the barge. Probably went to scrounge lunch from Bettina. Think he’s gone off for a walk to commune with nature and tell himself what an idiot he is.”

     “Don’t be so hard on him,” advocated Rose with an accompanying smile of sympathy for Howard. “Broken hearts are for real when you’re that young.”

     “I’m not being hard, just realistic,” David denied the charge. “Bet he’ll have it mended the minute we leave here and he starts thinking about his old girlfriend Jan. One cell phone call along the way and he’ll be whistling all the way home—and who said they’re not real when you’re older?”

     “Guess I can’t comment on that since I have no experience in the latter field. Could be we all take ourselves too seriously when we get older. Maybe we should just have a go at some pot like he did yesterday and get a little more laid back.”

     She was unprepared for the shocked look he gave her.

     “He’s smoking pot?!

     “Oh oh—have I snitched on somebody?” she retreated, surprise in her voice. “I thought you surely knew. He was so delightfully gone when he came back from his sailing jaunt.”

     “That little beggar!” exploded David. “I go to all the trouble of hauling him here to get him away from that smoking and snorting scene so he could meet some real people and the first opportunity he gets he goes and picks some more stuff up in the village!”

     “I thought you knew,” Rose told him again, “I mean—the air was pretty thick around him, and it wasn’t just the smell of what he’d swallowed from the bar aboard.”

     “Well my sense of smell has been a bit off from that whack I got,” he informed her. “I just knew that the boat smelled like something I didn’t want it to. My nose seems a bit more normal now since it’s somewhat like its usual shape, so guess it’ll get sniffing properly again soon, but—thanks Rose. I’ll deal with him.”

     “Hope I haven’t caused a family row,” Rose returned, feeling a little guilty.

     David gave her a grin and told her,

     “Okay, for your sake I’ll try not to make a row—and I won’t mention your name. Maybe one slip up can be forgiven with just a few frowns, sort of.”

     Hearing that remark, Rose argued with herself as to whether she should tell him she had smelled the weed on Howard before. She decided that she should leave it alone since David now knew that his brother was doing something he disapproved of. It hadn’t occurred to her that David’s reason for bringing Howard to the Bay had been because of drugs, nor that he wouldn’t have been able to smell it on his brother. She herself hadn’t wanted to interfere, seeing that Howard didn’t use it around the children or anyone else.

     She finished her chocolate and got up to leave. David followed her out to the cockpit where she stood leaning on the railing watching Sun touching Sea, turning it all to liquid silver.

     “Look at that sun on the water,” she directed his attention, “It looks so fascinating and inviting this way—it just grabs me totally, waving and rippling and shining like that.”

     “That’s our poker game treasure dissolving there, making it that colour,” he laughed, regarding the silver sheen.

     Somewhere in the trees a varied thrush trilled, a salmon jumped near the wharf, telling them that a seal was on the hunt, and the quiet, glistening waters spread away to tint the sand of the beach with the same colour.

     Leaning against the bulkhead, David switched his eyes from the water to the light the sun was shining around Rose’s hair, and he thought of what had prompted him to take this trip to the Bay—sun dancing on the water, butterflies in a love tryst, their colours flashing and whirling with their wings, oblivious of everything around them, their concentration solely for themselves and the joy of the moment.

     The longer he looked at her the more the memory of that moment returned and the more he got into it himself, until she turned while his feelings were wide open in his face. He jerked his gaze quickly away and looked back at the water hoping she hadn’t seen that glance. Apart from the fact that he knew he looked something less than pleasing to view, this was not the butterfly moment he had conjured up in his mind when he’d abandoned business so precipitately for a vacation.

     He censored himself.

     “The water sure does look inviting,” he told her, stepped away from her with determination, ordering the two samoyeds to, “Stay fellows,” then climbed over the lifelines and dove into the water.

     “David! You fool! What are you doing?” called Rose, in shocked surprise, keeping her voice down in the hopes that it wouldn’t carry too far, as she leaned over a stanchion and watched him treading water. “Once today is enough. You’ll give yourself a headache again. Come back aboard.”

     “Hot today. Just cooling off. Water’s great. Care to join me?”

     “You silly donkey! You’ll catch pneumonia. Get up here!”

     “Not just yet.”

     “Oh—you are a stupid idiot! Armand was right. Your brain has been addled.”

     Rose turned, went quickly down the stern ladder, stepped into BRIGHT LEAF and as she released the painter she found David hanging on the bow.

     “Sure you won’t come in? Guess you don’t need cooling off.”

     “No I don’t! Let go! You exasperating, irrational, preposterous, absurd... .”

     She spluttered and ran out of invectives.

     He gave her an exaggerated grin and setting his chin on his hands, presented the appearance of a bodiless head bobbing up and down on BRIGHT LEAF’s bow.

     Rose took her paddle, end-for-ended it, set the handle firmly against his chest and pushed, pronouncing as he fell back into the water,

     “You’re as mad as a mischievous spirit. You need to go soak your head.”

     As she swung the canoe for shore, David did a dolphin dance alongside for a few moments and then turned back to TJUTELA, feeling the cold reaching into him.

     “Saved for the moment,” he murmured to himself, as he scrambled quickly aboard.

     Yanking off his clothes, he threw them over the lifelines alongside the other set, ran below, grabbed a towel and quickly dried himself off. He lit the stove under the kettle and scrabbled in a locker until he found a warm sweat suit, got quickly into it and then invited Ulf and Gurth, as he seated himself at the table,

     “Come on fellows, cram up here and keep me warm, or hypothermia will claim me before I die of unrequited love.” He snuffled and added, as he hugged them where they sat, one on either side of him, “Maybe pneumonia too. You know, this new way of gambling isn’t half bad. I get the bang out of it and nobody gets hurt. Oops! Did I say gambling? Let’s change that to playing. You know, I think I’ve put one over on her, and I didn’t intend to, and she doesn’t even know it.”

     Ulf and Gurth looked pretty sceptical.

     “Aw come on! Are you guys on her side too?” he enquired. “Who can a man trust? Ah, I know. At least I have one friend who hasn’t fallen under her enchantments. What do you think Bjorn? Sorry you have to keep hiding behind that cushion.”

     Of course Bjorn agreed with David. If a man’s teddybear won’t agree with him he is in trouble.

     “Geeze—I damned near blew it,” he continued. “That’s not the way I want it to be—crash, bang, out of control. What was it Li said? ‘Fragile things must be handled with infinite care.’ “

     He sat quietly for a few moments considering, then asked himself,

     <So how the hell do you want it? Waiting for the right moment? You’ve already trashed a few. Why don’t you just let it happen instead of trying to arrange it? Maybe I’ve been handling it too carefully. Okay. Scared stiff she’ll kick me in the teeth and tell me to get lost. Agh! You’re an idiot like she said. That’s how she sees you. Shut up and make yourself a cup of something hotter than you are in her view.>

     Deciding he’d already broken enough of Armand’s restrictions he settled for a cup of mint tea.

     Like David, Rose also sat musing to herself. Sitting by her front window, looking out toward TJUTELA, a mug of coffee in her hand she asked herself,

     <What did he mean—’Hot today. Just cooling off’?—jumping in with all his clothes on? What was it Armand said about he might be a bit disoriented? At this late date? Surely he’d be over that stage by now. Was he really looking at me that way or am I getting into wishful thinking? Like that time when we were coming back from the little pond. I thought—I shouldn’t think. I’m just his lawyer. He keeps saying that all the time, as if to remind me where I stand. He came here this time to get his brother away from trouble, not to see me—oh damn! I think I’m getting too steamed up about the whole thing. I should have jumped in with him and cooled off.>

     Sun carried on playing with Sea as a man and a woman sat gazing at the show from different directions, neither knowing what the other thought, and both afraid to find out in case they did and it wasn’t what they wanted.

     David, sitting there thinking about his ruined holiday, sighed and turned his mind to the conversation he’d just had with Rose, going over her remark about Howard smoking pot. Then it occurred to him that the talk he’d had with Percival Winfield as they’d launched the catamaran seemed a bit odd—certainly in this context—about green stuff and growing things.

     <I didn’t pay too much attention at the time but, what was it he said about Howard enjoying the green stuff? And the way he looked at me. Was that damned fool sucking on a twist when he met Percy? What did he say about growing it—is that a new leaf—gardening? Didn’t know Rose Hold did that kind of—gardening? You and your brother blundering—?>

     David sat with his hands around the mug of tea, and the more he remembered the conversation and thought about it, the angrier and more concerned he got, so that by the time Howard came aboard he was fuming.

     “Hi, “ greeted Howard as he came down the companionway. “I’m kind of hungry. Got anything left from lunch?”

     “Well I hate to ruin your appetite but—Percy Winfield told me he met you along the way today.”

     “Yeah, he did,” replied Howard, a bit puzzled by the strange direction of the conversation. “Nice guy.”

     “Did you have a joint in your face at the time?”

     The question jolted Howard. Since David hadn’t said anything about this before he had assumed that he was getting away with it. Now it seemed that the new acquaintance he’d made while on his walk had a big mouth and had given him away to Big Brother. He retreated behind silence as a best defence.

     “I trusted you with the boat. I didn’t think you’d go into the village and pick up pot the minute you got the chance,” came the accusation. “Have you got any more on you?”

     Howard knew he had been caught out. He decided he’d better say yes and give up the twist he had in his shirt pocket along with some mint. Plainly, it seemed, David didn’t know where his stash came from.

     “Yeah.”

     “Let’s have it,” ordered David, holding out his hand.

     Howard handed it over in silence.

     “Mint huh? Thought you could hide it with that?”

     Up to this point Howard thought he’d been doing a pretty good job.

     “Got any more hidden around here?”

     The question caught him off guard and the guilty look in his face let David know there was more.

     “Okay. I’ve respected your privacy while you’ve been aboard, and the forepeak has been your space, but I’m not putting up with this.

     While the young man watched in alarm David got up, went to the forepeak and began pulling everything apart—until he came across the bag of Howard’s harvest.

     He turned around, holding it out.

     “Where the hell did you get this much?!” he asked, amazed, genuine concern in his voice. “Who else knows about this? Lucy?”

     Still unwilling to reveal his source, or to involve Lucy because he’d given her some, Howard came up with a half-truth.

     “No. Percy, that’s all. I was having a smoke and he came along and I offered him a drag, but he said no because he had to get back to the village in one piece, and he asked me where I got it so I told him it just grew wild around places.”

     David was dumbfounded. He stared at Howard, bag in hand.

     “You told him it grows here?! In the Bay?”

     “I didn’t say here—I said ‘around’. I didn’t want to tell him where I got it. Somebody would have got in trouble.”

     David’s voice expanded in volume.

     “You shilly sit! You bet someone’s in trouble. That man’s a cop! The one who ran me in on the gambling charge. No wonder he was saying those things to me before he left. Do you know what you’ve done?! You’ve made him think Rose Hold is running a grow op. You’ve made every one of the people who live here come under suspicion of growing pot and selling it. Every time they go into town he’ll be watching them. He’ll be watching the kids. Now he thinks I’m growing stuff here for them. He’ll probably hit us with the police boat as soon as we’re out of Shalisa waters when we leave here. If there’s even a smidgeon of this aboard they can confiscate TJUTELA and throw the two of us in jail for some good long time.”

     Howard was as horrified about this revelation as his brother was about the discovery of the bagful.

     “I didn’t know who he was,” he protested, “I thought he belonged here and just wanted some himself. You were all playing poker together when I looked in. How was I supposed to know?”

     “Damn it, you no-brained moron, couldn’t you stay away from the stuff—at least here?

     Bag in hand, David headed for the companionway and went out on deck.

     Armand and Fitz, having a glass of wine on the stern deck of the barge, had been hearing loud voices from the TJUTELA but, apart from exchanging a couple of questioning glances, they hadn’t paid too much attention. They’d heard David and Howard arguing before. Now they watched with growing interest as they saw David dumping a large bagful of what looked like chaff over the railing into the water.

     “What on earth do you suppose is going on aboard the TJUTELA?” asked Armand with a laugh of surprise.

     “It looks like a mini-version of the Boston Tea Party,” suggested Fitz humorously, “Except this time it’s the captain of the ship throwing the goods over the side while the rogues protest.”

     “We should have more captains like that,” applauded Armand. “If they’d all throw the over-taxed useless goods off the ships before we got to it we’d be better off. We could then spend what money we have on wonderful local production and food, like wise old Benjamin Franklin suggested to his people so long ago.”

     “Yeah, but who listened,” muttered Fitz into the monologue as Armand continued,

     “Then we could barter for what we can’t pay for. Perhaps at that point the ship-of-state might get the idea and stop taxing the derrière off the poverty-stricken populace.”

     “Doubt it,” mused Fitz. “Then they’d start taxing us for having a glass of home-made wine.”

     “They’ve already tried that,” laughed Armand. “Didn’t work. Couldn’t enforce the law against home-brewing. Too many home-grown products, like berries carrying their own resident microbes, carefully stored away for future use in large containers, accidentally turning to wine which of course we didn’t want, and sugary things like malt mistakenly mixed with hops and water, unfortunately getting infected with little wild yeasts which are all around us, and they then proceed to do their own thing, converting their environment into a sea of bubbly alcohol, thereby doing themselves happily in. We peasants have to eat something, so we eat whatever we have around, whether spoiled by ferment or not.”

     “Don’t express that opinion on the soapbox at the Rascals,” advised Fitz, “Or they’ll cart you off for inciting-to-happily-self-destruct.”

     “Is there such a charge?” queried Armand. “Then we must pretend to be unhappy. Pass the wine please, but don’t smile while you’re doing it. I’m in enough trouble with the law already.”

     “Bonne santé, Armand?” asked Fitz with irony, raising his glass and his eyebrows.

     “Bon vin, untaxed!” returned Armand. “Our health is our own, to do with as we please.”

     “I wouldn’t count on it. I think they’re even arguing about that now,” came the sceptical rejoinder.