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2: A pretty sure bet

At times when the stake in the game’s running high
And you’re just about tasting that pie-in-the-sky
While you’re holding two kings and a trio of aces,
Your eyes, deftly searching the circle of faces
Tell you four or an ace high can flush your glow cold,
Can give you the lumps while they pocket the gold,
It’s better to fade, fold, retire and forget
Than to gamble your all on ‘a pretty sure bet’...

But that wouldn’t be any fun, would it now?

Go ahead, play your hunch, ride the crest, take the chance,
You can always ship out on that freighter for France.
They’re showing...
Not his...and not his...
Is it me?
Just one to my right.
Turn your hand down—let’s see—!

You win some—you lose some

Sitting in his office with his feet on the deskLike hundreds of others of her kind, the barge in Shalisa Creek Bay had been built sturdy, conforming, unremarkable, painted with the colours and name of the company which had bought her, and put to immediate use along the coast, being towed in and out of difficult and isolated places like the one from which the logging operation owning her had taken its name, Shalisa Creek.

     While the lumber industry had been healthy, tubby tugs with log-booms in tow had regularly navigated the notorious Gap, helmed by captains who had quickly learned how to get on the good side of the Guardian of the Bay. With the skill of seasoned seamen, and using generous amounts of appropriate language to ease them through dangerous situations, pouring it like oil on troubled waters, they came and went, mostly unscathed. They were as robust in their association with Sea as was Guardian and she liked their attitude of watchful familiarity.

     Those captains who had signed contracts generally got paid for their efforts if the company they worked for didn’t go broke before the towboat reached its destination.

     The independents, who wanted nobody in charge of the helm but themselves, argued over price and payment as they went, backing up their arguments with the occasional addition of that kind of persuasion called laying-on-of-hands, their own and, sometimes when necessary, that of their crew. Keeping one eye on Weather and the other on Tide, contractors and free--handers relayed a harvest of raw logs to market, liberally dispensing as bakhshish, lost booms and the tree bark from them up and down the coast.

     The bark floated free from any and all logs. The logs themselves were not supposed to know such liberty, but storms had a habit of tearing things loose and then valuable chunks of timber would charge about like troops of wild horses just escaped from a holding corral, to the joy of log salvers who made their living rounding them back up again for a fee, until hard times hit the lumber industry and the company which owned the Shalisa Creek operation went broke, along with others, and was forced to sell out.

     One of the bidders who attended the subsequent sheriff’s auction of the company’s assets was a man of whom it was said, that he could turn dirt into gold.

     There were other things said of him which were not so nicely put, usually by people who didn’t know how to make gold or how to hang on to it when they got some.

     Their main criticisms seemed to be that he had too lively an imagination as an ingredient in his recipe for gold making, and that his inclination was more than inclined where gambling was concerned.

     True enough that his imagination was a thing of beauty, and his gambling bent didn’t confine itself to business ventures alone but, from long familiarity, had sidled down to settle contentedly into the very grain of his being.

     These two flaws seemed to offend people greatly, although neither was of any immediate or even remote threat to themselves. Possibly they hated to see what they considered sin prospering so gleefully in their sight, or it might have been that same very happiness which got at them, since most of them could be heard complaining daily about the inoperative vehicles they had just purchased, the new houses which began shedding shingles in a light breeze just as the ownership title was completely registered, the new boat already dissolving in the water before the paint was dry on the name, or about any other number of expensive acquisitions calculated to keep people satisfied but which somehow never got around to doing just exactly that.

     Worse, the man managed to turn what were labelled as his most prominent vices to his definite advantage every chance he got, and here was one opportunity seen which he was not going to pass by.

     Well aware that he wasn’t the only member of the human race with the delicious and exciting quirk of chance-taking in his nature, he’d decided that his fellow gamblers should have a place in which to indulge their taste for this kind of amusement at least part of the year without the harassment of those who disapproved of such entertainment, the laws of that space in time holding that public gambling was considered a crime.

     This last fact was rumoured to have been construed by small minds as meaning that no one in government had quite yet figured out how to make such activity controllable and acceptable in the eyes of the electorate so that it could be used as a large and profitable tax base, much like liquor and tobacco and all those other disgusting and taxed peccadilloes with which the public indulged itself, but they were sure somebody in the bureaucracy was working on it.

     This particular untaxed gambler bargaining for a barge at Shalisa Creek Bay hadn’t taken his philosophising on the subject quite that far.

     Perhaps if he had his future might have been drastically different.

     At the moment he simply wanted to have fun in a friendly card game without getting caught and being accused of corrupting the world.

     It wasn’t so much the money involved which interested him. He was addicted to the skills which went with the breaking out of a deck, from the first graceful shuffle through the mental gyrations of the play to the last show of hands. To him it was an art and, in his mind, art in any form he chose to enjoy it was none of the government’s damned business.

     The idea for making it less so had come to him one rainy morning as he sat in his office with the heels of his worn canvas topsiders propped comfortably on his old oak desk, his ankles crossed over each other, while he tilted himself back, rocking in his big swivel chair which was also old and oak, padded with well-nourished cushions.

     The two pieces of furniture were a combination he loved well. He’d found the matched set some years before in a second-hand-junk store where the finish on everything displayed for sale had consisted of dust and the neglect and abuse former owners had lavished on this collection of stock-in-trade.

     The proprietor of the shop was in the same condition as his goods, but the prospective buyer had found that under the wrinkled crust of many years there was a man who was easy to do business with. A chair was a chair to him. A desk just that. They all had four legs, or most of them still did when they got to him, and the price varied more by the whim of the seller than from any other scale, except perhaps size.

     He bought cheap and sold at what he considered a good profit for himself. Many and varied were the genuine antiques which had passed through his hard-worked hands at a knock-down price to poverty-stricken customers who were equally as unknowing or uncaring and who would add still more dark tempera to the article’s finish before it fell apart from additional misuse and was eventually thrown away as utterly unsalvageable, lost forever to the world of money which treasured such things as being worth more than something new.

     On this fateful day his uncommitted customer was one of those who, early in his business career, had fallen into the habit of wandering around second-hand shops, not at that time from the astute idea that he might find valuable goods under dirt, but because he had no money left for setting up after paying for his newly acquired office, which itself had been through so many hands that he was having difficulties trying to trace its obscure history.

     It was being reticent about divulging the extent and type of its travels and experiences. Old floating shacks tend to be that way.

     Undeterred by this uncommunicative attitude, the youthful tyro had taken his waterborne premises which displayed a determined preference for a logy tilt to starboard and still reeked of the fish bait, diesel fuel and gasoline which had previously been dispensed therefrom, and moored it at the mortgaged piece of rundown commercial waterfront property he had just purchased to set up a marine repair ways and marina, and also as an investment with a view to future corporate expansion.

     “He does not have money,” said Yu Ching Li, who had arranged the mortgage and leased at a bargain price the first berth let by the new venturer, “But he does have a certain kind of original style which will not disappoint me. His grandmother knows how to play mah jong and has taught him well.”

     As practise for incoming business he had patched up the leaky platform, pumped it out, cleaned it, painted it colourfully with verve and flair, tied back his unruly, long, golden-brown curls and gone looking for furnishings.

The floating office

- - -

The desk seemed massive and the chair looked sturdy as he studied them through the streaks of rained-over grime on the window of the untidy shop. He went in through the open door and sat in the chair, found that it didn’t creak, had ample room for expansion should he do that along with his business, and that he could also use it as a rocking chair.

     He liked that.

     Swinging his feet up onto the desk he landed them in the future which had him portly and prosperous, smoking expensive cigars and making big deals as he rocked happily back and forth, while a couple of busy telephones, a computer and a fax machine nearby vied for his attention.

     Laughing inside at that, he set his feet back on the floor and got out of the chair.

     <Cigars, okay—portly, no.>

     He banged on the desk with his fist and wished he hadn’t.

     “Solid,” intoned the proprietor of the assaulted goods, while the assaultee tried to hide his wince with a smile, “Very solid.”

     Since he knew a little about wood, the furniture prospector took a mental excursion beneath its thick coating of questionable ingredients, which was mostly the colour black, that choice of pigment being ever popular with the printers who had set it there when leaning their ink-anointed hands on the chief’s desk while awaiting approval of the latest project just pulled from the proof press.

     What he had seen after he’d undressed it in his mind and given it a delicate finishing sandpaper massage, had come out as solid oak, glowing golden and nakedly honest. He imagined the tactile sensation of rubbing his hands over the newly exposed satiny wood.

     <Great stuff!>

     In his young mind the customer thought its large bulk and many drawers were just the thing to impress other businessmen. He was taken with the rows of pigeonholes and small drawers in the hutch along the back of it.

     He saw quite clearly his own letters and notes, paper clips and trivia appear, stuffed into those empty spaces, and a mug of coffee and a big ashtray sat themselves on the desk top, now clean and smooth, along with a bowl of flowers fresh from Gram’s garden scattering petals and pollen and a few animated and colourful bugs on everything to counteract all that seriousness.

     <It would be wonderful to have, but... .>

     While he hesitated he yanked open all the larger drawers for something to do. They slid out swiftly and silently. That surprised him. They were supposed to stick. They should have been stuck after all those years of use and disuse. He wished they’d been jammed just a little bit so that he’d have had something to work on as a bargaining chip if he should be foolish enough to make an offer but didn’t want to appear too eager. They all had locks which looked like they might work too. Brass locks, like the ornate inset brass drawer pulls. This was quality workmanship.

     Thinking that their spaciousness would accept his few papers and files condescendingly and promptly lose them somewhere at the back, he closed the last drawer, then tried the chair again, although he had now decided against buying because he felt sure he couldn’t afford it, got up, slid the rolltop on the desk down, and after a couple of wistful parting glances began drifting toward the door.

     <That would cost too much. I don’t have that kind of money. Maybe something can be built on the cheap.>

     He looked at an old, intricately wrought wicker wastepaper basket on his way out and found the proprietor hovering helpfully beside him.

     “Nice basket. You got good taste. Give you a good deal on that there desk too.”

     “Uh—I’m not sure it’ll fit in my place. It’s kind of big.”

     The man took him at his word and empathised. The damned thing was a huge pile of deadwood. He was forever banging his thighs on its sharp corners. It still sat exactly where it had been deposited after he’d bought it from the estate sale of a printing house a year before, and he couldn’t move it any which way. It was always in the road. He’d pushed and shoved, but it wouldn’t budge. It was as weighty and unyielding as the elephantine linotypes which had once banged and fumed away with the rest of the ponderous equipment at the back of the old establishment it had come from.

     Outdated. Even he knew that. He should never have bought it. Household furnishings were his line—except—it had been a bargain.

     “A man should always have room for a bargain,” came his suggestion, man to man.

     He had observed the customer walk in and go directly to the desk. The scrutiny given to the furniture had been no idle glance. He knew genuine interest when he saw it. This kid had nibbled and he didn’t want him to get away. Maybe he could palm this space-hogging liability off at last.

     “Tell you what. Twenty-five for the chair and...,” he paused for effect, as though seriously considering how little he could let it go for, “Say, seventy-five for the desk.”

     The young mark was stunned into disbelieving delight. This old horsetrader didn’t know his horses.

     “Uh—oh, I really think it’s too big. I don’t know.”

     While his heart thumped eagerly he went with slow and pretended reluctance back to the old desk. He made a show of measuring it, using his big, long-fingered right hand to tell off its length as though he knew exactly what space he had and was just getting a rough idea of what this would need.

     “Don’t think so,” came his assessment, full of negativism.

     “Twenty and sixty-five and you can kick out a wall to make room at that price, or saw a piece off it even.”

     The budding businessman bought with doubtful looks and a joyous heart, uncaring that the weight of the thing might carry the new patches on the leaky platform of his office under water. Then, regarding the money left in his wallet, he said,

     “Maybe I should take that wicker wastepaper basket too.”

     It was his undoing. He got took on that one.

     “Five bucks.”

     He unstuck the money from his fingers because he didn’t want to feel like a robber about the other two items.

     The proprietor congratulated himself on his good luck. He’d only paid twenty bucks for the lot and some other stuff with it.

     Two happy businessmen parted with a satisfied handshake and grave and unruffled faces after making arrangements for removal of the burdensome prize. Desk and chair in the second-hand shop

Later thoughtful consideration of the office space had placed the desk and chair right where a view of the waterfront could be had. The computer had quickly been added to the necessities for a viable operation. The fax machine idea had been dispensed with. The young owner had found that he valued his peace and quiet more than he needed contact with other businessmen because most of them seemed to be in the business of passing bad jokes around via fax, and the paper was expensive. Besides, his computer could handle that, if necessary. There were two telephones, but one spent all its time recording messages and the other snugged itself into any convenient pocket he might be wearing. Business was great, but he wanted to be in control. Scheduling was not an orderly ongoing affair. He made the appointments. Things got done when he did them, not before and not after.

     Now, rocking himself soothingly to and fro while he enjoyed a day old newspaper scrounged from Yu Ching Li, a mug of coffee and a cigar, as a vase of winter jasmine fought with the smoke, contesting which one should scent the air the most, and Tide spoke quietly to Gull outside his door, the older and wiser owner of the satiny golden oak desk and the chair which he had not yet filled with himself, scanned the business section, passed over stock market quotations which he never bothered with and went on to read an article which held forth in bad type and worse prose the news that yet another logging company had gone bankrupt.

     It wasn’t that article, but an advertisement announcing the auction of the very same company’s assets which really got his attention. To go on the block were trucks, skidders, bulldozers, heavy equipment, related paraphernalia, dozer boats, barges... .

     The rest of it didn’t really register. His imagination got snagged on ‘barges’. Then on the singular of that concept—just one barge. To be specific, his barge, loaded with happy people. Happy people loaded with money, and willing to part with some of it for a little honest fun. That is to say, it was honest in his mind and intentions.

     He chewed on the idea along with his cigar all morning, and by lunchtime he’d interested himself enough in it that he wanted to bounce it off somebody else, so when he set out for a restaurant around noon he was heading for one which he knew would hold a fellow poker player, whom he found when he went in, sitting alone with empty ears.

     “Hi Li. Are you expecting anyone or may I join you?”

     Yu Ching Li looked up and smiled.

     “David! Please—sit down. I’m alone today. How’s your grandmother?”

     “Happy as your sister must be today,” came the reply as the man seated himself at Li’s table, pushing his waves of hair back from his face. “The two of them were at it again last night.”

     “That pair!” The older man shook his head with a laugh. “If they were in business we’d be in trouble.”

     “Good thing they’re on our side. Seems they cleaned out their fellow bridge players at the monthly tournament again.”

     “I don’t know why the rest keep on tangling with them,” pondered Li, smiling. “They continue to lose their little hoards of change to our ladies. We should warn them what they are up against.”

     “It’s not the money. They give it all to their needy causes and it saves them from always trying to weasel a few bucks out of tightly controlled purses. It’s the high, like us I guess, and maybe we’d better just keep our mouths on hold. As you say, take away their penny-ante bridge club and they very well might start on us. After all, they taught us.”

     “Yes, but you have carried it far beyond the pursuit of any of the rest of us with your expertise,” laughed Li. “I don’t think your grandmother foresaw such a thing when she put cards into your infant hands.”

     “Maybe it’s a good thing we can’t see the future. It’s sure more fun this way. I wouldn’t want everything all planned out.”

     “You are not a fatalist,” came the observation.

     “Hell no,” stated the younger man with conviction. “I like to have a hand in my own direction—speaking of which, I see a logging company went broke up the coast.”

     “I can tell you the future on that one,” predicted Li. “None whatsoever. You’re not interested in that, are you?”

     “Not in the business, but it did give me an idea. Picture this—a quiet, comfortable, out of the way place with no interference when we indulge ourselves in a bit of poker for limited stakes with a few other people of a like mind. Honest and above board and only a small fee for participation.”

     “Where is this delightful place, you dreamer?”

     “It’s called Shalisa Creek Bay.”

     “Ah. The beautiful bay at the base of a peninsula which I’ve heard doesn’t exist.”

     “Oh it exists all right,” the younger man assured him. “I’ve seen it from the air. I’ve flown a few charters up that way—surveyors and lumbermen and such.”

     “I have spoken to some boating friends who have ventured into those waters and when I asked how the journey around the peninsula was they have told me there is no such thing.”

     “An invisible peninsula which just appears out of nowhere and isn’t there until they hit it with their boat,” laughed David. “I can tell you it really is there though. Must be the fog which hangs around off it a lot and hides it from seaward sightings. For some reason or other fog seems to favour that particular location and it obscures the peninsula quite a bit of the time from seaward. It can be perfectly sunny and warm in the bay and along the cliffs while a fog bank drifts offshore. Wind, tide and weather, I guess.”

     “Ah. A reasonable explanation, but are you sure it is not a faeryland which opens only to those who are in touch with magic and teddybears and dragons?”

     The two shared an intimate laugh at that remark before David said,

     “Well it’s possible I guess. Like Ogopogo, it’s a wonderful myth, and only a chosen few ever get to really see it in all it’s beautiful, peaceful splendour. Their eyes are blind, but I can assure you that when I’ve seen it from the air I’ve always found it looks very solid. A lot of other people who’ve run aground there think so too. It’s also shown on the charts I use for navigating.”

     “Too bad. The world is almost too real and solid these days. Dreams are always nice to have. Perhaps they ran their boats into it because they could not imagine it any other way.”

     “Well, I wouldn’t want to destroy anyone’s dreams, and you undoubtedly know more about these things than I do. I’m just the sorcerer’s apprentice. I can understand why some people might think of it that way. I’ve heard a lot of interesting old tales about it, and it is a pretty place. If I wanted to run away somewhere I might dream of just such a spot, hidden from the world by a fog bank and inaccessible unless real determination is put into the effort.”

     “I am glad,” smiled Li, “That you still have time for such thoughts and that everything has not turned into business. Tell me about your idea.”

     “Well, I figured I might go buy me one of those barges being auctioned off from this company which operated from the bay there and turn it into a cosy retreat. Tow it to an out of the way place somewhere and anchor it and have my own floating casino for the summertime. It’s a long way from anywhere, except by boat or float plane because the roads are abominable. There’s a nice little village a short distance away which can be reached by water. I’ve gone into it a couple of times with the plane on my way north, for supplies. No cops to speak of. One or two in the village, I think. I’m sure the men who worked there at the old logging camp didn’t think the place was worth dreaming about. Must have been reduced to taking the bulldozers into town for a drink, or else they went by sea.”

     “Most of those camps will not allow drink or drunkenness,” Li told him. “Too dangerous. They probably did go into town by boat, or out to the city by float plane, and came back sober, or they would lose their jobs.”

     “That’s how it works is it? Very wise of the administration. Remind me never to take a job as a logger.”

     “I don’t see you taking any job,” smiled Li. “Your spirit was made to soar free, far and unfettered.”

     “I think the description fits,” came the laughing agreement. “I’m too fond of being my own boss. So—how do you like the idea?”

     “You sound like you have been thinking about this for some time,” commented Li, opening his eyes wide.

     “All morning.”

     “For you that is a long time.”

     “Well, can’t let the competition steal a march on me,” grinned the other man. “Gotta keep at it. I was figuring I could sell memberships at so much a head, like my boat club. Not necessarily my club members, you understand, but—people with boats. Exclusive clientele. If it had boating members only who’d know what was going on? It’s a pretty sure bet we’re not going to tell on ourselves. We’re just summer sailors who’ve discovered a nice spot, so we establish an outstation for the club. Just a secluded, quiet place, somewhere for members to go to during the busy summer season when everywhere else is overcrowded and unavailable. My club will be the front, if you get what I mean.”

     Li regarded his friend thoughtfully, then said,

     “Sounds lovely. Think you can pull it off?”

     The man across from him brought out two cigars from a pocket of his old denim jacket and offered one to Li, replying,

     “Sure. Why not? I’m fed up with hiding like a thief every time I want a game. Bet there are lots of other people who’d go for it too.”

     “I know quite a few who are good at keeping quiet. They love my onboard parties. If you are serious about it, let me know, and I will let them know.”

     “Okay. If you think it has a future I’ll give it lots of thought and see if I can work out the details,” agreed the curly-haired man, already sifting and organising plans in his mind as he lit both their cigars.

bugs on flowers

Once the word was out his friends and acquaintances, those with the same tastes in enjoyment, figured it was such a great idea that they enthusiastically signed up for three year leases to all the moorage space offered before he’d even acquired the barge at the auction.

     Their confidence in him pleased him so much that he gave all of them founding member status along with whatever peripheral privileges and responsibilities that grandiose title might enhance them with, and everyone looked forward to the opening of their new summer sailing destination.

     The more northerly reaches on their charts had always been regarded as nowhere places, including Shalisa Creek Bay. Many had heard of the appalling reputation for wrecks accruing to that particular name and as well, with the exception of the gently sloping delta within the bay housing the logging company’s buildings close by, the charts and pilot books were heavily endowed with indications of surrounding steep banks forbidding to small shipping, adjacent waters too deep for anchorage, rocks which abounded, notes about seasonal fog and the fact that there was a log-holding area close by.

     No one wanted to spend time in a booming ground. Frightening visions of beautiful, new, as yet unpaid for big boats being mashed between cliffs and loads of uncontrolled battering rams kept them from it, and those who’d been brave or thoughtless enough to try it had usually been awakened in the middle of the night at high tide by a noisy tug with a boom in tow, a blinding spotlight, and a loud, rude captain inviting them tersely to ‘get the hell out of there’.

     Thereafter they had sailed south with the rest of the summer fleet and had consistently given no attention to the names on their charts which were north of their usual ports for visiting, even if log booms were no longer a problem.

     Now though, everyone concerned with the new venture had suddenly become experts at suggesting just how far and where to the barge should be towed, with no knowledge of what they were talking about and only the supreme confidence of ignorance to back up their words. After all, David was assuring them that he’d moor the barge in a safe place away from those shores with all those warnings, and they thought they knew of a few.

     The creator of the new business began to get more advice than he could handle about more things than he’d planned on, but since everyone seemed willing to dip into their bank accounts for advance membership payments in a rush to help the new venture acquire the opulence they felt it needed, and to offer bonuses for an early opening date, he listened kindly and interestedly to their ideas and plans, went home, laughed at himself in the mirror as he brushed his curly hair, and slept soundly every night.

     The next time Li met David Godwin at the restaurant, it was over dinner with three other enthusiastic members, and by this time the busy founder of a ‘yacht club outstation’ such as his had realised that he’d have to keep a tight hold on the concept or the whole thing would become chaotic and his own dreams would get trampled in the stampede of unsolicited and unresearched advice and requests he was receiving from everybody involved.

     He had just fended off one such ‘Why don’t you... ?’ when another member at the table began.

     “How about a sauna and a jacuzzi? I always like to relax that way after a hard day.”

     “This is supposed to be something totally different,” explained David, with a patient smile. “A country place, with country facilities. Showers, okay, but you can jump into your own jacuzzi any time. In fact, when you get back home from your sailing you’ll appreciate it more.”

     “Yeah, but,” hesitated the complainer, “Cold water isn’t exactly my thing. I like to sing in the shower, not shiver.”

     “You’ve got a shower on your boat—and who said it’s going to be cold? There are lots of ways to get hot water besides being plugged into the electric company. Generators, propane, fire, solar panels.”

     No sooner had this one subsided when the third member began.

     “When I had a look at the floor plans I started wondering if we could have, like,... .”

     David let it slide right past him.

     “Sorry, but the architect says no more changes. Last time he asked me if I figured he didn’t know his stuff and if maybe I shouldn’t get someone else to do it. I don’t want to lose him.”

     “How about letting me talk to him?” came the offer from this meddler. He was conceited enough to think he could talk anyone into anything. He was an advertising executive.

     “Too late. I already told him I was satisfied with what we have. Believe me, this man’s up on everything worthwhile and innovative going on in construction right now. He’s young and creative and full of new ideas and I’m sure you’ll really like what he comes up with.”

     David quieted his conscience by telling himself that all of this was true. All of it except the part about the architect, which he wasn’t. After all, he felt it was the result which mattered, and he had no doubts whatsoever that, had he wanted to, he could have been as great in that field as any other he might have chosen to enter.

     Besides, apart from saving a bundle of money, the small fiction was allowing him to say ‘no’ diplomatically to a lot of participation in the designing of the place, something just about the whole membership wanted to do. He felt he needed that aloof unknown figure in the background who could put his foot down firmly, saying this or that thing would clash with the overall design and he simply wouldn’t have it.

     Amazing how people fell into line when they thought they were dealing with a highly trained individual who cost a fortune to employ. He knew that if he’d told them honestly he was doing it all solo there’d have been one huge eruption of protest.

     Unfortunately, he admitted to himself, a lot of the membership were rather like sheep who followed the latest lead, which he figured was not necessarily the best one, and the idea that he, an unqualified amateur, would take it on himself to orchestrate such a project, would have left them in quivering heaps of disbelieving professionalism.

     In their lives nobody did anything unless it passed through the hands of several ‘professional experts’. The use of their own hands was for their own professed niche of expertise which they passed on to other people in the same chainlink way, collecting the usual obese fee as they passed.

     “Anyway,” he continued, “Tomorrow I go up and get me a barge. And have no fears. It’ll be a good one.”

     “No fears,” laughed Li, who was David’s long time confidant and was in on the architect fiction. “We know you too well for that. As for the style of architecture, I am fond of surprises and I am sure everyone else will like that too. We will now just sit back and enjoy our dinner and wait for the results to be presented to us.”

     David gave Li a grateful glance when the other three turned to their food and, picking up his fork, he got set to enjoy his own dinner, while his mind turned over strategies for the auction and details of his trip to Shalisa Creek the next day.

brass handle

- - -

After he had successfully bid on the best barge available, it occurred to David that the necessity to tow her away from her old company mooring buoy might just be another unnecessary bother and expense.

     All the other purchasers of assets at the auction quickly removed them, leaving the sheltered bay to solitude and its silent reminders of more prosperous times—deserted wooden buildings and houses with accompanying detritus, the log skids running down into the water, the old wharf where the float planes, tugs and dozer boats of the company had tied up, plus a local and vocal crew of ubiquitous cormorants and seagulls who were pleased to have the fishing all to themselves once more.

     He waited with patient expectancy, listening to the usual run of gossip which follows every bankruptcy, and based his decision on what he’d seen and what he now heard.

     This logging company had been working a crown lease on disputed land and, try as they might, the mighty Crown had not been successful in their efforts to get anyone with capital interested in starting up the operation again before their trustee had finally been given the go-ahead to disperse its assets.

     In the commercial world the lumber market was dead for the present time, and the opinion was that only an unknowing fool would put his money and time in that direction, especially since the profit prospects in the Shalisa Creek parcel had already been exploited well and fully by the previous lessee.

     With the exception of the bay itself, the peninsula, and a surprisingly large virgin acreage which had been left where the finger joined the mainland, dipping into a tree-enclosed, flower-spangled meadow before climbing and claiming its backing ridge, the last of the prime timber had been cut from this holding just before the business went under, a happenstance which had occurred either by good luck or good planning, or both, depending on whose opinion was being heard.

     Although the board-footage which was left there still had some value, the amount involved was infinitesimal compared to the yields rolling off enormous tracts of land which had been granted to large companies elsewhere. It was more usual to find similar small stands like the first growth timber at Shalisa Creek Bay designated as cover along gullied streams or steep erosive slopes, and these were dismissed with an airy wave of large management’s hand as not worth bothering about.

     Such rich and contentious gleanings and scattered leftovers eventually sifted down behind the scenes to one-owner outfits—subcontractors who were willing to do this ever more difficult and dangerous work, using antiquated equipment and empirical skills, combined with quick hands, and minds ever aware of imminent disaster.

     These men with a penchant for variations on the theme of Russian roulette laboriously took off the timber which had been left for them on the large company holdings, considering the enterprise a success if only one or two of the crew got killed during the process, and then they departed unnoticed.

     When confidence in lumbering investment plummeted, it played a large part in sparing Bay and Peninsula a visit from the one-man show. After the auction of the Shalisa Creek Company was accomplished, officials abruptly lost interest and forgot the place as quickly as filing papers out of sight would allow.

     Left to its own care, water danced brightly in sunshine, gulls and cormorants fished, deer browsed, birds sang, and a peaceful, quiet neglect spread itself over peninsula, ridge, meadow, trees, bay, buildings, and the logging road leading to them.

     The new casino king assessed the situation and figured nobody would come down to the deserted location by land anymore. Certainly not anyone with a decent set of wheels.

     He couldn’t help laughing to himself when he remembered all the doleful stories he’d been told by various members of his illegal infant club who’d actually been dumb enough to try it. The old logging company site was miles away from the village as far as land routes were concerned, barricaded behind its almost impassable roads.

     Some of the members had attempted to drive to the bay along the pot-holed, deteriorating, abandoned logging roads, hoping to have a look at the barge, which put undue strain on many a fine, pampered vehicle not intended to be used for such a purpose.

     Those who persisted and managed to at least reach the Village of Shalisa Creek found it really was cut off from the usual tourist and holiday destinations, a quiet old coastal village falling into the sea, not too far by boat from where the barge was presently moored, and the whole undertaking began to acquire an exciting and prestigious aura.

     The odd fact that the bay, its creek delta and the land around it were still forested and green made the site even less accessible. Undergrowth was already crowding the edges and sprouting in the middle of the bulldozed truck road leading to the water. Nature was swiftly and busily trying to erase civilisation’s incursion.

     David himself flew his float plane in and out for speed and convenience, planning to sail his boat up during a more leisurely time. Besides, he figured it probably wouldn’t be too hard to discourage most wanderers from hanging around when the club was operating. Some hefty ‘No Trespassing’, ‘Private Property’, ‘No Hunting’ signs and a couple of other less stationary and more noisy four-footed deterrents he could think of would likely do the job.

     So the real estate wasn’t his. The Crown should even thank him for keeping thoughtless fire-lighting campers off the property.

     His final decision had been that the barge was already moored in an out-of-the-way place and he was willing to bet that interference from any quarter would be extremely unlikely. Getting the boaters to swallow his line that—really, there was no problem sailing the coast and getting into the Gap—might take a bit of selling, but they’d already put their money where their mouths were, so—not to worry.

     The gambler gambled, left his barge where it floated inside the Gap, and moved in with his workmen by way of the water to turn it into his idea of a rustic getaway for persecuted poker players.