Spring, Sprang, Sprung (#6 in series)

One after the next, leg by leg, the black fuzzy zipper spider sidled down the crack that ran from the corner of the wall nearest his cot, in an irregular line, down to the hard packed dirt floor. The baked adobe walls were full of cracks, more cracks than wall it seems, thought RuhMoan dividing his idle time between watching the industrious spider and removing sweat from his brow with his forefinger, not unlike a windshield wiper. The beads of sweat that formed elsewhere on his head would slowly drip down his neck, irritatingly, and pool onto his sleeping area unless he leaned over the edge far enough so they would clear the frame of his cot and hit the floor, adding to the growing collection of small dark splotches already there. He was tired. He hadn’t done anything for seventeen days but try to be still enough to beat the heat and survive in this eight by eight holding cell. His only companions a straw-filled cot to sleep on and a wooden bucket with a rusted handle in the corner, in which to do his business. He was tired, real tired of living this way. 

He had been picked up on an out-of-state warrant for a B&E, breaking and entering, and was awaiting extradition. Time passed slowly for RuhMoan and not very well. There were three holding cells and he was the only ‘customer,’ as Deputy Garcia liked to call him, in the station. Sit and sweat, stand and sweat or lie down and sweat, some choices, he groused. RuhMoan sighed silently as he pushed himself up onto one elbow to reach over and squish the unsuspecting zipper spider with the back of his wrist, who had stopped to rest for a moment on the mud wall. He threw one leg over the side of the musty cot, leaned over and passed the spider remains from the back of his hand down to the edge of his boot, then kicked the spider mash out under the iron gate into the deputy’s area. RuhMoan threw himself back onto the cot, his right arm gracefully gliding up over his head the way a flamenco dancer might, both the arm and his head hitting the straw mat at the same time. RuhMoan admitted to himself that he needed a change in his life. 

“What’s this?” inquired Deputy Garcia bending over at the waist to get a better look at the black and yellow-green blob with furry-black, stick legs poking out every which way. 

“What in god’s name is this!” It was less of a question now that the deputy’s small, but functional, frontal lobe had begun to deduce the only possible person that could be responsible for this mess, was lying within spitting distance from him, just to his left. 

“You know anything about this here, RuhMoan?” Garcia said this while rolling over the spider mess with a pencil to inspect the evidence from another angle. This was good, solid police work, thought Deputy Garcia. 

“About what?” RuhMoan answered dryly, deciding to pass a little time at the deputy’s expense. 

“Cut the shit, bucko. I ought to make you clean this up with your damn tongue. Know something?” Garcia continued, “You’re close to crossing the line with me, RuhMoan. You better straighten up and fly right, or else…” Garcia didn’t finish the threat. 

“No idea what you’re talking about, deputy sir,” RuhMoan said lying on his back staring up at the ceiling trying hard to get under the deputy’s skin, get a reaction, get a respite from the boredom. 

“Listen, I don’t want you setting a bad example, okay? We’re getting another customer in here this afternoon and I don’t want any shit from you. Got it?” Garcia sounded more like a high school coach than an armed officer of the law. 

“I could use a new dominoes partner,” RuhMoan said shifting his weight and lifting his head to look at the deputy, who was sweating profusely from the exertion of bending his large frame down to the floor and then back upright again. 

“Where’d you get dominos, you sonofabitch!” The deputy was clearly edgy about the new customer coming in but caught himself being played an instant after the words left his mouth. “Why I oughta…” 

RuhMoan leaned back down on his cot with a chuckle. He still had a smile on his face when Garcia looked in on him before returning to his desk located in the open half of the square, one- story building. Front door, back door, two wooden desks facing each other at one end, although only one deputy was on duty at a time, a single grey filing cabinet, a seldom clean bathroom, free-standing coatrack and three waiting chairs for unlikely visitors at the other end. One rectangular window, with thick iron bars, was cut into each of the three walls of the mud building, the ones not backing the holding cells. The room was equally divided into law enforcement and customers. 

“Say, deputy?” RuhMoan lifted his voice towards the center desk, “Who’s the new customer? Why’s he coming here? You signing autographs or something?” 

“Funny, asshole, just keep it up. You’re gonna get yours,” the deputy answered without looking up from the paperwork, onto which he was scribbling his signature with great deliberation. 

“For your information, we’re getting a real lowlife critter in here, the likes of which you’ve never seen. So, I wouldn’t be trying any of your lame jokes on him, you hear? He’d cut you just a soon as look at you, culo.” Garcia went on, “He’s only here for less than forty-eight hours, just until the county sheriff picks him up and takes him north. So, don’t fall in love, chavalo, he ain’t gonna be here but a couple days and a sleepover.” 

“You sound pretty worked up, deputy,” RuhMoan teased, maybe you ought to go powder your nose and change your panties before he gets here.” 

“Screw you and your horse and your mother, mariposa!” Garcia fumed and pressurized the pencil he was using to write his name with such force, built from aggravation, that it snapped the point off and sent it flying across the room. “You’re an asswipe, RuhMoan, you know that? 

“It’s a pleasure to be at your cervix, deputy.” RuhMoan retorted, rolled over onto his side to face the wall for his afternoon siesta. “Nighty night, boss,” he called out over his shoulder. The last sounds he heard before drifting off to sleep were the low muttering curses of Deputy Garcia sharpening a new pencil with his well-worn, scuffed-up, old Swiss army knife. 

* * *
A door far, far away slowly closed with a low drawn-out creaking sound, followed by voices too distant to understand, then the shuffle of boots and that dry crackling sound old leather boots and holsters make. Certain metallic sounds became louder. Closer, and louder still, then as if a giant alarm clock with double bells that looked like huge Mickey Mouse ears went off next to his head, RuhMoan bolted upright to see the new customer with chains dangling and clanging. Chains were hanging all over him, and he was dragging himself, with a great clatter, towards the cell next to where RuhMoan lie motionless on his cot. 

Chains were attached to ankle rings and more chains attached to wrist straps with sharp welded loops, each secured to more metal loops, trap-sewn and sandwiched between a double- thick, four-fingers-wide leather belt tightly strapped around the prisoner’s waist with safety-lock buckles in the back. RuhMoan was almost fully awake now but he hadn’t moved even a hair, other than open his eyelids, since his soft dream turned suddenly into a jarring reality in close vicinity. 

“Go on, get in there, hoss.” One of the escorting sheriff’s deputies barked at the new customer. “Go on now,” he instructed as he held open the heavy iron gate. He placed his hand firmly on the upper middle back of his prisoner, between the shoulder blades and shoved, “get in there.” The new customer took several quick baby steps, restrained by the chains, and fell twisting sideways to the floor. “Don’t get too comfortable, y’hear, you won’t be around but a for a happy meal or two.” 

The prisoner didn’t look at either Deputy Garcia or the prisoner’s escorts and said, “How about you take these chains off me so maybe I can move a little?” 

“Later, hombre, after you chill out a spell,” answered the bigger of the two escorts. “I got some paperwork to do here and if I’m feeling charitable afterwards, I’ll see to those restraints.” He added, “Now be a good fella and shut your damn trap for a while so I can get done and be out of here. I got dinner and a wanton woman waiting.” He turned and laughed so hard at his unintended alliteration that the force bent him over and he had to put out his hands to catch his thighs, just to keep from toppling over. 

Deputy Garcia was a little unnerved by the brutish behavior of the hulking escort and weakly grinned at him just to let him know that he was on the same side. Garcia walked the other sheriff’s escort to the front door, they knew each other from their police academy days and left with promises to get together and share a beer one day soon. 

The resident deputy turned back towards the desk. “Let me have your keys, I’ll get those chains for you while you do the paperwork, save you some time. Get you home to that little wifey of yours a bit early,” Garcia offered. 

“Hell, you think I’d be this anxious to get home to my wife!” he roared. “Hell bells, man, I’ve got a hot little number I picked up over the Pig, Saddle and Whistle the other night waiting on me.” He straightened and stood up from his position hunched over the desk like a third grader ciphering letters for the first time, unhooked the key ring, and tossed it to Garcia. “Here, take care of my light housekeeping, would you? And, be quick about it, I got places to go and people to see. Especially one in particular with a shape like this,” and he outlined voluptuous female curves in the air with two hands like an enthusiastic amateur mime. Then he kissed his airy creation with great exaggeration, puckering his lips like the cartoon skunk, Pepe LePew, closing his eyes and making loud sucking noises. This too caused him to convulse in laughter. Gradually he lowered his massive hulk back down onto his seat, faced the desk and resumed his ciphering, still chuckling to himself over his sexy pantomime. 

Deputy Garcia caught the key ring in mid air and thought to himself, what a looney tune! He turned and moved towards the cell gate, the one with the new customer. He fished for his own set of keys to open the heavily barred gate, swung it wide and entered the cell. 

RuhMoan watched from his position laying on his side in the adjoining cell, his eyes looking directly at the scene unfolding not six feet away. The new customer was looking back at him. RuhMoan felt connected somehow, as if there was a message or plan being communicated. RuhMoan watched deputy Garcia straddle the prisoner still on the floor and unlock the four sets of chains, leaving the rings, cuffs and waist belt attached. The two captive men continued to stare at each other, each from their own horizontal position. Garcia bent over to pick up the last chain from the floor, unaware that the cold, hard, metallic feel of the forged links grasped loosely in his fingers, would be the next to last thing the deputy would ever feel. 

The new customer, in one swift motion, grabbed that same chain and looped it around the deputy’s neck once and pulled him down into his chest, suffocating any sounds. Link crossed link, making the loop ever tighter, smaller. Garcia never made another audible sound, the breath that left his body was not replaced with any precious, vital new air. The hardened new prisoner wrapped his legs around Garcia’s lower body holding him motionless, all the while continuing to tighten the chain around his neck. It was like watching a nature show on television, RuhMoan thought, where the giant python suddenly snatches and then quietly kills the unwary wild hare who, moments before, was happily skipping down a sun-dappled jungle path. 

RuhMoan looked over at the big escort, who was deep in concentration, scribbling marks onto police reports with his face within inches of his working pencil, back hunched over, pressing hard to go through the four attached carbon copies. RuhMoan looked back at the new prisoner who nodded at him and indicated that he was to help him deal with the remaining officer. He turned his eyes downward to see Deputy Garcia’s lifeless form, quiet as if peacefully sleeping off a midday ‘pack of beer. RuhMoan felt a pang of remorse. 

The new prisoner motioned to him, RuhMoan steeled his nerves and prepared to rise. The two slithered out from their cells and, in what should have been a much harder thing to do, took the big escort by surprise from behind. The new customer pulled the police officer’s head back with a great handful of greasy hair, and bludgeoned him repeatedly with one of the wrist cuffs. The sharp metal loops tore flesh away from his face wherever it was driven. RuhMoan was aghast as he watched the murderer, twist in the jagged metal and scoop out more bloody chunks, only to return repeatedly until his face was an unrecognizable bloody pulp that somehow remained attached to his body. 

RuhMoan watched the life fade from the man’s startled eyes, first becoming glassy and then faraway as if the large escort was refocused now on a new destination somewhere beyond the horizon. The new customer finally let the hank of hair loose and the lifeless head fell forward throwing blood all over the unfinished reports with a noisy splatter that sounded like water thrown from a bucket. He stared at his handiwork for a minute, maybe more, until he was satisfied there would be no further resistance. 

Heaving from the intense physical workout, he turned to RuhMoan, stuck out his gruesome right hand spotted with pale skin, pink flesh and pieces of blue veins smeared with deep-red, thick wet blood that glued clumps of black hair here and there, all of it hanging like swamp moss in a bad Hollywood horror movie, and said, “Hi, I’m Walter. Proud to meet you. We probably should get a move on.” 

Say His Name (#5 in series)

It was a border town, like others, with a promise of refuge from the weather for some, jubilation at a long journey’s end for others, and it had an edge of uncertainty about it as well. Rosalinda found the town hall without difficulty, which shared a common wall with the sheriff’s office and next to that, a jail. The hall was situated among a connected strip of assorted retail stores at the far end of the dry and dusty main street of this small border village, not far from the sun-beaten and well-faded “Welcome to Del Rio” sign. 

She paused at the entrance to the great hall, which was braced by tall wooden columns constructed to portray an image of a higher power within. Here she gathered her thoughts. Sufficiently fortified with a newfound but still fragile confidence, she entered through heavy double-glass security doors. An official immediately approached and inquired about her business there that day. Rosalinda told him the reason she was there and was then directed to one of several waiting lines for the town registrar. 

Today, everything else would have to wait. Today, I do this important thing for my son, she rationalized as she waited in line knowing that she faced many pressing problems, each piling up waiting their turn for attention. She needed a job badly, money for food and a place to properly care for her baby. Rosalinda was also determined to quickly learn the ways of the Norte Americanos. She was in a new land and must do everything within her power to stay, to nurture her little boy along the right path, and to enjoy watching him turn into a man whom others gave respect. This new path to success was not very far, not even more than a dozen miles from her own country, but so very distant in opportunities that would be his to chose. 

The line moved slowly, she repeated the purpose of her visit to herself constantly, like a mantra, fearful of omitting any critical fact, and as a way to stay focused while she waited. When it was her turn, Rosalinda moved to the seat placed in front of the desk and sat down nervously. The town clerk’s assistant, opposite her, finished up the paperwork from his previous customer, reached for a clean sheet of paper, a new form, and looked up at her, smiled and nodded in greeting. 

“Good morning,” he said absently. 

She smiled in return, paused to say something, a greeting in return perhaps, but instead something unforeseen happened. The question she was desperate to ask, the one that had been revolving incessantly in her mind for days, the one she had assembled and disassembled in every possible way, looking for the proper form so as not to embarrass herself and to insure a respectful and honest response, the one all-important question that now, somehow, had inexplicably escaped her lips without permission. With no warning, this most important question had involuntarily popped out of her mouth, and was now very audibly, feathering gently down in the warm, humid air of the registrar’s office, to the man who would give her the answer she needed to hear. 

“My son, he was born here! He is an Americano citizen, no?” She nearly shouted, challenging the clerk. 

How did that happen, she questioned herself with rising alarm? Surprised, she lowered her head trying to disarm her loud demand, relieved that the process for which she had come, had now started, although not in the way she had imagined. She waited, and wondered if the outside of her body was trembling like the inside. 

“This is true,” answered the clerk’s assistant, “your son will be an American, of course, because he was born here in the states. That’s how it works. Do you have papers? Tell me his name and I will write it into the registrar’s book of births. What do you call him?” he asked. 

Without hesitation Rosalinda said in a heavy Mexican accent, “Ramon, his name Ramon!” She was so excited that her boy was going to be a natural American citizen, as the old women of her village had told her, that she stumbled over the pronunciation, and it came out sounding as if it were two names. 

The clerk’s assistant pondered this a moment and wrote down what he had heard, “Ruh Moan,” and spun the registrar’s book around with its fresh entry for Rosalinda to verify. She hesitated. “No, that is no right, it look different,” she said, her words trailing off. 

“Isn’t that what you said, ma’am?” The clerk was more than a little puzzled now. He was not prepared for the interpreting part of this job. It was supposed to be easy work, indoors, out of the heat. That’s what his cousin, who worked in the back, had told him last week when he arrived from the damp northwest to take the position. 

“That’s how you spell it in English,” he finally said in an attempt to placate the woman and move her out of his line and onto the next station. The line at his station had become long and his boss would soon notice the backup and surely not approve of his performance, and the bottleneck in the system. He looked away, momentarily, from the woman in front of him and the line composed of a mix of nationalities and genders curling away from his desk. He angled his head past the line and looked through the heavy glass entrance doors that were directly across from him. There he could see the town bank’s electric sign, blinking alternately with the temperature and the current savings rate, on the corner across the street. Jesus, it was going to be another hot one today, he muttered to himself. 

“Ma’am?” He returned his focus forward and addressed the perplexed woman standing before him. Anxiously he looked at her, his face pleading for confirmation. “Yes?” 

Rosalinda moved her eyes slowly downward towards the written names, again hoping that it would look somehow right to her this time. It didn’t. She felt the impatience of the clerk’s assistant growing, a pressure she could tangibly reach out and feel, it was so strong. It felt like a clock that was ticking and soon a bell would ring and her time would be up; her son would not become an American on a technicality. No way, she demanded of herself, this could not happen! 

She was about to cry out when a thought squeezed into her increasingly panic-locked brain, “No two name, is one!” she finally cried out loud, as if the words had been piled up tight in her mouth, jammed against her teeth and then abruptly the lips parted and they spilled out all at once, in a quick jumble onto the desk. 

“No two, one! Please,” she begged, “put the word close!” This she said breathlessly, rapid-fire like a game contestant. 

“His name one, no two,” she said triumphantly, more slowly this time, in a tone that now sounded final, confident. She had solved the problem, no? Yes! 

The clerk’s assistant beamed his understanding at her and said with a broad smile, “RuhMoan! Yes, very excellent,” he said joyfully! “Now, please, may I see the birth papers?” 

Rosalinda was suddenly crestfallen, “He is born in my room. I have no paper. What paper? Please help me, what kind of paper?” she begged. 

The clerk’s assistant stared at her for a moment with a disappointed look on his face, then pulled open a drawer on his left, and removed a different form from the stacks within. He breathed out with a sigh. He looked this new form over and satisfied it was the proper one, handed it across the desk to Rosalinda, “Fill this out, and go wait in that line over there,” he pointed to his right, “they will take a statement from you on the baby’s particulars, validate it, and issue you a certificate of birth.” He added in conclusion, “Good luck to you and your boy. Have a nice day, ma’am.” 

“Next please,” Rosalinda heard the clerk’s voice say as she turned and moved towards a standing counter nearby, with many pens and pencils every which way on it, to fill out the form for the birth certificate line. Midway there, she turned back and gave the clerk’s assistant a wide grin, she floated on a fluffy cloud and could not feel her feet touching the ground. 

Clearly, Rosalinda was very happy about her accomplishment. 

* * *

RuhMoan does not remember this, of course, being less than a year of age at the time, but it does seem like he watched it happen, wide-eyed and openmouthed, unbelieving, gazing down from a secret one-way ceiling mirror. He has heard the story from Rosalinda so many times growing up that he could easily pass a lie-detector test. Now, understandably, these days when he has to explain the unusual spelling of his name, he nearly always gives the abridged, seven- second version, “The ignorant puta couldn’t spell a lick,” RuhMoan would say shaking his head. “Pendejo!” He said disgustedly as if recalling every detail. 

Clearly, RuhMoan was not very happy about his circumstance. 

The Moment of Change (#4 in series)

Lying on her back, the ground hard and uncomfortable beneath her, the adobe mud walls were still cool from the night air and radiated a sharp chill back throughout the small, one room hut. Rosalinda leaned over to pull the thin blanket tighter around her infant baby lying beside her. Staring up at the peeling ceiling boards, she silently said to herself, “No more of this life, not for me and not for my new son.” 

Her mother, Adalina, lay beside her on a thin straw mat motionless with exhaustive sleep. She had deep furrows in her face and hands, her fingers were cracked at the knuckles. Life was a daily struggle, a constant hard time, it was all they had ever known. 

As Rosalinda lie awake on this morning, her mother’s words of advice echoed in her mind. Words that were spoken to her often during her childhood years, given as much for guidance as they were to head off any awkward questions, “You do whatever you have to do,” Adalina would always say, “it is not that hard my cherished daughter. Many times you have no choice in the matter anyway. Such is life.” 

Similar words were said whenever they would wake together in yet another strange house, or a dilapidated barn, or a field with high dry, brittle tan grass shielding them from the dusty brown, rural dirt road. Mothers are capable of reading their daughter’s eyes and Rosalinda’s would awaken filled with questions about the day ahead, the night before, the loud men her mother went off with repeatedly. 

Sometimes, on that rare occasion when things were going good, her mother would say to her, “In life, there is a rhythm you must find. You will know it when you do, for God smiles and you can feel His warmth no matter which way you turn, no matter which decision you make.” 

Her mother’s many pieces of advice were, for her, weighty concepts to ponder, but not for today. She understood what she believed to be her mother’s meaning, the central intent of the words given her, and she appreciated that her mother cared to say them, but her full concentration was now required for this new turn in her life, she would have to reflect more fully on them at another time. For now, yet another of life’s many decisions, made only this very morning, indeed only a few minutes ago, was her new ruler. She was committed totally and would not be persuaded otherwise. 

Alone in the starry cool night, carrying her baby tightly, she imagined herself crossing the Big River into a new life. The closer she came to the border, the more often she heard the same story from the old women, “Bring your baby into the States, tell them he was born there, that’s it, he will become a citizen and you are home free. It is so easy.” No more struggle, no more fear for the next dark night, the next strange man, the next unforeseen calamity waiting to appear. She had made up her mind, firmly, and she was sure now. 

Her son would have opportunity, a chance to become someone, a person of dignity, not the kind of opportunity available to him here. That is the kind that leads to trouble more often than not, the path being chosen for him before he would even reach maturity. He would surely learn the ways of the street, acting like a furtive creature, wary and suspicious with no respect for himself or others. The thought of this happening to her sweet boy made her weep with sorrow and despair. 

She turned onto her side, away from her mother, to hold her baby close to her, to smell deeply his infant innocence. “We will travel to the north today little one, to our freedom, to all things good, fair and just,” she whispered into his little ear. “A place where little boys can grow into strong, proud men, unafraid and confident.” 

Rosalinda watched the little boy’s eyes roll under his delicate pale lids as if he understood the words being poured into his subconsciousness, even as he slept, and she hoped with all her being that these words were true. 

* * *
After a long and nervous day of preparations, the eastern sky was finally darkening, and it was time for their futures to unfold, to begin anew. With directions to a registrar’s office in the town hall of a small border town, located not far from the opposite river bank, committed to memory, she concentrated to keep her focus. She felt a building pressure from the man whom she had paid with her mother’s last pesos to guide her across tonight. He waited impatiently nearby while she gathered up her few belongings and hugged her mother, Adalina, goodbye. She had no regrets, other than she had wished her mother was coming along, but they both knew that wasn’t possible, she wouldn’t leave, not now, not ever. It was enough to see one of her daughters have a chance at a better life and it brought a wry smile to her face. This was a rare thing to see, this crooked smile. Her mother’s thoughts were not to be shared at this time, and Rosalinda did not ask. 

She hugged her mother again, more tightly this time, tears welling up, unable to let go, their cheeks were pressed warmly, lovingly, together. The guide scolded them, “I’m leaving!” he barked at them. With her anxious son squirming in her one arm, she pulled back and looked into her mother’s moist eyes, “Adios mi dulce madre,” she whispered. 

Adalina nodded, raised her arm and turned her palm outward towards Rosalinda. And with that, they parted forever. 

The Conversation (#3 in series)

“Well, hello my long lost friend!” Palo Pedro smiled crookedly at Eddie handing both drinks to Rosalinda. “What brings you out of your hole?” 

Pedro did not wait for a response, instead turned his back to face Rosalinda, “A cooling drink of refreshment for my beautiful and loyal companion.” Then he added, “You are still working tonight, yes?” His grin so wide his eyes were forced into thin slits from the pressure of his rising cheeks. 

Eddie was trying to keep up, not privy to any new relationship between them. He hoped the introductions and pleasantries would soon die altogether and Palo Pedro would leave them alone. He wanted to enjoy Rosalinda’s company, and the soothing coolness of the fan, but mostly it was Rosalinda he wanted. To his great disappointment, that was not to be.

“Of course,” Rosalinda responded, “I am working. Am I not always available to you?” Her eyes were cast downward and didn’t appear to embrace either Palo Pedro or the tilt of the conversation. She smoothed her dress, folded her hands and placed them on her lap, like a schoolgirl waiting for the nuns to leave. She did not look up at Pedro, but straight at Eddie with a look he interpreted as pleading. Don’t just sit there, do something! Chase this ogre! Save me, my noble prince! He imagined her begging for salvation.

The trio of people, a rosary of personalities, separate but connected each to the other. Pedro looking at Rosalinda, she looking at Eddie and he looking inward, feeling the pressure to speak, confront Palo Pedro and save the precious Rosalinda, the woman with the romantic green eyes and jasmine scent that he could not smell but knew that scent he longed to breath deeply was lingering all around her. This was a woman with whom he had history, but none of it recent. This last fact made Eddie feel like he was treading on some dangerously unknown and unsteady ground. 

Nonetheless, he pulled a hand through his straight dark hair, reestablishing the right-to-left swooping wave, and said, “I have not been in a hole, Pedro.” This he said flatly and immediately wished he had said something more worthwhile, more heroic. 

Slowly, Palo Pedro swiveled to face him, “We must talk. Alone. Soon. Finish your drink, I’ll wait at the bar.” This was said with the tone of a school principal not wanting to alarm the children, said in such a way that all the adults would know that this is an extremely important matter that needed attention, like the stormtroopers were approaching the outer gates and the time, long known to be coming and greatly feared, has now arrived. Palo Pedro leaned over and placed both hands, balled into fists, on the table like he was preparing to perform a marine pushup. He looked at Eddie, moved to within six inches of his face to make his point, widened his eyes slightly, and tilted his head as if to say, You got that, Ace! Palo Pedro then turned without repositioning his fists punched into the table like twin-sculpted, knurled mushroom balls and smiled graciously at Rosalinda. 

Palo Pedro slowly pulled one fist at a time from the table, letting the first come to a rest at his side before dragging off the second. He looked not unlike a Neanderthal man, posing at the natural history museum, while young children filed past and snickered. He looked back at Eddie and reconfirmed, “I’ll be at the bar. Don’t keep me waiting.” Palo Pedro stood up, straightened himself to his full height, readjusted the top button on his shirt, spun and paused, showing his back like a tango dancer and departed. His demeanor left no doubt who was in charge. His unseen grin widened with every step. 

They both watched him make his grand departure. After a moment, still looking at Palo Pedro as he neared the far side of the room, Eddie said, “Do they always serve drinks like that here?” 

He looked back at Rosalinda. “So over the top in my opinion. Way too dramatic, don’t you think?” He forced a smile. Rosalinda turned to look at him, shifting her weight on the chair, and frowned. 

“Okay, I’m kidding, I’ll go talk to him. I swear, I’ll get this all squared away,” he hastily said when his attempt at humor fell faster than a lead zeppelin. The frown on her face did not change. Eddie added, “Although I have no idea what this is all about,” he lied. That frown of hers was serious, like a mad clown holding a banana upside down against his mouth. “Maybe you could enlighten me a little?” he inquired. Damn, that’s the mother of all frowns, he thought, it was plastered up there, unmoving, it was Mount Rushmore, for chrissakes! He whispered across the table to Rosalinda, “You were supposed to smooth this over with them, no?” 

He reached across the table and pulled his drink over from in front of Rosalinda where Palo Pedro had placed it, leaving a wet trail along the tabletop and raised the glass to his mouth. Eddie turned it a few times to find a place on the rim without mint leaves blocking his way and took a small sip. He waited for her to say something. Anything. 

“Oh Eddie, why must it always be this way with me? I mean, we can never be without something hanging over your head?” she said, mixing her pronouns. “You know how hard I try, but I do not understand men at all, not even my darling son, RuhMoan, who constantly disappoints me, even as you do, Eddie?” 

Her grammar is so much better than it used to be, thought Eddie absently, and she still looks good for her age, doesn’t she? Always kept herself firm. Curves in place. She is not too old for me, although I am about the same age as her son… I wonder if she would hold that against me. Enter fantasyland… Maybe we, the two of us, could get out of here and… 

His brain was processing the words she had spoken on some sub-level, when it came to one particular word, that name, the one that caused an involuntary jerking spasm to race up his spine. An internal alarm was initiated that quickly ramped up to a raging siren, saturating his brain, muddling his thoughts. 

The mention of her son, RuhMoan! That name shocked him out of his fantasy drift, jarred him back to the present, like metal banging on metal. Alert! Alert! The memories flooded back in quickly, like a monsoon soaked current, overpowering, bursting the damn of resentment that he had painstakingly built over the years. That damn kid. That damn, worthless kid! His mood and expression dropped like a nautilus grade submarine on emergency dive maneuvers. Surely this is not about RuhMoan! Not Again! Eddie, dazed, raised his rum drink and gulped a bouquet of pointy mint leaves down his rapidly constricting throat. C’mon now! This was NOT the plan! 

Cisco’s Place (#2 in series)

A high, tight table with a pair of wooden three-legged chairs with flat board backs, tucked into the farthest corner at the other end of the room-length bar, was unoccupied. Eddie and Rosalinda, glancing around the room, saw this location simultaneously and without words glided quietly together across the rough wooden floor littered with sawdust and crushed peanut shells leaving serpentine scrawl designs in their wake. A few shadowy customers at the bar took sideways glances at the pair, turned back to their drinks and nodded knowingly to each other with a smirk. Eddie took notice of these other patrons for the first time but paid them no attention. He and Rosalinda had not spoken since they had first greeted each other at the door. He hadn’t decided on his opening gambit. 

The ceiling was uneven and gradually became lower towards the back end of the cantina, where anyone above average height would have to crouch to avoid scraping their heads on the rough stucco ceiling. This was Cisco’s Place, a private neighborhood dive, and it would not have been surprising to discover tufts of scalp and hair on the more jagged pieces of the ceiling. 

Eddie pulled a chair away from the high pedestal table next to the mustard-colored wall, dragging two of its three legs, and farming a pair of furrows through the sawdust. A pattern of dancing, dark-umber sombreros with small furry balls, attached with thin strings along the rim of each hat, were stenciled every five inches in a repeating pattern just above table height along the wall. Not surprisingly, this visual chaos had caused the first owner, Cisco, to constantly field complaints from customers. They often claimed to him that this wall design made people uncomfortable, dizzy even, and most said this while totally discounting the fact that they had usually consumed copious amounts of tequila before voicing their complaints. Eddie had an opinion on the subject and he could easily understand the customer’s side. He viewed the gaudy pattern as unnecessary and hideous, but it did give Cisco’s Place its charm, such that it was. 

“Good to see you again, Rosalinda, you are looking fine as ever,” Eddie paused with his hand softly caressing the back of her chair. He hoped he wasn’t being too forward too fast. 

“Si, yes very much, Eddie,” Rosalinda cooed back. 

Eddie looked at her and then to the chair he had pulled out from under the tall table, directing her to it with his eyes. Rosalinda smoothly hovered over and slowly descended onto the worn- smooth seat like a hummingbird landing in the sweet nectar of a beautiful flower. 

She twisted slightly to the side and held up two slim fingers which prompted the bartender to nod back at her and pick up two rickey glasses which he plunged into a deep slate-grey metal tub of crushed ice. She turned back around to see Eddie taking the seat opposite her, he was as handsome as ever, she thought. She disregarded the sweat stains on his teal and midnight blue shirt with a snappy short round matching collar, which she didn’t like at all. He had shiny damp, black, oiled hair which was thrown from right to left up over his generous and broad head. She liked the way his hair hung long and low in the back, hiding that fashionably short round collar from a rear view. His eyebrows were placed low on his face, hooding his dark eyes, giving him an exotic look but at the same time, exposing an acre of forehead. Still, she thought him sweet beyond candy, seeing only what she wanted. Rosalinda was, is, and always has been, in love with Eddie, although this realization only recently came to her. She had always kept her distance, a relationship with him could have complications, and for this reason she never returned any of Eddie’s advances. 

“Muy buena, Eddie, it is so good to see you. Thank you for coming. I am much indebted to you. Muchas gracias.” Rosalinda was making small movements from side to side, adjusting her posture on the tall chair. 

Slightly flushed and feeling a bit humid from his recent adventure outside, Eddie turned his gaze from the room towards Rosalinda and those miraculously crystal-clear, deeply pooled, slate- green eyes that seemed to connect straight to the softly segmented parts of her inner self, like looking into her soul with a kaleidoscope. He fought to keep his composure. 

“You knew I would. All you had to do was ask.” He looked at her face for a reaction, but dared not linger and stare. Truth was, her beauty intimidated him. “And, you know I didn’t bring RuhMoan with me. I left him back in the woods. He’s messed up, Rosa, I’m sorry to say.” 

The ancient three-bladed fan behind him, mounted head high on the wall sans a protective safety cage, sent rhythmic puffs of air towards her, tossing the tips of her shoulder length black hair back and forth one way, then the other as it mechanically rotated on its axis, catching at each end of its travel with an unsettling grinding noise before starting out on the opposite sweep. Her hair responding to the wisps of intermittent breezes, he thought, was marvelous to watch and sensuous in a way only a man who has dreamed of being intimately involved with a woman could know. The general direction of the fan prevented him from taking in that highly personal jasmine smell of her soft caramel brown skin, particularly concentrated at the nape of her slender neck. A memory he recalled vividly and loved so thoroughly, and missed it with a longing ache much like an amputee misses a newly severed limb. The table immediately down wind was so enthralled by this surprisingly exotic scent, however, the men there felt compelled to remark whenever the fan broadcast the scent their way, irritating Eddie. 

Of course, one tends to remember only the good things on occasions such as this, but the not- so-good things were now starting to creep back into Eddie’s memory. Past episodes of love, he remembered, did not always go so well; there’s that still-sensitive scar on the side of his neck that the barber still finds with his electric clippers everytime without fail. The knee he twisted that time he was stupid with drink and she helped him down the long, winding stairs with a high kick to the small of his back. The knockdown, drag-out, verbal battles over trivial matters such as the way Eddie would look at his neighbor’s shapely wife, which always escalated into either blood or passion. Maybe he just loved too hard, too much, like a drunk loves his hooch and was powerless to stop even though he knew, and everyone else around him knew, that it was killing him. And like an addiction, whenever love presented itself, he could never turn her down. 

Cisco’s Place was starting to fill with an assortment of customers now that it was late afternoon and people needed to wash away the dust and heat of the day’s activities, be it work or leisure. Cisco’s was illegal in that Pedro had no license to operate a cantina or serve drinks, never mind the card game in back behind the heavy ceiling-to-floor purple velour curtains just behind and to the other side of the bar, where Palo Pedro had won this place from Cisco on a disputed game of high-stakes deadman’s poker with the infamous hand of aces and eights. That story was just for public consumption, however, as it never went down that way, not even close. Only a few people knew the truth, they were there when it happened, and it wasn’t in their best interest to have the truth see its way clear into the light of day. 

Note: Cisco’s was an illegal enterprise only in the eyes of the law here in Amarillo, Texas, for arrangements have been made, you see, with the right people in the right places. Often, these arrangements included various sums of money, whatever amounts their protectors thought they could press for, other times transactions between the parties might include certain commodities, as it were, narcotics, jewelry, companionship, etc. Consequently, Cisco’s Place operated with impunity. 

Palo Pedro was a happy man, always smiling, greeting everyone who entered with a grin, eagerly pointing to empty places for them to settle into when they would arrive. His face, although jovial, often times much too jovial, made him appear not as friendly as you might 

imagine, but rather simple, like he was touched in the head, like a rubber-room resident at the local loco lounge. Those who knew him knew not to push Palo Pedro, certainly not like Cisco did. That was the legend that protected Palo Pedro. Most here in the cantina knew the story, and pity to those who didn’t, for this was valuable, even vital, some say critical, information to have. As the old folks are fond of saying, Palo Pedro’s reputation preceded him. 

Only Rosalinda knew the true story between Cisco and Palo Pedro, and she certainly wasn’t letting that cat out of the bag. She would prefer people think what they wanted, all those wild stories about high-stakes card games and deadman’s poker hands, it was far better for her that they didn’t know the real facts. Even Palo Pedro, in all his ego-driven superiority, did not know all the details of that fateful night, and he was there! The truth to Rosalinda, in this case, was truly worth the risk. 

Eddie looked up. Palo Pedro himself was grinning his way across the floor, two rickey glasses filled to the brim with amber rum, a squeezed lime wedged into a splash of orange juice poured over crushed ice with a twist of fresh mint leaf. The drinks were on a small circular tray held high above his head. Here he came, twisting sideways through the patrons who were gathering in groups, headed directly to their table tucked away in the corner, to serve them the drinks Rosalinda had ordered. 

A brief tremor of terror rippled through his body. Brace yourself, Eddie reminded his increasingly nervous brain, stay calm, be confident. Palo Pedro was closing fast, smiling like the cheshire cat. Eddie scolded himself. Steady now, act like you don’t give a rat’s ass about that thing that happened. That unresolved incident between he and Pedro that occurred some time ago, down in Corpus Christi. That thing they never did get straightened out.

Leather and Lizard (#1 in series)

Edward “Fortune” Smith stopped and looked down at his new boots that had cost him a week and a half’s pay at the postal sorting center where he’d been working in the five months since his release. He walked another twenty steps, stopped and renewed his gaze downwards; confirming his initial thought that something was wrong. The late afternoon heat was pressing down on his back like a sticky moist hand, but the boots, made of mulatto brown leather with shiny green and graduated grey lizard inserts, consumed every bit of his awareness. 

Eddie Fortune, as most people knew him, was waiting for his new western style boots with square toes to speak to him and tell him what to do to make themselves right. He wanted to love them in the worst way, but now he wanted some love back. He squished his toes and squirmed his feet to relocate the fit, but he wasn’t satisfied. He contemplated this latest unhappiness in his life while deliberately raising his head skyward, drifting deep into boot-fitting thoughts, when a quick movement and the feel of a gathering urgency distracted him. 

Two men in suits with matching ties were running his way, jackets flapping this way and that as they loped from side to side gaining momentum. They were, in fact, looking directly at Eddie, focused on him like a locomotive headlight coming out of a dark tunnel. His mind blank for a moment, Eddie felt his body in motion slightly before his brain told him this was a potentially harmful situation and that he probably should remove himself from the vicinity. Pronto. 

Eddie darted into motion, down an alley to his right and after a short sprint and a hard body lean into another tight right, brought him down a narrow passageway that opened into a small circular brick-floored dusty plaza. To his side and angled slightly away from the sun-drenched plaza, behind a half-height retaining wall, Eddie stopped to rest his wheezing body in a nondescript, recessed doorway perhaps a dozen paces toward the west, and the slowly departing afternoon sun. The ground below his uncomfortable new boots radiated the heat up in agonizing waves that enveloped his entire being. He was considering the unpleasantness of this when he heard the men run past the alley into the small, tucked-away plaza to his left. Eddie was sweating bullets, hoping his nickname “Fortune” still held some say in his future. 

The air was filled with tiny airborne motes, floating upwards from the closeness of the men in suits rushing past only a moment before. The penetrating hotness of another windless day in west Texas made even breathing a chore. Eddie was spent. His tired brain mused on the endless cycle of the sun: it heats up the cool morning earth, and the earth then gives it back later, hot and humid, as if it was on temporary loan. “Here sun, here’s your warmth back, I’m done with it for now. See you tomorrow, okay?” 

Eddie heard the knocking sound first and saw the middle knuckles on his own right hand rapping on the door an instant later. He regarded the sound of his open-mouthed panting, caught his breath and thought to himself, I should get myself into better shape. 

The adrenaline was subsiding and Eddie started to feel heavy, like a sack of gravel, and tired as he’d ever been, but he recognized where he was, and that in itself was a welcome relief. Here he was at a small illegal cantina, that he had frequented on occasion in the past, although his unfocused mind could not pinpoint exactly why. It was about the size of two average living rooms put together end-to-end, with a bar and stools and chairs and a short wide jukebox filled with mariachi music and surf rock. 

The door opened, startling Eddie for second. He leaned forward, ducked under the low overhead beam and entered. Before his eyes accustomed to the comparative dimness of the tight indoor space, his gaze was captured by the twinkling eyes of an attractive dark-haired woman. Her worn but elegant black dress had silver thread running rings around the lower half lingering at her smooth shapely calves. The dress bloomed at the waist. How comfortable that must be in this heat, Eddie thought. 

“Buenos días, Eddie,” the woman said, moving in a familiar way toward him. She had a smile on her face and her hips moved with exaggeration. 

The brown leather, green and grey lizard boots for some reason, came back into Eddie’s mind. He looked down, checking them, first one then the other. They didn’t feel so ill-fitted now. Maybe they just needed a little break-in time, he thought. Eddie looked up at the approaching woman who was now close enough to touch. She smelled of jasmine. 

“Hello Rosalinda,” he said. 

A Moment in Time

It never dawned on me, until several years later, that a poignant moment had slipped past me, one that has became a permanent image forever imprinted indelibly onto my consciousness. I was shuffling papers, the mail, doing odds and ends around the house one Fall day, when a knock at the door caught my attention. I stopped what I was doing momentarily and looked out the window; it was a neighborhood friend of Kevin’s, my ten year old son. I didn’t go to the door, instead called up the stairs for him. 

“Kev, someone’s here for you,” I yelled up and went back sorting bills. 

It was a crisp, but sunny, windless Fall day, the leaves were turning colors, becoming brilliant reds, oranges, golds and tawny browns here in the mid-Atlantic coastal region where we lived, and the boys wore only light jackets. It was a school day, and this was after classes in the warmth of the late afternoon. Kev ran past me, out the door, through the screened-in porch to the swinging door. In a moment, after conferring with Jeremy, he rushed back. 

“Dad, can I go fishing with Jeremy?” He yelled through the open door, staring at me, just his head visible as his body hung back, waiting for quick permission. 

“Sure, go ahead, just be back for dinner,” I instructed him. 

I remember thinking, wasn’t this was an ideal place for children to grow up, and thankful that we decided to move away from the city suburbs further east into the country. Our home was nestled in a little community set deep into a pine forest with several small lakes scattered around for swimming, canoeing, fishing and ice skating in the winter. There were no sidewalks, or street lights, no school buses either, the children rode their bikes to school. An idyllic place to raise a family. 

Kevin grabbed his fishing rod, poised always ready and waiting in the far corner of the porch and a few hooks and bobbers, and was quickly outside with Jeremy. I heard the porch screen door slam and I knew they had gone off to fish, not unlike Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, side by side, jabbering away about bait and techniques. 

My mind was back onto the project at hand, drifting away, when I heard the porch door springs squeak and another slam. There was Kevin, sticking his head through the door again, panting, looking at me, his face hopeful. 

“Hey dad, wanna come?” He asked.
I thought about it for a minute, then decided I should stick to my tasks here and finish up. “Nah, you go ahead, son.” I said. 

That was it, that was the moment. I didn’t know it at the time, but those invitations wouldn’t come around very much any more, it was a turning point. This was a time when Kevin was at an age that he was just as happy to be hanging out with his dad or his friends, or both. I should have gone fishing with him, I know that now. Makes me melancholy whenever I think about it. Those days of innocence, unrecognized, when I was too busy to share a cherished moment with one of my kids. Not that I ever ignored them, just that I didn’t take advantage enough of those early years, when Dad was just as important to them as their school friends. 

Neither one of us thought anything about it at the time, I doubt Kevin even remembers that day now. But I do, I remember always being in a rush to get something done, then on to the next thing. In fact that whole era, decades of my life in fact, raising his two older daughters and Kevin; it’s all just a blur. I suppose it’s not unusual in these times of multi-activity schedules, but it’s unforgivable to me now, to be so busy then that you couldn’t share an afternoon with your ten-year-old son; that memory will remain with me forever. What could’ve possibly been more important at the time? 

He grew older, went away to school, moved out of the house, following his sisters – the realization of how empty and lonely a home can be without children. That moment is catalogued in my mind as the last invitation from an innocent boy who thought enough of his father to invite him along fishing with his friend, and a Dad too busy to even consider it. I wish I had a do-over. Ah, well, life moves on, doesn’t it. C’est la vie. 

Grown Fast and Hard

Young J.T. Starett frowned, and continued to look around, not impressed with anything or anyone he saw. Today was supposed to be a special day; he came to work with his mother this morning, skipping his seventh grade class with permission. He was excited and edgy after a sugar cereal breakfast and a fitful night of intermittent sleep. J.T. looked up at his mom, a pleasant looking woman with blonde hair pulled back into a bun, tightly, which she believed removed wrinkles from the corners of her eyes. Her face was animated and she was smiling at the others in the room, using her hands for emphasis. The room was small, too small for the number of people present and the mix of adult scents, body heat and moldy old books was overpowering. 

The teachers assembled in their get-ready room every morning in preparation for the bell signaling the start of first period classes, then they would proceed to their respective rooms. J.T.’s mom took advantage of this gathering of her peers to push him this way and that, facing him towards this tweed jacket or that wool-pleated dress. She talked non-stop about him to whoever would listen, praising her son and outlining his positive characteristics. He did not look up and made no eye contact, more like belt contact or shoe contact. J.T., who was small for his age but strong and athletic, felt belittled to be on display like this, his mother treated him more like a little kid instead of the star seventh grade lacrosse player that all his classmates had come to admire. 

“But Mildred, what a handsome young lad you have,” a nearby woman said, who smelled strongly of lilacs and soap. 

“Yes, he’s a fine one, that,” a man with a drooping mustache bent over to stare into his face. J.T. backed away, repulsed by the man’s tobacco and mint breath. He squirmed in his mother’s grasp, wrinkling his long-sleeve dress-shirt at mid arm where she held him firmly. What’s going on, he thought, this is not fun, momma said she would take me to watch the high school lacrosse team practice, maybe meet some of the players, not any of this other stuff. He wanted to scream, but knew better and held it in. Disappointment crowded his face; he moved his eyes from place to place to avoid acknowledging any of these terrible people. Just take me to the practice fields, he thought. 

“Momma, I’ve changed my mind, I want to go home,” he said, more whiney than demanding. 

“Nonsense Little Jonny,” that’s what she always called him and he hated it, embarrassed, he dropped his chin to his chest. 

“We shall have a splendid day,” she said. “I have plans for us. You’ll see, it’ll be wonderful.” J.T. reluctantly let his mother drag him out the door with all the other teachers, pulling him by the wrist. They headed down the hall that was lined with shiny metal lockers on both sides, reflecting the harsh overhead lighting, and the waxed floor-tiles glared back at them. The teachers moved like a phalanx down the corridor, one or two peeling off as classroom doors were passed. 

Finally they arrived at his mother’s classroom. It was full of high school sophomores, talking, moving, sitting, standing, a dizzying scene. His mother dragged him in behind her, the fair teacher with what looked like an indigenous boy, his features darker and broader than hers. 

“Seats everyone,” his mother said sternly when she entered with J.T. in tow, and the students found their places and noisily settled in. There was a brief quiet. Every set of eyes focused on the pair at front. This unsettled J.T., he wanted desperately to be somewhere else. 

“Class, this is Little Jonny!” and she stepped aside with a half bow and extended her sweeping arm to point at her son. J.T. turned a tawny red. Oh no, he said to himself with alarm, this isn’t happening! 

Everyone, with much more volume than required, shouted, “Hello, Little Jonny! They all began to snicker and titter amongst themselves. How could my mother do this to me! J.T. scanned the room for an back door or partition into which he could escape. Seeing nothing, and feeling trapped, he looked out at the students in front of him, all staring back laughing, saying snide comical things to each other, slapping hands, punching shoulders like they just heard the rudest joke. 

J.T. pivoted and looked up at his mother, she was fixed, looking down at him with a huge admiring smile, showing her perfectly white teeth, and with a twinkle in each of her pale blue eyes, adoring her dusky son, oblivious to the scorn being heaped upon him by her class. 

Without giving it another thought, he sidestepped his mother, and bolted for the door that they had come through, fumbled with the handle for a second, flung it open and ran out into the hall. The classroom erupted with a hearty laughter that could be heard from one end of the school to the other. His mother’s pride turned to horror, her joyous facial features dropped as though weights were suddenly attached, as she watched J.T., humiliated, run out of the classroom. Mildred hiked her long dress up with both hands and started towards the door, stopped to address the class briefly and appointed the closest girl in the front row as monitor, then hurriedly went to look for her rattled little boy. 

J.T. Starett ran down the lighted hallway, pushed his way through the bar-locking entrance doors with a bang and out into the sunlit schoolyard. He looked both ways and decided to head straight across the parking lot, to the adjacent practice fields and into the woods beyond. He didn’t stop until he was a few hundred yards down a wooded, dense and leafy path. He rested his hands on his knees and panted loudly, trying to catch his breath and simultaneously swallow, although his mouth and throat were dry as cotton. Now what? His brain was buzzing, no real ideas came to him, so he walked deeper into the forest. Soon, his breathing returned to normal, and he traveled past several forks, taking the one that appealed to him at the moment. 

What was momma thinking, he repeated over and over to himself? A day he had long looked forward to, one that promised to be such a fun day, had turned out so terribly. The depth of his shock and disappointment was deep. He knew his mother would be worried about him, but he couldn’t go back there, not now, not ever to that horrible school filled with those horrible people. 

J.T. walked on, through the midday and into the late afternoon, as if in a trance, until a clearing appeared through the trees. He went slowly to the edge of the woods and stopped. What he saw was the backyards of several houses lined up in a row, some had patios and picnic tables, barbecue pits and others had dog houses, tool sheds and the kind of things you would expect. J.T. sat down gradually in increments, he suddenly felt very tired. Allowing himself to lay on his side then placed his hands under his head and fell fast asleep right there at the rim of the forest. 

It was several hours later when he awoke, it was dark. As consciousness dawned within him, he became confused, a panic overtook his mind, he jumped upright and turned circles in place. He scurried out of the woods, like he was being closely pursued, towards the only house with no lights showing on the inside. He was scared and unsure of himself, yet he moved forward. J.T. brushed the leaves and small sticks off his clothes as he advanced. Crouching low he hurried towards the darkened house. 

I wish I were home, he thought, eating tacos for dinner with momma. Tuesdays were taco nights, and he could almost taste the tangy meat and crunchy corn tortillas filled with shredded cheese to overflowing greasy goodness. Hunger raised itself to the forefront of his senses. 

J.T. arrived at the back of the darkened house, cocking an ear inward; he heard no sounds coming from within. J.T. was undecided, he wished he could go home, but had no idea how to get there, passing so many forks in the narrow path to get here, and he certainly didn’t want to be lost 

in the forest overnight. No sir! Hoping for a phone inside or a place to wait out the night, he sidled up to the back stoop and tried the door, it was locked. He heard a sound behind him, like a soft shoe hitting the ground. 

There was a sharp chill in the early autumn air, normal for upper Montana, signaling the change of seasons in Whitefish, a small town nestled in the northwest part of the state, among national forests of the Rocky Mountains not far from the Canadian border. This change was not unwelcome for the hardy people living up here, it being a respite form the unrelenting heat of the short, but intense summer. The cool weather also signaled an annual alert to prepare for the oncoming winter, which brought on a rise in folks’ activity level not just from the cooler weather but as a reminder that not enough had been done; stored, cut, stacked, canned, or smoked for survival. Winters can be brutal for the unprepared up here. 

J.T.’s mother, Mildred, tired from another sleepless night, stood hunched over the kitchen sink, staring out the window while absently peeling potatoes. She hadn’t gone to work since J.T. went missing three weeks ago. Her hair hung down in unkempt strings and knots, wearing the same clothes for days, she had lost any desire to care for herself. Every moment was spent going over the last hours of her time spent with her son before he disappeared. Of course she blamed herself, showing him off like a prize lamb at a 4H show, with no concern for his feelings. She thought herself selfish and inconsiderate, undeserving of such a fine son. She sank deeper into depression with every passing day. 

She never hated his father for leaving; she knew it when she first met him. He was a rogue, a woodsman and an adventurer. Fondly she remember her courtship, short as it was, and her small marriage ceremony, no kin of his or hers out this way. Less than a year later she was blessed with a baby boy, and didn’t care whether the father ever came home again. She had what she wanted. The father, of mixed Indian and French heritage, stayed away for days, then weeks after the baby was born. Then he left for good. Mildred scarcely noticed. 

What more could she do? The authorities and her neighbors searched for the missing boy for what seemed to be more than a reasonable time, but J.T. wasn’t their boy, she would never quit hoping, praying. Eventually all the searchers went back to their homes, most stopping by her place to share a sincere hug and heartfelt well-wishes, such as they were, for the future. She was dazed, unbelieving, by the official end of the rescue effort. If her son was gone forever, she didn’t want to live, but she hung on just in case Little Jonny would one day show up and need her. 

Her appearance and her health declined to the point, that if anyone had seen her, they would have been shocked and immediately called for medical attention. Mildred never left the house, even as her food stocks ran low, her appetite long gone. The autumn turned to winter and she didn’t care. If her boy was out there, there was a slim chance he would ever survive a Montana winter alone. So, she didn’t want to either. If there was a heaven, she would meet him there, she thought. 

There was a constant background rumble and an occasional jerk to the side, heard and felt from as if from a distance. A throbbing headache built to a crescendo that slowly brought J.T. back to the present. The side of his head hurt and his hair on that side, he discovered, was matted with blood. He looked around, at first unable to focus, then eventually made out hazy items scattered around his body. He was in the back of an old delivery truck. He was bound, wrists and ankles tied with rodeo rope and he heard voices behind him. 

“You sure this’s the road for Kalispell?” A man’s voice asked. 

“Ain’t but one,” a young woman answered. There seemed to be a tension in the air between them. J.T. listened. 

“Okay, I still say we get a motel room, and call the boy’s folks for money, arrange for a drop- off then we go south before winter sets in and enjoy ourselves.” The man declared. 

“That’s a waste a time,” the woman countered, “you know we don’t have nothin’, a phone number or even who this boy is anyhow, fer chrissakes, Earle!” She turned to look straight at him, “We should stop right now and question that little bugger back there, see what we can find out. How we gonna make a plan when we don’t know what we got? Huh? Answer me that, Earle?” 

“I told you, we have to get on his good side, loosen him up, feed him, wrap him in a warm blanket, that sorta thing, you know?” Earle said tentatively. 

“Hogwash, Earle, waste a time, like I been sayin’.” She went on, “You stop this vehicle and go back there and scare the bejesus out a him, and a few minutes later I’ll go back and sweet talk his young butt.” She paused, “Earle, he’s a damn boy, we ought to be able to handle this, dammit! 

Nothing made sense to J.T., sitting in a strange room in a strange place with a determined man and woman asking him the same questions over and over. In what seemed like a never-ending cascade of similar days and nights, he tried mightily; he really did, but just couldn’t provide them any answers. The questions he heard found no matching responses in his mind. He wanted to help these people but just couldn’t understand what it was they wanted from him. 

Outside a chilly rain was falling, the man called Earle came in from the outside and shook off his jacket and threw it on the chair. He approached J.T. slowly, his face unshaven and very serious. He was a stout man that ambled when he walked; he sat down next to J.T. on the bed and looked him in the eye. 

“Now son, this can’t go on forever, you understand? You need to let us help you. You want help don’t you? You want to go home, don’t you, back to your folks?” 

J.T. stared at him, he heard the words but it was like hearing a foreign language. He had no idea what this man wanted from him. He shrugged his shoulders. 

“Man, you deaf or what, talk to me! Say something, dammit!” 

Johnny stared expressionless at the man. Earle stood up in a huff, kicked the side of the bed with his boot, knitted his brows together and after a moment, let out a heavy breath and walked sullenly over to his jacket, looked back at J.T., cursed and left. 

This went on for days, weeks, and J.T. had come to regard this as his normal daily life. He wanted to help the gruff man and his sweet girlfriend, Jolene, they seemed so anxious, and they were clearly looking to him for guidance. He tried to think but still nothing came to him, he just couldn’t grasp the situation. Occasionally an image, a new picture or scene would enter his mind, he pondered these memories, but no connections presented themselves. The side of his head was still numb, but some feeling was returning to the outside edges of the slightly concave area. He began to wonder why one side of his head was rounded and the other flat, almost inward. But that was all he could do, wonder. 

“How much money we got left, Earle?”
“Enough for another couple weeks here is about all, Jolene.” “You feeling desperate yet, Earle?” She asked.
“Pert close, Jolene.” 

J.T. woke with a start, sat straight up in his bed; Jolene was rubbing the inside of his thigh, smiling at him. He felt a warm stirring in himself, he knew what it was, but confused as to why. Jolene repositioned herself so she could stroke a larger area of his smooth inner leg. She appeared happy, her full lips painted pink were slightly apart, her long face surrounded by reddish brown hair that framed her fair-skinned prettiness, her fingers long, slender and active. J.T. felt uncomfortable and squirmed away from her touch. 

“Don’t you like that, boy? All the men I know sure do.” 

J.T. tried to answer but didn’t know what to say. He knew he should stop this now, but part of him wanted more. 

“I just don’t know what to call you, darlin’, what’s your name anyhow?” Jolene cooed for the hundredth time. 

“J.T., my name is Jon Thierry Starett,” he said, speaking for the first time in five weeks. Shocked, he heard his own voice and wondered where it had come from. He had answered a question that was asked, he felt excited. He sat up straighter, he wanted another question; maybe he could help these folks after all! 

“Jonny! What a sweet name!” Jolene was excited too, now she was getting somewhere. I told Earle we should’ve tried sexing the boy up earlier, dammit! “You like this, Jonny, my touching you like this?” 

“To tell the truth, it’s making me a little uneasy, ma’am,” he replied. He was thrilled that he could now communicate with her after all this time. There was a force growing in him, he had recognized it for the last week or so, and here it was blossoming, he wanted to tell Jolene everything. 

“I can do more, Jonny, so much more.” She smiled wickedly at him, “Lay back, let me show you.” She put her hand on his chest and pushed him down flat on the bed. “Say, where you from anyhow, Jonny, around here?” 

“Where am I?”
“Why, you’re in Kalispell, ever been here before?” She moved her fingers higher on his thigh. “I’m from Whitefish, not too far, just north a ways from here.” J.T. was happy to oblige, he 

wanted more questions, he wanted to hear himself answer them with words that pleased her. Jolene’s hand reached a sensitive area and J.T. quickly rolled away like a wrestler performing 

an escape move and jumped out of bed. He quickly stood and placed both hands in front of himself, below his belt, covering up his excitement. He was mighty glad to help this woman but was confused about the physical contact. He was free of that now, and he felt better about his circumstance and could concentrate on helping her further. 

He though Jolene would be unhappy with his rush from her touch but she wasn’t at all, she was beaming, as proud as punch. She stood, smoothed her blouse and headed straight for the door, pausing while holding it open to say, “I’ll be right back, Jonny, you just hold tight.” She closed the door behind her and left J.T. with his newfound thoughts. 

Early winter was not the time to be out on the road hitchhiking, but J.T. Starett had no choice. It didn’t take long for him to piece together his situation now that his absent brain had decided to start working again. He bided his time, giving false information and correcting it when their calls did not pan out. They had considered him to be mentally handicapped and so easily accepted his contradictory stories. J.T. waited until early one morning before Earle and Jolene woke, he walked out of the motel and headed north back home. He caught a ride just after dawn with a Flathead Indian named Victor. 

J.T. was just twelve miles from home when Earle and Jolene showed up along side of them in the southbound lane, with the front passenger window rolled down, and Jolene screaming for them to pull over. She was only about three feet away from Victor and real angry, her eyes were humming with intensity. 

“Pull over or else, dammit, pull the hell over!” She screeched. 

Victor looked at J.T., searching his face for an explanation. J.T. just shrugged, like he had no idea. Victor swung his eyes back to look into Jolene’s fierce gaze, she looked crazed. Victor stomped on the gas pedal. 

It took some time for Earle to maneuver the truck back along side Victor’s car, he had to drop back whenever oncoming traffic appeared on the two-lane road. This time there were no words. Earle attempted to ram the car off the road, nearly succeeding a couple times. 

Jolene looked Victor in the eye, wind rushing between them and said, “Listen here you damn injun, pull over! You gonna pull over one way or t’other boy. You hear me! Now pull the hell over, he’s ours!” 

Victor looked at J.T. “You steal from these people?”
“Exactly the opposite, if you want to know the truth,” J.T. said.
Then they were bumped again, hard, but Victor maintained control on the shoulder of the road 

and regained the northbound lane. Jolene was shouting, spittle flew from her mouth. Up ahead was a logging truck, fully loaded, headed south. Victor let Earle ease ahead. Earle took the bait, but couldn’t line up his target properly and decided to let the farm truck pass first, then go on up and finish the job. 

Earle slowed to fall back behind the Indian’s car and let the heavy truck pass, but Victor slowed too. They were two abreast filling both lanes, the oncoming logging truck leaning on its horn in long frantic bursts. Earle slowed more, so did Victor. Earle sped up, so did Victor. The farm truck whooshed past, horn blaring. 

J.T. looked back and saw a cloud of dirt and rocks flying through the air some hundred feet off the southbound lane headed northwest. Earle had taken that old truck off the road to avoid a head-on collision, and from the looks of it, that truck would never see any roadway again. 

“That was some fine driving there, Victor,” J.T. said admiringly, “Yes sir, some fine driving skills displayed right there.” 

“Those people were trying to kill us!” Victor said breathing heavily, still looking down the road. 

“Naw, they were kidnappers and they wanted their kid back.” J.T. relaxed in his seat. “Don’t think we’ll see them again.” 

J.T. explained the situation generally as he knew it, leaving out the details, he figured Victor deserved to know. 

“I ought to let you out right here, boy. I wasn’t ready for no action like that there.” Victor was only mildly annoyed, more proud of the role he played in the outcome, and J.T.’s praise. 

“I owe you, Victor, when we get home, my momma will make us tacos,” J.T. said, “I owe you that much.” J.T. was giddy with the thought of his mother’s relief when he walked through the door. He yearned for his mother’s warm embrace, her sweet smell, and the overall softness of her. They were only a few miles outside the turn-off that led to his home. 

“Aw, ‘preciate it, but I got to get to work. Got a job cuttin’ trees up north of the lake, pays good, got to have it,” explained Victor, who was only a few years older than J.T. “New government project and they’re hiring everybody, if you’re an Indian anyways. You need a job?” 

J.T. had never considered a job; he was still in school and not old enough for serious work. The thought of returning to school, though, had less appeal to him now than it did back in the fall 

before all this trouble started. Maybe he would get a job, help his mother out with the bills, and contribute what he could, although he knew his mother would never let him drop out of school. 

“Thanks just the same, but I’ve got schooling to do yet.” 

The Flathead Indian pulled his car to the side of the road in front of a whitewashed clapboard house. To J.T. it seems like years since he was here, not the month and a half he was really gone. Victor pushed in the clutch with his foot, switched the ignition off, and glided up to the house. He pulled on the handbrake and they skidded to a stop on loose gravel. The two boys exited the car on opposite sides and together they walked up to the front door, J.T. almost laughing out loud, so strong was his anticipation. 

The yard was unkept, so unlike his mother, thought J.T., but I’m sure my disappearance was a hardship for her. Nonetheless, he was home, time to celebrate! The front door was locked, they knocked but no one came to answer. “She must be running the bath or out back in her garden,” J.T. said over his shoulder to Victor as they rounded the corner of the house heading to the back of the property. 

“Too late in the year for a garden, don’t you think?” Victor said following. 

“She’s probably at the schoolhouse then,” J.T. answered when he saw the backyard and the abandoned garden, which was entirely logical he supposed, it’s just that he though she’d be there to welcome him, that’s how it always played out in his head these last few days. The back door was locked too. 

“Over here, I can get in the bathroom window.” J.T. beckoned. 

Victor helped J.T., gave him a boost up to the window that J.T. knew was never locked. He opened it and slid in headfirst. J.T. walked into the hallway and down towards the kitchen and the back door. He glanced into his mother’s room as he passed and was startled to see her lying peacefully in her bed. He ran to her, “Momma! Momma! I’m home! I’m home!” She didn’t move. 

She lay on her back wearing her Sunday dress, best stockings and her shiny black dress shoes. In her hands she clasped a picture of a smiling Jonny in his school clothes. On the table beside the bed was an empty pill bottle on its side, the cap lying on the floor. She was beautiful. More beautiful than any person he had ever known, or even seen. Even in death, her beauty was obvious. J.T.’s heart sank, a force gripped his insides, and he wanted to scream or smash something. 

Victor was banging on the back door. J.T. stared down at his mother. There was no pain in her expression, perhaps relief, now she lay still forever. J.T. sighed mournfully, leaned over and gave her a kiss on her cold cheek, “Goodbye, momma, I love you. I will always love you.” 

He stood up, the banging louder now at the back door. He walked out of her bedroom without looking back. He reached the back door, opened it but didn’t give Victor a chance to enter; J.T. pushed his way out and closed the door behind him. 

“On second thought, I think I’ll head up to that job site north of the lake,” he said, “if that’s okay with you?” J.T. Starett didn’t stop walking, he headed straight for the car, “maybe they’ll have something for me up there.” 

Ray Goes Boating

Lisa loved sailing. Not necessarily the remarkable power of the wind and the serene image of a bow slicing through waves, mostly it was the other-worldliness of the whole adventure. Just being on the water, floating around in a self-contained capsule, propelled by nature and cruising to a new destination every day is what she found so mesmerizing, and zen-like.

Each summer Lisa took a week and went sailing with her older sister, who with her husband and their two small girls, kept a sloop on the Chesapeake Bay. They would stock the boat with food, snacks and plenty of rum and beer and set sail for a variety of anchorages in small creeks, big rivers and popular water towns along the bay. It was a great time every summer, everyone looked forward to it, and none more than Lisa. They would all play in the sun, face the breeze while underway with their arms upraised on the foredeck as if they were part of the sails and rigging. They cooled their bodies in the clear, crisp water at the end of each day, and settled into the pleasant routine of cruising.

No one part of the day was more enjoyable than another. Maybe the morning was a bit jarring, when Captain Jimmy would not allow over-sleeping.

“Up and at ‘em, swabs!” He would bellow into the cabin. There was a routine on the boat; mornings were for a quick breakfast and transforming the boat from a hotel into a sailing craft. But, once the anchor was weighed and the sails filled with the fresh morning air, everyone settled into their favorite places. Lisa headed for the foredeck, where she laid out in the sun and resumed her interrupted sleep, the younger girls would be safely in the cockpit with games or maybe throw a line out, trying to get lucky.

Noon or so, brought the gallery mates to action, preparing lunch. Jimmy navigated and steered, the rest either prepped the food down below or readied the folding cockpit table for our meal. Unless the weather was rough, which it usually wasn’t during Chesapeake summers, everyone enjoyed their midday meal meal together. The topic of conversation was the day’s destination, or some alternate place due to a change in the wind, weather or sea conditions or the need to re-provision. Then, after cleanup, it was back to your favorite nook to enjoy sailing for the afternoon. Akela, a thirty-four foot Tartan sloop and a superb sailer, would cut a handsome line smoothly through the choppy green water of the Chesapeake. Reading, napping and cloud watching were popular afternoon activities.

Coming into an anchorage brought everyone to their stations. This was a practiced routine, that after a few days, was performed wordlessly, so adept became the crew. Once the anchor was down and set, the girls proceeded to reverse the morning exercise and make the boat over into a floating hotel once again. Hatches were opened, letting the breeze flow straight through the boat, screens on for later, during dusk, when the insects would come out, and erecting the windscoop over the forward hatch in order to keep maximum air flowing continuously throughout the cabin, like the tradewinds in the islands. Lisa would make the rum drinks and bring them up to the cockpit. Jimmy put the sail covers on and cleared the decks of all lines. The music was on now, cockpit speakers spreading the vibe and the rope ladder was attached to the toe rail and flipped overboard. A cool refreshing dip awaited and tropical drinks were at the ready, the only decision would be which would come first.

Along the shoreline of the Chesapeake Bay there are many, many fine anchorages. From snug deep-water creeks with the calm and privacy they offer, to small picturesque water towns and villages worth exploring on foot, to bayside urban life complete with bars, restaurants, clubs and nightlife. These summer trips, planned by Captain Jimmy, favored the Eastern shore of Maryland, the more rural, natural side of the bay away from the hustle and bustle of big city life.

Some favorite anchorages were creeks off the Chester River and the Sassafras River with their natural beauty and nightly blanket of stars, to Rock Hall, a waterman’s town with an outstanding seafood reputation and St Michael’s, a fun place to explore after a tasty steamed blue crab dinner at one of the great harbor restaurants. On the Western Shore, the more populated side, there was big-city Baltimore with it’s Inner Harbor to experience and Annapolis, everyone’s favorite for sailboat races and the nightly pub crawl. The bigger places had water taxi service to and from your boat in the harbor directly into the middle of downtown action, and Lisa took full advantage to explore the bar scene until just before the taxis stopped running for the night.

As time went on, and her sister’s family grew up, the summer sailing weeks came to an end, but Lisa never forgot how much fun they were. During get-togethers and parties, if the subject of sailing came up, Lisa would smile and get that far-away look in her eyes. She thoroughly enjoyed herself and missed those times like a fond childhood memory.

A beautiful summer’s day was upon the cruising group, and wispy clouds floated overhead with a bright, but not uncomfortable, sun shining down warming all below. A favorable breeze had filled in during the late morning, forecasting an ideal day on the Chesapeake Bay.

Her sails were full and the sloop Akela was pulling her way up the Bay from Swan Creek in Rock Hall bound for Still Pond, a quiet, idyllic anchorage on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Captain Jimmy held her steady on a broad reach while the crew lounged about the cockpit and windward side decks. Akela’s motion was effortless, cutting through the small wavelets on the bay, in the timeless way sloops have plied these waters for centuries. Lisa was all smiles and her new husband was acclimating himself to the newness of being on the water.

“Who’s ready for lunch,” Lisa called back from the foredeck, her favorite sunbathing spot. Captain Jimmy looked at Ray, “You ready big guy?”
“You bet I am!” Ray was leaning back in the cockpit with his pipe, enjoying the feeling of moving over an uneven surface for the first time in his life, with only the sound an occasional hiss of the bow slicing through another swell. “Awesome, I could get used to this in a hurry, bro!”

Ray was a large man, over three hundred pounds and tall enough to carry the weight. To complete the image, he wore his hair long, in a pony tail, befitting a top disc jockey in the Philadelphia metro area; classic rock was his expertise. Ray filled his pipe again and watched his wife hop from the cabin top to the deck and smartly down into the cockpit.

“How about a cold beer and a sandwich?” Lisa was bubbling, she was so happy that Ray seemed to be adjusting nicely to her youth’s passion of sailing and the cruising lifestyle, just as she had hoped. She was thrilled when Captain Jimmy agreed to take them sailing for a weekend, as she had been bending Ray’s ear for a couple weeks about her sailing trips of her youth. Lisa turned and lowered herself down the companionway, three steps down the ladder to the galley sole, and the icebox to the right of the stove. “So cool, eh Ray?” She hollered up as she grabbed three iced beers.

Ray was getting mellower all the time. “Yeah, baby, very cool indeed.”

Akela made the last tack out towards the Aberdeen Proving Grounds on the Western Shore and laid a course for the opening into Still Pond on the eastern side. A glorious reach across the Bay.

Captain Jimmy called out to Lisa to help prepare for Akela’s approach. Ray was having a difficult time getting around the boat, his bulk and the sleek narrow lines of the sloop were not getting along. It was already determined he couldn’t go below, too painful to squeeze through the companionway, or navigate the ladder down into the main salon. Going forward to help with the anchor or to douse the sails was also out of the question. Captain Jimmy had sailed this thirty four foot classic Sparkman and Stephens designed vessel many time solo, so there were no worries. Just a little coordination was involved, a matter of a brief meeting to dole out responsibilities.

“Lisa, come take the wheel. I’ll go forward and prepare the ground tackle,” Captain Jimmy instructed. When Lisa was at his side, he said, “See that tall bluff in the distance, look at the point where it ends and drops down to sea level, see it?” He was pointing into the distance, “Aim for that, I’ll be back in a few minutes. Shout if you have any problems, just make small corrections, don’t turn the wheel over and you’ll be fine.” With that, he left the cockpit and bounded forward to the anchor locker.

“You okay, baby?” Ray asked.

“Sure. Isn’t this really cool, Ray, don’t you just love it?” She was so excited, the outing had gone perfectly to this point, disregarding Ray’s maneuverability problem. “As soon we get anchored, we’ll go for a swim, then have happy hour, then we’ll cook on the barbecue, lay out under the stars, listen to music and fade into sleep on a gently rocking berth. What could be better!” Lisa was just short of shouting, outlining the day’s remaining activities. These were all the things she loved about sailing and cruising, and she wanted Ray to love them just as deeply.

Having pulled the chain and rode from the anchor locker and calculated the scope, Captain Jimmy returned to the cockpit, “You handling her?” He said to Lisa.

“Si, no problemo, mon capitan,” she replied a with a grin.

Captain Jimmy began to furl the headsail, and reaching over to the steering pedestal, he pressed the starter button for the diesel engine, and it rumbled to life. “We’ll be in shortly,” he announced, and continued to furl the sail and then secure it.

The anchorage was open, with only a few boats lying inside. Akela headed towards Captain Jimmy’s favorite spot in a protected corner towards the southern side. The engine was out of gear and Akela glided slowly forward. Captain Jimmy walked briskly to the anchor, unhinged and dropped it precisely where he intended. He returned to the cockpit and put the engine into reverse, set the anchor securely and then cut the engine, the throaty diesel throbbed a couple times and quit. A quiet overtook them like a rolling fog, as the birds in the nearby woods and small lapping waves against the hull replaced the sounds of sailing. Akela settled into her new attitude, upright and facing into the wind.

Captain Jimmy went below to open all the hatches, install screens and kick on the jams. The Allman Brothers came to life through the inside salon and outside cockpit speakers and were properly setting the mood. Jimmy returned topsides and retrieved all the water toys from the cockpit lockers and tossed them over, and tethered them to various winches and cleats along the side decks. He then secured a rope ladder to the side of the boat, and let it slowly sink down into the pale green water.

“The pool is now open!” announced Captain Jimmy.

The sun was warm and the breezes light, and the water was wonderfully refreshing. Lisa alternated between rum drinks aboard and cooling splashes in the water, scrambling up the rope ladder after a few minutes to reunite with her drink. Ray was enjoying himself as well, reclining on the cockpit lazarette closest to the ladder so he could watch the activity, all the while sucking on his pipe. His eyes protected by dark sunglasses, his pony tail bobbing to the beat, big Ray was ultra comfortable.

“How’s the water, Lisa?” Ray asked leaning slightly to his left to see his wife.

“Oh Ray, it’s beyond words, it’s dreamy!” She said. “C’mon in!”

the captain perked up at this exchange, he had been calculating the effort needed to get back onboard and he wasn’t at all sure Ray was capable.

“Another option, Ray, is to go up on the foredeck, there’s a canvas bucket tied to the lifeline up there you can douse yourself with water. It’s nice, just drop it over, scoop and retrieve, then poor liquid sunshine over your head and body. The kids do it all the time. You might like it!” Captain Jimmy was trying to give Ray an out, he was very concerned he may have trouble with the rope ladder. Ray had a sit-down job and combined with his size and weight, physical fitness wasn’t in his bag of assets.

“That sounds nice, but I think I’ll join Lisa in a swim,” Ray announced, although he didn’t move his position. Lisa was hugging a float, tied to the stern of the boat so the current wouldn’t take her away. She had her drink with her, sipping rum and mango juice with a wedge of lime. She wasn’t concerned.

“Hey Ray, the rope ladder is a little tricky, think you can manage it?” Captain Jimmy asked with a hint of caution.

“No problemo, mon capitano!” Ray said evenly.

Oh well, whatever happens I’m sure we can work ourselves out of it, rationalized the captain. Other boats were coming in off the bay and maneuvering for anchorages along the wooded peninsula or further in toward the sandy spit, where some pitched umbrellas and spent the day sunbathing.

“Who needs a beer, or rum drink,” the captain hollered, making his way down below to get the fixings.

“Make two rums and hand ‘em overboard to us,” Lisa called back. Her and Ray were going in. Ok, it’s showtime, thought Captain Jimmy, here we go!

Lisa jumped in amidships using the mast shrouds for support, Ray steadied himself on the tiny side deck near the aft cockpit, where there were no mast stays to hold onto, nothing other than the knee-high lifelines, which were more a hazard than a help for the big man. He wobbled for an instant, then unceremoniously flopped overboard in a combination jump-fall-slip plunge; a twisting, lunging exit that rocked the boat considerably when he hit the surface, displacing some three hundred pounds of water with his multi-point, foot, arm, shoulder and back landing, producing a mini tsunami that traveled throughout the quiet anchorage, rattling drinks all across the cove.

Ray surfaced, spouted water remarkably like a large water mammal, and grinned ear to ear. He looked at Lisa and together they started to laugh. It was quite a sight. Captain Jimmy handed over the rum drinks, toasted with two hanging onto the tethered float, and went to turn up the music. The party was in full swing.

The lazy afternoon wore on, Lisa and Ray lounging in the water, Captain Jimmy stretched out in the cockpit, tunes filling the air with cool vibes and Akela played along, gently rocking to the beat.

“I’m getting out now, Lisa,” Captain Jimmy heard Ray say. This is the part that had the captain concerned. It’s not real easy climbing up a rope ladder. Especially one hung from a sailboat where the hull slides away at the waterline forming a hydrodynamic shape. The fist step is easy, it’s when you put pressure on that step and attempt to lift your body out of the water, the weight gain is impressive, and so is the drift the ladder takes to press against the hull, a few feet beyond and under the boat from your legs. If you’re in shape, have relatively strong legs or upper body strength, it’s not a problem but some women and a few men have been surprised by the effort required.

“What the hell…” Ray just discovered the nuances of climbing up a rope ladder. “What’s the trick here?”

“The first step is the hardest, Ray, then it’s easier from there.” Lisa was offering encouragement from the water, still sipping her rum drink, head resting on the float still attached to the stern cleat. Her body swaying with the passing current.

“I can’t do it.” Ray said flatly. “Ain’t gonna happen.” He was flailing in the water, falling back after raising up minimally out of the water with a great splash. “Is there another way?”

“Here, let me help.” Lisa swam over and positioned herself behind Ray who was grasping the sides of the rope ladder. Lisa, all one hundred pounds of her, had it in her mind to push Ray up the ladder. She figured Ray only needed a little boost to get him started. Afterall, she’s seen many people – men, women, kids – climb that very same ladder without help, and only an occasional complaint.

Captain Jimmy surveyed the situation. Not good, he concluded, no way Lisa pushes him up that ladder. And watching Ray, the captain was surprised by the lack of strength. He went over to get a closer look at the problem.

“Damn!” Lisa was gasping and spitting water. She was giving her all, but there was no progress getting Ray up the ladder. On every try, Ray would rise up a few inches, then throw himself back, over Lisa, sending her plunging down through the depths only the surface, cursing. She gave a mighty try each time, but Ray was helpless and fast running out of energy and patience.

“I can’t do it,” Ray said again only this time with defeat in his voice.

“Lisa, let’s try one more time. I’ll try to grab him from up here while you push, ok? Captain Jimmy moved over into position. “Ray, give it your best shot. Grab the boat hook with one hand, and I’ll pull. Ready?”

“Yeah, go ahead,” Ray said.
“Ready, Lisa?” The captain asked. “Let’s do it. Here we go: One, two, three!”

Ray came to the place were his body weight, coming out of the buoyant water, overcame his leg and arm strength, at the same time the bottom of the rope ladder drifted away and towards the receding hull underwater, putting even more pressure on his weakened muscles, he shook for an instant, spasmed, then his body one again fell back. Lisa was nearly drowned underneath, she surfaced shaking her head and moved wordlessly back to the float to rest.

“Ok, don’t panic, I have an idea.” Captain Jimmy was moving towards the mast and rigging. “Take a breather, Ray, I’ll put something together here to help us. No problem. You rest up, it’ll all be fine, big guy.”

The captain attached the topping lift to the aft end of the boom, then went forward to release the control lines. He swung the boom out over the water above the rope ladder. Then untied the main uphaul line from the mast cleat, fed it through the boom bale and clipped the shackle on the lifeline just above the ladder. He then went back to the cockpit, opened up the starboard lazarette and dug around until he found an old harness. It was made up of a few wide nylon straps, like a car seatbelts, that went around the body, chest level and attached to a center steel ring.

“Here, Ray, put this on,” Captain Jimmy tossed the harness overboard. “We are going to haul you out with this line running from the masthead. See it?” He waggled the line sending ripples all the way up some forty feet to the top. “The other end I’ll wrap around the main winch on the cabintop, right here.” He pointed to the big stainless steel spool mounted near the companionway, watching Ray’s eyes follow the captain’s demonstration.

“Got it? Ray, you following me? We will have you out of there in no time now.”

Captain Jimmy stood back and looked up at the mast and the rigging, sizing up the operation before starting. He didn’t like it. No, the topping lift wasn’t strong enough. He went forward and engaged the boom vang, which would hold the boom steady from below, and out over the water. Then he removed the topping left and secured it to the back stay, keeping it out of the way. Now, the downward force would be taken up entirely by the mast, designed to take massive amounts of stress from big sails filled full and stretched unbelievably with powerful winds.

The stout uphaul was unclipped from the lifelines and handed over to Lisa who attached it to the D ring on Ray’s harness, squarely in the center of his chest. Captain Jimmy moved to a position behind the main self-tailing winch and took three wraps. The winch handle was inserted in the top for maximum torque. One more glance over the whole rig, no lines tangled or fouled in equipment, and a fair lead directly from the masthead back to the power winch and likewise from the masthead through the end of the boom and attached to Ray. Operation Big Man Lift was about to proceed.

Captain Jimmy started cranking on the winch, the lines tightened and Ray felt the tug on his harness.

“You okay, big guy? The captain said while continuously cranking the winch, pulling Ray up out of the water inch by inch.

“It’s starting to pinch,” Ray yelped.

Captain Jimmy continued to crank. Ray was coming out of the water, he was about half way out when he started screaming.

“It hurts! It hurts! It’s pinching me! Stop! Stop! Stop!
The operation ground to a halt.
“Put me back, it hurts, damnit! Now!”

Captain Jimmy did a controlled slip of the uphaul line wrapped around the winch, slowly lowering the bulk of his cargo back into the water.
“Ray, we were almost there, man,” Captain Jimmy was talking in a soothing voice, like to a child that needed to be forced along for its own good. And foot or two and you could’ve swung a leg over the toe rail and been home free.”

“The pain was unbelievable, I couldn’t take it another minute. There must be another way.” Ray, back in the water, tension on the harness relieved, still had a pained expression his face. “Think of something else, ‘cause this ain’t working, Cap.”

Lisa was catching her breath back on the float. She was not having fun anymore. She was thinking the same thing as the captain was, Ray was cautioned not to go in, but to go forward where the canvas bucket was lashed to the lifelines, ready to deploy for a refreshing douse of cool bay water. But no, Ray had to go in, over the side, with no understanding of the rope ladder and it’s unique challenges in order get back onboard. He had been forewarned, and in hindsight, maybe a more direct approach would have been better. Although you can’t make a man’s decisions for him, and Ray clearly didn’t make the right one here, the broad hints offered by the captain surely would’ve detoured most people.

“Let me think a minute, Ray. We’ll get you ought of there, no problem.” Captain Jimmy refocused back to the problem at hand. He stood, looked overboard at Ray, then moved across the cockpit, opened the opposite lazarette and pulled out a bosun’s chair. This canvas chair is used to go up the mast, provide a working station with some comfort and pockets for tools, to make repairs aloft. It has two holes for your legs, a broad bottom, not unlike a child’s diaper. There was an attachment in front that pulled it all together. The captain threw it overboard at Ray.

“Put this on, Ray, it’s be much more comfortable. It rides a lot lower, instead of your back and shoulders taking the pressure, this will be your hips and butt.” Ray was twisting it around in his hands trying to understand how it goes on.

“Hold the attachment ring in front of you and insert a leg through each side, so that the material comes up and fits snugly under your bottom, Ray.” The captain watched as he fitted himself, with Lisa’s help, into the bosun’s chair.

The line was swung over from the boom and Ray clipped on.

“Ray, with this method, you’ll need to hold onto the uphaul line so that you don’t pivot over to the side, keep yourself upright. Got it?” Captain Jimmy surveyed the setup.

“Ok, here we go, man.” And Captain Jimmy started winching in the rope. The line tightened and Ray was once again being hauled up out of the water. When the critical point was reached, where Ray had half his body out of the water, and the weight on the rig was at its maximum, it all looked good. But only for a minute. Ray started to lean sideways, not having the strength in his upper body to hold himself upright. The worse case scenario was beginning to form, Ray would swivel all the way to one side and uncontrollably end up a hundred and eighty degrees around, with his legs up in the air and his head in the water.

“Hold on Ray!” Captain Jimmy started to swing the winch handle in furious circles pulling in rope as fast as he could. The trick was to get Ray up high enough to swing him onboard with the boom, above the lifelines and onto the sidedeck before he rotated and and put himself into a dangerous position.

“Ray, hold on, man! Keep your self upright! Just do it!” From his vantage point in the cockpit behind the main winch, Captain Jimmy could see that Ray was not going to reach the height needed to clear the lifelines before he let go of the rope. The captain jumped up and rushed to the boom and violently swung it towards the middle of the boat. Ray slammed into the hull, about level with the toerail.

“Ray, grab the lifelines, pull yourself on!” Captain Jimmy was pressing with all his weight against the boom in oder to keep Ray up against the boat and near enough to the lifelines where Ray could hopefully secure a hold and not plunge back overboard. All three were exhausted at this point.

Ray threw a leg over the toerail and onto the side deck, but couldn’t pull his body over. The captain grabbed Ray’s leg and pulled, then grabbed his hand and yanked hard enough for Ray to grip one of the lifeline stanchions. Captain Jimmy threw a clip onto Ray’s bosun’s chair and tied it off on a cleat, then quickly moved over to the boarding ladder and dropped the lifelines to the deck.

“Hang on, Ray, we’re almost there!” Captain Jimmy assembled a block and tackle onto the coachtop, secured one end to the mast base and the other to Ray. The control rope was led back to the winch where Captain Jimmy took several fast wraps and cranked like hell. Ray slapped onto the side deck with a loud anguished moan. His body red and scraped, bruised and spent.

Lisa scrambled up the rope ladder and rushed to Ray’s side. “You ok, baby?”

Ray was relieved but so tired he couldn’t speak. Captain Jimmy kept the securing ropes attached and firmed up so that Ray could not flop back into the bay. Ray was sore and his ego was hurting but he was safely onboard, the ordeal was over. Looking around, Captain Jimmy noticed several boats were positioned to watch the drama unfold. Cockpits were filled with people, drinks in hand, smiles on their faces. Embarrassing for Ray, but damn scary too, thought the captain, this could’ve easily turned ugly a couple times.

Ray laid on the sidedeck for about thirty minutes before he could move. He then crawled back to the cockpit and retook his horizontal position with a pillow and several soft cushions. He fell fast asleep with a word spoken.

Lisa went down below, the captain began to clean up the deck and stow the rescue equipment back into its various storage compartments. The lifelines were rest, the rope ladded pulled onboard and all the ropes coiled and stored.

“Need a rum drink, Cap?” Lisa’s face was peering out from the companionway, smiling like she knew the obvious answer to her question.

“Yeah, Lisa, that sounds about perfect right about now.”

“Figured as much, here you go.” Lisa handed up the drinks and came up from below. The two of them sipped their drinks and relaxed.

“Y’know, this little adventure may turn Ray off to boating, you think?” The captain was looking over at the large man, his chest was heaving, small breaths escaped his mouth with audible sighs. He was totally done in.

“Well, I hope he learned at least one lesson, to take advice of someone more knowledgable while onboard.” Lisa chuckled at her her own thoughts.

It was getting late in the afternoon, soon the grill would be lit, dinner cooked and enjoyed in the cockpit on a teak table, followed by an evening beverage or two listening to music and telling stories. It’s one of the best things about a day’s end out on the water.

Unfortunately, the newlyweds couldn’t spend the night together. Ray couldn’t fit through the companionway and had to sleep outside in the cockpit. Lisa went down below to her stateroom in the vee-berth alone. Captain Jimmy rigged an awning over the cockpit to keep the morning dew off and slipped under a light blanket on the cockpit bench opposite Ray, who barely spoke a dozen words since his rescue, and stretched out for the balance of the night.

This isn’t what Lisa had envisioned when she proposed this trip, but it could have turned out much worse. Captain Jimmy gained a story that has been told and retold to astonished guests onboard Akela many times since. And Ray, not one to be fooled again, has never, ever, set foot in a boat again.