Saturday, August 30, 2014

Alcyone, Chapter Thirty-Seven: Time-Exposure Triplet

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Thirty Seven

Scootie’s three-month severance provided some flexibility in considering his options, but it also gave him way too much free time. This was dangerous, because any time he let his mind drift, it was bound to drift into a funk.
Of course, his friends were more than happy to have more time with him. He met with twice a week for Scrabble and cigars. He saw Cindy often enough that she asked him to construct some of the “lesson plans” as well, since the constant research was beginning to be a load.
He saw Audrey every other weekend, and savored the opportunity to get away from Hallis. This did, however, present a problem. Audrey was growing more and more flirtatious, while Scootie’s libido was a light switch duct-taped in the “off” position. He also suspected that, after three years of friendship, Audrey’s interest had gone beyond lust to something deeper. Explaining his devotion to a married woman who had just screwed him over was difficult – especially when his orders came from a caffeine-induced spirit.
When he complained of his time-trouble, Audrey got that witchy look, and took him to a shed behind the percussion shop. She opened the door to reveal a pair of matching ten-speed bikes, tires flat, wheels rusted, but looking oddly unused.
“A wedding present from Tiger’s sister – his ‘n’ hers. I’ve been meaning to get rid of them, anyway. Maybe if you take the salvageable parts from each, you can come up with one workable bike. That is, if the parts don’t fight with each other.”
With the help of a bike shop in Half Moon Bay, Scootie did just that, and was soon discovering the pleasures of biking Highway One, with its long, even stretches and impressive vistas. He began to develop a surprising stamina, along with the kind of superhero calves he had always admired in others.
His trips also brought him an exposure to fresh, direct environments, the heightening of senses so often cut off by the insularity of automobiles. (He also rediscovered the thrill of accidentally swallowing bugs, but it was a small price.) He especially enjoyed pedaling through the streets of Hallis at eventide, taking in the aromatic buffet of home-cooked meals. A whiff of T-bone steak or tuna casserole could knock him straight back to his childhood in suburban Santa Ana.
Still, there was no protection from the dread late-night thoughts, the white adobe that could be seen for miles – the motel room mere feet from his Scrabble games. And what of his occupation? In a town like Hallis, there weren’t many openings for a theater publicist. He would obviously have to try something new: typist, gas station attendant, surfing instructor? Unemployment benefits wouldn’t quite cut it. They would necessitate a smaller apartment, and he hated giving up on his pigeons. (Even if he disassembled the coop, they would stay right there, terrorizing his neighbors and their cars for generations to come.)
The winter’s final curse was the departure of Jackie Simmer. He had underestimated her decisiveness. Two days after revealing her intentions to Scootie, she walked into Garth’s office and handed him her resignation – one and a half pages of prose striking a fine balance between her admiration for the organization and her disappointment in its actions. Underneath the kitschy regional similes, Jackie embodied elegance, good taste and acute intelligence.
So effective was her resignation, in fact, that she earned a personal visit from the new president, who offered a raise and certain administrative concessions if she would reconsider. What she didn’t offer, of course, was the reinstatement of Scootie Jones.
“And yes, damn yer hide, I made no mention of your private humpin’ sessions. I still don’t understand why that’s so important. She knows that I know about it, and she could shorely read the snakebite venom shootin’ from my eyes, that goddamn Ivy League whore. I wouldn’t... oh, stop lookin’ at me like that!”
Jackie was kneeling on Hallis Beach, tracing a series of Egyptian-looking symbols in the sand.

“That’s nice,” said Scootie. “Any particular meaning?”
“No, and don’t change the subject! Oh, Scootie, you don’t have to go to Austin with me, but why the hell are you stayin’ here? I can’t stand to see you suffering like this.”
Scootie took a driftwood stick and scratched out the name Barran. “I can’t explain it, darlin’ Jackie. Something tells me I’m not done here, and that’s why I have to stay.”
“It just goes against all my instincts. She already broke your heart and took your job. What’s she gonna go after next? Your liver?”
Scootie let out a high donkey laugh. “And I suppose you will never again go out with another cowboy, as long as you live?”
Jackie raised a hand in pledge. “Never.”
“To borrow a phrase, honey – yer a lyin’ sacka shit.”
“Sadly, yes. Hey, look, Scoots – the sun’s about to go.”
Scootie looked up to find an orange ball mutating in the vapor, a time-exposure triplet over the water.
“Aha! It’s time.” He reached into the crumpled bag at his feet.
“Whadja bring? Bottle o’ whiskey?”
“Better.” He extracted two mangos, red with splotches of green and yellow, and offered one to Jackie.
“And what to you expect me to do with that?”
“Eat it,” he said. “And be good and sloppy about it.”
Jackie eyed it suspiciously. “Right through the skin?”
“That’s how the natives do it.”
Jackie took a breath and dove in, through the leathery skin to the juicy yellow pulp. “Mmm... Scrumptious. Y’know, Scoots, I swear this is the first time we’ve ever come to the beach together. We gotta do this again sometime.”
“Name the place.”
“Galveston. We’ll have oysters on the half-shell and hush puppies.”
Scootie picked a point of entry and assaulted his mango, leaning forward to let the juice drip on the sand. “Hmmph... I will bring you... papayas!”
In ten minutes, the sun and mangos were gone. They left the pits to the seagulls and drove to Santa Cruz for a revival of Chinatown. In the morning, he drove her to San Francisco International, Sable mewing anxiously in the back seat. A week later, Scootie got a postcard, the capitol building, pale red in the Texas sunset.

Photo by MJV

Friday, August 29, 2014

Alcyone, Chapter Thirty-Six: All the Chaos in the World

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Thirty Six

When eight of her pigeons arrived at once, Audrey knew what had happened. She adapted readily to the role of caretaker, keeping Scootie occupied with drums to play, videos to watch, meals to eat. She even showed him all the shuffling tricks she had picked up in Vegas. Scootie was numb, and quite happy to let Audrey do all the talking.
After two days, even with the rationale of extreme injustice on his side, Scootie couldn’t fight the need to put his office in order. He didn’t want future publicists to be hindered by what he left them; he didn’t want his name ever to be cursed within the halls of Fetzle Mansion. On Thursday morning, he drove north.
Jackie, on the other hand, couldn’t give an armadillo’s ass what future generations thought of her. Having gathered hearsay evidence from all sides of the matter, she declared Juliana the Antichrist, and would have loved to have a one-on-one with her, preferably somewhere dark and out-of-the-way.
She was seated at her desk with a chocolate-covered doughnut, dreaming up ever-crueler punishments, when she heard the familiar whine of Scootie’s computer botting up. He was hunched over his keyboard, leaning on a fist, when Jackie came up and caressed his shoulders.
“Hi, partner.”
Scootie turned, eyes circled in gray, and patted Jackie’s hand. “Hi.”
“You wanna re-kuh-nooter at the Bolero?”
“Not just now. I need to do a little organizing.”
“I don’t see why you bother,” she said. “If I were you, I’d set fire to this place. Screw the sonsabitches.”
“I’m not doing it for the sonsabitches,” he said. “I’m doing it for me.”
Jackie stroked the top of Scootie’s head. “Eagle Scout till the end. How ‘bout in an hour or two?”
“Two o’clock?”
“Sure. I’ll come fetch you.”

You could generally read Jackie’s mood by the amount of chocolate she took in. She sat down at the Bolero with a plate of chocolate-dipped strawberries, a fudge brownie known as Devil’s Downfall, and a double mocha in a tall glass. She topped the mocha with a shake of cocoa powder, then filled Scootie in on all the layoff details he had already figured out. Ten minutes later, she smushed a finger on the last crumb of brownie, put it in her mouth, and declared her intentions.
“I’m leavin’. I’m goin’ back to Austin.”
Scootie leaned forward on the table and thought about it.
“You can’t do that, Jackie. It’s just melodrama. And you love this job.”
“I may love this job, but I suddenly ain’t so crazy about the people I’m workin’ for. What makes you think they wouldn’t screw me over someday just the way they did you?”
“Because you’re not sleeping with the president of the board.”
“Correct me if I’m wrong, Scootie. Did you hold a gun to the bitch’s head to make her sleep with you?”
“Of course not.”
“Then get out the scarlet paint, sonnyboy, and plaster a little graffiti on Juliana Kross’s forehead. Blab it all over town. Scorch this shithole!”
Scootie peered out the window. A sea lion was surfing the breakers, holding his head over the white and green boil.
“The same reason I’m cleaning my files, Jackie. The people running Fetzle right now can do what they want to me, but it doesn’t change the fact that I love the place. Juliana Kross can do whatever she wants to me, it doesn’t change the fact that I love her. You don’t hurt something just because it hurts you.”
The furls in Jackie’s brow smoothes out like Venetian blinds, and she smiled. “You’re the most Christian man I know, Scootie Jones.”
“But I’m an agnostic.”
“I’m talkin’ behavior, not denomination.”
“Okay,” said Scootie. “But my reasons are practical, not moral. When it comes to my conscience, I like to travel light. Takes a lot of energy to hold a grudge.”
“So where you goin’?” asked Jackie. “Come to Austin! I’ll show you all around Sixth Street.”
“That would be nice. And I’ve got family in L.A., theater friends in Boston and New York. Maybe it’s time for a little drifting. You know what else, Jackie?”
“I always knew you’d end up back in Austin.”
“That’s funny,” said Jackie. “’Cause so did I.”

He waded through a day of co-workers wearing that godawful sympathetic expression, then managed to straighten out his files by sundown. He was contemplating a stack of old photos that needed to be dated and identified when he decided to head out for some fresh air. Instinctively, he took the trail toward the cabin, and was standing at Virginia’s memorial when he heard a rustling of twigs, and a light flared up from the edge of the redwood grove.
The voice sounded familiar. He made out the silhouette of a hunting jacket and a feathered Bavarian hat.
“Rip!” Scootie rushed over, hand extended. “What the heck are you...”
“A find like no other,” said Rip, short of breath. “Scootie, young dog, I couldn’t even make up something like this. You remember Fetzle’s Mexican woodcarver? Miguel Barran?”
Scootie didn’t need to hear a word further. But he played along with Rip’s excitement, if only because the many-fingered path of his heartbreak was too large a burden to pass on to others.
“And you wouldn’t believe the condition of the place! It looks almost like someone’s been livin’ there – though we haven’t found any personal effects.
At least that much. “Who discovered it?” he asked.
“Aggie got a note in her box at Fetzle. Anonymous, with detailed directions. Come on up and take a look – we got it all lit up.”
She had taken care of Aggie and Villa Califa in one stroke. Aggie would be queen of the Hallis Historical Society; the legendary lost cabin would keep her happy and occupied for years.
Scootie could feel the boundaries of the game widening out.  There were no longer any rules, but there was an objective: to strip him of everything that could be stripped. To see just how light a man could travel.

Following a tour of the cabin full of pretended surprise, Scootie descended the trail with music filling his head. He fetched a coffeemaker from the lunchroom and set it to brewing on Harlan Fetzle’s desk. Next to the coffeemaker he set two framed photos from his office – one of Harlan, the other of John Cage – and a Cage biography from the Hallis Library. His mission was to prove Oskar Fischinger’s Buddhist hypothesis, to draw some kind of spirit from the overtones – this one last time. He believed that the Fetzle library was the only place in which it might happen.
He began at eight o‘clock and worked the keys for two hours, trying every trick he knew, stopping only to down cups of coffee and brew a second pot. After that, he had to come up with new things. He held down the lowest note on the keyboard and matched it with the remaining 87, one at a time. Then the same with the second lowest, and so on. This took an hour. Afterwards, he flipped through Cage’s bio, trying out each invention and concept, following print after print of his geometrical diagrams.
By the end of the book, after playing even the footnotes, he was out of tricks and nearing one o’clock. Lord knows why one of the caretakers hadn’t kicked him out, but perhaps they knew his story and were taking pity. Between the morning trip from Big Sur, his fourteenth cup of coffee and the burst blister on his right middle finger – now leaving spots of blood on the keys – he had succeeded mostly in working himself into a trance. He was down to the accursed Tchaikovsky, the song that had once brought Juliana, and staring at Cage’s photo: the space-hero jaw, small dark eyes, razo-sharp fifties buzzcut, expressionless flatline mouth. Then he remembered something. He hurried to the table, his heart fluttering with the sudden movement, and used his Shakespeare Santa Cruz keychain to pry the staples from the back of the frame. Beneath the cardboard backing was a newspaper clipping he had planted there years before. The New York Times, a review of Maro Ajemian premiering the Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano. The photo showed Cage standing at the open piano, a torture-chamber array of clamps, springs and nails affixed to the strings, designed to alter the timbre of the instrument in unexpected ways.
It was worth a try. But he couldn’t just copy. Cage himself would tell him that. All answers answer all questions.
Scootie pulled out the glossy photo, opened up the piano, and wove it into the strings just above middle C, making it appear that Cage was behind bars. The he freed up Fetzle’s photo and did the same, just below middle C. He silently begged the old man’s forgiveness.
Studying the noble heads embedded in his instrument, Scootie tore off a piece of his shirt and wrapped it around his blistered finger. But what to play? Go back to the beginning, he thought. He embarked on his untitled chance piece, the only structured work he had created. He began with Juliana’s theme, then the repeated middle F-sharp against the descending black keys, on to the ringing boomerang majors and into the chance section. But this, it was different – a hundred new variations, expanding to five minutes, ten. His hands traveled of their own accord, infected with alien ideas, from dissonance to assonance to alarming clarities of consonance, changes of rhythm and tempo that approached near-perfect randomness.
(“With all the chaos in the world,” someon asked, “why do you make more?” “Perhaps, when you go back into the world,” Cage answered, “it won’t seem to chaotic anymore.”
The twentieth minute found Scootie pounding his fists along the lower registers, with a fervor he couldn’t possibly maintain, holding the sustain pedal to draw the thunder to full force. He lifted his hands and let the overtones swim in the air, a feral wind – twenty, thirty, forty seconds – then touched his right hand to the ringing majors, the bridge over the floodgates, up and back to the concluding C-major triad, a choir singing aluminum notes from the sidewalk. He waited till they had spelled out every available vibration, had sucked the oxygen from the room, then slowly lifted his foot from the pedal. The silence was stunning. The photographs were no longer inside the piano. They lay on the floor at his feet, face-down. And he was not alone.
“I like it!” said the old man. “A little frantic in spots – but such passion!”
He was seated on Fetzle’s desk, holding a walking stick against his crossed legs.
“And that quote,” he said. “Hungarian Rhapsody Number Two, by Liszt. Am I correct?”
Scootie was frozen, the only sensation his throbbing fingers and caffeine-shortened breath. The man came closer, towering over him in a loose-collared tan suit – his “safari outfit,” he recalled, the one he wore on his travels. The man rested the walking stick on the edge of the piano, revealing the carving on its tip: the great bear of the California state flag. He repeated the question.
Scootie nodded slowly. “Y’yes, um, Liszt. Exactly.”
The old man laughed. “Nice to know Franz is still being played.” He walked around the piano and peered into the main ballroom. “Place looks nice. You people do a good job.”
“Thank you,” said Scootie. “They’re doing a seismic retrofit next year.”
“A seis... Oh, earthquakes, yes. I did some fairly extensive reinforcing after ought-six. Lost one of the family estates in San Francisco that day. Scared the bejeesus out of us.”
“They had one in ’89,” Scootie reported. “Not as big as, um, ought-six, but it was scary.”
“They’re all scary. The ground staying put is something we tend to take for granted. When even that falters, I’d say paranoia is a perfectly legitimate response.”
He came closer and scrutinized his young subject. Scootie could see things that never came through in the photographs: the ruddy complexion, the bulbous nose, laugh-lines at the corners of his eyes, and the eyes themselves, distinctly gray-blue, unnaturally round.
“You know a lot about me, don’t you, Leonard?”
“Yes,” said Scootie, flustered by the sound of his real name. “I’ve made, um, quite a study of you. I work here, and... well... I used to work here.”
Fetzle smiled, close-lipped. “Yes, I know. So tell me, do you know of Miguel Barran?”
“Yes. I used to... stay at his villa.”
“Do you know why he left Mexico?”
“Political persecution?”
“No,” said Fetzle. He strolled away toward the portrait of himself over the fireplace, planted his stick against the hardwood floor and turned. “Miguel was in love with Fernando Enriquez, Jr., eldest son of his wealthiest patron. What was worse – so far as his physical well-being was concerned – was that Fernando, Jr. was in love with him. When Fernando’s father discovered a note to Barran in his son’s handwriting, containing details of an intimate nature, he immediately hired an assassin. Through his wide network of friends, Miguel was alerted to this peril, and boarded a ship to California a mere hundred yards ahead of his pursuers.”
“But all those women...” said Scootie.
“A cover. A sacrifice to the gods of normalcy, and sooner or later he was bound to slip up. I warned him about that. He worked a little too hard at... compensating.”
Scootie’s thoughts were swirling, putting so many pieces together. Fetzle pierced the fog with a question.
“Tell me, honored historian. Why did Harlan Fetzle never take a wife?”
“Because... he fell through the bottom of a carriage?”
Harlan broke into laughter, a throaty bellow resounding from his broad chest. “Egad! I told that story so often, they actually started believing it. No, no. If I had fallen through the bottom of a carriage, I would probably have been trampled.”
Harlan’s laughter worked its way down to self-amused chuckle, and he stooped to study a telegram from Teddy Roosevelt on the bookcase. He spoke softly into the glass. “He was a dancer. Beautiful, elegant creature. A ballet dancer in Paris. I was on my world tour, just after college, and when I saw him... I understood. I carried that difference all the way through adolescence, through the pain of losing those teenage limbs and growing into the great oak of an adult. But there in Paris, finally, I knew.”
Scootie cleared his throat. “You were... a homosexual?”
Harlan turned away from the glass to face him. “We didn’t have a name for it then. Not in my time. Certainly not in my circles. I was never really my own man, Leonard. I was my family. I was the men who worked for me, and the city I grew up in, the state I loved, the country I fought for. I belonged to all of them, but not to myself. I fulfilled my love only once – with that young Parisian dancer – but I knew from that moment on I would have to take my difference and lock it away, and throw my love upon other fields. California, my business, this mansion – and art, especially art. I could not have lived without it.”
Scootie’s curiosity was overcoming his shock. “Were you... involved with... Miguel?”
Harlan came to Scootie’s side, close enough to touch, and smiled. “Leonard! You embarrass me. No, no. Though at times Miguel and I seemed as one soul divided ‘twixt two bodies, we were not lovers. He was – how do you say this? – not my type. For one thing, he was extremely short.”
Scootie laughed.
“Yes,” said Harlan. “It is funny, isn’t it? I owe that man my life, however. When I was a child, he introduced me to the power of creative expression, to a love of life, and art, and music. And then, twenty years later, he returned to save my soul, to listen to feelings and fears that only he, amongst all my friends, could possibly understand.”
“Quite a gift.”
“Yes.” Harlan stopped and slapped a palm against his thigh. “But enough! I am not here for tender rhapsodizing, Leonard Jones. I am here to tell you that you are not finished with Hallis. There is a woman up on that hill who is like no other to you, and now matter how desperate your current straits, you cannot possibly leave until you’ve seen this through.”
“But... how will I know when it’s done?”
“You’ll know,” said Harlan, smiling. “One way or another. Do you know the cigar story, Leonard?”
“The cigar story?”
“Yes. A man from the San Francisco paper once asked me why my father smoked nickel cigars while I smoked much more expensive ones. I told him, ‘Because he doesn’t have a millionaire for a father.”
Scootie laughed. “That’s very good.”
“Yes,” said Harlan. “And I might even have said it.” He gave Scootie a sudden, direct look. “Remember this, Leonard. I never had the liberty to follow my love. You have a duty to follow yours.”
“I will. I’ll... try.”
“Now! Will you please play those final measures for me again? That wonderful hymn-like motif. Very striking.”
“Sure.” Scootie shook out his ragged fingers and sought out the beginning chord, from one to four and back again, then one from one to seven and back, and...
He was alone. His foot slipped off the pedal, abruptly cutting the overtones. The top of the piano was closed, and there on the slick black surface stood the two photographs – Fetzle, Cage – back in their frames. Scootie lifted Harlan’s and studied his face – the slope of his shoulder, the thick silver beard, and how much his eyes resembled those of Rip Scalding.

Photo by MJV

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Alcyone, Chapter Thirty Five: Hatchet Man

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Thirty Five

Scootie spent New Year’s Day consuming a Sunday Chronicle while ignoring the fast-moving colors of college football on his TV. Despite the dark shade hanging over his head, his first day back at the office passed reasonably well. He was a bit mute around the lunch table, but Jackie filled in with a recount of their New Year’s cruise (leaving out the cabernet).
He was at his desk at four-thirty, thumbing over revisions to the marketing budget, when a face drifted over his partition like a helium balloon. Garth stood there in silence, unable to begin the conversation he evidently meant to initiate.
“Hi Garth! Did you have a good holiday?”
“Yes, I... I did.” He curled his fingers over the top of the wall, like a cat hanging on by his claws. “Scootie? Would you mind? In ten minutes? In my office? To... talk?”
Five questions at once, thought Scootie. “Sure,” he said.
Garth lifted his paws and proceeded down the hall. That man, thought Scootie, is a born leader.
This, too, was not unusual. Garth occasionally felt the need to look like an actual administrator by conducting an “employee conference.” It usually consisted of Garth asking how things were going, then listening for twenty minutes as the employee told him how things were going. Funny thing was, it wasn’t a bad idea. Verbalizing helped Scootie organize his thoughts, and reminded him how much he enjoyed talking about his job. How many people could say that?
When he knocked, the door opened with surprising promptness, and Garth stood there waving him in like a doorman. Scootie sat in front of his desk as Garth shuffled through a filing cabinet. “Sorry,” he muttered. “I must find something first.”
“That’s okay.” He studied the credenza, where Garth kept an ever-growing menagerie of wind-up toys. He picked up a speckled egg and wound it, then watched as it burst into pieces and expelled a grinning baby dinosaur.
“Garth! This is terrific!”
Garth turned and answered feebly. “Oh. Gift from my accountant.” He placed the file in front of him and lined up his fingertips, mentally rehearsing his speech.
“Scootie, I... wanted to tell you a few things about our upcoming budget. Truth is, it’s a mess. The last administration, so to speak – I guess that’s... what you would call it – they did not, er, keep a very tight tally, although I suppose that should have been my... Nonetheless, even with the Swan gala, we have ourselves into... well, a deficit. Of some size. To be exact, um, a hundred thousand dollars.”
Scootie was underwhelmed. He oculd name a dozen Bay Area arts groups with deficits of more than a million: the symphony in San Jose, a ballet in Marin County – hell, ACT in San Francisco was still rebuilding its theater from the ’89 quake. He could see the end of Garth’s spiel twenty miles away. No raises in February, perhaps a small cut, lower advertising budget, seismic retrofit coming up...
“And with the seismic retrofit on our, um, horizon, we’re looking to streamline a bit. Which is why...”
Garth hit a wall, a scratch on the CD. Scootie egged him on mentally. Come on, boy, out with it. The poor schmuck, you could see the sweat breaking out on is forehead.
“Which is why, with a lot of careful thought – and after, of course, considering every avenue in consultation with the board, which is why we’ve, well, we’ve...”
Jesus, Garth! I’d work here for half what you pay me. Go for it!
“We;ve decided to eliminate the staff position for publicity and take our marketing to an outside agency.”
Scootie’s thoughts jumped the track, letting loose with a series of unrelated images: the smell of dill weed over eggs, the crunch of skis as they slid over the lip of the hill, his mother’s smile, tilted to the left with her overbroad teeth.
Garth pulled out a handkerchief and wiped his forehead. “We’re transferring the marketing and, um, box office operations to a firm in San Francisco, the same firm that advised us on the gala. This will cut down on personnel costs like health benefits, unemployment insurance and...”
“Aggie, too?”
Garth kept on spieling. “We thought the least we could do is give you a good severance package, and, um, I want you to know that we have always had the highest regard for your work, and would be happy to provide any recommendations should you...”
“Garth!” Scootie stood from his chair. “Enough already!”
Garth froze, hands at his sides.
“Sorry,” said Scootie. “I didn’t mean to alarm you, but I need to know a couple of things. First – this means Aggie, too?”
“Yes. Aggie, too.”
“And the decision came down from the...”
What? The board? Of course the board... But son of a bitch! Why did she have to take Aggie, too? But he knew that answer, too. Aggie was nearing retirement age, had a businessman husband to take care of her. Aggie would be all right, and the box office/publicity package made a nice cover for lower motivations. Ain’t it funny who you wind up next to in the unemployment line?
Scootie surfaced to find Garth still waiting, hands folded in his lap. Poor guy. The role of hatchet man was killing him.
Scootie lifted the baby dinosaur and returned him to the egg, neatly folding the plastic chunks into place. “I’m sorry, Garth. Maybe I’ll get the details later. When do I need to be out?”
Garth cleared his throat. “Um, end of the week?”
“Sure,” said Scootie, and attempted a smile. “See ya, boss.”
He ducked through the courtyard, avoiding any contact with co-workers (Cow-orkers, Jackie called them). He left his car in the parking lot and walked through town, a mile of unrecorded sidewalk to the beach, where he planted his feet in the sand and turned toward his apartment.
Coming up the back stairs, he unlatched both doors – his pigeons, Audrey’s pigeons – and waved them into the sky.

Photo by MJV

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Alcyone, Chapter Thirty-Four: On the Prow

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Thirty Four

Standing in the hardwood cabin, Scootie extracted a bottle from his backpack and handed it to Jackie.
“Scootie! This fucker’s twenty years old. And French! Where djou get this?”
“I stole it from Scott Kross’s cellar.”
Jackie laughed and slapped him on the shoulder. “Scootie, you’re a lyin’ sacka shit. Bad enough you’re stealin’ his wife. Whoops... sorry.”
“It’s okay. It might not be... I mean, I don’t think we’re... Well, you know I just...”
Jackie put a hand to the side of his face. “Scootie, what’s the matter?”
“I don’t...” Scootie took the bottle and pretended to study the label. “This really is from Scott’s cellar.” He slid the blades around the cork and twisted it out. “You want a glass?”
“It’s probably ridiculously expensive,” said Jackie. “So let’s drink it straight from the bottle.” She took it and raised it high for a merry swig, breathing out in a sigh. “Oh, honey! I’m tinglin’ in the tonsils.”
Scootie took a giant Watsonville strawberry from the buffet and planted it in his mouth. “Wed’s dake dis on deg.”
“Oday, Dapdain,” said Jackie.
The boat was still on its motors, puttering past the man-made boulders of the breakwater (Scootie thought they resembled a giant’s toy jacks). He settled on a bench and took a swig.
“Wow! It does pay to be a millionaire.” He dreaded talking about it further, though, so he changed the subject. “How does this deal work? Do they refund your money if it rains?”
“Nope. They just throw in a dinner at the Crow’s Nest. I knew it wouldn’t rain, though. ‘Course, I also thought I’d be spendin’ the evenin’ with a cowboy.”
Scootie handed her the bottle. “Darlin’, you don’t know how good a cowboy I can be.”
Jackie had to fight not to do a spit-take. “Honey, you can fool the entire state of Wyoming, for all I care, you would never get that cheeseball rodeo outfit past me. God I hate New Year’s. Almost as much as I hate Valentine’s Day.”
“And Christmas,” said Scootie. “The single person’s trinity from hell.”
“All within – what? Seven weeks? Jesus Christ and all his merry men.” She leaned her head against the boat, watching the mainsail whip out as they hit the black swells of Monterey Bay.
“Is the emerald out with the gander tonight?” (Jackie knew all the code words, had even begun substituting gemstones for “Jewel.”)
“I suppose.” It was the time of deciding, and he was hesitant to say more. He picked up the bottle, motioned for Jackie to follow him and climbed to the foredeck, pulling himself along on a cabled railing. Soon he was standing on the prow, a little cherry picker cage that lifted high on each crest. It always seemed like it would slice right into the following swell, but the hull interceded, bouncing him safely along.
Jackie crept up behind, bracing herself with an arm around his waist. “From the look on your face, I’d say you were not a cowboy but a sailor!” They fell into the next trough, and Jackie let out a Texas yelp
“Whoo! This is more fun than tango night at the nudist colony!”
Scootie broke out laughing, tasting the salt mist on his tongue. The warning bells sounded and the boat rounded into a tack, smoothing out the ride as they headed toward land, the Santa Cruz boardwalk off to port. Scootie lifted the bottle and shouted, “Make a toast!”
Jackie braced herself against a cable. “To my next boyfriend – the accountant!” Some of it went down the wrong pipe and sent her into a fit of coughing. Scootie retrieved the bottle, held it high and declared, “Never squat with your spurs on!” Then took a long, sloppy swallow. He wiped his mouth and spotted something over the light-speckled finger of the Monterey Peninsula. The Pleiades. He turned to watch them head-on, dangling the half-empty bottle over the side. Jackie sensed his distraction and stroked the back of his neck.
“It’s almost over, isn’t it?”
“Might be.”
She ran a hand into his hair, shiny as charred firewood. “You’re a beautiful, solid man, Scootie. I wish this could all make more sense, but it just doesn’t work that way, does it?”
Scootie gave no answer, but took Jackie’s hand and held it to his heart.
“Excuse me!”
It was one of the ship’s crew, a tall young woman in white, approaching them along the railing.
“Excuse me, folks? I’m afraid you’re not allowed to have any bottles up here.”
Scootie turned and shrugged, with empty hands.
“Oh,” said the woman, laughing. “I’m so sorry! I must be seeing things.” She returned to the main deck, where she stopped to talk with a middle-aged couple in yellow rain jackets.
Jackie turned and let out a grin. “Scoots, you just made some shark an extremely happy man.”

Photo by MJV