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?”
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.
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