Okay, here's the deal. My second novel, Buck and Tangee; Things that Happened
, is complete but I can't post much of it here without messing with future publication rights. But I want to share something of the flavor of the book, so here's the solution: The following post is from a section of the original book that didn't quite fit. It's a snippet from the editing room floor.
Now, here's the other thing. Most of my posts are only a few hundred words. This one is about 2200. I hope you think it's worth it. Let me know, okay?
(And my appologies for lack of paragraph indentation...I just can't figure out how to do that!)Avast
For the first half of summer last year, Rusty had a boat. He won it in a poker game in early May and lost it in a poker game in mid-July. But that wasn’t so bad, because the weather kind of cooled off by then.
“Avast!” yelled Rusty.
“Avast?” I said.
“Yeah, avast. Come on, Buck, avast will you?”
The boat was pitching a bit in the chop. The wind had picked up and a cool mist was blowing across Anchor Bay. My tee shirt was feeling like a chilly, damp second skin and I wasn’t in any mood to play pirate.
“What is it you want?” I asked.
“Avast. It’s boater’s talk. It means get your head out of your ass and pay attention. Pull up the anchor. We’re heading in. I don’t like the looks of those clouds.”
After three weeks of boat ownership Rusty had not only become a full-fledged yachtsman, but he’d also gotten infinitely wise in the ways of weather. I pulled up the anchor. The clouds did look nasty.
Rusty’s yacht was a twenty-four foot pontoon boat that he’d won in a poker game in early May. He stripped the camper cap off the back of his totaled out pickup and welded that to the deck. His measurements had been a bit off so the boat’s pitch was actually more of a dip to the left followed by a swoop to the right. He called it a list to starboard.
I waved when I had the anchor on board, and from his perch on top of the camper, Rusty turned the ignition key. Nothing happened. The antique Evenrude outboard motor stayed quiet. He turned the key again and when that didn’t work, he jiggled a few wires. The steering wheel and ignition had also come from the pickup, which accounted for the fact that the boat was also equipped with a transmission lever and turn signals. Rusty cussed. Then he yelled, “The motor...yank the rope.”
I yelled back, “Don’t you mean, ‘Batten the hawser’, or something like that?”
“Yank the damn rope,” he yelled. I yanked the rope.
There was a brief chuff from the engine and a small cloud of kerosene smelling smoke tore away in the growing wind. I pulled again. Chuff. Then chuff, chuff. Then finally chuff, chuff, braaak, and the prop started spinning.
In peaceful, calm weather, one horsepower per foot of boat length is probably adequate. It had at least been enough to get us a mile into the bay. But with the wind coming from shore and the boat having the aerodynamics of a bull dog’s face, we weren’t making much headway going in. It’s hard to measure speeds that slow on the water, but it took over a minute for to almost pass a chunk of seaweed.
“Buck, grab an oar…I’ll steer.” Miles across the bay the low dark clouds flashed.
“Just tie off the wheel with a bungee and you grab an oar too,” I yelled. Within two minutes we were both paddling in a semi-coordinated effort and had left the seaweed several feet behind.
It seemed odd that the flashing clouds across the bay behind us were getting closer because the wind was still in our face from the shore. I wondered if that was some sort of clue about tornados. Or hurricanes. The flags were snapping.
Rusty had screwed a flagpole to the deck. It was topped with the stars and stripes and below that were two pennants, one red with a white martini glass stitched on it and the other was black with the reclining figure of a large breasted woman in yellow. Rusty said they were party flags and would show he was a good time guy and that women were welcome. I thought all they showed was that the boat operator was a red-neck. The martini glass flag was getting frayed. The seaweed passed us going the other way. We were being blown slowly backwards. Then the Evenrude died.
We paddled like crazy, the wind shifted to our backs and the brick-like shape of the camper-cap acted like a sail. I guessed we were making close to one mile per hour. The storm was coming in at about thirty miles an hour. I had vision of us on the six o’clock news, hanging by a rope from a Coast Guard rescue chopper. If we were lucky. And I didn’t feel lucky. Rusty quit paddling and swayed over to the flag pole.
“What are you doing?” I yelled.
“The flag,” he said. “I’m going to hang the flag upside down. It’s a universal distress signal. Anybody who sees that will come and help.”
I yelled back, “Anybody who is close enough to see an upside down flag will also be close enough to see two guys rowing a barge with no motor in the middle of a typhoon. Come back and row.”
Despite my good advice Rusty took the time to lower and unclip the flag, reclip it and hoist it up again. Then he came back and paddled some more. Ten minutes later the boat was rolling so bad that my oar only reached the water between the crests of the waves. Then we had company.
From our left, about a hundred yards out, a personal watercraft with one person aboard was jetting across the waves. It had to be going at least forty miles an hour and seemed to be completely air-borne after topping the biggest waves. We waved but it kept on going. I figured it was too small to take on passengers and the driver was heading to shore to get us help. Then, suddenly it carved a wide U-turn arc in the water and turned back to us. Within seconds it was idling just off our left side. I could see Rusty grin; the driver was a woman. Rusty always grins at women. She was wearing a black wet-suit trimmed in yellow. Scuba gear was lashed to the back of her boat. She yelled, “Throw me a line.”
Rusty ducked into the camper-cap and came out with a length of white nylon rope. He tossed the coil to her while holding on to the end. Then he looked around for a likely place to tie it off. He settled on the flagpole. She whipped her end around a cleat at the back of her boat and then settled back behind the steering bars.
Spray from her jet washed back over our deck and we started to pull ahead. Twenty minutes later we were at the dock. Our right pontoon had burst at a seam and grounded in the sand while the left pontoon bobbed furiously. We scrambled off and into the waist deep water. The jet-ski woman cast off her end of the line and zoomed away and out of sight. We waded to the dock and Rusty tied a neat bow to fix the pontoon boat to a piling. We made it to the beach and fell on the wet sand. My pickup truck sat alone in the parking lot. We staggered to it and collapsed into the seat. I fired up the engine and we sat, staring through the windshield as the heater warmed up. My cigarettes were soaked but I found a couple of fairly long butts in the ashtray.
Rusty said, “I guess we’ll have to wait until after the storm to haul the boat out.”
“I don’t think that’s going to be an issue,” I said and nodded towards the end of the dock. Rusty’s bow had held and the line hadn’t broken and was still tied to the flagpole. It was just that the flagpole wasn’t attached to the boat, which was drifting further out with every wave. By the time we had smoked the shortest of the cigarette butts the boat was gone. In a moment of calm Rusty ran out on the dock and pulled in the flagpole which we stowed in the back of my truck.
I dropped Rusty off at his house, bought a dry pack of cigarettes and went home.
I took a hot shower, put on dry clothes and sat on the couch wrapped in an afghan, sipping whisky, straight.
Tangee made me a grilled cheese sandwich and snuggled up next to me. She said, “You guys have all the fun. We need a boat.”
The funny thing was that after a month or so I started thinking we needed a boat, too. The only problem I had with boats was that they go in water and I’d had enough water for a long time. I made a list of the good things and bad things about owning a boat.
A boat. Why not? Well, the first why not has to do with all the scrubbing my neighbor, Vince, does on the hull of his twenty-four foot inboard cruiser. He starts scrubbing in early April, right after the last of the ice melts, and he keeps on scrubbing until Memorial Day when he puts the boat in the water. Scrubbing is not recreation. Neither is spending money, although Tangee would disagree with that one. Boats don’t run on gasoline or diesel fuel or wind power. Money is what makes boats run, and they don’t get many miles per dollar. The third thing wrong with boats is that they go in water. Water is nice for swimming if you have a pool or if you’re at the beach. Water is not nice for swimming if your boat springs a leak and falls over and you have to swim to save your life.
But still, for some reason, boats are cool. You can be a mile out in the bay and therefore be a mile away from anybody you don’t want to be around. Nobody just stops by to visit you in your boat a mile out in the bay. And you can fish. That’s a good thing. Boats aren’t completely evil. So I decided to build a boat and just skip the part about the water.
I went to the junk yard and found an eighteen year old Chevy pickup truck in ruined condition. The motor ran but the manual transmission only worked in first gear and reverse, but I figured that was plenty for what I had in mind. The sheet metal was rusted through and banged up so bad that even duct tape wouldn’t hold it together, but that was okay too. I towed it home and parked it in my driveway. Then I tore off all of the sheet metal. I laid planks down on the bare truck bed and around the seat, dashboard and steering wheel which were still pretty much in tact. That’s what a boat is; a deck and some chairs. I stained the wooden deck and bought some folding aluminum yard chairs and a wicker chaise lounge at a garage sale. A proper boat also needs a cooler because in addition to money, the other thing boats run on is beer. But a cooler is only about two cubic feet and if you put some sandwiches in there with the beer, they get soggy when the ice melts. I bought a used Norge refrigerator and wrestled it aboard. The whole operation took less than one weekend and by Sunday evening I was sitting in my driveway on the deck of my new boat in my wicker chaise lounge, sipping a beer and eating an unsoggy sandwich. The only part I was missing was the being a mile away from everybody, so when Rusty pulled up in the driveway, I couldn’t hardly ignore him.
He yelled, “Hi.”
I yelled, “Ahoy.”
After he had scrambled aboard and helped himself to a beer and pulled up a folding chair he said, “This is the stupidest goddamn thing I’ve ever seen.”
“No,” I said, “the stupidest goddamn thing you’ve ever seen was your pontoon boat sinking like a stone in that hurricane we got caught in last month. This boat won’t sink.”
“This is not a boat. This is...I don’t know...a porch. You’ve got a porch sitting in your driveway.”
“Hah!” I said. I moved from my wicker chaise lounge to the seat behind the steering wheel. I tuned the key and the motor fired up. It coughed and choked and smoked and sputtered. Just like a boat. Then I put it in first and idled forward ten feet or so.
“What the hell are you doing?” Rusty asked.
“Just moving in a bit toward the dock,” I said.
“That’s your garage.”
“For my car it’s a garage. For my boat, it’s the dock.”Here the story merged back into the main part of the novel, so as I said...this is less a short story than a true excerpt. I hope you’ll find time to comment.