Being the helpful and conscientious man I am, I spent most of the rest of the day ferrying people back and forth from the roofs of their flooded homes to dry land. Maybe I drummed up some new customers for my drugstore. Not that I did it for that reason, but a little business wouldn’t hurt.
I wanted to go back to Cassandra Liltkey’s house, but people kept getting my attention. It was dark before I made a beeline for the fifth fairway. I pulled the boat up on the muddy shore, climbed to the nose and jumped onto dry land.
“Came by to see how you’re doing.”
“I’m okay,” she said, blocking the doorway, not inviting me in.
As the druggist let me off on the second story balcony of what was left of my house, less than a mile from the evil Stalworth property, he asked, “Harry, you going to be okay here alone?”
“I’ll be all right. I just want to be home. Most of my house is upstairs anyhow and it’s still dry.”
“I’ll check on you tomorrow.”
I gave him a perfunctory thank you, waved and stepped over to my sliding glass door. I wondered how I was going to get through a keyless door guaranteed to be burglar proof, but the door was already ajar. I pulled it open, took off my muddy shoes, then stepped on my new white carpet which had tell-tale wet footprints traipsing all over the room. My hand-polished, cherry wood night table sitting closest to the open door, was soaked. Who cared about a carpet that could be replaced, my coin collection could not. I quickly stepped through the master bedroom and into the adjoining office. There it was. My safe was open and at first glance everything except papers was missing. My heart dropped to my toes. My day, which had reached rock bottom, dropped further into the abyss.
I fell to my knees and looked inside the open safe. I didn’t care so much for the missing stacks of gold coins saved for a rainy day. I wasn’t even concerned about the thousands of missing dollars in stacks of fifties. The three one-carat diamond rings and a Rolex that was my dad’s didn’t hold a candle to my penny collection. The pennies including my prized 1909 S VDB were the only things that counted. There were only a few of those pennies made and that one coin cost me a month’s profits back in the days before the Tenican debacle when I was making a profit.
I hoped it had been overlooked. I wanted to see the thin, blue cardboard book. With closed eyes, I visualized the book sitting on the bottom under the papers where I left it. I opened my eyes, picked the papers up and it was gone too.
All the previous night I’d thought there was little left to live for. I only wanted to even the score between the Stalworth witch for screwing up my entire life, then I could rebuild, but now that my collection was gone there was really nothing left to live for.
I had vast real estate holdings, stocks and bonds, state and national senators and congressmen who owed me dearly. All that meant nothing compared to my coin collection.
Although she had been nice to me when I was freezing and I probably owed my miserable life to her, it wasn’t enough.
It’s time to settle old scores. It’s time that chicken woman took some knocks. If there were a way, I’d have gone over there and emptied my pistol into that Stalworth woman. I’d save the last bullet for myself, of course.
Without thinking about anything other than how to bridge the ice water gap between myself and the house on the fifth fairway, I ran downstairs and into the muddy water of the Yuba. There was a space of two feet between the water and the high ceiling of my garage. The boat might still be afloat. Getting it out of the garage might be a whole different affair, but I’d deal with that problem when I got to it.
Instinct and blind rage drove me. I plunged into the murky liquid with my waterproof flashlight and ducked my head underwater to find the knob of the door between the kitchen and garage.
By the time I found the handle, opened the door and swam to the boat, my bones ached. My teeth chattered.
I burst through to the surface, clambered into the boat and looked around. Its windshield touched the rafters.
I rolled into the boat panting and lay shivering on the floor until I caught my breath.
Once back on my feet, I shone the light around and found the windshield was digging a hole in the ceiling sheetrock. Nothing else seemed to be holding the boat from floating freely. I flipped the flashlight beam around the triple car garage to make certain my plan could be accomplished. The only thing holding it back was the contoured windshield. It was one of the main reasons I’d bought the boat in the first place.
I reached in the inside panel along the side of the boat and pulled out the single paddle, a cautionary alternative sold with the boat but never needed. I used the handle of the paddle as a battering ram against the windshield. After a number of whacks, it gave way and shattered into a thousand pieces.
Once the windshield was gone, the boat bobbed clumsily six inches from the ceiling.
It would be tight, but I was certain the boat could fit between the two support posts, from the auto side of the garage with its twelve foot ceiling, to the RV side and the fourteen foot ceiling and twelve foot garage door. Luckily, my RV was in the shop.
It took some time, but I maneuvered the boat at an angle and slid it between the posts to the RV side, I stood and slid the boat along the wall with ease.
All I had to do was get the door open and I’d be free to pursue my personal vendetta against the Stalworth house and its inhabitant.
I was back in the water swimming for the opener switch at the back door when I remembered the electricity was off. Mid-swim, head under water, flashlight in hand, I turned and made a freezing bee line for my tool bench, pulled open the bottom cabinet door then removed a crowbar and large pipe wrench. I bought those tools seven years ago when I was reeling from the loss of Tenican Heights and my hard-gained fortune. In those days of strapped checking accounts, stock margins called in and little if any income, I thought I might just as easily fix my own plumbing as pay a plumber. The first time I barked my knuckle when the wrench slipped, my budding plumbing career was over. With a rag wrapped around my hand, the handle of the thrown wrench sticking deeply into the sheet rock, I made a phone call to Peter’s Plumbing. Once the tool was extricated, it and the crowbar got placed in the bottom cabinet of my new tool bench. Those two tools and some old rags were the only implements inside the cabinet. When I opened the door it was easy to find them.
Heavy as they were, I grabbed them and pushed off the floor to the surface of the water.
When I burst into open air, I gasped for air.
I lay on the floor of the boat violently shivering, gasping for one breath after another. I could have easily turned and forgotten the whole thing. I wanted to go upstairs and take a shower then sit in front of my fireplace and get warm. I longed to soak in my hot tub. I was sure it was still warm. I wanted to curl up in bed and sleep until morning, but I was on a mission.
As soon as I got my breath back, I took the pipe wrench and attacked the bolts holding the garage door motor to the opener chain. As luck would have it, the bolts loosened with ease and the door was free from its constraints within minutes. I grabbed the chain and pulled the roller door up a foot before my strength gave out. On my second try, I wrapped the chain around the crowbar and used it as a handle. Although not easily, the door slid up until it rested in a horizontal position on the ceiling. I looked out on an overcast day, started the engine, pulled my boat out of the garage, then found my way around the side of the house to the second-story deck and tied the boat to a railing.
I jumped to the deck, climbed over the railing and ran for the house pulling icicle soggy clothes off as I went. When I reached the spa I’d stripped to my skivvies. I pulled the lid of the tub back, leapt in and felt the warmth. It wasn’t as hot as if the power was on, but certainly enough to warm my skinny old body.
I sat in the tub until I could feel my toes again.
Despondent as I was, angry at what fate had dealt me, I took my time bathing, shaving and getting dressed. I was sure it was the last time and I wasn’t about to do it sloppily.
Although I was planning on piloting my boat to that pesky Stilwalsky property and forced to slog across the muddy terrain of the future fifth fairway, I wasn’t about to end my life without wearing my full tux one last time.
Cummerbund in place, evening dancing shoes on, I stepped in front of the mirror. I looked good. Any gruesome newspaper articles would catch me in only the best.
When I stepped onto my upper story deck and shimmied my way over the railing, I had my pistol tucked in the back of my slacks like in the movies. I had a toothpick in my mouth with spares in my pocket. When I climbed into the boat and started the engine, I was sure my personal scorecard would soon be balanced. When I pulled away from the house, I was positive I’d never see it again.
Once the engine was started, I steered the boat in a long, slow arc around the front of my house. When it was facing the direction of future fifth fairway, I was happy once again. My life had purpose. When the engine picked up speed and the boat panned out, I felt the biting chill of the cold morning in my face, but I didn’t care.
With the speed of the boat, the wind in my ears, the hint of a drizzle dotting my stylish, but shattered windshield, I raced across the murky lake, around trees, over hidden fairways, until I spotted the property in question. Once I drew a bead on the Stilwalsky house, I slowed the engine and lub-lubbed it across what was certainly soon to be the fifth fairway.
I was a bit sad I wouldn’t be around to see the Stilwalsky house bulldozed into small sticks. I’d have loved to be the driver of the tractor. I wanted to crush every little two-by-four, shatter every shard of glass, then spread it over every inch of Stalworth’s silly little chicken farm. I wanted to pollute the soil with used motor oil. Maybe I’d bury some used tires under the remains of the house. I wanted the little piece of property turned into a garbage dump. I could only imagine the transformation from garden, to trash heap, then to the fifth fairway. I had a satisfied look on my face as I quietly steered the boat onto the property. In the next few minutes, I was going to even up my long-time score with the granddaughter of Stilwalsky. I was going to finish it, finish myself too, and that would be that.
I awoke with a thick head, but that wasn’t unusual. When I reached up to rub my lower jaw, a sharp pain kept me from doing little more than carefully exploring its new contoured puffiness.
When I was able, I stood and wobbled into the bathroom to look in the mirror. My jaw was puffed to twice its normal size; leaving me looking like a squirrel in autumn. My teeth didn’t fit anymore.
“Jesus Mother of Mary, that Yamelda packs a wallop.”
Sundog spoke from the living room. “What’s up ol’ buddy?”
“She really whacked me.”
Dog Man staggered into my little bathroom and straddled the toilet. While his stream hit the toilet rim, the lid, the seat and the floor, with very little actually reaching the inside of the toilet, Sundog inspected my face. “Who got to you?”
“She packs a wild one?”
“It was a total surprise. She swung on me without a hint of warning. I had no idea she was even upset.”
“Sounds like a woman to me.”
“I thought we were doing fine and out of nowhere she coldcocked me.”
“Where were you?”
“In the street.”
“How’d you get here?”
“Just woke up in bed a little while ago.”
“Looks like you better be staying away from that babe. Gimme’ a whack at her. I’d tame a wild babe like her in no time.”
“She’s all yours, but first, we got some goodies to retrieve. The longer they sit where I left them, the better the odds someone will find them. I think we better get our butts over to the stash and get it into safe keeping as soon as possible.”
“Where’d you say it was?”
“How do Dog and you get into Tenican Heights?”
I gave him a small grin. Anything larger and my face hurt. I reached deep in the front pocket of my jeans and pulled out a plastic card with a clip on the top edge. I held it up.
“You got Keating’s press pass? How the hell you think you’re going to use the most well known woman in Marysville’s press pass?”
“Give me some credit, Dog. I’m able to think on my feet once in a while.”
There was a pregnant silence before Sundog spoke. “What’s you got in mind?”
“Tammy don’t look like no Yamelda Keating.”
“Sure she does. With some makeup and us as camera crew we’ll waltz right in there like nobody’s business. We still got that camera we boosted last summer. Those gate guards are about as aware as the sleeping sickness. All we got to do is catch ‘em at the end of their shift.”
“How you plan on getting Tammy to agree?”
“I know what I’m doing.”
I had the phone in my hand and was dialing, when I realized there was no dial tone. I slammed the phone. “Well, shit, phone company’s pulled the plug again.”
“Forgot to pay the bill?”
“Fuck ’em, we’ll use the phone at Clancy’s.”
I searched for enough reasonably clean clothes to wear to Clancy’s. Dog wore what he slept in. Within five minutes, we stepped out to a thick, gray, foggy morning.
I put both arms in the air. “It’s is a perfect day to go get our goods. Stalworth won’t even know we’re there.”
At seven-thirty in the morning Clancy’s Bar and Grill sported six drinking men, a scraggly yellow tom cat and Jessica who was in her mid thirties but looked fifty. It was the normal crowd.
When The Dog Man and me walked in, everyone, including the cat, greeted us. Dog sat at the bar while I went to the phone at the end.
She picked up after a half-dozen rings. “Tammy, what’s ya’ doin’?”
“Why are you calling so early?”
“Just got up.”
“What do you want, Billy Marlin?”
“Thought you’d want to spend the day together. We could go for a nice romantic boat ride or something.”
“A boat ride in the fog? What, are you nuts? It’s cold and even if it was sunny, I don’t like riding in boats.”
I had my response rehearsed. “You’re always complaining we don’t spend enough time together. Just thought you’d put aside your, I-don’t-like-to-ride-in-boats thing and come spend some time.”
I said the magic words I knew would get her. “Just you and me? Will you go slow? I don’t like speeding in a boat.”
“Like a snail, I promise.”
“How about an hour. We’ll come by and pick you up.”
After a pause, she asked, “What do you mean we? I thought it was just you and me.”
“I meant me. It’ll be you and me.” I held my right hand up so The Dog Man could see my fingers were crossed.
Dog shook his head after I hung up. “Billy, Dog thinks you are a total dick.”
I grabbed my crotch and gave it a yank. “A rich dick.”
We laughed and bellied up to the bar.
Jessica looked at me with blurry eyes. “What happened to you?”
“Talking when I should have been listening.” It was the response that kept the Billy F. Marlin myth alive in the minds of the people in Clancy’s.
An hour and four Bloody Marys later, Sundog and me sauntered outside and climbed to the top of the levee behind Clancy’s.
Dog pointed across the bay. “We’re going to have to get ourselves a boat.”
“No problem. We’ll borrow Barlow’s boat for the morning. He’s at work. If we get back by three he’ll never know it was missing. Hell, we might even put some gas in it.”
We walked a half-mile along the levee to the marina, then along the docks to the sleek-lined ski boat of James Barlow. I pulled out a ring of keys, fingered through them until I found the right one. We stepped from the dock onto Barlow’s boat. I slipped behind the steering wheel and put the key in the ignition.
Dog sat in shotgun. “Dog wants to know how you got the keys?”
“Copied them last summer when Jimmy took us out skiing.”
“The Dog man says you’re a thinker.”
“Can’t help myself. It’s in my blood.”
The engine kicked over. I backed the boat out of its moorings like a sea captain and slowly pulled it into the bay.
Far away from the marina, I pulled to shore.
“I’ll drop you for a while to get Tammy in the boat or she’ll never come along.”
“Sure man, Dog understands. Just don’t leave Dog Man long, it’s cold out here.”
Sundog climbed out and I jetted away.
“Hey babe,” I said after a short ride further down the levee. “You ready?”
“It’s not exactly a great day to go on a picnic, Billy.” she loaded a basket and a large purse packed to the brim, then got aboard. “Where’d you get the boat?”
“Borrowed it from a friend.”
She got a worried look and tenderly touched my swollen jaw. “What happened to your face?”
“Talking when I should have been listening.”
“No, Billy, what really happened?”
Once Tammy was aboard and seated, I backed the boat out into the channel then raced upstream.
“You said we were going slow.”
I reluctantly pulled the throttle back a bit.
“Where are we going?”
“Upstream a ways. Hey look, there’s Sundog.”
“Well, we can’t let him stand on the shore. This is an emergency. We gotta’ give him a ride.”
“We don’t gotta’ do nothin’ of the sort, Billy Marlin. I don’t like your friend and you know it.”
As she finished the sentence, I slowed the boat, pulled it toward shore and slid up to the Dog Man.
“Damn you, Billy Marlin. This was supposed to be just you and me.”