I was tired of waiting out the rain. I was fed up with sitting around watching TV and drinking beer. Breast fondling was the only thing I wasn’t tired of, but Tammy’s breasts were becoming tedious. I’d been inside the house for the better part of the day. Tammy and me had spent most of the morning practicing Billy inspired sex positions. Although I only drank two six-packs so far, I felt thickheaded and numb.
As the phone rang, I thought for the hundredth time that no sane mother would ever name a guy Sundog, but in the five years I’d known him, I never weaseled any other name out of him. Sundog was his name and I’d come to accept it.
I re-dialed twice and let the phone ring four times each call. It was The Dog Man’s secret code.
He answered with his normal gruff voice. “What the fuck you want?”
I tried to match him. “Hey Dog, what the fuck you up to?”
There was always a shift in my voice whenever I talked with The Dog Man. As much as I tried not to, I spoke with a nervous titter. Whenever Sundog was around, I felt uneasy. I was awed by him. He was three years older, much smarter and decades more street savvy.
Being Sundog’s bud gave me extra points with the guys and babes at Clancy’s Bar and Grill. Best of all, being Dog’s friend gave me suction with our boss, Harry S. Trunk.
Hangin’ with The Dog Man wasn’t being buds with just anyone. It was a privilege to be around someone so cool.
“It’s time we got going,” I said, then let out that involuntary titter.
“Get fucking goin’ for what?”
Dog was in rare form. It must have been the rain. The rain gets to everyone.
I took a deep breath and failed trying to speak in my regular voice. “The Yuba’s ready to flood. It’s time to get out there and save some souls.”
His voice changed. “Yeah, let’s save some souls. I’ll meet you at the storage in ten minutes.”
Our storage garage was kind of a hideout. No one knew about it but Dog and me. We rented it under assumed names. It was a place to store extra tools; old car parts; some drugs, when we had some, and any firearms we happened to come across. We also stored what was left of the core ingredients of things that would help us with our plan: blasting caps and the remains of what was once a full box of dynamite. Included in the inventory of tools, were two of the best canoes left from last summer’s forays to the Russian River.
The used canoe and fishing boat business blossomed after a spring jaunt to the coast, where we found miles of unlocked, moored boats along the river. Most were simply tied to stumps.
On warm, moonlit summer nights, we floated downstream plucking boats like picking flowers in a meadow. When we reached the rental truck parked on a quiet side road, we spent the rest of those long night hours loading the truck. Each truckload of boats, a single night’s work, netted us thousands.
Once the Russian River locals caught on, Dog Man and me expanded our operation to other rivers and lakes in the surrounding areas. We brought in as many as three truckloads of boats a week. It was a profitable summer.
It wasn’t easy work, though. I finally called it quits when I hurt my back one evening trying to lift a ski boat into the truck.
“Hey, buddy,” I said while playing darts at Clancy’s that next night. “We gotta’ find a better way to make an honest living.”
Sundog had his arm around a blonde in her late teens. “Yeah, this hauling heavy shit is for the birds. We gotta’ find something easier.”
With plenty of money in our pockets to get us easily through the winter, we kept two of the best canoes in storage and the next week worked out a plan for the rainy season. It was a good plan that called for waiting patiently for the right moment and that time had come.
I dressed, put on my rain slicker and told Tammy in my most manly tone. “I’ll be back tomorrow.”
She looked up from the television. “Where are you going?”
“Never mind. I’ll be out all night.”
She stood and put one hand on her hip. “Tell me where you’re going, Billy Marlin or I won’t be here when you get back.”
“Never you fucking mind where I’m going.”
Her voice got louder as I opened the front door. “You asshole. How can I have a relationship with you?”
I cringed at the “R” word, but kept moving. I had business to take care of and no twit from Clancy’s was going to stop me by screaming, which she did loud enough that I could hear over the pounding rain until I got into my truck and slammed the door.
Once I managed to get my engine running, I feathered the gas and sat in the cold cab listening to distant thunder.
Maybe I’ll make enough to rid myself of this old wreck and get a new Toyota four-by-four. I turned and grimaced out the back window at the half-crushed truck bed. Last winter it had been a nice truck for a sixty-two Chevy. The only tree in our entire neighborhood decided to fall across the driveway and put two semicircular dents the size of a bowling ball down both rear panels. Nothing else was hurt, but the blow to my restoration plans left me with a barely drivable bucket of bolts. With a new Toyota, I could cruise the streets with my head held high again. I’m sure a new truck would help the babe factor and I could get rid of Tammy.
Under a darkening sky, my truck lumbered toward town. Because of the downpour, three miles to the storage locker seemed like thirty.
Dog yelled, “what the fuck took you so long?”
I rushed from the truck to the open shed door. “Got caught in a flood on Seventh. Water was so deep it came up through the holes in my floor.”
Dog grinned. “More water the better.”
It was going to be a very cool night working with The Dog Man and netting a boat full of goodies.
We loaded two canoes and the black box into my truck, then drove toward the setting sun that peeked through a thin split in the black clouds. It was the only sun anyone had seen in a week. A moment later the light was gone leaving only the threat of a stormy night. It was exactly what we wanted.
I stood, nervously twiddling my twenty-second toothpick, glaring through the foot high gold letters that spelled out my name.
For the second time that day the huge, silver RV was parked on the opposite bank of the levee and the news crew was setting up equipment. Yamelda, pain-in-the-ass, Keating was pacing under the awning.
When the camera lights flooded the river, I smiled. The water had risen another foot. My lifesaving flood was coming; it was only a matter of time.
Because of certain persons I didn’t want to think about, I was in way over my financial head. It started ten years ago when I got in a little too deep with the Tenican Heights development clowns. Everything was fine until that old bitty on the fifth fairway balked and we were forced to go to court. During the eight-month legal battle construction was put on hold. I’d thrown every extra penny at that development and my finances didn’t have eight months for legal battles. All my bills came due long before the groundbreaking ceremonies.
If I’d thought it through, I probably would have been more cautious, but it was a chance to throw in with the shakers and movers of the land development crowd. The project was supposed to be well toward completion before my first in a long series of payments was due. If that old Stikes bitch hadn’t put up a fight, we would have begun in the early spring instead of late fall and things would have turned out a whole lot different.
I glared out the window while I remembered that the only glitch, the only proverbial fly in the ol’ ointment, was old Stilwalsky. When she stalled the project, I was left holding nothing but my dick.
At the end of the first year, with not one shovel of ground turned, in what would become Tenican Heights, the most famous housing development in history, my loan balloons came due. With all my political connections, everyone I had in my back pocket, and all the favors called in, I was only able to hold the banks off for a few months. Unfortunately, a few months wasn’t long enough.
Less than two months before the housing development lost the court battle, less than three months before the first ground was broken and sales from lots began rolling in, I was forced to sell out to those bastards, Barney, Bowman and Whalde. The worst part was, I sold for a dime on the dollar.
I lost my house and twenty years of work in one single day. I walked away with my loans covered and one medium-sized lot overlooking the third fairway. I rented a small apartment on the East Side of town and was left with a very large chip on my shoulder. Of course, Barney, Bowman and Whalde were well protected. Anything short of out-and-out vandalism –which I frequently considered– left me with no recourse. I was left out in the rain while those shystering thieves raked in the money.
When Louise Stilwalsky died a few months later, my anger would not be avenged. I raged at that stubborn Romanian granddaughter. Every opportunity I got, I went out of my way to disrupt, disturb or discombobulate her life.
With the help of that butt-ugly Sundog and his little buddy Billy Marlin, during the next few years, I made Marylou Stalworth’s existence a living hell.
I had the boys tear up her garden. They muddied her hanging laundry. Repeatedly, they poisoned her well. They broke windows. Twice the bumbling idiots tried to burn the house down and didn’t succeed.
After the second year I tired of harassing Stalworth, but I was left harboring deep resentment that grew through the following decade.
It took three stressful, hard-working years to land solidly on my feet. When I bought my first slum rental house in the flood zone and collected the insurance that next winter to repair it, I was able to buy four more buildings. In the aftermath of the next year’s flood, I purchased sixteen houses. Ten years later I had sixty units and another a financial base. Again, I was in the driver’s seat.
Last year the stock market plummeted. When pork bellies and metal futures took a steep dive, I dove for the phone. By the time I got through to my broker, it was too late.
I’d done plenty of shouting on that fateful day. I shouted at my secretary. She quit. I shouted at Henning, my biggest insurance client. Henning had another agent the next morning.
When I got home that night, for the first time in fifteen years, I shouted at my wife. She packed her bags and spent the night at her girlfriend’s. She hasn’t been back since. A week ago she filed for divorce, claiming half of my hard-earned assets. Why did my wife claim half of everything? She never worked a lick in her entire life. How could the judge possibly give her half?
Through all of those events, on that fateful day in April when pork bellies puked their guts out, when metals took a flying leap, came the most devastating blow of all. A few minutes after my wife left, I yelled at my bulldog Sherman. Sherman hasn’t spoken to me since.
I lost my proverbial shirt on that day and I’d been sliding downhill ever since. The flooding of my tenements will give me income to recoup like it had three years ago. I heavily padded the accounts during reconstruction and paid some bills with the proceeds. Because I was the insurance agent handling my own accounts, no one was the wiser.
I wished for the days when investments were a thing to play with like Monopoly. Mostly, I wished for a night when Sherman wanted to crawl on my lap again.
I watched Yamelda Keating face the camera as the water surged and overflowed its banks. I saw those crazy news people continue to shoot footage of the overflow. I saw the flash of lightning and heard the thunder. The building shook. The windows rattled. My false plate fell loose and banged against my bottom teeth. I clamped down as the massive motor home slipped over the edge, out of sight, as if it were being lowered down an express elevator. I saw that damn Yamelda Keating fall to her knees and crawl away in a foot of water. I stood mesmerized while a sixty-foot section of the levee, the disastrous opposite side, the affluent, well-protected, concrete-reinforced north side opened and gushed water. For the first time in fifty years, the north barrier peeled back like a carton of milk and released a gigantic wall of chocolate floodwaters. The muddy Yuba gushed into the streets. It flowed into neighborhoods. It went first to the extremely wealthy, then the rich and finally, far out past the well-off neighborhoods to the upper middle class.
My face dropped. My ridged body drooped while my hopes plummeted. Once again, my whole life was in ruin. I was washed up. I didn’t know if I had the energy to start again.
There was one flyspeck of a positive twist in the whole affair of my ravaged life. My wife would get half the assets all right, she’ll get half of nothing.
CHAPTER #3 LEVEE PUDDING
“Well, shit,” Sundog screamed at the windshield as we pulled up to the spot we’d so carefully prepared last autumn. “There’s a motor home sitting right on top of our section of the levee.”
I looked through the wall of water pounding my glass. “What’ll we do, Dog?”
He slammed my dash. “It’s their tough luck. We go with the program. If they’re lucky, they’ll move before we put our little plan into action. If not. . .”
I pulled off the highway and down a back road that ran parallel with the levee. I parked under an old oak tree and switched my lights off. In the dark, I turned to Dog. “I’m worried about that motor home.”
“Look here, pansy, they want to sit on a levee during a flood, it’s their business, not ours. What, you gunna’ go warn ‘em?”
I wanted to say yes, but the tone in Dogs voice told me a warning wasn’t an option.
The Dog Man opened his door, pulled his slicker over his head and got out of the truck. I followed his lead and met him around front.
He pointed forward along the levee. “We got to find the boulder we painted yellow last September. Let’s spread out. Should be here somewhere.”
It took ten minutes to spot the rock. I yelled to Dog and pointed. The rain kicked up another notch as we got to the truck and climbed in.
I looked at the RV. “Maybe I ought to warn them.”
“And risk getting caught? I don’t think so.”
“They’re probably a couple of old codgers camped out for the night. I’ll slip over and let them know about the levee.”
“Fuck ‘em,” said Dog.
I didn’t like that aspect of our undertaking. I really didn’t want anyone getting hurt. Since The Dog Man came up with the idea, he was the leader. I hadn’t really thought much about it, but Sundog was always the leader. If I wanted in, I had to keep my mouth shut and follow along. I knew the rules of manhood and I knew how to be a team player.
I stepped out into the rain and pushed the canoes aside to get the black box. I drug the heavy box fifty yards over to the yellow rock while Sundog unearthed two wires and hooked them to the box. Both of us looked at one another. We’d spent long hours of hand auguring the holes at night so no one could see. We carefully placed the holes and more carefully inserted sticks of dynamite, then replaced the dirt. How could I forget the long tedious hours of burying a half-mile of eighteen gage automotive wire we got at the flea market in Woodland?
Plans had been hatched and carried through. That’s what I liked most about Sundog. He always came through. No idle talk.
I looked through the downpour. Sundog grinned. We rose our arms into the air and smacked hands together high over our heads. In the roar of the ceaseless rain, we yelped. I reached down and pulled the army surplus plunger up, then quickly shoved it back into the box.
A disappointing nothing happened. I must have screwed up. I was ready to do the plunger again, when a bolt of lightening struck the far side of the levee. In quick succession, under the flash of the lightening, I saw the levee bulge then settle back into itself.
While we stood in dumbfounded, mouth-dropped-open awe, unable to tell one way or the other if the dynamite had taken effect, in the darkening sky the huge RV listed, then toppled. Once the RV was over and its lights extinguished, the night turned ink black.
Other than an occasional strike of lightening to illuminate the breach, we saw little.
It wasn’t until I heard the rush of water that I knew for sure the levee had opened. When the wall of water hit me at the knees, knocking me to the ground and sloshing me toward the truck I realized maybe we should have parked on top of the levee.
I found my footing and dragged myself out of the freezing water up the side of the levee. Too dark to see anything, I stumbled along, imagining water flooding my truck. It’s probably finding its way through the rotted floorboard, inside the cab and destroying my new 100-watt stereo system. It was a birthday present installed a week ago. I thought about the five hundred-dollar speakers. Then it came to me. “Oh shit,” I screamed for Dog.
“The canoes are in the back of the truck.”
I looked around for him in the ink blackness and saw nothing. I raced along the dyke, climbed over bushes, stumbled on boulders and got to the truck in time to see one canoe rotate away. I leapt into the freezing water and grabbed at the remaining canoe as it swirled off into the darkness. In seconds, my swamped truck was out of sight. I was left hanging onto the side of the trundling canoe.
When I couldn’t find a way to get in without capsizing it, I realized I might be in serious trouble. The freezing water was quickly sapping my strength. Finally, as a last ditch effort, I leapt into the boat from one end and found myself awkwardly out of the ice water, shivering in the bottom of the twirling canoe.
It wasn’t until it hit something, jarring me out of my stupor that I understood my ordeal was not over.
I had to get control of the canoe and find a way to dry land before I was really safe.
I sat up and looked out into the black boiling water to get my bearings. To my left I heard a squeak of a female cry for help. Next it came from up front. Too quickly it came from the right. I felt dizzy.
If I’m going to get this job done, I’d better not be helping any damsels. Instead of a knight in shining armor, saving the fair maiden, I imagined her to be some middle aged fat chick that would sink the boat. The image helped.
I found the paddle and tried to regain control until I felt something snag and pull my little watercraft down on one side. I leaned to counter balance and glared into the blackness at the problem. Two ghostly hands, a woman’s hands, gripped the gunnel. A drowning, rat-like creature bobbed up from the edge and mewled, “help me.”
Holding onto the side of the canoe was all she had left. She cried out those two pitiful words with her last breath. I felt sorry for the poor thing. I reached out for her hands and had a flash of apprehension. What if she’s a chunker? I won’t be able to get her in. Hell, I almost wasn’t able to get into the boat myself.
I thought about my hero Sundog. It would be an easy thing to loosen her fingers and let her slip into the muddy swirl. No one would know. It’s what The Dog would do.
I reached out to help her to her fate, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I grabbed her wrist as the last of her strength waned and she let go. Oh Jesus, now that I’ve saved her she’s my responsibility. She’s going to screw up my plans?
“Oh fuck it,” I screamed into the downpour, on the ever-spinning canoe. I pulled her up dragging her limp head over the edge. When I reached over the side to get another grip, I sighed with relief. She wasn’t fat after all. I reached my hand down and grabbed her by the crotch. Like landing an oversize fish, I yanked her up and in almost capsizing the boat.
She flopped into the bottom and lay coughing and sputtering.
Too quickly I was faced with another dilemma as the boat slipped under a massive oak and tangled itself in the gnarly branches. By the time I untangled the mess and floated free my new passenger was sitting. I saw an inky silhouette superimposed over the black sky, but other than my intimate knowledge of her sex, I couldn’t make out any features.
“What happened?” she asked with a shivering voice between coughs and sputters.
Even in the pouring rain, with only two words said between us, me, Billy F. Marlin, Casanova-of-the-twentieth-century, Gods-gift-to-woman, man-among-men, a-legend-in-my-own-mind, recognized her. Since she wasn’t squeaking for help any longer, I knew that husky voice too well. I’d heard her hundreds of times, thousands of times and I couldn’t believe it might be her. Rather than come out and ask like any other normal person might do, me, Mr. smooth-talker, pulled out my four-battery Maglight and flashed it in her face.
“Yamelda!” I said.
“Get that fucking light out of my eyes, you idiot.”