… I came out of the forward bunk in a pair of jeans, my bare feet in a pair of boat shoes with my short sleeve Tommy Bahama button down, open and hanging, while I made my way down the narrow hall, one hand on each wall: an instinct I’d developed over the blue water. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but when I reached the galley that uninvited man was sitting at the table with one hand on the gun and the other on the cup. Even though I announced myself down the hall, the nerve-wracked fellow still lifted the gun toward me.
“What’s the matter, don’t like the coffee?” I said, and swung myself down into the bunk across from him. I locked a grin at him. “Well … you gonna to put that thing down or what, slick?”
He contemplated for a second. It was like talking to a fish, and not one of those darting around things, more like one of those ugly sucker things that just stare with empty eyes. At last he set the gun down, took a breath and said, “I have to apologize for that, it’s just—”
“No apologies, just enjoy the coffee, looks like you need it.” I lifted my cup; it was in need of warming so I pulled myself up for a refill. As I was standing before the counter filling my cup, I said over my shoulder, “So, what’s with the gun?”
“I had a, well, let’s just say I had one of those nights, met some man in the bar and he offered me a thousand dollars to do this. Just told me to scare you.”
I had to chuckle, which made me cough into a fist. I sat back down. “Well, you can go back and tell him you scared the bejesus outta me if you want. It could be our little secret.”
“Hmm,” he said. “You don’t get shaken easy, do you?”
“What’s there to be afraid of?” I snatched the gun off the table before he could react. He stared. I pushed the gun to his forehead, smiled, locked my green gaze into his doe eyes. With an easy smile, I squeezed the trigger nice, and slow … to watch his reaction. Click. His left eye twitched, a natural reaction even if the gun wasn’t loaded. I said, “If you’re gonna try and scare someone you should put a few bullets in it, for effect, you know? And don’t ever say it’s loaded. It’s a dead giveaway if you have to tell someone. I’ve cruised enough third-world countries to have been in a few misunderstandings. Kinda makes a man numb to that sort of thing. Kids trade guns like playing cards in those places. Never had a gun to my head, though, so thanks for that new experience.”
He snickered, lifted his coffee cup and took a sip. I placed the gun back on the table. He said, “Who do you think that man was anyway? He didn’t tell me his name. He handed me the cash and the gun and … Who’d want to do that? I mean, you seem like a decent enough guy.”
“No idea, probably a jealous boyfriend.” I took a sip, stared out the galley window to watch the peaceful morning harbor burning off a marine layer. A fishing yacht was returning and making his frothy way down the murky main channel. I watched the gulls flitter and scream over someone dumping entrails of a morning catch into the water off the back of the immaculate yacht. Thick deep-sea fishing poles, eight or so, were sticking up into the sky. The radar antenna waved with the motion of the drift. Excited gulls dove and contested one another with snapping beaks. They reminded me of something and I had someone to share with so I continued: “… For some reason women don’t stick around me too long, don’t know why. I treat them good, love them, and they just walk away at three months. I’m getting used to it. I imagine one of the women confessed her infidelity to her boyfriend or husband. I wouldn’t have done anything if I woulda known.” I looked at him, at the cheesy grin, so I decided to inform him: “I’m not some gigolo. I love relationships, real relationships with real women, not them beach chippies with sand on their G-string flossed asses and cackling like a gull with a fish hook in its wing. I’m too old for games. Too old for them candy sprinkles on a sandy birthday beach. How old do you think I am? I’m thirty-nine, can you believe that? I mean, I’ve been around the world more than once, and they seem to be attracted to that fantasy. I feel older. I talk older. And the ‘girls’ are looking for some father figure. I steer away from those types now. So I expect, if you’re asking if I have any enemies, I’d have to say, possibly, wouldn’t surprise me.” I quirked a smile. “In case you haven’t noticed.”
He lifted his cup, scenting the aroma off the rim. He seemed to be making himself at home. His shoulders relaxed down, movements became fluid. He floated his vision around the cabin with a touch of ‘I gotta get me one of these’ in his eyes.
I continued, “What about you, what’s your name?”
“Yeah, my name’s Robert. I’m a P.I. Yeah, yeah,” he added at my cocked eyebrow. “I don’t usually get involved in the gun stuff. Just strapped for cash with a few too many cheap beers in me. I just went down there to waste some time, maybe find a few clients wanting to catch a cheating boyfriend. And see some women.” He blushed. “Then this guy offers me—”
“You been following me, Rob?” I curled one side of my lip up into a smirk.
“No, not at all. I, I don’t even know your name?”
“You mean to tell me you held a gun to a man’s head you didn’t even know the name of. That’s a bit unprofessional.” He showed that boyish blush again, so I casually decided to ease his pain: “Name’s Jake.” I looked out the round galley window to see some legs carrying gear bags and rolling a large cooler behind them. A man and his wife, I assumed, maybe Lee and Cindy, the only couple with legs that white. While the legs walked down the bobbing dock, I looked back at Rob. “Well, someone’s been following me. I just get that feeling. That’s why you didn’t surprise me. It’s been going on for a while.”
He hesitated, then: “I could help you with that, I mean, if you’d like.” Rob straightened out his collar a bit, brushed his sport jacket, and then pulled his night-greasy hair off his forehead. Guess he must have seen a potential client in front of him and he wanted to fix up a second impression. His face was tired, struggled, about thirty-six or so. Other than that, he was healthy. In those eyes of his I could see a hard life, a lonely life without too many friends. One of those guys you see hanging out in the corner of some classy club, while feathering a single Coke all evening as he hoped for company. Then company would show up in the form of a lithe female, and he would perspire and try to find the words he’d been practicing, but they were long gone, and the lady would smile awkwardly and walk off. I could see standards at least, he just needed a boost in life, that’s all.
I heard a little screech, then the female voice: “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t, I didn’t know you had company.”
By the look on Rob’s face and the way he choked on his coffee, I deduced that Celeste was standing in the forward cabin doorway in one of her skimpy little silk things I loved so much. I knew that look on Rob’s face. I had the very same look about two months ago; though not the same reaction, of course. I spun around to the edge of the bunk seat, draped an arm over the backrest, and confirmed my suspicions. There she was, in the glistening pink negligee halfway down her long hazelnut-crème thighs, two little straps over her shoulders. She was standing on her delicate toes. I never understood why women do that, as if their heeled shoes freeze their feet in that vaulted position. It was nice, though. Her hands were folded over her chest to cover up, in embarrassment, it seemed, with her silk chocolate hair pouring about her shoulders.
“Mornin’, Dimples,” I said. “C’mere, I’d like you to meet Rob. He was gonna shoot me in the head over my morning cup of coffee.” I grinned.
Celeste scrunched up a confused expression, then let it go. “Jake? I need to throw something on first, give me a second.” She turned around and disappeared into the cabin. Rob stood and tucked his shirt in, sat back down and folded his hair back.
“Yeah,” I said, “straighten yourself up, Rob, you’re about to meet a real lady now. Would you like me to wet the corner of a napkin and wipe your cheek for ya, you got a little stuff there.”
Rob snickered, stared at me for a second as though attempting to read my mind and figure out if there was something on his cheek. He snatched a cloth rag off the table and wiped his face. I chuckled.
When Celeste returned, she was wearing the matching silk robe to the outfit. She stepped bare feet across the slatted hardwood floor. I slid over and she lowered to the white cushion beside me. She gave me those twinkling eyes, beaming that original dimpled smile. I just couldn’t get enough of that, no sir. And her long velvet hair with matching eyes. Universe eyes, I liked to think of them–almond marbles with little specks of gold stars. When she looked at me, I just had that feeling that there must be some kind of Supreme Being, and He, or She, was on my side. Celeste had one of those faces of health, thin bone structure, not too thin, just a hint of jaw line and cheekbones that always seem to have a slightly flushed hue. I was hoping she’d stay longer than three months, a lifetime I was beginning to crave. A treasure she was, and somehow I was lucky enough to stumble over her coordinates, float for a while. She had me in knots and she knew it. She also made me more cautious in my adventures. No chances, Jake, be careful, I often tell myself while swimming, or diving, or whatever. I didn’t want to tempt fate and lose, because I would have lost much more than my life; I would’ve lost the chance for another day in this vision.
“So, who’s you’re friend?” Celeste said with a courteous grin, pulling her hair behind her right ear.
I looked over at Rob, sweat beads were pushing through his cheese-cloth skin. Time in his world seemed to have slowed as he waited for an introduction as if he was on the top rung and somebody was about to kick the feet out. I thought I’d help him off the ladder before he hurt himself. “This is Rob. Say hello, Rob.”
He shifted his eyes, to the table, to the window, then to Celeste, and locked into her grinning beam. “Uh, yeah.” He cleared his throat. “I, I’m, my name is … Rober, Rob.” He snatched his cup off the table and I could hear the ceramic edge of the cup click against his teeth when he sipped for mere survival.
Celeste threw a compassionate look his way, “Well, it’s nice to meet you, Rob.” She turned to me. She seemed to know about the power she possessed, and Rob needed a break. “Did you make a fresh pot, hun?” she asked me, then reached and placed a soft hand on my thigh.
“Yep, I was gonna make you breakfast, too, but things came up.” I looked at Rob. He was learning how to breathe so I left him to that.
“It’s the thought that counts,” Celeste said. She leaned over and pecked my beard-stubbled cheek. She patted my thigh and pulled herself out of the bunk. She made her way to the galley fridge, stood for a second, then pulled out a plump red strawberry. “This will do.” She closed the door, stepped to the chrome-railed white counter that held a wicker basket of fruit, a bottle of corked wine and some square glass containers she had purchased for coffee and flour, or whatever. She placed the strawberry on a napkin, picked a folded towel off the surface and wiped her hands. She knew I was watching her, though I tried to make it discrete. She reached up, pulled open a cupboard and grabbed a cup, and poured it full.
I said, “Did you want me to whip something up real quick?”
“No, that’s all right, no time. I need to get to the office.” Then through that smile she added, “Thanks, though.” She took a luscious bite from the strawberry, grinned at me, sending shivers down my neck.
I looked at her, “Put that look away, Dimples, it’s not fair, you know.”
She gave one of those girl-chuckles, stood there chewing and sipping. “Well, boys,” she said at last, lifted the towel and wiped her hands. She let out a belch, gave a proud grin and added, “I’ll leave you two … to … well, whatever you were doing.”
I looked over at Rob. A weight seemed to have lifted with what she’d said, and how she’d belched. She was normal after all; he seemed to have come to that conclusion. Celeste made her way to the fore cabin to get ready for work. A few minutes later, we heard the water pump kick on, and Rob said, “I made an ass of myself. I’m not very good with women.”
“No kidding? I never would’ve guessed….”