Friday, March 27, 2020

VOYAGE TO CRUSOE

Voyage to Crusoe is set in 1987 and is the story of Cliff Demont, an architect from central California. At 38 he is on the conventional middle class treadmill. His career has stalled and his marriage is deteriorating. Exasperated with his latest assignment to design another ugly concrete tilt-up building, he impulsively quits his job. That fateful decision leads him to strange and dangerous adventures on the high seas. 

Pre-publication chapters one through three are posted below.



VOYAGE TO CRUSOE

Chapter One

Cliff Demont eased his silver Porsche off the two-lane blacktop road and onto the rutted gravel driveway. The car bounced along the ruts a hundred yards and came to a stop near the concrete foundation of an old farmhouse that had burned down long ago. It was mid-November and dappled morning sunlight filtered through the leaves of a magnificent oak tree that stood in the middle of what had once been the home’s front yard. Beyond the tree, the land sloped downward toward Highway 101, a quarter mile away.
Wearing jeans and work boots, he got out of the car and zipped his jacket against the cool morning breeze. He wanted to walk the entire property and feel the land before the bulldozers and contractors arrived to transform this pasture into the new headquarters of Evergreen Scientific Corporation.
            He envisioned a glass and stone building with wide overhanging eaves nestled among the trees. Its façade would be a gentle S-shape, with the recessed part of the “S” accommodating the oak. The big tree would provide afternoon shade and frame the view from the lobby of the building, a panorama of the valley below. That’s what he envisioned, but the plans actually specified a concrete tilt-up, designed for maximum efficiency and little regard for the beauty of the land. What a shame, he thought.
            An old red pickup truck turned into the driveway and rattled to a stop next to the Porsche. The woman who climbed out of the truck looked about sixty, dressed in denim and cowboy boots, with an old Stetson on her head.
            “You the bastard whose gonna cut down these trees and pave Buffum ranch?” She pointed a hostile finger at him as she spoke.
            “Not exactly. I’m the architect for the building that’s going up here.” Cliff sucked in his gut and hooked his thumbs in his jeans, unconsciously trying to look more like a rancher than an architect.
            “See that house up there on the ridge?” She pointed toward an old ranch house across the road a quarter mile up the hill. “That’s my house, and that property on the other side of the road there, that’s my ranch, the Hilliard ranch. My name is Alice Hilliard. I grew up on this land and I don’t think you ought to be puttin’ up any goddamned buildings in Buffum’s pasture.” She stared at him in disgust. “You oughta know better than to cut down these trees and pave this good grazing land.”
            “It surely is beautiful,” Cliff agreed, “But the Buffum family has chosen to subdivide it and sell it.” He swept his arm across the landscape, “Of course we want to preserve the natural beauty of it, as much as possible anyway.”
            She laughed in his face, “Oh that’s rich. You might be able to sell that load o’ manure down in LA, but I know better. You won’t be satisfied ‘til you’ve paved everything from here to Frisco.”
            Cliff gave her his friendliest smile. “Well, there’s no stopping progress, but I’m going to save as many of these trees as I can. I’ll show you what we’re planning to do here.” He took a roll of blueprints from the Porsche and spread them out on the tailgate of her truck. “This is the site plan, it shows the property lines and where the building will be.” He pointed out the details on the blueprint.
            She studied the drawing a moment, then looked toward the oak tree. “Looks like your building is going to be right over there.”
            “Yes ma’am.”
            She squinted at him. “Hell, I know I can’t stop progress so I’m not going to try. But that tree, when I was a child we used to play under it, the Hilliard and Buffum kids. Their house was right there,” she said, pointing at the foundation, “Oh my, did we have fun here.” She kicked at the gravel with a booted toe. “Now the kids are all grown and gone, and the grandkids don’t ever come here. Nobody remembers much about this place anymore.” She paused another moment, staring at the tree.
            “What happened to the farmhouse?” He wanted to know the history of the place.
            “Oh, it burned down forty years ago, back in forty-seven. The Buffums built a new house farther up the hill. You can’t see it from here. They didn’t want to see this place from the new one.”
            “Why not?” Cliff pushed his sunglasses up on his forehead and studied the woman’s weathered face.
            “Tom Buffum died in the fire. Things were never the same after that.”
            He stared at the ruins of the farmhouse and imagined the flames. “Who was Tom Buffum?”
            Alice looked off toward the west a moment. “Tom was the oldest of the Buffum boys. He joined the Marines in ’43, right after he turned eighteen. He went to fight the Japanese on those islands, I don’t remember the names anymore. When he came home he wasn’t right in the head. Had terrible nightmares. One night he took a gallon of gasoline into his bedroom and locked the door. They said he poured it all over the room and struck a match. It was more like an explosion than a fire.” She took a deep breath, “I was seventeen when Tom enlisted. He asked me to marry him before he left, right under that old oak tree.” She paused a moment, then sighed. “I told him I’d wait for him. But he died before we got married.” She nodded toward the tree and said in a quiet voice, “I’d be obliged if you let that one live.”
            Cliff looked her in the eye. “Miss Hilliard, I promise you, I’ll do my best to save that tree.” He rolled up the plans and tucked them under his arm.
            “Well, I don’t put much stock in what you people with fancy sports cars and sunglasses say.” She nodded toward the Porsche and cocked an eye at the glasses perched on his head. “If I catch you takin’ a chainsaw to that tree, I’ll come after you. Don’t you forget that.” She turned to get into her truck.
            “I understand, ma’am. Nobody’s going to cut down that tree.”
            She put the truck in gear and drove away.
            Alone again, he glanced at the oak tree and frowned. He hadn’t intended to promise not to cut it down, but that’s what it sounded like. A promise.
            Back in his office at the firm of Larsen Haines, he sketched a new façade for the building that curved behind the tree, the way he had envisioned it. When he was finished he took it into Bob Larsen’s office. Bob was the president of Larsen Haines.
“Evergreen’s board is going to love this,” Bob said with a sad smile. “Those guys who sit in paneled offices in LA are going to drool over it until the accountant does the math and says they can get ten percent more space in a square building for less money.”
“Let’s at least present this alternative to them. A concrete box in that beautiful landscape is going to be ugly. Let’s use that setting to do something inspiring instead of another tilt-up.”
“Hey,” Bob retorted, “We do very well with concrete boxes.” He pointed a finger at the rendering. “This façade is beautiful, Cliff, but you know curved walls are expensive to build. Plus we’d have to charge them more for the design, and that’s not in the budget.”
Cliff felt his blood beginning to boil. “Architecture isn’t just about money, dammit.” This was an argument they’d had before, and one he always lost. He thought of the promise he made to Alice Hilliard and vowed not to give in this time. “All I’m asking is that you present this option to Evergreen.”
 “Sure, I’ll present it,” Bob said. “If they sign off on it, great. But if they want a concrete tilt-up out there in Buffum’s pasture instead, that’s what we’re going to design for them.”
Cliff knew Bob would fold at the first sign of resistance to the more expensive design. Back in his office he stared out the window and fumed.
At five he left the office. Friday rush hour traffic in downtown San Luis Obispo was heavy but it thinned out long before he arrived at his house in Avila Beach. When he pulled into the garage, his wife’s car was gone. Already in a foul mood over the Evergreen project, he was downright irritated that Janet was working late again. On a Friday night.
Muttering to himself, he grabbed a beer from the fridge and flicked on the TV, scrolling through the channels until he found a football game, a rerun of the Raiders beating the Chiefs. He tried to watch the game but he found himself checking his watch every twenty minutes and growing more irritated with Janet. After an hour, he called her office.
“Majestic Properties, how can I direct your call?”
Cliff knew the perky voice of Helen, the receptionist. Though it was nearly eight on a Friday night, she was still there. It seemed to him that she must live at the office because she always answered the phone, day or night.
“Hi Helen, Cliff Demont. How are you?” They chatted a moment, then Cliff asked if she’d heard from Janet.
“No, she is showing property way out in Creston today. A beautiful home on twelve acres, with a vineyard.”
“Sounds fabulous. Thanks.” Cliff resisted the impulse to slam the receiver down. This is the third night this week that she’s worked late, he thought, I’m getting damn tired of it.
He was sitting on the deck off the bedroom when Janet arrived home. He’d built it right after they bought the house and it was his favorite place to be. Made of thick redwood planks, it faced southwest, offering a spectacular view of the ocean and the setting sun. To preserve the view he made the railing of glass and later added a hot tub and a stone fire pit. He was staring into the embers of a dying fire when she opened the sliding glass door.
“Sorry I’m late, I got tied up with a buyer at the property,” she said while she kicked off her heels.
“Until ten?” His smoldering anger showed in his voice.
“The house is in Creston, an hour away. I’m going to take a shower. I hope you’re in a better mood when I get out.”
He continued to stare into the fire while she showered. The sky grew overcast, obscuring the gibbous moon.
She came out of the bathroom wearing a thick terrycloth robe, toweling her hair. “Aren’t you cold sitting out there?”
He rose and went inside.
Tall and slender, with long, dark hair and luminous green eyes, Janet reminded him of an actress, Jacqueline Bisset. “What are your plans for tomorrow? Working?” He undressed and climbed into bed.
“I’m meeting a client at ten.” She slid under the covers, facing away from him.
“It seems like I have to make an appointment to see you.”
“I have a job.”
“Yeah, well, tomorrow’s Saturday. What about a home life. What about us?” He reached for her under the blanket and she stiffened.
“I don’t complain when you work long hours.” She moved to the far edge of the bed. “My job is just as demanding as yours.”
“Of course it is, but when you started working, we agreed it would be part time, until we saved enough to open an office of our own. Remember?”
“That was five years ago.” She turned to face him. “The truth is, you’re never going to open an office.”
“That’s not true. I’ve made up my mind, I’m going to quit Larsen Haines as soon as the Evergreen project is finished. It’s time for me go out on my own.”
“Remember the dental office you designed three years ago?” Janet’s voice was quiet and cutting. “You were going to hang out your shingle after that project too.”
He had created a bold design for Dr. Kelvin, a prominent dentist in San Luis Obispo. Kelvin loved it, but then opted for a less expensive plain stucco building. Cliff had been incensed at the time and threatened to quit, but somehow he never did.
Janet went on in a disdainful tone, “You’re always going to work for Bob Larsen. It’s not what you dreamed of but it’s good enough for you. I have dreams too. I’m a very good real estate agent and I’m going to make a lot of money. It’s what I want to do.” She turned off the light and fluffed her pillow. “Goodnight.”
He had to admit she was right. Three years back, he swallowed his pride and redesigned the dental office. It was a good building, but it was uninspiring as architecture, and he knew he was better than that. Sure, it’s difficult to sell a client on a bold, imaginative design, but Bob didn’t even try, he thought bitterly. Bob doesn’t care about anything except getting the contract. And my own wife thinks that somewhere along the way I’ve given up on my dreams. He lay awake stewing over these thoughts while she slept.
***     
            Janet was gone when he woke. He lay in bed staring at the ceiling while her words came flooding back. They stung last night, but now they roused anger. He threw the covers off and jumped out of bed. In the kitchen, there was still-warm coffee in the pot and he gulped down a cup. Damned if I’m going to mope around the house today, he thought. He rummaged in the closet for surf trunks and a hooded sweatshirt. When he passed the dresser mirror and caught a glimpse of himself, he froze. There were dark circles under his blue eyes. His light brown hair was neatly trimmed but uncombed. He pushed it back on his forehead, noticing that his hairline had receded a bit. The boyish dimples Janet used to tease him about suddenly looked more like creases. He stood back and studied his body in the mirror. It was the first time in a while that he’d taken a good look at himself. The view was of a man on his way to middle age, not the Cliff Demont he perceived himself to be. At thirty-eight he was six feet tall and well built, but there had been a definite migration of muscle from his arms and shoulders to his midriff, and it wasn’t muscle anymore. He tore his eyes from the mirror and headed for the garage.
            “Fucking Porsche,” he muttered a few minutes later as he attached surf racks to its roof. He used to just toss his board in the back of his truck and go. The Porsche had been Janet’s idea. She wanted him to drive status symbol instead of his trusty old Ford pickup. Now he had to be careful not to scratch the paint putting on the racks. He tossed a towel and wetsuit in the backseat and strapped his board on top.
            He sped south on Highway 101 and took the Orcutt exit to Highway 1 through Lompoc. A few minutes later the coupe was on the winding two lane road to Jalama. He pulled over when the beach came into view and scanned the ocean below. The sky was clear and a light offshore wind riffled the tops of the waves that rolled in from the southwest. Jalama waves, big and powerful, were not for inexperienced surfers and he counted only a few guys in the water.
            As a kid in Huntington Beach, Cliff used to go sailing with his father on weekends. When he was twelve, Jack Demont was killed in a fiery car crash. His mother sold the boat almost immediately after the funeral, so Cliff turned to surfing.
            Nearly every day before school he surfed with his friends. But as he got older he grew impatient with the hordes at the good surf spots. He got in the habit of waiting for those days when the surf was big and the crowds thinned out. Eventually he gained a reputation as a big wave rider, and the other kids would sit on the beach and watch him on those rare days when the surf was too big for them.
“Dude, you should enter surf contests!” his buddies would tell him.
“Nah,” he’d reply. “I just surf for fun.” He figured the competition would ruin the pure pleasure of surfing. Instead, he savored having the big waves mostly to himself. After his father died, he found solace in the ocean, and spent many long afternoons riding waves in solitude. Nowadays he still preferred the finely calculated risk and thrill of riding big surf, and it was worth it to make the long drive to Jalama.
Paddling out, he gasped when the first wave broke over him and sent frigid water inside his wetsuit. He hadn’t surfed in three months and had to work hard to get through the white water to the waves, but it felt good to be surfing again. Sitting on his board, he waited for the next set of waves and took off on the first good one. Paddling hard, he dropped down the face and cranked a hard bottom turn, then the wave collapsed and swallowed him in a maelstrom of whitewater. It was Mother Ocean’s way of scolding him for being out of shape and neglecting her too long. He came up sputtering and laughing at the same time, and turned his board seaward to paddle out again. After that he got better rides with each wave he caught, regaining his balance, timing and poise on the board. The waves revived his spirit and he forgot about Janet and Bob Larsen, and old Alice Hilliard while he surfed.
            A couple of hours later, he rode his last wave to shore. Exhausted, he threw himself down on the sand and lay there letting the sun warm him while, eyes closed, he replayed the best rides of the day in his mind.
            A few minute later, a shadow fell across his face. He opened his eyes and squinted through salt crusted lashes at the tall, lanky man in a wetsuit standing above him. His face was hidden in the glare of the sun.
            “I thought that was you out there.” Jon Hartmann had just come out of the water and beads of it stood out on his wetsuit like shimmering diamonds. “Haven’t seen you in a while.”
            Cliff rose to his feet and picked up his board. “Yeah, been busy at work.”
            They walked together up the beach discussing the odds of a big swell arriving next week.
            “I’m getting back into surfing, so if that swell shows up I’ll be here next Saturday,” Cliff said as he strapped his board to his car.
            “Want to ride along with me?” Jon drove a Volkswagen van and they used to occasionally cruise along the coast together, searching for good waves. But as Cliff became more involved with work their trips had come to an end.
            “That’d be great. I’ll buy the coffee and donuts.”
            “Alright, I’ll pick you up at six.” Jon waved and headed off toward his van.
            Arriving home, Cliff pulled into the driveway and, sure enough, when he opened the garage door Janet’s car was gone. Irritated again, he put his surfboard away, showered and ambled out to the deck with a drink. Ominous clouds rolled from the west, blotting out the sunset.






Chapter Two

Cliff was in his office at five o’clock Tuesday afternoon when Kelly, the office manager poked her head in the doorway.
“Bob called,” she said, “He’ll be back tomorrow morning.” Kelly kept things running smoothly at Larsen Hanes. Besides Bob and Cliff, there was Jerry, the other architect in the firm as well as four draftsmen and the model maker. Each with his own ideas and quirks.
Cliff closed the folder he’d been working on and looked up. “I’ll wager he didn’t bother to present the new design to them.”
“I really like the curved façade you designed.” She took a step into his office. “But I agree with you. Sorry.”
Cliff rose from the desk. “Yeah, well…” He reached for his coat and grabbed his briefcase.
“Well?” She asked as he ushered her out of the office.
“Nothing.” He switched off the light. “We’ll see what tomorrow brings. Have a good night.” In the parking lot he sat in his car, staring ahead. The anger he’d been holding back all day took over and his thoughts raced until he was startled by a tap on car’s window. There was Kelly, looking concerned.
He started the motor and lowered the window.
“Cliff, are you okay? You look like you’re about to have a stroke.”
“Yeah, I’m fine. See you tomorrow.” He put the Porsche in gear and drove home.
***
            Kelly was at her desk when Cliff arrived at work the next day. “Good morning,” he said, “Any word from Bob?”
“He’ll be in around ten.” She smiled as she glanced up from her computer terminal.
            When Bob arrived, Cliff followed him into his office. “How’d it go?”
            “They signed off on the plans, with some exceptions. We need to get the changes done by Friday. They really liked the work you did,” he said as he spread the drawings on the table. “But cost drives the design.” It was a phrase Bob loved. “We’re increasing the floor plan from forty to fifty thousand square feet. So the front of the building will be pushed out to here.” His finger traced a line that had been sketched on the plan. It bisected the tree Cliff had promised Alice Hilliard wouldn’t be cut down.
            “What about the curved façade? Did you present it?”
            “Oh that. They’re not buying it. But see this?” He pointed to a squiggly circle on the drawing. “We’re putting in a fountain. That’ll dress up the approach to the building.”
            “A fountain? You must be joking. I’m not doing that.”
            “Can you get started on these changes right away?” Bob hadn’t been listening.
            “I’m not making those changes, Bob. I’m not doing this again,” Cliff said in a quiet voice.
            Bob looked up from the plans, “You’re not what…?”
            “I’m not going to design another ugly cube. I’m leaving. I should have left a long time ago.” He started for the door.
            Bob stared at him, dumbfounded, “Hey, you can’t just leave!”
            Cliff ignored him and walked out. Back in his office he began stuffing his briefcase. His hands shook as he sorted through his desk drawers.
            A moment later Bob appeared in his doorway. “You’re serious aren’t you? You’re throwing away your career over one goddam building?” He shook his head in exasperation.
            “That’s the problem, Bob. This isn’t about one goddam building. It’s about settling for cheap solutions and mediocrity. And this isn’t a career, it’s just a job.” He snapped his briefcase shut and started for the door.
Bob stepped aside and followed him toward the lobby, “You think it’s easy, huh? Getting a client to sign a contract?” His face had reddened under his country club tan.
Cliff turned and faced him, “I don’t know how hard you try, Bob. You don’t care what we design as long as we get the contract, but that’s not enough for me anymore.”
“Not enough for you? You should try selling one of your own designs. You’ll find out how hard it is.”
“That’s exactly what I intend to do,” Cliff shot back.
Kelly stared, wide eyed, as they approached her desk near the front entrance.
“Kelly, it’s been wonderful working with you. I’ll miss you.” Cliff reached out to shake her hand but she rose from her chair and hugged him instead, tears welling up in her eyes. Turning back to Bob, he said, “I appreciate all you’ve done for me over the years but we’ve both known for a long time this day was coming. Thanks for everything.” He turned and went out the door.
“Hey!” Bob followed him outside. “You’re not quitting on me, I’m firing you!”
Cliff unlocked his car and tossed his briefcase in.
“Did you hear me? I’m firing your ass!” Bob reached the curb in front of the Porsche. “I’ll make sure you never get contract in this county,” he bellowed. “I’ll ruin you before you even get started! You won’t be able to design a doghouse when I’m through with you!”
Cliff put the car in gear and backed out of the parking space. Through the windshield he saw Bob standing on the curb, his face twisted in anger. In the background Kelly stared through the plate glass office window at him. He gunned the car out of the parking lot and headed for the Buffum ranch. The Porsche came to a stop under the oak tree and he got out, taking deep breaths of the fresh air. That was easier than I thought it would be, he told himself. I should have left three years ago instead of redoing that stupid dental building.
Out on the road, Alice Hilliard’s truck drove by. He could almost feel her glaring at him as it passed. He jumped in the Porsche and followed the truck to her ranch house. She was unloading bags of feed from the truck when he arrived. The muscles in her skinny arms stood out as she hefted the bags onto a cart.
“Well look what the cat dragged up the hill,” she said when he approached. “What the hell do you want?”
“I want you to know that I did what I could to save that tree, but I’m afraid it’s going to be removed.”
She let out a bitter laugh. “You didn’t have to trouble yourself to come up here and tell me that. I knew you could no more save that tree than fly to the moon. It don’t matter anyway. I reckon I’m the only one who gives a damn about it.”
“I care. I’m sorry it’s going to be removed. I wanted to tell you this personally.”
“Well bully for you.” She turned and lifted another bag from the truck. “Move along now. I got work to do.”
            Driving back to town, Cliff vowed that when he opened his office, he’d never use the phrase, “Cost drives the design.” Or sacrifice environmental and aesthetic values for money. Of course, he thought, that will be hard to do with Bob Larsen there to underbid me on every project.
            Instead of going straight home he stopped at Borgia’s diner, where he usually ate lunch, and grabbed the Tribune on his way in. He slid into a booth near the window and flipped the paper open to the classified’s. With a sluggish economy, there was no shortage of office space available in downtown San Luis Obispo. But he wanted something different, maybe a house on the outskirts of town that he could convert to an office, something Janet would like.
The waitress had just served him coffee and a ham sandwich when Kelly appeared outside the window and motioned that she wanted to talk. Cliff waved her in.
“What are you doing here? I’ve never seen Bob so furious.” Her normally serene demeanor had forsaken her and she nervously flicked a loose strand of hair behind her ear.
“Want half?” he slid the plate with the sandwich toward her.
“No thanks. If you go right back to the office and apologize, I think this mess will blow over,” She looked at her watch. “I was driving by and saw your car in the lot. What’s gotten into you, Cliff?”
“Did you see the changes Bob wants on Evergreen?”
“I did.”
“Surprised?”
“No.”
“That’s why I quit. I should’ve left a long time ago.”
 “Where will you go? What will you do?” She demanded. “You haven’t thought this through, Cliff. You should go back and apologize to him.” She looked down at her hands. “This is turning into a real fiasco.”
“Actually, Janet and I have talked about opening our own office. With her real estate connections and sales talent along with my experience I think we can make it work,” he said, hoping he sounded more confident than he felt.
“Well, that sounds like a wonderful idea. I didn’t know you were making plans to leave.” She checked her watch again, “I have to get back to work. Good luck with your new business.” She picked up her purse and stood, tears welling in her eyes again. “It’s going to be awful without you.” She walked out of the diner before he could say anything.
He left some bills on the table and headed home. He was not looking forward to telling Janet he’d been fired, but he would have plenty of time this afternoon to figure out the best way to break the news to her.
He pulled into the driveway and waved to Bill, the neighbor across the street who was mowing his lawn. Surprised to see Janet’s car in the garage, he called out to her when he entered the house.
“Blam!” the bedroom door slammed. Concerned, he hurried down the hall and opened it. He saw a man stumble out the sliding glass door to the deck and caught a glimpse of Janet’s backside as she scurried into the bathroom and locked the door. His eyes took in the scene in the bedroom, the rumpled bedclothes, a bottle of wine on the nightstand, a used condom on the floor. On his side of the bed.
“Hey, come back here!” he shouted, and ran out to the deck in time to see the guy disappear around the corner of the house.
He turned and raced through the house and out the front door. The man was struggling to unlock his BMW parked across the street. Cliff sprinted after him and reached the car as the man got in and stuck the key in the ignition. Cliff jerked the door open and grabbed him by the shirt, trying to drag him out of the car. “Who the fuck are you?” he yelled, grabbing and punching at the same time. Suddenly the car lurched backwards as the man got the car started and found reverse. Cliff was caught by the opened door and knocked down, cracking his head on the ground. Tires squealed as the car sped off, missing him by inches.
He lay on the pavement with the acrid smell of burned rubber filling his nostrils. His head throbbed and he touched his fingers to the rising lump behind his left ear. He swayed dizzily as he started to get up.
“You okay?” Bill hurried over and helped him to the curb. “I saw the whole thing and called 911, the police will be here any min…” he stopped in mid-sentence and stared when Cliff’s garage door opened and Janet’s Lexus sped off down the street.
“I’m alright,” Cliff shook Bill’s hand off his arm and struggled to his feet. He was still dizzy, his knee was beginning to swell and the knuckles of his right hand were scraped and bruised.
A patrol car drove up while Cliff was still taking stock of his bruises. He recognized the cop, officer Dunham, from the donut shop down by the beach.
“Hi Mr. Demont. You okay?” Dunham asked. “What happened here?”
Cliff told him what he remembered of the confrontation.
Bill excitedly told the cop about the car nearly running Cliff over, then added, “That car’s been parking in front of my house a coupla times a week for the last month. Owner’s a slick looking fellow. I thought he was one of Janet’s real estate associates.”
“Wait a minute,” Cliff was still foggy, “That car’s been parking here for a month?”
“Yep, it kinda irritated me that the guy was visiting your house but always parked in front of mine.”
Officer Dunham listened and took notes in his pad. “All right, Mr. Demont. You came home from work and caught your wife in the act with a stranger. You got into a scuffle with him and picked up some bruises.” He nodded toward Cliff’s skinned knuckles. “Do you want to file a complaint?”
Cliff shook his head, “No.”
The officer closed his pad. “Let me give you some advice. Go stay with a friend a few days, until the dust settles. Maybe you can work things out with your wife, maybe not. Whatever you do, don’t get tough with her or threaten her. I don’t want to have to come back out here. Got it?”
“Sure. Thanks officer.”
            After the policeman drove away, a kind of clarity came over Cliff. He realized this moment had been foreshadowed long before today. “This is the end of you and me, Janet.” He said those words aloud, then went back in the house and packed a couple of suitcases.  He tossed them in the backseat of his car, strapped his surfboard onto the roof and headed back into the house. Janet usually kept their checkbooks in the top drawer of her desk, but they were missing. Cursing, he searched the other drawers but came up empty until his fingers closed on a manila envelope in bottom drawer. Their emergency cash. “This is a goddamned emergency,” he said aloud as he pulled a thin stack of bills from it and counted. “A thousand bucks,” he said, stuffing the money in his pocket.
In the kitchen, he looked around but didn’t see anything he wanted. Moving to the den, he went to the liquor cabinet and retrieved a bottle of whiskey. Hanging on the wall nearby were a couple of photos of him and Janet. Embracing at their wedding, lying on a beach in Cancun, and one of her on a horse. She was wearing a cowgirl’s hat and looking back toward the camera, eyes half closed and faint smile on her lips. A ‘come hither’ look. He resisted an impulse to smash his fist into the photo. Instead, he left. Across the street, Bill was still in his front yard trimming a hedge. In the rearview mirror Cliff could see him standing on his lawn, clippers in hand, staring after him as he drove off.
***
            Traffic noise from Highway 1 penetrated the walls of the Big Rock Motel. Cliff had driven north, looking for the first motel with a vacancy sign and found this place on the outskirts of Morro Bay. He lay awake on the well-worn mattress staring into the predawn darkness. The events of the day before played over and over in his mind, until he rose from the bed, wincing in pain. His body was sore from being knocked down by the BMW, proof that what happened yesterday wasn’t just a bad dream. At noon he checked out of the motel and called Kelly from a payphone.
            “Where are you?” she demanded. “Your wife called here three times today. Why didn’t you tell her you quit?” She took a deep breath, “Also, a policeman came by this morning looking for you. He said he had some questions about a fight. What’s going on with you?”
            “Things have gotten a little crazy but I can’t explain it over the phone. Do you have plans after work?”
            “No. Come to my house at 5:30. I collected a box of things from your office for you.”
            “I hope you got my rolodex.”
            “Yes…Uh oh, Bob’s coming, I have to go.” The receiver went dead in his hand.
            It was dark when he arrived at Kelly’s house on Alrita Street.
            When she opened the door she stifled a laugh.
            “What’s funny?” he asked, instinctively checking his fly.
            “Well, if the police are looking for you, you’re making it awfully easy for them, driving that Porsche with a surfboard on top. It sticks out like a sore thumb.”
            Cliff turned and stared at the car. It did look a little ridiculous.
            “Why don’t you put it in the garage? I don’t want them hauling you to jail before you tell me what’s going on.”
            She put a glass of wine in his hand when he came in from the garage. “Alright. What’s this about a fight?” She looked at his skinned knuckles while he drank.
            He told her about finding Janet with Mr. BMW, how he bruised his knuckles on the man’s face, and about her speeding off in her car. “Then I just packed a couple of bags and left. Haven’t been back since.”
            “That’s not the story she told me. She said you terrorized her and beat up a business associate of hers in a jealous rage.”
            “That’s a lie! They were in bed when I got home. I chased the guy and landed a couple of punches but I didn’t beat him up, and she left before I could say a word to her,” Cliff said angrily. “She’s been lying to me all along, and she lied to you too. What the hell’s up with her?” He stared hard at Kelly as if, being a woman, she could give him an answer.
            “I don’t know, but I think you need a lawyer,” she replied. “Honesty and fairness are the first casualties of a broken marriage. That’s what my lawyer told me when I divorced Steve. She’s very good. I’ll give you her number.”
            “Great, finding a lawyer is on my to-do list.”
            He waited while she wrote down the number, then rose to leave. “I’d better get going.”
            “You don’t have anywhere to go, do you?”
            “I was thinking of the motel I stayed in last night.”
            “That sounds too depressing for words. You can stay here, in the spare bedroom for a day or two. You shouldn’t be driving anyway. Not when you’re emotionally upset.”
            He stood, “I’m fine…I couldn’t impose on you this way.”
“Don’t be silly. You’re staying here tonight and that’s final.”
***
            Cliff stayed the weekend, and when Kelly left for work on Monday, he drove into town to meet with Angela Braun, her divorce lawyer.
            “Have you considered counseling and reconciliation? Angela asked. “An infidelity doesn’t always have to end in divorce.”    
            “File the papers. I want to finish this and get on with my life.”
            “Very well, I can see you’ve made up your mind,” she said. “It will take about a week for the paperwork, and you’ll have to reach a property settlement with Janet. Six months after that the divorce would be final.”
            “Fine. Let’s get it done.”
            Back at Kelly’s house, he groped in his suitcase for his bottle of whiskey and went out to the backyard, grabbing a glass along the way. He settled into a patio chair and watched a hummingbird swoop down to a feeder hanging in a tree. The sun was low and the air was cool. The bourbon warmed his throat as he tried to remember the last time he was in real trouble. He recalled his tour of duty in Vietnam, his platoon taking fire from Vietcong guerillas. He remembered the day he was called out of his seventh grade classroom and his mother told him his father had been killed in a crash on the San Diego Freeway, and years later watching her succumb to breast cancer. He survived those terrifying times, mentally and emotionally battered, but fundamentally intact. Janet’s betrayal wasn’t as terrifying as being shot at, and it wasn’t as heartbreaking as losing his parents. In fact, this sudden freefall was strangely exhilarating. Even now, sitting in Kelly’s backyard, he couldn’t help assuming that he would come out the other end of this dark tunnel okay. He lifted his glass to his lips.
            “I knocked but no one answered,” Jon said as he wandered into the back yard.
            “How did you find me?” Cliff was surprised that anyone besides Kelly knew where he was.
            “I called your office and that secretary with the sexy voice told me.” Jon looked around the tidy backyard. “Nice place.” He sat in the other patio chair and lifted the bottle of bourbon. “Maker’s Mark. I’m glad you’re maintaining your standards.”
            Cliff got another glass from the kitchen and poured him a drink.
            “So, what’s up with you and Janet?” Jon asked, “I stopped by your house Saturday morning and waited for you. We were supposed to go surfing, remember?”
            “I completely forgot. Sorry.”
            “No problem. The waves weren’t that good anyway. When I knocked on your door Janet said you didn’t live there anymore. Said she didn’t know where you were or how to get in touch with you, so I called your office.”
            Cliff told him about finding Janet in bed with Mr. BMW.
            “Jesus. You lost your job too?”
            “Yup.”
            “And the cops are looking for you?”
            “I doubt it.”
Jon drained his glass. “You need some money to tide you over until you get things sorted out?”
            “Nope, I’m okay for now.”
            They sat in silence a moment, then Jon spoke. “So, what are you going to do now?”
            Cliff poured himself another shot of bourbon before he answered. “I don’t know, but I can’t stay here any longer.”
            “Why don’t you go down to Wilmington? You can stay on my boat for a while. It’s nice and quiet, a good place to plan your next move.”

Chapter 3
           
Cliff double checked the directions Jon had written on a slip of paper as the Porsche bounced over a set of double railroad tracks in a gritty industrial part of LA harbor. To his right lay a vast, sulphurous oil refinery, its blackened stacks issuing lazy columns of greasy smoke. To his left, a seemingly endless train of boxcars rumbled and squealed slowly by. The road ran straight ahead toward a boatyard, then veered hard right. He followed it and two minutes later passed through the rusted iron gates of the Harbor Haven Marina, coming to a stop near the water’s edge. He sat a moment, taking in the sight of a hundred or more pleasure craft moored to weather-beaten floating docks. Some of the boats looked like they’d sailed their last voyage and were patiently waiting to sink at their moorings. Cliff began to wonder if this was such a good idea after all.
Jon emerged from a rickety storage building nearby and waved to him. “It’s not exactly Marina Del Rey, but it’s a good place to work on the boat,” he explained as Cliff followed him down a gangway that swayed under their weight. The boards of the dock itself were rough and splintery. Cliff nodded when Jon said, “Don’t go barefoot around here.” They passed a dozen boats tied to the dock with frayed, sun-bleached lines. Up close, they looked even more dilapidated than they had from a distance. It was near midday and the morning clouds had burned off, leaving a hazy sky and air fouled by the nearby oil refinery. Above, a yellowed sun bore down on them, causing prickly sweat between Cliff’s shoulder blades.
“There’s the Staghound.” Jon pointed toward the far end of the dock.
Cliff squinted at the bright white shape in the distance. As they approached, the sleek lines of the hull came into view. Spotless teak decks, a varnished mahogany deckhouse and polished stainless steel deck gear made the sixty-four foot sloop stand out from the other boats like a graceful swan in a flock of sooty terns.
Cliff tilted his head back and sighted up the gleaming aluminum mast. “How tall is it?” he asked.
“Seventy-nine feet from the deck.” Jon climbed a wobbly three-step staircase mounted on the dock and stepped aboard the boat. “Come on, I’ll show you around.”
“Wow, this isn’t boat, it’s a yacht!” Cliff exclaimed. He followed Jon around the deck, fascinated as Jon pointed out details of the boat’s fittings and construction.
“Let’s go below, I’ll show you where to stow your gear,” Jon said, leading him down the companionway. Sunlight filtered through the hatches, bathing the interior in the warm glow of satin varnished mahogany. To the left and right of the stairs were a pair of private staterooms.
Jon pointed to the door on the left, “This is my cabin. The other one is Lena’s.”
“Lena?”
“She’s part of the crew for our trip.”
“You’re going on a trip?” Cliff asked, surprised.
“Yeah, to the South Pacific. We’re leaving in January. You can stay here until then if you want.”
Just forward of Jon’s stateroom was the navigation station with a built-in chart desk and cushioned seat. Single side-band and VHF radios, a radar screen and a Weatherfax receiver were mounted on shelves over the desk. Above them were repeater displays for wind speed and direction, knotmeter and depth sounder. Mounted on the adjacent bulkhead was a large panel of toggle switches and meters along with a polished brass barometer and a ship’s chronometer. There was also a shelf full of books on navigation, meteorology and seamanship.
“Navigation instruments are here,” Jon said, pulling open a drawer containing parallels and dividers, pencils and a bronze sextant all perfectly arranged in felt-lined individual recesses. Lifting the lid of the chart table, he said, “Charts are in here.”
Forward of the nav station was a galley that consisted of a sink nearly as big as a wash tub, a stainless steel three-burner stove set on gimbals and a built-in refrigerator-freezer. Above the counter were dish lockers and a pantry. It looked well organized and spotlessly clean.
“The galley is Lena’s domain. She’ll rip your lungs out if you leave a mess here.” Jon smiled as he said this but Cliff saw he was serious.
“Got it.” He pictured a hard-faced woman fussing in the galley.
On the starboard side, opposite the nav station was the head. Opening the door, Jon said, “There’s a shower in here, but it’s better to use the one by the marina office.”
Cliff glanced inside, noting how small it was. “Okay.”
Forward of the head was an L-shaped dinette big enough to seat six. The table was varnished mahogany with a beautifully inlaid compass rose made of lighter wood. The middle of the boat was wide open, with a settee and a pilot berth built into each side of the hull.
“The starboard berth is Mike’s,” Jon said. “You can use the port one. Tony usually sleeps there but he won’t be back until we’re ready to leave.”
“They’re the crew?”
“Yeah, Mike’s the deckhand. Tony’s a big wave surfer from Peru. He’s kind of a Jack-of-all-trades, and all-around good guy to have aboard.”
Cliff inspected the pilot berth.  It was about seven feet long by two feet wide, with a reading lamp, a small shelf for personal items and a privacy curtain. “Looks snug,” he said.
“Well, you want a snug berth when you’re at sea. I built this boat to be a passage-maker, not a vacation home.”
“You built this?” Cliff was amazed.
“Not from scratch,” Jon said, “It was originally built in New Zealand. There was a fire in the engine room. Damaged the interior and deck but the hull was intact.” He laid his hand affectionately on a varnished bulkhead. “I found it propped up in a boatyard in Costa Mesa. The insurance company sold it to me for scrap and I rebuilt it.”
“I’ve never seen anything quite like it. I bet it’s really fast.”
“Yeah, she was designed for speed. Won a bunch of ocean races before she burned. Now she’s just a very fast cruising yacht.”
Have you done many long passages in this boat?” Cliff could almost feel the big sloop tugging at her dock lines.
“Yeah, mostly to Latin America, the Caribbean and the South Pacific, and once to Thailand.”
“All the way to Thailand? That must have been an adventure.” Cliff was impressed.
“That’s one way to put it, my friend.” Jon chuckled. He led Cliff farther forward and opened a door into a kind of workshop with lockers and shelves full of spare parts on the port side, and a workbench with a vise, and a plethora of hand tools mounted on a shadow board to starboard. “We call this area the shop.”
“Looks like you have enough spare parts to fix anything on this boat.” Cliff was impressed with the extensive inventory.
“Yessir. I put a lot of effort into being self-sufficient.”
Overhead, Cliff noticed two surfboards in slings attached to the ceiling. There were slings for several more. “Mind if I hang my board up there?”
“Not at all, bring your longboard too, if you want.”
Forward of the shop was another doorway. Cliff poked his head into the room-sized compartment. It was also lined with shelves lockers. “Looks like a pantry.”
“Yup, we carry provisions for about four months.” Jon pointed to another bulkhead farther forward. It was painted white, with an aluminum watertight hatch built into it. “The sail locker is up there.” He turned back to the main cabin. “So that’s the cook’s tour. Let’s go grab some lunch, then I gotta head back to Avila.”
They walked a quarter mile to a small waterfront café overlooking the channel and ordered burgers and beer.
When the beers came, Cliff took a long drink and asked about the trip Jon was planning.
“There’s not much to it.” Jon ran a hand through his sun-bleached hair and swigged his beer. “Every once in a while I run into someone who wants something delivered to some out-of-the-way place. We’re taking some crates to a guy on an island way down south.”
“Wouldn’t be easier to ship them than take them by boat?” Cliff was beginning to think there was more to Jon than just a surf bum with a sailboat.
“Well, there are places in the world that UPS doesn’t deliver to, and sometimes it’s just better to bypass the bureaucracy. Two years ago we took a load of fine art, paintings and sculpture, to a guy who was building a home on a little island called Raivavae, in French Polynesia. He wasn’t going to sell them or anything, just wanted nice art in his house. If he’d gone through regular channels the French authorities would have charged a lot more in taxes than it cost for us to sail the stuff down there. But worse than that, he’d be on their radar. They’d hassle him about every little thing.”
“Who was the guy?”  Cliff asked, intrigued.
“Just a guy who made a lot of money in the stock market. Leveraged buyouts or something.”
“Is that legal, what you did?” Cliff wanted to know. “It sounds like smuggling.”
“It’s coloring outside the lines a bit, but it’s not a hanging offense.”
“What happens if you get caught?”
“Probably get my wrist slapped. Pay a fine. But the risk is minimal because we’re just some guys on a sailboat roaming around the South Pacific looking for good surf, and happened to do a guy a favor. Very low key.” Jon smiled.
Cliff pictured Jon spending months cruising on a sailboat in the tropics, as free as a man can be, riding pristine undiscovered waves. “So, how was the surf in Raivavae?”
“Pretty awesome. The island is surrounded by coral reefs. On the south side there’s half a dozen good breaks. Tony, Mike and I had them all to ourselves for six days. Then another guy showed up.”
“That’s it? Just one other guy?”
“Yeah, I told you it was pretty awesome.”
***
            Alone aboard Staghound that night, Cliff tried to get comfortable in the narrow bunk. He was still awake at midnight, listening to the rumble of powerful diesel motors approaching. Curious, he went on deck and watched a pair of tugs shepherd an old freighter into a dock at the scrapyard across the narrow channel. Shivering in the damp air, he climbed back into the bunk and tried to sleep, but he couldn’t. Since he was fired, and found Janet fucking some jerk in his bed, he had operated with outward calm while inside he seethed. But now, alone in this cold, dark boat the protective heat of anger was no match for the loneliness that wrapped its icy fingers around his shoulders. Still shivering, he pulled the blanket up to his chin, but he couldn’t get warm.
            His thoughts were stuck on Janet like a boat jammed on a reef. Deep down, he thought, I knew all along that the day would come when she would betray me. I could blame her, but that would be like blaming a rattlesnake for its bite. No, if anyone’s to blame, it’s me. I should have left her long ago instead of waiting for her to turn on me.
            Miserable and shivering, Cliff got up and stole a blanket from the other berth. Back under the covers, he eventually warmed enough that his teeth stopped chattering. His thoughts turned to Bob Larsen. Bob’s guiding principle was money, and money as a guiding principle might be good for a banker, but not for an architect. Thinking I could change Bob’s priorities was foolish. I should have left the firm as soon as I realized money motivated him far more than the quality of the architecture we produced. Instead, I stayed on.
            So what does that make me? A loser? A dupe? A failure? Weak? Cliff stewed over these thoughts until, mercifully, sleep finally came.
            An hour later, the seven o’clock steam whistle at the scrapyard blew, signaling the start of its massive machinery. His body sluggish from lack of sleep, Cliff felt for his watch on the shelf above the bunk.
“Shit, I have to be in San Luis by one,” he said aloud. He found instant coffee in the galley and boiled water on the stove, careful not to leave a drop on the polished countertop. Though he was rushed, he couldn’t help admiring Staghound’s finely fitted and varnished furniture while he gulped the coffee. He grabbed his towel and trotted up to the marina office and found the showers. Having forgotten his shaving kit, he could only stare at his gaunt, hollow-eyed reflection in the mirror for a moment before hurrying back to the boat. Ten minutes later he was on the road north, arriving at Angela Braun’s office just in time for his appointment with her.
“Your wife proposed a settlement, including buying your half of the house,” Angela said, shuffling papers on her desk.
“Good, I was sure she’d jump at the chance to buy the place.”
“She’s already had it appraised and will pay you when the divorce is final, if you accept these figures,” Angela paused, “I must say, she didn’t waste a minute.”
“That’s Janet.” Cliff checked the numbers and noted the appraisal came in at $500,000 and that after expenses, his share would be $150,000.
“I think the appraisal is on the low side. We can hire our own appraiser and fight for more money. You deserve…”
Cliff held up his hand. “Stop right there. The house is worth six hundred. She knows that as well as I do. I could fight it out with her in court, and let’s say after a couple of court appearances and six months of back and forth with her, I get thirty thousand more. It’s not worth it to me.”
“Are you sure? Thirty thousand is a lot of money.”
“Six months of bickering with her over thirty grand? She can have the money. I’m done with her. I never want to see her or have to deal with her ever again. Hell, I’d almost pay thirty grand to never have to see her face again.”
“You’re upset now, you should take a few days to think it over.”
“I’ve already thought it over. Let’s finish this now, today. I’m ready to move on.”
“Well, if you’re certain…”
“I’ve never been more certain of anything in my life.”
“In that case, we’ll prepare the documents right away.”
“How much time do you need?” Cliff was already rising from his chair.
“We can have the documents ready by…” She checked her calendar, “Thursday.”
“Perfect. See you then.” He left the office feeling like a weight had been lifted from his shoulders.
***

Cliff was back in Angela’s office that Thursday.
“I’ve prepared all the documents for you to sign.” She pushed a stack of papers across the desk.
When he finished the last signature, Angela gathered up the documents and pressed a button on her desk. A moment later an assistant entered. “Please make copies of these and prepare them for filing with the court.”
When the assistant left, she smiled at Cliff and handed him an envelope. “This is your half of the money in your joint savings account.”
Cliff opened the envelope and checked the amount. “Looks about right,” he said. “I’m surprised she just handed it over.”
“I threatened her with prolonged and public litigation if she didn’t release the money immediately. It would not serve her career well, or that of her boyfriend, who is married, by the way, to have a messy divorce exposed in the papers.”
“Ah, her career.” Cliff chuckled as he pocketed the check. “So, what’s next?”
 “For the moment, our work is done. I expect the final decree around May first.” Angela leaned back in her chair. “What are your plans, Cliff?”
“I’m going to collect my belongings from the house. Put them in storage.”
Angela, middle aged and bookish, with ash blond hair, removed her glasses and studied Cliff’s unshaven and haggard face. “You’re at loose ends now, I understand that, but will you stay in the area?  Still planning to open an office, as you mentioned before?”
“My plans,” he paused, “Are in a state of flux right now.”
She looked at him quizzically, “Okay. Well, I wish you the best of luck, whatever you do. We’ll contact you when we receive the final decree.”
On the street, Cliff breathed a deep sigh of relief, glad to be out of Angela’s stuffy office. Half an hour later he pulled into the driveway of his house. The curtains were drawn and the place looked dark, as if it was in mourning. He thought he might become sentimental when he saw his former home, but he didn’t. He pressed the garage door opener and got out of the car as the door rolled up.
“What the hell…?” he said aloud. His clothes lay in a pile in the middle of the garage floor. Beside them were a few boxes of his belongings. It appeared that Janet had tossed the stuff in a pile and left.
“The fucking bitch,” he said to himself as he furiously rummaged through his clothes, sorting out what he wanted from the rest. He filled the Porsche to the roof with clothing and stuffed the boxes into the car’s tiny trunk. Grabbing his longboard from its rack on the wall, he thought enviously of Jon riding South Pacific waves while he strapped it on top of the car.
Surveying what was left of his things on the garage floor, he felt as though he had shed his old life, like a cobra sheds its skin, and the fury he felt a few minutes before ebbed.  He shut the garage and drove away without a backward glance.
At the public storage place on Higuera Street in San Luis Obispo, the clerk looked out the window at Cliff’s overstuffed car.
“Kicked out?” he asked. “Or walked out?”
“I guess you’ve seen this before,” Cliff said.
“You aren’t the first person to show up here with a carload of stuff and a sad story.” He shoved a rental form across the counter. “All I have right now is a ten-by-twenty. Fifty bucks a month. Pay six months in advance, you get a ten percent discount.”
The clerk sounded to Cliff like he had long since lost interest in marital tragedies, which was just fine with him. He signed the form and paid for six months, then dumped his things in unit 171.
Back in his car, he headed north on the freeway. They’ll be putting up construction fencing at the Buffum ranch soon, he thought. I want to see the place again before I’m locked out.
The Porsche came to a stop at his usual spot under the oak. He got out of the car and sat on the crumbling concrete foundation of the burned farmhouse, looking down the hill toward the highway. Surveyor’s stakes stood in the tree-dotted landscape like the scouts of an invading army, marking where the tractors would soon rip the earth and subdue the land under a layer of blacktop and concrete. He sat with his elbows on his knees and, suddenly exhausted, let his head hang down, propped up by his hands.
“You look like hell,” a voice behind him said.
Cliff turned to see Alice Hilliard standing there, not ten yards away.
“What are you doing here? Ain’t you supposed to be at work?” She came forward, her Stetson low on her forehead against the setting sun.
“I quit the firm, or got fired, take your pick.”
“I heard. There was another fella from your outfit here yesterday. Said he was takin’ over on account o’ you gettin’ yourself in trouble with the boss.” She squinted at him. “That right?”
“Close enough.”
“It was over that tree, wasn’t it?” It was a statement, not a question.
Cliff slowly shook his head, “Not exactly. I was fed up with the place anyway.” He stood to leave. “Have a good evening.”
“Hey.” She reached out and caught him by the wrist and he turned around to face her. “I appreciate you tryin’ to save that ol’ tree.” She let go his arm.
“Sorry it didn’t work out the way you and I wanted it to.” The sun was touching the horizon. “I should be going now.”
“You take care o’ yourself, you hear?” she called after him as he reached his car.
***
            Driving south, Cliff reflected on Angela Braun’s words, “You’re at loose ends now.” Yes, he thought, definitely at loose ends. I have no idea what the future will bring. It’s strange to suddenly be free of the mundane responsibilities of home and work, but it’s also an empty feeling.
It was near midnight and fog had descended on the harbor when Cliff arrived back in Wilmington. He drove slowly, groping through the gloom until he found the gates of the Harbor Haven marina. Walking down the dock to the Staghound, mist clung to his lashes and the stubble on his face. Water had pooled on the canvas dodger over the boat’s companionway and dripped down his neck as he fumbled with the lock on the hatch.
Inside the boat, it was cold enough that his breath turned to fog. He undressed and climbed into the pilot berth. Tomorrow, he thought, I will have no place to go and nothing to do. It’s as if I’m starting over again. Starting from scratch…Alone.

After a few minutes of fruitless contemplation he fell into a troubled sleep.