Sharon knew from experience that it was best to look out when Tim said that he had a new plan, particularly a secret one. His first desire was simply to move back to the boat, and Sharon managed to prevail on the boat owner to get quarters for both of them in the large deck house to avoid going up and down ladders. He could do the steps with a railing from the dock up to the boat, and he could easily manage the ramp from the floating dock up to dry ground.
They did spend a comfortable night in the unaccustomed space of the deck house. There was better ventilation than down below, running water, and even a toilet.
The next morning, Tim began to prowl around the various marinas and docks, making Sharon wonder what he had in mind. When she saw him coming out of a marine brokerage office, she asked directly whether he wanted to move to a different boat. He replied, “Certainly not. Aren’t we quite comfortable where we are?”
“Yes. I just wondered.”
“Well, since our boat never leaves the dock, it might be nice to get something much smaller that we could go around in.”
Sharon let it go at that. Easy going as Tim was, she was careful not to be too inquisitive or bossy. She did suspect, however, that he confided more to Enoch than to herself.
The next afternoon after practice, Enoch, under siege at his condo, made his escape to the boat. They all went walking along the waterfront, Tim keeping up a surprisingly good pace with his crutches. When Diana suggested slowing down, he replied, “No, this is decent exercise, at least for the upper body, and I need it.”
It was already dusk when Tim made some sort of sign to Enoch, and they stopped. Right below them, some fifty feet away, three sailboats were tied up to a dock. Tim was pointing to one he said was twenty eight feet long, and Enoch was paying it close attention. It looked quite old to Sharon, and in need of paint. Tim said, “The older fiber-glass boats are better built and stronger than the new ones. That one was built before they discovered how thin they could make the plastic.”
Sharon liked activities that were more vigorous than sailing, but she supposed that she would go out with Tim if he took it up. However, something else was going on. Tim and Enoch were looking at the cockpit of the boat and assessing its size. Sharon, knowing how to get information, suggested to the others, “I suppose the cockpit might be just big enough for people to make love in it.”
That brought the expected heated denials, and Enoch volunteered, “We were wondering if there’d be room to put in a vertically pivoting rowing seat, and then move the boat with long oars.”
Tim added, “I couldn’t fit into an ordinary rowboat with such a long
cast, but it should be possible in that big cockpit.”
Diana objected, “That boat’s much too big to row.”
“Not fast, or against a strong wind, but we think it could be rown in most conditions. In much the way of the ancient galleys or the Viking ships.”
It sounded as if it might be possible to Sharon. In any case, it would keep Tim occupied. It would also be much better than having him try to kayak.
That night, Enoch and Diana occupied the berths vacated below by Tim and Sharon, and, as far as Sharon could tell, finally consummated their alliance. In any event, they looked very happy at breakfast the next morning.
After Enoch set off to do more battle with the coaches, the other three went down to the little boat brokerage. It was one of several in the area, and, like the boat, it was in the marina known to be the lair of thieves and addicts. One of the stories featured a young live-aboard man who was in the habit of stealing outboard motors from the rental boats and hiding him in his old sailboat. When, finally, the police were chasing him along the docks, he ran to his boat and threw overboard incriminating bags of drugs. Unfortunately, the plastic bags floated. Marina residents who went to jail usually ended up losing their boats.
Sharon, aware of these facts, accompanied Tim into the brokerage office. The tall stooped man behind the counter didn’t appear to be a thief or addict, but he did look as if he might know people who were. He wasn’t an aggressive bargainer, and Sharon, interceding for Tim, got the boat on highly favorable terms. She wasn’t exactly proud of little victories such as this, but girls did have to look out for their brothers. She had already arranged to move the boat away from the thieves and addicts to a slip in a higher-toned marina bordering their own.
Tim calculated that the oars should be fourteen feet. Oars weren’t a big deal in twenty first century motorboat culture, and West Marine didn’t sell any longer than eight feet. Since they had driven the other suppliers out of business, it was a matter of making them, and, hence, a visit to Home Depot.
They knew that ordinary two-by-fours wouldn’t be strong enough, and, tooling down the aisles with the clump-clump of Tim’s crutches, they were lucky enough to come upon fourteen foot Douglas fir handrails. Doug fir one-by-twos could then be lag bolted to the flat parts of the handrails to stiffen them. They also grabbed a Doug fir one-by-four for the blades on the ends of the oars.
Diana and Sharon carried the lumber on their shoulders while Tim clutched a plastic bag of hardware next to the hand-hold of his right crutch. The ladies, some dozen feet apart, found that they could lift the wood enough to allow small to middle-sized people to pass between them. The only trouble came when they arrived at the long check-out lanes. Sharon suggested that they go to the automatic scanning machines instead.
The bar code was on the ends of the handrails, so they had to be raised vertically to rest their butt-ends on the scanner. Tim assisted by supporting the raised handrail with one crutch, just keeping it from tipping over on to the passers-by. The clerks, who had been engaged in intense personal conversation with one another, then came running. Tim and his consorts were quickly passed through the lane in a more conventional way with hand-held scanners.
Out in the parking lot, they weren’t the only people with large cumbersome objects, and they passed unremarked to Diana’s rental car. It had no roof rack, and, when they tied the lumber on to the top, there was some scarring. However, she said that the rental agencies hardly looked at the cars when they were returned. She had once accidentally spilled a bottle of smelly tincture of benzene on the seat of a Hertz car without repercussions.
The problem with oars of twenty eight foot span on a boat with a beam of nine feet was that so much of the oars would be outboard. That meant that the downward pressure on the handles needed to lift the blades out of the water would exceed the propulsive force. The answer was to weight the handles with lead to make them nearly balance on the tholes. That, in turn, entailed a visit to the United Metals Corporation.
This establishment consisted of a large warehouse filled with steel, copper, aluminum, zinc, and lead, not to mention the exotic metals. These were available in a variety of sizes and shapes in large stacks with fork-lifts dangerously on the loose among them.
The clerks and warehousemen, almost all young and male, would, most probably, not have been hired by Home Depot. They did not wear orange aprons with the words, ‘I help in all departments’, and their general demeanor suggested that they would be unlikely to help anyone anywhere.
When Tim and his companions entered, in the early afternoon, it seemed that some dozen of the employees had been engaged in a hamburger eating contest in a fast-food restaurant. All were grabbing their extended stomachs, and, whenever one made certain peculiar noises, there was loud cheering. But, then, when they noticed Diana and Sharon, things quieted down.
It was a place where one ordinarily ordered a few thousand pounds of something, but the request to buy “a little lead” was accepted without derision. Following a vague wave of a hand, they found a pile of lead scraps in assorted shapes. Having made their choices, the transaction went smoothly. There was only a slight interruption when the cashier was goosed from the rear with a screwdriver.
Sharon dreaded the next step, which would be carpentry. Whenever Tim did anything like that, there would be sawdust, bits of wood, and chaos everywhere. But, then, she hit on an idea. The Home Depot parking lot would be perfect. They had to buy tools anyway, and the shopping cart corrals would make good sawhorses. The mess would then be a problem only for the people who were paid incredible sums to clean up the lots.
Sharon’s job consisted in the shaping of the oar handles with a chisel, mallet, and file. It was rather fun to shape wood with hand tools, the way it might have been done hundreds of years previously, and it was also nice to think that she was providing comfortable places for Tim’s hands. A few people did look quizzically at them, but she was re-enforced in her view that one could get away with many things as long as one looked confident.
When they got back to the boat, they found a lady with a young child in a stroller, and a little boy close by. It turned out to be Melissa Ives, the sports reporter. She had a problem.
Sharon had met Melissa, and knew that, with a graduate degree in journalism, she was in her first year covering the NFL. They had hardly gotten out of the car when Melissa said loudly, “Enoch’s just had a huge fight with Coach Higgins, and he’s been suspended!”
Any of the other reporters would have been delighted at the controversy, and the resulting possibilities for stories. But Melissa, obviously liking Enoch and Tim, was bothered. Enoch being unavailable, she had come to Tim for advice. The presence of the children, the older one tugging at her skirt, underscored the great gap between her and the cranky old men with cigars who did most of the sports writing.
The affair had started, naturally, with a large fine levied on Enoch for missing a meeting. It was also discovered that, in his anxiety over Tim, he had left the field a few seconds before the end of the last game, when the opposing quarterback was running out the clock with kneel-downs. No one thought that it made any difference, but it was technically against the rules.
Coach Higgins then spoke to the press, saying that Enoch’s extraordinary performances had amounted only to ‘useless showboating that contributed nothing to the winning of games.’ There might have been some basis for saying that in the case of previous games, but, in the last one, Enoch’s catches had put the team ahead for a considerable period. Moreover, it was obvious to almost everyone that he had been trying as hard as he could to win the game. According to Melissa, Enoch later responded by saying, “The best coaches are those who know how to take advantage of favorable developments.”
He didn’t refer to Coach Higgins by name, but the implication was clear. Higgins had been given a lead, and had lost it. Sharon asked, “Did he get suspended for saying that?”
“I’m not sure. Anyway, he won’t be able to play in next week’s game.”
“Won’t that be appealed and overturned?”
“It’s going to raise the issue of free speech for athletes in a big way. A company can fire an employee who says bad things about its products, and the NFL says it has the right to discipline players who say harmful things about the league or its officials.”
“It sounds as if Enoch made quite a carefully worded statement.”
“That’s what will make it an interesting case.”
“Well, that should give you material for a good column.”
“It certainly does that. But there’s more. Enoch and I afterwards taped an interview to go on a talk radio show tonight. It was fairly bland, and, then, he wanted to do it over again. The second one contains all kinds of controversial statements, and I’m not sure which one to use.”
“He must have intended you to use the second one.”
“I’m pretty sure he did. But it’ll create an incredible row.”
Just then, Diana gave a little cry and implored Melissa to let her find Enoch and talk with him before she did anything. Melissa, unlike any other reporter, readily agreed. They quickly got the oars off of Diana’s car, and she took off, one hand on the steering wheel and other holding her cell phone.
Evidently waiting for his opportunity when the adults were distracted, Melissa’s little boy took off for the open gate of the dock. However, he had reckoned without Sharon’s speed, and was caught before he had gotten half-way there. Since the boy was obviously curious about the boats, Sharon took him by the hand and offered to show him around. Melissa thankfully consented, and she and Tim sat down at one of the café tables outside the deli with the sleeping baby in the stroller.
Sharon hadn’t really changed her view of children, but she had been in contact with relatively few, those few often at their worst. Billy was quite a cute three year-old, and his fascination with birds and boats caused her to look at them more searchingly than previously. Before she was fully prepared, Billy suddenly accelerated toward a great blue heron sitting on the dock. The heron stared at him and made one of his unforgettable screeches. Billy went into reverse gear, and fell backward on to his rear. However, he got up laughing, one lesson apparently having been learned.
They did quite an extensive survey of the dock, eventually coming to the boat Tim had bought. It had just been delivered to the slip, and Billy was jumping up and down in excitement. Sharon lifted him carefully up, keeping one hand on him. She found the cabin to be a little cramped for an adult, but Billy was the perfect size to explore every little storage area.
When they eventually returned to the deli, Tim and Melissa were deep in conversation. Melissa struck Sharon as being somewhere between plain and pretty, depending largely on whether she smiled. Although she was a sportswriter, and had a trim figure with a small waist, she didn’t look particularly athletic. More than anything, she was reminiscent of the little women one saw standing on the sidelines at youth soccer games.
It was odd to see a man used to Audrey and Meredith, not to mention Diana, showing a definite interest in a woman who, despite her vocation, seemed a natural housewife.
When Sharon sat down, Tim said, “Say, Sharon, Melissa would like to see the boat. Could you stay with the kids for a little bit?”
As Sharon agreed, she wasn’t fooled for a minute. Tim wouldn’t have made such a request if it weren’t important. He’d have trouble getting himself and Melissa on to the boat with his cast, but she was sure that he’d manage.
The baby girl in the stroller was still asleep, and Sharon wheeled her gently into the deli to buy snacks for Billy and keep him occupied. When they got back to the outside table, Diana drove up with the news that Enoch had agreed to the airing of the controversial tape. Sharon pointed to the boat and explained, adding, “Since the interview isn’t scheduled to air until nine tonight, I guess there’s plenty of time for Melissa to do whatever is necessary.”
Diana replied, “It probably only takes a phone call.”
“Anyhow, we have two kids, one sleeping and the other eating.”
With that, Billy looked up. When Diana spoke to him, he seemed fascinated by her accent. One thing led to another conversationally. It was established, more or less, where Billy lived, and Diana eventually asked, “Does your daddy work out that way?”
It turned out that Billy’s father commuted to work in a ‘big green car.’ A little further talk made it clear that Billy was part of a nuclear family. As he returned to his potato chips, Diana looked to Sharon with a meaningful glance. Then, looking to the boat, she said, “At least, it doesn’t seem to be rocking.”
Sharon replied, “I was reading a C. P. Snow novel in which the hero passes up a ‘madly glamorous type’ for the ‘little mouse in the corner’.”
“It happens, certainly. Little mice can turn out to be good companions.”
Billy, overhearing, said that his friend had a mouse for a pet. It
was obvious that he wanted one as well.