Phyllis came down from the bridge and walked pigeon-toed to the stern where there was a coiled line. She weakly tossed it my way and it fell into the bay. She had to gather it from the water and throw it twice more before I managed to catch the end. She was an awkward, voluptuous woman of about thirty with a daffy smile. It was hard to pull the heavy trawler against the tide, but we finally got her tied up.
* * *
Our first days on their yacht were a dream vacation fantasy. Phyllis's sumptuous four-course meals followed long days on the water spearfishing and trolling. He was all about gamesmanship, betting, proposing dares, playing in the sea, enjoying the best cigars, discovering life's possibilities each morning after his oatmeal. Jim was six foot, and powerfully built, particularly in the chest and shoulders, his sandy hair thinning, and with a light complexion that burned easily in the Bahamian sun. Phyllis served him hand and foot, literally. Every afternoon after diving she gave him massages. She walked along his back cracking his spine with her little feet. She smeared goop on his lips to protect him from the sun. Phyllis mixed his drinks and handed him Cuban cigars. She seemed good-hearted, affable, and dumbthat was my first impression. In the evening she showered on the deck and waved whenever I glanced her way. She was nice to look at. The girls cooked together in the galley, got along okay, although I didn't think much about them. I was focused on Jim.
On the third day out I guided him to an isolated atoll about seventy miles south of Bimini called Orange Cay. It was hardly more than a large rock. But the surrounding reefs were untouched by local fishermen who couldn't afford the fuel to travel halfway to Cuba. There were lobsters, snappers, and groupers carpeting the bottom, so much game here that it felt unsporting to drop a line or dive down and spear them. But I never said that to Jim. He was in heaven and I wanted to please him. He had that effect on all of us. Every afternoon he came out of the water with his pole spear like James Bond and presented a bucket of fish and crawfish for the girls to cook. Of course any idiot could catch fish in such a place, but still I felt like a big shot for having brought him here.
I suggested playing gin rummy. It felt like a manly contest and I was good at cards. The first night playing with Jim I won thirty or forty dollars. I knew that I would. In my circle of friends I nearly always won. The second night I gradually lost back nearly everything. With a swagger that was not my own, I suggested raising the stakes. Jim didn't seem to care. Whatever you want, buddy, he said. I held my own for a while and then I began to lose. I was down five hundred before we quitmuch more than I ever lost at cards. But it didn't matter. Jim evoked the larger picture while he racked up the score against me. What was five hundred when we were having such a good time bantering about women, diving for lobster, eating caviar and the best seafood, drinking wine beneath a galaxy of stars? He knew how to live. He would take me to places that I could not begin to imagine. This was implicit in the largess of those unforgettable days on Jim's yacht.
On the fifth night out, we were sitting on the aft deck drinking beer and watching gulls from the tiny island wheeling behind the stern in the glow of our anchor light. I knew that he wanted to play cards and he was waiting for me to ask him. The girls were below in the galley. Jim reached for a cigar in his shirt pocket, but then he put it back. In that moment all the banter went out of his face.
Look there, he said.
He was pointing off the stern at a pinpoint of light in the distance. Hardly anything at all.
What is it?
Wait here, he said curtly. He walked into the salon and I watched him disappear down the stairs.
Excerpted from The Dream Merchant by Fred Waitzkin. Copyright © 2013 by Fred Waitzkin. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Dunne Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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