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November is over, and as the dust settles (quite literally) December has come upon us to take hold of our lives.

Ugh.

 

With NaNoWriMo 2017 finished, the first thing that had to be done was rallying the troops, my unwilling participants (aka the family), into a day of binge cleaning.

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Custom hat made at Lids

We did my birthday.  Happy birthday to me.  The best present being the custom made hat from Lids and Tuxedo cake from Costco.

Then the dreaded mall crawl.  That ovicerous mental and physical torment that involves traipsing through crowds to buy presents for the people in your life, who you have absolutely no idea what to get for them because a) they can’t think of anything they want, b) they don’t do anything, no hobbies, no interests, and c) your gift picking skills leave something to be desired, namely actually having gift picking skills.

 

P.s.  I just completely made up that word.  Ovicerous.  There is no word in the English language that describes my dislike of crowds over-filling the too small aisle spaces in the aimless pursuit of shopped for products.

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The #BigDumbBunny aka Roxy the shelter dog no. 2

I came home to find the furniture rearranged.  I now have a desk view of the back yard and the rascal, the wild rabbit that lives under the deck and continuously teases and torments the #BigDumbBunny, aka Roxy the shelter dog no. 2.  It’s better than looking at the wall, although It’s only dark Monday to Friday and all but between the hours of too late in the morning to way too early in the afternoon.

 

Now, nine days into December, and the dust that settled over November only to be disturbed at the start of December is finally starting to settle.  We had to do another mini purge, this time getting rid of furniture to make room for a Christmas tree in our new to us house with less space than the old one.

Yeah, after fourteen years living in a small town not far from the city, we moved inside the world of city living.  Sort of.  More on the outskirts, but still within the bubble of city life.

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Mouse pad at Cafe Press

 

I made a mouse pad.  It’s not bad.  Great for home, a little thick for on the go.  I refuse to learn how to use the mouse pad built into the laptop because it makes me swear too much.  A pair of runners gave up their life for me to get the photo used for the mouse pad.

P.S. you can buy this mouse pad here

 

So what now that it’s December?

Today, we will find the tree and decorative remnants among the boxes of still unpacked debris of moving and put up the Christmas tree and decorate the house.

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I am making pancakes.  Oops, in thawing them out, the package of breakfast sausages sucked into itself like a bowl of half soggy wieners intent on avoiding being eaten.

 

 

 

And it is time to prioritize and sort out what projects to concentrate on.

The Gypsy Queen is in final edits.  A read through, an upload and download on Kindle for another read through.  Then I can decide if it is good enough (is it ever in the eyes of the questioning uncertainty of the author?) for anyone else to read it and brave the opinions of the beta readers.

I need to finish my NaNo from this year.  The next installment and hopefully the last (except for White Van which is a standalone) of the McAllister series.

I also promised a book two of the Latchkey Kids.  That is a work in progress.

And I made a promise to myself to focus on editing and finishing the myriad of completed, mostly complete, and semi-completed drafts that have been left to sit over the years.

And there are my more beloved projects that I just don’t want to leave sitting on the back burner.

There is also that one immitigable truth.  Editing is not fun.  I would much rather be immersed in the spell of some dark scene flowing through me spontaneously onto the page than endlessly editing and re-reading the same words more than a hundred times over.

Unfortunately, like every author I know, I don’t have the luxury of saying, “Wow, I am making so much money off this writing gig I can just quit work and do it full time!”

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I don’t expect to have a lot of time this weekend to get done what I need to do for me, for my writing.  Laundry, groceries, house cleaning, and all the other drudgeries of real life.

 

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We also have only a few short weeks to consider finishing the Christmas shopping, baking (it’s not Christmas without some damned Christmas baking!), the endless list of various donations to everywhere you live, work, school, play, etc joining the cause of bettering Christmas for the less privileged, and the family get togethers.

 

 

Next month is January, we can breathe a collective sigh of relief that the nonstop Christmas merry-go-round has stilled, and greet the NaNo start of the “What Now” months with the making of an official promise to revise your NaNo novel.  Are you game?

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Photo by Al x on Unsplash

Photo by Al x on Unsplash

National Novel Writing Month has come quivering to a close.  We lay down our exhausted pens, pencils, laptops, and other writing tools, take a long sigh, and rub our weary foreheads.

It is done.  As of midnight tonight, wherever you are, this chapter is closed.

We laughed, cried, and groaned at our writing ineptitude.  We spent hours feverishly pushing our writing abilities to the limit, staring in mute despair at the page before us with bleakly blank minds for even more hours.

Our stories soured and then soured.  Words turned cryptic and characters spouted overlong speeches, the words pouring from their mouths as if vomited in a panic to get words on the page.

We revelled in the thrilling flow of action pouring from us, uncertain where in our imagination it is coming from.  We bowed our heads in deference to the darkness oozing from our fingers onto the page, the love, the laughs, and the diabolical diatribes.

Now that it is done we move on.

Validated to confirm your wretched loss or your voracious victory, you pour yourself a stout glass of wine, brandy, vodka, hot cocoa, or whatever it is that soothes your now shredded soul.

Take a hot bath with soothing mineral oils, bubbles, a warmed brandy, chocolate, soothing music, and a good book.

Tomorrow you can resume the normality of daily life glowing in the aftermath that whether or not you reached that 50,000 word score, you did it.  You faced NaNoWriMo and stared it straight in its insidious eye.  You stared down the gullet of a veritably impenetrable goal.  You did what your friends, family, co-workers, and loved ones feel is incomprehensible, dedicating your soul for thirty days to something that will always  make you a little mysterious to them.  Something they likely will never truly understand.

What comes next?

Now that normality settles on your life and you perhaps feel a little empty for leaving that part of you behind, you ask yourself a simple question.

Now what?

Keep writing.  You don’t have to push. The drive of the impossible no longer hangs over you.  Take what you learned about yourself over the past thirty days, the newfound ability to find the writing spark on demand, or keep working to discover that ability if you are still struggling with it, and just enjoy the writing.  Let yourself gently guide your story to completion on your timetable.

Come January and February, the ‘Now What?’ months, it is time to follow the pledge you will now make to yourself and the NaNoNite community.  The pledge to not abandon what you just wrote with wanton abandon.  Come January and February embrace your work and dig in with both feet and your hands as you rip and shred it into a new masterpiece through editing both savage and refined.  It is revision time!

 

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It is Saturday morning, and the house is sleeping except for me and my dogs as I sit and ponder #NaNoWriMo2017.

 

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Which coffee?

First, the most important question.

Which coffee cup will I use?

 

 

 

Next, what plots do we brew today?

 

A seemingly sweet innocent little girl, who reveals a hint of evil.

A softly whispered voice in David’s head which only he can hear.

Thickening tensions between the elderly William McAllister and his son Jason, who William on more than one occasion swore he should have “put down” that day in the woods.

The delightfully wicked elderly Mrs. Bheals, who is new to the series and William and Anderson broke out of the care home along with William’s wife Marjory.

 

What plots are thickening and brewing up a storm of coming suspense in your #NANO world?

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Hello NaNonites.

 

I met a few of you at the kick off.

I’m Lori.  I write dark fiction and Halloween is my favourite flavour of holiday decoration.  I don’t get online every day, busy life and all.

You can find me on NaNoWriMo under my published name: LV Gaudet

https://nanowrimo.org

 

Are you ready for thirty days of obsessive writing?  One of the tools I like to use is mocking up a book cover for inspiration.  A visual of the literary feel of the story.

 

For those who don’t know what it is, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month.  For the month of November you pledge to write 50,000 words in 30 days.  Yeah, we’re nuts.  We are writers.  There is a wine that goes nicely with that.

 

I had to look back on my Nano books to figure out this is my 8th year.  Oops, I was a year off tonight.  I won three of those years.

Here are my NaNo creations in chronological order:

Garden Grove Cover - Amazon ebook - front cover

 

Garden Grove – Self published.

 

NaNoWriMo 2011 Cover

 

Untitled – I will come back to it.

 

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000035_00023]

 

The McAllister Farm (winner!) – Published by Indigo Sea Press, a small indie press in the US.

Blood cover

 

Blood (winner!) –  Based on the short story.  I will finish it, but it’s getting weird.

 

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Butterflies in the Garden (winner!) – Needs a do over and I vote this worst ever mock cover.  This will eventually be published under my alter ego to frighten the middle years/teens.

 

Old Mill Road cover idea

 

Old Mill Road – Still a work in progress. On the back burner.  I’m still looking for the old Mill Road monster.

Nathan copy-NaNoNathan – Yeah, and then there is Nathan.  Nathan was born in Hunting Michael Underwood.  But, he wouldn’t stay there.  I only made 9000+ words and gave up.  But, the voices in Nathan’s head are still there.  They will get out.  Run.

Killing David McAllister

And this year’s Nano is Killing David McAllister.  Fourth book in the McAllister Series and it will be the final.  Hunting Michael Underwood was supposed to be the last, but the story was not done.  Well, except for the spin off.  White Van.  That was not a NaNo book.  I will get back to it.

 

If you find me on Twitter (@lvgaudet), you will probably see random posts about the #BigDumbBunny.  The name is self-explanatory.  She’s big.  She’s dumb.  And she looks like a big dumb bunny with those ears and the bunny hop.

 

Feel free to check out one of my blogs.

The Intangible World of the Literary Mind (lvgwriting.wordpress.com) is my first blog.  It’s a blog about writing and being a writer for writers.  I haven’t been as active as I would like to be.  Life and stuff.  Writing.  You get it.  I’ve posted stories, tips on writing, editing, creating platform, and promoting yourself and your writing.  I post my own tips as well as hitting the reblog button to share the advice of others.  I share (reblog) the odd book review and write my own book reviews when I have time to finish and review a book.  I have a lot of reviews I am behind on writing.  I post some random stuff too.

LV Gaudet, author (lvgaudet.wordpress.com) is a fan blog.  It’s all about the reader.  I share weird and creepy news stuff.  Sometimes podcasts by some other people who like dark stories.  And I post my own stories here.  I am working on being more sharing.

Vivian Munnoch, author (vivianmunnoch.wordpress.com) is a nom de plume.  An alias.  My sometimes alter ego.  I use this name for the child friendly stories.  This is where I would post anything to do with the younger realm of darkness.

 

 

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Inspiration is one of the great tools of the author.  Without it, we would be, well, a reader.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with being a reader.  It’s an important part of being an author and books are magic.

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” –Stephen King

 

Inspiration is as varied as the writers being inspired.  It can take on any form.  Music, taste, scents, the things you surrounding yourself with.

 

As a kid, I imagined having a Ray Bradbury Theater inspired writing office, filled with an eclectic collection of inspirational prompts.

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The adult reality: I’m lucky I now have a small desk crammed in the corner of the living room, where I am working in the midst of family life going on around me and dogs trying to wrestle under my feet.

 

We also can’t rely entirely on waiting for that inspiration to come.  We have to make it.  And when we can’t, we have to just plug away and work through it.

 

When you just can’t feel it, when the writing just won’t come, and you are sitting there telling yourself you suck, your writing stinks, why are you even doing this…

 

There is only one cure.  Just write.  Shut up. Stop imagining the criticism you think others would heap on you and just write.

 

Your writing won’t be perfect.  It won’t be spectacular.  Nobody would expect it to be.  That’s what the editing monster is for.  You can’t take that rough gem and make it shine if you don’t first dig it out of your imagination.

 

Here is why it is important to write even if you aren’t feeling it, even if the story won’t come and your mind is blank: by making yourself write, you are teaching yourself to write.  You are teaching yourself to be able to write whether or not you have that special pencil (ie George Stark’s (Stephen King’s the Dark Half) Berol Black Beauty pencil), the right location, the right mood, etc.  You are teaching yourself to take the inspiration from the act of writing and from the story itself.

 

What inspires?

I found my best, most inspiring moments of feeling inspired in one particular place and time:  At the camper, in the fall, waking up before everyone else including the dogs.  It’s quiet.  I sit at the kitchen table, the blinds open, and my view the array of fall leaves outside the window.  A cup of coffee.  Peaceful.

Unfortunately, that amounts to a handful of mornings each year that I can count on two hands or less and all in the span of those few short weeks.

 

When I can’t get the mood, I just write.

 

And if that fails, I edit.  I’d rather be writing, but just going back and editing can bring new ideas.  Edit your current work or something else that you put on the back burner.

 

If you are stuck and don’t know what to write, skip it.  Yes, just pass that scene over.  Leave a marker, whatever notes you need to remember what you were thinking and move on.  You can always come back to it and if it never comes then maybe the scene does not move the story forward and should killed.

 

Give them purpose and depth.

If a character is not inspiring, then make them be inspiring.  If they can’t drive your interest, they won’t drive the readers’ either.  Give them more depth.  More purpose.  Write a back story separate to the story if you must.

The same applies to the plot.  If the story itself is not enough to drive your inspiration, then something is probably missing.

 

If all else fails, add a Nathan.

Yes, Nathan.  You don’t want to meet Nathan.  Nathan is special.

Hunting_Michael_Unde_Cover_for_KindleIn writing Hunting Michael Underwood, I was in that very un-special place where I just did not know where to go next.  I knew what needed to happen to drive the story on, and I knew what I was leading up to.

I needed a catalyst.  Something to make the story implode.  Something that sucks the story into itself like a sinister entity in a B horror flick; that adds a new level of drama.  A sucker punch that neither the readers nor characters see coming.

 

I assumed I would edit it out on editing.

And thus Nathan came to be.  Nathan is unpredictable by nature. That makes the story unpredictable.

Nathan took a life of his own, added a whole new dynamic of drama I did not see coming, and pushed the story over the brink.  It was supposed to end there.  But Nathan spurred so many ideas that the story did not end.  Now I have to write another book in the series to reach that new conclusion, and it is not even about Nathan.

Nathan copy-NaNo

But Nathan does live on.  The voices are still whispering to him.  The monsters are still trying to get out of Nathan’s head.  And now I have to write Nathan’s story too.

Don’t be surprised if Nathan shows up randomly in other stories too.  After

 

all, Nathan is Nathan.  Nathan is unpredictable.

 

What inspires you?  What drives the writing urge, making the words fly through you to the page or screen?

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I’m one of those writers, the kind who have multiple writing projects on the go.  I have more than I can keep track of.

Ideas come to me all the time and at any time.  I have lost more good ideas than I care to remember, because they came to me when I was not in a time and place to be able to jot them down.

And then there are the times when I can let the idea flow, living and feeling it, getting it down.

When I can get the ideas down, it is not always handy to add them in at the right place in the right story.  They become the odds and ends, bits and pieces; the homeless scenes that need to be relocated to where they belong.

 

Which leads us to the dilemma:

The lost story bits.

 Working on one of my current works in progress, I cannot let go of the feeling that I am missing something.  Literally, not figuratively.

The_Latchkey_Kids_Cover_for_KindleThe problem:  I have a vivid memory of writing a particular scene to go in this story.  I also remember the scene feeling right, thinking this is it, this is *the* scene.  Thinking it is good.

 

It is a pivotal scene too.  The scene leads the reader on to learn more behind the bullying behavior of the character, Dylan, from the first story (The Latchkey Kids), and opens the story to lead up to his dark secret (The Latchkey Kids book 2).

 

Do you think I can find this scene?

Nope.

 

I have committed myself to thorough and random searches for any possible file, folder, and key words that might lead to the discovery of where this mislaid scene is hiding.

I am searching every possible dark corner this scene can be hiding in, files on the laptop including Word and backed up notes from my phone.  Emails. My phone.  Every scrap of loose paper I can find in the house where I might have wrote it down.

The scene exists.  I know it.  I feel it as certainly as I feel the lips on my face.  As certainly as I taste that sip of coffee.

Somewhere, in the dark murky depths, in that soulless cold world, with the faint hollow ringing of words crying out in your subconscious, that scene waits.  Lost.  Alone.  Desolate.  In the lost world of story bits and forgotten scenes; right next to the Ruins of Incomplete Stories and the ruination of the stories that went nowhere.

 

Someday, little scene, I will find you.

Unfortunately, by then I will have already rewritten a new scene.

 

 

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I would much rather be lost in the heat of the moment, my fingers flying over the keyboard in a desperate bid to keep up with the story flowing through my mind.

When I’m really into it, the story comes out so fast all I can do is skim through it, putting down the premise of what is happening.  All the rest is lost. The details, conversations, and descriptions.  It is the worst form a blatant tell don’t show, the opposite of what you want.  But, the root of the story is there.

Then, when it’s done, and probably after letting it age like a fine wine (or those Christmas goodies you forgot are in your freezer), I revisit it for the dreaded first round edit.

However, I have so many of those first drafts that my story aging folder has more stories than I can know what they are.  Everything from novels to flash fiction.

So, I have made a vow to those forgotten stories.  I will give you life.  At least some of them.  I will re-focus time to that dreaded task of editing, and make myself work through editing them into being publishable.

Except for one problem.  I’d rather be writing than editing.

I hate that first round edit.  Don’t get me wrong.  It’s not just the first round edit I would rather avoid.  But it has its own special place.  I despise it like I despise cleaning up fresh steaming hot dog vomit.  I loathe to touch it like I loathe to touch and clean up the slimy cold in your grossness of cold dog vomit that you found only after it cooled and likely set the stain in your carpet.

And yet I thrill in it once I have started.  It is a revisit to a once time friend.  The creation of a story, because that’s what I have to do if I only wrote the description of what is happening and not the real story.  I have to recreate that story from an idea.

As the story is recreated, scenes evolve into a real story, are moved, added, deleted… the story changes and becomes something new.  Sometimes it is simply more.  Sometimes the original story is lost.

And then there is that first round edit editing pitfall.

I edit myself into hating my own story.

I have revisited a story I wrote in 2012.  The Gypsy Queen.  The idea came to me while listening to a song of the same name.  The song has no relation to the subject of the story, but that’s just how inspiration sometimes works.

 

First, my first mistake.  I get only so far in that first edit, ideas are flowing, I am adding, moving, deleting, reworking scenes.  I get ideas of what needs to be earlier in the story and I go with it, jumping back and forth over the parts I have edited.  Then I feel I have to go back and re-edit what I did.

I do this again and again, and never make it past the halfway point of that first draft.

And then I do it.

 

My second mistake.  I edit myself into boredom.  I’m bored with the story.  This is only one of the reasons I generally do a big edit and let the story age some more while I work on another one.  Once you have read and re-read the same story too many times, it is all too easy to lose interest in it. Seriously, how many times can you re-read the same lines without them losing their luster?

I did this with the Gypsy Queen with re-editing that first half over and over and over.  Without even skimming the second half of that first draft.

I’m bored.  I don’t like the story now.  And I’m thinking, “Oh hell.  If I don’t like it.  If I can’t get into it.  There is no way any reader is going to want to read this crap.”

At this point I am thinking it’s crap.  It’s dull, uninspiring to read on.

I am ready to scrap the book and leave it to molder, wither, and die the slow death of the un-read in The Forgotten Folder of Stories Told.

 

It is time for resolve and doing something.  I decided to hell with it.  I haven’t even gone past that halfway point.  I am going to force myself to finished that damned first round edit on the rest of the story.

And so I push on.  I force myself to go beyond that point I kept stopping at.  And I hate it.  I hate the story.  I resent it.  It is cold slimy dog vomit on my carpet.

It is boring.  I don’t want to recreate the scenes.  Now that I made myself bored with it, I feel like it is a waste of my time.  Nobody is ever going to read this rubbish.

And still I force myself to go through that first round edit.  I admit, I cheated.  I skimmed scenes and left them as a description of what is happening instead of fleshing them out.  I did it telling myself it is okay because the book is going to be too long anyway, so I need to speed up and shorten the word count somewhere while still telling the story.

It is lazy writing and something I know I would fix later anyway on a later round of edits.  And if the scene never does flesh out, then it probably isn’t necessary to drive the story forward.

At this point I am pushing myself on with the promise that finishing that first round edit to the very end will let me figure out what is wrong with this story and how to fix it.

Still, I am bored with it.  It has no life.  No oomph.  No I want to read on.

 

And then I discovered something.  I reached a jewel.  That gem in a whitewash of blah.

Up until now, the story is pretty much what I remembered writing five years ago. But now.  Yeah.  Oh yeah.  I hit a scene I completely forgot writing.

It is like finding that treasure in the lower end thrift store, the kind that carries the stuff the better second hand stores would have tossed in the trash.  It is the filet mignon hiding under the label of the machine tenderized to make them edible tough “fast fry” steaks.

I devour the scene and suddenly the story comes to life.  Now I am, “Wow.  This story has promise.  This is going somewhere.  This can be good.  The possibilities just opened and they are endless.”

Now, as I push on to the end, I just need to figure out how I am going to completely re-organize the events and move this scene up.  Because, unfortunately, it happens much too close to the ending.

It would make a good mid-point scene.  It promises.  It also promises to breathe a new life into the whole book with new ideas for new scenes, new drama, new ways to torment the characters.

Like the untold story you sit down to write with no idea where it is going to take you, the possibilities are endless.

 

This, my friends, is only one of the reasons I tell my mentoree to never completely give up on a story idea.  (Yes, I am pretty sure I just made up that word.  Mentoree.  My dreaded evil-minded Word spell check agrees.)

Just because you don’t like the way it is going.  Just because you are not currently feeling the passion.  Just because you cannot see where it is going.  Whatever the reason you feel you should abandon it, no story is truly hopeless.  And, you might one day regret deleting that story file.

 

And now, just for you, I will give you a glimpse inside a work in progress.  There are still many edits yet to go before the Gypsy Queen can come to life, just as she does in the story.

Disclaimer:  You will note, and this is a big distraction from the story, that I have not yet even named the characters.  Meet “Man1” and “Man2” and others yet to be named.

 

The Gypsy Queen

 

 

The Gypsy Queen

1    All That Glitters

 

YEAR (TBD)

 

Two men hunch inside their coats as if to protect themselves from the cold.  They are huddled against the worn wooden wall of a building at the edge of the docks.  They are too wired with adrenaline to feel the chill in the air.

The shrill cries of the ever present seagulls add to the cacophony of noise as they hover above, gliding in the air with the occasional flap of their wings.

Man1 looks across the crowded docks, taking the sight in, his eyes eager even as he tries to keep the eagerness from showing in his expression.

“Are you ready?”  He turns to his partner, looking for a response.

Man2 shakes his head grimly.  His eyes are nervous, not sharing in Man1’s eager excitement.  “I can’t believe I let you talk me into this.”

“It will be a piece of cake,” Man1 grins.

“We won’t get past security.”  Man2 frowns doubtfully.

“She’s launching soon.  We have to make our move now,” Man1 says.

Man1 studies the dock once more, looking for some sign it is the right moment.  He gives his partner an encouraging nod and a “let’s go” signal, and bolts through a gap in the crowd as it opens.

With a resigned sigh, Man2 follows, the crowd closing again to swallow them both up.

The stink of the river hangs over the docks with a thick musty odor that clings heavily in the nostrils.  People bustle about the crowded dock like bees buzzing around each other in a hive, their movements bumbling against each other in a jumble of bodies moving past each other, each with their own purpose.

Large barges lay waiting to be loaded with goods and passengers for transportation.  Most of the boats that dock here now are large river barges transporting goods.

Heavily laden trucks trundle through the crowded docks to have their cargo transferred to the boat decks by looming cranes; their hooks dangling from above like giant fishermen’s rods waiting to hook one of the two-legged fish below.  Longshoremen reach for the hovering cargo containers dangling from the crane with their longshoreman’s hooks, swinging them into place before the crane settles the heavy load on the boat deck.

More longshoremen work together to roll heavy trolleys piled high with smaller containers up the gangplanks to fill the boats’ bellies.  Other workers are arriving and making their way to their respective boats.

Adding to the confusion crowding the docks are the hopefuls.  Men standing in groups in their work clothes, some holding their hats in their hands and wringing them anxiously, watching for anyone who might be in a position to offer them work. The depression has put a lot of men out of work.  Desperation has led them to be wiling to take any job, experienced or not, and to do anything to feed their families.

 

A man sits at a heavy mahogany desk inside a richly elegant over-decorated stateroom in the upper floor of a three story paddlewheel riverboat.  His chair is turned backwards to the desk as he sits looking out the window.  The view allows him to watch the river retreat behind the boat, churning beneath the blades of the paddle wheel.  Now, moored at the dock, the view is the hull of a massive river barge looming next to The Boat1, the metal sickening with rust and the growth of the river life that always clings to anything that spends too long soaking in its depths.

It is not a view he enjoys.  It makes him anxious to be moving and to return the splendor of the river to his view.

A knock at the door interrupts him.

“Enter.”

Man3 Man3lastname turns his chair around as the door opens silently to face the intruder of his thoughts.  Looking dapper in a well-tailored dress suit, his hair slicked back in the current in-style fashion hiding the salt and pepper of his hair,his expression is cold and calculating.  He is past his prime, now on the downward slope after reaching the mid-point of life.

Man3 smiles at his visitor. The smile does not reach his eyes.

The man who enters with a deferential bow is dressed in the formal uniform of a boat captain, his hat held respectably in his hands and the balding crown of his head laid respectfully bare.

“Sir, we are almost ready to cast off,” the captain of the boat says, unable to hide the inevitable nervousness he always feels in his boss’s presence.

“Right on time.”  Man3 glances at the ornate clock on the wall.  “I do like promptness.  Keep the ship shipshape and all that, right?”

He smiles at his own poorly quoted cliché.  The captain only nods agreement.

“All right then,” Man3 dismisses his own attempt at a joke, “let’s get started loading the money.”

The captain bows and backs out of the room.  He waits for his boss to lead the way to the wheel room.

Man3 gets up and leads the way.

 

Dodging through the crowd, Man1 leads the way towards the boat slips where the barges are being loaded.  Moving swiftly to avoid being run over by a large heavily loaded truck, he looks back for Man2 and pauses.

Stepping back a few steps quickly, he urges Man2 to hurry.

“You are a fool,” Man2 says when he catches up.

Man1 grins.  “But I’ll be a fool with money in a couple of hours.  Come on.”

He grabs Man2’s arm, dragging him along and trying to speed up their pace.

Man2 lets him drag him along, still regretting his choice to follow his friend.

Man1 ducks into the line of wealthy people, dragging Man2 with him and causing their neighbors to give them sour looks.

“There she is.”  He stares up at the boat with awe.  The Boat1.  She is larger than the average paddlewheel boat, and ugly in her richly ornate decorations.

Man2 shakes his head.

“You and your get rich quick schemes.  The only thing they ever get you is in trouble.  This won’t be any different.”

“Positive thoughts, my friend.  Positive thoughts.”  Man1 grins at him.

 

From his place of honour in the wheel room, Man3 looks down at the crowded dock, smiling.

“Look at all that money getting ready to board my boat.”

This particular pleasure boat has been converted into a floating casino and is owned by Man3 Man3lastname.

Man3 is a powerful man in more ways than his wealth alone could explain.  Man3 owns the waterways.  He owns the port officials, the Dock Workers Union officials, and the Dock Master.  He also owns all the gambling houses in the state and is confident in his ability to keep the gaming officials in his pockets.

The line of people waiting to board The Boat1 starts at the top of the gangplank, descends the length of the plank, and stretches in a snaky line through the endlessly moving crowds of workmenand trucks filling the docks.

A scrawny ill-kept young boy darts through the crowd below, looking for the chance to steal anything he might eat, his presence ignored by all.

Unlike the rough looking dock workers, thewealthy people lined up to board The Boat1 are conspicuously out of place on the docksin their fancy dress clothes, showing off their wealth with the men finely dressed in well-tailored suits and hats and silver-tipped custom carved walking canes.  The women are older women, since it is unseemly for a young woman to be seen at a place of gambling or any other less than respectable public place.  They wear fancy dresses and hats and glitter with gem-laden jewellery dripping from ears and draping from overstuffed necks.

Two young men waiting in the line are conspicuous both for their overly exuberant eagerness and their clothes.

While the rest of the passengers are dressed in their finest and standing there looking haughtily superior to the dockworkers surrounding them, these two men are more likely to be mistaken for dockworkers than passengers.  As if the poor quality of their clothes is not enough, their excitement is out of place in the crowd of bored wealthy gentry waiting in the queue to board.

Their eager antics, gesticulating, talking too loud, and even drumming on the railing make them all too noticeable, particularly to the security guards who are also watching the passengers from on deckon The Boat1.

People around them give the two young men annoyed glances, purposely not looking right at them, making it clear they do not belong among the upper class citizens.  The two men seem oblivious to being out of place.

Man3 frowns at the two unwelcomed guests attempting to board his boat.  He is not concerned.  His men will not let them board.

He turns his attention back to the string of wealthy people lining up to lose their money on his gaming tables.  They are not just the wealthy.  They are the moneyed influential people;corporate leaders, politicians, and those whose wealth is enough to be influential on its own.

 

Two beefy looking dark-suited men lean on the upper deck railing, looking out over the docks.  They study the guests waiting to board.  One of them has a stout straight cane with a heavy ornate carved ram’s head leaning against the rail next to him.  He does not look like he needs the support to walk.

On the main deck below them, two men in lesser suits resembling a ship-mate’s uniform stand next to the closed gate at the head of the gangplank.  They are watching the crowd snaking down the plank and through the crowdof dock workers while waiting for the signal to start letting the people lining the gangplank board.

Theyare not seamen.  They have one job and one job only, security.  The men aboveare the head of security for Man3 Man3lastname.   All of the security guards are dressed in business suits, except those few imitating the ship’s crew for the amusement of the guests.

One of thegate security men nudges the other, indicating the two overeageryoung men with a motion of his head and a smirk.  The other man shares his smirk.  It isnot unusual to have a couple of working classindividuals trying to board.

Part of their job is to keep them off the boat.

One of the gate security men turns to look up.  He can just make out the hands of the two men watching from the deck above, their arms resting on the railing and their hands protruding before them.  He has been glancing up every minute, watching for the signal to start the boarding.

One of the hands moves.  It waves.  That’s the signal.

He turns to his partner and nudges him, indicating the gate.  He moves to take his position on one side of the gate, while his partner takes the other side.  Placing his hand on the gate, he lifts the latch and swings the gate inward against the railing.

The first sign of eagerness stirs through the bored crowd as their murmuring voices move down the line, announcing the opening of the gate.

 

Man1 is staring up at The Boat1 wistfully.  Images play in his headof the anticipated grandeur of what he imagines the casino room on the boat will look like.  The dealers calling out for bets, bells ringing, and the dull bop bop of the roulette ball bouncing around the wheel to the silky ticking of the wheel spinning.  The soft sliding of cards being dealt and clink money changing hands.

“You can walk in with little and walk out rich,” he thinks hungrily.

The eagerness slithering down the line of the bored wealthy elite stirring them to life sends excitement washing through him when it reaches them.

“Here we go.”  Man1 looks eagerly at Man2.

“It’s not too late to turn back,” Man2 says.  “They aren’t going to let us on.  Look at us.”He looks Man1 and himself up and down for emphasis.

“Everyone knows they won’t let anyone without a large bankroll on The Boat1.”

“You only live once, my friend.  You only live once.”  Man1 nudges Man2 to move in anticipation of the slow forward motion of the line reaching them.

Gentlemen and ladies start the slow shuffle up the gangplank, boarding the boat with a regal air of entitlement.

The burly security guards stand to each side of the opened gate, silently watching the passengers board, nodding a greeting to the occasional guest.  They miss nothing, ready to give silent signals to others waiting discretely on deck in case a passenger is to be quietly removed after boarding or taken to see the boss in his private office onboard.

Man1 has eyes only for the goal ahead.

Man2 keeps looking back anxiously, keeping an eye on their path out of this.

When the line of boarders finally brings the two unlikely pair of young men almost to the front of the line, one of the security guards raises a bushy eyebrow at their less than proper clothing.

Seeing the reaction and knowing it is meant for them to see, the nervous young men try to stay calm, not looking at the security men but not looking away either, as if they too are just another pair of bored wealthy passengers.

They hope by ignoring the guard’s look the guards will decide to ignore them.

Just as the young men are about to move through the open gate, amazed that they are actually pulling it off, a heavy stick thumps down across the opening and blocks their path.

They look down at it. It is made of stout wood, rod straight from tip to tip, and crowned with a heavy deadly hook on one end.  The other is attached to the meaty hand gripping it.  The gaffer hook bears scars that they prefer not to find out how they got there.  They follow the arm attached to that meaty hand up to the stern face of the burly man dressed as a seaman.

Behind them, they can hear snickers at their expense from those waiting to board.

They glance at the other man dressed in an identical faux seaman suit, and back to the larger man.

Without a word, the security guard shakes his head ‘no’ and points back the way they came, down the gangplank.

Man1 opens his mouth to plead their case, but Man2 gives him a warning jab from behind.

With a regretful shrug,they sheepishly turn around and squeeze their way all the way down the long gangplank past the glares of annoyed passengers who have to wedge themselves against the railing to let them pass.  Looks of relieved disdain and a few nasty snickers follow them down.

When they finally reach the bottom and break free of the crowded gangplank the pair burst free of the confines of the crowded path, turning to look back with regret.  The crowded dock isn’t much better.

“Well, Man1, we tried,” Man2 says.

Man1 shakes his head.  “We will find another way.  Man2 Man2lastname, there is one thing you need to learn in life, and that is when there is a will, there will always be a way.”

“They will never let us on board,” Man2 says.  “The whole idea was crazy.”

“We just have to not get caught,” Man1 says with a grin.  “What are they going to do once they are under way?  Toss us over the side?”  He shakes his head.  “We sneak on board and hide until they are on the river, then they are stuck with us until they dock.”

“How do we get past the security?” Man2 asks.

“I haven’t figured that out yet,” Man1 admits.  “I will find another way onboard,” he vows, looking lustfully at the ornate paddlewheel boat.

They wander dejectedly around the dock, man1 unwilling to give up just yet on their hopelesscause.

Man1 spots another gang plank running across from the dock to the rear deck and an open doorway into the bowels of The Boat1 instead to the passenger deck.  This plank is much wider and longshoremen are struggling against gravity with the weight of heavy crates being carefully drawn across the plank into the boat, gravity trying to pull them down with dangerous speed even as the men fight to control the slow steady pace of the rolling cargo.

Man1 stops, the grin coming back to his face as his eyes twinkle with mischief.

“Oh no,” Man2 groans.  “I know that look.”  It is a familiar look that his friend always gets when hecomes up with some crazy idea.

“There, the cargo door.”  Man1 thrusts his chin towards the gangplank.

Man1 and Man2 exchange a look.

Before Man2 can try to talk him out of it, Man1 quickly lowershis head and pullshis hat down low to cover his face.  He rushes forward purposely, moving eagerly and having to force himself to slow down.

With an unhappy sigh, Man2 follows suit, following him into the crowd.  They lose themselves in the group of workers. Man2 following Man1’s lead, they each grab a corner of one of the heavy crates being rolled into the boat’s belly on wheeled trolleys and lean into pushing it, putting their backs into it.

“Won’t get far with hats like those,” one of the longshoremen struggling with the cargo mutters.  He assumes these two are trying to press their way into getting hired instead of waiting for the Dock Masterto pick them out of the group of hopefuls.

“They must be inexperienced if they ain’t even got no proper hats,” he thinks, “probably just laid off elsewhere and desperate for work.”  He shrugs.  It’s not his problem to chase them off.

Once inside the boat, Man1 and Man2 take advantage of the hectic activityin the rush to load quickly, breaking away from the workers and sneaking off down a narrow passage.  They cross to another, looking back with relief to find they are not being followed.

“Okay, now what?” Man2 asks.  He feels a little dizzy and out of breath with the rush of sneaking onboard.

Man1 looks up and down the passage. His heart is beating fast with excitement and his eyes are bright with his eagerness to make their way up to the deck.

“This way,” Man1 says.  “We’ll hide and wait until the boat is moving before sneaking up to the casino floor.”

They move down the passage checking doors.  Most are locked.

They come to one marked “Utility” that opens and slip inside the very tiny closet.  The two of them barely fit, Man1 standing with one foot inside a large bucket that luckily is empty at the moment as Man2 tries to squeeze in with him.

Man1 looks down at the awkward spot his foot is wedged in, thinking that lady luck is already shining on him.

The closet turns black as the door clicks shut.

“I hope this doesn’t take long,” Man2 says, trying to shift so that whatever is digging painfully into his back will stop.

They wait, holding their breath every time they hear someone approaching and exhaling in relief each time the person continues on past.

“How long is this going to take?” Man2 whispers after what feels like an hour wedged in there.  “I’m getting a cramp.”

“It shouldn’t be much longer,” Man1 whispers back.  He pushes down an urge to open the door and peek.

At last they realize that they feel a rolling pulling that might be the motion of the boat moving down the river.

The two men listen, feeling out the pulling sensation, and finally decide to risk it.

“I think the boat’s moving,” Man1 whispers.

“I’m not sure.  It might just be the waves against the dock,” Man2 whispers back.

“No, this feels different; I think it really is moving.”

After an uncertain pause the decision is made.

“We have to check it out,” Man1 says.

“Ok,” Man2 agrees reluctantly, but with anxious relief.  He doesn’t think he can spend much longer wedged into that cramped closet.

Man2 slowly opens the door a crack, peeking out and expecting to have the door yanked from his hand at any moment by one of the two burly security men up top.

Stepping out of the closet, they pause in the passageway and listen, feeling the motion of the floor.

“It is definitely moving,” Man1 nods.  “Let’s go.  They open the tables as soon as the boat leaves the dock.”

He leads the way up the passage and down another until they find a sign marked “Stairs”.  Looking cautiously around the open doorway, they see a narrow set of steep stairs leading up.

“This place is big,” Man2 whispers, amazed at how big the boat seems below deck.  And this doesn’t even include the cargo hold, the galley, or anything else that may be down there.

They duck through the doorway and up the stairs.

The top of the stairs opens to the deck level of the boat.

Hiding in the doorway, they look around.  Behind them is a walkway between the railing and the wall, behind which they are sure the casino tables are housed.  Ahead of them the open deck portion at the front of the boat sprawls. Lights that would be lit before dusk closes in are strung elegantly above the deck.  White clothed tables with elaborate settings are strategically scattered at one end near a closed door that has to be the galley.  Dinner will be served on this cruise.  An open space that appears to be a dance floor is bordered on one side by chairs, presumably for musicians.

Man1 nudges Man2, nodding towards the path between the railing and wall behind them.

They both look that way.

The ringing and clanging of machines, babble of bets being made, and calls of the card hustlers running the tables of the casino floor comes from doors left open to the railing and cooling river breeze.

The young men imagine they can feel the warmth of that room already embracing them with its warm lights and the heat of sweating bodies clamouring to win or lose their money.

With a grin at each other, they sidle up the passage and slip into the room, sticking close to the wall as if that might prevent them from being seen before they are ready to start trying to gamble.

They stare in slack-jawed awe around the casino room.

The walls are painted in off white with gaudy golden trimming everywhere.  The thick trimming seems to roll in every direction.  Carved trimming runs parallel to the floor around the entire room.  It runs up and down the walls every six feet, bordering every doorway and window, and matches the heavy painted carved bases of all the wall lamps and trim circling the ceiling lights.  Large elegant glass chandeliers drip from the ceiling.

In contrast, the carpet is a dark patterned red and black mosaic.  Richly red heavy curtains hang open and drawn back with golden tasselled tie backs at the sides of the windows and open doors that lead to the deck.  Staff doors are painted to blend in with the walls.

One-armed machines lined up against one wall glitter in the lights, their bright colors and rolling wheels of pictures of cherries, grapes, and coins promising happiness and fun.

Dark stained wood tables with rich red felt table tops suggest wealth and prestige with the fine dark leather stools sitting stoically before them.  Men in striped dress shirts and slacks call out the chances as men and women lay down their bets in the form of colored discs.

Like a carnival game, the roulette table wheel spins, clicking and clacking around and around like a spinning wheel that ran out of wool, its dark wood and elegant frame giving the impression of something meant only for the wealthy.

Statues and plants are placed strategically, adding regal elegance to the room.

Even more awe inspiring are the people themselves.  Wealthy men and women showing off their status with their rich clothing, gold watches, and gaudy jewelry dripping from the women, all flashing their money around.

The two security men dressed in business suits standing unobtrusively in a corner notice the two conspicuously under-dressed men the moment they slip into the room.  The guard with the stout ram’s-head topped cane nudges his partner, nodding towards the two intruders.  They move together, working their way discretely towards them.  They are already moving in on them while Man1 and man2 are still taking in the room’s ornate gaudiness.

Man1 and Man2 are drawn forward, nearly salivating in their eagerness.  They move away from the wall, moving through the crowded casino room, looking around like little farm boys who have never seen the wonders of a bustling city.

Their presence has not gone unnoticed and curious looks are already being passed their way.  It is not proper for deck hands to be seen on the casino floor and a few of the guests are even feeling a little alarmed that something might be wrong.

On the floor, they are even more awed by the flagrant wealth being tossed about and lost on the gaming tables.  Stacks of high value colored discs pass back and forth between dealers and players as bets are called and closed, cards are played with deft precision, and dice are tossed.

Their eyes sparkle and their minds reel with the imagined possibilities, Man1’s in particular.

Man1 is dazzled by the sheer sickness of wealth surrounding them.  Just making money betting on the tables is no longer enough.  He burns with a new desire.

“This could be us.  What if we could be running the show and raking in all this easy money?” he thinks, excitementcoursing through him as he absorbs the elaborate furnishings and money everywhere.

“Let’s try this table first,” Man1 nudges his partner.

Man2 looks doubtfully at the wealthy people playing at the table.

“Maybe we should try the machines first,” he suggests, nervous about going face to face with these people.

Grabbing his arm eagerly, Man1 pulls Man2 along to the blackjack table.  The people there shift over nervously, giving them space but unwilling to abandon their game, uncertain about their presence.

Man1 fishes some bills out of his pocket and plunks them down on the table.

The dealer looks at the crumpled handful of bills then up at Man1, his mouth creasing into a snide grin.  He makes no move to touch the offered money.

A heavy hand falls on Man1’s shoulder followed by another on Man2’s.  They both turn to look at the burly suited man standing between and just a little behind them.

Man2 gulps, his eyes immediately moving down, half expecting to see the man somehow holding some weapon in a third hand.

Man1 smiles sheepishly at the guard, although it is more like the sheep who just found itself surrounded by wolves.  He is trying to look casual, like he belongs, and is failing.

“Well now gentlemen,” Guard1 says with a smile more suiting a shark about to eat a baby seal, “how are we this evening?”

Man2 reflexively glances at the open doorway and the sky beyond.  The sky is still bright with the late afternoon sun, the deeper evening dusk still a couple of hours away.

The security man continues without pausing to let them answer.

“If you fine gentlemen wouldn’t mind coming with me for a moment, my boss would like to meet you.”  His hands resting heavily on their shoulders tighten into a vicelike grip as he directs them around and away from the game table, leaving the crumpled bills behind.

Man1 glances back at his money, wanting to reach out and snatch it off the table, but he is drawn away too quickly and isn’t given the chance.

“Damn,” he thinks, “that was all the money I had.”

As they turn and walk away, Guard1’s hand releases their shoulders and he casually grabs the heavy cane he left leaning against a table behind them on the way past.

The other guard waits behind them to follow them away from the table.  The moment the other three step away, he reaches out and casually pockets the crumpled bills.  He nods to the dealer to continue with the betting.

The dealer immediately goes back to business, calling out the bets.  The gamblers close their ranks on the hapless pair as if to prevent them from intruding on their table again.

“Mr. Man3lastname is waiting for you gentlemen in his office,” Guard1 says as he leads them casually out of the casino room.

Instead of taking them to the deck as the two men expect, he directs them to one of the staff doors blending in with the walls.  On the other side lies a narrow passageway with doors opening off it.  They pass those doors, not given the opportunity to pause and see what might be inside any of them, and round a corner that brings them to a set of stairs leading up.  At the top of the stairs is an elaborate smoking room for special guests, and Mr. Man3lastname’s office.

The dark wood lustre of the smoking room beckons to them as they pass through it, pausing at the closed door to the office.

The guard with the cane knocks on the door and a voice beckons them to enter.

Opening the door, he directs the two men to enter ahead of him.  The two security guards follow them in, closing the door behind them.

The office is as richly decorated as the rest of the boat with oiled wood panels and a large mahogany desk.  It is more richly decorated and substantially less gaudy than the casino floor, flaunting wealth, not flamboyance.

Elegant pieces of art are displayed safely behind shallow glass cabinets.

The man sitting behind the desk is wearing an expensive suit.  His carefully barbered hair has not a strand out of place and smile wrinkles crinkle at the corners of his eyes.

He isnot smiling now.

Man3 Man3lastname looks them up and down with a steady gaze, measuring them up.  His disdain for the pair of loafs sneaking onto his boat is clear.  His confident air also makes it clear he is not accustomed to not being obeyed.

“What makes you pair of nitwits think you can come on my boat?” he asks, his eyes deadly cold on them.

Man2 looks at his shoes, trying hard not to fidget awkwardly.

Man1 tries to meet his eyes, shifting nervously.

“Um, sir,” Man1 starts.

Man3 holds up a hand, stopping him.

“Did you have a good time down there?” he asks.

Man2 swallows the lump in his throat.

Man1 nods, stiff with fear.

“Now, how do you think it looks to my guests, people who can afford to be on my boat, when I let someone like you on board?  It’s not exactly good for my reputation, now is it?”

“Um, no sir,” Man1 mumbles.

“People like those pompous asses below don’t want to rub elbows with the likes of you and I, now do they?”

“N-no sir,” Man1 manages.  That the man they’d been brought before is putting himself on the same level as them with that last comment makes hope stir in his chest.

“Ok, maybe this won’t be so bad after all.  Maybe the guy is reasonable after all, a regular guy like us,” he thinks.

Man3 continues.

“The wealthy clientele who come to a boat like this,” he spreads his arms to indicate the luxuriousness of the vessel, “donot want to taint their reputation by being seen appearing to cavort in an establishment with penniless oafs who donot know their station.”

Man1’s heart sinks.

Man1 only hopes they will get out of this with only minor injuries.  He knows Man3 Man3lastname’s reputation. Unfortunately for Man2, he had kept that information to himself.

“I have to protect my reputation, and that of my establishment,” Man3 says.  “You understand, don’t you?”

He leans forward, raising an eyebrow in expectation of an answer.

Man2 nods, swallowing the bile threatening to come up his throat.

“Yes, sir,” Man1 stammers.“We are sorry sir.”

“You won’t try something like this again, will you?” Man3 says, more a statement than a question.

“No sir,” Man1 says.

Man3 looks to Man2, waiting for a response.

“No sir,” he mimics.

Man3 nods.

“See, we are all reasonable gentlemen here,” Man3 says, smiling.  He turns his smile on the two security guards, a signal he expects a response from them.

They both nod agreement, their expressions as bland as before.

“Yes, reasonable gentlemen,” they say in unison.

Hope stirs again in Man1.

Man2 feels it too, but pushes it down, afraid that any hope is futile.

“Now, please remove these gentlemen from my boat,” Man3 says, dismissing them.

“Thank you sir,” Man1 simpers nervously.

Man2 nods.  “Th-thank you,” he manages.

The two security men step forward, one opening the door, and they indicate the two young men should come with them.

Man1 and Man2 go submissively, following the two larger men’s leads, one security man ahead and one behind them.

After they turn down the second hallway and are still unharmed, Man1 daresto breathe an internal sigh of relief.

“So, how are you putting us ashore?  Are you docking?  A dingy?”

The security men remain silent as they lead the pair down a set of narrow stairs to the deck.  They exit to the deck towards the front of the boat.  A narrow passageway leads the way between the boathouse and the railing towards the front of the boat.

They are led along that narrow walk,the wind whipping at their clothes and rustling their hair.  Here, mooring lines are carefully coiled and lifeboats are hung.

“Ah, so on aboat then,” Man1 says, eying the boats doubtfully.  None of them have been prepared to be set in the water.

The security men stop next to the rail where there is a space between two boats, the two young men between them.

“It’s time for your departure, gentlemen,” Guard1 says.  The emphasis he puts on the word ‘departure’ makes both their stomachs turn sour.

Man2 leans over the rail, watching the fast moving current slipping by the boat.  He pulls back.  The current is strong and the waves seem higher than they should be.

“Is it from the wind whipping them up?” he wonders.  “I thought the wind I felt was only from the forward motion of the boat.” He cannot deny the stronger buffeting of a real wind thatis blowing.

Man2 starts turning towards the others.

Before either man can react, the two security men grab Man2. Using the railing as a focal point to spin him over the railing, they drop him over the side of the boat.

He vanishes with a shocked cry and a splash.

Man1 stares at them in surprise, flapping his mouth a few times before he manages to find the words to express his shock.

“But, the current-.”

The security men step forward.

“We will never be able to swim against it to shore!”

They grab him just as he moves to flee, each on one side.

He struggles.“We won’t make it, we’ll drown!”

Guard1 presses his face close.“You are not expected to,” he says wryly.

They fling him overboard using the same motion, flipping Man1’s weight over the railing like a teeter-totter someone forgot to fasten down.

His scream is swallowed by the splash below.

They turn away from the railing, satisfied with a job well done.

“How much did they have?” Guard1 asks.

The other man grins in amusement, jamming his hand in his pocket at the crinkled bills.

“Enough for a couple of drinks I think,” he jokes.

 

 

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