The bottle danced an erratic jig. Otis saw it floating near the stern of Bubble Watcher as Andre backed the fifty-five footer into its mooring slip. Otis decided prop wash caused the motion, but even after Andre shut down the grumbling diesels, the clear-glass beer bottle continued to jiggle, bottom-end-up. While other divers off-loaded their gear, Otis watched the bottle continue to wiggle and bob amongst the Styrofoam cups, plastic bags and other harbor flotsam. He realized there had to be a creature hooked on a line tied to the bottle’s neck, engaged in an unending struggle for freedom. The work of bored teens, he figured. Bait the hook and toss it in the ocean—a floating gallows. Otis grabbed the gaff, climbed out of the cockpit and shuffled along the narrow deck-space between the cabin and the gunwale, hoping the bottle would come within reach.
“What’s up?” Andre called down from the flying bridge.
“Not sure,” Otis shouted back. He could snag anything inside ten or twelve feet, but the bottle was out of range. It submerged, then popped to the surface again. Whatever the line held was too small, or weakened, to take it under for long. “C’mere,” Otis hissed, in his raspy whisper. Instead, the bottle moved closer to the algae-coated jetty, green as ripe spinach. Just as Otis decided to get off the boat and try to recover the bottle from the pier’s walkway, it made a break for open water, giving Bubble Watcher wide berth.
Diving in to swim after it was Otis’ only option. He noticed a tampon applicator floating in the coffee-with-cream colored shore-water. A mile or so out to sea, he could count the planks in Bubble Watcher’s hull from a depth of a hundred feet, but in the marina, all manner of waste found its way into the water. Not only that, he had no idea what was hooked on the line. Getting bitten or being speared on the dorsal of a panicky fish was even less appetizing than a leap into the murky water. So, the bottle skittered away, leaving Otis as angry at his own inaction as he was with whoever set the trap.
He jumped down onto the main deck, stowed the gaff and picked up his gear. He dove the summer-warmed ocean in his swim trunks and a tee-shirt. Since Andre, the owner, supplied him with a tank and regulator, he had only to off-load his buoyancy vest, weight belt, mask, fins and snorkel.
Andre climbed down from the bridge and tilted his head toward the jetty. “No treasure?”
Otis hoisted his equipment onto the pier, then glanced in the direction the bottle took. He wanted to tell Andre about the bottle, but the words hung in his throat. “Nah, turned out to be nothing.”
“How was the dive?”
“Spec-tacular. One of those little gals and I found a sea turtle with a wad of fishing line tangled around her flippers. We cut it loose, and she followed us around for most of our dive.” His smiled. “Neat.”
“That ‘little gal,’ the tall drink of water you surfaced with?” When Otis nodded, Andre did a once-around to make sure she wasn’t nearby. “Man, Otie. I was you, I’d be on her like spar varnish.”
Otis winked. “She probably already has a grandpa.” He stepped up onto the stern, then to the pier. “Same time tomorrow morning?”
“Sure. Eleven spots reserved. Probably some walk-ins. Castin’ off at ten sharp.”
“I’ll fill the tanks and have everything good to go.” Otis picked up his gear, walked into the dusty gravel parking lot and discovered the girl they were talking about was parked next to his car. Her shiny red SUV wore New York plates. She was toweling off her robin’s-egg blue aluminum tank. A large woman with olive skin and long raven hair, she was fleshy, but athletic. He judged her to be in her thirties, and imagined she might look at home on a soccer field or a basketball court.
“Hey, Otis.” Her smile came on like high beams. “I really enjoyed the dive. That poor turtle seemed so happy when we cut off the fish line.”
“Yeah, glad we ran across her. Damned monofilament line is ruining the ocean.” The jittering bottle did an encore in his memory as he opened his car’s trunk and laid his gear inside. He almost mentioned it, but as he turned to face her, she stooped to remove the regulator from her tank. Instead, Otis watched the top of her Day-Glo pink swimsuit strain to contain her breasts.
She stood and gave him a knowing look. “I bet you’d like one of these.” She stowed the regulator in the back of her car, and pulled two cans of beer from a cooler.
“There’s the way to my heart, girl. Thanks.”
“What makes you think I’d want your heart?”
“You wouldn’t.” He opened the can and took a sip. “It’s old and worn out, just like the rest of me.”
She laughed hard. “I work with guys half your age who will never be in the shape you’re in.”
“Then they have my sympathy. And what is it you do up there in…?”
Otis grinned. “Convincing people to buy what they don’t know they need?”
She wrinkled her nose. “Sometimes. Or what they bought from me a year ago isn’t as good as what I have to sell them today. Companies though, not people.” She closed the SUV’s back hatch and leaned against it, her reflection on the window doubling her beauty. She explained she was a refugee from the dot com collapse of the late nineties and she’d sold software for six years. “The company is moving into a new building in late August, so I bumped my vacation up a few weeks. I get a corner office with a great view of a park, and I need to be there to make sure it’s arranged the way I want.”
“Well, if you have to work, it sounds like you’ve got a great situation.”
“Have to work.” Her laugh rolled. “That’s right, you said you retired. What did you do before you became a dive bum?”
“Michigan State Patrol. Was a trooper for thirty-two years. My wife, Jayne, died a few years back after ten rounds with breast cancer. Right after that, I had a bout with the big C myself.”
For the first time, a serious expression cleared away the woman’s smile. Her dark eyes brimmed with concern, making her even lovelier. “Oh, Otis.” She touched his arm lightly. “You’re okay now?”
“Seem to be. Had surgery and some radiation.” Radiation scared him, especially because he believed radiation exposure from traffic radar caused the cancer in the first place. When the course of treatment ended, he was declared clear of disease, but lacked confidence in his body. To his way of thinking, nurturing cells bent on his destruction amounted to treason. As a trooper, he relied on his body to safeguard his life. Its dalliance with cancer shook him to his core. On the way home from his final radiation treatment, he saw a mid-sixties Pontiac GTO gleaming beneath the wind-tickled plastic flags on a used car lot. Half an hour later, he was writing the chain-smoking salesman a check. The car took Otis back to the time when he was young, strong and healthy. At another level, the control he exerted over such a powerful machine transposed into a feeling of mastery over his body. Otis liked to think of the GTO as an outgrowth of his psyche, although the reverse was probably closer to the truth. “But, yeah,” he told her. “I’ve been clear since.”
“And you had it…where? Do you mind my asking?”
Otis shrugged. “Not if you don’t mind me telling you. My testicles. They took the right one. Managed to save the left.” He raised his eyebrows, amplifying his grin. “Easier to cross my legs, now.”
Dark as she was with a tan compounding her complexion, her blush ripened. “I’m sorry” She laughed. “I deserved that.”
Otis shook his head. “No. You really didn’t. I should watch my manners. I’m the one who’s sorry.”
Christopher T. Werkman completed a thirty year career as a high school art teacher in 2000. He still paints, but his primary passion is writing fiction. He lives on a few acres outside Haskins, Ohio, with is partner, Karen and too many cats. He plays golf in the summer, indoor tennis all winter, and rides his motorcycle whenever there is sufficient traction.
Mr. Werkman has had over twenty short stories published in various literary magazines and anthologies. His first novel, Difficult Lies, was published by Rogue Phoenix Press in September of 2015.
Keywords: short stories, romance, humour, bizarre, sad