During the months of January through January, Rory and Bim consumed 327 half-kegs of beer, building a boat in Rory’s basement. Spurred by thoughts of moonlight cruises with their girlfriends, the two boys laid the keel, fitted the curved bow, and buttoned down the deck at a fast pace. They had been pals for twenty years, since first grade, and worked well together. Too, it was a fine working environment, being half above ground, with a big window to let in air and sunshine. At night, a drawn curtain thwarted the curious. They worked evenings and weekends, after Rory’s job at the car rental desk, and Bim’s as pipe fitter. They often skipped dinner in favor of beer and trail mix in order to get the job done.

They were a good match; Rory was a natural leader and Bim a natural follower. But Bim had a temper, when he thought himself wronged. More than once, Rory had had to defend himself when Bim had totally misunderstood some perfectly innocent action. Was it Rory’s fault that women seemed to prefer him and his black hair and blue eyes, over Bim’s regular brown hair and eyes. And was it Rory’s fault if sometimes one of Bim’s flashier girls fell under Rory’s spell, leaving Bim flat, leading to rage, leading to bare fists between the two boys. But Bim’s anger had no staying power, and soon they were friends again.

In the boat building, there was harmony. When the boat was finished, she was a fine little craft. Caulking first-rate, teak decks solid, varnished mast ready to step when they got her down to the bay. Because of what they expected to accomplish aboard her with their girlfriends, they named her Victory at Sea.

They’d measured the basement doorway before choosing the boat kit. They would take the hinges off the door to get their love boat through, no problem. But when they measured the finished vessel, something had gone wrong. No way could they ever get that beamy boat out of there and down to the bay.

The two boys seated themselves on the basement stairs to contemplate their situation.

“We’ve nearly a fresh keg,” Rory said.

Bim drew them each a paper cupful.

“To Victory at Sea,” Rory said.

Bim raised his drink. “Victory at Sea.” He drained the cup and wiped his foam mustache.

“The best laid plans,” Rory said.

Bim raised his cup and drank again.

Rory scratched his head with his thumb, a sign his mind was working over the problem.

Bim tapped his fingers against his knee, a signal that he was thinking too. Actually, he was waiting for Rory to come up with something. A follower needs a leader.

“Tell you what,” Rory said finally. “It’s my house, I’ll buy your share of the boat. How about all the beer you can drink for a year?”

Bim, ever the accommodating, said, “It’s a deal.” And then to make sure what the deal was, said, “I’ll send you my bar tabs.”

“All you can drink,” confirmed Rory, then added, “Beer.”

The two boys shook on it. “Friends forever.”

Rory watched Bim up the stairs and out the basement door, across the backyard grass, through the hole in the wooden fence, across the yard to Bim’s own house opposite.

When Bim was out of sight, Rory drew himself another cup and sat down on his basement stairs to make a list of everything he would need. He let his imagination run wild.

He did all the work himself, thinking how he was used to having Bim to help him out, how better Bim was at plumbing and wiring, for example. Every leader can use some help. But he persevered alone, noticing that he had to drink more beer now in order to finish a half-keg before it went flat.

A month later, word whirled like wind among the ladies. The lucky ones were invited for an evening’s cruise in Rory’s basement. No matter the weather, there was always a moon shining above the Victory at Sea—a neon moon, over a blue sea of down comforter, on which rocked the sweet vessel and her crew. A tanning lamp shone from the mast. Sunscreen was free. In the galley below decks there was ice, and a tiny stove for hot appetizers. There was even a small chemical head, which Rory stoically dumped twice a week. It was worth the trouble, and he got used to it.

Rory’s boat was famous all over town. It aroused terrible jealousy in the former friends with whom he used to shoot pool and drink beer in the sports bar, where he no longer appeared. They spoke of Rory over drinks and between cue shots. It was said he had put in a television set and was showing films like The Last Tango and Get Shorty. It was said he’d bought himself a captain’s cap, like a nautical Ken with a dozen Barbies.

None of Rory’s former friends was more jealous than Bim, whose outrage made him stand for beer for all his pals and send the bills to Rory, especially for those boys who suspected their girlfriends had been for a basement sail. His feelings at full boil, Bim vowed to find a stronger way to get back at his former friend. Something that would really hurt. Without Rory to help him plan, he would have to think it up on his own.

Rory’s life was paradise, except for Bim’s swollen bar tabs and Rory’s suspicion that more than Bim were watering at the trough. Then came the rumor that some of the boys were building a boat in Bim’s own basement, a rumor from the mouth of Bim’s flame-haired girlfriend Delilah, one balmy night in the basement. She and Rory were sipping piña coladas and listening to Elton John, having enjoyed a pleasant sail aboard the Victory at Sea under the neon moon.

“I saw the boat plans on the kitchen table,” Delilah said, “and the lumber being carried into the basement. Bim says it’s to be a smaller size and carried down to the bay.”

Rory’s mind went grim. So the traitor Bim, after grandly standing all the boys drinks on Rory without Rory’s complaint, had decided to build his own boat, and a sailing one at that. Who would have thought him so false?

Rory took to watching through the fence—the materials coming in and the personnel. He recognized most of Bim’s helpers from his own days at the sports bar. Still, it had taken Rory and Bim a long time to build Victory at Sea, so he could enjoy many a sweet sail before the other boat was finished.

He began inviting for a cruise every girl who was a friend of those boys building the new boat with Bim. The progress he could not observe from his watching vigils was told him by the girls.

When he heard the report, “Bim’s got them working in six-hour shifts, three men to a shift!” he saw he had underestimated his friend.

From then on, in the evenings after a sail and he was alone, Rory sat with a beer, thumb scratching his head, deep in planning.

One evening Delilah reported the final word: “It’s nearly finished—they’re painting the orange trim!”

But Rory’s revenge was well thought through.

For three days he invited no one for a cruise, with the excuse he had a head cold. Truthfully, he didn’t mind a rest. He used the time to brood, and to rig the equipment and drag in the explosives. His vengeance would come without warning, a bolt from the blue.

After the three get-ready days, he invited four of his favorite girlfriends down for a sail, and mixed them margaritas with salted rims and a wedge of lime. He seated them in captain’s chairs safely away from the action, but with a splendid view out the basement window.

Came 9:00 p.m. It was the day before Bim’s boat was to set out on its maiden voyage down to the bay. Rory pulled back the basement curtain and opened the window wide. Then he whisked the canvas off the long metal tube he’d attached to the deck of Victory at Sea. He lifted a weighty cannonball into the tube, and it rolled to the bottom with a satisfying clunk. He lit the fuse and stepped back. There was an enormous BOOM!

The girls screamed.

“Got him!” Rory cried, engulfed in smoke and reeling from the explosion. He peered out his window. “Can’t see it, but you can bet I’ve blasted him and his basement boat out of the water!”

He loaded a second shot, “To be sure the job is properly done!”


The girls giggled and fanned the air, eyes tearing from fumes and excitement.

Rory coughed out some smoke, raised his cup. “To Bim, bless him.” His voice wavered. “My best friend.”

Some of the girls knew Bim better than others, but all looked sad. They raised their cups.

“Absent friends,” Delilah said.

“You’ll be reading about this in the papers,” Rory said. “About the sinking of Bim’s boat. You’re sworn not to tell who did it.”

There followed some minutes of refreshment, respite, and reflection on the evening’s events.

Then came a sound of breaking wood at about where the fence was. Rory looked out to see the mouth of a cannon being wheeled toward him, a cannon he recognized from the city park’s World War I memorial. And behind the cannon, Bim’s angry face.

“Run for it, girls!” Rory cried.

The girls clattered up the stairs, slamming the door behind them.

Bim’s head leaned in the window, the mouth of the cannon gaping next to him. “You’re a rotten shot, Rory! Got my boat but missed me by a mile! Now take this!

There was a terrifying BLANG.

Rory felt the crunch of cannonball hitting wood, and a horrible sinking feeling as Victory at Sea began listing into the soft blue ocean.

“You’re not the only one with spies!” Bim shouted. “And now this!” and Rory heard the SPLANG of cannonball hitting metal. Water sprayed from a hole ripped in the pipe along the basement wall, and Victory at Sea listed farther into the wet, sagging sea of blue comforter. The mast angled so that the tanning lamp, if it had been lighted, would have shone on the neon moon.

“I’m coming after you, traitor!” Bim yelled, pulling himself through the window and dropping into the water, which now rose over the comforter.

“King’s X!” Rory shouted. He held up both hands with fingers crossed, then grabbed onto Victory at Sea’s mast as the boat rocked in Bim-created waves.

Bim grunted as he pulled himself onto the slanting deck. “I’m coming aboard!”

“Pirate!” Rory poked at him with a canvas chair, feet slipping down the polished deck to where it listed into the water. “I’m the captain! Get off my vessel!”

“You stole my girl!” Bim said, face still rosy with anger. “You took Delilah on one of your cruises!”

Rory stepped into the sea and waded for his life.

From the basement stairs, he wiped his face free of water and sat staring at his former friend and schoolmate. “That was one helluva shot.”

Bim’s face lightened. “Thanks!” Fragments of life preserver bobbed against his knees in wave action, his hands steadying a floating half-keg.

Rory said, “You outgunned me.”

Bim nodded, and waded toward the steps pushing the keg. A package of paper cups drifted by, and Rory scooped them up. Bim now was onto the steps beside him, the keg steadied between his knees. “You OK?”

“Sure.” Rory looked down at the little barrel. “We can finish the fight later.”

The beer came out foamy, having been tossed in the waves. The sea was still rising, and they moved themselves higher on the stairs.

Rory sighed. “Victory at Sea was a fine craft. You would have loved her.” He drew himself another cup.

“You would have admired Tangerine.” Bim helped himself too. “Some friends helped me build her, but it wasn’t the same as when you and I were working together.”

Rory draped an arm around Bim’s shoulders. “I’ve missed you, to tell the truth.” He drained his cup.

“Me too, Rory. I’ve wished for the old days.”

The water continued to pour out of the ruptured pipe, and seeing it was time to bail out of their perch on the steps, Rory stood to open the basement door.

It wouldn’t budge.

“It’s locked?” Bim said with some surprise.

“The latch must have caught when the girls slammed it,” Rory said. “We could try breaking through, but it’s sturdy.”

“I remember it was, from when I put the lock in for you. I suppose we haven’t a canister of explosive floating around anyplace.”

Both boys looked around in the water.

They sat awhile longer, and Bim said, “Whatever we do, let’s be sure to take the keg out with us.”

“Good idea,” said Rory, a little guilty now over his evening sails without his friend, but proud of how Bim had showed his true mettle.

Bim was thinking how good it would be, once they got out, to show Rory the pictures he’d taken of Tangerine before the cannonball struck. He was pleased with the boat, though it would’ve turned out better if Rory had built it with him.

And the two boys sat together on the steps, discussing courses of action and contemplating the sorry wreckage of Victory at Sea. A neon moon shone down, a nautical cap drifted in the slow current, and in the mellowness of the evening they spoke about the nature of friendship and from time to time drew from the keg. And they talked about the pain and uncertainties of life, and how fine it was that the occasional beer helped take the sting out of it.

So this is the story the boys carried in them forever after, each wondering about the day he might be the lone one to draw from a keg, with the other boy laid out in white, shaven clean in his casket, the clocks all stopped and mirrors covered, and begin, “One time we decided to build a boat in the basement…” And even the saddest of listeners settling back in expectation of a good yarn.

# # #

Victor At Sea by Jenny Gumpertz
originally published January 11, 2010



Jenny Gumpertz writes from the California desert, as a third career after early years in show business and nonfiction editing. She has been published online in Big Pulp and Jane's Stories, and in the 2008-2009 New Millennium Writings.

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