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
Bim drew them each a paper cupful.
“To Victory at Sea,” Rory
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
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
“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
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
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
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
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
But Rory’s revenge was well thought
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
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
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
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
“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
“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
“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
They sat awhile longer, and Bim
said, “Whatever we do, let’s be sure to take the keg out with
“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
published January 11, 2010