To our right, the waves were washing in, with a gentle crash as each row of rolling breakers came on shore -- there wasn't much surf, and the tide was on the ebb. The air was damp and a little bit cool, with a light smell of salt and iodine, and I could feel my hair springing out in uncontrollable curls as the moisture hit it. Johnny leaned in close, keeping his voice low as he continued his tale.
"You see, at this point, I figured I was dealing with some sort of crackpot." He staggered a bit and caught my elbow, steadying himself while looking like a gallant beau graciously offering an arm to a lady. "There wasn't really any other way I could explain the guy. No way I wanted to let a nut-job anywhere near my boat."
"So what did you do?"
"I tried to put him off. 'I got problems with my dinghy,' I says. 'I can't pick you up.' He says, 'And what sort of problems might they be?' And I says, 'Motor don't work.' And he says, 'It does now. Try it.' And I know he knows I was bluffing, 'cause I don't have no choice but to start the motor."
"So then you let him onto your boat?"
"Oh, hell, no. I says to him, 'I don't trust you. I'm not letting you come aboard. For all I know, you're going to rob me.' And he says, 'Oh, no, far be it from me even to think of such a thing. No, I'll be makin' ye rich, I will.' And I says, 'Like hell you will,' and he says, 'No, not like hell. The Evil One never truly makes anyone rich.'"
"I've always heard the Little People have a sense of humor, if a bit warped."
We were walking past a late-night beachside package store, still open. "Let's stop in here and get a little something," Johnny said.
"Are you sure that's a good idea?"
"I only had a little at the bar. I'm OK."
Neither of us had much money, so we selected an inexpensive -- OK, not inexpensive, cheap -- bottle of (what else?) Irish whiskey. As we returned to the path, Johnny, keeping the bottle in the bag, twisted off the cap and took a deep swig, and then he handed the bottle to me. The liquor burned viciously as it made its way down my throat, leaving a puddle of fire in my stomach, but at the same time it left me feeling exhilarated. I wondered what that was about.
I gave Johnny a quick reminder of where his tale had left off. "So after the little guy made the joke about the Devil, what did you do?"
"Well, I still didn't trust him one bit. I says, 'You're not coming on my boat, anyhow.' And he says, 'Ye'll be sorry,' and I says, 'No, I won't,' and he says, 'Ye don't know just how sorry I'll be makin' ye.' And then he just disappears. One moment, he's right there on the shore, and the next moment, he's not."
"I take it that's not the last you saw of him?"
"It was actually a while before I saw him again, but he certainly made his presence known. I stayed at anchor in that cove the rest of the night, but I didn't sleep any. The guy creeped me out."
"Are you sure that wasn't just nerves?"
Johnny took a deep pull at the whiskey bottle. "Yeah, that, it might have been just nerves at that point. 'Cause then, I didn't realize what power he had. I didn't learn about the power until later."
"So what happened the next morning?"
"I went up on deck, and it was a dead calm. There wasn't the tiniest shred of any sort of wind. Never mind the prediction had been for about perfect conditions, a nice steady breeze to carry me along my way. So then I went to start up my diesel, and it wouldn't start. It just coughed a bit and let out a cloud of really foul smelling smoke. I looked in the fuel tank, and I discovered it was all sludged up with fungus. And l always put biocide in, every time I fuel up, even if I think the source is safe, so that was really odd."
"I don't suppose I even ought to ask whether you might have forgotten, just once, at a very unlucky time?"
"Oh, absolutely, there's no way I could possibly have forgotten." Johnny stumbled a little, and we went to sit down on a park bench near the path, facing the water. "Anyhow, now I know my whole fuel system is shot, not just the tank but the fuel line and all of the injectors and everything. I know I'm looking at a heavy-duty overhaul before that engine is going to run again. The question is how to get it to someplace where it can be repaired. So I look at the dinghy -- in that total calm, that little motor could pull the bigger boat. I try to start it up, and it doesn't. I take it apart, and I find that the spark plug is broken, cracked up the middle. No problem, I have a spare. I go below to get it, but all I find in the parts kit is an empty box that I had thought had contained the spark plug -- it's missing."
"So you had no choice but to wait for the wind."
"Well, under ordinary circumstances, sure. But with all the freaky stuff going on, I wasn't sure that cove wouldn't remain completely calm until the Final Judgment. By this time, I'm beginning to think that little guy isn't just an ordinary Irish midget in lumberjack clothes. I decided I was going to row the dinghy ashore and look for him."
"Let me guess. The dinghy sprang a leak and sank before you could get there."
"No, actually, it didn't." Johnny took another slug of whiskey and paused while I choked down a gulp. "I got to the shore all right, and I beached the dinghy. I thought about hiding it, but I figured why bother, the little guy was going to do something to it if he really wanted to. I hunted and hunted all over the shore for footprints, broken twigs, anything that might have given me a clue about where he went, but there wasn't a sign -- or at least any sign that I could find. I'm a sailor, not an Indian scout.
"Then I hear a sound that lets me know I really shouldn't have come ashore. It's this snuffling, snorting sound, and when I turn around, I see this bear. No ordinary bear, either. This is the biggest one I've ever seen, and he stands up, and he's about fifteen feet tall, and he's looking right at me. He's between me and the dinghy, so I can't get away that way. I picked up a rock to throw, and then he growled, and I realized I don't want to make him angry, which is what throwing a rock at it might do, and then I realized he already was angry when he growled and showed his teeth. I dropped the rock and started running."
Johnny tipped the bottle up again. I could tell it was running low when he handed it to me and it was very light. "Well, since you're here, I take it you got away," I commented. "How did you escape?"