"I realized it was getting late in the day, and I figured I'd better find a safe place to spend the night, in case the bear was still around. But before I could do anything, a big storm came up, just totally suddenly, out of nowhere. We're talking forty knots, gusting sixty, pouring rain, hail, lightning, the works. In seconds, I was soaking wet and really cold, and my shirt was getting shredded. I headed into the forest for shelter -- I know you're not supposed to go under a tree in case of lightning, but I really needed to get out of the rain, and I figured if I was under a whole lot of trees, I'd stay away from the tallest ones and hope I didn't get hit. Still, even in the woods, the rain and hail just kept slamming me. I kept looking for somewhere I could take shelter, but there just wasn't anything. Finally, I spotted a rock outcropping, and I went around to the lee side of it, and that did protect me a little bit."
"Lightning does strike rocks, too ..."
"Oh, I knew that. But I just had to take shelter somehow. So eventually the rain let up. It seemed like it had gone on for hours, but it can't have been all that long. When the clouds broke up, the sun was just about to set. Everything was clearing up, and the rain was moving away. That's when I saw the rainbow. It was the brightest one I'd ever seen, and it looked like it was so close, I could almost reach out and touch it. I even did stretch out my hand toward it, but I couldn't reach it. I had to follow it."
"I think I see where you're going with this ..."
"I don't even know why, but something just kept pulling me along after that rainbow. Then I came to another rock outcropping like the one I'd taken shelter behind, but this one had a hole in the side. And the rainbow was coming out of that hole. Now I was really beginning to believe in magic -- all of the stories about leprechauns and rainbows and pots of gold, you know. But I also knew that the little guy was both clever and had it in for me, so I was extra-careful as I went up to that cave. I sneaked as quietly as I could and flattened myself against the rock next to the opening and peeked in." Johnny finished the beer and signaled to Esteban for another one.
"Oh, no, friend, you've had enough," Esteban said. "I ain't giving you no more. If you can pay up, maybe I'll change my mind." He held out his hand, palm up, rubbing fingers and thumb together to indicate cash.
"Sorry, man," Johnny said, "I'm a bit short this week. Next week, I promise. I've got something coming."
"Oh, you have something coming, all right," Esteban said, smiling even as he said it. "Adios until then!"
Johnny and I got up and left. I seemed to be walking a bit more steadily; the tacos had soaked up some of the alcohol running through my system. Johnny was also somewhat steadier on his feet, but he was still holding my elbow as if he might want support just in case. I didn't mind; the closeness allowed him to continue the story in a hushed voice. "So I peeked into the cave to see what I could see," he said as we resumed walking along the path toward the marina.
"And you saw the leprechaun and his pot of gold?"
"Nothing like that. The cave was definitely occupied; it was full of camping supplies -- camp stove, pots and pans, cot, sleeping bag, the usual. It was a mess, too, dirty laundry all over the place, dirty dishes, all that. But nobody was home. Or at least I didn't see the guy. I realized there was another cave beyond this one, though, so he might be hiding there. That's also where the pot of gold might be. I sat down against the rock to figure out what I wanted to do next. Should I go through the front cave and look into the back one? Or should I go back and look for my dinghy and boat? The sun went down and it was getting dark. Pretty soon it would be too dark to see, and I didn't want to be out in the open if the leprechaun came home.
"Then I got this idea. I was tryin' to remember all the stuff I'd heard about leprechauns, and I remembered there was some way if I could catch the guy, I could make him give me his pot of gold ..."
"That's assuming he had a pot of gold in the first place."
"Yeah, but by then I was willing to believe he did have one, since he had all of this other magic power." Johnny staggered sideways a bit, pulling us both off the path and into the sand for a moment, then he regained his balance and got back on track. "So I finally decide to go in the cave and take a look around. I figure maybe I can set a trap for him, b'cause all you have to do to get a leprechaun to give you his gold is just catch him and tie him up, right?"
"That's what the stories say," I said, propping Johnny up just a bit more firmly.
"So I shuffle through all the junk in the cave -- it was such a mess, I didn't think the leprechaun would notice things had been moved. I was looking for something to make a trap with, like some rope or something, but there wasn't anything like that. But I found a flashlight that worked. So then I go into the cave in back, and it's like this trophy room."
"A trophy room? What's a leprechaun get trophies for?"
"Well, not actual trophies," Johnny said as we arrived at the marina and stopped in front of a gate leading out one of the piers. "See, more like souvenirs of boats he'd sunk -- a life ring here, a bell there, a transom board with a boat name on it. He even had my dinghy in there -- must have had a hell of a time getting it through the cave opening."
He fumbled in his pocket and eventually pulled out a key ring, the kind with a foam rubber float on it to keep it from sinking if it fell in the water, and he unlocked the gate, letting me through before him, and then gently shutting the gate behind us. Because of the low tide, the first section of the pier was a steep downhill slope. It was especially hard to get down it because my head was spinning and there was the beginning of a dull ache behind my eyes. "Whoa," I said, hanging an arm around Johnny's shoulders to keep from falling down.
"Whoa is right," Johnny said, putting an arm around my waist as we shuffled and stumbled down the ramp, pausing at the bottom to regain balance. "He musta sunk twenty or thirty boats, and that's assuming he got a piece of every one. I bet I could go through old news reports of boats that went missing or sank and match them up to those trophies."
"How do you know he sank all those boats?" I asked as we walked along the pier between rows of boats. "Maybe he just took mementos of people he got the better of."
"Oh, I just had this feeling." Johnny guided me onto a finger pier alongside a large but somewhat unkempt yacht, in generally good condition, but in need of cleaning; the teak railings and hatch boards were dull, and the fiberglass gelcoat was chalky. "Something about the air in the place, or something. It was like, see, the little guy, well, he just wouldn't be letting people just sail away."
We climbed a set of plastic steps and sort of half-stumbled, half-fell into the cockpit of the boat, ending up seated on one of the cockpit seats. The vinyl seat cushions were damp, and I could feel the chilly moisture soaking through the seat of my jeans and the back of my windbreaker. I shivered a bit. "Hey, I think I got something down below to warm you up," Johnny said, standing up and again fumbling with the key ring. The sudden cold across my back where his arm had been startled me -- I had forgotten it was there. He unlocked the hatch and removed the hatch boards, tossing them somewhere down below, and then he climbed down the companionway, coming back up almost immediately with a bottle of cheap brandy, which he uncapped and handed to me. The first sip seared my mouth like volcanic lava, and I found myself coughing violently. "Easy, there," Johnny said, chuckling a little as he sat down beside me again. "Now, where was I?"
I recovered my breath and took another sip of the brandy, this time feeling the lava flow down my throat. "You were in the leprechaun's trophy room, counting up his victims."
"Oh, yeah," Johnny said, taking the bottle back and having a pull at it himself, then wiping his lips with the back of his hand. "Anyways, I was looking at all of this boat stuff, and there in back is this pot of gold. I mean, the real thing, just like in the stories. It was kinda small, though. I was expecting something bigger."
Despite the brandy, I was feeling the increasing chill of the evening. I pulled my legs up under me and resettled on the seat, leaning against Johnny as the boat slowly revolved around me. He put an arm across my shoulders, and I welcomed the warmth. "So then I hear a sound in the outer cave, and I realize the little guy is coming home. I gotta think up something fast. I switched off the light, just as I see a couple things I can use -- there's a rope tied to one of the life rings, and there was this sort of an Irish club thingie ..."
"Yeah, a shilla-, shil-, uh, whatever." Johnny took another pull of brandy and cleared his throat. "I kinda try to work my way around in the dark, to where those things were, without making any noise to let the guy know I'm there. I heard him moving around, making noise with pots and pans, and I figure he was making supper. Sure enough, before too long, I could smell boiling cabbage. Now how the hell is somebody going to get cabbage in the north woods, I don't know. But he was boiling cabbage.
"Now, normally, I ain't fond of cabbage. But you remember, I was starving, and that cabbage sure smelled good to me. I almost thought of going ahead and showing my face, just so's I could get something to eat. But then I hear him going out the cave and I figure now's my chance. I switch on the light, and I get the rope and the sha-, uh, the club, and I tie a couple of loops in the rope, so's I can snare the guy, and I stretch it out across the front entrance. He comes back, he's doing up his fly, doesn't see what's up, trips on the rope. I jump on him, wrap the loops around him, and in seconds, he's all tied up, nice and secure."
"That was easy," I commented, suppressing a yawn, but not succeeding in suppressing a shiver. "You know, catching a leprechaun is supposed to be a lot harder than that."
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