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by Rick Giannola
Chico, CA 95928
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                                          God’s Dice
                                          (an excerpt from the novel)


    It all started for me when that damn Maggie May whore stuck her nose where it

didn’t belong.  She was often doing things like that.  One cool October day the men

and I were sitting around the fireplace in the Old Knuckle tavern and she just

barged right in -- her blond hair hanging over her brown eyes like she was peering

through a stalk of scraggly, dying wheat.

    “What say ya’ Maggie May?” old John quizzed her.

    She scowled at John, looked away, and walked to the tavern-keeper’s end of the

room.  Old John shrugged and wiped some dirt from his knee.  “Need to get me

some new pants,”  he said.

    John was the kind of man who didn’t say much that didn’t need to be said.  He and

I had been working the land around Brannan Island on the Sacramento Delta for

about twenty years, and had literally been through hell and high water together. 

Before that, John had been working for Josiah Greene up at Merritt Island, but had

been kicked out when Josiah’s son George took over the place for his dad in 1871.

    Now, twenty years later, the Greene spread boasted seven thousand orchard

trees, mostly pears, and was doing better than ever.  George had even built several

of his own steamboat landings, and put together a small steamship.  He wandered

up and down Sutter Slough, made trips to San Francisco and Sacramento, and

looked over his operations with it. 

    John never said a word about any of that.  He had once said that George was

nothing like his father Josiah; God-fearing Josiah had been one of the best, he said. 

And that was all he  said.

    Maggie May was beginning to raise her voice; it was a pretty voice, but the way

she used it reminded me of a rough stone on a washboard.

    “I’m tellin’ you Pete, that son of a bitch had better pay up.  You see him in here

you send little Peter right over to let me know.”  I saw her lean over the bar and

whisper in Pete’s ear, he nodded, she smiled, then she turned and stalked out--the

screen door slamming shut with finality.

    We sat and warmed our feet at the fireplace over another round of beers; beer

was scarce and we were happy to get it.  It had been a long day.  We had re-diked

a fair portion of the west side of Sherman Island for old Widow Twitchell and our

hands and backs were all sore as hell.

    Soon my head started to nod, and I said goodnight to old John, Cracker, and Paul,

and headed to the homestead.

    My place is a pre-built home.  It was built on the East Coast and then the pieces

were shipped through Panama to San Francisco.  I had saved enough money in five

years of backbreaking toil to get a house that would keep out the wet in the winter,

and the plague of mosquitoes in the summer.  It was up on stilts five feet high in

preparation for the floods to come.  I knew floods would come again, hell, they

always did; no matter how hard we tried to keep out mother river with mother earth

she always seemed to find a way back in.

    That night I had stuck around Pete’s a little later than usual, on account of the

beer, and had a little more than my normal share of whiskey.  So when I first saw her

 waving me over to the side of the road, I had to look twice to be sure the dark and

wavering figure was Maggie May.

    “Casey,” she called in loud whisper.  “Come here.”

    When I got up close, I saw that she was still upset from earlier, and apparently

still had enough on her mind to bend my ear a little.  “What is it Maggie?” I asked.

    She smoothed down her blouse and straightened up her old green petticoat

before moving closer.

    “Did you see that fella who came to town today?”  She was speaking of our fair

town of Isleton.  I hadn’t been in town that day and told her so.

    “Well I . . . had some business with him,” she said hesitantly.  “And he seemed a

bit queer.  Didn’t want anything other men don’t want, but he . . . well  . . . he kept

himself covered up--liked to be in the dark, he said.”

    “Covered up?” I asked.  “What do you mean ‘covered up’?  Things don’t usually

work well like that.” Maybe it was only the whiskey and beer talking, but I was in

the mood for some good gossip.

    “Well he didn’t cover ‘it’ ya know, but it was wrong Casey.  I’m tellin’ you I been

with more men than my mother, bless her soul in heaven, would ever want to hear

about . . . but this was different, something was wrong with him.  He didn’t . . . feel 

right.”  She looked at me in the darkness, her face a dim silhouette, begging for my

understanding.  “And I didn’t even get paid!”

    “I don’t know Mag,” I said, rubbing my whiskered chin and feeling a little out of

my depth.  “I’m afraid I really can’t understand what you mean.  Perhaps you’d

better talk to Betsy or Pauline.”

    “I can’t tell them,” she said, wringing her hands.  “Even they wouldn’t

understand.  Ohh, I don’t know why I even tried to talk to you about it, you’re just a

man.  And an old, ugly one too.”  With that, she ran off into the night.

    I shook my head at the vanishing shadow, damn women anyway, no wonder I had

never put up with one long enough to get married.  It was like a crapshoot getting

married, but the odds of winning were worse.

    It was the end of October, and a beautiful time of year.  The summer heat was

nearly gone and the winter rains had yet to really get pounding; tulle fog crept in off

the river at night and settled like a thick blanket on the marsh, and my feet swished

through two feet of it as I walked the short trip home.  I padded my way up the stairs

of my house, stopping to bang down a loose rail.  Maggie May’s description of the

strange man didn’t bother me much.  Strange men had been coming through the

Sacramento Delta for many years; Chinese, Hindis, and travelers from the East

Coast had helped to build the Delta; Isleton itself was heavily settled by Chinese. 

Some even called it “The Garden of California” --obviously they had never set foot in

the rimlands.  Me, I just needed a good night’s sleep to get rid of my own personal

strangeness.  I climbed into my bed without even lighting the lamp, shucked off my

boots, and was out until morning.

    Daylight saw me standing by my front window washing my face and hands from a

bowl of fresh water.  Through the window, the sun cast its early glow over the land. 

Being up higher than the dike, I could see the Sacramento flowing by sluggishly. 

Where I built had originally been a rimland squatter farm, but since the completion

of the Union dikes, and the arrival of the big time farms, the squatter lands were

abandoned to highest bidder--one of which was me.

    Sometimes, as I stood getting ready for the day’s work, I would watch a tramp

steamer head up through the Sacramento.  Its paddles would slap the water as it

headed far north for a Red Bluff timber landing, or a few miles up to Locke to pick

up a load of asparagus.  There were none this morning.  It was Sunday.  I decided I

would get together with John and maybe do some hunting, some boating, some

walking, and a little drinking--which John abhorred on the Sabbath.  I got my gear

together and headed out toward the east side of Brannan Island, slopping through

the quagmire of mud at the edge of the dike.

    We had already had our first few rains, and the new green grass was growing

quickly--spurting up between brown strands of last year’s dried out remnants.  I

kicked a stone at an old oak.  I had in mind to take John’s boat out to Venice Island

along the edge of the Stockton Channel, and then cut south to Frank’s Tract and do a

little fishing.

    John Bush and his step-daughter Gloria lived only a few miles up from my place,

but toward the Andrus Island side of Brannan, along the Jackson Slough.  The

channel was flowing deep already, but the slough near John’s had yet to take more

than ten feet of water.

    The network of waters in the Delta were tangled like a broken spider web below

Brannan Island.  Parts of the river curved and meandered; and as they repeatedly

parted and connected, they formed dozens of small and large islands.  The Old

River came into Frank’s Tract, which had been flooded since the forties, and split off

in ten different directions.  Empire Tract, King Island, and Mandeville Island were

all east of there and were split by the Stockton Channel and bordered by

Disappointment Slough.  South of them were Union, Bacon, and Victoria islands. 

There was more here than met the eye of the casual traveler.

    I met up with John at the edge of his property where he was tending some of his

crops: peanuts, sweet potatoes, and celery filled one half of his plot, and he hoped

to buy the field nearest his someday.  All our dreams were of becoming self

sufficient and able to escape debt.

    “Say John,” I cried, smiling. “What happened to no work on the Sabbath?”  John

peered up at me from under his straw-brimmed hat.

    “Jus’ thought I’d get a little bit in before we go and waste the day.”

    Old John said that a day not working was a day wasted, but as much as he liked to

kid himself, I knew he looked forward to these weekly fishing sabbaticals of ours.

    “Why don’t you go take a breather in the house,” he said, “Gloria’s fixed up some

very tasty Chicory tea.”  He pulled a weed from the soil.  “I’ll be right in and we can

get going.”

    Gloria had long been an enigma to me.  She was only 15 or so years younger than

I was, but she treated me like some kind of grandfather; I liked to think it was

because she respected me, and somehow knew that I was wiser than other men.  But

the fact was that she thought of me like a long-lost uncle.  Her mother and father had

been dead since the day after she was born--a boiler explosion on one of the earlier

steamships had taken them out mercifully quick.

    I talked with Gloria awhile in the kitchen, sipping on hot, bitter, Chicory-flavored

water.  It was supposed to be like tea or coffee, but it tasted like tree bark.  At least

it was warm going down.

    “So Casey,” she drew out my name as she spoke it.  “What’s new in the world?”

    Her brown hair was naturally curly, and swept across her shoulders as she turned

towards me.

    “Well,” I said, “I heard from Maggie May that some stranger frightened her half

to death.”  I blew on my tea and steam frothed from the cup.  “It was something of a

womanly nature I suppose.  I didn’t quite get it, but apparently she’s quite frantic to

find him.”  Thinking about what I’d just said I had to wonder why she was.  I knew

that she’d done it without pay before, and I’d assumed that she’d just been

disappointed with the guy and wanted some money.  But what if there was more to


    Gloria’s deep, blue eyes went back to her kitchen counter.  She had a young,

healthy shape, and the attitude of frontier wife.  A nobody-better-mess-with-me kind

of outlook on life.  “Did Maggie say what his name was?” she asked.

    “No, in fact she didn’t say much at all about him, except that he was a strange


    She snickered like a nymph.  “Casey, the day I meet a man who isn’t strange I’ll

marry him, exceptin’ present company of course.  You’re about the sanest man I


    My eyes lighted up for a minute, and then the flame stuttered when she added,

without turning around, “But that would be like marrying family.”

    I felt like the bottom of the earth was slipping away.  It was true that I had seen her

grow into a woman, and a beautiful one at that.  But those days were many years

past, and it was strange that she hadn’t latched onto one landholder or another by

now.  She could probably have her pick of the lot, but time was passing her by

faster and faster each year and she hadn’t chosen yet.

    John stumped in the door and broke me from my thoughts.  “Gloria, Casey and I

will be headin' out to do some fishing today so you might want to have the fire

stoked in the oven around sundown.” His eyes twinkled.  “We’ll probably be

bringing home several dozen bass.”

    She batted a spatula at him several times as she said, “The day you bring home

several dozen bass in that old sloop of yours I’ll probably faint from hysteria.”

    John and I nearly always brought home something from the trips to Frank’s Tract. 

Frank was long dead and buried of course, but the land he’d once diked off and

tilled had flooded and now made an excellent fishing and boating lake.  Some said

there was something in the lake besides fish.  Benny Morgan had come home one

day last winter as white as a ghost, babbling about colored lights in the water--I’d

never seen anything strange, but over the last year others like Benny had reported

various strange and magical sights.  I suppose that in two decades one is bound to

hear some tall tales.

                                                            *  *  *  *  *  *  *

    The winter’s first rains had Frank’s Tract heavy with lush green reeds; spreading

oak branches swept out over the placid waters like the gnarled fingers of an

arthritic old woman.  John and I had pushed his small rowboat in up at Brannan

Slough and paddled in from the deep Stockton Channel.  It rolled back in from

marshy Suisun Bay and the ocean at San Francisco; it was usually plied by steamers

and flats full of produce all day.  This being Sunday, boat traffic was light.

    Traffic was not light on Frank’s Lake, as it was called locally.  We spirited our way

smoothly across the water into the vast, sinking peat bog which had been a farm

more than fifty years earlier.

    A cry broke the silence.

    “I got it!  I got it!  Pull it in Jeb!  Wrangle it in!”  Some lucky soul had already

begun counting his day’s catch.  Paddling a bit faster, we rounded a small

hillock--the tall fen grass gave way to a clear view of the lake.

    “Look at that Jeb!  It’s two feet if it’s an inch!”  Samuel Jenkins had caught a

whopper.  The sun glinted off its silvery scales as his friend Jeb pulled it into the

boat.  Sam was an asparagus picker up at Grand Island, and worked hard all week

for this day of fishing, as did we all.

    Something glinted under the surface and I looked down beneath my oar.  Deep

down, maybe six feet, a dark shape was scuttling through the murky, brown water

in the bottoms.  Morning sunlight came dappling through the tree branches

overhead and sparkled in the wavelets where the boat cut a small wake.  Time

seemed to slow as the shape moved up into the shallows--I realized dimly that I was

holding my breath.  There was a flash of green as the shape moved under the boat. 

It was huge, too huge.

    “John,” I said quietly, “look down and tell me if you see anything in the lake.”

    He gave me a questioning glance and looked down.

    “Not a thing Casey.  What’d you see?”

    It seemed I felt something slimy wiggle down in my stomach; a wet salamander

sloshed around in my innards and I felt slightly sick.  “I don’t know,” I said slowly.  I

met his sobering gaze and looked back down at the water.  My hands gripped the

slippery wood of the oar and I held it up slightly, as if to ward off the thing in the


    Then I saw it again.  Close up.

    It flashed by so quickly that for a moment I felt only the catch of my lungs.  Two

widely-spaced eyes full of darkness, sunken in a lamp-shaped head, swam toward

me from the silty-brown bottoms.  The thing stared out at me from under a few feet

of water, it was green and covered with veins like some grotesque cucumber from a

county fair in Hell.   An incredible chill ran up my spine, shaking me inside.

    Then it was gone.

    “Uh,” I croaked.  “Uh, Uh . . . John.”  I was in a numbing shock, cold sweat

dripped from the pores in my skin--the salamander in my stomach did backflips.

    “You alright Casey?”

    “I don’t know,” I said, trying to swallow.

    “What is it partner, you don’t look so well.”

    A sort of mad grin crept up the sides of my mouth, something had to be wrong

with me.  I couldn’t have seen what I just saw.  There was no such thing as that thing.

    That thing. 

    No, it was only the sun on the water playing tricks on me.  I looked up at a nearby

oak limb; that must have been what it was, just a reflection of a branch blowing in

the wind.  John gripped my shoulder, startling me, and I nearly flipped overboard

trying to get away.

    “What’s got into you Casey?” he said with a concerned face--fine wrinkles

beneath his eyes crinkled up and he patted my shoulder.  “It’s OK partner,

everything’s fine.”  Looking into his eyes I saw for a moment what he must be

seeing.  A man scared out of his mind; a pale, shaken friend who could barely grip

his oar.  I tried to pull myself together.

    “I’m fine John, just feeling a bit sick all of a sudden.  Do you mind if we put off

fishing for the day?  I need to get some rest.”

    “Why sure,” he said, his grimace breaking into a grin.  “I got some readin’ to

catch up on anyway, I’ll just have a relaxing day with Gloria.  We don’t get to talk

much these days, I always seem to be working or fishing.”

    I was feeling steadier now, and told him so.  We began to paddle back toward the


    Gloria seemed surprised that we had returned so soon, but she didn’t show it. 

John wished me good health and returned to working his small crop, I headed

toward home--wondering to myself whether I was merely insane or if I had actually

seen what I thought I had, the former prospect almost seemed the better of the two. 

    Many years ago I had been in Elmira Prison in the North.  They had set me free

after a year, but the memories of that time remained as clear as the many times I

spent fishing on the wide banks of the Mississippi as a child--they were special

times, which had taken on the quality of some other-worldly experience.

    I had met a man while I was at Elmira by the biblical name of Jobe.  The old man

had been a teacher in his youth, but after a murder in Boston he’d been sent to end

his days in prison--his wavy, gray hair was always slicked back cleanly, and his eyes

were set like bright bits of glass in his wrinkled and worn face.  Jobe had taught me

much of what I now knew to be uncommon knowledge.  He had a way of explaining

things that made everything seem interesting.  One day he might explain why the

sky was blue, and the next he might expound for hours on the nature of the

ether--the ether, of course, is the stuff between the planets and the suns in space.  No

matter how bizarre the subject matter seemed, or how commonplace, Jobe had a

way about him that made it all seem very real and vital.  I wished that Jobe were

here to talk to now, but he had been dead nearly eight years.  Elmira had lost one of

its finest convicts on that cold January day, a friend had told me it was Jobe’s lungs

that gave out in the end-he always did have a bad cough during the winter.

    I sat down on my front porch and gazed out at the sluggish river,  trying like hell

to imagine what Jobe would have to say about what I’d seen.  “Casey,” he’d say in

his logical way, “you’re a young man and your eyes are good, it wasn’t too hot so

you weren’t having heat delusions, you didn’t feel faint, and you don’t have any

history of mental illness, so you probably saw exactly what you think you did.  The

world has yet to reveal all its secrets Casey, but this matter bears further

investigation before you can come to a solid conclusion.”  Yes, that was probably

what he’d say to me if he could, or something very near that, Jobe always had such

an analytical mind.  He took things step by step.  That sounded like a good idea to

me too.

    For the rest of the day I took it easy.  I pulled my handmade chair down from the

porch and set it up on the dike, then brought out some of my best malted Scotch

whiskey and watched the river go by.  I paid careful attention to the water; it was

cloudy brown but I could see a ways down under.  I wondered just how many things

were lurking inside the mass of water that rolled down the old riverbed.  The

Indians around here said that there was a lot more to the Sacramento than just

boating and fishing, and I was beginning to believe that maybe they were

right--after all, they had been here for a very long time before we Americans

crowded them out.

    Off to my left Wood Island broke the river in half, it wasn’t much of an island--too

small and sandy to grow much on-and to the right I could just make out Newtown. 

There wasn’t much action over that way; although a steamboat whistle from far

upriver informed me that there would be soon.

    I reached down under my chair and poured myself a long shot of whiskey.

Holding it up to the light, I peered through the amber smoothness.  A long draught

of it made me shudder a little, but the malty aftertaste was too good to miss.  Sunday

 was the only day I ever drank whiskey, but I could remember my dad and ma

telling that everybody used to drink an uncommonly large amount of it day and

night, they called them drams--that was back before the big war--before I had lost

them both and went to live with my aunt in Ohio.

      Even though winter was on the way, the sunlight still had enough summer in it to

heat me up and make me drowsy.  With the warmth of the sun on my skin and the

warmth of the liquor in my belly my eyelids soon grew too heavy to stay open.

    Suddenly there was a ripple in the water in front of me, down at the bottom of the

earthen dike.  Something slowly inched its way from the shallows at the edge,

reminding me of a rotting, bloated watermelon in the way that it seemed to float;

bobbing and turning over and back again--black leeches coated its ruddy-red

underside.  A single, unblinking eye opened within the squirming mass of

parasites.  It stared out at me with a loathing from the depths of hell.  The eye grew

until it filled nearly half the exposed side of the watermelony head.  Bulbous veins

ran through the eye, pumping red blood to the center where the black pupil opened

 and closed like a cat’s.  Teeth sprouted from the bottom, and writhing leeches fell

into the maw which gaped at me--the mouth smacked hungrily on the bloodsuckers. 

I could feel a scream building up in my chest.

    It was only a dream of course, but when I woke gasping for breath I took a quick

look around at the lengthening shadows, and then hightailed it back down to my

house and locked myself in.

                                                    *   *   *   *   *   *

    North of the Delta, valley oaks were strewn across the landscape, as if God had

thrown down handfuls of seeds and let them sprout where they might; down here in

the fens, though, there weren’t many.  I was lucky, in that I had a wide stand of oaks

next to my house.  The trees kept part of the house cool in the summer, but in the

winter I was constantly keeping an eye on the massive branches as they swung in

the wind.  When the wind hit them hard they swayed back and forth over my tin

roof--creaking and moaning like old ship timbers on heavy seas.

    I lay in my bed that night and listened to them groaning, wishing the evening

wind would slow, but liking the noise they made.  It made me feel vital and alive to

know that disaster could be just around the corner.  I had turned the problem of the

thing in the lake over and over in my mind and I still wasn’t satisfied with what I had

 come up with.  If something like that was really in there, wasn’t it my duty to do

something about it?  But then again it had yet to hurt anyone, although it might give

someone a heart attack who just happened to see it.  My natural curiosity was

standing up and taking notice now that my initial fear of it had run dry--it was

certainly nothing like what I had seen in my dream, that was just my mind playing

creepy tricks on me.  I resolved that after work the next day I would head back over

to Frank’s Tract and see what was what.

                                                   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

    Deep into that Sunday night it began to rain; not much rain, not enough to cause

anyone any scare of flooding, but enough to keep pickers like myself and John away

 from the fields.  There wasn’t even any diking to be done; up and down the river

folks had been getting ready for rain for months, and there were only a few who

weren’t prepared for winter.

    Since I had decided to face the thing again, if I could find it, I put together some

stuff: a rain jacket, a pair of galoshes, a canteen, enough food to get me through a

day of waiting, and my old Colt.  I hadn’t touched the Colt in years, it was an old .38

 that I had bought back in ‘76 when I decided to head out west--back then I was still

holding to the eastern view of California as a glamorous gun-fighting state.  In the

last twenty years I had never fired the Colt except to practice with it, and the

chamber and pawl were still as clean and oiled as I had left them the previous year.

 I only had about twenty bullets left, which I had bagged to protect against

humidity.  I shoved these into my pack far away from the canteen.

    There was no way I was going to tell John or anyone else what I had seen the day

before, but I needed a boat to get to the lake.  I figured John and Gloria were holed

up from the rain, probably sitting by the fire swapping gossip or playing

checkers--a favorite of John’s.  Anyway, the last thing on their minds today would be

taking out the boat, and even if by some wild chance they found out, they wouldn’t

be telling Sheriff Gates on their friend.

    I took the shore trail along One Mile Slough; rain pattered against my hood, and

the trail was sticky and slippery with wet, red clay.  I had thought about bringing a

small flask of the malt whiskey to warm me up, but I wanted to be completely

clear-headed in case I actually found the thing.

    Mile Slough was calm and tranquil; dots of rain coated the surface of the still

water.  I trudged along the top edge of the dike for a bit and then cut over to

Jackson Slough where John kept his boat tied up.  I couldn’t fool myself into thinking

this was not stealing, but I knew that Old John would forgive me once he heard the

whole story.  I mean, what would someone say who saw something like I did?  “Oh,

by the way John, there was a green, vein-covered man swimming all over the

bottom of Frank’s Lake yesterday.”  It sounded ridiculous because it was, but I had

seen what I saw, and as they say: seeing is believing.

    I neared the boat dock and crept quietly toward it.  John kept the boat in excellent

 repair; it bobbed silently at the end of a short span of wood.  All at once there was a

 rustle in the bushes near the trailhead up to John and Gloria’s.  I stepped behind a

tree and spied out from behind it, Gloria came into view holding a shawl over her

head to protect it from the rain.  She walked out onto the dock and grabbed

something out of the boat.  It was John’s fishing bag, he must have left it there the

day before.  In spite of the dampness, the undergrowth was still dry, and as I

stepped forward to get a better view a branch snapped under my weight.

    “Who’s there?” Gloria said, stopping short and looking in my direction.

    I stepped out into view. “It’s just me Gloria.”

    “Casey, what are you doing back there in the bushes?”

    “Well, to tell the truth I was hoping to borrow John’s boat.”

    “Oh,” she looked at me strangely, “is that all.  Well come on up to the house, I’m

sure he won’t mind.”

    I walked closer.  “The thing is Gloria . . .” I was caught.  I would have to invent

some reason to need the boat, I sighed.  “OK, lead the way fair maiden.”

    I followed her up the path, admiring her lithe figure; why she hadn’t been

married off yet I still couldn’t understand; maybe she felt that Old John needed her

too much.  If she would’ve asked me though, I could have told her that John worried

more about her not getting married than anything she could provide for him around

the homestead.  He had watched her grow into a beautiful young woman, and had

high hopes for her suitors.  Hell, even John Aldrich up at Grand Island had vied for

her hand, and he had a spread that was the envy of every man for miles around, but

she had politely turned him down . . .  along with the rest.

    Their home was more of a large cabin than a house, and unlike mine it had been

hand--built by John himself.  It was a sturdy construction, with lots of insulation and

heavy lumber. Building the house had cost John a lot, and for many years every

extra penny had gone toward it.  They say that hard work pays off, and it had for

John.  I could only dream of the day when I would have good land and a solid

homestead like his. 

    Gloria held back a moment to let me catch up as we left the trail, and I almost

grabbed her hand, it brushed magnetic air next to mine--I wondered if it had been

on purpose.  There’s a feeling you get with a woman when you know something’s

about to happen, and I had been having that feeling for many years with her; it was

just that the concept was taking its time to come to fruition.  She had been so young

when I first met her that the idea had been unthinkable, but as the years went by

things had changed between us.  She was a mature woman now, and well past

marrying age.

    “Where are you going to take the boat Casey?” she asked, looking at me with

those beautiful eyes.

    “Uhh,” I stammered, “I was just, you know, wanting to tool around for a bit.  Take

the edge off the day.”

    She smiled at me.  “Why that sounds like a fine idea,” she said.  “I just love the

rain.  Don’t you Casey?”

    I nodded.

    “You wouldn’t mind if I went with you would you?” She asked.

    I mentally gulped and thought, is this it?  Does she want to be alone with me or is

it just an innocent outing to her?  “Why sure Gloria, that’d be fine with me.”

    We went back to the house to let John know what we were doing and, although he

thought taking a boating trip in the rain was crazy, he gave us permission to use it.

    “You two youngsters be back before dark you hear?” he said, laughing.  As we

left he cozied up to the fireplace and took out an old, dog-eared book.

    Gloria and I had loaded a few sandwich fixings in a satchel, and I waited while

she stowed them under her seat in the boat.  She had also donned a slicker, and with

 the layers of clothing she already wore, she was as snug as a bug in a rug.  I began

to paddle in the front and she obligingly picked up the rear.  We started out rough

but soon we were alternating side to side, flowing in a rhythmical pattern, as if we

had been doing it together for years.

    The water flowed quick and smooth past the prow of the rowboat.  I couldn’t

explain why, but I was enjoying this paddling with Gloria, and having more fun at it

than I had ever had with Old John.  The rain fell in soft but unrelenting sheets; the

uniform grayness gave a dreamy look to everything.  We cut quickly through Old

Slough and soon were coming to the Stockton Channel, I pulled right hard to aim us

downstream and saw a fisherman’s worst nightmare.  Someone had decided that

Monday would be a great day to bust a fat log-jam up the channel, and now the

hundred foot logs were spinning downstream, bristling with short branches.  Up the

channel I could see hundreds more logs out of their element, and badly trimmed. 

They were off balance and moving fast.  One was coming straight at our boat! 

Riverwater sluiced from the dark, heavy bark as the timber spun on its axis,

careening to one side and then another.

    “Paddle Gloria!  Paddle!”  I yelled frantically.  She took one look at the log-jam

and started paddling like crazy.  I had to give her credit, there was no screaming

and panicking for Gloria, she just heaved forward and dug her oar deep into the

water.  Momentarily I had thought of turning back, but it was too late.  We were

caught in the channel and there was no use trying to deny it.  We could only paddle

like the devil and hope we made it to Frank’s Lake alive.

 . . . . Continued in the complete God's Dice

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