S C U B A
? 1998 by Jerry J. Davis
Thirty stories up, sitting next to a wall-sized window
staring out at the dirty Chicago rain, Jack sat at a long table
with tense men and women who listened to each other with the
intensity of sharks smelling blood. The rain, the murky air . . .
it reminded Jack of the ocean at 85 fathoms; dark, grey, barren.
The animal life imitating plant life. Jack stared out the window
and tried to pretend he wasn't in a three piece Italian wool suit
that made him chafe and itch.
"Jack," a voice said.
He blinked, and turned toward the people in the room.
Everyone was staring at him. "Yes?" he said.
A few muttered in disgust, the rest looked bored. There were
business suits, long and short hair; blond, brown, black; some
faces had glasses, others had carefully trimmed beards and
mustaches. Eyes darted, roamed, stared un-focused. The man
conducting the meeting had gone prematurely gray, had sharp blue
eyes, glasses, sharp nose and chin. Wrinkles were beginning to
form along his hollow cheeks. "Your department's phone bill," he
said to Jack.
"What about it?"
"You haven't been listening. I would appreciate it if you'd
pay attention here."
"Sorry," Jack muttered. "I've been working late."
"Working late? On what?"
Jack didn't have an answer. It had been a spontaneous lie, he
had nothing to back it up. Long, silent seconds proclaimed his
Neil Cromwell smiled. "Go get some coffee and when you're
awake I'll talk to you in my office. You've got . . ." he glanced
at his watch ". . . twenty-five minutes."
Jack felt his cheeks burning. It was like being sent out of
class for being a bad boy. "I'll be okay," he said. "What were you
"No. I'll talk to you later. Go on, you're dismissed."
Jack got up and walked around the table, ignoring the looks
he was being given. Pushing the door open, passing through,
letting it close itself behind him.
He stopped at the coffee machine and noticed the new girl,
the blonde, and realized she was smiling at him. What was her
name? Christie? Looked like a soap-opera princess, all T&A plus
make-up and mousse. "Pour you some coffee?" she asked.
"Yes, thank you." He took one of the company cups, held it
out as she poured.
"You need this stuff really bad?"
"It shows, doesn't it."
"A little." She smiled again, all her pearly whites shining
up at him. This baffled Jack. If she wanted to make it by seducing
key executives, she was picking the wrong guy.
"My wife usually makes me a pot before I leave," he told her,
making an emphasis on the word "wife." "I have a little thermos
and I finish it during the commute downtown."
"Really, you shouldn't depend on coffee so much as a
stimulant," she said. "What you need is vitamin B-12."
"Yeah, I remember B-12. I used to take a lot of vitamins when
I was diving."
"I used to be a diving instructor. Scuba diving."
"Oh?" She seemed very interested. "How did you get from there
Jack grimaced. "It's a long story," he said, and turned to
"There's no short version?" she asked, following him.
"Well . . . DGD Corp bought my father's family business, and
I came with the deal."
"They bought your diving school?"
"Oh, no, it was the Harvest division, my father's company.
They wanted him to keep running it, but he was too ill by that
time. I was signed in his place."
"So you've got a contract with the company?"
"So they can't fire you, can they?"
"Not for a few more years, at least. When the contract
expires." He stopped and looked at her suspiciously. "Why would
they fire me?"
"No reason I can think of." She winked at him, then walked
off toward whatever mysterious position she'd been hired for.
He passed through the commons, which was filled with people
in their cubicles, and entered his office. His position rated a
office and a receptionist, but they'd laid his receptionist off.
He now shared a secretary with 5 other men in the sales
department, and all she did was litter his desk with "While You
Were Out" memos. He sifted through them, sending the majority
fluttering into the waste basket. Bill collectors, people wanting
money. They called all day.
Jack closed his office door behind him, sat in solitude at
his desk with his coffee. He was going to have to start seeing the
psychologist again, he could feel the panic coming on. Deep
breathing and meditation weren't enough anymore; he was out of
control. The sensations of sinking and drowning were coming back.
He sat and stared out the window, fighting it.
It was ghosts, he knew. Real ghosts. Ghosts were the cause of
Jack knew there was such a thing as ghosts. He could prove
it, he had physical evidence in his wallet. The money in his
wallet, the money he and his wife spent on groceries, it was ghost
money. It was money that wasn't really there.
His wife Peggy, Miss Cameron Cove of 1992, didn't understand.
She saw money in the account, she saw a deposit that was his
paycheck, and she thought they had money and so she would spend
it. She couldn't understand that it was money that was already
spent, already gone. She spent more. He spent more, because he had
no choice; they must continue living. Now checks were bouncing,
bills were going unpaid for months, and still he kept slipping
behind. It was out of control.
Yesterday a nice young woman came into his office and asked
if he were Jack Buchman. He admitted he was --- he felt no reason
to hide anything from her, he took her to be one of his wife's
friends --- and the woman handed him an envelope and rushed out of
his office as if it were about to explode. It was a summons, he
was being sued. His car payments were behind and the finance
company had lost its patience. It would probably be repossessed
any day now.
Jack had an attack right after the woman had left. He felt he
couldn't breathe, like he was literally drowning. He came to his
senses sometime later, found himself on the floor behind his desk.
He had passed out.
It was $60 to see the psychologist. Cash, up front. His
psychologist knew why Jack was having problems and didn't intend
on become one of them (he said). Jack figured he could be telling
the truth, but really he believed that the $60 was more important
to the psychologist than Jack's mental stability.
Outside his office window it was as murky as Cameron Reef.
Dirty rain poured down on gray concrete leaving gray streaks on
windows, dissolved traces of the building itself. The rain ate
away at the stone, at the pavement; it ate away at Jack's car,
seven months old and already the paint was faded, oxidized from
the acid in the air. Jack stared at the rain, but in his mind he
was seeing Cameron Reef at 85 fathoms, the deepest dive he'd ever
made. At 85 fathoms the ocean was black, the water cold and murky
with plankton and dead matter that drifted down from the surface
to the cold, motionless bottom. The bottom was gray, soft mud
lumped together in shapes from the subconscious mind --- it looked
like the place your soul goes to when it dies, the soul resting
like a lump of mud next to the other lumps of mud, dead,
featureless, undisturbed for millennia.
It was during that dive that Jack had an attack of nitrogen
narcosis, almost killing him. He hadn't gone diving since. He had
fully intended on going back down --- nothing in his mind was
telling him to give up diving --- but this was when his father
sold the company due to illness and had sent for Jack to help. Now
he was here in Chicago, trapped, instead of going back and
challenging the reef. Jack sipped his coffee, staring out the
window. He preferred the reef, narcosis and all; narcosis was, at
least, an enemy that could be anticipated.
Jack's boss, Neil Cromwell, was a giant in his own mind. When
he closed his eyes and pictured himself he saw this enormous,
inflated figure, like a parade float, sitting in a giant chair at
a fifty-foot desk while everyone else in his sight went about
their jobs at his feet. They were tiny, fragile little people who
all scurried about carrying out his will.
When Neil pictured Jack Buchman in his mind, he saw an
anomaly, a misshapen cancerous figure that didn't belong, bigger
than the others but still dwarfed by himself, a flaw in the
perfection of his world. Jack knocked on Neil's door and let
himself into Neil's office, and Neil stared at him the same way
he'd stare at the one last remaining piece of a puzzle that would
not fit into its hole. "You're fifteen minutes late," he snapped
"I'm sorry." Jack looked pre-occupied. He looked sick, there
was no color in his face.
"You know, Jack, you're just not cut out for this job.
There's no reason in the world that you have to stick with it."
"I have a contract that says I have to stick with it."
Neil sighed. "I'm more than willing to let you out of the
"I thought I came here to get my ass chewed about a phone
"You're here to get your ass chewed for being a fool. You're
not doing yourself any good by staying in this position, you're
not doing your division any good, and you're in my way."
"Oh, power games."
"I've got ways of getting you out of here, Jack. I can play
hardball." He stared at Jack intensely, trying to sear him with
his eyes. His stare did not have the desired effect.
"If you got ways, go ahead and use them," Jack said. "I can't
sell my father's stock, and that's it." He shrugged, and was
silent for a moment. "You want to know the truth? I want out as
much as you want me out, but I'm trapped. My father was a very
dominant man, worse than you. I was always fighting to live my own
life, but somehow I always ended up living for him. He's had
absolute power over me all my life, and when he started getting
sick and decided to sell out I thought, this is it, this is my
chance to get out of the way. I was in college studying to be a
marine biologist. But he put me in his place in the contract. When
he was on his deathbed I thought, finally I will be free of him. I
was glad he was dying, it was time for him to die. I thought it
was proper of him to refuse to go to the hospital. But on his
deathbed he tells me, 'Watch over the company,' he says, 'It's
part of me, it's been my life. As long as the company is alive,
I'll be alive.' Then he died. Any other person who dies, dies. But
not him. He's still here. He is this division of DGD, he is
Harvest. He still has absolute power over my life. Still."
"You're talking nonsense."
"He's here. His ghost is here."
"Ghosts." Neil half-chuckled. "You've got more to worry about
"I can prove to you that ghosts exist."
"Get out of my office," Neil said, suddenly irritable. "Go
on, get out of here." In his mind he saw himself pushing this
little misshapen out of his immediate area, out into the broader
range of his sphere of influence. With Jack out of his office, he
picked up the phone and dialed his new employee. In his mind he
saw his enormous inflated hand nudging a figure with exaggerated
breasts, setting it into action. It made its way though his sphere
of influence to carry out his will.
Jack spent the rest of the day falsifying receipts to turn in
for an expense reimbursement. The woman he turned it in to looked
at it skeptically but made no comment. He ducked out of the office
a half-hour early and headed for his car, only to find that
another car had wrecked into it. He stopped and stood motionless
in the acid rain, unbelieving. He would not have been surprised to
find the car missing, taken by the repo men --- but to find it
sitting there with a giant dent in the driver's side door was a
shock. The car that had hit his was still there, its driver
She saw him and got out of her car to talk. It was the new
girl, Christie. She was crying. "I'm sorry. Mine's a rental, it
came with insurance. I'll make sure yours is fixed."
"The whole side of my car is bashed-in."
"I know, I'm sorry. This rain, it made the road slick, and
the front wheels slid. I'm sorry." She walked up and grabbed his
hands, holding them. She stared into his eyes, her expression
asking for forgiveness. She was so earnest that he suddenly felt
bad for her.
"Are you okay?" he asked her.
"I'm really shaken up." He could feel her tremble, it wasn't
a lie. "I really need a drink," she said. "Let me buy you a drink.
Don't say no."
Jack helped her push her car into a parking place near his
and then walked with her to a bar at the top of the Hilton
building a few blocks away. By the time they were seated both were
soaking wet with the rain. To Jack it felt like salt water. It was
heavy, thick, and stayed cold. He ordered double martinis for both
of them and wondered how he was going to explain this to his wife.
"This is so nice of you," Christie was telling him. "I hope
you're not mad at me."
"No, I'm not mad." Truth was he wasn't; the shock of the
situation had knocked him out of his rut. Not only was she paying
for the drinks, there was a good chance her insurance company
might pay off the car.
Christie's hair hung in wet, blond spikes down over her face.
Her mascara had run just a little, and somehow it was sexy,
intimate. Jack didn't want her to fix it. He only half-listened as
she explained over and over again about the rental car, and how
she had wrecked. He felt light, relaxed. They ordered drinks
again, and then again.
At some hazy point Jack noticed a change. Christie had
started picking invisible flecks of lint off his suit, and he had
been compelled to compliment her on her ear rings, and then the
color of her eyes. They had admitted to each other verbally and
openly that they were getting along quite well. Jack knew these
were the warning signs, but he was ignoring them. He was quite
conscious of himself ignoring them, but he couldn't bring himself
to care. It's like nitrogen narcosis, he thought. Drunk on air,
oblivious to immediate danger. He put his fourth martini glass
down, empty, and thought he'd had enough. I should be leaving, he
thought. I should go call my wife. Instead he sat there, letting
They were facing each other on the bar stools. Their legs
were touching. She leaned forward and kissed him. "We have a lot
in common," she said. "We both want to be somewhere else."
Jack thought, In bed?
"You want to be diving again, and I always wanted to act. You
know, this is neat. I feel like I've known you for a long time."
"Same here," Jack said. "I feel it too." He did, vaguely. He
didn't know if he felt that way simply because she suggested it,
but it was there.
"I spent several years in Hollywood, you know, trying to be
'discovered.' I got a few jobs doing commercials, nothing much."
The bar tender wanted to know if they wanted more. Christie
ordered refills without asking Jack. Jack thought, what the hell,
one more is okay. "You ever been married?"
"Yes. I married a born-again Christian. That was a long time
ago, I was too young to get married."
Jack waited for her to ask about his marriage. She didn't.
"Any children?" he asked.
"No. When I was married I got pregnant. I couldn't handle it,
I freaked out. I had too many plans, too much to do, you know?
That's when I left him. I left him, got an abortion, moved out to
Hollywood. When the divorce went through I didn't even get alimony
. . . but I left him, he didn't leave me. I didn't care, really, I
was just glad to get out of it."
"And Hollywood didn't work out."
"It could have. I enjoyed it when I did work. But I had to
support myself so I got this job, and the job took over my life.
Had to be upwardly mobile, you see. Now here I am in Chicago. I
guess the next step is New York."
"Ever act locally?"
"I don't have the time, anymore. Maybe after this job I'll be
able to save up enough . . ." She shrugged, finished her drink.
"I'll be right back," she said, standing up. "I've got to find the
little girl's room." She walked off, her hips swaying back and
forth, back and forth.
"I've got to get out of here," Jack mumbled to himself. He
looked at his watch. It was almost 9 o'clock, he should have
called his wife. She was going to be worried. Jack started to get
off the barstool but stopped, hanging on the edge. He pulled
himself back up, settling back in. He couldn't call her. He had no
idea of what to tell her.
This is bad, he thought. This is no longer innocent. I've got
to go. Still, he didn't move. It felt safe, it felt like he'd
escaped the pressures, that they couldn't find him where he was.
Christie walked around the corner and right up to him, putting her
arms around his neck and kissing him. When she pulled back she
showed him something in her hand, a hotel key with a bright orange
tag. She dangled it right in front of his face. Her eyes were
bright, glassy things, full of joy. She was smiling so warmly.
Jack slid off the bar stool and followed where she led.
The room was very nice. It was large, warm, and totally dark
when the curtains were pulled. Despite being in a building with a
population equaling that of most small mid-western towns, it was
They were naked on top of the covers, she was curled against
him on the side opposite the door. Their hands still ran up and
down each other's bodies, caressing warm skin and nerves still
tingling. Warm air blew down from a vent in the ceiling, a breath
"We ought to send up for champagne," she said. "I love
champagne. I love expensive champagne. The more expensive it is,
the more I love it."
"My father loved this really expensive champagne from France
that came in a black bottle. He could only get it every other
year, because it was a very small vineyard. Sometimes he'd have it
flown over special order. I remember the last year he did that the
bill was more than a vacation cruise."
"Your father was rich. Did you inherit it all?"
"No. I just inherited all his problems. Champagne and cigars
were the only things he ever spent money on, other than his
company. He was always pouring money back into it. Now all that
money is shares of DGD stock."
"How did he die? In bed with a blond?" She nudged him.
Jack laughed. "No, it's funnier than that. He died of
pneumonia because he didn't believe he was sick enough to go to a
hospital." But that's not the truth, he thought. Dad knew he was
going to die. I think he wanted to die. I think that after all
those years he couldn't handle it anymore. He wanted out.
There was an odd scratching sound. A key in a lock. Before
Jack could react the room door swung wide open and a man with an
auto-advance camera and an electronic flash was taking seven
pictures per second. Jack froze in shock. Christie reacted in a
strange way; she climbed half over him with her body and posed in
The roll of film exposed, the man dashed out the door,
slamming it behind him. Christie pushed herself off of Jack and
slid into the darkness away from him. The room was again quiet,
and seemed even darker than before. Horrible, blotchy afterimages
of the flash haunted Jack's eyes. The warm air blowing down on him
now seemed like the sickly breath of a giant, inflated menace.
"I'm so sorry, Jack," Christie said in a small voice, lost in
the dark. "I like you. I'm sorry this happened."
Jack said nothing. The pressure was returning, the air
bubbling away. He felt it like a pressure on his face, like a
diving mask being shoved into his cheeks and forehead by the
"The job I took when I was in Hollywood was as a pornographic
actress," Christie was saying. "I'm a very good actress, I could
have made it, but I've never had the will power to stay on that
great straight and narrow, you know? From there I began working
conventions, I was a 'escort' girl. That was three to five hundred
dollars a night, Jack. I couldn't turn that down, I was starving.
Out here in Chicago I get more, much more. I'm a star here, Jack.
Isn't that strange? I'm a star."
Jack was drowning. He was literally drowning. The air had
turned to water, and it was in his throat.
"Don't hate me," Christie said.
Jack scrambled in a panic to the bathroom, bumping into walls
and tripping. In the bathroom he closed the door and turned on the
light. He stared at himself in the mirror; naked, beaded with
water. His eyes bulged. He vomited salt water into the sink,
vomited, vomited. It kept coming out, it seemed it would never
His career was dead, his car wrecked, his marriage stained.
In all these years he had never cheated on his wife. He couldn't
handle it. He couldn't believe he'd let himself do something like
Christie was knocking on the door. He could hear her muffled
voice coming through. "Are you okay? Jack? Hello, Jack?"
He fell back against the wall, slid to the floor. His breath
came in raw rasps. The room was rocking with the swells of the
ocean. Clothes, he thought. Dress. He stood up, wavering, and
opened the door, pushing past Christie without a word. She had
turned on the lights and put on her clothes. He wandered
frantically from place to place gathering his together and putting
"You do hate me," she said. "Don't you."
"Did you wreck my car on purpose?"
"Then, yes, I do hate you."
She nodded, and turned and walked out of the room.
Jack reached his car and stopped, staring at the dent. It was
large and horrible, made the car look like junk. The parking place
beside his where he and Christie had pushed her car was empty. He
stood there, staring.
The rain had stopped and now it was getting bitterly cold. I
hate Chicago, he thought. We're moving back to Florida, goddamn
it. I don't care how, we're just going to get in the car and go.
Jack had to get in on the passenger side because the driver's
side door would not open. He was dizzy and light headed. It was
hard to do anything because the ocean swells were throwing him off
balance. The bulge on the inside of the driver's door elbowed him
over; it was like trying to drive with a midget sitting to the
left of him. The car started, thank god. He put it into gear and
pulled out of the parking lot, on onto the street.
It was past 10:00 PM and the traffic was light. The
expressway took him into the suburbs and within minutes he was
home. What am I going to tell her? he thought. She's going to
know. I didn't call, and I smell like sex. What am I going to tell
He pulled into the driveway and stopped, shutting off the
engine. The ocean swells were bad here, large, as if blown by a
storm. I ought to get away from the house and throw out a sea
anchor, he thought. Jeeze, that's crazy, I'm in a car. I'm in a
car. This is not a boat.
He sat there holding onto the steering wheel, and a large