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