Davis, Jerry - Scuba

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Davis, Jerry - Scuba

     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

     asking me?"

     "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

     to here?"

     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

     his problems.

     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

     at Jack.

     "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

     than ghosts."

     "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

     it continue.

     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

     utterly silent.

     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

     of luxury.

     "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

     sexual positions.

     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

     overwhelming pressure.

     "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

     them on.

     "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

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