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Davis, Jerry - Scuba

By Howard Rose,2014-06-11 23:23
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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

     guilt.

     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."

     "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

     leave.

     "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?"

     "Yes."

     "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

     contract."

     "I thought I came here to get my ass chewed about a phone

     bill."

     "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

     waiting.

     She saw him and got out of her car to talk. It was the new