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Winchester Harbor book cover

Winchester Harbor
Book One of the Full Sails Series
Wes Boyd
©2011, ©2013

Chapter 2

When we got back inside it proved that the deep fryer was up to temperature. “Debby and I might as well eat now,” Barb commented. “I know it’s not going to be real busy today, but we’ll probably start getting some lunch traffic pretty soon. In a few minutes, the three of us were sitting at a table. The women were having fish sandwiches, but Debby had made up a paper tray of French fries for me. They were the big old-fashioned crinkle-cut kind that I really liked, and they tasted real good, though with a vague hint of fish for some reason.

While we were eating, Barb and Debby told me a bit about the lay of the land. The big lake was around a bend down the river maybe a quarter of a mile. Barb said you couldn’t quite see it from the motel balcony, but a little of it could be seen from her living room window. There really wasn’t much there but a pair of breakwaters that kept the buoyed boat channel from getting silted up and an automatic light at the end of one of them. She said that once in a while she’d get a glimpse of a lake freighter going by from her living room, but that they could be seen much better from down on the breakwater.

Upstream and around a couple more bends in the narrow river valley with its fairly steep walls there was a little lake, maybe a quarter mile wide and twice that long. The state had what they called a “harbor of refuge” there, a place with a number of slips and places where small boats could anchor, but with no services other than a pay telephone. It was possible to run a big boat a little farther up the channel from the lake to a low bridge where the state highway crossed the river. There were a few docks in there, and a bar that supposedly got pretty busy on the weekends. There was also a bigger grocery store that had more than the few staples the Channel Stop provided, but it still wasn’t very big.

I’d already seen that Winchester was nothing much of a town – maybe a hundred people lived there in the winter, at my guess, anyway, though there were any number of summer cottages around and who knew how many people. It made for a popular overnight stop for people taking their boats up and down the lake, especially with the Straits of Mackinac and Mackinac Island an easy day’s run away for most boats. At the right times of the year the fishing offshore could be pretty good, especially for the salmon that the state had planted. Barb said there were people who ran their boats up here and stayed for weeks on end, especially during the salmon season, and the boat launch lot up in the harbor could be parked full of boat trailers.

“We’ll get a few days, mostly on weekends, when we’ll have boats lined up four and five deep along the channel wanting to get at the fuel dock,” Barb told me. “When those days come, there’s not much we can do but just keep going as long as the customers keep coming. We about have to do it since that’s when we make our money for the year. It gets so goddamn dead in the winter it isn’t funny.”

“Do you close up for the winter?” I asked.

“No, we stay open at least a little. The restaurant in town closes down in the winter, so we have a few locals who come by to have breakfast or lunch and sit around, drink coffee and shoot the shit. Last winter, Debby and I each took a month off and while the other hung around to run the snack bar. That made up for the summer being busy as hell.”

“So,” I asked, “what brought you here?”

“Well, I’m from around here,” Barb said. “Debby is, too. When Sam and I got out of high school I couldn’t wait to get my ass downstate to where something was happening. I knew I needed a place to land, and I knew Sam was down there, so I sort of showed up at his doorstep one day and moved in with him. He had a job in one of the GM plants and he helped me get one, too. It looked like a pretty good deal. That lasted for oh, ten or twelve years, and then they closed the plant. Neither of us had enough seniority to transfer to any of the other plants in reach when we got laid off, and it looked like we were pretty well up shit creek, especially since we had two little girls. Then my dad heard that this place was up for sale, and well, he was willing to help us take a risk. We didn’t get burned too bad on selling the house downstate, and that gave us enough to get started. It was damn well touch and go for a while, but we managed to keep one end somewhere close to the other one most of the time.”

She let out a sigh and continued. “Then Sam had his heart attack. I got lucky in that we had mortgage insurance on him and it was still a slow time of the year. At least I was able to find enough help to keep the place going.”

“I was still in high school then,” Debby said. “I was one of several kids she roped into helping out. There were a half dozen of us, and I’m the only one left. Everyone else has moved away, since there just isn’t shit for decent jobs in this neck of the woods.”

By this time we had all finished eating, and were just sitting around talking. “There’s a lot of places like that,” I said in agreement. “I was hunting around home looking for work and I just wasn’t finding shit. I’d hoped to have a decent job before I asked my girl to marry me, but that’s out of the question, now.”

Barb shook her head. “What happened, Jake?”

“Like I told you, she found someone she likes better, so the hell with her,” I said, not wanting to get into it very deeply. “I just wish she’d gotten around to telling me earlier, rather than letting me find out the hard way.”

“It happens,” Barb said. “At least you found out before you married her.”

“Yeah, there’s that,” I agreed with a long sigh. “I was just getting set to ask, too.” I really didn’t want to get into the whole thing – it really sucked badly, and at least for the last hour or two I’d been able to keep it out of my mind. Now it was back in front of me again, and I was sure the two women were going to pick at me about it.

Fortunately, I was saved by someone pulling up outside. “Looks like someone’s here,” Debby said. “I guess that means I’ve got to get to work.”

“Yeah,” Barb said, glancing at the clock. “We’re probably getting close to the lunch rush, such as it’s going to be. Debby, I’ll get Jake to work and come give you a hand.”

“If it’s no worse than yesterday I can handle it by myself,” Debby shrugged as she got up.

Barb and I got up as well, cleaned off the table and put the dirty dishes in the back, then she led me out through the back door. “Now that you’re here, I guess I’m going to have to sit down and figure out what comes next,” she said. “I’ve been working on the spring cleaning of the motel rooms, so I guess we can get started on that. We should be able to wrap that up in a couple days, and then I guess I’ll have you doing some painting, unless I can think of something else that needs to get done sooner.”

“Fine with me,” I replied, glad to have the opportunity to get Brittany off my mind for at least a little while. “I can handle cleaning and painting, and some other odd jobs.”

“I’ve been piddling away at this since the weather broke. It’s been one room at a time, and I’m about half done.”

We hiked on down to room 5 – mine was room 12. The door was unlocked, and we went inside. The room was a little bigger than mine, and there were two double beds that had been pushed away from the wall. “The big thing right now is that all the walls need to get washed down,” she said. “Once we get that done, we’ll need to vacuum, then shampoo the carpet. There’s something goofy with the bathroom light switch in this unit; it doesn’t always want to come on. Since you’re good with electrical you should look at that sometime when you can.”

We set to work. Two of the walls were old-fashioned knotty pine, stuff that you just don’t see any more. Barb got me going with washing the walls down and stood around long enough to satisfy herself that I knew what I was doing. Finally, she said, “I guess I’d better go see if Debby needs a hand.”

“Fine with me, take your time,” I told her, and got to work. I wasn’t keeping track of time, and it must have been a couple hours before Barb returned. “You look like you’ve been going pretty well,” she said. “Any problems?”

“Yeah, I need a new light switch for the bathroom. The old one is about shot. On top of that, I don’t think there’s going to be any saving the linoleum,” I told her. “I could put down new stuff easily enough, but if I’m going to do it, it ought to be done right, and that means unshipping the toilet. I can do that, but it’ll mean a new wax ring.”

“Probably not the dumbest idea,” she agreed. “Don’t piss around with the floor for right now, and let me think about it.”

We were talking about that and some of the other things that needed doing, when all of a sudden a guy poked his head in the door. “Barb, Debby told me to tell you that you got a fuel customer,” the guy said.

“OK, we’re on the way. I guess this is where you get your feet wet.” We went down to the gas dock where there was a great big fiberglass cruiser sitting, I’d guess maybe forty-five feet, and it looked expensive. Sure would be nice to have that kind of money.

Barb yakked with the guy for a few minutes – it seemed like she knew him – and then we got down to business. It wasn’t complicated, but some things were different than gassing up a car. The biggest difference was that while a fill spout is almost always somewhere around the back end of a car, they can be almost anywhere on a boat, so the normal procedure is to let the customer do the actual fuel filling. She went through the procedures for filling out credit slips, and how to handle the cash register, and it was all pretty standard, nothing I hadn’t been more or less aware of before from other jobs I’d had.

The afternoon went along quickly. There were a couple more fuel customers, but mostly I worked on the room and got started on the next one. The sun was getting low over the trees when Debby poked her head in the door. “Hey lover, you want to knock it off for the day?” she said. “Get cleaned up, dinner will be in about fifteen minutes.” She smiled at me and ended in a sexy voice, “I can hardly wait!”

I went back down to the snack bar and washed up the best I could in the rest room, which I noted needed a serious cleaning and maybe some painting. It was probably on Barb’s list, I thought, but if it wasn’t I’d suggest that it be put there. When I finished, I went back out into the snack bar to see Debby setting out plates of spaghetti and meat sauce on a table where Barb was sitting. There was no one else in the room, so I sat down where Debby pointed. “Not busy tonight?” I asked.

“About normal for this time of the year,” Barb shrugged. “We sometimes get two or three dinner customers, but not often. We’re sorta closed now, but if someone showed up I think we could find some food for them. When it gets into the summer season we’ll stay open later.”

“Makes for a long day,” I observed.

“Lover, sometimes it’s a damn long day,” Debby smiled as she sat down on her side of the table, still wearing her apron. “Most days in the summer Barb spells me in the kitchen for a while so I can take a break, but sometimes she’s so damn busy that there isn’t even the chance to do that.”

“Right,” Barb agreed. “The summer season is short, so we have to make it when we can. We make up for it in the winter.”

I took a bite of the spaghetti and found the sauce had a lot more tang and a lot more meat than was the normal run of things that would be found around a small restaurant. “Good spaghetti, Debby,” I said.

“I threw a few extras into the sauce, babe,” she said with a smile. “We all get tired of food off the menu, so when I can I try to make something a little different for evenings.”

“And it’s really appreciated,” Barb said. “Sometimes it gets hard to look a hamburger in the face again, but in the summer sometimes there’s no time to do more.”

“Yeah, I imagine,” I agreed. I got the feeling that one or both of the women was getting set to quiz me about Brittany some more, but for the moment she wasn’t at the front of my mind, which was a relief after the last few days. “I don’t know if you consider it kosher to do shop talk over meals, but I noticed the rest room in here needs some help.”

“Both of them do, and a lot of it,” Barb agreed. “The kitchen isn’t too bad but does need some cleaning. Now that you’re here maybe we can get that done.”

That served to change the subject; talking about maintenance work and cleaning that needed to be done managed to get us though the meal without things drifting off onto more personal topics. Finally, as things were winding down I said, “I suppose I can finish up that room tonight, except for the shampooing.”

“Oh, let it go,” Barb said with a shrug. “It’ll still be there tomorrow. Another couple of days and we should have the motel ready for the season, and that’s one of those got-to-do things.”

“Jake, honey, you’ve had a long day,” Debby agreed. “Why don’t you help me finish up in the kitchen and get things shut down, and then I’ll help you move into your room.” She gave me a smirk that almost seemed to say there were other things she’d like to do with me in my room.

“It’s not going to take much help,” I protested, letting her flirty comment slide. “I don’t really have a lot with me.” That was the truth; when I stormed out of the house I couldn’t have taken more than half an hour to fill an old suitcase, my seabag, and a couple cardboard boxes. There were things that I was sure I was going to miss, but I was out of there. That was the important part. “But I’ll help you in the kitchen, just to be friendly.”

“Just how friendly do you want to be?” She laughed again. She really was a flirt, I thought. I hadn’t seen her much since I’d fetched up there in the morning, but in what little time we’d talked she’d rarely missed a chance to make a suggestive comment. Was that just the way she was, I wondered, or was there fire with that smoke she was spouting?”

“I think I’ll head in, take a shower, and watch some TV,” Barb said. “I doubt we’re going to see any more fuel business today, but we’re going to want to leave the sign on until nine. Debby, you want to show him how to take care of that?”

“Yeah, sure,” she said.

Barb disappeared not long afterward, and I pitched in helping Debby with the cleanup and closing down. Along toward the end of the project, I happened to notice the beer cooler over in the store end of the room. Right about then a beer would taste good, I thought, and there was that refrigerator in my room, after all. I took a six-pack of Miller High Life in cans from the cooler, and paid for it at the register. “Gonna buy me a beer, babe?” Debby said with a grin.

“If you want one,” I said. “I think I need a couple to just wind down with.”

“I’ll take it down to your room,” she offered. “Go get your car and back it up in front of the room. There’s no point in hauling your stuff any farther than we have to.”

“Sounds reasonable,” I said as Debby peeled off the apron she’d been wearing ever since we’d met. That revealed a surprise; the apron had covered up a lot. I’d thought she was pretty chubby, and she was carrying some extra weight on a stocky frame, but much of the extra weight was actually a pretty spectacular chest, not a big belly. She was a lot smaller in the waist than I’d figured, but the apron had hidden a pair of boobs that seemed almost disproportionately large, even on her heavy frame. Perhaps the effect was emphasized by the very tight T-shirt under the apron, one with a low-scooped neck that showed off some impressive cleavage. Holy shit, I thought, revising my mental picture of her just a little. She sure beats the hell out of Brittany and her flat chest. A man could suffocate in those.

It didn’t take me long to get everything out of my car. With Debby’s help, I got clothes on hangers and into the dresser, with only a little bit scattered around on the surface. It didn’t look particularly homey, even though this was apparently going to be home for a while. It could have been worse; it could have been a berthing area on some damn ship someplace – or even worse, it could have been home with everybody on my ass about Brittany.

“Tell you what,” I said as we finished up. “These clothes are pretty grubby, and I feel grubby, too. Why don’t you let me take a shower and change? Then we can sit around and have a beer or two.”

“Sounds good to me,” she said with a grin. “I could slide over to my room and do the same thing, unless you’ll let me hang around so I could check you out.”

“You don’t really mean that, do you?” I laughed after I said it.

“You’d be surprised. You need help washing your back?”

“You better watch it,” I said. “I might just have to take you up on that, and then where would you be?”

“In your shower, washing your back,” she said with a laugh. “I think that would be kinda fun.”

I took a look at her chest – it was hard not to look at – and wondered if I ought to call her bluff. That could be interesting . . . but right now I realized that my mind was still pretty plugged up with memories of Brittany and what she’d pulled on me. “Not just now,” I said. “I think I need a beer and a chance to relax, but I might just take you up on that another time.”

“Suit yourself. I guess maybe I’ll go over and change into something comfortable myself,” she replied, making little finger quotes when she said “comfortable.” “See you in a few minutes,” she added, leaving me wondering just exactly what she meant by the word “comfortable.” Shit, I thought, with her it could be anybody’s guess.

It didn’t take me long in the shower. That was one thing I’d learned in the Navy, how to take quick showers with minimal water use. They were still pretty cheesy about fresh water use, even when I’d been on the Kennedy – nuclear-powered carriers had nuclear-powered evaporators, but they still were tight about it. Since I didn’t expect to be doing anything tonight, I decided to skip the underwear, and just pulled on a pair of jeans and a sweat shirt.

I could hear the shower running over in the next room – though the outside walls of the place were cinder block, the interior partitions must be made out of paper, I thought. It was clear that Debby was going to be a while, so I got a beer out of the refrigerator, grabbed my Zippo and a pack of cigarettes from where I’d left them on the dresser, and headed out onto the balcony for a smoke.

It was cool out there, not surprising given the fact that it was the middle of April and the sun was going down. I plopped down in one of the folding lawn chairs, stretched out my legs, pulled a cigarette from the pack, and flicked the Zippo to light it. It put me in mind of one of my favorite times of the day back in the Navy – when I’d had the chance, I’d find a sheltered spot on a weather deck right around sunset, light up, and just try to relax and put the day behind me. Sometimes it had been the only time I’d really had to myself all day.

Although it had slipped back from the surface of things over the last few hours, I was still pretty upset with the way Brittany had treated me. There was no call for her to sneak around behind my back, but that was just what she’d done. Shit, all those months out at sea I’d been looking forward to getting back with her, to making a go of things. I’d had it all planned out . . . and it had turned to shit. What really hurt was my family had pretty much seemed to take her side of the deal, like they thought more of her than they thought of me. What Lisa had said . . . well, there was no reason for her to jump to conclusions like that. It wasn’t my fault, that was for damn sure.

Well, fuck, I thought. It was behind me now. From what I could see, this wasn’t going to be much of a job and could well run out when winter rolled around, but by then maybe I’d have my shit together and maybe going back to the Navy wouldn’t be so damn bad. After all, there was a good chance that I could be on a ship on the far side of the world, and that would be way the hell away from Brittany and my oh-so-loving family.

After a few minutes I realized that I’d smoked the weed down to a butt. I hadn’t thought to bring an ashtray with me, and had just been flicking the ashes over the railing. I put the butt between my middle finger and thumb, and flicked it with my forefinger, causing it to arc high into the air and be snuffed out in the river below.

Normally I tried to keep my smoking down, but that tasted good. Even though it was chilly out on the balcony, I pulled another weed from the pack, and lit it with the Zippo. Damn, I thought, with Brittany creeping into my mind again. Why does this shit happen to me?

I heard the door open behind me. “There you are, lover,” Debby said. “I wondered what happened to you.”

“Just trying to relax, and this seemed like a good place for it.”

“Yeah, it is,” she said conversationally. “It’s even getting warm enough to sit outside a little and do it. You got another one of those?”

“Yeah, sure,” I said, holding the pack out to her. She pulled a cigarette from the pack, and bent over so I could light it for her. In the dim light of the yard lamp, I could see a long way down her cleavage. She sure seemed to like showing it off, I thought. Trying to tear my eyes away from the sight, I could see that she was wearing another very tight T-shirt, short enough to show a crescent of her bare belly, and a pair of very short, very worn and very tight denim cutoffs.

“Damn, lover, that tastes good,” she said, exhaling a big cloud of smoke. “I mean, I know it’s not good for me, but what the hell, you know.”

“My feeling exactly,” I said, setting the Zippo back in my lap. There was an awkward silence for a moment, which left me feeling like there was something I should say. “Nice night,” was about all I could manage.

“Yeah, it is.” She sighed. “It’ll be better when it warms up, but it beats the living shit out of having snow all over the place. It gets kind of cold and lonely up here in the winter.”

“I’ll bet.” I agreed totally. “This place seems like it’s just about the middle of nowhere.”

“Yeah, lover, it’s a ways to anything that could be called a town. I don’t go very much since I don’t like to drive, so I don’t have a car.”

“That’s got to make it even harder,” I agreed. “So you pretty much stay here, huh?”

“Yeah, most of the time, lover,” she replied, sounding a bit pensive. “There’s really no place to go since my mom moved downstate to be with her boyfriend. Barb takes me to town sometimes, and sometimes Nate will.”


“You’ll meet him. I’m surprised he wasn’t around this afternoon. Runs a charter fishing boat, does a little boat work on the side. This and that, you know. He was Barb’s boyfriend once upon a time, and they’re still pretty good friends. In the winter I sometimes go over and help out around the house. His wife, Marge, isn’t in the best of health. Heart trouble.”

“So, do you plan on staying around here?”

“For now,” she said with a grin. “But maybe just until John comes to his senses. Then I’m gonna marry his ass.”

“Anytime soon?”

“No telling,” she said after a shrug. “I’m just going to have to wait until that Karen bitch he has down in college dumps him. There’s no telling when that’s going to be, but it’s going to happen sooner or later, I’m sure of that. I don’t plan on letting him get away this time.”

“This time?” I frowned. “It seems to me if he dumped you, I’d think you wouldn’t want anything to do with him.”

“Oh, hell, lover, it’s a lot more complicated than that,” she replied, leaning back against the railing and flipping the ash of her cigarette over the side. “John and I, we . . . well we pretty much fucked our way through high school, if you know what I mean. His folks own the big golf course out south of town. It’s been set forever that he’s gonna work for his old man, who ain’t no spring chicken. So, John went off to State to study golf course management, of all the goddamn things. Now, you might have guessed that I’m not exactly a college girl . . . ”

“Yeah,” I grinned. “Something sort of tells me that.”

“See, lover, you’re not so damn dumb yourself.” She grinned and continued her story. “Anyway, John goes down to State, and the next thing you know he’s going with this Karen bitch from down there somewhere. I met her once, and she made it pretty clear that she fucking hates it around here. Not enough traffic, not enough people, not enough noise, not enough cute little shops for her to spend all his money in. There ain’t no way she’d live around here, and there ain’t no way John isn’t going to come back since there’s too much money involved. So, sooner or later one of them is going to dump the other, and when that happens I plan on being on him like flies on shit. I’m guessing maybe another year, but I don’t know for sure.”

“Might work,” I said, reflecting on the similarities to my situation – and the differences. “But then they might get married, and then where will you be?”

“Same place, honeybunch.” She grinned as she tossed what was left of her cigarette into the river. “If they do get married, it ain’t gonna last long, since nothing else is gonna change. She’s too goddamn snobby to want to live around here and be the wife of an assistant golf course manager, which is about all he could do anywhere else. I’ve just got to wait him out.”

“Well, I hope it works for you,” I replied, thinking that it seemed something like an unlikely fantasy. I took one more drag on my weed and flicked it out into the river. “I sure wish I could look on the positive side of things the way you do.”

“What happened?” she said in a quiet voice, her teasing light-hearted attitude now well muted. “You get dumped?”

“Not that simple,” I shook my head. “It’s a long story.”

“You might as well tell me,” she said, smiling, as some of her teasing attitude returned. “I’ll get it out of you sooner or later. But let’s go inside and have a beer. It’s a little cool to sit out here dressed like this.”

“Fine with me,” I said as I got up. “I probably need a beer in my hand to tell the story anyway.”

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