Michael Brown

The Paradise Wars and Clark Ransom Thrillers

Off Pebble Beach (3)

Part Three: Schooner Jake’s

Michael J Brown

Go here for Part One: Off Pebble Beach: Darkening Waters

Go here for Part Two: Off Pebble Beach: Distraction

Sunday morning I decided to revisit 17-mile drive. The conference closing party was that evening, but the rest of the day was free.

The last time I had driven down this mythic stretch of coast was when my Stanford roommate invited me to his parent’s house, projected above the sea. I remembered my roommate’s father bemoaning the price of a bucket of balls at Pebble Beach.

When we had arrived back at our dorm, my Mom called. Charlie a high school classmate, on acid, had nailed the modern dance teacher inside a pentagram and quartered her with a machete.

Three days ago, when I drove from the airport to the conference, I passed that shack at the edge of the beach. And in passing, wondered if I could still see the whitewashed pentagram on the splintering planks. Or if the pilings, visible through missing floorboards, were still blood-stained, or had the tide washed all away.

After that visit, three decades ago, to the rich and elite, I decided one day I too would have a cliff-perched home with views of Carmel, the greens of Pebble Beach, and of that gnarled cypress, that lone tree on the cover of my first Joan Baez album.

But now this Sunday morning as I drove past these homes I had once thought of as a touchstone for success, I realized envy had become a bitter pit in my heart.

Yes my smarts, talent, and ambition had brought me full support to go to Stanford and Brown, but the truth was that my father was an army sergeant. I was sure I was cool with that and equally sure the world was not. The son of an army sergeant I would always be.

Like Joy, I was indelibly working class. I belonged to Terra Nova High and Pacifica, with its candy-colored split-leveled ranches and RV camps draping the slopes of the Coastal Range, a hundred miles north of Carmel and 17-mile drive.

I returned from the drive with several hours remaining before the party, so I headed over to Cannery Row. Michael and I had come here Junior Year of high school. We had both read most of Steinbeck, and Michael’s father was inspired by Grapes of Wrath (or by Henry Fonda playing Tom Joad?) to become a union organizer. We had caught the bus from Greyhound on Seventh and Market in San Francisco. And seeing all the men mill in and out of the restroom in a needy, hungry, wave, I felt a pilgrimage was about to begin, and Michael let our legs rest together on the bus ride back and forth from Cannery Row.

Now, Cannery Row was just another aggregate of clothing and food stores with Dow trademarks I had seen on Singapore’s Orchard Street and on the Riverwalk in New Orleans. With nothing to buy, nothing to see, ennui drove me to cruise each man who passed. I was friendly, only slightly suggestive. A few of them smiled.

Enough time wasted, I drove back to the hotel and showered and changed for the night’s festivities.


Late afternoon light was pouring in through the glass wall that faced the sea as I entered Schooner Jake’s. I looked for Gabriel. The sun blinded me, at the same time a chill clung, like a depressing fog; I was afraid I might find Joy instead.

But, it was Gabriel slumped at the bar. Above him a mirror reflected the marble deck, site of the opening reception. I stopped. The Gabriel I knew didn’t slump. Was I intruding? I sat around the curve of the bar, knowing if he looked up he’d see my reflection in the mirror. A moment later he did. Without pause his shoulders straightened and a smile broke. He patted the stool next to him. I moved over.

He so had that queer beach boy thing going. Like another aging Tab Hunter or Richard Chamberlain, except Gabriel swore he wasn’t queer at all. However, when I looked up and saw myself bald and overweight. I wondered if claiming he wasn’t gay was simply another way of being kind. I ordered a Grey Goose neat with lime.

We didn’t talk. Baseball was on the tube. I again thought of Joy and my emotions stirred somewhere between nervousness and anger. What did she want? I knew my anxiety meant something was coming, something not good.

Gabriel said, “I have a feeling, it’s going to be Boston.”

“What?”

“Boston’s got to take the game. Don’t you think?”

I looked up. It was a Sox-Yankee game. That instant feeling of stupid came over me. “I don’t know. I hope . . .”

“Yeah, me too.” He paused, then blurted. “David, I hope you’re not pissed about the other night. I am not a homophobe.”

“I figured that. You did get into bed with me. Come on, are you kidding? I came on to you like a horny eighth grader. I’m surprised you didn’t smack me.”

“No way. I wanted to try. I’ve wondered for awhile.”

“Then wonder became disgust.” I said, “Happens to the best.”

“It wasn’t that at all. I guess maybe I am straighter than I thought.” He stopped and turned to look up at the game. Then still watching the game, “That’s a lie. I got scared. Chicken shit. O.k.?”

Gabriel’s leg fell against mine. I patted his knee, affectionately, I thought, but he yanked it away with, “Your Missy still haunting you?”

Still chicken shit, I thought, but answered, “I can’t get her out of my head. I understand it was Michael she was after. Hell, he was her God.”

“God, huh? Sounds like he might have been more than your friend.”

“Maybe he could have been a long time ago. I hadn’t thought of him until seeing Joy the other night, and of course, you.”

“Me?”

“You look like him.”

“So the other night wasn’t about me at all! That’s a relief,” he laughed.

I turned red, tried to explain, but Gabriel wasn’t listening. He had sat straight up in his chair and was staring at the game. “Jesus! We don’t have a chance. Clemens just put out his thirteenth batter in a row.”

“Come on Boston,” I yelled. “Hit something damn it!”

“You tell ’em Providence. Boston all the way.” He smiled.
I grinned back and said, “Yeah, I guess.”

Some time during my third vodka, Pedro Martinez in the ninth created a miraculous Sox comeback-to-win by protecting their two runs, and Gabriel in his excitement reached down and squeezed my thigh, saying. “Holy shit, David! Do you believe it?”

The bar around us erupted with the Sox win, but my only focus was on the ghostly imprint of Gabriel’s touch on my leg.

“Be right back,” he said before tossing bills on the bar and heading across the lobby to the Men’s Room.

My hand shook as I tried to ease the money from my wallet.

The bartender said, “You’re all set. Your buddy took care of it.”

I gave him the ten anyway.

Gabriel wasn’t in the bathroom nor in the lobby. I had a sudden intuition he had gone up to my room.

I hurried to the elevator and jammed the UP button. Hurry up, god damn it. I didn’t want him to think I wasn’t interested.

Then a gaggle of chattering ladies with bags from Aveda, Anne Taylor, Jones of New York filled the lobby. Joy was with them, laughing, having fun. When she saw me, her smile faded, but the elevator opened, and I didn’t have to deal with her.

I slid in and slammed the button to close the door, just as Joy rushed forward. “David! Wait.” She ran both hands swinging bags from chic and hip Bebe. As the door closed, I imagined Joy in a sequined mini and tube top. Bebe? I thought and burst out laughing.

As I walked towards my room, amused at middle-aged Joy in twenty-something fashion, I realized: of course! The clothes weren’t for her.

I was still laughing as I walked down the hall to my room. What was she doing in that store? Then I knew. I stopped mid-hallway. Of course, the clothes weren’t for her.

I had to tell someone. This was just too rich. And who else was there but Gabriel? I hurried towards my room. Then my phone rang. Mother, again. I sent the call to voicemail.

Gabriel was not waiting for me outside my room.

The damn phone rang again. Once more, I sent Mom to limbo.

I waited an hour lying on my bed, resisting the urge to call Gabriel’s room. The setting sun lulled me with its play of orange and black across the pastels of my room.

I began to doze, until the Joy who greeted me in my sleep was perfectly appropriate in sequins and mini, confident, and much younger.

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2 Replies

  1. Tom

    I can’t wait for the ending. Will it be a happy ending, hehe!

  2. Lori

    Don’t leave him… I mean me… hanging!!!

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