Chapter 4: Peaches and Cream

The houseboat is approaching a large island created by the rising water. It is a hill surrounded by valleys. On one slope is a pecan orchard, and on another a peachtree orchard, but from a distance these only appear as woodlands. This is land formerly in the state of Georgia.

In between there are some trees and country roads, which dip down into the water. The island is at least a mile wide, but is clearly surrounded by water. The distance to the mainland appears to be about a quarter mile, not far, but too far to swim for those not fit.

Joey is on the roof, looking out for hidden treetops that could cause problems. Joey paces, shielding his eyes on occasion, and points in the direction he thinks will be the best approach. They are looking for a sharp slope, not a gradual slope, so they can use the gangplank and don't have to wade in the water.

The people on shore are running along the shoreline trying to line up with the spot where the houseboat will land. Half the group are white, half African American, all dressed in similar casual tattered clothes. Finegan runs the houseboat close to shore and comes forward to anchor with his grappling hooks.

Stand back. Stand back!

The crowd of about a dozen people shrinks back a few feet.

Stand way back! Way back.

The crowd turns and moves back a goodly way and Finegan heaves his hooks onto the bank, then moves the plank into place and strides across. Joey is at his heels, and as always Barney stays behind to guard the houseboat.

Finegan Fine here, trader. You folks seem eager to do some trading.

A spokesperson for the group says,

We're trapped! Can you give us a lift? We waded over for peaches and pecans, due for harvest. Stayed too long.

Finegan ponders a moment.

Got any left?

The spokesperson is eager.

Plenty. We planned to take it all back. Uh, we could give you some.

Finegan barters back.

Tell you what. I'll give you portage with all you can carry, but the rest is mine.

The spokesperson, the apparent leader of the stranded survivors, looks from one side to the other among the others and sees that they all feel they have no choice.

Agreed.

They all start clamoring for the gangplank. Finegan says,

Whoa! Where's the loot?

The spokesman has his hand up, trying to stop the stamped. He turns, directing the group to get their harvest and return to the boat. And Finegan reassures them,

I'm not going anywhere. Be right here.

A legless man has been approaching during all of this, on crutches. He is just arriving as they all are scampering off to collect the harvest, and stops, dismayed. He raises one crutch to point at the disappearing backs.

Well I know I reek but they're not even trying to be polite.

Finegan, delighted to have the company, welcomes him aboard.

Common aboard. They just went to get the goods. I'll be taking you across.

______________________________

The legless man is seated on some boxes, his crutches beside him and his one leg stretched out in front of him, bracing. His dark hair is unkempt and his clothing dirty and tattered. He has a short beard, more from the lack of shaving regularly than an attempt to have a beard. Appearance is the least of his concerns. Joey has come up to sit near him, Barney lying down at his feet. Joey is curious and finally cannot contain his curiosity.

How'd you lose your leg?

The legless man replies,

Accident, where I worked. Chain broke.

He has been glancing at Joey during this exchange, gauging his reaction. Joey meets his eyes, not ashamed of his curiosity as he sees the legless man is not touchy.

Does it hurt?

Joey jumps off his box and comes over to the leg, his nose a few inches from the stump. He puts his finger out to poke the stump, then hesitates, glancing at the legless man. The legless man pats his stump, showing Joey it is sound.

Don't hurt no more. Sometimes the leg itches though.

Joey looks up at him and smiles, catching the joke, and then returns to his seat on the box. He has grown serious, pondering the man's troubles.

I used to get a check every month, but don't no more.

Then, more a comment to himself than to Joey, he mutters under his breath.

Wouldn't do any good anyhow. Nobody wants paper.

The legless man seems to notice for the first time that Barney is missing a rear leg. He points at the dog.

How'd that happen?

Joey looks up and over his shoulder to the tall pile of boxes where Finegan has stationed himself. The lookout post. Finegan tells the tale.

Lost it to a shark. Small hammerhead. He had ahold of part of my catch, pulled right up on deck. I guess he thought Barney looked like a better meal. I've never quite forgiven myself.

The legless man, being a positive person, puts a positive spin on it all.

Aw, hey, he looks like he's doing fine! Me too. Gets me out of emptying the crap pot, that's for sure.

He throws a grin up at Finegan.

The ladies feel sorry for me.

______________________________

The houseboat is making its final run from the island to the mainland, with the last of the crowd. Only four people at a time were allowed due to the weight. They are carrying as many peaches and pecans as they can stuff into their clothing or hang over their shoulders.

Finegan has distributed these last four so that two each are on a side of the houseboat. His booty from the island has been loaded into boxes at the front. Joey is distributing the weight from front to back. He hops over the roof of the house to do so, carrying the peaches and pecans in a plastic bag which he empties into boxes at the rear. Finegan says,

I'm still riding too high back here. You folks move on toward the back, please.

While they're waiting for the pedals to lower fully into the water, a young woman has moved toward the rear of the boat and is flirting with Finegan. She has one haunch on a box and has pulled her skirt up, ostensibly to keep cool in the midday heat, exposing an attractive leg. She is wearing a low-cut summer dress, but has heavy leather boots on her feet. She keeps glancing at Finegan, smiling. She is young, attractive, and buxom.

This place needs a woman's touch.

Finegan has a half full bottle of whiskey beside him and has been taking a sip now and then, this being his last trip and the day having been exhausting. He is trying to be moderate, in consideration of Joey's reaction to his last drunk, but sneaks a sip whenever Joey has his back turned during his many trips across the roof to balance the load.

Nothing personal, but I've got my hands full already.

The flirt leans forward showing her ample cleavage.

Not like getting your hands on these.

Finegan holds up the whiskey bottle, burping, and shakes his head.

No can do.