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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic

Water magnifies sound---including cursing.
An otherwise perfect gentleman shocks a disbelieving audience while attempting to maintain his balance on one water ski despite the mad maneuvers of the maniacal speedboat driver.


A  Short Story

Nicholas Cochran


Halfway through the match, Bill crashed his racket against the back wall of the squash court and left. Toby Granger hung in the empty space of their gamey game enclosure, racket in his left hand, hard squash ball in his right. He pushed his crooked white-taped glasses up the sweaty bridge of his stubby nose and gawked at the open door fostering Bill’s huffy exit. ‘Well, I don’t really think I did anything wrong. I wasn’t huffy . . .Bill; I don’t think he was huffy; pissed maybe’.

Toby inhaled and wondered if he should wait a few minutes on the chance his legal partner and best friend would hammer his head against a wall for a bit, kick a cat, smash his other racket—maybe all of those—and come back for a calm conclusion of their match.

Toby Granger was the junior partner of the firm and although he was five years younger than Bill Walters, they interacted on the same level. Bill never used his age and superior experience in any personal way when dealing with Toby. But on the squash court, Bill would suddenly snap into an alternative personality; become tenser, hyper-abusive—and if he was losing; well, he’d do what he’d just done a few minutes ago.

Toby was a very intelligent L.A. transplant from Detroit where he was a scholar-athlete for Michigan State before graduating from Princeton Law. During the summers, he played basketball for a local amateur team before discovering squash. Now twenty-five, five eleven and husky, he loved to knock the hell out of the little black ball and wait joyfully for its sudden return, when he could smash it again.

‘Feels great; maybe I’ll just practice a bit and see if Bill makes it back anytime soon.’

He flipped the ball into the air and walloped it so hard its return flight damned near smacked the crown jewels. Only his turn to the right saved the possibility of procreation but started an ugly welt on his left thigh.

 “Godddamn it.” He was still alone on the court, but would have said it even if ‘Senior Partner’ Bill were present. There was this fact about Toby that for many years put off many of his colleagues, some of his friends—and especially those with children: his endless torrent of curse words.

For no reason, just as he was about to flip the ball up for another smack, a scene filled his mental vision to its periphery His vision was so strong he could swear the images unreeling across his inner eye were playing out in present time.


Easy Elms Camp was a YMCA retreat on Silver Lake where boys went to camp for the month of July, and singles and families reveled in the facilities during August. Toby was a counselor at the boy’s camp that year and stayed on as a waiter and dishwasher for the family month.

The camp displayed a lengthy section of beach, where swimming, canoeing, war canoe races, Red Cross swimming tests, and a lot of splashing and frolicking occurred. There were always the hoots and screams of happiness. Of course, many families would just sit and watch the activities. Single young women furtively peeped over their books to check the hunks while the guys would openly gape and point at the roses among the thorns of the distaff set.

For over fifty years, by the time Toby arrived lakeside, the camp changed from an all-male camp to a family camp. His times as a counselor were some of the most memorable times of his teens.  When he wasn’t ‘counseling,’ he was in or on the water savoring aquatic ecstasy in the clear, sun-splashed water of Silver Lake.

That year, Mr. Greg Jones donated six boats. One was a powerful inboard speedboat of the nineteen fifties vintage.

Gregory Thomas Jones amassed great wealth by selling ‘Purple Pills for Pink People’. He owned and raced various watercraft over a span of forty years. Because of his astonishing boat racing career in his twenties and thirties, the town labeled Mr. Jones: Wild Greg Jones. From those days forward, he opened the thrill of a speeding boat to all the citizens of the town.

Greg was a billionaire. Unlike legions of wealthy people, he emulated Andrew Carnegie. He was determined to fit through that eye of the needle or “jolly well die trying.” He and his wife Pauline donated millions to the town as well as hosting Governors, members of Congress, and other dignitaries from New York State. In this context, Mr. Jones proved to be both shrewd and accommodating: He invited representatives as well as personalities from both sides of the aisle.

The Jones house rested behind carefully terraced gardens and a functioning vineyard at the edge of the St. Lawrence River. Five times a year, to one and all, they opened their house, their astounding ‘grounds’, and the seven boathouses, protecting the Jones’ boats of all sizes and horsepower. Everyone in town eventually had a ride in one of his boats. He made six of them available all weekend for the citizens to enjoy. A very bright young lad named Peter Rook managed the whole matter from the lists of riders to the insurance concerns.

Just why Mr. Jones decided to disinherit his entire family could have been for any number of reasons—if you talked with people who knew the Joneses. The consensus of the citizens was that, except for Greg and Polly—and one son, James, who ran a marina and boat rental service in the Bahamas—the rest of the clan (as well as the extended family) were a pack of nincompoops. They did nothing but ask Greg how much they were going to get so they could plan for their families and some extravagant purchases. Eventually, Greg got all snarly about their attitude and made a grand gesture of specifically—by name—cutting the whole pack out of his will.

Well, hell and damnation, while Greg and Pauline visited James and enjoyed an overdue frolic in the Bahamas, the clan went on a wrecking jag and trashed his mansion as well as his gardens and vineyard. Greg and Pauline arrived home just before they smashed the last window.

Greg immediately went to his gun cabinet and took out a couple of pistols and a shotgun, along with a few hundred shells and made off with Polly past the ruined gardens and through the devastated vineyard to the spacious modern boathouse where he stood guard. He and Polly remained there while he decided what to do with the dozen boats in slips under the covered sheds along the shore.

From here, the story goes that he and Pauline were in the boathouse—well, more like a mansion on the water—for over two weeks. They were supplied by water deliveries and Greg kept guard during the days. He activated a couple of dozen trip wires to alert him of the presence of intruders or interlopers who he resolved to shoot, should they be so foolish as to cross the open view between the wires and the water-manse. A couple of in-laws were dumb enough to ignore the warning buzzes of the wires and started across the open area. Greg fired a couple of barrels over their heads, which caused them to freeze and then turn to run. Greg was such a crack shot (from his days in Vietnam) he quickly reloaded both barrels with buckshot and waited until he saw nothing but their two butts, at which point he gave them both an arsefull of buck to remember him by. Apparently, they never sued. They left town as soon as the last buck passed.

Well, the other family members took all this as a declaration of war—a paper war—and every one of the fourteen lawyers in town had at least five clients.(the Joneses were renowned for their fertility.)

One evening, while half shot on Shelter Point Artisanal Single Malt, Greg, told himself he had had just about enough of this guff. While on guard at an upper window, he happened to see a Canadian newspaper from across the river, stuck underneath their bacon rations, delivered that morning by Beale’s Groceteria. The headline was about some poor family named Smith, who couldn’t afford to send their sons to Lazy Elms Camp, so they jimmied open fifteen Pepsi machines in Detroit to raise the cash for the kids. Now they were under indictment, the kids were stuck at home with two growly parents on bail, wearing ankle monitors; it was just a hell of a mess.

Steering on a cockeyed course through his Shelter Point haze to that part of his brain that was not suffering cirrhosis, he made quick decisions. The result was a trip by water to town and up to his lawyer’s office where he instructed Ben Torrance to give the on-bail Smiths a million dollars. Next, Greg produced a very cheery smile as he wrote a check for three million dollars and sent it off to the office of the Lazy Elms. Greg’s only ‘request’ was that the money be used to provide more cabins and food for a larger number of boys. He donated six of his boats to be used for laughing and sporting on the lake.

Despite Pauline’s presence and excellent care, Greg’s heart decided that all this alcohol shit was just too much bother for the ticker to pump, and so it shut down. Gregory James Jones passed while steeped in a beautiful and serene state of complete inebriation. Polly died three weeks later.

When the executor read the will, the prophecies of Mr. Jones were fulfilled. Not one of the whole clan got a damn thing but a Georgian chair or a Louis XIV desk. All the paintings went to the Moose Hall and the IOOF, where they crookedly droop to this day. Each member receives one unit of all the profits made by the wives of the members who charge twenty-five dollars a head for tourists to come in and view Greg’s stunning collection.

James inherited the house, lands, and vineyard, five million dollars ,and the remaining boat. His father willed other odds and ends to the staff, fifteen in all; every one was an instant millionaire. Several made a point of easing by the shabby digs of the disinherited in their Rolls or Ferrari or Lamborghini. Some pretended interest in a house on the other side of the street and would double park, leaving the car where the disinherited could take in the fine lines and elegant hues of the colorful machines. Five or ten minutes later, the former maid or cook would re-enter their chariot. Following several exaggerated Queen-like waves, they roared away in the throes of unleashed merriment.

No one ever reported the reactions of the clan to these ‘vulgar’ actions of the former ‘guttersnipes,’ but the suicide rate among the clan spiked two winters later when a polar vortex dumped eight feet on everyone in town. This proved to be the winter of discontent, the equivalent of the last straw for some of Greg’s kith and kin. Oh well.


Toby passed a month of aquatic ecstasy, mostly on one of the six pairs of water skis that Mr. Jones sent along with the boats and the towropes, bumpers—the complete nine aquatic yards.

A few days into the family camp routine, Toby took off from one of the many new docks and quickly straightened up to balance his weight evenly on each ski. He would try to complete a twenty to thirty minute marathon of first, both skis, and then one; provided  Al Arnold couldn’t maneuver the SAPEDO power boat in a manner to fling Toby off into the sparkling waters of that exquisite lake.  There was no warning for what followed.

Later, guys who had been counselors with Toby through the Boy’s Camp in July, never remembered or had ever encountered anything like this. In deference to his dozen nine through eleven charges in Cabin Twenty-Three, Toby harnessed his bad habits in order to set an example for the kids. They adored him and he adored them. Together, they had won the sports day trophy for outstanding athletics; the best craft cabin award for their outstanding leather work that produced belts and billfolds that you’d see only on the Corso; and lastly, Cabin Twenty Three took first place in the War Canoe races with Toby in the stern shouting all kinds of drivel about Chariots of Fire and Rocky. This was the Toby the counselors knew; that the kids knew; that everyone respected—adored.

Rerettably, there was also the Toby who spent most of the previous summer with a construction crew on the outskirts of Detroit. He worked ten hours a day, seven days a week, pulling demolished wreckage from bull-dozed houses, lifting heavy weights of debris and tools, and helping raise new walls after carrying sheet rock for the first eight hours of his day. Because of these conditions and the hardened outlook of his crew—the J.K. Gordon ‘rough’ gang—Toby acquired a lexicon of curses, epithets, and downright filthy vulgarity not to be equaled by wussy sailors or Marines. I mean, these were words and combinations of words and acts and that bypassed Marines and mariners alike.  Filth and vulgarity reigned supreme when you were hauling a hundred pounds of materials in each hand while the mosquitoes and horse flies created faces of streaming blood until your hauling terminated.


The SAPEDO twisted into a version of a watery figure eight and that’s when the language dove to the deepest depths of obscenity and scatology.

We all know surface water amplifies sound—oh, you didn’t know that? Well, it does; phenomenally so. In fact, the slightest soto voce curses reach your ears as semi-shouts. However, neither the water-skier nor the driver can hear any words.

After fifteen minutes, Arnold redoubled his efforts to detach Toby from the towline, with or without skis. By employing a sudden stop from fifty miles an hour, Toby went hurtling by the Sapedo, hit the wake-waves and tumbled into the drink.

 A collective exhalation of air issued from beachside. Fingers were removed from the ears of tots through teens. Luckily, three quarters of the initial recipients of Toby’s words to swear by, quickly sought the top of the hill and a shot or two in the bar. Those who remained recived the dubious gift of a water-born verbal onslaught of the most vile and salacious words and combinations of words unimaginable in their lifetimes.


Toby smashed the little black ball again and again until his deep memory dug up that day on the lake. He was surprised he remembered most of the words and all of the expressions, which he uttered—with gusto—before each shot.

Fifteen minutes later, as Toby was now entering the serious-sweat-drip phase, Bill came through the door and although he still wore a scowl he indicated that he was fine and 'let’s get on with our game.'

After five minutes, Bill could wait no longer. In mid-shot, he bent over in helpless laughter while the ball caromed off the walls.

“I heard every word Toby. At first, I was really pissed, but the more I heard, the more I realized that you had obviously been with—working, I guessed—some extraordinary men somewhere and had picked up these vulgar gems,” now laughing uncontrollably, “you should publish the whole lexicon as a ‘meditation’ or a white paper—no, that probably wouldn’t work—but you know what I mean.”

“You’re not angry?”

“Christ, no: I think you have developed an art form; you should work on it and, as I said, get it published—under a pseudonym of course, but do: really, do Toby.” He shook his head with laughter and decided to call it a game.

Bill never said another word about Toby’s ‘talent’. Toby took up mountain biking.


Submitted: February 24, 2016

© Copyright 2021 Nicholas Cochran. All rights reserved.

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