Weekend in Tomales Bay


The woman paused to tighten the fur-lined hood around her face before pressing on toward the small shack at the end of the pier.

“Nice boat,” she remembered saying to the man, when she’d taken the same walk earlier after checking into the hotel across the road from the water’s edge. She’d surprised herself by speaking to the handsome stranger.

“Thanks,” he said. “I’m getting her ready for tonight.”


“Yes, it’ll be beautiful under the stars.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t have thought of sailing at night.”

“There’s also going to be a full moon. Why don’t you join me?”

“I might just do that,” replied the woman before turning back down the pier.

“I’ll be waiting,” said the man.

At least that’s what the woman thought he’d said, but it had been hard to hear with the wind whipping through the tall trees near the shore and the water slapping up against the pilings.

Now, with the moonlight shimmering on the bay, the woman caught the flicker of a flame in the shack’s window – and the glow of the boatman’s cigarette. That’s when she knew for sure that she’d heard him right. He was waiting.


“It’s just a drill,” said the hostess to the crowd gathered outside the restaurant.

Everyone had rushed out to see what the commotion was all about. First, there’d been an ambulance, siren blaring as it roared into the parking lot next to the boat launch. Then came another emergency response vehicle, a truck hauling two jet skis that were quickly speeding across the bay.

“It’s just a drill,” the hostess said again.

A helicopter flew toward the crowd, keeping low to the water before landing in the parking lot.

“It’s just a …”

The hostess lifted her hand to her mouth when she saw the responders pull Bill Handley from the helicopter. Bill and her husband had gone out clamming that morning at the muddy patch of land known as “Clam Island.”

She thought back to early that morning when they’d been listening to the tide report on the radio.

“Will it be safe?” she asked.

“Don’t worry,” he said and kissed her cheek. “We’ve been out in worse than this.”

The hostess screamed as she ran toward the paramedics who were pulling a second body from the helicopter – she knew this wasn’t a drill.


The old man gripped the champ by the elbow and guided him away from the bar.

“Why’re we leaving so early?” slurred the large man.

“We have a long drive to Vegas tomorrow.”

“But we just got here.”

That was seven drinks ago, thought the old man as he nudged the retired boxer toward the door. “Alright, champ,” he said. “Let’s get you back to your room.”

As they reached the exit, a booming voice echoed from the opposite end of the bar. “Well, I’ll be damned if it isn’t the mother-fucking heavyweight champion of the world.”

In the fifteen years since he’d been leading the champ from one promotional event to the next, the old man had learned to steer clear of two types of people. The first was the hardcore boxing aficionado, the kind of guy who’d ply the champ with drinks until closing time while asking question after question about this or that bout. The second was the wise-ass with something to prove.

“Hey, champ!” shouted the guy at the end of the bar. “I’m talking to you.”

“I got this,” said the boxer, shaking loose from the old man’s grip and turning toward the loudmouth. “I got this.”


The guitar player had just downed his third shot of tequila when a tall woman in dangerously high heels came forward with a twenty-dollar bill in hand.

“Would you mind singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to my husband?” she asked. “His name’s Jack.”

“It’ll be my pleasure,” said the guitar player.

Everyone in the restaurant clapped to keep time when the guitar player embarked upon a rollicking version of the birthday song. It was all going great until he blanked on the guy’s name, singing “Happy Birthday” to “Jake” instead of “Jack.”

Without missing a beat, the woman in dangerously high heels corrected the guitar player by shrieking her husband’s name. Instead of apologizing and starting again or fixing his mistake in mid-song or even stopping altogether, the guitar player started to yell back at the woman. Back and forth, they screamed “Jack!” “Jake!” “Jack!” “Jake!” until the song was over.

Long after he’d been led out of the restaurant by the manager, the guitar player sat in his pickup finishing off a pint of Jack Daniels he kept in the glove compartment. Jake or Jack? he thought. Jack or Jake? What the hell does it matter anyway? He snickered at the thought of trading shouts with the woman and turned the key in the ignition.

Early the next morning, a woman out for her daily jog found the truck overturned in a ditch. The guitar player was still buckled into his seat, hanging upside down, his purple tongue dangling from his mouth and his old guitar smashed to pieces by the side of the road.


The liquor truck idled in front of the restaurant across the road from the hotel. After setting the alarm on his phone, the driver leaned his head back and pulled his baseball cap down over his eyes. It’ll be another hour or so, he thought, before the manager shows up to let me in.

On the other side of the road, two maids rolled their cleaning carts toward their first room of the day.

“Housekeeping,” the first maid announced as she knocked on the door.

They both looked out at the bay while waiting for an answer.

“It’s different from yesterday,” commented the second maid, watching a pair of gulls glide over the smooth water.

“Yes,” said the first. “It’s much more peaceful.”

Two boats were in the yard next to the hotel. One was the “Black Pearl,” a weather-beaten rust bucket that hadn’t seen the water for years. The other was a wooden skiff that the hotel owner had turned into a planter box.

“Housekeeping,” the first maid said again, knocking once more before using her pass key.

Inside the room, the maids were surprised to see it hadn’t been used. The bed was made, the towels hung in the bathroom, and the woman’s suitcase remained unpacked at the foot of the bed.

“Where do you think she spent the night?” asked the second maid.

“None of our business,” answered the first.

“I’m just curious, that’s all.”

“It’s none of our business,” repeated the first maid as she shut the door and led the way to their next room.


On Monday morning, the police chief sat at the counter drinking his coffee and thinking back to everything that had happened the last two days – the clammers drowning in the bay, the boxer in jail for breaking the tourist’s jaw, the guitar player strangled by his seat belt, and the woman who’d last been seen walking toward the end of the pier and climbing aboard a boat named “Never Too Late.”

What a weekend, thought the chief as he motioned for the waitress to refill his cup. What a weekend.