The bonfire came alive as Rick tossed in logs under Sally’s sleepy gaze. I sat down next to them and facing the fire began folding the paper Dylan had given me before. Forced into a blind bet, I tried to fathom the enormity of the situation- if I won, I could have anything of his. Garth came over with some tumblers and a half-full bottle of whiskey. My sheet became a ship, my wish, five words, a sketch.
“You know if you’re not sure, you can just throw it into the fire”, said Rick.
I was about to do that when the hush that settled nearby told me that Dylan was coming back. I turned around and saw him walk up to the bonfire circle. He’d brought a brown, leather-bound book from which he produced a piece of paper, folded in four. It was a large well-thumbed Bible, with a very worn cover.
“Here’s my part of the bet, Nar. You’ll be really pissed when you lose out.”
He held out his paper to Rick and with one look made me do the same. He looked at my boat, hiding any surprise.
“Rick can hold the papers and Garth can read from the Book of Isaiah. Here’s a King James. I said the quote about ‘standing upon the watchtower…’ is from Chapter 24 and you said it’s from …”
“Chapter 21, verse 8”, I finished off, without shifting my gaze from the fire.
“Pedant” he muttered as he handed the Bible to Garth.
Sally poured whiskey into the glasses scattered across the floor. Dylan grabbed one, Rick too. I lit a cigarette and stood up to hear how this improvised duel was about to end.
“ ‘My lord, I stand continually upon the watchtower in the daytime…’. Isaiah, Chapter 21, verse 8,” read Garth in an almost liturgical voice. And glancing down, he returned the Bible to Dylan who held it in silence while the people who’d gathered around us started to move away.
“Don’t go without knowing what I’ve lost!”
His shout stopped most people in their tracks and many turned to look at me as if waiting for a reaction. There was none.
“Hard to believe but you’ve won, Nar. Now I just need to know what the fuck you’ve written on that ridiculous paper boat. What did you want to win off me to dare such a foolish move? Pass it over, Rick.”
He held out my sailing boat on the palm of his left hand. Dylan grabbed it in his fist and unfolded it clumsily.
“The round box in the basement...” he read out questioningly.
He looked me straight in the eye for a few slow seconds, tilting his head first one way and then the other, forgiving me my life. His voice sounded like hail, I felt it fall on my face.
“You’re more innocent than I thought.”
He drained his glass of whiskey and threw it into the fire. Then he turned on his heel and strode over to Big Pink, going in through the back door. I went over to the living room window where Richard had just appeared.
“What the fuck just happened, Nar?” he asked quietly. “Dylan’s gone down to the basement like a shot. And he looked seriously pissed off”.
“I’ve just lost something by winning a bet. I’ll explain another time.”
The man with the face like a mask walked right by us and, briefly raising his black hat, made a gesture as if to say goodbye.