Somehow I managed to find myself on a seat on Charon's boat, apparently crossing over from the Delta King to Raley's Landing in the dead of night. Odd that I hadn't thought of this being my final voyage-or that West Sacramento was the Underworld. It was equally odd that Charon bore a remarkable resemblance to Don Perata, President Pro Tem of the California Senate. He's not one that I would think would be ferrying people to the Underworld, or West Sacramento, as the case might be. John Burton, maybe, or even Bill Lockyer; but of the Pro Tems I've known, Perata is the least likely to be the servant of Hades. Go figure.
On the other hand, I knew I wasn't dead. At least I didn't feel dead. No coins in my mouth. That was a good sign. That raised an interesting question. What was I doing on a boat going to West Sacramento steered by Don Perata? That left me in a bit of a bind. Do I ask, or do I hope the current was strong enough to get me to the Virgin Sturgeon and I can chalk this all up to a water taxi driver with a sense of humor? Much as I would have preferred the idea of winding up at a bar along the Delta somewhere, I thought I'd better find out what was going on.
"Uh, excuse me?"
The person guiding the boat, whoever he was, was apparently not the chatty type.
"I was kinda wondering what I was doing here. I mean, shouldn't you be taking me to like Crawdads or Chevy's?"
I was still hoping that this night would wind up with me at a bar having some type of adult beverage.
"You're the reporter - you're the one who wanted the story about the Administrative Director - so now you're going to get it."
"Ummm, I don't want to sound dumb or anything, but get what?"
"The story, you imbecile."
Now he was getting nasty. Seems to come with the office. Of course, had this been John Burton, it would have been you !!@#$ imbecile. So apparently this is an improvement.
"But why can't I just interview you in your office?"
"This story is too big for my office."
His voice trailed off as we slowly moved against the strong current of the Sacramento River.
"You know, maybe we should just turn around and forget this ever happened."
He laughed sinisterly.
"Once you get on the boat, there is no turning back."
"But, I mean, after all, you're the Pro Tem. Doesn't that kinda suggest that it's really up to you whether she gets confirmed?"
"No. It's up to him."
"And who might him be?"
It was clear he was getting more and more impatient.
A few moments passed. The current was strong and the going was slow. The air was cold, almost deathly cold. Somehow the lights across the way seemed dimmer, more distant than they should have. There was something wrong with this whole diabolical situation.
"I mean, after all, she really has done a pretty good job, hasn't she?"
"She even used to work for one of your predecessors, right?"
"That was then...."
His voice trailed off.
"Yeah, yeah, and this is now. So other than you having the nifty office on the second floor, what really makes the difference?"
I was starting to get annoyed. "You will soon find out."
This guy takes himself way too seriously, I thought.
"Look, this isn't about the PD numbers, is it?"
"I mean this RAND stuff isn't exactly a model of clarity, now is it?"
I'd do better interviewing a refrigerator carton.
"And she did get a lot of regulations out on time. I mean it isn't exactly like you all gave her much direction. With all the stuff you and your buddies were throwing up to the governor in '02 and '03, I mean someone had to make some sense out of all that crap."
I think he was getting upset.
"You sound just like, like...."
"But that's not the same 'him' that you're taking me to see, right?"
It was eerily silent once again.
We approached Raley's Landing. It was vacant. It didn't look quite the same, and even though it was dark, I knew something was very wrong. At the same time, I could swear that I heard a dog panting. For a moment, I wished I had learned more about the classics. Something about a dog guarding...
The boat was gone, and so was Charon, or Don Perata. I was alone. I heard breathing. I turned, slowly, to see what was before me. It was a sight so hideous that I wished I could turn to stone. It was a huge animal, a dog, a three-headed dog. Each of the heads was snarling, fierce, as though ready to rip me limb from limb.
Each head was that of an applicants' attorney.
Suddenly the alarm clock went off. It was 6:00 in the morning. I jumped out of bed in a cold sweat. It was a dream. Well, it was either a dream or a premonition. I looked at the calendar. It was March. There was still time, but the days were passing and I knew that before long the administrative director would be on that boat.
Only her trip would be one way, and it wouldn't be a dream.