So, another ending. Life as metaphor. An End well met? Perhaps.
Sunset at the Pink Water Café
Sitting in the cockpit of the Air Force C27J Spartan, he listened to an analyst’s evaluation of the situation over an encrypted line, checking the team’s reasoning once again, while the transport bounced around inside a frontal boundary. Of the fifteen replacement crewmen bound for a Russian oceanographic research vessel, that had been docked in St Johns taking on fuel and supplies earlier today, three tripped Customs alerts when they checked through checkpoints: known SVR and GRU operatives with military backgrounds, and certainly not oceanographers. Canadians photographed the group and imagery was in Langley within minutes, and a further eleven of the fifteen were identified, all former military with established dossiers in CIAs files.
A hit team, in other words, the analyst argued.
And with zero equipment in their luggage.
The research vessel had departed St Johns 14 hours ago, and an Air Force E-8 was keeping track of it’s progress, the analyst advised. The ship had traveled 120 miles, heading south along the coast, then turned to 2-4-0 degrees. And such a route would, the analyst said, carry them about a hundred miles off the coast of Nova Scotia, on a route that would take them on a passage along the US seaboard.
“And let me guess? Who’s out there?”
“The Jimmy Carter has been tailing the Severodvinsk for three days, sir. She’s closing on sea mounts and canyons, working her way into shallower water, the skipper thinks.”
“They’ll transfer to the sub out out there,” Jim said, “then work their way closer to shore.”
“That’s my guess,” the analyst said. “Skipper on the Carter wants a few million sonobuoys dropped from the shelf off Halifax all the way around through the Bay of Fundy. We can fine tune their approach once the Severodvinsk gets into shallower water, but he wants to drop back some now. Not enough room to hide, something like that.”
“What’s going on up on the seventh floor?” Jim asked, referring to the operations directorate on the top floor.
“No decision yet. They’re still talking with the White House.”
“I know. Looks like three days ‘til they can make the transfer, and maybe two more for a real cautious approach. If I was going to do this I’d try to get in the channel between Grand Manan and the coast. It’s real noisy in there…easy to hide.”
“Well, they’d break the 12 mile limit, and it’s full of lobster pots. Not real smart.”
“They need to get within a mile or two if they’re coming by inflatable. A helluva lot closer than that if the team is going to swim for it.”
“They won’t do that.”
“I don’t think so either.”
“What about sleds?”
“Possible,” the analyst said thoughtfully. “Hadn’t thought of that. Several on the team have the relevant experience.”
“Do we know what the range is on that new unit is?”
“The two man units, uh, let’s see, looks like about 30 klicks, so call it 10 to 12 each way, with a little in reserve.”
“That would put them off the twelve mile line, on the east side of the island.”
“Exactly. Uh,” he said, looking out the cockpit windshield, “looks like we’re getting ready to land. I’ll get back to once we’re airborne again.”
“K – out.”
He looked up, saw runway lights ahead through rain and intermittent clouds, and the little transport flared over the numbers and rolled out on runway 34, then turned off to the northeast, and the pilot taxied to the Canadian Air Force facility on the east side of the airport. An airman opened the door and a blast of rain soaked him as he ran down the slippery metal steps – then across rain-soaked concrete to a waiting US Navy P-8A, and he climbed up those steep stairs and into the cabin. An airman close the door behind him and the Boeing’s engines spooled up as he walked into the cockpit, putting his raincoat in a closet as he walked forward.
“War Eagle 3-0, clear to taxi,” he heard the tower say as he strapped into the jump-seat and put on the proffered headset.
“Uh, three-zero, change of runway and departure information. Wind now 2-6-0 at 18, taxi direct to two niner from your position and hold just short of the active. At 1900 left turn direct VOBEG, then hit GAGMA at 6000.”
“Eagle 3-0, 12 and 6. Got an altimeter?”
“Still two eight niner five.”
“Got it.” The captain turned to her co-pilot: “Checklist?”
“Armed and crosschecks?”
“Set and checked.”
The captain held just short of the runway, flipped on the lights as she checked in with the tower: “Eagle 3-0, holding short of the numbers.”
“3-0, hold for the MD-80 on short final.”
“Roger.” She looked past the ensign in the right seat and scowled. “See anything?” she asked.
“Nothin’. Weather’s really closing in fast…nope, there he is…”
Jim bent down, looked out through the rain splattered glass and could just see strobes bouncing off the Air Canada jet’s belly, then it flared and settled onto the black asphalt, thrust reversers roaring a moment later, the air behind the MD80 full of drifting spray and settling exhaust.
“Eagle 3-0, clear for take off, and expedite, please.”
“3-0,” she said, advancing the throttles a little, and as the 737 lined up on the centerline she advanced the throttles, jogged the rudder pedals a little as the jet began it’s run.
“80 knots,” her ensign co-pilot called out 18 seconds later, then “V1…and…rotate.”
She pulled back on the yoke, eyes on her instruments: “Positive rate.”
And moments later they were in solid cloud, the sudden turbulence extreme.
“Clean the wing,” she said, and Jim couldn’t tell where they were now, even what their attitude was, until he looked at the screens on the panel. Nothing but gray ahead, then the lights turned off and he couldn’t even see that, so he focused on the panel, watched her ease into a deep left turn, saw a waypoint on the screen, and when they hit that point she made another easy left, and another waypoint appeared ahead. Five minutes later the P8 climbed out of the clouds at 12,000 feet and she turned to parallel the coastline, then she turned and spoke to him.
“Better head aft now, sir. You can monitor the ship better from there, and we’ll be over the Carter in about, oh, twenty three minutes.”
She watched his men walk into the house next door, but one of them, Tom, slipped through the rain and knocked on the door. And, surprisingly, waited for her to come to the door.
“Where is he now?”
“He had to leave, quite unexpectedly,” the man said. “Do you need anything?”
“Is it safe to go outside?”
The question seemed to startled the man. “Ma’am?”
“I have no idea what’s going on around here, but what I read on Google sure opened my eyes.”
“How he save those Russians, and now, how the Russians are trying to get back at him.”
“It sure is. Want to read what I found?”
“No, not really.”
“Is it true?”
“Are you hard of hearing, or is it just my voice?”
He laughed a little, looked up at the house next door. “Ma’am, you’re safe here, but if you’d like me to walk Jimmie, I’d be happy to.”
Of course Jimmie was out the door in an instant, circling in the rain, looking for just the perfect spot to let one go, and when he finished his business he pranced up the steps and back into the house, then turned and looked at her.
“I guess not,” Tom said and they both laughed.
“Will he be back tomorrow?”
“Should be, but I don’t have any word on that yet. How ‘bout I come over and tell you as soon as we hear something?”
She nodded her head, remembered his promise to keep her in the loop – then turned and went inside. When she slipped under the sheets Jimmie came up and laid beside her, his chin resting on her thigh, his eyes focused on hers like twin laser beams.
She looked at him for the longest time, then turned off the light and away from his searching eyes, but she rolled over a few minutes later and saw the pup’s head on Jim’s pillow; he was facing her now, but his eyes were closed, and he was snoring gently. She looked at the pup for what felt like years, and she couldn’t help thinking that, somehow, these two were connected in some vital way.
He watched the research vessel far below on a screen, the stabilized, night vision image clear enough to make out sailors on deck, but there wasn’t much to see yet. They came up on the Carter’s track and at 0100, exactly, the radio operator picked up a UHF burst and ran it through the computer.
“Skipper reports the contact is holding steady on course 2-1-0 and has slowed to five knots,” the operator said a few minutes later.
“Ivan has got to be nervous now,” the Navy commander said. “Just a matter of time till he picks up something out there that spooks him.”
“Been a while since he’s tried something this brazen, don’t you think?” Jim asked.
“Yup. They must want you real bad.”
“Nice to be wanted,” Jim sighed. “Got a track for your sonobuoys?”
“Computer sets the deployment pattern. All the pilot has to do is get down to about 200 feet and 180 knots, then engage the autopilot. The computer flies the airplane and spits out the buoys, and we’ll get half laid this trip, the other half later today. More difficult now, too. Since they closed Brunswick, adds about three hours to the evolution.”
“Short-sighted. Closed too many bases, thought Ivan was gone. Well, people are waking up now.”
“This is a decent platform, endurance-wise, anyway. I thought we did a better job in the old P3, though; pilots have to fly slow to do half of the things we need to, so speed ain’t a real asset. Stealth would be, but these crates aren’t stealthy.”
“Cheap and easy to get hold of. Easy to get past committee, anyway,” Jim added.
“Did you hear the Admiral Kuznetsov is out there?”
“Nope. Where is she?”
“RORSAT picked her up five hours ago, two hundred north of Lajes, headed north. Of course they know when the birds pass.”
“If she’s headed this way, that would change the dynamics.”
“The Astute and the Warner are moving in, should get a baseline course for us by mid-morning.”
“This is getting interesting,” Jim sighed.
“Isn’t it? Think it’s worth the risk?”
“Where will you take her?”
“If you don’t start the next world war, you mean.”
“There is that,” Jim sighed, smiling.
She was in the café, still feeling depressed, when she saw his slate blue Land Rover coming down Main Street – Jimmie in the passenger seat, his head hanging out the window…his ears flapping in the breeze. He pulled up right outside the café and hopped out the door – Jimmie waited for his door, then he slipped down onto the sidewalk and waited for Jim to open the café’s door, then they made for the corner table as she walked over, menus in hand.
And she saw dark circles under his bloodshot eyes, thought better of tearing into him and handed him a menu.
“What’s he got going back there this morning?”
“Fish chowder and, believe it or not, about a half dozen fresh Dover sole. Sautéed, with lemon butter and broccolini.”
He nodded his head. “Sorry about last night. Something came up.”
“Yeah?” she said knowingly. “I understand.”
“No, but at least I understand you’ll never change.”
He looked at the hurt in her eyes and bunched his lips, and he seemed to deflate before her eyes.
“Look,” she sighed, “all I know is I don’t know. Okay? And that not knowing is a lot worse than knowing.”
He looked up but she was walking away, so he looked down at Jimmie and shook his head. “I fucked up, boy. Big time.”
The pup looked in his eyes and saw something, because then he got up and stood, put his hand on Jim’s shoulders and leaned forward, licked his chin – and Jim leaned forward and hugged the pup, put his face to his, nose to nose.
“I know. I’ve got to do better,” then Jimmie nibbled his ear before he licked it a couple of times. By the time she came back with his tea and chowder the pup was on the floor again, curled up and sleeping.
“Hear about the Sheriff?” she asked and he looked up.
“Drunk, bunch of kiddie porn on his lap. Arrested, took him down in Bangor this morning, for some sort of hearing, maybe arraignment?”
“Whoa. Kiddie porn? Up here?”
“Yeah. Lot of people freaked out this morning, talking about it. You know, ‘it can’t happen here,’ that kind of thing.”
He nodded his head. “The Devil’s greatest triumph was convincing people he doesn’t exist.”
She seemed shocked by that. “What? I didn’t think you…”
“What? Good and evil? That they don’t exist? Of course they do. It’s all around us, all the time. So much so that we forget it exists, that it’s real.”
“So, you can’t measure it, take a photograph of it, but you can’t take a picture of love, either. You can’t put love on the scales and measure it.” He looked at her again. “I love you, by the way. In case you wanted to pick that up and throw it against that wall over there.”
“Do you enjoy reading my mind?”
“Yes, Ma’am. Very much.”
She turned and walked away. Again. She brought his sole a few minutes later, then turned away – without saying a word. Again. She brought him his check when he finished, and he paid her, watched her walk away again.
“You’re gonna get a lousy tip today,” he said after she put his change on the table, and she grinned – before she turned and disappeared into the kitchen.
“Hmm,” he said, looking down at Jimmie, “I think we need to get out of here…before she kills something.”
So, he drove home and they went inside, turned on his computer and made the encrypted connection while Jimmie settled in by his feet – again. Revised plans started pouring in: two subs with SEAL teams onboard now northbound from Norfolk, several hundred special forces types already digging-in around Lubec and on Grand Manan, the Gerald R Ford almost in position to intercept the Kuznetsov – a giant chess board taking shape far away at sea, all because he’d managed to keep two Russian president’s safe and out of harm’s way. All because he’d pissed off the wrong spy. He sent a note to Langley and slipped off his clothes and into bed, and it seemed only a few minutes later he felt someone shaking him away from the dream. The soaring dream. Only something was wrong now. Something dark and forgotten.
He sat up, saw it was dark outside, saw Tracy, out of her clothes now, walking into the bathroom. He heard the shower next, then Jimmie coming in the room, his paws wet, his grin fresh, and he stumbled into the bathroom, barely made it to the toilet before he vomited. He saw streaks of blood in the water and groaned, looked at his watch and made a few quick calculations.
“You okay?” he heard her ask.
“I’ll let you know,” he croaked.
She turned off the water, came to him, saw the blood in the bowl and lifted him up.
“What is that? Blood?”
“Do you have an ulcer?”
He shook his head, walked back to the bed and sat on the edge, sweating now, and he picked up a little radio and called: “Tom?”
“Need the doc. Now.”
“You have a doctor over there?” she asked.
“Sure. Don’t you?”
“Ah, well, there you have it.”
Tom and a woman in khakis came in through the back door, walked up to him. The woman, the physician, put the back of her hand on his forehead while she checked his pulse, then she told him to lay back and she palpated his gut.
“It’s too soon, sir,” she said. “We need to get you back to Philadelphia.”
“How long will I be away?”
“Two days, best guess – maybe three.”
“Can’t afford that now.”
“No choice, sir. It’s that or big trouble.”
He sighed, looked at Tom. “Okay, let’s get going, but I want to be back here by Saturday morning.”
“I’m coming too,” Tracy said, and everyone turned to look at her, then at Jim.
“She’s coming too,” he said, grinning.
Tom looked at him, shook his head then sighed. “Okay.”
The physician went back to the safe house next door and came back with an bag of plasma, then she started an IV and shot a little morphine into the line. She hooked up the bag next and set the drip, waited for Tom to bring the Suburban to the drive. Once he was settled in the back seat, for the first time with Tracy by his side, they drove around to Eastport, waited for the Challenger to arrive. He slept on her shoulder until, sometime in the middle of the night, he once again sat back and felt hard thrust pushing him back in his seat, and he looked out a tiny window as the earth fell away in darkness. Again.
He was unconscious by the time the Challenger landed at Northeast Philadelphia Airport, and an ambulance met the little jet, drove him down to the Abramson Cancer Research Center.
By then, Tracy was beside herself, deep inside an unknown landscape of mysteries so terrifying, so far from her experience, that she felt herself shutting down. She called Darren later that morning, told him what had happened and where she was, and he told her to take care – which left her feeling hollow, even more unsure of herself.
He had, she learned, stage four colon cancer. He had been treated conventionally, with chemo and radiation, almost two years ago – but treatment had failed. Miserably. Then he’d come here, been treated with an experimental protocol that used a tailored HIV virus to trick the cancer into remission, and that had worked. He felt wonderful but his physicians argued against his returning to work, so he had continued treatment, begun rebuilding his life here.
Then a Russian team entered the city and tried to take him out at the little townhouse he’d moved into northwest of downtown. He’d been moved to a safe house after that, then yet another team tried to take him out. In retaliation, a Russian diplomat in London disappeared, his mutilated body turning up in a Syrian whorehouse – the message clear – and the attacks stopped.
He resumed treatment, got better – to a point, and began to work out, to build himself back up – all that began almost a year ago. Then, just before Christmas, another team was turned back, and the decision was made to move him – almost – out of harm’s way. A suitable location was found, assets moved into place, modifications made – only this time the idea was to keep the location quiet, but only for a while. Three months ago mention of his movements began to show up in routine chatter, on lines of communication known to be compromised, and assets globally began watching for a response – so that they could be drawn in, closer. And observed
The plan this time was to hurt them, to make the cost of doing business as usual a little too steep for comfort. And that’s when the Navy got involved.
By Friday morning he felt – almost – human again, and a team from Langley dashed up to brief him on the mission’s progress. It was critical that he be seen in Lubec some time during the day tomorrow, critical that he go to the café – because that’s where, according to reports going to Moscow, he was seen, at least twice a day.
“So, there’s someone in town? Watching?”
“Yes, we thought it was the Sheriff, but the reports are still going out, an encrypted burst transmission.”
He laughed. “No, it couldn’t be that easy!”
“Check on a guy named Dooley. Paul Dooley. He was living in Bangor after his divorce, until a recently. Showed up a few weeks after I moved in. Tom has the details, so check with him.”
“So, the question is…can you make it back up by tomorrow?”
“Yeah, we’ll head up tonight.”
“Prognosis, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“Oh, you know me. I’m gonna live forever.”
“Yeah, okay. Anyway, if this plan works, there’s no telling how they’ll react.”
“No telling. That sounds about right.”
“They’ll try again, that’s for sure.”
“And that doesn’t bother you?”
“No, not really.”
“I’m curious. Is there anything that does? Bother you, I mean?”
“That girl out there,” he said, pointing at Tracy, waiting outside in the corridor. “She does something with her finger…well, that bothers the hell out of me.”
She walked down to the café a little earlier than usual the next morning, wrote Darren’s specials on the board – in pink and blue chalk, just to spice things up a little bit – and she stuck her head out back, looked at all the progress the carpenters and plumbers and electricians had made over the past four weeks, but Dooley wasn’t out there. “Hasn’t been here for a few,” the contractor said, shrugging his shoulders, but she saw Vance walk by a little before noon, a few minutes after Jim and Jimmie came down for lunch, and he looked in the window as he passed, then looked down at the ground. Other eyes took note of his passage, however, and Jim smiled.
“This could be fun,” he sighed.
A massive Russian submarine slipped into the Bay of Fundy two nights later, and Russian commandos dove into the water and mounted electric sleds, took off past North Head and crossed Owen Basin under the dark moon, though other men, unseen ‘til that moment, boarded the submarine, and a half hour later the submarine was under tow, on the surface, bound for the Penobscot narrows.
He sat in his study that night and watch his plan unfold. The commandos, captured on the rocky beach a little before sunrise, never got a message off, while a billion ruble submarine – stripped of all it’s secrets, was towed out to sea and set adrift, months later. Spies were caught that night and would be tried in courts, sent to prisons, but all that was for tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow to deal with.
When morning came he walked down to the café and went out back, looked over the addition. The drywall was finished and carpenters were trimming the doors and windows, and Bruce pointed out where the piano would go. Jim pulled a sawhorse over and put it where the piano bench would go, and he sat there looking out all that glass for a long time, wondering what it would feel like. The sun setting over the world, all that pink water.
He walked back to the house, found Tracy just getting out of bed, and the smile on his face was not lost on her – yet like everything these days she wondered how long it would last.
A few weeks later, the addition complete, the truck from a music store in Boston pulled up to the café and four men muscled a huge box out the back and carried it inside. They carefully unboxed the Clavinova and set it on the wood floor in the indicated corner, and Jim beamed while Bruce stood behind his new bar, mixing old fashioneds. The men hook up the concealed speakers that were already in the walls and ceiling and, when everything was ready, they powered up the full-sized concert grand.
“Well?” Bruce and Darren sighed, looking at Jim – and pointing to the piano.
“Reckon I ought to,” he said, grinning. “Just to try it out.”
And everyone laughed. Everyone watched, even Jimmie, settling by his feet again.
He sat behind the keys and played a few disjoined notes, then riffed along warming up, his eyes closed as he remembered nights with his wife so long ago, so far away, rocking back and forth in the music of another night, in other arms – as he drifted into Gershwin’s Prelude Number 2. He felt hands on his shoulders just then, in the here and now, and when he finished the piece he looked up, saw Darren crying by his side, Tracy too, her arms wrapped around Darren.
He drifted into Summertime, looked out the window into the distance, and he watched the sun slipping towards the far horizon behind lozenge-shaped clouds drifting by. The sky turned orange, then pink, and the water turned with the sky – orange to pink – and he felt their love all around him. In the air, all around this new space.
He heard the bell on the front door twinkle as it opened and he turned, saw Vance and three other men walking in, silenced pistols coming out of shoulder holsters and he laughed, then he smiled, and the hair on Jimmie’s neck bristled.
“Oh,” he sighed as he soared, “this is going to be so much fun…”
© 2017 Adrian Leverkühn | abw | adrianleverkuhnwrites.com | firstname.lastname@example.org | a little work of fiction, every syllable of it.