He looked at the chart plotter again, checked their depth carefully as he motored slowly into Squirrel Cove, a convoluted inlet on the southeast side of Cortes Island – and deep inside Desolation Sound. It was almost seven-thirty, and while the sun was still up, somewhere up there behind the clouds, they’d been at it all day – setting sail at four in the morning and pushing-on through one heavy rainstorm after another. Now, with the end of their journey at hand, visibility was down to fifty feet and at ferocious wind, right out of the south at sixty knots, was pushing Altair towards the rocks on the right side of the narrow, westernmost inlet. Tracy looked terrified; Ted looked bored. He knew his father, knew he was enjoying this, the extra challenge at the end of a long, hard day…
A violent gust rocked the boat and he turned Altair into the wind a little, though she rolled more than thirty degrees right for a moment – and Tracy shrieked her displeasure then, now, suddenly, beyond terrified. Yet Altair stood up again and he added power, his eyes now fixed on the chart plotter…and the way ahead.
“Another hundred yards or so and we’ll be out of this wind,” he said for Tracy’s benefit – just as another gust slammed into Altair, sending her almost on her beam.
“Jesus, Dad, the wind gauge hit ninety…!” Ted called out, but he was still focused on the rocky ledge about fifteen meters ahead – because these gusts were pushing him right for it…
He waited for the wind to settle a little, then slipped the transmission into reverse and backed down hard, his rudder to starboard a little, and as Altair’s bow pointed away from the ledge he put the transmission in forward again and gunned the engine, kicking the old girl with his spurs on one more time. A minute later they were inside the sheltering cove, and the wind, just as he said it would, fell off to the gentlest breeze imaginable.
“Get the eighty pound ready first,” he said, quietly, to his son, and Ted ran off to the bow to get the anchor ready to drop. “How you doin’, kiddo?” he added, looking at the disbelief in Tracy’s eyes.
“How did you do that?” she asked.
“Get us in here…?”
“Badly, I’m afraid. I should have anticipated those last two gusts.”
“Yeah. Sorry about that…that really could’ve gone smoother,” he sighed, but his eyes were on the plotter again. He overlaid radar on the display and he could see the contours of the cove now, and every boat anchored inside, too, even though visibility in the heavy rain was still under fifty meters. He changed range scales and fiddled with the gain setting, knocking back the rain-clutter, then he saw a likely place near the far east end of the cove.
Ted had the eighty pounder on the roller now, ready to go, and he waved him back to the cockpit. “No reason for you to stand out there,” he said as his cold, wet son clambered back into the cockpit.
“‘Bout a half mile, and I don’t think this rain is gonna let up anytime soon.”
“What’s the forecast look like?”
“More of the same, like maybe two, three more days.”
“Swell,” Ted grumbled. “Just what the doctor ordered.”
“It’s pretty here,” Tracy sighed, peering into the murk. “Nothing but trees…”
“Oh,” he said, grinning, “there’s more here than meets the eye.”
“You’ll see,” Ted added, though he was grinning now, too.
“What’s the big mystery,” she whined.
He looked at the plotter, confirmed there were no wayward currents pushing him around inside the cove, then he looked up, checked the radar against the boats he saw looming out of the mist and rain just ahead. “About three hundred yards, Ted.”
“I’m gonna get another fleece, my gloves, too.”
He powered back a little, turned away from a group of boats anchored along the south side of the cove, then noted several were rafted-up together, forming a sort of floating community out here in the middle of nowhere…then Ted was bounding out into the rain again. He picked his spot and throttled down, let Altair drift to a long, arcing stop, then he toggled the windlass and let the anchor down…slowly…and then, when Ted gave him the signal, he backed down until he felt the anchor set.
He shut down the engine, marveled at the quiet of this place once again – even as he listened to the wind through the pines and rain pelting the cockpit enclosure…then he noticed Tracy looking at him.
“Does anything bother you?” she asked.
“That storm…the rocks…you could’ve lost your boat, maybe our lives, but it was like you were, well, on heroin. Nothing seems to upset you…”
“People get in trouble when they panic. When they stop thinking the problem through, when they just start acting. That’s probably the first thing a student pilot learns, too, by the way.”
“So, that’s it? You run into things like this all the time, so it’s like…just no big deal? Is that what you’re saying?”
“What happens if you screw up?”
He opened his eyes, looked around. Navy gray everywhere, and ductwork…the thrum of air conditioning and heavy machinery buried deep within the bowels of the living, breathing ship. A medic of some sort fiddling with his bandaged leg, then adjusting an IV hanging from a tree over his face.
“If this isn’t a dream,” he replied, “I am.”
“No, sir, Lieutenant, no dreams allowed in here.”
“Where am I?”
“Back on the Roosevelt, sir. Docs operated on both legs, and turned out that snake’s venom was pretty mild, like maybe he didn’t get a good strike or somethin’, but I’ll go get the doc…”
He nodded, then looked down at his legs and shook his head. “Fuck,” was about all he could think to say, then he just stared ahead until a man in blood-splattered green scrubs came up to his gurney.
“Guess you had a helluva night, Lieutenant.”
“Beats me. By the time the Seals got to you, well, you were out cold and seriously fucked up. Good thing you powdered that wound on your right leg…that shard got close to, well, let’s just say you had a close call and we’ll leave it at that.”
“We still don’t know what kind of snake got you. One of the Seals got it with an M16, brought back some pieces so we could ID the thing. I think what saved you was, well, your vascular network down there was already pretty compromised, so the venom just couldn’t spread. It’s responding to anti-histamines so it’s probably a hemotoxin, so it wasn’t a cobra or something like that.”
“When can I get back to flight status?”
“Well, that’s the good part. No fractures and no major muscle damage, so assuming no infection I’d give it about two months…”
“Believe me, Lieutenant, when you get on your feet again you’ll realize how close a call you really had…”
“Can I go back to my quarters now…” he asked, clearly perturbed.
“You’re leaving for Germany on the next COD,” the physician added, “then stateside.”
The squad CO, Dan Green, came in a few minutes after the doc left, and Green looked at his leg for a while, then came closer. “Close one, Jim. You remember what happened?”
“First SAM – went wide right, the second went just aft. What about the Sukhois? Did I get ‘em?”
“Yeah, you sure did. Nothing got airborne, and the base is history. We got some Seals in there to secure the place this morning. It’s a done deal now, anyway. Saddam’s people are bugging out, disappearing into the hills, and their air force is, well, they split too, flew to Iran.”
“Iran? I thought…”
“Everyone thought they’d go to Jordan. They didn’t.”
“So, what? They’re just going to sit this one out?”
“Guess none of them felt like being martyred this week, if you know what I mean.”
“I guess, yeah.”
“So, they tell me you’re headed to Wiesbaden?”
“Can you talk to someone, Dan? No broken bones…shit…I ought to be ready to fly in a few days.”
Green laughed at that. “Hell, Jim, this thing is going to be over in a few days, for us, anyway. They’re already talking about moving a couple of the carriers back out to the Indian Ocean, maybe to the Med. Seems like Saddam is getting ready to shoot off some Scuds, and the thinking is he might try to hit Israel.”
“Too bad for him if he does.”
“Yeah, anyway, by the time they get that leg fit for duty we’ll probably be back at Pearl. I wouldn’t sweat it, but if it heats up again you’ll be ready to go. You’re a short-timer, aren’t you? You weren’t thinking of extending?”
“I wasn’t, until this thing. My hitch is up in June.”
“Call it four months, then? Well, who knows. If we’re still here in a few weeks I’ll put in a request. About all I can do, Jim.”
“Yeah. Well, some of the ground-pounders wanted to talk to you…”
“The Seals? Great…!”
And with that, five men came into the compartment.
“Hey, L-T!” their CO said as he led his men into the little compartment. That was some mean shootin’ you did out there…”
“That cat. You nailed it, right in the throat. Dropped him like a sack of potatoes. Pretty good for a 1911 – at that range, anyway.”
“Yeah, that spotted thing. Looks like a leopard, only it’s not. Some kind of swamp-cat…but man, you got him…”
“All I remember is the snake…coiled up by my feet…”
“Yeah, he was still there when we got to you. Hernandez got him, emptied a whole fuckin’ magazine into his fat ass, too.”
He looked around at the Seal team and nodded. “Thanks, men. Appreciate your laying it out there for me.”
He heard their chorus of “You bets…” and “No problemos,” then they were gone, Green too, and he felt himself coming down hard and fast now.
“Germany…?” he sighed. “Well, at least I can call the folks from there, and Babs, let ‘em know I’m okay…”
Then the throbbing started.
By the time he arrived in Germany his right leg was splotchy blue and the docs told him some kind of bug had gotten into the tissues of his lower leg…something from that swampy marsh…
“Yeah. They get in through the wound, find their way into the space between the muscle and your skin. They multiply like crazy in there.”
“We try antibiotics, three or four of ‘em, over the next 24 hours.”
“We try? And what happens if they don’t work?”
And the doc shook his head. “Let’s not go there right now…okay?”
Tracy was shivering and Ted was almost as white as snow when they came in from setting the anchors, so, as much as he didn’t want to, he fired up the generator then turned on the cabin heaters. He set about making dinner then, though he kept his eyes on the weather every few minutes. The forecast was for almost freezing temps overnight, the mid-30s, anyway – and that was for Vancouver! – yet three days from now sunny and in the 70s.
“What a roller coaster…” he sighed as he turned to the chicken in the skillet.
“What’s for chow?” Ted asked as he came out of the aft cabin.
“Lettuce wraps and that coconut soup you like.”
“Ah…nothing like Thai on a rainy night.”
“You’re cooking Thai food?” Tracy asked. “On a boat?”
“Why not?” he replied. “It’s not that difficult, and it doesn’t take long.”
“Lettuce wraps?” she added. “Really?”
“Sure. I washed the lettuce and made the soup this afternoon. All I have to do is grind the chicken and put the soup in the microwave.”
“The microwave? You have one of those, too?”
He shook his head – again – then turned to the stove – again. He added lemongrass and basil, and finally one crushed cardamom pod, then he turned down the heat and let the chicken simmer for a while. “Tea’s ready, if anyone wants some.”
“Don’t tell me,” Tracy sneered. “Fresh chai?”
“This is ridiculous,” she sighed. “This is like a floating restaurant…”
“You’d rather I opened a can of dog food for you?” he asked, trying to keep calm.
“I just don’t get it,” the girl said. “Getting away from it all…”
“Doesn’t mean I have to deprive myself of the things I like to eat, Tracy. You forget. This is my home, and the idea of living like a backpacker doesn’t appeal to me all that much.”
She nodded. “Yeah…I get that…”
Ted was rummaging through a pantry about then, and he stood up, beaming, holding forth a can: “Dad! Look! Pork and beans, with weenies, even! Trace? Want some?”
She sneered again. “No thanks.”
Ted looked at his old man – and winked.
She helped with the dishes, and he let her know he appreciated the help, then he went to the chart table and looked over the batteries.
“Gonna have to run the generator all night?” Ted asked.
“With this water temp the fridge and freezer won’t draw too much, but the heater? That won’t run off batteries.”
“So? We’ve got good blankets…”
“Yeah? At 36 degrees and with three bodies in here there will be enough condensation on the ceiling in the morning to take a shower with…”
“Dad? We’re like, ya know, laying down a smoke-screen out there. The fumes are overwhelming.”
“Well, do the words ‘pristine’ and ‘wilderness’ ring any bells?”
“Does freezing your ass off all night mean anything to you? Then dealing with an unholy mess in the morning?”
“I vote for warm,” Tracy said, tossing her two cents into the up. “I kind of like warm.”
“Me too,” he said. “Don’t you just love democratic systems of governance, Paco?”
Ted sighed, shook his head. “I like warm, too. I also hate turning this harbor into a cesspool. Like, we came here to get away from all that crap?”
“Right, Paco. Who’s up for a movie?”
“Movies?” Tracy said…and he sighed – then turned the generator to AUTO and flipped the heater to STAND-BY – and complete silence enveloped Altair…and the entire cove, for that matter.
And moments later he heard cheers and applause coming from all the boats anchored around Altair, and he shook his head as he retreated into his cabin.
He slept late – ‘til three a.m., anyway – then he got up – shivering – and turned on the generator, then the heater. He put on coffee and took his shower, then fired up the chart table and looked over the current weather. “Wind still out of the south, at forty, forty-five, and rain all day. A high of fifty-five? Well, well, well…sounds like a good day to read.”
He decided to check on Ted and poked his head in the aft cabin – and saw Tracy curled up by his son’s side.
He closed the door gently and tip-toed to the galley, trying not to grin, then he put on some hot water to make that tea-like crud Tracy was using to help back off the heroin. He got out “her” cup and added the recommended amount and let it steep for a while, then he went back to her room and woke her.
“Is it time already?” she asked, and he nodded.
He went back to the galley and a few minutes later she came out, looked at him getting ready to cook breakfast and she walked up behind him, put her arms around him.
“Good morning,” she said, then she disengaged and walked to the main table in the saloon and sat – as usual, tucking her bare feet under her thighs.
“Sleep well?” he asked, handing her the mug.
She looked at him and grinned. “I wish I’d known he was a virgin,” she said, her voice almost a whisper. “I’d have baked him a cake or something…”
He shrugged. “All things being equal, I’m kind of glad it was you.”
She teared up at that, then turned away. “Me?” she said a minute later. “The lying heroin addict?”
“Sorry. That’s not the girl I know. I know this girl named Tracy, the one who meets problems head-on, and doesn’t quit.”
“That’s not the girl I know.”
He shrugged again, then smiled at her. “Looks like were in for a long, rainy day. You like to read?”
“Well, I’ve got a few books stowed for a rainy day…”
“You said you have movies?”
“Yup. On my laptop. Play ‘em through that iMac over there,” he said, pointing.
“Do you have any oldies?”
“Oldies? How old does a movie have to be before it’s an oldie? The first Star Wars, maybe?”
She grinned at that. “No, I mean old…like Elvis kind of old.”
“Ah. Well, I do have Paradise, Hawaii Style, if that counts?”
“Which one’s that?”
“He plays the fired airline pilot who comes home…”
“That figures,” she said, grinning. “I bet you have The High and The Mighty, too.” And he started whistling John Wayne’s iconic theme at that, and she broke out laughing. “My God, you do have a one-track mind, don’t you?”
“You could say that.”
“I’ve been meaning to ask…what happened to your leg? The right one, there?” she said, pointing.
He turned away from her question, went back to the galley. “Just a bad night,” he said as he pulled out a skillet. “A bad night, a long time ago.”
“Was it serious?”
“No, not really.”
“You don’t want to talk about it?”
“No, not really.”
“Okay. Can I help?”
“I’m just gonna whip up some breakfast. You hungry?”
“Actually, yes. Want me to wake up Ted?”
“Just see if he wants to get up yet…”
She walked past, brushed up against his back as she passed and a chill went up his back, and he leaned forward, put his outstretched hands on the counter and closed his eyes, trying to remember the last time he’d been so attracted to another human being…
“Hey, Pumpkin,” he said as he came into their apartment. He was carrying his flight bag in one hand, his car keys in the other, and he could hear Barbara working away in the apartment’s tiny kitchen, so he put his bag down and walked in. He could smell bourbon and the realization unsettled him – if only because it was not quite lunch time.
“How was your night?” she asked.
“Ben Chambers called this morning. He wants you to call-in as soon as you get settled.”
“Oh? Did he say anything?”
“Nope. You want to grab a shower? Lunch will be ready in about ten minutes…”
“Yeah. I’d better,” he said, thinking he might have to run back out to the training center after lunch. He walked into the bedroom and the hair on the back of his neck stood on end. Something didn’t feel right, he thought. Something was – off.
He shook it off and hopped in the shower, washing away the night – and the sudden panicky vibration gripped him again, then he dried and got dressed…in a hurry. She had huevos rancheros and fresh guacamole on the table and he dug in. “Jeez, darlin’ – you’re getting better and better at these…”
“Thanks, Jim. Glad you like ‘em.”
“Well, I love you, Pumpkin. It’s sweet of you to do this for me. When do you go in?”
“Three to midnight again. You off tomorrow?”
“Three days off, then I start Atlanta to CDG – for three months, anyway.”
“Paris…? Think we could spend a long weekend there?”
“You know it, babe.”
She sat beside him, leaned over and kissed him on the cheek, then she smiled. “That could be fun,” she added…a little too suggestively.
“Where would you like to stay?”
“I don’t care…somewhere old, away from… No. Maybe by Notre Dame. Are there any hotels over by that part of town?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know. I can ask one of the guys when I start…”
“Sure. You need help with the dishes?”
“No…you’d better go make your call,” she said, and he nodded, went to their bedroom again, and again, the hair on the back of his neck shot up in electric warning.
He shook it off, called Chambers’ office at the training center and held while someone went to find him.
“Jim? You haven’t put on your pajamas yet, have you?”
“No, sir. What’s up?”
“An opportunity, I think, if you’re up to it?”
“Listen up. Word is headquarters is dead set on unloading most of our widebodies, including the L-1011s. I don’t know what the timeline is yet, but even if we keep the TriStars around you’re way back on the seniority list. It could be ten years before you get to the left seat, and then what? You make it just as we dump the type? Then what?”
“Jeez, Ben. When’d you hear this?”
“Couple days ago. Look, I know you’re getting ready to start this week, so here goes. We’re getting our first 752s in this year, and from what I hear management is really going to get behind this hull. I’m thinking, with your experience you could make captain in two, maybe three years, and the 57 is Delta’s future. You hearin’ me?”
“I am. And, what’s the punchline?”
“Our first school starts in three weeks. You can start the Paris run as scheduled, put in your app and wait, but I think they’ll take you.”
“What do I need to do?”
“I’d get down here pronto and get the paperwork in.”
“Like, this afternoon?”
“Like yesterday, Jim. The word’s out. Tomorrow will be too late for the first group of FOs.”
“I’ll be there in an hour,” he said as he hung up the phone, and when he turned around Barbara was standing in the doorway, glowering at him.
And that’s when he noticed the used condom on the floor by her shoes. He looked at it for the longest time, then he picked it up and carried it right past her on his way to the bathroom. He flushed it down the toilet, washed his hands then left – without saying a word to her.
He missed the smile on her face as the door closed behind him.
“Two days of this rain is enough, Paco. I’ve had it. You ready to run down to Nancy’s, grab some chow?”
“Oh, man, I thought you’d never ask!”
“Is Nancy’s that place you two keep talking about?” Tracy asked.
“Nancy’s is only the best place for breakfast on earth,” Ted sighed, suddenly almost salivating.
“And what that really means,” he added, “is that he’s tired of my cooking.”
“I’m not,” Tracy said, smiling.
“Well, I am,” he said. “I could use a break. You ready to pull up the hook?”
“You wanna leave now?” Ted asked.
“Yup. Maybe we can get there before the early morning rush.”
“The early morning rush?” Ted croaked. “In Lund, B.C.?”
“You see all these boats anchored here, Paco? Well, there are probably two hundred more over in Gorge Harbor, and in about an hour they’re all gonna wake up and have the exact same thought – at the exact same time. My-oh-my, but a fresh cinnamon roll over at Nancy’s sure sounds good!”
“Alright, alright…let me grab my gloves, Captain Bligh.”
“Good. I’ll warm up the diesel.” He preheated the water lines and flipped on the spreader lights, then went to the cockpit and started the engine, watching the gauges as it warmed. When Ted pulled up on the trip-line and gave him the thumbs-up, he ran the windlass, pulling the anchor, and it’s chain, up onto deck, and he verified their position on the plotter while he turned to leave the cove.
Light rain and a wind-driven, four-foot chop greeted them outside, and he set his course to 1-5-6 and engaged the auto-pilot, then went topsides to roll out the headsails. When both were pulling he and Ted raised the main, then he ducked below and fell off the wind a little, letting the sails fill, then he fiddled with the heading on the AP for a while, until a gust hit and Altair heeled over dramatically.
“Whoa!” Tracy shouted, grabbing the cockpit coaming and holding on for dear life. “Where’d that come from?”
He chuckled. “Where did what come from?”
She scowled as she looked at him, then she smiled too. “It is kind of fun, isn’t it?”
“Kind of.” With her port-side rail over far enough to ship water in the troughs, Altair bit into the wind and began racing south towards Lund, and still the sun was nowhere to be seen. The sky was simply sifting through shades of gray as night turned to day, and the water looked impossibly black out here…like India ink. He saw the lights of a fishing boat ahead, and a few channel markers were flashing in the darkness, but there was almost nothing else…
He saw them then – almost invisible in the rolling waves – a half dozen trees had broken loose from their raft and were adrift mid-channel, so he fell off the wind and they picked their way through what turned out to be several hundred fifty-to-seventy-foot-long timbers, knocked free from their rafts by the storm, so he did what he thought best and called the hazard in to the Canadian Coast Guard…
It took two hours to make the run down to Lund after that, and he was more than ready for a cinnamon roll, too, by the time they tied off at the nearby fuel dock. He was stressed now, afraid of hitting an errant log and holing the hull, maybe losing his home.
“Stayin’ long?” the owner, a very old man asked, and when he pointed to Nancy’s the old guy just smiled and nodded. “Take your time. No crowds ‘til nine or so. See many logs out?”
“I heard some guy called ‘em in to the Coast Guard. That’s a laugh…”
“They’re too busy running down the druggies to do much about it. Besides, happens every summer up here…”
“Oh? I’ve been up here a few times, never seen it so bad.”
“They’ve been cuttin’ trees like nothin’ I’ve seen before, and all winter, too. China, I guess. They’re building like crazy over there – and usin’ our lumber to do it, I reckon.”
“Lot of drug running up here?”
“Non-stop. Word is most of it’s comin’ from North Korea, too. Chinese heroin, I’ve heard, for the most part. That’s kind of funny, don’t you think?”
“China has made an art out of playing both sides of the street – for a long time.”
“Playin’ us the fool, too, and laughing all the way to the bank.”
He shook his head then went about topping off both tanks, but he turned to Ted then and told them to go on up and get a table.
“Want a roll?” Ted asked.
“Need water?” the old guy asked. “The hose is right here…I can watch the pump if you want to top off your tanks…”
He was chilled – and soaked to the bone – by the time he made it inside Nancy’s, and he made it to the table just as his cinnamon roll arrived.
“Coffee, sir?” their waitress asked.
“Yup. A big one, French roast if you’ve got it. You know what? Make mine a latte, if you can.”
She nodded, smiled at him and walked off to the counter.
“Man,” Ted began, “that’s some snotty weather, Dad…I don’t know about this…”
“Not the weather that bugs me, Paco. It’s all the wood out there…”
“Wouldn’t they just bounce off?” Tracy asked. “It’s just wood…?”
“Maybe, if you hit one just right, but that wood is soaked with water, almost as hard as iron. Odds are, I think, a strike would knock a hole in the hull. A big one.” Her eyes went wide as she realized what they’d just been through, how close they’d come to a real emergency, then she looked away – out to sea. “Talking to the guy at the dock,” he continued, “he says this is the worst summer for rafts breaking up, ever. Been a lot of incidents in the main channel, too.”
“What do we do?” Ted asked, his mouth scrunched up into a lopsided frown.
“Well, for one, I think when we leave we’ll head back slowly, only on days when the visibility is good, and only in daylight. Next…we’ll have to set a bow watch.”
“Oh…joygasm…” Ted sighed, knowing what that meant.
“We won’t head back until this weather clears, and it’s warmed up a bit…man, these cinnamon rolls haven’t changed one bit, have they?”
“I just saw a yummy looking bagels and lox,” Tracy said. “I’m gonna get that.”
He looked at her, wondered just how much she could put away. She’d been eating non-stop for the last two days, nauseated if she didn’t eat, and he felt for her. Again…
“Yeah, it looked pretty bad,” Ted added.
“Bad?” he asked.
“Bad…sick…that means they really kick ass these days, Dad.”
“Ah. Well, good to know I have a translator.”
The door opened and a girl came in – a woman, really, he noted. Short, squat, almost soft looking, and she peeled off her rain gear – then turned and shook them off just outside the door. She came back in and hung them on a hook, then took a microfiber cloth and cleaned her eyeglasses as she walked to the counter – and he found he couldn’t take his eyes off her.
The place was empty now – but for the four of them and the staff, and he wondered what had gotten her out so early. He watched her order coffee at the counter then she turned and looked right at him – right in the eye – and he couldn’t turn away.
Red hair, white skin set in a nebula of freckles, and even across the room he could see her eyes were deep blue – then the woman walked right up to their table…!
“You came in on the blue boat, right?” she asked – and her accent was pure Georgia, thick as molasses.
He was watching her lips, entranced by the shape of them as she spoke, then her words registered. “That’s right. What brings you out this early in the morning?”
She looked puzzled hearing that, shook her head. “I was trying to get over to Cortes Island,” she said, the question she wanted to ask hanging in the air, apparent.
“Oh? What’s over there?”
And again she shook her head, the tone of his question obviously unsettling. “Seals, for the most part. I wanted to take pictures of seals over there, because I’ve heard it’s lovely at dusk.”
“It might be,” Ted interjected, “if the sun came out every once in a while.”
She laughed a little at that. “Yes. Nice weather so far.”
“How long have you got?” he asked.
“Excuse me?” she replied.
“To spend on the island?”
“I was hoping to make it a day trip, but it seems that’s impossible from here.”
“Yup,” he added. “About a two-hour trip. From here, anyway.”
“Yup. We’ve been anchored at Squirrel Cove…”
“Really! That’s just where I wanted to go. The pictures I’ve seen of the area are really just amazing.”
“We had fifty-foot visibility,” Ted began, a little sarcastically. “Great for looking at, what, Dad? What could we see?”
“And a whole lot of fog,” Ted added.
Her coffee came and she took it, still standing by their table.
“Would you care to join us?” he asked.
“You wouldn’t mind?”
“Not at all.”
“So, you see, I wanted to get to the island, walk around, take pictures, then get back here, to the hotel…”
“I thought there was a boat to Whaletown…?”
“There is, but not for two days.”
Not too many places to stay over there, by that cove,” he added. A few guest cottages, but they’re…”
“Well, it’s too early in the season. Not open yet.”
“So,” he said, then he paused, thought over the options running through his mind, “you could hop over with us. We’re headed back after breakfast, we’ll probably stay for a few more days, so you could look for a place to bunk out over there, then hitch a ride back with us.”
“You wouldn’t mind?”
“No, of course not.”
“When are you leaving?”
“As soon as we have some chow.”
“I ask as I’ll need to go pack my things and check-out…”
“Why don’t you sit down and have some breakfast. We’ll help with your bags…”
And when she looked at him this time the still, unsettled look in her eyes rattled him. “I don’t mean to be forward,” he added. “Probably just be easier that way.”
She nodded her head then looked at the dock where Altair was tied-off. “Is she an Island Packet?” she asked.
“That’s right. How’d you know?”
“I’ve had a couple. Last was a 325 I kept down at Destin.”
“I hate that harbor entrance,” he said, lost in a memory. “When the wind picks up it’s snarky.”
Now it was her turn to take a deeper look – at him. “You’ve been there more than once, I take it?”
“My folks retired there. He kept a Tashiba 40 down there by the pass.”
“Oh? Nice boats, beautiful interiors.”
He nodded. “Yup.”
“That’s what got you into sailing? Your parents?”
“I guess so, yes, but I was always interested, even as a kid…”
He looked at Ted just then, looked at Ted looking at this stranger, then back at him. And his son was grinning, or trying not to grin…and that got to him…as in – just what kind of signals am I putting out?
“So,” the woman asked. “This is your first boat?”
“Yup. Probably my last, too.”
“Really? Why do you…”
“Well, it’s home now. And I’m not big on moving.”
“You’re full time? A liveaboard?”
“Seems to be the general consensus,” he said, grinning.
“What do you do?”
“I fly, for Delta.”
That seemed to take her back a notch, too. “No kidding?”
“My husband flew for them…I mean, my ex-husband flies for them?”
“Oh? What’s his name?”
And he laughed at that. “Small world,” he sighed. “He flew with me a bunch when he first got his type. What’s he up to these days.”
“I don’t know, besides hanging out with his brand new, nineteen-year-old wife.”
And he laughed again. “You’re kiddin’ – right?” But he could tell by the expression on her face that no, she wasn’t kidding. Not in the slightest. “I’m sorry,” he stumbled, “but I don’t recall your name.”
“Jim,” he said, reaching out with his right hand.
She took it, but at the same time added: “And let me guess. Your wife got the house, and you got stuck with the boat…?”
Ted bristled. “Not quite,” his son snarled, his voice dripping with malice. “Dad gave her the house, and he took the boat.”
“Oh, really?” Melissa said, her disbelief plain to see.
“Really!” Ted said – as he pushed his chair back and walked outside.
“Wow, sorry…” the woman said. “He’s…uh…”
“Pretty sensitive about things right now. It happened not long ago.”
“And, well, still waters run deep, I guess. What happened, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“She’s had issues. We decided it was a good time to go our separate ways.”
And she looked at him again, this time as if she was changing her mind, then she looked at Tracy.
“And you are?”
“Staying out of this,” Tracy said, matter-of-factly.
“No, dear. Do you have a name?”
“No, not right now I don’t.”
“Ah, well,” Melissa said, looking at him, “perhaps I’d better let you and your happy brood go your merry way.”
He stood as she stood, then held out his hand again. “Nice to meet you. Hope you get to your island.”
“Thanks,” she said, then she went back out into the early morning drizzle.
He watched her go, saw Ted walk up to her and he watched them talk for a few minutes, then they shook hands and Ted came back inside.
“What was that all about?” he asked.
“Nothing. I just needed to clear the air.”
The rest of their breakfast passed in near silence, and when it was time to pay-up he went to the counter and had more cinnamon rolls boxed-up to-go, some bread, too, then they walked down to the fuel dock together.
Melissa was there, a large blue duffel at her feet, waiting for them.
He was waiting outside the operating room, pacing back and forth in quick, anxious strides. She was eight months pregnant – but had gained almost a hundred and ten pounds – and now her blood pressure was off the charts. 223 over 130 earlier that afternoon – when someone at her office had insisted she go to the hospital, and when her obstetrician arrived she’d insisted they try to induce labor, or, failing that, take the baby before he was compromised.
He’d been somewhere over Florida when the SELCAL chimed, someone on the company frequency calling. He’d taken the news calmly, outwardly at least, but he was hurt, almost angry as he listened to the chief pilot telling him what was happening. He’d done everything he could to get her to stop eating, had cooked the healthiest meals he knew how – only to find out she’d been eating several candy bars – an hour – all day at work. She was, he understood now, content to not merely kill herself. She was going to take as many people down with her as she could, and he wondered what he might try next.
At least he’d gotten her off the sauce. He’d begged her to do at least that much, at least until the baby came, and she’d relented, promised him she wouldn’t – until he came.
Pacing the floor he had wondered…had she scarfed down the most damaging crap in the world simply to put on as many pounds as possible – so she could resume drinking that much sooner? Had his faith in her fallen so low? Had his faith in himself fallen so far…?
Her doc came out a while later, told him that both she and their son were alright now, that the boy was a little premature but nothing serious, and he had fallen away inside the moment, tried to hang on to that one bit of good news for as long as he could.
She let him know, in no uncertain terms, that she had no intention at all of staying home with Ted, not even for breastfeeding, and he’d simply nodded.
“You’re going back to work, I take it?”
“That’s right,” she said – bitterly. “And don’t you dare try to stop me!” she’d screamed.
“Oh, I wouldn’t think of it, Barbara,” he’d whispered, then he’d gone to change the boy’s diaper. Later that morning he called his mother, told her what was happening. She’d flown up that night, moved into the guest room and taken over – and had never once uttered a bad thing about anything, or anyone. In time he realized that Barbara loved his mother more than she loved her own, this his mother was the mother she’d never known. Babs began watching his mother, learning from her, and in time she learned to love honestly, without condition, perhaps for the first time in her life. On Ted’s second birthday she had promised him she’d never drink again, that she’d try to be a better mother…
And, within a few weeks, she was drinking again.
And his mother came back, resumed her duties while he flew and Barbara worked, then got drunk. Night after night. He tried to get her to seek help, any kind of help, but she would curse him and flee into the night.
In time they, he and Ted, started spending time down in Destin, spending time with his father on Altair. His father’s Altair. When the weather was nice they’d go out the cut and sail offshore, and Ted had always loved those bouncy rides best of all, and other times they had motored down the intra-coastal waterway, all the way to Panama City most trips, then they’d come back by way of the sea.
One day they’d been offshore when Ted spotted a weird, drooping fin of some sort and they’d altered course, gone over to see what it was…
“Oh,” Ted’s grandfather said, “that’s a Thresher shark. Not real dangerous, but he’s pretty weird looking, isn’t he?”
Other days they went out and ran across pods of dolphin and Ted would lean over and reach out for them as they swam alongside; he’d learned early on that his son had fantastic balance, and was fearless, too. He’d held on protectively until Ted was seven or eight, then he knew enough to just let go.
His father had been a pilot, too, in the war. The Big One, as it was called. Flown B-17s over Germany and lived to tell the tale, or so his old man liked to say – when he’d had a few too many, anyway, then he’d come home and gone back to work for his father…at the family’s hardware store in St Johnsbury, in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. He’d married his high school sweetheart and they’d had one girl – and then him, many years later. His sister Becky died when she was in kindergarten, and so he’d learned all about love and loss and life and death – and at an impossibly early age. Lessons, he knew now, that had never slipped away…lessons he’d learned from his father.
When he went away to college, to Boston College, his father had known it was all over, but really, he had known for years. His father had managed to get hold of a Cub, a Piper Cub, and had started teaching his son to fly. They flew the Green Mountains, up and down the Connecticut River Valley and all around Lake Champlain, and before long he knew that’s what his son wanted to do. His father knew all too well, if only because that had been his dream, too.
But there had been the family business lined up against all those distant hopes and dreams, his son taking over the family business chief among them, yet in the end it had been easier to sell out than to hold on a little longer, so his father had done what he had to do, then moved to Florida and settled in for the duration. And somehow Altair had become a part of his father’s new life down there. Not golf, not tennis, not even flying…no, it was sailing – something he’d never imagined his father doing…and yet his old man had taken to it with a vengeance – like a duck to water. His old man had even bought an old Greek fisherman’s cap and had been known to hang out around the docks, talking the talk.
Then Ted came, and Barbara flamed out.
And there he was again, like he’d always been. Shoulder the burden, help as best he could, and that first Altair had become the means to an end. Grandfather and grandson, tied together forever by a boat, and yet he’d not been the only connective tissue holding this family together, because his mother was always there too, always taking on the role Barbara should have…
And that had confused Ted.
Once Ted went to kindergarten, once he learned how other families got on, he’d begun to wonder why his family was so different, and, naturally, soon enough the boy had begun to wonder if it was something he’d done. If it was all his fault.
And, of course, as a new father, he’d never seen it coming.
But his mother had. And she’d done her best to answer all Ted’s questions – but, he knew, it’s never enough.
In time he watched his son grow up in the shadow of benign neglect – on Barbara’s part – and an almost smothering love – on his own mother’s part – and then one Sunday, against his wishes, his mother had taken Ted to Sunday School.
(c) adrian leverkühn | abw | adrianleverkuhnwrites.com | fiction, always fiction…