Corcovado V

Corcovado 5

Corcovado + Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars

Chapter V

He heard voices again, voices far away – as if on the far side of a dream. Scratchy voices lost in time, voices full of concern – and then he knew where he was.

Again.

The low tree-line in the distance, that same low, rocky escarpment – and the village beyond. Spreading fires lighting up the marsh as he falls from the sky, Tiger 509 tumbling through the swamp like a paper cup tossed from a passing car, gouts of fire erupting on the surface of the black swamp below his leg. The pain excruciating now, like something inside him is on fire. He knows if he looks down, looks at the onrushing earth inside the mottled red shadows under his boots he’ll see jagged shards of metal jutting from his leg…and there will be blood.

Then, he feels something on his forehead, something like a washcloth, cool and damp, and the muffled sounds of people talking again – far away – like voices in another room – and he wonders how this could possibly be – because he feels like he’s being pushed away from this life and, suddenly, those voices didn’t matter anymore.

++

“When did this happen? The first time, I mean?” the physician asked.

“It was in the early nineties, I think, after he came back from Iraq,” Ted said, looking back at the discarded memories of his childhood – like looking through the pages of a book that contained nothing but painful images. “His leg was pretty messed up, some kind of bacteria got into the wound, like in the space between the skin and the muscle, and it spread. My mom told me he nearly lost his right leg after they got him to Germany. But whatever it is, it’s come back several times since…two or three times that I can remember.”

“When was the last time?”

“Oh, I guess…maybe…three years ago. He went to the VA hospital in Seattle that time, I think, for some kind of special injections.”

“And it keeps coming back?” Melissa asked, clearly now concerned.

“It’s probably triggering some sort of autoimmune disorder at this point,” the physician said, shrugging as she looked around the boat. “You said he lives aboard? How long?”

“Not that long. Maybe nine months…not quite a year, anyway.”

“Humid down here, but I don’t see any signs of mold or mildew,” she sighed, as if talking to herself. “Well, whatever, with a temperature of 103 we’re going to have to get him back to a big hospital. I’ll call it in, have an air ambulance land outside the entrance. They can taxi right up to the boat, load him up right here. I think he should be taken straight to Vancouver, by the way. Be less paperwork than going to the US that way.”

“What about the boat?” Ted asked.

“Well, you’ll need to stay with him on the trip down; is there anyone who can remain aboard and keep an eye on things?”

“I can,” Melissa said, her voice now steady and calm – then, as she looked at Tracy there was an implied command in her voice.

“I guess I can, too,” Tracy added – though her voice was brimming with reluctance.

Ted turned, looked at Melissa, yet he could now see Tracy had been shaken by this unexpected turn of events – but that Melissa seemed steady as a rock. “I’ll go,” he said, “and get him checked-in, then I’ll turn around as fast as I can and come right back. Unless he’s released by then. I think we should try to take the boat back to Seattle…”

“The, what…the three of us?” Melissa asked, her voice full of alarm. “Do you think that’s…that he’d want you to do that?”

“What are the options?” Ted asked.

The physician chimed-in then: “There’s the town-dock, over in Whaletown. I know the Harbor Master, I could talk him into keeping an eye on her for a few weeks.”

Ted looked at the doctor, then at Melissa. “I don’t think so. This is my father’s home – and I’m not about to leave it sitting out here, unattended…”

“Well, think it over,” the doctor said, her voice a distant sigh. “If you could run me ashore now, I’ll call for an air ambulance, then we can send a nurse out to help you load him on the airplane. She’ll fly in with you to the hospital.”

Ted nodded and looked at his unconscious father again, then went topsides and helped the physician into the Zodiac. They motored off across the little cove to the store by the inlet, and he was back in a half hour – but Melissa was waiting for him on the swim platform, her arms crossed protectively across her breast, and he thought she was glowering at the world.

“Not quite what you signed up for, is it?” Ted said to her stony, fiercely expressionless eyes.

“Oh, it’s not that. I feel afraid, and yet I don’t really know why…”

“Afraid? Why…of what?”

“I don’t know, Ted. It’s hard to put my finger on it, ya know? But I feel a connection. It was, I don’t know why – or even how to say this – ” she said, suddenly almost gulping for air. “But I’ve felt a connection with your father since I saw him this morning…yet…”

“Yet? Just what are you trying to say?”

“I’ve felt drawn to this place for days…felt as if something, or someone, was pushing me to go to that bakery this morning, and when I saw your boat pull up to the dock, saw your father walking around down there I just knew I’d been summoned here, for a reason.”

“Summoned?” he said – warily.

“Yes. Like God wanted me to be here for some reason. Does that make any sense at all to you?”

He nodded his head as his stomach turned, then looked at the companionway hatch. “The plane should be here within an hour.”

“You should go pack some things, for both of you – just in case.”

He nodded, then turned and went below…but he stopped first – and stared at the sky for a moment, lost in the feeling that something was terribly wrong.

+

The girls, all of them save one, were slaves. It was as simple as that.

And Elizabeth, being a rather quiet, even a staid product of far-upstate Vermont, found herself ill-prepared for what came next, to handle the information that came out of these forgotten girls. She found that one or two offered to translate, though one girl, in particular, seemed to be quite fluent. This girl was well-dressed, haughty and indifferent, and Elizabeth figured this girl was on the inside of the operation, part of the inner family, and soon she had this girl sequestered from the others. Then, once she talked with one of the girls willing to interpret, she began her interviews with the girls – one by one…

They were bound for New York City, they said, and most of them already had “owners” lined up, though a few of the younger ones, she soon learned, were more like speculative ventures. Young virgins, for the most part, these girls would show up “to work at restaurants on the East Side” one day, but they would be snatched up within hours by their owners, destined to work as “housekeepers” – though, she learned, these as yet unattached waifs rarely did anything but housework. No, these girls were part of a steady stream of children being imported into the US, allegedly to work as domestics, but the truth of their existence, Elizabeth soon understood, was as part of a far darker world. All would work in the sex trade, either as domestic sex slaves or as “actresses” in brutally sadistic S&M films. One of the girls she talked with had a friend who had reportedly been killed – for the film, such as it was, was all about killing very young virgins. Or so this girl said.

+

Ted heard an aircraft overhead and went topsides to look for it; he saw the ungainly looking beast through the trees that lined the cove, and he watched as it flared and settled on the water. Then, with a wary eye, he looked on as it taxied through the inlet and he found himself wondering, for perhaps the first time in his life, what it was like to fly. To be a pilot. To do the things his father had done.

‘That’s odd,’ he thought as he watched the beast approach. ‘I’ve been surrounded by pilots and aircraft my whole life, yet never once have I…’

“Is that the plane?” he heard Tracy ask, and so, biting his tongue, he turned to her and nodded his head. “What took them so long?” she asked, and again, he fought back the urge to lash out at her inanity and simply shrugged.

He watched the aircraft pass a few anchored boats, their owners now very curious indeed and staring at the floats as it passed. As the beast drew near he saw the doctor was onboard and, oddly enough, she waved at him, and smiled. He waved away his fear and tried to meet her smile, then he thought about Melissa – and about the things she’d told him down below.

Drawn to his father. By God. Never had an interest in Canada, nor even heard of Desolation Sound, but for weeks she had felt a need to be here – today. Her description of seeing his father on the fuel dock had rattled him, too. He looked god-like, she said, wreathed in an aura of golden flame, and she said she knew right then that her destiny waited now, waited for a decision. She had been waiting for him all her life.

He’d tried to measure her words against his own experience of God – and he’d come up short. God didn’t do things like this, did He?

Or did He?

Or…was her being here really nothing more or less than chance, a mere coincidence. A simple statistical anomaly, a chain of unrelated events leading to a new outcome, like intricate lines of dominoes set to fall along predictable paths, only – interrupted by an earthquake. Destin. Sailboats. Her ex-husband, a pilot with Delta who had known his father. How many coincidences must there be, he sighed as these varied images came to mind, before things just didn’t add up any longer?

The pilot maneuvered his aircraft through the water in a tight arc, swinging the loading doors right up to Altair’s lifelines, and he grabbed hold and held the plane’s elevators off the shrouds while the pilot hopped out onto a float and secured the aircraft’s floats to Altair. After his father was lifted aboard the aircraft he grabbed their duffels and hopped aboard, but then, before he went further he turned and looked at Melissa.

Her eyes were full of tears, yet he felt strength in them, too.

‘So many contradictory impulses,’ he said, if only to himself, then he smiled at her – as the pilot let slip the lines and pushed his airplane away from Altair’s navy blue hull.

“You’ll need to sit up front with me,” the pilot said. “No room aft, I’m afraid.”

“Right.” He looked at Melissa after he clambered up into the tiny cockpit, looked at her – standing on his father’s home – as the airplane taxied out the inlet into open water. He looked down at Altair after they took off and circled the cove, lost inside all the implications of her last words to him.

“He’s in God’s hands now, Ted. Have faith in Him.”

Then, quite suddenly, he knew just what it was she’d experienced – and where his future lay.

+

She’d never imagined worlds like this existed. That one’s life could be so utterly, so wantonly castrated of meaning, of purpose, of even the simplest joy. It was as if these women, these girls really, had been wiped clean from the book of life. Erased, in silence, and no one would bear witness to their suffering save the warped souls who would torment them on their way through this life. These girls, all of them unwanted in their homeland and lucky even to be alive, had been cast adrift soon after birth, only to be raised almost as domestic animals, kept alive for their potential worth once they reached a certain age. Kept alive for men in America and Europe – so they could be consumed again and again, out of sight, out of mind.

After Elizabeth finished her first dozen interviews she went to talk with the haughtily indifferent girl she suspected of being on the inside. She had no name, she said, and her silence implied she had no existence.

“Where are you from?” asked Elizabeth.

No answer, only an insipid, almost vapid shrug.

“You should answer me, you know? If you don’t, well, you simply go to jail until you do.”

Again, the quietly defiant shrug.

“You think your people in New York will come for you?”

A slight smirk, a quick, sidelong glance of the eye.

“That maybe they’ll get you out so you won’t have to talk to me?”

“You don’t know what you’re dealing with,” the girl said, her English clear and perfect.

“Oh? Enlighten me?”

“Let me go now and you may yet live. Keep me and you’ll be dead by nightfall.”

“Oh? And who do you think will pull that off?”

The insolence on the girl’s face was almost too much for Elizabeth, but she looked into the girl’s eyes, tried to feel her way inside this lost soul, yet she found nothing there – only a darkening void.

“So, you take these girls down to the Village? They already have masters, is that it?”

“And you are dead.”

“No, Mai Ling, I am very much alive and, actually, I have your Passport. The FBI is en route, as is a representative of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. And, as you are in a world of trouble I thought I’d give you an opportunity to tell me what you know before the, uh, well, the professionals start in on you…”

A rattled veneer now, a sudden, tectonic shift deep within the girl’s magmatic core.

“The truck driver? Your brother? You do know he’s dead, don’t you? Are you sure you don’t want to talk to me before the FBI gets here? You do realize the danger you are in, don’t you? Your family? What they’ll do to you now that we have these girls?”

Deeper cracks in her veneer, sudden tremors passing across her face like shadows of clouds.

“Your family in Queens? And in Kowloon? All that in jeopardy now. Unless you talk. I can help, you know?”

“You?” the girl cried, the word full of mocking scorn. “You have no idea what you’ve stumbled on, do you? This is just the tip of the iceberg…”

“Really? And what if you’re just a frightened little girl, a girl afraid of the dark.”

They talked for hours after that – while two detectives from the Vermont State Police took notes.

+

Melissa sat in Altair’s cockpit after Ted left, looking past the bow to the trees that lined the cove, but she appeared lost now. Lost and vulnerable. All she could see in her mind’s eye was the spreading disease within his leg. Black streaks, like lightning gone terribly wrong, and hot to the touch. She’d never seen anything like it but she knew it was evil, that something was coiled up inside of him waiting to strike, and she was afraid because she knew he was going to die. So much was riding on him now – and he was going to die. And now, suddenly, she felt quite helpless to stop this runaway train.

Then she heard Tracy coming up the companionway ladder and she tensed.

“Think you could run me across to the store?” Tracy asked.

“Sure, but there’s no bus service over there. Only seaplanes. Kind of expensive, if you know what I mean.”

“Oh,” the girl said, lost now, and not a little confused.

“So. Who are you running from?”

“Excuse me?”

“Running? Who from? Daddy? A boyfriend? Who?”

The girl turned away, shrugged.

“And? What happens if they find you?”

Tracy shrugged again, then sighed – as really, there was no point in lying now. “I guess they kill me.”

“You know their distribution network, I assume?”

Again the girl nodded, only now she turned and looked at Melissa. “How’d you know?”

“Oh, I’ve met you before. Not you, but girls like you. Caught in the trap, nowhere to turn, no place to run.”

“Dime a dozen, huh?”

“Something like that. Do you want to go home?”

“I don’t know.”

“Did he abuse you?”

She nodded her head a little, a barely perceived, mouselike little motion, almost a denial, yet not quite.

“What about your mum?”

“She was always too afraid.”

“I know, but there’s no need to blame her, you know? Caught in the same trap, I guess.”

“You too?” Tracy asked.

And Melissa shrugged. “Not really, but yeah, I know where you’re coming from.”

“Do you?”

“I’ve helped a few girls in your shoes.”

“Oh, have you?” Tracy said, but there was a layer of scorn in her voice that hung over them both.

“I’d like to think so, yes.”

“Yes, I rather imagine you might like that. Who are you running from, by the way? Boyfriend, or husband?”

“Not that simple, Tracy.”

“It never is, luv. Until it is.”

“When was the last time you thought you were made? Before this week, I mean.”

“About a year ago, in San Francisco. The people running me are tied to the cartels now.”

“No way out in California, is there?”

“No. I always thought I could hide there, but…”

“There’s always someone coming around the next corner, isn’t there?”

“That’s right. Always.”

“Did you tell Ted this part?”

“No, course not. I knew someone was on to me last week like, knew it was time to move again…”

“And along comes Ted.”

“And Jim,” Tracy added.

“Ah, so it’s him that interested you?”

“Until you fuckin’ came along, yeah.”

“Funny how things turn out, isn’t it?”

“Do you know how to sail this thing?”

“Sort of, but not really,” Melissa lied, suddenly realizing she was in imminent mortal danger. “The systems on this boat are…well, I have no idea how to run a boat this complex.”

The girl looked towards the seaplane base across the way. “I wonder where they fly to?”

“Up and down the coast, small fishing towns for the most part. Think you could hide out someplace like that?”

“Maybe. Got any cash?”

“A few hundred. I could buy your ticket, though. Give you what I’ve got on hand.”

That seemed to make up the girl’s mind. “Let me get my kit, then. I want to be out of here before dark.”

“Did you see someone this morning?”

She nodded her head. “Maybe. At that bakery. Someone I remember from Vancouver.”

Melissa thought about that now. Someone looking for Tracy here – if that was really her name – out here on the sound. And now they knew she was on this boat.

Would she be safe out here by herself, she wondered? And, when would Ted be back?

She was in the Zodiac, waiting, when Tracy came up with her duffel, and they rode across the cove in silence. She tied up at the cove and walked up to the store and bought her a ticket to Campbell River, gave her a few hundred dollars then hurried back to the inflatable before the girl changed her mind.

She tied-off on a cleat and climbed up to the aft deck, then went below to her duffel and pulled out an Inmarsat phone and flipped it on. She entered the encryption key and waited for the green light, then dialed a one-time number and waited for the connection.

“Go,” she heard the man’s voice on the other end.

“She’s on the evening flight from Squirrel Cove to Campbell River. Says she’s spotted someone on her tail, but I didn’t see anyone.”

“Your next move?”

“Stay here, for a few days, at least,” then she explained why.

 

(c) 2017 | adrian leverkuhn | abw | adrianleverkuhnwrites.com

fiction, all of it…

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Corcovado + Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars + 4

Corcovado5.1

IV

His mother, Elizabeth, had grown up in the Episcopal Church, and, with her parents, she had worshipped at St Andrew’s over on the west side of town, the ‘money’ side of town, every Sunday. And though James was her ‘sweetheart’ even then, he wasn’t drawn to the church – had never been interested in any church – yet that didn’t seem to matter to her. She talked James into going with her a time or two but nothing stuck, yet she was true enough to him to let the matter rest – “in the Lord’s hands,” she liked to say. When the war in Europe started, actually during the Battle of Britain, James went down to the Post Office and signed up for pilot training; he ended up in California learning to fly the earliest models of the B-17, and it turned out he was a very good pilot.

They corresponded, by mail, after he left Vermont, and soon she understood that he had lost all interest in religion – and why; she, at home on the other side of the country, had started going to St Andrew’s several times a week – and her interest in religion only deepened. By the time December Seventh rolled around, he was training new pilots and she was teaching Sunday School; when James shipped off to Britain in ‘42 she went to study religion at Boston College.

And so it went. They were polar opposites set on a collision course from the very beginning, and at the end of James’ war, after he returned from Britain, he was a very different man. As different as Elizabeth had become over the intervening years.

Yet they picked up where they’d left off – in each other’s arms, still madly in love with one another. Weeks after his return they walked the aisle in St Andrews hand in hand, as husband and wife, yet, if anything, his understanding of God and His Church had only diminished in his eyes. James had, he told his wife, been on many of the so-called ‘thousand plane raids’ over Dresden and Munich, he had fire-bombed whole cities, killed thousands upon thousands of human beings; there was, he told her, “no room in God’s House for the likes of me.”

They had talked about salvation and confession and he told her those were mere words to him, and she could feel the flames of burning cities aglow in his eyes. She said she understood after one bitter night, and she never pressed him further. Not once. She was, she told him, content to let God come to him when He was ready.

They wanted to wait a few years to have kids, or so they said, so he could earn some money and build up his bank account, and she told him late in 1949 that she thought it was an opportune time. Why ‘opportune’ he did not know, but he agreed and soon she was with child.

Yet he was too good a pilot for the Army Air Corp to let go of him completely, and, because he’d signed on to participate in the newly formed U. S. Air Force Reserves, when asked he was soon flying B-29s over Canada and the Arctic. When war broke out in Korea off he went, and two months after he arrived in Japan his daughter Rebecca was born, though he very nearly never got to hold her in his arms.

On a mission over the North his formation was attacked by Mig15s and his aircraft was damaged badly in the brief skirmish. He nursed the -29 back to the sea and had almost made it back to South Korea when fire broke out inside the right wing; he got his men out and rode the aircraft down, belly landing in the Yellow Sea. He managed to crawl out of the sinking wreckage and into a life raft, but both his legs were badly mangled.

His war officially ended on a hospital ship in Japan; he was back in the States a few weeks later, though he spent months at a succession of military hospitals in Maryland and Pennsylvania. And, finally, in White River Junction, Vermont, and that’s where he finally met his daughter.

And though in many ways James was the same sweet man Elizabeth had always known, he had come back a changed man – for the second time. Whereas he had exuded an infinite invulnerability when he came home from Europe, he now cast a wary eye almost everywhere he looked…like he was suddenly unsure of the very ground beneath his feet. Still, he persevered, met his doubts head-on. He walked, then he ran back to his life in St Johnsbury, and Elizabeth knew then that God answered all prayers.

When Rebecca fell ill – some sort of meningitis, the physicians told them – she prayed and prayed, and yet Rebecca passed. In the aftermath Elizabeth fell away from the Church, and in the fullness of time she completely lost her faith in God.

She finished her graduate degree – in social work – and helped coordinate social services throughout northern Vermont…everything from helping the recently disabled to the newly homeless. She came to be regarded as something of a saint among the ‘down and out’ – and even to the pastors and bishops that worked the pews around the region, hers was a well-regarded soul.

And then something horribly unexpected happened. A girl, an eight year old Chinese girl, was raped one summer’s evening near the old highway that went from St Johnsbury south, and a trucker who had been passing through on his way from Montreal to New York City was apprehended. And this mysterious truck driver – who was, apparently, from Hong Kong – was being pursued through the forests south of town. It was only a matter of time, they heard on the radio, until the monster was caught.

+++++

The rain had let up a little, and he could see faint patches of blue through thinning clouds from time to time. Melissa was sitting with him in the enclosed cockpit, rain and wind-driven spray still spattering on the canvas overhead, while Ted and Tracy were standing at the mast pulpit, looking for timbers on the Sound’s roiled surface.

And yet he and Melissa had said little to one another since she boarded. He didn’t know what to say to her, and she wasn’t sure she had anything left to say to a man like him.

Then, up on the bow, Ted pointed to the left and he looked that way too, saw a massive timber sjust awash and corrected his course to miss it – and as suddenly Ted was pointing frantically to the right – and he saw more timbers roped-up in a tight clump. He stood to get a better view of the way through the knotted seas, then he cut back on power, slowed to bare steerage-way and worked his way around and through the flotsam – and he found he was holding his breath more than once…until they were through, anyway.

“This is really bad…” Melissa said moments after he sat behind the wheel again. “I’ve dealt with crab-pots in Maine, but never anything like this.”

And he knew he was beginning to tremble a little – only for another reason. He’d had three cups of French roast and his bladder felt like it was about to rip apart, right down the middle, but he didn’t want to leave the wheel…

“You okay?” she said when she saw the expression on his face, the perspiration on his brow.

He shook his head. “Nope. Bladder’s about to…”

And she stood, took the wheel – and he looked at her like she was out of her mind – until the need to let loose from both ends grew like a three-alarm blaze. He nodded and ran down the companionway steps to the forward head – and didn’t return for ten minutes.

And when he did she was still behind the wheel, steering deftly between timbers, taking the hand signals Ted gave her without the slightest hesitation.

“You tired?” he asked.

“Not in the slightest…this is – exhilarating!”

“Well,” he mumbled, “that’s one way to look at it.”

And she laughed at that, then leaned over to look forward again. “I’m making for that buoy up there,” she said, pointing to a can about a mile ahead. “That marks the entrance to the inlet, right?”

“Yup.”

“Damn, this is a fine handling little ship, Jim. World of difference between my 325 and this thing…”

“Nothing beats displacement in seas like this.”

“I’ll say. Man, if you ever want to trade, give me a call…”

He laughed at that. “Yeah, I’ll do that.” He watched her watching the sea, watched the way she shifted her weight with her knees to roll with the swells and he nodded his approval. “Yours have a pedestal, or that rig under the seat?”

“Pedestal. That other rig always felt dead to me.”

“So I’ve heard.” He turned and looked forward then, content to let her steer for a while longer, and he noticed more and bigger patches of blue sky. “You may get lucky. Looks like some sun is trying to break through.”

“Yup,” she groaned, working Altair down the backside of a large roller.

Yet she kept her course, he saw. She bore down on the rise, fell off the crest, never missed a lick. “You do much racing?” he asked.

“A little. Why?”

“Because you’re damn good on the helm, that’s why.”

He wasn’t looking at her just then so he didn’t see the look in her eyes.

“Can you come up a bit?” he said. “I want to head straight in the inlet, not come in at an upwind angle.”

“Got it,” she said, and he watched the bow swing to starboard a little…twenty minutes later they passed the buoy and he turned and looked at her.

“You wanna take it now?” she asked.

“No. You’re doing fine,” he said as he came to the pedestal and changed the displays on the plotter.

“What’s that?” she asked, pointing at the display.

“Chart with a radar overlay here, and forward-looking sonar here, on the right.”

“Sonar? You mean…those are the walls of the inlet – underwater?”

“Yup.”

“Holy moly, this is like cheating…”

He grinned. “Kinda, yup, but it sure beats driving your boat up onto the rocks.”

“I’ll say.”

“Slow her down to 1600 RPM,” he said in his typical flight instructor’s voice, then: “Come to 3-3-0 and let’s see how much the current plays with us.”

“Got it.”

“Okay…see how it’s pushing us to starboard? Let make 3-2-5 and bring the revs up to 1800.”

He watched as she adjusted the throttle and made the course change, then he looked at the sonar readout and the plotter for a moment. “You’re doing great…okay, fall off a little more…okay, you got it…”

And then, just like that, they were through.

“Moorings in here?” she asked.

“Nope.”

“Anywhere, in particular, you want to drop the hook?”

“Depends. If there’s room there’s kind of a waterfall all the way in. Nice sound to sleep to.”

She nodded her head; smiled a little, too. “Did I see a store back there?”

“Yeah. If you run out of food it’s okay in a pinch.”

“Expensive?”

“Man.”

“How far back does this thing go?”

“Not quite three-quarters of a mile,” he said, signaling Ted to get the anchors ready. “Keep an eye out for anchor lines…so don’t cut too close to other boats…I’m gonna get the Zodiac ready.”

+

Once the anchors were set he came back to the swim platform and tied off the Zodiac, then he watched her as she looked around the boat, wondering why he’d been so taken by her earlier that morning.

Was it just because he was lonely?  Whatever, it was his choice and he was in it now. Duty-honor-country wasn’t at work here, not like with Babs? His father had taught him about those things, but then again his parents had lived kind of an idyllic life – at least compared to what he and Barbara had endured…

“Endured…?” he said, unaware he was speaking aloud.

“What’s that?” Melissa asked, now standing on the aft deck – looking down at him still sitting in the inflatable.

“Oh, sorry, I was just thinking.”

“What did you endure? My turn behind the wheel?”

He chuckled at that. “No, not at all. I was impressed, really. You’re quite the helmsman.”

“Well, okay. Now what?”

“Excuse me?” he replied.

“You gonna run me over to the beach, or you want me to swim for it?”

“Water’s kind of cool for that, I think.” He looked at her for the longest time, then he sighed.

“You look…perplexed,” she said – perplexed.

“I’m not sure I know how to say this, but the odds of you finding a place to stay around here are somewhere between slim and none, and I don’t suppose you’re carrying a tent and sleeping bag in that duffel. So, what are your plans?”

“Get ashore, find a road and start walking. Something always comes along.”

He shook his head. “Not here. The only roads are back by the village, and there aren’t many places to sleep on this part of the island…unless you’ve got a home lined up.”

“Okay…so what do you suggest?”

“Stay here,” he said, his voice lost somewhere on the quiet side of hope.

“Here?” she replied. “With you?”

“Yup.”

“Okay,” she said, looking at him again.

And he felt like a tremendous weight had been lifted from his shoulders, and that puzzled him.

She came down to the swim platform then. “Can I give you a hand?” she asked.

He turned and looked around the cove…it had emptied out earlier that morning after they’d departed for Nancy’s. He assumed people had seen the break in the weather and pulled anchor – and now Altair’s crew had almost the entire cove to themselves.

When he turned to her he saw she’d taken off her shoes and was sitting on the platform, and she was just now dangling her feet in the water.

“Yikes…this IS cold,” she said, surprised. “Like Maine kind of cold.”

“This is not the Gulf of Mexico…that’s for sure.”

“What happened to your mom and dad?”

“Hmm? Oh, they passed about, oh, Mom went first. I think six years ago. Dad passed a few months later. Broken heart, I guess. Couldn’t live without her, so I think he chose not to.”

“He wasn’t sick?”

“Nope. He just went to sleep and didn’t wake up. That’s the way to go, I reckon.”

“They were that close?”

“Closer than forever.”

“What?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know how else to put it.”

“You think about them a lot?”

He nodded. “Yeah, I do. I miss them. I – miss – what they stood for.”

“You mean, like…politics?”

“Good Lord, no…just the opposite. They were diametrically opposed politically, from the very beginning, I think, but that didn’t seem to matter. Not to them, anyway.”

“Dad?” Ted said, coming back to the aft rail. “You through with the Zodiac?”

“For now. You two want to go exploring?”

“Yeah. Is there enough gas?”

“Yup. Two gallons, at least. That ought to be good for a couple of hours at low speed. Grab a hand unit and some water, maybe some sunscreen too.”

Ted nodded and left to get stuff from below, and Melissa pulled her feet out of the water and shivered a little. He found himself staring at them, at how white they’d become.

“You better get some socks on,” he said.

“Oh, they’ll warm up.”

“You say so, but don’t be surprised if you catch a chill. It’s cold and damp, not what your body is used to…”

He changed places with Ted a few minutes later, then they watched as Ted and Tracy took off across the cove, headed for the little waterfall, and as he watched them go he felt kind of odd. Like happy and sad, at the same time.

“How long have those two known each other,” she asked.

“I think this is the fourth day.”

“What? Really?”

“We had dinner at a restaurant in Vancouver, near the marina we were tied up at. She was our waitress, and Ted kind of fell for her.”

“What does that mean…‘kind of’?”

“Ted’s kind of confused right now. He’s been like a heat-seeking missile, dead-set on becoming a priest for as long as he’s been able to recite the Lord’s prayer…”

“Oh?”

“Yeah. ‘Oh.’ I’ve been picking up little signals that something happened this past year, but I’m not prying. Not yet, anyway. That said, he’s of a mind right now to meet a girl and do the deed.”

“He’s a…”

“Indeed he is. By design, not chance, but, like I said, something changed this past year. Something changed inside him.”

“And she’s the first girl he’s…”

“Yup,” he sighed. “I think you’ve got the picture.”

“I don’t like it. There’s something really off about her.”

“How about heroin and a pathological liar. Is that a good combination?”

She stared at him, then shook her head. “Why?”

“He’s going to be 21 in August. He’ll do the right thing.”

“He might. I’m not sure I’d be comfortable with her in the picture. Did you get her junk off the boat?”

“Yup.”

“You say she’s from Australia?”

“That’s what’s her passport says, yes.”

She nodded. “Think her passport is here, on board?”

“I don’t know. I guess so.”

“Mind if I take a look?”

He shook his head. “I’d rather not break those boundaries, if you don’t mind. What are you? A cop?”

She shook her head. “Nope. I work in the prosecutors’ office, with the DAs office, in Atlanta; for the most part, I work sex crimes.”

“What…like rape…stuff like that?”

“Yeah, stuff like that,” she said, looking him in the eye.

“Interesting.”

“Interesting? Why do say that?”

“My mom was very religious when she was younger. She became interested in social work, worked with victims of sexual assault.”

“When was that?”

“Back in the 50s, I think. At least, that’s when she started. She kept at it ‘til Dad retired and they moved to Florida.”

“She was a little ahead of her time, don’t you think? Weren’t too many women back in the 50s working with those kinds of people. Do you know why she developed an interest in that work?”

He shook his head. “No, not really. It was was of those things she never talked about.”

Melissa nodded understanding. “It’s usually for personal reasons.”

“Oh? You too?”

She kept nodding. “Yeah, you could say that.”

He looked at her, then turned away for a minute – his eyes closed.

And she looked at him closely just then, not sure what she was seeing, then she leaned over, put a hand on his shoulder. “Are you some sort of an empath?” she asked.

“I don’t know…I’m not even sure I believe such a thing is possible…”

“Oh, it’s possible, alright.”

“And?”

“I can see it all over your face. You read people, don’t you? I mean, read ‘em like a book.”

He shrugged. “I don’t know. Sometimes things are clear to me.”

“Things?”

“People.”

“What about Tracy? What could you see about her?”

“Trouble. All kinds of trouble.”

“Such as?”

“The things she told us about her life seem out of place, but it’s her…”

“Her eyes.”

“Exactly. Something in her eyes.”

“Something…?”

“Dishonest.”

“Dishonest?” she said wonderingly. “How about…dangerous?” she added.

“I thought so when I first listened to her talk about her family, her parents. Now I’m not so sure.”

“First impressions are usually the right impressions, you know?”

He nodded, looked at her anew. “You brought cameras, lenses?”

“Yup.”

“Got a good telephoto.”

“I do. But I don’t think we have a way to get to shore right now.”

He scrunched-up his lips, then shrugged.

“Maybe you just wanted to be alone with me out here on your boat?” she asked – quietly.

“You know…? I think I’m too tired to do much of anything this afternoon, not without taking a nap first. I hate to leave you, but I really am tired.”

“Can you show me where to put my bag? I’ll need to unpack a few things.”

He hesitated, then shook his head a little. “Follow me,” he said, and just aft of his stateroom was a little office – that also had a small bunk against the hull, “Be it ever so humble,” he mumbled. “Sorry.”

“Kind of small,” she sighed. “Where do you bunk out?”

“Forward,” he said, feeling very sleepy now.

“You look beat. What time did you get up?”

“Two, two thirty. That’s my usual, though,” he said as he stumbled to his berth. “You mind if I take a rest for a while?”

“Be my guest.”

He lay down – and was asleep before his head hit the pillow…yet he was aware something was wrong.

His dreams were fevered, and the pain started then.

+++++

The police called Elizabeth, asked her to come to the hospital. They told her to hurry and James drove her.

A detective from the state police met her when she arrived, told her the victim, a young Chinese girl, had been found – dead – south of town, her throat cut, evidence of anal penetration – semen, the policeman said, unsure of himself around this lady – and that the girl had never talked.

“Why do you need me?” Elizabeth wanted to know. “I’m not connected with the police.”

“Well, the problem is a little unusual, Ma’am. We found a truck nearby, a box truck, nineteen-footer…and it was full of Chinese gals. None of ‘em speakin’ much, but one of ‘em said they were going to New York. They got jobs there. And they just come from China, on a boat.”

“How many girls, officer?”

“As best I can tell, something like ninety.”

“Ninety? In a nineteen foot truck?”

“A-yup. Packed like oysters in a tin can. Smell about the same, too.”

“Isn’t this a problem for the immigration people?”

“Probably so, a-yup, but you see…I think there’s something else goin’ on, and I heard you was good at talkin’ to folks. So, I was wonderin’ if, maybe, you could talk to these gals some, help us get a handle on where these folks is headed. Think you could?”

The detective helped her find the conference room where the girls were being held, and when he opened the door the sight she beheld was like nothing she had ever seen. Two hours later she was as angry as she’d ever been in her life – and she knew, too, that her life would never be the same.

+++++

This chapter (c) 2017 | adrian leverkühn | abw | adrianleverkuhnwrites.com | just a little bit of story-tellin’