Corcovado + Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars
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.
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?”
“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.”
“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
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