Sailing into Reine proved to be a turning point in Henry Taggart’s life. He had, he thought later that evening, never seen anything like this place. Towering, diamond-shaped spires rising up from the sea, and an isolated, rockbound series of little harbors and anchorages, most with red and white fisherman’s cottages perched on rock ledges jutting out over the water. Even from afar, the Lofotens seemed otherworldly, almost Tolkienesque, but sailing into the outer harbor at Reine left him feeling breathless and humbled.
Filling up the diesel tanks left him feeling breathless, too. One hundred gallons at the equivalent of fourteen dollars a gallon also left him feeling more than a little violated, sort of like a day at Disneyland, and the experience soured his mood for a few hours. At least until they tied up at a little fisherman’s marina and he hopped off the Bandit and went for a short walk. By the time he returned he’d put it all into perspective. Sort of, anyway.
Dina had already been to the local market and picked up freshly made gravlax; she was baking bread now and Taggart thought she looked like the most contented person on earth. She was hard to reconcile, too, he thought as he sat at the chart table updating the logbook. Prickly and overly sensitive, she almost seemed bi-polar…without actually being bi-polar. No, he thought, she was more like a mother bear protecting her cubs: protective, almost viciously so. Yet if he met her on her terms she was as superficially charming as any woman he had ever known. Perplexing, he thought. Dangerously so.
And yet this woman held the keys to his very survival in her hands. She possessed the knowledge that might keep him alive, literally so, long enough to meet his final objectives, and in Bodø she had as much as stated she would stay with him for the duration in exchange for allowing her supervision of Rolf’s sojourn onboard Time Bandit. So, in exchange for having his very own personal oncologist onboard, he would have to accept a superficially charming, hyper-protective man-eating bitch in his life – all without really understanding why she wanted to be here.
‘What was that song? You know, the one Sinatra did…The Tender Trap? Those eyes, those sighs…’
He leaned over and watched her working below in the galley.
‘She’s humming a show tune…is that Hello Young Lovers from The King and I? Jesus Fucking Christ…!’
And the hell of it all?
‘She’s cute, that’s for sure. Perfectly, totally cute. The kind of woman any man in his right mind would fall head over heels in love with, in a heartbeat. So…why is she still single? Yeah, c’mon Taggart, you know the score. A man-eating bitch by any other name is still…’
The bread smelled wondrous.
‘And of course she’s a perfect mother-fucking chef, too. Hell, she probably designs goddam rockets for NASA in her spare time…’
One of his cutting boards was filling up and taking shape on the countertop down in the galley. Slices of smoked salmon and gravlax, diced hard boiled eggs, chopped onion, and what was that? Pickled herring in sour cream? A bottle of Riesling, too?
‘Man, is this woman is out for the kill tonight, or what? You’d better watch your ass, Taggart…’
He completed his observations about the passage from Bodø, going the extra mile to write up his impressions of fuel prices in Norway, then he put the logbook away and slipped into his cabin to shower and change for dinner. He tried to shave but gave up when his arm twitched and the razor flew out of the head and onto his berth, then remembered he had an electric razor in a cabinet somewhere and started digging through boxes until he found it. Cleaned up and with fresh clothes on he felt somewhat human again, so he popped up to the cockpit in order to check all Bandit’s lines again. A couple was standing on the pier just aft of the boat, pointing at the American flag when he came topsides, and they seemed excited to see him.
“Hi there,” the man said. “You are the ones who saved our friend, no?”
“I guess so.”
“Is it true you sailed all the way from America?”
“Actually no, I rowed most of the way.”
“Ah, we have heard about your humor. It is now a legend throughout Norway.”
“A legend? Really? I am honored.”
“Yes, news reporters refer to you as a world class smart ass.”
“Yes, that’s accurate.”
“So, what was it like, sailing alone across the Atlantic?”
He looked away, wondered how to answer that question…because he really didn’t know the answer yet. “You know, I’m not sure I can answer that one. It was easier than expected.”
“Did you get lonely?” the woman asked, breaking her silence with an odd look in her eyes.
He shook his head. “No, not really. I was usually too busy to get bored.”
“Where to next?” the man asked.
“Sail around here for a while. It’s amazing, isn’t it?”
They nodded and smiled. “Well, see you later,” the man said as they started to walk off.
“Yeah, drop on by anytime.”
But the woman stopped. “Will you be going out tomorrow?” she asked.
“I don’t know. Why?”
“I wondered, would it be possible to go out with you, maybe for just an hour or so?”
He looked at them. Young, friendly to the point of outgoing, probably interested in learning to sail… “Sure, why not. Come by around noon.”
“Really?” she said. “Well, should we bring anything?”
“Well, it’s colder out on the water, so dress in layers if you can.”
“Okay,” they said, then the two of them talked excitedly as they walked away.
“That was very sweet of you,” the Fire Breathing Sea Bitch said from the companionway steps.
“Really? I thought I was being rather mean, all things considered.”
She shook her head. “Come on down while the bread is still warm. Rolf is ready to eat.”
He nodded, then double checked the shore power connection before he made his way down to the table. The cutting board was set up and looked like something ready for a cover shot, but there in the middle of the table – a bubbling pot of cheese fondue stood at the ready.
“Dear God in Heaven,” he mumbled – now wide-eyed in disbelief as he slipped into his usual place at the table. “I didn’t think I had a fondue pot onboard?”
“The store had one. I think someone ordered it twenty years ago and never picked it up; it had layers and layers of dust on it.”
“I’ve never had fondue,” Rolf said, though right now his eyes looked like spinning saucers.
She’d cubed a baguette and demonstrated the proper procedure for Rolf; spearing the bread and dipping it, then sliding the morsel on your plate and letting it cool while you speared another piece, but Taggart looked at all that fresh salmon and could barely contain himself. He began loading his plate…
“Henry? Please wait; that is the second course.”
“Indeed it is. Excuse me.” He speared some bread, chastened, and had some fondue.
“I’ve been wanting to do this for Rolf for some time now,” she added. “Sorry for imposing on you like this.”
“It’s not an imposition. Is this a local custom?”
“Yes, of sorts, only we use local cheeses.”
“Mom never has time for this,” Rolf added.
“Your mother leads a very complicated life,” Dina said, not quite reproaching the boy. “She does the best she can.”
Taggart watched the sudden interplay, not quite sure who was playing who – yet, but Britt was definitely the subject of some very repressed feelings around this table.
“Rolf, what do you think of the island?” he asked.
He shrugged. “You know, many of the fjords around Bergen are equally interesting, but this harbor is something else. I look around and it feels like something out of The Lord of the Rings.”
“Yeah, exactly what I felt. I expect Frodo and Bilbo to come skipping along at any moment.”
“Who?” Dina asked.
“You never read Tolkien, did you?” Taggart asked.
She burst out laughing. “Of course I have read him!” she said, smiling gayly. “I started with The Hobbit when I was your age, Rolf…”
“I have seen the films, but I haven’t read the books yet,” Rolf said.
“Lord Foul’s Bane,” Taggart said, stopping conversation around the table.
“What?” Dina said, a little flustered.
“The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. Every time I think of Tolkien I go right back to this series. I think there are more than ten books so far.”
“I have never heard of it,” she said.
“It’s darker than the Hobbit, but the first book in the series, Lord Foul’s Bane, is fascinating. A very personal confrontation between evil and ambivalence, and probably a little ahead of its time. I have it in my room if either of you are interested.”
“It’s a shame you don’t have the Tolkien books,” she added, and he thought a little too condescendingly.
“Oh, I have those too,” he said, grinning.
“Really?” Rolf said. “May I?”
“And this Lord Foul book. I’d like to see it, if I may.”
“Certainly. Now…may I have some salmon, please?”
He had just finished topping off the water tanks when he saw the young couple from the evening before…and they were both carrying huge canvas totes, smiling and waving as they approached. Dina and Rolf were in the cockpit, totally engrossed in their books, when the couple stopped at the stern.
“Ready or not, here we come!” the girl shouted as she hopped across. “We brought some things for lunch, just in case,” she added.
“Welcome aboard,” Henry said, taking her hand and helping the gorgeous girl up to the aft deck. When she was secure he helped her partner-in-crime up, then told them to get settled in the cockpit. “So, do we want to eat first, then head out?”
When everyones hand popped-up the girl started unpacking her tote, producing sandwiches and salads and breads, while her friend’s tote was packed with bottled beer on ice. Henry raised the cockpit table and after introductions were made everyone piled-in and ate.
Fish salads were, Taggart thought, the big deal around these parts. Salmon, shrimp, whitefish…even lobster salads, and Eva Forsgård had brought two of each. Then whole wheat breads of infinite variety and complexity appeared, followed by cheese spreads and fish spreads and some spreads Taggart could neither identify nor summon the nerve to try.
Eva helped Rolf clean up while Taggart let the diesel warm up, then Peter and Dina untied the lines and helped guide Henry to the main channel. Ten minutes later they were sailing off the beach, Peter enraptured by all the electronics. Eva was sitting on the lee rail, her feet dangling over the waves when she started clapping and pointing…
Henry saw a pod of Orca on an intercepting course, just then about a hundred yards away and converging rapidly, so he let out the sails and fell off the wind a little, easing Bandit’s motion but building a little speed…
…seconds later they were in the middle of the pod, who seemed to have gathered around the Bandit to take a look-see…
…then a big male came in close, then very close to Eva, then swimming on his side – his eye about even with hers, then the big guy slowed and fell away a little…
…before he moved in close again, then closer still, and this time Taggart could feel the Killer Whale’s eye on him…not just looking, but probing, like the whale was seeking connection…
Taggart turned and faced the whale, staring at him for the longest time, then the Bandit smacked into a large wave – and Eva slipped off the rail and into the water…
Henry ran for the aft rail and dove in after her, hitting the water in a flailing belly-flop. The impact was so cold it felt like a million white hot pinpricks on his face and arms, but when his face cleared the surface he swam for her, reaching her literally in seconds…
…and at about the same time that the huge male reached her…
Taggart began treading water, holding Eva’s hand while they rose on one swell and slid down the back of another, but the male was still there – only rising vertically in the water, presenting his pectorals. Taggart grabbed the leading edge of one fin and the whale slid to one side, then began swimming for the Bandit. Peter and Rolf were already on the lower step of the swim platform, their hands reaching out for them…
The whale accelerated, lifting just enough out of the water to put Taggart’s ass on the platform, leaving Peter and Rolf to grab Eva and haul her onboard. They helped her up the steps, leaving Taggart on the stern, still staring into the whale’s eye.
This time the orca came closer, and once again he presented a pectoral to Taggart – who jumped into the water again, holding tight to the fin as the whale accelerated alongside the Bandit until they were even with the bow wave. Wide-eyed now, Taggart saw the rest of the pod on both sides of the bow, taking turns to line up and surf the waves coming off Time Bandit. The huge male went first, then a few of the smaller cows gave it a try. Finally, the calves lined up and seemed to have the most fun…but minutes had passed…
Shivering wildly now, Taggart felt his grip loosening until he slid free, and Bandit started pulling away rapidly. His right arm twitched wildly, then both his legs went into spasm as a wave broke over his head. When his face cleared, when he had blinked the stinging water away, he saw Rolf turning the Bandit, trimming her sails for the new heading, and he saw Peter with an iPhone out, apparently filming everything.
Then the male broached beside him, presenting his fin once again, but Taggart simply couldn’t take it now…he was too cold and his Parkinson’s was out of control.
But the whale was right there with him – connected, and suddenly they were eye to eye, Taggart now sitting on the edge of the fin. The orca rolled a little, got Taggart’s body out of the water and he was surprised how warm the whale’s body felt. He closed his eyes and a billion pinpoints of light resolved into dancing kaleidoscopes, then he felt hands lifting him free of the water…
“No, let me stay…”
Frantic hands pulled off his clothing, and he was only just dimly aware he was in bed, that Dina was beside him now, warming him with her body, skin on skin…
‘Skin on skin?’
One eye opened. He looked down. Then he grinned.
“You feel pretty damn good,” he whispered.
“What were you thinking? You could have been killed?”
“You want to make whoopee?”
“I said, would you like to do the deed?”
And he kissed her. Moments later he felt her mounting him, the fire growing between them very real and very, very intense.
And that was when he looked up and saw Eva looking down at him, intense longing in her eyes as they crested yet another wave together.
Of course, two days later Peter’s footage was all over the news, then a viral sensation on the internet. One all-news-network started calling him Saint Henry – apparently for his divinely ordained life-saving abilities – and somehow the name stuck. Rolf laughed his ass off and Dina rolled her eyes at that one, but when Britt saw the news reports she almost fainted. Eva was thunderstruck by their intense coupling and could hardly speak to the reporters who came seeking interviews.
Henry Taggart remembered very little of that day, but what he did recall sounded more like the ramblings of a mystic than the ravings of a cynic. He spoke of a deep connection between the whale and himself, something totally unexpected to the reporters who filmed the interview, but he also spoke of a light. A deep, warm light that felt more than a little orgasmic – which left all of the reporters scratching their heads.
© 2020 adrian leverkuhn | abw | thanks for dropping by…next chapter in a week or so…