Up on the foredeck, the seas kicking up and the wind blowing like cold snot, Taggart held onto the forestay as the Bandit worked up the face of another eight-footer – then he cried out in joy as she surfed down the face, slamming into another trough, sending blue water up to his knees again.
Rolf, behind the wheel and enjoying this new little storm, smiled at Henry as he yelled at another breaking wave, this time shaking a fist at the sky and laughing like a madman.
“He really enjoys this almost like a little boy,” Rolf said, shaking his head.
“Yes,” Dina added, “or maybe more like a child.”
“I did not mean that, Grandma-ma. It is more like an innocent pleasure, I think.”
She nodded. “The innocent pleasure of a lunatic.”
“You really do not like him, do you?”
“On the contrary,” Dina said, “I think I am beginning to love him very much.”
Rolf seemed shocked at that: “Seriously? No way!”
When she turned and looked at her grandson he saw that she was very serious indeed, then she he looked down at the chartplotter, noting their position about a mile west of Herdla, their course set for Vatnet and the entrance to the Bergen-Stavanger Channel. Almost home, he thought sadly, already at the end of their special journey…and he still couldn’t put into words his feelings for Henry.
‘He is almost like my father sometimes, then a minute later he acts like an old friend from school. He is my teacher, too…’
Most of all, Rolf seemed in awe of Taggart’s ability to attract attention, and he’d watched several women fall under some kind of spell after they had been around Henry for just a few minutes…
…but now…Grandma-ma? What was this?
There were rocks in the channel around Bekken, but Henry had already plotted these, placed guard zones around every one of them, and Rolf admired Henry’s dogged thoroughness…
Then in an instant the wind fell away and just minutes later the inside passage turned smooth, almost mirror-like, yet Taggart remained glued to the foredeck, his eyes apparently locked onto something that had interested him…
And then Taggart was down on the deck, one arm reaching down to sea, banging on the side of Bandit’s hull. Rolf scanned the water and soon he too smiled…
“Look! Grandma-ma! The whales are back!”
The black dorsal fins were hard to see against the almost black water, but yes, there they were, and Dina already had the binoculars in hand, scanning the markings she could see.
“Yes, they are the same ones,” she said a moment later. “This seems very unusual to me…”
“Oh really? You mean you are just realizing that?”
“What do you mean, Rolf?”
“He is like the sun, Grandma-ma. Everything is attracted to him…even these whales…”
One of the smaller calves surfaced just off Time Bandit’s starboard bow wave and as the little fella started surfing along Taggart laid on his side with his head propped up on one hand, watching – and waiting…
…until the big male surfaced alongside, his soulful eye looking into Taggart’s…
Taggart held onto a lifeline and leaned out, still waiting.
The male came close, close enough to touch, then the old male sounded and was as quickly gone.
More calves came alongside and surfed for a while, then the pod moved off towards a rock loaded with sea lions. With that, Taggart stood and came back to the cockpit…
Dina saw that he was freezing, probably hypothermic, but he waved her off. “I feel fine,” he said to the look in her eyes.
“Your hands, Henry. It is past time for your medication.”
He nodded and ducked below, and when he came back a while later he was wearing dry clothes, including that new black sweater. ‘Funny,’ he thought. ‘I always put that one on when I’m about to see Britt.’
“Feel like some Indian food tonight?” he said, looking at Rolf.
“Alright! You want to take her into the dock?”
Rolf shook his head. “No way!”
“You’re ready. Dina and I will handle the lines, but why don’t you go get something warm to drink while you can?”
“He’s a great kid,” Taggart said to Dina after Rolf was out of earshot.
“You are a good teacher.”
“It’s the only thing I really know, I guess. It’s what I remember most when I think about my dad.”
“You would’ve been a good father.”
“Me? You gotta be kidding. Once I’m on land I don’t know up from down.”
She smiled but was generally intolerant of self-deprecating humor, even from Taggart. “So, I have called Britt and she has secured a place for Bandit very close to the clinic.”
“Excellent. Better call her back and tell her about dinner.”
“I think tonight should just be between you and Rolf.”
“Nonsense. We’ll have plenty of time for that.”
“How long do you want to stay in Bergen?”
“A few days. I’ll be ready to go in a few days.”
“I’ll just need to fill out some paperwork…” Dina said…
“No, you don’t. There’s no need for you to do this.”
“I told you I want to. In fact, I think I need to.”
“I set out to do this alone.”
“And you did not set out with cancer.”
“I’ll be fine.”
She did not want to argue with him, especially during these next few hours, as that would only upset Rolf, but she could see the stubborn set of his jaw and knew him well enough to know what that meant. She took out her phone and checked signal strength, then dialed Britt at the clinic. She left a message to expect dinner at the Indian place and rang off, then looked at the sun trying to break through the low scudding clouds. “It will be a lovely evening,” she said gently. “Let’s not spoil it for anyone.”
“Right,” he said, visibly relaxing. “Right you are, as always.”
“Okay…slip her into neutral and let the wind take her a little…”
Rolf was backing Time Bandit up slowly to the quay; Britt was waiting there, ready to take a line.
“A little right rudder…now a little left on the thruster…that’s it, let her drift…okay – Now! – into forward and a little throttle to stop momentum, then back into neutral…”
Taggart tossed one line to Britt and he jumped ashore and tied off the other. Dina tied-off between pilings off both sides of the bow…and that was it. Rolf ran the power cord ashore and made the connection while Taggart shut down the diesel and set the ship’s systems to run off shore power. Everything else had already been secured so The Bandit’s crew jumped ashore and in stony silence they made their way to the restaurant.
Once seated, Rolf was the first to speak. “I do not want this to be over. It has been the best month of my life.”
Henry nodded. “I don’t know how to say this, but if I’d had a son I’d have wanted him to be just like you. I think even my dad would approve of the job you did out there today.”
Britt smiled, Dina turned away.
“Mom, I have four more weeks of vacation. Could I not go on to Oslo with Henry?”
Britt shook her head. “We have much to do around the house, and summer will be over soon enough.”
Dejected, the boy looked down.
“And mother?” Britt said, looking at Dina. “What are your plans now?”
“She’s staying here,” Taggart said – and Dina glared.
“I will go with Mr. Taggart, at least as far as Oslo. Then, we’ll see how he’s doing after our visit to the University Hospital.”
“I think I should go with you, Henry,” Rolf said.
Henry nodded. “I understand, but that is entirely up to your mother.”
“And Henry,” Dina injected, “there is the matter of placing the port.”
“What’s involved with that?”
She shook her head, meaning it was not fit dinnertime discussion material. “It will take a day.”
“You want to do it here, not Oslo?”
“Can we do it…”
“It is scheduled for the day after tomorrow at six in the morning. You will then need to take it easy for a few days.”
“Uh-huh. I see.”
Rolf knew exactly what that meant and suppressed a knowing grin. But then again, he’d already decided what he was going to do, his mother’s feelings not withstanding.
There were no theatrics at dinner that night, no capsaicin overdoses and no dances to the bathroom, because everyone seemed to be hovering along the edges of a vast, unknowable decision…a razor’s edge, if you will.
Henry had made up his mind…he would slip away from the dock in the middle of the night – such as it was at this latitude – and make good his escape.
Rolf would sneak aboard, because he’d already figured that out.
While Dina sat there feverishly trying to figure out how to stop Henry from leaving in the night.
Leaving Britt, who was trying to figure out the best way to tell Henry that she was pregnant, and not coincidentally that he just happened to be the father.
They left him to pay the bill and when he left the restaurant he felt a little disoriented, then a little light-headed. He sat on a bench near the fish market and held on until he felt better – then he saw a dog wandering along the waterfront begging for food. He, or maybe it was a she, looked like a Golden Retriever, but this thing was, Taggart saw, emaciated. Beyond emaciated, really. It looked sick, on its last legs.
“Come here, fella,” Taggart said, and the dog looked his way, wagged its tail once and, with its head and tail down walked almost sideways to Taggart’s bench.
“Don’t feed it,” a passerby warned. “He’s a pest.”
“Does the pest have a name?” Taggart asked, but his question was met with a vacant shrug. “You hungry, boy?”
The tail wagged a little, so he walked over to one of the open fish stalls and bought some salmon scraps, then went back to the bench. He fed the old boy and then noticed the cataracts and the almost solid white muzzle, and he saw what had to be a pretty hefty tumor on the dog’s back, right by one of the shoulder blades, and he shook his head.
“You’re having a rough time, aren’t you, old boy?”
Who looked up at the strange new voice, waiting for the next bite of fish, but he was smiling a little now.
When he had run out of fish Taggart stood and began making his way to the Bandit – only he noticed he had company now. The old boy was hanging back, pretending he wasn’t following Taggart, but Henry wasn’t fooled…
He patted his leg. “Well, come on if you’re coming.”
They made their way down the long ramp to the water and walked along to Time Bandit’s stern, and Henry stepped across, patted his leg once again.
The dog appeared terrified – until Henry stepped back across and lifted the dog into his arms, then carrying the old boy across the gap. Once on the aft deck the dog circled once and crapped, leaving Henry feeling a little abused.
A half hour later Dina arrived, flashlight in hand.
“What’s this?” she said when she saw the animal.
“I believe it’s called a dog.”
“I can see that…”
“So why did you ask?”
Exasperated and with her hands on her hips, Dina scowled as she spoke: “Where did it come from?”
Taggart pointed to the dock. “Right about there, I think.”
She came over and looked at the creature and her scowl deepened. “He’s very sick.”
“That makes two of us.”
“He has a tumor…”
“Yup. Me too.”
Taggart scratched behind an ear. “Yup. I got some of those too.”
“What are you going to do?”
“Take him to see a doctor in the morning.”
“Indeed.” And suddenly, Dina saw this wasted mongrel as a key ally in this part of her campaign. “I know a very good animal clinic here in town.”
“I thought you might.” He looked up, saw Rolf hiding in the shadows and waved him off. “Well, I’ve got to gather laundry and get it up to them. Want to help?”
“Okay, you gather the bedding up front and I’ll…” Taggart stumbled backwards and fell onto a cockpit seat; Dina rushed to his side and began feeling for a pulse. Seconds later Rolf was jumping onboard, already lending a hand. “Somebody stay with the dog,” Henry managed to say before he lost consciousness.
He opened his eyes expecting to see his cabin, and instead saw he was back in the hospital. Alone. No nurse, too.
Then, with a building sense of panic he remembered the dog. He found the Call Button and hit it; a moment later the Ugliest Woman in Norway walked into his room. She looked, Taggart decided, like some kind of stunted troll from a Norwegian horror flick and recoiled from the thought.
“Ah, so you are awake now?”
“I don’t know. Am I?”
“For a moment I thought I was inside a film called The Night of the Living Dead.”
“No, you are very much alive now.”
“How long have I been out?”
“It is just now noon, so a little more than twelve hours. You had dangerously low blood pressure and your white count was very low as well, so you are being transfused.”
He looked at his arms and didn’t see a line, then he felt an odd pressure just beneath his left collar bone. “Is this the port?”
“Where’s Dina…uh, Dr. Bauer?”
“She has been notified.”
“What does that mean?”
“She will be here shortly.”
Which turned out to be a few hours later. She walked in looking harried and worn out.
“You don’t look so hot, doc.”
“Neither do you.”
“Where’s the dog?”
“At the clinic. I assumed you wanted to take care of him.”
“Thank you.” He visibly relaxed on hearing that.
“After you fell he curled up on your legs. It seems you have a new admirer to go with your collection.”
He noted the bitter sarcasm in her voice and filed it away for later. “I like admirers. There’s something admirable about having so many, don’t you think?”
“You are a nut case, Henry Taggart.”
“Thank you very much.”
“Well, I see you are feeling better…”
“Are they going to bathe the dog?”
“Of course. And we treated you for fleas, as well.”
“Wonderful, but I still have an urge to scratch behind my ears with my feet. Do you think that’ll go away on its own?”
“I have my doubts.”
“So, how long to sail between here and Oslo?”
“A week if you push hard.”
“Did you change your mind? You’re not coming?”
“I got the distinct impression my company was not wanted.”
“Okay, Doc. You win. Move your stuff onboard, see if mamma-san will let Rolf come along.”
“You are sure?”
“It was the dog that did it, Doc. Your heart is in the right place after all.”
“I will never understand you Americans and your infatuation with dogs.”
“Good. A little mystery never hurt anyone.”
She shook her head. “I will come for you in the morning, probably before eight. You may shower as long as your port is covered; ask the nurse and she will show you how. Have you named your dog yet?”
“How ‘bout Clyde?”
“You know, the boat? Bandit? Clyde sort of fits, right?”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“You know, bandits, Bonnie and Clyde?”
“Who were they?”
He shrugged. “Oh, just a couple of North Dallas socialites who were into animal rights.”
“Oh, well, good name, then.”
“Yeah, I thought so too.”
“So, I am going to go pick up…Clyde now. I will take care of him tonight.”
She nodded, managed a faint smile before she left him there, sitting alone again in spreading puddles of guilt and doubt.
Clyde seemed to take to life on Time Bandit about as well as any half-blind, tumor-ridden dog could, but it was a whole other story once the seas picked up. He howled at first, and not out of joy, when Bandit hit a good, solid eight footer, washing the cockpit with walls of spray and sending him into a urine-spraying frenzy.
“I wonder if he could make it to shore?” Taggart mused after a rolling ten-footer resulted in a fresh pile of salmon scented crap landing on the companionway steps. “It can’t be more than, what, two miles away?”
“Henry, you just spent three thousand dollars on that animal,” Dina said, grinning but hardly amused.
“That probably depends on your point of view, Henry. He seems very grateful to me.”
“He pissed on my bed last night, Dina. Trust me, that isn’t gratitude.” Clyde skulked over and crawled onto Taggart’s lap, then the pup licked his chin. “Alright, good boy. All is forgiven.” Henry set the autopilot and held onto the pup for a half hour, letting the sun soak in while he rubbed Clyde’s ears. “What time is Rolf waking up?”
“His watch starts at 1800 hours, yours starts at midnight.”
“Seems like a lot of traffic out here. Is it usually like this?”
“Yes. Lots of traffic to the oil fields, freighters in and out of the Baltic make up the rest.”
“Geez. I’m going to slip in closer to the shoreline, try to stay out of the shipping lanes.”
She shook her head. “Too many rocks, and if the wind backs on us we’ll be clawing off a lee shore.”
“Forecast is still for winds out of the northwest through tomorrow afternoon.”
“But Henry, these forecasts are considered notoriously unreliable for good reason. These waters change with perilous unpredictability.”
“Okay, so I set a twenty five mile guard on the radar, and I’ll stay up here tonight and keep him company.”
“Henry, you need rest. I know you can’t see it, but your arms and legs are involved now. I’m not sure how much longer your Parkinson’s symptoms will remain under control.”
He shrugged. “Someone will come up with a new medication. Someone always does.”
She shook her head. “You really are unbelievable, Henry. You do know that, don’t you?”
“Of course. I wouldn’t have it any other way.” Clyde rambled up the companionway steps, stood on his hind legs and looked at the waves – then he sneezed once, shook his ears in the wind before he went back below to hide on Henry’s bunk. “He’s wising up fast.”
“At least one of us is,” she sighed.
He heard a Mayday on the radio and turned up the volume. “Sounds like a cruise ship,” he said. “Behind us, maybe thirty miles. Stavanger Coast Guard has ‘em.”
“There have been several today, all close to shore.”
He nodded as he fiddled with the radar, tuning out the rough seas and bringing the range down to 16 miles. Three new targets popped and new alarms sounded.
“Where did those come from?” Dina said, looking at the display with anger.
“Lost in sea-clutter,” highlighting a target and letting the computer work out its speed and course. “Okay, this guy will be coming close, looks like in about a half hour.”
She peered ahead, saw nothing but gray mist suspended in the wind-whipped air. “You know what I’m thinking?”
“Oh, really? What?”
“You’re looking at the chart, wondering if we shouldn’t bail out and duck into a nearby port, maybe let this storm blow out.”
“Am I that obvious,” she said, throwing up her hands.
“It’s the obvious call, Dina. What about Flekkefjord? Is there a good clinic there?”
“Yes,” she said, surprised Henry would even suggest such a thing. “You are not feeling well?”
“No, I am not feeling well.”
“Will you consider letting me start chemo now?”
“We will consider it.”
He looked at her, saw the shock and concern in her eyes and he shrugged.
“Henry, you do know that I love you just a little, right?”
“The feeling’s mutual, Doc.”
“Yeah, but don’t tell anyone.”
“If I could have one wish it would be for you to stay with me for a while. I would love to spend much more time with you.”
He nodded. “Time is a funny thing, isn’t it?”
“I suppose, but what do you mean?”
“Oh, the whole linear nature of time. You know, like an arrow, only moving in one direction.”
“How could it be any other way?”
“Yeah. How could it…uh, would you hand me the binoculars?”
She heard the concern in his voice and handed them over, then looked at the radar screen. There was a new target less than a mile ahead and it winked off then returned…
“I’ll be damned,” he whispered, then: “Here, take a look.”
She took the binos and looked where he had just been looking: “What is that?”
“Submarine. See the red star?”
“Are we within 12 miles of the coast?” she asked nervously.
“Seven point five. Should I call it in?”
She nodded her head vigorously, handing the mic to him.
“Pan-pan-pan, Sailing Vessel Time Bandit to Coast Guard Stavanger.”
“Stavanger, Bandit, go ahead.”
“Stavanger, be advised we have a Russian submarine on the surface venting steam and smoke, location about seven miles off the coast, standby to copy lat/lon.”
“Bandit, our location North 58-20-04 East 5-49-19. Seven miles off Egersund channel entrance.”
“Received, stand-by one.”
“Stavanger, Bandit, people coming on deck now, waving at us.”
“Bandit, Stavanger received. Be advised, stay upwind of any steam or smoke.”
Rolf came up into the cockpit and Dina handed him the binoculars; she pointed the sub out and the boy started reporting what he was seeing. “Two people just jumped into the water. I see flames coming out of a hatch. Okay, more people jumping into the water…Henry, I think she is sinking!”
“Stavanger, Bandit, we have people in the water and it appears the vessel is in danger of sinking.”
“Stavanger received. Bandit, be advised helicopters are en route and do not approach the vessel for any reason, repeat any reason. Life rafts will be dropped, surface units are on the way.”
“Okay Stavanger, got it. Be advised twenty plus in the water, no rafts deployed, vessel settling by the stern quickly now…”
A shattering boom washed across Bandit’s deck and Taggart looked up in time to see two Norwegian F-16s skimming along a hundred feet over the waves, followed by what looked like a dark gray 737 bristling with antennas.
“Ah, Bandit here, we’ve got multiple aircraft overhead now.”
“Stavanger received. Can you report local wind speed and direction, please…?”
“Bandit reporting average wind speed 32 knots, gusts to 44 knots, wind now directly from the east to east-southeast, call it 110 degrees average. We now have forty people in the water, vessel now about one half submerged. A C-130 is now on low approach…now dropping life rafts and smoke markers…”
“Bandit, request you break off now and divert to CG Stavanger for radiologic assessment and monitoring.”
Taggart looked at Dina and when their eyes met he could see the fear in both her eyes and Rolf’s.
“Bandit en route Stavanger, our ETA about ten to twelve hours.”
“Bandit, can you make Egersund sooner?”
“Roger, we’re about an hour out of Egersund.”
“Okay Bandit, divert Egersund; report on arrival and you will be directed to quarantine facilities once in the channel.”
He looked at the scene before he turned into the wind: now four F-16s overhead and that weird looking 737 circling the scene, while at least four helicopters hovered over the stricken sub. He could see converging tracks of several more vessels responding to the scene, and Rolf spotted two frigates coming from the north, crashing through the waves as they raced to the area, their bows sending huge plumes of spray into the air.
“Rolf, would you take the helm, please?”
His hands shaking badly now, Henry went below and dropped onto the bed. Clyde came over and licked his forehead before settling in close to Henry, then he felt Dina rolling up his sleeve, giving him a shot. He pulled the pup close before his world began spinning violently; even his face felt like it was twitching now and his right leg flailed uncontrollably. A minute later he felt the assault easing, then he saw Dina sitting by his side and he smiled. She ran her fingers through his hair for a while, at least until this latest crisis passed.
“I’m not sure I can go on like this,” he said, his voice coarse and brittle now.
She shrugged. “We just need to find the best balance of medications, then you’ll do better.”
“Anyway,” she continued, “you need to feel better by the time the authorities get here, or they may put an end to this voyage whether you agree or not.”
“You rest a few more minutes. I’ll come for you when I see the channel buoy.”
He woke up in a hospital room, another IV hooked up to his port, and he felt more nauseous than he ever had in his life. He looked at the evil looking bag hanging beside his bed and started to cry.
(c) 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | more in a week or so…