Taggart was enjoying the sun. The heat felt great, especially around his neck and on his chest, at least where his polo shirt was unbuttoned. At one point in his life he’d routinely walked around on deck, even in marinas, with no shirt on at all. Now now. That hideous scar where his left breast used to be nauseated him, and he couldn’t imagine walking around in public with that thing showing.
Clyde seemed to be enjoying the sun, but more to the point the old boy seemed to enjoy having Taggart back onboard. He was on his side now, his back pressed into Taggart’s thigh, and he moaned from time to time, especially when Taggart rubbed behind his ears. His head popped up when something ‘thumped’ down below, but when Taggart didn’t move Clyde remained fixed in place.
“Just a fish, boy,” Taggart said to sooth the savage beast.
“Hello-o-o,” someone down on the dock said, and the woman’s voice sounded vaguely familiar so he turned around and looked. It was that reporter…the one from Bodø…the one with the bodacious legs…
“Hi there,” he said. “You sure are a long way from home!”
“Would it be alright if I came on?”
“Darlin’, you can come anywhere you want.”
She looked at him and grinned. “Thanks,” she said before she hopped across to the swim platform on the stern. She had no trouble climbing onto the aft deck either, despite the provocative heels she was wearing.
“Goddam it all to hell, woman, but I do believe you have the greatest legs I’ve ever seen in my life.”
Oddly enough, she beamed on hearing that. “Thanks,” she said. “I used to dance, and I still run a lot.”
“Well, whatever the hell you’re doing, please don’t stop. The world needs more legs like yours.”
“I heard you were in the hospital again, and that there is some trouble with your continuing the trip?”
“Yup, I heard that too.”
“Is it true?”
“True? Hell, I don’t know. You’d have to ask Dina Bauer about all that stuff.”
“What happened out there? You have heard, of course, that now the Navy and the Coast Guard regard you as some kind of a hero too?”
“Really? No, I hadn’t heard that. More like being in the wrong place at the right time.”
“Who is your new friend?” she said, reaching down to rub the dog. “He wasn’t here last time I saw you, was he?”
“Clyde? No, he found me in Bergen after we got back. Made me an offer I couldn’t refuse, so now…here he is.”
“He looks very old.”
“Yes. Actually, he’s my twin brother.”
“Ah, yes, I see the resemblance. He is very handsome indeed. Would you mind if I asked what was your illness?”
“No, I don’t mind your asking, but I hope you don’t expect an answer.”
“Oh, no, Mr. Taggart…this is, how do you say it, off the record.”
“Ah. Well, that makes all the difference.”
“I have breast cancer.”
She grinned. “Do you always joke about everything?”
“Always. And I have breast cancer.”
Her eyes changed in a heartbeat. “You do? Really?”
“You wanna see the scar?”
When she nodded he lifted his shirt – and he watched, fascinated, as her eyes went as wide as saucers. “Is it on just the one side?”
“Did they grade it?”
“Yup. And you don’t want to know.”
“I’m so sorry. I had no idea.”
“Neither did I.”
“And you still want to continue your voyage?”
“Yes, of course. After a transfusion and a little of Dr. Bauers Magic Elixir I feel great. Well, I feel great when I’m not puking my guts out, but you know how that goes. Don’t you?”
“What kind did you have?”
He eyes blinked rapidly and she looked away. “How did you know?”
“I told you. Clyde is my twin brother, and because of that we can both smell things others can’t.”
“Uterine. Four years ago. I got it after picking up an STD.”
Taggart nodded. “I got mine after modeling for a Victoria’s Secret catalogue shoot.”
She smiled but she knew his humor was a wall, a wall to keep her out. “Where is Doctor Bauer?”
“Bergen. She took the boy back home.”
“So, you are alone?”
“I am alone. At least until the Gestapo decides whether or not I can leave.”
“Doctor Bauer? She is not coming back?”
He shrugged. “That remains to be seen.”
“I thought you looked a little depressed. Now I know why.”
He shrugged at that. “Not sure I know what ‘depressed’ means.”
“I’ve never been here before. Is there a good place to eat nearby?”
“As long as you like Indian or Thai food.”
“Which do you prefer?”
He shrugged. “Both, I suppose.”
“Could I take you to dinner?”
He looked away. “I don’t know how to say this politely, but I have not had much of an appetite the last couple of days.”
“You still need to eat. How about Thai? Some soup?”
“Yeah, we can do that.”
She looked at the dog.
“Yes,” he sighed, “my brother goes with me wherever I go.”
She bit her lip and tried not to laugh. “Wonderful,” she managed to say.
“Come on, Clyde. Time to get some sirloin steak!” The ears perked up but Clyde groaned, yet he managed to stand without help – then he stretched for a while, long enough to make all the arthritis settle down for a little bit. Taggart grabbed his iPhone and his sailing hat, then clipped the lead onto Clyde’s collar: “Come on, boy. Off the steps we go.” They made the short walk across the main square without issue and, as the Thai place had just opened, there were no customers inside yet. Taggart put his phone and hat on the table and helped Clyde drape himself over his feet; a minute later Clyde was snoring.
They ordered – and Taggart ordered a plain steak, sliced thin, for Clyde – then he asked the obvious question: “You do understand that I have no idea who you are. Like, even your name.”
She smiled. “I’m sorry. I just assumed.”
“You’re probably a famous reporter on the national news, right?”
She smiled. “Something like that. You can call me Brigit, if you like.”
“Okay, Brigit. So, why are you here? Smell a good story?”
“I was working on a story, yes. There’s a lot of information on you, as it turns out. You hold several patents, worked for very well known companies. I was impressed. Then I heard you were ill and I decided not to pursue the story any longer.”
“That was decent of you, but that doesn’t answer the big question.”
“Why am I here?”
“That’s the one.”
“I don’t know, Mr. Taggart…”
“Alright, Henry. Thank you.” She paused then looked away. “I suppose this is silly, but the things you said, the way that you talk to the world, all of it. I wanted to know more about you, but then I had to admit to myself that I was attracted to you.”
“That’s odd. Most of the women I’ve known over the years tend to run as soon as they see me.”
She smiled. “I think you make jokes a lot.”
He grinned. “Yeah, maybe so. The truth is probably a lot less interesting, though. One day I got serious about work and then about a week later I looked up…but thirty years had passed.”
“You were consumed by your work, then?”
He nodded. “Consumed is an understatement. I literally didn’t go out on a date until a couple of years ago.”
“The famous movie star? I saw a post about that. You took her to the Academy Awards?”
“Oh, that. Well, no, the company I worked for arranged that one. We were up for an Oscar, some special effects award…”
“And you won, too!”
“Yeah, well, I didn’t win the thing.”
“Still, what an experience!”
“It was pretty interesting.”
“The actress? Was she a friend?”
“Never saw her again. At least, not that I recall,” he added, grinning.
Their meals came and Taggart cut up the meat into smaller pieces and then called Clyde. “Come on, boy. Time for the good stuff.” He fed the pup piece by piece, and when Clyde had finished off his dinner Taggart started on his soup. “I love this stuff. The coconut makes all the difference, I think.”
“So, Henry. If someone is attracted to you, what do you usually do?”
“Me? I usually run screaming from the room.”
“Oh, it’s just a basic assumption I make, really. If someone thinks I’m attractive something is either really very wrong upstairs or they need new glasses.”
“You are an attractive man. It is a shame you cannot see that.”
“Yup. You need new glasses.”
“I don’t wear glasses, Henry.”
“Well, there you have it.”
“Would you feel better if I got us a hotel room?”
“What? No! What are you talking about?”
“You and I, together.”
“Look, Brigit, you’re an attractive girl, but I’m old enough to be your father. Hell, maybe your grandfather. I just finished a round of chemo four days ago and I feel like fucking hell. Even so, I think what you’re asking is really very sweet and I’d love to but I’m simply not up to it right now. And I hope I’ve not hurt your feelings…”
“Well,” she said, “there’s a first time for everything.”
“Yeah? Well, I have no idea what that means and I’m not sure I want to know…”
“It’s not important.”
“You’re angry, aren’t you?”
“A little, yes.”
“I’m sorry. Really, I am. I can offer you a brandy down on the boat, if that would do the trick.”
“Oh, I think not. I can make a flight in Stavanger, get back to Oslo tonight…”
“Excuse me. You came all the way down here, just to see me?”
“Didn’t I mention that?”
“No. no, you didn’t.”
“I thought I had.”
“When did you decide you wanted to, well, to do it with me?”
“When I decided to write my story about you.”
“Yes. Ah, indeed,” she said, more seriously now.
“And so now the story will get written.”
“Well, I wish you all the best, Brigit. I enjoyed our little talk and I hope you have a pleasant journey back to, uh, where did you say? Oslo?”
“I do hope I’ll see you again sometime. It was certainly a pleasure meeting you. If you don’t mind, I’ll pay the bill this evening. Perhaps, if we meet again, you can pay? Goodnight.”
She was a little wide-eyed now, not quite understanding what she’d done to spook her prey so badly, but she simply waved as Taggart walked to the counter and paid.
‘And,’ she thought, ‘even that stupid dog failed to look at me as it followed Taggart from the restaurant!’
When he got back down to the little marina he wasn’t too surprised to see Dina Bauer waiting in the parking lot, standing by her little sedan and looking out at the harbor.
“Well, hello there,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting you.”
“What did that bitch want?”
“What did she want?”
“She’s a reporter, I met her in…”
“I know who she is and her name is Trouble. Now, what did she want?”
“She said she was doing a story on me and that she stopped when she heard I was ill.”
Taggart looked away.
“So, she propositioned you?”
He nodded. “I basically told her there was no way.”
“And she got angry?”
“A little, yes. Why?”
“That’s her usual pitch.”
“Well, for whatever it’s worth, I recorded the whole thing.”
“You did what?”
He pulled out his iPhone and hit the stop button. “I recorded the conversation.”
“I detest reporters.”
“You cannot claim you have deliberately made this recording, okay? It is against privacy laws. You understand?”
“I do. I think it’s a design flaw, actually. I hit the record button all the time. By accident, you see.”
“Well, perhaps you will not need to use it, but keep it close. The government has given you a week to remove your boat from Norwegian waters; after that she will be impounded to prevent you from sailing on her and endangering others.”
“Well, she’s loaded with food, fuel, and water. Did you bring your gear?”
“You will have to sail outside the 12 mile limit. You understand?”
“You aren’t coming?”
“I cannot. Neither can Rolf. The transfusion and chemotherapy ought to see you all the way to Sweden. If I can, I will meet you in Gothenburg. There is an excellent hospital there.”
“Excuse me for asking, but you seem a little angry with me. Could you tell me why?”
“I have my reasons, but I will not talk about them at this time.”
“Also, here is the telephone number for the woman you took out on the boat, with the whales, if you recall. You will want to talk with her soon.”
“And you won’t tell me why?”
“That is correct. Now, you should get underway as soon as possible, and get outside the 12 mile line directly. The Coast Guard has limited jurisdiction beyond that line.”
“You said I have permission to…”
“A member of the government has given me permission to pass that information on, but…”
“But you have nothing in writing.”
“That is correct.”
“What’s his name?”
“The government representative. His name.
“Bauer. Markus Bauer. He is well known. If you need to use his name, people will know who you are talking about.”
“Is he, uh…”
“Yes, he is.”
“Is this a set up, Dina?”
“I don’t think so, but I do find it curious that a most dangerous reporter showed up today.”
“Curious? That’s an understatement.”
Dina held out her hand and he took it. “Good luck, Henry, and in case I don’t see you again, I wish you all the best. And I do hope you make it to Paris for Christmas.”
“Ten days, you say. After that?”
“You will need to find a hospital, quickly. The new Parkinson’s medications will help a lot, but try to stay warm. Do you need help with the lines?”
“No, I can manage.” He looked at her. He could tell she was holding back tears. “Too many questions, Dina. Not enough time.”
She nodded. “Good luck,” then she ran into his arms, hugged him once then she walked quickly to her car. He watched her drive off, not sure whether to feel sad or scared to death.
He got Clyde onboard and down below, then started the diesel and let it warm up. He turned on the thrusters then pulled up fenders and all but two dock lines. Next he turned on the chart plotter and set the radar to standby, pulled up a chart on the display and began looking over his options.
“What are my options?” he said to the wind. “I feel like I’m running into a really big trap. If I’m running and I’m caught fleeing, then basically I lose everything. If I stay here a week they take the Bandit. Well, they try to take her.”
He watched a fishing boat come in and dock about a hundred meters down the quay, and he nodded his head slowly. “Okay. Someone wants to play hardball. So…let’s play.”
He shut down the engine and hopped off the stern, then he walked down to the fishing boat. Her skipper was on the stern making arrangements for a fuel delivery, but then he saw Taggart and walked over.
“Can help you?” the skipper asked in halting English.
“Do you know a maritime lawyer?”
“Yes. Many here in town, more in Stavanger. Thick as fleas in Bergen.”
“Who is the meanest sea lawyer in Norway?”
“Meanest? Only one. You wait here.”
The skipper walked to the wheelhouse and disappeared inside; he came out a minute later, carrying some papers. He handed a business card to Taggart, and a piece of paper with a name and phone number on it.
“This bitch,” he said, pointing at the card. “She meanest of all mean. Real cunt. If asks where got name, give my name, here,” he said, pointing at the paper. “Any problem you come see me. If not here, you call me.”
Taggart shook his head in wonder. “Thank you. I mean it, thanks a lot.”
“You Saint Henry. All talk about you. You need friends around here, you got it.”
Taggart held out his hand and the fisherman took it, then he walked back down to Time Bandit. He set all the fenders and reset his spring-lines; he powered down the electronics then sat by the chart table down below and dialed the number on the card.
“I’m looking for Sigrid Grieg.”
“Uh, Ms Grieg, my name is Henry Taggart…”
“Yes m’am. Look, I think I’m about to be in a world of trouble…”
He described everything that had happened tonight, including the phone recording and Dina’s warning, and he could tell she was taking notes. Then she began asking questions, mainly related to his health.
“How late will you be up?” she asked.
“How late do I need to stay up?”
“I will be there in an hour. Where are you, exactly?”
He told her and she was gone, just like that. He shook his head, and a minute later the fisherman came down.
“Yes. She come now. One hour.”
“She good. She take care you. You want fish?” The fisherman was holding up what looked like a twenty pound salmon. “You cook. She come, I come. We eat.”
“Okay!” Taggart said, smiling. “One hour, fish ready.”
He set about prepping the fish then got his bar-b-q set up on the stern rail. He cut up some veggies and put them on skewers then lit the fire. With ten minutes to go he put mayonnaise on the grill to keep the fish from sticking, then he put the fish on, slapping a little butter and lime on the fleshy side, then some salt and pepper. At the one hour mark a glossy black Mercedes Sprinter van pulled into the lot and a driver got out and set up a wheelchair, then helped an absolutely rotund woman into the chair.
“You Taggart?” the woman asked. Her accent seemed stuck about halfway between Oslo and Brooklyn.
“Yup. Come on down. Salmon is on the grill, your friend Peter is on the way.”
“Can you bring me a plate down here? I don’t feel like climbing tonight. My knees have about had it.”
“I sure can.”
“Got any beer?”
“Better bring a bunch.”
She wheeled up to a picnic table while Taggart carried mounds of food over, then he ferried over a bunch of beer. The fisherman built a fire in a pit and everyone sat around eating and drinking and Taggart was impressed. Lawyers in Norway were actually kinda fun – and in the end they talked about his situation ’til four in the morning. When she listened to his recording of the reporter in the restaurant her eyes brightened, and before she left she told Taggart he had nothing to worry about. She would take care of everything.
© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next chapter will drop in a week or so.