Taggart winced when the IV was mated to the port in his chest; the snapping sound it made unnerved him, the sharp sting on insertion was just icing on the cake.
He was sitting in a large room with what he guessed was a dozen or so other patients – people of all ages – all getting one kind of chemotherapy or another. Each and every one of them was laid out on brightly colored overstuffed recliners, and Taggart looked at all the others in the room feeling an underwhelming mixture of revulsion and self-pity. Their feet up, their eyes closed, he felt a passing wave of nausea as he imagined embalming fluid passing into all those veins.
‘We’re dead, all of us in this goddam room. We just don’t know it yet…’
The nurse hovering over him adjusted the drip on his IV and disappeared. There were a couple of cheerful magazines on a cheerful little table by his cheerful recliner but one quick glance confirmed his first impression: nothing in English so nothing cheerful to read. He pushed a button and laid back, closed his eyes…
‘Just like falling off a log,’ he remembered thinking…
Then he was walking down a dirt road. In a forest. Light snow falling. Wispy tendrils of snow on gray-brown leaves. Footsteps and the sounds of his breath the only music in this air. This air…? So far away, so long ago.
He searched memory, looking for this passage of time, this slice of life.
Yosemite. He was seven years old, his first trip to the park. Thanksgiving vacation. Walking through the woods with he father, only now he was alone.
He turned, looked around, realized he was alone in the forest and he felt that same sudden panic every child experiences when ‘alone’ and ‘lost’ become the first words that come to mind.
Should I run? But where to? Where would I run? There’s no one here…
No, I’ll just keep walking. Got to keep moving. Forward. Always forward.
He heard a snapping twig, turned to face the noise. A fawn was circling aimlessly, the falling snow blending with the spots on his back.
Then he saw a rattlesnake. Huge. Preposterously so.
And another careless fawn, wandering in circles with not a care in the world, comes face to face with death. In an instant the snake is coiling around the fawn, then squeezing tighter and tighter until life leaves the eyes of both predator and prey. The snake takes the fawn by the head and slowly begins to devour him.
He wants to run now but can’t, because he has to stop and watch this, look at one more pointless death. But no, is that right? If death is pointless, isn’t life pointless too? Aimless, wandering circles we must call our own?
He felt a presence by his side and opened an eye, watched as Dina Bauer talked to his nurse while a new bag of poison was fitted to the pump that was squeezing pure unmitigated shit into his veins. He turned away, closed his eyes – welcoming the looming darkness once again.
Then he felt the chair lurch, his feet lowering, his head coming up.
And Dina was beside him now, looking into his eyes. “How do you feel?”
“Like I just swallowed a squirrel.” Pointless. Another pointless joke. But that’s who I am…the Joker.
She smiled. “This dose was a little different than the first. You will feel some nausea this time.”
“I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
“It just wouldn’t be chemo without vomiting and losing all my hair, ya know? Like my very own red badge of courage.”
She shook her head, smiled at his irreverence. “I wish you could experience saving just one life, Henry Taggart.”
“You mean…the people in the water don’t count?”
She hesitated, looked away. “No, I meant from a medical perspective. That you could experience saving a life through medicine. Then you might understand what it is I feel.”
“What makes you think I haven’t, Dina.”
She tossed a smug, sidelong glance his way. “Oh, truly? Well, this I’ve got to hear…”
“You want me to tell you? Here, now?”
“Of course. Please.”
He closed his eyes, found the memory…
“I was in graduate school. Working a couple of nights a week over at Hewlett-Packard, spending time with Steve Jobs on the weekends. I was living in a dorm that year. We were having a party, in the dorm. I’d brought some silicon blanks and a small laser…”
“What is this silicon blank?”
“Almost pure silicon, very thin and formed into a circle, three inch diameter. More reflective than a mirror.”
“Anyway, we took the covers off a set of hi-fi speakers and I glued a blank on the dome of a woofer…”
“Woofer. It’s the speaker that reproduces all the bass notes in music.”
“Yes, okay. The big one, correct?”
“Yes. So, once the glue set we tilted the speaker and fired the laser into the blank, then we put on some Iron Butterfly. In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida. The drum solo…”
“Yeah? Okay, no biggie. So, anyway, the laser is bouncing along to the music and making all kinds of cool looking patterns on the ceiling…”
“This is going somewhere, I trust?”
“Yeah, it is. So, then we’re listening to Dark Side of the Moon and the first song, Speak to Me, starts out with this long recording of a heartbeat. So bingo, I’m gluing a blank on my roommate’s chest and I bounce the laser off that – and what’s on the ceiling? Well, it ain’t random, Dina. It looked almost exactly like an EKG tracing. Anyway, the idea hit me…let’s bounce the laser off a bunch of hearts, see if we could reproduce the results.”
“Did it work?”
“Yup. So, yeah, one of the people we did this to was a girl, and yes, we glued a blank on her chest, right between two of the most glorious, uh, well, you know…”
“Indeed I do. So, what happened next?”
“Well, we get a tracing but it looked different. Really different. Like one trace on top of another. So, it hits me, right? This is a girl and girls can have, well, you know, two hearts beating in there…”
“You know, a fetus?”
“So I put a blank on her belly and bounce the beam and pick up a fetal heart beat…which was really kind of cool because she didn’t even know she was preggers.”
“Still, we kept picking up subtle traces of the mother’s heartbeat, even on the belly. That was a problem, I guess, that I wanted to solve. I talked with some of the guys over in the medical electronics division about what I’d found and they were all stoked because at that time you couldn’t pick up a good fetal rhythm with a standard EKG. We started doing these laser bounce sessions over in the OB clinic at Stanford, and to make a long story a little less long I developed the very first working fetal ballistocardiograph. I hold the patent, too, though H-P made the rig. You guys could, with my little setup, diagnose major heart valve problems in-utero for the first time, and all because of Pink Floyd and little old me.”
Taggart shook his head. “Damn, Dina! And I take it you’ve never heard In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida before, right?”
She shook her head.
“Well, I see you aren’t feeling too bad. If there are no…”
“Wait a minute, doc. You mean to tell me I just told you this whole tale about how I…”
“Oh, I’m very impressed, Henry. You amaze me, really.”
“Yeah. Right. So, you were saying?”
“You can make the afternoon shuttle down to Stavanger. I won’t need to see you here until next week.”
“So, I can make it to Oslo in a week, right?”
She seemed shocked. “You surely are not going to keep going, Henry.”
“Places to go, Dina. People to see. Paris by Christmas, remember?”
“I’m sorry, but I cannot go with you now.”
“Is Eva going to stay with you?”
“I think so, for another week or so, then she’s going to stay with her parents.”
“How is the Parkinson’s?”
“Is she a sailor?”
“No, not really.”
“You’re putting both Eva and the baby at risk, you understand?”
He sighed. “She doesn’t want to leave.”
“She doesn’t know you are ill, does she?”
“I told her a couple of days ago. She seemed overjoyed.”
“I’m certainly glad you didn’t knock up that reporter, too.”
“Don’t think she can doc, but would you like me to try?”
“Frankly, Henry, I’m not sure Britt could take the heartache.”
“Heartache? You’re kidding, right?”
Dina shook her head. “I do not know what she sees in you.”
“You mean, besides my dashing good looks and boundless charm?”
“Precisely.” She smiled, then turned suddenly and walked back into the hospital.
“Well, what a charming conversation that was, Henry. So glad you could join us today.” He looked down at his hands, saw the faint tremors and knew it was time for his other meds.
Eva was below in his cabin when he got back to the Bandit; Clyde was snuggled up under her chin and didn’t even look up when Taggart stuck his head in the cabin and took a quick inventory of the state of the union onboard. With that score settled, he stepped down to the galley and put on some water and got his tea ready, then put a couple of pieces of bread in the toaster…
The flight to Stavanger on that hideous Dash-8 Q400 turboprop had, he felt, just about finished him off. The pencil shaped behemoth twitched and bounced on every little air current, and their final approach into the little coastal airport had felt like a ride on NASAs famed vomit comet. The flight was so nauseating that as soon as the wheels were firmly on the runway everyone onboard had burst out yelling and clapping, and for the first time ever he’d joined in.
Still, by the time his taxi had made it back to Egersund his legs had begun the violent jerking twitch that signaled medication time, and as soon as he got some toast down he took his evening dose. And almost immediately he regretted it.
This latest round of chemo had barely begun playing with him these last three or four hours, just hinting at the nausea to come; now, with his Parkinson’s med stuck about halfway down his throat the real fun seemed about to begin. He put on a heavy coat and a wool watch-cap and crawled up into the cockpit, settled in behind the wheel with his tea and looked at the docks.
His phone chirped and he saw it was Sigrid the Lawyer. “Hello…?”
“Are you at the boat? Still in Egersund, I hope?”
“Yup, still tied up – same place as last week.”
“Good. I’ll see you in a half hour.”
“Now…what’s this all about? Dropping off her bill, perhaps?” He heard the tikki-tik of Clyde’s nails on the companionway steps and a moment later his graying snout slid into view. “I bet you’re ready to go take a crap, right, Amigo?”
“Understood. Let’s get your leash on.”
They walked to the end of the marina grounds and Clyde circled twice then dumped a city-sized load on the grass. “Geeze, Clyde, you been eatin’ road kill? Man, that shit stinks…” He’d picked up the mastodon turds with a poop-sack and dumped them in the appropriate litter barrel – just in time to see the Lawyer-mobile skid to a stop in the parking lot. As before, her driver got out a wheelchair and she’d just motored down to Bandit’s stern as he walked up.
“Hello, Clyde,” she said, then she looked at Taggart. “Excuse me, but you do not look well.”
“I do not feel well. I feel like green eggs and ham, as a matter of fact.”
“So, what are your plans now?”
“I’m going to head for Oslo in the morning.”
“Is that the best course of action?”
“I want to make it to Oslo in a week, so yes.”
“You will continue with the therapy there?”
“Sort of. I’ll keep moving – to Gothenburg the week after, maybe Copenhagen the next, then we’ll have to see how much of the candle I’ve burned.”
“Well, the plan is Paris for Christmas so I’ll be counting back from there. I’d like to go to Stockholm, take the Gotä Canal back to Gothenburg, then it’s the Kiel Canal to the German North Sea coast with a stop in Norderney, then the inland waterways in the Netherlands and Belgium, if time permits, on my way to the Seine.”
“That’s a lot of water under the keel, Henry. For anyone.”
“I hear you.”
“Do you? Anyway, I understand this other girl, Eva, will be staying with you until Oslo?”
“So, Dina is keeping you advised of my progress, I take it?”
“Yes. She is quite concerned.”
“Yes, well, that’s the plan.”
“I would advise against such a voyage. That is needless endangerment, and that violates the agreement you made with the Coast Guard.”
“Assuming they know, you mean?”
“You may assume they do know.”
“Ah, the lovely Dina strikes again.”
“Yes. That is why I rushed down here this evening. They have been advised. Given Eva’s lack of skill and the nature of the body of water you plan to traverse, you really should reconsider this – even without the agreement.”
“It’s that bad?”
“You know, Henry, just the fact you have to ask me that is a good indicator you have no idea what you are up against. But yes, it is that bad. And single handing around the cape is simple negligence…”
“So was single handing across the Atlantic.”
Sigrid nodded. “Point taken, however very few laws pertain to Atlantic crossings, while there are volumes of law concerning passages between countries in Scandinavian waters. Laws that date back more than 500 years, as a matter of record – just so we are clear. If you undertake such a voyage I will not be able to represent you.”
“So, what you are saying is…”
“In your current condition, you will need competent crew to undertake this voyage.”
“Uh-huh. And who do you recommend I call? Crews-R-Us?”
“No. Dina and Rolf.”
“But she told me…”
“She is waiting for your call, Henry. But she will not come with Eva onboard.”
“Oh, I see.”
“You are inside the eye of a hurricane, Henry. A very dangerous hurricane.”
“You know something, Sigrid. That woman keeps telling me she loves me, but she’s more like a Praying Mantis. She bites off her mate’s head after doing the deed…”
She shook her head. “Henry, there are three women in your little hurricane, and the hopes and dreams of a fifteen year old boy are bound up in all this, too. In some respects I do not envy you, yet from another perspective I find your situation most enviable.”
“You want to trade?”
She smiled, then shrugged. “Call me when you get to Oslo. I’d like to visit with you one more time before you leave Norway.”
“I will.” He took her hand and watched as she motored up to her Sprinter and disappeared inside, then he took out his phone and called Dina.
Taggart opened the Logbook to the last entry and read through it, then turned to a new page and began writing:
“Noon. Position N 57 46 by E 7 31, SOG 7 knots last two hours, COG 90 degrees mag., OAT 68F, Sea temp 55F Wind out of the west at 12 knots. Running with spinnaker on calm seas. Know I’m tempting Poseidon but you couldn’t ask for more benign weather to make this ‘dangerous’ trip. Rolf is beside himself flying the spinnaker for the first time, and Dina is doing a good job on the helm. I’ve been relegated to sitting in the shade as too much UV exposure is apparently not a great thing for chemo patients. Typical. Shipping traffic is heavy as we are in the shipping lanes so on constant watch, both visual and radar.”
He looked up from the chart table, first ahead then off to port – where he could just make out Ryvingen Lighthouse, now about ten miles away. He went down to the galley and grabbed a Dr. Pepper, then made his way up to the cockpit.
“Did you take your noon dose, Henry?” Dina said, smiling.
He shook his head. “I’ll get it next time I go below.”
She scowled and put Bandit on autopilot, then went below and got all his noon medications and brought them up. She handed them over and went back to the wheel, resumed scanning the horizon.
“You must’ve been a ship’s captain in your last life, Bauer.”
“You think so?”
“Yeah. The HMS Bounty.”
Rolf laughed as he eyed the spinnaker sheets. “Why is it so hot, Henry?”
“Well, think about it. The wind is coming directly from behind at about 10 knots, and we’re moving along about 7 knots. That means the wind over the deck is really only 3 knots, and the sun is directly overhead. So…if you don’t put some sunscreen on, you are going to look just like a boiled lobster tonight. Worse still, you are going to feel exactly like a boiled lobster.”
“Okay, okay. Can you watch the lines, please?”
“Sheets, Rolf. They’re called sheets.”
He grinned and ducked below.
“So, no submarines yet?” he asked Dina.
“And no whales. Very boring for you, I should imagine. No damsels in distress to rescue, or…”
“Yes, I think I see where you’re going with this.”
“For what? Being angry and bitter, maybe even a little vindictive?”
“And what do you expect? In the course of one week you impregnate my daughter – and then, another woman…”
“Too bad you’re in menopause, eh? Could have had a trifecta.”
“You are incorrigible, Henry Taggart.”
“I do try.”
“Anyone want something to eat?” Rolf called from the galley.
“No thanks,” they both replied.
“God, to be fifteen again,” he sighed. “To sit in the sun and eat three cheeseburgers – guilt free. Those were the days.”
“I was never so lucky. Things were very difficult here after the war, until the oil boom, anyway.”
“It’s going to be very difficult for you this evening if you don’t put on some lotion.”
“I need some sun.”
“Dina, you’re past well done right now.”
“Okay, take the helm.” He flipped on the autopilot and scanned the horizon, saw a blip on the screen and pulled out the binoculars. A huge container ship, light blue hull and white superstructure, was on their reciprocal heading, heading right for them, so he adjusted their course a little to the right and adjusted the spinnaker sheets, then he tagged the ship on radar and set an variable bearing line alarm. A minute later the ship altered course to its right and he relaxed a little. A few minutes later they passed port-to-port, and then that target was gone, probably headed for Baltimore.
Dina came up a minute later with a bottle of sunscreen. “Would you do my back, please?”
“Sure. Did you check on Clyde?”
“Sound asleep, snoring a little.”
“That dog could sleep through the Second Coming of Elvis.”
“I could sleep through the Second Coming of Elvis,” she sneered.
“You don’t like Elvis?”
“No, not at all.”
“Figures. And yeah, I liked the movies, too.”
“I can see why. ‘Girls! Girls! Girls!’ What an imaginative title for a movie.”
“Succinct, to the point…what’s not to like?”
“I will never understand this male fascination with breasts. They are just udders, for crying out loud.”
“Well, I’ve seen a few that remind me of udders, but by and large…”
At that point Dina untied her bikini top and flung it into the sea. “There! See? What is the big deal?”
Taggart was mesmerized, entranced.
“Why are you looking at me like that?” she asked.
“Because they’re perfect. In fact, I’ve never seen better.”
“Really? You like them?”
“Like them? Hell, I could get lost playing around right there,” he said, pointing at a nipple.
“Could I tell you something? A little secret?”
“I’ve never had an orgasm,” she said.
“No, not once.”
“When’s the last time you had sex?”
“When Britt was conceived.”
“You never, uh, played a solo on the bone-a-phone?”
“You know, like, uh, did the deed by yourself?”
“Good God No!”
“It’s not a mortal sin, you know?”
“Wow. I thought all you people died off in the sixties.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“Prudes. I thought the sexual revolution took care of all you people.”
“I am not a prude!”
“Yes, you are.”
“I am not!”
She put on a t-shirt and stormed off to the bow pulpit; a minute later Rolf came up carrying a huge sandwich. Taggart took one look at the thing and felt nauseated.
“What is grandma-ma doing up there?”
“Looking for prudes.”
“Prudes? What is this?”
“Rare deep sea creatures, related to mermaids, I think – only with better knockers.”
“Ah. You know, I’ve never understood why some people are so fascinated with what is, really, just a milk gland?”
“Really, you don’t say? Well, tell Princess Leia up there I’m feeling a little under the weather, and I’m going below to take a nap.”
“Princess Leia…I like that!”
“I’m sure she will too.”
When his head hit the pillow he felt sleep racing inward, and he could just feel Clyde laying along his back, then Clyde’s face draped over his neck, and Taggart fell asleep with the pup’s nostrils beside his ears, the sounds of the dog’s breath filling his mind as sleep came to him. He was only vaguely aware of the spinnaker coming down, and within seconds he fell back into a deep sleep once again.
He felt a hand slipping inside his shorts a while later, and when he felt the quiet motions of a cool fondling hand his eyes jerked open. His cabin was in dim light, and then he felt his shorts sliding down his legs, a mouth drawing him inside that nether warmth. He looked down, saw Dina between his legs, and he watched her mouth bringing him close to the edge. She sensed the moment and he just knew she would pull away, but no, she took him all the way home, taking all he had to give, holding him inside her swirling ecstasy as he fell away.
She looked up, looked into his eyes.
“I was about to start dinner,” she smiled, “and I wondered if you might enjoy something to eat.”
He nodded, helped her straddle his face, and he took her all the way there. He felt the first tremor begin in the thighs, then as a fluttering in her belly. She was still shaking when she imploded and the remnants of her moment fell on him like a cool rain on hot pavement.
She was beside him in the next moment, her hands cupping his face while she said the most amazing things, words like rain to a soul as parched as Taggart’s, and when she left to make their dinner he knew something profound had passed between them. Something elemental, some kind of awakening he had never experienced before and, he knew, something that would never happen again.
He lay there listening to the sounds of the sea on the other side of the hull, to the gentle gurgling of water passing as Time Bandit made her way into the night.
‘What the hell just happened?’ he thought as he stepped into the shower and soaped away the evidence. He brushed his teeth then looked at himself in the mirror, all the while wondering who and what he was looking at. Then he brushed his hair and clumps came loose, clinging to the bristles as if they were clinging to life. He ran his fingers through his hair and more broke free…
“I am not going to cry,” he said as the shedded evidence of his death drifted free and settled on the floor.
He saw Clyde out of the corner of his eye and turned to face his newest friend. “Don’t worry, boy. I’m not going anywhere.”
But Clyde wasn’t buying it. He looked at Taggart for a while longer, then curled up on the bed and closed his eyes.
The channel that led to Oslo was, essentially, a very long fjord. An almost sixty mile long fjord.
Yet the city was surrounded by low, rolling hills, and not the jagged spires he’d found north of Bergen. The city itself seemed spread out along the shores of its massive harbor, yet, as Time Bandit approached the port Taggart could not see any of the industrial blight that surrounded most ports he had seen or been to before. Instead he saw the ramparts of old forts, ornate copper spires of church steeples, and an incredible array of sailboat marinas almost everywhere he looked.
“Man…this is a big city,” he sighed as they sailed past a cruise ship terminal in the city center. “I wasn’t expecting cruise ships…”
“A sign of the times, I suppose. I went to medical school here,” Dina added. “Oslo is a great city, but there have been growing pains. Still, I feel reborn just being here again.”
“I can see why,” Taggart said, eyeing the row of cruise ships with misgiving.
“Mom hardly ever brings us here,” Rolf added, looking at Henry. “There’s a great Indian place, though.”
“When is my appointment?” Henry asked, checking the boy’s expression.
“The day after tomorrow, at 0900.”
“Okay, Rolf, Indian it is, but – you’re buyin’!”
At the west end of the cruise ship terminal, Bandit approached the Kongen Marina and tied up outside the office. They were two days early for their reservation; Taggart hoped they’d have space available because the location looked decent for easily getting around the city. They were in luck, and Taggart arranged for an engine inspection and oil change while they were here. Bandit ended up tied off near a restaurant, a rowdy waterfront party-hearty place with loud music and tourists in Hawaiian shirts. Rolf and Dina worked on hosing down the deck and rinsing the sails with fresh water while Henry got shore power running, but he went below when his right arm twitched violently. When he came topsides again a genuinely huge motor yacht, complete with helicopter and two Donzi ski boats, pulled into the space located at the end of the T-shaped pier; several uniformed deck hands jumped onto the dock and began tying off the monster, while an engineer hooked up their own version of a shore power cord – which was about as big around as a sumo wrestlers thigh.
Taggart looked at the ship and shook his head. The thing had almost completely obscured the sun and now, instead of a nice harbor view, he now had a great view of the ship’s side mounted exhaust ports. And, as the engines were still running, he suddenly realized he was being gassed by the mega-tons of diesel exhaust spewing from those very same ports. He dove below and closed all the hatches and port lights, then the companionway hatch after he got back into the cockpit. He turned to Dina and Rolf, motioned to them to get clear of the fumes and they jumped to the dock, coughing all the way, while he carried Clyde. It took a half hour for the ship’s captain to turn off the engines, but by then the entire marina was awash in diesel fumes, and Rolf had to wash the decks again as diesel soot now covered everything.
“Let’s change and get out of here,” Taggart said, and they all went below to wash off the grime and change clothes, then they took a taxi into the city.
“You know,” Dina opined, “there are better restaurants here than Indian…”
“Probably so,” Henry tossed back. “And you get to choose tomorrow.”
Mollified, she sat back and looked at the city as they made their way to dinner.
“Do all big yachts stink so much?” Rolf asked.
Taggart shrugged. “I’ve heard the quality of the engine installation makes a big difference, also the quality of fuel, too, but I’ve never been docked next to one like that before. If we were asleep down below I’m not sure we’d survive without those carbon monoxide monitors. Which reminds me, I need to replace those back-up batteries tonight.”
After dinner, Dina took them to the old town and they walked the tourist trail for a while – until she looked at Henry and decided it was time to get him back to the Bandit and medicated. At one point his left leg jerked and he almost lost his footing, though Rolf caught him that time, and by the time they made it back to the marina his hands and head were jerking badly.
“I feel like one of those plastic dog statues with the bobbing heads people put on their dashboards,” he sighed. “Bet that makes a pretty sight.”
“I could hardly notice it,” Rolf said, now concerned.
“Nicely put, Amigo. I’ll make a liar out of you yet.”
Dina shook her head at that one.
He put his arms around Dina as they walked out the pier to Bandit, and the decks were once again coated in thick, oily soot. “Must be the cruise ships,” Taggart said, looking at the now empty terminal. “Four of those foul things leaving at one time must really crucify the air quality around here.”
By the time they were halfway out to Bandit he could see the Russian flag flying off the mega-yacht’s stern, and the interior of the upper saloon was pulsing with strobes and grinding heavy metal.
“Oh, this is just priceless,” he sighed as they stepped onto Bandit’s deck. “Anyone wanna dance?”
The music was blaring out here, next to the yacht, and there looked to be about two dozen people up there dancing – and snorting cocaine – but then Rolf laughed and pointed…
Taggart followed the finger to the ship’s flying bridge…
A guy and two girls were up there screwing, and another girl was filming the action. Dina stared wide-eyed at the display for a moment, then she told Rolf to go below…
“Bullshit,” Henry cried. “You’re depriving the boy of a decent, well rounded education. C’mon, Amigo. Find a good seat and I’ll give you the play-by-play. Dina? You wanna grab a couple of beers and join us?”
Scowling, she ducked below – but a minute later she came topsides carrying three bottles of non-alcoholic beer – and two bottles of medicine.
One of the girls was on her knees working the guy over pretty good; he was holding the second girl inverted so he could ‘eat at the Y,’ and the girls were yowling like alley cats in heat as they passed the guy’s tool between their waiting mouths. Then the girl on her knees hit the short strokes, commanding the guys full attention, and he returned the favor to the inverted girl – which produced a series of screams that sounded like a wailing air-raid siren…
Rolf was bug-eyed by that point, though he’d crossed his legs after a minute or so of the performance.
He whispered to Dina: “We need to get that boy laid. He looks like a tripod…”
Dina, taking a sip from her beer at the time, snorted and coughed – spraying the cockpit with beer before she ran below. He heard her down there: ‘is that laughter?’ he said to himself, grinning.
“That’s quite a show they’re putting on, ain’t it?”
Rolf nodded and grinned salaciously.
“You done the deed yet?”
“You know…the hunka-chunka…?”
“What is that?” the boy asked.
“Well, not to put too fine a point on things, but that…” Taggart said, pointing to the triptych on the boat next door, “is the hunka-chunka.”
“You mean, sex?”
“I mean sex.”
“No, no, not yet.”
“What? No…uh, I mean yes,” Rolf said, now completely flustered. “Excuse me? What was the question?”
“The hunka-chunka. You not interested in that stuff?”
“I’m interested,” he said, now looking at the world through very uncertain eyes.
“Ah. Well then.”
“Oh, I was just thinking.”
They found out where to do laundry early the next morning and hauled a weeks worth of stuff up to the machines. They took Clyde to a park across the street and let him get reacquainted with all things leafy and green, and when that deed was finished Dina took them out to lunch at a place near the medical school. They gorged on smoked fish, cold salads and warm bread, all finished off with a beer for Dina and Coke for those either too young or medically disqualified. She led them on a short tour of her old stomping grounds, and Rolf seemed to get a little more than interested in all things ‘medicine’ after that. Taggart wanted to get a new sailing jacket and overalls – because his old set was gradually getting a little too large…
So, they found a Helly-Hansen store and he picked up a new set – that made him look just like a giant Norwegian flag, though maybe not quite flapping in the breeze. Then he found a knitted wool ski hat that actually looked just like a Norwegian flag flapping in a breeze, so the look was now complete. After a brief stop at a nautical chart store they made their way back to the Bandit – and just in time for the afternoon edition of ‘Let’s Go Screw on the Flying Bridge’ – Russian language edition. This broadcast included three men and at least a half dozen naked women – and one guest participant whose gender neither he nor Dina could readily identify. Rolf stared – really bug-eyed this time – as the show got underway, but Dina grabbed Taggart by the belt and hauled him below…
“Watching all that stuff is making me so horny,” she whispered in his ear.
“Well, okay, but do you wanna do it down here, or go up top and really get into the spirit of things?”
…but she was ripping his shorts off by then…
“Right,” he said. “I keep forgetting you’re the shy, retiring type…”
…and then she got to work…
“And into sword-swallowing too, I see…”
The IV snapped into his port with a startling crack, then the gorgeous nurse set flow rates and helped him lay back in the recliner. Here – as in Bergen – the infusion room was packed with patients getting chemotherapy, only there must’ve been fifty chairs in this one. And almost every chair was occupied.
“What’s going on here?” he asked the nurse. “Some kind of cancer epidemic?”
She turned and looked around the room. “It’s not so bad today. Most mornings every chair is taken. All of these will have someone in them by ten. Then the afternoon appointments start at 1300.”
“Jesus…how come so many?”
She shrugged. “Maybe because there are so many cancers – different kinds, I mean. And now so many people are exposed to things they weren’t a hundred years ago.”
“What’s the cancer you treat the most here?”
“Oh, breast cancer, by a large number. This is what you have, no?”
“Yes, I drew the lucky number and got it too.”
“Not so lucky, I think. You look pale, but your numbers do not look so bad. They added Avastin to your series today. Did they discuss side effects?”
“Then you know what to expect, no?”
“You won’t feel bad today, maybe tomorrow, as well. You are American, are you not?”
“Why here, and not at home?”
“My sailboat is my home.”
“Really? How amazing. You sailed here?”
“I was watching on television about an American who rescued a member of parliament near Bodø…”
“Yup, that was me.”
“Really? You are a great celebrity, then!”
“That, on the other, is not me.”
“I am not a celebrity, great or otherwise.”
“Ah, yes. I see. But, you keep on sailing?”
“Yup. Kind of like The Flying Dutchman.”
“I do not know about this.”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“Are you depressed?”
“Depressed? No, not at all. In fact, I’m having the time of my life.”
“You are joking, yes?”
“No, I am serious. I am having a great time.”
“No buts. I just am. Sorry if that sounds obtuse…”
“Insensitive. Nobody lives forever, darlin’. Might as well go out with a bang, ya know?”
“But, the treatments…”
“Yeah, I got the gist of all that. Say, why don’t you come down to the boat tonight. There’s someone down there just dying to meet someone like you?”
“Like me? Really?”
“Yeah. Let’s call it a blind date…if you’re not doing anything, I mean.”
“No, no…I can come.”
“Excellent. What time can you come?”
“After work…maybe around 1800?”
“Perfect. What kind of food do you like?”
“You know, Indian is my favorite.”
“Really? How ‘bout that.”
“Oh…nothing. I was just thinking…it’s been a while since I had decent Indian. Do you know a good place?”
“Yes, there are several in the city.”
“Well, I can’t wait.”
He felt like Hell warmed over, and for some reason his calves and ankles hurt most of all.
“It’s the Avastin,” Dina told him. “It cuts off vascularization around tumors, so with no blood supply they can’t grow. The down side is that it seems to effect healthy veins too, especially in the peripheral vascular network…”
“I think it’s charming that you assume I know exactly what you just said.”
“But…you do, do you not?”
“Yeah, I mean in a general sense. The mechanisms behind all that…? I doubt I’d understand that.”
“And I won’t bore you with the details. How is the nausea this time?”
“That new drug seems to be helping.”
“Good. Are you sure you want Indian food again?”
“Yup. The truth of the matter is, well, my chemo nurse is coming down to join us?”
He pulled her close and whispered in her ear. “I just thought Rolf could use the distraction, ya know? After the performance our Russian acrobatic team put on last night…”
“You are terrible…”
“Thank you very much,” he said, grinning. “Besides, if Rolf strikes out, well, I’ve always wanted to try a three-way.”
She shook her head, then ducked below to put on some tea. She came back up to the cockpit a few minutes later with two cups and a plate of scones.
“Did you bake these?”
“Yes, of course. Blueberry and walnut.”
He broke off a corner and halfway expected a wave of nausea to hit – but no, nothing. He ate an entire scone and had two cups of tea, and still with no reaction, so he felt hopeful the night would go as planned.
Her name was Astrid and from first contact Taggart could tell that Rolf was smitten. Meaning: Rolf turned into a typical fifteen year old, which is to say he turned into a tongue-tied clumsy oaf. He tried to impress the girl with stories of his exploits on the sea – showing off, in other words – and Taggart could tell Astrid was amused but not impressed – and for all the wrong reasons. At one point she got up to go to the WC and Taggart went to work.
“Rolf, you got to ease off, man. Be yourself but don’t lay everything out there. Ask her about the things she likes, because girls get really bored listening to guys talk about how great they are.”
“Okay, got it…”
Taggart had to give the kid credit. Rolf listened. He asked questions. He found common ground, and as a result the second half of their evening turned kind of fun.
“So, where are you going next?” Astrid asked Rolf.
“I’ve got three more weeks of vacation, then it’s back to school time. Henry, are we headed to Gothenburg next?”
“Yup. Round three of chemo there, then we are going to transit the Trollhätte Canal, then the Göta Canal on our way to Stockholm.”
“That sounds amazing,” she said. “I wish I could go on a trip like that.”
“Me too,” said the fifteen year old – now experiencing a flooding tide of testosterone.
Taggart bit his lip, Dina put her hand on his thigh and squeezed.
“When are you leaving Oslo?” Astrid asked.
“The day after tomorrow,” the suddenly hopeful fifteen year old said, testosterone now oozing out of his eyes and ears.
“I’d have to call and ask my supervisor.”
“Perhaps you could call her now?” Taggart asked; he felt Dina’s fingernails digging into his flesh.
“You wouldn’t mind if I came?”
Rolf was now sitting in a spreading puddle of the stuff, his eyes spinning like saucers, drool forming at the corners of his mouth…
“No, of course not,” Henry added. “We’d love you to come.” Dina’s fingernails were now drawing blood.
Astrid pulled out her phone and called into work. “I know it’s short notice, but it is such a wonderful opportunity…”
Rolf’s eyes rolled and disappeared from view.
“I can! Really! Ooh, thanks very much…”
Taggart looked at Rolf, wondered if his Parkinson’s meds would help control the kid’s sudden tremors…
Astrid put away her phone. “Well, I can come!”
“Excellent!” Taggart cried. “What do you say to that, Rolf?”
“Uh, may I be excused, please?” the kid said as he bolted for the head.
“Oh…this is just excellent!” Taggart added. “And Rolf is such a good teacher, too. You’ll be a great sailor in just a few days!” He turned to Dina and leaned close, whispered in her ear: “Any harder and you’ll hit an artery.”
She smiled, batted her eyes a few time while she nodded. “You are a devil, Henry Taggart,” she whispered – in Latin.
“Be careful what you ask for,” he replied in kind – and in Latin, as luck would have it. Then he turned to Astrid: “Do you have any sailing gear?” he asked.
“A bikini. Does that count?”
“Excellent! That’s just – perfect!”
Leaving Dina to smile before she spoke up: “Perhaps you could swing by tomorrow. We’ll need to pick up a few things for you before we leave.”
Rolf returned to the table, his face red, his palms sweaty.
“You feeling okay there, Sport?” Henry asked.
“Yes, very much so. Thank you for asking.”
“Excellent!” Taggart said to the world, smiling once again – just for the hell of it.
They dropped Astrid off at her home and made it back to the Bandit in time, hopefully, for one last performance by the Russian acrobats – but the yacht was gone and Rolf was devastated.
“This has been a real educational trip for you, hasn’t it?” Taggart asked.
“I suppose so, but could I ask you a question?”
“How old were you when you did it the first time?”
“Oh, geez, I think I was in college…or maybe I was still in high school. That’s funny…I really don’t remember.”
“If it was a big deal you’d remember, right?”
“Well, it can be a big deal, Rolf, and in a good way, or you can take a devastating emotional hit and that’s a lot harder to get over.”
“What was yours like?”
Taggart shook his head. “Like I said, I really can’t remember, so it must not have made much of an impression on me. The truth of the matter is, Rolf, I never really did it all that much. I think I convinced myself that I was just too busy to be bothered…”
“Do you regret that now?”
Taggart thought for a moment then nodded. “Yeah. You know, I think I do. I missed out on a lot by keeping to myself, but on the other hand I was able to stay focused on my work. Maybe that was a trade off I was willing to make, and maybe because it just never seemed fair to me to have a parent who was focused on work all the time. The kid takes second place, and that’s not right.”
“Your dad was a lawyer, right?”
“What did your mother do?”
“She was a doctor, a physician.”
“So, like my mom, right?”
Taggart nodded. “Yeah.”
“She works all the time, hardly ever gets home while I’m still up.”
“It’s gotta be hard being a single mom.”
“I guess. Still, I sometimes feel like she’d be better off if I wasn’t around.”
“Really? I never got that impression.”
“Are you going to die soon?”
“Well, not tomorrow, but yeah, pretty soon.”
“I’d like to stay with you. Until, you know…”
Taggart looked down, shook his head. “Yeah. I know what you mean. Still, you’ve got a responsibility to yourself now, Amigo, and not just to your family…”
“But you’re a part of my family now too, Henry. I mean, think about it. My mother is going to have your baby, and that baby is going to be my brother or sister. See what I mean?”
“Yeah. I’ve been thinking about that a lot myself.”
“My father is gone, Henry. Now, you’re the closest thing I’ve got to having a father in my life.”
Taggart nodded. “Here’s something to think about, Rolf. After I’m gone, you are going to be the strongest link your little brother – or sister – has to me.”
“Then that’s another good reason why I should stay here with you.”
“Maybe. So, tell me…what did you think of Astrid?”
“She’s hot, man. I mean, really-really hot.”
“As a firecracker, Amigo.”
Then the boy was in his arms, holding on for dear life, deep sobs muffled through layers of clothing…
Then his words hit, like a body blow: “Don’t die, Henry. Please don’t die…”
He felt himself choking up, and through tear-rippled eyes he saw Dina in the shadows of the companionway, maybe halfway up the steps – but she stopped just then, and suddenly she was staring at Henry. He held the boy to his chest, felt the hot anguish in the boy’s tears and he closed his eyes.
When he opened them a moment later Dina was gone. He heard her down below, talking on the telephone, and he could only guess what was coming next.
© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next chapter will drop in a week or so.