Come Alive (10)

Chapter 10

The first blast slammed Time Bandit so badly that Dina lost her footing and fell to the galley floor; she pulled herself up and the first thing that registered was the smell – ‘what is that…kerosene?’ She had dropped a mixing bowl full of dry ingredients to make bread and now the entire galley looked like a winter landscape…but her medical training kicked in. ‘Assess yourself,’ she reminded herself as she felt her joints, then her head. Her left hand came down covered in blood.

She dashed into the forward head and found a minor laceration on top of her head, so she sprayed some hydrogen peroxide on the cut and tried not to scream when the burn hit. She daubed some Neosporin on a gauze pad and smeared the ointment into the wound – when the realization hit her…

‘Where is Henry…?’

…then…

‘…and Rolf?…Where is he?’

She made her way to the companionway steps and saw Rolf bent over Henry’s unconscious body before she started up the stairs…

…when another colossal roar hit…

…followed by another blast…

This time she just managed to hang onto a rail, then she pulled herself up the steps into the cockpit…

…just as the roaring began again…followed by three or four more blasts…

Yet these didn’t seem as intense, like they were further away.

Then a four engined turboprop flew by, but this aircraft was flying low, very low, like maybe twenty feet above the surface, and it wasn’t close at all.

Then the roar again, only this time off to the left – and she turned in time to see two small jets – were they fighters? – ripping through the sky as they headed south.

“Henry!” she heard Rolf say, “can you hear me?”

She made it to Henry’s side, saw blood coming out of Rolf’s right ear, then…out of Henry’s right ear, too. Clyde was on his side too, inert – but breathing.

‘Sonic booms,’ she told herself, but the aircraft had to be very, very close overhead to do this kind of damage. She looked up the mast and saw that the mainsail was scorched near the masthead, and the instruments clustered up there were simply – gone.

She turned her attention to Henry just in time to see his eyes fluttering, then opening a little. 

“Help me get him up,” she said – before she realized that Rolf couldn’t hear. She tapped him on the shoulder and got his attention: “Can you hear me?”

He shrugged. “I can’t hear! What happened?”

She started pulling Henry up to a sitting position and Rolf pitched-in.

“Henry?” she said, “Henry, can you hear me?”

“A little…it sounds like you’re miles away…what happened?”

“Aircraft,” she said loudly, “sonic booms…knocked us down…you hit your head.”

Taggart pushed himself up onto the seat behind the wheel and began taking a mental inventory of things he had to do quickly, then he manually scanned through several VHF frequencies looking for an explanation…Then, on channel 16 they heard: “All civilian vessels head to the nearest port, repeat, all civilian vessels head for the nearest port immediately…”

“What the fuck?” Taggart said as he moved over to look at the chart plotter. “Warning, loss of signal…” was prominently displayed in the middle of the screen so he instinctively looked up at the masthead. “Okay,” he sighed as he took in the damage, “off we go into the menu system, now where was that page…there it is: go to secondary GPS antenna…”

The display fluttered for a second or two, then came alive…the signal appeared good and he could navigate with confidence until he updated his paper plot down below at the chart table.

“Rolf?” he asked, but the boy pointed at his ears and Taggart nodded. “Dina, go down and check the bilge for any running water.”

“Alright, I’m on it.”

Taggart patted the seat next to him when Clyde lifted his head and looked around, but the old boy wasn’t having anymore of this bullshit – and with his tail planted firmly between his legs he ambled down the companionway steps and disappeared into the aft cabin. Dina came up and flashed him a ‘thumbs up’ and he nodded as he picked up the radio’s mic.

“Pan-pan-pan, this is Sailing Vessel Time Bandit, position North 58 53 22 East 18 37 22. We have been overflown by supersonic aircraft at extremely low altitude, two injuries onboard as a result. Pan-pan-pan-any station-out.”

“Time Bandit, make for safe harbor at Lervassa, be advised medical personnel will meet you that location. Stay off the air and do not proceed any further south from your current location. This is HMS Helsingborg, please acknowledge.”

“Helsingborg, Time Bandit is en-route Lervassa, received advisory to proceed no further south. Over.”

“Helsingborg receives, out.”

Taggart tried to shake the cobwebs out of his mind, tried to think what could be going on…

Then he saw Dina had the binocular out, and that she was looking intently at something to their south…

“What do you see?”

She turned and handed him the binoculars, her expression grim. “Look around 170 magnetic,” she advised.

He adjusted focus, then looked at the compass readout and swung it to 170 degrees, and what he saw left him breathless…

“Are those depth charges?” he whispered.

“Look up a little, in the sky.”

There was some kind of dogfight going on thousands of feet above the sea, only with missiles being fired instead of machine guns, and as he watched he saw one aircraft simply explode and cartwheel into the sea.

“What the Hell,” he whispered, “is going on down there?”

“There have been many reports of Russian submarines trying to penetrate this area, many in 2014…” Dina said.

“Yeah, I remember something about that.”

“Well, Sweden has been making more noise about joining NATO ever since, and the Russians have said they would retaliate…”

“But Russian fighters overhead? I thought I read those Russian sub reports were bogus?”

“Well, those on the left thought they were. It seems they might have been wrong.”

“See if you can pull up the BBC World Service down below…”

“You’ll have to show me how.”

“Never mind. You better get Rolf below and look him over, and see if Clyde will stay with him.”

“Okay.”

Taggart stood and grabbed Rolf by the arms and pulled him into a hug, then he tussled the boy’s hair before Dina led him below. He turned his attention to the chart plotter and began laying out a course through the maze of rocky islets, then turned on the autopilot. With that done he went to the chart table below and pulled up the plot on the duplicate display, then he flipped on his SSB radio and hit preset 2 – and the voice of the BBC came in loud and clear.

“The Russian advance into Ukraine appears to be just a first move, Brett. We now have reports that Russian troops have been massing on the arctic borders of Norway and Sweden. Estonian troops have reported at least one Russian incursion…”

Taggart turned off the radio and shook his head as he made his way back to the cockpit; once back behind the wheel he picked up the binoculars and scoped out the scene. One surface ship was on fire, two other ships were dropping depth charges, and he guessed the action was taking place less than ten miles away…

Dina came up, still looking upset. “The cellular phones are down; no signal.”

“I managed to get the BBC…”

“Yes, I heard. Someone has apparently called the Russian’s bluff – and now they have responded.”

“You seem unusually well-informed.”

“My ex-husband works in the Ministry of Defense.”

“Oh?”

“This kind of thing. This kept him up all night. I thought it was just paranoia.”

Taggart sighed. “It is – until it isn’t. Then everyone goes around pointing fingers…”

“I hate politicians,” she said.

“How’s Rolf?”

“I suspect both his ear drums are perforated. You? Just the right ear. Rolf must have turned and been facing the sonic wave as it hit.”

“Can it be fixed?”

She nodded. “With ease, assuming we can get you both to a competent medical facility.”

“Okay, so we go to this port, Lervassa, then we…”

“I looked at the chart,” she said, “there are no facilities there. This is okay, but I suppose they just want us out of the way for now.”

“Yeah, well, I want out of the way too.”

“We could go back to Stockholm, get across to the new boat by car…?”

“We’d lose a lot of gear from this boar if we do,” he advised.

“Okay, we go to this Lervassa and if medical people meet us then we see what they can offer. If nothing effective we continue south, but we stay very close to coastline. There are bigger cities, better hospitals further south.”

“Okay. We should be there in less than five hours…depending on what speed we can make through all these rocks.”

“I need to go below. Very big mess in the galley.”

“Are you okay? I see you have a scrape on your head.”

“It is alright, but we have no fresh bread tonight.”

Bathed in a sudden blinding flash, they both flinched then turned towards the sound of several large explosions – they saw the sea erupt behind one of the Swedish destroyers, then two missiles streaking along just over the sea…headed for the two Swedish ships. One missile missed and continued towards the coast, the second exploded in the air just above the destroyer closest to the Bandit; when it emerged from behind a curtain of swirling black smoke half the ship seemed to be on fire.

“Turn off the radar when you go below, would you?”

“Yes, but why?”

“Some missiles seek out radar signals.”

Her eyes went wide as she disappeared below; he confirmed the radar on his console was set to off then relaxed. He scanned the way ahead – first on the plotter then through his binoculars – until he noticed his hands were beginning to shake. He looked at his watch and dashed below, grabbed his meds and a Coke and slammed them down, then got back to the wheel just in time to watch the autopilot signal ‘Approaching Waypoint’ – before it settled in on the new course.

Three hours later he turned into the inlet where the chart indicated Lervassa should be, and moments later the situation came into sharp relief. A field hospital had been set up and helicopters were bringing in sailors plucked from the sea; he approached the long finger pier in the middle of the inlet and several sailors grabbed their dock lines and helped get Rolf up to the nearest medical tent; Dina left with him as a naval officer approached Bandit…

“Excuse me,” the man said to Taggart. “You are the captain of this boat?”

“Yes,” Taggart replied.

“Could you come with me, please?”

“Uh, look, I don’t want to leave the boat alone…”

“These men will guard your property. Now, please, this is most important…”

Taggart followed the officer to some sort of hastily set up operations center, and all conversation stopped when Taggart walked in. One of the men, an older sort with the insignia of the United States Navy on his jacket, walked over to him:

“You Taggart?”

“Yes indeed. And you are?”

“Not here.”

“Okay, Mr. Not Here, what can I do today to make you angry?”

“Just tell us what you saw out there.”

“At least one aircraft downed by a missile, and a ship hit by another missile.”

“The missile that hit the ship? Could you see it?”

“Of course…”

“What I’m looking for here, specifically, was the missile subsonic?”

“Definitely. I looked like some sort of cruise missile.”

“What did the impact look like?”

“In the terminal phase, the missile went from sea-skimming to about a hundred feet above the ship, then it detonated.”

“Terminal phase…sea skimming…you seem to know a little about these things.”

“I write code, sir.”

“Oh, I see. You’re not in the reserves or anything like that, are you?”

“No sir. Actually, I’m ill…”

“Yes, yes, I know all about that stuff. What are your plans now…?”

“I want to get around to the coast just north of Gothenburg, pick up some property there, then we’re…”

“Yeah, I read about that in my briefing paper on you.”

“On me?”

“Just routine, once we knew you were a U.S. registered vessel we pulled up your information.”

“Ah, yes. Total Information Awareness, wasn’t that the name of the program? Know everything about everyone? Wherever they may be?”

“Yup, that’s the one. Your tax dollars at work, Mr. Taggart.”

“Well, I seem to have a blown-out ear drum. If you don’t need me anymore, my I leave now?”

“In a minute. What are your plans now…?”

“Head south as soon as possible. I have a medical check-up scheduled in Copenhagen next week.”

The man shook his head. “I wouldn’t go there right now. As a matter of fact, I’d keep away from the Baltic generally now…”

“What about the Kiel Canal?”

The man shrugged. “You know, if Ivan decides he wants to roll into Poland or Finland, this thing is gonna turn real ugly, real fast. I’d suggest, strongly, that you head back to the states. Failing that, get as far west as you can, maybe think about the Caribbean, someplace like that.”

“What are you suggesting?”

“That if the Russians won’t stop this bullshit and come to the negotiating table, things might get seriously fucked up. We’re already flying re-supply missions into Germany and the UK, the Germans are invoking Article 25 and mobilizing their reserves…well, you get the picture, right? All things being possible at this point, Europe may not be the best place to hang up your spurs, Mr. Taggart.”

“I see.”

“Well, my aide will see to it that your ears are taken care of. After that, if you decide to head south just keep as close as you can to the beach, and report anything that looks, well, funky.”

“Funky?”

“Like it doesn’t belong there?”

“Ah, that kind of funky. Got it.”

Two hours later he walked out the pier to Time Bandit, and he found Dina setting up plates on the cockpit table, Rolf sitting there with his ears packed in gauze.

“How’s the spud?” he asked as he came up the stern steps.

“His ears will heal in a week or so, but I am not so sure about his mind.”

Taggart nodded. “It’s a lot to take in.”

“What about you?”

“Same. Doc said to give it a few days, no rupture.”

“And…what about you?” she repeated, trying to get him to open up.

“Me? I’m copacetic. What’s for dinner?”

“Are you hungry?”

“Sure, why not? Nothing like a little world war to whip up an appetite.”

She stopped what she was doing and looked at him. “Do you think there will be war?”

“Seriously?”

“Yes, of course seriously.”

“No chance. Why? Because there’s just no money in it – for anyone. The Russians will thump on their chests for a few days, demand relief from sanctions, then – when that doesn’t work – they’ll figure out that sanctions are infinitely preferable to nuclear winter and then everyone can get back to swindling one another for fun and profit.”

“I don’t know why I even bothered to ask.”

“So…dinner?”

“Salmon bisque and a salad. Do you feel like eating tonight?”

“A half a bowl of soup sounds good. Any bread left?”

“A few pieces from yesterday.”

“Sold! – to the bald, skinny guy in row one!”

She sighed, then shrugged her shoulders: “All life is a joke to you, isn’t it?”

“No, just everything that happens outside our little world here.”

“So, we are not a joke?”

“You and I? We are most definitely not a joke. Neither is my little spud,” he said, looking at Rolf – who looked decidedly depressed. “Man, I wish Astrid was still here right now.”

“I think he’s happy she’s gone,” Dina said.

“Give his nuts a few weeks to recover…he’ll be good to go after that.”

“No, that isn’t it…”

“I know. He wanted things to get serious, but she wasn’t having any of it, was she?”

“How did you know that?”

“Because I was sixteen once.”

“You? Sixteen?”

“I know. Hard to believe, isn’t it?”

“Yes. I could’ve sworn you were twelve.”

“Ouch.”

“Anything to drink?”

“Maybe a Coke, and my eight o’clock meds if you can get to them.”

Rolf slid close and put an arm around Taggart’s waist, so he wrapped an arm around the boy and held him close – until Dina came back carrying a tray loaded with soup and salad…as well as a few slices of bread. Taggart felt hungry so after Rolf sat up and moved away, he took a spoonful…

“Man, what did you do to the soup tonight?”

“You like it?”

“Yup, it’s great.”

“A pinch of curry and ginger, and a few cardamom pods,” she said, grinning. “I know how you two love Indian food, so I thought why not give it a try.”

Rolf shot her a thumb’s up after he tried to soup, so she was happy.

“We will have a little darkness tonight, not much, but a little,” she said.

Taggart flipped on the plotter and pulled up the tide chart, saw the high was at 0400. “Well, we’ll pull out of here around four, head southwest – towards the coast – then go straight to Ellös.”

“We are not stopping in Copenhagen?”

“We’ll have to see what’s happening. Maybe after we pick up Bandits.”

“The right side of your face…it is burned.”

“Yeah, it feels like it’s a little burned. Tight, kind of.”

“I wonder how close that airplane was?” she asked.

“To fry the masthead like that? Man, I’d say he had to pull up to avoid hitting us. A few of those other jets were almost touching the water when they passed.”

“I want to get out of here,” Rolf said.

“Hey – it speaks! Can it hear?”

“A little,” Rolf said. “It is hollow, you sound far away.”

“You’ll be good by morning.”

“It is grandma-ma’s soup – it will cure anything. So good tonight,” the boy added before he yawned and went below.

“They gave him something to help him sleep,” she whispered.

“Better get him another bowl. We’ll need him ready to roll in the morning. Well, looky here. I do believe that’s Captain Ahab, coming in search of the great white whale.”

“What?”

“US Navy captain, headed this way. Better get the boy below before they conscript him to a life of servitude.”

“Should I?”

Taggart shook his head, then turned to the captain. “You’re welcome to come aboard, Captain.”

“Thanks,” the man said as he hopped up through the mid-ships boarding gate. “Uh, you’re Doctor Taggart, right?” he said to Dina.

“Yes?”

“We got word through to your daughter in Bergen that everyone is okay here. She asked that if there was any danger to her son that he come on home. I can get him over to Stockholm tonight if you’d like.”

“Thank you, Captain,” Dina said, “but I think he should stay here for the time being. Is there any further news about our Russian friends?”

“No. They seemed to have underestimated NATOs response to the incident here in Sweden; their forces are pulling back right now, though not in Ukraine – but that was to be expected, I guess.”

“So, history will record this one as the One Day War?” Taggart said, smirking.

“More like the Fifteen Minute War, if anyone still cares a year from now.”

“How many lost their lives today, Captain?” Dina asked.

“I don’t know,” the officer sighed, looking away. “Maybe a hundred, maybe…if we’re lucky. Ma’am, I hate to ask, but that soup smells bodacious…”

“Would you like some, Captain?”

“If it’s not too much trouble, yes Ma’am, that would be great.”

She smiled and disappeared below.

“Have a seat, Captain. Need anything to drink?”

“You have Coke onboard?”

“Coke and Dr. Pepper.”

“DP! Now you’re talkin’!”

Taggart smiled. “Yeah, I loaded about three cases in Connecticut; down to the last case now so I ration my intake.”

“Hard to beat an ice cold Dr. Pepper,” the captain said as he took the bowl from Dina.

“Uh,” Taggart said to her, “looks like we need a DP up here, too.”

She nodded, then brought two up and put one in front of Taggart, as well as one for the captain. She sat and finished her salad, then helped Rolf to his bunk when it looked like he was going to nod off. A minute later Clyde came up the steps and barked – twice – and Henry stood and got the leash.

“Sorry. Duty calls,” he said as he hooked up the leash.

“I’ll walk with you,” the captain said.

“Sure appreciate you getting word through like that,” Henry said. 

“Figured it might help.”

“So, you think this thing is going to cool down?”

“About a fifty-fifty chance right now. I still can’t recommend a stop in Copenhagen until things clear up a little. Other than that you should be good once you get out of the Baltic. Oh, and just so you know the score, the reason that jet got so close was that an inbound missile had targeted your radar signal. They had to get that close in order to fuck up the missile’s track.”

Taggart blinked several times as the information registered. “Could you thank the pilot for me, for us, I mean.”

“I think I can handle that, Mr. Taggart.”

“Henry, please.”

“Okay, Hank. We’ll see you around the neighborhood. Y’all be safe out there.” He started to turn but stopped and sniffed the air. “Goddam Hank! That dog’s shit stinks – bad!”

“His farts ain’t much better.”

“I can only imagine. Later, muchachos!”

“Yeah. Adios, amigo.”

Taggart watched Clyde as he walked along on his appointed rounds, as always – still circling and sniffing from bush to bush – only now he couldn’t get the idea of an inbound missile tracking Time Bandit out of his mind. Just how close had the damn thing come? How close, really, were they to death? Would anyone have ever known – if war had started, for real – about their demise?

But Clyde had been there with him, he thought, so he wouldn’t have died alone – and for some reason he knew that was important.

He bent down and scratched behind the pup’s ears, and then Clyde’s eyes turned to meet his. Deep brown, full of understanding, yet he wouldn’t have known what happened, either. “Yeah, Bud, I know. Your shit stinks, but I still love you.”

And that was worth a couple wags of the tail.

“And I think someone saved you some salmon, too!”

And that was all Clyde needed to know. What was unconditional love compared to a bowl full of salmon scraps!

+++++

On the seventh morning after leaving Lervassa, Time Bandit passed the island village of Gullholmen; Ellös – and the Hallberg-Rassy yard – lay waiting just three miles ahead…and Taggart felt a keen parting of the ways coming-on. Saying goodbye to Time Bandit would, almost certainly, be a final affair. There would be no coming back, no return just for old time’s sake. He looked around at everything on deck and memories flashed by in his mind’s eye, and soon an inevitable sadness colored the day. He’d been in touch with the salesman, updating their progress as they bypassed Copenhagen, then Gothenburg, and all the modifications and additions he’d requested had been carried out. Now he called the salesman one last time – to let the yard know that the Bandit was just about there.

It had been a nervous week for the world, as well. It had seemed for almost 48 hours that the world was racing towards the precipice once again, but Swiss diplomats brokered a peace conference in Geneva and hostilities as quickly seemed to be at an end. And just then word broke that the People’s Republic of China launched what at first appeared to be an all out assault on Taiwan; these reports were soon discredited and great confusion followed after China announced the so-called invasion had merely been a long announced series of exercises. 

Russia had promised to move back to pre-outbreak lines but their forces in Ukraine continued their advance on Kiev, sparking a renunciation of the Geneva Accords by EU members of NATO. Diplomats shuttled back and forth between Geneva, Moscow, and Brussels while the world looked on nervously.

In Ellös, Taggart and Rolf moved gear from the old to the new, leaving Dina to sort through the gear and place it in new storage lockers. At the end of their second day at the yard they formally moved aboard Time Bandits. On the third day, Taggart and Dina went grocery shopping, and it took hours to get all the new provisions stowed. A new life raft was fitted and stowed in the cavernous stern locker; new EPIRBs – or emergency locator beacons – were installed next to the life raft, and individual EPIRBs were mated to foul weather gear after the beacons were registered.

And then the inevitable happened.

Britt and Eva arrived, both now showing modest growth from their pregnancies. Dina was experiencing morning sickness now, though she was just barely showing. Rolf helped Eva and his mother stow their gear, keeping a watchful eye on Eva in particular, as to his unpracticed eye she seemed the most fragile.

Taggart gave the yard a list of things to repair on Bandit, as well as instructions on who to contact for financial arrangements. On their last full day in Ellös he and Dina went back to the oncology clinic in Gothenburg for lab work; based on these results he was transfused, given a bag of white cells to bolster a low white count, and new medication to counter a worrisome new anemia. His Parkinson’s medications were strengthened. On the drive back to the Bandits he tried to put a light spin on things – but failed.

“How bad is it?” he asked Dina.

“More or less within the predicted range.”

“So, Christmas is still doable – more or less?”

She nodded. “Yes. We’ll have a wonderful Christmas together, just you wait and see.”

“Yeah, assuming the world doesn’t go crazy and jump off a cliff in the meantime.”

“What is it you said about the noisy tire?”

He smiled. “Ah yes. The squeaky wheel gets the grease.”

“That is what this is all about, no? Russians want sanctions relief and China wants to be taken seriously as world power, no?”

“Oh, Hell, who knows,” Henry said. “We could put an end to all this bullshit in a half hour – just require that all male leaders submit to castration. Get rid of all the testosterone and within a week the world would turn into an instant paradise.”

“Hah! What about Mrs. Thatcher? She was a warmonger too, correct?”

“And her testosterone levels were probably higher than either Reagan’s or Gorbachev’s.”

“That would be an interesting journalistic assignment, I think. To compare testosterone levels of world leaders.”

“It would make for good reading,” he sighed. “File it away in the humor section…”

“So, with the new transfusion you will feel better in the morning. You still want to depart for the Kiel Canal?”

He nodded. “Yeah, I really don’t want to tackle the North Sea, not with three pregnant mothers onboard.”

“So,” she added, “tomorrow morning – we depart early?”

“Yup. No reason to linger here any longer than we need to. Besides, the sooner we make Holland the better I’ll feel. I want to get as far away from this madness as we can.”

“It really does feel like madness, you know?” she said, a note of faraway sadness in her voice. “With so many other problems facing the world, now we have to deal with crazy men and their atom bombs, too. It hardly seems fair.”

“It probably never felt fair to the people of Hiroshima or Nagasaki, and my guess is it didn’t feel right or fair in 1939, or even 1914. War seems to be a human constant, yet just like a bunch of lemmings off we go, racing for the cliffs time after time.”

“What if we get to Paris early,” she said, looking away. “Do you think we could return and pick up the old Bandit?”

“Why would you want to do that?”

“Move her south to Paris or to London, then, when the weather is warm again, take off for Tahiti…someplace like that.”

“If that’s something you want to do, why not take the new boat?”

“Oh, I don’t know – I was just thinking out loud. Perhaps I am just attracted to the idea to maybe just see the world while there is still a world to see.”

“Dina, the squeaky wheel…”

“Yes, yes, I know. It gets all the grease. You have an unshakable faith that the human race will just go on and on, don’t you?”

He shrugged. “Maybe…I guess I do because the alternative is so hard to accept.”

“Henry, what happens when the world runs out of grease?”

He sighed, held up his hands as he looked out the window. “You know…just two weeks ago we were in these canals. Nothing but us and the Swedish countryside and the rest of the world seemed so far away.”

“Yes, but these canals feel so far away now, almost like it happened in another lifetime.”

“Maybe it was, Dina. Maybe it was…”

+++++

After an hour at the wheel, Taggart announced that Time Bandits was a completely different experience… “Rolf, come and take the wheel! Now, pinch up a bit, take her into the wind…”

Bandits heeled a bit, but the speed jumped from eight to almost ten knots, and the feeling of controlled exhilaration was impossible to deny – and Rolf smiled. “Yes, I feel it. It is almost the sensation of big mass, yet the sense of control is, well, it is exciting!”

Taggart nodded. “I think…potential is the word I’m looking for. To me it feels like a racing horse in the starting blocks – and the gate has just been flung open! I love it!”

The wind was right out of the west and blowing a steady ten knots; Bandits’ course was 180 degrees magnetic and would take them just off the east side of Læsø Island en route to the so-called Great Belt, the strait between the Danish islands of Sjælland and Fyn. The entrance to the Kiel Canal lay about fifty miles further on, and Taggart had figured on an early the next morning arrival at the canal. Now, watching Time Bandits’ speed inch up to ten knots, he knew he’d have to revise that estimate.

The radar screen turned to a haze of black snow and he shook his head.

“Why is it doing that, Henry? Is it broken?”

“No, some asshole is jamming all radar frequencies.”

“Jamming? What does that mean?”

Taggart smiled. “There’s this game navies play, Rolf. Kind of like ‘Hide and Seek,’ they try to hide their ships and aircraft from each other while one side tries to sneak around and surprise the other side by showing up where they weren’t expected.”

“You mean…this is going on right now?”

“Yeah,” he said, pointing at the display. “See how the snow looks darker over here? That’s where the jammer is.”

“So, down by Oslo?”

“That’s right. And that means the other side is either up here, by Copenhagen, or somewhere out in the North Sea.”

Three jets appeared a few moments before their sound caught up with them, and they passed Time Bandits off their left, or port side, headed towards Oslo while almost skimming the waves.

“Whose are those!” Rolf said, pointing at the jets.

“Russian. Sukhoi-34s.”

“What do they do?”

“Strike fighter. Go after things like ships, I think.”

Rolf looked at him and gulped. “What do you think it means, Henry?”

“That things aren’t going too well in Geneva, for one. Probably a bunch of Russian ships coming out of the Baltic now, too.”

“What should we do?”

“Let me take the wheel now,” he said, then he pinched up a little, brought his course up to 200 degrees. “Bring in the sails a bit, Rolf.”

 Bandit’s speed jumped to eleven knots and Taggart grinned… “Oh, Dad, I wish you were here, because I would love to see the expression on your face right now. Remember Merlin and Kialoa – on our second Transpac…?”

Five Euro-fighters appeared off their starboard bow, heading for the Russian Sukhois, and Taggart instinctively pinched up a little more, driving Time Bandits for all she was worth now. He looked at his instruments and grinned…11.2 then 11.4… ‘Oh damn, but this is getting fun…’ he thought as he looked at the blackening radar display.

“What is that island, Henry?”

“Læsø,” he said – pointing at the chart plotter. “About twenty five miles to go…”

But just then the radar screen cleared up, and soon surface contacts appeared on the display.

“Okay,” he said to Rolf, “it looks like cooler heads prevailed this morning.”

Eva came up the companionway steps and sat down beside Clyde.

“Sorry, I need some fresh air.”

He smiled at her. “How did you sleep?”

“Very well, thank you. Did I hear jets fly by?”

“Yeah, but nothing to worry about. Have you had breakfast yet?”

“No, not yet, but Dina is making pancakes, with lingonberries I think.”

Rolf started drooling. “My favorites!”

“I got it here, Rolf. Why don’t you go down and see if you can give her a hand?”

Once Rolf was below he turned to Eva. “So, what’s on your mind?”

“Dina. Why did you marry her?”

“And not you? Isn’t that what you mean?”

She nodded, looked away.

“It was more a matter of legal practicalities than anything else, so don’t try to pull me into a drama we really have no time for, okay?”

“Okay, but…”

“No buts, Eva. We have a lot of people crammed on this boat right now, and we’re in a little bit of a hurry, in case you haven’t noticed. Everyone has to get along right now, and I want you to do this for me.”

“Dina told me…is it really this bad, Henry? This sickness?”

“Not my department, Eva. I just drive the boat, okay? Get us where we need to get. Your job is to take care of those babies, and to get along with Britt and Dina. Understood?”

She nodded. “All I’ve ever wanted was to be with you.”

“Well, I am happy you are here.”

“You are? Really?”

“Yes, I need you here, just like I need Dina and Britt, and even Rolf. You are all my family now.”

She looked at him and smiled, then she nodded. “I understand.”

But he knew she didn’t, not really. Not yet, anyway.

He looked at the chart plotter and fell off the wind a little, then – with the push of a button he let out the sails – and Bandits slowed a bit, but her motion eased more than a little, too.

“Ooh, this feels so soothing,” Eva sighed. “To sail like this, forever and ever…that would be something.”

“Wouldn’t it, though?”

“Is that why you bought this boat? For all of us?”

He nodded. “Something like that. Something for the kids to grow up with, I think.”

“Is this important to you?” she asked. “This connection you have with the sea?”

He looked at her and smiled. “Yes.”

“I felt this when we were in the water together, with the whale.”

“You did?”

“Yes, and I think he did, too. I think that is why he came to you, why he helped you get us back to the boat.”

He looked at her but kept quiet, wanting her to work it out for herself.

“This is why I wanted to make love with you. This feeling, this connection, was so strong; I felt pulled to you, like there was a force inside you I could not resist.”

“Actually, I think that was my cologne you were experiencing. I call it Eau d’ WD-40.”

“You make people want to laugh, Henry Taggart, yet you hide behind the laughter. Why? Why do you do this – when everyone understands you do this to hide?”

“Everyone? Really? You mean, this has all been in vain?”

“Even now you try.”

“Old habits die hard, I guess.”

“What are you hiding from, Henry?”

“Girls like you asking me questions like this.”

“So…you are afraid of girls? Were you always shy?”

He looked away, then nodded. “I think so, yes.”

“But no longer?”

“I don’t know. Maybe I still am.”

“I think not…not with all these babies coming so soon.”

“No, I think maybe I still am. Even with all the babies.”

“Please don’t be shy with me, Henry Taggart. Please do not waste our time together with that extra distance.”

“Do you think you will be a good mother?”

She nodded and grinned. “Yes, I do. I want little Henrys to take care of, to share the sea with. So yes, very much!”

Britt came up the steps just then, carry several plates of food – and she just managed to get them onto the cockpit table without a major spill. “I could not eat below,” she sighed. “I need air, I think.”

“Feeling seasick?” Henry asked.

“Maybe it is just the babies,” she said, patting her distended belly. “Anyway, I am hungry, so that is good I think.”

Rolf came up the steps similarly loaded, then Dina came out into the sunlight carrying the rest of her huge breakfast, and soon everyone was seated around the cockpit table.

Taggart looked at the scene and smiled. This was what he had wanted to see…everyone gathered around a table – at sea – while they enjoyed the day. It was as simple as that. He watched their smiles most of all.

He heard jets flying high overhead from time to time but these he tried his best to ignore. If they proved to be a constant during the remainder of his time here, well then, he’d just do his best to ignore them until that proved impossible. All he knew that morning was that happiness was an ethereal creature, but you could hold her for a moment or two – if you kept your heart open to the possibility.

After breakfast was cleared away, the two girls went below – leaving Rolf and Dina alone with Taggart. She nuzzled in close until he wrapped an arm around her, then she pulled herself closer still.

“That was wonderful,” he whispered. “Thank you for all you do.”

“I’m glad you had some time with her this morning,” Dina said, meaning – he assumed – Eva. “She has been very, oh, what is the word…clingy, I think?”

He smiled. “I think she must still be fairly young. Either that or she loves the feeling of being dependent on someone.”

Dina nodded. “Yes, exactly. She will never stand on her own, only with someone close by her side.”

“I think she’s cute,” Rolf said.

“Heard from Astrid?” Taggart asked, grinning to no one in particular.

“Yesterday, she texted me. She wanted to know how you were doing.”

“I see.”

“Oh, she said she is pregnant, too.”

“What?” Dina cried.

“Why…you sly guy,” Henry added.

“Oh, no, I am not the father. It is, she thinks, someone she was with before she met you.”

“Ah.” So that explains the long face this morning, Taggart said to himself. “Did you check the bunks down there? Is there anyway Eva could roll out of her berth?”

“No, there is a lee-board already installed, and I have shown her how to use it. But – do you think I should go and see if she needs help?”

“Good idea.”

“You are a devil,” Dina whispered after Rolf disappeared below.

He shrugged. “I want him to get used to the idea of taking care of her,” he said – matter-of-factly. “Of you all, if he needs to.”

“That’s a lot to put on shoulders so young, isn’t it?”

“We shall see,” Taggart sighed.

“You are like an architect, aren’t you? Putting together your creation – piece by piece?”

“Hardly. I’m not half as devious as you think I am.”

“So, what island is this?”

“Læsø Island. We’ve traveled almost fifty miles already.”

“So fast?”

Taggart nodded. “This would be a decent boat in a race.”

“Rolf said he heard you talking to your father earlier.”

He nodded. “I do – from time to time. I think he misses my dirty jokes.”

“No doubt.”

“Anyway, I like to keep him up to date on things.”

“I’m sure he appreciates your doing so.”

He turned and looked at her. “I hope you will too.”

She closed her eyes for a moment, then she took a deep breath. “What kind of bread shall I make for us today?”

“Something nutty,” he said, then he started laughing.

© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next chapter will drop in a week or so.

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