The new chart table was palatial, yet even so Taggart missed being able to see the view ahead while sitting below. He shrugged it off – ‘Just one of those things’ – he told himself, then he pulled his logbook from the shelf and found his place. He’d decided the day before to keep just this one log for his journey to Paris, though technically he should have started a new log when he took delivery of a new vessel. That didn’t suit his purposes, and now he needed to make his third entry for his ‘first full day’ onboard Time Bandits…
His satellite phone chirped and he switched the unit from Stand-by to On, then with increasing anger read through the entire pages long message. After meeting the Navy captain in Sweden he’d almost been expecting this, but now…here it was, and there was nothing left to do but follow the enclosed instructions or risk alienating people he dared not mess about with. He added the items to his to-do list, then turned to his logbook:
“Log entry: SV Time Bandits, 7 August, local time 0330 hrs, position North 54 22 50 East 10 10 06, OAT 49 degrees F, sea temp 55F, now tied up in the large marina in Altenholz, just NE of the Kiel Canal East Entrance. Arrived about five hours ahead of plotted time; the new ‘Bandits’ sails like a gazelle, truly magic and very fast on a beam-reach. Several encounters with military aircraft throughout the day; on two occasions what I assume were maritime patrol aircraft came down for a visit, but they lost interest when we hoisted the Stars and Stripes. One encounter with a Russian Sukhoi was less friendly; they buzzed us repeatedly, and once I thought they were lining up to attack. We heard on the VHF that some kind of large convoy is coming from the Baltic east of here and that it is going to transit as a group, and now there are rumors that Russian submarines are converging on the area. We may not be able to transit tomorrow as I’d hoped, as the canal does not accept reservations for time slots and we have no idea how big this convoy is. Still, we’ve heard that wait times are still minimal, transit times are still in the 8-10 hour range, and so with luck we’ll be in the North Sea later today, hopefully by late evening. If not, we may be stuck here a while.”
He looked at his sat-phone display and decided to keep the contents of the message out of the log – for now. He looked at the encrypted text message and double-checked the details copied in his to-do list were correct, then shut down the phone.
He sighed, shook his head then closed the leg book and looked at the cover – before Dina stepped over from the galley…
“You look like you are lost in thought,” she said. “Is something wrong?”
“No, just thinking about how many miles are recorded in here,” he lied, patting the cover. “It might make for interesting reading material a few years down the road.”
“What do you include in these entries; you seem to write sometimes very much?”
“Oh, you know, the basics, like speed over ground, wind speed, but I try to include a short narrative of important things that happened during the leg. Even maintenance chores…and sometimes I just wax poetic…”
“You mean you include bullshit?”
“Oh, Hell yes. Some days you need hip-waders to get through all the crap. What are you making over there?”
“Oh, I was just trying to figure out where I put everything. If I am lucky, we will have fresh bread in time for lunch.”
“Did you get a chance to spend some time with Britt?”
“Yes, a little. The flight is still scheduled at 0930 tomorrow, but the airline is not optimistic. I’d like her to take Eva when she leaves.”
Taggart didn’t say anything, decided to just let her ramble on.
“Well? Do you agree with that?” she added.
“I am uneasy with anyone pregnant and on a sailboat,” he said.
“So, I make you uneasy, too?”
“I think you should go home until we make it to the Dutch canal system. That way, we won’t have to worry about ocean crossings and rough weather – because, frankly, the North Sea has a bad reputation for a reason. Besides, I don’t want to see anything happen to the spud,” he said, rubbing her belly.”
“We will have to see what the wether forecast looks like,” she said.
He knew enough to let that one slide, but he opened his phone to check. “Okay.”
“So, you are fine with Eva going tomorrow?”
“I’ll leave that up to you and Britt, if you don’t mind. This is a medical decision, after all is said and done. At least, to me it seems like it should be.”
She seemed satisfied with that and let the matter rest. Then the bombshell: “I think Britt misses her boy?”
“Understandable.” He could tell this conversation was turning into a chess match.
“She wants him to come home for a short visit.”
“Probably a good idea.” Okay, your move.
“Really? That surprises me?”
“I thought you wanted him here, with us…that’s all.”
“He has a life in Bergen, Dina, and believe me, I don’t ever take that for granted. His mother needs him, but also his friends and teachers, too. I was just thinking that maybe it’s a good idea that he stays grounded in that world, too, because all this,” he added, his arms arcing to embrace Dina and their immediate surroundings – including Time Bandits, “may begin to feel like normal, and it just isn’t. Nothing lasts forever, you know?”
She sighed. “I suppose you are correct, but…”
“You suppose?” he sighed. “Hell, every kid in school has just one objective in life – to not be in school. Rolf can’t appreciate that yet, few kids ever do – at least not until it’s too late – but to be away from all that crap, spirited away on a boat bound for the far horizon…?”
“He won’t be away, Henry. Not completely. Remember, I’ll be helping him with his assignments when he is here?”
He held up his hands. “Okay. I surrender.”
“I see the point you are trying to make. You agree he should go home for a few days. Shall I try to get him on the same flight with his mother?”
“No, I’d like him here when we transit the canal.”
“Okay. Just an idea, but we could stay here in this marina for a few days. It is pleasant enough here, no?”
He thought about her next move as he looked over the weather forecasts on his phone – which showed heavy rain for the next several days – and with that piece of the puzzle filled-in he sighed. “Crappy weather next week. So, do you want to sail in crappy weather or be tied up here – in crappy weather?”
She shrugged. “I am ready to walk around some, no matter the weather.”
“Okay, get him on the flight if you can, let Britt and Rolf decide on a return date.”
“You are certainly decisive, aren’t you?”
“Well, I’m with you on this one. I could use a walk or two, and I know Clyde would love it.”
“That dog…I swear I think the two of you are growing closer with each new day. Soon you will be of one mind.”
“Hey, great minds think alike.”
“What, like bark twice when it’s time to find a bush?”
“Precisely,” Taggart said, his hands spread wide. “Who can argue with such superior logic?”
“If you start barking, Henry, I will…”
“You will what? Go get my collar and leash?”
She sighed, then turned serious – and he could tell she had been saving this move for last. “I think I should go home with them, Henry. I have paperwork at the hospital that I need to attend to, as well as a few personal matters that have come up.”
“It should only be for a day or two. I hate to leave you alone…”
“I won’t be alone,” Taggart said, scratching Clyde’s chin. Check and mate, wot?
Taggart stood and grabbed Clyde’s leash. “Ready for a perambulation of significant magnitude, old top?” Taggart bellowed in his best Henry Higgins.
Clyde looked at Taggart, then at Dina – then he sneezed once before he cut a nice long fart on his way up the companionway steps.
“Man, he’s a class act. How do you top an exit like that?”
She shook her head as she pinched off her nose: “And just think…the two of you are growing more and more alike with each new day.”
“Yeah. Ain’t life grand?” he said as he got up from the cart table – and not accidentally floating an air-muffin as he stood. “You know what?” he said, grinning, “I couldn’t have timed that one better if I tried.”
“Are you saying…?”
“Exactly, yes, I am indeed.”
He stepped off Bandits and turned to Clyde. “You really are a good boy, but if I were you I’d be careful.”
“Well boy, for some reason that woman really don’t like the way our farts smell.”
“Yeah, I know, and I’m not sure why, but I’ve always thought it must be a character defect of some sort.”
“Whoof! – Whoof!”
“Okay, okay, I’m sorry. Don’t get your panties in a wad,” Taggart said as he picked up Clyde and helped him to the pier. “That’s a good looking bush over there, fella… No? Well, that’s okay, I have a feeling we shouldn’t go back there for a while…”
It took two taxis to haul everyone to the airport shuttle, though Taggart and Clyde said their goodbyes on the street just outside the marina. Henry smiled as he looked at this most unlikely family as they drove off, then he looked down at Clyde.
Clyde stood staring at the beige taxis until they disappeared, and even then his will to remain in this spot seemed resolute.
Then he looked up at Henry and sighed.
“Yeah, I know. Gonna be a rough couple of days.”
Clyde turned and began walking back out the pier to the boat, but he stopped once and sniffed the air. “Whoof-whoof!”
Taggart followed him to a favored clump of bushes, then picked up after him before resuming their walk out to the boat.
There were times, he admitted as he climbed into the cockpit, when the first Time Bandit had felt too big for one person – but this new boat was preposterously large by any standard, and here he was, all alone. Still, there were things he needed to work on today, some hastily added new additions down at the chart table to be made as per the encrypted text. Also, he’d left the original Zodiac on Bandit because it was just too small, so today’s other errand was to head out and find a newer, bigger inflatable – which meant a new, bigger outboard motor too. And folding bicycles! He’d need three of those, for now – too. He found a dealer for inflatables not too far away and tried to muster the will to move – but now, alone for the first time in months – he found himself almost paralyzed with indecision…like he suddenly had no idea how to go about the least little thing without Dina there by his side…
“So, this is what marriage leads to, eh Clyde? Emotional Alzheimer’s? I feel like I’m in kindergarten again – like I’ve gone and lost my mommy and don’t know where to turn.”
Clyde walked to the aft cabin and barked.
“Yeah, I hear you. When the going gets rough, the tough go to sleep.”
He laid down and Clyde came in and laid along his left side, his front paws draped over Henry’s left arm and his chin resting on Henry’s incision. Their eyes met and Taggart scratched the top of the pup’s head – at least he did until he felt his eyelids growing heavy…
And when his eyes opened he was standing in a field.
Green grass, maybe ankle high, stretched all around, almost as far as he could see. Not far to his left and up a shallow incline he saw that this side of the field was lined by trees; to his right and straight ahead he saw water beyond the far reaches of the field. He turned around and discovered he was on a road – of sorts – but really the road was a little more than two white sandy ruts that cut across the field. Beyond the field, foothills – then mountains. Huge, jagged snow covered mountains.
He heard a low, guttural growl and looked down. Clyde was sitting there, the pup’s limpid brown eyes fixed on his own, but Taggart could tell that Clyde was not at all happy. The hair on the back of his neck was on end and his tail was tucked-in tight, and Taggart could see his nostrils flaring – a sure sign that something – or someone – was nearby.
“What is it, boy? What do you smell?”
A shadow passed in front of them, then another and another, but when he looked up there was nothing to see – just a pure greenish-blue sky…yet…
“That’s not the moon,” Taggart said as his eyes took in the sight overhead. “It looks like a greenish Jupiter, only with Saturn’s rings.”
Clyde’s eyes followed Taggart’s, and when he saw the planet he howled and began circling Taggart’s legs…until Henry knelt beside the pup and held out his hand. “That’s nothing to worry about, old boy – just a very weird planet in a very weird dream…”
Then it hit him…it was light out but there was no sun in this sky…just this one huge planet overhead. He held out his hand and looked for a shadow – but saw nothing even remotely resembling anything like a shadow.
Then the three shadows raced across the field again and he looked up and around and Clyde was really howling now – and running in circles again, but the circle was growing tighter and tighter before him as he watched…
Then…a gust of wind. Cold, icy cold. Cold like fingers in the dead of winter, cold gripping his heart. Clyde stopped now and stood locked in a point.
Taggart followed the point with his eyes until they came to rest on a hazy white light coming from deep within the forest off to their left.
Clyde growled. A deep growl that came from a faraway place like fear, or maybe anger.
“Yes, I see it boy.”
The glow came from some place as yet unseen, but it had to be at least hundreds of yards in from the edge of the field because the pulsing glow was massive – yet the source of the light remained invisible. Then…the three shadows raced to edge of the field and disappeared into the forest. Seconds later the glow disappeared.
“I’m not sure I like this dream, boy. Maybe we should wake up now?”
His wrist buzzed, and then he heard a chirping sound…
“Oxygen saturation low!” a voice in the darkness said.
“Unstable heart rhythm detected,” the voice continued.
“Seek medical attention! Repeat, seek medical attention! If you do not respond to this alarm I will call emergency services!”
He opened an eye and raised his wrist and looked at his watch.
“Siri, would you shut the fuck up and please go straight to Hell?”
“I’m sorry, but that is an unknown response. I will call emergency services in 15 seconds if the alarm is not canceled.”
He scrolled down the message on the watch-face and hit the ‘Dismiss’ button, then sat up.
Clyde jumped off the berth and began growling just as he had in the dream, only now he was pointing at something unseen in the front of the boat.
“Clyde, you want to go outside?”
“Clyde, how about some nice salmon, and maybe a t-bone steak, too?”
The pup turned at that, then his tail started thumping on the cabin walls.
“I thought that would get your attention,” Taggart said. “But…wait a minute…” Taggart said as he realized that Clyde had been pointing in the same direction now as he had been in the field.
“Something ain’t right.”
He looked at his watch again, figured he’d been asleep for about two hours.
He looked up, saw the overhead hatch was dappled with spreading rain drops…
Then his phone rang.
“No, this is Henry.”
“Henry, stop it.”
“Must I? You know how much I like pushing buttons.”
“Henry, we’ve had some trouble.”
He shifted gears, decided it was time for a new game. “Okay, what’s happened?”
“Well, it seems like air travel is disrupted today, all over Europe. Our flight to Oslo is canceled, but we are on stand-by for a flight to Stavanger, then on to Bergen.”
“Is anyone talking about why…”
“Yes, the Russia stuff again. There was an incident last night, somewhere over the Black Sea. Apparently all air travel was stopped around 0400, but some flights are resuming. All flights to America are booked solid, but the planes to Europe are empty.”
“Ah. This might be a good time to invest in property over here.”
“Yeah, sorry. Clyde made me say that. So, when is this new flight scheduled?”
“And if it doesn’t go, then what?”
“That’s what I wanted to ask you. What should we do?”
“Come back here. You can’t sit around an airport with no place to stay.”
“Henry, this feels a little strange to me. Well, to all of us here. The news is not normal, but everyone is very restrained.”
“Probably a very good time to be careful what you say, for everyone. Just remember, Dina, you can’t think clearly if you panic. Keep focused on short term goals.”
“Do I sound panicked?”
“A little. How’s Rolf handling things?”
“Fine so far.”
“Okay, let him handle getting a ride back here if the flight doesn’t go, but stick to him like glue.”
“Okay. How are you doing?”
“Got down here and fell asleep.”
“I thought you might. You got about thirty minutes sleep last night.”
“Ah, that explains it.”
“And Henry? There is another problem.”
“Eva is beside herself. She did not want to leave you; she is very afraid of never seeing you again.”
“Is that all you have to say about the matter?”
“No, but I told you this was more a matter for the two of you, for you and Britt, to figure out.”
“But we are not psychiatrists, Henry!”
“Well, I’m not exactly Sigmund Fucking Freud, Dina, at least I wasn’t the last time I looked. What do you want me to say to her, anyway? Grow up?”
“That might help, yes.”
“No, Dina, that wouldn’t and you know it. The only thing to tell her is the truth, and that has to be the only reason. It’s safer there in Bergen, medically speaking, for both her and the babies.”
“I’m looking at her now, Henry. She’s hysterical, really, and acting quite beside herself, making a scene, really.”
“Could I speak to Rolf, please?”
“Yes, of course.” He heard her call for him, her the phone bouncing around, then he was on.
“Rolf? How’s it hangin’?”
“Down past my knees.”
“Right. What’s up with Eva?”
“She feels like my mother and Dina are ganging up on her, that they are ignoring her feelings?”
“And how do you feel about that?”
“I think she is a little correct, Henry, but I am not sure why this is so.”
“Yeah? Well, I am. I tell you what, Rolf. I want you to go over to her right now and kiss her – hard – on the lips. Maybe slip her a little tongue, too. And before she slaps you, tell her I told you to do it, and for her to listen to you from now on. If she gives you any trouble, hand her the phone and let he speak to me.”
“Henry, no, this is crazy!”
“Yes, of course it is! Life is completely crazy, Rolf! Now…do it!”
“No buts, Rolf. Just do it, right now.”
He heard the commotion that followed, the kiss, Dina’s outraged shriek, Britt’s flummoxed outrage – but not one peep from Eva as Rolf told her to listen to him from now on.
“Everything’s cool now, right?”
“Yes, I think this is so. How did you know?”
“Doesn’t matter. Remember, when I’m not around you’re going to have to take charge. But try to do things the way I would, okay?”
“Yes, Henry. Would you like to speak to Dina again?”
“Not really, but I don’t think I can avoid it this time, do you?”
“Okay, shipmate. I’ll talk to you later.”
“I love you, Henry.”
“I love you too, kid.”
Then: “Henry! What on earth did you tell Rolf to do!?”
“Dina? Call me if there’s trouble with the flight, okay. Otherwise, call me when you get in tonight.”
“Well, okay, but…”
“Adios, and take care,” he said before he cut the connection. Then he turned to Clyde. “Geesh, Dude. What is it about marriage that turns some peoples’ minds to mush?”
“You got that right, Amigo. Truer words were never spoken.”
Taggart found the recommended ICOM radio dealer nearby and looked over their inventory; when he talked to the owner the man seemed less than enthusiastic until Taggart voiced what he had in mind and who had sent him, and then the necessary time frame. “I’m sorry, I don’t speak German,” he added with a shrug. “I hope I’m being clear?”
“So, you know how to re-program the 7100 to pick-up military transmissions?” the man asked.
“But these are encrypted channels, are they not?”
“Most of ‘em, yes.”
“And you know the encryption protocols?”
Again, Taggart just shrugged – which spoke volumes as far as the dealer was concerned.
“Why do you want such equipment on your vessel?”
“Because I like to know what’s going on, and where. What I need to know is do you have the units in stock, and can you help me install them tomorrow.”
“Do you plan on using the backstay as your antenna?”
“Yes, the necessary connections were installed at the factory, including a copper foil ground plane.”
“Ah, so all we need is an antenna tuner, correct.”
“Yes. So, to be clear, I need the 803 SSB, the 605 VHF, and the 7100 transceiver. Tomorrow works for you?”
“What time would you like my crew to arrive?”
“0700 works for me. And could you supervise the installation?”
The man sighed. “If you wish. And how will you be paying?”
Taggart reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a Credit Suisse 10 ounce gold bar. “When the units are installed and tested, this is yours.”
“And the name for the warranty registration, and for the AIS system?”
“No names. And I’ll handle the AIS.”
The man nodded. “0700 then.”
Next he took a taxi to an inflatable boat dealer, and there he picked up an 11 foot Zodiac Cadet and a 10 HP Yamaha outboard, as well as an electric inflator to go with the included manual foot-pump. After a short stop at the marina to take Clyde for a walk, he went into central Kiel, to the restaurant named in the text, the Gaststätte Ratskeller. He gave his name for a table, in fluent German this time, and he ordered a beer and soup to have while he waited.
Five minutes later two men walked in and sat at the table next to Taggart; one was the US Navy captain he’d met in Lervassa, Sweden; the other Taggart didn’t know.
“You’re a hard man to find, Mr. Taggart,” the stranger said to Henry.
“Why the meeting, Mike?” Taggart ignored the stranger and replied directly to the naval officer.
“Any problem finding the radios?”
“No, they should be up and running by the day after tomorrow.”
“Here are the frequencies you’ll need, and the codes,” the stranger said, handing Taggart a flash drive.
“So, what’s good here?” Henry asked, looking at the menu.
“They do a very good Hunter’s Schnitzel,” Mike advised. “I see you already found the soup menu. Is that a fish chowder?”
“Yup. So, why me?”
“There are probably three people in the world that can do what you do, and when we learned you just happened to be over here – in the wrong place and at the wrong time…”
“You mean just as world war three is about to kick off…?”
“Something like that, yeah. And frankly, you’re untraceable on that fucking boat. If anyone else tried what we need you to try and, well, it’d be easy to trace the work back to Fort Meade.”
“Uh-huh. And when is this supposed to go down?”
“Best guess right now is around the 20th, but probably the 21st.”
“Right,” the stranger said. “It would be better if you’re not in a crowded urban port, you know, like not a containership loading area, but also not too far away from a large city. To make this work, you’ll just need an unobstructed view of the sky to the north and east.”
“And once I’m in?”
“Here’s the latest copy of their codec,” the stranger said, handing him a three ring binder. “Once you get in you’ll just need to run the install program, then shut down your link. That’s it.”
“Right, and how many incoming missiles will be targeting my ass?”
Mike laughed, shook his head. “It doesn’t work that way, Henry, and you know it.”
“Background RFI is your friend here” the stranger added. “That’s why…?”
“I know why. I’m just not convinced that an off the shelf transceiver will have the punch…”
“As long as you’re on the coast between the Elbe and Norderney your range should be optimal,” the stranger said. “Once the aircraft appears over the Baltic we’ll signal you; once it’s over the North Sea you’ll get the execute command. That’s it. It should take ten minutes, tops.”
“And there isn’t anyone else who can do this? Is that what you’re telling me?”
“There are potentially two other people, but none are in the position you are to do this as seamlessly. Their aircraft will only be vulnerable for a brief period of time…”
“And how do you know that?”
“Because we’ve observed it, Mr Taggart,” the stranger said. “Now, can we count on your help?”
“Henry, we need to know right now. If we have to move other assets into place it will take time – and time is running out. We need you to commit, and right now.”
His waitress came and he ordered, then he sat back and crossed his arms over his chest. He looked around the restaurant, almost like he was embarrassed to be here in this position, then he nodded. “Okay. I’ll take care of it.”
Mike smiled. “Alright. Thanks. I know you didn’t ask for anything, but we’d like to thank you. The contents of this briefcase are yours, the combination is your birthdate.”
Taggart knew the silver Zero-Halliburton case was on the floor between their tables, but now he did his best to ignore the thing, though he nodded understanding. “I understand some sort of convoy is coming through the canal. Anything I need to know about?”
“Not really, and it’s not a convoy, per se. We’re just moving some ships out of the Baltic for now.”
“NATO, for the most part. Ivan has moved too many submarines into the region, which meant we had to as well. Conditions are getting a little squirrelly for surface combatants so we’re moving assets to Iceland and the UK.”
“Can subs transit the canal?”
“You mean covertly?” Mike replied.
“No, just generally speaking.”
“If they don’t draw to much, sure, but moving a sub through such a restricted body of water defeats their purpose.”
Taggart nodded. “What about mini-subs? Little two-man affairs?”
“Have you seen anything like that?” Mike asked, suddenly all business again.
“No, but that’s exactly what the Japanese used around Pearl Harbor. Makes sense to try something like that again.”
“Well, they have them, so be on the lookout and let us know,” Mike added.
“You have the frequencies on the flash drive,” the stranger added. “But if you have any other questions for me, use the sat-phone in the case. Speed dial three for me. Mike is one. Keep the battery fully charged starting on the 15th, and keep it with you at all times until the operation is complete. I’d recommend you throw the phone into the drink just after you shut down, by the way.”
“You going to notify me using this new phone?”
“That’s correct,” Mike said, but he stopped talking when Taggart’s meal arrived. “Damn, that sure looks good today.”
“It’s a good bet they haven’t run out. Stay and keep me company?”
“It’s okay with us if it’s okay with you? We were sort of figuring you’d be a little too angry…”
“Not at all. It’s nice to be useful once in a while,” Taggart said. “Glad I could help.”
“So, how’s the new boat going?”
“Like anything else new. Bugs to work out, new systems to learn. Good sailboat, though. Fast.”
“So, where to from here?”
His phone rang. “Excuse me,” he said to Mike. Then: “Hello?”
“We made it to Bergen, and luckily enough on a nonstop flight.”
“Ah, well then, good news. How did Eva manage the flight?”
“She is clinging to Rolf like a magnet is attached.”
“And you? Feeling a little better now?”
“Yes, thank you. Rolf stepping in made a big difference.”
“Well, I’m having some new equipment installed tomorrow and the next day, so there’s no rush to get back. Take your time and you should both bring all you need for cooler temperatures when you return.”
“Henry, I’m not sure you are following events, but air travel is growing quite unpredictable.”
“Perhaps we should stay here until things resolve more clearly?”
“I’ll leave that to you, Dina. I’m sure you’ll take everything into consideration and make the best possible choice.”
“God-dammit, Henry! Can’t you at least once tell me that you need me and to hurry back as soon as possible!?”
“Dina, I need you. Please, hurry back as soon as possible.”
“Henry…I didn’t mean…?”
“Oh? What didn’t you mean?”
“I know you love us, me, and that you need…”
“Alright. So what’s the problem?”
“Sometimes this cool logic that pervades you…it is, well, difficult for me to understand.”
“Perhaps you’d rather I turn into an hysterical wreck. Would that help?”
“Now you are just being difficult.”
“Only for you, my love. Because I know how much you these things.”
“So, what new toys did you buy?”
“A stainless steel pole – for the salon. You know, so you could do some pole dancing?”
“Perhaps I should call tomorrow. You don’t seem to want to talk right now.”
“You know my number. If I don’t answer it’ll be because I’m in the shower.”
She hung up, and he put his phone in his jacket.
Mike and the stranger were looking at him.
“I take it you two had a disagreement?” Mike asked.
“No, that’s just usually the way I am.”
“You mean you like being an asshole?”
“Oh, yes, very much.”
“I see,” Mike added. “Well, good luck with that.”
Taggart nodded. “Indeed – so, apple strudel, anyone?”
When he made it back to Bandits he took Clyde for a long walk in a light drizzle, yet the old boy was damp and chilled by the time they made it back, so Taggart took him below and gave him a warm shower. After a thorough scrubbing with baby shampoo he pulled out Dina’s hair dryer and Clyde’s brush and got to work. When he finished, Clyde looked like a brand new dog again.
“I stopped by the fish market and got some salmon. Feel like sushi tonight?”
That was good for three barks, so Taggart got out his sushi knife and went to work.
“No wasabi for you tonight,” he said as he fed Clyde by hand, piece by piece. He cleaned up the galley then went to the silver case ‘Mike’ had given him and opened it. Twenty more ten ounce gold bars, a sat-phone complete with charger and quick reference card, and a Sig-Sauer P220 complete with three magazines and two boxes of 45 ACP. He shut the case and went to the engine room.
Once inside he went to one of the wall mounted inverters and removed its outer case, revealing a robust wall mounted safe. He entered the digital combination and the door popped open, revealing his vital papers and three more boxes of 10 ounce gold bars, each box holding 10 bars. He pulled his old P220 from the safe and replaced it with the new one, the same thing with his old magazines and ammunition, then he closed the safe and reseated the inverter cover. He walked to his berth in the aft cabin and put his old pistol under the pillow and the rest of the stuff in a bedside drawer, then he made his way to the chart table and opened his laptop.
He inserted the flash drive and reviewed the files and was surprised when he didn’t find any malware on the first pass. “So, they’ve learned a few new tricks, have they?” he muttered. But even after a deeper examination he came up empty, so he opened the main file and went through the program line by line. It was ingenious, he decided after a few minutes, and represented what had to be, quite possibly, the most dangerous undertaking on earth.
In a separate file he went over the instructions again, reviewed the suspect aircraft’s flight profile on its last two missions, and then he noted all the radio frequencies he’d need, committing them to memory after just one reading. With that done he slipped on a Lycra bodysuit and went to the aft deck and lowered the swim platform. He went into his little ‘garage’ and grabbed his dive-light and -knife, his mask and fins, and the little 20 pound SCUBA tank he carried to look over the bottom of the boat after a mishap, then he slipped into the inky black water and swam down to the keel.
And there, on the bottom of the keel, was the suspected transmitter-beacon – fixed in place with underwater-setting epoxy. He pulled out his dive-knife and pried it loose, then swam over and stuck the beacon behind one of the piers. When he left it would appear as if he was still berthed in the same spot, and it might give him enough time to break free if he needed to, and the beacon explained why he hadn’t found any malware on the flash drive. He looked at his hands just then and saw the usual telltale shaking and shook his head. After getting back onboard and stowing his gear he took his meds then made for the shower and stood under the hot water until he felt somewhat warm again, then he dressed and took Clyde out for one more walk before calling it a day.
Laying down hard, he suddenly grew afraid of sleep – ‘of those little snippets of death’ – if only because he was afraid of finding himself inside that last dream again. Clyde crawled up next to him, and he lay his head on Taggart’s chest, his eyes already at half-mast. Taggart started rubbing the top of the old boy’s head until he too felt the heavy hands of sleep coming for him…
…and in an instant he was on the same sandy white road that crossed the verdant field.
He looked to the left and found the pulsing white glow once again, then he heard a terrible shrieking cry – just before the three shadows emerged from the forest.
They were coming for him this time, and he knew there was no place to run.
© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next chapter will drop in a week or so.