Taggart docked adjacent to a supermarket that for all intents and purposes fronted the canal, and he spent an hour in the store with Eva stocking up on things she could eat and hold down. He helped her below and asked her to sort through and stow what she could, and he asked ‘Mike’ to give her a hand.
“Where are you going?” the captain asked as Taggart and Clyde headed up the companionway.
“A walk, and then a visit with a veterinarian.”
They found the requisite number of appropriate bushes and then Taggart called a taxi. A half hour later Clyde was having his blood drawn, then getting a CT-scan. With this worst fears confirmed, Taggart and Clyde sat in the back of another taxi looking at one another, headed for the river again. Who knows, he thought, maybe Clyde was apologizing for his own mortality. Whatever…now Taggart was genuinely depressed – and more determined than ever.
They got back to Bandits and Taggart cast off her lines and powered into the heavy commercial traffic headed west for the Elbe and the North Sea beyond. No one was headed to the Baltic now, not even commercial traffic, and Taggart feared the exit locks would turn out to be a giant bottleneck. Being trapped on the canal if war broke out was not a particularly good outcome, and he grew anxious as larger boats broke the speed limit, passing them in their mad dash to the open sea.
Every now and then fighters roared by overhead – usually headed east – and each time that happened everyone on the river looked up with fear and dread in their eyes. ‘Mike’ called in on his sat-phone from time to time and got official updates, but he never passed these along to Taggart. He turned out to be a good cook and helped take care of Eva, and an Annapolis trained naval captain was about as good on the helm as anyone could possibly be.
They arrived at the exit lock and motored right into the chamber, proving Taggart’s fears of a bottleneck unfounded. The channel that led to the North Sea was rimmed with shallow sandbars so he couldn’t cut corners, and so the forty mile distance to Wilhelmshaven turned to eighty miles, or a solid day’s journey away. And traffic remained heavy as ships exiting the canal were joined by even larger commercial ships exiting the Elbe River – fleeing Hamburg for the possible safety of the Americas.
Time Bandits’ engine was broken-in now so he pushed it hard, and a steady 90% RPM saw them cutting through the water at nine knots. Still, freighters were passing at twice that speed so he had to keep an eye out for traffic ahead – and to the rear – at least until they made the turn south for Wilhelmshaven. And then…after the turn there was no traffic at all…and all the way into the port area. The docks there were empty, and even the city streets seemed almost completely deserted.
One hotel was still open, and it was right on the strand. Complete with a marina as it happened, so he pulled in and took Eva ashore. He told her that she’d be alone here for about a week, maybe a few days more, and that it was because he had something important to take care of and he didn’t want to endanger her or the babies.
She nodded, said she understood, and she looked him in the eyes when she asked if he would be coming back for her.
“I’ll be back as soon as I’m finished. Don’t worry.”
“Then I will not,” she said, kissing him once.
He went back to the boat and found ‘Mike’ sitting in the cockpit waiting for him.
“Well, Mike, as much as I’ve enjoyed your company it’s time for you to leave,” Taggart said, pulling the Sig from a coat pocket.
Mike smiled, started to stand.
“Oh, Mike, this is not the Sig you gave me. You know, the one with the firing pin removed. Would you like me to demonstrate? Perhaps on your right knee?”
Mike was not smiling now. “Who are you working for, Henry?”
“As far as I know, just you guys. But I am not going to go out there and get this done – only to have you relieve me of my life. Understood? Now, get the fuck off my boat.”
Mike stood resolutely still, his decision made.
“Okay, I’ll give you a choice. Right knee, or left.”
“Last warning. Get off my boat.” Taggart growled as he squeezed off a round – down into the water; Mike hopped off and Taggart left him on the pier, reversed out of the marina to a chorus of ‘Fuck-you!’ and ‘You’re done!’ – then he accelerated to top speed and left the port.
He looked at his watch and figured he had about three hours until they came for him – probably in helicopters, he thought, and there was no telling how many tracking devices Mike had planted during his time onboard.
“Oh well,” he sighed as he looked at the plotter. “Off to Helgoland,” he said as he engaged the autopilot. Not quite forty miles away, so by the time they came looking for him, he’d be close enough to the island to be visible to residents there – so hopefully no men in black trying to take him out. Assuming he made it there intact, he’d settle into a little marina there, get his gear up and running, and still have plenty of time left to rewrite a little code…
He dashed below and took the battery out of the sat-phone and powered down his iPhone before he foil-pouched it and put it in the oven. He took his noon meds with a Coke and then went topsides, noting that there were now literally dozens of big ships ahead, apparently still exiting the canal in a steady stream and making a break for the open sea.
He continued looking aft, expecting to see helicopters headed his way, but four hours later he pulled into the smaller of the two marinas on the northeast corner of the island of Helgoland and tied off. He located the ‘harbormaster’ and paid the fee to remain tied up for a month, getting a pass to use the local swimming pool and gym – ‘should you so desire.’
He found the local hospital and sought out the islands internist and explained his condition and his need for lab tests, and an hour later – with fresh results in hand – he went to an internet café and emailed the results to Dina. He did not wait for a reply.
A light Cessna landed at the airport across the narrow channel from the marina, but only two people got off and he watched their reunion through binoculars, breathing another sigh of relief as he popped open another Coke, adding a small measure of rum to this glass. Then his ‘secret’ phone chirped and he reached for it, saw it was Rolf and took the call.
“Hey shipmate. How goes?”
“Good. Grandma-ma got your lab results. She says things look as good as can be expected right now.”
“Okay. Well, tell her I’m feeling okay, and thank her for the help.”
“I will. Is Eva still with you?”
“Not right now.”
“Should I come and get her?”
“No, I don’t think so.” ‘Probably not a good idea to become a hostage, ya know?’ he didn’t say. “Just hang where you are for another two weeks; I’ll call you around that time. And if you have to call me again, use the green phone number.”
He hung up, removed the battery from that phone and tossed the remains into the water, then he went below and started setting up the radio. He now had, by Mike’s estimate, less than ten days to go until the fly-by, so he fell into a new routine: wake and take Clyde for a walk to the fish market, get fresh salmon for their breakfast, then walk back to Bandits. Scrambled eggs and salmon, and whatever fresh fruit he could scrounge up on the island, started their day. He purchased a bread maker and started making whole wheat loaves, and while not as good as Dina’s he was content with the purchase. He found a little diner and usually had lunch there – with Clyde at his feet – then they walked to the high red cliffs and gazed at the sea before walking back to the marina.
On the 15th he powered up the sat phone Mike had given him and seconds later an incoming call chirped.
“How you liking island life, buddy?”
“It’s peaceful. How is Eva?”
“She’s just fine. I think she misses you, but that goes without saying.”
“I’d feel better knowing you’re not going to hurt her.”
“Well, that kind of depends on you, doesn’t it?”
“I’d like to pick her up at Norderney about a day after, if that works for you.”
“I think we can manage that. You remember the instructions?”
“Phone in the charger, wait for your call.”
“Henry, was the gun really necessary?”
“Apparently, or you wouldn’t have jimmied the firing pin.”
“We underestimated you, Pal. My bad.”
“You’re not the first, Mike.”
“Well, at least now I know why you came so highly recommended.”
“Anything else I can help you with right now, Mike?”
“Do you want to talk to Eva?”
“I’ve got enough on my mind right now. Tell her I said hello, would you?”
He disconnected and removed the battery, slipped it in the charger while he inserted the spare, then he took Clyde for a long walk, ending at the fish market again. The owner was just pulling a freshly smoked salmon out of his smoker and Taggart took half of it back to the boat, feeding Clyde more raw salmon he’d picked up earlier that day, then they went topsides to watch the sunset.
There was a little girl walking along the pier and she stopped and said hello.
“I see you walking your dog all the time, and I wanted to ask if I could maybe walk him for you?”
“I see,” Taggart replied in German, “and how much does a walk with my dog cost?”
“Two euros? Is that too much?”
He smiled. “No, that’s fine, but tell me something. Do your parents know you are here asking me this?”
She shook her head.
“Well, we can do this as long as we have your parent’s permission, okay?”
She nodded then scampered off to her house. A half hour later a rather nice looking woman came back with the little girl.
“I am so sorry,” the woman said. “Erika had no business asking you such a thing. I feel I must apologize for her intrusion.”
“No apologies needed. Would you two like to come up and join me? I just made fresh limeade.”
“Oh, no, no, we would be an intru…”
“It’s no intrusion. Please, come on up and join us?”
“Oh, I did not think there were two of you onboard?”
Bingo. So, she’d been watching.
“No, just me and Clyde here.”
“Everyone on the island is talking about you and the dog. We rarely have visitors stay for more than a few days.”
“I see. Well, I have some work to do and needed a little peace and quiet. This seemed like a good place.”
“You are from America? Where is this accent from?”
“Yes, California. I learned to speak when I was in university.”
“So, this is the famous Clyde?” the woman said, reaching down to rub his head.
“Yes, this is Clyde, and my name is Henry.”
“Well, I am Erika’s mother, Rosa. Nice to meet you,” she said, taking Henry’s offered hand.
“Your accent is Bavarian, is it not?” he asked.
“Yes, I am from Munich, but I work here every summer.”
“Yes, in the hospital.”
“I see. So you are a physician?”
“No, no. A nurse, but there is a shortage and this makes a nice holiday for me and my daughter.”
“And your husband, too, I assume?”
“No husband,” she said, smiling affectionately. “You will excuse me asking, but you look a little pale.”
“I’ve not been feeling well lately. I saw a doctor in the hospital here a few days ago.”
“Ah, well hopefully it is nothing too bad.”
He smiled. “I picked up some fresh smoked salmon at the market today, and I’ve made a little salad. Would you care to join me?”
“It would not be an intrusion?”
“No, I’d love the company.”
“Well, everyone on the island is already watching us, so we might as well give them something to gossip about.”
“I like the way you think, Rosa!” Henry said. “Here, you two stay where you are; I’ll fix some plates and hand them up.”
“It is a little cool out, don’t you think?” she added.
“Oh…sorry. Yes, please, come on down; I’ll turn up the heat a little. Clyde, you’d better lead the way.”
Once below, Rosa’s eyes seemed to register a little surprise while she took in her new surroundings, though Erika found her own way to Clyde and started rubbing his head – just like her mother had. Clyde, for his part, simply moaned a little as he got into all the new attention, leaving Henry to serve up plates of smoked salmon and a lightly curried cucumber-orzo salad. He uncorked a Riesling and poured her a glass, then everyone sat and grazed for a while.
“I have never seen anything like this boat,” Rosa said. “It is like a home down here, and not at all what I was expecting.”
“Well, it is my home, but it is also a kind of magic carpet, as it takes me wherever I want to go.”
“I would hope to go someplace far from here,” she said cautiously. “Are you not worried about these things that are happening in the east?”
“No, not at all. Saner minds will prevail. They always do, you know?”
“I am no longer so certain.”
“Oh, well, I understand. But truly, war is an archaic institution – simply because war has become pointless. What can you gain by destroying all life on earth? War has become the province of the madman, and such personalities can be coddled in other, much more effective ways.”
“Oh, if it was only so simple,” she said.
“Well, one can hope.”
“Do you have a television here?”
“Yes, but I don’t think I’ve ever used it. I have little need for the things people try to peddle there.”
“This is nice,” she said, indicating her glass – which was nearing empty. He poured her another glass and stood to take care of the mess in the galley.
“May I help?” she asked.
“Not at all necessary,” he told her as he rinsed off their plates and stuck them in the dishwasher.
“So, you really are not worried?”
“No, and you shouldn’t be, either. Like I said, saner minds, cooler, more collected minds will carry the day. Right now, the people who bottle water and make toilet paper are making money like never before, but a few months from now the people who bought all those things will look at all that stuff as nothing more than evidence of their own foolishness. One day, perhaps, they will realize they have been duped…once again.”
“I was thinking of staying here on the island, you see. In case war breaks out, perhaps it would be safer here.”
“Rosa, if war breaks out, no place is safe, and that’s my point.”
“But it is an island…”
“There will be no safe islands, Rosa. And now, I think we should talk about…? What would Erika like to watch on television?”
“But you said you haven’t used it?”
“That doesn’t mean I don’t know how to…”
“She wanted to see a new Marvel superhero movie. I think it is called Doctor Strange?”
He powered up his phone and pulled up the film, then linked it to his laptop, which was linked to his TV and one more button push later the TV rose from inside a cabinet and there it was. Erika sat up, her attention focused on the screen as if magnets had been attached to her eyes, and the music began…
Clyde, for his part, did not like the sudden loss of attention, so of course he barked twice then cut a nice, juicy, salmon fueled fart.
“Dear God in Heaven!” Rosa cried. “What is that smell?”
“Well, it’s either my dog wanting to go for a little walk, or it’s me – wishing I’d picked up a stray cat along the way.”
“I will help you,” Rosa said, leaving Erika’s magnetic eyes embedded deep inside the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
“Fine by me.”
They walked along the seawall to the northern point and the beach beyond, Clyde enjoying the fresh air almost as much as the two humans now did. “I have never smelled such gas before,” she sighed. “What do you feed that dog?”
“A lot of salmon this week. Maybe I should add some fiber.”
“You should try something different.”
“Clyde, don’t listen to her. She doesn’t know what she’s talking about.”
That was good for one bark.
“So, he talks to you?”
“Oh yes, all the time.”
“He looks very old. Have you had him since he was a puppy?”
“Actually, no. He found me in Bergen, oh…I guess it was about two months ago.”
“He found you?”
“Yes, he was homeless, living on the streets.”
“He looks very healthy.”
“It’s the salmon. The oils are great for the skin.”
“But not so much for the gas?”
“You hardly notice after a few days.”
“Maybe you don’t, but…”
“Yes, I know. So, tell me about you. You are a nurse from Munich. What else should I know?”
She walked along quietly for a moment, as if deciding on an answer: “What would you like to know?”
“Erika’s father. Where is he?”
She shrugged. “With his new wife, I suppose.”
“And you are still angry at him?”
“I am still very much angry at him.”
“And Erika? Is she angry at her father also?”
“Erika is old enough to understand what happened…”
“So she was old enough to be hurt?”
“How old is she?”
“Twelve. Thirteen next month.”
“And now all this worry about war,” Henry sighed.
“It has taken my mind off Kurt.”
“So, a mixed blessing…”
“No, I think not. War feels like the end of everything we know, and that could never be a blessing.”
“How does Erika feel about it?”
“She is not sleeping well. There is the fear, and when that goes away the thoughts of her father reappear. Then she saw your dog.”
“Yes, she has been wanting a dog of her own but the apartment where we live in Munich does not allow them. And here on the island, too. Dogs are very rare on the island, as life can be very difficult out here.”
“I like it,” Taggart said. “The rocks and the cliffs and the sea? It is nature at her easy going best.”
“Not when storms arrive, and not so much so in winter.”
“There is a season for everything,” he said.
“So, truthfully, you do not look so well. You won’t tell me what is wrong so I think it must be bad.”
He smiled. “It must be, then.”
“Okay, I understand.”
“Oh? You do?”
“You are an island. You want to be alone.”
“You think so, do you?”
“Why else would you push me away?”
“I am not pushing you away…”
“You have a wall around your heart, Henry. Very strong, because you have built it that way. When I look at you, at your clothing, I can see you have lost a lot of weight. You are pale. And now you are evasive, because you are afraid you will confide in someone like me and that will push me away.”
“No, and as for why, let me tell you a little secret.”
“If you’d like.”
“I am in need of a friend.”
“That is a dangerous secret indeed,” he said, smiling.
And she reached out and took his hand. “Now it is not a secret.”
Clyde turned and looked at Taggart just then, then he shook his head – flapping this ears wildly – before he sat and watched the show unfold… ‘Is this human really going to mate again?’ he thought. ‘Christ…what is it with this dude?’
By the time the three of them made it back to the boat Doctor Strange, had saved the Marvel Cinematic Universe one more time and Erika was watching the end credits, waiting for the secret reveal at the end.
“Man, it’s like magic,” Taggart sighed. “There’s nothing else in the world that can turn a kid into a quiet receptacle of junk quite like one of these movies.”
“Is that why you like them, too?”
“Yes, precisely so.”
“So, I should take my little Erika home now.”
“Well, feel free to drop by any time.”
She smiled and kissed him – on the cheek – and then tried to get her little girl’s attention.
“Not now, it hasn’t come to the end yet!” the girl cried.
“I’m sure there’s another movie in the series…” Taggart said, teasing Rosa.
“Don’t you dare!”
“Are you working tomorrow?” he asked.
“What does she do during the day?”
“Oh, she has books to read, a journal to write in, all kinds of things…”
“And there’s no television on the island?”
“Not in my building.”
“She can stay down here with me if you like.”
“And she would do nothing but watch movies all day! No thank you!”
“Just one, and anyway, I spend most of the day walking. Maybe she could use the exercise.”
“We will see,” Rosa said. “Erika? We must go now.”
German children were not so different from American kids, Taggart noticed – if that pouting lower lip was any kind of measure at all.
Taggart shut down most of the ship’s systems overnight, then he went topsides and checked Bandits’ lines. He took a quick shower and slipped under the covers, and then Clyde came up and assumed the position: snuggled in close with his chin on Taggart’s incision. Within seconds both were snoring – and when he woke the next morning he realized the dream hadn’t returned for the first time in weeks.
When he came in from his walk with Clyde that morning he had several texts from Rolf waiting.
‘Get in touch with Dina!’ they advised, and just then he heard a knocking on the side of Bandit’s hull. He went up the companionway to see who it was and found Rosa and Erika standing there.
“Good morning,” Rosa said – but from the look in her eyes it had been anything but…
“And to you. What’s going on?” he replied.
“I need to talk to you. May we come aboard?”
“Of course. Please,” he said, going to the rail and taking Erika’s hand and helping her up, then Rosa’s. “Here, or should we go below?”
“It is a private matter,” Rosa sighed.
He led them below and put on a movie for Erika, then led Rosa to the aft cabin.
“Alright, I’m all ears.” he said.
Rosa seemed hesitant, yet he saw she was on the verge of a massive breakdown – so he went to her and gave her a gentle hug.
“I am very afraid this morning,” she began. “I found a lump in my breast when I showered before work, so I went to one of the internists at the hospital, then I had a mammogram.”
“And the news is not so good, I take it?”
She shook her head. “I am afraid not.”
“May I show you something?” he asked.
He pulled up his polo shirt and revealed his incision and her eyes went wide. “We found my breast cancer in May.”
“And this is why you are so pale?”
He nodded. “Stage four. I may make it to the New Year, or…”
“I understand. I should not be placing this burden on your shoulders…”
“On the contrary. There is probably no one here in a better place emotionally to help you than I am. Now, what do you need?”
“They are going to do a biopsy first thing in the morning, and if the pathology warrants I have asked that they perform a full radical mastectomy.”
“I would like you to watch Erika for me while I am in the hospital. Is this okay with you?”
“Of course. Is there anything else I can do?”
“I cannot think of anything.”
“What about your family?”
She shook her head. “No, we are alone now.”
He smiled. “No, you’re not. I’m here now, and everything is going to be just fine. Don’t worry about anything now but getting ready for the fight of your life, but just remember, Erika will be here with you, and if you need me I will be too.” He kissed her forehead and held her close for a long while, then he leaned back a little. “What have you two had to eat today?”
“Not much, I’m afraid.”
“Well, ‘not much’ is not the best way to take care of yourself, so let’s see what we can do about that…”
He whipped up a spaghetti carbonara and a small salad while Rosa and Erika watched Doctor Strange – again – then he and Clyde walked them back to her apartment.
“I’ll walk Erika by in the morning. Thank you for everything,” she said.
He nodded and waved goodbye to Erika, then he took Clyde for a short walk – both reveling in the sun and sea breeze before heading back to the boat.
He didn’t like the idea of using a VPN but logged in and texted Rolf: “What’s up?”
“She needs to talk to you. Very important.”
He opened Messages and shot off a quick “How are you?” text. Her reply was instantaneous.
“I feel terrible for misleading you. Will you ever be able to forgive me?”
“You are forgiven.”
“Just like that?”
“No time to waste with nonsense.”
“Rolf needs to come back to you. I need to know if I am welcome.”
“You are my wife. How could you not be welcome?”
“When may we come?”
“After the 21st. I will be busy until then.”
“Where should we come to?”
“Not sure yet. Depends on the state of the world, I think.”
“If it depends on that we may never see you again.”
“I live on a magic carpet, remember? It is not so far to Bergen. Two, maybe three days.”
“So, I am not to worry?”
“Other more important things to worry about now. Just be safe and take care of our family.”
“Our family. You have never said that before.”
“A simple truth best remembered always, Dina.”
“I love you.”
“Thanks. I needed to hear that from you. I love you too.”
“When will I hear from you next?”
“Just keep your phone with you. I may have to move quickly, depending on possible outcomes.”
He signed off then gathered all the ship’s laundry and got to work. “I feel like a hotel maid,” he snarled as he remade both bunks in the two forward staterooms…then he heard the knock-knock on the hull that he had been waiting for. Just as he thought, it was Rosa and Erika again and he smiled at them as he helped them aboard – with their suitcases.
“I am almost ready for you,” he said.
“What? Ready for what?” Rosa said.
“I just changed the sheets in your staterooms.”
“Of course. It makes perfect sense to have Erika stay here, and you too after you are discharged. We both know I can take better care of you both from here.”
“I was so worried that we would be imposing…”
“Please, welcome aboard. Now, you should rest.”
He helped the girls figure out how to use the head, then let them have the forward berth – for now; after Rosa closed her eyes Erika came looking for Clyde and they settled in with one of the Thor movies. Henry returned to writing code at the chart table, smiling all the while.
Because every now and then he’d look back at all the fantastic events of the last year. First, finding the original Time Bandit, then sailing up and down the east coast. The friends he’d made in the Florida Keys, and in Maine – before his Atlantic crossing. And everything since arriving in Bergen…where he had gone from a life alone to a life full of love and friendship…and when at times like this he bathed in the cool waters of his new family he finally felt the fullness of life.
And maybe that was what his father had really wanted for him. What his father had wanted to show him – if only they had…
…then, another knock on the hull…
He went up the companionway and there was Mike, sitting in the cockpit with a pistol visibly tucked in his waistband.
© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next chapter will drop in a week or so.