A few words before you wade into this latest chapter. If you feel lost in the absurd as you read along, just step out of yourself for a moment and read between the lines. Was it really so long ago, so far away…?
So, perhaps some music to lead the way out of the fog?
Now, Happy Thanksgiving, and please…read on…and perhaps before too long things will begin to make sense once again…
Taggart glanced at the pistol in the Navy captain’s hand just once then sat behind the port-side wheel. “Frankly, I wasn’t expecting you until tomorrow. Change of heart, perhaps?”
‘Mike’ seemed a little confused by that reaction. “You told me you were headed to Norderney and yet here you are. And you’re asking me?”
“My fault. This boat draws to much, so I’d have never been able to get into the marina there, and I want to pull shore power during the transmission.”
“Yeah? Well, Henry – sorry, but I’m not buyin’ it. We’ve been watching you long enough to know you’re a more careful navigator than that.”
“How’s Eva?” Taggart replied – ignoring the question while looking to the south.
“She’s fine, Taggart. Now, what are you up to?”
Taggart swung around and he set his left arm in motion, making an arcing sweep of the northern sky. “See that, Mike? Pure, unobstructed sky, and zero RFI. Any more questions?”
“Who’s the woman?” Mike asked, pointing down below.
“Local nurse. She’s going in for a possible mastectomy in the morning. I’ll be watching her daughter while she recuperates.”
Mike shook his head. “Sorry. We have nothing on her, so I can’t let you do that.”
“And you plan on stopping me how?”
“With this, if I have to,” Mike said, pulling the Sig out into the open.
“I see. Frankly Mike, you didn’t strike me as such a stupid person.” Taggart then sat cross-legged – Indian style – and closed his eyes.
“Now what the fuck are you doing…?”
“Sh-h-h-h…now pay attention, Mikey.” Taggart spread his arms wide and tilted his head back, and Mike’s face expressed a total ‘what the fuck’ reaction as he watched…
…as the pistol slipped from Mike’s grasp and drifted slowly away from the boat, then, when it was about ten feet away and hovering over the water, gravity to over and it fell into the water – making a simple little plonk sound before it disappeared.
Mike was more than a little interested now, but when he turned back to Taggart his eyes went wide. Because Taggart looked like he was hovering about five inches above the deck – still sitting Indian-style, still with his arms out and head tilted back, only now there was a reddish-gold orb about the size of a golf ball just above Taggart’s left hand.
Mike took a deep breath, then smiled. “That’s right. You worked in Seattle, didn’t you? So, you were working with the Phantom Works group when they…?”
But Taggart was engrossed with the red orb now, because now the plasma-like material had almost encased his left arm. Moments later Mike lifted from the deck and drifted out over the water – but Taggart – or the red plasma – simply left the captain suspended there, about ten feet above the water.
“Are you having fun now?” Mike snarled.
Taggart moved his arm up and Mike began slowly rising into the sky.
“Whoa…alright, alright…you win…”
The red plasma separated and drifted over to Mike – then hovered in front of his face, now about the size of a tennis ball…then it began rotating faster and faster…until it simply winked out of sight.
And then Mike fell straight into the water…from fifty feet up. By the time he surfaced Taggart was standing at the aft rail, lowering the swim platform and boarding ladder for the sputtering, cursing Navy captain. Taggart smiled as he handed Mike a towel as he climbed back up on deck.
“Don’t you dare ever do that to me again,” Mike said as he toweled off, obviously furious.
“Don’t make me do it again,” Taggart replied, “or next time you’ll fall from a few miles up.”
“I’ve heard about you guys. What, you started calling yourself the Jedi Order?”
Taggart laughed. “I’ve heard that one too, but no, nothing quite so, what is the word – prosaic? And I think you’re going to need some dry clothes, Mike. Bring any?”
“Well, not with me, asshole.”
“I’m sorry,” Taggart said, trying to stifle a laugh, “but you really should’ve seen the expression on your face…”
“I’d like to see yours under similar circumstances.”
“Oh, been there, done that. Up in the San Juans, near Friday Harbor.”
“One of ‘em took me and a Killer Whale for a spin around Vancouver Island one night about five years ago. Took maybe a minute. You ain’t seen scared, Amigo, until you’ve been in close quarters a freaked out Killer Whale – shitting all over himself.”
“That the whale you ran into in Norway?”
“Yup,” Taggart said, nodding. “I don’t know the how or the why of things like this, but ever since I got the boat last year he and his family have always been nearby.”
“That’s gotta be kind of weird.”
“You know, not really. Nothing seems weird anymore, as a matter of fact. About the only difference it’s made is I rarely pee over the rail these days. Somehow doing that just seems disrespectful.”
“You do know that this is kinda off the rails, right? I mean, what if people were watching while you did that shit?”
Taggart shrugged. “It won’t matter soon.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“Nothing, really. That cat’s been out of the bag for a while now. Just a matter of time.” Taggart looked at his watch, then back at Mike. “You got some place to stay, or do you want to bunk-out here tonight?”
“Here, if that’s okay with you.”
“The woman and her daughter are up front. You can stay in the bunk just aft of that tonight. Eva will use that one when I’m done here, so stay here ’til then if you like.”
“You know, I was really expecting more anger, or maybe something more like suspicion from you.”
“I don’t have time for that anymore, Mike, so please, please, don’t make me waste what time I do have, okay? I mean it. I just don’t need your kind of shit in my life right now.”
“Yeah, okay. Got it.”
“You remember how to use the shower?”
“Fresh towels on the rod.”
After Mike disappeared down below Taggart went down to the swim platform and dove into the icy water. He returned an hour later, still quite warm.
He showered and went to the chart table, opened his laptop and checked Messages first, then Mail. He opened the latest from Dina and read through her apologia and smiled. “She’s nothing if not predictable,” he muttered, then he opened the latest from Britt.
“I don’t know what is going on with you,” he read. “Rolf told me that Eva is with you, and I do not know how to process that. It feels like you love her most of all? Am I wrong? Please, tell me I’m wrong?”
He hit the reply button and watched the window open. Such a simple, direct thing. Nonstop, instant communication. What a gift. “Britt, there is no ‘most of all’ – there is only love. I am as bound to you as I am bound to Dina or Eva. Maybe you don’t want to hear that, but I will not deceive you, especially when feelings are so easily lost in questions of the heart. When you need my love I will be there to give you all I have.”
He hit the send button and went to his inbox again, saw Rolf’s latest and opened it.
“Henry, mother is depressed again. What should I tell her when she asks to see you?”
“Tell her to be patient.”
He hit send and felt someone looking at him. Looking up, he saw Rosa staring at him, and she was crying. He stood and went to her, held her in his arms.
“I’m sorry, but I am so afraid…”
“What are you most afraid of – right now?”
“Of not being here for Erika. That scares me most of all…”
“You’re not alone, Rosa, and neither is Erika. Not now, not tomorrow. We’ll be here, waiting for you.”
“I know, and I thank you for opening your home to us…”
“Come with me now. There’s someone I’d like you to meet.”
“What? No, not now…I’m wearing just a robe, Henry, with nothing under…”
“Come, please,” he said, and holding out his hand he led her up the companionway steps then to the aft deck. He let go of her hand long enough to walk down to the swim platform then held out his hand again. “Do you trust me?” he asked.
She nodded. “I think so, yes.” She took his hand and stepped down onto the platform, then she watched as he climbed down the swim steps into the water. “Please, what are you doing, Henry?”
But he was facing the opening that led from the little sheltered marina to the open sea, and she gasped when she saw a huge black dorsal fin cutting through the water – coming right at him…
But he simply swam out to meet the animal –
Then they were together. His hand on the side of the whale’s face.
“Come here now,” he said gently.
“Now please, Rosa. Just relax and slip off your robe, then come out to us .”
And just then she felt her resistance to the moment simply drift away – almost like the robe slipping from her shoulders…and then she stepped down into the water – expecting ice cold pinpricks – only to feel briny warmth enveloping her as she swam out to Taggart. The whale was waiting out there, his head completely out of the water as she approached…
…and without any hesitation she went close, close enough to feel the warmth coming from his massive body, to feel the whale’s exhaled air as his blow-hole snapped open, then she felt another body sliding by just behind her and she turned to see a tiny orca turning around and coming back to her.
“That’s his daughter, Rosa. Say hello if you want…”
“Henry…she’s so small! How old is she?”
“I’m not really sure, Rosa, perhaps just a few days, maybe a week.”
She swam with the little one for a long time, then she turned and swam back to the large male and rubbed the side of his face again. “Thank you for this,” she whispered as they made eye contact – and then she watched, a little disappointed, maybe, as he slipped under the water and disappeared, his little girl following along on the surface.
“That’s the first time I’ve met her,” Henry said quietly. “She seemed unafraid, didn’t she?”
“You know these whales?”
“I know this family, yes.”
“How is this possible?”
Taggart shrugged. “I don’t know, but I guess you’ve seen it now – so maybe you can believe what you’ve seen with your own eyes.”
“How long have you known him?”
“Him? Oh, about five years.”
“What? Are you serious?”
Taggart chuckled. “About as serious as two naked people swimming in the ocean at three in the morning can be, I guess.”
his words seem to startle her and she looked down at her nakedness, then swam back to the swim platform and climbed up and into her robe. She turned and looked out over the water where she’d just been then scurried belowdecks, leaving Taggart alone with his thoughts again.
“That went well, I guess,” he sighed as he swam back to Time Bandits.
The damp night air was chilly now, so he ducked below and showered before changing, and then he waited for Rosa again. He walked her over to the hospital and she signed in, noting Henry as her emergency contact on the hospital’s paperwork, then they found the pre-op waiting room and sat in a nervous heap.
“I am not so sure what to think of what happened in the sea tonight,” she began, “yet I feel at peace with myself now. Do you understand?”
“I’m glad. I was hoping you’d feel this way.”
“I cannot tell, but I almost feel like he was trying to talk to me. Is that possible?”
Taggart shrugged. “Really, I have no idea. There have been a few times when I’ve looked in his eye and I seem to feel something like a connection, but the more probable answer to that question is that I’m reading something into such encounters that’s more a human reaction than what he has. Still, all I can really say is that I don’t know, yet at the same time I think I understand what you’re feeling, because I’ve experienced something just like that with him as well.”
“Henry? I feel different now. Is that wrong?”
“Wrong? How can a feeling like that be wrong?”
“I don’t know; but right now all the fear is gone, and I think he had something to do with that happening.”
“Well, the next time you see him, why don’t you thank him?”
“Now you are making fun of me…”
“No, I’m not.”
“You will take care of Erika for me?”
“I mean – if something bad happens?”
“I know what you mean – but nothing bad is going to happen.”
A nurse, another friend of hers as it turned out, came and took her to get ready for the biopsy, and Taggart made sure the nurse had his number before he walked back to through town to the boat. He leashed up Clyde and took him the long way around the island, and an hour later the nurse called and told him the results were not promising and that Rosa would be having a full mastectomy while she was still under.
He sighed as he looked out at the sea, then he felt an odd presence in the air, something like an urgent cry for help – and even Clyde felt it because he started barking and the hair on the back of his neck stood straight up. Then Clyde started walking towards the boat, pulling on his leash – which was something he rarely did.
“Alright, boy, let’s go…”
They walked through an apartment complex on the way to the boat and he could see TV sets on and people staring intently at their screens – and right away he knew what it was…
Mike was sitting up in the cockpit talking urgently on his sat-phone by the time they made it back…
“Okay, he’s back now. I’ll tell him,” Henry heard Mike say as he stepped up on deck.
“So, what’s Ivan up to this morning?” Henry asked.
“Mechanized units just crossed into Finland and northern Norway. Tallinn and Riga went dark about a half hour ago.”
“So, what about the aircraft we’re waiting for?”
“Over the Baltic, headed this way. Should he here in about an hour.”
“What kind is it?”
“The AWACs variant of the IL-76. You know it?”
Taggart nodded. “So, the best laid plans, eh. Seems like he’s about a week early, right?”
“And he’s coming in broad daylight, too,” Mike grumbled. “Using a new playbook this time around.”
“Well, two can play at that game, Mike. Still, for every action there’s usually an…”
“Yes, I understand Newtonian physics…”
“Do you? Excellent! I’m glad somebody still does… Now, I’ve got to feed Clyde and get breakfast ready for Erika…”
Mike blanched: “Are you out of your fucking mind!”
“Probably, yes, but I wouldn’t worry too much about it right now.”
“You’ve got to get ready, Taggart! We only have about an hour!”
“Which gives me plenty of time to whip up some waffles. Sound good?”
“Did you hear me!” Mike screamed. “Are you ready?”
“Of course I’m ready. You paid me to be ready, remember? So…I’m ready. Tell me when your spook calls again, because I’d really hate to burn the waffles.” Taggart disconnected the shore power cord and coiled it neatly, then dropped down the companionway hatch and powered up the generator; when he saw that power was running smoothly and that everything necessary was indeed still ready to go, he powered up his laptop and the Icom transceiver before he walked across to the galley and found what he needed to start making his batter.
Mike came down the steps – now quite literally almost out of his mind, then he looked at the chart table and saw everything humming along…
“Is your sat-phone ready to go, too?” Mike asked.
“Of course, but I thought yours…”
“Just in case something goes wrong with mine, okay?!”
“The waffle maker is down in that drawer; could you dig it out for me?”
“What!?” Mike screamed.
“Mike, the girl is still sleeping, so keep a lid on it, okay?”
“I’m going to fucking shoot you, Taggart!”
“With what? Your fucking finger?”
Mike, his face crimson bordering on purple, went to the drawer and found the waffle maker. He put it on the counter beside Taggart then went to the closest chair and sat, steam now pouring out his ears.
Taggart measured the batter mix and poured it in a mixing bowl, then he added the required amount of oil and cracked two eggs –
Mike’s sat-phone chirped and he answered in a voice bordering on pure, adrenaline soaked hysteria: “Where is it!” he cried. “What?! Ten minutes to optimal angle? Already?”
“Have him stay on the line, Mike. You know, like do a little countdown for us, maybe?”
Mike nodded as he listened. “Sweden too? All from the north?” More nodding, purple faced exasperation followed by intense hand-wringing. “Taggart!? Five minutes now!”
“Do you like honey, or maple syrup?”
“What the fucking hell…!”
“Okay, maple syrup it is.”
“Four minutes, Taggart!”
Who at the moment was heads down in the ‘fridge looking for butter.
“Found it! Can’t have waffles without butter.”
“Two minutes, Goddamnit!”
Taggart pulled three plates from the cupboard, then got out three glasses for orange juice. “Now where did I put the OJ?” he muttered as he turned back to the ‘fridge one more time – just as Erika walked into the saloon.
“What’s going on?” she asked.
“I’m making waffles, then what do you say we watch some cartoons. Have a seat at the table, okay.”
“Okay. Have you heard anything about my mom?”
He nodded. “Yes, we should know soon – maybe in about an hour, I think.”
“Thirty seconds now, Taggart,” Mike said, his tight-lipped voice now registering somewhere between simple menace and murderous rage.
“Ah, well then,” Taggart said as he walked over to the chart table, “time to see if my little recipe works or not.”
“NOW!” Mike thundered, scaring Erika and sending Clyde up the companionway – cutting a nice series of farts as he scooted up the steps.
Taggart, his fingers hovering over his MacBook, pressed the return key – then, just for fun, he said “Oops!”
“Oops!? Oops!? What the fucking Hell does Oops mean?”
“Michael, please, not in front of the children…” Taggart bent over the laptop and read off the progress message, then he clicked Okay and closed the display. “Well, that cake is baked. Tell your pit bulls on the line Mission Accomplished, or whatever the current catch-phrase is.”
“You’ve got about thirty seconds, Mike. Tell them the cake is baked. Got it, the cake is baked.”
“Taggart says to tell you the cake is baked.”
Then Mike’s sat-phone went off-line.
“What just happened?” he asked, looking at Taggart.
“Oh, not much. All satellite, cell and land lines just went off-line. Power plants too, for that matter.”
“Launch codes were decoded, recoded, then encrypted, by the way.”
“What the fuck do you mean, Everywhere…?”
“You want the complete list?”
“Well, go ahead, be that way. How about Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Israel, South Africa, Brazil, France, the U.K., and, oh yes, the United States. All launch systems, including submarine launch systems, just went offline. In fact, the only operable encrypted radio circuit still operating right now is NASA’s link to the space station.”
“You did WHAT?”
“And in about five minutes, Looney Tunes cartoons are going to start playing on all the world’s military launch consoles. Yosemite Sam versus Bugs Bunny, 24/7 for the next week. Oh, and all those mechanized units crossing into wherever? I understand all the fuel in their tanks is turning to water as we speak.”
“Are you fucking INSANE…!?”
“Really? I’m insane? Because I don’t want to watch you blow up the world? Are you, by any chance, even halfway aware of what you’re saying?”
Mike put down his phone and walked topsides. “Erika? I could use a hand pouring batter into the waffle-maker.”
With cell phones down, Taggart, Mike, and Erika walked to the hospital once Henry’s breakfast was finished and cleared-away. Main power to the island usually came by way of a submarine cable from the mainland, but now the island’s original diesel plant was online, providing just enough power to run the hospital and the island’s grocery store while the authorities tried to figure out what had gone wrong.
The same nurse came out of the operating room a few minutes after Taggart’s arrival, and she came up to him, clearly confused and wanting to know what was going on with the power.
“Something with the cable,” Taggart said, adding that the old power plant was online and that there was plenty of fuel on hand. “Now, how is Rosa?”
“Stage two, but she’s triple negative so the surgeon went ahead with a full mastectomy.”
“I see. Is she in recovery yet?”
“Not yet. I’ll come get you after they move her. She did just fine, no other problems…”
“Thanks,” he said, then he walked over to Erika.
“Well, your mother’s operation went well…”
“Was it cancer?”
He nodded and took her hand before he continued. “It’s not as bad as it could have been, but they decided to remove her breasts – just to be safe. We’ll be able to see her in just a few minutes, but it’s going to be very important to let your mother know that you love her and that everything is going to be okay. Got that?”
“Erika, there may be some changes around the house for a while, which means you may have to help with more things around the kitchen than before, but that’s just a part of this whole cancer thing. The important thing to remember is that your mother will get better with each passing day, and your job is to make it easier for her to work on getting better. So everything you do to help around the house is actually helping your mother get better faster, okay? That’s the way this works.”
“The other important thing to remember right now is that you’re not alone in this. You’ll have lots of help when you need it, and if you ever start to feel down about things, well, you can’t hold that in. You have to talk about your feelings, and there will be people around you can talk with…”
“What about you? Won’t I be able to talk to you?”
“Well of course you can, but we can talk about all that later, when we know what your mother wants to do…”
“I want to stay with you and Clyde!”
He smiled and gave her a hug. “Well, let’s see what your mother wants to do first, but we better not ask her things like that today. Do you remember why?”
“Because it might upset her?”
“That’s right, and we don’t want to do that because – why?”
“Because she won’t get better as fast.”
A nurse came out and called Erika’s name and they went in…
The three of them walked by her apartment and picked up a few things Erika wanted before bed, then they walked back to Bandits. Taggart checked the state of the ships batteries then fixed Erika a sandwich; when she finished he leashed up Clyde and everybody went topsides, then they walked out to the beach on the north shore.
“Beautiful spot,” Mike said as Taggart threw a stick and turned Clyde loose.
“Pretty good spot to sit out World War Three, you mean?”
“I’m sorry about all that back there. I lost it, man.”
“Understandable, Mike, and predictable too. I’m sorry I was so rough on you.”
“Rough on me? That’s a laugh. So, did you write all the code to do this?”
“Some of it, yes. I didn’t have the technology to pull off some of the other aspects, as you might imagine.”
Taggart just shrugged.
“Something to do with Phantom Works, right?
Again, Taggart just shrugged.
“Will you ever tell anyone?”
“You’ll know, Mike, and there won’t be any need to ask me, or anyone else for that matter.”
“Little green men, huh?”
Taggart laughed. “Not quite, but keep on guessing if it makes you happy.”
“The boat thing. Is this why you chose the boat?”
“My dad chose the boat thing, Mike. I’m just following the path we set out on together once upon a time.” Clyde handed him the stick and he threw it again.
“That’s not what I mean…”
“I know what you meant, Mike. And yes, if you want to watch the end of the world from the sidelines, a boat is a pretty good way to go about doing that.”
“But that’s not why you…”
“No, it wasn’t. I was just starting to deal with Parkinson’s when I made the decision, and I did so because I wanted to follow my dad’s dreams while I still could.”
“Then all that other stuff hit, in Bergen? The cancer…?”
“Man, you’ve had it rough.”
“Oh? Actually, I’ve never been happier, but the simple truth of the matter is that I plan on getting along quite nicely. Almost all the pieces are in place now.”
“What are you talking about, Henry?”
“You know, Mike, what we’re missing is a common frame of reference.”
“Exactly.” Taggart sighed as he bent over and took the stick from Clyde. “Here…why don’t you throw it this time.”
Mike took the stick and threw it about seventy yards – Clyde took off like a mad banshee.
“You must’ve been a quarterback. At Annapolis?”
“Well then, we do have a common frame of reference.”
“Oh? We do?”
“Sure. Quarterbacks can’t do squat without a solid front line, good running backs and talented receivers, right?”
“Sure, of course.”
“Well then, think of that old Beatles song. You know…I get by with a little help from my friends? That’s all I’m doing right now.”
“Yeah, but who are your friends?”
“You’ve met most of them, Mike. Dina and Eva, Rolf and his mother…”
“They helped you pull this off, huh?”
“No, they most certainly did not. God damn! How far did you throw that thing? Clyde, let’s walk and catch some breath, okay?”
“Mike, you’re barking up the wrong tree…”
“And you’re not going to talk about it. Okay, I get it, I get it.”
Taggart bent down and rubbed Clyde’s head for a while, then he looked up at Mike. “So, what are your plans now?”
“I have no idea – assuming I still have a job. What about you?”
“See how Rosa is, get them settled then head in to pick up Eva and whoever makes it down from Norway. After that, west to Holland, then the inland waterways to the Seine.”
“Who taught you that stuff?”
“Levitation, that Jedi crap.”
Taggart chuckled again. “Man, you just aren’t going to let up, are you?”
“Probably not. That may be the only thing that saves my ass, Henry.”
“Yeah? Well then, tell the fuckers that a bunch of Jedi Knights taught us that crap. That ought to give them something to chew on for a while.”
“That red thing?”
“Magnetized plasma, from the upper atmosphere.”
“So, who pulled this off?”
“Jedi Knights, Mike. Ain’t you been listenin’? And try to remember this, boyo: the geeks shall inherit the earth.”
It was a long, quiet walk back to Bandits after that; Mike still curious, Erika lost in all the uncertainties pushing in from every direction, and Clyde definitely walking more slowly than he should have – leaving Taggart to sort through the permutations of near-term future events as they seemed to be currently evolving. Who would be able to make it back to the boat? Would this fragile peace last, or would the perception of outside interference only exacerbate tensions? Eva, stuck in a barren hotel room with unknown watchers all around her? And the route ahead to the Seine: what unforeseen trouble lay in wait for Time Bandits and his fledgling crew?
On the home stretch one possible permutation seemed to resolve itself – Eva was sitting in the cockpit with a couple of crew cut navy types, looking ragged, disheveled, and bewildered all at once…until she saw Taggart and Clyde. The look on her face was like looking at a light bulb as it turned on – something like going from cool gray to bright white in a heartbeat, and when Clyde saw her he perked-up and trotted to the boat…barking once when she clapped her hands for him.
“How’d you get her here, Mike?”
“She came with me…so yes, she’s been here for a few days.”
Taggart glowered, then turned away – shaking his head.
“I’m sorry, Henry. Orders.”
“I seem to recall that was the lowest common denominator employed by defendants at the Nuremberg Trials.”
Mike nodded, then looked away.
Taggart sighed. “Comforting to know some things never change.”
“Who is that?” Erika said as they came to the boat.
“A friend. And Mike, I think you just lost your bunk.”
“I figured that one out already…”
“All by yourself? Excellent! So, got some place to stay?”
Mike shrugged. “I have no idea, Henry.”
“Who are those two?” Taggart said, looking at the two navy dobermans
“Guards, Seals. I need to have a word with them.”
“Oh, by all means,” Taggart said as he climbed into the cockpit, steadying himself for Eva’s octopus-like assault.
When he finally came up for air he unlocked the companionway and helped her down the steps, then told her he had to go to the hospital for a while.
“Are you alright?” she asked, clearly concerned.
“Yes, I am; the girl up there is staying with us while her mother is in the hospital. She had a mastectomy this morning.”
Eva’s eyes went wide with understanding, reminding Henry that of all the women in his life now, Eva was the real empath. The ability had, in a way, proven to be a real handicap – because people often seemed to confuse this trait with weakness, when the exact opposite was true. Eva’s empathic leanings, when aroused, seemed to release a latent, but very real strength of character, and he saw that in her response now.
“We’ll be back in a while. There’s juice in the fridge if you need something to drink.”
Rosa seemed weaker than he’d expected, though before they saw her, the nurse advised she seemed confused.
“Oh?” Taggart asked.
“She keeps talking about a whale, about a whale talking to her. Very lucid descriptions, too…like it’s happening as she speaks.”
Taggart smiled and shrugged. “When I dream like that I usually end up walking on a beach with Doris Day,” he grinned. “I like those kinds of dreams, don’t you?”
The nurse smiled, then walked with them to Rosa’s recovery room. “Here she is…”
Her skin was much paler now and almost seemed yellowish in places, while gray shadows circled her eyes; Taggart watched Erika’s reaction and he put his hand on her shoulder – kind of a warning to take great care with her words right now.
But Rosa seemed to be elsewhere. Her eyes were focused on the ceiling and moving about – as if they were tracking something, yet at the same time her eyes were full of wonder…
He leaned over her, placed his thumb on her forehead and began rubbing just above her eyes in a small circle – until their eyes met…
“Henry, you’re here!?”
“I am. Is he still with you?”
“Yes, and the little girl, too.”
“Tell them I am here with you, and that you have to leave now.”
“I don’t want to leave this place, Henry…”
“You can’t stay there now, Rosa. It isn’t time yet.”
“Alright.” She came back to them quickly after that, and her color returned as well – though more slowly. “Erika? You’re here too?”
“Yes, mother,” the little girl said, her voice suddenly strained, almost stilted. “How are you feeling?”
“Very tired, yet I feel as if I’m floating…”
Henry watched, and soon he felt like this encounter was doing more harm to the little girl than good to Rosa. He made their goodbyes and held Erika’s hand as they left the hospital…
And predictably – Erika seemed very confused in the aftermath.
“Floating? Why did she say that? She wasn’t floating…”
“I suspect they were controlling your mother’s pain with a drug called morphine. It feels like a warm hand when it’s first used, and you feel cradled in warmth, but at the same time you feel almost comforted. It is very powerful, Erika, and she will need such medicine to help control her pain for several days. She may not seem like herself, and she may even say strange things that make no sense to you.”
“It sounded like you knew who she was with, Henry?”
“Because I’ve recently had a very similar surgery, and they used morphine afterwards. So, you know what? I think I know how she felt, but again, try not to worry about this right now. In a week or so she will be back to her old self.”
Eva was waiting for them in the cockpit when they got back to the boat, and she had made hot chocolate for them. Henry introduced Eva to Erika and they started talking, so he went below and found Mike at the chart table, reading through the ship’s log.
“You write a lot, more than I would if I was keeping a log like this.”
Taggart nodded. “Yeah, I kind of see it as recounting my experiences during this trip for an audience I won’t be around to talk to, so sometimes I go to extremes. Feelings and impressions of a place, that sort of thing…”
“I know; I’m up to beginning the Atlantic crossing, encountering the same whale you’d met previously. How’d you know it was the same one?”
“Dorsal fin markings, by and large.”
Odd that a territorial animal like an orca would journey from Puget Sound to Nova Scotia, don’t you think?”
Taggart shrugged. “Some of those pods normally range north into the Gulf of Alaska, yet now the Northwest Passage is open for three to four months during the summer. I can see them migrating from the Atlantic to the Pacific more often in the years ahead. Those northern waters are virtually untouched, you know? Fish stocks ought to be plentiful. So, any idea what’s up next for you?”
“No. We’re cut off, apparently.”
“Things ought to be back to normal in a week or so.”
“I take it you’re kicking me off now?”
Taggart nodded. “I could be wrong, but I’m not sure Eva would appreciate sharing that bunk with you. And you most definitely won’t be sharing mine. Clyde wouldn’t take to that too well.”
“What about in here. That dining table makes into a bed, doesn’t it?”
Taggart shook his head. “I’m not sure this will work out, Mike.”
“Could you get us to the mainland?”
“What? All three of you?”
The captain nodded. “If you don’t mind.”
“You know, you’re a cheeky bastard. You pull a gun on me, you take Eva hostage, you continue to pump me for information you know I’m not willing to talk about – and this is just in the last couple of hours. What is it with you? An inability to see through the veil, to understand the basic consequences of unacceptable actions?”
“Yup, you pretty much nailed that one on the head. Then again, that’s how I made Captain by the age of forty.”
“Ah yes, the Nuremberg denominator.”
“May I have my pistol now, please?”
“My Sig; you know, the one you took from under my pillow?”
Mike reached into his jacket and pulled it out, then took it by the barrel and handed it over to Taggart. “How’d you know?”
“Lowest common denominator, Mike. That makes you predictable in my book.”
Mike picked up the log and examined it for a moment. “You know what, Henry…I’ve read your book, and frankly – you scare the crap out of me.” He stood and stepped over to the companionway and was gone, his fellow sailors too.
Taggart looked around the boat and wondered where all the tracking devices had been hidden this time, then he sighed. He went topsides, then opened the swim platform and went into the garage. He stripped down and slipped into a lycra bodysuit, grabbed his mask and fins and the small tank and jumped in the water. Looking back at the boat, he swam out until was about the right distance away, then slipped beneath the surface. The bottom was only about fifteen feet deep here and he found Mike’s Sig without much trouble, then he swam back and pried loose two new tracking discs fixed to the bottom of the keel. When he climbed back up onto the platform both Eva and Erika were standing there, gawking at him.
“Just checking the bottom out,” he muttered.
“With a pistol?”
“Yes. Handy – you know…for scaring off sea monsters.”
Eva shook her head and turned to walk back to the cockpit…
“Did you happen to save any hot chocolate for me?” Taggart asked.
“Of course we did,” Erika said, smiling.
Taggart smiled back, then bent over to take off his fins. “Good girl,” he whispered.
“Of course I am!” she said – in English.
“You heard that?”
“I see, said the blind man,” now knowing she must’ve assumed he was German until today. “Did you learn English in school?”
“Yes, of course!”
“You don’t speak Norwegian, do you? There’s someone I think you need to meet.”
“Only a little, and who?”
‘Interesting,’ he thought. “Oh…a friend of mine, a boy about your age.”
“Who was that man walking with us?”
“Him? Well, he was helping take care of Eva – or at least I think he was.”
Taggart slipped into a terrycloth robe and made it to the hot cocoa in time to ward off a chill, and he sat beside Eva as Erika came and joined them. “How are you doing now?” he asked Eva.
“Okay, I think.”
“Did those men give you any trouble?”
“No, they were very correct…is that the right word?”
“What will we do now?” Eva asked. “I know we need to wait for Erika’s mother, but do you think we should take her with us?”
“Doubtful, Eva. She’ll need to start chemotherapy soon, I think…”
“I saw the size of that hospital, Henry. I wouldn’t expect much from it.”
“I hadn’t thought of that.”
“Perhaps we should sail to Bergen. That would solve many problems, no?”
“It might,” he sighed, then nodding his head slowly. And it might throw off Mike and his bloodhounds, too, he thought.
“Dina could take over care for her there, couldn’t she?” Eva added.
“Yes, I expect so.”
“How far away is it?”
“What? Bergen? Oh, about 450 miles…call it two days with fair weather.” – and sailing a 57 foot sailboat essentially singlehanded, he scowled – cringing at the thought. But now he knew what he had to do, for everyone’s sake. “Erika, could you take Eva to your apartment and pack up what you need for a very long trip? Eva? Try to pack things for Rosa, anything valuable too.”
Taggart hopped below and got into some sweats and put on his old tennis shoes, then took his evening meds before ehe made his way back to the hospital…
Rosa was sitting up, spooning some sort of vile smelling fish broth as he walked into her hospital room.
“Feeling better now?”
“Yes, very much so. How is Erika?”
He nodded and smiled. “She’s a tough kid. Big heart, too.”
“I knew it. You love her already!”
“Look, I’ve just talked to your surgeon. There’s no oncologist here, not even the appropriate chemotherapy agents…”
“So? The boat from Wilhelmshaven can bring it over?”
“The boats aren’t running right now, Rosa. There’s been some trouble.”
“Oh? You mean…?”
“Yes, but there’s no war right now. Maybe the opposite, as a matter of fact.”
“So, that’s good news, right?”
“Yes, but I want to move you to someplace where you can begin treatment.”
“Norway. Bergen, to be more precise.”
“You have people there that can help?”
“I do, yes. We’re going to leave first thing in the morning, and I have Erika and a friend getting some things together for the trip. Is there anything you want from the apartment?”
“No,” she said, shaking her head. “Most everything of consequence is still in Munich.”
“Alright. The pharmacy is putting together some things for you to take on the trip, and I’ll be over to pick you up first thing in the morning.”
“Why are you doing this for us?”
“Because you two are all alone in the world right now, and I am probably the one person who understands what you are going to be put through, too. That makes you my responsibility, Rosa, and I will not turn my back on a soul in need.”
“You know, I don’t think there are many people like you left in the world.”
He shrugged. “Oh, I think there are more good people out there than you could ever possibly imagine, Rosa. Maybe one or two have lost their way the last couple of years, but that’s not your problem right now.”
“Oh? What is my problem?”
“Yes. She’s going to meet someone later this week, and you and I are really going to have our hands full after that.”
“So, you see the future, too,” she smirked. “How nice that must be for you?”
He grinned. “No, I can just see a few moves ahead on the board, that’s all. Now, finish that dreadful smelling soup, or whatever that stuff is, then try to get some sleep. Tomorrow will be a big day.”
After he picked up Rosa’s prescriptions he left the little hospital – only to find Mike waiting for him on the walkway just outside.
“Ah, and here you are again,” Henry sighed. “What can I do for you now?”
“Take me with you,” he said more than a little nervously.
“In trouble, are you?”
Mike nodded. “I think so, yes.”
“Someone is blaming you for the things I did, right?”
“Well, you’ll have to sing for your supper, I’m afraid. Think you can manage sailing for a couple of days?”
“No sweat,” Mike said – noncommittally. “You set the course and I’ll steer.”
“Who put the beacons on the boat?”
“So, you didn’t, eh? Those two Dobermans must be the real deal. Seals, you said?”
“Well, maybe we can slip the noose and get out of here without too much trouble.”
“You have something in mind, I take it?”
“Come on. Let’s take a walk…there’s something I want to go over with you.”
After Taggart collected Rosa from the hospital he got her aboard and settled down below; the diesel was already idly smoothly, the shore power cord now stowed in the garage, too. Taggart cast off Bandits’ lines and with a nudge from the bow thruster she drifted out into the fairway and executed a smart 180, exiting the little marina and turning due south.
At the same time, Mike put on his running shoes and gym shorts and was about to take off on his daily early morning run – just as one of the Seals came back, informing the other that Time Bandits had just departed the marina and was headed south towards Norderney. Mike left and began his run, heading for the seawall on the northeast side of the island. He smiled when he noted the Seals weren’t following…yet.
He jogged up the road by the football pitch then on to the beach, and he noted the seals were still several hundred yards behind when he made it to the seawall. He turned and jogged out to the end – and found Bandits’ Zodiac tied off to a post there and he jumped in. Taggart had left the key where he said and Mike started the outboard and pushed away from the rocks before slipping the motor to ‘Forward’ – then he gunned it and took off due east – the Seals sprinting now, trying to get out to the end of the seawall in time to…
…but they were too late and they knew it.
Still, where was he going? And why to the east…?
Taggart found the Zodiac in his binoculars and changed course a little; a few minutes later he and Mike stowed the inflatable in the garage, then made their way up to the cockpit. The diesel was puttering away, the seas glassy-calm – with Bandits make a solid eight knots over the bottom.
Then Eva’s head popped up in the companionway. “Waffles or pancakes?” she asked.
And for some reason Mike found that hilarious.
© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next chapter will drop in a week or so.