Henry appeared feverish the next morning; his skin was a grim waxy gray and with a tinge of yellow around his eyelids. Mike heard him moving around down in the aft cabin and he went below to check on him; he found Henry leaning over the sink in the head, splashing his face with cool water. Henry looked up, saw Mike in the mirror and grinned.
“Where the Hell are we?” Taggart asked.
“About fifty miles from LeHavre. You have any idea where we can tie up when we get there?”
“Yeah, I have a place lined up across the river, in Honfleur. Get me an ETA and I’ll call…”
“Uh, right. We still no power…”
“Shit, how quickly we forget. Did you see any more lights after that power plant?”
Mike shook his head and looked away. “No, not a thing,” he said wistfully.
“Any ships in the Channel moving?”
“Nope. Everything’s still quiet, even the sea state. And…Dina and Rolf disappeared after you came down here.”
Henry turned and looked at Mike. “How long have they been gone?”
“Six hours, give or take. Oh, and at one point there must’ve been a dozen of ‘Them’ up above the masthead,” Mike added, pointing aloft. “Looked like an argument, too.”
“They get that way.”
“Look, Henry, I don’t want to be rude but I have no idea how to take care of you. If Dina doesn’t come back, just what the Hell am I supposed to do if you really go down…?”
“Once we make port it ought to become a non-issue. If something happens between now and then, get one of Them to bring Dina back.”
“And if they won’t?”
“So…you’re not worried about all this stuff with her and the kid?”
“You know what’s going on with them?”
“But you trust them? Is that what you’re saying?”
“I believe in what they’re trying to do, and they know it, too. The point, Mike, is that many of them trust me. A few don’t, but then again they’re not usually the ones hanging around.”
Mike sighed. “Well, if you’re not worried I won’t waste my time getting worked up about this stuff.”
“Any of that banana-nut bread left?”
“If Ivan hasn’t eaten all of it, you mean?”
“I detect a little bitterness in your voice, Mike. Still fighting the last war?”
Mike looked down. “Yeah, probably, but you know, the trouble with that is I almost like the guy. He reminds me of one of my redneck uncles. A patriot with all his loose ends…”
Mike laughed a little. “Point taken,” he said. “Can I help you with your meds?”
Taggart shook his head. “No, I got it.”
“Right. I’ll go rustle up some grub.”
Henry laughed at that. “Ready for the round-up, Duke?”
“I’d be content to feel some dry ground that’s not been heavily irradiated recently.”
Taggart nodded. “It’s been a bad week.”
“You could say that, yeah.” Mike shrugged, then he looked away. “Why don’t you take a quick shower. I’ll call you when breakfast is ready.”
“Maybe one egg and some of that bread.”
Taggart went to the panel and flipped on the mains, and when the breakers didn’t trip he smiled. He turned on the pressure water system and checked that the water heater was still operating, then he stuck his head up through a hatch and spoke to Anton: “Fire up the engine, would you?”
“Is safe now?”
“I think so.”
Anton hit the key and the diesel turned over.
“Go ahead and put it into forward, but keep the RPMs at 1400 for ten minutes, then run it up to 1800.”
Henry ducked below and smiled again. Cold showers just weren’t in his playbook.
From a distance LeHavre looked almost pristine, but by the time Time Bandits approached the entrance to the commercial harbor the picture had soured – considerably. The storm had blown out windows on the windward sides of every building in view, and a huge crane used to offload containers from ships had been knocked loose from its foundations and now lay drunkenly half in and half out of water. On the other hand, people weren’t sitting back and crying in their milk; everywhere the three men on Time Bandits looked they saw huge teams clearing away rubble and busily rebuilding the port’s infrastructure.
Across the harbor, Honfleur had been spared the storm’s full impact by the simple happenstances of geography. The outer canal showed signs of the storm, with some minor debris still in the water, but the old inner harbor was blessedly untouched – though now devoid of the usual throngs of tourists over saturating the too cute sidewalk cafés that lined the marina. Time Bandits was, anyway, far too big to fit in the inner harbor, so Henry had contented himself to tie off just outside the little locks – just along the mole that led into the inner harbor.
Customs and Immigration were called, Anton’s lack of entry papers explained and a temporary visa issued on the spot, and then, just as he had done with his father too many times to count, once Time Bandits was secure he changed into clean clothes and took Mike and Anton to an ancient restaurant just off the harbor – hoping the proprietors had survived the storm and the place remained intact.
And yes, when Henry found the place was open his heart soared.
So Taggart slipped anti-nausea meds under his tongue and let them dissolve there while he ordered lobster bisque and escargot, then salad and duck. Anton had never been in western Europe, had never eaten anything like what he enjoyed that afternoon, and after a few bottles of red had warmed his soul a little he loosened up and talked a little…
…about his daughter and all the grandchildren lost in St Petersburg…
…and then, about his final flight. Tearing up the sky as he took off from from a captured air base just outside of Amsterdam, turning to engage flights of F-35s and F-15s, and then his vague recollections of that last dogfight in the sky over a sailboat far, far below…
“It funny, Genry. Everything about that day. I should have died at least two, maybe three times. My ejection seat had no life raft, and I forgot to put on my, what you call it, my May West. So no life jacket. And I eject at forty thousand feet and fall forever, and then I land in the water fifty feet from – you. And now here I am in this place, because of – you. I don’t pretend to understand these things, Genry, but I think maybe all this happen for reasons. I never think like these things before, but I should have drowned that day. I should be dead. Instead, here I am, with – you. Tell me this isn’t strange.”
“Anton? Do you know what toasted means?” Mike asked after he came back from the WC.
“Toasted? Da, like bread toasted?”
“No, toasted, as in drunk off your ass toasted.”
“I not drunk, Lacy,” Anton said quietly, almost gently. “I think about many times last two days. Like a burden lifted from soul. That is how feel now.”
Henry looked at the Russian, studying the easy-going warmth coming from his eyes just then. “What are you thinking, Anton? What do you want to do?”
“I think I want to become priest. I want to study this…feeling…”
Mike turned away, trying to hide the smirk spreading across his face…
But oddly enough, Henry Taggart did not.
“The first time I came here, and I mean here, to this restaurant, I was ten years old. Christmas Eve. Every Christmas Eve for the next eight years, as a matter of fact. One year when we came, and I was seventeen, my girlfriend had just died. Cancer. Breast cancer, if you can wrap your head around that. And Anton, a strange thing happened to me that night, something I’ve never been able to forget.”
“Oh? What happen, Genry?”
Taggart smiled. “I hope I can show you, my friend.”
“Tell me. You think my priest idea stupid?”
Henry shook his head. “Not if that’s the road you choose.”
Anton nodded. “I follow your road now, Genry. This where I supposed to be.”
They finished their meal after plates of cheese and glasses of port, then Taggart led them along smooth cobblestones through twisting alleys to a small chapel lost inside an ancient medieval neighborhood.
“My parents were married here, in this chapel, just after the war,” Henry said, looking at the old timbers that defined the outer contours of this memory. “And this is where I came on my seventeenth Christmas Eve.”
Anton and Mike looked at the old building, then at Henry. And there was something strange about Henry Taggart deep inside that moment, something otherworldly, almost like the moment was possessed of other times. Or perhaps more like Henry had slipped free of his body, of the time they were sharing, and that Henry had slipped away – leaving the husk of his body standing there on the wet cobbles while he drifted through time to a place more comforting.
But he came back to them, and Mike thought Henry looked contented. More content even than a man whose belly had just been filled with the most delicious food in France. And then Mike looked at Anton, and he saw that the burly old Russian was in tears, weeping openly.
“When I falling,” Anton sighed, “falling to the sea, I felt this time in heart. Is like everything since has leading me here, to this place…”
“What kept you from drowning, Anton?” Taggart asked. “No life jacket, no raft. Why didn’t you die? Or again, and perhaps more to the point, who kept you from drowning?”
Henry shook his head. “No, it wasn’t me, Anton. It was you.”
“Not me. Can barely swim. Something help me to boat.”
Mike smiled. “It was the large male, Henry. It had to be.”
“What? The orca?” Henry asked, incredulity straining his voice. “I doubt the explanation is that simple.” But then Taggart turned and headed back the way they’d come, only this time he made his way to a little sidewalk crepe-stand not far from the boat. He ordered three and Mike and Anton watched in rapt awe as three Nutella and banana crepes took shape, only to be doused in Gran Marnier and flamed before being put on paper plates. Anton took one bite and swooned while Henry smiled at the memories of a little boy.
As they approached Time Bandits Henry saw men gathered there dockside, waiting, and when they moved to step aboard more men stepped out of the shadows and surrounded them.
Military Police. French Air Force. NATO Intelligence. And a captain from U.S. Naval Intelligence who tried her very best not to make eye contact with Captain Mike Lacy, U.S.N.
The group surrounded the Russian aviator. Handcuffs appeared, then Anton disappeared into the back of a dark blue Land Rover festooned with French military insignia.
And then the Russian was gone.
Henry turned and found Mike conversing with several of the NATO types; he turned his back on Lacy and stepped aboard, then he went below to take some meds while he was still able to concentrate. When Henry had calmed down he went back up to the cockpit and found Mike waiting for him there.
“Why?” Henry asked. “Why did you do it?”
“It’s who I am, Taggart. It’s my job. You were my job, but it’s over now. You made it this far and now it’s time for me to leave.”
Henry nodded. “Then I guess you’d better leave.”
“Well, good luck, Amigo. Seeya around the campfire.”
Henry nodded, and he stood there watching as Lacy stepped back into the shadows and disappeared.
The sudden quiet was overwhelming, his loneliness crushing.
He looked up to the masthead and saw only faint stars painted across the dome of the night. No spinning orbs. No Pinky.
No Dina. No Rolf.
He reached out to Eva and found only silence, the same when he tried Britt.
Taggart sat and flipped on the radio then hit the preset for the BBC World Service; he sat and listened to reports of nations around the earth slowly sorting through the rubble of sundered relations and dealing with simmering rumors of retribution, not at all surprised that things appeared to be headed to renewed conflicts in eastern Europe. He sighed and turned on the plotter and switched over to the weather overlay; a huge high pressure system had settled in over western Europe and several days of warm weather stretched ahead.
He heard a woman’s voice. Singing. Que sera, sera. Whatever will be, will be. And there she was, walking along the quay in pink culottes and a pastel yellow sweater. Short blond hair, a pink scarf over her head. She walked up to Time Bandits and stopped by the gate in the lifelines.
“Hi Henry!” Doris Day said. “Did you have a nice day sailing?”
He smiled and walked over to the gate and extended his hand. “You know it,” he said as he helped her aboard, then to a seat in the cockpit. “You know, I could swear I heard you passed away a few years back…?”
Her face split into an immense smile. “You looked a little too lonely just now so I thought I’d drop by and say hello.”
“Very thoughtful of you. Hello.”
“You were always so tongue tied around me. Why?”
“Because I had a crush on you.”
She giggled at that. “Well, truth be told, I had a little crush on you too.”
“No, really, I did. Your father took me up to a couple of your home games. I watched you play, and I always watched out for you when you came back from races.”
“So, this is what schizophrenia feels like? Is that what you’re telling me?”
She smiled again then leaned forward and pinched him playfully on the cheek, but then she stood and walked over to the gate and hopped down to the quay. She turned to him again, a little more serious now: “I was sorry to hear about Claire.”
Henry looked away, brushed away a tear. “Thanks.”
“You take care, Henry. Maybe we’ll…”
But she stopped and turned away from him before she walked off into the night, leaving him alone with a million impossible questions hanging in the air apparent.
© 2021 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next element will drop soon.
Sorry for the quiet spell. Sometimes things don’t go as planned.
And yes, music still matters…