A long one today so fetch some tea. And just because it matters more and more…
The shaking grew violent and everything around him began spinning, then feeling nausea and vertigo coming on he closed his eyes, reaching out with his hands to let his senses reassert some semblance of control, until he felt Pinky’s huge, rough hand on his arm. And only then did he open his eyes and look up at her.
She was working rapidly now and had just finished wrapping a new tape around his arm, but he could see concern in her eyes now – for the first time – and suddenly he felt scared. She leaned back then and he knew she was reaching out – but for who?
A shimmering blue sphere appeared, then a green one, but before their appearance really had a chance to register in his mind they were gone, replaced seconds later by first dozens, then literally hundreds of golden bubble-like spheres that quickly drifted down onto the bed, in milliseconds completely covering both Clyde and Taggart. He tried to keep his eyes open but they burned now, like his eyes had filled with soapy water, then it became hard to breathe. He felt the inward panic of looming suffocation and reached out with his hand…
Pinky took it, but then he felt a hot pinch on his forearm, just like the pain of an injection – and then he remembered the Old Man’s gentle laughter. He struggled to hold onto consciousness but he felt everything falling beyond and within a white hot veil, and the last thing he was aware of was swallowing hard and, for some reason, of wanting to cry.
When Tracy came into Henry’s stateroom she found him lifeless on his bed and began CPR, then she remembered he had an auto-defib unit on the wall in his head and dashed for it. She opened the unit and attached the leads then fired the unit…
He opened his eyes, tried to make sense of his surroundings.
Everything looked and felt so familiar, impossibly so, and he pinched his eyes and shook his head, trying to knock the spinning cobwebs from his mind.
“It’s my old bedroom,” he said, “and I’m back on the island.” He sat up and felt the cool breeze coming in off the Pacific and realized he’d slept with his window open again, but then he saw his physics homework on the desk and groaned in defeat.
“Damn, I forgot…I didn’t finish it,” he said as he walked over and looked at a problem on the conservation of linear momentum that had stumped him for hours the night before. He looked at his alarm clock and sighed, then picked up his textbooks and the rest of his homework and put them in his book bag – before he realized he hadn’t showered and went off to his bathroom. He stood under the hot water trying to wash the remnants of the dream from his mind, something about his grandson living on a distant planet, and he laughed at the absurdity of the images that came to mind.
He dried off and dressed, then remembered they had a game that afternoon and that he was supposed to wear his practice jersey to classes today. ‘The pep-rally, Dufus! Remember?’ he said to himself for the umpteenth time. He shook off the ritual pre-game jitters that always came for him while he dressed for school on game days, then he heard his mother in the kitchen and his father down the hall in their bathroom, an ancient electric razor mowing the stubble on the old man’s face again. He picked up his book bag and headed downstairs, lingering scents of hot pancakes and crisp bacon pushing aside all his worries about botched homework and the teams’ rivalry with Huntington Beach High.
“Hi, Mom,” he said as he bounced into her kitchen.
“Good morning, Bright-eyes. How’d you sleep?”
“Oh, you know, up-tight – as always.”
She put a plate of pancakes down on the table in front of him and he smiled as his dad came in and sat at the head of the table.
“Have a rough night, Sport?” his father said.
“I could hear you tossing and turning all night, at least until I finally dropped off.”
“Sorry, Pops. Big day today?”
“No, nothing out of the ordinary. Finish that problem?”
He shook his head. “No, but I got Benson for study hall this morning. I’ll get it before class.”
“Well, okay, but you know the deal…bad report card and you stay home for Christmas.”
“I know, I know,” Henry sighed.
“Speaking of,” his mother interrupted. “Did you go ahead with the airline reservations yesterday?”
“I did indeed, and reservations at the Crillon, too.”
Which caused her to smile as she set a platter of scrambled eggs and bacon on the table. Henry waited for his father to take some, then he put some on his mother’s plate before he finished off the rest.
“Got your books ready?” his father asked as he stood and put on his jacket.
“We picking up Claire?”
“Yes, if that’s not a problem?”
“Well, it hasn’t been for the last ten years, so let’s get going…”
He kissed his mom and headed for the door, then he turned around: “You coming to the game tonight?”
“You know it!” she said enthusiastically. “I hear scouts from SC and Berkeley are going to be there tonight!”
He rolled his eyes as another wave of acid roiled his gut. “Thanks. I needed that.”
“I’ll see you there!” she said, blowing his father a kiss as they walked out the door.
It was just a few blocks to Claire’s house, but true-to-form Edith was out there waiting with her sister and he groaned. His father pulled up in front of their house on Via Barcelona and Claire hopped in and slid across the back seat, making room for her sister but keeping a wall of books between them – as a barricade. Henry turned around and looked at Claire, at her beauty – and as it always did – it took his breath away.
She’d started to look more and more like Olivia de Havilland this year – which wasn’t so surprising as the actress was some kind of second aunt once removed, or something like that – and like de Havilland Claire was as brainy as she was beautiful. She’d taken the full SATs her sophomore year and aced them – a solid 1600 – and already Princeton and Yale had sent offers her way, so things were looking up on her end.
But his score hadn’t even been close. With 1480 on his first try he might make it into Berkeley or USC, but his first choice, Stanford, would probably remain out of reach – and no one had to remind him that the Ivy Leagues would sneer at his 3.8 GPA. But football might make the difference, or so his father liked to say, and though there was some truth to the notion it left a bitter trace in his mind.
“I’ve got to hit study hall this morning,” he said to Claire – doing his level best to ignore Edith. “I just kept messing up the order of operations and the results don’t look right.”
“Oh? Let me take a look,” Claire said, and after he dug the papers out of his bag he handed them over. She scanned his work and smiled. “Nope, you got it.”
“You’ve just to erase what you have there now and put what you had originally, then you’re there.”
“Always go with your first answer, Hank,” his dad admonished. “And don’t forget this little lesson when you retake your SATs.”
He took the homework back and looked at what he’d erased. “So, the answer is 93.7?”
She nodded. “Just don’t forget to put FPS down. You know how Benson loves to zing you for little goofs like that.”
“And they do on the SATs, right Hank?” his father added, nailing him one more time before they got to school.
He opened her door and helped her out, taking both their book bags, then he went to the front door and leaned in. “You going to be there this afternoon?” Henry asked his father.
“I might miss the first quarter, but I’ll try to be there for the kickoff. Coach say anymore about letting you have a go at fullback?”
Henry nodded. “I memorized all the runs, so I’m ready.”
“Well, son, this would be a good night to strut your stuff. I’ll seeya there.”
“Okay, Dad. Later.”
He took Claire’s hand and they walked in and put books in their lockers, Henry still doing his best to ignore Edith, then the first bell rang and they headed off to their classes.
Henry stood by the window, Claire’s hand in his, looking at the TWA 707 waiting for them out there on the ramp, the huge Trans World maintenance hanger just across the north-south taxiway framing their view. He turned and looked around for his father – and couldn’t find him in the crowd – until he spotted him coming out of the head and walking over to Claire’s father.
Then the gate agents called their flight and boarded the first class cabin first, so their parents waved then boarded the aircraft. When coach was called Henry made sure Edith went first, then hand-in-hand he and Claire walked out the Jetway and up to the forward boarding door, and he smiled at the stewardesses as they stepped into the cabin. Their parents were in the last row of first class, and the three of them were in the bulkhead seat literally right behind his mom and dad. Boarding didn’t take long and soon enough the doors were closed and the engines on the left wing began spooling up.
Edith had been pestering him for days about taking the window seat and he’d gladly given it up so long as she promised to keep to herself during the flight, and Claire had, thankfully, taken the middle seat – so a flight in relative peace was a real possibility. Still, no sooner had The Pest taken her seat did the nonstop blather start…
“All I can see is engines,” she snorted.
“Good reason to close the shade and go to sleep,” Henry snarled.
“I’m not sleepy!” The Pest screeched, her whining chant easily drowning out the Pratt & Whitney turbofans idling on the other side of the thin layers of metal fuselage.
“Why am I not surprised?” Henry growled, but Claire gently squeezed his hand, in effect asking him to lay off and to not be so mean to her little sister.
He tapped her fingers with his, letting her know “message received” – and while he rarely thought about such things he marveled at how fundamentally attuned they were to each other.
“I don’t like this,” Edith wailed.
“What don’t you like?” Claire asked.
“The window. I don’t want to sit here.”
“Where do you want to sit?” Henry asked.
“Your seat. Now!”
As they hadn’t started their pushback yet, Henry opened his seatbelt and stood, then he helped Edith into the seat before switching, one of the stewardesses immediately getting on the PA and asking him to take his seat – which caused more than a little grumbling from the first class section.
“I can’t get this thingy fastened,” Edith cried, her hands flailing about now, and Henry leaned over Claire and just managed to get her strapped in as the jet began pushing back.
“Anything else, Edith?” he growled.
“I want a Pepsi!”
“Edith, they serve Coke on TWA, not Pepsi,” Claire sighed.
“I want a Pepsi!”
“Well,” Claire added, “I hope you brought one with you.” And with that Claire took her little airline pillow and placed it on Henry’s shoulder, then she leaned into him, placing her head on the pillow with a deep sigh.
“You sleepy?” he asked.
“Yeah, I have been all day.”
“Want to skip dinner?”
“I don’t know. Depends on what they have, I guess.”
“Okay. go ahead and rest. I’ll wake you when they come around.”
“You know what I like. Just get me something easy to handle.”
The brakes squealed loudly every time the jet stopped, which was often as they were in a long line of aircraft waiting to take off, but then their turn came and he looked out the window as the Boeing turned onto the runway. The engines ran up a little then cut back to idle for a second, then they began to roar as the pilot applied full takeoff power – and Claire squeezed his hand again, only this time…hard.
Then the rush down the pavement and they were in the air, flying over a bunch of abandoned streets then the beach, and a minute later the jet made a smooth turn to the right, to the northeast, and steadied up on the new heading as they climbed high into the fading light of day. Claire soon eased up on his hand, and a few minutes later he heard her breathing deeply, apparently sound asleep. She twitched a couple of times, then came a violent spasm of some kind, and that one worried him, enough so that he went forward and asked his mother about it.
Seven in the morning on Christmas Eve found them at the Gare Saint-Lazare waiting for the train to Le Havre and Henry had wrapped himself around Claire, trying to ward off the penetrating dampness of this cold December morning. His father had gone for coffee, leaving his mother to sit there beside them, and he could feel a gently rising tension in his mother’s presence beside her, too.
His mother was, of course, an internist, so she had picked up on all the signs even before Claire had. The wayward wince here and there. Sitting in a chair at dinner and grimacing. Then she and Claire had disappeared yesterday afternoon…with no warning at all…just gone. And when they’d come back from – wherever – his mother had put Claire to bed and told him to let her sleep, and he knew better than to challenge his mom when something like this was afoot.
Yet Claire had insisted on joining their traditional excursion to Honfleur, because, she’d said, that making it to the Christmas Eve service at the little chapel off the harbor was something she had to do this trip. And then she’d told him it was important.
“Important? What do you mean?”
“I can’t explain it, Hank. It’s something I feel, maybe like a shadow that shouldn’t be there? Or maybe I’m standing in a shadow? Sorry…I just can’t put a finger on it.”
“That’s okay, baby. You don’t have to explain yourself to me.” Now she was by his side trying to stay warm, and each time she trembled he held her a little closer. And each time he felt her slipping farther and farther away.
Their train pulled up to the platform – apparently direct from the yard and freshly cleaned – and when the doors slid open he helped her into a window seat and slipped his jacket over her shoulders…
…and all the while Edith stood back watching his every move…
Because she knew something important had happened. Important…and bad.
She knelt in the chapel after the service concluded and he remained there by her side, not at all sure what was going on but certain of his place in their evolving little universe. She was praying, her head down and her eyes closed, and he looked at her – suddenly feeling more than a little amused. Claire had always said she was an agnostic, yet the few times she’d spoken about religion he’d kind of figured out she was really more an atheist. God was, she’d always maintained, the real villain in this movie – and she wasn’t going to let Him get away with shit. “If there’s a God,” she’d told him more than once, “me and Him are going to have a few choice words when I get up there.”
Presupposing things like heaven and hell exist, he’d always wanted to add – yet he never did. He couldn’t. He loved her too much to rock the boat. Hell, he knew he loved her too much, period. His love for her was all consuming, so much so that the idea of her heading off to some Ivy League college was becoming a source of real angst.
She finished her prayer – at least he assumed that’s what she’d been doing – but then she took his hand in hers and turned to look in his eyes.
“I want you to bring me here next year, okay Hank?”
“Yeah, sure,” he’d said then – not knowing what was going down and what the next year was going to bring to all their lives.
“No, I mean it, Hank. You’ve got to promise me.”
“Okay Claire, I promise.”
She’d stood then, but before they left she’d walked up to a wooden sculpture of the crucifixion behind the little alter and there she’d simply looked up at the man there and stared into the gaping maw of his sacrifice. He’d stood behind her a little and it hit him then…the meaning of his promise to her…and then he felt his world bending and twisting out of shape for the last time in his life…
But the year passed.
And the next thing he knew he was in the very same chapel, only this time with a small urn in his hands – instead of Claire’s hand. She’d told him what to do, what she wanted, and all he could do was agree with her because she’d become a pure force of nature the last few months of her life.
She’d written to the parish priest about her wishes and he was ready for her, and for him, and after their traditional Christmas Eve service Henry had waited for the chapel to clear, then the priest had joined him.
“Are you ready?” the priest said as their families gathered ’round Henry.
“I think so, yes.”
“Hank, I want you to take me down to the point, to the Jardin des Personnalités. Take me to the sea by the point and spread my ashes out there.”
“Not on the rocks. I want you to take me out into the sea…”
She’d looked at him for the longest time, then put her hand on the side of his face. “Because if I’m in the sea then I’ll always be close to you.”
It was December and the water was ice-cold, so of course he’d brought along a shorty wet-suit and had changed in a public restroom near the park, and only then did he and the priest and both his families walk out to the point.
The priest said a few things then took out a piece of paper and when he spoke now he addressed all of them in turn…
“Claire sent me a letter before she left us,” the priest began, “and though addressed to me there are things said that need to be shared, so if you will excuse me I will try to convey to you what she passed along to me…”
Henry hadn’t known this was coming and suddenly felt very unsure of himself, and he felt his eyes filling with tears…
“She told me that Henry will be an explorer, a very lonely explorer, and that all of you must accept that about him…
“Edith, she wanted me to tell you that you should try to respect what Henry meant to your sister…
“And Henry, while you should be prepared for anything, please remember that her love for you will always by with you, and that she will be there to protect you when you need her most…”
“That is what she told me, Henry. You should go now, take her now and let her rest…”
He carried her – and the little urn that held her now – out into the sea, and as water filled the space between his skin and the neoprene it warmed a little, at least enough to make this whole thing a little less jarring, or so he thought. Stones underfoot fell away sharply and a gentle current tugged at him, pulling him away from land, but he had always been a good swimmer so he didn’t think too much about it. Holding the urn just out of the water he side-stroked away from the rocks, keeping his eyes fixed on the lights of Le Havre a couple of miles across the river, until a few minutes later he was well away from shore.
“I’m afraid I don’t know what to say right now, Claire,” he said after he stopped swimming and began treading along with the current. “I feel empty inside, like my life without you has no meaning anymore. Is that wrong of me?”
He struggled to remove the top from the urn and then held it high over his head, then he began shaking her ashes into the sea. He could hardly see now, his eyes filling with tears too long repressed, but then he saw her remains floating on the inky surface and he moved his hands through the chalky stillness until she finally began to drift away from him.
He held his hand up in the moonlight and saw remnants of her on his skin and overcome by the sight of her like this he spread her ashes across his forehead and then through his hair, all the while crying and wanting nothing more than to just let go and drift out to sea with her…
“Can you see him? I’ve lost sight of him,” his mother said to Claire’s father.
“I think I see him, but I’m not sure anymore. He’s got to be a half mile out there now, maybe more.”
Edith was standing there, close to the edge of the water, and she understood exactly what was going on. “He wants to stay with her,” she whispered.
“What?”Henry’s mother said. “What did you say, Edith?”
“He wants to stay with her. He’s not coming back…” Edith said, but right then she threw off her coat and dove into the river, and she began swimming in the direction she’d last seen Henry…
“Claire!” Edith’s father called out, then he realized his mistake and called out Edith’s name, but that mistake had played out hundreds of times before and it was a part of who the little girl was. “Come back here!”
She was on the swim team and the water didn’t bother her in the least, at least not for a few minutes, but when she felt the first ragged waves of hypothermia settling in the muscles of her thighs she stopped swimming and turned around, looking at her parents waving at her from the shore.
She pushed up, tried to see any sign of Henry on the sparkling, moon-dappled water, but when she saw nothing out there she turned back to the comfort of all the knowns in her life…
The wetsuit provided all the buoyancy he needed, so the only real danger now was hypothermia, yet laying out there in the sea his core still felt reasonably warm. With his head half submerged the cool water was lapping against his eardrums, but his eyes were commanding all his attention now.
Almost due south and now quite high in the sky, Orion was hanging around up there, drawing his bow and getting ready to let slip his arrow once again. He forgot who or what the archer was aiming at, then realized even that really didn’t matter anymore…
He had to be three miles out now and the current was pushing him with real force – and still he just didn’t care anymore. He watched as a freighter, surrounded by a covey of tugs, began pushing back from a wharf and turned for the breakwater, and while he – on one level, at least – knew what was going on, all that now felt like it belonged to another life, one he’d abandoned…
Then the water suddenly grew warm, startlingly warm, and he reached down with his feet half expecting to feel a sandbar or some other shallow formation – and then a shiny black face slipped from beneath the surface of the sea. It was an orca, he saw. A very young male – and they were looking at one another, each taking a measure of the other.
But when water splashed into his eyes just then, Henry saw Claire in the darkness and tears came to him once again.
Then the young male came close and brushed against him and instinct took hold.
Henry hugged the orca, his face against the side of the orca’s face, and then he cried and cried –
– until he heard a gentle clicking coming from the sea –
– then a moaning sound from deep within the orca –
– and he felt the protective embrace of the orca’s pectoral, almost as if the young male was shielding him from something…
“Thanks, buddy,” Henry said, pushing back a little so he could look into the orca’s eye, but now the clicking sound was a fierce presence now, coming from everywhere – and he turned and was stunned to see several orcas staring at him, all of them very quiet as he floated there in the young male’s embrace.
Then Claire’s words from the priest came to him. “‘My love will be there to protect you…’” he said to the young male, then he pointed to Honfleur. “Would you mind taking me over there?”
The male seemed to nod once and gently presented his dorsal fin, and when the two of them took off for the shoreline the rest of the pod followed…
March. Spring break. High school graduation less than three months off.
Friends from the football team are heading up to Mammoth for a week. Hotel rooms reserved, hot tubs and Boone’s Farm Apple Wine all lined up, and they want me to go up with them. Two station wagons all lined up and packed, ready to go. Skis waxed, new boots fitted because, ‘Hey mom, my feet are still growing, ya know?’
Through the smog to Claremont then up to the high desert before getting on 395, then the long slog to Lone Pone and Bishop before the final sprint into Mammoth Lakes and then to find the hotel. And while he’s unpacking the Ford another wagon pulls into the lot and there are a bunch of girls from Newport Beach inside. And when he realizes one of them is Edith he feels betrayed, then like running into the forest behind the hotel…
His friends get him up early because there’s been a dump overnight and everyone wants to make first tracks on the Cornice Run off the upper gondola. They dash to the base lodge and grab something hot for breakfast then pick up their lift tickets and head for the gondola. Edith gets into the gondola just ahead of his and he wonders how she’s been managing to hide herself so well…
She is waiting for him in the midway station and gets into the next gondola with him.
He turns away from her when she sits next to him.
“You can’t hide from me forever, Hank.”
“I can try,” he snarled. “What are you doing here, Pest?”
“I just wanted to talk, you know?”
“Talk? About what?”
“What? Why me?”
“Mom and dad won’t talk about her anymore, not even a little bit, but there are so many things I want to talk about, to know about, and so many things about her I feel are already slipping away, but Hank, you know all the answers. You’re carrying all that stuff around inside your head and I need to talk with you about all those things…”
She didn’t leave his side after that, and one day he saw a picture someone had taken of the two of them over at the Bay Club and he’d had a hard time understanding the picture was taken with Edith, not Claire. Even some of his best friends told him it was hard to tell the sisters apart now, and though it was a little spooky everyone seemed to understand. Maybe, they said, this was the way things were supposed to be now, ya know?
Berkeley. He was in the jocks dorm because he was on a half ride scholarship, playing middle linebacker his freshman year, and even though he was just a freshman he was varsity so the older guys left him pretty much alone and didn’t beat him up too much.
His dad called, wanted to know about Christmas that year.
“I don’t think I can do it, Dad.”
“I understand, but I had to ask.”
“You and mom should go. Don’t let me stop you guys having fun.”
“You going to do something with Edith?”
“I don’t know. Maybe. I was thinking about Park City.”
“Yeah? Look, I’ve done some work for the Bass brothers, so why don’t you let me see if I can swing a deal up at Snowbird…”
She flew up to SFO and they drove across to Salt Lake City together – and just like that a family tradition disappeared, never to be rekindled. But the Cliff Lodge was something else…a modest skyscraper hewn of concrete, glass, and steel perched on a small rise at the bottom of the mountain. And everything about the place was magnificent.
She was a good skier, too. Better than Claire, not quite as good as he was but good enough to be fun. She loved him and reminded him of that several times a day, and while nights together had been tough at first they were really great now.
And then…Christmas Eve.
His first ever away from his parents. His first with Edith, with Claire’s shadow never really far away.
Sitting in the elegant dining room at the Cliff Lodge, the fireplace roaring and a heavy snow falling beyond curtains of tinted glass. A roast goose with all the trimmings, holding hands and all kinds of talk about the life they planned to share in some kind of golden future stretching out ahead. All of a sudden everything was serious and yet she felt so right. Echoes are like that, right?
Yet when they made love now they were creating something all their own. Claire wasn’t a part of this new thing.
Was she? Or would she really never leave him?
He flew down for a weekend a few weeks later, in late January. Something was different. She was distant. Aloof. He took her to The Crab Cooker for lunch on Saturday and she wouldn’t even look him in the eye. Walking back to her car after lunch he reached for her hand and she pulled away.
He didn’t push. He didn’t even ask any questions. And when she stopped calling he stopped too because it hurt too much when he thought about it. The funny thing about it? He was losing Claire all over again and he didn’t even know what the fuck was going down.
He dated a few girls later that year but when those fizzled his studies seemed to take precedence and that was that. He began to hate Berkeley, thought about transferring to SC or Stanford then spring training came around and some kid put a helmet to his knee and then football became a sore sort of memory, too.
His knee was still in a brace when the Mazatlan race started, but his dad surrendered the wheel and let him take it. He steered almost the whole trip and Bandit did pretty good, taking third in class – which wasn’t bad for a heavy boat like a Swan. The crew, a bunch of his father’s friends who made-up the same ragtag crew every summer, went out busting down bottles of tequila their first night down there and it was the first time he’d ever seen his father get seriously drunk. Then his father got even more drunk the next night and fucked some kind of Mexican hooker, and Henry looked away and looked away until he couldn’t even look at his father anymore…
He’d been working for a startup that was developing a so-called digital darkroom, mainly taking slides and negatives and scanning them so deeper manipulations could take place in their software. The owner of the company had just bought a sailboat he planned to keep on Lake Union and he wanted to know if Henry could help bring the boat from Vancouver, BC back down to the lake.
“I hear you’ve done some real sailing,” Dean Collins said.
“Real sailing? What’s that?”
“Overnight, stuff like that. You know, real stuff.”
Henry had scowled at that bit of obtuse circumlocution and hoped Dean was kidding.
“Thing is, I got this new boat but I think it’s too big for me.”
“Yeah. You ever heard of Swans?”
Henry had nodded, curious now because if there was one thing he knew it was that newbies shouldn’t try to cut their teeth on boats like Swans. “Yeah, I’ve heard of ‘em. What did you pick up?”
“A sixty-five footer,” Collins said, now intently watching Henry for some kind of reaction.
“You bought a Swan 65? And you don’t know how to sail?”
“Oh, I can sail. Lasers, Hobie Cats, that stuff. I mean…I did once at summer camp…”
“So, you think you can handle a Swan?”
“Let’s see, is this an S&S version, or Frers, new or used?”
“New, the latest and greatest, the 651.”
“You gonna campaign it, or what?” Henry asked, now seriously entertaining the idea that his friend and the owner of this company was a total idiot.
“No, no. I just wanted something to watch fireworks from. You know, something that grabs peoples’ attention and keeps it.”
“Oh? Well, I reckon a 651 ought to do that reasonably well. I guess you’re talking about the fireworks on Lake Union, right?”
“So…you’re probably not thinking about taking it out on the Sound very much?”
“Man, I don’t know about that. Not yet, anyway. Say, have you done any racing?”
“Five PORCs and three transpacs.”
“PORCs? What’s that?”
“Pacific Ocean Racing Conference. Races down the Pacific coast, like LA down to Mexico, things like that.”
“No shit? How many of those have you done?”
Taggart shrugged. “I don’t know. Thirty I guess, maybe a few more than that.”
“And three transpacs?”
“So…you’re coming with me, right?”
“Yeah, I reckon I probably better, because if I don’t you’ll probably sink a reef or something. Anyone else coming?”
“Yeah, my dad.”
“Oh, I take it he’s a sailor?”
“Nope. Never been.”
“Uh-huh. What’s he do?”
“Retired air force, but he works for Boeing these days, in some kind of special projects division.”
The Swan was tied off at a broker’s dock near the airport, and Dean introduced Henry to General Rupert Collins in the broker’s office, before they went down to check out the boat. The Swan had been ordered by a banker from Hong Kong who wanted to keep it here in Vancouver, but the banker had vapor locked and dropped dead a month before delivery. The Swan had just been delivered, riding on the deck of a large ocean going freighter all the way from Finland, and Dean had negotiated a better than good price and now owned one of the best ocean racing sailboats in the world. That he wanted to use for watching fireworks on a lake in the middle of downtown Seattle, presumably so he could impress a few girls, or boys, or whatever it was that floated his boat. So to speak.
Henry and the General walked down to the dock admiring the gleaming navy blue hull as they approached her.
“Dean tells me you’ve done some sailing?”
“A little, yes. Mainly racing.”
“Didn’t that broker say this is a racing boat. Is that about the size of things?”
“Yessir. These are among the best, and by that I mean the toughest long distance racing boats in the world. Two of ‘em have won the Whitbread.”
“Whitbread? What’s that?”
“A round the world race. Lots of national teams with crews drawn from special forces.”
“You mean, like Rangers and SEALs?”
“British SAS is more to the point, but yeah. The race is grueling, and people die.”
“And these boats win?”
“And my boy wants to use this thing as a goddam party barge?”
“Isn’t there a race from around here to Hawaii?”
“Yessir, the Vic-Maui, and then there’s the Swiftsure Series.”
“What’s that, the Vic-Maui?”
“Victoria, BC to Lahaina, Maui. It’s a little longer than the LA-Diamond Head transpac and the routing is notoriously fickle because of shifting weather patterns, but I hear it’s a fun race.”
“Okay. What about this boat? Would it be competitive?”
“Uh, if you don’t mind me asking, sir, what are you driving at?”
“Well, to my mind this is kind of like buying a Kentucky Derby race horse and then using it to plow fields, and that ain’t gonna happen on my watch, Mr. Taggart. So my question to you is this? You want to help me campaign this tub, or do I go back up to that office and tell that suede-shoe hot-shot ‘no deal.’
“Sir? I thought this was supposed to be Dean’s boat.”
“Piffle. That boy ain’t earned a dime in his life. And by the way, this will end up being my purchase, just like that company you’re working for was my purchase. I’m just hoping that jackass doesn’t fuck things up again, and that maybe, just maybe he makes some money this time.”
“So? What’ll it be?”
Two days later. Tied off along the outer mole at the port in Friday Harbor, a de Havilland Beaver on floats idling nearby, probably getting ready to leave for Seattle, but who knew, right?
Dean shut-in down below in his ‘owners cabin’ – lost inside a never-ending pout. And because daddy had taken over everything to do with his new toy he’d decided the first thing he was going to do when he got back to Seattle was fire Taggart.
The General and Henry were in town picking up an inflatable boat and an outboard, because it would be a pain to have to rely on marinas for overnight stops and inflatables were like station wagons for boats. You couldn’t have one without the other, Henry said – and by this point, after two days of Dean’s nonstop bullshit, when Henry spoke the General listened.
They picked up an Avon and a British Seagull motor and the store told them they’d deliver it dockside later that afternoon, so Henry and Rupert went off in search of breakfast because, naturally enough, there still wasn’t any real food on board. After Dean went off in search of groceries in Vancouver he returned with a few bags of potato chips and a case of Coke, so their trip south had been a quest to find restaurants with docks – and enough draft to accommodate the Swan’s deep racing keel. Hence…the inflatable boat had become an overnight priority.
“Henry, I don’t know what I’m going to do with that boy of mine…”
“He seems like a challenge.”
“You shoulda gone to work for State. Don’t you ever say what you feel?”
Henry shook his head. “It’s a nasty habit I’m trying to quit, sir.”
That was good for a chuckle. “So, this whole digital darkroom shit? Is there anything to it, or am I sinking his mother’s money in another bottomless pit?”
So Taggart had given the General a rundown on the transformation about to transform the photographic industry, and the role software would play in the shift. Henry had to backtrack more than once, too, and get Rupert up to speed on the whole special effects revolution shaking up the motion picture biz down in LA, but by the time he’d wrapped up his lecture the General was a fascinated convert.
“I’ve read your CV, by the way. What are you doing working for someone like my son?”
“He’s actually kind of a good kid, sir, he just never grew up and now he’s paying the price. People like him because he’s been easy to take advantage of, at least so far he has been…”
“And then you came along. Yeah, I saw that too.”
“Yeah? Well, when we were at Stanford I got to know him, and probably better than most people ever will. He’s actually kind of brilliant, but he’s a misfit too. Anyway, when I heard what he was running up against up here I wanted to get involved before he lost his shirt.”
“Well, the reason was simple enough really. Greed. There’s going to be a shitload of money made in this area and I wouldn’t mind being in on the haul. The best way for me to do that right now is to see to it that Dean gets this thing off the ground and then running at full speed…”
“And then what, Henry?”
“In this biz the best thing that can happen to someone in Dean’s position is to build up your company and make the operation so attractive that one of the big fish just has to swim by and snap you up, buy you out…”
“And that’s your aim with Dean?”
“Kind of, sir. Like I said, I really don’t want to see him get hurt, but at the same time it’s a good opportunity for me. This is my area, and I have some ideas I want to work with. I have the freedom to do that where I am right now…then…who knows. I’d like to move back to LA at some point, but I’m not in a rush.”
They made it back to the Swan in time to meet the delivery crew, and after they got the Avon inflated and the motor mounted Henry took Dean and the General out for a spin around the little harbor. Dean was still pouting but the fresh air appeared to help some…
The next night they anchored out not far from Oak Harbor, and now fully provisioned Henry whipped up a spicy clam chowder and served it up in little bowls made from sourdough bread. After that Dean and the General retired for the evening, leaving Henry to clean up his mess and generally tidy up the deck before hitting the sack himself…
And a few hours later the General sat up in bed, confused. He’d heard splashing nearby and some other noises that just made no sense to him, so he got up and walked forward to fetch Henry…
…but Henry wasn’t in his cabin, so he went aft to his son’s…
…but no, Dean was asleep…then he heard more splashing…but coming from outside…
He went back to his cabin and dressed then went topsides, but Henry wasn’t out here either.
Then he heard more splashing, and laughter too.
He turned and looked behind the boat and finally saw that Henry was out there – but he was surrounded by several killer whales – and when he realized that they all appeared to be playing with each other he stiffened a little, until he noticed the gathering of little gold spheres hovering about a hundred feet above the water…then he dashed below to grab his Nikon…where he ran into something even more outrageous.
© 2021 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next element will drop as soon as the muse cooperates. Or…you can click here.
Sorry, I just had to…