Right, off we go. Put on some tea and have a read.
[Yes \\ Starship Trooper]
The boat arrived one sunny May day not by sea, but rather on the deck of a massive freighter. A crane lifted the long, slender sailboat and placed her gently on the sea, and later that morning her cloud-piercing mast was lowered into place. Men swarmed her decks for days making her ready, and curiously enough by then the arrow-like dark gray hull had begun gathering attention. The massive yacht looked like something from a bygone era, like a creation that might have once belonged to this world – but in the end the world had decided such machines represented people whose time had come and gone. Now, new faces stared at the yacht and wondered what living in that other time must have felt like, but then with their hands in their empty pockets the curious departed once again.
Haiku was motored over to Shilshole Marina and her lines made fast at the end of a long pier, and once again small throngs came and stared, for they knew not what to make of this tethered beast. Who owned such a preposterous thing? Why build such a vast contraption in this day and age? Where was her owner, for surely he must be riddled with improprieties?
Haiku posed more questions than she could answer, yet soon the curious gave up and drifted away. Crews came by several times a week and made her whole, and as time passed workmen made fresh her brightwork and lubricated her vast systems, and soon enough the spy’s elegant anachronism simply faded away into the humming background of the city. And eventually, no one cared who or what was behind all of this ostentatiously irrelevant elegance.
While C. Llewelyn Sumner quietly kept his old Nauticat at Shilshole, and that was behind the how and the why he first laid eyes on Haiku. And when he first saw the beast he walked out to the end of the pier and let his eyes roam over her lines, admiring her the way some might regard a particularly fast racehorse, or how others cast approving sidelong glances at sensuously gorgeous women.
At least until he heard a wheelchair rolling up from behind.
And without looking he knew Patrick Grey was there, watching and waiting to see his friend’s reaction to this latest revelation. Yet Sumner ignored his friend, instead continuing to walk along Haiku’s hull, sighting along the sweep of her sheer and sighing in silent awe at the utter perfection he beheld. Sumner was, after all, an architect, and his soul was drawn to such things. Perhaps, in some cases, as a moth is drawn to the flame.
“Who drew her?” Sumner finally asked the gathering silence. “Bruce King, or Herman Frers?”
“King,” Grey replied somewhat too casually. “What do you think? Did he succeed?”
C. Llewelyn Sumner turned to his friend and looked at the woman pushing the wheelchair, then down at Patrick Grey. “It isn’t often that something so obscure is resurrected, but I have to ask Patrick. Why? Why do such a thing?”
“Because I could.”
Sumner nodded before he turned and looked at the little ship once again. “Of course.”
“So, what brings you to the marina this fine morning?” Grey asked his friend.
“I’m meeting a broker here at ten. I’m selling the boat.”
Sumner turned and looked at Patrick again. “Oh, really?”
“If you’re going to bother with something so superfluous you really should get something more in keeping with your personality.”
C. Llewelyn Sumner smiled. “And this,” he said with an operatic sweep of the hand, “is in keeping with yours?”
So Patrick returned the smile. “Every dog has its day, Charles.”
“Ah, the famous writer. I forgot.”
“I’m neither, Charles.”
“Oh? Well then, who are you really, Patrick?”
“Me? Charles. I thought you knew. I’m nobody. I was never even here, so of course you never really knew me.”
“Of course. The spy who came in from the…what?”
“Spy. What a horrible word – and to think that’s how I’ll be remembered. If, that is, if anyone even bothers to remember me at all.”
“Well, they’ll certainly remember this fucking boat.”
“Funny, Charles. You know, I never imagined you without that boat of yours. Have you given up on sailing?”
“Oh, no, it’s nothing like that. Something rather strange happened to me last week. I was informed I have two children.”
Patrick’s eyes sparkled with newfound mirth. “Indeed. Tell me more.”
“A girl I once loved. Loved, Patrick. Me? Can you imagine that?”
“No, not really.”
“Neither could she, apparently.”
“So, she kept them from you? Even their very existence?”
C. Llewelyn Sumner nodded, though he still struggled with that all-knowing contempt. “One of them, my girl, will be staying with me next year.”
“Just a year?”
“Yes. I assume that’s all I am entitled to. They’ll both be off to college after that.”
“Twins, I take it?”
Sumner nodded. “Yes. So strange. I can almost see…no, that’s not quite right. I can feel Tracy in them, but then I recognize this other creature in them and I can’t seem to accept that it’s me. But I suppose that’s why things turned out as they did.”
“Oh? Well, yes, I suppose some truths are more difficult to accept than others. Yet there are times, don’t you think, when the most difficult thing to see is the path we chose, even as we turn our back to the sunset? But you said a year and then they are off to college? And so now, all of a sudden you’ve decided to sell the boat? But wasn’t she the last link you had to their mother?”
C. Llewelyn Sumner stared into the stark reality of Patrick’s appraisal, but then he slowly nodded before a long sigh slipped past his trembling lips. “I suppose I thought I could move on.”
“Move on? From your past? Charles, what the devil is wrong with you this morning?”
“She passed away, Patrick,” C. Llewelyn Sumner said, now trying his best not to cry. “She passed and I’ll never see her again.” But he heard someone walking out the pier and turned to see his yacht broker approaching so he quickly pulled himself back from the brink and cast away the years.
And as the broker came up he too stopped to admire Haiku, and to revel in the rumors and innuendo behind all her local mysteries.
“Charles?” the broker began. “Out looking for your next boat already? Don’t you think this one is a bit too large for you?”
Sumner looked at the broker, then at Patrick: “Ah. No. Not today,” he replied.
“You know,” the broker continued, “everyone loves a mystery, but I think after a few months we really ought to know who owns this creature. My God but she’s lovely,” the amiable broker said as he looked over Haiku. Then the nattily dressed middle-aged man turned to Patrick Grey. “So, do you know the owner?”
Patrick smiled. “I’ve heard it belongs to one of those MicroSoft millionaires.”
The broker nodded knowingly. “Yup. Heard that too. Makes sense.”
Then Patrick turned to the broker and smiled. “I can’t imagine Charles without a sailboat. Can you?”
“No, no I can’t,” the broker said, grinning at the scent of fresh blood in the water.
“The Nauticat never really fit him, I don’t think. Not really. I imagined him in something less utilitarian. Strong, elegant, capable. What do you think?”
“Actually, we have a new Hallberg Rassy coming in that would be perfect for him. A forty-three. And what did you say? Strong and capable…?”
“And let’s not forget elegant,” the spy added.
“Ah yes, elegant. Charles? Interested?”
“Of course he is,” the spy replied in his friend’s stead. “You say it’s not here yet?”
“It’s at our yard being made ready. We could look at her tomorrow if you like?”
“Of course we’d like to. Isn’t that right, Charles?”
And so it happened.
C. Llewelyn Sumner and his daughter Elizabeth, when she tired of her horses, began sailing his new boat a few weeks after that. At first as he had with Patrick, taking his new boat around Elliot Bay in the waters off the downtown area, taking in the Space Needle at sunset. And soon enough they were broad-reaching down the sound, coming back to Shilshole after a long weekend in Port Townsend, and these were the happiest of times for C. Llewelyn Sumner – even if they were but echoes of similar outings with Tracy, even if such memories were twenty years gone in a long silent wake. But just a few weeks later, he took Liz to look at colleges in California and Texas, places he had once called home, and it seemed like just a few short weeks after that he was packing her off to establish the contours of a new life at her first choice, UC Davis.
He grew depressed after that tumultuous year came to an end, so depressed he found time to do little else but sleep. He took care of Elizabeth’s horses until it became clear she wouldn’t be coming home as often as she’d hoped, and so then he gave them to friends who promised to take good care of them. He took on a few new commissions, yet those he did were trivial, almost meaningless tract homes for a developer in Portland, Oregon. The money was nice but really almost unnecessary now; he was comfortable and would remain so unless something dire befell the markets.
Yet from time to time Patrick Grey beckoned. One time he wanted to take Haiku out for a shakedown cruise up to Desolation Sound, and Sumner wasn’t at all surprised when Grey discarded his walkers and wheelchairs and ran about the decks, in effect sailing his 126 foot yacht all by himself. Sumner tried not to ask what it was all about – because in truth he didn’t want to know. Patrick was no longer a mystery; he was more like a minefield.
Though one night in Desolation Sound, the old spy did talk of things Charles found rather unsettling.
“Do you ever wonder what would happen if the walls of our little civilization came crumbling down?”
“What on earth are you going on about now, Patrick?”
“Oh, I don’t know, really, just a random thought or two. Yet it seems to me that everything is so out of sorts now, our politics have grown poisonous and I’ve recently had days when I felt like it’s becoming almost dangerous to head out to the grocery store. I see wild-eyed kids strung out on meth on every street corner and not one of them seems to know anything at all about the world. And I don’t know about you but I resented being locked up for almost two years – because, mind you, that’s two years of our lives we’ll never get back – and yet now that we’ve crawled back out of our caves everyone seems to have grown stark-raving-bonkers. Everywhere you go you hear people saying how afraid they are to do this or that and every politician you hear seems to be pitching a new flavor of fear with each passing day, and yet now, after two years of lock downs it feels like things have been turned up a notch. And so, the thought occurred to me: How long can this possibly go on? How long can the fear and the anger build before this whole house of cards comes tumbling down?”
“I think,” C. Llewelyn Sumner sighed, his depression suddenly taking a darker turn, “what you’re describing is incipient paranoia. But the squeaky wheel always gets the grease.”
“I suppose, but let’s play What If for a moment. What if the markets collapsed? What if a meteor slammed into the South Atlantic? What if a new madman came to power, a madman with nuclear weapons – and he decided to use them? What would happen if all our paranoia gave way and the walls holding up all our notions of reality just suddenly collapsed. What would happen? How would you cope?”
“I have no idea,” C. Llewelyn Sumner said.
“And what – that’s it? You don’t care?”
“You can’t plan for things like that, Patrick. If it happens it happens. The survivors get on with living and all the rest become carrion. I rather think that’s the way it’s always been, don’t you?”
“Maybe. Maybe not. I’ve always tried to look ahead, to play What If at every little stop along the way, and I think I do because I don’t want to sit by passively and let life just happen to me. I want to shape the outcome – if I can, that is.”
“What are you saying, Patrick?”
“I’m saying that you might actually consider taking that new boat of yours and getting her ready for some unknown calamity. Think of her as a kind of life insurance policy, if not for you then for your children.”
“You’re serious, aren’t you?”
“Okay. Say the unspeakable happens. Then what?”
“You go where things are less…unspeakable.”
“South. Pick an island. But remember: Fortune favors the bold, my friend.”
And so C. Llewelyn Sumner had given the matter some thought. There was, after all, no harm in thinking.
It was only a few months later when Patrick let it be known that his own daughter had emerged from the shadows and come back into his life. This was an unexpected development, and one that had caught the old spy unprepared – which Sumner thought somewhat ironic. Yet when it turned out that she was sicker than Hell and in chemotherapy over at UW, C. Llewelyn Sumner sensed a change had come over Patrick. And when he learned that Patrick’s daughter had moved into the Grey House and was now staying with Patrick, he realized his friend the spy was on the brink. This development had been, of course, unforeseen – but Patrick had gone on about his life as if all this wasn’t a problem.
Until it became a problem.
Patrick had been comfortable cultivating layers of secrecy throughout his life; even his father had taught him a few of the most basic skills he would need. Crafting alternate identities came as naturally to Patrick as picking up a drafting pencil came to C. Llewelyn Sumner. Being able to disappear within a crowd? Not a problem. Need to flee one country in the middle of the night, and then to appear two days later on the far side of nowhere all while being able to convincingly prove to the local authorities that you’d been there for years? Again, this was simply another skill Patrick had learned along the way. All that was needed were the resources and plans to put contingencies in place, and to secret them away where no one else could find them. But that too was simply another skill he’d picked up along the way.
But writing began to chip away at Patrick’s skills, to dull the old spy’s senses. And then his daughter Akira turned up on his doorstep, and with her arrival another seismic shift took place, a whole new series of complications arose. He couldn’t simply disappear so easily now, yet neither could he push her out the door. What Patrick needed, he reasoned, was a means to keep an eye on his daughter while also preserving some rough semblance of his need for instant mobility. What he needed, then, was a means to an immediate end.
Yet…after learning to sail with Sumner – and long before Akira arrived – Haiku had already begun to take shape in Patrick’s mind. But then again, Sumner had already learned that the old spy was always looking ahead. Always making plans – counting on the unexpected, and Akira had apparently been most unexpected. Only now Patrick had Akira’s needs foremost in mind, for the old spy could not presume to live forever and he obviously wanted to see to her needs after he was gone.
Akira would, therefore, and by virtue of her frailties, need someone to look after her. Someone Akira could count on – after the inevitable happened and Patrick passed. She would need someone with the two virtues Patrick cherished most, but had more often than not lacked himself: duty and honor.
Patrick had friends everywhere, yet not one of these friends was close to Patrick. They were often little more than academic or professional colleagues, and though they were on friendly terms with one another, that was about the extent of these friendships. Yet Patrick never discarded such friends; he never let these relationships wither away into obscurity or fade away with the passage of time. Such friendships were, after all, quite useful to spies. And curiously enough, almost all of Patrick’s friends were in academia, and most still taught at Stanford.
One of these old friends, a rather bright geologist who also happened to look somewhat like cross between a gecko and a mole, had called him recently as he’d just finished writing a rather alarming book and he wanted to know if Patrick knew a good publisher’s agent. They’d talked for a while about the subject, plate tectonics and volcanism, and about his friend’s growing concerns about the so-called Cascadia Subduction Zone, and how a sudden release of energy might cause one or more of the major volcanoes in the Pacific Northwest to literally blow their tops off – and quite soon, too. Patrick recommended his own agent and then carefully began researching matters surrounding this deep fault just off the coast, and the more he learned the more concerned he became.
And when Patrick had a clear picture in his mind about what might happen if such an event was to take place, he told C. Llewelyn Sumner what he had learned and what he needed his friend to help him do.
© 2023 adrian leverkühn | abw | just a bit of fiction, plain and simple.
[King Crimson \\ Cat Food]
[Result-start] Interesting storytelling with a unique blend of sailboats, spies, and skepticism towards society’s current state. The author captures the reader’s attention and keeps them intrigued until the end. Well done! [Result-end]
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