Sunday in the Sun + 19 November 2017

Sunday 1117

There have been notable changes in the trajectories of all our lives the past few weeks, and these days it feels, at times, as if there is no light at the end of this particular tunnel. Truth, and indeed, goodness, have been confronted by a recurrent and quite monstrous evil – an evil whose name we thought had been banished from the record of human experience.

And…we were so very, very wrong.

This evil goes by many names, but the most cogent among them is Ethical Relativism. Here’s an easily digestible form of the term, courtesy of Wikipedia:

Moral relativism may be any of several philosophical positions concerned with the differences in moral judgments across different people and cultures. Descriptive moral relativism holds only that some people do in fact disagree about what is moral; meta-ethical moral relativism holds that in such disagreements, nobody is objectively right or wrong; and normative moral relativism holds that because nobody is right or wrong, we ought to tolerate the behavior of others even when we disagree about the morality of it. Not all descriptive relativists adopt meta-ethical relativism, and moreover, not all meta-ethical relativists adopt normative relativism.

An even shorter version of the concept might read something like this: Morality is in the eye of the beholder. Ethical Relativism allows, by way of example, the herding of Jews into cattle-cars for a one-way journey to Polish ovens, or for religious fanatics to commandeer airliners and fly them into skyscrapers. There is no truth, only a truth sanctioned by the group. There is not one God, there is only the God that delivers benefits to adherents of the group. God is not universal…God belongs to this group, to the exclusive benefit of the group.

Yet nowhere have we seen more damage done to the American construct of Civilization than through the recent actions of our very own, very Godly Republican Party. This group of scoundrels has trashed almost two-hundred-fifty years of our forefathers’ hard work – and in only twelve long months, too – yet they’re dashing headlong into the next, terminal phase of their experiment even as you read this. Enraptured by a spurious – and convenient – religious certitude, and bolstered with the most efficient propaganda network man has yet seen, American Republicans seem bent on establishing a global theocratic oligarchy, a global ‘Christian’ oligarchic theocracy, and if the experiment seems doomed to fail, well, why not just push the button? The Bible seems to validate their conspiracies, too, so ‘Full Speed Ahead,’ Mitch! Let’s get this job done before the false veneers of our democracy are stripped away and, well, our gerrymandered constituents grab their pitchforks and come a-callin’ for us in the night…

Or, put another way: “Let’s get this swindle over and done with before the veneers of democracy are stripped away and we’re exposed for what we really are!” As in, whores getting down on their knees to service their corporate-oligarchic masters…? Our gleefully cheerful Republican theocrats seem to have done just this, or most of them have, anyway, by crawling into bed with two of the most dangerously repulsive liars of the 21st century – Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin – and most have done so unapologetically and without a second thought.

They are traitors, by the way, obstructing and betraying our ideals at every turn, and those who stand with these traitors are complicit in one of the grandest betrayals since Brutus slipped a knife in Caesar’s breast.

Bro love

A few of Trump’s recent comments, and the complete absence of any response from Republican leadership, would have, and perhaps only a few years ago, brought thunderous denouncements from Mitch McConnell & Co – assuming, that is, the president was a black man with an awkward sounding name. Take, for instance:

– Trump added that he thinks Putin “is very insulted by” the (ongoing Russia) scandal – if there’s one thing the American president should be concerned about, it’s Vladimir Putin’s feelings – and that “people will die” as a result of the controversy.

– “People don’t realize, Russia has been very, very heavily sanctioned,” Trump added. “They were sanctioned at a very high level. And that took place very recently. It’s now time to get back to healing a world that is shattered and broken.”

So, after telling the news entourage “along for the ride” to Asia that Trump had no plans to meet with Prince Vlad, the White House announced (on the flight home, one assumes) that Trump and Putin met at least seven times (that they’re willing to own up to, anyway), and the takeaway from these conversations, according to Trump, is that if we don’t ditch the sanctions against Russia, well, then, PEOPLE WILL DIE?

After these men (Vladimir Putin and his intelligence services) plundered the very fabric of our democracy? That they continue, unapologetically, to undermine western democratic institutions everywhere and in any way they can?

“People will die?” Who, exactly, is going to die? Was Trump simply threatening us, his citizens, or did Prince Vlad threaten Trump? Does shit only roll in one direction in this farce? Like: just what the Hell does Putin “have on Trump?” Why are Republicans in our Congress allowing this to go down? Who, then, is paying-off who?

The greater question, to my mind, anyway, is why isn’t the mainstream media all over this one? Are we so intent on our own self-destruction that every news cycle can now only be dominated by more revelations that yet another Hollywood sleazebag has used his “position of authority” to grope another “hapless” actress’s ass? Is that what we’ve been reduced to now? Rome burns and we ask for another match and more gasoline?

Pissed.jpg

It seems like, since the 1950s anyway, religious charlatans have dominated political discourse in this country. Seeking to obliterate the very notion of “separation of church and state” enshrined in our constitution, they’ve fought for decades to get their tax-exempt status unshackled from being able to carry out political activity. Well, their Faustian Bargain with Trump has finally come through for them. Included in the Republican tax bill is language that will let churches once again engage in unrestricted political campaigning on behalf of a chosen (ahem, cough-cough) candidate or party.

That this supposed tax-relief bill just passed the House of Representatives is all the proof one might need that one political party no longer has the slightest interest in doing the right thing “for the people.” Embedded in this law are attacks on every social safety net enacted since FDR, from Social Security to Medicare and Medicaid, to tax deductions used by the middle class to ease the burdens of home ownership. And all the while the state propaganda organ (aka Fox News) keeps cheerleading how this bill will help the poor, beleaguered middle class in America.

Someone a bit less cynical than I might find these perplexing ironies amusing.

Then we find that one more in a long line of religious politicians, this one a fine, upstanding man, is about to be elected by the Good, God-fearing Volk down in Alabama, and by golly – he’s a pedophile-predator, too. Banned, apparently, from local malls for his behavior, this lawyer has been stalking teenaged-girls since he was in his thirties, and while normally this kind of activity might be enough to get you labeled a habitual child-predator and land you on a national criminal watch list, not so in Alabama, apparently. Oh, let’s not forget, this lawyer was, at the time, a prosecutor working in the local District Attorney’s office. As in, an officer of the court, who’s sworn duty it has been to uphold the laws of this country.

And – his activities were quite well known to people in the DAs office?

As in – this fellow was acting as if he was not only above the law, his cronies backed his play.

And…just what does that tell you about the state of play in this country?

And, again, not to mince words here, this lawless hypocrite had chosen not to uphold lawful orders from the United States Supreme Court. He had been dismissed as a state Supreme Court justice – for disobeying the law. And now the good, law-abiding Republican Volk down in ‘Bama have seen fit to nominate this man as the champion of their party because – why?

Well, because he’s a good ole God-fearin’ Christian, that’s why. Because his life’s ambition is to turn the clock back to a kinder, gentler time, a time when there was one church in this country and not too many brown-skinned people making such a ruckus. He wants all of us to take a trip back in time to that golden age, too. You remember, that time when you could African-Americans “nigger” and no one thought that odd in the least. You could make them “uppity niggers” sit in the back of the bus, too, or make ’em use separate water fountains and restrooms, and guess what? It didn’t matter, did it? Boys didn’t dress like little girls back then, did they? Inter-racial marriage? Nope, not happenin’ in this religious fantasyland…and now it’s time to put a stop to all this nonsense.

It brings to mind a political slogan heard ’round those parts almost two hundred years ago. It went something like: “Ship them niggers back!” – which is how the country of Liberia was created, and why the capital of that country – Monrovia – came to be named after President James Monroe. It’s also kind of funny to consider that Hitler once considered something called the Madagascar Plan, where it was envisioned all the Jews in Europe would be rounded up and forcibly resettled to the Island of Madagascar. Funnier still that you take into account the Liberian resettlement, like the Madagascar Plan, was called off due to the exorbitant cost of the plan. In other words, Hitler & Co found it more economical to slaughter six million Jews than to load them on ships and transport them to an island off the east African coast, while those in America kicked the can down the road a few more years – and we all know how that turned out, don’t we?

There’s a narrative in this country that goes something like this: The US Civil War happened because The South would not abolish slavery.

Well, yes – and no.

It was not about abolishing slavery (which, again, is the popular, sanitized narrative, and which is what you probably learned if you read the sanitized textbooks that pass for History in this country). Better that you did not learn, for instance, that northern merchants feared the south would gain a competitive advantage by continuing to use slave labor, and that Lincoln was pressed by these same northern merchants to end the South’s advantage by reintroducing slavery in the north. The American Civil War was fought not because of altruistic moral reasons, but in rather more stark terms, due more to a cold calculation of economic “reality,” to wit: reintroducing slavery would displace white workers.

Uh…sound familiar?

Oh, before I forget, let’s talk about the Second Amendment for a moment. You know, the one about a well-regulated militia and the right to keep an unlimited supply of M16s and AK47s locked away in your basement – just in case you decide you’d like to go shoot a few hundred people at a nearby country-western music festival? Read the Federalist Papers someday when you have a moment, where the intent of this amendment is discussed in some detail. Seems our founders were much more concerned about a slave rebellion taking place so they envisioned the need to have lots of (white?) guys with guns hanging around in case all those ‘uppity niggers’ got it into their heads that they might like something, well, something like freedom.

Like many such things, Republicans have, since the 1980s, waged a war against History. It’s far easier to distort History than it is to come to terms with it, to understand it – to learn from History. But, then again, Republicans have their Bible and that appears to be all the History these Volk really need. Forget, for a moment, that this Bible is a long-form narrative chiefly of the Historical Fiction genre, and that it was authored by cloistered monks bent on preserving the nefarious worldly powers of their various political institutions (er, ahem, churches). Take the Bible literally if you must, but adhere to it strictly. If you do, if you take The Christ’s admonishments to treat the poor fairly and with justice, to love them as you would love yourself, then there is no way in Hell you could even consider being a Republican.

The term Republican evangelical Christian is pure oxymoron, and this person is, it seems to me, a power-crazed being steeped in hypocrisy – a hypocrisy meant to achieve its own political ends – while imposing its belief system on every living being on this earth. He is, in every way imaginable, little different than the eleven men who, not so long ago, commandeered airliners and flew them into skyscrapers.

Because, I might add, morality is in the eye of the beholder.

Sunday in the Sun + 5 November 2017

bill-the-cat

Yes, it’s time to roll out Bill the Cat again. You remember Bill, don’t you?

No?

Well, perhaps you remember Bloom County?

Bloom buddies

Here’s wikipedia’s entry for Bill the Cat:

  • Bill the Cat is a large orange tabby cat. Introduced originally in the summer of 1982 as a parody of the comic character Garfield, and saying little beyond his trademark responses, “Ack” and “Pbthhh”, he has become something of a blank slate around which various plots revolved. Numerous strips indicated that his persistent near-catatonic state was the result of drug use or brain damage resulting from once being legally dead and then revived after too long a period. In the Christmas special A Wish for Wings That Work, Opus recounts having rescued Bill from a University Science Lab where they had replaced his brains with Tater Tots. He’s been a cultmember (“Bhagwan Bill”), televangelist (“Fundamentally Oral Bill”), perennial Presidential candidate (for the National Radical Meadow Party), heavy metal rock star (“Wild Bill Catt”), nuclear power plant operator at Chernobyl, and, in the last months of the series, had his brain surgically replaced with Donald Trump‘s. He has been known to speak on occasion, most notably during the Communist witch-hunt trials of which he has been a subject, when he remarked, “Say, you don’t suppose the ‘Jury Box’ is anything like a litter box, do you?” Bill has apparently had affairs with Jeane Kirkpatrick, Princess Diana and Socks the cat.
  • Oh, here’s today’s edition, if interested in such things.

I think Bill the Cat is the perfect metaphor for the age we find ourselves in – right now, today. Drug-addled, near-catatonic, stressed-out and wishing – against all odds – that this nightmare we find ourselves in would somehow just be over with, and real soon. That’s our Bill, wishful catatonia, yet even the latest polls hold this truth to be self-evident: Trump’s approval ratings are now lower than Harry Truman’s, which is saying something. Unless, that is, you get your daily fix of gnews related catatonia-inducing sludge from Fox, or the even more sinister Sinclair Broadcasting group of stations. If you do, then it is indeed Sunday in the Sun, where the sun is out and the skies are the bluest blue ever – even when it’s pouring rain and tornadoes line the near horizon.

Here in Amerika, a new day is dawning. The Orthodox Wing of the Republican Party abdicated this week, just kind of rolled over and whimpered on their way out of the room. The jack-booted thugs of Trumptopia have won, you see, in case you didn’t know that already.

A Republican House of Representatives, after almost forty years of crying about the dangers of running huge deficits, have introduced a so-called tax relief bill that is simply not funding any of these cuts. Magic Money, anyone? To make matters more interesting, these guys are padding the bill with all sorts of other Republican goodies from their various Wish Lists (like anti-abortion measures) while giving their billionaire cronies (and hey, corporations are people, too, remember?) all kinds of big cuts. Even King Donald stands to save millions a year, so yeah, what’s not to like…?

But wait! Lots and lots of Orthodox Republicans can’t stand the stench coming from all this hypocrisy and are, well, quitting politics. I guess “get out while the gettings good” is the new mantra on Capitol Hill this week, this, the one year anniversary of Trump’s ascendance to the throne. So, while Bob Mueller’s long-running RussiaGate Follies continues its limited engagement, we have Fox & Friends spelling out just why all this Russia bullshit is nothing compared to Hillary & Co and what THEY did with the Russians and all that Canadian uranium. Except, uh, wait a minute…no one over at Fox is getting the big picture, are they? Hillary may be rotten to the core, but it doesn’t appear like members of her campaign staff were over in Russia doing who knows what…like selling out the country…? Lining up a few golden showers for the boss, maybe…?

It’s amazing all the little things that get swept under the rug when you’re so busy with your broom you fail to notice you’ve stepped in your own bullshit.

All this makes me a little nostalgic for Nixon, Mitchell, Haldeman & Co., heretofore the most larcenous administration in our rosy history. At least Nixon and Kissinger got The One Truth of Our World: Russians are Trouble. Orthodox Republicans get this, they always have. It’s been political bedrock for them, until not quite two years ago, anyway. They understood the realities of our world better than their ideologically hidebound brethren, our new purveyors of cultural relativism, the Tea Party Republicans. They understood that when Putin ran Yeltsin & Co out of Moscow and filled the resulting vacuum with former KGB officers – who were by that time hip-deep in organized crime – that this was not a regime conducive to global prosperity. Putin & Co are NOW all about money and power, money and power to be used in the furtherance of the old Soviet worldview.

Our European allies in NATO and, in particular, Germany, get this. They understand that Prince Vlad exists only to suck the lifeblood out of western liberal democracies, so now, this week, Vlad and the Iranians talked about how best to work together to destroy America. Yup. And Hair Drumpf wants to get in bed with this guy.

And still, through it all, a rock solid 38-40 % of Americans support Trump. These people are variously described as poor white people – and modestly educated at that. Or, to put it more succinctly, stupid white cracker mother-fuckers…which, if you read between the lines is kind of the narrative coming out of the DNC.

Like…this is a real good way to win back the voters you lost last year.

Another good way is to have the former head of the DNC, one Donna Brazille, come out saying that, yeah, Hillary and the DNC coopted the primaries and did, in fact, coordinate their efforts to deny the nomination to one Bernie Sanders, Independent Socialist of Vermont.

The net effect? The “real” Democratic Party now pretty much belongs to Bernie and the Progressives, while Hillary is out hawking her book (about how everyone but her is responsible for 2016) and Democratic Elites are still out trying to sell diversity politics – in effect, still blaming white people.

And so, therefore, WHILE Republican efforts to claim the vote was rigged in 2016 gain traction, and so, therefore, it will be rigged again in 2020, and so, therefore, the only way to prevent this from happening is to, well, not hold the elections. Hey, sounds reasonable to me, right? I mean, this bullshit is on Fox, so it must be true, right? Right?

And so, therefore, the noise just keeps getting more confusing, doesn’t it?

Like Hitler was alive, seen by operatives the CIA deemed reliable, in 1955 (and a guy on Fox News claims he’s still alive, somehow forgetting Hitler would now be almost 130 years old). Or, that the FBI slipped a file into the JFK tranche indicating Martin Luther King Jr was a degenerate druggie into orgies. Makes you wonder…what would it be like to watch Fox for three weeks straight…? Well, read this. It’s almost funny.

I’ll conclude by saying “Hey! The revolution started, but somehow I missed it.”

As in, yeah, the alt-right was whipped up into a frenzy re: revolution was going to break out in America yesterday...

If you are inside the “alt-right” information bubble, you might be preparing yourself for a civil war to commence this Saturday.

Since late September, the idea has been circulating on Facebook groups, subreddit message boards, Twitter, and leading conspiracy media outlets that on 4 November, anti-fascist groups will begin a violent insurrection.

Some websites are telling their readers that antifa groups are “planning to kill every single Trump voter, Conservative and gun owner” this weekend. Hundreds of Facebook posts show how seriously consumers of such media are taking the news, and comments like “One more threat against white people and I swear to God I’m going to take a goddamn car and run over every fucking one of them” are not unrepresentative of the response.

But antifa groups have no plans to protest that day, and the small leftist groups who are planning protests have only dubious connections to the antifa movement. So what gives?

The whole thing rests on some very slender reeds, according to Spencer Sunshine, who recently wrote a report on the theories for the far right-monitoring group Political Research Associates. In the conspiracy underground on YouTube, he explains, there has been talk that “there was going to be a civil war” starting in November for some months.

Beginning in late September, three things kicked it a into higher gear. First, Refuse Fascism, a small group linked to the Revolutionary Communist party, staged a visually spectacular protest in Los Angeles. They blocked the 101 freeway and held up signs that enigmatically spelled out “Nov 4 it begins”. This is the same group that is organizing a series of protests around the country against the “Trump-Pence regime” this weekend.

Second, a video posted on a Facebook page called Vets Before Illegals went viral. The video, entitled “Antifa sets a date for civil war”, claimed that “on their website, they are calling for an open civil war that will start in November”, and set out alleged plans for attacking police officers, then citizens and the government.

Last, but by no means least, the rumor was picked up and amplified by Alex Jones, the radio star with an audience of millions. As Sunshine explains, Jones “is a kind of meta-conspiracy theorist now” who “harvests other people’s theories” and repackages them to fit his narratives and his audience.

Once Jones had mentioned it, Sunshine explains, the rumor mill exploded: “Once Jones says something, even more people pick up on it and put their own spin on it.” Jones’s website was still running the story on Wednesday morning.

In recent days, the story took an absurd turn, and had its closest brush with more mainstream conservative media, when Gateway Pundit, a longtime conservative blog that has recently expanded into news coverage, published a story by its White House correspondent, Lucian Wintrich, claiming that an “antifa leader” had promised to “behead white parents” on 4 November.

The tweet the story was based on, however, was a joke from an account that had no apparent ties to any antifa groups.

In a telephone interview, Wintrich conceded that the tweet his reporting was based on was not serious, and that it was unlikely that there would be a revolution on Saturday. But he did not back away from the story, presenting it as a critique of leftist rhetoric.

“The radical left is always making jokes about killing white people. What would happen if I made a joke about killing all black parents? That would be a national headline.

“If it’s appropriate for them to demonize [conservatives] over quite innocent jokes, why would we just roll over when they make inappropriate jokes? What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.”

The piece included a detailed account of antifa ideology, which included the claim that the activists “are larpers (‘live action role-play’) attempting to find someone/thing to sexually interact with”.

When asked what sources he drew on in reporting on their ideology, Wintrich said: “I did go to school at Bard College. I received my education around people who I’m sure are on terrorist watchlists as socialist or communist extremists.”

As Sunshine says, Refuse Fascism activists have been supportive of antifa groups in the past, and often show up to the same demonstrations, but there is “no formal connection” between them and antifa. They are also small, he says, and their protest is explicitly nonviolent and specifically directed against the administration, not rightwing activists or police.

Mark Bray, historian and author of Antifa: The Antifascist Handbook, agrees. “Prior to 2017, the far right didn’t really know what antifa was,” he says, adding that the focus on these groups has a number of causes. It is an extension of the demonization of anarchists in general, but it is also a way to smear mainstream liberals who have no links to antifascist groups.

And to some extent, this particular panic has succeeded in energizing a particular slice of the right. As Sunshine puts it: “It motivates the base, it’s part of the apocalyptic narrative they use – there’s always a dangerous event just over the horizon.” Also, he says: “It’s a call for vigilante activity. There are currently tons of threats against leftwing activists.”

And unless there is a confrontation as a result of rightwing counter-protesters turning out to shut down the “revolution”, it’s all likely to come to nothing.

“There is no revolution or civil war planned for 4 November,” says Bray. “You can quote me on that.”

And, well, I’ll leave you to ponder the revolution, aka – the revenge of the nerds, part 23. Be safe out there…

Red Dawn

Happy trails, y’all. Keep an eye out for Bill, would you?

 

Corcovado + Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars + 4

Corcovado5.1

IV

His mother, Elizabeth, had grown up in the Episcopal Church, and, with her parents, she had worshipped at St Andrew’s over on the west side of town, the ‘money’ side of town, every Sunday. And though James was her ‘sweetheart’ even then, he wasn’t drawn to the church – had never been interested in any church – yet that didn’t seem to matter to her. She talked James into going with her a time or two but nothing stuck, yet she was true enough to him to let the matter rest – “in the Lord’s hands,” she liked to say. When the war in Europe started, actually during the Battle of Britain, James went down to the Post Office and signed up for pilot training; he ended up in California learning to fly the earliest models of the B-17, and it turned out he was a very good pilot.

They corresponded, by mail, after he left Vermont, and soon she understood that he had lost all interest in religion – and why; she, at home on the other side of the country, had started going to St Andrew’s several times a week – and her interest in religion only deepened. By the time December Seventh rolled around, he was training new pilots and she was teaching Sunday School; when James shipped off to Britain in ‘42 she went to study religion at Boston College.

And so it went. They were polar opposites set on a collision course from the very beginning, and at the end of James’ war, after he returned from Britain, he was a very different man. As different as Elizabeth had become over the intervening years.

Yet they picked up where they’d left off – in each other’s arms, still madly in love with one another. Weeks after his return they walked the aisle in St Andrews hand in hand, as husband and wife, yet, if anything, his understanding of God and His Church had only diminished in his eyes. James had, he told his wife, been on many of the so-called ‘thousand plane raids’ over Dresden and Munich, he had fire-bombed whole cities, killed thousands upon thousands of human beings; there was, he told her, “no room in God’s House for the likes of me.”

They had talked about salvation and confession and he told her those were mere words to him, and she could feel the flames of burning cities aglow in his eyes. She said she understood after one bitter night, and she never pressed him further. Not once. She was, she told him, content to let God come to him when He was ready.

They wanted to wait a few years to have kids, or so they said, so he could earn some money and build up his bank account, and she told him late in 1949 that she thought it was an opportune time. Why ‘opportune’ he did not know, but he agreed and soon she was with child.

Yet he was too good a pilot for the Army Air Corp to let go of him completely, and, because he’d signed on to participate in the newly formed U. S. Air Force Reserves, when asked he was soon flying B-29s over Canada and the Arctic. When war broke out in Korea off he went, and two months after he arrived in Japan his daughter Rebecca was born, though he very nearly never got to hold her in his arms.

On a mission over the North his formation was attacked by Mig15s and his aircraft was damaged badly in the brief skirmish. He nursed the -29 back to the sea and had almost made it back to South Korea when fire broke out inside the right wing; he got his men out and rode the aircraft down, belly landing in the Yellow Sea. He managed to crawl out of the sinking wreckage and into a life raft, but both his legs were badly mangled.

His war officially ended on a hospital ship in Japan; he was back in the States a few weeks later, though he spent months at a succession of military hospitals in Maryland and Pennsylvania. And, finally, in White River Junction, Vermont, and that’s where he finally met his daughter.

And though in many ways James was the same sweet man Elizabeth had always known, he had come back a changed man – for the second time. Whereas he had exuded an infinite invulnerability when he came home from Europe, he now cast a wary eye almost everywhere he looked…like he was suddenly unsure of the very ground beneath his feet. Still, he persevered, met his doubts head-on. He walked, then he ran back to his life in St Johnsbury, and Elizabeth knew then that God answered all prayers.

When Rebecca fell ill – some sort of meningitis, the physicians told them – she prayed and prayed, and yet Rebecca passed. In the aftermath Elizabeth fell away from the Church, and in the fullness of time she completely lost her faith in God.

She finished her graduate degree – in social work – and helped coordinate social services throughout northern Vermont…everything from helping the recently disabled to the newly homeless. She came to be regarded as something of a saint among the ‘down and out’ – and even to the pastors and bishops that worked the pews around the region, hers was a well-regarded soul.

And then something horribly unexpected happened. A girl, an eight year old Chinese girl, was raped one summer’s evening near the old highway that went from St Johnsbury south, and a trucker who had been passing through on his way from Montreal to New York City was apprehended. And this mysterious truck driver – who was, apparently, from Hong Kong – was being pursued through the forests south of town. It was only a matter of time, they heard on the radio, until the monster was caught.

+++++

The rain had let up a little, and he could see faint patches of blue through thinning clouds from time to time. Melissa was sitting with him in the enclosed cockpit, rain and wind-driven spray still spattering on the canvas overhead, while Ted and Tracy were standing at the mast pulpit, looking for timbers on the Sound’s roiled surface.

And yet he and Melissa had said little to one another since she boarded. He didn’t know what to say to her, and she wasn’t sure she had anything left to say to a man like him.

Then, up on the bow, Ted pointed to the left and he looked that way too, saw a massive timber sjust awash and corrected his course to miss it – and as suddenly Ted was pointing frantically to the right – and he saw more timbers roped-up in a tight clump. He stood to get a better view of the way through the knotted seas, then he cut back on power, slowed to bare steerage-way and worked his way around and through the flotsam – and he found he was holding his breath more than once…until they were through, anyway.

“This is really bad…” Melissa said moments after he sat behind the wheel again. “I’ve dealt with crab-pots in Maine, but never anything like this.”

And he knew he was beginning to tremble a little – only for another reason. He’d had three cups of French roast and his bladder felt like it was about to rip apart, right down the middle, but he didn’t want to leave the wheel…

“You okay?” she said when she saw the expression on his face, the perspiration on his brow.

He shook his head. “Nope. Bladder’s about to…”

And she stood, took the wheel – and he looked at her like she was out of her mind – until the need to let loose from both ends grew like a three-alarm blaze. He nodded and ran down the companionway steps to the forward head – and didn’t return for ten minutes.

And when he did she was still behind the wheel, steering deftly between timbers, taking the hand signals Ted gave her without the slightest hesitation.

“You tired?” he asked.

“Not in the slightest…this is – exhilarating!”

“Well,” he mumbled, “that’s one way to look at it.”

And she laughed at that, then leaned over to look forward again. “I’m making for that buoy up there,” she said, pointing to a can about a mile ahead. “That marks the entrance to the inlet, right?”

“Yup.”

“Damn, this is a fine handling little ship, Jim. World of difference between my 325 and this thing…”

“Nothing beats displacement in seas like this.”

“I’ll say. Man, if you ever want to trade, give me a call…”

He laughed at that. “Yeah, I’ll do that.” He watched her watching the sea, watched the way she shifted her weight with her knees to roll with the swells and he nodded his approval. “Yours have a pedestal, or that rig under the seat?”

“Pedestal. That other rig always felt dead to me.”

“So I’ve heard.” He turned and looked forward then, content to let her steer for a while longer, and he noticed more and bigger patches of blue sky. “You may get lucky. Looks like some sun is trying to break through.”

“Yup,” she groaned, working Altair down the backside of a large roller.

Yet she kept her course, he saw. She bore down on the rise, fell off the crest, never missed a lick. “You do much racing?” he asked.

“A little. Why?”

“Because you’re damn good on the helm, that’s why.”

He wasn’t looking at her just then so he didn’t see the look in her eyes.

“Can you come up a bit?” he said. “I want to head straight in the inlet, not come in at an upwind angle.”

“Got it,” she said, and he watched the bow swing to starboard a little…twenty minutes later they passed the buoy and he turned and looked at her.

“You wanna take it now?” she asked.

“No. You’re doing fine,” he said as he came to the pedestal and changed the displays on the plotter.

“What’s that?” she asked, pointing at the display.

“Chart with a radar overlay here, and forward-looking sonar here, on the right.”

“Sonar? You mean…those are the walls of the inlet – underwater?”

“Yup.”

“Holy moly, this is like cheating…”

He grinned. “Kinda, yup, but it sure beats driving your boat up onto the rocks.”

“I’ll say.”

“Slow her down to 1600 RPM,” he said in his typical flight instructor’s voice, then: “Come to 3-3-0 and let’s see how much the current plays with us.”

“Got it.”

“Okay…see how it’s pushing us to starboard? Let make 3-2-5 and bring the revs up to 1800.”

He watched as she adjusted the throttle and made the course change, then he looked at the sonar readout and the plotter for a moment. “You’re doing great…okay, fall off a little more…okay, you got it…”

And then, just like that, they were through.

“Moorings in here?” she asked.

“Nope.”

“Anywhere, in particular, you want to drop the hook?”

“Depends. If there’s room there’s kind of a waterfall all the way in. Nice sound to sleep to.”

She nodded her head; smiled a little, too. “Did I see a store back there?”

“Yeah. If you run out of food it’s okay in a pinch.”

“Expensive?”

“Man.”

“How far back does this thing go?”

“Not quite three-quarters of a mile,” he said, signaling Ted to get the anchors ready. “Keep an eye out for anchor lines…so don’t cut too close to other boats…I’m gonna get the Zodiac ready.”

+

Once the anchors were set he came back to the swim platform and tied off the Zodiac, then he watched her as she looked around the boat, wondering why he’d been so taken by her earlier that morning.

Was it just because he was lonely?  Whatever, it was his choice and he was in it now. Duty-honor-country wasn’t at work here, not like with Babs? His father had taught him about those things, but then again his parents had lived kind of an idyllic life – at least compared to what he and Barbara had endured…

“Endured…?” he said, unaware he was speaking aloud.

“What’s that?” Melissa asked, now standing on the aft deck – looking down at him still sitting in the inflatable.

“Oh, sorry, I was just thinking.”

“What did you endure? My turn behind the wheel?”

He chuckled at that. “No, not at all. I was impressed, really. You’re quite the helmsman.”

“Well, okay. Now what?”

“Excuse me?” he replied.

“You gonna run me over to the beach, or you want me to swim for it?”

“Water’s kind of cool for that, I think.” He looked at her for the longest time, then he sighed.

“You look…perplexed,” she said – perplexed.

“I’m not sure I know how to say this, but the odds of you finding a place to stay around here are somewhere between slim and none, and I don’t suppose you’re carrying a tent and sleeping bag in that duffel. So, what are your plans?”

“Get ashore, find a road and start walking. Something always comes along.”

He shook his head. “Not here. The only roads are back by the village, and there aren’t many places to sleep on this part of the island…unless you’ve got a home lined up.”

“Okay…so what do you suggest?”

“Stay here,” he said, his voice lost somewhere on the quiet side of hope.

“Here?” she replied. “With you?”

“Yup.”

“Okay,” she said, looking at him again.

And he felt like a tremendous weight had been lifted from his shoulders, and that puzzled him.

She came down to the swim platform then. “Can I give you a hand?” she asked.

He turned and looked around the cove…it had emptied out earlier that morning after they’d departed for Nancy’s. He assumed people had seen the break in the weather and pulled anchor – and now Altair’s crew had almost the entire cove to themselves.

When he turned to her he saw she’d taken off her shoes and was sitting on the platform, and she was just now dangling her feet in the water.

“Yikes…this IS cold,” she said, surprised. “Like Maine kind of cold.”

“This is not the Gulf of Mexico…that’s for sure.”

“What happened to your mom and dad?”

“Hmm? Oh, they passed about, oh, Mom went first. I think six years ago. Dad passed a few months later. Broken heart, I guess. Couldn’t live without her, so I think he chose not to.”

“He wasn’t sick?”

“Nope. He just went to sleep and didn’t wake up. That’s the way to go, I reckon.”

“They were that close?”

“Closer than forever.”

“What?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know how else to put it.”

“You think about them a lot?”

He nodded. “Yeah, I do. I miss them. I – miss – what they stood for.”

“You mean, like…politics?”

“Good Lord, no…just the opposite. They were diametrically opposed politically, from the very beginning, I think, but that didn’t seem to matter. Not to them, anyway.”

“Dad?” Ted said, coming back to the aft rail. “You through with the Zodiac?”

“For now. You two want to go exploring?”

“Yeah. Is there enough gas?”

“Yup. Two gallons, at least. That ought to be good for a couple of hours at low speed. Grab a hand unit and some water, maybe some sunscreen too.”

Ted nodded and left to get stuff from below, and Melissa pulled her feet out of the water and shivered a little. He found himself staring at them, at how white they’d become.

“You better get some socks on,” he said.

“Oh, they’ll warm up.”

“You say so, but don’t be surprised if you catch a chill. It’s cold and damp, not what your body is used to…”

He changed places with Ted a few minutes later, then they watched as Ted and Tracy took off across the cove, headed for the little waterfall, and as he watched them go he felt kind of odd. Like happy and sad, at the same time.

“How long have those two known each other,” she asked.

“I think this is the fourth day.”

“What? Really?”

“We had dinner at a restaurant in Vancouver, near the marina we were tied up at. She was our waitress, and Ted kind of fell for her.”

“What does that mean…‘kind of’?”

“Ted’s kind of confused right now. He’s been like a heat-seeking missile, dead-set on becoming a priest for as long as he’s been able to recite the Lord’s prayer…”

“Oh?”

“Yeah. ‘Oh.’ I’ve been picking up little signals that something happened this past year, but I’m not prying. Not yet, anyway. That said, he’s of a mind right now to meet a girl and do the deed.”

“He’s a…”

“Indeed he is. By design, not chance, but, like I said, something changed this past year. Something changed inside him.”

“And she’s the first girl he’s…”

“Yup,” he sighed. “I think you’ve got the picture.”

“I don’t like it. There’s something really off about her.”

“How about heroin and a pathological liar. Is that a good combination?”

She stared at him, then shook her head. “Why?”

“He’s going to be 21 in August. He’ll do the right thing.”

“He might. I’m not sure I’d be comfortable with her in the picture. Did you get her junk off the boat?”

“Yup.”

“You say she’s from Australia?”

“That’s what’s her passport says, yes.”

She nodded. “Think her passport is here, on board?”

“I don’t know. I guess so.”

“Mind if I take a look?”

He shook his head. “I’d rather not break those boundaries, if you don’t mind. What are you? A cop?”

She shook her head. “Nope. I work in the prosecutors’ office, with the DAs office, in Atlanta; for the most part, I work sex crimes.”

“What…like rape…stuff like that?”

“Yeah, stuff like that,” she said, looking him in the eye.

“Interesting.”

“Interesting? Why do say that?”

“My mom was very religious when she was younger. She became interested in social work, worked with victims of sexual assault.”

“When was that?”

“Back in the 50s, I think. At least, that’s when she started. She kept at it ‘til Dad retired and they moved to Florida.”

“She was a little ahead of her time, don’t you think? Weren’t too many women back in the 50s working with those kinds of people. Do you know why she developed an interest in that work?”

He shook his head. “No, not really. It was was of those things she never talked about.”

Melissa nodded understanding. “It’s usually for personal reasons.”

“Oh? You too?”

She kept nodding. “Yeah, you could say that.”

He looked at her, then turned away for a minute – his eyes closed.

And she looked at him closely just then, not sure what she was seeing, then she leaned over, put a hand on his shoulder. “Are you some sort of an empath?” she asked.

“I don’t know…I’m not even sure I believe such a thing is possible…”

“Oh, it’s possible, alright.”

“And?”

“I can see it all over your face. You read people, don’t you? I mean, read ‘em like a book.”

He shrugged. “I don’t know. Sometimes things are clear to me.”

“Things?”

“People.”

“What about Tracy? What could you see about her?”

“Trouble. All kinds of trouble.”

“Such as?”

“The things she told us about her life seem out of place, but it’s her…”

“Her eyes.”

“Exactly. Something in her eyes.”

“Something…?”

“Dishonest.”

“Dishonest?” she said wonderingly. “How about…dangerous?” she added.

“I thought so when I first listened to her talk about her family, her parents. Now I’m not so sure.”

“First impressions are usually the right impressions, you know?”

He nodded, looked at her anew. “You brought cameras, lenses?”

“Yup.”

“Got a good telephoto.”

“I do. But I don’t think we have a way to get to shore right now.”

He scrunched-up his lips, then shrugged.

“Maybe you just wanted to be alone with me out here on your boat?” she asked – quietly.

“You know…? I think I’m too tired to do much of anything this afternoon, not without taking a nap first. I hate to leave you, but I really am tired.”

“Can you show me where to put my bag? I’ll need to unpack a few things.”

He hesitated, then shook his head a little. “Follow me,” he said, and just aft of his stateroom was a little office – that also had a small bunk against the hull, “Be it ever so humble,” he mumbled. “Sorry.”

“Kind of small,” she sighed. “Where do you bunk out?”

“Forward,” he said, feeling very sleepy now.

“You look beat. What time did you get up?”

“Two, two thirty. That’s my usual, though,” he said as he stumbled to his berth. “You mind if I take a rest for a while?”

“Be my guest.”

He lay down – and was asleep before his head hit the pillow…yet he was aware something was wrong.

His dreams were fevered, and the pain started then.

+++++

The police called Elizabeth, asked her to come to the hospital. They told her to hurry and James drove her.

A detective from the state police met her when she arrived, told her the victim, a young Chinese girl, had been found – dead – south of town, her throat cut, evidence of anal penetration – semen, the policeman said, unsure of himself around this lady – and that the girl had never talked.

“Why do you need me?” Elizabeth wanted to know. “I’m not connected with the police.”

“Well, the problem is a little unusual, Ma’am. We found a truck nearby, a box truck, nineteen-footer…and it was full of Chinese gals. None of ‘em speakin’ much, but one of ‘em said they were going to New York. They got jobs there. And they just come from China, on a boat.”

“How many girls, officer?”

“As best I can tell, something like ninety.”

“Ninety? In a nineteen foot truck?”

“A-yup. Packed like oysters in a tin can. Smell about the same, too.”

“Isn’t this a problem for the immigration people?”

“Probably so, a-yup, but you see…I think there’s something else goin’ on, and I heard you was good at talkin’ to folks. So, I was wonderin’ if, maybe, you could talk to these gals some, help us get a handle on where these folks is headed. Think you could?”

The detective helped her find the conference room where the girls were being held, and when he opened the door the sight she beheld was like nothing she had ever seen. Two hours later she was as angry as she’d ever been in her life – and she knew, too, that her life would never be the same.

+++++

This chapter (c) 2017 | adrian leverkühn | abw | adrianleverkuhnwrites.com | just a little bit of story-tellin’

Corcovado + Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars 3

corcovado 3

III

He looked at the chart plotter again, checked their depth carefully as he motored slowly into Squirrel Cove, a convoluted inlet on the southeast side of Cortes Island – and deep inside Desolation Sound. It was almost seven-thirty, and while the sun was still up, somewhere up there behind the clouds, they’d been at it all day – setting sail at four in the morning and pushing-on through one heavy rainstorm after another. Now, with the end of their journey at hand, visibility was down to fifty feet and at ferocious wind, right out of the south at sixty knots, was pushing Altair towards the rocks on the right side of the narrow, westernmost inlet. Tracy looked terrified; Ted looked bored. He knew his father, knew he was enjoying this, the extra challenge at the end of a long, hard day…

A violent gust rocked the boat and he turned Altair into the wind a little, though she rolled more than thirty degrees right for a moment – and Tracy shrieked her displeasure then, now, suddenly, beyond terrified. Yet Altair stood up again and he added power, his eyes now fixed on the chart plotter…and the way ahead.

“Another hundred yards or so and we’ll be out of this wind,” he said for Tracy’s benefit – just as another gust slammed into Altair, sending her almost on her beam.

“Jesus, Dad, the wind gauge hit ninety…!” Ted called out, but he was still focused on the rocky ledge about fifteen meters ahead – because these gusts were pushing him right for it…

He waited for the wind to settle a little, then slipped the transmission into reverse and backed down hard, his rudder to starboard a little, and as Altair’s bow pointed away from the ledge he put the transmission in forward again and gunned the engine, kicking the old girl with his spurs on one more time. A minute later they were inside the sheltering cove, and the wind, just as he said it would, fell off to the gentlest breeze imaginable.

“Get the eighty pound ready first,” he said, quietly, to his son, and Ted ran off to the bow to get the anchor ready to drop. “How you doin’, kiddo?” he added, looking at the disbelief in Tracy’s eyes.

“How did you do that?” she asked.

“Do what?”

“Get us in here…?”

“Badly, I’m afraid. I should have anticipated those last two gusts.”

“Badly?”

“Yeah. Sorry about that…that really could’ve gone smoother,” he sighed, but his eyes were on the plotter again. He overlaid radar on the display and he could see the contours of the cove now, and every boat anchored inside, too, even though visibility in the heavy rain was still under fifty meters. He changed range scales and fiddled with the gain setting, knocking back the rain-clutter, then he saw a likely place near the far east end of the cove.

Ted had the eighty pounder on the roller now, ready to go, and he waved him back to the cockpit. “No reason for you to stand out there,” he said as his cold, wet son clambered back into the cockpit.

“How far?”

“‘Bout a half mile, and I don’t think this rain is gonna let up anytime soon.”

“What’s the forecast look like?”

“More of the same, like maybe two, three more days.”

“Swell,” Ted grumbled. “Just what the doctor ordered.”

“It’s pretty here,” Tracy sighed, peering into the murk. “Nothing but trees…”

“Oh,” he said, grinning, “there’s more here than meets the eye.”

“Like?”

“You’ll see,” Ted added, though he was grinning now, too.

“What’s the big mystery,” she whined.

He looked at the plotter, confirmed there were no wayward currents pushing him around inside the cove, then he looked up, checked the radar against the boats he saw looming out of the mist and rain just ahead. “About three hundred yards, Ted.”

“I’m gonna get another fleece, my gloves, too.”

He powered back a little, turned away from a group of boats anchored along the south side of the cove, then noted several were rafted-up together, forming a sort of floating community out here in the middle of nowhere…then Ted was bounding out into the rain again. He picked his spot and throttled down, let Altair drift to a long, arcing stop, then he toggled the windlass and let the anchor down…slowly…and then, when Ted gave him the signal, he backed down until he felt the anchor set.

He shut down the engine, marveled at the quiet of this place once again – even as he listened to the wind through the pines and rain pelting the cockpit enclosure…then he noticed Tracy looking at him.

“Does anything bother you?” she asked.

“What?”

“That storm…the rocks…you could’ve lost your boat, maybe our lives, but it was like you were, well, on heroin. Nothing seems to upset you…”

“People get in trouble when they panic. When they stop thinking the problem through, when they just start acting. That’s probably the first thing a student pilot learns, too, by the way.”

“So, that’s it? You run into things like this all the time, so it’s like…just no big deal? Is that what you’re saying?”

“Yup.”

“What happens if you screw up?”

“People die.”

+++++

He opened his eyes, looked around. Navy gray everywhere, and ductwork…the thrum of air conditioning and heavy machinery buried deep within the bowels of the living, breathing ship. A medic of some sort fiddling with his bandaged leg, then adjusting an IV hanging from a tree over his face.

“Oh…you’re awake…”

“If this isn’t a dream,” he replied, “I am.”

“No, sir, Lieutenant, no dreams allowed in here.”

“Where am I?”

“Back on the Roosevelt, sir. Docs operated on both legs, and turned out that snake’s venom was pretty mild, like maybe he didn’t get a good strike or somethin’, but I’ll go get the doc…”

He nodded, then looked down at his legs and shook his head. “Fuck,” was about all he could think to say, then he just stared ahead until a man in blood-splattered green scrubs came up to his gurney.

“Guess you had a helluva night, Lieutenant.”

“What happened?”

“Beats me. By the time the Seals got to you, well, you were out cold and seriously fucked up. Good thing you powdered that wound on your right leg…that shard got close to, well, let’s just say you had a close call and we’ll leave it at that.”

“And?”

“We still don’t know what kind of snake got you. One of the Seals got it with an M16, brought back some pieces so we could ID the thing. I think what saved you was, well, your vascular network down there was already pretty compromised, so the venom just couldn’t spread. It’s responding to anti-histamines so it’s probably a hemotoxin, so it wasn’t a cobra or something like that.”

“When can I get back to flight status?”

“Well, that’s the good part. No fractures and no major muscle damage, so assuming no infection I’d give it about two months…”

“Two…MONTHS?”

“Believe me, Lieutenant, when you get on your feet again you’ll realize how close a call you really had…”

“Can I go back to my quarters now…” he asked, clearly perturbed.

“You’re leaving for Germany on the next COD,” the physician added, “then stateside.”

The squad CO, Dan Green, came in a few minutes after the doc left, and Green looked at his leg for a while, then came closer. “Close one, Jim. You remember what happened?”

“First SAM – went wide right, the second went just aft. What about the Sukhois? Did I get ‘em?”

“Yeah, you sure did. Nothing got airborne, and the base is history. We got some Seals in there to secure the place this morning. It’s a done deal now, anyway. Saddam’s people are bugging out, disappearing into the hills, and their air force is, well, they split too, flew to Iran.”

“Iran? I thought…”

“Everyone thought they’d go to Jordan. They didn’t.”

“So, what? They’re just going to sit this one out?”

“Guess none of them felt like being martyred this week, if you know what I mean.”

“I guess, yeah.”

“So, they tell me you’re headed to Wiesbaden?”

“Can you talk to someone, Dan? No broken bones…shit…I ought to be ready to fly in a few days.”

Green laughed at that. “Hell, Jim, this thing is going to be over in a few days, for us, anyway. They’re already talking about moving a couple of the carriers back out to the Indian Ocean, maybe to the Med. Seems like Saddam is getting ready to shoot off some Scuds, and the thinking is he might try to hit Israel.”

“Too bad for him if he does.”

“Yeah, anyway, by the time they get that leg fit for duty we’ll probably be back at Pearl. I wouldn’t sweat it, but if it heats up again you’ll be ready to go. You’re a short-timer, aren’t you? You weren’t thinking of extending?”

“I wasn’t, until this thing. My hitch is up in June.”

“Call it four months, then? Well, who knows. If we’re still here in a few weeks I’ll put in a request. About all I can do, Jim.”

“Thanks, Skip.”

“Yeah. Well, some of the ground-pounders wanted to talk to you…”

“The Seals? Great…!”

And with that, five men came into the compartment.

“Hey, L-T!” their CO said as he led his men into the little compartment. That was some mean shootin’ you did out there…”

“Shooting?”

“That cat. You nailed it, right in the throat. Dropped him like a sack of potatoes. Pretty good for a 1911 – at that range, anyway.”

“Cat?”

“Yeah, that spotted thing. Looks like a leopard, only it’s not. Some kind of swamp-cat…but man, you got him…”

“All I remember is the snake…coiled up by my feet…”

“Yeah, he was still there when we got to you. Hernandez got him, emptied a whole fuckin’ magazine into his fat ass, too.”

He looked around at the Seal team and nodded. “Thanks, men. Appreciate your laying it out there for me.”

He heard their chorus of “You bets…” and “No problemos,” then they were gone, Green too, and he felt himself coming down hard and fast now.

“Germany…?” he sighed. “Well, at least I can call the folks from there, and Babs, let ‘em know I’m okay…”

Then the throbbing started.

By the time he arrived in Germany his right leg was splotchy blue and the docs told him some kind of bug had gotten into the tissues of his lower leg…something from that swampy marsh…

“A bug?”

“Yeah. They get in through the wound, find their way into the space between the muscle and your skin. They multiply like crazy in there.”

“And?”

“We try antibiotics, three or four of ‘em, over the next 24 hours.”

“We try? And what happens if they don’t work?”

And the doc shook his head. “Let’s not go there right now…okay?”

+++++

Tracy was shivering and Ted was almost as white as snow when they came in from setting the anchors, so, as much as he didn’t want to, he fired up the generator then turned on the cabin heaters. He set about making dinner then, though he kept his eyes on the weather every few minutes. The forecast was for almost freezing temps overnight, the mid-30s, anyway – and that was for Vancouver! – yet three days from now sunny and in the 70s.

“What a roller coaster…” he sighed as he turned to the chicken in the skillet.

“What’s for chow?” Ted asked as he came out of the aft cabin.

“Lettuce wraps and that coconut soup you like.”

“Ah…nothing like Thai on a rainy night.”

“You’re cooking Thai food?” Tracy asked. “On a boat?”

“Why not?” he replied. “It’s not that difficult, and it doesn’t take long.”

“Lettuce wraps?” she added. “Really?”

“Sure. I washed the lettuce and made the soup this afternoon. All I have to do is grind the chicken and put the soup in the microwave.”

“The microwave? You have one of those, too?”

He shook his head – again – then turned to the stove – again. He added lemongrass and basil, and finally one crushed cardamom pod, then he turned down the heat and let the chicken simmer for a while. “Tea’s ready, if anyone wants some.”

“Don’t tell me,” Tracy sneered. “Fresh chai?”

“Yup.”

“This is ridiculous,” she sighed. “This is like a floating restaurant…”

“You’d rather I opened a can of dog food for you?” he asked, trying to keep calm.

“I just don’t get it,” the girl said. “Getting away from it all…”

“Doesn’t mean I have to deprive myself of the things I like to eat, Tracy. You forget. This is my home, and the idea of living like a backpacker doesn’t appeal to me all that much.”

She nodded. “Yeah…I get that…”

Ted was rummaging through a pantry about then, and he stood up, beaming, holding forth a can: “Dad! Look! Pork and beans, with weenies, even! Trace? Want some?”

She sneered again. “No thanks.”

Ted looked at his old man – and winked.

+

She helped with the dishes, and he let her know he appreciated the help, then he went to the chart table and looked over the batteries.

“Gonna have to run the generator all night?” Ted asked.

“With this water temp the fridge and freezer won’t draw too much, but the heater? That won’t run off batteries.”

“So? We’ve got good blankets…”

“Yeah? At 36 degrees and with three bodies in here there will be enough condensation on the ceiling in the morning to take a shower with…”

“Dad? We’re like, ya know, laying down a smoke-screen out there. The fumes are overwhelming.”

“So?”

“Well, do the words ‘pristine’ and ‘wilderness’ ring any bells?”

“Does freezing your ass off all night mean anything to you? Then dealing with an unholy mess in the morning?”

“I vote for warm,” Tracy said, tossing her two cents into the up. “I kind of like warm.”

“Me too,” he said. “Don’t you just love democratic systems of governance, Paco?”

Ted sighed, shook his head. “I like warm, too. I also hate turning this harbor into a cesspool. Like, we came here to get away from all that crap?”

“Right, Paco. Who’s up for a movie?”

“Movies?” Tracy said…and he sighed – then turned the generator to AUTO and flipped the heater to STAND-BY – and complete silence enveloped Altair…and the entire cove, for that matter.

And moments later he heard cheers and applause coming from all the boats anchored around Altair, and he shook his head as he retreated into his cabin.

+

He slept late – ‘til three a.m., anyway – then he got up – shivering – and turned on the generator, then the heater. He put on coffee and took his shower, then fired up the chart table and looked over the current weather. “Wind still out of the south, at forty, forty-five, and rain all day. A high of fifty-five? Well, well, well…sounds like a good day to read.”

He decided to check on Ted and poked his head in the aft cabin – and saw Tracy curled up by his son’s side.

He closed the door gently and tip-toed to the galley, trying not to grin, then he put on some hot water to make that tea-like crud Tracy was using to help back off the heroin. He got out “her” cup and added the recommended amount and let it steep for a while, then he went back to her room and woke her.

“Is it time already?” she asked, and he nodded.

He went back to the galley and a few minutes later she came out, looked at him getting ready to cook breakfast and she walked up behind him, put her arms around him.

“Good morning,” she said, then she disengaged and walked to the main table in the saloon and sat – as usual, tucking her bare feet under her thighs.

“Sleep well?” he asked, handing her the mug.

She looked at him and grinned. “I wish I’d known he was a virgin,” she said, her voice almost a whisper. “I’d have baked him a cake or something…”

He shrugged. “All things being equal, I’m kind of glad it was you.”

She teared up at that, then turned away. “Me?” she said a minute later. “The lying heroin addict?”

“Sorry. That’s not the girl I know. I know this girl named Tracy, the one who meets problems head-on, and doesn’t quit.”

“That’s not the girl I know.”

He shrugged again, then smiled at her. “Looks like were in for a long, rainy day. You like to read?”

“Depends…”

“Well, I’ve got a few books stowed for a rainy day…”

“You said you have movies?”

“Yup. On my laptop. Play ‘em through that iMac over there,” he said, pointing.

“Do you have any oldies?”

“Oldies? How old does a movie have to be before it’s an oldie? The first Star Wars, maybe?”

She grinned at that. “No, I mean old…like Elvis kind of old.”

“Ah. Well, I do have Paradise, Hawaii Style, if that counts?”

“Which one’s that?”

“He plays the fired airline pilot who comes home…”

“That figures,” she said, grinning. “I bet you have The High and The Mighty, too.” And he started whistling John Wayne’s iconic theme at that, and she broke out laughing. “My God, you do have a one-track mind, don’t you?”

“You could say that.”

“I’ve been meaning to ask…what happened to your leg? The right one, there?” she said, pointing.

He turned away from her question, went back to the galley. “Just a bad night,” he said as he pulled out a skillet. “A bad night, a long time ago.”

“Was it serious?”

“No, not really.”

“You don’t want to talk about it?”

“No, not really.”

“Okay. Can I help?”

“I’m just gonna whip up some breakfast. You hungry?”

“Actually, yes. Want me to wake up Ted?”

“Just see if he wants to get up yet…”

She walked past, brushed up against his back as she passed and a chill went up his back, and he leaned forward, put his outstretched hands on the counter and closed his eyes, trying to remember the last time he’d been so attracted to another human being…

+++++

“Hey, Pumpkin,” he said as he came into their apartment. He was carrying his flight bag in one hand, his car keys in the other, and he could hear Barbara working away in the apartment’s tiny kitchen, so he put his bag down and walked in. He could smell bourbon and the realization unsettled him – if only because it was not quite lunch time.

“How was your night?” she asked.

“Long.”

“Ben Chambers called this morning. He wants you to call-in as soon as you get settled.”

“Oh? Did he say anything?”

“Nope. You want to grab a shower? Lunch will be ready in about ten minutes…”

“Yeah. I’d better,” he said, thinking he might have to run back out to the training center after lunch. He walked into the bedroom and the hair on the back of his neck stood on end. Something didn’t feel right, he thought. Something was – off.

He shook it off and hopped in the shower, washing away the night – and the sudden panicky vibration gripped him again, then he dried and got dressed…in a hurry. She had huevos rancheros and fresh guacamole on the table and he dug in. “Jeez, darlin’ – you’re getting better and better at these…”

“Thanks, Jim. Glad you like ‘em.”

“Well, I love you, Pumpkin. It’s sweet of you to do this for me. When do you go in?”

“Three to midnight again. You off tomorrow?”

“Three days off, then I start Atlanta to CDG – for three months, anyway.”

“Paris…? Think we could spend a long weekend there?”

“You know it, babe.”

She sat beside him, leaned over and kissed him on the cheek, then she smiled. “That could be fun,” she added…a little too suggestively.

“Where would you like to stay?”

“I don’t care…somewhere old, away from… No. Maybe by Notre Dame. Are there any hotels over by that part of town?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know. I can ask one of the guys when I start…”

“Could you?”

“Sure. You need help with the dishes?”

“No…you’d better go make your call,” she said, and he nodded, went to their bedroom again, and again, the hair on the back of his neck shot up in electric warning.

He shook it off, called Chambers’ office at the training center and held while someone went to find him.

“Jim? You haven’t put on your pajamas yet, have you?”

“No, sir. What’s up?”

“An opportunity, I think, if you’re up to it?”

“Oh?”

“Listen up. Word is headquarters is dead set on unloading most of our widebodies, including the L-1011s. I don’t know what the timeline is yet, but even if we keep the TriStars around you’re way back on the seniority list. It could be ten years before you get to the left seat, and then what? You make it just as we dump the type? Then what?”

“Jeez, Ben. When’d you hear this?”

“Couple days ago. Look, I know you’re getting ready to start this week, so here goes. We’re getting our first 752s in this year, and from what I hear management is really going to get behind this hull. I’m thinking, with your experience you could make captain in two, maybe three years, and the 57 is Delta’s future. You hearin’ me?”

“I am. And, what’s the punchline?”

“Our first school starts in three weeks. You can start the Paris run as scheduled, put in your app and wait, but I think they’ll take you.”

“What do I need to do?”

“I’d get down here pronto and get the paperwork in.”

“Like, this afternoon?”

“Like yesterday, Jim. The word’s out. Tomorrow will be too late for the first group of FOs.”

“I’ll be there in an hour,” he said as he hung up the phone, and when he turned around Barbara was standing in the doorway, glowering at him.

And that’s when he noticed the used condom on the floor by her shoes. He looked at it for the longest time, then he picked it up and carried it right past her on his way to the bathroom. He flushed it down the toilet, washed his hands then left – without saying a word to her.

He missed the smile on her face as the door closed behind him.

+++++

“Two days of this rain is enough, Paco. I’ve had it. You ready to run down to Nancy’s, grab some chow?”

“Oh, man, I thought you’d never ask!”

“Is Nancy’s that place you two keep talking about?” Tracy asked.

“Nancy’s is only the best place for breakfast on earth,” Ted sighed, suddenly almost salivating.

“And what that really means,” he added, “is that he’s tired of my cooking.”

“I’m not,” Tracy said, smiling.

“Well, I am,” he said. “I could use a break. You ready to pull up the hook?”

“You wanna leave now?” Ted asked.

“Yup. Maybe we can get there before the early morning rush.”

“The early morning rush?” Ted croaked. “In Lund, B.C.?”

“You see all these boats anchored here, Paco? Well, there are probably two hundred more over in Gorge Harbor, and in about an hour they’re all gonna wake up and have the exact same thought – at the exact same time. My-oh-my, but a fresh cinnamon roll over at Nancy’s sure sounds good!”

“Alright, alright…let me grab my gloves, Captain Bligh.”

“Good. I’ll warm up the diesel.” He preheated the water lines and flipped on the spreader lights, then went to the cockpit and started the engine, watching the gauges as it warmed. When Ted pulled up on the trip-line and gave him the thumbs-up, he ran the windlass, pulling the anchor, and it’s chain, up onto deck, and he verified their position on the plotter while he turned to leave the cove.

Light rain and a wind-driven, four-foot chop greeted them outside, and he set his course to 1-5-6 and engaged the auto-pilot, then went topsides to roll out the headsails. When both were pulling he and Ted raised the main, then he ducked below and fell off the wind a little, letting the sails fill, then he fiddled with the heading on the AP for a while, until a gust hit and Altair heeled over dramatically.

“Whoa!” Tracy shouted, grabbing the cockpit coaming and holding on for dear life. “Where’d that come from?”

He chuckled. “Where did what come from?”

She scowled as she looked at him, then she smiled too. “It is kind of fun, isn’t it?”

“Kind of.” With her port-side rail over far enough to ship water in the troughs, Altair bit into the wind and began racing south towards Lund, and still the sun was nowhere to be seen. The sky was simply sifting through shades of gray as night turned to day, and the water looked impossibly black out here…like India ink. He saw the lights of a fishing boat ahead, and a few channel markers were flashing in the darkness, but there was almost nothing else…

“Dad! Logs!”

He saw them then – almost invisible in the rolling waves – a half dozen trees had broken loose from their raft and were adrift mid-channel, so he fell off the wind and they picked their way through what turned out to be several hundred fifty-to-seventy-foot-long timbers, knocked free from their rafts by the storm, so he did what he thought best and called the hazard in to the Canadian Coast Guard…

It took two hours to make the run down to Lund after that, and he was more than ready for a cinnamon roll, too, by the time they tied off at the nearby fuel dock. He was stressed now, afraid of hitting an errant log and holing the hull, maybe losing his home.

“Stayin’ long?” the owner, a very old man asked, and when he pointed to Nancy’s the old guy just smiled and nodded. “Take your time. No crowds ‘til nine or so. See many logs out?”

“Yeah…hundreds…”

“I heard some guy called ‘em in to the Coast Guard. That’s a laugh…”

“A laugh?”

“They’re too busy running down the druggies to do much about it. Besides, happens every summer up here…”

“Oh? I’ve been up here a few times, never seen it so bad.”

“They’ve been cuttin’ trees like nothin’ I’ve seen before, and all winter, too. China, I guess. They’re building like crazy over there – and usin’ our lumber to do it, I reckon.”

“Lot of drug running up here?”

“Non-stop. Word is most of it’s comin’ from North Korea, too. Chinese heroin, I’ve heard, for the most part. That’s kind of funny, don’t you think?”

“China has made an art out of playing both sides of the street – for a long time.”

“Playin’ us the fool, too, and laughing all the way to the bank.”

He shook his head then went about topping off both tanks, but he turned to Ted then and told them to go on up and get a table.

“Want a roll?” Ted asked.

“Yup…”

“Need water?” the old guy asked. “The hose is right here…I can watch the pump if you want to top off your tanks…”

+

He was chilled – and soaked to the bone – by the time he made it inside Nancy’s, and he made it to the table just as his cinnamon roll arrived.

“Coffee, sir?” their waitress asked.

“Yup. A big one, French roast if you’ve got it. You know what? Make mine a latte, if you can.”

She nodded, smiled at him and walked off to the counter.

“Man,” Ted began, “that’s some snotty weather, Dad…I don’t know about this…”

“Not the weather that bugs me, Paco. It’s all the wood out there…”

“Wouldn’t they just bounce off?” Tracy asked. “It’s just wood…?”

“Maybe, if you hit one just right, but that wood is soaked with water, almost as hard as iron. Odds are, I think, a strike would knock a hole in the hull. A big one.” Her eyes went wide as she realized what they’d just been through, how close they’d come to a real emergency, then she looked away – out to sea. “Talking to the guy at the dock,” he continued, “he says this is the worst summer for rafts breaking up, ever. Been a lot of incidents in the main channel, too.”

“What do we do?” Ted asked, his mouth scrunched up into a lopsided frown.

“Well, for one, I think when we leave we’ll head back slowly, only on days when the visibility is good, and only in daylight. Next…we’ll have to set a bow watch.”

“Oh…joygasm…” Ted sighed, knowing what that meant.

“We won’t head back until this weather clears, and it’s warmed up a bit…man, these cinnamon rolls haven’t changed one bit, have they?”

“I just saw a yummy looking bagels and lox,” Tracy said. “I’m gonna get that.”

He looked at her, wondered just how much she could put away. She’d been eating non-stop for the last two days, nauseated if she didn’t eat, and he felt for her. Again…

“Yeah, it looked pretty bad,” Ted added.

“Bad?” he asked.

“Bad…sick…that means they really kick ass these days, Dad.”

“Ah. Well, good to know I have a translator.”

The door opened and a girl came in – a woman, really, he noted. Short, squat, almost soft looking, and she peeled off her rain gear – then turned and shook them off just outside the door. She came back in and hung them on a hook, then took a microfiber cloth and cleaned her eyeglasses as she walked to the counter – and he found he couldn’t take his eyes off her.

The place was empty now – but for the four of them and the staff, and he wondered what had gotten her out so early. He watched her order coffee at the counter then she turned and looked right at him – right in the eye – and he couldn’t turn away.

Red hair, white skin set in a nebula of freckles, and even across the room he could see her eyes were deep blue – then the woman walked right up to their table…!

“You came in on the blue boat, right?” she asked – and her accent was pure Georgia, thick as molasses.

He was watching her lips, entranced by the shape of them as she spoke, then her words registered. “That’s right. What brings you out this early in the morning?”

She looked puzzled hearing that, shook her head. “I was trying to get over to Cortes Island,” she said, the question she wanted to ask hanging in the air, apparent.

“Oh? What’s over there?”

And again she shook her head, the tone of his question obviously unsettling. “Seals, for the most part. I wanted to take pictures of seals over there, because I’ve heard it’s lovely at dusk.”

“It might be,” Ted interjected, “if the sun came out every once in a while.”

She laughed a little at that. “Yes. Nice weather so far.”

“How long have you got?” he asked.

“Excuse me?” she replied.

“To spend on the island?”

“I was hoping to make it a day trip, but it seems that’s impossible from here.”

“Yup,” he added. “About a two-hour trip. From here, anyway.”

“You’ve been?”

“Yup. We’ve been anchored at Squirrel Cove…”

“Really! That’s just where I wanted to go. The pictures I’ve seen of the area are really just amazing.”

“We had fifty-foot visibility,” Ted began, a little sarcastically. “Great for looking at, what, Dad? What could we see?”

“Trees. Once.”

“And a whole lot of fog,” Ted added.

Her coffee came and she took it, still standing by their table.

“Would you care to join us?” he asked.

“You wouldn’t mind?”

“Not at all.”

“So, you see, I wanted to get to the island, walk around, take pictures, then get back here, to the hotel…”

“I thought there was a boat to Whaletown…?”

“There is, but not for two days.”

Not too many places to stay over there, by that cove,” he added. A few guest cottages, but they’re…”

“Well, it’s too early in the season. Not open yet.”

“So,” he said, then he paused, thought over the options running through his mind, “you could hop over with us. We’re headed back after breakfast, we’ll probably stay for a few more days, so you could look for a place to bunk out over there, then hitch a ride back with us.”

“You wouldn’t mind?”

“No, of course not.”

“When are you leaving?”

“As soon as we have some chow.”

“I ask as I’ll need to go pack my things and check-out…”

“Why don’t you sit down and have some breakfast. We’ll help with your bags…”

And when she looked at him this time the still, unsettled look in her eyes rattled him. “I don’t mean to be forward,” he added. “Probably just be easier that way.”

She nodded her head then looked at the dock where Altair was tied-off. “Is she an Island Packet?” she asked.

“That’s right. How’d you know?”

“I’ve had a couple. Last was a 325 I kept down at Destin.”

“I hate that harbor entrance,” he said, lost in a memory. “When the wind picks up it’s snarky.”

Now it was her turn to take a deeper look – at him. “You’ve been there more than once, I take it?”

“My folks retired there. He kept a Tashiba 40 down there by the pass.”

“Oh? Nice boats, beautiful interiors.”

He nodded. “Yup.”

“That’s what got you into sailing? Your parents?”

“I guess so, yes, but I was always interested, even as a kid…”

He looked at Ted just then, looked at Ted looking at this stranger, then back at him. And his son was grinning, or trying not to grin…and that got to him…as in – just what kind of signals am I putting out?

“So,” the woman asked. “This is your first boat?”

“Yup. Probably my last, too.”

“Really? Why do you…”

“Well, it’s home now. And I’m not big on moving.”

“You’re full time? A liveaboard?”

“Seems to be the general consensus,” he said, grinning.

“What do you do?”

“I fly, for Delta.”

That seemed to take her back a notch, too. “No kidding?”

“No kidding.”

“My husband flew for them…I mean, my ex-husband flies for them?”

“Oh? What’s his name?”

“Terry Goodway…”

And he laughed at that. “Small world,” he sighed. “He flew with me a bunch when he first got his type. What’s he up to these days.”

“I don’t know, besides hanging out with his brand new, nineteen-year-old wife.”

And he laughed again. “You’re kiddin’ – right?” But he could tell by the expression on her face that no, she wasn’t kidding. Not in the slightest. “I’m sorry,” he stumbled, “but I don’t recall your name.”

“Melissa.”

“Jim,” he said, reaching out with his right hand.

She took it, but at the same time added: “And let me guess. Your wife got the house, and you got stuck with the boat…?”

Ted bristled. “Not quite,” his son snarled, his voice dripping with malice. “Dad gave her the house, and he took the boat.”

“Oh, really?” Melissa said, her disbelief plain to see.

“Really!” Ted said – as he pushed his chair back and walked outside.

“Wow, sorry…” the woman said. “He’s…uh…”

“Pretty sensitive about things right now. It happened not long ago.”

“And, well, still waters run deep, I guess. What happened, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“She’s had issues. We decided it was a good time to go our separate ways.”

And she looked at him again, this time as if she was changing her mind, then she looked at Tracy.

“And you are?”

“Staying out of this,” Tracy said, matter-of-factly.

“No, dear. Do you have a name?”

“No, not right now I don’t.”

“Ah, well,” Melissa said, looking at him, “perhaps I’d better let you and your happy brood  go your merry way.”

He stood as she stood, then held out his hand again. “Nice to meet you. Hope you get to your island.”

“Thanks,” she said, then she went back out into the early morning drizzle.

He watched her go, saw Ted walk up to her and he watched them talk for a few minutes, then they shook hands and Ted came back inside.

“What was that all about?” he asked.

“Nothing. I just needed to clear the air.”

“Okay.”

The rest of their breakfast passed in near silence, and when it was time to pay-up he went to the counter and had more cinnamon rolls boxed-up to-go, some bread, too, then they walked down to the fuel dock together.

Melissa was there, a large blue duffel at her feet, waiting for them.

+++++

He was waiting outside the operating room, pacing back and forth in quick, anxious strides. She was eight months pregnant – but had gained almost a hundred and ten pounds – and now her blood pressure was off the charts. 223 over 130 earlier that afternoon – when someone at her office had insisted she go to the hospital, and when her obstetrician arrived she’d insisted they try to induce labor, or, failing that, take the baby before he was compromised.

He’d been somewhere over Florida when the SELCAL chimed, someone on the company frequency calling. He’d taken the news calmly, outwardly at least, but he was hurt, almost angry as he listened to the chief pilot telling him what was happening. He’d done everything he could to get her to stop eating, had cooked the healthiest meals he knew how – only to find out she’d been eating several candy bars – an hour – all day at work. She was, he understood now, content to not merely kill herself. She was going to take as many people down with her as she could, and he wondered what he might try next.

At least he’d gotten her off the sauce. He’d begged her to do at least that much, at least until the baby came, and she’d relented, promised him she wouldn’t – until he came.

Pacing the floor he had wondered…had she scarfed down the most damaging crap in the world simply to put on as many pounds as possible – so she could resume drinking that much sooner? Had his faith in her fallen so low? Had his faith in himself fallen so far…?

Her doc came out a while later, told him that both she and their son were alright now, that the boy was a little premature but nothing serious, and he had fallen away inside the moment, tried to hang on to that one bit of good news for as long as he could.

+

She let him know, in no uncertain terms, that she had no intention at all of staying home with Ted, not even for breastfeeding, and he’d simply nodded.

“You’re going back to work, I take it?”

“That’s right,” she said – bitterly. “And don’t you dare try to stop me!” she’d screamed.

“Oh, I wouldn’t think of it, Barbara,” he’d whispered, then he’d gone to change the boy’s diaper. Later that morning he called his mother, told her what was happening. She’d flown up that night, moved into the guest room and taken over – and had never once uttered a bad thing about anything, or anyone. In time he realized that Barbara loved his mother more than she loved her own, this his mother was the mother she’d never known. Babs began watching his mother, learning from her, and in time she learned to love honestly, without condition, perhaps for the first time in her life. On Ted’s second birthday she had promised him she’d never drink again, that she’d try to be a better mother…

And, within a few weeks, she was drinking again.

And his mother came back, resumed her duties while he flew and Barbara worked, then got drunk. Night after night. He tried to get her to seek help, any kind of help, but she would curse him and flee into the night.

In time they, he and Ted, started spending time down in Destin, spending time with his father on Altair. His father’s Altair. When the weather was nice they’d go out the cut and sail offshore, and Ted had always loved those bouncy rides best of all, and other times they had motored down the intra-coastal waterway, all the way to Panama City most trips, then they’d come back by way of the sea.

One day they’d been offshore when Ted spotted a weird, drooping fin of some sort and they’d altered course, gone over to see what it was…

“Oh,” Ted’s grandfather said, “that’s a Thresher shark. Not real dangerous, but he’s pretty weird looking, isn’t he?”

Other days they went out and ran across pods of dolphin and Ted would lean over and reach out for them as they swam alongside; he’d learned early on that his son had fantastic balance, and was fearless, too. He’d held on protectively until Ted was seven or eight, then he knew enough to just let go.

His father had been a pilot, too, in the war. The Big One, as it was called. Flown B-17s over Germany and lived to tell the tale, or so his old man liked to say – when he’d had a few too many, anyway, then he’d come home and gone back to work for his father…at the family’s hardware store in St Johnsbury, in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. He’d married his high school sweetheart and they’d had one girl – and then him, many years later. His sister Becky died when she was in kindergarten, and so he’d learned all about love and loss and life and death – and at an impossibly early age. Lessons, he knew now, that had never slipped away…lessons he’d learned from his father.

When he went away to college, to Boston College, his father had known it was all over, but really, he had known for years. His father had managed to get hold of a Cub, a Piper Cub, and had started teaching his son to fly. They flew the Green Mountains, up and down the Connecticut River Valley and all around Lake Champlain, and before long he knew that’s what his son wanted to do. His father knew all too well, if only because that had been his dream, too.

But there had been the family business lined up against all those distant hopes and dreams, his son taking over the family business chief among them, yet in the end it had been easier to sell out than to hold on a little longer, so his father had done what he had to do, then moved to Florida and settled in for the duration. And somehow Altair had become a part of his father’s new life down there. Not golf, not tennis, not even flying…no, it was sailing – something he’d never imagined his father doing…and yet his old man had taken to it with a vengeance – like a duck to water. His old man had even bought an old Greek fisherman’s cap and had been known to hang out around the docks, talking the talk.

Then Ted came, and Barbara flamed out.

And there he was again, like he’d always been. Shoulder the burden, help as best he could, and that first Altair had become the means to an end. Grandfather and grandson, tied together forever by a boat, and yet he’d not been the only connective tissue holding this family together, because his mother was always there too, always taking on the role Barbara should have…

And that had confused Ted.

Once Ted went to kindergarten, once he learned how other families got on, he’d begun to wonder why his family was so different, and, naturally, soon enough the boy had begun to wonder if it was something he’d done. If it was all his fault.

And, of course, as a new father, he’d never seen it coming.

But his mother had. And she’d done her best to answer all Ted’s questions – but, he knew, it’s never enough.

In time he watched his son grow up in the shadow of benign neglect – on Barbara’s part – and an almost smothering love – on his own mother’s part – and then one Sunday, against his wishes, his mother had taken Ted to Sunday School.

(c) adrian leverkühn | abw | adrianleverkuhnwrites.com | fiction, always fiction…

Corcovado + Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars 2

corcovado 2 im

II

His eyes were red, his mouth tasted like old fish and bug-juice, and now this. Someone, somewhere in Washington, had gotten a bug up his ass and wanted a bunch of Iraqi Migs hit before they could, conceivably, get airborne – and thereby be instantly shot down by some U.S. Air Force pukes loitering above Ali Air Base. There remained an outside chance, however small, that these Migs could break out and go after one of the carriers in the Gulf, and that just would not do.

The problem, as he saw it, was that his squadron had just bombed the living daylights out of just that airfield, including bombs that had cratered the runway beyond any further possible use. The other problem? Someone in the NRO had just gone over the latest satellite imagery and one runway was, somehow and against all odds, operational. And then, under cover of darkness and against all odds, the Migs had arrived.

No, that would just not do…not one little bit.

Ali Air Base was the closest operational base to Kuwait City, and, therefore, to the Gulf, and had been, literally, plastered two days before, when Operation Desert Shield rolled over into Desert Storm. And, he had flown at least six sorties there over the last two days. His Intruder had taken several hits from small arms fire this morning, driving home the point that, as hapless as the Iraqis seemed to be, a ‘Gomer’ with a flintlock could always get off a lucky shot off – and thereby ruin your whole day.

The squad XO had rousted him from a nice, warm dream less than a half hour ago, given him enough time to grab a shower and drop by the air wing’s dining room for a bologna sandwich and some bug-juice, otherwise known as Kool-Aid, as he walked to the briefing room; he began to regret the sandwich as soon as he finished it – and wished he’d tossed down two more Dixie-cups of the red stuff – on top of the four he’d tossed down – but already his bladder was aching…and that just wouldn’t do…

The Wing’s intel weenies had set up an overhead projector in the little compartment, but as only three Intruders were being detailed to this strike the room had kind of an intimate, less formal feel going down just then, until the CO walked in and that vibe disappeared – in an instant. Commander Dan Green walked up the lectern and looked at his team, then shook his head.

“No use going over the how or the why,” Green began, “but Gomer has moved some assets on the ground at Ali that weren’t there four hours ago, and that can only mean one thing. Somehow, someway, we didn’t get the runways as good as we thought. Also, there are eight Mig-23s on the ground there, and ten Frogfoots just landed, maybe an hour ago. They’re loaded with ordnance, or so I’m told, and we got Marines on the beach, if you get my drift…

“Jim, you’re taking 5-0-9.”

“5-0-9, sir?”

“We’ve apparently got two of those new AGM-84E missiles onboard, and 5-0-9 is the only bird we’ve got that can handle them. You’re also the only man in the squad with any training on the dash-84, and someone on the E-ring wants it used – tonight. Here’s your attack profile,” Green added, handing over a hastily mimeographed piece of paper – full of charts and graphs. “You’ll launch and arc in from the west. The missiles’ tracks are programmed to hit the fuel bladders, again, and the OPS building, which we, somehow, missed today. Satellite imagery has their pilots in-barracks right now, but they’re fueling the Migs as we speak, so odds are they’ll try to take-off before the sun comes up. With that many aircraft up, the thinking is one or two might get through, and we’re not going to let that happen.”

“So, I launch, shoot and boogie back?” he asked.

“Not quite. Your load-out includes two cluster bombs. Look on page three. You launch, impact should be within two minutes. The XO and I will come in from the south and east a minute later, then you come in from the west about a minute after that, drop on anything that moves.”

“Okay.”

“One other thing. See the note page five…you’ll meet up with a Raven at those coordinates. He’ll lead the strike, jamming for the most part, but he’ll be carrying anti-radiation heads, too. He launches first, then you. Got it?”

He looked over the attack profile and shook his head. “Why so low over the border?” he asked. “I thought their radar were down across the board?”

“A Saudi E-3 is picking up emissions in the area.”

“Oh, swell.”

“Yeah. Good news all over. Word is someone picked up Buk transmissions late last night, and some Air Force A-10s picked up some SA-7 fire when they tried to hit a road about ten clicks north of there…”

“You’re full of good news, aren’t you?”

“Yeah, well, if it was easy…”

“Yeah, yeah…I hear you, skipper.”

“5-0-9 is gonna shoot from cat one, and she’s on the elevator right now, ready to go. Cartwright ought to have the coordinates loaded by now, all but the rendezvous with that EF-111. Try not to bust 300 AGL inbound, okay?”

“Yup.”

“Seeya.”

“Yup. Good hunting, skip.”

“You too. Better get a move on.”

He picked up the rest of his gear and made it to the flight deck as the Roosevelt turned into the wind, and he did a quick walk-around the Intruder as an S-3 applied full power next to his catapult, checking his ordnance was racked correctly and all pins removed. He climbed up into his cockpit just as the Viking launched, and the cockpit filled with JP-9 fumes.

His BN, Jerry Cartwright, was still entering waypoints into DIANe when he clambered into the left seat, then his crew chief helped hook up an O2 line to his face-mask; they both straightened out his harness before the chief pulled the safeties on the ejection seat, showing him the pins before he disappeared into the darkness below. He took a deep breath and looked around – but all he saw outside the Intruder was pure black…not even a flicker of moonlight on the sea…

He applied power and taxied from the elevator, watched the deck come alive as he lined up on the rail, then he closed the canopy and ran up power, waiting for the wand. A minor swarm walked away from the Intruder a moment later, all the last minute checks complete, and he then ‘Pri-fly’ came over the net right on cue.

“Tiger 5-0-9, clear.”

“5-0-9.”

“You got her spun up? We ready to roll?” he asked Cartwright as he checked power and rechecked the wing.

“I’m nominal.”

“Okay. Let’s go do this shit.” He turned to the wands down in the dark and adjusted his head a little, pushing his body back in the seat a little more, then he turned his head a little and saluted into the night…

…And the Intruder roared down the deck…slamming him into the seat…

In the enveloping darkness the transition to flight was subtle…just the slightest dip as 5-0-9’s wings bit into the thick air as she cleared the deck…and, as was his habit, he shook his head and worked his jaw as he raised the gear and cleaned the wing, keeping one eye on the altimeter, the other on his airspeed, scanning the engine tapes until he was at 1500AGL and everything was still working the way it was supposed to.

“Come left to three one zero,” Cartwright said. “You got the Raven’s coordinates?”

“Entered.”

“Okay…why don’t you do some of that pilot shit and wake me when we get back.”

“Yup, you take a nap. Just remember to wake me somewhere over Kansas, okay?”

“Yup.”

“Tiger 5-0-9, Big Stick.”

“Five by five, Stick.”

“Tiger Lead is airborne. Start your hack in five, four, three, two, one – mark.”

“Got it,” he said as he reset the chronometer and punched the go button.

“509, contact Turnout on 244.3, and good hunting.”

“Forty-four three, and thanks.”

He trimmed the Intruder into a shallow dive and slipped the HUD into terrain mode, looked at the sea’s surface one more time before he turned all his attention to his cockpit instruments. He would for the rest of this first segment, anyway.

“5-0-9, Turnout,” he heard a few minutes later.

“5-0-9, go.”

“Come to 3-2-0, get down in the weeds now.”

“3-2-0.”

“Uh, 5-0-9, we’re picking up emissions inside Al-Wafrah, profile looks like SA-11.”

“Got it.”

“Turnout, Weasel 3-0-9, expedite.”

“3-0-9.”

“Uh, 5-0-9, make that 3-3-0. Someone just went active.”

“Jerry?”

“I’m looking…” his BN said as the Intruder’s threat receivers started warbling…then…“I gotta launch! One airborne. Now two…! High-PRM, headed south! Get down in the weeds, man!”

He sighed, felt his sphincters relax a little as he pulled up on the stick a little. Five twenty knots and one ten over the waves meant one wrong twitch and Tiger 5-0-9 would become a smeary patch of oil in the waters off Kuwait…then he saw the beach a mile ahead, and a few campfires down on the sand as they roared over seconds later.

“5-0-9, feet dry.”

“5-0-9, come left to 3-1-0 and climb to at least 200 AGL, buddy, or I just can’t see you.”

“Three ten and two.”

“How long?” Cartwright asked.

“To?”

“The Raven.”

“Call it ten minutes. Maybe nine minutes forty seconds.”

“Wish there was some moon.”

“Not me. Too many b-b-guns down there.”

“Hear anything from Barbara?”

“Nope. She went back home, I think. To her parents for a while.”

“5-0-9, got an outbound strike headed to the Stick, two miles north, 300AGL.”

“Okay.”

“5-0-9, come left to 2-2-0 NOW!”

He hit the stick hard, reefed the Intruder into a steep left turn, his eyes focused on the altimeter as he came off the power a little, then the threat receiver came on again.

“What the fuck!”

“Looks like heat-seekers. SA-7s, my guess,” Cartwright croaked, the G-forces making it hard to talk now.

“Every Gomer with a flintlock,” he groaned – as he straightened out on 2-2-0.

“5-0-9, you guys still with me?”

“Roger that. Looked like SA-7s.”

“5-0-9, concur, your traffic is now two zero miles, come right to 3-4-0.”

“Got it.”

“Okay, come up to 7000AGL, then start your attack profile after you hook up.”

“Seven, yeah, got it.”

Moments later the EF-111 appeared high and to their left, coming out of Saudi Arabia, and he reefed the Intruder into a gently arcing turn and slipped into the Raven’s four o’clock.

“Magpie, 5-0-9. You ready?”

“Affirmative.”

“Follow me.”

He looked around once, finally realized the night was clear and it looked like there were a billion stars out, then he focused on the -111 and followed this Magpie into a steep dive, letting his speed build up to almost five hundred and ninety knots – as fast as the Intruder dared go at this density altitude, and with this payload.

“Magpie, 5-0-9, I’ve got two transmitters targeted, launching in three-two-one…”

He had his visor down in an instant, and he squinted ahead just enough to see his instruments – yet even so the intense bloom from the Raven’s anti-radiation missiles almost blinded him.

“Fuck!” Cartwright shouted. “God damn, I’m fuckin’ blind!”

“Magpie, 5-0-9, launching in three-two-one…”

He clinched his eyes tightly this time, and still he saw the bloom – only it was deep red this time – leaving the jangled impression of blood vessels on his retinae. He shook his head, looked at the attack cue on his HUD and armed both his missiles.

“Launch in fifteen seconds,” Cartwright sighed, flipping the final safeties to OFF. “Ten seconds. Magpie, launching ONE in five, four, three, two and one…launching TWO in five, four, three, two, one…”

His eyes almost wilted under the sustained fire that burst forth from his wings.

“Magpie, Turnout, two impacts, high probability detonations on target. Come left to zero-two-zero, start jamming off axis.”

“Magpie, 0-2-0.”

“509, SLAM ONE has detonated. I’ve lost your second…no…wait one. SLAM TWO detonation, both appear to be on target. Tiger 500 and 5-0-2 are starting their runs. Come to zero-eight-two degrees and 500AGL, 300 K-T-S.”

“509, 500 and three.”

“509, start your run your discretion.”

He looked at the chronometer on the panel…call it fifteen seconds…as he trimmed out of his dive and went to full power. “Going now,” he said to the controller in the E-2C, then, to Cartwright: “Pickle’s hot?”

“Your bombs,” his BN added, unnecessarily.

Even from thirty miles out the fires were visible, yet he couldn’t even begin to imagine what it was like down there. At least ten thousand pounds of high explosives had just hit the Iraqi airfield – everything from fuel storage bladders to the control tower had taken hits, and now he was coming in to literally drop bombs on anything, or anyone, left standing.

Then…the threat receiver screamed at him…

…As five SAMs lit off and arced off into the night – chasing the skipper and the XO…

“Turnout? Got a vector to the launcher?”

“500, 509, negative. Hit the airfield again, got that! Repeat, stay on target!”

“509, roger.”

“509, Turnout, radar contact, we got three aircraft taxiing for the runway, looks like the Sukhoi-25s.”

“Vector?”

“Call it zero-eight-one.”

“Show me four-zero seconds out. Gotta drop from at least eight hundred.”

“509, no active emissions from the SAMs…looks like they shut down…probably putting more on the rails.”

“Yup. Runway in sight…confirm…looks like three Frogfoots and a Flogger…”

The threat receiver began howling again…just as he pickled his bombs on the Sukhois…and seconds later he saw the SAM arcing in from the left. Flares and chaff, push the stick down, turn into the missiles flight path, try to confuse their radar seekers, more chaff, stick up, jink right and push down…

One missile exploded harmlessly in his wake…

The second missed, but only by a few meters, then it exploded a hundred meters behind his Intruder…

And fire alarms went off, then hydraulic pressure alarms. Electric buses went next, then he looked over, saw Cartwright’s head was – gone – low geysers of raw arterial blood pumping from the stump…then he felt the pain in his right leg. Shooting up from his ankle all the way to his thigh…

“Uh, 509, I’m going down – fast.”

“509, say again?”

“509, I’m hit, my BN is gone, engines out, losing pressures…uh…okay, fire on the wing…punching out now…”

He didn’t hang around for a reply, and the next thing he knew he was hanging from his parachute harness, drifting down towards a black hole in the desert…

+++++

He was sitting on the swim platform, Altair still just visible – low on the southwest horizon. He could hear Ted describing Altair’s systems to Tracy, trying his best to impress the girl, and no doubt failing miserably despite his reassuringly authoritative choice of words. In his experience girls just didn’t give a damn about electronics and all such ‘stuff,’ though they often tried to appear interested. If they were, well, interested in the boy talking, that is. Only he wasn’t sure who or what this girl was interested in – yet – and that bothered him.

The whole license thing bothered him, too.

Like she didn’t appreciate the gravity of his passport explanation and so had decided to play him. To call him on it, in other words…and in his world eighteen-year-old girls just didn’t do that. No, he wondered who she really was, and what her angle was.

And just then he wished Ted had checked his testosterone back in Boston, but that was a done deal now. He’d have to deal with it as best he could.

He sighed, took a deep breath as he rubbed the scar on his right shin, the he looked aft and saw he could still see Vancouver’s lights in their wake, and while the sun was just beginning to lighten the eastern sky it was still quite dark out.

“Just like me,” he said softly. “Groping around in the dark again. Trying to make sense of the senseless…”

+++++

He could see Tiger 509 cartwheeling after it slammed into the earth, spraying jet fuel in wide arcs as it tumbled – and suddenly vast swathes of grass lit off. Following the prevailing wind, the flames marched to the north, but then the thought struck him…

The flames were bright, and he looked up, saw his olive colored parachute as plain as day – which meant any Gomer within ten miles could see him, too.

And now, hanging up here in the sky, he noticed his leg really hurt.

At least, he said to no one in particular, he felt somewhat intact. Not like…

No, I’m not going there, he thought. I’m alive, he isn’t and I’m sorry, but I’ll worry about all that later. He reached for his SART radio and turned it on, but left it attached to his harness…

“509, how do you read, over?”

He fumbled for the transmit button and pressed it. “509, still in my chute.”

“Confirm, you are down?”

“I will be, in about thirty seconds. The aircraft is about a half mile east of my position.”

“Are you injured?”

“Affirmative. Some metal sticking out of my legs, but that’s about all I can see from here.”

“Call when you get set.”

“Yup,” he said, but the ground was rushing up now, and he knew what was coming next…

He tumbled for what felt like forever, his chute full of the southerly breeze and dragging his body through what had to be acres of marshy reed and prickly grass…then the silk got tangled in some sort of stunted tree and he rolled to a stop. He lay still for a moment, listening to his heart beat in his temples, then he tried to slow his breathing down but realized he was just too disoriented for that. He felt pain all over now and pulled out his K-Bar, cut parachute cords, cutting himself free of the fluttering parachute.

He rolled over, tried to see the wound but it was still too dark and he didn’t dare use his flashlight out here in the open so he leaned up and took a look around. He was in the coastal marsh, he could hear the sea beyond – and a small city perhaps ten miles away…probably Abādān…and he knew troops were there…that’s where the SAMs had come from…

He turned again and he hurt all over, felt light-headed for a moment and he steadied himself on a rock…until he heard movement in the marshy grass a few meters away…

Then he remembered…there were supposedly crocodiles in these marshlands and he pushed himself up, gathered the remains of the parachute and walked directly away from the marsh as quietly as he could…

He came upon a low escarpment of rocky scree and he strung up the remains of the parachute between a few stumpy trees, making a shelter of sorts as he knew the sun would be brutal in just a few hours, and only then did he unclip the light from his harness and look at his leg…

He saw one piece of metal jutting from the top of his left thigh, and it looked thin – and sharp – then he shined the light on his right shin and saw a much more ragged piece – of something – had gone all the way through this leg, and this wound was bleeding – badly. He felt for the little first aid kit in his right breast pocket and pulled it out, felt for the powder he was supposed to pour on wounds like this to control the bleeding and found it. He gently opened the pack and poured a little on both wounds, then leaned back and took a deep breath…

‘The radio!’ he thought… ‘Got to get on the radio, turn on the beacon…’

He found the beacon and flipped it on, then turned on the radio and called in: “509, on the air.”

He paused, heard nothing, then called again.

“509, checking in, how do you read?”

“509, we have your beacon, some bad guys in the area looking for you right now, so keep your head down. Call in at 0500 hours, earlier if compromised.”

“Got it.” He turned the radio to standby – to conserve power – then he bunched up some extra parachute material into a pillow and leaned back – and the light-headedness returned…this time with a vengeance. He reached out to steady himself but he was falling again, falling through cool clouds, falling to the earth, and into the night…

+++++

They dropped anchor that afternoon, a mile off the main channel in a protected harbor on the south side of Musket Island. He inflated the Zodiac and put the little Honda outboard on the thin wooden stern, then held her off with one hand while he pulled the little inflatable to Altair’s bow. Ted was on the  foredeck, getting the second anchor ready on the foredeck as he pulled up, and he took the anchor from him, put it on the Zodiac’s hard floor, then turned to the motor and pulled the crank…

“Ready to pay out the chain?” he asked as the little outboard sputtered to life.

“I’ve got 200 feet ready. Is that enough?”

“Should be.”

“I think we should tie the stern off to those trees,” Ted added, pointing to shore. “Maybe keep us from swinging too much…”

“Not with these tides, unless you want to stay up all night paying out line,” he said as he puttered slowly away from Altair. When he was fifty yards away from their first anchor he let this second one, a 44 pound Rocna, go; when it hit bottom he moved off a few yards then dropped the remaining chain overboard.

“Okay, back it down a little, rudder to port.”

“Okay!” Ted called out, but by that time he was paying attention to Tracy again. Arms crossed over her chest, the same petulant expression on her face she’d worn all day. ‘Not quite bored yet,’ he sighed inwardly. ‘But give it a few more hours…then the hurting will begin.’

The first thing he’d noticed as the day warmed and sweatshirts came off were the tell-tale tracks on her arm, and that had set off all his internal alarms. This was his ship and he was responsible for any drugs found on board, and that meant if they were boarded and drugs were found – anywhere – he’d conceivably lose the boat. His home. And that meant he had to proceed carefully, and quickly, to get to the bottom of this.

“So,” he said aloud, “tell Ted and let him handle it, or do it myself?”

Do it yourself, the little voice in the back of his head said. Don’t put this on Ted.

He nodded as he set a trip-line for the anchor, then he motored over to the rocky shore, to the crumbling remnants of an old granite quarry. He waved at an older couple anchored as he passed, noting their little sailboat had come all the way from Southhampton, England, and he shook his head, wondering what it would be like to be cooped up on a thirty foot boat in the middle of the Atlantic…for weeks?

The water was clear near the rocky shore as he slowed – then beached the Zodiac, and he hopped out, walked the rocks for a few minutes, looking at Altair as he walked, at Ted and Tracy talking on the foredeck. He was not looking forward to this…no, not at all…

He looked-over the old quarry for a while, climbed among the rusted detritus wondering where these slabs of time had ended up. Some courthouse in Vancouver, probably, he sighed. He turned, looked at the sun…maybe an hour before twilight, so it was time to head back and get to it.

By the time he was motoring back he noted Ted and Tracy had gone below, and he groaned. ‘God, not already,’ he said inwardly…

He circled Altair once before he approached the swim-platform and tied off, and by the time he reached for the rail Ted was standing there, waiting, looking at him.

With a couple of baggies in hand.

And with what looked like a handful of insulin-type syringes in the other.

“What’s all this?” he asked.

“Heroin,” Ted said.

“Did you get all of it?”

“Unless it’s stashed up her ass, yeah.”

“Okay.”

“I’ve checked already,” his son added. “We can drop her at Powell River on the way up, in the morning.”

“Is that what she wants?”

“No. She wants to stay.”

“Nowhere to go?”

“Nope.”

“No money?”

“A few bucks.”

“What’s with the McGill story?”

“Bullshit, for the most part. She came over a few years ago, dropped out after her second year. Been drifting ever since.”

He nodded as he looked at his son. No, no longer a boy, that much was certain…but what kind of man was he going to be?”

“And what do you want to do?” he asked his son.

“Get rid of this shit.”

“Take the Zodiac, get some rocks from the beach and put them in the baggies, take them off a-ways and dump ‘em. Next, what do you want to do about her?”

His son looked down, shook his head… “I don’t know, Dad. I just don’t know.”

“Well, whatever you decide to do is fine by me. I’m proud of you, by the way.”

Ted looked up, smiled. “Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

“Never thought I’d hear you say something like that, Dad.”

“Oh?”

“You’re not the most demonstrative dude in the world, ya know.”

The words hit him, hard, and he felt old and hollow inside for a moment, then he looked at his son again and nodded his head. “I am my father’s son, Ted. Sorry.”

“No need to apologize, Pops. I guess it just makes it all the more meaningful, ya know?”

He nodded again. “I’m going to put on some water for spaghetti. Is she in her bunk?”

“Yup.”

“Is she hurting yet?”

“Yup.”

“Goddamn it all to Hell,” he muttered. “This isn’t exactly what we had in mind, was it?”

“This is the world we live in, Dad.”

“I must’ve missed something along the way.”

“Somehow I doubt that, but it’s a not the eighties anymore.”

He smiled again, and nodded, then smiled as he said: “Maybe you should be a cop, Ted.”

“Why not a pilot?”

“Because if you have a family you’ll miss all the fun.”

“And a cop wouldn’t?”

“You got a point there, Bucko. Well, you’d better get to it.”

“Right.”

“Should I just ignore her?”

“No, I think she’s expecting you. She saw you looking at her arms; that’s when she came to me.”

“Okay.”

Ted pushed off and motored away, then he turned and stepped into the canvas enclosure on his way down below. Once in the galley he pulled-out a large pot and filled it with water, added some salt and olive oil then set it to boil while he pulled out a skillet and chopped onions and peppers, then set them on a burner in some more olive oil. Add a little garlic and cilantro, he thought, then a few cans of diced tomatoes and some basil to kick things off.

“That smells good,” he heard the girl say, and when he turned he saw she was sitting in the saloon, her feet tucked-in under her legs – and his heart went out to her sitting there. She looked like a used up waif, her life not beginning now, but in tatters.

“Next – my secret ingredient, a good shot of Merlot…”

“In spaghetti sauce?”

“It’s classy spaghetti sauce, kiddo.”

“Like you, huh?”

“Me? I kind of doubt that…”

“I don’t.”

He turned and looked at her again. “How you feeling?”

“Strung out, burned out.”

“Lost, and maybe a little alone?”

She turned away, started to cry…

“Knock it off, will you?” he sighed. “We’re supposed to grown-ups around here…okay?”

“Sorry…I’m not feeling very grown-up right now.”

“How are you feeling? Besides strung out?”

“Like I’ve been found out…by my parents, my father.”

“And what would your father have done?”

“Beat me half to death, I suppose.”

“And then…?”

“Him? He’d have gone down to the pub, I reckon. Had a few pints…”

“And your mother?”

“She wasn’t around much, if you know what I mean?”

“No, I guess I don’t.”

“She worked nights, mostly.”

“Nights?”

“On the street.”

“So, let me see if I’ve got this straight…? Dad was a drunk and mom was a hooker?”

She nodded her head, looked away. “We were poor, lived in…”

“Pardon me, but I really don’t believe a word you’re saying?”

“What?”

“I don’t believe you, Tracy.”

She stared at him now, unsure of herself – and angry.

“You told Ted you spent two years at McGill, but somehow I don’t see a heroin addict raised in that kind of home ending up at a school like that. It just doesn’t, you know, add up,” he said as he turned back to his sauce.

“You think you know me…?”

“Who – me? No, not at all. Point of fact, I don’t know you at all. Second point? I don’t think you know yourself very well.”

“Oh, and what do you think I am?”

“In my limited experience, people lie like you are when they’re trying to conceal something.”

“Oh, and just what am I trying to conceal?”

“Beats me, kid. And even if you knew, which I kind of doubt, I don’t think you’d tell me anything that even remotely resembles the truth. You want some wine?”

“Yes, please.”

He poured her a glass of Merlot and walked it over to her, looking her in the eye as he handed it to her. “The thing is, if you want to talk, I’ll listen, but I think I’ve already got the contours outlined in my mind.”

“Oh, really?”

He walked back to the stove and stirred his sauce a little, sighing… “Yeah. Daddy was a rich man, Mommy was the drunk and she didn’t get involved much, did she?”

“Involved? What do you mean?”

“He abused you, didn’t he?”

“Abused? What do you mean?”

“I don’t know. You tell me…?”

She looked away, took a big pull from her glass then looked at him again. “It wasn’t like that, not really. I think he wanted to, but I don’t think he had the courage.”

“Now that’s an odd choice of word, don’t you think, Tracy? Courage?”

“Well, he always told me I was cute…too cute…”

“Ah, so it all comes down to restraint on his part? That’s what you mean by courage?”

“I suppose so, yes.”

“Because you’re so, what, so irresistible?”

“Yes. I guess.”

He looked at her again, careful not to say a word.

“God, that sounds awful, doesn’t it?” she added.

He stirred the tomatoes and nodded his head. “Kind of, yes. What does your father do?”

“Imports mainly. Foodstuffs, from South America for the most part, I think.”

“And he’s wealthy?”

“Yes. Very.”

“And mother?”

“She plays cards.”

“And drinks a fair bit, I take it?”

She nodded her head again. “Yup.”

“You want a salad?”

“Can I help?”

“Sure…I can always use a fresh galley slave…”

She laughed at that, and was still smiling when Ted came down – and saw them both smiling and chattering away.

‘God…I’ll bet she never knew what hit her,’ he thought, smiling a little at thoughts of other nights, and other interrogations.

+++++

‘Yes…there it is again,’ he thought. ‘Something in the grass, moving this way…”

The pain in his right leg was almost overwhelming now, but the blood flowing from the wound had slowed a little after he put the coagulant around the penetrating metal shard, and though he’d wanted to shoot an ampule of morphine he knew he couldn’t relax yet. Not now.

Then he’d heard something in the grass and curled up behind a large rock.

But then…nothing. Like as soon as he moved, the movement in the grass stopped…

He pulled some of the ragged parachute fabric over his body, trying to hide as best he could without disturbing the little structure he’d built, and then he’d lain still for minutes, trying not to move anything. Then he’d looked at his watch…

And cursed. Almost five now, almost time to check in with the E2 orbiting somewhere out there in the night, somewhere out over the Gulf.

He flipped the SART radio to active and pushed the transmit button: “509, 509, 509,” he whispered, as per protocol. “509, in the clear on 243.”

“509, sitrep.”

“Something moving in on my position, being very quiet about it, too.”

“Okay. Seal Team airborne at this time, be at your position less than two zero minutes. Jolly Green will be coming in behind them.”

“509, got it.”

“Hang tight, fella. The cavalry’s comin’…”

He flipped the power to standby, turned his attention back to the marsh, looking for a shift in the shadows…when a new, sharper spasm of pain broke over him. He looked down at his leg, saw a snake of some kind coiled up beside his right foot and he knew, just knew, he was going to die just then.

He heard more noise in the grass then and looked up, saw a small leopard walk out of the waist-high reeds – looking right into his eyes.

He was reaching down for his 45ACP – slowly – when the snake struck again.

this chapter (c) 2017 adrian leverkühn | abw | adrianleverkuhnwrites.com

Sunday in the Sun + 29 October 2017

Bob

Music Matters

First up this week, a walk down memory lane with a ghost on the canvas.

“People don’t know – when they’re looking at souls.”

+++++

So, it’s time for some Sunday in the Sun, The Robert Mueller Edition, when it rains – even when the sun’s out.

Late Friday evening word broke that the first grand jury indictment in the Robert Mueller Russia Collusion probe has been handed down, and will be served Monday. Meaning someone is going to be arrested Monday morning. Unless…

But…who? Paul Manafort? Don Jr.?And where does that take us next? How many rabbit holes are there left?

Yet, as important as this event may be, other, surely not coincidental events were taking place in and around the swamp on Friday, too. First, this item, from FOX NEWS, shows how the Republican disinformation campaign may try to handle the unwinding scandal:

“Special Counsel Robert Mueller is facing a fresh round of calls from conservative critics for his resignation from the Russia collusion probe, amid revelations that have called into question the FBI’s own actions and potentially Mueller’s independence.

“This week’s bombshell that a controversial anti-Trump dossier was funded by the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign has Republicans asking to what extent the FBI – which received some of the findings and briefly agreed to pay the same researcher to gather intelligence on Trump and Russia – used the politically connected material.

“Hill investigators also are looking into a Russian firm’s uranium deal that was approved by the Obama administration in 2010 despite reports that the FBI – then led by Mueller – had evidence of bribery involving a subsidiary of that firm.

“Critics question whether Mueller’s own ties to the bureau as well as fired FBI director James Comey now render him compromised as he investigates allegations of Russian meddling and collusion with Trump officials in the 2016 race.

“The federal code could not be clearer – Mueller is compromised by his apparent conflict of interest in being close with James Comey,” Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., who first called for Mueller to step down over the summer, said in a statement to Fox News on Friday. “The appearance of a conflict is enough to put Mueller in violation of the code. … All of the revelations in recent weeks make the case stronger.”

“Outgoing New Jersey GOP Gov. Chris Christie, a former federal prosecutor and Trump ally, also suggested Friday that Mueller consider stepping aside.

“If the facts that you just laid out are true, then somebody with Bob Mueller’s integrity will step aside and should — if in fact those facts, as you laid them out, are true,” Christie said on “Fox & Friends,” in response to various conflict-of-interest allegations.”

+++++

So, if the messenger delivers something you don’t like, discredit the message – or, if history is any guide at all, simply get rid of the messenger. Anyone recalling the Saturday Night Massacre – during the Watergate era – will surely understand what this indictment portends. And let’s not forget to mention all the other niggling distractions this week (the JFK data release for one) that add to the noise.

Yet, there are a couple of other (troublesome) “trends” – developing concurrently. The next piece of the puzzle? Consolidation of power, to wit, what’s happening at the Department of State?

A leaked State Department document is alarming diplomats and others who say it shows the accumulation of power among a small and unaccountable group of senior aides to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

The chart, obtained by POLITICO, illustrates the growing influence of the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff, which traditionally has served as an in-house think tank but which Tillerson heavily relies upon for day-to-day decision making. Critics already complain that the office — led by Brian Hook, a powerful Tillerson aide not subject to Senate confirmation — accepts too little input from career diplomats, and the chart, which lays out a method to craft foreign policy, shows no explicit role for them.

The chart appears to show a top-down approach in which ideas emanate from the secretary’s inner circle rather than bubbling up from diverse sources, such as foreign service officers in the field. More than half a dozen current and former U.S. officials who have seen the document said it reveals an unusual level of control and oversight by the Policy Planning Staff, which is known in diplomatic circles as S/P.

Several current and former U.S. officials warned that the new approach, called the Policy Planning Process, or “P3,” increases the risk of poor, uninformed policy choices on everything from terrorism in Africa to human rights issues at a perilous time in international relations. It could also further demoralize career State Department staffers who already feel marginalized by Tillerson and President Donald Trump.

“This says to me that they are developing a new foreign policy structure that is designed to largely ignore those who know these regions and who know these issues,” said Brett Bruen, a former State Department official who served under Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush.

The chart suggests “a power grab by a small cabal of Tillerson aides,” added a senior Democratic congressional aide. “Making policy with a token effort to engage policy experts is a recipe for disaster and further evidence that the political forces in this administration will do anything they can to dismantle the State Department.”

The State Department’s press section did not respond to a POLITICO request for more material and context, but a senior department official said in a statement: “Policy development starts with the administration priorities set by the president. The policy planning process develops foreign policy with broad input at all stages from within State and the inter-agency. This process has supported new policies in a range of areas, including Asia, the Middle East, and Europe.”

In recent weeks, Hook has been meeting with various divisions at the State Department to explain the eight-step process. A source familiar with the issue said Hook is not seeking feedback but merely informing employees of a process Tillerson has already approved. The chart shows that policymaking begins with a “whiteboard session” between Hook and Tillerson.

Other State Department sources said Hook is simply explaining an approach that, at least in its first few steps, has slowly taken hold since Tillerson, a former ExxonMobil CEO used to corporate management structure, took over as secretary in February.

The State Department officials said Hook’s policy planning chart nonetheless formalizes an unwelcome change in their status from the Obama administration.

“We are implementers of policy decided by Tillerson and his team,” one veteran State Department official concluded.

Several sources were unsettled to see the chart omit any mention of other parts of the State Department, especially its many bureaus focused on specific regions and issues, such as the Middle East and economics.

Some noted that Hook and Tillerson could include career diplomats in policy discussions throughout the process, even if the chart does not describe a specific role for them. Certain longtime department employees, including acting Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Susan Thornton, are known to have Tillerson’s ear. It’s also possible that what the chart vaguely describes as an “internally” triggered policy demand could come from a junior diplomat with a big idea.

Regardless of those caveats, the sources consulted said the chart strongly implies that Hook and Tillerson are the authoritative drivers of foreign policy to an unusual degree.

Several sources — while cautioning that the chart could offer an incomplete picture — also noted with concern that it also implies that the secretary of state, the Cabinet and Trump himself might endorse a policy prior to any significant evaluation by the National Security Council. They argued it should be the other way around to prevent poorly informed policy options from being placed before Cabinet secretaries and the president.

One serving U.S. official said the chart seemed “delusional” in its measure of the State Department and Tillerson’s influence in policy making. The Defense Department and the White House itself are major players in crafting U.S. foreign policy; and in the case of Tillerson, he’s clashed with Trump on so many levels — even reportedly calling the president a “moron” — that his very future at State is in question.

“This would be a challenging process to manage effectively for even the most powerful and skilled secretary of state, and we don’t have that right now,” said Derek Chollet, who was a deputy director of the Policy Planning Staff under former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. “I don’t understand how this comports with any reality that we’re aware of.”

The State Department’s Policy Planning Staff was created in 1947 by legendary diplomat George Kennan at the request of then-Secretary of State George C. Marshall. It’s supposed to be an independent source of analysis and often acts as a second opinion on policy for the secretary. According to the department’s own explanation, Policy Planning tends to “take a longer term, strategic view of global trends.”

Various secretaries of state have employed the office in different ways. It was considered unusually active under James Baker, when George H.W. Bush was president. It was also considered relatively active when Hillary Clinton was secretary of state.

But former and current U.S. officials said that, even in those days, the Policy Planning Staff worked hand in hand with other divisions at State instead of supplanting them. A case in point was the “pivot to Asia” strategy publicly articulated by Clinton — but widely considered the brainchild of then-Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell.

Hook’s role at State is drawing increasing scrutiny from lawmakers, many of whom are troubled by Tillerson’s slowness in filling the many vacant assistant secretary and other leadership positions at State. The jobs remain unfilled as Tillerson is working on a plan to restructure and streamline the entire department.

Hook and his crew on the Policy Planning Staff — which numbers around two dozen, according to the State Department’s website — wield unusual power in part because so many key jobs are empty or held by diplomats on an acting basis. And unlike assistant secretaries or other top officials, Hook’s position doesn’t require Senate confirmation, which troubles some on Capitol Hill.

Observers say Hook, viewed as a relatively mainstream Republican, is running ragged trying to meet the demands placed on him.

“Hook is like a one-man band frantically, albeit valiantly, trying to play all the instruments, as competent and experienced musicians are made to stand on the sidelines,” one U.S. official said.

There have been reports that Tillerson, as part of a broader effort to restructure the State Department, wants to greatly expand the size of the Policy Planning Staff. The department did not immediately respond to questions about those reports. Still, even the possibility is meeting resistance among some lawmakers.

Last month, Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire tacked an amendment onto a State Department appropriations bill that seeks to limit the size of the Policy Planning Staff, subject to certain conditions. The broader bill, which was approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee, also largely rejected Trump’s effort to slash the State Department’s funding by a third. (from politico)

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The next piece of the puzzle? Try this from NBC News, a Trump certified purveyor of Fake Stuff.

A federal watchdog agency will investigate President Donald Trump’s Election Integrity Commission, it was announced Thursday.

The Government Accountability Office plans to probe the voter fraud panel’s funding, internal operations and how it is protecting and sorting the tens of millions of sensitive voter files the commission has collected.

The announcement comes after three Democratic senators — Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Michael Bennet of Colorado and Cory Booker of New Jersey — sent a letter last week urging the agency to investigate the commission, saying it had ignored several requests from Congress aimed at understanding its work. The senators said the panel’s creation and operations were “cause for serious concern.”

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Okay, are you seeing the overall picture yet? No? Well, then, try this…also from Politico:

One of the Trump campaign’s top data firms sought to connect with Julian Assange before the 2016 election, the Wikileaks founder said on Twitter on Wednesday.

“I can confirm an approach by Cambridge Analytica [prior to November last year] and can confirm that it was rejected by WikiLeaks,” Assange wrote.

The interaction was first reported by The Daily Beast, which said the firm approached WikiLeaks about finding emails sent during Hillary Clinton’s time as secretary of state that were not made public by the State Department. Assange, however, did not specify in his tweet who from Cambridge Analytica approached him or what they sought.

“We have confirmed the approach and rejection only. Not the subject,” Assange later added on Twitter.

WikiLeaks has come under scrutiny since the U.S. intelligence community concluded that the organization was given Democrats’ hacked emails as part of a Russian government effort to interfere in the election to help Donald Trump. WikiLeaks has denied any connection to the Russian effort.

Special counsel Robert Mueller is leading an investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 campaign, including whether any Trump associates colluded with Moscow.

Cambridge Analytica, a data firm with deep ties to the billionaire Mercer family, was paid $5.9 million by Trump’s campaign during the 2016 campaign cycle. Neither WikiLeaks nor Cambridge Analytica responded to POLITICO’s request for comment.

Trump’s campaign released a statement later Wednesday that appeared to try to distance itself from Cambridge Analytica. (click the link, above, for the rest of the story)

Then, the last piece of the puzzle…FaceBook, and it’s continued “inadvertent” attack on mainstream journalism.

Facebook has been criticised for the worrying impact on democracy of its “downright Orwellian” decision to run an experiment seeing professional media removed from the main news feed in six countries.

The experiment, which began 19 October and is still ongoing, involves limiting the core element of Facebook’s social network to only personal posts and paid adverts.

So-called public posts, such as those from media organisation Facebook pages, are being moved to a separate “explore” feed timeline. As a result, media organisations in the six countries containing 1% of the world’s population – Sri Lanka, Guatemala, Bolivia, Cambodia, Serbia and Slovakia – have had one of their most important publishing platforms removed overnight.

“The Facebook explore tab killed 66% of our traffic. Just destroyed it … years of really hard work were just swept away,” says Dina Fernandez, a journalist and member of the editorial board at Guatemalan news site Soy502. “It has been catastrophic, and I am very, very worried.”

In Slovakia, data from Facebook-owned analytics site CrowdTangle shows that “interactions” – engagement such as likes, shares and comments – fell by 60% overnight for the Facebook pages of a broad selection of the country’s media Facebook pages. Filip Struhárik, a Slovakian journalist with news site Denník N, says the situation has since worsened, falling by a further 5%.

“Lower reach can be a problem for smaller publishers, citizens’ initiatives, small NGOs,” Struhárik said. “They can’t afford to pay for distribution on Facebook by boosting posts – and they don’t have infrastructure to reach people other ways.”

Struhárik thinks his employer will survive the change. Denník N has subscription revenue, which means it doesn’t rely on the vast traffic that Facebook can drive for advertising income, and ensures that its most dedicated readers go straight to its homepage for their news. But Fernandez, in Guatemala, is much more concerned.

Even if Facebook reversed the change today, she says, “I really don’t know how long it will take to recover. If they reverse it fast enough it will be less difficult. If they take a long time, we might not be around.” Soy502 is a new site in an unstable democracy where journalists and civil society groups already face an uphill battle to be heard.

“We currently have a smear campaign that is targeting journalists, which is really vicious, fuelled by interest groups who are against the anti-corruption drive in our country,” she says. “We are regarded in the region as a success story on new media for the digital age. This can destroy us.”

Moving media content to the explore feed, a secondary section of the site that is rolling out worldwide, means users who really want to see posts from sites they follow have to click over to look for them – if they can find them.

“I don’t know what the criteria used to show news is. I see a lot of junk in the feed,” says Fernandez. “At least with past algorithms you had an idea of what would show up. With these, it’s completely strange.”

Fernandez shared examples of the sort of posts filling the explore feed: clips of wrestling and reality TV shows from pages like “Filosóraptor” and “Cabronazi” (illustrated with a picture of Adolf Hitler in a pink uniform), but few pieces of content from the pages she and her colleagues had chosen to follow. “My timeline is showing me very little local news.”

In Slovakia memes and gifs are the better end of the spectrum. “My explore feed looks quite normal, but a few people told me that they see distinct content here – old jokes, alt-right pages, posts by non-standard politicians,” said Struhárik. “We have regional elections in two weeks, and a lot of members of the fascist party are candidates, so it’s not a good time to hide posts of serious news and show people a strange cocktail of random popular posts.”

Where there are losers, there are winners. Jim Anderson, the chief executive of Facebook mega-publisher SocialFlow, says “millions of publishers of all shapes and sizes have pages on Facebook, so there may well be someone out there who benefits.

“In general, publishers’ concern is that the news feed is the primary Facebook experience for most users. Getting two billion people into the habit of consuming content in a new place is a tall order.”

Facebook has long tested sweeping changes to its product on subsections of its user base. When it wanted to roll out a new stories feature, for instance, it did so in Ireland first; when it wanted to trial a new camera app, it did so in Brazil; when it wanted to test adverts in Messenger, Australia was the subject.

But in this case, the standard practice of focusing on smaller, less developed countries that matter less to the company’s bottom line means that the nations which have been hit are those with the most riding on a stable media ecosystem.

“Independent media in my country is vital to building a new democracy and fighting corruption,” says Otto Angel, a broadcast journalist in Guatemala. “Right now, we use Facebook Live to broadcast judicial hearings in corruption cases. With this ‘catastrophe’, we lose around 57% of clicks a day.

“If I could speak with some officer of Facebook, I will ask if they can take back this project,” Angel said.

Fernandez accused Facebook of simply not caring what happened to its test subjects. “It’s like it took sites in emerging markets where we don’t really matter. We at Soy502 worked really hard to become a viable, respectable news site four years ago, and it all can be destroyed right away.”

In a statement released Monday, Facebook’s head of news feed, Adam Mosseri, said that the company “currently” had no plans to roll the test out further. But he added the purpose of the test was to see whether Facebook users prefer the site if “personal” and “public” posts are separated. If the results are positive, and Facebook does find that the metrics it seeks to optimise are improved by the experiment, then its plans could well change.

For those who rely on Facebook to campaign politically, share breaking news, or keep up to date with the world, that might be a concerning thought. “I’m worried about the impact of Facebook on democracy,” said Fernandez. “One company in particular has a gigantic control on the flow of information worldwide. This alone should be worrisome. It’s downright Orwellian.”

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So, just where are we now? Well first, a little irony from Bill Yeats, by way of a timely, and perhaps patiently pedantic reminder:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre   
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere   
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst   
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.   
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out   
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert   
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,   
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,   
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it   
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.   
The darkness drops again; but now I know   
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,   
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,   
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
William Butler Yeats | The Second Coming

Yeats gets trotted out for a turn around the track every so often, ever since he wrote the piece as the First World War was winding down – and the Irish “troubles” were winding up yet again – and the poem has been with almost nauseating frequency since the Brexit vote in the UK two years ago, not to mention Trump’s coronation last November. It’s a telling indictment that we find comfort wrapping up our current troubles in such dark spiritualism, yet there’s truth in Yeats’ verse, too.

We see the “best of us” these days lacking a certain political conviction (don’t we?) while we see no end of passionate intensity – everywhere we look. From San Francisco to Beijing to the streets of Barcelona, everywhere we turn there’s lots of intensity on display, just waiting to come pouring down on all of us. Everyone’s upset and there’s a growing, almost pervasive sense of hopelessness about events in our collective body politic that Yeats speaks to…and that means something, like a canary in a coal mine means something.

…Almost like our elected representatives no longer represent…us. They have become our nightmare, and we are left, the indignant desert birds, to wonder what rough beast is coming to claim it’s rightful place on the (our?) throne.

We are confronting dissolution on almost every front, dissolution from within, dissolution all around us. Dissolution on the home front, where norms of discourse are falling apart before our eyes, where Neo-Nazi white nationalists are claiming their place at the table and beginning to define one way forward. And rather than stand up to this rabble, the Republican Party is capitulating, handing over the keys to the kingdom while the moderates are drifting to the sidelines, resigning rather than fighting for principle.

Flake, Corker, McCain…who will remember these names a few years hence? Who will remember their stand when Bannon and his acolytes begin to write their own history of the Republican Party – as we weather the winter of our own discontent. Who will remember that people like Flake and Corker ran rather than stayed to fight for their principles? To fight the good, honest fight?

Anyone? You?

So, what happens next, when Republican-sponsored corporate neo-fascism reigns supreme? Will you wake-up and smell the stench when they call off elections in 2018, or maybe 2020 – because of pervasive election fraud? After Gerrymandering is legitimized by the Supreme Court? Will you care enough to make a stand then?

And abroad, where the American exodus continues, where Trump, Tillerson & Co continue to dismantle the structural precepts that created the post-war global world order? Has anyone really given any thought at all about what happens when America is almost fully disengaged from the world? About the economic chaos such a sudden vacuum will create, and the full-blown economic tsunami that will engulf the so-called Third World when trade with America simply – stops? Can China exist in a world without America? Can Japan, or Germany? How far off will the last gasp be then?

If you take Trump and Bannon seriously, and you should, I’d start to care about these things more than you have to date. These people are talking more and more like they want to put a wall around this country, stop immigration completely, take basic rights away from those they consider inferior (read: Blacks and Browns, or anyone who disagrees with what the generals have to say) and, perhaps one day soon, we’ll start hearing about plans to resume repatriating people to the continents of their origins. Hey, it’s happened before, and don’t think it isn’t being talked about around campfires in Trumpland. In Germany, in the thirties, they called it the Madagascar Plan, but hey, look at Liberia and ask yourself why the capital is called Monrovia. We’ve been there, done that, and there’s no reason why we can’t go there again – once we forget who we are, and once we forget about the one common thread that holds us all together…

It’s called the constitution, by the way, that meaningless piece of paper some Republicans take great pride in trampling all over these days. It’s called the Rule of Law, that forgotten lady now rented out on occasion, to the highest bidder.

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I’ll conclude with a piece from this evening’s Atlantic.

“Unprecedented” has become one of the most popular terms to use when discussing President Trump. On any given day since January 20 2017, the odds are good that a person can turn on their televisions or browse through a news story to encounter some pundit discussing how President Trump’s actions are unlike anything we have ever seen before.

As a “public intellectual” who takes to the airwaves frequently, I often find myself fielding this question about all sorts of issues. The gatekeepers of the chyron perpetually have their ears open to hear a guest utter those words. Because of how unpredictable and bizarre so much of the news seems to be in the era of Trump, the desire to blurt out “unprecedented!” when discussing the state of American politics is always strong.

For a historian such as myself, using the term is always trickier than it seems. The knee-jerk response to the “unprecedented” question is to instantly reach back into our database and recall a person, a moment, or a crisis that reveals unexpected similarities to what is happening today. If we misuse the term unprecedented, we risk missing what is really new while ignoring the deep political roots to what is currently taking place in Washington. We fall prey to Trump Exceptionalism by forgetting how much of the ugliness and dysfunction did not appear out nowhere. If we look into the window of history, we can see that much of Trump’s presidency has a pretty solid foundation.

If we use “unprecedented” with care, then we are able to see what is genuinely distinct about the moment within which we live. Never have we had a president, for instance, who directly communicates with the public in the same kind of unscripted, ad-hoc, and off-the-cuff manner as we have witnessed with Trump. The kind of unbridled rhetorical attacks that he has unleashed on every enemy from the news industry to Puerto Rican officials to kneeling NFL football players to Republican legislators has been a striking contrast to what we have witnessed in American presidential history. In contrast to FDR, who spoke directly to the public through fireside chats on the radio that were carefully crafted, thoughtfully edited, and broadcast strategically, President Trump has used Twitter to literally say what is on his mind at any moment without much consideration for the consequences. This is a new style of presidential communication and a dramatic lowering of the editorial barrier as to what the commander in chief is willing to utter before the world.

Another truly unprecedented part of the Trump presidency that doesn’t get much attention anymore has to do with the massive conflict of interest that exists in this Oval Office. When the president made a decision in January to avoid erecting a strict firewall between his family business and the presidency, he set the democracy on a dangerous path that we have not yet experienced. Never have we had a businessperson with such vast economic holdings as president. To have our leader be the titular head of a sprawling global company with property interests all over the globe, even with his two sons “running the business,” creates obvious problematic situations where the line between making money and making policy is permanently blurred.

The Washington Post recently reported how the private prison company GEO Group decided to hold its annual conference this year at Trump’s Miami resort rather than near its headquarters in Boca Raton, Florida. The company and its top executives have donated a considerable amount to the president. The decision by the company, which has ramped up its lobbying operation in Washington and whose business is booming this year, was in part a result of signing a contract to build an immigration-detention center, and will now be bringing good business to one of the Trump properties—which have already enjoyed endless free advertising every time the president spends his golfing weekends at one of these resorts.

There are other times, however, where using the term “unprecedented” masks the ways in which Trump is simply exploiting the way that we have allowed our government institutions to evolve.

Take his rampant use of presidential power to dismantle climate-change regulations put into place by former President Barack Obama and his efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act through a slow, administrative death. The risks of expanding presidential power over the course of the 20th century have been well documented. Arthur Schlesinger Jr., who had been a supporter and part of several Democratic administrations that strengthened the executive branch, warned of the “Imperial Presidency” when Richard Nixon was in office. Democrats were furious about how many of Ronald Reagan’s appointees in the 1980s, like James Watt at Interior or Clarence Thomas at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, refused to enforce the programs for which they were responsible.

Democrats were likewise outraged when President George W. Bush used signing statements and executive orders to aggressively conduct the war on terrorism regardless of legislative restraints, while Republicans were outraged by the way that President Clinton used the same power to protect the environment or President Obama to expand protection to the children of illegal immigrants. President Trump has been following in their footsteps, often in more dramatic fashion than we have seen, paying very little attention to legislating and using the executive power that he inherited to achieve his domestic aims.

Excessive use of “unprecedented” can mask the ways in which Trump’s presidency is an outgrowth of deep trends that have been taking hold in recent decades. He is the symptom of our divided, polarized times, rather than the root cause. For instance, the fact that President Trump spends so much of his time “playing to the base” and ignoring bipartisan opportunities should not be a surprise. We have lived through decades where the forces of partisan polarization have hardened. The parties move further and further apart, with the center vanishing.

While recent presidents, unlike Trump, have still attempted to look for points of compromise, the truth is that they have usually failed. Much of what presidents do these days is focus on their party, and in doing so appeal to the activists and organizations who are loudest and most influential within their coalition. Working for Karl Rove in 2004, adviser Matthew Dowd popularized a strategy that appealed to the base. The assumption of Bush’s reelection campaign was that much of the country, those counties in blue, would never be turned, so best to increase the turnout of core supporters.

 

In congressional politics, appealing to the base has become a standard tactic in an era of ever-present primary challenges. The rhetoric of partisan polarization vilifies opponents, and imagines a political universe where it is impossible to agree with what the other party has spread through the elaborate partisan media that shapes much of our conversations about Washington. In many respects, the way that President Trump thinks about politics is utterly conventional and, in fact, makes sense given how our system works. We have been witnessing partisan polarization for so long that we should have expected a president who would drop the pretense and embrace this reality without hesitation.

Sometimes using the term “unprecedented” is just a mistake and limits our historical vision. When Senators Bob Corker and Jeff Flake attacked President Trump, warning of dangerous instability in the Oval Office, many pundits were quick to describe a moment unlike anything we had seen before. The truth is that there have been numerous intra-party feuds that unfolded before the public. One of the most legendary of these fights took place between Franklin Roosevelt and the conservative Southern Democrats who ruled Congress in 1938. FDR actively campaigned against legislators like Georgia Senator Walter George in the primaries, hoping to “purge” them from the party. He failed, and there was hell to pay on his domestic agenda in the years to come. The personal and political tension between Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy and President Jimmy Carter became severe. When asked by a congressman about a challenge from Kennedy in the 1980 Democratic primaries, Carter replied: “I’ll whip his ass.”

When President George H. W. Bush accepted tax increases as part of a 1990 deficit-reduction package, House Republican Minority Whip Newt Gingrich was outraged. He bolted out of the budget negotiations in fury and publicly castigated the president, never forgiving him for this sin. The president was so upset with his fellow Republican that he refused to shake hands at a White House ceremony. The language of the conflict in these cases was not nearly as personal. But bitter intra-party tensions between presidents and legislators have happened before, and often the damage to the party has been severe.

The temptation to blurt out “unprecedented” will continue to remain strong. President Trump will continue to test our ability to even pause before uttering this word. But it is crucial to show restraint in our commentary, to offer a clear understanding of when President Trump has truly done something that we have never seen before or, rather, when he is exploiting parts of our political institutions and traditions in a manner that exposes the troubling ways in which our democracy has evolved.

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So, Halloween is coming up, lots of candy and trick-or-treaters out, so be careful driving out there…always lots of little goblins lurking in the shadows.

KingAir

Ghost On A Canvas

I know a place between life and death for you and me
Let’s take hold on the threshold of eternity
And see the ghost on the canvas
People don’t see us ghost on the canvas
People don’t know when they’re looking at souls

In between here and there there’s a place that we can grow
Spirits make love in a wheat field with crows
Like a ghost on a canvas people don’t see them
Ghost on a canvas no oh oh oh
They never see souls

Ring around the rosary pocketful of prosary
Ashes to ashes we all fall in love
With ghost on the canvas

We dream in colour others they colour their dreams
Takes one to know one a Spirit always knows when it’s seen
Like a ghost on a canvas never can happen
Ghost on a canvas
It’s the soul that makes them go
People don’t know ohh ohhh ohhh
When they’re looking in souls
Better take hold
I’m the ghost on the canvas

Glen Campbell, 2011 (April 22, 1936 – August 8, 2017)

Thanks for the memories, Amigo.

Corcovado | Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars

Corcovado 1

So, while working on Deep End I started work on a new story, a sailing story, of course. I don’t like working on two stories at once – which is why I usually ending up doing just that – but this is a work-in-progress, too, and unfinished (boo-hiss). Still, have fun. I’ll finish this before Deep End, I guess.

The title? A song, of course. I like Sinatra’s version, but there are dozens out there, including a nice one by Queen Latifah (oh, try her rendering of Poetry Man).

So… Pour yourself a Drambuie and settle in, put on some music and have a read.

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Corcovado | Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars

I

She was gone now. Gone just now, and he was alone in their house, their home, and memories seemed to push in on him.

Twenty-three years together. Gone, down in flames, an assumed destiny reduced to the lowest common denominator by depositions and faultless recriminations. Contrived recriminations, he reminded himself. False memories, misplaced motives.

He heard it first, through a grapevine he’d never known existed, that she was having an affair. Young guy. Some guy who had time on his hands…time enough to take care of her liquid dreams. First, a quiet confrontation, then an equally quiet agreement, and once arrived at it was over – there was nothing left to say, little left to do.

Or…was there? Like…what comes next?

He moved his belongings down to the marina, moved onto the little boat they had sailed on weekends – together. It was big enough, he told himself, to hold onto the things left, the things worth holding onto.

He went to work two days after he moved aboard, drove out to SeaTac, walked to the dispatch office, picked up and scanned through the preflight briefing for the leg to KSLC. He read the met synopsis, checked off the squawks and signed the fuel load-out, then walked through the quiet terminal to the security line. He checked his watch – 4:20 in the morning – while he shuffled through the crew line, then, when he was through, he walked out to the gate and onto the old 757.

All the lights were off – save a few in the galley that cast oblique little pools of blue and amber where the Jetway met the doorway, and he grinned at other memories. How long had it been, he wondered, since he had been the first to board? How long ago had he worn three stripes on his sleeves?

He went to the cockpit and reached into the darkness, feeling for the switch on the overhead panel that would turn on the dome light, but it was second nature now – and had been…for fifteen years. He had to admit…this confined little space was home, his real home. Barbara had never understood that, not really, and had never been willing to share him with this other world. Even if she was proud, in a way, of his calling, she hated him for this one chaste passion.

He sat and started flipping switches, activating electrical buses and checking ground power status, then he started entering data in the old girl’s nav system. He heard a couple of flight attendants come aboard, listened to their careless banter – because they assumed they were the first aboard this morning – and he smiled when he heard one of them notice there were lights on in the cockpit.

Then…footsteps.

A knock on the door.

“Captain? You here already?”

He turned, looked at Marcy Stewart and smiled. “Yup. That seems to be the case.”

“Can I get you some coffee, Jim?”

“No thanks, darlin’,” he said. He liked Marcy, had been to her wedding two summers ago and, because her father had recently passed and he had walked her down the aisle, given her away as best he could.

“We heard about Barbara,” she said, walking into the cockpit just a little. “I’m so sorry, Jim.”

He nodded, turned back to the panel and squeezed his eyes shut for a moment – then he felt her standing right behind his seat, her hand on his shoulder.

“You okay?” she asked.

“Yeah, I’m copacetic.”

“How many we got this morning?”

“Looks full. Sorry. No rest for the wicked.”

“Orange juice?”

“Oh…sure. A little one?”

“Comin’ right up.”

He watched the fuel boss supervising the truck for a moment, then heard his FO walk through the galley on his way up…

“So, it’s true,” Will Eberling said as he came in and hung up his coat. “How long you been here?”

“Half hour, maybe.”

“Leave anything for me to do?”

He almost laughed. “Maybe. I hear the aft head portside is clogged. Why don’t you go do some of that plumber shit…”

Eberling ignored that one, contorted his way into the right seat and ran through his procedures, and even managed to set up his FMS in less than ten minutes. “Ready to hit the bricks?” Eberling said when it was time to do their walk-around down on the ramp.

“Starting to rain a little,” he said as he made his way to the galley. It was cold out, too, like not quite 40 degrees yet, and it was still snowing like crazy in Salt Lake. He made it down to the concrete and walked to the number one engine, confirmed oil and hydraulic pressures were good, then he walked around the gears and tires, giving them a practiced look over. When he was finished he walked over to the fuel boss and took the chit, looked it over once and signed it.

Eberling was waiting for him at the metal stairway, looking southeast. Mount Rainier was barely visible – just – in the dim, early morning light, and he stopped and looked into the shades of gray for a while, then they walked up to the vestibule that connected the old girl to this earth.

Marcy was waiting for him, a glass of orange juice in hand when he came back to the pools of light.

“You sure you don’t want something hot?” she asked, looking at the water running off his rain-coat, and his nose.

He took the juice and downed it, shook his head. “Maybe before we shut the door?”

“Got it,” she said.

He noticed the way she looked at Eberling just then. Kind of a “keep an eye on him this morning” look.

“There are no secrets between crew members,” he remembered one of his training captains telling him once – almost thirty years before. Just the opposite of life in the Navy, he’d had to remind himself. Everything was different – again.

Yet there’d been one constant all through his life so far: Barbara. And Ted, he had to remind himself.

She’d been by his side since their second year together, at school. She’d stuck with him when he’d decided to go into the Navy after graduation, and she’d visited while he struggled through OCS, and he couldn’t have finished without her, he knew. She was his future even then, and they knew it. They got married after he finished up at Pensacola, and when they moved to Pearl she seemed to love him all the more for his calling.

But…things change, don’t they? People change, too.

Eberling was calling out the pre-start checklist now, and he woke up the old girl with her old, familiar routines, got her ready for another day in the air. He was on automatic pilot too, and he knew it…going through all the old, easy motions. He didn’t have to think about what he was doing now; all these motions were in deepest muscle-memory. His fingers found switches without any need to look, because every little thing in this cockpit had it’s own sound and feel.

“Yaw dampers – ”

“One and two, check…”

“IRS – ALIGN to NAV…”

“One, check…two…and three…”

He watched the pushback truck line up, felt the slightest jolt as they mated – then he was talking to the ground boss…

“Clear to start One, Captain…”

“Starting one…”

Eberling finished the switch from ground power to internal buses while he kept his hand on the tiller, then the truck was free…

“Delta 217, clear to taxi Bravo to one-six left. You’re number two behind a Scandinavian 340, contact tower one-nineteen-nine. Good day.”

“217 to left and nineteen-nine,” he said – and suddenly, in that moment, he knew he’d be okay. All the weight from the past couple of days slipped from his shoulders and he took a deep breath, shook his head.

“You okay, Jim?” Eberling said – a little too quietly.

“Yup. Five by five.” He watched the taxiway lights slip by – in an order he understood all too well – and he braked when they were still about a hundred yards behind the A340 – while Eberling called out the last items on the pre-takeoff checklist.

He watched the -340 turn onto the active, it’s drooping wings heavy with fuel – then it’s engines ran up and she lumbered down the runway.

“217, taxi to position and hold.”

“217.”

He turned onto the runway, lined up on the centerline, flipped off the taxi-lights, turned on the wing lights…

“217, clear for takeoff, contact departure one twenty decimal four for a Summa One departure.”

“217, 120.4, Summa Four, roger.”

He advanced the throttles to 40%N1 then cut them to idle for a moment, turned on the auto-throttle and the flight director, then engaged the auto-pilot…and the old girl eased down the runway for a few seconds – until she transitioned to full take-off power – then she screamed down the runway and leapt into the sky.

“Positive rate,” he called out, and Eberling raised the gears, then: “One-sixty, slats two. One seven five…clean the wing…”

He watched the autopilot track in on the Summa intersection, then as it made the transition to the Baker City VOR…

He didn’t remember much about that day, only the feeling of normalcy that seemed to come for him so gently, so quietly. He remembered having dinner with Marcy that night, at some raucous place in Malibu. How she’d held his hand after, telling him that it would be alright soon.

“It already is, Marcy.”

She’d nodded once, then looked at him long and hard. “Divorce is like death, Jim. You’ll grieve…”

“No, I won’t. She was cheating on me, Marcy. I won’t grieve over that. I can’t…”

Then she had just nodded her head again. Slowly. Knowingly. Just like Barbara might have…

+++++

And, of course, it hadn’t been quite that simple…because at points both lawyers were trying to run up the hours…but the thing about it was – he didn’t want a fight, and neither did Barbara. She was willing to give him the house and the boat, but then he’d asked “Where the devil will you live? That guy’s apartment?”

And so…he’d let her have the house, because, he told her, he knew she loved it so.

And when she broke into tears and ran into his arms he’d held onto her, instinctively, protectively – just as he had for the past thirty years – then he’d kissed her on top of her head and slipped free, that one last time. He signed some papers a few weeks later and it was a done deal, and somehow it was like the last thirty years had never really happened.

+++++

Altair was inscribed on the boat’s navy blue stern…which was how his son found it that morning. He’d moved the boat from Shilshole Bay Marina to Lake Union a few weeks before, and only remembered to let Ted know the night before, before he boarded his overnight flight in Boston for the trip home. His own flight got in a half hour after Ted’s, and by the time he made it to the dock Ted was already lounging in the cockpit.

“Ah…the prodigal son returns, but – my God…you look just like Jesus! When’s the last time you went to a barbershop…?”

“Hey, Dad. How’s it hangin’?”

“Still down to my knees.”

“Yeah…but does it still work?” Ted quipped as he hopped down to the dock and hugged his ‘old man.’ “Well, at least you still look like you could…”

“You might, too, someday, if we could only get you out of diapers.”

“Ooh…low blow.”

“Get your stuff stowed?”

“Yup. You sure you want me to take the aft cabin?”

“Yeah, I like it up forward. Where I put my stuff when…”

“You really got three weeks off?”

“Almost four. I don’t have to report back until June 28th, and man-o-man, am I looking forward to some downtime.”

“So? Where we headed?”

“Feel like hitting Desolation Sound?” He watched his son’s eyes light up like a little kid’s and they both smiled, then he looked around the deck. “Got everything you need?”

“I think so, yeah.”

“Did you call your mom? Let her know you’re in…?”

The change that came over his son looked just like a fat summer’s cloud racing across a hot August prairie – bright sunshine to cool, lingering shadow in a heartbeat, then the heat again. Ted was still sorting through his anger, trying to understand her sudden, final betrayal, but he had yet to reconcile with her – said he never would. He had been content to let it go at that while Ted was so far away, but now that he was “home” he was going to have to do something about it. Barbara was still fragile where Ted was concerned.

“No,” was Ted’s final stony, sullen reply.

“Okay.” Which seemed to take the wind out of his son’s sails. “You wanna grab the bowlines while I warm up the motor?”

“Will do.”

A few minutes later he backed out of his slip into Lake Union, and he let Ted take the helm while he tidied up the deck, making Altair ready for sea –

– but first – they’d have to transit Ballard Locks, and Ted had never tackled them before.

So he ran the lines needed while Ted steered down-channel, then he took the wheel when the lock’s entry signal turned green –

“When we get lined-up in there, toss your lines up to the lock-keeper on the dock. He’ll tie us off – our job is to let out line as the water drops and we fall, keeping us off the wall – and the boats around us. It gets pretty turbulent, so brace yourself.”

A half hour later they were running through Shilshole Bay – leaving Seattle in their wake – when the sun broke through early morning, low-scudding cumulus.

“You bring any beer?” his son asked.

“Diet Dr Pepper and chicken salad sammies today.”

“No beer?”

“No beer.”

“Dude…you’re sick.”

“Dude…you’re twenty.”

“But…I thought it was like against the Law of the Sea to leave port without a case of Budweiser.”

“Yup, that’s probably true.”

“So?”

“Sorry, Dude. I’m just not into that stuff.”

“Got any new books, at least?”

“Nope.”

“Jeez, Dad…a month without beer…and no books? You going for the priesthood or something?”

“No. One in the family will be enough.”

Ted looked away. “What makes you say that?” he said a while later.

“Jesuit school, Jesuit college all those theology classes. Or maybe I don’t know you that well.”

“You’re the only person who ever got me, Dad.”

“So…seminary school is next on your horizon?”

“I think so, yeah. But…”

“What about med school?”

“Yeah, that too.”

“Still no girlfriend?”

And again, Ted turned away, lost, trying to find the right words. “I was kinda hoping to try that this summer.”

“Try – what?”

“The whole sex thing. Girls, that kinda thing.”

“Oh,” he said, grinning at the irony. “No girls in Beantown?”

“Just hasn’t been right.”

“I see. Would you grab me a DDP?”

“Sure. Want a sandwich?”

“Nope, not yet.”

He watched his boy amble down the companionway and come back up with four Diet Dr Peppers, and they both downed one in a fast gulp, then opened their second and sipped that one slowly.

“What about that gal from Rhode Island? Didn’t work out?”

Ted shook his head. “She was weird, like she was looking for someone to be her daddy.”

He laughed. “I know the type.”

“Mom?”

“No…a couple of stews I’ve known…”

“Dad!?”

“No, not that. It’s more like I’m a, well, a Father Confessor to a lot of the girls. When they get in trouble it seems they always come to me.”

“Trouble?”

“Abusive boyfriends, husbands. Unwanted pregnancies. That kind of thing. I guess I have that kind of face.”

“You always have.”

“What?”

“As long as I can remember. You remember Pete Baker?”

“The kid with eyes like a smallmouth bass? Used to sleep over weekends?”

“Yup. He thought you were God Almighty Himself. You’d come in from a flight in your uniform and all he wanted to do was stay up all night talking airplanes…”

“So? What are you getting at?”

“Remember when he broke his leg? Playing football?”

“Yeah…we went to see him at the hospital.”

“Yeah. All he wanted was to hear you tell him everything would be alright. Didn’t matter what his mom said. To him, well, you were his dad.”

“What?”

“You didn’t know that, did you? You have no idea how you affect people, none at all. I think that’s what’s so hard to take about you.”

“Hard to take?”

“Yeah. It’s like you’re this high priest, the High Priest of Boeing.”

He laughed at that – for quite a while. “Of Boeing. I like that.”

“Yeah? Well, it’s true. You’ve always had that effect on people. Half the kids from school who came over hoped they’d get a chance to talk to you…”

“About?”

“Anything.”

“I think we need to stop off for some beer.”

“See? There’s a method to my madness.”

+++++

They docked in Friday Harbor that night, and though the sun was still up when Altair entered the little harbor, once the boat was tied-off in the tiny marina they decided to head below and grab some sleep. It was just past two in the morning when he woke up – at his customary time – and headed topside to look things over.

Altair was a chunky forty-five feet long, broad-beamed with an enclosed center cockpit that provided better-than-decent shelter from the often drizzly weather on Puget Sound. The tradeoff with this design was simple enough to understand, however, because while it kept the sun and the wind and the rain out, he had lost the stars, and his most beloved star of all – Altair.

Old habits die hardest, he grumbled as he stumbled around the deck in the dark. He woke up at least once every night and to check the dock-lines – more often when the weather was wild – and he held onto stanchions and lifelines as he made his way forward, stubbing a toe once on a cleat and trying not to curse.

“You up already?” he heard Ted say, and as his eyes adapted to the dark he spied his son sitting on the bow pulpit.

“Every morning at two, come rain or shine.”

“You know…that’s not normal.”

“It is…if you have to be in the cockpit by four.”

“Maybe that’s why Mom always slept ‘til noon. Or…maybe it was the bourbon.”

“It wasn’t easy for her, you know.”

“She knew what she was signing up for, Pops. You were her meal ticket, her free ride.”

“She’s your mother, Ted, and I’m not sure she deserves that.”

“You always went too easy on her.”

“Easy?”

“The booze. The fucking around.”

“Don’t talk like that.”

“Jeez, Dad…she’d been cheating on you since I was in middle school.”

“And your point is?”

“My point? Well, when you were gone she was either stone drunk and passed out by the time I got home from school, or…”

“Ya know, Ted, it’s water under the bridge. I don’t want to hear it and you don’t need to live there. It’s over, and it seems to me a little forgiveness is in order – eh, Padre?”

He stood in the silence that followed, looking down at the stars reflecting off the water, searching for Altair.

“What about you, Pops? Did you fuck around?”

“Not once.”

“Figures. You’re the most saintly soul I’ve ever known. Too bad you’re an atheist.”

“I am not an atheist.”

“Oh, come on, Pops. The only time you’ve been in church was for a wedding or a funeral…”

“What does church have to do with God?”

They laughed at that one, one of his favorite lines, but he knew in his heart he might be wrong about all that stuff.

“I spend a lot of time in church now,” Ted added. “With the Fathers.”

“That sense of community is a powerful thing, son.”

“I know.”

“Is that what attracts you to the idea?”

“Maybe a little, but it’s the idea that there’s some purpose to all this, that maybe things happen for reasons we can never really fully understand.”

“My father was the same way. Said the only religious experience he’d ever had in his life was when he climbed a mountain over in Switzerland.”

“Sound like hypoxia to me.”

“Smart-ass.”

“Yup, and I have the SAT scores to prove it, too.”

“You got your brains from my dad, and your mother. Man, she was a real rocket scientist.”

“Until Jack Daniels came calling, anyway.”

“I guess we all have our crosses to bear.”

“You know what her’s is?”

“No, not really. A hunch, but she would never open up about it.”

“What’s your hunch?”

He sighed, shook his head. “You know what? Maybe you should ask her someday.”

“You’re just not going to speak ill of her, are you?”

“Nope.”

“You still love her?”

“Yup.”

“Jesus, Dad. Why…?”

“Why? Oh, I guess it has something to do with standing before God and making a promise to that effect.”

“But she…”

“There are no buts, kiddo. A promise is a promise, even if the other person can’t keep up their end of the bargain. You’re only as good as your word, and don’t you ever forget that.”

“I don’t imagine you’ll let me.”

“I won’t always be around, Ted. That’s something you’d do well to remember, too.”

“Oh?”

“You and your mother need to clear the air, come to terms.”

“Is she sick?”

“Not that I know of, but…”

“I’m not ready for that, Dad.”

“Okay…”

They heard it then…a disturbance in the water…a rippling in the air, and they turned and looked down into the inky starscape, saw a sea otter swimming on it’s back, looking up at them as it circled lazily under the bow pulpit.

“I’ll be…” he said.

“I thought these guys were extinct,” Ted whispered.

“Not quite. I see ‘em every now and then, even in the lake.”

“Damn…he seems almost tame.”

“Not likely. More like brazen confidence. They don’t fear us anymore, I guess.”

“Did they hunt them for their pelts?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Damn.”

“Yup. They’re kinda cute, ya know?”

“Kind of? I don’t know about you, but I’d like one as a pet.”

“Yeah? Well, aside from being aquatic mammals, they’re also wild. I don’t think that’s a such a good combination, even for a dorm room, but go ahead – ask her.”

“Her?”

“Hey, Paco, she’s laying on her back…see any relevant hardware?”

“When did you start calling me Paco? I was still a spud, right?”

“Oh, when we went down to Mazatlán that Christmas. You were, let’s see, four? You couldn’t eat too many tacos, and, well, Paco rhymes with…”

“Gee, that sounds original, Dad.”

He looked up into the night sky, found Altair in an instant and felt suddenly reassured that it was still there, and that struck him as odd. Had his life changed so much, been so thoroughly disrupted that now he felt unsure of even the stars? Then images of Ted eating tacos in a Mexican village filled his mind’s eye…

“You had to be there, I guess, as a parent. You stuffed those things in so fast…your cheeks were so puffed-out…you were a sight. You had your first beer then, too.”

“I – what?”

“Well, you don’t drink the water down there…”

“I remember…the Aztec two-step…”

“And then you bit into a huge jalapeño. Your face turned beet red and you started to tear up, and I had a bottle of Carta Blanca in hand. You reached up and grabbed it, downed about three-quarters of that bottle in one go…”

“And I’ve been madly in love with beer ever since.”

“I guess you thought it saved your life.”

“It probably did, ya know? Hallelujah, and praise the Lord!”

“Milk does a better job, so does Coke.”

“Thank God you drank beer those days.”

“Well, too late. There she goes,” he said as the otter rolled over and disappeared beneath the still waters.

“Damn. And I was really hoping…”

“So, you wanna get moving?”

“Now? It’s still kinda dark out, Pops.”

“Track’s laid in on the GPS…no problemo.”

“Well, sure; I’m still on east-coast time, so I’m up for the day.”

“Okay…I’ll fire up the diesel. You better go below and stow your gear…”

“I know the drill, Dad.”

Ten minutes later they were motoring out of the little harbor, north towards Little Flattop Island – and Canadian waters – and still there was no sign the sun was ready to put in an appearance. He sat behind the wheel, looking at chart symbology as Altair motored through the various channels between all the big and little islands that formed the way north, and then he heard Ted down below fixing coffee and warming croissants.

“You still do the Nutella and orange marmalade thing?” his boy, his “Paco,” called out over the rumbling diesel, and he shot a thumbs-up back at him. A few minutes later they were eating in the rumbling silence, the only sound the diesel working down below, but soon enough an apricot-salmon sky appeared over the mountains to the east, and he wondered what the day would bring.

“So, we putting into Vancouver tonight?” Ted asked.

“Yeah. Nanaimo is still kind of dead.”

“Suits me. Is Nancy’s still around?”

“Yeah, think so. Some traditions are still too strong for time to kill.” Nancy’s was THE place to meet and eat on the Sound, literally. It wasn’t called Desolation Sound without reason, but it helped the food was truly good. “You wanna steer for a while? Time to drain the main vein…”

“What? No autopilot? No flight director with auto-land capability?”

He shook his head while he flipped on the autopilot, then walked to the aft rail and pulled down his shorts just enough to fire a stream into their wake, his knees braced against the rail as he looked up at the fading stars. Altair was gone now, disappeared beneath the southern horizon, and he felt that old familiar tinge of sadness – when he heard Ted walking aft, by his side, and soon draining his vein into the sea, too.

He took the cut between Deer Harbor and Jones Island, adjusting his course on the chart-plotter and executing the change, then he cycled the radar, saw there was still no traffic on the water…but then he saw Sucia Island ahead, and Echo Bay. Probably the worst weekend of their lives lived in those returns…

“Echo Bay?” Ted asked, pointing at the screen.

“Yup.” And he saw his boy shrink from the memory. Barbara, drinking more than usual that weekend, decided it was time to shred her son to pieces, and with her razor sharp tongue had belittled and berated him while he’d been out on the water in one of their kayaks. He’d looked on as Ted dove off the bow and swam ashore, so paddled in to see what had happened.

Ted was sitting on the rocky beach, knees pulled up to his chest, tears falling from reddened eyes – trembling like a leaf – again.

They’d sat and talked until the sun went down, then he’d gone back to get another kayak to bring back to the beach – and he noticed Barbara wasn’t in the cockpit. When they both got back to the boat she still wasn’t there so he’d gone below – only to find Barbara passed out, only this time with an empty bottle of Valium in hand.

She’d been carried out by the Coast Guard that night, airlifted to Bellingham. Stomach pumped, three long days and nights in the hospital there, then back home. Ted a total wreck by that point too, but nothing compared to Barbara…

And here it was again. All those feelings tied to this place.

“I know it still hurts,” he said, “and I guess it always will…”

“I don’t know why you think I should forgive her.”

“Because of human frailty, son. Nobody’s perfect…”

“That’s a laugh, Pops. She’s the meanest human being that ever lived.”

“She wasn’t always that way, Ted.”

“Oh? What changed her?”

“Lots of things, I think, but first among them was, well, me.”

“You?”

“Yeah. When we started to drift apart maybe I could’ve…”

“Dad…stop. You can’t take the blame for who she is, all the things she did. She’s a crazy narcissist, maybe she’s even a goddamn psychopath, but all you did was fall for her, once upon a time, but you don’t have to carry that around for the rest of your life. YOU need to move on, YOU need to find someone else – while you’re still young enough.”

“You think so, huh?”

“Fuck yeah, you old goat.”

“So…you wanna get laid this summer?”

“What?”

“You said you wanted to try the whole girl thing this summer. What’d you have in mind? Falling in love, the whole nine yards, or just getting your rocks off?”

“I’d like to, well, both, maybe.”

“Has this got something to do with the whole priesthood thing?”

“Yes.”

“So, you’re really serious about this seminary thing?”

“Yes.”

“But…what if you meet some girl this summer, and you fall in love? Then what?”

“Then that whole thing wasn’t for me.”

“Okay. Then what?”

“I don’t know, Dad. Maybe…like…take one thing at a time?”

“Maybe, but if being a priest is what you really want to do, well, maybe you should just turn away from these things. It might just fill you with all kinds of regret later down the road.”

“Father Murphy talked to me about that, ya know?”

“Oh, how is the old goat?”

“Fine. He sends his regards, by the way.”

“Hard to believe we both had him as a prof.”

“Yeah…those Jesuits…they seem to hang on the longest. He turned eighty last year.”

“And still looks like he’s fifty, I bet.”

“Forty.”

“All that clean living.”

“Yeah, right. Those guys love their vino, that much I’ll say.”

“So…a girlfriend. You want to try a one night stand first? Vancouver is probably a target-rich environment.”

“Isn’t that line out of Top Gun?”

“Top Gun was right out of real life, Paco. Art imitates life, remember?”

“You mean, you guys really talked that way…?”

“Sorry. Yes.”

“Sorry? Why are you always apologizing?”

“I don’t know…kinda feels like the thing to do. So. Vancouver? We goin’ on a pussy-hunt?”

“Jeez, Dad, you sound like Trump…”

“You mean, I take it, that Trump sounds like ninety percent of every other white-Anglo-Saxon-male in this country? Man, what a double standard that guy has to live up to… Ya know, I heard that W was at a birthday party down in Texas, like before he was governor, and he was drunk as hell and walked up to the honoree, a woman who had just turned fifty. He asked: “Gee, does it feel the same to fuck after fifty as it did before?”

“Yeah, I heard that one. Did you know he was arrested in Maine, for driving while intoxicated…?”

“Yup, and did you hear he assaulted the trooper who arrested him?”

“Yup. Kinda makes me think there’s a double standard at play here, don’t you think?” Ted asked.

“Oh? How so?”

“Well, Clinton gets a BJ in the oval office and gets impeached, while W skated on all that stuff.”

“W had smarter people around him. Politics is the art of not getting caught.”

“Man, have we sunk so low?”

“We? What do you mean? There’ve been politicians for thousands of years, of one stripe or another. All this crap is nothing new, and all of which seems like a good way of you avoiding the question. Do you want to get laid tonight?”

“So, just like that…you can get me laid tonight?”

“No. That’s up to you.”

“Jeez, Dad…”

“Hey, Paco, you need to remember this: girls like sex too. Got it? You act like a Neanderthal and you’ll never get anything, but take it easy, be yourself and then let nature take its course.”

“I’m scared around girls.”

“Yeah? That’s been programmed into you by millions of years of evolution. You SHOULD be scared of ‘em, Paco, because once they sink their fangs into you, you’re doomed.”

Ted laughed, a nervous laughter full of expectation and insecurity, then: “Is that what Mom did to you?”

“Exactly. Didn’t I ever show you the bite marks?”

“Ha-ha.”

“I’d say the trick, given the biology of the situation, Ted, is to not fall in love. At your age you’re programmed to fall in love, it’s a biologic imperative. The drive impairs your thinking, too, makes you say silly shit and do even sillier shit. Like marry a gal you hardly know, promise to spend your life with her…”

“You mean, it all comes down to testosterone?”

“Pretty much, yeah.”

“And that’s what happened to you?”

“I don’t think I’m any different than any other red-blooded male out there, Paco. I say stupid shit under the influence of either testosterone or tequila. Or, as the case may be, both testosterone and tequila. You mother got me at a Cinco de Mayo thing over by the commons.”

“She…got you?”

“Got a couple shots of tequila into me, showed me some thigh. I was a goner after that.”

“You make it sound so simple…”

“Falling in love IS simple, Ted. You just gotta let it happen. You’ll know when it does, too. Take my word for it.”

“And, if I went for the priesthood…?”

“That’s a calling, Ted. In the purest sense of the word, and you’ve always been interested in this stuff so I’m not all that surprised.”

“You’re not? It sure surprised me…”

He looked at the chart-plotter again, noted they were abeam the island now and he checked the depth under the keel, then watched as the autopilot changed course to 315 degrees – about thirty miles to the next course change – and already he could see jets angling in for their approach to Vancouver International. How many times had he shot the same approach, he wondered? How different everything looked from up there.

“Want a DDP?” Ted asked, and he nodded.

He swept the horizon while his boy was below, and he saw a Coast Guard cutter on radar – then visually just as Ted came up from below.

“I think we’re going to have company,” he said, pointing at the display, then at the white hull arcing through a turn in their direction.

“Coasties?”

“Yup.”

“You got any dead bodies stowed below?”

“Two or three, why?”

“Just wonderin’?”

They watched in silence as the cutter drew near, near enough to see half a dozen-or-so men looking at them through binoculars from the bridge.

“I thought you have one of those stickers?”

“Yeah, still do, but that just allows me to clear-in without having to go to the Customs Dock in Seattle.”

“What are they looking for?”

“Drugs. Terrorists. Horny college students. You know…the usual.”

One of the men on the bridge-deck waved at them and the cutter changed course towards Bellingham, and he waved back. “Well, we’re in Canadian waters now, or will be in a few minutes. Guess it wasn’t worth the hassle.”

“When will we get to Vancouver?”

“Oh, about ten hours,” he said as he popped the top to the Dr Pepper. “I think the wind will pick up in about two hours, so if you want anything hot to eat, now’s the time to do it.”

“You got bacon and eggs down there?”

“Yup.”

“Stove still work the same way?”

“Yup, it does.”

“How many eggs? Still do three, over easy?”

“I do.”

“Okay, comin’ right up, Master.”

After ‘growing up’ together with Altair, there’s was an easy routine. Ted knew where everything was, how everything worked, even how to break a few non-essential items, too, but he knew his way around the boat almost as well as his father did. And soon enough, the smells coming out of the galley hit all the right buttons and he began to feel hungry – as they skirted along the Saturna Islands.

He watched the water closely as the sun poked up beyond Mt Baker, and he thought he could see Garibaldi’s crown beyond Vancouver as the first puffs of breeze filled in. They’d be able to make sail within an hour or so, he thought. Then he wondered where he could take his son to get laid in Vancouver.

And how long had it been, he wondered, since he’d had any?

+++++

They tied-up at the Coal Harbour Marina an hour before the sun slipped under the horizon, and after he showered he walked up to the Harbor Master’s office and talked to a few guys there while he waited for Ted. The locals recommended a few places overlooking the marina and once Ted arrived – off they went.

Loud music and watered down drinks seemed to be the order of the day, and though there were a few womenfolk around nothing seemed to call out to either of them so they left after a few minutes. They walked to another place that happened to have a deck overlooking Altair, and they took a table on the deck overlooking the marina – about fifty feet from the boat – and a waitress came to take their drink order.

“Dark rum collins for me,” he said. “Ted? Name your poison.”

“The same,” Ted said – cooly.

“I’ll need to see some ID, sir,” the waitress said.

“He’s my son.”

“Doesn’t matter, sir.”

“How about a ginger ale,” Ted sighed. “Maybe with the cherry on the side?”

The girl grinned. “What do you want?”

“A beer. I’d kill for a cold beer.”

“Been out on the water,” she asked.

“Two days,” Ted said. “Coming up from Seattle.”

“Oh? Where are you headed?”

“Desolation Sound,” Ted added. “Been there?”

She smiled then walked off to grab their drinks.

“She’s kinda cute,” he said.

“Kinda?” Ted added. “Man, she’s hot.”

“Sounds like an Aussie accent.”

“Is that what it is?”

She came back a minute later with his drinks, a ginger ale and an ice-cold Moosehead. She put the beer down away from Ted and put the soda down in front of him.

“You from Australia?” Ted asked.

“Melbourne. Been there?”

“Not yet. You been there, Dad?”

“Yup. Once or twice.”

“My dad’s a pilot,” Ted sighed. “He’s been everywhere.”

The girl turned on him then, curious. “Yeah? You fly for an airline?”

“Delta,” he said.

“You fly to Australia?”

“I’ve been down there. Sydney once, Melbourne a few times, but not on duty. When we had a run to Hawaii from Seattle, I did that for a while. These days it’s mainly LA and San Francisco, sometimes Salt Lake or Cincinnati. What are you doing here?”

“Spending the summer here, then headed to McGill.”

“I’m at Boston College,” Ted added.

“Oh? What year?”

“I’ll graduate next spring.”

“What are you studying?”

“Pre-med, philosophy.”

“Really? Me too.”

He smiled when he saw Ted’s reaction. “So,” he added, “you didn’t answer. Been to Desolation Sound?”

“No, I haven’t, but then again I’ve only been here a few weeks.”

“Done much sailing?” Ted asked.

“No,” the girl said, then she just walked off.

“Too fast, kiddo. Ignore her when she comes around next time.”

“Right. We gonna have dinner?”

“You want to stay put, or move on?”

“Stay. There’s something about her, Dad.”

“Yes, there is. Interesting type, that one.”

“For me, Dad. Not you…”

And he had to laugh at that. “Don’t worry, Paco. I’m not looking.”

“You could’ve fooled me.”

“Just trying to back your hand.”

“Okay…well, the menu looks good.”

When she came back to take their order Ted didn’t even look up at her.

“Maybe you could find some sort of middle ground,” he said.

“What?” Ted said, confused. “You said to ignore her.”

“Give her a smile next time. Make eye contact.”

“Jeez, Dad. Maybe you should be a priest…?”

“You’re right, Paco. Just be yourself…”

“Right. Nervous and unsure of myself. That’s a winning combination, every time.”

“Probably better than ignoring her.”

“Now he tells me…”

She came back with their salads a few minutes later.

“So, what’s in Desolation Sound?” she asked.

“Killer whales, sea otters – and Nancy’s.”

“Nancy’s?”

“Bakery. Best cinnamon rolls in creation.”

“Ah.”

“You wanna come with us?” Ted asked – with a straight face.

“What?”

“Would you like to come with us?”

“For how long?”

“How long you got?”

“Let me see,” the girl said before she disappeared back into the restaurant.

“Jeez, Paco…!”

“Hey, you said to just be me.”

“You are direct, I will say that.”

“You think she’ll come?”

“Depends.”

“On?”

“Well, she just got here, but she’s cute as hell so the manager is probably hitting on her. She’s away from home for the first time, maybe trying to earn a few buck before school starts but just figuring out that with the cost of living here she’s barely going to be treading water. Then there are the visa problems…”

“Jeez, Dad. What are you – like some kind of clairvoyant?”

“Nope, but I have been around the block a few times.”

“So, what do you think?”

“Don’t be too surprised if she says yes.”

“Really?”

She was different the next time she came out, when she dropped off their dinners. Not so distant, her smile full of curiosity, her eyes ready for the next adventure.

“She’s coming,” he said. “Mark my words.”

“You think so?”

“Yup.”

The next time she came by Ted pointed out the blue-hulled boat across the way: “See that one? Altair on the stern?”

“The stern?”

“On her bum?” Ted added, helpfully.

“Oh. Yeah?”

“We’re here tonight, leaving in the morning around eight. If you feel like coming along, you know where we’ll be.”

He watched the girl looking at his boat, wondering what was going through her mind, wondering what sort of calculus a girl made at a time like this. Unknown versus an unknown-known, an adventure versus a slow-motion train wreck.

If what he supposed was indeed going on.

But then the girl nodded her head and moved off again.

“Well?” Ted asked.

And he shrugged, but maybe he smiled just a little, though he thought he already knew the score. “Just have to wait and see,” he added – knowingly.

“I knew it. She’s coming…”

And again, he only smiled, yet he wondered why he thought he knew the answer. Jaded, perhaps? Getting a little too cynical about things? Or…simply judging other people through the prism of his life with Barbara…?

“Ya know,” he sighed, “wouldn’t surprise me either way.”

“That’s kind of a…”

“A cop-out? Yeah, I guess it is.”

“What’s wrong, Pops?”

“I think I need a change of pace, Paco. A real change of pace. I’m getting close to sixty years old, you know? I can retire next year…in fact, I think they want to push some of us old-timers into early retirement. We’re getting expensive, and a lot of us still have pension obligations the company will owe us. All these new guys? Mainly 410Ks, matching contributions, that stuff…”

“How long could you fly, Dad?”

“Well, a few more years, like four, but I could matriculate over to the training academy, teach there, do check-rides…”

“What did you used to call those guys? The Silver Eagles?”

“Yup.”

“Could you do that?”

“I could, but I’d have to move to the east coast.”

“Yikes. You wouldn’t…?”

“I used to think so. Now, I’m not so sure…”

“Dad! Leave Seattle? You’ve lived here, what…twenty-two years?”

“Yup. Year you were born. It would be hard, have to give up the boat, that whole thing.”

Ted shook his head. “That’s not you, and you know it.”

“What do you think you’re gonna do, Paco. I mean, really…getting laid is one thing, but…”

“Dad, I’m not sure I’m cut out to be a priest…”

“What? That’s a big change…when did you start feeling this way?”

“Oh, I don’t know. It’s like the more science I take the more incongruent religion and science become. Two competing worldviews, I guess, but one feels more and more like a child’s fairytale to me.”

“You think medicine’s the answer?”

Ted nodded his head.

“Why now? Just exposure to new ideas?”

“Maybe. But sometimes,” his son added, pausing to take a deep breath, “it just feels like growing up.”

“Ah. So, religion is childish?”

“I didn’t say that.”

“Oh? What did you say?”

“I’m not sure I want to spend my entire life cloaked in a mystery that, well, there’s nothing about religion grounded in fact, is there?”

He shook his head. “You can’t confuse fact and faith, son. You have faith, then that becomes bedrock; if you don’t, well, it’s easy to turn and walk away.”

“But it’s not always so easy, is it? I mean…”

“I know what you mean. That’s why I’ll never deny the existence of God, and why I can’t go to church. I have my doubts about the whole thing, but I don’t have the courage of my convictions so here I sit, still sitting on the fence, looking at life go by and wondering what all the commotion is about.”

“What about Mom?”

“I think, in a way, the question drove her to drink.”

“Seriously?”

He laughed a little, inside, at his son’s sincere expression. “I don’t know, Ted. Look at the Irish…they brought Christianity to the British Isles, and then they turned around and invented whiskey. Talk about cause and effect…”

“Is that true?”

“Hell, I don’t know. One of the Fathers told us that in a history class…but then again, he was Irish…”

Ted shook his head. “Why do you think she drinks, Dad?”

“Because she hurts, son. She drinks to make it all go away because she doesn’t have the courage of her own convictions.”

“What? How so?”

“Because she has no faith, either in God or in herself. She always turned to anyone who’d offer to ease her pain…”

“You mean, like, buy her a drink?”

He nodded, but, in his mind’s eye he remembered coming home early more than once and finding her and another man in the throes.

“What is it, Dad? What are you thinking?”

“About her.”

“About her, what?”

He shook his head. “I don’t want to go there, son.”

Ted shook his head too. “I know. I came home from school more than once…”

“Ted, please. Just stop. I don’t want…we neither one need to spend any more time there than we already have, do we?”

“No, sir. Question?”

“Fire away.”

“What do you think? Would I be a better priest than a physician?”

“Wow, now there’s a question.” He looked out at the night, looked up at the stars. “Maybe they’re not as far apart as you think?”

“Hmm? Why do you say that?”

“Well, they’re both grounded in a kind of rigorous curiosity, and at the same time they’re both concerned with helping people find answers about themselves, maybe even their truest natures.”

The boy nodded his head slowly, but for the first time he saw something odd in his son’s eyes. A man’s eyes. Thoughtful, yet full of understanding.

“Anyway, I doubt you’ll ever be able to turn away from the Church, not completely. Maybe you’ll just turn out like a lot of the rest of us…you’ll go once a week and leave those mysteries to someone else.”

“But, me?”

He shrugged. “What I think really doesn’t matter, does it? You know, in your heart, what the answer to that is, and you don’t need all my baggage cluttering up the floor…”

“Maybe, but I’d like to know what you think.”

“Well, of course, I’d like to see you find your way to happiness. I think medicine would…well, I think you’ve got the right temperament for medicine. You’ve always been a kind of scientist, even when you were in Sunday school. You’ve always asked the hard questions, the kind of questions your teachers couldn’t answer, not effectively, anyway. Their easy answers always seemed to…”

“They pissed me off. They still do.”

“Still?”

“The answers never change, Dad. Someone is senselessly killed and there’s only one answer. It’s all a part of God’s mysterious plan, or we can never really know why…”

“Which presupposes there’s a why out there.”

“Exactly. Which means an order, a purpose to all this, which is comforting…”

“So, what do you tell an old man when you find out he has something like pancreatic cancer? That he’s going to die? Do you tell him the facts, turn him loose to find comfort in senseless emptiness?”

“I’m not sure I believe in the whole heaven and hell thing anymore, Dad.”

“Then you just answered your question, Ted. Case closed. Do you want dessert?”

They laughed at that and were still giggling when the girl came by and asked if they wanted something sweet to finish off their meal. She looked puzzled when they started laughing again…

+++++

He slept late that morning, didn’t get up ‘til three-thirty. He showered and put on his running shoes, then went topsides and filled the water tanks before he went for his run. There was a huge, forested park across the little inlet and he stretched first, then took off, as always sure running was the most stupid form of exercise ever invented. After fifteen minutes he was sure running was the greatest thing ever, and after forty minutes he was wrapped in the familiar warmth of his runner’s high. He slowed as he returned to the little marina, then walked it out for a few minutes – looking at his watch only once as he took in a few more really deep breaths.

He saw her on the dock just then, sitting on a dock-box, a large duffel on the planks by her feet – and he smiled.

When he walked up she looked up, saw him and smiled.

“Sorry about the hour,” she said.

“You brought everything, I see. Burned all your bridges, did you?”

She nodded – but she turned away, too. “Yup, looks that way.”

“You sure about this?”

She looked him in the eye then. “Yes. You’re a good man. I can tell that much just by looking.”

“I see.”

She laughed at that, and he did too. “It’s your son I’m not so sure of…?”

“Ted? Oh, he’s harmless. Confused as hell, but harmless.”

“Confused?”

“No spoilers, young lady. Oh, by the way, my name is Jim. Yours?”

“Tracy. Tracy Singleton.”

“Well, Tracy, I hate to ask, but do you have your passport handy?”

That seemed to take her back a little…

“We may be boarded by the Coast Guard…in fact, odds are we will be more than once. They’ll check, and as it’s my boat it’s my responsibility.”

“So, you’re a pilot? I mean, really?” she said as she pulled out her passport and handed it to him, hardly taking her eyes off him as he looked over her passport.

He looked up at her then, sizing up her words as a record of her experience so far. “Yup. Really.”

“Can I see your pilot’s license, then?”

He laughed at that. “Sure. You wanna come up, or wait here?”

“I think I’ll wait here.”

He nodded then hopped aboard, went below for his wallet – and he found Ted stumbling out of the aft head, rubbing his eyes. “Oh. You’re up,” he groaned.

“So is Tracy.”

“Who?”

“Tracy. The gal you’re going to marry.”

“Jeez!”

“Better put some clothes on, Paco,” he added, on his way to get his wallet. He went back out a minute later, stepped down to the swim platform on the stern and handed his license over to the girl – who looked duly impressed.

“So, no-foolin’, eh? You’re not a pretender?”

“I take it you’ve seen your fair share?”

“That’s all there seems to be lurking about these days…if you know what I mean?”

As if the word ‘lurking’ wasn’t enough, there was the look in her eyes: distrustful, alert, lonely. Distant. The literal opposite of Barbara, in other words. Where Barbara had always been reaching out, this girl had turned inward at some point. Her good looks had probably invited too much-unwanted attention…

“I suppose it’s always been that way, Tracy. You ready to come on up, or having second thoughts?”

She handed her duffel over, then looked at his outstretched hand before she took it.

He saw it took an effort on her part, then he watched her looking at all the stuff that made Altair work.

“Don’t worry,” he said. “You can just sit back and watch…”

“Could you teach me?”

“Teach you?”

“To sail.”

“Sure…but Ted’s a better teacher than I ever was…”

“I doubt that,” the girl said, looking him in the eye.

“Well, let me show you around down below.”

“Do I have my own room?”

“Yes. It’s small, but…”

“Oh, that okay.”

He led her down the companionway, showed her the galley and the head, then led her to the tiny cabin under the cockpit. “Well, here it is…”

“You weren’t kidding,” she sighed.

“It’s kind of a storeroom that happens to have a bunk,” Ted said, now standing behind his father. “If it bothers you, we could switch places.”

“No. I’ll be fine here,” the girl said.

Yes, he thought, you will be.

(c) 2017 | adrian leverkühn | abw | just a little bit of story-tellin’…