Chapter 3 -- Montrose Harbor
Chicago was a patchwork of various ethnic neighborhoods and he’d skidded out where his was the only white skin around. He was the center of attention, and all faces watching him were dark and unsympathetic. He was the outsider here.
Tommy pulled the bike upright. The battery compartment was scraped, but nothing appeared bent.
The deliveryman pushed his hand trolley off the curb, eyes narrowed, checking his stock for damage, or pilferage.
“Sorry, man! Had to dodge a car.”
“Well, dodge somewhere else, den!”
Tommy nodded, backing the bike away, and then, when the traffic was clear, he pulled away. Moving was better than talking. Dozens of eyes had appeared to watch.
I wish Slab were here. He had dozens of black classmates, but only Slab talked to him. Slab would talk to anyone.
They’re just curious. Still, he was jittery with nerves. He was glad to be moving.
I can’t let myself get rattled like that. He’d felt like a foreigner in a hostile land. Get over it! He was irritated at himself.
So what if a black deliveryman yelled at him and a black driver showed him the finger. He’d been at fault, and angry people were everywhere.
Still, he’d be glad to take care of this boat visit and get back home.
The marina at night was a maze of light poles and masts. I just hope we have the same berth.
Montrose Harbor road curved around the massed collection of boats, nearly encircling it, and there was more traffic than he’d expected. The marina was enclosed on all sides, except for an opening to the lake at the south. There was parking close by, but he hesitated. It would be out of sight from the boat. The motorcycle was his only transportation, and Nick wouldn’t appreciate it if he got it stolen.
There! A familiar entrance gate led to one of the middle floating docks. It looked wide enough. He pulled the bike up to it. The security gate to keep sightseers out and allow the boat owners in was secured by a combination lock. Five silver buttons in a vertical column. Had they changed the code? He tried the one he remembered.
There was a click as the lock opened. He wheeled the bike in.
Walking the bike on the narrow passageway among all the different boats was difficult. A fisherman, towing a wheeled ice-chest, approached from the other direction. They stopped and stared at each other in silence for a couple of seconds. No way in the world could they pass.
Tommy backed the bike up a dozen feet and edged it onto the even narrower walkway between a fully rigged sloop and a hefty powerboat. The fisherman nodded and pulled his load past.
At the second-to-last slip, there she was. Even in the dim lighting, he recognized her shape.
The Marissa had a classic white hull, a sloop, but the mast was down, resting in a cradle, extending several feet longer than the hull both before and aft. Sails were rolled up in their sheathes. She looked like she was sleeping. In the orange marina lighting, she even looked a little sickly.
The end slip held a 30-foot powerboat. It was open and lit up. An old man with a deeply lined face, indifferent whiskers and a rumpled plaid shirt, watched his progress from a folding lawn chair. A young dog, some kind of shepherd mix, stood beside him.
Tommy nodded a greeting. The man just watched as he hefted the front wheel over the gunwale and propped the bike beside the cabin. There was little wave action, but after a couple of gentle rocks, he realized he couldn’t leave it propped up that way. He opened the combination lock on the main hatchway door and went below.
Down inside was a mess, tools and materials were scattered all over the place. He gave it nothing more than a second’s glance before grabbing a rope and going back on deck to tie the bike securely. Nick had told him time and time again -- anything not tied down would eventually fall overboard.
His pocket vibrated. Easing back into the helmsman position, the big wheel at the stern, he was startled to see the dog. It had come over to visit.
He pulled out the phone, but as he’d expected it was just the same SMS message again. Go to the boat and wait.
Well, I’m doing that.
The dog watched him with some interest, sniffing his pant’s leg and checking out the motorcycle for smells as well. At least the animal wasn’t getting into trouble.
It’s getting late. I need answers.
It was against the rules, but he pressed the call button again. Immediately, it went to voicemail. He clicked the phone shut. He needed to talk to the man, not leave a message.
“Go home,” he said to the dog, and went below.
Nick had been busy since Tommy had last been there. When they installed the Sterling engine, there’d been some grease stains and scuff marks. Well, he could still see where the hatches to the engine compartment below the aft berth were still scuffed, and the grease had been cleaned up. But he didn’t remember all these tools.
The shipyard lifted the ship out of the water with a crane and big fat slings. Nick made him stand well back as they loaded her onto a large trailer. They drove to an anonymous looking building a few miles away. The doorways were tall and broad, for working on yachts indoors in the cold months.
Walking underneath the hull gave him a full appreciation of just how massive the boat was. The Marissa had a fixed keel, not a movable centerboard like the old boat, and the combination of hull, keel, and trailer made for a very long climb up the ladder to get inside. He didn’t like it. It felt a little unstable and he had nightmares of the rig tipping over with him inside.
The gentle wave action tonight felt altogether different. A keelboat in the water is stable. That’s how it’s designed. All that weight hanging down below the hull wouldn’t let the boat tip over.
Nick did more than install the Sterling. Why didn’t he tell me?
Now he’s left me a mess. He was the single child of a workaholic single parent. Any cleaning to be done was his job. It was a rough lesson to learn after Mom died. But that’s how it was. The instinct to tidy up was screaming at him.
No fighting it. Tommy began collecting tools and ferrying the drills and sanders to the bin in the engine compartment. Screwdrivers and wrenches went into a little compartment in the galley. Then, he stowed the lumber scraps, and swept the place.
There were a few food items in the pantry, and he was ready to keel over from hunger. The burger and fries from the Food Court hadn’t stuck.
He nuked some popcorn and mixed up some stale macaroni and powdered cheese. The cell phone was producing nothing new. He strongly suspected that Nick had started a program on his computer that was spitting out the messages. They were still arriving exactly thirty minutes apart and Nick just wasn’t organized enough to accomplish that without computer assistance.
Still, what else was he to do?
He rummaged through the old boating magazines, but he’d read them all. If Nick had let me bring my portable TV set, I could at least pick up something. But Nick been firmly set against it. No TV on the boat.
“That’s it. I have to get home. It’s a long drive and I have school in the morning, especially now that I’ve promised Kati I’ll be there early. Rules or no rules, I have to get out of here.”
He cleaned up after his meal and locked the cabin. He had the bike half untied when the phone vibrated again.
Angrily, he checked it.
Nick: M0 11:11p
Stay put? What’s that mean? But the message had changed. He checked the time. Two minutes late. He autodialed.
“Nick Dorie is not available. At the tone leave a message.”
He flipped it closed.
“Okay, Nick. If you want to play this game, you’d better have a good reason.” He’d insist on being taken to school in the morning personally, rather than risk the bus.
Not that he cared about missing school. His first final was Monday. This last Friday had nothing but reviews anyway. He didn’t want to disappoint Kati.
Reluctantly, he re-secured the bike, and stretched out on the blue cushioned benches that formed a U-shaped seating area surrounding the wheel. It wasn’t cold yet, although the air had a hint of fog.
Choosing the side that blocked out the nearest light pole, he was able to stare up at the stars.
The scent of fish and gasoline-scented bilge water brought back old memories. Even with the best intentions to spend every available moment out on the water, they’d spent many hours in and around the marinas. Some of them, like that one down on Kentucky Lake, had nice restaurants. Not nice, as in fancy napkins, but nice as in good hamburgers and fried catfish.
When he was little, he used to beg for quarters. The place had gumball machines filled with fish food. A turn of the knob and he had a handful to toss to the huge carp that swam under the docks, making a good living appealing to the tourists.
Mom and Nick were always there, sometimes out of sight, but not if he looked hard. He vaguely remembered a motorboat when he was little, not much larger than the dinghy that was secured on the opposite side of the cabin from where he’d tied up the bike.
But Nick Dorie had never been a powerboater at heart. Neither was Tommy. Fred made a point of pointing out the muscular powerboats at the movie, since he’d heard Tommy talk about their sailing yacht.
“How can you water-ski behind a boat that can’t crack ten miles per hour?”
Tommy just ignored him. Waterskiing and getting places in a hurry were certainly advantages. But you could fish just as well from a sailboat, and if you were there to spend time on the water, what did it matter if you were going five miles per hour or fifty?
Looking around and he did a quick sample count. At least here in the slips, there were more sailboats than powerboats. Of course, those moored at anchor were probably all sailboats. He nodded to himself, satisfied.
He shifted in his seat, and found the cushion damp with dew. If he were going to sleep here on the boat, he’d better do so indoors.
It was warmer inside, too. Maybe too warm. He left the hatch open. The bed in the aft cabin hadn’t been made. The engine compartment access panels in its floor were still open from Nick’s modifications. He closed it up and checked the closets. Bedding was all neatly folded and put away.
At the other end of the boat, in the forepeak cabin, the V-berth bedding was already laid out. It was a funny shaped bed, triangular to fit in the bow, but at least he didn’t have to mess with the sheets. He flipped off the lights, set his cell phone to total silence, and pulled the cover over his shoulders.
He didn’t see or hear the dark figure slipping down the steps from above.