Chapter 5 -- Hiding Out
“Name’s Chet.” He held out a leathery hand. Tommy shook it. “Your Daddy’s been working out here somethin’ fierce for months now. He had a crew, but they’ve all been sent packing. I had him over for a fish fry a couple of times. He talked about you. ‘Tommy’, right?”
Chet shook his head. “I knew somethin’s not right once he starts scraping his dead wife’s name off the bow.”
“What!” Tommy moved over to the closest window. He hadn’t noticed when he arrived, but it was true. When they’d bought the boat, they’d painted “Marissa” and “Chicago, IL” in flowing script on the bow and on the stern, but there was nothing there now but white hull.
“Why would he do that?”
Chet shrugged. “Had to be somethin’ serious. I could tell he was upset doin’ it.”
Tommy’s head was in a whirl. He pointed. “Who are these guys?”
“Dunno. But for the past month, he’s been looking over his shoulder. Gimme a number to call if they came lookin’.”
“He did? Did you call?”
“No time yet.” Chet opened a drawer and pulled out a heavy handset as big as a brick. He pressed a button and scowled. “Battery’s always dead.” He fished for the charger and plugged it in. “Give it a minute or so.”
He dug in a drawer, muttering, “Where is that number?”
Out the window, the searchers were methodically working their way through the boat slips. He wondered how they’d managed to get through the security locks, but as he watched, they finished with one ‘corridor’ of boats and moved to the next one -- theirs. It was hard to tell what they were doing, through the maze of shifting boats and masts, but they spent more time at the gate than it’d take a normal person to press the code buttons and enter.
Yet, enter they did, somehow. At the rate they were searching, they’d be here in ten minutes.
“Chet, do you have binoculars?”
“Yeah, but you need to stay outa sight. They won’t pay me no mind, but they might know who you are.”
“I need to see. Where do you keep them?”
Chet fished the cheap, small foldable binoculars from his drawer and handed them over.
Careful to stay out of the light, Tommy examined the two men. He’d caught the reflection of the sun off something, and under magnification, he could see one of the men using something in his hand. Each boat they passed, he scanned the area with the device.
“Hang on. Don’t use your phone yet.”
“Wha’zup?” Chet had been checking the charge.
“They’re searching the boats for something. I’d bet they’ve got a small cell phone scanner.”
“Cell phone scanner. There’s two ways to find someone using their cell phone...at least two ways.
“One is to take a search warrant to the phone company and they’ll use their computers to tell you where the phone is. But if you’re not a cop, and you don’t have legal access to a cell phone’s location information, you can still track them. You can use a directional radio scanner to hunt for the signals any phone sends and using its identification number, zero in on that phone’s location. That’s what I’d use if I weren’t the police.”
Nick couldn’t be in trouble with the law -- he’s too honest. It has to be someone else trying to hunt him down. Corporate spies maybe? None of this makes sense. I’ve got to talk to him.
“So, you don’t want me to call this number?”
“Not yet. Not while they’re close. A scanner would only be useful at close range. If they’re here, they must already suspect that Nick has a boat. They just don’t know which one. We’ll wait ‘til they leave.”
And I called Nick from here. They must have my phone’s number. In spite of his precautions, I gave away the boat’s location. Stupid.
Chet and the dog sat out outside on the deck, watching the men approach. The man with the gadget kept glancing his way. Chet’s patient stare was working its toll. They were intruders, and they knew it.
Tommy, hidden in the darkened bathroom, peered out through the partially opened doorway and could see part of their actions. He couldn’t move, for fear he’d rock the boat and give away his presence.
But it looked as if they gave the Marissa no more than a token scan with the gadget. He felt a wave of relief. When Chet woke him up, he hadn’t thought to close the main hatch. It was wide open if the searchers were inclined to go inside. And the logbooks would give them all the confirmation they needed that this was Nick Dorie’s boat.
Bark! Bark, bark!
The searchers paused on the walkway.
“Hey, call off your dog.”
“Not my dog.”
The taller of the two men tapped the other on the shoulder. The gadget man swept Chet’s boat, glanced at his readings and they began walking back toward the entrance.
Bark, bark, bark!
Chet just watched, patiently.
The dog may have cut short their search of this dock, but they went immediately to the next one. They wouldn’t be gone for an hour or more, at their current pace. Tommy wished someone would complain and call the marina’s manager, but it wasn’t likely. Too many people came and went all the time. Unless they did something clearly illegal, and someone noticed, they’d be able to complete their search in their own time.
“I’ve got to contact Nick,” Tommy muttered as Chet came back inside.
“Calm down, youngster. They’ll finish a’fore too long, and I’ll make that call.”
Tommy asked, “What number did he give you?”
Chet handed over a grease-stained napkin with a phone number scribbled in blue ink.
“That’s not his cell.”
“Pro’ly not. Tole me to it ring two times and then hang up.”
“Not say anything?”
“Nope. Didn’t sound like a phone he ‘tended to answer.”
Tommy nodded. “It could be a work phone, or anything, for that matter. Just a message with no words.”
It was after three P.M. before the men gave up on their search. In the tiny view of Chet’s binoculars, Tommy watched them get into a dull red van decorated with a vacuum cleaner and the logo, “Magenta Home Cleaning”.
“They’re gone,” he reported.
Chet reached for his phone.
“Hold on. I’ve got a better idea. I’m going to get a couple of miles from the marina before making that call.”
“How you doin’ that?”
Tommy had been thinking about it. The dog’s aggressive defense had kept the searchers from spending much time looking at the Marissa. They never saw the bike lashed to the side.
“I’m going to take my bike. I’ll make your call and try a couple of other things that might be tracked, and then scoot back here before they have a chance to locate me. At worst, they won’t have any more reason to suspect the boat.”
“I dunno. Your daddy tole you to come here, dinnt he? He’d ‘spect you to stay put.”
Tommy grinned. “Maybe. Then again, maybe he knows me better than that. Anyway, I’ve got to try. Are you gonna try to stop me?”
Chet’s face screwed up in distaste. “Not my call. You go get yourself killed, it’s your own doin’.”
The bike’s battery gauge was lower than he’d thought. I should’ve had this on charge this whole time.
But it should be enough to go find an Internet cafe, make his calls, and get back okay.
Chet didn’t have to know his plans. There was more than just a phone call on this excursion. He checked his watch. He didn’t have much time.
At the corner, he ducked into “Park Bait Shop” and begged a phone book. A little rummaging and he found an advertisement for a Moroccan style Espresso shop with free Internet, just a mile or two from the harbor.
I really wish I had my laptop.
Tommy ordered a random dish he’d never heard of from the hand-written menu and settled near a girl, blonde, but a little heavier than Kati, and maybe five years older. She had her feet propped up on an old wooden chair, reading a novel, with study materials and an idle laptop on the table next to her.
“Excuse me. Umm. Could I borrow your laptop?”
She put her finger between the pages and looked him over.
“I’ll be sitting right here. All I need is the web-browser. Just a few minutes.”
She chewed her lip. “Five bucks an hour.”
She nodded, glanced at her watch, and then turned back to her book.
Hesitantly, Tommy picked up the laptop. A few keystrokes and it woke up.
Ancient. It was an old Windows system, and there was nothing to use but Internet Explorer. He checked the battery life. He’d have to work fast, and there was no time to worry about the owner’s privacy settings.
Batteries weren’t his only deadline. This was Friday and school was nearly out. He had a limited window to contact Kati.
But he had to do it secretly. Hurriedly, he logged onto Google Mail and created a second account for himself. Then, he went to his phone company’s website and checked his cell phone for any voicemail or SMS messages.
Nothing from Nick, but there were four text messages from Kati.
Kati: W4U 7:45a
Kati: W4U RUOK 8:06a
Kati: Tommy where are you? I called your house. Are you sick? 11:54a
Kati: Brewster is looking for you. 2:03p
Mrs. Brewster’s study circle. He nodded. She’d asked if he could help some of the others with their economics. Just one more thing he’d forgotten.
But he couldn’t worry about that now.
So, my theory holds. Nick sent the empty message, and then nothing after that. He’s in hiding.
He clicked over to the web form to send text messages and entered Kati’s phone number.
Sorry I missed 2day. Pls call my home # if Nick Ans, ASK: Game Over? Send his reply to email email@example.com.
He knew she’d immediately try to reply to his phone, but it was still in his pocket, without battery, and he intended to keep it that way for the moment. Maybe the “Magenta Cleaners” could track him through the websites, but he knew they had the tools in hand for tracking him with the cell phone. And if they had his cell phone number, it was likely they could monitor his SMS traffic. He could only hope they weren’t watching Kati.
He clicked refresh on his phone’s webpage, and sure enough, a couple of minutes later a new message appeared.
Kati: Whats up? 4:08p
He did nothing. She’d either follow his instructions, or she wouldn’t. All he could do is hope she didn’t give the black hats any more information.
The owner of the laptop looked up, checking on him.
Nothing to do but wait.
He took a bite of his meal, which turned out to be some kind of a chicken and almond thing in a pastry pocket. And cinnamon. It was actually quite good, and his built up hunger kicked in. He devoured it in short order.
Beep. The mail page registered Kati’s reply. He licked his fingers clean and opened it.
“Tommy? Where are you? You missed a physics test. And Slab is upset that you flaked on your noon meeting. Anyway, I called your house, but your father wasn’t there. Your Uncle Ted was worried about you. He asked a bunch of questions. He didn’t know who I was either. I claimed ignorance. Over.”
Uncle Ted? No such person.
Had he made Kati a target for the Cleaners?