Friday, August 31, 2012

Breaking Anchor - Part 29 of 44

© 2012 by Henry Melton

Chapter 29 -- Below Decks
Tommy made the tack and then put it on autopilot while they all sat around the table below. Bree answered questions.
“There was something in his hand, but it didn’t look like a gun.”
Her father asked, “What altitude was it?”
She shrugged. “I don’t know. I could see it was a man at the side door, and that he had some kind of harness on, and that he looked like he was taking pictures, but that’s about all. I made sure my face was shaded.”
“Any words or signs on the helicopter itself?”
She shook her head. “There was some number on the tail. N-something. It was two-toned, sort of gray and blue.”
Tommy frowned. “How did it fly over? I mean... did it fly over the bow, the stern?”
Bree waved off toward the starboard. “Sort of that way. Maybe like this?” She tilted her arm, showing the angle.
“Then, we may have a problem.”
Marvin asked, “What is it?”
“If Bree’s right. If they were taking pictures, then they’ll notice that we have no bow or stern markings.”
“It’s like as if we were a car on the highway, with no license tag, no safety inspection sticker, none of that.
“We had it all, name and port markings, passed the CME, Courtesy Marine Examination, Coast Guard documentation, all of that. But Nick removed the markings. I’m sure he intended to replace it with a different name, to evade the search, but he didn’t get around to finishing it.
“If the helicopter was from the company, then likely they’re just sweeping the area, taking pictures of everyone. It’s when they notice we have no boat name on the side, then they’ll have reason for suspicion and come back to this area for a more intensive search.”
“How can we get new markings?” asked Marilu.
“I don’t know. Another stop at another harbor certainly, but there’s record keeping involved. I don’t think they’ll blindly paint a fake name on a boat.
“We might have to do it ourselves. But even then, if a harbormaster or the Coast Guard, or Customs officials ask for our documents, the game is up.”
Nothing could be done, and it was possible that the helicopter had nothing to do with the company. Paranoia was just the safest way to bet.
Tommy went back to the helm, and Bree came up a little later.
She looked solemn. He asked, “What’re you thinking about?”
Her eyes were focused on him, and it was disconcerting. They were hazel, he decided, not really dark, and not at all like Kati’s blue.
“I saw you mail something this morning. What was it? A letter to Kati?”
He blinked. What had she overheard on the phone call? What did she know?
“Not exactly.”
He tried to explain. Bree shook her head in puzzlement as he described the nesting envelopes and what he hoped would happen.
“You’re crazy. None of that will help. These guys are billionaires. They will track us down. There’s no help for it.”
She pointed at the hatchway. “Do you know what Daddy just told me? He coached me on what to say if we were caught -- how to deny knowing anything. That helicopter scared them. I walked into an argument over whether they should drop me off at the nearest port and let me fend for myself.”
Her eyes sparkled with anger. “’It might be safer’, he said. I might be safer being a homeless teenager in a strange town. They should have just left me back in Racine!”
She stewed a bit. Then she asked, “So, what do you think? Are you safer here, or back in Chicago with your girl friend?”
It wasn’t a question he really wanted to think about.
“It doesn’t matter.” He scanned the horizon and shifted the wheel slightly to port. “They know my name and face. If they had me, they could get to Nick. It doesn’t matter what I know or don’t know. It never did.
“I didn’t start this, but I’m in it, and there’s no way out other than staying agile and invisible.”
“And Kati? What about you and her?”
“She doesn’t know anything, and I hope it stays that way. If the company’s smart, they’ll make up some cover story and let everyone think we’ve moved away or something.”
“But what’ll she think about the phone call, and the letter?”
He shook his head. “Lies, hoaxes, silly pranks -- there’s plenty of ways she can ignore them. She has a real life going on. If I leave her alone -- and that’s what I’m going to do -- then she’ll forget about it.”
“But what....”
Marvin appeared in the hatchway. “How’s it going?”
Tommy nodded at the sails. “We’re making progress, but it’s slow going. Nothing to do but sit here and feel sorry for ourselves.”
He laughed. “Can’t have that. Chores are always good.”
Bree groaned.
“We could swab the deck or something,” he offered.
Tommy had an idea. “Take the wheel for a minute. I want to check something.”
He returned shortly with a pair of fishing rods.
“Trout, salmon, steelhead -- we’re out of bait, but see what you can do.”
Marvin could fish. It took them an hour before he snagged a trout using bacon for bait, and it was cut up immediately for more bait. By the time they pulled up next to Holland, Michigan, and anchored within sight of the beaches of the state park -- watching the skyglow of the city, and possibly distant Grand Rapids -- they had several trout and one nice salmon in the refrigerator.
Of course, they had lost a lot of line to accidents and were low on hooks, but all four of them had gained some experience on how to troll behind a sailboat.
Bree insisted on helping cook ‘her’ trout, and grilled over the propane flame, it tasted wonderful.
“I’m going to get a full night’s sleep,” Tommy announced. “So, unless there’s an emergency, I’ll see you in the morning.”
He actually turned out the lights and stretched out on the bed, but sleep didn’t sweep over him like he had expected.
Everyone else was still up and active, and they were all living in the same box. He could hear their conversation, the scraping of the dishes, Bree’s whining -- everything that went on.
There was a scratch at the door, but Tommy was determined to sleep, even if it meant ignoring Bert.
But it wasn’t really the noise the others made, it was the churning inside his head. There were too many worries. Too many questions.
After a while, the family adjourned to the deck above. He could hear the footsteps, and something else.
Is that singing? It certainly wasn’t hymns. Probably Marilu.
I could sneak out and catch a shower. But, he hesitated. They’d certainly hear the water pump, and he’d just as soon they think he was asleep. One less worry for them.
But if sleep were impossible....
He slipped out of bed and pulled open the engine access hatch and slid down into the cavity below.
The whole ship had a lower level. The hull was a smooth V-shaped contour, but the living area had a flat floor. In the oddly shaped lower spaces, there were the storage tanks, the engine, and the ballast.
And something else, if Bert was right.
Moving carefully, he pulled out a flashlight from the tool chest and began a thorough inspection.
Old mysteries were still there, with even more twists. The Sterling engine had heat pipes running forward. At least he thought they were heat pipes. Nick had talked about using them to move the cold side of the heat engine to a metal heat sink built into the hull, in direct contact with the water.
Heat pipes were sealed pipes with a fluid in them. At the hot end, the liquid would absorb heat and evaporate. The gas would move to the cold end where it would condense and give up its heat. The fluid would then seep back to the hot end through a wick or capillary tubes. Other than the hot and cold ends, the length of the pipe could be insulated as well. It was an efficient way to move heat around, almost like wires for electricity.
And it appeared that Nick had done just that. But there were two sets of heat pipes. There was a hot set and a cold set. Both ran somewhere else in the hull. Whatever was producing the heat was located forward.
There were more access hatches in the other parts of the boat, but as far as he could remember, they just went to the ballast area, and gave access to the bilge pumps. He’d have to check those again, but not tonight, according to Bert, there was more in this cavity than it seemed.
It took an hour, but he found a secret hatchway. What he had thought was the large fresh-water tank was only half the size he thought it was. The end plate came loose and there was a crawlway. It was tight quarters, but he slipped in, pushing the flashlight ahead of him.
Lying flat on the inside surface of the hull, he was getting chilled. Below the water line, it was always cool here.
But he only had to go a few feet. He stopped and played the light over the cramped and curved space. There was a lot more to the Marissa than met the eye.
Nick, what have you been up to? Is this why the company is searching the whole lake looking for us?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Breaking Anchor - Part 28 of 44

© 2012 by Henry Melton

Chapter 28 -- Bert
“Marvin, Bree. Raise the anchor.”
Bree looked lost. She’d just come up on deck after changing into her new shirt and hat. “I don’t know how!”
“I explained it to Marvin. Ask him.”
Her father waved to the wheel. “I guess you take the controls. I’ll handle the winch.” He moved to the bow.
Tommy sat back on the bench, just watching.
“Okay! Inch forward until I say stop.”
He grabbed a railing when Bree went too fast, and the Marissa swung around like a trout on a fly line.
Still, after a couple of false starts, Marvin got the winch running and began hauling in the line.
“I see the chain! There’s the anchor.”
He heaved the anchor on board and Tommy helped stow it safely in the bow locker.
“Good work. I’ll take it over now.” It wasn’t really a lie. They’d done better than he had, the first time Nick had let him raise the anchor by himself.
Wind was from the north. He checked the maps, and set a course northwest, out into the lake.
“Bring the mainsail in closer.” Bree was his assistant; working the controls he could reach just as easily himself. “Marvin! Watch the pulleys.”
It was all just familiarization now. They should be learning on a less automated ship, pulling the lines by hand and feeling the tug of the sheets, but he wasn’t about to disconnect the automation just as a training exercise.
We’re in hiding, running from relentless enemies -- remember that.
Bree took the wheel, and he let her run with it. There were other chores he had to deal with.
He checked all the deck fixtures, oiling the winches and tightening all the cables. Everywhere he looked, there was more maintenance to be done. He could just note it, to do later. The Milwaukee workmen had done a good job raising the mast, but they’d left grease smears and footprints all over the place. Wire cables needed to be smoothed and taped. Safety gear, like lifejackets and a pair of flotation rings, had to be checked and stowed in the correct locations so that if there was a problem, they could be found without searching.
As he came back to the helm with a rag and spray bottle to clean off dried splashes from the instruments, Bree seemed ready to burst into laughter.
“What’s up?” He asked.
She flushed. “’ll never believe what I just saw.”
“What? Sea monsters?” He spritzed the GPS screen and carefully began removing the smears.
“No!” She lowered her voice. “It’s Bert. He...he ah.”
He grinned up at her. “Did his business?”
“Yes! Right over there, next to the stern.”
“Number one or number two?”
“Two. You know about this?”
“I haven’t been cleaning up after him. There’s no litter box on board. Bert is a very smart dog. Very well behaved.”
She just nodded.
He finished his cleaning and straightened up. “You’re just lucky this is a modern sailing ship.”
“What do you mean?”
He shrugged. “People have been sailing for thousands of years. Indoor plumbing, especially on ships, is a new invention. You don’t think all those pirates in all those movies had a nice sanitary head below decks did you?”
“You don’t mean....”
“Yep. Over the side.”
He gave the throttles a light buff and stared up at the sails. “Yeah, I bet it was painful in the winter.”
After an hour, they tacked to the northeast, and Tommy gave Marvin and Bree a lecture on tacking as a way to sail against the wind, complete with sketched diagrams.
“So...” Bree stared at the notepad. “...going northeast and northwest, you can go north. I get that. But how can you go northeast in the first place? Isn’t that against the wind, too?”
He looked at Marvin. “You want to field that?” He was an engineer, after all. He felt a little presumptuous to explain forces and vectors to the older man.
Marvin shook his head and smiled. “You’re doing fine. Besides, she wouldn’t believe me anyway.”
Bree wrinkled her nose at her father.
“Okay. Bree, it’s the keel. There’s a fin down below.” He stamped the deck with his foot. “It’s like an ice-skate. You can push from the side, but the only direction you can go is forward or backward.”
“Right, so when the wind is from the north, and we’re pointed northeast, why don’t we go backward?”
He nodded. “Look at the mainsail.” It stretched off to the starboard side of the ship, curved and full under the pressure of the wind. The telltales fluttered tamely, showing the airflow.
Tommy gestured with his hands. “The wind isn’t pushing straight against the sail. It’s rushing past the sail, both in front and behind. The curve of the sail acts just like the curve of an airplane’s wing.
“And just like the wing, the sail gets lift -- from the outside of the curve.
“You see, the air has to go extra fast to get around the outside of the curve -- so fast it sucks the sail towards the vacuum it creates. The air pulls the sail and the sail pulls the ship.
“We can move the boom down below here to change the angle of the sail to make sure that the ship gets sucked at least part way in the right direction.
“The keel and the rudder make sure we go the right way through the water, but the trim of the sail is the important part. Without it, we would be pushed backward.”
He drew more diagrams, but Bree looked more at the sails than at the paper, and he suspected she’d figure it out. Most sailors just got a feel for how it worked, without the physics lecture.
Tommy took the wheel for another hour or so, until the shoreline again looked too close, and then they tacked back to the northwest.
He turned it over to Marvin. “Call me back in two hours. I’m going to get a nap.”
Marvin looked at his watch and took the wheel.
Down below, Marilu looked up from a two year old sailing magazine.
“Hello, Tommy. I’ve been meaning to ask you about the galley.”
He held up a hand. “Could it wait a little? I’m sorry, but I just turned the watch over the Marvin and I need to take a little rest.”
“Fine. It’s not critical.”
“Great. In a couple of hours we can talk about it.”
He closed the door to the aft bedroom and closed the drapes on the windows. Weariness had come hard a few minutes ago, and he needed to make the most of it. It’s best to sleep when your body tells you it’s time.
Bree knocked on the door. “Tommy! It’s time to wake up.”
He blinked his eyes. “Okay! I’ll be up in a minute.”
I need a bath. His skin felt grubby, and his mind was sluggish. But it was probably time to tack again, and he intended to be at the wheel every time they were heading easterly, back to the shoreline. If he overslept heading out toward the middle of the lake, nothing was lost but a little time.
Oversleep heading into the rocks, and it could be a disaster.
He struggled to his feet.
Bert was waiting at the door. The instant he opened it, Bert took his hand in his teeth and pulled him back into the bedroom.
“What is it?” He pulled his hand free. It hadn’t hurt this time, but he wished Bert had a better way to get his attention than with his teeth.
The dog slipped around him and nosed the door shut.
He wants privacy! 
“Okay, I’m paying attention.”
Bert went to the main engine hatch in the floor and with his forepaw, padded at the pull ring. He couldn’t get at it and with a little growl, he tugged at the Velcro on his shoe with his teeth and the shoe came free.
He got his toenails under the ring and popped it up. The hatchway was clearly too difficult for him to open himself, but he nosed the ring, looked at Tommy and barked quietly.
“Okay. I don’t have much time, but you want me to look down in here.”
He pulled up the hatch. “What is it?” The engine was silent, not turning at all. Obviously, it had charged the batteries and then shut itself down.
Tommy sighed. “Twenty questions, is it?” 
Bert nodded.
“Is it something to do with the engine?” No.
“There’s something else down there?” Yes.
“Is it something urgent, dangerous?” No.
“Something I should know about?” Yes.
“Something Nick put down there?” Yes.
“Can I wait until later?” Yes.
Tommy nodded. “I asked you for help, and you’re trying to tell me, aren’t you?” Yes. 
“Then, I think you’re the best dog in the world. I’ll come back and look closer when I get my next break. Is there anything else?”
Bert dashed over to where his shoe had fallen and he snatched it up and presented it to Tommy.
“You want it back on?”
Bert nodded. Tommy knelt down and slipped it back into place.
“It’s good that you can take them off on your own, when you need to. Just try to make sure they stay in a safe place. If they get washed overboard it might be days until I could get them replaced.”
Up on deck, Marvin gave him the report. Winds had died down a bit, but they were still on course.
“Okay, I’ll take over for now.”
He nodded and stepped back. Tommy checked the GPS. They were another half mile or so until he intended to make the tack.
“Marvin? How smart do you think Bert is?”
He looked around, but the dog was still below.
“I don’t really know. We talked about IQ and such back when he was at the lab, but really, all that is meaningless.
“Bert is a dog, not a human. IQ tests are statistical comparisons on human populations. They cover things humans are good at. A dog IQ test would have to be based on things dogs are good at. We looked for some, but there was nothing beyond how house pets behave.
“I think Bert appears so smart because he seems to understand English -- not just a half-dozen or so words. He listens to us, and within his limitations, can react like a person.”
“His limitations?”
“Yes. He’s still a dog. There’s no genetic alteration here, just different parts of his brain developed better because of the diet. He has no hands. He can’t talk. All his instincts are canine, not human. And his vision is different.”
“I heard dogs are colorblind, but I asked Bert to get my yellow slicker, and he brought it to me.”
Marvin smiled. “Did you have a red one too?”
“Uh, no. I guess that doesn’t prove anything, if he understood what a slicker was.”
“But actually, dogs do have some color vision. They can see yellow and blue, just not red and green. But the most serious handicap for Bert, given his understanding of speech, is that he has no fovea, so there’s no way he could read text. He has better peripheral vision, but less depth perception. He can’t see fine details, but he’s better at seeing motion.”
Bree had come up and joined them. She had been listening intently.
“But he understands us talking? That makes him a genius. It’s a human world after all.”
Marvin shrugged. “But how does he cope as a dog? Is he smarter at dog things? Or has the language skills left him deficient with other dogs? How can we tell?”
Tommy looked up, scanning the horizon. Off in the distance, he could hear something.
“Bree! Take the wheel. Marvin, I think that’s a helicopter coming this way. Get below.”
He was gone in a flash.
Bree grabbed the wheel and looked in the distance, following Tommy’s lead. “It could be.”
Tommy had been watching its course. “It’s shifting, heading our way. I’d better get out of sight, too. Can you handle it?”
She nodded. “Go.”
Tommy ducked into the hatchway, peering out from the darkness.
Bree turned back to the wheel, trying to ignore the approaching helicopter. The engine noise increased, and then Bree whipped off her hat and tugged at her T-shirt.
In an instant, she’d gone topless. She replaced her hat. His mouth dropped open. What is she doing?
The helicopter approached, and she looked up at it, smiling and waving.
And then the noise dropped away. He hesitated, creeping back up the steps, but still staying in the shadows.
“You, stay put!” Bree hissed. She snatched up her top and was dressed again. “Okay, I think he’s gone.”
Tommy looked down at Marvin and Marilu. “You two stay here for a bit. I’ll check things out and call you when its safe.”
He came out, cautiously. But the helicopter was just a dot on the horizon.
“What was that all about?” he asked in a whisper.
She grinned like an imp. “I think they were taking pictures. Isn’t it better if the analyst pays more attention to me than to the ship?”
He took the wheel. “I just think you like to tease.”
“Could be.” Her face was flush with excitement.
She knew I was watching from the hatchway. Would she have done it if I weren’t?

Monday, August 27, 2012

Breaking Anchor - Part 27 of 44

© 2012 by Henry Melton

Chapter 27 -- South Haven
Bree tugged at her coat, and the flashlight’s beam danced over the rigging.
I wish she wouldn’t do that! The coat ain’t gonna grow any longer, and it just makes her look guilty. He kept his face straight.
“Keep a hand on the railing!” he urged, as she shifted her footing.
“Marilu. There’s nothing going on here. Bree is just helping me.”
“I can see. Bree, go below.”
She handed him the flashlight and did as she was told. Tommy kept the light on the mast so she could see where to put her feet.
“Mrs.... Marilu. Really, there was nothing going on.” He kept the flashlight out of the lady’s eyes once Bree had left. Pointing the beam at the anchor, he showed her. “See. I had to hook up the rode -- the line to the anchor.
“Bree was really a help, I wouldn’t have been able to get this done without her.” 
“Well, couldn’t it wait until morning?” 
“Ah, no, not really. We can’t really head north until morning -- we’ll be sailing too close to shore to navigate safely in the dark. And we couldn’t anchor until I got the new line installed.”
She hesitated. “Well, Marvin should be the one to help you.” 
He risked her anger by saying, “No. He’s just come off a long watch at the wheel. I really am captain of this boat, and I have to make these kinds of decisions. Bree was awakened by the boat noise and was certainly capable of holding a flashlight. I’d call Marvin in an emergency, but this didn’t qualify.”
She shifted her hold to the railing, stepping cautiously across the deck in her house-slippers.
“You seem to be a nice boy, but Bree has just gotten out of a situation with... someone, and I don’t want her to get hurt again.” 
“Okay. Fine. But really, she was just holding the flashlight.”
Bree had been involved with someone? He remembered how she reacted when he told her the last cell phone was destroyed. Was she over this ‘situation’? Did her parents think so?
She finally nodded. “Can I hold the flashlight for you then?” 
He handed it to her. She lit up the anchor while he went over the shackle again, re-tightening everything. Finally, he stripped out the old anchor line from the electric winch and connected the new line. 
“Done. Now we can anchor here until morning. You can go back to sleep.”
He took the flashlight and guided her safely back to the hatchway.
“Do you have any rubber-soled shoes? The deck can be slippery.”
She shook her head. “No. I never planned for any of this.” From her tone, he could tell she meant much more than just the boat trip.
Once she was safely below, he deployed the anchor, and nodded once he felt it bite into the bottom. They were settled for the night.
He checked the navigation lights, just to confirm everything was as it should be. They were too close to the harbor to take any chances.
Although there’s not likely to be any big ships here. South Haven was a tiny harbor compared to Chicago. 
In any case, he set the radio to monitor any possible ship traffic and pulled out his timer.
After that little scene with Bree’s mom, there’s no way I’m gonna go below and sleep close to little miss in her cute bunny pajamas.
He stretched out on the bench. Bert licked his hand.
“I suppose you heard all that, didn’t you? Guys gotta watch themselves around pretty girls. Especially when Mommy and Daddy are close.”
He sighed. It was never easy. You start to get closer to someone, and that ruffles the feathers of someone else. I get the ship sort of under control, and the passengers get wonky. There’s no way to win.
He turned the timer and started it ticking. The stars in the distance faded out as a patch of clouds moved in.
“Breakfast, Sleepyhead!” Bree called to him. He sat up from his latest doze, his head clearing quickly. Living on catnaps seemed to be working, at least for now. 
The night had gone quietly; he needn’t have worried. Around dawn, he’d seen three boats leave out of the harbor entrance, but their path headed far from where he was anchored.
Bree waved from the hatchway, and then went back below. The promise of food pulled him to his feet.
“Bert. Would you watch for boats while I go below?”
The dog pulled himself out from below the bench and found a comfortable spot where he could prop his muzzle on the gunwale.
Marilu served hot oatmeal with sliced strawberries. As he dug in, she asked, “Are we going into the town?” 
“Do you want to? I’d thought I’d plot our course and get an early start north.” 
She glanced at the shelves in the galley. “Well... there are a few things, like spices, butter, and other things I didn’t remember before. And if we could get the stove working....”
“Marvin? What do you think?”
He frowned. “Okay, I guess. If you think it’s safe.”
Tommy shrugged. “We’re not in a race. No matter where we go, they can always get there before we can... if they know our destination. We can take our time, as long as the money holds out. I do not want to make any use of credit cards.
“And I don’t want to take the Marissa into the harbor. Just the dinghy.”
“Can we get propane that way?”
“Yeah. The tank is removable -- just one of those portables like you use with gas grills.”
“Can I go?” asked Bree.
After a little debate, they decided Marvin would stay with the Marissa, and the rest of them would go ashore.
And that insures that Bree and I won’t get any time alone. He was amused as her parents fumbled around the issue.
He took Bert a strip of nuked bacon for a treat, and explained what was happening to the dog. Marvin came up a little later and helped him unstow the dinghy.
“Marvin,” he waved him up to the bow, right before they left. “Just in case, here’s how to raise the anchor.”
South Haven grew up where the Black River entered the lake. The river was a dredged and protected channel cut through the beach and lined with a seawall. It made for a nice little community, with marinas lining the riverside, and the seawalls only increasing the beaches.
Tommy ran the noisy little outboard up the channel, looking for a place to tie up. It felt like he was motoring into a city park, not at all like the heavily industrial Chicago River. Trees and sidewalks marked the entrance.
“There!” Bree pointed. He turned the tiller and pulled into the pleasant, tree-lined private harbor. There was a “Welcome” sign, and he took them at their word.
“Don’t get scattered,” he warned. “If we have to make a run for it, Marvin would be upset with me if I left one of you behind.”
Bree cheerfully ignored him and scrambled up on the dock. He tossed her a line and she wrapped it around the cleat. She did it wrong, but he said nothing. He just added another checkmark on his mental training schedule for when they got back on board.
Marilu had a real checklist in hand. He helped her up and then hauled out the propane tank last.
“I’ll meet you over there in a few minutes.” He pointed to the store, and they headed off. 
He went the other way and found the cylinder exchange after asking a few of the locals. Luckily, it was in easy walking distance. The filled tank was quite a bit heavier than the empty. Stowing it back on the dinghy, he went to check on them.
Marilu was deep into the spice shelf, peering at the fine print on the labels. Bree was at the sportswear aisle, rummaging through T-shirts. “The Sunset Coast” proclaimed one, with a spectacular sunset over water graphic.
Maybe I should get one. Other than his jacket and storm gear, he was wearing all the clothes he owned.
Something caught his eye on the next aisle over. He picked up the little shoes and chuckled.
Marilu waved him over. He joined her at the checkout.
“Add these.” She looked at the package and then the price tag.
“I’ve got the money for them,” he assured her.
Bree came bearing her finds and mother and daughter dropped into a whispered argument. He moved back out of range.
Logbooks, paper, pens, and envelopes -- he grabbed up a few, and as the argument was still going on, plucked his other package from Marilu’s collection and went through the checkout alone.
He sat down at a table just outside with his purchases and pulled out several envelopes.
The SIM card went into one, and folded, went into another, and that went into a third. The third went into the fourth. Each was labeled.
The outer one, he addressed to Kati. He put the school as the return address. He knew those addresses, but the rest of the way it would have to be hand delivered.
Inside that was the instructions, “Give this to Slab.”
On Slab’s envelope it said, “Give this to George.”
George’s envelope said, “Give this to Glasses.”
And to Glasses, he said, “Give this to someone you don’t like.”
The nested envelopes should protect the SIM card, and if it made it all the way to some cell phone in Chicago, then that was one more false trail for the Cleaners to follow.
He handed the envelope to the store clerk to mail, and called out. “Hey Mom. It’s time to go.”
They had both drifted over to the clothing aisle. Bree ended up with a sun hat and Marilu added a pair of deck shoes to her own wardrobe.
They put-putted back out to the Marissa with no traces left, he was sure. They’d paid cash for everything and used no names, false or otherwise.
Marvin was waiting at the stern, relieved to have them back. He helped upload the goodies.
“I’ll go install this,” he said when Tommy handed him the propane tank.
As he went below, he tried to put aside the unease at having anyone else work on the Marissa.
Nonsense. He’s an engineer. He can certainly handle the propane fittings.
Bert was happy to see them too. Bark. Bark.
Tommy pulled out his package. “And I have something for you too.”
Marilu stopped what she was doing and watched.
He opened the package and set out the four little shoes.
“Bert. These are deck shoes for dogs.”
The brown eyes looked up at him, not understanding.
“With these on your feet, you should have much better traction on the deck. Let me put them on you.”
Hesitantly, Bert lifted a paw. Tommy took the appropriate two-toned tiny shoe and slipped it on, fastening it with the Velcro strap. Quickly, he added the others.
Bree and Marvin joined the silent audience as Bert took a few steps on the deck. Then, he jumped up on the upper deck and walked around on the curved and uneven surface.
Ruff! He turned and dashed at full speed back from the bow and jumped down to the lower deck, stopping easily.
“Good dog!” Tommy rubbed his head.
And then he took off again, running around the upper deck, circling the mast and stopping to look out over the lake from the bow, wagging his tail non-stop.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Breaking Anchor - Part 26 of 44

© 2012 by Henry Melton

Chapter 26 -- Midnight Sail
Something was wrong. His eyes popped open, and he got to his feet. He looked at his watch.
Midnight? He frowned. I knew they’d let me sleep too long. He’d had a nap this afternoon. This was overkill.
On the other side of the door, the cabin was dark. They had gone to bed as well. By the light from his room, he could see Bree sleeping with one bare leg off the bench. At first he thought she was wearing pajamas decorated with skull and crossbones, but after blinking his eyes a couple of times, he realized it was actually a bunny rabbit graphic. Cute.
The door to the V-berth was open, but in the dark, he couldn’t see Marilu.
In any case, he had to be quiet. He turned off the light and went up the steps.
“Hello, Marvin. Sorry I slept so long. How are things going?”
“Pretty well. The wind changed about an hour ago and I don’t think we’re going as fast. We’re still on course, though. I changed the GPS from that arrow to a moving map. The shore is still a few miles off.”
“Excellent. I’ll take over now. You need to get some sleep.”
He nodded. “Don’t mind if I do.” They swapped and Marvin vanished below. He saw a light come on from the hatchway, but then it quickly went back off.
Bert slid out of the cubbyhole where he’d been sleeping, under the bench. Tommy grabbed the loose skin on the back of his neck and massaged.
“You know, I’ve got the aft berth. If you want to sleep out of the weather, you’re welcome to go there. There’s plenty of room.”
But he made no move to leave. And it wasn’t horribly cold. The breeze on the water was definitely chilly for a human, but Bert had a comfortable pelt, and probably didn’t need to worry about it.
“I wish you could talk. It seems you’re more familiar with what Nick was up to than anyone else. And I could sure use some pointers.”
Stars made the sky the brightest thing he could see. The Milky Way stretched plainly overhead. A few isolated clouds made dark patches against the white-dusted universe. He could trace the sail’s sharp boundaries and see the occasional dancing flickers reflected from the waves.
Tap. Tap. Tap. He turned the GPS display dark. Surely he could navigate by the stars on a night like this. He hesitated and turned off the navigation lights. Just for a little bit.
There was the Kite, his own name for the constellation Cygnus, with bright Vega beside it. It was lined up perfectly with the mast. Every few sways, the sails would eclipse the star.
Just keep it that way. It should keep him heading true for an hour or so. He could adjust the course again then.
He took a deep breath, feeling at home.
In all the time he’d sailed before, little had been at night. For one thing, Nick had hogged the wheel. For another, they’d rarely gone much distance. 
Sailing on Kentucky Lake had been, of necessity, close to shore. It was really just a long river valley, and you were likely to scrape bottom when you couldn’t see your way. On the Marissa, they’d never quite gotten out of the weekender sailing mode before things changed.
It’s freedom. That’s what this feels like.
With each mile, another layer of old worries and old responsibilities split off like a snakeskin and drifted away on the waves.
I’ll never have to mow that lawn again. Nor clean up the kitchen, nor do homework.
It was Monday morning, and there were some of his classmates, he was sure, still making that last minute press to prepare for finals.
Like Slab.
He frowned. There was no way to make it right. He’d promised to be there for him, and he’d promised Marvin to take care of his family.
Of course, if the company had never identified his remaining phone, then it might be safe to call Slab.
He switched the navigation lights back on. There was enough back illumination from them to let him see what he was doing.
He pulled the phone from his pants pocket and slipped the battery into place, but he hesitated. It was too risky.
Besides, he was probably not in cell phone range anyway, so it wouldn’t be possible for a call to go through. He stabbed the power button, and the little screen lit up, brighter than anything around, and hard on his dark-adapted eyes.
How smart was this phone? He’d noticed the voicemail as they’d escaped Milwaukee, but he hadn’t left it on long enough to notice when Slab had made the call. Was that record still there?
Menu. Voicemail. Ah! It was there, including the date stamp. Slab had left it nearly twenty-four hours earlier.
Suddenly, the signal bars popped up. It was weak, but he was in range.
“Stupid.” His finger hovered over the power button.
But, I’ve already left a trace in the system. Better listen to that voicemail. Get it over and then put the phone in the deep where it wouldn’t get him in trouble again.
“Tommy Boy! Where you at?” He was agitated. “Turpin’s gonna chew my ass. I need you bro.”
It was short, but it pushed the right guilt buttons.
Slab’s only problem was a lack of confidence and his biggest monster was Mr. Turpin, the English teacher.
That’s city glow. Off in the distance, hardly as bright as the Milky Way, he could see evidence of land. I’m closer than I thought.
Frustrated on all counts, he pressed the dial button, and was immediately routed to voicemail. Slab’s phone isn’t turned on.
Good. If they’re monitoring Slab with the short-range gadget, then I can sneak under the radar.
“Slab. Sorry I can’t help you any more. Things have gotten too dangerous. I won’t be making contact again.
“But guy, the only way to get around Turpin is to talk like him. That’s his hangup. Pretend his English is a second language, like French. Just think about it. If the NBA was owned by French managers, wouldn’t you learn the language so you could make a better deal with them? He just doesn’t understand you, and he won’t ever change. I know you can speak white if you put your mind to it. I’ve heard you.
“This is the last advice I’ll ever give you, so listen up. You’re going on to be a big sports hero, and believe me, there’s tons of white people who’ll love you, invite you into their homes, even let you date their daughters -- if you can speak their language!
“We’re prejudiced that way. It wish we weren’t, but that’s the way it is. If you can speak the language, doors will open.
“Find another study coach, and concentrate on speech.
“Sorry, but that’s it. Remember, you’re smart enough to handle anything they throw at you -- all you gotta do is remember the rules of the game.”
With a stab at the button, he was done. 
Second thoughts swelled up.
That was a racist thing to say. Learn to live in a white world with white rules.
But it was true. Then with a toss, the phone vanished in Marissa’s wake.
Too late now to change his mind or reword it. I’m not racist!
His finger was on the GPS, bringing the brightness up, scanning the map, when Bree spoke.
“Who was that?” She stepped out of the hatchway, barely visible in the darkness.
He jerked, not expecting her. Guilt made him snap at her. “Do you spend all your time eavesdropping? I suppose you’ll run tell Daddy now.”
She came on out and leaned against the rail. Her pajama shift fluttered in the breeze. She crossed her bare legs. “How can I sleep with you yakking all the time? And should I? You didn’t answer my question.”
He tapped a new course into the GPS, heading farther north, parallel to the shoreline. That skyglow had to be from a town, and towns grew up around natural harbors.
“If you must know, it was just someone I knew from school.”
He looked at her, but in the darkness, he couldn’t make out her expression.
“No. This is a jock, big as a Kodiak bear. I’m his tutor, and it’s finals.”
“Hey, Brainiac. We’re running for our lives here. Dump him.”
“I just did.” He began turning the wheel slowly, making the new course.
“It was a mistake. A stupid error. I checked the phone expecting it to be out of cell tower range and it wasn’t. I owed him, so I gave him one last call and then tossed the phone. It’s gone. Happy?”
He waited, adjusting the trim for the new course. It was too close to sailing into the wind and they weren’t making much headway. They didn’t have much farther to go for the night.
“You’re not the only one who had people left behind. I could have used a phone myself.”
The sail snapped in the wind, luffing, without power. He’d drifted too far into the no-go zone. He sighed and spun the wheel, hoping to drift through to the other side and complete the tack.
“Come sit down on the bench. If you stay there, I’ll make you wear a lifejacket.”
“I can swim.” She crossed her arms.
“It’s dark. I don’t have searchlights, and the water is still cold enough to drain the life out of you. If you think you’re cold now, you haven’t any idea how quickly your muscles will lock up once in the drink. You won’t be able to swim.”
“Bully!” But she moved, and the mainsail came around. He made more adjustments. She sat, sitting on one leg and watched, rubbing her toes. The sail billowed and caught the wind, and Bree put her free hand on the rail as the ship heeled to port.
“What was all that about?”
“A tack. We need to head north, and that’s almost directly into the wind. We’ll be doing a lot of zig-zagging to make any headway.”
“You gonna be doing this all night?” She crossed her arms again. She was cold.
“No.” He pointed. “There’s a harbor over that way. We’ll anchor off-shore nearby.”
“Can we go into town?”
He laughed. “No. We’re not going into the harbor. I just want it close for safety reasons.
“Do you want to borrow my jacket? It’s not going to get any warmer.”
She’d curled up tighter, pulling her pajama top down over her knees, with only her toes sticking out.
“I’ll get my own.” She grabbed the railing and went for the hatchway.
“Hey, if you would, look in the bottom left drawer in the galley and bring me a crescent wrench.”
She nodded, then hesitated. “Crescent wrench -- that’s the one with the little thumb-wheel?”
Nodding, she went below. He watched her every move.
I hope she doesn’t cover up too much. 
She returned shortly after he tacked again. Bundled in a jacket, she looked warmer, still leggy, but warmer.
Back in the far reaches of his head, his conscience was chiding him for enjoying the view far too much, but it was easy to ignore the whispers. There was little enough entertainment in their situation.
“Here’s the wrench.”
“Thanks. I’ll need it here in a few minutes. We’re almost shallow enough to anchor for the night.” The coastline was plainly visible, and the lights from civilization were giving the stars some competition.
“That’s South Haven.” He pointed. A light marked the entrance to the Black River, according to his charts, but he had no intention of getting that close.
Finally, he dropped the sails.
“We’re stopping?”
“Right, just as soon as I install the anchor.”
“In the dark?”
He clicked on a flashlight and handed it to her. “If you’ll hold the light.”
Barefoot, she had better traction than he did on the upper deck. They walked carefully up to the bow. He made sure she kept a grip on the railing the whole way.
“Okay, shine the light here.”
The chain and line were still in their store wrapping. He stripped it off and set it aside. He was tempted to toss it, but refrained, especially since Bree would likely make some comment about littering.
“Why both a chain and a rope?”
He shrugged. “I figure it’s because it’d be too easy to tangle the rope around the anchor on the bottom. The chain would resist wear better. I’ve already lost one anchor this trip.”
He tightened the bolts that secured the shackle. “Not that I know everything about sailing. But sailing is just common sense, and until I figure it all out, I’ll just go on faith that the more experienced sailors know what they’re doing.”
Bree heard something and gasped. She turned the flashlight around.
Her mother was standing on deck, holding onto a shroud line for dear life.
“Bree! What are you doing up here dressed like that? Get below this instant!”