Chapter 18 -- Drop Off
Tommy frowned at the track of their path as marked on his GPS map. They’d gone into Racine the first time, then out to the platform, then off north for three miles, then looping back to south of Racine Harbor, and now doing an about-face to sweep past the shoreline heading north, just so they could get a good look at the parking lot.
I’m glad the track just vanishes after a while. Anybody’d think I was drunk.
The hatchway door opened, and Marvin peered out.
“Daddy! We’re not there yet, and you’re letting too much light out.”
He closed the door.
Bree griped, “He messed up my night vision.” She put down her binoculars. “Are you sure we’re at the right place?”
She didn’t even know what ‘night vision’ was until I told her about it. She was getting into the spirit of this clandestine activity. Or maybe she just likes giving orders to her parents.
He looked at the trace. “Should be.” He pointed off in the distance at the lights on shore. “About in that direction.”
She made sure the rear navigation light was to her back and scanned the shore again. After a moment, she said, “There it is. Can you get any closer?”
He moved the wheel slightly. “The idea is to see them before they see us, if they’re even there in the first place.”
“You explained that. I’m not an idiot.”
Tommy kept his eyes open, as they cruised along, paralleling the shoreline, passing Pershing Park. He watched the depth gauge. He had to be ready in case there were any hidden boulders below the hull. Any sensible sailboat would be farther out, or in the channel.
“There! I see it.”
“What do you see?”
“The Suburban. It’s parked where we left it.”
“Is there anyone around it?”
“Well, duh. People are all over the parking lot. It looks like something at the civic center just ended. People are going to their cars.”
“More complications.” He shifted the wheel, as the harbor breakwaters loomed ahead.
“Are we giving up?”
“No. But I have to move around to get to the channel entrance. Keep the car in sight if you can. Let me know if there’s any change.”
“Okay. Dum-de-dum. People walking around. Some cars are pulling out. Hey, you’re drifting where I can’t see it.”
“You want to run into those rocks? Keep looking.”
Racine Harbor had built up and had grown out over the years. It extended well beyond the original shoreline. Tommy set his path by the breakwater light, and kept an eagle eye on the green glowing GPS map.
Bree sighed. “It’s back that way.”
“Be patient. Just try to keep track of where it was. The harbor is like a maze, we’ve gotta go around a few corners to get where we want to be.”
She’s annoying. Marvin would have been a better lookout, but she was there for decoration more than anything. They were two young sailors, coming back in from a day outing. All the adults were too easy to identify. There was a good chance that the boat itself hadn’t been identified.
Believe it. Believe it hard. If they ID the Marissa, we’re done anyway.
The instant they knew Nick’s crew were on a white sailboat with the masts down in Lake Michigan, a plane with cameras could find them anywhere in just a day or so. If the company had connections with the satellite spy systems, they could have the position in hours.
The clouds above were comforting, but they were thinning out. Every once in a while a star would look down. It was strange to pray for bad weather, but he had more confidence in the Marissa’s seaworthiness than he did in Nick’s former company.
“Bree, tell them we’re entering the harbor. Make sure the windows are shuttered and the lights are off.” He throttled back to a couple of knots. No wake zone.
She went below and was back a minute later. “They’re ready, but I’m glad I’m not trapped down there like they are. Mamma’s praying.”
When she picked up her binoculars, he added, “Remember, you’re supposed to be a casual, innocent boater. Save the glasses for when we’re closer. Don’t look suspicious.”
“Hmm. Casual, eh?” She leaned back into the corner of the side and rear bench, unzipped her jacket, and propped her bare legs up over the railing. “How’s this?”
He grinned, but said nothing. She probably doesn’t know what ‘innocent’ means. Kati was a confident beauty, never flaunting it. Bree seemed to like showing off.
But he had to pay attention to the channel. There was a breakwater to port, with lights marking the entrance to the boat slips. It was a bigger place than Montrose, and if he had to hide in this forest of masts, there would be places he could keep Marissa out of sight for a few minutes.
It would be hopeless to count on it, however. It was a maze, with lots of dead ends, and a 40-footer needed space to turn around.
He passed by the first entrance, seeing one closer to the entrance to the river. Somewhere in a place like this, there had to be a place to tie up. Hopefully, close enough to a parking lot so Ruth could move Nick herself rather than needing Marvin or Dek to help her.
Tommy had every intention of heading right back out onto the lake the instant Nick was clear. The harbor was a trap from which it would be hard to escape.
At the entrance, he spun the wheel and took the passage to the left. A hotel. It looked nice.
“Bree, check with the binoculars. Can you see the parking lot from here? It should be up ahead -- a little to the left.”
As she shifted to get higher, for better visibility, he saw an open place to dock, just past a row of slips.
Great. It was right in front of the hotel, and there was clear visibility through the forest of boats, across a jetty to where the Valentes and Dek had loaded.
“Bree, can you help me tie up?”
“Just a second.”
He slid the throttle slightly into reverse as he steered the boat up to the dock.
“Bree, I need help!” She was still staring ahead with the binoculars. The Marissa tapped gently against fenders. Bree hadn’t moved.
Furious, he killed the throttle and dashed up to the railing, and tossed a line around a cleat on the dock, snugging it tight. The bow began to drift free. He raced up and caught a line just in time to kill the momentum.
He tied off the second line and with fire in his eyes, prepared to tell her off.
She handed him the binoculars. “Look.” In the dock lighting, her eyes were wide and she was chewing her lip.
It didn’t take him a second to locate the car. It was the one being towed. In the glasses, he saw it being winched slowly up onto the tow-truck’s tilted platform. Several people stood around and watched. Some were plainly just gawkers. There were at least three men in matching jackets. They didn’t look like police, but they looked very much like the Magenta Cleaners. One had a clipboard, questioning a woman.
“Tommy?” It was Marvin. “Are we docked?”
It was the helicopter that kept him from cutting the lines and making for open water just as fast as he was able.
In the night sky, he couldn’t tell much. Plainly, it wasn’t the orange and white of the Coast Guard, nor one of the military helicopters. The first time it passed over the parking lot, he held his breath, hoping it would just go on its way, off to the south.
But as he whispered to Marvin what he could see, it turned and made a sweep over the water. Searchlights lit up the waves as it flew back toward the parking lot.
“The security team has a helicopter, I think.”
“We’re stuck.” The voice behind the door seemed defeated. “They’ll zero in on us the instant we run.”
“No, we’re not.” It was Ruth. She opened the door and came up on deck, a defiant glare on her face. She was dressed in a white pantsuit, obviously from Marilu’s luggage, not at all like the dark outfit she had been wearing when she dropped onto the boat.
She looked at Tommy, “This is a hotel, right?”
“I’m going to go get help. Get Nick up on deck, but be careful. Don’t let the wound open up again.” And she was off, walking purposefully toward the hotel.
Marvin asked, “Are we secure?” He nodded.
“Then, let’s do as the lady says.”
Nick had been dressed in pajamas, with the bandages around his leg changed again, and obscured by the baggy pants. “I feel ridiculous,” he mumbled.
Marvin, larger and stronger, took the lead, lifting Nick under his arms. Tommy held the legs steady and pushed. They got him moved, but Nick’s face was contorted with pain. Marilu handed Tommy a bag. “His clothes.”
Tommy nodded. “Everybody below. That helicopter could be back any minute.”
Even Bree went down the steps, but she was back a moment later, holding a wide brimmed straw hat. “Here.”
It was one of Mom’s. He hadn’t realized it was on the boat, but Nick needed it now, to keep his face obscured from any distant cameras.
Ruth returned, with a bellboy and a triumphant look on her face. The bellboy was pushing a wheelchair.
Tommy helped him get Nick over the railing and into the chair. The bellboy called Nick “Mr. Johnson”. For just a moment, Nick held his hand and gave it a squeeze. They couldn’t afford to talk.
Ruth turned to him and handed over a wad of cash, a tip.
“I can’t thank you enough Captain Hendrikson. If you hadn’t noticed our boat, we might have been drifting for days. You’re a hero.”
The bellboy pointed off in the distance. “That’s the ambulance, Mrs. Johnson. We’ll meet them by the lobby entrance.”
“Coming.” She turned without another word and walked beside the wheelchair as they headed back.
The instant they were out of sight, with the helicopter just a faint light far off to the south, Tommy said, “Marvin, we’re moving. Bree, I need your help.”
She came out and handled the ropes as he went to the wheel.
“You’re clear.” She hopped back on the boat and he eased the Marissa away from the dock as if he had hours to turn around. The strongest noise was his own heartbeat, and he felt lightheaded.
No false moves. He had to run away, without appearing to run.
Step one was to turn around in the channel and get the bow pointed in the right direction. Step two was to get the dinghy stowed up on deck. It was in the way in these tight quarters.
Bree had the binoculars. “The car is gone.” She turned the glasses towards the hotel.
“Don’t. Don’t look for them.”
He had no real reason. It was just... his father was gone. He was alone. He clenched his teeth and let the feeling pass.
“The binoculars. If anyone is watching, they could see the reflection from the lenses.”
“Oh.” She put them down.
It was a lie, and probably false, but it he didn’t want to talk about it right now.
Nick is gone, and with that woman.