Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Breaking Anchor - Part 22 of 44

© 2012 by Henry Melton

Chapter 22 -- Biting the Hand
“Hey!” Tommy tried to jerk his hand free, but Bert held on. It hurt, but there was no anger in those brown eyes.
“Let go!” 
The dog tugged, pulling him.
“I’ll go with you, just let go.” 
Bert released his hand. It stung, where teeth broke the skin, but he followed his shaggy guide to the boat.
“What’s going on?” Bree paused with a sack in her hands, watching the chase.
“I don’t know!” He said, as he brushed past her going down the steps.
Bert jumped on the seat next to the navigation station. He barked, pointing with his nose at the items spread out on the little table.
“What is it?”
Everything was almost like he’d left it, before he’d gone topside to start the rigging process. Except, the map he’d marked up with a proposed route to Thunder Bay was missing. And something was added.
It was his phone. How did it get there? The screen was active, showing the current time and the signal strength of the local cell coverage. He’d left it turned off, the batteries out, as he had since this mess started.
He snatched it up and pressed the off button.
Bree came down the steps. “What is it?”
“Did you use this phone?”
She snorted, “Hardly. Don’t blame me.”
He pushed past her and went up on deck. Marvin was at the stern, shaking hands with the workman.
“Mr. Wilson, I need to speak to you.”
The workman walked away as Marvin turned to him. “What is it?”
Tommy looked at the man. He had a toolbox and clipboard, but nothing that looked like the map.
He whispered, “Did any of the workmen go below?”
Marvin thought a second. “I don’t think so. What’s wrong?”
“That’s what I’m trying to find out. A map is missing, and someone used my cell phone. Maybe Bert....”
He looked down. The dog was at his leg. He knelt down.
“You saw what happened didn’t you?”
A slow nod.
“Okay, was it one of the strangers -- the workmen who put up the sails?”
Slowly, he looked to the right and then the left -- ‘no’.
“Was it one of us?”
Bert nodded.
“I already asked Bree. It wasn’t her. Find your wife.”
Marvin went over to the carts where she was unloading the food. Tommy prayed it was just a simple mistake.
Where was Dek?
Marvin’s face told the story as he went immediately below.
“Bert, was it Dek that took the map and made the phone call?”
He nodded.
Marvin re-appeared. “Dek is gone.”
“Bert saw him do it. He’s run out on us. Did you see him go?”
“You know him a lot better than I do. Would he have called the Cleaners? Or did he just decide not to stay with us?”
Marvin shook his head. “I don’t know. He’s an arrogant little twerp, but would he sell us out? I don’t have any idea.”
“The missing map looks like a smoking gun to me.”
“Yeah, but he might have taken it as insurance, just in case he got caught -- something to bargain with.”
Tommy held up the phone. “If he used it, there’ll be a last-number-called entry.” He turned it on.
Marvin looked over his shoulder, as he pressed the keys to reveal the entry.
“That’s a Chicago number, but it’s not to our office.”
Tommy popped the battery out. “Whether he sold us out or not, we have to assume he did.” He remembered their talk in the night. Dek had urged him to bail. Was he just talking himself into doing that very thing, or had he been a security plant from the beginning? Maybe he’d been waiting for the right moment to jump ship, when he had his hand on the most information.
“We have to get out of this harbor immediately. I’ve paid for the rigging. Let’s get everything loaded.” He looked at Marvin, and Marilu, who had stopped to listen. “Is there anything we haven’t thought of?”
“Diesel. We haven’t refueled.”
Tommy shook his head. “No time for that. We can sail the whole way if we have to.”
Bree came up as well. “Get everything on-board. We’ll re-stow it later.”
It wasn’t until they passed by the amphitheater at the entrance to the harbor that Tommy could start to breathe again.
He looked around on the water. Every white sailboat he saw, and there were dozens, gave him comfort.
Wind from the north-northeast. He checked the chart, and unfurled the jib slowly from the forestay spool. Until he’d used the new rigging several times, he wouldn’t totally trust it. No matter how professional the workers were, bolts could come un-done, cables could twist, and pulleys could jam.
The wind tugged at the jib, bellowing it out into a smooth curve. He adjusted the wheel and reduced the throttle. Until they cleared the breakwater, he didn’t want to put on any speed.
The clouds had broken up in the sunlight and he could see miles in all directions. Would he notice the helicopter if it approached?
“Marvin. It’s time to get below. Send Bree or Bert up if you need me for anything. But for now, you’re the last company employee on board, and your face needs to be out of sight.”
“Right. Are you sure you don’t need any help with the sails?”
He grinned. “Even if you stayed topside, I’d still do everything myself. I enjoy this.”
With both sails up and trimmed, he concentrated on putting as much water as possible between Milwaukee and the Marissa. Course didn’t matter. He just wanted it more difficult for a plane or helicopter to find them.
It may be the last time I’m in cell phone range for a while.
On a hunch, he pulled the other phone out and inserted its battery. It took just a moment for it to find signal, and then a few seconds more for the phone to register a new voicemail. He killed it and removed the battery.
Slab will have to wait. He was pleased that there was no sign that this phone had made any outgoing calls. The other one was a mystery. Had it slipped out of his pocket? Had Dek gotten it last night, somehow?
Either the guy was a pickpocket, or he’d made some stupid error and left the phone somewhere for it to be picked up. He preferred the pickpocket idea, but it didn’t feel right.
Bree came up and plopped down on the bench. Stretched out, she raised her hand to block the sun in her eyes. “The sails are up.”
“Yeah, I noticed.” He also noticed she’d shed the extra shorts and was back to her bikini. Keep your eyes on the horizon. He could see a grin when she thought he wasn’t looking. She’s a tease. Not that I mind.
“Do you still have your cell phone?” he asked.
She gave an exasperated sigh. “No. Daddy took it. He threw his away and made Mom and Dek toss theirs as well. He said they could be tracked.”
“That’s right. I should have gotten rid of mine before now. Do you think Marvin still has yours?”
“I don’t know. But...don’t we need one in case of emergency? What if we spring a leak or something?”
He tapped the VHF on the dash. “This is a marine radio. It’s a lot more useful than a cell phone out here. If we have trouble, I want the Coast Guard, not the police. And besides, cell phones only work close to a tower. We’re probably out of range by now.
“Cell phones are really handy to order pizza at the marina, but right now....” he shrugged.
“Ah! Pizza. That’s what I want. Pepperoni and a large coke. And a large bottle of sun-tan oil.”
He looked her over. “You look ready for summer vacation. Sorry to be missing out on finals?”
“Hardly. That’s the one bright spot in the whole mess.”
He glanced at the GPS for a speed reading and scanned the telltales, blue ribbons sewn into the sails that let him visualize the wind as it moved over the fabric. “I don’t know. Pulling an incomplete for the year isn’t something I like the taste of. But I guess there’s no help for it.”
“Better than flunking out. This way my parents won’t ever have to know about my ‘D’ in math or why I skipped out of most of my classes this past semester.” 
She nodded, pouting. “I was a bad girl.” 
“I could never do that. Even when... Even when there were family issues last year, I made up everything I missed.” 
She shook her head in pity. “I could never get that dedicated to my studies. It’s so boring.”
The wind shifted slightly, and a wave hit the side hard, spraying them both.
Bree shrieked. “It’s cold!”
He rotated the wheel to adjust for the change in the wind. “Better go below and find some wet weather gear if you want to stay topside. Bring my jacket if you do.”
She fussed with her hair and stalked toward the hatchway. Tommy felt free to admire the view until she vanished below. He could have eased the angle and reduced the chance of spray, but that would have slowed them down.
“Distance now. Sunbathing later.”
Tapping on the scale reading, he got a better picture of his location. Too far east.
He’d always intended to sail just out of sight of the shoreline all the way up to the Mackinac Straits. It was a 250 mile journey, and the only way out of Lake Michigan. While he could stick to the middle of the lake the whole way there, it wouldn’t be wise.
If the weather turned nasty, the lake could develop waves much bigger than he cared to navigate. There were thousands of shipwrecks littering the Great Lakes, ships whose captains were much more experienced than Tommy Dorie.
Sailing close to shore gave him a chance to find a safe harbor if a front blew through.
But Dek took that map. It had a route marked that followed the west coast of the lake all the way up, and then on across Lake Huron to the locks at Sault Ste. Marie. Thunder Bay was on the north shore of Lake Superior.
If the company has it, then we’re sunk. They didn’t have to locate them over the thousands of square miles of Lake Michigan. Just put someone with binoculars on the Mackinac Bridge and wait for us to pass underneath.
It would be even worse at the locks. They could just walk on board as we wait, trapped in the lock.
“Unless...unless they think we’ve given up on that plan altogether. Unless they think we’re going somewhere else.”
Tommy let the idea perk in his head for a couple of minutes. Then, with an eye to the sails, he turned the wheel. The bow went directly into the wind and their speed dropped as they entered the no-go zone. Coasting, he caught the wind, and they kept on going until he had to adjust the sails for a downwind run, heading south.

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