Chapter 2 -- Mall Talk
Fred was waiting for him at the south entrance, frowning, pointing at his watch as Tommy rumbled past. Luckily, there was a motorcycle parking area close by. Perfect. It was right next to Mall security’s glassed-in cubicle. He locked the bike and stowed the helmet. One last check to make sure he had the electrical system off, and he dashed toward the door.
“You’re late! Kati’s already in, holding our seats.” Fred passed him the ticket and then vanished into the crowd. Tommy hurried, trying to keep him in sight. He glanced at his stub for the door number, and found it quickly. The screen was bright, but the feature hadn’t started yet -- advertisements and previews were still playing. Fred was already moving into the row, taking the first seat.
Kati’s face lit up as he scooted past her bare knees to claim the seat to her right. “You made it,” she whispered. Her smile made the race through traffic worth it.
“Just barely.” And then, the house lights dimmed all the way down. The phone in his pocket was silent, but he felt it primed to vibrate again. He hurriedly fished it out and held the power button until it went dark.
Opening credits appeared over waves, crashing against the rugged stone shoreline. A dark-eyed brunette in a bikini raced in panic for the small inflatable boat bouncing in the surf. The trailers for Caribbean Sunset had promised action and romance, but what had caught his attention had been the sailboats.
“That’s a Zodiac Zoom SR,” he whispered to Kati. He’d seen the small inflatable craft in the boating catalogs they kept getting in the mail.
Kati nodded at his comment, but she probably didn’t know what a Zodiac was. She’d never come out on his family boat trips, although he’d invited her a couple of times. She’d look spectacular in a bikini.
On the screen, the girl jumped into the boat and struggled to get the outboard motor started. Tommy settled comfortably into his seat, instantly caught up in the action.
Kati gave his hand a squeeze. He squeezed back, not taking his eyes off the screen, silently coaching the actress. Prime it. Press the squeeze bulb on the fuel line!
Fred sneered. “That was a waste of time. Did you notice that after the first crash, the windshield healed itself when they were racing through Miami?”
Kati disagreed, as she sipped on her strawberry drink in the food court. “Well, I felt sorry for her.”
Tommy privately agreed with Fred. He’d come for Caribbean sailing and most of the movie took place with gun-battles between Miami drug dealers. Kati looked his way for a comment.
He shrugged. “I wonder where they filmed the lagoon scene. I should have stayed for the closing credits.” Fred had grabbed Kati and rushed for the exits almost before the final kiss was finished.
“That’s what IMDB is for.” Fred shrugged. “Watching credits is a waste of time.”
Tommy was grateful for the call to pick up their burgers. It relieved him of the duty to argue. But shortly, the topic shifted.
Kati poked him in the chest. “You can not wait until next year to decide on a college! You should be applying for scholarships now. You’ve got the grades. You’ve got the teachers on your side.”
Fred nodded. “She’s right. I’m going to Purdue. My father’s already contacted the dean’s office, and I’ve started my Junior Achievement project -- selling laminated Cubs photos. You’ve gotta get all the pieces in play early or you’ll lose out.”
Tommy stared at his plate. The fries were gone, but he rubbed his finger in the salt. The topic had come up before, but he didn’t have an answer. “I don’t know what I want to do.” He looked Kati in the eyes. “Where are you going to college?”
She looked away. “I have several options.” She wrinkled her nose. “It depends on which scholarships I can wrangle. But we’re talking about you! Don’t you have any idea where you’re going? M.I.T. maybe, or Cal-Tech? You’re so talented with machines.”
He shook his head. “That’s just stuff I picked up from Nick.” He thought about the classes he’d taken. A lot of them were fun, as long as he didn’t have to worry about tests and grades.
“Nothing just jumps out at me.” He nodded at Fred. “You want to run some company, I bet. And you,” he thought about Kati’s interests, “I bet you want to design things.”
She looked startled, “Architecture. Yes. You’re right.”
He’d been thinking clothes or jewelry, but now that she mentioned it, she did talk about odd and distinctive buildings.
“That’s what I mean. You have a solid interest, and to get that kind of a job means you have to go to the right school.”
He shrugged. “But I have no idea what I want to do. Maybe I’ll just hang around in one of the community colleges until I find out what my thing is.”
Kati shook her head. “That’s your father talking. He doesn’t want you to move away, now does he?”
“Oh, it’s not that,” he lied. Thinking of Nick, he reached for his phone. “It’s been hard the past few months, is all.” He turned it on. A few seconds later it buzzed and flashed.
He sighed. More messages. Fred watched with an ill-concealed smirk as he pressed the buttons. It was clear Fred had him labeled, “Loser.”
Five messages, all from his father.
Nick: M99 0 M0 7:09p
Nick: M50 0 7:39p
Nick: M50 0 8:09p
Nick: M50 0 8:39p
Nick: M50 0 9:09p
Regular as clockwork, every thirty minutes.
M50? Go to the boat? Why does he want me to go to the Marissa?
At least, now he had a valid excuse for taking the motorcycle out.
“Daddy calls?” Fred asked.
How do I get to the harbor from here? I’ll need to find a map, or else take the long way back. He’d never navigated from anywhere but the house. The mall was considerably inland.
After the moment of silence, Kati asked, “Is that right, Tommy?”
“Ah, yeah. I was just thinking. I have to go.”
Kati put her hand on his arm. “You have to stand up to him. He’s just running you around on his treadmill.”
Her touch was nice, but the timing was wrong. “It’s not like that, Kati.” He soaked up the concern in her eyes. “But, I’ve gotta run.”
She looked worried. “Can I take you?”
“I’ve got the motorcycle.” He glanced at Fred, watching him try to conceal a grin. “Sorry to leave you two, but he’s been calling for hours, looks like.”
“Just call him back, and tell him you’ll be late.”
Impatiently, Fred stood up. “I’m getting a refill for my coke. Kati, do you want anything?”
She waved him off. As he walked away, she lowered her voice. “I have to talk to you. I was hoping to get a chance this evening.”
He hesitated. “You could call....”
She shook her head. “We need to talk, face to face. It’s been some time.”
Yeah, because Fred’s always underfoot.
“Tomorrow. I’ll be there early, at the library.”
She nodded. “I still wish you’d stay. What did your father say, exactly? Couldn’t you put him off?”
He shook his head. He had no intention of explaining the codes, or the rules. Kati would never understand, and Fred would make it a joke.
“I gotta go.”
The motorcycle’s battery gauge read over half-capacity. He’d certainly be able to get home, but he was uncertain about getting to Montrose Harbor, where the Marissa was docked. Certainly, he’d need a recharge going to the harbor first before returning home. And it was already well past sunset. He really should be home, studying. His first final was on Monday. There was no time for Nick’s treasure hunts.
Frustrated, he stabbed the talk button. It went immediately to Nick’s voicemail. He terminated the call.
If you don’t have your phone on, I’m not gonna talk into the box.
But he had no choice, not really.
Why didn’t I look for a map while I was in the mall?
He rode the bike silently out of the parking lot. Oh, well. Chicago was a modern city, with most of the streets laid out in a grid. He could just ride east until he reached Lake Shore Drive. From there, it was a straight shot north to the harbor.
Driving silently made the noises of the city more pronounced. Probably the fake engine noises didn’t take all that much juice, but he didn’t want to risk it.
Kati just doesn’t understand. Okay, so Nick was a little protective. He was just trying to take care of his son. It was just the two of them left. They had to take care of each other.
But to be honest, he was glad Nick had gotten so wrapped up in his job these past few months. He’d rather spend the time alone, or with Kati.
At least he needed to spend time alone with her. It was difficult now that Fred was always underfoot. Kati had been his regular date for movies and first choice for a lab partner at school for two years. He’d worried about moving to Chicago, but she’d made his move from Evansville so easy.
But what does she want to talk about? That could be good or bad. She was kind-hearted. Maybe she needed help telling Fred to get lost. Or maybe she needs the right time and place to break up with me.
A delivery van pulled out into his lane. He swerved hard. The driver never noticed him.
Chicago traffic! He moved to the slow lane and checked his batteries. Still plenty of juice. There were disadvantages to running silent. He flipped on his sound system and noticed as other drivers looked his way as the rumble of a heavy Harley suddenly blared from his lightweight cycle.
He looked at the road ahead, still congested as far as the eye could see. He was ready to see signs of the lake. Tops of downtown skyscrapers were where he expected, but still some distance off.
Why did Nick want him to go to the Marissa?
The gleaming white 40-foot sailing boat was the family pride and joy, and one of the reasons Nick took the job in Chicago. Back in Evansville, they’d had a 22-footer that they trailered a hundred miles down to Kentucky and Barkley Lakes from time to time. Nick’s new job gave him the money to graduate to the big blue-water keelboat. Living so close to Lake Michigan gave them the excuse to give up a trailer-boat they could haul from lake to lake for a yacht that could take them all over the world.
Nick had called the new boat the Marissa even before they’d bought it from the dealer, and Mom was always a little embarrassed to have it named after her.
They had such plans! The 40-footer was spacious, with a cabin that had room to sleep six! They could sail down the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway to the Atlantic. Mom and Nick had taken a bare boat cruise in the British Virgin Islands back before he was born and had always planned to go back.
On the open 22-footer, the Mud Turtle, Nick had taught Tommy to sail. By the time they traded for the Marissa, he was well on his way to getting his own Bare Boat Certification. With that in hand, he’d be authorized to rent a bare boat, one without a crew, and sail it himself from anywhere in the world.
And then things changed.
Nick was always tinkering. No device, not even the new family sailboat was safe from his urge to make modifications. They took the Marissa out of the water even before the fall storms moved in. Nick was enthralled by the idea of replacing the diesel engine with a Sterling/electric hybrid.
One of the great pleasures of sailing was getting away from the noises of the city and the highways. But most yachts like this had an engine in addition to the sails. It was just too practical to be able to put-put away from the harbor instead of attempting to navigate those tight quarters under sail. And besides, calm happens to the best of sailors.
But a diesel was like bringing city noises along with you. A Sterling engine was external combustion, and very efficient. And since there were no explosions in the pistons, no noisy mufflers, just simple burners like on a kitchen stove, the Sterling could be very quiet.
Tommy had helped a little, when they took out the diesel and put in the new engine, but that was the last time he’d seen the boat.
The real Marissa had taken center stage in October.
Mom hadn’t felt well even back in the summer, but she came along on their day sails anyway. Then, cancer was diagnosed. After that, it was one nightmare after another. The disease spread rapidly, far too fast for surgery. They tried radiation and chemotherapy, but it was too late.
Six weeks. Just forty-five days after she was diagnosed, her body gave out from the combined stresses of disease and cure.
Tommy blinked to clear his eyes, and then swerved around a beer truck parked in the right lane, unloading to a restaurant.
Honk! There was an oncoming car, right in front of him. He jammed on the brakes and almost flipped when the rear wheel came up off the ground. He slid up against the truck with a bang!
The white car whipped past -- the driver finger-gestured at him.
Where was he? The road had narrowed, and he hadn’t paid attention. He checked the road signs. Nothing was familiar.
“Hey, you, man! Whacha doin to ma truck, dere!”