Chapter 15 -- The Jetty
Bert climbed up the steps. Ruff.
“I’ll go check on him.” Ruth gave the dog a rub on the head as she headed down.
Tommy checked his GPS position again. Bert came to sit by the bench. It was clear that whatever he meant by his bark, it wasn’t serious.
I think Bert’s the smartest animal I’ve ever seen.
Back in Evansville, they had a dog and two cats. Patches the dog died of old age, and one of the cats, Lucifer, escaped during the move and was never found. They had neighbors on the lookout, but after a couple of months, everyone gave up hope. Darlington, the calico, took the move to Chicago in stride, but she was Mom’s cat, and with the hospital time and Nick’s efforts to support her and keep his job at the same time, Darlington was handed over to a church friend, Mrs. Kirkenell. Somehow, after Mom’s death, there was never any effort to retrieve the cat.
That’s something I should have taken care of. What would Mom think of that?
Of course, Tommy had no doubt Darlington was happier where she was. And I don’t think she’d like sailing.
But Bert was in a class by himself. Tommy had never met an animal that could hold up his end of the conversation. He’d talked to Patches many times, but there was only cheerful incomprehension between those ears. Patches liked the attention, but any commands more complicated than “go” and “stay” were lost on him.
Bert was a doggy genius, no doubt about it.
The lights of Racine were visible in the distance when Ruth came back up.
“Nick lost a bit of what I fed him. He may be a little seasick.”
Tommy shook his head. “Not seasick. Not Nick. It has to be something else. How is his fever?”
“It comes and goes. He’s got some chills now. Do you have a fever thermometer anywhere?”
Tommy tried to think. “If there is one, it’ll be with the first-aid kit.”
“Not that I saw.”
“Maybe we should get some medical supplies in town.”
She looked off in the distance. They were headed straight toward the harbor.
“I’d like to do that some place where company security isn’t waiting.”
“They’re in Racine?”
“Marvin signed the memo, but had bad feelings about the setup well before the rest of us. He wanted to go get his family in Racine and move them to safety.
“We all thought he was paranoid. It was just a business memo, after all. It wasn’t like we were in another country with Political Officers to see that we all towed the company line.” Her voice reeked with sarcasm.
“They must have thought leaving in the middle of a workday was suspicious, because he called us on the phone and reported that he’d barely gotten his wife and daughter away before they showed up at his house.
“Nick promised to come get him. He’d get us all to safety, he said. Then, he’d go back and confront upper management himself.
“Of course, that was before guns were brought into the argument.”
Tommy could make out more details on shore. He could see a blinking light -- probably a marker for the harbor. Reluctantly, he flipped on his navigation lights. Right now, a boat without lights was more conspicuous than one with them.
“How do we contact them?”
She shook her head. “It’ll be difficult. The security team, we know, has the ability to track cell phones. But I have a number that isn’t on Marvin’s official records. It’s a convenience store cell phone he confiscated from his daughter just last Wednesday. If he still has it on him, we could go ashore and call it from a pay phone.
“I just hope they’re still free of the security team.”
Tommy felt the cell phones in his pocket.
“You know, I have a clean phone on me. We could use that and streamline the process.”
“Are you sure it’s clean? I wouldn’t put it past them to have searched all our private records by now.”
He chuckled. “Oh, this one is clean. There’s no record anywhere.” Except in Slab’s phone. Could they have kidnapped him?
With George and Cax watching over him? Not likely.
Ruth hesitated. “Okay. Everything’s risky now.”
He pulled out the phones and made sure he handed over the right one. His phone with the swapped SIM was probably clean as well, but it was one step closer to a database. If they managed to track the relayed traffic Cax sent to him, then they might have the number it contacted.
She pulled out a little leather-bound notepad and keyed in the number. He could see the tension drop away from her face as she made contact.
“Oh Marvin! I’m so glad to hear your voice.”
She relayed the specifics with a minimum of words. Nick had been shot. The rest of the group had scattered, and may have been picked up already.
They set a pick-up point.
“Near the harbor!” Tommy prompted.
She closed the connection and handed the phone back. He removed the battery.
“The jetty at Sixth and Pershing at 8:30. Do you think we can make it?”
“Hang on.” He played with the GPS until he zoomed into the street map. “Festival Park. I can find it, but I don’t like jetties.”
“Yeah. Lots of rocks to bang up the boat.” He looked at the little boat strapped to the upper deck. “Take the wheel. I’ve got some preparation to do.”
The dinghy was fairly lightweight. Totally fiberglass, it had hard sides and a flat bottom. He had no trouble untying it and dropping it over the side. He secured it to port, near the stern, even though it made the Marissa’s steering more difficult. He wanted to be able to get in and out while underway.
“I could go ashore.” She sounded a little uncertain. “I know what Marvin looks like.”
“Do you know how to handle a boat?”
Ruth’s face twisted into a grimace. “No, but I don’t see any help for it. Someone has to drive the big boat and the other has to drive the little one.”
He nodded. “Yeah, but the Marissa is big and stable. You have a steering wheel and a throttle. The dinghy bounces on the waves and one bad move would put you in the drink.
“I’ll take the dinghy in. Your job will be to keep the Marissa from drifting off into the traffic.”
Luckily, the wind had died down. He coached her on the controls and explained what she had to do. He put a marker on the GPS when they got close enough to the shore.
“Circle this marker. It’ll do no good to park on it. Just keep the Marissa under two knots and stay close.
“When I come back, I’ll throw you a rope. You’ll need to wrap it around the horns of this cleat.” He showed her how it was done, and had her go through the motions for practice.
She headed down below to check on Nick. He checked his pockets. He had Slab’s cell phone in case of emergency and a few dollars cash. He stashed his wallet and the other phone with his cards in the navigation station desk. Better not be identified. A pair of binoculars, in rubberized waterproof housing, was hanging beside the wheel. He slipped the strap over his head.
Ruth reported in. “He’s still asleep.”
It was getting close to time. “I’ll go in and back. If you don’t hear from me in an hour, head for another town. Find a marina and when you dock, just get close and drift in. Yell for help if you have to.”
The idea that she’d be responsible for the boat didn’t sit well with her. “You just come back. Nick wouldn’t like it if I left you behind.”
He cast off and started the electric trolling motor. There was a little gas outboard as well, but paranoia ruled supreme. Besides, the electric was surprisingly peppy. It must have been recently charged.
The binoculars revealed the jetty, and it was as bad as he’d feared. The whole shoreline was boulders, piled up as protection against the waves. It’d be very difficult to keep the little dinghy stable enough to load people, without knocking a hole in its fiberglass hull.
As he hunted for the best place to pull up, he saw a man up on the jetty, watching him with binoculars.
Is that Marvin Valente? Where were his wife and daughter? It could be someone else. He looked at his watch. He was a couple of minutes early.
Aware that the man was watching his every move, he set down his binoculars and raised his watch arm and tapped it.
The man with the binoculars set his down, checked his watch and held out his hand, two fingers like a ‘V’.
Good enough. Tommy motored straight toward him. He began climbing down the rocks, heading toward the water.
“Valente?” Tommy yelled.
“Yes! There’s a loading ramp on the other side of the jetty.” The man pointed back behind him.
“Okay!” He turned the tiller. The map, if he remembered it, showed a small, protected area behind the jetty, the perfect place for a launching ramp.
But it would also be a perfect place for an ambush, if the Valente family had been captured and the Cleaners were just waiting to add him to their collection.
Still, he had no choice.
Waves on the lake had been a little bouncy, but he hadn’t really noticed until he entered the flat protected waters.
A small fishing boat was being guided onto its trailer on one of the ramps. It’s owners were chatting loudly and flashing their lights. That was comforting.
Standing next to the water were two women and two men. One was the man who’d answered to his call.
Four. There were supposed to be three. And there was also a stack of suitcases. There was no way he’d be able to haul everyone back in one trip. Luggage. I hadn’t thought of that.
He brought the bow of the dinghy to a gentle, scraping stop on the concrete ramp.
“I’m Tommy. Who are you?” He looked them over suspiciously.
He didn’t move, his hand was still on the throttle, ready to back away in a flash if there was any false move. No way he was going to get out and greet them.
The man with the binoculars nodded. “I’m Marvin Valente. This is my wife, Marilu and my daughter Bree.”
The other man, younger, in his twenties, said, “I’m Dek.”
“I was expecting three people.”
Marvin glanced around, and said, “Yes. Dek showed up after the call. He’s computer tech support, at the company.”
The younger man nodded. “Yeah, I barely got out of the building in time. But I knew where Marvin lived.” He laughed. “I saw him on the road. Can we get out of here now? They’ll come search the harbor any time now. We’re sitting ducks.”
Tommy nodded. The stories sounded okay, but he was still nervous.
“It’ll take two trips. Two people, and half the luggage. I don’t want to dunk anyone in the lake.”
Marvin turned to his family. “You go first.” He waded into the water to hold the side steady as he helped them in. Mrs. Valente suggested she wait with Marvin for the second trip, but he’d have none of it. Marvin chose the larger bags. Dek just stood and stewed. He obviously wanted to be gone in a hurry.
“It’ll take a few minutes. Just stay out of sight until I get back.”
“Right.” Marvin pushed him off and Tommy turned the tiller.
Tommy warned his passengers as they started off, “Hold on. When we reach the breakwater, the waves will get rougher.”
Marilu nodded and put her hand on the side of the boat. Bree, clearly her mother’s daughter, but with black tinted spikes in her short cropped blond hair, just glared and crossed her arms.
Tommy was having his reservations grow. These people weren’t dressed for the water. The girl’s outfit was just a frilly blouse and shorts. It was too cold out on the water for that. Her mother was more sensibly outfitted for the night air, except for the leather dress shoes. They’d be useless on a slippery deck, and likely to be ruined in the next ten minutes if the waves splashed much higher into the dinghy.
Tommy pulled away from the ramp and shook his head, keeping his thoughts to himself. It wasn’t going to be a pleasure cruise.