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?
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.”
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.”
“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?