Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Breaking Anchor - Part 13 of 44

© 2012 by Henry Melton

Chapter 13 -- To Racine
“I’m Ruth Clarke. I’m... I was your father’s assistant.” She talked in low tones, glancing at Nick’s face.
“It was the security team. They’ve been hunting for us.”
“Not the police?”
She shook her head, with a bitter smile. “No, the company wouldn’t dare bring them in.”
“Why? What’s happened?” Tommy couldn’t take his gaze away from the slow breathing. He’d never imagined that Nick would let himself get involved in anything like this. What if he died?
A cold wave chilled his spine. He clenched his teeth. How dare he take that risk!
“Ah...I think maybe Nick should tell you that himself.”
Typical. Always the secrets! Not just Nick, but everyone around him. I’m sick of it!
“What’s in Racine?” His voice must have betrayed his anger, because she looked up at him as if he’d hit her.
“Marvin. Marvin Valente. He’s part of our group. When... when things went bad, he left to get his family.”
“Tommy.” Nick stirred. They both turned to hear his faint voice. “Tommy, can you get us to Racine?”
He nodded. “Yes. I can.”
Nick nodded. “Good. Go get Marvin. Can’t leave him hanging.” 
It was clear that either the blood loss, or something else, had taken a lot out of him. He moved and sounded like an old man.
“Don’t worry, Nick. I’ll get us there.”
Nick nodded, and closed his eyes.
Tommy looked at Ruth. “Go up on deck. We’re on autopilot, but I have to check the charts. Don’t do anything. Just yell if we’re gonna hit something.”
She nodded, using the towel to rub the blood from her hands. Without a word, she went up.
Now wasn’t the time to talk to Nick, but he would need more answers. Had Nick really done something illegal? Some conspiracy, it looked like.
What a mess!
He tried to ignore the other mess, stepping around the blood, pulling the charts and looking at what he needed to do.
Ruth had been looking out to the west, but stepped back once he came up on deck.
“How is he?”
“Still asleep.” He folded his notes and put them into his shirt pocket.
She backed out of the way, as he moved to the wheel. He flipped the autopilot off and began a slow turn to the new heading.
“I’m sorry we haven’t had a chance to meet before. Nick talks about you often.”
Tommy just said, “Umm.” He flipped the scale on the GPS to a 75-mile radius and located the dot that marked Racine. He set a Go To marker and looked at the computed distance. Sixty miles -- matches the chart.
“Is there any way I can help?”
“I know Nick intended to do this himself....”
He cut her off. “Do you sail?”
She shook her head. “No.”
“Well, if Nick were healthy, I’d turn everything over to him in a heartbeat. But right now, I know the Marissa better than anyone. I’m trained and experienced, and I don’t trust anyone else to get us where we need to go. There’s too much to keep track of.
“If the wind stays mild, we should reach Racine in seven or eight hours. I’ll be right here most of the time. You should be below, in case he wakes up.”
“Okay, but if you need a break....”
“Just send Bert up. He’s good at watching for hazards.”
She nodded, and went below.
Maybe he’d exaggerated his sailing skills a bit, but if Nick was incapacitated, he was the expert now, and she needed to know that.
His hands were stiff on the wheel. Too much tension. He checked his course again, and turned on the autopilot. That’s what it’s there for.
He’d trust the dumb gadget more than he’d trust a strange woman. Who is she really? What kind of assistant?
Bert came up and sat beside him.
“So, you know Nick and Ruth. I’m glad to know your real name. I was calling you ‘Dog’ because I didn’t know any better.”
He lowered himself to the deck, his muzzle resting on his fore paws.
“You’re worried about Nick, aren’t you?”
The dog’s eyes looked up at him, but he made no other movement.
“I’m worried, too. But he’ll probably be okay. He just needs to rest.
“And I need you up here with me for now. I’ll need to run down below from time to time and someone has to stay on watch, to make sure we don’t run into another boat.
“So it’s okay for you to go check on Nick, but don’t stay long and come back up to help me watch for trouble.
“Do you understand?”
“Good dog.”
It was a little after noon when Ruth came up, bearing a thermos bottle.
“Tomato soup. It’s the best I could do with what’s in the pantry. I’m not a good cook.”
Hesitantly, he unscrewed the lid, and smelled the rich aroma. He sipped.
“Warm.” He was surprised.
“Yeah. The stove doesn’t work, so I had to use the microwave.”
“Uh, thanks.” The microwave works? He’d avoided it. He hadn’t expected the inverter to be able to handle the load. It might make a difference in the batteries, and in the fuel needed to keep them charged, but right now, a hot meal was more important.
But he wasn’t about to admit his confusion to her.
“I’ve inventoried all the food. Be sure to note down everything you use, so I can update the lists.”
The soup tasted really good. He hadn’t managed breakfast.
“You’ve fed Nick?”
“When he wakes up.”
“Bert gets a can of vienna sausages, okay?”
She smiled. “Will do. Bert, want to come below for lunch?”
He was up on all fours quickly, although he gave Tommy a look for approval before he left.
Tommy shook his head after they went below.
He hadn’t tried the microwave once he’d disconnected shore power. Nick and he had talked about it when they were designing the Sterling upgrade.
The Marissa didn’t have a 110 VAC generator. They used a 1500-watt inverter to supply everything that needed house current. Unfortunately, a few items, like his mother’s hair drier, the portable electric room heater and the microwave, were all heavy current users, and the inverter couldn’t handle them. Those items were restricted to when the boat was docked, and the thirty-amp shore power cable was connected to the marina’s electrical system.
Nick had toyed with the idea of installing a 110 volt system in tandem with the heavy dc generator powered by the Sterling engine, but had given up on it when they calculated how much space it would take.
Did he change his mind again, after all?
He was going to have to take a serious look at the electrical system when he got the chance.
But when that would be, he had no idea.
Mid-afternoon, clouds moved in, and the wind picked up. Coming from the north, nearly a direct head wind, it cut their velocity. Tommy adjusted the prop speed a little to compensate. He hesitated to run it full throttle.
Various settings seemed to have little effect on the main battery levels. The generator seems to be working fine.
There were still hours to go. If the juice begins to sag, I need to know instantly. What is the new system’s performance?
When he’d first arrived, the boat was disorganized. Nick would never have gone out without securing all those loose tools. 
So this is her trial run. No one knows how well the new engine will hold up.
If anything broke down, they could be stranded out here on the open water with no engine, and no sails.
He backed the little throttle all the way down. With burners off, that would let the batteries start to drain and ease their diesel consumption. Only then should I turn up the burners. He needed to find the point where the charge would match the drain. Anything more would be just a waste of fuel.
He looked for the wisp of exhaust coming from the stern, but it had stopped. He checked his watch. Time it for fifteen minutes and see what changes.
The clouds brought a slight chill to the air. He tuned the radio to the weather broadcast and let the repeating reports run. Part of his mind checked the wind directions and imagined how he’d set the sails, if the mast were up.
Heading into the wind would mean tacking back and forth and slow progress. Even with the sails, he might have been forced to use the engine.
Whatever plans Nick had worked out, they probably were worthless now, with his injury. However professional an assistant Ruth might be, her first aid skills were not enough to handle his wounds.
Not that I know what to do either.
Fifteen minutes with the burner off, he checked the instruments.
“This can’t be right.” The readings were impossible.
Ruff. Brown eyes looked up at him.
“Bert, watch for other ships. I need to go below.”
The dog scrambled up onto the bench, where he could see in all directions.
Tommy headed for the hatchway. He had to see the engine for himself.

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