Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Breaking Anchor - Part 16 of 44

© 2012 by Henry Melton

Chapter 16 -- Bon Voyage
“Yes, Mrs. Valente?” He kept his eyes on the lights in the water. There was green in the distance, the Marissa had her starboard side toward them. He steered slightly to the right.
“You are Mr. Dorie’s son?”
“That’s right.”
“I’m sorry, I’m just trying to understand what’s going on.”
He laughed. “So you’re in the dark, too.”
“Marvin said it was company policy to keep everything secret.”
“It’s good to know I wasn’t the only one out of the loop.”
He quickly caught up with the Marissa. Ruth was a silhouette on the deck. “Here’s the rope!” He tossed it to her. She missed it, but caught it before it trailed off into the water. She secured it to the cleat as instructed.
“Turn off the engine.”
As the Marissa drifted to a stop in the water, Tommy moved the dinghy around to the stern, where his passengers could get out with less of a climb. He offered his hand for stability as first Marilu and then Bree exited.
He handed the luggage up.
“I’m going back now. Keep the Marissa circling just like you did before.”
He could see the women talking as he pulled away. Bree was still standing alone, keeping her silence.
If her mother’s in the dark, what did they tell her? She’s about a year younger than me, I’d bet. She should be studying for finals, too.
Dek was in the boat practically before he finished pulling up to the ramp, leaving Marvin to hand over the rest of the luggage and jump in afterward.
Marvin offered his hand. Tommy shook it.
“Nick was shot?”
“Yeah. They got him in the leg, and he has a broken bone. Maybe fever and some other complication. I don’t know.”
“Bummer,” said Dek.
Marvin shook his head. “I was worried something like this was going to happen. Money and secrecy are a dangerous mix. Nick always thought better of people than they deserved.”
From his seat in the front, Dek added, “Yeah, the Boss kept talking about ethics and duty. No wonder they shot him. You just don’t mess with the big dog’s bone.
“And what am I supposed to do now? I had to leave my Mustang in the parking lot. They’re gonna tow it for sure.”
Tommy kept silent. He had his own gripes, but it was uncomfortable knowing that his father had triggered this mess and overturned dozens of lives. What did these people think about Nick, and about him?
Dek, “Declan Wood” he learned, griped the whole way out. Once they unloaded the dinghy, everyone headed below.
Tommy hesitated. No one had mentioned a destination after Racine.
Me. Nick. Ruth. The three Valentes and Dek. That’s seven, plus Bert. If they were going to be making any kind of journey at all, they were going to need supplies. Food wouldn’t last a day.
He checked the weather on the radio. No rough water for a couple of days at least.
I’ll just tow the dinghy. He had a feeling they’d be needing it soon enough. He rigged a towing line and set the Marissa on a gentle course out into the lake, with the throttle set with just enough speed to let the autopilot keep them heading east.
Bree came up, looking around. She saw him and moved over to the bench. Bert came up a few seconds later.
“There’s no room to move, down there.”
From the cabin, angry voices drifted up.
She seemed to be taking it okay.
“Unfortunately, I’ve got to check some things below, anyway. Can you keep watch for me?”
“Watch for what?”
“Other boats, tornados, tidal waves, sea monsters, you know -- the usual.” He grinned.
She sniffed. “This is a lake -- no sea monsters.”
“Tell that to Champ.” He headed down the steps.
The argument in progress stopped. All eyes were on him. Even Nick was awake. Marilu was in the process of working on his bandages.
“Tommy.” Nick’s voice was a rasp.
When no one said anything more, Tommy asked, “Are we going anywhere? If so, we need supplies.”
Dek waved. “I told you,” picking up the argument, “we’re a sitting duck out here!”
“Now Dek,” Ruth’s face was flushed. “It’s not going to help just waving your hands around.”
Tommy sighed and went on to the aft bedroom. No one was answering, and he had equipment to check.
Electricity, food, water, fuel -- those were the things they needed.
They were definitely out of propane for the stove, and food was almost gone. Electricity was being miraculously regenerated.
I’m not going to mention that to anyone. I don’t trust them. Obviously, Nick knew why, but he was keeping secrets. Did his workers know the answer? 
The Marissa had been outfitted with a reverse-osmosis water system, and according to the gauge, it was topped off. That makes sense, even though Ruth has been using the water a lot. With endless electricity to drive the RO, they’d have water.
But mindful of the diesel flame hoax, he opened the cleaning port and checked the level manually. It was full, and the water was good.
But the RO system wasn’t the same one he’d helped install just a year ago. This one was a third larger, and the controls were different. Why change out the old one?
Nick had made sure he had a water generator good for a sea voyage. RO purification of lake water was easy, but salt water took a stronger pressure difference. He’d joked that Mom would never let them go out on the ocean unless she had enough water to take her showers. Mom had smiled and nodded.
But old or new, the water supply issue was covered.
Stashed next to the tool chest was the fishing gear. They couldn’t live on fish, but it was nice to know that they had line and hooks. He chipped free a container of mummified bait.
Glad I wasn’t here while it was going bad.
A hiss of the pipes caused an indicator light to blink on the RO unit. Someone was using the water.
There’s more to check, but I’ll have to do it later.
He had to get their attention. He closed the access panels and went back into the common room.
Marilu was with Ruth in the galley, mixing something into a large glass of water.
“He’s dehydrated. We’ve got to get this down him.” Marilu looked his way and gestured toward the open pantry doors, swinging gently back and forth. “Do you have any other food supplies?”
“No. Less than a day’s worth, I guess. I inventoried everything yesterday.”
Marvin was trying to interrupt Dek’s opinions about whether company security were using contacts within the FBI or doing everything on their own.
Ruth edged by him to get to Nick. She helped him sit up and fed him the drink, tiny sips at a time.
Whatever kind of assistant she was, she’s acting like his nurse now. Nick took another sip and whispered something to her. She smiled and urged him to take another. A friendly nurse.
He really needed to get to the navigation station and check the charts again. Unfortunately, Dek and Marvin were camped out in that corner.
Marilu was moving the cans around in the pantry. He’d organized them by type as he’d counted them, but she was intent on putting them into some system of her own. His inventory would be useless if she lost track of what was used.
With luggage stacked on the other bench and piled up against the doorway to the front bedroom, there was no room to sit and no place to move. It was a mess and no one was making any effort to put it in order.
If Mom were here.... He saw Ruth’s arm around Nick’s shoulder and he looked away.
“Hey people!” Tommy had enough. Every eye turned to him.
“Dek’s fond of the phrase ‘sitting ducks’. Well he’s right! We’re still in sight of Racine and that’s where you guys left your cars. We have to be somewhere else by dawn.
“It looks like I’m driving this bus, so I’m going to get started. I’ll get you to where you want to go, but I can’t read minds. When you get your act together, let me know, but for now I’ll....”
Just then, the boat shifted. The girl must have turned the wheel. He turned and scampered up the steps.
The navigation beacons reflected enough light to show the fear on her face.
He turned and saw the problem.
A platform sat in the water almost straight ahead.
He stepped to the wheel and turned off the autopilot. She was wedged up against the mast, trapped, but he had to take care of business.
In the dark, he couldn’t make out much detail. It was about fifty feet square, with a beacon in the middle. It looked unmanned. He didn’t know what it was for, and didn’t care right now.
The Marissa began a slow curve to the south of it. Tommy gave it lots of clearance, just in case there was hidden understructure.
“I didn’t know what to do.” She slipped and threw out an arm to steady herself. “I kept seeing the light ahead, not moving. I didn’t realize we were heading straight towards it. I thought maybe it was a town or something in the distance.”
“We’re heading east on Lake Michigan. The nearest town is 75 miles away.”
She sniffed. “Hey, no one told me where we’re going!” She elbowed past him and plopped down on the bench.
Straight out of Racine. That’s where you live, isn’t it. Don’t you look at a map of your own home town? East is obvious.
As they passed by the platform, he tapped the GPS and set a course for Milwaukee. Until they stocked up on supplies, he didn’t want to get too far from a marina store. He notched the throttle up to five miles per hour.
Tensions were high in this group, and he would be happy to be clear of them.
But Nick put them in my care. Keeping them safe is my responsibility. And part of that care was making sure nobody did anything stupid.
He nodded to the girl. She was waiting to be yelled at.
Start with her.
“Bree. You did good. This switch is the autopilot. It’s pretty dumb. But I’d told it to keep the Marissa heading east and so it was fighting you. Up is on, and the light shows green. Down is off, and you have the wheel.”
She nodded. 
Marvin came up the steps.
“We turned. What’s going on here?” He looked at Tommy, and then at Bree. “Tell me!”

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