Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Breaking Anchor - Part 19 of 44

© 2012 by Henry Melton

Chapter 19 -- Doubts in the Dark
Bree brought him a bowl of stew, or something that smelled remarkably stew-like.
“Are we ever getting out of here?”
Tommy had moved the Marissa toward the first rank of slips, and held her in place with just a single loop of rope, ready to move when the helicopter gave up. But he had rehearsed a story in case the marina staff told him he was tied up illegally.
He tasted the mix. “Your mother is a good cook. It’s odd, but it’ll do until we can get real supplies.”
She shrugged. “Can you see the helicopter?”
He nodded. “Sometimes I blink and it vanishes, but it really hasn’t gone more than a few miles -- mainly up and down the coastline. I wish I knew which airfield it came from. It has to refuel soon.”
She sat on the bench next to him and crossed her arms. “We should never have come back.”
He shook his head, gesturing with his spoon. “Oh, no. They’d have found us if we hadn’t. Somebody watched me pick you guys up in the dinghy, and told the company. They calculated how far we could have gotten and are searching every inch of the water within that distance.”
“Are you sure?”
He shrugged. “Just a guess, but it matches what I’ve seen. Tomorrow, they’ll have a crew walk these docks, checking out every boat personally.”
She looked startled. “Another guess?”
“More like experience. That’s what they did where the Marissa was originally docked. If Bert hadn’t scared them away, they might have realized this was the boat they were looking for.”
“Then we’re sunk.”
He scraped the bottom of the bowl and finished it off. “I’m actually hopeful, for once. If we can sneak away once the helicopter leaves, then we have a window of time where we can get to the next port in the darkness.”
“They won’t look again?”
“Probably will, but they’ll follow the same search patterns, and I’ve been paying attention. That’s why I’m stuck up here. I have to catch that moment when they aren’t looking.”
“Don’t fall asleep.”
He laughed. “I won’t. I learned my lesson.”
He described the first night on the water.
“...and then, the rope snapped, otherwise I’d have been crushed under the hull.”
“Wow. I’d have been terrified.”
“I was. But you know what frightened me the most?”
“The fact that the ship came and went so fast. I couldn’t afford to go down in the cabin and go to sleep.”
“So you’ve been awake since then?”
“No. I doze.” He picked up the ticking timer. “This goes off every fifteen minutes. Even if I do sleep, it wakes me up.”
Twenty minutes later, the moving dot in the sky moved inland, and was quickly lost in the city lights. Tommy released the line and eased silently out of the harbor.
Marvin appeared in the hatchway, “Are we moving?”
“Yes. Kill all the lights below -- no, first go to the nav station, that’s the little bookcase across from the galley... the kitchen. From the tall books on the far left hand side, find the Richardsons that covers Racine to Milwaukee and bring it up here. Don’t move anything else. I’ve got them arranged exactly right.”
“Then, turn out the lights?”
“Right. We need to be invisible, at least for a few more hours, and I don’t trust the window shades to block out everything.”
Richardsons was a detailed book of charts, and he wanted it on hand if the helicopter came back and he needed to find a safe place to hide in a hurry.
About a mile north of the harbor, Tommy saw the helicopter lift off, almost due west of his position, and fly off to the south.
Go home to Chicago, why don’cha!
He pointed it out to Marvin. “Keep an eye on that light. I can’t steer while watching behind me all the time.”
“Do you want me to trade off?”
“No. I’m fine. To be honest, this close to shore, I don’t trust anyone else to handle the wheel. The water’s too shallow for my taste.” There were obstructions marked on the charts. Unmarked ones worried him more. He’d had experience with then when he was ten.
They were all looking off the stern, watching the ferryboat crossing Kentucky Lake, when the Mud Turtle made a noise Tommy had never heard before. The deck under his feet shook, and before he realized it, he was in the lake, his mouth full of water.
“Tommy!” Mom screamed, and jumped in the water after him.
He could see Nick’s face, concerned but helpless. He had to keep the boat from destroying itself in the shallows off Hurricane Island.
A hand gripped his arm.
“I’m okay, Mom!” The orange life jacket, which he’d been tempted to take off just minutes before, had kept him upright in the water.
But she didn’t let go. She towed him across the water to where Nick was using the anchor to pull the boat out of the shallows.
Ding! Automatically, Tommy reached over and twisted the knob on the timer.
He blinked, shaking off a fading dream. Dozing while standing up. Not good.
But it hadn’t been for long. He was on course, and there’d been no sign of the helicopter since they’d rounded Wind Point.
There was motion. It was subtle, but he could tell someone was moving around below. He glanced at the GPS screen. Two in the morning.
Dek came up on deck. “I couldn’t sleep.”
“The breeze’ll wake you up, not put you to sleep.”
He nodded and zipped up his jacket. “Where are we?”
Although Dek was older, in his twenties, he looked young. Tommy had several classmates that would outmass and tower over this guy, not even counting Slab.
Marvin said ‘computer tech’. Tommy was a little unsure what that meant. Everyone I know does their own computer stuff. 
“Do you sail?”
“Naw. I’m into drag racing.”
Tommy gestured towards the GPS. “You’ve probably seen these for cars, right?”
Dek moved around to look closer. “Like street map displays. This has a bigger screen.”
“Yeah, but there’s less emphasis on roads and more on chart plotting. You can see the shoreline here and how deep it’s supposed to be.” He tapped a few keys and showed the contours below.
“Is this current data?”
“If you mean the most current maps, yes. But it’s not real-time, other than the latitude and longitude.” He tapped the separate depth finder. “This is live sonar data.”
“Nice. Nick likes his gadgets, I know.”
Tommy laughed. “Oh, this is the old stuff. We were planning a full upgrade, back before... back last year.”
“Yeah. A full marine network. The screen here and down below would just be terminals for a whole range of sensors -- GPS of course, radar, sonar, downloadable weather maps, and whatever else we could think to add.”
Dek was still fixated on the GPS. “So, can you plot your route, like the car navigators?”
“More or less. We don’t have to stick to the roads. But I can set routes and the unit will tell me which direction to steer for the best velocity-made-good.”
“VMG. It does no good to go a hundred miles per hour if you’re heading in the wrong direction. If you need to go north, and the wind is taking you north-east, your VMG would only be point-seven of your water speed -- simple trig.”
Dek nodded. “You even sound like Nick.” He tapped the screen. “Can you show where we’re going?”
Tommy was glad to demonstrate. He expanded the scale and marked the shipyard where they were headed. “We have to stock up on supplies before heading off to our real destination. And of course, get more diesel.”
That last was a shot in the dark. Surely, if Marvin didn’t know about the engine modifications, then a computer tech wouldn’t. But with compartmented security, only Nick could tell who knew what.
Dek looked at the mast in the cradle, as if seeing it for the first time. “Yeah. It’s a bummer you’ve got a busted sail. Hey, what’s your top speed on this tub?”
Not a tub! But he tried to be friendly. If they were going all the way to Canada together, he’d have to try to stay on good terms with everyone.
“Hull speed is about nine knots.”
And that led to an explanation of what hull speed and the relationship between the length of the boat and the wavelength of the wake it created and why he couldn’t just crank up the engine and go faster.
“That’s crazy. I can’t live without speed.” Dek grinned. “My Mustang’s done 10.7 seconds on the quarter mile and I’ve got some ideas on how to get it down into the nines.”
He chatted on about engine mods, which Tommy followed for the most part.
This guy’s in serious denial. According to Marvin, they’d left his car in a shopping center parking lot. It would be towed away soon, if not by the company, then by someone else. 
When Tommy admitted he had no car, Dek was immediately sympathetic.
“Nick did you wrong, kid. And now you and that girl are really messed up. You guys didn’t even know what was going on, and now you’re wanted criminals. If I were you, I’d just bail. Better than being tracked down by the company.”
Tommy shook his head. “I’m not a criminal. I haven’t done anything wrong. I haven’t seen a warrant, not even a cop. Have you? If anyone’s being illegal, it’s this company of yours that’s going around shooting people and towing cars.”
Dek shook his head. “Not my company. I’m just a peon, caught in the gears. It’s your father they’re gonna hang.”
It was a dark time for reflection after Dek gave it up and went back below to try to sleep. Tommy resented his take on the world, but he couldn’t help thinking about it.
Who am I kidding? If a big company says I’m a criminal, who’re the cops gonna believe. Them or me? It wasn’t important whether a jury would convict him. Being arrested was the thing to avoid. Justice went to the biggest lawyers.
And corporations were persistent. If they wanted him, they could spend years hunting for him.
Is that what I have to look forward to? Endlessly on the run, just waiting for that day when they find me.
Endlessly alone.
He saw Kati’s smile.
The world went flat. He’d had plans. Summer vacation plans with her. Fred might have grand plans for polishing his resum√©, but Tommy had intended to spend every day concentrating on mending fences with her.
He’d even daydreamed of taking her out on the boat -- getting her excited about sailing.
But what could he do now? Call her up and tell her to drop out of school, give up all her plans, and come be a fugitive. Yeah, like that’ll happen.
He grabbed the timer angrily, tempted to toss it overboard. Instead, he twisted the knob and set it ticking.
The skies were clearing, unfortunately, but he could see the city lights in the distance. He checked the GPS marker he’d put on the shipyard. According to his reference book, everything they needed was there -- if they could get in and out fast.
Of course, that will require money. How much does Marvin have? I’m nearly broke.
Well, not exactly. He remembered the theatrical tip Ruth handed him when she was playing the part of a rich lady in front of the hotel bellboy.
He dug into his pocket for the lump of cash she’d handed him. How much was it, anyway?
Unfolding the cash he found five twenties. The note inside was much more important, as was the credit card it enclosed.
“Tommy, remember what I told you. The card shouldn’t be traceable to you, but be careful. Future contact at if all works out. I wish I had more time to explain. -- Nick.”

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