Friday, August 10, 2012

Breaking Anchor - Part 20 of 44

© 2012 by Henry Melton

Chapter 20 -- Responsibility
The early dawn light puzzled him. Oh, no! He threw out his hands as he slipped on the bench. I fell asleep.
Marvin was standing at the wheel. Tommy stood up and looked around. The city was off the port side, much as he’d left it.
But where was the timer? He looked around.
“Looking for this?” Marvin grinned as he plucked the gadget from his pocket. “It’s my fault. I woke up when you stopped the engine. After a bit I came up and found you dozing with this thing on your chest. I muffled it and let you sleep a little longer.”
Tommy took it back. “I was on watch. You shouldn’t have done that.”
The grin faded. “Sorry. But you’ve been awake the whole night, and Bree tells me it goes back farther than that. You can’t keep that up.”
Tommy checked their position on the GPS. He’d slept a couple of hours, but Marvin must have driven the boat back a little, because they were in roughly the same position.
The fact that he’d run the engine and it hadn’t woken him was more embarrassing than having slept in the first place.
“I’m the captain. It’s my responsibility. And the cat-naps let me get by.”
“But for how long? You can’t stay ‘on watch’ all the way to Canada can you?”
Tommy shook his head. “No. But I’ve got to train the rest of you to handle the ship, and there are times when I’ll still need to be the guy at the wheel. Like now, close to shore. You have to let me make that call, or it’s not going to work. None of you knows how a handle a sailboat.
“And if you override me, just because you’re the adult, then we’re gonna find ourselves in serious danger. Running a boat this size isn’t something you pick up without training.” It was something Nick had said often, back when he was urging Tommy to get official certification.
Marvin was silent for a moment.
“Sorry.” He sounded like he meant it. “My family’s safety is my first concern, and I’m not used to boys your age showing much responsibility. Nick made you captain, not me, and for all his misplaced idealism, he was always good at choosing the right person for the job.
“I wasn’t trying to undermine your authority, at least not consciously. I wasn’t thinking in those terms. I guess I still haven’t gotten it into my head that this is any different than a camping trip in the car.”
It was a peace offering, and Tommy took it. He forced a smile. “Maybe it isn’t, at least puttering around in a marina. But even then, the Marissa masses ten tons, and there aren’t any brakes.
“Out on the open water, someone has to be ready for action. People or equipment fall overboard, weather can change in a moment, people can be injured or get sick. And no matter what happens, the captain has to know where the ship is, and what it will take to get everyone safe back on shore.
“I’ve been training for this for years. In steps...,” he admitted, “...under Nick’s eye, and never before all on my own. But I’ve sailed this and other ships in rough water and smooth. I’ve had a few bumps and mistakes, and I’ve had the chance to learn from them.”
He noted the time, by habit, and realized they’d need to get moving soon. But it was important to have Marvin behind him -- more than anyone else. He was the head of his family -- that much was obvious to the eye. And Dek would likely yield to Marvin as a higher ranking co-worker.
“Did Nick talk much about sailing, at your job?”
“Sometimes. Lately, he was all work. But I remember times when he talked about cruising down to the Caribbean. I got the idea he planned a long vacation, once the project was well underway.”
“You know it. We had plans... at least until Mom got sick. The Marissa’s refit was put on hold, but never cancelled. I was surprised to find her as seaworthy as she was.”
Marvin nodded, he turned to face the bow and leaned on the mast. “Surprised me too, when Nick told us to be ready to meet him at the harbor. The last I’d heard of this boat was when he talked about taking her out of the water.”
Tommy pushed the throttle slightly, and the boat began to move. Bert poked his nose out from under the bench. 
“Unfortunately, the work wasn’t finished. But maybe we can get the most important stuff done here.”
“You found a shipyard?”
“Yeah. The references look good. But we’ll have to go into the harbor, into the city.”
“Is that a problem?”
He frowned. “Not really, I guess. It’s just... the last time I had buildings around me, Nick was shot.”
Marvin nodded. “It’s not paranoia if they really are out to get you. Do we have to go to that shipyard? Aren’t there other, smaller places?”
“If we were just after food and fuel, then yes. But we need more. I need a new anchor, and raising that mast isn’t something we can do ourselves. This isn’t a trailer boat. We need a place with a crane.”
“And it’s necessary?”
Tommy looked at the huge piece of extruded aluminum. “Like I said last night, with the mast down, it makes us very visible. It’s an identifying feature any search plane would spot in an instant. Once we have the sail up, we’re just another white sailboat among many thousands of others.
“With the sail up, and a full pantry, we could sail anywhere, and stay away from observers for days on end. The more we stay away from other people, the fewer hints will wind their way back to the Cleaners.”
Tommy nodded, and told him about the crew that had tracked him to the marina.
“And the only reason they didn’t get a good look at the Marissa was Bert. He scared them off.”
Bert stuck his nose up into Marvin’s hand. Marvin looked down and rubbed the back of the dog’s neck. “I’m glad to see you here, Bert, taking care of things.”
“You know Bert, I see. It seems everyone knows him. I thought he was a stray living at the marina.”
“No, Bert is your father’s dog. Well... strictly speaking, he belongs to the company.” 
“Bert is an experiment?”
The brown eyes turned to look at Tommy, but he was unwilling to give up Marvin’s neck rub.
“Yes. One of the strangest things we found in the files was a claim that a particular canine pre-natal diet would supposedly greatly increase the intelligence of the pups. We picked up a dog from the pound and tried it out on her.”
He shook his head. “A mistake. None of us were medically trained. We were totally out of our league. The bitch had a litter of five, but it was a strain on her. She died shortly there after. Three of the pups never developed well. 
“Bert here, short for Albert Einstein and his sister, Marie Curie, seemed to develop normally. But when they were about nine months old, it seemed that we couldn’t make a pen that would hold them. Marie vanished entirely. All we have is just a blur on a security camera. 
“Bert was a pet around the lab. Everybody loved him. He was clean and quiet, and seemed to know when you were too busy to be bothered, and when you just might need a distraction. Other than Nick, Bert had more free roam of the place than anyone.
“That is, up until we started getting hints that upper management wanted to shut us down. Someone mentioned that if it happened, Bert would likely be terminated. Nick took him away one day, and it was understood that no one should ask any questions. I just assumed he was at your house, but I didn’t know about the boat.” 
Tommy held out his hand, and Bert came over to be petted. “So I wasn’t wrong when I suspected you understand everything we’re saying?” 
Bert made his slow nod. 
Marvin let out a gasp. “I suspected something like that, back at the lab, but he wasn’t responding as openly as this. He’s learned a few tricks.
“Well, boy. You’ve got a sister out there, somewhere in Chicago. Let’s hope that she found a good family, too.”
Marilu came up, as Tommy turned the wheel. For just an instant, with the morning light, she looked like Marissa Dorie. A surge of emotion flashed through him, but he quickly caught the joy-disappointment-grief ripple, and pushed it back into a familiar compartment.
“Hang on to a railing as you move around topside,” he said, gently. Mom was comfortable on the water. This lady wasn’t.
She nodded, and put out her hand for support. “I thought I heard you two talking up here. Where are we?”
Hesitantly, she came over to the bench and sat down.
“Milwaukee.” Marvin pointed at the harbor entrance in the distance. It was getting bright enough that the harbor light wasn’t quite as noticeable as it had been a few minutes earlier. “We’re going to be getting supplies there.”
“Oh! Then I guess I’d better get my shopping list together.” She looked at Tommy. “Unless you’d rather do that?”
He laughed. “No! I’d be very grateful for any help with the supplies. I’ll be spending my time on repair and outfitting.”
She looked at the harbor in the distance. “Why are we going this way, when the harbor’s over there?”
“The breakwater.”
She looked puzzled.
“There’s a breakwater, a stone fence around the harbor. Protection against the waves.” He pointed to it on the GPS chart. He noticed that Marvin looked over to see it as well.
“You can only get into the protected area by going through these gaps.” He pointed them out on the screen.
“Oh.” She shrugged, as she grabbed a railing and moved back to the hatchway. “I guess there’s a lot about boating I don’t know.”
One point for me. And I didn’t have to say anything.
He hoped Marvin was soaking it up. Until the rest of them had more training, he was the only one who knew the rules of the road. He was the captain.
Marilu paused at the top of the steps, frowned and asked, “The stores will be open on Sunday, won’t they?”
“Probably.” She went below.
Marvin asked, “But what about your rigging? Are the mechanics on duty?”

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