Friday, August 17, 2012

Breaking Anchor - Part 23 of 44

© 2012 by Henry Melton

Chapter 23 -- Phone Message
Marvin came up, bringing his jacket.
“Thanks.” Tommy slipped it on, but left it open. Their new course meant little spray, but he was now in the shadow of the sail. The air was cool and refreshing.
Marvin looked around. “I guess I’m used to seeing land. This is like the middle of the ocean.”
“Not quite. That’s something I’m looking forward to, someday.” He fingered the jacket. “Bree decided not to come back up?”
“Marilu found her a few chores to do. She’s been running wild too long. Besides, we didn’t want her to bother you.”
He waved at the sails. “It looks different. Did you change course?”
“Yes. We were getting too far east -- too far from shore. Besides, I needed to re-think our path north, now that Dek may have given it to the company.”
Marvin nodded. “Good idea. I’ll leave that up to you. I’m hardly a navigator. I guess that’s another thing I need to study up on, right?”
“Yeah. But we’ve got time. This trip will take days.”
“Lunch time.” Bree called from the hatchway. “Come on down.”
“I’d better eat up here.”
She shook her head. “Mom’s already set the table. Can’t you just stop for a while, or something?” She headed back down.
He was in open water, in bright sunlight, with no other ships in sight. This was what the autopilot was for. He should be able to take a break.
With a sigh, he flipped the switches and the sails began rolling up on their spools. Better stopped than sailing blind. Depth read a hundred and twenty feet. Too deep for his anchor cable to be deployed properly -- besides it would take time to rig the new anchor.
Okay. We won’t drift far.
“Tommy?” Bree called from below.
“This is great.” Tommy sliced another chunk from the spicy grilled chicken breast. “Fresh meat.”
“You’ll be getting too much of it for a bit.” Bree’s mother passed the serving plate and let him get another. “We didn’t get propane, so I’ll be cooking everything that could spoil without the refrigerator.”
“Wait a second.” He eased out from behind the table and opened the refrigerator. He snapped a switch. “I’ve got it running on electricity now. It’ll likely take a day or so to get really cold, but it’ll be usable.”
“Thank you! I should have asked you earlier.”
He shrugged. “The switch was hidden.
“But I wish I could fix the stove for you as easily. You cooked this in the microwave? How?”
She sighed. “There are ways. It’s my fault. You told me to get the supplies, and I messed it up.”
“Not at all, Mrs. Valente. It was an emergency.”
“Call me Marilu. We’ve decided to be the Smith family, so let’s all just go by first names for now.”
He nodded. “You didn’t like being Wilson?” He eyed Bree, but she didn’t return his look. She was back in the outfit she was wearing on the shore at Racine.
Marvin grumbled. “Forget the Wilsons. Forget Valente. We may have to give up our first names, but that’ll be harder.”
“At least you have a plan for the future. A destination. Do you have a history?”
Bree stuck out her chin. “Why, of course, darlin’! We’re all from Mississippi.” Her exaggerated drawl brought a chuckle.
She waved her hands. “It was that horrible hurricane! Y’all’ve heard about it? Wiped out the family farm. It took my school records and everything! It even took my driver’s license, birth certificate, everything.” She batted her eyes innocently. “I’m twenty-two, y’know.”
“Bree,” her father said, “I think you’d better let me tell the story of the family tragedy. Nobody’s going to think you’re twenty-two.”
After going to the inside GPS screen to check their location twice, Tommy could finally hold out no longer and went back topside.
He raised the sails and put them back on the new course.
What kind of future should I have? And what kind of history?
He felt the bright steel wheel in his hands. Somehow, he couldn’t see anything but the boat. Nick had told him to keep the Marissa out of the company’s hands. But even if he hadn’t, it would take a lot to make him abandon her.
He fingered the hands-free earplug he’d picked up at lunch. It would be a lot harder to make this call if he thought anyone could overhear.
They had returned to within sight of the shoreline, just a little south of Milwaukee. He shifted course to parallel the land. Certainly, they should be within cell phone range now.
He looked all around. No planes, but there were ships.
This could be a big mistake, but if I can pull it off....
The cell phone lit up, and shortly found a signal.
He dialed Kati’s number from memory.
“Hello? Tommy? Where have you been?”
“Hi. How are you?”
“How am I? Worried sick, of course! Finals week and you vanish off the face of the earth! Mysterious email messages and ominous hints.
“And who is that man at your house? I drove past there, and there was a BMW in your driveway.”
“You didn’t go in, did you?”
She hesitated. “No. I remembered what you said and chickened out. But that’s no excuse. I demand to know what’s going on!
“Did you know Mrs. Brewster tracked me down and practically ordered me to make sure you were at the study session tomorrow? And Slab! He’s been asking about you, too.” She laughed, but it wasn’t from amusement. “Dad wanted to have a ‘serious talk’ about the kind of boys calling the house. It’s getting out of hand!”
Tommy couldn’t bring himself to smile about any of it.
“I’m sorry.”
“Sorry? Is that all you have to say? Come on. Give.”
“Kati...I’m not coming back to school.”
There was a shocked silence on the other end.
“Something has come up. Nick’s... Well, it’s just that there’s some trouble. Serious trouble. I’ll just have to deal with school when and if.”
“Tommy! Don’t give me that. You know you can trust me. Nothing’s so serious that you can’t tell me. We’re friends. We can work it out. You know I’d never betray a confidence. I have to know.”
“Kati. It’s serious enough that they shot at Nick.”
“We’re okay now, but... I can’t show my face again in Chicago.”
She wouldn’t accept it. Probably doesn’t believe me. He let her plead a little more, before he stopped her.
“Kati. Listen. I won’t be calling you again. I just had to phone you this one time. I’m going to be leaving the Chicago area in just a few hours.”
“Where are you going?”
“South. Alabama. Tommy Dorie’s gonna vanish completely.
“I just wanted...” It was hard to make the words come out. “I just wanted to ask if... if you would come with me.”
“What? Do you know what you’re saying?”
“Yes. I know. But... you could pack a bag and I could meet....”
“Tommy! This is crazy! It’s finals week.”
It was like a lump of lead in the pit of his stomach. He’d known she would never go for it. He’d known from the start, when he had the idea to make the call in the first place.
Maybe if he’d met her in person -- found a way to pull her aside in private, to talk face to face -- maybe she would have understood.
But she was living a normal life, where finishing out the school year with excellent scores would make a difference in her future. She couldn’t see beyond that.
And even if she did, staying put is the wisest thing she could do.
“I’m sorry Kati. I understand.” 
He pressed the END button and jerked the earplug free. He stared at the little screen as it gave him helpful statistics about how long the call had lasted. After a few seconds, it switched to a reading of signal strength.
There were a million things he wished he could say to her. More arguments. More begging. Let her see how much it would mean to him for her to be part of his future.
Or, just to reminisce -- to remind her of the pleasant times they’d had together.
But it was all too painful. He’d never be able to put the words together without sounding like an idiot. A big blubbering idiot.
He blinked his eyes clear enough to scan the shoreline. It was a rural area, except for some kind of factory or mine or something, and the reflected lights from the highway traffic in the distance.
Time to go. He turned off the cell phone, removed the battery, and turned his mind to navigation. There were sails to trim and a new course to set.
Marvin came up, looking around, and seeing the shoreline receding in the distance asked, “What’s going on here? I looked at the moving map screen below. The GPS. We were heading south?”
Tommy nodded. “And now we’re heading east again.”
Marvin was still agitated, not willing to face him. “Bree said you were up here making a phone call?”
Bree? What did she hear? 
He nodded. “Dek sold us out. Or at least we have to assume he did. It made our original route unsafe. I told you that.”
“Yes, but what about the call? We can’t risk...”
“Dek made a call. With this phone.” He held it out. “It was compromised. He and the company have our old map. They can’t be so stupid as to think we’d stick by it.
“But maybe they don’t realize I know the phone was compromised.”
Marvin shook his head. “We all know they can track cell phones. That’s why we discarded them.”
Tommy grinned. Not pleasantly. “I know that. But this phone wasn’t in their database before Dek used it. How believable is it that a teenage boy would risk calling his girlfriend to make one last goodbye? Especially, if he thought they didn’t know about the phone?
“So that’s what I did.” He gripped the wheel hard. “I sailed back to a point south of where Dek left us, and then made that call, acting like a love-sick kid. I asked her to run away with me, letting drop a few hints that we were heading south, through Chicago and then on to Alabama. I took my time, making the call last as we passed at least three cell phone towers, heading south. The highway’s just on the other side, so the signal could have come from a car just as easily as from a boat.
“It’s deactivated now, but if the security guys are on the ball, then they’ve tracked the signal and know we’re headed south. They’ve tapped the call and know we’ve given up on the Thunder Bay plan.”
Marvin shook his head. “But the risk! They had a helicopter at Racine. They could...”
“Racine was different. We were the oddball. Identifiable. Sailing at night.”
He waved his hands around at the horizon. “This is Sunday afternoon, on a warm, sunny, spring day. We’re in populated waters. What can they track?”
Marvin followed his gesture. In all directions, he could see other boats, many of them white sailboats. It was a perfect day for families to get out on the water. They were just one among a multitude.
Slowly, he nodded. “I understand. But it was still a risk! You put my family at risk, without consulting me. I said I’d support you as ‘captain’ of this trip, but this isn’t part of that.
“We’re all in the same danger, and it isn’t up to you to make plans like this, and to execute them without talking it over with me. Understand?”
If I’d talked it over ahead of time, I’d never have been able to do it.
But Tommy nodded. “You’re right. We need to plan things out, especially now.”
He sketched out what he intended to do next -- sail across the lake to the eastern shore while the weather was still ideal. Marvin agreed that it was a good idea. They needed to get away from the company’s Chicago base of operations, and the western coast was now too risky.
“And I’ll get rid of this phone, now that it’s done it’s part.
“Do you still have your cell phone?”
Marvin nodded. “But it’s deactivated. I took out the battery. It’s down below.
“We need to get rid of it too. Dek got his hands on my phone. He could have gotten a look at yours.”
Tommy pulled out his phone and opened it up. He removed the SIM card and slipped it into his shirt pocket. Then with an angry toss, he sailed the phone off the stern and into the swirling waters behind them.
I still have Slab’s phone, but it’s never been out of my possession, and I still have a promise to keep.
Marvin went below and returned with Bree’s phone. He nodded to Tommy and tossed it over the side.
In the hatchway, Bree watched it go, and glared at him.

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