Friday, August 24, 2012

Breaking Anchor - Part 26 of 44

© 2012 by Henry Melton

Chapter 26 -- Midnight Sail
Something was wrong. His eyes popped open, and he got to his feet. He looked at his watch.
Midnight? He frowned. I knew they’d let me sleep too long. He’d had a nap this afternoon. This was overkill.
On the other side of the door, the cabin was dark. They had gone to bed as well. By the light from his room, he could see Bree sleeping with one bare leg off the bench. At first he thought she was wearing pajamas decorated with skull and crossbones, but after blinking his eyes a couple of times, he realized it was actually a bunny rabbit graphic. Cute.
The door to the V-berth was open, but in the dark, he couldn’t see Marilu.
In any case, he had to be quiet. He turned off the light and went up the steps.
“Hello, Marvin. Sorry I slept so long. How are things going?”
“Pretty well. The wind changed about an hour ago and I don’t think we’re going as fast. We’re still on course, though. I changed the GPS from that arrow to a moving map. The shore is still a few miles off.”
“Excellent. I’ll take over now. You need to get some sleep.”
He nodded. “Don’t mind if I do.” They swapped and Marvin vanished below. He saw a light come on from the hatchway, but then it quickly went back off.
Bert slid out of the cubbyhole where he’d been sleeping, under the bench. Tommy grabbed the loose skin on the back of his neck and massaged.
“You know, I’ve got the aft berth. If you want to sleep out of the weather, you’re welcome to go there. There’s plenty of room.”
But he made no move to leave. And it wasn’t horribly cold. The breeze on the water was definitely chilly for a human, but Bert had a comfortable pelt, and probably didn’t need to worry about it.
“I wish you could talk. It seems you’re more familiar with what Nick was up to than anyone else. And I could sure use some pointers.”
Stars made the sky the brightest thing he could see. The Milky Way stretched plainly overhead. A few isolated clouds made dark patches against the white-dusted universe. He could trace the sail’s sharp boundaries and see the occasional dancing flickers reflected from the waves.
Tap. Tap. Tap. He turned the GPS display dark. Surely he could navigate by the stars on a night like this. He hesitated and turned off the navigation lights. Just for a little bit.
There was the Kite, his own name for the constellation Cygnus, with bright Vega beside it. It was lined up perfectly with the mast. Every few sways, the sails would eclipse the star.
Just keep it that way. It should keep him heading true for an hour or so. He could adjust the course again then.
He took a deep breath, feeling at home.
In all the time he’d sailed before, little had been at night. For one thing, Nick had hogged the wheel. For another, they’d rarely gone much distance. 
Sailing on Kentucky Lake had been, of necessity, close to shore. It was really just a long river valley, and you were likely to scrape bottom when you couldn’t see your way. On the Marissa, they’d never quite gotten out of the weekender sailing mode before things changed.
It’s freedom. That’s what this feels like.
With each mile, another layer of old worries and old responsibilities split off like a snakeskin and drifted away on the waves.
I’ll never have to mow that lawn again. Nor clean up the kitchen, nor do homework.
It was Monday morning, and there were some of his classmates, he was sure, still making that last minute press to prepare for finals.
Like Slab.
He frowned. There was no way to make it right. He’d promised to be there for him, and he’d promised Marvin to take care of his family.
Of course, if the company had never identified his remaining phone, then it might be safe to call Slab.
He switched the navigation lights back on. There was enough back illumination from them to let him see what he was doing.
He pulled the phone from his pants pocket and slipped the battery into place, but he hesitated. It was too risky.
Besides, he was probably not in cell phone range anyway, so it wouldn’t be possible for a call to go through. He stabbed the power button, and the little screen lit up, brighter than anything around, and hard on his dark-adapted eyes.
How smart was this phone? He’d noticed the voicemail as they’d escaped Milwaukee, but he hadn’t left it on long enough to notice when Slab had made the call. Was that record still there?
Menu. Voicemail. Ah! It was there, including the date stamp. Slab had left it nearly twenty-four hours earlier.
Suddenly, the signal bars popped up. It was weak, but he was in range.
“Stupid.” His finger hovered over the power button.
But, I’ve already left a trace in the system. Better listen to that voicemail. Get it over and then put the phone in the deep where it wouldn’t get him in trouble again.
“Tommy Boy! Where you at?” He was agitated. “Turpin’s gonna chew my ass. I need you bro.”
It was short, but it pushed the right guilt buttons.
Slab’s only problem was a lack of confidence and his biggest monster was Mr. Turpin, the English teacher.
That’s city glow. Off in the distance, hardly as bright as the Milky Way, he could see evidence of land. I’m closer than I thought.
Frustrated on all counts, he pressed the dial button, and was immediately routed to voicemail. Slab’s phone isn’t turned on.
Good. If they’re monitoring Slab with the short-range gadget, then I can sneak under the radar.
“Slab. Sorry I can’t help you any more. Things have gotten too dangerous. I won’t be making contact again.
“But guy, the only way to get around Turpin is to talk like him. That’s his hangup. Pretend his English is a second language, like French. Just think about it. If the NBA was owned by French managers, wouldn’t you learn the language so you could make a better deal with them? He just doesn’t understand you, and he won’t ever change. I know you can speak white if you put your mind to it. I’ve heard you.
“This is the last advice I’ll ever give you, so listen up. You’re going on to be a big sports hero, and believe me, there’s tons of white people who’ll love you, invite you into their homes, even let you date their daughters -- if you can speak their language!
“We’re prejudiced that way. It wish we weren’t, but that’s the way it is. If you can speak the language, doors will open.
“Find another study coach, and concentrate on speech.
“Sorry, but that’s it. Remember, you’re smart enough to handle anything they throw at you -- all you gotta do is remember the rules of the game.”
With a stab at the button, he was done. 
Second thoughts swelled up.
That was a racist thing to say. Learn to live in a white world with white rules.
But it was true. Then with a toss, the phone vanished in Marissa’s wake.
Too late now to change his mind or reword it. I’m not racist!
His finger was on the GPS, bringing the brightness up, scanning the map, when Bree spoke.
“Who was that?” She stepped out of the hatchway, barely visible in the darkness.
He jerked, not expecting her. Guilt made him snap at her. “Do you spend all your time eavesdropping? I suppose you’ll run tell Daddy now.”
She came on out and leaned against the rail. Her pajama shift fluttered in the breeze. She crossed her bare legs. “How can I sleep with you yakking all the time? And should I? You didn’t answer my question.”
He tapped a new course into the GPS, heading farther north, parallel to the shoreline. That skyglow had to be from a town, and towns grew up around natural harbors.
“If you must know, it was just someone I knew from school.”
He looked at her, but in the darkness, he couldn’t make out her expression.
“No. This is a jock, big as a Kodiak bear. I’m his tutor, and it’s finals.”
“Hey, Brainiac. We’re running for our lives here. Dump him.”
“I just did.” He began turning the wheel slowly, making the new course.
“It was a mistake. A stupid error. I checked the phone expecting it to be out of cell tower range and it wasn’t. I owed him, so I gave him one last call and then tossed the phone. It’s gone. Happy?”
He waited, adjusting the trim for the new course. It was too close to sailing into the wind and they weren’t making much headway. They didn’t have much farther to go for the night.
“You’re not the only one who had people left behind. I could have used a phone myself.”
The sail snapped in the wind, luffing, without power. He’d drifted too far into the no-go zone. He sighed and spun the wheel, hoping to drift through to the other side and complete the tack.
“Come sit down on the bench. If you stay there, I’ll make you wear a lifejacket.”
“I can swim.” She crossed her arms.
“It’s dark. I don’t have searchlights, and the water is still cold enough to drain the life out of you. If you think you’re cold now, you haven’t any idea how quickly your muscles will lock up once in the drink. You won’t be able to swim.”
“Bully!” But she moved, and the mainsail came around. He made more adjustments. She sat, sitting on one leg and watched, rubbing her toes. The sail billowed and caught the wind, and Bree put her free hand on the rail as the ship heeled to port.
“What was all that about?”
“A tack. We need to head north, and that’s almost directly into the wind. We’ll be doing a lot of zig-zagging to make any headway.”
“You gonna be doing this all night?” She crossed her arms again. She was cold.
“No.” He pointed. “There’s a harbor over that way. We’ll anchor off-shore nearby.”
“Can we go into town?”
He laughed. “No. We’re not going into the harbor. I just want it close for safety reasons.
“Do you want to borrow my jacket? It’s not going to get any warmer.”
She’d curled up tighter, pulling her pajama top down over her knees, with only her toes sticking out.
“I’ll get my own.” She grabbed the railing and went for the hatchway.
“Hey, if you would, look in the bottom left drawer in the galley and bring me a crescent wrench.”
She nodded, then hesitated. “Crescent wrench -- that’s the one with the little thumb-wheel?”
Nodding, she went below. He watched her every move.
I hope she doesn’t cover up too much. 
She returned shortly after he tacked again. Bundled in a jacket, she looked warmer, still leggy, but warmer.
Back in the far reaches of his head, his conscience was chiding him for enjoying the view far too much, but it was easy to ignore the whispers. There was little enough entertainment in their situation.
“Here’s the wrench.”
“Thanks. I’ll need it here in a few minutes. We’re almost shallow enough to anchor for the night.” The coastline was plainly visible, and the lights from civilization were giving the stars some competition.
“That’s South Haven.” He pointed. A light marked the entrance to the Black River, according to his charts, but he had no intention of getting that close.
Finally, he dropped the sails.
“We’re stopping?”
“Right, just as soon as I install the anchor.”
“In the dark?”
He clicked on a flashlight and handed it to her. “If you’ll hold the light.”
Barefoot, she had better traction than he did on the upper deck. They walked carefully up to the bow. He made sure she kept a grip on the railing the whole way.
“Okay, shine the light here.”
The chain and line were still in their store wrapping. He stripped it off and set it aside. He was tempted to toss it, but refrained, especially since Bree would likely make some comment about littering.
“Why both a chain and a rope?”
He shrugged. “I figure it’s because it’d be too easy to tangle the rope around the anchor on the bottom. The chain would resist wear better. I’ve already lost one anchor this trip.”
He tightened the bolts that secured the shackle. “Not that I know everything about sailing. But sailing is just common sense, and until I figure it all out, I’ll just go on faith that the more experienced sailors know what they’re doing.”
Bree heard something and gasped. She turned the flashlight around.
Her mother was standing on deck, holding onto a shroud line for dear life.
“Bree! What are you doing up here dressed like that? Get below this instant!”

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