Friday, September 28, 2012

Breaking Anchor - Part 41 of 44

© 2012 by Henry Melton

Chapter 41 -- Nothing At All
Marvin went to bed, but Tommy picked up his kitchen timer and a blanket and went back topside. The company knew they were somewhere in this area, and he would never be able to sleep below, where he couldn’t see.
He spread his blanket, careful not to cover up Bert’s nook, and stared up at the stars.
If they were here for very long, he’d need to find an excuse to go down into the engine area again. There was so much yet to examine, especially now that he knew about all those documents.
I’ll need to read each one, and compare what I find with what’s installed.
It could be that the most spectacular features of Nick’s ‘technology demonstrator’ were never brought on-line. There was that network cable to the top of the mast, for example. What was that supposed to be? He’d thought radar, but now -- who knows?
But now that he knew things were hidden, by design, he had to wonder -- what was right there in front of him, that he just couldn’t see?
The moon had set, but the GPS screen was still lit, and the navigation lights let him see well enough.
What was right in front of him?
The ship was designed to be sailed from this spot, hand on the wheel, GPS screen for navigation, throttles at ready. Wouldn’t it still be the same, even in super-duper high-tech mode? You didn’t want your instruments and controls to be out of reach.
So...what was he not seeing?
He stood up and put his hands on the pedestal and began pushing and pulling on the wood. Maybe there was a hidden control, or a secret switch.
Bert woke, and poked his nose out to see what was going on.
“You don’t know where Nick’s secret controls are, do you, boy?”
He tapped on the side of the wood panels, listening for differences. He didn’t really expect Bert to know.
As amazing as Bert’s intelligence seemed, it must have its limits. His brain was not significantly larger than any other dog’s. He didn’t have any genetic enhancements -- it was all developmental.
And he was only two years old, according to Marvin. What two-year old human could be expected to understand engineering or science? Or thinking dog-years, how many fourteen-year-olds could either?
Bert reached between his legs and scratched at the pedestal.
Tommy looked down at the base, but didn’t see anything. Where’s my flashlight?
He poked, and it seemed like the center gave more freely than it ought, but nothing happened. But it was suspicious.
After several variations, he found that pressing with his toe on the spot, and lifting the top of the control pedestal at the same time did the job.
There was a click and the little shelf where he’d set his chart books lifted like a lid, and a 15-inch LCD screen slid out, lighting up when it reached its stop.
It flared bright, but then dimmed quickly. It senses that it’s night. 
“Thanks Bert.”
The screen had a menu of controls on the left and a compass rose with sliders on the right.
He barely had time to read the menu before he heard steps below. Quickly, he pushed the near edge, and the control screen went black and slid silently back out of sight.
I remember this, in the document stash. It’s a touch screen display. How much can be controlled from here?
Bree came up on deck and quietly closed the hatchway door behind her. 
“It took a while before they went to sleep. I’ve got their snores memorized.”
The mystery of the ship was wiped from his mind.
It was same rabbit-patterned pajama as before, but she’d put more thought into it this time. The front was unbuttoned and the collar was wide enough to hang off one shoulder. She’d done something to make it shorter, and he could see leg up to her hip.
She came to him and he had his arms around her without thought. They kissed. It was the most natural thing in the world. There was no question, no doubt.
At first, the warmth of her was a soothing counter to the cool night air. But bare skin brought more magic than temperature. A stroke brought more than one kind of heat.
And none of it required thought.
“I’ve been ready for you for days,” she whispered in his ear, twisting at his touch.
If she hadn’t spoken, things would have been different. His hands explored warm skin, his heart raced, and his brain was turned off. The kiss would have swallowed them both whole. A cushioned bench was to his back and a blanket for the cold sky.
But, words had to be parsed into thought, thought had to be fitted into memory. Memory brought faces.
Part of him was gleeful with the feel of her, grateful for the license she’d granted. He could push on, and she wouldn’t stop him.
He pulled his mouth back from her neck. He let the fabric drop back. “Wait.” It was so faint she barely heard it.
But he couldn’t let go of her. Neither could he devour her whole like he’d been trying two seconds before.
He kissed her again, but it was a step back, more controlled.
“Tommy.” She pressed herself hard against his chest.
He savored the feel of her, but regret was crystallizing all through his body, hardening him.
“No. It’s not the time.”
“Yes,” she hissed. “They’re asleep. I know them. I checked.”
He reached for the blanket. “No. We would make too much noise.” It was a feeble excuse, but the real reasons were too complex for words. “There’s no privacy on a boat like this.”
He draped the blanket over her shoulders, ostensibly to protect her from the cold, but it was really to protect his fragile self-control.
“No, Tommy, I can’t wait.”
He set her down, and himself beside her. He wrapped his arms around the bundle of blanket and girl. Inside him, a voice was screaming, Just do it! He moved slowly. Deliberately.
“You have to.” He kissed her forehead.
“I’m burning up inside,” she whined, “it’s like a demon.”
“I know.” He felt helpless, and guilty. He had a second to stop it early, and he’d gone too far. With his hands, he’d promised more than he could deliver. 
She’ll turn on me. She always has to have the last word. He knew it.
But it was already too late. The fantasy had come to him, and he’d spurned it.
He felt the breath leech out of him. Why try? 
“I can’t.”
She pushed at him, struggling against the blanket. “You can’t, or you won’t?”
“It’s the wrong time! We could be in jail tomorrow -- separate jails! And if we make it through the strait, I’ll be dropping you off in Canada, and I’ll never see you again!”
She wriggled out of his embrace. She moved to the side bench, leaving him with a handful of blanket. In the dim light, he could see her crossed arms, her legs primly together, and he could feel the anger boiling off of her.
“I promised to take care of you.” The words felt lame, but what could he do? Glare back at her and let the anger grow? It’s so messed up! He wished he could turn back the clock. Just one minute.
“It’s not the right time,” he repeated. “I have responsibilities.”
Her words were sharp, brittle. “I’m going.”
He nodded, not looking at her. “Good. You don’t want your parents to see you up here.” Not dressed like that. Not dressed for sex.
She got to her feet and walked to the hatchway. “You blew it.”
He looked up, unable to keep from aching for another chance. Maybe she saw that in his eyes. She opened the door and went below.
Tommy sat down, all the energy drained out of him, his body aching as if he’d exercised too hard. He picked up the blanket and pulled it to him.
It smells of her. He bundled it and held it close.
In the reflected light, he saw Bert’s eyes looking up at him. The dog seemed bored by it all.
“Go back to sleep. Nothing happened. Nothing at all.”

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Breaking Anchor - Part 40 of 44

© 2012 by Henry Melton

Chapter 40 -- Documents
“Hi there!” She was leaning over the edge. Her hair was dripping into his face. He let go, intensely aware that he wasn’t wearing anything.
She was grinning, well aware of the fact.
“What are you doing here?”
“I thought I saw you go into the water. I swam over to say hi.”
He looked along the hull. “Where... where are my clothes?” He stuttered with the cold.
“Oh, I hung them over the boom to dry.”
“Give me my pants.”
“Hey, they’re still wet.”
“Give me.” He was furious. “My pants!”
She shrugged. “Come up an get them. I won’t look.”
She turned her back and put her hand over her eyes.
Now is not the time for games. He really needed more time to investigate below.
Bree said, “You might want to hurry. They’re heading back to the dinghy.”
He swam around to the stern, and looked. She was right.
“Don’t look.”
He climbed up onto the transom platform and hurriedly snatched his pants off the boom. He was down the hatchway in a flash. But he heard her giggle.
Pants came first, but dripping all over the floor, he closed the access hatch in the common area and replaced the rug.
“Are you decent?”
“No.” He ducked into the aft bedroom and closed the door.
He rummaged a towel and dried himself as well as he was able. He was chilled, and angry at Bree, but those were just ripples compared to his confusion about the boat.
Nick had something really serious in mind. Over and over again, he said, ‘Go to the boat’.
It wasn’t just a handy place to rendezvous, and a convenient method of travel. He did something to the boat and it’s important.
And he had to figure out what it was.
“Tommy? Are you okay?”
“Go away, Bree. I’ve got to warm up now. You should do the same.”
He grabbed a blanket and wrapped it around his shoulders.
“We could help each other warm up?”
“Bree. I’m mad right now. I’ll talk to you later.”
“Be that way!” She stalked away.
It was a winged keel, but not like any one he’d heard of before. Those were vanes. Instead of a solid structure, his keel plainly had movable flaps, like the ailerons on an airplane’s wings. A traditional winged keel had its wings in a fixed position, designed to give negative lift when moving. That would pull the hull more firmly into the water and increase its stability, letting it run under stronger winds without heeling over.
He was feeling a little like a damp sheet of paper, whipped away in the winds in a driving rainstorm.
Nothing he knew was true. Even the Marissa, his home, his one stable thing in a world turned upside down, even the Marissa was not what he thought it was.
I’ve got to get to the bottom of this.
Knock. Knock. “Tommy, are you in there?”
“Yes, Marvin. I’m okay. I’m still working.”
“I was just checking. We’re back now. Is there anything you need?”
He felt numb.
“Ah, yeah. I washed my clothes. When they dry, could you bring them down to me.”
He shrugged off the blanket. No sense wasting any more time. What he needed to know was down in that hole. He picked up a flashlight and went back in.
Nick had refitted the Marissa into a puzzle box. On the surface, everything looked like a nice, but ordinary sailboat. But once you looked under the decking, nothing was the same.
And it didn’t stop there. Tommy couldn’t take anything at face value any more. He began opening the access plates on all the equipment.
The mysteries went deeper. Storage tanks had false compartments. Diesel capacity had become some kind of computer system. Water was generated quickly, so its storage space became an equipment bay. 
And inside a box marked ‘refrigerant’ was a stash of documents.
“Ah.” He ruffled through the pages. There were all sizes and types. There were stodgy technical papers, about things he didn’t understand. There were instruction manuals for some of the equipment.
There were blueprints, fresh off of one of the lab’s plotters, for something custom built. There were penciled notes about the refit -- problems and schedules. And there were fake passports and travel documents.
“When you’re alone,” Nick had whispered, “check the documents.”
These were the documents he’d meant, not the logbooks and the ordinary travel documents up at the navigation station. He’d just been too wiped out to give him the necessary hints.
Tommy flipped through the pages, and came to a glossy brochure. It was plainly stamped ‘Preliminary’, and the layout was crude, with hand-drawn sketches where photos would have been placed.
He looked through the text. In gushing terms, it spoke about the company technology demonstrator. Each page detailed a new technological breakthrough. “Active winged keel.” “Electrical power train with superconductive motor.” “Free Power Cell.” On and on, Tommy’s mouth gaped as he recognized each of the mysterious gadgets. The Marissa had been refitted to demonstrate all these new technologies, but the plug had been pulled before Nick had been able to finish. 
Were all these real? It was unbelievable.
“Tommy?” Marvin’s voice echoed down through the tight spaces
“In a minute!” He hurriedly stashed the papers back in their hiding place. Crawling back to the access hatch, he saw Marvin holding his dried clothes.
“They’re dry.”
Tommy felt his jeans, still damp around the seams, and chafing in uncomfortable places. “That’s quick.”
He shrugged. “Marilu knows a few tricks.
“Do you need any help down there?”
“No. I’m almost done. And besides, it’s very tight quarters.”
Marvin nodded. “Let me help you up.” He reached down and Tommy took his hand.
“You’re still wet.”
“Yeah.” He sighed. “I only have this one set of clothes, so I took the opportunity to wash them while you were at the beach.
“Bree came back early, so I had to dash in here to get dressed.”
Marvin scowled. “I don’t know what to do with that girl. She’s boy crazy. Is she getting out of hand?”
Tommy smiled. “Oh, I must confess to kissing her when she rescued me, but it’s nothing you need to worry about.”
“She’s younger than you.”
He nodded. “I’m well aware of that. I also know that in less than a week, we’ll be at Thunder Bay, and as much as I like her, I’ll be going one way, and she’ll be going another.”
 Near midnight, they set anchor off Garden Island, in sight of Bomway’s Bay.
“We’ll need to stay here awhile.”
Marvin asked, “How long?”
“Until conditions are right. Mackinac Bridge is about forty miles away, a straight shot. But we need a fog bank, or an especially dark night to get through without being seen.”
He looked at the first quarter moon just setting. The nights would only be brighter from now on. He’d have to rely on weather to make it happen.
“Are you sure it’s as bad as you think?”
Tommy nodded. “Come below where we can spread out the charts. I’ll show you.”
They moved quietly. Marvin closed the door to the bow bedroom where his wife was sleeping. Bree was an amorphous bundle of blankets and appeared dead to the world.
They sat at the table, and Tommy showed him the Mackinac Straits. “All the drainage of Lake Michigan, except for the trickle that goes out the Chicago River, exits through this passage, narrowing down to about three miles. Less than that is navigable. The main span, where all ships want to pass, is less than a mile wide.
“It’s really like a river, and all the heavy ship traffic and barges go through this route. We’re really lucky it’s June. If it’d been, say two months ago, the place would be blocked with ice floes.”
He tapped a marker, showing the boundaries of the Straits of Mackinac Bottomland Preserve. “This is like a museum of shipwrecks, for divers. But I don’t really fear hitting anything. That’s not my worry.”
He opened the chart book to a photo of the bridge.
“I remember this place. My parents drove me on the loop tour around Lake Michigan, right as we were moving to Chicago. This is one impressive bridge.
“We know the police are looking for us. I bet the company has permission to park a van with a high-power telescope right here.” He tapped photo in mid-span.
“It’s about 200 feet above water level. They can see miles from there. It’s not like some rushed guy with binoculars in a moving helicopter. Every ship that approaches will get careful study. By the time it makes passage, they’ll have detailed photos of every inch of the boat, and of every face that shows.
“They can’t stop us from the bridge, but they’ll have us identified, and a helicopter called in to follow us before we can get out of range. After that, it’s just a matter of time before we’re boarded.”
Marvin frowned at the images.
“So, we wait for bad weather?”
“Heavy fog would be best, at night. Even better, if we could drop the sails and follow a barge through as it makes passage. With our silent engine, and all our lights off, we just might make it. But you gotta remember, that at center span, the telescope would be just 200 feet away from us. Even fog might not be enough.”
Marvin nodded. “I hoped you were just being paranoid. I see why you’re worried.”
Tommy tapped the chart nervously with his fingertips. “For you and your family, it’s not too late you know. I could drop you off here.” He showed the Highway 2 marker on the western shore. “You mentioned being willing to take land transportation to avoid the locks. You could avoid this as well.”
Marvin nodded. “It’s odd. When I grabbed up my family and prepared to run, I had no idea we’d be sailing, and trusting our fates to a teenage captain. But when it comes right down to making a decision, I trust you. I know every bus or train or plane is being monitored. Maybe I could find some private transport to get us through, but why trust a stranger when I’ve got you. You’ve proven yourself, Tommy.
“At first I was just trusting Nick’s judgment, but now I’m trusting yours.”

Monday, September 24, 2012

Breaking Anchor - Part 39 of 44

© 2012 by Henry Melton

Chapter 39 -- Hull Inspection
Tommy changed course, rounding the west side of South Manitou Island as the sun started lighting up the clouds for a spectacular sunset. Marvin was mixing resin to patch the fiberglass hole in the dinghy. He’d insisted on doing it. He’d worked with fiberglass before.
“In other circumstances, I’d anchor here, but with that alert I triggered, we need to keep moving.”
They were probably flying a helicopter over the Traverse City bays already. How long would it take them to realize that their prey had gotten away?
Down below, he could hear bits of argument from female voices.
Marvin began applying the resin over the glass cloth with a metal spatula. “Are you planning to sail all night again?”
“Probably. Or at least until I find a good anchorage. The closer we get to the Mackinac Bridge, the more it worries me. I’d like to take some time off to give the boat a complete top to bottom inspection. When we go through the strait, I want everything to be in perfect shape, with no chance for a breakdown.”
“Makes sense.” He worked the resin over the cloth until everything was smooth. It would take several hours to set up properly, and then it’d need to be sanded.
Marvin began his cleanup.
“Tommy. I appreciate what you’ve been doing for us. Especially now. When I thought you’d been captured, and it was up to me to sail us to safety, all the little things -- they were overwhelming.”
He just nodded, uncomfortable. Accepting praise was difficult, but being reminded of how close he’d come to losing the Marissa was unbearable.
“It got me to thinking,” Marvin said, not meeting his eyes. “You seem particularly worried about going through the locks to Lake Superior.”
Marvin rubbed his chin with the back of his hand to avoid getting the resin on his face. “Well, I was thinking -- what about if we docked somewhere short of the locks and hired a local to take the ship through for us? We could take a taxi or even hike across the city, and pick it up on the other side.
“We could make up some story, and if there are company agents waiting, we couldn’t be identified if we weren’t there. What do you think?”
It felt horrible to Tommy. Marvin just didn’t understand how he felt about leaving the ship again. He’d almost lost her once. How could he imagine he’d want to do it again?
“I’ll think about it.”
And he would. It was a valid option -- if nothing went wrong. How can I believe in a fantasy like that?
Marvin took one watch during the night, but Bree was restricted to the cabin below, part of her punishment for her rescue attempt.
“It’s not that I don’t appreciate what she did,” Marvin explained. “Leaving you behind was sickening to all of us, and it was a great weight lifted off me when I saw you waving in the dinghy.
“But she’s gotten out of control. Surely you can understand our position. There’s consequences even when you’re doing the right thing.”
Tommy took over the helm and Marvin went below to get some sleep.
Consequences happen even when someone else does the right thing. Nick decided to be David to the company’s Goliath, and here he was, an innocent school kid, on the run.
But he could understand Bree’s parents. No matter that he was the beneficiary of her rebellion, they were trying to take care of her, hoping to tone down her impulse to trouble.
I got punished a few times myself. He smiled at a few memories. More than a few times.
But I was never brave enough to do what she did. He was rebellious enough as a toddler, but when he was older, there were other issues to keep his mind distracted.
I missed out on the whole teen rebellion thing. Unless being the object of a multi-state manhunt counts.
Breakfast was late, delayed by the approach to the five mile long South Fox Island. He insisted on sailing completely around the island, shaped like a fat boomerang, and topped with trees above the dunes on the shore.
He set anchor on the south side.
“Finally!” Bree said, when he came down below. The table was already laid out and Marilu was turning the final pancakes.
Everyone seemed to be at peace. Bree was ready for a watch at the helm, but when he explained that they’d be staying put for a few hours while he worked on the ship, she was pleased.
“Hey, that’s great. We can go to the beach.” She’d been watching out the window.
“Now Bree,” her mother said. “That might not be safe.”
Tommy thought about it as he dug into his thickly buttered stack. It just might be easier if he could get rid of them for a bit. He was going to be opening all the hatches in the floor and looking into all the nooks and crannies. What would they be doing? Waiting on top, fishing?
“Marvin. Is the dinghy safe to use?”
“Probably. You think the island’s okay?”
“Why not? The beach is only a few hundred yards away, and you could be back aboard quickly if any other ship arrived.”
He looked at Marilu. “And you’ve been stuck down here the whole time. Believe me it’ll do you good, all of you, to have some ground under you for a bit.”
“Don’t you want me to stay and help?”
“Naw. I can handle it. Go have some family time.”
After breakfast, he got started on his inspections in the same chambers he’d investigated before. This time he paid particular attention to the water system.
Just as he’d expected, there was a system of small pipes that ran purified water to the electrical system. Each of the super batteries had a water tube.
“But what’s this?” he whispered, as he traced another tube.
“Hey, Tommy!” It was Bree.
“In a minute.” He worked his way back to the access hatch and looked up at her. She was wearing her bikini, barely. She struck a pose.
“Are you sure you don’t want to come swimming with us?”
He grinned. “I’ve got work to do. Besides -- no bathing suit.”
“I don’t mind.”
“I think Marvin would.”
On cue, her father called down from topside. “Bree, come on. Quit being a bother.”
She turned, leaving a final word, “Chicken.”
He sighed. She was, indeed, a pleasure to watch.
Back in the guts of the ship, he traced another water line to a bulkhead.
The access hatch for the next section was in the main living space, just forward of the table. There was a thin rug, almost linoleum, that covered that area, which he had to roll up.
The flashlight revealed changes here too. The last time he’d seen this cavity was when Nick had checked the bilge pump nearly a year before. The pump, which removed any water that had collected inside the hull, was located down at the very lowest point, right above the keel.
Now, there was equipment where there had been nothing before. New equipment.
Carefully, to avoid kicking anything, he lowered himself down into the pit.
The water line he’d spotted went to an anonymous silvery box, as well as a power cable. From the other side of the box, a second tube left, and headed downward into the keel itself.
The tube was marked with skull and crossbones stickers, its whole length.
Tommy sat back and stared at it.
What gadget will take purified water and turn it into something poisonous? How could it do that?
But that wasn’t the only puzzling thing. Something radical had been done to the structure of the ship.
He remembered the old keel. It was just a big heavy fin built into the bottom of the hull. It was filled with lead, to make it heavy. Big, massive, dumb.
What he saw in the flashlight’s beam was much different. Pipes went down into the keel. And not just a water pipe either. He saw two heat pipes, both the hot and cold sides that powered the Sterling engine. There was the strange poisonous tube, a thick power cable, and other cables that were probably some kind of control system.
Whatever the keel had become, it was obviously no longer a simple, lead-weighted fin.
But the ship still sails. Whatever the changes, it had been done to the interior, but the keel still served it’s basic purpose. The ship sailed true. It wasn’t pushed over by the winds. The Marissa rode stable.
It appeared heavily designed, this new keel. Structural supports radiated out from the center, connecting it firmly to the rest of the hull.
He went back to the aft access area. With new eyes, he rechecked the equipment. There was more complexity than he’d seen before, and gadgets he’d tentatively labeled as control systems now looked totally alien. He’d been kidding himself. He had no idea what they were. The battery system was more complex too. It was wired in both series and parallel, a heftier version of what had been done to the dinghy and the motorcycle. Something on board needed an enormous amount of power. Could the engine be one of Marvin’s superconductive motors? Could the ship go faster than hull speed?
I need more information.
There were more logbooks than were honestly needed by a weekend sailor over a couple of years. He’d put off trying to read them all. There had always been too many other chores to deal with.
He started flipping through the pages. Starting shortly after they’d taken the Marissa out of the water for the Sterling/hybrid refit, the notations began to be more complex and more cryptic. Nick had done a lot of work on the ship, and he’d been at it for a long time.
I need to see the hull, from the outside.
And now was the time. He had the ship to himself.
Grabbing the binoculars, he went on deck and scanned the shore.
Bree was stretched out on the sand, sunbathing, probably asleep. Her parents were several hundred yards down the beach, wading in the water. Bert was running through the surf, chasing something Marvin threw.
I need to wash my clothes anyway.
He grabbed a laundry bag, a white net with a drawstring, and walked around to the far side of the cabin, hidden from shore and pulled everything off. He slipped over the side.
Cold! Breathing quickly, as he tried to get used to it, he rinsed everything out and stuffed them in the bag, dangling off the side.
Quickly now, before I turn blue.
He took a deep breath, and ducked under the surface.
Everything ached. His eyes strained. He had to come back up for air. It was harder than he’d thought.
I’ve got to do this.
The second time went better. He was getting numb, and it helped. The water was crystal clear. He could see the anchor line stretching away into the distance.
He turned to the keel, and then had to go back up for air.
That’s not a fin. It was a winged keel. Beginning as a wide, fat fin close to the hull, it branched like an upside-down ‘T’, with wings forming the bottom.
It was a standard option on many modern sailing ships, but the Marissa used to have a simple fin keel, he was sure of it. He’d seen it when they’d taken her out of the water.
Breathing several times in quick succession, he ducked down again. He pulled himself down under the hull and grabbed the leading edge of the keel, holding himself in place while he got a good look.
He did it twice, the second time going farther back to look at the wings. His lungs were about to explode, as he fought to stay there, seeing more detail.
But he had to breathe. Air burst from his lungs as he reached the surface.
Gasping, he grabbed for the clothing bag, something to hold onto, until he could catch his breath.
He grabbed Bree’s hand instead.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Breaking Anchor - Part 38 of 44

© 2012 by Henry Melton

Chapter 38 -- Waiting Time
Tommy scanned the horizon for the tenth time.
“Was the ship under sail, when you left?”
She nodded. “Heading northeast. Daddy had trouble getting the sails set properly, since I refused to help.”
Marvin had never taken to sailing quite as enthusiastically as his daughter. He could hold a course, and trim the sails, but Tommy had never let him handle a tack by himself. His first impulse was to drop the sails and maneuver under power.
So, if he’d been abandoned by Bree, and he had to retrace his course, against the wind, to get her, he’d have to either do it under motor power, or learn how to tack.
He shouldn’t expect to be picked up any time soon.
Tommy shifted on his seat, little more than an unpadded board, trying to find a more comfortable position. With the motorcycle taking up the free space in the middle, it wasn’t likely he’d find one.
“Thanks for coming back to get me.”
She beamed. “I couldn’t leave you. We’re in this together.” Her eyes wavered and looked down at the dog. “Right, Bert?”
The only expression from the pile of fur on the bottom of the hull was his eyes, looking up at her, and then over at Tommy.
“So,” she continued, “You went shopping. I see you didn’t buy any clothes.”
He laughed, and fingered his shirt. It was definitely showing signs of extended wear. “Pretty soon they won’t let me into a restaurant. No, I didn’t buy clothes.”
He reached down to get the saddlebag. It was partly trapped under the rear wheel. “Help me with this.”
Once free, he opened it up and pulled out the laptop.
“Oh, wow.” It looked like it had been through a war. The case was dented, and the latch was sprung.
“It was brand new,” he mumbled, as he cautiously opened it up. Hesitantly, he pressed the power button. For a long pause, there was no response, and then with a flash, the screen lit up. Not too much later, there was a rattle.
“The speaker’s shot. That’s supposed to be the startup chime.”
“What happened to it?”
“I had a crash. I jumped a creek on the motorcycle. I almost made it.”
“Oh, wow. Were they chasing you?”
He shook his head. “No, I was trying to get to the pickup on time. I’d taken back roads to avoid the roadblocks.”
The laptop seemed functional, but it was intent on trying to make a network connection, not very likely out in the lake, far from the city. He shut it down.
“I’m surprised it still works.” 
He pulled out his police scanner, and turned it on. The numbers raced madly, hunting for a signal that wasn’t there.
“And finally, this.” He pulled out the cell phone.
She leaned forward, “Does it work?”
“Maybe.” He turned it on, and there was a weak, but usable roam signal. He turned it back off.
“This one isn’t traceable to us at all. I paid cash and never gave my name.”
“So we could use it?”
“Yeah, but we don’t need to. I didn’t really buy it for voice. It’ll let me make an Internet connection, when we’re near a city.”
She was silent, but he could tell her brain was churning.
“Okay, what gives?”
Her eyes were wide, fearful. “Um.” She looked away.
“You want to make a call...,” he prompted.
“Yes.” It was a whisper.
“Keith?” he guessed.
She nodded, not meeting his eyes.
He was angry. I went through all this, and was nearly caught, and she wants to compromise the phone to call her old boyfriend.
His face neutral, and hopefully keeping the anger from modulating his voice, he said.
“Tell me about him. There can’t be any chance that the company would know to monitor his phone.”
She nodded. “I understand.”
Keith Beeman was a senior, two years older than she was, a comic book artist, and rode a motorcycle.
“That’s how I knew how to ride this.” She touched the bike with her toe. “Keith taught me.”
“Bert sniffed it out in the bushes?” He’d wondered.
Keith had taken her on several jaunts about town, before her parents caught on. The most high-minded of those was to a publishing house in Racine that had hired him as an artist intern.
And there were parties, the details of which Bree skimmed over.
But her parents were waiting when she arrived home one morning at dawn.
“Daddy yelled.” She shook her head. “He never used to yell.
“He scared Keith off. I expected a call, but it never came. And then Mom was watching me every second, and they took my phone, so I wasn’t able to call him.”
She looked forlorn. “Could I please, please call him now, before my parents come back?”
He was strongly tempted to turn her down. How public was the showdown? How many people connected Bree to Keith? And just how serious was the company at tracking down all possible connections?
But Bree had come back for him. She’d rescued him, and it wasn’t because she wanted to use his phone.
And what if the shoe was on the other foot? What if she had my only way to contact Kati?
He sighed. “Okay, but try to make it quick.”
She crawled over the bike and sat down beside him on his bench. He handed her the phone. Eagerly she turned it on and started punching numbers. Then she hesitated, bit her lip, and completed the number.
“Almost forgot it.” She shrugged. “Speed dial.”
Tommy could hear the ringing signal. It went on and on. He glanced at his watch. It was Thursday afternoon. He might still be in school, if he had any finals left.
Click. “You’ve reached me. Leave a message.”
Tommy wished he could move away, give her some privacy, but not in a small boat.
But Bree said nothing. She turned the phone off, and angrily handed it back to him.
“Something wrong?”
Her face was a snarl. “Something wrong? Something wrong? He erased the announcement message I made for him! And I could hear....”
“Hear what?”
“Sandra! I could hear Sandra’s voice in the background. She was with him when he erased my message.”
She sat rigidly, with her arms crossed, wound so tight he thought he could feel her vibrating.
“I suppose that’s not a good thing?”
He was at a loss. Hesitantly, he put his arm around her and gave her a little hug. She resisted, for a second, then leaned up against him. She was shaking. Probably sobs she didn’t want to let out.
She said nothing, and he was content to leave it that way. He watched the horizon for several minutes.
“Are you going to call Kati again?”
He removed his arm. “Uh, no. I think we said everything, that last time.”
“Does she have other... boyfriends?”
Tommy nodded. “Yeah. Fred is there. He’s been waiting for me to get out of the way for some time.”
“You don’t sound too upset by that.”
He looked at her, raising an eyebrow. “Don’t think you know who I am by looking at the surface. I’m deep.”
She rolled her eyes. “Yeah, I know how deep guys are.”
She pouted at him, rolling her lower lip. “Ha. Tell me you’re going to pine away for her the rest of your life and never look at another girl.”
“I thought not.”
She tapped her toe at the bike again. Bert looked up, woken by the noise of the wheel spinning slowly. He put his head back down.
Bree looked at Tommy with a critical eye.
“You know, up close like this... you stink.”
He winced, “Yeah. I know.”
She reached to his chest and undid a button. 
He slapped her hand away. “Hey. What’s going on here?”
She looked innocent. “Hey, we’ve got some time to kill.” Waving at the surrounding lake, she asked, “All this water -- why don’t we wash it?”
He shook his head. “Ha. I know what you’re up to. You’re a tease. You just want to get my shirt off.”
“Well?” She tilted her head.
“Not gonna happen. I’m not undressing until you do.”
She grinned. “I thought you’d never ask.” With an easy practiced motion, she grabbed the bottom of her shirt with both hands and started pulling up.
“Hey! Stop. Just kidding.”
She peeled it in one motion, revealing her white bikini top beneath. Mischief was all over her face.
“A serious tease.”
“Okay, Bud. Your turn.” She reached for his buttons again.
He leaned back. “No. You tricked me. I can’t do this.”
“Why not?” She played with his top button.
“For one thing... we get... playful, and for sure, your parents will show up.”
She undid the button, and went down to the next one.
“And that’s a bad thing, how?”
He frantically scanned the horizon. Still no sign of them. He sighed, and then brushed her hands away again.
“Okay, we’ll wash my shirt. But no way is anything else coming off!”
He regretted his vow. They’d washed his shirt, and draped it over the motorcycle’s handlebars to dry. That hadn’t stopped Bree from offering to do the rest of his laundry.
An hour later, after giving in to a few initial kisses, and spanking her when she attempted to remove more of her costume, they settled for some serious slow cuddling. His vow, and the uncomfortable, cramped quarters in the dinghy kept things from getting out of hand. If there’d been a comfortable place to stretch out, he feared she’d have worn him down.
“This is nice.” She ran her finger over his face, tracing the contours. Her fingernails scratched his trace of whiskers, and she smiled.
Something crossed her face, some sober thought. He didn’t ask. It was just nice to be able to lean back, even with the sharp angle of the gunwale in his back, and feel her stretched out in his arms.
She was just on the rebound. He knew that. He hoped she knew that. Nothing here was serious. It couldn’t be permanent, with their parting just days away.
I guess I’m on the rebound too.
Her gaze was sober. “Kiss me. Kiss me a good one.”
He complied, pulling her close, putting his whole spirit into it. The sun burning his skin, the pain in his back, the leg going asleep under her weight -- all of that faded away into a warm, vibrant, bliss.
She pulled away, finally. “That was good.”
He smiled. “I can do it again.”
She grinned, “I’ll hold you to it. But for now, they’re here.”
He practically dumped her on the motorcycle, in his effort to get up and get his shirt back on.
She was right. Off in the distance, there was a white sailboat, heading their way.
“Do you think they saw us?”
She had a bemused look on her face. “They’ve got binoculars. We don’t.” She pulled her shirt back on, and tugged it straight.
“Here,” she straightened his collar and buttoned one he missed. “Laundry done.” It sounded sad, the way she said it.
“He’s only sailing with the jib.” That’s why he’s moving so slow. The Marissa looked strange with only the small fore sail showing.
Cautiously, he stood up in the dinghy and waved his arms slowly, side to side. There was a flicker of motion on the ship. They’d seen him. He sat back down.
The jib went down when the ship was a few hundred feet away.
“Hang on.” Tommy turned the throttle and closed the distance. Shortly, they tied up.
“Sorry,” was the first word out of Marvin’s mouth.
Tommy said, “There’s a police dragnet out for me. You were right to leave. Let’s go.”
Bree went up and Marvin helped pull the bike from the dinghy. One minute after they pulled the dinghy on board, Tommy was raising sail. He’d had enough of this shoreline. The wheel felt good in his hand. The Marissa had come back.