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.”

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