Monday, January 16, 2017

Voyage of the Tropical Queen by Anne Da Vigo

Dennis is forced out of retirement to fix the radar on his ex brother-in-law's dilapidated ferry in Hawaii, and he fears the vessel will not survive its next trip; by Anne Da Vigo.

Dennis climbed into the passenger seat of the '49 pickup. The upholstery was torn, and a metal spring scratched his leg. "Nice wheels," he said.

Adrian, his former brother-in-law, was driving. "Nice - and cheap." He veered away from the curb at Honolulu International, cutting off the inter-terminal bus.

Dennis rubbed away a spot of blood from the seat. "So, how's it going?"

"Two more weeks, and we're out to sea." The pickup's gears grated.

He drove west, past Pearl Harbor. The ocean looked almost black. Dennis rolled down the window and let the breeze tickle his bald head. He recalled having sex for the first time on a similar pickup's bench seat.

Just past Barber's Point, Adrian veered right, passing banks of warehouses, until he reached a shipyard. At the far end of the piers loomed a derelict ferry hemorrhaging rust into the water.

Dennis studied the Tropical Queen, three stories tall and one hundred and sixty feet long. At the top, the ferry's bridge resembled a small head perched on a massive body. Railings semi-enclosed the second deck, where passengers once bought candy at the snack bar. The first deck was the womb, the echoing, empty space for twenty-five or thirty cars.

When Adrian first had called, begging him to fly out from San Diego to repair the ferry's radar, Dennis figured his old friend had gone senile.

"Nobody in their right mind takes a flat-bottomed boat into open ocean," he said.

"I'm doing modifications to make it completely seaworthy," Adrian said. "But that's not your worry. Come for a few days, maybe a week. Just to get the radar going."

"No way." Dennis was a confirmed loner, retired from his job as a radar specialist. He enjoyed the freedom from office gossip and birthday lunches. Each morning he waved goodbye to his wife, Zoe, who worked as an operating room nurse. He basked in the silence, rearranging his books like attentive students. With his computer booted up, he plunged into his design for a radical new sonar device.

But Dennis had known Adrian fifty years, and his friend was always stubborn. Adrian even looked a little mulish, with his prominent front teeth. "You've got to come, Den," he'd pleaded. "This is a great opportunity. I'm taking the Queen to Seattle, where they're crying for ferries to sail between the islands. There's a pile of green in it, and you'll get a cut."

Then Dennis' sister, Judy, piled on. She and Adrian had been divorced for years, but he owed thousands in back alimony. When she smelled money, Dennis' wonderful isolation had been ruined.

Adrian scampered up the ramp from the pier to the Queen's car park. "The boat's like God-damned Siamese twins - double ramps, double helm, engines, everything." He pretended to complain, but Dennis detected a note of pride.

"Toshi, where are you?" Adrian's voice echoed in the hollow cavern. They walked the length of the boat, footsteps drumming on the metal floor, to the apron where vehicles entered the ferry from the pier. A four-by-eight deck plate was propped on a yellow forklift ready to be welded, eight or ten more stacked nearby.

Adrian's plan became clearer. Of the ship's two identical ends, this was to be the bow, enclosed with steel plates to keep waves from swamping it. Dennis inspected the welds. Full of weak spots. Not strong enough for two weeks to Seattle.

Toshi drifted down the passenger deck's stairs, swaying to rhythm from his headset and enveloped in the smell of weed.

He bumped into Adrian. "Hey, Boss." He pulled out an earbud.

"You know Dennis? And I said, no more stuff."

"I'm not, Boss."

Dennis remembered him, a throwaway kid who lived in a trailer at Adrian's surplus yard in San Diego. For shelter and a small wage, Toshi arranged the inventory and snapped digital photos of the excess government equipment Adrian sold online.

Adrian frowned. "How much longer on the welding?"

"Pretty soon." Toshi reinserted the earbud.

Toshi needed a boot in the ass, Dennis thought, but Adrian, who had four grown children, just rolled his eyes. "Come on. I'll show you the engine room."

As they descended into the ship's gut, Dennis's chest tightened. He struggled to inhale the hot, syrupy air. Two battery-operated arc lights silhouetted a shirtless man bent over the intestines of an engine. Tools were arranged on the floor as precisely as butcher's knives.

"This is Swede, my chief engineer." The huge ventilating fan nearly drowned out Adrian's voice.

Swede was a one-lunger who hung around the San Diego docks. He, like Adrian, once had been a commercial fisherman, but had fallen on hard times. Corns on his little toes had worn holes through the sides of his canvas shoes. He wiped a damp hand on his shorts, but didn't offer it to Dennis. Instead, he picked up a cigarette perched on an engine casing and took a drag.

"Christ Jesus, put that out." Sweat dripped from Adrian's forehead, spotting his shirt. "One little vapor leak and we're blown to bits."

Swede flicked his cigarette to the floor. "Where are the new lifters? I needed them yesterday."

The butt flared in a small pool of oil, and Adrian stomped on it.

Extraordinary, Dennis observed, that Adrian nagged Swede about smoking while he ignored Toshi's sloppy work on the bow, which had potential to send the ship to the bottom.

"Ever been to the Persian Gulf?" Swede asked Dennis.

"Never have."

"I was chief engineer on a supertanker there," Swede said. "Someone told me a story."

"We can't wait," Adrian said.

"Seems there was a tanker - twice as big as mine, about 400,000 dead-weight tons - moored at the same offshore platform the week before. Engines weren't working, and the experts couldn't diagnose the problem. Owners finally called in an old guy, the guru of all marine engineers."

Lights highlighted the thick white fuzz on Swede's chest. "The owners, captain, everyone watched as the engineer studied the engine, opened his tool box, and took out a hammer. He gave the engine a couple taps, and immediately, it sprang to life. The next day, the owners received a bill for $10,000. They were astounded and asked for an itemization. You know what the new bill said?"

Neither of them answered.

"Tapping with a hammer, $2. Knowing where to tap, $9,998."



The next morning, Adrian got lost.

"Want me to turn on my GPS?" Dennis asked.

Adrian flipped his hand irritably. "I can fucking find it."

His truck wheezed through a metropolis of stucco buildings east of Pearl Harbor. The Oahu highlands shimmered in the distance. Dennis had discovered after breakfast that the Queen's radar was twenty years out of date and beyond repair. Somewhere in this neighborhood was a marine radar dealer.

"It's around the next turn, I'm positive." Adrian squinted past a crack in the windshield. His dust-covered glasses rested on the dashboard.

The glasses reminded Dennis how much Adrian had changed since his fishing boat was repossessed. Years ago, when the Pacific was full of tuna, Adrian ran his seiner, the Judy Ann, out of San Diego. They'd known each other since elementary school, and in a pinch, Adrian sometimes asked Dennis to fill out the crew. It was cold, dirty, dangerous work, and, like his stint in Vietnam, Dennis hated the stifling closeness of the bunks and the odor of the crewmen's sweat and dirty underwear.

Albacore disappeared from the coastal waters. On Adrian's last trip, he was a thousand miles west of Chile when the navigation equipment failed, with no landmarks but the heaving, spilling waves. Using only the stars and his charts, Adrian sailed to Easter Island as if he were driving to Safeway for a six-pack.

Dennis steered his thoughts away from oceans and waves. He'd drunk sake at the restaurant last night; then, feeling lonesome for home, consumed numerous beers back at the boat. His stomach was unsettled and hands trembled.

"This isn't it. Must be further down," Adrian said.

Dennis tapped the address into his cell phone. It was past noon, and he wanted to get started on the radar.

"A left in two blocks, and another left in three-tenths of a mile."

"Just what I said." Adrian smiled triumphantly.

When they returned, Dennis hauled the new radar up to the bridge. The ferry's double-vision aspect was reinforced here: two wheels and two compasses, allowing the captain to operate the boat from either end. Yesterday he'd seen the twin eight-cylinder diesel engines. His inspection revealed that, in addition to the radar, the gauges and navigational instruments were obsolete.

He unpacked the new radar and began soldering its fifty hair-thin wires, but couldn't master his shaking hands. Adrian's voice drifted up, yelling for Toshi, who hadn't fired up the welder yet. From the engine room came the faint screech of Swede's power drill.

Dennis abandoned the radar and clattered down to the passenger deck, where he popped open a beer to settle his stomach. Feeling better, he sliced salami, and cheese, slathered bread with mayo. At home, Zoe would have lectured him about the evils of cholesterol. He sat at one of the wooden tables, sun beating on his neck. The creosote smell from the dock pilings renewed his nausea. He tossed the sandwich to the gulls, who'd been watching from the railing with black, accusatory eyes.

On the car deck, he spotted Toshi, who'd thrown aside his protective welding jacket. Pulling down his face mask, he bent over the flame. "I'm good, you know, I'm good," he mumbled. His back was varnished with sweat.

In Vietnam, Dennis had been assigned to a vehicle repair unit. "This weld," his corporal would say, "is lumpy. My truck loses a wheel. This weld, truck got no steering, hits a tree." Then he'd spit on the substandard work.

"Hey kid." No response.

Dennis turned off the generator.

Toshi cocked the mask on his forehead. Something about him was familiar to Dennis; not his Asian features, but his energy field. Dennis recognized the aura of aloneness that he'd felt most of his life.

"Come on," Dennis said suddenly. "I've got a different job for you." On the bridge, he spread the radar's schematic on the counter. Dennis traced the paths between the components and Toshi studied the sheaf of colored wires as intently as a doctor in heart surgery. With the hot soldering iron, Dennis demonstrated how to connect the wires. Toshi's stubby fingers were surprisingly dexterous.

To save the bow renovation from disaster, Dennis took over the welding. In a couple of hours he'd regained enough skill to repair Toshi's mistakes on one plate. Three bad plates remained before he could tackle the last five. Two weeks, minimum.

They ate frozen Salisbury steak heated in the microwave for dinner. Afterward, Swede reclined in a patio lounge chair and sucked oxygen from a nebulizer while the three of them played poker. Flying insects clicked against the lantern's glass globe. Shore lights quivered in the water like constellations in a dark sky.

"I am master of the universe!" Toshi cried, throwing down another winning hand and scooping up a pile of matchsticks.

Adrian, who'd drawn to an inside straight, tossed in his cards. His fingers drummed on the scarred tabletop. "Sail with us," he said to Dennis. "Make the crossing."

"You don't need this broken-down old man. I haven't been out since the trip to Easter Island."

"You're only moderately broken down. Come on, it'll be like the old days."

"I'm about to make a breakthrough on my sonar." At home, the leather desk chair fit his butt like a glove, and the blues and greens on his flat-screen monitor glowed more beautifully than real sky or ocean.

"You're been on the verge for ten years. Two weeks won't matter."

Toshi toyed with his switchblade, flipping it off his hand into the table. "Do it, man. Without you, it's a no-go."

Dennis raised his eyebrows. "This is the experienced crew?"

"The four of us," Adrian said. "Couple guys I counted on dropped out."

Dennis, who'd known Adrian for so long, realized there were no other guys.

His back ached from sleeping on a cot. It was Tuesday, and Zoe would have put clean sheets on their king-sized bed. When she finished tucking in the corners, they usually had sex, surrounded by the smell of freshly-washed bedding.

He opened his mouth to refuse, but the words wouldn't come. Adrian had been his refuge when they were kids, the closest he'd ever come to having a friend. At night, Dennis' mother and father fought for hours, words flying like bullets. He often ran through the dark streets to Adrian's, smashing rocks into car windshields as went. When he tapped on the window, Adrian unlocked the back door and they tiptoed to his bedroom, where Dennis unrolled a sleeping bag on the floor. The creak of Adrian's bed as he turned over, the snuffling of the dog curled at his feet, all of it meant safety.

"Okay, if some guys dropped out." Dennis gave Adrian a pass on the lie.

Swede removed his mask and lit a cigarette. "When I was in the navy, we always had a shakedown cruise."

"No need for a shakedown." Adrian's thumb rubbed the groove Toshi's knife had carved.

"After twenty years with no maintenance; there's bound to be weaknesses," Swede said.

"The US Navy advertised her in excellent condition."

"And you trust the government?" Smoke drifted from Swede's nostrils.

Adrian shuffled the cards. "In twelve days, I've got to come up with another month's rent on the slip."

"So we don't do a shakedown cruise. At least pump out the old fuel."

"How many gallons in both tanks? Fifteen thousand?"

"Ten, each."

"Marine diesel yesterday was $4.10," Adrian said.

A gull snatched a peanut from the table, then flew off with a whisper of wings.



Nine days later, the Queen motored into the Kauai Channel, sea gleaming like liquid mercury. The air tasted cool and sweet, and the sky's piercing blue reminded him of Zoe's eyes, which he remembered more clearly here.

Adrian guided the ferry with his fingertips, a Padres cap perched jauntily on the back of his head. He seemed different from the aging man who trolled through the government's leftovers at the surplus yard.

Dennis looked away. Adrian seemed too vulnerable in his happiness.

Swede wasn't on the bridge - he preferred his humid cave in the engine room. Toshi crouched at the console, his black eyes fixed on the radar screen's blips. The boy had liked unraveling the schematic and meticulously had soldered the nest of wires.

Dennis grabbed a beer and descended to the car deck to admire his welding job. The steel plates were solid enough, he hoped, to block high seas. To raise the bow, he and Adrian yesterday had added ballast by pumping thousands of gallons of water into the rear tanks.

Four hours into the voyage, Adrian's voice crackled on the intercom. "Swede to the bridge. On the double."

The four of them clustered at the helm, the old man gasping for breath.

"I can't keep her on a straight course." Adrian's hatband was dark with sweat. "She's sailing in quarter-mile circles."

Swede diagnosed the problem in minutes. During twenty years of neglect, the hydraulic fluid in the steering had dried or leaked out. Adrian cut the engine. He and Dennis crawled into the cramped compartment below deck with replacement seals. Dennis shone a flashlight through the open hatch while Adrian crouched to keep his head from hitting the ceiling.

Dennis handed down an Allen wrench, then a series of screwdrivers. Adrian coughed and grunted. Metal clanked. Dennis recalled Adrian's spectacles perched on the pickup's dashboard.

"Need your glass eyes?"

"Hell no. I've almost got it."

The smell, heat, and ship's motion made Dennis queasy.

"Damn!" Adrian, his face white, emerged with blood dripping from his thumb. "Screwdriver slipped."

Dennis skinned his knees going in. When the last nut was tightened, he clambered from the compartment, staggered to the upper deck, and vomited over the side.

He wiped his mouth on a rag. "I don't think she's up to it," he told Adrian.

Adrian cradled his bandaged thumb against his chest. "Once she settles in, she'll be fine. Ludlow Marine built her, and they're still one of the best."

"I bet the navy didn't spend a dime on maintenance."

"Christ, stop with the voice of doom! It's bad luck."

After his encounter with the Queen's tight interior, Dennis felt sorry for her. She'd been lashed to the dock, her metal expanding and contracting with each change of temperature, sea creatures worming into her joints and crevices. If Adrian didn't pull this off, the Tropical Queen would be torn apart for scrap.

By three o'clock they were headed again to open sea.



Dennis rose on the third day having barely slept. Rough ocean, which a more seaworthy boat would have absorbed like a prizefighter, had pummeled the ferry. It lurched and shimmed and bounced all night. He used the toilet; then, because Adrian hadn't had time to hook up the plumbing, hauled up a bucket of ocean water to flush. On the bridge, Toshi manned the wheel. His chin hairs had thickened in the last few days. He wore Adrian's Padres hat backwards.

Last night, as Dennis had lain on the roof of the passenger deck watching the Southern Cross, he smelled marijuana and saw the red glow of Toshi's joint. Now Dennis rifled through the galley's cabinets and refrigerator. The rice canister yielded a packet of pills. He poured a bowl of honey nut cereal and found a baggie in the box. He tossed both stashes overboard.

As he leaned spooned his cereal, he felt an odd loss of sensation in the soles of his feet. The engine had stopped. Below, Adrian and Swede were arguing.

"This is serious, dammit. Algae's clogged the fuel line." Swede's diaphragm pumped like a bellows.

"It's a minor setback. We replace the filters, and three, four hours later we're back up."

"So said the captain of the Titanic."

Dennis wiped the sweat from his eyebrows. "Algae can't grow in diesel, Adrian."

"You are quick-witted. Brighter than your brother-in-law," Swede said.

Adrian and Dennis went to the bilges, the ship's stinking sewer. Dennis opened the valve at the bottom of the port-side fuel tank and tasted the fluid. Salt water.

"A leak in the hull?" Dennis asked. Salt water was heavier than diesel; the bad news was, it had collected at the bottom of the fuel tank. At the interface between water and fuel, algae was growing.

"Probably condensation. She's been sitting a long time," Adrian said.

Dennis ran his tongue around the inside of his lips. "There's no salt in condensate."

They drained the bottom of the tank into the bilges and replaced the filter. Twice in the next twenty-four hours the engine stopped again. Dennis, Adrian, and Toshi attached hoses to the fuel lines and pumped diesel from the leaky port tank into its twin on the starboard.

Five days passed. At dinner that night, rain was falling, and wind blew water over the railings. They hunkered at the tables farthest from the rail and dipped microwaved Buffalo wings into mounds of mayo.

The usual evening skirmish erupted between Adrian and Swede over the Queen's fuel consumption. Gauges in the engine room had registered a steep drop in the fuel level. Adrian argued the gauge must be faulty.

Swede sucked on his cigarette. "Nothing wrong with my gauges."

To double check, Dennis that morning had dropped a long measuring tape weighted by a plumb bob into the tank. Fuel coated the makeshift dipstick to the twenty-foot mark. Less than 5,000 gallons.

"We're seriously low, Adrian," Dennis said.

"No worries. That method sucks, because ships roll."

"But we're taking a chance, not being sure."

"What, you think I don't know how to calculate miles per gallon, after twenty years on the Judy Ann? Horsepower divided by ten for gasoline, by twenty for diesel."

"At maximum power in an efficient engine," Swede's voice was paper thin.

"Ten, twenty percent variable."

"We aren't running maximum power. Not close."

"Whose fault is that? You're chief engineer."

"And you're chief asshole." Swede peed over the side, then collapsed on his cot and fitted the oxygen mask over his face.

That night, Dennis took the first four-hour stint at the wheel. Clouds obscured the moon. The Queen's running lights were a wink in a universe of darkness. Wind shook her. Steel joints creaked and groaned.

Adrian appeared at 2am, scratching the stubble on his cheek. "Things okay?"

"Never better."

"Swede is a sick, old fart." Adrian's jaw clenched in its mulish, off-center slant.

"Not that bad. He's been working on the engine in the heat for two months."

"His lung is shot."

"Still able to climb between decks." Dennis wandered aft and sank into the twin captain's chair. His head ached and shoulder joint throbbed. Rain snapped against the window glass. The radar chirped, showing the nearest ship about seventy-five miles away.

The ocean's uneasy landscape was invisible, and he thought how inconsequential the surface was. Tidal waves were flickers of emotion compared to the vast, hidden world beneath. As he had worked on his sonar, he imagined the peaks, plains, hot lava and great rifts that lay in the darkness. He felt a tremor when he thought about charting these depths, an interior shift, as if some feature of his life might one day be traced and illuminated.

He fell asleep with his head resting on his shoulder.

It was still dark when silence awoke him. The engine was dead, and the ferry was sideways to the waves. Emergency bulbs barely penetrated the blackness. In the engine room, he'd expected Swede and Adrian to be working frantically, but instead the dead engines and ventilating fan loomed over the two motionless men.

"What's wrong?" Dennis asked.

Swede's throat worked to draw a breath. "Don't know."

"Bullshit." Adrian belched.

"Fifty-five years at sea. Never seen anything like it," Swede said.

Dennis hunkered on the bottom step of the metal stairway. Down here, he could feel the waves' impact in his buttocks and the knobs of his back. The taste of Buffalo wings turned to acid in his mouth.

"We gotta turn back," Swede said.

"Can't do it." Adrian looked a lot like Dennis' father, hairy and evil-tempered.

"We don't have the fuel to make it to Washington," Swede said.

"Are you harping on that again?"

"We're only three hundred miles out of Oahu. What happens when we're twelve hundred, with an empty tank and no auxiliary power?"

Adrian's nose reddened. "We got the fuel."

"We don't got the fuel, you washed-up nobody. If you hadn't spent ten years picking the government's trash cans, you'd know it."

With a roar, Adrian lunged at Swede, his head jutting forward to keep his balance. Swede raised his fists, weaving on chicken-bone legs. Glittering drops of sweat fell from the tip of Adrian's elbow. The pair stumbled and swayed, silhouetted by the dim lights, air thick with the stink of oil.

Swede's right smacked Adrian's nose.

The old man froze in stunned surprise at his victory. Adrian groaned, open mouthed, and blood reddened his teeth.

Muscles bunched in Adrian's shoulder. Dennis, choked with fear, stepped between them. Adrian's fist hammered Dennis's ear. He stumbled, a high, singing noise pierced him, and his vision went black.

"The old guy's sick," Dennis sobbed. "Give him a chance to change his mind."

Adrian kicked a galvanized bucket, creating a clatter that resounded off the hull. "Have the engine going by ten tomorrow."



Just after dawn, a loudspeaker snatched Dennis from his dream. He turned on his side, cursing the pain in his swollen ear.

The loudspeaker blared again. "Hello, Tropical Queen, this is the Coast Guard. Stand by, we're coming aboard."

When his feet touched deck, he felt a vibration. Swede had relented and restarted the engine. As the ferry slowed to idle, a Zodiac carrying a contingent of coast guardsmen thumped across the waves and pulled alongside. Dennis fished a rope ladder from the supply trunk and played it out over the railing. Five men wearing black tactical gear and bulletproof vests clambered aboard, carrying their weapons at identical angles across their chests. He could smell their aftershave and was suddenly aware of his own stink.

"Where's the captain? We received an emergency radio transmission." The officer's breath clouded his helmet's Plexiglas visor.

"Right here, and we didn't send any message," Adrian said, descending the stairs.

The officer listened to a communication device in his ear. He barked an order to search the ferry.

Swede emerged from below, clutching the rail to steady himself. "It was me. I need medical attention." The nebulizer mask hung around his neck, and his skin was as gray as spoiled meat.

While the officer radioed for a helicopter from Hawaii, the remaining team began a search, presumably looking for signs of terrorists or pirates. Toshi appeared from the kitchen, where Dennis hoped he'd shoved any remnants of a secret stash down the drain. Adrian squirmed with suppressed fury as the coastguardsmen probed every locker and compartment, peered into the ballast tanks, and pawed through luggage.

He hissed at Toshi, "You didn't tell me Swede was on emergency radio. Why didn't you stop him?"

Toshi bit into an apple, speared on the tip of his knife. "Didn't hear or see him."

"You were hiding somewhere, smoking pot instead of manning the bridge, you little bastard."

"I wasn't, I didn't, and don't call me that." He retracted the knife blade and shoved it into his shorts pocket.

During the wait for the helicopter, Adrian piloted the boat sloppily, allowing the uneven motion to batter Swede as he sat in his lounge chair. A steady whap-whap announced the chopper, and soon it emerged from the clouds, orange against the white-gray sky. Deafening noise and air slapping their faces accompanied the paramedic as he dropped like a black spider to the deck.

After he'd rigged a diaper harness between Swede's legs and buckled straps around his chest, Dennis shook the old man's paper-dry hand. "Find a doctor who knows how to use a hammer," he shouted.

Swede's laugh disintegrated into a cough. When he and the medic were secured aboard the chopper, they watched it fly west. In the silence, Dennis felt a shift among the three of them, like a table with a broken leg.

The Zodiac team assembled at the rail. "Captain, is your vessel in a condition to continue?" the officer asked.

Adrian chewed his chapped lips. He knew maritime regulations - a derelict boat that collided with another was vulnerable to fines and lawsuits. "We're fine. Good."

Dennis had known Adrian since he was ten, when he slept on the floor of Adrian's bedroom. He'd hauled nets aboard the seiner, served as best man at his wedding. They hadn't been friends, exactly. More like the insufferable radar wires, two intertwined strands. Yet Adrian was willing to put their lives at risk.

He heard a small click. Toshi was hiding the extended knife blade in the fold of his shorts. The boy's eyes were locked on Adrian. Dennis clapped his hand on the kid's thin shoulder. Toshi's muscles twitched. Dennis recognized that dangerous twitch from his own boyhood - hot desire to injure his drunken father.

In one smooth motion, Dennis snatached the knife, retracted the blade, and slipped it in his pocket. Attention was on Adrian; no one noticed. Dennis stepped between Adrian and Toshi, bracing for a fist in the kidneys, but none came.

He turned abruptly to the officer. "I'm requesting assistance. The captain is mentally unstable and a danger to himself and others."

Adrian's jaw dropped.

"He threatened us," Dennis said. "When the vessel became unsafe, we wanted to return to Hawaii, but he said he'd throw any dissenters overboard."

"That's a friggin' lie!"

"Proof he's mentally ill - we're low on fuel, and he refuses to admit it."

Adrian charged Dennis, his fingers extended like claws, but three coast guardsmen tackled him.

It took eighteen tedious hours for the tow vessel to arrive from Honolulu. Adrian slouched in the snack bar, his hunched shoulders like parentheses around his head. Dennis and Toshi alternated at the wheel, steering the ferry into the waves to keep it from being swamped.

In off hours, Dennis paced the boat. His feet echoed on the metal stairs, on the steel plates in the empty car deck, in the engine room where the dual engines groaned in the yellow half-light. He paused on the deck, wind whipping his wet shirt against his ribs, rain sluicing through his sandals.

This mess was his fault. He'd known about the crack in the hull, the scarcity of fuel, but he hadn't insisted that they turn back. Reluctant to demolish Adrian's dream, perhaps because he'd spent years on his vision for the sonar, Dennis almost had gotten them killed. Three old men were no great loss, but the boy - Dennis tucked his hands into his armpits to still their shaking.

The tow arrived at last. Dennis helped the crew rig a line to chain the Queen's rudder. As the ferry trundled behind the rescue ship like a naughty child, Adrian dragged himself to the bridge and locked himself inside.

Dennis found Toshi the snack bar, wet hair plastered to his head. Dennis straddled the opposite bench, and the two of them sat quietly, looking toward Oahu. It was late afternoon, and just above the horizon, light broke through the bruised clouds, staining them with magenta and gold. The sun quivered in that small space of blue sky for a few long seconds, as if it couldn't bear to leave, then dropped into the waves.

7 comments:

  1. The detailed knowledge of the environment adds depth and texture to this story of failed hopes and refusal to face the truth. If it was extended into a novella the characters of the Swede and Toshi might be explored more fully? An interesting read, thank you,
    Ceinwen

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  2. One last voyage not to be. All the characters are well drawn and convincing and well served by an interesting story. Crusty old mariners and conflict. Perfect combination.
    Mike McC

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  3. A good portrayal of a type that we all have known. Glad there was no way to predict the ending.

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  4. Creates a completly convincing world of characters, setting and plot. Terrific images and descriptions also help the story unfold. Most impressive of all, though, is reading something written by a woman that still gets the conflicting vanities and insecurities of men dead right.

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  5. Original and thoroughly enjoyable. Well done. Thank you.

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  6. Very convincing characters. Suspense throughout the story. The reader was right there with the characters on the open sea.

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  7. A reminder of what happens when we don't follow our first gut reaction. Good characters. Felt tension wondering what would happen next. And the ending was a surprise.

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