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By Dick Herman
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2011 Dick Herman
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Chapter OneZack Hilber was lost. That, in itself, was not unusual as he was often confused as to his exact whereabouts, especially at night when he should be tucked safely in bed and snoring peacefully. Angela, his long-suffering wife, had learned early on that he was directionally impaired. It was on their honeymoon, to not put too fine a date on it, when she first suspected he couldn't tell north from south if his life depended on it. His easting and westing was a little better, probably because the sun moved in that plane, but nothing Angela wanted to pass on to their two kids and four grandchildren. As a matter of survival, she quickly learned to navigate and became an expert map reader. She could also ask for directions in three languages. Angela may not have been happy with this particular shortcoming, but Zack did have other very worthwhile long comings, and most importantly, she was never bored.
Zack's immediate problem was that it was past midnight, well beyond his normal bedtime, and Angela was eight hundred miles away in Dublin, California, while he was wandering around trying to find the marina at Squalicum Harbor. The Admiral's instructions were as opaque and confusing as always: go north on I-5 for 805 miles to Bellingham, Washington. Take Exit 256, turn left onto Meridian Street, go .4 miles, and turn right onto Squalicum Way. Of course, he was lost. Who could make sense of all that? He scratched his full head of gray hair and squinted into the night. At sixty-three years of age, Zack's hazel eyes were still sharp and clear and his night vision excellent. His lanky five foot ten frame wiggled under the seatbelt. While his sense of direction was shaky at best, his urinary tract never failed and always told him when and where to go. His bladder was an unfailing compass card and his penis the needle.
Never being one to stand on formality, and believing that darkness is decency, he pulled over to the side of the road and climbed out of Old Blue, his trusty Ford pickup. He stood on the shoulder and stared into the heavens, taking in the starry wonder that peeked from behind the clouds scudding across the moonlit sky as he relieved himself. The Belt of Orion magically appeared. "Orion the Hunter," he said to himself. The three stars could be a belt, he decided, but where was the rest of the hunter? It didn't make sense to him. He shook his head in disbelief. "Gods on Olympus, constellations, where did the Greeks come up with all that crap? I bet no one on Olympus had a small bladder. Homer never mentioned that in The Odyssey." He snorted in contempt. "The Greeks and Homer were full of it." A police cruiser flashing a blue light pulled to a stop behind his trailer, the little sailboat simply didn't provide the privacy required by the local constabulary, and Zack never saw the three stars in the Belt wink at him. The lone officer adjusted his nightstick as he walked up to Zack.
"Cute little boat you got there," he offered.
"Thank you, officer. It's a fifteen-foot sloop called a microcruiser or pocket cruiser. They're good little boats, pretty rugged and you can sail them most anywhere."
"I see it's got a cabin. You got a Porta-Potti in there?"
"Yes, sir, I do. But it's kind'a hard to get to with the mast tied down on top for trailering."
The patrolman unzipped his pants and joined Zack. "Use it next time."
"Thank you, I will."
"I see you got California plates. Where abouts are you from?"
"Dublin, near San Francisco."
"Going sailing in the San Juans?"
"Yep. With five of my buddies. We all sail microcruisers and call ourselves the FOGs, that's short for Freakin' Old Guys." The Freakin' part was really a euphemism for the actual word. The FOGs did travel in polite society. "We come up here every year in September and sail around the islands for a couple of weeks. We usually tie up at a marina at night, and hold a happy hour on the dock. We're not sure if we're a sailing club with a drinking problem or the other way 'round."
The patrolman gazed wistfully at the small boat and read the name on the side. "Wild Turtle." He stared at the boat, envying the older man. "Where do you sleep?"
"We sleep on the boats. It's kind'a cramped but you can get two in the cabin, if your partner has a sense of humor ... and is a contortionist."
"I always wanted to do something like that, but my wife wouldn't hear of it." The admission hurt, but for some reason he felt better talking about it. Zack inspired that type of reaction.
"Take her along," Zack said.
"That will be one cold day in hell." The patrolman zipped up his pants. "Where you headed for now?"
"Squalicum Harbor in Bellingham."
The cop laughed. "Turn around and go back eight miles. Go under the freeway and take the second right. The road goes right past the harbor. You can't miss it. It's opposite the rail yard."
Zack almost said that he could miss the harbor and the rail yard in a heartbeat. He was a man who knew his limitations. Instead, "Thank you, officer."
The patrolman walked back to his cruiser. "Wild Turtle, I like it. What did you say your boat was?"
"It's a microcruiser," Zack called. "Like in mini." He watched the cop pull out and accelerate down the deserted road. "I ought'a get a commission for selling these puppies," he muttered to himself. Determined to find the harbor, he scooted behind Old Blue's steering wheel and noted the mileage on the odometer. He mentally added eight, and jotted the number down. He threw a U-turn and headed back for Bellingham. True to form, he passed under the freeway and turned left into the Bellingham Parks Department. Fortunately, it was a roundabout that pointed him back in the right direction. Two miles later, he breathed a sigh of relief when he saw the railroad yard in the moonlight and a forest of masts on the other side of the road. Zack Hilber, to his total amazement, had finally arrived and was only twelve hours late. Angela would be proud of him.
It was easy spotting the FOGs' cars and Rufus's big white utility van in the parking lot. The van was parked under a streetlight and the big golden anvil painted on the side was easily visible from the street. Zack pulled in and parked at the far end of the five vehicles with their empty trailers, well away from the streetlight and Rufus's van. The five other FOGs had already launched their boats and were tied up at the guest dock, bedded down for a good night's sleep.
Zack checked his watch; it was just after one in the morning. The thought of crawling into the boat's small cabin for a few hours of welcome snoozing and snoring grew more appealing with each passing moment. First, he had to move the mast to get to the hatch. He untied the sixteen— foot aluminum tube and climbed onto the boat. It didn't take a genius to figure out that it would be easiest to step the mast and finish rigging in the morning. The mast was half way up when he caught movement in his peripheral vision. Someone was moving along the side of Rufus's van. He froze.
Unbidden, his training was back, undimmed by time and sharp as ever. He slowly lowered the mast, never taking his eyes off the shadowy figure, and not certain if it was a woman or a small man. With the mast down, he crouched in the cockpit. The shadow opened the van's waist-high side access panel to see what was inside. Zack's eyes narrowed as he tightened and double knotted his shoelaces. He emptied his pockets of anything that could rattle or clink at a critical moment, slipped over the side of the boat, and dropped to the ground in one fluid motion. He crouched and shed his jacket, now certain that a thief was pilfering Rufus's van. There was a treasure house of tools inside. Zack's muscles tensed and adrenaline shot through his body. You poor stupid bastard, he thought. His fangs were out, and for the first time since retiring from The Company eleven years ago, he was fully alive.
Did the thief have a buddy or was he alone? Zack played it by the book and scanned the parking lot, looking for telltale movement or a car with an occupant. Nothing. Certain that he was dealing with a loner, he moved, closing in on the unsuspecting thief. He ghosted to the next car, using it for concealment. Zack crouched behind the front wheel and looked underneath the cars. He could see the thief's legs, still standing beside the van. Like a cat stalking its prey, Zack moved again, reaching the next car. Again, he looked underneath. The thief had set a bag on the ground and was still rummaging inside the van. Zack heard a loud clink and froze. The thief had dropped something heavy into the bag. The figure came up on its tiptoes and reached further inside. Now his feet completely disappeared as he crawled inside the van, his belly scraping over the access panel's sill.
Zack came to a running crouch and darted forward, a soundless shadow in the night. He rounded the car next to the van and leaned against the door, studying the figure half inside the open panel, feet dangling in the air, as he rummaged through Rufus's tools. "Find anything interesting in there?" He could have been talking about the weather. "I got'a speak to Rufe about locking his van up."
The thief jerked back and collapsed to the ground. He held one of Rufus's prized hammers in his right hand. He looked up at Zack, glaring with hatred. "Oh, Sweet Jesus," Zack moaned. "You're just a kid." The boy was raggedy thin and wore all the trappings of a gangbanger. He looked no more than fifteen, and judging by the droop of his pants, at least a lieutenant in the hierarchy of lowlifes. But the stylish cut of his blond hair suggested someone with good taste was working on the teenager's top end. "Interesting tattoos you got there, son," Zack said, intrigued with the skulls and bones intermixed with phallic symbols that marched up both his arms.
"I'm not your fuckin' son, Bud." The teenager came to his feet and waved the hammer menacingly at Zack.
"Bad move. That hammer is a weapon and it changes the ground rules." Zack deliberately let his voice trail off, not about to signal his intentions.
"You're damn right it does, Bud." He lunged at Zack. "You lose."
Zack easily sidestepped him. They were experiencing an obvious failure to communicate, and Zack went to Plan B. "I didn't know you were a Christian."
"Whaa?" The perplexed look on the boy's face matched his voice. He lowered the hammer.
"That tattoo." Zack pointed to the teenager's right arm. "The ancient Romans used it to identify the Christians before they fed them to the lions." The boy studied his artwork. It was the distraction Zack needed. He grabbed the boy's right wrist and twisted. At the same time, he drove the heel of his right hand into the boy's left shoulder, hard, spinning him around. Zack wrenched the boy's arm around to his back, and straightened it out. He held it in a firm grip as he pushed against the teenager's back with his free hand. "You might want to drop the hammer before I get mad." The boy bucked and Zack twisted his arm. "You are a slow learner. Drop the hammer. I don't want to hurt you." He twisted harder and applied pressure to his elbow.
The boy screamed in pain. "You're going to jail, Bud!"
"I'll be out of jail before you get out of the hospital." Zack didn't expect to ever see the inside of a police station, not after he pulled his ID and the investigating officer made the phone call. He twisted the boy's arm and applied more pressure. "I don't want to hurt you, son." The boy screamed louder and Zack twisted harder. The hammer fell to the ground. Zack stepped on it and released the boy. "That's better. By the way, don't ever call a geezer 'Bud.' It really pisses us off."
"So, what do I call you? 'Asshole?'"
Zack shook his head. "You can use my nickname. Just call me 'sir,' and we'll get along fine."
"Blow it out your ass." The boy spun around and ran into the night.
"Ah, don't do that." Zack counted to three to give him a head start. "You run pretty good with those pants down around your knees," he called. "But you might want to pull 'em up." The boy did, and Zack ran after him. It felt good as he warmed up, just like the state finals in the Senior Olympics when he had won a gold medal in the 5000-meter event. His fangs were out. He easily closed on his prey and could hear his labored breathing. "You got to run faster than that, son." He poked him in the back to urge him on to a better effort.
The teenager put on a burst of speed as he ran south down Roeder Avenue beside the railroad tracks. A switch engine labored past, pulling a long line of freight cars as it made up a train. It clanked to a stop and the boy darted across the tracks. He cut between two railcars and climbed over the coupling. Zack never slowed as he jumped over the coupling. It was almost too easy. "You're starting to make me angry, son," he called. He was breathing easily as the boy turned left on F Street and puffed up the gentle slope leading into town. He turned left onto Holly Street and Zack was lost. "Now you've really pissed me off!" he shouted. He would never find his way back to the harbor on his own.
The pursuit continued in earnest as Zack chased the boy up Holly Street and onto Eldridge Avenue. Now they were on the bluffs overlooking the rail yard and harbor. Nice houses, Zack thought, admiring the restored Victorians. "What do they call this area?" he called. There was no answer as the boy gasped for breath. Zack closed the gap and was right behind him. "You are one unsociable twerp," he said. "Let's cut a deal. You stop, sit on the curb, don't move, and I won't plant your young ass in the gutter."
"Fuck you, Bud," the teenager rasped, not able to turn and look at him.
Zack had enough of the juvenile and his limited vocabulary. His right hand flashed and he drove the heel of his hand into the base of the boy's skull in an upward motion, snapping his head forward and lifting him off his feet. The boy stumbled and skidded in the gutter on his stomach, kicking up a bow wave of muddy water and leaves. His head disappeared into an open drain on the side of the curb. His shoulders stopped his forward momentum and wedged his body tightly in the drain's opening. A strange echo reverberated from the drain. The gasping for air blended with a retching sound as the teenager puked what was left of his dinner. Zack bent over him, his hands on his knees. He was breathing a little hard and he made a mental promise to get back in shape. "Nice pickle you got yourself into, Oliver," he said to the lower half of the kid's body. The boy coughed and choked on the water flowing over him. "Too bad you fell like that. I was good for a few more miles." The choking sound grew louder.
"Ah, crap." Zack grabbed the boy's shirt and pulled his head out of the drain. The teenager tried to break free, but Zack grabbed his collar and forced him to sit on the curb. He didn't let go as the boy bent over and coughed up the water that had almost drowned him. "You wouldn't happen to have a cell phone on you?" He twisted the boy's collar to reinforce his request. No response. He twisted harder. The boy fumbled in a pocket and produced a cell phone. Still holding his collar, Zack punched in 9-1-1 and made the call.
The first police cruiser arrived eight minutes later. It was the same patrolman Zack had met earlier. He unlimbered his tall frame from the driver's seat and walked towards them, but this time he pulled out his handcuffs. "I see you met Sean," he said.
"You know him?"
"We all know him. What was he doing this time? Graffiti? Breaking off sprinkler heads? Keying your car? Breaking and entering?"
"Ripping off tools out of a van," Zack said. The cop clamped the handcuffs on Sean and pulled him to his feet. The officer quickly searched him, emptying his pockets. "Good grief," Zack said. "No wonder he couldn't run with all that crap in his pockets." He examined a small micrometer. "That looks like Rufe's. It's pretty expensive."
"Rufe can make a statement in the morning," the patrolman replied. "At the police station."
Sean snarled at the cop. "Whatcha gonna do, Bob? Take me downtown and book me? I'll be out before Bud here gets back to the harbor."
Excerpted from CALY'S ISLAND by Dick Herman Copyright © 2011 by Dick Herman. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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