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Out of Time
By Alton L. Gansky
Thorndike PressCopyright © 2004 Alton L. Gansky
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Deep Blue Sea
Not a bad little speech, although I must admit, you looked a little tense."
J. D. Stanton inhaled deeply. The salt air was pleasantly acrid and swirled across the bow of the twin-hulled craft as it motored through the water, its sails furled. The breeze was far cooler than the hot, humid June air they had left behind one hour ago. Above him was a smooth ceiling of cobalt blue, unspotted by clouds. Gulls, white as fresh snow, trailed a few feet above and behind the stern, uttering one piercing operatic caw after another from their yellow beaks. They wanted food, bits of chum thrown over the side, but they were sentenced to disappointment. This was not a fishing trip, at least not at its core. Stanton was fishing for something without scales, but doubt was filling his mind as much as the salt air filled his lungs.
Stanton turned to the man who had tossed the ribbing comment his way. The twenty-two-year old was tall, the top of his sand-colored hair reaching six foot three above the wood-and-fiberglass deck. Mischievous dark blue eyes stared back. Archibald Richmond was a fresh-faced, newly hatched Annapolis grad with a bright future. Biceps bulged beneath the sleeves of the man's tight blue T-shirt as he stood at the starboard helm, turning the steel-and-wood wheel.
"It was that obvious, Richie?" Stanton asked. He felt the heat of embarrassment crawl up his cheeks, and he ran a hand through his close-cut, brown, gray-kissed hair.
"Not really, Skipper," the young man said with a shrug. "I'm just an unusually keen observer."
"You weren't so keen on your history final last year." Stanton returned his gaze forward. The sleek, smooth bow of the vessel plowed easily through the warm Atlantic. In the distance before him and to either side were the multicolored sails of other pleasure craft plying the coastal waters. Most, Stanton knew, would turn back to Miami in a few hours. He, however, and his seven travel companions would continue on as the sun set behind them. If all went well, they would not see Miami for another week.
"Essays are not my strong suit," Richie replied. "I still walked out of your class with an A."
J. D. Stanton, retired captain of the United States Navy, spent his days writing books on naval history and occasionally teaching history at the Naval Academy, Annapolis. As an adjunct professor, he had the pleasure of meeting the best and the brightest the navy had to offer-and it had a lot to offer. It had been in such a course that Stanton had met Richmond and immediately taken a liking to him. He was personable, respectful, and bright and had yet to lose a childlike sense of playfulness.
"I was feeling sorry for your parents, Ensign-you being an only child and all."
"It's true. I am the darling of their eyes. It's a good thing, too; otherwise you'd be undertaking this little mission on a fishing trawler instead of a state-of-the-art catamaran."
Stanton tried to picture Richie on an aged, dingy trawler but the image refused to come, as if merely imagining such a thing were heresy. Richie was from a privileged life. His father, a Harvard graduate, had worked his way up to CEO of one of the early computer firms. He was a man who could predict business futures with almost prophetic accuracy. He had guided the company through rising and falling markets and deflected hostile takeover attempts like a raincoat repelling water. With dogged persistence and unflagging optimism, he had built the third largest computer company in the world and made enough money to buy Montana in the process. It was his boat upon which Stanton stood.
"I have to say it again," Stanton said. "It was very generous of your father to loan the Tern About to us and to help with the funding."
"He's a great guy, all right," Richie said. He made no attempt to hide his pride. "Despite the pressures of his business, he always had time for me. He's the one who got me interested in sailing."
Stanton nodded. Richie had won several yachting races and was considered one of the best in the sport. It was one of the reasons why Stanton had asked him to help. While Stanton was familiar with the sea-a long career in the navy had seen to that-he had spent most of his ocean time under the waves as a submariner. He worked through the ranks until he was given command of an attack sub. He had loved the work and loved the life. Four years into retirement now and living in San Diego (when he wasn't teaching at Annapolis), he found himself missing the sounds, even smells, of navy life. There was nothing else like it in the world. Although only in his late forties, Stanton had left the steel hulls of submarines and taken up the pen. He never looked back; he felt no regrets ... but there were moments when he longed to feel the vibration of engines under his feet as his boat patrolled the dark depths of the ocean. He loved the sea but he had never learned to sail, certainly not a half-million-dollar catamaran. That duty fell to Richie and the other member of his crew.
"Dad uses this to entertain clients and friends," Richie continued. "It's a great way to seal deals and negotiate lower prices from suppliers. It's also a pretty nifty tax write-off." Richie paused, then added, "He also believes in what you're trying to do. He has a big heart, my old man. He'd be twice as rich if he didn't keep giving money away."
"Maybe he sees it as an investment in people, and not merely charity," Stanton suggested.
"Don't get me wrong, Skipper; I admire my father more than any son can. It's the world that thinks rich people are stingy."
"Well, I can't thank him enough for his generosity. This boat is great."
"It's a Catana 582," Richie said with pride. "Sixty-two feet of customized luxury and the latest technology. It's a floating palace."
"She handles well."
"Wait until we're in open sea and I raise the sails. You'll think you're flying a foot above the water. Our passengers are in for a treat."
"Let's hope they know how to appreciate it."
"That's what's making you nervous, isn't it? Back at port when you were making introductions and telling everyone what you hoped to achieve, you seemed ... well, what I mean to say is ..."
"You said it right before: tense." Stanton shook his head. "In my active-duty days, I played cat and mouse with Russian subs, carried out surveillance missions, and did things that will remain classified long after I'm dead, and aside from a heightened sense of danger, I was never nervous. A short time ago a group of five teenagers put the fear in me. Go figure."
"You didn't mention the other things."
"What other things?" Stanton asked.
Richie flashed his spotlight smile. "How much research did you do on Tenny and me before asking us to come along?"
"A fair amount," Stanton admitted. "It was necessary. I knew you from Annapolis but that was just one class. I'm only on campus a few months a year."
"Well, I did a little research on you too. It's something I learned from my father. Know who you're doing business with and you will save a lot of heartache down the road."
"And you're the talk of the navy. The details are fuzzy, but scuttlebutt has it that you did some pretty heroic things on the Triggerfish. No one knows how a missing sub from World War II ended up in the Pacific or what happened below its decks when you crawled down the hatch. I don't suppose you want to talk about that?"
"Want to? Yes. Can do? No."
"I assume that goes for Roanoke II."
Stanton snapped his head around. "You know nothing about Roanoke II. Is that clear?" There was no anger in his voice but there was an unmistakable warning. His mind snapped back to late 2000, when he was called upon to investigate a mystery he still could not fully explain-a town in the high desert of California had, in a moment, lost its entire population. What he saw, the danger he faced, still haunted him.
"Aye, Captain. Crystal clear."
Richie turned the wheel and steered the twin hulls starboard a few degrees. Stanton knew it was an unnecessary maneuver but it gave Richie a way out of an awkward situation. He decided to help.
"Why the Naval Academy?" he asked. "Why not follow your father through Harvard?"
"It was his idea. He said Harvard provided a great education and a powerful network of connections, but it didn't teach him to be leader. He told me that the navy would give me something that no university could, and that I could go to Harvard Business School later if I wanted."
"He's a wise man," Stanton commented.
Spanning the twin hulls of the Tern About was the sleek cabin that housed the opulent salon, galley, navigation station, and more. The darkly tinted door slid to the side and Rebecca Tennyson emerged, holding two mugs in her hand. Called Tenny by her friends, she was a five foot eight bundle of energy. Her skin was a beautiful bleached ebony and her eyes the darkest brown. Her black hair was trimmed close to the scalp and her lips were as slim as her frame. She was a year behind Richie at Annapolis and had shown an aptitude for engineering. Before entering the academy, she had spent the summer learning to pilot sailboats. It had taken her two years of hard work in a Taco Bell to save the money for the classes. Stanton had learned that she became a sailboat addict after her first trip. Whenever she could scrape the money together, she rented a boat and put it through its paces. When Stanton approached Richie about crewing the excursion, the ensign had suggested that Tenny come along.
"I thought you might want some coffee," she said, walking the slightly pitching deck as if she were strolling down a country lane. "It's a navy tradition, isn't it, drinking coffee while at sea? If you don't want coffee, I can see what else I can find. I mean, the galley is filled with goodies, so coffee isn't your only choice. Do you want me to whip up a sandwich or-"
"Coffee is fine," Stanton said with a smile.
"I don't mind. Really, I don't. I could just zip back into the galley and-"
"Take a breath, Tenny," Stanton said with a chuckle. "We're spending the next week together; no need to use all your words in the first few hours." He took the cup. Richie released one hand from the wheel and took the mug with a nod and a "Thanks."
"Yes sir. Sorry sir," Tenny replied quickly.
"Okay, let me say this again," Stanton began, taking on his professorial tone. "This is not a navy mission. While the three of us are navy personnel and the navy has underwritten this little experiment, it would be better if we tossed rank aside and treated each other as equals. Fair enough?"
"Yes sir," Tenny snapped. "I mean, um, sure, that would be great."
"Fine by me, Skipper, but every boat needs a captain and on this trip that's you. I'm just the hired help."
"Okay, but let's keep it casual. I think it would be better for the kids," Stanton said.
The others agreed.
"Speaking of the kids," he added, "how did the safety lecture go?"
Tenny shook her head slowly. "I talked but I'm not sure they listened. I've been to funerals where people looked happier."
"That's to be expected. These guys are on the edge. You read my report. We have five troubled teenagers, all from navy families. The navy can be rough on kids. Being uprooted and moved every few years, separated from friends and forced to change schools, having a parent out to sea for as long as six months, sometimes longer. The divorce rate is high, juvenile delinquency on the rise. In most cases it can't be helped. Some families thrive despite the pressures; others fragment. We're dealing with the latter. Not one of these kids wants to be here. Two of them are here because a judge gave them the choice of this trip or something worse."
"Do you think this will really help them?" Tenny asked. "It seems like a long shot."
"It is, but it's the only shot we have," Stanton explained. "My hope is that they will see that navy people are just folk who have a job to do. Maybe they can open up to us, and we to them. It's worth a try, long shot or not." Stanton paused, choosing not to mention that he also harbored hopes of sharing his faith.
"You're a brave man, Skipper," Richie said. "Trapped on a sailboat with five angry teens. Sounds like the making of a horror movie."
"Speaking of sailboats," Tenny said to Richie, "when are you going to stop cheating and kill the engines? Sailboats are called sailboats because-"
"They have sails," Richie said, finishing her sentence. "I can think of no better time than now."
When not under sail, the Tern About was propelled by a pair of Volvo 105-horsepower diesel engines, so well balanced, sealed, and soundproofed, they were hardly noticeable. The catamaran seemed to move through the gentle swells as if pulled by a magical cord. But Stanton knew the craft would come alive when its white sails rose and billowed with the driving wind.
"Tenny, bring up our friends," Stanton directed. "They might like to see this."
"I wouldn't bet on it," she said with a tilt of the head. "I'll see what I can do."
"Just tell them I want to see them," Stanton said. "Be firm."
"Okay, but if I'm not back in three minutes, call in the marines."
* * *
Five teenagers milled around in the open air behind the center cabin. Overhead an aluminum-and-fiberglass cover, called a Bimini top, stretched from just above the main cabin's roof to the stern of the cockpit deck, providing shade. Half the deck was occupied by an L-shaped padded bench and a table firmly bolted down to stay in place on a pitching sea. There was enough room for all five of Stanton's special passengers to sit together, but only three made use of the luxury. The other two stood off by themselves, avoiding eye contact with any other human on board.
Seated around the exterior table were Jamie Penowski, Mary Moss, and Steve Dunlap. Two feet of space separated them, an invisible, inviolable barricade erected by self-conscious strangers. The other two, John Hays and Tony Roscoe, stood apart. John had taken a place by the starboard lifeline and was gazing over the side, clearly lost in his thoughts. Tony leaned against the cockpit bulkhead, his arms crossed before him and his head down. A toothpick was nestled in the right corner of his mouth.
"They were just sitting in the lounge staring at each other," Tenny said as she shook her head. "If I didn't know better, I'd think their best dog just died."
Stanton slipped her a slight smile. It was almost comical. The three adults on board were gathered around the starboard helm, and the juveniles were spread out as far from each other as possible.
"Not a happy ship," Richie commented.
Excerpted from Out of Time by Alton L. Gansky Copyright © 2004 by Alton L. Gansky.
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