They reached the deck just as the cruiser's engines reversed, bringing
them alongside the victims. Three Coast Guardsmen tossed life rings out, while
one leapt into the water to assist the young children. Jim and Blair moved forward
to stand at the bow, ready to help if needed. There was little evidence of two
boats left floating. Clothing, bits and pieces of wood and fiberglass swirled
and bobbed on the waves. The sun reflected sharply off the water, making it almost
impossible to see through.
"Jim, do you see anyone else?"
can't see through the glare." Jim squinted, shaking his head even as he tried
"Filter out the light, Jim. Look into the water, not on it."
He strained once more, then suddenly his focus broke through the glaring surface
and four figures swimming desperately to the surface became clear. "There!
More life rings were thrown over the side as the four survivors
broke the surface, choking and gasping for air. One crewman jumped in to assist
the new victims, but Jim could see they weren't going to make it. He quickly pulled
off the sweatshirt.
"Stay here and help them aboard." One glance
at Blair to make sure he heard, and Jim dove over the side.
He surfaced next to a woman who was going under. Her floor-length evening gown
dragged her back down with more force than she could kick against. Jim grabbed
her by the arm as she sank, pulling her back to the surface. A flotation ring
was thrown to him and he hooked it with one arm, wrapping the other around her
waist as they were pulled toward the cruiser. One other woman, as well as two
men, were being pulled to safety. When Jim and the woman reached the side, they
were the last ones pulled up.
"Jim." Blair reached down after the
woman was securely onboard and took Jim's hand, pulling him up and onto the ladder
dangling down the side. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine." He
climbed over the side, then accepted the blanket Blair wrapped over his shoulders.
"Is that everyone?" The young couple and their three children were huddled
next to each other, while crewmen wrapped them in blankets and checked them over.
"Yeah, that's everyone. The young couple over there were out for a holiday
with the kids. Their first time. They're okay, though." Blair handed him
a towel, then pointed to the other four survivors. "Those are the same people
who sank us, aren't they, Jim?"
"I expect so." Captain Ellsworth
stepped up to Jim. "Mr. Collins and company have been cited several times
already this summer for recklessness."
Jim looked from Collins, standing
with one deck hand who was offering him another blanket, to the young man sitting
with his wife and frightened children. The young man looked up at Captain Ellsworth.
"He came out of nowhere. We were just having breakfast and he came out
of nowhere, never turned or even acted like he saw us." He shook his head
and glanced down at his children. "There was nothing we could have done to
get out of his way."
"Honey, it wasn't your fault. The kids are okay,
that's what's important." The young woman hugged her children close, then
shot Mr. Collins a quick look before turning back to her kids and husband. The
children were crying and clinging to their mother, who was shaking so badly she
was having trouble holding the blanket over her shoulders.
folks, doesn't look like there's anything to salvage." Captain Ellsworth
shook his head sadly as he addressed the young couple. "You have insurance,
"Yes, yes we do." The young man's face paled and he
looked around, trying to find something that wasn't there.
get you all in to port and get you taken care of."
"What about him?"
The captain glanced at the rest of the survivors. "They'll be taken care
of as well, I assure you. Now come on inside." He ushered the young couple
and their kids into the ship with a passing nod to Jim.
After they entered
the hatchway, the other survivors began to file past. Jim watched them, each dressed
in fancy evening clothes and still reeking of alcohol. Last to pass them was Mr.
Collins, who stopped and wavered slightly as he looked at Blair and then Jim.
He was a tall man, with thin lips and a pointed nose. The clothes he wore spoke
of wealth, matching the gold bracelet and watch on his left wrist. Seaweed clung
to his pant leg and there was something brown and slimy poking out from under
"It wasn't my fault, you see." Mr. Collins' voice was
thick and slurred, his brown eyes drooping.
"How do you figure that, Mr.
Collins?" Jim's voice was barely contained and his jaw flexed quickly.
simply didn't see them, you understand." Mr. Collins pushed water from his
forehead, then suddenly discovered the length of kelp in his shirt and pulled
it out with a flourish.
"And I suppose you didn't see us yesterday morning,
either?" Jim had moved between Mr. Collins and the hatchway with one step
and he glanced at Blair before looking for his answer.
"I have no idea
what you're talking about. Yesterday we were miles up the Strait. Had a lovely
little party off the point the other night, actually." He sighed heavily
and looked at Jim. "Honestly, I don't know what all the fuss is about. We're
all insured, aren't we? No harm done."
"No harm done?" Jim felt
his anger rise. He'd seen this so many times before, but on the water, so many
people thought drinking and driving didn't apply. "You nearly killed my partner
and me yesterday morning. We'd have drowned by now if someone hadn't found us
out there. Then you smash into this young family no more than a day later. You
could have killed them. You could have killed yourself."
Mr. Collins shook his head, and nearly lost his balance. "I was in complete
control of my vessel at all times." The slurring of his voice made that sentence
very difficult. "Besides, if they can't get out of the way, they have no
business being out here. The bigger boat has the right-of-way. That's what I've
Jim shook his head and looked at Blair. His partner was
watching Mr. Collins, a look of disgust clearly showing on his expressive face.
He glanced up at Jim for a moment and shook his head, dismissing the man completely.
"Now, if you'll kindly remove yourself from the doorway, I should like
to go inside and get warm. My insurance agent will just love hearing from me,
I'm sure." He huffed and brought his blanket farther up over both shoulders.
"At least he respects me."
"You know, Mr. Collins, I've always
felt the best way to deal with a person like you is to use the direct approach."
Jim handed Blair the blanket he'd left hanging over one shoulder.
please, whoever you are, I'm in no mood for any lectures from the likes of you."
Mr. Collins waved one hand in dismissal and turned away.
It was over in an
instant. One punch from Jim's right fist, connecting with Mr. Collins' left cheek,
sent the man to the deck. He was unconscious even before he landed.
lecture, Mr. Collins. I'm not the teacher here." Jim looked at Blair, who
was holding the blanket.
Blair's eyebrows arched for a moment as he looked
down at the unconscious man. After a moment, he shook his head and looked back
up at Jim. "Thanks, man. That felt pretty good."
Jim smiled slightly.
"Had to be done, Chief."
Two Coast Guardsmen rushed out on deck to
assist the recovering Mr. Collins. Neither man said a word, but Jim was sure they'd
seen what happened.
"Come on, let's go see if we can get anything out
of Captain Ellsworth about Simon before we get back to Cascade."
laughed, then followed Jim through the hatchway and up the stairs to the pilot
house. "Hey Jim, maybe if we just hide behind him, Simon won't see us."
Blair knew they'd have to face Simon. He also knew the MarySue's
sinking was in no way his or Jim's fault, and that Jim would handle the captain
and anything that came from this little weekend fiasco. But the sight of Simon
Banks storming down the dock, cigar in hand and wearing one of his sternest expressions,
sent Blair a half-step back and ever so slightly behind Jim.
What the hell happened out there?!" Simon's hard pace down the dock sent
the planks bouncing over the shallow water.
Jim stopped so Blair did likewise,
keeping himself just slightly hidden behind his partner. Their reply had to wait
while the other rescued boaters were led from the cruiser. They were followed
by four very well dressed, slightly damp individuals, one of whom stepped wide
around Jim as he passed.
When they had all reached shore, Jim turned his attention
back to Simon. "We're fine, thanks for asking." Blair nodded slightly,
trying his best to keep a look of scared relief on his face. "The boat was
rammed by a drunk driver, Simon. We barely got out with our lives."
was yesterday morning, Jim. Captain Ellsworth radioed me after picking you two
up." Simon looked from Jim to Blair and back again. "What happened between
the accident and you being picked up? Where were you?"
"In the water,
Simon." Jim reached around and put a hand on Blair's shoulder, then ushered
him down the pier toward shore. "We were picked up by a couple in a sailboat
late last night."
"Just in time, too," Blair added as they passed
The afternoon sun baked down on them as they made their way to
the Coast Guard offices. Once inside, Jim was offered dry clothes and a shower,
which he accepted gratefully. Not wanting to be left in the office alone with
Simon, Blair decided a shower to remove the dried salt and sweat was a good idea.
He took his time, scrubbing the seawater from every inch of his skin and hair,
twice. The jellyfish burn on his left palm had been reduced to a thin red line
that only hurt when hot water hit it. The stiffness in legs, arms, shoulders and
back were slowly working out. When he stepped out of the shower and toweled off,
he hoped enough time had passed. Not that he should be hiding in here, letting
Jim explain what happened without backup. No, that wasn't right.
Blair to dress quickly, back into the borrowed Coast Guard sweats, then hurry
out to the offices where Jim was explaining to Simon what had happened. When he
approached Jim, Simon was shoving a cigar back into his mouth. He gave Blair a
quick nod, then turned to look through the office window to the waiting area beyond
"Well, Jim, I'm just glad the two of you are all right. I'll handle
this from here. At least my uncle had that old MarySue insured."
really sorry she sank, Simon." Blair shook his head sadly, recalling the
old wooden vessel. "That boat was a classic."
Simon shook his head
with a chuckle and removed his unlit cigar. "Classic? That old tub? The MarySue's
been around longer than I have. Between you and me, I'd been hoping old Uncle
Joe would trade her in for something sleeker."
"Oh, come on, Simon.
People would kill for an old classic like that. They just don't make them anymore."
"Yeah, Sandburg, and there's a reason for that."
Blair shook his
head in defeat. Sometimes he was sure if his words had been spoken by Jim, the
captain would agree without hesitation. But that was okay, Blair was getting used
"Listen, Simon, I'm pretty exhausted. I think Blair and I will
head on home. We'll see you in the morning, and I'll be happy to talk to your
uncle if you need me to." Jim put a hand on Blair's shoulder and gave him
a gentle shove toward the door.
"Fine, Jim. I'll handle Joe. He's insured,
anyway. And with the Coast Guard's report to back him up, I can't see anything
coming up that the insurance can't take care of. Are you sure you two are okay?"
"Sure, Simon, we're fine. Just tired, and a little stiff."
Blair led the way out of the office and into the larger waiting area. A little
stiff still felt like an understatement, but he was beginning to think with a
good night's sleep and maybe some BenGay, he'd feel better.
you going to need a ride home?"
Blair stopped beside his friend, only
then realizing they had lost everything they'd come onboard with themselves. Jim
was holding their jeans, presumably retrieved from the Coast Guard, although Blair
didn't remember seeing them again after Mrs. Warder had insisted he get out of
the soggy pants and into the sweats she was offering.
Jim produced a set of keys from the pocket of his jeans. "I didn't come onboard
with more than my wallet and a change of clothes. What about you, Chief?"
Blair reached out for his pants, then felt the wallet there. "Got lucky.
Not that there's much there to lose."
Simon chuckled and Jim shook his
head. "Come on, Sandburg. I have a sudden urge to get away from the water.
"Yeah." Blair followed Jim out of the office complex
toward the car waiting to take them back to the marina where Jim had left the
truck. "But hey, look at the bright side."
"The bright side,
Chief?" Jim got in the back of the waiting sedan and slid over, making room
for Blair. "What would that be?"
"I don't know, Jim." Blair
got in and shut the door. "I was hoping you would."
The rain woke him. It was blowing in through the open window, along with a
breeze that sent chills up Blair's spine. When he came fully awake, the temperature
of the room hit him like a slap on the face. They'd gotten home late that afternoon,
and after eating dinner, both he and Jim had gone straight to bed, exhausted from
their watery ordeal. But it had been hot when he took off all but his boxers and
plopped tiredly onto the bed, shoving all the blankets off. Now, Blair was freezing.
He forced himself off the bed, trying not to exclaim too loudly when his aching
muscles protested the movement. The hardwood floor was ice to his bare feet, and
there was cold rain covering the windowsill and the floor directly below. Blair
shoved the window down, grimacing as it slammed shut with a loud thud. He paused
for a moment, listening for the inevitable shout to keep quiet, but it didn't
come. Jim must have been sound asleep, or just too tired to yell. Even that short
time at the window gave Blair enough of a chill to set his teeth chattering.
man." He searched the floor for the sweats he'd discarded before getting
into bed. They were nowhere to be found. Great, Jim. He must have snatched
them up and stuffed them into the hamper while Blair was in the bathroom. A quick
run to the dresser was rewarded by a pair of unmatched socks and Jim's old Cascade
PD sweatshirt that Blair kept meaning to return. He donned the shirt and socks,
then hooked a finger around the blankets and pulled them up as he hurried back
into bed. The sheets had taken on the chill of the night air, and the sudden rain
outside had dampened the air, dropping the temperature of the entire room.
scrambled under the covers and pulled them up to his chin, then tucked both legs
up close and pushed his face into the pillow. This was a far cry from just the
other night, sleeping in nothing but his shorts, dreaming of a nice, cooling waterfall.
The weather had done what the Northwest weather was famous for, changed overnight
without warning. Blair sighed deeply, exhaling into the blankets in an effort
to warm the end of his nose. All thoughts of air-conditioning the loft, cool green
moss, and clear, inviting ponds were banished from his mind. Even the sound of
the rain outside was giving him chills. And adding to the sensation of still being
out on the water.
Blair's mind and body were at odds, each trying to convince
the other that they weren't where they thought they were. Every time he closed
his eyes, his body told him they were still on the water, still moving back and
forth, up and down. But his mind had other thoughts. His mind was convinced they
were on solid ground once again. That Blair was in his bed, in the loft, and they
simply couldn't be rocking back and forth no matter who said what.
wasn't convinced. When he opened his eyes, Blair's mind got the upper hand. But
when he closed his eyes, his body started making a valid point. The addition of
the cold air and water splashing around on the balcony outside wasn't helping.
He shivered again, wishing his body heat would catch up and warm the spot he was
occupying. For a fleeting moment, Blair thought he might have a fever, and was
experiencing the beginning chills of illness. But that wasn't too likely. He didn't
feel ill, and a quick hand to his forehead proved nothing amiss. He sighed and
shoved his hand back under the blankets. At least if he was getting sick, he no
longer lived alone. It helped to know there was someone you could send to the
store or pharmacy for you. Someone to complain that if you gave them what you
had, they'd hate you forever.
But he wasn't getting sick. He was just cold.
It was the middle of summer, and a freak change in the weather had caught him
unsuspecting, sleeping on top of the bed in nothing but his shorts while the temperature
dropped. The blankets, socks and sweatshirt finally worked their magic and the
shivering stopped. But his body and mind still fought over who was right. Frustrated,
Blair rolled over, punching a fist into the pillow. There had to be a way to stop
this sensation of still being out on the water. He sighed heavily and closed his
eyes again. Immediately he felt as if the bed and the room were gently rolling
"Come on, Sandburg, you can get past this. Just take control."
Yeah, that's it, try visualization. It worked the other night to cool you
off. Now just change the setting and get yourself settled.
First it was
a matter of relaxing. Now that the room's chill had worn off, and he was warmer
and comfortable, Blair could let his muscles relax out of their shivering tension.
He took a deep breath, then let it out slowly, forcing all thoughts of boats,
water, and drowning to leave his mind. When he inhaled again, he pictured something
as far away from the water as he could think of. The tree homes of the Kombai
where he'd spent those three months living high above the ground. He pictured
the bamboo flooring, the warm jungle breezes that swayed the trees slowly back
and forth. The wind was like waves, making his bamboo raft rock and creak. The
ground was so far below, like the bottom of the sea.
"Great, this is working."
Blair shook the vision from his head and sighed, trying again.
what he needed. Something solid, firm, not inclined to roll or move. And a mountain,
hundreds of feet above sea level. The canyon was orange and purple, and as the
sun moved across the sky, the colors changed and muted. The rock he was sitting
on was hard and covered in dust which he didn't bother to wipe away. Thick jeans
protected his legs against the sharp corners of the boulders surrounding him.
Heavy hiking boots made his feet sweat, but he knew better than to take them off.
An eagle soared high overhead, screeching down to protest his intrusion. The air
there was thin, but warm.
Blair looked around at the dry rocks, wondering what
secrets the ancient stones held. The area he was in now had once been a river,
but hundreds of years had turned it from a living waterway to a dry creek bed,
harboring a different kind of life. It reminded him of a rock garden he'd seen
once at a Zen temple. The monks could sit for hours gazing at the rocks, meditating
about what they saw, interpreting the images that changed with the moving sun.
Blair had also sat for hours one day, watching the monks as they watched the rocks.
They were so vigilant in their quest for understanding, and so patient in their
wait for its revelation. Sitting there, as solid as the rocks they watched, each
man attained peace in the knowledge that the answers he sought would come to him
Blair looked out over the dry river bed and watched a lizard scurry
by. The sun warmed him as it climbed over the sky, casting different shadows over
the face of the canyon walls. At first glance the area looked lifeless and void,
but he knew, hundreds of years ago, there were native tribes here that flourished
in a different environment. Once this river carried water instead of sand. The
canyons grew trees instead of dust. And the rock he was sitting on now saw fish
swim by, instead of lizards. Blair tried to picture the area back then, back when
the water flowed and the trees grew tall. He pictured water filling the canyon,
raining down from the clouds to drift slowly and gently down the canyon, into
the valley farther on.
Listening carefully, Blair could pick out the sounds
of children playing by the river's edge while their mothers and aunts washed clothes
and pounded animal skins against the river rocks. Dogs barked, and men were discussing
the day's hunt. Idly he wondered what tribe this would be. Blair wasn't sure if
his canyon was in North America, or South. He understood the language the natives
used, but he knew just enough of so many he could get by in several regions. But
as he listened more intently, another sound intruded. A sharper, piercing squeal
that sent a shiver down Blair's spine. It was almost as if...
up suddenly. Water! A surge of water was barreling down on him from the far end
of the dry river bed. It was as if someone had opened a flood gate, and there
he was sitting in the middle of a river with a wall of water bearing down on him.
There was no way out, no place he could possibly run in time! He braced himself,
ready for the body-slam that was fast approaching. There'd be no time to think,
and no room to swim. If he was lucky, the impact would kill him, saving him from
a slow drowning.
It hit hard, sending Blair straight up in bed with a gasp.
"Oh, man!" With one hand over his pounding heart, Blair sat on the
bed, listening to the shower shut off with a squeak. A minute later, Jim came
out of the bathroom with one towel wrapped around his waist and another in his
"Jim, we gotta get that cold water handle fixed." His heart
was slowing back down to normal. Jim paused at his door.
Were you back in nirvana again?"
Blair shook his head, then swung both
legs out from under the covers. His socks were half off his feet and Jim glanced
at them, chuckling. "Not exactly." Tiredly, he pushed the hair from
his face and stood up. "More like an Irwin Allen movie."
and shook his head while he walked through the living room toward the stairs.
"Just so long as I wasn't in it. Come on, let's get a move on. I don't want
to be late, Gilligan."
Blair stopped in the middle of his bedroom doorway.
Jim flipped on the coffee pot, then turned and flicked
his towel at Blair as he walked back out of the kitchen. "Yeah."
I was piloting that boat. Remember?" His friend just laughed as he walked
to the stairs. Blair shook his head and started toward the bathroom. "The
least I should get is Skipper." He stepped inside and shut the door. "Or
"That would make me Maryann, Chief!"
burst into laughter as he reached for the toothpaste. It took the better part
of that morning to get the vision of Jim Ellison, and a pair of coconuts, out
of his mind.