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|Chapter 54: The False Cross|
Dirk was sweating, due to nerves. Frank had occasionally asked questions, but had let Dirk speak at length. It had been hard enough for Dirk to tell his secrets to Frank Tittle, but the presence of Henry Wesson, the private investigator Dirk had met for the first time half an hour ago, made matters worse.
Frank Tittle raised an eyebrow, still browsing a Federal law database on his laptop, and then he looked up at Dirk. “For what it’s worth, I concur in your decision to avoid speaking with the police at all costs. Their offer of immunity would have been limited, and thus worthless in your case. I’m sure Jim has discussed the particulars with you, but he’s not a criminal attorney. I am. I’ll add the caveat that I am not a specialist in Federal Law, but the statutes and precedents are fairly clear in these instances. So, as your attorney, I am obligated to give you my read on the situation as it stands. First though, there is something I must do.” Frank turned to face Jim. “I was retained by both of you, but in this instance, in light of what I now know, I must advise you to sever and retain separate counsel.”
Jim shook his head. “Advice received, and duly rejected. I’m aware of the possible consequences, and I accept them.”
“Suit yourself, but I want that in writing,” Frank replied, rubbing the left side of his jaw, and then turning to address Dirk. “Statute of limitation clocks normally begin to run when the crime is complete, which is when the last element of the crime has been completed. However, for conspiracy it’s a little different. The Federal conspiracy statute has two parts: an agreement to commit a federal crime or to defraud the U.S Government, and an overt act committed in furtherance of the agreement. Both parts are required, and a further commission of either one re-starts the clock. Technically, telling Jim was a further act, though I could defeat that on grounds of attorney-client privilege. You’ve already run out the statute of limitations clocks on some of the charges, including Florida State felonies, which are three years in the applicable statutes. The remaining two are Federal, and serious. The most serious is 18 U.S.C. 1031 – Major Fraud against the United States Government, which carries a seven-year statute of limitations, expiring in December. The other, 18 U.S.C. 1005 – fraud concerning bank entries, reports, and transactions, began ten years from the last occurrence, and will also expire this December.” Frank consulted another page, and added, “I’m not a tax lawyer, but you appear correct. Under section 6501(e) of the Tax Code and section 301.6501(e)-1 of the Tax Regulations the statute of limitations is six years if the taxpayer omits additional gross income in excess of twenty-five percent of the gross income stated in the filed tax return, and you last filed on behalf of Rachel’s estate on November 23rd, 2000. Therefore, my read on this is you’ll probably be free and clear of the last of your past offenses by December 16th. That won’t help you on the bombing and murder charges, but it’s a start. I do have one concern: your original attorney. It’s possible he crossed the line and became a co-conspirator, and if he has dealt with you in any way on these issues within the last three years, and testifies to that effect, you could still be charged with conspiracy under Florida statutes.”
“He was in his mid-eighties when I retained him. He died of a heart attack, five or six years ago,” Dirk replied.
“Then it appears to me that you’ll be free to speak with the police in late December. I need to be clear: the statute of limitations does not prevent them, or the feds, from filing charges against you. They can, and may, do so. What the stature of limitations does is create ironclad grounds for dismissal; a motion for dismissal could not be denied. Thus, it would be highly unlikely they would try charging you, and they would only do so if they believed you would not contest it,” Frank said.
“What about Trevor? When will he be safe from prosecution?” Dirk asked.
Frank considered the issue for a moment before replying, “If they learn of it, it’s possible they might try prosecuting him for his phone call to Jim. If they do, I’d very much like to be his lawyer, because he wasn’t within Florida or U.S. jurisdiction when he did it, and thus he’s in violation of no applicable statute. For the Federal issue... it’s complicated because he’s a minor, so he’s liable via you at the moment. Theoretically, he should be protected once the statute of limitations runs out on December 16th of this year, and they can’t touch him otherwise, not for something that he has no knowledge of. Emancipating him will make it more certain and his devolved assets would be secure. You will need to be careful on the emancipation date, to avoid opening up a possible charge that it was done for illegal purposes and thus voidable – possibly voiding the statue of limitations as well. I suggest making it effective on December 17th, so there can be no doubt.”
“Okay, I’ll have Jim draw it up. How do we proceed from here on the current criminal charges?” Dirk asked.
“With great care, in light of the aforementioned issues. Your course of action was correct: remain at large if you can, and if captured, say nothing whatsoever about anything. Dirk, you are currently indicted for two murders and one attempted murder, and conspiracy on the latter. The Bellevue murder charge is flimsy at best: utterly circumstantial, and very weak. I can’t be sure until we get to the discovery phase after arraignment, but all they appear to have is a theory, coupled with weak motive. My belief is that they added that charge to make this a capital case, so they are stretching. It makes some sense, because if they can make an ironclad case against you for the murder of your wife and the attempt on your son, the jury could well return a guilty verdict on all three. That’s not the way it’s supposed to work, because there would be reasonable doubt at least, but from the prosecution’s point of view, they have nothing to lose, weighed against the possibility of a double first degree murder conviction, so they chose their strategy accordingly. The rock upon which their case rests is proving you guilty of the murder of Rachel Carlson, because their belief that was done via a bomb is at the heart of the attempted murder charge as well. There would also be the fact that your son may be willing to provide exonerating testimony regarding the bomb being placed in Italy. Therefore, after the last of the limitations statutes expire, I strongly recommend surrendering yourself for arraignment, and we would have a certainty of some charges being dismissed during the discovery process, and I don’t think they’d go to trial on the remainder.”
“Should I surrender at the same time?” Jim asked.
“Yes. The main danger to you is if they attempt to sever the cases and try yours first. I consider that highly unlikely, given the conspiracy count,” Frank replied, and stood up. “I’ll turn this over to Henry now. He has a few thoughts on the matter, but wanted to hear the background and then interview you both first. I spotted a Hardee’s a couple of blocks over and I need some lunch. I’ll let you gentlemen get to know each other, and I’ll be back in about half an hour.”
Dirk’s first glance at Henry had left him feeling decidedly underwhelmed, an impression that had only grown worse as Henry had sat, apparently uninterested, through Dirk’s confessions. Henry Wesson was nothing like Dirk’s mental image of what a private investigator should be. Instead of a tough, confident looking man, Henry Wesson was frail, barely five foot five, his rapidly blinking eyes peering nervously at the world through thick horn-rimmed glasses. Henry carried an ancient black briefcase and was dressed in slacks and a short-sleeved white shirt, and in Dirk’s opinion looked like a 1960s stereotype of a nerd.
Dirk gave Jim a worried look, but Jim only shrugged. Unlike Dirk, he’d met many private investigators and knew that looks could be very deceiving.
“He did that so we can talk,” Henry said, flipping open his briefcase. He consulted a small black box – radio-frequency and recording-device detector – and finding no sign of listening devices, though no detector was foolproof, Henry continued, “First things first: you want to keep out of jail. Your car is an issue. The police discovered your plate switch, so the plates from all of your vehicles are now hot. The best option would be to get a plate off a similar make and model that’s in long-term storage. Unfortunately, I have no idea whatsoever how to do that,” Henry said, smiling as he handed over a brown paper envelope.
Dirk opened the envelope and pulled out a Florida license plate.
Jim glanced at the plate, seeing that the tags were current, and nodded. “We’ll keep that in mind, thanks.” Jim knew how the game was played; Henry preferred to refrain from verbally admitting to a felony.
Henry pulled a notebook out, and closed his briefcase. “Your best course of action is to avoid going out for any reason. If you do, you risk capture, so I’d advise using your car only in the event you have to relocate. I’ll give you a number I can be reached at; call me anytime. I live in Orlando but I end up in Tampa at least once a week, so if you need groceries or other supplies, have me get them.”
Jim nodded, and locked eyes with Dirk, giving him slight nod of reassurance before saying to Henry, “I’m sure Frank has filled you in on some of this, but one thing we’ll need is for you to go to Dirk’s store and put up a long-term closed sign. We’ll also need you to dig into the attempt on Trevor’s life. That takes precedence over the legal case, because Trevor’s life might still be in danger.”
Henry angled his head, and studied his pencil as he replied, “I need to go to the chandlery anyway, as soon as possible. I did a little checking on my own, when Frank gave me the case. I have a few sources, and there are two facts currently central to your case, both related to the bomb. The bomb contained an Iridium Satellite Phone working in cellular mode. That phone has been traced to the chandlery, and specifically to the box sent to Trevor. The second factor is that there were calls to that phone, containing what appears to be a detonation code, from a payphone one block from the chandlery. An additional complication is that the rock contained in the box is now in possession of the police, and has been matched to the landscaping rock outside of the Carlson residence.”
“WHAT?” Dirk erupted, surging to his feet. “They set off the fucking bomb from so close... We’ve got to... somebody is trying to kill Trev. You’ve got to find out who, before they try again!”
“Not who, how. The ‘who’ will come once we know the how,” Henry said, the corner of his mouth twitching up in a hint of a self-assured smirk. “The first two calls to the bomb were from the payphone, but these were followed by several others, from Egypt. That is good news for you, Jim; the Egyptian connection damages their theory that you planted the bomb in Italy. They are working closely with the Egyptian investigation, and I don’t know it all, just some key pieces, but their case has holes. Now, back to the framing: one person could not be here and then in Egypt an hour later. So, there was more than one person involved, and for an operation like this, they’d have to have significant connections. One of the things they did was to acquire that phone, either in transit, or from your store. Now, do you know if it was checked at any point prior to being shipped?”
Dirk shook his head. “We don’t believe so, but it was picked up by Lisa Whitaker – a close friend of Trev’s – and Charles Stiles, Joel’s father. Joel is Trev’s other close friend, and he’s on Atlantis with him for the circumnavigation. I can’t see either one of them being involved in something like this. Charles sure wouldn’t try to blow up his own son.”
Henry angled his head. “You believe that Joel Stiles is on Atlantis? That’s interesting. Joel was interviewed in Fort Pierce shortly after the bombing, and to the best of my knowledge, he’s still there. What made you think he was on Atlantis?”
Jim and Dirk both blinked in surprise, and Jim answered, “He was there when I was aboard, and they said he was going with Trevor all the way...”
Henry shook his head. “I guess that plan changed.”
“Trevor is alone out there? I had no idea... I’d have tried to stop him if I’d known...” Dirk mumbled, his head in his hands.
“Being at sea is probably the safest place for him,” Henry said, and then tapped his notebook with his pencil. “We need to find out when that phone was taken, and how. Would anyone have known which phone you planned to send?”
Dirk shook his head. “No. I was going to send Trev his old phone, but I decided on a new one at the last minute. That’s why I didn’t check it: there wasn’t time. I just pulled it from inventory and handed it to Charles.”
Henry began rapidly tapping his pencil, and after a few moments, asked, “How did you select it?”
“I just grabbed it from the back.”
“The back of what, and why there?” Henry asked.
“I keep the phone stock on a shelf in a locked counter cabinet. I stock from the back and draw from the front, to avoid keeping one in inventory too long, because the batteries can degrade over time. I wanted to send Trevor a fresh one, so I grabbed it from the back.”
“Draw from the front and stock from the back is fairly common practice, for anything with a limited shelf life,” Henry said, looking up from his notes. “Had that box been found in your inventory, with that rock, it would fit the frame-up. I think someone switched the rock for the phone, and left the box in the back.”
Dirk gave Jim a puzzled look, and then said to Henry, “No one works there but me, and I’ve got a good alarm system and locks. I’ve seen no sign of any break in.”
“You wouldn’t,” Henry announced, making a few more notes. “This was a professional job. My working theory is that someone defeated your alarm, took the phone – and likely the propane tank as well – from your store. They – or others working with them in Egypt – planted the bomb, and tried to detonate it from the nearby payphone. Fortunately, Trevor was robbed of the bomb before the plan could succeed. So, we may now know some of the how. This perhaps leads us to the who. First, we look at who would have motive and opportunity.” Henry stared directly at Dirk. “You have been indicted for two murders: your wife’s, and that of Arnold Bellevue. The Bellevue link is tenuous, and would never have seen the light of day had it not been for the attempt on your son. The indictment of you closes off any chance of a circumstantial case against anyone else for that murder. That is motive, for anyone who was also being investigated.” Henry turned to look at Jim. “I can tell by your expression: you just came to the same conclusion I did yesterday.”
Jim nodded slowly, “Not exactly. Dirk and I discussed Bridget Bellevue as possibly being involved, for those very reasons. There’s something you probably don’t know: Gonzalez didn’t directly admit it, but he was trying to ferret out a leak in his department. I don’t know if it involved the Bellevue case or not, but it ties into those mystery e-mails about Trevor’s route that Dirk mentioned earlier. Gonzalez was pushing for info on her, but we didn’t know anything, and you know why we couldn’t consent to an interview. Yeah, that fits. She was being investigated, and Dirk’s indictment shuts the door on a circumstantial case against her, because the prosecution would look like utter fools, absent hard proof, so they’d deadfile the case as soon as the indictment came down.”
Henry eased back in his chair. “That, gentlemen, was the easy part. We now have a working framework for a theory on how, who, and why. There are still large holes, and we must let the evidence dictate the theory, but we have a starting place. I have never met Bridget Bellevue, but I know of her, and she does have the financial means, as well as the motive. She may also have enemies, and a conflicting theory of mine is that this may have been done,” Henry looked at Dirk, “to frame her for framing you. That’s a long shot, and I’d have expected some leads pointing at her to turn up by now if that was the case, but it’s something we must consider. My hunch is that she’s behind it, and she hired someone, Mafia perhaps, which will make it even harder to show a connection. A theory gets us nowhere with the prosecution; we need hard evidence. That is why I’ll need to visit the chandlery. I’ll need a signed permission from you,” he said, looking at Dirk, “and also a limited-power-of-attorney to act on your behalf with your utility, alarm, and pest control services, and any other person or business that may have had access to the premises at any time.”
“I’ll draw those up, and the statement for Frank,” Jim said, reaching for pen and paper.
“I’ll get my keys for the chandlery, and draw up a ‘Closed for remodeling’ sign,” Dirk said, as he stood up.
“I’ll need the alarm code, too,” Henry replied, his eyes glazing over for a moment, and then he added quietly, “I’m going to need to speak with Officer Gonzalez and I’ll need to do so privately. Do you have his personal contact information?”
“I have his cell number, and home e-mail. I’ll write ‘em down for you.”
Henry asked a few more questions, and waited while Dirk signed the forms Jim had prepared for him. Henry checked them, and then placed them carefully in his briefcase. “I’ll bring you copies next time I’m here.”
Frank returned, and as Jim handed over the signed statement he’d asked for, Frank snatched it from Jim’s fingers and pocketed it. “I’ll defend you to the best of my ability, and I think we’ll win, but I also think we’d both be happier if you had different counsel,” Frank said, rubbing his jaw again.
“I’m very happy with things as they are,” Jim said, in a cheerful tone.
Frank turned to Dirk and said, “This is an unusual case, to say the least. Under slightly different circumstances, I’d recommend that you retain an additional counsel for the Federal and jurisdictional issues, but given the imperative of secrecy, I recommend deferring that step and keeping this amongst ourselves until the clock runs out. Any lawyer who promises an outcome is a liar, but I’m very confident that if you can run out the clock, things will go our way. I’ll see you soon, and please call if you need anything.”
“I’ll be back in a few days, maybe sooner,” Henry said, following Frank out the door.
As soon as the door closed, Dirk spun to face Jim. “Okay, spill it,” Dirk said, crossing his arms.
“What?” Jim asked, blinking in feigned surprise.
“You know damn well what. You and Frank. I thought I noticed something the last time he was here, but this time it was obvious. There’s bad blood between you. Why?”
Jim gave Dirk a bashful look. “Yeah, there is. I didn’t want to worry you with it. Frank would probably be happy to watch me get run over by a truck, but I am absolutely sure he won’t let his personal feelings stand in the way of defending us both to the best of his ability. I picked him because, out of the lawyers I know, he’s by far the best for this. He’s a slob, a jerk, and an asshole, but he’s a true pro. Besides, he seems to like you just fine; it’s me he hates.”
“I’m still waiting for the ‘why’” Dirk said, tapping his foot and glaring. “Right now, I’m guessing he’s an ex-boyfriend?”
Jim snorted in surprise, and then laughed. “Oh man, are you way off there. He’s straight, as far as I know – three ex-wives, last I heard, maybe more by now – and he took a dislike to me when he joined the firm. I don’t know if it’s because I’m gay, or because we just didn’t click, but we developed a mutual dislike, I guess. Frank likes playing office politics, and I found out he was running me down behind my back. Then, long story short, he shoved his car door open, hard, right into mine, looked at the ding, and then did it again. I saw him do it, so I confronted him, it got ugly, and I lost my temper and decked him. That’s what the jaw-rubbing was about. We settled out of court, and the bastard took me for fifty grand.”
Dirk’s jaw dropped, and he sat down, shaking his head. “I... You... and you picked him for our lawyer? Are you fucking insane?”
Jim sat down beside Dirk. “I really do think he’s the best choice, and you have to admit, he’s been great so far.”
Dirk glared at Jim, and then softened. “Okay, so far, I think he has, and I’ll admit I didn’t think much of the private investigator at first sight, but he’s looking pretty good now. Just... do me a favor, and the next time I need to put my life in someone’s hands, please tell me if you’ve committed assault and battery on them recently.”
“I seem to recall you not telling me about a long list of crimes,” Jim said, with a grin.
Dirk rolled his eyes. “That was to protect you.”
“And I kept you in the dark about my history with Frank to protect you,” Jim said, with a smirk.
Dirk sighed. “Touché. Okay, okay, point taken. So... do you think Henry is right about Bridget Bellevue?”
“Frank wouldn’t work with anyone who wasn’t the best, so I’m inclined to believe Henry, and besides, we thought of it too, and it fits a lot better than anything else I’ve been able to think of. The hard part will be proving it.”
“If she did this... then maybe, if she thinks it worked to frame me, she won’t have any reason to go after Trev again,” Dirk said, more in hope than conviction.
Trevor was scanning the horizon when he saw a brief flicker of light, just a peek between the swells. He stared at the spot, and could see a faint yellow glow in the sky above it. Then he saw the flash of light again; it was a fishing boat, ten miles off his starboard beam. Trevor didn’t know what it was, other than a ship, but that was enough.
Atlantis was passing it, and though she was confined to sailing close to the wind track with her current rig, Trevor knew he had an option: reorient the makeshift sail so it was diagonal to Atlantis’s length instead of from side to side. Then, he could sail crosswind, though very slowly and with difficulty, and would have to continually man the rudders. He considered doing so but, as he watched the light flicker out behind a swell, he knew he would likely fail: the light was already directly crosswind, and Atlantis, even re-rigged, would be able to achieve just a little less than a ninety-degree angle to a downwind course, running crosswind but still slightly downwind. He had no way of knowing whether the distant ship was stationary or underway, and felt that climbing the mast in the dark stood a good chance of killing him. The light was so tantalizingly close, but Atlantis was passing it by. Still, it was the first sign of human life that Trevor had seen since the pirate attack, and he correctly suspected that the boat might be out of Réunion.
Just before midnight, Trevor noticed a faint glow in the sky to his east. He knew it could be skyglow; the distant light from city lights far below the horizon, often visible from a hundred or more miles away. However, he still thought Reunion was ahead of him, to the south-southeast. There was also the moon to consider; Trevor had been keeping track of the moonrise times on the previous nights, and knew that the moon would soon rise in the eastern sky. Half an hour later, Trevor saw the moonrise, believing that the moon had been the source of the skyglow.
Watching from his cockpit, Trevor saw the first trace of pre-dawn, and said a silent prayer that he would soon sight Réunion, unwilling to face the fact that, given his estimated position, course, and speed, he should have already seen its lights.
When the sun came up, Trevor used it to gauge east and adjust his course a little to port, assuming that the wind had shifted a little, though he cast a suspicious eye on the swells, which still came from dead astern – wave patterns usually lag a wind shift by up to a few hours.
Trevor scrambled up onto the salon roof, and sat cross-legged in the sun, staring out at the empty seas. The sky was clear, and visibility was good, limited only by a faint haze. He was confident that, even with the haze, he could see land from at least thirty miles away.
The minutes seemed like hours, as his fear turned to dread. The hours crawled by, with Trevor alone and forlorn, still hoping, but growing ever more doubtful.
Trevor took his navigation readings at noon, taking a dozen sightings. The sun’s position at noon gave him his precise direction – it was always due north at solar noon. With his readings in hand and butterflies in his stomach, Trevor dashed into the salon to run his calculations. A few minutes later, his gut clenched as he drew his position dot forty miles southwest of Réunion. ‘I better be wrong... my nav fix could be off by a lot, so I’ll probably see land any time now’ he thought, racing back on deck to maintain his watch. The hours passed, but there was no still no sight of land.
Trevor scanned the empty sea, watching the swells that were overtaking him from astern. ‘They don’t look the same, they’re not as uniform. Some look like they’re running on a course a couple of degrees west of the others.’ Trevor thought darkly, knowing that such a sea could be caused by swells passing a landmass, which in his case could only be Réunion.
Trevor’s attempt to reach Réunion had come close, passing just sixty-four miles west of it during the night. Trevor’s feat of improvised navigation across seven hundred miles of open ocean was a magnificent achievement; it just hadn’t been good enough.
The False Cross and the magnetic deviation had been his final undoing. Trevor had made an error that had bedeviled many a mariner unfamiliar with the southern skies; mistaking a formation known as the False Cross for the smaller Southern Cross, and had steered enough to the west so that Réunion had passed unseen, except for the skyglow. Had he not changed course, he would have seen the glimmer of the island’s lights in time to steer for it.
Trevor had no way to beat back against the wind, so even had he known his exact position, Réunion now lay forever beyond his reach.
Réunion was somewhere nearby and there should be increased shipping traffic in the island’s immediate vicinity, so Trevor knew he still had a chance: stop, and remain adrift in the hope that a boat would see him.
He raced forward, releasing the lower lines to his improvised sail, letting it billow forward like a giant sheet hanging in the breeze from a clothesline. He twisted the lines together, causing the bottom of the sail to twist, and tied off the lines well forward on the starboard hull, leaving the remaining sail area taut and angling out from the mast, eliminating most of its ability to catch the wind. That would slow Atlantis, but Trevor decided that a sea anchor would help.
Using his screwdriver and adjustable wrench, Trevor struggled in the galley, removing one of his looted cabinets from the wall. It took half an hour, but one end came free and he tore it the rest of the way out. Covered in sweat, he hauled the double cabinet onto the portside stern.
Returning to the salon, Trevor yanked out more wiring and tied the ends together, making a fifty-foot cable. Heading aft, he tied one end to the port stern hitch and the other to the cabinet, and then hurled the cabinet, doors flapping, into the sea, where it landed with a splash. It was made of wood so it floated, mostly submerged, and when the line went taut, the drag caused Atlantis to slow further and turn diagonally across the wind, bringing her almost to a halt relative to the water.
An hour after nightfall, Trevor saw the skyglow again, this time to his north. Unlike before, there was no way to confuse it with the light of a coming moonrise. He stared at it, knowing that it was Réunion, and that he had no possible way to reach it.
That night, Trevor again remained on station in the cockpit, sitting on the deck and leaning against a support column, napping fitfully.
Dawn the following day revealed nothing, only a few high clouds, and the ever-trackless sea.
He was determined to wait for rescue; he could see no other options. A glance at his map showed that if he continued south, it was three thousand miles to landfall: the coast of Antarctica. It would be pointless on many levels to even try, for Nature guards her fortress of the Southern Ocean well. Tremendous storms roar across vast churning seas, the weather made even more violent by the confluence of warm and cold currents. It is home to the roughest seas on Earth, driven by the constant furious winds that circle the globe below forty degrees south. They are known, in their turn, as the Roaring Forties, The Furious Fifties, and the Shrieking Sixties. Trevor and Atlantis could never reach Antarctica through such seas, even had there been reason to do so. The seas were far too cold and violent, which was why Trevor’s original course plan across the Indian Ocean kept him above thirty south, and even that had been perilous, dependant on weather forecasts and Atlantis’s speed to get out of the way of bad weather.
There were two tiny flyspecks of land, roughly halfway across the Indian Ocean and six hundred miles south of his original planned course. He’d looked them up, mainly out of curiosity, when planning his original route. One was New Amsterdam, and the other Saint Paul, sixty miles further south. Trevor’s main focus had been on Saint Paul; he’d been fascinated by the uninhabited island’s spectacular anchorage. ‘Doesn’t matter; I couldn’t hit a big island like Réunion in calm seas and good weather, so I’d have no chance of hitting one of those rocks.’
One other landmass lay within his possible reach, but it was two thousand miles to the southeast: The Kerguelen Islands, part of the French Antarctic Territory. They are vast – over two-thousand square miles in extent – and, Trevor vaguely remembered, had some sort of a tiny outpost on them, somewhere. Trevor dismissed that idea; even if he somehow reached the Kerguelen’s main island and managed to come ashore, he had no way to find the tiny settlement in its vast empty reaches.
Trevor’s situation was bleak. There was no suitable land at all within thousands of miles that did not require an impossible upwind journey, and the seasonal wind patterns in that region made it unlikely that the winds would shift enough to change that fact.
Another day passed, his eleventh since the pirate attack. It was the thirteenth of October, and again Trevor calculated his noon position, feeling dread, only to have it confirmed when his estimate placed him twenty miles even further south; one hundred and forty one miles south of Réunion. Atlantis’s speed through the water was under a knot, but the current, running south at just over a knot, combined with wind drift to take Atlantis nearly forty miles further from Réunion with every passing day. “I’m fucked,” Trevor muttered, letting his head fall to his hands. Then he lay back, staring up at the ceiling, in complete and utter despair.
The next day dawned with Atlantis adrift and Trevor brooding. Trevor’s noon sightings showed that Atlantis was still moving south, with Réunion over two hundred miles astern.
Staring at the map, Trevor looked at the huge expanse of empty blue between Atlantis and Australia. ‘No way I can make it that far,’ he thought, and then looked around the salon. ‘But what choice have I got?’
Again, he stared at the map, tracing his finger along the latitudinal line at twenty-five degrees south, until his finger touched the western coast of Australia. ‘That puts me in about the middle of their west coast, so even if I’m five hundred miles off course to the north or south, I’ll still hit it. That’s the good thing about Australia: it’s too big to miss,’ Trevor thought, trying to think positively about what he knew to be a nearly impossible journey.
The worst factor was time. Even at four knots, Atlantis would cover about a hundred miles a day, maximum. Many days could be less, and Trevor remembered being becalmed. A sudden realization regarding his very limited diet made Trevor’s eyes open wide, ‘I wonder how long it takes to get scurvy?’ Trevor remembered many mentions of the dreaded disease – caused by vitamin C deficiency – from what he’d read about the exploration journeys in the age of sail. Trevor tried to remember how long it took to occur, but couldn’t... though he began to fear – correctly – that it could be as little as a month. After lying still on the floor of the salon for half an hour in sullen despair, Trevor took a deep breath and got up, heading for the starboard forward cabin, and his food supply.
Trevor counted his cans to confirm their number, and then examined the other food he’d found: five packets of coffee creamer, two packets of sugar, one packet of artificial sweetener, a pack of gum, a breath mint, and half a package of ramen noodles.
Trevor looked at the nutritional
information on the back of a can of hot dogs, which showed that
each hot dog – there were eight in a can – contained just two
percent of the recommended daily vitamin C. That meant one can
was just sixteen percent, and even if he ate two per day – he
needed two cans a day to come close to his minimum calorie
requirements – he’d only be getting a third of his needed
What Trevor didn’t know was whether getting some, but not enough, vitamin C would delay the onset of scurvy. He hoped it would, but he counted his cans yet again, confirming that, at two cans per day, he’d be out in just over a month.
Walking back into the salon, he sat down beside his map and reached for his pencil and paper.
October 14th, 2006, Day 12.
There’s no way I can deny it now: I missed Reunion. I can’t even see the skyglow at night anymore. My best guess is it’s at least a hundred and fifty miles behind me, somewhere. There’s nothing ahead on my course, nothing. I’m now officially totally fucked. I have about three month’s water left, so that won’t be what kills me, because I’ll probably drown or starve to death first. I have barely thirty day’s food left but I can stretch that by going to a can a day.
I tried to make a fishhook and lure, baited it with a piece of hot dog, and I’m trolling it, but so far nothing.
The last I remember of the weather charts and long-range forecast showed light and variable winds all across the central Indian Ocean on my original course, and I don’t remember how far south they went. If I end up in that, I could drift for months, starving to death or dying of thirst. I’m fucked, fucked, fucked!
After making his journal entry, Trevor again stared at his map, seeing only the trackless blue ahead. Remembering the forecasts, he looked to the south. ‘This time of year the wind is strong and steady out of the west, a band of it starting at about twenty-five degrees south.’ Trevor studied the map, seeing the vast expanse of blue. Trevor traced his finger across the map until he reached twenty-five degrees south – roughly the same latitude as the southern tip of Madagascar. From there, there was nothing except one of the largest stretches of empty ocean on the planet. ‘Nearly four thousand miles of ocean...’ It was a course roughly similar to the one he’d planned on before the pirate attack, but he’d been nervous about it even then. Now, he contemplated it with a crippled, jury-rigged boat. ‘If the winds hold, and I can keep in them, and if my sail holds, I can ride the westerlies, and maybe I could be fast enough, if I don’t hit a storm. If the wind doesn’t shift. If, if, if...’
Trevor went outside and looked up at his improvised sail. The bed sheets were already showing signs of weakening due to the sun and salt. ‘The first storm would shred ‘em, and even without that, they’ll give out even before my food does,’ Trevor thought glumly, returning to the map. He stared at it, trying to find some other way. From what he could remember of the wind forecasts and seasonal averages, there was no land within hundreds of miles of his original course, not until he’d crossed the entire Indian Ocean, but that voyage would take far too long.
Atlantis was blind, deaf, and crippled. There was no way to see a weather forecast, so Atlantis could not maneuver to avoid a storm, nor could she outrun one. She was no longer even close to seaworthy in heavy seas; some of her hatches had been taken. Even moderately heavy seas could swamp her.
Trevor looked at the vast expanse of ocean, but even at the best speed Atlantis had maintained under her improvised rig, the direct crossing would take months. ‘The marine tape patching the bullet holes can’t last that long. Neither can the sail, and I’d starve and be too weak to bail or fix stuff. And if Atlantis takes on water, she’ll slow to a crawl.’
No matter how Trevor tried to reason it out, it ended the same way for him. He walked out on deck, and staring out at the vast, empty, remorseless sea, he saw only Death.
Trevor stood, watching the waves, believing that he was surely doomed. The sense of hopeless defeat weighed on him with such force that it was almost palpable, and he felt like lying down and just waiting for the end. But then, his jaw clenched, just a little. ‘I can’t quit. If I do, the pirates win,’ he thought, returning to the solon and lying down beside his map, still unable to see any way out.
Trevor drummed his fingers on the salon floor, staring at his map, his eyes narrowing as an idea took form. He glanced up at the salon’s roof, and then down at his map, tracing his finger on it, shuddering as he imagined what lay in wait. It was little less than madness, the opposite of reason, a course he would have never dared even with Atlantis whole, but his one and only path to life lay straight through the jaws of hell itself....
© 2010 C James
Please give me feedback, and please don’t be shy if you want to criticize! The feedback thread for this story is in my Forum. Please stop by and say "Hi!"
Many thanks to my editor EMoe for editing and for his support, encouragement, beta reading, and suggestions.
Special thanks to Graeme, for beta-reading and advice.
Thanks also to Talonrider and MikeL for beta reading.
Thank You to RedA for Beta reading and advice, and to
Bondwriter for final Zeta-reading and