tagRomanceCorcovado, Or Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars

Corcovado, Or Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars

byAdrian Leverkuhn©

Chapter 1

She was gone now. Gone just now, and he was alone in their house, their home, and memories seemed to push in on him from every corner. They all seemed so dark now, too. Had it always been so?

Twenty three years together. Gone now, shot down in flames, a once assumed destiny reduced to the lowest common denominator by depositions and endlessly faultless absolutions. The more contrived recriminations, he reminded himself, came later. False memories, misplaced motives and desperate loneliness. His lawyer said it was all in a day's work, nothing new. Don't sweat it; just roll with the punches.

"Don't sweat it?" he remembered saying to the lawyer. "How do you do that?"

He'd heard it first through a grapevine he'd never known existed, that she was having another 'new' affair. Young guy this time. Some kid with too much time on his hands...time enough to take care of her liquid dreams, her unmet needs. There had been the quiet confrontation, then an equally quiet agreement that, once arrived at, meant it was all over - that there was nothing left to say, little left to do but pick up the pieces and carry on.

Or...was there?

"Like...what does come next?"

And he caught himself saying this to the mirror one morning. Steam from running water fogged the mirror and he wiped the silvered glass with his hand, looked at the distorted image through the rising mist. He realized he didn't recognize the face in there...that man was a stranger now. Someone he'd known once. Maybe.

He moved his belongings down to the marina on Lake Union, moved onto the boat they had sailed on weekends - together. It was big enough, he told himself, to hold the remnants of that life, the things worth holding onto, anyway. He'd spent a few hours carrying things to the marina, another unpacking all his broken dreams - then he'd looked at the galley, the teak-lined main saloon, and he'd laughed just then. He laughed until he cried, like an over-wound Jack-in-the-box burst free - left to wobble, disused and alone until the next time someone wound him up again.

He went back to work two days after he moved aboard.

He drove down to SeaTac, walked to the dispatch office, picked up and scanned through the preflight briefing for the first leg of the morning, to KSLC. He read the Met synopsis, checked off the squawks and signed the fuel load-out, then walked through the quiet terminal to the security line. He checked his watch - 4:20 in the morning - while he shuffled through the crew line, then, when he was through, he walked out to the gate and onto the old 757.

All the lights were off - save a few in the galley that cast oblique little pools of blue and amber where the Jetway met the open door, and he grinned at other memories - of other airplanes. How long had it been, he wondered, since he had been the first to board? How long ago had he worn three stripes on his sleeves? How many years since the Grand Canyon?

He went to the cockpit and reached into the darkness, feeling for the switch on the overhead panel that would turn on the dome light, but it was second nature now - and had been...for fifteen years. He had to admit...this confined little space was home now, his real home - the only home that really mattered now. Barbara had never understood that, not really, and had never been willing to share him with this other world. Even if she was proud, in a way, of his calling, she hated him for this one chaste passion. Who knows, he thought, maybe she was right all along.

He sat adjusted the seat, started flipping switches on the overhead panel, activating electrical buses and checking ground power status, then he started entering data in the old girl's nav system. He heard a couple of flight attendants come aboard, listened to their careless banter - because they assumed they were the first aboard this morning - and he smiled when he heard one of them notice there were lights on in the cockpit.

Then...footsteps.

A knock on the door.

"Captain? You already here?"

He turned, looked at Marcy Stewart and smiled. "Yup. That does indeed seem to be the case."

"Can I get you some coffee, Jim?"

"No thanks, darlin'," he said. He liked Marcy, had been to her wedding two summers ago and, because her father had recently passed he had walked her down the aisle, given her away - as best he could. Barbara had told him later she was proud of him.

Proud? Of what, he'd wondered. That he stood for something, or someone, other than himself?

"We heard about Barbara," she said, walking into the cockpit just a little. "I'm sorry, Jim. Is there anything I can do?"

He nodded, turned back to the panel and squeezed his eyes shut for a moment - then he felt her standing right behind his seat, her hand on his shoulder.

"You okay?" she asked.

"Yeah, I'm copacetic," he said, forcing back the tears.

"Got the load-out?" she asked. "How many we got this morning?"

"Looks full. Sorry. No rest for the wicked."

"Orange juice?"

"Oh...yeah, sure. A little one, maybe?"

"Comin' right up."

He watched the fuel boss down on the tarmac supervising the fueling, then heard his FO walk through the galley on his way to the cockpit...

"So, it's true," Will Eberling said as he came in and hung up his coat. "How long you been here?"

"Half hour, maybe."

"Leave anything for me to do?"

He almost laughed. "Maybe. I hear the aft head port-side is clogged. Why don't you go do some of that plumber shit..."

Eberling ignored him, contorted his way into the right seat and ran through his procedures, and even managed to set up his FMS in less than ten minutes. "Ready to hit the bricks?" Eberling said, when it was time to do their walk-around down on the ramps.

"Starting to rain a little," he said as he made his way to the galley. It was cold out, too, like not quite 40 degrees, and it was still snowing like crazy in Salt Lake. He made it down to the concrete and walked to the number one engine, confirmed oil and hydraulic levels were good, then he walked around the gears and tires, giving them a practiced look over. When he was finished he walked over to the fuel boss and took the chit, looked it over once and signed the paper.

Eberling was waiting for him at the metal stairway, looking southeast. Mount Rainier was barely visible in the blue light - just a dark gray hulk, really - and, looking through the dim, early morning drizzle, he stopped and looked into the shades of gray for a while, before they walked up to the vestibule that connected the old 757 to this earth.

Marcy was waiting for him, glass of orange juice in hand, when he came back to her amber pools of light.

"You sure you don't want something hot?" she asked, looking at the water running off his rain-coat, and his nose.

He took the juice and downed it, shook his head. "Maybe before we shut the door?" he said, shivering.

"Got it," she said.

He noticed the way she looked at Eberling just then. Kind of a "keep an eye on him this morning" look.

"There are no secrets between crew members," he remembered one of his training captains telling him once - almost twenty years before. Just the opposite of life in the Navy, he'd had to remind himself. Everything was always different - again, and again.

Yet there'd been one constant all through his life so far: Barbara. And Ted, he had to remind himself.

She'd been by his side since their second year together, at school. She'd stuck with him when he'd decided to go into the Navy after graduation, and she'd visited while he struggled through OCS, and he couldn't have finished without her, he'd admitted to her more than once. She was his future even then, and they knew it. They got married after he finished up at Pensacola, and when they moved to Pearl she seemed to love him all the more for his calling.

But...things change, don't they? People change, too. Again, and again.

Eberling was calling out the pre-start checklist now, and together they woke up the old girl with her old, familiar routines, getting her ready for another day in the air. He was on automatic pilot too, and he knew it...going through all his easy motions. He didn't have to think about what he was doing now; all these things were in deepest muscle-memory. His fingers found switches without any need to look, because every little thing in this cockpit had it's own sound and feel. And he loved this place, of all places on earth, most of all.

"Yaw dampers - "

"One and two, check..."

"IRS - ALIGN to NAV..."

"One, check...two...and three...to stand-by..."

He watched the pushback truck line-up, felt the slightest jolt as metal mated with metal - then he was talking to the ground boss down there in the rain...

"Clear to start one, Captain..."

"Starting one..."

Eberling made the switch from ground power to internal buses while he kept his hand on the tiller, and the old girl seemed to groan as she pushed free from her umbilicus. The slow, steady motion, the moving away, then the push-back truck was away...and the old girl was free again.

"Delta 217, clear bravo to one-six left. You're number two behind a Scandinavian 340, contact tower one-nineteen-nine, and good day."

"217 to left and nineteen-nine," he said - and suddenly, in that moment, he knew he'd be okay. All the weight from the past couple of weeks slipped from his shoulders and he took a deep breath, shook his head.

"You okay, Jim?" Eberling said - a little too quietly.

"Yup. Five by five." He watched the taxiway lights slip by - in an established order he understood all too well - and he braked when they were still about a hundred yards behind the A340 - while Eberling called out the last items on the pre-takeoff checklist.

He watched the -340 turn onto the active, it's drooping wings heavy with fuel - then it's engines ran up and she lumbered down the runway.

"217, taxi to position and hold."

"217."

He turned onto the runway, lined up on the centerline, flipped off the taxi-lights, turned on the wing-lights...

"217, clear for take off, contact departure one twenty decimal four for a Summa One departure."

"217, 120.4, Summa One, roger."

He advanced the throttles to 40%N1 then cut them back to idle for a moment, turned on the auto-throttle and the flight director, then engaged the auto-pilot...and the old girl eased down the runway for a few seconds - until she transitioned to full take-off power - then she screamed down the runway and leapt into the sky.

"Positive rate," he called out, and Eberling raised the gears, then: "One-sixty, slats two. One seven five...clean the wing..."

He watched the autopilot track in on the Summa intersection, then as it made the transition to the Baker City VOR...

He didn't remember much about that day, only the feeling of normalcy that seemed to come for him gently, almost quietly. He remembered having dinner with Marcy that night at some raucous place in Malibu. How she'd held his hand after, telling him that everything would be alright - soon.

"It already is, Marcy."

She'd nodded once, then looked at him long and hard. "Divorce is like death, Jim. You'll grieve..."

"No, I won't. She was cheating on me, Marcy. I won't grieve over that. I can't..."

Then she had just nodded her head again. Slowly. Knowingly. Just like Barbara might have...once upon a time.

He'd squeezed her hand, too. What else were friends for?

+++++

Though, of course, it hadn't been quite that simple...because at points along the arc both lawyers were trying to run up the hours...but the thing about it was - he didn't want a fight, and in the end neither did Barbara. She was willing to give him the house and the boat, but then he'd asked "Where the devil will you live? That guy's apartment?"

And so...he'd let her have the house, because, he told her, he knew she loved it. When all was said and done he didn't want to hurt her. He knew it, and she did too. And when she broke into tears and ran into his arms he'd held onto her, instinctively, protectively - just as he had for the past thirty years - then he'd kissed her on top of her head and slipped free one last time. He signed some papers a few weeks later and it was a done deal, everything over and done with.

And somehow, it was like the last thirty years had never really happened. Maybe...because they never really had.

+++++

Altair was inscribed on the boat's navy blue stern...which was how his son found his home that morning. He'd moved the boat from Shilshole Bay Marina to Lake Union a few weeks before, and only remembered to let Ted know the night before, before he'd boarded his overnight flight in Boston for the trip home. His own flight got in a half hour after Ted's, so by the time he made it to the dock Ted was already lounging in the cockpit.

"Ah...the prodigal son returns, but - my God...you look just like Jesus! When's the last time you went to a barbershop...?"

"Hey, Dad. How's it hangin'?"

"Still down to my knees."

"Yeah...but does it still work?" Ted quipped as he hopped down to the dock and hugged his father. "Well, at least you still look like you could..."

"You might, too, someday, if we could only get you out of diapers."

"Ooh...low blow."

"Get your stuff stowed?"

"Yup. You sure you want me to take the aft cabin?"

"Yeah, I like it up forward. Where I put my stuff when..."

"You really got three weeks off?"

"Almost four. I don't have to report back until June 28th, and man-o-man, am I looking forward to some downtime."

"So? Where we headed?"

"Feel like hitting Desolation Sound?" He watched his son's eyes light up like a little kid's and they both smiled, then he looked around the deck. "Got everything you need?"

"I think so, yeah."

"Did you call your mom? Let her know you're in...?"

The change that came over his son looked just like a fat summer's cloud racing over a hot August prairie - bright sunshine to cool, lingering shadow in a heartbeat, then back to heat again. Ted was still sorting through his anger, trying to understand her sudden, final betrayal, and he had yet to reconcile with her - and he'd said matter-of-factly he never wanted to. He had been content to let it go at that while Ted was so far away, but now that he was "home" he was going to have to do something about it. Barbara was still fragile where Ted was concerned.

"No," was Ted's final stony, sullen reply.

"Okay." Which seemed to take the wind out of his son's sails. "You wanna grab the bow lines while I warm up the motor?"

"Will do."

A few minutes later he backed out of his slip into Lake Union, and he let Ted take the helm while he tidied up the deck, making Altair ready for sea -

- but first - they'd have to transit Ballard Locks, and Ted had never tackled them before.

So he ran the lines needed while Ted steered down-channel, then he took the wheel when the lock's entry signal turned green -

"When we get lined-up in there, toss your lines up to the lock-keeper up there, on the dock. He'll tie us off - our job is to let out line as the water drops and Altair falls, but we've got to hold her off the wall - and keep other boats off, too. It gets pretty dicey, so brace yourself - and move fast."

A half hour later they were running through Shilshole Bay - leaving Seattle in their wake - when the sun broke through early morning, low-scudding cumulus.

"You bring any beer?" his son asked.

"Diet Dr Pepper and chicken salad sammies today."

"No beer?"

"Root beer."

"Dude...you're sick."

"Dude...you're twenty."

"But...I thought it was like against the Law of the Sea to leave port without a case of Budweiser."

"Yup, that's probably true."

"So?"

"Sorry, Dude. I'm just not into that Law of the Sea stuff."

"Got any new books, at least?"

"Nope."

"Jeez, Dad...a month without beer...and no books? You going for the priesthood or something?"

"No. One in the family ought to be enough."

Ted looked away. "What makes you say that?" he said a while later.

"Jesuit school, Jesuit college, all those theology classes. Or maybe, after twenty years I really don't know you all that well."

"You're the only person who ever got me, Dad."

"So...seminary school is next on your horizon?"

"I think so, yeah. But..."

"What about med school?"

"Yeah, that too."

"Still no girlfriend?"

And again, Ted turned away, lost, trying to find the right words. "Maybe, but I was kinda hoping to try that this summer."

"Try - what?"

"The whole sex thing. Girls, that kinda thing."

"Oh," he said, grinning at the irony. "No girls in Bean Town?"

"Just hasn't been right."

"I see. Would you grab me a DDP?"

"Sure. Want a sandwich?"

"Nope, not yet."

He watched his boy amble down the companionway and come back up with four Diet Dr Peppers, and they both downed one in a fast gulp, then opened their second and sipped those slowly.

"What about that gal from Rhode Island? Didn't work out?"

Ted shook his head. "She's weird, like she's looking for someone to be her daddy. There've been a couple others, though..."

He laughed. "I know the type."

"Mom?"

"No...a couple of stews I've known..."

"Dad!?"

"No, it's not like that. It's more like I'm a, well, a Father Confessor to a lot of the girls. When they get in trouble it seems they always come to me."

"Trouble?"

"Abusive boyfriends, husbands. Unwanted pregnancies. That kind of thing. I guess I have that kind of face."

"You always have."

"What?"

"As long as I can remember. You remember Pete Baker?"

"The kid with eyes like a smallmouth bass? Used to sleep-over weekends?"

"Yup. He thought you were God Almighty Himself. You'd come in from a flight in your uniform and all he wanted to do was stay up all night talking airplanes..."

"So? What are you getting at?"

"Remember when he broke his leg? Playing football?"

"Yeah...I remember we went to see him in the hospital."

"Yeah. All he wanted was to hear you tell him everything would be alright. Didn't matter what his mom said. To him, well, you were his dad."

"What?"

"You didn't know that, did you? You have no idea how you affect people, none at all. I think that's what's so hard to take about you."

"Hard to take?"

"Yeah. It's like you're this high priest, the High Priest of Boeing."

He laughed at that - for quite a while. "Of Boeing. I like that."

"Yeah? Well, it's true. You've always had that effect on people. Half the kids from school who came over hoped they'd get a chance to talk to you..."

"About?"

"Anything."

"I think we need to stop off for some beer."

"See? There's a method to my madness."

+++++

They docked in Friday Harbor that first night out, and though the sun was still up when Altair entered the tiny harbor, once the boat was tied-off in the marina they decided to head below and grab some sleep. It was just past two in the morning when he woke up - at his customary time - and headed topside to look things over.

Altair, an Island Packet 485, was a chunky fifty-one feet long, broad-beamed with a semi-enclosed center cockpit that provided better-than-decent shelter from the often drizzly weather on Puget Sound. The trade off with this design was simple enough, however, because while this covered cockpit kept the sun and the wind and the rain out, he had also lost the stars, and his most beloved star of all - Altair.

Old habits die hardest, he grumbled as he stumbled around the deck in the dark. He usually woke up at least once every night, even in Seattle, and to check the dock-lines - more often when the weather was wild - and now he held onto stanchions and lifelines as he made his way forward, stubbing a toe once on a cleat and trying not to curse.

"You up already?" he heard Ted ask from somewhere in the darkness, and as his eyes adapted to the dark he spied his son sitting on the bow pulpit.

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byAdrian Leverkuhn© 11 comments/ 5542 views/ 14 favorites

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