Riverman Ch. 03byAdrian Leverkuhn©
(c)2007 'Adrian Leverkühn'
I guess it's what happens when you hate Nietzsche, but find yourself living in his world, or at least in the world he hated. There's just no getting past the cycles that come to our lives unbidden. Do they intrude, or are we not then joined in forever spreading ripples in time? Joining the chaos of being, and becoming . . .
Drake's song echoed in my head that night.
What had I missed? Had Betty been so damaged by her years working with her uncle in the political world? Had she had lost faith in herself - in her premonitions - or had she seen something new - some new insight, perhaps - while out on the water with me?
Had I done something wrong? Had the Coast Guard encounter been so disconcerting? Had she constructed a romantic's longing for a dream - only to find the reality far less interesting to her? Or had she been seduced by my dream, felt compelled to make it her own?
Can you find satisfaction in the dreams of distant dreamers?
We had made such beautiful music together, so why had that connection so easily discerned, which had grown so palpably in our hands, dissolved so easily?
Indeed, had it?
Where was she? And why was she running? If there is something to pardon in everything, there is also something to condemn. I know that's true, cause Fred said so that night.
Yeah. You heard right. Nietzsche - that bastard - had joined me in my quest to find the truth. I found his appearance very disconcerting. What can you say to a philosopher whose been dead for a hundred and seven years.
'Hi! Howya been?'
No, don't think so.
So, anyway. What had I missed about Betty?
And why the fuck wouldn't that bastard let me fall asleep???
I walked back to her shop the next morning. It was closed.
I returned to the boat and - now feeling completely despondent - cast off my lines, backed out of the slip and drifted into the channel. I then unfurled sail and let the soft breezes from the north carry us where they might. Carefully, quietly, I sat and watched the sails as they filled and luffed in the capricious breeze, and I worked them softly, squeezed as much speed as I could from their passing. Fred sat by me in the sun, feeling free I suppose, but mumbling in German all the while.
Soon the morning gave way to a higher sun, and I found I was forgetting her. I was losing myself in the dance between being and becoming, and wondering why I had consented to play this game again. Wasn't I too old for this nonsense? Hadn't I had my one great love? Was I being selfish to ask of life that I might have another great love? Or wasn't that a contradiction in terms?
A few hours later we passed the spot where I had run over the stump and subsequently run aground, and I kept a wide berth from the spot while Fred and I talked about Hank and the vagaries of friendship. I felt a branch run along the keel, not a subtle warning that failing to heed from life's mistakes will only lead to their recurrence.
Clearing the spot, I eased sail and we cruised along happily through the afternoon. As the sun set, I saw a full moon clearing the eastern horizon, and decided to push on through the night. Fred - being dead and all - didn't seem to mind, and we stayed up all night and talked about Wagner. Take my word for it, it was a weird night.
By morning I was predictably exhausted as we drifted into Beaufort, and I saw Turtle-man walking down the dock from the showers toward his boat. He looked up and saw me, gave me a little wave and walked down to the space next to his and took my lines as I slowed to a stop neatly in the slip.
"Didn't think you'd make it here 'til this afternoon," he said as I furled the main into the mast.
"Ah. So I was expected?"
"Yeah. They came down last night, picked up her car."
"Left a note with me. For you. She said you'd probably get here today, so I figured you'd get in tonight. You made good time."
"Full moon. Sailed all night."
"No shit! In the Waterway?"
"Ce la vie," said Fred as Hank shook his head in disbelief.
"You had breakfast yet?" he said.
"No, nothing yet. You?"
"Let me get some shoes on. Then I'll let you buy me breakfast."
Ah, yes, just what I'd been waiting for all my life!
We walked up to a diner that had a nice breakfast menu and sat in an old red vinyl booth, and two cups of strong, black coffee magically appeared before bacon and eggs made their way to us. Hank seemed quiet, unnaturally quiet, really, as he sat there - his head out of his shell - basking zebra-like in the mid-morning sun that slatted through the blinds. After a while he handed me Betty's note.
I looked at the crumpled paper on the old, worn-white formica. The paper looked full of malevolent purpose sitting there, like the paper knew it was destined to cause pain, and relished the thought.
Wit is the epitaph of an emotion, Fred said to me with a smile on his face. What was there left to do now but read Betty's note, then toss out a witty aside to cover my pain.
'Martin,' her note began, 'I wanted to thank you for an unforgettable five days. I will never forget them, nor your generosity of heart in giving me that time. I will never forget you, and will love you forever, and would stay with you as your friend and soul-mate if it was in my power to do so, but it is not. Please don't ask me to explain. Love, Betty.'
I felt numb inside as I looked at the paper. There was one piece missing from this puzzle, and it filled my heart with dread to even consider the possibility.
"Hank, can I ask you a question?"
"Sure, Marty. Fire away."
"You said, when she came to pick up her car . . . you said 'they came.' Uh . . . Hank, who's 'they', do you think?"
"Betty and her husband."
Ah. Yes, that had to be the missing piece, right?
Fred was laughing so hard he almost spilled my coffee.
Hank told me about him. How it was apparent he knew what had happened, told me about the bruise on her cheek, and her black eye. How her husband had wanted to wait, to wait for me to get there, no doubt to give me more of the same. I was devastated. The betrayal sat in my heart and filled my soul with heavy grief. I didn't feel witty at all.
This just couldn't be, I told myself, but all the pieces I had now fit together with solid precision. Fred was still laughing. Fucking philosophers!
How could she have done this? And why? What would he do to her?
'Swallow your poison, for you need it badly,' Fred reminded me. Why would you say such a thing, Fred, to someone so full of love. Hadn't you loved, once upon a time? Did Betty deserve that, did she warrant this husband of hers . . . what had she done to deserve it?
Is it really any of our business? Fred asked me.
No. No, a million times no. But here we are . . . this is one of those big life moments . . .
Which is precisely why I walked back to Liebestod and filled her water and fuel tanks up, coiled her lines as I backed out of the slip, and set my course to return to Elizabeth City.
I never looked back. Not even once.
Fred did. He looked back almost the whole time, but he remained quiet. I'd even go so far as to say he was ignoring me.
If I had asked him, maybe he would have told me about Hank talking frantically on the dock to a woman, then he might have related that he watched them as they ran to Hank's boat and backed out into the channel. I might then have noticed that they were following in my wake, and that Hank was pushing his little boat as hard as he could to keep up with me.
Really, you never can tell about these things.
But Fred? No, for once in his life he kept quiet.
Down through Carolina's sounds - and up again, without sleep - in the course of a couple of days was an insane undertaking, and I was by this point patently exhausted. I powered up the Adams Creek Canal once again; I think I turned around once to check for other traffic but didn't notice Hank and the woman back there among all the other traffic.
I think Fred was napping in the sun . . .
I navigated through buoys into the Neuse River, and turned northeast toward the Pamlico, then northwest toward the Pungo; as the afternoon sun burned my shoulders I turned into the Pungo River, then the Pungo River Canal. By that time, as far as I knew, no one trailed me; there was no way Hank's little 29 footer could have kept up with my bigger 42. Out into the Alligator River, finally, and one last mad dash to Belhaven, where I tied up in the marina and collapsed in my berth.
I left Fred to take the watch . . .
Sometime in the middle of the night I felt someone jump on deck, and I reached for the little Walther P5 I kept handy for such encounters, and I went into the passageway between the aft cabin and the companionway and listened . . .
"Marty . . . you awake!?"
"Fuck, Hank, you trying to get yourself killed?! What are you doing here?!" I opened the bolt securing the companionway hatch and trudged up into the cockpit . . .
. . . Betty stood beside Hank in the glaring light of the full moon. I couldn't tell in the gray shadowed moonlight, but it looked like her face had been beaten black and blue, and she wore a weary face over her tattered clothing. I stumbled when I recognized her, and they both reached out for me, kept me from falling back down into the boat.
"What the . . ." I managed to say.
"Hey, dick-head!" Hank bellowed. "Anyone ever tell you to keep your goddamned radio on?"
"We've been calling your sorry ass for about the last twelve or so hours, hotshot! God damn, but this mother fucking boat of yours is one fast mother fucker!"
I had been sailing all day without my radio on? Shit, I'd been more tired than I realized.
"Say, Marty," Hank said as he looked at the pistol in my right hand, "you gonna shoot me with that fucker or put it up?" I think Fred coughed a little at that one . . .
"Fuck, sorry!" I put the pistol in the binocular rack by the wheel as I turned to look at Betty. I held her face, examined it as best I could in the pale light. "You alright, or do we need to get you to a doctor?"
"Martin, I'm so sorry . . ." and in an instant she was crying, clearly now a lost soul.
"Hey, Marty, I don't know about her old man. He was chasing her back toward Beaufort when she got to the marina. I think I saw him running out on the docks as we cleared the turn to the bridge. He's probably checking ports for her, looking for her."
"Have you called anyone?" I asked. "I mean, what happened, Betty?"
"We got the car," she said between alternating fits of tears and shock, "he followed me, said he'd kill me if I tried to do anything but drive home. We stopped for gas and while he was in the rest-room I took off. He's like gone completely crazy, Martin, over the past couple of years. I didn't know what to do?"
"Yeah, well, we can talk about this later. What about the police; have you called them yet?"
"No, Marty," Hank said, "she just got there while you were pulling out. Two minutes earlier and she'd have made it to your boat."
I was shaking my head in a blind rage, as now - finally - all the pieces of this puzzle were shifting into place one by one, and I didn't like the emerging picture one bit. Fucking Fred, why hadn't he said anything?
"We'd better call the police," I said. "Betty, does he have a gun? Did he threaten you with a gun?"
"He said he'd kill me . . . Yes, he's got one . . ."
"What kind of car is he in; do you know the tag numbers?"
I went below for my phone and dialed 911. A State Police dispatcher answered, and I filled her in as quickly as I could. She told me to stay where we were, that a Trooper could get to our location in about a half hour.
"Hank? Stay up here, keep an eye out. I'll put on some coffee?"
"Yeah? Lot's of cream and sugar for me, huh?"
"Betty," I said aloud, trying to sound annoyed at Hank despite the laugh I felt brewing, "come on down. Get out of this damp air." Fred walked up behind her, clearly interested now.
She walked down the steps, Fred right behind her, down into the warm honied glow of my nether world, and she sighed as she sat on the settee.
"Oh my God, Martin, you have no idea how good it feels to back down here. With you."
"Listen, Betty, I don't know if I can filter through all of this now, OK? Let's just take it one step at a time." I moved to get the coffee on.
"I know, Martin, I know. I've really messed things up, I know I have. I'm sorry. Again."
Why did she keep apologizing? Fred was looking at me with narrow, serious eyes.
The water heated and soon the smell of coffee filled the boat. I poured her a cup and she held it, let the warmth flow through her hands as she smelled the brew, and I handed a cup up to Turtle-man.
"Car coming?" he said a few moments later.
I tensed, remembered the pistol in the cockpit, and went up to get it.
"Think it's a cop," Hank said, and I could see outlines of overhead lights on the patrol car in the marina parking lot and relaxed a little. "Marty!" Hank said as he watched me with pistol in hand, "put that thing up, would you, or you'll get us all killed!"
I ducked down below and returned the Walther to it's hiding place, and soon heard the trooper walking down the wood planked marina toward my boat.
"Y'all call about a disturbance?" the trooper asked.
"This is the place," Hank replied. Then: "Martin? The cavalry has arrived!"
I came up into the cockpit, flipped on the cockpit lights and indicated the way up for the trooper. Bless his heart, he saw my teak decks and took his shoes off! He climbed up, handing me his clipboard as he negotiated the lifelines, and came into the cockpit.
"What's the problem?"
"Let's go below?" I said as I dropped down the companionway hatch. "You want some coffee?"
He followed me down, and turned to see Betty. He whistled when he saw the bruises.
The Trooper took the information for his report, asked if she wanted paramedics to come look at her wounds, and finished up by taking pictures of her face and arms for his report. He radioed in Betty's husband's information, and we heard an all points bulletin go out a few minutes later. He thanked me for the coffee, told us to be careful, and walked back out into the night.
We were alone again.
"Alright, gang," I said - suddenly sounding a lot more on top of things than I felt. I guess we take off at first light. Head back to Elizabeth City."
"You want company?" Hank asked.
"Hell yes, Hank. You're a part of this now. Couldn't do it without you, buddy."
He puffed up a little at that, gave an 'aw, shucks' look while he examined his bare feet, and he nodded in the affirmative when I asked him if he needed some shut-eye. I told him to go forward and get some sleep, then sent Betty back to my cabin to sleep. I took the Walther back with me and went up into the cockpit. I looked at the moon for a while, before it hid behind the western horizon, and I felt sleep chasing me again, felt my head nodding, my eyes closing . . .
I heard tires crunching on gravel, and jerked up to see the first rays of the sun shooting between amber-orange morning clouds. Then I saw Betty's husband's car inching into the marina parking lot - with it's headlights off - and I watched him move slowly to a parking space. He got out of the car, walked down toward the line of boats berthed at the tiny marina, and walked over to Hank's boat. He looked down into the little boat, then jumped on-board and poked his head down below. Satisfied no one was aboard, he looked around until his eyes fell on me.
"Hey there," he said as he walked over, "I'm looking for some friends of mine. They were on that boat there yesterday. Know where they might be?"
"There was some kind of a ruckus with them," I said, "and the police came. They went with them to give a statement." I could see the man's eyes turn to steel; he was turning something over in his coat pocket."
"Which way you headed," the man said.
"Oh, south, probably. Down Florida way."
He looked me over, and his eyes walked along the lines of the boat.
"If you want to leave a message, I think the marina office opens soon."
"No, no thanks. I guess I'll be going along. When you headed out?"
"Oh, me? I was just about to, why?" But he didn't answer me; he turned and walked back toward his car.
I started the engine, and let it warm up for a while, then let slip my lines and began to back out of the marina. The man stood by his car all the while, and I waved to him as I put the transmission into forward and motored back into the main channel. I looked down below for the first time and saw both Hank and Betty huddled at the base of the companionway ladder, and I held my hand out slowly and mouthed 'stay' to them. Betty nodded.
I looked back. The man was looking at me through binoculars. Suddenly he threw them into his car and jumped in; he backed out in a hail of gravel then tore out down the road.
Had he seen my hand signal to Hank and Betty? Fred was watching the man; clearly he didn't like him much.
I watched as the man sped down the road toward a waterside park; there was no other way out of the channel than to go right past this park. His car left a cloud of white dust as it careened down the road, and he turned into the park. He was about a half mile ahead of us now, off to our left.
"Hank, better get on to the Coast Guard and give 'em a sit-rep. Ask 'em to call the State Police for confirmation of the assault."
"Don't talk like that, OK? We're not on television." He looked sheepishly at his feet as he slipped behind the chart table and flipped on the VHF radio. I heard him talking on the radio for a minute or so as I watched the man up in the park. He was out again, now standing by the open door of his car with the binoculars at his eyes, looking right at me.
The channel widened a bit by the park, to maybe three hundred yards, so I cheated over to the far right side of the channel. I guess that clinched it for him. He slammed the car's door shut and walked toward the water; I could see a black pistol in his right hand.
"Stay below!" I said to Hank. "He's got a gun out, and walking for the bank."
"Should I tell that to the Coast Guard," Hank asked as I slowed the boat down and threw her into a slow turn.
"Ah, yes Hank," I said, trying to keep the exasperation out of my voice. "Do that, would you?" The man knew I was stalling, and started to run down the riverbank towards us. I wasn't sure how long I could keep out of range, but I kept moving back toward the marina in slow circles. Soon I could hear the thump-thump of a helicopter in the distance - the man heard it, too - and he brought the pistol up and shot at the boat. Once, twice, three shots . . .
"Hank! Tell the Coasties that the bastard is shooting at us!"
I felt the rotor blast of a huge helicopter as it thundered overhead, and by the time I looked up and saw the huge orange striped beast slowing near the far side of the channel, I also saw the man running to his car, then driving back down the road for the main highway. The helicopter hovered overhead for a moment, and I heard Hank telling them that we were alright, and they took off after the car.
"Alright, y'all can come up now," I said as I swung the boat into a one-eighty degree turn. I steered for the marina, and docked where we had laid not a half hour ago. Hank helped me with the lines, and I could tell he was rattled by the way he was chattering away.