Lethe

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Chapter 26

Chapter 26: Delgado

Sabonis takes an oar and pushes off the ledge. I waddle aft of the mast and sit with the plastic bucket between my knees. Water is already seeping through the cracks. It soaks the hem of my dress.

The sail is lashed and furled tight to a boom. Sabonis sets two oars into slots serving as crude oar locks and paddles into the cove. He knows the bottom well, avoiding sand bars, using them to push off and maneuver through the deeper channels. He’s obviously done this more than a few times before.

When we reach the reef, he struggles to get past a line of breakers, but keeps fighting. Things get bumpy for a while. Waves splash over the hull. The outrigger bucks and rolls.

Finally, we slide over the reef and the ride smooths out. He stows the oars, unlashes and hauls up the sail.

Despite the thick beads of pitch that run down every seam, water is now squirting through the cracks at my feet. I fill bucket after bucket and dump them over the side. My output barely stays ahead of the influx.

“Good job! Keep it up,” says Sabonis. “The leaks should slow once the wood swells. This boat’s been high and dry too long.”

He eases the sail open. It flaps once and fills, straining at its coarsely stitched seams. He steers us out towards a fog bank, then swings us parallel to the shore, heading away from the channel we waded across to get to Dilmun. But then he adjusts the boom and angles us back in towards a beach.

“Why are you going back?”

“Dumbass. We gotta tack if we’re gonna go against the wind.”

He shifts the boom again and the boat swings back around towards the fog. We zig and zag along Dilmun’s shore, past graveled hills, beaches and cliffs undercut with sea caves. A butte stepped like a ziggurat commands Dilmun’s far point. We swing in close, threading between jagged sea stacks, risking a collision.

I hold my breath as Sabonis play chickens with the rocks. We squeeze through, and then it’s all open water before us, a great arc of a bay that sweeps from the backside of Dilmun to the volcanic cliffs and the Rift we traversed to get to Sabonis’ hut. I search for Mt. Abdiel but its shoulders are lost in the mist.

Above the wastes, the volcano lurks like an ugly bride behind a veil of mist: a squat, hulking peak, its upper slopes wrinkled with deep gullies. Its summit cone spews tendrils of smoke that trail like windblown wisps of hair.

“Beats hoofing it, eh?” says Sabonis.

We enter a stretch of larger swells. As we bounce along, the outrigger’s supports and lashings flex and groan. The boat feels like it’s going to come apart.

Waves splash over the rim. I bail frantically, but it’s a losing battle. Water sloshes up and down the hull. We sit lower and lower. The sail strains to haul us along.

“Bail faster,” says Sabonis, his voice pitched with anxiety. He cups his hands and helps scoop out the bilge.

“Thought you said the wood would swell.”

“It will. Give it time.”

Out along the fog bank, a pale fleck catches my eye. At first, I mistake it for a gull, but it’s too large and it’s resting in the water.

“Is that another boat?” I say.

Sabonis stands and looks. He climbs partway up the mast.

“Fucking hell!”

“What’s wrong?”

“That’s … that’s my cat. That’s my fucking cat. That’s … Delgado.”

He hops down and pulls a line to collapse the sail. He stabs an oar in the water as a rudder and noses the boat around.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m gonna catch that fucker.”

“But—” I catch myself before I can complain. I’m not sure I’m quite ready to return to the mountain.

Sabonis resets the sail and we’re moving with the wind now and picking up speed. The faster we go, the higher we ride in the water and the bailing eases considerably.

We sail back towards the ziggurat point. I’m appalled to realize that we are due for a repeat encounter with those scary sea stacks.

Head swiveling, Sabonis turns frantic. “What the heck? Where the hell did he go? Do you see him?”

“Nuh-uh.”

“Bastard must’ve ducked into the fog. Must’ve seen us. Go forward and see if you can spot him. I gotta stay here and man this boom.”

“Who’s gonna bail?”

“I’ll spell ya for a while. Toss me that bucket.”

I creep around him to get to the prow. The wind shifts, swinging the boom around over my head. If I had been standing I might have lost some teeth.

I stare at the fog, but fog is all I see. My attention keeps drifting to those worrisome sea stacks. At first it feels like we’re going right at them again, but I’m relieved when we tack away. Sabonis swings the outrigger out wider this time around.

“Keep your eye on the fucking fog bank!” he says. “I need a sighting if we’re gonna angle in on him right.”

The prow springs high and hammers down onto swells. I fly up, managing to snag a brace before I am thrown out of the boat. I hunker down, wrapping my arms around the brace.

We zoom along Dilmun’s shore, past Sabonis’ digs and still I see nothing in the fog. I begin to wonder if the boat we saw was a mirage.

Directly ahead, some objects appear, but they’re not boats, they’re islands. They look like chips off the big island, microcosms with lava cliffs and sharp promontories of their own. The largest even boasts a small cinder cone.

The fog thins momentarily and a double-hulled boat flashes into view, much closer than before. I see clearly a curving, blade-like prow, a forked mast and a bulging sail.

“Ubba … ubba!” I’m too tongue-tied and incoherent to report it.

“I see it!” says Sabonis. “Hot damn! Guessed right! And cut him off at the pass.”

The fog closes back in, but not before Sabonis adjusts his line of convergence.

“We got him beat, kiddo,” says Sabonis. “What’s he gonna do now? Turn around?”

“What if he does?”

“Hah! He ain’t half the sailor I am. If it comes down to tacking, I’ll tack right up his butt.” Sabonis glances down at the water sloshing around his ankles. “Hey, uh … I need you to take over the bailing. Water’s getting deep again back here. I don’t like how she’s sittin.’”

I splash my way back to the stern and resume my duties. The bilge is even deeper than when I went aft. “So, what do we do we catch him?” I say.

“Do?” says Sabonis. “I’ll fucking kick his ass. Make him return my fucking cat. We’ll trade. He can have this piece of shit outrigger to get ashore.”

“What if he says no?”

“Says no?” Sabonis flips up the front of his shirt to reveal the strap-iron machete belted to his waist. “He better not make a fuss. I’ll slice his damn throat.”

The sight of the machete chills me. I had naïvely pictured the coming encounter as two neighbors squabbling over a loaned lawnmower. I hadn’t considered there might be bloodshed.

Now I wish I hadn’t left Sabonis’ spear back at the house. I spot a broken oar floating in the bilge and slide it closer with my foot. It’s basically just a pointy stick, but it’s better than nothing.

We track the catamaran one glimpse at a time through alternating layers of fog, thick and thin. Sabonis has the outrigger aimed at a spot directly in front of the catamaran’s path. We are well ahead of our quarry. It seems clear that we will arrive at the intersection point ahead of Delgado.

The catamaran emerges from the fog and stays in the clear.

“Hah!” says Sabonis. “He knows we got him dead to rights. He ain’t even trying to hide now.”

As we close in, however, our advantage decays. The catamaran dances easily across the heavy chop, slicing through waves that batter and stall us.

“Bail faster!” says Sabonis. “Get this damned hull empty.”

“I’m bailing as fast as I can.”

The catamaran reaches the first islet just ahead of us. The interception has become become a chase.

“Shit!”

A man—Delgado?—stands watching us from the platform connecting the two hulls of the cat. He has at least two other men with him, one on each hull. He tosses something in the water, blows us a kiss and waves.

Sabonis grabs a landing net tucked behind a brace. He poises, leaning over the hull as we close in on the object. He jabs the net into the water and scoops up a bottle.

“Got it!” he says.

The sail is drifting out of line, taking us wide of the cat.

“Here, you take it.” He shoves the net into my lands and tackles the boom, wrestling it back into position.

I reach into the netting and pull out a mostly empty bottle of Havana Club rum. Inside swims a penciled note.

“Whatcha got there, kiddo?”

“A message in a bottle.”

“What’s it say?”
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