"RNLI" Alternate Universe
Chris Larabee work up with a start, just as he registered the bleeping of his pager he heard the boom of the maroon. In a second he was out of bed and pulling on the clothes he always kept ready on a chair by the bed. He was still pulling on his fleece top as he reached the top of the narrow stairs, leaning forward he grabbed the handrail on each side and swung his long lean frame down landing on the fourth step from the bottom. Leaping from there to the hallway. He shoved his feet into the Hunters by the door, pulled on his Barbour and opened the door in what amounted to one movement. Stopping only to shout to his boarder collie Fly to, "stay" and "be quiet" he stepped outside. Only then did he realise just how bad the storm was. Twigs and small branches scurried across the farm yard in the howling wind, the trees, laden with autumn leaves when he went to bed were now stripped bare as they waved violently against the just paling dawn sky. The creak and groan of the trees competed with the flapping of the corrugated iron on the side of the Dutch barn and the rattle as a feed bucket was blown across the flagstones. Chris ran into the teeth of the storm to the gate that led to the stable yard, the smooth rock that sat atop the gatepost was painted white. He took hold of it and turned it so that it faced the other way, now a huge black cross was visible. This was his signal to his stable manager Casey that he had been called out. She would feed Fly and see to any other urgent jobs when she arrived at seven thirty.
The drive way from the Pendeen Farm and riding school was only a hundred and fifty yards long, but as it wound its way down through the wood it effectively hid the farm from the town on it's door step. Chris fired up his old but ever reliable Landrover and tore off down the drive, lights at full beam illuminating the debris strewn track. But after he had gone only half way he was forced to slam on the brakes, a huge tree, felled by the storm blocked the lane. Cursing profusely he threw the car into reverse and backed up to a gate way about twenty yards behind him. Running through the storm he opened the gate drove into the field, stopped again to close the gate, then set off across the muddy field. He wanted to floor the accelerator, knowing the sturdy four wheel drive could cope with the soft ground easily but it was too risky, there were up to fifteen horses and ponies in the field and he couldn't risk hitting one. Having negotiated three more gateways he drove out into a public lane and down into the town centre. Passing the imposing presence of St Mary's parish church, its tall spire a beacon to ships seeking a safe haven for over six hundred years, tyres spinning he pointed the car down the hill as he crossed the triangular town square and threaded his way down St Nicholas street to the harbour. Recognising several other vehicles haphazardly parked in the open area below the castle ruins; he exited his own car he ran down to the harbour. Suddenly he pulled up short, he was too late.
Chris stood breathing hard, as the shore crew trudged up toward him, all dressed against the weather, all looking worried. Chris spotted Orin Travis and walked over to him as the men and women passed him saying "hello" or "good morning" as they went.
"There's a tree down across the drive, sorry I got here as quick as I could," he offered by way of explanation. "Steven took her out did he?"
Travis nodded. "Don't worry Chris he's a good coxswain, he'll bring her back safe and the crew of the ship she's gone to." Travis was shouting to be heard above the storm and the sea.
Chris nodded and pointed up the hill, in the direction the others were heading. The two men turned away from the harbour and up into town and the welcoming warmth of the Lifeboat Inn. Even though it wasn't yet six AM the pub was open, the lights on. Travis and Larabee shut the door behind them effectively blocking out he roar of the storm. As they hung up their coats and entered the bar they could smell bacon and eggs frying. Looking though the hatchway into the kitchen Chris saw the manageress Inez at the big stove. Her thick raven black hair, clearly unbrushed, was piled on top of her head and secured with a clip. She wore only a pair of blue sweat bottoms and an old sweater, Chris reckoned she probably still had her night things on underneath. She was muttering to her self in Spanish as she cooked. Chris shook his head and moved into the main bar.
"Chris you old sea dog, you missed the shout did ya?" Buck Wilmington's voice boomed out across the pub.
"Well I didn't see you down there," Chris retorted.
"Nar, got a doctor's note 'cuse of yesterday. Ain't that so doc?" This last comment was to the large black man entering the bar behind Chris.
"Ain't what so?" he enquired, eyeing the tall landlord critically.
"You give me a note, I'm off the boat for a couple of days."
"A week Buck, I said a week," he stated firmly. Advancing on his erstwhile patient. "And what are you doing working when you are meant to be resting?"
"I'm okay." Buck was now backing away from the advancing medic.
Chris watched with some amusement as Doctor Nathan Jackson caught up with his quarry, who had run out of room in the small bar. Nathan pulled out a small pen torch.
"Hells teeth Nate I'm okay," Buck protested bitterly.
"Yeah, and " The doctor checked his watch. "Less than fifteen hours ago you were unconscious for the best part of an hour, you should be in hospital."
Chris watched as Nathan checked Wilmington's eyes, shaking his head and making "tut tutting" noises.
"Something happen at the match?" Chris asked Travis who was watching the battle between patient and doctor with equal amusement. Chris normally would have been there, freezing and cheering on the touch-line, but he had to take some sheep to market and missed the whole game.
Travis nodded; some of the amusement left his face as he turned to Chris. "That big forward from Drym up ended him in the line out, came crashing down on his head, out like a light. Scared the shit out of us I can tell you. Especially when Nate put that collar thing on him."
Buck was the star number eight for the town rugby team. They were currently top of their league, and looking good for promotion next season. This was despite the fact that Four Corners was the smallest club in the league. Chris had been the fly half up until last year, but he had noticed it was getting harder and harder to work off the post match stiffness, not to mention the numerous small injuries, so at 37 he had called it a day. Buck had five years before he got to Chris' age and Larabee had to admit he was playing the best rugby of his career. He knew the player responsible, big, very big and he played dirty, a dangerous combination.
"You are not okay, you have a severe concussion and when you discharged your self against the doctors advice, you promised me you'd go to bed for two whole days!" Nathan fumed, planting a large hand in the centre of Buck's chest and pushing him toward the door that led to the private part of the pub.
Inez came out of the kitchen with two plates of breakfast; she took in the situation between her boss and the doctor and smirked. She lifted the plate of what Nathan called, "Heart attack on a plate" under Buck's nose.
"Senor boss you want some breakfast? Look all your favourites, nice fried egg all runny inside, fried bacon-crispy, grilled sausages, lots of baked beans, fried bread and mushrooms," she asked, still smiling.
Buck took one look at the food and turned away instantly, he already looked pale, now he looked positively green.
"He been sick?" Nathan enquired of Inez, who lived in an attic flat above the main living quarters, which took up the floor above the bar.
"All night," she confirmed.
"Traitor!" Buck growled.
"Idiot!" she retorted.
"Too late I quit!"
The whole bar suppressed its collective mirth. This was a fight the two of them had at least once a week often more frequently, he never actually dismissed her and she never actually resigned. Jackson finally got Wilmington though the door as Inez continued to serve breakfast to anyone who wanted it. It had become a tradition of the lifeboat that any time the boat was launched at night or in the early morning the shore crew would retire to Buck's pub for a meal and a mug of something hot after it was over. Often Inez would be coping on her own because Buck was a member of the crew. She would complain bitterly, usually in Spanish, but underneath she was happy to do it and never failed to rise to the occasion.
Buck was in fact second coxswain, Chris was the coxswain. On this occasion Steven Travis, covering for the injured Buck, had taken command.
Jackson returned to the bar after about half an hour. Inez knowing he would refuse the cholesterol full breakfast the others were all tucking into, instantly produced, as if by magic, a bowl of porridge with honey and a long glass of orange juice.
"Miss Recillos you are an angel, thank you." He took the small tray from her and headed toward the table occupied by Larabee and Travis.
"He okay?" Chris asked.
"Well he worshipped the porcelain a couple more times, but once I got him to lie down he was out like a light, God alone knows how he stayed on his feet as long as he did." Jackson reported. "Thats why I came over, I heard the maroon and I just knew he'd not be able to just lie there in bed and not get involved, half expected him to be going out on the shout."
"I wouldn't have let him, have no worries Nathan," Travis assured.
"But he is okay?" Chris wanted a more definite answer.
"Should be, I'm gonna stay here for a while at least, since it's Sunday and keep an eye on him, like I said he should be in hospital, but I don't reckon there's anything to worry about really you know what a hard head he's got."
"Sound's to me like this guy from Drym should be cited," Chris commented.
"I have already enquired and George tells me the committee are indeed going to cite him, with any luck he'll be banned for the rest of the season," Travis said with some venom.
"So tell us about this shout, it's rough out there, haven't seen it this bad since ninety two?" Chris asked Travis.
"Some container ship, out of Dubai, lost all power, engine room flooding, Navy has sent a Sea King from Culdrose but they're going have a job in this wind. She's a long way off, its going to take them at least five hours just to reach her," he explained.
Chris didn't like the sound of it, big ships without power were a lifeboat crews nightmare, they were unpredictable. Ten to one the crew wouldn't speak English. The helicopter would only be of help if it could land a winch man on the deck, and in the kind of winds they were having that was nigh on impossible.
Just then Inez rang the bell behind the bar once and instantly the room fell silent as she switched on the radio and flipped the switch to BBC Radio Four.
"Here is the shipping forecast issued by the met office at five three oh, Greenwich Mean Time " The whole room listened intently as the announcer read though the forecast. Severe gales were predicted for the rest of the day in all sea areas, any thing up to force ten or even eleven, with gusts over one hundred MPH, zero visibility and near freezing temperatures, if anything conditions at sea were set to worsen in the next twelve hours.
Chris looked at Travis, he knew he was worried for his son, this was not weather to be at sea in even in a purpose built, self-righting life boat.
"Steven is a good helmsman you told me that your self, he'll bring them home, with that other crew if he can with out them if he can't, you know that," he said softly as the forecast came to an end.
Travis looked up. "I know, I've been at sea in worse than this and I'm still here."
Despite their words they and everyone in the room knew this was going to be a very dangerous shout, perhaps the most risky any of them could remember, and that included some of the real veterans.
The morning proceeded normally for all in the town not aware of the drama unfolding at sea, or if aware that their lifeboat was at sea, not comprehending the danger it was in. The torrential rain and howling wind kept locals and a scattering of hardy tourists off the streets. Locals, emergency services and the harbour master were kept busy dealing with downed trees, telephone lines, power cables, lost roof slates and chimney pots, boats torn from their moorings and cars and basements close to the sea wall swamped by waves that crashed thirty feet and more high. The shore crew returned to their normal jobs, Chris managed to contact Casey who assured him she had made it to the farm on foot, cancelled all riding lessons, taken care of the stock and done her best to storm proof the place. He was worried about her; Casey was very short, slight and young, only eighteen, but she was also strong and resourceful. Informing Chris she had been forced to pull down the loose side of the Dutch barn, for fear of losing the whole thing, he hated to think how she had managed this all on her own in a near hurricane.
"Don't worry Chris, I told Nettie I might have to stay over, I'll be here as long as you need me to is there any word yet?" she asked.
"No not yet, they're not due to reach her for another few hours, last we heard it was heavy going but they were making good time." Chris put the phone down.
"She's a good lass that Casey, you're lucky to have her," Travis commented.
Chris had stayed to help Inez tidy up and get ready for the morning trade, and since Nathan was keen to check on his wife, keep an eye on his friend for the good doctor. But he found himself looking at his watch every few minutes. It was nearly eleven and the boat should have reached the stricken vessel by now. He checked that Inez had everything under control, poked his head around the door of Buck's room to see and hear him sleeping peacefully before he headed out to the boathouse. Four Corners had a Trent class lifeboat that could not be launched down a slipway like it's predecessor. Luckily the harbour was deep enough for the lifeboat to be tied up along side even at low tide. This left the boathouse with its slipway somewhat redundant other than to house the equipment, an exhibition the tourists came to see, and the radio. Chris found he had to lean into the wind as he battled his way to the harbour, and down to the boathouse.
"Bloody hell it's bad out there!" he exclaimed having to put all his weight to shutting the door.
He turned to see who he was speaking to. Apart from Travis there was Tiny Yates the senior member of the shore crew, and a former member of the crew and Father Sanchez, also a retired member of the crew. All three looked worried.
"It's worse out there, they can see the ship, at least thats what we think, reception's terrible," Travis explained.
The boat house radio was tuned into the coastguard and they were listening in on the radio traffic between the lifeboat, the Navy and the rescue co-ordinators.
"What happened with the chopper?" Chris asked.
"No go, they couldn't land anyone on deck, so they left, got another call some yacht in difficulties, people in the water," Sanchez explained.
"People daft enough to take a boat out in this deserves t' drown," Tiny commented darkly.
Chris tended to agree, but in truth the severity of this storm had taken everyone, even the weather service by surprise.
"Sounds like they could use some divine help, Josiah?"
"I'm ahead of you brother, way ahead." The priest had been praying ever since he had heard the maroon, he had risen and lit candles for all five men on the boat, later he had lit them for the crew of the Red Sea Dawn and the helicopter crew. He was praying still.
As they listened they managed to pick put some words through the static.
"She's .turning ..backing..of ..again no good .."
That was all they could make out. After that there was just static. They heard the coastguard calling them repeatedly but there was no response, just more static. This went on for some time, but still there was no response. In the boathouse, despite the noise of the storm outside, it was deathly quiet. After what seemed like an age Travis reached for the phone and attempted to call the coastguards but with so many lines down he was unable to get though. Chris tried his mobile, but could get no signal. All they could do was wait and listen as the operator called the lifeboat over and over again.
Morning proceeded to lunchtime, lunchtime ran into afternoon, the coastguard despatched the RAF to search, but the lifeboat could not be found. No emergency beacon was detected, raising hopes that it was just a radio problem and the boat was making its way home. The coastguard and the navy had lost all radar contact with the Red Sea Dawn and had heard nothing further from her panicked captain. Afternoon moved inexorably to evening, it got dark, the wind abated some, but the rain continued to lash the town. The wives and relatives of the crew began to gather at the boat house, other members of the crew joined them. The Reverend Charter from Saint Mary's joined Sanchez. It was getting close to twelve hours since launch, the maximum endurance of a Trent was twelve hours, soon, very soon where ever the Saint Anthony was it was going to be out of fuel.
"Chris?" Larabee turned to see Buck standing behind him, he didn't look well, but then none of them did.
"There's no sign of them."
If anything Wilmington went even paler. "Oh Christ Chris, this can't be happening, it just can't."
Chris knew how he felt. As lifeboat men they were committed to putting to sea in the very worst conditions and except for the senior mechanic, they were all unpaid volunteers. They knew the risks they took, but they were well trained, had the best equipment and modern lifeboats like the Saint Anthony were as near to being unsinkable as it was possible to get, turned turtle it would role back up instantly. But no boat was totally unsinkable, lifeboats were occasionally lost. Everyone remembered Penlee.
Despite the noise generated by the wind hitting the corrugated iron structure inside the boathouse a quiet descended. When the phone rang, after being silent so long everyone jumped. Orin Travis picked it up tentatively, he spoke only briefly.
"Yes I understand of course please keep me informed."
The others turned to him, fear and worry etched in every face.
"They are calling off the search for the night, it will resume at first light, I said we would keep watch here in case they made it back. Josiah?" He looked across at the huge priest. "Did you make contact with the Father Abbott?"
Just of the coast lay the island of Saint Just which was owned by and home to; a community of Benedictine monks. As well as the twenty or so brothers and up to a dozen guests on retreat, the island was also home to three tenant farmers and their families, and in the season up to six groups of tourists living in rented cottages, mostly bird watchers. Small ferryboats plied back and fourth carrying day-trippers, guests and supplies every day except Sunday. Father Sanchez visited at least once a week, weather permitting. He had finally made contact with the Abbott, Father Thomas, on the islands emergency radio. As well as establishing everyone on the little island was all right he asked if they could keep a watch from the monastery tower. Since the islands lighthouse had been automated it was the best lookout point to see the approaches to Four Corners.
"Indeed I did," Josiah confirmed. "He will set the watch and pray for the return of our lost sheep."
Just then the boat house door opened and a tall woman with wind blown blond hair let her self in. Even windswept and wet through she was strikingly beautiful. Her green eyes lit upon Travis.
"Orin?" she almost pleaded running to her father in law.
Mary was married to Steven Travis, and mother to his son Billy. She was an independent, intelligent woman who was never afraid to speak her mind. Anyone who read her articles in the local paper knew that. Steven was the editor; his family owned the paper, along with several others in the area, three hotels and the local department store. She had met Steven when they were both working on a national paper in London. It was no secret that she thought married men, especially those with young families should not be members of the lifeboat crew, but traditions in lifeboat towns are strong. Steven was the son and grandson of lifeboat men, and nothing was going to stop him taking his place. She had conceded, not entirely gracefully, but once the deed was done she had supported him wholeheartedly, working tirelessly to help raise money for the RNLI.
The old man embraced his daughter in law. "There's no word love, no sign of them all we can do is wait. Where's Billy?" he enquired of his grandson.
"With Evie, he doesnt know yet that something's wrong, but I think he senses it, he's been very clingy this afternoon."
She pulled away, her eyes brimming with tears but a hard set to her mouth. "I knew this would happen, I knew, I told him not to join."
She was probably unaware she spoke out load, but the result was instantaneous from the other wives and family members. They almost as one turned on her. They were proud of their men folk and accepted the risks, but unlike Mary they had all grown up with those risks, friends, brothers, fathers, grandfathers had risked their lives in the past. To be a member of the lifeboat crew was a great honour.
Chris realised what was happening, he crossed to where Mary was being harangued by angry and equally worried relatives. Normally it was Buck who leapt to the defence of women in need of protection, but he was sitting in the corned his head resting back against the wall, eyes closed, to all intense and purposes oblivious to the drama unfolding around him.
"We're all worried," Chris started. "This isn't helping." He placed himself between Mary and the angry relatives as both priests came over and seeing the problem helped to steer the relatives away.
"You okay?" he asked as he turned back to Mary.
"He's gone isn't he, they're not coming back none of them," her voice was cracking.
"Mary we don't "
"Chris tell me the truth, I'm not a child."
"We don't know, they may be out there with no power, on in the life raft, or holed up in some cove until the storm passes, there's still hope."
She shook her head. "You are one crappy liar Larabee. Even I know if they were without power or in a life raft then the coastguard would have picked up the emergency beacon by now, and the Navy have checked the coast for miles in each direction haven't they?" He nodded reluctant to admit even to himself that hope was almost gone.
"Oh God what am I gonna do?" Finally Mary Travis gave in to the tears and wept openly on Chris Larabee's shoulder. He in turn looked over to the equally distraught Orin Travis and signalled him. Travis came over and relieved Chris of his burden. Wife and father embraced in their mutual fear and grief.
Two Weeks Later
The great and the good gathered in Saint Mary's church for the memorial service for the lost crew of the Saint Anthony. The Prime Minister, The Leader of the Opposition, The Prince of Wales, both as the Queen's representative and as the Duke of Cornwall all attended. The street outside was lined with media trucks and cars, BBC, ITV, Channel 5, Sky News even CNN covered the event. In an ecumenical service Doctor Burgess of the Methodist chapel joined the Reverend Carter and Father Sanchez. The relatives of the lost men couldn't have cared less. All they knew was their loved ones were gone, there were no bodies to bury, the sea they loved had claimed then.
The wreck of the freighter, the Red Sea Dawn was located two days after the fateful launch, under it, crushed and buried was the Saint Anthony. As near as anyone could figure it the ship had rolled over on to the much smaller lifeboat, no matter how buoyant she was the Saint Anthony had no chance. It might have been possible to retrieve the bodies but it would have been very risky. The next of kin as one refused to allow anyone to further risk their life to remove their loved ones from the sea, which was a fitting grave for any seaman.
It had been a hard two weeks for the whole town, the surviving crew doubled up shifts to cover for the lost friends, the RNLI sent a temporary replacement boat. It was announced that an anonymous benefactor had put up all the money for a brand new boat, nearly two million pounds. The Friday after the service Chris took the helm of the temporary boat and along with the Norse Saga, a large boat that took trippers on tours of the islands and sea cliffs in the summer, they headed out to the wreck site. There were no dignitaries, just two priests and the next of kin, to cast wreaths into the waters. Buck had refused to go with them. He had not yet been able to face Mary; it should have been him on that shout not Steven. As he saw it if he had been more alert at the match, he wouldn't have been injured, and he would have been on the boat and Steven would be alive. Chris was also fighting survivor's guilt. If he had got there quicker, if he had been less cautious driving though the horse field, he would have been at the helm, maybe he would have handled it differently, maybe he could have saved her. Logically he knew that what would really have happened was he would now be dead too. Steven had been as good a helmsman as him or for that matter Buck, chances were both of them would have handled her the same way as Steven. Some times the sea won.
After the wreath ceremony Chris headed back to Four Corners. Even on this solemn occasion the sight of Saint Mary's spire never ceased to raise his spirits as it welcomed him home. Tomorrow he would meet with Travis to find out who the committee had chosen to replace the lost crewmembers. He watched the relatives depart, before helping the crew to get the boat ready to leave again, instantly if necessary. He was all but done as he looked up and spotted Buck walking along the harbour wall toward him. Mary, who had been chatting to the departing crew, was now walking in the opposite direction. He watched sadly as his friend moved to avoid her, keeping his eyes down. But Mary crossed to intercept him, placing her hand gently on is chest.
"Buck?" she spoke too softly for anyone else to hear. He continued to look down, not meeting her gaze. "Look at me, please," she implored.
Slowly he looked up enough to look into her green eyes.
"It wasn't your fault Buck, I don't blame you, no one blames you. You didn't get hurt on purpose."
"I shouldn't be playing Mary, it's a risky game, the boat should be my first priority, not some silly game," he confessed.
"God don't say that, do you know how envious of you Steven was, he loved rugby, he wished more than anything he could play like you. Don't you hear them when the team wins, don't you hear them chant your name when you're driving the maul forward, you make people feel good, that's a rare gift, please don't give up on the team, win the league for Steven, stay on the team, stop blaming your self."
"Other people play as good as me Mary, look at that new guy Standish, bloody brilliant scrum half," he commented.
"But it's you they cheer, not him, people need heroes Buck sportsmen, lifeboat men it doesnt matter, larger than life, the bigger the better." She smiled up into his ridiculously open and honest face. "And they don't come much bigger!" She tapped his chest playfully. "This town needs to get on with life again, as normal as possible. Now I'm bringing Billy to the match tomorrow, he tells me you should win easily, please don't disappoint him. Asking me if I would take him was the first time I've seen him smile since, well since "
As Chris watched, his friend straighten up and for the first time in more than a fortnight he saw Buck smile, and said a silent thank you to Mary.
"Don't put any pressure on a guy will you!" Buck commented with good natured sarcasm. Then more seriously. "I'll be there and we'll do our best to win, for Billy, for all of you."
As Chris watched, Mary stood on tiptoe to kiss Buck on the cheek, before she continued on her way.
Buck, the last vestiges of a smile waning, approached Chris. "How did it go?" he asked the smile now quite gone.
"'Bout how'd you'd expect, you should have come."
"Maybe, but too late now. You about done here?"
"Nearly, I need to sort the charts properly, I'll see you for supper before I go home."
"Want a hand?" Buck offered.
"Are you kidding? You and me sorting charts together is a recipe for disaster the like of which I have never heard, I'll see you in the bar you can stand me a drink."
It took Chris a good hour to sort the charts so that he could lay his hand on the one he wanted instantly. They weren't that different than the ones lost on the Saint Anthony, some a little more up to date, the layout of the storage area was a little different. As he came out on deck and secured the wheelhouse he found somewhat to his surprise darkness had fallen, the harbour was now illuminated by the lights along the harbour wall and by brilliant moonlight. Frost was already forming on roofs and rigging. Just as he was climbing the steps to the top of the wall he noticed a yacht making it's way in to the harbour. It was unusual for vessels to enter at night, and he stopped to watch. What was even more unusual was she was coming in under sail not engine. True her skipper had struck his main sail and reefed in the jib to almost nothing. But it still indicated a remarkable degree of skill. The yacht was old, but immaculate.
As Larabee watched the yachts skipper turned to look at him. A young man, his over long light brown hair was ragged and unkempt. Even in the poor light their eyes met. Chris nodded and walked along the wall to the next available berth. No words passed between them, the process of securing the yacht, named The Lone Star, was accomplished, swiftly and professionally without words. The young man on board then mounted the steps with a swift sure footedness that belied their frost and slime covered treachery. He held out his hand and they shook.
"Thanks for your help."
"No problem, Larabee, Chris Larabee welcome to Four Corners." Chris noticed the young man had the most piercing blue eyes, and a soft Welsh accent.
"Vin Tanner, can you recommend some place where I can get a meal, nothing fancy?"
"I know just the place, and as it happens I'm on my way there now."
A wall of warmth stuck both men as they entered the pub, voices that were happy but not raucous filled the air. Chris led the stranger over to the bar where Buck was pulling pints, chatting up a young female backpacker and passing meal orders though to the kitchen all at the same time.
"Buck!" Chris called. "Put her down and get us some food."
Wilmington turned to face the familiar voice. "Us?" he viewed the stranger. "He with you?"
"Guess so, Vin Tanner meet Buck Wilmington, your host," Chris made the introductions.
"Well any friend of Chris' is a friend of mine and welcome in my pub, what are ya drinking?"
"Whisky," Chris ordered.
"Beer, pint," Vin said quietly.
"But we need food Buck what's good tonight?" Chris really was hungry.
"It's all good," Inez said as she passed Chris with a plate of food, daring him to disagree.
"Well I'll have curry then." Chris looked across at Vin, who just shrugged.
"Curry sounds good to me."
Buck and Chris watched with some amazement as their young visitor ate his way though a huge portion of Inez's home made chicken curry and rice, three naan breads, a foot high stack of popadoms and a double side order of onion bhaji, followed by two helpings of sticky toffee pudding, another pint and a coke.
"Bloody hell boy when did you last eat?" Buck asked.
"Lunch time of course, an' I had a Mars and a Bounty for tea, oh and some crisps why?"
"Can't say as I've ever seen anyone eat so much, so fast in all my life," Chris commented by way of and answer. "Even Buck here don't eat that much!"
"I'm a growing boy." Tanner said with a smile. "What do I owe you?" he asked Buck.
"Nothing, your Chris' guest and he was mine, drinks and food on the house."
"I can pay," Tanner said defensively.
"Don't doubt it son but round here guests don't pay, not even scruffy ones. Chris says you came in on a boat. You got a place for tonight yet?" Buck had just ploughed on not giving Vin any more chance to offer to pay; he wasn't about to accept payment so there was no point continuing the conversation.
"I'll sleep on the boat," Vin stated.
"You sure? It's gonna be cold tonight," Chris asked, with some concern, the forecast was for a severe frost.
"Yup, I'm used to it, she's a good boat she'll take care of me." He rose to go. "Well I'm obliged to you for the meal, but I must go now, I need m' sleep." And with a small smile and a twinkle of his blue eyes he was gone.
"Seems like a nice guy, reminds me of some one I used to know a few years back," Buck commented as he started to clear the table.
"Oh yeah, who?" Chris asked.
Monday morning Chris Larabee walked into the committee room to find out who his new crew were to be. Orin Travis was the honorary secretary, the most senior RNLI representative in the town. It was Travis the coast guard called when they needed the lifeboat; it was his responsibility to decide if the boat should launch, and to summon the crew. It did not occur to Chris until he saw Travis sitting there at the head of the table in his suit, just how much guilt the old man was carrying; it was he who had okayed the launch that had sent his son to his death. He could have said no, he could have said it was too rough, but he didn't. It was almost unheard of for a lifeboat not to launch, no matter what the risks, no matter what they were doing, if lives were at stake, they would drop what they were doing and go to their aid.
As well as Travis a member of the divisional office was also present. Chris took his place at the table.
"Coxswain Larabee welcome," Mister Coals of the divisional office started. "This was never going to be easy, especially after we had only just replaced five crew last month," he began.
One month ago five crew had resigned. Three because they had reached fifty-five, the mandatory retirement age, one because she became pregnant, and Father Sanchez. Josiah was only fifty, he could stay on the boat for another five years if he wanted, and he was certainly still fit enough. But with the other three 'veterans' leaving and the church sending him a very young and inexperienced curate, he decided it was time to let younger men have their turn. One of these younger men was now dead.
As Chris thought about the men and women who had recently left he realised just how many people were feeling the same survivor guilt he was struggling with.
"Our first move," Coals continued. "Was to approach Father Sanchez, and ask him to reconsider his position, I'm pleased to report he has agreed to return, I trust that will meet with your approval?"
Oh it sure did meet with his approval; he would be more than happy to have an experienced man like Josiah on his crew, especially as he was a trained second mechanic it would cut down on training time.
"Indeed, very much so," he confirmed.
"We have to replace a senior mechanic, as it happens one was available fully trained already. I know that usually we would recruit locally, but he's a good man and more than happy to move here. In fact he is probably on his way. I'm sorry we weren't able to consult more fully but it was such a neat solution to the problem." Coals explained.
It was clear from Travis' expression that he was not entirely happy with this situation. It certainly was not the usual way things were done and Chris wondered what the real story was, but before he could do so the man's file was passed to him. Opening it some of his concerns melted away. The young and somewhat neater face of Vin Tanner looked back at him. He skimmed the file. Vincent Ieuan Tanner, left school at sixteen, joined the marines at seventeen, left last year and responding to an advertisement was accepted for the job of senior mechanic of his local boat. What the file did not say was why he left the marines or why he did not take up the post he was originally appointed to. Chris had been around long enough to know these omissions were no oversight. Well he could wait to find out what was going on. He had liked Tanner as soon as he saw him, and something told him he could trust the man.
"That all looks fine, he arrived the other night as it happens, nice guy."
Travis looked up. "You've met?"
"Helped him tie up, arrived on a beautiful thirty six foot sloop."
Chris went on to explain Vin's impressive act of seamanship.
"Well thats settled then," Coals said with evident relief. "Now Doctor Jackson has applied, I don't think I have to say how useful it would be to have a doctor available who actually knew his way around a boat."
Doctors were occasionally taken on shouts but often they had no training and that added risks and meant one of the crew had to keep and eye on him or her. Nathan was the only doctor in the town who was under fifty and had enough time to commit to the boat and lived close enough. He occasionally covered for local GP's but mainly he was a general physician at the cottage hospital. Cottage hospitals were closing up and down the county, but with the nearest general hospital a good half hour by ambulance away Four Corners hospital was safe, it could offer day surgery, maternity, geriatric care and a minor injuries emergency unit. Jackson lived with his common law wife Rain, a former new age traveller who now managed Aquarius, a popular shop in town that sold new age books, crystals, ethnic furniture, fabrics and clothing as well as toys and cards. The shop opened ten hours a day every day except Christmas. There was a running joke in town about male tourists wandering the town looking lost because their woman folk had gone in to Aquarius and never coming out. She and Nathan lived in the flat above the shop in the town square.
"Well I'm happy, Nate's a good man, he'll be a real asset," Chris affirmed.
"Okay, now we have also had an application from Mister Ezra Standish, I believe you know him through the rugby club?" Coals asked Chris.
"Well know would be an over statement, he's a good player, brilliant in fact, but he's not exactly a team player off the pitch. Don't think I've ever seen him in the clubhouse after a match, never seen him in the pub, don't think I've ever even seen him in town. What do we even know about him?"
Travis shifted in his seat; Larabee read this as evidence he and Coals were at odds over this. Still he picked up the file in front of him. "His mother inherited Treveal House, from old
Marcus Penhaligon when he died, he was her second husband I assume, he went to Eton and Oxford."
Chris snorted indignantly. "Eton, great, a public school brat!"
"I went to public school Chris," Travis pointed out tersely. "So did Steven."
Chris flushed slightly. "Sorry, but you know what I mean. What did he do after Oxford?"
"Where he got a half blue in Rugby and Cricket, by the way," Coals interjected to emphasise that Standish was no sedentary bookworm.
"He was in the City, made a mint and retired early, last year. Lives in the gate house." Travis finished.
"So what does he do now?" Chris asked.
"Something on the Internet, banking or investments or something like that." Travis seemed too vague about it all for Chris' liking.
"Well he's in if he measures up," Coals stated firmly. Then he tempered his statement. "If he's useless we let him go after his probation is up, okay?"
Chris shrugged his acceptance.
Travis pushed another file across to Chris. The picture inside was of a boy; he appeared to be about thirteen. He had jet-black hair, dark eyes and an impish smile. Chris didn't bother to read more.
"Yeah, and, so?" he stated blankly.
"What do you think?" Travis asked.
"I think he needs to stay in school where he belongs, what is this a joke?"
"He's seventeen Chris, old enough," Travis stated.
"Just," Chris pointed out darkly.
"Well he is still old enough, and he's not in school or even university, he graduated last summer, seems he's some kind of genius, phenomenal IQ. He applied in the summer, he used to come here on holiday as a kid, and he's moving here this month, going to work on his dissertation. He was at Saint Andrews, used to sail regularly, crewed in the summer for various big yachts, even raced at Cowes last year. Knows more about satellite navigation and modern search and location equipment than you and me put together, he'll be your navigator."
Chris looked back at the file. John Daniel Dunne, looked back at him. He noted that the boy had no next of kin listed. Hell if he was taking some upper class snob with no sea experience how could he object to a wet nosed kid, who did at least know one end of a boat from the other?
It would take time to get this crew in shape, there were a lot of ghosts to fight, and a hell of a reputation to live up to. But life went on, the boat went on and she needed a crew.
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