"RNLI" Alternate Universe
That Saturday's match between the rugby clubs of Four Corners and Trewoofe had been a home fixture. The previous two matches had been postponed in deference to the town's and club's loss. One member of the first team, one of the veteran's team had perished in the disaster. Worse still it was the captain who had been lost from the first team. Chris and Nathan stood on the veranda of the clubhouse watching the colts play prior to the first fifteen match. Mary Travis and her five-year-old son Billy walked along the edge of the pitch to greet them.
Billy watched some boys and girls playing touch rugby on a small pitch of to one side.
"Hi there Billy." Chris squatted down beside him. "You like rugby?"
"Uh huh, when I'm six I'm gonna join the minis," he answered referring to the youngest club members.
Chris glanced up at Mary, to see all too clearly this was not her idea but knowing she wouldn't deprive him of something that he had so clearly shared with his father.
"Bet you wish you were playing with the boys and girls now though," Chris continued.
"With the boys, I don't wanna play with no girls," he stated firmly.
"I don't want to play with any girls," his mother corrected.
God Mary, give the boy a break! Chris thought to himself.
"Is Mister Wilmington gonna win today?" Billy suddenly asked.
"Well the team are sure going to try, it's not just Buck you know."
"But he's the best my daddy says "
And there he stopped, for a moment Chris thought the little boy would lose it, as Chris watched he saw the battle within the small frame to deal with his conflicting emotions, grief, pride, love. After what was no more than a second or two but which seemed like an age he looked back into Chris' eyes.
"My daddy used to say Buc Mister Wilmington was the best number eight in the county, even if the selectors didn't know it, and he can win a game all on his own."
"Well your daddy knew his rugby and between you and me I think he was right but promise me you won't tell Buck, his head is big enough already!"
Chris was rewarded with a smile and even a small laugh.
"And you know what else?" Chris went on.
"You can call Mister Wilmington Buck, just like all the grownups. Buck would like that."
"What would I like?" Came a familiar voice from way above them.
Man and boy turned to crane their necks up at the imposing figure in the club house doorway, resplendent in black shorts, red and navy hooped shirt and matching socks. Black electrical tape, almost hidden by his thick dark wavy hair, wound around his head to protect his ears, size twelve boots, aluminium studs positively gleaming and his trademark red gum shield with it's Jolly Roger motif hanging from his left hand.
"I told Billy he can call you Buck rather than Mister Wilmington, that okay with you mate?"
Buck grinned down at a very awed Billy. "Too true son, be honoured to call you friend and no friend of mine calls me mister, okay?" He held out his hand to his new official friend.
Buck then also squatted down next to Chris; he glanced up at Mary who nodded, giving him the encouragement to go on.
"Billy, before the match today we're going to have a minutes silence to remember your daddy and the others, then I'm going to give their captain a pennant and he'll give me one." Billy just continued to stare at Buck. Somewhat more hesitantly the new team captain continued. "Billy, would you like to walk out with me for that, sort of represent you dad and his crew. You don't have to if you don't want to, it's up to you," he added quickly.
"I'd like to but I might not be able not to cry," Billy finally said seriously.
"Well to tell the truth kid neither might I, we'll just have to try and be brave together won't we? And if we can't? Well we're allowed to cry, okay?"
"Okay." Billy confirmed. With that sorted his eyes lit upon the gum shield. "Mist I mean Buck?"
"Does it really have a pirate flag on it?" he asked trying to look around the big man to see the legendary piece of plastic.
Ezra P Standish drove his immaculate top of the range Range Rover down the pot-holed gravel drive to the ground just in time. He was always the last to arrive. On arrival he would take the time to turn the car around so it was facing the right way for a quick exit after the match. As always he came in his team kit under an expensive training suit, only carrying his boots. Once out of the vehicle he pulled over the drivers seat a custom-made waterproof cover, to ensure no stray flake of mud contaminated the upholstery. He never ever used the communal showers in the clubhouse, nor did he ever socialise with the team.
If he were not so good a player they probably wouldn't have kept him on the team. But he was good, very good. For his part he shunned, even feared, becoming part of a team, being dependent on others for his emotional well-being. He played because he loved to play, despite his aversion to mud. He loved the strategy of controlling where the ball went, he loved to run with the ball, dodging and weaving between players, he needed the release of aggression that tackling other players gave him. Saturday night after a really hard match, was usually the best night's sleep he got all week.
He was well aware of his own emotional hang-ups and had been trying to work out why he had volunteered to join the lifeboat crew. There he would have to be totally dependent on others and them on him, just what he normally avoided. He did want to help, it was his civic duty to help, but there was more than one way to help; why this way? Why so hands on? His mother, wintering on the Med as usual, would go spare when she found out. 'Never volunteer for anything' was one of her favourite maxims. Maybe that was part of it, doing something that would annoy his mother. Great Ezra, you're 29 and your still living next door to your mother and trying to get her attention! He chided himself.
He could live anywhere he wanted, the Caribbean, Monte Carlo, Hawaii, any place in the world, but he chose Cornwall. Why? Because it had a special magic all it's own, a wild beauty and a spiritual quality he had found nowhere else. He had worked twelve, thirteen even fourteen hours a day six days a week, fifty-one weeks a year for eight long years to earn enough to never have to work again. Maybe it was not working that had motivated him, school, university, the City, he had never not worked, he had never been a man of leisure. Then there was the house, Treveal, his mother had been married to old man Penhaligon for four happy years, happy for Ezra at least. His third stepfather had made him feel welcome, never like an intruder or spare part like the others. Much older than Maude he was always charming and polite. The teenage Ezra had been heart broken when the old man died suddenly from a stroke. In his will he left the house to Maude with the proviso that she leave it to Ezra when the time came and that he was always to be made welcome. If she wanted to sell it, Ezra had first refusal. If she ever did offer he would have snapped it up. Even if he though it sounded like a recipe for game casserole, he love it.
Treveal wasn't very grand, not much more than a large farm house with ideas above its station. It was mostly Jacobean with some Victorian additions. The whole inside was covered with oak linen fold panelling, as a result the house felt warm, even when the 'Heath Robinson' like heating system failed. It was welcoming, the huge Elm plank floors glowed with hundreds of years of polishing. The leaded windows were big enough to give wonderful views out over the landscaped grounds but small enough to keep the rooms from being overwhelming.
Maude hated it. Since it was grade one listed she couldn't so anything to it, even simple renovations had to be checked with English Heritage. It was miles from even Penzance and that wasn't exactly the hub of the western world. She called Four Corners 'a nasty pokey little hole'. Still, land was equity and Maude never walked away from that. If old Marcus hadn't been loaded she wouldn't have looked at him twice. But he had been flattered by her attention and she was down on her luck at the time. Ezra could have lived in the house he loved, but it wasn't his, so he lived in the gatehouse, and duly paid his mother rent, thus securing his tenure in law. It was only Victorian and he was able to renovate it and decorate it as he wished.
There was just one more reason Ezra had put his name down to be a lifeboat man. As he walked down past the row of vehicles that lined one side of the tack that led to the ground, he thought on it, it was a reason he hesitated to acknowledge. Danger, risk, living on the edge. For eight years that had been his life. Not physical danger, but danger none the less. He watched Barings and Nick Leeson go down and thought 'there but for the grace of God', but he was good, he was oh so good at reading the markets, he had made money day in day out, money for his employers, money for his clients and money for himself. True, making money was a sordid business, and he often detested it and himself, but the adrenaline rush when he spent millions with just one click of the mouse and then waited to watch it double or even triple was something else. Sport helped with the adrenaline addiction, Rugby was risky. He only had to think back a few Saturdays, watching Doctor Jackson tend the unconscious Mister Wilmington to be reminded of that. Ezra was a fine horseman. He kept a horse at Treveal, and delighted in riding him as fast as he could through the woods, ducking branches, jumping logs and ditches. He had even considered joining the local drag hunt. But he needed more; he needed a real challenge, real danger.
It was a good match, but whichever way it went Trewoofe were going to lose. Even if they won they would be the bad guys. It was close but Four Corners managed to stay ahead almost from the start. As usual Buck was a towering presence and involved in almost every play. Ezra was a dynamo of motion, scoring two tries. Buck would be the first to admit he was not a tactical expert, while the scrum half was a tactical wizard, unfortunately he didn't have the people skills to lead a team. Well Buck was not too proud to ask for help, and the two of them worked together. In that match Wilmington reckoned he'd exchanged more words with Standish than in all the five months since he'd joined the club. Despite their new relationship Ezra still departed as soon as the final whistle was blown. Chris watched him go, little knowing he was about to have Standish foisted upon him as a new crewman.
While Chris was in his meeting Buck was down on the quayside negotiating with the local fishermen for some mackerel and scampi for the day's specials. Vin was doing some much-needed running repairs on his beloved boat.
"Chris is right she is a beaut'," Buck commented, admiring the elderly vessel.
"So, Taffy, what ya doing here?" Buck was never one to be put off by monosyllabic answers.
"Not getting called Taffy for a start," Tanner responded tersely.
"If the name fits; so what are you doing here?"
"Got a job here, waiting for conformation." With that he returned to rubbing down the section of deck he was about to varnish.
"Yeah? Cool. What job? Who you working for? I know most everyone round here."
Vin looked back up at the big man standing on the harbour wall carrying a bag full of fish.
"Do you ever shut the hell up?" he asked with just the hint of a grin.
"No he doesn't, not ever." Both men turned to see Chris approaching them. "Tanner."
Both men stood in silence for a moment.
"I got good news for you. You got the job," Chris announced.
Vin nodded slightly to acknowledge this.
"What job?" Buck asked.
"Buck, meet our new senior mechanic."
"Really? Great." Buck grinned as he watched Vin put down his sander and come up on to the quay for a more formal welcome.
"It's Vin, not Vincent, nor is it Taff or Taffy, got that Bucklin," he announced sternly, as they shook hands.
"Whatever, but m' names Buck, it's not short for nothing you know."
"You call me Taffy and it will be."
"It won't stop him, trust me I know," Chris advised.
Chris told them both to rendezvous at the boathouse at two-thirty that afternoon to meet the rest of the crew.
JD Dunne hefted his backpack on to his shoulders, and picked up his laptop in one hand and his case in the other as he headed up the hill away from the train station and toward the town. If he had realised it was going to be such a steep hill he would have forgone the meal on the train and used the money on a taxi. By the time he reached the town he was blowing hard. He couldn't put down his burdens to check the directions he had been given, so he was forced to ask directions to the basement flat he had arranged to rent. It meant negotiating another steep hill, this time downhill. This proved almost as difficult, as the heavy weight high on his shoulders threatened to topple him over. Eventually he made it to the quay area and worked his way along the row of houses overlooking the harbour. His building was called, imaginatively, Sea View.
The pink stucco hid the tall narrow house's real age; it was near two hundred and fifty years old and somewhat worryingly all the basement and ground floor windows were boarded up. JD put down the case and rang the bell. He waited, he waited a long time, his mother always told him it was rude to ring a door bell more than twice and you had to wait a good long time between your two rings. Eventually he rang again. After an even longer wait he was about to go when a first floor window was pushed up. Looking up he saw a portly man in his fifties looking down at him.
"Wait. I'll come down."
Eventually the door opened. JD presumed this was Mister Fairfax, his landlord.
"Here." The man shoved an envelope at JD. "It's your deposit, minus some expenses; flat was flooded in the storm, you'll have to go some place else, bye kid." And with that he was gone, JD had barely registered what had been said when the door was slammed in his face.
A tide of lonely despair threatened to overwhelm the seventeen-year-old. He was tired, nearly broke, cold, alone and now homeless. Ignoring the tears threatening to spill down both cheeks he turned away from the house. He did now have some money and since this was a seaside town out of season surely he could find a B and B somewhere. Back-handing the tears away, he picked up his burden again and trudged back up the hill he'd just come down. He passed a café-closed, a card shop, an estate agents-none of the property in the 'For Let' window was within his meagre budget; a hair salon and an art gallery-also shut. The next building was a pub; he was still only seventeen but since he wasn't going to buy any alcohol - he couldn't afford it even if he wanted to - he decided to go in, just for a chance to get warm and put down his rucksack.
It was the end of lunchtime. A few people were still eating but mostly the pub was quiet. Buck eyed the boy in the doorway, not old enough he decided, not even if he just wants coke. As he watched, the youth carefully put down his two cases and then with some effort tried to get the backpack off his shoulders without losing control of it. He almost managed it, only at the last minute did it thump down rather too heavily. Then picking up the laptop case he approached the bar.
"Can I have some milk?" he asked quietly.
JD quite liked milk and he reckoned it was the cheapest food-come-drink he could get.
Buck almost laughed, but he stopped himself when he saw the deep sorrow and tiredness in the boy's face. His resolve to turn the youth away dissolved, like all Buck's intentions to be strict and hard-nosed when faced with another's unhappiness. He just didn't have it in him to be cruel.
"Thats thirty pence." He passed the small carton of milk over the bar. "You want a glass or a straw?" he enquired.
"Straw's fine." JD placed a five-pound note from the envelope Fairfax had given him on the bar. "Sorry, it the smallest I've got."
Buck watched him drain the small carton, as he returned with the change. Now that he looked at him the boy wasn't as young as he first thought, maybe as much as fourteen or even fifteen he decided. And that begged the question as to what he was doing with so much luggage, on his own, on a school day.
"You got some place to stay boy?" he enquired.
"Not any more I don't," JD confessed bitterly as he thumbed the contents of the envelope. "Shit!" he exclaimed, as he realised Fairfax's expenses had eaten up half his deposit, leaving him not much more than £50 in all the world.
As Buck watched, the youths shoulders slumped and he visibly paled.
"You okay? You need help? Want to use the phone-no charge?" Buck tried to think of something that might be of some help.
JD shook his head keeping it down to hide his tears. " Its all right um "
"Yes kid - what? Ask away."
"Could I leave my bags here, just while I look for some place to stay for tonight?"
"Sure no problem," Buck assured. As he watched the boy was surreptitiously wiping his eyes. "What kind of place were you looking for, maybe I can save you some shoe leather?" Buck offered.
"Um well some place cheap, a B and B or a room to rent, just till I get a job; then I can get a flat or something." JD explained.
"Not round here son, any place even halfway habitable is let out to holiday makers. Why get £75 a week and a sitting tenant when you can get £250 a week and no tenants? Even if you only let for 20 weeks a year you're still quid's in." the landlord explained patiently.
"Oh yes I didn't think about that."
He sounded so defeated it near broke Buck's heart and it was a big heart to break. That was probably when he decided to do what he did next, though at the time he wasn't aware of making any conscious decision and was as surprised as JD as he said.
"I got a room you can rent."
Hazel eyes shot up to meet midnight blue.
"Sure. Come on, I'll show you." With that the big man was lifting up the bar and heading toward the door at the back, where Inez had been standing and watching them.
"Where are you taking him?" she asked, while deliberately blocking the door.
"To see the spare room, see if the kid wants to rent it or not," her boss explained.
"Oh no! You have to clean up first," she scolded, jabbing her finger into his chest. "I've seen that room, it is a pig sty, you clean up, I feed him." She turned to JD. "You hungry boy?"
"Yes Miss, very," he confessed honestly.
"See!" she said triumphantly. "You like steak and kidney pie, mashed potatoes, onion gravy?"
JD nodded enthusiastically.
Buck had to admit the room was messy, full almost to overflowing with boxes of Christmas decorations, empty suitcases, old magazines, his cricket kit, a wet suit and a set of weights among other things. It took nearly an hour the put the stuff away in their proper homes. It all had a place to live; he just never got around to putting it there. Underneath all the clutter was a fine room, single bed with drawers under it, bedside table, chest of drawers, wardrobe and a chair, plus it's own bathroom. Not bad, he decided, not bad at all. It needed cleaning and possibly redecorating, the kid would probably need a desk; but it was a good room.
JD thought so too, he couldn't believe his luck.
"How much?" he asked tentatively.
Before Buck could answer JD suddenly gave a yelp as something cold and wet assaulted his hand. Looking down he found a large black greyhound sniffing him and giving him occasional licks.
"Oh, sorry, thats Mac, he lives here too. You're not allergic to dogs are you?" Buck asked pulling the hound away.
"No, not that I know of-we never had a dog." JD tentatively stroked the dog. As always Mac just stood there, placidly lapping up as much attention as he could with out putting in any effort. Like most greyhounds he was basically lazy.
"Does he race?" JD asked.
"Not any more, old Mac wasn't very fast I'm afraid, thats how I got him, bloke came in here one day said he was useless and he was gonna drown him, but look at those eyes - how could you?"
"So you kept him?"
"Well all pubs have dogs, for security, you know?"
"He's a good guard dog is he?" JD asked sceptically as Mac deciding he had been on his feet too long and slumped to the ground.
"Oh yeah, total killer," Buck looked down at the sprawled heap at his feet. "Right boy?" Said killer dog rolled over to lie on his side and closed his eyes, deciding there had been altogether too much excitement for one retired 'lean mean racing machine'.
"So," JD said hesitantly. "How much?"
"Well the thing is I reckoned about £30 a week but I was wondering if you'd be prepared to pay in kind."
"I don't get it, pay with what?" JD thought £30 was very cheap, he had enough money for a week's rent and some left to eat with.
"Well I saw that fancy laptop you never put down, you any good with it?"
JD shrugged. "Yeah I guess." This was a monstrous understatement he was brilliant on a computer.
"Do you think you could help me with the VAT and the other books, wages, ordering and such? It takes me about three hours a week. I thought £10 an hour was fair and maybe walk the killer dog occasionally? You get all your food free of course."
If Buck had stopped to analyse what he was doing he might have been worried. He was not only offering a room to this apparent waif and stray, he was turning over his finances to some one he had only just met, to a kid, a mere boy and yet it felt so right. And besides Mac liked him enough to get up, walk over and give him a lick; that had to be a good sign.
"I could do that no problem, if you're really sure?" JD was also going on instinct. This man was offering him a dream solution to his problems, he did not stop to think about any possible dangers or that he might be being taken advantage of, he just knew what he was being offered was friendship and nothing more. It was something he had had precious little of and even if he was not aware of it, he desperately needed and craved that friendship.
"Well I do have one concern," Buck admitted.
JD felt his heart skip a beat. No don't take this from me now, I can't take that now. He begged the fates. Buck continued equally hesitant, begging fate to give the right answer.
"How old are you kid?"
JD breathed a sigh of relief. "Seventeen, here " He pulled out his provisional drivers license, and showed it to Buck. "I want to learn to drive or ride a motor bike, when I can afford it," he explained.
Buck looked extremely relived, he couldn't in all conscience take in some runaway, but seventeen was near enough to eighteen not to matter.
"That just leaves your name?" Buck grinned down at his new flat mate. "I'm Buck."
"JD, it stands for John Dunne, but JD will do."
"Welcome to the Lifeboat Inn."
When Buck said Lifeboat, JD instantly remembered he was meant to call Mister Travis as soon as he got to town, he had a mobile but it needed recharging.
"Um could I um use the phone?"
"Sure, over there," Buck pointed to the phone beside the computer in the living room. "I'll go bring your other bags up."
As he dropped the luggage at the top of the stairs Buck suddenly realised two things. First JD was smiling, actually he was grinning and second, he was late, it was a quarter to three and he should have been at the meeting fifteen minutes ago.
"Sorry to do this to you kid. I got to go; unpack, make yourself at home. I'll be back." With that he turned and pounded down the stairs.
After putting his things in his room. "My room, it's my room," he said to himself, unable to stop grinning. JD then also headed out, stopping on the way to actually look at the pictures behind the bar. He hadn't been surprised to see pictures of lifeboats and their crews, given the pub's name, but he was mildly surprised to see his new landlord smiling back at him from some of the most recent ones.
Chris turned to glare at Buck as he entered the boathouse, nearly twenty minutes late.
"As I was just saying punctuality is most important at all training sessions!" he growled out.
Buck visibly cringed. "Sorry," he said quietly as he scanned the faces before him, he had been expecting Tanner, was delighted to see Sanchez, surprised and pleased to see the Doctor and more than a little shocked to see Standish.
"Aren't we one short?" he asked before realising that had he been on time he might know the answer.
"As I explained earlier, our new navigator is on his way with Mister Travis and should be here soon. Buck, just why are you so late?" Chris couldn't contain his curiosity any longer.
Buck liked to project a 'devil may care' image, so laid back he was positively horizontal, but that hid a deeply caring man who took his responsibilities seriously. Generally Buck was never late, if anything he was usually early, when it really mattered.
"Long story, not for public consumption," he explained.
Chris visibly stiffened, green eyes narrowing in to a fearsome glare.
"Jesus Buck! THAT is not a good reason!" Buck's reputation with women, while enviable, could also cloud his judgement on occasion.
"Well as it happens I agree, but what held me up was Okay?" Buck could look and sound equally threatening when needed.
A tense situation was diffused when the door opened and Travis entered with JD trailing in behind him.
"Gentlemen my I introduce your new navigator, JD Dunne." The magistrate announced.
"Kid?" Buck breathed.
"Yup, me. Guess were gonna be seeing a lot more of each other."
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