Hunter at Sea|
The Tarheel Writer
"Not Gonna Happen"
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Rated PG 13+
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Lieutenant Dan Dutton piloted the chopperon the heading provided by Captain Westphal. Somewhere in the distant blue waters was a private island where he would find the revered captain's son's best friend. On his right wing was another chopper with a special ops team whose sole intent was the recovery of the new radar system.
Dan's thoughts turned to the emotional meeting he'd witnessed as Captain Westphal embraced his son. Dan Dutton was nobody's fool and he saw all the signs in the captain's son. The boy's relationship with his best friend was way more than two buds. Sure, the boy's reaction could be written off as one friend being worried about another, but Dan's unique perspective told him otherwise. It was quite obvious to the learned eye that Jesse felt a lot more than mere friendship for his friend Hunter. Dan admired Captain Westphal and the way he handled the situation. There weren't too many men who were open minded enough to understand, let alone embrace the slightly off center romantic tendencies of their teenage sons.
Tom Church, Dan's co-pilot sensed his commander was in deep thought.
"Want me take over, sir?" Dan glanced over, paused in thought, then simply nodded. Tom double checked the heading and took control of the helicopter.
During his years in the Coast Guard, Dan saw too many fathers try to mold their sons into replicas of themselves … masculine, daring, swashbuckling heroes with brains controlled by the danglement between their legs. Dan had seen many a young man cave into the relentless pressure those fathers forced on their sons. Why fathers could be so oblivious to their sons' feelings was a true mystery that Dan Dutton was woe to figure out. He generally wrote it off to ignorance. Stupidity meant those fathers knew better, so Dan settled on ignorance … they just didn't know any better. Captain Westphal seemed to be the exception to the rule. He actually took into consideration the feelings of his son instead of forcing his son to pay attention to his father's wishes.
Lieutenant Dan Dutton experienced the same pressure when he was a teenager. His father forced him into the mold of fatherly wishes to perpetuate the family bloodline, preferably with a male offspring to continue the family name. Dan had given in to his father's wishes and married his high school sweetheart. Of course, he had fought his father's wishes tooth and nail, but eventually caved into the relentless pressure. Diane was a sympathetic young woman who understood the pressures a father can put on his son. Her girlfriend understood. Even Dan's boyfriend understood. What resulted was a marriage of convenience. The parents were oblivious, and Dan and Diane led their lives the way they wanted to, without their parents being the wiser. It was a compromise, but it was one that, to Dan, seemed like the best solution to an awkward situation.
* * * * *
The US Coast Guard H-60J Jayhawk helicopter hovered over the clear waters of the private island's lagoon. Two hundred feet directly below lay the missing sailboat. The "Rum Runner" moved slightly from the downdraft of the helicopter's rotors, but stopped quickly as her keel touched bottom. The mast was gone, but the boom had been stepped as a replacement. Lieutenant Dan Dutton knew only a seasoned sailor would be able to pull that off. Losing your mast was tantamount to certain failure that came with lethal results. Many a tale had been told of sailors stepping booms as masts, but no one in recent memory could recall such a courageous act. Dan Dutton watched as two young boys emerged from the cabin of the sailboat and shielded their eyes from the strong down blast of the helicopter's rotors. At the sight of the two boys, both clad in only the skimpiest of shorts, Lieutenant Dutton' thoughts turned from the controls of the rescue helicopter to the worried son of Max Westphal. It didn't take a rocket scientist to see what was going on, or more correctly, what had been going on.
Jesse Westphal was a good kid, in Lieutenant Dutton's opinion. As for Hunter Ward, in Dan Dutton's eye, the jury was still out. Considering the evidence two hundred feet below, it wouldn't take the jury too long in deliberation. Two barely dressed young boys emerging from the cabin, obviously looking like they had just been engaged in all kinds of sordid physical activity was evidence enough. As Dan Dutton looked on, the blond boy started waving his arms. The dark haired boy pointed over toward the beach. Hundreds of hours of experience in the left seat told Dan that setting the Jayhawk on down on the beach was the best alternative for recovering the survivor. The two General Electric T700 GE-401C Gas turbine engines propelled the rescue helicopter toward the white sands of the private island and allowed it to touch down with precision with the special ops chopper landing seconds later. Dan watched as the two young boys jumped into the clear waters of the lagoon and swam his way while noticing the professionally dressed gentleman making his way down from the very impressive island mansion.
"This promises to be interesting," he muttered to himself as his co-pilot started the engine shut down procedure.
* * * * *
Jesse Westphal ran to the Guardian Jet as his father stepped out. Father embraced his son on the tarmac. All the while, Jesse kept repeating "thank you" over and over. Max looked up and saw his wife, along with Hunter's parents huddled beside a giant black SUV. Standing alongside them was a young woman who was probably related to Captain Turner. And grinning like a Cheshire cat, was Commander Walsh.
"Commander Walsh, sir," started Ted as he walked up beside Max. "I don't wanna fly with nobody else but this here guy." Ted put his arm over Max's shoulder. "He's the best gall dang pilot I've ever known. He could find a needle in a haystack at ten thousand feet." Max couldn't help but grin. "Did I ever tell you 'bout the time I was in the hay loft with Jennie Lou? We was just about ta …"
"Ensign Hagan," the commander said raising an eyebrow. "I believe we're all waiting for Lieutenant Westphal's report."
"Oh, ah, yeah, I mean, yes sir. Right you are sir. I'll just, ah, make sure the aircraft is secure then." Max grinned.
"Lieutenant Westphal. I believe we're all on pins and needles here," Commander Walsh said with a nod.
"We found the boat sir," Max started as he made his way over to his wife. "It was on a private island about a hundred miles east northeast of Jacksonville on the northern edge of the Bahamas." Max turned to Hunter's parents, Jeff and Jennifer Ward. "And we definitely saw Hunter." Hunter's mom was pulled into a tight embrace by her husband, both awash with relief. He paused and glanced at the young woman. "I'm afraid we didn't see Captain Turner, but it was a pretty quick fly over. We should know definitively as soon as we hear back from Lieutenant Dutton." The young woman paled slightly. Commander Walsh put his arm around her and nodded.
"Lieutenant Westphal, er, Max, great job," Commander Walsh said reaching his hand out to shake Max's hand. Max shook it firmly, but never took his other arm from around his son's shoulders. Erma Westphal had encircled her arms around both her husband and her son.
"Thank you, sir."
"The 'Rum Runner' was in good shape, then?" the commander asked with unsaid interest in the new radar system.
"She'd definitely been through a lot. Her mast was gone and the boom had been stepped as a replacement." The commander openly gasped. Max looked the young woman in the face. "That sounds like it was definitely some of Captain Turner's seamanship, ma'am."
"Excuse this old sailor's lack of manners," Commander Walsh said. "Lieutenant Westphal, this is Samantha Stroud, Captain Bill Turner's niece."
"We've been quite concerned about pops, er, Uncle Bill. He's getting on in years and I've begged him to stop taking on these kinds of charters, but some people," she glanced up at the commander, "can be very persuading." Commander Walsh blushed under her scrutiny.
"Ma'am, I've known your uncle for a very long time and I assure you, I would trust him with any member of my family, including my son's best friend. I'm sure he's fine and will back with his family shortly."
* * * * *
Dan Dutton stepped out of the helicopter. The other chopper's crew was already deploying an inflatable in preparation of rowing out to the "Rum Runner." Dan took his helmet off and watched as two beautiful sopping wet young men made their way onto the lagoon's beach.
"Hunter!" Dan called out.
"That'd be me," Hunter said as he tried to catch his breath. Dan held out his hand and shook the boy's hand.
"There's a lot of folks who'll be glad to know you're all right."
"And this is?" Dan inquired of the dark haired boy who immediately stood up straight.
"Brice Throckmorton at your service," the boy said as he thrust out his hand. Dan took the proffered hand and shook it firmly. "Welcome to my island." Dan's eyes widened at the news.
"So, this is your island?"
"My family's actually, but since I am the only family member here …" A crash through the bushes took everyone's attention.
"Master Brice!" the call came as Charles stumbled onto the beach. "What is going on here?"
"Lieutenant Dan Dutton of the US Coast Guard, sir," Dan said, suddenly standing at attention. "And you are?"
"Charles Murphy, sir. At the employ of Robert Throckmorton, owner of this island and currently responsible for what goes on here," Charles threw a sharp glare at Brice. "I'm afraid my charge has been less than forthcoming about the arrival of this sailboat on our island and I must insist on knowing what it and you are doing here. This is, after all, a private island." Dan caught the pompous tones for what they were.
"This sailboat and her crew," he started with a nod toward Hunter, "has been missing at sea for the last four days and was located by a Coast Guard jet about an hour ago. We will be taking both sailboat and crew back to Jacksonville post haste. You can inform your employer that the United States Coast Guard expresses its explicit thanks to him for allowing our rescue on his private property. An accommodation for his services in this rescue will no doubt be forthcoming." Charles stammered slightly.
"I-I see. And what can I and my staff do to be of assistance."
"You can go kiss my daddy's …" Brice started, but was quickly hushed by Hunter.
"Your offer is most appreciated but rest assured, my team will be off your island very shortly. In the meantime, I must express our thanks to young Brice here for taking such good care of Hunter." Charles stammered again.
"W-well, certainly. If nothing else, the Throckmorton's are hospitable." Brice snorted, which garnered a stern frown from Charles. "If there is anything we can do, please feel free to ask." Charles turned to Brice. "Master Brice, if you would accompany me to the house, please." Brice's expected outburst was quickly shunted by Lieutenant Dutton.
"With your permission, I would like to ask Brice a few questions, for the record. We certainly want the accommodation to be complete, wouldn't we?" Dan asked with a wink in Brice's direction.
"W-we'll certainly. That seems appropriate. Please let me know if I can be of any further assistance. I'll be observing your, ah, activities, from the house." Charles nodded politely and turned back toward the house. As soon as he was out of sight, Brice let out a stream of obscenities.
"Not your favorite person, huh?" Dan asked knowingly.
"You can say that." Hunter put his arm around Brice and hugged him tight. The tension that was there evaporated under the knowing eye of Dan Dutton. A member of the special ops team came over.
"Lieutenant, we're gonna board the boat now," he said. Dan nodded then turned back to Hunter.
"So you two seem to have struck up a friendship?" he asked. Hunter beamed.
"Oh yeah! It was this island, Brice's island that saved me. I'd been asleep at the wheel, not knowing where in the hell I was, when I woke up to the sounds of surf and yelling," Hunter explained.
"The entrance to the lagoon is only five feet at best and I knew a sailboat that size would need more water than that," Brice said as he looked at Hunter. "For some odd reason, she made it through and ended up here in the lagoon."
"Where is Captain Turner?" Hunter's expression fell and Brice wrapped his arms around him in comfort.
"He died, sir. During the storm, a super wave hit us broadside and she went horizontal." Hunter explained as he gestured toward the "Rum Runner." "It took a bit to bring her back under control. By the time I got to check on the captain, I found him on the floor of the salon with a pool of blood around his head. I tried CPR, but he didn't make it. It was hot out there, sir, and after a few days, the, ah, smell got to be so bad …" Hunter let out a sob and Brice tightened his hold. "I buried him at sea," Hunter said softly looking back at the "Rum Runner." "It was only a few minutes after I gave up on CPR when I lost the mast and all the electronics. I had no way to navigate except by the North star. Thankfully, there was plenty of food, water and fuel. And then a couple days ago, a drug boat took some shots at me. Scared me to death, but I fired back and hit one of them I think, but I know I got one of their engines. And then she just sailed right here into Brice's lagoon. My hand never touched the wheel."
Lieutenant Dan Dutton had certainly heard his fair share of the horrors that can happen at sea, but to have one so young to be subjected to those horrors was a horror in and of itself. He reeled in his shock and took a deep breath.
"Hunter, I'm sure you did everything you could. Sometimes, in extreme circumstances, despite everything we try, things don't always go the way we want them to. I'm quite sure that Captain Turner is very proud of you. You, being here alive and healthy, is a testament to that." Dan took another breath. "There is nothing that would have pleased Captain Turner more than to be joined with the waters he loved so much. What you did makes all of us who love the sea, very proud. There are few of us who get the honor, because that's what it is, an honor, to lay to rest a person who loved the oceans as Captain Turner did. It is only right to be sad for the loss of someone we love and respect, but it is an honor to give that person what they truly wanted in life … to become a part of the waters that we hold dear." Tears streamed down Hunter's face as Brice held him tightly in his arms.
"Lieutenant, excuse me sir." Dan turned to the leader of the Special Ops crew.
"We'll have to take her back to Jacksonville, sir. The dome was attached to the mast and when that went over, it ripped the connectors out of the receiver. There also seems to be some electrical damage, probably from a short circuit. We don't want to risk a field removal at this time. There are technicians back at base better suited to handle this." Dan nodded then turned back to Hunter.
"We'll have to call in a boat to tow the sailboat back to Jacksonville. In the meantime, do you want to get your gear from the boat?" Hunter frowned. Dan saw the hesitation and decided to plunge ahead. "I'm sure you want to get back to your family, Hunter. And, there's a certain friend of yours that has been very worried about you." Hunter looked up quickly as Dan continued. "Jesse has been at the base every day worried sick about you." Hunter's expression fell and he looked down at the white sand beach. Suddenly, he bolted toward the water and swam toward the sailboat. Dan started after him but found himself face to face with a very pissed off Brice.
"What'd you have to go and do that for?" Brice growled.
"Jesse made it perfectly clear that he never wanted to see Hunter, ever, and you go and tell him that that son-of-a-bitch is worried about his well-being. He told Hunter and I quote, I never, ever want to talk to or see you again, unquote. That's a pretty clear message in my book. Then you go off and have the audacity to tell Hunter that Jesse is worried about him? What kind of reaction were you expecting? I've known Hunter less than a few hours and even I know that Jesse is a sensitive subject. What kind of dunderhead are you?" Brice turned toward the lagoon and watched as Hunter crawled up the swim ladder and then quickly disappeared below deck.
"Shit," Dan muttered. Brice spun around.
"Shit is right. Now tell me, what exactly has to happen here?"
"What do you mean?"
"What are your orders, Lieutenant? What are you supposed to do?" Brice asked incredulously.
"The sailboat and her crew are going back to Jacksonville. That's what's going to happen," Dan brooked in no uncertain terms.
"Not gonna happen," Brice stated defiantly.
"You can take the boat, but Hunter stays here."
"Sergeant," Dan called out, never breaking eye contact with Brice. A member of the Special Ops team was immediately at the Lieutenant's side. "Keep this … gentleman … out of my way. You are free to use force if necessary." The sergeant nodded and put his hand on his sidearm. "Church, radio in and get a cutter to come and tow the sailboat back to Jacksonville." Dan's co-pilot headed for the radio in the chopper.
The sound of a diesel engine starting got everyone's attention. Dan whirled around and looked to see Hunter at the wheel of the "Run Runner." Hunter gunned the engine and turned the wheel hard to port.
"Hunter!" Dan called out. The young sailor ignored him, but as the sailboat came about, Hunter did act.
"Brice!" Hunter yelled and Brice bolted toward the water. The sergeant wasn't quick enough to stop the dark haired youth as he dove headlong into the clear waters of the lagoon. Hunter threw out a line. Brice grabbed it and started pulling himself toward the boat. A shot rang out and a water plum erupted just a foot from Brice. Another shot rang out and a plum of sand erupted right beside Dan's boot. The lieutenant looked up and saw Hunter standing in the cockpit, rifle in hand.
"Tell Jesse he can go to hell!" Hunter yelled. Several more shots rang out splintering fiberglass in the cockpit.
"Hold your fire, damnit! Hold your fire!" Dan Dutton screamed at his men. Only one more shot rang out, but it hit its mark and Hunter went down. "God damnit! Hold your fire!"
Dan watched helplessly as Brice hauled himself aboard the sailboat. He briefly disappeared into the cockpit only to emerge and spin the wheel back round and pointed the "Rum Runner" toward the mouth of the lagoon. Brice looked back and gave Dan and company a one fingered salute.
* * * * *
Ted Hagan emerged from the chopper as white as a ghost. His appearance did not go unnoticed by the commander.
"What's the problem Ensign?" the commander asked. All the assembled turned to look at Ted.
"There's been shots fired, sir." The group tensed for the rest of the news. "They think Hunter's been hit." Jesse collapsed in his father's arms.
"Who shot him?" the commander demanded.
"One of our men, sir."
"Well, he shot at them," Ted said quietly.
"Hagan, please tell us everything you know."
"I don't know much more, sir. Only that Hunter and some other kid left the island on the "Run Runner'."
"What about my father?" Captain Turner's niece asked.
"I'm afraid he didn't make it, ma'am."
"What do you mean?"
"He's dead, ma'am."
There was a lot of confusion and frustration after Ted relayed all the information he'd gleaned from the radio. The cutter had relayed an estimated time of thirty to forty minutes before it reached the island. Best estimates put the "Rum Runner" no more than five miles away from the island, six at best. Interception would be no problem. Further radio communication with Lieutenant Dutton confirmed that Hunter had indeed been shot, but they didn't know how badly.
Jesse Westphal's world initially fell into worry over Hunter being shot. The worry was soon joined by confusion. Why would Hunter be trying to get away? Why would they be shooting at him? Who was the other person that left with him? Guilt soon joined the other emotions as Jesse assumed that Hunter was running from him. Finally, a great depression fell on Jesse's shoulders. His own words kept playing over and over in his head.
"I never, ever want to see or talk to you again. Just stay away from me."
Great, hot tears rolled down Jesse's face as his guilt dragged him deeper into despair. He'd been handed off to his mother who held him tightly in her arms. His father, Ensign Hagan and Commander Walsh took off in the helicopter headed for the island.
* * * * *
The "Rum Runner" bumped bottom several times, but steadily moved into deeper water. As soon as they cleared the breakwater, Brice turned her east.
"Are you sure you're okay?" Brice asked
"Yeah, it's just a scratch," Hunter said as he dabbed his bleeding leg. "But it sure hurts like hell."
"I thought they'd killed you," Brice said, his face still a bit pale.
"No, my dad would have cut their balls off if they had," Hunter said grinning. "Hell, he still may." He looked up. "You were great, you know." Brice blushed.
"They're gonna come after us."
"I know." Brice steered the "Rum Runner" into the clear waters with occasional spray splashing across the bow. The sun was starting to get low and he glanced back to see its beautiful reflection off the ocean. Brice then looked back at the island. The entrance to the lagoon was now gone and he looked at the thick tropical foliage of Throckmorton Island, his own personal prison. He looked down into the cockpit where Hunter had finally stopped the bleeding. The bullet had barely grazed his thigh.
"How bad do you really wanna get away?" asked Brice. Hunter looked out across the open ocean, the same ocean he was lost on for days. He'd thought of nothing but being found, but now being found wasn't exactly what he'd really been looking for. "Hunter?" Determined blue eyes met inquiring green eyes.
"There's nothing back there for me," he said softly. Brice beamed.
"See that point over there?" Brice asked while pointing to a jut out from the island.
"Just around that point is a deep water harbor. It's where dear ol' dad keeps his fishing boat. Chuck keeps it full of diesel, stocked with plenty of food and drink and always ready to go." Brice continued to smile as he steered toward the point. "And I know where the key is." Hunter stared at the heavily wooded point and couldn't help the growing grin on his face.
As they rounded the point, Hunter realized his idea of a fishing boat and Brice's were nowhere near the same. Standing proudly was at least a hundred foot yacht. Her white hull gleamed in the setting sun. She towered over the dock. Her two upper decks sported rounded forward windows that gave her a sleek, fast look. Polished teak handrails, shimmering stainless steel, lots of windows, two massive anchors and an array of the very latest electronics on top combined into an impressive sight.
"That's what you call a fishing boat?" Hunter asked with his eye brows raised.
"That's what daddy calls a fishing boat. I call it escape," Brice said with a smile.
"Can you run that thing?" Hunter asked.
"Of course. Engine, steering wheel, throttle … what's not to know?" Hunter snickered.
"A boat, no a yacht that size almost certainly has a crew of at least ten. It probably takes every single last one of them to get her in dock."
"Well, we're not concerned with getting her in dock, now are we? We're more concerned with getting her out of dock. How hard can that be? Untie a few lines, start her up, shift into forward and push on the throttle … piece of cake," Brice explained with a shrug of his shoulders.
"We'll see," muttered Hunter. "By the way, you might wanna start slowing down a bit. We're coming in pretty fast." Brice looked down at the levers on the console and then back at Hunter.
"Ah, maybe you should do this." Hunter grinned and took the wheel.
"Here, take this line forward and secure it to the port cleat. I'll get you close enough so you can jump off and tie up. I'll get the stern line. Brice nodded and headed forward. Hunter's eyes took in the boy's physique clad in only skimpy shorts and couldn't help but admire the smooth skin and hard muscles.
"No, your other left. Secure the line to your other left," he called out to Brice.
"You just wanna see my ass some more," Brice called back.
"I wanna do more than just see it!" Brice laughed and gave Hunter a peek.
Despite the distraction on the bow, all the years of Hunter's sailing experience paid off as he brought the sailboat smartly alongside the dock.
"Brice, we've got to get outta here fast."
"Come on, the key's kept in the shed over here." Hunter smiled and shook his head in disbelief. The shed was a huge building on the shore. The dock was attached to the building. Brice punched in the combination code on the door and pushed it open. The lavish interior had everything any sailor could want … top of the line nylon braided line, hundreds of feet of it, fenders of every size and use, four jet skies, shelf after shelf of fluffy towels, his and hers locker rooms complete with hot tubs and a fully stocked self-service bar. Hunter stood in awe while Brice quickly ducked behind the bar. Seconds later he emerged with the keys.
"The old man keeps the keys under a bottle of single malt scotch," Brice smiled while dangling the keys in front of Hunter's face.
"Perfect! Let's go," Hunter smiled as they headed for the door.
On to Chapter Six
"He Said, He Said"
Back to Chapter Four
"Declaration of Intention"
Jevic's Story Page
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