"RNLI" Alternate Universe
Ezra and Josiah stood rooted to the spot for a second, and then the boom of the maroon shocked them into action. Both men took off at a run, heading for the gate and then charging down the square toward the harbour. As they got closer to the Lifeboat Inn they saw the unmistakeable figures of Buck and JD ahead of them also running.
When his pager went off JD nearly fell of the sofa with surprise. He moved so suddenly and so quickly that Mac actually looked up from his own chair by the radiator. JD ran to the door that led down to the bar, his boots were by the back door just as Buck had taught him. With his heart racing and butterflies in his stomach he came downstairs three at a time. There at the bottom was Buck calmly pulling on his coat, as JD struggled to pull on his boots and coat simultaneously.
"More haste less speed JD," Buck counselled calmly, helping the boy pull on his coat before they both headed out.
Just as Buck was following JD out Inez caught his arm. "You watch out for the jovenzoelo, yes?" she said hastily.
Buck flashed her his best smile. "Always love, always," he assured, before following JD into the dark and foggy street.
Josiah heard footsteps behind him and looking over his shoulder saw Nathan gaining on them. All five men running down the street then had to move aside as Chris' Land Rover sped past with both him and Vin onboard. As they got to the harbour they could see just how bad the fog was. The end of the harbour wall was lost in the mist, only the red light on the end was visible, since its pole was lost from sight it appeared to be floating in mid-air like some malevolent eye. As they got closer they could hear and eventually see the unmistakable form of Tiny already readying the lines. The big shipwright practically lived right on the harbour and no one could remember him ever missing a launch. As they jumped down and into their now well practised launch routine Orin drew up in his car, and several other shore crew arrived to help.
"You've got two fishermen overdue somewhere between here and Marazion, most likely closer than further, Coast Guard will fill you in, no use launching a helicopter in this." He gestured to the fog bank. "They are meant to have a mobile with them but no one has head from them, the phone is either off or can't get a signal."
"Were on it Orin, don't worry," Chris assured.
As Travis watched them pull out, round the harbour wall and disappear into the fog he remembered Chris saying 'don't worry' only six weeks ago. God has it only been six weeks? He asked himself.
Chris and JD stood in the wheelhouse. At night in the fog the navigational equipment was the boats eyes and ears. Instinct allowed Chris to round the castle point and head across the bay toward the channel between Saint Just and the mainland. If he got it wrong even at high tide the reefs would rip her bottom open like a tin opener. Ezra stood at his watch post on the port side, he could clearly hear the fog horn on the Saint Just light and just make out the light itself. He counted between flashes, stupid really he told himself, he knew it was one flash every eight seconds, but he counted anyway. The Saint Nicholas was capable of 25 knots, but for safety Chris had to keep the speed down; anyway, this was not a fast shout, this was going to be slow and methodical.
"When's high water JD?" Chris asked.
One of JD's duties, one he had been working at diligently, was to always know the state of the tide.
He looked at his watch. "Two hours five minutes."
Chris swore to himself, if the men were cut off they didn't have long to find them, assuming it wasn't already too late. There was no point checking the beach, it was hard to get cut off on a straight flat beach with only sand dunes behind it, but beyond the point it was all cliffs and narrow inlets. Josiah up at the bow spotted the buoy marking the safe channel and signalled it to Chris, who acknowledged him. Nathan was watching from the starboard side, the land side, along with Vin who was happy his engines were running just fine. Buck moved around the boat checking everyone was okay. He came into the wheelhouse. Scanning the radar, echo sounder and GPS for himself he put a hand on JD's shoulder.
"Well kid, how does it feel to be on your first real shout?" he asked.
"It's brilliant," JD said a little too fast.
"You know where we are?"
JD frowned with mock annoyance. "'Cause I know. To within a meter," he boasted.
Chris suppressed a smirk at the boy's cockiness and concentrated on the job of steering the boat.
"Actually " JD said more quietly, eyeing the darkness and fog out side, and conscious that, since there was no wind, the sea was flat calm and unnaturally quiet.
"Yes," Buck encouraged.
"Actually it's a bit creepy out there," he admitted thinking he was now going to be teased for being a superstitious wimp.
"That it is JD, that it is," Buck affirmed in hushed terms, just then the foghorn cut though the quiet again, long and plaintive and eerie.
Once they were past the headland and safely though the channel Chris brought her in as close as he dared, and they turned on their powerful spotlights. The trouble was the fog was so dense it reflected the light. All they could see were two huge circles of light about ten feet away. This did nothing except increase JD's unease. They took it in turns to call out and sound klaxons, but there was no response, except once when a police patrol out checking cliff top car parks for the men's car answered them.
"Buck," Chris called, "come and take the wheel a moment."
As Buck took over from him Chris went to his charts, he wasn't looking for the navigation charts but very big scale maps of the coast, usually used only by surveyors and students studying geography. What Chris was interested in was the topography of the cliffs, where the inlets were accessible and where they weren't. He also had a complete set of photos showing the cliffs and inlets at high tide, his original set had gone down with the Saint Anthony, and he hadn't yet finished naming and adding notes to the new prints. He called JD down and asked him to pinpoint their position exactly, which JD did. Since as far as he could see from the maps and from his own personal knowledge there wasnt any place where one let alone two people could be for the next three miles he decided to push on and look more closely at places they conceivably could have reached and survived. It was a risky strategy but given how high and how fast the tide was rising he had to take that risk and optimise his search parameters. After increasing speed as much as he dared they moved swiftly to the new search area.
The gamble paid off; after only half an hour, in the third cove they reached, their shouts were answered. The two men were cold and tired and scared but, for the moment at least, they were okay. A brief shouted conversation established that the fishing had been bad so they had gone for a walk along the beach, as it got dark they headed back, then the fog came in and they walked right past the beach with a path up the cliffs. Only after struggling to find the path for sometime did they realise they were on the wrong beach. By then it was too late, and the tide had cut them off. A quick examination of the maps confirmed what all three experienced men knew, the cove the men were on was under an overhanging cliff. The cliff rescue team could get the elderly men out but it would be risky and almost certainly take too long.
Already the tide had covered all the sand and was now approaching the slippery rock ledge the pensioners were standing on. Chris took one more look at his charts and maps, checked the echo sounder and radar and then announced his plan.
"Ill try to take her in to them, Nathan you stand by on the thermal imager to guide us, Ill go in prow first. I want people up there to see if you can grab them, and watch for rocks. Any questions?" No one spoke. "Good, then lets go guys."
Buck organised the crew as Chris eased the boat around and began to nudge her closer to the rocky coast. JD was at the very tip of the prow. He kept calling to the men and with their voices and the forms on the thermal imager as a guide, which easily detected the men's body heat against the cold rocks, Chris was able to come in directly in front of the men. Finally they were so close JD could actually make out dark forms ahead of him as the ships lights finally penetrated the fog. And just then he heard the boat go into reverse. JD spun around.
"I can see them, Chris!" he shouted. "I can see them."
"There's not enough water, we'll have to do it another way; launch the Y." This was a small inflatable the Severn class boat carried. "Josiah, you take Ezra and fetch them in it, but carefully, some of the reefs around here are razor sharp."
"Have no fear brother, I am well aquatinted with God's handy-work in this vicinity," the priest assured.
"Great, now he starts to talk like a priest and Ezra at the same time," JD exclaimed in exasperation.
When it came to it even the inflatable couldnt get close enough for the men to just step in, and since they were quite elderly Ezra would have to wade to them, thigh deep in the icy water.
"Okay Ezra, just take it slow, remember the rocks under you are very uneven, feel with your foot before you put weight on it," Josiah advised as the old Etonian stood to climb out.
On such a still night over water even a whispered conversation was audible.
"Hey preacher, if he sprains his ankle and can't play on Saturday I'm gonna hold you responsible you know!" Buck bellowed across the water.
"Shit Buck, is rugby all you ever think about?" Nathan asked with some exasperation.
Buck turned to the doctor. "Oh no, not ALL I think about, not by a long chalk, no way."
"Apart from that!" Nathan fumed.
"Well in the summer I think about cricket and THAT!"
"So basically you're admitting you have a two track mind, sport and sex?" Nathan probed.
"Don't all men?" The big publican asked, trying to sound innocent.
"No we don't, some of us think about a lot of other stuff " At this point Nathan treated Buck to a list of things he thought about other than the two S's.
JD stood beside Chris at the wheel as the two tall men argued while they watched Josiah's lights and kept an eye out for reefs; Vin just listened and laughed.
Thinking Nathan was getting at Buck, JD leapt to his defence, and turning to Chris he tried to explain. "But Chris, Buck's not like that at all, he's really smart, he "
Chris had to stop him. "I know JD and so does Nate, he's just playing that's all, to lighten the atmosphere." As if on cue, the faint tone of the foghorn called out to them again.
Just then they heard a fine litany of earthy Anglo-Saxon expressions as Ezra lowered himself into the water.
"Man, " Vin breathed. "I never knew they learnt words like that at posh schools."
"Well it seems they do, bet he can do it in Latin too," Chris said loud enough to ensure Ezra could hear him. There then followed a string of words the others took to be Latin.
"Brother!" Josiah exclaimed. "That was uncalled for."
"You think?" Ezra commented sarcastically as he waded through the surf, such as it was.
"What did he say?" Vin asked.
"Don't ask," was the only comment from Sanchez.
"Oh go on, tell us." Buck hated when people swore at him in foreign languages, he had an alarmingly colourful turn of phrase when called for and he liked to be accurate when he insulted people, which he couldn't do if he didn't understand what he was being called.
"Let us just say he calls your parentage and mothers occupations in to question, and leave it at that."
As JD watched the well lit deck, he could clearly see Buck's broad back stiffen and his grip on the rail tighten, it only lasted a second but he knew what he had seen. Now what's that all about? He asked himself.
Ezra had reached the two men.
"Gentlemen, would you like me to assist you to leave this inhospitable locale" he enquired.
"Ay?" they asked in unison.
Ezra sighed; the English language has the largest lexical in the world, why not try to use as much of it as possible, was his philosophy.
"Do you want me to help you to the boat," he explained rather more prosaically.
"Yes please," the closest man affirmed. "Why didn't you just say that?"
"I did, oh never mind. Hold on to me, you," he addressed the other man, "hold on to your friends belt and follow me. Be very careful it's treacherous under foot," he warned, as he again felt his way across the rocks toward Josiah.
Once safely in the inflatable they headed back to the boat. So thick was the fog, which was rapidly turning in to freezing fog, that until they were practically on top of her the Saint Nicholas was all but invisible.
"It really is a lifeboat," one of the men commented.
"Well what did you expect!" Buck exclaimed as he reached down to help them aboard. "The QE2, the Titanic, HMS Victory! Of course it's a bloody lifeboat!"
"Sorry, " the second man apologised as he too was safely pulled aboard. "It's just you don't sound like a lifeboat crew, that's all."
"And what does a lifeboat crew sound like?" Vin asked.
"I don't know? More businesslike, less well less I mean not so "
"Like a squabbling family?" Josiah suggested as he finally joined them.
"We do not squabble," Vin stated.
"Oh yeah, and what to you call it when you and JD fight over the last chocolate digestive, it's like feeding time at the zoo whenever we have to eat with you two," Nathan pointed out.
"Here, here, well said." This was from a still wet and pissed off Ezra.
That said, Nathan ushered the two men and Ezra down below decks to dry off and warm up.
As a first shout for a new crew it was near perfect, a chance to use some skills, a reasonably simple rescue, lives saved. As Chris took his boat home, he watched and listened to his crew. Yes they squabbled, but a crew not at ease doesn't have the confidence to squabble, to him it was a good sign.
Christmas came upon them. Josiah was naturally very busy. Buck too, outside the summer holiday season Christmas and New Year were his most profitable times. JD was making extra money working for Inez in the kitchen. Nathan was kept busy with the usual winter colds and coughs. After their first mission they had seen more of Ezra socially, until the 23rd. That day they had all arranged to go to the joint churches Community Carols for Christmas service, only Chris and JD were on call so the others were free to enjoy themselves. Nathan and Rain had agreed instantly, despite Rain's pagan beliefs Nathan was a committed Christian and she admitted to liking a good carol. Buck was also more than happy to go. Along with Josiah, the three of them had persuaded Vin, who in turn helped Buck coaxed Chris along. Josiah had not had to work too hard on Ezra to get him to agree. Surprisingly it was JD that proved the most difficult to get through the church doors. He had admitted to Josiah he was a Catholic, but hadn't attended a Mass in six months. In the end he agreed more to please Buck then because he wanted to go. Except Josiah who was taking part in the service, they arranged to meet at the Lifeboat Inn, Ezra was late, they waited as long as they could before leaving a message with Inez that he was to meet them in the church. They saved him a seat, but he never came. Somehow it took some of the joy out of the occasion, they sung heartily, listened to the choir, but every now and again each one of them would find his eyes drifting to the empty seat.
After several post service drinks including whisky and a particularly potent mulled wine it was decided to go the Ezra's and see why he didn't come. Since Chris was on call and not drinking, he agreed to drive his Land Rover, which could easily accommodate them all. JD the only other sober member of the group though it was a bad idea but didn't say so.
They pulled up at the gatehouse of Treveal House to find it in darkness but for one light in the hallway. Buck pounded on the door but got no response, then Nathan spotted that the big house was ablaze with light. Normally it was dark, the only occupants the Pasco's, Henry and Judith, who were housekeepers, grounds staff, maintenance crew and security guards all rolled into one. Buck, Nathan, Vin and Josiah set out up the drive. Chris just shook his head and climbed into the Land Rover again. JD hadn't even bothered to get out. Car and pedestrians arrived at the big front door simultaneously. Once again Buck pounded on the door. This time the diminutive but famously tough Mrs. Pasco opened the door.
"Yes? What do you want, we don't give to charity you know," she informed them.
"We came to see Ezra," Josiah announced pushing past her. "Is he here?"
"Father Sanchez, really!" the woman ran after him effectively letting in the others.
Vin stood gazing at the hallway with it's beautiful carved wooden panels. Chris stood beside him.
"This is amazing, it looks like a piece of material folded over," he said in what he took to be hushed tones but were really quite loud.
"Thats why they call it Linen Fold Panelling," Chris explained to his drunken friend. "Look at the ceiling."
All of them did. It was covered in intricate moulded plasterwork.
"Duw," breathed Vin.
"Cor," gasped a totally sober but equally impressed JD.
"Very impressive for such a small house," Nathan commented.
"This is not a small house!" Buck pointed out, rather too loudly.
Nathan was about to argue the relative sizes of the great houses of England when they heard Josiah calling to them.
"Hey, I found him, down here guys!"
Following Josiah's voice they found their way to a large drawing room. Panelled like the hall it was furnished with huge leather upholstered sofas. Standing in front of one was Ezra clutching a full glass of brandy; sitting in another was a stunning blond woman, much older than Ezra. Her neat well-tailored suit looking totally out of place in the comfortable room, her only concession to comfort seemed to be that she had slipped off her stiletto heeled shoes.
"Dear," she said in a clearly irritated voice. "I will ask you again - who are these people?"
"We're his friends," Vin stated firmly.
Ezra was clearly aware most of his visitors were three sheets to the wind and smiled at the inanely grinning Tanner. "Indeed, Mister Tanner, you are."
Great! thought Buck, He's back to using surnames.
"But I still don't understand why you are here." Ezra continued.
"You were going to come sing, you told Josiah you would come sing and you didn't come sing," Vin explained.
Chris made a mental note that clearly the key to getting Vin to talk with the eloquence the Welsh are famed for, involved a considerable alcoholic intake.
"We were worried." Nathan was determined Ezra would understand why they were there. "We thought you might be sick. Are you sick?" He began to move toward Ezra.
"No Doctor Jackson I am quite well," Ezra said quickly.
"Since we have established my son is not ill I see no reason for you gentlemen to invade my home any longer," the woman said from her sofa.
"Son?" Chris asked.
"Chris, guys, meet my mother Maude Standish, formally Maude Penhaligon among other things."
"Pleasure to meet you," Buck said, never one to disrespect a lady, before he turned to Ezra again. "But why didn't you come tonight Ez, we missed you, you've got a good voice, I heard you in the shower after the match last week. Damn fine it sounded"
Ezra blushed slightly, Maude frowned.
"Dear, please explain to me what match you were at and exactly who all these gentlemen, and I use the term 'gentlemen' in the very broadest sense, are and where you were expected to sing tonight?"
Before Ezra could answer Vin decided to tell her. "He was at the rugby match with Buck here, 'cause he's in the team and Buck is captain and "
"Stop young man!" Maude held here hand up to silence Vin and then turned to Ezra.
"You haven't taken up that dreadful brutish game again have you dear? I though we discussed this?"
"You discussed it mother, not me. Yes I have and I intend to continue to do so." Ezra moved several paces away from her. "Furthermore, tonight I foolishly allowed you to dissuade me from going out, I was here with you when I should have been singing in church with my friends. I forgot my priorities have changed." He turned to the others. "I'm sorry, it will not happen again."
Vin frowned at him. "No way man, if ya Mams here course you should be with her, we missed ya that's all."
Good, back to first names, Buck sighed a silent sigh of relief.
"My crew mates had made plans, I agreed to them, I should have honoured them." He turned to all of them. "I apologise to all of you."
Chris decided they had been there long enough. "Come on guys, time to go home, most of you got jobs to go to in the morning." He looked at Maude. "Nice to meet you Mrs. Standish, you must be very proud of Ezra."
Maude looked at him, trying to decide what that remark had meant, it sounded like a trap but she couldn't see it. There was something about those eyes that worried her.
"Indeed, of course I am," she ventured non- commitally.
As Chris ushered his flock away he heard Maude ask Ezra what Vin had meant by 'crew mates', there was pause then her voice exploded though the old house.
"YOU JOINED WHAT!"
JD looked back worriedly. "Do you think he's going to be alright?" he asked Josiah.
"Yes; yes I really do believe he is."
Christmas was understated in Four Corners that year; it was still too soon after the tragedy for the community to fully enjoy Christmas. Buck had been worried that JD was getting quieter and quieter. They have known each other barely two months yet Buck was already attuned to JD's moods and he didn't like this one. The trouble was he was rushed off his feet, it was always the same at Christmas, he just didn't have time to sit down and think let alone analyse JD.
The others weren't much help; Josiah was also rushed of his feet. While the stables were shut on Christmas day they were busy Christmas Eve and Boxing Day, and the animals, sheep and horses still needed tending. Chris had invited Vin over Christmas morning to help, since he had insisted Casey had the day off. They were both invited to the Wells farm for lunch. Ezra had been invited by all of them for lunch but had explained that he had to do his duty as a son and have lunch with his mother. Since Rain's mother had descended on the Jackson household Nathan was a virtual prisoner in his home, escaping now and again to work. Worse still Inez had flown home to Bilbao Christmas Eve, and wouldn't be back until the day after Boxing Day. Mrs Potter was in the pub kitchen until then but not on Christmas Day. They weren't offering food on Christmas Day of course but JD was mildly curious as to where or by whom their Christmas dinner was to be cooked. He hadn't mentioned it. He assumed Buck didn't bother much with Christmas lunch, he was single, and by the time they shut at lunch time on Christmas Day he would probably be too tired to do much more than sleep. He could cook, but only very basic food, he sure couldn't cook Christmas lunch. It was just one more thing about this Christmas he wasn't looking forward to.
Christmas Eve in any pub is a mad, loud, raucous, affair. Like every other publican Buck had applied for and got a license extension until one in the morning. JD was in the kitchen washing glasses. Some way to spend Christmas Eve, he thought. Then he told himself off. Oh stop moping JD, youre not a child, you have to work for your living now, Buck's working why shouldn't you? It's not as if you have to, you offered, youre getting paid! He concentrated on his job; he wanted there to be no reason for Buck to have to work one minute past closing time.
A few minutes after one Buck walked wearily into the kitchen, which was looking immaculate.
"Happy Christmas kid," he smiled at a sweaty, tired JD.
"Happy Christmas Buck," he smiled back.
"By lunch time tomorrow all this will be over and we can relax and enjoy Christmas properly."
JD nodded, with a half smile.
"Go to bed JD, I'll take Mac for a stroll then come up."
"I can walk Mac for you," JD offered, he had to admit Wilmington looked done in.
"No, me and the killer will be fine, you go up."
Buck dropped on to his bed at around half one, and was out like a light. He slept for about half an hour. Then something woke him. At first he thought it was the dog whining to be let out, but as he became more alert he realised it wasn't Mac but JD he could hear. Getting out of bed and pulling on an old pair of sweat bottoms and a tee shirt he padded over to the door and opened it. His bedroom door opened right next to JD's. Now the sound was quite distinct, crying, JD was crying. Buck stood and listened unsure as to what to do, let the boy cry himself to sleep or go in and try to help, trouble was that would embarrass the lad terribly, men don't cry and JD wanted so much to be seen as a man.
The trouble was Buck couldn't stand to see or hear anyone in distress, it upset him almost as much as they were upset. JD's sobs didn't seem to be abating so he gently eased the door open.
"JD," he called softly.
"Go away," came the snuffled reply.
"Can't do that kid." Buck walked softly toward the bed.
"I said go away!"
"I can't, see youre my friend and technically a minor and I feel responsible for you."
"Please," JD pleaded.
He was curled up facing the wall, his back to Buck. He felt the mattress give as Buck sat on the edge of the bed. Buck hadn't put on the light but he had left the door open, allowing sufficient light to filter in to illuminate the room enough for him to see JD.
"The thing is I've been so busy I'd forgotten, I'd forgotten what it was like, that first Christmas. The first Christmas without her."
He sensed JD was now listening, the sobs had slowed.
"It's my fault you told me all about yourself, and I haven't told you about me."
JD had told him how his father had walked out on his mother and him when he was three. She had gone on to get work as a cook housekeeper. When JD was seven he had started to have trouble at school, he was disruptive and was eventually expelled. Buck had found this hard to believe. JD had gone on to explain his mother had got a new job in a new town, Oxford. JD's behavioural problems increased and he was once again expelled. His mother was by chance working for an Oxford don who was researching child development and behaviour, he worked out JD was exceptionally intelligent, he was having trouble in school because he was bored and unchallenged. He organised for JD to go to a special school for gifted children; where he passed his A levels at 14 and won a place at Saint Andrews University to study computer languages. His mother moved jobs to Saint Andrews to be with him. Unfortunately just three months into his first term she was diagnosed with cancer. JD had divided his adolescent years between studying and caring for his mother. She died just two weeks after he graduated. Now he was alone in the world, all his mothers life insurance money had gone to pay off his student loans.
JD's curiosity was piqued. He rolled over to look at the older man. Even in the poor light he could see the sadness and concern on his face, as he began to speak.
"It was always just me and mum, I don't know who my father was, if I'm honest I don't think mum did either. She sometimes claimed he was an American; hence the name but I don't know if that was true." This wasn't something he found easy to talk about; he swallowed hard before continuing. "We didn't live here then, we were in Devonport, you know what Devonport is?"
JD nodded, "Home of the Navy, well, one of them."
"Right. We moved here when I was 15. When I was 18 she was killed." There he had to stop, even after nearly twenty years it was a painful topic. "So you see kid I do understand, but I had forgotten what that first Christmas alone was like. I knew you were upset about something and I should have taken the time to find out or work out what."
"It's not your fault, it's not your job. I'm a big boy. Oh God, listen to me saying that and crying like a baby." JD chided himself.
"You listen to me JD. People talk a lot of crap about men and crying. Crying is how we deal with emotions, how we let them go, else why do we do it? You need to cry, go ahead and cry. Don't let no one tell you men don't cry, we do."
JD sat up and wiped his eyes. "I miss her, I miss her so much." The tears now fell unchecked. Buck reached out and putting a hand behind JD's neck pulled the slight teen to him, resting JD's head on his broad shoulder.
"Me too kid, me too," he breathed, letting his own tears fall.
Finally JD said. "What happened?"
Buck pulled away from him. "What do you mean?"
"To your mum, what happened? You said she was killed."
Buck looked down. "She fell from the harbour wall, and drowned, they say she must have hit her head as she went down."
JD frowned. "You don't sound convinced."
"The coroner called it 'death by misadventure', they said she had been drinking. Mum never got drunk, and she wasn't one for late night walks either. She had made enemies; in her profession it's inevitable; she was murdered, I can't prove it but she was."
"What did she do?" JD was wondering if Buck's mum had been a policewoman or tax collector or something.
"The oldest profession."
JD took a moment to process this, then the penny dropped and he remembered Buck reaction to Ezra's Latin insults.
"She was a saint JD, the best mum ever. It's just a job."
"I didn't mean anything. I don't mind, honest," JD assured hurriedly.
"No I'm sorry, I can get a bit prickly sometimes." Buck smiled reassuringly.
"Is that when you joined the Navy, after "
"Yup, I needed to get away, 8 years in the Navy sure did that. Mum's life insurance and my savings brought this place," he explained.
JD took a deep breath and wiped the now drying tears away. "Guess we're two of a kind?"
"Yeah I guess so. Hey it's Christmas morning you want to open presents?"
They both moved into the living room. There Buck switched on the Christmas tree lights and forced Mac to get off his beloved chair and join them as they sat cross-legged in front of the tree with it's small collection of presents. JD felt a pang of guilt, he hadn't had the money to buy Buck much. He was aware of three presents with his name on under the tree, compared to his two. JD went first, he handed over the small parcel first. Inside was a pen, somewhat thicker than usual. Buck looked at it a little puzzled. It clearly did more than write but he wasn't sure what.
"Here." JD reached across and pulled out the tab under the batteries. "Now whistle," He instructed.
Buck obliged with a wolf whistle, the pen answered with it's own whistle. "You're always losing your pen, so now you can find it," he explained.
"Cool! Thats great JD." He then handed over a small parcel of his own.
This proved to be a toy Clanger. "Here," Buck echoed JD's movements by leaning over and pressed the small pink creatures stomach, it then emitted suitably Clanger-like whistles.
JD laughed. "How the hell did you know? How?" A love of a very old TV show meant for under-fives wasn't exactly something he boasted about.
Buck grinned wickedly. "Barmen have big ears, you wait till Vin opens his present from Chris!"
JD suddenly remembered talking to Vin about children's TV programmes and them both confessing a love of the Clangers.
Buck pulled over a big parcel. "Open it and don't argue," he instructed.
It proved to be an ink jet printer for his laptop. "I can't it's too much, I can use your printer."
"I told you not to argue." JD dutifully shut up, and handed Buck his main present, a brand-new England rugby team shirt.
"Thanks, I needed a new one."
"I know, yours is more cobweb than shirt."
Finally Buck handed over a small box. JD opened it to find an envelope inside, inside that was a book of vouchers for driving lessons, far more valuable than the printer.
"Before you say a word it's either that or I teach you, and I know no better way to destroy a friendship than teaching someone to drive. And Kid, your friendship is worth far more than any amount of money."
The rather embarrassed silence that followed was finally broken when Mac began to root around in the discarded paper.
"He's looking for his," Buck explained, pulling a soft parcel wrapped in tissue from behind his back.
"Here Mac, come on boy!" he encouraged.
Showing more energy and animation than JD had ever seen, the greyhound grabbed the package and ripped the tissue paper from around a stuffed toy rabbit. Buck explained he got one every year because he always destroyed it within a year. They watched as, with puppy like exuberance, the dog shook and tossed the rabbit about the room. When they finally returned to their own rooms Buck couldn't help a grin as he heard Small Clanger whistling away next door.
At breakfast, JD, filled with a new confidence in his friendship with Buck, finally brought up the subject of Christmas lunch.
"Buck what are we gonna eat today, for lunch I mean?"
Buck laughed. "Well first off we have Christmas supper around here, if that's okay with you?"
"Course." JD assured.
"And we're having Turkey of course, roast potatoes, roast parsnips, sausages, sprouts, stuffing you know Christmas stuff."
Now that sounded okay, but he still didn't understand who was going to cook.
"Is Mrs Potter going to come in? Doesn't she have her own family to look after?"
"Is that what all this is about? Who's going to cook? Me JD, I'm going to cook, who did you think was going to do it?"
"You! You can cook?"
"Derrr! Yes, what do you think I was doing all them years in the Navy?"
"I don't know, sailing ships and stuff?"
"I was a chef JD, I always wanted to own a pub but I needed some experience and training, couldn't afford to go to college so I went to sea. Learnt how to cook, how to order and keep accounts, everything I needed and I got to see the world as well."
Two months later
The rain came in near horizontally, it was icy cold and stung and burned the face as it hit like a hundred needles. The sky was so black it made it feel like evening even though it was only three in the afternoon.
"Faster, faster!" JD bellowed. "Run, run!" He was himself running along the touch line, trying to keep up with the Four Corners backs as they made another attempt to reach the Bosoljack try line. Somewhere in the centre the ball came to Buck, with all his natural speed and power he made yards into their defence, as usual it took three men to bring him down, he easily pushed the ball safely to Ezra as he hit the sodden ground. Grabbing the slick ball and knowing they needed quick ball to make the most of the hole in the oppositions defence Buck had made, Ezra instantly sent the ball down the line. In a text book play, it sailed to the winger Will Underwood, who carried it over the line and sprinted around to ground it between the posts. Rob Wilkinson then kicked it clean over the cross bar for a conversion. Until then the tight game had been tied, but those seven points opened up a lead Four Corners never lost. This was a crunch game, if they won today they won the league.
The celebrations were long and liquid. Mary Travis, who had taken over editing the local paper, even broke the habit of a lifetime and put sport on the front page.
The weather refused to celebrate. The rain and wind didn't let up, as Saturday turned into Sunday it got worse, Sunday night was wild. In the small hours of Monday in mountainous seas, howling storm-force winds and driving rain, the catamaran Septem in Unum lost her mast.
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