"RNLI" Alternate Universe
Heather Flint was fairly embarrassed, not to say horrified, when she woke up in Buck's bed. Saying a hasty good-bye and turning down an offer of breakfast, she left. What had she been thinking of! She wasn't drunk; he didn't force her, or even seduce her, if anything she threw herself at him. It had been very pleasant, it had in fact been the best sex she had had in a long time, but still she couldn't justify what she had done. Quickly she made her way back to her car and drove the twenty miles to her hotel. Before heading to her own room to freshen up she stopped at another room on the floor below. The dark-haired, small man who opened the door looked to be about fifty. Not waiting for an invitation, she pushed past him into the room.
"What were you thinking?" she demanded.
"I got a right to go any place I want," he retorted.
"Not if you want the money you don't, not if you want this to work, you stay away, you hear me?"
The man nodded resentfully.
Chris had been surprised to find that although Vin had been unsteady on his feet as they made their way down to the harbour, once he was at the yacht he called home he became remarkably sure-footed. That said, once he made it on board he slumped down at the table that was the central feature of the main cabin.
"I'm tired, man," Vin stated, his accent so strong it was almost unintelligible.
Chris had been on the Lone Star before, the two of them had been sailing regularly, but he had never been into the bow cabin that Vin slept in. Originally the boat had two cabins of equal size, but Vin had removed the partition making one large cabin.
"Come on mate, lets get you to bed."
"Hur?" Vin looked at him through sleep-heavy eyes.
"Come on, bed." With that, he looped an arm under Vin's shoulder and pulled him up and manoeuvred him toward the cabin.
Chris hadn't been sure what to expect. The cabin was very neat, the original double bed was on the left, but the sides had been raised to accommodate a second mattress, thus making the bed much more comfortable and warmer. The bulkhead next to the bed had a padded panel attached to it; this served a dual purpose, to prevent painful bruises if you were thrown against it in a storm, and to insulate the bed from the cold sea just the other side of the relatively thin hull.
Above the bed at the pillow end was a built-in storage shelf, Chris noted the toy Soup Dragon he had given Vin at Christmas, an affectionate joke. It shared its space with a mini music centre and a rack of CD's. Chris spotted the Eagles, Aretha Franklin, some light jazz, as well as some Copland, Vivaldi and Walton. He would never have pegged Tanner for a classical music lover, let alone jazz. The bed was made up with a thick duvet in a blue cover sporting a dolphin on it. On the other side of the cabin Chris could see where the original bunk beds had been. The base of the bottom bunk had been made into a computer workstation. A laptop was well secured as was the printer, all three were contained in a cupboard, which Chris could see was designed to be waterproof, thus further protecting it in any storm. Work was evident, a series of shallow trays were filled with papers, racks above were filled with folders and books, all neat and well organised. Where the other bunk had gone across at right angles a wardrobe had been constructed, at least that was what Chris assumed it was because it was closed but since it the only storage area big enough, although there were draws under the bed. Above it was a combined television and VCR, plus a satellite decoder. More shelves at the base of the bed were packed with videos and books.
He manoeuvred Vin so he was sitting on the bed, by now the Welshman was all but asleep. Chris pulled off his trainers, took a deep breath before taking the plunge and undid the top button of the faded blue jeans and finally pulled off the jacket. He was reminded of getting Adam ready for bed after a day on the beach.
"Come on Vin, time to sleep now." Vin seemed to be on automatic pilot, and stood obediently as Chris pulled gently on his hand. Once he was up, Larabee pulled back the covers and pushed him down. Instantly the tired, drunk man lay on his side and curled up, muttering something in Welsh.
"What was that, mate?" Chris asked, but it was too late, Vin was already asleep.
Pulling up the covers he stepped back from the bed and noticed the photos on the wall at the back of the shelves behind the bed. There was one of a slim, delicately boned young woman holding a very small baby. She was quite beautiful; her blue eyes and light brown hair, with its gentle waves, made it obvious to Chris that this was the infant Vin with his mother. Next to it was picture of an elderly couple, the man looked weather beaten, his hair hidden under an old fashioned cloth cap, the woman had the same blue eyes as Vin and his mother, clearly these were his grandparents. There were four other small pictures; two of Border collies, one of a black cat and one of a sturdy Welsh mountain pony with a grinning boy of about seven sitting on it bareback; most of his face was hidden under the brim of a riding hat, but Chris recognised the grin as Vin's. There before Chris, was his friend's childhood. Suddenly Chris felt he was intruding - happy that Tanner would sleep safely until morning, he quietly left the boat.
As he strolled back up the hill, resigned to the fact that he was well over the limit and would have to walk the mile and a half to home and pick up the Landrover in the morning, Chris thought back to the little cabin Vin called home. There was something missing; photos, not of family, but of Vin's time in the marines. Chris wasn't an expert but he knew pretty well all servicemen were proud of their time in the Queen's uniform. Both Orin Travis and Buck sure were. He had seen pictures in Travis's house of his time in the navy, graduation pictures, crew pictures, pictures of ships he had commanded or served on, informal pictures taken on various shore leaves abroad. The wall above the computer in Buck's flat was decorated with similar pictures as, now he thought about it, was Tiny's hallway. But Vin had none, not one reminder of his time in the Marines.
JD had had some difficulty getting Ezra out of the taxi; he was still convinced he couldn't walk, despite the fact that only five minutes before he had, with some help, walked from the bar to the taxi. Eventually JD and a highly-amused driver pulled and bullied him out of the car and into his house. With Ezra sitting on the sofa prodding his numb legs, JD turned to the equally difficult task of getting Mac out of the car.
"Come on you idle bag of bones," JD encouraged in a light voice. "You don't live in this man's car and if you stay there you'll end up at the police station, all alone, and they won't give you buttered toast crusts and milky tea with sugar for breakfast; oh no, you'll get dog biscuits and you know how much you like them!"
Mac didn't move, he just looked at JD, cocking his head on one side as if to say. 'Young master, what are you saying? Surly you don't want me to actually walk home! Me? I'm old and weak, I haven't eaten for at least half an hour! Take me home in the car, please.'
But JD wasn't listening. He leant into the car and clipped Mac's lead to his collar and literally pulled the dog from the back of the car. The driver hadn't been that keen on transporting a dog as well as a drunk in the back of his car. Ezra had been even less keen, but he was already in the back seat before Mac clambered over him to sit on the far side.
"Ow! You useless mutt, that hurts!" he had exclaimed.
"See, your legs arent completely numb," JD explained brightly.
"It wasn't my legs he trod on," Ezra gasped.
"Ooops!" JD suppressed a laugh.
Chris had 'negotiated' with the driver who agreed to transport both passengers and JD, and to help all he could. In return he could put down a tip equal to twice his fare on Ezra's account.
Now JD was faced with getting Standish into bed and then get Mac off Ezra's very thick, very expensive hearthrug. Deciding forewarned is forearmed JD went to explore the house and found the master bedroom on the first floor. It was simply but tastefully decorated, the furniture modern but in keeping with the Victorian building. After pulling back the covers, he returned downstairs to Ezra.
"Ez, youre gonna have to go upstairs to bed, I can't carry you, your gonna have to help." JD stood in front of the older and bigger man.
"I think I'll just sleep here," Ezra said, eyeing the cushions on the sofa.
"No, it's too short, and I promised I'd get you to bed, come on." He took hold of Ezra's hands and pulled him up by using his own weight as a counter balance.
Once up Ezra wavered and swayed but managed to stay upright. In truth his legs were regaining some feeling. With JD helping him Ezra managed to walk and, going up stairs at least, crawl to the bedroom. Like Chris, JD helped Ezra remove and loosen some clothing and made sure he was safely in bed before leaving.
The rest of the house was like the bedroom, elegant, tasteful but some how soulless. The kitchen looked like something out of a catalogue, it was so clean and neat. Buck's kitchen in the flat was clean, but it was also clearly used, if not often, and there was always water in the kettle, tea bags and coffee next to it, biscuits in the tin, bread in the bread bin, butter in the butter dish. Marmite - of course - jam, honey, peanut butter, tins of beans, frankfurters, meat balls and ravioli in the cupboard, milk, eggs, and cheese in the fridge. Not to mention ice cream in the freezer, along with portions of home-made curry, chilli and bolognese. Pasta, rice, potatoes, salad, fruit, and a seemingly never-ending supply of soft drinks, fruit juice and beer, and all this was in addition to the well-stocked pub kitchen downstairs. Ezra's kitchen was all but bare. There was some coffee and some packets of crisps, and a half-eaten box of expensive chocolates in the fridge all along with at least six different ready meals and several cartons of fruit juice and three large bottles of mineral water and one of white wine. And apart from a large jar of pasta on the counter by the cooker, along with some olive oil, pepper and salt, that was all JD found.
The only part of the house that had any personality was in the corner of the living room where the piano stood. On top was a framed picture of a distinguished elderly man, it looked like he had been standing next to someone else, who had been cut out of the picture. There was a variety of music on the top of the piano and more on the actual music holder. Some of it was classical, but there was also show scores, books of Beatles music, even one of Disney music. To JD, all of it made up a picture of someone who was very lonely. Not for the first time he realised how lucky he was not to be living alone in some dreary bed-sit.
Once he had got Mac on his feet JD jogged the half-mile back home, Mac doing his slow-motion and fast-forward act behind him. At the top of the stairs he found the blind down on the window in the front door of the flat, that meant Buck was entertaining. JD smiled a smile of relief, finally convinced Buck was recovered from the injury he still felt responsible for.
The captain of the Liberian registered freighter the Nero, was battling two enemies. First he was battling the fact that his ship so-called - wasn't really seaworthy, her engines were forever on the verge of breaking down. True, there were two engines and theoretically they wouldn't both break down together. But so unreliable were the engines, that if one were to fail, the extra strain on the remaining engine would in all likelihood cause it to fail too. If both engines failed, not only was the ship drifting helplessly, but her very leaky hull would fill up very quickly without the bilge pumps, which were currently working full out all the time. The second enemy was the weather, a huge spring depression was moving in from the Atlantic, and his ship was in no position to take on mountainous seas.
The May Bank Holiday weekend arrived with traditional Bank Holiday weather, which was to say it was cold and wet and windy. This did not deter the first big influx of visitors of the season. The cars, caravans and coaches came in droves; even the trains had far more people than usual. Vin stood in the Lifeboat Inn and watched people streaming into Aquarius across the square.
"Where do they all come from?" he asked of no-one in particular.
"Everywhere." Buck was putting the float in the till and was about to open up for lunch. His barman Tom emerged from the cellar, where he had been putting on a new barrel.
"Well Boss, we are all set, bring on the piggybanks," he announced.
Vin turned and arched an eyebrow. "The what?"
"Tourists, grockles, we call 'um 'piggybanks' 'cause they are, they walk in full of money, we relive them of the money and they leave," Tom explained.
"We do feed them and pile them with drink, in return for their money," Buck added as he unlocked the doors.
"There are a lot of them," Vin said as he watched the visitors spill out from the pavements into the road.
"Vin this is nothing, come the school holidays you won't be able to move out there, and you will be very grateful for that RNLI crew sticker on yer bike 'cause it's gonna be the only thing that gets you a parking space - even for a bike." Buck patted him on the back. "You'll get used to it," he assured. "Without them " he gestured out of the window, " there is no Four Corners, remember that."
JD was also somewhat overwhelmed with the number of tourists arriving. Rain had offered him extra shifts at Aquarius for the holiday weekend, which he had accepted eagerly. He needed to earn extra money, as much as he could make. He wanted to be able to buy a car when he passed his test and more important than that he wanted to get Buck a birthday present. The big publican's birthday was fast approaching, like his, and it had been brought home to him more and more just how much he owed Wilmington. The shop was like an Aladdin's cave. It was stocked floor to ceiling on two floors with ethnic jewellery, wind chimes, new-age books and ornaments, candles, incense, china, cards, decorative boxes, dream catchers, toys, games, model boats, ethnic clothing, cushions, rugs, and furniture. The notice on the window read 'Unattended children will be sold as slaves', it wasn't entirely a joke because children once in were notoriously difficult to extract, especially teenage girls. And it quickly became apparent to Rain if not JD, that her new shop assistant was a big draw with that particular consumer group.
"Um, excuse me?" JD looked up to find himself facing a girl of about fourteen, flanked by two friends. "I want to look at some rings?"
"Oh yes, which ones?" JD replied with a smile.
The rings were kept in two glass cases, each about three feet long and more then a foot deep, there were literally hundreds of them, all different, all different sizes and prices. The girls made JD get out one ring after another to try on, getting more and more giggly and flirty. JD was getting embarrassed as they contrived to touch his hand as they took the rings from him. He could not have been more relieved when his pager went off; he was already out of the door by the time the maroon went off.
He, Buck, and Nathan arrived on foot, Ezra's Range Rover came in behind Chris' battered Land Rover, which arrived with its horn blaring and scattering tourists like skittles as they scurried out of his way. Vin had the engines fired up already and filled them in as they suited up and pulled out. The rain was incessant, it cut down visibility to almost nothing, close to shore the swell wasn't too bad, but once out beyond the island it increased significantly.
"Well?" Chris asked once he was on the right heading and had handed the wheel to Buck.
"Small freighter, the Nero, she's lost all power and drifting, they can't find a listed manifest and whoever the coast guard have been talking to doesnt speak very good English," Vin explained. "A tug is on its way from Penzance but we're closer."
JD looked over at Buck. This was his first shout since he was cleared for duty, he'd been on a few practise missions but this was not the real thing. He looked happy, one more milestone passed on his road back to full fitness. Buck was born to be a lifeboat man, that's what Chris had told JD, he needed to help people, he just couldn't help it. Apparently Ezra had also noticed Buck's contented expression.
"Happy to be back?" he asked sitting down next to the big second coxswain.
"Yeah, very, I've been feeling a bit like a spare part lately."
"Mr Wilmington can I ask you why you decided to do this?" He waved his arm around the cabin.
Buck turned to look at Standish. "I don't know, I've always lived by the sea, lived in Four Corners since I was fifteen, it just seemed the thing to do. I mean I'm young, or I was, fit, I got the time, no family. It's a way to help people I guess."
Ezra nodded his understanding. "Did you how shall I put this? Did you think about the danger, before you joined?"
Buck shrugged. "Well, I remember Penlee of course, but no, not really; why?"
Ezra didn't answer, he just turned his attention to the grey waves, capped with white horses outside the window. The speed of their passing testifying to the urgency of the mission. Buck didn't press for an answer, he reckoned he knew it. Ezra was a very rich man, but he was only just thirty and already retired. He wasn't the first idle rich boy to go looking for thrills. If he had realised this when Ezra first joined, he might have been worried about the former banker. Thrill seekers were potentially dangerous, but Ezra had proved himself to be steadfast and professional. At least he had sought his thrills in a productive manner, not driving fast cars or jumping off bridges attached to glorified elastic bands!
It took the best part of three hours to reach the Nero. She really was a tub! As she appeared out of the rain the rust-lines seemed to make up more of the hull than paint. They had finally made direct contact with the man claiming to be the captain about half an hour before. The Nero's radio seemed to be as decrepit as the rest of the ship and the reception was very poor, this combined with the man's broken English had made the whole business a major waste of time. They knew nothing new, over and above what the coastguard had told them before they set out.
They were close enough to see people on deck, even through the driving rain, when the radio crackled into life.
"We go we going!" the voice told them, and indeed the ships props, or at least one of them, sprung into life, churning the water up behind the rust-bucket.
Chris signed to Buck to take the wheel, as he took the radio. "Nero, this is the St Nicholas, we see you making revolutions but we are required to board you and check your seaworthiness. Please come to all stop and prepared to be boarded. Over."
"No, we go now, bye, bye thank you."
Chris couldn't tell if the man just didn't understand or was just not keen to be boarded. He looked over at Buck. "Get us along side and keep up with her," he instructed.
Buck looked out at the other ship. "Oh well, that shouldn't be difficult; we could put up a sail and keep up with her!"
Chris turned his attention back to the radio. "Captain what is your cargo? Over." he asked.
"We go now, bye, thank you." The man on the other end of the radio repeated.
"No What...are you carrying? Over" Chris articulated. It was a cliché, but when all else failed talking to foreigners very slowly and clearly in English did still work occasionally.
"We carry shit."
Chris raised an eyebrow. "Shit? Over."
"Yes to make things grow, shit."
"I think he means fertiliser," Nathan ventured.
"Oh, am I so glad it's raining," Buck called from the wheel.
"Guys, I don't think he gonna let us on board, but she's a floating death trap if you ask me, lets get out there, take some pictures, some video, take notes, if she comes into a British port I want the authorities to have evidence of her current state." Chris issued the orders and turned to leave instantly, he didn't need to tell Buck to keep them alongside and steady, he was already doing that.
Vin has an uneasy feeling, a feeling he hadn't had since he was last in combat. The hairs on the back of his neck bristled, and a knot formed in his stomach. He ran his practised eye over the Nero. He noted the corrosion, but didn't need to record his observations; Ezra and JD were taking copious pictures and video. To his practised ear the one working engine was mistiming and likely to fail again, soon. If it hadn't been raining so hard he could have smelt the oil she was burning. Finally his eye rested on the bow and then tracked back to the stern. There was something wrong, but he couldn't pin it down. Fertiliser, Chris had said she was carrying; fertiliser is heavy. He looked again at the water line, too high; she was too high in the water. Quickly calling Larabee over he pointed out that the Nero was too high in the water if she was carrying a cargo of fertiliser.
"Your right," Chris confirmed. "Nathan get some shots of the waterline." With that he returned to the wheelhouse, and once more tried to get permission to board and was again refused. He was beginning to get the distinct feeling the man's English was conveniently bad whenever he was asked a question he didn't want to answer.
The captain of the Nero watched his first officer talking to the coxswain of the lifeboat. He hadn't wanted to call for help, but they were drifting in heavy seas, and whatever the consequences it wasn't worth risking his life over it. Fate had smiled however and finally, just in time, his chief engineer had got one engine going again. He was well aware of both RNLI and coastguard procedure to board vessels they were called out to, no matter what, but he couldn't risk that.
Safe out of sight in the wheelhouse he put his binoculars to his eyes and took a look at the lifeboat alongside. Even through the rain he could clearly make out that the tall man standing on the flying bridge was the coxswain; he had that indefinable something which marked him out as the commander. As he took in the other crew visible on deck he frowned at the cameras that were directed at his vessel. Then his frown deepened, because even in the bright yellow waterproofs, the unflattering helmet and orange life jacket there was just no mistaking Corporal Tanner.
They had been forced to let the Nero go on her way, without ever boarding. But Chris made his report, and if she ever tried to put into a UK port, hopefully she would be impounded as unseaworthy.
Despite the poor weather during the Bank Holiday, the rest of May was blessed with good weather. The cricket team were doing well, a rain draw, a close loss and another good victory. Buck was playing better, and in the latest match he had taken two wickets, scored a useful forty runs and taken a crucial catch. But the Whitsun Bank Holiday was fast approaching, coinciding with the half-term holiday. This was going to be a big week, the May Day holiday was just a dry run, and now the summer had really started.
May meant shearing time at Chris'. Chris employed a man named Harry to help out with the flock. He couldn't afford to pay him, but he did provide a cottage with a few acres of land. In return for this Harry watched over the flock, helped at the busiest times and was free to pursue other interests and take other work in between. He grew most of his own food, carved walking stick handles in the form of different animal heads, which he sold in craft shops and local shows. He also trained young sheep dogs. All of this was just a way to finance his real passion, which was writing. Chris had never determined what exactly he wrote, but he figured it was none of his business.
"Hi Tanner," Chris greeted as Vin dismounted from his motor bike in the yard. "Glad you could make it.
Vin smiled and waved. He looked over toward the stable yard where peals of feminine laughter could be heard. His expression changed momentarily to apprehension.
The holiday weekend had meant business at Chris stables had also picked up considerably; not that he was short of help - every weekend and every day during the school holidays, small army of teenage and pre-teen girls descended on the stables to work in return for free rides. For the summer season Chris also employed a couple Gap students (usually female) who lived in a mobile home, parked behind the stable block. Casey ruled this unruly work force with a rod of iron. The oldest and most experienced were used to escort rides and even teach the youngest and less experienced classes. The others mucked out, groomed, tacked up and made up feeds, their other great role was to lead the clients who were too inexperienced or too young to control their own mount. It was amazing to watch eleven year old girls carrying whole bales of straw across the yard and leading horses twice their height. Vin found this army of pubescent females scary - very scary.
"Click go the shears boys, click, click, click " The voice singing the well know Australian shearing song, that wafted out of the barn, was loud and vaguely familiar.
"What?" Vin asked.
"Buck, he always helps with shearing," Chris explained.
Vin arched an eyebrow.
Chris went on to explain that in the time immediately after the death of his family, when Buck had been forced to take a crash course in sheep farming, this had including shearing.
"Christ Buck! Don't you know any other songs?" JD pleaded.
"Not ones that are safe to sing around here, no. Come on lad, look lively!" JD jumped forward to grab the fleece now Buck was finished. He had had his own crash course in fleece-folding. With Buck's done he hurried to get the one Harry had just finished. He was faster and a lot quieter than Buck. But then the big publican never claimed to be an expert, for one thing he was mortified if he ever nicked on of the ewes with the sharp electronic shears, which made him extra careful.
"Clip go the "
"Buck!" JD bellowed, scaring the ewe trapped between Buck's legs.
"Don't do that kid, you scared her, what do you want?"
"Can't you please sing something else or even nothing at all - like Harry?"
Buck shook his head. "No, singing helps me keep a rhythm and I only know one shearing song."
"It doesnt have to be a shearing song, anything will do, anything except that song," JD begged, removing another fleece from Harry.
"Oh okay er oh I know, Bobby Shafto's gone to sea, Silver buckles on his knee, He'll come home and marry me, Bonny Bobby Shafto "
JD groaned, turned and banged his head on the nearby post, God he hated that song!
Chris and Vin stood in the doorway grinning like Cheshire Cats.
"Hey mate, are you planning on spelling Harry or not?" Buck asked.
There were only two sets of shears so with three of them they could take it in turns, and thus saving some of the strain on their backs, mostly he and Buck spelled Harry. Since he was in his fifties, they both felt guilty if he did more work than them - which was unavoidable since he was a faster shearer than either of them.
"So what can I do to help?" Vin asked, as Buck continued to sing the old sea song every one of them had learned to sing at school.
Chris took a risk, the shy Welshman hadn't said anything, but he remembered the pictures in the cabin, the sheep dogs and the man he took to be his grandfather especially.
"Think you can work the chute, keep the ewes coming, send the finished ones on their way?" Chris asked in what he hoped was a neutral tone.
"Sure, no problem." With that Vin took up residence on top of the fence post between the two chutes, from there he could let new sheep in and send the shorn sheep out. He looked very comfortable up there, confident and safe.
Vin sat atop the fence and the memories came thick and fast. He had gone to the farm, knowing that shearing would bring back memories but he hadn't been ready for how strong they would be. Chris had more sheep than his Tad-cu, but he had done the same job, controlling the chute gate as a boy. Every year between the ages of four and twelve, he had done the job. His mam - Gwen - was an only child, she had been planning to go to university and study to be a teacher, but she had become pregnant and married the father in her final year at school. Against all expectations it was a happy marriage, her husband, Iuean Tanner was an apprentice mechanic and the two of them lived in a small flat over the garage where he worked. Then one day when Vin was about three he wasn't there. Vin never knew were he went, no one ever mentioned him again and Vin and his mam moved back to her parents.
The farm was small, there were sheep, chickens, a few pigs, a vegetable and fruit garden and an orchard. It was very remote and fairly primitive, they had electricity in the house but not the farmyard. There was no phone and only a black and white television. There was also running water; it came from the well. Originally the water was pumped into a header tank in the house two or three times a week using a very unreliable and noisy diesel-powered pump but Vin's mother was a very practical and clever student. The summer she was fifteen she had rigged up a siphon to deliver water to the header tank, she ever put in an overflow to return excess water back to the well. There had been no bathroom and only an outside toilet when Gwen returned with three year old Vin. She wasn't about to raise a son with no indoor toilet and only a tin bath you had to fill from a water heater over the kitchen sink. She did some research, and found her parents were entitled to a grant from the government for basic home improvements. Putting in indoor toilets and bathroom were top of the grant list.
One morning when young Vin was five he woke to find he had no mother, she had died in her sleep from a cerebral haemorrhage. It was just one of those things, no one could have predicted it and no one could have saved her. For the next five years he lived on at the remote farm with his grandparents.
By the time they broke for lunch all five men were stripped to the waist and drenched in perspiration, the three shearers were already beginning to feel the strain on their backs. They trooped into the house to wash up and summon up the will to put some kind of meal together. Once they were fresher and had shirts on again they made their way into the big kitchen to be met by Ezra.
"What the hell are you doing here?" Chris wanted to know.
"Well I ran into Father Sanchez in town, he told me about you gentlemen's endeavours today, it sounded taxing. So I thought you would appreciate having lunch provided." With that Ezra stepped aside to reveal the big kitchen table, laid for a meal and practically groaning under the weight of the food laid out before them.
"Ezra, what are you like?" Chris shook his head.
"Hey JD, look, sausages!" Vin was now moving toward the food like a man possessed.
"Oh help! Quick or he'll eat it all," Buck warned, following Tanner toward the feast.
The return to full fitness had put Buck in a better frame of mind, a frame of mind improved by Heather's return. She turned up at the latest match; it was the Sunday afternoon of the holiday weekend. She was flattering, knowledgeable about cricket, and charming. Buck was happy, JD was not. There was nothing he could put his finger on, but he didn't like Heather. Unfortunately he was too busy earning as much money as he could, to work out why. As soon as he was finished at the match he had a shift at Aquarius, working five 'till ten. When he returned home Heather was in the pub, sitting at one end of the bar. She looked very comfortable and very at home.
Come the morning, Bank Holiday Monday, he wondered into the flat kitchen to get himself a mug of tea, only to find Heather sitting on one of the stools at the breakfast bar, her long legs elegantly crossed under a silk kimono, sipping a coffee.
"Good morning, I don't believe we have been formally introduced, I'm Heather Flint." She put down the coffee and extended her hand, still immaculately manicured.
"JD," he responded perfunctorily, shaking her hand briefly.
"Yes, Buck has spoken of you. So you live here?" She resumed sipping coffee.
"Yeah. Buck out with the dog?" He knew full well he was, he had been awake when Buck eased his door open and let the dog out over an hour ago.
"Mmmm, something about jogging. You don't jog?" she asked.
"Sometimes, but not with Buck in the mornings, he he likes to be alone then, except for Mac."
"So, how do you come to be living here? You known Buck long?" She took another sip of her coffee, but kept her eyes on him.
"A few months, if you must know." JD was getting irritated with her and avoiding eye contact as he went to fill the kettle and plug it in. While it boiled he pulled a mug out of the cupboard and found a tea bag, some milk and the sugar.
"But how did you two come to be sharing this place?" she persisted.
"I needed a place to stay, he had a spare room."
"Just like that? He just offered you a place to stay?"
He looked up from the counter and straight into her eyes. *Cold eyes, she has cold eyes,* he thought. "He's a nice guy, you know, he offered me a roof over my head, because I needed it and he's a nice guy."
"That's really all, just because he's a nice guy?" She asked it so steadily, with no emotion, he almost didn't hear the implications in her question.
"Look lady, I live here because Buck offered me a home when I needed it and because I pay rent for the privilege - and it is a privilege, I hope you realise that!" The kettle boiled and switched itself off, but he ignored it, storming off in the direction of the pub kitchen.
She watched him go, smiling to herself. Well the boy does have fire, thats for sure.
Unlike four weeks earlier this holiday weekend was warm and dry, by Monday it was actually hot. The town was busy, and the lifeboat house had a good number of visitors, luckily it wasn't Vin's turn to be on duty, Chris didn't want to throw him in at the deep end. But the deep end of dealing with visitors was just where they were about to head.
It was mid-afternoon on the Monday when the call came through. Some way down the coast was the port of Sooe on the Padford River. From there a ferry service operated to France and Spain. Two huge 'roll on roll off' ferries a day came in and out of the port, in addition there were two ferries a day to the Scilly's. The banks of the river and the beaches of the estuary were popular with holidaymakers, especially sailors and windsurfers, and with one very special group, who used a holiday campground directly opposite the deep-water channel.
This day the incoming ferry from France was a new vessel. It was the first time she had come into Sooe, and she was much bigger than her predecessor was. There were no problems for her master, he brought his ship in smoothly and safely, but for the other water users, she came in too fast. Her wash, much bigger than before, caused a near tidal wave long the shore and in the normally peaceful and sheltered waters of the river mouth. She left - quite literally - in her wake scores of overturned and swamped small craft. The harbour master knew there were more than he could deal with, so, even though no one was in any immediate danger, he called out the Four Corners lifeboat to assist in getting all the stranded boats upright and back to shore safely.
Heather had been on the harbour side - along with hundreds of other tourists - taking pictures as the crew assembled and departed with Chris and some of the others. Up on the flying bridge the whole sight was especially impressive. They were nearly there when Buck took another call from the coast guard giving them more specific information. A smile the like of which JD had never seen spread across his friend's face.
"I don't like the look of that," he commented. "What's going on?"
"Nothing." Buck grinned all the harder and then left to speak to Chris. JD followed him but Wilmington was careful to speech to the coxswain so as no one could hear them.
"JD? What's going on?" Ezra asked as he too watched the two old friends, who looked increasingly conspiratorial.
"I don't know, but our fearless captain is grinning like an idiot," JD explained.
"He's doing what?" Vin asked coming up from the cabin with a couple of biscuits in his hand.
Nathan, who had also been up on the open bridge, was now descending leaving the other two up there laughing and smiling, and, most worryingly for the three youngest, casting amused glances at the them.
"Nathan what is going on?" Vin demanded.
"We are approaching the Padford River, be ready to aid small craft," he said neutrally, with no hint of the amusement the two on the bridge were attempting so poorly to hide.
Before they could try to find out more the boat suddenly slowed and made a sharp turn to port. Buck came down from the bridge, and was instantly all business. By the time everything was ready they were approaching a capsized dingy, a small skiff with an out-board was along side attempting to assist the sailing boats crew.
"It's mast is grounded," the man on the skiff shouted to them.
"Right," Buck called back. "We can lift her and pull her to deeper water, then you can right her."
Nathan was already getting the strong straps out to loop around the craft and thus lift it a little so the mast cleared the sandy bottom that held it captive. As he and Buck worked with the dinghy's crew and the man on the skiff, Vin and JD just stood open mouthed in horror, Ezra just looked incredulous but was as unmoving as the other two.
"Are you gonna help or what?" Buck asked the two youngest.
"Can't," JD whispered still not moving.
"Can't," JD reiterated slightly louder.
"Why not?" Buck tried to sound indignant and not amused.
"Too many willies!" The teen hissed at his friend, his face flushed with embarrassment.
"Well of course, this is a naturist beach - didn't you know that?" Buck knew full well he didn't but he couldn't help teasing him. "And where do you think you're going?" Buck turned to Vin who was attempting to slip past him and head below.
"Engines." Was the Welshman's only reply.
"We're only idling!" Chris called down from the bridge, fixing him with a glare.
"They sound funny?" Vin offered hopefully, even desperately.
"Not a chance boy-oh! Get up forward and help - now!"
Ezra took a moment to compose himself and put his poker face on before stepping forward to add his not inconsiderable muscle power to the boat-lifting. But it had to be said the sight of three middle-aged, shamelessly naked men was distinctly distracting.
It didn't take long to get the dingy righted and they moved on to help a family whose small cabin cruiser was stranded after the engines were swamped. Now there were naked women around as well, young and well-built. The older members of the crew had seen it all before, there was something very un-arousing about a naked woman, however beautiful, when she was surrounded by a lot of other naked people and doing very normal everyday things in broad daylight. To Nathan they were of no more interest, or in fact less interesting, than one of his patients. But to the three younger men it was a different matter.
Ezra was working very hard to let nothing show on is face, he pretended he was negotiating a huge deal in the City. Vin was so embarrassed he just looked down, it was his job - theoretically - to go aboard the stricken craft and see if he could help restart the engines once the water was pumped out. JD was having more practical problems - he was after all only seventeen and in terms of the opposite sex something of an innocent. Finally he bolted from the deck and disappeared into the cabin. The boat's owner, a well-built man of about fifty, smiled at the sight of the retreating young man.
"Let me guess he's never been here before?" he enquired of Buck, who was standing next to him on the cruiser's forward deck holding the hose, which was pumping out the lower decks.
"Yeah, it's part of his education, the other two as well." He glanced at Standish and Tanner. Even with his head down there was no disguising the deep flush that betrayed Vin's embarrassment.
"Youre an evil man," the naked man commented wryly of Wilmington.
"You worked that out did you? I tell you, it's for their own good."
As well as the young woman at the back of the boat that was causing the youngsters so many problems, two other women were below deck trying to salvage what they could from the sudden flood. Suddenly one of them came out with a huge bundle of sodden towels, which she proceeded to hang along the safety rails to dry. She was tall, with tousled blonde hair cascading down her back almost as far as her perfectly tanned, firm buttocks. Vin groaned, Ezra cleared his throat. She finished with the towels and turned around to face the lifeboat.
"Well hi guys, thanks for the help," she called out, waving at Chris enthusiastically, as he watched proceedings from the bridge.
"Judy?" Buck called from the other end.
"Buck, honey! I wondered if it would be you. Ooh nice outfit, very flattering," she commented sarcastically of the very unflattering outfit.
Then, totally unselfconsciously, the naked woman made her way over to the cabin to meet Buck. It appeared they had met the previous summer, and from her enthusiastic greeting, had parted on very good terms. After she had embraced him and kissed him once, she was about to kiss him more thoroughly when he stopped her.
"Not in front of the children, dear," he warned.
Judy took a long sideways look at the two stricken-looking young men making very bad efforts not to look at her, and smiled. "Whatever you say. Still got my mobile number?" he nodded. "Call me," she instructed him and then kissed him on the cheek, before pulling back, shaking her head. "So cute."
Vin was saved the embarrassment of having to go aboard when the cruisers engines started at the second try. Once they were underway again Nathan went below to find JD.
"You okay lad?" he asked, getting a nod in reply. "Don't sweat it JD, could have happened to anyone."
"But it happened to me," JD stated with evident horror.
"So, like I said, don't worry, we were all seventeen once."
"Oh God, I'm never gonna live this down, am I?" he lamented.
"You'll be alright, you know Chris' rule, 'what happens on the boat stays on the boat'."
JD nodded; perhaps it was situations like this, which had prompted Chris to make the rule. "Oh!" JD suddenly exclaimed.
"What?" Nathan asked with evident concern.
"Good job Josiah wasn't here - you know - with him being a priest and all." Jackson chuckled, he had the feeling the one-time missionary had seen his fair share of naked bodies and would be as unfazed as the other older crew members but let it lie; at least he got JD's mind off his own embarrassment. Nathan had already warned Buck not to tease him, and was relieved when it became clear the older man had no intention of doing so.
"You know Nate, I'm not so old I can't remember being a teenager." He had stated quietly.
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