"RNLI" Alternate Universe
Disclaimer: Not mine, never were, never will be.
Note: The guys may not be mine, but all the horses are, or were, real. Many thanks to Tina for the proof reading.
It wasn't often that Coxswain Larabee, Deputy Coxswain Wilmington, Senior Mechanic Tanner, Assistant Mechanic Sanchez, not to mention Crewmen Dunne, Standish and Jackson all had weekend free of RNLI duties; but also free of all other commitments - but there they all were on blisteringly hot Thursday, with the weekend free and the weather set fair. There was meant to have been a cricket match, but the other team had cancelled, an outbreak of food poisoning - something about potted shrimps at their mid week match on Wednesday evening.
Their return trip, after a false alarm shout, was now a pleasant sea cruise in the sunshine. Nathan lamented that once it got out that he was free half, the other doctors in the town would be calling him, asking him to cover their weekend duties, so they could enjoy the sunshine. Being the man he was, he would have a hard job saying no, since he no longer had the excuse of a cricket match or any lifeboat duties. Sanchez nodded sagely, Farther Connery was a good man but if possible his parishioners wanted to speak to him, and if he was there he couldn't say no. It wasn't that he wanted to say no, but just occasionally he would appreciate a rest from being everyone's personal citizens advice bureau. Most of the problems he dealt with had nothing to do with God; he was as likely to help someone fill in a social security claim form, as minister to a tortured soul. Buck knew the feeling, the pub was well staffed for the summer, he had arranged cover, but if he was there he'd end up behind the bar - it was inevitable.
The only solution was to get away - right away. One suggestion was to go sailing on the Lone Star. The trouble was not only was she not big enough for all of them below decks, there was barely a breath of wind, and the hot, still weather was set to continue for some time. Then Chris had an idea.
Early Saturday morning Ezra - still not really understanding how he had come to agree to such an early start - drove into the yard at Pendeen Farm. Larabee and the others were already there, loading the horsebox. Chris' big box could take five horses. Ezra had he trailer behind the Land Rover already loaded with is hunter - Cromwell. Cromwell was a chestnut whom Ezra spoiled rotten. He was one of those horses who knew he was beautiful and showed off remorselessly.
As luck would have it this week was 'Own a Pony Week' at the riding stables and Casey had her hands full with fifteen pre-teen girls with a full 'pony mad' high. The bigger horses weren't going to get much attention, so having them all out for the weekend was a blessing.
Nathan had become a rider while courting Rain. She had been a New Age traveller and liked to ride the piebald gypsy horses that many travellers had. Nathan needed to show her that he was serious, so he decided to learn to ride and accompany her. He wasn't a very confident rider and Chris put him on Ben. Buck called Ben a 'teddy bear horse', he had a thick shaggy coat - when it wasn't clipped out - a thick neck, big, kind eyes and a personality to match, you could put a bomb under Ben and he wouldn't bat an eye.
Josiah had ridden all over the world while a young missionary, on fine Arabs, scrawny ponies, stubborn mules and faithful donkeys. He rode his usual mount Punch. Punch was half thoroughbred and half Suffolk Punch, his rich deep red-chestnut coat was pure Punch and his temperament pure race horse, which given his size and strength meant he needed a strong rider.
JD had taken to Mexico, a piebald polo pony, who was fast and willing but totally reliable, what was more; he looked great beside Casey's fiery skewbald, Rodeo. They joked that they looked like a pair of cowboys on their paint ponies.
Buck always rode Max, a big 17.2 grey with a mercurial personality, most of the time he was fine, just occasionally he would play up, refusing fences or bucking his rider off - somehow he always managed to do this to a particular kind of rider, always men, who showed off, thought they could ride, but couldnt. Buck had learnt to ride on Max and the two of them had an understanding - Buck was an amateur and Max was the pro, Max knew best.
Vin had struck up a relationship with the big, blaze faced black, he had seen on his first day at the farm. It was true that Pike did have terrible personality, he bit, he kicked, he head butted, but the scars on his nose indicated a less than happy past and his bad manners were confined to people on the ground. Once you were mounted he was - usually - very well behaved.
Chris' black hunter, Shadow, was a cut above the other school horses, only Ezra's horse was of a similar quality. Shadow was a fine horse, bold, forward going, honest, his only quirk was a tendency to canter in a slightly crab like fashion, if not ridden firmly.
Ben, as by far the most even-tempered horse, was loaded next to Cromwell. Nathan, Josiah, and Vin joined Ezra in the car, while Buck and JD climbed up into the cab of the horsebox with Chris. Their destination was Bodmin moor, a two day trail ride, camping over night on the remote moorland.
Manoeuvring the big box in the narrow, high-banked Cornish lanes was no easy thing, but the early start meant the roads were very quiet. It took just over an hour and a half to reach the farm of a friend of Chris' where they unloaded the horses, packed the saddlebags and mounted up. Ezra had been instructed - like all of them - to bring a sleeping bag, a wash kit, and a packed lunch, that was all. Ezra had also packed a change of clothing; he had no intention of wearing the same clothes for two days and a night. As Standish watched the loading process, he became worried that he hadn't seen a tent.
"Um Mr Larabee?" he enquired.
"Where are we to sleep? I have not seen any form of accommodation."
Chris cast his eyes up to the cloudless blue sky, the temperature was already in the 80's and it was only eight in the morning. "What do you need a tent for in this weather?"
"I assume you listened to this morning's forecast?" Like all seafarers the lifeboat crew always listened to the weather forecast.
"You know I have."
"Then you know there is a chance of thunderstorms this evening," Ezra pointed out.
"Stop panicking Ez, we got a bolt hole, don't sweat it," Buck assured coming over on Max, and squinting down at Standish from under the brim of his black 'silk'. "We won't let you get wet mate!"
Not entirely convinced, Ezra retrieved his cagool from the car before doing up his own hat. While the others wore skullcaps, covered in 'silks' that were actually made with lycra. Ezra and Chris wore traditional riding hats covered in velvet. Ezra's was brown, had leather straps and a brass clasp. Chris' had once been black, but was now faded to pale grey, its straps were plain nylon webbing and the chrome clasp was rusty.
They rode out onto the moor in brilliant sunshine, keeping clear of the popular footpaths used by walkers and ramblers they had a wonderful ride, arriving at a small area of woodland just after noon where they stopped. Buck had handed each of them a tin cup and a canteen of water at the farm, in addition to whatever beverage they had brought with them, and it proved most welcome. They dismounted in the cool shade of the trees to eat, rest and relax until the noon heat had abated. Sometime around three they set off again, stopping to water the horses in one of the many streams that run off the moor.
Jamaica Inn, immortalised in Daphne de Maurier's book of the same name, is right in the centre of the moor. A tourist trap, it was somewhere the men would normally avoid, but eating there was easier then carrying everything they might need to feed themselves. Since there was nowhere to leave the horses, Buck called ahead on his mobile phone, and spoke to the landlord - publican to publican. Thus, as they arrived bacon rolls and chips were wrapped, packed and waiting, along with seven cans of cool beer, all Buck had to do was hand over the money, while Vin and JD refilled the canteens. Sitting in a circle, just behind the pub, their horses munching happily behind them, the men feasted. Since it was only six thirty they had nearly three hours of daylight left, as they set out for the overnight camp sight, a mere hours ride away. Part of that hours ride was long straight flat out gallop, that had JD whooping for joy as his speedy pony carried him over the close cropped grass of the bridle way.
The campsite turned out to be an abandoned cottage. There was an attic, but the stairs looked distinctly unsafe. Not that they were intending to camp in the cottage. The main reason for staying at the cottage was that beside it was a large field, it's dry stone wall and gate still in working order and a small stream ran through it. So with the horses safely in the field, they had some time to kill before it got too dark.
"Where are we putting the luggage?" Ezra asked as saddles were piled against the wall and saddlebags dropped on to the soft turf.
"Luggage?" Buck asked.
"See those?" Vin asked, pointing at his saddlebags.
"Yes," Ezra responded with an impending sense of doom.
"Thats were we're putting the 'luggage'." He dropped his own bags and rolled sleeping bag.
"And if it rains? Thunder is forecast." Ezra looked around at the darkening but still clear sky.
The others were about to protest, when Chris held up his hand. "He's got a point, if a storm comes up in the night we don't want to be faffing about getting things under cover, put the tack and bags inside."
Buck huffed as he picked up his things. "Well I'm not sleeping in there, it stinks!" he protested as he took his things inside. "And if you want coffee an' hot shaving water in the morning, you'd better find some wood - hadn't you?"
"Us? What about you?" Nathan asked indignantly.
"Hey, me and the kid tote the food, I cook it, you guys find the wood." It was true that while their bags were mostly empty, Buck and JD's were packed full. "And since you'll most likely get even more sweaty than you already are, you had better hurry or there won't be enough light left for you to join me and JD for a swim in the lake."
The lake was really not much more than a particularly wide, deep, slow moving section of the stream that ran past the old place, the stream water was clear - if stained brown by the peat. The cool, but not cold waters called to a traveller on a hot day.
JD looked at his friend somewhat confused. "Swimming? You didn't tell me about swimming - I didn't pack for swimming," he protested.
Vin came to stand beside the teenager. "Me neither." He looked over at Ezra. "Hey Standish, did they tell you we were swimming?"
"Most certainly not, but the idea has merit, where do I find this wood?"
"This way brother." Josiah guided Ezra, with Jackson following, to where several out buildings had long since collapsed, leaving a mountain of derelict roof timbers just waiting to be burnt.
"I don't have any trunks," JD pointed out, turning back to Wilmington.
"So? Who the hell it gonna see you way out here?" JD looked at him in blank non-comprehension. "Skinny dipping JD, haven't you ever been skinny dipping?"
"No way." Vin echoed.
"Oh for God's sake you just had your pictures taken with no clothes on, thousands of people are going to see you in the buff," Buck pointed out, referring to the resent photo shoot for a charity calendar.
"No you were in the buff, the rest of us had out strides on!" JD pointed out.
"And Nathan," Buck corrected. " he was in the buff as well."
"And Ez," Vin remembered.
"Allegedly," JD corrected since the former City banker couldn't be drawn on whether or not he had actually striped.
"And Josiah," Buck pointed out.
"You can't prove that." Sanchez had been prevented from participating it the photo shoot by the church, however the identity of the model on the front cover had never been revealed, but who ever he was; he was a big man.
"The point being JD, there is no one here but us, if it really bothers you, don't swim or wear your boxers, but then you'll have to wear them wet." Buck pulled off his shirt as he turned away, but then turned back. "Do not, be tempted to go commando tomorrow, riding commando is not recommended!"
A gentle slope led down to the 'lake' just twenty yards below the cottage. Remarkably there were no gorse or heather bushes in the way, only grass, kept short by the actions of the local rabbit population, and passing flocks of sheep. Already down to his bright blue boxers with 'Desperate Dan' emblazoned on both legs, Buck finished undressing and, heedless of his naked state, tossed his towel over his shoulder and strolled down to the waters edge.
"Kid I'm hot and I'm sweaty and I'm smelly, besides I don't know about you, but it as been a lot of years since I was in the saddle all day and I want to try and work the kinks out of my muscles. So I'm gonna get my share of wood and then I'm gonna swim."
With that Vin strode off in the direction of the collapsed out-buildings, from were the others were already returning, arms full of wood. A soft splash behind him made JD look around in time to see Buck's dark head emerge from the water.
"Oh what the hell," the teen exclaimed, and headed into the cottage to find his own towel.
The small cottage wasn't that old, and its roof was intact, so the interior was still dry, in addition the door and most of the windows had survived. However, despite this relatively good state of repair, Buck was right, it did smell.
By the time the fire was built and the spare wood stored, JD had swallowed his pride and embarrassment and joined Wilmington in the lake. Though while Buck was happy to float on top of the water, JD was making sure as much as possible of him stayed under the dark waters, which were wonderfully cooling and refreshing. One by one the others joined them, swimming, chatting, dunking and splashing each other, in general they let off steam. Time slipped by unnoticed. Darkness fell and the moon rose before the men realised it.
"Guys!" Chris called as he clambered out on to the bank and wrapped his towel around his narrow hips. "Come on out, we don't want anyone drowning in the dark," he instructed firmly.
"Spoil sport!" Buck shouted back.
"Out - now!" came the firm response.
Slowly the other six men pulled them selves out, in the darkness the two youngest weren't so shy as they grabbed their towels.
All their clothes were in or close to the cottage so barefoot, they headed back up the path to get dressed and prepare to settle down for the night. There had been some talk of lighting the fire, but it was still very warm and no one could be bothered.
"What was that?" Vin, who was leading, stopped were he was.
"What was what?" Chris came to stand beside him. There was then a noise, a kind of roar, come snarl, come scream.
Josiah came to stand beside them. "That sounds like no it can't be," The noise came again; it was clearly coming from the cottage.
"Errr what can't it be? Dare one ask," Ezra whispered.
"Well if we were in Brazil I'd say it was a jaguar, but it can't be - can it?"
"Oh shit!" Buck swore.
Just then the horses began to whinny. They had moved toward the sound of the approaching men, but now shied away, their hooves clearly audible as they charged across the field to the far corner.
"And 'oh shit' would mean what?" Ezra pressed.
"The bea " Buck began.
"Buck," Chris warned.
But Wilmington was not to be deterred.
" beast of Bodmin," he completed. "It's a "
"Fairy story," Chris cut in, not wanting Buck to wind up the others.
"Now Chris you know that isn't necessarily so," Buck pushed on. " there have been sightings, foot prints - dead sheep." Even as he spoke a large dark form was seen by all of them. In the strong moonlight, they watched it move in front of the cottage.
"That does look like a black panther," Josiah confirmed.
As they watched, with a mixture of awe and fear, the huge cat, the moonlight picking out silver highlights on the otherwise jet black coat, moved in front of the cottage, turned, sniffed the air and snarled in their direction. They had left the door open and as they watched the cat moved inside and disappeared.
The seven men stood there in silence. Finally Nathan turned to Sanchez. "You are sure thats a panther, not just a big farm cat - arent you?"
Josiah nodded slowly. "I lived in Brazil, on the edge of the rain forest, for nearly a year, the jaguars used to come and take the goats. I've seen them, black and spotted, close up, when you've had an animal in your rifle sights, you don't forget what it looks like."
Vin nodded sagely.
Chris turned to Sanchez. "So what do we do now?"
"Wait, they're night hunters, hopefully it'll explore the cottage, find nothing." He suddenly had a thought and turned to Buck. "What food is in there?"
"Coffee and doughnuts, some chocolate and a packet of biscuits. Don't know what you guys have?" He looked around.
A quick check found there was more chocolate, more biscuits, crisps, mints, and at least two flasks of whisky.
"Well at least there's is no meat," Josiah said with evident relief. "Basically we wait."
As they stood there watching Buck told JD the legends. There had always been stories of beasts on the moor, as there were attached to all lonely wild places. The difference came in 1978; new laws made it difficult and expensive for private individuals to keep wild animals. Many owners, who couldn't comply with the new regulations and couldnt find a zoo to take their pet, let them go, rather than have them destroyed. Most were quickly captured, or died, unable to fend for themselves, most - but not all. The so called 'Beast of Bodmin' was one of the most persistent legends, as Buck had said, sheep with their throats ripped out, foot prints, sightings, even some pictures and film - though all of them fuzzy and indistinct - fuelled the stories.
"This is all your fault Standish," Buck commented.
"Me? How the hell it is my fault?"
"Well if you hadn't made all that fuss, our kit wouldn't be in there with it, it'd be out here and we could just leave."
"Hah! If you hadn't insisted on swimming, we would be fully dressed with a fire lit and the creature wouldn't have come anywhere near us," Ezra responded.
"I didn't see you objecting to the swim," Buck countered.
"Stop it!" Chris hissed. "It's no one's fault. Josiah are the horses in danger?"
Sanchez shook his head. "Too big, besides they'll herd together and protect each other."
"Forget the horses what about us?" Nathan wanted to know.
"We should be okay too. It's probably never taken anything bigger then a sheep, so I seriously doubt it would see us as prey."
"What about the fire?" Chris asked.
Josiah shook his head. "Risky getting that close, besides if we light a fire that close to the building, it might never come out."
"For all we know it's already out, it could have slipped out at the back and we'd never know," Vin pointed out.
"You want to go up there and check?" Ezra asked.
"No." With that Vin sat down on the soft ground.
An hour later they were all sitting on the ground watching the dark cottage, nothing had moved. The night remained warm, even sultry; they talked, ending up sharing ghost stories. After three hours there was a deep rumble of thunder, off in the distance they could see an electrical storm, but it was a long way from the moor.
"What'll we do if it comes here?" JD asked.
"Get wet," Chris responded.
Suddenly JD looked around wildly. "Where's Buck?"
"Over there." Chris pointed behind their little group. Wilmington was stretched out, on his towel, he appeared to be asleep, the moonlight making his naked form all but glow.
"How the hell does he do that?" Nathan asked, he always found Buck's ability to sleep any were, any time, amazing - even disconcerting.
"What are we going to do when we get back?" JD asked, addressing his question to no one in particular.
"How do you mean - do?" Ezra enquired.
"About the cat, do we report it or what?"
"No!" Vin, Ezra and Josiah responded instantly.
"Young man, if we report this, all kinds of unpleasantness occurs, tabloid papers, questions, fuss, publicity, people saying we're crazy or drunk or plain lying - you do not want this." Ezra explained firmly.
"Well I guess not, but I mean - isn't it dangerous? Letting it run around loose out here?"
"JD, it, or it's predecessors, have been running around loose out here for years, a few dead sheep, fewer rabbits, but no one's has ever been hurt. Hardly anyone has ever seen it - them."
"Well we have to assume they breed, it can't be the same one, not after all these years."
JD regarded the coxswain and farmer. "What about the sheep, I mean the farmer, what about him?"
Chris laughed. "God, I bet I loose more sheep to bad weather and uncontrolled dogs, then they loose around here to " He waved his arm toward the cottage. " that thing."
The thunder rumbled away in the distance again.
"Hope there is more than one," Vin commented. "Poor thing, don't like to think of it out here all on it's own. I mean its a long way from home isn't it?"
There was a quality to Tanner's voice, that betrayed a deep understanding of lonely creatures a long way from home.
"This is probably the only home it has ever known," Josiah assured.
While Buck slept, the others watched, though JD did begin to doze toward the end of the night. Once or twice the cat came out to sniff the air, pad about in front of the building then it returned inside. Thunder rumbled on but never came close to them. The night remained balmy, and mercifully short, after about seven hours the sky was paleing and Buck was awake.
"It still there?" he asked, standing up and wrapping his towel around his waist once more.
"Far as we know," Nathan responded, standing and stretching his back.
To confirm the supposition, the cat appeared again. "Look," JD called.
All seven men watched as the black cat once more came to the door, looked at them, snarled, ventured out someway then returned inside.
"You guys see what I see?" Buck commented.
"Yup," Josiah confirmed.
"And that would be?" Ezra asked.
"She's lactating," Nathan supplied.
"She's got babies," Chris confirmed.
"No wonder she wouldn't leave," Vin added.
JD and Ezra looked at each other and shrugged.
"So what do we do now?" JD asked.
That proved to be a problem. But since jaguars are nocturnal there was a good chance she wouldn't even try to move again until it was dark. They had no food, no drinking water, and more importantly, no shade. The sun was already strong, and Nathan was concerned that JD and Chris would get burnt before too long.
"Well, my instinct, it's that attack is the best form of defence," Chris announced.
"Attack?" the others asked horror struck.
But Chris went on to outline his plan.
The seven of them approached the cottage, all of them shouting and clapping. As they entered through the narrow door, Buck, Nathan and Josiah - the three biggest - went first. As soon as they were in they each picked up a saddle and held it like a shield, standing so as to shield the other four from the stairs and the internal doorway. Quickly, Chris handed each of the men forming the shield a bridle. Now armed with 'shield' and 'mace' they stood firm, still shouting and thumping the bridles on the saddles. The others removed the rest of the tack and the saddlebags. Just as Chris slipped out of the door, calling to the three guards to come, the panther appeared at the top of the attic stairs.
All three men fell silent as they locked eyes with the beautiful cat, then behind her a small black ball of fur appeared.
"Bless you mother," Josiah whispered softly. "We will not disturb you again, we promise, may we leave now?"
The cat hissed at him.
"Hey there little fella, got your self a good mum there, you be good now - you hear?" Buck spoke softly to the cub, which cocked it's head on one side and mewed.
"Time to go gents," Nathan reminded as they began to back out.
Once outside they continued to back toward the field, still holding up their saddle shield. Once behind the field wall, while someone kept watch, they grabbed their clothes and started to pull them on. Never had Chris been more grateful that his horses were all easy to catch. Cromwell came to Ezra as soon as his master had appeared in the field, in fact his inquisitive attention was hindering their rapid departure, he pushed Ezra so hard, he over balanced, putting his bare foot in to a nice big heap of fresh manure, right up the ankle.
"That bloody horse is worse then a dog!" Chris commented, as he threw his saddle up onto Shadow.
Chris was the last one on the ground; he pulled open the gate and swung himself up onto the saddle. Just as he did the panther came to the door again; her cub pushed his way past her, and out into the sun.
"Reckon she's not scared of us now," Buck commented as the cub rolled in the sunlight, while his mother watched the horses.
"We're horses now," Josiah explained, "To her we are now no threat. We are going now," He addressed the cat. " we didn't know we were trespassing, we hope you forgive us, good day mother."
They rode away at speed only slowing up when they had put a good distance between them and the cottage. Finally they were walking again.
"I'm hungry," JD commented.
"Oh hell, I forgot." With that Buck shoved his hand down into his saddlebags and started to pull out doughnuts, which he passed out to the others.
Vin licked his fingers with relish, as he polished off his second doughnut. "Damn man, they never tasted better."
They rode leisurely, sharing their stashes of chocolate and biscuits, those who weren't going to drive even had a nip of whiskey - which was very generous of the drivers, since they were the owners of the flasks. By the time they were pulling into the yard at the stables it was just past five and Casey had all but finished for the weekend.
"How did it go?" Chris asked as he opened up the back of the box.
"Profitable, but I don't ask me to do it more than twice a year," the diminutive stable manager confessed.
"It was your idea, you're in charge," Chris reminded.
"I know, I know." She turned to JD who had just climbed down from the cab. "How did it go?"
He kissed her on the cheek. "Fine, we had a great time."
"Anything interesting happen?"
"Oh no, no not really, we saw some wild life, went for a swim, nothing much."
The Beast of Bodmin is just as described, a long existing legend given more credence in resent years (post the 1978 Dangerous Wild Animals act) after a number of sightings of a 'puma' like animal, tracks and an increase in unexplained sheep attacks.