Weather Shades, just like his friends, had hoped they had left behind back in St Lucy. Breakfast this morning was a quiet, drowsy affair, consisting of conservative portions in light of their failure to obtain more supplies the day before. While Shades manned the helm, and Bandit napped lazily behind him, Justin finished the breakfast dishes and Max trained.
Given that it would still be another two or three weeks before his arm fully healed, he had of course modified his training routine, among other things, doing pushups on his one good arm.
“Sweet merciful crap!” Justin blurted. He had seen Shades doing pushups on his knuckles before… Now Max too? “What are you doing?”
“I thought I’d try it, just so I can keep training my until my arm mends,” Max told him. “Shades recommended it.”
“Figures,” Justin muttered.
“You’ve seen me do it before, haven’t you?” Shades asked, “So why are you making such a big deal out of it now?”
“Well, yeah, I have, but…” Justin stumbled over the words, wondering why he was so edgy this morning. Just watching Shades’ methods, especially the fingertip variants, made his own trigger finger twitch. “Um, doesn’t that hurt?”
“Kinda,” Max admitted.
“At first,” Shades conceded, recalling when he first began training with Master Al some seven years ago. It was one of those things he had to get used to, right along with outdoor training in bare feet and learning break-fall and rolling techniques. “But once you… get used… to…”
He trailed off as he saw the look on Justin’s face, staring out the forward windows.
Chiding himself for not paying attention to piloting the ship, Shades grabbed the binoculars at the helm. He needed only to focus the lenses to confirm that the hazy blotch up ahead was indeed land. As they drew nearer, they could make out pine trees and densely wooded shoreline, with what appeared to be a seaport off to port.
“Land? So soon?” Max clearly sharing his companions’ unease this morning, which he had hoped to disperse by focusing on training.
All three of them sat as eerily quiet as the port was familiar as they approached, each of them a little more awake than they were only a scant moment ago.
“No way…” Justin gasped, though they all noticed it by then.
All recognized the port of St Lucy.
“Dammit, Justin!” Shades couldn’t believe this, it was just too stupid. Yet it was also really weird, as well. “You got us turned around!”
“Me!? How do you know you or Max didn’t on your shift?”
“Because I never turned at any point,” Shades shot back, “that’s how.”
“Oh, so that means I did?”
“How the hell should I know?” Shades was starting to regain his composure, but he still didn’t like this. That foreboding feeling from yesterday was back with a vengeance. One of those times he wished he had gotten to talk to the wise and venerable seafarer Abu-Sharrah about this sort of thing before they parted ways. “Sorry, man. Whatever happened, we’re here. Now we just need to deal with it.”
“So what’s the plan?” Max asked, noting that they were now nearing the outer harbor, and still proceeding.
“We get the hell out of here,” Justin replied flatly. “I don’t wanna run into that damn pig again.”
“We’re too close now,” Shades pointed out. “Turning around and fleeing would definitely draw suspicion.”
“Then we just sail right in?” Justin demanded.
“It’s about the best we can do,” Shades replied. “Once we find a spot where we can more discreetly turn around, we can leave more quietly, without drawing more attention to ourselves. Besides, if we keep a low enough profile, we could even refuel.”
“And just how do you propose we do that, huh?” Back in the Triangle State, their ship would be marked. It would be a long time before one could return without the Authority waiting for them. “Do you really think they’re that stupid?”
“The question is,” now that Shades thought about it: “are they really that paranoid? Not everybody is like your TSA, and given how little effort they put into chasing us yesterday, I doubt they’re expecting us back so soon.”
“And we really do need more fuel,” Max put in. “There’s no telling how far to the next place, and we’re running out. I think we may have to risk it.”
“Fine.” Much as Justin hated to admit it, both of them had a point. “But there’s no way in hell I’m getting off this ship.”
Not wanting to attract attention, they approached slowly, Justin feeling the whole way like they were walking into a trap.
“Why are we going so slow?” Max asked in a hushed voice. “Won’t they think we’re up to something?”
“You’re probably right…” Shades mumbled.
“Hey!” Justin hissed, “I’m in no hurry to get locked up.” Been there, done that.
“I’m just trying to act casual,” Shades replied, then cocked his head for a moment. “And why are we all talking so quietly anyway?”
After all, it wasn’t like anyone outside the cabin could hear them, yet they still approached the refueling station in tense silence.
The port of St Lucy had a couple general use fuel pumps on one dock, which put Shades in mind of a seagoing gas station as he handed Max the money. Remembering a useful piece of advice he had picked up about these sorts of matters, he told his friend: “Okay, remember, Max, don’t tell them anything more than they ask you. With luck, we can be in and out of here before anyone even thinks to alert the authorities.”
From breakfast to this… Shades thought, still trying to get over the awkwardness of their situation, When did I start to get used to this?
Max stepped out to tether the ship and deal with the pump attendant. Figuring he was the most logical, and least suspicious, choice, while Justin covered him and Shades held the helm, ready to give them a quick getaway if need be. It was all Max could do to not look too nervous as he nodded to the bushy-bearded man in the booth, who subsequently started the pump as Max walked over to pay the fee. He took some relief from the fact that the man appeared curious, but not suspicious, mostly bored, apparently failing to recognize the ship’s name. Of course, he began to wonder if Justin’s less trusting nature was starting to rub off on him as the thought crossed his mind the guy might just be pretend—
“ ’Mornin’!” a voice called from behind him.
Startled, Max wheeled around to find himself face to face with Sheriff Boggs, standing on the dock next to him. Just as he remembered him from the day before, about Shades’ height and stocky in build, with a stern demeanor. Though he couldn’t help but notice his manner appeared much more pleasant than when he busted them yesterday. Max’s heart sank as he tried to figure out whether to fight or try to explain.
Instead, he found himself saying, “Good morning. How’s it going?”
“Quite well,” Boggs replied, “Just on my way for some morning coffee before I take up my rounds. Say, you’re new to these parts, aren’t you?”
This is it…
“Yes, I am,” Max told him. “We’re just passing through.”
That seemed honest enough to him.
“Travelers, huh?” The sheriff tipped his hat to Max, saying, “Well, safe journeys, young man. If you’re coming ashore, you might visit the Shrine of St Lucy while you’re here.”
“Perhaps I will.”
With that, Boggs walked away.
Sighing inwardly, Max turned back to the task at hand.
Though he may have felt more relaxed for the remaining several minutes it took to refuel the Maximum, when he came back inside, he found that both of his friends had become even more tense he first stepped out. Even Bandit seemed disproportionately relieved to see him return. Justin, especially, armed and looking as if he expected Boggs to come back with reinforcements at any moment.
“What the hell did you tell that guy?” Justin was still slack-jawed at how Max got rid of the sheriff so easily.
“I… I just told him we were just passing through. I don’t think he knew who I was.”
“You sure?” Shades asked tensely. Unless the sheriff already just happened to be in the neighborhood, that was too quick for him to have been summoned on such short notice.
Justin still covered the cabin door, double-barrel power pistol in one hand, EMP grenade in the other, as if he still expected this to be some kind of setup.
“Yeah, he treated me like a total stranger.”
Now that they were finished, Shades began to slowly move them away from the port, and so far they could see no sign of pursuit.
“Weird…” Shades commented, as he just wasn’t used to cops where he came from being that negligent of forgetful. Then an odd thought: “Maybe old man Boggs was paying so much attention to us during the bust, he never really caught Max’s face.”
“I don’t know…” Max wasn’t used to being overlooked.
“And why didn’t he recognize our ship’s name?” Justin pointed out.
Now that they thought about it, port officials did register all ships docking here, even if it was only for a day.
“Hard to say…” To Shades, this was strange, but not outrageously so. “Maybe he just hadn’t had his morning coffee yet.”
But it just didn’t come off as funny as he thought it would.
“Well he did say…” Yet even Max found that hard to swallow.
“The important part,” Justin told them, noting how far they had made it from the docks without a hint of anyone following them, “is that we got away without any trouble.”
“Somehow he didn’t recognize us,” Shades thought aloud. “That’s gotta be it. Even if that store clerk cleared our names, I can’t see any sheriff worth his salt not wanting to at least get a statement from us. We are witnesses, after all.”
By the time they put St Lucy far enough behind them to see beyond any doubt that no one was giving chase, they felt confident enough in their escape, yet ill at ease in spite of it.
“Guys, while we’re in the neighborhood,” Shades piped up, “let’s go see if anything happened over at Adnan’s.”
“Are you nuts?” Justin demanded. “We should get the hell outta here while we can. Why keep pushing our luck?”
“Because I really want to know,” Shades told them, “and admit it, you guys do too, right?”
“Of course,” Max replied.
“Well, yeah, I guess,” Justin admitted. “But how are we going to do it?”
“Let’s sail around ‘behind’ Donaldson’s island,” Shades proposed, “that way, if anyone is watching, it looks like we already left St Lucy, and we can approach Adnan’s unseen from the seaport.”
“I guess there’s no harm in looking.” Justin didn’t really like it, but at least Shades had a decent plan for how to go about it.
“You know,” Shades said, an idea just occurring to him, “maybe I can hit redial on that phone, find out who that was. I mean, it didn’t look like anything happened back there, but whatever that weird phone call was about, it didn’t feel like a prank.”
“If these Camcron people are up to anything,” Max remarked, “we should find out what.”
“Why? It’s not our problem.” Though Justin already knew what both his Resident Philosopher and Champion of Justice had to say to that.
“Remember, Camcron’s from elsewhere,” Shades reminded him. “Even if they took their Research Institute someplace else, I still want to know what those creeps wanted with this school.”
“We should at least take a look,” Max agreed.
“Okay.” Justin knew when he was out-voted. “But we do it carefully.”