It had been a hell of a year for Adam Carlysle.
That his wife took off with his business partner was the least of his troubles. The business partner, after all, was Cynthia Bloom--like his wife, a full-breasted ball-breaker--and he was no match for that kind of competition.
Of course, the fact that Erin--that was his wife--convinced Cynthia to take off with all the liquid assets from their collectibles import business made things a little worse.
Then Adam discovered he probably had an inoperable form of cancer. Even allowing for a possible period of remission, he had probably a year to live. That wasn't too good.
But when his TV and his laptop gave up the ghost and the Ford blew its engine, that was it.
With no car, he couldn't get out to get the replacement part for Erin in his life, and he couldn't stay home and watch TV or surf the Net.
Besides, B.C.Tel was making nasty noises about Erin's long distance bills.
The city and the bank would be after him next, he suspected. Erin had been supposed to pay the taxes, but no check had bounced from the account she'd cleaned out.
It was almost enough to make a man so thoroughly pissed off he'd turn on the gas in the oven ... if it hadn't been shut off already.
But Adam Carlysle was made of stronger stuff than that.
Oh, when the laptop quit, he shed a tear. Several in fact.
But then he walked out of the house he and Erin had shared (with Cynthia for the past six months, actually), walked straight over to Jack Blondell's, who was a Century 21 agent, and said, "Sell my house. Today."
"Today?" Jack gasped.
"Today or I get my pistol."
"For God's sake, man, I know things have been tough!" Jack was aghast. "But nothing's so bad you have to kill yourself."
"Not me ... you," Adam said.
"Today." Jack nodded.
"Cash only," Adam said.
He took the check that Jack had gotten from the buyer to the bank and turned it into cash before anyone had a chance to have second thoughts and stop payment. Then he spent the evening at the Pan Pacific in the Japanese restaurant and then watched the yachts in Vancouver Harbor from his hotel room window. In the morning, he took the ferry over to North Van and a taxi up the coast to where the marinas were less pricey.
"What's that boat go for?" he asked the nautical type in the sailor's cap who showed him around. It had caught his eye probably more because of its name than anything else--Erin Go Bragh. He didn't actually know what "go bragh" meant in Gaelic, but in Carlyslean it meant "go screw yourself."
"That boat over there." He pointed
"It's a ship," the N.T. corrected him. "Anything you can put a boat on is a ship. That one's a yawl."
"How yawl?" Adam chuckled and the N.T. frowned.
"Of course, if you don't use a sail on the mizzen, it's a sloop."
"Of course. The Sloop John B. Wanna go home, cookie had the fits and all that. But you haven't answered my question. Cost?"
"On time, twenty-five grand."
"Say, how much you know about sailing?" the Nautical Type asked.
"How much is there?" Adam shrugged. "You need wind, of course. And a sail is nice. The sail's to catch the wind. And a steering wheel."
"Tiller," the N.T. became officious again.
"It looks like a wheel. I don't hold with all this jargon," Adam grumbled.
"You know much about navigation? Like how to use this compass?" The N.T. pointed to the dial on the stand beside the "wheel."
"I know it always points north," Adam said. "Useless to me."
"North is that way," Adam said, gesturing vaguely toward his right. "I want to go that way." He pointed straight out across the Pacific.
"You don't know bugger all about navigation." The N.T shook his head in disbelief.
"What's that matter?" Adam asked. "What do I have to know to get where I'm going?"
"And where's that?"
"Nowhere in particular," Adam said. "Absolutely nowhere in particular."
"I hope you find it," the N.T. said.
Of course, Adam had no intention of going nowhere unprepared. The boat--it would always be a boat to him--already had an engine and a tool box which, Adam saw, seemed to contain all the requisite wrenches and ... things. And Adam knew a bit about small engines from a compulsory shop course in high school, as well as having built a model airplane with a gas engine that actually flew when he was nine years old. So he knew enough to have the Erin's fuel tanks filled before casting off. There was no use in getting stuck half way to wherever, was there?
The Erin also came with a two-way radio, but he had no use for that. There was no one he wanted to call and he sure as hell didn't want to hear from anyone, so he shoved it under the bunk that he wasn't planning to use either.
Likewise, he bought a brand new thirty-pound propane tank for the two-burner cookstove and the single light. He'd want to eat for as long as it took him to get to nowhere in particular or until such time as the Big C got him, whichever came first.
So he stocked the propane freezer of the Erin with assorted freeze-dried meats and veggies, laid in a supply of fresh fruit and juice boxes against scurvy, a case of twenty-four large bottles of Evian water, and bought a fishing rod and three killer lures at the marina's Sporting Goods store.
An axe, a machete, a chain saw with a jerry can of mix, and a Swiss Army Knife completed the essentials.
Then came the luxuries, for going nowhere must be done in style. First were the pills for the stomach pain the doctor said would get worse. Couldn't enjoy a luxury with a gut-ache, he figured.
Then he bought himself a battery-powered AM-FM Radio, a CD player, a supply of D-cells, and a case that held twenty-four CD's--twenty classical and four folk.
After that he expanded his larder with a case of Chivas Regal and two bottles of Armangnac XXL. He also bought a dozen Havana cigars. He'd never smoked for fear of lung cancer, but that seemed the least of his worries now.
Next, on a whim, he blew himself to a 600-watt gas-powered generator to run one electric light and a seventeen-inch TV and VCR. And, finally, he bought two videotapes--Dream Team, with Michael Keaton, and Traci, I Love You, an old Traci Lords film that contained what was probably the longest sex scene in all porno filmdom.
Thus, assured of self-sufficiency in food and entertainment, Adam Carlysle set sail for nowhere in particular.
And, for the first three weeks, as Coleridge wrote, "a fair breeze blew, the fine foam flew, the furrow followed free," and Adam was lulled into the false sense that sailing the Erin Go Bragh was a piece of cake. Unlike her namesake, the little boat--that is, it suddenly looked infinitesimal amid the vast expanse of blue that was the Pacific--bowed to his hand on the tiller (Wheel, dammit!) and the trade winds blew away from Vancouver and the demands of the compass and in roughly the direction he figured wherever should be.
It didn't take him long to lose all sense of time. He'd started by keeping little notches on the compass stand, but one morning he couldn't remember if he'd put a notch on yesterday, so he just quit.
By sheer chance--it turned out to be in his fourth week--he made landfall at Lahaina in the Hawaiian Islands--Maui, he was told--where he replenished his supplies, particularly of Evian water and Chivas.
Then, maybe two weeks later, he stopped at a little atoll which an English-speaking native told him was Tabueran in the Island Republic of Kiribás. But, when Adam looked at the map of Oceania he'd found in a drawer in the cabin, he could find only Kiribati that was close in spelling, and no Tabueran atoll at all ... atoll.
But the weather continued glorious and the wind held.
However, on a morning in the Nth week of Eh?, Adam awoke to a feeling that all was not well. There was a different smell upon the air, like the ozone smell one gets after lightning has struck. Going up the gangway to the deck, he discovered that the compass was now pointing to the S.
It took him only a few moments to decide that this should not be, since compasses always pointed north. And only moments after that, he had it figured that the wind had changed direction and was now blowing him back the way he had come.
That was no good, Adam mused. The last place he wanted to be was Vancouver again. But an east wind was usually a sign of bad weather, wasn't it?
Then it took him only a few moments after that to make up his mind which of the two was preferable--Vancouver or bad weather.
But he wasn't quite sure how to turn the boat around.
And Erin Go Bragh seemed determined to go bragh him no matter what he tried. He tried letting out sail and hauling over on the wheel, but the little bitch just lurched on her side for a second, righted herself and recorrected her northwesterly course. Then he tried lowering the mainsail and sailing on the mizzen, but that was worse still. She shivered and shook back and forth until he was afraid she was going to break up.
Then, finally, he had the inspiration of his lifetime. He dropped all sail, started the engine, hauled on the tiller, and snarled as the little bitch brought her nose around to the east.
"Go fucking bragh, yourself, sweetheart! I'm the Master here!"
And he grinned straight ahead over her bucking prow, and watched the black clouds rolling over the horizon.
"Storm brewing," he said, like Professor Marvel in the Wizard of Oz (Damn, he should have bought that tape too, to alternate with Traci). "Big 'un too."
He'd heard of the captains of ships lashing themselves to the mast so that they wouldn't be swept over during a storm, but that seemed awfully soggy whether you got washed over or not. And besides the mast was a good five feet from the wheel.
So he did the next best thing. He tied the wheel so that the Erin was pointing her pouty little breast at the wind and he went down into the cabin, poured himself an Armagnac in a snifter and put The Kingston Trio CD on the player.
Erin's engine quit at suppertime, just as the pitch was beginning to get to Adam's stomach. But it was even worse when she swung sideways and began to roll with the heavy sea.
Dammit, he had to get her facing upwind again before the Armagnac and Chivas all got toppled onto the floor!
Adam struggled up the gangway and shoved against the suddenly heavy hatch. Finally, though, he managed to force it up, only to be greeted by a face full of brine. The deck was awash, he saw. The damn useless compass was gone so he'd never know again even what direction it wasn't. The sails were torn to strips on the masts and flew in tatters in the banshee gale. The mizzenmast was snapped off and gone.
And the meaningless spinning of the tiller seemed to tell him not only that the rope had snapped, but that the rudder was gone as well.
And, then, a brilliant series of lightning flashes tore the blackness like a shredded sail and Adam saw the cliffs.
They rose into the very sky not a hundred yards ahead, close enough that even in the pitch dark that followed the lightning, he could hear their tumultuous shattering upon the rocks.
So Adam Carlysle did what must be done.
He allowed himself the one bitter ironic thought that Erin in some form was going to screw him after all.
Then, he went back down into the cabin, took a stomach pill, poured himself another Armagnac, lit a Havana cigar, and awaited his thunderous welcome to nowhere in particular.