Thursday, February 27, 2014

OFF THE GRID

Chapter 1

The Threat of Redemption

Was it you or I who stumbled first? It does not matter. The one of us who finds the strength to get up first, must help the other .  Vera NazarianThe Perpetual Calendar of Inspiration

The promise of relief has been swelling and hovering for more than a week, and now an early morning Darwin September light glitters red streaks across a black sky.
A wall of rain claws its way from the distant Arafura Sea toward the city. A relentless giant storm painting the green waters grey with skyscraper nimbus shadows that reach from the ocean surface into the ocean of cloud above.

Two are men waiting, rolling gently, patient on the humid stillness of a moored boat.
The jade-coloured sarong of Kopu-Nui Hokitika rises and falls as his huge body softly sings.

At the other end of the padded wooden bench an athletic younger man listens. “What does that one mean Punga?” he asks.

Kopu pauses and rests his guitar across his chest
“battle ahead – before a war there must be consultation – before a storm” then he laughs and says “means many things –words really saying that the gods are thoughtless in their fierceness and their intent –an ending will rip through shadows with spears of rain and painful air to breathe– but who can know what really is ahead and what are the sacrifices for freedom“

The younger man shrugs and looks upward, his trained eye following the grain of the Douglas Fir mast. “I don’t always know what the hell you are talking about”

Kopu laughs loudly and freely and follows the young carpenter’s gaze up the polished tree trunk to the rigging high up the mast. There is no breeze to rattle the metal cleats, and yet the entire sky is full of cloud and angry morning darkness from the distant Northern horizon of the Arafura Sea all the way above Darwin City in the East and South over the treetop rainforests and red soil jungles. The world is clattering tumult deep inside itself in a monstrous heaving blanket.

They both look out to sea as the tropical sky rips out thunder on thunder, spilling waves of lighting downward through the heat into the water below.

Kopu continues “just got to get hold of the feeling” he looks back at the other man “it's also about a journey in a boat you know - like that without knowing where to, but it is old times you know…. two great kings and the people must decide who to follow in their journey – an old story”
He pauses then strumming again he talks and sings in small snatches of words amongst the chords
 “we all follow in the
pathways of the water…
great knowledge of the ancient ones…
hara mai te akaaka nui
hara mai te akaaka roa
hara mai te akaaka matua
hara mai te akaaka na
Io matua taketake te waiora…
and great heart strengthen your arms and axes
and your love of your ancestors makes your enemy weak…
and cuts apart the water for the land…” he sings on quietly as though half asleep.

The two men are on the deck of a large wooden sailing vessel, watching through the haze of breathless humidity, knowing at last it is coming.

A crackling exhaust pierces the wallpaper of cicada song, and both men stir. The crackle eases to idling gasps and rumbles as the machine comes to rest on the concrete apron of the wharf.

The sound of footsteps and then the square bearded face of Toby Armstrong appears.
The men on the boat look toward him. Kopu puts the guitar aside and gathers his sarong around him as he rolls onto one elbow and nods. The effort of moving makes the tattoos twitch over his massive neck and shoulders like a flag rippling its pattern over the shell of a giant turtle.

The other man on deck, Mick Tasakrios flicks his long knotty Rasta hair, and throws his legs over the wooden edge behind him and tumbles up onto the deck in a roll. He sits up grinning and half waves, then casually brushes a fly from his knee.
Toby puts a foot onto the edge of the vessel “The famous navigator and the famous carpenter then” he says. Silence. Then he produces a rolled newspaper from his vest and holds it above his head. “Well, it’s just another croc story boys” and he hurls the paper in a high arc. It lands at Mick’s feet. Mick carefully removes the rubber band which he puts in his pocket. He unrolls the newspaper and reads, then flashes the front page to Kopu with its photo and trumpeting headline 'CROC STORY A CROCK'. Then he crosses his legs and spreads the paper and reads out loud "September 28 The amazing story of a savage crocodile attack along the North Arnhem Coastline played out in Darwin court this week when..."

Thud! 
Toby throws a package onto the deck from one hand and it lands inches from Mick's knee. Mick stops reading and looks up. Toby's face looks suspended, hesitating as it always does, if there is something to say but too many ways of saying, “Package for skip” he announces at last “from person or persons unknown… interesting” and his intense face informs Mick that he does not want to hear any more of the newspaper article. 

Mick looks back down and reads on in silence. 

Toby reaches inside his vest again and pulls out a thick parcel. Thud! The parcel is thrown onto the deck from the other hand and lands next to Kopu. “Provisions from treasury for the next chapter…. You can open that one”

Then Toby leaps aboard the vessel which rocks slightly to accommodate him. He stands legs together like a tree which has grown out of the deck. His legs are as brown as gnarled wood and the oil-stained shorts seem to sit like an afterthought at his thick waist.
Stained ragged shorts then a hairy belly-gap, and then a big loose leather vest out of which grow thick arms in an awkward clutter of too many torn muscles. He stands for a long pause looking at both of the men. “just another croc story” he repeats.
“Just another crock of shit if you ask me” says Mick still reading.

Toby gestures to the newspaper “she sold us out, sold the skip out”

Kopu laughs out loud “she sold us out” he repeats laughing again with his peculiar high pitched almost hysterical laugh for such a big man “she sold us out – oh love where is thy sting”

Mick looks up “isn’t that death – death where is thy sting?”

“Exactly exactly that” Kopu says and laughs and shakes his head as if nobody really will understand anything about love or death. “End of story, and beginning of story” he says.

Toby waits for a break in the rise and fall of the cicada shrieking to speak again “You blokes going to get a wet arse for sure – you staying on?”

Kopu and Mick both nod - They look toward the approaching storm.

“Got to keep her alive” states Kopu. Toby nods.

“Skip wants you at Buffalo Creek 0530” says Toby “she’s all fuelled and gassed and there’s spare fuel for the reach next to the chiller”

Kopu and Mick nod again “thank you the famous mechanic” says Mick, and Toby scowls at him, not enjoying his own little joke being sent back at him.

“Any news of the apprentice boy” asks Kopu

Toby looks up and down the length of the boat, running his eye over the winches and the trimmings “Sent him his first set of spanners” he replies at last.

“Mum will be pleased” says Kopu. Then there is a long pause as the three men turn toward the thunder.  “Where to?”

“Skip didn’t say – anywhere I guess – there’s more you know – court was bad enough but that’s nothing compared to what else - I told him  piss off skip - to Zanzibar for a couple of years or go fishing off Lebanon coast or something – I told him to get the hell out – maybe he will listen to me for once”

“What do you mean there’s more – more than this crap?” said Mick shaking the newspaper in the air.

Toby seemed to stop his inner emotional motor as he often did at a time of great crisis, and his face became like stone. He stood there looking from Kopu to Mick and back again. “I’m not coming boys” he paused and took a deep breath and the stone cheeks seemed to relax a little and life flowed back into him as his thoughts crystallised “business to run – you know – kids to run – skip will tell you all about it” that was all he would say, though it was a lot coming from Toby. “love to know what’s in that parcel” He turned abruptly and leapt off the vessel onto the walkway. The vessel rocked more violently this time. “Good luck boys – how’s Mary?”

“She’s fine, safe back with mum in Omokoroa” said Kopu and with a wave to Toby he rolls his body onto the deck mattress and looks away.

Toby stands on the walkway, seemingly smaller than he had looked on the deck. “love to grandpa” he says to Mick as he turns to walk away “worst of it should blow over by morning.... you can motor all the way if you want – tell that old Greek he owes me” and his voice begins to trail away “about time he took her back to Mykonos...”  then he is gone with the click of the walkway gate, and a few minutes later the bike revs fiercely and swirls away.

And so the two men hold onto their promises as they listen. 

They are thrown together in their waiting, each filled with thought and memory and untangling the lies and truth of their wretched predicament, each in their own private sweaty breathing. 

They listen as the angry exhaust fades and rises and fades again into the distance and are enveloped once again by the silence of heavy tropical air, a silence accompanied by cicadas so constant and loud they are impossible to hear. Underneath their noise, and through the relentless thunder, the men can feel the nervous melody of thick lapping water whispering the answer, offering up to the carved arc of the wooden hull the knowledge of what happened at Yalingimbi inlet.

The whistle of a kettle rises innocent in the face of the nearing ocean stormfall.

Kopu rises from the deck and carefully picks up the package and the parcel. He tosses the parcel in the air and catches it. He throws it to Mick who holds it to his ear and shakes it as if to hear a rattle. “no change” he quips.

They both laugh, Kopu laughing his open free laugh of worldly irony, and Mick more nervous and questioning.
Mick tosses the parcel back to Kopu who then edges past him and eases his giant body down into the companionway, and like a great black shark squeezing into a small cave, takes the package and the parcel below.

Kopu reappears with two mugs of hot tea and the men sip on their drinks both deep in thought.
Kopu taps his fingernail against the metal rim of his cup “we have the key” he says in his deep sing- song voice “now let’s see if it fits the lock” and again he laughs out loud, laughing into the face of outrageous fortune and daring what is to come, to come. As always Mick eases his thoughts into the strength and comfort of the big man’s well of determination, and laughs too, more quietly, finding strength there to allow destiny to chart the outcome of what they now have to do.

The red air fades into the morning blues and greys around the two men who are etched like sacrificial soldiers in the pale tropical light of the marina. The sun lifts itself off the horizon to be swallowed by the day, and all that remain of the crew of the Saint Augustine, those unwilling survivors and witnesses, are imprisoned and uneasy above the creatures of the water beneath them.

Shortly they will go below and batten down in preparation for tomorrow morning’s rendezvous.


Off The Grid

Chapter 2

To The Lighthouse

One line placed on the canvas committed her to innumerable risks, to frequent and irrevocable decisions. All that in idea seemed simple became in practice immediately complex; as the waves shape themselves symmetrically from the cliff top, but to the swimmer among them are divided by steep gulfs, and foaming crests. Still the risk must be run; the mark made. – Virginia Woolfe

The Saint Augustine is a silhouette between the jaws of an inlet as night creeps toward her. The huge shape of the vessel fills a splash of distant ocean beyond the narrow channel.  Her Larch planks moan quietly at anchor in the inlet under the last colours of a setting late August sun. In front of her a dense fringe of mangroves seem to close up and draw nearer around her as their branches and leaves disappear from green into reddish blue, and gradually dissolve into a darkening wall of black shadow shapes.

On deck, sitting on the edge of the deck, a figure pulls an arm free from a makeshift sling and rubs the shape of an injured shoulder, then, with deep rubbing, feels satisfaction in the density and definition of toned sinews and muscle.

The evening is growing and a half moon, tracked close by Venus, gashes a celestial image into the face of  the sky creating a silent pathway for the carpet of milky way lights emerging behind.  Hints of redness are still spilled across the warm horizon, but the only meaning for this nervous person is sufficient light to make out the lighthouse shed. “two hundred metres – not too far  - swim it in fifteen or twenty -no problem no problem mother – do the necessary – do the necessary”.

Only the tin roof of the lighthouse gleams out against the wall of mangroves. The inlet has now become a black cave.

The figure climbs down the rope ladder which hangs over the planks of the swollen hull. Dangling a foot into the water it is pleasantly warm and soft. “not too deep” and then startles as a bird cries wheeling overhead.

Pausing, remembering a dream from last night where flocks of petrels, thousands of petrels which were being hatched but were out of control, attacked swarming all over, but fluffy and warm but choking. “did I die” the casual thought is murmured. Hard to remember although the feeling of the warm feathers around the skin is mirrored by the skin of the water
The figure slides into the darkening water and beneath the surface it is cool against the legs.
The moonlight is beginning to make the tin shed of the lighthouse glow white – the tall bamboo poles of the shack are in darkness and hard to make out, but the roof is shining clear like a beacon and the water is a pulsing silver sheet.

“be with me god and keep me safe” out loud, floating beside the comforting power of the wooden boat edge, and the child inside prays again and again. Pushing away and beginning to stroke the body through the clear stillness, pushing through the warm surface and the gentle coolness of the water.

The shape of the boat has now receded behind, and the black box shape of the wooden shack looms ahead. Tiring a little, feeling the ache growing in the sore shoulder. The tide is mild but it is coming in and helping, rubbing the shoulder while floating, rubbing gently.
Then a gentle bump against the left calf. The urge to shout leaps into a silent throat, a freeze rushing through veins rushing it to the heart. The moon watches passively as the shout of surprise is a silent alarm.

Taking a deep breath the figure now floats unmoving on the surface of the inlet water, like a log, feeling the soft swaying of the incoming tide beneath. Now edging closer to the mangroves in stillness and suspension. The reality of the bump against the leg fades into disbelief but then the reality of it cannot be denied. A look across to the glowing roof of the shed then back to the empty safety of the boat. The big hulk of floating black wood seems closer. “do the necessary god – look after me – look out for me” quietly, and then propelling onward toward the shack. Not splashing or breaking the water, only gently breast-stroking.

Bang! 
This time the bump is harder. 
The victim tries to swim hard but now going side-ways and only one leg will work. Suddenly dragged beneath the water there is struggling and kicks with a free leg. The leg kicks against something huge – some monster – more kicks and twists with urgency and desperate anger. Then the figure bobs to the surface like a bloody cork.

The surface of the water is calm, lit softly as the moonlight picks out the detailed patterns of the tide like thousands of intricate scales moving and breathing in a glittering gown.
Now swimming furiously and splashing arms wildly but one leg is not working. The shack is looking closer, nearer “please god let me...” 
Bang! hit again at the hip this time, and beating wildly silently screaming above the water and under again against the great jaws that have closed.  Punching punches, punches, punching wildly at the huge head, searching for eyes to strike. Then released again to see the moon, but the sound of bone cracking is like a horrible signal of approaching doom. “Not me not me not yet god please” and a thrashing hand at last closes on the rung of the ladder of the shack and the figure begins to drag itself upward.

Then struck again and slipping under the water, only the silence of the inlet is restored, broken by occasional swirling as the great beast rises to shake and roll its prey.


Off The Grid Chapter 3

Setting the Nets

watching life
return to me
in my net
more than i have given
- George Hoerner

Matthew John Cabot, skipper and co-owner of the Saint Augustine,  runs his finger around the rim of his mug of black coffee. His finger, like his whole body, is tall and thick set. His frame easily fills the sailing club chair which is nestled deep into the grass under the coconut palms lining where the shore meets the grass. He is seated at a table which has been dragged from the dining area onto the grass.

His eyes wander across to the other side of the table to contemplate the old man’s hands in front of him. He notices that one wrist is decorated with two gold bracelets and a fine gold watch. “The old man still has style” he thinks.

The arms of Theo Tasarakis lift and wave the watch to emphasise every word “ So that pure diet without killing is what I have decided to do and three weeks now – all I am eating is fruit and nuts, no meat, nothing that has been killed, only fruits and nuts, and look at me what do you think? “

Matthew seems slightly amused “You have always been a scrawny bird Theo - I’ll look at you in six weeks when we get back if I have to – what about coffee, and cheese”
“nothing is killed for them” says Theo feigning offence “only what is offered by god my friend – when do you go?”

“August 15 we go after lunch” Matthew mutters without looking up. He picks up a pen and is checking back through lists and notes.

“two days – ok – customers here yet?” asks Theo. 
Matthew does not answer. 
“ I only get certified organic anyhow so none of those pesticide things see – you know no pesticides that are killing all the bees – only what is offered by god for taking” and Theo’s arms fall back onto the table and he looks intently at Matthew “you could make that way for the clients you know –special feature – dietary feature - charge lots – you know my friend go for the top of the market you know”

“no change unless we need it” Matthew says still flicking back and forth in his notes “don’t rock the boat”.

Theo looks down and lifts his hands from the table and folds his arms. He searches around the crowded tables in front of the sailing club, with the sea-breeze fluttering his shaggy grey eyebrows. He squints against the morning sun which reflects bright off the thick lawn. He sees the figure of his grandson climbing out of a taxi and making his way towards them through the buzzing throng. Mick is tall and walks easily within his skin, dodging through a crowd of children and leaping up the podium stairs. He stops at the bar for drinks, and at a cooking stall orders some food.

Theo says loudly as if addressing a number of people at surrounding tables “Six weeks then my friend, six weeks in that Indian tub of yours – I told you to buy that one made on Samos – they are the best builders – they have the history my friend – why would you buy a boat from Indians when you have the greatest culture of building boats right there on Samos my friend? When you have a Samos boat you fear no evil. You know....” then he looks around. Matthew looks up and follows his gaze and catches sight of Mick at the stall. “you mark my words....” then he drops his voice and leans forward “so how is your little project then?” and before Matthew can answer “and Mick don’t know nothing?..”

“No” says Matthew, looking into Theo’s ancient wrinkled face. Then he notices the long hairs on the old man’s shoulders and how they are grey and stick out around the neck of the singlet and he feels the sense of gentleness which Theo always seems to carry even when he is cranky about something “no, not Mick - I have built the last set of co-efficients and we are running all the stuff through again - through them now. Still probably a month off getting anything worthwhile”

“Well I don’t know nothing about it either cavayari – just in case someone asks” says Theo and Matthew looks up deep into the old man’s eyes. Theo grins and his eyes spark slightly then he looks away. Matthew returns to his notes.

Mick arrives at the table. He sits and drops a newspaper onto the table in front of Matthew. “Hey dads, hey Matthew” he says “Seen it skipper? So big it can’t even dock here” he pushes the newspaper image of a vessel across the white table. “beautiful cutter though”

“’hey dad’ you sound like a Skippy” says Theo frowning and waving an arm “where is that girl? Drug addict she is” he directs his words to Matthew who is reading the newspaper article “he won’t get into that I tell you – you start taking drugs I cut your hands off – then what use is the best carpenter without hands I ask you”

“she is a comedian Pappou – her own woman – she is working for goodness sake – I never would try and tell her what to do” Mick responds as he starts to eat his souvlaki  “anyhow it isn’t fair to sit in judgement on her like that – she is good hearted”

“good hearted enough to spend all your money too” and he turns to Matthew again “good hearted but a prisoner of addiction she is – wasting her beautiful life”

“Pappou please“ Mike frowns, then in the silence to Matthew “so what do you think skip?”

Matthew holds his coffee steady and peers across the top of the white rim of the mug at the newspaper photograph “what’s she do?”

“20 knots” says Mike absently as he gestures for a coffee in sign language to the barista “90 meters, got two tenders with 90 horsepower twins”

“Nice” says Matthew as he looks across the crowd toward a group of people who are moving toward him laughing and talking. “Keeping the waters safe not a problem for us”.

The giant body of Kopu turns his way and their eyes meet. Kopu bows ever so slightly and Matthew smiles back and hints at a nod of the head. Then he turns back to look at Mick again. Mick continues “heavily armed and makes distance but nowhere to park. Not a problem for us“
Matthew puts the empty cup on the table and looks around the market crowd is if checking for someone then back to Mick “how are we looking? Got everything?”

Matthew is recently turned sixty and his face is ringed by white hair and whiskers which are not well trimmed, though they look as though they should be. His skin is tanned and weathered.
Mick pulls out a list with receipts and Matthew puts on his glasses again and begins to carefully check through the dockets. He takes a pen out and makes notes in his pad. 

Coffees for Mick and Theo arrive “Another one skip?” Mick asks and orders without waiting for an answer. “All finished, smell of the stain gone now.  Shipshape skip – replaced two of the rails across the beam as well”

Kopu comes up to the table with his wife Maria, and Mick gets two chairs for them. They sit without saying anything.

Maria takes a notebook from her bag. “All paid” she says, “three women, one man and one child -The child is with two of the women – got some behaviour issues on the spectrum you know autism spectrum – I looked it up – no real issue – and one woman is travelling alone” Maria pauses and looks to Matthew who has not looked up, still checking in his notebook. She looks to Kopu who smiles and nods. She continues “the man is travelling alone also”

“OK thanks”, says Matthew, “how old is the child?”

“He’s nine nearly ten” says Maria. Silence.

Kopu says “She says he has the mental age of about seven but smart in some things you know”

Matthew looks up at the sound of Kopu’s voice. He puts the pad and pen down and accepts a newly arrived coffee, and leans back in his chair. “OK that’s great Maria thank you and very well done. What are the specials?”

“Well” says Maria,  “solo woman is Dutch marine biologist wants turtles, trepang, and she says a range of molluscs – specialises in parasites it seems, two women are twitchers so Peron Islands might be a good go at the end, and loading up on the Inglis and Wessel Islands, and so...” Matthew waits... “and our solo man is American vacationer with interests in Indigenous Culture – tourist”

Matthew nods “OK good”

Maria looks at Kopu then continues “the two women with the boy – main cabin. Single woman cabin two and the man in with the crew. He needs laptop space, and I imagine so will Dutch woman though she has not specifically requested it. She wants to bring a white-board on”
Matthew makes a couple more notes then puts his pen down and reaches across to touch Maria’s hand. He looks directly into her deep black eyes and she looks away sideways. “I am sure you have an itinerary outlined?”

She looks directly back into Matthew’s eyes for a moment then looks to Kopu and she nods. She looks back at Matthew’s hard blue eyes and says “Kupang nine to thirteen September”

Matthew leans back in his chair again and rolls a cigarette in silence.

Theo stretches and gets up from the table. He calls to a distant group of men, and then turns back to Matthew and puts his hand onto Matthews ironed linen shirtsleeve “the songs of my ancestors still ricochet through the wind - everyone is crying out for peace my friend, no one is crying out for justice” Matthew looks up into the brown eyes of his patron and favourite philosopher “stay safe and look after my boy – iasu” and he turns and melts into the crowd on his short wealthy bow legs.

Matthew watches Theo depart, briefly, then turns back to the table and says “Mick, this kid is yours – ok – yours - you look out for him every waking minute ok? I don’t want him going for a shit without you watching him, and if you have to belt him I will back you – never let him out of your sight ok! – you will be his best friend and nothing happens to him ok?”

“Would you want him belting someone else’s child?” asked Maria surprised “anyhow all passports, visas, done permits done, and all paid up”.

“He means a safety line so the kid cannot fall off” said Mick “too many snappers out there in the water” and he grinned at his own joke.

Kopu laughed right out loud at the thought, frightening a waiter who had crept up with a cordless phone. “Call for Mr Cabot”

“Hang on Toby”, Matthew says into the phone, and he looks up at Kopu and Maria who have both stood from the table and he says “fifteenth 0600 embark 1300 – thank you Maria you are the only woman I ever could have married – let me know if he ever leaves home”

Maria smiles warmly and confidently, then hesitates as Kopu gathers himself and they walk away together, greeting tables as they move toward the exit gate.

Then Matthew talks with Toby at length regarding supplies and re-supply points. Mick gets up and waves cheerio while Matthew is still talking to Toby.

After Mick has gone Matthew finishes his plans with Toby and then leans back in his chair and casts his eyes over the armada of yachts moored before the great sailing club, and where the Saint Augustine was moored until Theo bought the marina berth.


Off The Grid

Chapter 4

Arms of the Saint

I cannot say what loves have come and gone,
I only know that summer sang in me
A little while - Edna St. Vincent Millay

“15 August 1115 the log for the 37th commercial voyage of the Saint Augustine is hereby set down on an incoming tide, moored and readied”  
Matthew types on the verandah of Theo’s house. He looks up from the carved metal table over the collection of classical statues which have been randomly set down by removalists and are scattered across the vast lawn, looking toward the vessel which is moored at the far end of the garden. 
Behind her a blue stretch of water winds away and is a deep channel between mangroves, and in the distance the flickering white horses where the channel meets the sea.

Mick and Toby emerge from the house carrying a large wooden table between them. Matthew smiles politely as they struggle past wearing their new red t-shirts and black flared trousers. 
The big table has scrolls and boxes, and the men carry it across the lawn and set it down in the distance next to the Saint Augustine. 

The walkway is hidden by the swell of the lawn, and the vessel and the table look as though they are part of the eccentric and random lawn sculptures.

“1132” he types,  “preparation to receive passengers”.  

And then Matthew rises, folds the computer into it’s case and walks across the lawn, through the statues, without noticing them, to the walkway, along the walkway past the table, and without a glance for Toby and Mick, up the gangway onto the deck of the Saint Augustine. He allows himself a flicker of smile as the giant wooden Cutter tries to yaw slightly under his feet as the incoming tide rises to it’s task. He feels the eagerness to be underway and the vessel strains against the ropes and rubs the fenders impatiently at the mooring pylons.

Mick and Toby go and bring chairs and are followed on their final trip by old Theo who is dressed in a pale pink suit with grey shirt and white shoes.  Then behind Theo comes the floating grace of Theo’s wife Kyriaki. 

Kiryaki is dressed in a drawer-full of colourful silks with a white shalwar kameez beneath, and the breeze ripples against her as she glides along behind the men, the breeze making the silks float out from her like so many flags of nations, and her skin radiates the colour of first press Kalamata olives.  Her long grey hair is gathered tight across her forehead in a black mourning band.

They all sit at the table and Matthew unclips his binoculars from his belt and holds them aloft. He waits until Kiryaki looks up and when she does he waves them high and calls to her “Thank you Pizza they are the best” She smiles her white teeth at him and with her hand motions ‘it is nothing’ and ‘you are most welcome’

The party at the table look toward the sound of a motor car arriving. Matthew turns and goes down the companionway with his laptop and plugs it into the docking station. Then he climbs back onto deck and flips open the mini-station 
“1148 passengers arrive preparing to embark”

He watches as Maria leads the group of passengers from the vehicle onto and along the walkway and Kopu walks behind.  Maria’s face is tattooed with her Ma’ori heritage, and her flashing smile as she looks toward Matthew is as soft and naive as a child as much as it is powerful and defending her castle.

Two women walk together behind Maria. 
They are both dressed in expensive camping shop gear and the older of the two women has a broad straw hat. 
The younger of the women has a baseball cap turned back to front. Between them, walking stiffly and formally is a young boy. Matthew notices his awkwardness and determination to walk properly and guesses 10 to 12 years old. 
The older of the two women reaches to touch his hand and he holds her hand briefly then returns to his ordered march between them.

Behind the two women and the boy, is another woman, very tall and elegant in her walk, very European. She has both a rucksack on her back, and a woven cane bag on her arm. Matthew notices the shock of curly hair bursting out from her overly large tennis visor cap. 
She is very tall. 

At the back of the group is a man with a shaven head and dressed in long trousers and colourful shirt of the style Matthew likes. The man seems relaxed in his walk and looks around a lot seeming to ask questions of Kopu who smiles back at him but says little. 

Behind the whole party are two men with trolleys of luggage.

As the passengers arrive at the table and chairs Maria introduces Toby and Mick who in turn introduce Theo and Kyriaki, and then refreshments are offered. The passengers sit to listen to Kopu deliver the safety on board address. 

Matthew hears the voice of the young boy interrupting Kopu “what size is the motor? What size is the motor?”
The older woman leans forward and touches the boy’s shoulder to hush him, and then sternly tells him to be quiet and listen. The boy stands and shrugs his shoulders away from her and steps closer to Kopu “I want to know what size the motor is” he says more angrily. 
The women are apologetic and both rise from their chairs but the boy now turns and backs away then turns to run across the lawn. Toby steps from beside one of the statues and strongly picks the boy up in his arms. 

The boy stiffens himself and tries to push away and Toby says “I will show you the motor – on board – when we get on board” The boy remains as stiff as a board in Toby’s arms, his sailor jacket rumpled up to his armpits and his face reddened, and he looks hard at Toby and says straight at his face “what size is the motor?”
“It’s a Volvo Penta D2 72 horsepower 2.2 litre diesel – alright!?” says Toby looking straight back at the boy. 
Their faces are close, and the boy suddenly relaxes completely and still held, puts his hand on Toby’s shoulder and grins back over his shoulder to the women. “Alright” says the boy. Toby lowers him to the ground and he runs back to his seat and says “I am sorry Mr Kopu I missed the part about when the sails swing across the top” After Kopu’s talk has finished, Maria, Theo, and Kyriaki lead the passengers to the boarding gangway, and they cross onto the deck while the passengers wait to be called across.
Matthew stands hands behind his back at the top of the rope rail. He offers a hand to each of the passengers as they are introduced. 

In the background Matthew spots Mick and Toby carrying the table, boxes and chairs back across the lawn. “Alysha DuMaurice” says Maria as a tall blond woman steps onto the gangway. 
Her rucksack is squarely balanced against her back and she is wearing a loose pale blue smock over deep blue knee-length bicycle shorts that have white stars scattered over the front of the legs, and stripes at the hem above the knee.Matthew feels her strong handshake – she has long fingers and warm hands. 
“Welcome aboard” he says looking for softness in the bright blue eyes “always a pleasure to welcome a marine biologist along on one of our voyages” 
She has hung onto the rucksack Matthew notices, but the cane basket is on the luggage trolley “I have your whiteboard installed”Alysha pauses with the handshake, and looks at Matthew Cabot. She notices that his eyes are like her own, and his face has something of the Dutch mouth lines of her own father. She lingers and allows Matthew to end the handshake, and then steps onto the deck, wobbling slightly under her rucksack which Theo steps forward to help her with, and she nestles it amongst some ropes by the mast.

“Tanya Pellegrini” Maria announces next, and the more senior of the two women who have the young boy with them, steps onto the gangway. 
Matthew looks at her strong, lined face, and admires her casual smiling demeanour as she pauses and looks at him, before accepting his handshake and embarkation assistance to land on deck. 
Tanya has long flowing hair which she allows to cascade from under a broad straw hat, and as she shakes Matthew’s hand she takes the hat off for her hair to unfurl around her. 
The hair is grey and white but alive and shining and she tosses it away to allow their gaze to meet. She is wearing a kahki shirt and trousers with lots of pockets everywhere, and a red silk scarf flows from her left breast pocket. “Mr Cabot” she says in a way that reveals a hint of her Italian heritage “it is such a pleasure to meet you. I read of your Banded Fruit-Dove story and it was an inspiration for this visit” 
Matthew looks into her green open eyes with the speckled cornea. He wonders what her eyes might have been as a young woman flashing those white teeth and speckled eyes like pale green birds eggs. 
She steps across the deck, avoiding a coil of ropes without needing to look, and moves to stand beside Kyriaki who has quietly boarded the vessel, and who indicates with a nod the Steiner Commander binoculars on Matthew’s hip. They grin to each other and then Tanya winds her hair back up into the straw hat and retires beneath it.

“Master Raphael  Pellegrini” announces Maria. 
The boy stands hesitant at the gangway and Maria gestures with a soft downward motion of her hand and the boy steps onto the gangway. “I never been on a boat” he says and stops like a horse unwilling to board the float, feet dug into the gangway and hands gripping the ropes “I want to get on last” he says.
“That will be fine” says Matthew nodding and motioning for the boy to step back, which he does meekly.

“Gwenda Caldwell” announces Maria next. A slender woman in her early thirties steps onto the gangway, her brown legs still decorated with youthful vigour and her hands confidently gripping the rope rails. 
She is wearing loose kahki shorts and a camping shirt in the same fashion as Tanya Pellegrini, however she seems almost lost amongst the folds of her garments. 
Matthew holds his knotty hand out toward her and for a moment suddenly feels very old as this woman approaches him. She uses the ropes and does not take his hand of assistance to step onto the deck. Matthew gives her his smiling frown, as if looking down over a pair of glasses, and she smiles back nervously, flickering black eyes away toward Raphael, and then around the rigging and fittings on deck and back to Matthew. 
The vessel has begun to rock slightly as the tide hits it’s peaks and Gwenda’s hand appears from a sleeve and grips Matthew’s hand suddenly and briefly. She glances into his eyes then looks away and nods. “Welcome aboard the Saint Augustine Ms Caldwell” and looking across to Kiryaki he cannot hide a grin “welcome indeed and I hope we can add some sightings to your impressive CV”. 
Gwenda nods and recedes back into her shirt as she quietly moves to stand next to Tanya.

“Lester Winters” Maria reads as a tall slender man with a shaven head and a white scarf knotted around his throat, steps onto the planks. 
Matthew notices the faint shadow around his temples and decides the head shave is to compensate for early baldness. Lester is wearing long white trousers and a purple silk shirt that flutters slightly in the long sleeves which are rolled twice at the wrists. He has a hat hanging from a pouched knife on a crocodile skin belt. 
Matthew watches the veined arms reach for a double-handed handshake which is confident and bold, and greets Matthew’s hand without hesitation. “Welcome aboard Mr Winters” Matthew says, watching Lester’s carved heart-shaped mouth with the lips so red they are purple. 
Lester smiles and looks directly into Matthew “the pleasure is mine I assure you Mr Cabot, and please sir you can call me Brain – that is what everyone calls me” 
Matthew nods still holding the handshake as if uncertain to let go “Brain, well ok Brain, you can call me skipper, while we are afloat” Lester nods and as his hand is released he steps back slightly as if he had been too forward. 
Matthew puts his hand on Lester’s shoulder and points toward the others on deck. Lester smiles and moves.

“Raphael  Pellegrini for the second time” announces Maria as Raphael steps onto the planks with Toby and Mick behind. He walks confidently up to Matthew and shakes his hand. “Mr Captain sir” he says formally “this is Mr Toby”. The huge frame of Toby Armstrong grins sheepishly as he fills the gangway behind the small boy.
“Thank you master Raphael the second – it is most helpful of you to bring the crew on board as we will be needing them”
Raphael seems not to really hear but shuffles awkwardly looking for a place to stand while waiting for Toby.

“Did you hear all of the safety briefing young man? Mr Kopu’s talk” asks Theo stepping forward and bending down to be at Raphael’s height.
“Mr Toby is going to show me the engine” Raphael replies.
“I’m sorry” says Gwenda kneeling next to Theo and putting a hand out toward Raphael “I will make sure that all is safe with Raffie wont we Raff eh?”
Raphael backs away slightly and half sits awkwardly on Alysha’s large rucksack, and he looks away toward the channel between the mangroves.

“No need to be sorry for anything Miss Gwenda”, says Matthew helping Toby and Mick lift the luggage onto the deck from the gangway. “Let’s get all this stuff stowed and everyone settled below and get away onto the water while we still can, then we can have a nice supper out at Garruma Rock for sunset”

Theo, Maria and Kiryaki farewell the party from the walkway as the gangplank is hauled away. 

The giant Bristol Cutter eases gracefully off the mooring as the tide nudges her out into the channel under a the faint humming power of the diesel, and the wooden shape takes it’s rightful space first out between the mangrove then further into the reaches in the deep channel, and at last through the foaming horses at the river mouth which part under the Saint Augustine prow underway again.

Kopu has the tiller and Matthew notes on his log terminal “1423 exit Grinter channel bound for Milingimbi – first port Tiwis”


Off The Grid

Chapter 5

The Visited Trap

Sitting on the prickly woollen bench blanket, Matthew Cabot taps his cheek, as he does when deep in thought.  

The image of Alysha swims through his mind and he turns her over and over. 
So carefully and precisely she worked, dissecting a sea snail amongst the rocks on Tanukan Island. He keeps playing it in his head. 
So calm she was, and  the short white hairs of her arms glistening in the sunlight  amongst her ordered tools and boxes as the afternoon sea wind blew her hair like transparent white seaweed away behind her. 
She had looked up and smiled inquisitively and said “information Mr Cabot, is like the ocean, and where you chose to dive in will always be interesting”. 
She was being coy and distant even though they had spent the previous two nights camping together, alone, and while she collected her specimens he fished for her and fed her and loved her, and the smell of her body still lingered with him above the salt spray and the massed flocks of waterbirds surrounding their isolation. He noticed her freckles then, as she worked under his gaze and he stood naked and un-noticed at last.

Now he sits alone, not seeing the grey lino or the steel bars of the remand cell. Not hearing the grunts and snorts from the cell next door. He is set against a storm and it makes the unnecessary invisible, and the mundane silent so great is his focus on memory and thought and sorting the events.

The watch policeman brings him a coffee and informs him that he has a visitor. “upstairs in the interview room or down here? – up to you”

“down here” Matthew replies, taking the coffee with a nod. He notices that it is a white coffee instead of the black he asked for, but says nothing.

The watchman reappears and a short stocky woman steps out nervously from behind him. 
She stands seemingly unsure, then enters the cell as the watchman opens it and ushers her in.

“Mr Cabot?”
Matthew nods and moves along the bench blanket to make room for her but she remains standing.
“Mr Cabot I am appointed to assist your case. You may elect to get someone else if you are not happy with me”

Matthew looks up from his coffee and looks hard at the woman. She has buck teeth, and slightly dishevelled clothes and hair, but she stands firmly and smiles.

Matthew nods toward the space he has made on the bench “If you want the case you will have to sit down. I am not  talking to anyone who has to stand up all the time”

“I am Glenda Rejander- Minninker” she says still standing “and you have to say if you want me to represent you at the hearing, and sign these papers”

“Then sit down here Ms Minninker and I will sign”

The woman suddenly strides to the bench and sits next to Matthew. 
She sits with a very straight back and her feet only just touch the floor. She reaches into a folder and produces a paper and pen which Matthew takes, and without looking at Glenda Minninker, signs and hands back,
She folds the paper and replaces it into the folder which she puts beside her on the bench. “Fine then we have a deal Mr Cabot”

“Matthew” he says beginning to enjoy her short formal style.

“Alright Mr Matthew – now my job is to prepare your case for the hearing. This is not a trial, you understand, not a trial. This event is for the Magistrate to determine if you are to go to trial. Do you understand what you are charged with?”

“A surprising turn of events is what I am charged with my dear, a surprising turn out altogether I should say wouldn’t you?”

Glenda turns to face Matthew for the first time. He notices her eyes large like giant white gashes in a brown sheet, and with large chocolate brown centres. 
She only holds the gaze for a moment then looks nervously away, toward the wall of filthy graffiti at the back of the cell. “You are being held on serious charges. I need to know you understand the charges”

“Yes I understand the charges thank you”.

Glenda looks sideways at Matthew again, almost comforted by his sharpness and his neutrality of emotion.

“Well I look to you Mr Cabot. This is about you and you know the prosecutor will try and convince the weight of bad character, and motive you know, it will all hinge on that, lacking the normal sort of you know,... evidence as it were” 
She puts her papers on the floor and awkwardly drags a lined notepad and pen from a folder.

Matthew stands and walks to the tall iron bars. He leans his big frame against the metal, taking comfort from the edge of pain against his skin. He turns, still leaning, and looks at Glenda, her short skirt too short for her chubby legs which balance the pad. He wonders how she might dance and what sort of music she would like. 
He searches for the faint scent of Alysha in his moustache, sniffing at his top lip and finding himself annoyed that it is almost faded but still, still the electric charge of her eternal moment in time lingers, like the footprint of an ancient god. 

He looks at Glenda and finds something in her shy and courageous body language, it is there in her too, that same seeking for an understanding of the great hunger driving freedom. Matthew prides himself on intuitive understandings of a certain class of women who reach innocently across the space toward him – the ancient souls filled with bitter sweet understanding, and who are like stranded aliens for whom compassion and sensitivity are badges. 
History has taught him that he will always fail because the perfect fit is not possible since he is not sure of the shape of his own standards and needs, and would certainly be unable to know if a woman really loves him. Undaunted by such a relentless string of failure, Matthew nevertheless blindly tries to measure and gauge the level of trust to which he may commit, in his estimations of, this professional woman before him.

Eventually Glenda is able to hold his gaze from the distance across the cell, sufficient to set Matthew at ease.

“You know miss, you seem to be holding out some hope that my character might stack up in some way, no? You know stack up for his honour to say this guy is no bad guy.” 
He pushes off the wall and begins to walk slowly around the cell “I cannot run from myself and be someone else. I personally consider myself a man of honour you know, I can stand before god and say yes yes – there are redemptions in me – the balance is there – there are things in me that you know – I can’t run from myself and hide – nowhere to hide from myself you know – but I am a good person basically and I believe in equity and justice and truth – yes I believe in those things, my life is committed to those things”

“So you have a sense of pride in yourself Mr Cabot – could we say that?”

Matthew paused his walking and looks at Glenda as if the question was either startlingly accurate or perhaps mystifying.

“Sense of pride – yes I am my own person and in debt to nobody – I pay my way in life and I have fought all my life for what I believe in”

Glenda was making notes and Matthew found that slightly scary though thrilling.
He watches her pen for a few moments and then continues to pace the floor, resuming  his thoughts “so probably in answer to your question if we are talking about me and my judgement day then – well – I guess that I probably don’t stack up you know – couple of broken marriages you know” 
he feels the old itch for a cigarette and notices the no smoking signs signalling the power of social imprisonment “yes in answer to your implied question I feel that I am a man of good character – the last breath of an old man and the first breath of a newborn in one breath....”

She looks up at him, not writing now, watching as Matthew Cabot seems to drift and hover somewhere else

“....and, all happiness is mine if I fear no evil – was that John Donne?”

Glenda looks up at him and taps the end of the pen on the closed pad, then she opens it and smooths the white page against the deep black of her skin. She looks down at the page and begins to write, then asks “what sort of relationships would you say that you had with the guests on your ship Mr Cabot”

“If you are on my side you can call me Matthew or Skipper, if you are not on my side you can call me Mr Cabot”

Without looking up she says “I am paid to be on your side Mr Cabot, and I am a very professional person, but please do not try and force me into a personal position. You may come to trust my ability to act and speak on your behalf, and I may come to trust you sufficiently to address you by your first name, but at present we have not established those positions” 
As she finished she looked up and smiled so cleanly and perfectly that Matthew laughed and looked away.

“OK I’m impressed” he said kindly, and Glenda allowed some silence in order to confirm the arrangement, as Matthew stood with his back to her, watching through the bars, watching the grey concrete stairwell rise from the grey linoleum floor, upward out of the shaggy light of the cells to the brightly lit courtrooms somewhere above where freedom is a commodity with a juggernaut of service industries built around it.

“Tell me about how you found the guests Mr Cabot” Glenda’s voice curled into his mind “how would you say you got along with say, Mr Winters for example?”

Matthew turned back to face Glenda and slid his back slowly down the soft steel of the bars, until he was sitting on the cell floor with his knees up. 
He put his head between his knees. “Well first night was at Holy Reef you know, where we have the meet and greet cook-up – Alysha wanted to help Kopu – she was interested in bloody everything – Kiwi cooking you know for god’s sake!”

“Miss DuMaurice?” asked Glenda not looking up

“Yes her” said Matthew