Copyright © 2000 by Barbara Davies.
This story may not be sold or used for profit in any way. Copies of it may be made for private use only and must include all copyright notices, warnings and acknowledgements.
This story depicts a loving relationship between two consenting adult women. If you are under 18 years of age or if this type of story is illegal in the state or country in which you live, please do not read it. If depictions of this nature disturb you, you may wish to read something other than this story.
There is some bad language. What can I say? Rough and tough fishermen tend to swear. <g>
BENEATH THE SURFACE
(Email: firstname.lastname@example.org )
The rope was as thick as my fist, but Tim's anger made him misjudge the swing. I ducked its return arc; it was close though, and I knew I had to finish this quickly.
Mother Nature certainly did men no favours when she gave them those vulnerable dangly bits. I moved in and kneed my ex-crewman in the balls. While the breath was still exiting his lungs in a pained gasp, I offered Her a profound Thank You and applied a swift uppercut to his stubbly chin.
Tim's already goggling eyes rolled up in his head and his fingers released the rope. It hit the deck with a solid clunk. He was still standing, though, and I wondered if I was going to have to hit him again. Abruptly he toppled backwards.
Appreciative wolf whistles drowned out the sound of a limp body hitting the deck. It was lucky the Dawn Piper was no longer at sea or right now a storm would be heading straight for us.
"Nice one, Cap," called Pete. "He was asking for it." The loud jeering of the seagulls seemed to endorse my first mate's sentiment.
I sucked my scraped knuckles. "Doesn't make me feel any better. Stupid bastard."
"Having a little trouble with crew discipline, Cordie?" said a familiar deep voice.
Shit! To give myself time to think, I adjusted the elastic band that was threatening to slide off my ponytail. Then I plastered a pleasant smile on my face and turned round.
Ollie Redmond was standing on the dock. With him was a shapely, shorthaired, blonde with striking green eyes. Iíd met his wife, Carmel, once - in the supermarket; Ollie had never invited me to his house - and this wasn't her. His companion was young enough to be his daughter - mid-twenties, I guessed.
Silently, I saluted his good taste ... and mine. She could have stepped straight out of one of my dreams, though my dream girls usually wore cheaper outfits ... if they wore anything at all.
"Boss. Nice of you to come and meet us." I wondered how long they had both been standing there.
While he pulled out one of his ever-present cigars and lit it, he regarded the groggy Tim, now being helped off the boat by Kev and Will. "Wouldn't go quietly, I suppose?"
Since Iíd already told him, during my regular radio report, the reason for Tim's dismissal, I guessed he wasn't surprised by Tim's departure, more the messy manner of it.
"Not too often, I hope."
Inside, I winced at Ollie's rebuke. Externally, I assumed my stone face. "So. Something I can do for you, boss?"
He indicated his companion. "I want you to meet my daughter, Piper."
I blinked and made a rapid mental readjustment. So this was the famous apple of his eye, the daughter who had been living the high life in Manhattan for the past 7 years? She must be home on a flying visit. Interesting he'd brought her to see one of his sword boats.
He turned to her, smiling fondly. "Piper, this is Cordie Bellamy, one of my Captains."
That 'one of' hurt. I was the best bloody captain in his fleet, and he knew it. I assumed my best shit-eating grin.
"Pleased to meet you, Ms. Redmond."
The little blonde didn't look as if she returned the sentiment. She nodded brusquely, said a perfunctory "Captain Bellamy," then bit her lip.
I tried again. "I suppose you know this boat is named after you?"
She gave her father an amazed glance. "Is that true, Dad?"
He blushed - something I couldn't remember him doing before. "Yes. I ran out of girls' names. That's all ... Anyway, Cordie." He concentrated on relighting his cigar ... which was odd since it hadn't gone out. I suppressed a smirk. "When you've unloaded, I want you to get the boat ready for another trip. Two days."
My crew, who had been lounging around trying to look busy, groaned loudly. I felt like groaning too.
"That's cutting it fine. I've got to hire a replacement for Tim."
"You'll manage it ... you always do."
Yeah, I thought sourly - but that doesn't mean I like it. These 30-days trips and 2-day turnarounds were wearing me out. There was a time I was happy for fishing to be the be-all-and-end-all, but lately Iíd been thinking there must be more to life. Or maybe it was just that turning thirty thing. Milestone birthdays tend to have that effect.
"Oh, and Cordie, one other thing."
I raised an eyebrow. "Yeah?"
"You'll be taking Piper with you."
I snorted. "Nice one, boss."
Ollie frowned, and his daughter looked offended. The penny dropped. "You're serious?"
"Of course. Piper is going to be helping me with the business from now on. She knows nothing about the practicalities of swordfishing, though, so I thought it would be good for her to go along on a trip."
"Aw, boss! You know I don't carry passengers."
He fixed me with a look. "My daughter will more than pull her weight, believe me."
"Yeah, but -"
He made a slashing gesture. "She's going, Cordie. End of discussion." He was the only man who could back me into a corner, and he knew it.
"OK." I wondered how on earth Piper would cope on a fishing boat when she clearly belonged in a Society salon.
"Well, I'm sure you've got plenty to get on with, so I wonít keep you."
The understatement of the year. Between now and when the Dawn Piper was due to sail, Iíd be running around like a blue-arsed fly. I turned to give the crew their orders.
"Oh. One last thing," called Ollie.
I turned to find him looking back at me. Piper was striding along the wharf to where her father's Range Rover was parked and for a moment her shapely calves mesmerized me.
"My daughter means everything to me, Cordie. Make sure no harm comes to her. Is that clear?"
I locked my libido back in its box and held his gaze. "You can rely on me, boss."
He nodded. "That's why I chose you."
While I reeled from the first compliment Ollie had given me in five years, he, and the golden-haired goddess that was his daughter, walked away.
The soft overnight drizzled had died away, revealing a fine early Autumn morning. I didn't have time to appreciate the weak sunshine though. It was 8a.m., the tide was on the turn, and Piper Redmond was late. I drummed my fingers impatiently on the rail, listened to the ropes creaking and the slap and suck of water against the dock, and wondered whether to set sail without her.
I had just decided to cast off, when Ollie's Range Rover pulled up at the end of the wharf. A door slammed shut, then Piper Redmond, smart suitcase in hand, was strolling towards me, gazing at the other fishing boats and the picturesque piles of lobster traps, as though she had all the time in the world.
I'd had enough. "Get a move on," I yelled, ignoring the amused glances my men were throwing my way. "We'll miss the tide."
She started, as though I'd jarred her out of some pleasant daydream, then began to run, her tanned legs - she was wearing shorts, for God's sake! - capturing my gaze.
At the edge of the dock, she halted and teetered uncertainly. The Dawn Piper's starboard rail was almost level with the dock and the gap was no more than a foot wide. The boat was bobbing up and down a lot though.
"Throw me your case." I held out a hand.
For a moment, she hesitated, then she threw it to me. It was heavier than I expected - what the hell had she got in there: free weights? - and I almost fumbled the catch. When I'd placed her suitcase safely on the deck, I beckoned to her.
"Now you. Just step off. It's easy."
She looked at me uncertainly, then took a deep breath and stepped off. Her unsuitable sandals skidded on the rail and I leaped forward and steadied her.
"I hope you've brought a pair of proper deck shoes," I chided as I helped her down onto the deck. I released her and stepped back. Belatedly I remembered my manners. "Welcome aboard, Ms. Redmond."
She rubbed her upper arms where I had gripped them - sometimes I donít know my own strength. "Thanks ... I think."
I followed her slightly troubled gaze and realized its likely cause. Even on a good day, my crew look like cutthroats. This morning they were all hungover, and Kev had acquired a spectacular black eye. And all of them were gawping frankly at her. Who could blame them?
I didnít like the gleam in the new man's eye, though. Daryl McCreery had a reputation for trouble, but he was a hard worker and the only replacement for Tim I could find at short notice.
"Haven't you got any work to do?" I asked the guys pointedly. Grumbling good-naturedly, they resumed loosening the lines.
"Chris." I beckoned to the nineteen-year-old, who had apparently drunk slightly less than his shipmates (and who, since he was underage, shouldn't have drunk anything at all). He bounded over like an eager puppy. "This is our youngest hand, Ms. Redmond. His name is Chris."
Shyly, he pulled off the red baseball cap he always wore back to front, and held out a large hand. Piper shook it, all the time smiling warmly at him. I knew from his soppy smile he was smitten and tried not to roll my eyes.
The lines were now loose enough that Pete and Daryl, who had hopped up onto the dock, could slip them off the dock pilings. It was time to get under way.
"Show Ms. Redmond to her quarters Chris." I had already told everyone where Piper would be billeted ... and added that if they laid a finger on her I would personally tie a knot in their wedding tackle.
He nodded, put his cap back on, and picked up her case.
"Show her the galley too - she'll have to scavenge if she wants to eat anything before dinner tonight. Then introduce her to the others, will you?"
Piper gaped up at me - I was a head taller than the little blonde. "What will you be doing, Captain Bellamy?"
"What I'm paid for: driving the boat."
I'd made myself a mental bet that I'd be hearing from Piper during the next half an hour ... and I won it fair and square. I had just steered the Dawn Piper out of Gloucester's inner harbour, and asked Pete to lower the outriggers to horizontal, when the wheelhouse door opened and the blonde flounced in.
"I can't stay in a room that size for 30 days!"
The sea was calm, visibility good. I switched on the autopilot and keyed in a course north of east, to bring us out just east of the Grand Banks fishing ground in about 5 days' time - the first quarter of the moon.
"Sorry. There's nothing larger."
I double-checked our course against the plotter and the GPS and made a slight adjustment.
"Well I certainly can't share a bathroom with 5 men."
The 'bathroom' in question contained a toilet, 2 sinks, and a shower, and the men had instructions to keep it scrupulously clean or pay a hefty fine. "Why not?" I looked up from checking the loran - we were making a respectable 10 knots. "There's a perfectly good lock on the door."
"Well, because -" She stopped and flushed a becoming shade of pink. "Well, you know."
I raised an eyebrow. My crew had stopped thinking of me as female since I blacked one's eye and kneed another in the balls, so her dilemma simply hadn't occurred to me. Looking at her, though, I could see there might be a problem. Never mind her shapely calves and ankles, that low cut, turquoise silk blouse made it very clear she was all woman. Whoo boy!
She was also, I reminded myself quickly, the boss's daughter, and her last sea voyage had probably been aboard a luxury cruise liner staffed by effete pursers. What could it hurt?
"If you promise not to disturb me when I'm sleeping, you can use my bathroom."
She looked relieved. "Thanks. May I see it?"
"Sure. Through here."
I had led her into the adjoining stateroom before I remembered I hadn't made my bunk that morning, and there were dirty clothes strewn all over the floor. As nonchalantly as possible, I picked them up and threw them in a closet. I needn't have worried though. She was more interested in my flush toilet - well, a captain's got to have some privileges.
"This will be fine." She turned to survey my room, which was slightly larger than the crew staterooms. An acquisitive gleam appeared in her green eyes.
"No we can't swap rooms," I said quickly. "I need to sleep close to the helm." The thought of what would have happened if I hadn't been able to hear the radio from next door made me sweat.
"Oh." She couldn't quite hide her disappointment. Then her expression changed to one of surprise. "Is that calendar yours or one of the men's?"
I followed her gaze. Miss September was looking particularly sexy today, but for an instant I wished the calendar featured a Maine landscape in the Fall. Then I reconsidered. Perhaps it was just as well she learned about this now. After all, she'd hear it from the crew soon enough.
Over the years I've encountered many reactions to my being gay. One guy tried right there and then to show me what Iíd 'been missing' and ended up singing soprano for a fortnight. Piper merely blinked at me, opened her mouth slightly, then shut it again.
I turned towards the door. "If you want to use the bathroom now, Ms. Redmond, feel free," I said. "Me, I need to get back to the helm."
I heard the muffled sound of my toilet flushing, then Piper came through to the wheelhouse.
"Did Chris introduce you to everyone?" I asked, for something to say.
She nodded and crossed to the plotter. As she passed close by me, I caught a whiff of sweet smelling perfume. It made a welcome change from stale cigarette smoke and fish. "What does this show?" she asked me.
"Our geographical position relative to certain waypoints."
I pointed to one of the blips on the little computer's glowing green screen. "That oneís where we left off fishing last trip."
"So," she said thoughtfully. "Youíre going to pick up where you left off?"
I shrugged. "Maybe. Depends on a lot of things."
The blonde made herself comfortable on the bench seat where I stored odds and ends such as electrical tape and flashlight batteries, and I knew I was in for an interrogation.
I sighed. "Look, not right now, OK? I'm busy and I'm pretty whacked."
I thought enviously of the crew, who always caught up on much needed sleep on the first leg of the steam out to the fishing grounds. Two days' solid drinking takes it out of a man. They were probably already bedded down.
"But it's only 9am!" Piper looked aghast.
But I wasn't about to explain just how frenetic the past 48 hours of repairing, maintaining, and re-outfitting the Dawn Piper had been. Or how, even with Pete helping me out with the engine maintenance, I had managed barely three hours of exhausted sleep before her father woke me with a phone-call and yet more last minute instructions.
"Why donít you go out on deck and enjoy the view." It was one of those days where the sun sparkled off calm, deep blue water. "Here, take this." I dug in my jean pocket, found what I was after, and threw it to her.
She caught the little plastic tube deftly and examined it. "Chap Stick?" Her nose wrinkled.
"Your lips will thank you for it, believe me." She seemed reluctant. Perhaps she was more of an indoor sports kind of girl? "Did you bring some books to read?"
She shook her head in dismay.
"No? Well I can lend you some of mine ..." I gestured at the pile of well-worn paperbacks stacked in one corner.
She knelt beside it, picked up a garishly covered bodice ripper - I like to keep my reading undemanding when I'm at sea - then replaced it and stood up again.
I chewed my lip. "Or you could always watch the VCR in the galley." I searched my mind for what entertainment Kev had selected for this trip. Ah, yes. "Have you seen Lonesome Dove?"
She looked at me as though I was crazy. "No, I haven't."
"Good," I told her. "Because by the end of this trip, you'll know it off by heart."
"Pete says: Where's Piper going to eat her dinner, Cap?" I looked up from the captain's chair where I was compiling a list of things to do before we set out the gear - where would I be without my lists? - to see a baseball hatted face peering round the wheelhouse door.
"That's 'Ms. Redmond' to you, Chris," I growled.
"But she told me to call her Piper."
Did she now? "Well, that's all right then, I suppose .... She'll eat up here with me, of course."
"Oh." The youngster gave me a shifty look. "Well, it's just that, erm ... I donít think she wants to. In fact I thinks she's a bit scared of you, Cap."
I stared at him. "She hides it well then." A horrid thought struck me. "What have you guys been up to?"
He affected an innocent look but I knew better. "Spill it, Chris."
"Oh, OK." He pouted and began to examine his dirty fingernails. "Well, she was asking about the crewman you pummeled the other day."
"That's what she called it," he said. "And whether it was normal practice for Captains to beat up their crewmen."
I groaned. "And you told her it was. Right?"
"Well ... not quite. But you know that shiner Kev got in The Look Out last night?"
I did indeed. From what I'd heard, it was richly deserved. "A thing of beauty."
He nodded. "Well, he sort of implied that you'd given him that when he badmouthed you."
"Jesus! You guys lost no time hazing her. No wonder she's kept out of my way all day."
He put on a sorrowful expression that wouldn't convince anyone. "Sorry, Cap. But you know the drill, first time at sea she has to be initiated."
"Yeah, yeah. Well, spread the news around, will you? Ms. Redmond's no longer a green guy. She's been initiated fair and square and everyone's to leave her alone from now on ... And please tell Ms. Redmond, she will be eating in the wheelhouse with me ... no arguments."
He grinned. "Sure thing. Can I go now?"
He was half way down the gangway when I called him back.
"What's on the menu?" For the past half-hour, tantalizing whiffs of onion had been drifting up from the galley.
Chris's face split into a grin. "Pete's making his special spaghetti," he said, almost drooling.
I knew how he felt. I hadn't had anything to eat since a sandwich lunch and that family size packet of potato chips I had snitched from the galley. "Mmmm."
He smiled and disappeared again. I sucked my pencil stub and added more items to my list ...
"So I'm supposed to eat up here with you, Cap?"
The soft voice startled me, and I almost dropped my pencil. Gone was the formal 'Captain Bellamy', I noticed belatedly.
I looked up. Gone too was the silk shirt and revealing shorts. She was wearing blue jeans and a maroon sweatshirt. Designer cut, of course. Brand new too, by the look of them. Only trouble was, they were just as flattering to her figure as her other outfit had been. No way was anyone with a half a libido going to forget she was female. I sighed. At least she'd saved me the trouble of asking her to wear more suitable attire. At least, too, she was wearing proper deck shoes.
"Come in, Ms. Redmond. Sit down." I gestured to the bench seat she had occupied earlier, and she crossed nervously towards it. She reminded me of a wild animal, ready to bolt, nerves wire taut.
"Have the guys been looking after you?" I asked gently.
Piper nodded. "They were sleeping earlier. But since they woke up, they've all been very kind. Kev is teaching me cribbage."
I frowned. "You want to watch him. Kev doesn't exactly cheat - at least I donít think he does - but somehow he always ends up with everyone else's money."
"We were only playing for toothpicks."
"Just as well," I growled, and was dismayed when she actually flinched. Right. Time to knock this one on the head. "I think the guys have been playing a practical joke on you, Ms. Redmond."
Her brows drew together. "They have?"
"Yes. It's customary to initiate a crewman who's making his first voyage."
"'Initiate'." She mouthed the word to herself.
"So I'm guessing they've told you that I'm a bullying Captain who likes nothing better than to beat up her crew, and that includes you. Am I right?"
For the first time since she'd entered the wheelhouse, she looked me squarely in the eye. "Something like that."
She blinked. "But I saw you ... the other day. That crewman ...."
I sighed. "I donít know how much you saw, but he started it."
"Dad and I didn't arrive 'til half way through," she admitted. There was silence for a few minutes - still tense, but better than it had been. "You fired him, didn't you?"
"Didn't the guys fill you in?"
She shook her head.
Gee thanks, guys!
"Did he do something terrible?"
"Just about as bad as it gets."
I could tell she really wanted to know the details, so I told her.
It was the VHF radio that woke me. At sea, I'm normally a light sleeper, but sounds such as the engine room door slamming shut or generator pumps kicking in don't wake me. Nor does the radio ... normally.
I stared resentfully at my stateroom's low ceiling. Resentfully, because the shapely blonde I'd been pressed up against so deliciously in my dream had been about to take our relationship to a very intimate level. I wondered what had dragged me back to reality.
"This is the Early Bird calling the boat 1 mile east of me," came a muffled voice from the VHF radio next door. It sounded tense.
I had caught the tail end of the previous message when I woke, I realized, and now idly replayed it in my mind. Hadn't he said '2 miles east' a moment ago? I waited for the reply, and when none came reached for my wristwatch.
3.15 a.m. Tim's watch,
"This is Matt Jensen -," came the voice again. "- Captain of the Early Bird calling the boat one-half mile east of me."
Yep. Definitely tense. I wondered who was in charge of the boat Jensen was closing on so rapidly.
Still no reply.
My curiosity piqued, I threw back the sheets and hopped out of my bunk, then poked my head round the door intending to ask Tim what was going on. Lights filled the wheelhouse's front windows, the glare so dazzling I could hardly see.
There was no time to assess the situation, no time to think. I rushed to the helm and on instinct cranked it hard over to starboard, pushing up the throttle to full ahead. My heart was pounding so fast I felt sick.
Through the port window, I saw the end of our outrigger miss the other vessel by a hair's breadth. Then we were pulling away from the glaring light, and I had time to glance at the radar, to see the single blip dead centre separate out into two distinct targets travelling in synch.
If I'd guessed wrong, we'd have collided with a tug boat or the barge it was towing, or run over the cable connecting them ... and the best outfitted fishing boat I had ever captained would be on its way to the bottom.
I took a couple of calming breaths that didn't seem to have much effect, and turned the boat back onto its original heading. Then I peered at the man slumped in the Captain's chair, which was so uncomfortable it was supposed to be impossible to sleep in. Was Tim ill? A heart attack ... bit young for one at twenty-six, surely?
A loud snore greeted me and my recent terror turned to rage.
I backhanded him across the face.
"Wha-?" Brown eyes bleary with sleep gazed up at me. Comprehension dawned and his expression became sheepish. "Oh, sorry, Cap. I must have dozed off."
"Dozed off? DOZED OFF?!"
He blinked stupidly. "Yeah. Did I miss something?"
"No, you fucking idiot! You nearly hit something. Nearly sank a tugboat, in fact. Nearly sank us into the bargain." I still felt shaky from the near miss.
Abruptly, two tousled heads popped round the door, followed by two more. Great. My shouting had woken the entire crew.
"Something up, Cap?" asked my first mate.
I told Pete, in great detail, what had happened. By the time Iíd finished, he and the other crewmembers were regarding Tim disapprovingly.
"Stupid idiot," muttered Pete, scratching his beard.
"Should've woken the Cap," agreed Chris. So he didn't actually sleep in his baseball cap - good to know.
"I told you all last night," I said to the now red-faced Tim. "If you can't keep awake on watch, ask to be relieved. I said that for a reason."
The adrenaline was still coursing through me, and I knew I wouldn't be going back to sleep. To relieve my feelings, I kicked the wall, and ignored the exchange of nervous looks. I came to a decision quickly.
"I'm sorry, but that's it, Tim. This is your last trip with me."
He gaped at me. "But Cap ..."
I shrugged. "I mean it. Youíre out. "
My decision came from pragmatism not vindictiveness... but he wasn't to know that ....
"And when you got back to port, Tim tried to get you to change your mind?" asked Piper.
I was pleased she seemed much less nervous of me. "Another captain might have given him a second chance, but I've learned the hard way: once I've lost trust in a man ... " I shrugged. "He didn't take it well."
Footsteps on the gangway proved to be Chris bringing our dinner.
"Pete says: Enjoy," he said, giving a fork and a Pyrex pie plate of food to each of us; Piper also got an adoring smile I noticed. "I'll just go and get your salads." He gave her another smile then rushed out.
Piper was gaping, first at the pie plate - ordinary plates are no good in heavy seas; the food tends to end up in your lap - then at its steaming contents. "Erm ... What exactly is this?"
I had already taken a mouthful of mine. "Spgtti-an-ssges-an-mtblls," I mumbled happily.
"Sausages and meatballs?"
I nodded and sucked in a strand of spaghetti that was making a bid for freedom. "Try it, you'll like it."
The blonde looked doubtful, but took a small bite anyway. A surprised look crossed her face, then her food began disappearing at a rate of knots. By the time Chris had returned with our tossed salads, her plate was almost bare and I was beginning to wonder if our supplies would last 30 days. Ah well, there was always swordfish.
"Ask Pete if he has any seconds," I told Chris. "Ms. Redmond seems to like his cooking."
Obediently, he trotted off down the gangway again.
Piper smiled dreamily. "Do you always eat this well?" There was a smudge of meat sauce on the end of her nose and I resisted the urge to lick it off.
"Pretty much. Pete's an excellent cook. If someone were to poach him for another boat, I would be seriously annoyed."
She nodded solemnly.
I finished my own food then became aware that the background VHF radio chatter had turned to a discussion of catch sizes and ocean conditions at the fishing grounds. I grabbed my notebook and pencil and jotted down a few notes, then, when the chatter had turned to more personal matters, turned back to find Piper regarding me interestedly.
"So that's why you eat up here? The radio?"
"One reason. What did you think - I'm too uppity to eat with my crew?"
Her expression showed I had hit home.
I shrugged - it no longer bothered me what other people thought of me. "Which do you think the guys would prefer ... a Captain who eats with them, or a Captain who finds them the best place to catch fish?"
"I'm sorry," she said softly. "I seem to keep underestimating you. I donít know why. My father's always had nothing but praise for you."
Her words made me blink and I tucked them away for later consideration. "S'OK."
To my relief, Chris reappeared with her second helping, and by the time Piper had finished eating, the conversation had returned to more neutral topics. Later, when I'd returned from taking our dirty dishes down to the galley and again called her Ms. Redmond, she asked me to call her Piper. The request pleased me and I told her that she could call me Cordie.
My parents had always called me that. I hated it.
"No one calls me Cordelia and lives," I growled. "Not even your father."
She snorted. "Cordie it is, then."
That evening, there was a spectacular sunset and for a while we simply stood in silence, watching the washes of yellow and salmon pink in the Western sky change to mauve and indigo through the wheelhouse windows. Then, with a suddenness that was almost shocking, the sun dipped below the horizon, and blackness closed in around us.
Automatically I checked the radar. Nothing for miles, in all directions.
"Does the temperature always drop like this at sea?"
Piper was shivering and I thought about enfolding her in my arms, then slapped myself mentally round the chops. Boss's daughter, Cordie. Hands off! I could have fetched her one of my spare sweatshirts from next door, but I was finding her an increasing distraction, and I had work to do.
"It'll be warmer in the galley," I said. "Why donít you go below?"
I dimmed the screens to their lowest adjustment; in the darkness they tended to glare.
"Yeah. Maybe if I ask nicely, the guys'll even let me watch Lonesome Dove." Her tone made me look up. She was frowning at me.
I tried to joke her out of it. "You never know your luck." I grinned at her and after a moment she grinned back.
"You know," she said seriously, "if I get in your way, Cordie, you only have to tell me."
I considered that for a moment. "That's good to know."
"So. You have things to do?"
She turned towards the door. "See you tomorrow then."
"Sleep well," I called after her.
"In that little room?" She snorted. "Give me a break!"
It was 8.30 a.m., and Iíd been up for three hours, when Piper finally made it up to the wheelhouse. With the guys taking 90-minute watches, Iíd managed a decent night's sleep, in spite of an increasingly choppy sea. From her bleary eyes, Piper couldnít say the same. She still looked gorgeous though.
"Good morning, Piper." I straightened up from my chart, and put down the parallel rulers and dividers. It never hurts to double-check instrument readings.
She groaned. "Is it?"
The Dawn Piper was rolling slightly, though Iíd lowered the stabilizers at the end of the outriggers, and I wondered if she was the type to get seasick. A thought struck me - a memory of when I first became captain of the Dawn Piper and took it and my then girlfriend, who was prone to seasickness, for a spin.
I opened the benchseat, and rummaged inside. Piper watched me curiously.
Aha. I scooped up the acupressure wristband and held it out to her. "Here. Put this on your wrist. It might help."
"Help with what?" She slipped it on.
"The nausea." I reached over and adjusted the band for her.
She gave it a sceptical glance then shrugged. "Thanks."
A lanky form filled the open doorway. "Breakfast for two, Cap," said Will cheerily. On his tray were two steaming mugs of coffee and two plates of sandwiches.
"You're a lifesaver, Will." As he retreated down the gangway, trayless, I grabbed a mug and gulped its contents down in one. I put down the empty mug and let out a sigh of satisfaction.
Piper sipped her coffee more circumspectly and eyed the food. "Sandwiches ... for breakfast?" She wrinkled her nose and lifted a corner of the bread to inspect the contents: corned beef and tomato. "Actually, I am feeling a bit better. I might be able to manage those. Now if you had expected me to eat runny eggs and b-"
I clamped a hand over her mouth.
"Lmphtt mph gph!" Green eyes sparked with indignation, and I removed my hand, trying not to think about the feel of soft lips, sharp teeth, and a wet tongue against my palm.
"Piper, you must never mention anything to do with -" I lowered my voice and chose my words carefully, "- curly tailed creatures."
"What?" For a minute Ollie's beautiful daughter looked baffled, then she smirked. "Oh, you mean I mustn't mention p-"
I only just got my hand back over her mouth in time. "For God's sake!" My heart was pounding furiously. "I'm serious. Didnít your father every tell you about shipboard taboos?"
This time, when I took away my hand, her expression was chastened. "No."
I grabbed a sandwich and plopped into the captain's chair, my pulse gradually quieting. "No curly tailed creatures," I repeated.
"Why are they taboo?"
"No one knows for sure. Some say it's 'cause they can't swim." I took a bite of sandwich.
"Damned if I know ... And while we're on the subject of taboos. No bananas on board, and no whistling either. Got it?" I took another bite.
She considered for a moment. "I can't whistle to save my life anyway."
"Just as well."
She took a small bite of her own sandwich, then a larger one.
Movement made me look up. Pete was standing in the doorway. "We'll start on the gear work after breakfast, Cap. OK?"
I nodded. "Fine." I glanced out the window. The sky was overcast, and the sea was getting more unsettled by the minute. The weather map faxed overnight had predicted a weak low coming in off Cape Cod. "It's going to rain."
Pete followed my gaze. "Yep."
"'Gear work'?" Piper had been listening to our exchange.
"It's hard to describe. Better if you just watch the guys," I told her. "But keep out of their way, OK? The hooks and knives are razor sharp."
A thought occurred to me and I followed Pete out. He stopped halfway down the gangway and looked at me enquiringly.
"How are things below with Piper and the others? Any problems?"
He thought for a moment. "Nah. Piper's a cute kid. You'd never guess she was the old man's daughter. Most of the guys are treating her like their little sister."
"Well, Daryl ... " The first mate scratched his beard.
"What about him?"
He sighed. "Seems he hates Ollie Redmond more than most - says he fired a friend of his for no good reason some years back - and he might just get it into his head to take it out on Piper."
"Can you keep an eye on things? Let me know if he comes close to crossing the line?" I cracked my knuckles meaningfully.
He chuckled. "Sure thing, Cap."
Piper appeared in the doorway. "Everything all right?"
"No problem." As I waved Pete away, a sprinkle of wetness on my cheeks made me look up. I retreated quickly to the wheelhouse.
"Here comes the rain," I told Piper.
"This day just gets better and better!"
A 100-footer, the Dawn Piper is one of the roomiest boats I've ever worked on, even so, there are times when being cooped up with six other people begins to pall. It looked like Piper felt the same. Though she was happy enough to keep me company in the wheelhouse while the rain bucketed down, I could tell she was getting restless.
As soon as the rain eased up, I suggested she go on deck and watch the gear work. (I'd warned the guys to behave as though I were glaring at them.) She was out of the wheelhouse and down the gangway like a shot.
I was in the mood for some music so put a Melissa Etheridge tape on the stereo and turned the volume up loud, the way I like it. As I sang along to the pumping music, I gazed down at the little blonde who was watching Kev and Will screwing whip antennas onto the waist-high, scarlet beeper buoys and found myself grinning.
Jesus! Looks like Chris isn't the only one who's smitten.
Shaking my head at myself, I turned back to my charts. When I next glanced out, I wasn't surprised to see Piper actively helping the two fishermen. Her small hands were nimble, I noticed approvingly. I turned back to my own work.
Later on, I saw she was standing next to Pete. The first mate was demonstrating how the lightsticks worked. I watched him give her one of the cigar length plastic tubes and show her what to do. As she bent it, the tiny glass inner tube broke allowing the two chemicals to mix. She oohed and aahed at the lime-green glow produced by the reaction. I smiled and turned away.
Over dinner that night - prime rib, potatoes, and asparagus - I asked her whether she had enjoyed her day.
She chose her words carefully. "It was interesting."
"Youíre doing great, Piper."
She flushed a little and gave me a shy smile. "Thanks. But there's such a lot to learn. I'm sure Iíll get the hang of it eventually."
I had finished eating and gave a satisfied belch, which earned me an indignant glare. "Sorry. Not used to being in such ladylike company." I gave her my shit-eating grin.
"Youíre not sorry at all!" She shook her head in mock dismay, then pushed her own empty pie dish aside.
"So. What did you do in Manhattan?" I asked.
"I was fashion correspondent for Elegance for a while. Then moved up to Assistant Editor. I was good at it too."
I blinked at that. "May I ask you a personal question?"
She regarded me warily. "That depends."
"Why on earth would someone give up a media desk job to go into the fishing business?"
"Because Dad asked me to."
She sounded a little defensive, which piqued my interest further. I vaguely remembered a young man with floppy blond hair, who used to come down to the dock with Ollie. He had never had the courtesy even to say 'Hi' to me or the guys. "But I thought your older brother -"
"Rob's jacked it in. He felt his talents were going to waste." There was something beneath the surface of her even tone ... irritation? "He told Dad he'd had enough of smelly old fish. He's going to open an art gallery in Seattle instead."
Those 'smelly old fish' had paid for Ollie's grand house, I thought with annoyance. They had also paid for Rob's Harvard and Piper's Wellesley education. What was the betting they were going to fund the art gallery too? But I confined myself to: "Your father must have been upset by your brother's decision."
She nodded. "He was. This business is his life."
"So." I drummed my fingers on the table. "You gave up your job to come back and take over from your brother? That was very ... er ... dutiful of you."
"Iíd already decided to come home for ... personal reasons." Her manner had become rather stiff. "This seemed the ideal solution for both Dad and me."
I waited for her to continue, but she seemed reluctant to offer further details.
"What about you, Cordie. Did you always want to be a fisherman?"
I let her change the subject and she relaxed at once. "No," I said. "That came later. Sailing was my first love. I always wanted to be captain of my own boat."
My thoughts drifted back to a long hot Summer day twenty-one years ago ...
I was enjoying the rhythm of oars dipping and rising, dipping and rising, the splash and gurgle of water sliding under our keel, the salty smell of the ocean, when a voice from behind me broke the mood.
"My turn," said Andy.
I ignored him.
Something poked me in the ribs - a stubby forefinger, I guessed. I craned my neck round to look at him.
"I said it's my turn, Cordie." He was giving me that Spaniel puppy look, which, since his dark bangs were in danger of getting in his eyes, looked even more piteous than usual.
I sighed. That look from those pale blue eyes never failed and he knew it. He'd used it on me when we were seven and I broke (I still swear it was an accident) his toy fort. Our parents thought it was sweet, Andy's sister buying him a replacement fort out of her own savings. They didn't realize - once he gave me that look I had no choice.
Grumbling, I shelved the oars. Then, careful not to rock the boat too much, I shifted out of the seat, to allow him to come forward to take my place.
While he straightened his torn jeans, grubby Red Sox T-shirt, and baseball cap and settled himself, I made myself comfortable in the bottom of the rowboat's bow, and turned to stare at the island that was our destination. Guillemot Island we called it - though that wasn't its real name - because of the seabirds that nested on its guano-spattered cliff face.
Andy grabbed the oars and the boat jerked, nearly pitching me overboard.
"Hey! Watch it, idiot." I rubbed the elbow I had banged on the side.
He twisted to look at me and pulled a face. "Sorry." He resumed rowing more carefully.
As he found his rhythm, I settled back. The sun was warm on my closed eyelids, and I trailed my hand lazily in the cool water, then turned and flicked some droplets onto the back of Andy's neck.
He didn't miss a stroke or even turn round. "Cut it out."
"Cut what out?"
He merely grunted and continued to row. I turned my gaze back to the island across the bay.
"We should have asked, you know." He sounded regretful.
I turned to regard him. "He'd only have said no."
"Yeah, but when Mr. Hoge finds out we've taken his boat -"
"- OK borrowed his boat, he's going to know it was us - he's seen us hanging around. And then he's going to call Mom and we're going to catch all kinds of hell."
I shrugged. I was used to being told off. We both were. "When I grow up," I told him, "I'm going to have my own boat. Not a row boat, either. One with a real engine. I'm going to be a Captain and sail the Seven Seas."
He snorted. "Girls can't be captains, Cordie."
He let us drift for a moment while he thought. "I donít know," he admitted at last, and resumed rowing. "But women are supposed to be unlucky at sea, aren't they?"
"What about figureheads, then?"
"What about them?"
"They're female. If women are unlucky, why did sailors put them on the front of their boats."
From his silence I knew he was thinking about that.
"OK," he conceded. "If you're Captain, can I be your First Mate?"
"Sure." I pointed to the island. "Land ahoy. Let's get this boat ashore pronto, first mate."
He grinned and set to with a will. "Ay, ay, skipper."
"And you got your wish," said Piper, bringing me back to the present with a start. "Captain of the Dawn Piper."
I nodded. "Well, I still don't own my own boat. But ... yeah. It took me awhile to make Captain though. I started as cook and deckhand on the William Lively, then became helmsman and First Mate on the Osprey. Finally, five years ago, your father made me captain of the Joanna D. When our catches got too big for her, he moved me over to the Dawn Piper."
I glanced at her to see if she understood the magnitude of his decision. She clearly didn't.
"People told him he was crazy to appoint a woman captain," I explained. "It's unlucky."
She blinked. "But that's just superstition, isnít it?"
"Maybe. But you wouldnít believe how widespread that notion still is. He stood by his decision, though. Believed I could make a go of it, no matter what anyone else said."
A fond smile curved her lips. "Dad did that?"
I nodded. "I owe him, big time."
She wrinkled her nose at me. "But, Cordie, donít you think you've already paid him back? The best catches in the fleet. He's always boasting about those."
A warm glow spread through me. "Is he?"
She frowned. "He's never told you? Never thanked you for all your hard work?"
"Well, no ... But I'm just doing what he pays me for," I said rather defensively. "And he's a very busy man."
She leaned across and pressed my hand. "Well, on behalf of the Redmond family, can I say 'thank you'?"
I smiled at her, basking in the warmth of her smile and the feel of her hand on mine. "You're welcome."
The next two days passed smoothly. The weather was a bit squally, but nothing that would delay us, and the gear work was actually ahead of schedule - we'd painted the bullet floats and made a good start on assembling the leaders. But a good Captain always has a gut feeling about how things are with her crew, and I could sense something wasn't right.
Gradually, I pinpointed it. Piper was upset, though she hid it well. I kept a sharp eye on her, and soon began to detect a pattern. She was skittish around Daryl.
I took Pete aside for a private chat and asked him about it.
"Beats me, Cap. He's stopped making cracks about her father, so I assumed things were getting better."
I let the first mate get back to work and thought about what he'd said. Was Daryl's anger at Ollie coming out in other ways?
Later that afternoon, when I was in my stateroom changing into a clean sweatshirt - the one I was wearing had got soaked - I heard a knock at the door and Piper came in asking to use my bathroom.
"Do you need me to do something about Daryl?" I asked her bluntly.
She flushed. "What do you mean?"
"Donít give me that. I know something's up. What's going on, Piper?"
She examined her hands and I thought at first she wasn't going to answer. Then she perched on the edge of my bunk next to me, her expression so miserable I feared the worst.
"Has he touched you?" The mere thought of those meaty hands pawing her made me feel sick.
"No. But ..." She paused, her cheeks reddening even more. "He keeps saying things ... You know, complimenting me on my ... my breasts, telling me lewd jokes." She gestured helplessly. "Yesterday, I asked him to stop, but he just laughed and said I should be flattered."
My hands curled into fists. "And the others just stand there and let him sexually harass you?"
"No. He's clever. He only ever does it when no one else is around."
I had every intention of striding down to the galley where Daryl was helping Pete put rubber bands on the lightsticks, and of beating him to a pulp. My face must have revealed my feelings, because a small hand wrapped itself round my wrist and wouldn't let go.
"No," said Piper. "This is why I didnít say anything to you, Cordie."
"Why not? He deserves everything he gets."
"'Stick and stones ... ' I can't let you beat someone up just because I donít like what he says."
I ground my teeth together. "But he's not going to stop just because we ask him nicely, Piper. And threatening to fine him isn't going to make any difference either. Force is the only thing men like Daryl understand."
"Maybe, but isn't there another way?" Her green eyes were fixed pleadingly on me.
I chewed my lip and considered carefully. "There may be. But you're not going to like it."
CONTINUED IN PART 2