I lay in bed trying to sleep. I could have been with her. There was no sense thinking about it, but I did anyway. As I drifted off to sleep I thought again about Teller. The last thing I remember seeing was the image of Fick and the tattoo of a five-petaled rose. The tattoo was in my head again as soon as I woke up at six the next morning. I dressed and went downstairs. The innkeeper and his wife were making breakfast, so I ate some eggs with toast and coffee, paid for the room, and headed for the harbor. The early morning sun was obscured by clouds. The day was cold and gray. At the dock I looked for a boat to take me across to Mull. I didn’t see a likely candidate. The ferry would not arrive for more than an hour.
Then I saw someone on the deck of a sailboat at anchor thirty yards from the pier. I cupped my hands and hailed the figure on the boat. A man in blue jeans and a plaid shirt stood up and looked back at me.
"You shoving off soon?" I yelled.
The man nodded.
"Going to Mull?"
"Yeah," he yelled back.
“Could I hitch a ride?”
“Sure,” he replied and waved broadly. Then I heard, “Ten minutes” and “Pick you up,” but the rest was lost to the wind.
I settled in to wait, hunched against the chill. He raised the anchor and, with jib and mainsail set, turned the boat away, came about, and glided to the pier adjacent to the dock. I thought how easy it would be to make an error, to smash the beautiful bow into the broad stone fist of the pier.
"Come aboard," he said. The accent was American.
"Thanks," I said and hopped onto the deck.
As I turned to take a final look at Iona, I noticed the big, bald-headed man in the windbreaker staring at the boat. When he saw me looking at him, he turned and walked away. I turned as the captain of the boat asked me a question.
"Where’re you bound?"
"Mull, I guess. Oban eventually," I answered. "How about you?"
"Wherever. You want to go to Oban, we'll go to Oban."
"Great." I looked at my new benefactor. He had a gap-tooth grin and one gray eye open wider than the other as if it could see far away, a cleft in the chin, and a shock of sandy-brown hair. The man seemed shy despite the big smile. He was about my own age.
"I'm Tom Zorn," he said.
"Jack McGlashan," I replied.
He took one hand off the wheel, and we shook hands.
"Where you from?"
"Boston. How about you?"
"Larchmont, New York," said Zorn.
"What brings you here?"
"Long story." Zorn studied the waves in front of the bow. "We've got time. Why don't you shed the Jacket and put on one of my sweatshirts? Bring me a sweater. Below there on the right." Zorn motioned me toward the cabin.
I put on an old sweatshirt. It was a bit small but warm against the wind. I took off my shoes and socks and put them on the floor in the cabin.
I settled with my back against the side of the cockpit as Zorn pulled the sweater over his head.
“I couldn’t have picked a better way to hitchhike,” I said.
"Right. I've been up here for a couple of weeks, sailing in and out of these islands. Figure I'll keep it up as long as the weather holds."
"Hinckley Pilot 35. I've had her for a year now. Bought her used. I think they stopped making 'em. There's a big yacht brokerage near where I used to live. I just waited until I found what I wanted.”
"She's nothing fancy. Heavily built and easy to control."
"I hear it can be dangerous in these waters with all the rocks and currents."
"You have to know what you're doing, but in weather like this it's a snap. I've sailed a lot up in Maine, which can be pretty hairy, especially in the fog. But she can pilot herself most of the time."
"So you don't have any trouble handling it by yourself?"
"No. I could've set it up with halyards running to the cockpit, but it looks wrong that way, so I kept it traditional. It has a windvane self-steering apparatus though. And I compromised on a small diesel engine in case I'm running inland in canals and locks. Then there's a generator for a small autopilot as back-up to the windvane, and a good VHF radio."
We were heading south between Iona and Mull.
Zorn continued. "When you're near land, you can use radar to navigate. Most places have landbased signals so you can use LORAN-C. You crisscross two signals and find yourself on the chart."
"What about coming across the Atlantic? Do you use a sextant?" I asked.
"Mostly you use SATNAV these days. Satellite Navigational System. You use a computer to punch in latitude and longitude at point of departure and point of arrival, and enter average speed. The GPS satellites tell you where you are. All you have to do is make corrections. It's a cinch. Whenever it's clear, though, I like to use a sextant. Measuring the stars makes me feel closer to God."
"That's pretty romantic," I said.
"Yeah, I know." Zorn stared ahead at the imaginary line of his course. "You want some coffee?"
"The stuff's next to the stove below. Why don't you make us a pot?"
I went down into the cabin and made coffee. The cabin was sparsely furnished and clean. Gear lockers were packed into every conceivable niche. It was a perfect home for a person living alone. When the coffee was done, I poured two mugs and climbed back up to the cockpit.
"How did you get so lucky?" I asked.
"You mean with the boat?”
“Yes, and the traveling around.”
“ I used to have a job designing computers. Then I started my own business." Zorn took a sip of coffee. "Jeez. What did you put in this stuff?" He grimaced at the taste.
"Very. Anyway, I made a lot of money. It's the American way."
"Why’d you quit?"
"I wrecked it. I was always at work. When I was home, I was a tyrant. I told myself my wife didn’t appreciate what I was giving her. I told myself that I browbeat my kids because they were disrespectful. They were afraid of me. One day she took the kids and left. The stuff I said to justify my behavior was a crock of shit. Until they left, I never realized what was going on."
I was embarrassed. I stared past the man, at the sea, at Mull. The boat was getting ready to tack. Soon we would be headed east with the wind at our backs.
Zorn spoke again. "I was deeply involved in cybernetics, but I couldn't control myself. It's the irony of modern man--the delusion of control."
"So, what did you do?"
"I quit, and we moved back to Larchmont, but I was the same, so it didn't work. I got the boat and moved aboard. I started reading things I’d never read before to maybe become a better person. It’s hard. So for now I’m just sailing."
I thought of my own failures.
"You here on vacation?" Zorn asked.
"I'm a writer. A man with information I needed lives on Iona."
"You live in Oban?"
"Why didn't you call him?"
"I wrote. He doesn't answer his mail. Besides, I always wanted to see Iona."
"It is beautiful, but there are lots of islands in the Inner Hebrides. Why Iona? Are you religious?"
I thought again. "Not exactly. No. You?"
"I read somewhere that in the mathematics of infinity, there is no remainder. It's all One."
We sailed on in silence. I was the first to break it.
"Is that the southern end of Mull?"
"Yeah," Zorn said.
"David Balfour was shipwrecked there in Kidnapped." I pointed. "Robert Louis Stevenson. I read it as a kid"
"Never read it. Not much on fiction. What's the story you're writing?"
"It's about terrorism."
"Why are you doing it?"
"That's what I do. I'm a writer."
"So, it's an assignment."
"No. I'm doing it on my own, freelance. It’s a story."
"No other reason?"
I didn't feel like answering, but then I answered anyway. "I had a friend. We were in Vietnam in Special Forces. After the war he got involved with the CIA. They made him write to one of those soldier of fortune magazines. They wanted him to respond to an ad. It turned out to be a terrorist training camp in Libya. Fick, my friend, was working at this training camp and reporting to the CIA. About a year ago, Fick told me he had figured out what was going on, and I wrote a story. Fick got killed. When I checked into his death, I found out they left his body parts all over Rome." I didn't say anything else for a minute. Then I said, "It's not complex. He was trying to uncover a cesspool, and he fell in. I think I gave him a push. It’s been bothering me. I'd like to get whoever killed him."
"You want to kill them?"
"No. Maybe. Look, I'm sorry. I should have kept it to myself."
"Don't worry about it. Maybe all you want is a story."
"But you'd better decide," Zorn said. "Once you get involved in something like this, everything that happens is probably governed by necessity. Choice is no longer a factor. It'll all be programmed for you."
"But somebody has to try and stop what's going on."
Zorn shifted the sailboat's course a few degrees. "Maybe you're right. I just wondered if you knew where you were headed." Zorn steered a course toward the Firth of Lorne.
After a while I fell asleep. I don't know how long I was out, but I woke up suddenly from a bad dream. It had begun to rain.
"You look terrible," Zorn said.
"I feel like I look then," I said and rubbed my face with my hands.
I peered out at the mist. “What’s that?” I pointed.
“It’s Luing and the outer islands of the Firth,” he said.
Zorn suggested I break out some rain gear. In an hour or so we neared Kerrera, the island that protects the harbor at Oban. We sailed into the harbor and soon were tied up at the harbor quay.
"I'm cold and wet and in need of a pub," I said. "How about you?"
"Yeah. Me too," Zorn agreed, and we finished making fast the lines.
"I'm staying over there." I pointed to a guest house in a line of buildings across the railroad tracks of the train line that terminated at Oban harbor. "The owner's a crabby old witch, and the showers don't work very well, but the water's hot. Do you want a shower? Then we can get something to drink."
"Sounds good to me." Zorn smiled his gap-toothed grin. "I'll get some dry clothes and come up in a minute."
It was after five p.m. when I put the key in the lock to my room. I showered and changed into a wool sweater and tweed Jacket. Zorn arrived, and while he used the shower, I went downstairs and wrote a postcard to my son Mike. I should change things, I thought. I should find some other way to live so that he and I can be together.
Zorn found me in the fussy little lobby. "I think that pub around the other side of the harbor looks good," Zorn said.
"Oban Inn? That's where we want to be right now."
The pub was packed to the doors with people getting in out of the rain. The place smelled of beer, tobacco smoke, and the funk from lots of wet wool sweaters and coats. It was a good pub smell, a proper smell for people crowded under a tight roof, away from the rain and cold of evening in a far northern climate in June. The patrons drank a lot. Zorn and I joined in.
Zorn nursed a pint of bitter while I drank, consecutively, neat shots of various local malt whiskies, until I sampled one that was hotter than hell.
Zorn laughed at me. "That last shot looked like Everclear."
"Definitely raw." I switched to the local bitter after that.
We talked to the people who sat near us about where we were from and where we were going. A girl named Rita decided that since Zorn had nothing to do but sail, and since I had to get to London, Zorn should give me a ride instead of my having to take the bloody train. Zorn said that was a fine idea and would she like to come along too? She said her boyfriend wouldn't like it, but thanks just the same, love, and moved on.
"I've never sailed up the Thames,” Zorn said. “ It'd be fun. Are you in a hurry to get back to London?"
"In a way, but it'll keep. Do you want to sail half-way around England just for a hitchhiker?"
"All right." I shook my head. It was a crazy idea.
After a while we went out into the wet again to look for a meal. We found a restaurant on the second floor of a small hotel. Lamb chops and boiled potatoes. Afterward Zorn went back to his boat to break out charts and make a list of supplies for the trip. I gave Zorn some money for my share, then headed back to my room.
From the lobby next morning, I made a telephone call to London. After two minutes, an appointment set, I hung up and frowned. Out at the boat, I found Zorn.
"You ready?" Zorn asked, seeing my bag.
"I called London. There's someone I wanted to see when I got back. He's leaving for Australia the day after tomorrow. If I want to see him, I've got to be there tomorrow. I'm sorry."
"Too bad. It could have been fun. I may just do it anyway, now that my interest is up. Maybe I'll see you in London."
"I'll give you my address," I said, writing it out.
"If I do make it, I'll put up at the marina at St. Katharine's Dock below Tower Bridge. You could find me there in about two weeks' time."
"Thanks. I'm really sorry this didn't work out. Maybe I'll see you in London."
"Sure. See how it goes," Zorn said, as we shook hands. "So long, Mac."
"Yeah, so long, Zorn. I appreciate the ride and the company."
"You're welcome. I enjoyed it," Zorn said. He smiled and waved as I crossed the quay to the train.
I knew I had to see Cruikshank again, but I also knew I'd made the call for another reason. Since Fick's death, I didn't allow people to get too close.
On the journey south toward Glasgow, I watched the scenery through the old wood-frame windows of the train compartment and thought about life. I wished I had gone with Zorn. I looked over my notes for the story and focused my anger on a man I didn't even know who made money selling guns so people on both sides of stupid wars could kill each other.
The train passed the region of the six lochs--a place of high, green mountains, narrow lakes, and ruined castles. Soft purple rhododendrons bloomed in thickets right down to the tracks, almost touching the cars of the train with their flowers.
It turned dirty and depressing as the train neared Glasgow, a city of friendly people who drank too much too fast because the pubs closed too early. When the train pulled into Glasgow, I found a pub and drank a quiet beer, waiting for the train to London. When the train left Glasgow, it moved south at a fast clip, to Manchester and Sheffield, through pastures and cities, from sheep to urban dirt to sheep again, through Birmingham, and finally to London.
From Euston Station I caught the tube to my flat in Little Venice, Paddington. I trudged up the three flights of stairs to the top floor, opened the door and went in. It was late, and I fell asleep right away.