The Water Treatment, by Steven Radich

The Water Treatment, by Steven Radich (Fiction & Literature)

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Inspired by a real life murder mystery, this classic “Who dunnit?” is populated by easily recognized and believable characters. Women throw themselves at Kevin. Is Martin a genuine SNAG or just an opportunist? Emily discovers the father of her child has become a brutal gang leader.

Ordinary Kiwis take a walk outside the law. They find themselves in over their heads and struggling to deal with the surprise consequences of their illicit choices. Will Kevin become a better man? What really happened that night in the mid-Tasman Sea? Teflon Max wonders how long he can escape being set-up by the police when he knows that they know and they know that he knows that they know.

Rooted in a bi-cultural landscape, the narration explores the universal issues of fate vs free-will and wanders the murky fringes that meander between moral and legal behaviour.

From: The Water Treatment, by Steven Radich

Chapter 1: Midnight Run

Around midnight, violent spasms in his gut roused Kevin Brown and drove him frantically top-side. He’d barely managed to escape the tackle of his sleeping bag at the foot of the galley steps by the time the convulsions took control. Glistening in the light of a burnished half moon, Kevin’s lunar lunge splashed over the gunnels. A spastic clown for a time, the bitter taste of bile eventually signalled a return to normalcy.

Self awareness returned as he rested on the stainless rail that had kept him from the sea. As he stared down into the abyss it dawned on him that he was staring into the hull of a dinghy, the unwitting maw to his recycled chocolate and fermented grape juice.

“How the fuck?” he muttered into the night – then, trembling in shock, he remembered.

Frantic at the horror of recall, Kevin rushed below, started the motor and weighed anchor. With fumbling fingers he managed to roll a cigarette, lit it and dragged on it as if his life depended on the nicotine hit. Bloody flash-backs from early evening punctured the lazy haze of alcohol and dope that hung around his neck. He knew only one thing for certain: he had to abandon the inlet.

Gingerly, with eyes straining to make out the shoreline, Kevin eased the Botany Bay down the inlet at a couple of knots. At a little over 1000 rpm, he could barely hear the gentle thrum of the yacht’s six cylinder 100hp Cummins.

‘Escaping from one nightmare via another,’ mused Kevin bitterly as he rolled another cigarette. Navigating through Tory channel out into Cook Strait would surely be risky in the ebony of a mid-summer night. Even with the help of radar he knew he could miss the turn in the dark. And that’s still not allowing for the feral intent of lurking rocks or the coiled malice of the region’s infamous currents.

Fortunately, the sky was sufficiently illumined by moon and stars to mark a florescent shoreline on either side of the inlet. And if his hurried estimates of speed and distance were correct, entry into Tory Channel should coincide with first light.

Kevin knew that the final exit-passage from Tory Channel into Cook Strait was not for the faint-hearted. And he certainly had no intention of attempting the final leg of his HMS Amethyst-like break out without some assistance from the sun. If his timing was out, he allowed that a brief swing at anchor might well be the best course of action.

Now well underway, old yachting habits began to kick in. First was the kettle. A cup of tea or coffee was always great company. With the kettle on, dead fag glued to his bottom lip, he dashed back up to the cockpit to ensure that they were still on track. The dynamics of hull shape and keel kept her straight and true. The only remaining doubts were regarding some of the powerful currents and eddies for which the outer Sounds were quite notorious. But, if his calculations were to be relied upon, that all lay well ahead. And his navigation skills were usually pretty sharp – had kept him alive and in one piece after more than a decade on the water.

In the gloom of the Botany Bay’s cockpit, Kevin managed to toggle on the instrument lights and hit the switches for the vessel’s comprehensive array of navigational aids. Not that he was familiar with recreational brands. But the essentials were the same and he was adept at solving technical problems. The amber glow of an echo sounder and the bilious green of the radar were soon reflected in his eyes. He cranked back the brightness of the sounder unit. With navigation tools up and running he could now see both the land about him and the ocean floor below. Even schools of fish came within his ambit – he was no longer travelling blind. Maybe the Tory Channel passage would be okay after all, he realised – and he surely felt much better after firing up his navigational aids – a bit like being in the company of old friends.

The whistle of the kettle drew him back down into the galley where he found a favourite enamel mug, tossed in a couple of tea bags and a couple of heaped teaspoons of sugar. The contents of the kettle soon had a powerful brew of char in his hands. Back on deck, fresh cigarette hanging from his mouth, Kevin settled into his early morning cruise. Sea conditions were benign – no sign of a breeze, only a few clouds in the sky. Almost paradise! But as the demands of getting under way under cover of darkness in unknown waters relaxed their grip, memories of the alchemist’s howling oozed back from his subconscious.

In the darkness he saw Kelly’s face crowned with dreadlocks of seaweed, her bloodshot eyes damning him for still breathing. Next moment he was challenged by the boy who’d turned assassin – a face covered in mud, the gaps between his teeth bloodied like those of an evil shaman. But it was the latter’s eyes that most held Kevin, for they still leached a murderous intent. Kevin shuddered, shook his head, slapped himself about the face. “No, no, noo!” he whimpered softly into the night. Trying to re-focus on the navigation instruments before him, he fought to banish the alchemist’s ghoulish images.

The struggle to navigate his way through both the outer Sounds and the demons of memory engaged Kevin until well into early morning when the first light of the day offered respite and a ray of hope. He had learned that there was something special about sunrise – harbinger of hope – and especially welcome when you’d been lost in the heart of darkness.

With the first glimmer of sunshine, Kevin began to recover a semblance of sanity. First thing that came to his troubled mind was to lodge an anonymous Mayday radio call. He called the national emergency channel, advising where two bodies were likely to be found. The repeated return calls for identification became so invasive that he had to switch off his marine radio.

And yes, he’d been pretty spot on with his navigation calculations – can’t have been too much current, had correctly assumed an average half knot aft. A gap was growing in the radar image of the forward starboard quarter. Could only be one thing – Tory Channel.

The waxing signs of morning progressively drove the demons of night’s theatre ever further back-stage, ultimately allowing him to turn his mind to breakfast. The prospect of coffee, of toast and marmalade, even of bacon and eggs soon had the dog of his gastric juices straining at the leash. And as his spirits rose with the sun, so too did he anticipate that the breeze would rise – the prospect of the doldrums in this neck of the world being pretty remote indeed.

Before cooking up a little breakfast, he tuned into the national marine radio’s permanent weather station – had no idea at all from which direction or at what speed the wind was likely to blow. And he knew from experience that wind speed and direction in sheltered waters such as those of the Marlborough Sounds rarely bore any resemblance to open water realities. In the rush to escape from both his demons and the Sounds, he’d not had the time to consider weather prospects.

The weather report was favourable – no shortage of wind – but nothing major – and from a direction that was to his advantage. That meant he had a fair chance to get beyond the major shipping lanes by mid-day.

It was with a quiet foreboding that he finally tossed the bacon on the pan. If the peace and calm of Queen Charlotte Sound could hold such dreadful surprises, what might lie ahead in the cruise up the coast? And, for that matter, what about the trip across the Tasman? Kevin soused his mouth with rich sweet coffee and chewed on the bacon rind until every bit of its umama flavour had been recovered. At least he could make the best of the moment.

It was only after he’d turned into the swirling currents of Tory Channel that the sound of an irregular thumping on the rear starboard hull reminded Kevin that he had a dinghy for company. Reluctant to look over the side, Kevin hugged himself in trepidation. For a long moment of denial, he imagined it might just be the bump of flotsam and jetsam. After steeling himself to face a reminder of the dreadful truth, he stood and looked over the side. There it was in the gathering morning light: three metres of canvas and fibreglass guilt – freshly spew-encrusted – a floating confirmation of his worst fear, evidence that he’d hoped against hope would not be there.

Peering through the half-light he made out the shapes of abandoned items of clothing, of boat shoes, a hat of some sorts and a back-pack. Taking his horror in hand, Kevin found the yacht’s boat-hook. Back in the cockpit he hooked out the abandoned gear and hoisted it aboard. Sinking the dinghy, however, would not be so easy. He checked and made a few adjustments to his course, then secured the dinghy rope to a rear bollard so he could reach it from the transom steps. He then scrambled back into the galley and recovered a large screwdriver from the tool box. Back down the transom ladder, while holding on with his left hand, he reached precariously over the dinghy and stabbed at the dinghy sole until he’d generated a couple of small geysers. Next he punctured the pontoons. They were much tougher than expected and he had to find a good knife to succeed. Finally, swinging himself back into a position of balance, he tossed the screwdriver down the galley steps and released the dinghy. If Kevin had thought to look aft he’d have noticed a black blimp floating on the night horizon - he hadn’t anticipated the inherent buoyancy of the synthetic hull.

Armed with fresh coffee and toast, and with reserves of chocolate and cans of juice, Kevin kicked his engine in the guts. The good eight knots she made should enable him to set the sails within the hour. He wanted to keep the sails furled for as long as possible – didn’t want to appear on anyone’s radar if he could help it. He hoped to be well out of sight of land by the time the inter-island ferry crossed, then planned to head at least fifty nautical miles out to sea before bending north. And the predicted west-sou-west weather should produce a steady 8-10 knots – or so he hoped.

The last hour in enclosed waters had given him his final opportunity to prepare for the ocean voyage. Though a well travelled route, the trip up the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island was not without its perils. Being now well down the path of a major clandestine operation, taking to the mainland for relief supplies was no longer an option. And he was certain that it would be just a matter of time before the bodies in the Sounds would be found. On top of that, the likelihood that he’d skipped out of the Sounds unnoticed seemed quite remote. He needed to stay a couple of steps ahead if he could possibly manage it.

First thing was cigarettes. He rolled a dozen for starters. Then he filled the sink with food snacks, stacking some fresh fruit on the top. The idea was to start fresh and finish on dried goods. A good supply of bottled water was on hand, so, in a worst case scenario, he wouldn’t die of dehydration.

Then with fags, food and water sorted, he arranged daily changes of clothes along the starboard rear quarter berth. Bloke though he was, he liked to be clean, and preferred to sleep clean if at all possible. When opportunities to sleep presented, he’d decided that, rather than sleep for’ard, he’d nest in the opposite rear quarter berth to stay closer to the helm and communications station. In the event that he had to rely on amphetamines to stay awake, Kevin was mindful of the stories of the drug-induced psychosis that kept the police and the media busy. He was optimistic that a reasonable dose of sleep, an occasional day of benign conditions, and plenty of fresh coffee would be sufficient to keep him going.

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