Chapter 17:

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Action and Adventure  |  House: Booksie Classic

Reads: 224

Chapter 17

Mariner House at Piha had been awarded a dual crown - House of the Year (national architectural award) and House of the Year (Master Builders' Federation national award). The architect was Andy Richards, now the ‘Richards' in Flanagan, Richards and Wells as his father had retired from the practice.

Andy was due arrive at the house next morning.

Sean Mariner and his wife Angela had returned home as wealthy ex-pats, and had decided to retire early to build their dream house before descending on the top holiday resorts of the world. Their new home partly cantilevered - at great expense - spectacularly from a cliff face washed by the sea.

Late in the evening, with sunset streaks appearing, a light two-person helicopter arrived to take Jack out to sea to photograph the house. Special permission had been received for the helicopter to flow both low and close to the cliff face and all residents had been alerted.

It was almost a carnival scene, with people out in front of their homes having drinks or early dinner, while waiting to watch the spectacle.

Acting on the instructions of the helicopter pilot Sean Mariner fired a smoke flare in front of the house, allowing the pilot Steve Race to carefully judge wind direction and wind speed as well as wind deflection off the cliff face.

Maggie and Angela were very tense as they watched the helicopter approach. Later they would relate their conversational tidbits and recall unspoken impressions.

"Why is it so necessary to come in this close - Jack had a huge variety of lenses including large telephoto lenses?" Angela asked. "Why take the risk?"

"Because he's a perfectionist and this is an extraordinary house. He wants to get close and use the optimum lens to record every nuance in color and texture not only in the house, but also in its immediate surrounds - especially the rock face."

The helicopter hovered very close to the cliff. Jack could be seen, harnessed and leaning out where the door had been removed - an accepted process - to facilitate photography.

Nervous and trembling, Maggie finally saw Jack give the thumbs up and the pilot slowly edged away from the cliff, gained height and they swept farther out to sea to take distant shots.

"Fuck me! - Oh, pardon my French," said Angela, now perspiring. "That was scary. We should never have allowed that to happen. Let's have a drink!"

The two women continued standing well back from the open doors to avoid being included in the photographs, as Jack had instructed them.

"It's too dark for photography now, isn't it."

"Yes, I think so Angela. He'll have the camera loaded with film especially rated to low light but I do believe it's time for them to come in."

The two women watched the helicopter low to the sea turn, with its tail lifted slightly, which was quite normal in a turn. Almost lazily debris fell away from the tail.

"Ohmigod, it's going down," Angela shrieked. The drinks of both women dropped on to polished wood floor, scattering glass fragments and Ben Alpine Chardonnay into a mess that neither woman noticed.

Angela's shrieks turned into hysterics, and Maggie comforted her, crying soothing sounds that calmed her own soul. Her eyes never left the seas where she last saw that deadly splash amid of myriads of secondary splashes following the impact.

Then darkness stole the scene.

Angela's expensive make-up formed a ruinous pattern over her face and cascading tears blotted the pale blue of her designer top.

"My God, you poor thing," she sobbed. "You must be feeling dreadful. Help will be on its way. Several hundred people saw it go down."

"Are you all right staying here alone, I have to go?"

Angela nodded dumbly.

"Where?"

"Out there," Maggie said. And was gone.

Harry Andrews was pushing off the Surf Lifesaving Club's small rubber inflatable boat without any crew when a flying figure hurtled over the side and crossed to the wooden seat in front of him, emitting a painful cry. Bruised ribs probably.

"Hey, missus. Out. I'm on a rescue mission. Alone, dammit."

The mystery woman hauled herself to the rounded bow of the inflatable boat.

"You can't do without me," she gasped in pain. "I'm the only ballast you've got. Let's go."

Harry gunned the motor and they were off.

The woman felt around in the forward locker, and pulled out a light. She tossed the end lead back to Harry without a word, and he plugged it into the electrical system of the 70hp motor.

Harry would tell the subsequent inquiry that this red-hair woman with no name seemed to know exactly what she was doing. There was no emotion on her face, just lines of pain. He would add: "At least I thought it was pain. At that stage I had no idea that her husband - I mean her fianc - had been aboard the chopper."

* * *

As the helicopter it's plunger, the pilot called out, "Brace yourself, arms over eyes."

A tremendous jolt and massive bang arrived at the same time, followed by a surge of incoming water.

Jack had ended up partly out of the opened door, which saved him from the impact of the imploding front superstructure of the helicopter as the craft flipped as it hit.

Amazed that he was still in one piece, conscious although shaken, Jack lifted himself upright and undid his harness. Without thinking he undid the pilot's harness and with the helicopter filling with water fast he thrust his feet against something solid and propelled himself and the pilot free of the sinking wreck.

Jack yelled, asking the Steve if he were all right but the pilot appeared to be lifeless. It was now dark.

Jack inflated Steve's lifejacket but could see the chop slopping over Steve's face. He took off his own vest and tying it as best as he could around Steve's neck inflated it and then worked Steve's head into it, so that his head was clear in the water and the cushion appeared wide enough to prevent him from being turned over.

Jack took his hand off the floating Steve, and immediately notice Steve gained a little more buoyancy.

With dull apprehension Jack watched them drift apart until he could no longer see the twin dull red lights on Steve's lifejackets.

Jack smiled thinly. A night helicopter rescue mission would already be underway. They'd been close to shore so the rescue teams should find Steve fairly quickly and with luck they'd find him.

A rip took Jack out to sea, but the breeze coming in against the tide reduced Steve's separation from the position of the downed helicopter.

* * *

Within fifteen minutes, everything had changed.

The ‘rubber ducky' crew had found Steve; lifesaver Harry simply couldn't believe how the injured young woman had Steve more that half-aboard before he rushed for'ard to assist. Harry would later tell the inquiry: "I was amazed at her strength. I blurted out something about how could she do that. She said just two words, "I'm Scottish. I said that we'd take a quick look for the photographer. But she said calmly, ‘No, rush this chap back in. Jack's tied his life vest around him to try to save him - he'd want us to complete the job. Jack is going nowhere, he'll struggle to survive - he knows he has to come back to me'. I powered Lahood-2 back to the beach, where I could see lights. This woman with no name was incredible - her unexpected presence allowed me to achieve an efficient find and retrieve. I watched in admiration as she ripped off her shirt to stem the blood flow from our victim's forehead."

* * *

Dimly Jack heard the roar of an outboard motor, then silence, then a minute later the roar as it slowly faded into the distance towards the beach. He smiled, knowing they'd picked up Steve.

Floating on his back, his head struck something.

"Shark!"

He was terrified, but as it bumped off his shoulder he realized it was a small floating container. Jack grabbed it. The container had handles on both ends and a pull-off lid - a bloody fish box lost at sea! He pushed the lid down as tight as it was go, then unbuckled his belt and strung it under an armpit and over his head and looped it around one of the handles. Although the weight of him pulled that end of the container down, when he totally relaxed his head remained above the water. Just.

There was nothing else to do, but wait. Eventually Jack drifted off to sleep.

* * *

A big crowd was on the beach, with floodlights up when Harry powered Lahood-2 on to the beach. Two holidaying doctors attended the injured pilot while Harry used his radio to call the ambulance to drive down on to the beach.

Sean and Angela rushed to Maggie.

"Oh darling, oh darling, I was frantically worried about you until I heard someone say you'd gone out on Lahood. You are so brave."

"I am so sorry, Maggie," Sean said, eyes swimming.

"He's not gone, he's coming back to me," said Maggie, almost smiling, brushing her hair from her eyes and wincing.

"You're hurt," cried Sean. "Doctor!"

One of the doctors rushed over.

"She's hurt."

The doctor examined her.

"It's the ambulance for you, love. I suspect you have a couple of bruised or even cracked ribs."

"No, I'm going back to the Mariner's house to maintain a vigil."

As Maggie was being escorted off the beach Harry's father, a surfer and former club captain of the surf lifesaving club placed an arm around Maggie's shoulder. "A piece of luck has come your way, darling. There's been a wind-shift and the tide is on the way in. It should bring him right back on to this beach because of the currents we have here. Go and rest, dear; just pray that he's afloat. If he is he'll come back to you."

"Alive or dead?" Maggie asked, looking at Harry's dad pleadingly.

"Who knows? Depends on his injuries and how much he values life. Looking at his lady, I'd say he has much to value."

"Take her away, warm her up and get some hot food and drink into her," advised Charlie Andrews. He was immensely proud of his son Harry in responding exactly how he'd been trained to rescue people in trouble off the beach.

Two whiskies later Maggie was feeling much better. So much improved that the shield that had been her protection dissipated and she began weeping.

"Oh thank goodness," smiled Angela in relief. "I was worried that you had transformed into Wonder Woman permanently."

They hugged and spoke soothingly to each other. Sean went to bed, just on midnight.

Two hours later Angela went to bed, Maggie insisting she wanted to stay seated at the window, preferable by herself.

At 4:00 Angela went out to check on her and returned to Sean distraught. "She's gone!"

"Let her be, she knows what she's doing."

A little before dawn broke, Maggie awoke. She was sitting on the beach in a deckchair. The tide was advancing relentlessly so she had to move her chair back.

Come back to me Jack, alive or dead. "My heart belongs to you, Jack," she screamed, looking out to sea.

Her weeping returned.

"You began to capture my heart the moment I first saw you, when your eyes widened and I seemed to look through them," Maggie mused softly. "But stupidly that failed to register, on both of us; what a crying shame. I stood back but know give my heart totally to you.'

Maggie, back to dry sobbing, suddenly becoming aware of something: she was frightened - but of what? She was simply frightened of the unknown - she realized her heart was not at all heavy!

"You're coming back to me, Jack!" she yelled. The settlement behind her stirred as her cries initiated two dozing dogs into a full-on barking dual.

She fell into light sleep again.

Looking beyond the surf in the increasing light of dawn Maggie saw a bobbing oblong - possibly a box - and a dark shadow beside it.

She jumped up and ran into the water screaming happily. She knew it would be Jack and he'd be alive. He wouldn't leave her like this. Jack was cold, deathly cold. His skin was in a shocking state. But she imagined he was still breathing.

Maggie turned towards the shore and screamed for help. Two women joggers heard her cry. They'd been on the beach the previous evening and guessed what was happening. They didn't want to haul in a body. "Help," they screamed.

From his parents' beach house, surf lifesaver Harry Andrews was one of the first residents to hear the calls. He grabbed two blankets and a small oxygen bottle and facemask and flew out the door opened by his father. Harry Charlie sprinted to the water-line.

Two men had already dragged Jack on to the beach, still attached to his fish box.

"He's dead," one of the men called to Harry.

"He's alive," Maggie said stoutly.

"He may be alive, just," called the second man.

Skidding to stop, Harry tossed the blankets to the men and snapped, "My money's on the lady."

He applied the oxygen. Nothing dramatic happened.

An ambulance siren could be heard approaching the beach.

Maggie had spread herself over Jack covered in the blankets, trying to warm him.

Harry checked the motionless man again, and then smiled at Maggie, saying Jack was alive, indicated by an improved change in facial skin color, though he was not out of danger.

The look he received from Maggie confirmed to the twenty-two year old why he was a dedicated volunteer surf lifesaver.

* * *

The news media had a feeding frenzy the following day on the dramatic events off Piha. The injured helicopter pilot and his passenger, suffering exposure, were filmed and photographed in their hospital beds beside each other. The extra-ordinary rescue story was big news in newspapers, TV and radio. The spectacular home at the center of all of this was also featured.

As soon as Maggie heard the first radio news broadcast - all about the rescued men and their dramatic rescue - she went on the warpath, calling the radio station and demanding that they send a reporter to interview the man of the moment, lifesaver Harry Andrews. She told them that the skill of the pilot had saved two lives, but the concussed and bleeding pilot would surely had died if it had not been for the daring rescue mission of Harry Andrews.

For the next few hours, shy Harry was interviewed by the media. No, shucks, he wasn't a hero - just a young bloke doing his job. He then startled reporters by talking about a mystery red-hair woman. No, he had no idea who she was. The people up at the flash house would know. But no one was there. Suspecting a media invasion, the Mariners had gone out into the Hauraki Gulf in their launch.

So, the radio waves and TV that night had a juicy story to relate about a mystery woman who'd injured her ribs on a seat when flinging herself into the inflatable to act as ballast for Harry Andrews, and then had practically pulled the survivor out of the water one-handed (Andy's words) before administering to the injured pilot. Harry was quoted as saying she'd been on the beach until the ambulance left and then disappeared before he could log her name and other details.

"She'd has very red hair and speaks with a foreign accent," he said.

A scruffy middle-aged reporter came into the hospital room with a photographer "to get a photo and a little piece on these two," she said, somewhat disinterestedly. After all, the electronic media would have squeezed the story dry by the time her newspaper attempted to publish any exclusive follow-up.

The photographer persuaded nursing staff to pull the beds together so he could get a close-up photograph of the two men. The reporter wasn't looking at this; she was staring at red-hair Maggie who was walking away rather delicately. The reporter followed her.

"How are the ribs, dear?

"Bloody sore, thank you," Maggie sighed innocently.

"Sweetie, do you mind coming out into this ante room for a wee talk?"

"What would you want to talk to me about?" asked Maggie, still unsuspectingly.

"Oh, I want you to tell me how you got that injury."

Maggie flushed. Well, she was in the media and expected the public to cooperate with her. Anyway, this woman looked a bit sloppy and lazy. Give her a couple of good quotes and she'd be off.

Seventy-three minutes later the reporter was done. "Sam, a big fat picture of this girl kissing the young guy in there. Nothing but the best, please."

The ‘slopping and lazy' reporter, back in the office, also got the newspaper's marine reporter to connect her to Lady Angela M out in the gulf. When Angela found that Maggie had already spoken to the reporter, she gave her mobile number to the reporter so they could chat more freely.

Next morning Maggie attempted a stretch before her body reminded her sore ribs. The telephone went - Gavin MacLeod, asking her was the story in the paper true. She was all over the paper said Gavin, peeved that he'd missed the previous night's news of it.

Maggie raced to the hospital - Jack was due to be discharged about 10:00. He'd already have the morning paper.

"‘I'm Scottish'," he chortled, as Maggie hurried through the door. "There's only a little piece in the front page, but there are more pix inside and a big interview of you by Kate Sharpe."

"The Kate Sharpe," said Maggie, surprised. "I was so embarrassed being interviewed that I really didn't take her name in. She's a multi-award winning journalist - I know that, but the woman has no inflated ego and is not at all pushy - that's amazing."

"She says here replying to your comment about our wedding, "I can't believe that they would choose to go to Edinburgh in preference to having their wedding here in God's own country."

"This is going to start women's protest meetings and street marches," Jack chortled.

"Let me see."

The front page article with a photo of Harry and his inflatable quoted him talking about this mysterious woman who threw herself into his rescue craft then later explaining her determination and feat of strength by simply saying, ‘I'm Scottish'.

"Then there was a stock photo, heavily cropped, of Angela who spoke about standing on her deck pre-dawn weeping, as she looked down to the beach at the lonely figure of Maggie waiting for the sea to return her man. "That girl's belief in herself and in the endurance of her man is incredible - beyond my comprehension."

"Oh my, what nice things people can say when they have half a mind," murmured Maggie.

Inside there was a fantastic photo of the house and a photo of lifesaver Harry, holding up a photographer's multi-pocket vest safely nesting Jack's precious exposed films in their sealed, shockproof containers.

On the next page began a two-page spread of Kate Sharpe's interview, under the heading, ‘I'm Scottish' and beneath that, ‘A heart-rending love story'.

Maggie cringed, and turned scarlet.

"Yes, so pleased to tell someone about the rescue that you told her everything. Oh my, from nobody to heroine in the blink of an eye," Jack grinned.

"Did you really tell her I was handsome, strong-jawed and incredibly masculine or did she make that up?

"Well...um...I was almost suffering from exhaustion you know."

"Hmnm. What do you think Steve, should we excuse her?"

"I suppose so, but a Kiwi fianc would surely had said incredibly handsome, incredible strong jawed and fantastically masculine."

"I'm inclined to agree. I suppose we should forgive her. After all, she's Scottish."

Maggie stood there, the crumpled paper in her hands, staring at the two men, greatly flushed.

"I had a called from Angela an hour ago," said Jack. "As soon as soon as we are discharged from here she's going to organize a buffet dinner for Steve and his missus, we two and young Harry and his girlfriend at her place - and then she's selling tickets at $150 a pop, with all proceeds from the up to seventy-five other guests being donated to the local surf club. Isn't that swell."

"Are you sure Angela's not Scottish?" Steve asked.

"Don't know, Steve. But she asked us not to fly in by helicopter."

"No chance of me flying us buddy. I'm grounded until exonerated, which I shall be. They'll find a malfunction with the tail rotor. By the way, Maggie, don't worry about a wedding venue protest; it will not happen. Almost half the population of this country have Celtic blood in them, and that includes some Maori."

"Pssst. Maggie?"

Maggie looked at Jack.

"Don't take too much notice of him, he's Irish and has had a knock on the head."

"No problem, my darling," Maggie smiled, moving in and kissing him.

"Where would you like to go for the honeymoon after our elopement?"

THE END


Submitted: July 29, 2007

© Copyright 2022 Grigor McGregor. All rights reserved.

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