Chapter 5: Political Connections

The crew on the houseboat is in the house, staying dry, as it is pouring rain, drumming on the roof, sounding like thunder. The rainwater flows off to the side of the roof where it collects into a gutter, thence to the corner of the houseboat where it collects in a barrel. When the barrel fills to overflowing, there is an overflow spout that dumps into a second gutter, going over the side of the houseboat.

Drinking and cooking water is being collected, regularly, as the water off the coast is seawater.

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The houseboat is about a quarter mile from the coastline, in open water where flooded trees are unlikely to be encountered. Further out in the water by a mile or more are the tops of some high-rise buildings, a small city, flooded.

Finegan is standing on the front of the houseboat, holding onto a corner post and looking in that direction. He ducks into the house and returns with the radio he collected earlier at the farmstead. He tucks the end of the long wire used as an antenna into the spot where the corner line is tied around the post, so it sticks up into the air as far as possible.

Finegan is expecting that the buildings hold a short-wave tower. Finegan is turning dials this way and that, holding his ear close at times. Suddenly the radio crackles and a strident voice can be heard.

Mayday. Mayday.

Finegan replies.

What's your location?

There is a pause, as apparently this is the first response to the call in some time. The man can be heard over the radio talking to others in the room.

Got someone.

Then, talking into the radio mic again,

Florida, sinking fast. We need rescue. We've tried to raise the coastguard. Can you send some boats or choppers? . . Who are you anyway?

Finegan is rolling his eyes skyward at the unrealistic requests, knowing that these people did not pay attention to all the warning signs and failed to take action on their own when they should have.

I'm a private party and don't run boats. Can you see the mainland? Do you have something at hand that will float?

Finegan is aware that they can see the mainland and are not as helpless as they imply. He is used to former captains of industry and lazy city folk and politicians demanding they be treated in the manner to which they were accustomed and is having none of it. The man in the flooded buildings again talks to his companions.

Not a boat. He's asking if we can do it ourselves. Yeah, well.

Finegan continues.

You got bottled water there? Water coolers? Any empties?

The man is missing Finegan's point.

Yeah, we're about out of drinking water. We need help here, dammit!

If they are ignoring his point, Finegan is ignoring their demands.

You got extension cords, wire, around the place? Wire some of those empties together, like a raft. Turn a table upside down on top and wire that too. There's your boat.

Finegan hears the discussion on the other end.

Wants us to do it ourselves.

The houseboat has finally been noticed.

Hey, are you that floating house out there?

Finegan has caught them in a lie.

I thought you couldn't see the mainland. I'm not in the rescue business, but I'll stay here while you come across, keep an eye out.

Demands and lies having failed, manipulation is tried,

There's sharks out there!

But Finegan resists

They've got too many dead to feed on these days. Not likely.

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A window just above the waterline has been broken out. A couple men, one of them portly, are pushing the water bottle and table raft out the window, easing it down into the water. They have a line tied to one side of the water bottle raft, and are holding onto the other end of the line. The faces of a couple women can be seen behind them, bobbing up and down.

One of the men tosses down a couple chair backs they intend to use as paddles. The men climb down, the portly one first, being assisted from the window by the slender one who holds onto his hand so he won't drop down too suddenly. Then the slender one jumps down, taking the line with him. The bottle raft then pushes off from the side of the building. The women behind him look alarmed, as they are clearly being left behind.

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The bottle raft is half way between the houseboat and the high-rise. The two men are on either side, paddling unevenly, so the slender one, who is more energetic, has to pause now and then to allow the portly one to move his side of the raft forward. Else, they tend to go in a circle.

Suddenly, the radio, which is still in Finegan's hand, crackles.

I think this is the button here. Hello?

Finegans says,

I'm with you. Are they sending the raft back for you?

A frantic woman says,

They left us! Those were the only bottles we had. They left us!

Finegan says,

I'll be over to pick you up shortly. Is there anyone else there, stranded?

The woman replies,

Just the 3 of us. He kept saying the coast guard would come if we got in trouble. Kept saying it was all arranged.

Finegan says,

I want to see those two closer to shore before I come for you. Don't want them chasing after me, if you follow my drift.

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The houseboat is approaching the broken window, which has one of the women half out already, seated on the edge, ready to jump. In the distance we see the bottle raft, very near shore. The men are standing and pointing toward the high-rise, obviously angry that they were not picked up in similar manner.

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Three women are seated on boxes to the rear of the houseboat, eating peaches. One has one shoe on, one shoe missing. She is still seething.

I'm giving that man my notice!

Barney is sniffing up the skirt of one of the women and gets batted away. It's been awhile since they've bathed. Finegan is at the paddle wheel, moving the houseboat up the coastline.

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The sound of clapping and singing, and a guitar, are heard floating out over the water. A blazing bonfire can be seen, and people dancing, hoedown style. This is a party, celebrating or just having fun.

The three women from the high-rise are seated on boxes at the front of the houseboat, and Joey is at his usual place on the roof, pacing back and forth, watching for trees or objects under the surface. They will moor for the night here. The houseboat is not even noticed at first by the party, gliding up to an open spot along the water's edge to the side of the party, anchoring with the grappling hooks, and finally plopping down the gangplank.

About this time their approach is noticed and a couple comes over to greet them. The camp mistress is stout but friendly, her man thin as a pole and quiet. Finegan introduces himself.

Finegan Fine here, trader. I've got some passengers who need directions to any government base that can help them locate their relatives.

The camp mistress smiles.

You're kidding, right? We have those?

Finegan has made this statement only to impress on his women passengers that they need to make their own way and not expect help. He shrugs, acknowledging the situation. The camp mistress addresses the passengers.

Where you from?

One of the women points out across the water toward what is now ocean in the direction of what used to be Florida. The camp mistress is used to traffic from Florida.

Ummm . . Well most from Florida went up to Atlanta, but I'd not advise it.

The passengers look puzzled over this statement, so the camp mistress explains.

Well, the riots and all. Heard about those. Best to stay away from the cities. They got zombies there.

As the couple turns to return to the bonfire the camp mistress looks over her shoulder, calling back with a wave toward the bonfire.

But you can stay here.

The passengers are frozen, not sure how to proceed, so Finegan breaks the spell by moving forward cheerfully.

Common Joey, lets see what's to eat. Got those peaches?

Joey has a sack of peaches and another of pecans, their contribution to the communal supper. Joey runs ahead to give these to the camp mistress.

The passengers trail along behind Finegan. As they arrive at the bonfire, they are greeted by others who have been alerted by the camp mistress. Some put their arms around shoulders to comfort. One of the passengers breaks down and is hugged by another woman.

Finegan drifts off to the side with Joey to discuss business and see what the group might have for barter. He puts his hand out to shake another man's hand. Then he grabs the hand of a smiling flirtatious woman nearby and swings her out into the dance area in front of the fire, stomping and swinging.

Joey continues to shake hands and introduce himself. He pulls the photo of his parents out of his pocket and shows it around. Those who look at the photo are shaking their heads.

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Barney is sleeping in the doorway of the houseboat, guarding the two inside. An empty whiskey bottle is on the floor next to Finegan, who is snoring.

The camp mistress is walking quietly through the dewy grass to the waters edge, and up the plank. She has come to warn Finegan. Finegan gets up, groggy. The camp mistress points at Joey.

Keep that youngster close now, yahear? We've had reports of kids goin' missing.

Finegan raises an eyebrow, and nods.