Petty Officer Haskins, the Officer of the Day at the Alpena Coast Guard station was much more responsive to the billionaire mayor than he had been to his son. The officer had a helicopter ready to launch before he’d gathered everyone onto the rescue boat.
“My guess is they’re heading due east,” Manny said. “He’s probably trying to get to international waters before we can stop him.”
“We won’t let that happen, son.” The same aggravating petty officer who had dismissed him earlier had a much nicer tone. Manny wanted to snap at him for his earlier behavior, but still needed the man’s full cooperation if they were going to reach Aloise in time.
As the helicopter lifted into the sky, and the captain made ready to launch the rescue boat, a man’s voice called from behind him.
“Evan?” Manny watched as Evan and his brother, Warren, came running up the dock.
“We’re coming with you,” Evan said.
“Alondra’s on that boat too, you know,” Warren said with a smirk. “She called me the minute they took off and we high-tailed it down here.”
“So… you and her…” I raised my eyebrows.
“We’re talking.” Warren shrugged and his face flushed.
“Come on, gentlemen,” Manny’s father said. “Do you want to rescue these girls? Or discuss relationship status? Get on the boat.”
“Yes, sir,” Warren said, the first to hop on the boat. Evan and Manny quickly followed.
Smooth as silk, the coast guard cutter motored away from the dock and out of the marina. Within seconds they were at top speed bouncing over and through low waves heading due east.
None of them spoke over the noise of the boat motor and rushing wind, but Manny’s eyes scanned the horizon. He guessed that the helicopter pilots would find David’s sailing yacht before they would, but it didn’t stop him from searching.
Forty-five minutes passed. The chance of catching up to the yacht before reaching international waters was dwindling. The racer could probably top speeds of fifteen knots. The Coast Guard helicopter could top one-fifty. If David stayed on course, the helicopter would find him. If David veered north or south, the Coast Guard would be searching for a needle in a haystack.
“Relax, son.” His dad wrapped his arm around Manny’s shoulder and spoke over the noise of the motor and rushing wind. “These guys are professionals. They know what they’re doing. Trust them.”
“It’s been too long,” Manny answered. “We should have caught up to them by now.”
“You don’t know that. The Coast Guard has a search and rescue system and protocols to follow. They’ve probably practiced these rescue missions thousands of times in training. They’ll find her. I promise.”
“Don’t make promises you can’t keep, Dad.” Even as he lost hope, he leaned against his father for support. Manny might be a man in the legal sense, but he still needed his mom and dad to comfort him.
“There!” The helicopter had come into view and Manny wondered if that meant they’d found David’s yacht. The horizon was below their line of sight, but the helicopter was clearly hovering rather than sweeping back and forth.
One of the coast guard officers with binoculars turned back to make eye contact with Manny. “They’ve stopped the sailboat.”
Manny almost fell over with relief. Step one of getting his wife back. Now the hard part; convincing David Ashish to hand over his daughter.
His knee bouncing faster than the pounding of the waves indicated how nervous Manny was.
Within minutes they had reached the yacht and from the stern of the cutter, a fast response boat made ready to deploy.
“I want to come with you,” Manny said.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea, son,” Petty Officer Haskins said. “We’re trained professionals.”
“I’ve seen you take reporters out with you who were just as untrained as me,” Manny said. “That’s my wife on that yacht. I need to come with you.”
The petty officer looked to Manny’s dad for direction, and Jacob nodded. Manny decided he needed to run for a political office someday. The mayor received more respect and people followed his direction. Not that Manny was vain, but the level of respect his father received was notable.
“Let him come along,” Jacob said.
Manny didn’t wait for them to argue. He scrambled into the little fast response boat and when everyone was seated and ready, they slid off the back of the cutter and deployed. In less than a minute the little boat pulled alongside David Ashish’s sailing yacht and two coastguardsmen boarded the vehicle then helped Manny up onto the sailboat. The fast response boat pulled away and trolled around staying within proximity of the boat.
Without waiting for instructions or permission, Manny hurried down the side deck and around the front to where the stairs descended to the galley lounge. When he saw Aloise crouched in a ball lying in her stateroom with her father standing between him and her, Manny breathed a sigh of relief.
Aloise scrambled off the bed and pushed past her father, racing into Manny’s arms. Fresh tears streaked down her already tear-stained face and she cried over and over between kisses, “You came for me. You came for me.”
“I promised I’d never let you go. I promised.” Manny couldn’t stop the tears from falling down his own face. “I promised.”
“If you think for one minute that I’m going to let my daughter leave this boat with you, you are sadly mistaken,” David said, his arms folded across his chest. “As soon as your Coast Guard is done infringing on my civil rights, you need to leave with them, and I never want to see your face again.”
“I’m sorry, Sir, but I’m not leaving without my wife.” Manny’s voice was firm and confident.
“I do not recognize your sham of a marriage.” David stuck his nose in the air. “You have violated my daughter.”
“Mr. Ashish, I’m Petty Officer Haskins. We’re here because we received a distress call from one of your adult daughters who claims she is being held on this boat against her will.”
“Es ridículo! We are Mexican citizens and do not recognize your rights to board our yacht.”
“You are sailing in waters of the United States of America,” the petty officer said. “We have jurisdiction here and intend to conduct our investigation without interference from you. Sir, if you would step aside please, I’d like to have a word with your adult daughters.”
“I took her phone away,” David said. “There’s no way she could have called you. This man is the person who called for help, not my daughter.” David pointed at Manny with disdain.
“I called them, Padre,” Alondra said from the top of the stairs leading up into the larger salon. Her gaze drifted over to the guardsman. “Petty Officer Haskins, my sister and I are being held against our will and wish to leave this boat immediately.”
“¡Cómo te atreves!” David turned on Alondra. “You had no right to call these Americans and ask them to rescue you. You are my daughter.”
“Sir, please step aside so that I can have a word with your daughters,” the petty officer said. “I do not wish to restrain you, but I will if that is necessary.”
David took a step back and glared at Manny.
“Miss, for the record, could you state your name, age, citizenship and the reason for your complaint?” The petty officer spoke directly to Alondra.
“My name is Alondra Ashish, I am twenty-two years old, a Mexican citizen, and my sister and I are being held on this boat against our will by our father, David Ashish.” Alondra pointed to her father definitively.
The petty officer turned to Aloise. “Miss, could you also state your name, age, and citizenship as well, and respond to your sister’s allegation?”
“My name is Mrs. Aloise Ashish-Cohen.” Aloise lifted her chin with confidence. “I am twenty-years-old, a Mexican citizen legally married to an American citizen, and I concur with my sister’s allegation. She and I are being held on this boat against our wills. We both wish to seek asylum in the United States until at which time we are able to obtain temporary residency or return to our home country of our own free will.”
“Oh, esto es ridículo!” David shook his head. “I am not holding my daughters hostage. Esta es su casa.”
“Mrs. Cohen and Miss Ashish, do you each have identification?” Petty Officer Haskins asked. Each girl reached for her purse and wallet. Alondra handed her ID to the petty officer.
Aloise stepped forward with two items. “This is my driver’s license, and this is my marriage license.” She unfolded the document and handed them both to the petty officer.
Manny smiled down at her and sighed. She bit her lower lip, gazing up at him, and he winked at her.
Shira Ashish cried from the top of the stairs leading up to the salon. “You can’t take my daughters. They need to be with their madre.” Shira hurried down the stairs and threw herself into Alondra’s arms.
“Mamá, I don’t want to be away from you either, but we need to be free to live our own lives,” Alondra said. “We’re adults now. Please try to understand.”
“Mr. and Mrs. Ashish—” Manny stepped forward— “Come back to Alpena. We don’t want to break up your family. We want our two families to reconcile. To find common ground. My father and mother are willing to forgive you and ask for your forgiveness in return. I want you to have the chance to see your grandchildren someday.”
“Did you get my daughter pregnant?” David took a step toward Manny with hands balled into fists. Petty Officer Haskins stepped in between them and placed a hand on David’s chest.
“No, Sir, of course not!” Manny took a step back. “I mean, you know, nothing’s guaranteed to be 100% protection.” Manny’s face heated in embarrassment, remembering with fondness the sanctity of the previous night. He didn’t wish to speak of such things with his new father-in-law, or anyone for that matter.
“Por favor, David.” Shira rushed from her daughter’s arms into his. “I don’t want to be away from mis hijitas. Please don’t punish me, or them, for arguments that happened twenty years ago between you and your business partners.”
“Por favor, Padre…” Aloise stepped forward. “Please come back to Michigan and reconcile with my husband’s family. I want us to be together.”
“It’s not that easy,” David grumbled.
“It’s not that hard, either, Papi,” Alondra said. “Por favor.”
“Mr. Ashish, once your daughters leave this vessel, you are free to sail away or return to port. Unless your daughters wish to press charges, you are not under arrest.”
David glared between his daughters, his wife, and Manny, a scowl disfiguring his face. “I’ll think about it.”
“Gracias, Papá.” Aloise rushed forward and threw her arms around her father and mother, and Alondra joined them. They held each other in a touching family hug, then pulled apart and Aloise returned to Manny’s side.
“Are you ready to go?” Manny asked, searching her eyes. “Do you want to bring anything?”
“I have my backpack already,” Aloise said, tears filling her eyes. She looked longingly in the direction of her stateroom. “There are other things I wanted to bring, but they will have to be left behind.”
“Maybe we’ll have a chance to pack up the rest of your things if your parents ever return to visit.” Manny kissed the top of her head and fought the emotions pulling at his throat.
“I packed a bag too,” Alondra said. She grabbed her backpack and glanced inside her stateroom. “I hope they come back,” she mumbled.
“Adiós, Mamá,” Aloise said, reaching for one more hug from her mom.
“Adiós, hija mía,” Shira said, tears running down her face. Alondra also gave their mom a hug, and both daughters climbed the stairs along with Manny and Petty Officer Haskins.
They made their way down the side deck to the ladder and the fast response boat pulled alongside the yacht. Several officers helped the girls down first, Manny next, and then Petty Officer Haskins.
Not until they were all safely aboard the cutter and Aloise gathered herself into Manny’s arms was he able to breathe normally again. The ordeal was over. They were together again.
Manny decided this must be how love feels; setting aside one’s own life to rescue another. In the past two days Manny had met his soul mate, married her, and fell in love. A strange turn of events from hunting alone in his forest without a care in the world to rescuing the love of his life.
“Look, they’re turning!” Alondra, tucked in Warren’s arms, pointed to the east.
David had raised the sails and turned his yacht toward the west, heading back in the direction he’d come, back toward Alpena.
Aloise and Alondra had convinced their father to reconcile with Manny’s parents.
Manny gathered his wife closer, ignoring everyone around him, and pressed his lips to hers with a passion barely contained enough for mixed company.