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I've always wanted to see 25 meter high waves, groans Peter, who is desperately clinging to a towel rail in the Silver Arrow, but not at 2 a.m. in the middle of the Arctic Ocean.
If anyone was listening to him, it didn’t show. For his part, Santa Claus is on deck, steering the helm and hollering like a cowboy Yi’haaa, yiiii’haa. It looks like he’s found exactly what he’s been looking for.
Wait a minute, can't we just dive? Thorsten wonders. Check the manual, Peter.
Sure enough, the thing can even dive. While the others start looking for the pressure gauges, Santa Claus, is looking a little crestfallen, but after a moment or two of considering the sickly green pallor on the faces of his fellow crewmen, he relents and activates the switches for diving mode.
But Bernfriede Öschterle had designed a utility craft, not a deep-sea sub, their situation was not going to improve, in fact it was about to get worse.
It gets so bad that even Santa starts to worry. We have to go back up, he calls, and he unhesitatingly flips the switches that would take them back up to the surface, and so it happens that our friends, nauseous, and already almost unconscious with fear, are once again tossed into the midst of the roaring partition between sea and atmosphere, between being flipped like pancakes from one roaring wave crest to the next. However well the boat was holding up, the inhabitants were only human, and they had reached their limit, and so it was that they began to cross over into what Buddhists call the ‘Bardo’ and there, betwixt and between life and death, their minds, like reproachful CFOs, started to busily recount all the shameful episodes of their lives, like drinking grandma's eggnog without permission and being wantonly cruel to a probationary math teacher in third grade. Being so completely out of it, not a one was afterwards able to recount what happened next.
Some hours later the storm has abated, and when the travelers came to, miraculously the boat was still afloat. Monty was the first to come to, secured as he was to the hull, sandwiched within a thick fluffy blanket and, his barking to be freed from this prison helped wake the others. Peter and Thorsten found themselves lying on their bruised and aching backs in a pool of water. Their minds were now dealing darkly with the myriad electrical signals that their tortured bodies were sending them. Staggering outside, they needed a moment to adjust. The starry sky so perfectly mirrored what they could see each time they shut their eyelids. Looking out towards the horizon, the ocean merged neatly with the cosmos as if there were no boundary. To top it off, they were enveloped in a near cosmic silence.
I can’t help get the feeling that we’re missing something important, says Peter.
Do you think we died? We’re still here. What could we be missing? asks Thorsten.
The buzz is missing, says Santa Claus.
What? asks Peter incredulously You’re still looking for action after all we’ve been through?
Ha, laughs Santa, haltingly, as his sides were aching, Not that kind of buzz, I was talking about the batteries, the electronics.
Thorsten and Peter spin around to look anxiously at the electronic display in the cockpit and the fear that spread across their faces reminded Santa of watching a lunar eclipse on fast-forward.
Why don’t we go Old-School, Monty suggested helpfully by tugging at a sodden bedsheet from where it lay on the floor.
I think I have an idea, says Peter.
Peter gently lifted the sodden sheet, but Monty was reluctant to let it go. It was his idea after all, Peter is always stealing my best ideas, he growled.
What if we put a few of these together?
They eagerly gathered the necessary materials together and started to turn their bedsheets into a makeshift sail.
Carrying their prize out onto the deck with Monty still attached, they each held a corner out to catch the wind, but it turned out to be a forlorn hope.
Out on deck, there is nary a breeze, and the sky is overcast.
That’s a pity, but I’m still optimistic, says Thorsten. We’ve taken the first step on the rocky path to our salvation, he smiles encouragingly.
The sail was a good idea, Santa says, looking pointedly at Monty, but only a whale can save us now.
A what? says Peter in disbelief as Monty finally let go of the blanket.
I can summon whales with my whistle, and they will be able to haul us at least as far as Newfoundland.
You have a Whale whistle? asks Thorsten, and how are they going to pull us anywhere? You think we could train them somehow, like at SeaWorld? He suddenly lights up with the grin of an idea spreading over his face, We can use the sheets.
An hour later, the water around the boat is churning, a pod of at least 42 whales, big and small are moving through the waters around them and blowing powerful jets of water into the air.
The time in between anticipating their arrival hasn’t been wasted. There has been a veritable flurry of activity on board. The work had progressed rapidly, with Peter and Thorsten cutting the sheets into thick strips, Monty holding the ends in his teeth and pulling while Santa did the weaving at the other end.
I hope these are strong enough, says Peter, looking at each in turn as if he expected someone in their group to confirm it.
So, says Thorsten, we have ropes, but how do we get them to the whales? Maybe we should tie a harness, lure one of the smaller whales to the amphibious vehicle with something tasty, and throw the harness like a lasso over him?
We could do that, says Santa, who knows a thing or two about sleds, but it would be quicker if we just tie these to the gunwales and let the whales pull us along. They’ll know what’s what.
An Orca surfaced alongside the boat, from where it seemed to be judging them carefully.
He's enjoying this, thinks Monty. I would make them sweat too.
Then the whale dipped downwards into the water and a rope, that had been hopelessly languishing in the water, went taut. One by one, other whales took hold of the remaining ropes, and the boat slowly began to move.
They had only had enough sheeting to be able to make four ropes with the necessary length, but the whales were able to make it work. They each took turns to allow each other to get some food and rest along the way. The crew on board, ecstatic and exhausted at the same time, spent all their time on deck watching the whales working, as if the very act of daring to leave and get some sleep would cause them to wake up from this exciting dream.
It was up to Santa, once again, to take control of the helm, and set the course.
Imperceptibly, the sky at first dark and ominous, turned a whiter shade of pale. By then, Monty had already drifted into a grateful sleep and as if on automatic, Peter and Thorsten both drifted down to their bunks to get some shut eye. They had been travelling on empty for quite some time now. Thankfully, given what they had all been through, Santa seemed to be fine, better than fine actually and he remained on duty, shepherding the whales to their destination.
Monty awoke with a jolt and was immediately alert. Had something happened? It was as if an alarm had gone off. He looked up to find that his humans had abandoned him, and he quickly trotted over to where Santa stood. Santa seemed pleased to see him.
Just in time, he said. Monty looked up at him, quizzically.
Just in time to see them off, Santa replied. It’s good that you’re here.
The boat went slack with a jolt, the handmade ropes once again trailing aimlessly in the water, and the pod of Offshore Orcas assembled in front of the craft.
Monty took a distrustful step or two away from Santa, after all being a small chap, he couldn’t be fully sure that he wouldn’t be thrown out to the whales as a reward for a job well done. The Alpha rose out of the water as if he was giving a bow before taking his leave. Santa shouted and waved his farewell. Monty bade them all farewell with a rather weak yelp of relief.
The boat now lay dead in the water, and Santa reminisced fondly about the mariners of old, Magellan or Coleridge perhaps, who had depended almost exclusively on the wind to push their ships forward.
The boat drifted with the currents while Santa tidied up, stowing the makeshift ropes, and reorganizing the interior of the craft. At least it looked a little better now, though the batteries were still dead. He was hopeful of rescue as they were so near to the coast and there would be shipping this close to land.
Thorsten and Peter were roughly awoken by some fishermen, who had climbed on board. They had been alerted by Monty’s frantic barking and had come to see what was going on. Nobody but Monty had responded to their hails, and as he jumped into the water, they had had to rescue him.
Groggily, Thorsten eased himself out of his bunk and through eyes half-shut and bleary, he surveyed the scene around him. He could tell by their accents that they were Canadian.
We need your help, he said hoarsely, and explained their situation. He didn’t dare breathe a word about the whales or Santa. They had either seen him or they had not, and Thorsten guessed rightly that they hadn’t. The fishermen were satisfied that everyone on board was well, and they extended a friendly invitation for them to join them on their trawler while they were being towed to safety.
We'll go ashore first, get some breakfast, and get the ‘Silver Arrow’ taken care of, at which time we will be better able to evaluate our overall situation, said Thorsten, once they were safely ensconced aboard the trawler.
On reaching solid ground and taking care of the necessaries, they gave their heartfelt thanks to the fishermen and took a moment to take in their new surroundings.
It didn’t take long before they noticed an advertisement that beckoned with the words: Join us in the Breakfast Club for a warm welcome, the finest food and entertainment.
It was such a relief, after all they had been through, to sit down at a table in the restaurant and browse through the very extensive menu. They ate heartily of a full breakfast, and having partaken, they felt fit and ready for whatever might happen next. Leaving the cozy warmth of the indoors, they made their way back at a brisk pace to assemble in front of the ‘Silver Arrow’.
They had earlier asked a waitress to book a mechanic for them, and they had agreed to meet him here. So, you can imagine their surprise when a mounted squad of the RCMP, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police rode up and stopped right in front of them.
Peter, who had been watching them admiringly up to this point wondered if the fishermen had reported them to immigration.
They cautiously acknowledge each other, and the Mountie in charge gets straight to the point:
Do you happen to know anything about the kidnapping of Santa Claus?
Peter, Thorsten, and Monty looked at each other and said in unison, What?.
You can’t be serious! snapped Peter angrily, but as if on cue, the sound of loud snoring starts to emanate from deep within the hull. They hadn’t seen Santa for some time and Thorsten had begun to think that he had left them for good. He starts to sweat profusely, thinking of what they might find inside. The image of a bulky brown burlap sack flits rapidly through his mind and he thinks, only God knows what’s in that.
All this while the Mountie had continued talking but Thorsten was sure he had heard him say that Santa Claus had been reported as missing from the North Pole.
Oh, says Peter, for once at a loss for words.
Would you mind telling me who might be snoring there inside that contraption? asked the Mountie, pointing at the silver machine.
Oh, said Peter thinking quickly, that would be my alarm clock.
The snoring is coming from your alarm clock? the Mountie mimicked him.
Yes, said Peter, but the Mounties still didn’t look very convinced, he noticed.
I’m a heavy sleeper, he added, but I can’t stand the sound of snoring.
That seemed to do it. Aah, good idea, nodded the Mountie approvingly. He bid his farewell and led his troop to follow behind him. Their place in front of the ‘Silver Arrow’ was immediately filled by a large van. Looking out of the window, the jovial boat mechanic announced himself.
It’s a good little craft, but it looks like she took quite a beating, he said after having given it a thorough inspection. It’s right as rain now though.
Yes, we’ve really been through it, nods Thorsten in agreement.
They settled the bill, and the mechanic remarked on the quaint old gentleman sleeping in the bunk, He looks like Santa, he smirked, he must be really tired.
Thorsten and Peter were still making their preparations and planning the next leg of their journey when Peter looked up to see the boat mechanic pointing over in their direction. He was talking and looking up at the men on horseback.
Step on it, Thorsten, Peter shrieked, his voice almost catching in his throat.
Thorsten didn’t need to be told twice. What followed was a pursuit worthy of a Hollywood Christmas blockbuster, with horses, boats, explosions and way too much noise for a sore head.
Did we actually need to do all of that? asked Peter, half to himself, when it was finally over. We didn't steal Santa, after all. He came with us willingly. He put his head in his hands and shook it, What kind of a mess have we gotten ourselves into?
What do we know about the laws over here? answered Thorsten reassuringly. I mean did we really want to risk it?
They drove on in a somber mood along the coast road and took a detour by sea whenever the risk of meeting a sudden roadblock was too great.
From behind them, the snoring continued unabated and although, they couldn’t see it, Monty had found himself a new bunk. He was rising and falling to a regular rhythm atop Santa’s voluminous soft belly. While there, he dreamt that he was an Orca dashing through the seas with his pals, helping to catch seals and he gave a little yelp each time he imagined himself flipping them up high over his head.
In the meantime, back at HQ, a state of emergency had been declared. There are plenty of wannabe detectives and theories, but the only thing that everybody can agree on is that the cappuccino machine has been taken and that the perpetrator seems to have gotten away scot-free.
If only coincidentally, there is a rather strange syzygy with the facts, because both the perpetrator and the silver bean machine are at this very moment traveling stealthily through Newfoundland and skipping past one police roadblock after another.
It’s then that they get the most unexpected visit. A lady in yellow overalls arrives seeking admittance at the front door. She’s from Elektro-Remmerle, she says, and when Liliane presses the buzzer to let her in, she is found to be carrying the most gorgeous connoisseur coffee machine in her arms.
So, my dears, there you go, you can have it back, there was a piece of fruit stuck in it. The next time you decide to drink straight from the nozzle, please try to swallow whatever you have in your mouth first.
She places the machine directly on top of the thank-you note, calls out goodbye and heads back down the stairs oblivious to the amazement on the faces of those she just left behind.
Was that it? It was just out for repair? asked Tankred, who had not been feeling quite right since the coffee machine’s disappearance. The staff assembled there are ecstatic with joy, until suddenly there she is again, the lady in the yellow overalls.
Sorry dears, wrong building, I made a mistake. She lifts the machine back up into her arms and disappears, without a backward glance, out the door.
What was, just a moment ago, a feeling of relief, has now been replaced by a feeling of pure dismay.
As if things couldn’t get any stranger, they immediately receive a second caller. This time a man in shorts and sandals with a camera around his neck comes in, and looks around, oblivious to their stares, before enthusiastically calling out a greeting.
And who might you be then? asks Fabian, as he trundles up to stand in front of the visitor with the slightly crazy eyes.
Hello, I am Troy from Newfoundland. I just wanted to see the famous netcare HQ.
He holds up his tourist guide and shows them a double page in his copy of Lonely Planet, on which a cut-out picture of the netcare HQ is sandwiched between an image of Neuschwanstein Castle and the largest Christmas Stollen in the world.
It is, he assures them, highly recommended.
Barbara, and Patrick, legends of PM, are not slow to realize the potential and immediately seize the opportunity that Troy has handed them. He is quickly shown around before then being treated to some of the best that Swabian home-style cooking can offer after they invited him to join them in the restaurant at the Krone Brewery.
I mean, seriously, I’ve never been treated to anything quite as delicious as this, it’s perfect, really! Of course, Troy is also treated to some gentle banter and mockery, at one point touching on the very simple name of his homeland, New-found-land. Florian is diligently reading from his well-read copy of the Three-Body Problem. Jan and Bobbele from IT, who are also at the table are laughing, but without once lifting their eyes from their smartphones. Fabian explains to Troy that they are building an app that overloads the smartphone so that it is forced to run hot to help keep its owner warm in an emergency. Moments later, the jollity of the mood around the table is broken, when a cellphone battery bursts into flames and they are forced to quickly flee the restaurant holding the offending object in front of them atop a huge dinner plate, to cries that ‘smoking is forbidden’ from the waitress angrily chasing along behind them.
At that moment, nobody had a thought to spare for their fugitive Managing Directors, nor would they ever have suspected that at just that moment, Peter and Thorsten would be circumventing their final roadblock just a few minutes’ drive from Troy's parents’ home in possession of a rather notorious cappuccino machine, not to mention a fugitive, a person of interest popularly known to everyone by his alias ‘Santa Claus’.
Join us for our final installment, to hear amongst other things, about their adventures on the far side of the Canadian Border. Will they make it to the finish line, or will they find themselves on the wrong side of a diplomatic incident? Find out next Monday!