The Rockport Miracles-Part 4: Episode 27: “The Ballad of Derecho Dan” Continues:

River City Mayor, Bart Ridgewood, peered through his pirate telescope from atop the Widow’s Walk of Model Home “A” in the EWW Estates. He and hundreds of his constituents had gathered on the city’s eastern cliffs to watch Storm 5.6 clobber Rockport and had been mesmerized by the sight of a lone, mysterious cabin cruiser bouncing and crashing into the teeth of the storm. “AHOY CITIZENS!!”, shouted Mayor Ridgewood from his high perch, “HERE COMES THE COAST GUARD!!!”

Sure enough, Rockport Police Chief Tom Graber and Little Dan’s Aunt Rowena Gridley had convinced the Cleveland Coast Guard to sail out onto the disturbed waters of Lake Erie and stop Little Dan from whatever the hell he was doing. It was too late, though. The weather had become so dangerous that the intrepid crew of the Cutter Darryl A. Levy gave up the chase and instead pleaded with Little Dan from a safe distance through a bullhorn.

“DANIEL NEWMAN--BY ORDER OF THE UNITED STATES COAST GUARD WE ORDER YOU TO SURRENDER YOUR VESSEL IMMEDIATELY!” By then, “Serpent” Storm 5.6 had finally arrived. Little Dan felt the clumsy fingers of fate tugging at the frayed laces of his Red Ball Jets. He struggled against mighty wind and wave actions as he inserted wired charges into the plastique explosives that filled the boat from stem to stern. Once he'd completed that task, it would be just a matter of applying sufficient throttle to guide the boat into the black heart of the “giant lizard.”

“DANIEL NEWMAN-THIS IS YOUR LAST CHANCE! WE WILL NOT BE ABLE TO SAVE YOU IF YOU GO ANY FURTHER--TURN YOUR VESSEL AROUND!!” Little Dan heard the warning but did not heed it. He was a man-boy high as a kite on LSD and with only one goal in mind: to wage the righteous battle that Maynard Gridley’s manifesto termed as “Mission Plan A.”

LSD or no LSD, Little Dan had become anxious for death. By that point his Dad was dead and his Mom was dying…or so he thought! The Rockport Gas & Lube, a Newman family business since 1916, had been reduced to a smoldering pile of car parts and half burnt tuna sandwiches by Storm 5.5. The final dagger thrust into his heart came when his beloved dog, Little Boston Dan, had been killed in the Gas & Lube explosion…or so he thought!! Little Dan was by then a man-boy who’d lost all hope. Nothing but a warrior’s death is what he'd imagined for himself and Mission Plan “A” guaranteed it.

There also was a “Mission Plan B” in Maynard’s manifesto, but Little Dan chose to ignore it. The manifesto gave little detail about Plan “B”, only a scant mention about a military footlocker stored on the boat. Little Dan had been using the footlocker stenciled “PLAN B” as a sitting bench and a dining table ever since the day he’d boarded the “The Friggin’ A.”  “If Plan A goes FUBAR,” said the manifesto, “Open the footlocker marked 'Plan B.' Contents are self-explanatory.”

"There ain’t going to be no 'Plan B',” Little Dan muttered assuredly to himself. After all the explosive charges had been placed, he'd carefully attached the detonator wires to a device that used an old fashioned Big Ben alarm clock as a timer. He set the timer to go off in 6 minutes exactly. “One minute to pray,” whispered Little Dan, “and then 5 minutes to Heaven.”

Little Dan dropped to his knees as the “The Friggin’ A” spun and rocked upon the agitated Erie waters like a Pentecostal on Sundays. “God, Bless this boat, God Bless the sky, Grant my family peace, On this day that I die.” Little Dan then stood up and stoically steered the boat directly into the cold, dark void of the storm. He was about to disappear utterly into the stewing chaos when a familiar voice made one last appeal:

“LITTLE DAN! IT’S YOUR AUNT ROWENA!! YOUR MOM IS FINE!! SHE WANTS YOU BACK HOME!!"

Little Dan recognized his Aunt Rowena’s voice but couldn’t understand what she was saying. It didn’t matter, he’d already made up his mind and gently increased the boat’s throttle.

‘LITTLE DAN! LOOK OVER HERE!” she screamed, “IT’S LITTLE BD!!!!! HE’S ALIVE!!!” Rowena held the bullhorn up to the dog’s squashy little mug and gave him a pinch. “YIP!! YIPP!! YIP!!” yelped the plucky little canine. Rowena recalled later that when Little Dan heard the sound of his dog’s bark, “his eyes grew so big they could be seen behind the clouds of the storm.”

From their clifftop perches, the River City folks watched in horrified amazement as the lonely Chris Craft boat disappeared into the blackness. Once they'd lost sight of him, the Coast Guard cutter wisely retreated out of the storm’s path. "The Friggin' A" had fully dissolved from sight when the onlookers suddenly heard the roar of the boat’s engine go full throttle. From atop his perch, Mayor Ridgewood dropped his Captain Kidd telescope and shouted, “LOOK!! THERE’S A MAN ON THE LAKE!!!”

The crowd watched in startled amazement at the sight of a diminutive flailing shape that was struggling to emerge from the leading edge of the storm. It was a man paddling a raft! Not just any raft either. It was a One Man Self Inflatable Rescue Raft like the ones used in the military.

On that raft was Little Dan Newman, paddling for his life and shrieking, “PLAN B! PLAN B! PLAN FRIGGIN’ BEEEEEEEEEEE!!...”

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Volume 16, Issue 12, Posted 3:23 PM, 06.17.2020