It Was 1993
by James Strauss
Harpo heard the police car before Arch did. His ears perked up and his muzzle pointed toward the only place the car could enter the pier dock area. A very slight mewl came out of his throat, which surprised Arch. What do you know, in his way the dingo could speak.
“Got it,” Arch assured him, patting Harpo’s side.
Ahi drove up, got out of the car as before, this time leaving the driver-side door open. He came around, with a ballpoint pen in his right hand.
“Give me your arm,” he instructed, when Arch stood up to meet him.
Arch extended his bare left arm, his expression one of question, although he said nothing. Ahi wrote a number and address on his exposed skin.
“My classmate from high school,” Ahi stated, with a grim smile on his face. “He runs a fishing boat off Maui; in the port across the way from where the Independence docks later tonight. Get off and get over there. This address is a boat slip. Get aboard and wait for Terry Chow.”
“We’re getting off on Maui?” Arch asked.
“Yeah, you sure are, if you last that long,” Ahi replied, shaking his head. “The heat being concentrated on you is unreal. Never seen anything like it. Just do what Chow tells you to do. I told him you’re pro-sovereignty and would make a contribution to the cause, so go along.”
“What about you?” Arch asked, as Ahi turned to walk back to his car.
Ahi stopped to look back. “Me? What about me?” he replied, a strange expression appearing on his chiseled handsome face.
“You read the file.”
“So? They won’t know that,” Ahi said, his voice almost a whisper.
“Thank you for risking so much for us,” Arch went on, not knowing what else to say, and afraid he’d done nothing but cause the caring generous
man needless worry. There was no chance that Ahi could know what he was dealing with, and there was nothing Arch could do, in his weakened running state, to help him understand or do anything about that. Eventually, they’d know all right. Eventually, they knew everything.
“Mahalo,” Ahi said, and then left in his car. Arch watched the car drive back out and then drive away, looking at the man who might have made it possible for all of them to survive, and yet was being left to the wolves he couldn’t know were wolves.
Arch walked Harpo back to the hotel, where they waited in the lower parking lot for the elevator. The place had been deserted when they’d left to meet Ahi, but now there were all kinds of guests circulating around, with several standing nearby at the same elevator landing. The dingo was perfect. He sat near Arch’s right foot, paying not the slightest bit of attention to any of the interested humans nearby. His position of unmoving attention, and his concentration seemingly directed at the closed elevator doors, somehow kept anyone from approaching to stroke him or ask questions about him. He was truly a memorable creature. He had a presence about him Arch hadn’t seen in an animal before, and others picked up on it too.
Arch spotted a lighted sign that said ‘stairs.’ Without waiting further, he guided Harpo to the big steel door, and hoped that it was accessible from the outside. It was. No visible lock, and none when he pushed on the handle. No emergency alarm was triggered when they went on through. They took the stairs rapidly, Arch hoping that there were also no locks on interior doors to keep people from entering floors via the fire escape stairs. Arch felt fortunate that the Marriott had not updated to more modern security procedures following the hurricane.
They made it to the room. Doug was up, and newly attired like a tourist. He wore a new Aloha shirt, shorts and flip flops. Atlantis and Cyn wore shorts, but not short shorts. Both looked great but not too great. Atlantis had backed off her heavy makeup and looked the better for it.
“What did he say?” Cyn asked, Harpo surging across the room to get her attention, pulling the leash right out of Arch’s hand. She patted the dingo’s head but made no move to take his leash.
Arch told them about his visit, handing the copy of the file to Atlantis to put in the bag with the original.
“Maui?” the pilot asked. “We get off on Maui? How are we supposed to make it the two miles from one port basin to the other? And then what? Ride a fishing boat out in these waters for ten hours or more? That’s some of the roughest stuff this side of the Bering Sea.”
Arch frowned at the man. Doug was not running for his life, or at least he didn’t think he was running for his life. Ten hours lost on a fishing boat sounded like heaven to Arch; if they made it that far; if the fishing boat was there; if Terry Chow showed up; and if it wasn’t all a set up of horrid proportions. Arch still could not quite get past the simple fact that Ahi had no reason to help them. None whatsoever. They were Haoles. They were on the run from his department, and the feds. They were a risk to his career and quite possibly to his own life. Ahi’s involvement was nearly as weird as Arch finding the file in the first place.
“Do you trust him?” Atlantis asked, once again going straight to the heart of the matter.
Arch hesitated before he answered. He knew he couldn’t pull the old hoary “I don’t trust anybody” out of his hat. He was obviously trusting the four people in front of him. Arch asked a question instead.
“Does it matter? If he’s lying then we’re screwed anyway because we have no place else to go,”
“Good point,” Cyn responded, with a slight shake of her head.
There wasn’t much to be done, except get on the Independence and take their chances. Cyn had paid cash in advance for the room so there was no checkout necessary at the Marriott front desk. Dressed as tourists, and carrying little other property along with them, they traipsed as a small group over to the dock where the Independence lay waiting. Arch carried Cyn’s cloth bag because the gun was in it, although he couldn’t think under what circumstance his possessing or using a gun would do anything but make a bad situation even worse. It was not only terrifying to have professionals attempting to kill him, it was also extremely tiring. The spikes of one adrenalin rush after another had begun to wear off.
Well, here we are,” Doug said, stopping in front of the park bench where Arch had held his meetings with Ahi.
“I’m going aboard first to make sure it’s okay. I’ll come to the hatch and wave. Don’t rush over all at once when that happens.”
“If that happens,” Atlantis whispered to the pilot’s disappearing back with a weak wave of one hand.
“Didn’t they have any other shirt designs?” Arch asked, staring at Doug’s aloha shirt, festooned with giant red hibiscus flowers. Arch’s own was made of the same material as Doug’s, but with blue flowers.
“They didn’t have any target’s available,” Cyn replied, “if that’s what you wanted,” with no sign of humor in her voice or expression. For some reason Harpo had become Arch’s responsibility, and Arch was worried more about the dingo getting aboard than the rest of them. Where was the dingo supposed to eliminate whatever he needed to eliminate? Arch worried, but said nothing. He eased down onto the bench, as he’d done before, with Harpo assuming his steadfast position next to his right knee.
“He’s taking forever,” Cyn observed, even though the pilot had been gone only a few minutes. A siren in the distance caused all of them to turn as one, but then smile to one another gingerly when the noise abruptly ended. Doug walked out of the hatch and down the short industrial gangplank to the dock. He waved his hand inwardly, beckoning them toward him. They moved toward him together, making no attempt to be stealthy or hide anything. Either they were on or they weren’t, and there was not much at that point to be done about it.
“We’re fine,” Doug said. “There’s nobody around just now. They’re all on the Lido deck getting ready to serve some post lunch delight to the real passengers after the ship leaves. We’ve got a room below.”
Arch guided Harpo up the short ramp and into a steel hallway painted a creamy white, about the same color as the pilot’s shirt without the flowers. The deck was painted orange with paint that had grit added to provide traction
“First hatch to the right,” Doug pointed from behind Arch. “Then it’s the one hanging open near the end.”
Arch walked down the hall, wondering at all the strange numbers and letters painted on the walls. He was no stranger to shipboard life, but every ship was different. The important thing was that they were aboard the SS Independence, preparing to depart for the Hawaiian Island of Maui, a collected team of broken, battered and displaced civilians, and a silently amazing dingo.
The worker’s cabin was on the ship’s lowest deck. Crystal, the pilot’s friend, had gotten them aboard using some unknown ruse, although security was so poor at the crew entrance it probably wouldn’t have mattered. There would have been no cabin without her help, however, and their stowaway status would have been much harder to conceal.
“Nobody comes down here except work crew,” Crystal explained, her dark locks flitting about as she primped and fluffed the blankets and pillows of all six bunks chained to the walls. “Tourists are off limits and the real crew, the one’s who run the ship, would never lower themselves to climb this far down. They’re Germans. Mostly they make believe they don’t even speak English so they don’t have to speak to us.”
Arch presumed by “us” Crystal was referring to the other ‘lower’ crew members of her same Filipino heritage. Her lineage was apparent from her light brown skin color, dark hair, and accent. He’d worked with German crews before, and immediately understood Crystal’s rather derisive comment. The German’s would be rational, analytically detailed and properly severe should they run into them. From Crystal’s comment, and Arch’s previous experience, he knew it would be very difficult to simply blend in with the other passengers in any public setting while they were aboard the ship. The Germans were likely to miss nothing.
“We’re supposed to stay down here for the whole voyage?” Atlantis asked, loudly, tossing the small bag Cyn usually carried onto a top bunk.
“Maui’s only about a hundred miles from here,” Crystal replied.
“That’s about ten to twelve hours in this weather.”
Arch thought about what Crystal had said for a few seconds. If the ship left in the next few hours, give or take, it made little difference. The Independence would sit offshore until dawn before entering the harbor in Maui. The bunks would be important. There was also little likelihood that Arch could hold a bunch of civilians to some sort of disciplinary regimen, particularly one that involved not leaving the cabin for the whole trip. Circulation on deck later at night might be a problem, but that was a problem to be solved later. The ship would wait until dawn of the next morning to dock, no matter when it arrived.
“What about taking care of the dingo?” Arch asked Crystal.
Harpo sat next to Arch’s right leg, looking up expectantly at the Filipino woman.
“You can take him anywhere since he’s a service dog,” Crystal replied, turning to leave. ” A few doors up the bow there’s a sand pit in the gym. He can go there, but clean up the mess right away.”
Arch nodded at the crisp ‘all business’ woman, as she closed the cabin door, resisting an impulse to correct her about the dog being a dingo. The problem with Harpo’s care was marginally resolved. The fact that he did not bark might once again prove to be a lifesaver.
“Everyone needs rest,” Arch stated to the collected group, the pilot had already tucked into a lower bunk. Arch pulled a mattress from the nearest top bunk and stretched it across the bottom of the cabin door, and then threw a pillow on top of it. He sat down, immediately joined by the dingo.
“I’m going to take a nap. If you need to use the bathroom then wake me.”
“There’s a bathroom here,” Atlantis observed, pushing a small door at the back of the cabin open. “Shower too.”
Arch made believe he didn’t hear her, laid down on the mattress, put his head on the pillow and closed his eyes. For a short time, he wouldn’t have to worry about who came or went from the cabin.
Arch awoke in total darkness, blinking his eyes rapidly, unaware of where he was. He felt around and noted the fabric of the mattress he was laying on. Memory rushed in. He was in a ship’s cabin, but he was also in total darkness and there was almost no sound. He could hear none of his human companions. The dingo was gone too. Arch slowly rose to his feet, pushing his hands out along the hard cold bulkhead to feel what they could feel, which wasn’t much. There was no door. Arch realized that he was alone. They were all gone, the pilot, Atlantis, Cyn and Harpo. Human beings make small slight sounds all the time, even when sleeping. There were no sounds in the cabin at all except mild mechanical vibrations emanating up through the deck.
The ship was underway. Instinctively Arch brought his wrist up to his face to see the time. The old German’s watch told him that there were indeed twelve hours in a day because those little indicating lights showed through the broken lens. The hands were gone. Arch realized, as he slid along the bulkhead trying to find the light switch, that he had no idea where the ship was. He also realized that his entire team was out of the cabin and circulating somewhere onboard. They’d carefully moved him out of the way to get through the door. It was hard to believe that he’d been so exhausted that he hadn’t awakened. A Hollywood secret agent, even dismissed, would have the instincts of a cat and awaken fully at the slightest provocation. Arch sighed in disappointment at being so hopelessly human and professionally flawed. He found the light switch and flicked it upward, instantly squinting his eyes against the bright glare. The cabin was a crew cabin. There were no windows or portholes, hence the depth of darkness he’d experienced. He wondered how long he’d slept. And he worried about the rest of them out there somewhere on the ship. It was impossible to reveal the depth of their, and his, danger without having them, as regular citizens, freak out and run for the hills, or worse yet, try to surrender themselves. Arch was caught in a classic conundrum. If he continued to allow them to think he was in trouble (but not murderously dangerous trouble), he couldn’t contain or really control them. If he told them the truth, then he’d likely lose them to panic. All except for Cyn, anyway. Her brushes with hard reality, at Arch’s side, pretty much assured she would stick with him. Although he was also forced to note that when everyone left the cabin against his advice, she left with them.
Arch opened the cabin door and peeked out. There was no one around. At the end of the gangway the big iron hatch through the hull was dogged shut. Arch left the cabin and moved toward the interior of the ship, until he crossed a main corridor paralleling its length. He spotted a stairway further up towards the bow and headed in that direction, trying to walk like he belonged down where he was, although he was attired like a passenger. About the worst he could expect to happen down in the bowels of the Independence was to be told that he wasn’t allowed in the crew areas, and then to be in total darkness shown the way out. That didn’t happen. Arch neither met nor saw anyone. He climbed the stairs, going from deck to deck without stopping, until he reached the top. A deeply engraved brass plate, set into one of two wooden doors read; “Lido Deck.” From prior experience Arch knew that the lido was an area exposed to open air and the passing sea. He stepped through the right door and let it swing shut behind him. As the door shut, the sound of human’s talking and carrying on outside overwhelmed the sounds of machinery below. It seemed that every passenger was gathered on the open deck, all facing out toward the harbor. The ship was pulling away, and that was a big deal aboard the Independence, as it was on every other passenger ship in existence. Somehow Arch had to find and gather his small team back together and lead them to a safer place, or they were all finished, and he would certainly be dead.