It Was 1993
Arch was aboard the S.S. Independence, supposedly heading for the Island of Maui. Vibrations emanated up through the deck, as he made his way along a lower corridor to reach a stairway. He knew the smooth harbor sailing was about to be over and the rough waters just off the island would be waiting. The Independence, although one of the last cruise ships ever built in the United States, had no stabilizers, and the waters between the Hawaiian Islands were among the most consistently disturbed in the world. Hawaii ranked number fifty among fifty states in private boat ownership simply because of that fact. Arch no longer was afflicted with seasickness, having left that behind when he was an adolescent, but that
might not be true for the rest of the members of his little errant band. Arch climbed the five flights of switchback stairs, as amazed at the quality of the wood used in their construction, as he was appalled at the prominent use of the color orange in almost every other feature of the ship’s interior design. Orange painted walls, orange rugs and more. Moving through the inner environs of the ship was like going back to the early seventies, although at least the designers had foregone the laying of shag rugs. Or, he reflected, as he stepped through the hatch at the top of the stairs out into a different world, maybe those had been replaced.
It seemed that every passenger was on deck, either standing at the rails, clustered in small groups holding drinks, or sitting around on lounge chairs at the many small tables with plastic plates of food in front of them. It only took about two minutes of walking around the huge open area to discover his associates. They’d gathered together several folding lounge chairs, and surrounded the only rectangular table on the deck. Harpo sat in his costume next to Cyn’s leg, seemingly more interested in all the passengers who stopped by to pat his head than the plate of food in front of him. Arch was angry that they’d all left the room that they had been so lucky to secure. He was even angrier that they’d deliberately left him out of their plan, and gone so far as to gently move him aside in order to make their escape. Arch was particularly upset with Cyn, whom he’d felt he had some sort of special bond with, although that was apparently not the case.
“We were hungry,” the pilot said, between bites of a huge sandwich. He followed each bite by taking a large swig from some tropical drink, no doubt heavily laced with alcohol. Arch didn’t know what to say, much less do. It was not like he had any authority over any of them. He was totally at their mercy and he knew it, and he was risking their lives without their being aware of that fact
“Where’s the food?” Arch asked, in defeat. They were ‘all in’ up on deck and no lecture or orders from him were going to change that. Instead of saying anything about their conduct, he went over to a nearby buffet line to receive food he wasn’t entitled to; aboard a ship he was a stowaway on; moving across an open ocean toward a fate he could not calculate.
Arch quietly started eating the huge plate of food he’d received at the Lido on-deck open-air cafeteria. The place was called the Hibiscus Cafe, but actually it was a huge unmoving display of every food group that existed, multiplied by a factor of five. Arch ate smoked salmon from Seattle, a piece of beef from the local islands, and fruit so fresh it seemed to burst in his mouth. He ate like he hadn’t eaten in a long time, although his appetite still remained tempered by the fear lying down there at the very bottom of his stomach. He was being pursued by relentless cold-blooded killers seeking him out for what he now knew was a very good reason. It was also a reason he wasn’t likely to be able to fix. He’d read most of the file, now. He knew not only about the current president’s darkly secret origins in politics, but also how the man had used the intelligence community to gain power, and then how he sought to profit from his position by selling out the Kurds living in the part of Iraq with the richest oil deposits
Arch had known partially about the last two bits of information, but not in detail, and not with certainty. How was he to convey this knowledge, and to whom? And even if that was somehow possible, how was he to do that and keep Ahi, or any of the other members of his ‘team,’ safe? Before he was done with his plate, the ship began to move significantly more than it had when in the protected waters of the small harbor. The swells running amongst the Hawaiian Islands typically ran between ten and fifteen feet high. The swells struck the islands at all angles and rebounded. Those swells then interacted with one another to create a rough maelstrom of misery for small boaters.
Big ships, like the Independence, were relatively unaffected by these waves, at least when it came to proceeding over and through them. But the ship was still subject to significant movement. The bow began to rise and fall. The hull began to lean from side to side. Arch looked around the table at his companions, and then around at the people at neighboring tables. Everyone was as before, but almost no-one was eating anymore. Arch knew it would not be long. At any moment seasickness would break out on the Independence. If seasickness prevailed then the best treatment, outside of ten milligrams of morphine which wouldn’t be available, was to stay in the fresh open air on deck. On deck a seasick person could use the horizon or the other Hawaiian Islands to orient, but that was not what queasy people did, they almost always went to bed. Arch waited ten minutes for the full effect of the ship’s movement to make itself felt before saying anything.
“Let’s go below and come up with a plan,” he offered, knowing going below would only worsen any feelings of seasickness they might have, but at least it would get them out of full public view. Arch fed the last scraps from his plate to Harpo, who seemed not to notice the ship’s movement. Arch knew the others had already fed the dingo, but he didn’t know when they could feed him again. He had become very attached to Harpo. He knew that if Cyn was taken by the authorities for any period of time that the dingo would only be held a short time before being put down, unless her Dad knew and got him. Arch might not be able to protect him then, but he could keep him well fed now. Of the team, only the pilot seemed to be his same old self. His vow to quit drinking had disappeared when he’d found the open bar at the end of the cafeteria line. He, and the others stood up.
Arch was about to join them when he saw the German. The man was unmistakable for what he was. Starched white shirt. Starched and pleated white shorts. A shiny peaked hat atop his wedged head, was set above a thin, whipcord-tough body. The man was one of the crew members, no doubt an officer, that ran the ship. He stood, like a mannequin, as if at parade rest, his dark brown eyes staring at their table. Arch saw his eyes shift to take in Harpo. The man’s left eyebrow went up very slightly. Fear coursed through Arch’s body. He quickly got up from the table to literally herd the others from the table to the stairs, rushing them down from deck to deck until they reached the bottom hallway.
Arch moved his small flock back down into the bowels of the S.S. Independence, knowing deep in his heart that the German officer’s attention and
look portended coming disaster. The trip between the islands was going to take at least four, and as many as six hours. Once arriving at the port on Maui there was nowhere to go, unless they had time to get off the docks. If the authorities were alerted beforehand, then that would be the end of it. First custody, then isolation and ultimately ignominious death. There were only two choices, as far as Arch saw it. Either get off the ship earlier, which was totally impossible given the rough seas, or somehow stop the German from finding out anymore about them and reporting it. The German was an officer. Only another higher officer could officially stop him from mounting an investigation, but they knew no higher officers. Harpo wagged his tail happily to be off the deck and back in the cabin. He curled up on Arch’s mattress and closed his eyes. Arch saw Cyn glance at the dingo skeptically, but then lay down on her own bunk. The first sign of seasickness is a queasy feeling, but the following one is sleepiness, although it was extremely difficult to fall fully asleep when seasick. Atlantis grabbed a bottom bunk while Doug leaned back against a free bulkhead to finish his drink and take out a cigarette.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Arch said to Doug. “Everyone’s feeling the effects of rough water and the smoke in these close confines will make it worse. Not to mention that I don’t think they let people smoke down here.”
“Right,” the pilot laughed, putting his empty drink glass down on the deck before standing back up and lighting the cigarette. “I’m feeling fine,” he said, with a big smile that Arch would ordinarily have taken to be a challenge. It wasn’t. Arch had accepted that the pilot was different and that his responses could not be measured by putting them up against normal behavior. For whatever reasons, the pilot had thrown in with them and Arch was not going to risk alienating him over a cigarette. Arch didn’t even bother to sigh or shake his head.
“The German Officer near our table on the Lido deck was examining us,” Arch informed everyone. “I don’t think any of us passed muster, particularly Harpo.”
The dingo opened his eyes and perked up his ears at the use of his name.
“Not good,” the pilot replied, between puffs. “There’s no way our friends on board can oppose the Germans. They’d get fired on the spot.”
“What can we do if they come down here?” Cyn asked, leaning over the edge of her bunk to look at Arch directly.
“The only things I’ve thought of are hopeless,” Arch replied, telling her the truth. “We could get off the ship at sea somehow or, in some way, suborn the Germans to get the Captain to let us stay aboard without reporting us,” Arch stated, flatly.
The pilot began to laugh, and then was joined first by Atlantis and then Cyn, too.
Arch rubbed his head with both hands, but could not help smiling along with them. Both solutions were equally stupid and doomed to failure.
“Where’s the communications shack?” Doug asked, when the laughing quieted down.
“Communications?” Arch asked.
“They’ve only got ship to shore on this thing. Single-side-band back up, and marine short wave.
“Your point?” Arch asked, not understanding what he was getting at.
“Cut the power and they can’t transmit,” Cyn concluded
Arch stopped to think. They were right, but that didn’t solve the other details of getting off the ship without being interdicted.
“What are we supposed to do then?” Arch asked, “board ourselves up in here, and then fight our way off?”
“The German,” the pilot replied, “he was wearing a crossed lightening bolt insignia pin on his collar. He’s the communications officer. Cutting the power to the radios isn’t just to prevent the ship from giving us away. It’s to give the suspicious officer something much more critical and important to do while we wait out the trip.”
Arch listened and realized once again that he’d somehow been blessed with a collection of amateurs who were proving more valuable than any professional team he’d ever worked with. Suddenly, Arch was thrown back into a naval world with the drums silently beating ‘ramming speed’ into every part of his being.
They were in a race. The German communications officer would not likely act without confirmation of his suspicions about stowaways being on board. There was no way any of them could tell what he might know about what had happened on Kauai or the manhunt underway. There was no choice, though. They had to proceed as if he had guessed, and was after them.
“So, what do we do?” Cyn asked, after Arch laid out his suspicions and feelings. “We can’t stay locked up in here because he’ll be able to get in no matter what we do, and Doug’s friend isn’t going to protect us if it means her job.”
“The ship isn’t big enough to hide on for long,” Atlantis added, coming to the same conclusion Arch had come to a few seconds earlier.
“So, it’s the good news,” Doug said, smoking another cigarette against the rules and disregarding their comfort. Only Harpo seemed not to care, sniffing in the pilot’s direction, and then ignoring the smell.
“Good news?” the others said, together.
“Yeah, what are we going to do?” Doug asked. “Stay here and worry that the police, or somebody, will reach the ship by radio? You know, someone somewhere’s going to think about the ship sailing and maybe us on it. So we cut the communications line and that’s it, like I said. If the German’s come for us, then screw them. We get off on Maui as planned. The crew might contact the authorities there, but we’ll be on our way by then.” The pilot started a new cigarette from his still burning one. Nobody said anything for a full minute.
“He’s spot on, you know,” Atlantis finally replied. “We cut the power line to wherever the communications shack or cabin or whatever it is.”
“How would we know where the electrical conduits are that power the radios?” Arch asked, with disappointment. The idea was sound, but how could they silence communications to, or from, the shore without going to open war with the whole crew.
“Upper deck,” the pilot said, blowing a puff of smoke upward while pointing with one finger in the same direction. “Up there. The communications deck is going to be on top and the line we want is the antenna wire or wires.”
“Cut the antenna wires and we’ve got radio silence until they find the problem,” Arch agreed, getting into the idea. “If we’re lucky they don’t find the cut until after we’re off and away. If they find it before we get off, then we’re screwed all over again, though”
“Nada,” the pilot said with a laugh. “We don’t just cut the wires like that. We take out a section a foot long, or so. Try fixing that in a few hours.”
“Okay,” Arch replied. “We don’t have any other plan that makes sense, except trying to sneak from deck to deck to avoid the Germans, which we may have to do anyway.”
“Harpo,” Cyn pointed out.
“Shit,” Arch whispered, looking down at the loyal dingo, who looked right back at him with a slight tilting of his head, as if to say ‘sorry.’ “You’re right. Can’t hide Harpo, no matter what we do.”
“Better get cracking,” Doug said, putting out his newly lit cigarette. “I’ll see if I can find a bolt cutter. Somebody’s got to go up and find out where the communications’ shack or center is located. There’s got to be a conduit or bunched wiring harness leading up to an obvious antenna.”
“Okay,” Arch agreed. “I’ll go with Atlantis. Cyn, you stay with Harpo, or better yet take him to the gym in case that Gestapo clown shows up.”