Arch Patton

It Was 1993

Chapter 21

They all took off on their respective errands, the most important thing being to get them out of the cabin and immediately away from the German who was, by now, likely stalking them. It wasn’t until they were three decks up that Arch stopped. There was no one using the crew stairs except he and Atlantis. He breathed in and out, thinking.

“What’s the matter?” Atlantis asked, stepping closer to his side.

“It won’t work,” Arch said. “For one thing we can’t be seen going about the ship with hack saws and bolt cutters. And then there’s the crew. The German crew might be who we should be most afraid of but the regular crew isn’t going to stand by if they think we’re taking over the ship or trying to damage it.”

“I suppose,” Atlantis replied, considering in that moment, their situation. “The way this thing seems to be built I don’t think antenna wires are going to be easy to find, or laying around on the deck either. But we still need to see what’s up there,” Atlantis noted.

“Yeah, I know,” Arch replied, once more starting to climb the switch back stairs.

They came out through the double doors leading onto the Lido deck, where they’d been before. There were no more stairs.

“The upper deck must have stairs somewhere leading to the Lido,” Atlantis said, looking around once they were standing on the deck among the many passengers. “We didn’t look before.”

“Why do I have a bad feeling?” Arch said, more as a statement than a question.

They spent the next ten minutes covering the deck from stem to stern, with no luck. There were no stairs leading up to the smaller upper deck, which Arch knew had to mean that the ladders or stairs leading up were only available through the inside of the superstructure. Whether that upper deck was available openly to passengers might also be an issue.

“No Germans,” Arch said, finishing their search. “Some good news, anyway.”

“Now what?” Atlantis asked.

“Now we adapt, and the risk is probably going to go up,” Arch replied, followed by a weak laugh.

“More risk?” Atlantis said. “I haven’t been sure what the risk was all along. You can’t go around breaking guy’s toes, not guys like that, and expect no risk. They don’t fly huge military planes into places like this when there’s no risk. All that stuff that I saw with my own eyes. And here I am, trapped on this ship with you. Why don’t you just let me go?”

Arch leaned against a nearby bulkhead.   He looked closely at this beautifully bizarre woman in front of him. “Why are you still here?”

“Because you’re probably a serial killer who’s threatened me and my child, and basically kidnapped me on your quest toward a bad end.” The vehemence of Atlantis’ reply stunned Arch for a few seconds.

“You could have run when we landed, when we got out of the van, at the hotel and even now,” Arch stated, illustrating the number of opportunities by counting off on his fingers. Nothing in this whole mess makes any sense, and your performance so far just adds to the senselessness. So why are you really still here?”

“Senseless?” Atlantis laughed. “You use that word to cover your own inability to understand. I don’t understand any of the secret file junk or why they’re really after you, but I know it’s not senseless. Somebody and something is driving this and it’s all real. Why am I here? Because maybe, just maybe, Cyn doesn’t want you and there’ll be leftovers to go around.”

At that moment Arch saw a glaring white patch of uniform appear just for an instant among the flow of eating, drinking passengers who so far seemed immune to seasickness.

“We’ve got to get below and off this deck,” he said to Atlantis in a soft voice, looking for a path through the crowd, while his mind reeled a bit over what she’d said. He’d never thought of himself as a leftover before, and couldn’t come to grips with why anyone might use the term to describe him, now.

They made it back through the doors into the stairwell. One of the food staff was coming up with a tray. “Where are the stairs to the upper deck?” Arch asked the young man, hoping there was public access to that deck.

“Down that passage,” the man pointed toward the bow of the ship. “There’s a hatch. It’s dogged shut when we’re at sea, like now, though. Dog it again after you go through. The up dick crew doesn’t like passengers up there, but the owners like passengers going everywhere.”

“Let’s go,” Arch said, striding off in the direction the kid had pointed, knowing he was moving faster and staying busier than normal to avoid talking about the comment Atlantis had made. “Can this get any better?” he whispered to himself.

“What?” Atlantis asked, catching up with him, both moving silently on the thick orange carpet. “Did that guy say what I thought he said?”

crew-only“You mean the up deck thing?” Arch replied, and then could not help laughing. There was no question the man had said “dick” instead of deck.

Arch spotted the hefty looking iron hatch set out a few inches from the side of the port bulkhead. He pulled down on the one short bar that seemed angled out of place. The bar moved and the hatch opened gently in well-oiled silence.

Arch waved Atlantis through in front of him, checking back down the passage for the presence of anyone wearing white. There was nobody there. The stairs to the upper deck weren’t stairs at all. A set of combination stairs and ladder led upward. There were no platforms or switchbacks. The weird step ladder went straight up to a small platform, with another hatch at the top.

Atlantis didn’t hesitate in climbing the ladder. She went right up, using her hands on the side bars instead of grabbing the rungs. Arch knew she’d been aboard vessels before and this proved it. People unaccustomed to ships almost always used the rungs to balance and guide their ascent or descent. “Saltier’ veterans never used rungs. One missed or broken rung and a painful death could easily result, since ships rarely were built with soft or dull things to fall on.

They both stood at the top of the ladder together.

“I better go first,” Arch said, gripping one of the angled legs.

“Because you’re a man?” Atlantis said, acidly.

“Well?” was all Arch could think to reply.

“I’ll go out and walk around to see what’s there, unless you really want to do your macho thing,” she said. “The bridge’s here, another deck up. Anyone up there’ll be able to see most of what’s on this deck from up there. Which one of us do you want them to see?” She moved right past Arch to undo the hatch. It swung slowly inward, like the one at the bottom of the ladder. Atlantis stepped through the opening and walked away.

“Leftovers,” Arch commented to the open door, but she’d already walked away.

She was gone for only about five minutes, but it seemed more like twenty to Arch.

“I’ll show you,” she said, appearing from around the corner, and then standing in the front of the still open hatchway.

“Show me what?” Arch asked, stepping over the lip of the hatch to join her.

“You’ll see,” she answered, walking back around the corner.

Arch followed her out, leaving the hatch ajar, just in case. He followed her along the top of the pure white deck heading for the stern. The entire expanse of the deck looked like it had never been used, the white grit-filled paint seemingly undisturbed by human shoes or boots. The bridge was set in the very center of the ship, but fortunately rose up on a rigid rectangular platform swelling out and over the hatch they’d come through.

“They can’t actually see us as long as we stay underneath. Here,” she said, stopping and pointing at the very center of the bridge support structure.

The word “Kommunikation” was printed in black against the gray background of the bulkhead.

“Nobody inside,” Atlantis said. “It’s locked.”

“Are you crazy?” Arch hissed. “What if he was inside? That would have been it? You’ve got to think first of all the potentials for what might happen, not just try every locked door you run across.”

“Just like you, right?” Atlantis shot back. “That’s why we’re in this mess, isn’t it? Because you thought of the potential? I don’t think so ‘Mr. superspy’.”

Arch’s face turned red. The woman had a point. He also noticed that the hatch was old. There was not an integrated lock. There was a just a big hasp over a metal loop. The lock was a padlock, and not a very strong one at that. He stepped back. There was no antenna, or any other wires coming out of the bulkhead or attached to it. There were no conduits of any kind. Everything was internal. They had to get inside the communications center to accomplish anything.

Sensing she might have gone too far, Atlantis spoke more softly into the sudden silence. “He wasn’t going to be in there, you know. He’s on the hunt. Like all of you men. Once you start the hunt that’s it. Everything goes out the window, which in this case turns out to be a good thing. He’s not sending or receiving any communications about us yet, is he?”

“C’mon, you’re right. But we’ve got to get to the others before he does,” Arch said, heading back toward the hatch they’d come out of.

They moved quickly down the ladder into the crew passage, dogging the hatches behind them. They quickly went all the way down to the bottom of the stairs, and headed straight for the gym instead of veering back toward their room.

“I hope they’re out of the room and that Cyn took everything with her.

“I’m sure your trusted companion will perform the services you expect,” Atlantis said from behind Arch.

Arch stopped in his tracks, causing Atlantis to run into him. “Would you stop with the double-meaning, innuendo crap,” he said, his tone one of vehemence. We’re all in this together. You could have bailed out but you didn’t, and haven’t, so far. I appreciate that, but there’s no contest here. I haven’t had time to think about one thing since this started except trying to stay alive. Maybe you’re not getting it about the kind of danger we’re in.”

They stood looking into one another’s eyes for several seconds.

“Maybe not,” Atlantis said, softly. “Maybe that’s because you haven’t told us just how bad things are or could get.”

Arch turned and headed up the passageway toward the bow, leaving Atlantis to follow. He knew the woman had a point, and it was no minor point. Part of the problem was that Arch himself did not have a believable past, and the situation they were in was like combat and they were all civilians.   Who’d believe it unless they were in it, and then they would be dead before it mattered. Arch needed all of them together for his new plan. Dragging equipment around the decks in search of wiring to cut or tubes to destroy was not going to work. But the simplest plan might work very effectively, albeit that it would generously add to the list of multiple felonies they’d already committed.

When they got there everyone was already gathered in the gym, with Harpo laying on a wrestling mat wagging his tail so hard it thumped like a drum. Arch walked over to pat his head. Harpo licked his hand, an unusual act for the dingo. Cyn sat next to him. Her genuine smile of warmth in seeing Arch was welcomed by him, but now also gave him some trepidation. Was Cyn expecting things from him he might not be able to deliver, when in fact he hadn’t had the time to even think about her as a woman of both quality and attraction? And what about the rest of his life and her own? They knew virtually nothing about one another.

Doug sat with his back against the bulkhead next to a rowing machine. He smoked a cigarette with one hand, and drank from a mini-bottle of some unknown alcoholic beverage which he held in the other.

“One bolt cutter, not too big and not too small,” said, smiling. He waved at the collection gathered near his right side with the hand holding his cigarette. “One industrial strength screw driver, flat blade. And one hammer, just in case somebody needs to be hammered.”

“The plan won’t work,” Arch said, not waiting for anyone else to say anything. “We’re simply not technically qualified to even attempt what we thought we could attempt. I came up with a new plan that better suits our, shall we say, combined talents.”

“Combined talents,” the pilot laughed out loud. “I like the sound of that. Please share this plan with us.”

Arch hoped Doug could hold himself together long enough to help them get to his place on Oahu, but he had his doubts.

“Okay, here it is. We go right up to the German’s office, force our way in, and wait for him to return. When he does, we take him prisoner and wait out the duration of the voyage in the radio shack. He makes no communications with anyone. He catches us, alright, but not in any way that can help him. When we leave we secure him so he won’t be found right away. There it is.”

“Wow,” Doug said, the laugh and smile gone from his expression. “Now we’re adding kidnapping, assault and god knows what else to our list of crimes. How do we know the other officers on the ship won’t go to that office to find him? To communicate themselves? Don’t they have a radio on the bridge?”

“I know it sounds crazy, but it might just work,” Cyn responded. “It’s not like there’s a lot of communication going on ship to shore on this thing anyway. All the cruises are short. People eat, sleep, shop, and get on and off at the many ports.”

“So we’re supposed to what, again?” Atlantis asked. “When the German comes back to the radio shack isn’t he going to notice it’s not locked anymore? It’s not like we have a faux padlock to stick on after we cut our way through the original one.”

“That shouldn’t be a real problem, I don’t think,” the pilot said. “Even without the lock being where it’s supposed to be, he’s going to be curious enough to open his office to see if he’s been ripped off. We grab him in that instant, and drag him in. I might be able to get on the bridge to see if I can disable the radio they’re sure to have up there, even if it’s a marine ship-to-shore thing intended for talking to harbor pilots.

“Okay, let’s go,” Arch said, getting up.

“Right this instant?” Doug asked, putting out the stub of his cigarette against the bulkhead.

“Right this instant.” Arch said, and they all got up to go, even the dingo.

“What about the damned dingo,” Doug asked, shaking his head.

“He goes,” Arch replied. “It’s all of us, or none of us. He’s one of us.

“That’s rich,” the pilot said. “Dumb, dumber, me, the dingo and you. That ought to work,”

Doug said and then laughed.

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