IT WAS 1993
by James Strauss
The pilot moved all the electronic stuff that was built up against the bulkhead, and then plopped down in the German’s desk chair. That was followed by a loud crack as he dropped the small bolt cutter onto the desk top.
“That’s it then,” he said, before taking a deep pull on the half empty bottle.
“Barring some unforeseen misfortune, they’re out of commission until we hit port, except for the ship to shore single side band. The line to the bridge unit comes through here. I left that untouched. We’ve got one of those radios, too, so we can listen to any traffic. If I’d cut the ship to shore, then they’d be down here in no time.”
“Okay. We’re set,” Arch said. “When he comes to the hatch we should hear him screwing with the lock. He’ll open the hatch, we’ll jerk him in, subdue him and keep him secure until we bail out on Maui.”
“Great plan,” Cyn said, her tone indicating anything but. “What if he doesn’t come in and gets back out the hatch? There’s only the three of us and we can’t all get at him through the hatch opening. And what about the securing part?”
“I got the securing thing,” Doug laughed, keeping his Schnapps bottle in his left hand, while opening a desk drawer with his right. “Duct tape.” He pulled out a roll and set it near the edge.
Arch looked at the inside of the hatch. It was a single wheeled affair that operated six geared dogs set around its edge. It swung outward, obviously designed to hold against the pressure of any water outside. The bottom lip of the hatch was a good six inches off the deck. The top was just high enough for a normal man to step through without leaning down, although stepping over the lip made leaning forward kind of automatic anyway. As usual, he reflected, Cyn was right. Grabbing the German was going to be the toughest part. Keeping him quiet while taping him up, given that he would undoubtedly be struggling, might be a problem too.
“I guess only one of us can directly confront him,” Arch said. “He’ll pull the hatch open, and then step forward into the opening. It’ll be dark inside, but not dark enough for him to fail to see me, though. If necessary, I’ll have to step over the lip, grab him, and pull him through. That could be a mess, especially if he yells and there’s anybody besides Atlantis on deck to hear him.”
Arch turned the special nautical light switch on and off experimentally. It made a very loud clicking sound. He did it a few more times.
“We’ve got to stay in here with the light off,” Arch announced. “If he starts opening the lock and I switch the light off then he’ll hear the sound and be on guard. We can’t just leave the light on. We need as much of an advantage as we can get.”
“He could take a long time to show up,” Cyn said. “We’re supposed to just sit here in total darkness for who knows how long and wait?”
Arch switched off the light. None of them said anything for a few minutes. A very small light glowed on the electronics wall Doug had gone to work on.
“Ship to shore, like I said,” Doug said, when Arch leaned forward to identify the source.
After a few moments of adjustment, they could see one another. Harpo lay invisible on the floor, and completely soundless. Arch noted he didn’t seem to mind the quiet or the dark.
“Sometimes in life,” Arch said, his voice soft, “you are supposed to remain still and do nothing. Life will come to you soon enough. I don’t know why that is, but it is.”
“Well, I sure as hell hope he comes before the Schnapps is gone,” Doug said, taking another very noisy swig from the German’s bottle. “Maybe he’ll know where some more is, you know, under heavy questioning,” he said laughingly.
Arch knelt down to pat Harpo between his ears, the only physical intrusion the dingo would willingly endure. Even talking inside the cabin might be a mistake, as the walls were made of solid uninsulated iron. The space could be either a tomb or a broadcasting station for communications. Arch fervently hoped that his fleeting thought about it being a tomb was completely off base.
They waited for what seemed like an hour, but must have only been about fifteen minutes, before they heard sounds outside the hatch. There was little question as to what the noise might be. The waggling sound of the lock hitting the iron surfaces indicated that someone was working the key in the Masterlock.
Nothing had to be said. Arch had slumped down with his back against the deck to be next to the dingo while they waited. He silently rose to his feet and moved quietly to the hatch. He knew his moves would have to be quick and accurate. He’d have to pluck the man from right where he stood, and using his hands on his uniform front, grasp him and pull him into the cabin. Cyn moved to Arch’s left side while the pilot moved to his right. They hadn’t rehearsed. It wasn’t a complicated enough plan for that. They waited, their tension palpable in the dark, as the metallic noises stopped.
Suddenly the hatch sprung fully open. The brightness of the setting sun shone directly into the space, partially blinding Arch. There was no time to act because the man came plummeting through the door straight into Arch’s chest. Arch went down, the communications officer with him. Cyn and Doug went down as well, both having grabbed the officer when he came through the hatch.
Atlantis rushed in right behind, pulling the hatch shut as she entered. Once more the cabin was in full dark, their eyes not adjusted enough to take advantage of the ship to shore’s dim dial light. Arch struggled to his feet, feeling liquid running through his hands. He hit the light switch.
The room lit up illuminating a strange tableau. The German officer lay groaning on the deck with Doug and Cyn clutching him. The liquid on Arch’s hands was blood. Bright red blood. Some of it flowed down the back of the German’s head, staining what was once his spotless crisp white shirt. Harpo had retreated behind the desk, sticking his head out, but making no move to do anything but stay out of the action. Atlantis stepped over Cyn’s prone body and turned, her cloth bag swinging freely around.
“Well, you better tie him up or something,” she said, breathlessly. “I decided that he might not step through the hatch. I wasn’t doing anything out there so I pushed him.” She swung the bag around once, as if to illustrate.
“His head is cut,” I said, grabbing the duct tape and kneeling at the German’s side, as Doug moved away. “You must have hit him with the bag.”
“I whacked him one, that’s for sure,” Atlantis said, once again swishing the bag through the air.
“Hey, take it easy, the gun’s in that bag,” Arch said, working to tie the German’s wrists together behind his back. “Lucky you didn’t kill him.”
“It worked,” Atlantis replied, letting the bag drop to the floor.
“I’ll say,” Doug said. “Any rags in here. This guy’s bleeding like a stuck pig.”
Arch stopped taping, and then began to unwrap what he’d put on. “He’s not going anywhere. Let’s get his shirt off. We’ll use that to sop up the blood and bandage him. He’s a citizen, he’s not behind any of this. Let’s try not to hurt him anymore.”
“Use that bolt cutters to jam the hatch,” Arch instructed Doug, who jumped up and went to work.
The last thing they needed was for some crew member to open the thing.
Arch settled the communications officer into a sitting position while Cyn and Atlantis stripped off his bloody white shirt. Arch went back to taping the still stunned man’s wrists behind him.
“I’ll tape his head. Tear off a sleeve. Then I’ll tape his mouth and he can sit this out in the corner.”
“Nein!” the officer groaned out. “That’s Egyptian cotton. Sea Island. It cost me a fortune. Don’t tear the shirt. Some rags in the bottom desk drawer. The blood will wash out. I won’t say anything so don’t tape my mouth. Hell, anything you say in here goes nowhere anyway. The bulkheads are sandwiched over copper. You’re in a Faraday cage.”
“What the hell?” the pilot said, before Arch could. They all looked at the German in surprise, even Harpo.
“What?” the German asked, winding his torso to find a more comfortable position.
“You don’t sound German,” Arch said.
“I’m an American, like you, the man said, “or I think, like you. I can speak German, though, if you want me to.”
“We’ve got time to discuss that later,” Arch said.
“Who breaks into a broken down old cruise ship’s radio room and takes the guy running it prisoner? Are you all escaped from a mental institution, or what?”
“Door’s secure against anything they might throw at it,” the pilot reported, leaning down beside the desk to pull rags from the bottom drawer. He tossed a handful to Cyn.
“Nobody’s coming through the door,” the German laughed. “Nobody comes in here. Ever. The crew runs this thing like clockwork, from one small dock to another, and then repeats until everyone is bored to death. This is the most exciting thing that’s ever happened in my career. You guys rob a bank?”
Arch almost smiled. The man was obviously not what they had thought him to be, but he also knew they couldn’t take a chance on letting him free, either.
“You spotted us on the Lido deck,” Arch said. “I saw it in your eyes. You knew we were stowaways and were going to check us out.”
“Stowaways?” the man asked? “If you’ve looked around while you’ve been on board, you know you’re about twenty years younger than any of the other passengers. I was curious, and these women aren’t too bad lookin’.”
“Go ahead and tape his mouth,” Doug said, matter-of-factly.
“Now, now,” Atlantis said. “He seems okay.”
It was too easy. Arch sat back thinking while working at taping the man’s ankles. He’d heard the man speak earlier. He’d had a German accent, which wasn’t present anymore. The sandwiched walls were over the top. Passenger liners didn’t need that kind of interference protection now, if they ever had. The man had just been hit heavily over the head, tied and taken prisoners by people he knew nothing about, but he showed not one shred of fear. The German might not be a player, but he sure had all the characteristics of being one.
Arch handed the roll of tape to Doug.
“Tape the rags, and then tape his mouth temporarily, until we have a better idea about what’s going on. And then tape his legs to the desk so he can’t move around the cabin. He’s been aboard this thing for a while and no doubt knows every nook and cranny.”
“Okay,” Doug said, his forehead in a frown, as the German began to protest.
“I’m pulling the cutters from the hatch and going out on deck,” Arch informed everyone. “I’m going to cut the hasp off the outside. I don’t like the idea of someone coming along and being able to slap a lock on it.”
Arch opened the hatch and went outside. Except for there being less light, nothing had changed. It took only a few minutes, working with the small but effective bolt cutter, to completely remove the hasp from the outside of the hatch. He ducked back inside. The German was trussed up but not looking too uncomfortable. Atlantis had taken the chair pads, and stuffed them around him in a position secure against the side of the desk. The German mumbled through the tape but Arch ignored him.
“C’mon, let’s all go outside onto the deck. Sun’s going down. We’ll take Harpo for a walk.”
They filed out. Arch wheeled the hatch closed behind them.
“Change in plans?” Atlantis asked, immediately.
“We can’t talk in front of him unless we’re intending to kill him. And, since you didn’t accomplish that with your assault, we’ll make no more attempts.”
Atlantis started to defend her actions, but Arch cut her off.
“We don’t know this guy and he sounds too good to be true. He can’t be a plant because nobody, but nobody, could have figured out that we’d be so crazy as to take the communications shack as a place to hide out in while aboard. But still. The guy’s suspicious as hell.”
“I kind of like him,” Atlantis said. “Sea Island cotton. I don’t ‘know what that is but it sounds pretty classy.”
“Probably gay,” Cyn added.
“Would you two stop,” Arch complained. “He’s not a side of beef. We’re still in big trouble here, with a lot of hours before we dock in Maui.”
“I think he’s probably okay,” the pilot said. “He’s just a little whacked after making this milk run day after day after day, let me tell you. Your coming along is a relief. Probably get me killed, but the constant bus driving in the air wasn’t going much of anywhere, anyway. I need a drink.”
“If we can do that without taking any chances,” Arch replied.
Nobody had done more, and more dependably, than the pilot, except for maybe passing out on final approach in the plane. From all the things the German had said after being subdued, it seemed like there was less of a chance of their being spotted or encountered, than he had presumed before getting aboard.
Arch relented, “Bring me something back from the Lido bar.”
“And something for us, too,” Cyn said, “and maybe some cigarettes.”
Arch remained silent, quietly happy that the girls had decided not to head down to the bar with Doug. It was almost impossible to hold a volunteer group together, as their conduct in the lower deck cabin had demonstrated.
“Just rap on the hatch when you get back,” Arch said.
The pilot headed for the bar while Arch, Cyn and Atlantis walked Harpo back to the radio shack. Once inside, with the light on, they tried to make themselves comfortable around their obviously uncomfortable German prisoner. Arch had just made the decision to strip off the man’s gag when the ship to shore radio came to life.
“This is the Coast Guard,” a faint but brusque voice said through the small speaker. “Please inventory your vessel for suspects that you may have unknowingly taken onboard while in Lihue. Two young men and two young women. Your radio telephone is inoperative as well. See to that in port on Maui.”
“Shit,” Arch whispered.
“At least they didn’t mention the dingo,” Doug noted.
Arch stared down at the taped up German. Player or not, it was likely that we were going to need him.