IT WAS 1993
by James Strauss
Arch knew that their only hope for surviving getting into Maui, and possibly beyond, lay with the radio operator. They had to have a ‘front’ aboard the Independence, and then some sort of protection when getting off the ship at the port in Maui. The radio operator was perfect, unless he changed from the sort of strange allegiance he’d confessed. There was really not much in it for the man to help them, and certainly nothing when they left the ship. At which point he would have every opportunity to report on what they were doing on shore, and where they might be going. In thinking about it, though, leaving the man hog tied when they departed might only make things worse, giving the man every reason to hate them to the point of wanting to see them hurt
“When do we dock in Maui?” Arch asked Herman.
“Two hours and fifteen minutes, or so, depending on the harbor captain.” Herman replied.
“Who’s the harbor captain?” Atlantis asked.
“They guy who guides the ship into the harbor and docks it,” Herman replied. “Every harbor in the world has harbor captains. That way accidents are prevented because the harbor captains only ever pilot inside the harbor in which they work. They know the water, the other ships, all of it.”
“So that takes time,” Cyn added, “and that makes things harder.”
“Yeah,” Arch agreed.
“Why are you bothering to help us?” Atlantis asked the radio operator, “What with the injury to your head, and all.”
The bleeding from Herman’s forehead had stopped. Cyn was working to apply a new piece of gauze with tape to his wound.
“Have you read that?” Herman said, pointing at the canvas sack where the document sat partially exposed.
“Not exactly,” she answered.
“That’s an indictment,” Herman said, after a few seconds. “All you have to do is cut and paste that thing using a copier and a computer. Then you can go straight to court. These people who are after you know that. If I turn you in, then you disappear. The only evidence of your disappearance becomes who?”
“Okay,” Arch interjected. “But they might just reward you instead. And you’ve got to be making a helluva lot more working on this ship than you’d make ashore.”
“Unless they figured I’d read the thing,” Herman responded. “Which I have. And how do you suppose they’d make sure I hadn’t read it if I lied? I don’t care much about this job, although the money’s been good. All I do is drink, eat, smoke and sleep. Nothing.
There was a gentle tapping on the outside of the hatch. Everyone froze in place. Arch stared at the radio operator in question, his eyebrows going up.
“Deck watch,” Herman whispered, with a smile. “You forgot about him. Checks every part of the ship every four hours. Around and around he goes, moving, but even more bored than me. Nothing ever happens, unless you want something to happen now.”
“Shit,” I whispered back.
The tapping came again. Herman looked at Arch and shrugged his shoulders in question. Arch motioned him toward the hatch. Herman stepped forward and began turning the wheel, undogging the hatch.
Arch motioned the rest of them back and pushed down on the light switch. They were thrown into total darkness. Arch thought about the gun, but there was really no point. Any shooting aboard the ship would bring the thing to full stop, and then a flotilla of Coast Guard and police vessels would surround it. And that would be it.
Herman cracked the door open an inch. A deck light’s slight glow came through the crack.
“I’m a little under the weather Dieter,” Herman said into the crack, with a laugh.
“So I see,” a muffled but heavy German-accented voice said back “Your head okay?”
“Yeah, just fell over on the desk,” Herman replied.
“Maybe I’ll come by later for a nightcap after the bum boat’s done with us,” Dieter said.
“Jawohl, mein herr,” Herman said, clicking his heels together. He eased the hatch closed.
“Without you, we’d have been screwed,” Atlantis said, flicking the light back on.
“Thanks,” Arch said, relieved.
He should have remembered the deck watch but he hadn’t spent a lot of time aboard ship in quite a while. The patrolling deck watch was a vital part of almost every ship. He noticed things like leaks, cracks, listing, and crew or passengers in trouble.
“What’s a bum boat?” Cyn asked.
“The boat that brings the harbor captain, who’s actually called the pilot,” Herman answered. “The bum boat pulls up on the external side of the ship, unloads the pilot and then stays tied alongside until the ship docks so crew can slip aboard and buy all sorts of necessary crap only a bum boat carries.”
“Like what? “Atlantis inquired.
“Oh, special cigarettes, cigars, booze and drugs,” Herman replied. “Most of it’s against the law, but once off the dock ships are sort of ruled by laws of the sea. Most ships make those laws for themselves. Who’s going to turn the bum boat runner in? There’s no competition.”
“So, we’re coming in at night,” Atlantis said. “That’ll be better to hide us, right?”
“Not exactly,” Herman answered. “We arrive off the port in about two hours. Dawn’s like five hours away, so we’ll sit outside the harbor and wait for dawn. The bum boat will come at dawn and then the ship will dock. It’ll take about half an hour to dock. By then it’ll be full light.”
“I’ve got to go up to the bridge,” Herman said, returning to sit at the desk and leaning over to hold his head in both hands. He twisted his neck around and around slowly. “I’ve got to make sure the crew up there knows they’ve got communications fully back. If the patch I put on Doctor Destructo’s work was effective it’ll be okay, otherwise there will be trouble. The telephone is how they communicate with the pilot, not the ship to shore.”
“Okay,” Arch replied, immediately. “You’ve damn well proven yourself enough times. Glad you’re on our side.”
“What side’s that?” Herman asked, laughing as he got up from the desk and headed back to the hatch.
Once the radio operator was gone Arch closed and locked the hatch.
“Do we trust him?” Atlantis asked.
“Are you kidding?” Doug laughed, finishing his drink and starting on the one he’d brought for Arch. “Right this minute you’re trusting him with your life. Will he be back? Will he call in and give us away to those slime balls after us? We’ll know shortly.”
He downed the drink in three swigs, tossing the plastic glass into the trashcan next to the desk. He took the radio operator’s empty chair and fell into it.
“I’m taking a nap.”
Arch slid down the side of the desk with his back to it. His left hand naturally fell upon the dingo’s head. Harpo let him stroke the fur between his ears, the allowance making Arch feel good.
Atlantis and Cyn were sprawled down against the bulkhead opposite the hatch.
“He’s back,” Atlantis said, although there was no tapping at the door. “I can feel his steps on the deck outside this wall.”
Arch wound the hatch’s central locking mechanism counter-clockwise. He pulled the hatch open a few inches. Herman pushed it fully open, walked through, and then closed it.
“Radio’s fine up there,” he commented.
He took a seat between Atlantis and Cyn. The space was so tight his shoulders touched both of theirs. They waited without talking, the only sound was that of the normal distant hum common to all ships and Doug’s snoring.
Arch watched the pilot with curiosity. He was one of the most unusual men Arch had ever met. Carefree, expressive, talented, bright, while at the same time being sort of compassionately callous. If he was a knuckle-dragger in a field operation, he would be perfect, Arch thought, given a bit of training, conditioning and Alcoholics Anonymous, of course.
The time seemed to go faster than Arch thought it would. The ship’s engines came to a stop. Arch put his ear to the hatch. Only the vague drone of the generators came up through the metal.
“I think we’re outside the harbor, waiting,” he said to Herman.
Atlantis, Cyn and Herman had been napping together, although Arch hadn’t been sure in watching them that the radio operator wasn’t faking it just to be next to the attractive women.
“The bum boat will come out with the pilot just before dawn,” Herman said, without opening his eyes.
Doug slept on. Arch wondered if he’d be hungover when he woke up, but guessed not. The man drank so much, so consistently, that it wasn’t likely he was ever sober enough to suffer withdrawals.
The hours passed, again. Arch nodded off, but was brought back around when Herman said “it’s here,” from his place between Atlantis and Cyn.
“What’s here?” Atlantis asked, coming fully awake, along with Cyn.
“The bum boat,” Herman replied. “That was the push you should have felt a few seconds ago. The boat pulls up to the lower deck hatch, and then pushes hard into a cable tow until it’s secured to the hull of the ship. It doesn’t shut off its engine because if the pilot gets in trouble it can be used as sort of a mini-tug. It’s hard to get a ship this size moving, but it can be done if the force pushed against it is consistent, even though slight in power. When the ship’s docked, the boat will pull out and get out of the harbor. What happens on the water isn’t the same as what happens on the land.”
“Let’s go out and take a look at the port,” Herman said, rising to his feet and motioning for Arch to open the hatch. “Nobody will be on the upper deck and even first light will let you see enough to form a plan. I live on Oahu and never get off on Maui, so I’m no help to you here.”
With Herman leading the way, they stepped out onto the upper deck. He’d pulled a pair of Zeiss 8X50 binoculars out of the bottom desk drawer, without waking Doug, as they passed.
They moved over to the rail, making certain to stay under the lee of the bridge overlook that stuck out past the edge of the hull.
Herman surveyed the port.
“Nothing much there. No police cars on the dock or anywhere around,” he said, handing the binoculars to Arch.
Arch worked to focus the specialized lenses. Each lens required separate adjustment and then there was a joint focus knob in the center. There was also an angled control that let him shift the lenses farther apart. Finally, homing in on a signal tower beyond the dock he got the binoculars to work right.
He swept the pier area, moving slowly back and forth, from one end of the dock to the other. The only suspicious activity wasn’t activity at all. There were two nondescript black vans sitting one in front of the other at the end of the dock. The end of the dock was the only entrance and exit Arch could see. He adjusted the lenses to home in on the vans. It took a lot of fiddling trying to get it right. He brought the binoculars up in time to see the front doors of the rear van open. Two men got out. Arch’s blood ran cold.
The Zeiss lenses were not powerful enough to make out the facial features of the men but Arch didn’t need their faces. He saw their feet. Both men walked with limps. Both men had braces on one leg. There were only two men after them who were in such a condition. It was frightening to see them standing next to one of the waiting vans. Waiting in vengeance. Waiting in a place where Arch and the rest of them had to go, straight into their arms.
“Good Christ,” Arch breathed. “It’s them. The two guys I slowed down on Kauai. They’ve got braces on their legs, but they’re up and waiting there.”
Herman reached over quickly and pulled the binoculars from Arch’s hands. He stared through the lenses, and then grabbed Arch and began pulling him slowly backward until they could disappear behind the side bulkhead of the radio shack.
“What gives?” Arch asked, unable to keep a small quiver out of his delivery.
“They’ve got binoculars too, and probably better ones than these,” Herman said. “Let’s get back inside.”
Once back in the cabin Arch informed the others about what they’d seen. Doug had awakened in their absence.
“Our goose is cooked?” he asked, like it made no difference to him.
“I don’t know,” Arch answered, honestly. “Anybody have any options?”
“Got any money?” Herman asked.
“What good’s money going to do. After what Arch did to them those guys are going to kill us now for sure,” Atlantis said. “They aren’t going to take a bribe. Besides, we have a few thousand in cash Cyn got from her dad, but that’s it.”
“There’s always the bum boat,” Herman replied. “Andy Yee runs that thing and profit is all he lives, breathes and dreams about.”
“Go for it,” Arch said, gesturing for Cyn to get the remaining cash from the bag.
Herman took one thousand dollars in hundreds.
“Let’s whet his appetite. He’s not going to want to do it for that, but we’ll promise him thousands more when we’re aboard and even more when he lands us where we want.”
“We can’t land at the port,” Arch said. “Where does he dock his boat when he’s not using it?”
“I don't know but I’ll ask. We have to hurry because the pilot’s going to want to get this thing in there. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if those guys aren’t talking to the bridge right this second.”
Herman left again and they all waited again, although this time nobody nodded off. It took twenty minutes for the radio operator to return.
“We’re in, but the ship’s already headed in,” Herman said. “We’ve got to get aboard the bum boat. I don’t know where he’s taking us, but it won’t be the port. Under the rules he’s not even allowed to land there. The pilot will get off the ship and make his own way home, or so Andy says. I don't think he’s going to clue in the pilot though. But you can’t take the dog.”
All movement stopped in the cabin. Arch wondered what it was about the dingo that caused so many problems. Doug shook his head, but Arch ignored him
“Just take us down there. All of us.” Harpo was going, or Doug would be going overboard after they got out of the harbor.