Down to the Sea
I awoke to find the fire burned out. Not even a plume of smoke came from the pile of ash. I sat up and rubbed my eyes and face. We had the Bic and my Stryker flint if re-ignition were necessary. If we remained atop the island plateau for another day, we’d need the fire. I was hungry, but there would be no food. I scanned my fellow adventurers. My men. Both slept the sleep of the dead, as there was not a snore to be heard. I moved closer and tapped Don’s boot. He opened his eyes with a start and then grimaced. “I used to be able to drink that stuff by the gallon,” he complained, massaging his temples between both hands. Dutch sat up. He didn’t rub anything. I assumed that his lack of obvious pain, from the amount of alcohol, imbibed the day before, had to do with just how much he was accustomed to consuming on a regular basis.
“I’ll build a fire,” I announced, gathering together pieces of branches and twigs we had not burned the night before. I took the Stryker out of the canvas bag. It took only three ‘punches’ down on the device to catch the wood afire. No kindling, or even dry needles. It was amazing. I piled on the smaller branches.
“What are you guys going to do?” I asked Dutch and Don. They looked rather puzzled.“What is it that you command, oh great leader?” Don joked. Then they both looked to the heavens. I glowered. Mutiny in the ranks was ways down the road, but the condition of enlisted troops bonding together to resist officer commands was already evident. It would have to be monitored.
“Don, is there chicory or maybe green sorrel on this chunk of stone?” Don nodded.
“Probably. It’s damn near everywhere at this latitude. I’ll see what I can find.” Dutch looked at me with a question on his forehead.
“Tea. With one of those herbs we can make morning tea,” I explained. “Go find a puddle of water where you can rinse out the outboard cover. Fill it with about a quart, or so, then come back.” Both men made ready to move out. “Don,” I said, stopping them, “Give me the radio. While you’re gone I’ll head to the North rim and give it a try.” I held out my hand. He plopped the Icom transceiver into it. He pointed at the radio.
“Turn it on, modulate the squelch, and then push the red button to transmit. Don’t worry about having to wait to listen. It’s dual band.” Both men went to hands and knees and then disappeared into the passageway we’d worn through the bracken.
When the fire was going strong, I crawled away toward the North rim. It wasn’t far, maybe fifty yards, but the going was rough. There were a lot more broken up and downed pines as I got close to the edge. Finally, I reached a clear area of stone just before the drop-off. I peered over a dizzying drop. Eight hundred feet straight down, but I noted that the waves did not actually strike the base. There were many broken stones piled between the surf and face of the cliff. The ten to fifteen-foot surf struck those rocks. One could not possibly land any craft there. Nonetheless, the way things were laid out gave me an idea.
I pushed the button on the transmitter and called for the ship. I felt funny calling for the “Lindy”, as it sounded like I was calling for Charles Lindbergh. Lindy was a lousy name for a ship, even if it was only a nickname, I concluded. I called constantly like my son had called me early in the morning when he’d been four or five years old. “Dad...Dad...Dad...Dad...Dad...” and on and on forever, until I came out of the warm bed and took care of him. After what seemed an hour, but was more like ten minutes, I received a scratchy transmission. “Thank you, God,” I said to the clouds and the surf. “What’s your position?” I asked, hopefully.
“This is Third Mate Günter, on duty. Our position is approximately twenty-seven miles North of your position. We should arrive in position at the anchor float in three hours. We are making eight knots.” I distanced myself from the radio as if it was a foreign object under scrutiny. Typical German, I thought to myself. No questions about our condition, exactly where we were or anything. The object was to retrieve the anchor. The three of us, abandoned, were merely there to be picked up. I pressed the red button angrily.
“Third Mate Günter, you would be advised to proceed at flank speed, as we have a visual at the location of the float. A foreign trawler has laid to, and the crew is examining it.” I let go of the button, guffawing and waited. Seconds passed before the Third Mate came back through. His voice was noticeably stronger.
“We acknowledge your transmission and will make all speed.”
I liked the response and then thumbed the button once more.
“Please call up the Zodiac driver Filipe. We will stand by for his transmission.”
I wondered just how efficient Third Mate Günter was, or if he would feel compelled to follow my directions.
I moved further back from the edge of the cliff and walked westward. I could see the other Island in the distance. The waves below crashed and boomed, but I could tell that they were considerably reduced from the day before. All around the base of the island I noted piled rough rocks. Only the lee side possessed smaller polished stones. I arrived at the western-most curve where I could stand and peer down at the pass between the islands. The float was plainly visible below. I imagined the anchor chain, to which it was attached, but even up eight hundred feet, and in broad daylight, the sea was too darkly gray to see through. The sea was very foreboding from above. There was no clue at all as to the white sandy bottom Dutch and I had encountered. The radio clicked several times. The speaker emitted a heavy Tagalog accent.
“It is Filipe here. Can I help you? Hello...hello...” I thumbed my button.
“Filipe, stand down from the bridge. I need to talk to you alone.” I let go of the little lever and waited. It was a calculated risk. Would the Germans allow Filipe to speak out of earshot?
“I am here, on the quarterdeck alone,” the radio squawked.
I smiled again. The Germans didn’t care about anything except the anchor. I gave Filipe the message I had prepared, then turned the volume knob all the way to off. The Icon did not draw much on receive, especially at low volume. But it drew heavily against the battery for transmitting. We would need the radio badly in something less than two hours.
I made my way back to the camp. Dutch and Don were sitting at the fire with an ungainly outboard motor-cover suspended above the fire, held in place by three large rocks spaced just far enough apart.
“Tea time,” Don proclaimed. I clapped and sat down. “Chic Tea,” he said.
Carefully, both men poured the brown brew from one corner of the cover, into the small opening of the Bacardi bottle. When the bottle was almost full, they set the cover aside. We passed the bottle around. The taste was raw, bitter and pretty terrible. Something about it, or the situation, made it seem just right.
“I always wanted to do this,” Don confided, as I drank, trying not to burn either my hand or my lips on the boiling hot glass. I passed the bottle to Dutch.
“Always wanted to do what?” I pressed Botany Bay.
“You guys ever see Star Trek Five?” he inquired. Both Dutch and I had.
“The one where they steal the Enterprise,” Dutch said, sounding like he knew the film well.
“Yeah, that’s the one. Maybe the best one,” Don assured him. “Anyway, Kirk, Spock and the doctor sit around a fire somewhere. I think Yosemite Park. They sing “Row Row Your Boat”. That old English Nursery Rhyme.
Dutch and I said nothing. We just sat there and looked back at the big Canadian. He took a pull of tea from the Bacardi bottle, before resuming again.
“Let’s do it!” I looked at Dutch.
“I can’t sing,” Dutch blurted out.
“That makes you Spock,” Don replied instantly.
“Alright, alright.... I’ll start,” I said. I wasn’t a bad singer, but I had not sung anything for quite some time.
“Row, row, row your boat...” I began, and then Don joined in. Just as in the movie, Dutch stuttered and could not get it right. We practiced many times, giggling like schoolmates between each attempt. When we tired, we sat back, the bottle of tea nearly empty.
Don interpreted for all of us. “We are, after all, now together on a mission to explore, where no man has gone before.”
After we were done, I took out the radio and told them the story of my contact with the ship. I explained what had to be accomplished. We really had only one safe way to get off the island. I described a plan and we set to work. We extinguished the remains of the fire and tamped down the fire pit. We all went in search of dry limbs. Under the great pine, we stacked our haul, then piled on as many dry brown needles as we could scrape together. I checked my watch. It had been almost an hour and a half since my last transmission. It was time.
We made for the cleft, dragging the outboard cover, canvas sack, and the Bacardi bottle. At its top of we peered down at the Zodiac. Thankfully, it was just as we had left it. It had bounced high enough onto the shore not to be snaked back out when the surf had changed. Now the surf was way down. I felt something. It was a familiar something deep in my chest, my being. A shiver traveled down my back as my body went on full alert.
“What’s that?” Dutch asked. The sound of distant helicopter blades could be heard.
“Back in under the pines,” I yelled, then plunged backward, followed by both men. A dark shape went by the cliff face. The sound of its drumming blades was overpowering, and then it was gone. It was crisscrossing above the island.
“We’re screwed,” Don breathed, too afraid to raise his voice, “that was Russian, no mistaking it.”
“That’s affirmative,” I said. The sound of Russian turbines under heavy load had been unmistakable.
“But it’s a troop chopper, not attack. It’s from either the shore or a cruiser in the distance,” I surmised aloud. “They’re not here for much recon. They’re going to put Spetznaz, or their new version of Commandos, down. Let’s go.” I moved to climb down into the opening of the cleft.
“Let’s go where?” Dutch said, stupefied. I stopped.
“We’re going to follow the plan, with one small exception,” I drilled into them, as forcefully as I could. “They’ll have to rappel into these thick pines, get their bearings, and then move to clear the entire upper surface. They’re not coming up from the bottom of the cleft because of exposure during their hike. If we were armed, they’d be sitting ducks. Let’s go.” I re-entered the cleft; this time very relieved to hear the two men follow. We made it to the bottom quickly by sliding down the riprap, cascading stones and debris everywhere. I grabbed the outboard cover from Dutch and threw it into the Zodiac. I gave the radio to Don.
“Alright, start climbing. We’re going to climb over the rough rocks all the way around to the far side. Filipe’s going to pick us up over there. I’m headed back up to provide a diversion.” I heard the whine of dual turbines coming from above, above and beyond the lip of the plateau. “Get moving. That pilot isn’t going to loiter after he makes his drop. If our luck is good, you won’t be spotted.” I pushed hard against the big Canadian’s back.
“What diversion?” Don demanded, moving but slowly in the direction I had propelled him.
“Fire,” I said, simply. I held the Bacardi bottle up and then pointed at the beached boat. “Gasoline,” I said, and then smiled. He shook his head but both men began to move toward the curve of the cliff where the big rocks lay.
I ran to the Zodiac, jumped over the rubber gunnels and found the severed gas line. I held the can up and gas poured into the Bacardi bottle, spilling grandly until I had a full bottle. I hopped off the boat and then ran at the cleft. Everything was going to depend upon timing. I moved up the cleft, made the switch back and hit the top of the cliff. I did not slow. I dived into our rabbit hole path, scrambling and crawling to the campsite while cradling the gas filled booze bottle. The pile was waiting. I poured the gas onto the pile, and then tossed the bottle. I took out the Stryker. One punch and the entire pile lit up with a ‘whoosh.’ I jumped back.
“Thank you tree, for this last service,” I exulted, thinking of the children’s story about a tree I remembered reading over and over again to my son.
I retreated the way I had come. I ran and jumped from rock to rock, attempting to catch up to Don and Dutch. Without the cut up dry suit my knees and elbows would have been a complete mess. I was worried about the “Lindy”. I had failed to tell Don to turn the damn Icon volume back up. As I rounded the second curve, leading to the main face, which pointed directly North into the large waves, I saw the ship.
It was going to pass the island on the East, where I had just come around. It had to approach the pass against the current in order to hold still under power. It moved deceptively fast. I caught up to Don and Dutch by the time they reached the western side of the island. Once again, I saw the float we had punched up from the bottom. Don was talking on the radio. He had figured out the volume problem on his own.
“They’re moments away. Bormann wants to know what the smoke’s from.” Don held the radio out to me. I took it, turning it off.
“We can always explain when we get aboard,” I said, dismissively.
It took fifteen more minutes for the ship to heave into view and come to a full stop, relative to us, not the current. We waited with deep anxiety, looking up at every edge of the upper surface we could see. It would not take more than one sweep of an automatic weapon to finish us where we crouched, even from eight hundred feet up. Finally, a fast moving Zodiac swept around the bow of the Lindy. It headed directly toward our position.
“What the hell?” Don said, in consternation. “He can’t land here. How are we supposed to get on the boat.”? He looked over at me, then down. I was sitting between the rocks stripping off every item of clothing I had.
“There’s only one way you guys,” I said, wrestling with my cut down dry suit boots. “We climb up on that big rock over there, wait for a good-sized swell, then dive in and swim to the Zodiac. Filipe will pull us in. It’s all planned.”
Both men greeted me with big round eyes. “Get moving,” I ordered. “You can’t stay here and you can’t go back.” I prodded them as they swore, helping them get out of their gear just as quickly as I could.
Finally, we stood atop the rough rock and got ready to leap. Three grown men wearing only their underwear.
I carried the canvas sack in one hand. I wasn’t about to surrender the morphine. A huge wave welled up. I pushed hard on both men’s backs. They went in, neither performing a credible entrance dive. The important thing was that they surfaced floating, not far from Filipe’s outstretched arms. I waited for the right wave, then followed Don and Dutch into the sea. Once inside the boat, we lay on the hardwood slats of the flexing deck to recover.
Moments later we rode around and under the fantail of the ship. The passengers and crew were all on deck as before. Marlys was there. I recognized the special necklace but could not see the anklet, as she had on white slacks. She looked magnificent. She did not wave, and neither did I. A cold wind was blowing. Once more, a miserable thought consumed me: I am parading before everyone wearing almost nothing.