MAKING WAY TO THE PRIBILOFS
Filipe brought the Zodiac close into the steel hull. Three adventurers—dirty, disheveled and nearly naked—in the bottom of the craft. My watch, the canvas bag, `and my jockey shorts were all I had saved from the island. Don and Dutch were in no better shape.
“Dutch,” I whispered forcefully, as we got closer to the opening. “You’ve got to get suited up and back down here as fast as you can. With some very heavy gloves, and maybe one of those loading hooks.” He stared back at me with uncomprehending eyes.
“Huh?” he gasped.
“The anchor,” I whispered again, harshly, “the goddamned anchor is going to be pulled up anytime now. That first link, the one you cut, has got to go back to the bottom, or we are screwed.”
Dutch’s eyes got big. One of the Filipino seamen at the opening in the hull grabbed a hull cleat, pulling us in. Dutch leaped across the open water and hit the deck beside him running.
“C’mon Don, there’s nothing we can do. Let’s get warmed up.” I clambered aboard, onto the slippery metal deck. I would have fallen except a great strong hand grabbed my right bicep, and held me up. I stared into the large reptilian eyes of Benito. She stood unbent, like one of those Amazon women of mythology.
“The captain wants to see you right now.” She didn’t let go of my arm, so I carefully pried her steely fingers loose, one by one. I stepped back.
“I can’t present myself to the captain, even though he’s not the captain until I get into proper uniform. I’ll get suited up immediately.”
I tried not to loosen my bladder at the very idea. My mind was far from caring about Borman. I turned my head to look over at the island. It was afire. It looked like a giant alien’s head with its hair burning. Great billowing smoke rose up but did not rise high. The wind was still blowing hard, headed due south. The lee cove of the island would be nothing but a billowing pit of smoke and burning cinders. I relished the thought of the super-tough Russian Commandos who had to be attempting to dealing with the mess or maybe just trying to survive it.
“Humorous? You find this humorous?” Benito growled.
I looked back at our cruise director. Don muffled a laugh. Both of us were suffering from the exhilaration generated by a close brush with death.
“You,” she pointed at Don with the index finger of her right hand when she spoke. “You, Doctor Cook, you report to the captain, as well, and then to me. Both of you. We’re going to get to the bottom of this.” She twisted her great solid body, and then stomped from the gangway area. Don and I could not contain ourselves. We began to laugh openly.
“Doctor Cook!” I intoned.
A deck hand handed us each a blanket as we settled down. I went back to the opening. I waved to Filipe. He approached. Leaning out, I explained to him our problem with Dutch coming back for the Zodiac and the trouble with the link. We either had the assistance of the people who really operated the ship or we were through anyway, I realized. Filipe reacted approvingly.
“Well, Kirk, I think you have the whole of the Enterprise involved in whatever it is we’re doing,” Don chimed in from beneath his blanket.
“Make up your mind,” I replied, “is it Kirk or Indy?”
Don didn’t answer
I showered and dressed as fast as I could. Under the reviving hot water I realized that our encounter with Borman might just keep everyone’s attention diverted from the work that was going on during the anchor retrieval. Don was not yet ready when I opened his cabin door, so I stepped in. The Basque sat in her usual place, back against the hull. She looked at me without smiling. I gestured, but got nothing back.
“So much for gratitude,” I told myself. I sat on the bed. If I had smoked it would have been a good opportunity. Don finally came out of the bathroom and dressed quickly. No words were exchanged. When he was ready, we went into the corridor. We made for the bridge.
If I had smoked it would have been a good opportunity. Don finally came out of the bathroom and dressed quickly. No words were exchanged. When he was ready, we went into the corridor. We made for the bridge.
“You tell her she was going to be able to stay?” I asked to his back. He shrugged.
“Tell her what? We don’t really know anything yet. Can we accomplish your ‘business? Will we even survive? Can you make good on your promise? Will you?”
I thought he was never going to limit his list of rhetorical questions. I made no response to any of them. There was, after all, none of which might have satisfied.
We stepped onto the bridge from the port side outer hatch. Instead of being piped onto the bridge, or recognized in any way, we were totally ignored, like we weren’t even there. Borman, in polished black boots, starched white shirt with three distinct pleats down the back, and black riding trousers, stood looking out the starboard windows. Work went on beneath, we knew. I was relieved to see that we could not look directly downward to view that work from inside the bridge area. Borman turned as if executing an about-face on a parade deck.
“Well, well, well…” he sneered, his voice trailing away. The air thickened. Two other men on the bridge promptly exited the hatch through which we had come. Borman walked over to stand before us. I automatically stood at attention.
“There seems to be an island on fire over there?” he pointed behind him without looking. “And why would there be a Russian helicopter flying all around? And where is my Zodiac you took?” His deep German accent was more pronounced when he was angry.
“We found the anchor,” Don replied, meekly. I did not miss his use of the word “we.”
“Ya, Ya, there is that,” Borman conceded, his voice dropping to a more conversational level. “It is not my habit to leave my men in such circumstance.” He looked away from us as if examining the waters beyond the ship’s bow. Botany Bay shot a quick feral smile towards me.
He looked away from us as if examining the waters beyond the ship’s bow. Botany Bay shot a quick feral smile towards me.
“We’ll be happy to share the story of our survival with you captain,” Don said, his voice light and silky.
“How hard it was. How we had to…” the captain raised one arm straight up at an angle, like in a Nazi salute.
“That is not important. You men have my trust and confidence. Of course, if the Russians make trouble we will have to surrender you to them.” I bowed my head. The man was a real piece of work.
I bowed my head. The man was a real piece of work.
“Of course my captain, of course…” Don cooed softly. “We understand.” He jerked on the back of my coat. My expression was not agreeable. I smiled at the captain instead, coldly.
He jerked on the back of my coat. My expression was not agreeable. I smiled at the captain instead, coldly.
“Ich verstehen,” I spouted, then saluted, using my old Marine Corps sharp hand-salute. Borman returned the salute, involuntarily.
Borman returned the salute, involuntarily. We backed out of the hatch we had come in, saying nothing further. The captain watched us go as if watching two cockroaches creeping back under some kitchen appliance.
“I don’t think he likes you,” Don deadpanned. I shook my head but did not answer.
“But our cruise director likes you well enough. I’m not going to her cabin. You go and handle her”, Don continued
We sauntered to my quarters without further comment. I followed him in. He moved over to my tightly made bunk and then reached down.
“Seems that Benito is not the only one who likes you a bit.” He held up a silver chain.
Attached to each end of the chain was a dolphin facing out. I held out my hand. He dropped the anklet into it. I unconsciously pressed my other hand against my forehead. I was holding Marlys’ anklet. Or did it double as an amulet?
“Sorta got yourself caught between Scylla and Charybdis, huh?” Don asked. I concurred, miserably. “Charybdis awaits, Scylla will get around to you a bit later, I’m sure,” he said, having fun at my expense before holding open the cabin door for me.
We both stopped to listen to the sound of the anchor winch. The room reverberated, as the chain’s first link was cranked home. “You better come up with something to say to the passengers. Just because we’ve been gone doesn’t mean we don’t have to do our stand-up comedy routine this afternoon.” Don proceeded up to the Lido deck while I made my way to Benito’s cabin. I rapped three times, sharply, on her door.
“Get in here,” came blaring through the wood. I opened the door and stepped in. She sat on her bunk and did not rise. “I’m about to nap, so this will be quick,” she made clear. I swallowed. She wore a negligee, and nothing more. The morals of the ship were beginning to permeate through to my very being, and the effect of that did not feel good. I was no prude, by any standard, prior to setting foot on the ship, but the “Lindy” was more like a place Caligula would find comfortable, than a fallen-away Catholic like me.
“Reporting as ordered ma’am,” I said, gazing out the porthole, instead of at the nearly naked figure of the imposing woman.
“Where’s the Zodiac? That’s outta my budget, my hide, not Borman’s.” I expressed concern. Knowing that information explained why the captain had not seemed to care too much about his missing boat. It wasn’t his boat at all.
“It’s on the shore in the lee of the island. We spent the night on that cold miserable place. Somebody forgot to mention that we were in Russian waters. They took an interest in our claiming it for the U.S.A.” I peered out the porthole, where the smoke was still visible. I turned, to find her standing next to me. I breathed in sharply. We assessed one another.
“How hard will it be to get the thing back?” she demanded, as I finally exhaled. The power of her life force was something to behold.
I spoke quickly.
“Send Filipe off with a tow line and a crewman. I don’t think the Russians are going to care a fig about a Zodiac they now know belongs to a foreign expedition ship. Their interest was in catching foreign nationals illegally occupying their country.” I backed up, awkwardly, and headed for the cabin door.
“You want to share a glass of wine before you go?” she purred, her voice totally different. I almost felt sorry for her. But not sorry enough.
“Ah, no, gotta take care of some things at the infirmary,” I dissembled, and then went out through the door, trying to make it appear that I was not running for my life.
I did, in fact, go down to the infirmary, to find the hatch unlocked and open. I walked in. The doctor sat on a stool next to the pedestal bed.
“Hey doc,” I offered, speaking loudly to his deafness, and then took the stool across from him. He stared up at me from under his bushy eyebrows.
“You take my carvings?” he asked, without emotion. I nodded.
“You take the morphine?” I nodded twice.
“Going to give them back?” I shook my head. He sighed.
“What exactly do you want?” I stared back at the aged and stooped man.
“I want you to stay out of trouble. No more stealing from the natives, or anybody else. When we step off this ship on U.S. soil you can have some of the carvings back, maybe, if you can pry them out of Botany Bay’s hands.”
“The morphine is okay,” he replied as if we were making some sort of equitable deal.
“I don’t care what you want it for. I get it in Provideniya. No records there. No DEA.”
I reached over and shook his hand. He gripped mine firmly. In spite of the man’s obvious handicaps and strange damaged psychology, there was still something of substance to the old gentleman.
I made my way to Don’s cabin. This time I knocked. I was tired of naked people and bare asses. Don hollered through the wood.
I complied. Inside the Basque occupied her usual position. I perched on the end of her bunk.
“What, you’re not up at the bar, making a visit?” he needled.
“Afraid of that little darling thing?” he went on. I nodded, unwillingly, once. “That was pretty quick with Mussolini. What the hell happened in there?”
I rolled my eyes. Don took a different approach. “She has an idea.” He pointed at the Basque. I looked first at him, then her, then back at him. I flexed my shoulders. He proceeded. “She hates the Germans. She wants to start a sort of counter- movement. Something to counteract the pervasive totalitarian attitude of those creeps.” I studied him intently.
“I thought she didn’t talk,” I jabbed. But he laughed.
“She talks to me, alright…and she says she wants to start a club. Calls it the Mickey Mouse Club.”
More laughter, then he leered at the Basque. She produced a flag, about the size of a pillowcase. It had two huge cross bones drawn in black paint against a white background. Overlaying the draconian symbols was a very colorful and distinctive image of Mickey Mouse.
She began to sing softly, “M…I…C…see you real soon…”