St. Paul Island
Günter spent the next ten minutes getting his routine down. He would be the point man with Immigration, and he had to be totally convincing, whoever the immigration official was. I prepared him in case more than one boarded, the man or woman was going to be an officer who had seen and heard many stories before.
After finishing with the irritatingly formal Günter, I sat and pondered our problem for a while. A mini-epiphany arrived shortly. I realized it did not really matter, what the agent, or agents, believed. It was what they could do that mattered. And there was nothing they could really do, unless it was to embargo the entire ship, and call in heavy-duty forces from the mainland. Dutch seemed hardly worth that kind of full-court-press effort.
There had been a fire on a cruise ship only days before. The passengers had taken pictures of the Coast Guard getting everyone off that ship. Immigration would have had its hands full. only days before. Ships were never allowed to leave American waters, and return, without clearing customs and immigration, not if those people were headed for mainland U.S.A.
Dutch was in his cabin, dressed and ready. I motioned for him to follow me, after I peered out of his porthole. I watched a Zodiac head in toward the end of the spit. Men were standing there, although I couldn’t see well enough to make out what they were wearing.
“Let’s get to it,” I told the young giant. I stepped into the corridor and headed down the stairs towards the bilge deck.
Each Filipino I ran across I said “Filipe?” to.
All pointed toward the bow, up near where the old work out area (now luggage storage), was located. The cabin doors along the corridor of the bilge deck had no numbers or identifiers of any sort. Everyone who occupied them knew who was behind every door. I stopped, with Dutch behind me, at the last door.
The bottom of the chain locker had to be near. I thought, fleetingly, that the chain ‘alarm’ must be as fully effective for Filipe as it was for me. I knocked. Somehow, the open entry tradition followed on the decks above, did not seem appropriate where we were. The beautiful female Filipino woman, who had attended the Mousketeer meeting, greeted us. She gave me a huge smile, then stepped outside and moved past us. Dutch and I went in. The door closed behind us. I felt her through the door, out in the hallway, on guard. It was not a bad feeling. Filipe stood toward the back of his cabin and swept one hand down, inviting us to sit on one of the tightly made bunks. We complied. It never occurred to me until that moment that I had never heard Filipe speak before. We had communicated only with gestures.
“Welcome to my home, Indy,” he intoned. He spoke good English, uncommon for most Filipinos. Tagalog was one of those ‘sticky’ languages, like Chinese, where the accent, once ingrained, could seldom be totally supplanted. I didn’t tell Filipe that I didn’t like being called Indy. Coming from him it seemed okay.
“Customs and Immigration,” I said, and then stuck one thumb out at Dutch, sitting to my left. “He’s not aboard. There’ll be one or two agents, maximum. We need to play a shell game with him.” I looked at the Filipino and raised my eyebrows. “One or two agents can’t search an entire ship, not if the object of the search stays on the move.”
“Why?” Filipe said, in his quiet, elegant voice.
I exhaled, resigned to the fact that the entire reason for my having undertaken the cruise was my mission, and that the mission was, step by unalterable step, being degraded, if not completely undone, before it was actually underway. I reached into my left front pocket and pulled out a couple ounces of the Aguiak gold. Unclenching my fist, I put it into Filipe’s hand. He examined the rough gold nuggets weighing down his palm. He raised and lowered his hand slightly, gauging the metal’s heft.
“More?” he asked.
“Bingo” I said to myself.
“You’re in,” I said, “say nothing.”
He looked me square in the eyes for several seconds, and then blinked slowly in assent. No handshake was necessary. I was not certain that the man understood what I was really carrying, but all I needed at that point was his ready cooperation.
“Dutch, you stay with Filipe. Do what he tells you. That’s it. See you when they’re gone.”
I went to my cabin to mark time. When I arrived there I removed the remainder of the gold from my pocket, and deposited it into my little bureau drawer. I threw a couple of pairs of socks over the pile.
One of the little knocks on my door the night before had been explained. The other remained a mystery. Not much of one, however. Benito’s knock would not have been gentle. No, it was Marlys. I took the anklet from my right pocket and placed it into the same drawer as the gold. It was not easy to part with the silver trinket. I consoled myself that it would be right next to my bed. What type of help might a Sea Goddess need? Or was her request for assistance just a stalking horse? And what possible significance could a little silver anklet hold?
A Filipino knocked at my door. I knew it was a Filipino because none of the staff crew knocked anymore, unless the door was locked. I’d been expecting him, anyway. I grabbed my digital Leica and headed out. He led me to the Lido deck. A table had been isolated from the rest. Two men sat at the table, as Günter paced nearby. His relief in seeing me was visible, which worried me, for the agents would be master detectives at gauging emotions. Neither man stood up. They wore crisp white shirts with patches on both shoulders. The small gold badge of the Immigration Office was attached above their left breasts.
“This is agent Maxwell,” Günter disclosed.
I said “hello,” stopping before their table. There was no chair nearby, as, I knew, was intended.
“You’d be the anthropology person, Arch Patton?” Maxwell said, holding out his right hand. I attempted to shake his hand, but he avoided the grasp, his expression turning from impartial coldness to one of slight exasperation.
“Your passport,” he said, dropping his hand back to the table.
“Didn’t bring it,” I replied, slowly lowering my own hand. He and his partner looked at each other, then back at me.
“Third Mate Günter tells me that you left Dutch back there on one of the islands.” I merely looked at him, in response, so he went on. “That right?”
I nodded, turned on my small Leica, and then swiveled the small visible screen so he could see it.
“The Isle of the Tsar of Russia,” I intoned in my college lecture voice, “it’s a wonder of archaeology and ethnology. I’ll be registering the site when we get back to the mainland. It’s a true dig of enormous potential. There was a fire. I wanted to make sure that it was properly extinguished. We’ll pick up Dutch when we head back into Russian waters.” I scrolled the digital photos by the agent, one after another. The photos captured the burning island. They were of obvious poor quality. The agent took my camera from my hand. I let the expensive device go, not really wanting to.
“How do we know he’s really back there?” Maxwell asked, still scrolling through the photos. I watched his hawkish eyes, relieved that I had taken no other shots for him to view. I didn’t answer his question. He put the camera on the table in front of him, pushing the small top button to the off position. He made no attempt to hand it back.
He had one of those Thomas Magnum bits of hair under his nose. Unlike what the mustache did for Magnum, it made Agent Maxwell look strangely feeble. His eyes naturally squinted, suggesting he spent a lot of time looking into a mirror, practicing a display of hard, manly toughness. I didn’t like him, and I could tell that the feeling was mutual.
“Don’t you want to know why we want him?” he finally volunteered, when he realized I was not going to talk.
I shook my head.
“I do have a question, though,” I said, meekly, looking down in submissive subjugation, waiting.
“Yeah?” he responded.
“Is Maxwell your first name, like in Maxwell Smart?” I deadpanned.
Günter stopped pacing. The agent next to Maxwell stiffened. I raised my eyes to Maxwell’s, no longer any supplication in them. And no life either.
“It’s also ‘doctor,’ to you…not the anthropology guy.” I let my words hang and trail off, but their meaning and intent lingered in the air.
The tense moment was broken by the entry of another individual. A tall man walked over from the stair well. He was dressed in what looked like an Admiral’s costume. It was all navy blue, with gold buttons. Epaulets of gold, as well, and a white barracks cover. The man looked impeccable. I stepped back, almost coming to the position of attention. The agents squirmed.
“Captain Kessler, sir” Maxwell said.
Both agents came to their feet at attention. Maxwell stuck his hand out. The captain puffed out, and then took it in a firm handshake.
“Agent Maxwell, it’s so good to have you aboard my ship. I see you have met some of my people.”
He waved at Günter and me, but his eyes never left Maxwell’s. Maxwell looked uneasy, letting go of the captain’s hand.
“I came aboard looking for Dutch, sir.” he began, but Kessler cut him off.
“Ah yes, our errant Assistant Cruise Director, no less. It seems that he has got himself into mischief again. We seem to have abandoned him on some deserted island. What kind of operation goes on here while I am gone?” The captain laughed at his forced little joke.
The agents joined with their own phony mirth. That they did not normally fly out to wayward islands on expensive helicopters to check out crewmen aboard expedition ships was not discussed, nor who or what might have caused them to make such an effort.
“Well, we’d like this man’s statement, and also his papers, if you would be so kind. “ Maxwell attempted.
“Gentlemen, gentlemen,” Kessler said, his smile taking us all in, “we did indeed come in from Russian waters. You have a perfect right to line up everyone on this ship, and check for proper paperwork, but please, no statements about anything. We are too well known to each other for such things. If I say that one of my men is not aboard, you know that to be true. If there is a statement you want, you may ask it of me personally, but not of any of my crewmen.”
Maxwell and his partner turned sheepish, and ceased making further demands.
“You’re dismissed,” Kessler told Günter and me, virtually out of the side of his mouth.
Then he appended, to me, “You, come to my cabin once you have freshened up.”
I left, almost in shock. The man had displayed such a sense of control and eloquence that he stunned me. A shiver of anxiety ran up and down my back, as I weighed the implications of the performance I had just witnessed. I followed Günter to the staircase. I looked back at the agents. Maxwell’s eyes met mine. Neither of us blinked. I saw a firm guarantee of future conflict in his eyes.
“Great, one more little detail I’ll have to defuse for myself,” I said quietly, in English, to Günter’s back.
The words ‘freshen up’ echoed through my mind. I hadn’t liked Maxwell, but I at least understood him. I didn’t like Kessler either. But I knew I was a long way from understanding him. The top of each staircase I passed under now held a small image of Mickey Mouse. I hoped Kessler hadn’t taken note of them yet. I also reflected on the obvious fact that the agents had not bothered to follow-up on Kessler’s statement, either.
In my cabin I shaved. Then I put on my best, newly pressed, outfit. ‘Freshened up!’ I checked myself in the mirror. I was now ready for my confrontation with Kessler, until Don opened the door and walked in.
“Get your coat and your little canvas sack. We’re going into St. Paul. There’s been an accident, and the doc needs your help.”
I finished rummaging in the bathroom, then grabbed my stuff and followed him out. At the portal a vigilant Benito anticipated problems. I could see Filipe at the helm of an idling Zodiac. Don leaped aboard, while I waited for him to clear, and the Zodiac to maneuver back to the hull. Doctor Murphy huddled near Filipe’s feet, looking miserable. A young woman in a hood sat across from him. I couldn’t see her face. Benito held me by my right bicep in her customary iron grip.
“You have a little nurse to help you this time, Indy,” she revealed, but her tone was anything except friendly.
She almost tossed me onto the Zodiac. After I landed in the center of the boat, Filipe gave it the gas. The Zodiac shot away as I went down on the wooden slated floor, sliding all the way to the stern. I pushed off the doctor, attempting to heave myself up against the rise of the bow and the acceleration. I looked into the woman’s eyes. It was Marlys. I wanted to ask her, or someone, what the hell our bartender was doing on this trip. I refrained.
Instead, I cupped my hands and shouted: “Where’d you put Dutch?”
“The chain locker,” Filipe yelled back, over the roar of the outboard’s full-out throttle. “He has an unopened bottle of Jameson’s Black Barrel in the chain locker.”
Jameson’s Black was, I knew, at least sixty dollars a bottle. How did Dutch afford his habit? And what if they pulled up the anchor? I rubbed my cleanly shaven jaw. I just could not worry about everything and everyone.
Sitting on the wet deck of the hurtling Zodiac, rubbing my face, I looked directly at a well formed, and lovely, female ankle. I gawked. Around the ankle was a silver chain, with two carvings of dolphins kissing. I crawled forward to sit at the bow of the boat, facing rearward. The ship was growing smaller behind us, but not so small that I did not make out the Mickey Mouse pirate flag flying from her main mast. I was happy to be heading away from the bewitched ship and into the port of another unknown island.