CHAPTER FIFTY-SIX

See You Real Soon

 

I felt Don’s huge presence nearby, before he hunkered down, forearms atop the rail next to me.

“Sitka,” he said, his gaze following mine across the extended docks, and beyond, sweeping up into the green mountains. “It’s a cold but hospitable place, if you were thinking of taking up full-time residence there.”

He looked over at me seriously, and then we both laughed.

“I didn’t really think so,” he said. “If you have a minute, my friend, I would like to talk to you, about everything,” he went on, “we’ve got to make some decisions quickly.”

“Kessler told me to wait right here,” I informed him. “I think he’s running at full gale and wants to run out the plank, or maybe drum me off the ship when we finally dock.”

We re-entered under the cover of the Lido deck. I walked to the bar. The passengers had nearly disappeared. The Coast Guard helicopter was spooling up to depart.   I could feel the vibration of the ever-faster moving blades on my face and chest, until the sound became nearly overpowering in the contained space. I covered both ears with my hands, while Don did the same.

Marlys crouched down behind the bar. Napkins and plastic cups, laying about, blew right off the ship, as the big bird lifted, then tilted to the port side. I looked through the clear canopy. The co-pilot gave me a thumbs-up, then ran the thumb under his throat. Don saw the gesture. He looked over at me, his eyebrows pulled together.

“Maxwell’s not on the chopper,” I replied to his unasked question when the sound diminished enough for me to lower my hands.

“What’s Kessler going to do if you’re not here when he comes back? Throw a hissy fit, or something?” Don said.

Marlys placed three wine glasses on the bar. I met her stare, as she brought out a vintage bottle of “Don David,” no doubt procured when the 'Lindy' sailed in Argentine waters and loaded up with fine Malbec Reserve from the Cafayate Valley. I moved to the bar, with another Don at my side. Marlys poured a couple of inches into each glass.

“Boat drinks,” she said, raising one glass, her expression ultra-serious.

I took my own glass, but could not help smiling. “Boat drinks.”

A phrase common to prisoners caught up in the American system of brutal incarceration. Boat drinks was spoken to reference a time, when the prisoners talking on the inside, were out, and once again enjoying the good life. They would meet again on the stern of a boat, and enjoy boat drinks together. Don took his glass. We hoisted our Malbec glasses all together, and then clinked once. We drank the wonderful wine down. I felt like I should throw mine for dramatic effect, but the side of the ship was too far away. Instead, I put the glass down, softly.

“Here, eat this,” Marlys suggested, pushing a small dish of crackers at me. “High class wine drinkers always eat crackers to clear their palates.”

I accepted a cracker, unclear as to what she was talking about. I chewed. It was educational. I had never had such a great cracker in my life. I took another, bit into it to be sure about the acutely satisfying quality. Marlys smiled.

“Diamond crackers from Hawaii,” she said, and then went on. “Actually, made there. We load up every time we pass by Oahu. I’ll put a case out for you.”

She turned, then disappeared through the door into the bar supplies area. Don and I headed for his cabin, full of good spirits.

“And here I thought you were going to get a whole lot more than a case of crackers from that mysterious angel. If she is an angel,” he said.

I followed the big man down the stairs and up the corridor. We filed into his cabin. The Basque occupied her usual place; several travel bags were closed and stacked next to the bunk.

“You getting off in Sitka?” I asked, genuinely curious. Don closed the door behind me.

“She can’t stay aboard,” Don interjected.  “Not with the situation being what it is between her and her step-father. So she’s got to go with you.”

I stood there, unable to talk. After a few seconds I got past the shock of his announcement.

“Where am I supposed to take her? I asked, in a genuine state of befuddlement.

“Where you’re going, back to Nome,” he pointed out. “Back to get outfitted for the expedition. You have to leave out of there. Anywhere else is just too far away, unless you have a cruise liner hidden somewhere.”

I breathed deeply, in and out. Nobody said anything. I decided to try to clarify my situation.

“I don’t know what I’m doing, or where I’m going. I’ve got to make some calls, to make good on some promises. Marlys, and her mother, are part of all that. I’m not my own man. I can’t just traipse off on a gold hunting expedition. You must know that.”

I threw up my hands in frustration.

“Do you remember that gold vein?” Don shot back. I nodded. “Ever see anything like that in your life and travels?” I shook my head.

“So, you’re going.” I waited a full minute, reflecting, thoughts racing through my head, before I accepted destiny.

“Good,” Don said, matter-of-factly, “I’ll make sure her bags are at the base of the gangplank.

You’ll need a cab. I’ll see to that. You’ve got the boys. You’ll need some room. I better make it a van.”

I sat down on the bottom of Don’s bunk and rubbed my face. I was trapped, once again, by powerful forces over which I exercised no control. Don continued to talk.

“I have to stay on until Prince Rupert to get paid off. I’ll take the ferry over to the airport there, day after tomorrow, and fly to Nome to meet you. The World Discoverer’s not staying in Sitka. We’re only here to get rid of you, and the young problems you’re traveling with.”

I wanted to ask him about his family, back home in Canada waiting for him, but I didn’t. Shipboard morality was not a subject either open to discussion, or even overtly acknowledged. What happened on the ship was supposed to stay on the ship. Las Vegas had stolen the expression from nautical lore, and then used it to make television ads. But we were getting off the ship, and shipboard life was getting off with us. I signaled my agreement, seeing no other course of action open to me.

“What has she got for papers?” I asked, as Don grabbed for the bags.

“You’re taking care of that,” he said, huffing a little, with the weight and heft of all her bags. I did not offer to help him.   “You’ll recall the notes at Fatima, and the one to me in Yugoslavia. You’re supposed to take care of everything.”

His air of belief, and of “everything will be alright” was just too strong to oppose. I got behind him in the corridor, with the Basque in tow.

“Filipe wanted to see you before you got off,” Don remembered.

“What? He’s got a flock of Filipino children he needs to have taken care of?” I said, sarcastically, and then went on. “Perhaps a sick dog? Maybe a bird with parasites? And besides, didn’t you say that your message involved doing what I told you to do? How does that work here?”

I kept talking, but to myself, as I took the steps down to the bilge deck alone. I had a long list of potentially needy creatures, and characters, that I might just as well assume full responsibility for them all, right now. I walked up to Filipe’s cabin door and knocked. Gloria opened the door with joy on her face.

“One thing, Filipe,” I asked eagerly, “Are you Catholic?”

“Yes, we’re both Catholic,” he responded.

“How did I know,” I replied, my voice tight. “What is it?”

I went on, impatient to get back on deck to walk the plank, or whatever else Kessler had in store for me, not to mention the hidden traps or ambushes set by that weasel-of-a-man Maxwell. In my pique and impatience I had not noticed anyone else in the cabin.

All of a sudden I heard Hathoot’s distinctive Lebanese accent. I leaned forward, looking around Filipe’s body, to see the Purser sitting next to Benito on Filipe’s bunk.

“Indy, they just want to thank you for everything. Whatever comes of all this, they will accept, even if it’s been only that they have enjoyed you and the adventure you brought with you. I’ve heard it called élan vital.”

I recoiled at his words, but I also recalled my conversation with Benito, about life and my part in it, at least from her perspective. I was not accustomed to being thanked. I was used to just moving on. I did not know what to say, or what expression to wear.

Felipe and Gloria approached. Filipe held out his hand. I shook it. Gloria gave me a big hug at the same time. I tried not to notice her wonderful breasts pressed into my side. I thought of Marlys, smiling broadly at the associative thought. Hathoot continued.

“They must sail for Antarctica. All of the Filipino crew must. But, on the return trip, Filipe, and some of his people, can fly out of Hawaii to Nome, if you need them.”

I looked at Hathoot, then everyone else in the room. It was just accepted by all that I was going to lead an immediate expedition for the gold, except I felt like Fidel Castro, or maybe Che Guevara, somewhere in Cuba’s Oriente Province in the late 1950s. I felt like a revolutionary leader intent upon overthrowing some government, for the good of the people, of course.

“C’mon. Give me a hand,” Hathoot requested. “Kessler has demanded my presence on the bridge. I’m, no doubt, to be cursed, quite possibly demoted, for my association with you. Benito’s sailing on, and we’re going to share a cabin!”

Hathoot’s positive attitude and ebullience were impossible to ignore, or not be drawn into.

Felipe and I assisted the Purser back up to the Lido deck. I noted, as soon as we entered the area, that Maxwell had set up some card tables near what would soon be the top of the gangplank.   I helped a rickety Hathoot onto one of the bar stools. Marlys put a drink in front of him immediately. I watched Maxwell ignore all of us, sorting through papers he had organized in front of himself.   Both boys, Ken and Ivan, were present. I went straight to the Senator’s nephew.

“Ken, your Dad is going to be expecting you when we dock. Maybe he’ll even be there. I reported this whole thing, you must know.” I commented conversationally.

Somehow, the Filipinos had found clothing for him, and my cashmere coat was clean. Trashed forever, but clean. I felt a brief pang of regret, but got over it quickly. It took a long time for the boy to reply.

“I’m going with you. My Dad’s an alcoholic. He beats me, and my Mom. She can stay with him forever if she wants to. I’m going with you.”

“Well,” I began, intending to be as honest as I could, “I don’t know where I’m going, and I don’t have much use for a kid.”

I looked over at Ivan. “Two kids,” I amended. “And your uncle, the powerful Senator uncle, that is, can make it very difficult for me, and you.”

“They call you Indy. Is that because you’ve got courage? Or is it because you came to get me? And I’m not a kid. I’m a college graduate. I speak German and French.   Are you afraid of young adults? Or is it only educated young adults?   Do you have children?”

He rattled off his comments and questions almost too quickly to be followed. And, I realized, I lacked good answers for the questions.

“No, I don’t have any children,” I said, the only question I could answer directly and honestly. “I’ll take you as far as I can,” I declared.

I knew it was a lame response. But I was not about to tell the youngster that he was on his own, not after what he’d been through, and not wearing my cashmere coat. For a reason I could not pin down, my coat on his back seemed to confer responsibility upon me. And, although I did not say it, yes, I had two adopted children, and they were both on the Lido deck with me. Both calling themselves young adults.

Ivan had listened intently to the entire exchange.

He was not college educated, I knew, but he had street smarts. His trick with disarming the tank had been a masterstroke. It alone had saved the mission, and quite possibly a few lives, including mine. Our eyes met. He grinned and nodded, for he knew too, that he was in. I turned away, asking myself what the boys were in for. What was I in for? I drank some more of the scalding hot coffee, my mind going back to Marlys.

The ship stopped moving at the same time that Kessler arrived on the deck. In the seconds it took him to proceed over to Maxwell’s table, the gangplank crew could be heard maneuvering the ungainly walkway to ship’s port side.

“Professor Indy,” Kessler growled at me, with a great, smirk expanding across his face.

He stood at attention, in full uniform, his hat perfect atop his perfect steel gray hair. I walked over to the table, assuming my proper position in front of Agent Maxwell.

His expression was of pure enjoyment, as the captain spoke.

“You are fired,” Kessler stated. “You’re to get off this ship immediately, taking your delinquent alien children with you. Hathoot is also fired, so you may as well help him down the gangway, since none of my men are going to do it. You are a roué, a con artist and a cavalier adventurer. On top of that, I reviewed the alcohol you have used. You are an alcoholic of the worst kind. Your pay is forfeit, and even that will probably not cover your bar tab.”

Kessler paused only briefly before redirecting his pointed finger toward the bar.

“You, former Commander Hathoot, are a traitor to the crew and to this ship. Your pay is forfeit, as well. Now get off, this instant, all of you.”

He pointed, finally, at the gangplank, which was not secure yet. Hathoot had gone white, nearly alabaster. I watched him swallow, time after time. Finally, he was able to breathe, and then he tried to defend himself.

“I’m fired? How can I be fired? I did nothing? I got shot? I was kidnapped. I was drugged. I’m the purser. You can’t fire me. I have a career with the company. A job. And what about my money. Indy has stolen all my savings and now you are keeping my pay?”

He stretched out his hands in supplication towards Kessler. Kessler merely pointed at the gangplank a second time. His voice, when he spoke, was controlled, and an octave lower in tone.

“All of your things have been packed and are on the dock. There’s a cab waiting. May it take you all to hell where you belong. You have destroyed this cruise, smeared the traditions of this ship, and damaged my reputation beyond repair.”

I almost applauded his speech. It was of near Shakespearean quality in content, and Kessler’s performance was terrific. The whole thing deserved a standing ovation, but nobody spoke.

I looked at Maxwell. “What about all the necessary forms?” I asked him.

I had Hathoot’s passport, as well as my own, in my back pocket, but the boys had nothing. I had not seen the Basque, but I presumed she had nothing, as well. I had not been able to communicate with my superiors, regarding visas or green cards, or any of it, over the helicopter radio.

“As the captain so eloquently put it. Get off the ship. What you do in Alaska is of no concern to me. If I see you again, it will be. You are a nasty little man with some powerful contacts. You won’t always have those contacts. If I were you, I’d get out of these waters just as quickly as I could. You’ve made mortal enemies, and I, and Captain Kessler, are two of them.”

The boys had taken Hathoot by the upper arms. All stood at the top of the waiting gangplank. Hathoot looked back at me. I shook my head. There was no appeal. Kessler was within his rights, with respect to the company, and his ship. They filed down the gangplank. Kessler walked over to me. I thought he was going to say some final words filled with bile, but I tarried to let him get it out of his system. But I was surprised. Instead of yelling, however, he leaned toward me and confided.

“I am not a friend of the Cruiser Captain. I was not a friend of that creature named Kasinski. Borman was a friend to both Russians. Remember the Chinese warlord Sun Tzu’s adage: “The friend of my enemy is my enemy.” Borman jumped ship as soon as we docked. I don’t think he’s coming back. Look after our interests up there, but be careful. Cherno is not to be underestimated either. Don’t let him near our gold.”

He turned on his heel and walked off without waiting for any reaction or response.

From the top of the gangplank I spotted the boys, Hathoot and the Basque next to a van. I reflected on how improbable it was that the Purser had come to be a part of our discharged lot. I looked into the cloud scudded sky for any enlightenment, but found none.

“You’re right, you know,” I said very quietly into the cold air, “I complained that I was running about poking at windmills, and had not been given a Sancho Penza.”

The driver loaded all the luggage into the back of the van. I walked slowly down to join them. A box of the Don David Malbec, and a box from Diamond Bakeries were transferred into the vehicle.   The outcasts looked back up at the ship, where the passengers and the crew lined the decks. Don and Benito were smiling grandly up on the Lido, and standing next to them were Marlys and Günter. Filipe and Gloria waved madly from the lower deck, in the middle of a pack of Filipino workers. Dutch stood near the stern, waving the Mouseketeer flag, at the end of a long pole. And then they all started to sing. “M – I – C, see you real soon, K – E – Y, why, because we love you, M – O – U – S – E...who’s the leader of the club that’s made for you and me....”

The whole ship sang. The sound from the assembled mass of voices carried right into downtown Sitka. We stood below them on the dock, with idiotic grins spread across our faces. All of us. They sang the song through, and then started again. We loaded into the van, closed the doors, but left the windows down. We drove away, listening to the fading strains of that special and meaningful song.

<<<<<< Prologue | Chapter Fifty-Seven >>>>>>