Little Diomede

The bar on the Lido deck is where I settled in for the afternoon run out toward the Diomede Islands, just off the Seward Peninsula. Passengers were drinking like proverbial fish and talking like magpies, so it did not take long to learn that our speed approached nine knots. That put our arrival at about eight the following morning.

Marlys was serving behind the bar. She was attired in some sort of blue wrap and looked stunning. It’s not that tough to look fetching when you’re in your early twenties, I ruminated over my cup of coffee.   But she was still fun to look at anyway. She neither spoke to me nor made eye contact. It was as if we had never seen one another. Her necklace had disappeared and her ankles were covered.

Because the swells were growing longer and deeper, I figured we were nearing the end of the Seward Peninsula. The passengers began to thin, inversely proportional to the growing size of the waves. Soon, I was almost alone in my corner, working on my third cup, wondering if seasickness was in the cards. I had not been exposed to any kind of real sea in over ten years.

Coffee was free at the bar for “staff crew”, as we were termed. Booze cost the same as what the passengers had to pay, except the total was deducted from our wages at the end of every month. I had no plans on drinking, though, as I knew this operation was going to be exceedingly tricky, and that it was going to take absolutely every bit of attentiveness I could muster. A big man in a cable sweater sat down on the stool next to mine. I looked directly at him. Since all the other places at the bar were empty, his choice of seating was not natural.

“You’re Patton, Anthro?. I’m Dutch, but my real name’s Richard, Assistant Cruise Director to Benito.” He pronounced his words without looking at me, instead ogling Marlys, who poured straight whiskey into a drinking glass and placed it before him.

“Benito,” I whispered, more to myself than to Dutch.

He heard me and smiled, took a deep swig of whiskey, then put his glass down with an air of amusement.

“Yeah, Don told me. You sure were right. Until he told me about Mussolini I would never have put it together.”

“Word travels fast here.” I scratched my head. I was going to have to be more careful with my expressive personality. I didn’t need the cruise director as my enemy. Not yet, anyway. Dutch stuck out his hand and I clasped it. The man was huge. Though he was actually an overgrown boy. He could not have been more than twenty-five, his age being somewhat distorted by a short-cropped beard that was run through with white streaks. I examined his features with a quick glance, which he caught.

“Easter Island,” he said. “I was born there. I’ve never done anything else except ship out. Nothin’ to do on Easter Island, ‘cept drive a tour bus or wait tables.” He took out a hand-rolled cigarette and lit it between gulps from his glass. Marlys refilled him before it was even empty. She didn’t seem to notice Dutch’s existence any more than mine.

“Kinda cold young lady,” I ventured when she walked out of earshot.

“Cold?” he laughed gently back; looking to make sure the woman was out of earshot. “No, not cold. Hot as hell, but even more dangerous. Take your chances somewhere else, if you’d like to stay in one piece.”

Normally, I would have taken this as a warning from an existent or potential suitor, but I didn’t get those feelings from Dutch at all. I looked at Marlys’ back, tightly held in her blue sheath. ‘Yemaya, the Sea Goddess,’ I thought to myself.

“What do we do until we get to the island?” I asked, mainly to change the subject. I’d had enough of sitting at the bar and drinking coffee.

“We check out the passengers to make sure they’re all settled, get a bite of food from the Filipino mess below, and then you check out the diving locker for your equipment,” he responded.

Deep Sea Diver was one of my jobs, I recalled. My résumé had contained a small section about my Dive Master designation and experience with mixed gas diving. The entry had not detailed just how little time I had spent performing in that area, however. But Dutch was right about checking the locker. Outside of training and experience, the equipment was everything if I was to have to enter the murderously cold waters of the Bering Sea. Next, I followed Dutch down the stairwell to a lower deck.

The equipment was first class. Dated, as I expected, but relatively unused. That gave me hope that I would not have to be using it at all. Two dry suits. A selection of many B.C.’s and plenty of ‘72’ tanks, with quality U.S. made regulators, hung from bulkhead hooks.

“We sail all the way to Antarctica in the winter,” Dutch offered by way of explaining why there were so many units. I assumed that interested passengers paid extra to dive when the ship was in tropical waters running back and forth between the poles. A five thousand P.S.I. compressor sat in the corner of the small metal cabin, its exhaust intelligently piped to the outside. I also noted that the dive locker was the only other cabin that I’d seen that had a locking metal hatch, outside of the infirmary, instead of a wooden door. We stepped out onto the back deck. Dutch locked the door with a key, and then he made a show of sticking it into his pocket with a wink.

“Your able diving assistant, at your service, sir,” he bowed at the waist as he spoke the words. He had a sense of humor.

I smiled. “You NAUI certified or PADI?” I inquired of him.

“None of that,” he responded, as we walked away. “Got all my experience from diving…and from people like you.”

I didn’t say the phrase “Oh, that’s just terrific!” but it coursed through my mind.

“You’re in with Don, the botanist, so I won’t come by to roust you out,” Dutch said. “Zero five hundred hours. They’ve got to get the Zodiacs winched down from up above.” He pointed up toward the top deck of the ship. “The Germans don’t trust us with the expensive French boats, unless it’s to run them onto rough rocks, like Diomede is made of, in high surf.” He brought his arm down. “Filipino mess is down on the bilge deck. If you want a bite I’ll see you there.” With that, he stepped through the open door and was gone.

“Onto rocks in the high surf?” were words that I spoke out loud, but to his departed back. I was left with only a bad feeling. I had been completely wrong about everything since joining the expedition. I knew that I had to start getting things right soon, or else the mission instructions I had been given would never be realized. At least not that part of them. My control had stated clearly, near the end of them, “…and don’t spend any more money or spill any blood. Not one drop, do you hear me?” I had agreed. My prior missions had all been successful, and the blood that had been spilled had not been my fault, even though there had been a lot of it. But I had kept my mouth shut instead of arguing my position.

I wasn’t hungry, so I headed toward my cabin with a sense of relief. In spite of the sun, remaining eerily high overhead, I knew I needed some rest. The swells were running a good thirty feet, the hour was growing late, and not a soul was anywhere on the deck or in the corridors. I knew that because it took me three attempts to find my cabin. The ship, appearing to be so sensibly laid out, was, in reality, a rabbit warren demanding considerable experience and attention to negotiate. I rapped on the door of Cabin 36 and then turned the handle. To no avail. The deadbolt was thrown from the inside. Frustrated, I then knocked loudly. I knocked twice more until finally, the door opened a crack. I could barely see Don’s face through the small opening.

“What?” he whispered.

“What?” I nearly shouted. “Let me in. I’m tired. I want to hit the sack.” Although the door opened farther, Don didn’t move out of the way. My eyes opened wide as I noted that he was naked and that a young blond woman was in his bunk. I gasped. I just stared past him at the beautiful young woman. While she stared back at me, one hand covered her breasts with a sheet.

“Here’s your kit,” Don said, then pushed a bag through the door. “You’re going to have to find another berth. I’ve already got a bunk mate.” He closed the door and I heard the deadbolt turn. I fought to breathe. I shook my head, still not comprehending. I opened the zipper on the bag and, sure enough, all my stuff was inside, carefully folded and snugly packed, as if by a woman. I was relieved that I had not left the satellite maps or Krugerrands in the cabin. I picked up the bag, angrily, and then made for the purser’s office. It was closed. I went back to the bar. Marlys was cashing out when I approached. I slung the bag up onto the cleared bar surface.

“My cabin partner Don has found himself a new roommate. The purser’s office is closed. What the hell am I supposed to do?” Yemaya stared at me without expression.

“The air’s warm,” she counseled, “The night’s bright. The entire Lido deck is yours alone.” With that, she walked to the stairs leading down to the fourth berthing deck.

“Good night,” she said but did not look over her shoulder at me when she said it. I did catch a glimpse of silver on her ankle as she departed, however, and I shivered unwillingly.

The Lido deck was covered with tables and chairs running out into a great room, which was surrounded by plastic covered couches all along the bulkheads, inside and outside around the fantail. I muttered to myself, and then dragged my bag to cover myself. I curled up to sleep but lay there for a while thinking. Nothing had gone right. I puzzled over how to come to grips with the possibility that I had been transported to another dimension. Then blessed darkness closed over me.

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