The Basque finished her rendition of the Mouseketeer song.
Don plopped down on his bunk with a very pleased look on his face.
“Like we don’t have enough trouble?” I asked him, shaking my head into the silence. “What the hell do you think Borman is going to do once he realizes that there’s some underground movement aboard, opposed to his Gestapo rule?”
Don grinned on, so I continued, “Mutiny is still mutiny out here, no matter whose waters we’re sailing.” I could tell that I was making no headway. I got up to leave, but then addressed both of them. “Count me out of this little operation.” I made for the door, but Don’s voice stopped me.
“You’re the head Mouseketeer, you can’t be counted out, and besides, you wanted help in Russia. Now you’ve got help. Our help.” Don motioned to the beautiful young Sphinx against the bulkhead.
I left without further comment, closing the cabin door quietly behind me. I contemplated just how big my force of ‘helpers’ would be by the time we hit Provideniya, Russia, if we ever hit Provideniya
Marlys remained on my mind. I tried to think of things to do that would keep me from the bar, where I knew she would be serving, probably wearing the terribly full body wrap she had had on before. Her attire aroused me. I headed for Dutch’s cabin. His door gaped open, even though he was in his shower. Typically, the frosty glass door did not hide all that much, and his room was half filled with steam. A German officer, in distinctive white shirt and black trousers, suddenly filled the open doorway. I stood up, automatically, to greet him. He entered, taking his flat little barracks cap from his head. He held it under one arm, just as I had done when I was a Marine.
“Could you give the assistant cruise director a message when he comes out?” he asked, in German.
I just stared at him without moving.
“Verstehen Sie, bitte?” he then asked softly. He looked at me knowingly, somewhat bemused.
I recalled that I had used the phrase over the radio. I had given something of my language capability away under pressure. I was very surprised to have the words knowingly brought to my attention, however.
“Wer bist du?” I responded, in German.
“I’m the Third Mate, Günter,” he answered. He extended his free right hand, and I shook it. Dry and crisp. Just enough pressure, not too much, very properly German.
“Would you please tell Herr Dutch that we will be making a short stop at The Aguiak. There will be time for a shore party to the top of the mountain if he should choose to take such a hike.”
With that, the Third Mate reached into one of his back pockets and pulled out a small folded piece of canvas. “Please see that he gets this. He will understand.”
I took the canvas and was left looking at it, as he executed an abrupt about-face, placed his cap firmly atop his head, then marched into, and up, the corridor.
The canvas turned out to be a small bag with a rope threaded through one end. It was a neat little pouch, a bit bigger than those people used to carry in the old days. The people who rolled their own cigarettes. But there was nothing in the pouch. I didn’t know what ‘The Aguiak’ was, or what the pouch was for, but the whole thing seemed decidedly odd.
Dutch came out of the shower.
I grabbed his towel from the foot of the bunk and threw it at him. He closed the door, and then dried off. I held out the pouch. He stared at it, and then back up into my eyes.
“What did he tell you?” he asked.
I knew immediately that he was guilty of something, but nothing I could think of.
“Everything,” I answered. I tossed the pouch to him. “Better bring back a scalp or two in that, or there might be trouble.”
Dutch finished drying off. He put the pouch into his bureau drawer. While I sat looking at him, he dressed, not looking back at me.
“Did you monitor the anchor situation?” I asked into the silence.
Dressed, he placed himself on top the bunk across from me.
“Yeah, Filipe was great. No Germans came down. The Filipinos handled all of it. They understand that you must have had a very good reason for cutting the chain.”
My breath left me. I stared at the man.
“What…me…I…?” croaked out of me. My eyes were wide in shock. Dutch threw out his hands.
“Well, I couldn’t tell ‘em it was me! What’d you want me to say? Besides, we’re in this together.” He stopped talking.
I couldn’t believe my ears. The ‘Lindy’ was steaming along, making the infamous ‘Ship of Fools’ seem like a vessel of high intellect and solid judgment.
“Don’t worry,” he said, trying to calm my obviously agitated state, “Filipe told them that you’re a warrior. You’re to be honored! They all agreed.” He bubbled with enthusiasm, like the large idiot-child he was.
“Oh, terrific,” I breathed out.
“Since we are in this together,” I stated, loudly, with acid, “just what the hell is the Aguiak, and what are you supposed to get there during your ‘shore party.’?”
Dutch looked the picture of innocence.
“The Aguiak is an island. We’re putting in off its natural harbor so the crew can re-attach the link to the bulkhead in the chain locker, without the ship bouncing all over the place. I’m going ashore to lead a hike of the more athletic passengers up to the summit of the peak there.”
“I don’t know what the hell you’re up to Dutch, but I know I’m going along on that hike. I also note that you haven’t mentioned what the little sack is supposed to be for, or why it was delivered by a German Officer.” I pointed at the bureau, but he offered nothing more.
It was going to be an interesting hike on The Aguiak.
I checked my watch. We were due to deliver our ‘stand-up’ ten-minute lectures to the assembled passengers in half an hour. That would give me time to kill sitting in the bar. Marlys might not even be there, I kidded myself. On the way up the stairs, I noted that the deck was beginning to heave again. We were in for more great swells. I reached into my pocket and felt the silver anklet inside, massaging the dolphins. I wished I had remembered to bring my digital camera with me from the room. I wanted a photo of the mysterious woman. Maybe her image wouldn’t show up using such a medium. I’d check to see if I could see her reflection in the mirror behind the bar. I laughed at the thought. I’d taken shots of the Isle of the Tsar of Russia with the camera, from my porthole, while it was still burning. I wondered if I’d need them when we hit the Pribilofs if we ever got to the Pribilofs.
The Lido deck was filled with passengers lounging. Most took note of me when I walked by, but no one said anything. I behaved as I imagined a real anthropology lecturer and guide would. I wandered casually over to the bar. My corner spot was open, so I took it. Wedged in, I waited. A few moments later, Marlys rounded the corner from the storeroom behind the bar, carrying some liquor bottles. As always, she was stunning. White blouse, tied at the top of her black trousers. Her midriff was bare. It was a wonderful midriff. I checked the mirror and found her reflection. I was unaccountably relieved. She poured a cup of coffee, and then came over to the corner where I sat. The cup was not a cup. It was one of those tall glass things. The way I glanced at it caused her to comment.
“You don’t like it?” she said in her dusky mysterious voice. The tinge of Dutch (or was it Surinamese?) was not irritating. It was alluring.
I didn’t answer her, not wanting to say something stupid.
We have others cups,” she volunteered, seeming to know that the tall, vaguely feminine glass bothered me. “What do you normally drink your coffee from?”
I searched for something profound to say. Anything.
“Ah, I drink my coffee from thick ceramic bowls, usually, when I can find them. It’s an old Navy thing.” I blushed. I couldn’t believe what had come out of my mouth.
She stood square and straight, and then looked directly into my face.m “Were you in the Navy?’ she inquired, waiting.
“Ah, no,” I answered, truthfully…. and stupidly.
She just continued standing there, looking at the biggest idiot aboard the ship.
“I want to talk to you,” she stated, after a moment of silent staring.
“Yes, I know,” I began, reaching into my pocket for the anklet.
“No,” she said, her voice nearly a soft hiss. She extended one hand out toward me. “I’ll come to you.”
“But your anklet,” I tried again.
She stopped me.
“The anklet is to hold you,” she explained, offhandedly, like it was something I might be expected to hear anywhere or anytime from anyone.
She moved back toward the storeroom, while I admired the departing curve of her backside, the material covering it not tight, just warmly snug. Such quality, I thought, as I was left to consider what she might have meant by her comment. Maybe it was a language thing, I guessed. I fingered the anklet inside my pocket.
Marlys reappeared, briskly walked the length of the bar, and grabbed my coffee glass. She poured its contents into a cream colored ceramic bowl. She walked away with neither look nor word. I stared into my swirling coffee.
“Great,” I chastised myself.
I was doomed to spend the remainder of my time aboard drinking coffee like “Cochon,” the Navy veteran from the Golden Nugget in Nome. I was a Marine. There was some kind of reverse violation of code there, but I was not going to invest any more time thinking about it.
Don joined me at the bar. His great bulk was a comfort to have next to me.
“What are you going to say to the passengers?” he asked, innocently.
I shrugged. We hadn’t seen anybody that entire day. Outside of the Russian fishermen, that is. We never did catch sight of any Russian Commandos. We weren’t even dead certain they’d been there. What could I report on since no anthropology had occurred? Other staff crew members gathered near the bar. Benito soon appeared, set up the pedestal microphone, and then lined up a row of chairs in a semi-circle behind the device. She motioned for all of our staff, sitting around, to occupy the chairs.
I left my bowl of coffee on the bar. My place was at the end of the row, with Don beside me. I looked behind him. High up on the bulkhead I spotted something that hadn’t been there before. I peered at the small insignia with squinted eyes. My eyebrows shot up, as I recognized the small drawing. It was the head of Mickey Mouse. I prodded Don. I motioned toward the small effigy, but he would not turn to look. He just chortled quietly.
“Your Mouseketeers are here,” he whispered.
My stomach felt strange, looking again at Mickey, high up on the wall. The mission was still way up ahead of me, but the whole world around me was spinning out of control. It wasn’t just loss of control, I realized. It was worse than that. I had also lost the ability to comprehend what was spinning.
Everyone took his or her turn at the microphone. I was last. Benito introduced me. I got up and walked to stand behind the raised instrument. Benito passed behind me. She flagrantly moved her hand across my butt as she passed. To my credit, I did not jump, but I did look behind me into Don’s eyes. His face was screwed up and contorted, but he hadn’t let out a sound. The crowd of almost a hundred people had all had paid over twenty thousand dollars each to spend ten days with us. Somehow that reassured me.
“I’m Professor…” I began, but that was it.
They applauded. Then they rose up and clapped some more. I was dumbfounded. I just stood there, like a mummy, until the din eventually quieted. I turned to Don, beseeching him for help. He leaned forward.
“Just tell them, you know, the story of what happened on the island,” Don suggested. “After all, it’s the big adventure of their cruise,” he finished.
I thought for a brief moment, inhaled deeply, and then began to lie.