Our Zodiac rounded the end of a long gravel spit. I was relieved. I had not wanted to trudge through another interminable stretch of deep sucking stones. Not with our frail doctor in tow. The bay we entered was flat, round and large. The south end seemed to be the center of development. Above some scattered industrial plants, surrounded by the usual dockside junk of derricks and containers, stood an imposing Victorian building. White, with blue accents, it rose majestically over everything else visible on the island. As our speed slowed, I looked back at Don, perched across from Marlys, both sunk into the large rubber tubes of the Zodiac hull. His eyes flicked down to Marlys’ ankle, and back up to me. His recognition grew broader. I understood. The anklet was not an exact copy of the original. It was the original. Don had taken it from my drawer when he’d been in my cabin. I had been in the bathroom getting ready. So much for the vaunted privacy of everyone’s belongings, I groused.

My thoughts went even further. He could not have missed the gold nuggets, yet he’d said nothing. I wondered if the nuggets were still there. I breathed in and out deeply, trying to accommodate everything. The complexity of things occurring on and around the ship was almost too overwhelming to grasp. Everything was running together, then apart, then back together with a bizarre illogic. I, of course, now prepared myself to make believe I was a real doctor again. The sum total of my training consisted of working in Peace Corps clinics across the underdeveloped world. Mostly, I had worked for service. I would come in almost dead, get healed, stitched and medicated, then work off the ‘fee.’

I noticed the way in which light struck the Russian Orthodox Church. Russian Orthodoxy dominated all of the island religions. It had come with the whaling trade, which was now non-existent, except for a few native tribesmen who brought in a couple of Baleen’s every year. Native harvesting, they called it. People still came north from the lower states to protest even those few kills. If they stayed long enough and sailed the Bering at all, their misconceptions about a limited whale population went away.

The Bering Sea ran amuck with whales. They were so prevalent that cruise lines only stopped to let passengers view them on the first day out. Otherwise, the ships would heave to all the time. The view was so beautiful I wished I had been able to keep my Leica. It was the Agency’s Leica, really. But it would have been mine after the mission.

My practice was to steal any and all equipment left over after a mission. It was included in my ‘personal field agent benefit package.’ Instead, Maxwell had commandeered it. So, I’d left the Lido deck empty-handed. Maybe it would turn up, I mused, but then dismissed the notion. The Immigration ‘field agent’s benefits package’ was the more likely repository of that expensive device.

There were no other Zodiacs at the quayside when we tied up. How long Kessler would entertain the agents was anybody’s guess. Someone had called them in. They would not leave without anything to show for their effort. Not easily, anyway.

I climbed onto the dock from the bow, before helping Don. Marlys was chilly of hand, but her clasp was warm, however, when compared to the icy glare of her look. All three of us assisted the doctor. I took his bag, which seemed heavy enough this time to actually have real instruments and medications within. Filipe backed up the Zodiac and was off in seconds.

“Does anybody ever get breakfast or lunch on the ship?” I posed the question to make conversation, but also because it seemed a valid concern.

I calculated I had been losing about a pound a day. Even my watch was getting loose on my wrist. Every morning I was pounded out of bed, and then raced about until dinner.

A contingent of locals arrived in a big yellow school bus. They didn’t get off. The driver opened the door and motioned us in. I was the last aboard. My eyes flicked down to the end of the wharf where a big white and red helicopter sat in isolation.

“Why was the Coast Guard providing service to the Department of Immigration?” I puzzled. It was uncommon and a curiosity. They didn’t normally care much for one another.

“Now, I’ll give you the tour, as we head across the island,” our driver said, in a jaunty, stilted voice. I stood at the front of the bus.

There were eight or ten people already aboard, spaced out, each taking a full double seat. Nobody sat together. They were all Caucasians, while the driver was a local woman.

“The victim is on the other side of the island at the fish production facility,” she advised while popping the clutch and taking off up the muddy dirt road.

Trident Crab Plant St Paul

Trident processing plant St Paul Island

“Hello, can everyone hear me?” she said. She was holding a little microphone in her hand. Her voice radiated out through speakers in the ceiling of the bus. She leaned down and turned up the volume as we churned up the road toward the church. “Now what you see here is the abandoned Russian Orthodox church. It was built in the early eighteen hundreds…” she droned, occasionally switching the microphone to her other hand. I saw several people walking out of the church. “Of course,” she said through the microphone, “the church isn’t really abandoned anymore…” My eyes rolled. Of course, the abandoned church was not abandoned. The universe I was in was not really a universe at all. It was actually a parallel galaxy.