First Contact


I headed to the fantail. The passengers gathered along the rail, watching the action down on the dock and waiting to go ashore. Borman strode alongside me all the way from the bar, his First Mate’s uniform causing passengers to give way. I bellied up to the rail, leaning down to rest my elbows atop the wood plank, which covered the steel. Borman stood next to me.

Down below a dozen members of the Russian military gathered together in small clumps, not far from a Russian-made version of an American Jeep. Soldiers wore weird, off-green uniforms. Don stood in front of the Jeep with his back to the vehicle’s grill. One heel rested on the front bumper. He smoked one of his cigarettes, which, of course, he supposedly did not smoke. Benito was at the driver’s window, talking away and handing a canvas bag through it. At that point, Don put his foot down, picked up his own paper bag, which looked to be larger and heavier, and took it to the passenger window. He passed that bag inside, too. I presumed it contained the Vodka that closed the deal. The Jeep backed up, and then slowly drove away.

“My men tell me that it was you who struck me. You gave me this head injury,” Borman glowered, his face not turning fully toward me, however.

I stiffened slightly. I had not forgotten the threat he’d made at the bar.

“I was the man who stitched you up after the injury,” I replied, unwilling to admit anything.

Borman was not going to let it go easily.

“I say to myself, why would a man like you cause physical injury to a man like me?” He continued to watch the pier below us.

I thought for a moment, before addressing his question.

“A man like me might strike a man like you, if the circumstance was such that it was very necessary.” I prepared myself for violence, although Borman’s choice of turf seemed wholly inappropriate for a brawl.

Borman resumed. “And what is it that a man like you would see that would cause such a thing?” he inquired.

I was becoming a bit perplexed. I was not expecting Borman to demonstrate intellect. Yet, here it seemed on display.

“A man like me might find a man like you dead drunk, attempting to break down the door of a female crewman and assault her. A man like me might commit a violent act to save the crew person from abuse, and a man like you from disgrace.”

Borman took a cigar out of his pocket, and then lit it with a cheap Bic lighter. He puffed several times, as I noticed the Russian Jeep returning. Benito retrieved the bag from the driver when the vehicle stopped. Both she and Don then headed for the gangplank together. Borman attacked from the flank.

“So a man like you would then stitch up a man like me. And, if you were to take the stitches out, without further incident, then maybe a man like you and a man like me might be even.” Borman blew more of the obnoxious smoke overboard.

I watched him blink. I looked down upon the dock. The military was fast dispersing into other Jeeps I had not seen. They’d been parked behind one of the buildings. All the vehicles headed down an alley, disappearing from view. The pier emptied. I sized up Borman again.

I wondered if Don, Dutch and I, all together, were a match for the man. He was built like a German Panzer. I debated the pros and cons. In spite of my bravado in front of the Basque, I knew it would not be wise to harm any of the crewmen. Certainly not the Captain or the First Mate.

Only days earlier, a cruise ship not far from our stranding on the Isle of the Tsar of Russia had experienced a fire. No one had been hurt. Yet, I was certain that the media was still circulating stories about it up and down the West Coast of the U.S. I needed to avoid an international incident, not initiate one. I prayed to my venerable Catholic Saints that this would be the first extraction in which I participated that had no fatalities.

I headed for my cabin, with Borman right behind me. I stopped at Don’s room. I uncharacteristically knocked, since I had Borman in tow. I heard nothing from within. I opened the door wide. The Basque sat just where I expected to find her. She stared beyond me at the Mate with an expression that quickly grew chilly. I picked up the canvas bag; looked inside to make sure it held the items I had given Don, plus the medical supplies. It did. I saluted the Basque, closed the door, and accelerated down the corridor.

“Mouseketeer business, I presume,” the First Mate said.

Society JacketI didn’t answer him. When I got to my own cabin, I unlocked the door. Borman then leaned against a bulkhead. I went inside. I grabbed my heavy coat, a pair of gloves and a knit cap. I had no idea how long I might be exposed to the weather. It was fifty degrees in the Russian port, but that could be very cold if you spent a lot of time out in it. I took the radio and put it in my left front pocket. The automatic, from which I removed the magazine, went into my right. The gold I stored in one of the huge jacket pockets, along with the weapon’s suppressor. At the last second I reached into the bunk side table, and took out the Aguiak nuggets. I put them in my coat, too.

Borman had waited. I locked the cabin door behind me, even though it contained nothing of further interest, except maybe the recorderless CD player. Next, I led Borman to Benito’s quarters. Thankfully, she was inside. I entered her room without knocking. After all, technically speaking, we had slept together. She looked up from her desk. Without having to be told, Borman had remained outside.

“Trainable,” I proclaimed to myself.

“What?” Benito said, having heard me speak, but not discerning what I’d said.

“It was a pleasure,” I said, “having you last night.” I grinned hugely.

Benito did not smile back. She’d seen Borman standing in the corridor. She knew he had heard my comment. She did not deny it, however, instead just awaited whatever point had brought me to her cabin.

“Passport,” I said, barely audibly, as if we were co-conspirators.

She grumbled, but reached into her bag fumbling around for a minute. Finally, she produced my blue U.S. Passport. I slipped it into my pocket. I was not about to be caught on Russian soil without a Passport. Not under operational circumstances.

I went to the top of the gangplank. Dutch was there. Even though the sun warmed us both, he had also thought to wear his heavy-duty coat. Perhaps he might be a bit smarter than I had given him credit for. Borman followed us down to the dock, where Don and Marlys chatted. Marlys’ coat did not come down below the bottom of her micro, making an ambiguous statement. I swore, when she walked away, heading with Don for the museum, that the swell of her buttocks was visible at the bottom of the skirt line. When she sat down at the museum…. well, I wanted to be there to behold such an event. Dutch and I, including our ally Borman, began the long walk to the cemetery.

The Mission Plan had commenced.

“Shot, over,” I said, to myself. Neither Dutch nor Borman indicated they understood. ‘Shot, over,’ was an artillery term, from my old days in the Corps.

When you called for artillery fire you waited, once you had made the call. When the gun fired, they told you on the radio ‘shot, over,’ to let you know that the round had left the barrel of the artillery piece. Then you looked at your watch, because usually you had between fifteen to forty seconds until the rounds impacted, depending upon how far away the guns were. Of course, you didn’t really have to look at your watch. The gunners calculated the flight too, and then said “Splash,” five seconds before rounds impacted.

It took just under half an hour to walk to the cemetery. The place was amazing, I realized, as we went through the wall sectioning the burial ground from the town. The cemetery was on the northern tip of the spit. That part rose up a good hundred feet above the rest of the town. It was not ruled by the tundra, which was why it was the ground chosen for burials. The locals buried people in Provideniya by digging right into the rock. We walked about the place. Ornate railings bordered every grave. Each was well maintained, with crockery set upon stones at almost every site. I picked up a piece. It was fine Russian stuff, thin and magnificent, really.

“What’s all the eating stuff for?” Dutch asked. I put the piece back where I’d found it.

“They come here on the weekends and holidays. They have meals with their loved ones.” I said. “And nobody takes anything because such things are just not done.”

I emphasized that last because even my fingers tingled with the idea of possessing some of the fine crockery. I moved to the cemetery’s outer edge. It was a tremendously impressive place from which to view the harbor. Down below a Zodiac cruised up and down the coast, not far from us. I held up my right hand and made a fist. Filipe immediately raised his own, in a similar salute. An ancient salute, from one warrior to another. I knew Filipe comprehended.

“More Mouseketeer business, I presume?” Borman injected.

I nodded, as Filipe nosed the craft into a small cleft just below and to the North of us. He stopped the Zodiac, and then raised his arm again. I replied. Borman shook his head in disgust. Filipe’s Zodiac was empty. The ‘Lindy’s’ passengers had not been ashore in quite awhile, yet Filipe had not been able to interest any of them in his excursion. He’d come alone. I hoped that Kessler was not on the bridge with his Zeiss binoculars. If he were, then his forehead would, right this minute, be creased with concern. Borman sat on a gravestone. He pulled another cigar out of his pocket and began to smoke.

Dutch pointed at a Russian Orthodox crucifix. “Why is the bar on the bottom, you know, where Christ has his feet, always at an angle?”

I was stunned. I had not expected to discuss anthropology during the mission’s operational phase.

“Mythology tells us that, on the historic day, three men were crucified. One thief on each side of Christ. One thief was good, and one thief was bad. The bar points upward toward the good thief.” I finished. Was Dutch going to ask what distinguished a good thief from a bad one? The answer to that question I didn’t know, but it didn’t matter. He never asked.

Don came around the corner of a building and headed towards us. He was alone and I was troubled. The plan had both Don and Marlys returning to the cemetery, preferably with the Museum Professor in tow. Borman tossed his cigar down, before grinding it out on a gravestone. Don approached and sat down in one of the chairs that accompanied just about every gravesite.

“Where’s Marlys?” I asked, quietly, glancing at Borman who registered nothing.

Don looked to the heavens.

“She’s doing her job. Khromov’s entranced, not that his assistant is too enthusiastic.”

I instantly presumed the assistant to be a woman. I liked the image of a large middle-aged, beefy Russian woman confronting Marlys in the presence of a vulnerable Professor.

“And so?” I blurted, getting frustrated about having to force every word out of the man, although I realized it was because Borman was there.

“Khromov’s gonna come to see you at the Sarda, around one. We can have the place open and serving all the Vodka we want. He’s already done the deal with Commissar Kasinski. You get a personal audience tomorrow. It’s going to cost you a couple of bottles of Bacardi Light though.” When he stopped talking, all three of us turned toward Borman.

“What the hell’s going on?” he said, jumping from the gravestone, as if it had suddenly become red hot.

I reached my hand into my right pants pocket. I positioned the automatic, but did not draw it out.

“What’s going on First Mate Borman is a choice. You can either throw your lot in with Kessler or with us.”
“What in hell are you taking about?” Borman said.

“What is this with the Commissar? What are you people up to?” He stood then, with his hands out, and his mind obviously confused.

“We’re going to get a kid out of that Gulag tomorrow. We’re going to try to do it the easy way, but if that doesn’t work, then were going to do it the hard way. We want your help.” I spread my hands, as if that was all I had to say.

“Gott in Himmel,” Borman shrieked, while starting to leave. “I’m going back to the ship. This is exactly what the captain was talking about. You people have all gone nuts.”

“Borman,” I said, softly, but with deadly intent. I still did not draw the automatic. The First Mate stopped, gauging my tone.

“Has Kessler told you about the gold?” I inquired. Borman’s mouth formed the word ‘gold’ but nothing came out.

“I thought not,” I went on.

I reached into my pocket, and then stepped closer to him. Slowly, I pulled nugget after nugget out of my pocket. He held out his hand, as I held out mine. I dropped half a dozen of them onto his open palm.

“Real gold?” he asked, his voice quavering while he examined the nuggets closely.

“From one of the Northern Islands. It’s why Kessler left the ship. It’s why I’m filing for an archeological dig on the island. Just about everyone knows about it, except you. Why is that? You’re in for a full share,” I stated, matter-of-factly, “if you want to throw in with us. We aren’t planning a mutiny. We just want to get this kid out, then plan how we’re going to get the gold off the island.”

I didn’t even know what a ‘full share’ of anything was, I thought. I was beginning to sound like Kelly in Kelly’s Heroes, and I was hoping that Borman would play the role that Don Rickles had in the movie. A role of complete and total, unabashed greed.

“How do I know that this is all for real?” Borman asked, finally taking his eyes from the gold, which he made no move to return.

I removed the suppressor from my coat pocket, and then tossed it to him.

“What’s this?” he demanded, catching the blue steel cylinder with his spare hand. He pulled it up to his face, sniffed it, and then held it out at arm’s length.

“Schalldampfer,” he said, quietly. It was the German word for ‘silencer.’ His eyes zeroed in my right hand, still pushed deep into my pocket. He lifted his eyes to stare into mine.

“Mouseketeers? I am to be a Mouseketeer?” He tossed the suppressor back to me, as he spit out the question. “Can I keep these…sir?” he asked, holding the nuggets I had given him in the palm of his hand.

“Yes, but put them away and show no one else. Now, let me fill you in on this mission.”

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