Third and Long
The afternoon wore on. Dora, whom I had reckoned to be Khromov’s assistant, after many swallows of Johnny Walker Red, proved to be his sister, as well. So, the slight mystery of their resemblance was resolved. Maryls had tired of the drinking, on the part of both the bottomless Khromovs and Dutch. Don assumed the entire serving load, but he was not over-worked because everyone drank whatever was available.
The popular “Walker” was supplemented with shots of Bacardi Light. There were no complaints. Marlys finally relieved Don, to the approval of the wobbly males present. The men, one and all, leaned closer to the pallets, in order to see a bit better. Marlys ignored them. Don joined me at the table, across from the Russians.
“Save the batteries,” I instructed him.
We would not be needing the radios until the next morning. I had already turned mine off.
“I have to go aboard anyway,” he shot back. He would inform the Basque, that I knew for sure.
“I should get the snuff boxes, and take them with me,” he offered to Khromov, who agreed enthusiastically.
“They’re on my desk, wrapped in nose tissue,” he said.”
I estimated that the professor had knocked down at least fifteen shots, with no stopping in sight. Don had instituted a payment plan whereby everyone threw paper bills and coins into a large bowl on the bar, for the drinks. The Russians had not moved, so I presumed that their drinks were on the house, which would eventually mean on me.
“You left the boxes on your desk?” I mentioned, casually, to Khromov. “Can you lend Don the key?”
The Russian began chortling. He drank down another shot. Without Don pouring the booze, I realized, the man and his sister were going to have to belly up to the bar for more drinks.
“Key? I don’t have a key. The office’s never locked. We don’t have any theft here. Starvation, yes. Injuries and sickness, certainly. But no theft. There’s no place to take anything if somebody did steal it.”
I rejoiced that the doctor was still aboard the 'Lindy'.
“Mouseketeers, again, tonight,” I reminded a departing Don.
The day was not moving the way I had hoped. It was going too slowly, like everything was mired in booze and molasses. It meant, of course, that the following day was going to proceed in overdrive. A small group of youths entered the building. Nobody seemed to notice them. I watched them case the place, doubting that Marlys would serve them. Then they shuffled in my direction, stopping at our table. All four boys wore black pleather jackets, which were poor imitations of leather. They had that look of most adolescents all over the world. Theirs was the attitude Marlon Brando first captured in his 1950’s motorcycle movie, even if he had been anything but an adolescent when it was filmed. I elbowed Khromov. He peered at the teenagers, who all looked younger than eighteen.
“Is this him?” the obvious leader of the pack said. Khromov nodded, then stared into his empty glass.
“Can I talk to you outside?” the kid asked me.
“Why not,” I answered.
I stepped out into the cold Provideniya sun. I discovered that Sarda’s already gave off the stench of a well-used bar. The clear air outside smelled good. I walked down to the North end of the building, and then stopped. Ivan was right behind me with his ‘wolf pack.’ He gestured at the tank, sitting nearby, its big gun aimed over the top of the distant World Discoverer, down at the dock.
“Is the tank going to be a problem?” the kid asked.
I looked at the tank, then back at the boy.
“My friend says it’s a T-33,” I tried to be conversational. “And yes, it’s a very serious concern.
“Your friend isn’t too smart,” Ivan stated, his voice showing no trace of the Russian accent I had first expected to hear. “It’s a T-72. There aren’t any T-33’s. No such tank was ever made in Russia.”
The boy was not absolutely correct, I knew, as the T-33 had indeed existed at one time in Russia. It was the Russian attempt, before WWII, to come up with an
amphibious armored vehicle. It hadn’t made it into full production. I let it go, and I didn’t say more, trying to divine instead why we were out here together.
“My uncle said that it might be dangerous to take me with you,” Ivan remarked.
I considered. He had a point. It was probably a much more difficult thing to get him into the U.S., than any danger I might expose him to in Russia, but I remained silent.
“We can fix that thing,” he pointed at the tank, “in about ten minutes, so it won’t fire. Not for awhile, anyway.”
I looked at the huge forty-ton behemoth, doubting the boy’s word. Youthful bravado, I mused.
“The gun is just part of it. It has two thirty-caliber machine guns and the twelve point six up on top. They would be as damaging as the main gun. I mean, if it came to that.” The tank was a war-fighting system, I well knew. The kid did not seem fazed.
“They’re all drunk in there,” he snapped his fingers back toward the entrance to Sarda’s, “so, when they finally come back I don’t think they’ll check to see if they have any ammunition.”
“I’ll be damned. You’re right,” I congratulated the boy, with a smile. “Take the tank out. Yes, take it out.”
I left immediately, not wanting to be a part of the disaster that would ensue if the anti-tank plan went awry. I headed back into the bar.
I spotted Borman, and then motioned with my head toward the door. I next tapped Dutch, who was almost lying atop his small part of the bar, as I went by. He quickened to my passing touch, and then moved to follow me. Outside, in the air, I waited for the two huge men who exited together.
“I want you two back on the ship. Take a nap, before this evening. Sober up. If you have to have something tonight then drink beer or wine.”
They both grunted, before looking at one another. I thought they might argue about who was drunker, but they didn’t. Instead, they obediently started for the ship. Borman adjusting his white hat atop his damaged bullet head. I would have to remove his stitches soon, I thought, or they’d grow to the skin. It had been easier to think carelessly about the man’s health before his induction into the Mouseketeers.
I headed back Sarda’s. Some figures, far down the alley, were pulling what appeared to be old plastic coolers. Ivan walked toward me. I waited, thankful to be outside the door, dreading my return inside. I winked at the big Russian kid. He grinned back, then stood before me, his hands thrust deep into his faux leather pockets. I motioned toward the departing figures, as they disappeared from view.
“The ammo?” I asked, already knowing, and impressed.
He just played the part of Joe Cool. I didn’t ask him how he’d disabled the tank’s main gun, but I didn’t have any doubts that it’d been done either. The boy might just do, I concluded.
“Where do we meet in the morning?” he asked.
“The cemetery. We’ll be staging there, once we get back from the gulag. I don’t know what time. Just be there. You got a passport?”
He shook his head. I was disappointed to hear that.
“Jesus Christ,” I swore, but bit the words off at the last second. He was just a kid.
Then I smiled. “No theft in Provideniya, huh?” I said, thinking about the ammo and what the professor had said, but the kid looked puzzled. I began to make for the bar’s entrance.
“You going to rescue that guy?” Ivan inquired.
I stopped, nodding my head as I looked over at him. There was something more in his voice, so I waited.
“That’s good. He’s a fine person. Alexi Demetrius,” he said.
I almost asked, “who?” but I didn’t. He had to be talking about the activist, I figured. I wanted nothing whatever to do with Russian politics. And since there was nothing to be gained by revealing anything, I merely turned away. The boy ran off toward his distant, ammunition-thieving friends. The bar was at full strength when I returned. The American version of Happy Hour had struck. I checked the money jar, but it’d been emptied already. I had a hunch where the money had gone, but I let the thought drift away. I really didn’t care.
I sat down with Khromov, who was finally showing signs that his blood alcohol was around twenty-five percent. He leaned forward heavily on his elbows. Dora, sitting next to him, looked like a larger female clone of him.
“What’s the deal with Alexi?” I asked him, certain that nobody was listening.
Nobody cared. In Russia, everyone just drank hard. The passengers had gotten right into the cultural exchange, and were tossing down shots like there was no tomorrow, or if there was, it was going to be an awful painful one. Khmorov brought his head up slowly.
“Alexi? Ah yes, Alexi. He is in bad trouble. Maybe you ought to take him too.” His head slumped down.
“I can’t just pull dissidents out of your prisons!” I hissed at his crumpled figure. “Talk about international incidents. “, but I got no farther.
Dora chimed in. “They don’t want him anymore. They say he’s too well known to kill, and they won’t have him back in Moscow. They wouldn’t care if you took him.”
Speechless, I looked from one drunken Russian to the other. Both would make perfect crewmen aboard the M/S World Discoverer. They were just as crazy as the other people I had been with for the last week.