I learned from Don, my bunkie, and fellow de-frocked Ph.D., that the ship was never referred to as the “M/S World Discoverer.,” which was the name painted in black across her white prow, and in white across her black stern. Unlike most ships, because of the seafaring lore of potential ill fortune, the ship had been named different things under different owners. The ship was built for Lindblad Cruises in 1978 and was the second purpose built expedition cruise ship ever in the world. Hence, the name “Lindy,” which was announced, for unknown reasons, to everyone who came aboard.
Don gave me the tour. Six decks in all, with a workout room, sauna and steam bath on the bilge deck, which was the very bottom of the vessel. The workout area was closed up and never used, but since our empty bags were stowed there, we checked the room out anyway. The rest of the bilge deck was used by the Filipino crew who did all the cleaning, cooking and all the other scut work required to run an adventure cruise ship. They even did dry cleaning. The last place we went was up to a small blue door. It was the only metal hatch-type door I had seen aboard, the rest were all stained wood. A red cross was painted on the outside.
“Here’s one of your other career locations,” Don advised, with eyes brightened, as he opened the hatch and ushered me inside. An old man sat on a stool, checking a list.
“This is Doctor Murphy, the ship’s doctor,” Don stated, waving his hand toward him, by way of introduction. The elderly gentleman looked around feebly. I realized that he was at least eighty years of age, maybe more. I could not help acting openly surprised.
“You’re the doctor?” I asked him, incredulously.
The old man blinked, then shrugged. He answered in a deep healthy voice, seeming to either ignore or not care about my surprised reaction to his advanced years. “Not much of a doctor anymore, not since I lost most of my eyesight. I hope you’re my assistant, and that you can see well. I got the cat gut, anesthetic, and everything else, but can’t see to do the stitching anymore”
I shrugged my shoulders. My surreal adventure just kept getting stranger and stranger. A funny feeling made itself present in the bottom of my stomach. I wondered why the doctor seemed to think that we’d be doing any stitching while on the voyage. But, I said nothing, instead shook the old man’s hand. I looked about his small quarters and then left with Don, promising to return later in the day.
The four decks up from the bilge were all identical. A long corridor ran from bow to stern on each side of the “Lindy,” with cabins dotted all along their lengths. Those were all berths for the passengers. We, and the other “non-crew staff,” also berthed there. The top two decks were dedicated to meeting spaces, a dining room, bars and open spaces. On top of all those decks was another, smaller deck. That was where the German crew, who actually ran the ship, had their quarters. Don told me that they only rarely associated with the rest of the crew or passengers and that that was a good thing. Most of them only spoke German. I did not mention that I could get along in Tagalog, the language of most Filipinos. I also did not mention that I spoke fluent German, with an accent from the Southern part of that country.
As the passengers came aboard, Don and I returned to our cabin. He showed me the small hot shower in one corner of our tiny room and told me that it would be a lifesaver, as our expedition was going to be sunny but cold, with even colder water. I almost confided in him that I had not brought my swimming trunks, but after the last few hours, I decided not to attempt such humor. If, of course, it was humor.
Finally, back to our cabin, we sat on our bunks across from one another. Don had a plug-in hot plate that ran off DC. We talked. He explained that this run was his sixth in as many years. That he was a Professor of Botany at the University of Montreal. That he was fifty and married, but the marriage did not count aboard the vessel. My eyebrows arched up, as I listened. When it was my turn, I blurted out my whole story. I particularly emphasized the Santeria connection with Juan Trigo and Yemaya, and how much that was bothering me. Don drank his instant coffee, looking over the lip of his cup at me. Big, bushy eyebrows, on a big, bushy Canadian. His very appearance brought reassurance whenever I looked at him.
“You’re an anthropologist. A scientist,” he said, his face serious. “Don’t give superstition and coincidence a foothold. Just reason on through it.”
Perplexed, I looked at him, wondering if the man had believed one word I had uttered to him.
“That’s a pretty damned solid obstacle of circumstantial evidence to blow right by,” I finally countered, sipping from my own hot coffee. The Canadian chortled, and then set his own cup down.
“Ever heard of Fatima?” he asked. I nodded, with reservation in the nod.
“You’re Catholic right?” I assented again, wondering where he was going with that rubbery fact, and how he had made the assumption in the first place.
“The story of Fatima. The appearance of the Blessed Virgin to three small children in Portugal. The close approach of the earth to the sun in 1917 and the letter the Blessed Virgin gave to the girls who then gave it to the Pope, following her instructions.”
He then looked at me expectantly. I knew the lore of the infamous story or “mystery,” but I gave away nothing.
“You believe any of it?” he asked, as he took his coffee back up to his lips. I did not know how to reply to his question. So I shook my head slowly after I considered it for a bit.
“Well, I never believed it either, and still don’t,” Don declared, “But then I went to this town in Bosnia called Medjugorje. Have you ever heard of that place?” I shook my head, not revealing that I had been to the ‘space between the mountains’ only a year before.
Don went on, “while I was there a small girl gave me a note. She just handed it to me at that square there in front of the huge white church steeples and then ran off. She didn’t tell me to give it to the Pope, so I’ve still got it here in my journals.”
He pointed toward a small, heavy-looking kit at the end of his bunk. I looked at the kit, still not understanding anything, but kind of growing used to that in this strange universe into which I had deposited myself.
“The note, from three years ago, says that I’ll sail the seas until I meet the strangest and best friend I’ll ever know. That man will lead me into more trouble than I would ever experience on my own. In spite of that, I should do whatever the man tells me, for the good of all, including myself.”
Don stopped, abruptly, put down his coffee and reached into his kit.
“You want to see the note?” he said, his face serious. I shook my head again, not knowing what to say. He retrieved his hand and then sighed slowly. He frowned deeply, and examined me closely, with a questioning expression writ large across his face.
“So, are you that guy in the note, or not?” I shook my head once more. We sat for a good minute, looking at one another but not speaking.
“Well then, do you get my point?” I just stared at him until he laughed, and his body lost its tension. He spoke again, after calming down after his laughter.
“Either you buy into the occult, in which case everything becomes explicated by it, or a part of it, or you don’t. If you don’t, then you’re free to evaluate from the physics you see happening around you and make the necessary rational decisions. I believe in the former.” He stopped, appearing proud of himself.
I shot a glance at his kit, wondering if he had been bluffing me to make a point. But I didn’t call him. I was more afraid that the note was really in there than that he might be pulling my leg, and I was about full up of hopelessly strange metaphysical circumstances.
“Where we headed?” I said, changing the subject, as the ship had really begun to move around underneath us, which meant that we were out of the protected waters of the harbor.
“Diomede,” Don stated, approvingly, then went on.
“Little Diomede, to be exact, which is an American island two miles away from Big Diomede, which is part of Russia. We’ll stop there and visit an Inuit Village, then
head toward the Mainland of Mother Russia herself.”
I pulled my earlobe, then asked; “We’re still going to Provideniya, though?” I blurted the words out before I could catch myself. Don read something in the tone of my voice.
“You have a particular interest in Provideniya?” He frowned as he spoke the words.
I shook my head, and then quickly turned to unpack my own duffle. Don let it go.
“I’m going up top to check out our load of passengers. See if there are any likely big tippers. I’ll also examine the silver ankle bracelet you mentioned Marlys is wearing...I’ll look like, real close!” he said with a chortle. He closed the door as he departed, harrumphing as he did so. I was tempted to check his kit, just to make sure about the note, but shoved the thought aside. I emptied my own duffle atop the bunk instead.
I pulled out the false section built into the bottom of the bag. A sheaf of precise satellite photo maps lay folded under where the panel had been. I checked the cabin door. I turned the dead bolt before unpacking the sheaf. I took out of a set of three leather-encased belts filled with Kruggerrands, then placed them under my pillow. I then opened a sheaf of photos. The fourth shot was of Provideniya and the surrounding region. I poured over the shot, memorizing every detail, before loading both the photos and the gold pieces back into the duffle. I then unlocked the door, grabbed the bag, and headed for the bilge area to stow it. Secrecy was the best form of security, I knew. I had heard that theft aboard ships was an uncommon crime, there being nowhere to go with stolen goods. Yet I did not want to take a chance on anyone even seeing what I possessed, much less taking it. Gold was gold. People reacted to gold in unpredictable ways, I knew that too.
I took the switchback stairs two and three at a time, as I made my way up to the Lido deck, which was the second highest deck on the ship. Only the German crew, who operated the ship, had a higher deck and status. I enjoyed timing my leaps with the strong movement of the ship under my feet. Little Diomede Island was somewhere out there, and Arch Patton’s mission had commenced.