The Eigenfunction

We climbed back aboard the World Discoverer (aka ‘Lindy’). Benito was nowhere around, which provided some much-needed relief. I hesitated for a brief instant. The supervisor’s throw had caused me bruises I had only begun to feel. The captain would be waiting, I knew, but a hot shower was vital to my getting through the rest of the day. I made for my cabin, stopping in the corridor. I had not thought of Dutch since departing that morning. It was afternoon.

It would take time for Filipe to bring the Zodiac aboard, secure it from the hoist, and then return down to the bilge area. I got to my cabin, tossed the canvas sack onto my bunk, and then stripped. I stood under the hot water naked, taking the heat in, while trying to feel just what kind of damage I had suffered while on the island. So many things needed to be done. I thought about a re-supply of morphine and syringes, which had been expended. There was, of course, the captain. There was Marlys. There was Benito out there somewhere. And Dutch.

I twisted the handles of the shower until the water was gone, then reached out to where I had hung my towel on a wall peg. I didn’t find it. Instead, a towel was placed in my extended hand.

“The captain’s waiting, and you don’t keep this captain waiting,” Don’s voice counseled me. He chuckled while I toweled off, then went on, “Marlys told me what happened. I would have loved to see you take out the big creep who runs the fish plant there. He was one scary dude, and you’re tougher than I thought”

I stuck my head around the bulkhead and looked at him. He sat down on a bunk, his eyes moving to the drawer that held the gold, or maybe used to hold the gold, I suspected.

“Marlys told you that?” I inquired.

“Oh yeah,” the big Canadian said, pronouncing the ‘oh’ as an ‘aye.’

I dwelt on Marlys for a moment. The woman was a complete riddle, inside an enigma. At her age, which I guessed to be twenty-four or five, she was far beyond the maturity and life experience of every other young woman I’d ever met. She’d moved in on the supervisor at just the right second. Her handling of the syringes was nearly professional. It was difficult to plant syringes through clothing, into muscle and then depress the plungers all at the same time. But she had pulled it off. Now, she was claiming that I had been the conquering hero, unlikely as it might be that my hundred and sixty-pound frame could have subdued the three-hundred-pound monster of a supervisor.

The martial arts were so over-rated when it came to actual street application. The training to fall, take a hit and the attendant physical conditioning were ninety per cent of it. The rest was just good sense and experience. With a man like the one I had faced, running was the best choice; show him heels and elbows, unless there was a firearm handy. But shooting a man was frowned upon by the Agency, especially if the victim was a citizen of the U.S.

I dressed as quickly as I could, going for a more formal look with my Vicuna sport coat. The captain was himself a formal character. It had been written all over him. The ship was underway, gaining speed, I noted. Don grinned, knowingly, noticing that I had noticed, too.

“We are headed north now and it’s going to be rough. Not like coming down here. We’ll be battening down for this night. Eat light.”

“Eat?” I said, in mock amazement. “On this ship? When?”

I adjusted myself in the mirror, done dressing. Don opened the cabin door, stepped out, and then stepped back in holding a covered tray.

“Your newly devoted bilge servants have provided, voila!” He uncovered the tray, which held about a dozen sandwiches.

I grabbed one and consumed it in unseemly haste. Then another, and another.

“I said it was going to get rough,” Don warned, but I wasn’t worried about getting seasick.

I had other problems.

“We’ve got to get Dutch,” I mumbled, through a mouthful of ham, cheese and bread.

I loved the Filipinos and their craving for mayonnaise, which had been thickly applied. Don followed me out of the cabin. We made our way below, no longer needing assistance to find Filipe’s cabin. I knocked. It was like going back in time to earlier in the day. Filipe’s beautiful mate smiled, then exited the door and moved around us. She gently closed it once we were inside. Filipe sat on one bunk, as before. He and Don did not speak.

“How is it that your name is Filipe?” I asked, the thought just appearing in my mind, “You being Filipino, and all.”

He liked the honesty.

“Dutch,” he said. “He doesn’t much care for us. Calls us by saying, “Hey, Filipino,” so my people nicknamed me Filipe the Filipino.”

I was about to ask his real name, but then remembered why I had come to him.

“Ah, how is the unlovable Dutch?” I asked.

“Come on, I’ll show you,” he said.

He led us out of the cabin toward the starboard side of the ship. We stopped in front of a steel bulkhead. Two of his men relaxed next to some compressed gas tanks. Filipe waved at them. One of the men ignited a torch, and then began to burn into the steel.

“Spot welded him into the back of the chain locker. No way they were ever going to figure that out.”, Felipe shared.

I froze up. Most people did not take well to being sealed up in small spaces. And the few people who did, probably did not appreciate burning gases being injected into such small confines.

In minutes an ovoid steel plate came free, clanging to the deck. The Filipinos, wearing thick welding gloves, shoved the hot piece of metal aside. I looked around the dark smoking hole they’d made. Daylight could be seen, just barely, through the eye where the anchor chain came through deeper inside. At my feet, just inside the steaming oval, lay Dutch, in a fetal position on the deck, an empty bottle of Jameson’s tightly clutched to his chest. He was dead to the world. Don and I dragged him out. The Filipinos went back to work re-sealing the bulkhead. We revived him and got him to his cabin. In the corridor he rambled and sniveled in a drunken slur, nearly crying.

“They sealed me in. Welded me in. Never thought I’d get out. Never thought you’d come, Indy.”

I heard Filipe, and his small band of men, laughing all the way down the corridor. I promised myself that I would never anger these people, or belittle them, ever.

After we were done tucking Dutch into his bunk, we stood outside his door in the corridor. Nobody was around.

“Where’s the gold from?” Don asked as if discussing the weather.

I just looked at him, my expression serious, and a bit angry. He looked back at me uncomfortably.

“Sorry about rustling your drawer. It was partially open. I saw the reflection of the anklet. I gave it back to her. I thought it would be pretty funny, I mean if you saw it on her ankle again.”

I still said nothing.

“She didn’t think it was funny, and neither do you. Sorry.”

I merely brushed it off.

“The gold is from Aguiak Island. There’s a vein there. The captain’s aware, and planning something about it. Günter’s in. Nobody else is that I know of.”

“Jesus Christ!” Don exploded. “You mean it’s real? How can that be? It’s an island. Nobody’s ever found any gold on an island up here.”

I put my palms upside. My prospecting experience was non-existent.

“You want to come see the captain with me?” I said, hopefully.

Don erupted. “You’ve got to be kidding.”

He said no more, merely turning to head toward his own cabin.

“Not a word goddammit,” I hissed at him.

He gave no indication he had heard me, and he refused to look back. For some reason, however, I trusted the big Canadian completely. I headed for the Captain’s quarters, up on top. I knocked on a perfectly white door. ‘Captain’ was painted tastefully in small black letters on the white enamel door.

“Enter,” I heard from within.

I pushed down on the well-polished brass handle, and let myself in. The cabin was minimalist. Very stark, and very large by shipboard standards. Instead of a steel deck, his floor was covered in the finest woolen carpet, sea blue in color. Two Persian rugs lay strewn over it. The captain sat in a chair, behind a beautiful old wooden desk.

“Setzen sie bitte,” he said, waving toward the small-armed chair in front of his massive desk. I did as requested. You speak German, I have heard.”

As he spoke, he eyed me over a Meerschaum pipe, poking the dead coals with one of those little picks pipe smokers always have laying around. I nodded.

“We’ll speak in English. For convenience.” It was his interview, and I had no clue as to its destination. “I have returned to my ship to discover it is not the same ship I left, only two weeks ago.”

He tapped the pipe against the desk, an excellent stalling device.

“You came aboard. That is the only thing I can see that has changed everything.”

We exchanged looks for a moment before he went on.

“You are responsible for me having to lie to Immigration. I don’t like that. You are responsible for burning a Russian island. I don’t like that either. You’re also responsible for inserting yourself into my personal affairs, Günter tells me.” He stopped.

I thought it was my turn to talk so I tried, but he held up his ‘pick’ hand.

“And you are the head of this little band of mutineers called the Mouseketeers,” at which point he reached down below the desk and came up with a folded cloth.

He threw the cloth, which I identified as the Mouseketeer Pirate flag, over the desk, and into my lap.

“Finally, and I also take this personally, you are sleeping with my step-daughter, or so they tell me.”

My pulse quickened as I clutched the flag. He went back to prepping his pipe for a smoke, although  tobacco was nowhere evident. I remained silent, for his last point was too fantastic to consider, much less answer.

“Let me ask you a question,” he said, putting the pipe aside.

He brought both elbows down to the top of the desk, his hands cradled under his chin. His eyes were piercing.

“They tell me your nickname is Indy,” he began, as I tried to protest, but he waved me off. “You have done all this, yet you look like, what do you Americans call it, a nerd. Mr. Peepers, on steroids maybe, without the glasses. You know, from the old television shows?”

My face reddened as I absorbed his analytically delivered insults. He registered my discomfort, I knew but did not change his stance or expression. He turned to a nonsequitur.

“What is an Eigenfunction?” he asked, to my great surprise.

I just looked at him.

“Well, do you have any idea?” I nodded.

“An Eigenfunction is a derivative of an Eigenvalue. It’s derived from the use of scalar analysis in higher math.” I’d been a physicist in one of my former failed careers.

Kessler chuckled at my reply, then folded his hands behind the back of his head and leaned back in his chair.

“Now what are the chances that an anthropology lecturer, deep sea diver, physician trained medic, and God knows what else, would know what an Eigenfunction was?”

I rewarded him with silence again, wondering what I had given away. The man was proving to be very dangerously intelligent. But what caused me real worry, was just how well organized and informed he was in such a short period of time, and how adroit he was at outmaneuvering me at each turn. He smiled, but the expression was pasted on. It was my turn to talk.

“I’d say that it’s as likely that I’d know what an Eigenfunction was as it is likely that a normal captain of a broken down expedition ship out of the Maldives would know.”

The smile slowly peeled off his face. He leaned forward again.

“I don’t really care who you are or what you’re doing on my ship. What I really care about, right this minute, is what you told that Immigration agent.”

It was my turn to sit back and consider. What had I told the immigration agent? My mind raced. I brought back all of what I had said from memory. It dawned on me. The gold. This was about the gold. He didn’t really care about the rest.

“What do you want from me?” I said, knowing now what was likely coming.

“You need. I need. We need. You’re a certified anthropologist. You registered with both Alaska and Russia prior to setting foot on this ship. Some of our landings are based upon your credentials. It’s why we pay you more.”

I almost slapped my thigh at that. The amount was five percent more.

“I need you to file a site, a dig, if you will, for Aguiak Island.”

I mirrored his serious face and spoke in reply.

“So you couldn’t get anywhere on your own. You couldn’t get anyone to give you any permission to do anything without telling them about the vein. And that would have been it.”

I finished, still stern. “Let me think about it,” I said, rising to my feet.

I let the mouse flag unfurl. “Tonight the Mouseketeers are meeting in Botany Bay’s cabin. Why don’t you come by.”?

His face turned beet red. I carried the flag with me to the door.

“You’re going to need me,” he said to my back. I knew he was right. But he was going to need me more, and that made me feel good.

“How could you possibly have known that I would know what an Eigenfunction was?” I asked, in open curiosity. It was his turn to relax.

“I do my homework too, Indy, and here’s your camera.” He pulled the Leica from his breast pocket. “Agent Maxwell said to tell you that he’s an immigration officer, not a thief.”

I retrieved my camera, relishing the cold rainy night Maxwell was about to endure on the wharf at St. Paul Island because of me.

“Oh well,” I muttered, then walked out of the cabin and closed the door softly behind me.

I knew we were in the open sea, away from the island, by the ship’s movement. It had become very difficult to walk upright down the corridor, toward the bow. I had to halt, when the bow thrust upward, and then scurry along when it bit down between the great waves. The ship would be a quieter place this evening, I’d bet on that.

I walked right into Don’s cabin. The Basque was in her usual position against the outside bulkhead, looking wonderful as usual. Don was propped on his bunk, as I sauntered in. With a curtsy, I tossed the flag to the Basque.

“Mouseketeer meeting tonight. Call it. And include Günter. He’s one of us, or about to be.” I stared at Don. “How do you suppose the captain found out that she and I were intimate?” I asked, pointing at the lovely woman, but not looking at her.

Don lost his smile, and then looked away.

“Sorry again,” he said. “I’m on shaky ground with that man in the best of times. I need this job.”

I held up my hand. I did not want him to say more in front of the woman. I had not intended to embarrass him or reduce him in any way. I didn’t really know what I wanted, other than some understanding of what was going on.

Dutch staggered through the open door behind me at that very moment.

“Ah, Indy, ya better get down to Marlys’ cabin. First Mate’s drunk. I think she needs a bit of help.”

With that, he plopped himself face down on Don’s spare bunk. I looked up at Don. Both of us made for the corridor as fast as we could move.

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