Gambell Spit

Don and I ran through the corridor to the port side of the ship, where Marlys’ cabin was located. The sound of a guitar, and singing grew louder as we neared our destination. Marlys’ cabin was adjacent to the stairway that connected the bilge deck to the Lido. We soon came upon the source of the music. Strewn about the top of the staircase was a number of Germans, with instruments. They were singing away, while Borman pawed at the outside of Marlys’ closed door. I had not realized that there were so many Germans aboard, but it came to me now that there had to be. They ran all engineering, communications, and finances on the ship.

With Don behind me, I eased around the group, all of whom ignored our presence, and stepped close to First Mate Borman. I grimaced. The smell of alcohol emanating from him was overpowering. Dutch had been accurate in his assessment of the Mate’s condition. Borman manipulated some hand tool, with which he was attempting to pry open the lock.

“Come out, come out,” he repeated softly, in German.

I wondered if Marlys comprehended German. I doubted it. There was no love lost whatever between the Dutch and the Germans, stemming back from the Second World War.

I tapped Borman on his left shoulder, rather hard, to get his attention. It almost cost me part of my face.   He swung around, brought up the sharp edge of his tool, and sliced down. I was only able to pull back a few inches, yet it was enough. The instrument Borman had been using proved to be a Boatswain’s knife. It had missed my face by less than an inch. I pushed back further until Don gave way. The Germans played on as if in a trance.

I confronted the First Mate directly. I did not turn to the side, as I would have done with an unarmed opponent. Facing the knife, I needed the shortest distance between his weapon and my hands. In a knife fight everything happened in an instant, unlike in almost all movies I had seen. The best way to face a weapon when you were unarmed was not to face the weapon at all. Do anything, even run. But I could not run, not in the circumstances I found myself. However slight the chances were, Borman might actually be successful in getting through the locked door. And I owed the woman on the other side of that divide.

“You want to get in that cabin?” I asked him, putting my hands up, palms out, to show I had no weapon.

I smiled while I talked. “I can get you in there if you really want to get in there,”

I confirmed, motioning toward the door with my left hand. Borman’s knife stayed at the ready position. It told me that the German had experience with using the weapon in a fight. There was a long pause. Borman reflected and then saw Don over my shoulder.

“Can he really get me in there Doctor Botany?” he asked.

I almost staggered in surprise. Borman’s address had been the first usage of any professional designation I had heard, with respect to the staff crew’s credentials, since I had stepped on board.

“Easy there First Mate,” Don cooed to the drunken German. “If he says he can get you in there, then I have no doubt of it. He saved your anchor, remember?”

The First Mate nodded, his eyes sharp, but deranged by alcohol. Finally, he stepped back a couple of feet, retaining the knife at the ready position.

I moved to the door. “Marlys, it’s me, Indy. You need to let me in for a second.”

I waited, staring at the wood of the door, hoping she was not too frightened to comply. I needed to defuse the current situation as fast as possible.  If real injuries were inflicted, or even death, the authorities would effectively terminate my mission. And an unknowing young American would die. My consecutive run of thirty-seven successful missions would end as well.

After the door opened a crack, I eased it open further. I went in backward, holding up one hand and murmuring, “give me a minute,” in English, and then German.

Borman and Don stood outside, more in anticipation than anything else. I closed the door in their faces and then locked it.

I looked into the bathroom, located right behind the main door. I reached into the little cubicle and pulled out a bath towel. I moved toward Marlys who was near her single porthole. Then I took in what she was wearing. It was another of those tied blouses outfits, leaving her midriff bare. Below that she had on a micro-mini skirt, an outfit that perfectly displayed her exquisite figure.

“Could you maybe wear a gunny sack now and then?” I joshed, not expecting a response.

But she fired one that jolted me.

“You think an animal like that is attracted by my clothing? Maybe you think that I dress just to attract men like him…or you.”

I groaned. I wouldn’t attempt to answer these questions.  There were no good answers to them. I should not have said anything, to begin with, I realized, but the woman made me irrational in inexplicable ways. I suddenly palmed a little soapstone figure from a shelf above her bunk. Obviously, she had been collecting them from the native carvers.

“What are you doing with my things?’ She asked, but made no effort to stop me.

“The morphine, remember the morphine,” I said, and then I wrapped the towel over a half dozen of the little heavy items. I went back into her bathroom, closing the door behind me. Through the vents I instructed her to unlock the outer door and let Borman in.

“Are you crazy,” she gasped. “I can’t let him in here.”

I sighed, too loudly. “I don’t know why you trust me, but I know you do. Implicitly. I also know you don’t like trusting anybody, including me. Now open the damn door and trust me.”

There was no delay. I heard the lock, then the opening of the door, then her welcome invitation for Borman to enter. I heard her hard-sole shoes retreat back to the far bulkhead. When I felt Borman go by. I opened the bathroom door, closed the outer door, and brought the towel-wrapped figurines forcefully down onto the left upper side of his skull.

He went down, as I expected him to. I then swung the towel weapon back over my shoulder, in case I needed to hit the man again, but he was out. I checked his carotid artery, but I could hear him snoring gently. Carefully, I unwrapped the towel and replaced all the statues where I had found them. I took the knife from Borman’s unconscious hand, folded it, and then stuck it into my front pocket.

“Not exactly a fair fight,” Marlys observed.

I looked at her, in surprise, but then saw her ever-so-slight smile.

“He’s bleeding all over the deck,” she noted.

I checked Borman’s skull.

“Oh damn,” I said, exasperated.

The cabin door opened. Don filled the gap.

I informed him, “He’s fallen, in his drunken stupor, and cut himself on the head. We need to get him down to the infirmary so Doc can sew him up.”

Having finally stopped their playing and singing, the Germans hauled the First Mate out, looking at me strangely, more in question than anger. Don and I followed down to the infirmary where I knew that the doc was not going to sew anybody up. I would have to repair the damage I had done myself.

“It’s not so bad,” Don said, quietly, behind the struggling Germans’ backs, “at least you got all that morphine down there. Maybe you can keep him out for the whole cruise.”

He thought that was hilarious and laughed openly. “You karate chop him, or something? Like, you know, Bruce Lee?”

I didn’t answer.

“You gotta stop beating people up,” he went on, “somebody’s going to get the idea you are not an anthropology lecturer after all.”

The doc watched, as closely as he could with his ancient eyes, my operation on the Mate, and then my sedation of the man. Borman would wake the following morning with a bad headache, and a bunch of poorly tied stitches in his skull. With any luck at all, he’d also have little memory of what had happened. And he would need somebody to take his stitches out. At least I hoped for those last two things.

“Are we headed on into Provideniya?” I asked the doctor. He shook his head.

Whale Bones on Gambell Spit

Whale bones on Gambell Spit. These are the bones that support the massive head of a Bowhead Whale and the lower jawbone.

“No, we’re going into Gambell Spit first. It’s on the tip of St. Lawrence Island. Best carvings in the world are done there. They harvest Baleen Whales. The Baleen bones are wonderful for carving. Our passengers will want to buy stuff. They’ll also want to see the dances. Fake dances for tourists, or so everyone says you said.”

I washed up and dried my hands. Russia just kept on eluding me.

“Not one item,” I snarled at the man. “Not one carving, reindeer skin or anything else. You understand me?” I waited. He answered, his volume almost too low to hear.

Okay,” He said. I was relieved at his response.

“And back on the island, you owe that guy’s wife six hundred bucks. You’re going to send it from Gambell, so make out a check.” The doctor tightened up as if I had stuck him with something, but he didn’t argue.

After changing in my cabin, and checking for the gold nuggets, which were still there, I pocketed my retrieved Leica en-route to the lower deck exit portal. I tossed the mate’s knife on top of the gold before leaving. The passengers were already ashore. I couldn’t find a life vest until Benito handed me one. We squared off in the narrow loading area.

“Tonight,” she promised. “I will see you tonight, in my cabin, after you finish your cute little speech to the passengers. Not the bar slut’s cabin. But mine. We’ll discuss cruise business.”

I stared at her thick bulk, blocking my departure.

“I’ll be there,” I surrendered weakly, wishing I had the figurines from Marlys cabin, once more wrapped in a towel, and at my disposal.

The First Mate seemed a minor threat compared to our cruise director, certainly less dangerous.

Don showed up, huffing and puffing. He had a life jacket. I realized that the experienced pro kept his in his cabin. Henceforth, I would do the same. Benito gave way. Filipe circled, and then came gliding into the side of the ship. Once aboard, we sped toward a bleak shoreline, the waters flat because of our position in the island’s lee.

“How’s Dutch?” I asked, over the roar of the outboard.

“He’s recovering under feminine care,” he answered.

I looked at him, my eyebrows raised.

“Don’t worry,” he laughed, “She’s mine!”

His assurance worried me more than he recognized.

Gambell Spit is made of stones. The same horrid little stones we had encountered at Aguiak Island. This time, natives waited for us while sitting on four-wheeled ATV’s. The vehicles had great fat tires, which permitted them to ride atop the stones. Nobody walked far in Gambell. ATV’s were everywhere. Gambell also consisted almost entirely of metal shacks, which all the inhabitants lived in. The fishing, carving, and storage went on in them as well. Even the church was made of metal siding. Along one shore was a work up of old whalebone shelters. They had animal parts strewn all over them, left there to dry for later consumption, I figured. Or maybe to make it look like that, for tourists anyway. In my experience, native cultures revealed little to anyone, not of their own tribe. Don climbed onto the back of one ATV and I did the same on a second ATV. Our native drivers kidded one another and then took off.

The ride was wild. The vehicles careened over the rocks, following well-worn trails. Every once and awhile, the drivers jumped the machines out of the ruts and into the air. They found the exercise extremely gratifying. I found it considerably less so. As we plummeted down to the gathering of shacks and waiting clumps of passengers, the driver of my ATV veered off. He headed for what looked like the most fortified building on the spit. It was barely separated from the rest of the dwellings. We skidded to a stop in front of the place.

A man stood outside its steel door. He was wearing a uniform. The door behind him was painted with the words “Gambell Sheriff.” The ATV roared off, the native on it behaving manically. I stood there and looked at the sheriff. He motioned me toward him with one extended index finger. I noticed, when I got closer, that his name tag said ‘Maxwell.’

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