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Chapter 6


Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we shall die.

Isaiah 22:13

I WALKED down the stairs, not looking at the three, and went directly to the desk of the purser's office. Mr Henderson was there, spoke quietly as I reached the counter. 'Those three over there. Do you know them?'

'No, I don't know them. I'll see what they want. But keep an eye on us, will you, please?'

'Right!'

I turned and started to walk past that lovable trio. The smart boy said sharply, 'Graham! Stop there! Where you going?'

I kept moving and snapped, 'Shut up, you idiot! Are you trying to blow it?' Muscles stepped into my path and hung over me like a tall building. The gun stepped in behind me. In a fake prison-yard style, from the side of my mouth, I said, 'Quit making a scene and get these apes off the ship! You and I must talk.'

'Certainly we talk. Ici! Now. Here.'

'You utter fool,' I answered softly and glanced nervously up, to left and right. 'Not here. Cows. Bugs. Come with me. But have Mutt and Jeff wait on the dock.'

Non!'

'God save us! Listen carefully.' I whispered, 'You 'are going to tell these animals to leave the ship and wait at the foot of the gangway. Then you and I are going to walk out on the weather deck where we can talk without being overheard. Otherwise we do nothing! - and I report to Number-One that you blew the deal. Understand? Right now! Or go back and tell them the deal is off.'

He hesitated, then spoke rapidly in French that I could not follow, my French being mostly of the La plume de ma tante sort. The gorilla seemed to hesitate but the gun type shrugged and started toward the gangway door. I said to the little wart, 'Come on! Don't waste time; the ship is about to sail!' I headed aft without looking to see whether or not he was following. I set a brisk pace that forced him to follow or lose me. I was as much taller than he as that ape was taller than I; he had to trot to stay at my heels.

I kept right on going aft and outside, onto the weather deck, past the open bar and the tables, clear to the swimming pool.

It was, as I expected, unoccupied, the ship being in port. There was the usual sign up, CLOSED WHILE SHIP IS IN PORT, and a nominal barrier around it of a single strand of rope, but the pool was still filled. He followed me; I held up a hand. 'Stop right there.' He stopped.

'Now we can talk,' I said. 'Explain yourself, and you'd better make it good! What do you mean, calling attention to yourself by bringing that muscle aboard? And a Danish ship at that! Mr B. is going to be very, very angry with you. What's your name?'

'Never mind my name. Where's the package?'

'What package?'

He started to sputter; I interrupted. 'Cut the nonsense; I'm not impressed. This ship is getting ready to sail; you have only minutes to tell me exactly what you want and to convince me that you should get it. Keep throwing your weight around and you'll find yourself going back to your boss and telling him you failed. So speak up! What do you want?'

'The package!'

I sighed. 'My old and stupid, you are stuck in a rut. We've been over that. What sort of a package? What's in it?'

He hesitated. 'Money.'

'Interesting. How much money?'

This time he hesitated twice as long, so again I interrupted. 'If you don't know how much money, I'll give you a couple of francs for beer and send you on your way. Is that what you want? Two francs?'

A man that skinny shouldn't have such high blood pressure. He managed to say, 'American dollars. One million.'

I laughed in his face. 'What makes you think I've got that much? And if I had, why should I give it to you? How do I know you are supposed to get it?'

'You crazy, man? You know who am I. '

'Prove it. Your eyes are funny and your voice sounds different. I think you're a ringer.

'"Ringer"?'

'A fake, a phony! An impostor.'

He answered angrily - French, I suppose. I am sure it was not complimentary. I dug into my memory, repeated carefully and with feeling the remark that a lady had made last night which had caused her husband to say that she worried too much. It was not appropriate but I intended simply to anger him.

Apparently I succeeded. He raised a hand, I grabbed his wrist, tripped myself, fell backwards into the pool, pulling him with me. As we fell I shouted, 'Help!'

We splashed. I got a firm grip on him, pulled myself up as I shoved him under again. 'Help! He's drowning me!'

Down we went again, struggling with each other. I yelled for help each time my head was above water. Just as help came I went limp and let go.

I stayed limp until they started to give me mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. At that point I snorted and opened my eyes'. 'Where am I?

Someone said, 'He's coming around. He's okay.'

I looked around. I was flat on my back alongside the pool. Someone had done a professional job of pulling me out with a dip-and-jerk; my left arm felt almost dislocated. Aside from that I was okay. 'Where is he? The man who pushed me in.'

'He got away.'

I recognized the voice, turned my head. My friend Mr Henderson, the purser.

'He did?'

That ended it. My rat-faced caller had scrambled out as I was being fished out and had streaked off the ship. By the time they had finished reviving me, Nasty and his bodyguards were long gone.

Mr Henderson had me lie still until the ship's, doctor arrived. He put a stethoscope on me and announced that I was okay. I told a couple of small, fibs, some near truths, and an evasion. By then the gangway had been removed and shortly a loud blast announced that we had left the dock.

I did not find it necessary to tell anyone that I had played water polo in school.

The next many days were very sweet, in the fashion that grapes grow sweetest on the slopes of a live volcano.

I managed to get acquainted (reacquainted?) with my table mates without, apparently, anyone noticing that I was a stranger. I picked up names just by waiting until someone else spoke to someone by name - remembered I the name and used it later. Everyone was pleasant to me - I not only was not 'below the salt', since the record showed that I had been aboard the full trip, but also I was at least a celebrity if not a hero for having walked through the fire.

I did not use the swimming pool. I was not sure what swimming Graham had done, if any, and, having been 'rescued', I did not want to exhibit a degree of skill inconsistent with that 'rescue'. Besides, while I grew accustomed to (and even appreciative of) a degree of nudity shocking in my former life, I. did not feel that I could manage with aplomb being naked in company.

Since there was nothing I could do about it, I put the mystery of Nastyface and his bodyguards out of my mind.

The same I was true of the all-embracing mystery of who I am and how I got here - nothing I could do about it, so don't worry about it. On reflection. I realized that I was in exactly the same predicament as every other human being alive: We don't know who we are, or where we came from, or why we are here. My dilemma was merely fresher, not different.

One thing (possibly the only thing) I learned in seminary was to face calmly the ancient mystery of life, untroubled by my inability to solve it. Honest priests and preachers are denied the comforts of religion; instead they must live with the austere rewards of philosophy. I never became much of a metaphysician but I did learn not to worry about that which I could not solve.

I spent much time in the library or reading in deck chairs, and each day I learned more about and felt more at home in this world. Happy, golden days slipped past like a dream of childhood.

And every day there was Margrethe.

I felt like a boy undergoing his first attack of puppy love.

It was a strange romance. We could not speak of love. Or I could not, and she did not. Every day she was my servant (shared with her other passenger guests)... and my 'mother' (shared with others? I did not. think so... but I did not know). The 'relationship was close but not intimate. Then each day, for a few moments while I 'paid' her for tying my bow tie, she was my wonderfully sweet and utterly passionate darling.

But only then.

At other times I was 'Mr Graham' to her and she called me 'sir' - warmly friendly but not intimate. She was willing to chat, standing up and with the door open; she often had ship's gossip to share with me. But her manner was always that of the perfect servant. Correction: the perfect crew member assigned to personal service. Each day I learned a little more about her. I found no fault in her.

For me the day started with my first sight of her - usually on my way to breakfast when I would meet her in the passageway or spot her through an open door of a room she was making up... just 'Good morning, Margrethe' and 'Good morning, Mr Graham,' but the sun did not rise until that moment.

I would see her from time to time during the day, peaking each day with that golden ritual after she tied my tie.

Then I would see her briefly after dinner. Immediately after dinner each evening I would return to my room for a few minutes to refresh myself before the evening's activities - lounge show, concert, games, or perhaps just a return to the' library. At that hour Margrethe would be somewhere in the starboard forward passageway of C deck, opening beds, tidying baths, and so forth -making her guests' staterooms inviting for the night. Again I would say hello, then wait in my room (whether she had yet reached it or not) because she would come in shortly, either to open my bed or simply to inquire, 'Will you need anything more this evening, sir?'

And I would. always smile and answer, 'I don't need a thing, Margreth. Thankyou.' Whereupon she would bid me good night and wish me sound sleep. That ended my day no matter what else I did before retiring.

Of course I was tempted - daily! - to answer, 'You know what I need!' I could not. Imprimis: I was a married man. True, my wife was lost somewhere in another world (or I was). But from holy matrimony there is no release this side of the grave. Item: Her love affair (if such it was) was with Graham, whom I was impersonating. I could not refuse that evening kiss I'm not that angelically perfect!) but in fairness to my beloved I could not go beyond it. Item: An honorable man must not offer less than matrimony to the object of his love... and that I was both legally and morally unable to offer.

So those golden days were bittersweet. Each day brought one nearer the inescapable time when I must leave Margrethe, almost certainly never to see her again.

I was not free even to tell her what that loss would mean to me.

Nor was my love for her so selfless that I hoped the Separation would not grieve her. Meanly, self-centered as an adolescent, I hoped that she would miss me as dreadfully as I was going to miss her. Childish puppy love certainly! I offer in extenuation the fact that I had known only the 'love' of a woman who loved Jesus so much that she had no real affection for any flesh-and-blood creature.

Never marry a woman who prays too much.

We were ten days out from Papeete with Mexico almost over the skyline when this precarious idyll ended. For several days Margrethe had seemed more withdrawn- each day. I could not tax her with it as there was nothing I could, put my finger on and certainly nothing of which I could complain. But it reached crisis that evening when she tied my tie.

As usual I smiled and thanked her and kissed her.

Then I stopped with her still in my arms and said' 'What's wrong? I know you can kiss better than that. Is my breath bad?'

She answered levelly, 'Mr Graham, I think we had better stop this.'

'So it's "Mr Graham", is it? Margrethe, what have I done?'

'You've done nothing!'

'Then - My dear, you're crying!'

'I'm sorry. I didn't intend to.'

I took my handkerchief, blotted her tears, and said gently, 'I have never intended to hurt you. You must tell me what's wrong so that I can change it.'

'If you don't know, sir, I don't see how I can explain it.

Won't you try? Please!' (Could it be one of those cyclic emotional disturbances women are heir to?)

'Uh... Mr Graham, I knew it could not last beyond the end of the voyage - and believe me, I did not count on any more. I suppose it means more to me than it did to you. But I never thought that you would simply end it, with no explanation, sooner than we must.'

'Margrethe... I do not understand.'

'But you do know!'

'But I don't know.'

'You must know. It's been eleven days. Each night I've asked you and each night you've turned me down. Mr Graham, aren't you ever again going to ask me to come back later?'

'Oh. So that's what you meant! Margrethe -'

'Yes, sir?'

'I'm not "Mr Graham".' 'Sir?' 'My name is "Hergensheimer". It has been exactly eleven days since I saw you for the first time in my life. I'm sorry. I'm terribly sorry. But that is the truth.'




Chapter 5 | JOB: A Comedy of Justice | Chapter 7



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