Mother's Blue Dress
Danny met the engine room chief who did not seem terribly impressed with the age and size of the newest crewmember.
"You're a hole snipe?" the man sneered around the cigar butt in the corner of his mouth. "Too young, too small -" He grabbed up Danny's right hand, "too soft and too clean. Where you been working, boy? The Good Ship Lollipop?" The man gave a hacking cough.
"Just give me my station and assignment," Danny retorted.
The chief gave a mutter under his breath and a grin before pointing Danny towards the forward engine room. It was steamy, hot and noisy. And the chief saw to it that Danny received the messiest and heaviest of the work.
Already working the area was another young crewman who looked even younger than Danny. The boy by his own confession was but sixteen and came from Indonesia. His English was faltering, but upon discovering Danny's gentle patience, he relaxed.
"I going to jump ship in America," young Yusuf admitted freely.
"I don't know that I'd make that well known," Danny replied as they greased up bearings.
"Chief no care. He say no his problem. He say I too slow and he get better man soon. You the better man?"
Danny smiled. "Somehow I doubt that."
Steve was invited to the captain's table along with his fellow traveler, Harold Sizegate. Nothing close to the extravagance of passenger liner fare, the meal was still well served on gleaming white china by a cook and mess worker. The captain, first mate named Luis Garcia and two travelers made mostly small talk.
"The future is in plastics," Harold advised them all. "Everything will be made from it. Toys, clothing, perhaps even cars. It doesn't break down and rust, it lasts forever. Think of that. Fabric that doesn't wear out."
Steve thought that Harold was a bit extreme in his praise of plastic, but let him go on.
Harold said he worked for a toy company that had signed a contract in Taiwan for making of toys. "Labor is inexpensive and the people can work the toys better. They have small hands."
"Small hands?" Steve asked. "Child labor?"
Harold imparted a gentle smile. "Forgive me, I forgot the American way. As our good captain can agree, most countries do not deny their young people the opportunity to earn wages in their childhood. Working young gives a better work ethic."
Steve refrained from giving a response. He concentrated on the steward pouring the ice water.
"Steve, do you know what a Barbie Doll is?" Harold asked.
He gave a small grin. "A mother's nightmare."
"They are the rage. Little girls wanting to fantasize about growing up. The clothing for this little miss has to be detailed - buttons to button, zippers to zip. Little hands must do the fine crafting. And they are well paid," Harold hastened to add.
"They are children who should be in school," Steve replied.
"If we did not employ them they would starve. They are grateful," Harold insisted.
An officer approached the table and whispered something into the ear of the Captain. "My pardons," he commented and rose. "Events need my attention." He motioned to Garcia and they both left.
Harold took a drink of his water. "A man of your understanding and world travels, I am surprised that you maintain such a narrow American viewpoint. Most of the world tries to just get by, using whatever talents are available to survive."
Steve wondered if this was how Harold slept at night. Can he rationalize what he does to these young girls through this philosophy? "The world once barbarically endorsed slavery, Harold. That does not mean it was moral."
Harold chuckled. "Stay out of South Africa, my friend."
Captain Hermano returned to the table and was seated, but there was concern on his face. "We will be increasing our speed. I plan to reach Honolulu two days early."
Two days less time to solve this mystery! "Is there a problem?" Steve asked.
Captain Hermano gave a sad half nod. "We live in a dangerous world, dangerous world. There is trouble. An American military ship the Maddox has been fired upon in the Gulf of Tonkin. Your President Johnson plans to retaliate. The ocean is not safe if a war begins."
"War!" Steve felt a rush of astonishment and memory wash over him. "This is too small a world now for war to be declared so quickly." Is it? Memories of Camp and Wo Fat nearly exchanging shots over a bit of microfilm flashed before him. "I am sure that the United States government is not seeking war. Do you have any further information?"
"The Russians," Hermano hissed. "It must be the Russians. I read in the New York Times that the Russians wish to seize Alaska."
"Then the Gulf of Tonkin incident should not concern your ship. The Gulf of Tonkin is a long way away from Alaska - or the Bering Straits and from us," Steve reasoned. "I am sure the seas are safe for you." Am I sure? I have to be sure. If this man sees me so much as blink, he will alter course.
Sizegate clasped his hands over his napkin. "It truly is an unsafe world, Captain. If I recall the sinking the Lusitania contributed to the American entrance into World War I and the attack on Pearl Harbor the second. Who is to say what the attack on this ship will start?"
Steve wanted to kick the man.
Hermano's expression tightened. "We change course."
"Hermano, there isn't any war," Steve persisted, but the plea fell on deaf ears.
Sizegate rose from the table, shaking his head woefully. "Dangerous times, dangerous times."
Steve could almost
hear the chuckle.
Danny's duties kept him busy and exhausted. Although he had been slipped what should have been a master key to the holds of the A Beleza, there were many doors it did not open. The ship's engineer was a tyrant so the crew was short by three workers, meaning they worked sixteen hours on, eight off. He wished he could spend the night on his bunk like many of his shipmates instead of prowling the depth of the A Beleza. There were no signs of smuggled women.
On the fifth day, he skipped his search in desperate need of rest. As he eased himself onto the thin mattress, the tobacco-chewing mate he had come to know as Marco commented:
"Aha, so you sleepin' at last, huh?"
Danny glanced at him and made no comment.
"Where you goin' durin' ya shut-eye?"
He still did not reply.
"I think I know." He gave a grin. "You young guys all the same."
Danny attempted to give attention to Marco although sleep beckoned. "Huh?"
"Not much sex on board a ship of men."
Now alert, he rose up on one elbow. "You have something to say?" he asked bluntly.
"Wanna get some?" Marco's eyes twinkled. "I could help you."
"You? How?" He played along.
"We could get that kid out of engineering. He ain't gonna say nothing cause he needs help getting past customs in Hawaii."
Danny flopped back on the bed. "Get lost."
Marco laughed and coughing laugh. "Of course, there could be something else."
Danny looked back at him again. "I'm tired. Do you have something say or not?" But internally he was hoping Marco would pass something about their stow away cargo.
"You Americano?" Marco remarked. He paused to spit into his coffee can of tobacco juice. He got up from the bunk and came closer to Danny's loft. "You rich boy, Americano?"
Danny fluffed his pillow, faking boredom. "More money 'n you."
Marco burst into a toothy grin. "You man enough, boy?" His eyes glistened with throwing out the challenge. "I mean, you had no guts with that nigger."
Danny rolled to face Marco. "I wasn't stupid enough to get beat up by someone three times my size," he corrected. "I'm man enough for anything you can dream up."
Marco chucked and whispered. "If the price is right - anything is possible."
Danny shook his head. "Enough of the riddles. You tryin' ta sell me on that kid, I told you, I'm not into queer stuff like that. Take it somewhere else."
"How about a girl?" Marco drew the final word out. "Hum? Sweet, young girls?"
"Here?" Danny asked with a scoffing tone.
"Yeah," Marco raised his eyebrows enthusiastically. "There girls here."
He laughed quietly. "In a manner of speaking. Don't ask so many questions, boy. You want some or no? One hundred dollar US. Take or leave it."
He pursed his lips. "That's a lot of money."
Marco grinned a yellowed toothy smile. "Neva' try, you neva' know. Supply and demand."
Danny cast him a sideways glance. "I need to see the goods first."
Marco shrugged. "Done." He walked away and sat back down on his bunk.
"Hey," Danny yelled after him. "When?"
Marco laughed quietly
again. "I tell you when. Just keep your pants on, huh?" He picked
up a Playboy and threw it up into Danny's bunk. "Sweet dreams, buckaroo!"
That evening Danny went up on deck to smoke and noticed Yusuf waiting for him near the rail. "Yusuf, why are you here? Aren't you on duty?" Danny asked, Marco's plans immediately coming back to mind.
"Some of the crew know you walk the ship," Yusuf commented.
Danny felt a little uneasy.
"They think you are looking to steal things."
"I'm not," he replied lighting up the cigarette and flicking the match into the sea.
Yusuf continued to gaze at the ocean. "They say you bad man."
Danny slowly exhaled. "Yusuf, are you all right?"
The boy turned to look at him for the first time and Danny was shocked by badly swollen and blackened left eye.
"Yusuf!" He pitched away the unfinished cigarette.
"No matter," he hastened.
"What happened?" Danny demanded.
Danny grabbed the boy's arm and the teen flinched back. "I won't hurt you," Danny promised. "Who did this?"
He shook his head. "No matter. Marco say you bad man. You American and Americans don't see us."
"Don't see - Yusuf, what I see is that someone hurt you. It's Marco, right? He said not to tell what he did or he'd make sure you don't get into the United States, right?"
Yusuf stared at the deck.
"I think you know he's wrong. I think you came up here hoping I'd help you." He softened his tone. "I can help you, Yusuf, more than Marco knows. I can get you into America legally - no police."
Yusuf's expression twisted in apprehension.
"Yusuf, trust me," Danny pleaded. If I can't find the human cargo, I can at least help this abused boy.
Yusuf started to move away, deciding he had already said too much to this dangerous American.
"They will hurt you again. We have three more days," Danny warned.
Yusuf disappeared into the dark.
Cursing, Danny slammed the railing and resolved to keep an eye on Yusuf.
Steve had been dogging Harold. If the large man had a live cargo, he never checked it - at least not himself. Steve began keeping a watchful eye on the galley. If there are stowaways, they will need to eat. Someone will have to get food to feed them. It was not long before he was rewarded.
The galley crew had diminished to just two that were completing the cleaning following the evening meal. They chatted between them in Portuguese and Steve, from his hiding corner in the hallway could make out only a little.
Then one raised his voice. "Aqui vem agora. Faminto novamente?"
The other man chuckled. "No understand, no?"
The newcomer murmured something too quietly for Steve to understand.
"Food. English, yes? Good. Here you go. I save you good meat. Put meat on those bones."
Steve peeked a little farther just in time to see a shadow disappear down the hallway. He hurried to see more. The door closed to the narrow metal stairway. He carefully followed, making sure his steps on the echoing stairway were silent. He reached the bottom of the steep metal stairway and the corridor before him was empty. He hurried forward, but there was no one. Whoever had left the galley had been quick. Am I grasping at straws? Maybe it was a hungry sailor. He explored the level, but found nothing of importance or anyone. Disappointed, he returned to the upper decks passengers should have been confined to, relieved his adventure below decks had gone unnoticed, by disappointed at being no closer to resolution that he had been before.
He went without hesitation directly to the ship's bridge and knocked on the door. Garcia opened it mildly surprised to see a passenger on the other side.
"I need to speak with Hermano," Steve stated with unblinking determination.
Garcia's brow furrowed.
"It is all right," Hermano's voice called. "Welcome to my bridge, McGarrett." He gave a broad smile. "Mr. McGarrett is a commander in the United States Navy," he advised Garcia.
Garcia gave a semi-nod and moved off.
Hermano placed a comradely hand on Steve's shoulder and gestured to the view forward. "Not at all bad for a freighter, aye?"
"Hermano, we need to return to the previous course," Steve said quietly.
"I have made my decision," Hermano answered. "I do not understand this frightening world of war. I wish only to have my cargo, my crew and myself safe until this - this calamity passes."
"You have a greater calamity on board, Hermano. We need the time we were promised."
Hermano frowned. "I don't see what Inspector Strickland told me. I cannot believe that this exists, not on my ship. You have the time that you have. You are the great American policeman, not I. The time you have is the time you have."
Steve ground his teeth silently, not accustomed to being ignored. "The weather is changing. There is a tropic storm ahead."
"The A Beleza has handled many storms. She shall do so again. She shall stay this course. Do what you must in the time you have left," Hermano insisted stubbornly.
Furious, Steve left the bridge. Garcia watched him go, then left the bridge as well.
End Part 5