Mother's Blue Dress
by Peg Keeley

Part 6

"You are over reacting!" Sizegate roared at Garcia.

"I am not," Garcia retorted. "McGarrett was on the bridge. He spoke with Hermano. The old fool introduced him as part of the US Navy! He called McGarrett a policeman! I don't know what else would put him on this ship except they are looking for us."

"There are many things, many things," Sizegate brushed away Garcia's fears.

"Too risky! They have somehow traced that dead girl to us. They are looking for the girls and if they look hard enough, they will find them," Garcia insisted. "We must get rid of them."

"Get rid! You make it sound like throwing out the trash!" Sizegate shouted.

"Is there any difference? Unwanted waste."

Sizegate opened his mouth, then shut it.

"They find out what is happening on this ship, you won't go to some fancy American jail, Sizegate - you go to Brazilian jail. Been to Brazilian jail? Huh?" Garcia bared his teeth. "Hot, rats, bugs, no food - you die and no one cares. "The cargo can be replaced. They are cheap. That idiot Marco did a bad job with that girl that died on the last trip. He dumped her body at port - un weighted - they found it. No doubt they are now looking for answers and somehow, they trailed us here."

"Listen to you! You act as though US police are all powerful. They know nothing, Garcia, or they would already arrest us. They haven't a clue and they haven't found us - you or me. You must not panic here."

Garcia remained unmoved. "We are sailing into bad weather. I want the cargo ditched. Is that clear?"

Sizegate gave a regretful nod. "You have no stomach for this work, Garcia."

He laughed. "Me? I do not hesitate to do what it takes to protect myself. You are the one going soft on those girls. Nobody cares about them. Nobody ever will. They are just non-people are there are thousands more where they came from."

Mara and her three partners huddled together most of the time, chained to the bulkhead of a cargo hold. The floor was hard and cold. They could hear the loud rumbling of the ship's engines. Amongst themselves, they had created stories to account for where they were going and what was to happen. All of the stories were more hopeful than Mara thought the outcome was likely to be. But at time when she needed hope; Mara spent the time imaging herself buying mama a blue dress and how it would be to travel back down the dusty road home, run to the house calling for mama and present her with a big white box. Mama would act surprised and tell her she should not have done this, then she would finger the fine white tissue paper inside and lift out a pale blue dress the color of the sky.

More often she was tormented by the nightmare of rejection. When her mother knew what terribly filthy things she had done, she would disown her - hate her. In her nightmares, she looked for Sanath and he would treat her as these horrid men had. She would wake up crying.

There was a new man now who came to the girls. Every so often, he would take one of them from the room. She would be gone for a long time, then return having been used and hurt. Mara no longer was shocked by what happened to them, it was easier to try to forget it, pretend it was not happening, and think of mama's blue dress hoping mama wound never know what she had done.

The man treated Mara differently from the other three. He would take her from the room almost every day to another room where he would brush her hair, braid it himself in braids while he spoke softly to her in a language she did not know. He had made her understand that his name was Marco. He would often ask her to say it back to him. Sometimes she could, sometimes she was too afraid to. Many times she sat like a human doll and he would put beautiful silk dresses on her and take pictures of her. He was not a hansom man at all, but Mara sensed he liked her. Although not kind towards her for he used her just as every other man, he had a certain gentleness about him and always gave her small gifts of grapes or candy. He never drugged her as he did the other girls and often kissed her forehead when she returned to her small prison. She did not know what to think of him.

The humid heat and the din of the engine room was always exhausting. Any communication was always at a yell, so most of the hole snipes did little talk. Danny labored with the grease gun, his eye ever on Yusuf, wishing there was an opportunity to talk to the young man again. No doubt Yusuf was hiding something, but his fear of Danny was as great as that of anyone else aboard - except perhaps the one who'd struck him. And that fear had exacted a stubborn silence.

Danny was also conscious that Marco watched him as closely as he watched Yusuf and that was both disquieting and inconvenient. It had been over twenty-four hours but Marco had not made good on his proposition. Is this just a sham? If it was, did I fall for it? Is Marco wise to what I am here for? He struggled to control paranoia. They don't know. Marco is just waiting because he can control the conditions. Contemplating a course of action, Danny squeezed off the grease gun and a ribbon of dark brown ooze penetrated the bearing he was working on.

Marco walked over and brushed his shoulder. "Americano. Come after mess call tonight." He slipped a small scrap of paper containing a number on it into Danny's hand and winked. "Don't forget your money, heh?"

Danny looked at him unable to hide the look of anticipation that Marco misread as lust.

Danny stood outside the metal door, glancing up and down the corridor. This was a small below-decks area where the freighter sometimes carried passengers. There were four small staterooms that were spartan in their décor. He rapped gently on the door.

Marco threw the door open, a toothy grin on his unshaven greasy face. "Welcome, welcome," he chuckled in a seeming good nature. He extended his hand for the money.

"First I see the goods," Danny replied.

Marco shrugged and waved Danny into the room.

On the old rusting metal bed with a then worn horsehair mattress sat a young dark-skinned girl clad in a white short-sleeved buttoned shirt and a pair of underwear. She stared fixedly at her knees. Danny was shocked by her apparent young age.

"Well?" Marco demanded.

"She's just a child," Danny could not help replying.

"She's a female," Marco snapped. "She what you're payin' for. She do you good. Money!"

Danny handed Marco the fist of bills, his eyes still glued to the young girl.

Marco shoved the money away into his pocket. "One hour." He left, slamming the door behind him.

Danny looked back at the girl who was numbly beginning to unbutton her blouse. He hurried over. "No, stop," he said gently placing his hands over hers to stop her. In the moment it took for him to pull the clothing back around her he noticed that she had not even developed and that much of her young body was covering with bruises.

Her gaze lifted from her knees to his face for a moment and he was lost in the depth of pain and hopelessness that consumed her.

"I'm going to get you out of here," he promised.

She looked at him without reaction understanding neither his language nor expression.

"Your name?" he asked.

She stared at the floor.

He took one of her hands and pressed it to his chest. "I'm Dan." He pressed it to her chest. "You?"

She turned at dull non-responsive gaze to him.

She is drugged. She doesn't even understand why she is here or what I want to do. Why would someone have sex with someone who is drugged and can't even respond? His mind flashed back to Marjorie and for a moment he fought to push away the issue. He tried repeatedly to talk to the girl, get anything, even her name from her without success. Time was passing. How do I get her out of here? Not now, for where could I take her? How many more are there?

When the hour was up, Marco rapped once on the door, then burst in. He was a little surprised to find the girl dressed. "You get your money's worth from her?" he asked of Danny.

"Absolutely," Danny assured him. "Got any more like her?"

"Jess one to a customer," he replied, spitting on the floor.

Steve stood at the aft railing glaring out across the ocean, as though he could, by his will, change the mind of the weather. Dark clouds were beginning to boil on the horizon and the white caps of waves were beginning to rise and be blown by the increasing wind. It was not good for him to meet Danny aboard ship, it compromised them both, but the red work rag tied to the knob of his room had given the coded message that Williams wanted to meet. Steve hoped the young officer had information.

He did. Danny and the first of the rain arrived at the same time. Buried in a heavy yellow rain-slicker no one would know his identity. "The girls are here. I saw one on lower deck. I don't know how many of them there are. There is a seaman named Marco peddling them to shipmates for $100 an hour."

Steve winced quietly and dug deeper into his raincoat as the raindrops came more quickly. "We need to wait."

"Wait! For what!" Danny answered. "You didn't see that girl - that child - McGarrett. How many more times will she be assaulted before we reach Honolulu?"

"We need the big fish, Danny," Steve reminded him. "Your guy Marco is just the little guy. If we let Sizegate and his contacts get away, the abuse will go on with more girls. You know that."

"There has to be something we can do for her right now," Danny remarked.

Steve gave him a hard look. "We are already doing something for her. We're keeping her alive by not tipping our hand too soon."

"I don't like it."

Steve lifted an eyebrow, a little surprised that Williams was challenging him. "I don't care whether you do or not," he answered bluntly. This is my game, Williams, learn that right now. "Maybe we can be glad for Hermano changing course after all - we just have to make it through the storm. Stay alert, keep your eyes open. I'll radio Honolulu."

Marco felt the ship straining as the large sea swells slammed against her sides. Hurricanes were not to be taken lightly at sea so far from a port, but that was not what pressed on his mind. He knew he needed to comply with Garcia. He had disposed of bodies of the weaker girls before, but this was somehow different. He'd ordered Yusuf to obtain several cups of applesauce. That had been harder to do, harder for the boy to explain to the cooks, but somehow he had accomplished the task rather than face the beating Marco would have administered his failure. Marco had mixed a generous amount of crushed sleeping pills into the stuff. If they must drown, they shall do so in their sleep, he consoled himself. He thought of the girl he kept to himself. Can I spare her somehow? Sizegate would not care. Certainly I can slip one girl past customs in Hawaii and then I shall never return to the sea. I shall find a way to make her love me and buy a small house on the shore. I will find a way to make her happy. This kind of thought was unusual for a hard-souled men like Marco, it surprised him, but that did not stop it from coming.

He dished out the applesauce into three small cans and took them to the other girls, motioning them to eat up. The young prisoners had scarcely eaten anything but a few bread crusts in more than a week and the gift of applesauce was quickly consumed, down to licking out the small metal cans. Marco smiled quietly to himself. They shall have had a pleasant last meal. He waited for the drug to take effect and contemplated how he would sneak the fourth girl away.

The churning ocean swirled and crashed across the deck of the freighter. Steve stood inside the mess hall of the ship, glaring out of the portal as the driving wind splashed salt water and rain against the glass. The ship's crew were all busy either below decks or on deck. The bilge pumps were trying to pump the water out faster than it was being thrown back in by the sea. Life vests had been issued but, at least at the moment, the ship was still very much sea worthy.

He wondered about Sizegate's slaves. Will he check on them? What value does he place on them? Sizegate had not left his stateroom and Steve had kept a close eye on him. The pre-mature green dusk of the storm induced twilight was settling on the ship. Ship's hands were running back and forth across decks, keeping a grip on railings against the next ocean wave. The freighter was starting to ride lower in the water - the bilge pumps were not keeping up with the waves washing into the ship.

The door to the dining galley from where Steve was observing the impending disaster and Sizegate blew threw in, soaked with seawater and rain.

"This is terrible," Sizegate announced.

"Yes, it is," Steve replied calmly, not looking the traveler in the eye. "I advised Hermano to go round the storm, if you recall."

Sizegate shook his head. "The ship won't sink, will it?"

Steve gazed at the ocean. "Perhaps. You might want to get all your valuables at hand."

Sizegate rubbed his hands together. "We need to call someone - someone."

The door opened again and admitted Captain Hermano. Although more appropriately attired for the weather in yellow slickers, he also was soaked. Water ran off the bill of his ship's cap in a thin stream. He went straight to Steve. Hermano flexed his jaw. "Let us put aside this play. You are a naval officer - we need all men of experience if we are to live."

Steve noticed Sizegate's eyes widen.

"Your ship is taking on water," Steve commented.

Hermano nodded. "A bilge pump is out. I have a team working on it."

"How long?"

"I don't know."

Steve glanced at Sizegate. He knows something is up now. I have no choice but to take action now. "Let's go down and take a look," he suggested to Hermano.

The captain issued a stiff nod. He opened the door and he and Steve stepped out into the storm.

Steve was instantaneously and thoroughly soaked to the skin as the driving rain stung him through his clothing. As they hurried down the slippery outer stairway, a wave crashed across the deck and the ship gave a shudder. Although Hermano's helmsman was struggling to keep the aging ship into the waves, the wind kept blowing the craft broadside to the waves.

The darkness was almost like night as Marco rolled one drugged girl into a blanket and put her over his shoulder. The crew were all at emergency stations - where he should have been - but he knew he had to complete this distressing task first. He carefully made his way to the aft deck. The rain poured down and there was, of course, no one near at hand. He moved towards the railing to drop his load into the black boiling water below.

Suddenly, a hand gripped his arm and he spun in alarm.

"Isn't dumping trash at sea illegal?" Williams asked.

Marco glared at him, mouth agape. "Why are you here?" he snapped, but it was a useless question.

A small limp hand dropped from the folds of the blanket. Danny and Marco's eyes met. "She dead?" Danny asked trying to sound callus.

Marco grimaced. "Yep. Sometimes that happens." In a burst of action, he dropped the body like a sack of garbage and grabbing Danny by the front of his rubber slicker, pressed a knife against the younger man's throat. "You've gone and stumbled into something that's none of your business. Tell me why there shouldn't be another body overboard as well?" Marco snarled.

The girl under the blanket moaned and moved a little.

"Hey, Marco, she isn't dead," Danny commented, trying to deny the steel blade at his neck.

Marco glanced down. "So she ain't."

"It's okay then, huh?" he murmured trying to look innocent. Banks once told me my youthful looks would some day save me if I could play the naïve card well. This may be the moment. "Good thing I came along just now, huh?"

Marco glared at the semi-conscious girl, a cloud of indecision passing over his features as the rain pounded them. "Why don't you just get outta here, boy."

Danny, trying to maintain a wide-eyed innocent look replied. "Hey, you can get more money for a live girl. There are guys in Hawaii that'll buy her. Hey, if you don't want them, I'll take 'em. I know somebody who could use a few good girls in Honolulu."

Marco gave a sardonic chuckle. "You? Hell, kid, what do you know about nothing?"

"I'm from Hawaii, I know people there. People who'd pay money."

The deck slowly pitched towards starboard, Marco's rubber soles slipped on the slick deck, sliding him into the aft railing, providing Marco a moment to think as he gripped the railing tightly to keep from being tossed into the sea himself. The ship gradually came back onto an even keel. The moment of watching the swirling brine reach for him caused him to see the fate of his cargo in spite of himself. Maybe I could sell them and keep the money myself. Sizegate can go to hell. When the storm is over, I'll move them. He will think they are gone. I will not live the rest of my life knowing those girls drowned just to please that fat man. To hell with him. Perhaps I could even take one of those girls with me. I like that little one. She could be pretty if she wasn't so dirty. And I could keep the money for myself. But what about this American? Can I trust him? Maybe I don't have to.

"Marco? You can't really kill her, can you?" Danny asked. He could see the doubt plainly on Marco's craggy features and knew he was compelling.

Marco folded the pocketknife and it disappeared into the deep pocket of his yellow rain slicker. "I don't want to kill those girls, but you - I have no problem slicing you and up tossing you to the sharks --understand that? You say you got contacts, you'd better. I keep those girls and you turn on me, I'll see to it you have an accident - understand me?"

Danny gave a brief nod.

"You got somebody to call then?"

He gave another quick nod. "After the storm."

"Hell, we may not make it through this storm," Marco sneered. "Pick her up," he ordered toeing the girl wrapped in the soaked blanket.

As Danny started to bend down, Marco suddenly punched him in the mouth with a closed fist, snapping Danny's head back. Water off the rain slicker scattered in a shower within the rain. Danny gripped his jaw as the pain shot through his temple.

Marco pushed him against the wall, faces inches apart. "That's for following me. Don't you ever - ever get close to me again. You hear?"

The tobacco-laden stench of Marco's breath was nauseating. Danny managed a nod, hand pressed to the split lip that was bleeding and already swelling. He wanted nothing better than to yank this moron off his feet and throw him over the rail, but Danny resisted. Maybe there is a small about of consolation in knowing what I could do, but am choosing not to. Warily, he bent down once again and took hold of the saturated blanket. The girl was surprisingly light. As he lifted her, the blood from his lip ran down his chin, blending with the rainwater and a spilled onto the yellow slicker in an orange thread.

Marco motioned him to follow and went below decks. Water cascaded down the steep steel ladder and Danny struggled with the bulk to the lower cargo hold. In the lowest part of the ship, he noticed there was water sloshing about, filled with debris and topped with a thin film of oil

"Ship's taking on water," Danny remarked.

Marco stopped before a sealed door to a compartment and gave a wry smile. "You're keepin' me from repairin' that bilge pump." The unlocked door swung back with a groaning whine.

Danny stepped over the sill with the girl and stopped. There were three more girls chained by the wrists to brackets in the wall. Two of them had been drugged for they were asleep in spite of the howling storm and pitching ship. The third peered at them through frightened eyes having paused in her hopeless task to free herself from the chain around her thin wrist. Danny slowly laid the drugged limp load down, his eyes on the alert girl, wishing there was something he could do to reassure her about the future that seemed so uncertain for them all. For an instant there was a smashing pain. Oh no…

Mara gasped in astonishment at Marco who slid the pipe wrench back into the tool holster, then at the young white American who lay sprawled in the inch deep water.

"Now, don't you worry any, "Marco said to her, although she could not understand most of his English. "Can't have this guy telling somebody where you are. We're gonna skip ship as soon as she puts in," he promised. He dragged the unconscious Danny within reach of the chain that had earlier held the girl he had intended on throwing overboard, then fastened a locked the chain around Danny's arm. He may be able to team me up with somebody. If so, I need to keep him under my eye, not having him running all over with what he knows. And if he's makin' this up, or worse, I can deal with it.

Mara's sad expression followed him and Marco, sincerely wishing to put her at ease, forced a gentle smile and placed on hand on her cheek. "You'll see," he said quietly. "It will be just fine. Just fine."

She shivered as there came a moaning of the ship structure. Marco knew he had to get back to the bilge pump.

End Part 6

Part 7
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