Dolphins cavorted down the frothy wake our prow cut through the azure Pacific. The pure wind ruffled my hair as I dangled fifteen-odd feet above the salty depths. Should the rigging break free from the front of the ship, I and my comrades would drop like rocks, and be keelhauled horribly like true buccaneers. It was therefore quite fortuitous that the rigging was secure. It held us fast like little spiders resting on web strands. Underneath, the dolphins were dodging death by elusively avoiding the inexorable hull, while simultaneously laughing at our plodding speed through their domain. The clouds were perfect non-squall white. The sun was a brilliant yellow. Despite all of the brilliance of my surroundings, I was silent. I was in a deep melancholy, because I was afraid.
Three days earlier, I had walked up the gangplank, stowed my gear in my bunk, and returned to the deck to hear the address of the Captain. He had told us that for the next week, I and the other Boy Scouts were going to crew the tall ship Hydra, and learn the ways of ancient mariners. Furthermore, if we were lucky, we would slip by the Coast Guard blockade and deliver our shipment of illegal Canadian prescription drugs to the Senior Citizens of Catalina. In all fairness, I fabricated the last part of his speech. But only to make up for the sad fact that the Captain had no parrot, no hook hands, no peg leg, and still had both eyes. However, being on the Hydra did dredge up memories of my conversation with Mysterious about Boy Scouting being a vehicle to train future criminal masterminds. Fortunately, the Captain also had said nothing about sixteen men on a dead man’s chest, the cat ‘o nine tails, the great whale, or walking the plank.
After his inspiring speech to us lads who had been pressed into service by our parents, I inspected my fellow sailors. I didn’t see a friendly or unfriendly face; but I did see a lot of puzzled looks in my direction. This was because I didn’t know any of them at all. Somehow, my passage had been booked with a group of Scouts from Arizona. Nonplussed, I set about making friends until our Seamanship 101 course started. Before we left the port, we were busy. We were busy learning knots; again, a good skill to have in any illegal enterprise; deck swabbing; how to stand watch; and nautical terms, such as “Poop Deck”.
At first I thought the course was for the benefit of the Arizonans as they came from a dry, desert land with no oceans or large lakes. It was inconceivable that they would use nautical lingo in everyday life. Indeed, it would seem that the very use of such terms would be clear signs of heatstroke, desert dementia or cactus fever in their jurisdiction. The slow, bored, drone of the Cook/3rd Mate during the course, however, disabused me of such a notion. It slowly dawned on me that all potential swabbies were subjected to such a dull initiation. Just as the course was ending, as we prepared to “make way” and “un-moor”, the Cook led us around to the main-mast.
Rigging stretched from the deck up to the distant top of the tar encrusted mast. As I craned my neck to take in the massive monolith, my ears heard the Cook mention that at some point, all of us would be climbing up on the rigging, up the mast, across the spars to furl and unfurl the sails to propel the ship. As the words slipped into the crevasses of my brain, the first taste of paranoia gripped my stomach. Seconds later, my brain had assessed the words, and had processed the visual images. Its conclusion was negative. Every nerve in my body screamed: We’ve done a lot of crazy things. But we are NOT doing that!
It was at this point I was rudely elbowed. I staggered forward and righted myself. The group had moved on, except for Bartleby and I. Bartleby had noted my yokelish, gaping mouth stare of internal turmoil at the mast. This was unfortunate, because Bartleby was my new bother for the next week. Out of the nineteen Arizonans, he alone had taken a dislike to me. The others hadn’t really memorized my name yet, but they were ambivalent. I didn’t know why he didn’t like me. Maybe he was threatened by strangers who had no interest in him whatsoever. Or maybe it was because I had made a couple of fresh comments about his egg shaped head and his buzz-cut. If that was the case, he was completely grim and humorless, as those comments had garnered lots of laughter.
Whatever the totally unreasonable reason, he was out for satisfaction. He could have just challenged me to a duel; after all, there were plenty of belying pins around the ship, and we could have smacked each other silly. But that would have been too easy.
“Scared???” He leered at me as I turned toward him.
“Never.” I said with a panoply of false bravado.
“See you up there, then.” He said, moving off with his bobbing egghead tough guy walk.
And that, three days ago, was where my trouble began. I once again was faced with cashing a check my mouth had written. Only this time, the bank of my brain was refusing to tender any advances.