Monday, August 1, 2011

Chapter Twenty-Two

Portland, Maine

I collapsed to all fours and felt every gastric juice fighting to come out my nose. 
There was no ferry.  I am supposed to intercept the mules today on a ferry that no longer runs.
I had never had a heart attack, but this felt like one.  My chest constricted. I could barely breathe and my head throbbed every time my heart beat.  I threw up until I had nothing left, then my insides heaved some more.
Finally, I sat and leaned against the metal gate closing off the former entry to the Scotia Lines.  The gate was cool against my cheek.  The desire to lie down and give up was overwhelming. 
I got up.
Rogers. He had given me a ticket to a ferry that does not run.  That SOB reamed me.  I don’t know if it was incompetence or malice.  Probably both.
It wasn't yet dawn.  The waterfront was coming to life, but slowly.  Gear clanked against the boats in the adjoining marina. Water lapped at the wharves. A seal barked.  What am I going to do?  I wiped my mouth with the back of my sleeve and sat back down on a stack of pallets.  My mind raced but went nowhere.
Eventually I got up again and stumbled back to the motel. 
I asked the young woman at the desk for a phone book.  The expression on her metal-studded face implied I was asking for the crown jewels.  She clacked her gum, blew a bubble,  then languidly reached beneath the counter and handed me a beat set of yellow pages.  I wonder if she ever gets the bubble caught in the studs.
I stopped at the drink machine outside the office. A Coke would settle my gut. I tried putting a dollar bill in.  The machine spit the money back.  I played the farce with the contraption a few more times, then gave up and used a different bill.  The machine thunked out two cans instead of the one I paid for.  I returned to the office and offered the second to "Studs."  She clacked her gum and took it without a word.  Real gratitude. Some of the drink I'd already swallowed fought to come back up. 
What am I going to do?
I went back to my room. I still had the key as if I'd unconsciously known I might need to return.  Opening the door, I could still smell the Chinese food and soap from my shower.  Despite the cold I opened the sliding window.  I threw my bag on the first bed and laid down on the second.
What the hell am I going to do?
My head pounded. Every joint in my body ached.  I stared at the ceiling, watching a dark stain on it that I'd noticed last night.  I kept staring as if the stain were a Rorschach blot that would reveal some vital secret.  I had to figure out what ferry, if any, did run.  I must find those mules. 
I played the internal movie over and over; Walters had handed me the envelope with instructions on what to do.  Rogers gave me the tickets afterward.  Walters wants whatever these mules are carrying.  Rogers ...? Was he sabotaging me deliberately? Or …?
This doesn't make sense.
Light filtered through the window.  I heard cars starting, muffled voices, frost scrapings on windshields. My mouth tasted like a litter box.
I got up, went to the sink, turned on the faucet and splashed water on my face.  A cadaver stared back at me from the mirror. I bent back over the sink, cupped my hands and sucked in the cold flow.  Portland’s water tasted like rotten eggs, but it beat the foulness in my mouth -- just.
I have no idea what to do.
I went back to the bed, turned on the light and cracked open the phone book.  I sat, flipping pages.  Why didn’t I bring reading glasses?  I pushed the phone book away to where I could more easily read it.  There – the ferry service ad.  Digby to St. John.  How far away was that?  I fished inside my jacket for a pen and made notes on the hotel stationary, such as it was.  What hotel has stationary anymore?
I wrote down five telephone numbers.  After glancing at my watch and deciding no one would be open this early, I laid back down.  But my mind wouldn't stop.
Why is this happening?  Why me?
I must have dozed.  The clatter of the maid cart outside my room made me jump.  I quickly glanced at my watch again and sat up – too fast.  Pains stabbed my eyes. 
All of me hurt.  Fibromyalgia takes more of a toll than I want to admit.  In that moment, I was exhausted, worn and bleary.  I wanted to give up.
But I didn't. I couldn't. Voices of Marines forgotten echoed in my brain.  Training long left took over.  Improvise, adapt, overcome!
I pulled the phone toward and began dialing. My first four calls were met with voicemail or got no answer.  I scrawled more notes on stationary.  Finally, on my fifth call, a man asked me to call him back in a few. 
I wiped my eyes, rechecked my watch and decided something in my gut would be better than acid.  So I ducked out the room to the vending machines, where I bought two packs of orange crackers and a MoonPie.  On my way back I passed "Studs," who mumbled, “Thanks for the coke, Dude.”  Chivalry is not dead.
I tried a cracker.  It had to be 20 years old.  I could barely chew through the dryness.  I made the mistake of calling the man back before I had choked it down.  When he answered I sounded like a cat coughing up a hairball
“Mrmph, (swallow damnit!) Uhm, hello. Is this Mr. Johansen?”
“Ehyeah, that would be me.”
“Mr. Johansen, you asked me to call you back.”
“Did you find anything out?”
“Do you mind telling what you found out?”
“Uhm, what is it?”
“You don't have to get hasty with me!” I heard coughing and something about "being from away" muttered away from the phone.
“Ehyeah, we can carry you to Daww-gby.” I assumed that meant Digby.
“And how much would that cost?”
I heard him talking with someone in the background.
“Ehyeah, that would be $35,000.”
“I thought you said $35,000.”
“Is that negotiable?”
“When would we go?”
“Excuse me, I thought you said now”
“I’ll let you know.” And hung up before he could respond.
I don’t have $35,000.  I can’t get $35,000.
I looked at my scrawled notes.  I flipped the paper over and listed all the options I could think of.  Then I stared at the list as if the choices would get better with time. 
The maid knocked at the room next to me, her key click-click-clicking as she sing-songed, “Maid service.” 
I regarded my choices again.  None were good. 
A pipe whined somewhere in the old motel as the round of morning showers peaked. 
I rechecked my watch, then took the stationary and crumpled it into a ball.  I threw it on the floor.  I had made up my mind. 
Fuck Walters.  Fuck Rogers.  Fuck mules. 
I put the second pack of crackers in my backpack, re-checked the room and departed via the front desk.  "Studs" was watering a ficus tree in the lobby. I think the plant was artificial but didn't have the heart to tell her.
“Here’s the phone book, thanks.”  She ignored me and kept watering. “Want a MoonPie?” 
She turned to me and smiled.

1 comment:

  1. Looking forward to what Jake has up his sleeve!
    Nice twist by the way!