Thursday, June 4, 2015

Chapter 15


Nate had to go back to the bridge and invited Emi to go with him.  Emi shrugged her agreement thinking anything was better than being caged up and Nate told himself it was so he could keep an eye on his investment.  It didn’t take long however until they were both busy with their own thoughts; Nate with making sure the boat ran smoothly with the trimmed down crew and Emi watching the sky like she was bored.  She wasn’t. 

Emi had been marking their passage by the stars.  She had no sextant but she knew they’d changed headings after leaving the cruise ship and were heading on a more ESE course.  Knowing they had left out of Galveston that could only mean the coast of Florida and if she had to guess based on the charts she got a glimpse of, it looked like maybe she was going “home” after all.   

Emi dozed off and on through the night to the thoughts of the strange, strange turns her life had taken.  She woke up once to find a coat draped over her and another time to find her feet propped up on another chair.  That time she cursed softly.  Nate who was leaning beside her drinking a cup of strong Cimarron asked quietly, “Your arm hurting?” 

“I didn’t wake up.”   

He tilted her face up to him and said, “You look awake to me.” 

“I mean when you did this.  I … I shouldn’t …” 

“Relax Emi.  You’re run down and tired.  You sense you are safe here … with me.  Go on sensing that ‘cause it’s true.  Rest.  I’ll wake you when we sight land.” 

Emi snorted and then with as much attitude as she could muster she told him, “You think a whole lot of yourself Gringo.” 

Nate said nothing but he did brush the habitually misbehaving hair out of her eyes.  “Rest Emi.  I’m keeping watch.”  Emi snorted her opinion again but did relax and doze back off after only a moment. 

Just after daybreak Nate woke Emi as promised when land was sighted.  Within two hours they had an armed escort ushering them into port.   Still reeling from the sudden fulfillment of a dream she’d never expected to realize, Emi couldn’t decide how she felt so she decided not to feel anything. 

The harbor security made a production out of boarding both boats and ordering that all “cargo” remain below deck.  Emi curled her lip at the implied slur but did as she was told after seeing the cautious look on Nate’s and Kiko’s faces and the confusion on the faces of some of the crew.  Whatever was going on wasn’t the normal procedure. 

Going to the cabin with the other women Emi found she wasn’t impressed by the so-called security measures.  She looked at Barb and they both silently agreed that what was called security was a bit of a joke.  One blaring error was that while they’d made a big show of checking the men for weapons they hadn’t even thought to do the same to Emi or the other women. 

Barb asked, “So where have we wound up?” 

“Ft. Myers … west coast of Florida,” Emi answered.  “But something is off.  This ain’t normal if I can believe the looks on the crews’ faces … this being boarded and checked out.  Plus, there are too many people on the wharf area.  Either safety or security would have them clearing the wharf, not boat by boat when they come in.” 

Barb nodded, “And plenty of the people on the wharf look female.  Thought they said there was a shortage.  No way all of those dressed that way are … you know … travestido.” 

Emi shook her head.  “They ain’t ... ‘cause if they are they are the prettiest ones I’ve ever seen without makeup.” 

Alfredo had come down at Nate’s orders to make sure the women had some kind of protection from any potential “investigation of the cargo.”  He overheard their discussion and said, “The new head of security and the Captain have gotten into it before but never quite this bad.  Singletary ain’t no nice guy.  He gets off on giving everyone a hard time ... on throwing his authority around.  But knowing the Captain, he’ll work it out.  Singletary is probably looking for a bribe then he’ll look the other way.   And this is just port, not home.  Home is up the river.” 

Barb asked, “What river?” 

They were both surprised when it was Emi who answered, “The Caloosahatchee.” 

Alfredo then assumed that the Captain had told her and went back to stand by the door but Barb took a look at Emi’s face and said in a whisper, “You know this area.” 

“Grew up here.” 

“Don’t sound like a happy home-coming.” 

Before Emi could form any kind of response there was a knock on the door and the women were directed to head topside for “inspection.”  Emi and Barb fell into their previous habit and Emi took point while Barb played shepherd, herding the women in a tight circle to make a smaller target. 

A quick glance at Nate and Emi saw he was slightly irritated but not behaving threatened.  Kiko was giving off the same vibe.  She also took in the fact that there were several men standing as if they were to be recognized as important.  Because of that alone she made like she ignored them as if they were nothing.  She went to go stand beside Nate but was prevented when one of the guards intentionally jabbed her bandaged covered arm with the butt of his rifle.  Emi dropped to one knee and Nate started forward only to have a gun stuck in his face.  Emi was ugly angry just that quickly and had all she was taking.  She calmly grabs the pant leg of the man that jabbed her and stood up at the same time, essentially causing the man to lose his balance and fall back against the railing and crack his head, nearly going over if some of the crew hadn’t caught him … and in the process disarm him. 

Kiko caught her eye and gave a brief shake of his head.  Emi stopped her follow through action but only with a great deal of effort.  She was breathing heavy and Barb touched her arm making her jump.  “You’re bleeding through the bandage.” 

After swallowing hard to keep the contents of her stomach from coming up Emi told her, “I’ll live.” 

Barb nodded and kept the other women out of any possible repercussions. 

It was Nate who growled to the one that looked like he enjoyed being in charge, “Control your men.” 

“You don’t have any authority …” 

“Someone under my protection …” 

“A whore cannot be under your …” 

“Watch your mouth Singletary!” 

One of the Elders shouted, “Enough!  Mr. Singletary the behavior of your man was completely out of bounds.  I was assured that everything was all taken care of and now you …” 

“They come back with a known gang banger, missing half their crew, in company of a boat that was reported missing two months ago …” 

“We have the logs to prove …” 

“That don’t prove nothing.  It’s your word against …” 

There was another fifteen minutes of back and forth but finally Singletary had to back off when he ran out of excuses for hassling Nate after his boss showed up and wanted to know what the problem was.  Emi had maneuvered her way around to Nate’s position and Kiko gave her a wink realizing she was covering an angle that would have been difficult for them to defend against had an attack come from that direction.  He approved and it made her feel like a child that had gotten a lesson right and a little perverse at the same time because she caught herself feeling like that. 

After Singletary and his men reluctantly disembarked the Elders started their own interrogation.  Emi tried to listen but it was all she could do to watch for a potential attack while dealing with the pain in her arm.  She was reaching the point where she would have to let her discomfort show when Kiko stepped into things, signifying that his word carried some weight in the community regardless of Singletary’s previous remarks. 

“Everyone involved knew it was a dangerous venture and signed a statement to that effect before we headed out.  There were no guarantees asked for and none given, and don’t try and play like there were.  I’m the only one that returned but probably not the only one left alive.  Most of the others decided they wanted to do things their own way and took off after they failed to assassinate me.  If the others do ever make it back they’ll bare watching but I don’t look for them to get back anytime soon, not with thousands of miles to cross and rumors of another wave of DV starting up around New Orleans.   As for the number of women, from what I hear you had your own bit of trouble with young men deciding to go their own way.  Instead of placing blame let’s say we broke even.  You’ll get your investment back either way.” 

“And how is that?  You …” 

Kiko stepped up to the elders and whispered, “Because Singletary is so dumb he didn’t bother looking below the second layer of boxes down in the hold and some of that was brought back for you.” 

Emi saw the men’s expression change and a couple even licked their lips.  She’d seen it before.  Greedy men willing to look the other direction so long as they gained in the process.  She shrugged mentally trying not to care too much since this time it was working to her advantage.  But of course now those same men began to try and prove their own high morality. 

Addressing Nate one of them said, “You seem … taken … with this particular female.” 

Nate, having read the situation correctly simply said, “We need a priest.” 

“So you’ll do the right thing?” 

“That was the plan all along.” 

Emi, sticking her two cents in to nudge them a bit said, “He’s willing to take me off your hands so it doesn’t cut into your profit margin.” 

A couple of the men looked angry at her bringing it back up but most of them just looked uncomfortable and trying to deal with their own shameful hypocrisy.  Seeing this Emi backed off.  Perhaps they weren’t completely without conscience.  More words were exchanged but Emi retreated several feet and didn’t hear what was said.  She just wanted it done and over with.  She looked at the skyline and it was both different and familiar.  She didn’t know how much was due to the fact she was so young the last time she’d seen it or if it really was different.  It seemed that some of the buildings were missing from the skyline. 

There was a commotion at the bottom of the gangway and she could see a priest being helped aboard.  When she got a good look at the scar on the side of his face she grew pale.  Nate noticed that something had changed and stepped over to Emi.  Most wouldn’t have noticed but he himself was having second thoughts and he thought she was getting cold feet as well … but he could tell something else was going on too. 

“Emi,” he said trying to get her attention when she didn’t notice him.  “Emi?  Is the deal going bad?” 

She jumped and tried to control the shaking of her hands.  “No.” 

“You sure?” 

“Yeah.” 

Then Miguel stepped forward and held out his hand to Barb creating another small bit of drama.  Emi looks questions at Barb but she glances away and makes a production out of telling the other young women to be good. 

“But Barb …” a couple of them moaned. 

“None of that.  For pity sake, stiffen your spines and make something of this opportunity.  I am.  Life is too short to not grab at the gold ring when it gets within reach.”  She looks over at Miguel then actually blushes much to Emi’s amusement.  Then she shakes her head and laughs like life had just handed her a good joke.  Her laughter triggers something in Miguel who up to that moment had been serious to the point of taciturn grumpiness and he slowly smiles showing a gap where an incisor once resided.  He too nods and pulls her to stand before the priest to have the age old words said over them. 

The elders look around to find there are some men looking their way with more than mild interest.  They quickly move the remaining girls to a bus type of contraption, all the while assuring them that there will be opportunities in the coming days for them too to meet some men from the surrounding communities.  Emi didn’t know whether to believe them or not but she wasn’t in a position to question it either, and wasn’t sure she cared.  Several of the women had actively worked against her more than once, especially when it had come to not leaving Kiko behind.  Emi wasn’t the type to forget something like that. 

Still, Nate sensed her mild unease and said, “They’ll fix it.  And without having to call an auctioneer.  Berto … he was the elder with the handlebar mustache … he said they’ve already gotten several requests for any extra girls to be brought to the matchmakers.  There are offers for them even sight unseen.” 

“Whatever.” 

Nate looked at her sharply but was unable to take the conversation further because Kiko had pointed the priest in their direction.  The old man was obviously tired and roasting in his vestments but was all business when he addressed Nate. 

“You mean to do this my son?  There will be no annulment under these circumstances.” 

“I’m not looking for one otherwise I wouldn’t do this to begin with.” 

They go through the same motions as Barb and Miguel did only in place of her name and his all the priest said was “man” or “woman”.  Then Nate hands the priest a handwritten contract outlining the rest of their agreement.  Emi was momentarily surprised that he’d thought to do it but her attention remains riveted on the priest before her.   

The old priest pinches up at the crude wording but then sighs and nods.  “I’ll need two other witnesses who will sign as well as your full, legal given names and signatures for the church registry.” 

Nate told him, “Nathaniel Morris Bale.” 

When Emi didn’t immediately say anything the priest showed some irritation at wasted time when he asked, “And yours?” 

Slowly she answered, “Noemi … Sophia … Marlena … Jensen.” 

The priest is in the process of writing it out when his hands start to shake.  He drops the pen and truly looks at Emi for the first time.  His eyes widen and the clipboard he was holding followed the pen.  The priest himself nearly winds up sitting on the deck and would have if a crewman hadn’t automatically reached over to balance him. 

Emi stiffens her spine at the shock and disbelief she sees on the old man’s face.  “Relax Uncle Roger.  I’m not here to ask anything of you.  I certainly don’t expect you to claim me as family.  You and your buddy the judge made sure I got a good education in how to take care of myself.  Just do what you gotta and we’ll be out of your hair.  You’re obviously still a very busy man.”
 

4 comments:

  1. Poor old Uncle Roger... isn't karma a*&^*% when it comes back around... Hope the past couple of days have been better for your father and that he is healing. Thanks for taking the time to write this story in the midst of everything else you have on the go.

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  2. Always a big thank you from me.

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  3. I was just NOT feeling this story (nothing to do with switching between 1st and 3rd person), but the fact emi may be recognized by locals does open up some opportunity...

    I'll give it more love before I write it off...

    Speaking of...how you feel in' about Il Agita De Amore?

    My hubby is a long line if italians, and I'd
    Love to see it continue.

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  4. Thanks Kathy for your time and for sharing your gift of story telling with us.
    Praying that everything goes well with your fathers recovery and that life gives you a reprieve form it's demands.
    Wayne

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