Thursday, June 18, 2015

Chapter 18


Looking around the cabin Emi said, “For a sailor you are clean.” 

“Doubtless Arden would not agree.  She says I make more work than any man should.” 

“Arden.  Your … your sister in law.” 

“Yep.” 

“If you were married before the First Wave your children cannot be very old.” 

“Sebastian is seven, he’s Gina’s son from a … a previous relationship.  Darla is two.” 

“Two?  How … how long …?”  Emi knew she was treading on thin ice but the question about his ex-wife just kind of fell out of her mouth. 

“Gina left me then came back after she found out she was pregnant.  She says Darla is mine.  Could be; isn’t beyond the realm of possibility.  She … well, it’s possible.  I’ve decided to raise her that way whether she biologically is or not.  It’s my name on the birth registry.  When she came back we agreed to work things out but things got bad towards the end of the pregnancy.  Gina … she was stubborn and headstrong all along but I used to find it exciting … even endearing.  But then the way she was no longer worked very well with the world the way it is.  She became … brittle, unyielding … then unstable if she wasn’t given way to.   Her mother blames me for where Gina’s choices have taken her.” 

“So your mother in law is also in the picture?” 

“Ex-mother in law and only occasionally.  She lives in Charleston Park across on the other side of the river.  Gina is shacked up with a guy in Denaud.  Arden … she tries to be a bridge builder but neither her mother nor Gina cooperate very much unless they want something in return.  We might get a visit when they hear about you but that’s not for certain.  Gina’s current lover is a smuggler of anything that will make him money and abusive doesn’t even begin to describe how he treats her.   But she won’t listen, says she finds him virile and manly and exciting and available … all the things I’m not according to her.  He’s just one of the reasons why she’ll never get the kids.  Once Arden moves out and on with her life likely the only time you might run into any of them is when Alva hosts the monthly river market … three or four times a year depending on the weather.  Is that a problem?” 

“If I can manage to be civil to la gran bufalo – my cousin’s wife – then I can be civil to anyone.  Besides, it wouldn’t be part of the deal to bring down trouble on you.” 

Nate stood up with his bag of clothes and tried to figure out what to say in response.  “Emi … I expect this deal to have two sides to it, not just you acting grateful so you don’t go on the auction block.” 

“You’re already …” 

“Whatever is scrambling around in your head get it under control,” he said in irritation.  “All I want is some companionship and a minimum of arguing, someone that knows how to – and will – take care of things when I’m not around.  I’ve never been attracted to little helpless balls of fluff that some women insist on acting like, and I’m done with women that are high maintenance and argumentative.” 

Emi just looked at him until he snapped, “What?” 

“I don’t know.  You make it sound like an easy thing when …”  She shook her head.  “I just don’t know.” 

“You gonna argue with me all the time?” 

Emi shrugged.  “Since my family died, mostly all I ever wanted was to be left alone.  The few times I’ve tried to join a group or gang it blew up in my face.”  Nate took note that there was something dark and nasty in the memories behind her eyes.  “I just want someplace … someplace …” 

“Quiet?” 

“It doesn’t have to be quiet all the time.  Just quiet sometimes.  I don’t want to argue either … I’m just not sure I know how to not argue and fight anymore.  It’s all I’ve known for too long.   I’ll try.  But I know me … even when I don’t pick the hard road the one I’m on seems to change into that without my say so.”  Emi finally looked at Nate full in the face.  “You willing to let me bargain for some time to … to learn your way of doing things?” 

Nate put down the box he’d been carrying under his arm to reach out and touch her hands where they were clasped tightly together.  “You don’t need to bargain for time.   I expect you’ll have to give me some time to figure out things as well.” 

Where the conversation would have gone was anyone’s guess because at that moment Miguel interrupted and said, “Nate, the buyer is here.  He’s asking for permission to come aboard early.” 

Quickly changing gears Nate asked, “Is all the cargo off?” 

“Last is coming off now but there are a couple of more hours to go on the other hold.  The investors that hold the note on that other boat will send over the finder’s fee as soon as we finish unloading it.” 

“Fine.  Bring the buyer aboard.” 

“I’ll send Les down to grab your gear and take it over with mine.” 

“Agreed.  Except for my personal kit … and Emi’s back pack and rifle.”  Emi nodded at his look. 

After Miguel exited the cabin Nate turned to Emi and said, “This guy …” 

“Where can I find a spot to get out of the way?” 

Nate relaxed sensing that Emi understood about some Captains being just as superstitious as their crew.  “There’s a cantina two blocks up.  They don’t have a problem with customers carrying side arms but you’ll need to check the rifle.  Kiko is probably already there.  I’ll meet you there as soon as I’ve finished my business.” 

Emi disembarked and started walking down the wharf with only one glance back towards Nate.  She relaxed when she realized he might have been talking to the buyer but he was also keeping an eye on her as long she was within sight.  That was fine.  And this also gave her the chance to prove she wasn’t going to just run off.  But there wound up being a snag.  She got to the cantina only to find a message left for Nate letting him know that Kiko had caught a ride back with a couple of the elders as he had wanted to get back to Dora as soon as possible. 

The manager of the cantina said, “You’re a friend of Kiko’s?” 

“Sort of.  More a … a friend of Nate’s.  He told me to wait for him here.  But on second thought maybe I’ll wait outside.” 

In a growl he asked, “Not good enough for you?” 

“Not too crazy about being the only female amongst a bunch of soon to be drunk sailors.  There will be less trouble if I find someplace else to be for a while.”  She turned around and nearly bumped into Barb and another woman.  “I thought it was you.  I told Millie here that we’d better come fetch you upstairs.  You can leave a note on the board to let your man know where you are.” 

 Several sets of ears tuned in at those words.  “So your man is meeting you here too?” 

The woman named Millie very casually said, “I don’t know about ‘too’ but Nate will doubtless be along as soon as he’s done getting Henderson to sign on the dotted line.” 

It took a few seconds for the manager to exclaim, “Wait … you’re saying?!” 

Barb grinned and pulled Emi away and up an exterior stairwell before she got stuck answering uncomfortable questions.  A laughing Millie quickly followed them and soon they were in an area of the cantina that was just as noisy but occupied by family groups rather than single men.  She did have to check the rifle but no one said anything about the rest of her gear. 

Emi asked Barb, “How did you find this place?” 

“Miguel walked me down here one of the times he was checking that the river boats were being loaded properly.  And this,” she said introducing the other women.  “Is Millie … Milagros … the same way I’m Barbarita and your Noemi.  She’s Miguel’s brother’s sister in law.” 

If Emi thought it strange she didn’t remark on it.  Instead she concentrated on ignoring the hunger she’d begun to feel as soon as the smells coming from the kitchen had hit her nose.  Her last solid meal of any significance had been several days ago, and she’d been running on short rations long before that.  In fact she’d been ignoring it so hard that she jumped when Barb touched her.  “Need me to take a look at that arm?” 

“No.” 

“You sure?  You’re looking a little spacey and that’s not like you.” 

Emi wanted to ask how she knew what she was and wasn’t like but didn’t want to alienate a potential compatriot.  Instead she muttered, “Too many people.  Reminds me of the holding pins.” 

Barb grinned.  “I hear that but at the same time … at least we aren’t having to scramble for a few crumbs to eat.” 

Millie wasn’t the prejudiced type and said, “Market day coming up.  People are coming in from all over so it promises to be a big one.  Things are better than they have been since the chaos of the Third Wave.  You still have to be careful with your money but at least there is enough to spend for special occasions.  And I say marriage is a special occasion.  Let me at least order some …” 

“Uh …” Emi wasn’t sure she wanted to get that friendly or risk starting a tab she had no way to pay.  But Barb wasn’t so particular.  

“Any family of Miguel’s is a family of mine.”  Both women giggled letting Emi know that they’d both had a glass or two of something more than water.  She stayed apart from it when they let her – which wasn’t often enough for Emi’s peace of mind – and she finally got up to go catch a breath of air on the patio.  That’s where Nate found her. 

“I didn’t know Kiko was going to …” 

“Nate!” 

“Well, hello,” Nate said grinning at the unexpected welcome.  He took a closer look at her face and realized she was upset.  “What’s wrong?” 

“I didn’t start the tab.  I’ve tried to control things, only had water, but I’ve never … they … the staff … and things just appear on the table.” 

Grumpily he asked, “You don’t think I can pay for things?” 

“Don’t be un hombre estupido.  Between your bullets and mine we could pay the tabs on most of these tables more likely.  It’s just … you don’t sling money around like that.  And you didn’t say one way or the other … and now here you are and …”  A long, low string of Spanish cursing left Emi’s mouth highlighting just how frustrated she was at the out of control feelings she was having. 

“For you to not have learned Spanish until you went to Honduras you have certainly taken to the language,” Nate said with a grin after being mollified that her objections wasn’t over that he was a poor man.   

“It suits how I feel.  Normally when I say no people understand I mean no.  This is just la locura … craziness.  You’re starting a new business … have kids that probably need things … all of it … the works.” 

Nate’s grin widened.  “Tomorrow.  Tonight we celebrate.  Have you eaten yet?  I’m starved and they have some of the best food here.” 

Nate guided Emi back to the table and was greeted raucously by Miguel and another man who turned out to be Millie’s husband who also turned out to be one of the cooks.   There was no way of getting out of a big, fancy meal. 

“Stop worrying about the tab,” Nate whispered in her ear when she kept turning down dishes. 

“Gringo … tu es un hombre estupido for sure.  I’d eat if I could but I can’t remember when I’ve had food as rich as all this looks.  I have no wish to embarrass either of us with the predictable results if I was to start suddenly pigging out.” 

Finally Nate understood.  Apparently so did Millie’s husband.  He leaned over and said, “The kitchen does a good vegetable broth made with just a touch of white wine to make it special.  I can ask them to put a few dumplings in there or a bit or wild rice if you prefer.” 

Emi looked at Nate who nodded encouragingly.  She sighed and said, “Rice please.”  If the others noticed that she was using manners she hadn’t before that moment they didn’t comment. 

Millie’s husband’s name turned out to be Phillip and he excused himself to get back to the kitchen but promised to take care of their order personally.  For dessert he also sent out a pear and goat cheese tartlet for Emi while the others had richer fare.  Finally it was agreed by all that it was time to head to the river boat before the good food and good company had them forgetting their responsibilities.  The tab and accompanying tip was large enough to make the manager and wait staff happy.  Barb and Miguel were more than a little tipsy and Nate and Emi had to help them up the gang plank of the riverboat.  As soon as they were back on the water Miguel sobered up but Barb quickly fell asleep next to their baggage. 

Nate too became all business.  He told Emi to roll out a blanket and get some rest, that he and Miguel would likely be some time going over the manifest to make sure it was all in order so they could get under way at first light.  Rather than lie down however, Emi arranged Nate’s bags so that she could lean against them and rest but remain upright.  From bitter experience she knew what it would cost her to try and sleep prone when she was as full as she felt.

4 comments:

  1. Kathy thanks for the new chapter, great story looking forward to more.
    Wayne

    ReplyDelete
  2. Kathy thanks for the new chapter, great story looking forward to more.
    Wayne

    ReplyDelete
  3. Very good as always , thank you

    ReplyDelete