A Crew Comes Home to Port
by Michael S. Stewart
Part 1 appears
in this issue.
One year later in Bellingham, Washington, at the old home of Jimmy Williams, where he had once lived with his young wife and two little boys, Jimmy’s wife Lena got herself ready to go to a picnic with her boys. They’d been making an annual pilgrimage to the park every year for the past twenty years now. Lena wasn’t so young anymore, but she had aged very gracefully and had a petite build despite her years. She had toiled almost every day of her life to put food on the table for her boys.
Out at the park she sat at the picnic table at their favorite hidden spot surrounded by big evergreen trees. Her small, pretty mouth perked as she thought about her husband Jimmy. She smiled as she thought about him looking down at the grass, then up at one of her towhead grandsons running towards her. Her blond-haired boys came home to Bellingham with their own families to visit on the holidays.
It was especially nice on the 4th of July. Every year they went to this same spot that Jimmy had picked out and had a picnic in the park. Off to the side of the park was a place where Jimmy use to take the kids and Lena, because he liked the privacy the cove of evergreens afforded them. His two boys, Jeff and Matt, stood by the barbecue looking at their mother. Lena sat quiet and morose on one end of the wooden picnic table.
“Everything okay, Mom?” Matt asked.
“Yes, I was just thinking of your father,” she barely mumbled back and smiled and looked away again. Both her sons worked on fishing boats; it was a hard life but they made a decent living and were able to provide for their families.
Lena looked again at one of her grandsons. He looked a lot like her Jimmy, freckles with reddish blonde hair, same square jaw and a quick, excited look in his eye. He picked up his plastic fishing boat off the ground and told his grandma, “I’m going to be a skipper when I grow up.” And he smiled and ran off.
* * *
At the Hydaburg police station Sheriff Tom Parker opened the front door. The doorbell jingled. He looked at Margaret sitting behind the little desk on the other side of the counter.
“Was it a good funeral?” she asked.
Tom was busy taking off his overstuffed parka. He shook the snow off it before hanging it on one of the brass coat hooks mounted on the wall next to the door. He had just gotten back from Bellingham.
“Yeah, it was a good funeral,” Tom laughed and rolled his eyes. “No.” He paused, “Sad, really. I use to hang out over at the Williams’ house when I was growing up, and me and one of her sons, Matt, were best friends. I remember their dad died in a boating accident. An explosion, out in the straits one season, saving his father-in-law who was stalled and out of fuel.”
Tom remembered his father talking about it when he was a teenager. Tom’s father had been the Chief of Police in Bellingham during that time. Tom would overhear him talking with his deputy and mention that one of the crew members was suspected of murdering a prostitute in a town close to Juneau. He was one of the last persons seen with her, and they had both been in a few of the bars shortly before he left port for the crabbing season that year.
Tom looked out the window and said, “Looks like it’ll be dark for a while. Sometimes the case never closes on some files. That’s an old one, sometimes I open it up and take a look. Everybody’s sure it was Jacque; there’s just no evidence. It probably went down with the boat.” He let out a slow sigh and poured himself some coffee to get ready for his day.
* * *
Twenty-two years earlier, on the deck of the TimeBandit, the crew seemed to be chipper, more jovial than usual, maybe because the night sky was almost at dawn and it was getting lighter by the minute. The light has a lot to do with moods, especially when you’ve been out fishing in the Bering Sea in the dead of winter and are headed back in to port.
Four weeks earlier they had delivered the extra fuel to Captain Rogers. He was happy they had found them before his boat had iced over and frozen solid. The ice could sink a boat easily in the Bering Sea, pulling the men under with it to the murky deep like a bowling ball.
The horizon became lighter with red and crimson, and the ocean in front of them was clearly visible. An occasional gull was flying by the boat now. It was a while since they had seen any, at least since they started out again over four weeks ago. It had seemed like a lot longer.
When the two crews of the TimeBandit and the Valkrie said their goodbyes that fateful night, the Valkrie was on its way back out to sea when the TimeBandit became an explosive fireball in the night. It illuminated the sky like the Aurora Borealis for a good thirty minutes.
Captain Rogers and most of the crew on the Valkrie witnessed the explosion and never took their eyes off the burning carcass of the TimeBandit. They watched the flames extinguish when the boat sank into the dark ocean.
Captain Kyle Rogers went over and over that night in his head. He tried to figure out what could have made the boat explode as if there were a bomb aboard and engulf it in flames, but he couldn’t.
* * *
The day became lighter, and the crew of the TimeBandit had smiles on their faces as the rays of the sun started coming up over the horizon and stretched across the boat. The light started to beam in through the glass of the cabin. They were ten miles from port. Two of the youngest crew members, Jimmy and Daniel, flew into the cabin.
“Skipper, what’s going on? Nobody can find Jacque; he’s not on board.” Daniel practically shouted, he was grinning from ear to ear as he said it.
“We’re heading into port, boy,” Oleg said, smiling. “When’s the last time someone saw him?” But Oleg didn’t really care anymore, neither did the others.
“Why do I feel so good, Captain?” Jimmy said, smiling. The light streaming in through the windows illuminated his square jaw and dirty blonde hair. “I suppose it’s because we’re going home and the sun is coming up.”
“I can’t remember when we’ve seen it like this,” Oleg said smiling.
“I think I can see everyone on the dock waiting for us. Wonder why... They must have heard we saved the day for the Valkrie and they’re here to give us a heroes’ welcome. There’s Marilyn! God, she looks pretty.” Oleg spoke barely audibly with a smile that seemed to be permanent.
“I see Lena. Why’s she here?” He paused and took in a slow deep breath and let it out, “She looks like she did the night I proposed to her, sitting on the cliffs of Bodega Bay. We were sipping wine and looking at the most beautiful sunset I had ever seen.” Jimmy felt he was floating in a big pool of amber love, and tears began rolling down his cheeks.
“Is that Captain Rogers? How did he make it here before us?” Oleg asked, but didn’t really care. A realization began to dawn on him just as the sun crested the horizon in brilliant lights. It was more a living thing; there were colors in it that he couldn’t describe, the light was something he could feel and something that could feel him. He knew in his heart and mind that Captain Rogers and the others were supposed to be there to greet them.
All the crew members aboard were above deck now, three in the captain’s cabin and three on deck. All had family and friends waiting for them on the dock. All the faces on shore and on deck were smiling now as the light crested the mountains above the port. Oleg felt a sense of inner peace and contentment that he’d never felt before.
Oleg Smythe looked at his two young crew members, Jimmy and Daniel, standing in the cabin of the TimeBandit and said, “We’re coming home guys, we’re coming home.”
Copyright © 2014 by Michael S. Stewart