Escape from La Plata
Lou Ann Steele
The shabby cantina was poorly it inside. Cigarette smoke filled the air in the room like a thick fog. Most of the occupants in the room were fishermen, sailors, field laborers, factory workers and men of the criminal elements who were conducting illegal business openly through out the room.
In one corner of the room, sat three men at a table who were hunched over their beers trying to keep a low profile and remain unnoticed by the other occupants in the cantina.
Seamen Patterson and Kowalski had accompanied their friend and coworker Seaman Jorge Montoya to a small South American seaport called La Plata. Seaman Montoya had wanted to visit some of his relatives on this shore leave. Patterson and Kowalski decided to tag along since they had never visited that area of South America before and Montoya was willing to serve as tourist guide and translator.
They were now sitting at that particular cantina having a beer because that was the only place in town that sold alcohol and Montoya was waiting for his female cousin Rosa to get off work so that they could give her a safe escort home. He was not happy his cousin was working in that seedy place, but there werenít that many jobs in town for women and Rosa had insisted on working there to earn enough money to go to college.
"How much longer do we have to wait around here?" Seaman Patterson asked nervously as he kept an eye on the other occupants in the room. He didnít like the feel of that place. There was something sinister about it. He half expected a violent argument to erupt into a fight or for someone to pull out a gun and start shooting at any time. The sooner they get out of there the better, as far as he was concerned.
"Just fifteen more minutes, Pat," Jorge assured him as he got up from the table. "I have to go to the restroom. I will be right back."
Patterson and Kowalski watched their Hispanic friend walk confidently through the crowd making his way to the door beside the bar. Jorge was five feet eleven inches tall with large brown eyes, short wavy black hair, medium build and muscular arms. No one tried to detain him as he moved through the crowd and disappeared through the doorway next to the bar.
When Jorge came back into the room, he stood staring in surprise for a couple of minutes at someone at the bar and made his way back to his friends. He kept glancing back periodically at the bar as he made his way back through the crowd. When he pulled his chair out to sit back down, he gave his friends a puzzled look.
"You are not going to believe this, but I have just seen Mr. Morton or someone who looks like his twin up there at the bar.
"No way!" Ski answered back as he glanced disbelievingly at the bar trying to spot the guy Jorge was talking about. "Why would Mr. Morton be here of all places?"
"Look at that blond guy who is wearing a blue windbreaker jacket and blue jeans." Jorge nodded his head toward the bar.
"Ski is right. Why would he be here, if it is him?" Patterson replied while observing the man in question. The only reason Mr. Morton would be here is because of something to do with ONI and he is not a spy type and has never done that type of work before. Maybe he is just a look a like."
"I am going to find out." Jorge looked around for his cousin and spotted her at a near by table. His cousin Rosa Montoya was a short twenty year old woman with a slim build, long straight black hair that fell half way down her back, large brown eyes, a long narrow nose and thin lips. She was wearing a red hair band, a white peasant blouse, a long red skirt and brown sandals. He yelled to her in Spanish to come to their table.
She heard his yell through all the noise in the room and acknowledged with a nod in his direction. She finished her business at the nearby table and made her way to her cousinís table. When she finally managed to arrive at their table, Jorge spoke into her ear that he need her to check out that man at the bar and find out what she could about him, but not to call any attention to the guy or to herself. She nodded that she understood and then made her way over to the bar. She went behind the bar, talked to the bartender for a couple of minutes and then proceeded to collect and clean the dirty glasses that were left on the bar. She stayed behind the bar for ten minutes serving drinks and then made her way back to Jorgeís table carrying three bottles of beer. When she got to the table, she planted the bottles down in front of each man as if they had ordered another round of beers, collected the empty bottles, leaned down to speak rapidly into Jorgeís ear and then she casually walked away to another table.
Jorge leaned forward toward his friends so they could hear him better and not be overheard by the others in the room. "Rosa said the guy at the bar is Americano with blue eyes and speaks very little Spanish. He is waiting for a man who has not showed up yet. She said the two men at the bar on either side of him have paid the bartender to slip this guy a couple of mickies. Those two guys are known to get their victims' drunk and then take them outside to roll them. They also dislike Americanos. They are setting this guy up for a rolling."
"What are we going to do?" Patterson asked his friends in concern as he realized they were going to be seriously outnumbered if they had to get physical to rescue this guy if he was Mr. Morton.
"Wait and watch." Kowalski replied calmly as he took a swig of his beer and leaned back in his chair like he had no cares in the world. "If it is Mr. Morton and he needs help, we will jump in and help him out. If he is on a spy mission, we canít give him away. We might blow his cover." Ski kept his eyes glued to the guyís back at the bar.
"Rosa also told me that some people here donít like Americanos. There was some kind of political overthrow recently and there has been a lot of anti-American feeling with some of the populace here. She warned me that we have to keep a low profile and keep your nationality quiet." Jorge followed Kowalskiís lead and leaned back in his chair.
"How do we do that?" Patterson asked knowing that he and Ski were obviously not going to pass for locals.
"No problem. There is a Russian ship docked near here." Kowalski nodded at some of the Russian sailors drinking at the table near them. "If someone questions us, we are sailors from that ship." He shrugged his shoulders. "I am speaking English so that our friend here can understand us. You can physically pass as a Russian Pat, so just pretend you donít speak English and nod occasionally when I speak Russian."
"That sounds easy enough." Patterson was relieved. Skiís plan could easily work.
Just then the man they had been observing tried to leave his seat at the bar. He lost his balance and seemed to be surprised that he had no control over his bodyís movements. The two men on each side of him laughed and grabbed his arms to keep him from falling. The guy appeared to be very drunk and unable to stand on his own. The two men continued laughing, pulled him away from the bar and carried him almost bodily out of the cantina by his upper arms.
As the three men passed the seamenís table, the blond male raised his head and looked directly at the tableís occupants. It was Lt. Commander Chip Morton! The Exec gave them a puzzled look like he could not believe what he was seeing as he glanced at them. He appeared to be physically helpless as he was being forced to walk past their table and out of the cantina.
Kowalski waited until the trio had disappeared out of the front entrance door. He casually rose from the table and said low enough for his two friends to hear, "Letís go after them."
Jorge and Pat followed his lead by getting up from their chairs just as casually and trailed behind him out of the building. Once they got outside, they heard sounds of fighting coming from the alley to their left. They immediately ran toward the sounds of a beating and as they came into the alley, they saw the two thieves viciously kicking their victim who was down on the ground. Kowalski and Jorge attacked the thieves as Patterson dragged Morton away from the fighting and guarded him from any more physical assaults while his friends were dealing out their own form of justice.
After the thieves had been dealt with, Kowalski and Jorge joined Patterson and the unconscious Morton.
"We need to get him out of here and get him some medical attention." Patterson said worriedly. He had observed that the alley was too dark to see what condition the Exec was in and with one exit to the alley, it was too dangerous for them to stay there any longer.
"Weíll take him to Rosaís house. I will go back to the cantina and get her right now. You guys stay here until I whistle for you." Jorge said as he ran out of the alley toward the cantina.
Jorge found Rosa standing at the front door to the cantina looking for him. In a low voice, he told her what was going on and she agreed that the injured man should go with them to her house. They walked back to the alley and Jorge gave the whistle signal. A minute later, Kowalsk and Patterson came out of the alley carrying Morton as gently as they could. Jorge told his cousin to lead the way and he would follow behind the others to make sure that they were not being followed.
Ten minutes later, they had Mr. Morton safely inside Rosaís house and had placed him on a bed in her guest bedroom. While Rosa called a friend who was a doctor, Patterson and Kowalski stripped off Mortonís clothes and checked him over for obvious injuries. The doctor showed up a few minutes later and spent twenty minutes alone with the patient. When the doctor finished his examination, he returned to the living room and spoke rapidly in Spanish to Jorge.
"He said Mr. Morton has some fractured ribs and has taken some blows to his head, but was in good condition considering the physical abuse he received. He said the patient should not be moved for a few days. He should have complete bed rest and he is against moving the patient for awhile." Jorge spoke back to the doctor and the doctor replied. "He has left medication for pain and he will be back tomorrow to check on him. He will not tell anyone that Morton is here in case someone does ask."
Jorge thanked the doctor for his help, walked him to the door and secured the door after the doctor left. "I donít know about you guys, but I am tired. Letís take turns keeping watch on Mr. Morton and make sure no one breaks in tonight."
"I will take first watch." Patterson volunteered. "I need a gun just in case."
Jorge left the room and returned with three handguns. He handed a gun each to Patterson and Kowalski and placed his in the waistband of his pants. Then he and Ski left the room to sleep in the bedroom next to Mr. Mortonís.
Patterson looked down at his Exec who was in a deep sleep. Mortonís pale face wasnít too bruised. Most of the damage had been done to his chest and stomach now hidden by the bandages. Mortonís breathing and pulse were steady. Knowing he could not do anything more for him tonight, Patterson left the room and took up guard duty in the living room area. He looked out of the windows occasionally to see if someone was moving around outside, but nothing moved. Everything stayed quiet through the next morning.
At dawn, Kowalski replaced Patterson on guard duty. He checked on Mr. Morton and then joined Jorge and Rosa in the kitchen for breakfast. Rosa, who was now wearing blue jeans and a pink tee shirt, had placed fresh coffee, fruit and hot bread rolls with butter on the table in front of the men and then sat down next to her cousin. She spoke Spanish to her cousin and Jorge answered back before looking at Kowalski.
"She said the men who attacked Morton last night might be looking for him today. They didnít get his money or watch last night. They might try locating him today and finish the job they started."
"You think the doctor will talk?" Kowalski asked concerned.
Jorge translated the question to Rosa and she answered back immediately with a negative shake of her head. "She said the doctor is a friend of hers and will not tell these men or anyone else were Morton is. The doctor can be totally trusted. She has to work this afternoon so I will go along with her and hang around the bar to find out what is going on around town. You and Pat stay here. I will keep my gun with me in case one of the guys we took care of last night recognizes me." He took a sip of coffee before continuing. "When Morton wakes up, find out what he is doing here."
"What happens if someone shows up here while you are gone?" Kowalski asked.
"No one should, but if someone knocks on the door, donít answer it unless it is the doctor. This is a small village. Most of the people here know Rosa works at the cantina at night. No one should be showing up here after we leave. Besides you and Pat donít speak Spanish."
Chip woke up to a throbbing sharp pain that engulfed his entire head. The sunlight, that filtered through the closed white window curtains, hurt his eyes and wasnít helping his headache at all. He glanced around the room trying to figure out where he was and how he got there. The room had cream colored walls and was obviously someoneís bedroom. The walls and floors were bare except for a crucifix that hung over his head bed board and a mirrored vanity next to his bedside. He tried to move and realized that there was not one part of his body that didnít hurt. He moaned from the pain and took a fast glance under the sheet to see that his chest had been wrapped up in bandages.
The door to his room abruptly swung open as Kowalski and Jorge rushed into the room with concerned looks on their faces.
"Where am I?" Chip croaked weakly.
Kowalski came to stand beside his bedside. "Sir, you are at Jorgeís cousinís house. We rescued you last night. What do you remember?" He bent down and put restraining hands on Mortonís shoulders when Chip tried to move his body to get into a more comfortable position. "Donít move! You have some fractured ribs."
"What happened to me and why are you here?" Chip winced as his headache continued to throb.
"Patterson, Jorge and I are visiting Jorgeís relatives here in town. We were in the cantina last night waiting for Rosa, Jorgeís cousin, to get off work. Someone paid the bartender to put mickies in your beer. We stopped two guys who had dragged you outside and were trying to roll you in an alley. How are you feeling?"
"Like they didnít miss a spot when they were hitting me. Every part of my body is screaming in pain. Where is Patterson?"
"He was up keeping watch last night. He is in the other room sleeping. Are you ready to take some pain medication?" Jorge had noticed that Morton looked like he was in a lot of pain.
"Yes, maybe you had better. Can I have something to drink?" Chip asked weakly.
Jorge left the room and returned with a glass of fruit juice and some pills. Kowalski raised Morton high enough to take his medication and sip some juice and then laid him back down on the bed when he had enough to drink.
"Sir, what were you doing at the cantina of all places?" Kowalski asked puzzled.
"I was to meet a courier who was to deliver some microfilm. I was volunteered at the last minute because the man who was originally assigned to do the meet was injured in a car accident. ONI asked the Admiral if the Skipper or someone with a high security clearance could be sent down here. I had clearance and was the only one available so I was given orders to show up here and if the courier did not show by 2300, I was to leave and report back to the Admiral at the Institute. I am glad you guys showed up when you did. Was anyone else hurt?"
"Just the crooks. Jorge is going to the cantina with his cousin shortly. He is going to find out what is going on in the village and if someone is looking for you. The doctor said you couldnít to be moved for a few days. He is coming some time today to check on you. Pat and I will be in the other room if you need anything. You really need to go back to sleep. You need your rest." Kowalski said concerned.
"Watch it Kowalski. You are beginning to sound like Doc Jamison." Chip joked as his voice weakened. "I am tired and these pills are making me sleepy. Let me know when you get back, Montoya. Keep your ears open for any military activity in this area as well." Chip closed his eyes and surrendered himself into a drugged sleep.
The day past by quietly. Patterson woke up around noon and spent the rest of the day playing cards with Kowalski, taking turns checking on Mr. Morton and looking out the windows. Everything was peacefully quiet.
That evening Jorge and Rosa returned from the cantina and Jorge gave his friends a worried look. "I have some bad news to tell you. I need to get cleaned up first. I smell like beer and cigarette smoke. Is Mr. Morton awake?" Jorge glanced concerned at the closed bedroom door.
"He is lightly sleeping now. He wanted to be awaken when you got back. Go take your shower and then meet us in Mortonís room." Kowalski said as he went into the kitchen to brew a fresh pot of coffee for everyone as Jorge made his way to the other bedroom.
Ten minutes later, there was a conference in Mortonís room. Jorge, Rosa, Patterson and Kowalski were sitting in chairs placed around the bed drinking coffee. Chip was awake and propped up by pillows. The rest he had received did him some good. Some of his energy had returned and his headaches had lessened its intensity. He was still in a lot of pain, but the pain was more bearable now.
"Tell us what you found out, Montoya." Chip gave Jorge the floor.
"First of all, the two guys who attacked you sir are looking around the village trying to find you without any success. They came up to me and asked me if I had seen you. They are still hurting from the beating we gave them Kowalski." Jorge gave a satisfied smile in Kowalskiís direction and then his face dropped into a serious frown as he continued. "There are also some military types who are asking if any gringos have been seen in town recently. They have your description from the bartender and the thieves. They are wanting you for questioning."
"Do you think they got to the courier first?" Patterson asked.
"Maybe they got the guy first and questioned him." Kowalski looked at the Exec with concern. "If they catch you, you will be shot as a spy."
Jorge voiced another opinion. "It could be that they are simply questioning the activities of any Americanos in this area. It may have nothing to do with the courier."
"Well, I was told to leave if the guy didnít show up and he didnít. So I think it would be a good idea for all of us to get out town as soon as possible and back to the states. I for one do not want to be interrogated and thrown into a South American prison."
"How did you get here?" Kowalski inquired.
"I parachuted in and I was to meet a private airplane early this morning and obviously I missed my flight. How did you guys arrive here?"
"We flew in by normal public airlines. One of Jorgeís male cousins picked us up and dropped us off here at Rosaís. We stayed long enough to drop off our luggage and then made our way to the cantina." Patterson replied.
"So between the four of us, we have to get out of town as fast as we can and get back to the states. Any suggestions?" Chip looked at Jorge. "It would be too dangerous to just drive out of here. If the military is involved, they might have roadblocks set up."
"Sir, I have an idea." Kowalski said. "First of all, we have to disguise you. Pat and I can pass for Russians easily and Jorge is obviously Hispanic, but you are too American looking. Jorge, ask Rosa if she has any hair dye or can get some from one of her girlfriends."
As Jorge questioned Rosa a suspicious look crossed Chipís face. "What are you up to Kowalski?"
Chip had been a victim of several of Kowalskiís practical jokes in the past and some of Kowalskiís schemes were not to be trusted. He and Lee Crane had bailed Kowalski and the other crewmen, including Patterson, out of jail on numerous occasions because Kowalskiís escapades backfired.
Kowalski gave him one of his well-known innocent hurt facial expressions. "They are looking for a blond American, so we just alter your appearance. By dying your hair and facial hair and a different change of clothes, it would be easier to smuggle you out of here."
Rosa said she has a friend who is a beautician and can get some of the dye from her." Jorge studied Chipís face. "What color would be convincing on him?"
"BrownÖblack wouldnít work with his skin coloring." Kowalski studied Morton trying to picture him with darker hair. "Jorge tell Rosa to go and get the hair dye. Patterson, when she gets back, help her dye Mr. Mortonís hair."
Horrified Patterson protested. "I have never dyed someoneís hair in my life! I wouldnít even know where to start."
"Donít worry, Pat." Jorge assured him. "Rosa knows how to dye hair. She only needs you to move Mr. Morton around and to hold him up while she colors his hair." Jorge questioned Rosa in Spanish and after she gave Patterson a smile and replied back, he continued. "She said it is like shampooing. She will put it in his hair wait thirty minutes and wash it out. No problem."
"Wait a minute!" Chip wasnít too happy about his hair being colored. "How am I going to be blond again when we get back home?"
Jorge questioned Rosa again. She smiled at Morton and answered. "She said that once you get back to the states, just go to a beautician and they can take the dye out of the hair without any problem. You arenít loosing your blond hair. Just hiding it."
Chip whistled in relief. "Okay, we dye my hair and then what?" Hoping Kowalski wasnít going to get all of them arrested.
"While Rosa is working on your hair, Jorge and I will go and find the Russian ship that is docked near by. If we can get them to do some kind of trading with us, we can get some Russian looking clothes for you and maybe get passage on the ship to go as close to the U.S. border as we can get. It wouldnít hurt to try. They wouldnít be looking for you on a Russian ship."
Chip looked shocked. Kowalskiís plan actually made some sense. "What if they are not interested in letting us book passage with them?"
"Then we will think of something else. But first, we have to get you into a disguise and the Russians love American items especially jeans, so we will go and sound them out."
"Just be very careful and avoid the military at all cost." Chip warned.
"No problem, Mr. Morton. We will be back hopefully with the next couple of hours depending on whatís happening outside and our reception at the Russian ship. What do we have to trade among us?" Kowalski gave his two shipmates a searching look. "I have an extra pair of jeans and a tee shirt."
" Iíll throw in my jeans, baseball cap and tee shirt." Pat volunteered.
"I will throw in my jeans and watch." Jorge contributing as well.
"You can take my jeans, windbreaker and watch too." Chip reluctantly took off his watch and handed it over to Kowalski. The watch was a Christmas present from his parents.
"We will go for a pair of pants, shirt and hat. We might not need your watches, but I will keep them for backup just in case. I think our jeans and tee shirts should be enough to bargain with." Kowalski reassured both Chip and Jorge as he shoved Chipís watch on to his own wrist for the time being. "Letís go, Jorge. The sooner we get there, the faster we can get back." Kowalski got up from his seat with Patterson and Jorge following him out of the room.
Thirty minutes later, Kowalski and Jorge found the Russian ship parked on a busy dock. The sun had just set in the west and the dock was lit up by street lamps. Men were busy moving cargo on to and off the ships. It looked like the Russian ship was getting ready to leave port. Russian seamen were rushing off and on to the ship, cargo was being placed into itís hold and a commanding officer was yelling orders to his men off and on the ship.
"Looks like they are about ready to leave. We better hurry or we will really miss this boat." Jorge advised.
"I am going up there to talk to that commanding officer about speaking to the captain of the ship. Just follow my lead." Kowalski walked up the gangplank with Jorge following right behind him.
When they got to the top of the gangplank, they were met by the Russian officer who asked them, in Russian, what was their business on his ship. Kowalski introduced himself and Jorge to the officer in Russian and then proceeded to ask to speak privately with the captain of the ship on an important matter. The officer told them to stay right there and that he would find out if the Captain was available to speak to them. He disappeared into the ship and returned a few minutes later to inform them that the Captain would give them a few minutes of his time. He told them to follow him and he escorted them to the Captainís Quarters.
As they came into the Captainís Quarters, they noticed the captain was seated behind his desk, with his head down, reading some of his paper work. The Captain was in his fifties, slightly bald and had a husky build. He was wearing reading glasses that were perched on the end of his nose. He was wearing a Russian naval officer uniform. The officer announced to the captain that these were the men who wanted to talk to him and then he took a position at the back of the room to await further orders. The Captain looked up and stared at Kowalski like he recognized him but couldnít place him or where he had seen him.
Kowalski also thought he had seen the man before but could not remember where.
"What are your names again?" The Captain asked in Russian as he took of his glasses and placed them down on top of his paper work. He continued to stare at Kowalski.
"Sir, my name is Vladimir Kowalski and this is my friend Jorge Montoya." Kowalski answered back in Russian.
"I have met you before Mr. Kowalski, but I donít remember where. It will come to me. I have a good memory for faces and names. My name is Captain Boris Lysenko. I am the captain of this ship the Wind Storm. What can I do to help you?"
Kowalski was becoming nervous. He couldnít remember where he saw this man before and if the captain realized who they were, he could easily turn them over to the South American authorities who were looking for Mr. Morton. Or he could kidnap them all and take them back to Russia. Maybe this wasnít a good idea after all. But they were desperate so he decided to go ahead with the plan and bluff his way through. "Sir, you were obviously getting ready to leave port. Where are you going from here?"
"From here our destination is back to Russia. Why?"
"Myself, Mr. Montoya and two others are wishing to either book passage with you or work passage with you to return to the United States. We are all seamen and willing to work our way, if you can drop us off somewhere on the U.S. coast."
"We are not a passenger ship, Mr. Kowalski. We deal strictly in cargo." Captain Lysenko continued to give Kowalski a thoughtful stare. "Does this request for passage have anything to do with a certain military inquiry into the whereabouts of an American who is wanted for questioning?"
"What is he saying?" Jorge asked Ski not liking the Russianís voice tone.
Kowalski gave Jorge a translation and replied in Russian to the captain hoping his nervousness was not beginning to show. He repeated again. "Sir, we are just looking for a passage back to the States."
"You know your Russian is very good, but it is obvious to me that you are not a Russian nativeÖfirst generation American?"
"Yes, sir. My parents are from St. Petersburg." Kowalski answered hoping to win the captain over.
Captain Lysenko slammed both if his palms on the desk, jumped up from his chair and pointed a finger directly in front of Kowalski. "I now know who you are! I now remember where we met." The Captain was very excited with his discovery. "You are Seaman Vladimir Kowalski of the SSRN Seaview out of Santa Barbara, California. You work for Admiral Nelson."
Both seamen turned pale. Jorge looked at Kowalski briefly. "You donít have to translate. I figured that one out all by myself. We have been identified. Now what do we do?"
"Keep calm and play it out. What else can we do?" Ski answered as he turned his gaze back to the Captain who was coming from his desk to stand in front of both men. "How did we meet, sir?"
"You have forgotten?" The Captain gave him a playful hurt look. "A year ago, my ship sunk from a sudden typhoon that came at us without warning. The Seaview heard our distress call and immediately came to our rescue. You saved as many of my crew as you possibly could and even stayed in the area doing a detailed search for survivors until we were satisfied that all the survivors were located and on board your ship. Your Admiral Nelson then arranged for your ship to meet with a Russian naval ship to transport myself and my crew back to Russia. You were my translator while I was on your ship. I remember you very well. I owe you and your men a great debt." He grabbed Kowalski in a Russian bear hug and kissed him on both cheeks affectionately and then duplicated the act with Jorge, who was looking at Ski for some kind of translation.
"He is that Russian Captain we saved last year from a typhoon. He is thanking us in a Russian fashion."
"I was beginning to wonder what you were getting us into. I am not used to being kissed by a guy." Jorge said uncomfortably. "He likes us right?"
"Most definitely." Kowalski answered back as the captain resumed his seat behind his desk.
"Please be honest me my friends. What do you need from me? I wish to repay the great kindness that you have given me."
"Sir, like I said earlier, we need to leave here soon as we can for American soil. Can you help us?"
"Who are the other men? What are their names?"
Kowalski now remembered that rescue in detail. What he remembered about this man, from the time he spent with him as a translator, he knew Lysenko was a man of his word and could be trusted. He decided to be honest with him and hope for the best. "The other two are Seaman Patterson and Lt. Commander Morton."
"I remember Seaman Patterson." Captain Lysenko looked thoughtfully. "Lt. Commander MortonÖisnít he the tall blond officer who was in the Control Room when your ship picked us up? Very quietÖvery authoritative? The officer who was conducting the search for my people?"
"Thatís right, sir." Kowalski answered back after keeping Jorge updated on the conversation. "He is with us and he has been injured. We first need to buy or trade for some Russian clothesÖshirt, pants, jacket and hat for Mr. Morton." Ski eyed the Captainís eyeglasses on the desk thoughtfully. "And if someone has a pair of eye glasses we can borrow for a couple of hours that would also be very helpful."
"You do not need to buy or trade with us. We are happy to help. What size is Mr. Morton?"
"He is about my build and six feet tall. I have his clothes here." Ski pointed to the gym bag Jorge was carrying. "We need to disguise him before bringing him here."
Captain Lysenko looked thoughtfully at Kowalskiís body for a second. "Ivan, please collect a shirt, pair of pants, jacket and hat from Dubrowski and Tolstoy and bring them back here for our friends. Tell them it is a temporary loan."
The Russian officer nodded at his captain and departed the room.
Captain Lysenko opened his side desk drawer and pulled out a spare set of eye glasses and handed them to Kowalski. "I believe these will help you. How long will it take you to collect your friends and return to the ship."
"They are twenty minutes away by foot. We can be back within an hour as long as we have no trouble on the way." Kowalski answered back.
"What I am hearing from my men is that there are military patrols at night in this area. I suggest that you go and get your men and then return here. I will have some of my men meet you at a halfway location and give you safe escort back here. It will look like a group of Russian seamen returning to their ship. We will provide cover for you as well as additional protection."
Kowalski translated to Jorge and then asked Jorge where could they meet the Russian escort.
"Tell him to have them meet us at the front of the cantina in an hour. That is halfway from Rosaís house to this ship. A bunch of guys hanging around outside that place will not attract any attention."
Kowalski translated Jorgeís answer to the captain.
There was a knock on the door and the officer entered carrying the needed clothes items. He handed the clothes to Jorge, who opened the gym bag up and placed what he could inside the bag. He decided to wear the jacket and hat until they got back to Rosaís.
"You have your needed items now. Please collect your friends and my crew will meet you at the cantina in an hour. As soon as you get back on board, we will set sail." Captain Lysenko told the officer to escort them off the ship and then to collect the seamen for escort duty. "We will see you shortly and be careful."
Both Kowalski and Jorge thanked him in Russian and in English and followed the officer out of the room and off the ship.
Twenty minutes later, Kowalski, Patterson and Jorge entered Mortonís bedroom. Chip was awake and sitting up in bed. With his hair dyed brown, he looked slightly altered to a more rugged appearance.
"Mr. Morton, we have to hurry. We have to get you dressed and meet some Russians in front of the cantina. They are giving us cover and safe escort to the Russian ship. We will tell you everything while we dress you. Jorge, throw me the clothes and then you and Pat hold him up in a standing position. I will put his pants, socks and shoes on him." Kowalski ordered.
Jorge opened the gym bag and threw Ski the pants and Patterson the shirt they borrowed. Rosa had already placed Chipís socks and shoes at his bedside for easy reach. Jorge threw the socks toward Skiís hand and moved the pair of shoes near Ski for easy reach. Then he and Patterson reached for Mortonís arms and slowly raised him to a standing position.
Chip slowly stood up and started cussing under his breath as the upward gravity strained his ribs and waist muscles. By the time they had him standing, he was very pale and sweating. Kowalski kneeled in front of him, telling him when to raise and lower his feet for the socks, shoes and pants as Jorge updated both Patterson and Morton about their meeting with Captain Lysenko and the escape plan.
"Imagine meeting Captain Lysenko here of all places." Patterson said amazed as he helped Jorge put the borrowed shirt on Morton. "I only got to talk to him for a few minutes last year, but he seemed to be a really nice guy."
Jorge took the borrowed jacket off and transferred it on to Morton and then placed the Russian seamanís cap on the Execís head like an artist. "Ski, give Mr. Morton the glasses."
Ski pulled the glasses out of his pocket and handed them to Morton.
Chip immediately put them on his face and then jerked his head back as his vision became distorted from the strength of the glasses. "WOW, this person is extremely farsighted! I can barely see out of them. Everything is distorted."
The three crewmen stood back and looked at the transformed Exec.
"Mr. Morton, you should see yourself." Patterson exclaimed. "No one will recognize you now. You look great!"
Chip moved slowly to where he could see the mirror and tipped his borrowed glasses down his nose so he could see himself clearly. There was a stranger looking back at him from the mirror. The guys were right. He looked totally different.
"We have to get going. We have people waiting for us." Kowalski took charge again. "Jorge will Rosa be okay when we leave?"
Jorge grabbed the gym bag, zipped it up and looked around the room for anything that they might have left laying around and found that everything had been picked up. "She will be okay. One of my male relatives will be staying here for a few days to make sure there will be no problems. My family will be watching over her. We are ready to go. Pat, grab the other bags from the other room."
"Right!" Patterson rapidly left the room to grab the other two bags and met them in the living room area were Rosa was waiting to say goodbye at the door.
Rosa kissed Jorge on the cheek, gave him a hug and told him to be careful. Then she smiled at the other three and opened the door for them to leave. As they passed by her, each one thanked her in Spanish. She quietly closed and locked the door behind them leaving them in total darkness of the street.
Chip then realized that he was going to have problems seeing out of his borrowed glasses. It was bad enough in a lighted room, but on this dark street, his vision and depth perception was totally distorted. He was basically blind. He grabbed Pattersonís arm, pulled him close and whispered in his ear. Patterson whispered back that they would have to guide him like a blind person by the arm and he would whisper in the Execís ear when there were steps or something he need to know about. Then Patterson leaned toward Jorge and whispered what was happening into his ear. Jorge nodded back to Patterson and moved to the other side of Morton and between the two of them, they took turns guiding him over the uneven streets toward the cantina as Kowalski, who was walking ahead of them, kept an eye out for trouble.
Ten minutes later, Kowalski spotted the cantina and the group of men hanging around the front of it. As they got closer, he could hear the men talking back and forth in Russian. Kowalski whispered back to the others that they had to stop speaking in English and pretend to be Russian seamen. There was bound to be a military patrol out in this area.
Then as they got closer, one of the Russian seamen spotted them and yelled out in Russian, "Comrades, what has taken you so long? The Captain is waiting to sail." The same seaman walked up to Kowalski and gave him a playful punch in the shoulder. "I bet it was a woman who has kept you this late. I hope she was worth it, because the Captain is going to give you a real chewing out when you get on board." Then in a low voice he said, "There is a group of military men up the street to our left who have been watching us for the past fifteen minutes. They seem to be very interested in our little group."
Kowalski said in Russian loud enough to be heard down the street, "Sorry to keep you waiting for so long, but the ladies here love Russians and who are we to deprive them of our presence." Then in a low voice, as he put his arm around the Russianís shoulder and started walking with his escort down the street toward the dock, he explained who Mr. Morton was and that he was injured and unable to see out of the borrowed glasses. They had to guide him along as naturally as possible.
The Russian seaman laughingly talked over his shoulder toward his Russian comrades who had already fallen behind them and had already surrounded the other three American seamen. He explained that they needed to keep an eye out for trouble and protect the Americans at the same time. He told them to laugh, joke around and act naturally.
When they walked up to the corner where a small military group of six men were standing, one of the military men, an officer by his uniform, came right up to the Russian/American group and put his hand out in a stop position. He started talking to them in fast Spanish.
Jorge translated in English. "He wants us to stop. He wants to know our business here."
Kowalski translated to the Russians and then turned back to the officer and said in English with a heavy Russian accent, "Tell him, my friend, that we are on our way to our ship."
Jorge gave a fast translation back to the officer. All four of the Seaview crewmen were feeling the hair go up on the back of their necks as their bodies tensed at the possible physical danger. But their faces and bodies remained calm, not giving anything away to the questioning officer.
The officer talked to Jorge again and Jorge answered back in Spanish waving to Kowalski and then to the others in an explanation. Then he translated in English for Kowalski. "He wants to know why I am speaking in English to you and I told him that you are the only one who can speak English and that none of you can speak Spanish. That I am your interpreter and that I speak in English to you and that you translate in Russian to your friends." The officer spoke again rapidly. "He wants to know if we have seen any Americans or if we have any on our ship?"
Kowalski translated and everyone, including Patterson and Morton, looked at the officer and said the Russian word for no as they shook their heads. Kowalski continued in a heavy Russian accent, "Tell the officer that we have not seen any Americans since we have been here. Is there a problem?"
Jorge translated to the officer and the officer studied each seaman with close scrutinizing look before answering back. "He says they are looking for an American who is wanted for questioning. This man is blond and six feet tall."
Kowalski translated and everyone again shook their heads in a negative motion and said no again in Russian. "I am sorry, sir, but my comrades and I have not seen the man. If that is all you need to know, we must be on our way. Our captain is waiting for us and we are overdue to leave."
Jorge translated and the officer nodded and backed away, allowing the seamen to pass and continue on their way. But as they moved away from the soldiers and made their way down to the dock, all four Americans felt hostile suspicious eyes staring at their backs. They felt the stares for several blocks as the Russians continued to talk and joke giving the appearance of a happy carefree group of seamen on their way back to their ship to anyone watching them from the street or from the buildings.
Chip was feeling increasingly weak and short-tempered. He was totally blind. All he could see were black blobs of human figures that surrounded and moved along with him. With very few streetlights he couldnít see where he was stepping or where they were going. His ribs were killing him from the walking, which was not prescribed by his South American doctor. Every step was causing him a great deal of pain. Patterson and Jorge were helping by guiding him by his arms and occasionally whispering into his ear when they came to an obstacle, but he felt himself growing more frustrated and angry from combination of being physically helpless, the increasing pain and not being in control of his situation.
Patterson was feeling Mortonís body tensing up and when he glanced at his direction, he could see by the way the Exec was staring forward and tilt of his chin that he was barely holding on to his temper. He lowered his head to Mortonís ear. "Sir, hang on a little bit longer. The ship is just ahead. Just a few more minutes."
Chip nodded his head and tried to relax his body as much as he could. He kept telling himself a few more minutesÖjust a few more steps.
The ship was directly ahead of them. The dock was still busy with seamen loading and unloading cargo and crews boarding and leaving their ships. As the group came up to the gangplank, Kowalski was nudged in the ribs by his Russian escort. The Russian told him in a low voice that there was a small military group observing them at their right. Kowalski looked over casually and spotted the South American soldiers watching them closely and one of the soldiers was talking into a walkie-talkie.
The Wind Stormís executive officer Ivan Konstantinovich was also watching the same military group for possible trouble. As the seamen group got closer, he leaned down over the shipís railing and yelled down at them in Russian, "We have been waiting for you to get here. You are all late! The Captain is not happy with you and neither am I. Get a move on now!"
The Russian seamen yelled back, "Aye, sir." and hurried up the gangplank carrying the Americans along with them.
When it was Jorgeís, Pattersonís and Mortonís turn to go up the plank, Jorge went up first slowly. Patterson leaned over and whispered in Mortonís ear, "Sir, the rope railing to the gangplank is about eight inches from your left hip at four oíclock. Reach out and grab it and use it to guide you up to the deck. Jorge is right in front of you and I will be right behind you. Just walk straight ahead naturally. I will warn you when we reach the deck."
Chip swung his left hand out casually and felt the rope brush against his fingers before he closed his fingers around it and proceeded to walk naturally up the plank, keeping a couple of feet distance between him and Jorge.
When they reached the top deck, Officer Konstantinovich told Kowalskiís Russian escort to take all four of them to the Captainís Quarters immediately. The Captain was waiting to see them. He told the other crewmen to set sail as soon as the last man was aboard.
Kowalski and Patterson grabbed Mortonís arms again and guided him behind the Russian escort to their destination with Jorge following right behind them. The military soldiers were still on the dock, but now their attention was drawn away from the Wind Storm by the activities of the other ships and their crews.
Once safely inside the Captainís Quarters, Kowalski told Mr. Morton that it was now okay to remove the eye glasses he was wearing. Morton dragged the glasses quickly off his nose and spent a minute getting accustom to his normal sight again and to the lighting in the room. When his vision became clear and focused, he found himself standing directly in front of the Russian Captain who was smiling at him as he spoke in rapid Russian to Kowalski.
"He said that he is happy we made it on board without any trouble and that he will have one of the crewmen take us to our quarters in a moment. He will also have the shipís doctor check you over to make sure you are okay. He said that when the ship is at a safe distance in international waters, he will radio the Admiral and tell him that we are on board and make arrangements for our return."
"Tell him that we appreciate everything he is doing for us." Chip said as he handed the glasses back to the captain.
Kowalski dutifully translated to Captain Lysenko.
"As I told you before, I am simply repaying a great kindness that you have given me and my crew. Tell your Lt. Morton, that I can see that he is exhausted and you will all be taken to the Guest Quarters. I will send for you Mr. Kowalski, when it is time to call your Admiral. Food and drink will be sent to your quarters as soon as we set sail."
Kowalski translated back to Mr. Morton and the others while Captain Lysenko went to his door, opened it and told the crewman, who was waiting outside, to take the guests to the Guest Quarters. The crewman nodded.
"Please follow this man to your room. You will all be kept together and if you need anything, let us know." The captain grabbed Chipís hand and shook it gently so not to hurt him. "It has been a pleasure to meet you again. I hope you will feel better soon."
After Kowalski translated for Chipís benefit, Chip said in return, "Thank you, sir. I am very lucky you were here for us and I am glad to see that you have recovered after the loss of your ship last year."
"Ships can be replaced, but not human life. My crew and I were most fortunate you saved us when you did. I am very happy to be in the position to repay you in kind. Now follow my crewman to your quarters and rest."
All four men followed the Russian crewman to their quarters. They discovered the quarters consisted of a good size room with four bunk beds, a bathroom and table with chairs. A coffeepot with cups was sitting on the table for their use.
Chip was undressed and helped into bed by Patterson and Kowalski. Jorge gave him a hot cup of coffee and a dose of his pain medication. Shortly afterwards he fell into an exhausted sleep. The others found a deck of cards and played quietly for the rest of the evening until they were ready for bed themselves.
The next day, after the shipís doctor examined Chipís injuries. He informed Kowalski that Mortonís injuries were healing and that all he had to do was to change the bandages around Chipís ribs, which the doctor did. He stated that Morton needed complete bed rest for the next couple of days and to continue to take the medication that the other doctor had given him.
A few hours later, a crewman came for Kowalski, telling him that the Captain wanted him to report to the Radio Shack. When Kowalski arrived, the captain told him that it was now 0900 hours in California and that he could use their radio equipment to contact Admiral Nelson at N.I.M.R. Kowalski told the radio operator the phone number to the Admiralís office at the Institute and within a minute he was talking to Angie, the admiralís secretary.
"Angie, this is Seaman Kowalski. Is the Admiral in?"
"Yes, Ski, he is. Did you want to speak to him?" Angie inquired.
"Yes, please. It is urgent."
"Hold one moment and I will connect you." Angie patched his call to the Admiral.
Nelsonís voice boomed over the radio. "This is Nelson. What can I do for you, Kowalski?"
"Admiral, you are going to find this hard to believeÖ" Ski started out, but the Admiral interrupted.
"You didnít land in jail again?"
"No, sir. Jorge Montoya, Patterson, Mr. Morton and myself need help to get back to the States."
"Mr. MortonÖMr. Morton is with you?" Nelsonís voice roared over the radio.
"Yes, sir. We rescued him in La Plata and now we are in international waters off of South America heading toward the U.S. on a Russian cargo ship."
"How in the devil did you manage to get on a Russian cargo ship?"
"Itís a long story, sir." Ski replied.
"Itís always a long story when you are involved." Nelson said with humor remembering all of the long stories that accompanied Kowalskiís previous escapades. "Never mind, you can tell me later. What ship are you on?"
"The ship is called the Wind Storm. Remember a Russian Captain we saved last year named Boris Lysenko? We are with him on his ship."
"Oh, my God, yes I remember him. Is he with you now?" Nelson said amazed.
"Yes, sir, right next to me." Ski answered.
"Tell him I need his coordinates and I will send the Flying Sub to meet up with the ship."
Kowalski translated the request to the captain who immediately gave him their present position and their course. Kowalski relayed the information back to the Admiral.
I will have Chief Sharkey pick you up in the Flying Sub. He should be there within eight to nine hours. Is there anything he needs to bring with him."
"We need a cot for Mr. Morton to lie on. He has fractured ribs and needs to be traveling lying down."
"Is he okay?" Nelson sounded concerned.
"The doctor said he would be okay after a couple of days of bed rest. He is resting right now." Kowalski replied back.
"Thank Captain Lysenko for me and tell him Chief Sharkey will be calling in to him in about seven hours to coordinate the pick up. When you arrive back here, I want you to contact me immediately. I want a full report on what happened down there and I want Doctor Jamison to check Morton over thoroughly."
"Aye, sir." Kowalski hung up and translated back to Captain Lysenko what the Admiral had said to him in reference to the pick up.
"We will be waiting for your Chiefís call. There will be no problem transferring you from this ship to the Flying Sub. The water will be calm. You and your men have the freedom of the ship until you are picked up. We will call you over the P.A. system when you are needed again in the Radio Shack."
"Thank you again, sir." Kowalski said as he shook the captainís hand.
"No, Kowalski, thank you! I am happy to be of service to you and your people." Captain Lysenko replied back with a smile.
A couple of hours after the Flying Sub landed back at Santa Barbara, Admiral Nelson walked into Chip Mortonís hospital room at the Nelsonís Institute Medical Clinic. Dr. Jamison had given Chip a full examination and replaced the bandages around Chipís ribs. Chip was given more pain medication and was slowly falling to sleep when the admiral arrived at his bedside. The Admiral thought Chip was asleep because the Execís eyes were closed.
"Chip?" he said softly.
Chipís eyes flickered opened. "Hi, Admiral." His voice was slightly slurred from the jet lag and the pain medication he had taken.
"How are you doing, Lad?í Nelson put his hands on the hospital bedís guardrail and looked down concerned.
Chip gave him a smile. "Iím doing okay according to Doc. He said I have to take it easy until my ribs heal. He said I could go back to light duty in a week."
"That should give you enough time to get your hair back to its natural color." Nelson teased. He couldnít get used to his Execís new image of a scruffy unshaven brunette. "Since the hair dye was job related, see that I get a receipt and ask Angie who her hairdresser is when you are ready to have it done."
"Aye, sir. That will be the second thing on my list to do."
"Whatís the first?" Nelson asked curiously.
"To get out of here." Chip answered back which made Nelson chuckle.
"It will be a couple of days at the most and then Doc will spring you, if you behave yourself and do what you are suppose to do. Let me know when you are allowed to return to work. Kowalski, Montoya and Patterson have given me a full report of what happened down there. Tomorrow, I will send Angie in here to get your statement. Now, I am going to leave and allow you to get some sleep." Nelson made a move to leave.
"What happened to the courier? Why didnít he show up?" Chip asked with a yawn.
"ONI said they had a leak some where in their network. They are trying to find the culprit now. The courier was picked up by the South American military on his way to meet you. Luckily, he destroyed the microfilm and then took cyanide before he was captured. That is why they were looking for you. They thought you might have had the microfilm with you."
"Admiral, the next time ONI wants me to volunteerÖ" Chip said as he closed his eyes and his voice started to become faint.
"Remind me to say no." Chip answered back.
"Iíll do that, Lad. Now get some rest." Nelson advised but found that his advice was too late. Chip had already closed his eyes and surrendered to a deep drugged sleep.
**Authorís notes to the reader**
I wish to thank Chris Allen, a fellow writer, who gave me the idea for this story when I read his story THE CANTINA.
Also La Plata is a make believe village and not La Plata, Argentina.
Any reader who wishes to contact me about this or any of my other stories can write to me firstname.lastname@example.org and please put in reference to my story so I know you are a Voyage fan.