The Lion and I
The waves were building as the wind whipped across our bow. The steady lap of waves against our hull became louder and louder. From below our feet it sounded as if all of hell were breaking loose. I held firm to the gunnell, grasping and old rusty cleat. Seawater washed over the sides of the makeshift cargo boat and poured over the top of my shoes and at the same time, waves crashed against the other side, splashing on my back. I was soaked, from head to toe.
I looked at my wrist, where my watch had once resided, and cursed myself. I looked across the boat at the only other person stupid enough to be out in the open, in this storm.
“Que Tiempo?'' I asked him.
He looked at me for a minute, I was hoping the deafening roar of the storm was the reason for the delay. He shifted his eyebrows up and shrugged his shoulders. Then, turning his palms up, he gestured the universal sign for “What?”
I pointed at my wrist and repeated myself, louder this time, “Tiempo?”.
He nodded and glanced at his watch.
Instead of trying to be heard over the roar of the ocean he simply held up 5 fingers.
“Holy Shit!” I thought to myself.
I started counting backwards. We had left the dock that morning at sunrise, about 6:30, I guessed. We had sailed due west for several hours before the captain came out with sandwiches. bologna and cheese on dry white bread with no mustard, ketchup or mayo. I was hungry so I choked it down. I regretted it now as my stomach began to churn with the ocean and the rocking of the boat.
After lunch, it was 2 to 3 more hours before they met up with the ship. He guessed the time around 3-3:30 when they pulled alongside the large container ship.
He was quite surprised when the giant black ship cut her engines and slowly came to a stop. It was just the two of them, alone in the ocean, most likely 100-150 miles from any land.
The sea had been calm at that time. The storm would begin about an hour after their encounter with the container ship.
He watched as a large boom swung over the side of the taller ship. On the end of the boom was a large crate. Probably six feet by six feet and almost as tall. The boom lowered the crate down to the ratty, smaller ship and with much concerted effort the two shipmates slid back a large hatch cover on the top of our cargo hold. The crate was lowered into our hold and my two mates quickly unstrapped the slings and then secured it to the floor of our cargo hold. As soon as the last click of the ratchet strap sounded the two quickly exited the cargo hold, climbed up on the top deck and put the hatch cover back in place. Neither of them seemed to eager to stay in the hold for very long.
I had pretty much figured it out that we were smuggling drugs of some kind. I just didn't know why I needed to be apart of it. The two Mexicans surely didn't need my help and no one, except for a few brief words from the captain, had said anything to me the entire journey. I said a quick prayer that we didn't get caught and watched as the container ship sailed off into the horizon. The entire time the two vessels had transferred cargo not one person was ever seen from the larger ship. Another reason to think, whatever I was in on, was highly suspicious.
I expected the captain to turn the boat around and head back for the coast but instead he kept our current course. We maintained our line directly into the setting sun. I wondered if we were going all the way to Hawaii. That would take days not hours. I began to worry.
The storm peaked in intensity about 8 hours after our pickup. I knew I was a dead man. Giant waves crashed over the entire boat. Engulfing it in thousands of gallons of water at a time. The wind was so fierce that the boat almost lay on its side at times. Wave after wave pounded into the boat and I could not stay outside anymore, like I had been instructed. I released my death grip on the cleat and lunged for the cargo hold door. I almost made it before a wave hit and slammed me up against the opposite rail. My head hit something hard, I couldn't tell what it was, it was too dark and there was too much water sloshing everywhere. I staggered back to my feet and locked on to the door handle. Giving a mighty tug I opened the door and collapsed on the inside. The remaining Mexican followed me inside. Seems as if he had enough of the storm as well.
He closed the door and I wiped the water from my face. There was a red light on, inside the cargo hold and once my eyes adjusted I could make out the large crate. The second Mexican was busy cinching the tie down straps and double checking the cleats on the floor. I stumbled over to where he was to see if he needed help. He pointed to a box in the corner and said, “sientate”.
He slapped his butt with his hand and pointed at me and the box.
“I got it, I got it...sit,” I said and headed towards the box to sit down.
As I passed the big crate, that had come from the other ship, I heard a low growling sound.
I whipped around, facing the two men, my eyes big and questioning.
“What the hell is in there?”, I asked them.
“Nada, nada, nada,” they replied.
“Bullshit,” I said to them.
I walked over to the crate, listening as best as I could, over the storm raging outside. I put my hands on the crate. I didn't know if I should be expecting to feel something or not.
Don and Juan, the two Mexicans I had nicknamed, just stood there gawking at me before one of them ran towards the door of the bridge. I figured he was going to tell the captain I was snooping around. Which is exactly what he did but before the captain came down I had a chance to survey the box a little more. As I searched, I detected a distinct odor of an ammonia like smell. Almost like strong cat urine. Something stirred inside the crate. I could feel it, almost sense the vibrations in the wood.
The captain burst through the door, apparently trusting Don to drive the boat in this storm. He charged up to me, pushing me back towards the box I was supposed to be sitting on.
“You sit, no worry. You no look. Not your time. We need you...we ask,” his English was broken but I understood enough to make do.
As my butt hit the wooden box whatever was in the crate let out the most God awful sound I had ever heard. It scared the bejesus out of me and judging by the reactions of the captain and Juan, it did them too.
He looked directly at me, like it was my fault.
“We need you help,” he said. Desperation, fear and panic showed in his eyes.
He staggered over to me where I sat on the box. The boat was rocking terribly and it was almost impossible to even walk around. He motioned me up off the box. I stood and he removed the lid.
Inside of the box was a small leather briefcase. He pulled it out and replaced the lid on the box. He then set the briefcase on top of the box and flipped opent he triggers that opened the case.
The lid popped open and inside, tucked into loops of elastic, were three syringes. Big syringes, like the size you would use to tranquilize a horse.
He removed one and handed it to me pointing at the crate.
“You make sleep,” he said.
“Me? Why me?,” I asked him.
“You are the doctor,” he replied. As if this made perfect sense.
I stared at him. My mind was racing, so many questions, so little time.
I shook my head at him. No way was I going to participate in any of this. I wanted no part.
“No fucking way pal,” I yelled over the creaking of the boat and the pounding of the waves.
“You make good on bad money doing this,” he said. “You even with Mr. Sal.”
That's when it all began to make sense. Now I knew why I was here. It seemed as though Sal was smuggling a live animal in the crate and he need a veterinarian to go along for the ride should something come up. Which, just my luck, had.
“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” I stammered as I stood up. I headed towards the crate as the captain made his exit. Juan promptly re-appeared and together with Don's help they began to remove a section of the wooden crate using a hammer and a crowbar.
The crate was nailed tight and try as they might, they couldn't quite get the crowbar in between the seams of the wooden planks that made up the crate. One of them disappeared through the doorway and came back a second later with a large sledge hammer. He lifted it high over his head and as he brought the hammer down with a grunt the boat was hit by the final wave.
The boat rolled over onto it's side. The hammer flew from his hands and smashed against the wall. I fell forward and slid into the opposite wall. All three of us lay in a huddle against the wall, which was now the floor. The crate remained strapped to the floor, which had now become the wall, and sat above us a few feet away. I scrambled to my feet and started to move towards the rear cargo door. I was getting out. I didn't care about anyone else. I was not drowning in this stinking cargo hold.
Water began pouring in through every seam and crack.
I looked back just in time to see the straps that held the crate in place let go. The snapped and even in the gale of the storm it sounded like a bull whip. The crate came crashing down and before they even registered what was about to happen, it crushed Don and Juan.
Another wave hit the boat as I opened the cargo door and sent the vessel over on its top. I lunged out the door into the pitch black and that was the last thing I remember of that night.