Part Eight – Seaborne Venus Priapus
Chapter 25: What Are the Odds
The boat deck was a perfect place to get away and think, especially late at night like this. I could sit alone in my reclining deckchair on the starboard side and cast glances across the waves. Because it could be a bit chilly, I had Gordon’s dark baseball cap on, and was curled toe to shoulder under one of the Neptune’s Ekdíkisi’s black blankets.
Tonight, long panes of wispy clouds, like broken shards of wool bundles, drifted across the pale face of the waning moon. The peaceful swells of the endless sea shifted color from dark indigo to even darker ultramarine. The view was hypnotic and tranquil.
I pulled the cover up to my neck and considered our situation. We were basically stowaways on this Puerto-Vallarta-bound cruise ship, for Sadeeq’s “I’m well-known on board” turned out to be among the fey and giggling fellows of the service crew. But anyway, they are great guys and found beds for me, my boyfriend and the mad poet in already-cramped staff cabins. For the two days we’ve been at sea now, those bunks have just been places to crash. Our daily routine has been to wake early and sneak above deck, as they say, where we spend the majority of our time among the paying passengers, like we belong there. We’ve blent in – had breakfast early and dinner and lunch late to not stand out – and made no fuss as to what we want or do, which is mainly me and Gordon sitting in deckchairs, holding hands and reading this and that online. Lord knows where Sadeeq spends his time – reciting Byron to the diesel pistons for all I care. In any event, he did get us out of San Diego and away from the clutches of my crazy ex.
I heard two people talking, and they were coming my way. One voice was deep and rounded by calculating tones; it was self-possessed in other words. The guy he was chatting with sounded just about the opposite: flip, glib, high tones pinged with a…a Vietnamese accent.
My heart sank. That particular combo of resonances – unmistakable.
I curled up a bit, drawing my knees to the side so I could get the blanket over my head.
Every now and then along the boat deck, the handrail jutted out to form a little niche where crewmembers would stand in the event of needing to lower the lifeboats, which were locked into place on davits overhead.
Lloyd and Sang Trọng stepped into the nook nearest my deckchair, presumably to drink in the view I myself had been enjoying.
“I’m anxious to get this settled once for all,” Lloyd said.
“I know, sweetie, but the gods would not steer us wrong.”
‘Gods…?’ I wondered.
The sea captain was angry. “It’s been too much! The humiliation those two piled up—”
“Don’t aggravate yourself, Lloyd, darling.”
“Trọng, it helps to vent these things. Not only have I lost my wife and a big fat cash settlement per our pre-nup, but what’s worse is how I’ve lost face in the eyes of my competitors. Business is suffering, and my enemies are going around cutting off my supply, calling me Capitán El Puto. And it’s all the fault of that Kraut! I want revenge, and the god wants the return of his sacred cult object to my possession. He won’t be appeased until things are right; then maybe my business dealings will get back on course too.”
“There, there, I know, darling. I too feel betrayed and humiliated in the basest of ways. That sexy-ass Gordon suddenly spurned me and ran. No one ever dumps Trọng! And it’s that Kohl’s fault too; I just need to get my precious Gordon away from his evil clutches. A day or two behind closed doors will teach that twink a lesson, and ‘educate’ him not to mess with Sang Trọng – I have claws and will use them.”
“He visited me again last night.”
“Neptune?” Trọng asked.
“Aye – the Great God of the Sea, the one to whom I owe everything.”
“What did he show you this time, dearest?”
“Same as the last three nights – that Kohl and Gordon are on this ship, and that we will bump into them sooner rather than later.”
“Yes. The Great One – Lord of the forest and field – has come to me every night as well with a similar vision. That our enemies, the ones we most seek bloody vengeance upon, are on board. Priapus will deliver them into our hands. I have no lack of faith.”
Lloyd said, “It’s just a matter of laying low and cornering them. I have men aboard who are standing by with concrete loafers for those queer boys to try on.”
I heard a shiver emerge as a sputtering of Trọng’s lips.
“Shall we, Lloyd? I’m getting chilly.”
As they continued walking, a shiver of my own ran down my spine. It was not necessarily caused by the threat of death – that I guess I’m used to by now – but by the freaky insight that I was not the only one visited in my dreams by the Phallic One.
There may not have been much room to pace in our little seamen’s cabin, but that’s exactly what I’d been doing for the last hour, trying not to panic.
I was half-glad I didn’t go with Gordon and Sadeeq to the lame-ass lounge show – all sequins, tits and showgirls – for then we wouldn’t have gotten the jump on the drug lord and his Vietnamese moll.
More panic! What if those two nut-jobs or their hired goons had bumped into Gordon?! My boy could already be fish sticks….
I froze, hearing laughter from the corridor. Sadeeq and the teenager entered, and I immediately launched a hug on my boyfriend.
Gordon chuckled, hugging me back. “Possessive much?”
That pissed me off slightly, but more so the mad poet’s just standing there with open mouth like a guppy. I released my boy, moved Sadeeq aside and gingerly closed the door. In another second, it was locked and I could take a breath.
“You okay, buddy?” Sadeeq asked.
“No!” I nearly shouted, then slapped shut my own mouth with a hand.
I started pacing again, which was even harder with the two more men in the cabin. “I can’t believe it; I can’t believe it….”
“What?“ my boy asked.
“They are here! They’re on board.”
Gordon’s face puzzled, half-amused. “Um – who?”
My ire flashed on the poet. “Did you know they’d be on? Is this a setup—”
“Woah. Calm down, dude.”
Gordon’s tone of concern brought me around. “Yes, hon?”
“Who are you talking about?”
I grabbed him by the upper arms and sat him down for safety. “I was covered up on the boat deck, alone, when a big guy comes strolling by. He stops and I overhear his conversation: how he was stolen from; how he was outed on live TV; how he wants revenge on the German guy who did it all to him! Know who I’m talking about?!”
Gordon, being he boy he was, howled with laughter, slapping his knee and rolling on the bed trying to regulate his breathing.
“Oh, yeah,” I told my boyfriend. “Well, in case you think he was rambling to himself, he wasn’t. Trọng is on board too, and the little hussy wants to divide us so he can corner you, alone, and quote-un-quote, teach you a lesson.”
Now Gordon slowly panicked, rising to his feet and pacing along with me. In his stead, Sadeeq sat on the bed and watched rather removed from the drama. He idly petted his ponytail.
“You mean,” he asked, “Lloyd – the Lloyd – owner of this ship, and the entire Neptune Line?”
“Yeah, yeah,” I clipped briskly. “You know him?”
“I do indeed. And I can confirm he’s a dangerous man. His cruise line, and this ship primarily, is his main means of smuggling drugs from Mexico. He does it by the tons.”
Me and Gordon stopped and held onto one another. I asked, “You know him personally?”
“Yes, I do. And”—he added wryly—“congratulations. It’s no mean feat for a pair of nobodies, like you fine gentlemen so obviously are, to become the enemy of such a powerful man.”
Gordon inquired with strained restraint, “Did you know he’d be on board?”
“Nope.” He crossed himself. “Swear to God; hope to die.”
That answer was too pert for my personal taste. “It’s your fault! You jumped us from the skillet into the flame, and now we’re trapped in a floating sardine can. What are we going to do!”
The poet leaned back on the bed, using his elbows as props. “Well, first, I suggest you guys calm the fuck down. Secondly, sit the fuck down and let’s think this thing out; explore our options; brainstorm.”
Based on his intellect, I doubted Sadeeq could muster a brain drizzle, let alone a storm, but nevertheless, I took my boy’s hand and we sat on the cabin floor in front of the social media celeb.
“Before we do anything else, we need assumed names,” said Gordon. “We’re not on the passenger list, so Lloyd can’t be a hundred percent certain we’re on board.”
“Yes. Good idea,” I said. “Who are you going to be?”
“Um – how about something trendy…. Grayson…Hewitt.”
“Grayson Hewitt….” I repeated it a few times to set it in my memory.
Sadeeq grinned. “That’s lovely, Gordon. Matches you to a tee—”
“Yeah, yeah,” I interrupted. “Now me. Trendy, huh? How about…Mason…Polyaenus?”
The two rolled around in breath-snatching fits of laughter.
I copped the expression of that flat-lined, slant-eyes emoji. “What? You guys are ignorant. Don’t you know your Homer, poet? That’s one of the epigrams – epitaphs, whatever – for Ulysses.”
They only laughed the harder.
“Means ‘the man of many legends,’ and/or ‘the man who has many tales to tell.’”
I elbowed my boy.
“Okay, okay,” he finally said. “That’s a good one, Mason, but maybe you should keep in the back of your head that you’re Mr. Smith from now on. Got it?”
I nodded, skulking. ‘What’s wrong with my choice,’ I wondered. ‘The state of learning is something appalling these days.’
“Well, faux Ulysses”—Sadeeq meant me—“let’s pretend we’ve just wandered into the cave of the Cyclopes, where Jove’s very thunder claps are made, and need to think our way out again.”
“But we’re on a boat,” Gordon said flatly. “We can’t escape, can we?”
“We can sink it,” I offered. “Leave our fate to Fortune.”
My boy frowned. “Are you serious? That’s a terrible idea.”
I was about to argue the point when Sadeeq held out his hands. “Maybe there’s a smarter way.”
“Like what?” I demanded to know.
“We could get chummy with the night crew on the bridge. Maybe bribe the pilot with goods and favors.” His lecherous brow flared at Gordon, and his hand stroked his ponytail like a fetish.
“Or,” I suggested, “simply tell him my boyfriend is too seasick to go on and he must put us ashore.”
“In the middle of the night…?” Gordon sounded dubious.
“Why not?” I said. “You’re a good actor. Ham up the green gills, etcetera, and make him believe it.”
“I’m not so sure, Kohl.”
Some silence followed, in which the three of us each followed the course of our own earnest meditations.
“What about…” I started, but then faltered. “No. Never mind.”
More deliberation-time ensued.
Gordon said, “We could always just steal a lifeboat—”
“Containers!” the poet exclaimed.
“What?” I asked.
“We’ll pack you and Gordon in some shipping containers in the hold.”
My boy scowled. “Are you delirious?”
“No, young man – I’m serious. We’ll pack you up, put in some food, water, a pottie, and when you’re offloaded in Puerto Vallarta, I’ll come to collect you. Easy peasy.”
“No, no.” I kye-bashed the whole thing. “Too many variables – what-IFs. What if they cover the breathing holes; what if we run out of water; what if they open the crate up in Customs? Too many possibilities to go way wrong.”
“Yeah, and…” Gordon pointed out, “we don’t know where Lloyd’s drugs are in the ship. We could get hauled off and opened up the middle of a grow operation. Too risky.”
We nodded in agreement.
Several minutes of concentration followed.
Sadeeq suddenly cried out: “Black face!”
Me and my boy were astounded; we asked in unison, “What…?”
The poet copped a Cheshire-cat grin. “Why not? It works in the movies!”
“This is not the movies,” said Gordon heatedly. “It’s real life. We can’t become black guys just because we mask our skin with makeup. Why not circumcise each other so we can pass ourselves off as Jews?”
“I’m already—” Sadeeq started.
My boy cut him off. “My point is, has any person just one mark of distinction? You want to wrap our heads in table napkins so we appear like Palestinians? Want to chalk our faces and pencil in eyebrows so that with barrettes on our heads we look ‘French’? How about piercing and tattooing our skin all over so we look like Hipsters. Would that work? Would that fool anyone…. I. Think. Not.”
I guess my boy had a lot of POV on this subject, one quite frankly I’d never even considered.
“No,” he went on. “That’s the problem with our world nowadays. We form opinions on how certain people are supposed to be – the Jews, the Arabs, the Irish, the Queens, the Queers, the basic bitches, the farmers, the urbanites, the rednecks, the progressive, the backward, the bible-humpers, the God-haters – and assume in total arrogance that our opinion of them is all there is to those people. When the hell will we stop assuming and start listening again? This can’t go on much longer, for it’s impossible for a functioning society to be so mired in belief-based dismissals, or act on what’s just really another form of head-in-the-sand escapism. We need Truth, for God’s sake!”
When Gordon had finished and realized we were staring at him lacking comprehension, he threw up his arms, rolled his eyes and exclaimed, “Fuck! Why don’t we just jump overboard and end this entire farce.”
Into the quiet that followed, Sadeeq mumbled: “Farce…? Did you say…? Farce!”
He stood up and made for the door.
“What?!” I asked.
“Wait here. I’m going to borrow some clothes from my crew buddies.”
“Uniforms?” I wondered out loud in Gordon’s direction.
“Better!” said the poet. “I’ve come up with a surefire method.”
My boyfriend grumbled: “We should just take a lifeboat….”
“Trust me.” Sadeeq painted on a greasy leer.
After he’d slipped out the door, I thought, ‘Trust him…. That’s the last thing I want to do.’
Gordon popped up and latched the door, but when he came back, he slid despondently into my arms. My better half lay his head on my chest, and I stroked his lovely, curly hair.
“Gordon, honey, will you listen to me for a second?”
“Yes, Kohl.” He didn’t move, other than to hug himself tighter to my midsection.
“Trọng and Lloyd were talking about…well, it seems weird.”
“You can tell me. Talking about what?”
“Dreams. How both of them got ‘messages’ we’d be aboard this ship, for this specific cruise. Do you believe in that stuff?” I hoped I could delicately investigate if Gordon was dreaming about Priapus too.
“No,” he said. “I mean, I’ve never had that kind of experience, so, I don’t know.” He looked up at me. “How about you?”
“Me, believe in that stuff?” I faked it. “No! It’s all BS; it has to be…right?”
“Yeah.” He settled his head back against my heart.
I sighed. “I’m sorry, Gordon. It seems we’re no closer to our goal. I’ve led you right back into the heart of my cursed existence.”
My boy hushed me. “That’s bull shit, and you know it. I’m right where I want to be, with the only one I ever want to ‘experience’ things with, Kohl.”
“But still…” I hesitated. “I, um, long for a time when we’re settled. A future when things are better, or maybe just easier for us.”
Gordon chuckled. “You saying you want to go back to Aptos? My dad will give you a job.”
Laughing, I said, “Yeah, mucking out the compost heap for twelve hours a day for the rest of my life. No thank you.”
As my boy sighed and snuggled in deep for a few minutes of quiet and soul-to-soul contact, my mind skimmed over a few new lines of verse.
‘What are we but the playthings of the gods? –
Their whims, our fates become;
Their threats crack troublesome,
Like thunder worrisome
To make us chill and numb.
Their cruel delirium
To man is burdensome,
When their laughing loathsome
Makes us only feel glum.
Then to flight we succumb,
And enforced martyrdom.
So, are we not the playthings of the gods? –
Tossed aside to uncertainties,
Like dice rolled with little care of the odds,
And only to up their antes.’