The Edmund Fitzgerald was a maximum sized Laker with a gross tonnage of over 13,600 and was a majestic 711 feet in length. The ship was a monster and had set both cargo and speed records as it plied the Grands.
I had wrongly and foolishly assumed I could book passage. Hell, there was plenty of room, being so big, but the Fitz was taking on 26,000 tons of banded iron ore. She had a full crew and no room and they were not even remotely insured for passengers. This was a working freighter in every sense of the word. I still wanted on it. I needed to get the fuck away from Big City. I felt that I hadn’t the luxury of waiting for another ship to secure.
Rejected but trying to remain hopeful, I left the pier that ran alongside the huge freighter and went instead to a nearby bar. I sat at a table by the door and waited on anyone who might find that they needed one more stiff one before reporting for duty on the Fitz. After a couple of hours, a few Plata bumps and the worst martini I’d ever had in my life, I ran into Bruce, a young deckhand.
I made my proposition to Bruce slowly and carefully over five very strong Long Beach cocktails. Bruce declined at first, but desperation made me charming as hell and the cash I kept pulling out and placing on the darkened table before him whetted the deckhand’s appetite and fueled his greed. Thirty-five hundred dollar bills later and I’d secured passage in Bruce’s own berth, with a promise of meals and drinks delivered by him.
All twenty-nine hands would work the entire voyage across the Grands, so it made more and more sense to me. This would be better than I could have ever imagined. No one would look for me here, smuggled on a freighter, hiding in a deckhand’s berth. I would be hidden from even those on board. And by the time they dropped anchor and I was smuggled off, the freighter would deposit my ass several states away. There would be no Herod, no Pedro, and no little dead Christ getting wise to my plans. It was perfect.
The deal having been struck, I met Bruce at the Northern Railroad Dock with his cash in hand. Bruce gave me some seaman’s duds. While I changed into them, Bruce placed the cash inside his shirt, buttoned up his pea coat. Then Bruce brought his stowaway on board. He walked me carefully to his berth. It was about as big and as charming as a jail cell, encased in a steel bulkhead.
The berth contained a metal desk and chair, a small sitting chair and a cot. A combo music and film player with a small screen sat on a corner of the desk, opposite the cot and small chair. A tall stack of movie discs were lined up in a case on the desk and bolted to the wall. A steamer trunk was locked and shoved under the cot with Bruce’s personal shit. And he had books. Bruce didn’t strike me as much of a reader, but he apparently was. Paperbacks, of which there were literally dozens and dozens of. At quick glance it looked as if most of the books had covers missing, some were water damaged, but they were readable and they lay all around Bruce’s tiny home away from home.
Bruce had told me to stay put. He apologized at the bucket I would be forced to use for my waste and told me to try and make myself at home. He helped me get quickly settled in and then was off to help the big bastard of a ship get underway.
I sat on Bruce’s cot, snuffle-sucked up a big dose of Plata. I stowed my backpack with my bulk of Plata, money and clothes alongside the steamer trunk under the cot. I put a movie on the player. It was a B-grade slasher film about a haunted hospital stalked by a serial killer, ghosts and a demon named Shirk. I only half watched it. My current situation was certainly more than frightening enough. I reached over and selected at random a paperback, tugged s’more Plata and began to alternate between peeks at the film and reading the slim novel. By the time the movie was ramping up, page fifty-two of the paperback was getting blurry and I began to doze.
I slept, dropping deep down to where the rapid eye movements began when, with sudden certainty, the huge freighter listed hard. My sleeping ass was thrown in a snap into the unforgiving wall of the bulkhead. It gave my head a nice crack. I fell straight back onto Bruce’s cot, half hanging off as the storm cranked up another notch. Winds exceeding sixty knots lifted and dropped the Fitz up and down the fifteen foot waves like a kid’s plastic boat in a bathtub. The freighter began to crack at the pressure points and the ship took on water. I knew none of this business that was going on around me. So:
* * * *
“Wake up, baby,” she whispered to me with a tiny shove. “Jonah, honey,” she said and shook me harder, “You’ve got to get up.”
“No, I’m tired, Becca,” I told my dead wife.
“Just open your eyes, baby, please.”
“Okay, then,” she said and punched me in the face as hard as she could.
* * * *
The blood spurted out from the nose, my face swelling. I rose; eyes still closed, still mostly asleep. With my head and face hurting, I opened my eyes in time to see the door to the berth open and Bruce enter. He looked to me like he was scared shitless. The noise of the grinding ship and the raging storm was deafening, so he had every right to be. I, on the other hand, was just standing there like a dipshit, waiting to drown. He grabbed me, yelling something I couldn’t place, and dragged me out.
I followed without protest until I realized that I was leaving my backpack with my cash-floe and the bulk of Plata. In a panic, I tried to turn and retrieve it when a big metal groan and crunch brought icy water raging in. I lost instant track of Bruce as he flailed away from me, getting sucked down the passageway. Covered now in the Lake, I swam furiously away from Bruce, in the shockingly cold and dark water. I was uncertain as to which way was up and I was getting myself nowhere very fast. The frigid temperature of the water knocked what was left of my wind out of me. It all went dark and I saw nothing.