Loose Lips Sinks Ships
Colton felt as if he’d made a quantum leap through time and space after what seemed like a short time on his bike. Maybe it was because his mind was on other things. He was now on the ferry churning its way across the San Luis Bay. On the top deck, high above the cargo of vehicles and tourists, he watched a flock of hopeful seagulls trail behind the vessel. Vacationers seemed to take delight in feeding the birds. That was until they pooped. He heard the squeals of disgust and shifted his focus from the white-spotted deck to the bay where the remains of the Selma jutted out of the water. The concept of a concrete ship had always fascinated him and he imagined it must be like trying to float a brick. As a kid, he had read her existence was due to a steel shortage during World War One. In 1922, the government had scrapped the ship and she was brought here to her final resting place. That’s the exact words on the historical marker: ‘taken to her final resting place,’ ‘taken to her final resting place,’ taken to her—′
The chanting inside his head—a pinprick of light—an explosion of a full blown image of the hole, the linen-wrapped mystery at the bottom, and his father’s voice telling him it was their secret.
to her final resting place.
The grisly scene worked its way through his brain like a shard of broken glass. He tried to stave off the panic before it got him totally in its grip. He squeezed his eyes shut and prepared himself for a battle.
“Hey, buddy. You okay?” he heard a man’s voice say. The gruesome images inside his head popped like a spent soap bubble. He opened his eyes and looked to his right at the man standing next to him. He was muscular. Not like a bodybuilder, but naturally stocky. Sunglasses covered his eyes and a ponytail of brown hair cascaded down the back of his muscle shirt.
“Yeah.” He shook off the feeling of dread clinging to him.
“My friends call me, Hawk.” The man extended his hand.
Normally, Colton didn’t like casual chit chat, but a little friendly exchange of dialogue might be the distraction he needed. “My name’s Colton.” The man’s grip was strong, his palms calloused, and his shake vigorous.
As Hawk withdrew his hand, Colton noticed the cryptic symbol tattooed on the underside of the man’s wrist. It looked familiar like he’d seen it before, but, where? He couldn’t recall and decided to let it go. He didn’t really care if the man was a tourist or regular commuter, he just needed the distraction. “Are you here on business or pleasure?”
“Business,” Hawk shot back. He paused a second before saying, “Unfinished business.”
The second part of the man’s response had a dark edge to it. Whatever business that had brought him here, Colton didn’t want to know about it.
“I saw you staring at the Selma,” said Hawk.
The man seemed determined to drive the conversation bus.
Hawk nodded at the remains of the concrete ship. “I’m a history buff myself.”
“Yeah, she’s got an interesting past.”
Hawk responded to the comment with an intense look, and nodded. “I’ll bet she does.”
Two short blasts from the ferry’s horn sounded and the gulls trailing the vessel cried out as if knowing their chances of snagging crackers thrown in the air by the tourists was coming to an end. Colton felt eager to escape Hawk’s intensity. The deck beneath the soles of their shoes shuddered. Colton knew the routine. The engines had reversed and the ship was making a hard right to port. The change of direction faced them into the wind. The slipstream of air caught Colton’s long locks and sent them flying back like streamers.
As the ferry swung, Hawk nodded his head at concrete ship before it was completely out of sight. “If you like history then you should read up on how she was brought here to her final resting place.”
To her final resting place, to her final resting place, to her final— Somehow, Hawk had gotten inside his head. Or was this was some freakish coincidence?
—to her final resting place.
Anybody that had read the plaque would know the last line. That logic didn’t stop the panic from growing inside him, and it was now spreading like wildfire.
—to her final resting place.
In an effort to push the morbid mantra out of his head, Colton squeezed his eyes shut and forced the air from his lungs, past his lips, like popping a cork on a bottle of Champagne. It worked—sometimes.
Colton felt the ferry bump against the landing pad, and when he opened his eyes, Hawk was gone. The passengers were climbing back into their vehicles and engines started. More than a little shaken by the event, Colton hurried down the stairwell despite having a bad case of weak knees. Once he was out on the deck, he straddled his Harley. The cars in front of him had already exited the boat, and a string of cars were waiting behind him. As he cranked the engine, one of the drivers at his rear gave a loud blast of their horn. He responded with a California howdy and departed the ferry.
There were more cars in the hospital’s parking lot this morning than last night. He found the only vacant spot and parked. Colton ignored the sidewalks and cut across the manicured grounds to the front entrance. Inside, he bypassed the groups waiting for the elevator and took the stairs to the second floor.
After gaining admittance through the double doors stenciled, PRESS BUZZER TO ENTER, he approached the desk. The personnel had changed. The young girl sitting in the chair greeted him with a smile.
“I’m here to see Charley Bishop,” he said.
She turned her head to the screen and her fingers ran across the keys with the dexterity of a concert pianist. She looked back up. “He’s in room four—straight down the hall—last door on the right.”
“Thanks.” The hall was a chain of double doors that were open, allowing the passerby to see in. Elderly patients hooked up to machines with wires and tubes occupied most of the rooms. The doors to 4G were open as well, but as he entered, Colton almost collided with a man wearing a white frock.
He looked Colton over. “I’m Doctor Hadley. And you are?”
“Colton Bishop. I’m his son.” Colton craned his neck to see over the doctor’s shoulder and gazed at the pumps, IV bags, and the monitors streaming continuous graphs of peaks and valleys.
“Let’s talk in the hall,” said Hadley.
Colton followed the doctor out of the room. The doctor stopped and turned around; his expressionless face impossible to read. “The CT scans revealed scarring in his lungs caused by emphysema, and advanced stages of cancer that has already spread to his liver.”
“Is there anything you can do?”
The doctor shook his head. “He’s too weak. Chemotherapy would likely kill him. But, I’m afraid he doesn’t have long to live anyway.”
“I need to speak to him.”
“I’m afraid that’s impossible,” said Hadley. “We had to ventilate him. It was the only way we could reduce the elevated CO2 levels in his blood. He won’t be able to talk with the tube down his throat. We’ve done everything we can. He’s stable. The rest is left to whatever power he believes in.”
“I want to see him.”
The doctor raised his hand and spread his fingers. “Five minutes.”
Mixed emotions boiled inside of him. He reentered the room and closed the door. There was a chair at the side of the bed. He sat in it and stared at the frail figure, the paper thin, mottled skin, and the thin wisp of white hair. It was hard to believe that at one time he had feared this man. Colton leaned forward in the chair.
Charley clenched the sheets of the bed and opened his cloudy, blue eyes.
Colton had questions, lots of questions. Where to begin? “I got your note.”
The old man’s brow wrinkled and he lifted his head, trying to speak around the mouthpiece.
“You won’t be able to talk. Just nod or shake your head, ok?”
His father nodded.
“Do you know where Mom is?” He watched him shake his head no. “I’ve got to know; is she dead? Did you murder her?”
Charley’s body stiffened. Then he began to quake uncontrollably.
Colton placed his hands on his father’s shoulders. “Answer me, old man. The secret; did we bury my mother’s body that night?”
Alarms on the monitor began a loud series of beeps and seconds later, the RN opened the doors and charged in. Her eyes skimmed over the monitors before she silenced the alarm. She pressed the intercom button on the wall. “Code blue.”
It only took seconds for the room to fill with scrubs and Colton found himself being pushed out of the room. The door closed behind him.