Fosse finished wiring up a speaker he had yanked from a corridor’s ceiling and bundled up the loose wire in a spool-like fashion. He went to the rail and threw the speaker overboard, allowing the wire to flow freely from his arms until it was exhausted. We both looked over the rail in time to see the speaker slowly sink out of sight under water.
“Hope this works …” he said nervously.
We climbed back up to the bridge and pressed a few buttons on the communications panel. “When you’re ready, press this button,” he paused to point it out, “and speak here.” He pointed to the microphone in the panel. “Say it twice with a pause between and after, then let go of the button.”
I complied with his instructions, saying “This is Pat Ruger, a passenger on …” I couldn’t think of the name of the ship. I gave Fosse a puzzled look.
“Artistry of the Seas … let me start you over.” He pushed a couple of buttons and said, “Go.”
“This is Pat Ruger, a passenger on ‘The Artistry of the Seas’ cruise ship. Please call me at … damn.”
“I forgot to look up the phone number on this thing.” I looked down and was able to find the settings that had the number. “Good, it’s an American phone number. Let’s try it again?”
“Sure thing.” Fosse started me up again.
“This is Pat Ruger, a passenger on the ‘Artistry of the Seas’ cruise ship. Please call me at 1, 5-0-4, 5-4-5, 3-8-1-7. That’s 1, 5-0-4, 5-4-5, 3-8-1-7. We need to talk.”
Fosse gave me a hand signal, a quick circle with his index finger to remind me to repeat the message, and I did. He pressed a few more buttons and a final long push. “It’s running on a loop until we press this red button, here.” He pointed to a button on the console.
“I don’t hear anything.”
“You wouldn’t, not up here.”
“Okay, then, now we wait.”
“I’m going to go eat something,” Fosse said as he left the bridge.
That sounded good to me, but I wanted to check on Jimmy and Erin, and also Leta. I looked again at the cell phone, as if the Navy was going to call right away, but that was wishful thinking. I thought about calling Amanda but wanted to leave the line free.
I figured Jimmy was having dinner in the dining room and headed there. I wasn’t hungry but thought I probably should eat something. Long lines at the buffet tables changed my mind, but I reached in and grabbed a couple of freshly-baked rolls to tide me over.
I wandered the dining rooms one-by-one and finally did see Jimmy and Erin sitting at a small table by themselves. I moved an empty chair from a nearby table and joined them.
“Hey, Patty, what’s new?” Jimmy was in good spirits.
“Well, we’re not going anywhere for a while …”
“Still?” Erin asked. “I would have thought you’d have that all figured out by now.” She smiled.
”Oh, Patty’ll think of something.”
“I hope you’re right. We’re trying something to get a hold of the Navy — maybe that will pan out.”
“Have a bite, buddy,” Jimmy suggested. “Man can’t live on love alone.”
“You know something I don’t know?”
“Not a thing … seriously, you should eat.”
“The roast beef is really good,” Erin added.
“Maybe I will …” I stood up and headed for the buffet line. It did look good and I hadn’t eaten for a while. I waited my turn and eventually grabbed two plates and loaded them both with a variety of meats, potatoes. I left the vegetables alone. I returned to the table and settled in to enjoy my meal.
“Let me get you a beer,” Erin offered, and she left for the bar.
I must have been hungry because it didn’t take long to finish both plates and I was ready for another. Better not, I thought.
Erin returned with 3 beers and we all relaxed. “Do you think we’re in danger?” she asked.
“No, I don’t think so,” I told her. I didn’t want to scare her. “If we can contact the U.S. I think we’ll be fine. I just don’t know how long they’ll be under radio silence.”
“Radio silence … that’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. They’re the U.S. Navy for God’s sake.”
“Protocol,” Jimmy chimed in. “They love their protocol.”
We talked for a while. I kept looking at the cell phone as if to will it to ring.
“Hey, Patty, have you seen Mike, the entertainment guy, remember, from the card game?”
“No, come to think of it, I haven’t seen him anywhere …” That made me contemplate whether Mike might have had some hand in the stalemate. “You think that means something?”
“Don’t know,” Jimmy replied. “I just realized he hasn’t been around.”
“I’ll ask Fosse about him. That wuss is probably hiding in his cabin.”
“Probably.” Looking back at the cell phone, I said, “Well, kiddies, I’m going to go to my room and wait for a phone call.”
I stood up and Erin reached up and pulled me over to her. She kissed my cheek and, barely above a whisper, she said, “Thanks for keeping us safe, Pat. I don’t know what we would have done if you weren’t here.”
“Hey,” Jimmy responded. “I’m right here!”
“You know what I mean,” she said, half laughing and starting to blush.
“No worries,” I replied, stood back up and started to leave the table. “See you guys in a bit.”
I felt bushed and decided to look Fosse up later. I was sure Leta would be working, so my cabin was the destination. Eventually I got to my floor and weaved in and out around the belongings strung throughout the corridor. You’d think people would have cleaned their stuff up by now, I thought. I let myself in and crashed on the bed, Leta’s cell phone firmly clenched in one hand and held close to my ear.
As I lay there, my mind wandered to the women in my life — my late wife Ellie, ex-girlfriend Amanda, partners Lola and Anna, and Leta. I had been so lucky to have them. In the biblical sense, I joked in my head.
Sometime after I fell asleep, Ellie saw fit to visit. This time we were at the beach, reminding me of the last time we were in California. Her brunette hair flowed freely in the ocean breeze and her one-piece suit showed off her girlish figure.
“Ells, I sure miss you.”
“I know, honey. I’m happy you are having fun again. Don’t give up on Amanda, but don’t wait around for her either.”
“I’m won’t, I promise.”
“You remember when we were here last? They told us not to miss Venice Beach and we spent the whole afternoon people-watching?”
“Yeah, that whole vacation was great — my favorite!”
“I guess the cruise isn’t working out, but at least you’ve met someone smoking hot.”
“Well, she’s way too young for me … Why are all these young women going for me all of a sudden? I can’t go anywhere without one falling over me.”
“It’s simple, really. First, mentally, you’re finally available. Second, you’re handsome for your age. And most important, you’re vulnerable. These girls want to take care of you.”
“I’m not looking for a mother …”
“But they’re looking for a daddy!”
“Maybe, but it’s starting to get annoying.” I reached out and pulled her closer. I kissed her like the old days and held her for quite a while.
“Don’t worry, when you find the right one, like when you were with Amanda, you won’t put out the ‘I’m available’ vibe.”
“I was thinking about us, how we spent time together over the years.”
“You mean our sex lives?”
“That, and our younger days,” I said sheepishly.
I smile came over her face. “Where was that field in the mountains we had a picnic among the Manzanita shrubs?”
“That was up on Guanella Pass, I think. We went to find an easy hiking trail so we could have a nice lunch and found the Manzanitas. As I recall, we found a clearing off the trail between the bushes and you decided no one could see us when we were laying on the ground.”
“We were 50 yards from the trail … That was exciting, wasn’t it?” She sounded gleeful.
“I was sure nervous someone would come upon us, two naked people on a blanket.” I thought for a moment and laughed as the memories came back. “That was the only time I’ve ever had sex in the outdoors.”
“Well, maybe you should do that with the future Mrs. Ruger.”
“Maybe, whoever that might be.” Other recollections came to mind. “You remember when we turned down that football player and his wife who wanted to swap?”
“How could I forget? He was fine …”
“She was hot, too. We were tempted, weren’t we?”
“Yeah, we were. Most swingers aren’t beautiful people, are they? But these two definitely were …”
“Tom and Judy, wasn’t it? I’m glad we turned them down,” I said, realizing it as I said it. “They divorced about two years later. That might have been us, too.”
“So, no regrets?” She kissed me as I shook my head. “You need to answer the door …”
“Answer the door, silly.”
I awoke hearing a light knock, knock, knock. Groggy from my dream, I sat up and the knocks sounded again. The sun was now brightly shining in through the balcony door and I realized it must be morning. I got up and grabbed a t-shirt to throw on — I still had on my old khaki-colored cargo shorts. I opened the door. It was Leta.
“Hey, I was hoping I’d find you here,” she said with a little too much happiness in her voice. She pushed past me and headed for my dismantled bedcovers. “I got plans …” She threw herself on the bed and kicked off her shoes, next reaching for her stockings.
“Leta …” I began. The crisis wasn’t over, but I didn’t know how to explain it.
“It’s okay for us to enjoy life, isn’t it? Just you and me for a couple of hours?” She tossed the stockings on the floor and pulled her blouse off over her head, showing her abundant cleavage between her bra cups. “You got something better to do?”
“Wait … yes, we can enjoy ourselves, except …”
I was interrupted by music. It was the B-52’s singing “Love Shack.”
“That’s my phone,” Leta said and she tried to find where it was coming from.
I lunged on the bed and grabbed it before she did. “It’s the Navy! I’ve been waiting for them to call.” I sat up, pressed the green button and spoke into the cell. “Hello?”