New Orleans wasn’t my choice for our destination, but here we were. The chopper landed in the wide open tarmac outside of the cruise ship’s dock, near the cruise line’s entry buildings. It was odd to be here without a ship in port.
I saw two black SUV’s parked nearby and two business women standing on the edge of the asphalt tarmac, obviously waiting for us. We all exited the helicopter, instinctively bowing over as we moved out from under the rotating blades. The 4 of us walked toward the women and the chopper lifted and flew out over the bay.
Both of the women were wearing business attire, one in a pant suit and the other in a skirt and jacket, both in royal blue with white cotton tops. The one in the skirt had bright red hair; the other was brunette with blond highlights. Both were made up like flight attendants and had the cruise line’s logo embroidered on their lapels. They met us with handshakes all around and introduced themselves as Cruise line staff, asking us if we needed anything.
The SUV’s drove over to us and stopped, and Amanda got out of the rear passenger side of the first one. She ran over and we hugged and kissed, and it really hit home how much I had missed her. She didn’t say anything for a few minutes and when we stopped embracing, I saw she had begun to cry. She wiped away the moisture with her hands.
She looked back at the SUV and Erin stepped out of the back door. Erin grabbed Jimmy and they also hugged for quite a few minutes.
“Gentlemen,” Amanda said as she began her official duties. “It is wonderful to see you all. Mister Chavez and Mister …”
“Alameda. Pedro Alameda.”
“Mister Alameda. Will you join these officers? They will take you to the State Department for processing.”
“Ma’am, what about my nephew, Rickie? We left him in Colombia.”
“We are picking him up, Mister Chavez. I promise you’ll see him soon.”
“Gracias, Señora. Gracias.”
She smiled and stepped aside so the two men could climb into one of the SUV’s. She closed the door behind them and it left. “Patty, Jimmy, the cruise line would like to do a presentation for you. Do you mind going inside?”
“As long as there’s a bathroom … they didn’t let me pee off the door in the chopper,” Jimmy quipped and tried to laugh, which was cut short by a painful whimper. That was funnier than the joke and we all broke up.
After returning from the restroom, Jimmy joined us in a large office where a cameraman and his hardware were waiting.
“What’s all this?” I asked.
“I hope you’ll let us record the presentation,” answered the redhead. “It will be good P.R. for you and for us.”
“I’m not sure …”
“Go ahead, Patty,” said Erin. “I think it will be good.”
Jimmy and I relented and joined the staff in the front of the room, while Erin and Amanda stayed in the back.
“You can go anytime,” instructed the cameraman, and the brunette began.
“I’m Megan Williams and this is Angela Smith, at the New Orleans offices of Imperial Cruise Lines. We have here the heroes from the Artistry of the Seas cruise that was abruptly interrupted almost 3 weeks ago, Patrick Ruger and James Stewart.” She paused to let the camera pan to them and back. Angela handed her two large certificates. “These are certificates of appreciation from our C.E.O., Bob Almstedt, and they state:
‘Imperial Cruise Lines wishes to bestow its ultimate appreciation for your assistance in the incidents aboard the Artistry of the Seas, including resolving criminal activities, helping stop a pirate invasion, putting your own lives at risk while allowing the Artistry to safely escape the guns of a foreign navy. Please accept our sincere thanks.’”
“You’re very welcome,” I replied.
Megan smiled. “There’s more:
‘This appreciation includes a free lifetime pass for up to 4 passengers and up to 21 days per year on any ship of the cruise line and to any destination on our calendar.’”
“Well, we’re quite grateful, thank you.”
She gave us our certificates and kissed us each on the cheek. “Just one more thing.” Angela handed her two envelopes. “These are checks for $100,000 each as a reward for your services and bravery.”
This was quite unexpected. After a moment of silence, I said, ”This is very generous, but I would like to donate my check to Saint Joseph’s Church in La Concepcion, Venezuela. Father Julio there is trying to help orphans and troubled kids and I want to help.”
“Me, too,” Jimmy added. “Send all of it to Father Julio.”
Megan seemed taken aback. “Well, I don’t see why we couldn’t do that … It’s very generous of you, gentlemen.”
“Not at all, he deserves it,” I replied. “Thanks again …” I stepped away from the staff and I heard the cameraman tell Angela not to worry about it, he’d fix the clip.
Jimmy joined me and Amanda in the back of the room. “Can we go home now?” He wrapped his arm around his wife. “We have some time to make up for.”
“After he gets checked out at the hospital,” she added.
“At home,” he insisted.
“Yes,” I agreed. “Let’s go home. Amanda, will you be joining us to Denver?”
“I’m afraid not,” she replied. “I’ll visit you soon, I promise.”
My heart sank. “What about our luggage?”
“It’s been sent to your homes,” answered Angela. “It’ll be waiting for you there.”
“Everything? Even what was in my safe?”
“As far as I know.”
“I hope so.”
“Oh!” Jimmy interrupted, and reached in his pocket, pulling out a microchip. He handed it to Amanda. “I think you’re going to want this.”
“This is what came of the espionage we spoke about,” I said. “Evidently, it has a private compression algorithm, whatever that is.”
She took it from him. “I’ll take care of this. There’s a lot to clear up from your vacation, isn’t there?”
“I guess so.”