Neptune Holds Court
With a deep, resounding B-flat blast of the Majestic II's whistle, the starboard lines were loosened from their steel supports on the quay. An instant after pier crews lifted the looped ends of the half-dozen or so lines and tossed them toward the ship, they were reeled upward by power winches and cleanly stowed for the next call, which would be in another hemisphere. But before reaching South America, we would cross the Equator.
Pushed by her thrusters at bow and stern, the Majestic inched from the long quay and began to nose to port for a great turn toward the sea.
I had made an early-morning run to the customs shop to purchase a half dozen bottles of Mount Gay rum for the next leg of the journey, but then got down to work. We would be at sea for several days, meaning no malingering for the newspaper editors.
Sal tuned the radio, leaving it on AM for a while to pull in crackling sounds of calypso music, interspersed with the rapid-fire monologue of island DJs and local ads. As the ship picked up speed and left the island off into the distance, the radio was tuned to the usual short-wave band, where she fished for the latest happenings off in the real world. My work stocking the Mount Gay bottles in the bar completed, I sat at my desk, pulled the typewriter forward and wound a fresh piece of paper behind the carriage. The news soon began pouring out on the VOA channel: President Carter prepares budget ... Carter defended after firing Bella Abzug from Women's National Policy Committee ... Khomeini and Prime Minister Shahpur Bakhtiar on collision course in Iran limber up for Super Bowl XIII ... "Rematch. Staubach and Bradshaw," I grumbled as I rewound the tape for a playback of the stories.
"Just type," said Sal, now busy laying out pages with the obligatory crossword puzzle, ads and stock report.
A knock at the door and in walks Hallsford, who finds a chair and lets us work for a while. "Have you crossed the Equator, then?"
"No, I say have you? Crossed the line."
"The Equator," I said, still typing as fast as I could, as anyone could, with two fingers. "That's in a few days, right?"
"Two days. You haven't crossed. You must be initiated."
"Initiated?" said Sal. "To what? By whom?"
"King Neptune," said Hallsford matter-of-factly. "It's a rite of passage, you might say."
He pulled a pack of cigarettes from his shirt pocket, tapped the filter end on the red Dunhill box, offered it around and, with no takers, pulled a cigarette out and lit up.
"Neptune needs volunteers. Maybe a few heartier passengers will come forward for the dunking, but we really need some shipmates, like you. Great sport, you know. We've all been through."
"What do I do?" I said, still typing. "What's this dunking? Where's the catch?"
"Oh, no catch. Doesn't hurt. You DO swim, of course, don't you?" said Hallsford. "And don't you Americans all love catsup? On everything?"
"True," I said, thinking of one of my favorites, catsup and Velveeta on rye toast. You can't get it on the ship. "Good sport, you say? Ah, what the hell, count me in. You too Sal?"
I could tell by her look: She had to find out what this was all about, and there was no way I was going to find out before she had a chance.
"OK, we're game," she said. "When? Where?"
"Splendid, it's done," said Hallsford. "I'll fill you in later. And clothes. Your worst possible for your date with Neptune. That shouldn't be a hard choice for you, Mike. Something you don't care to see again. If only you could wear your whole wardrobe."
He took a last puff and snuffed out the cigarette before heading to the door. "Great sport," he repeated as he walked out.
We had barely gotten back to work before there was another tap at the door and, before we had time to answer, Clive Tewell bounded in. He seemed less reserved than before, perhaps because he was getting used to seeing us around the ship. I faintly remembered buying a couple of rounds with him during our boozy night in the Bridgetown dives, so maybe he considered us old buddies now.
"So are you going to make the lifeboat drill this morning?" he asked. Neither of us answered right off.
"Jolly good idea, at least once. You know, my cousin was once working on a cargo ship that capsized in the Adriatic, awful business, that ..."
We kept working while Clive chattered.
"They look awfully silly, but that jacket saved Richard after he bobbed around in the sea for 12 hours whilst ... "
"When's the drill? I didn't hear anything about it," I said.
"Oh ... " He looked at his watch.
Just then came the alarm over the tannoy, a series of sharp blasts of a horn, followed by an announcement: "Please proceed to the Quarterdeck ballroom at once to receive your lifeboat assignments. This is a drill. Again, please proceed ..."
Clive smiled confidently. "Oh, my timing is so impeccable. Going, then?"
Sal and I looked at each other for a moment, then started to rise in resignation.
"You're coming too, Clive," said Sal. "Let's go."
"Certainly, missus," he said as we proceeded out the door. "Have you heard about the thefts?"
"What now?" said Sal. "I mean, anything from the shop?"
"Oh, no. It's chock-a-block secure now, but cabins are being hit. Jewelry -- earrings, watches and the like. Even gowns, women's shoes, so odd." He lowered his voice to a whisper. "Even women's undergarments, I've heard."
I shook my head.
"A weirdo's on board, wouldn't you say, Clive?" said Sal.
"Oh, Mother Madge is full of them."
In the ballroom, we dutifully buckled on our life vests and stood in one of the several lines of passengers, awaiting orders from officers who would march us onto deck and assign us to one of the launches suspended over the promenade deck. Clive kept chattering throughout the process, and eventually asked what was new with us.
"The Equator thing. You know, crossing the line, Neptune and all that," I said. "Have you been through this?"
"Gawd yes. That Neptune chap. Scary" said Clive. "Why, he's ... "
Clive was interrupted by the crack of gunshots from aft. The heads protruding from the little sea of orange life jackets on deck turned in unison toward the stern, and a murmur arose. "What's going on?" asked a passenger.
"Not to worry sir," said a smiling officer. "Skeet shooting's all. It appears it's starting a little early for some today."
"Hah!" said Clive. "That Trewargy fellow who's staying up in the penthouses. Thinks he bloody owns the ship."
I remembered the name from a captain's cocktail party.
"He's out there every morning, pop! pop! pop! a hundred times. "Thor'' Trewargy. He's sailed dozens of times, and always comes into the shop, though he rarely buys anything. Some sort of tycoon from your West, Texas or one of those God-forbidden desert places with cowboys and oil wells and all that."
We detoured aft once the lifeboat drill ended to see if Clive had the right ID on the shooter. The silver handlebar moustache, curled up at the ends, and matching silver hair pulled neatly back from the middle of his crown to just over his collar, confirmed for us what Clive already knew.
He had also pinpointed, at least from a British perspective, Trewargy's geographical origins, given that most of the British we had met thought of the U.S. in terms of three basic components: New York, Texas and California, with some minor principalities and dukedoms like New Jersey and Florida thrown in for good measure.
Julius "Thor" Trewargy, it turned out, hailed from a town called Lone Wolf, Oklahoma, which is in fact not too far from the Texas border. His father, a failed cattleman who turned to odd jobs and occasional truck driving stints to keep food on the table for his large family, imparted a strong work ethic on his seven sons and daughter. Young Julius was willing to work, but he also showed talent for creating opportunities to make money where none might otherwise exist. He also demonstrated proficiency in football, in which he starred on offense and defense for the local high school team, the Howlers.
After his first football season ended, Julius had looked for a job pumping gas at local filling stations along Highway 44, but soon found that the jobs had been taken by other boys. He refused to walk away, and asked the owners if they needed their rest rooms cleaned. It was a job no one, not even the lowliest gas jockey, would touch. One owner agreed, then another, then a third and fourth. It wasn't pretty work, scrubbing grubby walls and toilet seats and sloshing floors with ammonia and disinfectant, but it was work, and Julius soon found he had to hire three or four other boys to help out. He was soon running a brisk little business with nine employees cleaning rest rooms in gas stations and diners, giving him a profit, without -- once things got running -- having to pick up a scrub brush or sponge. And it gave him time to play football.
By the time he was ready for college, Julius seized the opportunity to buy a station along a quiet stretch of Highway 44 from a man who was retiring and anxious to sell and move off to the Ozarks. Julius ran it for a year after graduating, then hired a manager to run it when he went off to Oklahoma State to study business administration and try out for the football team.
Julius didn't make the team right off, but the Sooners found a place for him after a defensive end broke his shoulder in a scrimmage. Suddenly Julius had a full scholarship. In between studies and football, he found a way to parlay money from the first station into a second and third by his junior year, and formed a little chain of stations.
He had picked up the nickname Thor from teammates who had observed the countless thundering jolts he delivered to opponents at scrimmage. Julius had always disliked his given name anyway, thinking it effeminate sounding and a bit pretentious, so he promptly dropped it and refused to use it again.
He had used his new name briefly for his first station, calling it Thor-Go Gas, but once the small chain was up and running, he incorporated all three under the trade name Pow'r Paw, a name he thought of as a kind of tribute to his hometown. By graduation, Thor Trewargy's three stations, each spotless inside and out and painted with bright orange and black stripes running diagonally on each wall, were turning neat profits under their glowing orange signs. Motorists soon learned to associate Pow'r Paw's familiar electric-bolt orange insignia, with a big black paw mark forming the W on Paw, with the cheapest per-gallon prices south of the Panhandle.
Trewargy didn't stop there. With a couple of college buddies working as associates, he searched southwestern Oklahoma for new sites, always choosing places where old stations had stood and retrofitting each with the glitzy Pow'r Paw look. As that process gathered momentum, he took a gamble wildcatting on dormant oil wells in the Oklahoma Panhandle, won bids on a few government leases and bought into some active wells. T-T Oil Co. was born.
While Pow'r Paw profits zoomed as fast as America's gas guzzlers could slurp up high test, the T-T oil business crawled along amid the glut of cheap crude brought by the supertankers from Iran and the Arab states. But that changed almost overnight with the first oil embargo of the early '70s. Pump prices shot up, cars sat for hours in lines and angry motorists fumed and squabbled as they waited for their share of gas. Domestic oil wells suddenly became very important and every droplet of ooze from the sleepy T-T Oil wells exploded in value. By refining crude pumped from T-T wells, Pow'r Paw was able to slide unblemished through the oil shock that rattled virtually every other sector of the economy, and even expand as competing retailers cut their losses and bailed out. Spotting opportunity, Trewargy tramped Pow'r Paw's expansion accelerator to the floor and soon the business dominated western Oklahoma's gasoline market. With capital flowing in from the retail side, dozens of new T-T wells were drilled into the sage-covered soil of the West.
Julius "Thor" Trewargy, the former restroom cleaner from Lone Wolf, Oklahoma, was a multimillionaire. But at this moment, he cared not about oil, nor football, nor even clean restrooms. He wanted only to shatter a small clay disc sailing from the fantail of the Majestic II.
"Pull!" he called, his drawl making at sound more like "pool." I glided slowly aft to get a closer look at the guy, moving slowly to avoid distracting him.
He wore a starched white cowboy shirt with bright red piping on the pockets and sleeves rolled halfway up, with the cuffs turned in against his ham-sized arms. His slightly faded jeans covered the tops of his gray, snakeskin boots. As Thor turned to reload his shotgun, I noticed his belt buckle, gold and in the zig-zaggedy shape of a lightning bolt, with silver letters spelling "Pow'r Paw." The pale shirt, stretched to its limit by his big shoulders, failed to conceal the bold letters on a gray t-shirt he wore underneath: SOONERS.
"Jeez," I mumbled to myself, "I'll bet he changes his own oil."
The blue skies and occasional clouds that formed our canopy over the islands gradually gave way to a silvery gray dome of unbroken clouds as we sailed across 10 degrees north latitude. The gentle trade breezes that cooled the Caribbean had abruptly turned away and left a calm but heavy atmosphere. The stillness of the air was noticeable even as the Majestic clipped along, her crippled boiler re-piped and refitted, at 28 knots on two-foot seas. There was no storm or even rain in sight, but the stillness seemed almost ominous.
The overseas networks were beaming in cleanly enough on the short wave to make our work go smoothly, though the stories were not without their occasional glitches. With no clipping file or even an up-to-date almanac at our disposal, we were forced to rely on phonetics and luck to get the name of the rising Chinese leader right; hence, Deng Xiaoping was reduced to Mr. Tung in our first reports of his planned visit to the White House to discuss the ever-touchy issue of relations with Taiwan. A passenger who had traveled to China politely corrected us early on. Getting Zbigniew Bzrzhinski right was a lost cause until we could scout out a newspaper with the name of Carter's foreign affairs adviser.
Sal interviewed the British Royal Toastmaster, whose business is to introduce the British royalty to dignitaries at functions around the world. We featured the hypnotist, magician, singers, dancers and other performers on board and made a shipboard celebrity of a blind passenger from Mississippi who took to the unoccupied keyboard in the Blue Star and boogie-woogied to the delight of surprised patrons.
Our newspaper ads hawked Silk Cut and Dunhill cigarettes, the jeweler Maximino of Copacabana, Johnnie Walker scotch and Bal a Versailles perfume.
We began the finishing touches on the Jan. 7, 1979 edition in time to attend Capt. Goodrow's cocktail party in the Gallery. At dinner in the Parisienne, we ordered a half bottle of white wine to go with Bahamian minced shrimp and marinated salmon, topped by Swiss meringue with raspberries for dessert.
We gave a final check to the mockup for the newspaper, which led with a story about the crossing of the Equator. Lefty's cartoon of Neptune clutching his forked scepter -- he had slid the drawing under the door in our absence as usual -- ran by the side of a salty little ditty to set the mood for the coming day:
There's a line running o'er the brine,
That the King of the Sea says `Is mine!'
If you ain't been there,
You better beware,
For King Neptune will be lookin' this time.
Now, my seafarin' friend,
As we nears his undersea land,
Be aft at noon,
If you're absent you're a loon,
'Cause his justice can get out of hand.
If you've seen the King's crazy court,
Drop by, just for the sport,
And if you ain't been there,
You'll see it's quite unfair,
Some call it the kangaroo court.
There was actually some hard Page One news for the passengers: Nelson Rockefeller had died at age 70. But that got second billing under the Neptune stuff; after all, the crossing is what everyone on the ship was talking about.
I carried the flats down to the printer's, then met Sal outside the Theatre for the night's movie presentation: "Death On the Nile."
Following Hallsford's instructions, we dressed in our worst outfits and headed to One Deck aft a few minutes before noon. A large crowd had gathered around the swimming pool, which sloshed this way and that to the gentle rocking of the ship, to take in the show. A long platform covered with white linen had been set up at one end of the pool, and a makeshift throne stood at the side, angled slightly to face the linen platform. We equatorial novices stood meekly in a line facing the platform.
As the clock on the bulkhead pointed to high noon, the band beyond the railing a deck up struck up a medley of seafaring tunes. I spotted Hallsford as the first bar of "Anchors Aweigh" played and asked what we were supposed to do.
"Just go along," he whispered with a smile.
After a minute or two, the trumpeters sounded a fanfare and Neptune and his courtiers strode toward the red velvet-covered throne, bowed awkwardly to the king and turned on their heels toward us. The half-dozen courtiers wore knickers, tunics fashioned from old dress shirts that were de-collared and dyed purple, and sailors' caps that had been spray-painted and adorned with an odd assortment of trinkets like disposable lighters, lipstick tubes, bottle cap openers and ball-point pens. Except for the one courtier, a seaman with a half smile and a rather vacant look, who wore a propeller beanie.
Neptune, by far the tallest of the lot, looked like he took his role seriously; his black hair was straight and long, and he had a think, bushy beard, under which not even a hint of a smile was visible. A long, purple robe was draped over his immense shoulders and spilled into his wake as he approached, tap-tap-tapping the butt on his gold-painted trident with each step.
"First novice!" he bellowed, while looking into the faces of each of the dozen or so of us.
I felt an urge to step forward, but a young woman down the line said in her squeaky voice that she would do the honors. Two of the courtiers led her to the platform and told her to lay on her back, while two others lifted the linen so only her head and feet were visible to the crowd. Neptune began "operating" with a large fake wooden cleaver, yanking out a handful of greasy ribs, probably set aside from last night's buffet table, and tossing them to the side. An old alarm clock and gin bottle were next to be extracted before a pair of courtiers dipped their hands into a bucket of whipped cream and gave her a quick shampoo. They helped her up and walked her to the pool. A nudge from the hips of one of the men sent her into the drink.
"Shellback, ye!" proclaimed Neptune as the woman popped to the surface.
The next subject, a young officer, stepped forward and lay on the table. Out flew a rubber baby doll and a garter belt before three or four cream pies appeared and were sent hurtling into the crowd. The officer was doused with catsup and mustard before being led to edge of the pool, where Neptune raised his bare foot and gave a gentle push to his buttocks, sending him in. Another shellback.
As Sal took her turn at the table, an old dictionary, a deck of cards and a carton of cigarettes were extracted and tossed to the crowd before her black hair was rinsed with a glob of molasses. Another cheer from the crowd as she went in the pool.
And so it went, novice by novice, until my turn.
With the white cloth raised as I lay on the table, Neptune lifted the huge wooden cleaver over his head and let it come down with a crack, its blade passing about an inch from my neck. I tried to remember Hallsford's advice that it was all sport as I felt the cleaver slice through the still air, barely clearing my flesh. I looked up, hoping to see a smile in the old salt's face, but only saw a grim stare from the black eyes peering through twin slits etched under his granite-block forehead. Like a magician, he produced a mannequin's head from under the platform and heaved it nonchalantly over his shoulder into the pool. Next came an empty Heineken can, an empty bottle of Mount Gay rum, and, I suppose in a maudlin representation of my entrails, one of those trick canned snakes. Neptune popped open the top and the green snake sprang into the middle of the crowd. As I heard the squeals and laughter of the amused audience, he lifted a white bucket and dumped the contents -- fish guts -- all over me.
"That's offal," I said with a meek smile, hoping to introduce some levity into the situation, but Neptune, as if deaf, just stared as he showered a couple of fistfuls of flour on top of the mess.
"Off with him!" he ordered his grinning courtiers as I stood, hardly able to stomach the stench. He then moved his hairy head close to my face and, in a low tone so no one else could hear, said, "This is just games, mate. Forget the galleon if you want to cross the line again."
The courtiers led me to the side of the pool and Neptune turned around and poked his trident lightly into my shoulder, sending me, mercifully, into the pool.
The ceremony ended in a kind of controlled, polite pandemonium, triggered by the social staff which until then had stood quietly by the side watching the show. People closest to the pool were tossed in as the courtiers showered those still dry with buckets of what was left of their unappetizing dressings. As the free-for-all broke out, the band launched back into its seafaring medley until Neptune and his court marched off and the laughing crowd dispersed.
Certified shellbacks now, we resumed work on the paper, easily catching the evening news reports of the BBC to fill out the pages. We had turned our grubby clothes from the initiation over to our stewardess, who ran down the corridor with one hand over her nose and the other clutching the smelly bag at the end of her outstretched arm. Within moments, I presume, the whole mess had been surrendered to the sea.
We showered and dressed in our formals in order to avoid changing again before the pre-dinner cocktail party in the Gallery. Dinner was sauteed halibut served in a fruit sauce with rice for me, and Sal chose the baked cod with fennel and peppers. The wine mellowed us out a bit, so we decided, once the paper was delivered to the printers, to take in a classical concert in the Liverpool Room.
Situated in a quiet nook aft the Grand Ballroom, the Liverpool Room was a kind of a holdover from the great liners of the past, with its vaulted ceilings and dark mahogany paneled walls. It was formally appointed, with perhaps 20 rows of upholstered, straight-backed chairs placed in a neat semicircle about a small stage. Stewards wearing black bow ties and black jackets stood at the doorway, which was situated at the circular stairway between Quarterdeck and Upper Deck, to seat guests as they entered and serve goblets of cognac to those who wished to imbibe. The performers tonight, a cellist and pianist from Prague, performed selections of Bach, Schubert and violinist Giuseppe Tartini.
The lights dimmed just as we took our seats. As the slight pianist's white fingers danced like hummingbirds over the keys, the faint notes became gracefully enmeshed with the sweet strains emerging from the early-1780s cello played by her partner. The exquisite mixture of sounds soon filled the stilled room, a musical perfume that mesmerized the audience like a narcotic. My eyelids were coaxed shut as the ship rocked ever so gently, almost in tempo with the music. My thoughts rushed in and out like the tides, fleeting from the feel of cooling breezes under a palm tree, to the warm sea washing onto me from the white beach of St. John, to the sight of graceful porpoises leaping in and out of the sea at the ship's side in the Caribbean, to the gentle rocking of the immense ship ... and to the stack of flats that had been knocked over in our office closet. Where was it -- where? Ah, yes, after the western crossing, in New York. How could those stacks have been knocked over while the ship was docked?
Halfway into Schubert's Arpeggione, my eyes opened. I turned lightly to Sal, who like the rest of the audience was hypnotized by the soothing music, and whispered in her ear, "Neptune. He's the one. I think he's got the galleon. Do you know what he said to me?"
"Shhh," she said. "Tell me later."
I said no more, silently agreeing to hear the rest of the concert but determined to find out why the page dummies had tilted over while the ship was flat still. Missing galleon, Neptune's threat, mess in the closet.
The concert ended with polite applause from the genteel audience, all in gowns and tuxedos. The small crowd filed out and Sal and I made our way to the Admiral Nelson Pub for a nightcap before calling it a day. We made our way back to our cabin at Five Deck, got undressed and got into our separate beds. I was dog tired but couldn't sleep as the three words kept running through my mind: Galleon, Neptune, Closet. A half hour passed. Then an hour. I got up, grabbed some clothes and put them on in the bathroom, quietly so as not to awaken Sal, and slipped out the cabin door. The corridors were quiet, with only a couple of stewards dashing this way and that with silver trays of sandwiches or tea, and took the lift to Boat Deck. I walked to the office door, unlocked it, and, without turning on the main light, walked into the closet. I flailed my arm around for the string-pull to the light switch, as if trying to shoosh away a bee, and finally caught the string and pulled the light on.
I looked at the wall behind the neatly stacked page-dummy flats and noticed an oblong panel cut out of the rest of the wall sheathing, but screwed in back place. Philips head screws. I bolted from the closet and turned on the main office light, then pulled open the desk drawers, one at a time, searching for something that would suffice to get those damned star-headed screws out. Of course, no tools. Nothing. Then - Aha! Scissors! I opened them wide, switched off the main light, and practically leaped back to the closet. Then, one knee, I carefully nudged each screw loose until it could be wound out with my fingertips. I tucked the screws into my pocket and used my fingernails to pry out the panel. I lit a match so I could get a better look at what was behind the wall, but could only see the bottom of a bathtub and a maze of pipes cutting back and forth, up and down, through the musty air inside.
I poked my head inside the opening, carefully holding the half-burned match in front of my face. My heart started thumping as I wondered what would happen if someone barged into the office to claim the galleon. I stooped lower and leaned in as far as I could before my shoulders were stopped by the sides of the narrow opening. The match started to burn the end of my fingers, so I quickly waved it dead, pulled out another and struck it. My eyes followed a set of parallel lines running through the thick dust toward the bottom of the tub, and I stretched out flat on my belly so I could get a better look. A box, a white cardboard box, was wedged under the tub. For some reason, one of Granddaddy Buster's favorite expressions popped into my mind as I pulled my arm in front of me so my hand could work its way past the pipes toward the box: "U-reekah!" I used my fingers like a tool to try to clamp a corner of the box but only succeeded in sliding it an inch or so to the side. The second match was spent, but now I could work in the darkness. I stretched out again and managed to poke a finger, easily, under the top flap and slide it to the opening. Now on my knees, I lifted the box out. While holding it in both hands, I heard, almost felt, footsteps walking down the corridor outside.
"Please," I thought, "don't let anyone come in. Don't even let 'em stop!"
The shuffling footsteps faded, but my heart kept thumping. Silently, I wondered, "Why am I doing this?"
I made sure the door was locked and, still holding the box with both hands, looped a foot around the leg of a chair and dragged it to the door, using my elbows to tip the back under the doorknob as an extra precaution. I set the box on a desk, flipped on a lamp, and opened it. The light reflected from the gold and studded jewels of the little ship into my face as I opened the box. "The galleon! I've found the galleon," my mind shouted. "U-reekah!"
As if lifting a goblet of nitroglycerin, I pulled the golden ship out, making sure the little masts, sails and jeweled pennants did not touch the edges of the box, and set it on the desk. I looked up; yes, the curtains were closed. I stared, for a few minutes, worrying that someone would come. Who would come for the galleon? Neptune? Who else? What now? Where do I take it? To our cabin on Five Deck! No, not safe enough. To Capt. Goodrow? No, he would immediately suspect me as the thief. When is Gordon coming back on board, Rio, did he say? Clive? No. Hallsford? No. Clement? Dottie? Fiona? No. No. And no.
I gazed at the little ship, remembering Gordon Woodsome's description of the royal ring socked away in a compartment inside the hull. I stooped, searching every square millimeter of the vessel for an opening that might reveal the cask that held that ring; what was the inscription in it? "A Deo Rex." My God, I thought, I've got to get this thing back. What else can I do? Is there a cigarette in this place? I gazed some more, a minute or two perhaps, then, without thinking, picked up the ship and tucked it carefully back into the box. Using both hands, I carried it back over to the closet, bent down and slid it back to where I had found it under the tub. I lifted the wall panel and put it back in place, wound in the screws and tightened them with the scissor blade. For a moment I felt a sense of relief, but only partially. Because now I knew something that I wasn't supposed to know. Why, I thought, did they have to pick the editors' office?
I pulled the closet light off, snapped off the desk lamp, slid the chair at the door back to its place, unlocked the door and stepped out, looking each way to see if anyone was coming. Coast is clear. I walked back to the cabin, taking the stairway instead of the lift down to Five Deck. Sal turned over as I walked in the door but I'm sure she never noticed I had been gone.