Monday, November 2, 2009

Voyage of the Piquant [Part Two]

Captain Wellington’s only attempt to take back the ship ended almost as soon as it began. Reasoning that every man, even a mad one, had to sleep, the captain assigned us to watch Aholl all through the night as the gristly squid-hunter stood vigil on the bridge. It wasn’t long before Aholl seemed to drop off in the sumptuous captain’s chair, but when Wellington gingerly reached for the harpoon gun, one of Aholl’s bloodshot eyes bulged open. The harpoon tip bobbed and pointed at Wellington’s generous belly, and our captain let out a squeak and stumbled away.

“I think he is actually still asleep,” I whispered to the shaky captain. “His eye never focused on you.”

“Well you try and take that thing away from him, then!” Wellington hissed.

I declined.

We retreated together to the officer’s lounge to confer with the rest of the staff, leaving Aholl in sole possession of the bridge. Wellington delivered the news to our colleagues that our attempted mutiny had come up short. Everyone expressed their disappointment, but all of us are well-trained in customer relations, so everyone had encouraging words to say about how brave Wellington had been to make the attempt, what a clever plan it had been, and how they were sure things would go better next time.

Only one voice spoke in dissent. Quisiene, the head chef, cut through the babble with a voice like a double-bladed electric turkey carver. “You stand no chance against that man, captain,” he said.

We all turned to regard him. Quisiene occupied a position of legend in the crew. A massive man, standing 6’4” and muscled like a lumberjack, Quisiene was covered head to toe in tattoos of entrees from around the world. He had served with the U.S. Navy and later as a freelance cook with the merchant marines, and had cooked on destroyers, gunboats, and aircraft carriers. Quisiene had seen his share grueling combat, and had plucked recipes from the heart of enemy territory in some of the deadliest seas of the world before finally coming to the Piquant. His 30’ submarine sandwich was legendary crowd pleaser in the cruising world.

Captain Wellington sucked in his gut and glared at Quisiene. “We’ll simply wait until he’s more deeply asleep.”

“A man like that never truly relaxes,” Quisiene said.

The head masseuse piped up next. “Perhaps I can offer him a complementary full-body rubdown and spa treatment. He’ll be sleeping like a baby…”

“He’s not the type to accept a spa treatment,” the cook said.

“Well then, smart guy,” the masseuse said, “how about when he’s in the potty?”

I leaned in and whispered to him. “We call it the ‘head’ on a ship, Louis.”

Quisiene ignored the lapse. “None of you have ever met a man like Aholl. He does not relax his guard, not for an instant. All of human sanity and joy has been boiled out of him, leaving only a hard egg of revenge. Nothing good shall hatch from such an egg.”

“Hard-boiled eggs don’t hatch at all,” protested the captain.

“None of us are a match for him,” Quisiene said. “Not even me. I fear he will lead us only to ruin.”

It was a fortunate thing that we were in the latter stages of our voyage. By now, we’d conditioned the passengers out of the last vestiges of independent thought, and they responded like a well-oiled machine to the new agenda. They rotated by group through the new “craft time” activities, making the modifications on the Piquant that Aholl required for his hunt.

Aholl himself, billed in our impromptu literature as a “special celebrity guest,” paced the decks with relentless determination. He drummed his peg finger on the rails and bulkheads as he scowled out at the waves, scanning the peaceful waters for his ancient nemesis. The passengers at first were wary of him, for his sheer intensity shattered the atmosphere of relaxation that we try to enforce. Yet beneath the guttural swearing and the blood-chilling stare, I saw that he possessed the deep charisma of a true leader. He quickly divined how to best motivate the passengers as they took their duty on “wildlife watch,” looking for any sign of Aholl’s great white squid.

“I shall reward the first man, woman, or child to spot the beast,” he told the assembled passengers. He reached into the dark folds of his coat. “I affix these up where all can see them, and they shall be a prize for the one who first sights Mocha Rich!”

With that, he withdrew a sheaf of vouchers for free car rentals, hotel rooms, and dinners at four-star restaurants and nailed them to the Promenade Deck. The passengers babbled in appreciation and rushed to their posts, eyes searching the choppy waves.

On the third day, twelve minutes after the end of lunch, I plucked up the courage to approach him with a question that had been bothering me.

“Mr. Aholl. Sir. Um… it’s about this squid.”

He whirled to face me, eyes round as golf balls. “Have ye seen it?”

“No, no,” I said, flapping my hands in front of me. “It’s just… well, isn’t it true that the giant squid is a deep sea creature?”

“Aye, ‘tis so.”

“So, if you don’t mind me asking, sir, how is it you plan to hunt one from the surface?” I looked around the deck. “I mean, shouldn’t you be trawling with lines or nets or something? Not that we have any on the Piquant…”

“Lines and nets cannot snare the likes of that devil-spawn,” he rumbled. “Mocha Rich is no ordinary squid, lad, not even for a giant squid. He’ll come to the surface if he’s drawn.”

“Drawn?” I repeated. “By what?”

“By me,” Aholl declared. “We are bound together by the suction cups of fate, he and I. And I think he shall be drawn to this ship as well.”


He gave me a knowing look. “I’ve read how these cruisers foul the seas, pumping out your waste and wash-water into the oceans as you heave these soft-bellied vacationers ‘round the world. Such things invite the wrath of Mocha Rich.”

I felt cold sweat trickle down my back, but tried to laugh it off. “Sir, I’ve served on cruisers for over twenty years now, and I’ve never heard of one being attacked by a giant squid.”

“Mayhap they don’t want you to hear of it, lad,” Aholl said. “Still, ye do have a point. Mocha Rich shall need more incentive than I’ve yet given him yet to seek us out. Once our preparations are done, I know how to lure him out of his Stygian depths. I know how to drive him into a killing frenzy. He shall come for us, all the fury of Hell at his back, and seek us out for battle. Fear not on that score, laddie.”

“Fear not,” I said weakly, feeling my heart tremble. “Of course.”

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