They ran, and ran, and ran until their breaths were coarse and raspy, and their legs felts like they were full of concrete, and they slowed to a walking pace only when they felt the wind on their faces and saw the stars on the horizon.
By chance, they had reached the docks, but they were at least a mile away from their ship, and those angry men would probably be searching for them.
For hours, it seemed, they razed the walls so slowly, walking from one shadow to another, snuffing the lights if they could, stopping and holding their breaths at any noise louder than the slushing of the waves under their feet. Elliot could not help but think about Larry and what could have happened to him. He tried not to: worrying about his own skin was more than enough at the moment.
At some point, they heard a few people talking amongst themselves in French, and they pressed themselves against the wall as if they could have sunk into it. “They’re looking for us,” the captain whispered breathlessly.
And they shivered and grew afraid when the sky seemed to be getting paler, and the first timid rays of the sun appeared on the cold horizon.
As the boardwalk was deserted and they were just a few hundred yards from their ship, they abandoned secrecy and elected to break into one final sprint.
A sigh escaped both their chests when at last they saw the hull of the Whiskyjack.
Twice Elliot nearly fell as he was climbing aboard, and twice the captain grabbed him by the belt to keep him steady.
When he got inside the sub, he tumbled down the third or fourth bar of the ladder, his legs gave way under him and he lay dumbfounded on the metal floor.
His arms and legs were full of lead, weak as a babe’s, and he could only see as if through a buttered lens.
He heard Larry’s muffled voice, and then the captain’s, but could not understand what was being said.
There were black spots swimming before his eyes, and he felt pale. For a second, he thought he might vomit, but all that came out was a loud belch.
After lying on the cold floor for what he was not quite certain had been a few minutes, his hearing came back as he was sprawled uncomfortably on a pipe. He could now hear Larry clearly: “Goddamn it all to Hell, boy! You were Augustine Talbot. That name used to mean somethin’. You were a good cap’n… a good man even.”
His sight was coming back, and he saw that the entry corridor of the ship was unusually dark, and barely lit. The captain was on the ground too, with his back against the wall and his glazy eyes raised at Limpin’ Larry. “Ain’t the man I was, anymore.”
Larry’s cane struck the ground with a clang. “Your brother was a blasted fool!”
“What?” The captain said, staggered.
“He was a drunk and a moron,” Larry said, his voice like the crack of a whip, “and he died like a moron.”
“He was your big brother. Ya loved him. I get that. But he wadn’t half the man you were, and he sure wadn’t worth you turnin’ into him.” He paused, eyeing his captain. His raspy voice was like a dog’s growl. “There’re people in their goddamn bunks, on this ship, your ship, who’re countin’ on you, cause they need to feed their families, and you’re the one who offered’em a job. Now you’re gonna sober the Hell up, and you’re gonna live up to the reputation that you made for yourself.” He sighed, and for but a few seconds, Elliot could see the weight of the years on his shoulders. “I’m an old fart, and I don’t have much to my name, but when I’m gone, I at least want people to say that I served on a good ship with decent men, and ya ain’t takin’ that away from me. Now get up and go clean yourself, boy: Ya stink o’ self-pity.”
The old man turned around and gave Elliot a little whack with his cane. “Come on, you lil’ brat. You’re goin’ to bed.”
Elliot hobbled to his feet as Larry put his arm around his shoulders. Together, they clambered forward, and after a few steps, they heard their captain’s voice behind them.
“Larry,” he said in a gray tone.
“We’re gonna need you on the bridge in half an hour.”
Elliot saw a faint smile on the old man’s lips. “Aye, cap’n!”
(c) Jean-Philippe Savoie