November 2005

Walter (Part II)

Walter took a deep breath.

The sensation of the wind on his face and the salt in the air was something that he had fallen completely in love with. Walter had no idea that the ocean could make a person feel so alive. The wind out here was so different from the cutting winds of the prairie. Where Walter came from the winds were sharp and viciously cold. The winds on the prairie cut you. Deep.

On the sea, the winds seemed to have exactly the opposite effect. Sure, they were cold, but where the prairie wind was harsh, the winds coming off of the ocean felt more like breath. Cold breath on some days, but breath nonetheless. The wind of the prairie was an exhausted wind, but the winds that rose up against the deck of the small fishing boat were so full of life, and Walter relished being able to stand there.

The water was particularly choppy, so Walter had his hands on the railing. White knuckled and all, but he didnít mind. It was all a part of the moment. The feel of the cold water on his hands only served to remind him that this was real, that he was in fact standing on the deck of a small but sturdy boat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

If this were a movie, it would be a close up on Walters face, followed by a long swinging shot pulling out around him to bring into frame the smallness of the boat and the sheer massiveness of the sea.

Any chance that Walter got, he would walk to the front of the small fishing boat and simply stand there. Awe is a hard thing to find generally, but Walter knew that it would be waiting for him in the waves and the wind at the front of that little boat.

Walter had stayed in his hometown for his motherís funeral, someone always has to deal with the loose ends, and there were precious few who even knew his mother let alone cared about her fate in the end. At the funeral, Walter had been one of five people standing at the gravesite. One was the preacher and the other was a florist. There were two ladies from the church auxiliary and one man that Walter had never seen before. In fact, no one in the town had. He was a younger man, well dressed to the point where Walter could see that the man had come to pay his respect. None of the men that Walters mother had bartered with were there, and nothing about this manís character led Walter to believe that he might have been one of them. There was a distinct sadness in his eyes and in the midst of all that was happening, Walter found him drawn to this man.

At the end of the funeral, Walter approached the man and asked him how he knew his mother. The man did his best to smile and simply said that she was a good woman to whom circumstance had been particularly unfair and that he sincerely felt for her. He almost seemed as if he wanted to apologize for something, but could not find a way to do so. After that, he simply put on a pair of sunglasses that were so dark they completely hid his eyes and wished Walter the best before turning and disappearing into the greenery of the cemetery.

It was only a day after that Walter hopped on a train and made his way to the west coast. He had fought his war and returned home to a wasteland. His mother was dead and he had very little money so he decided that greener pastures might just be greener after all.

After a very long and very cold trip, although Walter was well used to it from his time in the army, Walter found himself at the edge of the ocean with a whole new world and a whole new life. He made his way to the docks and was taken in by a kindly captain of a fishing trawler named The Condenado who had served in the First World War. He felt sympathy for Walter, and more importantly, he didnít feel the need to ask many questions.

He was a burly man. Exactly what you would expect from a man who had been to war and back and ended up running a fishing boat. All of his edges were rough, but he was a good man, and Walter found himself trusting him immediately. The Captain did have a penchant for the drink, and within weeks Walter found himself carrying the captain to his cabin after confusing but entirely heartfelt stories about the war, or some girl that the captain had known years before and had some regrets about.

A small price to pay for a simple life though. One Walter was more than happy to pay.

The only downside to this perfect life Walter had found was his crewmates. There were four men on the ship, Walter, The captain, a young man named Paul and a terribly bitter man named Jeremy, or Jer as he preferred. Jer was a vicious man if ever there was one. When Walter joined the crew, it was painfully evident that Jer had already established to Paul that he was his master. While the captain may have held rank on the ship, Jer made a point of running Paul as hard as he could.

You know when you meet someone who had clearly had a hrad lot in life and has decided to even up the scales by making everyone around them pay? Thatís the kind of man Jer was. Hard and bitter and completely unconcerned about the hardships of others. If he wanted something, he would take it, and if you had any issue with that fact, God help you. Walter learned very quickly that it was better to let Jer win his imaginary confrontations than try and make something of it. If you didnít the odds were that at the very least a shouting match would occur, and at the most, Jer would take his frustrations out on poor Paul.

On one night, Walter and the captain had stayed up all night, drinking something that pretended to be whiskey but that should have been better labeled jet fuel. Walter had told the captain of the story of his mother, something that he had not shared with another living soul since it had happened. The captain was all to understanding and listened with mournful eyes. The captain knew that life has a way of taking your dreams and turning them against you in the most brutal of ways and that is perhaps why Walter after several shots of jet fuel decided to spill his soul. As was the way, at the end of the night Walter walked the captain to his cabin, but on that night, rather than simply pass out, the captain made sure to tell Walter that in life, all things even out in time and that everything is part of a grander design.

Just before the captain passed out, Walter asked him why it was that he allowed Jer to stay on the crew and abuse Paul the way that he did.

All the captain could do was look away and say that he had no choice. This struck Walter as quite odd as after all, the captain was the captain and one would think that he had some degree of choice who his crew were.

And so the Captain told his storyÖ

During the first World War, the captain and Jer had been stationed together in the trenches. As Canadians, they were considered to be one of the best units to have around, but they were also one of the most disposable. As such, it was regularly the Canadians that were put directly in harms way.

It was in this harms way that the captain found himself indebted to Jer.

It was a well-known fact in the unit that Jer was nothing but trouble. He had a tendency to be violent that surpassed most of the enlisted men. In fact, his violence often stretched to the people that he had helped to liberate, in particular the women. It wasnít something that was openly discussed, it just was known. But when it came to the battlefield, there was no one that enjoyed the killing of the enemy more, or was better than it.

During one particularly fierce battle, the captain found himself on the receiving end of a particularly gifted German sniper. He caught the captain rising out of a crater left by someoneís bomb, clean through the lung.

And then the gas came.

The captain was sure that he was dead. Not only was he slowly drowning on his own blood, but he could feel the gas beginning to get him.

And the Jer came leaping over the dge of the crater and jammed a condom into the captainís wound. He carried him to safety and medical attention before heading back out to kill five Germans in hand-to-hand combat.

So the captain owed a terrible man a debt of gratitude, a hard place to find oneself.

When they arrived back home, the captain brought Jer onto the fishing boat that his father had left him and that is where things were.

And with that, the captain laid down on his bunk on the fishing boat his father had left him.

After making sure that the captain was full passed out, Walter walked to the deck and vomited over the edge of the railing for a good half an hour.

As you do after drinking Jet fuel.

So was Walters life on The Condenado. He would fight the nets every day and at night he would either ensure that he captain didnít run the boat into something.

Not a bad deal really.

When the ship had reached itís full it would struggle back to port and the crew would spend the nights in the bars spending what they had earned until the captain decieded that it was time to go out again.

One of the bars that they frequented was called The Broken Wheel. A couple that had owned the bar for generations ran it. It was the bar of choice for the crew. The wife, Maggie was the waitress while her husband tended the bar. Their daughter Celine, while completely underage, would buss the tables and was something of a novelty for all of the sailors that came in. She was the cute kid, the one thing that reminded many of the men of the future and the daughters that they had left behind, and they took some sort of comfort in that.

After a particularly successful expedition, the crew of The Condenado walked in with wallets full. They spent all night drinking and carousing as you do, and it was by all accounts a normal evening at The Broken Wheel.

Until Celine dropped a glass of beer on Jerís lap.

Jer took it upon himself to correct the young girl in the error of her ways. It started predictably enough, with him berating her and telling her what a mistake she was.

That would have been normal.

But then, for whatever reason, be it the drink or what have you, Jer decided that this young girl needed to be taught a real lesson.

As she was attempting to clean up, he grabbed her arm and pulled hard. Hard enough that she let out a yelp of pain. He yanked her onto his lap and began to tell her how terrible she was. At first, the men in the tavern were laughing, but quickly the laughter evaporated as it became clear that Jer was not about to leave things be with the simple humiliation of a small girl.

He had her pulled down on his lap, locked down really when he slowly started to move his grip from around her waist upward.

Silence gripped the tavern. Everyone knew that what was happening, or about to happen was terribly, terribly wrong, but all of the old eyes could not bring themselves to transform thought into action.

But Walter did.

One word, that was all he said as he set his glass down on the wooded table.

ďStopĒ.

Jer looked at him with both surprise and indignity. You could see the shock that someone would criticize him, but that was secondary to the fact that it was one of his own crew that had dared to second guess him.

Jer threw the girl to the side and stood up.

So did Walter.

On a good day, conviction will make you look like a moron, on a bad day it will make you a murderer in the eyes of some.

Jer threw a drunken punch that set him off balance, Walter stepped aside and came back with a punch to Jerís gut. Jer doubled over and as he did, he cracked the side of his head on the old wooden table and dropped to the ground.

Angle is everything, and in this case, the angle combined with the force that Jer had thrown into his punch was enough to slam his head into the corner of the table so that his temple caught the corner of the old oak and that was that.

He dropped dead.

Walter just stood there, unsure of what to do. Unsure of what to make of what had just happened.

The Captain knew what had happened and he was quick to take Walters arm. The captain knew that Jer had a lot of friends that would say that Walter attacked him. He also knew that a war vet involved in a fight that lead to a death would have avery hard time indeed claiming self defense.

So The Captain got Walter out of the bar, and he made it clear that Walter had only one choice.

The Captain knew that Jer was a terrible man. He knew Jer was someone better dead than alive, and most of all, he felt some relief that he no longer had to carry the burden of his debt to Jer.

The Captain explained that he would give a false name on the crew manifest. He would create a new person for Walter, so that the authorities would never know Walter was there. However, if Walter were ever recognized, that would blow the cover off of the whole thing so Walter had to go away. Far away.

So Walter found himself waiting by the side of the railway once again. Once again, he hopped onto the train, but this time he was not heading West.

He was heading East.

He was heading home.