“What happens when we get to Cambodia?” she asked him one
“We’ll have to figure out a way to sneak you off of this ship.
If Kincade finds out that I’ve been keeping you down here this whole
time he’s liable to kill me or leave me stranded in Cambodia.”
“Will you come with me?”
“Come with you where?”
“To the place I was born. To help me find out about who I am.”
“You know I can’t. I have to stay with the crew and finish this
job so I can get back to America.”
Dresden seemed hurt, but Thom didn’t understand why she should be. To
him she was acting just as unreasonable as the night they first slept
together. “Listen, you’ll have three days to take care of whatever it
is you need to do. After that I can try to sneak you back aboard the
ship and get us to new Orleans. That’s the best I can do.”
“I’m staying in Cambodia Thom. I want you to stay with me. Maybe
you can find your home there.”
“You know I can’t do that. If I get caught in Cambodia I could
get in serious trouble. You of all people should know about that.
Besides, I have a life in America to get back to.”
“What happens to us then?”
“I guess we’re doomed like everything else.” Dresden rolled her
eyes at him for the remark. “You don’t have to be so melodramatic or
“Fatalistic? I’m not being fatalistic, I’m being rational! What
did you think would happen? We fell in love on a boat in the middle
of the goddam ocean! It’s not like I planned it to turn out this
“Love? We didn’t fall in love. Not if that’s your answer to all
of this. You have no concept of love. You’re just a selfish and
foolish little boy! If you loved me, than you would come with me.
Love doesn’t follow the law, it follows it’s source.”
Her words hit Thom like a brick wrapped in candy and roses. He
couldn’t look at her. He just sat there with his head in his hands,
his eyes on the floor. Eventually he gathered enough words together
to form a response.
“I do love you, and I think that you love me. Otherwise you
wouldn’t want me to stay with you. I’m sorry I don’t have an answer
to all of this right now, but we’ll figure something out I promise.”
Thom looked at his watch, “Shit. But right now I’ve got to go up
there and do my job.” Thom sat up and walked toward the door.
“You can’t keep that promise.” she said as he left the room.
A few nights had gone by since their argument. They hadn’t
resolved any of what they discussed, they hadn’t even revisited the
issue. Neither had they forgotten all about it. They just ignored it.
That big elephant of doubt, filling up the cabin and threatening the
furniture. The carried on as usual. The only difference being less
talk about the future. Not that it had come up all that much before.
Their conversations became more superficial in the days
following their little blow-out until one night while they lay in bed
Thom asked Dresden what she thought about the end of the world. At
the end of his shift Kincade and Bucky dragged him into a doomsday
conversation. They were discussing the Mayan calendar, specifically
the speculation that it indicated December 21st of 2012 as the end of
“Sounds like a bunch of superstitious bullshit conjured up a
million years ago by a bunch of savages who worshiped the sun.” Bucky
“They weren’t savages and it was only about a thousand years
ago.” Kincade started, “And they figured it all out using the stars.
The stars don’t lie Bucky. You can always trust the damn stars.”
“Listen, just because they carved a calendar into rocks by
looking up into the sky don’t mean that they could tell when the
world was gonna end. It doesn’t make any sense.”
“They predicted the arrival of Cortez.”
“Well if they knew he was coming then they sure didn’t do a damn
thing to get ready for him. He damn near wiped them all out without
so much as lifting a finger. What good is knowing a thing like that
if you aren’t going to get prepared?”
“They thought Cortez was a God. That’s why they didn’t prepare
“Hell, If I thought God were coming you’d better believe I’d be
making preparations. I’ve got a lot to answer for. Isn’t that what
the end of the world is anyway? God coming back.”
“In the Christian understanding of Armageddon, God will come
back and destroy the Earth, Satan and all the sinners before making
it new again.”
“Why in the hell would he want to make it new again? The first
one turned out like this.” Bucky shook his head and laughed, “What do
you think Thom?”
Thom had been listening the whole time but had no intentions of
chiming in. “Well, what’s matter if the world is going to end? How
would you even prepare for a thing like that?” His reply got an
agreeable laugh from Bucky and the Captain and they seemed to forget
the issue all together. Thom on the other hand carried around with
him at the back of his brain, then he brought down into bed with
Dresden. “Have you heard about this Mayan calendar, end of the world,
stuff?” He asked her.
“Yeah, what about it?”
“Well do you think there’s anything to it?”
“Yeah there’s something to it. They were very advanced in some
“You really think the world is going to end?”
“No, I think there will be an apocalypse of some kind, but
hardly the end of the world.” Thom was baffled by her response.
“Apocalypse! Doesn’t that mean the end of the world?”
“No, apocalypse is a Greek term that means, A lifting of the
veil. It was meant to describe an event in which man becomes aware of
knowledge that was previously hidden to him. It could be a good
thing, but these days people just think it means Armageddon or
Doomsday. Since man first became aware of his own mortality there has
been someone around screaming that the end is near. The planet has
been here for an incredibly long time, we’re just a tiny little dash
on it’s time-line. I’m sure our day as a species will come, probably
by our own doing, but this blue rock isn’t going anywhere anytime
soon. At least not until the sun explodes.”
“Well that’s reassuring.” Thom muttered as he rolled his eyes.
Dresden smiled as he drifted of to sleep beside her. She couldn’t
help but to love him. Even if they were doomed. Even if the planet or
just humanity was doomed, she knew the courses of their lives had
become inseparably intertwined. The feeling was bittersweet as it
rested on her heart. She wanted to force him to stay with her, but
she knew that she could not. All she could do was hope that he’d make
the right choice.
As they drew nearer to their destination Captain Kincade began
to draw up plans for their arrival. They would have to meet up with
the looters who would direct the ship to the a beach near the site by
means of a signal fire. Someone would have to go into a nearby
village and find their contact. Thom had hope it would be Kincade who
went ashore, so that he could convince Bucky to keep Heng distracted
while he got Dresden off of the ship. It turned out that Kincade
planned to send Heng on account of him being the only one who would
blend in with the locals. He would send Heng with a note to give to
their point man, while Thom and Bucky stayed aboard to help Kincade
navigate around the reefs and sandbars that hugged the shore. There
wouldn’t be any chance to get Dresden ashore during that point of
Once they anchored the ship near the looting site they would all
go ashore and began helping remove artifacts and antiquities. The
items would then need to be transported out of the jungle and back to
the shore where they would then be placed on rafts and floated out to
the ship where they would be hoisted aboard. This was a far cry from
the role that Kincade and company were used to playing in this sort
of business. They would be much more involved with the dirty work and
at greater risk of capture than ever before.
“It’s way too risky.” Bucky reiterated to Kincade as he worked
over the plan one evening.
“Great risk, greater reward. We’ll live like kings when this job
“Yeah, if we don’t get caught and end up in a Cambodian prison.
You think our government is going to do anything to help us out of a
mess like that once they find out what we’ve been up to?”
“That’s why we make a good plan and we stick to it. So that we
don’t get caught.”
“How long do we have to be on the ground?”
“I don’t know yet. From the looks of things it could be a couple
“A couple of days!” Bucky was astonished, “A couple of days? I
thought this would be a couple of hours on land! We can’t stick our
necks out like that for a couple of days.”
“Calm down! It’s not as easy as that. We have to hike in to some
pretty thick jungle, and that will take about a day right off the
top. Then there’s the business of getting what we came for out of the
ruins. Once we do that we’ll have to bring it back out through the
jungle and load it onto the ship. You can’t do all of that in a
couple of hours. It’s going to take two or three days.”
Two or three days sounded pretty risky to Thom as well but he
kept his mouth shut. At least that would give him a pretty wide
window to get Dresden off the ship. He thought she could sneak ashore
while they were headed into the jungle. He just had to figure out a
way to explain it to her without another fight about him staying in
Cambodia. Thom couldn’t understand how she would barley give him the
time of day a few weeks ago and now her she was trying to drag him
completely into her life.
The next couple of days were spent going over and refining
Kincade’s plan. Bucky didn’t seem to be warming up to the idea of
what lay before them but he’d given up on protesting it. Kincade grew
restless with excitement as they drew nearer to their destination. He
spent most of his time on deck, either piloting the ship or looking
over Thom’s shoulder on the few ocassions he was at the wheel. If
Heng or Bucky were occupying the pilot box he could be seen pacing
the deck. During this restless period he’d grown more fond of Thom’s
guitar playing. Sometimes demanding that he come up to the deck and
serenade him as he paced back and forth, re-elaborating the details
the details of the mission ahead to everyone within earshot.
Dresden had also grown increasingly restless. She hadn’t given
up trying to convince Thom to jump ship and join her. He did his best
to avoid making any promises one way or the other but she remained
persistent. Deep down a part of him wanted to go with her, to
recklessly plunge ahead into the jungles of Cambodia and help her
find whatever it was she was searching for and maybe even whatever it
was he’d been searching for. That part of him deep down inside was
hopelessly in love with her, everything about her. He loved the way
she looked, and the way she looked at him. He loved the sound of her
voice and the words that she spoke. He loved the very idea of her but
overshadowing all that love that lay deep down inside of him was a
black cloud of fear overhead and up above. Fear of what would happen
if Captain Kincade found out about her, fear of what would happen to
him after setting off into a foreign country that he’d entered
illegally with no clear way to return to the United States. Mostly he
feared the unknown.
“They really seem to be keeping you busy up there lately.” it
came out as a statement but Thom detected the hint of a question in
“Yeah. I guess so.”
“It’s either that or you’re avoiding me.” That time the hint of
a question was much more obvious. She smiled at him.
“I’m not avoiding you. You know that.”
“Well you have been avoiding giving me a straight answer
whenever I mention you coming with me.”
“The last time I gave you straight answer about that we ended up
having a fight over it.” Thom didn’t want to get into it, he had
decided that he would stay with Kincade and company. He couldn’t risk
being stranded in a strange land. Fear had conquered love and even
though he felt ashamed he’d convinced himself it was the logical
choice to make.
“This time we won’t fight I promise not to get upset.” Thom
stared at her in silence. He felt like it was a trap, then she added
“Whatever you say now will be the end of it, but you have to decide
now.” Thom shook his head and left the room as her eyes welled up
with tears and she choked back the hurt as best she could.
The day finally came to send Heng onto the mainland. Kincade
held the ship far enough off of shore to avoid being seen until just
after sunset. In the twilight the saw a flickering light on the
“There it is! That’s the signal fire!” Kincade roared.
Heng set about preparing the dinghy as Kincade steered the ship into
the shore. “Bucky! Thom! You two run up to the bow and watch out for
rocks. Shout back to me if you see anything.”
Thom and Bucky leaned out over the railing and scanned the waters for
any sign of trouble. It was a moonless night and the waters were
blacker than pitch. It seemed pointless standing up there staring out
into nothing. Occasionally Thom would look toward the horizon and
find the signal fire just to avoid getting vertigo. He thought about
Heng piloting the dinghy alone across the abyss and he didn’t envy
him one bit.
“Have you figured out how you’re going to get her off of this
ship yet?” Thom was startled by Bucky’s voice.
“All I can think of so far is to have her sneak off as soon as
we all head ashore to meet with the grave robbers.” Bucky chuckled at
Thom’s use of the term ‘grave robbers’ and continued scanning the
nothingness for imperceivable signs of danger ahead.
“She wants me to go with her.” he couldn’t believe he was
sharing that with Bucky but he felt a weight lift just by saying it
to another person.
“Are you going to?” Thom was caught of guard by how nonchalantly
Bucky reacted to the information.
“No, of course not. I’m staying with the crew until we finish
this job and return home.”
“What about after that?”
“After that who knows. I’m not sure I’m entirely cut out for
this. It’s my first run and I’ve already broken one of the most
important rules by bringing a stowaway along.” Thom and Bucky shared
“You didn’t bring her aboard, you just aided and abetted her.”
Bucky corrected. They sat in silence for a moment before hearing
Kincade call out from the pilot box.
“Is it all clear ahead?”
Bucky turned and cupped his hands around his mouth, “As far as we can
see, which isn’t very far at all. It’s darker than hell out there.”
“Good.” Kincade called back, “That means no one can see us out
here. Heng’s ready to go, come help me lower him down. Have Thom stay
on watch up there.”
“Maybe you ought to go with her.” Bucky said to Thom before
shuffling off toward Kincade.
“What do you mean?” Thom called after him.
“I mean what I said. That girl might be the only treasure you’ll
find worth the hassle on this voyage.” with that he left Thom alone
at the bow of the ship to mull it over in the dark.
Kincade and Bucky lowered Heng in the dinghy down to the black
ocean. He had a two way radio with him that their contact man would
use to direct them to the site in the morning. He sat confidently in
the little rubber boat as it was lowered into the waters. As soon as
the dinghy was untethered he sped off into the night. At the front of
the ship Thom could hear the motor whine away but couldn’t see it at
all. Below deck Dresden had cried herself to sleep.
It has been observed that in the case of someone losing the use
of one or more of their senses those that remain will increase in
perceptiveness. Even with whatever increase in visual acuity Heng may
have gained from the loss of his hearing he still couldn’t see a damn
thing out there on the pitch black ocean. The only thing visible was
the flicker of the signal fire as the dinghy hummed along of the
smooth black surface of the water.
Kincade dismissed Thom and Bucky until radio contact was made
with their onshore counterparts. As he crawled into the bed next to
Dresden, Thom thought about what Bucky had said to him back on the
bow of the ship. He wrestled with his future but fell asleep before
reaching any conclusions.
Captain Kincade sat in his cabin and eyeballed the radio with
fierce anticipation. This was the job he’d been dreaming of for
years. He knew it was risky, even without Bucky constantly pointing
that out to him, but he also knew that this could afford him the
financial security he needed to retire to a life of comfort on the
open sea. Sailing from port to port, sampling the local food, drink
and women along the way. He never intended to stay in the smuggler
racket this long but more and more with every heist there wasn’t
enough to walk away from it. Now the opportunity for an exit was
right there before him, just a few more steps.
The radio hanging off of Kincade’s bedpost crackled to life.
“12 Kilometers east of your current location you will see a sign
at the beach head.” Kincade jumped to his feet to answer the call.
“HELLO!?… Come again?”
“12 Kilometers East, you will see a sign.” The voice on the
other end was vaguely European. A moment of silence followed the
instruction before the speaker came alive again, “Do you copy?”
“Yes, I copy. What time should we meet you there.”
“When you get there.”
“So when’s the big day?” She asked innocently enough, but there
was still a hint of bitterness to be detected at Thom’s decision not
to join her. Underneath that there also lay the hope that he would
have a change of heart. Who detected this I cannot say. It may be
that Thom was that keen a listener due to years as a musician but to
tell the truth Thom was as much a musician as he was a song man and
he knew that. He didn’t possess the perceptive ear required to
determine the exact bouquet of passive-aggression in a woman’s tone.
It could be debated that not even the woman in question knew exactly
what she was feeling. Certainly betrayal, but if she had thought to
label it so at this point has never been quite clear. Perhaps it’s
just me, the overly assuming narrator that claims to know exactly
what she was feeling at the time.
Thom had preoccupied himself with taking inventory of his very
few possessions. A task that seemed ridiculously unnecessary to the
observer. So much so that Dresden chuckled.
“What’s so funny over there?” Thom demanded.
“Nothing. Just watching you take stock of those couple of books
and a few t-shirts over and over again is amusing to me.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means you’re asking to many questions of life instead of
just enjoying it.” Dresden’s satisfied tone struck Thom as
“That’s just some hocus pocus phraseology that you’ve conjured
up to avoid answering me.” Thom shoved all of his belongings into his
bag before throwing it onto the floor and using it as a chair.
“If you can’t see the humor in something I have no idea how I’m
supposed to explain it to you.”
“You were mocking me because I don’t keep a lot of stuff around
to weigh me down and I don’t want a big complicated life with a lot
possessions and responsibilities.”
“That’s not it at all. Look at me. I’ve just got one change of
clothes with me, and what few other things I once owned are back at
the fortune parlor where I’ll probably never see them again. If
either of us are trapped by possessions it’s you Thom, even if all
you have are some clothes and books.”
“Just because I’m carrying a few more things than you doesn’t
mean I’m trapped by possessions. You might have less than me right
now but you are held by the idea of possessions. You want a life
anchored by a home full of things.”
“What are you saying? I’ve never said I wanted any of that. I
just don’t want to be an aimless drifter for the rest of my life.”
“Well maybe I do! You don’t have to talk down to me about my
decisions ya know. The fact that you made it this far shows that I’ve
already done enough for you.”
“Is this because I want you to come with me? Is that what you’re
so angry about? I never wanted you to buy a house or anything to go
in it. I never wanted to stop you from following your dreams, if
that’s what these are.” Dresden motioned to their cramped cabin
surroundings before continuing, “I just wanted you to commit to me,
to us. But if this is what that turns you into, I’ll be just as happy
to go on alone.” Thom took it all in and sat on his bag in silence.
He was torn inside, he wanted to be with her, he had enjoyed her
company during the trip but the persistent voice inside of him that
urged him to keep moving along was winning out. He didn’t have time
to gather any moss, he had to keep on rolling.
They were both wrapped up in their private thoughts when a knock
at the door brought them back to reality.
“C’mon Thom!” Bucky’s voice thundered from the other side of the
door “Kincade needs us topside, the fog is pretty thick out there and
we’re set to bring the ship in.” Thom stood up from his makeshift
seat and took the three steps to the door. He paused before exiting
and considered what Dresden had said to him.
“It would be best if this was the last time we talked. When you
get the chance, slip out and go on your own way.” Dresden choked back
tears as Thom shut the door behind him.
Thom climbed through the hatch to find the deck smothered in a
thick blanket of fog. He could see a lantern swinging in the pilot
box, but couldn’t see the pilot box itself or who was in it.
“Maybe we should wait until this lifts.” he called out toward
the light. The light responded in Captain Kincade’s gravely roar,
“Nonsense! We’ll be fine. This fog will help us pull in
undetected, it’s a blessing. Now get your ass up to the bow with
Bucky and keep an out.”
“Keep an eye out for what?”
“You can’t see anything in this!”
“Just get up there and do your job.”
Thom turned and walked toward another faint glow of light up at the
bow of the ship. He couldn’t make out Bucky’s silhouette until he was
just a few feet away.
“I don’t know what he expects us to look for out there.” Thom
looked over the edge of the bow into the nothingness.
“Just keep an eye out for any kind of signal from the shore.”
Bucky’s shadow answered.
“I don’t even know which way that is in all this fog.”
“Me either. I keep getting vertigo.” Bucky chuckled.
They sat there in silence, straining their eyes into the mist for any
sign of anything. Occasionally they would turn back to the lantern
hanging between them to avoid getting sick.
“If we manage to land in this soup it’ll be the perfect cover
for your girl to sneak away in.”
“At least there’s that.” Thom mused.
“She down there in the cabin now?”
“Yeah, she should be getting ready to go. We already said our
“How did she handle that?”
“Like a woman.”
Bucky hadn’t even finished laughing before Dresden’s voice cut
through the fog. “You can go straight to hell Thom Merchant!”
“Speak of the devil.” teased Bucky as he continued laughing.
Thom didn’t find the situation as humorous. “Dresden you can’t be up
here yet. We still haven’t reached shore.”
“I don’t care. I’m not going without you.”
“Keep it down! If Kincade hears you we’re going to have a whole
other set of worries.”
“I don’t care if he hears me!” Dresden shouted. Bucky laughed
more hysterically. “You’re going to have to start caring about
something sweetheart.” he chided at Dresden. Dresden turned and
shouted at Bucky, “Just who the hell are you than!” This only made
Bucky laugh harder. Thom couldn’t believe what was happening. He’d
hardly seen Bucky so much as crack a smile this whole godforsaken
voyage and now here he was doubled over with laughter at the worst
“What in the name of Christ’s crackers is going on up here!”
Kincade bellowed as he stormed up to the bow. “Who the fuck is this!”
he pointed a crooked finger at Dresden who was yelling at Bucky who
had nearly hit the deck with hysterics while Thom stood frozen and
overwhelmed. Nobody was looking for any sign of anything out ahead
and nobody was steering the ship.
“Who the fuck is this?” Kincade yelled once more. No answer
came. Bucky sobbing with laughter was the only thing to be heard. By
now he was lying on the deck clutching his sides. Kincade narrowed
his questioning and stared directly into Dresden’s face streaked with
tears and red with anger. “Who the fuck are you? And what the hell
are you doing aboard this vessel?” Before she could answer there was
a loud grinding sound and they all joined Bucky laying there on the
“Land Ho!” cackled Bucky.
Bucky’s laughter subsided as everyone gained their feet. Kincade
was boiling with rage yet his voice was surprisingly steady as he
“Alright, somebody had better start coming up with some fucking
answers around here. Who is this woman?”
“She’s with me.” Thom spoke up.
“You brought a woman aboard my ship?”
“No, I snuck aboard on my own. He just found me and helped keep
“Did you or Heng know about this Bucky?”
“Just me, and not until recently.” He answered.
Kincade was at a loss for how to handle the situation. He was already
undermanned on this run, they were about to undertake a great risk to
finish the job made even more complicated given that the ship had
just run aground, again. He looked Dresden up and down. Even in her
present condition she was strikingly beautiful. It was clear why Thom
would have kept around. “Why?” Kincade asked her.
“Why what?” she responded.
“What were you thinking sneaking aboard this ship?”
“I’m trying get back to Cambodia.”
“Why stow away on my ship for weeks on end? Why not just by a
fucking plane ticket like a normal human being?”
“It’s complicated.” she replied.
“We’ll I’ve already got enough complications in my life right
now so how about you get the fuck off of my boat.” Kincade then
motioned to the shore, “There’s Cambodia for ya, I hope you enjoyed
the ride.” Dresden stood frozen in place. Kincade stared at her
impatiently. “Get a fucking move on sweetheart the ladders over
there.” Kincade gave her light shove in the direction of the rope
“Hey, keep your hands off of her!’ Thom pipped up.
“You shut your fucking mouth cabin boy!” Kincade shot back.
Dresden slowly walked toward the ladder. After a few steps she turned
back and looked to Thom. “Come with me.” she pleaded once more. Thom
considered it this time. He had no idea what Kincade might do to him
in retaliation for keeping her a secret. As Thom weighed the decision
Kincade came up with an answer for him, “Thom’s not going anywhere
dear. You got your free ride, no get the fuck out.”
“Maybe I will go with her.” Thom retorted. At that remark
Kincade pulled a gun from inside his waistcoat.
“No you won’t. You’ll stay right here with us and finish this
job. Then you’ll work till your knuckles bleed taking care of this
ship all the way back to New Orleans and maybe if you do a good job
and keep your trap shut I’ll give you half of your pay.”
“What happens when we get to Cambodia?” she asked him one