THOSE DAYS in OCTOBER (A Wharfinger Tale)

( A Wharfinger Tale)

October 20th…

Around 6 PM the rain started. Small gusts of chill chased the warmish air and made the old Wharfinger shudder. He pulled the collar of his ancient watch coat up a bit tighter. It didn’t help much. The old coat had more holes than cloth.
“It’s goin’ to be a bit nippy tonight”, he said, although no one was around to hear.
Talking to himself was something the Wharfinger did a lot lately.
It didn’t matter to him that no one was around to answer. He kind of liked the idea of being alone. And he liked the fall season. He liked the chill and the damp of that time of year. He liked the fact that the boating season was over and he didn’t have to deal with the “Sunshine Sailors”. He could say “Any damn thing I want”, without someone taking offense.
It wasn’t like he didn’t have company; there was his beat-up alley cat, “Stumpy”. Stumpy, with most of his tail missing, had taken up residence in the Marina office. He was kept in scraps and milk, but had to pay for it by listening to the Old Man mumbling to himself.
As well, there was Angela the homeless Bag Lady. She made the marina dumpster one of her daily stops. Then, there were the Sheppard brothers who were security cops on the docks. They came by once in a while to see if everything was OK.
His old pal Leslie often called in. Sometimes Les drove down from town to share a glass of gin with him. So, the old Wharfinger DID have friends to talk to, occasionally.
Tonight, no one was around. He liked that.

The marina rounds were done by 10:00 pm and he headed back to the office. A cup of hot gin toddy sound very good. He HAD gotten a little chilled.
He just opened the door to the office when the phone rang.
“Damit, Les is calling awful late tonight” he grumped.
“Stumpy” began to howl.
“What the hell’s the matter with you, you old ragbag ? “.
Stumpy kept howling.
The Wharfinger lifted the handset of the old Candlestick phone and shoved it to his ear. “Les, what the hell d’ ya want at this hour?” He yelled.
There was a long pause, then a voice sounding like a woman with a bad sore throat whispered, “Iss dis der Manger Mareena? “.
The old Wharfinger gulped, identified himself, mumbled an apology, and asked the lady what he might do for her.
After another long pause, she introduced herself (he didn’t catch the name) and she continued. Her scratchy voice was a little hard to understand and the old man had to have her repeat a few times.
She asked if the marina had any open spaces left. There were. She continued saying that she owned a 40 foot custom built Ketch that needed a berth. It would be for less than a month. She would pay the full lease amount plus a bonus for the “inconvenience”.
“ Vould you mind eef I paid een cash? The woman asked.
“Cash would be fine” the old man responded.
Then she asked him “I breeng boot een tomorrow night late. Like Meednight? Eesst only time I can do.”
The Wharfinger had to think about that. He’d never had such a request before. Bringing a boat into any strange marina, that late, is always a risk.
With all the concern he could muster he asked, “Miss, Are you sure you want to do that? It could be unsafe”.
“Eess no problem. I haff done before many times.”
The old Warfinger felt sorry for the lady. Her voice sounded like she must be in pain.
She continued, “No need for be waiting mine boot at late hour. Leef paper work on offize durrr. I peek up and leef money in packet on durr. No need to see…. Dank. “
The old Wharfinger took a second to think about it, and then agreed.
He asked her to repeat her name. She did, but her voice was so weak and painful sounding that he really didn’t understand all of it. He did get the first name. It sounded like “Muh-rain”. Odd sounding. He’d have to check the spelling when he looked at the Application form.
He told her that he looked forward to having her and the boat as guests.
They both hung up.
“Stumpy” stopped howling

October 21st …
The day had started clear and cool, but by late evening the wind picked up to a brisk 25 knots, gusting higher. Heavy clouds had closed in and the temperature had dropped to a few degrees above freezing. Then the rain came. Heavy rain, the kind that stripped the leaves from the few trees that still had them. Everything took on a forlorn look. Even the street lights seemed to shine less and with a sickly yellow color.
It was going to be a nasty night.
The old Wharfinger had been reading the newspaper and now with the last drop of the gin toddy drained from his cup, he was thinking of his warm bed. He’d finished the night’s inspection of the marina hours ago. During which he’d rigged an extra dock lamp at the slip he’d assigned to the new boat. Although he was tired and looking forward to bed, he couldn’t stop worrying about the lady and her Ketch arriving sometime around midnight.
At 11:45 pm he thought he might get his foul weather gear back on and wander down to the assigned slip. “Just to help” he mused.
“Stumpy” his old flea bag cat began to howl and hiss.
“Shut up you old fool” the Wharfinger whispered. Stumpy continued.

Through the driving rain outside, the old man saw what appeared to be a masthead light in the approach to the marina. Slipping on his ragged foulies, he opened the door and went out into the storm.
Shortly, the big ketch turned and started its move to enter the slip that had been assigned. There was little sound and the boat glided into the spot without a bit of effort. He saw a covered figure in the cockpit standing holding a spring line. The old man caught the tossed line and quickly took a bight around the slip’s mid cleat. He allowed the line to slip a few feet then snubbed it up firm. The figure in the cockpit disembarked and had a stern line secured. Moving by the old man with not a word, the person went forward to pull a bow line off the boat and secured it as well.
The Wharfinger moved alongside the person.
“Nicely done Miss. Theren’t many experienced sailors that could do as well. Welcome to Manger’s Marina”.
He had used his best “Happy voice”. The one he uses when he doesn’t know the person.
A whispered, pained, distorted, not quite feminine voice, replied in words that sounded like. “Dank ‘yeh’ ”
Turning quickly, she walked away, and stepped on a hanging ladder to climb back aboard. As she reached the top step, a gust of wind blew back the hood of her foul weather coat. In the light of the newly placed dock lamp, her face was exposed for a brief moment.
The Wharfinger was frozen in shock. He gasped and felt the bile of revulsion creep into his throat.
She was horribly scarred! Her face looked as if it had been torn by some wild animal. Scars, marks and wrinkles, bits of fleshy bumps covered her face.
She quickly covered and disappeared down into the cabin of her boat.

On his way back to the marina office, the old wharfinger turned over in his mind the action and the sights he’d just witnessed. Then it suddenly seemed to make sense to him.
She had requested a Midnight docking… So as to avoid any cruel “gawker”…
She only used the telephone because of the damaged voice. Much better to blame the “poor connection” of a telephone.
She wanted to Post the paper work rather than appearing in the glaring light of an office… Again to avoid the stares of an office staff.
She would be staying for a short time… Better to move on after a short stay. Someone surely would have seen her…IF… she stayed too long at one location.
And not the least, she handled that big vessel by herself… like a pro… She had to. Learning to do it alone in the dark so no one would be around to see the ugliness that she suffered.

During his walk back to the office, the old man began to feel sympathy and sorrow for the poor young woman. (IF…she WAS young..?).
He vowed to try to make her time here at HIS marina, a pleasant one.
He wouldn’t intrude, but would try to help all he could. It was his duty.
As he opened the office door, the light inside blinded him.
He didn’t see “Stumpy” rolled up into a ball, hiding underneath the desk.
But he heard the cat hiss.

October 22nd …
It was mid-morning when he made a special trip to where the new boat was. Turning the corner of the dock and looking down the row of boats, he couldn’t miss that big ketch. It was painted black from mast truck to waterline. Black topsides, cabin, mast, spreaders, any wood and all fabric were BLACK! It was a bit of shock to see a boat so covered in one color. Or, lack of color.
The old man walked up alongside and tapped gently on the hull. There was no response. He rapped a little harder this time. Nothing.
“Ahoy! “. His voice had authority in it. Still, there was no return to his call. He guessed that after all the noise he’d made; it was a sure thing that no one was aboard. Or they were very sound sleepers.
The lady must have left in the early morning to avoid being seen? It was a likely-hood considering.
As he moved away, he caught a slight movement in the corner of his eye. He didn’t see it clearly enough, but he thought he heard the sound of a cat growling.
It was time for lunch and the coffee pot still had a little left in it from breakfast. His stomach rumbled with the thought of food and a sip of that hot brown liquid so important to sailors.
He’d finished with the leftovers for himself and figured that Stumpy might enjoy the crumbs.
But, .No matter how he coaxed his fuzzy friend to come out from under the desk, it wouldn’t move. It just pulled in tighter and mewed.
As it turned out, over the next few days, Stumpy would hardly budge from his “cave”. He’d dash out to make a Pit Stop at his sand box beside the des k, then back as quickly as he could. The Wharfinger had to put his food and milk close by him or he just wouldn’t eat. “What the hell is wrong with that beast? “ he wondered.

Along about 11:00 pm, there was a gentle knocking on the office door.
The old man had been napping and by the time he roused enough to respond, whoever had knocked was gone. He opened the door, took a step outside and looked up and down the docks. There wasn’t a thing stirring.
As he turned around he spotted a large envelope jammed into the mail box hanging on the wall in front of the office door. He opened the folder and found all the registration papers of the lease agreement and several crisp new dollar bills. Enough for the month’s fee and a large “Extra” amount. All in good order and Signed. Her first name that he’d heard was now printed out for him to see…“Marijn” (he’d heard it as “muh-rain”). Must be some kind of foreign name. The old man suddenly realized that she HAD spoken in some kind of odd dialect. At first he had though that it may have been because of the “accident” or tragic event that has so fouled her face. Now he was sure that she was from some foreign land. He didn’t know from where. Then he thought, “I wonder what the name means? Maybe I can find it. Maybe GOOGLE”…
He tried to get Stumpy to come out for some milk. Stump wouldn’t move.

October 23rd …

It was another awful day of rain and wind. The forecast had been for clearing, but they had missed, again.
Leslie called first thing in the morning. He wanted to know if the Old Wharfinger had heard about the fancy Schooner “Brightness”.
The old man had no idea what Les was talking about.
“Something happened to the mooring lines of that fancy schmansy schooner “Brightness” last night. They let go somehow and the ship got loose.
She drifted down into the railroad bridge and was Dismasted!!”
The excitement in Les’ voice was palpable. “Good god, it’ll cost them 20,000 bucks to get a new one. Special Carbon fiber and all that. What a mess! “
“Does anyone know how it happened?” the old man asked.
“Nope, it had been on video cameras too, nothing showed up on the screen”.
The old man shook his head. What is the world was coming to?
Les said that he had to run and would call him later on. The old man grunted a good-bye and hung up.

Late that night, the Wharfinger decided that he’d try to make contact with the
“foreign lady” again. He figured that she must be a Night Person and would probably be up.
As he turned the corner of the docks he was shocked to see the big black boat…. Missing. She apparently had taken the boat out as soon as it had gotten dark. The old man was totally confused now.
He’d try to talk to her… tomorrow.
IF… the boat was still there!

October 24th …

The old man made a point of getting up early. He wanted to catch the “Lady” as soon as possible. He’d use the excuse that she had given him too much “Bonus” money.
There the black boat sat in its slip, mooring lines all proper and looking like it hadn’t moved in years. There were Spider Webs! Spider webs in the shrouds. How in the hell could a boat move with webs?
He figured that she must have moved the boat very gently indeed.

At first he tap, tapped on the hull. Again, there was no sound.
He rapped harder the next time.. Silence.
He shouted “Miss, Miss, I need to talk to you! “ No response.
Walking back to the office, he began to worry about the lady.
Maybe she was hurt or sick. What happened to her last night?
Perhaps he’d missed an emergency phone number on her application.
He’d look carefully to see if he had missed one.
One thing was sure; He was going to talk to her the first chance he got.
Then it struck him. He’d go to her boat late tonight! She seemed to like the night. That would be the time.

He started his vigil as soon as it got dark. He would walk a short distance away and be out of sight for about 5 minutes, then sneak back to take a peek at the black boat. Around 2300 hours, he came back from his short walk just in time to see the vessel moving away from the slip. By the time he had run the distance to the end of the docks, the boat was too far away. He watched it move out into the main channel.

October 25th …

The morning was cold and wet again. The old Wharfinger skipped his morning coffee and quickly walked down to the slip he dreaded to checkout.
There it was Black and, yes, ugly. In his eyes it was taking on a hateful look to him. He still worried about the woman who owned it, but he didn’t like the boat. He wished he could talk to her and convince her to get rid of the Damned thing. He hadn’t noticed before, but besides the spider webs, it had strands of what looked like moss hanging from the head stay and spreaders.
It was an ugly, dirty boat.
He trudged back to the office. Coffee is what he needed and maybe he could get “Stumpy” to eat something. The poor cat had begun to getting thin and hardly moved anymore. The old flea bag just lie under the desk, mewing.
When he got close to the office he saw one of the private port cops. It was one of the Shepherd brothers, Dana.

“Hey, you old rascal, I was about to call the city cops. You’re usually in drinking your morning coffee at this time of the day. Where ya been?”
Dana is one of the good guys and always kept an eye on the Wharfinger.
“I’ve been checking one of the boats. It’s been having some problems”
He lied. Dana continued. “Well, I just dropped by to make sure you were OK. There’s been a lot of crap going on around the docks lately. Break ins, vandalism, mistreatment of animals. A lot of bad stuff happenin’. Be careful! “
“OK, I will”

After his friend Dana left, the old man figured that he’d better check on the boats in his marina. He’d never had any trouble before, but in these times, and with a lot of crazy stuff happening, it’d be a good idea to check the boats anyway.

The rest of the day he spent walking the docks looking around “his” boats.
There HAD been some oddities and some damages.
One boat appeared to have its mainsail cover ripped open. There was an old Pearson Vanguard, which looked like it was taking on water. Maybe the bilge pump had failed. Two or three other boats had Streaks running fore and aft. It looked like someone had “painted” the hulls with an oily brush. He was going to have to call the owners. Especially the guy who owned the sinking Pearson.
Back in his office, a warm cup of coffee in his hand, the phone rang. It was his good friend, Leslie.
Les had more stories of boats that had run into trouble out on the bay.
One boat had sunk last night, after hitting a rock that wasn’t on the charts. Fortunately no one was hurt. Another boat caught fire when the owner tried to use his Grill. He was having a party around 1:00 am when the grill just exploded. His hair got scorched and a couple of minor burns were on his hands.
“Boy, a lot of bad boat stuff happening lately”.
The old man listened to his friend and said, “Les, you’re just imagining things. Stuff like that is happening all the time. People aren’t very careful. We’re just hearing about a few of them now. All you have to do is read the Boat US magazine. It’s full of ‘smash, crash bang’ events of boats. You need to come down here and have a cup of Gin with me. That’ll chase the boogey mens away” He laughed.
Les groaned and ended the phone call with… “Yeah, but there’s been a LOT of them… and they’ve been Very Close to us. Too close!”

October 26th through October 31st …

Every day for 4 or 5 days, Newspaper accounts and the talk on the docks, confirmed that an awful lot of boats and marinas had had accidents resulting in damages. Vandals seem to be a major part of the trouble as well. Oddly, the events seemed to have happened all over the area at the same time or at least during a few hours at night. Video cameras hadn’t caught anything. Some places had hired people to keep watch. Even with all that, boats and marinas continue to be targets.
The local police seem to be powerless to stop it.

Yes, there HAD been a lot of unusual things happening lately. And sure as heck, the Black Boat with the “Foreign woman” was an “unusual” event.
As well, the lady apparently preferred to sail at night. Maybe she had seen something.
He made up his mind that he’d wait around and try to catch her tonight. “We can have a little chat. Just so’s I can find out a little more about her.” He said out loud to himself. “Stumpy”, under the desk, gave a weak mew.
He figured that if he got to the Black boat around midnight, he’d have a chance to talk to her. It was high time. He wanted to find out more about her and maybe help. After all, the woman was “damaged” and probably needed some friendly company. The rest of the day passed slowly. He was anxious for night so that he could have his ”little chat” with the “Foreign lady”.

Late in the afternoon, he climbed the Ramp of the marina to put the day’s trash in the big brown dumpster sitting in the parking lot. As he got to the top of the incline he spotted Angela the old bag lady. She was hurrying away from the dumpster as fast as her feet could move.
“Hey, Angela, Where ya goin’ so fast. I haven’t seen ya for a week.” he yelled at the retreating figure.
“Don’t wanna stop there NO more. Youz gots Bats! I hates Bats! “. Her voice faded as she moved away.
The old Wharfinger yelled after her, “We don’t have Bats around here. What the hell are you talking about? “
Angela either didn’t hear him, or didn’t want to.

Back at the office, the old man set his alarm clock for 11:00 pm, he ate a small dinner, stretched out on his cot and promptly fell asleep. He didn’t sleep well. His dreams were bad. In them, the old man dreamt of sinking boats, boats on fire, masts and booms falling and bats flying around it all. Really, a sailor’s nightmare.
At the jangling of the alarm clock, he opened his eyes half expecting to see the office in flames. It wasn’t, but the old man was shaking with fear. He grabbed the tin cup that still had the remains of morning coffee. Gulping down the cold brown liquid help chase the “heebee Jeebees” away. Grabbing his old watch coat, he stumbled out into the night. Finally, he’d get to chat with the lady.
As he turned the corner of the dock, his heart sank. Moving out into the channel he saw the stern of that black boat quietly motoring out into the dark night. He’d missed her again!

The following days were the worst days of his life!
Each night he tried to catch the lady in the Black Boat. He tried different hours. One time he waited until 3:00 am. But, no matter what he did, he would be just in time to see the boat leaving its slip and moving away. It was like she knew he was coming and had slipped the lines before he could get there.
Each morning the old man would walk the dock only to see the black boat secure in its slip. There WAS some change. Each new day he noticed the boat was dirtier. It had added some new trash to its rigging. Some of it, disgusting.
He started leaving notes pinned to the lifelines. They were notices that said “An owner must keep their boats in presentable condition while a guest of the marina”. Each day the note was gone, but the boat got more trash.
And the whole area began to smell.

Les called every morning to tell him about the increasing news reports of destruction and oddities that had happened to boats on the rivers and bays close by. Some minor damages, others with near disastrous outcomes. It was like some kind of virus had infected the boating community.
The Wharfinger’s own marina hadn’t been left out. There was much wrong on the dock.
Sails ripped, Life lines cut or pulled so hard the stanchions had bent. One boat had sunk and several had been “painted” with that oily goo. Even though he made rounds at different hours now, the vandalism continued. The smell was getting worse.
Dana Shepherd, one of the owners of “Shepherd’s Security came by. He told the old man that they had been working 24 hour shifts because of complaints from area businesses and private boat docks. All of them had experienced damages. Dana said they were stumped and couldn’t figure out how it was happening.

It all was sounding like the Nightmares the old man had been having each night. The only things NOT in his dreams were the Black Boat and the lady who owned it.

Why hadn’t he thought of it before? He’d wait until dark then STAY alongside of the Black Boat. All night if necessary. Then she’d have to talk with him. If she wanted to do her Night Sailing, she’d have come outside to drop her mooring lines. When she did, he’d be standing there. And, he had a lot of questions to ask her.
It was perfect.

Before he left for his vigil, he tried to get “Stumpy” to eat a little. The cat only shivered, mewed and rolled up tighter into the space under the desk.

The old man was sitting in a rickety folding chair alongside of the Black boat just as the sun went down. He had a thermos of hot Gin Toddy next to him.
“Just to chase the cold” he thought to himself. He knew that it was to screw up his courage too. “They call Gin Dutch Courage don’t they?” he laughed at his own joke.

It was going to be an ugly night. Rain and a cold wind continued causing him discomfort . The old man huddled tight against the cold. But he couldn’t get warm.
His thermos was emptied in a very short time. It WAS very cold, He told himself.
Sometime around midnight, he jerked awake. He’d fallen asleep, who knows how long ago. His vision was blurry and his brain muddled. He had slept hard and it was taking a while to get to a full awareness.
That awful odor was there. A smell that was heavy and choking.
It was like a whole box of matches had been struck at the same time.
“Sulfur, its Sulfur”, his brain told him. Jumping up from the chair, he turned around just in time to see the foul Black Boat pulling away from the slip. Silently leaving him behind.
“Stop, stop, I need to talk to you” he shouted. “Ahoy there, you MUST return”
Then over the howl of the wind he heard it.
A Mocking, Cruel, Screeching, Cackling LAUGH! An obscene sound of the Foulest Evil.
It chilled the old man far more than the wind and rain could have ever done.
He stood there watching the lights of the boat slowly get dim. He stood until he no longer could make out the shape of that monstrosity. Then he knew he had to do something to stop that “Thing”.
At first he thought to call the local Marine Sheriff or perhaps the Coast Guard.
But what would he say?
“I …think… I know of a boat that… Might… be involved in the latest rash of vandalism…”
They would want to know facts and the old man didn’t have the slightest bit of proof. The only “facts” he had was that she was a disfigured woman, alone in a big boat, who likes to sail at night.
The whole thing would sound like a silly old man’s imagination.
Then he thought of something that might work. She was a foreigner. That would raise suspicion. Especially with the Homeland Security people.
He’d get all the information about her from the Lease application in the office.

Back in the warmth of his office, and after a few gulps of the last bit of hot Gin Toddy left in the pot, the old man sat down with the forms. Now he would know all about “That Woman”.
The last page of the lease agreement had the all blanks for the Vitals. Name, address, phone numbers and other information needed. When he flipped the form to the last page another kind of chill ran down his spine.
ALL of the spaces were BLANK. Only her name and the name of the vessel were written in. He KNEW that the other blanks HAD been filled. He was positive of that. He always checked to make sure everything was in order. The insurance company had made that point strong when he first became Wharfinger of the Marina.
All of the blanks were empty now. Except her name and the boat’s name.
They were there those scrawled letters in Black ink.

“Name of Owner……Marijn DeHeks…”
“Vessel’s name…. Bezemsteel…

He could hardly sleep that night. His nightmares were of horror and continued all night long.
Early next morning he jumped out of bed and literally ran to the slip where the boat would be.
It WASN’T There!
All traces of it were gone. The smell was gone.
The boat and the woman were gone.

As he walked back into the office, the phone rang. It was his old friend Les.
“Hey kiddo, how’s it going down there?” Les sounded chipper.
“Les, the damnedest thing, that black boat and the woman left last night and haven’t returned. I think they’re gone for good”

“Great! It didn’t sound like a good thing for you, her being there”.

“Les, there’s one more thing. I was going to give the Coasties the info on her, but it’s all gone from the lease form. All but her name and the name of the damn boat”

“Geez, old buddy, what IS her name? “
The old man told him and even spelled out the words.
Les giggled and said,
“Those names sound Dutch to me. I had some experience with a Dutch lady once and those sure sounds like the words she used to say to me”…Les chuckled again. Probably over some memories he had.

“Good hint Les. I’ll look them up on the computer. I was going to find what her first name meant anyway”

It had been a while since he’d fired up his beat-up computer. He didn’t use it much anyway. It was making noises and he wondered if it still worked or not.
In a few minutes the Browser came up.

Her first name was found on a page of Dutch Girl names
Marjin.(Muh-rain). Meaning… “Of the Sea”
“Well”, thought the old man, “At least that’s something good.

Then he keyed into GOOGLE TRANSLATE each of the other names on the lease form

“Google translate…. From Dutch to English”
DeHeks ? De Heks…

Google translate…. From Dutch to English”

Now He KNEW!
Now He understood

For a few minutes he sat glued to his chair. It was hard for HIM to believe.
Surely……No one else would believe it.

His thoughts were interrupted by noises at the office door.
Fearfully, he slowly turned to look.

“Stumpy” was at the door .. He wanted to go outside.

ralph e. ahseln
October 2010

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