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One simple conclusion I could easily draw from my short stay on the island of Tutuila: everything here revolved around Ernesto Chavez and his exotic businesses, whether that involved rhino horns, South African swallows, or some other shit. Otherwise, so many people wouldn’t have tried to mess with his plans so persistently! And if I wanted to follow the local custom, I obviously had to do just the same thing—find the guy and mess with him.

Later in the afternoon, after half a bottle of whiskey from the drinking gondola in my room, I finally survived the shock from the rather inhospitable welcoming the island had presented to me and I was ready to mingle again. Since Olosega was a private territory and there was no transport to there, I obviously had to start with a trip to Ofu—the two islands were very close to each other on the map. Unfortunately, it turned out there was no regular transport from here to Ofu either. It seemed very weird and it surprised me so I decided the harbor would be the right place to know why that was. Ports are pivotal points for every scumbag in every city and most of the interesting things usually happen there. And besides, it was the right place to arrange my charter trip too.

Charged with alcohol optimism, I quickly went down the hotel stairs, restraining myself from asking the receptionist for guidance because I had to be careful now. Too many people knew too many things about me! In fact, it turned out there was no point in asking anyone for help because in such a small city on such a small island, everything was rather at a hand’s distance. I accidentally hit the harbor just about twenty minutes later.

The first thing that struck me during my short walk through the streets of Pago Pago was how many East Asians I saw on my way. Literally ninety percent of all the people I met had such an origin. Chinese and Indians flooded the world after the industrial revolutions in their countries but I had no idea they had virtually assimilated the entire traditional population of the Pacific islands. I had the feeling I was walking across some suburb area of Delhi or Shanghai!

When I reached the harbor, it actually became worse. Until then, I was able to recognize a European face here and there but after that moment, I could see only Indians. They were just everywhere: crying, shouting, spitting on the ground, pissing in the water; selling or buying things; chopping meat and vegetables, cooking, eating food—they lived here! There was no space to place your foot without stepping on someone’s toes, and the ubiquitous smell of urine was just unbearable in the area. At least I now knew why it was so ubiquitous!

When I had adapted to the surroundings after a few minutes, I realized Peularia was actually right when she said that indigenous people—the newly indigenous, in fact—were crazy about making ammonia. A significant part of the entire trade activity here was devoted to and related with producing mona and transporting it to Ofu. There was an extraordinary variety of weird substances in basins, bowls, buckets, pots, barrels, and bottles, which the “manufacturers” advertised as mona and none of these people seemed even slightly bothered by the fact that the boiling temperature of ammonia was minus thirty-three degrees Celsius. The stuff they were selling just couldn’t be in liquid form in this environment, if it really was ammonia!

In addition, most of the people I saw around the place bore numerous scars, presumably obtained in the process of producing the thing. Many hands and chests were burnt, and in some cases—faces and eyes. However, these terrible injuries obviously didn’t stop anyone from trying and the trade was flourishing. Many of these modern alchemists had their installations with them here, ready to prepare the substance for everyone with a boat who wanted to buy and sell to Greenspace. One of the “magicians” even poured sulfuric acid into a bucket full of goat dung to pull his “magic”!

After fifteen minutes, I was simply overwhelmed by the boundless human creativity that I saw, and since all these people seemed nutcases to me, I decided to plot my trip to Ofu with someone who had at least half of his mind intact. It was not an easy task to find such a guy here but after ten more minutes, I saw a man who was sitting quietly on the ground by a crate full of oysters. He had no burn scars and he looked different from all the Indians around. I found that encouraging.

“Hello!” I approached the guy and tried to start a casual conversation. “Quite a good catch, huh? You must’ve been lucky last night!”

The guy turned his head sharply to me, sulking as if I had just wanted to steal his wife! I knew that people on the island tended to be weirdly uncommunicative when I talked to them, but I persisted with this one anyway.

“Well, I mean the weather was fine last night so I guess these are fresh, aren’t they? Do you have more?” I pretended to be a customer. My goal was to seduce him into a conversation.

Ou te le malamalama. Ou te le tautala Igilisi!” the guy comprehensively explained to me after a moment. “Alu ese ma a’u!

“Uh-huh—” I hesitantly started but then briefly waved my hand. My mission was simply impossible. “Actually, never mind! Have a nice day, buddy!”

I quickly walked away and reconsidered my tactics because it was clearly wrong. Maybe I’d be better off going for the most heavily burnt man in the harbor—preferably, someone who was swimming in a tank of sulfuric acid and making small pieces of origami out of his dissolving skin. I found the right guy after another ten minutes of wandering through the crowd. He was idling on the wharf, sitting on a huge metal ball cemented to the ground. A relatively big vessel was gently swaying on the water not far away from him. It was fastened to the ball with a thick rope and on the bow it read, “Mountain Cougar”. It was a pretty weird name for a boat!

The guy had no burns on his hands and face but he had various other scars. He was offering nothing so I presumed he was just a smuggler who waited here for clients. I cautiously went nearer and coughed.

“Hey! The boat yours?” I started casually because I didn’t know if he knew any English—he didn’t seem to be an Indian.

The man turned his head to me, somehow disparagingly, and just spat on the ground without answering. “Well, so typical! I’m getting the usual neglect again!” I thought, annoyed, but went on according to my plan.

“Could your baby out-sail a police vessel?” I asked him, totally ignoring his unfriendly gesture. I knew he would take the bait because he looked arrogant and vain. The boat probably meant everything to him.

“Of course, she can! Who cares?” he answered rather snappishly. His accent was weird but not enough to reveal his origin. He spoke well, however.

“Well, I care! I may have a business proposal for you, you know, but you don’t seem quite interested. Are you just hanging around, sweating in the sun and spitting on the ground or are you waiting for a client?”

The guy fixed his eyes on me, stone-faced, and I thought he would spit again but he didn’t do it right away. He glared at me for ten seconds, then he spat twice.

“What do you want?” the smuggler mumbled after a while because he realized I wasn’t going to get down on my knees and beg him for his boat. He looked aside pompously as he spoke.

“For a starter, I wanna be sure you can do the job right. There are too many boatmen around but I’m not here for a tourist ride. I’m here for something really dangerous!”

The jerk promptly showed some interest. He unstuck his ass from the metal ball and stood upright in front of me. He was a little bit taller than I was, with short dark hair, thin lips, and a goatee. His eyes had something East Asian about them, but not Chinese—maybe Japanese or Korean.

“I’m the best boatman here and this is the best boat!” He stressed his every word, obviously affected. “She’s four-point-four turbo hydrogen! She could outrun any police vessel!”

“Really?” I acted unimpressed. “Even a police speed boat?”

“Police speed boats, police thunder boats, police race cars, police choppers—everything!”

He just narrowly missed police jets and police space shuttles—the moron was really vain about his baby! I was aware I looked like a drug dealer, which was not my intention, but I couldn’t figure out any other approach to a cold fish like him. I just wanted to try him and see how far he would go.

“Okay, fine!” I let my final bait out. “Your boat seems to be good enough for the job, but are you?”

The guy glared at me, extremely furious. I was literally getting on his last nerve—I could feel his hatred in my bones. He spat on the ground demonstratively and said nothing.

“Okay then!” I made a sulky face and shook my head, saying it in a falsely disappointed tone. “Clearly, you’re not the right guy for me! If you’ll irk every time something goes wrong I think we’ll both end up in jail. I wouldn’t want to waste my stuff with you!”

My acting enraged him even more. The jerk narrowed his eyes at me, inflamed, and for a moment, I thought he would spit in my face. Fortunately, he didn’t.

“Here!” he suddenly showed me a scar on his cheek. “This is from a sea eagle when it tried to steal a baby dolphin from me! This here, on my arm, is from a tiger shark in the gulf of Davao. This is where a stingray stung me near the shore of Borneo, and this one is a stonefish, which almost killed me when I accidentally stepped on it!”

He kept spinning on his own axis like a human top, showing me various scars on his face, arms, and legs and explaining to me his heroic deeds. At some point, I found it necessary to stop him because I was afraid he would eventually spin away into the water!

“And what about the police?” I murmured still not impressed. “Do you have any memories with them?”

This sobered him up a bit. He pulled up his shirt and showed me a gun wound on his chest. It was just a centimeter away from his heart—he was lucky to be alive. Then he bent down a little and pointedly spat three times!

“Are you making business or are you just nagging?” he hissed offended, and making a point of not looking at me anymore. It was obviously time for me to step up.

“Okay, I need a boat to carry me and my stuff to Ofu,” I said almost nonchalantly. The guy instantly shot me a look with his greedy eyes.

“What’s the stuff?”

“It’s ammonia, of course! What do you think?”

He drew a step back and gave me an appraising look but after a moment, it became obvious that his final judgement wasn’t particularly high. Before he had spat on the ground again, I snapped in order to stop him.

“What’s with your fucking attitude, goddammit?” I blew up. “Do you see damn buckets in my hands? I’m talking serious business here, not fucking alchemy!”

I definitely grabbed his attention with this one and wondered whether I should spit on the ground too to show him I was serious. He nervously looked around and stepped nearer to me.

“How much is the stuff?” he whispered.

I glanced at his boat. She had an approximate storage capacity of about twenty-five tons of water. Unfortunately, I had no idea what the density of liquefied ammonia was. In any case, the boat was quite big and good.

“A hundred and fifty tons!” I offered generously after a quick hesitation.

The smuggler furtively looked around again.

“For such shit,” he said quietly, “I can take you directly to Swains! Why waste time and stuff on Ofu?”

I looked at him, surprised because I had no fucking idea what he was talking about. Unfortunately, I couldn’t ask him because I had already made a “professional” out of myself and he would have suspected something!

“No, I wanna go to Ofu!” I insisted, still uncertain.

The smuggler remained silent for a while and just gave me a second appraising look. He seemed unsure now, and it was clear I had become an amateur in his eyes again.

“Why do you need me anyway?” he asked eventually. “There is no factory in the region anymore. If you really got one hundred and fifty thousand kilos, then you’re bringing them on a boat from Chinasia or Australia. You can set your course to wherever you want then!”

“Hah!” I balled my eyes and almost gasped aloud. I hadn’t thought about that at all! I had started the game absolutely spontaneously but now, it was turning into serious business. I had to figure out urgently how to “lay my hands” on one hundred and fifty tons of liquefied ammonia before I had lost the guy completely!

“My supplier’s afraid to get his ship near Ofu,” I said, shaking my head disapprovingly. “He has no tour boat like yours and waters are shallow there. Didn’t you know that?”

As I said it, I instinctively took a step back. I realized I had quite recklessly declared war by offending his baby. The boatman literally transformed before my eyes and his chest ballooned, ready to explode in my face. I took another step back, just in case he suddenly decided I was a sea eagle that was trying to pinch a baby dolphin from him.

In the end, however, the jerk didn’t explode. He only looked at me with true disgust and spat such a huge blob of spit in the water that it probably contributed a good ten centimeters to the world sea level! Afterwards, he went back to his metal ball and sat on it, furious, his back turned to me. Then, in a regular manner, he kept spitting smaller, ordinary spits on the ground.

I just shrugged and turned around because our grandiose deal was obviously over. I had to seek out another boatman now but I felt rather discouraged. The people here on the island were a true disaster. Half of them didn’t want to talk at all and the other half talked in a way that made me feel sorry I had started the conversation in the first place!

I disappointedly headed for the way out and decided it was enough for me today. I was pissed off and dreaming of a glass of whiskey up in my hotel room, but just then, after a few steps, I felt someone grab me by my left elbow. It made me jump because I thought Sengupta had changed his mind about my life and his thugs were coming to evaporate my heart with their positron guns. When I turned around, I saw another aborigine though. He was short and curly haired, with his neck and chest burnt, and he was pulling me discreetly aside. He didn’t seem dangerous at all but I followed him with mixed feelings.

“Come here, Sir!” he whispered. “I sail you! Come see my boat and you be happy!”

He quickly dragged me through the crowd to the very end of the marketplace. His boat was a small and ancient diesel engine vessel, and her name was Saranya-82. I had serious doubts if she could carry us further than half a kilometer into the sea before heading straight down to the bottom, but the proud owner explained that Saranya was the goddess of clouds and dawn, and his Saranya-82 was fit to take us to the end of the world; maybe even to the Moon! Such exaggerations were typical of the people here and they were making me feel uneasy to say the least. I nervously looked at the boat again and then back at him.

“How much do you want for a trip to Ofu?” I asked him, just so I knew the prices here.

The guy immediately sank into deep calculations—probably taking into account the course; the wind change and its effect on fuel consumption; the volatility of stock markets for ancient goods, and a few more variables. Then he announced his offer at last.

“Fifty dollars!” he cried, excited at the opportunity to get so much money.

“Return included or is it just one-way?” I asked.

“One-way, one-way! One hundred dollars and back!”

On my part, I made some brief calculations too, like taking into account his marital status and the fertility of his potential wife; his social status and his nonexistent bank account; and the level of his desperation, given the financial situation he was in. Then I announced my counter bid.

“Fifty bucks for going to Ofu and back!”

“Deal, deal!” he shouted quickly, eager to grab the offer before I had lowered his unrealistically high expectations even more. That was, in fact, what I liked about the indigenous people most—no deal was closed and sealed here until it was reduced to half the initial price.

We quickly arranged the details then, and I said I would meet him here the day after tomorrow at dawn. He informed me that the distance to Ofu was about one hundred and twenty kilometers and traveling would take four hours. He also wanted fifteen bucks in advance and I gave him twenty, which made him the happiest man in the world. His face darkened a bit though when he knew I was not going to take my mona on the trip, because it seemed suspicious to him. Maybe he thought I was a thief and wanted to steal his stuff. I explained that my mona was coming on a larger ship later and I was just prearranging the deal now, which calmed him down eventually.

Five minutes later, we shook hands and sealed it. The guy was happy because he was going to travel with his stuff anyway and my offer was an additional profit for him—some kind of insurance in case they wouldn’t accept his mona, which was surely to be the case. He just didn’t know it yet.

After finishing on the harbor, I headed back to my hotel with mixed feelings again. I was glad everything was okay now but on the other hand, I was a little bit worried about traveling in such a wreck. Unfortunately, I had no other option and besides, being an amateur, the guy was unlikely to reveal anything about my trip to anyone so there was a plus side to the whole thing. He was a simple-minded local man who probably knew other simple-minded local people and no bigshots or foreigners. While slowly advancing through the crowd, absorbed in my thoughts like this, something strangely familiar flashed for a brief moment ahead of me and it made me stop. It was weird. I didn’t see it well but I thought I had glimpsed the face of Marty Cork! It was very unlikely but it looked like him.

I stayed there for a few minutes, scanning the area, alarmed, but I didn’t see the same guy in the swarm again. In the end, I thought it must have been someone else because it was quite easy for such a mistake to be made in this rippling sea of faces. In fact, I wasn’t even sure I wanted to meet Cork yet. I didn’t know the island well enough and if he saw me here, he would be far more careful and dangerous in the future. And since Bobby Bjornson was giving me enough trouble with her friends already, I just turned around and quickly walked away.

©2016 S.T. Fargo

Eurasian Gambit—Chapter 20 | a science-fiction crime novel by S.T. Fargo

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