Isaak Wissinger leaned over the ship’s railing and stared down into the dark blue water. He wasn’t the only one. Dozens of other passengers on the S.S. Waif des Vaterlands were lined up to watch as half a dozen giant turtles, each larger than a kitchen table swam along apparently oblivious to the steel vessel chugging past them. They were large, but not nearly as amazing as the writer had expected, having heard for years legends of the monsters to be found in Mallon.
After leaving his employment with Herr Fuhrmann, Wissinger had taken the train from Butzbach to Friedaport, where he had worked on the docks until he had enough accumulated wealth to book passage, steerage class, to Mallontah. This had taken him several months, but at last he had set sail. Now, he had been on the ship for forty-five days. His daily meals consisted of porridge in the morning, a piece dried tack for lunch, and for supper a soup made of beans and rancid pork. It was infinitely better that his diet in the ghetto had been.
It took Wissinger a moment to remember that he was Herr Holdern.
He turned to find a greasy looking little man standing behind him. He didn’t recall seeing him before, and after a month and a half at sea, that was remarkable in and of itself.
“Do I know you?”
“I do not think so, but I know some Holderns. Do you come from Boxstein?”
“No,” replied Wissinger.
“Do you have relatives there perhaps?”
“Not that I know of. You know how it is. People move all around and lose touch. You meet someone with the same last name and they may or may not be related. My people come from Bad Syke, but who knows?”
“What is it you did in Bad Syke?”
“Oh, I’m not from Bad Syke. I still have cousins living there, I think. I grew up in Wahlstedt.”
“And what did you do there then?”
“A teamster?” said the greasy fellow. “I took you for a scholar.”
“I doubt you get calluses like this reading books,” said Wissinger, holding up his palms. “Why, I try to stay as far away from schools and books as possible.”
“But it is pleasant to meet you, Mister…”
“Spinne. Adolf Spinne.”
“A pleasure to meet you, Herr Spinne. Maybe we can talk again before we make port.”
“Perhaps,” said Spinne with an oily smile.
Wissinger turned and made his way through the portal and down several sets of stairs to his berth. His was one of twenty-five bunks stacked five high in the relatively small cabin. Most of his roommates slept at night, so he tried to spend as much time as possible outside at night, instead taking in a long morning and afternoon nap. He climbed into his bed, second from the top and pulled the sleeping curtains closed around him. He could hear the sounds of a woman moaning in passion close by. She was in the same room, but in one of the other bunk stacks. This wasn’t all that unusual. People grabbed what comfort and satisfaction they could, and there were very few places to find any real privacy on a ship as crammed as this one.
“Sweet music isn’t it?” said a husky voice near his head.
Before he could respond, the curtain surrounding him was pulled aside to reveal Zurfina’s face, framed in a shock of blond hair. She climbed up into the bed on top of him. There was no room to lie side by side even had that been her intention. He was surprised though not unhappy to find that she was completely naked, and let out a deep sigh as she rubbed herself up and down his entire length.
She kissed him deeply, letting her tongue explore every part of his mouth.
“Have you been true to me?” she asked as she kissed his neck and reached down to unfasten his pants.
“Yes,” he said, then sighed again as she freed him from his trousers. “Um, have you been true to me?”
She stopped and looked guiltily up at him, then shrugged.
“When you get to Birmisia, if you want, I’ll be true to you then,” she said, “for a while.”
“Oh, Lord help me, at this moment I really don’t care.”
There was almost no room for him to maneuver, so he simply lay back and let her do all the work. It was a work for which she once again proved her skill, though she was somewhat louder than the woman who had been in the nearby bunk. Wissinger didn’t realize it at the time, but he was none too discrete himself. Afterwards he fell asleep with her still wrapped around him, and when he woke she gave him a repeat performance.
“The day after tomorrow you dock in Mallontah,” she said when they were done.
“Yes, but you still have a problem.”
“What’s that?” he asked.
“It’s that Spinne fellow you just spoke to. He’s a Zaeri-catcher.”
“I don’t think he suspects me.”
“But you’re not sure, are you?” Zurfina licked his lips. “I have to admit, I admire how good a liar you’ve become. I wouldn’t have expected it.”
“It’s a writer’s skill,” he replied. “What do you think I should do?”
“Just make it to Birmisia the best you can.” She kissed him deeply. “I have to leave and you won’t see me again until after you leave Mallontah.”