James and I got up early the next morning to head down to the marina. The sky was a dazzling pink only an island could produce.
"Here she is, Seaclusion! Don't make fun of me. My dad named it." James got a chuckle out of the other punny names of the neighboring boats.
We climbed aboard, and James inspected the vessel, fascinated by hundreds of years of progress.
"Here," I said, tossing James a life vest and securing my own.
"What is this?"
"It's a life jacket. It'll help you stay afloat if you fall overboard."
"Ingenious!" James said in awe as he put his on.
"Oh, and these," I said, digging around in a compartment by the wheel. I pulled out a pair of old aviators and sunscreen. "To protect your eyes and your skin. Though you're probably already riddled with skin cancer from living in the Caribbean unprotected for years. Keep an eye on that freckle behind your ear."
James touched the freckle self-consciously.
"You know how to swim, don't you?"
James rolled his eyes and scoffed, "Of course I do." He put on the aviators and dang, he looked good. I wouldn't want to be on the other end of interrogation with him. He had an intimidating air about him that he could turn on and off.
The engine roared to life, and the beginning cords of 'The Real Thing' by George Strait played on the speakers. James looked overboard to the motor and rudder underwater.
"I'm sure you have better sea legs than I do, but you might want to take a seat," I said, gesturing the rows of seats on the front deck.
"Hold on!" I said and came up to speed, pulling out of the marina. James was pushed back in his seat by the motion, not expecting a boat to go that fast. I wanted to show him what ships were like nowadays. Even over the rushing wind, I could hear him laughing with glee.
We sailed to the other side of the island with dolphins in our wake. How lucky was I that I lived somewhere where dolphins were so accessible!
I turned down the speakers, "This is Pier 21. Our cruise ships dock here, and on the other side are the shrimp boats that supply these restaurants first." Large pelicans lazed around the docks and boats, hoping for some fish scrap from the sailors. James wasn't paying attention; he was gazing at the Elissa like a starved man in an oasis.
"What is this glorious creation?" James stood as we idled.
I smiled, "That's the Elissa. A little after your time, but I'm sure you can sail her just as good as anyone else on this island."
The Elissa was a tall ship from 1877. After many different roles in life all across the globe, she was moored in Galveston.
"Is she still functional?"
"Oh yeah, she goes on one big sail to Europe once a year. She's mostly a teaching vessel now. And next to that is a yacht. Some restauranteur owns it and has a staff to keep it ready around the clock even though I've seen him use it like five times."
"Is it common for laypeople to own such vessels?" He asked, finally pulling his eyes from the Elissa.
"Here on the island, yeah, pretty much everyone has a boat. They're still quite common on the mainland, depending on how close you are to water. I'd say a boat is definitely attainable to the upper-middle class."
"You mentioned a 'cruise ship'?"
"Yeah, they're huge ships that can hold thousands of people who sail for vacation. See that huge thing over there?"
"Is that a ship?" He asked in disbelief.
"Yep, let's get closer."
We were dwarfed by the cruise liner. James looked up in disbelief as we buoyed in its shadow. "Galveston is a port city for cruise liners, bananas, farm equipment…Oh, and you need to see this," I said as we turned and sped into the open water.
"I think you'll like this," I said as we pulled up next to the wreckage of a rusted and splintered ship.
"I am perplexed, yes," James answered.
"This is the Selma, and it's totally made out of concrete, or mortar, I guess is similar."
"You can't be serious."
"Surely, she never saw the open ocean."
"It did actually. Until it was damaged, and it was far too costly to repair due to war, and it was scuttled."
James looked to the horizon, "Why are those ships not in the harbor?" Container ships always loomed in the distance of Galveston Island.
"Again, costs too much but also because the channel isn't deep enough."
"Are pirates a concern?"
"I've never seen a pirate in my life. I guess pirates were your version of terrorists," I said.
James thought, then nodded, seemingly decided the word was correct.
"Unfortunately, we still have a problem with terrorism, plus pirates as you would know them. Instead of big ships, they run around on jet skis or dhows today. They're mostly a problem in the Indian Ocean and around that area."
"So, they've been cornered…"
"What? Down boy! You want to go pirate hunting? Well, unfortunately, pirates are actually looked upon favorably as of recently."
James looked at me like I've grown two heads, "Especially here. I guess people like the freedom of just going wherever you want to and forget that they were actually terrorists. Not that piracy is now legal or anything."
"And what are those machines in the distance?"
"Oil rigs. They dig oil from the earth, and we use it to power just about everything. Crews live on them for weeks at a time. Usually, there are less parked here, but the price of oil has dropped, so companies don't need as many."
Container ships and offline oil rigs loom in the distance of Galveston Island. It's almost like the giant guardians that protect us.
"Do you want to try?" I asked, gesturing to the wheel.
He looked hesitant at first but quickly accepted. "The wheel is the same as it ever was, this is the accelerator, how fast you want to go, the kill switch if something goes awry…" I explained. James and I then switched places, but I stood behind him in case something happened. I could tell he was uncomfortable with the proximity to another person and a woman, but when we got up to speed, he looked like a bird who could finally fly again. I almost didn't have it in my heart to ask him to surrender the wheel.
When we got home, there was a package at my doorstep. My heart started to thrum when I saw it was from the police department. I hurriedly tore it open when we got inside. The contents of the box smelled like mildew, salt, and brine. It was James' uniform. I pushed it to him as I read the letter that was on top of it. It was a standard form letter saying they were closing the case due to insufficient evidence that there was nothing out of the ordinary about the uniform.
James held the uniform in his hand. "Do you have a fireplace?" He asked.
"Why?" I asked.
"It makes me ill." He replied.
"You don't want it?"
"It's a mark of failure, both personal and professional. I would think it best if it was gone."
"I have a fire pit."
Later that night, Jericka came over, and we started the fire. James unceremoniously dropped the heap of clothes in the fire and sat down with us around it. Jericka and I drank while James abstained.
"To new beginnings," I said, raising my bottle of Ziegenbock. James nodded, watching the fabric burn.
"You know, there are probably costumers and historians who would have dove in there for that uniform," Jericka said.
"So…what happened? Before you died?" I asked.
James was silent for a moment, composing his thoughts. "I can pinpoint the exact day when everything changed. An idiot pirate sailed into my port. To attempt to capture him, my men and I sailed through a hurricane. Only a handful survived, and I resigned in shame. I essentially became a pirate myself for the time, drunk, and destitute. Then, I meant Davy Jones." James leaned forward, the fire casting shadows on his face, almost making his sharp features look hawk-like.
"You can't be serious," I said.
"I am. He is something of a grim reaper of the seas. I was stabbed by one of his crewmen. That's all I remember."
"You sailed into a hurricane?" Jericka asked, "And you made it all the way to Admiral?"
James scowled. "I had no choice."
"But what's so wrong about the uniform, or being called Admiral?"
"I didn't earn it, nor was it through the Royal Navy. I worked for the East India Trading Company, who were no better than pirates themselves when I was an admiral. I took the post out of necessity, greed, and selfishness. I was only serving myself, not the Crown, not the people. I was no better than a pirate as well. I much rather be called commodore if you have to address me by title."
Jericka gave a low whistle, "Then I'm sure you heard of Galveston before." She took a drink from her bottle.
"Was it a pirate's den?"
"Oh yeah, Jean Lafitte owned the place."
"Lafitte? I have heard of him. I always seemed to run into a sun-drenched lunatic named Jack Sparrow."
"He sounds like quite the character."
"He was. If Lafitte settled here, I must be in Campeche."
I snapped my fingers. "I never thought of that! That's like Galveston history 101!" I said to Jericka.
"Well, I know where I'm at, so that brings some more comfort," James said.
"Okay, Commodore," Jericka said, "Tell us about yourself."
James looked like we just asked him to explain nuclear physics.
"Pets? Did you have any pets?" I asked.
"Well, I had a horse named Scout back in the Caribbean. I think she tried to kill me once." James said casually. "And there were coconut crabs all over the fort I was stationed at. They stole everything."
"A horse? Tried to kill you? And crabs stole your stuff?" Jericka asked skeptically.
"No one believed me! Even then!" James said adamantly and gestured wildly as he told the story, "I swear this horse was calculating, and she hated me. How would a horse know to stop right below a hanging lantern so my tricorn would catch fire?"
"Maybe you should have been paying better attention…" I said gently.
James started to speak, but thought better, "Fair enough."
"Oh, oh, oh!" Jericka said excitedly, "We need to take him to Pieces of Ship! Down on Mechanic street!"
"Excuse me?" James asked, not believing his ears.
I laughed, "It's a shop that sells parts from ships; maps, flags, wheels, bells, you name it."
"No, Mrs. Norrington, huh?" Jericka teased as James stoked the fire. She winked at me.
"Close, but it wasn't meant to be," James said, looking down for a moment.
"Yeah, everything I've read about you never mentions anyone," I said. I was noticing I was relieved when I found out James never married. However, by his wording and the tone of his voice, there was someone he wanted. Jealousy tingled at my nerves.
"I appreciate time for forgetting such a blunder." He gave a small, defeated smile.
"Sweetheart," I said, "I think you need to see a therapist."
We burst out laughing.
By the end of the night, we were laughing incessantly. I felt like we became friends with James at that point.