Innocent on the run Part 15.
Ricky slowly regained consciousness, blinking at the daylight streaming through the window. For a second he didn't know where he was, then the realisation hit him and he sat up quickly. His head was splitting and he looked around him with narrowed eyes, shielding them against the glare from the window. He was on the carpet behind the settee, and he raised himself to his knees and looked over the back of it to the clock on the mantlepiece. It was nine twentyfive! No ! It couldn't be! His eyes weren't focusing properly! He dragged himself to his feet and stumbled across the devastated room. The mess was incredible! Beer, food, cigarettes, and ash had all been spilled on the carpet and trampled in. Empty bottles and packets, half eaten hamburgers, sausages, crisps and nuts were strewn around. There was a girl's shoe in the fireplace and a boy's shirt draped over the standard lamp. Al was snoring on the carpet in front of the fireplace and Ricky shook him until he awoke, grumbling and complaining!
`What, what ?' he mumbled.
`The ship. She'll be gone.' Ricky shouted, panic gripping him.
`What? What ship?'
`My ship. The Llanerin.'
Al came awake quickly and looked at him with one eye, squinting in the daylight. He winced in pain!
`What are you doing here. You went back to the ship with Tess!
`No, I bloody didn't.' he shouted. `I just woke up behind the settee.'
‘Oh, Christ, man, don't yell like that.'
`The ship will be gone, for Christ's sake. I'm stranded.'
Al sat up, holding his head. `Coffee.' he said.
`What about the ship?'
`Yeah, the ship,' Al replied. `I'll get the car keys and drive you down the dock.' He stumbled into the kitchen and put the coffee pot on, then staggered up the stairs to Chuck's room. He was back in a few minutes, holding the car keys. ‘Had to search his room! He's out of it.'
Ricky was sat in a chair, holding his head in his hands. He'd really screwed up this time! Of all the stupid things he'd done, this was the worst! Al went into the kitchen and came back with two cups of steaming coffee.
‘Here, drink this.'
Ricky forced the bitter tasting coffee down. He grimaced! God it was horrible! Life was filtering back into Al's body. He got himself another cup of the black, sour coffee, picked up a pair of trousers from the chair opposite Ricky and threw them away, before sitting down.
`Look on the bright side,' he said.` The ship may not have gone.'
`They wouldn't have waited for me! I'm the bloody deck boy, not the Captain.'
`Something might have happened, they might have had a break down or something. What about fuel and water, or maybe she's loading up with stores.'
`No, that was all done yesterday.'
Al drained his coffee. `Let's go, we'll soon find out.' They went outside into the sunshine, shielding their eyes from the sudden glare, and got into Chuck's car. Al found a pair of sun glasses on the dashboard and put them on. He backed the car off the driveway and turned in the road before driving off. They drove in silence for a while, each with his own thoughts. Ricky knew that the ship would be gone and he would be stranded! He worried what the police would do with him. They were very strict on illegally entering the country, and he didn't have any identification to prove he was who he said he was. Doc had told him that they dished out jail sentences for the slightest thing over here! He could be locked away for years, without anyone knowing where he was! What a nightmare! He'd started off wanting to go to sea, and he would end up a jailbird! What a mess! My own fault he kept repeating to himself. My own fault. Pretending I could drink beer like the rest of them. I'm just a stupid kid with no sense. Dad told me to be careful and I screwed it up. I had a good job on a ship that I loved, with good mates and people who cared about me. This is how I repay them. It's as good as spitting in their eyes. What will the Captain think of me? And Doc? He put his head in his hands in despair. Al was saying, 'we thought you'd gone back to the ship with Tess in her car, because both of you went missing around the same time. We thought it was strange that you hadn't said goodbye, but put it down to you being madly in love and forgetting everything else.'
Ricky shook his head miserably. 'I've really done it this time.'
They drove in to the docks and Ricky's heart gave a leap! He could see a funnel in the place where Llanerin had tied up. 'Look,' he shouted in excitement. 'She 's still there. Thank God!' Al drove faster and they approached the ship with light hearts.
'Told you she'd still be here,' Al shouted. 'Yeah !' He punched the steering wheel. As they got nearer, Ricky's heart gave a lurch and his hopes were dashed. It was a different ship. A few dockers were sweeping up the grain spillage on the quay, and Al asked one of them where the Llanerin was.
'She's long gone.' he said. 'Sailed at two this morning.'
'Shit ! Now what do I do?' Ricky asked.
'Lets go see the Harbour Master.' Al answered. 'Maybe he knows something.'
They drove off after getting directions from the docker, and found the office in the corner of the dock. Ricky's stomach was in a knot, and he felt very nervous, as they entered the office. There was a large fat man sitting at a desk with his feet up and a stetson down over his eyes.
'Morning,' Al said.
He lifted the stetson off his eyes. 'Hi, guys,' he said. 'What can I do for you today?'
'We're looking for the Llanerin.' Al told him.
'Well, you've missed her. She sailed this morning for Russia.'
'Damn, Damn, Damn!' Ricky thumped the counter top. The fat man looked at him. 'Hey, are you the kid they lost?' he asked.
Ricky nodded. 'Yes.'
'They called me up on the radio and said you might show up.'
Ricky's stomach gave another lurch of hope. 'Did they leave me any instructions?' The Harbourmaster lowered his feet from the desk and slowly got up from his chair.
'Well, Sir, you have to wait here while I call Immigration. Come through here, now.' He lifted the fold down counter flap to let Ricky through to the office. Al sat in one of the chairs lining the walls and waited. The Harbour Master lifted the phone and dialled a number. ‘The kid from the Llanerin's just come in,' he said into the mouthpiece. He listened for a while further and said, 'Okay,' before putting the phone down. ‘They're sending someone to see you, ' he said. 'Just relax in here,' and he opened a door behind him and ushered Ricky inside. Al made as if to follow him, but the Harbour Master said, 'That's O.K. You can wait out here.' Al sat back down again.
The room that Ricky was in was bare except for two hard chairs. A window overlooked the car park. He sat on one of the chairs and wondered what they would do to him, and why they had left him alone, like a criminal. The Captain on the Llanerin would be very disappointed in him! He'd let them all down. What would Doc think of him? He'd listened to the stories that they'd told on board, of people jumping ship in Australia and South America, so that they could settle there, but he didn't want to settle here. He wanted to complete his voyage and get a Seaman's book, so that he could go to sea again. What a mess! It was his own fault, he shouldn't have drunk all that beer. It was very strong, and he wasn't used to drinking, so it had knocked him for six. He was probably trying to impress Tess, and look how impressed she would be now! He was going to jail! They were coming for him and would drag him off to jail as an illegal immigrant. He heard a siren approaching! It got louder and louder, the noise penetrating and shrill. It stopped when the car was outside the Harbour Master's office! He heard the door of the outer office open and voices. This was it! They were coming for him! He was going to jail! Ricky panicked, and jumped to his feet, looking around him in desperation! He looked at the window! It was a normal window with no bars. He threw it open, climbed over the sill and ran! He made for a group of buildings about a hundred yards away and ran for his life! Slithering to a stop around the back of one of the buildings, he leaned back on the wall, panting to get his breath. Dropping to the ground, he looked around the shed at ground level, back to the office. The window was still open, but as yet he hadn't been missed. He quickly walked away from the shed, keeping the building between himself and the Harbour Master's Office. There wasn't much time before they came looking for him, but he couldn't break into a run without drawing attention to himself. He went out through the dock gates when the guard there had gone into his inner office, and mingled with a crowd of people who were disembarking from three buses. He could hear the police siren somewhere in the background, so he knew that he'd only just made it!
Copyright Deric Barry 2005.
Innocent on the run. Part 16.
Keeping to the back streets, Ricky started walking. He had no idea where he was going but he had to get as much distance between himself and the docks as he could. Luckily there were a lot of people around and he was dressed pretty much the same as everyone else. After he'd been walking for an hour he went in to a burger bar and ordered Coca Cola and a sandwich. Sitting at one of the tables he tried to figure out what to do. He couldn't go to Chuck's house, even if he could find it again, as the police were bound to question Al. My God, he thought, what if they arrest Al as an accessory ! But he quickly rejected that idea. It wasn't Al's fault that he'd run away in a panic. No, the only thing he could think of was to get to another port and try to find a ship going to the U.K. Maybe he could work his passage, or even stow away. He knew the places to hide on a ship, the covered lifeboats, or the chain locker, plenty of places where he wouldn't be discovered until the ship was at sea. First, he had to find out where he was, and which direction to head in, so he drank the last of his coke and went out into the street. His headache had gone now, which was a blessing, and he headed roughly west, keeping the sun on his left. In another hour it would be midday and the sun would be scorching, directly overhead. It was hot walking so he slowed his pace and tried to keep in the shade. After walking for half an hour he saw a bus station and went in to the cool interior to look around for a map. There were maps along the length of one wall. Route maps around Port Arthur, with lists of bus numbers and times underneath, bus numbers for intercity connections, and right at the end a map of Texas. If he continued going West, he would reach Houston, a very large city, so he decided that this would be a good idea. He could get lost in the crowds of a city. Transport was the problem ! It looked to be about a hundred miles to Houston, but he didn't want to enquire at the booking office for a ticket, as the police would be bound to ask if an English kid had enquired about fares. He had three dollars in his pocket, which probably wouldn't take him very far. Leaving the bus station he carried on walking West, until he saw a sign for a Truck Stop Diner on the right hand side of the road. Maybe he could hitch a lift from one of the drivers. As he approached the car park of the diner, he could see a police patrol car with a cop sat in the driver's seat, pulled up outside it. Luckily the cop had his back to Ricky, so he ducked into a telephone booth on the pavement, and watched the car from the window. After about five minutes, another cop came out of the diner carrying some paper bags and got into the car. The driver turned in a wide circle and came out on to the road. Ricky turned his back to them, grabbed the phone and held it to his ear. When they'd gone, he breathed a sigh of relief and carried on walking to the car park. There were plenty of trucks in the car park, huge vehicles with dozens of enormous wheels, some with extra trailers towing behind. He waited until a driver came out, and crossed to meet him.
'Can you give me a lift, please,' he asked. The driver was a big man with a large belly stuck out in front of him. Without looking at Ricky, he snarled, 'Beat it,' out of the corner of his mouth and climbed into his cab. The next driver out was a little wizened guy, and when Ricky asked him the same question, he said,
' Which way you headed, kid?'
‘Sorry, kid. I'm going East.'
Ricky tried two more drivers, but had no luck. One didn't answer him and the other just shook his head. He was about to give up and start walking again when a voice said, 'No luck, kid?'
He turned and saw a big man with a baseball cap on, and a grin on his face.
'No, I was just about to give up and start walking.'
'Where you headed?'
'I'm going that way, come on.' He beckoned Ricky over with his head, and made his way over to a truck. Ricky climbed up the side of the truck on the steel steps fixed to the side. He missed his footing on one step in his eagerness to get in, and slipped, wrenching his arms as he took the strain. 'Damn,' he muttered as he scrambled into the cab. It was enormous, and they were so high up that he could look over the flat roofed diner and see into the next car park. The driver started up the engine and the truck rolled forwards. It was quiet inside the cab with just a growl from the engine, and he pulled out on to the road and headed for Houston. 'Where you from, kid.'
'Yeah, I guessed you weren't from these parts. You on vacation over here.'
'Yes, I've been doing some work, here and there.'
'What do you think of the States?'
Ricky gave him the stock answer that he knew all Americans liked to hear. 'It's a great country.'
'It sure is ! The greatest country in the world. What part of England you from?'
'Wales. It's a little country to the West of England.'
'Hell, I know where Wales is. I was stationed in England in the war. In Suffolk, over on the East coast. My wife is English! We married over there and she came back to the States with me, after the war.'
'Where do you live now?' Ricky asked. 'Houma, Louisiana. A couple of hundred miles back that way.' He jerked his thumb over his shoulder. 'I’m a Cajun !'
'A Cajun. We speak our own form of French, and have our own culture. You see, our people were French and used to live in Acadia in Nova Scotia, way up on the Canadian side, but the English drove us out of our homes back in 1755, and the people took to their boats and ended up in Louisiana. A lot of us Cajuns live in the swamps, making a living fishing in the bijous, catching alligators and hunting. Cajun is a shortened version of Acadian.'
'There's alligators in the swamps, aren't there?'
'You bet there are. Millions of them. If I had a dollar for every 'gator I'd caught, I wouldn't be driving this truck.'
'How do you catch them ?'
'Well, there's lots of different ways. My way is to lassoo the tail first, then when the head comes around to see what's going on, you lassoo that as well. Then you draw the ropes together, tie the jaws up nice and tight and tie the head to the tail. That way you can roll them home like a car tyre!'
'I see,' Ricky said, doubtfully. The driver smiled to himself !
'What do you do with them, once you've caught them.'
'Well, Sir, I like a nice steak off a 'gator. That's always tasty, and then you cure the skin and make shoes and handbags, and pretty things like that for your wife and family. The eggs are tasty as well, but you got to be careful. If you get one that's near to hatchin out, and you boil it up, and crack it open, a little 'gator can come crawling out.'
Ricky gagged, 'Oh, my God.' he groaned.
The driver roared with laughter! 'DAMN, I had you going for a while there,' he shouted.
Ricky laughed! 'I knew you must be joking.' he said.
'You knew? You knew, shit,' he laughed. 'There's people make a living out of telling lies in the States. They entertain on the stage with their stories, and they have competitions to see who can tell the biggest lies.
'You ought to enter. You might win.' Ricky told him.
'Not me, ' he replied. 'I'm only an amateur.'
They were driving through miles and miles of flat, featureless land. The fields on either side of them stretched to the horizon, with miles of wheat, as far as the eye could see. Working across some of the fields were six combine harvesters, in line abreast, cutting and gathering the wheat in one end before spewing it out the other, tied in bundles. The road in front of them stretched to infinity, seeming to narrow towards the furthest point. It was a huge country, and this was just one state.
'Where you going to in Houston ?' the driver asked. 'Nowhere in particular, any place I can find work.'
'What kind of work can you do?'
'Painting, labouring, anything that comes up. I'm pretty good at painting, I've had a lot of experience.'
'Well, I'll drop you on the approaches to the city before I turn off, I don't go into the city itself.'
'Thanks, that'll be great!'
The truck sped on towards Houston, along the arrow straight highway. There was very little traffic apart from the truck, just the occasional car or other juggernaught. Rick's driver always acknowledged the other truck drivers with a blast on the truck's wind horn. The first time Ricky heard it, he nearly jumped out of his skin, it was so loud. The driver roared with laughter, and did it once again, watching for his reaction, but he was used to it now and he wasn't caught out. They could see the skyline of Houston from miles away. Enormous skyscrapers thrusting themselves up from the ground, as if attempting to reach the sky. To Ricky they looked like the sets of bar graphs that he'd had to draw in school, different sized rectangles placed on end. As they approached the city outskirts, the scenery changed from wheat and cotton fields to factory buildings and oil wells. The oil was pumped out of the ground by huge reciprocating pumps, which looked like a bird with an enormous neck, pecking at the ground, in a slow, even, up and down movement. Before they reached the city limits, the driver turned off on to a slip road which linked up with the road he wanted to use to skirt the city. He pulled to a stop with a great hissing of brakes and said, 'This is it, kid. End of the road.' Ricky opened the door, and said, 'Thanks very much for the lift,' and offered his hand. The driver shook it and said, 'You take care now,' as Ricky climbed down to the ground. The truck pulled away and Ricky started walking down the slip road, to get off the highway before any police car came along. They would be bound to stop a hitch hiker, and he hurried to get into a built up area where he wouldn't be conspicuous.
Copyright Deric Barry 2005. Deric on hubpages: http://scarytaff.hubpages.com
Innocent on the run. Part 17.
Ricky walked along the road into Houston, past factories and giant stores. People were leaving work for the day, driving out through factory gates in their enormous cars. Everything was larger than life in the States, he thought. They certainly had plenty of space, the roads were all very wide and the buildings set back a long way from their fronts. It was around five o'clock, he guessed, not having a watch to confirm it. He hadn't eaten since he was in Port Arthur and he was feeling quite peckish. Finding a place to stay the night was going to be a problem, as he couldn't afford to rent a room, so would have to keep his eyes open for a suitable place. One thing in his favour was that it didn't get really cold at night. Once he found a job and a room, he would get a change of clothes. There were a lot of garages along this route, selling petrol, repairing and selling cars, and he thought he would try them for a job the following day. As long as he kept well away from the city centre and didn't cause any trouble, he was sure he would be O.K. He thought about sending a letter to his parents, telling them that he was alright and not to worry about him, but he abandoned the idea after a while. After all, they wouldn't normally hear from him until the ship got to the next port. He had sent a postcard from Port Arthur telling them it was a great place, and the weather was marvellous, so their minds would be at rest for a while longer. There was a hamburger stand on the next corner so he bought a coke and a burger which staved off the hunger for a while. What he would have given for a fish and chip shop! He walked on down the block and saw a pool hall on the other side of the street, so he crossed over at the lights and went in. It was pretty much the same layout as the one in Port Arthur, but a bit more run down, a bit seedier. There were quite a few people playing, so he sat on the bench and watched a game. Two men were playing and they made some good shots, but after watching for a while he began to get bored. It was no fun on your own, watching the door all the time in case the police came in. A foursome on a table over in the corner were playing a game amid gales of laughter, so he went across to see what it was all about. He managed to find a seat near to the table, mixing with the crowd of onlookers. One guy, a short, fat little man was clowning around as the others were trying to get their shots in. If a ball went near to a pocket he would get down level with the table and blow hard on it, trying to stop it from going in the pocket. As someone bent over the table to take a shot, he put his cue between the guy's legs and rubbed it up and down. When it came to his turn he danced around the table, quickly sighting on two or three different balls before striking the cue ball with the wrong end of his cue. His partner in the game had a bald head, and as he bent over to take a shot, the little guy shielded his eyes and shouted, 'Quick switch his head off, he's blinding me! Once, he tapped him on the head with his cue and shouted, 'Don't miss this, melon head.' The crowd was getting bigger, and the laughter was rocking the place, when someone said, 'Lookout, here comes that miserable bastard Willie.' A sour faced individual was making his way through the crowd to the table, and the laughter died. The little fat guy didn't care though. 'Hiya, Willie,' he grinned. 'What's up?'
'What's up.' he barked. 'There's other guys trying to play here as well as you lot. Now cool it, or hit he streets.'
The little guy laughed, 'Okay,Willie. Fancy a game yourself, do you?' Sour face looked daggers at him, turned around and left. The others were trying their hardest not to laugh as Willie stamped back to his desk. 'Fancy a game, do you.' the bald headed one mimicked. 'You know he lost a fortune to that hustler last week, you jerk.'
The little guy roared, doubling up with laughter! 'I know. Couldn't have happened to a nicer bastard.' He recovered a little of his composure and added, 'Just because he owns the place, you'd think he owns the place.' The crowd was filtering away now and the room settled down again. Ricky stayed where he was to watch the rest of the game, but it wasn't as much fun as before. Sour face had killed the atmosphere. The players still enjoyed themselves though, and the fat guy kept doing outrageous things to the other players, but it was a bit quieter.
Ricky stayed in the pool hall until nine o'clock, then went outside to look for somewhere to spend the night. He walked towards the city centre through a very run down neighbourhood. The buildings were all in a very sorry state, some with windows smashed and doors hanging off, others with their windows boarded over, no roofs on them, or ceilings hanging down inside. There were plenty of people around, and kids were playing in the street among the debris and garbage. Others were sat on the steps of the buildings that were inhabited, talking, laughing, or shouting abuse at one another. There was every colour of person imaginable, white, black, yellow, and
every shade of brown. Descendants of people from dozens of different countries, Mexicans, Africans, Hispanics, Germans, Greeks, Swedes, Italians, Irish and English, as well as countless numbers of Eastern European countries. It was a truly cosmopolitan part of the city. Ricky thought he would blend in here without too many questions being asked about him. He stood on the corner of the block and wondered what to do next. His final plan was to get enough money together to be able to travel to a port to try to get back home. Where the nearest port was, he didn't yet know. Maybe there was a port in Houston itself. He would have to find out. A black kid of about eleven approached on roller skates. He did a turn around Ricky and stopped. 'Hey, dude.' he said.
'Hi.' Ricky answered. 'What's up?'
'Nothing, I'm just thinking.'
'You want to play ball?'
Ricky thought for a moment. 'Okay.'
'Come on, then.' and he skated slowly around to the back of the house on the corner. 'Call me Chip.' he shouted over his shoulder.
'I'm Ricky.' he answered, following the skater. There were six other kids of varying ages there, playing with a basketball. They had chalked out some lines on the tarmac, suspended a basketball net on the back of the house, and another one on the house opposite. Chip sat down and took his skates off. 'Hey, you guys,' he shouted. 'This guy's going to play. His name's Rick.'
'You'll have to tell me the rules.' Ricky said.
'We don't have no rules.' One of them shouted, which brought a laugh from the others. They divided up into teams and played for about an hour. It was an easy game, as they seemed to get the ball, run to their opponents net and try to get it through the hole. Then the other team would get the ball, run down the other end and have a try at their net. It was warm work, running up and down the pitch, and Ricky was sweating after a while. He lost count of the score, but Chip was keeping tally, adding a few on to his side's score when he thought he could get away with it.
Suddenly a woman's voice yelled out of the window of the house opposite, 'Jerome! Jerome !' One of the young lads winced!
'Oh, Oh,' he said.
'Jerome, get in here. Come on now, I don't want to have to come and get you.'
He shuffled off as if going to the electric chair. 'See you tomorrow, guys.' The game broke up then, and the other lads slowly dispersed. Chip sat down to put his skates on. 'Where you live, Rick?'
'I'm looking for a place.' he answered.
'Nowhere to go, huh ?'
'My Ma takes in boarders, since my old man went to jail. Le t's go see her.' He got up and skated alongside Ricky to one of the houses on the main street. He led the way up the front steps and up two more flights of stairs to a door marked 7. The door had been painted in a brown colour many years before, but now the paint had gone dry and cracked. Large splits had appeared in the wood, and someone had carved his initials in the door. W.P. Chip opened the door and motioned Ricky inside.
A Female voice said, 'That you Chip?'
'Yeah, Ma. I got a visitor.'
A large black lady got up from a chair and put her newspaper down.
'This is Rick. He's got no place to stay.'
'Good evening.' Ricky said.
'My,' Chip's Mother said. 'A Gentleman! We don't get many gentlemen around here.
'No place to stay, huh ? Well, you can stay right here with us.'
'Thank you very much, Mrs?
'You call me Dottie. What you doin' in this neighbourhood, Rick? you ain't American!
'No, I’m from England.
Both of Dottie's hands flew up to her face. 'My, oh my. England! What you doing in our country? Oh, forgive my manners, please come in and sit down,' and she patted the settee. Ricky entered the sparsely furnished room and sat down on the settee. The whole room was spotlessly clean, and shining like a new pin. Apart from the settee there was an easy chair and a small coffee table. In one corner was a sink and alongside it, a cooker and a huge refrigerator. In the other corner was a kitchen table and four chairs The floor was covered with linoleum, with a rug in front of the one bar electric fire.
Dottie went to the refrigerator and brought out a baked ham, some cold potatoes and some bread. She piled a plate high with the food and told Ricky to sit at the table and eat. She poured milk from a large jug into glasses and gave one each to Ricky and Chip.
'Now tell me all about yourself,' Dottie commanded, and before he knew where he was, he'd started telling her the whole story. About foolishly getting drunk at the party, missing the ship, his flight from the police and his ride in the truck to Houston. She listened with her mouth open, and an occasional, 'My, Oh my.' interrupted his tale. 'Well,' she said finally, when he'd finished talking. 'That's a terrible thing to have happened to one so young as you, and we got to pray to the Lord tonight and ask Him what we should do. Ain’t nothing we can do tonight except pray, so you get some sleep now and we'll try to figure something out in the morning.' Dottie sent Chip off to bed and made up the settee into a bed for Ricky. She bustled about getting bedding for him and showed him the bathroom where he could shower if he wanted to. She went off to bed herself and wished him goodnight.
Ricky stripped off in the bathroom and ran the shower. The water felt really good, washing away the dust of travelling, and he got out and towelled himself off in the snowy white towel that Dottie had left out for him. He felt like a new man! He cleaned up after himself, as he'd learnt to do on the ship, and got turned in on the sofa bed. What a day, he thought ! And what a mess! I should be on the ship now, heading across the Gulf of Mexico. Goodness knows when I'll get home! Maybe not for a long time, if they catch me and put me in jail. He dozed off thinking about ships and how he would try to get a trip back to the U.K, before he was caught and thrown in jail.