On Lake Lothario
Here they are, at long last, raising the wreck from the bottom of Lake Miller: divers, archaeologists and two ships with winches. Three kayakers float on the lake in the brilliant sunshine watching from under hats. Nothing goes down on Lake Miller without their knowledge. One of them spots a guy on the shore, watching also, looking unbathed, pale, irritated, curious; he’s wearing a tricorn hat and black coat reaching his knees with, what’s that, gold brocade? The supervisory kayakers paddle over to him and clamber onshore.
We are lucky one of the three speaks Cajun-flavored French, enough to understand the brocaded fellow. He also lapses into frontier English spiced with strong oaths, edited out from the below.
Sometimes he talks as if the vessel being raised is his own. But that’s crazy, it has two wooden masts and a wooden hull - he’d have to be really old. At other times he seems to be saying that the vessel was under the command of a Captain who kind of worked for him, “zee scurvy Lothario de Noyé”.
The vessel is being cranked up into progressively better view. The brocaded fellow points with his gnarly index finger, “Zere ees zee breach zat sent her to zee bottom!” There’s a large hole low on the wooden hull, looking as if was chopped by axes.
One of the three kayakers scratched under his hat and said he did recall, amid rumors that this was Jean LaFitte’s boat, that others said it was the boat of a French privateer named de Noyé, and this lake was his hangout –maybe named for him. “If it was either Captain’s ship, it was sunk about 1820,” Tomás said. “Because that’s when federal taxing authorities tried to raid LaFitte’s operations for unpaid customs duties, and he cleared out.”
“How do you know all this stuff?” Joe asked Tomás.
“I always read a little before I go to bed.” Tomás answered.
“Zere was zee armistice with zee President Jackson, zo no customs duties were owing.” the brocaded fellow grumbled. “And zere is nada on zat sheep zat’s not rotted to paste or des squelettes,” He rubbed his thumb and cupped fingers together in front of his squint, then wrinkled his nose. “And raising a sheep es mala suerte.” Oh yes, he spoke a distant-sounding Spanish too. Bad luck.
The brocaded fellow apparently thought the three kayakers were Mexicans. Like, People-who-Lived-in-Texas–when-Texas-was-Mexico Mexicans.
He asked Dave if he kept any slaves. Dave said he did not. The Captain complemented Joe on his beard and asked “what zee diablo es zeese leetle rouge boat made of?” Joe said plastic. The Captain asked Joe why he and the others wore such clunky waistcoats. He looked puzzled at the answer: “PFDs”. “A life preserver - if I fall into the water.” Joe explained. “Zee whole point of sheeps is staying out zee water,” the fellow said. “Zee good sailors – zey nevair sweem!”
The brocaded fellow spoke about his fort, some sort of fortified house on Galveston Island he called Maison Rouge. “Good solid walls” where he kept his mistress. “Impregnable,” he said with satisfaction. About the house. He frowned. “Zeese mistress, she muss be watched at all times. Some of zee men say she even take up with zeese de Noyé.” He frowned toward the hole in the side of the vessel, then shrugged. “Who knows? Zee skeletons of zeese de Noyé and her might be tangled together in zee Captain’s cabin!” He clamped his lips together and stuck the bottom of his chin out appraisingly.
The attention of the four turned back to the deck of the ship now rising above the murky surface. Do you hang out a lot in these woods? asked Joe. “I come here when zey swim for zese sheep,” the Captain said. “Mas o menos, once every twenty years. I come here, until zey run into zee problem.”
Tomás said by a scientific analysis of the joinder of wooden elements making up the keel and ribs, scientists could learn a lot about how non-adhesive technologies function in different atmospheric pressure conditions. “That could potentially be very useful when establishing extractive industries on Mars,” Tomás said.
Joe explained to the Captain, “See how things fasten together. So they can mine for metals on Mars”.
The Captain asked if there would be pirate ships on Mars. Joe said yes and Dave said no doubt. The Captain nodded to Joe and Dave and said, “Zair are always pirates.” Tomás said it depended on whether a single country achieved hegemony and then if that country could regenerate an atmosphere and substantial surface water.
There was a loud snap from a guyline running from one of the ships to the wreck, and then almost instantly another loud snap from a line running from the other ship. The wreck keeled over dramatically, righted itself, then swiftly sank below the surface. The Captain turned on his heel to walk into the woods. “Zat’s zat,” he said, smirking,“… for anuzzer generation.” As an afterthought: “Too bad about zee joinder of zee wooden elements, zo.”
Joe said that people would probably manage to exploit Mars without knowledge of the wreck’s hull anyway.
“One shouldn’t get greedy,” the Captain said.
“You should only take from people with whom you are at war,” Capt. Lafitte said. “Zat, as a principle, provides one plenty.” The Captain drew an embroidered handkerchief from his waistcoat pocket and, with disgusted face, waved it once and blew his nose, stuffed it back again. “One should not raise sunken sheeps and one should not take whole planets,” the Captain said. “Zeeze are my principles.”
Dave asked outright where the Captain had buried his Galveston treasure, and did he know the GPS coordinates? For this purpose Dave showed the Captain his handheld GPS device. The Captain turned round and round in his place while studying the compass feature. The Captain then rested his hand on his saber and requested Dave’s GPS device. Dave rested his hand on his cell phone and the Captain gave it back. The Captain stalked into the woods.
By David Portz
|The author, David Portz