Daybreak drunk with Boris, again. We have a crime that we are planning. That’s just the kind we are. And if we see it through, you will know me by repute.
The ship itself is an impossible thing. Though it is many nights, its shape remains mysterious to me. The very thing is un-navigable. It is silly. It is silly to think of how the ship itself is un-navigable, when the mission is so simple. It is discomfiting. I cannot find the navigator’s bridge, though I meet him often in the mess and suggest the place is in shambles.
Boris, of course, does not abet me; lying abed instead, he pets himself, no doubt. I hear him grunt up there. Boris is bored by the whole affair. Boredom breeds contempt, at least, or I would have no companion with which to plan this breach of protocol. I must bring the navigator around, but it seems I cannot reach him. I surmise that Boris is the navigator’s type, but Boris will not teach me how to speak to him. I do not blame him, for the ship is a lascivious place, and Boris, like the navigator, is a fellow of some grace and manners. So, with the goal of being more like Boris I have started sipping from his bottle, and today I will detain the navigator in our dining mess and be a great betrayer, like the kind that Boris is.
Of the mess I say there is nothing simpler to find. It is very near the privy, which is only down the hall. The navigator eats there, too, although he is an officer. Although he is an officer, he dresses like an ensign. We surmise he is a kind of spy, or why else might he condescend to our mess where the stuff is poorer? What he wants with us I can hardly guess, for we know little—little of the ship, that is, though much about the mission.
Soon, I will unweave this skein of guiles.
It is a typical mess with its long counters and many tables. In the corner is the window from which rations are expressed. It is to this window that I make my path directly, though several of my companions are having supper at a table near the entrance. They are the kind of friends for which there is no better word; they do not stand, but they have seen me for sure. I would rather they sit and be slighted than see them stand and invite me to join them. There is a reason why I bunk with Boris, even though he is a louse. His boredom is a kind of charm. It is the stitch that’s sewn our coats together. His contempt is another thing entirely, though. I am trying eagerly to imitate it, but so far with little to show. Now I see the navigator supping in the corner which is not lit well. He is having tea, it seems, and I must be quick, but not too quick, if I hope to reach him without rousing his suspicions.
—I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to frighten you, but we are closing. Have you decided what you will have? A mess hand asks me.
—I must meet with my companion who is already sitting here for a long time and if I am famished, I cannot carry out the important business to which we must attend together.
—Well, I would be happy to get you something, but at the risk of vexing you further, I must ask right now who it is you’re referring to when you speak of your companion.
—What business is it of yours?
—I would not presume to say that it is any at all, but if you expected to meet your companion here in the mess, then perhaps he has forgotten or become discouraged.
—What are you talking about?
—Why, look around and see for yourself that there is no one here except you and I. The mess is closing as I said and everyone has finished his supper and moved on until next time.
—That’s obvious! But why have you detained me in talking for so long?
—Sir, I beg your apology.
—I only would like some food now, although I admit my appetite is somewhat spoiled. What about some broth?
—I’m sorry sir.
—Why is that?
—The mess is closed, sir.
—You said the mess is closing, not that it is closed, so go on and get me something. My appetite is coming back.
—It was closing but now it is closed and there is nothing you or I can do.
—You can go in, or I’ll strike you!
—Go ahead, sir. But I can’t. It’s closed even to me. But I understand if you would like to hit me. If it would make you feel better, go on. Though I am weak and I am certain it should hurt me terribly.
—Oh, go away. I shall stay here until my companion returns for the next meal so that I don’t miss him.
—I’m afraid you may not stay here, sir.
—I shall have to stop you, sir. I may have to use force.
— would like very much to beat you, for I have an unpleasant feeling about you and I suspect that you have planned all of this in order to prevent me from meeting with my companion. But I am safe in the knowledge that once my companion, who is an officer of this ship, discovers that I was detained here by a mess hand that justice will be served upon you. And with that I take my leave of you!
—Very well, sir. I’m sorry sir, goodbye sir.
And that is when I took my leave of that mouse called a man. To think that I have been buttonholed by a mess hand, when all I wanted was the navigator. Now I shall have to go back to Boris to tell him I have been squeezed out today, and he will not be pleased. I must think of something to appease him, so he will not cut me from the crime we’re planning.
But then I see the mess hand proceeds me. He is scurrying ahead of me along the passageway. And what if I should catch him? I’d show him what it’s like to be sewn up in a situation then, and have the seams cut out of him. Yes, Boris could surely ruin him, and perhaps he would also be impressed that I had captured him and forget a little of my failing.
It should not be hard for me. You see, I am accustomed to dealing with rodents and other little things. There were many in the privies of the yards of my youth, and many of another kind in the same aboard the ship. You must bait the hook and wait patiently. The little sniffing thing will always arrive if you offer the proper incentive.
My mother taught me how to do this with a crumb and a bit of thread. We lay in wait in the dead of night, with only the end of the string to keep us company. The string was tied to a stick some distance away and the stick was notched to admit the lip of a tin. In the shadow of the tin lay the crumb. If we remained absolutely still, at length it came for the crumb. The bigger thing for the little thing and the bigger for the bigger still. It would only take a moment to miss the mouse once it arrived and since our eyes could not pierce the darkness we must have listened like our life depended from that tied, notched stick. I did not like the sudden din when we whipped the stick out from the box, when the animal would bounce around and seek the exit, but soon that would stop, unless the beast was big, then sometimes the box would almost scoot away, until I leaped upon it. I did not like to catch the animals, althoughI saw it must be done. Eventually, I admit, I began to enjoy the task. And I will enjoy this too, and think that I will win, though Boris and I will not eat this hand that feeds us, even if he would send us to bed hungry.
Now, how to do it:
1) I will become his tail. To follow him so closely, I must be like an appendage, hence the appellation. As he goes, so shall I, with all grace and will not clunk along behind, but shall hold myself high upon my toes and only put the tip down gently upon the tile and I shall not shuffle, but step deliberately and swish merrily to and fro if I must, to match him. Not a mere shadow but a true tail, and these have brains.
2) I will await an opportunity. Every living thing must cease its progress now and again or become distracted for various reasons. Importunity is the shape of a horn; the ship itself is my baited hook and this mouse will nibble at the crumb. Pausing, opening a door, lacing a shoe; the dull stations of ship-life will be my little trip-wires today.
3) I will fall upon him. My body will be the tin. I will be listening very closely and pull the stick away at precisely the correct moment. The stick is like my legs. They are both long things, supporting the trap, which is the heavy thing from which he will be unable to extirpate himself, unless I myself lift it off. I will spread out my overcoat, which is part of the uniform, so that the cape becomes like a great wing, which can double as a net so that when I fly out over him and touch down upon him, he is entirely covered in fabric and will be further disoriented by the loss of his sight (for it will be quite dark under the cape cover), even as he must realize that some great, sudden force has borne him to the floor.
4) I will return to Boris with the quarry to accept his congratulations and plan the next move. It is a thick crime already but I am eager to immerse myself in it further for I can see no other course and I am bored of boredom.
Isn’t it funny that this fellow, who had thought he’d had the best of me, should soon be kicking and punching desperately at phantoms? I find it evinces a kind of design to things, which is detectable sometimes and is suggested in the most enduring stories, the ones where matters are sorted out fairly and all the twists are squared. For example, though my errand may have seemed to fail, I shall not be returning empty-handed and then again it may be that I have caught the better man because looks, above all else, can be deceiving.
This is certainly what my friend was saying as I swooped upon him in the hall once he paused momentarily. One moment this hand is scurrying along and the next he is flat out and not even certain if he should be frightened or if he has simply fallen suddenly asleep. Perhaps he will think he has died mysteriously since all the lights have gone out from his eyes and from his brains, too.
—Hello? He cried, cautiously.
—Hello again. I replied automatically, though with some pleasure.
—Oh, it is you then and I have not died or gone mad, unless I am conversing with myself or some dread agent of the other side.
—Ah, but how can you be sure. Perhaps I am such a grim thing.
—But you said hello again, which indicates to me that you have met me before, and I have never gone mad before, or died before, so far as I am aware.
—The broth of forgetting is sweet, they say. They say it is irresistible.
—But they might be wrong if they have never tried it, besides, you have already tipped your hand. Either one of us is mad, or we have met before.
—It is not so simple as that, you’ll find. You’ll soon discover that we have plans for you.
—Very well, tell me what I must do and I will if that is the only way to secure my release.
—Fool! Don’t think that I don’t see your game. I am a rat-catcher of the first degree. Rats are not without guile and are prone to testing every means of escape. But I am a first degree rat-keeper too. And you are a rat.
—If you say so, then I suppose I am in your rattrap.
—True, and we have plans for you.
—I will try my best to fit in your plans, but you must tell me what they are.
—We will go to Boris, rat. And that’s for him to decide.
I led him away towards my compartment. It wasn’t far and we had soon arrived, although the whole thing was slightly delayed due to my prisoner’s blindness, which caused him to bump his head and elbows repeatedly against the walls, despite my care in leading him.
I hesitated for a moment at the compartment door, in case Boris should be so drunk as to have gone to sleep upon the floor, which is something I have never seen but which worries me because I’ve heard of it. I knocked and heard the familiar grunt of Boris from the top bunk and opened the door. Sure enough I discovered that all was well and Boris was up there, hiding under the covers; drunk and undiminished.
—I’ve brought you something, Boris, I said, and indicated the figure of the rat, looking like a plump, grey ghost with fleshly legs underneath my overcoat.
Boris growled at the sight and sighed in pride towards me. He thought I had overcome the navigator as promised and that we were one step closer to conducting our great transgression.
—Good, he grumbled, sounding slightly sick as though the drink had found its inevitable way, at last, to his health. Let me see him, then.
I led the rat before Boris’ bed and lifted off the coat with a flourish. There he stood, twitching his nose and blinking numbly in the sudden light of the cabin. A rat, alright, I thought, triumphantly.
I lifted up the covers then so Boris could see for himself. Boris, in his great grey uniform, with eyes as red as rubies, looking splendid with the bottle beside him.
—Don’t pull the blanket down all the way, now, he chortled, for I’ve a girl under here and soon enough so will you you fetcher and fletcher of the arrows which will heretofore be rained upon our foes! Now the navigator charts our course.
—Of course, of course, I shall have one I said, and smiled a secret smile and stamped upon the rodent’s toe.
—Tell him, I said, pointing at Boris, whose face was delirious, drunk, with glee, tell Boris here the queer things about the ship and leave no detail behind, for you, the navigator, you shall be the reason for my black heart beating louder all the time.