Public Key (xxvi)

He came back five minutes later with another blonde. He was babyfaced and built and he held a beer in each hand.

This is Ziggy, the bartender said.


Fjalar Siggurdson. First mate.

I took his hand and shook it.

What’s your name? he asked in perfect English.

Dunno, I said. What do you think it should be?

He took a look behind Beer Number One. Then he smiled.

How about Þjóðvarður?

I appropriated one of his bottles of beer, and drank a fair amount of it.

He laughed, a big mountain-moving thing, and smashed his beer bottle into mine. That obliged me to drink even more. I would have been afraid of getting press-ganged, if that wasn’t kinda what I was looking to do.

Know how to work a ship? he asked.


Know how to mop a floor? Wash dishes? Clean a toilet?

No. But I’m a quick learner.

He laughed again. Alright. I’ll tell my captain. A thousand dollars will get you to Africa.

Bullshit, I said. If you want me to clean toilets, you ought to pay me.

How about we steal all your money, he said. And all your stuff. Then throw you overboard. Or better yet, wait to make landfall. Then say you were a stowaway, and turn you over to the gendarmes.

How about you put me to work ten hours a day, and in exchange you let me sleep on the floor and eat table-scraps.

The captain will want some money.

I’ll pay for everything I eat. And a hundred bucks to the captain. And a hundred bucks to you, if you get him to swallow it.

He took the bottle back from me, knocked it back and drank it down. You don’t think we’re going to rape you and throw you overboard?

Not if you want your toilets cleaned.

He laughed, and let the bottle drop to the ground. Alright, I’ll take it to the Captain. But if anyone comes aboard to check papers, we say you’re a stowaway.

Think that’s going to happen?


I stuck out my hand. When do you sail?

Two hours.


Go, he said. I’ll work things out. Meet me back here. You’re going to love the sea, Þjóðvarður!

He laughed. I resisted the urge to punch him in the nose. Instead I settled my tab, slipped another ten to the bartender, and got running.



~ by davekov on 14 February 2011.

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