A stone staircase wrapped down the side of a vine-choked bluff overlooking a quiet coastal town. Single-story buildings with tile roofs clung to every hill and cliff face from the highest point of the narrow peninsula to the westernmost shoreline bristling with masts.
On the first landing from the bottom of the stone staircase, Zvonko sat on the top step with his right leg stretched out. A mountainous heap of vines with bold magenta flowers hung low over the landing and brushed the top of the seated man’s head in the breeze. His long inky hair wasn’t tied back as usual.
I lingered behind him on the landing. He had no idea I was there. “Zvonko.”
Startled, Zvonko jumped to his feet and instantly became tangled among the drooping vines. I waited as he, flailing, managed to duck clear of the plants and then nearly fell down the steps as his right knee buckled strangely.
His brown trousers showed signs of recent and extensive repair consistent with a brutal fight with a more-than-worthy opponent. A new linen shirt failed to conceal bandages that peeked out about his neck and likely spanned his torso. The hem of his favorite green coat dusted the tops of knee high boots which were stained a rust-color, more on the right boot than the left, just below his knee caps. His jaw was swollen black and purple on one side and under his left eye.
Whoa. I stared. He’s a mess.
Straightening with most of his weight on his left leg, Zvonko faced me. He knew he was a mess.
“Scum,” he slurred through a painful jaw.
He nodded down the steps toward the charts office below. “Talk some sense into him, would you?”
I passed by and began descending the steps but stopped. Half turning, I looked up at Zvonko. The man looked beaten. Thoroughly. Lally needed his first mate to be lionhearted and focused — it’d be dangerous for Lally if he wasn’t. Perhaps motivating words were in order.
I should say something. I considered a few words and chose one: “Pathetic.”
Zvonko flashed a rude gesture and I, satisfied with my choice, descended the remaining steps.
[to be continued…]