Below the Horizon Part II
The next day I again prowled the water front. At Tilden's dive shack, Tilden himself approached, hustling a reservation for his 3 p.m. excursion to the reef. I remembered seeing him at Bogart's. After exchanging greetings, I asked him about Tom and his stories.
"He's a pro. Served two hitches in the Navy. Most of us did. He was a hard hat. Did mostly salvage and repair. I was a SEAL. After the service he went to school at Barry University. Has a degree in Oceanography. Worked for some company searching for minerals off shore. I'm not sure he's done everything he says, but his stories excite the sport divers."
"He owns a submarine?"
"Had two. Sold one to Discovery Tours. The three place is moored at Sebaso's."
In the evening I returned to the cool twilight of Bogart's. Again, Tom had an audience. Advancing into the assembly, I received a nod from Tom, who without a word, placed a Scotch 'n rocks on the bar. Then to my surprise he placed one hand on mine, preventing me from raising my glass, and announced. "Guys, meet my biographer. Scribbler, introduce yourself." "Call me Shelly," I said politely and shook hands with one of the men closest to me. More of his wind I thought. Slick of Tom, considering he doesn't know my name. Then I wondered, did he really know I'm a writer? How? Though Tom's announcement had caught me by surprise, in the back of my mind I had already planned to employ this peacock in some future story. I lingered until the regulars had cleared following story hour and asked, "Are you serious, Tom, about having your life story published?" "It's worth a shot," he said. "I'm not going to get rich tending bar. My experiences aren't spectacular, but they are unusual. I'd like a payoff." “What makes you think I could write it?" "You've been taking notes, and I've read your book, Mr. S. Hewett." "Which ones?" I asked. "I hope you bought them all." “Public library. Sorry." "When do you want to start?" “Start with what you have and we'll work from there." “Let me organize my thoughts and talk to you tomorrow. What's a good time?" “Stop by in the morning...about ten. I'll be setting up. It'll be quiet." I combined my impressions with comments I collected from familiar faces along the marina, then Tom began recounting his adventures. To my question, "How did you come to be a professional deep sea diver?" Tom answered with another story. "I don't know if he considered himself a teacher or an entertainer, but my Uncle Denny always seemed to be posing a challenge to my perspective. One day he drew water form the tap, partially filling a glass. He took a sip, then asked, 'Is this glass half full or half empty?' On another occasion he produced a crudely drawn picture of a woman. 'What do you see?' A hawk-nosed hag, I answered."
"Well," he said, "I see a coquettish girl with a plumed hat." “After a moment, I also saw what he suggested. A later question set the focus for my adult life. I was about 16 when he glanced at the globe on the desk in my bedroom. He took the ball from its frame and held it with one pole facing me. 'What do you see?' The South pole, I said." “What else?" "Oceans." “Land?" “The tip of South America, Africa and Australia." Then my uncle made his point. "We in North America view the world as two land masses divided by the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. From the south, one sees a single expanse of water linking all the land." “You've recreated that demonstration, I said, with the globe behind the bar." Tom smiled, pleased that I was aware of the display. “At 16, my eyes were turned towards space, but by the time I graduated high school I had decided to follow in the wake of Jacques Cousteau. I saw an advantage to exploring the sea. It is here. One can touch it, taste it. The adventure lay in the fact so little is known about a portion of our world greater in extent that all the land. I became determined to make my mark by adding to the knowledge of our planet. I've never regretted lowering my sights from the stars to the sea. I defend my choice with this thought. From Copernicus to Davies, with each new technical advance, what is dogma one day becomes science fiction the next. In an old salt's terms, An astronomer's fact is like a sailor's promise. Gone with the tide."
We had been collaborating for about a week when Tom showed me a letter.
The letterhead was a stylized series McMc. Under it, the address Morgan City, La. 70380. Unsigned, the page bore only one line. "I'm coming to get you."
"Sounds ominous. What does it mean?"
"Not sure," Tom said in a way which lead me to believe he knew, but wouldn't commit to a response.
"What are you going to do?"
In the months ahead, I was to witness Tom's deliberate, patient approach in a number of unexpected situations.
Several days later, Tom received a phone call from the Coast Guard. "Come down to the base please. There is someone here, asking for you."
Riding behind Tom on his motorcycle, we reported to the base. There, the Officer of the Day directed us to where the one who summoned Tom waited.
"If we play our cards right, the Navy will buy into our project. Let's talk at your place."
"Mckenzie Mccall," Tom exclaimed at seeing, what looked a twin of himself except for the attire. The man's garb resembled a Navy officer's uniform, minus insignia. Tom as usual wore Dockers, deck shoes and a loosely buttoned cotton sport shirt with a mosaic pattern. "That letter sounded like something you'd write."
"We had a contract," Tom's old shipmate explained. "Remember? When one of us hit it big, we'd share the wealth."
"Guess I'd forgotten. It's been all down hill for me since Largo. I'm beached."
"No more my boy. I've got us a berth, good for as long as we want to make it last. Out in the harbor rides a research submarine, jointly owned by an oceanography institute and a mining company. And...if we play our cards right, the Navy will buy into our project. Let's talk at your place."
Tom looked at me. I could see he was questioning how three of us would return to Bogart's. "I'll walk," I volunteered. While Tom and his friend, Mac for short, roared away, I looked out at the breakwall. To me the ship Mac pointed out in the harbor looked like a fish bowl and a steam boiler mounted on a raft. I didn't realize then, I'd spend the next several months confined to its quarters.
I walked in as Mckenzie finished describing the project he wanted Tom to direct.
"You'll be the skipper at sea. I'll be tending to details ashore," he promised.
Tom was cautious in his display of enthusiasm. Mac and I could see in Tom's face that he was weighing the pro's and con's of the proposal. It wasn't my place to influence Tom's decision, but I couldn't resist offering a comment.
"That plaque next to the globe on the bar. Read it to me."
Tom picked up the wooden tablet and read the words burned into its face.
I cannot rest from travel
Always roaming with a hungry heart.
I am a part of all I have seen and known.
The experience is an arch through which
gleams an untraveled world.
Tis not too late to seek a newer place
beyond the sunset and bath of stars.
"Well?" I challenged.