A plan, Joel needed a plan. A strong one that would free all his fellow rowers along with him. He felt a Messianic calling upon him. It was Day 6 of his opiated journey. Surely, drugs must be involved in this excursion. Nothing matched up to reality as he had once known it. Maybe LSD had been slipped into his martini on the airplane. Maybe Nextstasy. He knew the KGB pharmaceutical arsenal had all sorts of hallucinogenics that could be used to warp minds. Maybe that was it– he’d been drugged into a mental Matrix behind a rusted Iron Curtain; this was all hallucinations. Yes, of course, a bad dream.
“Crack!” spat out Verushka’s whip, its leather breeze inches from his face. “Ve vill be taking short rest in Bushkilviatney for giggles and vodka. You vill get ten minutes of leave from the galley for stretching your veek capitalist legs. Do not attempt funny beesnis.”
Six Days on the Danube and here was the first opportunity to escape into daylight. But how? He was weak and pasty from his sunless existence. He had only a soiled loincloth and his pride to cover him. How could he lead a Spartacusian revolt in this condition? Nothing came to mind over the mindless blaring of the Kinks’ Lola from the upper deck. ‘Who chose these mind numbing songs?’ he wondered. ‘What sick mind would torture another human being to this degree?’ Suddenly it all made sense. “Burrito did this. These are all the sorts of songs he listens to, that unwashed villain of Coffee River. I don’t know the how, but I am certain now of the who.” Vengeance swelled as Joel’s ventricles tangoed with his auricles. Or is it oracles? In any event he felt as perky as a mother of three in new yoga pants. He shouted in Latin “EX SPANDEXIA!”, which he thought translated, “get me out of here”.
Soon Viktor unlocked the prisoners and called each by his number to keep a tight inventory. “Thirty four, you are free to go.” Joel knew that Varushka hadn’t factored in the shackle and unshackle time involved in their ten minute breather. It had to be fifteen minutes since Viktor started fumbling with his keys. “I’ll have at least 25 minutes to implement the plan I still don’t have.”
The slave mob was ushered rudely outside into the bright sunlight and down the gangplank to a muddy bank where a herd of mules was watering. There had to be 40 or more. Joel knew the fates were on his side now. The noises, the smells, the movements, all brought Sheila to his fevered mind. “What would Sheila do? I know– she would rescue me and carry me far from danger, just like in the Grand Canyon. Oh, Sheila! My mixed up equine love! I don’t deserve you. Rescue me, I need you in my arms, Rescue me….”
Discreetly Joel passed the word, “Hopamule” to all his fellow astonished prison mates. The sun was high. Viktor and Verushka sat beneath an old olive tree swilling peasant turnip vodka. Time slipped away from the evil pair of sadists as their brains were turned and nipped by the potent turnip liquor. “Veektor, sing me Barry Vite songs.” Their lusty looks were lost behind drooping eyelids as yet another Ruskie plan was ruined by vodka.
Joel assessed the situation and shouted, “Now. Hopamule, men.” He led the way by jumping on the back of the closest mule which began to honk and bray, but he would not let go. 47 other galley slaves leaped onto the herd like locust onto ears of sweet corn. Each slave rider was suddenly elevated to the rank of full kernel in the army of hope. Unfortunately the mules would not move. They stubbornly drank, brayed, shook their heads and generally misbehaved, but not one of them moved.
“Captain, oh Captain, what now?” Joel’s men asked. Joel felt the pressure to lead; he knew what Burrito must feel every Thursday, trying to bring order to the orangutans in the coffee shop. “Heavy is the crown that crests the royal bean”, he said to no one in particular. From behind a bush the mule herder emerged. He yelled something very Czecho Slavic as he waved his arms furiously. No one understood until a distant salt quarry whistle blew and the mules all turned to plod in that direction. Apparently they had been on a union negotiated water break and now were returning to the quarry.
Joel looked back at the olive tree where Viktor and Verushka snored in drunken slumber. “Half my problem is solved, but how will I ever get home?” As the mule team plodded in return to the open salt mine, Joel noticed the lilting sound of Smetana rushing toward him on a welcome breeze that smelled like freedom. A circle of costumed peasants were dancing for the entertainment of another cruise ship anchored there on another river, possibly the Moldau. ‘Could it be his original PEECL cruise he had so proudly booked back in America?’ he wondered. ‘ What are the odds?’
The River Boat Lazy Lion was nearly empty. All its well heeled passengers were taking pictures of the peasants dancing the turnip harvest dance. Joel commanded the mulers to halt. “Dismount. Follow me, men.” Using only hand signals he had learned in ROTC back in the ’60’s, Joel led his slave platoon cleverly around the clearing where the dance was in full rutabaga swing. As one body the forty eight former galley slaves boarded the Lazy Lion and took over. In the blink of an eye they cast off, overwhelming the many staff who were preparing midday finger foods for their guests.
Joel and another former galley slave took the presumptive captain hostage and forced him to rev the engines into top speed, “Get us to Austria if you value your life”, Kernel Joel commanded. “Once there we will scale the Alps and jump border fences on motorcycles ahead of the Nazis. The hills are alive with the sound of music….”
“Um, sir, I think you are conflating several old movies into your own personal narrative,” uttered his nameless right hand man.
yes, to be continued again… I know, it’s torture.