The storm was deafening, even in the harbor. The barges and freighters slowly made their way in from the open water. Freighters dropped anchor there in the harbor, while barges loaded and moved upriver to inland destinations. The ship lights were all but invisible through the driving rain.
Marie shook off her poncho as she came through the tavern door. She hung it on the hook where it dripped onto the unfinished tavern floorboards. Jonathan and Pete met her in the doorway that separated the entry from the main tavern room.
“Thank for coming so fast, Marie. We have to get on out there and take care of some business tonight. You understand.”
“It’s no problem, Jonathan. You know I love that little peanut. Any chance I get to help you two out is a good time for me.”
Marie and Pete nodded at one another as Jonathan filled her in on tonight’s schedule for his daughter. When he finished talking, Marie lumbered up the stairs to see the child. Jonathan and Pete donned slickers, grabbed flashlights, and headed out into the night.
The girl was sleeping on the floor next to her cherished Rummy. Marie picked her up and tucked her into bed with a kiss on the forehead. She mumbled under her breath. “It’s going to be a long night, girl.” She sat in the rocker next to the bed and stared out into the storm.
Jonathan and Pete drove the old truck through the rain with the windshield wipers on double time. “Shit. I wasn’t expecting a storm like this for at least a month.” Jonathan glared through the windshield, hoping to make out the yellow lines on the highway. Pete nodded in agreement.
The truck lumbered up and over the bridge. As they drove down the apron on the far side, there was a loud rumble and the ground shook. The men looked at each other, and Jonathan spun the truck down the old gravel access road along the river. Sure enough, a barge had run up on a sandbar. A few shipping containers stuck up out of the water like giant tree stumps, and the barge was cockeyed.
“Huh. Wonder why they wandered out of the main channel?” Pete muttered half to himself. Jonathan gave him a silent look as he parked alongside the barge. “Let’s go, Pete.”
They jumped from the warmth of the cab into the driving rain, slickers flying behind them. Each of them flipped on their flashlights, but the light was not strong enough to penetrate the blackness. Everything was in shadow thanks to the bridge lights. A little further upriver and they wouldn’t have been able to see the barge at all.
The longshoremen were cussing unintelligibly into the wind as they tried to keep any more containers from sliding off the barge. At least they were in the shallows, so they wouldn’t sink and drown. But running aground in the Mississippi was every river captain’s nightmare, due in large part to the investigation and legendary paperwork the aftermath would require. The men wondered aloud whether the captain was high. The main channel was clearly marked. Even in this weather they should not have hit a sandbar.
Pete and Jonathan made a final trip back to the truck, and finished loading their booty into the back. “Gotta love a little sandbar treasure!” Pete laughed loudly, suddenly oblivious to the wind and rain. “You sure have some kinda good timing, Jon.” Jonathan gave Pete a jerk of his head, and they clambered back into the truck. The engine roared and they turned around and went back home the way they came.
The barn behind the tavern looked deceptively decrepit. That’s the way Jonathan liked it, because no one was interested in a run-down barn. Pete jumped out of the truck and pushed the door open. Jonathan drove in and cut the engine while Pete pulled the door shut.
They worked quickly and silently, unloading their take from the truck bed. The topper kept everything as dry as possible, considering they had trudged from the river to the truck with the boxes. Everything was shrink wrapped for the trip upriver, so there was no obvious water damage. They’d know for sure in the morning, but it seemed they had hit a jackpot filled with small appliances. This load would bring a small fortune at the flea market next week.
Once everything was unloaded, Jonathan allowed himself to smile. He pulled a bottle of whiskey and a couple of shot glasses out of an old file cabinet, poured one for each of them and made a toast. “To the mighty Mississipp!” Pete and Jonathan threw back the liquor, and had a couple more shots.
Now that they were mostly dry and warmed up inside and out, they walked quietly up to the tavern. Inside it was silent other than Marie’s snoring. Jonathan winked at Pete and went up the stairs to relieve his babysitter.