The night before the ship sailed, Jason Udall and Albert Fontaine played pool and drank in the J & M Café and bar, a saloon in Pioneer Square.
Albert was unusually tense as he leaned over and squinted down his cue. “I think the location of the container might be known,” he told Jason, then looked up from a missed shot. “One of my contacts said two burly characters dressed like longshoremen stopped by asking a lot of questions. He said they acted pretty suspicious.”
After a few games, two locals asked to share the table and the conversation changed from business to pool. Just before midnight, the two locals left and shortly after, Albert called it a night. Jason, however, had lost interest in the game when a local girl, Christine, had appeared. He was looking forward to a promising evening and paid no attention as Albert moved toward the door.
“Jason,” Albert shouted over the din of the saloon. “I’ll see you back aboard-ship”.
Jason didn’t look up but gave a wave. Albert walked out into a drizzling rain and headed down Washington Street to the docks alone.
Jason woke in his bunk in the Chief Mate’s cabin. As he went about the business of getting the 600-foot container carrier underway, he tried to remember the night before. The girl and the details of getting back to the ship had vanished in an alcoholic hangover. As he went through the checklist the Chief Engineer reported that his First Assistant, Albert Fontaine, hadn’t made it back to the ship the night before.
Albert hadn’t missed a sailing in fifteen years but this time the ship left without him.
The ship returned to Seattle after four months.
Jason sat in Starbucks on Alaskan Way making calls. He finished his fifth frustrating call and was sipping a latte when his phone rang. “This is Udall,” he answered.
The caller identified himself as Madison Whitehall, the proprietor of the Snohomish Exchange, an import shop in a small town 30 miles northeast. “I heard through the grapevine you’re a friend of Al Fontaine, is that right?”
“That’s right. The grapevine must have told you I’m trying to locate him. Do you know where he is?” Albert once mentioned Snohomish as one of his outlets. Generally, they didn’t share information. It was safer that way. Now with Albert’s whereabouts unknown, Jason needed information fast.
He learned that Albert last talked to Whitehall around the first week in February while dropping off an empty container. A couple of weeks later two men showed up and told Whitehall, Albert had sent them to pick the container up and transport it to a forwarding company’s Seattle warehouse. They lacked proper documents so Whitehall refused to let it go. The men left angry and told him they would see Albert and straighten things out. .
Jason ended the call confused, and flipped through his mobile calendar. He was very concerned…..
Joseph Labrum (USA)