****

It was to be a simple delivery to Paltogra, a small island just on the outskirts of Matazangi. They were told a small flu epidemic had broken out and a vaccine, delivered to Matavai, needed to be sailed over "as soon as it's convenient" but a bonus would be given to the ship which could make the run in two days. Anyone with transport could do the job but The Royal Navy requested The Rattler, knowing Captain Grief's reliability and the fact the man could keep quiet about the request.

"No one wants a panic." Lieutenant Morlais assured, "It is nothing to worry about but the moment someone hears the word "epidemic" they immediately think it's a dangerous situation. Not true. But they don't want it to get out of hand either."

Unfortunately, the keepers of The Rattler *were* on vacation. Isabelle had come to Grief one morning as he worked on his motorcycle, telling him it was a simple contract and they could make good money … with extras included if he was a good boy.

After a moment of thought Grief declined.

Maybe it was the way Isabelle's voice had dropped a notch and, with that alluring smile that upturned her full lips when she said the word "extras", how her eyes held a seductive promise. Or perhaps it was even the fetching scent of flora she wore that morning, along with a brightly colored spring dress that accented her lovely figure. Whatever the case, he didn't want to go - especially knowing she would be his very tempting first mate. Things could get out of hand as always seemed to happen when the two of them were alone together.

However, instead of facing insecurities, Grief simply refused and - after a brief argument - told Isabelle if she wanted the contract so much she should go on her own. She was half owner of The Rattler, after all. Grief never believed she would actually do it. Isabelle had quickly assembled a crew and sailed at sun up the following day, never informing either of her partners what she was doing. Isabelle had simply left a message with Colin saying she would be back in a week.

Once the medical supplies were delivered to Poltagra, members of The Royal Navy, who were already stationed on the island, were going to take over. Again, a very simple delivery and easy money for the shipper. There were precautions, of course, because of possible contagion but, all in all, it was contained to the island and anyone with a hardy immune system had no need of worry. Through a letter, Isabelle was told a small quarantine had been placed then lifted a few days later.

The truth was not known until Isabelle stepped foot off The Rattler onto the island, with her small crew unloading the supplies. No one was there to greet them so she looked about, finally finding an small hut-office with no one inside. Not long after she heard a terrified shout from one of her men, somewhere in the jungle. Isabelle ran with the ship's navigator to where the cry came from and once they reached their destination she could only stare, in stark horror, at the sight before them. Men, women and children, some from The Royal Navy, all lay dead in a small village, their bodies riddled with red spots.

A deadly plague had struck Paltogra.

Isabelle and her crew raced back to the beach and The Rattler then sailed to the nearest port. They stayed on the ship, calling out to officials and eventually to medical personnel, explaining the situation. Eventually, the crew were all quarantined and The Rattler was cleaned and disinfected. Isabelle stayed in the island hospital for over a week before she was diagnosed as "plague free". She had managed to get a cable out to Captain Grief and Mauriri during this time and they picked up their ship. However, they were never allowed to see her and, in a way, Isabelle was happy about that. She could almost hear David's shouts, how she could possibly put his precious ship in such jeopardy, and she really wasn't ready to face him too soon.

Once released Isabelle immediately sailed for Matazangi to spend a few days with William and Alea. Isabelle did not know she was infected until a day after her arrival the dreaded red spots broke out on her chest and her temperature started to run hot. She traveled immediately to the island doctor who quickly contacted The Board of Health to report her fears. As before, Isabelle was quarantined, as were William and Alea who - thankfully - never shown symptoms of the disease. It was later learned a few of Isabelle's crew had succumbed as well.

Grief sighed, recalling his conversation at Lavinia's with William Reed.

"We had to wait for the medicine to get to her." Reed had said over his whisky, "Ironic, isn't it? All that vaccine she had carried to Paltogra and now, when she was in need, there was none to be found." Reed continued solemnly, "I was immune so I spent time with Isabelle, by her bedside, and we talked. She told me of all your adventures, Captain Grief. She was so proud and happy that she could be a part of them. She said becoming your friend was the wisest thing she had ever done. You are one of the bravest men she ever knew." He then smiled very mildly, "Isabelle genuinely cared for you, Captain. I think one day she might have even fancied you as a lover," he softly chuckled at David's silence, "but she knew you would always be married to the sea."

Grief chose to disregard the last comment. No one would ever know just how close to becoming lovers he and Isabelle had been over the last couple of years. "Did she suffer?" he asked, not wanting to know but feeling it important for his own peace of mind.

"Not at first." William Reed looked away then back to Grief, "But eventually … yes. Later she slept a lot. I heard her cry for our parents and also for you … Then, by the end, when she was still conscious, she asked for paper and pen and for me to get you the Napoleon brandy. Isabelle said you should have a drink and think of her, of the good times you two had together, and not to mourn for long. She said there was too much work to be done. Isabelle did ask that you find a good home for Dante and sell the stable ..."

The auction was this morning. Isabelle had it in her will that all money made was to be split between William Reed and Colin, for the church, and the last quarter given to "my big brother", Mauriri for his children's education.

****

"It's late, David. Do you want to come in?" Mauriri asked, standing. "Lianni has a bed prepared for you."

"Yeah," Grief nodded slowly. "I'll come in after a few more minutes." he promised. "Thanks Mauriri." he added.

"For what?"

"For allowing me to get drunk and not being judgmental about it."

"After the day you've had you're entitled." Mauriri reached down and shook his friend's hand, "I'm your best friend. You can call on me night or day. You know that."

"I know that." Grief repeated in confirmation, "Goodnight, my friend."

He watched the muscular Polynesian turn about and walk to his home.

A low whinny was heard from the other side of the house. He could not find anyone suitable for Isabelle's Dante so he kept the horse for himself. "Only temporarily." he assured the gelding, rubbing him down this afternoon, "Because I'm just not a one horse man." He recalled Dante making a trilling noise, as if he understood.

Alone, taking a deep breath of sea air, Grief remembered something and fished into his pants pocket, pulling out the small half sheet of paper with the barely legible hand writing. Well into her sickness, when she knew there was no hope of recovery, Isabelle had written him a note. William Reed pushed it into Grief's hand when he gave him the brandy, just before stepping foot onto the ship which took him home.

In the moonlight Grief could barely read what was written but he didn't really have to. He'd read it so many times already …

Sweet David,

I owe you so much. Thank you for giving me back my life and making me care.

Wherever it is I am destined to go I'll leave a candle lit. No doubt we will be headed in the same direction, Captain.

Meanwhile, live life to the fullest, as I know you can, but once in awhile try to remember that poor lost soul you once saw in chains; that wayward woman you thought important enough to rescue.

Drink this brandy and remember me, David. As I will always remember you.

Adieu,

Isabelle

Slowly and very thoughtfully, Captain Grief pushed the note back into his pocket then lifted the brandy bottle upward, allowing the moonlight to reflect through the darkened glass, revealing only a paltry ounce or two of the liquid.

Pensively, he opened his mouth, tilting the bottle, allowing the remaining brandy to fall onto his tongue. Afterward, when there was not another drop to be consumed, he dug a small but deep hole with his hands, placing the bottle in it, and pushed the sand to cover the bottle completely. Patting his secret, smiling at a memory, Grief again looked up at the moon … imagining her lovely face looking down at him. "Adieu, sweet Isabelle." he said to the image, "Wait for me … and we will take The Rattler on adventures you have never experianced …." The smile slid very slowly from his face as the image disappeared.

With a little effort, Captain Grief got shakily to his feet, taking a last look at the moon, and walked to the hut-home and a warm bed that was anticipating him.

The waves of the ocean crashed on the beach behind him and, as he walked, Grief thought he could hear a feminine voice whisper, "I will wait, David."

He was pleased.

THE END

April 2003

((Yes, a little depressing but I had this one kicking its way through my head for a couple months and thought it was about time to let it free. Next one will be more fun. I promise. Best, Beckers))