Nov. 27th, 2011

Guess what song I can't get out of my head.

The banana boat lay close by the quay, the lines creaking, and the vessel sometimes bumping against the old tires. The gangplank was still down, and the last line of men was hauling the crates onto deck and down into the hold. Most of the laders on the night shift were resting, though, sitting on the sides of the truckbed with their shoulders slumped and their heads down. Hauling bananas, Ritter knew, was hard work. The men would want to be getting home. The sun was coming up, and they would want some bed-rest before starting the cycle of loading bananas into the truck this evening.

But they couldn't go yet, Ritter added. He approached Deeko Savage, the truck driver and a foreman at the Hello Girl plantation. "How's it looking?" he asked.

Deeko handed Ritter a clipboard. "Eight hunnerd twenny-tree cases, boss," said Deeko, grinning. "Each one fair feel like a ton, zeen?" He laughed nervously. The other men didn't laugh; they just looked at Ritter, eyes gleaming in the pre-dawn.

Ritter shone a penlight on the clipboard, nodded and handed it back. "I'll need to go down and confirm the count," he said. The moan of the banana men was instant and universal.

"F'reals, Tally-man?" said one, shaking his head in disgust.

"Level!" warned Deeko, scowling at the others. When he turned back to Ritter he was beaming again. Beaming, but sweating.

"Lookit, Paadie," said Deeko, "We all straight bushed out. It super late. How about only a wee quick peek, ya?"

"I dunno, Deeko," said Ritter drily. "When you put it like that, it makes a guy wonder if you're hiding something." Deeko's grin was gone. Ritter nodded to himself and walked up the gangplank. The banana-men watched him.

The last of the laders stared at Ritter as he crossed the deck towards the port hold. "Hey, that light burn out, captain," called one of the men.

"I'll manage," growled Ritter, ducking his head and sliding down the ships-ladder.

The light, as it turned out, really was out. Ritter shone his flashlight down the rows of banana boxes stacked eight high in the stuffy hold. He did a quick count on each row and walked down the aisle making a running tally.

On the last aisle, things looked a little sloppy down at the end; the top boxes were turned on their sides, and banana bunches were heaped in the row. As Ritter played his flashlight over them, something moved. Stowaways and worse were not uncommon on banana boats, but Ritter was prepared. He drew his pistol. "All right," he barked, "come on out of there. Show me your hands. Quick, now!"

Something crawled over the bananas. It was black, with many eyes, and many dark bristled legs.

"Easy now!" it rasped in a dry voice, its mouth-parts working. "Mi a forward; don't shoot I!"

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September 2012

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