Ernie whisked me into the guardhouse at the foot of the dock. He checked behind me to make sure that I hadn’t been seen. As soon as he closed the door, I pulled a bottle of Plomari Ouzo from my bag and handed it to Bert. Ernie did a little happy dance and Bert cupped the bottle solemnly in his hands and raised it heavenward, as if presenting a newborn child to Allah for a blessing. Light from a bare overhead light bulb diffracted brilliantly through the clear liquid. His crooked, stained teeth worked the cork out of the bottle. He spat it into a corner. I handed Ernie a second bottle, holding two in reserve in my rucksack. And then I sat down to eat with the two men that I had been sent to kill.
The walk from Neko II’s gangplank to the guardhouse at the foot of the dock was laborious. Little ridges of black tar bubbled out of the dock’s creosote-impregnated timbers. Each step across the dock made a scandalous ripping noise. My gaze darted frenetically down the dock, to the window, the door, to the warehouses beyond. The oily smell of the dock, the aroma of the slow-roasted meats in my backpack, and the approaching stench of humanity emanating from the old dock house overwhelmed my senses. This would be the night we made our escape. Hidden behind a panel sewn in to the bottom of the bag was the gun I’d use to set our boat free. Yet I felt like I was marching to my own execution.
More than twenty-four hours after the bombing of the airfield north of Suez, it was apparent that our two captors had been abandoned at their post. They seldom ventured beyond the threshold of the dock house at the foot of the pier. One was taller and thin and had a tuft of black hair sprouting form the middle of his receding hairline. The other was compact and wide. Their heads frequently appeared like hand puppets in the small rectangle window that overlooked the pier. I began to call them Bert and Ernie. The rest of the Neko II crew immediately picked up on the nicknames.