EXCERPTS (continued)

who might be out this late. Curfew and lock up were still ahead of us, but the vast majority of the Germans did not like the black dark of mountain nights, and few ventured past the Mountain Park porches after dusk.
        I was met at the edge of the trees by the last man I expected. Commodore Hans Ruser, portly, dignified, stepped politely out of the shadows so I could see him clearly.
        “Welcome to my sanctuary, Herr Robbins,” he said in his correct, strongly accented English, gesturing behind him at the trees. I stepped closer and stared briefly into the shadows to be sure he was alone. “You have caught me, Sir,” he continued, “indulging in my favorite vice.”
        “I’ve never known cigars to be a vice, Commodore,” I said. “Unless they’re damn bad cigars.”
        He bowed ever so slightly from the waist and offered me his thick, square hand.
        I shook it warmly, glad to be pulled out of my own thoughts. Plus he was a man I respected—automatically, instinctively.
        “Then it is my hope that you will share with me.” For a blank moment, I thought he meant we should pass his cigar back and forth like a Cherokee pipe, but then he reached inside the lapel of his coat.
        “Nothing could make me happier, Commodore,” I said. “Before the war, I used to walk here each evening and smoke.
From here to the river…” I turned and pointed. “It was even my habit to walk as slowly as possible so that I could digest the day.”
        “I’m sorry, …digest?”
        “Think it over. Try to make some sense of all that had happened since first light.”
        “I see.” He took my arm then, in what might have been a feminine gesture, had he not been so obviously a man in full. “Like me, Herr Robbins, you are the commander of a large vessel. And there are times when the weight of such a responsibility must be set aside.” He handed me a cigar wrapped in ornate foil.
        When I tore the foil away, the odor was instantaneous and rich.
        He paused for a moment while I clipped the end of the cigar with my pocket knife—my father’s knife—and lit it with a kitchen match from my vest pocket. Even the first puffs were deep and sweet.
        We walked on then, as two men would anywhere in the world.
        “So, my young friend, how does command sit upon you today?”
        “Uneasy rests the crown,” I admitted, the line rising out of some inner memory.
        Ruser chuckled. “Did you choose this ship, Herr Robbins? Are you by trade a man of the prison?”
        “Warden. We would say prison warden. And no, I am not. I am a hotel man."