He knew the sound of the doorbell at that same time on certain days. On his birthday, on the week before Christmas, on the Friday before Valentine's Day, on the first day of Spring, on the last day of school, and at least once each month during the summer, the bell would ring at exactly three thirty in the afternoon, at a time just after his day's work was ended, just when he might have loosened his collar and unhitched his belt. He would have preferred to switch out his work shoes for the tall mukluk fleece-lined slippers that kept his toes warm in the evenings. But on those days, which he marked each year in his desk calendar, knowing what was about to happen, he kept his feet in the rubberized sea boots, sharpened his harpoon, and stood leaning against the bulkhead door for the inevitable call.
Why in the name of heaven he'd had a doorbell built into the Nautilus was lost in the mists of his vodka-riven memory. It was so long ago, he could no longer remember the circuitry that enabled a button beside the outside hatch to ring in his private chambers -- where did the wires go, and had he really thought that mermaid was ever going to look him up for a second date? Had he actually forced the crew's engineers to rig the doorbell for a fishy floozy, or had he had the idea to train porpoises to ring the bell whenever a particularly juicy school of tuna were near at hand? He had no idea any more, and was too embarrassed by the thought to ask.
Why did I object so strongly to my father's suggestion that I become an accountant? he thought, sweat trickling down his temples to stick in his sideburns. I could have had a business in Dresden, and every day after work I could have stopped by Fraulein Lichten's shop for freshly fried doughnuts. Instead, I decided I had to be my own boss and rule the Seven Seas. Why didn't my guidance counselor tell me about this job hazard? Who wants to rule the Seven Seas with this kind of nuisance rolling around every coral reef?
A crewman dressed neatly in white appeared at the open door of his cabin. "I've brought you your tea, Sir," he said.
"Thank you, most kindly. Please set the tray on my table. I shall enjoy it shortly." He pulled out a gold pocket watch and consulted its time.
A doorbell chimed, Ding dong! Right on time.
"Captain, there's someone at the forward door," said the crewman, his eyes showing whites all the way around. "What do you think he's selling this time?"
"Don't worry, Mister Ames. Just don't push past me and get convinced to buy an encyclopedia, a Kirby vacuum sweeper, a collection of magazines, or a pesticide service."
"What about Pampered Kitchen equipment? Should we turn them away, too?" asked the bearded ensign, handing him his harpoon from the rack by the door.
"Yes, I think so," said the captain, edging toward the forward hatch, where the doorbell had rung again. "And could you make a note on my desk to post a sign outside the hatch that says NO SOLICITATIONS."
"Sure, Captain! Ahh, be careful, Sir. That one is totin' cookware that don't even need soap to clean."
"I believe I am up to the fight, Mister Ames. Don't lock the door behind me, if you please?"