Ambrose

A Travel Mystery Novel

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5

A Treasure Vanishes


"Strikes Dry Up Iran's Oil."


Perfect. It'll just fit over the top story on Page One, the latest from riot-torn from Tehran. Hell of a headline, I thought. A waker-upper. The Majestic's swilling oil by the ton to take us carefree types for extended pleasure rides over the ocean, and the world's running out of oil. Hope they find some more under some friendly territory. Connecticut would be good. Or put sails on this monster.


"Body Count Rises at Ill. Horror Scene."


This one will brighten up their day. Ah, everybody likes to read about crime, the grislier the better, as long as it happened somewhere else. How many kids did this Gacy guy bury under his porch? Guess we can count on another story tomorrow, and the next day, and probably the day after that.


Let's see, now. The Vietnamese are massing around the Cambodian capital, must be a zillion of them, looks like some kind of siege. What the hell are they doing over there, haven't they had enough war already? Two column story, let's see. "Vietnamese Soldiers Mass ... " Nah. Too long. "Viets' Grip Tightens on Phnom Penh." Still a bit long. "Viet Noose Slips on Penh." Perfecto.


Now, for something light.


"Sal. How about a chuckler so we can put Page One to bed? Anything new on Billy Carter?"


"No, no Billy stuff. What about Mr. Blackwell's list? Dolly Parton's the worst dresser of the year."


"Gimme it." She hands the story over. Hmmm. Farrah Fawcett-Majors is Number Two.


Let's see ... I've got it. "Blackwell Busts Buxom Beauts." Or how about something like, "Mirror, Mirror, On the Wall." Let's go with alliteration and can the mirror stuff.


"Good. We're done. Let's get this out of here and see what's doing on board."


Another paper, done. Party time, again.



We'd had quite a night in Southampton, topped off with a nightcap or two in the Ward Room when we got back to the ship. But it all caught up with us this morning. The early train to London never happened. After we got up at about noon, we decided to scale back the travel itinerary and instead caught a ride on a brown ferry that runs from Southampton, just down the quay from where the Majestic was docked, to the Isle of Wight. The little port town of West Cowes, with its little shops, pubs and cottages lined on winding ways, made for a compact little walking tour before we had to catch the ferry back to the ship. Then it was back to work.


The Majestic had sounded her farewell blast as we worked, and we hardly noticed as she pushed off and headed to sea. With the finishing touches on Page One completed, Sal grabbed the layouts so we could carry them down to the printers. There was a gentle knock at the door, and Gordon's head appeared at the jamb.


"So what will the news be tomorrow?"


"Ah, the usual. C'mon in," I said, walking to the bar, as if I could offer our guest something to drink. Of course, it was still stocked with only a single, half-drained bottle of cognac and a few glasses that had survived the storm.


"I want you to meet my assistant," said Gordon. A young man followed Gordon into the office, dressed, like his boss, in a dark, three-piece suit.


"This is Clive Tewell. He'll be taking over as shop manager while I'm on leave," said Gordon. He introduced us and we chatted for a few minutes, although Tewell, a quiet, shy type given to grinning his way through a conversation, didn't have much to say.


"So, what do you hear about the galleon?" Sal said, turning to Gordon.


With a slight bow of his head and quick nod, he brushed off the question and interrupted Sal's inquiry.


"I'll be leaving the ship in New York for holiday until we reach South America. Perhaps do some shopping before catching a plane back to the U.K. for Christmas," said Gordon. He went on about what gifts he would buy for his mother, this nephew and that niece, this cousin and that friend. Tewell was getting bored, so he politely excused himself, saying he thought he'd fancy a show.


"I didn't want to go on about the galleon with Clive around," Gordon said quietly after the younger man had left. "This is a, well, rather sensitive matter, you see. And please, don't print it."


Sal and I looked at each other.


"I implore you. But once this jolly mess gets sorted out, I give you my word, you'll be the first to get the story."


We weren't sure there was a story to be had yet anyway. But we wanted to know more.


"What is the galleon worth?" asked Sal.


"Oh, God, 6,000 quid. Thirteen, fourteen thousand of your dollars," said Gordon. "But that's not all that important. There's the ring, you see."


"The ring?" said Sal. "There's a ring on the ship?"


"A ring that had been the property of Edward VI is inside the galleon's hull, in a special little compartment. It's never been officially claimed by the government, because of the passing of the crown to the Stuarts - are you following me? But believe me, I know that ring is authentic."


"Slow down," said Sal, without taking her eyes off Gordon. "Sit." She was rapt. But it was all sounding a little murky to me.


"Edward VI. He was a Tudor king, wasn't he?" asked Sal.


"Very good," said Gordon. "He followed Henry VIII to the throne in the mid-1500s. Edward didn't rule terribly long, but the ring, it's, oh tradition, you know. An insignia. It was passed down to Mary, and then Elizabeth I. Tudors, all of them."


"Mary Tudor," I said.


"Right," said Gordon. "Bloody Mary."


"What does the ring look like?" Sal asked.


"Very special," said Gordon. "Just pure gold. Little diamonds on its face surround a thin ruby rose, curled and twisted just so it forms a lovely monogram."


"The red rose," said Sal. "The symbol for the House of Lancaster." She stopped for a moment. "The Lancasterians defeated the House of ... "


"York," said Gordon.


"Yes, York, in the Battle of the Roses. That put the Tudors on the throne," said Sal, as if reciting from an invisible history book. "So, how did the ring find its way on the galleon?"


"After Elizabeth, the throne went to the Stuarts," said Gordon. "The ring changed hands probably dozens of times, from English nobility to France, Spain, Belgium and God knows where else until eventually it found its way to Turkey, where an Oxford professor discovered it and brought it back to the U.K.


"All of the royal jewels, the scepter, the crowns, everything, are kept in the Tower of London, most of them for public display. If you two had gotten up in time to go to London during our layover, you could have seen them," Gordon paused for a moment, smiling for the first time since the conversation began. Then his expression turned serious again.


"But Edward's ring was never among them. The royal crown jeweler, who's in charge of maintaining this priceless collection, learnt some years back that the ring was stashed away, off in some dusty office of this professor at Oxford. The present jeweler -- he travels on the ship occasionally -- found about it and started negotiating with the university, very discreetly, of course, for its return to the royal collection. But he couldn't outright claim it, you see, because there was no proof of its ownership. No paper trail, if you will. But the jeweler, he's called Felix Wetherstone, knew it was quite authentic. It has to do with the inscription inside the band.


"I know jewelry," Gordon continued. "You've seen our shop. I've worked with all manner of jewelry for years. I BUY jewelry, and I know almost instinctively when there's an imperfection, not to mention an outright fake. This ring, I tell you, is authentic. It is for real."


"The inscription," said Sal. "What does it say?"


"A Deo Rex. Latin for `The King Is From God.' Modern etching tools would do a much neater job than what's on that ring. The words were carved in Edward's ring with a relatively crude tool, something that would have been used, as Mr. Wetherstone says, and I agree, in the 1500s. Mind you, it was very neatly done, in what you might recognize as Old English script."


Gordon was silent for a moment, then asked, "Haven't you anything to drink, other than that petrol you call cognac? You must stock that bar."


I ran down to the disco bar and ordered a couple of Heinekens and a Cointreau and tonic for Gordon, my mind on the galleon and ring the whole time. Gordon and Sal were chatting when I walked back in.


"You know what I find most intriguing about that inscription?" said Gordon, taking a sip of his drink. "After Elizabeth passed the crown to the Stuarts, James, the king of Scotland, adopted a kind of governing credo: `The king is from God, and law is from the king.' Part of it he evidently borrowed from the Tudors. It rather bolstered his standing among the masses. You see why Edward's ring is so very important, then?"


"Why was the ring in the galleon?" I asked.


"The galleon was a kind of showpiece, not really for sale, but an attraction, something to stimulate talk among passengers. A centerpiece for the Majestic II, if you will. It was ordered and put on display as a kind of buildup before the crown jeweler formally presents the galleon and ring to a member of the royal family aboard the ship after we sail into New York at the end of the world cruise. A kind of public relations coup for Brighton Line, Mr. Wetherstone and, I must confess, myself. Now, this bloody disaster. It was stolen so cleanly, so artfully. In and out, exactly when, I don't know, but sometime during the storm, wouldn't you say?"


"Why are you ..." Sal stopped herself, then went on, "telling us?"


Gordon collected his thoughts for a moment.


"I don't know why I'm telling you all this. Everybody else on this ship talks so, and I must say, the level of trust and confidence among the staff is not high. I haven't known you for very long, but I trust my instincts. And my instincts tell me I can trust you. Listen to me: Someone else must know what that stolen piece really represents. It isn't just a piece of gaudy jewelry. Would you be offended if I said I want you to be my extra set of eyes, and extra ears?"


No one spoke for a time; all that could be heard was the bass reverberating through the deck and walls from the disco below. Then Sal jumped from her chair, spilling some of the beer from her glass in the process.


"Oh my God!" she said. "We've got to get this paper down to the printers." She began gathering up the page dummies.


I took a long pull from my Heineken bottle and put it on the desk as I got up.


"Ah yes, back to the trenches," said Gordon. "Sorry to go on so." He paused as he rose from his chair. "One final word. You'll hear things as you get around the ship. Remember what you hear, but please, don't let on. Keep an eye on Clive, if you know what I mean. Cheers." Gordon walked to the door, placed his glass on the bar, turned and said, "And do get this bar stocked."


I detoured to the closet to get my suit jacket, and Sal and I headed for the printers.


We passed through the din of the disco bar, which was crowded tonight, made for the lift and then coursed through the quiet Five Deck hall to the stairway to leading below. Jack MacIver and Blue were waiting for us, leaning side-by-side against their work table. Blue took the last few puffs of a hand-rolled cigarette and then squashed the butt on the inky floor. We handed over the flats.


"What happened, get lost in one of the grand ballrooms or something? I know, your typewriter jammed," said Blue as he pushed himself upright with his elbows and took the pages. "Can't drink, you know, until we've finished the paper, and can't finish unless we start."


"Yeah, I know, I know," I said as I mentally searched for a plausible excuse for showing up late. "Sorry. Radio transmissions were fuzzy."


"Fuzzy, then? We've barely passed Cornwall. Must be rats in your radio. Jack, think we've cleared the Isles of Scilly?"


MacIver was grinning, shaking his head back and forth, paying no attention to Blue's navigational estimates.


"'e soonds like John Wayne. Yankees, they all soond like the mahn."


"Hey, we'll be earlier next time," I promised.


"Aye," said MacIver.




Of course, we hadn't ventured too far into the Atlantic. The ship swayed easily as we walked along the boat deck, listening to the swish of waves being pushed aside by the ship, stopping now and then to gaze into darkness over the sea. Off the port side, tiny lights of fishing boats, peeped in the distance. Walking to the starboard we could see collections of pinpoint lights from villages of the islands off Land's End at England's western point. We stopped for a moment at the aft end, but the ocean breeze sent us inside.


We followed the sounds of big band music to the Gallery. The tables overlooking the dance floor were mostly occupied, and below, gray-haired passengers entranced by the 1940s swing sounds were dancing the night away. A big applause arose as bandleader John Delon introduced "Tuxedo Junction,'' which he followed with Count Basie's "Easy Does It'' and Lionel Hampton's "Flying Home.''


The music was soothing yet energizing. I'm too young to know the hit-parade songs that poured from the stage, but somehow the melodies struck a familiar chord, perhaps resonating with long-buried memories of sounds that flowed from my father's hi-fi back in the '50s. In what seemed like a USO reunion party, polyester-suited men and their partners in bright chiffon dresses glided gracefully about the dance floor, as John Delon's hands wig-wagged the band sections into precision. It almost seemed as if the Majestic was swaying, ever so gently, to the beat.


"And of course, you all remember Irving Berlin's `You're Lonely, I'm Lonely,' "' the band leader called to the audience with a smile. The crowd responded with applause as the drummer and a few members of the brass section patted their eyebrows with handkerchiefs. "Here we go, as Tommy Dorsey and the band played it." Delon spun around and in the next motion was waving his hands again. A soloist appeared at the microphone halfway through the song, crooning his lines sweetly to the music, pure maple syrup flowing over the notes. With a wide smile etched into the lines on his face, Delon glanced over his shoulder now and again, obviously taking pleasure from seeing so many couples enjoying their rendezvous with their memories. The wagging hands never stopped.


Sal and I had found a table, and were happy to just sit and listen. Waiters dashed from one table to the next, returning with trays full of daiquiris, bourbons, Manhattans and martinis. We stayed until the start of the final set. On our way out, we walked past the shops, just as we had done on the first night out, when the dance floor was empty and the stage was silent. It was all different now, I thought. I quickly peered into the jewelry shop. It was true. The galleon that had caught my attention that night was gone.


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© By Buzz Adams