Ambrose

A Travel Mystery Novel

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15


Tina Kane and Lori Pierce had been showing up on deck and at ship functions lately, and have even been running morning beauty seminars -- separately, of course -- for passengers. After all, they had been brought on for the world cruise, and despite their battle on stage some weeks back, they couldn't just be unceremoniously dumped off at the next port. The cruise staff had done its job keeping them apart, arranging private dinners in their staterooms to keep them out of circulation and generally keeping their presence low-key until the passenger rolls had changed to such a degree that most of those on board would not have known of their spat. Nurse Frank had also been assigned to monitor the pair, making certain that any medications necessary be given at once to ward of an occasional bout of seasickness, sleeplessness or, especially in Tina's case, hyperactivity. The arrangement seemed to be working out just fine. In fact, the threesome would play cribbage for hours, and could be seen now and again strolling on deck, with the nurse invariably wedged between the one-time scrappers except for when she detoured briefly to the rail to flick a cigarette butt into the blue.


The Majestic had picked up a large contingent of South American passengers, many of them on for a leg of the cruise to Africa, Singapore or Japan, but the core of the full, 80-day travelers, by now familiar faces to us, was by now quite at home on the ship.


Our late hours in Rio had made a short day of its beaches, but after rising at noon or so Sal and I made the best of two or three hours at Ipanema. While in Rio, I had fully intended to show her the treasure I had found behind the wall panel in our office, but the distractions and late hours -- and now our work -- forced me to keep it to myself for a little longer. I would show her the galleon, I promised myself, once we left Montevideo.


The morning we sailed from Rio, the shooting range at the fantail was noisy with rounds being fired by Thor Trewargy at one skeet-shooting station and Sen. Furbish at the other, getting ready for their big duel. The senator had accepted, ostensibly in a spirit of sport, Thor's challenge, but the two had quietly put up $1,000 each to make the event interesting.


The noise had drawn a sizeable crowd, maybe 100 people, who were politely ushered several yards back from the starboard range from which the clay pigeons were to be launched. The contest was simple: best of 50 each wins. Two discs would be launched at a time in the final round. A few of the gambling types seized the opportunity to make wagers, pulling aside their marks and offering quick odds before closing the deals with handshakes.


Furbish looked dressed for a garden party in his white trousers and white shoes, powder-blue blazer and aviator sunglasses; Trewargy looked all business in his pointy boots, jeans, Sooners sweatshirt and cowboy hat. A cruise staffer flipped a coin, the senator called and was awarded first shots. He ordered the attendant to pull, and the shoot-off was on.


His first couple of shots were a little off, though Furbish managed the get six of the first 10. Trewargy jumped ahead with eight of 10 at his turn, but the senator pulled within one by the end of the second round.


Furbish scored a perfect 10 in the third, and two misses left Trewargy down by one going into the fourth round. They each scored nine in the fourth, leaving Thor down one still. The crowd knotted closer on the shuffleboard courts for the final round and a couple of dozen strollers and joggers who happened along were also drawn to the scene.


"Pull," he ordered. Two discs flew within close range of each other, and he got both. Two more in the second, but only one in the third and another in the fourth. The senator's final chance gave him two more, for a total score of 41.


Trewargy stood to the rail, motioned to the attendant to hold off for a minute and theatrically swiveled a couple of arcs with the barrel trained on the horizon over the churning wake of the ship. He then nodded to the white-suited attendant and ordered, "Pool" in his drawl.


Both of the pigeons shattered, drawing a slight murmur from the spectators. The second two also blew apart. The discs took different trajectories in the third. Thor hit one high early and managed to blast the second just before it hit the water. The audience fell dead silent as the Oklahoma oilman, now sweating, faced the challenge of getting four out of four to beat Furbish.


He stepped back and tipped his hat above his brow. With the shotgun tucked under his arm, Thor reached in his back pocket and yanked forth a red bandana, which seemed to touch a nerve in the white poodle nestled the arms of the senator's wife, Dandy, who was observing from the front row. The dog let out a series of high-pitched yips, which, despite Dandy's pleadings, were relentless. Thor handed the shotgun to the attendant and sauntered over to Dandy, whose poodle was now yipping ever more incessantly.


"What's his name?" asked Thor, tipping his hat to Dandy.


"Oh, H. II Burchstead at Limoges, or so his papers say. Chris and I just call him Dumont. Isn't he just priceless? Now y'all hush up, you little dickens, and say hello to Mr. Trewargy," she said with a gentle little shake. The dog yapped a couple of more times.


Thor nodded his head. "Yep. A little firecracker, that one. Maybe you could button his cunnin' little jaws for just a tad while ah get off a couple of more shots, if you don't mind. You see, me and the senator have a little business to take care of, and, uh, Dumont's chatterin' is breaking my concentration. Much obliged." He tipped his hat once again and turned before Dandy could respond, "Why, I never."


Sen. Furbish was aglow with anger over what he saw as a humiliating insult from this impertinent upstart, but kept his ground at the skeet station. How could a nickel-and-dime shoot-off so move this smart-ass Oklahoman to speak to Dandy in such a way?


Furbish and Trewargy had a little bit of history between them, though they had probably never exchanged a dozen words. Three or four years back, Furbish had cosponsored legislation to repeal an oil depletion allowance -- a tax break -- for restored oil wells. But the bill, which the senator had "Christmas treed" onto a larger, unrelated maritime regulatory bill bedangled with dozens of special-interest goodies from other senators, was carefully crafted so it repealed the tax breaks only for wells in Oklahoma. Simply put, it was a favor for Texas-based oil producers who also happened to be, not coincidentally, generous Furbish campaign contributors. The little eight-word amendment would have cost the Pow'r Paw empire millions.


Trewargy's lawyers had been tipped off to the threat by the Oklahoma governor and hired a team of lobbyists -- Thor called them "amendment assassins" -- to kill the bill early. Thor was generally easygoing, but on this count he still carried a grudge, and that's what this shoot-off was really about. In Thor's mind, big black headlines in the little ship's newspaper proclaiming him a better shot than Sen. Furbish would even things out a bit.


Thor sidled up to the rail, took his loaded shotgun back from the silent attendant, pulled his hat back down over his brow and took aim.


"Tell you what," he told the attendant. "Put that little damn poodle on that launcher and a C-note is yours."


"Sir?" said the bewildered man.


"Never mind. Pool."


The springs shot loose their payload of two skeets. They sailed high, and Thor easily blasted them into smithereens. A chatter arose from the crowd as the final two discs were loaded, but everyone, including Dumont, quickly quieted back down. Thor gave his final order, and the last two clay pigeons sang out with a weak whine from the ship. Thor quickly blasted the high one, and waited until the last fraction of a second to knock the other apart just before it would have hit the water. Once again, in theatrical fashion, he blew the nonexistent smoke from the barrel and handed over the gun.


The audience broke into a loud applause as a few bills exchanged hands among some of the spectators, and the senator and Thor approached each other from their respective stations. Furbish casually reached into his jacket and pulled out his wallet, plucked some green bills from it and tucked them in his right hand, which he held out to Trewargy.


"Mighty fine shooting', for an Oklahoma boy," Furbish said with a smile as the two shook hands.


"Been a pleasure ... Slinky," answered Thor. He began to turn away, but the senator stopped him.


"That was just the first round, son," the tall Texan said in a voice loud enough so the onlookers still there could hear. "We ain't over yet. I'll be talkin' to you."


Thor nodded in affirmation. "I'll be ready, senator."


 


I had consumed my last two Slim-Jims observing the shoot-off from my perch at the Quarter Deck rail, but Sal had gone back to work halfway through the contest to catch the BBC news report and mark up pages in advance of our next call. I was back by the time Thor got to the door. He gave it a sharp rap and burst in, removing his hat.


"Hope ya got plenty of black ink in that press!" he blurted. "Ya need some juicy quotes or something?"


We had gotten the cruise staff's OK to go ahead with a story -- "subtle" was their expressed preference for the tone -- so I went ahead with the interview and snapped a Polaroid mugshot. I toned the story down as directed and buffed it into a cliche-riddled tale of a genteel, sportsmanlike contest that thrilled the scores of onlookers as it went right down to the wire. Sal and I finally settled on a 36-point headline -- letters a half-inch but impact eased with the use of italics -- that announced, "Oklahoma Oilman Slips By Senator in Grand Skeet Shoot." He got his story. We filled eight inches of white space.


Of course, we could have filled another small sea of white had we chosen to use the cartoon Lefty had slipped under the door just before tea that afternoon: It showed a poodle, adrift at sea wearing a bandage and sling on a front paw, with the Majestic sailing off in the distance. Bobbing on a wave in its little life vest, the dog says, "The flight was great, but I can't say much for the cruise."


Luckily, the BBC came through with some cricket scores, which were in hot demand by the crew and officers, and soon the paper was filled.


 


The mood was quite festive as we sailed on to Montevideo, with nightly band performances and dancing on the open deck above. The casino, disco bar and nightclubs were full into the early morning hours, and there wasn't a spare lounge chair on deck or near the pools at Quarterdeck and One Deck aft from morning until late afternoon's cocktail hour. The significance of minutes and hours was slowly being worn away by the unhurried pace of ship life. If you missed breakfast, you took brunch. If you missed brunch, you were served sandwiches on deck. If you missed luncheon and late luncheon, there was tea to hold you over until cocktail hour, and then dinner, or late dinner, or the midnight buffet. And, of course, the stewards were always ready to serve. The days blended together, with the only official marks of time being our calls in port.


The pace at sea was even somewhat softened for the crew, which was spared the bother of the usual duties at anchorage, like dropping and running launches for the passengers and loading luggage and cargo on and off.


For many, it afforded more time in the Pig for drinking and cards, while others lazed away free hours on the fo'c's'le and took a dip in the small, steel pool at the forward end that was their preserve. For Thornley, free time was spent nursing Booth.


It seems the stowaway serpent had developed a case of pleurisy, perhaps from its extended stay in the dank box in the outskirts of Rio. Bin, who had studied animal biology in India, noticed the anaconda's unusual behavior, and feigned some of the same cold-like symptoms during a visit to the ship's hospital to test his diagnosis. Dr. Millan confirmed what Bin suspected, and recommended lots of sunshine, as much as possible.


With Bin's help and encouragement, Thornley learned to handle the snake with confidence and skill, and was soon allowing the 13-foot reptile to coil itself around his waist and chest while he walked it on t'up, the upper sun deck that was almost always devoid of passengers during the daylight hours. Just to be safe, Thornley always brought Bin along to steer away anyone who might happen to climb up.


"Hah, wet paint here," he would say. "Please, come back when it is all dry!"


Their carefully calculated system worked even as the ship was tied up in Montevideo, along a quay at the far end of a Uruguayan naval installation on the Rio de la Plata. Thornley walked his lethargic, wheezing patient on the sunny deck even as Capt. Goodrow and the senior officers entertained Uruguay's political elite 50 feet forward in the bridge and master's suite.


Our maiden landing in Montevideo was without the escorts of small boats that came out to greet the great ship in other ports. We simply put in, tied up, and left passengers in this somewhat mysterious place on their own. Some took tours across the Rio de la Plata to Buenos Aires. Others boarded taxis to the old section of Montevideo, which hadn't changed much from the 1800s, and to the ornate Palacio Salvo and Plaza Independencia, while most just roamed zig-zagging streets where leather vendors and sidewalk market keepers hawked their wares.


There was none of the glitz and glamour of Rio in this city of 1.2 million, the center of commerce, education and transportation for "the Purple Land." Everyone, it seemed, was gone, aside from a few hawkers and an occasional soldier in fatigues patrolling with rifles in their arms. It was hot, steamy and desolate on this Sunday afternoon.


We had met with Fiona, and later with Grigg, and strolled along a wide boulevard near the pier, passing a row of comely waterfront homes surrounded by iron fences. We diverted to one or two parks in an effort to glean some culture from the statues that honored Uruguay's rise to independence from Spanish colonials. Shopping was taken care of right in a park, where I bought a handmade leather vest for my brother Steve for a couple of U.S. dollars. Grigg stocked up on a half dozen leather jackets, bargaining with the seller in Spanish until he drove the price down to the equivalent of $5 for each, a quarter of the asking price. Sal followed suit and purchased an armful of jackets for her brothers. Tired and thirsty, we made our way back to the pier and boarded the Majestic in plenty of time for the evening sailing.


Grigg and Fiona went their way -- I suspected to race radio cars on the sun deck -- just after we stepped aboard. We started back toward the office to get some work done on the next day's paper, but in the corridor met Hallsford and Watson, who invited us up to the Ward Room for a drink. We joined a couple of dozen officers, many of whom had skipped Montevideo for an afternoon of partying on board, and stayed for a couple of rounds of drinks before setting off in a slight haze.


We delayed work again, opting to dress for the evening cocktail party in the Quarterdeck Ballroom, and at dinner ordered steaks (freshly delivered from Argentina) with artichoke salads, hardly noticing as the ship turned outward and started for the sea, sunset at her stern, due east for our next call, Tristan da Cunha.


After dinner, we resolved to get back to work on the last couple of pages of the paper. Sal caught the latest BBC report over the sound of the singer, Cecile Boucher, who was going through the scales as she warmed up for her evening floor show. I dummied up the world new briefs, gold and silver prices and went to work on a Tristan piece. The final pages fell into place within an hour or two. I looked out the window at the inky sky. All that was left of South America were some distant, twinkling shoreline lights. Sal was picking up the pages to take to the printer's as I pulled the curtain closed.


"Wait," I said. I locked the door to the office and, as I had done before, propped a chair under the knob.


"What on earth are you doing?" she asked.


"Put the flats down. I want to show you something."


The smirk on her face disappeared as I walked into the closet and pulled on the light.


"Get me the scissors, in the desk over there," I said. Cecile had finished her la-la-la-las and had left for her stage performance.


"What on earth are ..."


I paid no attention to Sal and removed the screws, one by one, and dropped them in my shirt pocket.


"That ruler on the desk. I need it." She brought it over.


Working like a burglar, which in effect I suppose I was, I removed the wall panel, and then, like a surgeon, which is a stretch, I used the ruler to slide the dusty box under the pipes to the opening. Sal was now silent and her eyes were widening.


I pulled the box out and told her to lift off the top. When she saw what was inside, the top dropped to the carpet and both of her hands covered her mouth.


"God. Oh my God. This can't be. Can't be it. Tell me, Michael, how did it get there? Michael?" She never called me Michael.


"I meant to show you earlier, but things got so busy, Rio and the parties and all. Now you know. Listen to me. I had no idea it was here until that guy Neptune said something to me after the equator thing. Gave me the creeps. Then it hit me, the flats had all been straightened up in the closet after the storm. I knew someone had been in here. So I came in one night while you were sleeping, and ... "


"So that's where you went," she said with a slight smile. "I don't sleep that soundly, you ought to know that. Let me look."


She carried it nimbly to the desk and, much as I had, lifted it out and set the golden treasure on the desk, then stepped back to stare. "God," she said.


I found a pack of Players in my coat pocket and lit up. We were both silent for a minute or two.


"What are we going to do with it?" she asked, before answering herself. "Give it to Gordon, of course. Where is he? No, wait, what will he think? The captain, yes, Captain Goodrow. But how do we explain how we got it?"


"Listen. We take it out and leave it, say next to the jeweler's one night," I suggested.


"Someone, maybe the wrong person, will find it," she said. "Where's the ring? A Deo Rex?"


"Look. Be careful," I said, blowing out a puff of smoke.


She peered inside, with her black hair draping over the sails, looking for the cask that held the priceless ring.


"I couldn't see it either, but it's got to be locked away somewhere inside the hull. That thing's solid gold," I said. "And we're stuck with it."


"Put it back," Sal said. "Put it back and let's sleep on it. We've got to get it back into the right hands, but, it's all just so awkward now. Come on, put it back."


"Maybe Neptune was right," I said as I lifted the boat back into the box. "That's what he told me: `Forget the galleon.' "


I carefully placed the box back in the opening under Cecile Boucher's bathtub, put the panel back and turned the Philips head screws back in, making sure each grommet was in place.


We carried the flats down to the printer's, where Blue was hunched over the press making some adjustments while Jack MacIver leaned idly against the work table. Jack assured us that the press, which had been on the blink all afternoon, would be fixed in time for the late-night run so passengers would have their papers by breakfast.


Blue said he had worked right through dinner on the inking unit.


"I'm bloody starved. I could eat a baked monkey," he said.


"How do you get to the laundry?" asked Sal. "The Chinese laundry?"


"I don't like to eat shirts. Too much starch," said Blue.


"Why, missus, did you get some ink on your gown?" chided MacIver.


Sal ignored him. "Don't they have a kitchen there? Would they let me use it?"


"Aye, you want to cook your clothes. Noo that's different," said MacIver.


"Shut up, haggis brain," said Blue. He wiped his hands and explained the way, but said it was likely closed at this hour. And why did we need to go to the Chinese laundry now, anyway? I was stupefied myself, and could only shrug my shoulders when Blue looked at me.


"You'll have the best lasagne you have ever tasted in two hours," promised Sal. "Maybe an hour. Get that press going, you two. It'll be worth it. Come on," she ordered me as she turned and started out the door.


I had thought earlier we would just take in a show and maybe a few drinks, but Sal's mood had been churned into a state of hyperactivity, triggered no doubt by her worries over the galleon. I had seen her like this before. When she first brought me home to meet the rest of the Moscarellos in their crowded, brick row home in Baltimore, she was in a panic knowing they expected to set eyes upon a paisano and not a McGeehan. So what did she do? "I'll cook, mama," she had said before seeking asylum behind the pots and pans in the kitchen, not to emerge before we all sat down to a big spaghetti dinner. Of course, by then, her dad, brothers and I had drained a case of beer while watching a Colts game and had made fast friends, so her worrying had been for naught. Anyway, Anna Maria Salvini was in the same state again, a runaway train on the culinary tracks to temporal escapism. Of course, I went along for the ride.


Back in our cabin, she gathered the boxes of noodles, spices and jars of sauces and olive oil that she had bought in New York, and sent me to fetch a steward, who in turn fetched a waiter, who then had to find a cook, to reclaim the sausage and ricotta, mozzarella and Parmigiana cheese she had gotten Ivan and Terry to stash in the galley refrigerator. For a couple of beers, my helpers grabbed an onion and the other ingredients needed to satisfy Sal's after-hours whim. We met, after a half-hour of what seemed like a scavenger hunt, at the office.


Following Blue's directions, we descended on the main elevator to Five Deck, took the stairs to Six Deck and walked the corridor aft, past the hospital, darkened swimming pool, sauna, Turkish bath, and then found a stairway that took us down a deck to the laundry. I tapped on the door and then turned the knob and we walked into the dark room. A man emerged from a door at the other side and asked what we wanted.


Sal introduced us, told him she understood they had a kitchen and asked if they wouldn't mind if we used it.


"Have you ever tasted lasagne?" she asked, smiling.


The man answered with a grin and led us into the next room, the kitchen, where two of his fellow Chinese workers were gathered around a huge wok on a stove. They spoke some English, and graciously offered the use of their oven and a couple of pans. Curious and friendly, they cleared space for Sal to work and called in a couple of others to watch their guest, still in her chiffon gown, put on her performance.


While the two pans were in the oven, we shared a few glasses of rice beer and sampled some of their noodle-seafood soup -- a mix of squid, pea pods and Asian noodles cooked in garlic-flavored chicken broth -- and posed while our main host snapped a few pictures of us with his friends. Our visit turned into a most delightful and unexpected little party, but it was soon time to leave.


Sal kissed each of our hosts on the cheek and left one of the cooked dishes of lasagne behind. They gave us a couple of towels so we could carry the other and we headed straight for the print shop.


Jack was busy typing the last pages of copy and Blue was making plates for the press run when we walked in. We didn't want to tie them up, so Sal cut half of the steaming lasagne and, with a spatula she had borrowed from the Chinese, removed it from the pan onto the back of an old aluminum press plate. MacIver immediately produced knives and forks from one of the drawers at his desk, and the two were smiling when we left.


Now at a somewhat slower pace, we made our way back to the office. I attracted a few curious stares from passengers on the elevator as I carried the hot pan of lasagne in my arms. We got out at Upper Deck just to see what was going on, and bumped into Harbold Rickards, the purser, who had just left the midnight buffet in the Parisienne.


"They're serving rather large portions tonight, are they not?" said Rickards.


"Oh, it's just ... " Sal started to answer.


"Oh, never mind, just tweaking you. Let me see." He stepped closer, bent over the pan and took a long whiff of the melting cheese. "Of all the culinary miracles they work on this ship, lasagne, my weakness, my passion, is not amongst them. God knows why. This is a work of art, madam."


Sal grinned and said something about her mother's recipe, which had been handed down from her mother, and before long was offering the purser a sample. His eyebrows shot up above the upper frame of his glasses as he accepted, and we decided to move to our office. Rickards, dressed in the white uniform of the day with the four-bar epaulets at his shoulders, snapped his fingers at a steward who was passing by, and ordered three sets of plates and silverware and a bottle of champagne sent to Room 8203, our office.


Within minutes of the time we entered the office, a steward had appeared at the door with a small table on which he spread a linen cloth, full table settings and a vase with a single rose. A helper placed an ice bucket with champagne next to it, and opened it. With a motion of his hand, Rickards ordered the three goblets filled and the men vanished.


We sat and Sal served big squares of the still-hot lasagne. Rickards' eyes shut as he tasted each bite, and then he'd lean back and savor it before resuming his monologue about the ship, his years at sea and the ports of the world he had visited. He politely asked us about ourselves, but before long the conversation would drift back to Rickards.


Like so many of his island countrymen, he had been drawn to the sea as a young man, although his parents insisted he keep his sights on land and pursue a career in business. But Rickards remembered the joy of riding the train with his parents to meet his father's brother, Graham Rickards, when he would return to Liverpool and step off the gangway of the 32,000-ton liner Mauretania, on which he worked as a steward.


"His stories, oh, they buried any inclinations I may have had toward Fleet Street, let me tell you, and thrilled me about what life must have been like on these great liners, the Mauretania, the Aquitania, the Berengaria, all those wonderful British liners," Rickards said with a smile before taking a final bite and leaning back once more.


"Three, four, five of these great ships set sail on some days from the Liverpool docks -- can you imagine? -- five in a day! It was the golden age of steamships, and they pulled me like great steel magnets.


"Uncle Graham had started out as a water-tender and later fireman in the boilers of the Carpathia. Part of his routine was to shovel the clinkers, all those cinders, you know, into bags to be hoisted up and dumped overboard. Uncle Graham was at work in the boilers that night in 1912 when the distress call came from the Titanic. The Carpathia, of course, arrived hours after the sinking, but there were survivors in all those lifeboats to attend to. Graham and his mates were called to deck to help bring up the survivors. There they used those same canvas clinker bags to hoist those poor, frozen devils from the lifeboats," said Rickards.


"He moved on to the Mauretania after that. And again, the stories! Now, I suspect a few bob changed hands during that clay pigeon exhibition on the Madge before we sailed into Montevideo. And of course, we have our casino with blackjack and all of that rubbish. But in the '20s, wagering on the ship's mileage for the day, that was the thing! Passengers, first class only, mind you, would buy up numbers representing the day's miles, and the one whose number came closest would win the pot. They were all moneyed people, mind you, but they nonetheless took this diversion very seriously as they packed the lovely public rooms to auction and trade their numbers. Of course, the stewards had a part in all this, as they trotted about madly with drinks in one hand and cash in the other while the cutthroat bidding for the hottest numbers went on. Like a huge auction, or even a stock exchange, it was. Thousands and thousands of dollars were at stake!


"There was a good lot of monkey business in those days too," continued Rickards. "After a few years on the Mauretania, Uncle Graham learned where every false panel in every public room was. Even then, smugglers hid their drugs behind those wooden panels, but it was never too long before someone found them out. One can only imagine what's hidden behind the walls of the Majestic as we sit here."


The last statement sent a jolt through me, knowing that 10 feet away the stolen galleon was hidden behind a wall panel under Cecile Boucher's bathtub. I wanted to believe that the little beads of sweat forming on my forehead were from the champagne, not my nerves coming undone. I glanced at Sal, and felt her foot tapping mine under the table, but she looked straight ahead at Rickards, who once again was leaning back collecting his thoughts.


He then went on, telling of his studies in accounting in York before going off to sea during the war and serving, for a time, as a crewman on the troop transport Queen Mary. He returned to England afterward and worked for two years in a small accounting firm, but had had enough of a taste of the old multi-funneled liners to want more.


"Now, it was the day of the Queen Mary," he said. "I decided one night that I couldn't put it off any longer. With no wife or children to worry about, I put in my notice at the firm and went to the docks the very next morning and was signed on as a seaman. Right from the bottom, started up. Mopping those broad decks of the Queen Mary day and night, then the same thing again, and again and again." He stopped for a moment and chuckled.


"I can still see the first officer leaving the bridge one afternoon, then appearing at the hatch on the main deck where I had just swabbed. In his second step, his legs went straight into the air, and he came down, bum first, right on to the soaking wet deck. I burst out laughing, which I suppose was quite impolitic, and the officer, I think his name was Smythe, dressed me down savagely. He finally turned and walked away, but three steps more and his legs went out to the side and he fell against the rail. The thump knocked his cap from his head and he reached out to grab it. But the wind took it and it sailed into the water. Oh, how I wanted to laugh, but I managed to hold it inside.


"Eventually, despite this little indiscretion, they saw fit make me a steward, then chief steward, and eventually staff in the purser's office before the end of the Mary in '67. Then, I transferred over to the Queen Elizabeth, before coming here as chief purser. But I do go on and on. And now I must stop, as it's getting quite late."


Rickards thanked us and told us to leave the table and settings just as they were, because the stewards would attend to them before we returned for work the next morning. And just as he had said, the room was cleared and straight when we arrived shortly before luncheon the next day. Our eastbound crossing into another time zone had robbed us of an hour overnight.t a better view of the sunrise.


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© By Buzz Adams