Away to Bombay
A dim light over the metal stairwell provided only the barest illumination in the car park deep in the aft hold. But Tyler Tinkham, or "Terrible" Tyler as his shipmates called him, knew his way around. And he definitely knew his way to the 1976 Bricklin that sat in the second row, third space from starboard. Parked among the Mercedes Benzes, Jaguars, Cadillacs, and Bentley or two, the Bricklin was easy to spot even in the darkness, with its sleek silhouette and low, edgy body. The Bricklin spoke silently to Terrible Tyler. "Come, sit in me. Pretend to drive me. Turn on my radio. Now, isn't that nice? Grip the steering wheel. Play with my gears. And watch those doors. The spring open from the bottom like a seagull's wings."
It was the plaything of a rich passenger, some oilman from Texas or somewhere in the American West, he had heard. But that isn't what Terrible Tyler told the latest object of his affections, Lucy. He told her the Bricklin was his.
Tyler worked on the ship as a Casino technician, in plain American English, a repairman who fixed the slot machines when they became jammed or failed to pay off for too long. He had just embarked in Cape Town, but was already well-hated by the crew, who had grown tired of his incessant boasting about his women, adventures and possessions. Even his looks annoyed people. His eyes had a dazed, disinterested look, with his eyelids half-open and eyebrows constantly raised in a way that suggested boredom with and condescension over those around him.
With the slot machines in fairly good order, Tyler got to spend most of his time lounging around at the Casino bar chatting up women. That's where he met Lucinda Dick, who had long since danced away her grief over Sir Philburton's death and was now spending more and more of her time at the blackjack and baccarat tables.
While on his frequent, lengthy breaks in the Casino, Tyler took Lucy to the dance floor and squeezed her tight as he told her stories, mostly lies, about himself. He had highballed his title to vice president for sales and technology for the slot machine company, saying he was on the ship merely to observe the machines' use, order upgraded equipment as needed and, of course, to hobnob with the high rollers and hotel staff to keep the business relationship cozy. He later embellished that fiction by saying he was the company president's son. "And, oh yes, I'm a pilot, I didn't tell you?"
Tyler dropped names constantly, but with a well-rehearsed modesty suggested that Lucy keep knowledge of his many personal connections private. "Don't like to seem boorish or braggy, you know." It was his cover, of course, to make sure his prodigious untruths remain concealed, at least until his hitch was near its end.
Terrible Tyler had, amid all of this deceit, convinced Lucy that he dabbled in race-car driving (he actually owned nothing more than a motor scooter) and that his Bricklin was stowed in the aft car park.
"I don't suppose you should want to see it, then?" he asked Lucy, brushing her long black hair to the side of her face as they danced. "Such a dreadful old toy, really, I prefer either one of my Porsches." This was followed by a sly, devilish smile.
Tyler connived his way into getting the key to Thor Trewargy's Bricklin by persuading an assistant baggage master to nick it from the locker where all of the automobile keys were stored during the voyage. Trewargy wouldn't be needing his car, anyway, at least until Japan or Hawaii. In exchange, Tyler promised to give the dull mope the next fruit machine in the Casino to be put out of service, handsome booty, he assured him, to take to one's parlor back at home. In reality, the machines were closely monitored and nicking one would have required a con that even Tyler would be hard put to pull off. No matter; on the night Booth was being toasted at his final going-away bash, Terrible Tyler had the Bricklin key in the side pocket of his hip-hugger disco pants.
Having made sure Lady Lucy was well-oiled with tequila sunrises, Tyler put forth his best moves to get her to follow him below. To his mild astonishment, she said she would lo-o-o-o-ve to see his, what do you call eet, Bre-e-e-klin?
While Donna Sommer's "Gloria" blasted over the crowded disco floor, Tyler and Lucy slipped away at about a quarter to midnight. Moving quickly so the tipsy Lucy was almost tripping over her feet, the two made their way through the lower corridors aft to the hatch leading to the car hold. He grabbed her hand and led her through the darkness to the pearl-white car. Tyler slipped the key into the slot and the door sprang open, its corner catching him in the crotch of his pants as it rose. Tyler jumped back not an instant too late, sparing him of being painfully vaulted to the roof of the car. He looked back nonchalantly and raised an eyebrow. The two got in, both on the driver's side, and he flipped a switch that brought the wing-like door back down.
In less than a moment, she was facing him, her knees straddling his hips and arms hugging Tyler's hairy neck. Lucy tugged him closer as Tyler began easing his hands up her legs, sliding her short skirt up. Lucy, breathing heavily, slowly wriggled her rear end back as her hands fumbled toward Tyler's belt. She eased back toward the center of the steering wheel, then back a little farther, until it touched the horn. The blast startled her; Tyler snorted with shock and instinctively bolted upright, as if to get away. That set off a second honk of the Bricklin's horn, which sounded as if it was in an echo chamber. Tyler and Lucy twisted and turned in a brief wrestling match to get out of the seat, setting off third, fourth, fifth and sixth honks before they finally freed themselves of their awkward predicament and Tyler sprang the door open.
"Chee-zis, let's go!" he ordered. Lucy, in her intoxication, was amused, and blasted the horn a couple of more times with her clenched fist, giggling all the while.
A deck up, Grigney was directing Booth's carriers toward the hatch where Capt. Goodrow and his assistants were waiting when the car horn sounded. The repeated honks stopped him dead in his tracks.
"Gawd 'mighty," he said. "Bloody emergency, it is."
As Thornley, Bin and Arch Toth proceeded ahead, Grigney dashed back 20 or so feet to the nearest bulkhead, where he pulled a switch that started to close the steel, watertight door. Like all officers, he had been taught that the emergency horns should automatically shut the watertight doors. If they don't, PULL THE EMERGENCY SWITCH. Grigney felt he had done his duty. In fact, the young officer thought, maybe he'd be a hero. He smiled to himself.
Grigney's action sent an alarm to the bridge, where the blinking light puzzled the officers on watch. They followed standard procedure and hit the lever closing all watertight doors throughout the ship, which in turn triggered all of the emergency alarms.
Jack MacIver and Blue had just run off copies of the next day's menus and were making a few adjustments on the press for the night's run of the Mail when they heard the first blasts of the horn. The shrill honks echoed throughout the lower decks, the enclosed upper deck passageways and along every open deck, where a few passengers strolled on the warm, moonlit night.
"Wot? Lifeboat drill at this bloody hour? The captain's gone pure bloody crackers, he has," fumed Blue, poking a wrench into the air.
"It ain't stuppin'," MacIver said. "Aye, maybe we've hit something, or maybe a fire." He sniffed the air, then reached for a half-full Scotch bottle on the workbench and tucked it into his white overshirt. "And yer going to the bottom twisting the nuts on that bloody press? Not I, friend. Besides, I could use a few minutes oot of this place. I'm off. And yer comin'?"
Blue rubbed his red beard and stared straight ahead blankly before glancing at his watch. The honking continued.
"Never heard the likes of it. Lifeboat drill, a dot to midnight." He rubbed grease from his wrench with a rag and tossed it to the workbench. "I reckon we'd better go. And maybe catch a pint at the Pig on the way back."
The response of passengers and officers on the upper decks was far less subdued. Panicked passengers in their nightclothes bolted from their cabins and gathered in the hallways. The casino and bars emptied out, and almost immediately rumors of a thousand kinds on the supposed nature of the ship's distress were being spun and woven. Officers, themselves unsure of what triggered the emergency, sprinted from the Ward Room, bars and cabins to their assigned stations amid the relentless honk-honk-honks.
Below, Thornley, Bin and Arch Toth sensed the confusion instantly as they struggled with the sack containing Booth. They made their way fast for the next door, barely hefting the sack through the steel doors before they shut tight. They were now separated by the huge doors from Grigney, who was utterly alone in pitch blackness, except for the blinking red light near the emergency latch he had just activated. Grigney was now having second thoughts on whether to feel so heroic, and started humming "Rule, Britannia," to regain his mettle.
In the compartment ahead, Thornley ordered the other two to let Booth out of the sack.
"It's the only way," he said. "Look, mates, for all we know, the lot of us are going down. The ol' man's got a distress call on his hands now, he's not worrying about a snake for God's sake," he pleaded. "Let 'im bloody go."
His persuasion worked. Arch and Bin let go of the sack, and Arch gave it a light kick.
"Go on, then, out you scaly divil," he muttered. In less than a minute, Booth's head had emerged from the sack, and he began his escape, leotard and all.
Hundreds of confused passengers mustered at their assigned lifeboat stations, many of them tugging at the straps on their orange life vests, under nothing less than perfect weather conditions: a bright moon, steady, calm seas and hardly a breeze disturbing the 70 degree-plus temperature. Officers held portable radios to their ears and awaited orders, taking time out to raise their arms to calm the passengers and urge their continued cooperation. Seamen clambered up the davits and stood by, ready to lower the launches if needed.
Several decks below, Capt. Goodrow paced angrily by the open hatch. His fury at having been stood up by Booth had now turned into total bewilderment over the unexplained emergency operation. He and his assistants had heard the steel doors fore and aft clank shut and knew they were trapped in a watertight shell.
"Radio," the Captain demanded as he held out his hand.
"Radio, sir?" responded the first officer. "Uh, none here, sir, perhaps Grigney ... "
"He's gone to get that, that thing, the blasted snake, ninny. The lad's stuck fast just as we are. No radio then to notify the Bridge, I take it. I'll have you on log."
"Blasted ninnies, nincompoops and knaves, the lot of you."
No one spoke, and the silence was broken only by the continuing honks and the captain's soft humming of the melody to "MacArthur Park."
In the bridge, Staff Capt. Villard had assumed duty at 12:05 a.m. After some consultation with senior officers, radar checks for errant vessels that might have struck the ship and some other checks and cross-checks, Villard gave the command to open all safety doors, topside first. Perhaps 45 minutes had passed by the time the Six Deck compartments were finally opened. Capt. Goodrow, still livid, was finally free to return to the Bridge and demand explanations. But one thing was clear: Booth was on the loose again
By sunlight that morning, we had anchored in the clear, blue water off Mahe, the main island of Seychelles. Volcanic mountains arose from the coral base of the tropical island, which colonial British military surveyors of the 1880s believed had been the site of the Garden of Eden. It was a long launch ride to the quay, and then a fairly short walk to Victoria, the island's dilapidated little capital that seemed to be losing ground to the thick forest of banana, bamboo and palm trees. The village was mostly one- and two-story, white stucco buildings with wide open windows to let the occasional breezes drifting uphill from the ocean move the stifling, equatorial heat. People moved slowly, gathering in the shade under awnings to talk. The only sign of formality was a very proper-looking clock perched on an ornate iron column in the middle of the town square, stuck fast at 11:34 for who knows how many days, weeks, months. But, much like on the ship, time didn't seem to matter much in the Seychelles, where we were only the most recent visitors in a procession going back to the 1200s, when the Arabians and Persians arrived. The Portuguese came in the 1500s, then the French, and British in the 1770s.
It was under the clock at Independence Avenue and Albert Street where Sal and I had agreed to meet with Hallsford an hour after the first launches departed. It was easy to get off the ship without delay because immigration had been taken care of earlier on board.
The clock turned out to be a popular meeting spot for crew who had been to Mahe. Clement Sevigny, now back in his native land, spotted us and stopped by for a few minutes to talk. He carried a leather suitcase and gunny sack and said he had gotten a short leave to visit with his mother. Soon Hallsford showed up and we boarded a bus, for 40 rupees, for Beau Vallon beach on the other side of the island. The bus stopped in a small village of tiny houses scattered in shaded clearings in the woods. With little more than a thin smile, Clement climbed out and waved the bus on. The ride along narrow mountain switchbacks slashing through the jungle of palm trees led to a vista of a long, white beach, curved like a gleaming cutlass at the edge of a cove formed by craggy mountains covered with strands of dark and light green.
The main attraction on the beach was not the waves, because they were little more than ripples against the white sand, but rather parasailing. An enterprising German had rigged a power boat with a parachute and was selling rides for 15 American dollars or 10 English pounds.
It was a rather simple setup, quite unlike modern contrivances employing the use of power winches and specially designed vessels and such. Giving directions in broken English, the German would strap riders in a nylon harness and trail the silk parachute behind the rider before climbing in the boat. He pulled it slowly forward until the line from the harness to the transom was taut, and then gun the boat. At the same time, the rider would have to run forward until airborne.
Hallsford, Sal and I were intrigued with the process as we watched several parasailers soar 200 or so feet onto the air. We were soon in line awaiting our turns. The ride was magnificent; by pulling on the support lines to each side, I could turn the parachute one way or the other, giving the experience an extra dimension. From my bird's eye perch, I could spot off in the distance the coral atolls protruding above the ocean surface along the ridge that forms the backbone of the 90 islands and islets in the Seychelles chain. Since it was a clear day, I could see 20-some miles off in the distance the 2,500-foot peak of Silhouette Island. Some of the smaller islands in the chain bear such enchanting names and Cousin and Cousine, Felicite, Petite and Grande Soeur, and LaDigue.
After five or 10 minutes, the ride came to an end. As the boat slowed down and I descended, I had to move my legs in order to hit the ground, as they say, running. My landing was fair, Hallsford's near-perfect, and Sal missed a step and landed on her rear, eliciting an Italian expletive.
We celebrated our maiden parasailing flights with drinks in a bar under a palm-covered hut along the beach. There, chalky-skinned British seamen mixed with tanned German and Dutch travelers and transplants. The native dark-skinned mix of Africans, Indians and Malaysians chatted in a patois of African and French, with sprinklings of English phrases.
Gordon joined us as we started our second round of beers. His usual shell of formality was gone and in fact he seemed quite relaxed in his Bermudas and new sunglasses. A couple of the Casino girls, Cookie and Danielle, also joined us. We were able to piece together the story of what caused the midnight lifeboat drill from what the croupiers and Woodsome told us.
"What happened to Grigney?" asked Sal.
"Captain's log," said Gordon. "Poor boy. Such a nice lad."
"What about Tyler?"
"Oh, he's so awful. They should have made him walk the bloody plank," said Cookie. "Or hanged him. He's off the ship in Bombay, so I understand."
Danielle said the ship couldn't get a replacement for Tyler until it reached India. In the meantime, he was being kept under close supervision.
"What about the snake?" Sal persisted.
"Oh, he has free reign once again. I suggest you ladies check in your showers before stepping in," Gordon said with an evil snicker. "I do believe he's eating well. They still haven't found Mrs. Furbish's poodle. What did they call that thing, Duborg? Dufont? No, Dumont, yes. Oh, really!"
Because we would be at sea the next day, we had to leave so we could get the newspaper together. The new tea man -- we hadn't met him yet -- had left the tray outside the office door and the tea was lukewarm by the time we got there.
On the short wave, the BBC was barely audible, coming in waves of static and interference. But after replaying tape recordings two or three times, we were able to string together a 280-word story about the latest border clash between the Vietnamese and Chinese, which would become the lead story in the paper. A big snowstorm that crippled England and Scotland was also a lucky catch and made for a good Page One story. British passengers would love it. Patching together grainy reports from Radio Switzerland and U.S. armed forces radio, we made a story on the ongoing revolution in Iran, with thousands of American and British lining up at airports to flee as four Iranian army generals were being executed.
Radio Canada even faded in briefly, but long enough to give us a couple of briefs following up on the killing of the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan and Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip's plans for a royal trip to Bahrain. Of course, Radio Moscow was everywhere on the band, coming in clearly with the well-practiced American midwestern accents of the announcers. Their stories always sounded good, until they blew their cover with entrees like, "And the imperialist American government today ... " We listened, long enough for a laugh, then spun the dial for something more useful.
Sal banged out a feature on a passenger who was giving shipboard demonstrations on Tai Chi and promoted an evening singing performance by the lead tenor with the Belgian Royal Opera House. British soccer scores and those incomprehensible cricket scores, which were provided by the radio officers, filled up a nice chunk of the paper, and the ads for Silk Cut cigarettes, Hine cognac and various shops and services on board, along with the daily crossword, took care of the rest of the space in the paper. We would save the travel features on India for the next paper.
But in this edition, of course, there was no mention of the disturbance in the Parisienne, the mischief in the car hold, the midnight lifeboat drill -- or Booth. Besides, no one knew where Booth was now hiding.