Ambrose

A Travel Mystery Novel

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20


The company line was that the midnight lifeboat drill was planned and even required by the insurance company that covered Brighton Line, but hardly anyone bought the story. Barmen and stewards scoffed at the idea with a wink or snicker when passengers brought it up, and it came up often. But, showing surprising restraint that probably said more about their indifference to the passengers than about company loyalty, they stopped short of revealing the real story of what caused all of the chaos. Of course, everyone below decks and on the bridge was talking about it quite openly, while in the restaurants and other public rooms, the guests seemed to be willing to let the whole thing pass. A few were even relieved to learn that the ship put so much emphasis on their safety. That idea may have been reinforced by the surprise showing of the movie "Poseidon Adventure," the story of a cruise ship that gets dunked upside down out in the ocean.


Most of the people no doubt were too excited about the next round of calls and too busy arranging tours and buying new clothes in the Gallery shops to worry about the inconvenience.


The Indian Ocean gradually gave way to the Arabian Sea as we sailed eastbound for Bombay. We were well into February, but the warm air got steamier and the blue sky turned gray, then light brown, as land came into view. Usually, the ship arrived in ports before dawn, but this time it was late afternoon. It was sultry by the time we rounded the peninsula forming the city, and the Majestic slowly cut through the dark-lime water of the harbor to tie up at Fort Ballard Pier.


A number of camera-toting passengers decked out in khaki Bermudas and sun dresses had formed queues in the main Midships lobby and at a hatch below decks on the same side, waiting for tour buses that would take them on overland tours to the stunning Taj Mahal in Agra, to New Delhi or to Nepal and the foothills of the Himalayas. Patiently waiting for the hatches to open and gangways to be lowered in place, they stood fanning themselves and talking quietly as baggage men loaded their sea trunks and suitcases onto carts. They would rejoin the ship in Singapore or Japan.


Terrible Tyler Tinkham was now gone, put off the ship as soon as the gangway was in place. Nurse Connie Frank also left the ship, but only for scheduled leave; she had signed on to accompany a mountain tour as its medical staff. Her replacement on board was a pudgy woman called Florese LePointe, a Belgian who was hired amid a temporary shortage of available nursing sisters. Florese also inherited part-time custody of Tina Kane and Lori Pierce, whom she kept under control with just the right medications at the right time. And by now, the ever-resourceful Trevor Gages had made his way from Africa to Malaysia, where he reportedly was living with transvestites and plotting a rendezvous with the ship once it arrived in Singapore.


For those of us on the ship, our first glimpse of Bombay would be, appropriately enough, the Gateway of India, a stone archway in a small green at Bombay Harbor's edge that stood as a monument to the era of British colonial rule. The archway, built to commemorate the visit of King George and Queen Mary in 1911, had already attracted a fair number of passengers making their first stop on one of the guided tours.


On the water, a hundred kinds of vessels from huge tankers to claptrap sailing rigs and fishing boats crisscrossed the harbor. White ferries made for a verdant isle, known for its caves, across the harbor.


The Elephanta Caves would be our first destination once we cleared immigration. The ferry we boarded near the Gateway was crammed far beyond capacity, not an unusual practice here, where trains and streetcars are typically mobbed. As the boat made its way across the choppy harbor, an attendant hunched precariously over the top of the engine compartment in the middle of the overburdened craft, squirting oil from the spout of a dingy can into the exposed, moving motor parts to keep the thing clanking along.


The five-mile trip took us to Elephanta Island, where Seventh Century temples filled with stone motifs from Hindu and Buddhist epics are hewn in wet, underground caves. As the ferry tied up, young men appeared at the end of a rickety wooden pier ready to carry passengers up the hill in portable seats fashioned from bamboo. A fat passenger smiled and eagerly flashed a U.S. dollar as he settled uneasily in a seat lashed in the center of the rig. Four slim, barefooted men, stationing themselves at each of the poles extending perhaps 10 feet from the front and rear of the settee, barely hesitated as they hoisted the poles to their shoulders and began their steady climb up the rocky path leading to the crest of the hill. Their feet seemed to know where each rock, root and crevice lay as they hauled their bloated freight upward.


We followed the first chair, and I snapped a picture of the rider ahead of us before my attention was drawn by a pair of monkeys sprinting across the path and disappearing into the woods ahead. All along the way, peddlers hawked brass ornaments, trinkets and food cooked on smoky little grilles to the procession of tourists making the climb.


At the top of the hill, Sal stopped to look back at the bay. I stood to the side of the path myself, letting the line of people pass me by as I scanned the muddy beachfront and string of people making their way upward. The next bamboo chair, carried by four limber-legged men, appeared over a rise, and seated in it was a dark-bearded figure, leaning back in regal fashion, his legs crossed and arms fixed to the supports at his side. When his chair was about 15 feet away his eyes suddenly froze on mine. It was that creep Neptune. My heart jumped as he drew closer and he ordered his carriers to stop at my side.


He glared down at me for a moment, then said, "No, I haven't forgot the little boat. Take care of it for us, won't you?" He grinned and let out an evil little laugh, then ordered, "Go!" Neptune looked back for a second as he was carried off. I said nothing to him.


"I don't like that man," Sal said as he ascended the hill. "I had almost forgotten about that ... " she lowered her voice, as if anyone around us would know what we were talking about, " ... that galleon. Where is it? Is it still in the ..."


"Let's go," I said.


Water dripped into murky pools below the stone carvings in the cave, whose etchings were illuminated only by the dim sun at our backs. My eyes followed the carvings of bodies marching this way and that in rows and lines, the human figures sometimes clutching weapons, pots and bowls, and sometimes intertwined in amorous holds that suggested the ancients had more on their minds than worshiping Shiva and Buddha.


After a while, we were summoned back to the ferry by the small army of young men tending the boats and dilapidated pier. Looking somewhat like the procession of carved figures in the caves, we followed one another back down to the landing, stopping now and again to watch a bull or goat meander toward the path or muddy bank of the bay. Some of the passengers fed monkeys bits of food they had bought earlier from the vendors but dared not eat. One monkey threw a handful back at his donor before hopping away. Perhaps the most amazing thing about the stop was that only one person -- it happened to be the fat man who had been carried in the portable chair -- stepped through a rotten plank in the pier. Only one leg went through, and as he slowly sank toward the mud and rocks below, he was hoisted back up by a half dozen of the young men who, a few minutes later, would use long bamboo poles to ease the ferry from the pier toward the bay.


I kept wondering where Neptune was as we rocked and pitched our way back toward the Gateway, but, with the crush of people on the creaking boat, I never spotted him. Back on land, we walked past the Gateway and the sprawling, ornate Taj Mahal Hotel, its bright minarets rising above palm trees at its base, and made our way back to the ship.


With so many of the World Cruise passengers gone, the population on board seemed a little light in the dining room, where lamb curry was the featured course. No big floor shows were scheduled on board for the evening, although John Delon's orchestra was playing some dance tunes for the oldsters still on board. The sax and trombone melodies to "When My Sugar Walks Down the Street," and Cecile Boucher's vocals to "Can't Teach My Old Heart New Tricks" echoed through the corridors as we headed for the open deck for stroll in the cooler night air. We considered for a time setting off for Bombay in the evening, but decided we were too tired and instead would get some sleep so we could start early in the morning exploring the city.


Heading down the main staircase toward our cabin, I noticed a perfumy, sweet smell, then a quiet murmur of voices.


"Look, there," whispered Sal. I looked at her, but her only response was a couple of nods. Her eyes were fixed somewhere over my shoulder, so I looked around.


An entourage of servants surrounded a small, dark figure in tan robes embroidered in gold, his white beard drooping to his chest. Angled far back to the rear of his head was a small silk cap, its edged outlined in ornate braids. With each step up towards us, a servant used a soft white cloth to wipe the handrail where it would be touched by the robed man. A servant in the rear carried an incense burner and the others kept time with his slow, deliberate pace.


"Quiet," whispered Sal. "Let them pass."


We moved toward the wall, trying to remain as inconspicuous as possible as the little parade whisked by. Once they were about 10 steps ahead of us, we started following them. My eyes were on them and not the steps ahead of me, so I missed a step, which sent me to my hands and knees. I could hear the right knee clunk as it hit the corner of the step.


"Shee-yit!" I yelled. The holy man and his band stopped. "Shee-yuh-zis Kee-RIZZ-miss." Now each turned around in unison, staring silently at me. I was now hunched over my knee, rubbing it and uttering true, major league profanities of the f- variety. Luckily, they came out in mumbles, nonstop mumbles, while I remained bent over as if locked in a prayerful trance. Sal just froze for a moment, working hard to hold back laughs. I knew this and it just made me madder.


The holy men seemed impressed with my sudden outpouring of impulsive spirituality and observed in awe. Even the man with handrail rag stopped buffing to watch. After perhaps a minute of this, each bowed reverently before turning and proceeding up the stairs.


By the time they were a flight ahead of us, I was ready to come out of my trance. I pulled myself to my feet and followed Sal, whose complexion had turned slightly red by the suppressed laughter and embarrassment. They left the stairway at Upper Deck. One of the servants pointed and the group moved in unison toward the Casino, where a croupier and the ship's purser, Harbold Rickards, unlocked the door from the inside. The entourage went in, and then the door was quickly closed and locked again. A dark velvet curtain was dropped behind the glass.



 


We hadn't walked far from the pier before we were met by a taxi driver who, despite his beefy frame, outran a couple of others to get our fare. He made his pitch fast and with a wide, white-toothed smile: Five dollars an hour, and he'll show us all over Bombay. Well, most of it. There was no negotiating and that was OK.


The driver wore a white shirt with the sleeves rolled up and sported a couple of gold and jeweled rings on his fingers, and introduced himself as Rocky. He dutifully opened the rear door of the tiny taxi for us and headed into the crowded street. Our first stop was the marble Jain Temple, built in 1904 to the first apostle of the religion, Adinath. The walls were covered paintings depicting the lives of the apostles and the ceiling was marked by planets as personified in Hindu mythology. On the main floor was a black marble shrine.


Rocky hurried us along to Pherodzeshah Mehta Gardens, which everyone called the Hanging Gardens, and on the way offered us marijuana and hashish.


"Whatever you want, I can get, you know?" he said, the rear-view mirror reflecting Rocky's toothy smile and dark brown eyes. We politely but firmly turned him down.


It was still morning and relatively clear, so we could see a lot of the city from the Hanging Gardens, which are situated on top of an 1880s-vintage reservoir supplying water to much of Bombay. The gardens were filled with hedges trimmed into a big menagerie of green elephants, tigers, bulls and other animals.


Not far from there, Rocky walked us to a crematorium for Hindus, where the smell of burning human flesh filled the air. We walked past a dozen iron grates close to the ground, some with smoldering ashes below them. A bent, grizzled man who had appeared by our side appointed himself as our guide. He pointed to a little stack of someone's remains.


"Bones, human bones," he said, staring at me. Then he asked for money. I gave him a handful of rupees and he scampered away.


Looking from the reservoir park I could see the bare tip of a tree near what is known as the Tower of Silence. Vultures crowded the branches as bodies of deceased Zoroastrians were placed on a slab at the top of the tower. Meat of other animals, our guide told us after I gave him a couple of rupees, is put there to keep the birds around when there aren't enough bodies to feed them.


As we drove along, beggars came to the window of the car, one young man pointing to his misshapen, crippled hand and following patiently and expressionless as the tiny, black car crawled through the city. On the crowded, crumbling sidewalks, people slept, cooked, and children ran and played amid the shelters fashioned from hemp, scraps of wood and cardboard.


At the seaside, we stopped at the sprawling outdoor laundries, a maze of concrete-walled squares where young men washed clothes in gray-colored water and then beat them against the walls, with loud whap-whap-whaps sounded like exploding firecrackers.


After visiting a couple of shops to pick out a sari for Sal -- she finally settled on an indigo piece of cloth that has never, to this day, been taken from the box -- we paid Rocky, who was by now anxious to get back to the pier and make more fares from passengers.


Several blocks from the harbor, we boarded a rickety, horse-drawn coach driven by an unhurried man with stooped shoulders, eyelids that remained no more than half-open and lips that were stained red by the betel nuts he chewed. As the horse clopped along the street, he turned every few minutes to spit another mouthful of the red juice to the street, leaving what looked like splatterings of blood.


The coach competed for space in narrow streets with hand-drawn and pedal-powered carts hauling grain, metal and wood, with honking buses belching sooty fumes, identical toy-like taxis, a few bicycles, and a mix of walkers: women slipping by like pastel ghosts in their saris; gritty, sweating men hawking goods; beggars in rags; urchins scrambling at play in the street and alleyways, and dark-bearded men in neatly starched suits and bright-colored turbans making their way this way and that. At one street corner, a boy with a monkey on a string did tricks for passers-by, and at the next, a snake charmer performed for a small crowd. The carriage clopped past the "cages," dozens of stacked cubicles from which young prostitutes peered between bars at the open facade facing the street. All amid a thousand smells of spicy foods being cooked, rotting garbage piled up in the alleys, exhaust fumes and raw sewage in the steamy, soggy heat.


 


 


Ivory damask tablecloths covered the spacious tables in the Seven Seas restaurant, a first-class preserve that had been opened to the ship's shopkeepers, casino workers, and us, while so many of the passengers who usually dined there were on overland tours.


Set amid the fine china were polished brass candlesticks, tiny, crystal salt and pepper shakers and gleaming silver picks and crackers for the Alaskan king crab we would be served for the main course.


Gordon, wearing a white suit and black bow tie, met us at the table, just where he had promised to be when he called our cabin to remind us to make absolutely sure we would be attired formally for dinner. I didn't have a white suit? Well, it shall be after six, so your old dark tuxedo would be just fine, he assured me. Sal wore her silvery gown, the one she usually wore to Captain's cocktail parties.


We started with a white Burgundy he had chosen, a 1973 Meursault. I didn't know Burgundies were white, so I asked Gordon about it. That launched him into a wines-for-what-occasions monologue, which Sal soaked in while I became distracted by the Captain's Table to the center front of the dining room. Capt. Goodrow and the two officers at his sides were all decked out in their dress whites. The only other one I recognized at the table was Thor Trewargy, who kept a tight grip on a fat cigar with his index finger curled around it while he quaffed gulps of scotch, nibbled at salmon and caviar and chattered loudly with his seatmates.


A sudden silence at our table broke my distraction.


"Haven't you been listening?" inquired Gordon.


"Uh, yeah. Burgundy, from France. The province of Burgundy, right?"


His eyes rolled around and Sal took a sip.


"Louis XII brought it to us, God bless him. He ordered a ship stocked full and sent as a gesture of friendship to James IV of Scotland." Gordon held his glass to the light and turned it around slowly. "Burgundy, for the first time, arrived on the British shores."


He was silent for a minute, just staring ahead at the glass, then took a tiny sip.


"On a ship. A galleon. I must locate it. If I'd only a clue. You've heard nothing of it, then? Not a word from your printers or anyone down below? This world cruise is half over and time is passing quickly. I must have it in New York."


He became fixated on the golden boat and sounded almost desperate. Throughout dinner, he kept returning to the subject, asking again what, if anything, we thought, even guessed. Pineapple mousse arrived for dessert and our bottle of Burgundy was empty.


"Neptune. I saw him again, the creep," I told Gordon. "It was at Elephanta, he was on one of those chairs the men carry. What was it he said?" I turned to Sal.


"Something about the little boat, take care of it," she recalled. "As if we had it."


This sent a minor jolt through me, knowing that we did have it, but didn't want it and wish we didn't have it.


"Excuse us for a minute, Gordon," I said. "Be right back. Sal, let's go out here please."


I pulled back her chair and we walked to the foyer.


"What's wrong? Did I say something?"


"Not at all. Look, I can't take this. We're going to show Gordon the panel, the boat, tell him the whole thing and let what happens happen," I said.


"Fine. But how are you going to open it?"


"Open it. Oh, shoot." I remembered that the screws had been replaced by those special little, what are they? "What kind of screws did I fix Steve's headlight with?"


"Are you crazy?" She looked back in the dining room to make sure Gordon was still there.


"Your brother Steve's headlight? We're in India trying to unload a golden galleon worth twice as much as we'll make this year and next and probably the one after that, and you're worried about the headlights on a beaten up old station wagon? What was in that Burgundy? I think you've ... "


She hesitated. "Torx. It's a torx. You fixed the headlight once. Remember, you scraped your hand and got blood all over ... "


"That's it! Damn, why didn't I think of that? Look, walk Gordon up to the office. Go now. I'll get a torx driver and we'll open it up. Gordon will get his galleon back tonight."


"Why now?" she asked.


"I can't stand the intrigue of it all any more. Can you? I want to get rid of that thing. Suppose someone on the staff walks in and finds it there. What then? And, you know, there wasn't that much blood."


"Yes there was. All over the front fender, can't you remember anything? Or was it red Burgundy? Where will you get the torx?"


"Printers. They'll be doing menus now. And Burgundy's white. Sometimes. See you up there."


She turned to fetch Gordon, then stopped. "Sure you want to do this?"


"Torx," I said, then took off for the printers. I detoured to the bar to get a bottle of Heineken as a gratuity, OK, a bribe, for whomever could lend me a torx driver.


Blue was in the back room and Jack MacIver was nowhere in sight as I walked into the ink-splattered place. He didn't notice me as I spotted his tool case, right next to the press. I strained my eyes to see if I could spot the right tool. Not there.


I walked in the back room where Blue was working on plates and startled him when I spoke up.


"What? There's no paper tomorrow. What brings you down here tonight? Slumming?"


"Very funny. Here." I handed him the beer. "Got a torx driver?"


"A bloody what?"


"You know, torx. Looks like a little x, or figure 8 at the end. Got one?"


He gave me a strange look, then walked to his little workbench, wiping his hands on a rag. He opened a drawer and fumbled around.


"Here, you look. Mind you, don't get your hands messy."


"Funny," I said as I started going through the tools. After as minute or so I found it, tucked it in my back pocket and thanked Blue, who was back at work on the plates.


"Bring the bloody thing back," he said as I left.


Sal and Gordon were sitting, each holding a glass of brandy, as I walked in. Cecile, in the cabin next door, was practicing her scales for the evening's floor show.


"So, what is this all about?" he asked.


I pulled the torx driver from my pocket and told him to follow me to the closet. He looked back at Sal, who rose and walked over too. I snapped the string to the light and started unscrewing the fasteners with the special tool. The panel was still set in place when I got the last screw out.


"Come here, I want to show you something," I said. I was getting that familiar pounding in my chest as I stuck my fingernails into the edges of the panel and pulled it loose.


Gordon stooped over, careful not to touch a knee to the floor for fear he might get a speck of dirt on his spotless trousers, and held onto his brandy glass. His face was right next to the opening as I popped the panel out and got ready to stick my arm in to locate the box holding the galleon.


Something moved in the shadows. For a moment, it looked like the floor inside the opening was shifting. I looked up at Gordon for a second, and as I looked back down a snake's head darted forth. It took the breath out of me and sent me, like a human torpedo, against the wall of the closet.


Gordon's eyes widened like silver dollars and his arms shot shoulder high as he bolted upright, sending the contents of the brandy snifter directly into Sal's face. The snake slowly poured itself out of the opening and slithered into the closet as Sal let out a string of Italian expletives. My next instinct was to shut my eyes tight and fold into a fetal position, but I regained enough composure to spring out of the closet, bolting between Gordon and the door jamb like Larry Csonka bursting through a hole in the Dolphins' line, yelling "She-e-e-e-it."


Gordon's face was whiter than his suit, and his eyes, now just the size of half dollars, were pure glass as he reeled about the room like a drunk, in utter shock. By now, Sal had mopped the brandy from her eyes with a napkin. While Gordon wobbled and mumbled "Never again white Burgundy! Never, never, never." Sal got on the phone and called the radio room, where she reached Grigg and described the scene.


"Ah," he said calmly. "You've found Booth. Good job. Stay calm and I shall send some crew up directly. Oh, and you won't let him tangle you up then, will you? And we must have a Scrabble match after my watch. Cheerio."


In what seemed like days but probably was only two minutes, three hulking seamen arrived, armed with mop handles and a large burlap satchel to capture the snake, which was now making its way for a spot under one of the desks. They asked us to leave and we gladly obliged, retiring to the Admiral Nelson pub, where the only other customers were Tina Kane, Lori Pierce and Nurse Florese LePointe sitting between them. Gordon ordered doubles of gin for each of us and offered to buy drinks for the three others, but Florese said they were fine, just fine.


"Peaceful tonight on board, isn't it?" Lori said to Sal.


 


 


"But do you have apples? I will take you around the city for apples!" The taxi driver grinned broadly. He would accept money, but apples are what he really wanted. So rare a commodity were apples in Sri Lanka that they were more precious than money on the island off the southern tip of India.


Sal and I looked at each other. Grigg was along for our day's leave in Colombo. A German ship, the Europa, was docked along side the Majestic, spilling forth her contingent of passengers to the quay as well.


A large market was situated near the entrance to the pier, where some passengers boarded a bus and others took to the sidewalks. It was a warm, rather gray day in this city, which was far less cluttered and chaotic than Bombay. High-rises and new hotels lined the beach areas off in the distance.


Grigg, who hadn't said much about the Booth incident other than to assure us he had been caught, pulled us aside and told the taxi man to wait a minute. He concocted a plan to return to the ship, grab all of the apples we could stuff into our pockets from the galley, and nick any chocolate we saw along the way.


"Chocolate?" said Sal.


"And T-shirts. Any you can spare that have any writing on them, you know football teams and cartoon people, anything. St. Thomas, San Juan, New York, whatever. Better than money here, they are." We always took Grigg's word on things like this. The man had been everywhere at least twice.


We waved at the taxi driver and returned to the Majestic, agreeing to meet at the gangway 10 minutes later. We came back loaded with an odd mix of trading cargo stuffed into a bag, now ready to venture forth once again.


"How many apples for a ride around the city?" Grigg politely asked the taxi man, who had waited for us.


"Six."


"Four?"


"Five," he said.


"Settled," said Grigg as he removed four shiny McIntoshes from his bag and handed them over.


We drove up a broad avenue toward a beach and stopped near a spot where a fishing boat was pulled ashore. Young, dark-skinned boys, perhaps 11 or 12 years old with sarongs wrapped about their legs, abandoned their soccer ball and approached with smiles on their faces and hands outstretched. They started to speak in halting English, asking us where we were from. I was taken aback when one addressed me as "master."


"United States," I told the boys. "America."


They looked back blankly, then one turned to his friend, who shrugged his shoulders.


"You know, America," I said.


"Ah!" the boy smiled back after making the connection with space flights. "Moon men!"


 


We drove on, past the president's and prime minister's residences, Parliament and the Raja Maha Vihare, a temple and monastery that is said to have been founded at the time of Buddah. We drove to the Cinanamon Gardens, where a Kandian dance recital was in progress near a pond studded with flowering lotus and lily plants.


Back in the taxi, Grigg asked if we could squeeze in a ride to a beach. Our driver told us that would cost more and we consented. He drove several miles south of Colombo to Mount Levinia and parked next to a long beach of dark sand and a lot of rocks. It was not a day for sunning ourselves, but the three of us spent about an hour strolling up and down the water's edge. Our driver waited for us the whole time, taking the opportunity to snooze. We threw in the extra fare: a slightly faded Quebec Nordiques T-shirt and one advertising Cap'n Cat's Clam Bar in New Jersey, a couple of pears and a wide, flowered tie left over from the '60s, which I had decided I could live without. He seemed happy and hit the gas, asking us where we would now like to go.


"Shopping," Sal said without hesitation.


At the Pettah, the main market area that has the flavor of an Oriental bazaar, our stash of booty from the ship was running low, so we bought a few trinkets of carved elephants and such with a few rupees we scrounged up. Sal mentioned she would like to buy a ring for her mother, and the driver -- we never did get his name, but Grigg took to calling him Raj -- took us to the jewelry shop of a friend of his.


Sal and I were soon seated in front of a glass cabinet staring at blue and white sapphires, garnets and other sparkling semi-precious stones from the island. Grigg was elsewhere, hoping to score some fresh batteries for his race cars. I told the smiling salesman we liked what we saw but didn't have much money.


"Do you have chocolate? And apples? Do you have soap, or perfume, French, American is fine," he said.


We nodded to the driver and hastened back to the taxi, which made a beeline to the quay. We ran back aboard and down to the cabin, grabbed a couple of boxes of chocolate-covered mints that had been sitting around, a couple of bottles of unopened perfume, and snatched a fistful of little bars of soap wrapped in the Majestic II cover from a stewardess' cart. Grigg was helpful in the apple department, and ripped off a dozen from the galley. I detoured quickly to the office, where I found one last Slim-Jim tucked in a desk drawer. I wanted to throw the sausage into the mix just to make sure our salesman experienced some true American cuisine.


He was waiting for us at the door when we returned, then checked out the merchandise and we finally made a deal. The ring would cost a few dollars more, so we dug out a few loose bills and a handful of rupees. I'm not sure who got the better end of the bargain, but Sal loved the blue sapphire ring.


Once again, it was back to the quay. It was late afternoon and we had a newspaper to put out the next day, when we would be at sea, heading around the island and on toward Singapore. I had 30 rupees left. I rolled them up and tucked them into the driver's shirt pocket, but he didn't seem fazed. After all, he already had his apples. And Grigg was giddy with satisfaction, having traded a set of Majestic cufflinks for some fresh batteries.


We had a quick dinner as the ship sailed from Colombo, working until 10 local time to get the paper finished. Sal took the layouts, along with the torx driver, down to the printers, sworn to secrecy that she would not say what I needed the tool for.


"Lie if you have to," I counseled her.


I wasn't up for a show and didn't feel like seeing a movie, and told Sal to go on herself, I'd catch up with her later. I found the last can of Budweiser I had stashed away weeks earlier for some nondescript special occasion, figuring that since my last Slim-Jim was now gone, this was a special occasion. I bought a pack of Players at the Casino bar and headed onto deck, right to the middle of the fantail, and watched the foamy wake, the bright stars, and twinkling of lights off the southern coast of Sri Lanka. Aside from the laughter from crewmen at the railing a deck below and the usual vibration of the ship, it was quiet and peaceful, until a deck steward came along and hurled a bag of trash overboard. As a kind of exclamation point, he tossed a broken lounge chair right behind it into the sea, smacked his hands a couple of times as if to signify his job was done, and quietly walked off. I finished the beer, tossed the beer can into the water and headed in.


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© By Buzz Adams