Morse Scrabble and Chinese Soccer
As ordered by Sal, Grigg had parked his Corvette behind the bar so his fiddling with the controls wouldn't break our concentration between Scrabble plays. It was no use; the nervous drum-beating with his fingers continued unabated, and with his incessant dah-dit-dahing of each and every move in every game, I was now familiar with at least half of the alphabet in Morse.
"Dah dah dit dah, dit dit, dit dit dit dah, dit dit, dit dit dah, dah," he said as he plopped six letters on the board. The ship rocked slightly as it plowed through the Formosa Strait, bound for the Yellow Sea. "Blast it. A tile left."
"Wait. Qiviut? Gimme a break. What's a qiviut?" I demanded. "I can't even say it. Y'aren't playing cricket, Sparks."
"Oh, a lingual purist, I see," said Grigg. "All right, it's Inuit, or as you Yankees would say, Eskimo. It's a layer of hair on a musk ox, I believe. Check it. It's in the Webster's."
"You use Inuit, I use Italian, OK?" chimed in Sal. A grudge match was on but Grigg would win the game, as usual.
Music from a floor show featuring Chinese dancers drifted to the upper decks, and a crowd from the movie "Conduct Unbecoming" was letting out of the Theatre.
Many of the passengers who had made overland tours from India had rejoined us in Hong Kong, although some were still sightseeing in interior China and would join us in Dairen, known locally as Luta, a port city tucked on the inside of a peninsula in the northeastern part of the country.
The Majestic II was to become the first western passenger ship to call there, so even for the most experienced officers and crew, not to mention passengers who made the world cruise annually, there was a great deal of anticipation over what kind of reception we'd get.
A cool weather pattern settled in soon after we left Hong Kong and made our way north, so most of the activities, except for Thor Trewargy's daily skeet shooting practices, were indoors. That meant lots of cocktail parties, fancy dress gatherings, and dance music by John Delon in the Quarterdeck Ballroom. Lucinda's incident in the car hold with Tyler Pinkham had been brushed off and all but forgotten, and she was again quite alive in the social scene at parties and receptions, sometimes even showing up as the guest of Staff Captain Villard. Tina Kane and Lori Pierce were even seen without Nurse Florese LePointe, and were making the rounds with professional escorts who also served as dance instructors.
Trewargy threw a bash in his penthouse suite on our second night out of Hong Kong, attended by all of the above, not to mention Sen. Furbish and Dandy, several of the senior bridge officers, half of those on the Commend List and Lefty, who had a penchant for getting invited everywhere thanks to his ability to tell hilarious stories nonstop while magically concocting drinks one-handed, then leading those who wished to stay late through endless rounds of bawdy sea songs. The real diehards typically ended up with him at the Ward Room until sunrise or later.
Probably in appreciation for the little Mail piece Sal and I had done on his shooting skills, we were on Thor's invitation list. We stayed for a couple of drinks but had to get back to the office to finish the next morning's newspaper. Sal ran into Grigg while she was delivering the pages to the printers, so rather than going back to Thor's party we decided to sacrifice ourselves to another of the radioman's Scrabble slaughters. As luck would have it, we missed the big announcement by Thor.
Well into the party, he clanked an empty champagne bottle on his "Pow'r Paw" belt buckle to quiet the buzzing crowd, stood on the settee and publicly issued his statement.
"Notwithstandin' mah close skeet shootin' victory over mah friend, the good senator from mah neighborin' state of Texas, ah wish to challenge the honorable Mr. Furbish to a rematch, all of course, in the spirit of sportsmanship."
"Here, here!" chimed in one of the British officers, setting off a polite round of applause.
The senator, not one to let an opportunity for a speech slip by, even in his well-lubricated state, immediately stepped to Thor's side on the settee, his polished black wingtip shoes facing Thor's cowboy boots.
"Accepted!" Furbish said as he slapped the Oklahoman on the back. "But let me offer mah good compadre another challenge. As mah granddaddy once said, `Son, it ain't no man that can't arm rassle his way out of a situation. Arm rasslin' tournament, let's say, on the International Date Line, wad'ja say there Sooner?" More polite applause and a few giggles.
"And just to make it interestin', ah'll wage mah great granddaddy's original flintlock from the Alamo."
As the crowd ooh'd and aah'd and applauded again, Furbish, still smiling, whispered to Trewargy, "If ah lose this, son, them tax breaks for your Okie oil wells will be gone faster than the mayor out the back door in a whorehouse raid. Think about it, boy."
Thor flushed for a second, but knew he had to one-up the senator in a hurry if the rematch was to be fair.
"Accepted," said Thor. "Accepted. And now, my wager, if you'll excuse me." He stepped off the settee and made his way to the desk at the side of the crowded room.
Thor fumbled around for a box under the desk and set it on top. He pulled out a fistful of tissue paper and then held up a gleaming golden boat, the galleon. There were a few gasps from the crowd as Thor stepped back to the settee, and held out the boat with both hands for all to see.
"Mah wager," he announced. "Fine little treasure, ain't it? Must be worth a damn little fortune, if y'all pardon mah French. Mr. Senator, it's yours if you become the arm rasslin' king of the Majestic."
Rickards flushed and was about to explode in a fury seeing his treasure flaunted about in such an unceremonious way, but was so dumbstruck he couldn't say a word. He fought to regain his composure and just sizzled silently. Gordon wasn't there, but had he been, he probably would have snatched the galleon and run with it back to his shop.
The staff captain knew instantly that the galleon was the one that had been purloined from the jewelry shop, but he also knew this neither the time nor place to lay claim to the treasure. Embarrassing a passenger of Trewargy's stature would be a first-class blunder, he knew. But the fact that Trewargy so boldly displayed it told Villard that there was no way, no possible way, he could have known it had been stolen from the ship.
Villard could hear the murmurs of some of the guests who wondered whether that boat could be the same one that ...
He moved into action. Not one to step on a couch with his shoes on, Villard positioned himself in front of the senator and Thor and took the floor, or deck as it were.
"Jolly good, gentlemen. It looks as if we have a wager, what?" He raised his glass. "Cheers." The crowd responded with raised glasses and drank.
"Now then, shall I hold these wagers for the time being, or ... "
"`All due respects, Captain, ah'm a man of mah word," said Thor, as the people turned their attention back to earlier conversations. "Ah'll hang onto this little beauty 'til the match. Then, of course, reclaim it."
"Very well, sir," said Villard, knowing he would speak to Trewargy privately later to find out where he had found the galleon.
Sen. Furbish had stepped back to the carpeted floor and was met by Dandy, who daintily clapped her little hands and hugged her husband. Before long, Lefty had the party going again.
Rickards was among the first to leave, but most of the others stayed around until midnight or so, long before the partying in the Ward Room simmered down shortly before dawn.
By the time we drew close to Dairen, we were well out of the temperate zone and the weather was raw and cold, damp and gray. Hills forming the backbone of the peninsula passed by on the northeastern coast, dressed in a wintry brown and gray. It was morning, breakfast had just been served, and passengers braved the pre-spring chill to stand by the rails and witness our arrival in what was still a mysterious port.
None of the usual tourist information was available, so there was little advice to put in our newspaper for passengers who had not booked tours. So our story was about as drab as the city itself: A manufacturing center, home to about 2 million people, Dairen has a wide, deep and ice-free harbor. It was developed in 1898 by the Russians as a terminus for the trans-Siberian railroad, occupied by the Japanese in 1904-05, and after World War II was under joint Soviet-Chinese authority before being returned to the Chinese. If you want to spend money, you must exchange your currency for Chinese yuan. And, please don't take pictures in the port area, we were told.
"The Majestic II in Dairen: That's History!" proclaimed our headline, over a story boasting that ours was the largest western liner ever to call in the People's Republic of China, and the first passenger ship to visit this port in modern times.
In her bright new colors, the Majestic II now crept slowly past industrial cranes, cargo and military ships along the docks of Dairen before being pushed to the quay and tied up. Despite the excitement of the passengers, there was no fanfare as we docked, although Capt. Goodrow was formally welcomed by local dignitaries who were escorted aboard soon after the gangway was extended to land.
Bundled up in the inadequately warm coats we could find and our passports and visas freshly stamped on board, Sal and I joined the procession of passengers who lined up awaiting the go-ahead to go ashore. I brought along a few copies of the Mail.
As we passed through the gates of the port, we were met by throngs of curious Chinese, who formed a friendly gauntlet as they greeted us with clapping hands. Our brightly colored jeans, sweaters, hats and jackets, standard Western attire for the times, contrasted with the uniform dark blue and olive green clothing of the smiling Chinese. It was a spectacle for most of them, who had never seen people or look or dress like us. Like a politician, I stopped, walked to the side and shook hands, one person after another.
The streets were lined with drab two- and three-story buildings, noticeably bare of any kind of electrical advertising signs, and spaces for windows often missing glass. There were few motor vehicles to be seen, except for an occasional taxi, long, crowded buses, commercial trucks hauling wood and livestock that rumbled along on the sides of the road. A few ox-drawn carts plodded among the stream of bicycles moving by the score up and down the streets, pedaled by commuters in blue denim outfits and Mao caps.
A young man approached and asked to speak English with us, and we obliged. We walked over to a group of his friends, who seemed shy but friendly, and soon were awkwardly exchanging greetings. I now knew why I had brought along the newspapers and gave the group a couple of copies. They seemed pleased.
With its long, drab blocks of forlorn buildings and lack of any manner of tourist amenities, the ship had arranged with local officials for tours. Late in the morning, we boarded a bus that took us to the Dairen Art Embroidery Factory, where women, all uniformly dressed in long, dark suits and starched white caps, sat in lines of 20 at sewing machines that looked like relics from the '20s. A bright red banner with gold lettering boasted that the shop had surpassed production quotas for the month.
Outside of the city, we met up with Hallsford and Hatch at Tiger Beach Park, where jagged cliffs hemmed in a rocky beach along a cove. A pagoda stood at the center of a rise overlooking the beach. We were soon ushered back to the bus, which took us to a sprawling, mountainside inn known as the Dairen Ginseng Island Hotel, where we were greeted by leaders of the Municipal Revolutionary Committee, all dressed in starched, pressed and impeccably neat dark blue suits. We were led to a cavernous hall, whose stark, white walls were broken up only by huge posters of Mao. One-hundred tables were meticulously set, each place with a beer glass, wine goblet, and a third goblet for a Chinese corn liquor, and each table with an interpreter. The two-hour banquet -- salad and soup, plates of chicken, fish, pork and eggrolls -- was broken by no fewer than 15 toasts to friendship from our hosts and Capt. Goodrow.
Our next stop was an elementary school, where 1,400 children stood motionless in military-style formation in a courtyard as we arrived. The children applauded as we stepped from the bus, and were then led in series of calisthenics before marching back into the huge, three-story block of a building. Inside, it was cold and austere, and many of window openings lacked glass. In one classroom, the children sat ramrod straight in old, worn desks, anxious to practice their English. The walls were bare except for the portrait of Mao. Written on the blackboard in English script that would have made the Catholic school nuns back in Baltimore proud, was a tribute to "Peking, a large a beautiful city," and Chairman Mao Zedong, "who will be enshrined in our hearts forever."
Like the workers in the sewing factory, the brigade at Shagangzi Commune outside of the city boasted it had exceeded production quotas. Our interpreter said that meant every able-bodied worker earned the equivalent of $105 for the year. We could see the money didn't come easily.
Oxen, horses and sometimes even people pulled wooden plows over the hard and rocky terrain, the women wrapping white scarves around their faces to protect them from the blowing dust and blustery cold air. Only rarely did we see a mechanical device to work the soil or haul produce; commune leaders were nonetheless proud to say they had six trucks and 28 tractors for the brigade of 2,800 people.
There was no electricity or running water in the homes, stone, tile-roofed mini-fortresses that were two rooms wide. As in the school, glass was at a premium here, and most of the spaces were filled in with thin boards to keep out the wind that whisked across the fields. The cooking fuel was methane, which was crudely but effectively carried by plastic pipe to the kitchen from a concrete sewage well where the pigs were kept. The home we visited showed few signs of personal belongings, save a comb and brush on top of the dresser, a calendar picture of a mountain scene on the wall, and of course a small portrait of Chairman Mao.
Pride beamed from the faces of the interpreter and the middle-aged couple whose home we visited. They are allowed to own the home and pass it on to their children, we were told, but not to sell it.
In the kitchen, a pipe provided methane gas from the barnyard waste outdoors. Past a chicken coop and pigpen in the dooryard, we were led to the community's plastic-covered and charcoal-heated hothouse, where vegetables were grown for use during the winter. The brigade leader gave a short address to the assembly of visitors, praising Chairman Mao as a god.
"He has brought a better life to the people through the ," she said in obviously well-rehearsed lines. "As you can see, our commune's productivity has increased since we smashed the Gang of Four."
Capt. Goodrow sat in an overstuffed chair in the corner of the shag-carpeted parlor of his suite. His quarters, just aft the Bridge, occupied a wide space from the beam to starboard side, where three large glass panels afforded an ample view of the world below. Across the room, on a long couch, sat Sen. Furbish and Dandy, who cradled her Pekingese as the two men talked and sipped champagne. The captain had been briefed on the planned arm-wrestling match, and he wasn't keen on the idea. It wasn't a formally scheduled event, and there was some concern from the home office that the spectacle might generate unfavorable publicity, not to mention unauthorized gambling, he explained in his most diplomatic way. In truth, such a tawdry event had raised eyebrows of some of the directors, who wanted no part of any such activity on the Brighton Line's flagship.
"Aw now, Captain, it's just a couple of boys having a friendly go-around," said the senator. "Best out of three, let's say, and then everyone goes their own way and forgets about it. Gambling? Heck, y'all can't control that. You and I could place a wager on whether it'll be sunny or rainy tomorrow, now couldn't we?"
"I suppose you have a point," the Captain responded. "But, there's the liability issue. In such an unauthorized event, we cannot assume responsibility if you were to become, uh ... "
"Hurt? By that Oklahoma schoolboy?" Furbish said with a laugh as he pulled end of his short-sleeve white sport shirt toward his shoulder. "Lookie here."
He flexed and his bicep puffed up into a roundish mound that wasn't too bad for a senator.
"Ah work out all the time in the Senate gym. Used to box a few years back, before the snow started fallin' on the old cabesa. But there's still plenty of steel in these," Furbish assured the Captain.
"By the way, what's the name of that feller who leads the exercises on deck every mornin'? Got to get back into a regimen to get ready for that rascal Trewargy."
"Oh yes, of course, Mr. Roche," said the Captain.
"Right! Rock Roche. Seen him out there every mornin' putting the ladies through their paces. Ah'll call him right away, right Sweetcakes?" Furbish said to his wife.
Dandy's little Pekingese pup had jumped from her lap and was sniffing around on the carpet. It stopped, hunched over its hind legs and relieved itself. Capt. Goodrow caught it all out of the corner of his eye, sending his left eyebrow rising to his forehead as his smile turned into a sour look of disdain.
"Should serve him to Booth too," Goodrow mumbled under his breath.
"Say?" responded Furbish.
"Ah, I say, it should serve you both well. The arm wrestling tournament you know," said Goodrow.
"Right. And remember, ah'm on that Maritime Committee down there in Wash'n'ton. Never know when that might serve US well, what you say?" said Furbish as he rose to his feet. "Dandy, now look what that little rascal's done."
"Never mind, I'll have a steward up at once," said the Captain as he held out a hand to the senator. "Now, don't squeeze too hard."
Furbish let out a hee-haw laugh and was on his way, Dandy in his wake. Goodrow closed the door and went right to his phone, first to call a steward, then to call Rock Roche.
The Chinese had been deadly serious about fielding a soccer team for a "friendly" match against the Majestic "Maulers," as they had taken to calling themselves.
A few busloads of crew, officers and a modest delegation of passengers followed three early-'50s vintage black Buicks, each polished to a mirror-like sheen, to the drab, oval stadium at the outskirts of Dairen.
As we approached, our procession was slowed to a crawl as swarms of fans took over the streets and streamed like a spilled bottle of blue ink toward the entrances. It was a relatively warm afternoon, in the 50s, but the sky was gray with almost a hint of drizzle in the air. The field, well-tended and neatly chalked, was surrounded by sturdy but well-used concrete stands whose wooden benches were quickly filling to capacity as the teams finished their warmups.
By the time the game started, the stands were crammed full with 33,000 people. Beyond the stadium, roofs were lined with spectators and many more found views from the branches of bare trees rising above the structure. Wooden cases of rice beer in big, brown bottles were being hauled to our section, only a narrow sliver of the oval stands, helping to fuel the British fanaticism that goes along with their football.
The Chinese scored first, eliciting polite applause from the sea of blue surrounding us. Another goal by the host team came in the first period, but once again, the only reaction was the fluttering movement of white, clapping hands contrasting against the blue backdrop of Mao suits from the Chinese, who remained seated and calmly pleased with the play on the field.
Finally, the Maulers got one on the board after a head-in off a corner kick, setting off an explosion of hooting, whistles, jumping and shouting from our little section. More beer came, and now some of the British crewmen were standing on their seats, twirling their jackets about their heads, some peeling off their shirts. The Chinese seated at the sides of our noisy section barely noticed what was happening on the field, and spent the game staring at the unbridled frenzy in our narrow swath of the stands. The real spectacle for them was not the game, but us.
The teams see-sawed through another three goals, two for the Chinese and one for the Majestic. As clock ticked toward the last few minutes of the game, the British crewmen broke into a sloppy medley of songs, topped off by a chorus of "You'll Never Walk Alone."
While the two teams exchanged jerseys on the field, we snaked our way through the mob leaving the stadium and made our way to the buses, which by now were surrounded by tightly packed Chinese spectators anxious to get a look at us. It wasn't an angry mob; after all, their team had won the game, if that mattered at all. We waved back from inside as the bus honked a couple of times and started moving toward the street.
Bruce Cullen, the male half of the singing duo whose usual fare included soft, sing-songy background melodies conjuring up images of palms swaying in a Caribbean breeze, was now in the spotlight. While the soccer team was prepping for its big game in China, Cullen had been practicing for weeks with John Delon's band for its performance in Dairen's aged but functional stage theatre. Seats had been reserved for the local VIPs and some of the officers, and the rest handed out to common folks. The concert was the Majestic II's gift to Dairen.
This night, Cullen, dressed in a black tuxedo, was Sammy Kaye, crooning the lines to George Gershwyn's "Love Walked In," before the band broke into a medley of swing-era hit-parade favorites, topped off by Duke Ellington's "If You Were in My Shoes," a saxophone-rich tune that was launched into popularity from New York's Cotton Club.
Unlike the soccer spectators who sat like stones through the afternoon's game, the Chinese at the concert were on their feet throughout the performance, clapping, swaying and joyfully waving their arms to the melodies. The British officers sat quietly, amused and somewhat mystified by the animated reaction of the guests, most of whom didn't understand a syllable of English.
Just as if Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians were on the stage, "Let's Sail to Dreamland" flowed forth for the evening's finale.
"Let's sail to Dreamland, on a silvery sea ... Where romance is waiting for you and me," sang Cullen. The audience was on its feet, cheering wildly.
Back on the ship, a handful of People's Army officers were on patrol. It wasn't entirely clear what their mission was, since there was little activity while the ship was in port and not much chance of a sudden insurrection among the passengers. My hunch was that the assignment was a perquisite for specially picked friends of politically connected local leaders, an opportunity to see up-close this marvelous ship that most of the local folks could only see from a distance.
Dressed in green uniforms, heavy jackets and fur-flapped winter hats with a red star in the middle, they quietly paced up and down the decks, through the corridors and into the public rooms, nodding meekly to people passing by.
Sal and I had retreated from the evening's chill to the ship, and started up the Midships stairway toward the office. With the lifts in erratic working order, we were finding the steps to be a quicker route between decks.
We had barely begun working on the next paper when Hallsford bounded into the office, his arm around the shoulders of one of the People's Army men, who looked on shyly.
"Have you got something for my friend to drink?" he asked. "Sit down," he motioned to the soldier. The man sat.
I fumbled around the bar and found a few cans of beer and handed them around. Hallsford held his beer toward his guest's and took a sip. The soldier, a fairly burly man of perhaps 35 with a hint of a stringy moustache, took a small drink and sat quietly with his hands folded neatly around the can. After a few minutes he removed his cap.
But he would only take a drink when one of us would gesture to him, as if to make a toast.
Hallsford told us he had lost his wallet earlier in the day. He noticed it was missing after shopping in a "friendship store," a kind of Chinese-style department store where items ranging from Flying Pigeon bicycles and wringer washing machines to bolts of cloth, hand soap and wooden carvings were sold by eager clerks.
He reported the loss to the one of the clerks, and thinking not much more about it walked back to the ship. Before Hallsford got to the gangway, a shiny black '52 Buick drove down the pier and stopped. Two men in dark suits got out and approached him. One of them held out a wallet and asked if it was Hallsford's. Incredulous, he thanked them.
"Oh, you're the gentleman I spoke to in the store when I noticed it was lost?" Hallsford asked the man who handed him the wallet.
"No, not me. But you know, we all look alike anyway," the man responded with a hint of a smile.
Hallsford was almost speechless. "Well, thank you anyway. Where was it found?"
"In a taxi. Crack of the rear seat," he was told. All of his money and papers were there.
Hallsford raised his glass once more, and we all drank, except for the Chinese soldier, who had disappeared into the loo. We heard him laughing, then silence, then another burst of laughter and the sound of running water.
"I reckon he's found the bidet," said Hallsford. The soldier returned within a few minutes, a big smile on his face, then uttered the only words we heard him say all night: "This English plumbing. It is too different."
The Majestic II crept quietly from Dairen in the blue-gray light of the early morning. As the day wore on, the haze lifted and temperatures gradually rose. Radio transmissions began to beam in again, with reports of a winding down the latest Chinese invasion of Vietnam, a new round of Middle East peace talks between President Carter and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, and negotiations to allow the Chinese to participate in the Olympics.
We carried the story of the football match -- "Majestic Booters Bow to Gang of Eleven" -- and interviewed the tourism director for our next port, Kagoshima, who had boarded the ship in Dairen. It was only to be a one-day call, but the Japanese had planned a grand welcoming with fireworks and a lantern parade for our arrival and departure, quite a contrast to the greeting British had received 120 years earlier during the shogun period, when intruding Anglo seafarers were chopped to pieces by samurai after insulting a ranking family. The affront resulted in a brief war.
Past differences forgotten, we sailed on toward the city known as "the land of sunshine and green" at the southernmost end of Japan's southernmost island, Kyushu.
Staff Captain Villard tapped at the door to Thor Trewargy's suite and it almost instantly it opened. Thor's eyebrows were knitted up in an angry scowl and he walked over to the settee.
"So you say ... " started Villard.
"Yup. Clean gone. Damndest thing. Had it right over there, under that desk," said Thor.
Villard had been less interested in how Trewargy had gotten a hold of the galleon than getting it back in the ship's hands when he had met with Thor in China and, in his most diplomatic way, persuaded the Oklahoma oilman to give it back. Well, sell it back, for the same price, in cash, that Trewargy had paid for it, wherever he had bought it, no questions asked.
"Most unusual," was all Villard could think of saying. "Most unusual." After a few moments of silence, he asked, "And you've looked everywhere?"
"Every nook and cranny, and this ain't the biggest spread in the world," said Thor, with an edge of anger in his voice. "Captain, ah've been ripped off. Somethin's funny here."
Without saying so, Villard agreed with Trewargy and was convinced someone had broken into his suite and made off with the galleon. His first suspicion was a stewardess or maid with keys to the suites.
"We shall get to the bottom of this dirty business, I assure you, sir," Villard told Trewargy. He invited him to the Captain's Table for dinner as a gesture of his sincerity.
Immediately after leaving, Villard ordered a search of the hotel staff's cabins by three officers, who were instructed to carry on as if their visits were routine inspections, so they wouldn't let on that anything was amiss. He made sure that the cabin of the maid on duty that week in the penthouses, one Carolyn St. Louis, was given the top-to-bottom treatment.
The searches came up empty, the officers reported to the Villard. Not a trace of anything, except for a couple of joints under the throw rug of a steward's cabin.
Indeed, Villard had targeted the right suspect. Word that Trewargy had displayed the galleon had spread quickly below decks within a day of his party. More out of curiosity than intent to commit a theft, Carolyn had peeked into the box under Trewargy's desk while going about her cleaning two days after the party. On the following day, on an impulse, she swiped it, placing it gently between some linens on her cart and then wrapping her apron around it to conceal it as she walked back to her cabin after her shift had ended.
Carolyn really had no interest in nor desire for the golden boat, and told her boyfriend, Tom Hammer, she would return it. Hammer, an air-conditioning maintenance man who knew every inch of the Majestic's miles-long system of vents and ducts, changed her mind.
"You put it back, they'll know you nicked it," he told her. "Give it over, and they'll never know for sure."
Carolyn, anxious to get rid of the stolen treasure, turned the galleon over to Hammer. He kept it in his cabin for a night, but knowing of the unrelenting searches in the crew area, he fashioned a plan to tuck it away safely in a metal cold-air duct running below the fifth deck.
On his shift the next morning, Hammer broke away from his crewmates by sending them to the Pig for a couple of pints which they would charge on his chit, while he went to work stashing the boat away, as planned, in the duct. The plan worked well and the galleon may well have stayed there unnoticed forever -- that is, if he had sworn off cards. But gambling was chief among his numerous weaknesses and it soon became time to cash in his golden booty.
During a prolonged episode of drinking and poker in the Pig that night, Hammer managed to gamble away a sum of 850 pounds, money he didn't have in the next pay envelope, or the next four for that matter, considering the total that was to be deducted to cover his bar chits. When the game ended a little before dawn, Hammer's poker-mates surrounded him, demanding their money. He persuaded them to back off, give him five hours, just five hours, and he would deliver the cash. The others, too tired to press their case and knowing that Hammer couldn't go far, sullenly agreed. Accidents do happen at sea. They all knew the unwritten, unspoken code.
Once he knew they had gone back to their cabins, Hammer fetched a step ladder and quickly retrieved the galleon from the duct, wrapped it in his shirt and made his way to the cabin of a crewman called Nat Tarbell. He rapped on the door, flicked the handle a couple of times and pushed it open. Nat was in bed. He turned and opened an eye.
Nat was a small, a pit-bull terrier of a man who rarely had a word to say unless it was a direct insult or foul muttering. But he always had money. He was a sort of loan shark for the debt-ridden crewmen, fronting cash for generous dividends, whether in liquor, women, drugs or obscenely steep interest. To crewmen, he was known simply as "The Rat." Nat the Rat. In truth, the long, sparse hairs below his pointy little nose, and his long, tobacco-stained top teeth, separated by a wide gap, did liken Nat to a human rodent of sorts.
"Talk quick. 's my beddy time, yer shit box." He reached for a pack of Player's on a cluttered little nightstand, lit it with a silver lighter, closed his eyes and took a drag from his cigarette
from a hand tattooed with thin, blue lines resembling a spider web spreading out to his fingers.
"Look at this," said Hammer, pulling his shirt off the galleon. "She's a beauty then, isn't she?"
Tarbell squinted at the galleon.
"Cute little boat, 'tis. You take it in the bathtub with you? Off with you, loser. Piss off."
" 'old on. This one's worth a right bundle. And I'm in need now, you know what I mean. You know, this one's worth ... "
" ow much you in need? That's the little gold boat what was nicked from the Gallery, ain't it? 's hotter than a brick of coal up the devil's arse. Wot you asking me to do, scouse?"
"They're saying she's worth ten-thousand quid and more. I'm offering it to you for a bargain, say a thousand. Enough to pay me poker debts and 'ave a little to spare. And you get this. Sure, you can swap it somewhere and turn a fine profit for yourself. Wot you say, Nat? Let's deal."
"Yer breath stinks like rotten cod from the bottom of a sump. What 'ave you been drinking, to think I'd go for such a pitiful scam? Besides, we've already cleared Singapore and Hong Kong. I'd 'ave to wait 'til we get to Mexico or Panama before I unload that sorry trinket. You're daft, you puke."
Hammer now sensed Nat was at least mildly interested; why else would the Rat even mention trading it off? He knew its value, and the slimy little devil is too greedy to let the boat go. The Rat wants it, he thought. Now, time to bargain.
"Fine then, weasel. You lose, I lose. But when I leave, the bloody boat goes over the bloody rail, even if I have to follow it down. I know what the lads will do if I don't pay 'em, and me blood's on your ands," said Hammer. He turned, pulled the galleon to his chest and started to leave.
" 'old on, you, you pathetic worm. Gimme the ship, lemme look a bit." Nat put his cigarette on the edge of the table, reached out and Hammer handed him the boat. A half minute passed.
"Don't want it. But I don't want you poisoning no fish either, with your stinking breath and foul clothes. Where'd you get them anyway? I'm a fool, but I feel pity for you I do. Give you seven hundred. End of story or go."
"Thanks, but it won't do. Cheers, mate," said Hammer. " 'and it over."
"Right then, greedy swine, eight twenty-five, that's the bitter end. Take it or leave it."
"Where did you get the tattoo?" said Hammer. "That spider web. Right sporting, that."
"Wot? Donno, New York or someplace." Nat held up his hand and admired the marking and stretched out his fingers once or twice. "No, this one, Salvador, God forsaken hole that it is in Brazil or one of those blazing 'ot places in South America. I was drunk. Got it a year or two back. What's that got to do with ... "
"They do those in Kagoshima, don't they?" said Hammer. "You know where I can get a tattoo next port? Except maybe something a little more, uh, something bigger."
"Wot? You want a badge too, now. 'old off. I said eight twenty-five. The end. Off with you."
"Look. The golden boat's yours, eight twenty-five quid, and throw the tattoo in on top. Only something, bigger. Won't cost you another twenty-five quid. Agreed?"
"You're a full-masted shitcake and chiseling beggar of a copycat on top of it. You ain't getting the spider's web, that's mine. Gimme that ash tray of a trinket and off with you. 'ere."
Nat took a last drag of his cigarette and squashed it out. He got out of his bed, dragged his feet to a wooden chest and flipped the top open. He opened a little metal case inside and pulled forth a roll of paper money.
"Count it, scumbag, and make it quick. You've already stolen 'alf me sleep, unless you're just a bad dream. Meet me at the gangway, 'alf ten, so you can get your damned tattoo. Now, off."
Hammer ignored Nat as he counted the money, which was all there. He handed the galleon to Nat, who carefully placed it in his wooden chest. "Off, I said. 'alf ten."
Our arrival turned the wide-open pier in Kagoshima on a sunny morning into something of a shooting gallery. Hordes of camera-toting Japanese armed with miles of film queued up after paying the equivalent of about 15 cents to file past the Majestic, happily snapping as they inched along. They politely made way with smiles and bows for the passengers and crew departing from the gangway, often asking the Westerners to stand and pose with them for pictures. But penetrating the line was not so easy for the red-haired ones -- and there was a fair share of them among the British staff -- who seemed to be trophies for 35-millimeter headhunters. One Japanese woman rushed to a stewardess whose long, brilliant red hair gleamed in the sunlight, placed her baby in the surprised stewardess' arms, backed off a few steps and fired, all within seconds.
The pounding of Nikon shutters reminded me of the tapping of paint on the hull of the Majestic in Hong Kong. A band played from a corner of the pier under a banner welcoming the ship, and a line of black taxis parked along a string of palm trees awaited tourists from the end of the quay, which led to the busy downtown shopping area.
Off in the distance, smoke trailed from the top of Mount Sakurajima, the live volcano that stands at the bay and is visible from all sections of the city of a half-million. The people were as friendly as they were camera-happy. As Sal and I approached the end of the quay, not knowing exactly where we were going, a man who turned out to be an English teacher in one of the local schools stopped us and asked to have his picture taken with the ship in the background. In exchange, he offered to take us anywhere in the city.
Before long, we were in a gymnasium where kendo was being taught to several dozen kids in white martial arts uniforms who flailed their bamboo swords with concentration and precision. Next stop was Kagoskima University, where our friend bought us a lunch of noodles in hot broth. He then introduced us to a mathematics professor at the university, who introduced us to the department head, who then took us the office of the university president. There, we once again exchanged pleasantries but came up empty when it was time to exchange calling cards. We drank green tea, and took more pictures. Just as I thought the posing was over, the president called in the college photographer, who shot a few more.
Hammer had met Nat at the gangway at the appointed time, 10:30 a.m. With a cock of his head toward the taxis, Nat led the way to the first car in line, and hopped in first.
"Now, it's the tattoo you want. What about a pint or two to start off?"
"Pub, Jack, anywhere to get us a couple of pints, savvy?" Nat ordered.
The driver, utterly perplexed, did nothing.
"Something to wet our whistle. Pints. Bitter. Bitter, you lizard, get it? Lager even."
"Shops?" was all the driver could muster.
"Ah, to hell with shops. Beer, I said, Tojo. Beer! Then tattoos," Nat barked.
"Ah, bieru." The driver smiled and the taxi lurched into the traffic jam.
The two were left off at a restaurant a block off the main street, a wide, busy avenue crowded with boutiques, department stores, restaurants and pachinko parlors. They had remembered the taxi driver's word for beer, which the waiter skillfully picked up amid the river of vulgarities flowing from Nat's mouth. But with a few drinks in him, Nat's usual snarling demeanor mellowed to mildly obnoxious. He and Hammer, who was now pleasantly adrift in a midday haze heightened by a lack of sleep, managed through an awkward charade to get the waiter to understand they wanted a tattoo parlor. Once divining what the two wanted, the waiter led them to the door, called a taxi and explained to the driver where they wanted to go. He didn't hold out his hand for a tip; he was glad just to get rid of them.