Ambrose

A Travel Mystery Novel

1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10   11   12   13   14   15   16   17   18   19   20   21   22   23   24   25   26   27   28   29

23


Pink, orange and white flashes of fireworks reflected from the windows of the taxi, and then from the flushed faces of Hammer and Tarbell as they plopped out of the cab at the entrance to the pier.


They paid up and then began staggering across the crowded concrete slab, bumping into sightseers and tripping now and again as they made their toward the ship. Hammer's head pounded like the exploding rockets, and his back, now pigmented with all of the colors of the fireworks, sent pangs of hot pain searing through his body.


"Move it, they're going to pull the gangway," ordered Nat, as he grabbed Hammer by the collar and tugged him toward the ship, where a line of petite Japanese women who had just performed a torchlight parade to bid the ship farewell had gathered. Nat shoved one of the women aside with a shoulder and yanked Hammer toward the gangway just as the crew began lifting the lines and tugs moved into position to set the Majestic II on her way. A uniformed officer glanced at his watch impatiently and mumbled, "About time. Now aboard, you two."


Voices rose in unison from the pier: "Sah-yoh-nah-rah, sah-yoh-nah-rah!" People waved from the pier, and above, passengers waved farewell from the brightly lit upper decks of the ship as the gangway was lifted and a black space appeared between the hull and pier.


"Ice it. Ice that monstrosity on yer back," Nat told Hammer as the two stumbled through a corridor leading to a stairway leading below. "A day or two. Ah, maybe a fortnight, you'll forget the pain."


Hammer had wanted a big tattoo, after all. It had started as a ship, much like the Majestic except it had an extra funnel. Then, as the needles etched the image into his back, Hammer was


inspired by a sense of danger, and ordered the artist to add an octopus, a giant octopus, gripping the vessel with a tentacle from below. That's pretty much the way it turned out, except the octopus looked more like a squid. It wore a broad grin which, with its round, hairless head, closely resembled Dwight Eisenhower. Without Hammer's knowing it, Nat had slipped the artist an extra 10 pounds to give the squid shoes, which turned out looking something like high-top sneakers. Taken as a whole, however, the tattoo wasn't that bad. One of the squid's arms was wrapped about the ship, yanking it below the waves, which splashed to the sides of Hammer's back in light blue and green tints.


As he recovered over the next few days, Hammer would take increasing pride in his new tattoo, although he wondered why his mates kept referring to it as "Ike." He thought they had just picked the name at random for the ferocious octopus he envisioned on his back, so he also took to referring to his new distinguishing characteristic as Ike.


Nat walked Hammer to his cabin and then headed for his own, which he suspected was searched earlier in the day by officers looking for the galleon. But Nat was one up on them. One of his jobs was maintaining the motorized lifeboats, which he also operated at ports where the ship anchored and passengers had to be ferried ashore. While attending to his early-morning duties before going ashore in Kagoshima, Nat had stashed the golden boat in an old battery box in a locked compartment below the deck of the third launch from forward on the portside. Even if checked by odd chance, Nat considered it unlikely that anyone would find the battery box which he had shoved far forward by a stainless steel flagpole that had been detached from the stern.


 


The commotion surrounding the Majestic's sendoff from Kagoshima had diverted attention from an open hatch for a fuel intake pipe on the forward end, away from the crowds and a short jump from the pier.


Takeo Shimada, a local teen-ager who had been drawn with thousands of others to see the Majestic, had no intention of becoming a stowaway when he arrived. A loner by nature, the young man drifted off from the crowd and backed into the shadows as the fireworks exploded overhead. He saw a dim light by the open hatch. He peered to one side, then the other, and seeing all heads turned upward, Takeo sprinted toward the ship. As he sprang from the edge of the pier, he neatly tucked his head so he wouldn't smash his head on the steel hull. He felt the metal whisk across his black hair as his sneakers plopped to the deck, then looked around. No one in sight. Takeo was now a stowaway.


Guessing that crew would soon be along to close the hatch, Takeo wasted no time clearing out of the area. He found himself in a large stowage compartment, where busy crewmen paid little attention to him, and then found stairway leading to the next deck up. He maneuvered his way upward from deck to deck until he found a carpeted corridor, signaling that he was in the public area of the ship. For a time, anyway, he would be safe, roaming from room to room and trying to blend in as well as he could among the passengers.


Takeo followed the sounds of John Delon's band to the Quarterdeck Ballroom, whose dim lights provided cover for a while longer. But he knew he had to keep moving or risk being spotted and face unknown consequences.


Knowing no English, the signs and postings were a total puzzle to the teen-ager. But he was clever. Keeping his distance, he followed a couple from the ballroom toward Midships, intent on tracking their movements so he might learn his way around the ship and not become completely disoriented. The couple became his personal guides without knowing it. Luck was with him.


The two ducked into the Theatre, where "Smokey and the Bandit" was playing before a small audience. Takeo settled into a seat in an area where he would be alone and, setting his anxiety aside, delighted in the endless car chases and crash-ups. Expertise in English wasn't needed to get the plot.


At the end, he dawdled to the end of the short line leaving and followed the crowd to the Parisienne, where a buffet was being served. The aroma of the food reminded Takeo he hadn't eaten all day; he got into line, took a plate like those in front of him and heaped his platter full. Noticing an officer eyeing him, Takeo, dressed in a polo shirt, jeans and sneakers, attempted to disarm the white-uniformed staffer. "Konichi wa," he said softly, with a slight bow. The officer nodded back at him and turned away.


Takeo finished his platter of shrimp, ham slices, fruit salad and cheese and slipped out of the dining room. He soon found his way to the deck and walked to the railing, watching the lights of Kagoshima dim to a twinkle, and finally disappear below a halo of light reflecting above the city. He had been off his home island of Kyushu but once, when he had traveled to Osaka on Honshu to visit relatives. He wondered where he would end up, what dangers and delights lie ahead. He grew lonely for his parents and sister Masumi, and began to wonder why he impulsively jumped aboard. He liked the ship, but perhaps he had seen enough. He felt a tear drop and watched, through misty eyes, as it fell to the railing, then rolled to the sea.


It was now getting cool. He looked up and saw the steel davit arched over the deck, holding up a lifeboat. Takeo walked on, looking up at the stars, and saw another set of davits, and another launch, then another, and still another. It must be warmer inside the lifeboats, he thought. They probably have blankets. He walked on into the darkness beyond the last deck lamp, stopped and looked up. In a moment his sneaker was on a metal bar on the railing and his arms were curled around the davit. He shinnied up to the top of the arch and swung his hips to the canvas covering the top of the lifeboat.


Takeo glanced to the deck. No one was there, except for a couple strolling along toward the rear of the ship. He loosened the line holding the canvas down, lifted a corner and slipped inside. In the darkness, he fumbled around for a blanket, anything to keep him warm. Stooping low, he felt around to the edge of a bench and found a plastic bag. He yanked on it and unzipped it, and inside was a woolen blanket. He found another and opened it, then made a bed on the long, wooden bench. Thrilled with his find, Takeo climbed under the cover and lay awake, trying to plan his next move when the morning came. But the slight rocking of the ship soon put him fast asleep.


 


 


Sen. Furbish kept his word to get in shape for his arm-wrestling match with Thor Trewargy, and skipped breakfast so he could be at the aft deck bright and early to join Rock Roche's exercise class. It was mostly women, which the senator didn't particularly mind, and besides it was a glorious day, with the sun quickly burning off mist that had settled on the ocean for the night.


Wearing his white sweatsuit with the U.S. emblem embroidered on the chest, Furbish took a place in the back row and dutifully went through the routine of jumping jacks, toe touches, situps and other exercises led by Roche, a trim, energetic fellow in his 50s with curly, graying hair and a neat, pencil-thin moustache.


After a jog twice around the deck to wrap up the workout, Roche approached Furbish and told him he understood the senator would like to be shown the weight lifting room below decks. He graciously led the senator to the indoor gym.


Trewargy, in the meantime, poked once again about his penthouse, hoping he might find the little treasure he had lost. It was no use, he thought. He was less bothered by the monetary loss than the realization that someone has stolen from him. Thor had worked hard for everything he had, and he hated thieves. He would check again with the staff captain to see whether the searches had turned up anything -- after his morning skeet shoot, and maybe a visit to the gym to test out the weights. Not that he was worried about winning his arm-wrestling match against the senator.


Radio reception was good. BBC was coming in crystal clear, and Armed Forces radio spilled forth abundant U.S. news, much of it dealing with the latest energy crisis that was drying up gas tanks in the U.S. and igniting threats of rationing. The Carter administration was for now preoccupied with Palestinian-Israeli peace talks. White Rhodesians were fleeing for a safe haven in England. And the United Nations was appealing to Iran to stop political executions ordered by the Ayatollah Khomeini. Not only had we mastered the spelling of the Ayatollah's name, but we could also bang out Zbigniew Brzezhinski's letters in the right order. Not that anyone would notice, since paragraphs were occasionally showing up scrambled in stories, and sometimes even appearing in the wrong stories. It happened, for example, in a Page One piece on the Loch Ness monster, a BBC staple on slow days, which got mixed up with our little story on a woman who led a craft workshop on board.


"The latest sighting of the famed, elusive Loch Ness monster was reported by an English couple vacationing along the loch. Desmond and Glynis Smith said they saw a creature which had a long black neck and a small head poking out of the water. The creature moved toward the shore. There, she'll teach you to fashion fragile little flowers, animal figures or decorative picture frames, whichever you decide to work on."


The crew and passengers loved it, and Lefty even fashioned it into a cartoon which we found in its customary place. But seldom was there a mistake in the soccer scores. The radio room hand delivered them as received over the air, and if they dictated them over the phone, made us repeat the tallies two or three times to make sure we had them right.


 


Gordon Woodsome was seated comfortably in the chair of the office, puffing on a Dunhill while staring out the window, as Sal clacked away on the gray typewriter and I adjusted the tuner on the short wave. Big Ben was about to herald the next BBC news hour.


"What will we do when they finally run out of oil? Why don't you write an article on that?" said Gordon.


"Shh," said Sal. "We've got to get the news."


"Honestly, what next? Will the Majestic have to queue up with other ships at the petrol pumps and ... "


"Gordon, quiet, the news."


The announcer gave the Greenwich Mean Time and started reading the headlines. Gordon was silent for a minute, still staring out to the deck.


"What on earth is all the commotion?" he said.


"Oh, just more of the same. Vietnam, China squabbling again. The border, you know. And all the Iran stuff ... "


"No, ninny. Outside. There, right there."


"What? Do you see a petrol station, Gordon? How much per gallon, or liter, whatever you call it?" I teased.


"Out the window, look, officers. Something's going on."


He stood and walked to the window. Sal stopped typing and walked over, and I looked out. A young man, Asian, was surrounded by a half dozen white-uniformed officers. He tried weakly to break away but was quickly restrained. People had begun to gather around, now a crowd of maybe a dozen, 15 people.


"Let's go," I said.


By the time we were on deck, the boy and his captors had moved down the deck 15 or 20 yards, and were heading for an entry. A crowd of passengers was still standing around below a lifeboat, whose canvas top was open at a corner and flapping in a stiff, warm Pacific breeze.


"What happened?" I asked a man wearing a jogging suit and a Boston Red Sox cap.


"Looks like the ship's gotten a hold of a stowaway. Boy was sleeping right in one of these boats, and when the crew checked it this morning, guess what pops up? A Japanese kid."


"I wonder what they'll do with him?" a woman said in a compassionate tone. "I hope they're not too hard on the boy. He looked so scared when they took him away."


Sal and I ran to catch up with the officers escorting the boy, but caught up only as the last white shirt disappeared behind a closing door on the Upper Deck marked "Private."


Gordon, not one to run under any circumstances, caught up with us as we stood outside the door.


"I wonder if he speaks any English at all. Wait and see; there will be a call for an interpreter before the end of the day," Gordon predicted, slightly out of breath. He looked at his gold watch.


"Well, it's been exciting, hasn't it? Must be off now."


Back at the office, Sal put in a call to Staff Capt. Villard to see if we could confirm anything. Rather than call back directly, he sent Damon Shields, the cruise director, to deliver his message.


Damon was all smiles when he walked in, conversational, even bubbly, asking if we had enjoyed China and Japan and wouldn't we like to go back and, oh, let's have a drink, why don't we.


He walked to the bar and scanned the paltry stock, then walked to the phone and picked it up.


"What would you like?" he asked, holding his hand over the mouthpiece. There was no answer. "Bloody Marys all around? Sound good? Oh, never mind, just send up a bottle of champagne, and do be quick. Cheerio.''


Damon sat. "Please, go on with your work. We'll talk when the drinks arrive."


In short order, there was a knock at the door and a steward entered with the bucket and three glasses. Almost before we could ask what had happened, Damon's was delivering the official version of the event.


"Nothing, really. The young fellow apparently was quite taken in by all the rigamaroll at the quay and slipped into the crowd coming aboard. It was quite a jam-up at then time, and he just popped right aboard, you see. These things happen. Poor confused lad, of course, didn't know his way around, and just made a bed for himself in the launch. Must have been frightened to death, wouldn't you say? We've notified the authorities on shore and shall just keep him safe until we can get him on a plane in Hawaii. Not much of a story, if you ask me. You'll not print anything about it, isn't that so?" He took a sip of his champagne.


Sal and I just looked at each other and shrugged; there wasn't any use in arguing. Damon jabbered on about Hawaii, our next port, telling about the best hotels and cocktail bars and organized tours, doing his best to sidetrack our interest in the stowaway, which by now everybody on the ship was talking about.


By the time our bottle of champagne was dry, young Takeo Shimada had been escorted to a small cabin off a lonely corridor on Five Deck. The door knob had been removed from the inside and stewards were ordered to stay away from the cabin. The security officers would bring the boy his meals.


News of the stowaway hit Nat Tarbell like a lightning bolt. At first, he didn't know if the boy had been caught in the launch where Nat had hidden the galleon. He bounded from his cabin to the Boat Deck, then slowed his gait to a shuffle when he saw the two officers lingering under the boat where Takeo had been discovered. He was relieved, knowing that the kid had not spent the night in the launch where he had hidden the galleon. But he sensed that the officers would be keeping a closer eye on the lifeboats.


"Everything all right, sir?" Nat asked the two.


"For now, yes," said one of the officers. "We've had an unannounced guest, you must have heard."


"I've heard something about a stowaway, if that's what you're saying."


"Right. You're in boat crew then? So let's make sure these launches are secure on top. Batten them down right tight, understand? We don't want a rat to be able to make its way into one of these, got it? Ah, nothing personal in the choice of words, of course."


"Aye, sir," sneered Nat.


"Make sure the others have the word, Tarbell, got it?"


"Yes, sir. Not even a rat."


"Very good, then," said the officer, who turned and walked away.


On his next watch, Nat led a crew of three to the launches and ordered them to tie down the canvas tops to the open boats and secure the openings to the larger, fiberglass-topped ones. Working alone in the boat where he had stashed the galleon, he retrieved the golden boat from its hiding place, wrapped rags around it and placed it in his wooden tool box. With all eyes on the launches, Tarbell thought, the officers no doubt will be checking them, one by one, stem to stern, top to bottom. No use taking chances. He would get rid of the galleon, yes, make a good trade.


Tarbell stuck his head outside the boat. All clear, except for a few passengers idling along the deck. His mates were busy on the launches ahead and aft. Tarbell lifted himself from the boat, climbed down the davit and called to one of the other crewmen.


"Got to get me ratchet set. Be right back directly." He hastened to his cabin and locked the galleon, still in rags, in his wooden box.



 


The stowaway had indeed become quite the topic of discussion on the ship, even though the "Majestic Mail" carried not a word of his discovery.


Officers took Takeo for walks at regular intervals on deck, where he was greeted as something of a celebrity by passers by. People instinctively raised their voices several decibels as if louder voices would make him understand their English. He nodded appreciatively, politely. Officers took him to the Theatre, to the indoor swimming pool and gym. His meals, while not elegant, were square and decent, at least on a par with the crew's, and brought to his locked cabin three times a day. Some of the crew took pity on the lad and donated some of their clothes, but to others he was just a common criminal who was lucky to be brought ashore.


Rumors about where he came from and why he was on the ship developed as quickly as summer thunderstorms and swirled wildly about the ship, picking up intensity from cocktail party to dining room to nightclub. He was a spy. No, a lost son of one of the Chinese laundrymen who sought out his father. To kill him? Well, maybe. No, it was all but an act, a play, staged by the ship to excite and amuse the passengers. One story had it that he was an undercover American Customs officer looking for undeclared booty and drugs as the ship headed for Honolulu. Perhaps the most preposterous tale was that he was a modern-day kamikaze bent on avenging the Japanese loss in World War II.


The idle talk continued as the Majestic cruised easily across the flat, blue Pacific. As the gossip about the stowaway grew slightly stale and the stories increasingly outrageous, new rumors began to work their way into conversations about the price of oil, which was once again streaking upward back home. Pool-side speculators and lounge-chair economists wondered if there would be enough oil on hand in Hawaii to slack the mighty thirst of the liner, and whether passengers would be assessed surcharges to help defray the cost of the tons the ship would take on.


 



A day closer to the date line, Gordon was again in the office, sitting quietly and watching us sipping tea as we worked on the paper. OPEC, the Organization of Oil Exporting Countries, was jacking up oil prices by 9 percent. The rise was causing interruptions in some airline schedules, and fares were going to rise. Anwar Sadat, the Egyptian president, and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin met with congressmen to discuss the peace treaty between their countries. The U.S. reported another whopping deficit. Pol Pot guerrillas staged another attack in Cambodia. Harold Stassen gave it another try, his ninth, for president.


All good grist for the pages of the next issue.


"But what will you use for a date?" asked Gordon.


"Huh? Date to the cocktail party. Sal, I guess."


"The date for the newspaper. Have you got anything to drink?"


"Why don't you have some tea?" asked Sal.


"Thanks, no. Anything else?" he asked.


"I think some beer, but you won't like it warm. Isn't there some gin over there? And isn't a bit early? Let's see, tomorrow is the 15th, March 15th, right? So we use March 15th," I said.


"Yes, quite." Gordon was now pawing around the bar. "And never mind the time of day. It's all getting quite irrelevant now. Sometime during the day, or night to be precise, we shall cross the International Date Line," Gordon said matter-of-factly, with a smug little smile. "So, you see, time is playing a little joke on us as we move along." Gordon had found some ice and poured some flat lime soda on top of his generous splash of gin.


Sal was catching on. We were about to collect a day for all of the hours we had lost passing through time zone after time zone during the eastbound cruise. As we cross the date line, we would get 24 hours back, in an instant.


"Easy. We just date it March 15th, both editions," said Sal, finishing her tea.


"Oh, somebody will notice and complain, just wait. Besides, that's just so boring. How often do you get the same day twice in a row? Can't you come up with something more clever?" said Gordon.


I suggested a March 15, Part I and March 15, Part II. Or a March 14 1/2 and March 15. Or March 15 and Mid-March Special International Date Line Edition. Or, no date at all. Just nothing.


"Can't we just take the day off on the second March 15th?" I asked. Nah, I knew we couldn't.


Sal settled it with a command decision: March 15A and March 15B. With a box on Page One explaining it all.


"Bravo!" said Gordon. "Marvelous. Now, no hints when we might get there."


There was more than passing interest on board in the date line crossing, but it wasn't to be celebrated with the ritual dunkings and Neptune's Court as the equatorial crossing was. This was a source of considerable frustration for Neptune himself, the black-bearded Alan MacQuarrie who relished his role as king of the deep. The omission was, Gordon suggested, one likely reason for Neptune's unqualified nastiness. For all practical purposes, the date line crossing was an excellent excuse for marathon parties everywhere on board. The ship would officially recognize it by presenting passengers with certificates and by showing the movie "The Longest Day" in the Theatre, and with a contest to see who could come closest to guessing the exact time the ship would actually make the crossing.


A table was set up below a nautical chart that was posted on a wall outside the Quarterdeck Ballroom. Cruise staff collected slips of paper filled out with the hour and minute of arrival -- local time -- and signed by entrants with $10 entry fees. The winner would get 60 percent of the take, with the rest going to the Royal Coast Guard's orphans' charity. Each passenger was limited to two entries.


 


But the biggest wagers, many of them worth hundreds and thousands of dollars, were being made on in the corridors, dining rooms and lounges of the Majestic -- and had little to do with the date line. Passengers were betting on who would win the arm-wrestling contest between Sen. Christian "Slinky" Furbish and Julius "Thor" Trewargy. Word had gotten around even though the social staff did as little as possible to publicize the "unofficial" event. The staff made sure a concert of classical music got top billing for the evening's entertainment. But passengers remembering the great skeet-shooting contest between the same two men were now anxious for the payoff match. The arm-wrestling championship was generating the same kind of excitement as a mini-Kentucky Derby, Game Seven of the World Series, or, to the crew, the World Cup finals.


A fair-sized crowd gathered just to watch as center floor of the Gallery was prepared for the tournament. An elevated wooden platform became a center ring of sorts, with a straight-backed wooden chair on each side of a solid wooden table specially built for the competition.


Carpenters bolted steel bars in an upright position on the left of each side of the table as a "gripping bar" for the combatants. Thor and Senator Furbish agreed on a set of rules and a referee for the match. They chose Damon Shields, who knew nothing about arm wrestling. In fact, Shields felt somewhat put upon by even being asked to officiate what he considered a vulgar, tawdry exhibition better suited to sawdust-floored saloons of Texas than the polished oak decking of the Majestic II. Nevertheless, he insisted on being dressed right for the occasion.


The rules would be straightforward: Each man would keep his left fist gripped about the upright bar and both elbows on the table at all times. And at least one foot would have to be on the floor at all times during competition.


The confident Thor had insisted that a winner would be declared when the back of his opponent's hand touched the table top, but the ship's doctor, Angus Millan, warned that such a contortion could result in fractures or worse. Reluctantly, Thor agreed that a winner would be declared when he forced his opponent's arm down seven inches. The measurement would be, of course, a judgment call by the referee. The contest champion would be declared after winning two out of three tries.


 


The sweet notes of Mozart's A-major quintet rose from Theatre stage as the four-piece ensemble --- viola, cello, violin and clarinet - began playing before a sparse audience of a couple of dozen passengers.


But the seats were being snapped up quickly in the Gallery by gentlemen in tuxedos and ladies in gowns. Stewards dashed up and down the aisles with goblets of champagne that quickly disappeared from their trays. The audience buzzed with excitement as more chairs were being set out for the swelling crowd. Tina Kane and Lori Pierce had occupied a pair of front-row seats early, with Nurse Florese LePointe nestled in the chair between them and her black bag of medications at the ready on her lap.


Grigg was pressed into duty with his penny whistle and concertina to entertain the passengers as they awaited the main event. The railings above the Gallery floor were solid with anxious spectators puffing on cigars and cigarettes as the lights dimmed and Damon Shields appeared on the platform, wearing a pink tuxedo and matching cowboy hat with a big lime plume flowing from one side.


"And now, for our special International Date Line event," he announced. A great cheer arose. "Hailing from the state of" he turned for a quick cue from an assistant, "of course, from Oklahoma, the esteemed president of Power Paw Enterprises, Mr. Julius Trewargy."


Another thunderous cheer arose as Thor walked to the platform. He wore a black t-shirt with SOONERS spelled out in gold lettering on the front, blue denim pants, his usual cowboy boots and dark glasses, and a black cap the with Pow'r Paw emblem on the front. He casually raised a fist, bowed and took a seat the table.


"And his challenger in this competition of muscular might, the honorable senator from the lonely star, lime rose state of Texas, Mr. Christian Furbish." The cheering wasn't quite so spirited, but that was compensated by a couple of cowboy howls and yips as Slinky trotted to the platform in his electric blue sweatpants and red sweatshirt with a big white star on the front.


Shields wanted to move the show along, so he ordered each man to his place, where they shook hands and sat.


"Hands on the bars, feet to the floor, gentlemen. Now, if you'll take each others' hands," Shields commanded. He turned with a smile to the audience, drawing twitters of laughter. He regained his composure as the spectators' giggling died down.


"And on the count of three, commence, uh, flexing. One ... two ... THREE!"


Thor and Furbish strained and grunted, their hands shook and the senator for a moment eased Trewargy's arm down a couple of inches. Thor forced it back with a powerful, steady push and brought the senator within a couple of inches of defeat. But Furbish refused to break his concentration and stopped the powerful surge. There was more shaking. Then, in an explosive instant, he forced Trewargy's arm back, far enough for Shields to smack his open palm on the table and declare the match over.


"Round one, the Honorable Mr. Furbish!" he shouted. Thor sat back and smiled contentedly, for all appearances not bothered in the least by his defeat.


The audience clapped politely and drew another chorus of cowboy hoots. The combatants stood for a moment and flexed their hands and shook their arms to get ready for the next round. Shields ordered them seated once again.


"All in position then, and one ... two .. THREE!"


The senator, empowered by his initial win, seemed to have the upper hand. From my perch along the upper railing, I could see his eyes ablaze like shooting six-guns, pouring all of the might he could muster into his right arm. He held the younger man's vice-like clench three inches back for an easy 30 seconds, hoping to wear Thor down so he could end this match and claim his golden galleon. For seconds that seemed like hours, there was no motion, no sound; everybody's attention was fixed on the frozen lock of the two men's hands. But the senator, locked in this physical filibuster, found it impossible to remain silent any longer.


"Just give her up now, son, and ah'll lay off them awl taxes," he grunted through a thin, evil smile, his eyes squeezed tight. Thor's fingers rippled over the gripping bar and he moved the senator's white knuckled hand an inch, then two, and in an even motion forced it backward until Shields shouted that the match was over. Furbish rubbed his arm, but never loosened his gaze from Trewargy.


"Round Two, to Mr. Trewargy!" he announced. No whoops this time, just loud applause. The two men stood and retreated to the rear of the platform to get ready for the tie-breaking match. Spectators were now making final wagers, doubling and tripling odds. Shields took the microphone and, apologizing for the short interruption, announced that the Majestic had just crossed the International Date Line. This set off a new round of cheers and moved the day officially to March 15B.


"And now, gentlemen, for the final match. Please take your seats."


Furbish removed his sweatshirt and rubbed his right arm, and Thor took off his cap.


"Your places, gentlemen. Hands to the gripping bar, and one, two, THREE!"


"Go get 'im Power Paw!" bellowed Tina as she sliced the air with a punch. Her shout unleashed a volley of cheers from others in the crowd, and everybody soon rose to their feet. Tens of thousands of dollars would be won and lost within the next couple of minutes.


Give credit to Sen. Furbish. While Texas-big, determined and undeniably tough, he was older than Trewargy, the former football player. Furbish poured everything into the final push, but couldn't get Thor's gripping hand to budge an inch from the starting point. It was clear that Trewargy, smiling all along, was just wearing him down, patiently holding his own until the senator's endurance would run out. Ten seconds was all it took before Thor began to bring his rival's fist down in a smooth arc. Shields was on one knee at the side of the table, eyeing the two beefy fists with a squint and poised to call the match. But the motion stopped just a hair above the critical line and the two arms began quaking in a lock of determined might.


Now Lori Pierce was standing on her chair. "Remember the Alamo!" she yelled. "T, is for Texas," she chanted in the melody of a country song.


Thor looked up for a moment and Furbish, seeing his opponent's concentration lapsed for an instant, took advantage.


"Why, will you look at the honkers on that little heifer," Furbish whispered as his eyes shifted off stage. Thor turned his head for a moment, and knew instantaneously he had been taken.


While bellowing "Y-E-E-E-E-E-E-OW!" Furbish muscled Thor's arm back and down, six inches from the top of the table.


Shields smacked his pink hat on the table top to declare the payoff match over, grabbed the senator's numb arm and held it over his head.


"And, our International Date Line arm wrestling champion, the honorable senator from Texas, Mr. Christian Furbish!" he called. "Let's hear it now for the senator, ladies and gentlemen!"


Furbish instinctively mugged a toothy smile, despite the pain that started to shoot from his shoulder to his fingers. The cheering was short-lived as billfolds and checkbooks flapped open throughout the audience. Losers were paying up and winners stood ready to collect. Senator Furbish, too, was ready to collect his purse from the match: the golden galleon Thor had wagered.


Shields, who knew that the galleon was missing, intended to close the event quickly and let the two men settle up in a more discreet setting, at a later time. The ship didn't need another scene. But the senator was too quick for him. He snatched the microphone and addressed the crowd from the platform.


"Ah would like to congratulate mah worthy and esteemed opponent, Mr. Trewargy, on a fahn, sportsmanlike contest," he said. Thor had started off the stage, but stopped as the senator spoke and turned toward him.


"And as a token of mah appreciation for a fight well fought, ah want to present him with ... " Dandy handed him a bottle of champagne, with a glass etched with an outline of the ship with words "Date Line Match, 1979."


Furbish gave the bottle and glass to Thor, who placed them on the table and took the microphone from Furbish.


"Many thanks, Senator, and it's truly appreciated. And now, in recognition of your victory here tonight, your trophy."


Thor tucked the mike in his armpit, unbuckled his belt and whipped it from the loops in his jeans in an instant. He snapped the belt a couple of times and quickly unhooked the big Pow'r Paw buckle and slapped in into the senator's hands. "Yer on the Pow'r Paw team, now, senator. Congratulations."


There was a faint applause, but most of the spectators were on their way out of the Gallery. Thor placed the mike on the table and started to walk off.


Furbish was dumbfounded. "Say, how about the golden boat? Our bet, son."


"Sonofabitch got swiped," said Thor. "How's that arm feelin'?"


 


As Nat had expected, the officers conducted a top-to-bottom inspection of all of the lifeboats, ostensibly to make sure they were all tight and in order. But real purpose was to search for the elusive galleon, so it could be returned to Trewargy so he in turn could hand it over to Sen. Furbish, who might be persuaded to return it to the ship so it could be presented, as planned, to Prince Charles. Time was running out, and concern was mounting in the bridge that the theft, if unsolved, could bring profound embarrassment to Brighton Line. Heads would roll. Back in England, word of the snake scene in the dining room had infuriated board members who had already heard rumors that the body of an honored passenger was mistakenly dumped overboard by a band of quarreling louts. They also heard numerous complaints from passengers who had been routed from the comfort of their cabins by a false emergency alarm. So far, at least, nobody had died, although the board members were aware of rumors about a crewman who vanished. Some of Brighton's higher-ups wondered how the Majestic II, the flagship of their fleet, was able to stay afloat.



Little green gremlins danced menacingly across the computer screen toward the laser bases as the descending "DUM, DUM, DUM, DUM" notes sounded distress. Capt. Goodrow fired volleys of pulses at the little devils, but their bombs continued raining destruction on his defenses. Peter, the navigator, stood at the captain's side.


"What now? They've obliterated my port base. Blasted demons. What? Center bases disabled?" The captain, now in near-panic, demanded assistance from his navigator.


"Steady the left controller and move starboard base to port. Very good, sir. Now commence firing. Very well, but not in a steady stream, sir. Now, irregular bursts of laser to take out the center flank, and move easily, easily to starboard, and, fire! Now the port base, and fire, sir."


Capt. Goodrow had been spending more time at the Space Invaders screen, and had taken to ordering his trusted navigator to assist in wiping out the aliens. He was determined to clear the screen of the invaders, just once, before the end of the world cruise. He had come close once or twice, but ended up vanquished on each try.


Even with Peter's aid, the captain failed, once again, to protect his bases from total ruin. He thunked the heel of his hand on the control panel and muttered a few unintelligible curses and spun on his heel, ready to return to the bridge.


Just then, three figures approached from down the corridor, two white-uniformed officers flanking a much shorter fellow, the Asian, Takeo. They strode into the game room and the teen-ager's eyes became fixed upon the screen. As if drawn by magnetism, he pulled closer to the machine, then turned toward the captain and bowed deeply.


"I think he wants a go, sir," one of the officers said with a smile. The young man glanced up to Goodrow once again, and smiled innocently.


"Do you, then? Tell the lad to have at it," the captain ordered. They didn't know any Japanese, but the language barrier was crossed when they handed him a U.S. quarter to start the battle.


The boy dropped it in the slot and the menacing notes sounded. His small fingers manipulated the buttons with ease, sending lasers and rockets in steady volleys to obliterate the descending aliens with mechanical coolness. The screen was cleared in less than two minutes. A smile never left the boy's face.


 


"God. Let's have another go," said Goodrow, as he dug in his trouser pocket for another quarter. "Damned British money. Have you any American quarters?"


An officer pulled a handful of change from his pocket and produced the quarter, which was quickly swallowed by the machine.


The Japanese boy played another round, again nullifying the invaders systematically. He did the same on a third round, only faster.


"Great gates of the heavenly beyond, the lad's got the divine touch," the captain beamed. "Take him back, but I want him here tomorrow, same time. Got it?"


"Aye, sir," said one of the officers, who pulled Takeo back and resumed their walk.


"Soon, Mr. Walker, I shall be ready for the enemy,'' the captain told the officer. The two began striding back to the bridge.


 


 


Gordon had taken to spending more time in his cabin, ever since the snake jumped out at him from the closet in our cabin. He had taped to his wall a cutaway of the ship, showing each cabin, public room and stowage compartment, and spent hours, like a detective, marking each as L (likely), U (unlikely) or UK (unknown) as a site of the galleon.


On deck, Neptune made daily checks of the launches, on Rickards' orders, for signs of the missing boat. But like the officers ordered by the bridge to search daily in the crew's areas, he was coming up empty. Nat had removed the golden boat from his cabin and hidden it in a compartment behind a ceiling panel that gave plumbers access to the pipes under the master's suite. And so it sat safely behind a beam under the captain's loo.


All the while, the Majestic drew closer to Hawaii.


Go to previous hole Go to next hole
© By Buzz Adams