Ambrose

A Travel Mystery Novel

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24


As we steamed closer to Hawaii, short-wave was coming in fine and some AM was even drifting in. There was plenty of fodder for the Mail, so it wasn't even a temptation to dummy in Lefty's latest cartoon, which was slipped under the door in a plain brown envelope in the usual fashion. It was funny, I thought, but Sal and I agreed at once it would have been impolitic to print the drawing of the captain, gagged and tied securely to chair, while a young Japanese stood at the helm steering the ship. In the caption at the bottom, the boy was saying, "Not to worry about aliens while I'm in charge, sir!"


Capt. Goodrow was by now meeting with Takeo twice a day in the game room honing his skills on Space Invaders with the stowaway, though he was careful to keep onlookers well at bay by assigning a couple of officers to the doors as the two pumped quarters into the machine for their drills.


This was going on the night the Majestic close to Honolulu. The darkness outside meant almost nothing now, as the International Date Line crossing had effectively obliterated anyone's consciousness of time. Lefty was barely keeping up with his orders in the Ward Room, where a mix of entertainers, stewardesses a few passengers was being entertained by the white-suited officers. We arrived with Hallsford about the time Grigg was breaking out his concertina. The talk, naturally enough, centered on the stowaway and speculation about what would happen to him in Hawaii, but there were also whispers about FBI agents on board posing as passengers. Tony Watson reckoned they were out to sniff out some of the prodigious stashes of pot some of the crew had spirited aboard in Sri Lanka and Hong Kong.


"I'm certain, stockings full of the stuff are flying overboard even as we speak," declared Watson. "Duffel bags of it. Why, you can smell it everywhere. It's flying off, I tell you, like the tellies back in Barbados." He let out a big laugh.


No, said Hallsford, it was that galleon they're looking for. "And to take the wog back to Japan, of course," he said assuredly.


Like so much of the speculation on board, their guesses were in the right galaxy, but wrong constellation. Truth was, most of the contraband brought aboard was stashed behind dozens of wall panels throughout the ship. There were no FBI agents aboard, but the Internal Revenue Service had indeed sent a small contingent of investigators to spy on members of a California lawyers' association, who had booked a few dozen cabins for the Japan-to-Hawaii leg. The junket was cleverly masked as a bar convention, complete with heady sessions on the fine points of lawyering and speeches by Sen. Furbish and legal hotshots who actually knew what they were talking about. The lawyers were writing off their cruise as a professional expense, and the IRS boys were there to check the sign-in books at the meetings to make sure those who claimed they were attending in fact were.


The Ward Room party went on as the dawn's light fell faintly on the ocean. Sal said she was ready to turn in, and I borrowed a half-full pint pot of lager and made my way to deck. From the port side, I watched the sunrise draw the outline of the dark promontory of Diamond Head, which rose above lights sparkling like strands of jeweled necklaces. The Majestic, now in Pearl Harbor, was moving dead slow making way for the pier below the dome-topped Hawaii Tower. On the mast, which glowed under spotlights, the American flag was aloft for the first time since we left St. Thomas. I stood and watched until the first lines were thrown ashore and the ship eased to a full stop. I carried the empty pint glass back to the cabin and fell asleep.



 


I began to gain full consciousness while sitting in a bus, Sal on one side and Hallsford on the other, as it made its way downtown. Sal had gotten a line on a rental car the night before in the Ward Room, and we soon found our way to a lot off the main drag where a smiling Hawaiian was happy to hire out a spicy little Chevette for a reasonable $14.95 for the day. It seemed so long since we spent American money. We were just pulling out of the lot when a skinny kid with long, stringy blonde hair and a braided goatee decorated looking something like scrimshaw with turquoise beads stuck his head in the window. His arm, decorated with a fresh tattoo of a flaming skull, was wrapped around a surfboard.


"Can I hitch along, man?" he asked Hallsford, who was at the wheel.


"Where are you going?"


"Beach, dude, where else with my buddy here?" he said with a giggle and couple of fist knocks on his sand-covered board. "How about you?"


"Don't know exactly, I suppose to the beach too. Do you know a good one?" asked Hallsford.


He apparently took the question as an invitation to join us, surfboard and all. He popped the door open with one hand and swung the long, ivory-colored board onto the roof with a plop. He jiggled it into place, the sand making blood-freezing screeches on the paint as he shifted it this way and that until the front end formed a parabolic sun shade over the Chevette's windshield.


"Perfecto, maestro," he said with a sniff and a quirky smile.


"Got ropes, dudes?" Ropes? I was thinking he said dope. No, we didn't. "Cool." So he peeled off his tattered shirt, which was unbuttoned at the front, ripped it down the back and tied the sleeves together into a sloppy but effective knot. He flipped one end over the roof and asked Hallsford to hang on to the dangling shirt while he held the other.


"Works every time. Just keep this rocket under warp time. You'll see the beaches. So, like, let's blaze!"


We introduced ourselves and at length our guest suggested we call him Goldie, a name he seemed to pick out of the air, which was taking on a musty odor with his body odor. He clearly was not into given names.


Hallsford drove for a short time one-handed, his left holding the torn shirt down to keep the surfboard in place, but he soon asked me to take over the muscle duty from the back seat.


Goldie reached into the hip pocket of his cutoff jeans with his left hand and pulled out a plastic bag and rolling papers, which gave me a good idea why he was known as Goldie. Now, he moved his end of the torn shirt to his jaws and held the board down while, in well-practiced fashion, he rolled a joint that came out about the size of a White Owl cigar. Goldie took back hold of the shirt and lapped the papers of his pot cigar and set it on the dashboard to dry.


"Breakfast, anyone?" he asked as Hallsford, who was used to driving on the left side, cruised through a pineapple field toward a road that hugs the coast of Oahu. "Oh wow, man. You're on the left. That's English, right?" This reminded Hallsford to get back into the other lane.


Big puffy clouds drifted by as we putted along the road. Goldie pushed in the car's lighter with a sandy toe and fired up his white missile, which created sweet, puffy clouds of its own in the Chevette.


He helped himself to a couple of long drags and was passing the fat doober to the back seat when he spied a huge wave curling toward the white sand to our right.


"Pipe-o-rama! The big guys are in! Get this rocket over to the side. It's time to ride, dudes," Goldie said as he hopped up and down in his seat. We parked and Goldie hopped out of the car and whipped the surfboard from the roof. In an instant, he was running to the beach, stopping at a coconut palm to suck up a couple of drags from his smoldering honker.


We watched him, and a couple of other surfers, for quite a while. He took a couple of nasty spills, which we agreed he couldn't have noticed, but after a bit he showed he was quite proficient at the art of surfing. Hallsford, watching intently, insisted that given the chance, he too could have tamed one of the relentless curls that came crashing in. The opportunity never came as Goldie stuck fast to his board. We watched for quite a while, but at length moved on at a leisurely pace.


The sweet scent of blooming flowers everywhere mixed with the warm, salty air as we drove by great cliffs and tiny coral beaches, quite empty, I thought, considering Oahu was the most crowded of the islands and a big ship had disgorged its thousands of passengers for 36 hours. We stopped at Sunset Beach, Waimea, to swim and walk. While sitting on the beach, we watched as an offshore squall released a torrential downpour and then quickly dissipated, leaving a rainbow in its place. Now heading back toward Waikiki with Sal at the wheel, we drove between two mountains that form the eastern and western rims of Oahu into a valley rich with pineapple and sugar cane. Soon we were etching a path amid the concrete high-rises of Honolulu and going to Waikiki, where we joined the sunbathing beach crowd. The sun at last took its toll and we returned to the ship to rest and get ready for dinner in town.



Dressed in their getups of gaudy shirts and shorts, the IRS boys joined the line of passengers as they climbed the steps to a small, 50-seat plane headed to Kauai, the island about 70 miles west of Oahu. The overnight side trip, arranged by the California bar tour, was to wind up at a resort tucked in a cove at the edge of the island, where the lawyers had scheduled an evening session that was supposed to deal with some heady subject. A dreary courtroom would have seemed a much better setting for such a lecture than the torch-lit square of beach where the Golden State's barefooted legal eagles were gathered for a luau. It was by no means a formal affair. The designated lecturer, Sen. Furbish, had temporarily stationed himself in a cabana at the center of it all, where, in a tattered straw hat and Hawaiian shirt and Dandy at his side, he assisted a barman in pouring drinks for the attendees, while slapping backs, shaking hands and offer hints on some of the finer points of how to cut corners on campaign contribution reporting laws.


The IRS boys weren't surprised, seeing the revelry taking place, that there was no sign-up book for the night's session. But rather than finding themselves in a law enforcer's paradise,


where the fish were big and easy to catch as if they were in the proverbial barrel, they found themselves in something of a quandary. Sure, they could report that the bar convention was a questionable tax deduction, if not an outright fraud. But Sen. Furbish, when he got back to Washington, was powerful enough to see that millions of dollars would get whacked from the IRS budget, and, more directly, the agents would lose their jobs.


"Let's have a drink," said one of the IRS boys. The others quickly agreed and soon they were partying with the rest of the lawyers instead of trying to drop a net over them and the senator.


Hours before the bar association's plane headed west, another puddle-jumper took off eastbound for Maui, about 80 miles away. This plane carried a mix of passengers, crew members and officers, most of them anxious to hike and photograph the verdant national parklands covering much of the island. Before landing at Hana, the plane circled over the 10,000-foot Haleakala, whose rocky, green-trimmed ridges formed the world's largest dormant volcano crater.


Spread beyond the mountain were fields bulging with pineapple and sugar cane -- and a third cash crop, marijuana, that grew in abundance in Maui.


While others from the plane set out for the park, Kaanapali resorts and Hana, a crewman named Colin Cappesby, a loner by nature, hired a motor scooter and made off for Lahaina at the western side of Maui, the pre-1850s capital of Hawaii that still had the looks and feel of an old-time whaling outpost.


Cappesby, who usually worked third-shift hours monitoring a maze of gauges on the turbines and boilers and opted for extra duty time making necessary repairs, was glad for once to be out in the open, riding, a tiny one-cylinder putty-putt and looking for a quiet place to spend a few hours. He parked the bike next to a sidewalk bar shaded by palms and ordered a beer, then another. Before he was finished his third, a smiling, slightly bedraggled middle-aged guy sidled up to him and started making small talk, which before long led to the local guy's boastful tales of the knockout locoweed growing like crazy in the hills.


Cappesby was a shade too middle-aged and too much of a loner to ever have hung with the blokes on the ship who gathered on the fantail at night and smoked dope. He was, in fact, quite ambivalent about the whole thing. Tobacco and a couple of beers were quite satisfactory vices for Cappesby. But he was nonetheless intrigued by the offer. He knew a seedy trader on board called Nat Tarbell who would broker the stash, and by selling it, turn a neat profit for both Cappesby and Tarbell. Cappesby sipped his beer and thought about the deal for a while, going back and forth before deciding it was worth it. After all, it would pay for his plane ride to Maui.


The two men walked to a beach and detoured off to a little bungalow along a quiet, sandy lane. The seller -- he never did give his name -- shut creaking door and disappeared for a minute before returning with rolled up Honolulu Star Bulletin under his arm and a big smile on his face.


Cappesby, who like most crewmen customarily carried a fat wad when they went ashore, peeled off $600 from the roll in his pocket. The other guy offered him a try, but Colin was less interested in smoking the Maui Wowie he had just purchased than getting back to a shady spot where they sold beer and hanging out alone for a couple of more hours.


He headed back down the beach, back to the same sidewalk bar, ordered a beer and read the headlines from the rolled up newspaper.


 


It wasn't easy finding a table for all of us when we went out to dinner. All four of the croupiers -- Cookie, Dottie, Danielle and Fiona -- and Watson, Hallsford, a drummer in John Delon's band and Grigney, the young officer who had been traumatized by Booth the snake, begged a cabbie to let us all pile in for a ride to a restaurant downtown. He dropped us at the nearest place he could stop without being rear-ended and barely waited for his fare, which included a rather generous tip, I thought, before he sped off.


The hour's wait in line passed rather quickly, since the drummer, a wisecracking gremlin-like figure whose shaven head made his pointed ears stick out like a pair of antennae, had brought along a flask of bourbon. A soft evening breeze off the ocean whispered a soft tune through the palms overhanging the patio to which we were seated at long last, and teased the flames from the torches at the patio's corners.


We could see that service was not going to be a priority for the waiters, who had their hands full with a dining room full of snotty guests not to mention those at several tables outside, so at first sight of the server, we all ordered two drinks, all doubles, to keep us going.


An hour into our wait, the conversation had drifted from the stowaway to Booth -- no one yet knew for sure whether each was still on board the Majestic -- to the day's travels and the upcoming ports of San Pedro and Acapulco. Each time the galleon came up, Sal managed to nudge the topic away by mentioning the menu or something else of little immediate importance.


My own choices had veered from teriyaki to jambalaya to mushroom risotto and finally back to another drink, which seemed to fit right in with what everyone else had on their minds. Now the diners at the other tables were starting to clear out, which led to brief but unfounded hopes that a waiter would materialize. The emptiness of the surrounding tables also prompted the bald drummer to speculate, rather loudly, whether there had been another sneak attack in the vicinity. The burst of laughter from our table seemed to signal that all hopes of ordering dinner were gone.


"Hallsford, fetch us a waiter, manager, busboy, cabbie -- I don't care, anybody passing by on the bloody street, and get us some more drinks," said the drummer, who decided to assist Hallsford on his mission.


Our wish was fulfilled, with halfhearted apologies from a cocktail waitress on for the night shift. Ah, who wanted to eat, anyway? As the night slipped into a haze, Dottie and Hallsford began talking about how much this reminded them of Bugis Street in Singapore. I was going to say something when my attention was snared by the stares of a dark figure standing at the sidewalk. I was startled when I realized it was Neptune, that black-bearded demon, out for an evening haunt. His eyes reflected the orange flames of the torches as he glowered at the table, stopping the conversation dead as if a plug to a radio was pulled. With the glow of cigarette's orange ash matching his eyes, Neptune fixed his evil eyes on each of us, one-by-one, then stopping at me.


"Look who's out for a night on the town," he said, shuffling past a palm tree and closer to the patio. Now he bared his big teeth in a wicked smile. "I'm still looking for the little boat, Mr. McGeehan. That's your name, isn't it?" he said in a raspy half-whisper


"Bugger off, Igor, or at least buy us a round," answered the drummer. "What, have you lost your bloody shrunken head or something?"


"You like loud bangs, don't you, banging on your tin can all night, Mouthy? Here." Neptune pulled a little firecracker from a bag under his arm, and held the fuse to his cigarette for a moment and tossed it under the table.


The pop brought everyone at our table and all of the others instantly to our feet. As a couple of waiters rushed out of the dining room, Hallsford and Watson threw some money on the table and made a beeline for the exit with the four croupiers in tow. Grigney sputtered a threat to write up Neptune for the Captain's Log, but the dark figure answered with throaty chuckle, and turned and shuffled back to the sidewalk, stalling only to readjust the bag under his arm. Now over my initial shock, I felt my Irish ire well up and wanted to paste him in the mouth, even though I know I'm a lousy fighter and he'd turn me into spaghetti in a second.


I told Grigney to escort Sal back to the ship and started for the exit for what I knew would be a short, decisive confrontation.


On my way, I felt a tugging at my shirt.


"Not so fast, mate. That bloke is a dirty fighter, I'm sure. Never did catch your name," the drummer said calmly, holding out a hand.


"Mike. McGeehan. You gonna help me or what?"


"Danny Mulligan. Sounds Irish too, but actually I'm from Wales. Family's been there as long as dirt. Long line of musicians, too, but I'm the first drummer. My dad, you see ... "


"Are we going to get this guy or talk about your family tree?" I said.


"Easy, now. That McQuarrie fellow, you know, has the brain of a jellyfish but might of an ox. He'll be easy to bring down. Got a lighter?"


"A lighter? What, we're going to set him on fire? Gad, you're nuts!"


"Never mind. I've got me Cricket ‘ere," said Mulligan. He pulled a little plastic lighter from his pocket, tapped it with a couple of fingers and put it back.


"Notice what was in his bag? Little sticks pointing out of the end, those bottle rockets or whatever they sell all over the place in Hong Kong. I'll wager that's where he got them, what? Let's go to work, shall we? He's ripe for a little heat. Besides, I like loud bangs.''


The waiters, no doubt glad to be rid of us, scooped up the money at the table, and Mulligan and I made for the exit and followed in Neptune's path down the street. Mulligan started whistling an annoying, bird-like warble and picked up his gait until the tall silhouette of the creep came into view, then skittered ahead of me in a dancing shuffle right up to Neptune.


"Gawd, you're awfully ugly!" Mulligan teased. "How on Earth did you get that way?"


The big guy turned around and swung at the short drummer, who barely had to duck to avoid what would have been a crunching blow. Mulligan was now sprinting back down the sidewalk toward me.


"Hit it, brother!" he said as he got closer. We were now running full-tilt, side-by-side. "Didn't I tell you, I was 100-yard dash champ for my district in Wales. Come along now, have you got lead in those shoes or what?"


I was doing all I could to keep a pace or two behind Mulligan as he darted across the street and toward the wall of high-rise hotels along the beach front. Neptune was several paces behind, but seemed to be gaining on us despite his size.


Mulligan hurdled a chain draped along steel poles around a parking lot and sprinted toward a hotel built upon a network of supporting columns, with a large support base in the center. Now almost hopelessly out of breath, I caught up to him, wondering what his next move would be as Neptune, about 20 yards back, stopped, put his bag under his other arm, and looked around.


Mulligan whistled. "Over here, Bigfoot!" he yelled. "Gawd," Mulligan whispered, "he's got the brain of a dead-bolt, what? Ugly, too." Neptune ran toward us, but Mulligan held his ground until he was a few feet away.


"Follow closely," Mulligan whispered as he began tiptoeing to the far side of the building's supporting base. He peered from corner to see Neptune approaching, and the chase resumed. Three or four times, we went around the big white column, like children playing a silly May pole game. I wondered when it would end.


"OK, stop," whispered Mulligan. "Let 'im see you, then don't move."


"Easy for you to say," I whispered back. "He'll kill me."


"Nah. Trust me on this," he whispered back before darting off in the opposite direction.


I did as ordered and stuck my head around the corner of the base until I was sure Neptune saw me. He cracked an evil smile and stalked forward. But just behind Neptune, moving step for step in his path, was little Mulligan, smiling broadly and waving his gold Cricket.


Just as the big oaf reached out toward me with his free arm, Mulligan flicked his lighter and held it to the paper bag tucked under Neptune's other arm. Neptune was so intent on grabbing me that he didn't notice when the bag burst into a ball of flames.


Out of the corner of my eye, I could see a couple of security guards trotting over, but I stood fast. Now with his shirt sleeve beginning to burn, Neptune turned sharply, flapping at it in a panicked effort to put the fire out. But it was too late.


The fireworks were snapping and popping and bottle rockets were shooting in random directions as Neptune danced about insanely, hopping and waving his arms.


As the burning paper bag fell to the ground, rockets kept exploding forth, arching toward the guards a few times and streaking past their heads and between their legs, prompting them to commence a wild dance of their own. The Roman candles shot out a sideshow of flashing colors from the sidewalk, which kept Neptune kicking and leaping as if he was trying to fly.


Too stupefied to move, and now falling into hysteria that fairly paralyzed me, I stood for what seemed like an hour but was actually only about five seconds. Then I saw a small figure, Mulligan, shoot like a rocket himself from behind a square pillar and behind the guards, then on to the street. He stopped for a moment and waved his arms to catch my attention. I bolted.


The guards, trying to reassure one another that they had not been shot, seemed only to care about getting Neptune collared, which they did as Mulligan and I watched for a few moments from across the street. We stood and roared with laughter, then quickly disappeared to the beach before making our way back to the ship.


"Not much of a dinner," Mulligan said as we walked up the gangway, "but what a floor show. Let's have a drink, what?" We set out to find the rest of our crowd who had bailed out at the restaurant patio.


We checked the Disco Bar, where "Stayin' Alive" was thumping away, then cut through the Quarterdeck Ballroom to the Admiral Nelson Pub, where none of our crowd could be seen through the haze of cigar and cigarette smoke. We checked the Blue Star, and finally made our way to the Ward Room, which was unusually quiet for the night. A couple of the officers at the bar said everybody was on t'up because that's where all the food was.


From the Wardy, we climbed a short stairway outside to the higher, open deck, where a party was in full swing. There, we found Sal and the rest of the crowd camped out at a table close to the buffet, which luckily was still piled high with meats, salads and desserts.


As Mulligan and I worked our way through platters of our long-delayed dinner -- or by now, early breakfast -- we gave them an abbreviated rundown of our skirmish with Neptune.


From the topside up the ship, we looked out down over the Promenade Deck, where crewmen had begun to varnish the wooden walkway. The job was set aside for late night and early-morning hours so it wouldn't interfere with daytime walkers. The work would be done section-by-section, so by morning each would be glistening with a glistening new covering.


Beyond there, we gazed out over Honolulu, Sal and I both wondering silently if it would be for the last time, since the ship would be leaving before dawn the next morning.


 


 


A storm had kicked up several hundred miles south as the Majestic sailed from Hawaii, sending a stream of clouds over our eastbound route and roughing up the seas a bit. But still, a band of seagulls faithfully followed our wake. I wondered why, until I saw the deck crew tossing bags of the rubbish overboard, oblivious to the unforgiving eyes of the few passengers who occupied the deck chairs on this unglamourous day.


The rocking of the ship apparently inspired Lefty to leave his latest creation under our office door, showing the Majestic making way through fierce-looking seas, waves breaking across its bow.


"The dentist will not be drilling today," said the caption.


"I don't know," said Sal. "It's not THAT rough out there. We've seen it rough."


"Let's use it," I suggested. "It'll take up 10 inches of space. Look at it this way. One less column of news briefs. Stocks come in yet?"


We were awaiting the stocks, gold prices, soccer scores and afternoon tea when Woodsome popped in. He didn't look well. The missing galleon was getting to him.


He sat as Sal typed and I fiddled with the short wave, never moving once toward the bar. He lit a Dunhill and puffed on it silently until the tea man came and left. At last Woodsome spoke.


"If he gets it, we'll never see it again. Mad, mad searching, day and night, but nothing. When will it turn up?"


"If who gets it? You mean the galleon, right?" said Sal.


"Of course," he said testily.


"Who's he?" I asked.


"That barbarian, MacQuarrie, our Neptune. I know he's looking, day and night."


"He's back on?" I asked. "After ... ah, you must know."


"Oh, quite. The Honolulu constabulary were only too glad to see him off after your sophomoric pyrotechnic escapade with the drummer fellow, what's his name, Milligan or whatever, the other night. What got into you, anyway?"


"Just defending ourselves from the ... that guy's scary. So he's back?"


"As I said. The hospital doctored those nasty burns all over his armpits and ... " Gordon cracked a smile, but just for a moment, "and he's back, looking everywhere for it." Gordon helped himself to tea. "Where on Earth -- by God, it's got to be someplace. Have you seen this, by they way?"


Gordon pulled a piece of paper from his pocket, unfolded it and handed it to Sal. It was from the St. James Palace Office of Prince Charles.


"Prince Charles confirms plans to meet with the Master and Officers of the Brighton Line flagship Majestic II to accept, upon the ship's arrival in New York, the treasured artifact which shall be presented in his behalf to the Crown Jeweller Mr. Felix Wetherstone for inclusion in the Royal Family's collection.


"Yours very truly, Mr. David Seppington."


"Awful run-on sentence, wouldn't you say?" Gordon said with a lame smile as he took back the paper.


"You haven't seen this, of course. A friend let me borrow it from the radio room, to which it will now be returned."


"Who, Grigg?" asked Sal.


"Never mind," said Woodsome.


"That sounds like an order," I said. "Do you know it's on the ship?"


"It has to be," said Gordon. "Maybe that's just blind optimism, but I sense it's here." He was silent for a moment.


"But I won't look in your bloody closet again, by God." He managed another weak smile and left.


We went back to work.


 


Below decks, there came a knock at Nat Tarbell's cabin door. Colin Cappesby tried the latch, then knocked again.


"Ah, hold on a bleedin' minute, I'll get it, you ... " came a voice from the inside.


"Don't stand there, get in," Tarbell said as he swung the door open.


Cappesby was carrying a bundle wrapped in a tattered newspaper, about the size of a couple of whiskey bottles, as he stepped inside. He held it out toward Nat.


"These will fetch you a pretty sum, I'm sure. The guy called it Maui Wowie. I don't smoke the stuff, never liked it, but I know the boys will. They've all been talking about it, you've heard 'em I'm sure. How much will you give me?"


"Ah, I hate tradin' in that business," Tarbell said with a tinge of anger. "Get out. I don't like it. Stinks the place up. So do you. Get."


"Fine enough, I'll be going, then," said Cappesby as he turned toward the door. He walked out and started down the hallway,


" 'old on, 'old on a second," said Tarbell, sticking his head out the door. "Get back 'ere."


Once the door was shut again, he told Cappesby, "I'll take that smelly weed off yer 'ands, but I'm not going to pay you a stinkin' quid for it. I'll trade."


"Trade what?"


"You collect keepsakes, don't you? I've got me a little gold boat stashed away in a safe place, not here, so don't be lookin' around. You get it to the right pawn dealer back in Soho and you'll get more than I'd ever dream of giving you. That's the last offer. And mind you, not a word about the boat to anyone if you don't go along with it, or the bridge knows in a second you're smugglin' the hoky poky."


Tarbell stared at Cappesby with his ratlike little eyes. Each man knew he had the other in a choke hold, but each wanted to be rid of his ill-gotten booty. They quickly agreed to make the trade, and advanced the illicit deal with a compact to keep quiet about it. Tarbell would retrieve the galleon -- he didn't reveal its whereabouts -- and the two would meet later, after the California call, at Cappesby's cabin to finalize it all. Tarbell, knowing how hot the galleon was, did not want it passing the threshold of his cabin again. He didn't want the Maui Wowie now, either.


 


The seas had calmed and clouds dissipated as the Majestic continued eastbound. The decks were once again full from early morning to midnight. Rock Roche led his band of joggers for their quarter-mile wind at 7 a.m. sharp, stopping now and again and spinning about to remind his followers to stay clear of the freshly varnished sections.


By mid-morning, passengers were in lounge chairs, reading the Mail, chatting, snoozing, sipping consomme supplied by white-suited stewards.


Each noontime brought a different spread from the galley, served at One Deck aft under the canopy facing the swimming pools, which despite the chill of the water were full from noon until dinner hour. The aroma of a hundred different dishes spread out over the fantail as smiling cooks served up cuts of roasts and ribs from the states, mutton and lamb from New Zealand, venison and cod from Scandinavia. Passengers helped themselves to lobster tails, Alaskan king crab, salmon, shrimp and caviar, before returning for cakes and mousse and souffles. The centerpiece of one of the midday feasts, presented by Chef Batterstoke, was a suckling roast pig, apple clamped between its jaws.


The call in Hawaii had seen some change in the passenger list. Many of the Asians had flown back to Japan, Hong Kong and Korea. Furbish and Dandy had winged their way back to Washington, with the senator still steaming after being stiffed for his prize in the arm-wrestling match.


Local radio signals from Hawaii had long since faded, so we were back to a diet of BBC, Armed Forces Radio and Voice of America to fill the columns of the Majestic Mail. Now back at sea for a long stretch, Grigg was back to making his evening Scrabble visits as we were finishing the paper. Grigg and I were now communicating fully in Morse Code once he entered the cabin and parked his radio Corvette under the desk. I know it was driving Sal nuts, because she would speak nothing but Italian when she plunked down her letters.


"Che piccato!" she said with a smile as she hit on a seven-letter score.


The thumping from the disco bar a deck below had become so routine that it was barely noticed as the Scrabble games went on. Once Grigg won, the three of us found ourselves drawn into the time warp of John Delon's music in the Quarterdeck Ballroom. The dance floor was packed with passengers transported to the '30s and '40s by the melody and words of the singer: "I'd love to get you on a slow boat to China ... "


The pace livened up with "Pistol Packin' Mama," with the singer doing a workmanlike but respectable job crooning the words of Bing Crosby: "Drinking beer in a cabaret, boy was I having fun ... " And the chorus of Andrews Sisters wannabes firing back, "Lay that pistol down, lay that pistol down."


And the finale, with Delon's musicians playing the piece Duke Ellington and his orchestra made famous, had a somewhat prophetic theme.


"Shhh, don't talk too much, shhh, don't talk too much, slip of a lip might sink a ship."


Someone knew where the galleon was, but they weren't talking.


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© By Buzz Adams