The Falcon & the Viper

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Chapter 54

Nils Christenson, a tall, fair-haired Scandinavian with blue crystal-like eyes sat kicking his heels impatiently in a rundown bar in the port of Ceuta, a small Spanish autonomous city on the north coast of Africa. He killed time by chain-smoking Ducados, the evil smelling black tobacco cigarettes and drinking too much beer. He realised it was all starting to go wrong for he was ready to set sail but the delivery he was expecting had not arrived. Taking another sip of warm beer, he was relieved to see the van emblazoned with Pedro’s Diving Supplies on its sides pull up outside the bar. He rushed out, jumped in the passenger seat, and directed the driver to his boat moored on one of the pontoons in the harbour. Nils took the goods stashed in a large dive bag out of the van and carried it on board as the driver drove off quickly, glancing nervously over his shoulder as he went. Below decks, Nils took out the packets and stacked them under a bed in one of the guest cabins, wondering to himself how such a meagre delivery could be commercially viable. Nils and Ray, his English deckhand and cook had already made the ship ready for sea, for they wanted to get under way and complete the voyage under the cloak of darkness.

The Frederick Willheim, a two-masted ketch was still a majestic sight over a hundred and twenty years after her keel had been laid down in the boatyard in Rotterdam. She was popular with the charter guests she carried as she oozed character and appeared to be a well-maintained vessel. However, Nils knew that the timbers below the water line told a very different story, which was the reason he was risking so much by doing this trip. Hundreds of teredo navalis, the curse of wooden boats sailing in the Med, had relentlessly attacked her teak planks below the waterline. Nils had sailed the ketch down from the cold waters of the North Sea, where she had spent most of her life, two years earlier. Following her arrival in the warm waters of the Med, the worms had burrowed their way deep into the wood and over time weakened them. Nils knew that his only course of action was an expensive boatyard repair in Malaga, which the profits made from chartering this season would never cover.

He had been pondering the problem in Sinbad’s, his local bar in Benalmadena, the popular tourist resort on the Costa del Sol, when the Spaniard had first approached him. The man, who introduced himself as Carlos, at first enquired about chartering his boat. The conversation had not been going long before Nils realised the man was not asking the right questions associated with a charter. Smelling a rat, he asked the man what he really wanted. Carlos surprised him by mentioning the problems Nils was experiencing with the Frederick Willheim. Nils, somewhat bemused, asked him how he knew and Carlos told him his brother was the surveyor who had found the rotten timbers in the boat’s bilges during the inspection for the renewal of the charter licence. After a few more beers Nils lamented that he did not have enough money to pay for the expensive repairs and that he would lose his charter licence and his livelihood. The Spaniard had bought him another beer, put a friendly arm around his shoulder and suggested an easy way out of the mess. With no other course of action, Nils had reluctantly agreed.

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