The Dare

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Chapter 15

Tom consulted with Shelia regarding the best thing to wear on the yacht, omitting to tell her Hilda would be there. It seemed pointless to cause any problems or suspicions when there were none.

Sunday, the day of rest, dawned fine as the sun rose over a sleeping Singapore. Tom felt guilty he had not been out to the tug since Friday morning, as he looked at the view out of Shelia’s sitting-room window, the red orb of the sun quickly turning to molten steel. It was going to be hot, as usual. He consoled himself, however, with the thought that Gonzales had been made chief officer and Tom supernumerary, so he could be taken off at any time, without interfering with the proper running of the Sunda. Captain Hannibal had been brought back from his leave early.

“Making babies,” as he told Tom, when they had met in the office.

Shelia watched him from the bed as he dressed, her blue eyes sparkling, her blond hair covering the pink pillow. The white shorts were a little tight, he thought, but she approved. The gaily-coloured gold and red shirt, he thought a little gaudy for a sober mariner, but she laughed his fears away. The long, white stockings were of the type that used to be worn on cargo liners, so they at least felt familiar, as did the white shoes.

He left the apartment a little later, slightly dishevelled, and caught a taxi to Jurong Pier, composing himself for the day ahead. He arrived on the pier just as the Coseltina was coming alongside, the rest of the party already waiting at the top of the steps. Two uniformed deck boys helped the guests on board while the skipper held her alongside, the numerous craft coming and going, causing quite a little sea. Hilda was very fetching in a short pair of cream shorts and green blouse with yellow flowers on it, with a female-type Panama hat to protect her delicate skin from the tropical sun. Mr R was in his usual dress, nondescript shirt and trousers, the smart rig of the New Year’s Day party, gone. As soon as everyone was on board, the skipper pulled off the pier, the yacht’s place being immediately taken by another.

Introductions were made as the Coseltina left the harbour. The two bankers had merely taken off their ties, while the Salvage Association Surveyor, Mike, whom Tom had met on the Kinos, had entered into the spirit of the day and was dressed more like Tom. The QC from London, Sebastian Dick, wore a pair of slacks and a plain, grey shirt but looked relaxed and comfortable, unlike the bankers. Robert wore slacks and a gaily-patterned red shirt and seemed in good spirits. Once into the anchorage, the skipper increased speed and Tom felt invigorated by the rush of still warm, but clean, sea air. The deep water was much clearer than Eastern Anchorage, where the Sunda was anchored.

Hilda set to work on the bankers and soon had them in swimming costumes, an assortment of which were kept on board, and rubbing suntan oil into their backs. They loosened up quite considerably and after the first couple of beers, became quite cheerful. She even persuaded her father to change into a pair of shorts she had found in the main cabin.

It was about midday when the Coseltina anchored off Green Island, which had a sandy beach. Tim was pleased to see a sailing boat under sail, anchor, dropping her sails smartly; a well-trained crew, he thought. A few other boats, all white hulls, were in the anchorage, mainly families with children. The smart, white-uniformed deck boys rigged the laser dinghy but at first there were no takers until Tom could no longer restrain himself and said, “I can sail.”

It felt so good to be at the helm of a dinghy, dependent on his own resources, revelling in the physical activity and he thoroughly enjoyed his sail, although cursed himself for leaving his sun-glasses behind as the bright sun reflected off the white sail. The QC, encouraged by Tom, when he said he could sail too, went out, now dressed in a pair of red swimming trunks. Hilda asked Tom to take her out as she had not sailed before. While one of the deck boys acting as cook prepared the curries and food which had been brought on board, Tom took Hilda sailing. She was wearing a fetching bikini, which showed off her small but well-proportioned body, and was covered with suntan, while Tom had changed into a smart, white pair of swimming trunks, which he felt were a little too revealing but Shelia had assured suited him. His wet shorts and shirt were drying on the foredeck.

“Fantastic,” Hilda gushed to the assembled company on their return, the skipper and free deck boy taking the painter and helping Hilda. The boat was allowed to drift aft, the sail still up, and made fast, the Coseltina heading into the wind at her anchor. Robert gave Tom a hard look but said nothing. He continued to crack jokes, some of which were quite funny, a can of beer permanently in his hand, and kept the company laughing, although the QC looked as though he had heard enough jokes for one day. The bankers had indulged in a swim and were in good form. Hilda continued to sing Tom’s praises until he gently told her to stop, she was embarrassing him.

Just before the curries were ready, and Hilda was helping the temporary cook, another motor yacht turned up with DB at the helm, his wife and family on board; also, Wayne Dawson with his family, and Tony House, wearing the same picnic gear he had worn at the Jurong trials. DB brought her alongside nicely and she was made fast. The children brightened up the proceedings with their laughter and lunch was delayed while they all, including the old man, went for a swim, the skipper keeping watch and a lifebuoy drifting astern ahead of the laser.

It was a very jolly party for lunch. The crew had rigged the white canvas awning over the large cockpit, which kept the heat of the bright sun off some very white bodies, a few of which were developing a hint of red. They were all wearing an array of hats. Sebastian Dick kept looking at Tom, which made him feel quite uncomfortable and he began to think the unthinkable, when there was a lull in the conversation. The children were in a group on the foredeck, laughing and joking.

“I’ve got it!” exclaimed Sebastian. “I recognised the name Matravers but I couldn’t place it.”

Tom felt a chill in his gut and the curry turned sour in his mouth.

“You were on the Rada,” the QC continued. “I represented the company at the enquiry.”

Tom felt the blood drain from his face and the chill turned into ice, the first flicker of fear brushed over him and all the fun of the day fled, leaving him tongue-tied and speechless.

“You were one of the cadets and you were so self-assured when you gave your evidence, that’s why I remembered, still a teenager,” said the QC.

“Yes,” said Tom bluntly, feeling the eyes of the company on him, especially Robert’s, and the old man, who looked so surprised. Everyone stopped eating as Sebastian went on, relentlessly, it seemed to Tom.

“She was blown up in the Gulf, a deck passenger ship, with great loss of life. Tom was one of the heroes,” continued the QC. “I wondered what had happened to you and am surprised to see you have become a salvor. I would have run as far inland as I could reach and never see the sea again,” he laughed. “Life is full of surprises.”

It had given Tom time to pull himself together and he saw a silent Robert continuing to look at him with a quizzical gaze, which Tom knew boded trouble.

“Oh, Tom, how exciting! Do tell us about it, I know you are a good storyteller,” said Hilda gaily, rather out of character, as Tom had thought of her as quite a serious young lady.

“No,” said Tom bluntly, and then realising he had sounded very rude, continued, “many lives were lost and now is not the time or place. We were told not to talk about it. The British were pilloried in the Indian and Pakistani press, despite the disaster being caused by a terrorist bomb. How about I take you out for another sail this afternoon, Hilda?”

“Oh, yes, please,” she answered. “I did so enjoy it, you are such fun,” which broke the stillness and uncomfortable feeling caused by the revelation.

They all resumed enjoying their curries.

The wind had increased a little and there were now mini white horses sparkling like jewels on the green water, the sand golden on the beach ashore, highlighted by the green jungle.

Once lunch was over, the women helped the crew pack up the debris. Tony whispered in Tom’s ear, “There’s more to you than meets the eye. We must meet up for a drink and a chat.”

DB’s boat and families departed, the children all waving and laughing. Hilda enjoyed her afternoon sail, although she said she had eaten too much curry and Tom had to be careful not to capsize in the increased breeze. Once the laser was de-rigged and brought on board, the anchor was weighed and the Coseltina went on a tour of the Cosel fleet.

The Singapore was looking smart and sturdy in Western Anchorage, the tug and barge fleet at the mooring was impressive, but the Sunda was the old man’s pride and joy, her white hull gleaming with ‘Cosel Salvage’ painted in large black letters along the sides, looking every inch the thoroughbred, ocean-going salvage tug she was. All traces of the scorching from the exploding tanker were gone, a team from the shipyard had been sent out to give her a new coat of paint. The bankers were impressed and it was then, for Tom, that the second bombshell was exploded that afternoon.

“Captain Matravers,” said the old man formally, as they were returning to Jurong Pier and the bankers had changed back into their more formal dress. “These two gentlemen represent the bank that is financing the purchase of the UK super tug and, sirs, he is going to be her first Cosel Captain.”

Everyone who heard, clapped, and Tom blushed at this completely unexpected good news.

“Thank you, Mr R,” is all he could think to say and he saw Hilda looking at him, smiling.

“Mind you look after our investment, captain,” said the older one, shaking Tom’s hand.

Just before they reached harbour, the QC pulled Tom to one side and said, “I apologise, Tom, I didn’t mean to embarrass or upset you, but I saw your face when I mentioned the Rada. It was along time ago, almost fifteen years.”

“Thirteen,” said Tom, woodenly. “The burnt bodies I saw were not mentioned at the enquiry, but thank you.”

“I see, but not sure I completely understand. However, best of luck in your new profession and look forward to hearing more of you. I have been retained for the Kinos salvage.”

“So that’s why you are on board,” said Tom to himself.

“I was impressed with your sailing,” said Sebastian. “I sail a laser at Hayling Island but as you must have seen, I can’t make her fly like you did, and it is a lot warmer here,” he laughed.

“Thanks for that,” said Tom, brightly. “I’ve been lucky enough to have sailed all my life.”

“It shows.”

It was after five when the party landed at the pier. The guests and Robert, who was well away, singing songs, squeezed into Mr R’s luxury car and were swept away by the chauffeur. Tom thanked the Coseltina skipper and crew, and found a taxi while Hilda, being the independent modern lady she was, drove away in her small, white BMW, an expensive car in Singapore.

Hilda had been very friendly on the yacht and effusive in thanking Tom for her first sail. She was obviously angling to see him again so he invited her for dinner later in the week, knowing Shelia would be working, but he thought he might be playing with fire. He was glad to be back on board the Sunda and able to relax, no longer on his best behaviour, and no more Mr Dickinson.

He was enjoying his breakfast on the bridge, slightly sore from too much sun the previous day, when a message from Ops ruined his plans for the day. He was told to report to the Goodwood Park, the lawyer wished to see him. The brightness faded and he knew it was trouble, but he hardened his heart and resolved he would not be brow-beaten come, what may. He had forced the bully to back down and Tom would keep him there.

Robert greeted him cordially when he met Tom in the lobby, an hour late, looking very much the worse for wear.

“Come along to my suite,” he said, “just a couple of things to clear up on the Queen and you can sign the statement. Susan has been working all weekend.”

“He is too cordial, too nice, he has turned on the charm, but his bloodshot eyes belie it and his fingers are working overtime,” said Tom to himself.

It was after 1100 when they finished, which meant the bar was open.

“A farewell drink, Tom, I will be off at the weekend. Captain Rogers’ reports are first class and it won’t take me long to finish with him,” said Robert, smiling.

Tom could hardly refuse, despite the unpleasant dig at his reports, so joined him for a beer. They sat at a table rather than the bar and Robert talked about salvage, calling the barman over for more beer.

“I didn’t know you were on the Rada,” said Robert, pleasantly. “Must have been a bad experience for a teenager.”

Tom was silent.

“I think we should put something about it in your statements.”

“I don’t see why,” said Tom, coldly. “As I said on the Coseltina, the British were pilloried by the press and all sorts of accusations were flying around. I think it better to let sleeping dogs lie, it might get twisted at arbitration.”

“Our QC for the Kinos didn’t have any problems with it, otherwise he wouldn’t have mentioned it.”

“I think that is completely different and anyway, I don’t want to have it in my statement,” said Tom, quite forcefully, as yet more beer arrived at the table.

“It will enhance your status and as the lawyer for Cosel I advise it should be in,” said Robert, curtly.

“I don’t agree. Too many lives were lost and I don’t wish to try and make capital out of their deaths. It was thought a blot on the British, despite the enquiry findings.” said Tom.

“Tell me about it and I can make the final decision,” cajoled Robert, the numerous beers beginning to take their toll.

Tom was silent. He had made up his mind he would not talk about his experiences with this man. He did not trust him. The talk with Jan was a completely different matter.

“Were you frightened?” asked Robert, silkily. “How did that exploding tanker affect you?”

“It’s in my statement.”

“It will definitely enhance your status,” said Robert smoothly, smiling.

“No, Robert, I won’t do it, leave it alone,” said Tom harshly, keeping his temper in check.

“Just mention you were on the ship when she was sabotaged,” pressed Robert.

“No,” said Tom firmly. “Robert, enough is enough.”

“Okay, bloke, your funeral,” said Robert nastily, leaving the table and walking out of the bar.

Tom heaved a sigh of relief, finished off his beer and took a taxi back to Clifford Pier. He poked his head into the pier bar, waited for his eyes to adjust to the gloom and artificial lighting, and was thankful to see Frank’s red hair in what appeared to be his daytime place, sipping a beer. It was late afternoon before he finally reached the Sunda and went to bed.

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