The Dare

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Chapter 22

“My chief officer will prepare a slip-hook which makes slipping the tug easy,” said Tom, walking out onto the port wing of the bridge of the Seahorse.

“Yes, Charles, they are getting it ready now. I will have to turn the tug.”

He walked back into the wheelhouse. “How are your passengers?” he asked.

“No air-con,” said Charles, which is why so many portholes were open, thought Tom. “So of course, they have been moaning about it, but that was before the fire. During the fire they were very good, did what they were told, now all drinks are on the house. Food is no problem, the second class galley is still working, once we get some power on. The electricians are working on isolating the burnt area and then we will have power elsewhere.”

“My electrician is a wizard, I’ll send him to your chief engineer,” said Tom, and spoke into his radio.

“The Sealion will be here shortly. Look, I think it is that blaze of lights, but I am loath to transfer the passengers unless it is really necessary, most of them are not in their first youth and some are really very old. Someone is bound to get hurt. They are much better on board here, until we can disembark them in Singapore.”

“I agree,” concurred Tom, “Singapore is only about twelve hours away. I reckon we can tow you at more than eight knots, the Sunda is a powerful tug and you’ll be able to steer at that speed. Time would be less if you get your own engines.”

“Yes. The list has stabilized and expect to finish ballasting shortly. We picked two small tanks.”

“Good. We are maintaining a fire watch and I will leave those men on board, your people are already clearing up. My people have put some small portable pumps on board to pump out any pockets of water that have not drained down, especially in the dining saloon,” said Tom.

“Captain,” called Ricky, and Tom knew something was wrong from the tone of his voice. “Miguel has called and said Alfredo has died.”

Tom felt as though someone had cut him open, and all the pleasure, sense of achievement and excitement of the salvage poured out of him, leaving him empty and bereft. He knew he should have ordered him out of the fire area much sooner.

“My third officer has died,” said Tom in some distress. “You must have a Doctor, can you send him over to have a look at him?”

“Of course, I am very sorry, I thought we were going to get out of this with no casualties,” said Captain Owen, picking up the telephone receiver and dialling immediately.

“I will meet him at the loading door,” said Tom, and he left the bridge, taking the signed LOF with him.

The doctor, also dressed in No. 10’s, was waiting for him. Tom helped him to cross the black fender to the tug, and could not help but smell the drink on his breath, although he seemed in full control.

When they reached the mess room, they found Alfredo, stretched out on the formica-topped table. His arms were crossed over his chest and his eyes closed, his smooth, handsome, unlined features, light, toffee-brown skin almost dark cream, quite composed, as though he was asleep. He was dressed in a long-sleeved, blue shirt and jeans, which were still wet from the firefighting flecks of foam, showing up against the blue of his clothing. Miguel, dry eyed, stood by him. Tom thought back to the corpse in the lifeboat and shook himself.

“I did my best, Cap,” said Miguel, distressed, “He would not stop coughing and his heart just stopped, I tried pumping his chest but he was gone.”

“Miguel was a nurse before coming to sea,” said Tom, in answer to the doctor’s raised eyebrows. He was a plump man in his mid forties, with a full head of brown hair and a moustache to match, his face showing the signs of good living, his uniform quite out of place on the tug.

The doctor bent down and examined the body, concurring that he was indeed dead, but it would require an autopsy to establish why. Tom asked if he should put him in the freezer but on being told they should reach Singapore in twelve hours, the doctor said the air conditioning would be sufficient to maintain the condition of Alfredo’s corpse.

Tom assured Miguel he had done his best and instructed him to move the body to Alfredo’s cabin. It was with a heavy heart that Tom escorted the doctor back to his own ship.

Back on his bridge, Tom sat in his chair and took stock, pushing Alfredo out of his mind. He saw the Seahorse lounge had some lights on.

“Looks as though Enrico has worked his magic,” said Tom to Francisco, who had just come onto the bridge, wiping his hands on his white boiler-suit.

“Yes,” said Francisco quietly. “Just heard about Alfredo. His parents will be destroyed, he was the apple of their eye. He was engaged to be married, too. Our families knew each other well in Manila. A fine young man.”

“Yes,” said Tom, “he was turning into a good salvor. I am very sorry.” He paused in respectful silence, then continued, “We are going to tow the Seahorse to Singapore.”

“No problem, leave Enrico on board the casualty,” suggested Francisco.

“Yes, unless they send him back. Expect the chief has already found out what a wizard he is, especially as the Seahorse is an old ship.”

“Need to turn the tug, cap,” said Gonzales on the radio. “All ready for you. Pedro has disconnected all the hoses, divers are ready with two of the fire watch team to take the tow, Seahorse chief officer here and windlass working.”

“Very good. Once connected, you stay on the Seahorse bridge and co-ordinate our people on board. Enrico is on board as well,” said Tom, standing and holding onto his radio. “I will turn her now.”

“Okay, cap.”

The only light wind that could be detected was on the starboard side of the casualty, so the Sunda would have been pinned but for the Yokohma fenders. Rene was waiting to let go the lines. It was a simple manoeuver for Tom to swing the stern out, the port engine ahead and the starboard astern, then full astern both, Jan style, and the tug moved astern passing the stern of the casualty now all lit up. He turned her and once he was in position, waited for Pedro to move the fenders onto the port side. He then went gently alongside the lines being taken by the men who had been sent forward. The stern and aft deck of the Sunda was now under the bow of the Seahorse.

It did not take long to lift the heavy slip-hook on board the forecastle of the Seahorse, the crane just long enough to reach the foredeck illuminated by the ship’s own lights. Tom turned off the searchlight and Rene was lifted back on board the Sunda by the crane as Tom wanted his boat driver on board the tug. Pedro then used the crane to lift the forerunner, which was pulled on board the Seahorse through the port bow fairlead and the connection was made onto the slip-hook that had been secured. All was ready within half an hour of the fire being extinguished, which Tom thought was pretty good going.

Gonzales walked along the foredeck of the casualty and spoke to Tom who was on the bridge wing of the tug. He confirmed his instructions.

“Keep Captain Owen company and keep me informed at all times. The list has reduced. All our equipment is on board. The fire watch team can pump out any remaining water. Inspect every now and then, both teams have radios.”

“Okay, cap, don’t worry,” said Gonzales.

“Ricky, give Gonzales three spare batteries for the radios, don’t want any of them to run out,” said Tom.

A line fell onto the bridge deck as Ricky returned with the green batteries and the waste paper basket. He tied on the line and Gonzales heaved it up.

“Okay, Gonzales, let go the lines and go on to the bridge. Make sure they steer once we get going.”

Tom used the engines to manoeuvre the bow off the casualty, then using power, went ahead so the stern was clear of the drifting ship and turned her quickly to starboard, with the tow wire free-running onto the starboard side of the towing gunwale. The tug was now facing the same way as the tow and Tom moved ahead of her, Pedro paying out the tow wire until he heard Tom’s instruction to stop on the internal intercom. He slowly increased power, turning the Seahorse to the south, the Sealion taking station astern a blaze of lights from the starboard side of the casualty.

“Jumped the gun a bit,” the Seahorse Captain came over the company radio.

Gonzales must be on the bridge, thought Tom.

“Thought we better get on with it, Charles. If you get your engines, it is easy enough for my men to slip the tow. Please switch on just your sidelights and stern light.”

“Sorry about that, upset routine,” he laughed. “The chief has not reported back.”

“We are doing a good speed,” said Tom cheerfully, “have you in Singapore by noon.”

It was now after midnight and much had happened in less than two hours but everything was overshadowed by Alfredo’s death. Gonzales reported the fire watch party and divers had been fed by the ship and there was no sign of fire. The ship’s crew were working and the fire area was being cleared. All was well with the tow, the forerunner being greased where it passed out through the fairlead. Enrico seemed to have worked his wizardry and the fire-damaged area was blanked off, allowing lighting to be switched on in all the remaining areas. There seemed to be an electric fault in the air conditioning but he was working on it. The passengers were in good spirits, no doubt helped by free drinks, and the band was playing cheerful music. Those whose cabins had been damaged by the fire were camped out in the first class lounge and food had been served from the second class galley. The ship was almost upright and was following well, steered by a man on the wheel. The Sealion was steaming at slow speed, following on the starboard quarter. Tom had good cause to feel pleased with himself and his crew. Poor Alfredo, he thought, but told himself not to dwell on it.

Early in the morning, the Singapore arrived and Tom told Captain Hannibal to take station ahead on the starboard bow to warn any ships who came too close. The Coselvenom arrived about an hour later and the Salvage Master asked Tom to slow down as he wished to go alongside.

“Paul, I don’t think that’s a good idea,” said Tom into the company radio. “I don’t wish to disturb the tow, it’s following well. The sooner we can get the passengers off in Singapore, the better.”

“I am the Salvage Master and I am in charge,” said Captain Rogers, somewhat angrily.

Tom’s heart sank; everything was going so well and now this. He had that sick feeling in his stomach but realized he must assert himself. As far as he was concerned, it was his salvage; he had put out the fire, signed the LOF and started the tow. Jan’s words following the Kinos fire came to him: “Always arrives after the fire is out,” along with Jan’s warning that Rogers thought Tom a threat, he would knife him, “a silver knife.”

“Oh, dear,” Tom thought, “confrontation but not in public.”

“Paul, the Captain has one of our radios. I will send Rene to pick you up and bring you to the Sunda.”

“I will come alongside you if you slow down,” ordered the Salvage Master.

“Paul, I am not slowing down.” Tom was firm. “I am the tow master as Jan was on the Kinos tow. You are not to come alongside me. I repeat, I will send my zed boat across to pick you up.”

There was silence and Gonzales, who must have heard their exchange, said over the radio, “All okay here, cap. Captain Owen asleep.”

Tom was so short of men on the Sunda, with more than half the deck crew on board the casualty, that he had dispensed with the lookout, staying on the bridge with Jesus, which meant they would be on watch until they reached Singapore. Miguel materialized on the bridge with fresh mugs of strong tea, giving one to Jesus and one to Tom, his small figure indistinct in the darkness of the wheelhouse.

“Don’t you sleep, Miguel?” asked Tom, pleasantly.

“No, cap, I keep a vigil for Alfredo until his spirit ready to go,” he said and Tom wondered at the depth of the man who said he was weak but kept the firefighters supplied with water, apparently oblivious to the danger.

“Anyway, you need tea,” he said, more cheerfully, and gave a little chuckle. “Not like Captain Jan.”

“Tell Pedro and Rene to launch the zed boat and pick up the Salvage Master from the Coselvenom and bring him back here.”

“Okay, cap,” and he disappeared.

A few minutes later Tom saw the crane lift the zed boat with Rene aboard and Miguel tending the painter. Rene roared away as soon as he was afloat, his hair flowing behind his head, just visible in the moonlight, an almost ghostly figure. A very angry Salvage Master appeared on the bridge some time later.

“Your boat driver is crazy and he needs a haircut! It’s a wonder he has been allowed into Singapore by the immigration.”

Tom took a deep breath, not wanting a blazing row while towing. He was tired but knew he was going to have to establish his own authority. This was not like the confrontation with the lawyer.

“Rene is an exceptionally brilliant boat driver,” said Tom, quietly. “Paul, listen to me a minute. I know you are a very good Salvage Master but this is my salvage. We put out the fire with no help from anyone else, the ship’s crew did nothing. I have started the tow. I have two men forward watching the tow, Gonzales, my chief officer, is on the bridge with the Captain, the electrician is with their chief engineer and has got the lighting back on. I have a three-man fire watch in the burnt-out area. I don’t see whatever you can do that I have not done.”

“I saw the loading door on the port side was open, it should be closed at sea,” pointed out Captain Rogers.

“I had it opened. In fact, we opened it to fight the fire. It was an escape route for the firefighters and now is providing ventilation. The dead third mate opened it.”

“Dead?” said the Salvage Master, shocked.

“Yes, dead. He died as a result of the smoke and probably heart attack.”

“I am sorry.”

“So are we.”

“I would like to be taken to the casualty,” Captain Rogers said, sounding more conciliatory.

“Look, Paul, I rather you did not go on the casualty yet. It is the middle of the night and everything is fine. Gonzales has a good rapport with the elderly Master. If you want to help so I can put your services in my report, why not send your efficient and capable Juan with some men to back up my crew who are pretty tired. Don’t forget, we fought a major fire.”

“I am here to take charge,” he said, visibly suppressing his anger, his southern hemisphere accent more pronounced. Australian, thought Tom.

Tom took a deep breath.

“No, Paul,” he said, firmly. “I do not want you on the casualty. You can assist as I have suggested or just escort.”

He sighed with relief; he had made his stand, but he could see from the look on the Salvage Master’s long face, faintly lit by the chart table light, that he had made an implacable enemy. He would need to heed Jan’s warning.

“Captain,” called Jesus, formally.

Tom walked quickly into the wheelhouse.

“On the starboard bow.”

Tom immediately saw what Jesus had seen, the searchlight from the Singapore shining on a small coaster with no lights proceeding slowly in the same direction as the convoy.

Sunda, this is Singapore,” said Captain Hannibal over the radio. “Starboard bow.”

“Seen, thank you, Singapore,” replied Tom. “We are passing clear at the moment.”

“Okay, Cap,” and Tom returned to the chart room.

He could see Captain Rogers appeared to have had a change of heart, or perhaps he was planning his attack on Tom.

“I will send Juan across with half a dozen men,”

“Thank you, Paul. Juan can co-ordinate with Gonzales.”

Tom walked back into the wheelhouse and saw they were clear of the coaster being overtaken, still illuminated by the Singapore searchlight. He stood in the doorway and saw Rene take Captain Rogers back to the Coselvenom, which Juan had brought close to the starboard side, maintaining the same speed. Not long afterwards, he saw the heavily loaded zed boat speed across to the casualty. Rene skill was apparent: Tom had not slowed down and they were making well over eight knots. Coselvenom slowed and disappeared behind the stern of the Seahorse, ahead of the Sealion, and took station on the port quarter where Tom could not see her. Tom saw the zed boat safely loaded and shortly afterwards, Rene appeared on the bridge.

“Bosun and five men, Cap,” he reported.

“No, Juan?” asked Tom, surprised.

“No.”

“Well done, Rene, and thanks,” Tom congratulated Rene as he walked off the bridge and along the boat deck to the stowed zed boat.

Tom wondered what Captain Rogers was up to. Tom realised he needed to be careful, or his own success would be his downfall. He was sure Paul Rogers now considered Tom a threat to his position and would try and get rid of him. He could hear Jan’s warning, ringing in his head. He shook himself mentally, and found himself shaking, physically.

“So be it,” he thought, “if that is the way it is, then I will fight. It will be a fight to the end, either him or me. What a pity, he thought, but he was resolved to win.

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