Tom was not in his bunk on the tug when he awoke and he felt completely disorientated. His head throbbed and pulsed as though Hercules, striking the gong at the beginning of a film, was inside it, a deep, body-shaking sound. He lay still, frightened to move, and tried to think back. He was not sure if he felt sick and his mouth was dry and tasted foul. Hercules began to turn into a more normal man with a smaller gong, and his beaten brain slowly began to work.
He had a beer on the Sunda while dressing, to clear his head from the champagne earlier in the day. Miguel fussed around, brushing his suit and shining his shoes. Rene had driven him ashore at a sedate pace, befitting his dress code. He had called in at the pier bar, the lights bright after the darkness outside, and had a quick couple with Frank, who was mad with jealousy but happy for his friend’s success.
The lobby bar at the Mandarin was something else again, thank heavens he had the sense to wear his well-pressed suit! A whole crowd of strangers was stood and applauded when he entered. The old man beamed and even DB had a smile on his face. Everything was still a blur, champagne at the hotel reception, white and red wine with the dinner, brandy with the coffee, the speeches. the Captain Owen of Seahorse gave a short, measured speech, confirming his retirement and praising Tom. It was all so embarrassing but he was stuck, he could not just leave. The lawyer was there, too.
Tom brought himself back to his present surroundings. It was an even smaller gong now, with a midget, and he looked around: pink pillows. He turned his head to see a mass of blonde hair. Good heavens! It was Shelia, still fast asleep, with a little smile on her face. He felt below; he was naked.
Tom’s thoughts were in a whirl. Hilda had been there, he thought she was in Hong Kong, but she must have flown down. Help! The old man had made an announcement, something about Hilda joining Cosel after Christmas. It must have been after the dinner date he had missed, she had teased him that she was so unimportant he had not bothered to tell her he was not coming, she had phoned ops to find out. What else had happened, he wondered? God! He had given an interview to some journalist but he could not remember what he had said. Snippets of conversation returned to him. What had the lawyer said? “It’s too late now, so go with the flow, bloke.”
What was too late, he asked himself?
He could see the sun low over the city through the half-closed curtains. He sat up and almost passed out.
“Never again,” he thought, “I am going to be teetotal from now on.”
Very gingerly, he moved onto the edge of the bed. He did not want to wake Shelia, who was still smiling. He simply could not remember even meeting her, let alone getting into her bed. Hilda had looked particularly ravishing in a tight cheongsam, blue to match her eyes. God, what had he said to her?
“…would see more of her if she was living in Singapore…”
Must mean she was leaving Hong Kong. Oh, Shelia!
He slowly stood up, feeling dizzy. The room eventually stopped revolving and he walked unsteadily to the bathroom and relieved himself, wrapping a towel around his middle. He poured himself a glass of water from a bottle on the table in the bedroom, opened the French windows enough to walk out, and sat down in the chair on the balcony. The sun was further up over the city, a small red disc in the haze, and he could feel the early morning heat on his naked skin. He looked over to the anchorage and could see the Sunda, her white hull with the black lettering standing out. He sipped the lukewarm water and began to feel better. No doubt he would find out soon enough if he had blotted his copybook.
Some time later, Shelia came out onto the balcony, with a big smile on her face, wearing only her flimsy, see-through nightdress and carrying a cup of tea, the Straits Times in her other hand.
“My hero,” she said, putting the tea down first, then more slowly, the newspaper with its front page uppermost.
“Cadet Hero Now Saves Ship.”
The main picture was of the fire-damaged Seahorse being towed by the Sunda, alongside a picture of the burning Rada to the left, then one of Tom in his suit on the right, with what he thought looked like a soppy grin on his face. He had no recollection of having his photograph taken. He felt awful and embarrassed looking at it and the word ‘Cadet’ incensed him. Only one person could have been responsible for that, he thought.
“What are you looking so sad about, Cadet Hero?” and Sheila laughed.
“It’s so embarrassing, I can’t remember much,” he almost moaned.
“Oh, don’t be so wet, Tom,” laughed Shelia. “Not surprised you can’t remember much, the state you were in. It’s called blackout, dear, in case you didn’t know.”
“Never again will I touch a drop of alcohol,” said Tom, holding his head in his hands. Then through his fingers, he added, “It’s that damned lawyer.”
“It’s happened, Tom,” said Shelia, seriously, “so you might as well enjoy your fifteen minutes of fame, it won’t last long. You can’t put the clock back. You never told me you had been blown up.”
“The ship was, not me,” said Tom. “I don’t talk about it.”
He remembered Jan’s words on the Buron and was silent.
“Too late now, the whole world knows,” Shelia laughed. “Drink your tea.”
“Hilda…” he stopped when he saw Shelia’s face and wished he had said nothing, the look seemed incongruous in her present attire.
“Hilda what?” she almost hissed.
“Hilda has come back from Hong Kong and I think, if I remember rightly what the old man said, has joined Cosel in Singapore.”
“Oh,” said Hilda, sharply. “She’s not called me.”
Trouble, thought Tom, it is all going to be trouble.
He picked up the paper and began to read as Shelia sat in the other chair. It was all there, school, horses, sailing, the Rada, a full account ending with the praise from the Wreck Commissioner, a brief account of the Melody and Jan’s dramatic death, fulsome praise from Captain Owen of the Seahorse, and the announcement, “Captain Matravers will be the Cosel Captain of the super tug, which he will bring to Singapore shortly.”
“Shortly!” said, Tom surprised. “I thought the takeover of the new tug was not for months yet.”
“I saw that,” said Shelia. “Perhaps it’s writer’s license. I was hoping for a bit more time with you now you have moved in.”
“Last night…?” asked Tom, hesitantly.
“Nothing happened, you weren’t in a fit state to do anything. I had to undress you, not so easy with a drunk, a dead weight,” said Shelia, and then more brightly, “Breakfast to face the day?”
“It was the lawyer getting his own back,” said Tom. “Oh, well, as you say, it’s too late now so might as well enjoy it. Come to think of it, might as well enjoy you, too, sitting in that revealing outfit,” he said, standing and giving her a kiss. Breakfast was delayed.
He reached the office rather later than he had intended, to find numerous copies of the Straits Times seemed to be one on every desk. The lawyer had not arrived, for which Tom was grateful. Mr R’s secretary saw him and beckoned, pointing at his door and the old man stood as she ushered Tom in.
“Well done, Tom,” he said, shaking Tom’s hand enthusiastically. “The publicity is really good for Cosel and Singapore, we are really on the salvage map now.”
Tom saw Hilda looking at him. She was sitting on the sofa, so Tom decided to take the seat in front of the old man’s desk. As he did so, he noticed two yellow pins stuck in Japan on the chart behind him.
“As I told you last night, Hilda is going to work for Cosel here in Singapore. We’ve appointed a Hong Kong man to run the new representative office that she opened. I want her to have a full understanding of the whole business so she’ll be with me for a couple of weeks then attached to the various departments, marketing, personnel, accounts, law, insurance and so on,” said Mr R, looking at her.
Hilda smiled at Tom with a look that struck him as a little more than just a smile, almost an invitation and right in front of her father, too.
“Did she know about Shelia?” Tom asked himself.
“Now, you,” said Mr R quite sharply, bringing Tom out of his reverie. “I want to capitalize on this stunning success and am hopeful we can bring forward the takeover of the super tug. We’ve decided to call her ‘Dover’, good European name for the Arbitrators, Dover Straits,” he laughed.
“Now, we have a problem if we manage to arrange this,” he said more seriously, looking at Tom. “Good captains are not easy to find, especially with salvage experience. You’re a bit of a one-off. We’ve bought two more medium-sized tugs in Japan to be named Rhio Rhio, and Taiwan Taiwan Straits. Daniel Bang is recruiting in Manila now.”
No wonder I have not had Alfredo’s replacement yet, thought Tom.
“We hope to pinch a couple from Malayan Towage,” he laughed, “we pay better, but we’re worried about the Sunda. With Jan gone and you to UK for the Dover, the Sunda has no captain.”
“What about Captain Hannibal?” asked Tom.
“Daniel sounded him out, he does not want her, too big.”
“My chief officer, Gonzales, is not ready for the Sunda but he would make a good captain for the new ones in Japan or the Singapore.”
“Noted,” said Mr R, scribbling on the pad in front of him. “Daniel tells me you are friendly with the captain of the Mississippi.”
Nothing is secret in Singapore, thought Tom and replied, “He was hoping the Dutch were going to bring a bigger tug to Singapore to combat the Sunda. The big bosses are due any time.”
“And no doubt you know I am going to meet them,” laughed the old man.
Hilda looked fascinated at this interchange and kept smiling at Tom whenever he looked at her.
“Offer him the Sunda,” said Mr R, suddenly.
“He will want more money than he is getting now,” said Tom, after thinking silently for a moment.
“No problem. If he is interested, tell him I want to talk with him. Can’t be here or at my house, tell him we can meet in the American Club, not too many mariners there. Let me know as soon as possible, Tom.”
“Very good, Mr R.”
“Mr Dickinson is here to take your evidence for the Melody and the Seahorse. I want quick settlement or arbitration, that shouldn’t be a problem with your reports.”
The old man smiled, picking up his telephone and pressing an intercom button.
“Come,” he said.
“Thank you,” said Tom, taking it as a compliment.
The door opened and DB entered. He was a tall man, Tom noted, as he sat down next to Hilda.
“Now,” said Mr R, looking stern. “Complaints. Our Salvage Master has complained to me, in confidence, that you did not obey his instructions during the Seahorse tow.”
He was sitting very upright in his chair, the fingers of one hand drumming on the table and those of the other twisting his sparse hair.
The silver knife is not so silver, thought Tom, then took a deep breath.
“Captain Rogers arrived after the fire was out,” he and said, quietly, with as little emotion as possible, “and the tow had already started. In fact, he arrived after the Singapore. We had a fire watch with our own people while the ship’s crew were cleaning up. I had the two divers forward, watching the towing connection, my chief officer, Gonzales, had established a good rapport with Captain Owen and was on the bridge, my electrician was working his wizardry with the chief engineer and had the lighting and air conditioning working, we were doing a good speed and the Singapore was escorting. Captain Rogers wanted to take the Coselvenom alongside, which meant I would have had to slow down and disrupt the tow, and for what? I didn’t want him on board, usurping Gonzales and upsetting the Captain. I felt it was very much my salvage. If the fire had not been put out or we had not started the tow, then no problem. I hope, if I had been in Captain Rogers’ position, I would have been big enough to leave well alone.”
Tom felt relieved he had been honest but wondered what Mr R and DB would think.
“I see,” said Mr R, looking at DB. “We know Captain Rogers of old and I knew Captain Jan well. May be it was our mistake to send him but don’t forget the fire was not out when he left Singapore. What do you think, Dan?”
DB was silent and his face expressionless.
“I am sorry, Mr R, that Captain Rogers and I did not see eye to eye on this occasion. He has been very helpful to me, the car carrier and the Buron. However, you mentioned Captain Jan, and I must tell you he warned me if Captain Rogers considered me a threat he would try and get rid of me,” said Tom, firmly.
“I just said we know our Salvage Master of old. You both have very different skills and he is very good at what he does and we receive good awards due to his paperwork. On the other hand, he will never command the Sunda or the Dover. You are both prima donnas so makes it very difficult for us, Cosel needs both of you. You will be away for a while soon, if I am successful next week.”
He looked at DB, who nodded.
“Don’t fight Mr Dickinson,” Mr R laughed and waved Tom away with a flick of his wrist.
Tom was relieved to leave the office, but glad he had made his position clear, and it seemed to have been taken in good faith. He was not so sure about Hilda; he was convinced she was flirting with him, but he could not really believe she would do so in the chairman’s office! He walked down the passageway towards ops when he was waved into Tony’s office.
“Congratulations, Tom! Not the rising star but the risen star,” he laughed. “It’s a bit early even for me, otherwise I would offer you a drink. That was a good bash Mr R put on at such short notice and fantastic publicity for Cosel.”
“Thanks, Tony,” said Tom, smiling. “And now for the super tug Dover. He’s bought two more tugs in Japan.”
“Yes,” said Tony, “he’s really on the move. Not my scene at the moment, I’m still very much tugs and barges, but I can see he’s going to need employment for them, they can’t all be on salvage stand by. Melody’s and Seahorses don’t come around every day. Anyway, bully for him! By the way, it’s about time you joined the Tangle Inn Club, I can put you up.”
“That’s very kind of you,” said Tom, leaving the office. “I might just take you up on that.”
In Ops, Ishmael shook Tom’s hand enthusiastically.
“Congratulations, Tom” he said, “the Dutch will be gnashing their teeth!” He laughed. “Mr Dickinson said to send you down to him when the old man finished with you.”
“No secrets, even from the lawyer,” laughed Tom, walking out into the bright sunshine, the heat hitting him like a furnace door had been opened.