The Dare

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Chapter 26

After the excitement and the blaze of publicity surrounding the Seahorse had died down, and when Tom had finished his work with the lawyer, it felt good to return to his old

Salvage stand-by routine. Normally, he would be on the tug until the afternoon, when he would call in at the pier bar for a quick one, pick up any local marine gossip and then go home to Shelia. A very pleasant existence, he thought, with mainly fine, hot weather. Frank was away up-country for a short leave while Keppel repaired his engine, and the Dutch had taken the opportunity to dry dock the tug as well.

Sheila was pleased with the settled routine and Tom was beginning to appreciate the delights of living together, wondering if he was falling in love. He had held no illusions at the beginning of the affair; they both fancied each other and they had a good physical relationship, but Tom felt it was turning in to something much deeper, and Shelia felt the same. They discussed it and decided to see how it went and decided to take their leave together, although Tom was not due any for some time. There was no further word of the Dover so Tom assumed the old man had not been successful. He had started to bully Daniel Bang for a new third mate, whom Daniel assured him would be arriving any day.

The Mississippi arrived at the anchorage one afternoon and Tom met Frank in the bar. After the usual pleasantries, Tom said, “I hear you spoke at Jan’s funeral.”

“Yes,” said Frank, opening his second beer. “Thirsty work driving a tug,” he laughed.

“All of a couple of miles from Keppel,” Tom pointed out.

“It’s the traffic,” said Frank.

“Tell me about the funeral,” asked Tom.

“You remember you told me all about it in this bar, you were a bit cut up,” said Frank seriously.

“Yes,” Tom said, woodenly.

“Well, I sometimes have quite a good memory. When it came for the time for someone to speak about Jan some of us saw both you and your crew had gone. I knew something was up but I’d not been paged. You said you were going to say something, so on the spur of the moment I stepped into your shoes and pretty much word for word relayed what you had told me. I must say, it went down very well. A hero’s death, it was reported almost verbatim in next day’s Straits Time.”

“I didn’t see it but thanks, Frank.”

“No, well, another hero, a live one this time, was bringing in the Seahorse. You have the luck of the devil, Tom,” he said, his admiration obvious.

“We lost the third mate, Alfredo. Well, I say lost, he died. He was a good man, turning into a real asset.”

“I heard,” said Frank. “Bit young for his heart to pack up.”

“No, it was his lungs, couldn’t stop coughing. Must have been a weakness all round. Surprised he passed the medical. A real shame, handsome fellow and engaged to be married.”

“How are you and Shelia getting on?” smiled Frank.

“What do you mean? I’ve never mentioned her to you,” said Tom, looking directly at him. Frank’s question had surprised him.

“Singapore is like a village, Tom. Don’t think you can shack up with a girl and keep it secret!”

Tom was silent, then said, “Just between you and me, it might be a bit more permanent than I thought, but she doesn’t like the unsettling business of never knowing when I’m rushing off somewhere.”

“What female does?” laughed Frank, signalling to the barman for another round.

“How are your big bosses getting on?” asked Tom, refilling his glass.

“Been and gone, as I’m sure you know. No news yet, not sure they want to make the commitment,” said Frank seriously.

“Why not join us, Frank?” Tom suggested.

“Why should I do that? I’m quite happy where I am, the Dutch are okay to work for,” he replied Frank, taking a drink from his glass.

“Cosel will give you the Sunda,” said Tom, quietly. Frank looked round at Tom, surprised. “And top your present pay.”

“You must be joking!” laughed Frank.

“I don’t joke about things like this,” said Tom, rather primly, and then more robustly, “Listen, Frank,” and he touched his arm in his earnestness. “Cosel is on the move, the old man’s bought two more tugs in Japan. They’ll have Filipino masters and I’m going at some stage, probably fairly soon, to pick up the super tug to be named Dover. The Sunda is yours for the taking, they want a European on her. The Dutch will never give you command of a bigger tug, you know that, Frank, you’re the wrong nationality. It’s a great opportunity, expanding company, in on the ground floor, good to work for.”

“I will have to think about it,” said Frank.

“Well, don’t think too long, and when you’ve decided yes, the old man wants to see you. He suggests the American Club.”

Frank sat up straight from his usual bar slouch. “The old man is involved?” he asked.

“Yes, I told you I wasn’t joking. I haven’t made it up. He asked me to sound you out. Look, here is his office direct line, you can give him a ring,” urged Tom, handing him a number typed on the chairman’s memo paper.

Frank, still sitting straight, opened the fresh beer sitting on the bar and ordered a whisky chaser. They discussed the matter for some time, Tom urging Frank to be bold, and they spent longer in the bar than usual. Shelia was not too pleased when Tom turned up later than expected.

“Company business,” Tom smiled.

“In a bar?” asked Shelia, disapprovingly.

“In fact, yes,” said Tom. “I’ve been on a recruiting drive. Let’s go out to supper at the Top of the Hilton.”

Shelia thawed and it turned into quite a jolly evening. It was a fine night and from their table by the pool at the top of the building, they could see the brightest stars through the loom of the city lights. They joined another couple that Sheila knew from work, who helped them to drink the wine and who were fascinated to hear of Tom’s work and his salvage stories.

All was good until Tom’s pager went off. Shelia stiffened and went quiet, her face closing in, losing its easy smile. Tom walked quickly to the bar telephone, but someone was chatting away on it. His pager sounded a second time, so Tom tapped the man on the shoulder and told him he had an emergency call to make, waving his pager. The man rather ungraciously told the person at the other end he had to go, and slammed the receiver down.

“Mike five,” said Tom briskly when he was connected to Ops, throwing off the effects of the alcohol he had consumed.

“Big container ship aground just outside Western Anchorage. Salvage Master proceeding with Coselvenom. Sunda to be on standby, instant readiness,” said the duty man.

“Tell them to send the zed boat meet me at Clifford Pier in half an hour,” ordered Tom.

The afternoon and evening indulgence seemed to slip away as his brain raced with the possibilities of salvage.

“Got to go,” said Tom, giving Shelia a quick kiss.

“I still can’t get used to this,” he heard Sheila complain, and he felt a stab of remorse when heard her burst into tears as he walked quickly towards. He resolutely thrust it away; this was his life, his worthwhile work and he wondered how permanent the relationship could be, despite what he had told Frank in the bar. What about children, he thought in the taxi. Gerda had seemed to be quite happy with Jan, but Gerda was very different to Shelia.

He banished such thoughts from his mind on arrival at Clifford Pier, where he found Frank trying to bribe Rene to take him out to the Mississippi.

“Rene, you can take the bribe but drop me off first,” he said, stepping into the bobbing zed boat. As usual, the wash from the launches and country boats was causing a lopple around the concrete steps.

“Come on, Frank, Rene will drop you off,” urged Tom, and Frank jumped in as Rene took off in his usual style, throwing Frank against Tom who laughed, “Best boat driver in Singapore.”

“Mad bugger!” said Frank, clutching onto the hand ropes attached to the hull as Rene raced through the anchored ships, bouncing over the occasional wave at full speed. When they reached the Sunda, Tom climbed out and over its towing gunnel, which had been freshly greased, staining his shore-going trousers.

“Hold on, Frank,” he shouted as Rene tore away.

“More work for Miguel,” thought Tom, but he was pleased that preparations for towing had been made.

The anchor was aweigh, Gonzales was in the wheelhouse and Jesus forward when Tom arrived on the bridge. A message had been received to proceed at full speed so Tom was increasing power when Rene returned. Pedro was ready with the crane and Tom watched as the boat was lifted out of the water with Rene inside it. At that moment, a launch shot alongside the tow deck where a figure was standing outside the towing gunwale, held by two AB’s, who helped her jump on board. The launch swerved away and disappeared into the night. Tom was so surprised, he was unable to speak or move but the tug was moving fast now, so all his concentration was required to avoid a collision with either an ill-lit, anchored ship or one of the numerous launches and country craft, carrying passengers and goods to and from the shore. When he had time to take stock, he saw they were well ahead of the Mississippi, which was all that mattered. He needed the strong tea Miguel had brought him.

“Who was that I saw jumping off as we left?” asked Tom.

“Don’t know, cap,” said Miguel.

The Straits were quite busy but the eastbound ships, bound for the China Sea, were on the Indonesian side, so well clear. All he had to do was watch for those he was overtaking and any coming out of the anchorage before Raffles Light. Jesus was back on the bridge, manning the radar. It had clouded over from the starlit evening at the Hilton and Tom could feel spots of rain. He shut the open wheelhouse window. The Sunda was approaching Raffles Light at over sixteen knots, dragging a huge wash behind her when the heavy shower hit them, reducing visibility to almost nil. Jesus reported the rain clutter had obscured everything on the radar screen. Tom felt he had no option but to slow right down, although there had been no ships between him and the Light, but he would not see anything before the tug hit it and the lookouts could see no more than he could. No third mate had turned up yet, Tom thought rather irrationally, but missing Alfredo. He had better send a telex that the old man would see. The rain made a hissed as it hit the windows, the clear view screen whirring, but Tom could see nothing. He had noted the time and distance to Raffles when the rain hit and altered course on the DR, although Jesus could not pick up the lighthouse on the radar screen and no-one had seen the Light.

A tense few minutes followed before the rain stopped as suddenly as it had started and it became clear, all the lights visible. Tom was relieved to see Raffles was behind them and Sultan Shoal Light just forward of the beam. There was still no traffic ahead of them so Tom increased back to full speed. Sultan Shoal was behind them and Tom was about to alter course and skirt the Western Anchorage boundaries, when the company radio came to life.

“Anchor off the casualty and await instructions,” ordered the Salvage Master.

“Understood, Mississippi behind us,” said Tom, into the microphone.

“Anchor close to the bridge on the starboard side where the master can see you. There should be enough water. No contract yet,” the toneless voice continued.

“Understood.”

So, thought Tom, I will make a bit of a show and make sure the captain sees how big and powerful we are.

He continued to skirt the boundaries, altering to the north at the western end, and then saw the casualty, the light beacon flashing away just ahead of her.

“Odd place to go aground,” thought Tom, “mud.” If he remembered correctly from his study of the chart, “shouldn’t be too difficult a salvage.”

The grounded ship was on the port bow of the Sunda and the lights of Singapore to starboard in the distance. When the ship, lit up by all her deck lights, was abeam, he turned and headed for the bridge at full speed, only stopping when close to and letting go the anchor.

“They saw you,” said Captain Rogers over the radio, as the wash from the Sunda hit the container ship, causing the Coselvenom to surge against her lines alongside. The Mississippi arrived a little later and anchored on the other side where Tom could not see her.

Pedro was launching the zed boat with Rene aboard when the Salvage Master came over the radio.

“You are not required here, Captain Matravers.”

So that’s the way it was going to be; he was going to get his own back for the perceived slight on the Seahorse. Foolish man, thought Tom.

“The Mississippi Captain will be over shortly. I would be a good counter-weight,” suggested Tom.

“I will call you if I need you.” Captain Rogers was forceful.

Tom settled down to wait and told Gonzales to tell the crew to make sure any friends were off the tug before they moved, in future. He was not going to make a scene about it but guests were only allowed on board with the Captain’s permission, and then daytime only.

Miguel brought him another strong tea.

“I can go and have a look with Rene leaving Gonzales in charge,” he thought.

He set off, with Rene driving the zed boat, the two divers and a sounding line. It didn’t take long to make a sketch of the depths around the ship and see where she was aground. He took the mean draught as a guide and calculated she was stuck many feet into the mud. He wondered if it would antagonise the Salvage Master when he decided to call on his radio.

“Paul, I have taken soundings around the ship, if it is of any help.”

There was silence, then a few minutes later, “There is a pilot ladder opposite my salvage vessel.”

Tom was greeted by Juan, the chief officer, when he boarded the Coselvenom.

“He is in a mood, it is very difficult for me,” was Juan’s somewhat bitter comment.

“Perhaps you’d better join me on the Dover,” said Tom, mischievously.

“Yes!” cried Juan, touching his arm. “I can’t stand him much longer. Nice one minute, horrible the next.” His face was a mask of misery, pale in the artificial deck lighting and Tom thought he was going to weep. He patted him on the back

“Cheer up, Juan, it can’t be that bad,” he said.

“It is,” Juan said, wiping his eyes. “Whatever I do is wrong and I have been with Cosel nearly five years now. Make sure you ask for me to be your chief officer on the Dover, I will make a very good one,” and he tugged at Tom’s arm in his urgency.

Tom was taken aback at this outburst. He knew how competent the man was.

“I’ll ask and get you to come with me to UK Juan,” he said, and shook his hand.

“Thank you,” said Juan more calmly as Tom started to climb the ladder up the side of the huge container ship, wondering why Rogers would alienate such a good man.

He put this aside as he climbed the outside ladders to the bridge, where he found a cluster of men inside the lit wheelhouse, Captain Rogers in his blue working clothes, and Frank with his red hair standing out, wearing a white boiler suit with the Dutch Company logo. The Salvage Association senior surveyor Mike whom he had met on the Kinos salvage, was also there, and the Captain was dressed in khaki. Tom was glad he had worn his whites. There were some others present, whom Tom could not place.

He was introduced by the Salvage Master and the Captain said, in a very American drawl, “Tell us about your tug, captain.”

Tom handed the sketch of the soundings to Captain Rogers, who studied it as Tom launched into an exposition the Sunda’s power and effectiveness, as well as pointing out how manoeuvrable it was, just the thing to pull his ship free.

“You will need the power, captain,” said the the Salvage Master when Tom had finished. “Look, your forepart is more than twenty feet into the mud,” he pointed to the sketch in his hand.

“Is that so?” said the owners’ rep, a large man wearing jeans and a coloured shirt, who took the sketch. “You lot stay here while we go below and discuss the matter.”

“High tide is just over an hour away,” Captain Rogers pointed out.

“Is that so?” he drawled again, and left the bridge with the party, leaving just the salvors and the officer of the watch on the bridge. Tom could not help being partly mesmerised by the beacon flashing just ahead of the ship.

“What’s wrong with him?” asked Frank quietly as Captain Rogers moved away.

“In a mood,” said Tom.

“If I join Cosel, am I supposed to put up with him? I like to enjoy my salvage.”

“Don’t worry. As long as he doesn’t think you are a threat you’ll get on fine with him, he can be very pleasant. He taught me a lot in that car carrier and the Kinos salvage,” said Tom.

Frank was silent then said, “I’m supposed to meet the old man tonight.”

“Good news,” said Tom, jubilantly. “Don’t worry, he’ll know what is happening if you don’t turn up.”

About ten minutes later, the Salvage Association surveyor came into the wheelhouse, his pleasant, lived-in face serious.

“The owners have agreed to offer you a joint Lloyds Form which both of you sign,” he said. “They want you both connected now and an attempt to be made at this high tide. You will have to be quick. This is a container ship and time is money, hence the haste. The bottom is mud, as your sketch indicates, Captain Rogers, so we don’t think the hull will be damaged.”

“What do you think, Tom?” asked Captain Rogers.

“Agree,” Tom answered instantly, surprised he had been asked.

“I will have to ask my owners,” said Frank.

Tom was disappointed in his friend’s answer and said quickly, “Frank, agree and we make the re-floating attempt now. Half a Lloyds Form is better than no Lloyds Form.”

“Cosel Salvage agree,” said the Salvage Master, and produced a blank Lloyds Form which he started to fill in.

Frank took a deep breath.

“We agree,” he said, glancing at Tom as if to say, “If this goes wrong for me it’s all your fault.”

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