“Tell me, Captain Matravers, what were your exact words to your mate, Frank?” he asked. He was obviously serious.
“I told him half a Lloyds Form was better than no Lloyds Form,” replied Tom, surprised at the unusual intensity of the man.
“You are sure you said half?”
“Yes,” replied Tom, firmly.
“Good, I will want that in writing. We will make out an affidavit to that effect,” he said, pleased.
“What’s the problem?” asked Tom.
“I don’t want an argument with the Dutch,” replied the lawyer. He was animated now. Tom had never seen him so alive and interested, as though he was on a mission, and he noticed the fingers were still.
“Listen, Tom, the arbitrators love co-operation between salvors when they mostly spend their time fighting each other and we don’t want two sets of lawyers involved, and two sets of costs, with what is essentially a simple salvage. If I have control I can make it into a saga of the sea. Just watch, instead of nit-picking with the other salvor about which salvor did the most work, we treat it as one salvage, with one salvor, and enhance our award. I need to persuade the old man to agree a fifty-fifty split with the Dutch and I take charge of the case for both companies.”
“Fifty-fifty,” said Tom, slightly outraged. “We had the bigger tug and the salvage master and the Coselvenom, we should get the bigger slice.”
“My whole point, bloke, small mindedness. Think big, not nit-pick with the lawyers trying to score points from each other, which detracts from the overall award. I can get a bigger award, which would give more to Cosel, on a fifty-fifty split, than a smaller award and bigger slice for Cosel. Enhancing the award, that’s what matters. So the Dutch are not going to reject a fifty-fifty agreement with half a tug, which had to be cut free,” and he laughed, a full-bodied laugh, which was the first time Tom had heard one from him. “Or that is how I would present it if we were not co-operating. Instead, I will turn into an asset, highlighting the dangers and getting a bigger award. This is what I am good at doing, turning what is essentially a straight pull-off with not much danger, into a major salvage and we have eliminated the alternative assistance,” and he laughed again, his face lit up, almost a different person from the one Tom had dealt with last time he had been in Singapore.
“I see,” said Tom, thoughtfully.
“So that’s why I have got to persuade the old man to agree what on the surface is a bad agreement,” and the lawyer walked importantly out of the office. And in that mood and frame of mind, thought Tom, you could persuade him to do anything. He had been impressed with what he had seen and it emphasised why Mr R stuck with him. He was back after only twenty minutes.
“He’s agreed and will fix the Dutch, so don’t need your affidavit. It’s full speed ahead and I am in control, so I will start with you. Got your notes, log, etc? What about photos?”
“It was dark and raining,” said Tom.
“Well, get an underwater camera,” said the lawyer sharply. Tom felt remiss because, of course, the divers had one and he had not thought to use it. He made a mental note to ask them.
Tom was sitting in the office assigned to Robert in Jurong. He had not had time to write his report so he spent the rest of the day with Robert, exercising skills which made him the asset to Cosel the old man knew he was. He admired the way the lawyer put his statement together from the raw material, Tom’s notes partly illegible from the soaking when he walked out onto the bridge wing in the rain, the ship’s log and the radio log and questioning. He brushed aside Tom’s objection that the Salvage Master ordered him to make the sounding sketch, which, of course, he had not and gave the order to cut the Mississippi forerunner.
“Oh, don’t be so wet, Tom! Didn’t you listen to me about nit-picking? We have to show the Salvage Master was in charge, the best thing since sliced bread, it’s the award that matters, not your petty squabbles. I can show why speed was so necessary, not just the commercial aspect of maintaining their schedule but that the longer she stayed in the mud the more difficult it would be to re-float. Might have had to discharge containers and of course, it was the top of high water springs, the tide would not have been that high again for another two weeks. I am sure I can find an expert on mud who will write a report telling us what we want.”
Tom subsided, admonished, and watched Robert turn round the chaotic re-floating into a success, full of dangers but skilfully contained and overcome by the Salvage Master.
“It’s the award that matters, not you, bloke,” emphasised the lawyer. “You had your success with the Seahorse, the information was all there for a really good award. Additionally, we have the newspapers and TV footage. It’s making something quite mundane like this into a good award, which is the challenge.”
It had been an interesting and wearing day, not just for Tom, but also for Susan, who had to take the dictation, which could not have been easy. Tom had seen a completely different Robert Dickinson.
It was quite late and they had nearly finished when the telephone rang.
“We are busy,” Robert said quite curtly, but then he was quiet and his face changed into a smile. “Oh, it’s you, Hilda. I didn’t recognise your voice at first… No, he’s here,” and he passed over the receiver.
“Hilda here, Tom. I am resurrecting the dinner date when you stood me up. Tonight, 1930, Mandarin Grill. Mr R wants to talk to you.”
“Okay, Hilda, I will be there. Thanks,” said Tom, and put down the receiver. Poor Shelia, he thought, they were due to be having supper at the Tangle Inn with friends of Shelia who were out from England.
“Hilda, eh?” said Robert, a leer playing on his face.
“No, it’s the old man, he wants to talk to me,” said Tom, firmly. He wanted to quash any gossip Robert might spread. He knew Hilda was working with her father, learning the business, but as Frank had told him, Singapore was like a village.
He took a van back to the flat for a shower and to change into his suit. The Grill was a very smart restaurant, jacket and tie only. He received a very frosty reception from Shelia and nothing he could say would change her mind that he could have said no, so rather than have an argument, he kept quiet, but it put a damper on his mood.
Dinner was not what Tom had been expecting. It was just the three of them, in an alcove. The decor was subdued elegance and muted colours, nothing to distract from the food, wine and company; no band, no music, a thick carpet so the waiters’ movements were soundless, no loud conversation, soundless air conditioning, with the temperature just right, belying the fact Singapore was situated almost on the equator. This was a serious place for serious business. The food was very good, the wine was excellent and Tom was careful to limit his intake, especially in view of the conversation, which was something Tom could never have anticipated. He was being propositioned and his initial reluctance, almost outrage, was being turned into a dare.
“My father has been talking of selling out,” stated Hilda over the Norwegian wild smoked salmon, “and I have told him he is mad. Cosel is just starting in the big league.”
She was dressed in a smart grey business suit, which looked very good on, her thought Tom, and the pearl necklace set off her delicate skin.
“The share price of the holding company is sky high and I have received a tentative offer for my shares,” said Mr R, who was dressed in a very smart suit and blue tie, suggesting Hilda had some part in it, so very different from his normal, dowdy appearance. “I am not getting any younger.”
“I have told him I will help him, which is why I am in the Singapore office, as you know.”
“A woman in this business is a curiosity but will not be taken seriously,” said the old Man. “Believe me, I know.”
There was a silence and Tom began to wonder why he was here, what this had to do with him. The smoke salmon plates were whisked away by the silent waiters and with some ceremony the lobsters, resting under silver covers, were served, the covers lifted simultaneously. A different wine was served.
“I want you, Tom, to help me and ultimately, we will take over from him,” Hilda said, quietly and forcefully, looking him in the eye. “He will stop being what he really is, the chief executive, and be the real chairman. I can’t take over as chief executive because even if I had enough experience, I am a woman.” She paused and said, “But you can,” and she paused again, looking at her father who nodded. “On one condition, you must marry me.”
Tom was completely floored and speechless, shocked to his very core and a picture of his father, the Archdeacon, flashed across his mind, the outrage showing on his lined face. It was something so outside his whole upbringing, so outside the society in which he lived in England. This was, in effect, an offer of an arranged marriage. And what about Shelia, whom he had come to believe he loved?
They both looked at him, expecting an answer, not the rather vacant gaze as Tom withdrew into himself and his two sides debated. His adventurous side, the one that had brought him to Singapore and earlier Hong Kong, said what an opportunity this was: Singapore the Far East, expanding and growing, not stuffy, old, declining England. The other side of him opposing it as a base betrayal of everything he had been brought up to believe was good about marriage and behaviour.
“You would be selling yourself,” a voice whispered. “Rubbish! It’s the opportunity of a lifetime,” said another.
Not that he had not fancied Hilda, but he had Shelia.
“A business marriage, a marriage in the interests of business, not love,” said Tom in a shocked voice.
“Nothing new in that, especially out here and Hong Kong,” said Mr R. “You two seem to get on together.”
“This is how it would work,” said Hilda, briskly taking advantage of Tom’s silence. “You take over the Dover next week, my father has just signed the contract with the new date, and bring her out to Singapore. I will be at the takeover ceremony and our engagement will be announced then. Gives me time to organise the wedding, which will be a big Singapore affair, the ceremony in the cathedral. All good publicity for Cosel. Once we are safely married and after the honeymoon, you will be appointed chief executive.”
Tom was silent, still collecting his thoughts, his brain racing. The good food and wine seemed to enhance his thought process.
“Why do we have to be married?” he asked.
“To bind us together for life. It’s not just a business arrangement but a lifetime commitment and it will be my father’s legacy, a thriving Cosel Salvage. If my father sells, he is just another rich man and I am just another rich man’s daughter. If he is chairman, he retains his status as not just a rich man but the founder and chairman of a successful salvage company of world repute, which opens doors that otherwise would be closed to him. He is courted and wanted, a good reason to be alive and useful. For me, I am the working wife of a successful chief executive and when he goes, we will be Cosel. What more could I want?”
“Children,” Tom blurted out.
“Of course, we will be married, I am a reasonably normal woman,” said Hilda, brightly.
The conflict must still have been showing on Tom’s face.
“I dare you,” Hilda said, in a low voice, full of hidden meaning. “Yes, it’s a dare.”
Did you enjoy my story? Please let me know what you think by leaving a review! Thanks, 1singapore2Write a Review