Beware the bright moon, p.1
Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font       Night Mode Off   Night Mode

       Beware the Bright Moon, p.1
Download  in MP3 audio

           Andrew Alix
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18
Beware the Bright Moon
BEWARE THE BRIGHT MOON

  Andrew Alix

  Edited By Loris Yvonne Alix

  Without whom this book wouldn’t exist.

  &

  Cindy Foley

  This wasn’t in the travel brochure…

  The radar screen showed Matthew that the other ship was getting close now. His initial conversation with its captain had been very discouraging.

  The captain on the other ship was also looking at his radar screen. “Ready the forward gun,” he ordered as he picked up the microphone. “Fire across her bow on my orders.”

  He keyed the mike. “This is the captain of SS Targa to the captain of the Bright Moon. You have one minute to stop all engines. Otherwise you will be fired upon.”

  Matthew picked up the hand mike and responded. “Captain. We’re survivors of the Evening Star which sank off the coast of Africa last May. All we want to do is go home.”

  The captain of the SS Targa sat back in his seat. “Twenty seconds, Captain.”

  Matthew looked at his friends. The bridge was so quiet he could almost hear himself breathe. He tried again. “Captain, we need more time. We’ve only got inexperienced civilians aboard. It’s going to take us a little time to shut down.”

  The seconds ticked. This was it, Matthew thought. They were up against an armed ship and a captain who wouldn’t hesitate to use force if he thought it was necessary.

  He looked at Ron. “They have to want the ship intact. I can’t believe they would shoot at us.”

  Then the gun roared, and the shock of the shell reverberated throughout the Bright Moon as pieces of the bow flew into the air.

  Ron yelled. “There’s your answer! They’re trying to sink us!”

  Matthew screamed into the mouthpiece. “Hold your fire! We have women on this ship!”

  On the other ship, the captain was also screaming. “I said across her bow! If we lose that ship, I will personally shoot that gunner!” He fought down his anger, and said in a calmer tone, “Perhaps it will scare them into submission.”

  He was wrong. The second shot boomed across the bow of the Bright Moon. Matthew took a deep breath as anger surged through his body. “Hard to port! Flank speed.”

  CHAPTER 1

  APRIL 1ST – 2 DAYS BEFORE

  Rose concentrated on the document in front of her, glancing occasionally at the man who sat in front of her desk staring at the pictures on the wall. He sat ramrod straight in the chair, yet she sensed his fidgeting. That alone would have made her feel sorry for anyone who entered this office –anyone but this man.

  A buzzer sounded. “Send him in, Rose.”

  “Yes, sir.” She looked at the man, who spared her the effort of speaking by standing up and walking to the door to the inner office. He stood in front of it for the briefest instant, while he took a deep breath, and opened it.

  As he entered and shut the door behind him, a steely voice spoke from within. “Please sit down, Mr. Johnson.”

  A trace of a smile appeared on Rose’s lips as she resumed her attention to her work.

  Randolph Johnson walked to the chair in front of the desk and sat down. He clutched his briefcase, and strived while he studied the mahogany desk in front of him.

  In and Out-boxes, each as elegant the desk, adorned the corner. Documents had been placed meticulously in each respective box, leaving only one document on the desk. Other than the paper and the In-Out boxes, the surface of the desk was bare, giving the impression that the desk was more massive than it was. Johnson was certain that if he measured it, he would find the paper perfectly centered in front of the man and aligned with the edge of the desk.

  The chair on which Randall sat creaked at his every move. It showed his nervousness, and he was unwilling to give the man the satisfaction of seeing it, so he struggled to keep still by holding his attention on the desk..

  The man leaned forward and stared at him. Then he leaned back in his chair and looked out the office window. Unlike Johnson’s chair, not a sound emanated from his. The man cleared his throat, ending the silence.

  At the sound, Johnson looked at him and clutched his briefcase a little harder. His chair creaked again, and the man gave a slight smile.

  The man looked expectant at Johnson. “Is the ship ready?”

  “No.” The man intensified his stare and Johnson assured him. “It’ll be ready.”

  “What about your crew?”

  “We don’t have one yet. But the ship isn’t scheduled to leave until May 17, a month and a half from now. We have plenty of time.”

  The man turned his chair toward Johnson. “What about the rest of the schedule?”

  “As I said; the ship will leave her mooring in the Potomac River on May 17 at eighteen hundred. The Seaview will leave port at Norfolk, Virginia, about an hour later. The Maryland is scheduled to leave Newport, Rhode Island, at midnight. They will all rendezvous off the Florida coast at midnight May 22, as planned.” Johnson paused. “What about the crew for the Maryland?”

  “That part is taken care of. Just make sure you take care of your part.”

  “We’ll make it.” The man looked doubtful. “We’ll make it,” Johnson insisted.

  “We’d better. There are already too many witnesses.”

  “No one suspects a thing.” Johnson’s attempt at a confident smile failed.

  “If you bungle this…” The man’s voice was sinister, and Johnson’s smile disappeared. The man waved his hand in dismissal and turned in his chair to face the window. Johnson stood up to go.

  Frank Wadding threw the newspaper on the sofa when Johnson entered the lobby. They walked out together.

  “What did the old man say?” Wadding asked as they walked down the steps toward the limo.

  Johnson gave him a sidelong glance. “The Old Man,” he emphasized, “is afraid that we aren’t going to make the dates.”

  “What did you tell him?”

  “I told him everything was going according to plan.”

  “What are you going to tell him when he finds out that everything isn’t going according to plan?”

  “He’s not going to find out because we’re going to make it.”

  Wadding shrugged. “It’s your life.” He opened the door to the limo. Johnson got in, and Wadding walked around to the driver’s side. “Found a crew?” He pulled out into the traffic.

  Johnson sighed. “Not yet. It’s not easy to find someone that can handle a ship without asking questions.”

  “Look, we need four men. Just take them from the people that are working on the ship. They already know what’s on her.”

  “True, but they don’t know what we’re doing with it. And you know how I hate witnesses.”

  “Then we’ll just have to take care of that, won’t we?” Wadding looked straight at Johnson’s reflection in the rear view mirror.

  Johnson looked back at him. “Right.”

  APRIL 3RD –DAY 1

  Ron Jefferson looked like he was about to run away as he and Doris boarded the Evening Star. Then he saw Matthew Carlsen, and it was too late.

  Matthew smiled and strode up to him. “How’re you doing, Ron?” He extended his hand and looked at Ron’s wife. “Good to see you, Doris.” Doris nodded and smiled.

  Ron took his hand. “Same here, Matthew.” He took a deep breath and looked around the ship, still clutching Matthew’s hand.

  “Relax, Ron. It’s gonna be fine.”

  Ron let go, smiled wanly, and looked at Doris. “That’s what my wife told me. So did my dentist, and you know how I feel about that.”

  Matthew laughed. “I get it. –You can do this, Ron.”

  Ron nodded. “Right. I guess I had to do it sometime. Now is as good as any.” He took a deep b
reath and turned to Doris. “We should find our room.” He walked away.

  Doris looked helplessly at Matthew. “He doesn’t want to be on deck when the ship leaves port.”

  “That’s OK. I get it. See you later.” Matthew watched her hurry after Ron as his sister Marie and her husband joined him.

  “You’re supposed to have a good time, you know.” Marie took his arm.

  “I know, Sis. I plan on it.”

  “Good. You can start by taking off the ring. It’s time.”

  Matthew rolled his eyes. “What? You too?”

  “What do you mean, me too? Is someone else giving you good advice?”

  “Mr. Tong called before I left. He said the same thing, and then he invited me to visit after the cruise.”

  “Really? Are you gonna go?

  “I’m thinking about it –probably.”

  “You should. We’re gonna find our room. Meet you on deck before the ship leaves.”

  “I’ll be here.”

  Matthew stood at the rail as the Evening Star set sail. He waved to his sister’s and brother-in-law’s children, who had come to see them off. He felt a movement and moved aside for the woman. There was a fleeting contact between them and for a moment he was lost in her eyes.

  A voice in his head said. Take off the ring, Matthew.

  His sister interrupted the thought. “Isn’t this fantastic, Matthew?”

  He smiled. “Yeah, Marie. It’s great.” He stole another glance at the woman and heard the voice again. Take off the ring, Matthew.

  Once they were underway, the woman left the railing. Matthew suppressed the urge to leave as well. He remained with Marie and Jeff until the ship passed the Statue of Liberty.

  “We’re going back to our cabin and unpack,” said Marie. “How ‘bout meeting us at the buffet restaurant around five.”

  “Sounds good,” agreed Matthew. As he walked toward his cabin, the image of the woman remained with him.

  Doris and Ron stayed in their cabin when the ship got underway. At the first sign of movement, Ron panicked. “I gotta get out of here.” He bolted for the door. Doris jumped up and followed him out of the cabin.

  “You okay, Honey?” She said to his back.

  Ron halted, closed his eyes and inhaled deeply. He heard screaming in his head and felt searing heat in his face.

  “I’ll survive.” He was angry with her and with himself because of it. “I’m sorry. It’s not your fault.” He choked as his eyes filled with tears.

  Matthew unpacked and lounged in his cabin until five o’clock, the time he was supposed to meet Marie and Jeff. They were waiting for him.

  That was a switch. Most of the time, he was the one who was early, the one who had to wait.

  Marie greeted him with a mischievous smile as he slid into his seat. “Hello, Matthew. What kept you?”

  Uh, oh. Marie was in one of those moods again. He never came out on top in an exchange with her.

  “I just had to take care of a couple of things.”

  “Oh? Was that Oriental lady one of them?”

  “If you’re going to be politically correct, it’s Asian, not Oriental.”

  “Yeah, yeah. Was that Asian lady one of them?”

  “No, she wasn’t.”

  “She was very pretty.”

  He lied. “I didn’t notice.”

  “Uh, huh.” Marie smirked.

  He reddened and tried to change the subject. “Are you finished unpacking?”

  “Not yet. We have a little to do yet. You?”

  “Yeah, I didn’t bring much.”

  “Then you have some free time to check out that lady.” Matthew laughed. “Ah –Matthew.” Marie’s eyes were twinkling.

  “What?” He feigned annoyance. He’d never admit it, but he enjoyed the bantering with Marie.She got him to relax, something he hadn’t been able to do since…

  “You really should take off the ring.”

  “Come on, Marie. Give it a rest.”

  “Well, Mr. Tong told you the same thing, and he’s right. It is time. Listen to him. He’s known you for a long time. You told me he invited you for a visit after the cruise. Are you going?”

  “I think so. He and Mrs. Tong have always given me special treatment. It will be nice to see them again.”

  “I’ll bet they have some nice Chinese lady lined up for you. –Very honorable woman.”

  “You might be right.” Matthew laughed. “He said his daughter will be visiting and that we have a lot in common.”

  “Really? You never told me Tong had a daughter.

  “That’s because I never met her. They’ve never talked about her, but I got the distinct impression that she isn’t married.”

  “And you still accepted? Well, I declare! Brother Matthew is coming to life! Thank you, Mr. Tong!”

  Again, Matthew reddened in embarrassment. To his relief, Marie changed the subject, and they talked about their plans for the trip for the rest of the meal.

  “Don’t forget that lady, Matthew,” she reminded him when they left.

  He laughed, unable to think of a comeback.

  Later that evening, Matthew left his cabin for a walk on deck. He checked his watch, took a deep breath, and reveled in the scent of the salt air as he strolled toward the bow. The thought of being on a ship again, even as a civilian, surprised and excited him.

  The Evening Star wasn’t the largest cruise ship he’d been on. She was six hundred feet long; more than a tenth of a mile, and eighty feet wide. The ship carried about five hundred passengers and three hundred crewmembers. Although she was an older ship, she had been rebuilt with many enhancements including total computer control.

  Ron and Doris walked toward him. Ron looked a little peaked, but he managed a smile.

  “Hey, Matthew. As you can see, I’m surviving.”

  Matthew looked at Doris. She nodded slightly in confirmation. He wasn’t sure it had been wise to talk Ron into this trip. It had been Doris’ idea and she had enlisted Matthew’s help.

  “I can see that. You’ve come a long way.”

  “Yeah.” Ron looked out over the ocean. “About a hundred and fifty miles. Only ten thousand to go.”

  Matthew laughed. “A joke. You must be doing well.”

  “Gallows humor.” Ron grinned.

  “Do you want me to walk with you?”

  “No. We’re just getting some air. You go ahead.”

  “Okay, I’ll see you later.”

  A full moon lit the ship almost as bright as daylight. Matthew leaned against the rail and gazed at the reflection of the moonlight as it shimmered in the gentle undulations of the waves. Déjà vu. He thought about the old days in the Navy and continued his walk.

  On his way toward the stern, the Asian woman appeared, walking in the opposite direction. The moon illuminated her face. It was difficult to tell her age; she was somewhere between 35 and 55; with the beauty of Nancy Kwan; about five or six inches shorter than his five-eight frame. Her shoulder length hair was so dark that it appeared to have a bluish tint. Their eyes met as they passed under a bright light.

  He felt a strong urge to talk to her but couldn’t think of anything to say. He gave an almost imperceptible nod as they passed. Once more he heard the voice. Take off the ring, Matthew. He hid his left hand in his pocket.

  The fleeting contact left Su Li with mixed feelings as she continued her walk toward the bow. Did he nod as he passed her?

  She thought about her ex-husband for the first time in a long while. Even now, it dismayed her to have married such an insensitive person. She’d ignored all the signs and plunged blindly into a marriage that had come close to destroying her. It had wrought severe damage to her relationship with her family. If only it had been youthful innocence, but she had been almost thirty years old.

  Her had tried to warn her. “He is a treasure hunter. I will not accept such a man in our family.”

  “Father! It is not like you to judge someone so harshly.


  “Su Li, if you marry that man, you will do so without my blessing.”

  She had gone against his wishes. The resulting painful years had taught her fear and caution, and she had no desire to go through that again. She remembered the glint of the sunlight off the man’s wedding ring and grimaced. He is married. Yet she couldn’t shake the feeling that their destiny was intertwined somehow. She forced her thoughts away from him and fled to the refuge of her cabin.

  Doris studied Ron as they strolled along the deck. He was quiet tonight. Normally an attentive husband, he occasionally suffered from anxiety attacks. Over the years, she had learned to deal with his erratic behavior. He’d never been violent, but it was sometimes difficult to reason with him. At the moment, she sensed that he was all right. Maybe he was beginning to get a grip on things.

  Ron gave her a smile. “I might actually survive this.”

  “You will, Baby.”

  “I’m glad Matthew came with us. If it wasn’t for you two, I don’t know what I’d have done.” He slipped his arm around her shoulder. She’d stuck with him all these years and received nothing in return. They stopped at the rail to admire the moonlight. He kissed her. “I love you.” Doris smiled.

  They returned to the cabin and went to bed.

  A thick, gray substance obscured the ground and made it difficult to walk. Ron had been here before, many times. He even knew he was dreaming. His heart pounded. Please wake up before the thing comes. Too late. He sensed it. The gray thickened around his legs.

  “Get away! Get away from me.”

  The gray substance dissolved into a large flat surface, which stretched as far as he could see. Something brushed his face, but he didn’t see anything, he didn’t hear anything, not a sound, other than the throbbing of his heart.

  The thing was here. He wouldn’t look this time. But he had to. He had to see it, the thing that had been chasing him for so long. He turned in slow motion.

  The large flat surface became the deck of a ship. The thing was stalking him, dragging something, something that rattled on the steel deck. He stared, fascinated, and recognized what it was. The thing smiled showing a maw of razor sharp teeth.

  “Please,” Ron whispered. “Don’t.” The explosion threw him into the air. He floated like a leaf. Then the deck rushed up at him, and he hit it hard. He got up and slogged through the gray, which had somehow returned. Wild with fear, he looked back toward the raging ball of fire rushing at him. The thing hurtled out of the flames straight at him. He instinctively raised his arm in defense, but the thing grabbed at his throat.

  “Aargh!”

  Doris shook him out of his dream. “Ron! Wake up!”

  He awoke, dripping with sweat. Doris rocked him, crooning softly. He buried his face in her bosom to hide from the horror that still haunted him after so many years. Finally, he slept.

  APRIL 4TH –DAY 2

  Su Li read the file. Wu Ching, the new employee, was from Hong Kong. His immediate supervisor Helen Wilde should have been here to greet him. As usual, she was late. Su Li sighed. At least she would have an opportunity to talk to someone in her native tongue.

  She heard a knock. “Come in.”

  Wu Ching entered. The second he looked at her, his face turned to granite and there was a flash of hatred in his eyes. The instantaneous revulsion Su Li felt toward him surprised her. A voice warned. This man was dangerous.

  Her thoughts flashed back to a time when she had been a teacher during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. She’d had to hide from men like the one who stood in front of her.

  But that was twenty-five years ago. This man couldn’t be more than thirty-five. Besides, he was an employee of the World Travel Bureau, and she had to work with him. She pulled herself together and spoke to him in Chinese.

  “Welcome to the Evening Star. I understand you are replacing your brother, Wu Lee.”

  Wu Ching answered in accented English laced with contempt. “I have no brother. He is dead.”

  Su Li understood the implications of the statement. His brother had probably shamed his family. Again, the voice warned. This man would hurt her if he had a chance.

  She switched to English. “You would normally talk to Captain Klein, but he is busy.” She introduced the young man who was standing by the desk. “This is John Slater. He will take you on a tour of the ship and introduce you to your immediate supervisor, Helen Wilder. She will explain your responsibilities.”

  “Hi, glad to meet you.” John stuck out his hand.

  Wu Ching acknowledged him with a curt nod, but didn’t take his hand.

  John’s hand dropped to his side. “Come with me and I’ll show you around?”

  Visibly shaken, Su Li took a minute to compose herself before going out to the reception desk.

  Helen finally appeared at 10:15 AM. “Good morning, Su Li,” she said with a bright smile.

  “Good morning.” Su Li hid her annoyance by returning the smile. “The new employee has reported. He is with John.”

  “I know; I met him. Whew! What a cold fish.” Su Li nodded in agreement.

  Helen took a bite of a doughnut and set her coffee cup on the desk. Her job required that she staff the reception desk when things were busy, but she didn’t offer to take Su Li’s place. “Thanks for covering for me. I’ll return the favor.”

  Su Li nodded. Helen would never cover for her, and Su Li would never ask. Another passenger stepped up to the desk. Helen sipped her coffee.

  Su Li’s lips tightened for a second. Then, she smiled at the passenger and stood up.

  “Good morning.”

  “Good morning,” the woman responded. Su Li gestured toward Helen who was taking another bite of her doughnut.

  “This is Helen Wilde. She will take care of you.”

  Helen tried frantically to swallow.

  “Thank you,” said the woman.

  During a lull in the steady stream of passengers, Su Li daydreamed about the man at the rail. Why? The ring was a clear indication he was married. She reprimanded herself, and forced him from her mind, but his image mocked her, and refused to leave. A voice shook her out of her reverie.

  “Excuse me.” Marie and her husband stepped up to the desk. Su Li looked around. Helen had disappeared.

  “Uh, yes.” Su Li blushed, betrayed by her thoughts. She barely heard as Marie continued.

  “We would like to put some valuables in the ship’s safe.”

  Su Li glanced at Jeff in confusion. “Uh… I thought the other gentleman was your husband.” Instantly embarrassed, she lowered her eyes.

  “That was Matthew, my brother.” Marie’s eyes twinkled. The contact between Su Li and Matthew hadn’t been one sided. “This is my husband, Jeff Albertson, and I’m Marie.”

  “I –I’m sorry. I saw him standing beside you when the ship left the harbor. When you talked to him, I just thought–” She was acting like a fifteen-year-old. She wanted to crawl under the desk.

  “I understand.” Marie said. “Matthew’s wife died a few years ago.”

  Su Li swallowed her embarrassment. “Uh, you wanted to put something in the ship’s safe?”

  “Yes, please.”

  Matthew and James Klein had served together on the USS Columbus in the Mediterranean and again on the USS Forrestal. As far as Matthew knew, Klein was still in the Navy, so he couldn’t believe it when he saw him. He was captain of the Evening Star?

  “Jimmy Durante!” he shouted.

  “Hey! Matthew Carlsen!” Captain James Klein did look like Jimmy Durante, had the same New York dialect and proudly sported the bulbous nose. They hugged, but Klein pushed him away.

  “Hey, Matt. I’m the captain; I can’t be seen fraternizing with common people.”

  “Common people. You probably knocked off the real captain and took his place,” Matthew said in a warm tone. “It’s good to see you, Jimmy. I didn’t know you were the captain. You look great. Captain! I can’t believe it. Sea life agrees with you.
Klein was far from fat, but he had a little paunch, and Matthew couldn’t resist pointing a finger at it.

  “Yeah, yeah. The food is good on this ship. In six weeks you’re gonna look like this. How long has it been? Twenty years? Last time I saw you, we were on the Forrestal.”

  “Yeah, it’s been a long time.” Matt nodded. “I thought you were still in the Navy.”

  “Look Matt, I can’t talk right now. Meet me on the bridge at three o’clock. I’ll give you the grand tour, and then we’ll eat.”

  “Sounds great. See you then.”

  Matthew sat back, patted his stomach, and sighed. “Lobster and fillet mignon. If you eat like this every night, I’m surprised you don’t weigh more.”

  “I did. I had to go on a diet. The food’s a lot better than what we got in the Navy.”

  “Oh, the food wasn’t that bad. But I sure got sick of roast beef.”

  “Me too. I didn’t eat roast beef for two years after I got out.” They laughed.

  “When did you get out?” Matthew asked. “Last time I heard, you were captain of a frigate.”

  “I was, but I got an offer from the World Travel Bureau three years ago that was too good to pass up.”

  “Had enough action, huh?”

  “You could say that. A couple times, I thought we were never gonna make it home to Mama.”

  “Yeah. Got that right.”

  Klein changed the subject. “You remember Sears & Roebuck?”

  “Oh God. Who could forget Lieutenant Sears & Roebuck? What was his real name?”

  “Jacob Roebuck.” Klein remembered everybody’s name. “He’s an admiral now.”

  “You’re kidding! Roebuck? An admiral?”

  “He’s been one for about six years –two stars.”

  “I don’t believe it; he was lucky to make lieutenant commander. I was surprised he even got through the Academy.”

  “Don’t sell him short, Matt. Roebuck’s a smart man.” Matthew’s eyebrows rose questioningly.

  “No; really,” Klein said. “Don’t let your personal feelings fool you. He’s gung ho, just the kind of material the Navy wants, and he’s intelligent.”

  “Well–”

  “Hey, he also has integrity. That’s more than I can say for a lot of the others.” Matthew looked at him with doubtful expression. “Trust d’ nose, Matt. D’ nose knows.”

  “You’re right. Matthew laughed. “No one gets past D’ nose. But, I always wondered what Roebuck had against me. I never did anything to him.”

  “It was just a personality conflict, Matt. You were too relaxed with the enlisted men. It went against everything he believed. You know how the Navy is when it comes to mixing with enlisted men. Anyway, enough about Roebuck. Let’s talk about you. You still do side jobs for the Navy?”

  “Not for a couple of years. My wife died about three years ago, and I just don’t have the drive.”

  “Sorry.” Klein paused respectfully. “How ‘bout that Chinese fellow? Tong? You used to work for him, didn’t you?”

  “Yeah, but he hasn’t asked in a while. I guess he’s waiting until I’m ready.”

  “Are you?”

  “Up to now, I would’ve said no,” Matthew said.

  “But now you’re looking for something?” Klein’s intuition had always served him well. That was one thing that made him a good captain.

  “Yeah, I guess I am.”

  “Well, maybe I can help. You still like exciting material? You know; technical manuals and stuff like that?”

  “Of course,” Matthew said with enthusiasm.

  “Good! I’ll tell the chief engineer. He can provide you with all the literature about the ship, including technical manuals on anything you’re interested in.”

  Su Li was troubled about the meeting with Wu Ching that morning. Wu was his surname. The Chinese put the family name first. Su Li had adopted the Western custom to avoid confusion when she moved to the United States.

  The Wu family name was common in China, so she hadn’t thought much of it when she read his file, but her father’s worst enemy was from the Wu family. Was Wu Ching part of that family? Why else would he seem so antagonistic?

  Engrossed in her thoughts, she climbed the stairs to the deck. She didn’t see the man until she almost bumped into him. He stopped abruptly to avoid bumping into her. “Whoops. Excuse me; I didn’t see you.”

  “I’m sorry. I was not paying attention.”

  “That’s all right; neither was I.” He stepped back and gestured graciously. “You first.”

  She returned his smile as she walked passed him.

  Matthew watched her walk toward the stern of the ship, and then continued his stroll. Take off the ring, Matthew. The voice again. He couldn’t get the woman off his mind. Take off the ring, Matthew. He leaned against the rail.

  His fingers twisted his wedding ring around his finger. He took it off. His heart wrenched as he looked at its warm golden sheen. He’d worn it for almost thirty years. It glittered in the moonlight. It seemed disloyal to take it off, especially considering the way Kathy had died.

  “Good bye, Kathy,” he whispered. His vision blurred momentarily, and his wife’s face smiled at him.

  He let go. The ring seemed to float, weightless, through the air before it fell into the ocean. He stared at the spot where it hit the water, After several somber minutes, he walked slowly back to his cabin.

  The telephone was ringing when he walked in. It was Marie “Hi, Matthew, how about a nightcap? We’ll meet you at the club.”

  “Sounds like a plan. Be right there.” As he hung up, he almost regretted dropping the ring over the side. Marie had been hounding him to take it off for a long time, and he wasn’t in the mood for her badgering tonight.

  They were waiting for him outside. Marie cocked her head, and looked for the ring. Her intense look and smile confirmed that she noticed it was gone. She kissed him on the cheek. “Love ya, Matthew,” she said softly, and took his arm and walked with him to the bar.

  APRIL 5TH –DAY 3

  This morning Helen was early. She was responsible for assigning Wu Ching his tasks.

  She hated the reception desk and tried to avoid it when she could. Some were good at it. Helen was not; but she was a good supervisor and wasn’t about to give that job to anyone else, in particular Su Li. Especially after the confrontation she and Captain Klein had witnessed between Su Li and Wu Ching last night. It was obvious that Wu Ching had said something insulting.

  Wu Ching arrived. “Good morning.” His nod was barely perceptible.

  “Come with me please.” Helen took him around the ship and explained his tasks in each area. Her normal conversational manner became a lecture, since he barely said a word.

  She introduced him to the chief engineer. “This is Chief Engineer Leary. If you need anything and can’t find me, ask him.”

  The chief engineer smiled and stuck his hand out. Wu Ching hesitated a moment, then shook it. “Glad to meet you, son,” said Leary. Wu Ching nodded but remained silent. The chief engineer looked over his glasses at Helen.

  “Do you have any questions?” Helen asked.

  “None.”

  “Do you understand what is required?”

  “Yes.”

  Helen didn’t know what else to say. “You’re dismissed,” she said finally.

  “If that man ever smiles, his face is gonna crack,” Leary said after Wu Ching left.

  “You’re probably right. He’s definitely not on my eligible bachelor’s list.”

  “You don’t have an eligible bachelor list.”

  Helen laughed. “You’re right, Walter. The only man I was ever interested in already had a woman.”

  “I know.” Walter and his wife had met Helen when she started working on the Evening Star seven years ago. The new employee was a young woman who had seemed like she needed someone to care for her. Since the children they had wanted never came their way, Helen became the object of their parental a
ffections. When James Klein had taken over as captain, Helen had become seriously interested in him. Klein hadn’t returned the interest. His love was the Evening Star.

  “I was talking about you,” she said coyly.

  “Oh! Well! We’d better not tell Alice. You know her; she’ll think I’m too young for you.”

  “Okay; mum’s the word.”

  He smiled and took her by the arm. “I have something to tell you. I’ve already told the captain, but I wanted you to be one of the first to know. Alice and I are retiring after this cruise.”

  “Good for you, Walter.” Helen hugged him. “What are you going to do?”

  “We’re going home to the San Bernardino Mountains and just take it easy for a while. After that, we might even take a cruise and let others wait on us for a change.”

  “Wouldn’t that be great? I’m gonna miss you two.”

  “You can visit, you know.”

  “I will, and I’ll let you know in advance; so you and Alice can round up all the eligible men.” She smiled at their private joke. “Captain Klein’s going to have a tough time finding a replacement.”

  “I think he’s already got someone in mind, somebody he served with in the Navy. The guy was a hero on some ship in Vietnam, saved the ship from blowing up and sinking. He got a medal for it. Captain Klein told me himself.”

  “Did he now?” This should be good. Walter loved to tell a good story. The only trouble was, by the time he got finished with the embellishments, Helen never knew what to believe.

  “Yep, he knows a lot of people in Washington. The captain said he was some kind of spy.”

  “Right! And he wants a real important job like chief engineer on a cruise ship.”

  “I heard his wife died a few years ago and he doesn’t know what to do with himself.”

  Helen cocked her head. “Okay, Walter, out with it.”

  Walter smiled like a child with a secret. “Look, Helen, he’s a widower and he needs a wife. And you need a husband.”

  “Uh huh.”

  “He’s already on the ship. He eats at the captain’s table every night.”

  Helen met John in the hallway. “Hi, John. What’re you doing?” They went up the stairs together.

  “I’m taking the inventory list you gave me to the captain. Then I’m done for the day.”

  “I can give them to him. I have to talk to him anyway.”

  “Thanks, Helen. I appreciate it.”

  “No problem. You can do me a favor sometime.” John looked like he would do her a favor anytime. He had a crush on her. Helen pretended not to notice.

  “Have a nice evening.” John watched her as she left.

  “You didn’t have to rush this, Miss Wilde,” Klein said. “It could have waited until after dinner.”

  “I know, Captain. I just wanted to get my work done early.”

  Klein took the papers and signed them.

  Helen turned to Matthew. “Good evening. Have you been to Europe before, Mr. –?”

  “Carlsen. Several years ago. Captain Klein and I served together in the Navy.”

  “Oh. Then you’ve known one another for a long time?”

  “Do you need anything else, Miss Wilde?” Klein interrupted.

  “No, sir. Thank you.” Helen took the papers and smiled at Matthew. “I hope you enjoy your cruise, Mr. Carlsen.”

  “Thank you.”

  “Helen Wilde is one of our pursers. She works in accounting and ticketing,” Klein told Matthew after she had gone.

  “Oh?”

  “Actually, I think she’s checking you out.”

  “I thought so.”

  “Helen’s okay.”

  Matthew pursed his lips and thought for a moment. “Right.”

  Klein smiled. “She’s not your type though.”

  Who is? Matthew wondered.

  APRIL 7TH –DAY 5

  Matthew and Klein were on the way to the bridge when Wu Ching appeared. “You must sign these, sir,” He handed some papers to Klein.

  Klein glanced over them. “Did you receive these from Miss Wilde?”

  “No, sir. They are from the Assistant Cruise Director.”

  “You mean, Miss Chiang?” Klein eyed Wu Ching.

  “Yes, sir,” said Wu Ching after a pause. Klein signed the papers and handed them back. Wu Ching nodded and left.

  “He didn’t seem to like you,” Klein said after Wu Ching had left.

  “Huh? Why do you say that?”

  “He gave me the papers, waited while I signed them, and didn’t look at you once. In fact, he deliberately avoided looking at you.”

  “I don’t know why. I’ve never even seen him before.”

  “Well, he’s not a very friendly guy. I’m not going to recommend renewing his contract. We don’t need people like him.”

  Matthew was surprised. He couldn’t recall Klein ever saying anything bad about anyone. “What’s the problem?”

  “He’s got an attitude. I’ve seen it a few times; with you just now; a few days ago with our Assistant Cruise Director. He said something to her in Chinese that really upset her. I don’t speak a word of Chinese, but I could tell by her reaction it was nasty. I don’t normally interfere in my people’s affairs, but I felt I should step in. She laid into him before I got the chance.”

  Klein continued, “I don’t know what she said, but it was clear that she let him know she was the boss. He didn’t say anything, but if looks could kill… When he walked away, she never took her eyes off him until he went around the corner. I tell ya Matt; her face was like stone. I’ve never seen her get worked up over anything, but she sure read him his rights.”

  “Chinese you said?”

  Klein studied Matthew. “Yeah.”

  “I’ve seen an Asian woman on deck every night when I take my walk.”

  “That’s her. Takes a walk every night; like clockwork.” Klein smiled slyly. “Like someone else I know. You interested?”

  Matthew’s face flushed. “We seem to pass at about the same spot every night.”

  “Have you talked with her?”

  “Just a little. We’re always going in the opposite direction.”

  “She’s had a tough life, Matt. Her first husband was killed during the Cultural Revolution, and her second husband was a jerk.” Klein grinned. “Why don’t you think about switching direction?”

  Klein examined the list Helen gave him. “You’re sure these supplies will be waiting for us when we get to Nice?”

  “Yes, sir,” Helen confirmed.

  “How’s it going with Wu Ching?”

  “He does his job.”

  “What do you think about him?” Klein signed the list.

  “He’s not very likeable, Captain.”

  Klein looked up from the papers. It was unusual for Helen to speak ill of a crewmember. “No, he doesn’t seem to be.”

  It was Helen’s turn to be surprised.

  “Did you find out what that fracas between him and Su Li was about?”

  “No. Su Li won’t discuss it. I don’t know what his problem is, but he avoids her. He even gets John to talk to her so he doesn’t have to.” Helen paused. “You saw how she reacted. He makes her nervous.”

  “I know. I’ve never seen her like that before.”

  “Me neither. I have to admit, Captain; even I don’t like talking to him. He’s not the easiest guy to warm up to.”

  Klein returned the papers. “I’m not going to recommend renewing his contract. Since you’re his immediate supervisor, it’s your job to inform him.” He saw the expression on her face. “But I’ll do it if you wish.”

  She looked relieved. “I’d appreciate that.”

  “Captain,” she said as he turned to go.

  “Yes?”

  “Walter told me about Mr. Carlsen. Is it true he won a medal?”

  “Yes.”

  “Were you there?”

  “No. I was on the ship after she was rebuilt. Matthew doesn’
t talk about it.”

  APRIL 9TH –DAY 7

  Matthew was among the first off the Evening Star when it made its first stop in Nice, on the French Riviera. A group of passengers chattered in front of him as they walked toward the gangway.

  “Have a nice day,” Su Li said as Matthew left the ship. “We leave port at seven PM.”

  He took the pamphlet she handed him. “Thank you.” He checked her nametag: “Su Li Chiang.”

  It took about twenty minutes to reach Cannes by bus. He got off at La Promenade de la Croisette, a street sprinkled with hotels and small shops; cheap prices; delicious French bread; things he remembered when he’d been here twenty-five years ago.

  With the exception of the bread, which was still delicious, everything else had changed, probably due to the annual film festival with its influx of people and famous stars. The prices were atrocious; everything had gone commercial. The town had lost the peaceful innocence he remembered. It was disappointing.

  Just ahead of him, Su Li got off a bus. She glanced his way. He almost waved to her. Then, she turned away and disappeared into the crowd. During the ride back to Nice, his thoughts were absorbed with her jet-black hair, her sylphlike carriage, her dark, compelling eyes.

  “What are you doing here?” asked the officer.

  “I am looking for Miss Wilde,” answered Wu Ching stiffly. “I was told she was in the control room.”

  “The control room is one deck up,” said the officer pointedly.

  “Thank you, sir.” The officer turned away from Wu Ching and approached a panel. He wrote something on a chart. Wu Ching’s eyes roamed the engine room as he headed for the stairway to the control room.

  APRIL 11TH –DAY 9

  “Well? What do you think of my ship?” Klein asked Matthew at dinner.

  “I’m impressed.”

  “Are you impressed enough to work on her?”

  “Huh?”

  “As chief engineer. Walter Leary is retiring after this cruise. I’d like you to take his place.”

  “I don’t know anything about this ship,” Matthew stated.

  “Come on, Matt. You already know this ship better than most of my crew. And you’re one of the best officers I’ve ever known. A year or so as chief engineer on this ship, and you could get a ship of your own. The World Travel Bureau is building several new ships, and they’re looking for good captains. You’d have no problem.”

  “Wow. I haven’t even considered something like this.”

  “Well, consider it. All I have to do is sponsor you.”

  Matthew leaned back in his chair for a moment. Then he checked his watch.

  Klein grinned. “I know. Miss Chiang will be on deck pretty soon.”

  “You’re as bad as my sister.”

  Klein laughed gently. “I’m teasing. But there are fringe benefits on this ship. We have quite a few married couples aboard. Think about it.”

  APRIL 14TH –DAY 12

  “It is good to see you, my father,” said Wu Ching.

  “It is good to see you, my son. Was it difficult to get off the ship?”

  “No, my father. My roommate agreed to cover for me.”

  “He is not suspicious?”

  “He is a stupid child.”

  Wu Tai nodded. “Good. Is the woman on the ship?”

  “Yes, my father. And so is another you have talked of many times; Matthew Carlsen.”

  “Really!” Wu Tai was pleased at this turn of events. He paced back and forth. “What an excellent coincidence. Our forefathers have smiled upon us. This is good.” He stopped in front of Wu Ching. “Two for the price of one, as the Americans say.”

  Wu Ching faced him. “Is all of this necessary, my father? Is there not another way that would…?”

  “No, my son. It is unfortunate, but this is the only way, especially now with Matthew Carlsen aboard as well. There may never be another chance. You must accomplish your objective.”

  “Yes, my father.”

 
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18
Turn Navi Off
Turn Navi On
Scroll Up
Scroll

Other author's books:


Add comment

Add comment