Saturday, 25 February 2017

Connections a short story by Eddie Gubbins

They are pervasive! They are everywhere! They flash! They make money for the government! They are not fair! Nobody likes them! They are an intrusion into everybodies life! They are an echo of  Big Brother from “ Nineteen Eighty four!” They should not be allowed to get away with this!
So thought John as he changed into his black sweater and black trousers. As he pulled on his black jacket, his heart raced at the thought that he was going to stand up to this menace. By his actions this night, he and his friends would take one small step in ridding the world of these things. He did not have words to describe how he felt about their existence, creeping silently without notice along many streets on the edges of towns and cities. They must be eliminated and not allowed to proliferate like some alien species breeding their way to taking over the land.
Before leaving his house to join his friends, John crept into the bedroom where his daughter Lisa lay sleeping. He gently lifted the duvet and made sure she was comfortable. Lovingly, he looked down at at her young, innocent face framed by that shock of blonde curls. He bent down and kissed her forehead. At the door, he turned and took one last look at her face framed in the small night light she always insisted on having beside her bed. She was smiling in her sleep, looking for all the world to John like a little angel in a stain glass window.
Carol, his wife, was sitting by the fire watching the late film on television and drinking her bed time drink when he looked into the sitting room. 
She looked up, smiled. “ I will be in bed when you get back. You will be careful won’t you John?” 
John kissed her cheek and smiled in return. “ I am always careful when on a mission. See you later when I get back.”
John had to admit to himself that Carol knew what he was up to on those nights he left the house late. She never objected, never tried to stop him going out, merely told him, as she did this night, to be careful. Whenever he thought about it, John was never certain whether she approved of what he was doing or not. Deep down he understood that she let him get on with his campaign, avoiding any argument which might upset the domestic harmony and in doing so, effect Lisa. Before leaving his house, John picked up the package he had prepared earlier in the evening, checked the contents and stuffed them into his shoulder bag.
Outside the house, it was dim under the widely spaced street lights lining the road where he lived.  As he came out of his drive, the lights of a car parked further down the road from his house came on. Seeing this, John walked quickly to the car. As he approached, the car door opened and he got into the back, depositing his package onto the back seat. There were two men in the car, both like John wearing dark clothes.
“ A good night for it,” George remarked from the driving seat. “ Terry has the hoods.”
Terry grinned, his teeth white in the dim light. John took the black balaclava from Terry and placed it on the seat next to his bag. Once John was comfortable, George drove off towards the outskirts of the town. Near a cemetery and a park, George found a quiet parking spot, parked the car and sat watching the road. All was quiet. With a grin at the others, he pulled his black balaclava over his head, nodded to Terry and John and got out of the car. Terry and John followed, Terry carrying a folded light ladder, John a shoulder bag.
With George leading, they walked towards the main road, keeping close to the hedge which surrounded the cemetery. As they approached the main road, George held up his hand as a signal for Terry and John to stop. Looking up and down the road, George made certain that nothing was in sight. He shrank further into the shadows when a car came over the brow of the hill to his right and round the sharp bend in the road a hundred yards from where they stood. The car slowed quickly as it came towards the cemetery and passed the yellow box on top of a post near the edge of the road. There was no flash as the car sped away, before slowing at the traffic lights near the junction further down the road to their left.
Once all was quiet, George waved and the three men moved out of the shadows of the hedge and ran across the open space to the post. Terry assembled the ladder while George stood watch. John placed the bag on the pavement and arranged some cans and wires on the tarmac. Giving half of these to Terry, John climbed the ladder. Hurriedly, he placed the wires around the yellow box and attached the cans to the lenses and the cover for the camera film. When this was done, he reached down, took the rest of the stuff from Terry and attached this to the back of the camera. Sliding down the ladder, John lit the fuse as Terry folded the ladder away. George signalled for them to run and they quickly rushed into the shadow of the hedge by the cemetery. There was a wosh and suddenly flames engulfed the yellow box. 
At this, George turned away and hurriedly led them back to the car. As they approached the car, they peeled off their balaclavas and slowed to a walk as though they were three men returning from the pub. By the time they were back in the car, the glow had faded.
They laughed and applauded once back in the car, patting each other on the back. Still laughing, George started the car and drove back towards the main road. When they passed the camera, it was blackened and drooping and obviously not working. They could not help letting out another shout of joy.
“ One less for the money grabbing government to make money out of,” Terry giggled as they sped back to their homes. “ They should trust us motorists to drive safely without all this nineteen eighty four stuff. I know when I am driving too fast and always slow down.”
“ See you in the Royal Oak on Friday, John,” George said as John got out of the car. “ We can talk about which one will be next.”
“ See you Friday,” John replied as he shouldered his bag, waved to Terry and walked the few yards to his house.
All was quiet in the house, the windows dark. In the hall Carol had, as usual, left the light burning. John took off his coat and hung it on it’s peg in the hall before going through to the kitchen to make a cup of coffee and stow away his bag. He sat for a while thinking about their campaign and how successful they had been so far. Though they had never tested his theory, he was convinced that most people supported what he, Terry and George were doing. Sighing, he rinsed his cup, placed it upside down on the draining board and went up the stairs. 
He looked in at Lisa. She lay on her back, her eyes tight shut, her blonde curls framing her face and a beautiful smile on her lips. Crossing the floor silently, John kissed her forehead and closed the door gently as he left her bedroom. Carol was asleep, curled up under the duvet one hand under her cheek, her face looking so peaceful in the light from the landing. John took off his clothes, slid into the bed by her side and kissed her gently on the forehead.
The sun was shining on the park making the grass appear more green than normal. The flowers in the flower beds gave a flash of colour and the ducks on the pond looked up in anticipation everytime anybody walked by. 
The little girl skipped along the path, her blonde curls bouncing on her head and a smile on her face. “ Look Mummy,” she called in an excited voice. “ The ducks want some bread. Did we bring any?”
The woman walking by her side smiled and reached into her bag. “ Here.I didn’t forget. Now you be careful of the water.”
The little girl with the blonde curls and washed out jeans, trotted across the grass to the pond. The ducks, as though they had been waiting for this moment all afternoon, came squawking and pushing across the pond to where the girl was standing. With an excited giggle, the girl slowly broke the slice of bread into pieces and threw them into the water. Her squeals of laughter were almost drowned out by the squawking of the ducks as they fought over the scraps of bread.
“ Come along,” the woman said taking her daughter’s hand. “ We have to get home to cook your daddy’s dinner.”
The girl smiled her angelic smile and skipped along beside her mother. They left the park and turned onto the main road by the cemetery. Getting to a place along the road where there was a traffic island in the centre, they paused to let the girl look right and left and right again just as her mother had taught her. There was nothing in sight. The girl looked curiously at the blackened yellow box drooping on its pole like some tree which had been struck by lightening. She did not say anything to her mother. They started across the road, then there was a roar as a car came up over the brow of the hill turning sharply right passed the camera. There was a squeal of tyres, the car bucked and rocked and then a sickening bang as the car smashed into the little girl and her mother. They did not have a chance. The car was travelling too fast in the knowledge gained from the email grapevine that the camera was inoperable. After hitting the girl and her mother, the car skidded uncontrolled and smashed into a wall by the cemetery. Silence descended, broken only by the blaring sound of the car horn. People came running, cars stopped and the smashed car was soon surrounded by helpers.
John followed the policeman down the long, dimly lit, concrete corridor. Their shadows stalked along the wall at their sides like ghosts accompanying Macbeth as he went to meet the witches. Their footsteps echoed off into dark side passages. John felt numb. He had felt numb inside ever since he had been called into the human resources director’s office that afternoon. A policeman had been standing there by the desk and as gently as possible had told him what had happened. 
At the end of the corridor, the policeman pushed open a door, asking John to wait. John stood by the door hardly hearing the rumble of voices from inside the room. After a while, the door opened and the policeman waved him inside. The room they entered was white tiled with a row of what looked like over big filing cabinets to one side. In the centre were two metal tables with white cloth covered shapes laying a on top.
A man in a white boiler suit smiled faintly at John and motioned him over to one of the tables. Taking hold of the white cloth, he gently drew it back. The blonde curls were now revealed framing a bruised face. The blue eyes were closed. John nodded trying desperately not to sob out loud. The man in the white boiler suit replaced the white sheet. Walking to the other table he lifted the white cloth. Carol lay her face bruised and puffy. John nodded and turned away.
The policeman held open the door to the room and led the way back down the corridor, the footsteps once more tapping their echoes down dimly lit side passages leading to the depth of the hospital. Their shadows accompanied them like the ghosts of John’s past come to heckle him.

“ If those idiots had not damaged that speed camera, the car might have been going slower and might have been able to stop.” The words of the policeman dropped into the lengthening silence of their passage along the corridor.

If drivers obey the law they would not get fined or hurt other people.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

An extract from Tales from the Sea by Eddie Gubbins

“ The sun, low down to the east, was shining from a clear blue sky that day,” he said in a quiet voice. “ Hardly a ripple disturbed the water of the bay. To the starboard of the San Fernando, lying at anchor off the small oil terminal on the island, were the golden sands of a beach. In Britain, on a day like this, such a beach would be crowded. That morning it was almost empty. Arcing around the bay, green jungle and forest climbed steeply from the sand towards the ridge of a line of hills.”
“ Directly shoreward from the ship, a jetty pushed incongruously out of the jungle into the clear blue water, the piles holding up the decking, grey and weather beaten. Forming a tee at the end of the jetty was a berth occupied by some brightly coloured but rust streaked fishing boats and three navy patrol vessels. Hanging from a metal structure on the jetty were a couple of black rubber pipes connected to two silver pipelines marching shore wards and disappearing into the jungle. In the distance, half shrouded by trees, the tops of several silver tanks shone dully in the sunshine.”
All this I took in at a glance as I came out of the accommodation dressed in a pair of shorts and flip flops,” he went on. “ In my hand, I carried a mug of coffee. Standing by the rail, I breathed deeply of the warm, fragrant air.  The almost empty golden beach invited me to spend a lazy day lying in the sun and doing nothing. Away towards one end of the beach, a few fishermen were tending their nets by their fishing canoes.
“ This is, I thought, a perfect morning.”
“ It was early and, as I stood looking out over the bay and the island, the ship’s crew were just stirring around me. The bosun, his shorts and tee shirt emphasising his wiry frame and tanned skin, waved as he hurried by on his way to the bridge to get his daily orders from the Chief Officer. The overweight chief steward staggered, with an armful of towels and boxes of soap, towards the mid ships accommodation where I stood. He stopped to wipe his sweaty face with a large white handkerchief, before disappearing through a door. The lookout sailor remarked what a beautiful day as he walked jauntily aft from the focastle to get his breakfast. Just a normal morning with the ship at anchor waiting for the berth to clear before docking and discharging its cargo.”
“ While I slowly drank my coffee, I was gazing out to sea through the mouth of the bay watching the small waves break on the rocks near the headland. Abstrusely, I noticed two black dots approaching low over the water. Then, born on the slight breeze, I heard the faint sound of aircraft engines. Before long, it possible to make out the outlines of two single engined planes. Curiously, I watched as the planes rushed towards the bay wondering what they were looking for. As far as I knew there wasn’t any oil under the sea near this island. Therefore I reasoned, they could not be surveying the seabed. Then they banked steeply left and climbed over the jungle clad hills ahead of the ship. Very soon, they disappeared from my view.”
“ Having finished my coffee, I was just about to return to my cabin to dress properly for breakfast, when I heard the planes approaching from the landward side of the ship. Inquisitively, I strolled across the deck to the other side of the ship to take a look at what the planes were doing.”
He paused and took a long drink of his beer. “ One behind the other, the two planes were diving down the slope just above the trees and heading straight for the tanker. It was just as I had seen in a dozen war movies as the Japanese planes attacked the American fleet. I wondered idly if they were filming a scene from a movie.”
“ When it was above the beach, the lead plane levelled out and headed straight for the ship across the blue water of the bay. I watched transfixed as a black object detached itself from the underside of the plane. It fell slowly in the direction of the after deck. Suddenly I realised it was going to hit the ship. In a panic, I dived for cover behind the bulwark.”
“ There was an almighty bang and the ship shuddered as though it had run full speed into a very big wave. The stays on the mast and the wireless arial twanged. Diesel oil spattered the accommodation from the geyser which exploded from the damaged deck. Pieces of metal splashed into the sea. Over everything was the sound of hissing as steam escaped from fractured pipes. All over the tanker, alarm bells were ringing and hooters wailing.”
I noticed he was sweating profusely and his hands were shaking such that he gripped his glass tightly “ Nervously, I lifted my head above the bulwark and risked a look. I was  in time to see the first plane wheel away, rushing out to sea and climbing into the cloudless sky with its engine screaming. “
“ Turning back, I saw a black object fall from the second plane. Once more I flung myself for cover behind the oil streaked bulwark There was another ear splitting bang. The shuddering and shaking of the ship was followed by the screaming of fractured steel. The second plane headed out to sea, rushing after the first.”
 “ Except for the ringing in my ears, all sound had gone. Then there was the grating of steel plates twisting apart, steam whistling from holes in the pipes and the splash of oil landing back onto the deck. What had happened was so fantastic, it was unbelievable. A tanker innocently anchored in a sun brushed bay being bombed in broad daylight in peacetime. It could not be true but I only had to look around the deck to understood that it had taken place.”
“ Cautiously, I climbed to my feet and looked over the bulwark. Oil was bubbling out of the holes in the deck but no longer shooting skyward. At first, I thought my eyes were playing tricks for it appeared the ship was bending in the middle. Yes, I told myself on closer inspection, the aft end is higher than the centre. The funnel looked as though it was slowly falling towards the main deck such was its angle to the vertical. At the same time, the ship was settling deeper into the water.”
“ Shaking my head to clear the ringing in my ears, I did not have time to think too much about that had happened. Looking up, I spotted Captain Ruddock on the boat deck above my head staring aft at the buckled deck and the funnel bending towards him. His face was white which matched the knuckles of his hands gripping the rail so tightly I thought he was going to snap it away from its anchor points. As though he could not believe what he was seeing, his eyes were staring in horror at the after deck and his mouth was hanging open. Incongruously, I noticed white shaving foam still clinging to his chin.”
“ Spotting me on the deck below, he demanded in a hoarse voice. ‘ What happened?’”
“ ‘Two planes came over and dropped bombs on us,’ I answered bluntly still too much in shock to be diplomatic.”
“ ‘Whatever for?’ he muttered more to himself than me. ‘ Those bloody rebels, I suppose.’ ”
“ Then pulling his shoulders straight, closing his mouth and wiping the shaving foam on the towel he held in his hand, he was the Captain of the San Fernando again.”
 “ ‘ Run up to the bridge and get the Chief Officer to sound boat stations. Remind him to get the radio officer to send out an SOS. After you have done that, meet me in my cabin.’ His order was crisp and firm.”
“ Other crew members were pouring out of the accommodation both amidships and aft calling out in alarm.  They were dressed in a variety of clothing, many having that minute risen from their bunks. Alarm bells started sounding the long pulses that told the crew to assemble near the lifeboats. Looking rather confused and scared, the crew started to make their way to the boat decks.”
“ As I raced up to the bridge, Captain Ruddock was already issuing orders to organise the crew. When I arrived breathless in the wheelhouse, I found the Chief Officer and the bosun staring aft and issuing orders over the emergency phone.”
“ ‘ The Old Man orders everybody to muster by the lifeboats,’ I shouted as I rushed through the bridge to the stairs leading to the Captain’s cabin. ‘ He says to make sure that the radio officer sends out a mayday or SOS.’ ”
“ ‘ Where are you off to?’ the Chief Officer demanded harshly. ‘ I need you here with me.’ ”
“ ‘ I have to help the Captain.’ I replied.”
“ ‘ Make sure the radio officer has sent out an SOS as you pass his office,’ he shouted after me.”
“ Stopping by the radio office, the radio officer assured me that he had sent out an SOS in answer to my question.”
“ Leaving the radio officer waiting for a reply to his SOS, I raced down the stairs to the Captain’s accommodation. Loudly above the sound of the alarms and the noise of creaking metal plates, I knocked on the door of the Captain’s cabin. When bidden to enter, I found Captain Ruddock on his knees, dressed in his uniform and stuffing papers from the ship’s safe into two brief cases.”
“ ‘ Everybody is mustering and getting into the lifeboats, sir,’ I said rather breathlessly. ‘ The radio officer has sent out an SOS and is waiting to see if there are any replies before going to his boat station. He has the emergency radio ready for use in the lifeboat.’ ”
“ Captain Ruddock smiled slightly. ‘ Good work. You are to take one of these brief cases up to the bridge. I will bring the other. Try to make sure it stays with you no matter what happens. It contains copies of all the ships papers and records. I have the originals. Between us we should be able to make sure that these are taken ashore and saved.’ ”
“ Taking the brief case from the Captain, I ran down the stairs to my cabin. On the way my shoulders banged painfully into a bulkhead as the ship took a lurch but I ignored the pain.  When I got to my cabin, I quickly dressed in my uniform ignoring the shuddering and bucking of the ship and the groaning of the plates. I shoved my personal effects, my discharge book, identity book, photos, letters and money into a bag I kept for this purpose. Some of the other cadets during my time at sea had scoffed at my caution but it was vindicated now. Slinging this over my shoulder, I raced back up the stairs to the bridge still clutching the briefcase with copies of the ship’s papers.”
“ On reaching the wheelhouse, panting from running on a heaving and vibrating deck, I saw Captain Ruddock standing on the bridge wing looking aft. By the time I joined him, the water was lapping over the main deck  and when I looked forward all I could see was the focastle. Looking back aft, it was as though the engine room and the accommodation in the stern were completely cut off from the amidships. The decks were at crazy angles and the funnel looked as though it might fall into the water. The four lifeboats were now being filled with crew under the supervision of the other officers. Air and oil were bubbling up from the holes in the tanks spreading a black sheen over the waters surrounding the ship.”
“ Out of the corner of my eyes, I looked at the captain not wanting him to feel I was staring. His face was lined and drawn. To me, he had that broken look of somebody who had come to accept defeat. Where they gripped the rail, his hands were shaking. His shoulders slumped as though he had aged considerably in a short time.”
“ Seeing me for the first time since I arrived on the bridge as ordered, he nodded. ‘ You had better get down to your lifeboat.’ ”
“ ‘ What about you?’ I asked even though I knew the answer.”
“ ‘ There is a life raft at the end of the bridge. I intend to stay here until just before the bridge goes under.’ He laughed sadly. ‘ Actually, unless the ship capsizes, I think she will ground before the water reaches the bridge. There was only twenty feet below the keel when we anchored, so when it settles on the bottom, the top of the accommodation should remain above the water. Go on. Go for your lifeboat. I can see the third mate is waiting for you.’ ”
“ ‘ If it is all right with you, I would like to stay.’ I never understood what made me say that but it appeared to help the Captain.”
“ Captain Ruddock put his arm round my shoulder and squeezed. ‘ Thank you. You have to have some sympathy with the ones who ordered this. Up in those hills some men are fighting the central government for some measure of autonomy.’ ”
“ ‘ Why bomb us?’ I was curious.”
“ ‘ They see this ship as a part of the government machine. Again I suppose they are partly right. Some of the oil we are delivering will be used in the army’s trucks and equipment. Therefore, to them, we are helping the government suppress the rebels. In these situations, young man, there are no grey areas. To the rebels, those not helping them are their enemies and fair game for assault. I am afraid we have been caught in the middle. I must say that was some precision bombing from a small plane. The pilots must have been skilled. As far as all the reports to me have indicated, nobody on the ship was really hurt.’ ”
“ He waved the last lifeboat away commanded by the Third Mate. I have to admit as the lifeboat moved away from the ship and deck under our feet bucked and shuddered, I was more frightened than I would ever admit to anybody. Despite my fear, there was no way in which I could have left this vulnerable man on his own.”
“ The Captain and I stood and watched as the lifeboats pulled away from the sinking ship. Two patrol boats had left the jetty and were racing in our direction. Once again my heart stopped as we felt the grinding of broken plates beneath our feet. At one time, we had to cling to the bridge rail as the ship lurched and heeled over to starboard.”
“ The water was steadily climbing up the structure, level now with the main accommodation deck. There was a groan and a long hiss as though an old lady had lowered herself painfully into a chair. The bridge rocked and swayed. The Captain and I saw the stern twist and then settle. The tanker heeled over to port. With a whoosh, the remaining air bubbled from the superstructure in a rush. Then there was silence. Even the hiss of escaping steam had ceased. With a lurch, the ship was still.”
“ The water was now level with the boat deck and the oil sheen spreading out from the ship into the clear waters of the bay look thick and ugly.”
Captain Ruddock turned to me and said, ‘ Thank you for staying with me.’ ”
“ We walked down the twisted stairs together to the boat deck below the bridge carrying the ships papers, my personal belongings and the Captain's bag. By the time we arrived, a patrol boat was alongside the boat deck waiting. I stepped aboard, helped by the crew. The Captain took one last look round his command and stepped aboard after me, leaving his ship to the mercy of the elements.”

“ So you see Eddie every time a plane flies over a ship I am on it brings back memories of that day when the Fernando was bombed.’ The second mate smiled ruefully.

Available from Amazon and as a paperback and from Kindle and for downloading as an ebook for most readers.

Monday, 20 February 2017

The Girl in the White Dress by Eddie Gubbins

The girl in the white dress
(A short story taken from my auto-biographical novel Tales from the Sea)

The San Fortunato arrived in Balak Papan, Borneo, late one evening as the big red ball of the sun was setting into the dark green of the jungle. The voyage from Hong Kong had been one of those passages with calm seas, warm weather and no problems. Before arriving in port, the Captain had been sent orders from the company to load fuel oil for Port Headland in Australia.
As soon as the ship had moored to the jetty, the company agent boarded and informed the Chief Officer that the cargo would not be ready to load for two days. Most times, the ship would arrive in a port, load the cargo in twenty-four hours and depart. The delay in getting the cargo ready for loading had some compensation for the crew. They had the opportunity to relax and a chance for some time ashore.
The weather was glorious the next morning after breakfast when I took over the managing of the ship from the Chief Officer. I had a quick stroll round the decks to make sure all was in order before returning to my cabin to enter information in the safety log. In the middle of noting fire drills, lifeboat inspections and exercises, fire fighting equipment maintenance and life jackets testing, the phone rang.
“ Good morning Third Mate,” It was the Captain sounding amused and cheerful. “ Mr. Bolton, the Managing Director of Eastern Operations, is visiting the ship for lunch. He will be accompanied by his aide and his daughter. She has requested to be shown round the ship. As you are the youngest officer, you will be the ideal man for that job.”
“ Do I have to?” I asked, imagining a morning spent in the company of such a girl. “ She will be impossible. Educated at some private boarding school, used to servants waiting on her hand and foot. We will have nothing in common. Why not ask the second mate?  He mixes with people like her all the time.”
The Captain laughed. “ This is an order, Third Mate, not a request. I have asked the chief officer to look after the ship while you are entertaining Mr. Bolton's daughter. Try not to upset her with too much of your social comment!”
As I put the phone down, I had a mental picture of the Captain chuckling to himself about how I would be uncomfortable showing this teenager round the ship. I sighed, anticipating the morning was not going to be much fun for me.
Later that morning, a sailor opened my cabin door after knocking loudly.  
“ Third Mate. There are couple of official looking cars approaching the ship along the jetty.  I think it would be a good idea if you were on deck to greet whoever is in those cars when they arrive.”
Standing at the top of the gangway a few minutes later, I watched curiously as two Mercedes cars approached along the jetty. They stopped at the bottom of the gangway. Three white shirted, dark trousered Indonesian men got out of the second car and adjusted their sunglasses. They spread out along the jetty facing away from the ship and the cars. Like the bosun, who was standing by my side, I laughed out loud. It was straight out of one of those B gangster movies with Edward G Robinson I showed to the crew while the ship was at sea.
Once the bodyguards were in place, the doors of the lead black car opened and a man got out. He was tall with slicked back grey hair and sunglasses, dressed in an immaculately cut tropical suit and shiny shoes. As soon as he alighted out of the car, he placed a panama hat on his head. Trailing him, a younger man carrying a brief case and dressed in a short sleeved white shirt and white trousers struggled from the car. Finally, a girl followed. From where I stood some distance above her at the top of the gangway she looked about fourteen. My heart sank. Her brown hair glistened in the sunlight and like her father, she donned a hat as soon as she was out of the car. She wore a short white dress and white sandals. This was the girl I was going to have to show round the ship, I decided. The duty seaman stood politely at the foot of the gangway ready to help if needed. I noticed that like all the seamen who had stopped their work to watch, he ogled the girl.
Mr. Bolton ignored the duty seaman and climbed onto the gangway unaided. The girl and the man with the briefcase followed. When they reached the deck where I was standing, Mr. Bolton nodded to me.
“ Show me the way to the Captain's cabin, Third Mate,” he ordered without so much as a good day. His accent was clipped and what I regarded as upper class.
Standing at her father’s side, the girl looked at me with large brown eyes. Close up, she was pretty with a good figure and was older than the fourteen I had first estimated. Her expression was that adopted by the local Lady of the Manor for one of the local peasants she happened to meet. The next few hours are not going to be pleasant, I concluded
“ This way, Sir,” I answered indicating the ladder leading to the accommodation deck. As he followed me, I noticed he cast glances round the ship as though checking that all was in order. The girl looked right ahead. The man with the briefcase trailed in their wake mopping his forehead with a white handkerchief.
After showing them to the Captain's cabin, I returned to the deck and walked round the ship. As everything was in order, I returned to my cabin and the safety log. I had not been there for long when the phone rang.
“ Come to my cabin and collect Mr. Bolton's daughter, third mate.” It was the Captain and he still sounded amused.
I grunted into the phone but dutifully climb the ladder to his cabin. Deep within myself I was cursing the Captain. How was I going to show this apparently bored, spoiled girl around the ship without saying something out of place or upsetting her? I imagined the rest of the crew laughing behind my back at their egalitarian Third Mate looking after a girl from a very privileged background.
Mr. Bolton smiled when I entered the Captain's cabin making him appear much more human than when he had greeted me on the deck. “ Lydia is ready to be shown round the ship. I will leave her in your capable hands.”
Lydia climbed to her feet, smoothed down her white, short dress and placed her sunglasses on her small nose. She was almost as tall as me.
I led the way out onto the boat deck and waited for her. The sun was high in the sky and the jungle looked particularly green across the river from the berth. Heat haze distorted the trees lining the riverbank and the boats drifting with the current further down the river.
“ Well Miss Bolton,” I said smiling. " What would you like to see?”
She looked at me, though I could not read her expression with her eyes hidden by dark glasses.
“ If we are to spend the next hour in each others company, you had better call me Lydia,” she said without a flicker of emotion.
“ Eddie,” I replied.
She shrugged. “ Daddy said you would show me all over the ship.  Lead on McDuff.”
Taking her instructions literally, I led on. Viciously ignoring her white dress and sandals, I started with the engine room. Well not exactly ignored the white dress but took a certain pleasure in the thought that she might learn what dirt was all about. I was thinking of all those oily handrails she would have to hold, machinery she might rub against and bilge water she might have to negotiate. Looking back to that day, I know now this was being petty and she most likely knew what dirt was like from mucking out her horses. She listened politely as the engineer told her about the boilers and the turbines. Followed me down to the propeller shaft and the steering engine room. Going back up on deck I climbed the ladder behind her. The dress was so short I had a good view of her sturdy legs and floral panties. Stop these lewd thoughts, I seemed to hear my mother saying.
Then to the galley to glimpse lunch being prepared and the dining room. Next, I led her down the corridor to the games room. I followed this by walking along the deck to the focastle, the anchors and the chain locker. What amazed me was that despite my best efforts, when we emerged back on deck again, she appeared as clean as when we started.
Finally I led her onto the bridge. We lent over the chart table looking at the charts of the area. Rapidly I showed her the wheel and the magnetic compass on the top deck. Lastly we went to the radio office and the sparks explained the wireless system. I had reluctantly to admit that though I might have been prejudiced against her at first, by now the atmosphere between us was much friendlier.
We stood on the bridge wing looking over the deck when we had finished. 
“ Would you like to come to my cabin for a drink before you go back to your father?” I asked tentatively.
For the first time that morning, she smiled. “ That would be nice. What can you offer?”
“ I have beer, fruit juice, coke or gin.”
“ A beer would be fine.”
She looked curiously round my small cabin when I showed her inside and sat her down in the chair. I turned on the radio for the sound of Little Richard. After I had served the beer, we talked about ourselves. I found out that she had lived a sheltered, rarefied life compared to mine. It sounded great but there were drawbacks. Her father and mother had moved around the world on company orders. Lydia had been deposited in various boarding schools for most of her life. Then in the holidays, if she could not join her parents, she would stay with relations. In many ways, her life resembled mine and lots of other seamen. She had to meet new people and spend a great deal of her time with them without a break. Just like seamen thrown together on a ship for months at a time with strangers. I started to feel sorry for her.
“ I take my A levels next year,” she remarked which told me she must be seventeen. “ If I get good grades I will be off to Oxford. I already have the promise of a college place.”
“ What will you study?” I asked being polite.
“ Ancient history.” She smiled. “ There is no need for you to pretend interest in what I do. Daddy cannot order you to listen to me or take an interest I what I am doing.”
“ I was enjoying hearing about your life,” I remarked truthfully.
“ I did enjoy you telling me about what it is like going away to sea. I have only known one other seaman and he never said much about his life away. Besides he was older than me and treated me like a little girl. He works for the company. Vincent Burke.”
I laughed. “ We have a mutual acquaintance then. I was his cadet on the Halvid a couple of years ago.”
“ You know him then? I met him a few times at my Uncle's house for parties and weekends. What do you mean you were his cadet?”
“ On that ship each cadet was assigned to one of the officers and we had to follow them around and learn about their job. We ran errands for them and did the bits of their duties they found either boring or dirty. Actually that is not fair as far as Vince Burke was concerned. He is a gentleman and treated me like a friend. He is the only officer I have sailed with who appeared to know rich and aristocratic people in every port we went to. Sometimes he would take me ashore to exclusive clubs and I would mingle nervously with the influential men and women from the place. He taught me a great deal.”
“ I met him at weekends and balls at my Uncle's House in Yorkshire. His family appear to own half the county.”
“ We have to get you back to the Captain's cabin so that you can go to lunch.”
“ Thank you for showing me round,” she said kissing me on the cheek as we entered the Captain's accommodation.
Over lunch, Mr. Bolton invited me to spend the afternoon with his daughter at the club in the company accommodation compound. With a smile, the Captain concurred.
That afternoon, I rode to the company accommodation compound through the oil refinery in the car sent for me by Mister Bolton. Laid out like a village were bungalows of differing sizes surrounded by manicured lawns and flowerbeds. At the centre was the clubhouse with bar, shops and a gym. Across the road from this was a nine hole golf course. A bit apart from the other buildings was the large, sprawling bungalow of the Boltons.
The car dropped me outside and the driver told me to phone the car pool when I needed a lift back to the ship. I stood at the edge of the lawn for a while looking round and then walked along the path to the bungalow. A maid met me at the door and took me around the back where Lydia was waiting. She smiled in welcome. Pulled round her body was a wrap.
“ Come on,” she said taking my hand. “ We must get to the pool.”
The pool was large surrounded by tiled terraces with sun loungers. Lydia chose a spot and waved to the other people sitting or lying on other sun beds. She pointed to a changing room back from the sun terrace and I quickly changed into my swimming trunks. When I rejoined Lydia, there were towels on the sun bed. A white coated waiter stood by the sun bed, a tray in his hand.
“ I have ordered my drink. What do you drink?”
“ Bacardi and coke.” I said quickly reaching for my wallet.
Lydia laughed. “ You don't have to pay. Everything goes on my father's account. In fact every member of the club pays for their guests because there is no cash used on the compound.”
It turned out to be a wonderful afternoon. Though Lydia had at first appeared superior and stuck up, by the pool we were like any young people enjoying each others company. As we talked and swam or lay in the sun, I came to realise that Lydia must be lonely. Unless other expatriates brought out their teenagers to stay she was surrounded by adults who were working most of the time. Also, when coming aboard the ship, she must have been nervous. Why she could have been apprehensive, I could not imagine. Her up bringing must have taught her to handle such situations. That afternoon, I suppose she grasped the opportunity to talk and be with somebody close to her own age.
I was invited to stay for dinner at the bungalow of the Bolton's that evening after our swim. The car took me back to the ship to dress properly and return me to the Bolton’s. The Captain was there and some of the other higher managers and their wives. I sat close to Lydia during dinner and mostly talked to her.
After dinner, Lydia and I went for a walk around the garden. It was very pleasant with the insects chirping in the shrubs, a soft breeze and stars twinkling in the sky. To my surprise Lydia took me to a summerhouse at the bottom of the garden. Creepers covered the shelter and flowers bloomed, Lydia pulled me down onto a cushioned seat and kissed me properly. To the sound of chirping insects and lulled by the scent of flowers, we made love illuminated by the moon. A perfect way to end our day, Lydia remarked, as we walked back to the house.
As the ship sailed a couple of days later, I was surprised to see Lydia waving goodbye from the riverbank. There had been no promises of long lasting friendship or undying love. Just a pleasant day spent in each other's company.

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