Innocent on the run Part 9.
Ricky awoke refreshed and in a happy frame of mind the following morning.
Doc was singing when Ricky arrived in the galley.
‘You’re happy today, Doc,’ he said grinning.
‘Always happy, me’ Doc answered. ‘I’ll bet someone else isn’t , though.’
‘Oh, who’s that, then?’ Ricky queried.
‘Just a feeling I’ve got about something,’ Doc said innocently.
The work got underway and soon the washing up was done and the mess tables cleaned ready for breakfast. There was the usual hubbub of noise as the crew bantered among themselves good naturedly.
Suddenly the noise subsided and became a deathly hush as every eye in the mess turned to the doorway. Pete clung to the doorjamb, his face ashen and his eyes bloodshot. He opened his mouth and a squawk came out of it.
‘Aaargh,’ he squawked.
There was silence in the mess as they all gazed at Pete’s drawn features.
‘Doc,’ he managed to get out.
Doc came to the serving hatch. ‘What’s up?’ he asked.
Pete pointed to his mouth. ‘Poisoned,’ he squeaked.
‘Poisoned,’ Doc said, puzzled. ‘How? What did you take?’
‘Your bloody grub.’
Doc was outraged! ‘My grub?’ he shouted. My bloody grub poisoned you?’ Pete nodded. ‘Been on the shithouse all night.’ He croaked. ‘Can’t stop shitting.’
‘And you’re blaming my grub are you?’ Doc shouted in fury. ‘That’s bloody typical, isn’t it?’ he asked the mess. ‘I’ll bet you were in here raiding the fridge and cooking stuff after I’d gone to bed, weren’t you?’
Pete nodded, ‘Yes, but…..’
‘No bloody buts. How come no one else is down with the shits? Eh? If it was my cooking they’d all be down with it.’ He waved his teacloth at the men gathered in the mess.
Pete started spluttering.
‘Don’t blame me,’ Doc continued. ‘If you come in here after I’ve gone to bed and start cooking for yourself, you’ve only got yourself to blame. You’ve probably given yourself Salmonella poisoning or something.’
Pete shouted, ‘Oh, Christ!’ and dashed out of the mess room to the toilet across the passageway where the crew heard the door slam followed by a great, lingering sigh from within.
They all erupted in laughter. The Bosun wiped his eyes as his laughter subsided. ‘I won’t get any work out of him today,’ he chortled.
Doc was leaning over the sink, doubled up with laughter. Ricky was holding his stomach, tears of laughter streaming down his face.
‘That’s made my day,’ Doc exploded. ‘Teach the bugger to have midnight fry-ups.’
He dried his eyes on his apron as the crew filed out of the mess to start work, laughing among themselves.
Doc told everyone who came in to eat after the watches changed, how Pete had caught some bug from having midnight fry-ups. He demonstrated how Pete had looked, holding on to the doorjamb and croaking like a frog. The crew loved it!
When Ricky was clearing up after everyone had left the mess, he said
to Doc. ‘What do you think gave him the runs, Doc?’
Doc grinned and whispered, ‘probably something to do with the four chocolate laxatives I put in his pudding, I expect.’
As they got further South, the weather started to improve, and as they passed the Azores, they were able to strip off to shorts when working on deck.The sea was a glassy calm now, and in their leisure time the crew came out to sunbathe.
Doc was still producing huge roast dinners and heavy puddings. He said the weather didn't make a bit of difference, a man still had to have a full belly!
Ricky was taught to steer the ship and keep it on course. It was difficult at first, as you wound the wheel in one direction to bring the ship's head on to the correct course, then immediately wound the wheel in the opposite direction, to take off the amount of wheel that you'd put on. It was confusing, trying to get the ship to move in the direction you wanted it to go, using the compass, and many times Ricky turned the wheel in the wrong direction, then had to furiously spin the wheel the other way while the Mate laughed aloud at his efforts. It took a long time before Ricky managed to keep the ship on a straight course. The Mate showed him how they plotted the ship's position every hour, and drew it on the chart. They were using a system of navigation which consisted of three patterns of Radio Waves, transmitted from coast stations located in countries adjacent to the course they were steering. The company that owned the system covered the globe with a network of radio waves, and any ship which hired its equipment could navigate by it. Whichever part of the world the ship was in, there was a chain of staions that she could use. The Llanerin was using the North Atlantic Chain, and the stations were called the Red, the Green and the Purple stations, with the Red station in North America, the Green station in Southern Ireland, and the Purple station on the West Coast of Africa. The patterns were sent out on different frequencies, and the Receiver on board the ship would convert the three radio signals, electronically, into three separate numerical displays. The charts that they used were criss crossed with the radio patterns, interpreted as coloured lines, of red, green and purple, starting from the parent station and extending outwards to cover the whole of the North Atlantic. The red, green and purple displays on the receiver were read off and then transferred to the chart, and plotted as a cross where the three intersected. Every day at noon a sun sight was taken with the sextant, and their position plotted, as a visual check to confirm the Navigation system's position. Ricky was also shown the Radar, and how to interpret the images which showed up on the luminous screen. There were four ranges on the radar, of four, eight, twelve and twenty miles, with range rings at two mile intervals on the screen. The source of the beam at the centre of the screen, represented the ship. There was a black rubber, conical hood over the screen, with an oval eyepiece, for the observer to rest his face on, when keeping radar watch in poor visibility. The shield also prevented strong light from shining on the display and distorting the images. He learned how to give an accurate range and bearing to another ship on the screen, by using the range rings and the graduated 360 degree circle running around the outside edge of the display. The Radio Room was situated behind the bridge and the Radio Officer kept watches throughout the day, and was available on a twenty four hour basis in case of emergencies. He showed Ricky the Main transmitter and Receiver and the stand - by sets which he kept warmed up in case the main ones broke down. All his equipment was run from batteries, constantly charged from the ship's mains. If there was a breakdown of power on the ship, the batteries would take over until the power was restored. There was also an emergency transceiver, which the radio man could take with him, in event of them taking to the lifeboats. This portable set was worked by a built in generator, which had to be cranked by a handle to generate the power. He could send and receive messages on it, and there was also an automatic distress transmission facility. In the Radio Room, there was also an emergency receiver to detect any vessel in trouble. If the stricken vessel sent out an alarm signal when the Radio Man was not in his shack, then the Auto Alarm was activated, and he came running to the shack to listen for the alarm, followed by the distress signal, and message. The Radio Officer told Ricky that he could send a telegram home to his parents at any time, as he was constantly in touch with Coast Stations and sent all of his messages in Morse Code. All the instructions sent by the owners to the Captain, as well as private telegrams came through the Radio Man. He was bound by the Official Secrets Act never to reveal the contents of any message, so everything was in the strictest confidence. Telegrams were expensive though, and there was a cheaper type called a Ship Letter Telegram that could be sent. It went to the Coast Station in the usual way, but from there it was posted as an ordinary letter. Ricky enjoyed learning about the different jobs on the ship and always looked forward to his turn at the wheel. The Bosun taught him how to splice ropes to prevent the ends from fraying, and to make loops in them with an eye splice. He learned how to tie knots, and spent many hours practising them. He was shown how to operate the windlass on the Fo'c'sle, to raise and lower the anchor, and how to count the amount of chain that was used, by paint marks on the shackles. Elementary Seamanship was drummed into him. A Red light at night is the Port side light of another vessel, a green light, the Starboard side. One white light is the stern of a vessel moving away from you. Red and Green with a white light above them, is a vessel moving towards you, but all of these were confusing when there were a lot of lights blazing out from the accommodation of a vessel. You took avoiding action according to the basic rules of the sea :- Green to green or Red to red, perfect safety, go ahead. If to your Starboard Red appear, it is your duty to keep clear. The Mate showed him a set of Tide Tables which gave the depth of water to expect in rivers and harbours, at high and low water. There were books full of these tables for every country in the world, and it was essential to know the draught of your ship, or how much was under the water, and the expected depth at your position. If you didn't know this, the ship could go aground. This was explained to him just for his own information, he wouldn't be expected to put this specialist knowledge into practice for many years, but it was interesting to know how the ship was handled, and what rules were to be obeyed. They painted all of the accommodation, and when that was finished they started on the decks and hatch covers. There was a lot of work to be done and they kept at it day after day. Ricky still had his other duties in the Galley and Mess Room, and he went to bed at night thoroughly exhausted. As the days went by, he became fitter and the sun burned him brown. The crew used a large room in the bowels of the ship as a gymnasium, and Charlie taught Ricky how to exercise properly with weights, so that you didn't strain any muscles. He was used to doing exercises for his boxing training, and he practiced shadow boxing and punching the bag that had been rigged up as well. The exercise made him hungry and soon he was eating everything that Doc put before him.
'You must have lost your own appetite and found a Lions,' Doc commented. As the weeks passed, Ricky got to know more about the ship. They had lifeboat drills every week and they mustered at their assigned lifeboat with their lifejackets on, and had their names recorded by the Second Mate. The Bosun had to get into the lifeboat with one of the Engineers, and they tested the engine, running it for half an hour, and checking the oil levels and battery condition. Emergency rations and fresh water were kept in a locker in the lifeboats, as well as a first aid kit and distress flares. He was given a guided tour of the vessel by the Second Mate, and all of the fire fighting equipment and the emergency exits were pointed out to him.
The emergency exit nearest to his cabin was a steel ladder on the bulkhead outside his door, leading up to a steel hatch, which opened up into a small compartment full of coils of rope and tins of paint. Another steel ladder led from this compartment up to a hatch, which opened up onto the deck. The Second Mate made him climb the ladders, and open up the hatches until he got to the deck. Once he had done that the Second made him do it blindfolded. He said it was good policy to do it frequently, so that you could do it in the dark, as you never knew when you might need it.
Nigel showed him the Officers pantry and Dining Saloon. Every meal time, Nigel would hoist trays of food up to the pantry on the dumb waiter in the Galley, and keep them hot in his hot press. One of the other stewards would wait on the Officers and give their orders to Nigel, who would put up the meal for the steward to serve. The stewards would look after the dining saloon, lay the tables, wash up their own cutlery and crockery and keep their consumables topped up from the Galley Stores. As well as this they would clean the Officers cabins, change the bedding, clean the passageways and stairs, and generally keep the ship clean and tidy. The Captain walked around the ship every Sunday accompanied by the Chief Steward to see that everything was shipshape.
The first time that Ricky opened the door into the Engine Room, he was amazed that anyone could work in there, it was so noisy. Charlie showed him around the different pieces of machinery and had to shout close to his ear, to make himself heard when explaining what they were. As well as the noise there was the heat to contend with! It was tremendously hot in there from the Main Engine, generators and pumps, as well as a boiler to heat water for the crew's use. The Main Engine was a huge diesel, with steel catwalks around the top of it . The Engineers had to take temperatures from thermometers fitted into the top of each cylinder block, every half an hour, and check the pressures of lubricating oil and fuel, topping them up when necessary. The diesel generators had to be checked every half hour as well, and the voltage and current that they were producing had to be logged. Fuel pumps and tanks, fresh and salt water pumps, filters and cooling systems all had to be monitored. Charlie spent his watches, oiling and greasing the thousands of grease nipples and oil holes, in the machinery, as well as assisting the Engineers when they had a piece of machinery to strip down and repair. Ricky was glad when the tour of the Engine Room finished and he could get back to the quiet of the galley.
Pete treated Doc with suspicion after his bowel trouble and watched him carefully as Doc put up his meals, but he didn’t suffer from the runs again, so eventually he stopped being so vigilant. He still had a feeling that Doc had done something to his food, but as he had no way of proving it, he kept quiet about it.
Doc treated Pete in a very offhand manner, feigning hurt over the things Pete had said about his cooking, but every time Pete turned away from the serving hatch, Doc doubled over, holding his stomach and pointed at Pete’s back with a huge grin on his face. Ricky couldn’t help himself when he first saw Doc taking the mickey out of Pete and he burst out laughing. Pete whirled around at the sudden explosion of laughter from the galley and scowled at them both, not understanding what was going on, for by now Doc had assumed an expression of innocence on his cherubic face.
Pete’s attitude towards Ricky changed after the day he spent running to the toilet. He thought the young lad had gone running to Doc, crying about the trouble he was getting into because of Pete, so Doc had taken revenge on him. He vowed to himself that he would get Ricky ashore one day and teach him a lesson for carrying tales and having Doc put him through the agonies of the trots. Until then he would stop harassing the little squirt and get him to think that he was safe. Once ashore and out of the safety of the ship, the little telltale would get what was coming to him. Pete looked forward with relish to the day he would give the little baby a good hiding.
Ricky started enjoying himself on the voyage. Things were going well for him at last. He worked cheerfully and didn’t get into any more trouble with the Bosun. He worked hard and every night slept like a top. It was a lot more relaxing now that Pete had stopped playing tricks on him, and he settled down into the routine of the ship. Llanerin rounded the tip of Florida and headed across the Gulf of Mexico, setting a course for Port Arthur. An offshore breeze helped to keep the sailors on deck cool. The day workers had finished their duties and were sprawling on the hatch covers, reading or talking. It had been a very hot day, the sun beating down on them mercilessly. They had kept the hose pipes playing on the decks and accommodation, to keep the steel cold enough to touch. Ricky had helped to wash down the decks, and had had the hose turned on him by Dave. It had soaked him, but it was beautifully cool after the initial shock. He had turned his hose on Dave, and a full scale battle had started, the Bosun and Fred joining in until they were all soaking wet. It didn't matter much, as all they were wearing was shorts or cut down trousers, and hats. Ricky's hat was apiece of rag tied into a headscarf.
'When are we getting to Port Arthur?' Ricky asked the Bosun.
'It takes us three days to cross the Gulf,' he answered.
'How long are we stopping in port?' was the next question.
'Probably a week, if nothing goes wrong with the loading. It depends on how many cranes they put on us. If there's four cranes we could be loaded in three days, but I've only once had four cranes, when there were hardly any ships in. Generally its two, and it takes six or seven days.'
'Anxious to get ashore, eh, Rick?' Dave asked.
'Will I be able to go ashore?'
'I would think so, once the Immigration boys have seen you.'
'I don't have a Seaman's book or a Passport, or anything.'
'Shouldn't matter, once the old man has given you a temporary book.'
'I don't know,' the Bosun said. 'They're pretty hot here on documents. Last trip over here they wouldn't let the Fourth Engineer ashore, because he didn't have a British Seaman's Book. He was from a Commonwealth Country, but that didn't count.'
'I hope they do let me off, I wouldn't like to be stuck on board while everyone else gets ashore.'
'You can't go in the bars anyway, Rick, you've got to be twenty one here.' Dave told him.
'I don't want to go in the bars, I just want to see a bit of Port Arthur, and maybe buy a few clothes.'
'Watch your step here,' the Bosun said. 'They all carry guns, and if you upset them, they'll shoot you down like a dog. I was ashore with some of the crew on my last trip here, sat in a bar having a quiet drink, when this guy bursts in the door waving a big gun and shouts, ''Stick up!'' We froze !
''Gimme the money.'' he shouts at the bartender.
''Okay, Okay''. he says and reaches for the till with one hand and under the counter with the other. The till opens with a loud, 'ding,' the guy on the other side of this gunman throws his whisky in his eyes, and the bartender brings out this baseball bat and smacks him over the head with it. Bingo! They took his gun off him and kicked his bum out of there.'
'What! They didn't even call the cops?' Ricky asked.
'No, they're used to it. It happens all the time.'
The Bosun winked at Dave. 'Aint that right Dave?'
'Yes, nearly every bar you go in, its the same. Although, the last time I saw a holdup, the other guy didn't throw whisky in his eyes, it was beer. Probably didn't want to waste the whisky.'
The Bosun grinned!
Ricky's mouth was hanging open! 'Blimey,' he said. 'I'm definitely not going in the bars.'
'Don't get into trouble with the Police, either.' The Bosun warned. 'They'll lock you up regardless of how old you are. They dish out real sentences here as well, none of our short term jobs, life means ninety nine years.'
'Don't worry', Ricky answered. 'I don't expect to be in trouble with the Police. Sergeant Moore in our police back home taught me a lesson. I was pinching apples and he caught me climbing over a wall with my jersey full. He kicked my arse so hard it was sore for a week.'
'Well, they'll do more than kick you here, they'll shoot you.'
Copyright Deric Barry 2005.
Innocent on the run. Part 10.
Llanerin tied up in Port Arthur and the Customs and Immigration Officers came aboard. They asked to see the whole crew, and their documents, and checked each man against his Seaman's Book, asking each one if he had anything to declare. In each case the answer was no, so they put their stamps in the back of the books and returned them to the Captain. In Ricky's case, they accepted the Captain's temporary book and said that he was allowed to go ashore. He was overjoyed. The Captain had said he could have the wages due to him, and he planned to get some American jeans and a check shirt. There was still work to be done on board though, it didn't stop because the ship was in port. The hatch covers were raised and the two cranes that were assigned to them started loading the cargo of grain. Ricky was kept fully employed sweeping up the grain that dribbled out of the grabs on the end of the cranes, and throwing it in the hold. He had to wear a piece of rag around his mouth and nose to keep the dust out.The cranes would be working around the clock, and at 1630 hours, one of the seamen relieved him so he could do his other jobs in the Galley and Messroom. He was covered in dust from the cargo, and Doc told him to get showered before starting work. That evening Ricky walked ashore with Dave and Doc to see a little of the city and to do some shopping. All the stores stayed open late and he wandered up and down the streets and boulevards looking in the windows, trying to decide what to spend his money on. Dave and Doc went into a bar, telling Ricky they would see him back onboard. The stores were huge, and he was amazed at the amount of different designs and quality of clothes that he saw. There were some good denim shirts and jeans in one shop that he went into, and he bought one of each. What he really wanted as well were a pair of leather cowboy boots with pointed toes and high heels, but he didn't have enough money for them. He hoped that he would be paid again before they left Port Arthur, so that he could come back for them. He wore his new clothes and packed his old ones in to a carrier bag, feeling like a real cowboy. There was a Pool Hall alongside the store and he went in, wondering if it was like the snooker halls back home. It was pretty much the same, with rows of tables occupied by dozens of people playing games for fun or for profit. The atmosphere was very smoky, cigar and cigarette smoke gathering under the lights suspended above the tables, and curling up in clouds to the ceiling. The effects of years of this treatment had stained the paintwork brown and discoloured the light fittings and furniture, so that now everything looked drab and brown. Noise from the laughter and chatter was added to by the juke box in the corner, thumping out Country and Western songs, voices wailing on about lost loves, bar room brawls and gunfights. He sat on the long bench around the walls and watched a game being played. It was a strange game, the player having to nominate the pocket that he was aiming for before taking his stroke. If the ball went into a different pocket, that was a foul and the other player had two shots. The balls were bigger than snooker balls and the pockets seemed huge in comparison. Half of the balls had a stripe going around them and the others had just a spot on the ends. He watched as the one youth, a tall, thin lad with freckles all over his face, sank his three remaining balls and won the match. The other boy said, ' Aw, Hell,' threw a dollar bill on the cloth and hung his cue up in the rack.
'You want some more?' the thin kid said, picking up the money. 'Hell, no. I gotta split. See Ya.' And he pulled on a satin windcheater with a large H on the back and headed towards the door. The thin boy looked at Ricky. 'You want to play ,kid?'
'O.K, but I don't know the rules.'
'Hey, you ain't from around here, are you ?'
'No, I'm off a ship in the docks.'
'Yeah ? Where you live?'
'South Wales.' 'South Wales ? Where's South Wales?'
'It's a part of the U.K.'
'England, right ?'
'O.K.' He came across to Ricky and held out his hand. 'Call me Slim.'
Slim was over six feet tall, with red hair cut into a crew cut. He was wearing baseball boots, jeans, and a tee shirt with a Mickey Mouse on the front. Ricky took the offered hand and said, 'Ricky.'
'Pleased to meet you, Ricky. Now, we play for a dollar. The only rules are that you must nominate the pocket you're aiming to get your ball in. We spin a coin to see who breaks, then you choose either a stripe or a spot ball, and that's what you stick with for the length of the game. It's simple. The last ball you sink is the black. If it goes down before it should do, you lose.' He took out a coin. 'Heads or Tails ?' he asked.
Slim spun the coin and it came down Tails. 'My break', he said, and lined up his cue ball in the baulk, and gave it a terrific thump. The triangle of balls at the other end of the table split with a crash and scattered. One of the Spot balls ended up near a pocket and Ricky lined his white up and potted it.
'Good shot,' Slim said with a grin. 'Hey you ain't a hustler are you?'
'No, I've never played pool before. We have snooker at home.' He nominated his next ball in the top right hand pocket, and was surprised to see it disappear. 'Luck !' he said.
Slim looked at him with narrowed eyes. 'Oh, Yeah !' he replied. The game continued, first Ricky potting a ball, then Slim taking one. It was a tight game all the way through, and Ricky eventually won it by potting his last ball followed by the black. Slim paid his dollar and they racked the balls up and had another game. Slim won that one and Ricky gave him his money back. They went over to watch a big game that had just started on a table near them. Crowds of men had been arriving and positioning themselves where they could get a good view. There was a lot of money changing hands as people bet on either of the two men who were playing. Slim knew them both, and he put some money on the one he said ought to win it easily. The match was over seven frames and the winner stood to win five hundred dollars, as well as any side bets that he'd placed. Ricky was reluctant to gamble his last three dollars, but Slim said 'Go ahead, live dangerously.' so he went for broke and laid his money down. Ricky watched in horror as their man lost the first two frames, then sighed with relief as he won the third.
'Don't worry, kid.' Slim muttered . 'It's part of the plan!' The other man won the next, and Ricky was already kissing his money goodbye, when their man got inspiration from somewhere and won the next frame. Three Two ! On the break, their man potted two balls and chose stripes , as there were three striped balls near to pockets. He took the three one after the other! The other man took two, then left the cue ball safely touching the cush. It was a difficult shot, with only a small amount of the ball to hit, above the edge of the table, but it didn't bother him at all. He chalked his cue, lined up and struck the ball, hitting another of his colours into a pocket. Ricky was practically jumping up and down, willing his man to win the frame. His hands were clasping together in a washing action, and he was muttering to himself, 'Come on, Come on', as his man cued up and potted another colour. His next ball missed the pocket, allowing the other man to pot two more of his colours. A great breath of air whooshed out of Ricky as his man potted the last colour, positioned the cue ball in a perfect position for the black and sank it, stopping the cue ball dead in it's tracks. Three each! The last frame was very tense, with first one man taking a ball, then the other coming back and taking one. The crowd shouted out in anguish as Ricky's man hit the cue ball too low and it jumped clear of the table, then sighed in relief as it landed again and hit the object ball. People were biting their nails, glued to the action. The other man's last object ball was hidden by the black, and his supporters held their breath as he hit down vertically on one side of the cue ball, and skidded it around the black to hit the object ball, which bounced off the cush and settled near a pocket, the cue ball again being obscured by the black. There was a deathly hush as Slim and Ricky's man aimed the cue ball up the length of the table, bounced it off the cush and hit the other ball on it's return journey, rolling it into a pocket. The lads both jumped in the air and gave a great shout of relief, as his next stroke sent the black into the same pocket. Ricky got six dollars back!
It was eleven fifteen, so Ricky said goodbye to Slim, as he had to be back onboard by midnight, and told him he'd see him again when he could get ashore next. He walked back through the docks, past the other ships that were tied up, and the piles of anchor chain, ropes, baulks of timber, skips full of rubbish and other junk that littered the docksides. There were flat railway trucks loaded up with cars, miles of them, waiting in their sidings to be delivered to dealers across the country. Huge tanks of chemicals, paints, oils and petrol were enclosed behind wire fences, with security guards manning the gates into the depots. There was a huge oil refinery with enormous chimneys belching out smoke and steam. Huge trucks filled with cargoes from other vessels lumbered past him. Iron ore, coal, timber and many other commodities. He marvelled at the size of the place and the variety of goods that were on the move, day and night. There were dockyard workers everywhere, going about their jobs, or drinking coffee in the dockside canteens, reading papers and laughing among themselves. There was a dry dock with two ships in it, and dozens of men swarming over them, riveting, welding, scraping and painting. They had large, compressed air driven tools for taking the old paint off the ship's bottom, and the noise from them was terrific! He watched as a crane swung a bright, shiny, new propeller over the dry dock side and down to the men waiting on a scaffolding platform under the stern of one ship. It was huge, and dwarfed the men who were handling it. It appeared to Ricky to be a huge task to get the propeller positioned on it's keyway on the shaft, and then inch it forwards with compressed air tuggers, into its final position, before screwing up the enormous nut on the end of the shaft to keep it in place. But it was all part of a day's work to these men, and he watched them skilfully manoeuvring it, before reluctantly leaving to get back aboard before his deadline. He turned away from the dry-dock and a voice called to him, ‘Hey! Come here you little sod, I’ve got a bone to pick with you.’ Pete was coming towards him, weaving unsteadily on his feet. He stabbed a finger into Ricky’s chest.
‘You little bastard,’ he hissed. Ricky recoiled from the alcohol-laden breath, and took a pace backwards.
‘Don’t walk away from me,’ Pete shouted. ‘It’s time you got taught not to carry tales about me.’
Ricky was stunned! He had no idea that Pete thought he’d been carrying tales.
‘I didn’t say anything about you,’ he declared.
‘Don’t lie to me you little swine. You told Doc that I’d been on your back and the old bastard poisoned me.’
Ricky shook his head, ‘ No, you’ve got it wrong.’
Pete grabbed the front of Ricky’s shirt and bunched it up, drawing the younger lad towards him so that their faces were inches apart. His breath nearly made Ricky gag.
‘I’ve got it right!’ Pete shouted in his face. ‘And this is where you get what’s coming to you.’ He punched Ricky in the stomach with his right fist and the lad was propelled backwards. Gasping for breath, Ricky saw Pete advancing towards him. Pete swung a punch at his head and Ricky ducked under it. The blow whistled over his head. Pete swung towards him again and aimed another punch at his face. Ricky swayed backwards on his heels and the punch missed him by inches. He squared up to Pete with his fists raised.
Pete smiled, his hands on his hips. ‘Think you can fight do you? Come on, then. Let’s see what you’re made of.’ He advanced and threw a tremendous right hand punch but Ricky dodged to his right and as Pete was trying to recover his balance, Ricky danced in and slammed a right into his body. The air whooshed out of Pete’s lungs and he gasped. Seeing his chance Ricky came in again and smashed a right onto Pete’s jaw. He shook his head.
‘You little bastard,’ he grunted. ‘Now you’re for it.’ He came at Ricky again and threw a round-arm punch that Ricky ducked under. As he came up, he sent a left hook over Pete’s arm and smacked him in the right eye. Pete tried to grab him but the lad was not going to be caught that way and he weaved his way out of the clutching hands and danced away. Pete was getting mad and he rushed forwards. The boxing coach had always taught the boys that the fighter who loses his temper and started acting rashly was as good as beaten. He easily avoided the bigger lad’s rush and his flailing arms and sidestepped. As Pete blundered past, Ricky hit him with a left and right to the body. He turned to Ricky snarling, and tried another rush. Ricky’s straight left to the nose stopped him dead in his tracks and the right that followed it caught Pete in the left eye. He raised both his arms to cover his face and Ricky went in to the body. Left, right, left, right into the ribs. He punched for all he was worth, and felt his blows jarring him to the elbows. All the pent-up anger that he’d been suppressing while Pete was causing him grief was expelled in the weight of the hammer blows that he belted into the bigger boy’s body, staggering him backwards. Pete’s hands clawed at Ricky’s back as he desperately tried to stop himself falling backwards, but Ricky was advancing, still slamming punches into his body. Suddenly Pete’s feet couldn’t keep up with his backward motion and he toppled over with Rick on top of him. He lay on the ground winded as Ricky levered himself up and turned away from him.
Pete gained a little breath. ‘Don’t think this is the end of it,’ he gasped, sucking in great quantities of air. ‘I’ll have you again.’
Ricky turned back to him. ‘Any time,’ he said. He picked up his carrier bag and walked towards the ship.
Copyright Deric Barry 2005.
Innocent on the run. Part 11.
Llanerin was brilliantly lit, with floodlights high up on the accommodation and masts lighting up the decks and hatches. The cranes had their own lights on as well, one floodlight either side of the cab, and one enormous one on the end of the jib pointing downwards, so the driver could see where he was dropping the grain. They continued their monotonous lifting from the delivery trucks, swinging the grab over the hold and releasing the jaws to drop the grain into the depths. He climbed the gangway and checked in with the Second Mate who had the deck watch, before going in to the mess room for a sandwich. Doc and Dave were there eating toast and marmalade and drinking tea.
'Where you been Rick? Apart from buying cowboy gear,' Doc asked eyeing up Ricky's new clothes.
'In a pool hall, playing a few games.'
'Did you win ?'
'I won one and the other guy won one.'
'Try saying that when you're sober.' Dave said.
'Be careful of these pool players, they'll hustle you.' Doc said. 'They lose one or two games purposely, then when you think you can beat them, they get you to agree to increase the stakes by some huge amount, and wipe the floor with you.'
'There were a couple of men playing a tournament, and I bet three dollars and won another three.'
'They're gambling mad over here.' Dave told him.
'Where did you go?' Ricky asked.
'Just a couple of bars. Had a quiet drink and came back again.'
'Did anyone come in with a gun to rob the place?'
Dave smiled. 'No, not tonight.'
'I'm for my bed.' Doc said, rising from the table. 'See you boys in the morning.'
'Goodnight,' they said together, and Doc left them to go to his cabin just behind the galley.
'You'll be duty tomorrow night.' Dave told Ricky. 'The Bosun's drawn up a roster for cargo watching. You and Fred are on tomorrow evening, six ‘til midnight. There's not much to it, you just have to make sure the cranes drop the grain evenly in the hatch, so the ship doesn't get a list on her. You're supposed to signal the crane driver to drop it in the corners, once it piles up in one place, but they know better than we do where to drop it, so all you'll be doing is sweeping up the droppings and throwing it in the hold.'
'No pool tomorrow night then !'
'No, but it means a bit of overtime for you.'
'Oh, that's O.K. then. I may be able to get those cowboy boots yet.'
'High heels and pointy toes?' Dave laughed, 'They'll cripple you. You'll be walking like John Wayne with those things on.'
Ricky grinned. 'I'll be two inches taller with boots on.'
'You're not doing bad without them. What are you ? Five foot six ?'
'Five seven. And nine stone exactly.'
'Well, keep up the training down below and you'll soon be like Charlie Atlas.' He rose from the table, and stretched, 'I'm off, see you in the morning.'
Ricky got up and gathered the cups and plates up. 'Don't wash those now.' Dave said. 'Leave them soaking in the sink and do them in the morning. Other people will be coming back later and doing the same as us, so there'll be a pile to do. Goodnight.'
Ricky was piling the dishes in the sink.
'Goodnight,' he replied. He filled the sink with hot water and threw a handful of soap powder in with them. The water boiler was half full so he topped it up and made his way to his cabin, cleaned his teeth and got turned in. It had been a good evening ashore, and he hoped he could go again. He really wanted those boots !
Doc called him again at six thirty, and said that he'd had a lie in, so hit the deck pronto! Doc had got in the habit of putting Spanish words into his conversation since they had arrived at Port Arthur. He'd say, 'Que?' instead of 'what ?' 'No sabe,' when he didn't understand something, 'Pronto,' for 'quick' and 'dinero' for 'money,' and loads of other words that Ricky was sure he'd invented. He washed and dressed and got up to the galley by a quarter to seven. Doc was singing 'The yellow rose of Texas ,' as he busied himself at the stove. Nigel was in the galley loading up his dumb waiter with trays, and he shouted at Ricky, 'Come in if you can stand the noise, Rick.'
'You blokes don't appreciate good singing,' Doc laughed. 'Bueno Dias Rick.'
'Morning,' Ricky answered.
Nigel sniffed. 'That's the trouble, we do appreciate good singing. I've got a headache already, listening to that noise.'
'Your headache is from too much beer last night, you drunken devil you. I saw you in that sleazy bar, talking to those American sailors,' Doc answered.
'Oh, you rotten liar, Doc. I did no such thing,' Nigel pouted.
'Yes you did, I saw you, so don't deny it. One of them was about six foot five and the other was a little Mexican type. You want to watch those Mexicans, they're full of beans and wind.' Doc jumped up and down on the spot. 'Boing, Boing, Frrrt,' he mouthed.
Ricky was in stitches!
'Oh, really!' Nigel squealed, and flounced out of the galley. Doc laughed.
'I'll get him going yet. He's going to blow one of these days.'
'The way you say things, it sounds true.' Ricky said, pouring himself a cup of tea.
'Well, if he wants to work with men, he's got to take it like an hombre. I had him nearly there yesterday ! He was on the edge ! A few more words and he would have been over the top.'
Ricky started washing up the previous night's dirty crockery. Doc carried on, 'I told him that the Captain had said his pantry needed a good clean, and he was going to get the Chief Steward to give Nigel a roasting ! Doc was grinning all over his face. 'He was nearly spitting! ''My pantry is not dirty, he squeaked. I'm very particular with my pantry! How dare anyone say my pantry is dirty.''
So you're calling the Captain a liar, then, I said. Go on, then, go see the Captain and call him a liar to his face. He stuck his nose in the air, like this,' and Doc demonstrated Nigel with his nose in the air and one hand on his hip. ' ''I shall go and see the Chief Steward,'' he said, and ponced out of here like a big tart.'
Ricky was grinning at Doc's demonstration of an irate Nigel, so Doc took a couple of mincing steps across the galley, which cracked him up!
'Changing your profession, Doc.' A voice from the doorway said.
'Hello Mr. Mate,' he answered. 'Just showing Ricky who he's got to stay away from over here.'
'Not many of those in Texas.' the Mate grinned. 'Any breakfast ready yet? I've got to be on deck shortly so I'm not going in the saloon to eat.'
'Yes, here we go,' Doc replied, and broke two eggs in the pan. He opened his oven door and piled a plate up with sausages, bacon, black pudding, fried bread, and beans. Placing the eggs on the top, he handed it to the Mate.
'Blimey,' he said. 'Do I eat it or climb it ?'
'Set you up for the morning.' Doc answered. Ricky had finished his washing up, so he cleared the messroom tables and wiped them down. The boiler had been filled by Doc earlier and it was hissing away, ready for the tea and coffee. Other crew members were coming in for breakfast so he kept busy filling plates, washing up in between, and clearing the tables. Pete came in to the mess room and sat as far away from the serving hatch as he could get. He nursed a cup of tea between his hands. Both of his eyes were puffy and a dark bruise had appeared under the right one.
‘What happened to you?’ Doc called out to him.
‘Got in a bit of trouble in one of the bars,’ he answered.
Doc turned away from the hatch and looked at Ricky. The lad smiled and Doc raised his eyebrows, questioning. Ricky said nothing.
Copyright Deric Barry 2005.