Death Ship Episode 7 The End

If anyone’s stayed the course, I hope you’ve enjoyed the story. You might even like my books, but for now, here’s the end of Death Ship,…


We both scanned the deck ahead of us. Tam was right. No sign of Noah. We saw only the silhouettes of the bell, the rails and a single vent. The wind and movement had uncoiled several of the ropes from their belaying pins and they shifted back and forth on the deck. It was only when we came right up beside them that we saw that the bundle was made up of more than ropes.

Noah lay among them, his left leg tangled with them, his arms flung out and his neck a long cut from ear to ear, so deep that his head lay back at a preposterous angle. His blood had poured everywhere but there was still some left in him and it oozed out onto the deck and slid beneath his shoulders. I grabbed him and pulled him clear of the ropes, pushing his head forward to try to close the gaping flesh at his throat. The chill of the wind seemed to bite more deeply into me. I stood up and looked ahead at the grey tumbling seas. I grabbed Tam’s shoulder and pointed back at the rest of the crew. Together we made our way towards them and, from the top of the foredeck steps, I shouted to Big John.

It took a while to get his attention but, at last, he came forward and stood looking at the body, his head shaking slowly before he raised it to look across the waves running towards us. He turned once to where the crew was beginning to climb the rigging to set more sail on the topgallants and royals. As he watched them, he suddenly shrugged and turned back.

“Grab his shoulders,” he said to Tam and me.

We moved to Noah’s head while Big John bent to take his feet.

“Right,” he said, when we’d lifted him clear of the deck. “This one’s going straight over the side. I’ve wasted enough time with villains this trip.”

Tam and I looked at one another, but Big John was already pulling Noah towards the starboard rail. We had no choice but to follow and, as soon as we were near enough, Big John heaved the legs over and, as Noah’s chest lifted, we stumbled forward and let go of his shoulders. We had no time to see the splash and heard nothing over the shrill wind.

“You say nothing of this,” said Big John. “I’ll tell them in good time. But now, I want to get on as much sail as she’ll carry to get us out of here and back on shore. Understand?”

We both nodded.

“Right. Are you willing to stay together as lookouts? Just the two of you?”

Tam and I looked at each other and said nothing.

“It’s either that or one of you stays here and takes his chance with whoever comes along.”

“Aye,” said Tam. “We’ll stay.”

I nodded my agreement.

“I’ll send a boy up with a bucket and scrubber,” said Big John. He pointed at the dark stains on the deck. “You can start getting rid of this.”

We said nothing when he left us and, for a while, we took turns in looking at the sea ahead and scrubbing the blood from the deck. Then, as we stood with our arms bracing us against the forward rail, I saw Tam’s head nodding. His lips moved but I couldn’t hear what he said.

“What?” I shouted.

He looked at me, as if surprised to see me there.

“I was just saying a wee prayer for my lassie. She can rest now,” he said.

I just nodded.

“Every time I saw them,” he went on, “I couldna get her out of my head. Thirteen year old, she was.”

There was nothing I could say. Tam’s daughter had been raped and strangled. They’d found her in a fish barrel.

“Now they’re away,” he said. “Down with the devil they’ve been serving all these years.”

“It must make you happy,” I said.

He shook his head.

“If I could still hear her singin, that’d make me happy. But at least they’ve paid. That doesna happen all that often.”

“There are many who think like you,” I said. “Many who’ll be grateful they’re gone.”

The words made him turn to look straight into my eyes. He was quiet for a long moment.

“We’ve all got our secrets,” he said at last. “Who’s going to care who killed them? The world’s better off without them.”

I nodded and we fell back into our silence again.

It wasn’t until we were relieved by the next two lookouts that he spoke again.

“Dinna be feared, Joe,” he said. “I don’t think there’ll be any more. Do you?” And he skipped down the steps without waiting for me to answer.

As I said, my experience of being on board ships was confined to testing the planking while they were still on the stocks, so I had no way of measuring just how different the voyage was from the usual. Tam’s confidence was certainly not shared by the rest of the crew. The silences and the strange groupings and the number of lamps that were kept alight through the dark hours all spoke of the fear that still haunted everyone. They worked hard to keep the ship pushing through the water, all desperate to be on land and away from the hands that had killed four of their fellows.


In the afternoon of the day after Cammie and Noah had been killed, the wind backed through a hundred degrees and we were suddenly dancing along under full canvas with a force six coming over the larboard quarter, the figurehead’s outstretched arm pointing directly at Aberdeen. We moved around in groups, watchful, trusting no-one. I spent most of my time with Big John and the boatswain, and we were rarely out of sight of several others. When we eventually saw the low profile of the Scottish coast up ahead, Big John laughed, slapped me on the shoulder and said, “Well, Joe. We kept him quiet after all.”

I couldn’t help smiling with him.

“What of the dead men?” I said. “You’ll have to tell the police.”

“Just consider, though,” he said, his arm still at my shoulder, “Noah McPhee, Cammie Drewburgh, Rab Robertson, Davie Strachan. There winna be much grieving for the likes of that. They may even give me a reward.”

“And what about Mr Anderson?” I said.

“You can do the sums,” he said. “Four men times the number of days since we left Aberdeen. That’s how many shillings he’s saved. I canna see him shedding too many tears.”

He was right, of course. When we made harbour, Mr Anderson came on board and quickly dismissed the “worthless scum”, as he called them, concentrating instead on asking Big John and myself about how the ship handled and how she’d fare on the crossing to Jamaica. He charged me with the task of keeping him informed of how the police investigations progressed and invited us both to take a drink with him. Big John had no woman to go back to and so was glad to accept. I gave my excuses, anxious as I was to be back with Emma and tell her of the strangeness and horrors of the voyage.

As I walked down York Street, the sounds of horses, handcarts and the calls of the people working on the quays were soothing. They reminded me that I was back where I belonged, and safe in my own element again. I opened the door and went through to the bedroom. Emma was lying in her usual place, her eyes fixed on the door. As she saw me enter, the happiest smile came across her face. I smiled back, went across and kissed her. With great difficulty, she pulled her left arm from under the covers and lifted it to touch my cheek. Her right arm lay, still and useless as always, hidden in the sheets.

At first, we said nothing, I because my throat was full of tears, she because one night, in Sinclair’s Close, her voice had been ripped from her.

Then, “They’re gone, my darling,” I said. “All of them.”

Death Ship Episode 6

Not surprisingly, newcomers will find the explanation for what follows in the introduction to the whole sequence before episode 1. Meantime, for other visitors, this is a story called Death Ship …


By the time I got back down to the hold, some of the crew had already left. Others were climbing into hammocks and the boatswain was still arguing with Noah.

“We shouldna have to do any of it,” Noah was shouting. “We’re no sailors. You ken what you’re doin, you can look out for yourselves, we never know what’s comin at us.”

The boatswain bunched his fist in front of Noah’s face.

“This is what’ll be comin at you if you dinna do as you’re told.”

He was a big man. Too big for Noah.

“Ach, leave him, Noah,” said Tam Donald. “Come away. We’re on lookout in a while. Just think of the money.”

Noah spat on the deck, pushed the boatswain’s fist aside, shoved Tam out of the way and started back up the steps.

“He’ll be alright,” said Tam. “I’ll keep him quiet.”

“If you dinna, he’ll be next. And it’ll be me who does it,” said the boatswain.

Tam grinned.

“I’m surprised to see you with them,” I said, as he turned to follow Noah.


I didn’t want to mention his daughter but I think my face must have shown my embarrassment.

“Life goes on,” he said. “Anyway, I’m no with them. It was just chance that I was there that night you kidnapped us.”

“You seemed happy enough.”

“Does drink no make you happy?”

“Not if I’m with a man who’s . . .”

I stopped. I couldn’t say it.

He shook his head and looked hard at me.

“Nobody kens what goes on in folks’ heads,” he said.

I thought of following him as he climbed up to the deck, but I was weary. I hauled myself up into my hammock and watched the bulkheads moving up and down as I hung steady between them.


I don’t know how long I slept but I was woken by shouts and a rough hand shaking me. It was the boatswain.

“On deck,” he said. “We’ve lost another one.”

Others were stumbling from their hammocks and it was a while before I could pull on my boots and go up to join the crew around the foot of the mainmast. The word was that Tam had gone forward looking for Noah. It was their lookout watch but there was no-one there. In the end, Noah joined him and it was only when they started talking that they realised that Cammie hadn’t been there to be relieved. It was Tam who raised the alarm and all hands had been called to search the ship from stem to stern. Noah was still at his lookout post in the bows, one of the mates was at the wheel, and Big John had some questions for Tam. The rest of us spread through the holds and spaces, crawling into the bilges, opening every compartment.

We searched for a good hour but there was no trace of Cammie. No-one doubted that he was now at the bottom of the black German Ocean. Big John got us together again. We stood there, listening to his new orders and knowing that, for all the wind’s whistling and the sea’s crashing against the hull, the real dangers lay somewhere in the crew. Some of them had been shipmates for many years, but their eyes were flicking around, each man unwilling to trust any other.

“So forget about being in pairs, we all work together from now on,” Big John was saying. “Wherever you are, make sure there are always at least three other men with you. We’ll take a chance and set more sail. I want to get us back while I’ve still got a crew.”

He nodded to the boatswain, who immediately started shouting his orders.

“All hands. Clew up the mainsail. Stand by the braces.”

“What about Noah?” said Tam. “He’s still on lookout.”

“Stay with him,” said Big John. He jerked his thumb at me. “You, too, Joe. And keep your eyes aloft, too.”

I nodded and climbed up onto the foredeck with Tam. The ship was heeled over on the larboard tack and we bent into the wind to crab our way up the slope to the bows. Suddenly, Tam stopped.

“Where is he?” he shouted.

Death Ship Episode 5

If you’ve been here since the start, congratulations and thank you. If not, explanations of it all are back in December 2023’s posting. Now read on for…


These were the men who were sharing our ship. We’d found them in the London Tavern on Waterloo Quay, drinking with Windy Geech and Tam Donald. I was surprised to see Tam with them. His daughter had been one of their early victims. Perhaps time does let you forget. But Big John was in a hurry. He told them that he had two ‘spare’ bales of Mr Anderson’s silk in his hold and that whoever helped him to bring them ashore would share the money they fetched. The six of them stumbled to the ship and down into the hold. Once they were below, Big John simply fastened the hatch over them and there they stayed until we were well out of Aberdeen the following day.

And now two of them were dead. Big John’s remark about ‘unsettled business’ made sense.

He finished filling his pipe, lit it, and the blue smoke hung in the air of the cabin.

“Death follows them wherever they go,” he said.

“Aye, and we’ve brought it on board.”

“Better to have it out here than stalking the good folk of Aberdeen. We’ve no family at home to worry about, and I’m glad of that every time I sail.”

I said nothing. Neither Big John nor any of the others knew that Emma Fielding, the woman I was to marry, was already living in my house in York Place. It was an arrangement that would scandalise the ‘good folk’ Big John was speaking about, so we kept it our secret, shared only by Lizzie, our maid. And, as for Big John’s own marital status, everyone knew his appetites. Each time he sailed, he left not one but a dozen women behind him.

“Does that not chill you,” I asked, “that we have a monster on board?”

He thought for a moment.

“Aye, but it’s an ill wind . . .”

He sucked long and hard at his pipe, coughed, and then continued.

“I’m thinking there’ll be a fuss when we get alongside, but that Mr Anderson will maybe not be too upset by it.”

“I don’t understand.”

“By the look of it,” said Big John, setting his pipe in a bowl on the chart table, “we’re going to be another week or more at sea.”

I nodded. The wind was still steadily against us.

“He’s paying the six rogues we found in that tavern a shilling a day. With two of them dead, he’s already saved himself a guinea or so.”

I laughed.

“Have you not thought, then, how much more he could save if the victims were yourself or me?” I said.

He looked at me, his eyes dark, unsmiling.

“Look,” I said, “I know our master is a powerful man, but he’s in Aberdeen. Not even he can kill men on a vessel some five hundred miles distant.”

“But someone could do it for him.”


He raised his shoulders and spread his hands.

“Mr Anderson has enemies, too,” I said. “Perhaps they have a hand in it. Perhaps these deaths are not meant to help, but to embarrass and inconvenience him.”

Big John nodded.

“In that case, we’re all in danger. We’re going to have to stop him doing it again. I’ll make sure the crew always work in pairs.”

“Which means that someone will be with the killer,” I said.

Big John gave one of his great laughs.

“Grand. So when the next body’s found, we’ll put the man he worked with in irons and sail home happy.”

I was surprised at how quickly he could find amusement in it all.

“And who will you and I be paired with?” I asked.

His response was immediate.

“Each other.”

I was glad of his choice and saw the sense in it. Our responsibilities for the trip overlapped in many areas and we were both answerable directly to Mr Anderson.

“It’s the way our master would want it,” he added.

He put on his jacket and we went back on deck. We left just the helmsman and the lookout at their posts and Big John called everyone else together in the forward hold where they’d slung their hammocks. Their small sea-bags were jammed into corners and gaps in the timber and they crowded together in the low, narrow gloom. There were two mates and twenty-two men and boys there, including three of the four remaining of the six Big John and I had found in the London Tavern. Cammie Drewburgh was on lookout duty. As I listened to Big John, I thanked God that my trade was building ships rather than sailing them. The constant noise and movement, the filthy, cramped conditions on board, the stinking, insistent presence of others, all gnawed at me, and only the need to work together to survive kept the frustrations and angers beneath the surface. And now, this extra, nameless fear brought new tensions to our exchanges. For myself, I wanted only to be done with it all, and back with Emma.

“The slayer seems to prefer your friends,” Big John was saying to Noah McPhee. “So maybe the four of you should work together.”

“We shouldna be here,” said Noah. “Shouldna be working for Anderson.”

“Well, you are, so look out for yourselves.”

“I’m no wantin to be paired up with anyone,” said Tam Donald.

“I’m no asking you to do it, I’m telling you that’s how it’ll be,” said Big John.

Tam stared at him but kept his lips shut tight.

“Should we double up on helm and lookout too?” asked Daniel McStay, the boatswain.

“Not the helm. I can see him from the charthouse. Anyway, nobody would be foolish enough to leave the ship drifting. But we’ll keep two up forward.”

He looked round at the men. Their bodies swayed with the ship’s pitching and rolling and there was a strange silence in the hold, a stillness at the heart of the rushing wind and sea. All their eyes were on him.

“Right, Daniel,” he said. “Get the new watches made up and organise the pairings.”

He motioned for me to follow him as he climbed up to the deck.

“Do you trust me?” he asked as we turned to keep the wind at our backs.

“Of course.”

“Good. I like your company well enough, but the thought of spending every minute with you pains me. I’m going to settle the course then have a silent pipe in my cabin.”

“Then I shall go back down and see what the crew are saying.”

He swayed his way back along the deck, moving easily to counter the ship’s movement. His strength with the men and with the unusual situation in which we found ourselves was admirable. I can only think that he had seen more things at sea than I could imagine and that the killings were almost a diversion in the daily task of thrashing across the wind towards Scotland.