In my previous posting (back in June), I led with the unfinished quote from Rabbie Burns ‘The best-laid plans…’
It referred to my intention to get back to this (semi-abandoned) blog by offering up some of my short stories. That was supposed to be a weekly effort but it was months before story number 2 appeared. This time, I’m giving a twist to it which may (or may not) make me more attentive to producing something more frequently. It’s going to be a single, longish story posted in probably 8 episodes. I’ve called it Death Ship and here’s…
We were less than a day out of Kristiansand when the first body was found. The seas were piling into the Skagerrak Strait under a force eight. It had been blowing for four days. We’d set just two jibs and the fore topmast staysail, the courses, lower topsails and lower staysails on all three masts and the spanker to steady her. As she beat out into the German Ocean, the carpenter’s workshop was the last place anyone wanted to be. There, up in the bows, you felt the sea’s full violence. Jack Stretton had no choice. As part of his watch, he had to start his fire inspection rounds under the foredeck. In the gloom, he heard the carpenter’s door banging back and forth. He pushed it open. Davie Strachan’s body lay against the workbench. His head had been held face down in the vice and then beaten until it resembled a crude bowl filled with silvery red substances in which floated fragments of bone.
A few minutes later, I was looking at it with the captain, Big John Michie. We were wondering how to report it to Mr Anderson, the ship’s owner.
“If the police hear about it, we’ll be held alongside for days, maybe weeks,” said Big John.
“Aye,” I said. “I can just hear what he’ll say to that.”
Big John nodded.
“We canna keep quiet about it, though. Not with the crew telling the tale in all the bars.”
“Is it something you want to hide, then?” I asked.
He shook his head. I looked again at Davie’s open skull.
“No easy matter to pretend it’s an accident,” I said. “That vice is deep in his cheeks. There was a lot of pain.”
“Aye. But I canna just leave him there. With this wind we’ll soon be needing work done down here.”
As if she agreed with him, the ship dived steeply into a trough and we had to hold the rails tightly to keep our footing. Only the vice kept Davie from sliding under the bench.
“And where can I put him?” Big John went on. “God knows how long it’ll take us to get home with the wind on our nose like this. He’ll smell worse than a hold full of herring.”
It was interesting that he seemed to have less curiosity about the killing than about how it would interfere with sailing the ship.
“You’re the master. It’s your decision,” I said.
He wasted little time reflecting. He was right: he couldn’t store a decomposing body in a fully laden ship where there was hardly space enough for the crew. And, with superstition a part of every seaman’s thinking, other troubles would inevitably grow from the corpse. When we went back on deck, he ordered the sail maker to break out some canvas and sew the body up in it. We’d then cover it with pitch and drop it over the side. The death would have to be reported but, with no body to look at and no-one caring much about what happened to Davie anyway, Big John hoped that Mr Anderson’s trade would not suffer unduly.
OK, that’s it for now. I’m not expecting reviews, praise, suggestions, textual analyses or anything similar. I would, of course, like to know if any reader wanted more but chunks of the complete story are ready to follow later… (Remember, ‘later’ is a flexible concept here.)