“Commemorated we were. Commemorated by the king!” said the captain, sweeping an arm out and knocking a glass of water onto the floor, so that it shattered and made everyone jump.
“What king was that?” asked Maurice Henry, as an orderly attended to the mess.
Captain Sugar puffed on a long cigar. “Why, the king of Liberia of course! On account of us picking up the biggest load in Trinidad in 2014. February it was, eleven thousand containers. Can you imagine it, eleven thousand! Like a fifty-mile long freight train!”
“Grandpa, can we go now?”
Maurice, just about to ask what the king of Liberia had to do with Trinidad, looked down at his granddaughter, Phoebe. He could see she was tired, in no mood to hear another night’s boastful stories from Captain Sugar. He looked at the captain and raised his eyebrows.
The captain laughed. “I see the young lady is ready for her bed. Good night now, and we’ll look forward to your company at breakfast!” He settled back, pulling on his cigar, figuring on breaking out the whisky once the passengers had gone to bed. He addressed the other crew members, “Now, would any of you gentlemen care for a little game of cards to pass the time?”
Back in their two-berth cabin, Maurice closed the porthole against the sound and smell of the sea, the latter an all-pervading odour like damp seaweed. He posed in some pugilistic stances in front of the mirror, smiling to himself and thinking of his youth. He could hear the sound of the shower, Phoebe washing the sweat and spray off her young body after a day walking the endless corridors of the huge cargo ship. Standing with her beloved grandfather, gripping the rails whilst listening to him tell her stories of Charlemagne’s paladins. Watching the heaving moss-green waves and the swell of the unimaginable quantity of water that covered the planet.
There was a knock at the door.
“Come in,” said Maurice.
The door opened and a thin, balding man of perhaps fifty came into the cabin. He smiled with yellow, uneven teeth and his beady eyes flickered around the room, dwelling on the passage to the shower room.
“Hello Vincent, what can I do for you?” Maurice had little time for the man, one of only four other passengers in addition to a dozen crew on The Prince of Monaco. The other paying travellers were an Italian couple, Maria and Giuseppe, and their teenage son, Mario, the latter keen to join the navy in any of its guises and desperate for some sea-going experience. They were friendly enough, although communication wasn’t easy. They spoke little English and he, even less Italian. Why in hell’s name did they need ten different ways to say what English needed only one way to say! Vincent, on the other hand, was a postman by all accounts and travelling on his own.
Vincent licked his lips and his fingers made rapid, fidgeting movements. “Hello, Maurice, well I called to see if you’d be interested in a little proposition.”
Maurice eyed the man with suspicion. “Like what?”
Vincent reached into a pocket and pulled out a screw of cloth. He laid it on a chest and opened it slowly and deliberately.
Maurice saw four lights, four glowing glass stones, tiny in size but burning like miniature suns. He looked, spellbound, recognising rough-cut diamonds.
Vincent gave a lop-sided grin. “You know what these are then? They’re worth ten grand each.” He gestured towards the sound of the shower. “I’ve got a shipping unit on this boat, it’s empty. Well, save for a bed and a toilet, and a table and chairs.”
Maurice stiffened, wondering where this was leading. “What of it?”
Vincent picked out a diamond and held it up. “You bring … her.” He nodded towards the sound of hot water spraying over a young girl’s naked body. “To my unit. Ten o’clock. Same time every day. Leave her for an hour. Ask no questions, keep her quiet, and at the end of this cruise, this … is yours.” He held the sparkling stone up to the light, just as the sound of water stopped. In the sudden silence, Maurice gazed at the diamond in wonder.
The sea was calm as Maurice made his way down the ship at the allotted time to where Vincent had told him he had a unit. For now, he’d left Phoebe in his cabin. The units, twenty feet long by eight feet wide by eight and a half feet high, were generally stacked eight high and walking the ways between them was like walking between tightly packed skyscrapers, just a thin strip of blue visible high above.
On reaching the correct aisle, he was astonished to see a crane lifting a shipping unit into the air. Captain Sugar stood watching with the first mate. They smiled but said nothing.
“Morning, have you seen Vincent?”
The captain nodded at the unit dangling high over the ship’s side. “He’s takin’ a ride, gonna be delivering letters to Davy Jones’s locker!”
“We heard him on the radio, telling someone what he was planning. Molesting your little granddaughter every day for the next ten days by the sound of it, filthy pervert!”
There was an enormous splash as the shipping unit hit the water. It sank, then bobbed back up above the waves and hung, just peeking above the water like a giant partially-submerged Lego brick.
“Don’t worry, we’ll say it came loose in a storm. Just one of five hundred units that go overboard each year, worldwide.” He smiled and took a screw of cloth from his pocket. “And our friend, Vincent, must have fallen overboard. Big coincidence!”
Maurice gasped as the captain revealed Vincent’s four rough diamonds.
“My first mate, Magnus here, had a ‘little word’ with Vincent before locking him in his unit.” He turned to Magnus. “So, one for you.” He put a stone into the mate’s outstretched hand. He turned to Maurice. “And one for you.”
Maurice took it gratefully. He was licenced to fly light aircraft but it was an expensive hobby. It looked like he’d be doing a lot more flying now. Maybe he could take Phoebe up, if it was allowed?
The captain folded the other two diamonds back into the cloth, pocketed it and winked. “The lion’s share to Captain Sugar, for services rendered!” With that, he and the mate turned and walked away. Maurice stood on the deck, watching the bobbing shipping unit receding into the distance and wondering what Vincent was thinking right now.
Featured in the book, Flash Friction: To Cut a Short Story Short, vol. III: 72 Little Stories
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