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Authors: Alistair MacLean

The Golden Rendezvous

BOOK: The Golden Rendezvous
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The Golden Rendezvous

Alistair MacLean

Chapter 1

[Tuesday noon-5 P.M.]

My shirt was no longer a shirt but just a limp and sticky rag soaked with sweat. My feet ached from the fierce heat of the steel deck

plates. My forehead, under the peaked white cap, ached from the ever-increasing constriction of the leather band that made scalping only a matter of time. My eyes ached from the steely glitter of reflected sunlight from metal, water, and whitewashed harbour buildings. And my throat ached, from pure thirst. I was acutely unhappy. I was unhappy.

The crew was unhappy. The passengers were unhappy. Captain Bullen was

unhappy and this last made me doubly unhappy, not because of any tenderness of feeling that I entertained towards the captain, but because when things went wrong with captain Bullen he invariably took it out of his chief officer. I was his chief officer. I was bending over the rail, listening to the creak of wire and wood and watching our after jumbo derrick take the strain as it lifted a particularly large crate from the quayside, when a hand touched my arm. Captain Bullen again, I thought drearily; it had been at least half an hour since he'd been around last to talk to me about my shortcomings, and then I realised that, whatever the captain's caprices, wearing Chanel no. He wasn't one of them. This would be Miss Beresford. And it was. In addition to the Chanel she was wearing a white silk dress and that quizzical, half-amused smile that made most of the other officers turn mental cartwheels and handsprings but served only to irritate me. I have my weaknesses, but tall, cool, sophisticated, and worldly young women with a slightly malicious sense of humour is not one of them. "Good afternoon, Mr. First Officer," she said sweetly. She had a soft, musical voice with hardly a hint of superiority or condescension when talking to the lower orders like myself, just enough to show that she had been to the best school and college in the east and I hadn't.

"We've been wondering where you were. You are not usually an absentee at aperitif time."

"I know, Miss Beresford. I'm sorry." what she said was true enough; what she didn't know was that I turned up for aperitifs with the passengers more or less at the point of a gun. Standing company orders stated that it was as much a part of the ship's officers' duties to entertain the passengers as to sail the ship, and as captain Bullen loathed all passengers with a fierce and total loathing, he saw to it that most of the entertaining fell to me. I nodded at the big crate now hovering over the hatchway of number four hold, then at the piled-up crates at the quayside. "I'm afraid I have work to do. Four or five hours at least. Can't even manage lunch to-day, far less an aperitif."

"Not Miss Beresford. Susan." it was as if she had heard only my first few words. "How often do I have to ask you?" until we reach New York, I said to myself, and even then it will be no use. Aloud I said, smiling, "you mustn't make things difficult for me. Regulations require that we treat all passengers with courtesy, consideration, and respect."

and self-respect made me resent the young and unmarried female passengers who regarded me as a source of idle amusement for their all too many idle hours; particularly was this true with rich young idle females -and it was common knowledge that Julius A. Beresford required the full-time services of a whole corps of accountants just to tot up his annual profits. "Especially with respect, Miss Beresford," I finished. "You're hopeless." she laughed. I was too tiny a pebble to cause even a ripple in her smiling pool of complacency. "And no lunch, you poor man. I thought you were looking pretty glum as I came along."

she glanced at the winch driver, then at the seamen manhandling the suspended crate into position on the floor of the hold. "Your men don't seem too pleased at the prospect either. They are a morose looking lot." I eyed them briefly. They were a morose-looking lot. "Oh, they'll be spelled for food all right. It's just that they have their own private worries. It must be about a hundred and ten down in that hold there, and it's an almost unwritten law that white crews should not work in the afternoons m the tropics. Besides, they're all still brooding darkly over the losses they've suffered. Don't forget that it's less than seventy-two hours since they had that brush with the customs down in Jamaica." brush, I thought, was good: in what might very accurately be described as one fell swoop the customs had confiscated from about forty crew members no fewer than twenty-five thousand cigarettes and over two hundred bottles of hard liquor that should have been placed on the ship's bond before arrival in Jamaican waters. That the liquor had not been placed in bond was understandable enough as the crew were expressly forbidden to have any in their quarters in the first place; that not even the cigarettes had been placed in bond had been due to the crew's intention of following their customary practice of smuggling both liquor and tobacco ashore and disposing of them at a handsome profit to Jamaicans more than willing to pay a high price for the luxury of duty-free Kentucky bourbon and American cigarettes. But then, the crew had not been to know that, for the first time in its five years' service on the west indian run, the S.S. Campari was to be searched from stem to stern with a thorough ruthlessness that spared nothing that came in its path, a high and searching wind that swept the ship clean as a whistle. It had been a black day. And so was this. Even as Miss Beresford was patting me consolingly on the arm and murmuring a few farewell words of sympathy which didn't go any too well with the twinkle in her eyes, I caught sight of captain Bullen perched on top of the companionway leading down from the main deck. "Glowering" would probably be the most apt term to describe the expression on his face. As he came down the companionway and passed Miss Beresford he made a heroic effort to twist his features into the semblance of a smile and managed to hold it for all of two seconds until he had passed her by, then got back to his glowering again. For a man who is dressed in gleaming whites from top to toe to give the impression of a black approaching thundercloud is no small feat, but captain Bullen managed it without any trouble. He was a big man, six feet two and very heavily built, with sandy hair and eyebrows, a smooth red face that no amount of sun could ever tan, and a clear blue eye that- no amount of whisky could ever dim. He looked at the quayside, the hold, and then at me, all with the same impartial disfavour. "Well, Mister," he said heavily. "How's it going? Miss Beresford giving you a hand, eh?" when he was in a bad mood, it was invariably "Mister"; in a neutral mood, it was "First"; and when in a good temper-which, to be fair, was most of the time it was always

"Johnny-me-boy." but to-day it was "Mister." I took my guard accordingly and ignored the implied reproof of time-wasting. He would be gruffly apologetic the next day. He always was. "Not too bad, sir.

Bit slow on the dockside." I nodded to where a group of men, some bearded, all wearing denim trousers and vaguely military-looking shirts, were struggling to attach chain slings to a crate that must have been at least eighteen feet in length by six square. "I don't think the Carracio stevedores are accustomed to handling such heavy lifts." he took a good look. "They couldn't handle a damned wheelbarrow," he snapped eventually. "Never seen such fumble-handed incompetence in my blasted life. First time in this stinking flea-ridden hellhole -

Carracio was actually one of the cleanest and most picturesquely beautiful ports in the caribbean"and I hope to heaven it's the last.

Can you manage it by six, Mister?" six o'clock was an hour past the top of the tide, and we had to clear the harbour -entrance sand bar by then or wait another ten hours. "I think so, sir," and then, to take his mind off his troubles, and also because I was curious, I asked, "what are in those crates? motorcars?"

"Motorcars? are you mad?" his cold blue eye swept over the whitewashed jumble of the little town and the dark green of the steeply rising forested hills behind. "This lot couldn't build a rabbit hutch for export, far less a motorcar. Machinery. So the bills of lading say. Dynamos, generators, refrigerating, air-conditioning, and refueling machinery. For New York."

"Do you mean to tell me," I said, carefully, "that the generalIssimo, having successfully completed the confiscation of all the American sugar-refining mills, is now dismantling them and selling the machinery back to the Americans? barefaced theft like that?"

"Jetty larceny on the part of the individual is theft," captain Bullen said morosely. "When governments engage in grand larceny, it's economics. But, it'll be all perfectly legal, i've no doubt, but it still doesn't make me feel less of a contraband runner. But if we don't do it, someone else will. And the freight rate's double the normal."

"Which makes the generalIssimo and his government pretty desperate for


"What do you think?" Bullen growled. "No one knows how many were killed in the capital and a dozen other towns in Tuesday's hunger riots.

Jamaican authorities reckon the number in hundreds. Since they turfed out most foreigners and closed down or confiscated nearly all foreign businesses they haven't been able to earn a penny abroad. The coffers of the revolution are as empty as a drum. Ban's completely desperate for money." he turned away and stood staring over the harbour, big hands wide-spaced on the guardrail, his back ramrod-stiff. He seemed in no hurry to go-and aimless loitering was no part of captain Bullen's life. He was always in a hurry. I recognised the signs; after three years of sailing with him, it would have been impossible not to. There was something he wanted to say; there was some steam he wanted to blow

off, and no better outlet than that tried and trusty relief valve, Chief Officer Carter. Only whenever he wished to blow off steam it was a matter of personal pride with him never to bring up the matter himself.

It was no great trick to guess what was troubling him, so I obliged. I said, conversationally, "the cables we sent to London, sir." they had been sent by the captain himself, but the "we" would spread the load if things had gone wrong, as they almost certainly had. "Any reply to them yet?"

"Just ten minutes ago." he turned round casually as if the matter had really slipped his memory, but the slight purpling tinge in the red face betrayed him, and there was nothing casual about his voice when he went on: "slapped me down, Mister, that's what they did. Slapped me down. My own company. And the Ministry of Transport. Both of them.

Told me to forget about it, said my protests were completely out of order, warned me of the consequences of future lack of co-operation with

the appropriate authorities, whatever the hell appropriate authorities might be. Me my own company! thirty-five years i've sailed with the Blue Mail Line and now... And now..." his fists clenched and his voice choked into fuming silence. "So there was someone bringing very heavy pressure to bear, after all," I murmured. "There was, Mister, there was." the cold blue eyes were very cold indeed and the big hands opened wide, then closed, tight, till the ivory showed. Bullen was a captain, but he was more than that: he was the Commodore of the Blue Mail Fleet,

and even the board of directors walk softly when the fleet commodore is around; at least they don't treat him like an office boy. He went on softly: "if ever I get my hands on Dr. Slingsby Caroline, i'll break his bloody neck." captain Bullen would have loved to get his hands on the oddly named Dr. slingsby Caroline. Tens of thousands of police, government agents, and American service men engaged in the hunt for him

would also have loved to get their hands on him. So would millions of ordinary citizens if for no other reason than the excellent one that there was a reward of $50,000 for information leading to his capture.

But the interest of captain Bullen and the crew of the Campari was even more personal: the missing man was very much the root of all our troubles. Dr. Slingsby Caroline had vanished, appropriately enough, in South Carolina. He had worked at a U. S. government's very hush-hush weapons research establishment south of the town of Columbia, an establishment concerned with the evolving, as had only become known in the past week or so, of some sort of small fission weapon for use by either fighter planes or mobile rocket launchers in local tactical nuclear wars. As nuclear weapons went, it was the veriest bagatelle compared to the five megaton monsters already developed by both the United States and Russia, developing barely one-thousandth of the explosive power of those and hardly capable of devastating more than a square mile of territory. Still, with the explosive potential of five thousand tons of T.N.T., it was no toy. Then, one day night, to be precise. Slingsby Caroline had vanished. As he was the director of the research establishment, this was serious enough, but what was even more dismaying was that he had taken the working prototype with him. He had apparently been surprised by two of the night guards at the plant and had killed them both, presumably with a silenced weapon, since no one heard or suspected anything amiss. He had driven through the plant gates about ten o'clock at night at the wheel of his own blue Chevrolet station wagon; the guards at the gate, recognising both the car and their own chief and knowing that he habitually worked until a late hour, had waved him on without a second glance. And that was the last anyone had ever seen of Dr. Caroline or the Twister, as the weapon, for some obscure reason, had been named. But it wasn't the last that was seen of the blue Chevrolet. That had been discovered abandoned outside the Port

BOOK: The Golden Rendezvous
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