The night it came; I was ready. I was young, but not naïve. I had known men murdered before, and it wasn’t going to be me. Not without a fight.
The darkness would be on my side. I was a night shift man, and these idle bastards weren’t going to get the better of me on my watch. Twelve-hour watches from 6 pm to 6 am, for 7 weeks already meant that I knew every centimetre of that ship by touch. In total darkness, I’d keep my footing and my guard.
My pocketknife was new and sharp. It opened and locked with a single finger movement, which I practised continuously when alone on the bridge. My little steel flashlight would make a good club in a fight. Gripped tightly and driven into the temples, kneecaps, or throat would add some force to my defence.
I was skinnier and lighter then, but the fear of my fellow crewmen, and the boredom of life in the Gulf, drove me to work out every day. My entire off time was spent doing push-ups, sit-ups and pull-ups in my cabin. I slept with a rubber wedge, a chair and all my luggage against the door at night, so they couldn’t get in without waking me. I was starving at night. We ran out of food a couple of times that trip so I kept losing weight, but it didn’t matter. I was still taller and bigger than most of them. It would take half the crew to come for me, and I don’t think they will. I’d made friends with the Filipinos and the Indians of lower ranks. It would be the Ukrainian Chief to do it.
I’ll kick that fucker’s teeth out before he gets to the top of the stairs. Then I’ll cut his throat. Or stab him.
Make it darker.
I switched off every instrument I could. The MF/HF radio, the Weather fax, the Navtex, the computer, and the GPS. Only the radar and one VHF were left, which I needed to keep a watch from the other side of the wheelhouse. I turned the dimmers down to almost absolute zero, and let my eyes adjust to the blackest possible darkness, achievable only on a ship in the middle of a midnight seascape, with no moon. I put ‘trails’ up to 30 minutes on the radar, and set it to ‘auto-acquire’ targets, so I wouldn’t have to squander my night vision by looking at the screen tonight unless I really had to. Then I switched off all of the deck lights to remove the glare and turned down the radio.
Hours of silence.
I didn’t bother calling for my deckhand to come back to the bridge. I knew he’d been called away purely so that I’d be left alone in the wheelhouse. He said he’d be five minutes, and it’s been two hours of silent darkness.
There were three ways to access the bridge. External stair access on port and starboard bridge wings, or an internal staircase that faces aft, opening up in the centre of the wheelhouse floor. Each way, my potential attacker would arrive on the bridge behind me, if I were in the driving seat facing forward.
He would attack from behind, using the internal staircase, I thought. The bridge wing doors would be too noisy, and this greasy loser is too feeble and sneaky to come at me so blatantly like that. He doesn’t really want to do me in. He’s weaker than the other one.
I steered the ship away from the gas production platform that we were standing by and put her into a ‘drift-off’ position, so I wouldn’t have to worry about traffic avoidance for a couple of hours. They wanted me to keep the engines off anyway, to save fuel, so I clutched out and drifted in silence and darkness.
I moved away from where he’d expect me to be, and stood at the back of the wheelhouse, away from windows, but near the top of the stairs.
Am I being paranoid?
No. Something is different tonight.
My stomach knew it. My body knew it.
Finally, he came.
The door was carefully and quietly cracked open. A ship’s bridge is protected by steel fire doors, with enough thickness to withstand 60 minutes of flame, so opening one quietly can only be done deliberately.
A slice of white light cut vertically up from the door, cutting my carefully arranged darkness in two.
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Based on a true story ? :)
Scott, this is a great start to what I am sure will be a great read. Riveting narration, well-paced. My only qualm is the little bit of profanity, which stings my Christian ears. Especially since it comes from a fellow Christian whom I respect and admire.
Of course I know that this form of discourse is common among sailors, so many writers feel compelled to employ it for the sake of "realism". It may even have been what you actually said or thought on that occasion. I know that this sort of language has not been characteristic of your Substack posts. Perhaps this incident was prior to your conversion to Christ. Perhaps a slip of the tongue or moment of weakness, such as we all have. We must all answer to Christ for every idle word.
In a world besotted with foul language and blasphemy at every hand, I resort to writers such as yourself to enjoy a respite from this unnecessary and demeaning verbal sludge. Somehow skilled English writers were able to make their points and entertain their readers for centuries without staining their pages with such words, sadly the new norm.
You will not lose me a reader because of an occasional vulgarity, but still I would be grateful if you choose to forgo it. I believe you have the literary gifts to write powerfully and enjoyably without such words. Either way, I am rooting for you, my brother.