"Perhaps you'll see him again sometime."
"I don't think so," Jamie said. "It's just a feeling I got."
North Atlantic November 1964
"Your friend, Quinn, he's really funny," Steve Malloy commented.
"Yeah," Jamie said, proud that on a ship full of yarn spinners and bullshitters, Kell still stood out.
"That story he tells, about you and the shark and the pirates—is that true?"
"Mostly," Jamie answered. Kell had a couple of different versions of it by now. One gave you nightmares, one made you wet your pants laughing.
"How about the one where you get raped by a royal princess?"
Jamie clenched his jaw. Goddamn Kell, I'll kick his butt.... "He don't tell that one around me."
Steve quickly changed the subject. He'd seen Jamie in a fight. He didn't know it was almost routine for Jamie, a fight on every ship. Because he was small, someone usually thought he could be bullied—he'd correct that misconception and everything would be peaceful again.
"You're lucky you've got your military over with. You see any action?"
"I was in the South China Sea, you had to be battle-ready, but no, nothing you could call action. There's always a bunch of guns there, though. Every goddamn country in the world wants to claim that sea. There's all kinds of gunships strutting up and down, playin' 'who's got the biggest dick.' Lots of trade routes. Me and Kell went back there after. Same ol' stuff going on."
Jamie dealt another hand of cards. He and Steve had to be the worst card players on this ship, so they usually played each other and kept a paper score. Even in the mess room it was bitterly cold, and Jamie had his navy watch wool cap pulled down tight on his head and folded back over his ears.
Jamie usually kept to himself on a ship. It was easier that way. Besides, he had lived most of his life with a complete lack of physical privacy—the orphanage, the navy, close crew quarters; he tended to overcompensate with intense personal privacy. He had no need to get close to anyone. The usual banter of insults and brags that passed for conversation on a ship was fine with him.
Still, there was usually one guy or another you hung around with more than the rest, eating, playing cards. He wasn't seeing much of Kell this trip. Kell had grown up with some of the crewmen; they were full of old stories and in-jokes. One minute they'd sing songs so sad you'd want to throw yourself overboard, and then they'd dance a damn jig the next.
Steve Malloy, who was the closest to his own age, seemed determined to be his friend. It was okay with Jamie. Steve was a nice guy. This was his first time out as a deckhand. His father had told him to make sure he liked it before joining the merchant marines.
"You like the navy?" Steve asked.
"Learned a lot, but I got sick of taking orders. You get a bad officer, it's hell. Regulation haircut, regulation shoes, felt like people were watching to make sure you took a regulation piss. Soon as I got out of there I went to the South Pacific. Didn't cut my hair for a year, went barefoot, and pissed anywhere I damn pleased. You ever been to the South Pacific?"
"You'd like it. The girls are real friendly. Real friendly. Great place to surf. Kell got bored there, but I liked it. Gonna go back sometime, restore a little ketch, do some trading island to island." Jamie was having doubts about he and Kell ever scoring big enough to get a yacht, and anyway, you'd probably have to hang around with rich people, and Jamie had had enough of those bastards.
"I wouldn't mind going back to the South China Sea, either. I had a job on a cargo liner there for almost a year. Best job I ever had—best captain. Captain Harvard. He was Dutch, most of us couldn't say his name—we called him Captain Harvard. Most of the crew was Kiwis. Harvard said sea captains went back in his family four hundred years, and I believe it. He sure knew what he was doing. It was a hell of a fun route—if you could load it, Harvard would carry it. And room for about eight passengers, too. You got a lot of odd ducks in that part of the world."
"Why'd you quit?"
"The ship caught fire and sank. We all got off, thanks to the captain."
Jamie wished he could tell the ship's burning like Kell could. Sometimes Jamie forgot Kell hadn't been there.
"We were waitin' around in Borneo, to see if Harvard was getting another ship, when Kell shows up with his bright idea about smuggling jewels outta Burma. You heard how that turned out.... They still got cannibals in Borneo, you know that?"
Sometimes Jamie thought about going back, seeing if he could sign back on with Harvard. There hadn't been a man onboard who didn't trust that guy with his life, and some had crewed the ship for fifteen years ... but there was always a list of people wanting those jobs. The only reason Jamie got on in the first place was that Kell knew someone....
"You're shittin' me, man." Steve wasn't hard to please.
Jamie liked that about Steve—for once Jamie got to be the talker. And he didn't have to make anything up, just told the truth. Steve hadn't been around too much.
"I'm going to get a little powerboat for the weekends. Tracy likes boats."
Tracy was Steve's girlfriend. He was planning on getting married. Between the powerboat and the marriage idea, Jamie decided Steve was about the most boring person he'd ever come across, even if he was a nice guy.
"Oh man."—Steve voiced his most common worry—"I hope I don't get drafted. It just don't seem fair, something can swoop down and change your life like that."
"Aw, join the navy—at least you know you don't get seasick. You'd be surprised how many guys have a real problem with that. I heard they might get the New Jersey outta mothballs. I could even stand to take a few orders, if I got a chance to be on a battleship."
"You ain't hearing me, man. I don't want to be in the navy, I don't want to be at sea. I'm quitting after this voyage. Glad I listened to Dad, no way I could do this the rest of my life."
"I get homesick. Don't you ever get homesick?"
"Never had a home to get sick for. Grew up in an orphanage."
In a way, Jamie thought, the ocean was like home to him. If be was away from it for very long, he missed it. And no matter where in the world he was, he felt at home when he saw the sea. Homesick...
A grim smile passed across Jamie's face.
"That place burned down while I was in high school. Wish the fuckin' nu—"
Kell came in with his good pal First Officer Alan Gregory. "That's no language to use about nuns. It's bad luck on any ship, and I won't hear it, besides."
Most of the crew would soon be drifting in. The mess room was the evening gathering place.
"Aw, Kell, you don't believe in that cr—stuff, do you?" Jamie had often seen Kell cross himself in dangerous situations. He thought it was habit or superstition or something. Even for a seafaring man, Kell was very superstitious. Jamie himself took note of omens—you had to, if you wanted to live at sea—but that was about as far as it went with him.
"It's mother's milk to some of us, lad," said Gregory. The captain was half drunk, half nuts; First Mate Gregory ran things on the ship. Kell thought he was very clever. He set Jamie's teeth on edge.
"Hasn't stopped Kell from much," Jamie pointed out.
"Yes," Kell said. "No doubt I'll spend a good long while in purgatory. If I go first, Jamie, light a candle for me, say a prayer for my soul."
He laughed and went to get a cup of coffee.
Jamie said nothing. He hadn't said a sincere prayer since he was eight years old; it was unlikely he'd start now, even for Kell's soul.
Gregory paused for a minute, studying Jamie. He had cold eyes, Jamie thought. The color of guns.
"I see who 'tis you're remindin' me of now—it's the coloring that fooled me. Young Timothy, Kell's brother."
Jamie said nothing.
"He was a quiet little hothead, too."
When Gregory was not quite out of hearing, Jamie remarked, "He's so full of shit."
Steve looked ner
vously after Gregory.
"God, be careful, Jamie. You don't want to piss that guy off."
"He can kiss my ass," Jamie said.