home   |   А-Я   |   A-Z   |   меню

Chapter 4

Although affliction cometh not forth of the dust,

neither doth trouble spring out of the ground;

yet man is born unto trouble,

as the sparks fly upward.

Job 5:6-7

I SLOWLY became aware of myself and wished I had not; a most terrible nightmare was chasing me. I jammed my eyes shut against the light and tried to go back to sleep.

Native drums were beating in my head; I tried to shut them out by covering my ears.

They got louder.

I gave up, opened my eyes and lifted my head. A mistake - my stomach flipfiopped and my ears shook. My eyes would not track and those infernal drums were tearing my skull apart.

I finally got my eyes to track, although the focus was fuzzy. I looked around, found that I was in a strange room, lying on top of a bed and only half dressed.

That began to bring it back to me. A party aboard ship. Spirits. Lots of spirits. Noise. Nakedness. The Captain in a grass skirt, dancing heartily, and the orchestra keeping step with him. Some of the lady passengers wearing grass skirts and some wearing even less. Rattle of bamboo, boom of drums.

Drums -

Those weren't drums in my head; that was the booming of the worst headache of my life. Why in Ned did I let them -

Never mind 'them'. You did it yourself, chum.

Yes, but -

'Yes, but.' Always 'Yes, but.' All your life it's been 'Yes, but.' When are you going to straighten up and take full responsibility for your life and all that happens to you?

Yes, but this isn't my fault. I'm not A. L. Graham. That isn't my name. This isn't my ship.

It isn't? You're not?

Of course not -

I sat up to Shake off this bad dream. Sitting up was a mistake; my head did not fall off but a stabbing pain at the base of my neck added itself to the throbbing inside my skull. I was wearing black dress trousers and apparently nothing else and I was in a strange room that was rolling slowly.

Graham's trousers. Graham's room. And that long, slow roll was that of a ship with no stabilizers.

Not a dream. Or if it is, I can't shake myself out of it. My teeth itched, my feet didn't fit. Dried sweat all over me except where I was clammy. My armpits - Don't even think about armpits!

My mouth needed to have lye dumped into it.

I remembered everything now. Or almost. The fire pit. Villagers. Chickens scurrying out of the way. The ship that wasn't my ship - but was. Margrethe -


'Thy two breasts are like two roes - thou art all fair, my love!'

Margrethe among the dancers, her bosom as bare as her feet. Margrethe dancing with that villainous kanaka, and shaking her -

No wonder I got drunk!

Stow it, chum! You were drunk before that. All you've got against that native lad is that it was he instead of you. You wanted to dance with her yourself. Only you can't dance.

Dancing is a snare of Satan.

And don't you wish you knew how!

'- like two roes'! Yes I do!

I heard a light tap at the door, then a rattle of keys. Margrethe stuck her head in. 'Awake? Good.' She came in, carrying a tray, closed the door, came to me. 'Drink this.'

'What is it?'

'Tomato juice, mostly. Don't argue - drink it!'

'I don't think I can.'

'Yes, you can. You must. Do it.'

I sniffed it, then I took a small sip. To my amazement it did not nauseate me. So I drank some more. After one minor quiver it went down smoothly and lay quietly inside me. Margrethe produced two pills. 'Take these. Wash them down with the rest of the tomato juice.'

'I never take medicine.'

She sighed, and said something I did not understand. Not English. Not quite. 'What did you say?'

'Just something my grandmother used to say when grandfather argued with her. Mr Graham, take those pills. They are just aspirin and you need them. If you won't cooperate, I'll stop trying to help you. I'll - I'll swap you to Astrid, that's what I'll do.'

'Don't do that.'

'I will if you keep objecting. Astrid would swap, I know she would. She likes you - she told me you were watching her dance last night.'

I accepted the pills, washed them down with the rest of the tomato juice - ice-cold and very comforting. 'I did until I spotted you. Then I watched you.'

She smiled for the first time. 'Yes? Did you like it?'

'You were beautiful.' (And your dance was obscene. Your immodest dress and your behaviour shocked me out of a year's growth. I hated it - and I wish I could see it all over again this very instant!) 'You are very graceful.'

The smile grew dimples. 'I had hoped that you would like it, sir.'

'I did. Now stop threatening me with Astrid.'

'All right. As long as you behave. Now get up and into the shower. First very hot, then very cold. Like a sauna.'

She waited. 'Up, ' I said. I'm not leaving until that shower is running and steam is pouring out.'

'I'll shower. After you leave.'

'And you'll run it lukewarm, I know. Get up, get those trousers off, get into that shower. While you're showering, I'll fetch your breakfast tray. There is just enough time before they shut down the galley to set up for lunch... so quit wasting time. Please!'

'Oh, I can't eat breakfast! Not today. No. 'Food - what a disgusting thought.

'You must eat. You drank too much last night, you know you did. If you don't eat, you will feel bad all day. Mr Graham, I've finished making up for all my other guests, so I'm off watch now. I'm fetching your tray, then I'm going to stay and see that you eat it.' She looked at me. 'I should have taken your trousers off when I put you to bed. But you were too heavy.'

'You put me to bed?'

'Ori helped me. The boy I danced with.' My face must have given me away, for she added hastily, 'Oh, I didn't let him come into your room, sir. I undressed you myself. But I did have to have help to get you up the stairs.'

'I wasn't criticizing.' (Did you go back to the party then? Was he there? Did you dance with him again? -`jealousy is cruel as the grave; the coals thereof are coals of fire -' I have no right.) 'I thank you both. I must have been a beastly nuisance.'

'Well... brave men often drink too much, after danger is over. But it's not good for you.'

'No, it's not.' I got up off the bed, went into the bathroom, said, 'I'll turn it up hot. Promise.' I closed the door and bolted it, finished undressing. (So I got so stinking, rubber-limp drunk that a native boy had to help get me to bed. Alex, you're a disgusting mess! And you haven't any right to be jealous over a nice girl. You don't own her, her behavior is not wrong by the standards of this place - wherever this place is - and all she's done is mother you and, take care of you. That does not give you a claim on her.)

I did turn it up hot, though it durn near kilt poor old Alex. But I left it hot until the nerve ends seemed cauterized - then suddenly switched it to cold, and screamed.

I let it stay cold until it no longer felt cold, then shut.It off and -dried down, having opened the door to let out the moisture-charged air. I stepped out into the room... and suddenly realized that I felt wonderful. No headache. No feeling that the world is ending at noon. No stomach queasies. Just hunger. Alex, you must never get drunk again... but if you do, you must do exactly what Margrethe tells you to. You've got a smart head on her shoulders, boy - appreciate it.

I started to whistle and opened Graham's wardrobe.

I heard a key in the door, hastily grabbed his bathrobe, managed to cover up before she got the door open. She was slow about it, being hampered by a heavy tray. When I realized this I held the door for her. She put down the tray, then arranged dishes and food on my desk.

'You were right about the sauna-type shower,' I told her. 'It was just what the doctor ordered. Or the nurse, I should say.'

'I know, it's what my grandmother used to do for my grandfather.'

'A smart woman. My, this smells good!' (Scrambled eggs, bacon, lavish amounts of Danish pastry, milk, coffee - a side dish of cheeses, fladbrod, and thin curls of ham, some tropic fruit I can't name.) 'What was that your grandmother used to say when your grandfather argued?'

'Oh, she was sometimes impatient.'

'And you never are. Tell me.'

'Well - She used to say that God created men to test the souls of women.'

'She may have a point. Do you agree with her?'

Her smile produced dimples. 'I think they have other uses as well.'

Margrethe tidied my room and cleaned my bath (okay, okay, Graham's room, Graham's bath - satisfied?) while I ate. She laid out a pair of slacks, a sport shirt in an island print, and sandals for me, then removed the tray and dishes while leaving coffee and the remaining fruit. I thanked her as she left, wondered if I should offer 'payment' and wondered, too, if she performed such valet services for other passengers. It seemed unlikely. I found I could not ask.

I bolted the door after her and proceeded to search. Graham's room.

I was wearing his clothes, sleeping in his bed, answering to his name - and now I must decide whether or not I would go whole hawg and be 'A. L. Graham'... or should I go to some authority (American consul? If not, whom?), admit the impersonation, and ask.for help?

Events were crowding me. Today's King Skald showed that S.S. Konge Knut was scheduled to dock at Papeete at 3 p.m. and sail for MazatIdn, Mexico, at 6 p.m. The purser notified all passengers wishing to change francs into dollars that a representative of the Bank of Papeete would be in the ship's square facing the purser's office from docking until fifteen minutes before sailing. The purser again wished to notify passengers that shipboard indebtedness such as bar and shop bills could be settled only in dollars, Danish crowns, or by means of validated letters of credit.

All very reasonable. And troubling. I had expected the, ship to stop at Papeete for twenty-four hours at the very least. Docking for only three hours seemed preposterous - why, they would hardly finish tying up before it would be time, to start singling up for sailing! Didn't they have to pay rent for twenty-four hours if they docked at all?

Then I reminded myself that managing the ship was not my business. Perhaps the Captain was taking advantage of a few hours between departure of one ship and arrival of another. Or there might be six other reasons. The only thing I should worry about was what I could accomplish between three and six, and' what I must accomplish between now and three.

Forty minutes of intense searching turned up the following:

Clothes, all sorts - no problem other than about five pounds at my waistline.

Money - the francs in his billfold (must change them) and the eighty-five dollars there; three thousand dollars loose in the desk drawer that held the little case for Graham's watch, ring, shirt studs, etc. Since the watch and jewelry had been returned to this case, I assumed, conclusively that Margrethe had conserved for me the proceeds of that bet that I (or Graham) had won from Forsyth and Jeeves and Henshaw. It is said that the Lord looks out for fools and drunkards; if so, in my case He operated through Margrethe.

Various impedimenta of no significance to my immediate problem - books, souvenirs, toothpaste, etc.

No passport.

When a first search failed to turn up Graham's passport, I went back and searched again. this time checking the pockets of all clothes hanging in his wardrobe as well as rechecking with care all the usual places and some unusual places that might hide a booklet the size of a passport.

No passport.

Some tourists are meticulous about keeping their passports on their persons whenever leaving a ship. I prefer not to carry my passport when I can avoid it because losing a passport is a sticky mess. I had not carried mine the day before ... so now mine was gone where the woodbine twineth, gone to Fiddler's Green, gone where Motor Vessel Konge Knut had gone. And where was that I had not had time to think about that yet; I was too busy coping with a strange new world.

If Graham had carried his passport yesterday, then it too was gone to Fiddler's Green through a crack in the fourth dimension. It was beginning to look that way.

While I fumed, someone slipped an envelope under the stateroom door.

I picked it up and opened it. Inside was the purser's billing for 'my' (Graham's) bills aboard ship. Was Graham scheduled to leave the ship at Papeete? Oh, no! If he was, I might be marooned in the islands indefinitely.

No, maybe not. This appeared to be a routine end-of-amonth billing.

The size of Graham's bar bill shocked me... until I noticed some individual items. Then I was still more shocked but for another reason. When a Coca-Cola costs two dollars it does not mean that a Coke is bigger; it means that the dollar is smaller.

I now knew why a three-hundred-dollar bet on. uh, the other side turned out to be three thousand dollars on this side.

If I was going to have to live in this world, I was going to have to readjust my thinking about all prices. Treat dollars as I would a foreign currency and convert all prices in my head until I got used to them. For example, if these shipboard prices were representative, then a first-class dinner, steak or prime rib, in a first-class restaurant, let's say the main dining room of a hotel such as the Brown Palace or the Mark Hopkins - such a dinner could easily cost ten dollars. Whew!

With cocktails before dinner and wine with it, the tab might reach fifteen dollars! A week's wages. Thank heaven I don't drink!

You don't what?

Look - last night was a very special occasion.

So? So it was, because you lose your virginity only once. Once gone, it's gone forever. What was that you were drinking just before the lights went out? A Danish zombie? Wouldn't you like one of those about now? Just to readjust your stability?

I'll never touch one again!

See you later, chum.

Just one more chance but a good one - I hoped. The small case that Graham used for jewelry and such had in it a key, plain save for the number eighty-two stamped on its side. If fate was smiling, that was a - key to a lockbox in the purser's office.

(And if fate was sneering at me today, it was a key to a lockbox in a bank somewhere in the forty-six states, a bank I would never see. But let's not borrow trouble; I have all I need

I went down one deck and aft. 'Good morning, Purser.'

'Ah, Mr Graham! A fine party, was it not?'

'It certainly was. One more like that and I'm a corpse.'

'Oh, come now, That from a man who walks through fire. You seemed to enjoy it - and I know I did. What can we do for you, sir?'

I brought out the key I had found. 'Do I have the right key? Or does this one belong to my bank? I can never remember.'

The purser took it. 'That's one of ours. Poul! Take this and get Mr Graham's box. Mr Graham, do you want to come around behind and sit at a table?'

'Yes, thank you. Uh, do you have a sack or something that would hold the contents of a box that size? I would take it back to my desk for paper work.'

'"A sac" - Mmm... I could get one from the gift shop. But - How long do you think this desk work will take you? Can you finish it by noon?'

'Oh, certainly.'

'Then take the box itself back to your stateroom. There is a rule against it but I made the rule so we can risk breaking it. But try to be back by noon. We close from noon to thirteen - union rules - and if I have to sit here by myself with all my clerks gone to lunch, you'll have to buy me a drink.'

'I'll buy you one anyhow.'

'We'll roll for it. Here you are. Don't take it through any fires.'

Right on top was Graham's passport. A tight lump in my chest eased. I know of no more lost feeling than being outside the Union without a passport ... even though it's not truly the Union. I opened it, looked at the picture embossed inside. Do I look like that? I went into the bathroom, compared the face in the mirror' with the face in the passport.

Near enough, I guess. No one expects much of a passport picture. I tried holding the photograph up to the mirror. Suddenly it was a good resemblance. Chum, your face is lopsided... and so is yours, Mr Graham.

Brother, if I'm going to have to assume your identity permanently - and it looks more and more as if I have no choice - it's a relief to know that we look so much alike. Fingerprints? We'll cope with that when we have to. Seems the U.S. of N.A. doesn't use fingerprints on passports; that's some help. Occupation: Executive. Executive of what? A funeral parlor? Or a worldwide chain of hotels? Maybe this is not going to be difficult but merely impossible.

Address: Care of O'Hara, Rigsbee, Crumpacker, and Rigsbee, Attys at Law, Suite 7000, Smith Building, Dallas. Oh, just dandy. Merely a mail drop. No business address, no home address, no business. Why, you phony, I'd love to poke you in the snoot!

(He can't be too repulsive; Margrethe thinks well of him. Well, yes - but he should keep his hands off Margrethe; he's taking advantage of her. Unfair. Who is taking advantage of her? Watch it, boy, you'll get a split personality.)

An envelope under the passport contained the passenger's file copy of his ticket - and it was indeed round trip, Portland to Portland. Twin, unless you show up before 6 p.m., I've got a trip home. Maybe you can use my ticket in the Admiral Moffett. I wish you luck.

There were some minor items but the bulk of the metal box was occupied by ten sealed fat envelopes, business size. I opened one.

It contained thousand-dollar bills, one hundred of them.

I made a fast check with the other nine. All alike. One million dollars in cash.

Chapter 3 | JOB: A Comedy of Justice | Chapter 5