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Chapter 5


The wicked flee when no man pursueth:

but the righteous are bold as a lion.

Proverbs 28:1

BARELY BREATHING, I used gummed tape I found in Graham's desk to seal the envelopes. I put everything back but the passport, placed it with that three thousand that I thought of as 'mine' in the little drawer of the desk, then took the box back to the purser'~ office, carrying it carefully.

Someone else was at the front desk but the purser was in sight in his inner office; I caught his eye.

'Hi,' he called out. 'Back so soon?' He came out.

'Yes,' I agreed. 'For once, everything tallied.' I passed the box to him.

'I'd like to hire you for this office. Here, nothing ever tallies. At least not earlier than midnight. Let, s go find that drink. I need one.'

'So do I! Let's.'

The purser led me aft to an outdoor bar I had not noticed on the ship's plan. The deck above us ended and the deck we were on, D deck, continued on out as a weather deck, bright teak planks pleasant to walk on. The break on C deck formed an overhang; under it was this outdoor spread canvas. At right angles to the bar were long tables offering a lavish buffet lunch; passengers were queued up for it. Farther aft was the ship's swimming pool; I could hear splashing, squeals, and yells.

He led me on aft to a small table occupied by two junior officers. We stopped there. 'You two. Jump overboard.'

'Right away, Purser.' They stood up, picked up their beer glasses, and moved farther aft. One of them grinned at me and nodded, as if we knew each other, so I nodded and said, U.'

This table was partly shaded by awning. The purser said to me, 'Do you want to sit in the sun and watch the girls, or sit in the shade and relax?'

'Either way. Sit where you wish; I'll take the other chair.'

'Um. Let's move this table a little and both sit in the shade. There, that does it.' He sat down facing forward; perforce I sat facing the swimming pool - and confirmed something I thought I had seen at first glance: This swimming pool did not require anything as redundant as swim suits.

I should have inferred it by logic had I thought about it - but I had not. The last time I had seen it - swimming without suits - I had been about twelve and it had been strictly a male privilege for boys that age or younger.

'I said, "What will you drink, Mr Graham'

'Oh! Sorry, I wasn't listening.'

'I know. You were looking. What will it be?'

'Uh... a Danish zombie.'

He blinked at me. 'You don't want that at this time of day; that's a skull splitter. Mmm - 'He waggled his fingers at someone behind me. 'Sweetheart, come here.'

I looked up as the summoned waitress approached. I looked and then looked twice. I had seen her last through an alcoholic haze the night before, one of two redheads in the hula chorus line.

'Tell Hans I want two silver fizzes. What's your name, dear?'

'Mr Henderson, you pretend just one more time that you don't know my name and I'll pour your drink right on your bald spot.'

'Yes, dear. Now hurry up. Get those fat legs moving.'

She snorted and glided away on limbs that were slender and graceful. The purser added, 'A fine girl, that. Her parents live just across from me in Odense; I've known her since she was a baby. A smart girl, too. Bodel is studying to be a veterinary surgeon, one more year to go.'

'Really? How does she do this and go to school, too?'

'Most of our girls are at university. Some take a summer off, some take a term off - go to sea, have some fun, save up money for next term. In hiring I give preference to girls who are working their way through university; they are more dependable - and they know more languages. Take your room stewardess. Astrid?'

'No. Margrethe.'

'Oh, yes, you are in one-oh-nine; Astrid has portside forward on your deck, Margrethe is on your side. Margrethe Svensdatter Gunderson. Schoolteacher. English language and history. But knows four more languages not counting Scandinavian languages - and has certificates for two of them. On one-year leave from H. C. Andersen Middle School. I'm betting she won't go back.'

'Eh? Why?'

'She'll marry-a rich American. Are you rich?'

'Me'? Do I look rich?' (Could he possibly know what is in that lockbox? Dear God, what does one do with a million dollars that isn't yours? I can't just throw it overboard. Why would Graham be traveling with that much in cash? I could think of several reasons, all bad. Any one of them could get me in more trouble than I had ever seen.)

'Rich Americans never look it; they practice not looking rich. North Americans ' I mean; South Americans are another fish entirely. Gertrude, thank you. You are a good girl.'

'You want this drink on your bald spot?'

'You want me to throw you into the pool with your clothes on? Behave yourself, dear, or I'll tell your mother. Put them down and give me the chit.'

'No chit; Hans wanted to buy a drink for Mr Graham. So he decided to include you, this once.'

'You tell him that's the way the bar loses money. Tell him I take it out of his wages.'

That's how I happened to drink two silver fizzes instead of one... and was well on my way toward a disaster such as the night before, when Mr Henderson decided that we must eat. I wanted a third fizz. The first two had enabled me to quit worrying over that crazy box full of money while enhancing my appreciation of the poolside floor show. I was discovering that a lifetime of conditioning could wash away in only twenty-four hours. There was nothing sinful about looking at feminine loveliness unadorned. It was as sweetly innocent as looking at flowers or kittens - but far more fun.

In the meantime I wanted another drink.

Mr Henderson vetoed it, called Bodel over, spoke to her rapidly in Danish. She left, returned a few minutes later carrying a loaded tray - smorgasbord, hot meat balls, sweet pastry shells stuffed with ice cream, strong coffee, all in large quantities.

Twenty-five minutes later I still appreciated the teenagers at the pool, but I was no longer on my way to another alcoholic catastrophe. I had sobered up so much that I now realized that I not only could not solve my problems through spirits but must shun alcohol until I did solve them - as I did not know how to handle strong drink. Uncle Ed was right; vice required training and long practice otherwise for pragmatic reasons virtue should rule even when moral instruction has ceased to bind.

My morals certainly had ceased to bind - or I could not have sat there with a glass of Devil's brew in my hand while I stared at naked female flesh.

I found that I had not even a twinge of conscience over anything. My only regret involved the sad knowledge that I could not handle the amount of alcohol I would have enjoyed. 'Easy is the descent into Hell.'

Mr Henderson stood up. 'We tie up in less than two hours and I have some figures to fudge before the agent comes aboard. Thanks for a nice time.'

'Thank you, sir! Tusind tak! Is that how you say it?'

He smiled and left. I sat there for a bit and thought. Two hours till we docked, three hours in port - what could I do with the opportunities?

Go to the American consul? Tell him what? Dear Mr Consul, I am not he whom I am presumed to be and I just happened to find this million dollars - Ridiculous!

Say nothing to anyone, grab that million, go ashore and catch the next airship for Patagonia?

Impossible. My morals had slipped - apparently they were never very strong. But I III had this prejudice against stealing. It's not only wrong; it's undignified.

Bad enough that I'm wearing his clothes.

Take the three thousand that is 'rightfully' yours, go' ashore, wait for the ship to sail, then get back to America as best you can?

Stupid ideal. You would wind up in a tropical jail and your silly gesture would not do Graham any good. It's Hobson's choice again, you knothead; you must stay aboard and wait for Graham to show up. He won't, but there might be a wireless message or something. Bite your nails until the ship sails. When it does, thank God for a trip home to God's country. While Graham does the same for his ticket home in the Admiral Moffett. I wonder how he liked being named Hergensheimer? Better than I like 'Graham' I'll bet. A proud name, Hergensheimer.

I got up, ducked around to the far side, and went up two decks to the library, found it unoccupied save for a woman, working on a crossword puzzle. Neither of us wanted to be disturbed, which made us good company. Most of the bookcases were locked, the librarian not being present, but there was a battered encyclopedia - just what I needed as a start.

Two hours later I was startled by a blast indicating that we had a line to the dock; we had arrived. I was loaded with strange history and stranger ideas and none of it digested. To start with, in this world William Jennings Bryan was never president; in I896 McKinley had been elected in his place, had served two terms and had been followed by someone named Roosevelt.

I recognised none of the twentieth-century presidents.

Instead of more than a century of peace under our traditional neutrality, the United States had repeatedly been involved in foreign wars: I899, I9I2-I7, I932 (With Japan!), I950-52, I980-84, and so on right up to the current year - or current when this encyclopedia was published; King's Skald did not report a war now going on.

Behind the glass of one of the locked cases I spotted several history books. If I was still in the ship three hours from now, I must plan on reading every history book in the ship's library during the long passage to America.

But names of presidents and dates of wars were not my most urgent need; these are not daily concerns. What I urgently needed to know, lest ignorance cause me anything from needless embarrassment to catastrophe, was the differences between my world and this world in how people lived, talked, behaved, ate, drank, played, prayed, and loved. While I was learning, I must be careful to talk as little as possible and to listen as much as possible.

I once had a neighbour whose knowledge of history seemed limited to two dates, I492 and I776, and even with those two he was mixed up as to what events each marked. His ignorance in other fields was just as profound; nevertheless he earned an excellent living as a paving contractor.

'It does not require a broad education to function as a social and economic animal... as long as you know when to rub blue mud into your bellybutton. But a mistake in local customs can get you lynched.

I wondered how Graham was doing? It occurred to me that his situation was far more. dangerous than mine... if I assumed (as apparently I must) that he and I had simply swapped places. It seemed that my background could make me appear eccentric here - but his background could get Graham into serious trouble in my world. A casual remark, an innocent act, could land him in the stocks. Or worse.

But he might find his worst trouble through attempting to fit himself fully into my role - if indeed he tried. Let me put it this way: On her birthday after we had been married a year I gave Abigail a fancy edition of The Taming of the Shrew. She never suspected that I had been making a statement; her conviction of her own righteousness did not embrace the possibility that in my heart I equated her with Kate. If Graham assumed my role as her husband, the relationship was bound to be interesting for each of them.

I would not knowingly wish Abigail on anyone. Since I had not been consulted, I did not cry crocodile tears.

(What would it be to bed with a woman who did not always refer to marital relations as 'family duties'?)

Here I have in front of me a twenty-volume encyclopedia, millions of words packed with all the major facts of this world - facts I urgently need. What can I squeeze out of it quickly? Where to start? I don't want Greek art, or Egyptian history, or geology - but what do I want?

Well, what did you first notice about this world? This ship itself. Its old-fashioned appearance compared with the sleek lines of the M.V. Konge Knut. Then, once you were aboard, the lack of a telephone in your-Graham's stateroom. The lack of passenger elevators. Little things that gave it an air of the luxury of grandfather's day.

So let's see the article on 'Ships' - volume eighteen.

Yes, sir! Three pages of pictures ... and they all have that Mauve-Decade look. S.S. Britannia, biggest and fastest North Atlantic liner, 2000 passengers, only sixteen knots! And looks it.

Let's try the general article on 'Transportation'

Well, well! We aren't too surprised, are we? No mention of airships. But let's check the index volume - Airship, nothing; dirigible, zero; aeronautics - see 'Balloon'.

Ah, yes, a good article on free ballooning, with the Montgolfiers and the other daring pioneers - even Salomon Andr'ee's brave and tragic attack on the North Pole. But either Count von Zeppelin never lived, or he never turned his attention to aeronautics.

Possibly, after his service in the Civil War, he returned to Germany and there never found the atmosphere receptive to the idea of air travel that he enjoyed in Ohio in my world. As may be, this world does not have air travel. Alex, if you have to live here, how would you like to 'invent' the airship? Be a pioneer, and tycoon, and get rich and famous?

What makes you think you could?

Why, I made my first airship flight when I was only twelve years old! I know all about them; I could draw plans for one right now -

You could? Draw me production drawings for a lightweight diesel, not over one pound per horsepower. Specify the alloys used, give the heat treatments, show work diagrams for the actual operating cycles, specify fuels, state procurement sources, specify lubricants

All those things can be worked out!

Yes, but can you do it? Even knowing that it can be done? Remember why you dropped out of engineering school and decided you had a call for the ministry? Comparative religion, homiletics, higher criticism, apologetics, Hebrew, Latin, Greek, all require scholarship... but the slipstick subjects require brains.

So I'm stupid, am I?

Would you have walked through that fire pit if you had brains enough to come in out of the rain?

Why didn't you stop me?

Stop you? When did you ever listen to me? Quit evading what was your final mark in thermodynamics?

All right! Assume that I can't do it myself -

Big of you.

Lay off, will you? Knowing that something can be done is two thirds of the battle. I could be director of research and guide the efforts of some really sharp young engineers. They supply the brains; I supply the unique memory of what a dirigible balloon looks like and how it works. Okay?

That's the proper division of labor: You supply memory, they supply brains. Yes, that could work. But not quickly, not cheaply. How are you going to finance it?

Uh, sell shares?

Remember the summer you sold vacuum cleaners?

Well... there's that million dollars.

Naughty, naughty!

'Mr Graham?'

I looked up from my great plans to find a yeoman from the purser's office looking at me. 'Yes?'

She handed me an envelope. 'From Mr Henderson, sir. He said you would probably have an answer.'

'Thank you.' The note read: 'Dear Mr Graham: There are three men down here in the square who claim to have an appointment with you. I don't like their looks or the way they talk - and this port has some very strange customers. If you are not expecting them or don't wish to see them, tell my messenger that she could not find you. Then I'll tell them that you've gone ashore. A.P.H.'

I remained balanced between curiosity and caution for some long, uncomfortable moments. They did not want to see me; they wanted to see Graham... and whatever it was they wanted of Graham, I could not satisfy their want.

You know what they want!

'So I suspect. But, even if they have a chit signed by Saint Peter, I can't turn over to them - or to anyone - that silly million dollars. You know that.

Certainly I know that. I wanted to be sure that you knew it. All right, since there are no circumstances under which you will turn over to a trio of strangers the contents of Graham's lockbox, then why see them?

Because I've got to know! Now shut up. I said to the yeoman, 'Please tell Mr Henderson that I will be right down. And thank you for your trouble.'

'My pleasure, sir. Uh, Mr Graham. ... I saw you walk the fire. You were wonderful!'

'I was out of my silly mind. Thanks anyhow.'

I stopped at the top of the companionway and sized up the three men waiting for me. They looked as if they had been type-cast for menace: one oversize job about six feet eight with the hands, feet, jaw, and ears of glandular giantism; one sissy type about one quarter the size of the big man; one nothing type with dead eyes. Muscles, brain, and gun - or was it my jumpy imagination?

A smart person would go quietly back up and hide.

I'm not smart.




Chapter 4 | JOB: A Comedy of Justice | Chapter 6



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