We all knew it was an illusion.
Slide of hand, smoke and mirrors.
But he was so good, so artful
So…. beautiful in the way he’d manipulate us
That we just let him.
Written for Trifecta Week One Hundred and Eleven
After I left the Imperial, I was once again at odds over what I was going to do with my life. Thankfully, this time I had certificates that attested that I actually was able to do some things so my search for employment was not quite so fruitless as before. In fact I was only wandering the streets of Darwin for a couple of days before I found myself a new job.
Word of my “canned meat surprise” must have gotten out and I was snapped up as a chef on the Eastern Star, an ocean liner. This was definitely stepping up. Compared to the Imperial the galleys of the Eastern Star were massive. There were twelve of us working there, we were meant to handle the cooking for both the crew, for which I was evidently most suited, and for the passengers who tended to have more, shall we say, upmarket tastes.
We had two types of passengers on the Star. We had steerage, mostly poor, people traveling for work or to make a new life. They were easy enough to please, for them food was food and the stoge that I would supply would keep them happy enough. They would often talk to me about why they were traveling. Some of the stories were tragic, others funny, all were human. I have to say that I liked most of them.
I frankly could not say the same about those in “First Class”, the marks there because even in those by-gone times most of the real knobs were traveling by air already. First class was filled only by those pretenders who thought that a little extra money meant they were better then the rest of us and boy they acted that way.
Every single one of the crew was forced to deal with their constant demands from the top decks. There were requests to repaint rooms, constantly shift furniture around in ‘State Rooms’. Of course, the most demands we got was about the food.
Nearly every trip had a person that had an unusual demand. From a particular way of doing their eggs in the morning to an exact consistency of gravy with their dinner. We had to field a lot of complaints but the worst case we had, the most troublesome passenger I had ever dealt with really took matters into their own hands.
It actually began several months beforehand. I had been on the Eastern Star for over two years and I was going over the schedule and I figured that we were going to be at sea for Christmas. Talking with the boys we came to the conclusion that we were going to need a proper meal for the holidays, namely roast bird.
Traditionally we ate goose for Christmas but to get a full sized goose would have been far too expensive to buy let alone to get the at least seven we were going to need for the whole crew. Thankfully we were at port in Hong Kong at the time and I was able to slip out to a market one afternoon and set the wheels in motion.
I bought ten little goslings barely the size of your hand, for less than the cost of a full goose. The idea was that we were going to feed them on kitchen scraps over the five months before christmas and kill them ourselves when they were nice and fat. It was genius. The ship’s carpenter made a tiny pen for them which we stored in a disused room behind the galley. It was going really well. Then She came.
Her name was Giselle Olstead. She was American and her parents were incredibly rich. At the age of nineteen she had decided that she was going to drop out of college to tour the world and she was traveling from the far East to Australia so she could spend Christmas and New Year with her Family. At the start we were excited, because we figured that actually being a rich kid she was more deserving to be in first class than anyone who was there before. We quickly changed our tune on that one.
You see; Giselle was taking the boat and not flying which she could very much afford to because she had developed some very unusual ideas during the course of her travels. On her first day aboard she lectured us on the evils of smoking, and how airplanes in the sky were an abomination to “Father Sky”. We nodded at that and didn’t say a word until she had stalked off to meditate but we all agreed that she was as daft as a bag of hammers.
The major beef that Giselle had was the eating of meat! We had had vegetarians before, vegans even and we could cater for them in so far as it we were able in that day and age but Giselle was intolerable. She was not of the opinion that she alone could not eat meat. But that no one should eat meat in her presence. The first meal on our voyage descended into a shouting match and Giselle attempting to throw pots of stew overboard. It took a good three hours and the combined negotiating skills of the Captain and Chief steward to calm her down.
From then on a fragile peace reigned over the Eastern Star Giselle would eat her vegan food in her cabin and we in the galley would do our damnedest to make sure any sign of meat either being cooked or prepared was kept away from her presence. It worked, but I think we all had the feeling that it wouldn’t last.
The weather had been good on our journey and two days in myself and the rest of the galley staff decided that our goslings, who by then were getting nicely fat and rapidly approaching their appointment with the carving knife, would do good to get out in the sun. To that end, and with the captain’s permission we moved their pen out onto the upper deck on an out of the way place, with a little bit of shade of course. It was nice to sit out on the deck in the sun and hear them give out and fight over a couple of scraps.
Now, I wasn’t there when it happened but I was told that one of the deck hands was feeding scraps to the geese when Giselle came over and offered to help. I swear that I would have thought of something to say but the idiot told her straight out what the birds were there for. The woman looked aghast for a moment. And then exploded.
There was shouting. There were tears. Mostly there were demands that “Those poor innocent birds be set free”. Most of the deck hands looked at her puzzled and let her move on. She went to the captain but he wanted the goose dinner as much as anyone and flatly refused her. She has a cold, determined look on her face as she left saying “This isn’t over”.
That evening it was a quiet night and the sea was as calm as glass. It was warm that I kept the porthole in my cabin open while I slept to let in some air. The night was quiet and the engines only a low thrum in the background, I slept very well.
I was awoken though by a noise from outside it sounded like something breaking followed by muffled cries then….
HONK! HONK! HONK! HONK! HONK! HONK! HONK! HONK! HONK! Followed by a splash.
I rushed to the porthole only to see another goose honking and flapping madly as it fell down to the water. I twisted my head only to see Giselle shouting down “Fly! Fly away to freedom”
I woke as many of the crew as I could and rushed up to the deck. There where four geese in what was left of the cage and one in her Giselle’s when we got there. A Norwegian engineer rugby-tackled her to the deck while two cooks wrestled the frightened bird from her hands. She spat venom while three burly men took her below decks but I did not pay any attention I looked out over the water but straining I could only see two white smudges floating in the dark.
The geese were in the water. Their wings were clipped so they couldn’t fly. They wouldn’t last long.
I thought on my feet. “Man overboard!” I shouted at the top of my lungs “Ready the boat!” The second mate who was slightly worse for wear over a glass or two of brandy instantly cut the engines and the deck-hands worked quickly launching a small skiff. I lead the way directing them out into the dark.
We found three of them by their constant calls in the water. At first the others on the boat were confused thinking they were trying to find real people but a quick word made them remember they wanted goose for Christmas too.
Of the other two there was no sign. Sharks patrol those waters and would have made short work of a floundering goose. But within an hour we were back and the eight geese reunited in their reconstructed cage.
The captain was not best pleased that we has stopped but relieved when I suggested we still had enough goose to go around. As for Giselle, she was confined to her room after that, ostensibly for her own protection. True enough I did know a few crew members who would have happily thrown her over board.
We dropped Giselle off at Sydney and went back to sea and I am happy to say that when Christmas came, the goose was as good as we hoped it would be and more. The stint in the ocean did not do the meat too much harm but some wags did suggest that they could tell that they had gotten one of the ones who had been thrown by the salty taste of the meat. I did not dignify that with a response.
I spent in all four years on the Eastern Star and had a great many adventures. Some of them a may deal with here but that, dear reader, is for the next part of my story.
Author’s note: This story is part of a series written about my character Enrique Ivan Hamish O’Brien and his adventures. There have been Ten stories so far I Enrique, An Edukayshun, The Emergency, The Demon on the high seas, , Driving Ambition, Viva la Leopoldville, Up the river, Taking Flight, Due South, and In Every Port. Stay posted to see what else Enrique comes up with.