This is a short story from the Mallory series of books which is set between the end of 'The Pull of The Tide' and the sequel, 'The Surge of The Sea'...
Hong Kong - New Years Eve 1936
Mallory hated New Years with a vengeance. He sat on a stool at the bar in the Makati Club in Wanchai. Girls and Jazz music were all around him in equal quantities, but he cared not. He nursed a Whisky and Soda and leafed through an old copy of the ‘China Mail’ with total disinterest. He read that an explorer named Ruth Harkness had captured a giant panda cub in Sichuan province and had taken the creature back to the United States. Named Su-Lin, it was the first panda to be kept outside of China. ‘Why?’ he thought, miserably.
New Year was a lot of fuss about nothing. It was just a date; years were just dates. Mallory liked his time to be even and seamless. December 31st, January 1st, they were just a day apart; another day in the calendar. One was 1936, one was 1937, so what, just numbers.
The crew were ignoring him. Mallory was down in his cups and they were out for a good night. It was their first night ashore in a while and not to be wasted. It was their last night ashore in 1936 and never to be repeated.
Bates the Chief Officer was horrified at the prices. The girls kept badgering him to buy them a drink. Like any good Yorkshire lad, he had tried to barter as the price of drinks in the Makati were truly horrendous. While he ruminated on how unfair this all was, what with him being a poor sailor man and all, he managed to sink quite a few beers. In the end and in a one man protest against this daylight robbery, he had danced along the top of the bar with his flies undone and his empty trouser pockets turned out, in his very best impression of a human elephant.
“Geordie” Paterson had met a nice Chinese girl in a very alluring cheongsam, but she wanted to charge him one Hong Kong Dollar just to tell him a joke. He wouldn’t have minded, but he suspected he had already heard the joke before. In retaliation, he bet her the same amount that he could make her breasts wobble through the cheongsam without even touching them. She was intrigued, but a dollar was a dollar and she hesitated. In the end, curiosity got the better of her and she relented.
“Geordie” put both his hands on her chest, feeling her warm flesh through the sky blue silk. Moving his hands in circles of opposite directions, he gave her petite breasts a good jiggle.
She was horrified – ‘I thought you said you didn’t need to touch me?’ she shouted at him in her high pitched tinny voice.
“Geordie” thought it was the best dollar he had spent in a long time.
Chang was a pirate. He was proud to be a pirate. His family had roamed the South China seas for generations and he felt his venerable ancestors were always behind him as he robbed and burned his way through the lucrative merchant ships passing the Chinese coast. He knew exactly who to pay to ensure that the authorities left him alone. As long as everybody got their share, there was nothing to stop him. He was successful unlike that idiot brother of his, who prostituted himself with the Gwai-Lo in England for next to nothing. He had pride in his work. His brother; well, he was a big disappointment to his ancestors. Chang the pirate and his horde were readying themselves for a busy night. A well paid informer told them that a Dutch cargo liner had sailed from Hong Kong bound for Japan and she was loaded with, amongst other things, gold bullion. With night falling and the wheel lashed on their pirate junk to keep her on an intercepting course, Chang and his crew were cleaning and loading their guns in preparation. His right hand man, Han, was sharpening his large curved sword. Han's party trick was beheading. The quickest way to get any captain to part with the keys to the ships safe was to decapitate a kneeling member of his crew in front of him. Westerners had no stomach for real fighting. Soon the Dutch ship would be in striking range and they would look for her steaming lights on the horizon.
The third officer had dozed off on Aspatria. They were a few days out of Honkers and it had been a wild night ashore. The third officer had been particularly outrageous and he deserved a few hours sleep for effort, even if he was supposed to be on watch. It was no matter as “Geordie” Paterson, mariner supreme and Sunderlands best export was at the wheel. You didn’t need a certificated officer when “Geordie” was around. He stood bold and upright, with both hands fixed firmly on the wheel, staring straight out through the bridge windows as his father and grandfather had done before him. Well they might have done, had he known who they were.
This continuation of the great British seafaring tradition lasted for about seven minutes, when suddenly he felt a strange movement in his lower abdomen. It was an odd sensation, but one that he had experienced before. It seemed that the fish curry served up for lunch by their Polish cook, “Fingers” Nestorowicz, might have had something else in it apart from fish. The cook wasn’t known for his personal hygiene. However, “Geordie” was nothing if not professional and engaged the autopilot as he had seen countless deck officers do over the years during their shared watches. Checking the compass to ensure that the autopilot was keeping Aspatria straight and true, he almost ran to the ‘heads’ as he felt his bowels give a hop, skip and a jump.
Chang was just about to climb the ladder to the open deck to look for the approaching ‘Dutchies’ lights, when suddenly he was thrown to the deck, hitting his head on the base of a cast iron stove and smashing open his skull. Han was skewered through by a yard-long splinter of teak, dying instantly. His gleaming sword lay impotent at his twitching feet. Forging ahead with Sleeping Beauty for a third officer and “Geordie” ensconced securely on his seat of ease, Aspatria had ploughed neatly through the bow of the smaller wooden pirate vessel. There was no more than a slight vibration in her deck plates as the steel ship tore her open like a hot knife cutting through butter. With the bow gone, Chang and his cronies went to the bottom in less than 45 seconds. Lost with all hands.
“Geordie” relieved and feeling somewhat lighter, returned to the wheel, disengaged the autopilot and gripped the wheel manfully. Aspatria would be safe once more in his strong guiding arms until the third mate came round and made him a nice steaming cup of Java. He was good at this. He might be master of his own vessel one day.