To even the least sensitive and perceptive beholder the Morning Rose, at this stage of her long and highly chequered career, must have seemed ill-named, for if ever a vessel could fairly have been said to be approaching, if not actually arrived at, the sunset of her days it was this one. Officially designated an Arctic Steam Trawler, the Morning Rose, 560 gross tons, 173 feet in length, 30 in beam and with a draught, unladen but fully provisioned with fuel and water, of 14.3 feet, had, in fact, been launched from the Jarrow slipways as far back as 1926, the year of the General Strike.
The Morning Rose, then, was far gone beyond the superannuation watershed; she was slow, creaking, unstable, and coming apart at the seams. So were Captain Imrie and Mr. Stokes. The Morning Rose consumed a great deal of fuel in relation to the foot-pounds of energy produced. So did Captain Imrie and Mr. Stokes, malt whisky for Captain Imrie, Jamaican rum for Mr. Stokes. And that was what they were doing now, stoking up on their respective fuels with the steadfast dedication of those who haven't attained septuagenarian status through sheer happenstance.
As far as I could see none of the sparse number of diners at the two long fore and aft tables was stoking up very much on anything. There was a reason for this, of course, the same reason that accounted for the poor attendance at dinner that night. It was not because of the food which, while it wouldn't cause any sleepless nights in the kitchens of the Savoy, was adequate enough, nor was it because of any aesthetic objections our cargo of creative artists might have entertained towards the dining saloon's decor which was, by any standards, quite superb: it was a symphony in teak furniture and wine-coloured carpets and curtains, not, admittedly, what one would look to find on the average trawler but, then, the average trawler, when its fishing days are over-as the Morning Rose's were deemed to be in 1956-doesn't have the good fortune to be re-engined and converted to a luxury yacht by, of all people, a shipping millionaire whose enthusiasm for the sea was matched only by his massive ignorance of all things nautical.
The trouble tonight lay elsewhere, not within the ship but without. Three hundred miles north of the Arctic Circle, where we at the present moment had the debatable fortune to be, the weather conditions can be as beautifully peaceful as any on earth, with mirror-smooth, milky-white seas stretching from horizon to horizon under a canopy of either washed-out blue or stars that are less stars than little chips of frozen fire in a black, black sky. But those days are rare and, usually, to be found only in that brief period that passes for summer in those high latitudes. And whatever summer there had been was long gone. We were deep into late October now, the period of the classical equinoctial gales, and there was a real classical equinoctial beauty blowing up right then. Moxen and Scott, the two stewards, had prudently drawn the dining-saloon curtains so that we couldn't see quite how classical it was.
We didn't have to see it. We could hear it and we could feel it. We could hear the wild threnody of the gale in the rigging, a high-pitched, ululating, atonic sound, as lonely, lost, and eerie as a witch's lament. We could hear, at monotonously regular intervals, the flat explosive clap of sound as the bluff bows of the trawler crashed into the troughs of the steep-sided waves marching steadily eastwards under the goad of that bitter wind born on the immensity of the Greenland icecap, all of seven hundred miles away. We could hear the constantly altering variation in the depth of the engine note as the propellor surged upwards, almost clearing water level, then plunged deep down into the sea again.
And we could feel the storm, a fact that most of those present clearly found a great deal more distressing than just listening to it. One moment, depending upon which side of the fore and aft tables we were sitting, we would be leaning sharply to our left or right as the bows lurched and staggered up the side of a wave: the next, we would be leaning as sharply in the other direction as the stern, in turn, rode high on the crest of the same wave. To compound the steadily increasing level of misery and discomfort the serried ranks of waves beyond the damask drapes were slowly but ominously beginning to break down into confused seas which violently accentuated the Morning Rose's typical fishing boat propensity for rolling continuously in anything short of millpond conditions. The two different motions, lateral and transverse, were now combining to produce an extremely unpleasant corkscrewing effect indeed.
Because I'd spent most of the past eight years at sea, I wasn't experiencing any distressing symptoms myself, but I didn't have to be a doctor -which my paper qualifications declared me to be-to diagnose the symptoms of mal de mer. The wan smile, the gaze studiously averted from anything that resembled food, the air of rapt communication with the inner self, all the signs were there in plenty. A very mirth-provoking subject, seasickness, until one suffers from it one's self: then it ceases to be funny any more. I'd dispensed enough Dramamine to turn them all buttercup yellow but Dramamine is about as effective against an Arctic gale as aspirin is against cholera.
I looked round and wondered who would be the first to go. Antonio, I thought, that tall, willowy, exquisite, rather precious but oddly likeable Roman with the shock of ludicrously blond and curling hair. It is a fact that when a person reaches that nadir of nausea which is the inevitable prelude to violent sickness the complexion does assume a hue which can only be described as greenish: in Antonio's case it was more a tinge of apple-green chartreuse, an odd coloration that I'd never seen before, but I put it down to his naturally sallow complexion. Anyway, no question but that it was the genuine symptom of the genuine illness: another particularly wild lurch and Antonio was on his feet and out of the saloon at a dead run-or as near a dead run as his land-lubber legs could achieve on that swaying deck-without either farewell or apology.
Such is the power of suggestion that within a very few seconds and on the very next lurch three other passengers, two men and a girl, hurriedly rose and left. And such is the power of suggestion compounded that within two minutes more there were, apart from Captain Imrie, Mr. Stokes, and myself, only two others left: Mr. Gerran and Mr. Heissman.
Captain Imrie and Mr. Stokes, seated at the heads of their respective and now virtually deserted tables, observed the hurried departure of the last of the sufferers, looked at each other in mild astonishment, shook their heads and got on with the business of replenishing their fuel reserves. Captain Imrie, a large and splendidly patriarchal figure with piercing blue eyes that weren't much good for seeing with, had a mane of thick white hair that was brushed straight back to his shoulders, and, totally obscuring the dinner tie he affected for dinner wear, an even more impressively flowing beard that would have been the envy of many a biblical prophet: as always, he wore a gold-buttoned, double-breasted jacket with the thick white ring of a commodore of the Royal Navy, to which he wasn't entitled, and, partly concealed by the grandeur of his beard, four rows of medal ribbons, to which he was. Now, still shaking his head, he lifted his bottle of malt Scotch from its container-not until that evening had I understood the purpose of that two-foot-high wrought-iron contraption bolted to the saloon deck by the side of his chair-filled his glass almost to the top and added the negligible amount of water required to make it brimming full. It was at this precise moment that the Morning Rose reared unusually high on the crest of a wave, hovered for what appeared to be an unconscionably long time, then fell both forwards and sideways to plunge with a resounding, shuddering crash into the shoulder of the next sea. Captain Imrie didn't spill a drop: for any indication he gave to the contrary he might have been in the taproom of the Mainbrace in Hull, which was where I'd first met him. He quaffed half the contents of his glass in one puff and reached for his pipe. Captain Imrie had long mastered the art of dining gracefully at sea. Mr. Gerran, clearly, hadn't. He gazed down at his lamb chops, Brussels sprouts, potatoes, and glass of hock which weren't where they ought to have been-they were on his napkin and his napkin was on his lap-with a vexed frown on his face. This was, in its small way, a crisis, and Otto Gerran could hardly be said to be at his ineffectual best when faced with crisis of any kind. But for young Moxen, the steward, this was routine : his own napkin at the ready and bearing a small plastic bucket he'd apparently conjured from nowhere he set about effecting running repairs while Gerran gazed downwards with an expression of perplexed distaste.
Seated, Otto Gerran, apart from his curiously narrow, pointed cranium that widened out to broad, fleshy Jowls, looked as if he might have been cast in one of the standard moulds which produce the vast majority of human shapes and forms: it was not until he stood up, a feat he performed with great difficulty and as infrequently as possible, that one appreciated how preposterous this misconception was. Gerran stood five feet two inches in his elevator shoes, weighed two hundred and forty-five pounds and, were it not for his extremely ill-fitting clothes-one would assume that the tailor just gave up-was the nearest thing to a perfect human sphere I'd ever clapped eyes on. He had no neck, long slender sensitive hands and the smallest feet I've ever seen for a man of his size. The salvage operation over, Gerran looked up and at Imrie. His complexion was puce in colour, with the purple much more in evidence than the brown. This did not mean that he was angry, for Gerran never showed anger and was widely believed to be incapable of it: puce was as standard for him as the peaches and cream of the mythical English rose. His coronary was at least fifteen years overdue.
"Really, Captain Imrie, this is preposterous." For a man of his vast bulk, Gerran had a surprisingly high-pitched voice: surprisingly, that is, if you weren't a medical practitioner. "Must we keep heading into this dreadful storm?"
"Storm?" Captain Imrie lowered his glass and looked at Gerran in genuine disbelief. "Did you say "storm'? A little blow like this?" He looked across to the table where I was sitting with Mr. Stokes. "Force 7, YOU would say, Mr. Stokes? A touch of eight, perhaps?"
Mr. Stokes helped himself to some more rum, leaned back and deliberated. He was as bereft of cranial and facial hair as Captain Imrie was overendowed with it. With his gleaming pate, tightly drawn brown face seamed and wrinkled into a thousand fissures and a long, thin, scrawny neck he looked as aged and as ageless as a Galapagos turtle. He also moved at about the same speed. Both he and Captain Imrie had gone to sea together-in minesweepers, as incredibly far back as World War I-and had remained together until they had officially retired ten years previously. Nobody, the legend went, had ever heard them refer to each other except as Captain Imrie and Mr. Stokes. Some said that, in private, they used the terms Skipper and Chief (Mr. Stokes was the Chief Engineer) but this was discounted as an unsubstantiated and unworthy rumour which did justice to neither man.
Moments passed, then Mr. Stokes, having arrived at a measured opinion delivered himself of it. "Seven," he said.
"Seven." Captain Imrie accepted the judgement as unhesitatingly as if an oracle had spoken and poured himself another drink: I thanked whatever gods there be for the infinitely reassuring presence of Smithy, the mate, on the bridge. "You see, Mr. Gerran? Nothing." As Gerran was at that moment clinging frantically to a table that was inclined at an angle of thirty degrees, he made no reply. "A storm? Dearie me, dearie me. Why, I remember the very first time that Mr. Stokes and I took the Morning Rose up to the Bear Island fishing grounds, the very first trawler ever to fish those waters and come back with full holds, 1928, I think it was?'
"1929," Mr. Stokes said.
1929." Captain Imrie fixed his bright blue eyes on Gerran and Johann Heissman, a small, lean, pale man with a permanently apprehensive expression : Heissman's hands were never still. "Now, that was a storm! We were with a trawler out of Aberdeen, I forget its name?
"The Silver Harvest," Mr. Stokes said.
"The Silver Harvest. Engine failure in a Force 10. Two hours she was broadside to the seas, two hours before we could get a line aboard. Her skipper-her skipper-"
"MacAndrew. John MacAndrew."
"Thank you, Mr. Stokes. Broke his neck. Towed his boat-and him with his broken neck in splints-for thirty hours in a Force 10, four of them in a Force 11. Man, you should have seen yon seas. I tell you, they were mountains, just mountains. The bows thirty feet up and down, up and down, rolling over on our beam ends, hour after hour, every man except Mr. Stokes and myself coughing his insides up-" He broke off as Heissman rose hurriedly to his feet and ran from the saloon. Is your friend upset, Mr. Gerran?"
"Couldn't we heave to or whatever it is you do," Gerran pleaded. "Or run for shelter?"
"Shelter? Shelter from what? Why, I remember-"
"Mr. Gerran and his company haven't spent their lives at sea, Captain ," I said.
"True, true. Heave to? Heaving to won't stop the waves. And the nearest shelter is jan Mayen-and that's three hundred miles to the west-into the weather."
"We could run before the weather. Surely that would help?"
"Aye, we could do that. She'd steady up then, no doubt about it. If that's what you want, Mr. Gerran. You know what the contract says-captain to obey all orders other than those what will endanger the vessel."
"Good, good. Right away, then."
"You appreciate, of course, Mr. Gerran, that this blow might last another day or so?"
With amelioration of the present sufferings practically at hand Gerran permitted himself a slight smile. "We cannot control the caprices of mother nature, Captain."
"And that we'll have to turn almost ninety east?"
In your safe hands, Captain."
"I don't think you are quite understanding. It will cost us two, perhaps three days. And if we run east, the weather north of North Cape is usually worse than it is here. Might have to put into Hammerfest for shelter. Might lose a week, maybe more. I don't know how many hundred pounds a day it costs you to hire the ship and crew and pay your own camera crew and all those actors and actresses-I hear tell that some of those people you call stars can earn a fortune in just no time at all-' Captain Imrie broke off and pushed back his chair. "What am I talking about? Money will mean nothing to a man like you. You will excuse me while I call the bridge."
"Wait." Gerran looked stricken. His parsimony was legendary throughout the film world and Captain Imrie had touched, not inadvertently, I thought, upon his tenderest nerve. "A week! Lose a whole week?"
If we're lucky." Captain Imrie pulled his chair back up to the table and reached for the malt.
"But I've already lost three days. The Orkney cliffs, the sea, the Morning Rose-not a foot of background yet." Gerran's hands were out of sight but I wouldn't have been surprised if he'd been wringing them.
"And your director and camera crew on their backs for the past four days," Captain Imrie said sympathetically. It was impossible to say whether a smile lay behind the obfuscatory luxuriance of moustache and beard.
"The caprices of nature, Mr. Gerran."
"Three days," Gerran said again. "Maybe another week. A thirty-three day location budget, Kirkwall to Kirkwall." Otto Gerran looked ill, clearly both the state of his stomach and his film finances were making very heavy demands upon him. "How far to Bear Island, Captain Imrie?"
"Three hundred miles, give or take the usual. Twenty-eight hours, if we can keep up our best speed."
"You can keep it up?"
I wasn't thinking about the Morning Rose. It can stand anything. It's your people, Mr. Gerran. Nothing against them, of course, but I'm thinking they'd be more at home with those pedal boats in the paddling ponds."
"Yes, of course, of course." You could see that this aspect of the business had just occurred to him. "Dr. Marlowe, you must have treated a great deal of seasickness during your years in the Navy." He paused, but as I didn't deny it, he went on: "How long do people take to recover from sickness of this kind?"
"Depends how sick they are." I'd never given the matter any thought, but it seemed a logical enough answer. "How long they've been ill and how badly. Ninety rough minutes on a cross-Channel trip and you're as right as rain in ten minutes. Four days in an Atlantic gale and you'll be as long again before you're back on even keel."
"But people don't actually die of seasickness, do they?"
"I've never known of a case." For all his usual indecisiveness and more than occasional bumbling ineptitude which tended to make people laugh at him-discreetly and behind his back, of course-Otto, I realised for the first time and with some vague feeling of surprise, was capable of a determination that might verge on the ruthless. Something to do with money. I supposed. "Not by itself, that is. But with a person already suffering from a heart condition, severe asthma, bronchitis, ulcerated stomach-well, yes, it could see him off."
He was silent for a few moments, probably carrying out a rapid mental survey of the physical condition of cast and crew, then he said: I must admit that I'm a bit worried about our people. I wonder if you'd mind having a look over them, just a quick check', Health's a damn sight more important than any profit-hahl profit, in those days!-that we might make from the wretched film. As a doctor I'm sure You wholeheartedly agree."
"Of course," I said. "Right away." Otto had to have something that had made him the household name that he had become in the past twenty years and one had to admire this massive and wholly inadmirable hypocrisy that was clearly part of it. He had me all ways. I had said that seasickness alone did not kill so that if I were to state categorically that some member or members of his cast or crew were in no condition to withstand any further punishment from the seas he would insist on proof of the existence of some disease which, in conjunction with seasickness, might be potentially lethal, a proof that, in the first place, would have been very difficult for me to adduce in light of the limited examination facilities available to me aboard ship and, in the second place, would have been impossible anyhow for every single member of cast and crew had been subjected to a rigorous insurance medical before leaving Britain: if I gave a clean bill of health to all, then Otto would press on with all speed for Bear Island, regardless of the sufferings of "our people" about whom he professed to be so worried, thereby effecting a considerable saving in time and money: and, in the remote event of any of them inconsiderately dying upon our hands, why, then, as the man who had given the green light, I was the one in the dock. I drained my glass of inferior brandy that Otto had laid on in such meagre quantities and rose. "You'll be here? ","Yes. Most co-operative of you, Doctor, most." "We never close," I said. I was beginning to like Smithy though I hardly knew him or anything about him: I was never to get to know him, not well. That I should ever get to know him in my professional capacity was unthinkable: six feet two in his carpet slippers and certainly nothing short of two hundred pounds, Smithy was as unlikely a candidate for a doctor's surgery as had ever come my way.
In the first-aid cabinet there." Smithy nodded towards a cupboard in a corner of the dimly lit wheelhouse. "Captain Imrie's own private elixir. For emergency use only."
I extracted one of half a dozen bottles held in place by felt-lined spring clamps and examined it under the chart table lamp. My regard for Smithy went up another notch. In latitude 70" something north and aboard a superannuated trawler, however converted, one does not look to End Otard-Dupuy VSOP.
"What constitutes an emergency?" I asked.
I poured some of the Otard-Dupuy into a small glass and offered it to Smithy who shook his head and watched me as I sampled the brandy then lowered the glass with suitable reverence.
"To waste this on a thirst," I said, "Is a crime against nature. Captain Imrie isn't going to be too happy when he comes up here and finds meknocking back his special reserve."
"Captain Imrie is a man who lives by fixed rules. The most fixed of the lot is that he never appears on the bridge between 8 P.m. and 8 A.M.
Oakley-he's the bosun-and I take turns during the night. Believe me, that way it's safer for everyone all round. What brings you to the bridge, Doctor-apart from this sure instinct for locating VSOP?"
"Duty. I'm checking on the weather prior to checking on the health of Mr. Gerran's paid slaves. He fears they may start dying off like flies if we continue on this course in those conditions." The conditions, I'd noted, appeared to be deteriorating, for the behaviour of the Morning Rose, especially its degree of roll, was now distinctly more uncomfortable than it had been: perhaps it was just a factor of the height of the bridge but I didn't think so.
"Mr. Gerran should have left you at home and brought along his palm reader or fortuneteller." A very contained man, educated and clearly intelligent , Smithy always seemed to be slightly amused. "As for the weather, the 6 P.m. forecast was as it usually is for those parts, vague and not very encouraging. They haven't," he aided superfluously, "a great number of weather stations in those parts."
"What do you think?"
"It's not going to improve." He dismissed the weather and smiled. "I'm not a great man for the small talk but with the Otard-Dupuy who needs it? Take the weight off your feet for an hour then go tell Mr. Gerran that all his paid slaves, as you call them, are holding a square dance on the poop.
I suspect Mr. Gerran of having a suspicious checking mind. However, if I may…"
I helped myself again and replaced the bottle in the cabinet. Smithy, as he'd warned, wasn't very talkative, but the silence was companionable enough. Presently he said: "Navy, aren't you, Doc?"
"And now this?"
"A shameful comedown. Don't you find it so?"
"Touche." I could dimly see the white of teeth as he smiled in the half dark. "Medical malpractice, flogging penicillin to the wogs, or just drunk in charge of a surgery?"
"Nothing so glamorous. "Insubordination is the word they used."
"Snap. Me too."
A pause. "This Mr. Gerran of yours. Is he all right?"
"So the insurance doctors say."
"I didn't mean that."
You can't expect me to speak ill of my employer." Again there was that dimly seen glimpse of white teeth.
"Well, that's one way of answering my question. But, well, look, the bloke must be loony-or is that an offensive term?"
"Only to psychiatrists. I don't speak to them. Loony's fine by me. But I'd remind you that Mr. Gerran has a very distinguished record."
"As a loony?"
"That, too. But also as a film-maker, a producer."
"What kind of producer would take a film unit up to Bear Island with winter coming on?"
"Mr. Gerran wants realism."
"Mr. Gerran wants his head examined. Has he any idea what it's like up there at this time of year?"
"He's also a man with a dream."
"No place for dreamers in the Barents Sea. How the Americans ever managed to put a man on the moon-"
"Our friend Otto isn't an American. He's a central European. If you want the makers of dreams or the peddlers of dreams there's the place to End them-among the headwaters of the Danube."
"And the biggest rogues and confidence men in Europe?"
"You can't have everything."
"He's a long way from the Danube."
'Otto had to leave in a great hurry at a time when a large number of people had to leave in a great hurry. Year before the war, that was. Found his way to America-where else-then to Hollywood-again, where else?
Say what you like about Otto-and I'm afraid a lot of people do just that you have to admire his recuperative powers. He'd left a thriving film business behind him in Vienna and arrived in California with what he stood up in."
"That's not so little."
It was then. I've seen pictures. No greyhound, but still about a hundred pounds short of what he is today. Anyway, inside just a few years chiefly , I'm told, by switching at the psychologically correct moment from anti-Nazism to anti-Communism-Otto prospered mightily in the American film industry on the strength of a handful of nauseatingly superpatriotic pictures, which had the critics in despair and the audiences in raptures. In the mid-'50s, sensing that the cinematic sun was setting over Hollywood-you can't see it but he carries his own built-in radar system with him-Otto's devotion to his adopted country evaporated along with I0 his bank balance and he transferred himself to London where he made a number of avant-garde films that had the critics in rapture, the audiences in despair, and Otto in the red."
"You seem to know your Otto," Smithy said.
"Anybody who has read the first five pages of the prospectus for his last film would know his Otto. I'll let you have a copy. Never mentions the film, just Otto. Misses out words like "nauseating" and "despair" of course and you have to read between the lines a bit. But it's all there."
"I'd like a copy." Smithy thought some then said: "If he's in the red where's the money coming from? To make this film, I mean."
"Your sheltered life. A producer is always at his most affluent when the bailiffs are camped outside the studio gates-rented studio, of course. Who, when the banks are foreclosing on him and the insurance companies drafting their ultimatums, is throwing the party of the year at the Savoy? Our friend the big-time producer. It's kind of like the law of nature. You'd better stick to ships, Mr. Smith," I added kindly.
"Smithy," he said absently. "So who's bankrolling your friend?"
"My employer. I've no idea. Very secretive about money matters is Otto."
"But someone is. Backing him, I mean."
"Must be." I put down my glass and stood up. "Thanks for the hospitality ."
"Even after he's produced a string of losers? Seems balmy to me. Fishy, at least."
"The film world, Smithy, is full of balmy and fishy people." I didn't, in fact, know whether it was or not but if this shipload was in any way representative of the cinema industry it seemed a pretty fair extrapolation. "Or perhaps he's just got hold of the story to end all stories."
"The screenplay. There, now, you may have a point-but it's one you would have to raise with Mr. Gerran personally. Apart from Heissman, who wrote it, Gerran is the only one who's seen it."
It hadn't been a factor of the height of the bridge. As I stepped out on to the starboard ladder on the lee side-there were no internal communications between bridge and deck level on those elderly steam trawlers I was left in no doubt that the weather had indeed deteriorated and deteriorated sharply, a fact that should have probably been readily apparent to anyone whose concern for the prevailing meteorological conditions hadn't been confronted with the unfair challenge of Otard-Dupuy. Even on this, what should have been the sheltered side of the ship, the power of the wind, bitter cold, was such that I had to cling with both hands to the handrails: and with the Morning Rose now rolling, erratically and violently, through almost fifty degrees of arc-which was wicked enough but I'd once been on a cruiser that had gone through a hundred degrees of arc and still survived-I could have used another pair of arms. Even on the blackest night, and this was incontestably one of the blackest, it is never wholly dark at sea: it may never be possible precisely to delineate the horizon line where sea and sky meet, but one can usually look several vertical degrees above or below the horizon line and say with certainty that here is sky or here is sea: for the sea is always darker than the sky. Tonight, it was impossible to say any such thing and this was not because of the violently rolling Morning Rose made for a very unstable observation platform nor because the big uneven seas bearing down from the cast made for a tumbling amorphous horizon: because tonight, for the first time, not yet dense but enough to obscure vision beyond two miles, smoke frost lay on the surface of the sea, that peculiar phenomenon which one finds in Norway where the glacial land winds pass over the warm fiord waters or, as here, where the warm Atlantic air passed over the Arctic waters. All I could see, and it was enough to see, was that the tops were now being torn off the waves, white-veined on their leeward sides, and that the seas were breaking clear across the foredeck of the Morning Rose, the white and icy spume hissing into the sea on the starboard. A night for carpet slippers and the fireside. I turned foreword towards the accommodation door and bumped into someone who was standing behind the ladder and holding on to it for support. I couldn't see the person's face for it was totally obscured by windblown hair but I didn't have to, there was only one person aboard with those long straw-coloured tresses and that was Mary dear: given my choice of people to bump into on the Morning Rose I'd have picked Mary dear any time. "Mary dear', not "Mary Dear': I'd given her that name to distinguish her from Gerran's continuity girl whose given name was Mary Darling. Mary dear was really Mary Stuart but that wasn't her true name either: Ilona Wisniowecki she'd been christened but had prudently decided that it wasn't the biggest possible asset she had for making her way in the film world. Why she'd chosen a Scots name I didn't know: maybe she just liked the sound of it.
"Mary dear," I said. "Abroad at this late hour and on such a night." I reached up and touched her cheek, we doctors can get away with murder . The skin was icily cold. "You can carry this fresh air fanatic bit too far. Come on, inside." I took her arm-I was hardly surprised to find she was shivering quite violently-and she came along docilely enough. The accommodation door led straight into the passenger lounge which, though fairly narrow, ran the full width of the ship. At the far end was a built-in bar with the liquor kept behind two glassed-in iron grill doors: the doors were kept permanently locked and the key was in Otto Gerran's pocket.
"No need to frog-march me, Doctor." She habitually spoke in a low-pitched quiet voice. "Enough is enough and I was coming in anyway."
"Why were you out there in the first place?"
"Can't doctors always tell?" She touched the middle button of her black leather coat and from this I understood that her internal economy wasn't taking too kindly to the roller-coaster antics of the Morning Rose. But I also understood that even had the sea been mirror-smooth she'd still have been out on that freezing upper deck: she didn't talk much to the others nor the others to her.
She pushed the tangled hair back from her face and I could see she was very pale and the skin beneath the brown eyes tinged with the beginnings of exhaustion. In her high cheekboned Slavonic way-she was a Latvian but, I supposed, no less a Slav for that-she was very lovely, a fact that was freely admitted and slightingly commented upon as being her only asset: her last two pictures-her only two pictures-were said to have been disasters of the first magnitude. She was a silent girl, cool and aloofly remote and I liked her which made me a lonely minority of one.
"Doctors aren't infallible," I said. "At least, not this one." I peered at her in my best clinical fashion. "What's a girl like you doing in those parts on this floating museum?"
She hesitated. "That's a personal question."
"The medical profession are a very personal lot. How's your headache?
Your ulcer? Your bursitis? We don't know where to stop."
I need the money."
"You and me both." I smiled at her and she didn't smile back so I left her and went down the companionway to the main deck.
Here was located the Morning Rose's main passenger accommodation, two rows of cabins lining the fore and aft central passageway. This had been the area of the former fish-holds and although the place had been steam-washed, fumigated, and disinfected at the time of conversion it still stank most powerfully and evilly of cod liver oil that has lain too long in the sun. In ordinary circumstances, the atmosphere was nauseating enough: in those extraordinary ones it was hardly calculated to assist sufferers in a rapid recovery from the effects of seasickness. I knocked on the first door on the starboard side and went in.
Johann Heissman, horizontally immobile on his bunk, looked like a cross between a warrior taking his rest and a medieval bishop modelling for the stone effigy which in the fullness of time would adorn the top of his sarcophagus. Indeed, with his thin waxy fingers steepled on his narrow chest, his thin waxy nose pointing to the ceiling and his curiously transparent eyelids closed, the image of the tomb seemed particularly apposite in this case: but it was a deceptive image for a man does not survive twenty years in a Soviet hard labour camp in eastern Siberia just to turn in his cards from mal de mier.
"How do you feel, Mr. Heissman?"
"Oh, God!" He opened his eyes without looking at me, moaned and closed them again. "How do I feel?'
"I'm sorry. But Mr. Gerran is concerned-"
"Otto Gerran is a raving madman." I didn't take it as any indication of some sudden upsurge in his physical condition but, no question, this time his voice was a great deal stronger. "Crackpot! A lunatic!"
While privately conceding that Heissman's diagnosis lay somewhere along the right lines I refrained from comment and not out of some suitably due deference to my employer. Otto Gerran and Johann Heissman had been friends much too long for me to risk treading upon the delicate ground that well might lie between them. They had known each other, as far as I had been able to discover, since they had been students together at some obscure Danubian gymnasium close on forty years ago and had, at the time of the Anschluss in 1938, been the joint owners of a relatively prosperous film studio in Vienna. It was at this point in space and time that they had parted company suddenly, drastically and, it seemed at the time, permanently, for, while Gerran's sure instinct had guided his fleeing footsteps to Hollywood, Heissman had unfortunately taken off in the wrong direction altogether and, only three years previously, to the total disbelief of all who had known him and believed him dead for a quarter of a century, had incredibly surfaced from the bitter depths of his long Siberian winter. He had sought out Gerran and now it appeared that their friendship was as close as ever it had been. It was assumed that Gerran knew about the hows and the whys of Heissman's lost years and if this were indeed the case then he was the only man who did so for Heissman, understandably enough, never discussed his past. Only two things about the men were known for certain-that it was Heissman, who had a dozen prewar screenplays to his credit, who was the moving spirit behind this venture to the Arctic and that Gerran had taken him into full partnership in his company, Olympus Productions. In light of this, it behooved me to step warily and keep my comments on Heissman's comments strictly to myself.
"If there's anything you require, Mr. Heissman-"
I require nothing." He opened his transparent eyelids again and this time looked-or glared-at me, eyes of washed-out grey streaked with blood.
"Save your treatment for that cretin Gerran."
"Brain surgery." He lowered his eyelids wearily and went back to being a medieval bishop again so I left him and went next door.
There were two men in this cabin, one clearly suffering quite badly, the other equally clearly not suffering in the slightest. Neal Divine, the unit director, had adopted a death's door resignation attitude that was strikingly similar to that favoured by Heissman and although he wasn't even within hailing distance of death's door he was plainly very seasick indeed. He looked at me, forced a pale smile that was half apology, half recognition, then looked away again. I felt sorry for him as he lay there but then I'd felt sorry for him ever since he'd stepped aboard the Morning Rose. A man dedicated to his craft, lean, hollow-checked, nervous , and perpetually balanced on what seemed to be the knife edge of agonising decisions, he walked softly and talked softly as if he were perpetually afraid that the gods might hear him. It could have been a meaningless mannerism but I didn't think so: no question, he walked in perpetual fear of Gerran who was at no pains to conceal the fact that he despised him as a man just as much as he admired him as an artist. Why Gerran, a man of indisputably high intelligence, should behave in this way, I didn't know. Perhaps he was one of that far from small group of people who harbour such an inexhaustible fund of ill will towards mankind in general that they lose no opportunity to vent some of it on the weak, the pliant or those who are in no position to retaliate. Perhaps it was a personal matter. I didn't know either man or their respective backgrounds well enough to form a valid judgement.
"Ah, "he's the good healer," a gravelly voice said behind me. I turned round without haste and looked at the pyjama-clad figure sitting up in his bunk, holding fast with his left hand to a bulkhead strap while with the other he clung equally firmly to the neck of a Scotch bottle, three parts empty. "Up the ship comes and down the ship goes but naught will come between the kindly shepherd and his mission of mercy to his queasy flock. You will join me in a post-prandial snifter, my good man?"
"Later, Lonnie, later." Lonnie Gilbert knew and I knew and we both knew that the other knew that later would be too late, three inches of Scotch in Lonnie's hands had as much hope as the last meringue at the vicar's tea party, but the conventions had been observed, honour satisfied.
"You weren't at dinner, so I thought-"
"Dinner!" He paused, examined the word he'd just said for inflexion and intonation, decided his delivery had been lacking in a proper contempt and repeated himself. "Dinner! Not the hogwash itself which I suppose is palatable enough for those who lack my esoteric tastes. Les the hour at which it's served. Barbaric. Even Attila the Hun-"
"You mean you no sooner pour your aperitif than the bell goes?"
"Exactly. What does a man do?"
Coming from our elderly production manager, the question was purely rhetorical. Despite the baby-clear blue eyes and faultless enunciation Lonnie hadn't been sober since he'd stepped aboard the Morning Rose: it was widely questioned whether he'd been sober for years. Nobody least of all Lonnie-seemed to care about this, but this was not because nobody cared about Lonnie. Nearly all people did, in greater or lesser degrees, dependent on their own natures. Lonnie, growing old now, with all his life in films, was possessed of a rare talent that had never bloomed and never would now, for he was cursed-or blessed-with insufficient drive and ruthlessness to take him to the top, and mankind, for a not always laudable diversity of reasons, tends to cherish its failures: and Lonnie, it was said, never spoke ill of others and this, too, deepened the affection in which he was held except by the minority who habitually spoke ill of everyone.
"It's not a problem I'd care to be faced with myself," I said. "How are you feeling?"
"Me?" He inclined his bald pate forty-five degrees backwards, tilted the bottle, lowered it and wiped a few drops of the elixir from his grey beard. "Never been ill in my life. Who ever heard of a pickled onion going sour?" He cocked his head sideways. "Ah!"
"Ah, what?" He was listening, that I could see, but I couldn't hear a damned thing except the crash of bows against seas and the metallic drumming vibration of the ancient steel hull which accompanied each downwards plunge.
"The horns of Elfland faintly blowing," Lonnie said. "Hark! The Herald Angels." I harked and this time I heard. I'd heard it many times, and with steadily increasing horror, since boarding the Morning Rose, a screechingly cacophonous racket that was fit for heralding nothing short of Armageddon . The three perpetrators of this boiler-house bedlam of sound, Josh Hendriks's young sound crew assistants, might not have been tone stone deaf but their classical musical education could hardly be regarded as complete as not one of them could read a note of music. John, Luke, and Mark were all cast in the same contemporary mould, with flowing shoulder-length hair and wearing clothes that gave rise to the suspicion that they must have broken into a guru's laundry. All their spare time was spent with recording equipment, guitar, drums, and xylophone in the foreword recreation room where they rehearsed, apparently night and day, against the moment of their big breakthrough into the pop-record world where they intended, appropriately enough, to bill themselves as the Three Apostles.
"They might have spared the passengers on a night like this," I said.
"You underestimate our immortal trio, my dear boy. The fact that you may be one of the most excruciating musicians in existence does not prevent you from having a heart of gold. They have invited the passengers along to hear them perform in the hope that this might alleviate their sufferings." He closed his eyes as a raucous bellow overlaid with a high-pitched scream as of some animal in pain echoed down the passageway outside.
"The concert seems to have begun."
"You can't fault their psychology," I said. "After that, an Arctic gale is going to seem like a summer afternoon on the Thames."
`You do them an injustice." Lonnie lowered the level in the bottle by another inch then slid down into his bunk to show that the audience was over. "Go and see for yourself."
So I went and saw for myself and I had been doing them an injustice. The Three Apostles, surrounded by that plethora of microphones, amplifiers , speakers, and arcane electronic equipment without which the latter-day troubadors will not-and, more importantly, cannot-operate, were performing on a low platform in one corner of the recreation room and maintaining their balance with remarkable ease largely, it seemed, because their bodily gyrations and contortions, as inseparable a part of their art as the electronic aids, seemed to synchronise rather well with the pitching and rolling of the Morning Rose. Rather conservatively, if oddly, clad in blue jeans and psychedelic kaftans, and bent over their microphones in an attitude of almost acolytic fervour, the three young sound assistants were giving of their uninhibited best and from what little could be seen of the ecstatic expressions on faces eighty percent concealed at any given moment by wildly swinging manes of hair it was plain that they thought that their best approximated very closely to the sublime. I wondered, briefly, how angels would look with earplugs, then turned my attention to the audience.
There were fifteen in all, ten members of the production crew and five of the cast. A round dozen of them very clearly the worse for the wear but their sufferings were being temporarily held in abeyance by the fascination, which stopped a long way short of rapture, induced by the Three Apostles who had now reached a musical crescendo accompanied by what seemed to be some advanced form of St. Vitus's Dance. A hand touched me on the shoulder and I looked sideways at Charles Conrad.
Conrad was thirty years old and was to be the male lead in the film, not yet a big-name star but building up an impressive international reputation. He was cheerful. ruggedly handsome, with a thatch of thick brown hair that kept falling over his eyes: he had eyes of the bluest blue and most gleamingly white perfect teeth-like his name, his own-that would have transported a dentist into ecstasies or the depths of despair depending upon whether he was primarily interested in the aesthetic or economic aspects of his profession. He was invariably friendly, courteous, and considerate, whether by instinct or calculated design it was impossible to say.
He cupped his hand to my ear, nodded towards the performers.
"Your contract specifies hair shirts?"
"No. Why? Does yours?"
"Solidarity of the working classes." He smiled, looked at me with an oddly speculative glint in his eyes. "Letting the opera buffs down, aren't you?"
"They'll recover. Anyway, I always tell my patients that a change is as good as a rest." The music ceased abruptly and I lowered my voice about fifty decibels. "Mind you, this is carrying it too far. Fact is, I'm on duty.
Mr. Gerran is a bit concerned about you all."
"He wants his herd delivered to the cattle market in prime condition?"
"Well, I suppose you all represent a pretty considerable investment to him."
"Investment? Ha! Do you know that that twisted old skinflint of a beer barrel has not only got us at fire-sale prices but also won't pay us a penny until shooting's over?"
"No, I didn't." I paused. "We live in a democracy, Mr. Conrad, the land of the free. You don't have to sell yourselves in the slave market."
"Don't we just! What do you know about the film industry?"
"Obviously. It's in the most depressed state in its history. Eighty percent of the technicians and actors unemployed. I'd rather work for pennies than starve." He scowled, then his natural good humour reasserted itself. "Tell him that his prop and stay, that indomitable leading man, Charles Conrad , is fit and well. Not happy, mind you, just fit and well. To be happy I'd have to see him fall over the side."
I'll tell him all of that." I looked around the room. The Three Apostles, mercifully, were refreshing themselves with ginger ale: most of the audience were likewise refreshing themselves though clearly in need of something stronger than ginger ale. I said to Conrad: "This little lot will get to market."
Instant mass diagnosis?"
"It takes practice. It also saves time. Who's missing?"
"Well." He glanced around. "There's Heissman-"
"I've seen him. And Neal Divine. And Lonnie. And Mary Stuart-not that I'd expect her to be here anyway.
"Our beautiful but snooty young Slav, eh?"
"I'll go halfway with that. You don't have to be snooty to avoid people!'
"I like her too." I looked at him. I'd only spoken to him twice, briefly. I could see he meant what he said. He sighed. I wish she were my leading lady instead of our resident Mata Hari."
"You can't be referring to the delectable Miss Haynes?
I can and I am," he said moodily. "Feminies fatales wear me out. You'll observe she's not among those present. I'll bet she's in bed with those two damned floppy-cared hounds of hers, all of them having the vapours and high on smelling salts."
"Who else is missing?"
"Antonio." He was smiling again. "According to the Count-he's his cabin-mate-Antonio is in extremis and unlikely to see the night out."
"He did leave the dining room in rather a hurry." I left Conrad and joined the Count at his table. The Count, with a lean aquiline face, black pencil moustache, bar-straight black eyebrows and greying hair brushed straight back from his forehead appeared to be in more than tolerable health. He held a very large measure of brandy in his hand and I did not have to ask to know that it would be the very best cognac obtainable for the Count was a renowned connoisseur of everything from blondes to caviare, as precisely demanding a perfectionist in the pursuit of the luxuries of life as he was in the performance of his duties which may have helped to make him what he was, the best lighting cameraman in the country and probably in Europe. Nor did I have to wonder where he had obtained the cognac from: rumour had it that he had known Otto Gerran a very long time indeed or at least long enough to bring his own private supplies along with him whenever Otto went on safari. Count Tadeusz Leszczynski-which nobody ever called him because they couldn't pronounce it-had learned a great deal about life since he had parted with his huge Polish estates, precipitately and forever, in mid-September 1939.
"Evening, Count," I said. "At least, you look fit enough."
"-Tadeusz" to my peers. In robust health, I'm glad to say. I take the properly prophylactic precautions." He touched the barely perceptible bulge in his jacket. "You will join me in some prophylaxis? Your penicillins and Aureomycins are but witches" brews for the credulous."
I shook my head. "Duty rounds, I'm afraid. Mr. Gerran wants to know just how ill this weather is making people."
"Ah! Our Otto himself is fit?"
"One can't have everything."
"Conrad tells me that your roommate Antonio may require a visit."
"What Antonio requires is a gag, a strait jacket, and a nursemaid, in that order. Rolling around, sick all over the floor, groaning like some miscreant stretched out on the rack." The Count wrinkled a fastidious nose.
"Most upsetting, most."
I can well imagine it."
"For a man of delicate sensibilities, you understand."
I simply had to leave!'
"Yes. I'll have a look at him." I'd just pushed my chair back to the limit of its securing chain when Michael Stryker sat down in a chair beside me. Stryker, a full partner in Olympus Productions, combined the two jobs, normally separate, of production designer and construction manager Gerran never lost the opportunity to economise. He was a tall, dark, and undeniably handsome man with a clipped moustache and could readily have been mistaken for a matinee idol of the mid- "30s were it not for the fashionably long and untidy hair that obscured about ninety percent of the polo-necked silk sweater which he habitually affected. He looked tough, was unquestionably cynical and, from what little I had heard of him, totally amoral. He was also possessed of the dubious distinction of being Gerran's son-in-law.
"Seldom we see you abroad at this late hour, Doctor," he said. He screwed a long black Russian cigarette into an onyx holder with all the care of a precision engineer fitting the tappets on a Rolls-Royce engine, then held it up to the light to inspect the results. "Kind of you to join the masses, esprit de corps and what have you." He lit his cigarette, blew a cloud of noxious smoke across the table and looked at me consideringly.
"On second thoughts, no. You're not the esprit de corps type. We more or less have to be. You don't. I don't think you could. Too cool, too detached , too clinical, too observant-and a loner. Right?"
"It's a pretty fair description of a doctor!'
Here in an official capacity, eh?"
I suppose so."
"I'll wager that old goat sent you."
"Mr. Gerran sent me!" It was becoming increasingly apparent to me that Otto Gerran's senior associates were unlikely ever to clamour for the privilege of voting him into the Hall of Fame.
"That's the old goat I mean." Stryker looked thoughtfully at the Count.
"A strange and unwonted solicitude on the part of our Otto, wouldn't you say, Tadeusz? I wonder what lies behind it?"
The Count produced a chased silver flask, poured himself another generous measure of cognac, smiled and said nothing. I said nothing either because I'd already decided that I knew the answer to that one: even later on, in retrospect, I could not and did not blame myself for I had arrived at a conclusion on the basis of the only facts then available to me. I said to Stryker: "Miss Haynes is not here. Is she all right?"
"No, I'm afraid she's no sailor. She's pretty much under the weather but what's a man to do? She's pleading for sedatives or sleeping drugs and asking that I send for you, but of course I had to say no."
"My dear chap, she's been living on drugs ever since we came aboard this damned hell ship." It was as well for his health, I thought, that Captain Imrie and Mr. Stokes weren't sitting at the same table. "Her own seasick tablets one moment, the ones you doled out the next, pep pills in between and barbiturates for dessert. Well, you know what would happen if she took sedatives or more drugs on top of that lot."
"No, I don't. Tell me."
"Does she drink? Heavily, I mean"
"Drink? No. I mean, she never touches the stuff."
I sighed. "Why don't cobblers stick to their own lasts? I'll leave films to you, you leave medicine to me. Any first year medical student could tell you-well, never mind. Does she know what kind of tablets she's taken today and how many-not that it could have been all that many or she'd have been unconscious by now"
I should imagine so."
I pushed back my chair. "She'll be asleep in fifteen minutes."
"Are you sure? I mean-"
"Which is her room?"
"First on the right in the passageway."
"And yours?" I asked the Count.
I nodded, rose, left, knocked on the first door on the right and went inside in response to a barely heard murmur. Judith Haynes was sitting propped up in her bed with, as Conrad had predicted, a dog on either side of her-two rather beautiful and beautifully groomed cocker spaniels: I could not, however, catch any trace of smelling salts. She blinked at me with her rather splendid green eyes and gave me a wan smile, at once tremulous and brave. My heart stayed where it was.
"It was kind of you to come, Doctor." She had one of those dark molasses voices, as effective at close personal quarters as it was in a darkened cinema. She was wearing a pink quilted bedjacket which clashed violently with the colour of her hair and, high round her Deck, a green chiffon scarf, which didn't. Her face was alabaster white. "Michael said you couldn't help."
"Mr. Stryker was being overcautious." I sat down on the edge of the mattress and took her wrist. The cocker spaniel next me growled deep in its throat and bared its teeth. "If that dog bites me, I'll clobber it."
"Rufus wouldn't harm a fly, would you, Rufus, darling?" It wasn't flies I was worried about but I kept silence and she went on with a sad smile: "Are you allergic to dogs, Dr. Marlowe?"
"I'm allergic to dog bites."
The smile faded until her face was just sad. I knew nothing about Judith Haynes except what I'd heard at secondhand and as all I'd heard had been from her colleagues in the industry I heavily discounted about ninety percent of what had been told me: the only thing I had so far learnt with any certainty about the film world was that back-biting, hypocrisy, double-dealing, innuendo, and character assassination formed so integral a part of its conversational fabric that it was quite impossible to know where the truth ended and falsehood began. The only safe guide, I'd discovered , was to assume that the truth ended almost immediately. Miss Haynes, it was said, claimed to be twenty-four and had been, on the best authority, for the past fourteen years. This, it was said darkly, explained her predilection for chiffon scarves, for it was there that the missing years showed: equally, she may just have liked chiffon scarves. With equal authority it was stated that she was a complete bitch, her only redeeming quality being her total devotion to her two cocker spaniels and even this backhanded compliment was qualified by the observation that as a human being she had to have something or somebody to love, something or somebody to return her affection. She had tried cats, it was said, but that hadn't worked: the cats, apparently, didn't love her back. But one thing was indisputable. Tall, slender, with wonderful Titian hair and classically beautiful in the sculptured Greek fashion, Miss Haynes, it was universally conceded, couldn't act for toffee. Nonetheless, she was a very hot box office attraction indeed: the combination of the wistfully regal expression, which was her trademark, and the startling contrast of her lurid private life saw to that. Nor was her career in any way noticeably hindered by the facts that she was the daughter of Otto Gerran, whom she was said to despise, the wife of Michael Stryker, whom she was said to hate, and a full partner in the Olympus Productions company.
There was nothing much wrong with her physical condition that I could see. I asked her how many tablets of various kinds she had consumed in the course of the day and after dithering about helplessly for a bit and totting up the score with the shapely and tapering forefinger of her right hand on the shapely and tapering fingers of her left-she was alleged to be able to add up pounds and dollars with the speed and accuracy of an IBM computer-she gave me some approximate figures and in return I gave her some tablets with instructions as to how many and when to take them, then left. I didn't prescribe any sedatives for the dogs they looked okay to me.
The cabin occupied by the Count and Antonio was directly opposite across the passageway. I knocked twice, without reply, went inside and saw why there had been no reply: Antonio was there all right, but I could have knocked until doomsday and Antonio would not have heard me, for Antonio would never hear anything again. From the Via Vene to via Mayfair to die so squalidly in the Barents Sea: for the gay and laughing Antonio there could never have been a right or proper or suitable place to die, for if ever I'd met a man in love with life it had been Antonio: and for this cosseted creature of the sybaritic salons of the capitals of Europe to die in those bleak and indescribably bitter surroundings was so incongruous as to be shocking, so unreal as to momentarily suspend both belief and comprehension. But there he was, just there, lying there at my feel?, very real, very dead.
The cabin was full of the sour-sweet smell of sickness and there was physical evidence of that sickness everywhere. Antonio lay not on his bunk but on the carpeted deck beside it, his head arched impossibly far back until it was at right angles to his body. There was blood, a great deal of blood, not yet congealed, on his mouth and on the floor by his mouth.
The body was contorted into an almost impossible position, arms and legs outflung at grotesque angles, the knuckles showing ivory. Rolling around, the Count had said, sick, a man on the rack, and he hadn't been so far out at that, for Antonio had died as a man on the rack dies, in agony. Surely to God he must have cried out, even although his throat would have been blocked most of the time, he must have screamed, he must have, he would have been unable to prevent himself: but with the Three Apostles in full cry, his cries would have gone unheeded. And then I remembered the scream I had heard when I'd been talking to Lonnie Gilbert in his cabin and I could feel the hairs prickling on the back of my neck: I should have known the difference between the high-pitched yowling of a rock singer and the scream of a man dying in torment.
I knelt, made a cursory examination, finding out no more in the process than any layman would have done, closed the staring eyes and then, with the advent of rigor mortis in mind, straightened out the contorted limbs with an ease that I found vaguely surprising. Then I left the cabin, locked the door and hesitated for only a moment before dropping the key in my pocket: if the Count were possessed of the delicate sensibilities he claimed, he'd be glad I'd taken the key with me.
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