No reservations …
Offshore subsea construction work is a twenty four hour activity controlled and dictated by weather conditions, everyone works twelve hour shifts, usually staggered to cover all eventualities. The six at night to six in the morning stint is the choice of those who prefer a quieter life, there are less ‘grown ups’ around at night, and consequently less drama. After midnight things tended to calm down even more and the three in the morning tea break/smoko was by and large fairly tranquil, that was until Ross arrived.
Ross was a ‘Baby Diver’ newly qualified and hired as ‘gofor’ cum general assistant to gain knowledge and get some time in on a project. He was very enthusiastic and willing, in fact a bit too much so as he insisted on ‘sharing’ the experience of every task he had just completed with everyone, things that most of the team had done countless times. His newness was excused, and most of the time he was politely ignored, like when he got really excited about sending a spanner down to divers working on the sea bed.
The project was spread over four weeks and by the third week Ross considered himself ‘salty’ enough to start offering opinions on things and passing comments when he perhaps should have kept his gob shut. He was eventually advised of this option by one of the most senior members of the crew, Crazy Horse, and Ross didn’t like it one little bit.
Crazy Horse was a Brit but looked straight off the reservation, very long silver hair tied back in a pony tail with a leather thong, he wore American Indian style beads and jewelry, including heavy Silver rings and bracelets, he would make a point of removing them all when handling deck rigging and equipment, then ceremonially replace them all afterwards. Ross thought this was pretty funny and passed a few verbal digs … when Crazy Horse was out of earshot of course.
Crazy Horse was one of the oldest and most experienced deck supervisors in the business, his previous job title had been ‘Bosun’ but the company considered this slightly archaic and had come up with new rank of ‘Deck Superintendent’. Either way, Crazy Horse was an absolute professional at his job and very well respected, Ross was advised to back off and show a little deference, he tried, but soon forgot.
Crazy Horse was very near to retirement and had made no secret of his plans once he was finished working, in fact this was to be his very last trip offshore, as a working member of a crew anyway. Ross, being a new arrival, knew nothing of this and it was getting towards the end of the rotation when a mail sack containing mainly project correspondence, drawings and commissioning documentation arrived with two large personal envelopes, one for Crazy Horse and the other for Ross.
These were left in the project construction office for their attention, and they picked them up at the beginning of the shift. Ross ripped his open immediately and started poring over some glossy brochures before being reminded he was supposed to be working, Crazy Horse tucked his away unopened and continued with his duties. Midnight mealtime came and Ross was in a state of high excitement constantly reading and re-reading his mail. Crazy Horse opened his and took out some spreadsheets, he produced a small pocket calculator and began making notes on the paperwork, with a satisfied smile he folded them away and headed out on deck, Ross again had to be prompted to get his arse out of the mess room and back to work.
Three o’clock in the morning arrived and the usually peaceful last break of the shift was disturbed by Ross noisily scanning his pamphlets and catalogs. Under normal circumstances, reading a leaflet would be a fairly quiet procedure, but Ross was unfolding and folding things with as much action as possible pointedly making sure everyone could see what he was reading and then passing ‘comments’ supposedly to “himself “ “hmmmmm yes yes” “ahhh good” “that looks viable” “hmmmmmmm yes “
Crazy Horse broke first “Ok I’ll bite, what the **ck are you on about?”
Ross feigned surprise “About what?”
“That lot, I guess one of us is supposed to ask you what you are reading and you will tell us all, either that or we’ll get the same pantomime next shift, and probably the next as well, so what have you got there that is so interesting young man?”
Ross missed the underlying sarcasm and started tripping over his tongue in his rush to get his words out.
“Diamonds ... Rotterdam … South Africa … diamonds, go to villages on coast and buy rough and hand carry to Holland ... they collect them on the beaches, not in Holland though, get them polished and sell, and the villagers sell them to people rough uncut ... at Rotterdam they buy them and polish and cut them. You get them on Skeleton Coast … that’s what its called … its in Africa, not Holland … I mean.”
“Whoooaaaa Tiger…slow down”
Ross took a deep breath and consulted his brochure “Villagers on the West coast of Africa a place called the Skeleton Coast sort through the miles and miles of barren sands collecting uncut rough diamonds, dealers go there direct and buy them from the ‘Sand Miners’ that’s what they call them, sand miners, they call them that because….”
Crazy Horse interrupted “Let me guess, because they mine diamonds in the sand yes?”
“Yes, that’s it” Ross rushed on excitedly, again missing the slight mockery
“They buy them direct and then hand carry them to Holland, Rotterdam where they get cut and polished, you bring them to the UK then you sell them direct to the punters for mounting on rings and stuff”
“Wow just like that and nobody else has thought of this eh?”
“What? ... Oh yes but the beauty is if you hand carry the rough stones, then you don’t have to go through the South African Diamond Export Control System”
“So you smuggle them”
“No … well no not exactly, you just fill your pockets and don’t declare them”
“Last time I checked, that’s called smuggling”
“No, no really, well yes it is in theory, but the legal system robs the miners anyway, they do all the work and get paid next to nothing … look it says so right here” He indicated a page open at an article boldly announcing ‘System Robs Miners’
“… and that’s corroborated is it … all proven?”
“I guess so, I mean its there in black and white isn’t it so it must be, I mean they can’t just say things like that can they huh?” He looked around at the rest of us, desperate for support.
Crazy Horse took the brochure and examined it “Completely unsubstantiated, no references or sources listed, not even a name on the article, he flicked to the front page, no address for the publisher or editorials either”
“There’s an address in Rotterdam, look here” Ross scrambled through the pages.
“Where I assume you are supposed to take your diamonds once you have smuggled them out of South Africa. What guarantee have you got that they won’t just relieve you of the stones, say thank you and kick you out. I mean you can’t exactly go to the Dutch Police and say I’ve just smuggled a load of diamonds out of Africa and some criminals have just thieved them”
Ross was now thoroughly uncomfortable, he hadn’t expected to have his multi million dollar diamond business shot to pieces by an old seafarer with a pony tail before it had even got off the ground, he suddenly thought of something.
“My girlfriend has been to Rotterdam and checked it out” he stated confidently.
“How long have you known her?”
“Three months ... why?”
“How much is she putting into this?”
“She’s doing all the administration and paperwork, booking tickets and things”
“Ahh so she’s putting up nothing, you are supplying all the cash, correct?”
“She’s doing all the office work”
“As I said, you are funding the whole thing right?”
“Yes, what are you implying?”
“Look son, you seem like a nice kid but you are definitely a bit gullible, I think I’d be asking her to invest a little more than just time on the deal”
“I trust her”
“After three months, let’s see, that’s eight weeks longer than you’ve known me … more or less”
“Yes, but I trust her, she loves me, we’re getting married”
“Listen, I still don’t trust my missus with money, and we’ve been together nearly forty years”
Ross thought of something else “She’s hardly likely to screw something up when the biggest diamond we buy on the first trip will be set in her engagement ring”
“Look son, I hate to say this, but I’ve met thousands of young hotshots just like yourself. I hope it works out for you, I really do, but I’m willing to bet if I bumped into you in five years time, you’ll have such a tale of woe to tell regarding losing houses, cars and huge alimony payments. Just think things through carefully and slow down a bit”
Crazy Horse got up and got ready to do his watch-keeping rounds, Ross was crestfallen and as Crazy Horse left the canteen he muttered under his breath
“Daft old twat, what does he know about money”
Crazy Horse may have been getting on a bit, but his hearing was exceptional, he was back in an instant.
“Sorry what did you say?”
“Now that’s funny because I’m reasonably certain I heard the words twat, daft and old and something about not knowing anything about money … am I right lads?”
He fixed Ross with a steely gaze.
“How much do you think I am worth?”
Ross shuffled uncomfortably, embarrassed now he had been caught out “What?”
“How much do you think this old twat is worth?”
“Well I can answer for you … seeing as you ‘dunno’ anything. You look at me and all you see this old deckhand with long hair and Indian jewelry and you are thinking, sailor all his life, loser, no education, never invested in anything, never amounted to anything, retiring to eke out a living on a pension … definitely never smuggled any diamonds eh, that’s what you are thinking”
“I never thought that …”
“… and that’s the problem with you and so many like you son, you don’t think, and if there was an Olympics for jumping to conclusions and leaping to assumptions, you and your ilk would take gold every time”
He pulled the A4 envelope he had received earlier from his inside pocket.
“I can tell you exactly how much I’m worth” he took out a spreadsheet, put on his reading glasses checked the document and read out a six figure sum just short of seven.
Ross started to respond…. “But I …”
Crazy Horse held up his hand“…...hold it I’m not finished” He checked his ancient timepiece “In approximately six hours at about oh nine hundred hours five endowment insurance policies mature and that figure almost doubles...” He pulled out another sheet “Coal, not as exotic or pretty as diamonds, but believe it or not, from the same elemental source. Ok admittedly quite hard to smuggle in viable quantities, and also a bit mucky in your pockets, so nearly twenty five years ago I invested in an Australian mine development, my shares went on sale last Friday and my broker informs me we made a seven hundred percent profit on our original stake”
Ross stuttered an apology “I’m sorry I didn’t realize…”
“Ah but I did, in fact I’ve realized every asset I own, and now as I stand here I am worth…” the final figure was astounding.
One of the other lads found his voice first “Bugger me, how did you manage all that mate?”
Crazy Horse made another mug of tea and sat back down.
“I’d always been fascinated with travel and foreign countries and when I left school I joined the Merchant Navy as deck cadet, it was love at first wave. I loved the sea and the lifestyle, visiting all those exotic places I’d only ever read about y’know … Newcastle, Hartlepool, Sunderland. Nahhhh, by the time I was twenty one I’d been to most of Europe and quite a few Mediterranean and North African ports, at thirty I’d been around the world ten times, and by the time I was forty, I lost count.
Saving money was fairly easy as I signed up for long voyages and had very little opportunity to waste my pay-packet. I married my school sweetheart in my early twenties and we bought a very small and run down terraced house cash. I worked at sea and she renovated the house. She was useless, and still is useless with money, but wielding a sledgehammer, laying bricks and mixing cement she has no equal God Bless ‘er ... he raised his mug.
“We sold the first house and bought another in similar condition, sold it, then bought two more, and did the same again, then did it again, and again. Me supplying the capital, and her either doing the work herself, or hiring labour to help out. Eventually we ran out of old places to buy and do up in our area, so we started building our own, as of last month we owned seven executive detached properties all now liquidated. Ahhh, sorry for youse who know nothing about money” he looked pointedly at Ross “That means all sold off” ”We’ve retained one property, the one we actually reside in where we have an extensive collection of Native American Art and Antiques, something we took up as a hobby after a holiday driving across America. My wife has a small side business importing these” He held up his wrist and jangled his bangles, and apart from the clink of antique Silver, there was silence.
Crazy Horse folded away his documents and continued.
“Every Sunday when I am home my four daughters come around for dinner with the grandkids and my waste-of-space-useless-pen-pushing-desk-jockey-sons-in-law. Bit like yourself actually Ross, always looking for a fast buck without working for it. Not one of them ever done a real day’s work in their lives. Two accountants, a quantity surveyor and a paralegal, whatever one of them is. They sit there in my house drooling over the artifacts and mentally calculating how much the residence and contents are all worth, plus of course the other properties. Well they are in for a shock when they discover that all the money will be sitting in my bank in the Cayman Islands , the grandkids have all got trust funds and my daughters have been taken care of, but nothing like the sums their greedy oxygen-thief-spouses think they are getting their trotters on. Our main residence is being leased back to the bank in two month’s time and sublet at their discretion. Our art collection is being put up for auction with the proceeds being donated to the Seafarer’s Mission. Three months time and my beloved wife and I will take up residence on one of the largest luxury liners in the world, then we will cruise the Seven Seas until the money runs out, or we die, whichever comes first”
He checked his watch again.
“Whoooaaaa lookit the time … come on lads work to be done”
Ross was subdued, very subdued, but he still couldn’t resist one last comment
“Look Mr. Horse, I mean Crazy … I’m sorry.”
“Its Arthur son … just call me Arthur”
“I’m a bit puzzled, If you had all this money, outside interests and income, why did you carry on working on ships all these years?”
“I suppose you think I’ll say something like salt water is in my veins, or the sea is my mistress’
‘Well … yeah .. sort of’
Crazy Horse grinned … ‘Well actually that pretty much is true … but as an added bonus … I just love antagonising little shits like you”
Joe Writeson September 2016
Copyright Joe Writeson ‘From Jarrow to Rio … With a Beer Compass’
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