The captain

“Can you give me any more speed, George?”

Isaac Williamson, Zak to his friends, was owner and captain of the fishing vessel Golden Maid. She had left harbour on the west coast of the island six days previously, headed for the rich fishing grounds to the southwest. The fishing had been good. Better than good, in fact. A normal trip, if the word normal can ever be used in relation to deep-sea fishing expeditions, involved two days out, three days’ fishing and two back. This time, the holds were full after only two days on the nets. Having been able to cut the trip short, Zak was keen to get back as quickly as they could manage – he had received a message on the ship-to-shore that Ellie, his wife of nine years, had safely delivered their first baby whilst he was at sea. Mother and baby were doing well, the message said, but it was important that he return as soon as he could. No reason or explanation was given, just that Ellie and the child were under observation in the hospital’s maternity ward and that his presence was urgently required. Naturally, Zak’s emotions were all over the place: elated that, after years of trying, he and his wife finally had the child they so wanted but worried sick as to the nature of the problem that called for his speedy return.

“I’m doing what I can, Zak,” engineer George Hanson replied over the ship’s comm system, “but if I push her any harder the old problem might come back.”

Zak didn’t need to be reminded what happened last time he made George push the Golden Maid too far. It had started with a minor misfire on one of the cylinders – just a gentle cough every so often – but, in the end, a couple of core-plugs blew and they needed to be towed to the nearest port for a major engine refit. That repair, coupled with the cost of the tow and the loss of a complete catch, had cost Zak a lot more than he could afford and set his plans back by a year or more.

“Just do what you can, George, eh?”

“Will do, Captain.”

The rest of the crew were on deck sorting and cleaning the catch and loading the landing baskets in preparation for offloading. This was always their favourite part of the trip. It was a job they’d done so often it was pretty well automatic. They didn’t need to concentrate on what they were doing, so it became a time for chatting, exchanging stories and jokes, and occasionally singing. Sea shanties? Hardly. This was a group of hard-working young men and women, not old-time sailors. Their songs were whatever was current. One or two would even leave their work and perform some rap numbers. Zak never complained about that, just as long as the work was completed before reaching port. There was something romantic about coming home under a setting sun, too. Somehow it always resulted in an amount of light flirting amongst some of the crew. Again, as long as it didn’t interfere with the ship’s readiness at port, Zak never objected to this although George, as the senior man and something of a father-figure to the crew, made sure that it never developed beyond flirting. What had to be avoided at all costs, was anything that could impact on the smooth running of the trip, so if ever George saw anything that veered towards romance or sexual tension he stamped on it swiftly and decisively. The crew knew this and respected the restriction.

“Can we get his done quickly?” Zak asked George when the Golden Maid was secured to the quayside bollards.

“You go do your thing, Zak,” George replied, “I’ll see to this.”

“Thanks, George. You have control.”

“I have control, Zak. Now GO!”

Zak left his ship in George’s capable hands, hailed a ride and asked the driver to make best speed to the hospital. The driver took him literally and, despite more than two decades at sea, Zak was feeling a little queasy when he arrived at the hospital. He made his way to the maternity suite and asked the duty nurse where his wife and child were. She pointed to the half-obscured door at the end of the public ward. “In the private ward,” she said, “good luck.”

I wonder why she said that, Zak thought as he approached the door.

He pushed down on the handle. Nothing. It was locked. He knocked on the door. “Who’s there?” a man’s voice said from behind the door.

“Isaac Williamson. Is my wife in there with my child?” The click told Zak that whoever was inside had unlocked it. He opened the door and stepped in. Ellie was propped up in the hospital bed.

“You look tired, Lover,” Zak said. Ellie started to weep. “Whatever’s up?” he asked, “You okay?”

Ellie took a few deep breaths As calmly as she could, she said, “Did you ever find anything out about your birth parents, Zak?”

“Well, no. You know I didn’t. The adoption people always said the records were lost or incomplete or something.”

“So you don’t really know who… or what you are?”

“What do you mean, what I am?”

The doctor left the room and came back, carrying their baby.

“Look at it, Zak. Just look at it,” Ellie said, weeping again. The doctor uncovered the baby’s face. Zak looked at his child and blanched.

“My God,” he exclaimed, “What is it?”


I wrote this in response to Kreative Kue 197, issued on this site earlier this week. Feel free to join in; just follow the link.

Kreative Kue 197

Kreative Kue 196 asked for submissions based on this photograph:
John W Howell is the author of the John Cannon trilogy of My GRL, His Revenge, Our Justice and Circumstances of Childhood, co-author of The Contract, and blogs at Fiction Favorites.

The Procedure by John W. Howell © 2018

“So tell me. Is it going to be okay?”

“How long has this been going on?”

“No more than a couple of hours.”

“Well, that is a blessing. I’m glad you called me right away.”

“We didn’t know what else to do.”

“I think you did the right thing. Most people wait too long and then it is too late.”

“It’s not too late I hope?”

“Just a few more moments and I can give you a better idea of what we are facing.”

“I’m sorry for being so anxious, but we wouldn’t know what we’d do if we didn’t have Betsey.”

“Betsey that’s what you named it?”

“Her.”

“Excuse me?”

“Betsey is a girl.”

“Oh my gosh. I never would have guessed that the way it looks.”

“Her.”

“Yeah, I get it. Her. Hold on. I think I have found the problem.”

“Thank heavens. Can you solve it?”

“Yes, I think so. I have the instrument in my bag. Humm. Let me see. Oh, yes, here it is.”

“What do you have to do?”

“I’ll need you to help.”

“Anything. Just tell me what to do.”

“I’m going to make a slight cut here. After that, I need to use this to go in and remove the blockage. I want you to hold this instrument and when I tell you, place it in my hand. Can you do that?”

“Yes. I’m good.”

“Okay, so here we go. First the cut. Yes, that looks good. Hand me the instrument.”

“Here you go.”

“Ah. I’ve got the blockage. Hand me that cloth.”

“What is that thing?”

“Looks like a chunk of charred wood.”

“Charred wood? How is that possible?”

“You’re right. It’s a petrified piece of brisket. How often do you clean this thing?”

“Every time I use her.”

“Well, you better be more careful. You almost lost it.”

“Her.”

“Whatever. If you want to keep it in top condition, you better do a better job of cleaning. You’ll save my fee too.”

“We have a lot of hamburgers to grill. Is she up to it?”

“Yes. I sealed the cut. She is good to go.”

“You know they don’t make grills like this anymore.”

“Yeah, I know. Here’s my bill.”

“This bill is more than my doctor charges.”

“I know. I used to be a doctor.”


Meanwhile, my effort was:

NaNoWriMoan

I hear what you’re saying, my sweet,
And you know that I’m not one to bleat,
But the barbie needs lighting,
So put down your writing.
We’ve been here for hours – let’s eat

You told us way back in September,
And yes, we all said we’d remember
That thing that you do
Is important to you
And you’re busy for most of November.

So why did you invite your friend
A ‘convivial’ evening to spend?
But I’ll tell you what,
You read out what you’ve got.
And we’ll comment on what you have penned.

Before you attempt us to thrill,
Can you please put a match to the grill?
If I don’t eat soon
I’ll be starting to swoon.
Already I’m feeling quite ill.

What’s that? You’re insisting that first
I bring you some wine for your thirst?
Let me tell you, my love,
That idea you can shove.
And what’s more, you can do it cork first!

Just read us the last page, okay?
And I’ll open some cabernet.
Then put down your book
While I start to cook.
By the way, are you sure LJ is gay?


On to this week’s challenge: Using this photo as inspiration, write a short story, flash fiction, scene, poem; anything, really; even just a caption for the photograph. Either put it (or a link to it) in a comment or email it to me at keithchanning@gmail.com before 6pm next Sunday (if you aren’t sure what the time is where I live, this link will tell you). If you post it on your own blog or site, a link to this page would be appreciated, but please do also mention it in a comment here.

Go on. You know you want to. Let your creativity and imagination soar. I shall display the entries, with links to your own blog or web site, next Monday.

Sunday serialisation – A Bump in the Knight, 9.4

In Knight & Deigh, confirmed bachelor and businessman Hannice Knight suffered a back injury that left him without the use of his legs. Sophie Deigh, physiotherapist and recent widow, devoted herself to supporting him.

On his father’s death, Hannice inherited a global business and great wealth. Then, together with Sophie, he embarked on a series of activities designed to give him some of the excitement and the freedoms that he felt he had missed out on, by being tied to his father’s business for two decades.

As Hannice’s body recovered, he became ever closer to Sophie, and found himself drifting into a relationship with her that neither had anticipated or intended, and for which neither was fully prepared.

This book follows Hannice’s new adventures as he tries to juggle business, hedonism, marriage and ultimately parenthood.

But all doesn’t go quite as he had planned…

A bump in the Knight is now being published here as a serial; one part each Sunday.


A Bump in the Knight. Chapter nine, part four

Things got better. We enjoyed holidays in Cyprus, the business grew with little involvement from me, and Lindy and Tanja both gained their MBAs. Sophie, David and I visited Dar-es-Salaam for Lindy’s graduation ceremony, and I welled up with pride when the Principal called his name and presented the scroll. That the young boy I had taken on all those years ago, as an office junior, was now qualified and ready to be promoted to Divisional Manager, East and Central Africa, was something so far beyond what I ever expected to see as to be akin to a fairy tale coming true. Idris Ulrich from Durban and Sunday Gbolade from Lagos were also present to support Lindy, as also, of course, was his boss and mentor, Max Matham.

David didn’t attend the meeting after the presentation. Then nine years old and maturing at a cracking rate, he chose to go off with Kanene, to see her friend Sekelaga, who still lived in the same house, even though her son Habibu was 22 and with a family of his own, and daughter Zahara was nineteen and attending university in the city. Sophie and I attended the meeting, at which Lindy was officially proclaimed Divisional Manager, putting him on a par with Idris and Sunday. Following that, Max introduced her plans for development of the region and, in particular, of Knight Investments Tanzania, a roll-out that would involve Lindy in the other two areas as well as his own. The impression we gained was that he was more than ready to take that job on. As we were packing up, Lindy pointed to the chair Max had just vacated and said, “Ten years, Max, and that will be my chair.”

“Ten years, and you’ll be welcome to it. Maybe sooner,” Max replied. Max looked at me with eyebrows raised.

I looked back and whispered, “Five years, and I’ll want you in Head Office full time.”

“Make it three?” she asked, a smile spreading across her face.

“Don’t tempt me,” I said.

On the way to Amsterdam for Tanja’s presentation, I thought a lot about that last snippet of conversation.

“Am I doing the right thing?” I asked Sophie.

“In what regard?”

“Keeping Max and Henk in the regions while still expecting them to hold down Head Office roles.”

“Are they doing it okay?”

“As far as I know. They’re certainly doing their jobs, but like us, they’re both getting older and the day will come when the pressure becomes too much for them to handle with comfort.”

“What are you thinking, Hannice?”

“Looking at Lindy, and listening to him in that meeting, I’m sure it won’t be long before he’s ready to take on the region; Regional Manager at first, with a promotion to the Board when he’s proven himself in the role. Max is my age; I think it’s time to bring her home.”

“If that’s what she wants.”

“Of course.”

Tanja’s presentation and the meetings afterwards were almost a carbon copy of Lindy’s, and my conclusions were the same. Back at home, I started to prepare a discussion paper for the next full board meeting, which I would circulate for comments straight away.

The first response to come back was from the recently promoted Director of Logistics, my half-brother Stephen Parker. He felt that it was ‘fundamentally wrong that these young people should have been promoted to Divisional Manager without the approval of the Board’, and that ‘to even consider bringing the incumbent Regional Managers back to Head Office when office space is at a premium already’ was ‘foolhardy in the extreme’. Cheeky bugger. Had he forgotten where I dragged him from? For a start, regional appointments are the responsibility of the Regional Director, and didn’t need Board approval; and secondly, as COO and CFO, Henk and Max already had offices in Head Office, so no extra space would be taken. The man’s talking through his ass. I noticed that he had done a ‘reply to all’, so at least the rest of the directors would see his arrogance.

The responses from Emily, Owen and Alexandra all said about the same thing, that we’d go through it in detail at the meeting, but essentially, that they were in full agreement with my recommendations. And these people, apart from the fact that two of them were women, were not yes-men. That meant that Parker would be voted down by eleven to one (all the Regional Directors had signified their approval, too). Hopefully, that would act as a brake on his arrogance, although, knowing him, it would only make him worse (especially after had gone home and told that wife of his about it).

Once the replies were in, and before the meeting was due to take place, I made Skype calls to Max and Henk, to explain the thinking behind my discussion paper. Both of them were in full agreement. It was obvious that Lindy and Tanja were ready to take on the mantle of the regional job, and they fully accepted that they would not rise to the Board until they had proven themselves in the job and satisfied the rest of the Board that they were director material. If only I could have convinced Stephen Parker of that.