When he had applied for the position advertised as ‘The Crewman’, Jim knew something was a little strange about the whole affair. He was told only what he needed to know, had to keep his nose out of the business and had to be prepared for anything. They paid well so he didn’t press them. He had to be multi-skilled for starters. He was good on boats, wanted to be an actor, played a guitar, had an electronic/electrical qualification and could abseil. Mr and Mrs Buckling had seemed very impressed with his list of qualifications and experience. Normally he had a problem with his resume because prospective employers normally didn’t like to see a five page job list. He was given the job and told that if he got through the probation period without being ‘difficult’ more permanent work would be offered him.
When he first arrived at the port and looked out at the massive man-of-war resting on the dark water he hesitated, looked around before blurting out, ‘We don’t have to kill anyone do we?’
‘No, at least we haven’t had to yet,’ the Captain replied with a sly look.
Jim gave a little shudder.
On board the Captain was busy with an introduction to his first mate when a large, white bird flew in and landed on the Captain’s shoulder.
Swash gave the bird a scratch and looked at Jim. ‘This is Krok.’
‘Nice to meet you, Krok. Are you going to krok or krow for me?’
The Captain looked at him with a puzzled expression.
‘They make a ‘krok’ when happy and ‘krow’ when feeling aggressive.’
‘How old is he?’
‘Twenty plus years.’
‘Twenty years! He’s got to be the oldest Egret…’ he stopped short and judging by the look on Swash’s face he realized this was one of the ‘not up for discussion’ subjects. Even so Jim continued trying to be helpful, ‘Cattle Egrets have a good distribution around Australia, when I worked on the cattle range we had a lot of colonies around. They ride the beasts and eat ticks and blood sucking flies amongst other things. It’s odd though, they usually avoid marine environments.’
‘Uh…I’ll get you to contact my son and bring some grubs or something, remind me to give you his mobile. Well here we are then. Settle in…you’ll find the crew an amiable lot…’ The Captain was looking at his guitar case. They had moved down a couple of levels to his new shared living quarters. Jim was concerned that the Captain seemed to have little knowledge over his feathered companion but Krok looked healthy enough, he turned to wink at the bird who was eyeing him off with new interest.
He had a few weeks to settle in before Plan 416 would be executed. He put a note in his diary to remind himself about ringing the son, Swank. Strange names and he found it harder than what he thought not to ask questions.
It was easy enough to find his way around and he made contact with those superior to him. He carried out his duties loving the sea vessel and characters aboard. He had been briefed on the upcoming job and thought it pretty straightforward.
He played his guitar for the crew most nights and found that Krok Spiky, displayed in his magnificent breeding plume, would often join them.
He didn’t bump into Mrs. Buckling that much, most of his duties were the late shifts. The Captain he saw occasionally but he mainly worked with two long term employees, Mac and Dave. Just like him they had been given pseudo names.
He loved the night skies the most. The days were warm and nights were clear. The stars were bright and shimmered encouragingly. Mac had a 15′ Telescope. It would take the three of them to get it up on the deck. They studied the stars.
At day they would head toward their bunk room which housed twenty crewmen. They settled on their bunks locking any personal items into individual trunks. Larger items were kept in a separate room and keys were only given to the person in-charge.
‘What are ya writing now, Jim?’
It still took him a couple of seconds to register that he was being spoken to.
‘I’m writing a poem about the stars.’
Jim grinned at his tone. ‘The women really love it when you write poems. Especially when it’s for them.’
‘No kiddin’. My missus would look at me with a queer eye.’
‘I think he means a woman that you’re not married to Dave.’
‘Oh. I guess, never tried it though. I met my missus down the pub. She was the bar supervisor, and knew how to handle herself.’
‘Why do you say that?’
‘One night I got a bit drunk and I asked her if she’d ever had, well you know, she replied ‘no, had you?’ and then she smacked me across the face. It was love alright. She wanted me bad. We were married four weeks after that.’
‘Wow, that’s romantic.’ Mac rolled his eyes.
‘Well, tell us your love tale?’ asked a defensive Dave.
‘Don’t have one.’ He paused significantly, ‘I got myself three.’ And hooted rather loudly, disturbing a nearby sleeper. He shut his mouth quickly. He leaned forward conspiratorially toward Jim, ‘I wouldn’t mind a poem or two.’
‘Twenty bucks a pop.’
Dave laughed quietly but rolled around his bunk indicating a greater amusement.
‘Guaranteed to impress.’
‘I’ll try one, but if it doesn’t work…’
‘What about you, Jim. What’s your deal with women?’
Jim put down his pad and pen and picked up his guitar giving it a rough strum. ‘I once had a filly, who turned out to be silly, I once had a lady, who wanted 10 babies, I once had a chick, who ditched me quick, I once had a dame, who played too many games, I once had a lass, who gave me sass, I once had a bird who called me a turd, I now have a sweetheart but we are apart.’
‘What’ll you sing if your current sweetheart dumps you?’
‘I once had a sweetheart, who let out ripper farts.’ He strummed the guitar violently at the end.
They all laughed, waking a grumpy crewman.