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Cold Storage

by Brent Tharp 7 months ago in Historical · updated 7 months ago
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A fateful meeting with Mr. Jones

Bobby Jenkins, an engineer with White Star Line, leaned against the railing. He pursed his lips and heaved a sigh as he blew smoke toward the bay. The smoke lingered a bit, then disappeared.

“Not seaworthy as configured. Too bulky. Not agile.” That’s what the Board of Trade surveyor had said. Idiot, thought Jenkins. The Titanic, the largest and most expensive passenger ship ever built, was practically bulletproof, in Jenkins’s opinion. And the opinion of many others as well. Men of valor. Men who know things.

“Have you considered,” the surveyor had said (smugly, of course), “what the crew would do if they were to encounter an iceberg on the open sea? How would they turn such a monstrous vessel in time without additional power and a reversible center prop?”

Jenkins had wanted to tell him, “That’s ridiculous. It’s unsinkable; no iceberg could do enough damage to sink a ship such as the Titanic. In fact, we could just ram the iceberg out of our way. Besides, we’d see the iceberg well in advance of a collision. Don’t be daft, man.” But he wisely kept those thoughts to himself—no need to aggravate a killjoy. Tomorrow, he had one last chance to prove that the Titanic could maneuver with the agility and power that the Board of Trade apparently required. And all because the Board had been too dense to revise its silly regulations for the new breed of Olympic-class passenger ships. Things did not look good. It’s not like I can rebuild an entire ship overnight.

Jenkins clasped his hands together, pondered the water, and then looked toward the sky. As he did so, his eyes caught a flash of light from the park next to the bridge. It seemed to have come from a bronze statue he’d never noticed before. Who is that supposed to be—Zeus? He stared at the statue. “Well, what do you think? You’re a god. Surely you must have a solution!” Jenkins laughed bitterly.

The statue seemed to flash again, then went dark. This time, however, Jenkins had been looking directly at the statue when the flash came. What the hell? (Jenkins made a mental note to ease up on his morphine consumption for at least the next week.)

Jenkins rubbed his eyes. When he opened them, a man stood before him. He was short in stature but dressed to the nines. Jenkins was gobsmacked. I swear, no more morphine. For a week.

“Good evening, Mr. Jenkins. I’m Claude Jones, but people call me David. Claude is my grandfather’s name, and he is, and always shall be, an insufferable boor. So I go by my middle name. Pleased to meet you. Please excuse my gruffness, but time is short, so I’ll get to the point. I understand you have a ship problem.” Jones’s skin had a sheen to it (no—a glow, like moonlight), and he spoke with an Irish lilt.

“How’d you know my name? And no, I don’t have a ship problem.”

Jones ignored the first query and got on with it. “Oh, really? So your boat will pass the sea trials tomorrow without a hitch, with flying colors, and all that other cliched nonsense?”

It’s a ship, not a fucking boat. “Yes. I think so.”

“You think so? I like a man with confidence. Well, just to hedge your bets, I have an offer for you. I can guarantee that your boat will pass the trials tomorrow. We both know it won’t as things stand now, whether you’re willing to admit it out loud or not.”

“And how, exactly, would you accomplish that feat?” Jenkins was heated but curious.

“Magic.” Jenkins initially assumed that Jones was being sarcastic. But Jones’s eyes and chiseled lips—not sardonic, not grinning, and definitely not uncertain—told him otherwise. “Just leave it to me. What do you have to lose? It’s not like you can rebuild an entire ship overnight.”

At that, Jenkins started. Regaining his composure, he said, “OK. Let’s say I agree. What’s in it for you? What do want from me? No one does anything for free for someone they don’t even know.”

“I know you better than you realize. All I want . . . is safe passage for some of my family.” Jones snapped his fingers.

Fuck! That flash again, now from this bloke’s jacket.

Jones pulled a slip of paper from his breast pocket and handed it to Jenkins. On it were thirteen names, all Joneses.

“To where? When? We have more than a few ships, you know.”

“Hmm . . . and there you were, wondering why people are so daft. To New York City, of course. On the Titanic.”

“You must be crazy. There’s no room. And for all I know, you’re just a common grifter.”

“Am I? You’re the one who thinks his boat will manage just fine on its own tomorrow.” Jones’s voice softened. “Look, you only need to boot or double up a handful of passengers, and that’s only if I come through. They’ll pay the fare, so that’s more money. And besides, it’s better than the boat sinking, right?”

Ship. It’s a fucking ship. “Fine. But third class. And no single rooms.”

“Done.” Jones reached out and shook Jenkins’s hand. “Sure it’s a ship, but it’s also a boat, albeit an enormous one. Good night, and good luck, Mr. Jenkins. All is in hand.”

What the hell? I didn’t say that out loud. I’m certain of it.

Welcome to Xanadu

The crew finished tying the enormous ship to the moorings and headed to the pub.

“I don’t know how you did it, but your ship passed the trials across the board. Maybe this “new” engineering works after all. You may sail, effective immediately.”

"Thicker Than Blood, More Precious Than Oil"

“Jones party!”

“Here.”

“Every one of you is a Jones?”

“Yes.”

“Uh, fine. Third class. G Deck. Cabins G-103 through G-115. Here are the keys. You decide who goes where. Captain’s Reception is at eighteen hundred hours on D Deck.”

Time to Get This Jones Party Started

The Joneses took advantage of all the ship had to offer, but eventually they all gravitated to the casino. Tobias Jones was cleaning up at the poker table, and now he was pulling an inside straight.

In the corner of the casino, the Pinkerton man, Josiah Olsen, was listening to the pit boss.

“Nobody is that lucky. Nobody.”

“I’m on it,” said Olsen.

Olsen had the floor manager replace the dealer and move the player on Tobias’s left to another table. Olsen then took the man’s place. Tobias, he had noted, was left-handed.

Three hands passed with no action. On the fourth, Tobias called and stayed in the hand. He took three cards. Another player raised, and four players, including Olsen, called. Tobias called as well. The next time around, Tobias raised again, and Olsen reraised him. Two more players folded; three were left.

Olsen stared intently at Tobias’s left hand as play resumed. Nothing. Then Tobias reached for his marker with his right hand. As he brought it back, he clumsily dropped it on the floor to his right. As he leaned to get it, Olsen could see a card peeking from his left sleeve. As Tobias's hand reached the marker, Olsen could see the sliver of a card that Tobias had palmed. Then, just as quickly, the card vanished.

He's good, thought Olsen. But not good enough.

They played out the hand, and Tobias won again. As he reached for his chips, Olsen leaned into him and whispered, “I’m a Pinkerton man, and we need to talk. Leave the chips. They’re not yours.”

Throughout the room, the other Joneses went still and stared at Tobias.

“Fuck,” said Beauregard Jones to his wife, Ophelia.

“Fuck is right,” she replied.

“I’ll sort this.”

No Shelter

In the captain’s quarters, the captain refused to budge. “No money, no promises, no nothing. He goes to the brig. Imagine if someone had caught him before our man here did. It would be a scandal! An absolute scandal!”

Beauregard, defeated, left to report the bad news to the other Joneses.

A Fine Kettle of Fish

The next morning, while the remaining Joneses were eating breakfast, Petunia Jones pulled Ophelia aside. “Did you have clover yet today, Ophelia?”

“I was about to ask you the same thing.”

“Well, who has it?”

“Oh, no . . ."

“What?”

“Beau gave it to Tobias for safekeeping. You know how good he is at hiding things.”

“Well, can we talk to him?”

“They won’t let us down there, and they would listen to the conversation anyway, then confiscate it.”

“What will we do?”

Eugene Jones chimed in. “Well, we could hide. We could walk around like everything is fine. Those are all ‘what-ifs’. But one thing is for sure—if we don’t get clover, we’ll be the Jones ‘leprechaun’ party by morning. Then we’re in for it.”

“In for what?” asked Petunia.

“Joining Tobias in the brig.”

“Why?”

“We’re leprechauns, silly.”

Peaches & Herb

By the afternoon of the following day, all the Joneses had been reunited—in the brig.

Firestarter

In the wee morning hours, the first mate and another officer appeared in the brig. Harlan Jones knew that things were not going well when the officers padlocked the door behind them before approaching the cells, which were essentially cages. They walked toward the cage where Hope stood. She had just turned seventeen.

“Hey, Officer Wilson, have you ever touched any of that gimp skin?”

“Can’t say that I have, Officer Smith. What’s it like?”

“It’s a little leathery, but once you stroke it, damn, those little midget girls purr like kittens. Um-hmm.”

The officers opened the door to Hope's cell. When she resisted, one of the officers pulled her arm while the other grabbed her by the hair and dragged her along the floor. They unlocked the door and took her with them, kicking and screaming.

Manila, Rising

A few hours later, Hope nearly fell as she stumbled through the doorway; the door slammed shut behind her. She was alone. She was bruised, had a black eye, and red tear trails traced her cheeks. But Ophelia noticed that her eyes were steely, hard and furious, and her head was held high.

Good, thought Ophelia.

Napalm in the Morning

When the regular brig officer appeared, Tobias said, “Can we get some food and water? We’re thirsty and starving.”

“Fine,” said the officer. He left. When he returned, he threw hard biscuits into the cages. Then he walked over to the wall, turned the spigot all the way open, and grabbed the hose. “And here’s your water!” He blasted them with cold, high-velocity water.

The water worked its magic, and Tobias began to grow. Soon his shoulders hit the top of the cage. The bars twisted, and the wood planks of the ceiling splintered and shattered. Tobias backhanded the jailer into the far wall. The jailer groaned just before he lost consciousness.

Tobias grabbed the keys from the jailer’s belt and freed the rest of the Jones family.

“Family meeting. Now,” said Beauregard. After they had gathered in a circle, he said, “Davy told me that if anything were to go sideways, we could do our worst. But the one who should decide our worst is the woman who had the worst done to her. Well, Hope, what will it be?”

“Fuck these people,” Hope replied.

“OK, then. Time to get organized. Tobias, can you get the clover?” asked Beauregard.

“Yes, as long as it’s still in the cabin. It’s in my shoes.”

“What?” said Petunia. “We’ve been eating clover that’s been near your nasty feet?”

“I bet you wouldn’t say that if you had some right now.”

Tobias left to get the clover.

Meanwhile, Beauregard laid out the next steps.

When Tobias returned, the Joneses ate the clover and shifted back to full-sized human form.

Let Us Pray

The Joneses cautiously climbed the crew stairs leading from the cargo hold to the Boat Deck, scouting for anyone who looked like a crew member. Once topside, they walked to the bow, gathered in a circle, and joined hands. They spoke in unison:

“The old gods,

The new gods,

All on the soil,

All above,

And all below . . .

Hear our sigh,

And make it nigh.

Upon our cry,

Make the heavens cry.

Thunder, our warrior,

Feel the pull,

Bang your drum,

Until the air is full!

Now we cry to you,

Let it be done!”

They waited. Distant thunder approached. It became louder, more frequent, insistent, like cannon fire. Then the heavens cried, rain falling in torrents and turning to hail as it drew near.

Again, they spoke:

“Now is the time,

Do not delay,

Bring the ice,

Without decay.

Assemble the bergs,

Substantial and solid,

Let the sinners,

Experience squalor.

Break backs,

Break minds,

Time to descend,

To an icy mine.

Let it be done!”

"Now I Am Become Death, the Destroyer of Worlds"

The ocean churned and boiled cold. Icebergs rose all around them. The ship had nowhere to go. Soon, an enormous iceberg filleted the ship, ripping through the steel plates on the starboard side. At 11:50 p.m. on April 14, 1912, the Titanic listed starboard as its forward compartments took on water. The crew hit the switch to close the compartment doors, but to no avail. The damage was too severe—the ship was doomed. At 2:15 a.m. on April 15, the Titanic began its descent into the icy depths.

No News Is Good News

News accounts would later quote witnesses who swore the icebergs appeared out of nowhere and that a prayer group on the upper deck seemed not afraid. Perhaps God had been on their side, as all thirteen made it safely to New York City on the Carpathia three days later.

Historical

About the author

Brent Tharp

I edit STEM books. I like writing, cats, and wine, though not necessarily in that order.

I was raised by wolves in a small forest somewhere in Middle America.

Why don't ketchup bottles squirt correctly? All or nothing seems grifty to me.

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