William B. McCloskey

Stowaways, Ice of March Month, Toiletpaper Sopa etc.

From STOWAWAYS novella

Thick boots kicked the man, and he withered like an unstrinqed marionette. Rumanian soldiers led the stowaway off ship as the Scandinavian crew of the Solveg stopped unmooring to watch helplessly. Then, an hour out of Constanza, engineers discovered two other stowaways crouched in oil under the steel plate o£ the bilges. The crew helped them on deck where the sun was hot, and reassured them by pointing to the white speck of city diminishing over miles of green water. The two men knelt and wept.

"My God," said Hasse Dreifaldt, "I told them at Cafe Tomis last week we were going straight to America."

"Fool boy!" snapped Fat Hengstrom the machinist, "Now you can tell them it's Russia first, and we'll watch them shot!"

Dreifaldt wiped his hands on his thighs, feeling the black oil over the face and body and legs of the Rumanians, and glanced fearfully from one to another of the men circled around him. "I didn't think, we just talked. They asked about America, and I bragged about how many times we go there. But, but I didn't, .. "

"Ja, ja. Leave off." Lars Peterson, the big bosun, stepped into the group and mildly took command. "Poor fellows." The stowaways stood blinking, trying to wipe the oil from their eyes with fingertips they licked clean with their tongues. "One of you, give them a rag. You, messboy, get food. And you --in my locker below are two new pairs of dungarees. Go get them." He examined the haggard, bony men. "Poor fellows. What're we going to do with them? Just a few years ago it was us, escaping from the Germans." He stepped forward to help the older one peel off his slimy shirt.

"They both know English", explained Hasse in a quivering voice, as he helped undress the second stowaway, a young man his own age, "It was for fun of practicing English, Bosun, I didn't know they'd hide on the ship."

"You", said Lars gruffly in English to the man he was helping, "You do a crazy thing, You know?" He offered him a lit cigarette from his own mouth.

"Oh my friend, thank you", whispered the man in a voice too cracked by the bilge damp to talk. He drew greedily on the cigarette, turned to pass it to his companion, and smiled when he saw they were lighting one for him also.

"Hi", whispered the younger one to Hasse, and grinned. "We surprise you, no?" ...

Sven, the sadeyed messboy (who was already old at fourteen, having seen the murder of his parents during the German occupation) brought out a tray of thick sandwiches and coffee.... The two stowaways fell to the food like animals.

The crew stood back and watched. "Look at their hands. They're working men like us," one murmured.


second excerpt

[The stowaways are discovered in Russia, but ordered delivered back in Romania to Russian authorities there. The ship returns offshore in Constanza to deliver them. Meanwhile, the Norwegian mate has died, and the crew with their captain's acquiescence substitutes the body for the younger of the stowaways.]

[In the room where the discovered stowaways were being held] A small altar had been erected from a candle, chair, and cross. Georgesqu, dressed in one of the mate's nightshirts, knelt and whispered a prayer in Rumanian over the body. Then he and Martin embraced, and Lars led Georgesqu to safety in the Mate's cabin. ...

No one of the crew went to bed. They lined the rails, talked, looked at the stars, spat into the water. As midnight approached they could see lights from the land.... The ship slowed. There was a heavy inland seaweed smell. Lazy black ripples rolling from the bow reflected the city lights. Two bells struck. Almost simultaneously the beam of a searchlight scanned the ship, and they saw the red and green running lights of a pilot boat less than a mile away.... The approaching boat, a little coal stoker, had dense smoke billowing from its stack. The men crewing it seemed part of the grime. In contrast and apart, a Russian officer stood the deck in his crisp green uniform, a pistol strapped to his waist. The boat chugged alongside, splattering the deck with cinders. Three thin, dun-colored soldiers climbed the ladder. "Russkie, you coming up?" called Lars in English. The officer shook his head. Lars led the soldiers to the cabin, through passageways guarded by men trying to appear casual.


In the cabin Martin knelt and prayed, while the Captain stood with arms folded. The body of the mate lay shrouded in a corner with a candle at its head. The Captain grimly handed the soldiers a document and pointed to the body. They looked at each other in confusion. One ran down to fetch the officer.

The Russian arrived breathlessly, looked around, shook his head, and said in careful English, "What is this, sir, one is dead? Impossible. Two days ago in Poti they said he was alive."

"It came quickly."

"But I do not know what to do about this." He walked over and yanked off the sheet. "This is no Rumanian!"

In such sickness every man is alike," said the Captain.
... "You call me a liar?" he exploded. "Get them off my ship! Don't think you'll leave the dead one on my hands. We used our own medicine to save him, and where do we get more, eh?" ...

"Get off quickly," whispered Lars to the officer. "If Captain has one of his attacks we'll have to stay here, and you'll be to blame. We'll make a report against you." ...He pointed to Martin. "You think a goddamned Rumanian yells like that except for another Rumanian?"


The pilot boat was now a distant wake of light in the water, receding rapidly. Lars removed a ring he had always worn and threw it into the water as an offering to his old friend the dead Mate. Suddenly from the boat came a flash, followed in a few seconds by the report of a pistol and the cry of a man.

"Please, Bosun," cried Hasse. [Author's note: Hasse had knocked the young stowaway they were saving unconscious to keep him in hiding.]

"Ja, boy, we'll look to the living."

(Garten: a Greenpeace protestor flown with reporters to the sealing ice. Pardy & Andrew: Newfoundland sealers father & son.)

Garten fumbled at Pardy's buckle, slick like everything else with seal grease. In exasperation he yanked the steel loose and threw it into the water, then braced glaring at old Pardy.

Pardy raised his hand slowly, looked at the Mate, and let the hand fall. He and the other sealers had agreed not to give cause to the newspaper people.

Andrew also looked at the Mate and the fishery officer. Why didn't they do something? So unbelievable, what might happen next, that neither moved. Nor the RCMPs. Garten fumbled at the belt again. Failing to loosen it he tugged at the knife in its sheath. "Let it be!" commanded Andrew.

Garten glanced at Andrew for just the moment to see his face and the upset of his expression, and the fellow's eyes narrowed. He understood. He snatched Pardy's knife from the sheath and threw it into the water.

Andrew cried out and rushed, too late to save the knife. In his fury he hit Garten full in the face, feeling the satisfaction of it, and wheeled him toward the water where the knife had sunk. His father's hand halted him. "You wasted what I done!" the old man roared with a despair Andrew had never heard from him in the worst of times.

Garten had only been thrown to the edge. He staggered, holding his jaw, his face in a shock of pain but his feet planted on firm ice close by a thin ridge. He balanced away from the water by instinct as the Mate reached cautiously to grab him without overloading the ice.

From the helicopter some woman started screaming hysterically as she rushed and stumbled toward them.

It all happened in the space of a wind puff. Garten's glance darted from the screaming woman to Andrew. The two men's eyes met again --slitted eyes both that telegraphed a mutual pain and fear beyond the cold anger. Garten straightened with a deliberate effort that also seemed like a sigh through his whole body, reversed his balance, and with a loud moan fell into the water.

In the pandemanium of cameras, and endless screams from the woman who tried to leap into the water also and was restrained, the Mate and the fishery officer gaffed Garten's coat and pulled him to safety.

Andrew watched, panting. He knew from wettings enough of his own how the icy water was creeping up the fellow's legs and down his chest, trickling into his groin and then exploding with fiery cold. Alone on the ice, without knowing how to manage, Garten might soon have slipped under. With all the attention, he'd be lucky to have a cold to show for his trouble, but the man gasped and cried out like a belted child.

"Tried to murder me! Ahhh--the brutality! You saw! For trying to save helpless baby seals --" He went limp in their hands.

The camera people and the notebook people pushed each other for a better view as they clicked and scribbled.

"Oh b'y, b'y me dear," mourned Andrew's dad beside him gently, "How you've wasted me work this day."

Selected Works

(New manuscript unpublished)
Older "Highliners Trilogy" characters (including Japanese) end of WWII as they enter the Alaskan fisheries.
(in print 1979-2006, all rights returned)
Alaska commercial fishermen for crab, salmon, halibut. Re Kirkus: "Raw and bracing as icy seawater"
(novella stowaways and short stories)
Stowaways, Ice of March Month, Toiletpaper Sopa etc.
Seafarers–merchant seamen, sealers, military–face challenges to their personal and national loyalties.

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