Authors: Douglas Reeman
|High Water (1959)
With his own boat, the motor yacht Sea Fox, former naval officer Philip Vivian had hoped to earn a living free from the petty restrictions of everyday life, close to the sea he loved.Now, however, his dream is threatened by financial difficulties. So when a profitable, if legally dubious, proposition is put to him by an old naval comrade in arms, Vivian is willing to listen.But what starts out as a harmless adventure soon turns into something altogether more sinister. And Vivian finds himself trapped in a treacherous web of violence and crime, dangerously torn between his stubborn sense of past loyalties and his duty to a society he has always despised.
Douglas Reeman joined the Navy in 1941. He did convoy duty in the Atlantic, Arctic and the North Sea, and later served in motor torpedo boats. As he says, ‘I am always asked to account for the perennial appeal of the sea story, and its enduring appeal for people of so many nationalities and cultures. It would seem that the eternal and sometimes elusive triangle of man, ship and ocean, particularly under the stress of war, produces the best qualities of courage and compassion, irrespective of the rights and wrongs of the conflict … The sea has no understanding of the righteous or unjust causes. It is the common enemy, respected by all who serve on it, ignored at their peril.’
Reeman has written over thirty novels under his own name and more than twenty best-selling historical novels, featuring Richard Bolitho and his nephew Adam Bolitho, under the pseudonym Alexander Kent.
Also by Douglas Reeman
A Prayer for the Ship
Send a Gunboat
Dive in the Sun
The Hostile Shore
The Last Raider
With Blood and Iron
Path of the Storm
The Deep Silence
The Pride and the Anguish
To Risks Unknown
The Greatest Enemy
Rendezvous – South Atlantic
Go In and Sink!
Surface with Daring
Strike From the Sea
A Ship Must Die
Badge of Glory
The First to Land
The Iron Pirate
In Danger’s Hour
The White Guns
A Dawn Like Thunder
Dust on the Sea
It is often said that a novelist’s second book is the hardest thing he will ever have to write. This is probably because his first book was to have been
, or because he never expected it to be published at all.
The writing of my first novel,
A Prayer for the Ship
, was a gentle and leisurely task. I had no previous experience, other than short stories, and had nobody to point out the pitfalls or to explain the mysteries of construction and plot. This was probably an advantage. I wrote it without notes or research, building the story around events and characters I had known during the war. It was something I felt I had to do, if only for my own satisfaction.
Eventually, I sent the manuscript to a publisher, the choice of whom was made by the simple method of studying his previous book-lists. My work was done, or so I thought.
The first excitement at being told that my story had been accepted soon gave way to something like panic when my publisher asked me what new work I had to show him. A second book? It had never crossed my mind.
And so I wrote
, basing it on the times and environment of the late fifties. It was a period when many people were just discovering the real difficulties of settling down after a war. Some lost their livelihood and savings while trying to adapt in a world they did not understand.
skilful and ruthless affairs of day-to-day business were seen by many as an extension of combat, so they were able to delude themselves that crime was merely another way of claiming what was theirs by right.
At the time of writing
I lived aboard my own motor yacht, and well aware of the temptations for quick profit with no questions asked, and of the shortages left by war’s aftermath.
If the theme of the story is different from all my subsequent work, it is because I was not then sure which way I was going.
gave me the time and the breathing space to decide whether or not I could face up to a new career. For that I am eternally grateful.
THE GREY, STONE
walls of Torquay harbour reached protectively out and around the countless small craft which lay anchored and hardly moving in the warm, blue water. The sun, which poured down relentlessly from a bright, clear sky, seemed to sap the very last ounce of energy out of the after-lunch wanderers who thronged the baking stonework, as they shuffled aimlessly in search of shade, the gay, multicoloured dresses and bathing costumes of the brown-legged girls clashing with the white shirts and braces of the perspiring business men from the Midlands, and with the blue jerseys and caps of the old fishermen who leaned silently across the breastworks, sucking at their pipes.
The high, white buildings at the back of the harbour shimmered in a fine heat-haze, and made a perfect setting for the holiday-makers in their quest for pleasure and simple excitements.
Although the summer was all but ended, everyone agreed that it had been a season to remember, and even the thought that soon the water would chill with the first touch of the cold Atlantic, and the promenades would be deserted but for the fishermen and the empty deck-chairs, could not remove the deep feeling of satisfaction, especially on the part of the boarding-house owners, and the prosperous hoteliers.
Philip Vivian was probably the only person who did not share those views, as he hurried through the slow-moving
unaware of the appraising glances from the groups of parading girls, or in fact of anything but the realization that he was almost certainly about to become bankrupt.
In his faded yachting cap, open-necked shirt, and khaki-drill trousers, he made an interesting figure, his tall, well-muscled body swinging with the easy grace of a professional seaman, and his tanned face proving that he at least was no temporary resident. It was his face which usually caused his few friends to think and to ponder, for although only a young man, thirty-four to be exact, he had a certain sadness, and even wistfulness, in his wide, grey eyes, which made him seem old before his time. Beneath the peak of his cap, the short, brown hair curled rebelliously, and the proud tilt of his chin, and firm mouth, gave the general appearance of recklessness.
As he approached the stone steps which ran down to the lower mooring jetties, one of the blue-clad figures detached itself from the wall and grasped him by the elbow. A smile flickered across Vivian’s features, as he looked down into the wrinkled face of the old boatman. Arthur Harrap was a particular friend of his, who made a casual living by fishing and running the visitors out for short trips in his dilapidated motor-boat, the
, and his round, red face was a familiar sight indeed in most of the local bars.
‘Oi bin keepin’ an eye on yer boat, Cap’n,’ he wheezed, ‘but there ain’t bin no callers. Did yew ’ave any luck?’
‘Not a damn thing, Arthur. I think I’ve just about had it.’
He shrugged, and thrust his hands deep into his pockets. and together they stood, staring down at the rakish motor-yacht moored beneath them.
With the sun glistening on her gleaming brass fittings, she made a proud sight, forty-five feet of grace, power, and a shipbuilder’s love of beauty. From her creamy, teak-laid
with the neatly coiled ropes, to her shiny, white hull, which reflected the dancing ripple of the gentle tideway, she looked every inch a thoroughbred.
Speaking as if to himself, Vivian controlled his voice with a great effort, so that his companion squinted up at him inquiringly. ‘I’ve just been on the ’phone again to London, and the mortgage people won’t allow me even another month to pay them, so unless you’ve got seven hundred pounds you don’t want, I guess they’ll take the
from me,’ he said bitterly.
The old man shook his head. ‘It’s what oi’ve always said, yew just can’t compete with the big hire-boat men.’
He spat accurately into the water.
‘But what’s gone wrong this time? After all, yew’ve bin ’ere nigh on two years with your boat, and yew’ve always ’ad plenty of payin’ customers before, what does it matter that yew’ve ’ad a bit of a bad patch lately?’
‘It’s like this, Arthur,’ he answered wearily, as if repeating a lesson. ‘As you know, when I came out of the Navy I had another job in London for a bit. I had some money put by, and that, with my gratuity, plus what I could save, I put down as a deposit for the boat with a yacht mortgage firm. I thought I could make a living during the summer months by hiring myself and the boat out for holiday cruises, and pay off the rest of the cash. I just happened to forget a few points, that’s all.’ He laughed harshly. ‘One, I forgot that I could go a whole season like this with practically no customers, and two, I forgot that my boat’s just about trebled her value since I got her, so that these bastards want to get her off me, to sell again at a nice, fat profit.’
He kicked viciously at a stone.
‘God, it makes you sick! Where am I going to raise that sort of money, eh?’
They crossed the narrow gangplank, and entered the
both grateful for the shade, and thankful to be out of the noise and the crowds.
As Arthur busied himself with the kettle, he watched Vivian moving slowly about the snug, panelled saloon, like a caged animal, he thought, his sensitive hands feeling and touching the well-known objects about him. Arthur shook his head sadly. He knew that if he lost his boat Vivian would lose his very will to live.
A brief shadow flitted across the open door of the sunlit wheelhouse, and a second later a large, black-and-white cat pounced heavily down the steps, and stood blinking uncertainly on the saloon deck. Having made sure that both the occupants were friendly, the cat strode stiffly to a battered cushion secreted beneath the table and began to wash.
Vivian stood looking down at the animal for some moments.
‘Dammit!’ he exploded suddenly. ‘I’ll be damned if I’m going to give up all this without a fight! I’ll go up to London and see the perishers!’
He paused, and grinned ruefully. ‘Don’t forget to keep an eye on old Coley here while I’m away, you know, the usual.’
‘Aye, Oi know, Cap’n, a pahnd of blessed fish a day. Reckon ’e’ll burst one day!’
The old man brightened considerably, now that a plan of action was being evolved.
‘Now don’ yew worry about a thing. Oi’ll run the generator, wash the deck, feed the cat, keep the local kids from runnin’ abart the boat an’ …’ he paused, wrinkling his forehead. ‘’Ere, what’ll Oi do if some gen’elman wants to ’ire the ol’
for ’is ’oliday, eh? ‘Ow can Oi get in touch with yew?’
‘Hm, you’d better ring me at the R.N.V.R. Club. That’s
I shall stay. After all, I probably won’t be able to afford to renew my membership next year, so I might as well make the most of it.’
He reached for the railway time-table, feeling again that dead sensation in his stomach. He had to do something, anything. He felt the boat stir beneath him, as a pleasure launch, jammed with laughing holiday-makers, cruised past, and he knew that unless he could think of something fantastic, he would lose his home, his livelihood, and his only love, all in one swoop.