The Life of Henry Fuckit
89 Henry is thrown overboard
All educated modern mariners ought to know something about probability and the statistical calculation of a Stationary Random Process. Captain Cunt did. In fact, the relationship between possibilities and outcomes, the ratio of favourable outcomes to all possible outcomes, was never far from his thoughts, especially when he suspected an event of bearing the hallmark of Divine or Satanic intervention. He also possessed a sound knowledge of the dynamics involved in wave formation. He knew full well that no wave system consists of just one wave train. No, there are many wave components present, each with its own period and height, travelling along together at slightly different but consistent speeds. And that every now and then, just by chance, it so happens that a large number of these components get into step at the same place and an exceptionally high wave ensues. He also knew that, in accordance with statistical estimates, whilst one wave in twenty-three is over twice the height of the average wave, and one in 1175 is over three times the average height, only one wave in over 300 000 exceeds four times the average height. In plying the oceans the chance of one vessel encountering a freak wave, or trough, is so slim that it would require several scores of lifetimes at sea to make it inevitable.
So when, the following morning, less than twelve hours after ploughing her way out of the abysmal trough, so monstrous as to benumb those on the bridge with awe and terror, Captain Cunt knew with utter certainty that this was a natural impossibility. It had to be the work of the Devil. As the ship ascended the wave, sixty foot above the surrounding crests, and then began its insanely ferocious headlong plunge, his eye fastened upon the black shape squatting like a bloated tick on the deck below. The Whale. And he thought of that godless drunken oaf on whose account they had ventured into these diabolical precincts.
When the Gullets crashed into the towering bank of water waiting to meet it at the end of its downward rush, the shock threw Henry from his bunk. He had been lying there dozing, waiting to recover from a mild case of alcohol poisoning. For several moments daylight from the porthole was blacked out by the great mass of sea they were attempting to part. When the vessel finally broke free the pale grey orb reappeared, he got up and hurriedly began to dress. Fucking hell, what was this captain up to? What kind of coarse seamanship was this? Surely an experienced master should be able to steer his ship around these obstacles and potholes?
Cursing the inconvenience and discomfort of wet feet, he sloshed his way along the passage through several inches of water and mounted the stairs. Near the top he encountered some seamen who appeared on the point of coming down. They hung back for him.
'Mr Henry Fuckit?'
There were five of them. Brawny, unsmiling types.
'The Captain says we've reached your destination. Its time for you to board the Whale. We're going to drop you off.'
On account of the heavy weather and the heavy drinking his complexion was far from ruddy. It was the dirty yellowish grey known as sallow. The Captain's message caused the blood to drain from Henry's face and it took on an even paler, unhealthier hue. He was also aware of some abdominal turbulence and wondered whether they would allow him a quick visit to the heads. No, probably not. He caught sight of the hypodermic syringe one of them was holding. And under his arm the suspiciously familiar white canvas bundle. Shit, a straitjacket! They meant business.
'But what about the weather? It's far too rough to launch the Whale in this sea.' His eyes darted from face to face and then fixed on that of the spokesman. 'Isn't it?' His tone was almost pleading.
'Captain's orders. We must hurry.' They began to crowd him along towards the steel door leading to the forward deck.
'But what about my companions?' Henry's voice was a hoarse squawk. 'There's another four members of the expedition. You …'
'Captain said it's just you, pal. Nothing about 'companions', or any kak like that.' There was something unpleasantly hostile in his manner. Through the porthole beside the door Henry glimpsed the bucking horizon and the wild sea.
'Christ no man. This is ridiculous. Impossible. I must speak to Captain Cunt. He's out of his fucking mind. I …'
'Nou luister, jou donner!' He took a fistful of Henry's shirtfront. 'You want a sedative, hey? You want us to force you?' The sailor with the straitjacket began to unroll it. 'You getting in that fokken Whale thing and over the side you goes. Gee vir hom die inspuiting.'
'Fuck you, man, that won't be necessary. I'll go, alright? I said I'll go! Get your hands off me.'
They released him and a lifejacket was pulled down over his head. The heavy latches were lifted, one man stepped out, Henry was next, the others followed. If they hadn't held him he would have fallen, the wind was blowing with such violence. He wasn't prepared for these conditions. Down below you were well aware the ship was making heavy going, lurching and plunging and staggering like a pisscat with a club foot just emerged from the City Hall Hotel bar. But out on deck it was a thousand times worse. Heavy sprays of sea and rain enveloped the Gullets from stern to stern and he was instantly drenched. The wind tore through his hair and ripped at his beard. The ship heaved and rolled and bucked, collapsed, got to its knees, wallowed, sprang forward. Beyond the rail the scene was a chaotic jumble of foaming crests and sudden lakes of flattened water being chased, panic-stricken, desperately trying to elude the wrath of charging down draughts. Dark cloud, almost black, moved above them, trailing ragged skirts like the pudenda of some giant she-devil about to menstruate upon the vessel with a stream of stinking pitch.
They scuttled and clawed their way forward, helping each other, and reached the Whale. One man clambered up and opened the hatch, and then it was Henry's turn. Everything was cold and wet and he hadn't climbed a rope ladder since his boyhood at Ingachini. The curved rubber side of the craft was treacherously slippery, offering no help at all to his clumsily stabbing feet as they groped for the rungs. Hands pushed at him from below and the man atop the Whale grabbed his wrist and pulled. Finally he was lying flat on the narrow strip of duckboard that ran the length of the shiny black back. The seaman shook his shoulder and gestured towards the hatch. Speech would have been futile amidst that uproar raging about them. He crawled to the opening, peered down, saw the ladder, and lowered himself into the interior.
The sailor had finished attaching cables to the two hoops which encircled the Whale and now the jib of the luffing crane swung overhead and unreeled a long loop of steel rope. The hook and pulley contraption on the end of the loop was swinging wildly and with lethal force. Then it thudded into the Whale's side and Henry felt the impact of the blow. The man scrambled to grab the hook before it could swing away and the coupling operation was completed. The crane started to take up the slack, the sailor waved at Henry to close the hatch and he slithered from sight.
Whoever was operating the crane seemed to know what he was doing. As Henry brought the hatch down over his head he found himself looking up at the windows of the bridge. They were dark and blank and lashed by rain and spray. Somewhere behind them Captain Cunt and his officers were looking down on him. They were probably operating the crane from up there. A dull conviction seized him that he was about to be sacrificed. This crazed psychopath was throwing him overboard in order to assuage the ire of God. Or was it the Devil? What did that idiot Jonah say? 'Take me up and cast me forth into the sea; so shall the sea be calm unto you: for I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you.' Suicidal shithead! 'So they took up Jonah, and cast him forth into the sea: and the sea ceased from her raging.' Kak! He let the hatch fall shut and stood at the foot of the ladder.
There was a jolt and he surmised the chains securing the Whale to the cargo hatch had been released. A violent jerk would have sent him reeling if he hadn't grabbed hold of the ladder. He held tight, realising he was airborne, and suddenly oppressive resignation gave way to anger. The thought of those bastards watching him mount the scaffold filled him with fury. With reckless strength he climbed the ladder, threw back the hatch, and poked his head out into the storm. The wind tore at him and rain stung the back of his head, but he was determined not to go without a show of defiance. He climbed another rung, braced himself and, as the jib pivoted its swinging load towards the sea, he glared up at the windows and shook his fist. Then he made the sign of the cross culminating in some hand signals which conveyed with obscene succinctness his contempt for Cornelius Cunt's religion and person.
By now the Whale was swinging alarmingly to the roll of the ship. It travelled in a long arc out over the sea and came back, just clearing the tail. With frantic haste he slammed the hatch shut, secured it, and stood hugging the ladder, waiting for impact. He sensed he was near the end of the outward swing, felt the lurch in his stomach as sudden descent began, and then came the terrible blow.
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