Sink or Swim

19.Apr.2020

Sink or Swim

 

 

Eddie was slowly drinking champagne. He was standing on the deck of a cruise liner, looking at the waves overboard. The evening was wonderful. There were no more people around. Eddie admired how such a huge and massive ship could move at high speed. The vessel was comfortable and beautiful. Eddie looked at the outlines of the island, which dissolved in the dark. The man threw a glass into the sea. Soon his wife came to the deck. She looked great and the couple began to flirt, as at the beginning of dating. They agreed to go to a restaurant together. It was very crowded. It was hot, but the place turned out to be very pleasant and hospitable. The musicians were playing instruments in the corner, the lighting created a comfortable atmosphere. Several couples were dancing. The visitors were dressed in tuxedos and dresses.

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

On board the Parvina

 

Leaning on the rail at the stern of the cruise ship Parvina, sipping his champagne, Eddie Munro looked out across the water and into the darkness. There was a warm, gentle breeze, and the sea was calm except for the dizzy trail of water churned up by the ship's angry propellers. It was a beautiful evening and there was no one else on deck. Eddie liked it that way.

He looked down at his watch, which showed 10.31 p.m., and the ship was already half a mile from the harbour. He was amazed that such a huge cruise ship could move so fast - he was amazed it stayed afloat at all! He watched St Thomas island getting further and further away. He stared at the silhouette of the island, at its faint black shapes of hills rising up into the night sky. Eddie smiled to himself as he noticed he could no longer see where the lights ended and the stars began.

He finished his champagne and, for good luck, threw the glass far out into the sea. He never heard it drop. He couldn't see much at all in the warm Caribbean darkness, but he noticed for the first time how high up he was. The sea was a long, long way down, he thought.

At this point his wife, Lynn, came out looking for him, wearing her long black evening dress and the silk purple scarf she had bought on the excursion earlier in the day. Her hair was dark and short with plum-coloured highlights.

He turned to put his arm around her as she joined him. He noticed her perfume, a powerful and luxurious scent.

"Hello," he said, turning round. "You smell nice. And you look lovely. Are you married?"

"Yes, thank you. To a very wealthy man, so you have no chance," she said, smiling.

"Ah. But so am I."

"Ah, so you're married to a wealthy man, are you?"

"I mean I'm wealthy. Very rich, in fact."

"Well aren't you the lucky one," Lynn said.

"Yes, so if you're lucky, I might buy you dinner," said Eddie, turning back to look out to sea once more.

"Well, lucky me. How can I refuse such charm?" She looked at him and took hold of his hand. She smiled and stared out into the night, too, to the island which was now even further away.

"I thought I'd find you out here," she said. "How many glasses have you thrown into the sea this evening?"

"Only two," he said.

"Eddie!"

"It's good luck."

"No, it isn't. Not if you're a fish and you get hit by a glass."

"The fish might like it. It's probably quite boring being a fish. The sudden arrival of a champagne glass might brighten up your life."

"Or end it," she said.

"It's fun," said Eddie. "You should try it."

"I think I've had enough champagne," his wife said.

"I love the way the glass disappears the minute it leaves my hand, and the sea eats it up. You can't see it falling and you can't hear it hit the water. But you know it's landed, dived in and sunk to the bottom. Imagine - a tiny glass holding a giant ocean."

"You think too much," she said, moving away and pulling him with her. "Why don't you come back inside? They're serving coffee and I think there's going to be some jazz."

"All right," he said. "Just a few more minutes."

"We have two more weeks on this cruise, Eddie. You have plenty of time to take it all in."

"It's incredible, though, isn't it? So beautiful. It's perfect."

Lynn laughed. "It's completely black. I can't see anything in the dark."

"I know. But it's all out there. The blue sea, the white sand, the palm trees, the boats..."

"The champagne glasses..."

"Very funny," said Eddie. Then he pointed to the horizon. "Look over there at the dots of light. Do you think they're lights on the island or stars?"

Lynn looked hard into the night and gave it some thought. "Erm... lights."

"But you're not sure."

"I am sure. I'm always sure."

"Hmm," he said. "How is that?"

"Because I'm always right," she said, smiling.

"Oh really?"

"Of course. I was right about setting up your own business, wasn't I?"

"Yes."

"And I was right about selling the business off this year for twenty million - only sixteen years after starting."

"Possibly," he teased. He wouldn't give in so easily.

"And I was right to let you take me on this cruise to relax and celebrate in style."

"Oh, I see. How generous."

"Just think. You don't have to work ever again. You're a millionaire, Mr Edward Munro. How does that sound?"

"Lucky me," he said proudly.

"Yes, lucky you. Lucky us. Now come inside before we lose all our money paying for missing champagne glasses."

Back inside, the dining room was full of people. It was hot, but the lighting made it welcoming and comfortable. In the time Eddie had been outside, a space had been cleared for dancing and a few couples were already on their feet. In the corner, four musicians, three men and one woman, were playing a song Eddie knew well, but he couldn't recall its name. The singer was wearing a navy blue cocktail dress, and the men were wearing tuxedos, black ties and formal dinner suits.

Eddie noticed how young the woman looked. Too young to have known the tune when it first appeared, Eddie thought, but her voice was strong and clear. And she seemed to believe in the words, at least. How old was she? Twenty-five? Twenty-six? Imagine singing on a cruise ship in your twenties! What a life! The fun, the parties, the people. The places to go and things to see - before your life had even started.

It seems so easy now, Eddie thought. His twenties had been very different. And his thirties. Eddie tried not to think about his own past. Now was all that mattered. The past was the past. 'What doesn't kill you makes you stronger,' Clive, his business partner, always said. 'No such thing as luck,' he once said, 'it's simply the moment when preparation meets opportunity.'

By now, Eddie was sitting back at his table and next to his wife. She was watching the band and tapping the table. She smiled at the other passengers opposite her, who smiled back, relaxed and enjoying the moment. Eddie looked at his watch. It was almost 11 p.m., but he wasn't tired. Quite the opposite. He felt relaxed and energized. He'd always been an evening person, never a morning person.

He looked around at the giant lounge with its circular tables and well-dressed diners, and the perfect white tablecloths. The waiters and waitresses in their smart uniforms moved smoothly in and out of the room, and Eddie's eyes followed them as they carried plates and coffee and cakes and trays around the tables, along the aisles and past the bar.

Eddie watched the barman throwing ice cubes and cocktail shakers in the air and juggling them as he made the drinks in acrobatic style. He was confident and polished, and also young. Possibly the same age as the singer. Why was everyone so young these days? Where were all the cruise ship jobs when Eddie was trying to get started in life? Why hadn't he thought of working on a ship in the Caribbean?

He found himself staring at the bar in the distance. He was no longer thinking of anything in particular. He was simply listening to the sounds of jazz and the noise of a few hundred people talking and laughing.

And that was when he saw him.

That was the moment when he saw Dominic for the first time in many, many years. The man was sitting at the bar, leaning forward and smoking a large cigar. He was older now, clearly, and his hair was very grey, but Eddie had no doubt that it was him. He couldn't believe that awful man was here on the ship.

And then everything was different.

Nothing was the same. All was spoiled.

Just like before.

 

 

CHAPTER TWO

 

Argument with Dominic

 

"You know your problem, Eddie?" said Dominic Stephens in his office. "You're too hands-on." He leaned back in his large, leather chair behind his glass desk. He seldom made eye contact. His shoulders looked tense and his neck was hidden.

"I don't understand," said Eddie. "How can that be a problem? The team really appreciates my style and the customers love it. It's what I do best. It's why I was brought here in the first place."

"Oh, really?" said Dominic, clearly unimpressed.

"I know for a fact that Ann and Gary didn't want an executive to run things. They wanted someone with practical experience, and drive - and lots of it. They said dull and uninspiring executives and managers have come and gone and there's been no direction, no feeling for the business. No passion."

"And you have passion?" said Dominic.

"Yes. Do you?"

"This isn't about me, Eddie. It's about you, and it takes more than passion to do this job. You need to be a leader."

"I am a leader," replied Eddie. "I've done it for years. My track record speaks for itself."

"Well, you can't do it all by yourself."

"I'm not trying to do it all by myself, Dominic. I'm building a team. I'm training new people. Resources are limited. It takes time."

"We don't have time, Eddie."

What did Dominic Stephens know about passion or time? wondered Eddie. The only passion he seemed to have was being in charge. And golf. He seemed to have a lot of time for that. He even kept his clubs in the corner of his office. And today was Thursday. On Thursdays he always left early to play golf and he didn't even try to hide it.

Eddie was so angry his mouth was dry. "I don't know why you have a problem with me, Dominic. There's nothing wrong with my performance. Quite the opposite in fact."

"Oh, really?"

"Yes. When I joined Fenton's, they were only producing software for small businesses in the UK. They had some accounting packages and sales and marketing databases, but not much else. I was brought in to expand the business and build exports, and that is exactly what I have done. I brought in some very talented people to develop our products, and we now offer some unique and very powerful programs used by the biggest and best companies globally. When I proposed and won the Moscow account, you said it couldn't be done, and now we supply the entire Russian region."

"Erm, excuse me, Mr Passion. I won the Moscow contract for you," said Dominic, pointing firmly at his own chest.

Eddie could not believe his ears. This was so unfair. Rage filled his whole mind and body. "You did not win that contract. You knew some of the people in the Russian state department there, that's all. I spent most of last year - and the year before - going to Russia and working long, long hours to build a business plan that would work. Don't take the credit away from me, Dominic. Without me, this company could never have won such a high-profile project."

"Well, I still haven't seen the final numbers, and I still haven't seen the new business plan," Dominic said, throwing his arms around.

"Yes, you have. I've kept you informed the whole time with numerous emails."

"Oh, emails, emails! I don't have time for emails. I get about three hundred a day. How on earth can I keep up with all that?"

Well, it would help if you didn't play so much golf, Eddie wanted to say. It would help if you let me do my job and didn't interfere. It would help if you weren't so aggressive. Instead, he tried to remain diplomatic and said, "Well, if you don't read my emails, how can we communicate?"

"Simple. Pick up the phone."

He made it sound so easy. This was ridiculous. "I do call you, Dominic. You're never there. I leave messages but you don't call back. When we do get time to meet, I don't think you're really listening."

"I'm always listening to you, Eddie," said Dominic in a weary voice. "Because you talk so much, that's all you ever do. Talk, talk, talk."

"You're making personal comments, and that is not professional. I talk because I'm passionate. And I deliver. If I say I'll do something, I do it, and within budget, and you know it."

"You were not on budget. Last year you went over budget by 25,000 pounds"

Not this again. Eddie was so tired of the same story. "I can account for every penny my department spent. No one seems to know what happened to that 25,000 pounds."

Dominic looked at him accusingly.

"Don't look at me like that," said Eddie.

"Like what?"

"Look, the way I see it..." Eddie began, but again he was cut off in mid-sentence. Dominic always interrupted everyone. He was like a spoilt child.

And so the situation was impossible. Eddie simply wanted to leave. He could no longer focus. He could never win.

Eddie came out of the office. His whole body was trembling, and he tried very hard not to slam the door, scream or break something. He realized he was too angry and too upset to go back to the team or finish his work. He decided to slip out of the office for ten minutes, just to calm down. He would have a coffee. Or call Lynn. Come on, Ed, he told himself. Get things in perspective. It's only a job.

He was almost at reception and the main door, when Clive passed him on the way to the photocopier. "Ed, what's wrong?" he asked, stopping in the corridor.

Eddie couldn't speak. He was afraid to say anything, as he didn't know what might come out. His face was red and tears were stinging his eyes. He looked down, ignored Clive and walked out of the door into the street and towards the local cafe.

 

 

CHAPTER THREE

 

Someone from the past

 

"You all right, Eddie?" asked Lynn, who had noticed Eddie staring at the bar. Eddie took a moment and then said, "Yes, fine. Why?" But he was still lost in thought. He wasn't sure if the ship was moving or if he was dizzy.

"You look so serious. Come on, let's dance."

He was still staring at the bar. The man was still there. It was Dominic. Sitting at the bar barely fifty meters away, drinking and smoking. As simple as that. Was the world so small? thought Eddie. Couldn't it be a bit bigger? Why here? Why now? After all this time. Why on this ship? A familiar sickness in his stomach returned.

"Well, don't get too excited, will you?" Eddie heard his wife say.

"Sorry?" he said, turning his attention to Lynn.

"A dance! Can we dance?" Lynn said impatiently.

"Yes, sure. Sorry."

They both got up and walked to the dance floor. They held each other and danced slowly for the final verse of yet another song whose name Eddie couldn't remember.

Turning in the dance, Eddie was pleased that Lynn was there with him as he tried to take in the fact that he was now staring at the distant shape of Dominic Stephens, on the far side of the ship's dining room. The man, Eddie saw, now turned to watch the dining room and the dancing. He was hidden in a fog of his own cigar smoke. How Eddie had hated him. And how, after all this time, he still hated him.

The memories.

The anger.

The pain.

"Are you sure you're feeling all right, Eddie?" asked Lynn when they got back to their cabin. Eddie was sitting on the bed staring into space.

"Yes. Just tired. I think I'm still jet-lagged, and I'm tired after walking on the island today."

"You sure?"

"Yes."

"That trip on the glass-bottomed submarine was amazing, wasn't it?"

"Yeah," said Eddie. But he still couldn't think straight. His mind was filling up more and more with the terrible realization that Dominic was on the ship.

Lynn knew him too well. "Eddie," she said, sitting down beside him, taking his hand and looking at him. She stroked the back of his head. "What's wrong?"

Eddie had decided to accept that the trip was now spoiled. Did he need to spoil it for his wife? She didn't have to know. They would have their luxury cruise and go home to a new life. The ship was big enough. Dominic and Eddie both looked older and Dominic probably wouldn't even remember him, so why worry about it?

But all the old feelings were there again, and Eddie could sense his energy slipping away just thinking about it. It showed on his face and Lynn could see it. Eddie could never hide much from his wife, and before he knew it he found himself weakening.

"It's Dominic. He's on the ship." It sounded so strange to Eddie to even say those words.

There was a pause.

Lynn looked more closely at her husband.

"What?" said Lynn quietly. "Dominic Stephens? You're kidding."

"I'm not kidding, Lynn. I wish I was," said Eddie.

"I haven't heard that name in a long time."

"Well, he's here."

"How do you know he's here?"

"I saw him. He was sitting at the bar this evening when we came in from the deck."

"Eddie, we were sitting on the other side of the dining room - you could hardly see anything. How can you be sure it was him?"

"Oh, I'm sure, Lynn. No mistake. The same fat, lazy bloke. But less hair now. And grey. And fatter."

Lynn was still trying to take it in. "Dominic Stephens is on this ship?"

"Yes."

She waited a moment. "Oh, Eddie."

They both sat there for a moment. Then Lynn spoke again. She was already recovering. "Well, look, it's a long time ago, Ed. It doesn't matter any more. He doesn't matter any more. He's nothing. You don't have to talk to him."

"I know."

"It's a big ship," Lynn continued. "It's extremely unlikely you're going meet him..."

"I saw him at the bar!" said Eddie.

"... and even if you met him by chance, as I said, he won't remember you." Then she looked closely at Eddie and asked softly, "You didn't speak to him, did you?"

"No," replied Eddie. "Of course not."

"And did he see you?"

"No." Eddie wasn't sure if Dominic had seen him or not. Probably not. "Well, that's OK then," Lynn said, but she knew it was an unhelpful thing to say.

"It's not OK, Lynn. It's not OK at all. That man is back."

"He's not back. Try to calm down."

"Calm down?!" said Eddie, raising his voice and standing up. "We lost everything because of him, Lynn, everything - he cheated and bullied and took it all away!"

"Yes, I know, Ed, but it was sixteen years ago. We've come a long way since then. You and Clive have each just put ten million quid in the bank!"

"So what? Dominic got away with it all at Fenton's!"

"It's all in the past. It doesn't matter anymore."

"It does matter. He's still getting away with it. He still looks very pleased with himself."

"You don't know that. You don't know his life now. I can't believe we're talking about all this after so long."

"Because he's here, Lynn. On the ship. On our cruise!"

"Eddie, listen to me. Calm down. He and Neal gave you a bad time, I know. But you fought back and survived, and you became successful anyway. Without him. In spite of him and the things he said and did. You're here with me now, on holiday, with financial security for the rest of our lives. You did it. You climbed back out of the hole and it's OK. He can't hurt you anymore."

"He nearly destroyed us, Lynn."

"But he didn't, did he? We didn't let him."

Eddie wiped the tears from his eyes. "I can't believe he's on board! Why? He's still out there getting in the way. Spoiling everything."

"He's not spoiling anything. Only if you let him. You've come a long way since he pushed you out."

"So why do I suddenly feel so angry? I can't believe it. I think of him and those days at Fenton's from time to time, sometimes a lot, and it never upsets me.

"Well, you went through a tough time. It was very hard. If you really did see him tonight, of course that's going to upset you. It's not the same as the occasional memory."

"Oh, I saw him all right. He still smokes those hideous cigars."

"OK," said Lynn.

"You went through it too, you know," he reminded her.

"I know."

Another pause.

"We lost so much, Lynn: the house, the money. Us. I was off sick for a year. A year!"

"I know," said Lynn. "There's no getting away from the damage the man caused. But you have to calm down. Nothing is going to happen. You don't have to see him again or talk to him."

"Well, what if he takes the same excursion as us at some point? Or sits at our table for dinner?"

"Eddie, there are almost 2,000 people on board. It won't happen. We can ignore him. Being the sort of person Dominic is, he's probably treated lots of people the way he treated you, so he won't know who you are or remember what he did."

"Somehow that makes it worse."

"Well, there's nothing we can do about it. If we see him again or he even recognizes you, we'll cross that bridge when we come to it, all right?"

Eddie was quiet.

"All right?" Lynn repeated, holding his face in her hands.

"OK," said Eddie.

 

 

CHAPTER FOUR

 

After the argument

 

Eddie sat in a cafe not far from the office, dipping his teaspoon into a large cappuccino, and tried to think of what he could do about his job. He could leave, but that would mean giving in and letting Dominic have exactly what he wanted. Besides, it would take several months, possibly a year, to find another good job, and he would still have to put up with him in the meantime. He could officially complain about Dominic's behavior. He had a strong case. But that would only make things worse. Somehow Dominic had Gary, the CEO, on his side. And Ann Blake, the Financial Director, would never support getting rid of Dominic, since she had hired him in the first place.

"He's unbelievable. He actually said I was too hands-on," said Eddie, stabbing at his drink with his spoon.

"Really?" said Clive, who had left the office and found Eddie sitting in the cafe.

"Yes. He also said I wasn't a leader and that Moscow was his deal."

"You're joking," said Clive. He seemed genuinely surprised. "That deal was yours. Everyone knows that."

"Then he said my communication wasn't good enough."

"Eh? He can talk. He's got no people skills whatsoever. Anyway, he never reads his emails."

"I know. I told him that. He says I should phone him," and Eddie laughed in disgust.

"He's never there!"

"Exactly! I said that too. It's pointless, Clive. He doesn't listen and he interrupts all the time. He's so smug. He thinks he's right about everything."

"At least you're not alone. Everyone has the same problem with him."

"Well, what is his problem?"

"It's obvious. He's insecure."

"Well, it's not obvious when you're sitting in a meeting with him."

"He's a bully in a shirt and tie. All bullies are insecure. Maybe his dad didn't show him any love. Maybe his dad's worse!"

Eddie tried to smile as he looked out of the window, as if the answer were out there somewhere. Maybe if he were to look long enough, the answer would come and find him. He doubted it. He was exhausted.

"Clive, how do they get to be in charge, these people? They're utterly useless. He's useless."

"Yes, and he knows it. Deep down. That's why he picks on people and moves responsibility. No one actually knows what he does."

"Yeah, and by the time they find out they have to pay him a year's salary, and then he gets another job."

"That's his skill, though. He talks well to the top guys. But the real people don't respect him. I spoke to someone at Gallagher's the other week, where Dominic worked for about two years. They said the same thing."

"Do you think he has any idea what people really think and say about him?"

"No, I don't think he does. He's so superior in his own mind he probably thinks we're all losers."

"But he knows I'm good. He knows you're good too, and that really irritates him, because we know this job and he doesn't. He just moves tasks and people around all day and calls it strategy."

"I know," said Clive.

They both stared out of the window.

"Did you hear what he said to Steve the other day?" asked Clive. "No, what?"

"'Dominic told Steve that he got the top job because Ann and Gary saw him as a wise ambassador.'"

"Wise? Ambassador? Ambassador for what?"

"Who knows? He's in his own dream world."

"Did he really say that?"

"Yes. And when Steve questioned it, Dominic then said he was older than anyone else anyway."

"Unbelievable."

"Who knows what he thinks? He's not like us. I think that scares him."

"Where do these people come from?"

"I don't know, mate, but they soon move on. We just have to hold on. Look on the bright side - it couldn't get any worse."

But Eddie wasn't so sure. Eddie had the feeling that things were going to get a lot worse.

And he was right.

Back at home, Eddie spent the evening trying to catch up on the work he'd missed that afternoon, and looking at the many emails he had sent Dominic. It was a nightmare.

Again and again he considered walking away from the job, but it hurt him more simply to give up. Besides, he was enjoying the Moscow project, and he had done so much work for it. When he was in Moscow, he could get on with things. He loved Russia and he loved the people there. It was such a different world from the UK; and the owners of Zariya, Dima and Tatiana, always made him feel so welcome. Over time Eddie had had to explain to them some of the difficulties back in London, and they had been very helpful. Eddie was reading one of Dima's emails and smiling again when Lynn walked into the room.

"Will you be much longer?" asked Lynn.

"Maybe. I'm behind on some deadlines, and today's battle with Dominic didn't help."

"Just leave it now, Ed. Come to bed," said Lynn.

"I can't. There's so much. Too much."

"There's always too much," Lynn replied. "It will still be there in the morning. Give yourself a break."

"Yeah, well, that's true, but with Dominic I have to be extra careful. He picks on everything."

"He's an idiot."

"Yeah, I know it, and you know it, and everyone else knows it, but he's still the boss."

"Well, what I mean is just ignore him."

"How can I ignore him, Lynn? He's the boss! He runs the division. He runs me."

"Well, don't let him," said Lynn.

"I'm not letting him!" shouted Eddie. "I'm trying to stop him. That's the problem!"

"There's no need to shout, Eddie. I'm not deaf."

"Well, you're not being very helpful."

"Thanks a lot," she said sarcastically. "I'm doing my best."

"Sorry. I was hired to build a team, win a project like the one in Moscow and make things profitable. He was brought in to oversee the whole division. Then he gets bonuses for doing very little, and I get the blame when the numbers suddenly don't add up."

"Your numbers are fine."

"Not according to Dominic."

"Why?"

"Oh, well, during our useless meeting today, he brought up that old story about being 25,000 pounds over budget, when everyone knows he fixed the numbers. Somehow he gets his bonuses and puts any blame on me. I'm almost certain now that he wants me out, Lynn."

"Surely not. He needs you. If it weren't for you, good people would have left ages ago. Besides, who else could move Russia along?"

"Oh, don't mention Russia."

"Why? That's your big success story."

"Oh, he keeps going on about the fact that he won the Moscow contract, not me."

"What? That's just not true."

"I know."

"What about Ann and Gary? Can't you talk to them about all this?"

"They've changed, Lynn. I've hardly seen them since the new partners came in. Besides, Gary and Dominic are always playing golf at the weekends. Ann's OK still, but she's very political, and I think she's embarrassed that Dominic's upsetting everyone. After all, she was the one who recruited him."

'And Human Resources? Can't you report him to them?"

"What do I tell them? That he's got the people skills of a goat!"

"Well, that's one thing. And the intimidation, the lies and the..." It's very hard to prove, Lynn. He's got his back covered, and they would only report the whole thing to Ann and Gary. And then what?"

"Well, presumably they tell Dominic and you all get together and sort it out."

"Easy, really. Why didn't I think of that?"

"You know what I mean, Eddie. There's no need to be sarcastic. I'm only trying to help. I hate it when you're like this."

"Well, you're not living in the real world, are you, Lynn? You're a Primary school teacher, for goodness' sake. If things go wrong, you all get into a circle and sing a song about it. Or draw a picture. It's not that simple when you're in a multi-million pound business and..."

But Lynn had heard enough.

She was already leaving the room. Eddie stared back at the open screen on his laptop at hundreds and hundreds of emails. He thought about how much more he had to do before he could go to bed, about the hurt he had caused Lynn and about the injustice of Dominic and of people like him.

Eddie slammed down the laptop lid.

The job was broken, the evening was broken, and now his relationship was broken.

 

 

CHAPTER FIVE

 

Eddie's dream

 

Although the sea was calm, Eddie didn't sleep well. He had a dream that seemed to last all night.

It began with him lying in bed in the cabin of the ship, and waking up to find himself in his old bedroom from his childhood. But the bedroom was on the ship. He sat up in the top bunk of some familiar bunk beds. In the bottom bunk should have been his sister Ellen, but he knew his wife was the occupant now. The bottom bunk was empty, however, and he saw water coming in quietly but rapidly under the door.

In his dream, he jumped out of his bunk and straight into half a meter of water. It was ice-cold and Eddie gasped in shock. He was wearing a grey suit and black shoes, but no socks, shirt or tie. With his feet already going numb in the cold water, he opened the small wardrobe to look for them and found a public telephone. Business cards were stuck all over the wall. He noticed his own from years ago with the familiar Fentons logo. But his details were in Russian.

His stomach was tight.

His head ached.

In his dreaming mind, a thousand tasks and deadlines seemed to weigh upon his shoulders.

The phone started ringing. He picked it up.

"Where are you?" a voice shouted on the other end.

It was Dominic.

"The unmistakable, cold, demanding tone of voice: "Do you know what time it is?"

Eddie lifted the sleeve of his suit to look at his watch, but its face was frosted over and unclear. Water had got into it somehow. The hands were barely visible.

"I can't tell," he heard himself say.

"You can't tell the time? Typical! What's the matter with you? We're all waiting for you. Come on."

"Who's waiting for me? Where are you?"

Eddie heard laughter in the background.

"On the bridge. Where do you think?" Then the line went dead.

The water was up to Eddie's knees now, and rising fast. He decided to leave the socks, shirt and tie and make his way to the bridge - dressed or not dressed. How much worse could it be?

As Eddie opened the door, water poured in at waist level, and with it thousands of champagne glasses. Most of them were intact, but many were broken. Too many for Eddie to avoid. His chest and legs were cut many times as he waded out into the corridor.

He saw Clive at the far end.

"Clive!" he shouted. "Clive, it's me! Over here!"

But Clive didn't hear him. He, too, was struggling with the strong current of water dragging him down and away at the far end of the corridor.

"CLIVE!" shouted Eddie in his sleep.

Opposite Eddie in the dream was a metal ladder which went up to the next level of the ship through a small hole. It was big enough for him to get through. This ladder led to another ladder and another hole. And another. And another. Ladders stretched all the way in a giant tunnel leading upwards. Eddie climbed and climbed. He could hear the laughter getting louder, so he decided to follow the sound.

When he reached the top, he suddenly found himself on the ship's funnel. It was dark, and a strong sea wind took his breath away. He was scared and excited at the same time. He thought the funnel would be hot, but it was not. It was at an angle, and he was looking up into the sky, almost touching the stars themselves.

"They're stars, Lynn. Not lights. You were wrong," he shouted again (in reality, his shouting woke Lynn up).

Then he looked around and saw that the front part of the ship was already underwater and the ship was sinking.

"Lynn!" he shouted. This time it was a scream. That was when he slipped and fell and, in his sleep, flung out his arms to save himself. But there was no impact. Instead he was now standing on the bridge of the ship, which was full of people from work - from his days at Fenton's. People he hadn't thought of in all this time. People he thought he'd never remember again. People he certainly didn't want to see again.

Ann and Gary were there, but they were behind Dominic, who stood by the wheel in his captain's uniform staring at him. He was older now and heavier. The way Eddie had seen him at the bar.

"Glad you could join us. We're only sinking, you know!"

"What's going on?" said Eddie, looking around. The jazz band was playing in the corner, but the female singer was not the girl he had seen earlier. Instead it was Lynn. Singing a song whose name escaped him.

"Lynn?"

She didn't look at him. She was looking away and singing.

"LYNN! What are you doing here?" shouted Eddie, confused and frightened.

"I'm the captain. What does it look like?" said Dominic.

"No. Not you. Lynn. What's she doing here?" She wasn't paying him any attention.

More and more people were coming on to the bridge. He saw Dima and Tatiana. They spoke in Russian. Eddie couldn't hear them over the laughter of the crowd.

"Ssh. I can't hear what they're saying. And I can't remember the name of the song."

"Never mind that, Eddie. We've got more important things to do."

"What?"

Laughter.

"We're sinking, no thanks to you."

"Why? What have I done?"

More laughter from the crowd.

A familiar face appeared. It was Neal.

"Champagne glasses, Eddie. Champagne glasses," he said.

"What about them?"

What about them?" shouted Dominic. "They put a hole in the ship, you fool."

"That's impossible." Fear filled Eddie's mind and body.

"Oh, really? Take a look around. Glass everywhere. Holes in the side of my ship."

"It's not your ship!" protested Eddie.

"Who cares? We'll be underwater in ten minutes. Fifteen at the most," added Neal.

"Shut up, Neal. You're only here because of Dominic."

Then he heard a loud buzzing.

A giant helicopter arrived and flew over the front decks. And another. Three, four, five. Dozens. Like bees around a beehive. Buzzing, louder and louder. They flew around and shone powerful lights on to the bridge. So many lights. The noise and lights were unbearable. Then sirens. Police sirens. People screaming. Eddie covered his ears and shut his eyes. He cried out: "LYNN!"

The noise lessened but the lights were bright, so bright. He was trying to open his eyes, but he couldn't. Now someone was pulling at his arms.

"Let me go! Let me go!" he shouted.

"Eddie..." Lynn said, trying to wake him up.

"Lynn?" His eyes were opening. It was so bright.

"It's all right, I'm here," she said, holding him.

"We've got to get off! We're sinking!"

"It's all right," she said again.

Then his eyes opened and he was finally awake.

 

 

 

 

- THE END -

 

 

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