A tale of Hitchcockland
Ricky Stibbs wasn’t the best drummer in the world. He wasn’t even the best drummer in the band, which was why Jed had demoted him to the position of roadie. “You still get paid the same,” Jed told him, “only you don’t have to work so hard for it.” So, Ricky reasoned, none of that awkward practising and rehearsing and playing under hot lights and dealing with the adulation of all those screaming girls. Just manhandling heavy equipment out of the van and setting it up on a cold, empty stage before the show, and four hours later, taking it off again before driving through the cold, empty night to the next gig. And, while the musicians of the band were locked away attempting to write a hit, plenty of time off to become involved in one of Jed’s nefarious schemes.
Import and export, Jed called it, as if he was James Bond. And indeed, something was being imported. Ricky had been out on Ebonite last night when the cargo was transferred from the other boat: a few dozen packages the size and shape of cushions, but much heavier. They were awkward to handle, especially as neither of Ebonite’s real crewmen would touch them. Oh, of course. Fingerprints.
How the two boats had found each other under only the stars, not even a moon, was a mystery known only to their skippers, and presumably to Jed. Ricky couldn’t begin to imagine how they did it. The hulls of both boats were black, and the other didn’t even have running lights. Ricky was almost sure that must be illegal.
And after the transfer, sailing silently back through a rainstorm to this place, which was weird. At the bottom of a steep hill, surrounded on three sides by woods, and accessible only from the water. One big empty room with a huge front doorway, and a tiny kitchen/living area crowding round the fireplace at the side. Randomly-placed windows of random sizes. Out the back, where Ricky would be sleeping, was unheated, dark and damp. Everywhere smelled of fish, and the roof wasn’t level. “Built tha’ way,” one of the others told him quietly in his country accent as the skipper steered them gently towards the granite mooring. “You ge’ a good strong beam tha’s a li’l bit bent ’cause the tree dint grow straight, you don’ waste it.”
He threw the rope he was holding over a bollard on the bank, then looped it round a cleat on the deck and pulled it tight. At the far end of the boat, the other crewman did likewise. The skipper jumped lightly to the shore and looked back as the boat drifted out a little on the river current. “Tie her up,” the skipper said, “we’ll unload the goods in the morning.” He looked over his shoulder at Ricky. “Tide’s high,” he said. “You know wha’ that means?”
Ricky was tired, tired of boats and sailors and shenanigans, and tired of being at the bottom of the pecking-order. “’Course I do,” he said. The shoreside paving was level with Ebonite’s deck. He’d had to climb a good way down a ladder when they embarked six hours earlier. “You all go in and put your feet up in front of the fire.” Stupid sailors, he thought. All they care about is drinking. Now, tying up. There was something he’d heard on the sailing course Jed had insisted he go on the week before, something about making ropes into springs? Ricky couldn’t quite remember. It was how you prevented the boat from damaging itself by sawing fore-and-aft. You had to sew a rope from one end of the boat to the opposite end of the mooring, and another vice versa, and balance the tensions evenly and — no, you also had to tie it in the middle of the boat somehow. How? Oh, to hell with it, Ricky thought. He wanted his bed, or any bed. Even the rough-looking cot in the dank room tacked on to the back of the odd little building would be better than being on this unsteady boat.
He lashed the vessel tightly amidships to a bollard nearby, and stepped ashore. The boat won’t scrape against the bank, he thought as he walked away, it’s got fenders all along its side. How bad could it be?