Background: Written for a competition. Words required: 2000, used 2000
‘De Arnhem’ ruin
At the Cutters arms in Noordhoek in Cape Town, Arthur D’arcy hung his hat deliberately on the third peg down the rack. He was an orderly man and seldom did silly things. He then carved his path through the buzzing Christmas patronage to the bar.
“Pint of Bosun’s please”
“Ah, a real-ale man ” chuckled Judy behind the bar. “Here you are love”.
Arthur cast around for table space. He found a slot between some students and an older man on his own. The man had been perusing a large document on the table in front of him but was folding it as Arthur approached. “Mind if I squeeze in here?” he asked of the loner.
“Not at all mate. I was just going over some stuff but I’ve done with that now” said the burly, bearded, tough looking man who had owned the space until that moment. “Dickon” he said, proffering a leathery hand.
“I don’t think I’ve seen you here before Arthur” said Dickon.
“No – I live in Hout Bay over the mountain and that’s usually where I’m at.
” Welcome to Cutter’s— and cheers”.
“I’m sorry I disturbed what you were doing Dickon. Hope it can wait”.
“Oh yeah! It was just a map—a chart really. I’m doing a bit of diving near here but it’s time to drink now”.
“Diving you say Dickon. Don’t know much about that but it sounds intriguing. Looking for buried treasure then” laughed Arthur. He thought he saw a momentary twitch on Dickon’s right cheek but the other guffawed loudly and swigged at his beer.
“There are quite a few shipwrecks along this coast you know” said Dickon in a conspiratorial sort of voice. “They’ve all been dived on for many years but it’s still fun getting down there and scratching round what’s left of them. Trouble is the better ones are in very deep sea and can’t always be got at.”
“Oh really? Go on. You fascinate me”.
“No mate, it’s not really pub talk.”
“Now you are intriguing me Dickon.”
”They say that summer’s finally coming” said Dickon ignoring Arthur’s bait. Arthur wasn’t having it.
“But tell me more about your diving and these ships that are hard to get to Dickon”.
The other stared at the ceiling for a good few seconds. When he finally started taking again his voice was gruff and hardly audible. Arthur leaned in to catch the gist of it. “Well mate I should know better than to yap to a stranger in a pub but you look like the sort who wouldn’t repeat anything so I’ll let you in on a secret”.
“I’m all ears Dickon and my lips are sealed.”
Dickon’s voice seemed nervous now and he kept looking around him. “More than 200 years ago a Dutch ‘Fluyt’ class ship called ‘De Arnhem’ was on her way to the Far East to buy spices and eastern wares to take back to the markets of Europe. She vittled in Table Bay and then headed on for India. She never even made it to Cape Point though. The storm was fierce and ‘De Arnhem’ sank in deep water off the continental shelf near Noordhoek. The ‘Fluyt’ class were originally heavily armed warships but ‘De Arnhem’ had been converted to carry cargo and most of the cannon had been removed. When she sank, she was carrying only trunks of gold and silver coins with which to pay for purchases when they got to the east. They tried at the time to recover the heavy coins but the water was too deep and after 100 years or so details of her whereabouts became blurred.” Dickon paused to drag heavily on his lager.
“Go on” said Arthur, “what happened next?”
“I’ve found her”. Dickon’s softly whispered words exploded on Arthur’s ears as if they had been shouted through a megaphone. “I’ve located ‘De Arnhem’. I have spent the last two years working through a maze of legalities but I’ve sorted it out now and if I can raise the load, I can claim most of it as salvage”.
Arthur was stunned. The babble in the pub droned in his head. He could find no words. Eventually he heard Dickon’s voice again, low and terse.
“The trouble is mate” he was confiding, “I can’t do it”.
“Why not” begged Arthur. He was amazed at the pitch of his own voice.
“I don’t have enough money to do the job” said Dickon. It will cost plenty. I’d need another Million Rands at least.”
“Well surely if you show your cards someone will come up with the backing. You’d have to share but wouldn’t it be worth it”?
“Aye! it might be” said the other. “And again—it might not. The law of the sea is tricky and the guys with the funds are even trickier. Look I should never have told you this so please just forget you ever saw me”. With that Dickon pushed himself up onto his feet and left the pub without looking back.
Driving home over Chapman’s peak pass, Arthur’s mind was in the clouds. He was excited and frustrated that this amazing tale had been terminated so abruptly. He could not sleep that night and when he did doze off; pirates and sea trunks filled with doubloons crowded his dreams. The next night back at the Cutters Arms he could find no trace of Dickon. He drank alone but his mind kept replaying what the diver had told him. Could it all be real or was it just bar talk? Arthur at fifty three had invested well and lived alone in his comfortable cottage in the Hout Bay valley. He owed nothing but he was not getting younger and he would dearly have loved to be able to afford one of those magnificent houses high above the bay. He imagined himself driving a smart new Mercedes and holidaying in the Greek islands. He had always been a cautious man but some madness in his soul was telling him that opportunity knocks only once. Could this be it? Dickon’s tale was unusual but somehow it smacked of the truth and that was very tempting. He could easily raise a million Rands through a mortgage on his house and by realizing some of his investments. Suddenly he knew that he was going to do it. He would be Dickon’s backer if the other would give him 40% of the treasure.
His lawyer Greg seemed shocked that Arthur would risk such an incredible venture but Arthur had decided. Against his better judgement, the lawyer drafted an agreement which would ensure that Arthur received his share of the spoils if the sunken coins were ever recovered.
At the cutter’s arms the next evening, Arthur again failed to find Dickon. He was sipping a disappointed beer and was just turning the bottom up when he caught sight of Dickon plying his way across to the far corner. Despite the beer, Arthur’s mouth felt suddenly quite dry. His impulse was to run but his resolve got the better of him and he crossed to where Dickon had ensconced himself.
“Hello mate.” Dickon seemed surprised.
“Dickon, I’ve been thinking a lot about this and I have decided to make you an offer.” Dickon’s eyes widened and he took a gulp of fresh air. “I am offering to invest R1 million in your venture in return for 40% of the profits. There will need to be checks and balances of course but in principle that’s it”
Dickon seemed about to start speaking but instead he clamped his mouth onto the beer tankard lip and took a huge gulp. Eventually he spoke and his voice was thin but clearly excited. “If you are for real mate, I’ll take you up on that.”
“I am for real Dickon.” Arthur flourished the agreement that his attorney had drawn up. “Sign this and we can start the process right away.”
“I’ll get back to you tomorrow Arthur” said Dickon grabbing the document. “You won’t regret this”
Arthur heard nothing the next day or the next and as the days slipped by the whole episode took on a surreal nature in Arthur’s mind. It wasn’t going to happen. It was some kind of a joke. Then six days later just when Arthur was starting to get on with his life, his lawyer called him.
“Your agreement’s been signed by your pirate’ friend” the voice on the phone was saying. “His attorney just confirmed it. Now all that’s required to complete the folly is your John Hancock. The guy must have the funding immediately. Just pay me first please.” That night Arthur dreamed of stormy seas and woke up gasping for breath when a giant octopus started to strangle him. It was too late now. He had signed his life away.
By the next evening, Arthur had regained his self composure and headed off for the Cutter’s arms to discuss details with his new partner. Dickon was not in the pub. As he turned to leave, Arthur noticed a stranger coming towards him.
“May I have a word with you” said the rather timid man?
“Of course you may” said Arthur, puzzled.
“Well I couldn’t help noticing that diver fellow chatting to you a few nights ago.” Arthur said nothing but he felt a sweat starting up on his neck. “Truth is” said the stranger, “the guy is nuts. He’s been coming in here for months now and trying to get someone gullible enough to invest in his crazy salvage project. Doubt if there’s a grain of truth in it. The man’s a con artist”. The giant octopus of Arthur’s dreams was suddenly back at his throat only this time, he couldn’t wake up. He had invested his life’s savings and now his worst fears were being confirmed. His brain was spinning and his tongue seemed to fill his mouth as he tried to respond.
“What makes you so sure” he managed?
“All the regulars know him in here. He appears when you least expect him and hits on some poor sod. It’s always in the strictest confidence of course but word gets out you know. Well so far no-one has been taken in and I hope you are not going to be the first” said the stranger. “Anyway I shan’t keep you but I just needed to give you the lowdown”. The man was gone.
Arthur was distraught and that night the storms of his dreams tossed wilder than ever. In the morning his lawyer confirmed that there was no way out. The money was gone and Arthur would just have to try to find the con-man and exact revenge. Every night Arthur made the pilgrimage to the Cutters Arms and each night he came away empty handed. Dickon had completely disappeared. He imagined the diver laughing at him from the cocktail deck of a cruise ship and he cursed himself for squandering his life’s savings so stupidly. Food lost its appeal and Arthur lost weight. His friends remarked that he did not seem to smile as he used to. A month slid by and Arthur spoke to almost nobody, until that phone call came.
” Hello Arthur.” It was his lawyers voice.
“Is that you Greg.”
“I won’t keep you Arthur but I just need you to get down here and sign something when you can please”.
“What is it” snapped Arthur? “Is the bank foreclosing on my mortgage or is somebody suing me for unpaid debts?”
“Haven’t you read the Cape Times this morning Arthur. It’s all over the front page. I just need you to sign an affidavit that you have received your fair share of the profits from that diving deal you signed up for. The mission was brilliantly successful and just over R57 million has already been paid into your bank account. Don’t forget your old lawyer buddy now will you Arthur?”
(2 000 words)