Now I assure you, I drew no inspiration from Forest Gump for this next story. I got more shrimping insight from my mum that that movie. I just wanted to write a story that would kind of act as the oceanographic version of UPRIVER, and I think this works pretty well:
Bigg City Port’s business was always slow in the winter. The estuary was always covered with ice, inland conditions were cold and threatening, and fog covered the water making navigation difficult. Fishing and shrimping was the worst for winter business. However, the local shrimpers and fishing boats always seemed to carry on with their work for as long as they could before it became impossible for them to do their job. I remember the year in which the tugs discovered what compelled them to work so far into the harsh winter.
When Sunshine first discovered how long the shrimpers and fishing boats worked, he was rather surprised. “I thought you couldn’t catch shrimp in cold water,” he thought. And yet when the cold weather was coming to Bigg City, Sunshine could clearly see several shrimpers wandering the estuary with their nets dangling over their sides into the cold water.
“I say, Ten Cents, what is it that makes those fishing boats and shrimpers want to keep working in the winter?” he asked. Ten Cents shook his head. “I have no idea. They just don’t want to stop looking for fish and shrimp.” A fierce blast from Zorran’s whistle made the two Star switchers jump. “Whatever it is, it’s a right nuisance!” snapped the Zero tug as he passed by with an oil barge. “All year round, all those little things ever do is get in the way and smell bad. It gets on my nerves seeing them out and about when they should be packing it in.” Ten Cents scowled. “Don’t but in, Zorran. Just get on with your work.” “You know you don’t like them either, Star,” Zorran retorted. “When was the last time either of our fleets were offered a high paying contract from them, eh? They’ve got no business in a busy harbour like this. Let them fish elsewhere. We’ve got money to make and goods to transport. We shouldn’t have to share this place with smelly fish and stupid little shrimp.” Zorran’s complaints were falling on deaf ears. Ten Cents didn’t mind sharing the harbour with the shrimpers and fishing boats, and never thought to ask them why they keep fishing and shrimping for as long as possible. Quite frankly, he had no interest.
Sunshine on the other hand was curious and decided to find out for himself. He approached one of the shrimpers out in the estuary, who had just raised his empty net in disappointment. “Pardon me, mind if I ask you something?” The shrimper was quite old and took a few seconds to reply. “What do you want?” he croaked. “I was just wondering why you and your fellow shrimpers work winters,” said Sunshine. “Never you mind, matey,” was the reply from the old shrimper. “It’s not your concern. You think you tugs should be the only things working every day of the year?” “No, no!” Sunshine stammered, “But it’s…” “Then don’t tell us to reel in our nets for three months while you tugs pull your heavy barges and ships around,” said the shrimper. “Hey, don’t put words in my mouth!” Sunshine snapped. He didn’t mean to snap, but he wasn’t expecting the shrimper to react this way. “Don’t try to drag words out of mine!” the shrimper reacted. “Be off with you! Go on!” Sunshine turned crossly away, not interested in the work ethics of the shrimpers at all anymore.
The next week, the first snow of the winter fell on an eventful day in the harbour. Hercules was heading up the coast for an important contract, from which he would be returning three days later. Ten Cents, Zip and Zug were called to rip apart some old docks on the south side of the harbour. Many heavy loads, mostly coal and petrol, were being carried across the bay by the bigger tugs. As for Sunshine, he was given the job of dredging in the estuary with Little Ditcher.
“This will probably be the last of the year,” Sunshine told the a-frame crane. “That’s a pity,” Little Ditcher replied. “I shall miss our outings over the winter.” Suddenly, Sunshine ordered Little Ditcher to stop dredging. A shrimper was approaching the dredging zone. To Sunshine’s dismay, it was the same old shrimper he had tried to speak to last week. “What does he want?” he thought. The answer surprised him greatly. “Listen, switcher,” said the old boat hoarsely, “I’m sorry I was rude to you. D’you still want to know what keeps us shrimpers going?” “Uh, yes please,” said Sunshine hastily. “Right, then here’s what you’re gonna do,” the old shrimper moved closer to Sunshine. “I’m going to give you my net. After you and your crane friend here are done work, head north to a crimson red bell buoy and go due east towards the open water for 8 miles.” Sunshine was about to react to these strange instructions, but quickly realised that the shrimper wasn’t going to stop talking. “Your crane will lower the net into the water and catch a piece of wood that is tethered to a metal crate at the bottom of the sea,” finished the shrimper. “Take the crate and come to the cliffs below the Pickard Lighthouse. Then you’ll know what makes us push on. See you this evening, mate.” The shrimper turned away. “Wait a minute,” said Sunshine, “Why did you change your mind?” “Because Hercules is away for three days,” was all the shrimper said before he left. “Well, what do you make of that?” asked Little Ditcher. Sunshine looked at the old shrimping net on his deck for almost a minute before answering. “You up for a game of lucky dip after we’ve finished work?”
That evening, Sunshine was towing the dredging barge back into the harbour. He saw Ten Cents heading for home. “Hold up, Ten Cents!” he whistled. “Oh, hey Sunshine,” said Ten Cents. “I’ve got something to do with Little Ditcher,” said Sunshine. “Would you mind taking these barges away?” Ten Cents was happy to agree. He wasn’t the least bit curious about what Sunshine could be doing with Little Ditcher so late. He’d had a good day despite working with the Z-Stack switchers all day. Sunshine went back to the estuary where Little Ditcher was waiting. “Right, let’s be off,” said the little switcher as he attached a line to the a-frame crane and headed north.
Sunshine had a little trouble locating the crimson red bell buoy the old shrimper spoke of. He had to move further away from the shoreline before he found it. “Right, now it’s due east for 8 miles,” Little Ditcher reminded. “What wonders await us?” Sunshine asked with a smile. “Let’s find out.” And off they went. Heading further and further away from the harbour towards the open ocean. This was not something Sunshine did very often. Especially so close to winter. Whenever Sunshine went out to sea, he always had a story to tell when he returned to the Star dock. As he travelled towards the east, he wondered what kind of story he would have for his crewmates later.
Without proper navigational equipment, Sunshine and Little Ditcher found counting miles difficult. Little Ditcher was sure they’d gone far enough and insisted that Sunshine stop there. But when Little Ditcher lowered the shrimp net into the deep, cold water, he was searching for several minutes before Sunshine decided they hadn’t gone far enough. He moved further out to the ocean taking Little Ditcher with him. Little Ditcher kept his crane hook lowered, which paid off when he felt a jerk on his cable. “I’ve got something, Sunshine!” he exclaimed. “Well, what are you waiting for? Hoist it up!” Little Ditcher raised his hook. Sunshine shined his floodlight on the water and watched Little Ditcher lift his find up. First came the net, then a long piece of timber, then an old, thin rope, and finally a small metal crate. “There it is!” Sunshine said. “Just like the old shrimper said.” Little Ditcher placed the crate onto Sunshine’s deck, and they turned around towards home.
When Sunshine and Little Ditcher arrived at the cliffs below the Pickard Lighthouse, they were surprised to find all of the local shrimpers and fishing boats there waiting for them. All of them had their nets in the water. “What’s all this?” asked Sunshine. The old shrimper who sent them on the errand approached them. “We’re well aware that it’s hard to catch fish and shrimp in the winter,” he said. “As were the boats who worked this harbour before us. Before Bigg City Port became so big, the two most prosperous businesses were shrimping and fishing.” “Is that right?” asked Little Ditcher. “That must have been decades ago,” said Sunshine. “That’s right,” the old shrimper went on. “In those days, shrimpers and fishing boats worked all year round. Including all through the winter. Many of them were damaged or even scuttled by ice burgs. This did not deter them from carrying on during the winter to catch their fish. They believed deeply in their business and refused to stop for anything.” Sunshine and Little Ditcher were suddenly filled with admiration. “As the years went by, other businesses came along and more modern boats were being launched,” the old shrimper continued. “When he retired, the fishery owner kept a selection of his prized possessions and a large portion of his profits in a metal crate. He then ordered his boats to go out to sea and sink it.” Sunshine looked at his deck. “That’s right, switcher,” said the old shrimper. “What you have there is a time capsule. Take a look inside.”
Sunshine hesitated before looking inside the crate. He saw many framed photographs of old fishing boats, one or two personal knickknacks and a large envelope. “I was there when they dropped it into the ocean for the first time,” said the old shrimper. “Really?” “Yes. I asked them to attach a rope and a piece of timber to the crate. I wanted to be able to access it afterwards. You see I was just starting out and already, I had a bit of a hard time. There were other boats in other businesses cluttering up the water. And they were never too happy to see me. I felt I needed some inspiration to keep me going.” “So you resurface the time capsule whenever you want to?” asked Little Ditcher. “Only when things are going bad,” piped in another shrimper. “We never have to take a look at it more than three times a year,” said a fishing boat. “You mentioned Hercules when you told me where to find this thing,” Sunshine said to the old shrimper. “Why did he have to be out of the picture?” “Oh, he didn’t have to be gone,” replied the old shrimper. “He and that crane Mighty Moe have been going out and fetching the time capsule for us for years. Today, Hercules left and Mighty Moe was taking down a dock. You had expressed an interest in our affairs and so I thought I’d let you do the honours.” “Oh, and what an honour it is,” said Sunshine. “I think it’s profound that you can all draw inspiration from the old fishery owner’s possessions.” “It certainly keeps our spirits up,” said a shrimper. Suddenly, one of the fishing boats began raising his net. Everyone was delighted to see it was half full of fish. “And it always pays off!” said the fishing boat, admiring his catch. “Such dedication,” said Little Ditcher. “So,” said the old shrimper, “Can we trust you two to keep this under your hats?” “Absolutely,” agreed Sunshine and Little Ditcher.
Sunshine let the shrimpers and fishing boats look at their time capsule and take in the inspiration it held for a little longer before heading back out to the ocean to return it to its spot. “Fancy that, eh?” Sunshine grinned. “In this day and age, shrimpers and fishing boats are carrying on decade old traditions to the best of their ability.” “Well, I suppose you gotta love what you do,” said Little Ditcher. “And those boats really love fishing.” “It’s too bad I can’t tell the other Star tugs about this,” said Sunshine. He and Little Ditcher took one last look at the crate before dropping it back into the open water 8 miles from the crimson red buoy. “This would have made a great story.”
The next morning, I sent Big Mac and Warrior to Big Boulder to collect a barge of stone each. The Stars and Z-Stacks were competing for a stone delivery job for the next few days. My tugs made it to the quarry before Zebedee and Zak arrived with their barges. The Z-Stacks impatiently waited as Big Mac and Warrior’s barges were loaded with stone. “Get a move on, Stars!” Zak shouted. “We’re not in a hurry,” said Big Mac with a big grin on his face. At last, he and Warrior were heading off towards the old docks. “Now we’re in a hurry,” Big Mac chuckled. Zebedee and Zak collected their bargeloads of stone and quickly left the quarry, trying to catch up to the Star tugs. Big Mac and Warrior made it to the old docks with no trouble at all. The Z-Stacks on the other hand ran into a problem.
“What are you lot doing here?!” Zak exclaimed. “There’s a lot of fish in this spot,” came the reply. The Z-Stacks’ way was blocked by five fishing boats with their nets in the water. “Clear the way, would ya?!” Zebedee demanded, as a fishing boat raised his net. “Look at all that fish!” said the ecstatic boat. “This is my reward for keeping up the work at this time of year.” “This isn’t the time of year you lot should be doing this sort of thing!” Zebedee bellowed. “That’s right!” put in Zak. “My old harbour’s fishing boats ceased work as soon as the cold weather came in.” “They didn’t know what they were missing out on,” retorted another fishing boat. “D’you know what we got here?!” shouted Zebedee. “Stone! Heavy, important, expensive stone! Push off!” “We were here first,” said the fishing boats. “And we’re still working. Go around if you must.”
The delay made the Z-Stacks late, which didn’t impress their customer. When Zebedee and Zak heard that the contract had gone to my Star tugs, they were furious. “We could’ve caught up to them if those horrid little fishing boats hadn’t gotten in our way,” growled Zebedee. “We’ve got to get even, Zak.” “Get even with a bunch of fishing boats?” asked Zak. “Never thought I’d want to do that.” “Well why not,” asked Zebedee. “They’ve been getting in the way for far too long, and now they’ve gone too far.”
It wasn’t quite 6:30 the next morning when I entered my office and made an announcement to my tugs. “Ten Cents, Sunshine, wake up! There’s an emergency at the fish order office! The dock beneath it is collapsing and the building is nearly underwater!” Sunshine gasped. “Go fetch Mighty Moe and report to the fish order office at once!” I finished.
When the switchers arrived, the Coastguard instructed them to position Mighty Moe in front of the building. The floating crane attached every cable possible to the building and what was left of the dock. “We should be good here, lads,” he said. “The dock’s still strong enough to support the building.” “Any idea how this happened?” Sunshine asked the Coastguard. “We suspect vandalism,” replied the Coastguard. “These docks were inspected three months ago and there was nothing wrong with them.” “You think someone tried to demolish the building?” asked Ten Cents. “It was probably those Z-Stacks,” frowned Sunshine. “They hate the fishing boats. I heard Zebedee and Zak complaining about them yesterday evening. They must’ve bashed the dock down.” “Well, we will be investigating this crime as soon as the building is secure,” the Coastguard promised.
After Mighty Moe had gotten the fish order office on high ground, the Coastguard began conducting his investigation. When he got around to questioning Zebedee and Zak, it appeared as though they were innocent. There were no witnesses and when he inspected their hulls, they appeared to have been undamaged. What he didn’t think of was the possibility of the Z-Stacks attaching ropes to the dock supports and pulling them apart. Hence why the Z-Stacks started chuckling when the he left.
“I think we fooled the authorities, Zeb,” smirked Zak. “Yeah, we’re off scot-free,” said Zebedee. “Oh, no you’re not,” said a loud, disagreeable voice. This was one of Zorran’s talents; turning up unnoticed. “So you thought you’d get a little payback on those fishing boats, eh?” he asked. “Er, yeah,” said Zebedee. “You think that’ll stop them?” glowered Zorran. “They’ll probably go fishing all winter to try and pay for the damages!” “Oh, uh, we didn’t think of that,” said Zebedee. “I bet you didn’t,” Zorran snarled. “Whatever it is that makes them want to work all year, you two’ve just gone and made it worse.” “Come on, Zorran,” scoffed Zak. “They’ll never make enough money on their own. Not with the snow and ice coming.” “That’s not the point, you idiot!” shouted Zorran. “They’re going to try!” And with that, he sternly went away with his barge.
“Terrible thing, isn’t it, Sunshine?” said Ten Cents later that day. “Aye,” Sunshine agreed glumly. “You think the fishing boats will stop working while their building’s out of commission?” asked Ten Cents. “Probably not,” said Sunshine, glancing at a few saddened fishing boats several yards away. “All they need is a bit of inspiration to keep them going.” “Inspiration?” “Woops, I’ve said too much,” said Sunshine. “Forget I said that.” But Ten Cents wasn’t likely to do so. The old shrimper who told Sunshine about their treasure approached the two switchers. “Those fishing boats are falling apart, Sunshine-mate,” he said. “We need another look at the time capsule. It’s the only way to cheer them up.” He then realised Ten Cents was right next to Sunshine. “Oh, cocktail sauce,” he groaned. “Uh, you tell him what it’s all about. I’m going back to console the fishing boats.” “The fishing boats have a time capsule?” Ten Cents asked as the old shrimper turned around. “Keep it down, Ten Cents,” hissed Sunshine. “Listen, I know what keeps those shrimpers and fishing boats going.” Sunshine told Ten Cents everything. He told him about the old fishing company, the old owner’s time capsule and where the old fishing boats left it. Ten Cents had promised not to tell anyone as long as he could go with Sunshine to see the time capsule. “Whatever it is that makes them want to work in winter,” he said, “It must be interesting.” Sunshine agreed and the two switchers carried on with their work.
Zorran was just around the corner when Sunshine told the fishing boats’ secret to Ten Cents. He smiled wickedly to himself as the quayside cranes finished unloading his barge. “So that’s what makes them want to work winters,” he grinned. “If I get that crate myself and throw it on the garbage pile, those things will have no reason to move on.” Zorran thought about how he would get his riggings on the fishing boats’ time capsule. “Those switchers said Little Ditcher knows about it, so I can’t take him,” he said to himself. “I could take Mighty Moe. Nah. He knows the Coastguard’s looking for the ones responsible for the fish building getting wrecked. Better not risk letting the trail lead back to Zebedee and Zak. Scuttlebutt Pete? Nah. It’ll be all over the harbour as soon as we return. Aw, forget a crane, I’ll just find myself a small anchor, attach it to my tow rope and hope for the best.”
Sunshine told Ten Cents that they would collect Little Ditcher at dusk, so Zorran decided to go out to sea right away. With his empty barge in tow, he wasted no time in leaving the harbour. As he headed out, a light fog came down. “Better watch myself,” Zorran thought. “Don’t want to get lost on the open water.” Zorran went to Dender Rocks first. If he couldn’t find a small anchor to attach his tow rope to, he wouldn’t be able to go searching for the time capsule. His search was interrupted by a loud fog horn. “Oh, that’ll be Lillie,” he thought. “Better go straighten her out.” Zorran travelled through the fog and met up with Lillie Lightship. “Evening, Lillie,” he whistled. “What are you doing out here, Zorran?” asked Lillie. “It’s almost sundown. You don’t want to be hanging around those rocks on a night like this, do you?” “Just lookin’ around for anything salvageable,” said Zorran. “I mean, why not? There’s always something lying around.” “Just be careful, Zorran,” Lillie warned. “The fog’s getting thick. You better keep a good lookout if you insist on looking for scrap metal.” “Don’t fuss over me, Lillie,” said Zorran. “I’ll be fine. Trust me.” Lillie wasn’t sure what to make of that.
Zorran went back to the rocks to look for a small anchor. “She’s right. The fog is getting thick,” he said to himself. “I better find an anchor soon.” Zorran went up and down the rocks keeping his eyes peeled and watching carefully where he was going. “A-ha! Found one. Right, come to papa.” Zorran had found a perfect anchor for the job. It was small and light enough for Zorran to carry on his deck so he could carry the time capsule on his barge once he found it. He left Dender Rocks as soon as he’d tied his tow rope to the anchor. “OK, now,” he said, remembering what he’d heard Sunshine tell Ten Cents, “The crimson red bell buoy to the north, then due east for 8 miles.”
The sun was going down, and Zorran was a little rushed. He didn’t have a crane or a shrimp net like Sunshine did. And the fog was making it hard for him to keep his bearings. But he was determined to find the fishing boats’ time capsule and dispose of it. One advantage he had over Sunshine was he’d gone out to sea more often, so his ability to judge seaward distances was a little better. “Almost there,” he said to himself. “Better drop anchor now.” Zorran lowered his anchor into the water. He made sure he didn’t lower it too far. It took a long time, but at last he felt his rope tighten. “Bingo!” Zorran reeled in his anchor. Sure enough, he’d found the piece of timber attached to the crate. “Huh. I was expecting something bigger. Guess I didn’t need a barge.” Zorran heard something. “Is that the Star switchers?” Zorran quickly placed the crate onto his decks and turned hard to starboard.
Ten Cents and Sunshine couldn’t hear Zorran’s engine over their own. “We’re almost there, Ten Cents,” said Sunshine. “Here, Little Ditcher, you better get that net into the water now.” “Right you are, Sunshine,” replied Little Ditcher, lowering the shrimp net. “Boy, I can’t wait to see this thing,” said Ten Cents. But he would have to. Little Ditcher looked for a long time, but came up with nothing. “It must be here,” said Sunshine. “Maybe we should go a little further,” suggested Little Ditcher. “Let’s not get carried away,” said Ten Cents. “We can’t go too far out to sea. We’ll get lost.” “You’re right,” said Sunshine. “We’ll take it slow. We’ll move 5 yards after five minutes. If we haven’t found it by then, then something is wrong.”
It looked as though Zorran was in the clear. He had gotten the crate out of the water and the switchers hadn’t seen him. By now, he was several hundred yards away from the spot where he’d gotten the crate. All he had to do now was head back to the harbour and leave it at the dump. “Er… where am I?” he asked himself, looking around.
“Where is it?!” Sunshine was getting anxious. “We’ve got to be far enough out by now!” “If not further,” said Ten Cents. “This is serious, Ten Cents,” said Little Ditcher, still feeling around for the piece of timber. “This is a precious item to the shrimpers and fishing boats.” “I’m aware of that, Little Ditcher,” said Ten Cents, “But surely it’s not worth getting lost over. Couldn’t we start over at the buoy?” Sunshine sighed. “I suppose that’ll be worth a try. I couldn’t bear to go back to the old shrimper and tell him we couldn’t find their time capsule.” Little Ditcher raised the net out of the water. Just as they turned around, they heard the sound of a tug engine. “Uh, oh,” said Sunshine. “Someone’s coming from the harbour. They’re gonna wonder what we’re doing out here.” “Now is this north or west,” said a familiar voice. Then, out of the fog, Zorran appeared. Ten Cents and Sunshine shined their floodlights in his direction. “Yeah, this is north,” said Zorran before turning sharply around. “He’s got the time capsule!” shrieked Sunshine. “After him!” Ten Cents shouted. The switchers roared their engines and chased after Zorran at once.
They chased him for miles, but eventually they couldn’t see him in the fog or hear his engine anymore. “Where is that criminal?!” growled Sunshine as his eyes darted around. “Where are we?” asked Ten Cents. “Stay focussed, Ten Cents!” Sunshine urged. “Look, I don’t want to get lost out here!” snapped Ten Cents. “Not after the last time! I wish I never came out here. Even before we had trouble finding the crate, I was having second thoughts about coming with you. And now we’ve got to find Zorran and take the crate from him.” “Why don’t you head for home?” snorted Little Ditcher. “Yeah, you might as well,” said Sunshine darkly. “You don’t care about the fishing boats. You don’t know how important this is to them.” “Look, come on, Sunshine. I want to help you,” insisted Ten Cents. “I’m not about to let Zorran get away with this.” Just then, they faintly heard Lillie Lightship’s foghorn in the distance. “There, see?” said Sunshine. “Dender Rocks is that way. Now you know the way home. Off you go, then.” “Sunshine, why do you think Lillie’s sounding her foghorn?” said Ten Cents. “Zorran must be near Dender Rocks.” Sunshine’s face lit up for the first time in hours. “To the rocks!” he exclaimed.
Ten Cents, Sunshine and Little Ditcher followed the sound of Lillie’s foghorn until they couldn’t hear it anymore. When they arrived at the rocks, they went straight to Lillie. “Did you see Zorran come by here?” asked Sunshine. “I did earlier,” answered Lillie. “He was looking for scrap metal on the rocks.” “Why’d you sound your horn?” asked Ten Cents. “I picked up something drifting towards the rocks. According to my radar, it hit the rocks.” “What? Surely the fog’s not that thick,” said Little Ditcher. The switchers went to investigate at once. When they looked along the rocks, they were disheartened to see that what had crashed into the rocks was Zorran’s empty barge. “That crook!” Ten Cents exclaimed. “He let his barge drift into the rocks to throw us off the trail!”
Closer to the harbour mouth, Zorran was chuckling to himself as he made his way to the Municipal Garbage dock. “Nothing worth looking at in here anyway,” he said as he took a look inside the crate. “Just a bunch of old photographs and wet money. This thing belongs at the dump.” “Old photographs and wet money?” Zorran jumped and looked around. “Who was that?” “That better not be the old fishery time capsule.” Sunshine hadn’t told Ten Cents that Hercules knew about the time capsule too, so this took Zorran completely by surprise. “Oh, uh, evening Hercules,” he said nervously. “Evening, Zorran m’dear,” said the big ocean tug. “Where are you going with that?” “Er, I was, uh… just taking it back to its spot out at sea,” stammered Zorran. “Why don’t you give that to me?” said Hercules sternly. “Uh, sure, here you go,” replied Zorran. “I won’t ask how you got it,” said Hercules, “But if I ever find it missing again, I’ll know it was you and make sure you take its place at the bottom of the sea.” Zorran said no more. He just gave Hercules the time capsule and went straight to the Zero dock.
Hercules had just turned around towards the open water when Ten Cents and Sunshine rushed towards him. “Ah, hello there, you two,” he said. “Oh look, Sunshine,” said Ten Cents. “Hercules got the time capsule away from Zorran.” “Thank goodness,” Sunshine gave a heavy sigh of relief. “Oh, so you two know about it too, eh?” said Hercules. “Aye,” said Sunshine. “The fishing boats and shrimpers are waiting by the cliffs.” “They want to see it real bad, Hercules,” said Ten Cents. “The fish order office was almost knocked into the water last night.” “You never mentioned that to me,” said Little Ditcher. “I think it’ll take more than a little inspiration to fix that problem.” “Don’t be too downhearted, old darlings,” said Hercules. “Do you know what I’ve been doing for the last three days?” Ten Cents, Sunshine and Little Ditcher didn’t know. “I was working for the company that owns our fishery,” Hercules smiled. “They’ve come into a great deal of money today. I’m sure they’ll waive a portion of their profits to help our fishing boats out.”
Well, the switchers were happy to hear this. The events of that winter gave the shrimpers and fishing boats in Bigg City Port even more incentive to keep on fishing for as long as they possibly could.
…Whether Zorran could leave it at that or not was yet to be known.
Thank you to everyone who enjoyed the previous story.
Here's how this next one came about. OPEN WATER was meant to be a stand-alone story, but after I wrote it, I realized that there was no way Zorran would just let it end like that. My mum described Zorran and the other Z-Stacks in a way I thought was very true; They just can't let anything go. Hence why the idea for a sequel to OPEN WATER was put to use. I hope you will enjoy Part 2 of 3...
It wasn’t the worst winter we’d ever had, but it was quite possibly the most miserable. Wind and snow whipped around the harbour at least once a week for three months. One day, halfway through that particular winter, a heavy fog slowly crept into Bigg City Port as all the tugs were in the middle of their work. Zip and Zug were working with Scuttlebutt Pete near some frozen quaysides when they noticed white flags with blue crosses being raised. “Hold on a minute there, Scuttlebutt,” said Zug. “We have to stand by for dockside signals.” Warrior was approaching the dredging zone. He had with him Lord Stinker, who had a tarpaulin over his load to prevent any rubbish from being whipped around in the wind. Warrior was having trouble making out the signal through the fog. “Let’s see, that’s a… er…” he struggled as he drew nearer to the quayside. “Oh, we have to stop what we’re doing and await further instructions-” “Look out, Warrior!” shouted Lord Stinker. Warrior didn’t react quickly enough to avoid bumping into Zip’s barge. “Whoops. Sorry,” said Warrior. Zip didn’t bother to grumble. Instead he asked the garbage barge a question. “Didn’t think you’d be doing a run in this weather. I heard Jack’s still got head cold.” “The garbage dock’s nearly overloaded,” said Lord Stinker. “We got orders to roster in a floating crane to load up all available garbage barges.” “Oh, well,” said Zip. “Even you with your foul odours are more splendid a sight than those stupid fishing boats at this time of year.” “Wind’s getting a bit fierce, isn’t it?” observed Scuttlebutt Pete. “I don’t like the looks of the snowfall either,” said Zug. “D’you think they’re expecting a whiteout? I hate whiteouts. I can’t see anything.” “Calm down, Zug,” said Zip. “All you have to do is not move. It’s so simple.” “’Ere, ain’t that OJ and Sunshine over there?” asked Warrior. OJ and Sunshine were passing by with a barge of machinery. They were concentrating on getting to their destination and hadn’t seen the flags on the dockside. Warrior whistled to attract their attention. “Oh, look at that, Sunshine,” said OJ. “They want us to cease work for the time being.” “Shall we go over to where Scuttlebutt is?” asked Sunshine. “Sounds like a plan,” replied the old tug as he and Sunshine turned to starboard. “Safety in numbers and that sort of thing.”
The immediate forecast was indeed expecting a whiteout, and luckily everyone in the harbour was informed before it was too late. As the fog thickened and the wind blew the snow forcefully around, everyone’s vision began to dwindle. The tugs couldn’t see their own bows before long. And not one minute into the whiteout, Zug began to panic. “I can’t see anything!” he screamed over the wind. “What do I do?! What do I do?!” “Absolutely nothing!” OJ replied. “Maybe we could attach lines to each other?!” suggested Sunshine. “Oh, yes! Yes! That’ll be good!” agreed Zug. “We could try!” said OJ. “But use extreme caution!” OJ took charge of the operation, instructing one tug at a time to attach a line to Scuttlebutt Pete. At first, Zug calmed down once he got close to the dredger. But the last tug to attach their rope was Zip, and when OJ called his name, he didn’t respond. “Can you hear me, Zip?!” OJ called. “Zip?! Are you there?!” called Zug. “He’s gotta be there!” exclaimed Warrior. “He was right next to me when the whiteout started!” The tugs continued calling Zip’s name, but received no reply. “What could possibly have happened to him?!” asked Sunshine. “He’s vanished!” said Lord Stinker, although he didn’t really think that. The sound of Zip’s whistle exploded right next to Zug, whose scream echoed around the harbour louder than the whistle itself. The Star tugs were most infuriated when they heard Zip laughing uncontrollably. “Zip, you delinquent!” scolded OJ. “Where’s your sense of rationality?!” “No fuss, OJ!” Zip laughed loudly. “Just showing Zug what not to do in a whiteout!” “Get a line on Scuttlebutt at once!” ordered OJ crossly. “You’d do well to keep a serious attitude, Zip!” warned Scuttlebutt as Zip attached his tow rope to his deck. “You know what happened to the last tugs who did something stupid in a whiteout!” “Yeah, yeah! I’ve heard that story several times!” said Zip. “What story?!” asked Sunshine. “The one about the Crossbones Fleet, of course!” replied Scuttlebutt Pete. “Who were they?!” “Did no one tell you?!” asked OJ. “I thought someone would surely have told you by now!” “No, I’ve never heard it!” said Sunshine. “Well as soon as this whiteout clears up, I’ll fill you in!” OJ offered. “It’s a story you really should have been familiar with by now! It’s about a rather significant time in Bigg City Port’s history!” Sunshine was intrigued, but first and foremost, they had to endure the whiteout before he could find out about the Crossbones Fleet.
Two hours passed before at last the wind began to die down and the fog began to clear up. Warrior could see yellow and black chequered flags on the docks. “Guess we gotta stay put,” he told his comrades. “Time enough to fill Sunshine in on the downfall of the Crossbones,” said Scuttlebutt Pete. Sunshine listened up as OJ and Scuttlebutt began to tell him the story. Zip wisely stayed clear of Scuttlebutt’s bucket. He remained right next to Zug, who had a shell-shocked look on his face.
Captain Crossbones was the first officer in Bigg City to assemble a fleet of tugs to assist in the rapidly developing businesses in the harbour. The tugs under his employment were always extremely proud to be helping the port grow and expand, and this resulted in all six of them becoming conceited. During their working life, they decided amongst themselves that unless ordered otherwise, they would only interact with high paying customers and ignore smaller enterprises. As far as the Crossbones Fleet was concerned, the small businesses might as well have moved upriver. As time went by, many large companies were setting up locations in the harbour. These were mainly delivery companies and manufacturing plants, but ferrying services were also opening and passenger vessels were making constant visits.
One such vessel was the Lady Augusta; a rather famous ship at the time having survived an attempted sinking during the Civil War. She was making her way up the coast especially to come to Bigg City, not only to bring passengers to the town, but also to drop off some goods. One such cargo was specified to Pongo and Muskrat in private.
“The Strickland Diamond is onboard Lady Augusta, you two,” said Captain Crossbones. “The Strickland Diamond? That’s the most popular attraction at the Mitona Maritime Museum, isn’t it?” asked Pongo, a paddle tug. “That’s right, Pongo. And the museum curators are sending it here because of a crime wave that seems to be working its way up the coast. Certain artefacts have been hidden within port limits, but the decision was made to send the Strickland Diamond here to hide it from any potential pirates.” “What are we to do with it, sir?” asked Muskrat, the switcher. “Listen up, you two,” said their captain. “And do not repeat this information to anybody. There’s a brand new barge at the marina. It looks like a fuel barge, but the tank opens like a chest. Once Lady Augusta arrives, take the decoy barge to her mooring. Then return to the dock after all the rest of the cargo is unloaded. The crew will have placed the diamond inside the compartment.” “Where do we take the barge from there?” asked Pongo. “To the fishery dock,” answered Captain Crossbones. “The fishery dock?!” spluttered Muskrat. “Pipe down!” hissed the captain. “The fishery manager has agreed to hold onto the Strickland Diamond.” “Of all the people, the curators asked for a fisherman?” asked Pongo in disbelief. “No one will suspect the most valuable stone in the region is in a small, privately owned fishing company,” assured Captain Crossbones. “Now, do I need to repeat any of that information?” Pongo and Muskrat looked at each other, both expecting the other tug to object to the last stage of the operation. But in the end, they both agreed to the terms they were given. Or so it seemed.
The crossbones fleet were waiting for Walia, the ocean tug, to bring Lady Augusta to the harbour mouth. Pongo and Muskrat already had the decoy barge in tow. “What’s that for?” asked Riddle, another paddle-tug. “Captain Crossbones didn’t issue any orders to resupply the ship with fuel.” “This is a rather important barge, Riddle,” said Pongo. “It’ll be loaded with the most valuable item Bigg City will ever play host to.” “What are you on about?” asked Comly, the third paddle-tug. “Lads, we are hiding the Strickland Diamond,” Muskrat announced. “And as you can understand, it is absolutely hush-hush.” The tugs were stunned. “And we want advice,” said Pongo. “Our captain wants us to take this barge to the fishery dock once the diamond is safely inside.” “What for?” asked Riddle. “It seems the curators requested that the fishery owner takes care of it until the crime wave has been seen to,” said Muskrat. “The fishery owner?” repeated Comly, not too loudly. “Are they mad? A poor business like that? There’s no telling he may run off with it and sell it for a fortune.” “He’d never get away with it,” said Smutt, the railway tug. “They’d hunt him down and give him the harshest sentence ever passed in the history of law. You might as well carry on as instructed.” “Are you sure?” asked Muskrat. “Oh, yes. If the curators think he’s trustworthy and the captain thinks he’s trustworthy, then let him have the honour. Besides, the Strickland Diamond’s the most valuable thing he’ll ever lay eyes on. His business will never make as much money as it used to make.” “If you say so,” said Pongo, who shot Muskrat a nervous look.
It was lucky that no one heard the Crossbones tugs talking about the highly classified assignment. Walia guided Lady Augusta into the harbour and Riddle, Comly and Smutt took up positions to dock her. As instructed, Pongo and Muskrat took the decoy barge to the dock after the ship was moored up and returned to the Crossbones pier. And if it weren’t for the heavy fog coming down, it would have looked very convincing. Work carried on for a few hours after the ship arrived, but when the snow became heavier and the wind grew stronger, concerns arose in the port. Pongo and Muskrat were about to leave the Crossbones dock to collect the decoy barge when a shrill whistle stopped them in their wake. “Emergency! Emergency!” called Platt, the police boat. “A whiteout is on its way! All operations are to stop and all vessels and personnel are to turn in for the duration!”
The fog, wind and snow roared through the harbour. Everyone had taken cover and no one was moving about. Captain Crossbones had accounted for all six of his tugs and had now shut his window. Pongo looked out at the harbour. He could not see across the port and a small patch of ice that was caught in the breeze drifted quickly by the dock. “Hey, Muskrat,” he said. “Let’s head over to Lady Augusta’s dock and pick up the decoy barge.” “Eh?” “Yeah, this whiteout will be the perfect cover,” said Pongo. “Lady Augusta’s crew will have put the diamond in the barge before this whiteout started.” “Hm, good thinking,” said Muskrat. “Let’s get over there post haste.” “You’re not leaving the dock, are you?” cried Smutt. “It’s the perfect time,” said Pongo. “No one will see us.” “You won’t see you!” exclaimed Smutt. “You’ll have an accident!” “You think we can’t find our way around in a little bit of snow and fog?” asked Pongo. “Why, we practically made this harbour what it is today. We Crossbones know this harbour best.” “You let us deal with our assignment,” said Muskrat. “We’ll be alright.” “I swear, you better not fail out there!” warned Riddle. “That diamond’s worth more than all the businesses in this harbour combined!” “We’ll have completed our mission before the whiteout stops,” said Pongo as he and Muskrat left the Crossbones dock and proceeded to Lady Augusta’s dock with extreme caution.
Well, would you believe they made it to Lady Augusta’s dock with very little trouble? “Here it is,” said Muskrat. “Now I’ll hold it steady while you get your line on it.” Again, everything went fine. Pongo towed the decoy barge away from the dock and Muskrat pushed from the side. The two tugs slowly made their way to the fishery dock. There were no obstacles in their way, but Pongo was still concerned. He was never 100% sure about Captain Crossbones’ orders from the start. He signalled to Muskrat that he wanted to stop. “What’s wrong?” asked Muskrat. “How can we be absolutely sure that it’s safe to leave the diamond at the fishery?” asked Pongo. “Come on, Pongo,” said Muskrat. “Orders are orders. Let’s get on with it.” “But surely a fuel barge in front of the fish order office will arouse suspicion,” said Pongo. “I mean, we don’t deliver fuel to the shrimpers and fishing boats.” “Hm, that’s true,” said Muskrat. “Let’s change course,” said Pongo. “We’ll take it to the fuel depot. It can blend in with the other fuel barges. The depot’s closed for another two days, so no one will go there looking to pick up some fuel.” “But the fishery owner won’t know what to do,” said Muskrat. “We’ll go to the fishery after the whiteout’s over and let him know where to pick up the diamond,” finished Pongo. Muskrat agreed to this without a moment’s thought and the tugs turned to port towards the fuel depot.
The decoy barge did indeed blend in with the empty fuel barges. Now Muskrat and Pongo were returning home. The other Crossbones tugs were very pleased to see them. “Mission accomplished, lads,” said Muskrat. “Ah, excellent,” said Comly. “Really? You managed to get the decoy barge to the fishery in that mess?” Smutt asked in disbelief. “We did better than that,” said Muskrat. “We made it so the diamond would be absolutely safe and hidden from the public view. As soon as the whiteout is over, we’ll go and tell the fishery owner where to collect it.” “Where is it now?!” asked Smutt, slightly alarmed. “At the fuel depot with the other fuel barges,” answered Pongo. “Hm, that’s good,” said Riddle. “No one can go there for another two days, so there’s no way someone will find it before the fishery owner takes it.” “Looks like you two really pulled it off,” said Comly. “Well done.” “Well, bare in mind we’re not quite finished yet,” said Muskrat. “We’re going to suggest to the fishery owner that he collects the diamond tomorrow night. Things are bound to be busy into the night after this storm passes.” “You’re a pair of geniuses,” said Walia. “Well we can’t afford to make any mistakes when we’re dealing with the Strickland Diamond,” said Pongo. “One mistake and we’re all in trouble.”
When the whiteout was over, Captain Crossbones addressed his tugs. He sent Walia, Riddle, Comly and Smutt off to continue their work. Then he spoke to Muskrat and Pongo. “I’d like you two to take care of your secret mission,” he said. “Yes, sir,” said Muskrat and Pongo. “And after about an hour,” said the captain before the two tugs left, “Collect the empty barge and take it to the warehouse. We need it for tomorrow to hide some other items.” Muskrat and Pongo spoke to each other with low voices as they left the dock. “We’ll have to tell the owner to collect the diamond tonight,” said Pongo. “Agreed,” said Muskrat. “We can’t let Crossbones know we took matters into our own hands. The less he knows, the better. Either way, the…” he cleared his throat, “item is safe.” They went to the fishery office and told the owner about their little alteration to the plan. He agreed to the plan, but thought Pongo and Muskrat were given new orders at the last minute instead of making the changes themselves. “We’ll leave in the morning after the briefing and take the decoy barge to the warehouse,” said Muskrat quietly after they left the fishery dock. And with that, they reported back to the Crossbones dock. Afterwards, they had other work to do. They went over the last stage of the plan one last time before turning in that night. “After we get our orders from Crossbones, we’ll collect the decoy barge and take it to the warehouse. From then on, it’s business as usual.”
3:39AM. “Up and at’em!” called Captain Crossbones from his window. The Crossbones fleet woke up with a start. “What? What time is it?” asked Pongo. “So,” said Captain Crossbones calmly, “Who is captain?” “Er, you are, sir,” said Comly. “And who gives the orders?” asked the captain. “Again, you,” said Comly. “You hear that, Pongo and Muskrat? I’m the captain and I give the orders,” said Captain Crossbones. “We know that perfectly well, sir,” said Muskrat. “Then answer me this,” said Captain Crossbones. “What happens when my tugs don’t follow my orders?” “Well…” was all Muskrat could really say. “You don’t know?” “Well, I guess it’d amount to mutiny,” said Pongo. “Yes, in a legal sense, yes. But as far as getting things done, what happens?” asked Captain Crossbones. “Um…” this time Pongo couldn’t say much either. “I will tell you what happens when my tugs don’t follow my orders. Things go wrong. VERY… wrong.” “This is about the diamond, isn’t it?” asked Walia. For over a minute, Captain Crossbones didn’t say anything. “Sir?” said Walia. “Go away,” the captain said calmly. “I want to talk to Pongo and Muskrat alone.” Pongo and Muskrat now knew what was going on. They both watched with very bad feelings in their boilers as their crewmates left the dock. “Alright, I’ll get right to the point,” said the captain. “The fishery owner filled me in on the ‘changes’ to the plan to keep the Strickland Diamond safe. Now what did you tell him?” “Um, to go to the fuel depot tonight and collect the diamond from the decoy barge,” said Muskrat. “I suppose he would have had to wade through a few real fuel barges,” said Pongo. “Yes, he did,” said Captain Crossbones. “He managed to find the decoy barge in the end. … But not the diamond.” Muskrat and Pongo were speechless. “Oh, don’t look so shocked,” Captain Crossbones raised his voice now. “But-but-but… no one saw us… we-we were completely sure no one suspected…” Muskrat stammered. “Don’t bother trying to explain it, Muskrat,” said Pongo. “We lost the diamond. Simple as that.” “Now then,” Captain Crossbones continued. “I’m going to have to do some explaining in the morning to the curators. Anything you want me to mention to them?” Muskrat and Pongo didn’t think apologizing would mean anything to their captain or the curators, and their explanation for keeping the precious Strickland Diamond safe would be pointless, so they didn’t say anything. “No? Alright then. I’ll be going now.”
The next few days were a little hectic. Captain Crossbones wasn’t seen or heard from since his meeting with the museum curators. The harbour master was giving the orders to the Crossbones fleet for the time being. But, as you can imagine, he was well aware of what Muskrat and Pongo did. He had port authorities supervise everything the tugs did for two days. This made Walia, Comly, Riddle and Smutt cross. “Two tugs from our crew lose a valuable and famous diamond and suddenly, we’re all incompetent failures,” groaned Riddle. “Doesn’t seem right to me.” Muskrat and Pongo hadn’t said anything since they spoke to their captain. They just remained silent and did what they were told. EXACTLY as they were told.
On the third day, something happened. There were no ships waiting to come in, no goods trains were arriving; it seemed that there was nothing for the tugs to do. “What’s all this?” asked Comly. “There must be a hundred businesses in this harbour and none of them need us for anything?” “I don’t think we’re not needed,” said Smutt. “I think we’re not wanted.” “Not wanted? Us?” asked Riddle. “Impossible. We’re the driving force behind this harbour. It’s well on its way to being the biggest in the world. Now no one wants us to move any goods or barges or ships because of those two?” Again, Muskrat and Pongo didn’t talk.
The fourth day was the same. But at the end of the day, Captain Crossbones returned. All of his tugs were there, so he gave a very important announcement. “The rest of you knew about Muskrat and Pongo’s little plan, so I feel no guilt what-so-ever in telling you this. I have to raise a bloomin’ fortune to compensate for losing the Strickland Diamond. After all, finding whoever stole the diamond will be impossible because there are absolutely no leads. All personnel were indoors and all vessels were docked. Now I could sell my company, but who would want you lot after this whole mess happened? From what I’ve observed lately, none of the other companies want you. Therefore, I have quit the tugging business and sold all six of you to the breakers yard, where you will be cut up and used for scrap.”
“Comly, Riddle, Walia and Smutt were defiant,” OJ was finishing the story as the fog cleared, “But as for Muskrat and Pongo… they just went straight to the breakers yard and were first in line for the chop.” “My, my,” Sunshine said. “And how long was it before Bigg City Port started to expand again?” “Well, I’m sure you can guess,” said OJ. “Eventually, other tugs came along and business was starting up again…” “Hey, OJ,” Scuttlebutt Pete interrupted, “You missed a bit of the story.” “Would that be the part you made up?” asked OJ. “I did not make it up!” retorted Scuttlebutt Pete. “Make what up?” asked Sunshine. OJ sighed. “You want to tell him? Go ahead.” “Alright then. If you don’t believe it.” Scuttlebutt turned to Sunshine. “In the version I heard, Comly made a run for the estuary. He never returned and was never seen since.” “You can believe that if you like, Sunshine,” said OJ. “But Scuttlebutt is the only one who makes that claim. But one thing is certain. The Strickland Diamond was never found. It was a long time before everyone was able to put that incident behind them and move on to helping the harbour thrive.”
Soon the winter was coming to an end, but toward the end, things were freezing up and it was holding up supplies. It didn’t last long, but it was enough to call forth several locomotives for heavy coal deliveries by rail. Puffer was a bit rushed, which wasn’t very good because the rails were still slippery.
One morning, Puffer couldn’t get out of his shed. The doors were frozen shut. And he was afraid to break down the doors because his track lay just before the points to the main line to the harbour. But the ice showed no signs of melting and Puffer had lots of coal trucks waiting for him. “I’ll burst through the door and brake as soon as I’m out in the open,” he decided. Puffer listened. He couldn’t hear any trains coming. He reversed to the back of the shed, then charged the doors fiercely. He managed to get out, and he slammed on his brakes at once. There was another train coming. He saw Puffer shoot out of his shed towards the main line. He braked as well. Puffer stopped just before the points, but the train that was coming towards him reversed away before realising that there wouldn’t be a collision. Puffer was about to go after him, but he remembered the icy conditions of the rails. As for the train, he soon remembered the icy rails as well. He tried to brake, but he and his wagons slipped backwards into the harbour.
Zorran was at the coal depot taking on his daily supply. That was when the engine and his train came sliding in. The rear wagon came off the track. In seconds, the whole train derailed and collided into a pile of coal on the dock. Coal, crates and bits of wood went flying.
What happened next astounded Zorran beyond comprehension. Something shiny and blue landed right on his deck. He’d heard about it before, he’d seen it once in a photograph, but he never ever thought he or anyone he knew would see it. It was the Strickland Diamond. But he didn’t have time to absorb the shock. The crash had attracted attention to the coal depot. He hid the diamond in his cabin and moved as close to the damaged engine as possible. “Listen mate,” he said quietly, “I don’t know how you got this, and I won’t tell anyone you had it, but don’t expect it back.” The engine agreed. Soon enough, Puffer and the Coastguard were inspecting the scene. The mess was cleared by noon and the engine was taken away to be repaired.
Zorran kept the diamond completely secret. He knew it was the same diamond that had mysteriously disappeared decades ago. He was thinking hard about what he would do with it. “It’s worth a bob or two, no doubt about that,” he thought to himself. “But if this is revealed in the wrong way, there’ll be a big fuss and wheelhouses will roll.” He was heading out to the estuary while he was thinking. As he was leaving the harbour, his path was blocked by fishing boats. “Oh, joy,” he growled in furry. “Look who’s back for the year.” And that was when he made his decision.
Zorran kept an eye on Hercules, Ten Cents and Sunshine that evening. When he saw that the three Star tugs were retiring to their dock for the night, he went out to sea. He made his way to the crimson red bell buoy and went due east for 8 miles.
The next day, Ten Cents and Sunshine were going out to bring a tramper in. Sunshine saw the shrimpers with their nets in the water. “Morning, lads!” he whistled cheerfully. “Good to see you out and about again.” Then he noticed that the old shrimper who had told him about their time capsule wasn’t with them.
Later that day, Sunshine saw the old shrimper by himself by the shoreline. He had his net in the water, but he looked like he wasn’t concentrating on catching shrimp. He looked like he was pacing angrily. Sunshine decided he’d better go over and ask him what was wrong. As he approached him, he heard him speak a few words. “Why did No. 64 have to be scrapped? He wouldn’t have…” Then the old shrimper saw Sunshine. “Oh, it’s you. What do you want?” “I just wanted to know if you’re alright,” said Sunshine. “You look upset about something.” “No, I’m fine,” said the old shrimper. “Now go away.” Sunshine knew the old shrimper wasn’t alright. But he decided not to ask anymore questions. He wasn’t likely to find out what was going on. But he made sure to remember the mention of old No. 64.
Zorran was trying to find a subtle way to get the other boats to catch on to the fact that the shrimpers and fishing boats had a time capsule. And who else in Bigg City Port could you get to spread a rumour besides Scuttlebutt Pete? Eventually, the whispers went from Scuttlebutt Pete to Zip and Zug, to Zebedee, to Big Mickey, to Warrior, to the Fire Chief, and finally to the Coastguard. He didn’t think much of it, but he bared it in mind.
Now Zip, Zebedee, Zug, Warrior and the Fire Chief were a little curious, as they were well aware that the shrimpers and fishing boats work as much as possible in the winter. However with their busy schedules, they couldn’t be bothered to find anything out.
Ice was floating around the harbour mouth one morning. The tugs and other vessels had to be careful when leaving and coming into the port. Sunshine had a fright when he saw the old shrimper get hit by a floating patch of ice. The ice didn’t make a hole in the shrimper’s hull, but there was a very large dent on the port side and he couldn’t move under his own power. Sunshine offered to take him to Lucky’s Yard and the shrimper took him up on it. It was clear that he was still in a bad mood though.
The news of the old shrimper being hit by a patch of ice was rather upsetting to the other shrimpers and fishing boats. And Hercules was away, so Ten Cents was asked by a fishing boat to take Little Ditcher to collect the time capsule that night.
The Coastguard was patrolling the estuary when the sun went down. He hadn’t seen Ten Cents and Little Ditcher leave the harbour mouth or go out to sea, but during their trip, he did see several fishing boats and shrimpers heading towards the cliffs. He remembered what he’d heard about their time capsule, and he decided to inquire about it. “Evening, all,” he said. The shrimpers and fishing boats were surprised and a little nervous. “I’m not interrupting anything, am I?” asked the Coastguard. “No, no,” said a fishing boat. “We’re just going to catch some fish.” “And shrimp,” added a shrimper. “Yes. I’ve heard on the grape vine that you have your own special time capsule,” the Coastguard went on. “You… you have?” asked another shrimper. “Yes. I hear it’s full of inspirational keepsakes from the old fishery owner,” said the Coastguard. “And it keeps you going when things are rough.” “Well, yes it does,” said another fishing boat. “I wonder if I might take a look at it some time,” the Coastguard requested. “Uh, well,” explained the first fishing boat, “It’s rather private.” “I suppose it must be if it’s been kept secret from me for so long,” said the Coastguard. “But I think I should see what it’s all about. As Coastguard, I ought to know everything about the harbour.” “Well we don’t keep our time capsule in the harbour,” said another shrimper. “It’s out in the ocean. Ten Cents and Little Ditcher are raising it up and bringing it to the cliffs tonight.” He was sharply nudged by another shrimper. “Oh, what’s the big deal?” he asked. “We ain’t hiding anything illegal, are we? The old fellow in Lucky’s told us that the old fishery owner asked his old boats to take his stuff and some of his profits and sink them. Why not show him the time capsule?” “Oh, alright then,” said a fishing boat. “You can take a look if you want.” And the shrimpers and fishing boats led the Coastguard to the cliffs and they waited for Ten Cents and Little Ditcher.
Sunshine was working late delivering barges. When he’d finished, he decided to visit the old shrimper at Lucky’s Yard. When he’d arrived, the old shrimper was just leaving. “Hold up, old man,” whistled Sunshine. “Oh, hello,” said the old shrimper. “I, er, meant to thank you for taking me to be repaired this morning. I really did. I was just upset.” “Care to tell me why?” asked Sunshine. “Oh, it’s just the winter,” the old shrimper griped. “As you know, it’s not the best time to catch shrimp. It’s cold, and clearly risky. Sometimes, a look at the time capsule isn’t enough.” “I see,” said Sunshine. “I suppose this winter was particularly rough. Your owner’s building was nearly destroyed and Zorran nearly destroyed your time capsule. But that’s all over now. Zorran won’t dare go near it now. He knows he won’t get away with it.”
He stopped talking when he spotted Ten Cents rushing towards him with Little Ditcher. He was whistling urgently as he approached Sunshine and the old shrimper. “Sunshine, we’re in trouble!” “Trouble? What trouble?” asked Sunshine. “The Coastguard found out about the time capsule and he insisted to be allowed to take a look at it!” Ten Cents was out of breath. “Oh, well that’s not so horrible, is it?” asked Sunshine. “It is!” exclaimed Ten Cents. “You’ll never guess what was in the crate!” “I won’t?” “No! You won’t believe me when I tell you either! We showed the Coastguard the contents and the Strickland Diamond was inside!” Sunshine gasped. “The what?!!” “You’ve heard the story, right?” asked Little Ditcher. “Yes, I have! And you’re telling the God’s honest truth that it was in their time capsule?!” “I swear, it was!” said Ten Cents. “We all tried to tell the Coastguard that we were unaware of it, but he doesn’t care! He wants to run all of us in for questioning!” “Questioning!” repeated Sunshine. “How does he expect to get any information from any of us?! We don’t know how it got there!” “Oh, what have you gotten me into, Sunshine?!” Ten Cents groaned. “Me?! What did I do?! I didn’t put it there!” Sunshine shrieked. “You got me involved in this whole time capsule business in the first place!” said Ten Cents angrily. “As if we didn’t have enough horror with Zorran last November, now we’ve been accused of possession of the stolen diamond from 1888!” “Hey, I didn’t do anything!” said Sunshine. “You’re involvement was a complete accident and, if I’m honest, a burden!” “Oh, is that so?!” asked Ten Cents. “Yeah, it is!” snapped Sunshine. “It’s because of you that Zorran got wind of the time capsule in the first place!” “It’s not my fault you can’t keep your toothy mouth shut!” Ten Cents growled. “I didn’t want to tell you! You didn’t care at all!” Sunshine carried on angrily. “I only told you because this old man here mentioned it in front of…” The old shrimper wasn’t there.
Well, speaking for myself, this one's gonna be hard to top. I've got an idea for my 12th story, but at the moment, I've got two Phineas & Ferb fanfics for deviantart and a Bachmann model video for YouTube up the pipeline so I think I'll hold off writing it until the summer. And now, here's part 3 of the Time Capsule Trilogy. Enjoy.
The Coastguard was ready to conduct his inquiry. The famous Strickland Diamond had been found in the old fishery time capsule and the Coastguard had called all the fishing boats, all the shrimpers, Ten Cents, Sunshine and Little Ditcher to his dock to get some answers. But all of his suspects were in such a state of confusion that he wasn’t likely to get any.
“Alright then, let’s get on with it,” said the Coastguard. “Now as you know, you are accused of harbouring the Strickland Diamond, which was stolen from a decoy barge in 1888 during the Mitona Maritime Museum’s attempt to hide it from a crime wave. Do you all deny that you knew the diamond was in your time capsule?” “Yes,” said Ten Cents, Sunshine, Little Ditcher and the shrimpers and fishing boats at once. “In that case,” said the Coastguard, “I’d like to hear your story.” The suspects elected a fishing boat to speak on their behalf. “Well, sir,” he said nervously, “That time capsule was put together by the old fishery owner in 1878. And as you’ve seen, it consisted of some photos of his boats and employees, about 5000 dollars in an envelope and an amusing little plastic fish with a fishing rod which he kept on his desk. And whenever we looked inside the crate, that’s all we ever saw.” Ten Cents spoke up. “Sir, I think I know who might be responsible. Zorran knows about the time capsule and he tried to steal it back in November.” “Ten Cents, are you suggesting that Zorran might have put the Strickland Diamond in the time capsule to frame you all?” asked the Coastguard. “I know Zorran’s a crook, but how could he have gotten his riggings on the Strickland Diamond?” “I don’t know, but I would strongly recommend questioning him,” insisted Ten Cents. “The diamond was stolen well before Zorran was even thought of, Ten Cents,” said the Coastguard. “Whereas this time capsule was around at the time of the diamond’s disappearance. Now here’s my final question. Do any of you know why the old shrimper who was in Lucky’s Yard ran away?” “No, sir,” said Sunshine. “But he was the one who made it so the time capsule could be retrieved back when the old fishery owner retired,” said Little Ditcher. “I see,” said the Coastguard. “Well then here’s what we’re going to do. You are all in the clear for the time being. Before I held this inquiry, I sent my messenger to get Big Mac to go to the harbour mouth and make sure the old shrimper can’t make a run for it. So I will withdraw all charges if you help me look for him so we can question him. But if we don’t find him in three days, then I’m afraid I’ll have no choice but to place all of you under arrest. That is all. Any questions?” “Can we have our time capsule back?” asked a shrimper. “Certainly not,” said the Coastguard sternly. “We don’t want the diamond,” said the shrimper. “Just the time capsule. It’s very important to us.” “To us,” said a fishing boat, “That time capsule is more valuable than the Strickland Diamond.” “Well I’m afraid I can’t let you have it back,” said the Coastguard. “If your colleague isn’t found in three days, this piece of evidence will be needed to convict you all. I’m sorry to do this, but it’s my responsibility to apprehend anyone suspected of a crime in this harbour.”
The shrimpers and fishing boats were very upset that the Coastguard had confiscated their time capsule. And they were reluctant to do anything that might get the old shrimper in trouble. After all, he was as old as the time capsule and had been its protector for years.
Ten Cents was taking Little Ditcher back to his dock. Sunshine went with him. “I can’t believe we’ve been accused of harbouring the Strickland Diamond,” groaned Sunshine. “I’ve only just heard about it last month. And now I might be put away for hiding it.” Ten Cents could hear what Sunshine was saying, but he didn’t respond at all as they left Little Ditcher’s dock. “I hope we find that old shrimper soon,” Sunshine went on. “Hopefully he has a good reason for taking off. If all goes well, he’ll be able to clear our names.” “And if we don’t find him,” Ten Cents frowned, “Then maybe we’ll get a lighter sentence just for being ‘accomplices’.” “Maybe,” said Sunshine. “But it still won’t end well for the shrimpers and fishing boats.” “Better them than us,” said Ten Cents, coldly. “I never really wanted to see their stupid time capsule to begin with. I thought it might be interesting when you first told me about it. But that thing’s been nothing but trouble since then.” “Oh, so you blame me for all this?” Sunshine scowled. “You’re the one who got me into this, Sunshine,” said Ten Cents. “Why does this always happen? I have to come to keep Zorran from taking that stupid tramper off you, and I almost get Microbonic Plague and OJ’s engine dies. I have to help you out of a log jam, and Uptown is almost…” “You just stop talking right there,” Sunshine interrupted. “Neither of those were my fault. You were the one who tried to race Zorran to ‘Dirt Bucket’ even though he was quarantined. You were the one who came up with the brilliant idea to have Billy blow up the log jam.” Ten Cents paid no attention. “Look Sunshine, you’re me best mate. But if we get arrested, I am blaming YOU.” He immediately regretted saying that, but refused to take it back.
The harbour was in an uproar the next morning. Big Mac reported no sign of the old shrimper. The Coastguard and his messenger visited every vessel and every dock in the harbour informing everyone to be on the lookout for the old shrimper. To add to that, they implemented an embargo to ensure maximum security. This made the boats of the harbour cross as a great amount of work would be held up.
Sunshine remembered that he’d heard the old shrimper mutter something about a locomotive who used to work on the dock railway before being taken out of service in 1917; Old No. 64.
Sunshine decided to ask Top Hat if he knew anything about No. 64 that might give them a clue to why the old shrimper ran off. “Not much to say, really,” said Top Hat. “Back when he was working, I never really paid much attention to the locomotives. My opinion of them changed after meeting Puffer and he was the one who replaced No. 64.” Frank and Eddie were a little more helpful. “Old No. 64 didn’t say much,” said Eddie. “I thought he was a good guy, though.” “One thing we remember about him,” put in Frank, “He was either on time or early. He was never late.” “Do you know if he was in service in 1888?” asked Sunshine. “He was sixty-four years old when they retired him,” said Eddie. “You don’t think he had anything to do with the Strickland Diamond, do you?” asked Frank. “Well, I heard the old shrimper mention him,” said Sunshine. “What could a locomotive have to do with a shrimper?” asked Frank. “I don’t know any locomotive ever talking to a shrimper or a fishing boat.” They had to leave it at that because it was time for Top Hat to leave the rail pier.
At the Zero Dock, the Z-Stacks were grumbling about the order given by the Coastguard in regards to the high alert status in the harbour. “I know we gotta find that little shrimping thing, but is an embargo really necessary?” Zak grouched. “Don’t fret yourself, Zak,” Captain Zero said. “Bigg City Port ain’t big enough for a shrimper to hide in. Someone’ll find it soon, then once everything’s sorted out with that diamond, we’ll be allowed to carry on with ocean traffic.” “I tell you what, guys,” said Zip, “If one of us finds the old shrimper, we’ll be in for a big reward.” “Excellent point, Zip,” smirked Captain Zero. “You and Zorran can go looking for it now since I can’t send either of you to resupply that tramper with coal. Go on! Go find it!” Zorran kept a straight face as he and Zip began leaving the Zero Pier. “Not really up for a mission out at sea in this weather anyway,” Zip said. “This whole Strickland Diamond thing reminded me of the story of the Crossbones Fleet’s downfall. Scuttlebutt’s version creeps me out.” “Yeah, me too,” said Zorran. “Some ancient old paddle tug wandering the open water, probably covered entirely in rust.” Zorran shuddered as he and Zip passed by the Star Dock on the way to search for the old shrimper.
Being the genius he was, OJ’s mind had been running non-stop since he’d heard the news. He was aware of the tramper that had been stranded without any coal out at sea since midnight. And with the search for the old shrimper going on, the Coastguard had haulted all incoming and outgoing traffic for the time being. So OJ decided to make a compromise with the Coastguard. He would offer a plan for catching the old shrimper in exchange for permission to resupply the tramper. I was delighted when the Coastguard agreed to OJ’s proposal and told him that he could go himself as Hercules was being repaired in another harbour.
That night, the Coastguard ordered all the tugs from the Star and Zero fleets to find a hiding place that night and try to detain the old shrimper if they spotted him.
It was a miserable night. It was raining outside and everyone was shivering from the cold. Top Hat was the least tolerant as he lied in wait at the fire station. “The devil take this rotten winter,” he muttered. There was a point that night when his mind was taken off the rain. He could see a shrimper heading towards the port authorities dock. “That must be the old shrimper trying to steal the Strickland Diamond,” he thought. He leapt at the opportunity to catch the old shrimper in the act. He rocketed out of the fire station dock and caught the shrimper by surprise. But it wasn’t the shrimper they were looking for. “Would you mind telling me what you were doing?” asked Top Hat, with a rope on the shrimper. “I’m trying to get our time capsule back,” said the shrimper crossly. “I’m afraid you can’t have it, my little friend,” said Top Hat. “Don’t you tell me I can’t have it, long-neck!” snapped the shrimper. “That time capsule is the…” “He’s just obeying the law,” interrupted the Coastguard, who turned up after he saw Top Hat storm away from the fire station. “I told you that we will not be returning the crate to you until we catch the old shrimper and question him. No exceptions. Now off you go. Top Hat, back to your post.”
Zorran was waiting by the harbour mouth. He wasn’t happy about having to stay up all night in the rain. He wasn’t really keeping a good lookout. But when he saw something moving, he shined his floodlight in its direction at once. “Ah, there you are, old man.” It was the old shrimper. “Going somewhere?” asked Zorran. “I’m leaving this tug infested harbour,” said the old shrimper in a low voice. “Whether you like it or not. Clear?” Zorran was in a perfect position to stop the old shrimper from escaping. “Well, bon voyage, mate,” he sneered, shutting his light off. The old shrimper said nothing more. He left the harbour leaving Zorran to smile wickedly to himself. He knew perfectly well that if the old shrimper wasn’t found and taken into custody, the fishing boats and shrimpers would be held responsible for the possession of the Strickland Diamond. And the Star switchers would be in trouble too, which delighted Zorran even more. “Sorry, Zero,” he said. “No reward money for you.”
The next day, it snowed. I was concerned because OJ hadn’t returned yet. As it was Warrior’s turn to guard the estuary, I asked him to keep an eye out for OJ as well. The Fire Chief recruited Biff and Zug to do a harbourwide search for the old shrimper. They were ordered to search every dock, every shed and every warehouse for the entire day. The rest of the tugs in the harbour were still on high alert for the old shrimper. All except for Zorran, who knew perfectly well that they wouldn’t find him in the harbour.
A fishing boat approached Sunshine as he was working. “Sunshine, you know we’re completely innocent, right?” he asked. “Of course I do,” said Sunshine. “So will you help us get our time capsule back?” asked the fishing boat. “I would,” Sunshine replied, “But I don’t know how.” “The Coastguard wants the tugs to hide in the harbour again tonight,” said the fishing boat. “Could you try to swap spots with Top Hat? He caught one of the shrimpers trying to get the time capsule back last night when he was hiding at the fire station.” Sunshine hesitated to answer. He knew that the Coastguard would know who was responsible if he discovered the crate missing. But he knew how precious the time capsule was to the shrimpers and fishing boats, and to have it taken away from them was more than they could bear. “We’ll take it back to the dock before morning,” the fishing boat insisted. “The Coastguard will never know. Tomorrow’s the last day and if we don’t find the old shrimper, then we at least want to look at it one last time.”
So Sunshine went looking for Top Hat. He found him hauling Frank and Eddie and complaining about the snow. “I say, Top Hat,” whistled Sunshine, “You want to switch places with me tonight? I was hiding at the old quay. The one with the roof over the dock where the barges are kept. That’ll keep whatever comes down off of you.” Top Hat was delighted and agreed at once.
Warrior returned to the harbour before sunset, and reported to the Star dock claiming that there was no sign of OJ. “Could barely even see Izzy Gomez out there in this snow,” he said. “Weather’s always really bad at the end of the winter,” groaned Big Mac. “It’s as if he vanished,” said Ten Cents. “Like Comly. That is, if Scuttlebutt was right about Comly taking off leaving his crewmates to face the music.” “Thank you for your report, Warrior,” I said. “We’ll try again tomorrow. Now I need you all to get ready for tonight. I certainly hope the old shrimper turns up before it’s too late.” Ten Cents and Sunshine hoped so too.
That night, each tug was in the same place as the night before. However, Top Hat was at the old quay and Sunshine was at the fire station. When Sunshine saw one of the shrimpers heading towards the port authorities dock, he silently crept out of the fire station dock and shined his light on him. It wasn’t the old shrimper. It was the same one that Top Hat caught last night. “What are you doing?” hissed the shrimper. “I had to make sure you weren’t the old shrimper going after the diamond,” whispered Sunshine. “That old shrimper would never steal that diamond,” retorted the shrimper. “Then why is he hiding?” asked Sunshine. “I don’t know,” said the shrimper. “Now get back to the fire station.”
Zorran was posted at the harbour mouth again. He wasn’t happy about this. It was still snowing and he knew it was pointless to be out there because the old shrimper was gone. “Well, I gotta keep up the pretence,” he said to himself. But Zorran’s lack of incentive caused his concentration to diminish and before long, he fell asleep. While he was sleeping, the shrimpers and fishing boats snuck out of the harbour.
They assembled beneath the light of the Pickard Lighthouse and took a look at their treasure for hours. “So what will we do with it now?” asked a fishing boat. “We shouldn’t sink it in its normal spot. We told the Coastguard about that before this whole diamond business started. That’s where he’ll go looking.” “We have to take it back to the port authorities’ dock before sunrise,” said another fishing boat. “What? But Why?” asked a shrimper. “If the old shrimper doesn’t turn up before 6:30PM tomorrow, we’re off to jail,” explained the second fishing boat. “We don’t want to add to the charges, do we?” “Well, why not? We’re completely innocent in all this,” griped another shrimper. “Yeah, but if we can’t prove that we had nothing to do with the diamond,” said another shrimper, “Then that’s the end of us.” “That’s right,” said the second fishing boat. “So that’s why we can’t let the Coastguard know that we took this.” “Well, let’s not take it back yet,” said a shrimper. “No, no, we’ll look at it a little more,” said a fishing boat. They might have been in a bad situation, but their course of action was a bad idea on top of a bad idea. They clearly waited too long, because Zorran was awake when they were returning to the harbour. When the shrimper holding the time capsule saw him, he panicked and dropped it into the water. This enabled Zorran to see what they were up to and he couldn’t help but grin.
As the sun came up, Sunshine sat drowsily at the fire station. He’d lost his concentration of his surroundings when dawn was breaking. He snapped out of his weariness at the sound of the Coastguard’s whistle. “Drifting off, are we, Sunshine?” he asked. “Uh, no, sir,” stammered Sunshine, shaking his wheelhouse. “I’ve been up all night.” “Really?” asked the Coastguard. “Then how did the crate disappear?” Sunshine gulped. He thought the shrimper was going to return the time capsule before the morning. “Uh… well, I might’ve fallen asleep during the night,” he lied. “Is the diamond gone too?” “No, it’s still there,” said the Coastguard, eying Sunshine suspiciously. “Are you sure you didn’t see anyone about last night?” Before Sunshine could say anything, Zorran arrived. “I’ve got something to report, officer,” he said with an obvious smirk. “I caught those criminal shrimpers and fishing boats with their little time capsule over at the harbour mouth.” Sunshine spluttered in fury. “They are not criminals, you worm!” “That’s the final straw, Sunshine,” snapped the Coastguard. “I gave you all a chance to prove your innocence and you abused my courtesy.” “What courtesy?” asked Sunshine harshly. “You took the most precious thing in those poor boats’ lives away from them.” “Watch it, Sunshine,” warned the Coastguard. “You may have had a spotless record before this, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to shut you up at the Star dock. All the fishing boats and shrimpers in this harbour are under arrest. Zorran, round them all up and take them to the port authorities dock.” “Yes, sir,” said Zorran, still smiling horribly. “You’d better go home, Sunshine.” Sunshine yelled out in frustration as he left the fire station. He even had the nerve to bump the Coastguard as he left. The Coastguard couldn’t believe it. “It’s a sad day, it really is,” was all he could say.
Sunshine was very upset about being confined to the Star dock. The other Star tugs tried to say something to make him feel better, but he refused to listen. He stayed in the corner facing the dock. This was so no one could see him sob. But somehow, Ten Cents knew he was. He’d been feeling bad about what he’d said to Sunshine when the whole mess started. He wished there was something he could do to resolve the matter, but it seemed hopeless. Especially when he saw Zorran herding the miserable shrimpers and fishing boats to be locked away.
Zorran was really pleased with himself. All winter long, he’d been trying to think of a way to get his own back after he tried to dispose of the time capsule. But he never thought he could get the shrimpers and fishing boats accused of keeping the legendary Strickland Diamond. Inside, he was absolutely cackling to himself. “Very good, Zorran,” said the Coastguard glumly as the shrimpers and fishing boats were locked away. “Uh, sir,” said Zorran, “No one’s come in or gone out for days. Since it’s their last day and they’re for the clink, can we carry on with shipping traffic?” “Yes, I suppose,” replied the Coastguard. “It looks like the old shrimper won’t be turning up. I’ll send my messenger to inform everyone that the embargo is over.” Zorran was very pleased with himself. Being the first tug to bring in ships after his whole scheme fell into place made him so happy, he forgot something important as he left the harbour.
The first ship Zorran saw was Izzy Gomez, who was anchored north of the harbour mouth and nearly covered in snow. “Morning Izzy, my old friend,” Zorran whistled. “Looking for a deal?” “Qué?” “I’m in a good mood this morning, Gomez,” Zorran went on. “How ‘bout I tow you in for half price?” Izzy was surprised. Zorran never made an offer like that to him before. But he figured he could barter a little bit. “How about 20?” he asked. “Sure, why not?” replied Zorran. “20 it is, mate.” And Zorran attached his line to Izzy and began heading to Bigg City. But he’d barely moved a yard before he realized that he’d forgotten to take on coal before heading out to sea. “Uh, oh,” he said. “I’m almost outta coal.” Sure enough, Zorran had to stop before he was anywhere near the port entrance. “So… how about a discount for the delay?” asked Izzy as innocently as possible.
I had given Ten Cents the job of collecting all the empty barges in the harbour and take them to the old quay. He had taken three barges away so far and was attaching a line to the fourth one he’d found when Top Hat passed by with the car ferries. “I say, Ten Cents, have you seen how many fish are swimming around in the middle of the harbour?” he asked. “Uh, no,” replied Ten Cents. “A big one leapt out of the water and smacked me in the face,” said Frank. “They were swimming underneath us as we went along,” said Eddie. “It felt kinda funny.” “What a pity the fishing boats have been arrested,” Top Hat sighed. “This would have been a great day for fishing.” And Top Hat carried on. Ten Cents wished that there was something he could do to free the fishing boats, but he was on thin ice as it was. He gave up thinking about it and pulled the barge away. But as he did, a pile of old cargo nets was pulled off of the dock by the rope attached to the barge. “Hmm, said Ten Cents, looking at the cargo nets settling on the empty barge. “If I can’t get the fishing boats out of jail, maybe I can do something to help their business a little bit.” And off he set with the cargo nets on his barge. He made his way to Little Ditcher’s dock. He asked him if he would be willing to go with him to the middle of the harbour and go fishing. Little Ditcher was happy to agree.
Sunshine was stuck at the Star dock feeling miserable. He felt sure that they wouldn’t find the old shrimper before the end of the day. And that would surely mean the end of his working life. “Well, I suppose I’ll take one last good look at my home before I have to go away,” he sighed. Sunshine turned around and looked out at the harbour. And who should he see in the middle of the harbour but Little Ditcher raising a net full of fish and Ten Cents standing by with his empty barge? “I don’t believe it!” he said, happily. “I never knew Ten Cents cared!” Sunshine whistled loudly in support. Ten Cents and Little Ditcher were pleased to hear Sunshine’s whistle. Ten Cents whistled back as Little Ditcher loaded the net onto his barge. “Alright, Little Ditcher. We’ve got another net here, let’s use it,” Ten Cents smiled.
Outside port limits, Zorran was trying to figure out what to do with Izzy Gomez. “You’ve got coal on board, haven’t you?” he asked. “Sorry, amigo,” said Izzy. “I’m out too. I need to get a supply from Bigg City.” “Well, at least you can’t try to get into port on your own,” said Zorran. “Well we better figure something out. The fog’s getting thicker.” Izzy dropped anchor as the fog grew heavier. It wasn’t impossible to see, but Zorran was not one to take any risks in the fog. Especially when he couldn’t move under his own power. Suddenly, he felt something bump against his side. It was a loaded coal barge. “Wow. What a stroke of luck,” he said. “Where did that come from?” asked Izzy. “I don’t know and I don’t care,” said Zorran as he took as much coal as possible on board. “Our problem’s solved.” At that moment, they heard something. It sounded like a beaten up tug engine. “Who’s that?” asked Zorran, looking around. He saw a figure in the mist. It looked like a paddle tug. It was covered in ice and snow, thick black smoke bellowed from its stack and its engine made a horrible noise. In fact, its paddles made a bad tumbling noise as if they hadn’t been maintained in over twenty years. Zorran had an idea who it might be. “It’s Comly!” he cried. “He’s back!” And Zorran ran away back to port, untying his tow rope as he left Izzy Gomez. Izzy on the other hand guessed it was OJ. You see, Zorran didn’t think it was OJ because he didn’t know about the deal with the Coastguard. As far as he knew, no one had come in or gone out of the harbour at all. OJ had been caught up in the worst of the recent bad weather. He’d lost his way on the first rainy night, during which he’d spotted the old shrimper running away from the harbour. He’d let his coal barge go so he could get his rope on the shrimper. But he was still lost well into the snowy weather. Zorran was the first sign of home he’d seen in days and for once, he was happy to see him. He chased after him as he ran away to the harbour, which frightened Zorran even more.
At this time, the Coastguard spotted Ten Cents and Little Ditcher fishing in the middle of the harbour. “Ten Cents, what are you playing at?” he asked. “I thought I’d support the fishery in some way,” answered Ten Cents. “I know we’re as good as gone, so why not go out with a bang?” The Coastguard was about to object when a fish splashed up and hit his bow portside. “Whoa, that was a big one,” he said. “No wonder you chose this spot.” “Yeah. I don’t even think the fishing boats could have handled this much,” said Ten Cents. “Alright, Little Ditcher. Let’s see what we got.” Little Ditcher raised his net. It was filled to the top with fish. “Look at that,” he said. “Isn’t that beautiful?” “Yeah, it is,” said Ten Cents, who was really getting into fishing. “Well let’s get these fish on ice and come back for more. Unless Coastguard has any objections.” The Coastguard was looking thoughtful. He was never happy about having to charge Ten Cents, Sunshine, Little Ditcher and the shrimpers and fishing boats. He never really believed they were guilty to begin with. As bad as it looked for them, he knew deep down that they couldn’t be responsible for any aspect of the Strickland Diamond theft. But if there was no other explanation, then what else could he do?
Zorran came rushing into port whistling and shouting in fright. “Comly’s after me!” he screamed as he sped towards the spot where Ten Cents and Little Ditcher were fishing. Zorran wasn’t paying attention to where he was going. He sped around aimlessly like a madman. He ran right into Little Ditcher’s loaded net and carried on running around covered in fish. “Zorran, you bounder!” Ten Cents shouted. “You always ruin everything!” “Comly’s after him? What’s he on about?” asked Little Ditcher. They heard a banging noise. They looked towards the harbour mouth and there was OJ in his terrible state. “Blimey, he took his time,” said Ten Cents, eyes wide with surprise.
There were plenty of surprises to go around. Sunshine could see OJ struggling to paddle towards Ten Cents’ fishing spot. His face lit up when he saw that OJ had the old shrimper in tow behind him. Without a second thought, he left the Star Dock to get a closer look.
The Coastguard didn’t mind that Sunshine had left the Star Dock. The old shrimper had been found at last. “Right, now you have some explaining to do,” said the Coastguard. “You’re questioning him right here in the middle of the harbour?” asked Ten Cents. “The sooner we get a confession, the sooner this whole affair will be resolved,” replied the Coastguard. “Alright, come on. Out with it. What do you know about the Strickland Diamond and why did you avoid questioning three days ago?” “I did it,” was all the old shrimper said. Everyone’s eyes widened. “Well, go on,” said the Coastguard. The old shrimper didn’t respond. “Come on, old man,” urged Ten Cents. “I just confessed, so shut up,” said the old shrimper in a low voice. “I need a full confession,” said the Coastguard. “Fine, officer,” sighed the old shrimper crossly. “I stole the diamond from the decoy barge back in 1888. I heard those idiot tugs talking about it during that whiteout. I took it from the fuel depot and hid it under the fishery dock.” “I don’t believe it,” said Little Ditcher. “So how did it end up in your time capsule,” asked the Coastguard. “I don’t know,” said the old shrimper. “You kept it under the fishery dock since then?” asked Ten Cents. “Surely someone would’ve discovered it there by now.” The old shrimper groaned. “Whenever the dock had to be inspected or repaired, I gave it to Old No. 64 to hold onto.” Sunshine understood what he’d heard now. “So you had to get another engine to hide it after No. 64 was retired?” “Yeah,” said the old shrimper. “Had to get it out of there before the repairs started in spring. But that stupid engine crashed and lost the diamond. And… well, as I said, I have no idea how it got into our time capsule.” The inquiry was interrupted by roars of laughter from Big Mac, Warrior, Zebedee and Zip. Zorran was still running around covered in fish with the net over his face. Ten Cents turned very stony faced. “I knew it,” said Ten Cents.
“Why’d you do it, old man?” asked Sunshine. The old shrimper didn’t say anything. “Answer him,” ordered the Coastguard. “Cause I hate tugs with a passion,” growled the old shrimper. “The Crossbones Fleet always treated me and my fellow shrimpers like worthless wastes of space, those Z-Stacks are evil and you two switchers squabble like you wish the other one was never launched.” “Oh, that’s all over now, innit Sunshine?” Ten Cents smiled at Sunshine and Sunshine smiled back. “I doubt he cares, you two,” mumbled OJ from beneath the snow and ice. “Now that I caught him up the coast, his hatred of tugs must be stronger.” “I really don’t care what he makes of tugs,” said the Coastguard. “OJ, you’d better go to Lucky’s. Sounds like you got icicles in your paddle wheels. Sunshine, you take the prisoner away. And let the other shrimpers and the fishing boats go.” Sunshine was thoroughly delighted.
At long last, everything was put right in Bigg City Port. Zorran got off lighter than expected. The Coastguard considered it a breakthrough for him that he didn’t try to sell the diamond for millions. Therefore, Zorran was sentenced to daily dredger duty for six months. Captain Zero was fined as well, which compelled to give Zorran an additional six months of daily dredger duty. The old shrimper was locked away with a life sentence. We never saw him again after that. The time capsule was returned to the shrimpers and fishing boats. As a way of apologising for what they’d been through, the Coastguard offered to hold onto the crate and keep it under constant security. The shrimpers and fishing boats would be granted full access to it whenever they wanted. They were happy to agree and thanked the Coastguard for his consideration.
The Strickland Diamond was returned to the Mitona Maritime Museum, and as OJ was the one who caught the perpetrator, I was paid a handsome reward. I was given a request by Ten Cents to give a portion of the reward money to the fishery. I was happy to honour this request. I knew that Ten Cents and Sunshine had gained a great respect for the fishing and shrimping business after that ordeal. And since that had to be the worst winter those shrimpers and fishing boats had ever had, I felt they deserved a little something for their troubles.
DmayExpress: Just a question I want to understand. why dose the SiF Christmas Message ended after 2016? I honestly miss the Christmas Messages from SiF.
Jan 3, 2020 5:31:00 GMT
Christopher: Lack of time and people available to create the Christmas Messages, especially at such short notice when everyone is busy with jobs, Christmas, lives outside the forums, etc.
Jan 3, 2020 12:35:08 GMT
dtchapman1: Nice to see 'Smokey Joe' has been updated
Jan 6, 2020 23:05:10 GMT
Sleeper Agent: Man they'll NEVER let that Pug tooling die! Beside colouring in the smokebox door handle and the added cab and saddle grab bars I'm not actually sure what else has been updated but I wanna know if it'll still be able to leave Malled in the dust
Jan 7, 2020 22:20:14 GMT
DmayExpress: Happy Birthday to the author of his upcoming book series The Danish Railway Series thedanishsteamer! 🎉🎂
Jan 8, 2020 6:13:55 GMT
Grimstock: Don't know if this is the right place to ask, but here goes: I know the Snowdon Mountain Railway track gauge is considerably wider than that of the Talyllyn Railway, but I can't find info on the actual SMR engines' length
Jan 13, 2020 3:52:03 GMT
Grimstock: See, I've been toying with the idea of making to-scale Wooden Railway customs of the Culdee Fell engines (I'm already trying my hand at the Skarloey Railway engines), and since I'm very fussy about scale, I figured it wouldn't hurt to get a second opinion
Jan 13, 2020 3:53:26 GMT
Vought Sikorsky: Grimstock, No. 1-5 are 16ft 11.75in long, 6ft 6.75in tall, and 9ft 6.25in wide. No. 6-8 are 19ft 5.25in long, 9ft 6.25in tall, and 6ft 5in wide.
Jan 14, 2020 3:41:54 GMT