Java Beans

Giewy came bursting into the ship’s bar.

“Hey, Losers! We’re in the money!”

Eight pairs of eyes regarded the young sap from beneath cynical eyebrows. We all knew who the loser was around here. Giewy explained in his wobble-headed fashion how he had been out and about in downtown Jakarta, Java. He had found a new friend, a local man by the name of Karamba! (well, it was something like that, and from this day forward his name was always said with the exclamation mark pronounced) who was very kindly going to make us all rich. Karamba! had been the getaway driver in a recent diamond robbery. His colleagues had all been collared, but Karamba!, true to the expertise implied in his job title, had Gotaway. He was now desperate to unload a couple of dozen perfect, polished diamonds — worth millions each — to make juuust enough money to complete his escape and lay low for a while until the heat was off. Twenty dollars a go would do it for Karamba!.

Of course, we all knew it was garbage. Who in their right mind would fall for this? But Karamba! was already in the bar, trying to look hunted. The fourth engineer – a large Mancunian realist, listed in Who’s Who as ‘Benny the Dog’ – took Giewy by the ear.

“If these diamonds turn out to be fake – right? – you have to agree to flush your own head in the toilet. Deal?”

This was a sound policy. It would save us a job if he did it to himself. And maybe help Giewy to desist from bringing Karambas back to the ship to take money from us in the future. You will remember, if you have read Ocean Boulevard (and if not why not, blah blah, all good bookshops, blah blah), that Giewy was a design classic for head flushing. He was basically skinny, but for a lad of only seventeen years sported a paunch that would impress the purists amongst construction workers. Above the paunch was a sunken, bony chest, and atop the alleged chest was . . . nothing. He had no shoulders, and you had to look elsewhere for his head. His neck emerged horizontally from the space between the places his shoulders weren’t and curved immediately downwards. It then took a U-bend back up before you got to the head. The tallest point on his superstructure was, therefore, his hunched lack of shoulders, giving him the overall appearance of life’s dopiest vulture. This impression was further enhanced by his big hooked nose, goofy teeth, and his vocabulary, which consisted exclusively of a single call, the depressed expletive ‘Giew!’ which indicated the receipt of the latest in a lifetime of disappointments.

Upon first encounter, the first idea that strikes any right thinking person is that Giewy’s head, neck and torso are a perfect fit for a U-bend, and the vision never leaves your mind for the entire time his Humberside tones pollute the air. He was a person built for flushing and was now volunteering to do it to himself.

Thus it was that three minutes later we were all peering with eyes like saucers at a carefully laid cloth of black velvet containing lots of dazzling rocks whilst Karamba! stood by the porthole and pretended he was ready to swim for it the moment Special Forces started dropping through the ceiling tiles. It was all very clever. The stones sparkled and sang. They looked brilliant to me. And at twenty dollars a nugget, they looked worth it even if they turned out to be Jellytots.

 Benny the Dog was no jeweller, but he did come up with a nifty method for valuation. “So if these are diamonds,” he said, with a gleam to match those on the velvet, “then they won’t brek if I brek ‘em, right?”

Just one look at Benny the Dog and you knew he could brek anything using only his biceps, or indeed brek anybody, using only his armpits. All eyes turned to the owner to see how his confidence was faring.  Karamba! nodded his head sideways and forced a smile. Our eyebrows raised. He was giving Benny the Dog permission to brek ‘em.

Like a snooker playing selecting the ideal cue, Benny the Dog rubbed his chin and surveyed a line of sledgehammers in the engine room. After careful consideration, he picked out the biggest one, and the diamonds were taken out on to the dock. A flat bollard was selected as the ceremonial altar, and a sacrificial diamond was placed like a shining star at its centre. But of course, it wouldn’t be sacrificial, would it? If it was a diamond, the bollard would be cleft in twain and the sledgehammer would shatter into a billion pieces like they do on Tom and Jerry, all along the handle and right through to the toes of the fourth engineer. There would be a fragmented pile human remains, a shattered sledgehammer and disintegrated bollard on the dock with the diamond responsible shining happily in the middle of it all.

Like sensible people in the precious stone industry we agreed our terms. If it didn’t break we would give him twenty dollars for it. If it broke, Benny the Dog could apply armpit law to the hapless Karamba!, and throw him in the sea.

The diamond was placed with some ceremony at the centre of the bollard and Benny the Dog was placed carefully on the far end of the hammer. We all stood in a circle and waited expectantly. Benny the Dog stood facing the diamond, his legs apart, the hammerhead resting on the dock between his feet. He shut his eyes and ran through his performance mentally. He took a deep breath. His muscles bulged. His shirt strained. He lifted the hammer in a wide circle, high above his head, and lowered it all the way down behind his back until he was bending over backwards. His face was shaking as the hammer head touched the floor between his ankles behind him. For a moment, I wasn’t sure if his recent lifestyle in the Far East hadn’t left him too weak to ever turn this round. His eyes bulged and cheeks puffed; his knees flexed dangerously to the sides and the veins in his head throbbed. I was about to suggest something when suddenly, in a simply astounding single movement – WHUNG!! – the hammer-head described a perfect circle from the floor behind Benny the Dog to the proffered diamond before him. Benny’s legs horizontally indicated east-nor’-east and west-nor’-west respectively as the hammer made it’s mark and the very floor beneath our feet juddered with the power of it all. It was a massive and highly impressive connection, and it was bang on the money.

Benny the Dog trotted from one end of the hammer to the other, lifted it up, and we all leaned in to see the outcome. There was nothing there. The bollard was clear. Benny the Dog turned the hammer over and looked underneath it. There was nothing there either. We searched all around the bollard and looked at each other, but the diamond had simply disappeared. Karamba! looked peeved, but the businessman in him leapt to the fore. He pointed accusingly at Benny the Dog, and demanded twenty dollars. Across the dock, around 200 yards away, there was a group of stevedores working some cargo. One of their number had been distracting us from our mystery. He had suddenly leapt backwards off the ground, as if lifted by an unseen hand, and crashed back onto the dock clutching a perfect hole in his forehead, but this was no time for fun and games. We had a diamond to find. Benny the Dog told Karamba! where he could shove his twenty dollars, and warned him that the sledgehammer could easily be used as a tool for dispute resolution. By the time ambulances had arrived and were indulging a degree of life-saving across the dock, we really needed to establish the truth or there would be a fight. A degree of adjudication from the second mate found a compromise that at least bought us some time. Another diamond was brought forward for a second experimental bludgeoning. Benny the Dog delivered another impressive impact. We lifted the hammer and saw it was dented. We looked at the diamond and saw it wasn’t. The fourth hit it a few more times until he was exhausted, and the jewel remained not just intact – it positively sparkled in the evening sunlight.

Karamba! sold each of us a stone for twenty dollars. Even those of us who still didn’t believe they were diamonds wanted one.

When we got to Singapore, we had them formally valued. They were fakes, of course – Moissanite, I think they were called – and I guess we shouldn’t have been surprised. It takes more than a sledgehammer and a muscle-bound Mancunian to formally prove diamonds. The jeweller told us Moissanite was almost as tough as diamond, and the stones were still worth more than $20 a piece, so there may well have been some truth in the robbery story.

Mind you, diamonds or not, it was worth every penny to be part of a large and appreciative audience gathered in a cubicle and treated to the spectacle of a certain vulture-like creature flushing his own head down a toilet.

David Baboulene May 2020

Well, you read this far so you might as well go get my first book of humorous stories from my apprenticeship working on ships entitled – Ocean Boulevard. Available on Kindle now for a frankly embarrassingly small amount of money.