It started as soon as the ship left port and more than one crew member was for turning back. It was not just that a passenger had been murdered, it was the fact that they were half eaten and left in the kitchen, in the walk-in cooler, like they were being preserved for a late night snack.
Glen, of course, knew none of this. He was nine and liked the roll of the ship.
Big ships, like the SS Rotterdam did not have stabilizers in 1963 and plenty of people still got seasick, but Glen liked the waves and the smell of the sea. They filled his senses day and night and that was good because there certainly was not much else to do. About the only things this ship had for kids was some craft room where Glen could spend seven to ten days making a wallet worth throwing out as soon as he got home and the afternoon cartoon and Roy Rogers screamfest. At supper where the men changed their afternoon suits for evening suits and the women changed their sun dresses for evening gowns, they played the Peppermint Twist and had a twist contests, but that was for the older folks, like all that Sinatra music. Glen’s brother once asked them to play Neil Sedaka, but the crew did not know who that was.
The SS Rotterdam left Amsterdam to cross the Atlantic in a week or so, and back then that was pretty good time. Still, that meant Glen and his family and a couple hundred other families would be stuck together somewhere in the middle of the ocean with no possible means of escape. True, Glen’s family could have flown, but flying was still rather exotic thinking back in 1963—there were no 747s. So the family crossed the ocean (it was not a pond then) on a ship even as they crossed to Spain twelve months earlier on the SS Independence.
That first evening at sea when a member of the crew went to wake up a passenger under a blanket on a lido deck lounger, he found another half-eaten body. The Captain still did not turn back and no one quite understood why.
In the morning, Glen had breakfast and resigned himself to the bleak days and nights ahead. His brother was eleven and a reader, so it wasn’t so bad for him. His little sister was five which was young enough to be more easily entertained. Besides, she did not leave mom and dad’s side whereas Glen was allowed some run of the ship. After all, as long as he stayed away from the railing, where could a nine-year-old go?
Glen despised shuffle board, not that he had anyone to play with. He liked Roy Rogers well enough, but it seemed to him the ship was hardly the wide open plains. At last he decided to play pirate, or rather he played the officer charged with finding and stopping the pirates from taking over the ship and stealing everyone’s money. Back in those days, the movies that Glen got to watch still had white hats and black hats. They did not confuse the good guys and the bad guys back in 1963.
That morning, the crew found another body—this one was in the meat locker where the butchered beef for the trip was scrupulously untouched. They were looking for the body, and one sailor even said whatever it was, it appeared to like breakfast and supper. A second sailor said it appeared to like its meat fresh, but he did not say it too loud.
That afternoon, just before Glen was due to return to the room to dress for dinner, he was chasing some invisible pirate down the deck and heard a scream. There were several screams so he swerved to look into the lounge room. He was in time to see a snake as thick as his body and some six or eight feet long slither into a round hole in the vent. He also saw a man was missing his leg from the knee down and bleeding all over the carpet, but then some members of the crew showed up. Three went running in and one blocked the lounge door and turned to speak.
“Nothing to worry about, people. The poor man is just having some heart trouble, that’s all. The ship’s doctor is fully qualified and I am sure he will be back on his feet in no time.” That was some quick thinking if a bit ironic.
Glen looked up and the man looked down. “You got worms,” Glen said softly.
“Go on, kid. Your parents want you. Nothing to see here.” The crowd headed off, no doubt to get ready for dinner and the evening festivities.
Glen turned but walked off slowly while the voices talked in his head. A few minutes later a man dressed in a white silk shirt with puffy sleeves, a tan leather vest that was almost a tunic, black pants and tan leather knee boots that matched the vest walked up to the lounge. He had a wicked looking knife sheathed on his hip, but he left the cutlass home. When he entered the room, he found two crewmen examining the hole in the vent. The bartender was looking, but stood back for safety sake.
“You have worms,” the newcomer said. He bent down to join the two at the hole. Both men looked, but did not say anything at first because of how the newcomer was dressed and the fact that he said “You got worms” in Dutch and in English. “Peter VanDyke, Captain of the Golden Hawk out of Amsterdam.” The stranger introduced himself. “And I said you’ve got worms. I’ve seen this before and these are very hard to get rid of.”
“Aye, six or eight feet long and able to chew through steel.” He tapped the vent. “So how many dead, chewed-up bodies so far?” He asked.