Johnny Smith's luck has been bad from the moment the Stock Market crashed and he'd been forced to leave an exclusive boarding school, and he sees no reason to believe it will ever change. But then he meets Church Chetwood, a dashing, devil-may-care director of motion pictures, and his life is turned topsy-turvy when Chetwood takes him along on what the man promises will be the adventure of a lifetime. Johnny doesn't care, as long as he's with his Mr. Chetwood.
The year before, Church had hired Captain Johansen to take him to the mysterious island of Iwi Po'o on the tramp steamer August Moon. There he'd found and captured a sabretooth tiger and brought the animal back to the States. "Chetwood's Kitty," so dubbed by the press, is the reason he has to leave New York so precipitously -- people had died and the law is after him. The only bright spot is the kid he'd come across in a saloon. Church thinks he's had the best idea of his life when he decides to take Johnny along with him to the South Seas. He and Captain Johansen plan to make a living transporting goods from one island to another, and they have every intention of avoiding Iwi Po'o.
But a treacherous stowaway has plans to take the August Moon for himself, and convinces the men to mutiny. Johnny, Church, the skipper, the ship's cook, and the wireless operator, accompanied by the little girl Johnny had rescued from prostitution, find themselves in a lifeboat, with Iwi Po'o the only spot of land. The last time Church was on this island, twelve men lost their lives to what lived there. Will Johnny, Church, and their friends somehow manage to make it our alive this time?
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I found it hard, at times, to believe I was actually sailing the South Seas with Church Chetwood. He’d gotten me aboard the SS August Moon just before she’d sailed out of New York harbor and shown me to a cabin. “This is our cabin,” he’d told me.
It wouldn’t last. One day he’d grow tired of having a male lover, and he’d go back to the skirts who’d offer to sleep with him in hopes he’d put them in his moving pictures but who wouldn’t love him the way I—
I knew it wouldn’t last.
I had no family, no home…
I just wasn’t the kind of mug happily ever after happened to.
“We’re fortunate that we’ve got that hold full of weapons,” Captain Johansen was telling Mr. Chetwood as I brought the lunch tray up from the galley. I paused in the entryway to watch them, unobserved.READ MORE
The skipper was a tough old bird, in remarkable shape for his age. His hair was salt and pepper, as was the walrus mustache that draped over his upper lip. He was a good captain, his only vice appearing to be the pipe he was never without, and he had accepted my last minute inclusion aboard the August Moon good-naturedly.
“There’s always a demand for guns, Jo,” Mr. Chetwood conceded, using the nickname he sometimes called Captain Johansen by.
Church Chetwood was some twenty years younger than the skipper. Until a couple of years ago, he had made his living filming travelogues to be shown in the moving picture palaces throughout the hinterlands of America, bringing the wild, the unusual, the breathtaking to small town inhabitants who would never have the opportunity to see them otherwise. Dark hair and eyes, of average height, and physically fit, he was my lover. He was also the only person that I truly loved.
“We were really lucky the ones we never got around to using on the last trip weren’t confiscated.” Mr. Chetwood smiled at me, then turned back to the skipper. “We’ll be able to use them as currency.”
“Really lucky.” But the skipper didn’t sound as if he believed that. A lot of men he’d sailed with for years hadn’t come back from that voyage. He smiled sadly as he accepted a bowl of fish stew from me, and a slice of two-week-old bread. “We should be sailing into Selamat datan within a couple of hours.” He peered at the bread and sighed. “It’s a good thing we’re taking on fresh supplies. Charley’s a good cook, but even he can’t do anything with weevily flour.”
“It’ll be nice to have something other than fish. Thanks, kid.” Mr. Chetwood took the bowl I handed him and speared a bit of fish onto his fork. He studied it dispassionately before deciding to go ahead and put it in his mouth.
“I thought you liked fish, Mr. Chetwood.” I set the tray aside.
“Yeah, but not for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.” My lover sent me a grin that never failed to make me go weak in the knees. “How are you doing, Johnny?” He hooked his free arm around my waist and pulled me close to his side. Unseen by the skipper, his hand drifted down and petted my backside before settling on my hip.
“I’m good, Mr. Chetwood.” I leaned discreetly into his caress.
“No more seasickness?”
“Gee whiz, Mr. Chetwood, I haven’t been sick in months.” The first few days out of New York had been a nightmare. We’d been sailing into the tail end of the hurricane season, and the Atlantic had been rough. I hadn’t been able to leave the cabin I shared with him, puking my guts up, and I knew for a time he had been afraid I might not survive the week. Once we’d reached the calmer waters of the Caribbean, though, and began our passage through the locks of the Panama Canal, my stomach had had a chance to settle down. I’d quickly acquired my sea legs, and I hadn’t been sick since.
Captain Johansen gave me a smile of approval. “You are doing well, Mr. Smith.” I always blushed at the measure of esteem his calling me that gave me. “After lunch, I’d like you to try plotting a course from Selamat datan to Kupang.” He’d been teaching me how to navigate using charts and instruments.
“That would be from Malaya to Dutch Timor. Yes, sir.” I dropped onto the seat beside Mr. Chetwood and began to eat. “Is that where we’ll be going?”
“Yes. We’ll take on more coal there, and whatever cargo we can, and then we’ll be heading northeast to Sorong.”
I frowned as I tried to remember my geography. “Isn’t that in New Guinea?”
Before the captain could answer, Nick Hendriksen, who operated the wireless, rushed in. He was around my age, although I felt decades older, and one of the few men who had survived the August Moon’s last journey into the seas west of Sumatra.
“Here’s the latest, Skipper.” He handed Captain Johansen a slip of paper.
“Thank you, Mr. Hendriksen,” the captain murmured absently as he studied what was written on the page.
“I don’t like the looks of it. If you don’t mind my saying so.” He shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other.
“It does look nasty, doesn’t it? Well, no need for us to worry, since we won’t be sailing into those waters.”
“Phew. That makes me happy. I’ll just leave you to your lunch then.” Nick went back to his station.
“Is something wrong, Skipper?” Mr. Chetwood tried to bite off a chunk of bread, and his expression became irritated when it proved more of a challenge than he’d anticipated. He banged it on the corner of the table, where it made a solid “thunking” sound, but he had no success in breaking off a piece.
I pushed a cup of joe toward him so he could dunk the bread and hopefully make it easier to chew.
“Not really.” Captain Johansen’s smile was rueful. “It seems there’s been some serious volcanic activity recorded in the region of….” He rattled off coordinates that held no meaning to me but obviously rang a bell with Mr. Chetwood. He raised his head slowly, and there was a faraway look in his eyes. “We aren’t going back there, Chet.”
“No, of course not, Skipper.”
“Back where?” I examined my bread carefully to make sure there were no unwelcome additions in it.
“Back to Iwi Po’o, Johnny.”
“The prehistoric island?” The creatures that lived there had somehow managed to survive the passage of time while their brethren on the other continents hadn’t. “How far away is it?”
“It could never be far enough away,” Captain Johansen stated flatly. “We left too many good men on that island. I’ll never sail those waters again.”
Church Chetwood and Captain Johansen had returned from “those waters” a little more than a year ago with a saber-toothed tiger. Chetwood’s Kitty as she was known, which should have gone extinct ten thousand years ago, had gained her freedom when the dope who’d been hired to guard her opened the door to her cage. He’d starved and tormented her, and she’d taken that opportunity to repay him. From what I was led to understand, there wasn’t much left by the time she was done with him. And then she’d made her way from the basement of the theater to the streets of Manhattan and run amok. A good deal of damage was done. A good many people died.
Chetwood’s Kitty had been destroyed by the machine guns carried by the platoon that had spent three days tracking her in Central Park, but Mr. Chetwood saw it differently. “I did it, Johnny. Oh, I may not have fired those guns, but I killed her as surely as if I had,” he always insisted. “I brought her here, took her away from her home and her babies.”
Sometimes I thought he regretted that more than the people the sabertooth had slaughtered.
He’d been at the point of being sued by everyone and his brother when Captain Johansen tracked him down at Mrs. Eastman’s rooming house. The authorities were after the skipper as well, since his ship had been used to transport the sabertooth to the States.
“She’s mine, free and clear, Chet. I won’t let them take her from me.” He’d told Mr. Chetwood of his plan to sail the August Moon back to the South Seas and invited him along to be his partner.
When Church Chetwood left New York, he had taken me with him. I’d been a down-on-his-luck kid who too often had to barter his ass for the price of a meal. My winter coat was so threadbare that a good yank by Mr. Chetwood had torn it in two. But that was after he’d gotten me out of a jam with a saloon keeper who didn’t like my looks, fed me at the Automat, and then taken me back to his rooming house, where he’d shown me the difference between being fucked and making love.
I didn’t care if he’d taken me along because he felt sorry for me, or because my curly blond hair and blue eyes reminded him of the woman who had willingly gone into danger for him. All that mattered to me was that I was with him.