The ship was dark and silent, made fast to hardwood pilings driven into the mud of the riverbed. She lay alongside a partially collapsed wooden jetty that leaned in the direction of the current. No sound of machinery disturbed the tropical night and a lone candle glimmered in the darkness. The wooden boards of the jetty, slippery with rain and moss, gleamed in the silvery light and disappeared into deep shadow where the edge of the rain forest was silhouetted against a rising moon. Insects filled the night with a rhythmic chirping and a constant background hum, and occasionally there was a splash as something big broke the surface of the dark, slow flowing river.
It’s as if the ship is dead, thought Max, and he shivered. The familiar background sounds of generators and ventilation systems were deafeningly absent. Lack of maintenance and money to buy spare parts meant that even he had to admit defeat when the last of the generators had spluttered and died.
And now there was nothing to do except drink. Drink until he could sleep despite the heat. He poured warm rum into his glass, warily watching his companion. They were both big men, and both were very drunk.
Marcus brooded with barely suppressed violence, his body moving unsteadily in the chair as if trying to balance the head lolling on his shoulders. He scowled beneath drooping eyelids at Max’s watch, waving his arm toward it and spilling his drink.
“You still wearing that Nancy-boy watch?”
Max responded with a mocking grin from the shadows at the edge of the candlelight, his white teeth stark against tanned skin. He prided himself on his ability to hold his drink and remain coherent.
“This, my friend, is an Omega. A precision engineered watch worn by astronauts on the moon.” He leaned forward, holding his wrist to the light of the candle. “Observe the gold and crystal, and the crocodile skin strap. Real class, which would account for you not liking it.” The wicker chair creaked as he slumped back and triumphantly slammed his glass down on the table. The sound of insects in the surrounding darkness stopped at the sudden noise, then hesitantly resumed. A small lizard ran up the rust streaked bulkhead behind Marcus’ head.
“Crap,” said Marcus. “This is a real watch. A Rolex.” He waved his wrist at Max then fumbled in the pocket of his stained T-shirt for a crushed and heavily soiled pack of Camels. With thick clumsy fingers, he tapped a cigarette out of the packet and squinted at it in the gloom before breaking off the filter.
“Gimme a light, you pansy,” he snarled.
“Go fuck yourself,” said Max, and slapped the cigarette from Marcus’ hand.
With sudden frenzied violence Marcus hurled the bottle of rum at Max and threw himself across the table. They hit the deck hard and fought with silent intensity, kicking and biting and gouging, until Max gained the advantage and slammed Marcus’ head into the steel deck plate. He did it repeatedly until Marcus stopped moving.
Max staggered to his feet, carefully listening and looking around. Then, satisfied he was unobserved, he heaved Marcus’ body onto the rail and pushed it overboard. The splash was followed by a loud thrashing which faded as the body drifted downstream.
Max drained his glass and threw it into the river with a laugh. “Go tell the crocs how good your goddamned watch is, you moron.”
Then he stopped laughing, realising he had thrown away the Rolex he had secretly admired for so long.
Richard Lamb writes in Denmark.