SS Indigo is a tale of a group of strangers invited on a mystery Caribbean cruise by secretive billionaire Emol Litions - here are a couple of extracts:
I’d been anticipating this trip for a long time. I had the sense it was going to be important. We’d been in business for a couple of years now, and this could possibly be the big break we’d been looking for. Lithuania joining the European Union meant an influx of qualified and soon-to-be legal workers for a much-needed gap in the UK hospitality market. It’s not as though business was bad, not at all, but this was the potential of finding a seam during the gold rush.
For most of the weekend, I’d been hanging out with Kipper and Jimmy at The Drovers. Drinking beer, playing pool, poker. It was Sunday afternoon, I was in the middle of a game of Brag, Amanda my adopted admin had popped into our office upstairs and brought down a fax that had arrived. I folded my Ace High to meet her - she had always been my favorite ever since I’d taken her on - a young girl, a groom, no qualifications but sweet and full of enthusiasm. Three years on she’d grown, and she was very grateful for my investment in her.
In her riding outfit, she handed me the fax with her usual sweet smile, “I thought you should see this”, I went over to the snug and sat down to read it. For 15 minutes I pondered, re-read it, and re-read it again before carefully folding it up and placing it in my back pocket as though it was a winning betting slip from the Grand National.
I walked over to the bar where the stuffed Gentleman Fox that Diesel and Mick had once held ransom was on the bar and ordered myself a glass of Liddlesdale, it was only 4 in the afternoon, but why not, I’d been right, this trip was going to be a game-changer.
24 hours later, I landed at Schiphol, left the terminal, caught a cab right next to where the big red AMSTERDAM letters are, and headed into the city. I asked the driver to drop me off in the main square – it was full of the usual stag parties, football fans - full of beer and likely stronger substances, singing their way into a debaucherous evening no doubt.
The last time I’d been there I’d found a local post just down an alley a couple of blocks away so that’s where I headed. It was quiet, in Amsterdam, and apart from the tourists, it didn’t get busy for locals until much later and far into the night, often into the early hours and sunrise.
With little giving it away that it was a bar at all, dark wood door, dark brown, black façade, no sign, I walked into the No Name Bar.
Amsterdam is a truly international city, and I shouldn’t have been any surprise to hear the barman’s Northern Californian accent as he greeted me,
“What can I get you, my friend?” Was obviously his standard question,
I paused for a second, looked him up and down,
“I’ll take a Lagunitas?” He looked at me paused, then smiled knowingly,
“Not in Amsterdam my friend, wrong country, where are you from?”
He was clearly impressed that I had spotted his accent from barely a sentence, but what he didn’t realize was that this somehow had become my thing. Spoofing accents from my home country was kind of easy - the grate of Glaswegian, the pronunciation of Edinburgh, the poetry of Ayrshire. Across the sea, Dubliners were easy to establish against Belfasters. South of the border, it was even easier - from the Newcastle hardly audible drawl, across to the “Manchestor”, “Liverpooool” and then Birmingham, Coventry, Londoners. But some of the accents like Australian Territories, and U.S. States were harder to define.
It wasn’t just their accents that gave them away either but also their dress and demeanor too. The boxer-like swagger of a Scouser versus the bold confidence of a Cockney. The over-the-top glitz of the nouveau riche Russians versus the more utilitarian former Soviets. The straight-to-the-point New Yorker versus the bright smiled Angeleno, to the surfer dude types of Northern California.
Zach was a typical Northern Californian all over, although I suspected that he’d seen more than Sonoma County in his life, after all, he was 5,000 miles away in Holland.
“Glasgow.” I responded minimalistically, “What about you?”
“That’s no Glasgow accent,” he countered with a smile
“Yep,” I acknowledged, “I’ve been around a bit,” he looked at me and nodded knowingly.
I already knew I liked Zach – it was another one of those “things” how I could tell if I would like someone or not, immediately. There were plenty of warning signs of who I likely would not like which were relatively easy filters – mullets were out, as were Bulgari watches, shell suits, sovereign rings, and Botox.
Over the course of my stay and with the benefit of just me and Zach in the bar, I got to learn more about him.
I’d always been a great believer that there’s a lot to learn in the confines of a bar, no matter where you are in the world. And today it was no different in the No Name Bar in Amsterdam.
Turns out that I was right, with Zach’s roots in Sonoma and Marin Counties. He’d worked in Sausalito on the boats and took his Marine Engineer qualifications at the Maritime Academy. After graduation, he’d traveled a bit including in the Caribbean, Virgin Gorda, and made mention of Necker Island and how he and his brother had acted as hosts, tour guides, and all things water instructors to Sir. Richard, his kids, family, and visitors.
The mention of Jet Ski’s powerboats, scuba, and his Caribbean knowledge made my ears prick up.
Zach looked like he should be on a film set, not a modern-day Love Actually or a Gone with the Wind, but with his mustache and his square jaw, he reminded me of one of those pilot characters in the old World War II movies, sat around the piano in the Officers Mess waiting for the scramble call. Raucously singing Roll Out the Barrell before donning their piloting gear and calling for “Chocks Away” as they sail into the blue skies to have a dog fight or two with the Hun.
“What brought you to Amsterdam?”
He explained his travels from one city to another, mainly following beautiful girlfriends that never quite worked out how he’d expected. I could empathize with that. And how he was, “In between girlfriends right now, and looking for his next port of call.”
After half a dozen Heinekens, I gave him my business card, he gave me his number and email, held out his hand, revealed the Golden State Warriors tattoo on his forearm, one of his giveaways, the other a simple search on Facebook and reference to the Californian barman with a mustache, Zach. I shook his hand, “Nice to meet you Zach Carter,” I smiled, nodded, and headed out for something to eat and line my stomach for the night ahead.
We pulled onto the cobbled streets at the bottom of the city center and headed to the familiar Shakespeare Hotel across from the Cathedral. Through the archway, like an entrance to a fort, dropped my bag off at reception and ventured by foot to the main square for a beer and a bite to eat.
“You look like shite Willy. Good night in Amsterdam?”
“Thanks, mate, you don’t look too clever yourself.”
We walked up the cobbled streets past the stalls of vendors selling their wares – everything from local artists and painters, handcrafted jewelry, knock-off old Soviet uniforms, hats and badges, and the ubiquitous babushka Russian dolls.
Clapped-out, old Soviet-built relics as excuses for taxis hustled by with little to no regard for pedestrians. The residents of Vilnius obediently walked, mostly in twos, looking straight onward, seemingly nervous about distractions or the ever-watchful police keeping the peace and ensuring social calm and tranquility.
“We got an amazing response from the ads.”
“I saw that,” I was referring to the immigration officer.
“Almost one hundred and twenty for each of the sessions.”
“I better get busy finding them jobs then,”
I pulled out the piece of paper the immigration officer handed me,
“Is this guy on the list?”
Gary unfolded the paper still with the money in it,
“Who’s Igor Bromovich?
“And what’s the money for?”
“Just a little gift from homeland security,”
Gary pulled out his phone. Sasha was helping coordinate the expedition and within a couple of minutes confirmed that Bromovich was on the next morning’s session, an unemployed, fully qualified ship’s captain, nonetheless.
We meandered to the City Square, past the Russian Orthodox church on the left with the City Hall looking down upon us at the top of the cobbled square sloping down towards us. We sat down in one of the several pop-ups in the center, ordered a couple of Steins, Švyturys and the waitress shared the menus.
“I could eat a bloody horse,”
“You might have to mate,”
“Pigs Ears Left, or Pigs Ears Right?” Remembering an amusing menu translation from the past.
We stayed safe and ordered a pair of cheeseburgers and sat in the late afternoon sun as the evening closed in.
We sat and watched the locals strolling the cobbles in earnest - in pairs, staying focused, looking forward, compliant with the laws of the day - any groups of more than four constituted a civil disturbance with the penalty of being locked up and a heavy unaffordable fine. Threes were legal but if you happened to bump into another group, you were over the limit and in danger of jail, and hence, twos were the acceptably safe norm for wandering the streets, as many seemingly liked to do, especially at this time of day.
I remembered Gary’s wedding a couple of years earlier and how Tom Tom the Pipers Son had made the trip over from Scotland in his kilt and with his pipes and the men of the wedding party, including me, donned in our kilts and how we made the local television news that evening.
“It’s okay, making a living, doing alright,”
We had both spent a lifetime doing alright. Lots of hard work, opportunity, and fun, but neither of us had achieved anywhere near the ambitions we both once held.
“Things will pick up and get better,” was always the optimistic response.
There was no point in anything else. Without optimism and hope we have nothing, and I had learned that from my travels to some of the most desperate places around the world.
The burgers arrived carried by the beautiful Lithuanian waitress wearing the traditional national dress of a plaid skirt, and white starched shirt, intrigued by us two westerners which was a novelty in Vilnius back then.
“I might have a job for our friend Igor,” I pushed another paper over the table as we were digging into our burgers. Gary opened the fax Amanda had handed to me in The Drovers and read in silence.
HIGHLY CONFIDENTIAL: SHIPS CREW NEEDED
We are seeking key personnel for our luxury Steam Ship Indigo and an upcoming private cruise around the Caribbean, leaving from St. Georges Quay, Belize City, on 16th July 2003.
We are looking for the following crew members:
1. Qualified Ships Captain
2. Michelin Rosette+ Chef
3. Front of House Hostess
4. Tour Guide, Host, with knowledge of the Caribbean
Upon acceptance of this retained search, we will provide you with a full job description, required qualifications and experience for each of the positions for your review.
Mr. Mitchell, you come highly recommended, and we understand that you have a good network of connections, we hope that you can help. Upon acceptance of the project, we will wire US$10,000 for each position as a retainer for you to find the right candidates, upon successful placement we will pay you a further US$40,000, a total of US$80,000.
Please contact me when you find the right candidates. I am confident you will not let us down.
Mr. N Waring
SS INDIGO is set to be released later in 2022 though iUniverse Publishing and available through most major online retailers including IndieBound, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and many more.
ONWARD: Always a little further.
Willy Mitchell is an indie author, writer, and storyteller.
Mitchell's first title was Operation ARGUS, and then the sequel Bikini BRAVO where a group of former Special Air Service operatives enter the dark and murky world of maskirovka and discover the lengths that some people will go to for power and greed.
Cold COURAGE tells the epic tale of Shackleton's 1914 Trans-Antarctic Expedition and all that was happening in those extraordinary times.
Book four, Northern ECHO tells the story of two boys growing up during the punk rock revolution in the north of England, and how a dark secret keeps them apart until the end.
Gipsy MOTH is about his Aunt Nikki, her friend, and fellow Aviatrix, Amy Johnson, and Amelia Earhart on the other side of the pond during the golden age of aviation.
SS INDIGO is due to be released by the end of 2021 and tells the story of a group of eclectic guests invited by a mysterious billionaire to a luxury cruise in the Caribbean, they all have one thing in common.
All of Mitchell's books so far are novels, works of fiction, blended with real events. For further information or on how to buy his books, visit his author's website: