Sunday 29 July 2018

The Ship Breakers - a short story by allan hudson

This story received Honourable Mention in the Writers Federation of New Brunswick's short story competition a few years ago. It has been published in SHORTS Vol.1 (a limited edition printing). on and will be featured in the upcoming short story collection - Boxes of Memories - to be published in the fall of 2018.

Ship Breaking has to be one of the most difficult jobs in the world. There are three major ship breaking yards in the world. One of them is in Chittagong, Bangladesh. Injuries and death are always around the corner and yet, there is a line up for the jobs.

I was inspired to write a short story based on my research of the yards for my novel, Dark Side of a Promise.

The Ship Breakers

The Neptune Giant is a VLCC, a very large crude carrier. When it was completed in 1979, it ranked among the largest oil tankers in the world. From bow to stern, 75 Cadillacs could park bumper to bumper. The crews used bicycles to travel the elongated deck. With a beam of nearly two hundred feet, five bungalows could be placed lengthwise side by side across the deck; her keel is six stories underwater. The raw steel is covered with over fifteen hundred gallons of paint. She’d been given a lifespan of thirty years; instead, she had sailed every ocean of the world, berthed at every continent, rode many storm’s fierce waves and trolled the endless seas for thirty-five years. Today is her final voyage.

Her last port of call, two weeks ago, was Saint John, New Brunswick, with two million barrels of Venezuelan crude. Now, the tanker cruises the Bay of Bengal at fourteen knots. At that speed she requires five miles to come to a dead stop. The ship breaking yards of Chittagong, Bangladesh, are only four miles away. The captain brings the ship to starboard, aiming the aging tanker directly at the muddy beach. The tide is high, which is necessary to allow the gargantuan machine to ground itself like an aged sea lion, as near to the shore as possible, where it will die.

The engine that powers the ship is eighty-nine feet long and forty-four feet wide with twelve massive cylinders – one of the largest engines in the world. It weighs two thousand metric tons costing more than the rest of the transport. Its thirst for fuel demands over fifteen hundred gallons of crude every hour. Its last chore will be to power the vessel onto the tidal mud banks, where humans who are dwarfed by its immensity will eventually take it apart, by hand, piece by piece. The work is extremely dangerous, with an exceptionally high mortality rate, and yet there is no shortage of men.

Of the approximately 45,000 ocean-going vessels in the world, about seven hundred per year are taken out of service for dismantling. Many go to Alang, India, the world’s largest ship breaking yard, or to Gadani, Pakistan, the third largest after Chittagong. Where the ships go, the jobs go. As difficult as the work may be, ship breaking is part of the momentum powering the economy of a young Bangladesh. The owners of this particular ship-breaking yard paid three million dollars for the Neptune Giant

     With torches, sledgehammers, steel wedges, brute force and painstaking drudgery, it will take six months to dismantle the ship; one man will die and two men will be injured by a thousand pound slab of steel cut from the behemoth’s hide. It will net the owner millions more than he paid when he sells the scrap metal and he will provide no compensation for men that can’t work. They toil fourteen hours a day, with two half hour breaks and an hour for lunch, six and a half days a week. The men will eat their supper when their work shift ends. At least one quarter of the workers are illiterate; one quarter are children. The average wage is $1.25 per day.


Azhar Uddin is gently woken by his father. It’s 4:30 a.m.

Come, my little man, you must join your brother at the table. You must leave for work soon. Come now.”

Hafiz Uddin turns from his son, supporting himself with his only arm grasped upon a homemade crutch; the other arm is buried beneath the muddy beaches where he once toiled, severed by falling steel at the same crippling yards where he now sends his two sons. He wobbles even with his lopsided support; the left knee and lower leg, the same side as the missing arm, were wrecked in the accident also. Unable to find meaningful work with only a single hand, one strong leg and a defeated spirit, he remains dependent upon his male children: Nur is fourteen; Azhar will be thirteen next week. Because they are exceptional workers, they earn two hundred and sixty takas a day, just over three dollars.

Rising slowly, Azhar sits up on the side of the bed and rubs his shoulder. The dull ache in his muscle reminds him of the steel pipes he helped carry all day. Long straight bangs of the fiercest black hang over his narrow forehead. His brown boyish skin is smooth and untroubled, not yet marked by the lines of struggle. A slight dimple on the end of his nose balances the squareness of his jaw. The man’s work he does has not taken the childish shine from his eyes. Blinking the sleepy fog from his brow, he rises to find his work clothes neatly folded at the foot of his bed. His father washed and hung them to dry before he retired for the night, as he would have done for Azhar’s older brother, Nur, also. There are no women in the house.

Azhar slips on his red and blue striped shirt, the collar and cuffs worn thin bearing unravelled threads. Wrapping a green and yellow lungi around his slim hips, he ties a double pretzel knot to keep it secure. He often wishes for trousers to protect his legs, but they would be too hot for work, and he knows there is no money for such luxuries. Every spare taka is sent to his mother, Naju, in Dhaka. He ponders a moment, thinking of her and his sisters. Rayhana is eleven and works with his mother; and Tasleema is six. He hasn’t seen them for over four months. It is for Tasleema that they all work and save whatever is possible so that she can go to school. As he thinks of her glowing eyes and tiny face, he remembers her promise.

When we are together again, Azhar, I will teach you to read.”

The thought causes him to bend down to retrieve the tattered comic book from under his bed. In the dim light of the bare bulb from the kitchen, he scans the torn cover. The masked man with the flowing cape, he knows, is called Batman. One of his first jobs when he was only ten was to retrieve any usable items from the grounded ships that could be sold to the recyclers: rolls of unused toilet paper, cleaning supplies, pots and pans, furniture, bedding, tools, discarded books, coastal maps, light bulbs, cans of paint, rope, wire. The comic book had been in a waste basket; it was torn and thick with many readings. Azhar had seen other comics before, but he wondered where this one came from and how far it had travelled when he found it. His boss Mojnu told him to keep it, otherwise it was being tossed out. He was always impressed by the colored pages, the photos of cars, tall buildings, fancy clothes, fight scenes, smiles and scowls – and he longed to know what the squiggly words mean. More than anything, he wants to read.

Tossing the book under the bed once more, he tugs the frugal sheets into place neatly, as his father expects, before joining his brother at the table. Their home is corrugated metal divided into two rooms with few possessions, its shape a replica of the many shanties lining the dirt street where he lives. Theirs is different because their father keeps it clean. The walls are painted a bright blue inside and out; their roof doesn’t leak when it rains.

The smell of oatmeal greets him as it drifts from the boiling pot his father is bent over, stirring, on the Bondhu Chula, a cook stove. Oatmeal for breakfast is not common in their home or their neighbors’ for that matter. Most breakfasts are rice, sometimes with red or green chillies. Or paratha, a pan fried unleavened flat bread. Yesterday Old Angus Macdonald, the burly Scotsman who visited them sometimes, had dropped off a bag of rolled oats. They have no idea where he lives or where he comes from. They only know him from the story their father has told them. 

The man was almost seventy when he commanded the Atlantic Pride, one of Canada’s largest ferries, to the yards in Chittagong when it was retired four years ago. He stepped onto shore after he grounded the ship and he never left. When the torches cut a section of aged steel from the nose of that very ship, a huge chunk crashed to the ground beside Hafiz, pinning his arm to the sand and breaking his leg. Had the piece fallen several inches to the left, Hafiz would`ve died. Maybe that was why the elderly man stopped by once in a while with a bag of oats or some other staples and a few taka notes. He never stayed long, spoke very little Bengali. Always laughing, always a mystery.

Nur sits in front of a dish of flatbread, resting on a makeshift table, which is a piece of discarded plywood his father has sanded, painted and polished. It’s the same teal that decorates the home, the same teal Hafiz got for free. Nur looks up with his usual wide grin.

Good morning, little brother. Will you be having paratha or paratha for your meals today?”

Hafiz has his back to his boys, cooking their breakfast. He doesn’t turn around when he scolds his oldest son.

 “Be thankful you have food, Nur. There are neighbors who may not have any today, or tomorrow. Don’t make fun. And Azhar, wash up, do your morning duties, and hurry. This is almost done.”

Both boys answer in unison, “Yes, Baba.”

The man that owns the property their home sits on is the same individual who owns the breaking yard the boys work at. Not totally without empathy, he provides running water and outhouses. Perhaps it is benevolence that has him supply these accommodations; it’s also his desire that his employees should be healthy so they don’t miss work. Hence the covered latrines and cold, life-giving Adam’s ale. Azhar goes to the sideboard, where water heated by his father steams from an old porcelain basin that is storied with nicks and scratches. He washes the sleep from his face, tames the cowlicks on his head, before taking the bowl outdoors to discard the soapy residue. Setting it on the doorstep, he rushes to the outhouse to complete his morning ritual. Returning to the kitchen, he finds Nur bent over a smoking bowl of hot porridge with the grandest of smiles.

Azhar, we have brown sugar this morning. Our Baba is good to us.”

Hafiz sits at the opposite end of the table, his own porridge barren of anything sweet. There is only enough for the boys, he feels. The used plastic bag that sits on the table holds about three tablespoons of crumbly dark crystals. Azhar sits at his seat, an upended orange crate padded with a cushion his mother made.

Eat up boys. Divide that between you.”

As Nur digs into the bag, Azhar watches his father stir his breakfast to cool it, knowing such a treat is rare.

What about you, Baba?”

Nur halts his sprinkling to look at his father.

No, no, I don’t want any. Take it. And hurry, Ismail will be along soon with the truck to take you to work.”

Suddenly the kettle’s steam whistle erupts. Hafiz sits closest to the cook stove and twists about with his single arm to lift the heated pot to fill the three mugs for tea. When his father turns his back, Azhar hastily reaches into the bag, pulling out almost half of what is left. He stretches to sprinkle the sugar about his father’s bowl. Nur grins and tosses in what is left on his spoon. The boys are giggling as Hafiz turns around with the first of the mugs. 

He stops mid-swing when he sees what they have done. He guesses it to be Azhar, so much like his mother. He holds his youngest son’s gaze for a moment before looking at Nur. Mistaking the look on their father’s face, thinking him upset, the boys grow quiet. Hafiz briefly studies his sons, soon off to do men’s work, still childlike in their hearts. He yearns for them to run free, not to need their strong backs to survive. He is overcome with this simple gesture of love; a glistening tear zigzags down his haggard cheek. 

Thank you, my sons. You are fine men.”

With everyone shy, the meal passes in solitude. The boys hastily finish so they can get ready for work.

The End

Thanks for visiting this week and I hope you enjoyed the visit to the yards and family of Bangladesh. Please feel free to leave a comment.

Saturday 21 July 2018

4Q Interview with Williston Payne - Lawyer, Defender and Master of Information.

Is Williston Payne a Vigilante?

Life for Mr. Payne had been quite normal until tragedy struck in 2001. His sister, Amber, and her best friend, while on holidays in Venezuela, died at the hands of one of the world's most evil men. (photo credit - Rene Bohmer.

It took three long years to find the man that did it. The law was ineffective in bringing him to justice. Payne turned to his friend, Drake Alexander, a former Canadian Commando, to find Bartolo Rizzato. Together, with the help of several ex-soldiers, a French ex-pat and a Bengali cop, they found him...and they killed him (Dark Side of a Promise)

From that day forward they vowed to scour the Earth for men or women that escape the law, evil people that the world would be better rid of! (Wall of War)

So yes, Payne and his cohorts are vigilantes.

Williston Payne has agreed to an exclusive interview on the Scribbler.

4Q: Are you a vigilante?

Photo credit: Thomas Tucker.
WP: Do I take the law in my own hands? Yes. I have great respect for the justice system in most countries, I mean I'm a lawyer after all, but there are too many criminals that escape their due punishment. When my sister was murdered, it changed my life. There was too many law enforcement agencies involved because Rizzato was an international troublemaker plus he was very clever at hiding. There came a point when I had to turn to my best friend to help. He's the soldier, I'm an information man but I'm no hero. Drake Alexander is a good man, deadly and afraid of no one.

I eventually found out through my contacts that Rizzato was in Bangladesh. Drake and his team did the rest until we trapped him in Panama. Unfortunately, we couldn't arrest him. He ended up being lunch for a carnivorous beast and I'm not the least bit sorry.

Once we got a taste for revenge, we were hooked. Now we look for trouble.

4Q: Running a team of ex-soldiers and searching the world for criminals must be expensive. Who foots the bill for all this?

WP: As for myself, I've been fortunate throughout my career as a lawyer. Over the years I built a successful company of  law offices in the US, Canada and several countries in Europe dealing with international tax issues. Needless to say, I've become quite wealthy. During the search for Amber's killer, I retired from the business which is now under control of my brother and other trusted managers. We moved our command center to my Yacht. We have our own aircraft and can move anywhere, anytime. I'm an info addict. I love collecting other people's secrets. I have contacts all over the world and if I need to know something, I can usually find it.

Photo credit: Kony Xyzx.
As for the rest of out team, Drake in an heir to a jewellery company that his grandfather established in 1915 in New Brunswick and his father managed in his later years. His mother was the only child of another jewellery family and she met Drake's father at a buying show in New York. Together they established a chain of stores in Atlantic Canada and New England. Normally Drake would've taken over the business but he's not interested. All his life he only wanted to be a soldier. But he still owns the majority of the business and money is no problem.

As for the others, there are two more retired soldiers. Dakin Rush, is a co-owner of a security firm and he's free to travel. Isaac Glass and his father own a helicopter company that pretty well runs itself, so he's good to go. His girlfriend, Plum, is an ex-convict and she goes where he goes.

No, money is not an issue.

4Q: What was the latest caper you and the team have been involved with?

WP: Recently, a man very close to Drake, a priest actually, discovered a strange document and an ancient gold dagger while renovating the church he was in charge of. The information it reveled got into the wrong hands. It wasn't long before Miguel Pisconte was in trouble. He accidently killed a young man and was kidnapped by a Spanish raider. Pisconte was unwilling to talk until his sister was taken prisoner by the same sinister people. We tracked them down to Peru, discovered a strange monument built of solid gold by the Inca hidden in the Andes and set a trap for the bad guys. Drake rescued them and Turi Salcedo is dead. 

4Q: Wow. That's heavy stuff. I'm afraid to ask what's next?

Photo credit: Annie Spratt.
WP: Interestingly enough, one of our team members, Mireille Lambert, was with the Securite National in France until she met a Bengali Police Officer and fell in love. They married and she moved to Bangladesh with him and together they formed a private investigation company. She led us through the labyrinth of rivers there and the city of Dhaka. She died during the search for Salcedo and his men. When we attended her funeral in France, we met the master vintner of her parent's estate. His daughter was killed by the Monteau brothers on their bank robbing spree in the early 1980's. That's over twenty years ago and they've never been caught. We're going after them. It's been tough so far, it's almost as if they disappeared completely but not to worry, we'll find them.

Thank you Williston for being our guest this week. You certainly lead an interesting life.

And thank you dear readers for joining me this week to meet Mr. Williston Payne.

**Note: Williston Payne if a fictional character. As a tribute to one of my dearest friends whose last name is Williston, I've dedicated this character to him.

Feel free to leave a comment. Would love to hear from you!

Saturday 7 July 2018

The Body On The Undwerwater Road by Chuck Bowie

Chuck is Back!  The First & Fourth.

I expect you've heard of the Firth of Forth, an estuary (firth) of the River Forth in Scotland, well this is the First and the Fourth for the Scribbler and Chuck Bowie.

First time for the Scribbler and the Fourth visit from Chuck Bowie of Fredericton, New Brunswick.

And Donovan's Back Too!

Chuck's fourth novel, The Body on the Underwater Road, is ready to launch on July 27th at Westminster Books in Fredericton and as a special treat for all you faithful readers Chuck is back to tells us about writing this series.

I've got my copy and it's next on my list.

Make sure you follow the links below to catch up on Chuck's previous visits.

Take it away my friend,

The Perils of Coming Home

-       Chuck Bowie, July, 2018

-       Written for The South Branch Scribbler


Thomas Wolfe suggests you can never go home again. As I think of that phrase, I think about those who say a river constantly changes. So, if you stick a foot in, pull it out and place it in exactly the same spot, it will be a different experience, because that previous cubic foot of water has moved on, and the sand and pebbles beneath your foot have shifted. Try visiting your childhood home, and imagine it is exactly as it was when you were seven years old. Or ten. This will not work. You have moved on. A new owner—several new owners!—have changed the old homestead in so many little ways. That vibe of nostalgia or childhood simplicity is gone, together with the plaid sofa and giant flowered wallpaper.

I am in the middle (or maybe nearing the end, I’m not sure) of writing a suspense-thriller series. I’ve finished Book 4, actually: The Body on the Underwater Road. As I mentioned, it’s a thriller so it has murder, bad guys, action, shenanigans, quite serious stuff weaving a plot designed to keep you interested and entertained.

I’ve written three other thrillers as well. The first: Three Wrongs is of the classic variety, with a detailed back story to help you understand why my contract thief is so complex. The second novel: AMACAT is somewhat lighter in tone, but with similar ‘thriller’ elements. I digress to an extent with my third novel: Steal It All, in that it is formatted a bit like a police procedural, and I stray a bit from the ‘loner with his own moral code’ approach.

But Book 4 is different, in a couple of ways.

In The Body—may I call it The Body? (I suppose I could call it TBOTUR; I do like acronyms)—I have written the bulk of the novel with scenes of New Brunswick, my home province. The opportunity cost of such a decision is I fail in my attempt to incorporate four countries in the plot setting(s). This was a conscious decision, where I wished to return home, so to speak, and write a tale set in my backyard. I wanted to show off my home province to you, Gentle Reader, who may have never got here to visit. Shame on you! by the way, for not having made this attempt.

My protagonist, Donovan, is a contract thief who travels the world, separating owners from their material goods, and he does this for great profit. It’s Robin Hood, basically, minus the messy middle element of altruism and generous heart. So, he steals from the rich, and gives to the less rich: himself. But I digress. Anyway, our man Donovan visits a charming New Brunswick seaside town in an attempt to solve a crime and coincidentally cut down on the murdering of tourists.

In hindsight, I now see The Body differs in at least two ways from the other books in the same series. As I mentioned, we visit three locales, but only two countries. I hope my readers don’t feel ripped off; in fact, I’ve had one article written where the reviewer found this reduction in exotic travel to be a tad disappointing.

The other way, though, that Book 4 differs is with fewer narrative arcs to the plot. We find a primary plot, and a secondary plot. Simple. However, what I attempted to do in this case was to analyze an extended family dynamic. In doing so, I wanted to permit the reader to peek through the curtains into someone’s family (someone very rich, in this case) and visualize what home can mean to a fractured, dysfunctional family. My little irony is I do this in my back yard.

I believe I stayed true to my character’s development as a contract thief seeking redemption. And if you, Gentle Reader, read about the Parker clan and somehow think even more highly about your own eccentric brood, well, all the better!

And now back to Mr. Thomas Wolfe. Why can you never go home again? I do not actually believe this, at least, not literally. One can certainly come home, but one cannot expect it to be the same as before. So, I bring our protagonist Donovan to New Brunswick, but somehow, the novel, while still a thriller, is…different. I became interested in how people can change, and I didn’t focus as much on all-action-all-the-time writing. (There is action; I quite like the trouble I’ve placed my characters in, especially toward the end! But I hope you can ‘see’ the towns, the beaches, the estates, the vineyard…)

I tried to add depth to the characters and their families, make them more human, make them real. In doing so, I brought you to quiet, nothing-ever-happens New Brunswick. And I made stuff happen. I hope you like it.

I’m already thinking about Book 5, where I return to lots of action, very bad people, and who knows? Maybe a theft or two. Won’t you come along for the ride?


An Excerpt from The Body on the Underwater Road. (Copyright held by the author. Used with permission)


An old Ford pickup rolled down a coastline country lane skirting the North Shore of Long Island Sound, a few miles from Port Jefferson. Moonlight glanced off the remaining piece of his rear-view mirror, but the faint glow on the gray primer coat turned the truck into a ghostly image of itself. The muffler, one of the few things that worked well, burbled low and smooth, attracting little attention. The lone occupant sat behind the wheel, radio off, his left elbow outside the opened window, catching a bit of the late-night breeze.

The trucked traveled well under the speed limit, further reducing its engine’s sound to a murmur. Harry Rafuse made an abrupt turn into an almost-hidden drive without slowing, slipped the truck into neutral and coasted the remaining fifty feet. The pine branches caressed the passenger side on the way by, making a swishing sound as the Ford came to a stop near a dark building. The engine ticked as it cooled, but other than that, few sounds broke the still night air. He opened the door. His key was ready as he slid from the truck seat and then took care to bring the door to, but not closing it so as to make the latch sound, and in a moment he was inside the small storage shed.

There were no windows and Harry had the lights on as soon as the door was completely shut. He stood at a slight bend since there was no space to stand properly, peering down the tiny path through the middle of the single room. For a building with such an impoverished exterior, its contents were startling in their grandeur. The rear quarter of the compact room was packed to the rafters with scores of paintings. Beside them rested a few European cabinets and hutches, moving van blankets separating the lowers from the uppers. As he moved to the back, he brushed against wooden crates containing art pieces, mementos, statuary, and vases. Hundreds of pieces of antique jewellery rested in glass cases on shelves above the crates. Beside him, individually boxed, were unique, one-off artefacts, most of which had proven provenances, causing their value to quadruple.

“What do you think, Harry? Have we hit the seven million mark yet?” He grinned in the dim light. It would have been so much easier to unload it all in the shops of Manhattan, or in the galleries in the outlying boroughs. But these pieces were known. Known to have been stolen, known to be the trigger that would set the police dogs on him. He shook his head. I’m not going to jail because of laziness. I’ll just have to ship them off a ways, set them loose in Canada, someplace I’m not known. That would certainly change my status. I don’t think the cousins would turn their noses up at me if I coasted into their snobby driveways in a Ferrari.

Harry thought of an incident the other day, when a plainclothes detective knocked on his door for a chat. Did he know about the MacQuart estate having been robbed in April? Did he have any information to share regarding a ruby-and-emerald bracelet, turn of the century, crafted in India? No? Was he sure? Of course I was sure. I was sure not going to chat with you about my business. Jerk.

But that was an anomaly, a crime of opportunism. More than half of the contents of this room came from a single source. An awful grin began to twist his face. I get the goods, and the insurance money changed hands. Sure, someone lost out, but isn’t that the cost of doing business? He laid a hand on the nearest crate, the one containing the MacQuart bracelet. It calmed him to be so close to such wealth, knowing it would soon be shoring up the cupboard-is-bare Rafuse bank account. He smiled.

Some collectors love this shit. Can’t get enough of it. All Harry saw was crap that needed to be converted into greenbacks. The cop, together with the news he received from his now-ex colleague Waugh reinforced his need to leave town. The sooner he split this burg and landed in St. Andrews, the better. And that French guy. He’s going to be just the ticket to unload a big chunk of this, once I move it into Canada. He seemed hungry for business. I’ll give him the business, all right.
Thank you Chuck for being our featured guest this week. 
For you readers that want to learn more about Chuck and his stories, please follow the links to his website and his previous visits.