Shrouds of Grey

It was 1915, and though we weren't in the war yet, the United States and United Kingdom were secretly sending envoys back and forth as we discussed buisness pertaining to the Great War. That's what I was then, in fact it was my first assignment, and to this day those screams haunt my memory, urging me to tell the tale of what happened that day in May all those years ago.

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7. A Tense Evening

   ~May 6th, 1915 sometime around six pm.

   As the sun began to draw low on the oceanic horizon Joe took one long and final drag from his cigarette before throwing it out the porthole and closing it. He was in black dress pants and a white button-down with the first button undone as he had paused in his dressing for dinner while George was out.

   "Damn wireless operators," he fumed to himself, "One of 'em must've let it slip to Turner about our true purposes."

   "Not necessarily," it was George as he came back into the room with a tine of mints and their dress coats fresh from the ship's laundry. "He could just be wanting to say hello to some Americans and chit chat about our lack of involvement in the war." George let that sentence end with a smirk of wry attitude as he meandered to his room.

   "Lack of involvement my ass," Joe chuckled, "I wonder if Turner realizes that the munitions his ship's carrying is secretly being funded by us." Retrieving his jacket from George he proceeded to pull up the suspenders on his pants and began to arrange his tie having buttoned up fully. "Those mints your way of saying I need to lay off the cigarettes?"

   "Not the most subtle hint I suppose," his partner responded with a light laugh.

   "You're a cheeky man you are George," Joe responded with minor disdain as he popped a few of the mint flavored crystalline looking chips in his mouth. "Eck, like taking pills these things are like." Finished with his bow tie he slung on his coat and closed up the first few buttons. Striding over to the mirror he examined his hair and quickly ran the comb-like brush through it a couple times before settling on a specific way of looking. "You ready in there yet?"

   "Ready indeed," George spoke with even measure as he emerged in a suit of black with thin blue stripes running down the stitching of the jacket and pants. "Well let's get down there then as we don't want to be late I suppose." With a steady nod the two walked out of their cabin making sure to hide the briefcase and lock the door behind them.

   The Grand Saloon was quite large and rather impressive indeed, just as the brochure said it would be in the pictures of the room that it showed off with an extravagant grandeur. Two decks worth of space, a main floor and second floor rotunda with an open well to see up to the sculpted dome above with elaborate lighting fixtures decorating the room. It was a room of whites, golds, blacks and the occasional mahogany wood paneling on far walls in the darkened corners. Large tables sat immobile in various spots around the room with ornate rotating chairs placed at even intervals around as on ship to prevent unnecessary movement, everything was bolted to the deck.

   "This way gentleman," directed the steward who had met them at one of the junctures between First and Second Class accommodations. The man led them to a table on the main deck just under the edge of the open balcony above to a table that was already partially occupied by a few familiar faces; the Hubbards. 

   "Gentlemen, nice of you to join us for this dinner," Mr. Hubbard started up as he saw George and his partner approaching. "Nice dress up for Second Class passengers, I must say."

   "Thank you Mr. Hubbard," George fought to contain a blush as he acknowledged a minor praise from one of his favorite authors. "Joe, this is Mr. Elbert Hubbard and his wife, Alice."

   "Pleasure to meet your acquaintances," Joe smiled as he reached across to shake hands. "From the looks of things, it seem apparent that you and my partner George are familiars, may I enquire as to how you two met?"

   "On deck earlier in the day," Mr. Hubbard spoke as they parted hands and sat back down. "Your young acquaintance bumped into us up on deck and so we sat down at a cafe and had a short talk, he really should be more mindful of his wanderous thoughts."

   "That sounds like George," Joe smiled as he chuckled a bit, "Hope it didn't cause you any major inconveniences." As he reached for his cigarettes he was subtly stopped by his partner who with a few subtle gestures convinced him it's be better if he not smoke in this environment. As a few moments of casual conversation passed the feel of the room seemed to liven up a bit and then like a crack of cold air from an opened door it changed as another man joined them at the table in a uniform of that of a se captain. 

   "Ah, Captain Turner, I was wondering when you'd be joining us," Mrs. Hubbard spoke quaintly.

   "My apologies Miss, I had some chartwork to go over with our navigator as we've come to the cusp of the war zone I'm afraid." He tried to put on a smile of confidence though both men who were trained in their art could tell he was on edge, then again, who wouldn't be as there were quite a few people who's lives were at risk being aboard the vessel. 

   "So Captain, what do you think of the warnings, do you think we're safe from attack?" Mrs. Hubbard was acting concerned as any women would be when made aware of the situation of the world around them.

   "The Cruiser Rules is a special law protecting such vessels as this ship from attack mam, there's nothing to worry about, I assure you." His response was cordial but firm in a way to reassure the woman and end this unsavory topic of conversation. With a pleasant smile conversation soon again picked up until the ordered meal arrived; roast beef with a rosemary and garlic sauce with a side hand mashed potatoes, several assorted vegetables and accompanying fruits, some of which George had never previously laid eyes on before. It was a luxurious meal that George and Joe both partook a fair amount of while trying to maintain a sort of civil and upper class demeanor. When it had come to pass that the clock in the room chimed nine in the evening the party dispersed but as it were when George and Joe were leaving that the captain caught them at the door.

   "May I help you with something, captain?" Joe kept an even demeanor as he turned to face the man after he had caught their attention by clasping a hand onto the shoulder of the larger of the two partners.  

   "May I speak with you gentlemen presently? Perhaps in a more private venue," he notioned for the pair to follow as he departed towards the forward end of the ship. Following him out onto the deck and into the wheelhouse without bar from the other officers whose minds seemed elsewhere. Opening one last door the pair followed him into what was the ship's chart room before closing the door and growing a stern expression on his face. "Gentlemen, I'd like to discuss your business on my ship, your actual business if you don't mind."

   "Why I've no idea of what you speak of Captain Turner," Joe played naive as he kept a fairly straight face, "The two of us are just travellin' to visit some folks of ours in London."

   "Exactly," George chimed in without missing a beat.

   "Is that so, then may I enquire as to this?" from his pocket he produced a mildly crumpled piece of paper. Upon further inspection the two noted quietly that it was a copy of the telegram they had received earlier. "Gentlemen, the cargo this ship carries is enough to violate the Cruiser Rules and it puts me under enough stress as it is and then I receive this," his face was growing dark and very stern, "Recently I was told to maintain course and not divert on the round about route for ships in the war zone and then this, just who are you two."

   There was a brief moment of intense strain and tension in the small room as we sat in silence until with a sigh George let out a false truth as he produced something not even Joe knew he was carrying around; a camera.

   "In truth captain, we are working with both the military and some newspapers as photographers to document the atrocities of the war in Europe, starting with the condition of London's citizens courtesy of those zeppelin attacks." George stepped forward with a slight apologetic attitude as he examined the note. "The agent of which the note speaks is our contact that will guide us around while we are in your country, I apologize for the secrecy but we felt it would be better if no one knew as we didn't want to start any trouble aboard ship."

   "Very well, though I wish your press would've atleast notified me and my officers so we could have accommodated you more properly," he lightened up a bit, "Now gentlemen, if you'll excuse me, I have other business to attend to, good evening." Shortly after his departure the two men hurried back to their cabin and said not a word until they were locked inside their stateroom.

   "That was close, damn those wireless blokes," Joe sputtered as he undid the buttons on his jacket and shed off the suspenders. "That little leak could've easily sunk us right there."

   "Good thing I know how to lie then and even better that I brought the camera along with me," George sighed as he fell back onto his bed with a soft thump. 

   "Did ya have that thing on you this whole time?"

   "Of course, guess being slim in build makes concealing things a snap, don't it?" he smiled as he undid and examined the strange little tool which had helped to silently cement his job saving lie. "I was planning on taking some shots while we were around and about anyway."

   "You're strange, y'know that?" Joe laughed as he dressed into his nightclothes "However, you did manage to diffuse quite a tense evening, so good job for that one."

   "Thanks," george smirked as he closed his door and turned out the lamp. Getting into his bed he lay there for a moment thinking about what was going to happen. "A tense evening, huh? Yeah, I guess you could call it that."

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