All The Nice Girls

Free All The Nice Girls by John Winton

Book: All The Nice Girls by John Winton Read Free Book Online
Authors: John Winton
Tags: Comedy, Naval
honest opinion.
    ‘It could be better, I’ll tell you that,’ he said.
    ‘That’s what I rather thought.’
    ‘It’s much too early to tell just yet,’ said Frank Tybalt carefully. ‘I’m never particularly worried at the start of these things. It’s the middle and the end that count. My honest opinion is that we’re in for a hard struggle.’
    ‘You mean Sir Rollo?’
    Frank Tybalt nodded. ‘For some reason or other, he’s not interested in Seahorse , in fact I would go further and say he’s definitely agin’ her.’
    The Bodger looked guilty. ‘I had a minor punch-up with Sir Rollo on the morning of the refit conference, you know . . .’
    ‘I heard about it. That may have had a small bearing on it but Sir Rollo has always been anti-Navy. It’s a well-known thing . . .’
    ‘You don’t mean he’s actually going to stop jobs on Seahorse being properly done?’ cried The Bodger.
    Frank Tybalt shook his head. ‘Oh nothing as tangible as that. He couldn’t do it anyway. We wouldn’t let him get away with it. No, it’s much more subtle. It’s all a question of priorities. Supposing the yard have only a certain number of one kind of workmen on a given day. Now, they can put them on Seahorse or they can work in that Norwegian tanker, say. I’m only taking a very general case here. So you find those workmen working in the Norwegian tanker . . . With a perfectly good excuse, mind you. Say you have two lathe operators, one good and the other not so good. You’ll find that you’ve got the less good one and the good one is working on a job for another ship. There’s nothing concrete, nothing you can put your finger on. Nobody has actually said, Let’s do Seahorse dirt. It’s just an attitude of mind, a sort of atmosphere which percolates down from the top. You’ll find they all use Seahorse as an excuse to work off departmental scores. There are times, Bodger, when the shipbuilding side of this firm is barely on speaking terms with the engineering side. Sometimes you’d hardly believe they were supposed to be working for the same firm. The battle and the intrigue goes to and fro and your wretched vessel is in the middle of it like an Aunt Sally . . .’
    ‘Frank, you make it sound like one of those medieval courts! ‘
    ‘Nicolo Machiavelli would have felt really at home in this place,’ Frank Tybalt said, bitterly. ‘He’d probably be on the board of directors by now.’
    The Bodger stared into the remaining inch of beer in his tankard. ‘What we really need is some way of changing Sir Rollo’s attitude?’
    ‘That’s it in a nutshell, Bodger. If Sir Rollo suddenly started to bear down on Seahorse ’s refit, the word would soon get around.’
    ‘I wonder if a naval son-in-law would help?’
    ‘I should think it might have a very good . . . Bodger , you’re not suggesting that. ..’
    ‘I’m not suggesting anything,’ said The Bodger, urbanely. ‘I’m told that Miss Hennessy-Gilbert is a real dish . . .’
    ‘Bodger, you black-hearted old . . .’
    ‘Be honest with yourself, Frank. You’d be prepared to go to a lot of trouble to make Seahorse ’s path plain, wouldn’t you?’
    ‘I would,’ Frank Tybalt admitted.
    ‘Then just leave it with me for a bit. I don’t guarantee a thing. It’s just that I have a theory that matters will often turn out the way you want them to, provided you’re prepared to give them a discreet nudge. Are you having the other half?’
    Frank Tybalt surrendered his tankard to Daphne with the helpless feeling of a man who has set forces in train more powerful than he had bargained for. Looking at The Bodger’s bland expression, Frank Tybalt felt like the man who has rubbed the lamp, expressed his wish to the genie, and must now abide by the consequences.
    In spite of Mr Tybalt’s dark fears, Seahorse ’s refit appeared, outwardly at least, to be progressing very satisfactorily. The ship’s company had settled into the shipyard as effortlessly as

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