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Authors: Paul Gallico

The Poseidon Adventure

BOOK: The Poseidon Adventure
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"Not since AIRPORT, such a shattering story

of drama and suspense"

Paul Gallico




The Huge Bestseller

Now a Spectacular Motion Picture


St. Louis Post Dispatch

"Heroism, depravity, tragedy, breakdown emerge as the facades are stripped away . . . keeps the reader breathless!"

Publishers' Weekly

"Love and hate and desperation . . . tense and dramatic . . . All the humanity and understanding that have made Paul Gallico's novels beloved have been poured into this one!"

Southwest Times-Record

"The almost unbearable suspense to which the story builds ranks in intensity with a moon landing. Gallico is a master. He has written an extraordinary novel!"

Chattanooga Times





1 Dag Hammarskjold Plaza

New York, New York 10017

Copyright © 1969 by Paul Gallico and Mathemata Anstalt

All rights reserved. This book, or parts thereof

may not be reproduced in any form without permission

in writing from Coward-McCann, Inc.

Dell® TM 681510, Dell Publishing Co., Inc.

Reprinted by arrangement with

Coward-McCann, Inc.

New York, New York 10016

Printed in the United States of America

Previous Dell Edition #7006

New Dell Edition

First priting — December 1972

Second printing — December 1972

Third printing — January 1973

Fourth printing — March 1973

Fifth printing — April 1973

Sixth printing — May 1973

Seventh printing — July 1973






Rehearsal for Disaster

At seven o'clock, the morning of the 26th day of December, the S.S. Poseidon, 81,000 tons, homeward bound for Lisbon after a month-long Christmas cruise to African and South American ports, suddenly found herself in the midst of an unaccountable swell, 400 miles south-west of the Azores, and began to roll like a pig.

The Poseidon, formerly the R.M.S. Atlantis, the first of the giant transatlantic liners to become outmoded, sold and converted to a combination of cargo and cruise trade, entered the area with her fuel tanks two-thirds empty and no water ballast replacement. The curiously long, low waves she was encountering came at intervals just too far apart to be caught by the lagging synchronization of her out-of-date and partially damaged stabilizers. Thus, she reeled drunkenly from side to side with the result that the motion combined with the hangover from the practically all-night, gala Christmas party and dance made the bulk of her five hundred odd, one-class Travel Consortium Limited passengers miserably and uncompromisingly ill.

The big switchboard serving the cabin telephones began to light up like the Christmas tree decorating the grand dining-saloon. Calls for help swamped the office of the ship's medico, Dr Caravello, a seventy-five-year-old Italian dragged from retirement by the International Syndicate operating the trip, and his assistant Marco, an intern just out of medical school. There were also a head nurse and two sisters. The telephone in the surgery never stopped ringing. Unable to cope personally, the Doctor simply sent around pills and instructions to remain in bed. All this took place in bright tropical sunlight on a sea which, except for the interminable swells, was barely ruffled.

To add to the unhappiness of the retching passengers, things in the cabins came alive. Everything unattached -- trunks, hand luggage, bottles -- slid from side to side; clothing hung upon pegs took on animation, swaying outwards and back again. Nerves were further jangled by the protesting creaks and groans of the old ship's joints and the distant crashes of breaking crockery. Seasick remedies eventually lost both their potency and psychological magic. By mid-morning as far as the travellers were concerned, their happy home throughout an otherwise gay and uneventful voyage had become a hell.

As always, however, there were a few hardy exceptions, that small percentage of good sailors to be found on every liner which says, 'I never get sick' and don't.

Thus, shortly before noon Mr James Martin, proprietor of a men's haberdashery shop in Evanston, Illinois, travelling alone and unaffected by the movement, telephoned to Mrs Wilma Lewis, a widow from Chicago. Mrs Lewis was not amongst the fortunate and said, 'For God's sake don't bother me! Just let me die quietly.' And when he asked, 'Mayn't I come and see you?' groaned, 'No!' and hung up.

In another cabin Mrs Linda Rogo was abusing her husband, between bouts of being sick, with every obscenity of an experienced vocabulary. Mrs Rogo was an ex-Hollywood starlet and briefly a Broadway actress, convinced that she had lowered herself and sacrificed her career when she married Mike Rogo, plain-clothes detective of the Broadway Strong Arm squad. Between calling him every gutter name she could muster, she developed the theme that he had made her come upon this voyage of which she had hated every minute, and now had not even the grace to be ill. Mike Rogo, unable to placate his wife, eventually fled the cabin followed by her curses.

Dr Frank Scott -- the Doctor was not an M.D. but a Doctor of Divinity -- telephoned Mr Richard Shelby of Detroit and said, 'Hi, Dick!' and got back, 'Hi, Frank!'

'How's the family standing up?'

'Okay, up to now.'

Scott said, 'There goes our squash game.'

'I'll say!'

'If this stops, we might have a try this afternoon.'


'See you at lunch.'

'Okay, Buzz.'

The two men had been drawn together during the cruise by common interest in football and athletics. The Reverend Doctor Scott no more than five years ago had been Frank 'Buzz' Scott, Princeton's All-America fullback, all-around athlete, two-time Olympic decathlon champion and mountain climber.

Richard. Shelby, Scott's senior by some twenty years, travelling with his family, Vice-President of Cranborne Motors of Detroit, in charge of commercial vehicle de- sign, had been a useful end at Michigan in his day.

Mrs Timker, director of the Gresham Girls, the dancing troupe connected with the floating cabaret which had been entertaining thrice weekly throughout the voyage, though considering herself in the last throes, still had the strength to send around a message to the members of her company, 'No show tonight.' One of the dancers, a thin girl from Bristol, Nona Parry, with red hair and a pale, somewhat too-small face who should have been sick but was not, said, 'Oh goody! I can wash my hair.'

At eleven-thirty the only three passengers visible in the smoke-room were an English alcoholic called Tony Bates, his girl friend Pamela Reid and Hubie Muller, a lone American from San Francisco.

The Englishman, who had been nicknamed The Beamer, and Pamela had their legs coiled around bar stools which had been firmly screwed to the floor, while the barman served them their double martinis in deep whisky tumblers to keep them from slopping over as the ship canted. Neither of them were suffering from hangovers or mal de mer, as they were both amiably and hazily drunk and had been since the night before and on through the morning, not having been to bed at all.

Muller, a wealthy bachelor of no occupation, in his early forties, man about Europe and darling of every Mama with an eligible daughter on two continents, had wedged himself, feet up, into one of the leather corners of the smoke-room with a book and a half bottle of champagne. He was not ill but the book was bad, the champagne would not stay in the glass, the cruise had not been particularly successful for him and he was bored stiff. The ceaseless swooning of the ship he took as a personal affront.

In his cabin Mr Rosen, a retired delicatessen owner, queried his wife, 'Are you all right, Mamma? You feeling all right?'

Belle Rosen replied, 'Certainly. Why shouldn't I be feeling all right?'

Mr Rosen, who in his striped pyjamas and hair mussed managed to look like a small, plump child, said, 'I hear everybody is pretty sick.'

'Well, I'm not sick,' said Belle. She was a fat woman whose bulk almost filled her bed and she had so managed to plug the remaining space with pillows and a suitcase that she was fairly well immobilized against the motion.

Down in the ladies' hairdressing saloon on 'D' deck the hairdresser struggled to work on a blonde, shoulder-length wig that had been sent down to her by Mrs Gleeson of cabin M. 119, to be washed and set, with instructions that it be delivered to her no later than nine o'clock that evening. Marie, the hairdresser, was wondering when and where Mrs Gleeson was going to wear it if this kept up. In cabin M. 119 five decks up, Mrs Gleeson was beyond caring about anything.

Another widow, Mrs Reid, was not only desperately sick but suffering mental anguish as well over the disastrous turn the voyage had taken for her. In part its purpose. had been in the hopes of finding a husband for her rather dowdy daughter. Pamela had had the bad taste to become appallingly infatuated with the most unsuitable man on the ship and with whom she was now no doubt drinking at one of the too many available bars.

Completely unaffected by the nauseating motion was Miss Mary Kinsale, spinster, head book-keeper of the branch of Browne's Bank in Camberley, near London, a reticent, tidy little woman whose outstanding feature was a huge length of glossy brown hair which she wore drawn tightly back from her face and coiled into a tremendous bun at the back of her head and descending to the nape of her neck. She had a small prim mouth but her eyes were alert and ingenuously interested.

An attempt at having breakfast served to her in bed had been unsuccessful since the movement of the vessel had made it necessary to suspend all tray service and she was hungry. She had picked up her telephone, asked for the dining-room and inquired, 'Will there be any lunch today?' to which the rather horrified voice of the assistant chief steward had repeated, 'Lunch!'

Miss Kinsale at once said apologetically, 'Oh dear, I don't mean to be any trouble to anyone.'

The voice at the other end also apologized, 'No, no, madam, not at all. It's just that we hadn't been expecting many. We'll be only too delighted to have someone to serve. But I'm afraid it will be only cold food. We shan't be cooking in the kitchens.'

'Oh, that will be quite all right,' Miss Kinsale replied. 'Thank you so much. Anything will do.' Not even in the twenty-seven or so days of the cruise that far had she been able to accustom herself to luxury treatment or overcome her shyness at being served.

When at one o'clock in the afternoon the dining-room page, whose duty it was to signal that they were open for business, came staggering along the slanting corridors striking 'Bim, bom, bum, bim' on his portable xylophone gong, the sound hitherto only too welcome to the ears of the for ever hungry, he collected this time only a meagre pied-piped train of followers. They came from their various quarters on Main and 'A' decks, lurching, slipping, sliding, clinging on to the guide-ropes that had been put up, shouting warnings to one another, negotiating the stairs a step at a time since the lifts were not running. It was actually dangerous going but these people of lusty constitutions and unaffected semicircular canals of the inner ear were seized by a certain camaraderie of hazard and the novelty of the careening platform beneath their feet which caused them either at one moment a laborious uphill climb and at the next to be launched like something out of a catapult. Thus half a hundred or so hardy souls gathered in the dining-saloon below on 'R' for Restaurant Deck.

The Shelby family: Richard, Jane his wife, Susan, their seventeen-year-old daughter, and Robin aged ten, made their slightly raucous way inching down the grand staircase.

For the fifth time tubby little Manny Rosen struggled to his feet with an attempted bow to say, 'Welcome to The Strong Stomach Club!'

His wife Belle said, 'Oh stop it, Manny! Ain't it bad enough without you making a joke?'

The Rosens had a table for two on the extreme port side of the dining-saloon by one of the big square, brass-bound windows giving out on to the sea that slid by no more than a few yards below. Next to them Hubie Muller occupied another table for two by himself. He also had a standing reservation for a tęte-a-tęte table in the Observation Grill topside, in case an intimate friendship should occur during the voyage. An inveterate traveller, he had made half a dozen crossings New York-Cherbourg Southampton-New York in the days when the Poseidon had been the Atlantis, and he knew all the ropes. The hoped-for situation, however, had never developed.

All the tables along the windows were twosomes but the others seated up to eight diners to promote get-togetherness. Close by the Rosens and near one of the entrances to the serving pantries, from which the stewards emerged with their heaped-up trays was the one named the grab-bag table by Susan Shelby for its mixture of persons. Its full complement numbered the Reverend Doctor Scott, Miss Kinsale, James Martin, the Rogos and Mr Kyrenos the Third Engineer Officer.

Miss Kinsale and James Martin the Evanston haberdasher, were already there when Mike Rogo arrived alone to receive his induction speech from Manny, who added, 'Where's Linda? She quittin' on us?'

Rogo said, 'Linda ain't speakin' to me. She thinks it's me rockin' the boat.'

As the Shelby family staggered to the adjoining table, the ship heeled over again, catching young Robin Shelby without a handhold and yelling, 'Yay-yay-yay-yay-yay!' all the way, he shot down the side of the saloon to collide violently with Mike Rogo and bounce off him on to the floor. 'Wow!' he said.

Robin was a sturdy boy who was going to be as athletic as his father. But Mike Rogo picked him up off the floor as though he had been an infant and set him on his feet with, 'You could'a hurt yourself, sonny. You better hold on to something.' Rogo, a hundred-and-fifty-pounder, was himself as strong as a little bull.

Martin asked of the steward Peters, 'Say, what's going on here, anyway? We're in a calm sea and the old tub is falling all over herself.'

Peters said, 'I can't exactly say, sir. There's probably been a storm somewhere ahead of us. You often get swells like that then.'

The Shelbys had got themselves seated when Tony Bates and Pamela Reid somehow made a perfectly normal, straightforward descent down the centre of the wide staircase and as steadfastly marched across the saloon to his table for two on the far starboard side. In some mysterious fashion the alcohol in which they were soaked contrived to counteract the gyrations of the liner.

'Oh look, Mom!' Susan cried, 'The Beamer's made it with his girl. Aren't they wonderful? How does she do it? If I take just a sip of sherry, it makes me feel funny.'

Richard Shelby said, 'Hollow leg.' He and his wife were a handsome couple and their daughter a fresh, gay creature. She had her father's somewhat square jawline and dark hair and her mother's refinement and vivacity combined with the American schoolgirl's sexless figure.

The new arrivals were too far even for shouting, so Manny Rosen could only stand up and wave a welcome, for he liked them. The Beamer beamed back.

A further scattering of passengers made their precarious way into the dining-saloon: Greeks, Belgians, a family of eight from Düsseldorf by the extraordinary name of Augenblick and a dozen or so others including British, Americans and some hardy Scandinavians. Rosen did not attempt to include them in the fold of The Strong Stomach Club since they were distributed at tables far removed over the vast area of the room. This honour he reserved for the little group who through the neighbourliness of the seating arrangements had come to acknowledge one another during the voyage.

Lunch, at least to Robin Shelby, was threatening to develop into something exciting. Fiddles or racks were up on the tables to keep plates and cutlery from sliding to the floor and Peters with Acre his partner, the two stewards who served the four tables, performed ballets of equilibrium as they balanced trays.

BOOK: The Poseidon Adventure
4.17Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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