Authors: Max Allan Collins
Tags: #Disaster Series
Praise for Max Allan Collins
Two-time Winner of the Shamus Award for Best Novel
“Collins blends fact and fiction like no other writer.”
“A terrific writer.”
“When it comes to exploring the rich possibilities of history in a way that holds and entertains the reader, nobody does it better than Max Collins.”
“Max Allan Collins masterfully blends fact and fiction… transcends the historical thriller.”
“No one fictionalizes real-life mysteries better.”
“An uncanny ability to blend fact and fiction.”
South Bend Tribune
“Collins has an outwardly artless style that conceals a great deal of art.”
New York Times
“Collins displays a compelling talent for flowing narrative and concise, believable dialogue.”
“Collins’ blending of fact and fancy is masterful—there’s no better word for it. And his ability to maintain suspense, even when the outcome is known, is the mark of an exceptional storyteller.”
San Diego Union
“Probably no one except E. L. Doctorow in
has so successfully blended real characters and events with fictional ones. The versatile Collins is an excellent storyteller.”
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Text copyright © 1999 Max Allan Collins
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by Thomas & Mercer
P.O. Box 400818
Las Vegas, NV 89140
For Stephanie Keenan—who is under the mistaken impression that anyone could ever forget her
Though this work is fanciful, every character in these pages existed, and an underpinning of history supports their characterizations. No disrespect is meant to these real people, or to the tragic event that engulfed them. Our interest in the
—and the enjoyment taken in traveling back to that simpler, grander time—must always be tempered by the knowledge that men, women and children died on that night we still remember.
“There was not the slightest thought of danger in the minds of those who sat around the tables in the luxurious dining saloon of the
A TRIP TO SCITUATE
From the beginning, mystery and controversy have been stow-aways on the
’s crossing into history. The world’s largest, most luxurious steamship—with a First-Class passenger list that was a Who’s Who of its day—the R.M.S.
began her maiden voyage midday April 10, 1912, and ended it prematurely in the midnight hours bridging April 14 and 15, after brushing an iceberg designed by God or fate to challenge the naively arrogant men who had deemed the ship unsinkable.
But no one is certain how many died on that clear starry night in icy Atlantic waters. The American inquiry into the disaster came up with 1,517 dead, the British tallied 1,490, while the British board of trade said 1,503, and various respected authorities today cite figures that range as low as 1,502 and as high as 1,523. What none of these authorities, past or present, cites are the two deaths aboard the
that preceded the sinking.
The two murders.
Before this tale begins proper and I take my proper place next to the Wizard of Oz—behind the curtain—I would like to share with my readers how I came to learn of the
and how this fascinating historical footnote came to elude those far better, and more knowledgeable,
scholars who have preceded me.
It began, as does so much in modern life, with a phone call.
Like most authors, I am frequently contacted by strangers, would-be collaborators who have a wonderful idea, or a fascinating life story, and all that’s left for me to do is write it up. Everyone who has ever been involved in a crime (as a victim or a perpetrator) or who has survived a war (World War II or Vietnam, most frequently) is convinced that theirs was a unique experience, and that New York publishing and Hollywood studios are clamoring for the opportunity to throw money at them for sharing their story with a lucky, waiting world.
This is rarely the case, of course, and these individuals would have a better shot at fame and fortune by telling their timeless tale to the convenience-store clerk while scratching off “instant win” squares on lottery tickets. Besides, authors usually like to cook up their own ideas and, anyway, as a mystery writer, I’m not really suited to ghostwriting someone’s military memoirs or turning Great-Aunt Ida’s fascinating life on the prairie into a manuscript for the Christian bookstore market.
So I was skeptical when I received the phone call, late that Sunday evening, at my Muscatine, Iowa, home, from a would-be collaborator who refused to even identify himself by name.
“You were recommended to me,” the male voice said, a reedy baritone. A hint of an accent was in there, somewhere—French? French-Canadian?
“Recommended how? By who?”
It wasn’t a great connection; obviously long distance, as scratchy as an ancient phonograph record.
“What mutual friend?”
“I have an idea for you. It’ll make a great book, a great movie.”
I rubbed my eyes. “Really.”
“I read your novel.”
“The Lindbergh-baby book. Very good. Thorough job.”
Well, now he’d bought himself a little time with me; he had just been about to land in that same limbo where my household dispatches phone solicitors. But compliments, like royalties, are immediately embraced by all writers.
“Thanks,” I said. “I worked hard on that.”
“Interesting case. You think you solved it, the kidnapping?”
“I think my solution holds up as well as anything anybody’s come up with, yeah.”
He paused; while static filled the empty air, I was imagining a face to go with the voice: thirtyish, rugged, smugly smiling….
“You like history. You like to find the mystery in history, don’t you?”
“Yeah, it’s kind of a speciality…. Well, listen, it was nice of you to call. I got one on Amelia Earhart in the works. You might like that, too—you might want to watch for it.”
This is where a fan calling would have asked what the name of the new book was, and when was it coming out. But my vaguely French long-distance caller had an apparent non sequitur for me, instead.
“What about the
?” he asked.
“What about it?”
“Lot of interest. Many books. TV specials. Videos of Ballard’s dives, big sellers.”
I knew, vaguely, what he was talking about. Dr. Robert Ballard’s discovery of the shipwreck on the ocean’s floor had been big news, not long before, and generated big dollars. Even before Ballard, interest in the
never seemed to wane, and I’d known about the famous disaster at sea since childhood. My generation of kids was big on Walter Lord’s book
A Night to Remember,
and I’d seen the movie version at a matinee in a majestic theater long since torn down.
Also, my anonymous caller had touched a distant nerve. While I did not have an interest in the
in general, I had a specific interest in one of the ship’s notable passengers….
So I said, “The
right, right… is that your idea? Something about the
? New theory on why and how it sank or something?”
“You know, Ballard, he called us grave robbers.”
“Called who grave robbers?”
“Ballard thinks the wreck, it’s like an undersea cemetery.”
“Well, it is sort of a grave site.”
“More than you know.”
“Look,” I said, interested but irritated, “what’s this about? Were you on one of Ballard’s expeditions?”
I was aware the French Oceanographic Institute—INFREMER—had ignored Dr. Ballard’s wish that the
be left undisturbed, that no salvage or recovery be pursued, no artifacts removed, and had undertaken several expeditions to do just that. The artifacts salvaged, mostly from a debris field between the two sections of the sunken ship, had been hyped on a tacky television production hosted by Telly Savalas, and then
treated rather more respectfully and responsibly, in museum exhibitions around the world.
He was saying, “You know, they get away with this, Ballard too, ’cause they found no bodies.”
Though no expert, I remembered from documentaries I’d seen that most scientists and explorers had expected to find the
more or less perfectly preserved, a virtual Edwardian time capsule, due to the coldness at that depth of the ocean, and the lack of oxygen—furniture, clothing, even human bodies, showing little or no decomposition.