PAPERBACK BOOKS

BALI TIDE


When an ancient Ming vase is unearthed in a rural village in Bali, an old  legend is rekindled.  The legend tells of a fortune in gold and a deadly plague contained in sealed vases that have remained hidden in Bali since the time of Dutch occupation. 

The rumours attract a ruthless trader, Lim Quan and the feared al-Nassar, a specialist in bio-terrorism. The threat of a new biological weapon in terrorist hands also sees the power of the US military enter the arena, together with the beautiful but treacherous specialist in antique porcelain named Sari who has an agenda all of her own. 

Chad Handelmann, a retired Australian SAS officer of Balinese descent, is recruited by the Government to head up the search for the vases and a deadly race has begun. Chad is later shocked to discover an ancient family legacy demanding that his family must protect the vases at all costs. 

A desperate and deadly search begins through exotic Balinese villages and impenetrable jungle to the sacred mountains beyond. It is here in an ancient Pegeng Temple that mortal danger awaits them as well as the greatest shock of all. 

In Store Price: $28.00 
Online Price:   $27.00

ISBN:1-9211-1860-1
Format: A5 Paperback
Number of pages: 317
Genre: Fiction

Also by Paul Froomes - The Milan Paradox

 


Author: Paul Froomes
Imprint: Poseidon
Publisher: Poseidon Books
Date Published:  2006
Language: English

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THE AUTHOR

 

Physician and novelist Paul Froomes lives in Melbourne Australia with his wife and two children where he is currently working as a physician in both public and private practice. He has travelled throughout Indonesia and has a deep interest in Balinese culture. 

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Introduction      

Fangcheng Port, Southern China, Circa 1846  

 

Wu Chung Lee was head of the largest merchant company of the South China Coast. He sat in his ornate office in Fangcheng Port, gazing at the oil paintings of his forefathers—the founders and past chairmen of Wu House. His bulbous head shimmered in a perpetual lather of sweat, generated by the strain of carrying his formidable bulk against the constant pull of gravity. A chubby right hand dipped ceaselessly into a bowl of steaming pork-filled dim sums as he admired the immaculate interior of his office.

His latest antique silk screen, purchased at auction for an absurd fee, was a lyrical depiction of a swan taking flight. He gazed at it fondly. Around it, his office was decorated with finest quality red and green silk paneling, the most expensive artwork and a superb assortment of antiques. All had been painstakingly collected from the furthermost reaches of his burgeoning merchant empire, some his, others the property of previous chairmen. Over the last few months his entire office building had been renovated and professionally decorated by a renowned French interior designer at enormous expense.

Some said it was a masterful blend of Baroque and Rococo periods. Others were appalled. It was simply too much, a gross example of a clash of cultures that didn’t work and lacked taste. However, Wu cared nothing for the opinions of those he considered beneath him. Almost everyone fell into this category. Wu was a law unto himself.

Located in the Guangxi province, Wu’s offices occupied a prime position in the docklands region of China’s Fangcheng seaport. As head of the largest Chinese trading company in China’s southwest, Wu House, he was a powerful man and a dangerous adversary. He chaired the board of the Fangcheng Harbor Administration and almost none of the commodities that transited the port did so without his seal of approval.

He pored over a pile of ships’ manifests that lay spread haphazardly across his desk. He shifted his massive weight on the chair to relieve the numbness that had begun creeping down his left leg. Placing a chubby arm on the desk for stability, he transferred his bulk onto the right buttock before sitting back once more. The oversized wooden chair creaked loudly with the strain.

His spacious offices had uninterrupted views across Qinzhou Bay. He smiled to himself as he flicked over the manifest of his favorite Chinese freighter, the Hung Sing. It was his newest cargo ship and had been specially refitted with extra space in the hold both fore and aft, to allow for smaller precious items. These compartments could also be used to hide contraband from the probing eyes of those customs officials who could not be bribed or threatened into acquiescence.

To protect this particular ship, Wu had placed a former English frigate captain at its helm. A worthwhile precaution, he thought, given the size and net worth of the cargo it carried. But he was in the export and import business for only one reason, and that was money.

Wu gloated as he scanned the pages, taking mental note of the estimated takings from the ship’s current cargo. He was growing increasingly rich on the profits of these shipments. Cheap rice and porcelain from Bali and Borneo were becoming an increasingly profitable part of his trade. Each item could be sold in China for between three and seven times its purchase price, depending on whether or not there were floods or droughts in China.

The fact remained, there were simply far too many people in China. The Government could pay Wu his price or starve its people. The profits were filling the coffers of his company and gaining Wu significant influence. His trading was also enriching the Chinese and Dutch wholesalers in Indonesia who sourced the cheap commodities for his ships. One such associate, a particularly acquisitive man called Jang, had moved his entire family from China to Bali the better to monopolize the rice market that supplied Wu’s ships. A very profitable move this had proven to be, for Jang had just ordered Wu to ship four Ming Dynasty Dragon vases on his next boat to Bali. Wu had been only too happy to dispatch the four porcelain relics that had graced the entrance hall of Wu Corp’s office for over one hundred years. He had never cared much for antique porcelain and was relieved when his interior decorator had been unable to find a place for them. Far better for Wu to cash them in and realize some profit.

Wu had of course gone to great pains to embellish an elaborate tale to Jang of how he had scoured the world to find the vases, purchased them on behalf of Jang from a struggling museum in central Asia, outbidding the Chinese Government representative with the help of a bribe to the official and a death threat to the vendor. He was satisfied his story was plausible: these were tactics that Wu employed ordinarily. In this case the bold lies served to justify an exorbitant asking price.

That the vases were priceless antiques justified the further extortion from Jang of exorbitant shipping costs for the privilege of having Wu Corp transport them to his new home. Knowing Wu personally as he did, at least Jang was confident that the most reliable merchant in China had been enlisted to do the job. Certainly, the risk of theft or sabotage would be at a minimum. Wu would make certain of that.

It was the Hung Sing that had been trusted with the precious cargo. The vases were to adorn Jang’s newly built mansion nestled in the hills of Sayan and be the centerpiece of his now legendary art collection.

Wu wasn’t jealous. Jang could have his art collection. Wu preferred money. That he was profiteering from Jang’s purchase through a web of hidden levies was satisfying. With Jang’s money Wu could procure one of the coin-minting factories in his province. Only then could he be rid of those wretched coin wholesalers whose cut he had always resented paying and whose bribes were becoming steeper by the month. Coin minters as a rule were much too lenient on their workers. By exploiting them more efficiently, Wu would make his mint prosper.

Wu stuffed another pork bun into his mouth, smiling as chili plum sauce dribbled down his jowls. His hand reached for the next one. His new personal chef really was quite exceptional. Wu was content. As long as his Chinese and Dutch counterparts continued to exploit the Balinese, Wu would prosper.

‘They are peasants and will be treated accordingly.’ As he swallowed another pork bun Wu belched violently, sending a fine spray of chili oil smattering over the papers on his desk. He laughed and rang his bell. Servants came running into his office.

‘Hurry up now! Clean this mess up and fetch me a new gown.’

How they annoyed him, bowing and scraping about with their frail bodies so thin and so unclean. They wore their poverty like a brand. He loved the distinction his corpulence gave him.

 ‘Don’t touch me with your filthy hands, you beggars, or I’ll have you beaten until the skin is gone from your backs!’ Wu liked that they loathed and feared him.

 

A few months later in that same year, 1846, a monsoon storm struck in the Badong Strait off the coast of Bali, Indonesia. Captain Ralph Grace desperately hugged the wheel of his sinking ship, the Chinese freighter, Hung Sing. Rain fell in thick sheets. Wind shredded the sails and endless waves crashed over the bow.

Grace stood lashed to the wheel by his broken left arm. A shard of bone had pierced the cloth of his shirt at the wrist. His hand was useless. The stern of the Hung Sing disappeared under a monstrous flow of green sea. Through the dark haze of the storm he could see the faint outline of the coast. It was close, too close. Soon he would hear the shrill screeching of the hull being torn apart on the coral reef.

Grace cared little for the bulk of his cargo. There were plenty more loads of rice, silk and steel utensils just waiting on the docks in China for export in ships the same as his. It was his precious cargo of priceless antique porcelain vases that would be the real loss. Grace was one of only a handful of trusted employees who were aware of the false bottoms that had been created in the vases. It was the bounty of solid gold ingots that each vase concealed in its base that he would regret losing the most. He was charged with breaking the false bottoms and removing the gold once they had reached port. His prize for doing so was four of the gold ingots. And Grace loved gold. He had offered to remove the gold before they left Fangcheng, but Wu had insisted on them being opened in Bali. Why? Grace had no idea but he wasn’t about to argue.

His mind wandered and he thought back over the events of the last few days, attempting to understand how he and his crew had come to find themselves in such perilous circumstances…

 

*   *   *

 

A few days earlier there had been a stiff breeze and Captain Grace felt happy at last to be free of the torpid grip of the Doldrums. This permanent band of low pressure, created by the warm air rising off the ocean at the equator, had been depriving them of any really worthwhile wind. The last few weeks had been full of boredom for his crew. The stifling heat of the tropics as they sat becalmed had been enervating in the extreme.

Grace rued the lack of experience of the Chinese crew. In years gone by, he would have flogged several of them at least once by now. Having had no chance to drill them in rough seas or strong winds had made him nervous. He knew how unprepared they would be for the monsoon. Inexperienced freighter crews were notoriously bad in rough weather. Still, they came dirt-cheap.

That was the overriding concern of the agent from Wu House who had selected the crew. If that sniveling bean counter had joined the voyage he would soon be changing his mind about how to choose a ship’s crew. Wu’s agent had proved to be no judge of seamen. But for the gold offered him, Grace would have walked away from the deal right there on the dock.

Once a proud Captain in Her Majesty’s Navy, Grace had been as sharp and tough as any man at sea. However, in later years, he had been weakened by the excesses of drink and had fallen victim to his own greed. A conviction for smuggling brought a naval court martial which had caused him to be dishonorably discharged from the service. It had been the ultimate shame for a man from a proud naval heritage. The disgrace brought down upon his family had seen him ostracized from his village at home in England. He was shunned by family and friends alike, stripped of a modest inheritance and effectively exiled without a naval pension. He had almost lost his wife. In the end she stayed with him. Harriet was loyal, but a relentless nag. She was the one person he had not minded the thought of losing. She was just hanging around waiting for his untimely death at sea, merely to claim her share of the spoils from his smuggling excursions. Good luck to her, if she could locate his treasure chest.

Grace needed only a few more jobs like this one and he could retire. He would pension Harriet off in modest lodgings near her mother in Devon and disappear with his fortune to the Spice Islands, where tropical nights, women and rum were waiting. It was just as well this kind of job paid well, as it was all that was left open to him.

 

It was the cusp of the masan ujan, the wet season. Having successfully negotiated the treacherous passage through the Dutch East Indies Archipelago, with its myriad reefs and sandbanks, the ship’s crew was eager to reach land at Bali.

The hold was packed to overflowing with Chinese-manufactured coin, opium and steel utensils—all to be traded for Balinese rice bound for China. Grace surveyed his ship. ‘There’s a monsoon coming!’ he yelled at his crew. ‘You hear that wind in the sails?’

The crew as usual looked up at him. He was used to their blank faces.

‘You had all better be ready to move when it really blows! Right on schedule!’ he thought out loud as the sails billowed under the freshening trade winds.

The trade winds brought heavy tropical rains to the islands of the Dutch East Indies. Bali’s lush tropical forests and sacred mountain peaks stood sheathed in low white cloud. Grace hoped the ship could reach port before the more vicious cyclonic storms hit. Cyclones were more common farther south off the northwest coast of Australia than Bali and it was still early in the wet season. He lit his pipe and steered the ship through the oncoming swell. While there was still good wind, he shouted a barrage of orders to his first mate, who in turn babbled at the crew in Cantonese. Grace had them trimming and adjusting the sails. Soon it would really count.

The crew cheered as one when the lookout called from the crow’s nest, ‘Land ho!’ The following evening at dusk, with the Balinese coast now in plain sight, most of the ship’s crew was below, taking a leisurely evening meal of rice and dried fish with just a few measures of rice wine. They were now only a day’s sailing from port and longing to touch dry land. Songs and stories of the joys and delights to be had were spreading around the ship. Nobody was keen to stay on board a minute longer than he had to.

Chin, the thirteen-year-old boy, whose sharp eyes had landed him in the crow’s nest of the Hung Sing, called to alert the Captain of gathering storm clouds. Captain Grace was already on deck.

‘All hands on deck! Get those lubbers out of the mess cabin right now, bosun!’

Sailors appeared, clutching at their shirt tails.

‘You men, there! Reef the mainsail for storm!’

They pulled on the sheets that began shortening the mainsail. Two men climbed into the rigging to place ties on the flapping canvas as it bunched up out of the wind. Another small group of men struggled frantically to gain control of the jib sail. It swung wildly in the wind, knocking men over and gouging the wooden deck.

‘Men astern, furl the jib before it shreds itself! Use the gaffer hook for Christ’s sake! Get up, you good for nothing lubbers! Batten down all the hatches so the hold doesn’t fill with water!’

Riding out a fierce storm in an English frigate was a frightening task, but doing the same in a small, Chinese freighter with a crew of coolies was akin to suicide.

The ship listed sharply to port and the remaining sails filled with a loud crack in the face of the gale that was now blowing in from the sea. Grace spun the heavy wheel forty degrees to bring the ship on a starboard tack. He headed further out to sea and away from the jagged teeth of the coral reef.

The rain turned the deck into a slippery throng of frightened Chinese who clung onto shrouds, rails, anything, to avoid the waves crashing over the ship’s bows. Grace leaned hard on the wheel struggling to keep the ship bearing offshore.

The sky was black and the storm in its full fury was thrashing the boat about like a cork in a barrel. Next came a sickening crack. The main mast snapped in two. A tangled mess of ropes and canvas came crashing to the deck, followed by the enormous weight of the upper portion of the mast. It cut a deadly swathe through the men, sending severed and bleeding bodies everywhere and killing all those directly in its path. Captain Grace swore at the remaining crew.

‘Come on you useless blaggards! Heave to it, you men, and cut away that rigging!’

Terrified men scrambled all over the damaged mast, bracing against the wind. Fighting to the last, Grace urged his men on.

‘Cut away the mast and rigging and heave it over the side!’

Men half-heartedly wielded the axes, clearly not up to the task. But Grace continued giving orders. The action came instinctively to him and would have saved his ship ordinarily had he been issuing orders to properly trained men.

‘Put some sail back on the jib mast now men, a’ fore we founder on the reef! Come on, move!’

The wind lashed the small wooden cargo ship as the rain fell in sheets, obscuring the view amidships from the wheel. Waves crashed over the stern, knocking the barely seaworthy crew off their feet, scattering them about like ninepins. Grace had already lost his main mast and more than half the crew. The Hung Sing was out of control. The towering green waves were hungry for more of the half-drowned deckhands.

Despite the grim determination with which Grace stuck fast to the wheel, the ship moved closer to the coral reef and treacherous sandbars that dotted the coastline. Another massive wave lurched the ship heavily to portside. He lashed himself to the wheel by one arm.

Grace was losing the ship. His boat and his crew were no match for the storm. Exhausted, he no longer shouted orders at his crew. He just hung onto the wheel, pitting his will against the full force of nature. The remaining few sailors had now all been lost overboard. He knew that what they had encountered was no ordinary monsoon storm. They had sailed into the kind of storm that all sailors feared, a typhoon. Fighting against a typhoon was useless in this ship.

Another wave swamped the ship throwing Grace hard against the bulkheads and snapping his arm at the wrist. Grace groaned with pain. Offering a prayer to St Christopher just in case, he raised the neck of his rum flask to his salty lips for the last time. Its familiar warmth comforted him as it seared down his parched throat.

Grace could just make out the hazy shadow of Lombok on the port side and to the starboard lay the fast-approaching breakers of Bali’s south central coast. The Badung Strait had been transformed into a seething, violent cauldron of death. No matter how he tried, Grace and his ship were powerless against it. He knew that he was to be its next victim.

Grace took another gulp of rum. He would never have to listen to another word from his belligerent wife. No more nagging about his drinking and cussing. But she would miss those intimate moments they shared with delight when he returned home each summer. Slumped over the wheel, he waited for the inevitable to come.

The jolt as the ship crashed into the coral threw Grace hard against the ship’s rails splitting his skull.

 

Two Balinese rice farmers witnessed the cargo ship’s dying throes, in silent awe. Quite accustomed to the monsoon storms that the Wind God brought to the island each year, they had been planting the farthest paddies of their fields that fringed the coastline nearest the foundering ship. While the ship tore itself to pieces on the jagged teeth of the coral, they waited out the storm under the cover of the jungle canopy.

In the morning the farmers walked down to the beach. They stared at what remained of the shattered hulk of the ship and then they searched the coastline, but there were no bodies. The sharks that patrolled the waters around Bali in great numbers had seen to that.

They lit a small fire and began drying out thin logs that they had cut from the forest to build a rudimentary raft. Soon they had lashed together enough palm trunks to float them out to the ship and, as they paddled in the calm waters, they wondered what treasures the Wind God might have delivered to them this time.

 

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