It was a rare occasion when Jon Mason came to the city, its activities, whether it was day or night held little appeal for him. The city, to him at least, always seemed somewhat loud and assaulting to his senses and he preferred the open sea or better yet, the quiet of his own home and the company of Mai-Ling. As the handsome cab he was in moved down the street, he tried to think of a reason the owners might want to see him. He doubted it was about Aesop MacDonald replacing him as captain. Aesop had a good reputation and in the past they had always respected Mason’s judgment on matters pertaining to the ship. As far as the hunting was concerned, the last two cruises had been very successful both he and they had made a profit and that was the whole idea behind the venture in the first place. He sighed maybe it was his retirement in general. Many thought Mason was a lucky captain and luck was an easy thing to grasp and believe in. There were those who believed if he continued whaling his luck would hold and money could still be made, but Mason didn’t think so. He had been at sea for a long time and was looking forward to being ashore. Over the years he’d made money, enough to buy the owners out of their shares of the SHY LADY. With Aesop in command, he could make up lost time with Mai-Ling, work in his garden and watch his investments. At least that’s what he hoped. Looking out the window of the cab he watched the street scenes outside the glass, individual faces becoming one in the crowd, the Italian grocer, the Yiddish orange girl, the street cleaners in white uniforms and large push brooms. Sweat shop workers and prostitutes, businessmen and social workers, policemen, thugs and children. It all blended together, reminding him of dolls in a toy store, something fragile and amusing at first but latter with age they would be cast aside and forgotten like so many other things in life. The handsome cab slowed and then the driver, reining the horse and maneuvering the vehicle near the curb, stopped. They had arrived at the building of Roland, Hughes and Jones, Ltd. “We’re here sir,” said the cabman simply. Mason jumped out of the cab, parcel in hand and looked about. He hadn’t been in the city for a number of years but not much has changed. He paid the cabbie and after assuring him he no longer required his services, he went inside. The lobby of the building was crowded, that it was a place of business, there was no doubt. Well groomed men moved about with machine like efficiency ignoring anything that did not fall within their realm of responsibility. Bells rang, machines, clicked, books closed and papers shuffled. Mason saw some men talking into strange contraptions which looked rather silly, of which he was later informed were electromagnetic telegraphy machines or as they were sometimes shortened to “telephones”, invented by some fellow named Bell. Mason raised an eyebrow, looked more like toy than anything else. He didn’t think it would be too useful in the future, telegram was as good as anything else, he thought, if a person wanted to send a message. Mason walked to what appeared to be an information desk and spoke to the well groomed young man behind it. “Excuse me, my name is Mason, I have an appointment with Mr. Roland. Could you direct me to his office please?” The well groomed man smiled, then again, Mason thought he would smile at anything, tell this fool he was about to lose his legs and he’d still give you that stupid grin. “Of course Captain Mason, you are expected.” He snapped his fingers and a uniformed boy appeared. “Take Captain Mason to Mr. Roland’s office. He’s expected.” The boy bowed his head slightly, “Yes Mr. Purmain.” They walked across the floor to an elevator which took them to the fourth floor, to the offices of Roland and his associates. Getting off the elevator (it was the first time Mason had ever been in one and was amazed at all the modern conveniences the building contained, he guessed if Roland, Hughes or Jones could afford something they wanted then they needed it) Mason handed his coat and hat to an attendant and was shown into a boardroom where Roland, Hughes and Jones were waiting. “Good afternoon Captain Mason, thank you for coming, it’s been a few years.” Said Roland with a smile. Mason nodded. “Yes Mr. Roland, it has. The contraption I came up in is new.” Roland grinned, “The elevator? Yes, we had it installed two years ago. Certainly easier than going up and down those damned stairs every day.” Hughes gestured to a chair, “Please have a seat sir.” Mason on guard, sat down followed by the other three and wondered what they were up to. “Did you have a good trip?” asked Hughes. Mason nodded his head, “It was fine Mr. Hughes.” “Can we offer you anything to drink Captain?” asked Jones. “No thank you, Mr. Jones.” “Well then, let’s get down to business shall we?” said Roland, “Do you know why you are here Captain, the reason for this meeting?” Mason shook his head, “Frankly sir, I do not. The outlays for the last two voyages were minimal with a high profit on each return. I’ve brought my books if you gentlemen would care to inspect them.” Roland held up his left hand, palm out. “Rest assured Captain, we have no complaints with you or the SHY LADY.” “That’s good to hear sir.” “We realize that it’s as much to your benefit as ours to profit from these voyages Captain and we have a proposition which we believe can render a high profit with low risk. If you’re interested that is.” “I’m listening,” said Mason. Roland opened a small wooden box and pulled out an old piece of parchment, Mason recognized it as a map of sorts, apparently of the northern polar reaches. “Have you ever seen this before?” asked Roland. Mason shook his head, “No, it looks old though.” “It is,” said Jones, “the writing is Latin. We believe it to be roughly three hundred years old.” “Where did it come from?” “One of our people found it in Rome, in one of the old libraries,” said Jones, “a second one was found in Madrid last year, though it’s condition was far worse.” Mason shrugged his shoulders, “Alright, you have what looks like an old map written in Latin. How does that translate into high profit with low risk?” “The Latin on the map speaks of a whale’s graveyard,” said Jones, “at the geographical North Pole.” Mason shook his head and began to laugh, “Gentlemen, the whale’s graveyard is a myth, a legend.” The other three men were not laughing. “Captain Mason,” began Jones, “the people of the past had knowledge of a number of things that have been lost over the centuries. Without proper guidance these secrets have eluded men for hundreds of years.” “Besides,” said Hughes not wanting to be left out of the conversation, “why would men speak of such things if there was not an element of truth involved?” “Because it’s a dream,” said Mason, “a fantasy. It’s what men would like to find, to solve their problems, to improve their lives, but it’s a dream, that s all. The only way you’re gonna get whale bone and oil is to hunt for it, it’s that simple.” “It sounds if you’re afraid of a little ice, Captain,” huffed Hughes. Mason laughed, “Mr. Hughes, we’re not talking about a little ice, we’re talking about a lot of ice. A ship has to skirt the ice floes that can be anywhere between 60 feet to six miles across, get through the pack ice and hope that the ship doesn’t get caught in it and drift with the current. Not to mention freezing temperatures, pressure ridges, polar bears, eternal night, disease and insanity, just to name a few of the problems. Believe me I know what I’m talking about.” “Be that as it may Captain Mason, we would be willing to fund an expedition to the geographical North Pole in order to find this “mythical” whale’s graveyard, as you call it.” Mason laughed, “Oh yeah? And what are you willing to offer in return?” “To start with, the papers for the SHY LADY, a down payment so to speak, and fifty thousand dollars, half now, the remainder when you return,” said Roland, “this is not subject to negotiation.” Mason looked at each of the three men in surprise. Jones spoke up, “We’ve known for some time Captain that you’ve wished to buy out our shares of your ship. Agree to this expedition and you’ll walk out of here with the papers today, the sole owner of the SHY LADY.” “And twenty-five thousand dollars richer,” added Hughes. “And if I refuse?” asked Mason. An expedition to the top of the world was certainly not anything the sea captain was planning on in the immediate future. Roland shrugged his shoulders. “Nothing Captain Mason, we can’t force you to lead an expedition if you do not wish to do so. We shall retain our shares and you yours, but…” there was a weighty silence in the room before Roland continued, “We will never approve the position of master of the SHY LADY to Aesop MacDonald, as is required by law as we are the majority share holders and we will use all our influence, as far as we can, to other ships. Mr. MacDonald will never work at sea again let alone be master of his own ship, of that you can be sure.” Mason thought about what Roland had said. MacDonald was one of the only true friends Mason had and depended on him for any future business they might have. He deserved a chance to command, Mason trusted him and he was more than capable. One more trip up north, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad, if they had the right people, equipment and supplies… “Alright, you said down payment, what else is in it for me?” Hughes spoke up. “Should you find this land where the whales go to die, you or whomever you designate, will be entitled to one quarter of all the bone, ambergris and oil from said such place for a period of five years, after processing operations begin, no less, with options to buy in at a reduced rate of 50% after the five year period specified.” “Quite an incentive,” said Mason. “What about my men?” “Twenty thousand dollars for your first mate, fifteen thousand for your second mate, ten for your third. For the crew, normal merchant seamen wages plus 10%.” Said Jones. Mason nodded, “Very generous, you must really want to find this place.” “We do Captain Mason, and we’re willing to pay for the find,” said Roland. “You’re putting out a lot of money for this, what if we don’t get to this place, the geographical North Pole? Or what if the graveyard itself doesn’t exist, what then?” “Nothing,” said Roland, “the SHY LADY is yours, the men keep their money. This is an investment and all investments carry risks, Mr. Hughes and Mr. Jones and myself understand that, sometimes money is lost, but we’re confident on this. Should the vessel be lost, it wouldn’t affect our business in any serious way as you would hold the ship’s papers. The ships in our company are quite safe, they are not at risk. We believe with our research and you leading the expedition, this investment is a sound one. Our only condition is that if the expedition is a failure, we want no mention of it ever made. No published memoirs, no surprise adventure stories. Should the expedition succeed, we will of course have our version of it, but if it doesn’t, well…there have been enough failures in the far north we don’t want our names to be associated with another one. It would be bad for business, don’t you know.” “You don’t want to look like fools,” said Mason. “Exactly,” said Roland. “On the other hand, should you succeed, I’m sure we will be hailed as men with exceptional vision.” “A failed expedition,” continued Jones “would bring bad publicity, which of course we wish to avoid at all costs.” Mason looked to the surface of the highly polished table. “Why me?” he asked, “Surely there are any number of captains who could do this job?” “Not one with your experience,” said Roland. “There a number of ship’s masters with more arctic experience than I.” “That’s not what we’re talking about,” said Roland. Jones opened a file before him and with glasses perched on the end of his nose, began to speak, “There is no record of a Jonathan Edward Mason before 1875 in San Francisco, at which time you removed a Miss Mai- Ling Yeung, a Chinese prostitute under the employment of one Madame Wu, from a brothel there.” “Well, I wouldn’t say that’s completely true Mr. Jones,” said Mason. “You are correct to a degree,” said Jones. “There was a child born in 1848, records show that he died that same year. That child was christened Jonathan E. Mason.” Mason looked at the three men before him. They knew his secret, there was no point in denying it, it wouldn’t get him anywhere. He wondered how long the silence would last. Finally it was Roland, who broke the eternity of quiet. “Your real name is Robert Wyatt. You were part of a prisoner transfer from the C.S.S. ALABAMA to the American Whaling ship NORTH STAR, lost at sea in 1863.” Mason eyed Roland as Jones continued the report. “In 1868, you were sentenced to death in a Hong Kong court of law for acts of Piracy against the crown. You were able to escape and were next known to be traveling with Russian fur traders under the name of Pavel Nesterou. You disappeared for a time and then turned up in Cochin China in 1872, dealing with stolen antiquities. There was some trouble and you were forced to leave in a hurry.” “What was the trouble?” asked Hughes, his question directed at Mason. Mason looked at Jones and wondered how much he knew, “You tell ‘im.” Jones cleared his throat, “Gaston Bouchard, the name Captain Mason was using at the time, killed two of his native crew as well as a Prussian national by the name of Meyer. He was also accused of theft by a Mr. Richard Phillips, a businessman of somewhat unscrupulous means in Southeast Asia. Apparently what he is accused of stealing provided for a new identity and a means to live rather well.” “Correct, Mr. Jones.” “How did you pass yourself off as a Russian and a Frenchman?” asked Hughes. “My mother was Russian, My father was French,” said Mason. “He changed his name after he came to America.” Jones shuffled some papers around, “Yes, yes, here it is. Mother, Russian national, Natasha Novitch, father, French national Georges Demers, who changed his name to Wyatt, as Captain Mason has already told us. Both perished in a fire in San Francisco in 1870.” “So you could speak French and Russian before you could speak English,” said Roland with a slight touch of admiration, Mason nodded his head. “What do you have to say about these acts of piracy?” asked Hughes. Mason sighed and looked at ceiling and wondered why the fussy old man wasn’t more concerned about his activities in Cochin China. “I was in the water for four days after the NORTH STAR went down. Do you know what that’s like Mr. Hughes, Four days, no food or water, the sun beating down on you the sharks swimming about, getting closer all the time? Hughes shook his head such a thing was beyond anything he was familiar with. “I was sure I was going to die, not the most pleasant thing for a thirteen year old boy to think about but welcoming at the same time. A Chinese junk rescued me, the captain, Lau, and his crew were pirates, they weren’t about to just drop me off at the nearest port. If I wanted to survive, I had to follow the leader, it was that simple.” “Apparently you adapted to the outlaw way of life, so to speak, quite well,” said Jones. “Your name is mentioned frequently in documents of the authorities in Hong Kong, Singapore and Indonesia, the Chinese, British and Dutch authorities all set a price on the head of one Robert Wyatt.” “And as you can see,” said Mason, “they never collected on it.” “And the French still have a warrant out for the arrest of Gaston Bouchard.” “Nor sir, am I incarcerated, and do not intend to be.” Roland smiled he couldn’t hide his liking for this man. “All right gentlemen, you know who I am, and still want me to lead this expedition? Fine, I’ll do it. But there are a few more things that I want…” and Mason began to tell them how this venture just might succeed.