"The Ivory Beast"

"Mr. Pachter is a well-known and well-liked master of the short story. Mood and human warmth are his specialties."

In "ASU," Mahboob Chaudri solves a case of smuggling on the US Navy base in Bahrain. In "The Ivory Beast" (which you can read here), he's offered a free ride home to Pakistan as a reward — and winds up solving a murder aboard the USS Coronado, the Navy's Persian Gulf flagship, affectionately known as "The Ivory Beast of the Middle East."

Many of the people, places and events described in this story are factual. In 1982, I was invited to spend four days aboard the Coronado, teaching a remedial English class to off-duty sailors as the ship made what's called a "show-the-flag" run from Bahrain to Karachi. I was given a stateroom in "Officer's Country," as is Mahboob. Captain Dave Buck and Lt. (JG) Bill Kundo are real people, exactly as I've described them, and those are their real names. Lieutenant-Commander Meacham is based on Fred Meacham, a teacher at the Bahrain School, and Dr. Steen is based on Gary Steen, the husband of a woman who also taught there. In real life, the unfortunate "Bear" Jensen survived our cruise, and he and I spent several days touring Karachi together in a hired horse-drawn Victoria. And Jensen's MIA bracelet — which bears the name S/SGT John Jakovac and the date he was reported missing in action in Vietnam (May 29, 1967) — has in fact been on my wrist since November 11, 1972, and remains there today.

My Coronado voyage took place smack in the middle of the Iran/Iraq conflict of 1982, and, while we were passing through the Strait of Hormuz, a lookout spotted a gunboat which might have been Iraqi coming at us fast — just as described in the story. We went to battle stations, and things were pretty scary until the gunboat drew close enough that we could see it was flying the Omani flag. Unlike the Iraqis, the Omanis were friendly, and it turned out that their intention was only to escort us through the narrowest part of the strait. Whew!

This story, I think, shows Mahboob at his most Western. It's a straightforward tale of detection, with classical fair-play clues in abundance. I thought of making it part two of a trilogy; the third episode was to be titled "Home Leave," and my idea was that it would pick up at the exact moment that "The Ivory Beast" leaves off, as the Coronado enters Karachi harbor. For some reason, though, "Home Leave" never did get written.

Meanwhile, this issue of New Mystery was practically a Pachter Fest. Mine was the first author name mentioned on the front cover, there's a photo of Becca and me on both the inside front cover and the back cover (see below), there's a review of the second Best Mystery Stories of the Year audio program I ostensibly edited with Martin H. Greenberg on page 6D and an ad for that package on page 23, the front cover is inexplicably reproduced on pages 7, 24 and 47, and my name is also mentioned on the unnumbered contents page and on pages 6B and 45A. Enough, already! Snap out of it!

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new mystery

ivory beast

The USS Coronado, aka "The Ivory Beast of the Middle East"

sanders & miller

Sanders, Miller and me aboard the Beast. (If you look really closely, you'll see the MIA bracelet on my right wrist. It's still there.)

bear jensen  

"Bear" Jensen. Nice guy! If you see this, Bear, let me hear from you!

gunboat

The Omani gunboat, escorting us through the Strait of Hormuz. The land dimly visible in the distance is Iraq.

josh and becca

This is the photo which appears on both the inside front cover and the back cover of New Mystery. The pretty one is Becca.