The Ivory Beast
a Mahboob Chaudri story
They were waiting for him at the gate which separated ASU
from the outside world. A natoor he knew only slightly raised the thin
wooden barrier for him, and then Tom Sanders was pumping his hand and Dolly
Miller had wrapped her arms around him and planted a warm kiss full on his
Mahboob Chaudri was mortified. He had never been kissed by
a white woman before, had never been kissed on the lips by anyone other than
his beloved wife Shazia.
"Oh, dearie me," he said. "I "
"You leave go of him, now, Dolly," said Sanders,
slapping the girls shoulder lightly. "Caint you see youre
embarrassin the man?"
Miller laughed and released him. "Jeez, its good
to see you again, Mahboob! Whats it been, a couple months?"
"It has, indeed," the Pakistani agreed, straightening
his tie and arranging his peaked black cap more firmly on his head. "And
how have you been enjoying your stay in Bahrain, my friends?"
"We havent had much time for enjoyment," Miller
frowned. "Theyve been keeping us pretty busy lately, with all this
fuss theres been in the Gulf."
"Cmon, Dolly, it aint been that bad."
The boys sudden grin lit up his coal-black face like fireworks on the
night of Eid al-Fitr. "We was out on one of them fishin
dhows last Friday, caught us some dynamite hamour. And I got some
fine pictures in that little village where they make the pottery, whats
it called again?"
"Aali," Miller supplied. "But you better
save the travelog for later, boy, were late enough as it is." She
clasped Chaudris arm in both her hands and tugged him deeper into the
territory of the Administrative Support Unit.
"Where is it we are going?" the little policeman
wondered. "My superiors told me only that I was expected here at two
in the afternoon."
"Administration Building," Tom Sanders replied,
bubbling with an inner excitement Chaudri had never seen in him before. "Capns
got somethin to tell you."
"Officer Chaudri," Captain Craft rose to greet him,
"its a pleasure to see you again. Hows that head of yours?"
Chaudri smiled ruefully as he shook the captains hand,
remembering the painful lump Owais Gujarits red plastic water jug had
"Completely healed, sir," he said. "Your doctors
ministrations were most effective."
"Glad to hear it." Craft settled his lanky frame
in the leather swivel chair behind his cluttered desk and waved his visitor
to an armchair. Miller and Sanders remained standing on either side of the
office doorway. "Officer, I know youre a busy man. Let me get right
to it and tell you why I asked for you today. The US Navys still grateful
to you for uncovering the identity of our rumrunner last spring, and weve
finally thought of something we can do to express our gratitude."
Chaudri raised a hand in protest, but the captain went on
before he could speak.
"Now, Ive talked with your Deputy Director over
there at the Manama Directorate, and he tells me youve got a month off
coming up, is that correct?"
"Yes, sir, in seven weeks and four days I am leaving
Craft pursed his lips. "Looking forward to it, are you?"
"Oh, most definitely, sir! It has been three years since
my last home leave, three years since I have seen my wife and children."
"Well, Officer, our fleet flagship, the Coronado, has
a show-the-flag run to Karachi scheduled for the middle of next month, and
your Deputy Directors agreed to move your leave up a bit so you can
ride along with the ship."
Chaudri gaped at him. "I I am most thankfu1 for
your generosity," he said, "but I have already been provided with
an airplane ticket for my roundtrip flight. That is one of the benefits of
my position with the "
"Dont you get it, Mahboob?" Dolly Miller burst
out, then winced in pain as Sanders edged toward her and dug an elbow in her
ribs. "Oh, jeez, sorry, sir."
A corner of Crafts mouth turned up. "Thats
quite all right, sailor. Please continue."
"Thank you, sir. Dont you see, Mahboob? If you
ride home on the ship, you can cash in that ticket they gave you, and put
the money towards that house of yours in Jong damn, I never can get
that name right."
"Jhang-Maghiana," the Pakistani said softly.
"Check. I bet you could get four, five hundred dollars
for it, dont you think?"
Chaudri moistened his lips with the tip of his tongue The
ticket, he knew, was worth almost five hundred dinars, not dollars
more than 20,000 rupees at the current rate of exchange. And with 20,000
rupees added to what he had already managed to save from his salary, he would
finally have enough to make the down payment on the bungalow he yeamed to
build for his family in Shazias native village.
"But the voyage," he said. "It will take several
days to reach Karachi by sea, and I have only one month for my leave. That
means I would "
"No, you wouldnt," Tom Sanders interrupted
eagerly. "The Capn done arranged all that. Theyre gonna
give you a couple extra days, so you wont lose any time with your folks.
Its all set up, Mahboob. The Capn got it all took care of."
Chaudri regarded the beaming expressions on his young friends
faces, then turned to their commanding officer. "I I am overwhelmed,"
he stammered. "I am most absolutely grateful, Captain. I pray to Allah
that I may be worthy of this honor."
"Does that mean you accept, then, Officer?"
"Accept? Oh, dearie me, yes! Yes, indeed!"
"Very well," said Captain Craft with a smile.
"Sure wish we were going with you," said Miller
wistfully, as the Pakistani guard at the entrance to Mina Sulman harbor scrutinized
the photograph on her ID card.
"It saddens me to go without you," Chaudri replied.
"I had hoped to be able to show you my city, and to introduce you to
my family. And you should be going. You and Tom were as responsible
for the capture of the ASU smuggler as I."
"Thats as may be," Sanders shrugged. "But
you know how shorthanded we been on post since Adelson and Leavitt PCSd,
Dolly. Just aint no way they could spare us right now."
Chaudri took back his own identity card from the gate guard
and murmured a thank-you. "What is this PCS?" he asked.
Sanders shifted the olive-drab van into gear and drove on.
"Permanent Change of Station. Military talk."
"Beats me why they cant just say move,"
Dolly complained. "You come in the service they practically make you
learn a whole new language. Seems like theyve always got to come up
with some fancy way to say the simplest damn things."
"Shes right," nodded Sanders. "My favorites
POV, for Privately-Owned Vee-hickle. Back home we jes say c-a-r
and thats plenty good enough for us po black trash."
They swung around a corrugated tin warehouse, and an enormous
off-white troop transport loomed into view.
"There she is," Sanders announced. "The USS Coronado."
Chaudri was perplexed. "I was thinking that all of your
naval vessels were painted gray," he said.
"Most of em are," Dolly Miller confirmed.
"The Coronados the flagship, though, so they want her to stand
out from the crowd."
"We call her the Ivory Beast," said Sanders proudly.
"The Ivory Beast of the Middle East."
The black letters stenciled above the breast pocket of the
young bosuns mates chambray workshirt spelled Jensen, but when
the boy stooped to take charge of Mahboob Chaudris cardboard suitcase
and overnight grip, the little policeman saw a different name engraved on
the thin strip of metal wrapped around his cheerful escorts tanned right
"Shall I be calling you Jensen," Chaudri asked,
"or Jakovac?" The name on the silvery band was unfamiliar
to him and he guessed at its pronunciation, accenting the middle syllable.
"Sir?" The youths brow furrowed, then cleared
as he nodded down at his wrist. "Oh, you mean that? This way, sir."
He set off briskly along the main deck, and Chaudri had to hurry to keep up
with him. "No, sir, my names Jensen, okay. This heres a POW
bracelet, Ive had it on since I was a kid. I dont even hardly
notice it any more."
"And what does it signify?"
"Well, sir, thats the name of an American soldier
who fought in Vietnam, and underneath it is the date he was reported missing
Chaudri eyed the weathered engraving as they walked. "S/SGT,"
he read aloud. "That is military talk, then?"
"Staff Sergeant, sir. Staff Sergeant John Jakovac,
missing since May 29, 1967." Jensen stressed the first syllable of the
soldiers name. "Its a long time. Hes probably dead,
I guess, but, when I put this on, back in the fifth grade, I promised Id
wear it till they found out for sure what happened to him. Hes still
officially listed as missing, so I still wear the bracelet."
"You are most dedicated," said Mahboob Chaudri.
"I admire that, Mr. Jensen."
The boy ducked his head. "Thank you, sir. I just do what
I think is right."
They passed through an arched metal hatchway to the interior
of the ship, and found themselves in a large mess hall where more than a hundred
sailors in workshirts and bell-bottomed dungarees sat at long tables with
trays of food before them. Heads turned and the buzz of conversation abated
at the sight of the Pakistani in the strange olive-green uniform, but the
allures of lunch and gossip quickly reasserted themselves.
"Its just up this ladder, sir. Watch your head."
Jensen led the way up a steep flight of narrow metal steps, Chaudris
heavy old suitcase seemingly weightless in his left hand, the overnight bag
a feather in his right.
At the top of the stairs, a gleaming brass plaque announced:
Welcome to Officers Country. Jensen strode down a long corridor
punctuated on both sides by framed sketches of American warships and tall
doorways hung with floor-length gray curtains instead of doors.
"Youll be in here, sir." He swept a curtain
to one side and waved Chaudri in ahead of him.
The cubicle was small and colorless, tightly packed with a
set of bunk beds, two identical wooden writing desks and chairs, and a pair
of metal lockers flanking a single sink and mirror. Sheets, a rough woolen
blanket and a feather pillow lay neatly folded at the foot of each of the
beds, and plain white towels hung from a chromium bar beneath the sink.
"Sorry its so tiny, sir." Jensen lifted the
larger of Chaudris bags onto the top bunk, then swung the handgrip up
beside it. "Youre pretty lucky, though: most of the officers have
to double up, but youve got this compartment all to yourself this trip.
At least youll have some privacy."
"I am quite content," said Chaudri. "My room
at the police barracks in Juffair is three times this size, but I am sharing
it with five other men."
The young sailor glanced around the room, switched on the
overhead fan, scuffed a foot on the immaculate floor. "Well, I guess
Id best be getting back down, then. Oh, gosh, almost forgot: officers
heads down the passageway, first hatch on the port side."
"Officers head?" Chaudri echoed. "First
hatch? The port side?"
Jensen grimaced apologetically. "Bathroom and shower,
sir. Theyre down the hall, first door on your left."
"So tell me, mahsool, whats your verdict?"
Mahboob Chaudri looked up from his plate. "Sir?"
"The food," Captain Dave Buck elaborated. He was
a ruddy Southerner with half a century under his ample belt, more than two
decades of it in the Navy. "How are you enjoying your meal?"
The Pakistani worked his knife and fork and took another bite.
The chicken was dry and bland and coated with a greasy breading. The green
beans were overcooked and tasteless, the mashed potatoes lumpy. "Most
excellent," he said, chewing bravely.
Captain Bucks hearty laughter led the explosion of glee
which greeted this statement Even the sober Lieutenant-Commander Meacham
who had been introduced as the captains second-in-command and the Coronados
Executive Officer, or XO was visibly amused.
"You dont have to be polite," the bearded
man across from Chaudri grinned. Like the captain and XO, like all 22 of the
officers in the room, he was dressed in a simple khaki uniform; the oak leaf
and single acorn on his collar identified him as the ships doctor, the
nametag pinned to his breast pocket gave his last name as Steen.
Lieutenant (JG) William Kundo, sitting next to the doctor,
agreed loudly. "We all know its garbage," he boomed, pushing
away his plate and reaching for his pipe. "First night out and a guest
on board, youd think we could dish him up some decent chow."
"Theres nothing wrong with the food," said
Meacham, a cadaverous black man whose 18 years at sea had turned his skin
to deep-lined leather. "Its that damn Crockett, thats the
"Crockett?" said Chaudri.
"Seaman Apprentice Crockett, our temporary chef."
"To use the term extremely loosely." Kundo shook
his head sadly and struck a match. "Our regular cookies been confined
to sick bay for, what is it, a week now?"
"Six days," said the doctor. "And itll
be a couple more before I let him out of quarantine."
"Can you believe it," the captain sighed, "the
kids 24 years old and hes got the dadburned chicken pox."
"Hes got the chicken pox and Ive
got indigestion," Kundo groused. "Ill bet they never had
to put up with this sort of bull on a pirate ship."
A chorus of groans went up.
"Dont get Kundo started on his pirate ships,"
warned the XO. "Well be here all night."
Doctor Steen coughed into his fist. "Ah, tell me, mahsool,"
he said diplomatically, "what sort of food would you recommend we try
while were in Karachi?"
Chaudri welcomed the opportunity to sing his homelands
praises. "My country has many wonderful dishes," he said. "There
are curries, baryanis, masalas, chicken tikka...."
A steward in an immaculate white mess jacket brought around
a steaming carafe of coffee, and the tension lifted.
The next day, the Coronados first full day at sea, was
uneventful. Lt. (JG) Kundo, a jack-of-all-trades whose varied duties included
public relations, took Mahboob Chaudri on an extended tour of the ship, from
the sweltering depths of the engine room to the air-conditioned comfort of
the radar room, where the sole illumination was provided by the pale-green
glow of the vigilant screens.
The only sour note was the continued grumbling about the meals
in the Officers Mess, but even that problem was resolved at last when,
after a dinner of soggy pink meatloaf, Doctor Steen stroked his grey-flecked
beard and announced that the popular Seaman 2nd Petersons condition
had improved to the point that he would be permitted to return to duty in
At breakfast time, thanks to Pete, the omelets were fluffy,
the toast unburnt, and it was with a full and contented stomach that Mahboob
Chaudri folded his arms on the main deck aft rail and watched the Coronados
frothy wake glitter with reflected sunlight.
It was just after eight, and the sun hung low in a clear blue
sky not yet written on by clouds. It would soon turn hot and muggy, Chaudri
knew, but at this hour the air was still pleasantly cool.
For a day and two nights they had steamed slowly to the east,
and now they approached the narrow funnel of the Strait of Hormuz. The Iranian
coastline, already visible two miles to the north, would draw closer as they
rounded the Ras Masandam peninsula. To the south, where at present there was
only the endless cobalt mystery of the sea, the United Arab Emirates would
come briefly into view, then melt into the desert sands of Oman.
Chaudri cupped a hand above his eyes and gazed westward. Far
beyond the black speck which punctuated the distant horizon lay the tiny Bahraini
archipelago, his adopted home. He turned, and rested his back against the
rail. Far ahead, far beyond the Strait and the Gulf of Oman, deep into the
Arabian Sea, lay his past and his future: Pakistan, Karachi, his wife and
But between the little policeman and his family rose the enormous
superstructure of the USS Coronado, with its flat-black main mast and yardarms
and radars and whip antennas, and the imposing off-white of its helo hangar
and stacks and flying bridge.
"The Ivory Beast," Chaudri murmured. "The Ivory
Beast of the Middle East."
The Coronado, with all its sophisticated weaponry, was a powerful
beast indeed. But was it powerful enough to keep the peace throughout its
vast domain? Was it strong enough for that?
For there was another beast at large in the Gulf, Chaudri
thought, a beast with many millions of heads and claws: the angry green beast
of fanatic Islamic fundamentalism.
To the north, the brown hills of Iran were quiet, but their
soft serenity was deceptive. Behind those hills, a government gone mad was
busy planning strategies for its painful war with Iraq. The war had dragged
on for years, had cost many thousands of lives, and there were no signs that
it was any closer to a resolution now than it had ever been before.
Chaudri peered westward once again. The black speck on the
horizon was growing larger.
At the far end of the Gulf, where Iran and Iraq shared a common
border, the battle raged. And why? Because the madmen on one side of that
imaginary line that line which appeared so clearly on maps and globes,
but which had in truth no more substance than a desert miragehad forgotten
the Messengers commandment to live in peace and brotherhood with the
madmen on its other side.
No, Chaudri realized, the distant spot of black was not getting
bigger. It was coming closer. And it was not black, he saw now, it was gray.
"Merea rabba!" he exclaimed in horror. It
was a warship, and it was closing on them with frightening speed.
The urgent cry of a siren scattered his thoughts.
"General quarters! General quarters!" A dozen loudspeakers
screamed the alarm. "Man your battle stations!"
Instantly, the giant ship was alive with activity. A thousand
sailors jumped to their positions, whipped the protective tarpaulins from
torpedo tubes, clambered up the turrets of the 5mm guns to arm them and swing
their barrels astern toward the rapidly-approaching cruiser.
Mahboob Chaudri raced forward, his heart pounding, and scrambled
up two steep ladders to the bridge.
He found Captain Buck and the XO out on the deck behind it, each with a pair of field glasses raised to his eyes.
"Captain, sir," Chaudri wheezed, pressing a hand
to his breast. "What is happening? Whose ship is that?"
"Dont know yet. If its Iranians and theyre
looking for a fight, we could have a nasty little incident on our hands here."
"Can you make out the colors of their flag, sir?"
"Just barely. Three stripes, I think. Green, white and
red. Dammit, that is Iran, isn't it?"
Chaudri gripped his arm. "Those are Irans colors,"
he said urgently. "But is that the order they are in, sir: green, white
and red from top to bottom?"
"What the ?" Buck glared at his passenger.
"What difference does it "
"Please, sir," Chaudri insisted. "Please look
A moment passed. Then the captain nodded slowly and lifted his binoculars.
"White, red and green," he said tightly, "with
a vertical red stripe nearest the flagpole."
Chaudri closed his eyes and sighed, and released the offficers
sleeve. "Oman," he whispered. "The Iranian flag is green, white
and red, with a yellow lion centered in the middle stripe."
Captain Buck breathed deeply. "Are you sure about that,
"Oh, yes, sir. Oh, dearie me, most certainly yes. I assure
you, that is the flag of Oman."
The captain stared out at the sleek gray vessel, now close
enough to make out its dark-skinned crew with the naked eye. He licked his
dry lips absently. He wiped the back of his hand across his forehead.
Then he made his decision, stepped through a hatchway onto
the bridge and grabbed up a microphone and stabbed the red button on its side.
"Now hear this," he said, and the ships loudspeakers
took his voice and turned it into thunder. "Secure from general quarters.
Secure from general quarters."
Continue to Part 2.