PAPERBACK BOOKS
THE MUCKY DUCKS 


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Simply a story, nothing more - nobody could believe it actually happened -

On average, every day of the year a ship over 3000 GRT either is sunk or disappears without trace. Although many of these events are accidents or weather related, many more have a human hand involved.

Set into the background of the South Pacific and Asia; the ‘Sea Eagles’ or ‘Mucky Ducks’, as they preferred to be called, was a small organisation that initially earned its money by investigating the suspicious demise of some vessels and trying to prevent the deliberate destruction of others.

However over a period of time their work grew to include many other aspects of the dark side of the world at sea. This included arms and people smuggling, drug trafficking and insurance fraud. In later years they met their biggest challenge as modern pirates grew to be a global menace.

This book looks at the work of the ‘Ducks’ but is also heavily focused on the people concerned. It shows a gradual deterioration in both ethics and morals as they struggled to keep up with their grim work.
Told with much humour through the eyes of one of the Ducks, with comments added by other parties, it leads us through an almost make believe world, where even the strong were ultimately not strong enough.

Many of the Mucky Ducks, as they called themselves, fell during the performance of their assignments. Others were left both physically and mentally scarred. Humour and music were their weapons against the reality of their work but even here, the laughter and music slowly failed them, fading into an almost forgotten past, leaving them with little but a hard day to day existence.

Although this is a story telling of action and adventure, it is also very much a love story, but one which doesn't end with "And they lived happily ever after".

 

In Store Price: $AU23.95 
Online Price:   $AU22.95

ISBN: 1 9210 0503 3
Format: Paperback
Number of pages: 298
Genre: Fiction
 

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Author: Hendrick Van Der Zee 
Publisher: Zeus Publications
Date Published: 2004
Language: English

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In memory of the Ducks

&

Dedicated to Hendrick & Sylvia

For caring enough to put up with me

&

With love to ‘Red’

Wherever or Whenever you are.


To most comes that time of lengthening shadows between uncaring youth and judgmental old age, when the scorecard is first tallied.

It is at the time when limbs begin to slow, eyes blur and hair seeks to pale as if fatigued.

The curse that falls upon us during this most damning time is that of memory made clear by the distance of years.

A courtroom existing only for the mind that created it.

How hateful to have events once cloaked in the uncertainty of the happening made plain and naked. To have rooms once softened by the demand of exploring others, lit as the day with no corners hidden from the eye, with all truths exposed.

Then does our trial begin and for such as me, it has no end.

Happy indeed are those that find no darkness and can move on.

Cursed are we who look back and find only emptiness of our own creation where happiness could have resided.

Desolation where great feelings of joy could have lived.

Pain given by our own hand, where just as easily, it could have been pleasure. Hurt to those who gave none.

This merciless court has but one punishment and that is the most terrible of all - to live and remember … everything.

 

Harry Drake 2000

An Explanation by the Author  

 

I never knew Harry during his time with the Mucky Ducks; we only met after the return from his 25-year odyssey. I used to drink with a few friends twice a week at a certain Brisbane hotel and often there was a solitary character drinking at the end of the bar. As an ex-mariner myself I quickly recognised a fellow seaman. He didn’t have to say anything; it was etched into his face and bearing. But there was also something else - something indefinable.

Harry never tried to join in any conversation; he was quite content to be alone. I noticed that he kept an eye on the door, checking the face of everybody who came in, as if searching for someone. He was never rude and would always reply with a strange smile to anybody who tried to strike up conversation, but he never seemed to want to take anything further than a polite hello. The two regular barmaids who served us were, shall we say, ‘a bit rough’ but I noticed that they were very protective of Harry and although they were at least 25 years his junior I know both of them had a crush on him. At the time this was hard to understand, as you would never call him in the least good looking.

Then one day my friends failed to turn up for some reason or other and I found myself alone at the bar except for Harry. I thought the situation needed to be resolved so went straight up to him, stuck out my hand and said, ‘You’re a seaman, aren’t you? My name is Hendrick.’

We shook hands and he didn’t try the old he-man trick of crushing my hand; it was just a good firm handshake. But for the first time, now that I was close, I noticed his eyes and I confess it shook me. It was hard to tell the colour, hazel or green, but they had been to hell and back and had definitely brought part of that hell back with them.

There was more than one lifetime reflected there. They were the eyes of a person who had seen too much, suffered too much and who was extremely alone. During our first conversation I noticed that even when he gave that funny tight-lipped smile of his, the eyes never quite matched the smile.

He told me he was ‘sort of’ retired. I told him that I had left the sea and now worked as a freelance journalist, mainly churning out articles about the marine industry. We talked for a couple of hours, not saying much, but at least I had broken the ice.

Over the next three years we became quite good friends. We only ever met in the bar but I would often go on days when I knew my other friends wouldn’t be there, just so Harry would talk to me, as he seemed to hate being in a group. I think that most people in the bar just didn’t meet his required standard.

Then in the early part of 2003 he rang me up and asked to meet in the bar and it had to be ‘now.’ Normally I would have refused as I was fighting a deadline, but seeing as it was this strange Harry creature, I immediately did as ordered.

He was in his usual spot but that’s about all that was the same. The eyes were shuttered but it was as if he were being torn apart inside. Nothing that would show to the outside world, but I knew - and for the first time ever, I could see he was the worse for drink. Harry could drink a lot but I had never seen him show the least sign of being drunk.

He told me that he had a book to write and that he wanted my help in getting it onto paper. Now this is a journalist’s worse nightmare. Everybody thinks they have a story to tell. However, in this case it was different. I knew there was something hidden behind the scenes with this man and I was eager to drag it out. I was further intrigued when he said that nobody must ever know who wrote it and that even I must use a fictitious name. That was strange; people usually have an ego that demands recognition - but I agreed. All he had with him at the time was an article torn from a newspaper reporting a plane crash, but I got the impression that it had, somehow, been the trigger.

Between 2pm and 9pm we sat in that bar while he told me the fantastic story of the ‘Sea Eagles,’ or ‘Mucky Ducks’ as he liked to call them. The story was so strange and unbelievable that, at first, I doubted it was true. This doubt started to vanish when he showed me his ankle, chest and side where bullets had left their marks, plus the scar where one had been removed, but the clincher was when, for the first time, he smiled at me without hiding behind tight lips and I saw the usually invisible damage – then I knew it was true.

He also gave me the names of two other Ducks that were still alive so that I could confirm his story. This I did but only as a professional necessity; I knew before then that it wasn’t fiction. So, the book has been written.

It’s not difficult for me to imagine the younger version of Harry. The hair might now be grey and the waistline thick with age and sudden lack of activity, but the rest is still there, barely hidden by the years. If I had to describe him I would say, part white knight, part black knight, part romantic, part earthy realist, with a huge dose of Don Quixote thrown in. Given half a chance he would be off again, seeking dragons in windmills. I think that’s one word that also describes part of the look in his eyes – seeking.

Today you could pass Harry in the street and never give him a second glance. Unless you looked into his eyes you would take him for just another elderly grey-haired man. You would never suspect that he had been shot, stabbed, horribly tortured, blown up, cheated cyclones and had many ships sink from under him. You would definitely never suspect that he had also been involved in what is probably one of the most strange and tragic love stories of all time. But if you did see into his eyes, none of this would surprise you; it’s all there.

At least I now know why he always stands or sits facing the door. He’s waiting for a certain woman with red hair to re-enter his life. Even though, inside, he knows it will never happen. But that story is for others to tell; I wasn’t there but would give my right arm to have been.

The problem with hearing and writing this story is that I feel I have missed out on something rather wonderful. Tragic, terrible, brutal, extremely sad – but wonderful.

It was certainly a very special life but as a certain woman, on a very fateful day long ago, once asked him: ‘Is the price never too high, Harry?’

I think it’s only recently that he has been able to answer that question, and I think the answer is ‘yes, sometimes the price is just too damned high’.

That’s the trouble with really important questions. The answer usually comes far too late.

HVDZ
 

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