It was impossible to lay eyes upon The S.S. Touchstone without being impressed. I’d seen photos, studied the plans and interviewed some of the men who built her but no amount of research had prepared me for her sheer magnificence.
Legend has it that when Max Gearing, the larger than life founder of Global Pacific entered the New York offices of Taylor & Fremantle Naval Architects he handed over a blank cheque and asked in return for a ship that redefined ocean travel. Privately, Noah Taylor himself claimed that the notoriously fiery shipping magnate had demanded a vessel that would make rival firms “shit through their eyes.” Briefly putting the anatomical unlikeliness of Gearing’s request aside, my eyes were definitely straining.
Touchstone was nearly seven hundred feet long, over one hundred feet wide and nearly forty feet deep with a fully loaded weight in excess of thirty five thousand tonnes. I don’t know how it stayed afloat but I know it looked incredible while it did.
From my seat at one of the lower rolling blackjack tables in the mezzanine casino I had a birds eye view of the main ballroom. From what I could see a good seventy percent of The Touchstone’s sixteen hundred passengers seemed to have donned their finest of fine finery and congregated on the black and red marble dance floor. The band were good, very good. One of the bus boys told me Gearing had seen them in a show at Carnegie hall. Like anything the old man took a liking too he snapped them up. Gearing was one of those guys that was rich enough to buy whatever took his fancy and dispose of whatever didn’t. His original business partner, Claude Perry, had turned up dead in an Chicago alleyway three years before The Touchstone ever got wet. The chief of police said he had no reason to suspect Gearing was involved before going on to imply that Perry was a reckless gambler whose lifestyle had caught up with him. A month later a small New York paper printed an interview with Perry’s sister Grace in which she claimed the police chief had thirty five thousand untraceable reasons not to suspect Gearing was involved and that her brother’s only reckless gamble was going into business with a half hungarian murderer. The newspaper closed the next day and Grace was killed in a car accident two weeks later. Max Gearing has frequently and public denied having any Hungarian ancestry.
As the dealer dealt me another losers hand I turned my attention back to the dance floor. I knew everyone of the revellers by name. In the eleven days I’d been aboard the ship I’d explored every gleaming inch of the magnificent vessel and I’d found an excuse to introduce myself to every single passenger and crew member, pretty much all of whom thought I was a nosy and irritating socialite with a thirty second attention span. Barring a middle aged German lawyer by the name Hoffer every single person on the ship were accounted for.
Exactly as they had been on July the fifth 1937 when The S.S Touchstone left New York on it’s maiden voyage, exactly three days before she disappeared without trace, exactly twenty six years before I was born.