November 4th, 1923
Winter had come earlier than expected to the Bigg City area and it was predicted to be one of the worst the area had ever seen. Temperatures at night were usually below 0 and came with a thick cloud of fog and snowstorms that made work very difficult. Several lighthouses and lightships in the area were now under a lot of pressure to keep working, otherwise there would be severe causalities. OJ was heading to Uptown to start logging duties early next morning. Snow was battering him and he water was the coldest it had ever been.
"They shouldn't send an old timer like me out in this weather." He mumbled to himself as snow splattered his glasses. "I haven't seen weather likes this for years! The logs will probably have frozen together by morning." He was currently chugging through Mittsville. If OJ stopped here, Captain Starr would find out somehow and he gets in trouble. However, the weather seemed to be getting worse and OJ's glasses were fogging up. Suddenly, something softly hit his side. There weren't any rocks around here, but OJ could have run into one of the docks.
"OJ, what are you doing out here?" Came a familiar voice.
"Billy Shoepack, am I glad to see you! Well, I can't actually see you, but good to hear a familiar voice." OJ replied.
"I was just heading back to my warehouse, want to bunk there for the night?" Billy asked. OJ paused for a second. Billy lived in one of the warehouses of his employers, the Munitions Company. OJ felt rather uncertain, but it was better than staying out in the weather.
"Sure." He replied, still unease. Billy towed OJ towards the warehouse and OJ felt warm as soon as he passed through the doors.
"I generally keep a small amount of fuel lit to keep me warm." Billy explained. OJ felt relieved by this and chugged up towards the lit barge. His glasses soon became clear and looked over a Billy. He was very wet from the snow melting away.
"I am glad you found me. I probably would have frozen if I was out there any longer." OJ chuckled.
"I was just doing some late night pick-ups. It's Guy Fawkes tomorrow and the mayor has arranged a big fireworks display to be spread over Bigg City, Mittsville and Uptown." Billy explained. "The Z-Stacks are coming up tomorrow as part of their contract to help deliver things."
"They better not get in the way of our logging duty." OJ grumbled. "All we need is those Z-Stacks causing tr-" OJ never finished his sentence. Outside, over the howling wind, they heard shouts and a loud scraping noise, and then a loud creak. The two tugs fell silent and rushed to the warehouse doors, but they couldn't see anything through the fog or snow.
By half past six the next morning, it had stopped snowing and the fog was clearing, leaving only a thin mist behind. Billy and OJ came out of the warehouse and headed towards one of the docks to investigate the noise from last night. It turned out that an old tram steamer had tried to leave during the night and had crashed into the docks and had whacked one of the metal supports of an ancient water tower that had been the pride of the town for decades. Little Ditcher was there with some naval tugs helping to pull the tram steamer.
"Hello Billy, OJ." Little Ditcher called out as they approached. "Would you mind giving us a hand?"
"This is a naval operation, we decide wheter we need help or not." One of the tugs said gruffly and glared at the two.
"Ignorant younging!" OJ huffed. The naval tugs struggled for five minutes to pull the tram steamer, who kept yelling profanities as he winced in pain. Then, the rude naval tug turned to OJ and Billy.
"Need our help now, do ya?" Billy said. "Well, don't expect us to give you any!"
"Now now Billy, go fetch a small amount of dynamite and we can blast the tram steamer and get some momentum so we can pull it off." The naval tugs gasped.
"Do you work for the munitions company? You could have said something." A second naval tug huffed.
"Thought it would go to naval protocol." Billy retorted and OJ and Little Ditched chuckled as the tugs flushed. Billy soon came back with a nearly empty barrel of gunpowder.
"You better not try anything funny!" The tram steamer nervously called out through a megaphone.
"Don't worry, this stuff won't hurt a bit." Billy smiled. The naval tugs, OJ and Little Ditcher were ready to pull the second the explosion happened. The barrel was placed on the dock, half of it in the hull of the tram steamer. Billy lit the fuse and backed away.
"Ok, 5… 4… 3… 2… 1, pull!" The alligator tug cried. There was a small explosion and the tram steamer cried out as it was lifted slightly out of the water and off the dock, allowing the rescue team to pull it away before it came back down. It hit the water with a splash and sighed. OJ inspected the damage.
"That's a pretty big hole, but it could probably be mended, though it'll take a while." He said. The naval tugs grouchily pulled the tram steamer away after the hole in his side had been boarded up sufficiently.
"Didn't you say you had logging duty today?" Billy said. OJ gasped and let off a blast of his hooter.
"Thank you for reminding me, I nearly forgot! Thanks for your hospitality last night Billy, I'll see you two later." OJ turned around to leave when five familiar faces arrived: Ten Cents, Sunshine, Zorran, Zip and Zug. All five of them were yelling at each other and OJ had to yell and blast his hooter several times for them to quieten down.
"Lookie here boys," Zorran said sneeringly to Zip and Zug. "Turns out the paddler managed to make it up here without freezing." Zip and Zug laughed stupidly.
"What were you lot bickering about?" OJ asked, ignoring Zorran's remark.
"Sunshine and I were talking to Boomer on our way up and Zorran "accidentally" slammed into us as they passed." Ten Cents said.
"Not my fault if you two prefer having a nice chit-chat than working." Zorran growled.
"You nearly dented us, there was no cause for that!" Sunshine huffed.
"Oh build a bridge Sunshine and gut over it." Zip snorted. Everyone in the vicinity looked at him.
"Boat's don't go over bridges, dummy!" Zug snapped. "But he does have a fair point."
"FAIR, what's fair about getting hit?" Ten Cents shouted.
"Oh shut up Ten Cents, no one cares what a goody-goody switcher has to say." Zorran growled and they all started shouting again. It wasn't until the old water tower started to creak again that they shut up.
"What happened here?" Sunshine asked. OJ, Billy and Little Ditcher brought them up to speed.
"But we don't have time to sit around here and talk, we've got work to do." Billy said, and turned to the Z-Stacks. "As long as they still want their contract." Zorran glowered at Billy.
"Of course we want this contract, just shut up and show us to our barges." He snapped. Billy sighed and trundled off and farewelled the Star's and Little Ditcher.
"I wonder what will happen to the water tower." Sunshine said sadly. "I always loved to look at it whenever I was in Mittsville."
"I am very sorry Sunshine, but we are running late and unless you to do garbage duty for the rest of the month, I recommend we hurry up." OJ said sternly. The Star's turned to leave when they saw a familiar tug come around the corner. He was black like the Z-Stacks, but much friendly, though the eye patch over his left eye and the Munitions logo on his stack made him seem menacing.
"Sea Rouge!" Ten Cents and Sunshine cried together. Sea Rouge looked around and a beam came across his face.
"Hello you two!" He said and chugged over to them. "I haven't seen you two since you saved me and my Uncle."
"How is your Uncle?" Ten Cents asked.
"He is doing alright. The munitions company brought him and use him to collect coal and supplies for us. He is still a bit traumatised over the events, but is relieved that he was able to find a job."
"I would go mad with boredom if I didn't work." OJ said. "Though Burke and Blair would probably scrap me before that happened."
"I didn't know you worked for the munitions company." Sunshine said.
"Surprised you didn't notice, the logo has always been on my stack." Sea Rouge said. "I mainly tow in tramp steamers with loads for us, or do odd jobs around Mittsville to earn a bit more money." He then looked up at the water tower. "It'll be a pity when that's gone." The three Star Tugs and Little Ditcher gasped.
"What do you mean?" Little Ditcher exclaimed.
"The navy is going to use the tower as practice for some new weaponry. Bluenose and a couple of motor boats will be here soon so that they can avoid any protestors. I am too supervise." Sea Rouge let out a sad sigh. "We better leave, we are running very late." OJ said sternly, though he looked very sad. He bade farewell to Sea Rouge and turned to leave.
"OJ!" Sunshine cried out. The paddle tug stopped and turned around.
"Could Ten Cents and I stay down here for a little bit and try and talk Bluenose out of it?" The little switcher asked. OJ looked down at him and sighed.
"I don't see why not. But get up to the logging area soon or the job will take too long. And if Bluenose starts getting violent or bossier than usual, leave before he does anything stupid."
"Thank you OJ, we will make sure to be up there soon!" Ten Cents beamed and the two watched OJ chug off.
"So, do you two seriously think you can stop Bluenose from blowing it up?" Sea Rouge smirked.
"Of course we can, tugs can do anything." Sunshine said proudly.
"As long as the Z-Stacks keep their munitions away." Ten Cents said jokingly
The Z-Stacks were waiting impatiently for an old crane to unload a tramp steamer with their dangerous loads. Billy was inside the warehouse doing a stock take of the fireworks, staying close enough to hear their conversations.
"Hey Zorran, look, OJ is heading up to the logging camps alone!" Zug smiled deviously.
"Should we follow him?" Zip asked hopefully. The two switchers loved to please Zorran and Captain Zero. Zorran pondered it.
"The logging job does earn them a fair bit of money. Leave in about half an hour so it won't seem suspicious. If he catches you, which is highly likely with you two dunderheads, then say you were looking for barges. Take some of the munitions and blast the barges blocking the logs from escaping and see what happens." Zorran snicked. Zip and Zug were use to being insulted that they ignore his rude remark and laughed along side. Billy gasped silently and quickly began to ponder his own plan to rescue OJ.