Chapter Twenty Four-More Seeds Planted
The steaming hot water streamed down Troublemakers head to his feet, carrying with it all of the sweat and dirt from the mornings run and the past day. Gary could have stayed in the shower for hours, but mindful that others would need some of the water, he reluctantly cut it short. Waiting for him as he stepped out was April who had seated herself on the toilets lid.
“That was a very nice thing you did in buying our house, what made you think of that?”
Gary dried himself with a towel and wrapped it around his waist, erasing a steamed spot on the mirror so he could shave. “Like I said, we all need a place to call home…” looking at April through the mirror “…some of us more than others.” Gary wanted to say something else, but couldn’t find the words. As Gary looked at himself in the mirror, an uneasy and insecure feeling came over him.
April saw the change on Gary’s face “What’s wrong?”
“I don’t know…” Gary looked at her, feeling very insecure “…I just…I’m feeling really old right now. I feel that I am so outclassed by these guys…” Gary turned “…They are all professional soldiers…” leaning against the sink “…I mean. I’ve got no formal training; I’m not as physically adept as them…” Gary shook his head “…what if I make a mistake?”
April stood and stepped over “Look Gary, they all know that…”Looking at him with direct eye contact “...But they also know that it’s YOU that opened their eyes. No, you’re not a SEAL, and you’re not a submarine guy either…” placing her arms around his shoulders “…but you’ve done more than any of them ever have, and they respect and admire you for that…and they are going to follow you Gary, because they trust you…” April’s voice was soft and choking with emotion “…and I trust you, and I want you to come home…to me.”
“I guess that I’m scared, I don’t want to lose any more guys.”
April reached up and kissed Gary “I love you Gary Martin and I don’t want to be dogged by those Blue Hat murderer’s for the rest of our lives.”
Gary took April’s hand and felt the ring on her finger, taking his own ring off he placed it in her open palm. “Hold this for me…”closing her fingers over the ring and smiling “…I want it back when this is over.”
April smiled as she saw the confidence return in Gary’s eyes. “Are you asking me to marry you?”
Gary nodded yes
“Oh, well…I don’t know...”April said with a casual drama queen faraway look “…I might have other plans, you know like saving the world, or something like that.”
“So, I take that as a yes.” Gary smiled knowing that she was toying with him, as he would have done with her.
“Of course I will…” April hugged him “…you knew that all along.”
The melding of two hearts and minds can take some people years even their entire lifetimes to accomplish; if at all. Some folks never get it right, spending their lives searching for happiness or fulfillment or the perfect partner. Gary and April stepped out of the humid bathroom, knowing that their destiny as a couple was theirs for the taking.
Standing in the hallway, Jefferson and Goldberg looked at the ceiling and pretended to whistle as if nothing was going on; it was obvious that they had listened in. Gary stood in front of them both and opened his arms in a questioning gesture “Well…aren’t you going to say anything?”
“Suh…far be it from me and the Hebrew heah to be listenin to what you and…ah…Miz April would be dis-cussin in dat bathroom….” Jefferson smiled “…all I can say is…congratulations, Suh…” Jefferson paused “…and by the way…Miz April is right.”
Gary and April dressed then went into the living room and saw the house empty with the exception of Lauren in the kitchen. Jefferson followed as Goldberg showered. Gary looked out the front window and saw Larry in the Monte Carlo talking on the CB radio. Evidently Larry had finished his conversation as he came back to the house at a trot.
“I have transportation lined up for the women and your SEAL.” Larry said “There’s room for more if you know of anyone else that needs to go there. I also have another driver coming down to help out.”
“Excellent, is this guy good?” Gary asked
“This truck hasn’t missed yet.” Larry said with a confident smile
“You say that you have another driver coming down?”
“Yeah, Jimmies a racing buddy of mine who definitely knows how to drive. I thought you might need an extra hand.” Larry had a bag that was filled with road maps, pulling out a map of the area, he pointed to a location about 15 miles north of town. ”Here is where the truck will meet us, a little spot on the road called Tompkins. There’s a farm off of Rt 110, the sign will read ‘JR Stevens’, my guy will be there at 3pm.”
“Good job Larry” Gary said as Jefferson agreed
Gary looked at Jefferson “Where’s Rob and the others?”
“They went to the Nebraska to have their chips taken out.” Jefferson said
“I hope they know not to throw those things away.”
“I’ll call him, Suh”
“By the way, I sure could use one of those phones, if you know where I can get one.”
“I’ll call Graham; he’ll know where to get one.” Jefferson smiled as he felt that whatever plans that were being made seemed to be formulating.
Gary took some paper and started to write his thoughts and plans. April went to tell Lauren about the 3pm pick up and they started to get packed.
Eight hundred and fifty miles to the northeast the sleek gray knife of a ship sliced through the roiling sea green water. Her design was to be able to go fast and she did just that, The Sullivans excelled in speed and maneuverability. Inside the darkened cabin Commander Richard Benson woke up with a start. Flicking on his bunk light he saw that is was late, almost 7am. The Commander didn’t like to sleep past 5.30am and now there was going to be hell to pay for whoever let him sleep this long. Throwing on his uniform, the Commander made his way topside to the Bridge. As he passed the CIC or Combat Information Center, CMDR Benson stopped in to get a quick situation report.
“Good morning Sir.” Electronics Technician Jamie Brewer said as he sat in one of the many full length aircraft style seats in front of his computer monitor.
“Good morning Brewer, how’s the weather?”
“Looks good sir, we are on the waning edge of that storm…should be a nice day.”
Commander Benson made it a point to know each of his crew whenever possible. Using the sailors name built a bond between them that created a family atmosphere; even in a warship.
Electronics Officer Lt Ralph Higgins was in the far corner and saw Commander Benson enter. “Good morning sir…” Lt Higgins was cool and businesslike “…We’ve heard nothing more from those Kilo’s since the storm passed sir.”
“I don’t know if that’s good or bad, Ralph…” Dick Benson looked at his officer “…they’re still out there. I’d like to know what they’re up to, with all that banging away from their sonar….” pausing for a moment “…a diesel sub like a Kilo, needs to stay quiet so whenever they are pinging their sonar like they’ve been doing, it just tells us where we can find them…” pausing again “…strange behavior…or stupid behavior, isn’t it?”
Lt Higgins nodded and returned to overseeing his crew. Dick Benson left and went up the two flights of steps to the Bridge. Upon entering the Bridge he was announced as entering. Lieutenant Commander Alfred Sparks the Executive Officer of The Sullivans greeted him. “Good morning sir, hope you slept well.”
“Morning Al, so it was you that let me oversleep?”
“Guilty as charged, sir…” Lt Cmdr Sparks, an African-American from Philadelphia, said smiling “…you didn’t hit the rack until about 1am and since nothing’s going on right now, I let you sleep.”
“I appreciate it, thanks…” Dick said and meant it “…what’s the status on the Rescue Buoy?”
“We’ve received three messages from Norfolk; I mean…The World Naval Forces, or whatever it’s called, since you’ve slept…” It was no secret of the crew’s animosity from the recent changes. “… The Seahawk made it through the storm fine. As you know, the Buoy was loaded before the storm hit so, as soon as we can get the helo pre-flighted, it should be underway to the Reagan.”
“Where is the Reagan now?”
“She should be about 350 miles to the southeast.”
“Ok, that’s right at the edge of the Seahawks range so, let’s change heading to zero-six-zero and bring it to full speed.”
“Aye sir” The XO passed the command to the helmsman and The Sullivans made a sweeping turn and increased the turbine engines power to close the distance to the aircraft carrier, Ronald Reagan. “Ok, now I know that nobody’s supposed to talk about this, according to the World Naval Force Investigators, but what do yo think the story is on this Buoy?”
All ears focused on the Commander for his assessment of the situation. “Rescue Buoys only come from subs that are either going down or are down and are in need of help. We picked up this buoy in about 10,000 feet of water…if a sub went down…” the paused was palpable as the reality of a submarine crew being rescued in 10,000 feet of water was impossible “…I don’t think we’re being told the truth.”
“So…what do you think?” Al Sparks asked
“I think a sub went down…I also think that those Kilos’s are players. Their behavior is just too strange.” Commander Benson changed the tone “Let’s get this Rescue Buoy to the Regan; they can get it back to the Investigators so they can find out what went wrong.”
“So what if they don’t want to find out what went wrong…sir?” Helmsman Marty Boston asked.
Nobody answered the implausible question; however, the seeds of doubt were just planted.
The view from the bridge on a ship like the Sullivans is an awesome sight, a feeling of pure power as she sliced through the six foot seas like finely honed German steel though a perfectly grilled rib-eye steak. There wasn’t much conversation on the bridge after the talk about the Rescue Buoy. The Commander was having his first cup of coffee for the day and the men gave him that time for himself. As the Commander was looking out over the bow thinking the unthinkable, a commotion behind him caused all heads to turn.
Running up the steps to the bridge and arriving gasping for breath. “Ensign Adams, sir…” The boyish Adams looked completely out of place “…the Seahawk is ready to go, sir”
The Commander and the XO looked at this young sailor standing in front of them. Ensign Adams was wearing a much larger than needed green combat Kevlar helmet, making him look like cartoon character. There was also a large blue-black bruise on his left cheek. “Ensign, what happened there?” XO Sparks pointed to his cheek.
Looking sheepishly “I ran into a hatch, sir.”
“XO repeated the Ensigns explanation “…Ran into a hatch…” Eyeing the hard helmeted young man “…is that why you’re wearing that helmet?”
“Yes sir…Chief Simonowski said that if I didn’t watch where I was going…I’d hurt myself. He’s making me wear this, sir.”
Commander Benson and the helmsman looked at one another and suppressed a laugh. The Ensign continued “He also said that if I couldn’t control myself that he would make me wear curb feelers.”
The laughter that was suppressed was now starting to come out. XO Sparks smiled broadly “Well, Ensign…you’re just going to have to control yourself, right? You don’t want to wear curb feelers.”
“Sir?” The puppy dog faced Ensign looked at the XO. “What are curb feelers?”
Chuckling “It’s a little before your time Adams…just be careful, ok?”
“Yes sir” Adams turned and bolted through the hatch leading down the steps into the midsection of the ship, clipping his right shoulder. “Oww” Then he disappeared.
The bridge erupted in laughter. “Do they come any greener than that?” XO Sparks asked to no one in particular.
Commander Benson looked at his second in command “I don’t think so. He’s not anything like his old man, I can tell you that.”
“Oh?” XO Sparks replied
“Ensign Adams old man is “Popeye” Adams over at Kings Bay. Popeye runs the Explosives Handling Wharf with an iron hand. His old man is salty as hell; you don’t ever want to run afoul of him at his house…” Dick paused recalling a previous encounter “…When I was on the SSN Houston we were about 30 days into our 90 day patrol. One of our MK48 torpedos was tested as faulty, so the Skipper decides to do a quick re-fit at Kings Bay. We arrived for the re-fit, and as it turns out, the MK48 had been damaged by us when we loaded it. Well, Popeye takes one look at that fish and then proceeds to rip our Skipper a new ass. The way he did was beautiful, not once did he demean the Captain, but he sure as hell let him know WHOSE fish they were and HOW they were to be treated. That ass chewing was a work of art.”
Commander Benson and his XO had the attention of the entire bridge telling that story. As he finished, Dick reached unconsciously to his belt and felt something amiss. “Oh…forgot my phone, I’ll be right back.” Turning he left to his quarters. Walking down the steps and along the narrow halls through the interior of his ship, Commander Benson greeted the crew as he made his way. Arriving at his quarters he retrieved the cell phone from his nightstand where it was being charged. Turning on the phone and clipping it to his belt, he left heading out toward the rear of the ship. Pausing along the way to greet the crew he finally arrived at the aft deck, where the helicopter was preparing for take off.
Stepping through the hatch which opened to the rear helicopter pad, or aft deck, Dick saw the gray Seahawk Helicopter being unshackled from the ship. The crew moved from wheel to wheel and finally to the steel cable that ran through the underbelly of the helo, unclipping it from the deck. The twin jet engines on the Seahawk started as the pilot and co-pilot began their pre-flight checks. Looking through the pilot’s windscreen Lt Cmdr Wendy Chen smiled at Cmdr Benson and gave him the thumbs up. Within moments the top rotor started to turn, increasing speed and finally breaking the bond between ship and sky. The gray helo rose and due to the forward speed of the ship, moved behind The Sullivans, turning towards the USS Ronald Reagan.
With the noise of the on the aft deck greatly reduced after the helicopter took off, Dick felt his cell phone vibrate, notifying him of voice mail messages. Dialing the number to retrieve his messages, Dick listened as an unfamiliar voice urgently needed him to return a call. Dialing the number for Captain Miller, he waited as the connection completed.
Jack Miller had arrived at the quay where the Nebraska was moored. Parking the Honda and retrieving his sea bag and briefcase he walked across the pea graveled lot towards the security gate. Jack felt his phone vibrate and looking at the number; saw that it was Commander Benson. “Captain Miller” he answered.
The time of voice transmission took a split second to be transmitted through the ground station and then up linking to a satellite and then down to the receiving phone, the quality was crystal clear. “Captain Miller, this is Commander Dick Benson, you called?”
Jack dropped his sea bag and walked in circles talking to The Sullivans commander 850 miles away. “Commander, I am the Skipper of the Nebraska, I understand you have the Rescue Buoy from the West Virginia?”
“Not any more, the helo just took off with it and is heading for the Regan.”
“What’s up Captain?”
“Commander, we’re in a real shit storm here. That buoy was from the West Virginia, it went down yesterday. I believe it was sunk.”
The line went silent as Dick Benson let the Captain talk.
Jack continued “I believe that the MK48 torpedos have been sabotaged and are being triggered to explode inside the ship. I NEED the data on the Rescue Buoy to confirm this.”
Dick took a breath “Captain, this is the first I’ve heard about the West Virginia…” pausing again “…Sir, I don’t know what to say…that makes four subs down. I can recall the helo, what data do you need?”
“I need to know if there is a signal that is imbedded into a sonar ping, possibly from a Kilo.”
“Son-of-a-bitch!...” Dick realized what he was hearing. “…well, that explains it. Captain we’ve been listening to a couple of Kilo’s pound the water with their sonar, they were making a hell of a racket…” The lights were coming on for Dick Benson “…we lost them when we went through that storm.”
“Hmmm…that’s interesting, isn’t it?” Jack paused for a moment “Commander, we set sail tomorrow morning…”Jack paused to change direction “…let me ask you, have you ever been in a sub?”
“As a mater of fact I have, sir. I did a tour on the Houston.”
“Good, then you know that if those fish are sabotaged or defective in any way, the entire profile of our mission is changed.”
“I know sir. However, wouldn’t it be easier to just let Norfolk, I mean ‘The World Naval Force Investigator’s make their report?” Dick tossed the bait out to Captain Miller, as he was trying to pick up some information.
“Commander…do you remember a few years ago when the San Francisco ran into that underwater mountain?”
“I sure do, that was an ugly incident.”
“Even though the San Francisco hit that mountain at full speed, she didn’t sink…” Jack paused “…now, we have just lost four subs, and NO ONE can tell us why…except to say that it was ‘Operator Error’, do you buy that?”
“No I don’t… Hold on for a second” Dick turned to the bright eyed and bruised Ensign Adams who was standing behind him. “…Ensign Adams, have XO Sparks recall the Seahawk immediately…my orders…”
“Aye aye, sir” Ensign Adams turned to run along the side of the ship to reach the bridge.
Adams turned “Yes sir?”
“Use the phone…” Commander Benson turned his attention back to the conversation with Jack “…these kids nowadays…”
Jack heard the conversation and chuckled “Say…is that Ensign Bert Adams, Popeye’s son?”
“The one and only, do you know Popeye?” Dick replied
“Anyone that touches a MK48 torpedo or a Trident D-5 missile knows Popeye Adams…his Dad’s a good sailor, and I trust him.”
A commonality bond had just developed between Jack and Dick. “Captain…you’ve been ashore now for a while. We’ve been out to sea for almost 5 months now…”pausing to allow his frustration subside “…this last patrol has been along the West African coast…patrolling against illegal fishing…” pausing again “…I’ve got the aircraft carrier Reagan and that whole group, going up and down the coast…to watch for illegal fishing.”
“Are you kidding me?”
“I wish I was sir...” taking a breath “…is there anything else going on, that we should know about?” Dick knew he was asking a question that could have received an immediate ‘no’ answer.
Jack knew that secrecy was vitally important. He also knew, as did the rest of the men, that they were out-manned, out-gunned and running out of time. The men and the guns, they could get…time was a different story. “Commander…there’s more going on here than I can tell you. However, our backs are against the wall, and we need help…” Jack decided to trust the Skipper of The Sullivans “…I need your sworn assurance that this stays close, do you understand?”
“You have my word sir.”
“Here is what’s going on…”
XO Sparks was topside above the helo deck and saw Dick below him, talking on his cell phone. The conversation grew animated with the Commander making a fist and shaking it angrily…then he saw his Commander lean against a hatch, weak kneed…like he just received news of a death in the family.
Eighty miles from The Sullivans; Lt. Cmdr Wendy Chen received an order to return to the destroyer. Lt Cmdr Chen immediately made a 180° turn and looking at her co-pilot shrugged her shoulders. On the Ronald Reagan, the Air Controller or as he was commonly called the Air Boss also heard the order from The Sullivans and saw the Seahawks about face.
The master control center at Norfolk Naval Headquarters viewed the Atlantic Fleet in real time. The darkened room which was now named World Naval Forces Atlantic Fleet Command, had men and monitors for all surface ships and aircraft. The Seahawks return to The Sullivans was not expected; a notation was made and passed up the chain of Command, where it would eventually land on the desk of Secretary General Santana.