As a little Sunday treat here are two chapters, picked at random from Wolf Hunt for your reading pleasure. I hope you enjoy them. As always, I encourage you to leave your comments and questions in the comments box below. If you like what you've read and are interested in more, you can purchase Wolf Hunt as an ebook at Amazon US, Amazon UK and Smashwords, or the paperback edition at Amazon. And now, please enjoy Chapters 8 and 11 of The Burning Ages: Wolf Hunt.
Choices and Adversaries
Atlantic Ocean, FMG Brandt (D-201)
22 July 1940
The angry buzz of the ship's intercom woke Florian Hallwinter from a slumber filled with far too vivid nightmares. He felt light-headed, a condition that now accompanied him for the first couple of minutes after he awoke, and a latent throbbing pain under the fresh bandages around his head pierced through the last vestiges of sleep as he sat up on his bed. It took a few seconds for his eyesight to fully clear, seconds in which he sat still on his bed and drew controlled breaths until the nausea began to recede. The ship's chronometer read 1120 hours. He'd been barely in his bunk for more than three hours after finishing the night watch on the bridge. Hallwinter pushed the button on his intercom once and a connection to the ship's com center was established. It was audio only. “This is the captain,” he managed to utter between a stifled yawn. “Go ahead, CIC.”
“I'm sorry to disturb you, sir.” It was Lieutenant Wieszmann's voice. “I have a transmission from Emden for you.”
“Relay it to my terminal, lieutenant.”
“Aye, sir. Relaying connection now. Wieszmann out.”
Hallwinter sighed and began to scoop up his uniform from the floor where he had left it this morning, not bothering that it was all worn and crumpled. He was tired and a bit grumpy. As a matter of fact, he'd have given everything for a cup of steaming hot coffee right now, but there wasn't any, so a glass of water and some painkillers would have to suffice. Checking in a mirror if he made at least a somewhat presentable impression, he finally took a seat in front of his personal terminal at his desk and pressed the intercom button a second time. An image flickered to life, the automatic standby picture the com network's VI generated for all video message traffic. The laurel-framed golden anchor of the German Navy filled the screen on a field of light blue, and in the middle of it a command prompt window awaited his input. His fingers flipped over his keyboard as he entered his personal com code. He hit the 'Enter' button, and the symbol was replaced by Major Alexander Kaufmann's gaunt, sharp-featured face.
He had not seen the man or spoken to him since the briefing three days ago. They should have traveled more than six hundred sea miles by now, but their initial estimate had already proven to be too optimistic. Emden could only keep up a sustained speed of just over eight knots per hour, limiting their maximum daily range to even less than two hundred sea miles. As if that was not enough, the wind had freshened on the second day, forcing them to tread carefully so as not to draw in too much water through the hull breaches on both vessels. That way, they had barely put five hundred sea miles between them and the Azores so far. And that was just the surface of their woes. They were tight on everything, including fuel, food and medical supplies.
Kaufmann's gaunt face looked freshly shaved and his short hair washed beneath his claret beret. The image painfully reminded Hallwinter of his own stubble and oily hair. One of the disadvantages of the medigel packs used was that, once the anti-septic and the process of healing accelerating liquid was used beneath normal bandages, its solubility made personal hygiene a problem for its bearer. He'd have to make due with some sort of catlick and see how shaving worked with only one eye to guide his hands. “Captain Hallwinter, thank you for taking the time to talk to me.”
“You're welcome, Major. What's the reason for this call, if I may ask?”
“Captain, I've thought about possible ways to improve our current situation for the past days,” he began. “Now, please keep in mind that I'm not a naval officer. My background is in special operations. Nonetheless, I think I've correctly narrowed down the options possible to us.” Kaufmann had made the rank of captain in the army with the Special Forces Command before requesting an age-related transfer to a more regular command position. As Major he was, in fact, equal in rank to Captains Hallwinter and Thielen, but had no influence or say over how the ships he traveled on were run. Hallwinter's silence was a sign of consent for him to continue his line of thought. “As I understand it, both our ships have the repair crews, the means and the expertise to do this themselves. What we lack are the raw materials, correct?”
Hallwinter nodded, and the major moved on.
“Since we'll have to pursue a course that allows a fast, sustained speed as well as quick evasive maneuvers, and since we cannot do so under the current circumstances, that only leaves us with one possible solution, Captain.” He held up his index finger. “We cannibalize our own ships. We take the necessary hull plating from somewhere else inside Emden, at the cost that it raises the risk of diminishing the structural integrity of an already battered ship and decreases the 'productivity' of other sections.”
Florian Hallwinter had already thought about that variant for some time now, especially since he had underestimated the impact even low waves had. At the speed they were progressing they were little more than sitting ducks with telescope eyes. “Major, the range of what we could repair is limited. Everything more complex than welding in a replacement hull piece and relocating new wiring is out of the question.” There were no spares for the electronic systems – the industrial and technological base simply did not exist. “The best we can hope for with any kind of repairs is to reduce the water intake to take some pressure off the pumps while at the same time preparing the interior in a way that a professional yard crew can do something about it.”
“But doing so does not solve the problem of our limited speed,” Kaufmann insisted. “And as you yourself said, speed is of essence. We cannot solely rely on our low radar profiles. Certainly not in an age where optical reconnaissance is the norm, captain!”
The destroyer's captain nodded hesitantly, grudgingly. “I've been over that problem every waking minute, Major Kaufmann. But no matter how I look at it, the problem remains that every alternative solution I've considered comes at a price that limits our operational capabilities in some way or form.”
The army major gave him a thin-lipped smile. “Pardon my bluntness, but maybe that's because you've not been able to expand your own horizon. You need to start thinking outside the bounds of what this ship represents for you and its crew. The way you've set us on won't be easy. It won't be straightforward, and it won't be clean. You've got the others in your pocket with that idea of cleaning out the garbage that is national socialism, but they are Navy people, and despite the experiences from the battle, fighting and killing for them means pushing a button.” He focused his hard eyes on Hallwinter. “I know - and deep down, you know that, too – that killing is dirty work, and that what we're doing will be far from the pristine ideas your officers may harbor. I've seen the face of war firsthand too often. I know what we're walking into. And one thing you don't want to do in such a situation is to lose the initiative by playing too safe.”
“You can hardly want me to up the ante with the damaged ships we have!” Florian commented incredulously, and Kaufmann's smile only became more mirthless.
“We did already open Pandora's Box when we decided to move against Flynn and Piper. I know that you and Captain Flynn used to be friends, but from a long-term perspective it would have been better if he and his crew had not made it.” He ignored the sudden flaring anger in Hallwinter's eyes. “You know that I'm right about this, Hallwinter. If he and his people make it to the United States or to Great Britain and gain any form of influence, your plan's success holds no guarantee for peace.”
Florian Hallwinter wondered if the major believed if there was any kind of certainty of the peace he himself hoped for. He sure sounded mightily neutral. “What is your point, Major?” he asked with little sympathy, and Kaufmann's smile became that of a predator.
“My point is that there is another way to solve our momentary problem.”
Over the Atlantic Ocean, MHG-90 NG Helicopter Scout One
22 July 1940, 21:53 Hours
The lean gray form of Scout One raced to the northeast at almost a hundred and sixty knots per hour. The currents outside had freshened, and the helicopter's mimetic windshield modulated the view outside so much that what the pilots and crew saw was that six hundred feet beneath the bird's fuselage, the waves already had white, foamy crowns. Night was already falling outside, with the sun having sunken behind the horizon half an hour ago. The days were beginning to get shorter again, and the hours of sunlight would shorten still more during the coming months. Still, the image transmitted through the shatterproof windshield was that of a normal, overcast afternoon instead of an evening, and still, the helicopter followed a smooth course, its advanced avionics compensating for the conditions outside.
“Has it ever occurred to you that we seem to be predestined to be on missions that have the potential to be, ahm, major clusterfucks?” Kramer looked positively miserable as he gesticulated his frustration to his co-pilot, though if it really was due to the mission or because of the lousy food they had been getting for the past days Schroeter could not say. Both wore their NV-goggles and kept wary eyes on their instruments, being acutely aware of the fact that the energy-hugging mimetic windshield was a convenience and not something to be taken for granted.
“Oh, you're realizing that now? How cute,” he muttered wryly, following the radar contact that was their destination on his display. It was a surface ship, less than four hundred feet long and running a course north north-east at a leisurely pace of fourteen knots. “Tell me, what gave it away? The last mission? Mogadishu? Kuwait Ci -.”
“There was no Kuwait City,” Kramer cut him off bluntly with an edge in his voice.
“Funny, I remember us getting mightily buttf -.”
“There. Was. No. Kuwait. City!” the pilot snapped, then stared out onto the ocean that raced past three hundred feet below them, fuming. When it seemed all was going down the drain during the Gulf Shock, Kramer and Schroeter had been tasked with evacuating German nationals from the Republic's embassy in Kuwait City. The Iranian Pasdaran had advanced on the city and the Kuwaiti army was in a full route. The airspace over the city had been contested, and US support had been a scarce commodity, with most aerial assets committed to the Battle of the Strait. Suddenly, there was chaos everywhere, and Iranian troops with Strela portable AAMs had been all over the place. Three times Kramer and Schroeter had went in lucky, but on their last flight their old UH-53 had caught an IR-guided missile. They had gone down half a mile away from the coast and had battled their way through under enemy fire to a Marine LZ. Later they had found out the remaining civilians had not made it out of the embassy.
Kramer snorted after a while. “But Mogadishu, we rocked that place! Hell, I remember it like it was back in 1993!”
“You weren't even born in '93,” Schroeter patiently corrected his partner, not even trying to stifle a sigh, but the pilot waved him off.
“But I know the movie inside out, buddy,” he chuckled, then paused, his face turning more serious. “I thought us drawing bad luck like a heap of shit the flies had become kinda obvious after our last mission caused the whole fleet to get into a mano a mano close quarters knife fight,” he growled, just as ill-tempered as Schroeter.
The battle they had witnessed still gripped the men to the marrow. That, and the two of them had a reputation to lose as semi-professional cynics.
“Maybe if you stopped getting on the CAG's bad side once in a while that would change,” Kevin Schroeter suggested warily.
“What did I do wrong this time?!” Kramer protested. “All I said was that we'd need to fly a Jolly Roger for this to truly work!”
Schroeter cocked an eyebrow. “How about you let me do the talking next time?”
“God damn it, will both of you shut it?” one of the soldiers in the passenger compartment growled. “You two are worse than an old married couple!”
“Hey! No remarks from the peanut gallery!” Kramer banged his hand against the plating between the cockpit and his 'passengers'. “You should thank me and my honored colleague here that you have been given the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to enjoy our fine craft and the comfort of this luxurious ride,” he yelled over his shoulder with fake sincerity.
“Luxurious ride?” came the retort from behind. “It's like riding in a rotten tuna can!”
“Smells like it, too,” another voice commented sardonically.
“They called my baby a rotten tuna can! Are you a rotten tuna can?” Kramer flapped the control stick abruptly from left to right and back, causing a cacophony of curses to erupt behind him. “Nah, she begs to disagree!” he yelled over his shoulders and patted the panel. “Who's a pretty lady? Yes, you're a pretty lady! Anyway, I thought you fine gentlemen would be more than happy to get out of your smokebox once in a while?”
The American missile impact and the resulting fires had hit the LHD hard. The battalion's vehicles were a total loss, as were the LCMs. Some good soul had sacrificed him or herself to cut the already burning boats and launch them out to sea, thus saving Emden from potentially fatal damage to her drives. And still, there had been long hours in which the fate of the ship had been on a knife's edge. Even now the transport decks and half of the battalion's quarters were a sooted, black and twisted mess in which only the bare steel of the ship had survived. The damage control teams of the ships and every available pair of hands was still working down there to clean the place up to let not all the space go to waste. And there had been an awful lot of casualties that day. Those that had not been burned to ashes had been given a rather atypical burial at sea, their bodies having been stuffed into the burnt-out wrecks of 2nd Battalion's motor pool as they were dumped into the two miles deep sea. The ceremony – if one could call it that – had been less than dignifying, but the ship's doctors had been right in the sense that they needed to get all the corpses out of the way.
“Cut it off, all of you.”
Lt. Commander Christian Richter's voice managed to sound both authoritative and miserable. Richter was in command of the mission Scout One had been assigned for, but he was a Navy man through and through. He could ride through hurricanes as if they were soft breezes, but God help the man if he only saw something that could fly.
“You okay back there, sir?” Schroeter asked over the internal com circuit.
“I'm just glad I didn't eat anything,” came the wry answer. “ETA to target, lieutenant?”
The co-pilot's eyes sought the red, moving blip on the helicopter's primary radar display. Labels beside the target indicated its speed and bearing as well as the expected time it would take to reach it at the helicopter's current velocity. A secondary display could be brought up on which a 3-dimensional reconstruction of the mapped surroundings was represented, but that ate up an awful amount of computing power. It also only worked within comparably close visual ranges of less than four miles. Its primary function was to avoid friendly fire in ground support missions. The kit NATO soldiers used transmitted a transponder signal via its com equipment that not only greatly aided SAR but also - linked into the MHG-90s Combat Environments Mapper – allowed pinpoint ground support and airborne guidance.
“We'll be in visual range in two minutes, sir,” he informed Richter. “Do you want us to recite our lines?”
The Lt. Commander grunted and linked his own helmet's camera into the helicopter's systems, shuffling through a menu until he got an exterior view.
“Any signs that they've noticed us yet?” he inquired.
Schroeter shot a glance at the pilot, Kramer, but he only shrugged. “No change in their course and speed, sir, and we're coming in from their stern in silent mode.”
“Then I don't see why we should give them a chance to get out a mayday and alert the Royal Navy or who else may be in the vicinity to us,” he decided on his own authority, then extended his com coverage to the boarding unit that rode with them. “Ladies, get ready.”
Atlantic Ocean, 229 Sea Miles SW of the Coast of Ireland, Freighter SS Shelbyville
22 July 1940, 22:12 Hours
Captain Walter Forsyth watched with a sense of satisfaction as the bow of Shelbyville plowed through the unruly waves of the Atlantic Ocean towards the western shores of Ireland. She was making good speed, his lady, steaming back to a course of 42° NNW at fourteen knots after he had had her run a wide-angled zigzag coming from Nova Scotia. Forsyth was an old shellback, having still done his first trans-Atlantic voyages as a mere boy on the last large sailing schooners during the last days before the Great War. He'd had his run-in with German submarines back then and had since then harbored a grudging respect for the men in those deathtraps, especially since their conduct had been, well, relatively gallant at the time. But he had no illusions about the danger they posed, and the last thing he wanted was a repeat of those experiences. Ever since the war had broken out, Walter Forsyth had thought up some measures to avoid having another chance meeting with an U-boat. He was no military man, but he could read – and he read everything he could get his hands on, especially the warning bulletins the British consulates published. As such, he had figured out there was a way to evade the bloody underwater menaces: run fast, and run where they weren't. Shelbyville's bridge rested in a soft twilight of only a third of its light bulbs being actually connected to the circuits, and most of the windows were covered by roll-up blinds. Too much light could give one's position away. Too much light was dangerous.
Walter Forsyth irritatedly scratched the stubble on his cheek and throat. He preferred the smooth feel of his clean-shaven skin under his fingers. Indeed, he had certain standards he also applied to the men serving as his crew, because for him a clean ship was a well-run ship. Even if it was 'only' a freighter. But Captain Forsyth had been awake for the past eleven hours. Even though Shelbyville made good speed, there was an edge of nervousness to him, now that they were finally getting closer to their port of call with literally every minute, for that also meant that the chance of getting into the range of a German warship or submarine was growing exponentially. Forsyth had no illusions about the German Navy. In any stand-up fight, Home Fleet would wipe the floor with Hitler's toy ships. But his ship was no warship, and freighters were the natural prey of submarines. “Mr. Caulder, time till our next change of course?”
The freighter's helmsman pried his eyes off the deepening darkness in front of the bridge's windshield and glanced at the watch and the map on which it lay in a curl. “About eighteen minutes, skipper,” he informed Forsyth.
The captain nodded. In eighteen minutes Shelbyville would turn to a course heading south-southwest. She would circumnavigate the southern tip of Ireland at her full speed of fifteen point seven knots and stay within a shouting distance of the Irish coast up to the mouth of the St. George's Channel, where Forsyth would give the order to execute a sharp turn to starboard that would lead her into the mouth of the Bristol Channel and to their safe anchorage at Swansea. In fifty hours or so they'd be back home, and he'd take some time off to take a hot bath. The telephone on the map table rang, drawing him and the rest of the freighter's bridge crew out of whatever lines of thought they had been following. The telephone was one of Forsyth's many makeshift constructions. It connected the bridge with the crow's nest where at every time of the day one sad individual had to stand guard during everything but the harshest weather. Still, five extra shillings, a cup of whiskey and one extra warm meal for the day meant that Forsyth never was in dire need of volunteers. But the crow's nest never had sent out a call that late while they were still on the open sea. A flash of anxiety rushed through the captain as he picked up the receiver. “This is the bridge,” he spoke, his voice being a lot calmer than what he really felt at the moment. “Go ahead.”
“This is Collins, sir,” he could make out the lookout's voice through the crackle of the connection and the howling of the wind that battered the man twenty yards above the deck. “There's something coming at us from astern,” Collins continued in a high-pitched voice that made the hair on Forsyth's arms stand upright. “It's in the air! Bloody hell, it's directly above us now.” There was now a soft whirr that Forsyth noticed almost mechanically behind the lookout's hysterical voice. Collins' voice was loud enough that the others on Shelbyville's bridge could listen to their conversation, and from the corners of his eyes he could see their faces pale while he listened to what the man in the crow's nest had to say. Some of the men on the bridge jumped to the blinders that covered most of the windows, snapping them up and staring outside while his helmsman with a forced stoicism stared right ahead and kept his hands on the wooden wheel. “It's turning sideways now and... fucking shit!” he yelped. “There's an iron cross on its side!” For what seemed like a few everlasting seconds, a complete silence enveloped the freighter's bridge. Only the sound of the soft whirr, no longer emanating from the telephone's receiver, but now piercing through the superstructure itself like the blades of a slow turning fan was audible. “There's people coming out of it! Bridge -” Collins yelled before his voice was cut off by a gurgling sound and all hell broke loose.
“Sound the alarm! Put on the floodlights!” Walter Forsyth heard himself snap, his voice cool and precise despite the inner turmoil that began to unload itself from his memories. He was a boy again, and it was daytime as he watched with tears in his eyes as the German submarine's deck gun reduced the great sailing ship that had been his home to tatters. Fires erupted from where tar and lamp oil was hit, and soon the flames began to lick at the masts, planks and reefed sails. The men pulled their weight, rowing the lifeboats away from the slowly sinking ship until the fires reached the fuel for its auxiliary motor and -.
Searing light flashed into being as the floodlights on deck sprung into action, and Forsyth's eyes followed the path of a black shape that lowered itself down with frightening speed despite its obvious bulk from... somewhere above his ship. Another one followed it, and another one, the third one even bulkier than the two he had seen come down before. His second-in-command handed him a revolver from the bridge's weapons locker and Forsyth took it with a grateful expression. More of his men came climbing through the hatches on the foredeck, some plainly surprised and disoriented about what was going on. But others were armed with the rifles and pistols Forsyth had - with painstaking tardiness, compounded by the British authorities - gathered and bought up over time, and those men did not hesitate to make use of them, he acknowledged with a sense of satisfaction. It also allowed him to get his first good look at the men that had boarded his ship, and what he saw made him stiffen with resentment and resolve. They wore black uniforms, black like the SS, and their helmets made them clearly stand out as Nazis. Only the Germans had this memorable form of helmets for their soldiers. They hid their faces behind masks or goggles - he was too far away to be able to get a clear view - and to him they all looked more like stuffed puppets than like men. But where most of them just looked a bit too bulky for the pace of their movements as they dispersed on the forecastle, there were two of them that sent shivers down his spine. Easily seven feet tall and with shoulders nearly as wide as two men, the two giants in their midst moved even faster as the rest of them, as impossible as it was. And whatever it was that they did, it made his blood freeze. Wielding large tubes that seemed to end in a polygonal dish they waded through his men's gunfire as if it wasn't there, and wherever they passed they left screaming and writhing men in their wake. In groups of two, they began to push back his own men, entering Shelbyville through her hatches while three of them ran towards the bridge. Fire from his crew's rifles greeted them as men sweating with concentration leaned across the railing, firing down on the trio. Their rifles were short, stubby things that made little sound when they fired them. Still, that did not make them any less dangerous and he noted with rising horror that one after another the men around him fell while the Nazis were running up the stairs.
“Send a mayday!” Forsyth pushed his radio operator who had crouched down at his side back into the bridge. “Make sure they've got our position and bearing!”
He didn't need to specify who 'they' were for the man, and Forsyth was glad to see that he kept his calm during the heat of battle. He vanished back into the back of Shelbyville's bridge, and Captain Forsyth put all his attention back to the top end of the stairwell that lay between him and his ship's brain. Leaning against the open hatch, he steadied his breathing and extended his right arm, using his left hand to hold the heavy revolver in a firm grip. His view began to focus on that little excerpt of reality just in front of him. His deep breaths forced his pounding heart to beat slower again, and the thumping sound of his own blood circulating through his veins gave way to the sounds and the noise all around him. Steps echoed metallic on the stairs, and a black shadow appeared in his field of view. Forsyth squeezed his weapon's trigger, and through the fine eruption of cordite a metal slug found its way to the square center of the attacker's chest. The man stumbled backwards, his free hand swirling around and seeking something to hold on to as his own gun began to belch. A sound like sleet splashing on metal erupted all around Forsyth, and the captain pulled the trigger again, and then a third time. The black-clad trooper fell back, vanishing from his field of view, but almost at the same instant a second black figure appeared in his stead. Sucking in breath through his teeth, Forsyth leveled his gun again only to see a microscopic flash of light erupt from the new adversary's weapon. It sounded as if somebody had fired a squirt gun, but instead of a splash of water his body felt as if it had been dipped into a vat of liquid ice. His limbs froze almost instantly, and all he could do was watch as he himself slumped to the ground in muted shock, the grating digging deep into his face's skin. Laying on his side, he saw the first of the Germans reach the end of the stairs. He cocked his head to look down on Forsyth for a moment, and the captain now saw that the man's face was truly hidden behind a mask as dark as the rest of his uniform. And then a second man stepped into the bridge, and a third one - the one Forsyth had hit three times in the chest at point blank range! This one glanced down at him a bit longer, and Forsyth could actually see the impacts his gun had left on the man. At the same time there was a stifled yelp somewhere outside his field of view, and the Germans began to talk. Forsyth did not know the language, but the casual tone in which the men spoke left him with little hope for the defense of his ship.
“Scout One, this is Pirate One,” the closest to him said, then waited for an answer that only he could hear. “Roger that, Scout One. We've got the bridge, and Lieutenant Weissbaum tells me they are subduing the freighter's crew below deck.” There was another pause. “Yes, we're creating a 3-D model of the ship's interior. ... Yes, send the VIP down,” he snorted. “No, I can't confirm whether or not they got off a last radio message, but I'd rather err on the side of caution. Yes, inform Brandt of the success. Pirate One out.” He looked down on Forsyth again before turning to one of his comrades. “Check out the stiffs and make sure everyone who needs it gets medical attention. We don't want any of them to suffer lasting physical damage,” the soldier sighed. “Let's get started with the tedious part, shall we? Who's gonna help me with hauling all the stiffs below deck before they wake up again?”
Atlantic Ocean, 43 Miles NW of Lough Foyle, HMS Devonshire (CA 39)
23 July 1940, 00:18 Hours
His Majesty's heavy cruiser Devonshire held its position in the shallow waters off the mouth of Lough Foyle, the long narrow bay at whose end the city and Royal Navy base of Londonderry lay. She and her escort, the J-class destroyer HMS Javelin, were technically on stand-by for express orders from the admiralty to steam at full speed to the defense of the British Isles against the now daily expected German invasion, but while the battle over the Channel raged, the Kriegsmarine had not significantly increased its operations. As such, its commander had made good use of the time he found himself with to train the new sailors the London-class heavy cruiser had taken aboard after it had finished its operations after the failed Allied intervention in Norway.
Vice Admiral John D. Cunningham sat at the desk in his cabin aboard the heavy cruiser and stared outside through the sole porthole. Heavy fog slowly rolled over the Atlantic Ocean, with the island of Ireland blocking off most of the currents coming with the Gulf Stream from the south so that the white mist left the impression for the onlooker that he was witnessing a fluid white wall meandering and heaving under the starless sky.
HMS Devonshire and her escort anchored off the usual fishermen's and merchants routes. Her commander had little inclination to let her run around in shallow waters at night, probably just to collide with some poor Irish chap trying to catch some fish - most certainly not if one could hardly see his own hand in the soup outside! Still, at some point they'd have to do just that. It was unlikely the Germans would be considerate of what some men on Devonshire could or could not do when they decided the time had come for them to, well, come. And Cunnigham intended for them and the rest of 1st Cruiser Squadron to be ready when that time had come. The Vice Admiral was a good officer by all accounts, but Cunningham himself was a modest man, prone to downplaying his own role in events and ready to give praise to his men where praise was due. Still, his ingenuity and his adherence to orders had already earned him somewhat of a black mark in the halls of admiralty.
Earlier during the last month, his last assignment had taken him into the Norwegian Sea and beyond the Arctic Circle to the port of Tromsø where Devonshire evacuated the Norwegian King Haakon VII, the crown prince, and other members of the Norwegian royal family, along with government ministers and part of the country's gold reserve. Cunningham had been under strict instructions not to break radio silence for the whole operation when, on the return journey to the United Kingdom, he received an enemy sighting report from the carrier Glorious. The ship and her escorts, the destroyers HMS Acasta and HMS Ardent were being engaged by the German battle cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau only some fifty miles away, but because of his orders to recover the Norwegian royal family and government - both important contributors to the war-effort - he had decided against his own impulses to maintain his radio silence and leave the other RN ships to fend for themselves against overwhelming odds. He knew he did his best to rationalize his actions, but he could not truly forgive himself for what he had had to do, and despite them knowing he had had no other options some of his peers had come to resent him for it. Despite taking the fight courageously to the enemy, his silence had cost the lives of Captain Guy D'Oyly-Hughes of Glorious and 1519 officers and men.
A knock on his cabin door pulled him from this somber train of thought and he pulled his eyes away from the quicksand-like white mass outside. He glanced at his watch and frowned. It was past midnight, and his shift had ended some hours ago. Any kind of disturbance at this time of the day could only mean trouble - trouble 1st Cruiser Squadron was not yet truly prepared to face. Worse, half his ships were operating away from Home Fleet's main base at Scapa Flow, patrolling the northern Atlantic on their own or in small groups as part of the British convoy defense system to give this vital lifeline a fighting chance should one of the German heavy cruisers or battle cruisers make a run for the open Atlantic. And the rest was either on stand-by - de facto to be used in the best way their commanders saw fit to - or anchored to receive an inter-mission overhaul after having mastered the dangers of the Norwegian Sea. Even if he recalled all his operational ships this very moment, almost a week would pass by until 1st Cruiser Squadron could move out in force.
The knock on his door came again, this time harder and more insistent, and Cunningham cleared his throat. “Come in.” He skilfully masked the anxiety in his voice and the door to his personal quarters swung open without any noticeably sound. A young officer stepped through it and hesitated just for a split second before coming to attention with a crispness that would have satisfied any Navy instructor. Vice Admiral Cunningham was already settled to go to bed, having looked forward to a quiet night full of sleep, but the young officer did his best to ignore the sight of his squadron commander in his striped pajamas.
“Ensign Woodrow, radio section, sir,” he introduced himself and produced a folded piece of paper. “We received this message from HQ, sir, and Captain Mansfield ordered me to relay it to you.”
“Thank you, Mr. Woodrow.” Cunningham took the folded piece of paper from the radio officer's hands and put on the round reading glasses he kept on his nightstand. He unfolded it with a snort and knitted his brows as his eyes raced over the lines. After a moment, he took off his glasses again and rubbed his eyes almost with a sigh of relief. At least it was not the invasion, he thought wryly - then his face darkened ever so slightly and he dipped his pen into the small ink pot on his desk. With quick experienced precision he put his thoughts on a piece of paper the same size the one he had been handed and almost gently placed a piece of blotting paper on top of it for a moment. With a quick pull of his long fingers he withdrew the bluish piece again, scrutinizing what he had written, then folded it and handed the message back to the ensign. “Hand this to Captain Mansfield, Mr. Woodrow, and tell him I'll be on the bridge momentarily.”
* * *
“Admiral on deck!” the officer of the watch announced in a clear baritone, and for a second all hands aboard HMS Devonshire's bridge ceased what they had been doing to stand at attention as Vice Admiral J.D. Cunningham briskly appeared out of the ladderway in his deep blue uniform, the white officer's hat pinched under his arm.
“At ease, gentlemen.” The admiral's voice was steady as he approached Devonshire's commanding officer while the rest of the bridge crew returned to their stations. “What do we have here, Maurice?”
“Approximately twenty minutes ago we received a coded message from HQ, sir,” Captain John Maurice Mansfield informed him. “Roughly two hours ago, a freighter running under a British flag radioed a 'mayday' message, the contents of which we do not know. HQ indicated that apparently something had an adverse effect on the transmission, but even then the only thing they were able to deduce from it was the relative position of the ship - a SS Shelbyville run by a shipping company with its offices in Swansea - and that they were being boarded by what they clearly identified as German soldiers. And they want us to investigate it, sir. It seems we're the unit the closest to the area.”
“Merchant raider?” Cunningham looked up from the original radio message Mansfield had handed him, and the captain gave a slight shrug. Sending a heavy cruiser against a merchant raider was a good choice, for most of the disguised warships massed easily as much as a light, sometimes even a heavy cruiser, and they packed one hell of a punch.
“That'd be my best guess, sir. I haven't heard of the German submarines sending over boarding parties to take prizes, and at seven and a half thousand GRT Shelbyville is nothing to sneeze at from that vantage point. A true merchant raider would have the crew to actually man a ship that size and bring her home to a harbor of his choice, something I have trouble seeing done with the few people a submarine could reasonably transport.”
Cunningham nodded. Submarines were too small to make use of the rules of prize warfare on their own. Merchant raiders, however, could easily carry a crew of several hundred sailors while still being able to function as a combat unit with a fraction of that.
“The message also mentions something about an attack from the air,” Mansfield continued with a slight frown, “but is insubstantial on the details thereof. Still, any reasonably sized ship could also have the facilities to carry a float plane or two.”
“Which also hints at this being a merchant raider,” Cunningham finished the train of thought, and it was Mansfield's turn to nod. “Has HQ informed us of any other ships in the general area, sir?”
“Apparently there was no one close enough to them to either get their mayday or to react to it,” Mansfield responded, “but at least we have a rather good idea of where to find them. And if they really took Shelbyville as a prize...” A thin, predatory grin flashed across his face. No matter how dangerous a merchant raider was, in the end it still was nothing but a converted freighter with a freighter's engines. At current Royal Navy estimates that limited its effective speed to somewhere in the range of fourteen to sixteen knots, and its civilian boilers could only keep up the necessary pressure to run at full speed for a very limited amount of time without risking friction and irreparable damage to them. Unlike Devonshire's and Javelin's, which were built to run at high speeds for prolonged periods of time.
“Have you plotted a course yet, Maurice?”
“Yes, sir. Lieutenant Donalds has already worked out a preliminary route for us to plan quadrant BE3, but I've withheld the order to execute until I had the chance to properly inform you. But I took the liberty of ordering the boilers to be heated for a quick start, and I had the radio section inform Javelin of impending action,” he added with a quick smile. John Maurice Mansfield had held the rank of captain of the Royal Navy for five years when the war had broke out, and he was a veteran of the Great War and bearer of the Distinguished Service Cross for 'gallantry during active operations against the enemy at sea'. He was an old hand at this job and had a pretty good idea of what a good working relationship with his superiors constituted of. Superior officers, even those like the vice admiral, liked to remain in control of the situation but valued it when the day-to-day operations and the footwork was handled by their - hopefully - competent underlings. And as they could not have moved much anyway since Devonshire and her escort had to heat their boilers, leaving the actual orders to execute to Cunningham was, in fact, nothing but a polite if necessary gesture.
J.D. Cunningham threw another glance at his watch, then at the bridge's chronometer.
“Very well, Maurice. It's zero-zero-thirty right now. Inform Commander Pugsley that I want Javelin under full steam in fifteen minutes. The same takes effect for us. Follow Mr. Donalds' course at twenty-nine knots. Gentlemen, let's move. We have a German merchant raider to catch.”
Atlantic Ocean, 235 Sea Miles SW of the Coast of Ireland, FMG Brandt (D-201)
23 July 1940, 01:05 Hours
To say that it was unusual to hold a briefing that early in the morning - or late in the evening - would have been a tad bit of an understatement, Captain Florian Hallwinter thought wryly as he measured each of the gathered officers and the two faces on the conference screen with a level stare from his one good eye. The wound where his other eye had once been had actually stopped to itch for once, the healing process already coming to its conclusion after the extensive application of cellular plasma and medigel packages, and not without a laconic sense of humor did he look back at what his orders had wrought, now that he wore a black eye patch. “Captain Thielen, can Emden keep up with us at the current speed?”
“The increase in wind speed is making matters problematic for us at the moment,” the blond, stoic northerner replied warily. “I don't like to do so, but we can run at eight and a half knots for the time being. I'm torn on the question. Still, I see the advantages of getting this done as soon as possible. So, yes, I can keep up the speed until we've reached the prize. And since we're on topic, I've already had my engineers and the repair crews come up with the best approach vector.” He pushed an off-screen button and a dotted line showing the helicarrier's course appeared on the conference screen. “We'll stop relative to Shelbyville on her starboard side. That way we can employ our loading crane and the middle deck facilities.”
“Well done, Captain Thielen.” There was genuine warmth in Hallwinter's voice as he congratulated the northern German. Too little had gone as they had planned it already, and it was relieving to have something work out to their benefit now and then. He turned to the other man on the split conference screen.
Major Kaufmann's hawkish face betrayed no sense of the man's fatigue or emotions as he studied his peers with cold eyes. “We have the freighter under full control,” he spoke without being prompted. “We've had no casualties to suffer, except for a few bruises here and there, and I'm sure it'll please you all to hear that according to Richter the freighter's crew also alive, if a bit roughed up and scared,” he explained with a smile that held no warmth. “Scout One's safely returned to base, and Richter's team's inspecting the ship now that they've stopped it at 51° 43 minutes North, 13° 19 minutes West. It's probably a bit too early to call it a jackpot, but we won't starve to death in the foreseeable future. That is, if you like a diet of canned pineapple and corned beef. Everything else is up to the engineers once we get there, captain.” He shrugged
“That's good to hear, major,” Hallwinter answered in a neutral tone. He disliked Kauffmann's cold-as-ice attitude towards human lives, but he had to agree that the man knew what he was doing when he planned and executed a mission. “Please maintain constant radio contact with the team on Shelbyville and keep me informed on any possible development in the meantime.”
Kaufmann nodded and vanished from the split screen which folded back into one single image, that of an observant Captain Thielen. “Mr. Thielen, if your men need assistance from my repair teams, please let your engineers coordinate matters with my LI ,” he told his fellow captain. “Since your damage has been far more extensive than ours, Emden's repairs have priority. That would be all from our side regarding your ship.”
Thielen nodded, his hand indicating a salute, and the conference screen turned black.
“LI, I want you on that ship the minute we bring ourselves alongside the freighter,” Hallwinter told his engineer who was quietly taking notes. The man nodded without looking up. “Jennifer, I want you as my XO to accompany him to get a picture of what on that ship might come in handy to us.” He took a deep breath. “We have the whole of Ireland between us, and the Royal Navy will be focusing on the Northern Atlantic routes and the Channel. That means that ideally we'll be able to take our time with the repairs and the transfer of the... material,” he did not say 'loot', “from Shelbyville to Brandt and Emden. Still, I want you all to stay sharp. For obvious reasons we'll have to limit our exposure to the captive crew, but I want some of our medical staff to check on them,” he told the surviving lead medical officer. “These people are not our enemies. Or, at least, they should not be. The least thing we can do if we steal their stuff is make sure they survive this. That being said, we have to plan ahead a bit. Once the repairs are done, Lieutenant Wieszmann,” he turned to the destroyer's surface warfare officer, “I want you to devise a plan to modify some of our cruise missiles' warheads to home in on radio signals. Take whatever time and men you need for the job and coordinate it with the lead engineer.” Hallwinter's eye watched them all taking in his words without complaint. He stifled a sigh and cocked his head. “Ladies, gentlemen, if you have no further questions or comments, I'd say this concludes this briefing. Please return to your sections. Thank you.”
A chorus of acknowledgment answered him and the leading officers of D-201 Brandt arose from their seats to return to their duties. They left the briefing room one after another. Jennifer Ahrendts was the last to go, but she stopped in front of the hatch and closed it, turning back to Hallwinter.
“Yes, XO?” Florian Hallwinter looked up at her with his one eye. His voice betrayed none of his emotions as he waited for her to explain herself.
“Sir, I just wanted you to know that I do not agree with the actions you have unilaterally taken against that civilian ship,” she answered in a clipped voice. “Even if I did agree with it, I am your executive officer. To fulfill my duties to the best of my abilities I need to be in the know about your plans for this flotilla and its crew members.”
“And this is you formally protesting against what I did,” Hallwinter stated calmly and cocked his head to one side.
“In a sense, yes, you can call it that. Under normal circumstances I wouldn't make such a fuss about it. After all, you're the captain. But the circumstances are anything but normal, sir. Prior knowledge, leaving aside my personal opposition to your decision, would at least have helped me to plan ahead for the operations we need to conduct now that we're in possession of Shelbyville,” Ahrendts explained in a cool, professional voice that gave away only the faintest hint about how she really felt about not being made privy to Hallwinter's decision.
“Fair enough, Jennifer. Yes, I excluded you from my decision process, and I kept you in the dark about what was happening until the operation had already started.” He tilted his head to one side to observe her closely. “Was it wrong for me to do so? No, I think not.” He saw the anger flare up in her eyes and held up one hand to stall her response. “Yes, it was unprofessional. And unfair, given the excellent job you have done here so far. Frankly, I couldn't have hoped for anyone else to stay the course that well, especially given the extraordinary circumstances we've found ourselves in,” Hallwinter told her, and there was a sign of sincere gratitude about the praise mixed with the anger in her eyes.
“Then why did you do it, sir?!” she wanted to know.
“Because I had to,” he replied solemnly. “I knew you'd be opposed to the idea on principle,” he admitted, “and quite frankly, I did not have the time to discuss things to both our satisfaction before it happened. Once our sensors picked up a suitable target, the decision had to be made right there. I could not risk us getting any closer to any coast - not without getting patched up. This already is too close for my liking, but it's still better than having to brace the sea between the Orkney's and the Faroe Islands with two crippled, limping ships in the faint hope of not being seen by the most powerful naval force in the Atlantic Ocean,” he told Ahrendts sullenly. “I would've preferred to discuss the issue with you before. In fact, I wanted to have a talk with you in general for some days now, but there simply never was the time to do so,” he admitted. “And so, I did it without asking for your input - or your criticism. And I'm sorry,” he told her in a genuinely rueful tone. “I value the working relationship we've had over the past years a lot, Jennifer. But we need to get the necessary things done here, quickly and conclusively. And for that - just for that - I cannot have you as a conscience that's breathing down my back.”
“And when do you suppose we stop?” she asked him in a harsh, accusing voice. “I was willing to support us breaking away from the American ships, and I accepted the price we would have to pay for doing so. And I still pray every day that what we did will be worth it. But this is different!” Her voice was hot with the barely contained anger she had been carrying around with her for days. “Today it's boarding a ship and taking what we need. But what then? Will it be 'necessary' for us to get rid of those seamen because their knowledge about us endangers the plan? What about other ships that just happen to cross our paths if they fly British flags? What about airplanes that might spot us? My problem is, sir, that we've set out with good intentions, but what about the unintended consequences? What about the people we have no quarrel with but who just might give our existence away? Will we kill those people because it is 'necessary', too, sir?” she asked him caustically, and Florian Hallwinter sunk back into his chair a bit more.
“I will not actively seek out situations that bring us or any other people who have nothing to do with this into danger,” he answered her after an uncomfortable moment of silence in which their eyes fought a quiet duel. “But we need those materials, Jennifer,” he told her in a sincere and pleading voice. “We can't go on without the raw materials which Shelbyville has to offer. And yes, I fully intend to take every nut and bolt on that ship that can fill our own stocks,” he told her more defiantly. “None of her crew have been killed or seriously injured. Richter had his express orders about that, and he followed them to the letter. No, once we have what we need those men are free again. And depending on what we really need and can take from them, they might even continue on their own vessel.” Two days for the preliminary repairs, maybe three, and after that the internal reconstruction could be done while they were underway. Three days, plus maybe four more at full speed and they'd be there. A week, and they could finally begin with the task they had taken to heart: the end of Nazism. “Again, I apologize for acting behind your back, XO. I hope one day not too far in the future we can sit down together and clear what's on our minds - but right now Jennifer, I need you to function,” he told her, his voice turning flat and tired at the end.
“Is that all?” his XO asked him levelly after a moment of silence that hung between the two officers far too long.
Hallwinter looked up at her with a sad expression, but instead of finally explaining himself to her, he just nodded. He just did not have the time. Not yet. “That's all, XO. I'll see you on the bridge.”
Jennifer Ahrendts turned to walk out of his personal quarters, then stopped and looked him directly in the eyes. “You're leading us down a dangerous slippery slope, sir,” she told him in a very quiet voice. “I just hope you remember when to pull the brakes.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Born On September 11
The Azores, Ponta Delgada (Portugal)
26 July 1940, Midday
A surprisingly cool gust blew over the deserted cemetery of the small island town, making the hairs on Steven Flynn's bare arms stand up as he and only a handful of other survivors said their farewells to their dead comrades who had found their last rest in the rocky Portuguese soil. Bryan Pattinson was there, too, as were a handful of other faces he remembered, if only so from the funeral a couple of days ago. Friends of the deceased, lovers maybe. He had no intention to find out for certain, and as such he turned away from the fresh graves and left the way he had come, sunken in silent thought. He was the highest surviving officer, and he felt it his duty to say a last farewell to the men and women who had served and died under his command. From atop the hill on which the stout church and the adjacent cemetery rested he could easily spot the ship off the coast that would supposedly bring them home. Home. He mentally juggled the word, and not for the first time since he had found some moments for introspection. What would it mean once they had actually gotten there, home? The home they would return to, he knew - even though he had not really, truly grasped the impact of the thought - was one where many of their own grandparents were barely more than teens! And a good many of the sailors' families had roots outside the United States... He sighed and shook his head, his frowning face prompting a young woman to step out of his way as he walked down the bumpy and narrow cobblestone lanes of Ponta Delgada. He called a friendly 'Good day' after her in broken Portuguese and put his mind back on the matters at hand. The police station and the da Silva house were on his way, and since he had already said his farewell to the dead, one for the living was in order...
The Azores, Harbor of Ponta Delgada (Portugal)
26 July 1940, Early Afternoon
The small armada of rocking motorboats commuting between the pier and the ship out on the ocean left the harbor of Ponta Delgada for one last time. The sun-bleached stone piers were crowded with the inhabitants of the town who had gathered to watch as the strange American castaways left their community. People waved their goodbyes which were answered from aboard the small boats as the distance to the land grew. Lieutenant Luis Gabriel da Silva and his beautiful wife stood at the forefront, he in his ironed police uniform, she in a form-fitting dress of shining cyan. The Portuguese police officer came to attention when the boat Flynn was on raced past them, and the captain returned the gesture.
The northern pier was a lot less crowded. Captain Vitor Tiago's hawkish eyes flashed as they sped by, his hard face turning to follow the leaving boat. The men of the Legião Portuguesa, the 'Portuguese Legion', stood behind him in silent ranks, their rifles shouldered. He was grateful for all that the simple people here had done for his crew and the other survivors, but he would not miss the fascist thugs for more than one heartbeat.
Nothing had come from the incident where some of the American women had been assaulted. Tiago's influence had reached further than Flynn had imagined, and despite the protests of Lieutenant da Silva nothing had happened to the perpetrators of the act. Luis Gabriel da Silva was a sly, maybe even brave man, but as Steven Flynn had found out to his disappointment, the man was just a small town cop. Vitor Tiago and his men, however, were an extension of the regime, and as such nigh untouchable. If he had ever needed a reason for why he detested authoritarian systems it was this.
The boat sped out of the harbor basin, away from the fishing boats and the people on the pier, and the steamer anchoring half a mile off the coast grew in his field of vision. The Maid of Zanzibar was large and tall, looking more like an old ocean liner than a freighter even though she was painted all in a dull gray. Two funnels stuck out from her center, and her high-cut bow hinted at hidden reserves of speed and power not ordinarily found on freighters. The star-spangled banner flapped vigorously in the ocean's breeze from a pole astern. After the turmoil of the last weeks, it was a most welcoming sight.
The Azores, Maid of Zanzibar
26 July 1940, Afternoon
The last island of the Azores slowly vanished below the horizon as the Maid plowed through the unruly waves of the Atlantic Ocean, with nothing in front of her but the blue of the sea. They were making good speed, her old but trusty steam turbines bringing the eighteen thousand tons of steel to almost twenty-two knots. The faster the better. Even though the shipping company more or less had assented to the unofficial agreement he adhered to as a matter of honor: this was still their ship, and he was still just their employee. His mouth twitched uncomfortably at the reminder. Samuel 'Sam' Cornwell stepped outside the ship's bridge and onto the upper deck, leaning against the railings.
Tall, with full dark hair and an appearance that more than once had earned him the attention of the other sex and which one easily could call ruggedly handsome, he did not look his thirty-seven years. He combined the easy calm demeanor of a Humphrey Bogart with the daring fire found only in the characters played by the likes of Errol Flynn. Time had not been able to extinguish that fire. In fact, Cornwell's turbulent life had kept it well-fueled over the years, and it had provided him with an invaluable instinct for trouble. That instinct had saved his employer a lot of bucks when he exercised his captain's prerogative and got the heck out of Dodge - or in that case, Nanjing - before the Japs got a hold of that location. And that instinct had given him a shout again when they had taken those people aboard today. Not that the radio message which had caused the detour had been encouraging in the first place. Intriguing, yes, but not encouraging. He fished a cigarette from a pocket and slid it into the corner of his mouth. The door to the bridge behind him slid open, and without turning around he knew who stepped outside.
Meredith Burroughs was half a head shorter than he, but with arms as thick as other people's legs and a voice like rolling thunder everybody had the good sense to call the stout, barrel-chested man 'Mack' instead of his given name. If Cornwell was the brains of the Maid, Burroughs was the heart and hands. Stepping beside the captain, he produced a cigarette of his own and a light he shielded with the palm of his thick hand.
Cornwell gladly accepted it, drawing deeply from the tobacco fumes.
On the deck down below the Morgenstern's daughters were playing ball, two young girls with deep black hair and dresses with white and red flower patterns. He hadn't seen them up here since they had gotten aboard a week ago, and he hadn't seen them laughing since then either. Children should laugh and play and be free of the concerns that drove adults around, he thought ruefully as he watched their game. They shouldn't have to flee across half a continent, leave everything they knew and loved behind and then be tucked under the deck of a large metal casket ferrying them to foreign shores.
Cornwell still remembered his days as a boy, back on his father's farm in Oklahoma, and how easy it all had been in retrospect. “It's good to see them up here, don't you think?” He tilted his head towards Mack.
The older man, built like an ogre, clipped his thumbs behind the harnesses of his suspenders and snorted through his nostrils. A slight frown crossed his weather-beaten face as he peered down onto the main deck were the Maid's sailors made their rounds, evading the two playing girls as if they weren't even there. “I don't envy the Morgensterns, boss,” he said after a tentative moment of silence. “Bloody Nazis really must have it out for them Jews.”
“The father was all nerves when he approached me back in Lisbon. Whatever strange beef the Nazis have with those people, it was the right thing to get them aboard. Doesn't make any damn sense to me.”
“The company won't like it that they're free-riding their way to the good ol' US of A,” Mack reminded him, but Cornwell just shrugged it off.
“Balthazar Morgenstern used to be a surgeon, Mack. I've employed him for the duration of the voyage, and that pays for their trip. I don't think the company will go belly up from that kind of deal. I also don't think they need to know of it in the first place,” he added with a glance at the older man to his right.
Burroughs simply shrugged. “Just trying to cover our bases here, boss. I don't want you to be the patsy in case someone asks unpleasant questions. You know what kind of pain in the neck some of the book worms can be.” He paused, and both men smoked in silence for a couple of moments. “For the record, I think you made the right call, boss. People who make our Jim Crow laws look sane can only be up to no good.”
“I've talked plenty with the man. Morgenstern's had a successful doctor’s office, Mack. The man speaks four fuckin' languages, and his wife has a college degree. Why the heck would anyone in their right mind go to all these lengths to drive someone like them away? Only because they just happen to be Jews?” Cornwell shook his head.
“People do the strangest and bloodiest things in the name of an idea, boss.” Mack's voice was a calm, thoughtful grumble. “At the turn of the century, people calling themselves the Boxers ran around in China, killing foreign missionaries and local Christians, just for their belief. For the communists it's the middle-class and the rich they're after. For the fascists it's the communists. And for the Nazis it's apparently the Jews. However, all those 'isms' have one thing in common, boss. They all replace reason with certifiable hate.”
“Why, I'd have never thought you'd make a passable philosopher, Mack!” Cornwell jested, but at the same time he gave his first officer a thoughtful nod. Burroughs did not have much in the way of formal education, but he more than substituted that by a wealth of life experience.
They lapsed back into silence, watching the two girls continuing their play below.
“Boss, you know the knuckleheads back home most likely won't let those people in?” Mack's voice was a calm baritone.
Sam Cornwell did not answer immediately, but the stout older man saw it in his face that he was aware of the stringent restrictions that the government had put on Jewish immigration. Defiantly, he stared out across the sea. “Maybe, Mack. But in the meantime, they're here, and they're safe.”
The Morgensterns were not the only people traveling aboard the Maid. There were other passengers they had taken aboard in Lisbon, some of which were wandering around in the sun, smoking and reading newspapers. The Maid wasn't really a passenger liner in the exact sense of the word, but in case she wasn't hauling too much cargo she still could accommodate about five hundred people in third class quarters, a leftover of the old days. With the war in the Atlantic heating up, Sam Cornwell had exercised his final authority as captain and opted against a high cargo load-out and for higher speed.
And then, there were their other passengers.
“What impression did you get about the people we took aboard today, Mack?”
Burroughs flipped his cigarette butt over the railing and into the sea. “A strange lot, boss. That's definitely some kind of uniform they're wearing. The high number of dames and Negroes also doesn't strike me as kosher. Some of the boys have tried to chat them up with little success. Whatever it is, they're not flapping their lips.” He gesticulated towards the promenade deck. “Right now they're keeping to themselves down below. I've got some of the boys positioned at the entrances to their section of the ship, and some of the lads are at hand to dog them if they wanna leave.”
“Keep an eye on them, Mack.”
Burroughs frowned. “Boss, our guys ain't no g-men.”
“I know that, Mack. I just don't want them to get anywhere near things that don't have to interest them.”
“Do you want me to post armed guards at some choke points, boss?”
Cornwell shook his head. “No. At least not yet. In the meantime, why don't you invite that captain of theirs to dine with us, Mack. Let's get a measure of that 'Mr. Flynn'. And then lets grill him.”
Atlantic Ocean, Maid of Zanzibar
26 July 1940, Evening
It must have been eight o'clock in the evening when a tentative knock on his cabin door ripped Steven Flynn from a fitful slumber. The man, who then had politely waited outside until he had gotten what few clothes he had into some sort of presentable outfit, led him through the ship, over ladders and through elevators that told of better times into a room behind the bridge which was flanked by windows on two of the four sides. Daylight shone through them, and a good hour or so would have to pass until the sun began to touch the horizon. The walls were paneled in dark old wood, and an old color-faded carpet that must have once been expensive and soft covered every square inch of the floor. The air was heavy with the aroma of a place that had seen much in its time. The two men awaiting him there fit it.
“Captain Flynn? I'm Sam Cornwell, captain of the Maid, and this is my XO, Mack Burroughs,” the taller of the two introduced them. Steven shook their extended hands.
“Steven Flynn. Pleased to make your acquaintance, gentlemen. And let me use the opportunity to extend my gratitude for taking us aboard. It's good to be among Americans again.”
“Well, we try our best to take a bit of the home country with us wherever we go, captain,” the older one who was built like a lighthouse chuckled roughly. “Ain't that so, boss?”
“Mack is right. Hard to keep people in good spirits otherwise, given the time we spend away from the states. But I suppose you know how that is.” Cornwell shrugged and handed him glass of brandy, but there was an observant note in his voice that did not go amiss.
Flynn swirled the golden liquid in the low glass, feeling the wariness of the last weeks heavy on his shoulders. “Oh, I understand just too well what you mean, captain.”
“Please, just call me Sam. It'll get tedious for the old Irish war horse here,” he tilted his head towards Burroughs, “to follow the conversation when we both end our sentences with 'captain'.” He grinned boyishly, and Steven found the sentiment infecting as a smile of his own appeared on his face.
Mack Burroughs just snorted his protest, giving the man the impression of an oversized bellows as he stepped back from the table and opened a cabinet. A gramophone came to light. “I hope the two 'captains',” he gave the word a special emphasis, “don't mind the chrome-dome turning on some music,” Burroughs stated acidly, and only Cornwell's bright smile told Flynn that the two men's banter was all in good humor.
The captain of the Maid shot Flynn an inquisitive glance, and Steven was quick to shake his head.
“Go ahead, Mack.”
“Very well. I hope the gentlemen like 'Tommy Dorsey'.”
“You won't hear any complaints from my side, Mr. Burroughs,” Flynn was quick to answer.
The music began. Sam Cornwell's eyebrows rose briefly. When all three men were back at the table, he raised his glass. “Cheers, gentlemen.”
The brandy burnt its way down Steven's throat, but it was a good feeling that soon was replaced by a relaxing warmth. With the music playing on in the background a conversation soon unfolded.
“So, Mack, you're Irish?”
“As Irish and catholic as a Bostoner can get,” Sam Cornwell answered in his stead. “Though, I always thought to qualify as Irish you needed to be an O'Malley, or O'Reilly, or something else with an 'O'.”
”Aye, and you'd need to wear green clothes, eat only potatoes and you'd believe in fucking leprechauns,” Mack added laconically. “Unlike the good captain here I have the good grace not to have crawled out from under a tree stump out in the boondocks. I grew up with saltwater in my face. The boss? Not so much.”
“What Mack here's trying to say is that I grew up working hard on a farm while he was living the easy life in Boston's streets,” Cornwell retorted just as dryly.
“How comes you stopped at the Azores, Sam? The place doesn't strike me as a location a ship as fast as the Maid usually would make a stop at?”
“Easy. Someone at the American embassy in Lisbon got in touch with me and told me about a shipwrecked American crew here. I didn't really expect that many people, but that's really all there is about it. But how did you get into that whole kerfluffle?”
The time-displaced US Navy captain retold the same story he had presented at the dinner table at the da Silva house a couple of days prior, but he noticed the questions Sam Cornwell and Mack Burroughs posed were a lot more penetrating. What type of ship had it been? What armament had it had? How exactly had the flag of it looked? Had they used torpedoes or just their guns? Had he been able to guess the enemy's guns' caliber? And what exactly had his own ship been carrying? With which carrier was he? The questions all were posed in a perfectly friendly, conversational tone, and they were just too natural given the two men's own profession. Still, he could not shake off the feeling that this was an interrogation. But maybe that was just the fatigue and paranoia of the last weeks catching up with him.
“And those fascist bastards really went after the women?” Sam Cornwell sounded disgusted, and the face of the former captain of the USS Halsey darkened.
“Yes. Those thugs beat up three of them and tried to rape them. Luckily didn't work out that way, as far as my doctor could tell, but I don't envy the girls the experience. Couple of my boys then went to even the score and beat a bunch of those green-shirted fuckers to a pulp. After that they left their filthy hands off us. Still, can't say that the whole affair made our stay more pleasant. Lots of my people cheered when they saw the flag the Maid was flying.”
A black steward entered with a tray and placed the soup in front of each of them. With their curiosity apparently satisfied for the moment, their talk turned to topics Flynn would have found absurdly trivial under different circumstances: gossip. He found the whole situation to be almost as taxing as the combat he had gone through. The way Cornwell and Burroughs talked - hell, what they talked about and how they acted, it all put an invisible barrier between him and them that, quite frankly, astonished him. He had nothing but the barest idea of the celebrities of the day and age, and he placidly threw in a sentence or two when he thought he was on the safe side. Still, who were the 'Ink Spots', and what didn't they care about? Was Olivia de Havilland a singer? And who the hell was that 'Ringo Kid' Sam Cornwell liked so much? Maybe he was some baseball player, but that made things just worse: Flynn was a football man, and he would have been stumped if the topic at the table had been contemporary baseball - contemporary meaning the 2020s! Just as well that the two of them juggled with a lot of admittedly funny anecdotes suitable to be mentioned at a dinner table towards virtual strangers, for that kept his speaking role to a minimum. It was discouragingly weird. For all the cultural differences the world he came from espoused, Flynn would have found it easier to find a topic he could talk about with a contemporary Chinese officer of the PLAN than with these two fellow Americans! Or with the Germans around Hallwinter, a small voice in his head reminded him with a sting. Here, however, he felt like a bumbling moron.
Much to his surprise the barrel-chested Bostoner turned out to be a hard-ass with a soft core, professing a love for Glen Miller's 'Moonlight Serenade', the performances of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire – Flynn had never seen a movie with them, but at least he knew who they were – and a whole set of movies which he figured were some kind of screwball comedy.
Time progressed fast as they talked with each other over dinner, even though the level of conversation broke down when the main dish was served: a large steak with baked potatoes that made Flynn's mouth water. They had been treated well on the Azores – well, most the time, he reminded himself – but only now did he realize how much he had missed some good old American food.
His plate emptied itself far too soon, and remorsefully he leaned back after the job had been done, accepting another glass of liquor to ease the pain a bit instead. It also was the time to resume their conversation.
“Cigarette?” Cornwell smiled pleasantly and extended his hand across the table, holding a silver étui.
Mack Burroughs had swiftly taken a pack of tobacco and a few papers from his pockets and rolled one for himself. He tapped it against the table a couple of times, then lit a match on the rough table leg, puffing out clouds of gray smoke.
“No, thank you, captain; I don't smoke,” Flynn politely shook his head.
The captain of the Maid of Zanzibar raised an eyebrow and exchanged a brief glance with Mack Burroughs who simply shrugged. Then he lit one for himself.
Flynn did his best not to cough. The amount of smoking these people did was patently insane, and the casualness they displayed while doing so was outright alien. Granted, people still smoked where he came from - heck, he had tried it out in his teens. But even then, at the turn of the millennium, people had been polite enough not to smoke in the company of non-smokers, let alone at a shared table during dinner! Here, however, it seemed as if everybody did smoke, and a lot.
Contrary to that, the brandy was something Flynn had absolutely no reason to complain about. While the amount that Burroughs and Cornwell digested was staggering in the light of the occasion – and them appearing still nigh sober even more so – he savored the taste of the fine, twenty years old Scottish single malt.
A number of photographs hung on the dark, almost black wood that covered the walls. A couple had old brass frames, and even Flynn knew enough of history to figure out that the people and occasions they showed were from before the First World War. Some showed the Maid in a variety of ports, one shot more exotic than the next one. Two showed a farmhouse and a family. The one they were centered around, however, showed a group of men in white parade uniforms on the steps in front of an old brick building. Flynn remembered the location only too well. It had also been his alma mater. “Class of 1921,” he read, then turned to Cornwell, smiling. “I still remember when I stood on those same steps, wearing the same damn white shoes one somehow couldn't keep clean.”
“Holy mackerel! You went to Annapolis, too?” A strange light appeared in Sam Cornwell's eyes as Flynn nodded.
“Yeah, but right now that seems like a lifetime ago. Better times,” he mused with greater reservation, his enthusiasm fading as fast as the still fresh memories got more vivid. Neither he nor Cornwell himself saw the worried glance that Mack Burroughs shot his captain.
“Which class were you?” Cornwell asked. “I figure we're not that far apart, age-wise. Wouldn't it be a riot if we'd stumbled across each other back then just to meet here, like that?”
Steven licked his lips, evading Sam Cornwell's eyes. “Class of '28.” He almost bit his tongue the very moment he said it aloud. Damn it! He just hoped his face was not showing the wince he just mentally did. There was no way the man would buy that date, no matter how much Flynn himself still thought how young he looked. He decided the time to take the bull by the horns had come. “Well, I hope the two gentlemen will now excuse me. It's been a pleasure, but it's also been a long day.” To his great relief neither of the two made any fuss about that, and he let go a silent sigh when he finally closed his cabin's door behind him.
* * *
“Well, that was interesting,” Cornwell remarked with a puzzled look on his face when Flynn had left.
“What do you mean, boss? The line he shot you about going to USNA, or the whole thing falling apart?”
“I guess both, Mack.” He shook his head. “I mean, really, Tommy Dorsey? My half-deaf grandma would've noticed that was Benny Goodman! How could a man mistake one for the other?” Cornwell frowned. “I do kinda like that Flynn guy, but he's got to be the most half-baked spy I've ever run across.
“Tell me about it, boss,” Mack's voice rumbled. “The way he looked at you when you talked about the 'Ringo Kid'... seriously, behind what kinda rock must you've been hiding not to know John Wayne?” He sighed before his face became all business. “Now that we've established there's definitely something fishy here, how do we go about it?”
Sam Cornwell looked out over the nightly sea with a resigned expression on his face. “Come morning, I'll radio the old man. I'm a glorified ferry boat commander, Mack. This is business for ONI and the army.”
Washington, D.C., FBI Headquarters
27 July 1940, late Morning
J. Edgar Hoover looked up from his papers when the door to his office opened and Clyde Tolson, his deputy director, friend and close confidante strode in with a bright smile on his youthful face. Rumors – unfounded ones - made their ways through the halls of power that he and Tolson were more than just good friends and colleagues, and Hoover spent a considerable amount of time and energy on the task of suppressing them by all possible means. That by doing so he unearthed a lot of dirt on quite a number of people which could come in handy at some point in the future was a welcome bonus. But still, with the war in Europe culminating, and the American isolationists gaining in power, he felt he was stuck between a rock and a hard place. There were so many dangerous and subversive individuals on the loose in this country that in the case the US entered the war sabotage and espionage would be uncontrollable. And the only one who seemed to care was he, John Edgar Hoover, and for that he was being met with hostility from all sides. But despite that, his files grew. When the time came, the Bureau would be ready to deal with the danger to the state, whether it came from Nazis, Japs, the communist intelligentsia or some intrepid congressmen.
As such the sight of a boyishly grinning Tolson was an easy way to rise his spirits. “Going by your face Christmas came early this year, Clyde.”
“You could say so, Jay. My man over at the Office of Naval Intelligence just sent me this transcript of a conversation between the vice admiral and a skipper he's been working with for some time. And boy, it's a big catch.” He handed Hoover a brown folder.
The FBI director's eyes raced over the type-written lines, and a broad smile began to appear on his usually reserved face. “Two hundred and forty-seven people?” He whistled.
“Potentially,” Tolson nodded. “But the leader of them clearly isn't who he's pretending to be, and if you look at what that Captain Cornwell had to say about that 'crew'...”
“More than a quarter of them women?” Hoover guffawed. “Has that been corroborated?”
“It's a direct transcript, Jay. Vice Admiral Anderson's told Cornwell to bring them to Norfolk instead of heading to Boston. I guess he hopes the Navy can get a hold of them there. ETA is in four days.”
“Go and dig up what we have on Anderson and that Cornwell guy, Clyde. And then get me Martin Diess on the phone.”
“Yes, Clyde. It's time his committee returns me a favor for all the information I've passed them behind the curtain the last years. And then get me the office in Norfolk. Let's prepare a welcoming committee.”
Atlantic Ocean, Maid of Zanzibar
27 July 1940, Evening
By now Steven Flynn was convinced the two men across the table took a perverse pleasure in bamboozling him again and again. Had the conversation yesterday been laden purely with the gossip of the day it had turned to hard politics after dinner today. And by now he was certain he was not cutting a fine figure. He knew quite a lot about the US wartime leaders and about the situation in Europe. There were very few officers who did not harbor some kind of interest in World War II. Domestic politics was a whole other ball game. He had let it slip that he was from Virginia, which of course had prompted the question what he thought about its governor. Damn, he did not even know who ran against Roosevelt this year. How should he have an opinion about a man whose name he had never heard? Honestly, this evening he was happy they served the same good brandy as the day before, and he did not mind them smoking one bit. Every puff of smoke, every sip of liquor was one second where they were not talking to him.
After the fourth glass of brandy or so, Sam Cornwell leaned his way. “Steven, don't get that the wrong way, but your crew is a rather odd bunch.”
Flynn had dreaded that very question from the very moment they had done aboard. It had been the elephant in the room that everybody so far had politely ignored. But it was on the loose now. He gritted his teeth. “It's very compli-”
The door to the captain's private diner room flew open, and Mack Burroughs jumped to his feet as he was expecting a fight to the death. But beneath the frame stood only two young sailors in the light blue uniform of the Maid, and behind them, towering, was Commander Bryan Pattinson.
“I'm sorry, captain,” one of the sailors stammered. He was all nerves. “Somethin's happened, and, err...” He looked aside and Pattinson took over.
“Captain Cornwell, Captain Flynn... there's been an incident.”
* * *
She looked as if she had just fallen asleep, Sam Cornwell warily thought as he stared at the face of the young woman. There was still some color other than blue left in that face beneath the bright mop of short hair. Two other women sat on a bed on the opposite side of the room, comforting each other between sobs while a whole crowd of onlookers – crew, shipwrecked, passengers – had gathered to get a good look at the morbid scene.
Flynn squeezed himself past him. Whatever Cornwell thought of the man, the shock and the anguish in his face at the moment were real. He stared at her face, then shook his head as if his eyes needed to be pried off the gal's features. Noticing a folded piece of paper on the floor beneath her, Flynn knelt down and picked it up. He briefly opened it, his eyes widening a bit further with pain before he closed them and shook his head. “Take her down, please,” he said hoarsely. “Just take her down.”
Silently, two of Flynn's men emerged from the crowd, and with stony faces began to cut the sheets with which the young woman had put an end to her life.
* * *
Sam Cornwell did not feel like continuing their inquiry after that. What he just had witnessed reminded him too much of things he would rather just forget for good. He had stiffly extended his sympathy to Flynn and then left it to Mack to deal with the matter at hand. The girl had been young enough to be his daughter. He needed a drink. Quickly, he poured himself a too full glass of Chinese rice liquor and gulped it down in one go. It usually helped him to get his inner calm back, for it reminded him of the time he had spent there. It had been the best years of his life, really, but like the drink, the memories left a bittersweet taste. And the peace he sought eluded him, too.
The door slammed open for the second time this evening, and Mack basically heaved one of the crew - a thin, rat-faced type of a guy - into the room, keeping one hand on his sleeve.
“Sorry, boss, but turns out this vulture was the first on the spot. The boob thought it'd be a riot if he'd steal the girl's wallet before he called for help.”
Cornwell looked at the man with open disgust. “Is that so?”
“Did I take the wallet to get the moolah?” The rat-faced sailor rolled his eyes, then squeaked when Mack increased the pressure around his neck with one of his huge paws. “Natch! It was too good to pass up. That's the truth, I swear.”
“Where's it now?” Sam demanded, and Mack Burroughs produced a dark brown piece of leather.
“I got it, boss.”
“Fine,” Cornwell snorted. “Get that piece of trash out of my sight, Mack. He's worked on the Maid for the longest time. He's going to leave us once we reach the next port.” He avoided mentioning that this would be Norfolk and not Boston.
Burroughs cracked his knuckles, making the scoundrel wince before he pushed him into the arms of two decidedly robust crewmen. “Take that waste to the brig.” The door closed. “Idiot,” Mack muttered. “Throwing away an easy job for something that isn't worth a plugged nickel. Serves him right though, boss. Didn't like his face.”
“Well, I guess I can count myself lucky I hold up to your high aesthetic standards then.” Sam Cornwell passed his first officer the dollar bills he had taken from the wallet. “What do you think?”
“Don't look queer to me.” Burroughs held the bills into the light one after another, checking their water marks. “Though after dinner I wouldn't have put it behind the Nazis to think us that sappy.”
Cornwell snorted, then frowned. “What do you suppose this thingamajig is for? Visa. Never heard of such a company.”
“Wow, is that a plastic card, boss?”
“Yeah, and there's more of them. Take a look.” The Maid's captain began to empty the rest of the dead woman's wallet, then stopped with a surprised whistle. “A colored photograph, Mack. Now there's something I've never seen before.” He took a closer look at the image and his eyes widened a bit more. “That lass was married to a Negro. Guy must've gotten her pregnant three times from the looks of the kids. What would a girl like that have wanted from a black man?” he wondered.
“There's well-educated and wealthy Negroes, too,” Mack reminded him. “Just look at the way Flynn's people defer to that tall one - what's his name again? Pattinson?”
“Yes, but have you ever seen a colored photo, Mack? Mack?!”
Mack Burroughs stared down at the set of silvery plastic cards in his hands and suddenly had a very bad feeling. “Boss, whatever's going on here, I don't think a colorful picture's going to be the worst of it.” He looked up again. “Here, this Visa card. Whatever it's good for, it says it was issued in 2021. And take a look at this.” He produced a white plastic card of the same size, only this one sported some well-known heraldics: the Navy badge and the US eagle. “USASMIC. United States Armed Service Medical Insurance Card. Midshipwoman Suzanna Thompson. USS Halsey.”
Cornwell was dumbfounded. What the heck was a Medical Insurance Card, and worse, who had ever heard about something as stupid as a 'midshipwoman'? What the hell were those people thinking?
Burroughs drew his attention back to him with the last card he held in his thick fingers. “It's her driver's license. At least, that's what the thing says.” The small document passed to Cornwell who held it as delicately as if it had been made from the thinnest porcelain – or as if it was a dangerous, poisonous thing.
Like the others it was a thin slip of plastic, but this one was transparent and held only a few lines of print and one of those strange colored pictures that seemed to shift depending on which way one looked at it. A younger Suzanna Thompson stared back at him. It took him a few moments to realize this was not what made the piece so strange. It was the simple, straightforward line of print that read 'Date of Birth: 11 September 2001'.
Atlantic Ocean, Maid of Zanzibar
28 July 1940, Early Afternoon
A blanket sprawling over his legs and sunglasses sitting on the ridge of his nose, Lieutenant Lewis Kent tried to somehow manage the bright daylight and the cool breeze that the speed of the ship brought with it, while at the same time doing his best to hold on to the papers and pencils in his lap. He was aware he certainly was not leaving the best impression to the other passengers who strolled by on the promenade deck, but he really could not have cared less. After watching the last stages of the war in Europe and experiencing a dozen air raids and air raid warnings in England, he felt confident enough to ignore the strange glances he got from time to time. And if some thought that it was strange to have an US army lieutenant making a transatlantic cruise they were free to write their bloody congressmen about it!
He concentrated on the intricate characters in the thin booklet in his lap and began to scribble a translation on a legal pad he always kept ready.
“Your kana 'letters' look great, but I find your translation... ambiguous, sir,” a distinctly female voice tore him from his work.
Leaning against the wall to the left behind him, a tall brunette woman with comparably short hair smiled down at him. “Kim Chambers.” She extended her hand, and too perplexed to do something else he took and shook it, nearly stammering his name.
“Lewis Kent. Nice to meet you.” He noticed her clothes and remembered the discussion he had had with the Maid's captain about those so-called castaways. He decided to play this carefully. “You're with the people we took aboard at the Azores?” She nodded briefly and Kent was quick to extend his sympathies. “I heard what happened last night. I'm really sorry.”
“Thank you.” A pained expression had appeared on Chambers' face but she did her best to cover it with a smile. “I didn't know Suzanna personally, but it's hard to just see someone who's been around you go like this.”
He nodded thoughtfully. “Any idea why she's done it?”
“I suppose she couldn't bear the thought of never seeing her husband and children again.” She noticed the questioning look in his eyes and shook her head. “It's a long and complicated story. But what about you?” She sat down on the lounger next to him. “What does an army lieutenant do on a transatlantic steamer, translating Japanese?” A smile lapped round her lips.
Lewis Kent very consciously prepared his answer. The truth was that he had served as a secret liaison with the British top secret ULTRA code breaking program before his superiors had decided things were getting way too hot in England and had gotten him out via Portugal. Soon he would be working on the US' own program and try to crack the Japanese 'Purple' code. But that was hardly something he could state in the open.
“I've been to Japan some time ago. Stayed there for one and a half year, to be precise. Even learned the language. But it's like with every skill: you need to constantly train it to keep it useful.” He shrugged.
“What are you reading?”
“It's called ‘Taketori Monogatari’, and it can be considered one of the earliest science fiction stories,” he told her, then blushed. Way to go, Lewis, talking about Buck Rogers and the like with a passable gal. But to his surprise she only leaned closer.
“I think I've heard of that.” She wrinkled her brows. “Is it the one where a princess from the moon is sent to Earth during a war and is then brought up by a simple farmer?”
Kent's own face brightened. “It's a bamboo cutter, but yeah, that's the one! I didn't think anybody outside Japan even knew of it!”
“I took Japanese in college where we read it as one of the great Japanese classics. Three semesters and half a year abroad. Never got a degree, though,” she admitted ruefully, omitting that she had also taken computer science classes.
“The recession,” Chambers sighed. “Couldn't pay the fees anymore, so I took whatever job I could find. I'd have never thought that I would end up as a, ahm, a radio operator,” she giggled.
“A radio operator? That's quite a change!” Lewis whistled, not quite certain what to make of it. But his thoughts delightfully soon returned to the rest of what she had said. “So you speak the language? You said my translation was wrong?”
“Not wrong, sir; just ambiguous. Maybe I'm also mistaken, but it seems to me you've translated the whole piece in colloquial Japanese, the kogo-tai. However, they taught me back at college that for pieces like this you'd need to stay in the traditional literary style, the bungo-tai.”
Lewis stopped. She was right! The normal kogo-tai and the formal bungo-tai were vastly different not only in their grammar but also in the meanings of the single words. Without really noticing he had written his notes in the wrong form, most likely producing a completely wrong translation. “If you'd like you could help me,” he asked her shyly, “you know, so that I avoid those beginner's mistakes?” To his delight she smiled and shrugged her shoulders.
“Well, Mr. Kent, it's not like we're going anywhere else right now,” she quipped and pulled her lounger closer to his. “Now this here...”
Norfolk, VA, Maid of Zanzibar
31 July 1940, 09:30 Hours
It was not quite the way Steven Flynn had imagined to return to the United States. Unbeknownst to all aboard except the bridge crew, the large steamer had entered Norfolk Harbor in the early morning hours of the last day of July. From the Maid's bridge Flynn looked outside at the seemingly endless dockyards and the US Navy ships that anchored along them. “Last time I checked Boston looked rather different.”
“Last time I checked there wasn't a Captain Steven Flynn from Virginia, nor was there a ship named Halsey,” Sam Cornwell replied calmly. “Folks back home made some inquiries about you and that ship of yours, and guess what they got? Bupkis.” He and the rest of the bridge crew wore holstered Colt M1911s, and out on deck there were others who held rifles.
Flynn only hoped nobody would do something rash. Things had the tendency to go downhill if that happened. “I suppose it would seem stupid to ask 'why'?”
Sam Cornwell thought about the things he had found in the dead woman's wallet and about the oddities in Flynn's behavior and decided he did not really have an answer that would have been satisfying. This was one weird case, and it was way above his pay grade. “Do I have your word that your people will make this as... easy as possible, Mr. Flynn? If that even is your name.”
The dark-haired uptimer gave Cornwell a tired smile. “It is, Captain Cornwell. And yes, my people will cooperate. We're not suicidal.” Well, not all of them were, he added more glumly. “Let's go then.”
* * *
To everybody's surprise the forefront of the men awaiting Flynn and the survivors of the UNBIF Task Force was not made up of military police but of twenty men in civilian suits and fedora hats, wielding rifles, shotguns and drum-fed 'Tommy' guns. The MPs - and there were a lot more of those - held themselves in the background. Sam Cornwell was startled to see Vice Admiral Walter S. Anderson, the head of ONI, also stand aside, stone-faced. A tall g-man stepped forward, pointing the barrel of his rifle to the ground.
“I am Agent Wilkinson of the Federal Bureau of Investigation!” he announced once all of Flynn's people had made their way out of the Maid's bowels. They looked miserable, clinging to the little they had brought aboard with them.
The sight did not make Sam feel guilty, but it also was not suitable to inspire much confidence in him. The memories of China were still too fresh for that.
“You have been charged with subversive and criminal activities, and will be taken into federal custody until your status can be determined. The FBI leads this investigation. Cooperate with the authorities and your treatment will be lenient, and may have a positive effect on charges that may be pressed.” He cocked his gun. “If you decide you'll be a hero today, well, we handled Dillinger and Machine Gun Kelly.” The men behind him grinned.
Sam Cornwell moved past the MPs to Anderson. The man's stony face seemed to mellow when he saw him come closer. “Sam! Good to see you, boy!” He shook his hand, and Cornwell could not help it but produce a smile himself, appreciating the genuine - and mutual - affection.
“It's been far too long, sir,” he said, and meant it. “But what's happening here? What're the g-men doing here?”
Anderson's face darkened again. “Hoover somehow got word of the whole operation, and before I knew what was happening I had SECNAV and the 'House Un-American Activities Committee' breathing down my neck,” he remarked sourly, but calmly. “I've fought tooth and nail to get it under the auspice of the Navy after those additional reports you sent, believe me, but Hoover had me beat. He's blown the whole affair out of proportion while making himself out to be a great moderator. Got the army on board, so at least in theory the whole brouhaha's a joint operation between them, the Bureau and ONI.”
“At least I'm out of it now,” Sam shook his head. “How's Jr. doing?”
A warm smile appeared on Anderson's face. “He sends his regards and hopes you'll manage a visit this year. Devours your letters, too. You know how he is.”
Cornwell nodded. The whole affair around Walter S. Anderson, Jr. was the thing that bound the two men together ever since that fateful day in 1921.
Meanwhile, Flynn's people had begun to board army trucks under the watchful eyes of the guard detail. The man had kept his word so far, and everything was quiet. “I'll leave once they're gone, sir. I have a ship and passengers to get to Boston.”
Agent Wilkinson walked over from the throng of g-men and joined them. “We're taking them to the train station.” He nodded towards the detainees. “Strange lot.”
“And from there?” Sam wanted to know.
“You're Captain Cornwell?” The FBI agent measured him with his eyes. “Fort Stanton in New Mexico. They've got the facilities and the necessary remoteness. I hope you like it empty and dry. You're coming with us, too.”
“That wasn't part of the agreement!” Anderson protested, but Wilkinson just shrugged.
“Now it is. He's had the most exposure to them and that 'Captain Flynn' guy.” He pointed to a Cadillac S60, then stared at Cornwell. “If the spies didn't make a damn hassle I just hope you've got the same sense in you,” he muttered. “Let's go.”
And Sam Cornwell resigned himself to his fate.
* * *