Joe Price sat at his desk and for the third time in a row tried to lift his coffee mug without spilling. The shaking of his right hand was almost unnoticeable until he had to grip the mug’s handle, then it was as if his mug had a vibrator attached. The coffee started to slosh around in the mug and once again threatened to come over the rim. With a clatter and a sigh, he put the mug back onto the now wet surface of his desk and sat back into his chair.
He closed his eyes and tried to relax. All that did was bring the memories back, like an old-style movie; sort of jerky, no color and with the sound out of sync.
“ ... Congratulations!” came the voice over the loudspeaker as the crowd broke into cheers and applause.
Joseph A. Price, LT(jg) stood at attention. He was now a fully qualified Engineering Duty Officer, an EDO, who was on his way to becoming Commander Philadelphia Ship Yard; at least at the end of the next twenty years. In the old days that slot would have carried the title of Shipwright but as with a lot of things in the Navy, traditions were lost along with old technologies. At his young age, Joe was the last EDO to qualify on steam, the next in precedence qualified on Jet Turbine. To Joe’s thinking a major step backward in reliability but who was asking his opinion anyway.
His LT Sea Duty tour was slotted for PHIBRON SIX embarked upon USS Saipan. He was assigned as the PHIBRON N4 (Logistics) but due to his 1440 Designator, he was being seconded to Saipan’s Engineering Department. Flying in the face of the perverse US Navy naming conventions, the ship’s Engineering Department actually operated the ship’s engines; in this case the two 600psi steam boiler / geared turbine sets that produced over 60,000 shaft horse power to propel the hull through the water. But in staying with tradition, the Boiler Tenders, the men and now women that stood watch and operated the demons known as boilers, were called the “Black Gang.” Not as a racist label but in acknowledgement to the old days when coal was king and everything, including the men, were ingrained with coal dust and soot. It was one of Joe’s proudest moments when the Department Chief asked if he wanted to “walk the tank.” This was Joe’s rite of passage and meant he was truly accepted by the “gang.” One of the deep well tanks of Bunker-C fuel oil was allowed to cool from its normal 200+F temperature to ambient. The oil assumed the texture of a tar roof in summer; you could walk on it, but if you stopped, you would sink. Joe entered the tank by climbing down one of the entry-well inspection ladders, walked across the surface of the oil, a distance of about sixty feet, and climbed out of the tank using a Jacob’s Ladder hanging down from the emergency inspection port. The entire evolution took place in a matter of minutes, but between the fumes, the lack of oxygen and the absence of a safety harness / rope it seemed to Joe that it was a journey of forever. Having performed the feat, Joe was now accepted as a peer, an equal within the brotherhood of the “Black Gang”. The fact that as an Officer it was almost unheard of to be invited made his acceptance even sweeter.
“At sea underway replenishment” or unrep in Navy jargon. A few simple words to describe one of the most dangerous and at the same time tedious evolutions ever practiced by the US Navy. Imagine, two or sometimes three vessels, each weighing tens of thousands of tons, running parallel to each other, a few dozen yards apart. Now imagine massive fuel lines stretching between one vessel and the next. Add to this, breeches buoy lines moving cargo and dry goods from the deck of one ship to the next. This organized chaos is underway replenishment.
Joe Price was standing as Deck Safety Officer during an underway replenishment evolution. Saipan was transferring jet fuel to USS Arleigh Burke. Normally, Burke would perform this function with one of the fleets AOE ships. It seemed however that the powers that be wanted to watch the fun of Saipan doing the work. As things were progressing smoothly, there wasn’t much for Joe to do, except be vigilant and to sense the things going on around him. It took about an hour for Joe’s subconscious to bring to his conscious mind something that he had been sensing all morning; Saipan was straining. Her normal vibration was off. As she had come up to speed for the unrep she seemed to stagger and strain. There was no easy way to explain what Joe was feeling through the soles of his shoes. She just was not right!
After the hot wash-up following the evolution, Price went down into Engine 1 before going back to his quarters for a shower. Looking around he saw where the duty section was clustered at the Steam Turbine Control Valve Station, traditionally known as the Steam Chest from days gone by, and walked over to Petty Officer Smith where she stood with her arms halfway inside one of the many outboard panels. “Hey, Smith,” he shouted to get her attention, “You need to look at the counter-balance valve on the Reversing Blades. It stutters when you’re ramping up the Forward set and you are losing power with the backpressure. I think the seat is shot and needs to be replaced.
“OK, Sir, I will give it a look-see just as soon as I get this Tacho sender replaced.”
With a grin and an “Okey dokey,” Price walked away from the sailor and took off for the Hollywood shower waiting for him up in Officers’ Berthing.
Later that night, Machinist Mate, First Class (MM1) Amanda Smith stood there shaking her head. How the fuck Mr. Price guessed the problem with the valve was beyond her. The rumors in the Division were that Mr. Price had some sort of voodoo hoodoo going on when it came to the steam plant. They say he could walk past a gaping hole in the hull and not notice it but if a boiler or turbine had even a little something off, he would fuss about it until the problem was resolved.
He heard the 1MC calling for the Flight Deck to be cleared, an F18C Hornet “plastic bug” was coming in with damage. It had been recommended to the pilot to ditch but he was determined to save his ship. Joe left his office on 3 Deck and quickly went up the outside ladder-way to the Flight Deck. Joe watched the F18 on final approach; it was coming in low, trailing smoke and it looked like the portside engine was on fire. The firefighting team was assembled and crouching down in the ‘pit’, waiting to be called but hoping they would not be needed.
The F18 missed the first two wires but the tail hook bit onto the third and the bug hit the deck hard. Suddenly, the fuselage broke and burning fuel along with pieces of the jet were flung everywhere. Joe heard screams as a piece of the port wing along with a large amount of burning jet fuel, landed on the firefighting team hunkering down in the ‘pit’. At the same time, Joe saw the cockpit with the pilot still inside had skittered across the steel deck and come to a stop almost right in front of him. He ignored the flames as he jumped up and pulled the Emergency Trip on the fuselage under the canopy.
Joe woke up disoriented and hurting. It took him some time to realize he was in Sickbay. His return to consciousness was noticed and a Corpsman was at his side asking the usual bullshit and making notes. The Corpsman adjusted the morphine drip going into Joe’s IV and he drifted off to sleepy time again.
“Mr. Price,” his secretary Joan Wentworth said, “Mr. Price, a delivery is here for you and he requires a signature.”
Joe stood up.; at least the shakes didn’t affect his walking. As he left his office and entered that of his secretary, he paused for a moment to touch the ragged, burnt piece of metal affixed to his “Me” wall. It was a habit, but one that gave him a modicum of peace. His eyes scanned the other, familiar, things on the wall; his “Shellback” certificate, his sidearm sword, the photographs of the PIBRON Staff and the entire “Black Gang” on the Saipan, signed by every single one, from unrated Seaman to Master Chief Boiler Technician (MCBT) Humphries and many more exhibits from his past life. The photo from Saipan was both his most cherished memento as well as the one that brought back the shakes the fastest. It was a “get well” card from the time he was in Sickbay after the fire. The Captain himself brought it in and presented it to him, along with the Navy Commendation and Purple Heart, just before he was sent off to Bethesda for further surgeries and rehabilitation.
Joe shook his head to clear his mind and continued out into his outer office. Joan was standing by the outer door with a youngish man who was holding one of those metal clipboard boxes that seemed to be standard issue to all couriers.
“J. Price?” the man asked as he pushed the clip-box forward to Joe, “Please sign on line four.”
“What am I signing for?” Joe asked as he absentmindedly took the proffered device.
“I’m not sure,” the deliveryman said, “All I know is I have had one hell of a time getting this delivered today. It has put me a couple of hours behind already.”
“How so?” Joe asked as he signed his name on the line indicated, “I’ve been in this office at this plant for years.”
“Well, the original shipping document said it was to go to J. Price at 352 Eagle Street in Albany but when I got there it was a parking lot. I had to call my dispatcher and wasted a lot of time before we found you were over here on Eagle Street in Schenectady. Believe me, driving across both cities, against the lunch crowd traffic, was no picnic!” said the deliveryman as he took back his clip-box and turned out into the hall.
He appeared a moment latter pushing a dolly which carried a medium sized wood crate. The crate looked like something out of one of those “Indiana Jones” movies; old style boards and slats all nailed together.
“Where do you want it?” asked the man, clearly in a hurry now to get back to his scheduled deliveries.
“Put it in my office, if you don’t mind,” Joe said. He followed behind and indicated a spot off to one side of his desk.
“Thanks, and I’m sorry for your trouble,” Joe said.
Opening the crate took more than a few minutes; it was extremely well constructed. Finally getting the lid off, Joe was able to see the contents; three objects wrapped in bubble plastic were nestled inside the wood sides and the voids were filled with plastic peanuts. Pulling the three objects out one at a time, Joe found a manila envelope between the second and third object.
Assuming the envelope contained a shipping manifest, Joe looked at it first. The mystery of the crate was solved as he saw his wife’s name, Jennifer, printed on the outside. Now the address the deliveryman mentioned came back to him! It was his wife’s old studio address. She was a painter and had rented space in the older storefront for a few years after they had been married; using it as her studio and gallery space. She was known for her watercolors on both a local and national level. She was a much sought-after person for portraits, especially of children for the upper class, hoity toity set. In fact, for quite a number of years after he retired from the Navy, she maintained her practice and would travel several times a year for a week or more to locations around the country. When their daughter, Isabel, was younger, Jen would take her along for company. It was an ideal bonding for the two and Joe always enjoyed the “return home” sex he and Jen had at the end of the assignments.
Being more than slightly embarrassed, he realized that he was already in for a penny and would have to take his lumps for opening his wife’s shipment, so he figured he might as well be in for a pound by examining the contents more closely.
Getting the bubble wrap off the first picture was easy after he found the taped end of the wrap. Once it was off, he found he was holding a very elegant wood frame and was looking at the back! Flipping it over he discovered the frame held a large format photograph of a young woman wearing a wedding dress. She was holding a floral bouquet up to her face while looking at the camera. Her beauty was evident and the lighting and framing were perfect. The photograph had been printed in sepia with a soft filter. It was breath taking. Joe’s eyes went up to his desk where in a smaller frame, its twin, only this time in full color, sat in its place of honor on his desk. This picture of his bride, his Jennifer had traveled with him since the day of their wedding. He smiled as he remembered; the photograph had been sent by his shipmates to Bethesda a few days after he got there. It was always within his sight and was his anchor against the physical and emotional pain that ensued over the months he was in rehab. Pulling his mind back to the present, he saw the brass plate attached to the bottom of the frame said “Bride.”
Unwrapping the second photograph revealed a similarly framed sepia picture only this one of his wife sitting holding an infant with an older child standing next to her. She was wearing a light flowing dress, the sunlight was coming in through the windows of the sunroom of his house, lighting her from behind, making the dress gauzy and almost transparent; ethereal as it were. The boy, obviously his son Robert, was looking at the camera with a happy smile on his face. He was relaxed and you could see the laughter and even a little mischief in his eyes as he stood beside his Mom and younger sibling. The infant would have to be his daughter Isabel. This picture would have been taken in the spring after Izzy’s birth. She would have been only five or six months old and Robert would have been just five years old himself. This frame too had a brass plate only this one said “Mother.” Joe, looking at the photograph, wondered why he had never seen it before. It was beautiful! From the age of the children, he knew it would have to have been taken during his last deployment and that it was clearly not a ‘snap shot’ but rather a formal sitting for a professional photographer. He knew he had never seen this before and wondered why if Jen had gone to such trouble she had not shared it with him.
The third photograph was soon unwrapped. This sepia picture was again of his wife, only this time she was naked! She was standing at the foot of their bed, the bedclothes rumpled and disheveled; obviously she had just arisen. One hand was holding the bedpost and the other was extended, pleading to the camera to come back to her. Her face, radiant with a smile; one side of her bottom lip trapped between her teeth. The entire scene screamed here was a woman freshly fucked and trying to lure her lover back to her bed. This frame’s plate said “Lover.” The frame almost slipped from his deadened fingers.
Joe’s PTSD was getting the better of him. His hands were shaking so badly he had to put the final picture down before he dropped it. His head was swimming and the next he knew, he was coming to lying on the floor.
Reaching for the envelope he ripped it open. Inside were several pieces of paper, one which looked like a manifest, one that looked like a title document (it even said title on the top) and the last was simply a letter. Picking up the letter first, Joe was resolved to discover the mystery of the crate. With trembling hands, Joe picked up the letter and began reading...
My Dearest Jennifer,
It was with great sadness that I informed you of Carlos’ passing away last week. As I explained to you over the phone, his passing was quick and I am told painless. The massive aneurism took our beloved from us in a few moments. I am looking forward to seeing you all next week for the funeral. I understand if Robert will not come, but I am truly looking forward to seeing our Izzy again. She is growing up so fast. She has your hair and Carlos’ eyes. I just wish you lived closer and were able to get away more often so that Izzy could spend more time with her “Other Mother” and the rest of our family here in Terrebonne.
I am sending the photographs Carlos’ set aside for you in his will. The series was always proudly displayed in our home. Carlos and I missed the times gone by when we were all together here. Robert was happier then, before he began to grow up and seemed to withdraw from us.
All my love,
Who the fuck was Morgana and what was this about Izzy? Joe thought. He remembered he was deployed on the Saipan to the Med for the Bosnian Conflict when Jen managed a radio relay lash-up to tell him he was to be a father again. Jen had been so happy, so excited when she gave him the good news. She said it had to have been the last night of his pre-deployment leave, just over two months prior, when she had caught the silver bullet. He was ecstatic. Jen wrote every week and sent him “progress photos” as her tummy grew with the life they had created together. He remembered the heart stopping panic that hit him when he got the radio message sent from the Navy’s Family Crisis Center saying that Jennifer’s water had broken and Izzy had been born five weeks early. Using emergency family medical leave, he was able to get nine days to return home to be with her. He was so distracted that he simply accepted the story the Carrier Battle Group CAG gave him about putting him on a Tomcat that needed to go to Naples for maintenance rather than on the usual COD flight. He was happy the change would save him almost four hours. It actually saved him more than that because as soon as his pilot got airborne, he climbed to 30,000 feet and pushed the ‘cat up past 700knots. In Naples, he found that a MATS flight was being held so that he could get on it for a direct flight to Rome Airforce Base just north east of his home in Saratoga, NY.
He was given one of the base’s cars as soon as he disembarked the C5A Galaxy and was driving to Tri City Medical Center, between Troy and Schenectady, within an hour of landing. When he got to the hospital he was surprised to find that both Jen and Izzy had been released earlier that day and were most likely at his home. He had thought a 5-week preemie would need to stay in the hospital longer than a few days. He begged a nurse to let him use a phone to call his wife. She smiled a kindly smile and pointed to a desk set behind the Nurses’ Station. Joe quickly called his house and was overjoyed when Jen answered. “Honey! It’s me. I’m at the hospital but seem to have missed you,” he said, “I’ll be home in about 40 minutes!”
“Joe? Hospital?” Jen croaked, her voice sounded like she had just woken up and was distracted.
“Yes, babe,” Joe responded, “I got family leave and came home to be with you and Izzy.”
“Your home? In Saratoga?” Jen questioned again.
“Yes! No! I’m at Tri City!” Joe exulted, “I’m leaving the hospital now and will be home shortly. Love you!”
“OK. See you soon. Love you too,” Jen replied.
When Joe got home he was greeted by Jen with a warm hug and a tearful reunion. He carried his flight bag into their bedroom to find that Jen had stripped the bed and had been in the process of putting clean sheets on for his return home.
Izzy was perfect; her hair was just a few wisps, her lashes and eyebrows that translucent blond of the very young, her eyes were shut tight and she was making the little suckling motion with her mouth in her sleep. Joe just stared at her in awe. He was reaching down into the crib to pick her up when Jen slipped up next to him and put her arm around his waist. She gave Joe a kiss on the cheek and whispered, “Welcome home, Daddy.” She nestled her head into his shoulder as he carefully held his daughter. Joe walked out into the living room and joined his son on the couch.
Robert was quiet, sitting as far away from his dad as he could and still be sitting on the couch. He sat watching as his father held his baby sister. He seemed hesitant to approach his father; He had earlier clung to Jennifer.
Jen smiled when she saw Joe sitting on the couch next to Robert, holding Izzy in his arms. It was a perfect picture. She was fluttering around the house, not seeming to sit in any one place for long. She finished making the bed and started the used sheets in the washer. She gathered the towels out of the bath, replacing them with fresh, and hustled them into the laundry room. After a few hours, she managed to get Robert back into bed, Izzy fed and changed and down and she pulled Joe into her arms and into their bed.
It was a glorious five days for Joe. He was with his family; his new daughter was perfect and she seemed large for a preemie; he was almost glad she had decided to come early, he could not imagine the struggle Jen would have had birthing Izzy if she was full term. Jen was attentive if tired from the delivery and more than a bit distracted. Robert had grown in the few months since he had deployed; Joe did notice his son seemed so shy and withdrawn. He chalked it down to all the hubbub with the delivery, the new baby in the house and his rushing home.
Finally, his leave was over and it was with tears in his eyes that he bid his loving family goodbye again and returned to combat.
Joe went into his private lavatory and scrubbed his face with cold water to clear the cobwebs. He needed to find out what the fuck was going on in his life.
Jen had been very sad last week and when he asked, she told him that her Mother was not doing well. She asked if it was OK if she took Izzy with her to go for a visit to her Mom’s in Vermont. Joe had asked if she wanted him to go along as well but she poo-pooed the idea saying that they would probably just help her Mom out and sit and visit; that Joe would be bored to tears. Joe had quickly agreed not simply because he felt that his mother-in-law had always looked down her nose at him but also because a new proto-type monotube boiler was going on test the following week and he really wanted to be there for the first light off.
Jen and Izzy had driven off in his wife’s SUV mid-morning on Monday and were planning on staying away until the Thursday of next week.
Could it be that the real reason she was sad was because this Carlos person had died and that she was not really at her Mom’s but instead was at a funeral in Canada?
Joe needed answers and need them fast. He also needed to get a plan together in case things turned out as bad as they were starting to look.
Joe picked up his desk phone and dialed a short number. “Traffic,” said a tinny voice from the receiver.
“Thomas?” Joe said, “This is Joe up in Engineering.”
“Hey man, how’s it going?” Tom replied. Thomas Goodfried liked Joe Price ever since he had met the man. That was one of the first times Tom had worked the night shift on his own since being promoted to Supervisor and everything was going to hell in a handbasket. A turbine - generator (TG) set that was on rush order was still on the test stand, the truck waiting to take it away had been waiting for over an hour already and the phone would not stop ringing. All the big bosses wanted to know if the TG set had shipped and were after him to make it happen. What the fuck! He was supposed to ship the damn thing, not do the work on it! The freaking test guys were not passing the generator on final and now with the shop mostly gone home, nothing good was going to happen at night. Into that mess came Joe Price. Tom had never met the man, didn’t even know the name. What he saw was a man about 45 wearing a suit come out onto the shop floor and walk over to the test stand. The man stood and talked to the test personnel for a while, then he seemed to be pointing to something on the side of the test stand. A few of the techs looked at what he was pointing at but shook their heads. Finally, the suit picked up a big pipe wrench from the tool cart, walked over to the side of the stand he had been pointing to and smacked the shit out of some part or other. Suddenly the sound coming from the TG changed pitch. The warbling harmonic that had been making his teeth ache ended and the chest pounding roar of a steam turbine at full throatily took its place. The suit was suddenly surrounded by a dozen techs and it was obvious they all wanted to see what he had done. It took more than a few minutes for that conversation to wind down. Tom had been distracted by the waiting driver so when he next looked at the test stand, he was shocked to see the suit, minus his coat was arms deep in the guts of the generator helping get it prepped for shipment. Finally, after about three hours, Tom stood back watching the truck with the engine drive away from the plant. It was then he noticed the suit was standing next to him. The guy’s shirt was ruined what with grease, jet fuel and a few tears. The pants were not going to be salvageable either. The strange thing was the guy was totally happy, he had the biggest grin on his face, Tom could remember seeing in quite a while. The suit put out his hand and said, “Price, Joe Price. How ya doin’?” After a brief handshake, Price, Joe Price turned and disappeared into the bowels of the plant. The next evening, when Tom got into work, he was greeted by the Plant’s General Manager who congratulated him on getting the generator set out if not on time, in a good enough time to meet the requirements of the contract. Tom tried to deflect the praise but the GM would hear nothing of the sort. Finally, Tom asked him how he even knew about Tom and the problems the night before. The GM said that he had been fully brief in by the Head of Engineering that morning regarding the problems with the gen set and how the techs and Tom had work hard into the night to get the set prepped, packed and on the truck. Tom was flabbergasted, he had never met a suit that did not take all the credit for themselves much less one that deflected the credit onto other people. That was the day Thomas Goodfried decided he rather liked Price, Joe Price, Head of Engineering.
“Tom,” Joe said, “I need a special favor. I need to have a wood crate repacked. It needs to look unopened. I goofed up and opened a box meant for my wife and...”
“Say no more, man,” Tom interrupted, “Been there myself a few times. Let me take a look at it and we can make it so she will never suspect. Where is it?”
“It’s in my office,” Joe said.
“I’ll have one of my guys right up,” Tom continued, “How big?”
“They will need a dolly,” admitted Joe, “And thanks, Tom. Thanks a lot.”
As soon as he hung up the phone with Tom, Joe pulled out his cell phone and hit #6 on his speed dial. His Mother-in-Law picked up on the second ring and said, “Good morning handsome, how is my favorite son-in-law doing today?
“Aside from the fact that I am your ONLY son-in-law, it is cold and dreary here and was hoping to warm myself up by talking to your lovely daughter,” Joe sort of chuckled.
With a throaty laugh his mother-in-law said, “Well, just because you are my only does not preclude that you are my favorite. As to Jennifer, she and Izzy are out picking up some groceries. Can I have her give you a call when she gets back?”
“Sure,” Joe said, “have her give me a shout when she can. I hope you feel better.”
With a slight hesitation Mary Parker said, “Thank you Joseph, that is kind of you. I will make sure Jen calls you as soon as she gets home.”
“OK, great,” said Joe as he hung up.
On the spur of the moment, Joe called up the “Find Me” app for Izzy’s phone; the one Jen insisted be placed there so they could keep tabs on her when she was a younger teen.
After a few moments, the app clicked through several screens before it settled down and showed a blinking ring indicating Izzy’s phone was in the Northeast section of Montreal Canada ... NOT at her Grandmother’s town of Bennington Vermont!
SON OF A BITCH! Joe thought, his fucking mother-in-law was in on whatever was going on. She had just lied to Joe about her daughter and grand-daughter being with her in Vermont.
Joe’s next call was delayed as he rummaged around in his desk for more than a few minutes until he finally extracted an old worn personal phone book. He quickly flipped the pages until he found the number he wanted. Punching the numbers into his desk set he sat down in his chair and waited for someone to answer at the other end.
“Good morning,” said an older female voice.
“Good morning Ma’am,” Joe said, “This is Joe Price calling, is he in?”
“Don’t you this is Joe Price me young ‘un,” Mary Bedford chortled into the phone, “It has been ages. How are Jen and the kids?”
“They are good, real good, Mrs. Bedford,” Joe said hoping that she would not dig deeper.
“So, now I am Mrs. Bedford. Humph! At least it is better than Ma’am!” she replied, “I’ll get his nibs now.” She obviously laid the handset down on a desk or tabletop and walked away.
Over the receiver he heard the woman’s voice yelling, “Bill, get in here. Young Joseph wants to talk to you!”
He heard noises and a door banging and muffled talking that sounded like, “Joe? Why in the world would he be calling?”
Joe heard noises and then a voice said, “Joe? It’s been ages. What can I do for you?”
Joe explained what had been happening to him since the crate had been delivered. The discovery of the letter and then the confirmation of lies when he had called his mother-in-law. He explained that he was still trying to wrap his head around the concept of Jen having cheated on him but knew that he had to have more information, a lot more before committing to any plan of action and retribution.
“I understand Joe. Let me make some calls. Will you be at this number for today?” the voice said.
“Yes, Sir,” Joe said, “I plan to be at this number but if I do need to leave, I will forward any calls to my cell.”
“OK, good. Don’t do anything stupid. You have done that more than once and this time I won’t be able to get you any medals,” said Capt. William Bedford USN (ret) ex-USS Saipan as he hung up the phone. He walked from the kitchen phone back into his den, waving his curious wife away as he too looked around for an old-style personal phone book. Opening it to the right page, he quickly dialed a number. “Gus, it’s Bill. Listen, I just had a bad call from young Joe Price. I think you need to talk to him directly.”
Joe was fuming and pacing in his office. He needed something to do but had promised his old ship’s commander that he would sit by the phone for the moment. The unexpected ringing of the phone almost set off his PTSD again before he understood what was happening.
He saw it was an outside call so he picked up the handset and said, “Turbine Division, Engineering, Joe Price speaking.”
A middle-aged female voice said, “Commander Joseph Price?”
“Yes, this is he,” said Joe.
“Hold one for Vice Admiral Cohen,” said the voice.
Joe was shocked, first that Commodore Amphibious Squadron Six (PHIBRON 6) had made Vice Admiral (Gater Navy types NEVER made it to Flag ranks) and second that an Admiral would be calling him.
A moment later the line clicked and a gravelly voice said, “Joseph? Bill said I needed to talk to you. What’s going on, son? Bill said it was important.”
Once again, Joe told his story of discovery. It was not getting any easier in the retelling.
“Meg!” yelled VADM Cohen to his secretary, SCPS Megan Scott, “Get me Bill Bedford back on the line soonest!”
After a few minutes, his desk set buzzed “Captain Bedford is on line 2 Admiral,” came the voice from the phone.
Reaching for the handset, Cohen said, “Bill, Gus, listen, I think Joe has got a real problem brewing here. Thanks for dialing me in. I need you to get hold of Jack Collier, Freddy Barnes and Mike Briscoe for starters. If we tell Joe up front, he will throw a fit and tell us to back off, so we aren’t going to tell the boy anything until we have things figured out. I want to know everything about this Carlos Signore and what it has to do with Jenny Price. Also, we most likely will need a JAG. Is Bartholomew still in practice?”
“Got it, Sir, I will need to check on Bart, the last I heard he was a partner in some la-de-da firm making gobs of money and hating every minute of it,” replied Bedford, “What do you think our timetable is?”
“I’m not sure, Bill,” the Admiral said, “I think the pressing issue is Joseph. He did not sound well and I would like to be able to put his mind at ease as quickly as possible.”
“OK, I will get right on it,” Bill said, “Anything else you can think of at this time?”
“Yes,” Cohen said, “Where is Lieutenant Commander Davies?”
“Oh, Christ, Sir,” gasped Bedford, “Do you think things are THAT bad?”
“I don’t know Bill, I want all the bases covered. Do you know where they put him?”
“I think he is at the extended care VA Hospital out in Batavia, NY, Sir. Do you want me to confirm his current status?” replied Bedford.
“Please, even if we don’t need the Commander, we OWE him. The system pretty well chewed him up and spit him out. At least let him know his shipmates remember him,” said VADM Cohen.
“Will do Sir, and thanks,” said Bill.
As Bill drove up the gravel drive to the main building, his eye took in the beautiful sweeping lawns and carefully tended plantings and trees that dotted the property. He parked in a small lot to the side of the building and walked to the majestic front door.
Approaching the Receptionist’s desk he said, “Good Moring. Captain Bedford to see Lieutenant Commander Johnathan Davies.”
“Yes Sir,” she said as she typed on the keyboard in front of her. “Ahh, he was scheduled to be in the Tai Kwan Do class this morning but he said he felt ill and stayed in his room. That is 305 over in the Annex. Do you need directions, Sir?”
“Yes, thank you,” Bedford said.
Having found room 305 with only needing to stop people for directions twice, Bill Bedford knocked on the door.
“Enter,” came the voice from inside.
Pushing open the door Bill entered the room to find a late forties year old man sitting fully clothed and ramrod straight on the single bed that occupied the room. The man stood up and extended his hand in greeting, “Sir, it is so nice to see you.”
Bill took the hand in his right and clasped the man’s forearm with his left. “John, it is good to see you too. How are you doing?”
“Well enough Sir. After the last incident, I promised I would play nice and stay here. It is calming and peaceful to say the least. I have been waiting for you.”
“What do you mean waiting, John? I didn’t say anything to anybody about coming out here to the hinterlands to see you.”
John, extended his left arm and pointed to a small carry-on bag sitting next to a roller suitcase, both packed and obviously ready to go. “Sir, you hurt me. Children have been harmed, maybe years ago, but still children. I am packed and as I said, waiting for you.”
Not for the first time since he met John Davies, Bedford felt the hair rise up on the back of his neck. “Would you please stop doing that John,” he said.
John simply gave him a series of slow blinks, the one where is eyes got funny looking and then said, “Sorry Sir. I forget at times that it creeps people out when I do that. If you are ready, shall we go?”
They were holding a meeting in the Schenectady Courtyard Motel at Mohawk Harbor. The group called for by VADM Cohen had assembled and were greeting each other as the old friends they were over coffee and sweets. CAPT Bedford entered and called the meeting to order. “Gentlemen, you all know why we are here. Joe needs to know what has been going on behind his back and we need to come up with a plan that meets his requirements for the future. Joe, do you want to say a few words?”
“First, I want to say to each and every one of you that just the fact that you set aside your lives to come here today for my problem means so much to me,” Joe said giving a hard stare to Bedford, “I really didn’t want to bother people with what is truly my problem.”
There were noises and grunts and waving of hands as the group seemed to dismiss Joe’s concern and placed it firmly that they felt this effort of support was usual and customary and why would Joe think anything else?
Joe walked through what he knew, what he suspected and what he knew he didn’t know.
After this recitation, which took about an hour what with interruptions to clarify points as he went along, Bedford reclaimed the floor.
“Very well, this is how I propose we proceed; Jack you will be N4, Freddy will handle N2/3 and Mike will cover N5. We have Bartee coming up from the City for Legal.”
“Who is going to be covering Intel?” asked Jack Collier, “we are going to need deep Intel and it looks like this snot ball has been building for over twenty years.”
“That is already covered, Jack,” said Bill Bedford, “Admiral Cohen is tasking some of his folks from one of the black programs to get what we need. This also gives us a plausible cut out to the Admiral and Joe if we need it.” With a grin Bedford continued, “Gentlemen, we are a bunch of rouges for this one!” His comment was greeted with various chuckles and hoots from the group.
“One last thing guys,” Bedford said, “Commander Davies has agreed to join us and will operate independently from but in co-ordination with the group.”
The room was so quiet you could have heard a pin drop.
“Davies, Johnathan Davies,” whispered Fred, “I was not counting on getting involved in any of HIS craziness and definitely NOT another Rwanda.”
“Now, Commander,” chastised Bedford, “Commander Davies may have issues but he is still one of the best outside-the-box Special Weapons planners we ever produced.”
“OK, if you say so, Sir,” said Fred Barnes, “Just so long as we are not planning on using any of his ‘preciouses’.”
“Oh heavens no, Commander, nothing like that,” Bedford replied with a small smile playing on his lips.
Joe heard his cell phone ringing while he was in the shower and again as he was shaving. As he walked into his bedroom, he picked up the phone to see that he had actually missed three calls; all marked UNKNOWN. With a shrug, he tossed the phone back onto his bed and began to dress. As he was buttoning his shirt, his cell began ringing again. “Joe Price,” he said.
“Joseph. How are you?” said a voice he had not heard for almost a decade.