Sailors Take Warning (Part 1 of 5)

SAILORS TAKE WARNING

Nautical Fiction by Malcolm Torres ©

PART 1 of 5

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The aircraft carrier Nimitz steams toward the equator where her crew of 5,000 women and men will hold an ancient hazing ritual, but something is wrong aboard the ship.

Bodies have turned up missing from the morgue and several jets have been sabotaged on the flight deck.

Can Corpsman Kate Conrad and deckhand Terrance McDaniels figure out what’s wrong before the ship crosses the Golden Line? Even if they do, will their superior officers listen to them and prevent a disaster at sea?

*     *     *

A new part will be posted weekly in August and September 2016.  Check back to read Sailors Take Warning here on the blog, or if you would like a free eBook or paperback of Sailors Take Warning in exchange for an honest review on Amazon, send the author your contact info.  Your info will never be shared and you will not be spammed.

*     *     *

PART 1:  ABOARD THE USS NIMITZ

CHAPTER ONE – DAY 1

 

Kate Conrad leaned out the pharmacy’s dispensing window and handed the man a tube of medicated cream.  She was about to tell him to apply it twice daily to the affected area, when the alarm bell rang.

At twenty, Kate was tall with short-clipped sandy hair and blue eyes.  Second thoughts about leaving the University of California at San Diego to join the Navy still haunted her, but as a member of the ship’s Flying Squad, she never thought twice when that alarm bell rang.

“Follow the directions on the label,” she said hurriedly while locking the pharmacy.  She ran from the medical department, calling back over her shoulder, “And don’t scratch no matter how itchy it gets!”

In the main deck passageway, Kate waited and listened to the bell’s incessant clangor.

It rang from waterproof speakers throughout the ship—a bone-rattling metallic din, threatening to perforate eardrums.

Thousands of sailors looked away from computer screens, set aside power tools and paused conversations.  Throughout the multilevel maze, eyes turned toward speakers mounted on bulkheads.  Those asleep in narrow bunks under white sheets and scratchy wool blankets startled awake—eyes suddenly open in air-conditioned darkness.

A squeal of feedback squashed the clanging bell, and a computer-generated female voice announced, “AWAY THE FLYING SQUAD.  THIS IS NOT A DRILL.  FLAMMABLE SPILL ON THE AFT HANGAR DECK, FRAME TWO FOUR FIVE.  AWAY THE FLYING SQUAD, AWAY.”  The bell resumed its urgent call to action, reverberating against every bulkhead.

Kate Conrad ran aft inside the main deck passageway, shouting at sailors walking ahead of her, “Gangway!  Coming through!”  After weeks of endless boredom, Kate relished the adrenaline shot as she ran to the accident scene.

The eight-foot-wide corridor was the Nimitz’s main drag compared to so many other narrow passageways, but sailors crammed in, walking two and three abreast.  Fluorescent lights glared off the polished green Formica.  Bundles of cable, ventilation ducts and myriad pipes carrying water, jet fuel and sewage crammed into the low overhead.  Bulkheads marked with weld scars and rows of rivet heads.  Fire hoses stowed in compact racks.  Watertight doors, battle lanterns and fire extinguishers flew past in Kate’s peripheral vision.

They were the shipboard equivalents of ambulances screaming along crowded boulevards.  In passageways throughout the ship, sailors squeezed behind pipes and doors, flattened themselves against bulkheads, like cars pulling to the curb, as Flying Squad members ran past, their black boots booming on the steel, their cries of “Gangway!” and  “Make a hole!” punctuating the boredom of shipboard routine.

Frequent drills tested her ability to locate damage control lockers and emergency medical stations hidden away inside the Nimitz’s 1,000-foot-long and 17-deck-high hive of compartments and passageways.  She’d studied 3-D schematics of the ship and proved she could find any location blindfolded during blackout and smoke drills.

Jet fuel mist swirled down around a ladder angling at 45-degrees through an open hatch in the deck above.  The smell seared her nose; Kate pulled a gas mask tight against her face and exhaled hard to clear it.

Fire Marshall O’Malley emerged from the jet fuel fog.  A human tree trunk with the bark peeled off, he shouted orders at sailors distributing extinguishers, mops and buckets in a disciplined frenzy.  O’Malley’s fierce eyes stared out through his face shield.  “You and you,” he roared, pointing a thick finger at two boatswain mates.  “Grab oxygen bottles and a stretcher.  Follow EMT Conrad!”  O’Malley stared at Kate and shouted, “There’s one serious injury and several overcome by fumes on the fantail.  Move it.”

She grabbed her bulky EMT kit from the damage control locker and a fresh shot of adrenaline pulsed into her limbs as she climbed the ladder into the mist.  At the top, in the aircraft hangar, she came face to face with the cause of the current emergency.

Jet engine shipping containers—steel cans, each the size and weight of a minivan—were normally stacked three-high and chained to the deck in this area.  As best Kate could tell, one container had fallen over and landed on several wooden crates, reducing them to splinters.  A second shipping container had fallen over, rolled across the deck and smashed a pipe against the bulkhead.

A fountain of fuel—creating an asphyxiation, fire and explosion hazard—squirted in multiple directions across the hangar, splashed on several cargo containers and misted in the air.  Kate saw the cloud of vapor billowing through the open space packed with jet aircraft and aviation support equipment.

Sailors scrambled about dropping bails of rags and tearing open bags of absorbent granules, dropping them on a growing puddle of fuel that sloshed this way and that as the ship rolled on erratic ocean swells.

A jet mechanic in blue coveralls and a scuffed yellow hardhat shouted, “Over here,” hailing Kate and the boatswains.

They splashed through the jet fuel puddle, and followed the mechanic through a shop crowded with partially assembled jet engines.  “A shipping container fell on the poor guy,” the mechanic explained.  He swung open a big metal door and led the way out onto the fantail, an open deck on the aft end of the ship where sailors throw trash overboard, go fishing and occasionally bury a shipmate at sea.

Passing from the ship’s air-conditioned interior to the scorching humidity, here a few degrees north of the equator, Kate broke a sweat instantly.  She pulled off her gas mask and took a deep breath.  The oppressive claustrophobia of the ship’s cramped interior fell away.  Blue ocean and boundless sky expanded to the horizon.

A crowd stood gawking at the accident victims.

“Give us room here,” one of the boatswains ordered in a thick Boston accent.

“Let’s go, move it,” the other boatswain shouted as the crowd shuffled toward the far side of the fantail.

Kate went directly to the injured man lying on the deck, while the boatswains administered oxygen to several sailors who were soaked with jet fuel and overcome by fumes.

She knelt and placed her hand on his shoulder and saw his grease-streaked brown jersey soaked with jet fuel and blood.  She opened her kit and noted his head cocked at an odd angle and his eyes open in a dead-ahead stare.  Between baby-fat cheeks, his lips twisted in a grotesque kiss.

She found no pulse at his wrists or neck.  She pulled on a pair of Nitrile gloves and a face mask, stuck two fingers between his teeth and pulled his jaw down to reveal a mouth filled with blood.  She grabbed a pair of surgical scissors, and in one smooth motion cut his brown turtleneck jersey from collar to hem and pealed back the wet fabric.

Blunt force trauma had crushed the entire left side of his chest.  A malicious purple bruise covered his smashed torso.  Blood flowed from punctures where fractured ribs pierced skin.  Kate pictured the shipping container tumbling over, knocking him down and crushing him—causing massive thoracic trauma.  Flail chest—she remembered from training—when ribs are broken in so many places that the shattered sections detach from the ribcage and play havoc with the diaphragm, making it impossible to breath.  Fuck, she realized, he’s already dead!

Examining his neck, she found it wasn’t broken.  She turned his head to the side.  She grabbed a suction device from her kit and tried to clear his airway, but too much blood flowed from his mouth.  She dropped the suction device, grabbed a tracheal tube, inserted it in his mouth and pushed it down into his lungs.

“Oh-two,” she shouted.

The kid from Boston connected an oxygen bottle to the tracheal tube and let it flow.

The victim’s chest raised a little.

Kate thought maybe, held her breath for a few seconds hoping, but his busted chest contorted and collapsed.  Blood flowed from the torn skin where his broken ribs protruded.

“Gentle pressure,” she whispered.

The kid from Boston grabbed a towel from the kit.  He pressed it against the guy’s chest, trying to hold the ribs in place, so Kate could get him breathing, but his torso was all Jell-O and broken bones.

Oxygen filled the victim’s lungs and contorted his ribs.  A large blood-blister bulged through the skin on his shattered breastbone.

Flail chest with hematoma.  Kate knelt on the steel, helpless with her first responder kit.  He needs a team of specialists and a thoracic surgery suite, Kate thought, as air and blood gurgled out of him.

The mechanic squatted beside her.  “A shipping can weighs over two tons,” he whispered.  “It took eight of us to lift the corner of it just so we could pull him out.”

Kate closed the dead man’s eyes.  She gazed across the ocean and noticed a ship cruising a ways off.  It looked strange riding in the Nimitz’s wake.  It had spinning satellite dishes and high towers with long antennas.  She wondered if the people on that ship could see the Nimitz.

*     *     *

In the medical department, the sheet came off the second the dead body hit the examination table.

“Owwww!”  Gutierrez groaned when she pealed back his jersey and eyed bone splintering through bruised-black flesh.  Her brilliant white teeth bit her lower lip.

Kate snipped the dead man’s laces and pulled off a boot.

Gutierrez bucked up and began snipping his pants.

Kate tugged at a silver Navy ring on the dead man’s left hand but his fingers were pudgy and it wouldn’t budge.

“Try this.”  Gutierrez handed her a tube of petroleum jelly.

The chief medical officer, Commander Sternz, entered the room.  A stout woman with a freckly, olive complexion and dark eyes, Sternz wore her black hair in a bun so tight it looked painful.  A smile rarely stretched her lips and never reached her eyes.

Kate tugged at the ring and said, “A shipping container fell on him, ma’am.  He died from internal bleeding before I got there.”

Sternz glanced at the caved-in chest and said, “Finish stripping this cadaver and lock it in the morgue.  Meet me back here at nineteen hundred for an autopsy.”  She glanced mechanically from Kate to Gutierrez.  “This gives us a training opportunity,” she said.  “We’ll explore his thoracic interior.”  Then Sternz left the compartment, oblivious of the door banging shut behind her.

“She’s colder than this guy,” Gutierrez said.

Kate dropped the Navy ring into a Ziploc bag along with the dead man’s wallet.  They slid a thick, black plastic body bag under him, folded his arms and legs inside and zipped it shut.

Kate rolled the gurney across the hall to the morgue.  She typed the combination on a keypad lock.  She held the door with her foot as she maneuvered the gurney into the small space.

Vertigo wiggled behind her eyeballs and her knees wobbled.  She stepped forward to prevent herself from stumbling.  Wondering if a rogue wave had hit the ship, she glanced at the rows of shiny stainless steel drawers.

She thought about Donna Grogan with a broken spine, fractured skull and covered with sticky maple syrup.  Grogan went into the morgue, but then where’d she go, Kate wondered.  And Larry Burns, the cook who died of a heart attack while pulling a tray of dinner rolls from an oven in the bakery.  Somebody put him in here, just like Grogan, but where’d his body go?  Kate glanced at the drawers, wondering which ones Grogan and Burns had occupied.

She positioned the gurney and prepared to put this guy, whose name she didn’t know yet, into cold storage.

*     *     *

Kate grew up on the beach in Ventura, California.  Muscles rippled on her long arms and legs.  In high school, she was fiercely competitive in volleyball and track, so dragging a 170-pound corpse from a gurney to a morgue drawer wasn’t a problem.

She grabbed the body bag, braced her legs and out of nowhere a shadow of doubt flitted across her mind:  What am I doing?  I should be in college!

After months at sea, these thoughts intruded several times a day.  I’m filling penicillin prescriptions for sailors with the clap, when I should be in a pre-med program or at least at a Friday night keg party with friends!

“Okay, cool it,” she reminded herself that the University of California at San Diego volleyball scholarship had only covered one-third of her tuition bill.  She remembered the start of every semester, standing at the financial aid window signing a student loan promissory note.  She still felt the anxiety and depression that swelled in her chest after several terms; after she did the math and calculated her growing mountain of student loan debt.

One night at the library, cramming for an Anatomy exam, a panic attack hit.  Owing so much to Bank of America, she feared, would prevent her from ever buying a car, a house, or having kids.  Shoving the textbook aside, she tallied what she’d owe by the time she earned a medical degree.  The six-figure number gnawed at her during lectures and labs.  She awoke in her dorm room in the middle of the night with such dread it was difficult to breathe.  I’m too young for this kind of debt, she told herself as she sank back into a troubled sleep.

A few days later, with sunlight streaming through the library windows, she was surfing the web and saw, under a banner ad for Clearasil, a picture of a female sailor dispensing a prescription over a pharmacy counter.

The next day, she rode her bike off campus to meet with a Navy recruiter.

*     *     *

With fists that spiked their way to a high school volleyball championship and a UC San Diego scholarship, Kate dragged the body bag onto the cold drawer.

Outside the morgue, she double-checked the lock.

In the records office, she dropped into a chair, touched color-coded menu options on a screen to open a fatality report.  Reaching into the Ziploc for the dead guy’s wallet, the ring slipped around her finger.  She pulled it out, examined the blue gem and read his name, Stanley Comello, inscribed inside.  Her mind flashed on his chubby knuckles and out of nowhere, tears brimmed on her lower eyelids.  She dropped the ring back into the bag, and opened her eyes wide and inhaled deeply through her nose to make the tears go away.  In Comello’s wallet, she found his ID and glanced at his picture.  At 19, he hadn’t burned off the baby fat.  His chubby cheeks and toothy smile gave him a slow moving, good-natured look.

She swiped his ID and his record started downloading.

She glanced at a whiteboard where they kept track of the number of days they’d been at sea.  Across the top, someone had written “DAYS ON AN INVISIBLE SHIP . . .” and below that, a big number 93 in the middle of a dark smudge where someone erased and updated the number every morning.

She remembered the ship cruising behind the Nimitz and wondered if it was the Hayward.  Had it finally found them?

She filled in the fatality report and clicked save.

Before meeting Terrance McDaniels for dinner, Kate checked the lock on the morgue one last time.

Sailors Take Warning by Malcolm Torres

The Voyage of the USS Nimitz

Sailors Take Warning by Malcolm Torres

Sailors Take Warning: Cast of Characters


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CHAPTER TWO – Day 1

Terrance McDaniels treated his freshman year at the University of Nebraska like a social event.  He knew after graduation he’d return to the farm and work there for the rest of his life, just as his parents and grandparents had done.  He earned passing grades in agribusiness, drank brews on the weekend.  On sunny days, he played ultimate Frisbee on the quad.

During finals week, Terrance answered a call from his mother and she told him to come home immediately because his father had died of a heart attack.

That afternoon he stood on the sidewalk outside his dorm glancing down the street, keeping an eye out for his brother’s red dual-rear-tire Chevy pickup.  The trees full of spring leaves and the smell of cut grass wafting across the campus distracted him, as he tried to remember exactly what his dad had said the last time they talked.

A tiny white car pulled up and the driver’s window lowered to reveal his brother crammed into a bucket seat behind the steering wheel.  A ball cap tipped back revealing a crew-cut and a lower lip swollen with Skoal.  Big arms stretched the white t-shirt.

“Where’s your pickup?” Terrance asked.

“Hop in,” his brother sighed, “and I’ll tell you.”

Heading east on Interstate 80, his brother explained, “All the way here I’ve been thinking ‘bout how I’m gonna tell you and I figured the only way is to just say it.”  He spat in a Mountain Dew can.  “Dad borrowed against the farm and against his life insurance and now he’s dead and mom’s got nothing.”

“I don’t get it—” words wandered from Terrance’s mouth.

“The bank already repo’d the pickups and combines.”

“What about the farm?”

“It’s in the final step of foreclosure, little brother.”

Tears blurred the headlights of oncoming cars.

*     *     *

They qualified for food stamps and a subsidized apartment in Lincoln.

Terrance was the first McDaniels to ride on a city bus and apply for a job, and he earned both distinctions on the same day.  Upon entering Kentucky Fried Chicken to fill out a job application, his stomach flipped at the smell of grease.

Since seeing his dad’s coffin lower into the ground a few days earlier, he was constantly trying to catch his breath, especially inside the tiny apartment.

On the sidewalk, outside the KFC, nervous anxiety tied his stomach in knots, making it impossible to take a step.

Surrounded by glass and concrete, adrift in a sea of parking lots and shiny vehicles, Terrance felt lost among the fast food joints and big box stores.

When he saw the Navy recruiter’s office at the end of the retail strip, he made up his mind.

*     *     *

They met at a beach barbecue in Manila, while playing volleyball on opposite sides of the net.  Kate spiked on him with devastating power.  Embarrassed, Terrance made a point to block her next shot.  But later in the game when she leaped off the sand and blocked his spike, their friendship officially began.  They sat cross-legged on a blanket under the palm trees, eating potato salad and ribs slathered with spicy barbecue sauce.  They filled tall paper cups with beer from a cold keg and drank until the sky was black and full of stars.  A positive energy pulled them together from the start.  Kate was competitive and talkative.  Terrance was easy going and liked her bubbly California accent.

He admired her high cheekbones, how they glowed with a peach hue, and the way her bright eyes opened wide when he told her about his dad’s farm.  Her nonchalance in a bikini on that beach in Manila disarmed him.

She admired his flat, hard stomach and wide, square shoulders.  He kept his hair in a crewcut to honor his dad, who gave him and his brother crewcuts every Saturday when they were boys.  She heard the subtle Midwestern twang in his voice and looked from his arms to his honest eyes and she couldn’t resist the powerful crush.

The ship left Manila and they met for lunch and dinner almost every day.  During that long 93-days at sea, they talked for hours and became more than friends.

*     *     *

Deciding not to wait in line for pot roast with gravy and vegetable medley, they went to the salad bar and piled their trays with mixed greens, Garbanzos, hard-boiled eggs, croutons, shredded carrots and bacon bits.  They stood amid a thousand eating sailors and waited for two seats next to each other.

He asked about the alarm he’d heard earlier and paused with his fork in front of his mouth, a crouton impaled on the tines, while she told him about Stanley Comello.  Color drained from her cheeks, and her lips, usually full and smiling, were pinched and listless.

“Rattled you?”

She glanced aside, not wanting to say anymore here, under the florescent lights, among so much loud-talk.

He touched her hand and she saw genuine concern in his eyes.

They took their trays to the scullery and walked aft along the main deck.

“Let’s get some air.”  She led him past the damage control locker and up a ladder into the hangar.  They stopped next to the dented shipping containers, restacked and secured with extra tie-down chains.

“Here’s where it broke.”  She pointed at a section of new black pipe, welded in place.

Terrance saw a foot-long scrape and a mean looking dent on the gray painted bulkhead.  He glanced at the containers stacked three high.

“Is this where,” he paused, “you know, like, you worked on him?”

“Out here.”  She tugged his sleeve.

They emerged on the fantail.  The sun sank in the ocean and the humid equatorial air wrapped them like a moist blanket.  Somebody had hosed the blood off the deck.

A shadow came over her face.  “I tried to resuscitate him.”

Terrance almost made a consoling comment but bit his lip.

A guy on watch, wearing a headset and a life vest, stood at the railing watching swells roll past.  Another couple stood nearby whispering.  Terrance wanted to ask the guy on watch about the ship on the horizon but decided to wait.  He stood behind Kate and rubbed her shoulders.

“I couldn’t help him.”  She tilted her head, letting Terrance work on a tight spot.

While she grappled with the toughest part of her job—death at an accident scene—he felt a powerful impulse to tell her how to deal with it, but he rubbed both big hands over his crewcut and went back to massaging her shoulders.  That’s how it is with girls, he remembered his mom saying, they just want a strong man to listen.

A voice boomed from loudspeakers on the flight deck above.  “MAKE A READY DECK.  STAND BY TO LAND AIRCRAFT.”

A Prowler jet screeched in behind the ship.  Kate pressed her fingers in her ears.  The jet descended on its final approach, a hundred feet off the water, engines roaring.  It was so close they could see lights on its nose landing gear blinking green and red.  A deafening roar as great gusts of burnt air blasted from the aircraft’s engines and rippled the water behind the ship.  It screeched in right over their heads.  A HOWL and a WHIRRRRR, like a metal animal colliding with the ship, filled the air as the Prowler grabbed an arresting wire in the landing area above.

“I gotta go,” Kate said.  “Sternz wants to do an autopsy.”  She looked at Terrance’s dirty brown turtleneck, his canvas pants, and realized Stanley Comello died wearing the same thing.

“If the body’s still there,” Terrance chided.

“If it’s missing,” tension tightened around her eyes, “I’ll dive overboard and swim for land.”

Terrance glanced at the water.  “It’s only a twenty foot jump.”  He smirked and pointed his chin toward the man on watch.  “Be sure he’s not looking when you jump, because he’ll call in a helicopter to pluck you out of the water.”

“There’s an investigator snooping around,” Kate countered Terrance’s skepticism, “so it’s not just rumors.”

“What if the body isn’t there when you get back?” Terrance played it straight.

“Sternz’ll have an explanation.”

“Then why all the rumors?”

“They’re not rumors.”  She pinned him with a stare.  “You haven’t worked for Commander Sternz.  She’s an Annapolis grad’.  She shines her shoes, presses her uniforms, everything by the book.  There’s no way a body leaves the morgue without her knowing.”

“So—”

“So,” Kate squashed his interruption, “when the first body went missing, Sternz ordered everyone to look for it, and like an hour later she said it was buried at sea.”

“That’s not possible?” Terrance challenged.

“No.  It’s not possible.”  Kate shook her head.  “Someone in the medical department would’ve known where it went.  Sternz would’ve known.”

“She didn’t know?”

“She had us looking for an hour,” Kate’s voice rose.

“Maple syrup girl, right?”

“Yes,” she exhaled, exasperated at his unwillingness to take her seriously.

“You should have followed the trail of sticky footprints,” Terrance couldn’t resist.

Kate ignored him.  “The second time—”

“Mister hot buns?” he interrupted.

“It’s not funny.”  Kate regarded his sly grin.  “Larry Burns had a heart attack while taking dinner rolls out of the oven.”

“Burns got burned, huh?”

“Everyone in the department knew Burns was missing from the morgue,” her tone impatient, “and nobody knew where he went, and out of the blue Sternz tells us he was sent to a storage freezer down below.”  Before Terrance made another wise crack, she said in her most serious tone, “No one knew anything about either body being taken out of the morgue.”

“So, who’s snooping around?” he remembered to ask.

“I’m not sure,” a frustrated pitch in her voice.  “Some big dude from Texas.”

“One second,” Terrance changed the subject.  “Hey,” he called to the man standing watch by the railing.

He looked their way.

“Is that the Hayward?”  Terrance pointed at the ship on the horizon.

“Sure is,” the watch smiled.  “They finally found us after ninety-three days.”

Terrance and Kate set their hands on the railing.

The Hayward’s tall antennas and spinning radar towers stood out against the orange sunset.

They faced each other with bright eyes and big smiles.

“We’ll pull into port,” he said.

“That’d be awesome.”

“Maybe we could find a place to stay on the beach.”

She imagined walking around an open-air market, holding hands like tourists but instead she said, “Let’s not get our hopes up.”

“They’ll probably want to keep us out here for another ninety-three days,” he agreed with a resigned sigh.

“I gotta get back to work.”

He led her toward the door into the ship.

In the dark passageway, he stopped and put his hands on her hips.  She touched the back of his neck.

They kissed and for a moment forgot they were aboard a battleship on a nameless ocean.

*     *     *

Kate wondered what it might be like dating Terrance if they weren’t in the Navy.  She was falling in love with his mix of manners and irreverent humor, his handsome face and broad shoulders.  A clean cut guy from the wide-open spaces of Nebraska she mused as she stood in the washroom running hot water and scrubbing her hands with soap.  She pulled on a surgical robe and imagined living with Terrance in a tiny apartment in a college town, cramming for exams late at night in the library, waiting tables part time, riding bicycles to class, buying plates and glasses at Goodwill, sleeping together in a twin bed on sheets that didn’t match.

“The body’s gone!”  Gutierrez burst in, shattering Kate’s daydream.

“No way,” she whispered.

“It ain’t in the morgue,” Gutierrez insisted.  “The drawers are all empty.”

Kate charged out of the washroom.

A small crowd gathered outside the morgue, everyone speaking at once.

“Where’s the body?”

“Another one missing?”

“Sternz’ll shit her pants!”

Kate barged in and saw the body bag, flat and zipped shut, lying on the open drawer.  It looked odd, as if the body had evaporated.  She wondered why anyone would zip the bag back up and leave it there after taking a body out of it.  She did an about face and walked right into Commander Sternz.

“The body—” Kate said.

Blood drained from Sternz’s face as a cold vacancy enveloped her.  The thought of standing in front of the ship’s executive officer, Captain Samuel Brandt, trying to explain how she’d lost another body made her blood run cold.

 

CHAPTER THREE – Day 1

High in the USS Nimitz’s superstructure, Captain Reginald Fox, the ship’s commanding officer, stood on his weatherdeck looking through binoculars.  A stiff breeze ruffled his pant legs and shirtsleeves.  He braced his elbows on the rail and watched the scene unfold.  Disappointment filled him as the USS Hayward approached on the ocean’s rolling blue surface.

“Dammit!”  Fox wanted to call his electronic-warfare team into his office and ask how the Hayward could possibly have found the Nimitz after only 93 days.

Here came the Hayward, cutting a wide turn on the sea a few miles to starboard, moving swiftly into position alongside.  Her masts bristled with spinning arrays and satellite dishes.  Her sleek bow rose out of the water, exposing black paint on her keel, then plunging beneath and scooping a big splash out of the sea.

He didn’t have to think back over the entire 93-day mission.  He knew things started going wrong on the seventy-second day, when his reconnaissance pilots returned from a scouting sortie to report the Hayward’s position.  His analysts, always crunching data and plotting colorful charts, had determined that on six of the past ten days the Hayward was closer to the Nimitz than at any other time since the exercise began.  They didn’t seem to know the Nimitz’s precise location, but they were obviously drawing a bead.  Suspecting that the Hayward had intercepted his encrypted messages requesting jet fuel replenishment, Fox slashed the flight schedule and ceased all communications.  But the Hayward continued closing in.

And now here she was coming alongside.

Fox lowered his binoculars, because now he could clearly see faces smiling at him through the windows on the Hayward’s bridge.  A helicopter lifted off from the helipad on the Hayward’s stern.  It sped over the ocean, circled toward the Nimitz and came in for a landing.  A string of colorful signal flags on the Hayward’s mast caught Fox’s eye.  He frowned as he read the message, “Tag you’re it.”

He did not appreciate the joke.  He curled his fingers into a fist and pounded lightly on the rail.  “I can hide from you for more than ninety-three days, by God,” he muttered, “and I’m determined to do it.”

The instant he moved toward the door leading into the Nimitz’s bridge, his armed marine bodyguards snapped to attention.  One opened the door and stepped inside.  The other followed him through and latched it behind.

*     *     *

Five months earlier, Captain Fox first came aboard the Nimitz during a storm on the Northern Pacific Ocean.  He and his team of electronic warfare technicians and TenRay Corporation engineers, arrived in six Sea Scorpion jet-propelled helicopters, loaded with a dozen crates, each marked TOP-SECRET in red stencil.  Rather than pull into Pearl Harbor and hold a formal change of command ceremony, Fox relieved the previous captain immediately and kept the Nimitz at sea for several extra weeks.

Rumors ran wild among the crew as their aloof new captain, and his cadre of techs and engineers, unpacked the mysterious crates.

One day Fox and his team were in the bowels of the ship upgrading the sonar equipment, and the next they were studying blueprints in a compartment crowded with high voltage equipment outside the reactor plant.  Along the main deck passageway, they hoisted steel plates and laid cable alongside the ship’s circulatory system of ventilation ducts and pipes.  They installed cameras in the catwalks, and pointed them out at the sea.

From the flight deck, where aircraft launched and landed around the clock, men and women craned their necks to observe workers high atop the Nimitz’s towering superstructure.  In hard hats and fall protection harnesses, they assembled tall scaffolds and draped them with white canvas sheets.

All hands wondered what their new captain was doing to their ship.

At night, the canvas sheets were backlit by cutting torches as workers cut away the old antennas and radar arrays.  The metal pieces were hand-carried down ladders, taken aft to a garbage chute and dropped, with a splash, to the bottom of the sea.

Communication specialists pulled miles of fiber-optic cable, connecting the new cameras to a light-speed network.  And finally, in an air-conditioned compartment in the Nimitz’s superstructure, they booted up the TenRay supercomputer.

After a few weeks at sea, Captain Fox ordered all hands to stand down for a special announcement.  His voice came from speakers throughout the ship while the crew of over 5,000 listened attentively.  All ears prickled with curiosity as they heard his voice for the first time.

“This is Captain Fox speaking.  I want to chat with you because my staff tells me you are buzzing with rumors about the new system we’ve installed, but you don’t have to wonder any longer, because I’m here to tell you that the Nimitz is now equipped with a cloaking system that can make the ship invisible.”  Fox relished the fact that he could reveal mysteries to seafaring men and women.  “You heard that correctly,” his dignified voice a bit nasally and full of authority, as he spoke into a hand-held microphone while standing on the bridge.  “We now have the capability to make the ship invisible.  The way it works is quite simple.  Fifty cameras mounted around our outboard perimeter feed a three hundred and sixty degree panorama to a computer that fits the incoming video together and sends it to a projector atop the superstructure.  The projector is a new piece of technology that casts a pyramid-shaped holograph that conceals the entire ship.  The easiest way to explain it is that anyone or anything looking in our direction sees right through us.  We also have new arrays in the sonar bulb below the water line and atop the superstructure capable of detecting anyone looking for us and deceiving them with electronic misinformation.”

Every person listening tried to fathom the idea that they were on an invisible ship.

“Right now the system is fully operational, and the next step is to train our electronic warfare team to use it, but first we will stop in Pearl Harbor for a few days of much deserved shore leave.”

A cheer arose from all hands, and Fox relished the adulation before speaking again.

“After we leave Pearl Harbor, we will spend several weeks training our team to operate the new system, and then we will be stopping in Manila Bay for a few days.”

Another cheer arose from the crew.

“After we leave Manila we will make the ship invisible and the USS Hayward, a ship with powerful electronic tracking capability, we begin hunting for us.  Normally, we sail with a task force of other ships, but while the Hayward is attempting to find us, we will be sailing alone.  I anticipate that the exercise will last in excess of one-hundred days.”  Fox paused to let that cheerless message sink in.  Then he continued.  “Our goal is to prove that the TenRay cloaking system is ready for installation on ships across the fleet.  I want everyone to understand that we are embarking on a voyage of discovery.  Our ability to make this ship invisible will shape the art of naval warfare for centuries to come.”

*     *     *

Unlike the anemic sailors working below decks under fluorescent lights, Captain Fox had a healthy tan.  A touch of gray at his temples contrasted with his neatly trimmed dark hair, giving him a dignified look that worked to his advantage when directing often cocksure and occasionally timid young officers.  He projected a dignified demeanor, from his regal profile to his shined black shoes.  His pressed khaki shirts precisely fit his tapered waist and square shoulders, providing a commanding palette for the golden eagles tacked to his collar points and the stacks of ribbons above his chest pockets.  High-wasted pants showed off his long legs, and his lengthy stride made it difficult to keep up with him as he moved quickly through the ship’s passageways.  An action-oriented disposition prevented Fox from sitting behind his desk for more than a few minutes.  He exited boring meetings and darted off to the bridge or the electronic warfare command center.

*     *     *

A technician wearing a headset stood at a large touch-sensitive, see-through screen that showed a 3-D image of the ship with the cloaking system components glowing green.  Rows of technicians wearing headsets with wrap-around microphones sat at banks of computer monitors managing data in the ship’s electronic war-fighting systems.  At the back of the dimly lit compartment, behind floor-to-ceiling Plexiglas panels, tiny green lights blinked on the TenRay supercomputer where it sat running in air-conditioned darkness for the past 93 days.

Fox stared at the tiny green lights wondering if the supercomputer had an unknown vulnerability—or had one of the technicians made a mistake.

His bodyguards maintained a tight perimeter around him as he stepped across the compartment toward Mr. Bradmore, his cloaking project team leader.  “Prepare to shut it down, Bradmore,” Fox said with an angry sigh.

“Yes, sir,” Bradmore replied, and raised his voice so everyone in the compartment could hear.  “Prepare for shut down.”

They stepped over to the 3-D display.  Bradmore removed a key from his pants pocket and slid it into a keyhole on a panel covered with dials and glowing green lights.  On a touchscreen, he entered his user-ID and password.

The green lights blinked and then turned a steady yellow.

“TenRay report,” Bradmore ordered.

“Null spectrum,” a tech shouted back.

“Video?”

“Cameras idle, sir.”

“Radar and sonar?” Bradmore shouted.

“Minimum capacity, sir.”

“Holograph lasers?”

“Ready to go offline, sir.”

Fox slid his key in, then entered his user-ID and password, and watched the yellow lights switch to a steady red.

A subtle hum that had filled the compartment for the past few months, a noise nobody seemed to notice anymore, wound down until an awkward silence filled the entire space.

The game of cat and mouse between the Nimitz and the Hayward was over, but Fox’s mind burned with the question:  How did they find us after only 93 days?

*     *     *

Cryptographers, intelligence analysts, meteorologists and pilots sat around a big Mahogany table strewn with coffee cups and tablet computers.

“Attention on deck,” someone yelled.

Everyone leaped to their feet and stood at attention.

“As you were.”  Fox sat and his marine guards took their places, standing at ease behind his chair.

A tall, thin lieutenant with short black hair and gold wire-framed glasses stood at the far end of the compartment.  He’d come over on the helicopter from the Hayward to brief Fox and his team.

Surprised at seeing none of the Hayward’s senior officers, Fox made a mental note to inquire about that.

“Well,” he said to the Hayward’s lieutenant, “Tell us how you found us.”

“We used satellites to search for the unique wake the Nimitz leaves on the water’s surface,” the lieutenant explained.

Mr. Bradmore bolted forward in his chair, put his big elbows on the table and said, “The rules banned the use of satellite cameras.”  One of his hands curled into a fist the size of a softball while the other wrapped around it as if he was going to hurl a fast pitch at the scrawny lieutenant.

“Your wake is a unique fingerprint, and satellite cameras enabled us to find it,” the lieutenant replied.

“I’m crying foul,” Bradmore objected.

“You can file a complaint with the Pentagon planning team,” the lieutenant shot back, “but I think you should consider your mission a success—”

“A success?”  Bradmore was incredulous.

“Mr. Bradmore, I share your objections,” Fox said, “but, let’s discuss it later.”

Bradmore sat back and crossed his muscular arms.  “The mission parameters clearly stated the Hayward could use technology only available to other nations,” he said, “not US satellites.”

“That’s not how we read the rules,” the lieutenant quipped.

One of the recon pilots chimed in, “We’ll never be able to safely cloak this ship from US satellites.”

Fox thought about how he was going to shut down this lively dialog without deflating the team’s enthusiasm.

“Every day we took a billion pictures of the ocean’s surface,” the lieutenant explained.  “Then we fed all the pictures into a pattern recognition software package that searched for every ship’s wake.”

It dawned on Fox that the Hayward’s senior officers had skipped this briefing to avoid the conversation that was about to happen.  Everyone knew, but no one wanted to admit, that there was only one way to cover the Nimitz’s wake from satellite cameras.  As the lieutenant spoke, a bubble of unease swelled until one of the analysts finally said, “The only way to cover our wake is to put a mirage projector on our stern.”

“I appreciate the enthusiasm,” Fox glared at everyone around the table, “however, we will not have this discussion now.”

“Ninety-three days is a long time to hide from the Hayward,” the lieutenant continued.  “We had technicians inspecting pictures of every wake across Southeast Asia.  They searched for a picture of a wake without a ship, and most of the time we had no idea where you were.”

“The Russians and Chinese don’t have access to US satellites,” Bradmore fired another objection and turned toward Fox.  “So why should the Hayward?”

Fox looked at Bradmore’s piercing eyes and big hands.  Voicing the groups’ concerns, he was leading with courage and hedging against the installation of a mirage projector on the Nimitz’s stern.

“I appreciate the question,” Fox said, “but please, let’s have this conversation after this briefing.”

“To make the TenRay cloaking system a success,” Bradmore said, “the Hayward must be banned from using satellite cameras.”

“Agreed.”  Fox’s patience began to ebb.  “As I indicated, we will discuss this in another meeting.”

“Sir,” Bradmore said, his voice bold with concern, “the only way to prevent overhead cameras from seeing our wake is to install a mirage projector on our fantail.”

Every person at the table nodded in agreement.

“Is that so, Mr. Bradmore?”  Fox gave up his effort to prevent this confrontation.

With a thin layer of nervous perspiration forming on his brow, Bradmore pushed ahead.  “A mirage projector will generate unstable levels of static electricity—”

“Are you worried about static?” Fox interrupted.

“Yes, I am,” Bradmore said, “as we all should be.”

“We will begin another cloaking exercise in a few days,” Fox said.  “Therefore we should not allow him,” Fox pointed at the Hayward’s lieutenant, “to hear us discussing our technology options.  Do you understand, Mr. Bradmore?”

“Yes, sir,” Bradmore conceded.

“Please continue,” Fox told the lieutenant as he set his mind to figuring out how he would focus Bradmore’s passion and creativity.  Fox decided he’d get to know Bradmore a lot better in the next couple of days.

The cloaking system’s success meant unprecedented warfighting advantages for the US Navy, but for Fox personally it meant admiral’s stars on his collars and a plum executive position at the TenRay Corporation after he retired from the Navy in about a year.

Before adjourning, Fox cleared his throat and said, “Mr. Bradmore, draft a memo listing your concerns, and we’ll discuss it before sending it to the exercise planners at the Pentagon.”


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CHAPTER FOUR – DAY 1

“This better be important, Sternz,” Captain Brandt growled, as he stepped awkwardly away from Seaman Nikki Thompson, who scrambled to button her blouse.

Commander Sternz averted her gaze and studied a portrait of an old sea captain hanging on the wall.  She wished she’d knocked before bursting into Brandt’s office.

The door opened and closed as Nikki Thompson, Brandt’s personal executive assistant, slipped out.

Rattled and blushing, Sternz took the seat across from him.  Part of the problem, Sternz knew, was that Thompson styled her hair, wore cosmetics and a push-up bra.  She herself, pulled her hair back in a tight bun, flattened her breasts with a sports bra and never put on makeup at sea.  Glamorizing herself was unfair, she reasoned, because it caused sexual frustrations for the male sailors.

Brandt’s desktop looked like an acre of lacquered hardwood stretching between them.

“A shipping container crushed a man in the hangar today.  We put him in the morgue and—”

“Not another missing corpse,” Brandt interrupted.

Sternz nodded.

“Dammit!”  He stood and pounded a meaty fist on his desk.  Short-sleeves exposed old tattoos on his brawny forearms; a faded hula girl on the right and a tiger on the left; markings from years as an enlisted man.  “That’s three, Sternz!”

“Correct, sir.”  She prepared for a brutal reprimand.

“Are you certain this one is missing?”

“We locked him in the morgue an hour ago and now we can’t find him—”

“Shit!”  Brandt sat down.  His taciturn face concealed a mind methodically tracking the paper trail he’d created to cover up the first two missing bodies.

*     *     *

Donna Grogan, a petite brunette from Lawrence, Kansas, died of internal bleeding after she drove her forklift into an open elevator shaft while moving a pallet stacked with five-gallon buckets of imitation maple syrup.  The buckets fell 35 feet to the bottom of the shaft and burst open, creating a sticky mess.  The forklift flipped over, and Grogan fell out of her operator’s seat.  The buckets broke her fall, but the forklift crushed her against the elevator’s mechanical equipment.  In the medical department, they pronounced her dead, zipped her inside a body bag and stuck her in the morgue.  A few hours later, an autopsy team, intent on cleaning the maple syrup off her, found the drawer empty.  A frantic search couldn’t locate her body.

A few days later, Mr. Keef, an undercover detective from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) arrived to conduct a secret investigation.  He posed as a medical inspector and proceeded to examine computer records, interview medical staff and tour the department spaces, including the morgue.  He found nothing amiss.  The phrase “lost at sea” went into the report, and the case remained open with Mr. Keef assigned to stay on board and secretly investigate.

Sternz speculated that a man or a group of men took Grogan’s corpse from the Morgue to perpetrate an unspeakable perversion.  Perhaps they planned to return her body but someone discovered it missing.  With their prank gone awry, they likely slipped her remains overboard—an unceremonious burial at sea.

About a month later, several weeks after the official cloaking exercise started, Larry Burns died of a heart attack while pulling a pan of rolls from an oven in the ship’s bakery.  And several hours later, his body inexplicably vanished from the morgue.  At that point, even though she had no proof, Sternz decided there was a necrophiliac, a cannibal or some other psychopath loose among the crew.  Her suspicions ran to every member of her medical staff.  She shivered when she imagined what might have happened to the corpses.

“What about the next of kin?” Sternz asked.

“You keep track of the bodies,” Brandt replied.  “I’ll keep track of the paperwork.”

Brandt, a master of the Navy’s myriad miles of red tape, had ordered Nikki Thompson to take dictation while he fabricated the story of Donna Grogan’s disappearance.  “High seas during a hurricane, 800 nautical miles west of Hawaii, washed your daughter over the side,” Brandt had said while Nikki Thompson typed, “and after an extensive search and rescue effort, we were unable to recover her body.”  He included instructions to print the letter on fine cotton bond paper, stamped with the United States Navy’s seal in color foil.  He sent along orders for officers in crisp dress uniform to hand deliver the letter to Grogan’s parents in Kansas.  That communication had left the ship right before the 93-day cloaking exercise began.

To Larry Burns’ wife in San Diego, Brandt tactfully explained, “Lawrence died of smoke inhalation while valiantly attempting to rescue a shipmate during a fire in the galley.  In accordance with the instructions in his service record,” Brandt lied again, “Lawrence received high honors before his burial at sea.”

Brandt took a big step toward softening the bad news and allaying suspicion when he had Nikki Thompson backdate Serviceman’s Group Life Insurance policies showing that Grogan and Burns had increased their coverage to $1,000,000; the maximum available to enlisted personnel.  Nikki prepared the policy changes; Brandt signed them and sent them to the Pentagon with the death reports.

Sternz didn’t dare ask how Brandt planned to prevent a congressional inquiry.  She knew that the ship’s commanding officer, Captain Fox, had delegated administrative and disciplinary control over the crew to Brandt, and she knew he could hide the truth with a little administrative sleight of hand.

*     *     *

Now, with the cloaking exercise paused, message traffic started flowing again.  Brandt would soon find out if the next of kin had made an official inquiry, but he hoped that a check for a million bucks would be salve enough to silence their suspicions.

Although Sternz distrusted Brandt, she had no time to waste with his scheming behavior or his unpredictable shifts between roaring anger and icy calm.  Although she had a department to run, she still wondered if he informed Captain Fox about the two missing bodies—now three she reminded herself.

When he glared at her, she lowered her gaze, but she knew that behind his cold blue eyes, his brain calculated the intricacies of a heartless scheme.

“What’s the missing dead man’s name?” he asked.

“Stanley Comello,” she replied.

“Send over Stanley Comello’s personal belongings,” Brandt ordered.  “I’ll see that everything is handled appropriately.”

“Will you notify NCIS?” Sternz asked, suspicious about the investigator left behind after Grogan vanished.

Brandt rounded his desk in two strides and got in Sternz’s face.  “For Christ’s sake,” he snapped, “NCIS is why good men like me serve alongside girls and queers.”  He snatched a pack of Parliament off his desk and lit up.  “I’ll handle this my damn self!”

Even though policy called for her to bring serious problems to him, this third moral compromise made her jaw clench and tightened the muscles in her back like ropes.  She worried that simply following the Navy’s process wouldn’t provide her with legal cover if a scandal erupted.

“When we get stateside,” Brandt consoled her, “my man in Washington will get you an operating table anywhere you want, and he’ll do it so your record stays clean.”

 

CHAPTER FIVE – Day 1

During Mr. Keef’s illustrious career as a naval investigator, he chased down bar room brawlers, drug smugglers, thieves, sodomites and bigamists.

He was tall, had a remarkably large forehead and a great abdomen atop spindly, preposterously long, skinny legs.  A discoloration, something between freckles and liver spots, speckled his skin.

Any time a superior officer pressed him to explain the particulars of a case, which happened frequently in his line of work, he exhibited a ponderousness that rendered him unconvincing.  In the back of his mind, he had ideas, but when asked pointed questions, his lips parted to reveal straight rows of unusually large, white teeth between thick, mottled jowls, and his eyes opened so wide his forehead corrugated.  This facial distortion happened while thoughts traveled from his brain, through a low-bandwidth bundle of nerves to the back of his mouth where they converted into words that he slowly enunciated in a folksy Texas twang.

*     *     *

Mr. Keef had come aboard the Nimitz to investigate the disappearance of Donna Grogan’s body.  After the initial investigation came up clueless, Keef received orders to continue looking into the mystery of the missing dead girl covered in imitation maple syrup.

Keef reported directly to Captain Brandt.

During the past three miserable months, he scrutinized every serious crime.  He searched hundreds of lockers, and interrogated everyone sentenced to brig time.  Fancying himself a hard-boiled detective, he’d lock a suspect in a dimly lit compartment and leave them to stew for half an hour before bursting in, turning on a bright overhead light and assaulting the individual with a barrage of questions.  When the interrogations got him nowhere, he turned to eavesdropping in the galley, in living quarters, in passageways.  He caught thieves in the supply division.  He stumbled upon fire control technicians brewing ale in a rocket launcher.  In his evidence locker, he had a confession written by black supremacists, a moldy box of hash-cookies and numerous vials of suspicious looking pills.  He took credit for busting a marijuana sales ring working out of the ship’s laundry.  He was closing in on the ringleader of a ship-wide cigarette and chewing tobacco distribution network.  And yet, Keef remained painfully aware that his investigation into the disappearance of Donna Grogan’s syrup-covered corpse remained clueless.  To make matters worse, Larry Burns had gone missing shortly after Keef came aboard, and he had no clues in that investigation either.

After countless hours poring over dates and times of the disappearances, physical characteristics and causes of death, Keef developed a tentative criminal profile.  His suspect was crazy enough to snatch a corpse from the morgue and calculating enough to pull it off more than once.  Accusations of occult activity, cannibalism or morbid fetishes were likely correct, but years of investigating sailors’ most abhorrent predilections taught Keef not to speculate on motives until he’d discovered some clues, and to his severe disadvantage in this case, there simply were no clues.

While tracking leads for three months, Keef fell into a routine where he woke up around 0930, ate breakfast until 1100 and stopped in at the Master at Arms (MAA) office to check the activity blotter before lunch.

*   *   *

Keef’s brow furrowed as his thoughts made their way down from his brain to his mouth.

Brandt stood behind his desk, cutting Keef to bits with his razor tongue and burning holes in him with his icy stare.  “I’m tired of hearing you don’t have any evidence—”

“Well, I reckon this case,” Keef interrupted, “it’s a one-of-a-kind situation, requires more than a single individual investigator.”  Keef inhaled and his eyes closed under the strain of speaking and thinking in tandem.  “If I had someone to run leads, pull surveillance and like that, I reckon—”

“A necrophiliac or a cult of devil worshippers is loose aboard my ship!”  Exhaled smoke punctuated Brandt’s speech.  “If you were competent you’d have caught this freak and I’d have ‘em locked in the brig.”

“I reckon that’s accurate, sir,” Keef said.

“Keep your ears open because this monster will be talking backwards,” Brandt blustered.

“I remain ever vigilant, sir.”

“And you’re watching for anyone with a dead body slung over their shoulder, right?”

“Absolutely.”  Keef detected a bit of the criminal element in the old man.  “Sir, I’m fixin’ to get back to work about now.  Beg your pardon, but may I be dismissed?”

“Not so fast.”  Brandt dropped a coil-bound report on his desk.  “This says someone is sabotaging engines in the Stinger squadron.”

“Sabotage?”  Keef was ignorant on jet engines, but a sabotage allegation got his attention.

“Yes,” Brandt said gloomily.  “Somebody’s tossing bits of steel down the aircraft intake ducts, tearing up jet engines.”

“A little bitty piece of steel wrecks a jet engine?”  Keef couldn’t believe it.

“Yes, it does.”  Brandt pinched the bridge of his nose.

“But a jet can fly through a flock of birds and spit out feathers,” Keef said.

“Birds are soft,” Brandt speculated, “but a nut or bolt is hard—it ruins the whole engine, costs the Navy millions of damn dollars.”  A headache pulsed across Brandt’s forehead.  “Just read the damn report!”

“I reckon if they put a screen over them intake ducts it would solve this here problem,” Keef said.

“I’m not asking you to redesign military aircraft,” Brandt said.  “First, read this report and then go see Commander Aronson, the Stinger commanding officer.  Tell him I sent you.”

“What am I gonna do for him?” Keef asked.

“With your investigation into the medical department going nowhere it’s time you earned your keep around here.”

A dreadful funk came over Keef and left him feeling an acute need to solve the missing-body mystery, get off this ship and away from Brandt.  “Sir,” he said, “my assignment is to investigate the medical department, not—”

“You work for me,” Brandt snapped.

“But, sir, I’ve been—”

“You help the Stinger squadron figure out who’s sabotaging their airplanes.”

“But, sir, as I—”

“I don’t care what you—”  Brandt pinched the bridge of his nose and pointed to the door.  “Get out, Keef,” he said.  “Just, get the fuck out.”


If you would like a free eBook or paperback copy of Sailors Take Warning in exchange for an honest review on Amazon, send the author your contact info.  Your info will never be shared and you will not be spammed.  You can purchase the eBook for $2.99 or the paperback for $11.99 on Amazon.

 

CHAPTER SIX – Day 1

The Nimitz’s anchor chain lockers are steel wells, each 12 feet wide and 59 feet deep, located far forward in the bow of the ship and slightly inboard.  While underway, a dogpile of heavy gauge steel chain sits piled helter skelter in both locker bottoms.  Deep in the port chain locker, three sailors sat on a scrap of plywood teetering atop the tangle of 300-pound links.

The ship rode on gently rolling swells.

Many years prior, a sailor, whom none of those present ever knew, carved a pentagram into the plywood scrap, and since then it served as an altar for many satanic services.  That night a black candle burned at the center of the pentagram.  It fizzed and dripped and added more wax to the dribbles already hardened there.  The flickering flame cast frightful shadows of the three young men inside the deep steel well.  Hanging above them, the chain creaked and swayed as the ship forged across the rolling ocean.

The men held hands in a circle and chanted.

“In the name of our ruler, Satan, we call the dark forces of evil.  Rise from the depths.  Open the gates of hell.  Come forth and answer to your names.  Oh hear your names.”

Danny Jenks whispered, “Baphomet.”

Darnell Ratcomb whispered, “Diabolus.”

Grady Dutro, a novice Satanist, whispered, “Nergo.”

“You idiot,” Danny Jenks blurted and tore his black hood back.  “It’s not Nergo!  It’s Nergal, Ner-gal, not Ner-go.  Get it right, dumbass!”

Grady Dutro cowered.

“It’s about good and evil, Grady,” Danny Jenks said.  His pimply complexion shone in the candlelight.  “God and Satan are locked in combat and you gotta pick a side.”

Jenks restarted his rhythmic chanting, trying to heighten his awareness, attempting to achieve the familiar hallucinatory state of demonic possession, but no matter how ardently he concentrated, no matter how hard he tried to detach himself from his immediate surroundings, Grady’s trembling hand distracted him.

Grady gazed at the flickering candle and listened to Jenks and Ratcomb chanting.  He tried to calm down but couldn’t stop his hands from shaking.

The squabbling didn’t faze Darnell Ratcomb.  As he chanted incantations, a green luminescence swirled around him.

“I am prepared to meet the deathless ones,” Darnell whispered.  He floated among sparkling particles in empty space.  “Clear my eyes, Satan,” he whispered.  A yellow beam passed through the murk and vanished.  Another yellow beam shot past like a flashlight searching.  Something rubbed against Darnell’s leg.  “Reveal mysteries to me, Satan,” he whispered.

At the sound of Darnell still chanting, Danny Jenks looked under his hood and saw only the whites of his eyes.  Then he glared at Grady and said, “You’re holding me back, you jerk!”

In the blurry darkness, Darnell saw orange and black fish sliding past him.  Their yellow eyes glowed.  Their slippery scales rubbed his legs.

“I ain’t risking brig time to sit in this hole mumbling at a candle, you pussy!” Danny Jenks fumed.

“I’m trying,” Grady whispered, “but it’s scary.”

Darnell Ratcomb touched one of the slime-coated fish as it swam past.  He marveled at its bright orange and black stripes.  Instantly, squirming curlicue microbes appeared on his finger and burrowed beneath his skin.  Quickly, it spread to the back of his hand and up his wrist.

“Release me from your grip,” Darnell demanded.  “Return me to the realm of life.”

Danny Jenks put his ear to Darnell’s hood.

“Release me from your grip,” Darnell mumbled.

“Holy fuck!”  Jenks knew immediately that Darnell was stuck in some bad shit.  “Get out of it, man,” Jenks bawled, trying to break the spell.  “Get out of there, Darnell!”

Darnell’s pupils rolled down.  He blinked and gasped.

“Shit,” Jenks exclaimed.  He grabbed Grady Dutro around the neck with one hand and slapped him hard across the face with the other.  “You held me back, you pussy!”

*   *   *

While eating pizza in the galley, Danny Jenks asked Darnell Ratcomb, “Did you see them same orange and black fish again?”

“I touched one,” Darnell said.

“I didn’t see shit because Grady held me back.”

Darnell stared at his fingers where he’d touched that fish.

“We should make a sacrifice of that punk,” Jenks said.

Darnell dropped his pizza on a paper plate.  “What the fuck is this?”  He started scratching the back of his hand.

“What the hell?” Jenks asked at the sight of bumps on Darnell’s dark skin.

“That fish did some shit to my arm.”

*   *   *

Shipmate,

You’ve read this far which means you’re enjoying Sailors Take Warning, eh?

If you would like a free copy in exchange for an honest review on Amazon, use the contact form above to send me your email address (for an eBook) or your mailing address (for a free paperback).  Your contact info will not be shared, but if you are concerned about sending your address, I will gladly send a paperback to a pickup location near you such as a FedEx or UPS store or a Mailbox etc. type location.  You can also purchase Sailors Take Warning on Amazon.   I would greatly appreciate if you posted an honest review on Amazon.  A review does not need to be a literary analysis or a book report.  A brief statement of your opinion of the story is fine.  Smooth Sailing.

Sincerely,

Malcolm Torres

Sailors Take Warning by Malcolm Torres

*   *   *

You might also enjoy this free short suspense thriller.

Sixty-Four Days, A Sea Story (free on all eReaders)

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SAILORS TAKE WARNING

By Malcolm Torres ©

Copyright 2014 by MT Press

All Rights Reserved

Available in eBook and print at all major book and eBook retailers

This book is intended for your personal enjoyment only.  This ebook may not be re-sold or reproduced or given away to other people.  If you would like to share this book with another person, please send them a link to this post, or purchase a copy for each recipient.  Thank you for respecting the author’s hard work.

Sailors Take Warning by Malcolm Torres is a work of nautical fiction.  Any resemblance to real people or actual events is purely coincidental.  The narrator assumes responsibility for tampering with anything that does not match the reader’s version of reality.

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10 Responses to Sailors Take Warning (Part 1 of 5)

  1. Missttyy says:

    This is really really disturbing and . . . I’m hooked.

  2. Vkitty says:

    OMG can’t believe how good this story is. I’m going to get it in paperback. My Dad was in the Navy and told me stories about being on a ship at sea, but his stories were not like this.

  3. Israel Piñeiro Jr. says:

    Malcolm I want to get all 5 parts for my kindle reader. Please send them to me. I’ve enjoyed all your books.

  4. tomjamin says:

    I’m hooked on this story and will be reading the rest as they are posted.

  5. RichSale says:

    I’m very happy and surprised to have stumbled on this free novel. Torres is a unique author who tells a good sea story. He may be the modern master of nautical fiction and this may turn out to be a cult classic of sea stories. I read a lot and can say that nobody else is writing stories like this.

  6. clint says:

    This story is shaping up to be pretty good. I’m glad there is a map and a character listing to help keep it all straight. With over 5000 sailors aboard, an aircraft carrier is a complex place. I’ve never read anything like this before.

    • Yup Clint, I’ve heard that comment from a few people. The story is kind of complicated and folks find the map and character list helpful to refer to once in a while to keep it all straight.

  7. Jimcc says:

    Already reading this on my Kindle , great story so far

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