The Striker – 11

Wade sat at what could easily be described as an industrial grade breakfast table built for seven generations of children to pound their empty bowls upon. The top had a modern off-green indestructible plastic layer. It’s cool hazy surface was tightly framed by an aluminum rail wrapped around the table’s perimeter like wheel skirts on a 52 Hudson Hornet. The room’s clammy coolness cloaked him like a corpse’s damp shroud in the morgue.

Every reenlistment felt like this.

There was a tap at the door that startled Wade more than it simply bursting open to admit the unit’s Career Officer. “Yeah,” he said.

A bare head appeared at the opening edge, looked around, and then at Wade. “Wade Jarvis?” The grizzled sailor was dressed in Khaki.

“Yeah, Chief. You doing the last rights over me?”

The man slipped in, closed the door and pulled a clipboard up for a quick examination. “Let’s see if I can get this straight. Engineman Petty Officer Second Class Wade Jarvis? Can you confirm by giving me your serial number?”

This wasn’t the rank that was on his sleeve, today, but he offered his serial number just to move the process on. As this was cross-checked he saw the collar insignia for a lieutenant commander. “Sorry, Sir, for not coming to attention.”

“I doubt it,” said the Lieutenant Commander as he sat across from Wade. “You don’t even sound embarrassed. We need to get you to the west coast Navy, and out of this Civil War museum. But first, there’s the stumbling point of yet another two year enlistment ending. This biennial farce you insist on.”

He knotted gray eyebrows as he consulted his notes again. “Pro forma demands I mention other stumbles before your temporary duty in Bermuda. There we can chalk up a broken jaw for an ensign, and busting up a bar in Olongapo City. Three French-Vietnamese security liaisons killed near the Cambodian border?”

Wade knew his record, and this recitation came from his last year. He wasn’t going respond to the sucker punch—to answer the question inflected mention of the double agents. Those three had tortured him for days. The leader’s pay-back came from his own gun. The 1934 Beretta 38 caliber was in his sea bag. He knew his records were incomplete, they failed to mention he took out the lieutenants with a grenade.

The Lieutenant Commander slapped the notebook closed. “So much for reading you the Riot Act. And then we have to balance that with your family upbringing, and your bailing out of school for Project Mohole? As a kid? For my money, I am going to put my thumb on the scale and ask you to reenlist.”

Wade decided that silence, as was time-proven, worked best in this situation. This was not a typical Career Officer interview.

Was he going to offer a thrill?

The commander took a breath. “That was a piss-poor introduction by me. We wouldn’t be talking if any of that was against you. Sorry, but for time zone changes and MATS flights, I would be in bed right now. Call me Elmer.”

“Lieutenant Commander Elmer.”

“No. Just Elmer. Not my real name, not my real rank, but we’re all used to that. Elmer is what Ham Radio operators call their mentors. I’m a mustang and I started out as a snipe, like you, until they gave me the Eddy Test and sent me to Advanced Radio Material School in San Francisco during the Second World War.”

“Sounds like the Basic Battery test they shoe-horned me into taking again a year back. They called it ETST.”

“Very same. You proved to be in the top 1% of a heavily qualified, select few. Hence my leading this re-up interview … seeing how you are in the program and things weren’t going well with you and your last handler.”

“Like sands through the hourglass …” Wade said. This was skirting toward an uninspired reenlistment boost. He was a short-timer. His number of days left in the Navy had fallen into double-digits and the end of the pier was in sight.

Testing me with a cultural reference?” Elmer’s crowfeet around his eyes deepened with his smile. “I don’t watch the Days of Our Lives. But I agree, you need out of this soap opera. I never planned on doing twenty years in the Navy back when I sat for that test, but now I’m pushing for thirty. I’m here to make this interesting.”

Like making me 008?” Wade thought that cultural barb might deflate this artificially buoyant conversation.

Elmer’s face slipped into thoughts of that possibility, or undocumented aspects of Wade’s past. The crowfeet deepened again. “You know how many regulations the Navy has. A license to kill is probably in the code somewhere, but that’s not for today.

No, I’m going to usher you through your first deep assignment …”

There it was, a thrill garnished with a carrot.

Elmer continued, “Or show you the door.” Elmer ran his fingers through his hair like an old man tired of arguing.

I only have so much capacity for this shit. Cards on the table. Jarvis, I know about how you shredded those two with a grenade. You are one angry …. You need action to screw down the lid on your guilt, and I hold the only screwdriver in this man’s Navy.”

The air had left the room. Guilt. It was like discovering a pit lined with punji stakes along a jungle trail. He was lucky in the discovery, he was in trouble it was there. Elmer could twist the knife by whispering Dusty’s name—but he was afraid he might hear Mike’s name instead.

We have to write primo orders to keep you. So, if you want action, you gotta re-up four years.” Elmer smacked down his hand like a plantation horse auctioneer. “Final offer.”

Wade nodded unenthusiastically, but he had to keep the deal going. “Two years. Final acceptance.”

Good!” said Elmer.

We’re on?”

Well,” hemmed Elmer. “We agree you haven’t an endgame planned that is as attractive as the work I can steer you toward. What’s not agreed on are the terms. That stands at a four year commitment. Six years if you want both A and B school guaranteed.”

Wade shook his head. “Up-selling me already? School guarantees? I haven’t passed a single class the program put me in.”

You never finished one to the amazement of your instructors and staff that is. They had you tracking along at the top. The Navy has so much student testing data, we know your graduation score before you walk through the front door of the school. We can go into the advanced benefits at our next meeting.” Elmer placed a Manila envelope on the table, presumably with his service jacket records inside, and his orders taped to the outside. He stood and offered his hand. “Let this offer simmer until after your first month in ABC Warfare School out on Treasure Island.”

They were sending him to study atomic, biological, chemical warfare, of all things. He weighed the risk, and then the advantage. Both came out at zero, because this was the prelude. His last official month would be in San Francisco, and that wasn’t shabby at all … but Wade knew that Elmer was mounting a full court press that his former handler could never pull off.

Wade stood and shook Elmer’s hand. There was no wrestling match to go with it, it was like his Dad’s handshake that won agreements at treaty conferences.

You say you will know my test scores before I do?”

If you do your studies like you’ve done before—no mystery there.”

We’ll see.”

Elmer gave Wade’s hand another firm shake. “I think so too.” Elmer paused at the door, before opening it, and stretched out a kink in his lower back. “Making it to thirty will be painful. Oh, just as a teaser, this Treasure Island thing is not about what you might be told about fighting Commies.”

Wade thought Elmer was truly over-selling now. “Isn’t everything these days?” If Elmer ever stood to lose him, it was with that last comment intended to close the deal.

Elmer opened the door, carefully not to strain his back. “I will have a man contact you there. Someone here will clear your way out of the investigation of the Brig incident. We will talk about that too, later.” He gave a wave, added a pleasant smile, and let his gaze linger slightly before he left Wade to examine his new orders.

On those orders, he found he was to maintain the illusion of his second-class rate, and Engineman rating. The orders read that he was to proceed directly to Naval Schools Command, Treasure Island, San Francisco, California. There, he was to participate in the ABC Warfare School course of instruction. There could be problems with that, though.

He went through the possibilities of his being unmasked in a school that was open to many ratings. That increased his exposure to others who knew him under a different rate, rating, or name. As Elmer implied, he had busted too many heads in Olongapo, Yokosuka, Sasebo, and Kaohsiung when he was younger and angrier … And there was that turd in the punch bowl that old man Elmer left—the brig incident.

A personnelman stepped into the interview office, and slipped into the chair opposite Wade. He spun Wade’s orders around and stamped ORIGINAL on the top, and all the copies beneath. He spun the packet back around, and across to Wade.

You trying to rush me out?” asked Wade.

Look at your orders. You have one day, today, not the usual day-per-400 miles travel and proceed time.” He reached into his pocket and withdrew a flight ticket, a five dollar bill, and a receipt for him to sign. “We’ll forward your seabag to X-Division, Treasure Island, San Francisco. This ticket is for the flight west that’s leaving …” He looked at the clock on the wall. “In eighty-three minutes. The five dollars is for a cab to get there in less than eighty-two minutes.”

What about the mutiny charges?”

The Man gave the Lieutenant an idle adjustment to lower his revs, and cut those innocents loose to their ships.”

Was he pissed?”

As only The Man can be. Kinda restores my faith in truth, justice, and the American way.” The personnelman deflected the romantic interlude with a glance out through the window. “Taxi’s waitin’.”

Jones stuck his head in the door. “Hey Ras Wade! You got your shipping orders too? Hey, Duke.”

The personnelman turned from the window. He saw Jones motioning for a cigarette and he broke out a pack for him.

Yeah, you be good, Bro. You going to process me next?”

Duke tapped the desk a few times, as if he were flipping through a Rollodex. “OK, Jarvis, you got your shipping orders, got your ticket, got your money, taxi’s waitin’. Yeah,” he stood up and slipped past Jones slipping in.

I’m off to catch the Coral Sea for a WESTPAC tour.”

That’s tied up at Hunters Point, isn’t it?”

“’Till early September—then out for ‘bout a year.”

Duke, the personnelman returned with the thick Manila packet of service records, bound with Jones’ orders taped to it. He looked up at the wall, and out the window again. “You got less’n 80 minutes, Jarvis.”

Does Jones have the same flight?”

Duke scanned the orders, and gasped. He gave Jones the short version of the exit interview, and they caught the cab to the airport.

The taxi driver flipped the flag, “Eighteen bucks, fifty-eight cents.” Wade gave him a twenty, and the driver paused to contemplate it. “You’ve been here before.”

“How do you know?” Wade had only his orders to carry, and getting out was quick.

“At the airport I offered you flat rate, and you chose to ride the meter.”

“Keep the change.” Even with the tip, he was ahead of the driver’s flat rate charge of twenty five dollars. There would have been no tip, if the driver had chosen to drive up El Camino Real.

The driver nodded his thanks, and drove away.

Wade marched across the flat island in search of the Schools Command building at the back of the Electronics Technician A School. They were both in Building 28. That was behind the chow hall, according to the pimpled Shore Patrolman he left behind at the counter in Visitor Control.

A bugle sounded Attention and then To The Colors. Wade stopped and saluted the bugle call that played as the national flag was lowered somewhere.

Carry On followed by three whistle calls signaled he could resume his now-late appointed hour for reporting in.

His feet tread loudly on the wooden stairs of the WWII classroom building that also housed the school command. At the top of the stairs he caught up with the color guard coming up from the other end of the building on the San Francisco side where the flagstaff must have stood. As he let them pass in the narrow corridor, he stood at a half open dutch-door.

“You Jarvis? EM2?” asked a Yeoman third class. He was seated in an oak swivel office chair at a typewriter in an office as large as a closet. It had a wooden sash window that was partially open, held up by a ruler. Wade dropped his packet of records and orders onto the sill of the dutch-door, and it disappeared under the Yeoman’s hands. The sailor stood up and leaned close to Wade.

“You’re to report immediately to COSP.”

“Say again?”

“ComOceanSysPac, operating under ComWestSeaFron out that way.” the sailor pointed in the same direction Wade had come from. “It’s the entire basement of Building One, the same one you just came from. Here, this will get you past security.” He handed Wade a piece of yellow pasteboard.

“Looks like a liberty card or mess pass,” said Wade.

“You’ll get those at X-Division across the street in building 363, the transient barracks. But do that after COSP. It seems the world is on fire—they’re waiting for you to piss on it.”

Wade thought that was a rather extravagant ability to add to his qualifications, but he shrugged it off as the typical inflation of idle talk. “X-Division? I thought I was going to school.”

“All in good time. We have classes forming Wednesdays and Fridays every week. When that happens, you go into school barracks and only report here if you get into real trouble.” The sailor mused for a while as he eyed Wade. “You may already be in real trouble, so’s best to get a move on. And don’t come back here, I’m goin’ on the beach, this office is closed.”

Wade didn’t care. He was signed in, given a place to sleep tonight and muster tomorrow. “What about chow?”

“Never very far from any sailor’s heart. The Mess Hall is across the same street and the building south of Transient Barracks, but you will have to eat at the Acey-Deucy Club. Now, get out. I gotta bus to catch, and Pete the driver refuses to suffer the idle.”

The marine guard took Wade’s chit and examined it like it contained ancient writings describing the treasure of the Aztecs.

“Never seen one of these,” said the marine. “I gotta call the corporal of the guard. You wait here.”

Here was only steps from the frail and worn phone shack nearby that the marine half slipped into. It was a dozen steps from the lower entrance into the back of Building One that was an Art Deco relic from San Francisco’s Golden Gate International Exposition of 1939. Of the hundreds of exhibition halls, then, barely a dozen today had survived the erosion from 10,000 troops a day that filled them and then moved on to the Pacific front during World War Two.

Wade gazed back at the additional buildings erected for the Navy thirty years ago. They had suffered over time and were dilapidated fire-traps, now. The barracks for students across the street from his school were rated at ninety seconds between the time a match lit a flame, and when the building was reduced to ash. No Smoking signs dominated all other signage.

“I tol’ you to wait here!”

Wade hadn’t moved, and he didn’t move in response to the marine’s over-developed sense of drama. “Got the word, eh?” he offered. He nearly backed away from the heat in the marine’s face.

“Your escort will be here … there he is. Next time, Bubble Head, follow a sentry’s orders.”

Wade considered the irony of his wearing his Dolphins badge to an Antisubmarine Warfare headquarters. It had been a long time since his qualification cruise as a submariner, with the badge initiation that followed at a local watering hole called the Horse and Cow. He let that ceremony’s memory fade as another Yeoman, a Yeoman First Class approached and brushed the khaki uniformed Marine aside.

“This mouth-breather givin’ you shit?” The Yeoman ushered Wade past the marine sentry. In a more conspiratorial voice he added: “These gorillas get bored when they haven’t had a shift as guards at the Brig, beating the shit outta the prisoners.”

Wade’s repressed reaction was split between the hyper-masculinity this guard post drew and the topic of prisoner brutality. He tried to brush both off.

“I’m not interested in the problems of the natives, their ceremonies, or ritual sacrifices.” As soon as he said that, he knew that his future course had been set into the dark side.

To perform his mission meant he had to erase his personality and put on one tailored to fit. Going to school was a fatiguing exercise in his string of assigned ruses. He would fail out. Then he would find himself in X-Division. There he would mine the opportunities.

Shore-based X-Divisions bustled like black markets within refugee camps. They were filled with transients passing in from the fleet, transients gaming the system, or transients passing out to the fleet. He played to the anonymity of these dark bazaars. His role had been—and would be—that of the student dropped from school and waiting for orders to a ship. This would provide Wade with cover for Elmer’s dubious assignment a month from now. No one would be in X-Division long enough to count the days or weeks he sat waiting for the orders that would never come.

Deep inside the building’s basement, they passed down a short hallway that had been swept, swabbed, polished, buffed, scrubbed down to bare cement, or painted every day for thirty years. It shone like the hall of mirrors he recalled at the amusement park’s fun-house out on the Great Highway next to the beach.

The far door opened into a grand promenade with widely spaced subterranean offices lining its broad path. Only two doors had markings—the other doors had guards, these guards were identical cousins to the angry one they had left next to his dry rotted guard shack.

Wade smelled charred Vernier paper. It meant they had the same chart printers as Tudor Hill in Bermuda. Given his orientation before that mission, he could tell this might be an unscheduled side-trip that Elmer never anticipated.

The Yeoman ushered him into a reception room that was richly paneled, plush carpeted, and over polished. It was a subterranean equivalent for Officer’s Country. Two Ensigns conferred while smoking at a coffee table. The speaker held his gaze on Wade, specifically, without dropping a word. Wade pondered what this interest from a smooth-faced boy was about. And two very junior officers sitting idly by was out of the norm, too.

That sparked his intuition in terms of conspiracy, but it was out of context and possibly inspired by his haunting desire to smash Valentine’s pretty boy, blond crowned pouting face in.

There it was. Dusty’s death had emerged in a plush reception room to another ultra-secret naval facility buried in the recycled mud used to build an island in San Francisco Bay. Along with that unfinished business, he could feel he was too close to the brig incident to be able let it go and let his professional mission continue without personal distraction.

A young sailor came in through a neighboring door. He was a Gunner’s Mate striker carrying a globe shaped coffee pot. He topped off the two officers’ cups without a word to them, and without a word from them. He joined Wade and the Yeoman.

“You guys want a cup of Joe?”

“No thanks,” said Wade. “We got a meeting. You assigned here from X-Division waiting for school? How’s things?”

The Gunner’s Mate striker nodded, his expression wandered between contempt and friendliness as he searched for words. “Yeah. Aside from these perfumed princes, the captain’s OK. They won’t let me start school until I get advanced to third class petty officer, and Personnel says that it will be a few days away before I get my Crow. Thing is, I want to get back to the fleet.”

“What’s the rush?” said Wade.

“I wanna kill some commies.” He pointed at his rating badge with its crossed guns above the three white hash stripes of a Seaman. And doing a poor imitation of These Boots are Made for Walking he sang in a warbley, discordant voice: “These guns are made for shootin’ commies and that’s just what they’ll do …”

Even in his lowered voice, he clearly upset the nearby officers as if expressing a wartime passion was beneath their dignity. The striker shrugged at their throat clearing and returned through the door he had entered.

Wade and the Yeoman walked up to the door marked as the office for the adjutant to the Admiral, a Captain Smith. The Yeoman gave two raps on the door and twisted the knob.

“You go straight in. No introductions, no genuflections to God are necessary.”

Wade stepped into a dark where the only light came from a shaded banker’s lamp on the desk across the room. God was sitting behind the desk in the green shadow of the lamp, and he was Old Testament angry. Others in the room displayed the same contempt as if Wade had penetrated their inviolate circle. God waved, and they mutely rose and left the office. Just like the young buck outside, one, a Lieutenant Junior Grade with a haircut straining regulations to be fashionable moved slowly and stared at Wade as if to memorize his face. There were too many idle men hanging around, and Wade’s muscles tightened reflexively when he saw his name badge revealed he was also a Smith.

“Account for your movements.” This opener was off the charts. God didn’t want a salute or expect social conventions first. Wade recognized the gambit of intimidation to anchor a new relationship. He swallowed his indignation, and embraced the captain’s attitude like a hand grenade thrown into a foxhole full of his men.

“Charleston NavSta this morning, flying this afternoon, landed this evening, taxi direct to the front gate, then here as directed at NavScolsCom.”

The checklist of simple unassailable facts frustrated God. He tapped his pipe into the ashtray, and re-lit it. “Where’s the goddamn tape?” His upper face glowed with fury as the cherry in the pipe lit his eyes red.

This was a test. It was like the classic hazing Admiral Rickover brutally administered to every officer seeking assignment to a nuke boat. Rickover would raise a controversial topic with an open-ended question, and sit back and watch the responder squirm through a clumsy answer that would preserve their career. Wade searched deep for a connection to what he was talking about. Then he remembered the cassette tape of whale calls. Again, silence seemed the best response, but this wasn’t a forgiving God.

Wade offered, “I assume it is in the hands of Lieutenant Commander Daniels from the hands of the lieutenant who was in charge of the raid.”

“I hope not, they’re both clowns. Especially that alcoholic Daniels who should’ve retired before now. How do you know they have the right tape?” God thumped the desk to punctuate the question.

“I don’t, but its the only tape I handled.” Still true, but incomplete. Before he volunteered anything more, Wade waited to see if God had any preference in seven inch reels, or cassettes. Hazing interviews could go both ways. He weighed his holding back against his feeling hungry.

God got up from his desk and paced the room. He was short for God, but with powerful arms, wide shoulders, and a barrel chest, he could be his double. Wade recognized that this was a nervous move built out of of fear and doubt, not competent management. Wade had seen many such moves by retirement-age chief boatswain mates in submarine bars. There, their anxiety of facing their last cruise drove their marching back and forth pace from the bar to the head.

“Jarvis, I don’t like you,” said God. “How you have managed to stay in ONI is beyond me if you don’t have the tape, or know where it is.”

God was looking for a confession by leading with information that wasn’t generally known. How he knew Wade’s status wasn’t something Wade could ever expect to be explained, so he kept quiet.

God reached down to a dossier on his desk and flipped open to the face sheet on the right. “Yes, test grades show you are smart. But the rest of this reveals a maverick sheriff at the OK Corral with only hints of intelligent work. Your last assignment out on Argus Island reveals competence, but my questions demand more. Do you have more?”

That question had the ring of paternalism. It was standard stuff from glib officers who put on false fronts. But God was genuinely angry, but not specifically at him anymore.

“Yes, Sir!” It was a suitable response to the formality, but it admitted to nothing of substance.

God shook his head and hid his eyes behind bushy eyebrows as he resumed his seat and scanned the dossier. “Ask a stupid question …” His mouth moved like he was rehearsing something, then he spoke, “This conversation never took place. No one is interested in any tape. The Office of Naval Intelligence would drain the ocean to fill their ranks, but quantity does not substitute for quality.”

God’s abrupt silence announced the end to their interview. Wade rose, and with a salute to the bank light’s green shade, he left the office.

Wade tried to close the door quietly when a hand appeared out of the dark corridor and pulled it shut with a distinct thump. He looked at the Yeoman who raised his eyebrows to elicit Wade’s reaction to the meeting.

“You know the score?” asked Wade.

The Yeoman nodded. “I read everything. It’s my job—I have the need-to-know. I also write everything. So, I suppose that makes me the score-keeper. Yeah, I know the score. Fill me in with what happened in there.”

So, he didn’t know the score, but should Wade keep it that way? Then he decided the Yeoman was probably better placed for trust than with anyone wearing gold. “Captain Smith seems fixated on a delicate subject.”

“Captain Smith? So, you and God are on last name basis after the first date. Still got your cherry?” The Yeoman gave him a sly smile that suggested the question wasn’t rhetorical.

Wade thought the level of banter wasn’t especially inviting, and dropped the gloves. “I’m hungry, and we can talk about scoring later.” He knew his way to the Transient Barracks, and X-Division life was no mystery. “I’ve also got to get dress and undress blues from the Lucky Bag.” Even if it was summer, in San Francisco the uniform of the day was always the Navy’s winter blue wool uniform. “My seabag is being shipped here from Charleston.”

“First Lieutenant’s office is going to be uncomfortable for you,” said the Yeoman.

These conversations behind the fence guarded by gorillas were contorted. “Is this a warning?”

The Yeoman offered his hand. “Eilif. Can I call you Wade? Most men use last names, so if that’s your preference, then call me Jesperson and I’ll call you Jarvis.”

“Eilif,” Wade took his hand.

“Wade,” said Jesperson as he released his grip. “About delicate subjects, did God ask about the tape?”

San Francisco across the bay was a blur of red and green traffic lights that flashed along the streets rising to any of several sunset lined hills in view from the bar at the Acey-Deucy Club. At one point to the south of Coit Tower, Wade could blearily distinguish a slash of garish neon. It was Broadway where the tourists were flocking to see the newest thing in topless go-go dance shows. Jesperson said he probably would never see that part of the strip. Wade didn’t need a cryptographic key to decipher that Jesperson was of the gay persuasion. Jesperson’s smile proved he didn’t need to wonder, either. They returned to forging a simple friendship in paying for each other’s drinks.

Wade tried to keep his balance on the broken stool as he added more crushed dollar bills into the white hat on the bar. The bartender took his cue to bring another round and draw the cash to cover them.

Keep ‘em comin’ until the hat’s empty,” said Wade. Husky giggles from behind him revealed feminine enjoyment of his epitaph. Wade didn’t turn to look—nonchalance always hooked them.

He had dismissed the idea of an evening’s visit to Broadway, however close nearby was his granduncle’s home. Before he could drift into a better plan for visiting family, Jesperson shanghaied his rummy nostalgia.

It’s a loosey-goosey story about what happened during your time at the Brig in Charleston—Bob Mathews and it reaches into the panhandle, here.” Jesperson raised his glass to his mouth, but only to disguise his glance around the club’s dining room that was inhabited by drowsy drunks near them at the bar, and two unescorted Navy wives who lounged in bright flower print mini-skirts at a cocktail table, nearby.

Satisfied?” Wade smiled at Jesperson’s caution, and then lifted his Cuba Libré, not to imitatively mask his look around—the broken seat was too tippy for that—but to drain it again. As soon as it touched the bar, a hand swept it away and replaced it with his fourth.

Ain’t got no satisfaction,” said Jesperson, “But those two WestPac widows are interested in the young buck now their men are at sea.” He then shifted gears as the bartender retreated, and he returned to their business. “Yeah, the band in the other room’s loud enough for us to talk unheard.”

But this stuff about the panhandle. What am I going to find there?” Wade reached into his wallet and drew out some loose bills he used to refill his white hat.

You can’t go into the panhandle. At least not officially. No one chases after UAs, AWOLs, deserters, however they are described. The local sheriff drops in for them at their parent’s home, and we reel them in—if and when they appear.”

Usual stuff,” agreed Wade. “Tried and true. Then why wave this panhandle red flag in my face? What’s with this 007 act?” He swept his hand unsteadily around as if introducing an audience to a grand vista. “This isn’t Raffles in Singapore with Goldfinger squiring those righteous babes behind us.” He saw them watching in the mirror behind the bar.

That was interestingly put, Wade.” Jesperson paused. “The red flag I got is not as auspicious as the ones in the May Day parade in Red Square.”

We chasing out Reds on TI?” He saw Jesperson twinge, and reconsidered lowering his voice.

I thought you might need closure. You didn’t sound very settled with what you call the Brig incident. That’s a lousy description—Brig incident sounds like a ship’s log entry.”

This Bob …” Wade’s barstool seat tipped precariously. “Are we talking about the same Bob, Robert Mathews, a something-or-other striker?” It defied odds that both he and his ex-prisoner Bob should come to San Francisco within days of each other. “And how did … Bob … get on the radar?”

He didn’t return home, like most deserters do.”

He wouldn’t. Jones called him a brig-lawyer, but he quoted the military code accurately enough.” This thought of Jones brought back Jones’ amorous attachment to Shanelsie the night of Dusty’s death. Sex or death? He waved impatiently for a refill.

Uh huh. But he was at the home of a deserter who did. His name was among those the Sheriff listed and passed our way.”

Wade nodded. “I’ve been on the receiving side of the Sheriff’s charity basket cases—many, many times. But you only got his name and an address—in the panhandle.”

Haight-Ashbury, generally. The panhandle is a park nearby.”

And Bob leads us away from the Reds that my assignment is tied up with?” His voice must have risen, because Jesperson looked around without the cover of drinking from his empty glass. Wade, with another fresh drink, joined his scan of the horizon, and one of the widows twirled her long blond hair around a finger, then smoothed it out. Her eyebrows flashed up, then a smile spread as she tipped her head with an unspoken invitation.

Jesperson was irritated. “You can focus on getting your dick wet, or we can get back to business. I could be on the beach.”

On the beach. There it was again. Dusty’s precognition of death encapsulated in a movie about submarine sailors’ last days on earth after having absorbed too much radiation from the final world war. Wade tried to shake death’s spectre off as coming from too much rum—but it wasn’t the rum.

You know?”

Tell me,” said Jesperson.

There’s this movie. On The Beach. Funny. Not ha-ha funny, but odd funny.” He felt a laugh building—with him going to a radiation school as a thin cosmic joke.

Yeah, the movie, the book.” Jesperson showed more attention than Wade’s offhand comment deserved. “It ends with a whimper.”

Wade’s gaze locked onto the frosted glass sweating in his hand—the empty humor had passed. “I owe Dusty, I should have looked after another boy called Henderson.” The seat tilted again, but Wade felt it as the slam of the storm wave against the small hull of the boat between him and his brother Mike. “These things don’t make sense.”

I shouldn’t have mentioned any of this.”

Because of secret-cy?” He felt his mind slipping into numbing retreat. The wet rings left by the glass on the cigarette charred bar top were a fascinating distraction.

Jesperson took Wade’s glass and put it further away, and he tipped Wade’s white hat over to cover the loose bills. Not the official way you think of secret. If you don’t have the need-to-know, then officialdom won’t share confidences—that’s the Navy way. But secrets as we know them personally are about shame, or the knowledge of shame. Shame is at the center of our assignment.”

Does God know about this shame?”

Jesperson laughed heartily. After he wiped an eye, he said, “Yes, there is something biblical about it. We will go into this after you’ve gotten into the flow, and put more faces to names.”

Wade reached for his drink, but it stood too far away. “You been readin’ God’s postcards. Nah … you are my contact man, aren’t you? God’s not listening.”

Jesperson casually looked around as if he never heard the question. Wade saw crowfeet at the corner of his eye that spoke of the years that separated them. He looked young, but this Yeoman probably had participated in more masquerades than Wade had.

Wade twisted in the bar stool and rested back on his elbows against the bar. “Need to stabilize my gyros.” He took a breath to clear his mind and let Jesperson know he was on board. “Keep my mind on school, is it? Aye-aye.”

The merry widow waved at him as her friend hid a coy laugh—only to emphasize the hunger in her eyes.

They shared secrets.

Cathy yanked noisily on the chain suspended from a swivel in the ceiling to prove the web harness was firmly supported over the bed. Her friend, Danielle, popped the corner loose from one button of his Navy pants’ drop opening. She swept the flap open as the remaining dozen buttons released to her practiced pull.

Cathy,” said Danielle. “Slip into it and show Wade how this basket trick works.”

Wade already knows,” said Cathy. She released the leather and canvas web and joined Danielle, bookending Wade. “Look at how ready he is for one of us to demonstrate.”

Wade does know,” he said. His thighs quivered as Danielle carefully drew his cock out. His thoughts might have drifted back to the whore house he had his only basket fuck in, but Cathy took over from Danielle and lightly flicked the tip of her tongue on a very sensitive spot.

Danielle stood in front of him as she slipped off her thin blouse and slight skirt. As for the sheerness of her underclothes, she could have already been nude. She let his hand search beneath the filmy material covering her bush. Cathy’s eyes darted sideways to appreciate his stroking caresses that she timed the flick of her tongue to.

Cathy—please! He’s not going to slip his finger into me until you start gulping.”

What had been a delicious quiver in his thighs had spread like a breeze that threated to drop him. His mouth found Danielle’s and he took her lip in his teeth. His fingers found her pussy’s lips full and wet to his trembling exploration. Her tongue persuaded him to relax his bite so they could both plunge further.

Danielle pulled her face back and slowly lifted her chin as the tension rose. Air filled her lungs and slipped out in a soft plead to her friend.

Ca-thy … choke … that … horse … cock … down.”