As the entourage slowed to pass through the security gate in a chain-link fence surrounding Tudor Hill, Dusty hopped out from the Jeep in front and disappeared through a shroud of white mist to a waiting jitney. It was an odd move for a young sailor who wanted to straighten his life out, but this was not the time for Wade to pursue him.
“Did you see that sailor absent himself without permission?” said the Lieutenant.
Wade refused to be drawn into a tedious dialog about what they had clearly seen. “Yes Sir.” The jitney remained where Dusty had gotten in, sitting alongside the wind whipped palms lining the rough side road. Dusty couldn’t go far, even if the jitney left now.
The Lieutenant clambered ungracefully out of the Jeep to race to the door of the facility. It was a nondescript concrete building, an architectural cypher consistent with many functional designs in the past ten to twenty years that Wade’s generation was brought up to think of as modern. However, Wade had seen Europe’s efforts to rebuild from the storm of World War Two, and he knew modern could be far more interesting.
The Lieutenant looked back through the distant gate at the jitney, weighing something in his mind. Whatever that was, it was lost to a gust that pushed him off balance.
“Well, never mind about him. We’ve probably lost our chance for the flight back with this hurricane building.”
When two civilian workers huddling through the rain hoisted themselves into the jitney, the driver fired up the engine. It lumbered over the swamped potholes and slowly disappeared down the lee side of the hill to Middle Road.
Maybe Dusty was fighting a primitive, basic fear. The storm could account for that, but this naval facility was functional in the extreme for any tropical island. The Termination Building’s dun colored blank face, bereft of any scars from prior hurricanes, overlooked a bare hillside and short expanse of flat beach. It was built to sustain the full force of any category of hurricane and probably would outlive its need.
Wade followed the Lieutenant inside, through wide corridors, and into a large, open display room. The monotony of functional design persisted in its black and white checkerboard floor tiles. Banks of paper-white fluorescent lights buzzed above them. There was the hint of the air-conditioning system humming somewhere remote, flooding the room with a shopping mall’s clammy humidity. Mixed beneath that buzz and hum was the sound of scores of windshield wipers swishing that were familiar from Wade’s only other assignment to a SOSUS Naval Facility.
This display room, like the other, was full of recorders burning processed audio signals onto specially treated paper rolls. It had an unique smell. At a glance, he saw that each span of unrolled processed paper revealed the sound history of a small sliver of the Atlantic Ocean all the way to Europe or Africa. When he looked across the processed paper for a dozen neighboring recorders, he knew he was looking at a sub-audio picture of hull machinery and propeller sounds from dozens of ships.
The wiper sounds came from the recorder pins tracing a hot wire back and forth across the special paper in one second swipes. Each swipe singed a black streak of variable darkness across the page. It was burnt beneath the last swipe that slowly joined others marching up the display table of each recorder in succession. Each streak was patterned according to the single channel’s sound strength at one frequency. The blackest of singes at a point in the sweep signified a deep ocean sound louder at that frequency.
Wade looked around at the senior enlisted men who crewed this shop, and the men of the security detail that moved around them. Altogether, there must have been two dozen swarming bodies that ignored each other out of professional courtesy.
“Jarvis, take your men to the equipment room and check for stored data in that space,” said the Lieutenant.
Wade signaled his men to gather. Several of them lingered to watch the activity of four crew members using parallel rulers to transfer bearing information into intercept lines. It could be something hot, or it could be the activity of an ordinary day. In short order, they mutely decided it was trivial and joined the short line weaving past the plotting table in the middle of six banks of recorders and into the equipment room.
The air was clearer and cleaner in the equipment room. It wasn’t until then that he realized how much smoke the recorders put out.
“Jarvis,” said Jones, one of his black sailors, a rumpled Interior Communicationsman, Third Class, of indeterminate age. “What we gotta do here?” He waved around the room full of scope displays, patch panels, dials, and switches.
From Wade’s experience aboard destroyers, he recognized the patch panels were for the FM feed from Argus Island. His guess came from their load of what looked like 200 coaxial cables being fed into a huge magnetic drum storage device they used for variable delay. Each line would have accounted for the two, one hundred sensor arrays.
“Follow each wire from here at the patch panel,” said Wade. “To there at the magnetic delay unit, and then out to the Verniers.”
He could tell Jones was pushing back to what seemed like a Mickey Mouse order. An explanation was asked for, it wasn’t going to satisfy him or anyone, but Wade had already opened the barn door. “They are the chart recorders out there. These lines also split out to tape recorders, and that may lead us to copies of tape recordings.”
“How you know ‘bout that shit? Some’s stuff I work with, certainly. Even an IC striker could figure them out, but nothing here looks like storage cabinets for them tape recordings. How ‘bout a smoke break?”
“Jones,” said another sailor, “Step back into that last room and breath deep.”
“It gots no menthol in that room, Henderson.”
The men chuckled at Jones’ deflection, and they were probably glad Jones had asked the question. One elbowed Henderson to stop interfering.
Henderson shook his head like an over-patient parent with a child. “Why do niggeroes smoke those fruity cigarettes?”
Jones threw out his chest. “You gotta problem with my urbane choice of sophisticated tobacco brand you pencil dicked jive-ass honky?”
Henderson tossed his hands in surrender and looked to Wade for rescue.
“Don’t invite partners into your mine field, Henderson. You’re the one who wanted to tap dance.”
The idea of a duplicate tape recording being made caused Wade to rethink what they should be looking for. There was every opportunity to copy mountains of recordings. The tape that Dusty treasured was an ideal example. It was a stretch to think of the cook-striker as a spy, but his aha moments had generally paid off.
“Anyone … Any idea why that boot, the Argus Island cook, why he booked it out of here?” This question was met by universal blank faces and a few shrugs. One offered a weak answer.
“Boy’s a shack master? I can’t see no reason to run if he ain’t skating toward poontang.”
Wade shook his head. “Two problems with that. The kid’s too young, and too Christian.”
Henderson laughed at Wade’s observation. “Fuck that shit! Bible thumpers like to fuck too, and these island chippies know where to tickle alter boys like him.”
Jones couldn’t restrain himself. “It seem when y’all get a bunch of whities together, theys IQ is divided by the number of them pale buddies. That boy might find some Japanese bar hog in the Sasebo to shack up with, but this be a different part of the world. These be some mighty sweet, refined, dignified, black women.”
“OK, Jones.” said Wade. “Sounds like you have an opinion to offer. Where would this boy be going?”
“He be going home if he smart. Do I need to write that in a fuckin’ report and fuckin’ pass it up the chain of fuckin’ command, college boy?”
Wade and the rest laughed at that. It helped Jones blow off the racial steam that Henderson had fired up. Even the comment about college boy, with that emphasis on boy, was both too close and too far from reality. For mission covers, he had failed in every school the Navy had sent him to.
But Jones’ appraisal of Dusty was probably closer to the fundamental truth. His Shore Patrol days all confirmed the way to catch deserters was to wait at their parent’s home. That was an assignment he could shrug away for the last few weeks before his two year hitch ended.
“Let’s skip the sentimentality.” His group needed something to do, and something to show to the Lieutenant. “OK, guys. Time to fan out, follow the cables, and look for other copies of recordings.”
“You mean like the tapes they use to record things around here?” said Jones.
“Sounds good, but five years worth would fill a transport ship, and they don’t have that space here.”
Jones fiddled with his pack of Kools and said, “So what then?”
“We done paper, and the Lieutenant’s men seem to have scoured the display room.”
“Well, then that leaves this equipment room, here, the communications room, and the analysis room.”
Henderson shook his head. “Officer’s Country—if ever.”
“Benedict Arnold was an officer,” said Jones.
Henderson turned beet red in the face. “You sayin’ there’s traitors here?”
“T’ain’t a church social we be invited to, Henderson.”
Henderson’s complexion hadn’t faded. “We’re here for data. Even if I’m a below-decks snipe, I know that doesn’t mean were lookin’ for spies.”
One of the men said, “They feed us bullshit and keep us in the dark, Henderson.”
Henderson looked at the man while he thought. “Yeah, I know where that leads. OK, so we split up and look for mushrooms, is that it?”
The sailor shrugged at his question. “Keeps us busy until chow time.” He stroked his chin as if to taunt Henderson. “I think a steak sounds good right now. With mushrooms.”
“And baked potato,” said another.
“And sour cream.”
Henderson raised his face to the ceiling. “This is torment. I’m a radioman, so I’m going to find the comm room and look in their waste baskets for five years worth of teletype tape addressed to Benjamin Arnold.”
Jones rolled his eyes, but did not correct Henderson’s historical mistake. Two others who had remained silent joined Henderson’s departure.
“Hold on a mo’,” said Wade. He pointed at one. “You help out Jones, and I will go with Paxton, there, to so-called Officer’s Country. I want to see how the other half lives.”
There had to be something else, like contraband, to find.