It didn’t look like any Officer’s Country worth writing home about. Paxton was behind the big desk fiddling with a knob on a gloriously polished cabinet. The result was a hiss.
“Can’t get any thing on this radio,” said Paxton. His dial twisting only lowered or increased the noise. “Think we can pick up a game from state-side? Are we too far away? The Detroit Tigers are on a roll.”
“Let’s try something different. That must be from a live feed like on the Argus Island. Try flipping that switch.”
Paxton looked at it. “One label says Tape-In, must be for this studio reel-to-reel. I haven’t seen an Ampex AG-500 like this anywhere but in the Ginza back in Japan. And they wanted state-side prices that would set me back a year’s pay.” He turned the feed reel on the Ampex recorder to read the label. “Yesterday’s date. You think this is what we want? You said all the tapes from five years would—”
“—We take it.” The Navy didn’t pay him to think in this situation that barely amounted to a glorified Shore Patrol bust of off-limits bars.
“How about this built-in cassette player? A tape’s in there too.”
“Just a moment.” Wade walked across the room and browsed. The switch Paxton had found for the live feed had several positions that were labeled. “Let’s see here. We have Line-In which must be the live feed, and two recorder remote inputs. Play a couple of minutes of what’s on the Ampex. Then play the cassette.”
Paxton, an Electrician Mate, quickly figured out the necessary combination of switch positions for all the equipment and had the Ampex playing through the speaker. It could have been a replay of Argus Island’s whale calls, but weirdly out of register.
“Did you change the speed on the Ampex?”
“Nope, it’s set at fifteen inches per second which is Hi-Fi for the purist. You know how brown shoe officers like classical music shit, and all.”
“Well, maybe at at a tape speed of seven and a half inches per second. Put it at its lowest speed.”
Paxton moved back to the switches on the Ampex. “Down as far as one and seven eighths inch per second? For dictation speed, I suppose. No one is gonna fill 750 feet of tape with staff memos.”
They both listened to the fascinating calls, the wall trembling sub-audio sounded in low frequency trills and guttural arpeggios.
Paxton tapped the nearby cassette player’s flicking meter needle. “That’s odd.”
“Oh.” Paxton twisted a knob on the cassette. “It was in record mode when it was connected to the Ampex. I’ll rewind it a few dozen feet.” The small cassette tape suddenly whined until he stopped it moments later. “OK, now.” He pressed the play button and quickly switched the speaker input to it. After ten or fifteen seconds, the sound caught up to what they had first heard from the reel-to-reel at 15 inches per second. The cassette contained the sped up recording of the raw feed from Argus Island.
“Waddaya think, tomodachi?” said Paxton.
“I think we take them both.”
“Right-arm,” said Paxton.
“Right-on, if you want it in English. I couldn’t afford a reel-to-reel, but I got me a boss Sony cassette recorder. Was crazy shit expensive. This recording is farm-out, can we dupe it?”
Wade enjoyed Paxton’s inspired corruption of street slang. “Looks like that was what was going on here. Any cassette tapes handy?”
That turned into the $64,000 question. Paxton dumped drawers out in the search, and soon it looked like they had turned the office upside down. The only other cassette tapes were in unopened original packaging, stored loose at the back of a bottom drawer.
“Belay that!” said the Lieutenant at the doorway. “What are you two doing?”
Paxton didn’t appear as stunned as Wade felt, possibly due to Paxton’s longer time in the Navy. Paxton waved the seven inch reel of tape in one hand. “Yesterday’s sounds live from the sea.”
“Knock off that contempt, and hand that classified material over, Sailor.”
Paxton, put on a subversive bland expression and let the Lieutenant walk across the room to him and snatch the reel from his hand. After a few moments, the Lieutenant seemed to cool down as he turned to examine the room. “I don’t think there’s anything of consequence in here. Were wrapping up and we have to hustle for our flight out of here.”
This was strange, and getting stranger. He had worked with the Lieutenant for almost three days, and this was the first time he heard him express anything practical.
“We have this trove of cassettes,” said Paxton. He pointed out those dumped on the floor, but kept the copy tape hidden by his hand at his side.
The Lieutenant stared down at them as if he were trying to count them in a glance as a party trick. “We don’t need K-Tel’s hits from 1967.”
“But shouldn’t we check to see if any contain copies of SOSUS recordings?” said Wade.
“Sailor, you are here to perform under orders that were clearly stated. Do I need to repeat them?” He looked over the shambles of the office again. “I have the only recording tape out of here.”
“But there’s every indication that this office is equipped to duplicate SOSUS tapes.” Wade walked over to the Ampex and pointed it and the cassette recorder out. “This equipment was set up to do that very act. And there’s this unexplained trove of cassettes.”
“Back off, Sailor. Duplicating tapes? That is total nonsense. No one here cares to do any of that.” He shouldered his way past Wade to flip a few switches—one was to the local AM station. Suddenly it was singing about Suzie-Q. “See? Anyone could as easily be … that’s awful.” He flipped another switch on the multiband radio. It brought a torrent of teletype transmissions, noise, and vague signals until he settled on a powerful shortwave broadcaster.
“In closing, to unmask the American gangster Lyndon Johnson and his running-dogs, we declare an implacable struggle against bourgeois ideology and all anti-socialist forces attempting to impose a bourgeois system—a pluralist system upon our Czechoslovakian comrades.
Esta es la voz de la amistad, transmitiendo del Habana Cuba a América del Norte.”
Wade recognized Radio Havana Cuba’s shortwave station sign-off. He reached past the the Lieutenant, twisted the knob on the radio, and quickly found a familiar interval signal Columbia the Gem of the Ocean announcing the Voice of America out of Greenville.
“Much more appropriate choice to record,” said Wade.
The Lieutenant slapped the seven inch reel against his leg to command silence. “That will be enough.” The Lieutenant spun on his heel and disappeared through the door.
Paxton swept the contents of the desk to the floor and sat on its cleared corner. “K-Tel’s hits from 1967 my sister’s black cat’s ass.” He smiled at Wade and showed him the cassette he had palmed. “I used to carry bootleg tapes aboard my ship in Sasebo by hiding them under my ID card in my hand. The Jar Heads frisking us on the quarterdeck would look so hard at my ID, that they never saw the tape.”
“Let’s hustle,” said Wade.
“We square on this, tomodachi?” He stood up, waved the cassette, and waited attentively.
“The Lieutenant said there was nothing of consequence in here, and he took what he was after.”
“Cool. I owe you if ever you need cumshaw—stateside, Seattle way.”
Wade wasn’t sure how Paxton was going to trade the favor back as cumshaw, but let it go. “Just so’s the Lieutenant doesn’t know ‘bout this.”
“Yeah, that senator’s son has one tight ass hole from sitting in a chair until ‘Nam is over. I don’t have to guess his pay-back is a motherfuck.”