The Striker – 7

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 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 in a shopping mall temperature. Mixed beneath that was the sound of scores of windshield wipers swishing that were familiar from Wade’s other assignment to a SOSUS facilities.

This display room, like the other’s, was full of recorders burning processed audio signals onto specially treated paper rolls. The wiper sound came from the recorder pins tracing back and forth across the special paper in one second swipes. Each swipe singed an intermittent black trace that slowly joined others marching up the display table of each recorder in successive rows. Each row was patterned according to the sound frequency. The deeper the black of a singe 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 was solidified by 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.”

Verniers?”

He could tell Jones was pushing back to what seemed like a Mickey Mouse order. An explanation was asked for, but 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 tape recording being made caused Wade to rethink what they should be looking for. There was every opportunity to duplicate mountains of recordings. Dusty’s tape that he 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.

Jones, 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 after-all. 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.

He had failed in every school the Navy sent him to for a mission cover. 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 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, something to show to the Lieutenant. “OK, guys. Time to fan out and look for other forms of data.”

You mean like the tapes they use to record things around here?” said Jones.

Sounds good, but five years worth would fill a transport, and they don’t have that space here.”

Jones fiddled with a pack of Kools and said, “So what then?”

Paper.”

We done paper, and the Lieutenant’s men seem to have scoured the display room.”

Well, then that leaves this room where he sent us, the communications room, and the analysis room.”

Henderson shook his head. “Officer 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.”

They what?” cried the Lieutenant to a placid ground crewman with graying dreadlocks bucking in the wind.

It is irie, bredren.”

What’s this Bermuda person saying?” The Lieutenant ignored Wade and turned to those who were now emerging from the trucks on the tarmac to hear above the growing rattle of rain.

Jamaica mon,” corrected the crewman slowly. “Ion bird gone now one iwa.”

Henderson held up his hand to calm the Lieutenant. “I speak Ubangi, Sir.” He leered to the few who braved the rain as he turned to interview the crewman.

Wade was about to intervene when Jones pushed Henderson aside and spoke to the crewman. “Ras Tafari, Fadda. All praise HIM.” Jones put one hand to his chest and nodded. “This politrickster seeks overstandin’ ‘bout that C-131.”

The old crewman shook his dreads. “Overstanding come from givin’ thanks an’ praise to the most high Jah. Forgive me speech, Iya, but this ion bird—“

“—airplane, yes, left an hour ago.” Jones turned to the Lieutenant, and raised his hands palm up. “Left because of the storm?” he said to the crewman.

Henderson glowered. “Jones, you learn Ubangi at home? Don’t think he’ll unnerstan’ your question in English.”

Uh, let’s not go there, men,” said the Lieutenant who fell back a step in a sudden gust of rain.

The crewman nodded. “Jamaica was and Bermuda is Englishman’s.” His brow darkened, having said that, but it cleared as he explained to the Lieutenant, “Hangers full. ‘Empty the runways,’ say de boss-man to all de pilots in ion birds.”

Jones glanced between Henderson and the crewman as both waited for his response for Henderson. “I learned some patois in Jamaica liberty calls after two shakedown cruises outta Gitmo, and a side trip there from Charleston to Rosy Roads. In Gitmo, rum is cheaper than Coke and after too much of both—too many times,” he paused respectfully for the crewman, “Me enjoy the Rastaman’s ital, and discover livity, and visit their house to hear about the downpressors of my island bredren. Sorry, Iya, for the americanation of your language.”

The crewman shook the rain off his dreadlocks, and swept his wet brow. “Irie. I and I meet in Zion, but first go inside.”

A Bermudian in business short-sleeve shirt, tie, and pilot’s cap, stood behind the MATS airline counter and folded his hands together as they approached. His gaze alternated between the Lieutenant, whom he offered a mannered smile, and the crewman, whom he wished gone. The placid crewman took up a position near Wade and watched.

Wade spoke to the Rastafarian in a low voice, “Jones,” he pointed at him, “and you seem to understand each other very well.”

Jones definitely sounds like the white man’s name for his favorite ex-slave.”

Wade’s startle at the suddenly clearer English must have shown. The crewman waved so as to include everything, continued.

We, I and I in patois, are one heart. And we learn school-boy proper English too, so we can ask the Englishman for our proper wage.”

Reaching for dim recall of his memories from the Caribbean, Wade struggled to keep up. And when you say white man’s name for a slave this is downpression.”

He is very hurt. One heart feels all. Where are you hurt?”

This surprised Wade because he wanted to ask his own question. “What should I call you?”

Ras Johnny, if it pleases you—and you answer a question from the heart. And in that case, what are you called? I heard someone say Jarvis, that sounds French.”

Wade Jarvis. One side of the family says Gervase, and insist it is middle English for servant with a sword. The other side says it is from French Gervais, or service.”

And no man say mister when they call you Jarvis, and you don’t say mister to Jones. Yes, you are downpressed too. And yet, you act like a young prince. I call you Ras Wade, Iya.”

Wade felt Ras Johnny’s connection, and reached out to shake his hand. Their hands met, but surprising him, Ras Johnny drew him close to press right shoulders, then the left, and back to the right again like a continental kiss. This ended in what Wade knew the blacks in his boot-camp company called a dap.

Ras Johnny, Iya,” said Wade working on a hunch. “There is a young man who came before us.”

Yes, Ras Wade, a very young man.”

And did you feel him in your—in one heart?”

Ras Johnny nodded solemnly. “Very, very sad.”

So, he came here.” His hunch paid off.

And left. Charleston. Your C-131 was at risk standin’ here, and sudden decision sent dem off quickly. Boy, he go too.” Ras Johnny’s face displayed sadness. “You ‘member my question, Ras Wade?”

He took a deep breath and held it in a long silence.

This pain come from the weather, Iya? You stand apart in it, when the good company of bredren would bring love.”

Yes, Fadda.”

Ras Johnny smiled at Wade’s admission and show of respect. “Go on, Iya.”

It was as if the room were dark—and empty, but for the two of them … and perhaps another. Wade vaguely heard the wind slap the shuttered jalousies in their frames. Someone approached closer, and took a place nearby—without seeming to intrude. Wade tried to say something but his throat closed up.

Let out your breath, Iya.”

As soon as he did, another breath-in brightened the room and he numbly sensed Jones’ presence. “When I was young …” Then he reconsidered how few years that was ago in the span of Ras Johnny’s life. “Younger …”

Take another breath, and stop thinkin’ and start feelin’.”

A sudden sadness welled up, tightening his throat again. He swallowed slowly to relax it. “It was a hurricane, in the Caribbe. We were on a Texas tower. The foreman hadn’t come up through the ranks, so he wasn’t trained in seamanship—boat handling.”

Yes.”

He didn’t keep the painter fast on the boat when the sea was running. And when he cast it off, the aft line held the stern into the waves and swamped the boat.” He felt his eyes fill with hot tears and it embarrassed him.

Did someone close die?”

Mike my older brother lied to that foreman about my age to get me on the rig.” He wanted to pound that lie he convinced his brother to say, pound it hard, pound it into dust. He struggled to draw in a breath and panicked. He was drowning in hate. “If ever … I see that motherfuckin’ … foreman again.” The room almost went black until his throat opened to fresh air.

Wade, Son,” said Ras Johnny. “It’s not your fault. If you can not save that boy, save the next one.”

His knees nearly buckled in grief. He reached for the nearby window sill and found Jones’ firm grip. “But it’s gotta be my fault. I was too young to be there.”

And you too young, still, to take the responsibility, Wade,” whispered Jones. You weren’t in charge, it wasn’t your choice.”

Jones, it was a lie, like the lies I’ve lived with right up to the one now. You can tell.”

That foreman used your lie, just like the Lieutenant does today. There be a slight difference, the Lieutenant have authority to go with the lie even if they profit—especially because they both profit with you as their, uh …” He snapped his fingers several times to bring the word to mind.

Accomplice,” inserted Ras Johnny. “Downpressor needs a willing slave.”

White Devil!” said Jones.

I no say dat, mon. Downpressor can find salvation if he follows livity, an’ gives thanks and praise to Jah. I and I be one heart, one love.”

Wade felt how the pressure had gone, and the storm seemed abated, the jalousies were not rattling in their frames, and the clatter of rain had turned to patter. He was thankful that Ras Johnny and Jones were occupied in working their rhetorical knots out. He looked around for the first time since the storm appeared to be battering them, and found they were the only ones in the boarding area. The lights were out except for the odd standing light for stray passengers who hadn’t followed the news of the weather.

Wade could see a sailor walking in the dark toward them from the retail end.

Where’d everyone go?” said Paxton.

Ras Johnny and Jones dropped their conversation and Jones offered, “The grabalicious Lieutenant vent when he learn theys no Howard Johnson vacation room available for his personal comfort.”

Wade laughed at what he thought was the Lieutenant’s arrogance. As more air moved through his lungs, he realized his laughter wasn’t from enjoying the Lieutenant’s discomfort, something sailors lived with full time. He was laughing at Jones’ cant. “Grabalicious? Theys no Howard Johnson’s? I know perfectly well you both can speak clear English instead of Ubangi.”

Ras Johnny said, “Be one love, bredren.”

Then Wade realized Ras Johnny’s advice: If you can not save that boy, save the next one. “Paxton?”

Yeah?”

About that cassette.”

About that cassette … I just finished mailing it to my girl in Seattle. There a problem? No way to get it out of that big red post office pillar—built like a Caribbean pirate’s cannon.

They’s always a problem,” said Jones. “These days it come in many flavors, mostly vanilla.”

Paxton shrugged his shoulders and wandered over to a window to look out at the fading storm. Wade worked hard to summon up the strength to balance this new equation. He looked at Paxton’s back, he wasn’t one needing saving.

No be jiggy, Iya.” Ras Johnny smiled at Jones. “Why don’t you introduce yourself to Wade properly? By a name your favorite brother calls you.”

Jones extended a rough, weathered hand with bitten nails. “Will. Glad to know ya, pardner.”

Wade took Will’s firm grip, and shook. “Not Willy?”

I presume you’re fine with the girls callin’ you Willy,” said Ras Johnny.

Paxton returned from the quiet windows. “The bar hogs in Sasebo usually call him put your Willy back.”

Downpressor.”

Wade watched Ras Johnny step back from this typical trading of insults. For them it was rather tame, but he could tell that Ras Johnny treated it as more consequential. For himself, it barely registered emotionally. Paxton was not a lost boy. Nor was Jones.

However, both cassettes were lost to him. Even if officialdom was either unaware or unperturbed by their possible implications—especially the prospects of wholesale copying of secrets—he was torn by his slip in letting them get out of reach.

continue

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