Chapter 7-Ballard, WA, 1913
Seaman Third Class Tate hated the Navy. How could anyone like it? Out to sea for so long each cruise. He had only joined because he thought he could get shore leave to see the exotic women of the world. So far, he had only been to Alaska and back to Bremerton, Washington. Gone for six months at a time, and only landed twice. What a sorry excuse for a career.
He set down his empty beer mug on the bar and turned around. The crowd in the bar was quiet, as usual. The wood paneling made the place dark even though it was only three in the afternoon. A good number of sailors hung out in the bars of Ballard, just north of Seattle. Tate was only here to meet someone. He much preferred Pioneer Square in Downtown Seattle.
This area was quite beautiful. More than once Tate thought of getting out of the Navy and living in this neck of the country, but then he would remind himself that he was more likely to go absent without leave in order to get out, and if he did, few places in this country would be safe for him to live.
Tate glanced at the door. The man he was supposed to meet had arrived. Tate had never met or seen the guy. He knew who he was, because he wore no overcoat. Everyone in the cities on the Puget Sound wore an overcoat, even most of the Squids, like Tate. Tate told the strange man on the phone that that would be the way Tate would know it was him, as much because it was a good signal as the fact that Tate just wanted to make the man unbearably uncomfortable by being rained on.
The man walked up to the bar and asked the bartender for a shot of whiskey. Undoubtedly to warm him after the cold drizzle of the Northwest he had just walked through. Tate waited until the man had found a table and sat before approaching him.
The man watched the room mechanically. His eyes seemed to take it all in. Although he never looked right at Tate, Tate had the feeling the man knew what size his Navy issued boxers was, before he had reached the table.
Tate pulled out a chair and sat, "I'm Tate. What is it you want?"
The man turned to Tate, "Diaz is the name, Luis Diaz. Do you have a first name, Tate?" “It’s Chris, you'd best get talking fast. I don't have all day here."
"Well, Chris. I have a feeling that you don't like your job. I can get you out. Legally. You won't owe the Navy another minute of your time."
This sounded good already. "How?"
"Shouldn't you be more worried about what I want first?"
He hesitated, what could he want. His price might be to stiff. It would be worse for Tate to be stuck in the Navy after being offered a chance to get out. "That doesn't matter that much. I'll do anything I can for you. What do you want me to do? Rob a bank?"
Diaz had chosen well. Tate would do anything to get out of the Navy. "Nothing quite that drastic. Do you get put on guard duty much?"
"Baker! Get in here!" barked Chief Petty Officer Ladner.
Baker was standing in the hallway right outside the wardroom. He took a deep breath and then went in. He stopped in front of the operations table where Ladner was sitting.
"Something big is happening. Because of the way you have been acting and carrying out your job, the big brass has sent this down to take care of you."
Baker was already nervous. This did not sound like the best thing for his naval career: the big brass noticing him. Honestly, he had only taken one ink pen and had put most of the toilet paper back.
"Baker, you are getting what every sailor dreams of. A chance to go home." Ladner paused. He loved this. Baker's face was turning white. "Effective immediately you are promoted to Petty Officer, and re-stationed as a Naval Liaison to the Coast Guard at Coast Guard Base Fifteen in the Biloxi Naval Reserve Park.” Ladner smiled.
Baker looked as surprised as Ladner had hoped he would. “Me? Biloxi? What about my duties here?”
“Ben, this ship isn't going anywhere for the next two months. We don’t need any more Petty Officers around here. You’ve got a chance to go home and still be in the Navy. But don’t go thinking you’ll have it easy, not yet anyway.”
“What do you mean?” a puzzled Baker asked.
“I’m following behind you. I’ve known about it for a week now, and have been busting at the seams waiting to tell you, but the old man wouldn't let me."
"When do I leave?"
"End of the week, but, you have no duties as of 1700 hours today. Get ready to go. Take one last look at the Northwest and get. I'll take care of the ship for now."
"Thanks, thanks a lot. I don't know what to say."
"Just enjoy yourself. I'll catch up with you tomorrow." Ladner bent down and resumed his work.
Baker passed Lieutenant Junior Grade Ernest Desporte on his way out of the wardroom.
The next time Baker saw either men, they were both in the Naval Hospital. As soon as he heard Ladner had been in the accident, Baker had rushed over. The two men had been involved in a horrible explosion on board the USS Bellit, the ship all three had been stationed on. Another sailor had also been involved, but he had died on his way to the hospital.
Baker waited patiently for visiting hours to arrive. The nurses would not let anyone go in Ladner's room. Only nurses and doctors were going in, and there seemed to be a steady stream of those.
After waiting an hour, the last nurse left Ladner's room. Visiting hours had not yet arrived, but Baker had to find out what was going on. He walked toward the room nonchalantly. He carefully watched for the nurses, for the most part they had started to ignore him. None were paying him any attention, so he slipped in the room.
Ladner lay in a bed with numerous wires and tubes stuck to him. Neither Baker nor Ladner had any idea what they were for. Ladner saw Baker as he entered. A weak smile crossed his lips, followed by a fit of coughing. Baker held a finger to his lips.
Sitting aside the bed, he began to whisper to Ladner, "I'm not really supposed to be in here. How are you feeling?"
Weakly he answered, "How am I feeling? I feel like I'm a medical experiment."
"That's funny; you look like a pin cushion." Both men chuckled, but stopped when Ladner began coughing again.
Once his coughing fit ceased, he asked, "How is Desporte?"
"He's here somewhere. The other sailor died en route."
"Tate? He seemed to block the rest of us from the explosion. Someone had better know what happened. Tate was over at the tanks. He was messing around with something and got caught up on one of the tanks. He called me over, and I saw a package under the tank. He was standing in front of it in a way that made me think he might have put it there instead of him seeing it and trying to get to it when he got stuck. Why he might’ve put it there I'm not sure. I called over Lieutenant Desporte, and tried to unstick Tate, when all of a sudden, the box I had seen under the tank exploded, the tanks exploded, and if Tate hadn't been in front of me, I might not have woken up in the hospital.
"Tate made the explosion? Why in the world would he do that? 'Is that all you know?" Baker 4
shook his head trying to make sense of it.
"Be honest with me, am I going to make it, Ben?"
Baker looked up and down the bed, "I really couldn't tell you. They won't tell me a thing."
"Look, tell the old man, Captain Woods, what I told you. And if I don't make it, when you get to Biloxi, tell my wife I love her." Ladner started coughing again. "Tell Eugene,. . ." more coughing. Ladner's breath came in shallow gasps now.
Baker called for the nurses, he could hear them scurrying down the hall from their desk. He would worry about his unauthorized presence later. "Hang in there, Pete. You'll make it. Plenty of time to talk later."
The nurses arrived. One promptly ushered him out. He never saw Peter Ladner alive again.
Back in Biloxi, the phone in Theodore Desporte’s oak desk drawer rang. He opened the drawer and picked up the receiver. The voice on the other end told him it was Henry Diaz. "Put him through." Desporte muttered.
"Yes, Henry. I'm here."
"Good. It's done. Now it'll just be a matter of time before your son comes home."
"Thank you. I thought you'd never finish the job. I was about to use my hole card." Theodore said.
"No need for that.” Diaz squirmed in his seat while talking, “I hope that we can continue working together in the future, Mister Desporte."
Now Desporte was slightly perturbed, "Listen here, you didn't trust me enough to come through with my part of the bargain. I had to wait on you. No matter what kind of power you think you hold over me, just remember that if it was not for me, you never would have beaten that sorry sack of shit Webster. You should be thanking me. Without me, you would still be just another bloody seafood packer and not the mayor of the eighth largest city in the State. If anybody suggests a further working relation between us, it will be me, and the way things stand right now, I'd rather bet on Christmas coming before Thanksgiving."
Desporte slammed the receiver down so hard the bell rang. He picked it up again and called his secretary. "Don't bother me with Diaz's phone calls again. Have him leave a message."
Diaz hung up the phone. He was sitting in the Mayor's office at City Hall. He was here thanks to Desporte. Only today had he been sworn in. In his inaugural address, he had ardently supported his position that had almost been his downfall in the election: that the United States had no need of a military.
Henry Diaz remembered his inaugural address as Mayor, “Today we stand on poised on the edge of a chasm. To step into the chasm is to welcome certain doom. The void between the United States and the Old World is one of violence and death. We have no place in their wars and affairs, just as they have no place in ours. We are by far the superior of Europe. In land area alone, we have more than four times the room they do. We divided our huge country up into smaller states, they try to take their smaller states and create one larger, small state. Even if they accomplish the feat, we will vastly oversize them. Why should we be concerned with what they do with their meager parcel of land, instead we should expand into our own. If Switzerland can stay neutral in the middle of their quagmire, then we sure as hell can stay out of their mess on this side of the Atlantic Ocean.
"Only this year we added what will surely be our last star to the flag. With the statehood of New Mexico, we completed the long ago inspired dream of a country that stretched from sea to shining sea. There is no more need of a military force that can conquer new lands. Our last battle should be remembered as our finest battle. Our veterans and current fighting men should be allowed to put down their arms and get on with the business at hand. Almost fifteen years has passed since the last real need for an American military. And as Americans, it is our duty to ourselves and our founding fathers that we put aside our useless armies. Bring home the unneeded warships, and save the lives of our soldiers and sailors to do what we were chosen by God to do. . . make this the best damn country ever built."
At least that was the way it was supposed to go. He was unable to be heard for the last three sentences. The veterans, their families, and the families of those Biloxians serving in the military had come prepared for just such words. Throughout the campaign, veterans had heckled him for his position. Undaunted, he continued to not only believe in the statements he made, he continued to dwell on them until it seemed to Diaz that it was not only the logical thing to do, it was the only thing for the United States to do. The vets had with them rotten fruit and eggs. Between the upheaval and the uproar of protest, no one, even on the platform could hear Diaz's speech. It was going to be a long term for Mayor Diaz.