June 5, 1942
August was curled up beside Captain O’Brien at the edge of the bench seat. The sun had been rising and the birds had been singing for an hour. August, recovering from his terrible injuries, had slept through the dawn.
Sunrise had, though, awakened Captain O’Brien. They were pulled off on a side road not far from Bedford. Sarah had hidden the truck well. Three other trucks had already driven by just twenty yards away, and they certainly hadn’t stopped or even slowed down. Certainly they would have to move before traffic really picked up, but the site had worked well.
And the hour had given him time to think. He had decided that they would go through the Cumberland Gap. He didn’t know how the roads were west of Bristol, and he knew that the way through Knoxville was easier, but detouring through Knoxville and Nashville was too much of a delay. Crossing at the Cumberland Gap would save about a day. With the Americans moving—at least in Northern Virginia—a day might be important.
“Unnnggghhh,” said Sarah, starting to awaken.
“Good morning,” said Captain O’Brien.
Sarah’s eyes jolted open. Her right arm was twisted around Captain O’Brien’s head, actually serving as his pillow. Her right fingers were twisted in his hair. Her mouth was open on his throat. Her left hand was on his crotch.
“What are you doing!” shouted Sarah.
“What am I doing? I was trying to let you sleep!”
“Why didn’t you stop me!”
“Because you were asleep!”
“How could you!”
“How could I what? I didn’t do anything!”
“You were awake! You could have stopped me!”
“I was…” seethed Captain O’Brien for a moment. August looked up at him, requesting attention. Captain O’Brien patted him. He turned his head, requesting an ear scratch. Captain O’Brien obliged.
“I am. Sorry. I didn’t know what you would have wanted. Now I know. I am sorry. I will awaken you if you are doing anything in your sleep that I might enjoy. Again, I am sorry. Please forgive me.”
“All right,” said Sarah, sitting up and shaking her hair. “I need to get a hairbrush,” she commented.
“You do,” agreed Captain O’Brien. “If I get it for you as a gift are we even?”
Sarah smiled. “That would be fair, along with your apology.”
“Great! Can I take you out to breakfast?”
“I might agree. I’m not an easy date.”
“I’ve learned that. I’ll pay.”
“Will you go inside and bring back breakfast for me and my dog? I’ll pretend to be stupid.”
“You like that?”
“It works, and you get along better than I do, at least in these parts. But my treat.”
“I keep the change?”
“Sounds like a plan.”
“Do you want to relieve yourself first, or should August and I start?”
“I’ll wait for a bathroom.”
“Then excuse the two of us for a moment. Don’t go anywhere!”
“I wouldn’t dream of it.”
“All women lie.”
“You promised to buy me breakfast.”
Captain O’Brien laughed. He opened the passenger-side door and got out of the truck. “August, come!” he ordered.
August got out of the truck unassisted, three-legged.
“What a good boy!” exclaimed Sarah.
“Good dog,” said Captain O’Brien, scratching August’s ears. “You’re going to have to stretch to pee,” he added.
August stretched, kept both hind legs on the ground, and peed.
“We’re going to make it,” said Captain O’Brien.
“Men,” said Sarah.
June 5, 1942
Vice Admiral John Alden took his seat at the big desk.
As etiquette demanded, he had allowed everybody else to get to work first, even in the cramped and crowded conditions of the Navy War College after the American attacks. The morning sun was bright outside the west-facing windows, and the lazy surf teased merrily at the rocks just off Coasters Harbor Island in Narragansett Bay.
“Good morning, Admiral,” said Chief McGuire, walking in a minute after he sat down, as she always did. “Here’s your coffee. How are you doing this morning?”
She always let him pass her in the outer office without seeming to notice. That gave him a chance to close the door if he needed privacy. He knew it; she knew it. He always chose to see her.
“I slept well, thank you, Chief. And you?”
“Wonderfully! Thank you for asking. Breakfast today is four tiny French-style cakes—Petit-Four, according to Petty Officer Chiang—along with canned chunked pineapple as an acid to offset the sweet. He promises enough proteins at lunch and dinner to offset this sweet treat.”
“Petit-Four and pineapple. War is hell. Yes, have him bring up my breakfast. Thank you.”
“Of course, Admiral,” said Chief McGuire, nodding and walking away.
“And Chief,” added Vice Admiral Alden.
“Yes, Sir?” she asked, turning around.
“You look very…professional…this morning. Thank you.”
“Thank you, Admiral,” said Chief McGuire, smiling. Her makeup wore off over the course of the day, and she looked her best in the morning. It meant a lot to her for John Alden to mention it.
Vice Admiral Alden sipped his coffee. It was, of course, perfect.
He looked at his in-box. Lieutenant Commander Crandlemire always left the top ten or twenty items from his morning review. In ten to twenty minutes he would come upstairs from the start of the day’s simulations. Today’s simulations would, again, be North Atlantic convoy wargames. New England and Great Britain still had enough to eat. That would not be an issue through autumn.
He sipped his coffee again. Often, but not always, Commander Adams came in to share the morning briefing. It depended upon his fragile health on any given day.
“Permission to enter, Sir!” bellowed Captain Christopher.
“Permission granted. Good morning, Samson. Good morning, Commander Adams,” said Vice Admiral Alden, seeing this for not the first time.
“Good morning, Sir,” said Commander Adams as Captain Christopher pivoted around to let the crippled officer talk over the shoulder upon which he was being carried. “Something is happening on the Russian Front. We have a near-interruption of intercepted communications, coupled with a few signals in the clear.”
“Is it a Soviet offensive?”
“Unlikely, Sir. The Soviets lost too many divisions in the Kharkov pocket to be attacking. The Germans should be attacking, and they might be, but this is terribly disorganized for an offensive.”
“You’re reading the traffic only you can read?”
“Get back to it, then. Come back here when you know more. Dismissed.”
“Yes, Sir,” said Commander Adams.
“Yes, Admiral,” said Captain Christopher. Without pausing to turn around, he hauled Commander Adams back to Radio Central where he could read the messages as they arrived.
“Good morning, Sir,” said Wayne Crandlemire.
“Good morning, Wayne. Did you see Commander Adams?”
“Samson almost ran me over on the way in. He has the strength of four men, the size of two, and the vision of none.”
“I hope that he doesn’t drop Commander Adams.”
“So do I, but it’s the easiest way for Commander Adams to get around the building and the base fast. And they are an interesting team, Sir. The folks at Radio Central are getting to know Samson. I think that they like him.”
“Do they know that he killed an elite American soldier with his bare hand?”
“Of course not! The entire incident remains Most Secret!”
“Just checking. So, no big briefing today. What are the highlights?”
“Mostly the Confederate Front, of course. Patton is disengaging and withdrawing along his entire front. The right flank is falling back to the Cumberland River, with just a few battalions dedicated to watching the mountain passes. The First Armored Corps is moving to the left flank. It’ll fight a mobile action from Memphis to Vicksburg as the Americans cross the Mississippi. In the center, the idea is to disengage and to fall back to the Tennessee River.”
“And in the east?”
“General Forrest is preparing for a withdrawal, but he may just hold the Rappahannock Line unless pressure increases. The move of the capital to New Orleans makes his job easier.”
“Indeed. But Wayne, changing the subject, what do you think is happening on the Russian Front?”
“The German summer offensive, Sir. They just cleared up the Kharkov salient. Now they’re ready to strike. In winter and spring, the weather favors the Russians. In autumn and, especially, the summer, weather favors the Germans.”
“So you think that they’re headed back for Moscow?”
“Then…what are you suggesting?”
“The Ukraine, Stalingrad, and cutting off Moscow from the Caspian Sea oil. The Russians can retreat from Moscow. They can’t make their oil fields retreat.”
“But the rail lines…”
“…all intersect at Moscow. I know. But there are still rail lines and canals east of Moscow. And, Admiral, it can’t be Moscow.”
“There hasn’t been time to move the Panzer Armies north from Kharkov. If there’s an offensive starting today, it’s in the Ukraine.”
“Good point,” agreed Vice Admiral Alden. “Anything too critical in the traffic?”
“No, Sir. I’ve written a brief paper on the status of convoy simulations I’d request that you review.”
“I’ll do that. What’s the key point?”
“We need Admiral Shaw and the new sub, fast, Sir.”
“Understood. I’ll look at it. You go look at Europe. Pull Edna and Channah off simulations and have them look at it with you. Get Samson and Commander Adams on it when they get back from Radio Central. Ask Petty Officer Chiang if he has time.”
“Petty Officer Chiang?”
“He’s cleared for it. Commander Adams says he’s read Clausewitz and Sun-Tzu. He only speaks when he has something important to say. Bring him in. All hands on deck. He’s as smart as any of us except you, and we need every different perspective. I’ll be down later. When I get there, I’ll want to hear bright ideas. Clear?”
“Very well. Go get this wonderful team engaged. Dismissed.”
June 5, 1942
“So explain all of this to me again,” said Sarah.
“I’ll give you twenty dollars. That will be more than twice enough for a really big breakfast. Bring me back about a dozen scrambled eggs, a pound of cooked sausage, and some toast or potatoes or whatever.”
“Hominy grits. It’s what they’ll have to go with eggs and sausages.”
“It’s a cornmeal mush, served with butter.”
“I can eat that, I guess. Toast would be good.”
“We’ll see,” said Sarah. “Remember to look really stupid. They’ll wonder why we don’t just leave the dog in the truck and go inside together.”
“Because we need to hide how much we’re feeding to the dog. We don’t need questions.”
“I know, all right.”
“Then you take the change after breakfast and go to a dry goods store while August and I eat and get yourself a hairbrush and three throw pillows.”
“Why three pillows?”
“One for each of us. I’m hoping you’ll sleep better.”
The truck pulled up outside a breakfast diner on Main Street in Bedford. “This should do,” said Sarah. “There’s a dry goods store of some sort right up the street.”
“Great,” said Captain O’Brien, careful to keep his voice low. “Can you get me a newspaper from that machine? It’ll give me something to read while you’re eating.”
“Just keep it hidden! Remember, you’re too stupid to read.”
“I like looking at the pictures.”
“I’ll tell them that if anybody asks. Just keep it hidden below the windows.”
“Got it. Here’s your twenty.”
Sarah stashed the bill into her blouse. She stepped out of the truck, slammed the driver’s side door closed, and went around to the newspaper machine. She dropped in a five-cent piece, pulled open the door, and picked up a newspaper. She turned back around to the truck. “George!” she said.
“Uhnah,” said Captain O’Brien, rolling down the window.
“You stay here and look at the pictures, George. I’ll be back with breakfast!”
“Unnah,” said Captain O’Brien, taking the newspaper. Sarah went off to get some food.
Captain O’Brien looked at the headline. It read, “President Long Moves Capital To New Orleans” in a full banner. Beneath it, in only slightly smaller typeface, it read, “Louisiana and Mississippi to Become Negro Territory.” With that he laughed. Malcolm Little had done it—he had gotten Huey Long to make his promise public. All that Malcolm had to do was to save Huey Long’s life…it was too funny. The Confederate President was a politician wilier than FDR himself.
He flipped the paper and looked below the fold.
“General Patton Retreating from Kentucky,” read the headline below the fold.
That got Captain O’Brien’s attention. He started to read.
“In his radio address last night, President Huey Long said that, ‘In the West, General Patton and his men have begun a sensible retreat. We cannot defend everything against such odds. But we must not lose our army. In Kentucky and Western Virginia, Patton has begun a prudent withdrawal to shorter, more defensible lines.’ General Patton’s staff confirms these intentions. While the Negro Army consolidates its positions in Southeastern Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi, Patton’s Army of the West will be falling back from the Ohio River to conduct a mobile defense against American advances from both north of the Ohio River and west of the Mississippi River. This plan will allow the excellent Confederate armored units to operate at their best efficiency, just as the superior marching ability of Confederate infantry units will serve to advantage in this situation.”
George O’Brien looked up. August, beside him, smelling how he felt, cried. This was a problem. Patton’s headquarters were moving. He no longer knew how to get there. He no longer knew where to look. Driving around with a wanted man, a feisty woman, and a three-legged dog looking blindly for General Patton was not going to end well.
Captain O’Brien looked around. Nobody from Bedford was anywhere close to the truck, and those farther down the street weren’t paying any attention. He looked at his dog. “August, I need a friend,” he said.
August licked his chin twice, then panted.
Captain O’Brien scratched the Doberman’s ear. “I know, August, we’re friends. I’ll take care of you, too. But Patton knew me, and he was a general, and generals can get things done. I really needed that.”
August whined. Then he boofed, twice, gently.
Captain O’Brien laughed. “New Orleans? General Little? August, that’s a long ways away. That’s further than you ran to find me! I don’t know if this truck would make it, and I don’t know the greeting we’d get there if we made it. General Little has a lot on his mind.”
“I like the way you talk to your dog to prove you’re crazy,” said Sarah, opening the door on her side. “I’m going back to eat inside, but here’s a box with your food on paper plates. Two plates have a dozen scrambled eggs between them, one plate has a pound of sausage patties, and one plate is cornbread. They think that it’s terribly sad about you, but they’re happy you have a dog who loves you. I got you a bottle of Cheerwine to drink, and here are two spoons. I said that I couldn’t trust you alone with a knife or a fork.”
“Easy, August,” said Captain O’Brien. “Back. Down. Too hot. You get all that you want first.”
“So, I’m going back inside, and then I’m going shopping. You and your dog have fun.”
“Thank you,” said Captain O’Brien. Sarah slammed the door.
Captain O’Brien jammed his Cheerwine up on the dashboard against the windshield glass where he hoped that it wouldn’t spill. That done, he checked the food in the box. The scrambled eggs were fresh-cooked, but they would cool fast. The sausages were still warm, but they had obviously been stacked on the back of the grill after cooking. He separated the eight patties, realizing that it was a few ounces more than a pound. The Bedford diner was honest and fair. The sausage would cool fast.
The cornbread, though, was near room temperature, and there was a stack of butter patties next to the cornbread. Captain O’Brien took a chunk of cornbread, wiped a whole butter pat onto it, and offered it to August. “Try this, boy,” he said.
August scarfed down the buttered cornbread. He slurped his lips, smiled, panted, and pleaded for more with his eyes.
“Was it good?” asked Captain O’Brien.
August looked back at him as if he truly were the idiot he pretended to be. Of course it was good.
Captain O’Brien chuckled. He took the other half of that piece of cornbread, buttered it, and gave it to August. It vanished down his throat.
“Hungry?” he asked.
August whined. He tapped his one forepaw impatiently.
“You need protein. The eggs are too hot. Let me tear apart a sausage patty,” said Captain O’Brien.
August whined. He tapped his forepaw again.
Captain O’Brien tore a sausage patty in two, and he tore the two pieces in half again. He popped the largest piece into his mouth. It was hot, almost but not quite burning his mouth as he chewed it. He guessed that his dog could have some. “August!” he said.
His Doberman looked up at him, crying a song of infidelity and betrayal.
“Hey, this is my breakfast, too!” said Captain O’Brien.
August cocked his head. He hadn’t realized that. He had presumed all of it to be his. That, of course, changed everything.
“Have some sausage. Good protein,” said Captain O’Brien.
August gulped down the quarter-patty. Temperature seemed not to be an issue for him.
“All right, then. Let’s share,” said Captain O’Brien. He gave himself a piece of sausage. He gave one to the dog. He ripped another patty into fourths. He split it between himself and August. Out of his sight, an elderly couple stepped out of the diner, pointed at the truck, smiled, and hugged each other. He ripped apart another patty. He fed two pieces to himself, two pieces to the dog. The old woman had a tear in her eye as the couple walked away.
“Eggs, August,” said Captain O’Brien. “Look, I can’t split a plate here. I think that they’re cool enough to eat. You have this plate, and I’ll have the other one. Fair?”
August’s expression indicated consent. He plowed his nose into the six scrambled eggs. Ten seconds later half were gone. Another ten seconds later another quarter were gone. A minute later August cleaned the last yellow bits from the plate and wiped his nose with his tongue.
Captain O’Brien looked at August. “You’re going to get better, aren’t you?” he said.
August reached up and licked his chin once. There were still egg bits on his tongue. They caught in the several-day growth of beard.
“Do you want the rest of the eggs?”
August perked up, indicating that he certainly wanted a second reasonable six-egg portion.
George O’Brien laughed. He gave August the other paper plate full of eggs. While the Doberman scarfed them up, he tore a remaining piece of cornbread in two and made a sandwich of a sausage patty. It took him three bites to eat it. Before he had finished, the second plate of eggs was gone.
“Shall we finish the rest?” asked Captain O’Brien. August whined in the affirmative. The dog ate everything else save for one more sausage-cornbread sandwich, including every single pat of butter.
“Oh my God!” said Sarah, opening the drivers’ side door, “What a mess!”
“He ate lots of protein!” exclaimed Captain O’Brien. “He ate all of the eggs!”
“No, he didn’t! Half of them are all over the seat and the floor. The rest are smeared all over your face!”
“We didn’t have a napkin.”
“They used cloth napkins. Just a minute,” said Sarah, tossing a paper bag into the front of the truck, slamming the door, and running away.
Captain O’Brien waited for Sarah to re-enter the restaurant before checking her purchases. Three cheap but useful burlap throw pillows filled the top of the bag. The bottom held a hairbrush, a complete new makeup kit, and a new yellow sundress. He repositioned the bag. Eight seconds later she came out of the diner with a steaming hot washrag from the kitchen. “George!” she said. “George! Come here!”
“Awwwahunnhh,” said Captain O’Brien, getting out of the truck because he saw no option. August cowered on the floorboard.
Sarah plowed the white hot towel into his stubbly beard. It burned, but not too badly. “Let me wipe you off!” she ordered.
“Ow! Ow! Ow!” said Captain O’Brien, not acting. “Hurts!”
“But at least your face will be clean,” said Sarah, touching him on the tip of his nose. “Now, August!”
August jumped out of the truck cab and ran around behind the tailgate.
“Call your dog!” said Sarah.
“Not for this,” said Captain O’Brien, very quietly. “Clean the seat up. I’m sorry we spilled. But he hurts too much already.”
Sarah paused. “You’re right. I’m sorry. I’ll clean this up.”
“I’m sorry he and I made a mess.”
“Good,” said Sarah, using her one cleaning cloth top to bottom to get as much as she could of the scattered greasy breakfast.
“Can I help?”
“I’m almost done. It doesn’t take a woman long. You get your dog and hop back in, and we’ll be headed on.”
Captain O’Brien went around back of the truck. August was ridding his body of his hamburger from the previous night. He looked wide-eyed and happy at Captain O’Brien as if he were immensely proud that he could do such a thing with just three legs.
“I’m done! I’m bringing them their towel and the two spoons back. You and the dog get seated and ready to go.”
“Yea-uh, Sistuh Sarah,” said Captain O’Brien loudly. Sarah looked back at him with a half-amused, half-disgusted smirk as she left to throw away the paper trash. “Come, August,” he whispered as she left. The Doberman left his steaming pile and came around to the passenger side. George opened the door. “Up,” he commanded. August made a neat three-legged hop into the truck and up to the middle of the seat. “Good boy,” said Captain O’Brien, climbing in and closing the door. “You’re passing food. You’re going to make it, aren’t you?”
“Boof,” said August.
“So,” said Sarah, hopping back into her truck. “On to Roanoke?”
“No,” said Captain O’Brien, grabbing his Cheerwine. “Had enough coffee?”
“I hope so. Where are we going?”
“Patton’s retreating. I don’t know where his headquarters are. I could try finding General Little, but New Orleans is too far away. As I see it, I have just one other chance.”
“Finding an honest job?”
“Good try, but I have one. We need to head for Charleston, South Carolina.”
“Judging from where the sun rose, we need to turn left.”
“Oh, that’ll help.”
“Well, choose a good road heading south.”
“I’ll try. Do you know the towns and cities on the way?”
“And you don’t have a map?”
“And do you even know some general in Charleston?”
“Who do you know in Charleston?”
“I know a lieutenant who might be there.”
“A lieutenant? An Army lieutenant?”
“A Navy lieutenant.”
“How did you meet a Confederate Navy lieutenant as a New England Royal Army captain?”
“Do you believe in God?”
Sarah paused. “Yes,” she said. “Yes, I do.”
“Let’s turn south. I’ll buy you lunch. All right?”
“Will you buy the gasoline, too?”
“Next fill-up’s on me.”
“I promised to take you where you needed to go, Captain O’Brien,” said Sarah, starting the engine and shifting into gear. “But I had not had any idea what an adventure you would demand that it be.”
June 5, 1942
“Admiral?” asked Chief McGuire, poking her head into the inner office.
“Yes?” asked Vice Admiral Alden.
“Telephone. It’s your wife.”
“Put her through,” said Vice Admiral Alden.
Cilla never called. Wartime long-distance calls were expensive, and he managed to get home every few weeks one way or another. She had not called him at work since before Oahu and North Wall.
His telephone rang. He picked it up. “Vice Admiral Alden,” he said, as he always did.
“John, it’s Cilla. How are you doing?”
“I’m fine! How are you doing? Is everything all right?”
“Everything’s fine! John, I was just thinking, it’s not quite high season in Newport. I could come down with the girls this weekend. I’ve checked on availability on a cottage just three miles from base, and they’re waiting for my answer. We could spend the weekend at the beach, with you taking a few hours to check messages or whatever while the girls and I were at the beach. I don’t know what you’re doing—I never know—but John, what do you say?”
Captain Christopher came plowing past Chief McGuire straight into the inner office, Commander Adams on his shoulder. “Hitler is dead!” he bellowed. “He’s been shot by his officers on the Russian Front!”
“Cilla,” said Vice Admiral Alden.
“Yes. Busy weekend?”
“It’s looking that way. You, ah, didn’t hear anything, right?”
“Of course not.” She sniffled. “I’ll wait for the news to see why things are busy.”
“Thank you, Cilla. I’m sorry. I’ll be up as soon as I can…”
“I know. John, you need to get to work. I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
John Alden hung up the telephone. “Slight breach of etiquette and security protocol there,” he said.
“Sorry, Sir,” said Samson.
“Who was it?” asked Commander Adams.
“Can we trust her?”
“Yes…yes, we can. She’s known what to do in cases like this for years.”
“Just shut up?” asked Samson.
“Yes. But I heard you in both my ear and the earpiece—I know that she’s heard it.”
“Again, Sir, I’m sorry.”
“Don’t do it again,” said Commander Adams, far more seriously than usual.
“That said, Thomas, are we sure he’s dead?”
“No, but we’re close enough to sure to start engaging our plans for his assassination.”
“And those are…what?”
“We have none, Admiral. But here’s what we need to do—we need to set up a briefing in Boston tomorrow for Admiral Vaughn, Admiral Lodge, and the Prince.”
“And what will we tell them?”
“I have no idea, Admiral. But that is our job, and that is what they need, and we have all afternoon and evening to figure out what we’re going to say. Admiral, we took these jobs. Nobody said that they were going to be easy.”
“Chief McGuire!” said Vice Admiral Alden.
“Yes, Sir,” said Chief McGuire, coming to the door.
“Set us up with a 1400 meeting tomorrow with the Prince regarding changes in national strategy.”
“Sir? The Prince? On a Saturday?”
“Go secretary to secretary, and the time is, of course, flexible at the Prince’s requirements. Once the Prince is set, get Admiral Lodge and Admiral Vaughn into the meeting, in that order.”
“Samson, get me the entire staff, Petty Officer Chiang included. We have a meeting, now.”
“Go!” said Vice Admiral Alden.
“Yes, Sir!” He set Commander Adams into his chair and hightailed it out of the inner office.
“I’ll make those calls, Sir,” said Chief McGuire.
“Do that!” replied Vice Admiral Alden. She departed.
Thomas B. Adams watched her depart. He looked at his Zen garden on the end table, and he picked up the rake. Stones and sand would have to move.
“Thomas, what does this mean?” asked Vice Admiral Alden.
“I am not sure,” he replied, tracing a single curved line in the black sand. “I have not had time to think. But I can tell you what I feel.”
“What do you feel?” asked Vice Admiral Alden.
Thomas B. Adams looked at John Alden, eye-to-eye. “Sir, despite first reactions, this is not good news.”