Sea of the Tiger
Wretched weather . . . night brought a storm that roared over the
island of Palmyra. The warships, bound in the bay, were struck by
waves. Torrents of rain fell on the concrete harbor in wind driven
sheets, pushing the runoff over walks and against the feet of
On a pier, a tan hood hung over a man's face and hid it from the
showers. He stared through the darkness at three men in white navy
uniforms. He couldn't remember what day it was but he knew something
terrible had just happened not far north in another archipelago of the
Pulling down the sleeves of his raincoat to keep his hands dry, he went
to three officers who stood without protection against the downpour.
They wore brass-buttoned coats tucked into slacks. The rain wet their
dove hats and popped on the black bills pointing over their
"Identification?" asked one of the officers.
The man under the hood gave them a card and after the three had looked
at it for some time, making sure through close examination of its
authenticity, one of them returned the card to him with a frown. The
hand of this officer then sunk into a chest pocket and came out with a
"Your orders, Commander Randy Shimizu," he said.
Randy took the folder and gave the officer a suspicious glance.
"What is this?" he asked. Randy was shorter than the other men, yet
height never intimidated him. He gave them a snarl to show he would not
leave without getting facts.
"Commander," said the officer coolly. "I know you're itching to go on
leave, but direct orders were given from?"
"Don't say anymore," Randy cut in. "First tell me what all this is
"You probably already know about the dilemma in the east?"
"Well, intelligence tells us there's trouble brewin' in Japan, you may
be asked to return."
Randy swore a dirty oath through his teeth and put up his hood. "But I
just came from there, why so soon?"
"Your commanding officer may have those answers, sir."
Randy read the folder's cover stamped with red lettering: TOP SECRET:
Attention Commander Randy Shimizu. He gave a parting salute to the
officers then fled toward his shack at the edge of the harbor. A flight
of wooden stairs, worn and tried as much as Randy's patience, climbed
up to the double doors marking its entrance. Under a loud peal of
thunder, he ran up the steps until he got onto the porch. He knocked on
"Who is it?" called a voice from the other side.
"It's the Commander."
The doors flew open and a young face peeped out.
"Sir, come in. Please, come in." The tan naval officer was stunned at
Randy's arrival. "There's some awful weather out there. What were you
"Just let me in, lieutenant." Randy walked by his bunkmate, Lieutenant
Clark Edwards, and went inside. An overhead lamp lighted the room. He
noticed the plank walls swelling up with rain and the drip pots
scattered about on the floor-each holding a sizable fill of
"Been holding out well in this weather?" Randy asked, squinting at the
blond-haired youth beside him. The man's tight fitting khaki uniform
had sweat stains around the armpits.
"Yes, sir. Just tired of the rain," said Edwards.
Randy made a pass around the room then went to his bed and threw the
folder onto the mattress.
"Nuts," he muttered.
"Is there something wrong, sir?" The young navy lieutenant came up to
Randy and looked at him with a serious demeanor.
"This bullshit the highbrass keeps throwin' at me. They think I'm a
Randy sent his fingers through his black hair. He had an Asian face
with fine masculine lines and he looked not over thirty years of
"Are you being sent out again, sir?" Edwards asked.
"How did you guess?"
"The folder on your bed, sir."
Randy gazed at the folder for a moment.
"Yes," he said.
"What's troubling you, I've never seen you like this?"
Randy sat on the wool covers and put the folder on his lap.
"How long have you known me?" he asked.
"For a week, sir. Since you arrived here at Palmyra with the other
leftovers of our Pacific fleet."
"Do you know where I was before?"
"Yes, sir," said the lieutenant, "you were working with the Chinese
liberation force in Kunmig. You acted as both interpreter and agent for
our forces there. Sir, may I ask where you are going with this?"
"There is something. . ." he stopped short. "My those pots are filled
with water. You should dump them."
"Oh, I almost forgot." The lieutenant ran for the pots, lifted them off
the floor, and then raced outside. As he did so, Randy took the time to
open the folder. A photo of an aircraft carrier came to his attention
after he freed the cover, and behind it, were the contents of his
mission. He tossed the photograph to the side then skimmed through the
document. His eyes widened at the last paragraph in the message:
Report to Japanese aircraft carrier Akagi, and fulfill duties they have
assigned to you. Report ship positions back to Pearl Harbor while
noting daily reconnaissance on their plans and activities. A submarine
will drop you at the southern edge of Honshu where you will provide
details to the admiral of your pleasure filled vacation on Okinawa.
Repeat, do not add suspicion to your identity.
June 28, 1942
"My God." The words stuttered out of his mouth in disbelief. When he
heard the door slam with the lieutenant's reentrance into the cabin, he
shut the folder.
"Is it windy or what out there, sir?" said the lieutenant. "It was hard
to see the ships out there in the rain."
Randy hid the folder under a pillow. A bright flash shot through the
window, followed by a clap of thunder.
"That was a close one," said the lieutenant. "I wonder when this storm
will ever let up, sir. It's giving me a headache." The lieutenant put
the steel pots back in their places then said, "I've seen weather like
this flood a house once. I had to wade into one of these huts down in
the Philippines. There was this lady, an old gal if I remember right,
who was trying to swim in water up to her shoulders. You should have
seen how strong that current was pulling, sir. It was like chains
tuggin' at your legs. You could call it blind luck that got us out of
there. We almost didn't fit through the door I kicked open
The lieutenant dragged a chair across the floor stopping when it hit a
groove in a floor plank near to where Randy was standing. He sat in it,
wishing he hadn't for it was wet. "It's like at sea too. There are many
days where we're stuck in the soup, and most of the time you feel as if
the clouds are only there to give you boredom. Only in storms like
these happenin' now, do you feel the real wrath of this sea. I don't
understand it. It's pure madness for our fleet to be out in this
"I have heard the terrible news." Randy Shimizu said, pointing at an
open newspaper on the floor. Without looking at it, the lieutenant knew
what the commander was aiming to explain.
"Has not everyone heard the bad news, sir? This storm's the least of
our worries. The Japs are closing in on us everyday, sinking our ships
wherever they go. It's madness. And that reminds me, I just heard this
morning the bastards have finally taken Midway. A fine place smack in
bombing range of the Hawaiian Islands."
"Yes, it's quite a frightening dilemma," Randy said.
"They've got all our forward bases," Edwards continued, "And throw the
West Coast into their bombing range and you've got a big problem. It
makes me wonder if we'll still manage to win this war."
"We'll know soon enough." Randy gave the lieutenant a pat on the
Edwards glanced at the white pillow on the Commander's bed and saw the
folder sticking out from underneath.
"Will you be staying awhile?" Edwards asked. He leaned his elbows on
"No. I will be leaving shortly."
"Yes," said Randy.
"Is it serious?"
"Why you ask?"
The lieutenant glanced back at the pillow but this time Randy caught
his stare and saw the folder lying in view. He thought nothing of it
and looked at Edwards with a cool expression.
"Things are heating up in China again, they want me back," Randy
"You goin' to wait till the weather lets up?"
"I'll stay another three days."
"Well, I really hope that you burn that folder. You never know if a Jap
might decide to snoop in here."
"Yes," said Randy, he took off his coat, slipped off his shoes, and
hung them on the bedpost. After he had done this, he snatched the
folder, and threw it into a dry bucket. "Got a match?" he asked.
Edwards dropped a lit match on the papers and oversaw his friend's
attempts to control the burn by fanning the flames. A white flash lit
up the room but Randy was not afraid and he took the pail with its
burnt ashes to dump them outside. When he came back in, a yawn crept
out of his mouth, and he felt run-down.
"It's getting late, I think I'll hit the sack," Randy said. He got into
bed and listened to the faint claps of thunder followed by raindrops
plopping down from the leaking roof.
"See you in the morning, Commander," said the lieutenant, he dragged
away the chair and went to his cot at the other side of the room. Randy
stared at the ceiling.
"Good night, lieutenant," he said.
The springs creaked under Randy's weight, and because of his height,
his feet did not reach the end of the mattress. After listening for a
moment to the drips playing a drumbeat on the pots, the room went dark,
but he could not fall asleep. He stared at the darkness above him,
sweat spilling from his forehead, and his eyes open in fright. He
thought of the mission. An impossible endeavor, he thought. It was
painful for him to think back on the moments where he had failed to
tell the Americans about Japan's plans to attack Pearl Harbor-a period
when they needed him the most. Now they were giving him a second
chance. He could not mess up and must take greater risks. His country
depended on him more than ever now. Then there was the older brother he
had never seen, who lived and fought with the Japanese. Would the two
meet and recognize each other, or even worse, if caught, what if his
brother were to witness his death without knowing? I cannot fail, he
thought, I will not fail.
Randy awakened to a blast. His hand went quick for the .45 in the coat
that hung on his bedpost.
"The Japanese are here!" he thought.
Looking outside the window, he saw the storm had gone, leaving behind
the wind to blow at all the wetness. Across from him, Lieutenant
Edwards lay in bed with a pillow over his face. He wondered if it was
put there in response to the foul air. The wall planks, fat with rain,
were giving off moisture, making it hard for any of them to breath.
Another detonation echoed from the harbor and Randy left the shack to
When he came out onto the porch, the sea was dark in the harbor and the
horizon began to show the first blue streaks of morning. The clouds had
gathered over the east, gray and pillar like, with flashes of lightning
at their bottoms. There was a destroyer in the bay, afire, and listing
so far to port that its decks were drowning under the surf.
"The Japanese are attacking!" Randy thought.
He ran down the stairs, watching the boat sink. Smoke arose from it as
flames were eating the crates scattered about on the prow. It made him
think back to an incident he had seen not long ago, where a mock dragon
in a parade had caught fire, charring the skin off three Chinese men
under the costume.
"Good morning, sir."
A sailor greeted him on his left and gave a salute. The indifferent
look on the man's red face puzzled Randy.
"What's going on out there?" Randy said and felt embarrassed in having
come outside with no shoes on his feet.
"Oh, you mean that tub of steel out yonder, sir?" the sailor said in
jest. "They're scrappin' it. Those destroyers took a hard beating at
Midway. Don't even know how that one came this far. They say it got
here with only a few rivets holdin' the hull together."
Randy was relieved, he even gave a smile to the young sailor who wore a
work uniform of blue dungarees and a teal-colored shirt. "What ship are
you from?" he asked.
"The good ole' Patterson, sir. The names Seaman Bud Williams." He had
grease marks on his cheeks and the eyes squinted in habit beneath
"A pleasure to meet you."
"I hope you're not fixin' to shoot someone with that gun you got
there," Bud said, pointing at the .45 Randy held in his left hand.
"Although you're an officer, wavin' that thing here will get an SP's
attention real quick. No matter what the rank, you're lookin' for
"Thanks for the warning but I was expecting something a lot
"I hear you, sir. I've been quite edgy myself, but no .45 is gonna stop
a crowd of murderin' Japs. You'll need a Tommy gun for that."
Randy knew he could get along with Bud. Although the sailor's remarks
made fun of his race, Randy had long ago thought himself an American
and denied all ties to his Japanese descendants.
"Could you point me in the direction of the Narwhal?" Randy asked.
"It's a submarine."
"Sure I know where that is, I'll lead you there, sir."
"I will need to get dressed. Will you wait here a minute?"
Randy ran into the shack, put on his shoes, and secured his revolver in
a belt holster. Again, the stifling air in the cabin hit him with a
putrid stench of both sweat and dirty water. It was amazing his
bunkmate could sleep under a cloud of such foulness. There were nights
where Randy would awaken by snores arising from Edward's cot, but on
this morning, his friend was quiet. He wondered if the lieutenant was
okay and went to the neighboring bed to take hold of the
He snatched away the pillow and a ghost face with open eyes stared back
"Jesus," Randy said to himself. "How did they do it? No, no, this can't
Bud slipped through the door and into the shack.
"You want me, sir?"
"Run and get help!"
Bud leaped out of the room. He made a dash for the supply station not
far down the stretch of concrete bordering the reef.
"They know," was all Randy could think as he gazed at the bloodless
lips and bulging tendons in the neck of the corpse. His first
assumption was that the Japanese had done it. Then he questioned
himself on why a Jap would want to murder an officer of small
importance. There were security reasons for Americans to kill such a
man. But it was unlawful for an assassin, acting against the military
code of justice, to be sent to end an officer's life.
Only a few moments elapsed when Randy heard a ticking from under the
bed, as if a clock had been wound up and the gears were now striking
out the time. He grew stiff. There were no clocks in the room, nor did
he remember ever seeing one on the table next to his bunkmate's bed.
His hand moved over the pillow and pricked his finger on a pin stuck in
the cloth. He felt the string tied to the needle, a cotton strand,
which stretched from the pillow to below the mattress. With every pull
at it, the clicking went louder, and he knew it was something
"No!" Randy screamed. He threw himself out the window, shreds of glass
cutting his skin, and when he fell onto the ground, he did a couple of
somersaults until the sands of the beach stopped him. When he got to
his feet, he heard no explosion. The building was still there as it had
been before, gray and ugly against the morning sky.
"It couldn't have been anything else but a bomb," Randy thought. "They
wanted to blow us both!"
Right beside him, a coconut fell from a palm, and Randy jumped in
surprise, thinking it a detonation. He waited; imagining the explosives
were on a delayed fuse, yet four minutes had gone with no blast. Crabs
scampered out of rocks to pinch his shoes with their claws. The wind
blew fierce in the tops of the palms and he could hear nothing over the
"Was it really nothing?" he said to himself, but he knew the answer
would not come easy. Seconds ticked by on his wristwatch and then
minutes. Soon he heard voices coming from the harbor. A crowd of
officers, with Bud in the lead, ran toward the shack. Many of the half
awaken men wore only their undershirts and a wrinkled pair of slacks.
Their faces were beet red as they barged up the stairs. When they came
to the shack's threshold, Bud was ordered to remain out on the porch.
Randy tried yelling at them to stop, but before he got the chance, they
had darted inside.
"Why do they not see me?" Randy shouted. "Get out!"
Bud looked over his shoulder at the screaming man on the beach. He
thought Randy was nuts, seeing the odd way the commander threw his
hands into the air as if he were in the act of worshiping a god, and he
leaped down from the flight of stairs onto the beach to run at
"Whatcha doin' there, sir?" he asked. Bud's mind was telling him to
stay away from this Oriental officer. Stories had gone around the
Patterson of Japanese spies who had assimilated themselves into the
American ranks. From what he had seen of Randy, nothing could prove he
wasn't one too.
"Get over here, quick!" Randy took hold of Bud's arm and yanked him
down. They crouched low in the sands.
"What are we doin' here, sir?" Bud asked, and he put a little distance
between himself and the commander, just incase he went for his
"There's explosives in there."
"You're jokin', right?"
"No, that's why I'm out here."
"Are ya' sure?"
There was a flash. Randy fell facedown and hugged the beach. A cloud of
sand blew over him and he was hit with chunks of wood thrown from the
detonation. The roar was deafening in both of their ears. All of it
came as a shock to Randy, who thought earlier smaller explosives were
used in the attempt. When he got up, his quarters were in ruins. Gone
was the shack that once stood on the cement platform and there remained
only a few burnt splinters of standing wood. A dark plume rose from the
cement foundation. The smoke shot high into the sky, gray and
bellowing, rising like a serpent until it peaked and blew in the
direction of the wind.
"Awful," Randy thought. He remembered the red faces of the innocent
men, now lost to this sudden act of brutality.
"Oh, no. No!" Bud said and tears wet his cheeks. "You killed them you
bastard!" Hands went at Randy's neck and Bud got him in a chokehold.
"You're goin' to die for this! You did it, you lyin'
The commander gasped for air but got nothing. He was stricken by this
loss as much as his attacker, and for a moment, he let the sailor
squeeze at his throat, feeling guilt in having not died in place of
"You were a Jap all along!" Bud screamed, spitting out the words. One
could see a seething animal unleashed from his face. "I just knew it!
You're goin' to pay, ya' bastard!"
Randy began to think about death. There were trees in his vision, green
in the sun, with bright cherry blossoms blowing off their branches. The
fingers went deeper into his throat and he drew himself further into
this fantasy. He saw his unborn son as a ten-year-old boy, lying in the
grass, a red baseball cap snug over his plump head. Butterflies floated
by him, and he wanted so much to remain there, to dance in those fields
and be with his son. A woman whispered from afar, his dead wife, and
she said they would be here when he was done. "Done with what?" Randy
asked. He did not want to leave. There was so much good in this nirvana
of peace, and he did not want to go back to that evil world where
goodness was underrated. He waited in eagerness for the return of the
voice. "Please, please speak to me," he said, but his wife did not
answer and a silence came over him as he was taken further away from
the dream. He awoke to find Bud still chocking him. The few words
spoken in the fantasy gave his soul the kick to keep on living.
Out of breath, Randy remembered he was still in the grips of death, and
he kicked against his attackers legs. Bud let go and fell with a thud
on the beach.
"Get up," Randy said, but the sailor sat there quiet and would not look
up. Bud had formed his own judgments toward the commander, and he saw
hidden betrayal behind his goodwill.
"Why don't ya' kill me," he said. " I'm layin' here beaten and all ya
do is just stand there as if I'm one of your fella' Nips."
"No more," Randy said.
"Smash my face in, come on. Let me die a hero. My death won't be as bad
as what ya' did to those men back there ya' rotten sonofabitch."
"It was not my fault."
Randy nodded at the ruins.
"You're an ignorant fool if you don't listen to me. I tell you it
wasn't my doing that they were killed."
"Say that to the devil!" Bud retorted.
Randy looked at the harbor where a jeep jolted to a stop and saw the
gray paint on its door and men in pan helmets slide out of their car
seats. They were Marines. A soldier in khakis ran down the rise to
where the two quarrelers were standing. The arms that swung at his
sides were like bundled ropes thrown over with sun burnt skin and on
his brow were deep furrows, present too early for his ripe young age.
When he stood in front of Randy, he scrutinized the sandy uniform he
had on, and then looked into his eyes with a very solemn glance.
Steel cuffs fell onto the commander's wrists.
"Why?" Randy asked.
"Shut up," the Marine said.
Bud laughed from behind. "It serves the Jap right," he said.
The Marine fiddled with a canvas bag he held ready in his hands. He put
it over Randy's head to blind him. The darkness came and the commander
knew he was being arrested, although he thought the use of the mask
"What are you doin' here?" the Marine spoke to Bud.
"Don't you sailors have a boat where you can go?"
"Sure, but I'd like to see how this turns out."
" Look, I'm not in the mood for you're bull. So if you want to a throw
a fit, I'll be happy to spar with you. It's either go to your ship or
crawl there with broken ribs. What's it goin' to be sailor?"
"All right. I'm out. Jus' as long as you make the Jap pay for what he
"Scram!" the Marine shouted. The sailor left.
The Marine led Randy to the jeep where he was put into the back seat.
Through his canvas mask, he heard the growl of the starting engine and
the plop of a foot against the gas. At the same moment, the muddy smell
arising from the cloth became unbearable. The jeep went in reverse then
swung forward onto the concrete walk. It drove fast down the makeshift
road. There were bumps and cracks in the concrete, and when the tires
sunk into a pothole, it splashed water on the three passengers.
"Geez," the driver said. "I was so close to showin' up one of those
sailor's back behind us."
"Don't even talk about sailors. It makes me mad just to stand next to
em'," said the other and he pocked his elbow behind him into Randy's
"You should of seen the squid when I told him I was gonna beat his ass.
Away he went. Bam! I've never seen one run so scarred. He's probably at
the other end of the island right now wonderin' where I'm at."
"That only goes to show their job's getting easier."
"You mean a sailor's work?"
"Boy, I could do their toughest job in my sleep. Nobodies got it
tougher than a Marine."
A doubt went through the commander's mind. Where were they taking him?
He understood a murderer in wartime was either strung up at the gallows
or shot. The thought of these forms of death, although terrible for
most people, made Randy feel glad that the end was near and he would
again see his wife. The sweat ran down his forehead as he stared at the
crisscross patterns of thread holding together his mask and in this
stitch work, he saw square beams of light.
The jeep came to a halt at the start of a pier. The husky driver,
whistling as he got out of the car, threw open the rear door. "Out," he
With hands cuffed behind him, Randy swung his legs outside the car. He
sprung out of the vehicle and onto the ground. The driver shut the
door, and with his hand clasped around Randy's arm, led the commander
with forceful urgency around the car.
"Where are you taking me?" Randy asked. The Marine did not
They went down the pier. Randy noticed shadows passing by and heard
boards creak under the weight of his shoes. An idea arose in his mind
that they were going to kill him here on the dock for easy burial at
sea. He smiled at the possibility of a quick execution.
His guide, leading him faster, made a sudden leap over a pile of anchor
chain. Randy, knowing from this movement there lay an obstacle in his
path, went around it.
The Marine glanced at two sailors carrying crates of oranges, which had
stopped to gawk at them. Their curiosity rose when they saw the man
with the burlap bag over his head.
"God, I'm sure glad I'm not that guy," their stares seemed to
The Marine sped up as his prisoner almost tripped to keep pace with
him. They came to a platform next to a submarine. The vessel resembled
the back of a sperm whale just breaking the surface of the water, and
it had two large cannons, one in front and back of a conning tower. The
Marine, staring awestruck at the large vessel, led Randy as far as the
edge of the pier where sailors from the boat put hands around his waist
and brought him down.
"Here he is, sir, like promised," said the Marine.
"Good work, sergeant. I'll take care of him now," answered an officer
standing in front of a few sailors mopping down the deck of the
submarine. The officer was tall and thin in his khaki uniform. Under
the brim of his commander's cap, the blond hair resembled a stack of
burnt wheat "How was it?" he asked.
"You should look for yourself, sir. There's nothing left."
Randy knew they were talking about the destruction of his shack.
"No, I trust your report." The two exchanged salutes and the Marine
"Okay, get him down below and into my cabin," the officer said to two
sailors standing near. "And don't, and I mean don't under the threat of
reprimand, take off his disguise. This man's more important than our
He heard a door bang shut. There was someone in the room. Randy wished
to say something, but did not want to be the one to break the silence.
He sat in a chair, quiet under the suffocating cloth, waiting for
something to happen. An electric light came on and a voice said, "Well,
I guess it's safe."
The mask came off and he saw the brightness shining down from a mess of
pipes. The sea green walls painted as if to mimic the clear waters of
an atoll, bounced off the light's glare and made visible to Randy the
metal safe attached below the edge of the ceiling, and a wooden desk
tucked underneath where a logbook and a calendar spread ready for its
skipper to jot down notes.
"So I hear you're the one who's going to save us out of our rut,"
uttered the voice again and Randy looked to the bunk beside him where a
man in khakis and a loose black tie was sitting.
"I don't know you," Randy said.
"You know me now."
"Why have I come here?"
"You got the message from the couriers last evening, right?" He spoke
with a Texan accent.
"So then what's the point in asking?"
Anger flashed in Randy's eyes. He thought back to the words spoken
between this officer and the Marine on deck. They had talked without
feeling about the lives lost in the explosion. He was driven to think
that he could not trust this man, let alone anyone else. "About this
act of sabotage to my quarters," he said. "Do you know who was to
"They really don't tell me this stuff," the officer answered. "You want
some water? It must have been hot under that sack."
Randy did feel thirsty.
"Here, I have a cup on my pillow," the officer took up a steel mug from
his bed and gave it to Randy. "All our stuff's made of metal on this
submarine. You won't find any china."
"It's okay," Randy said then drank.
The officer, Lt. Commander James Daniels, was skipper of this
submarine, the USS Narwhal. When he got word to take part in the
mission, he knew how important keeping Randy a secret from the public
meant to the survival of the United States. To clear up the confusion
he went on to talk about his responsibilities.
"Orders were relayed to me from our Commander and Chief, to transport
you thousands of miles to the Japanese coast," he said. "I'm willing to
take you the whole way but it's going to be hell getting there. The
Japs have free reign over the West Pacific. Don't doubt me if I say so,
but I think this baby, although she's the fattest tub in our fleet,
will make it just fine there. It will be tricky getting through the
gauntlet of Japanese patrols. They'll be haggling us the whole way.
But, we'll make it."
Done with the cup, Randy gave it back to the officer, frowned, and
stood up from the chair. "You still haven't answered my question,
Commander, who put explosives in my quarters?"
"Hard to say. I know it wasn't the Japanese. This mission's hard on all
of us. None of us want's to see our own people killed. I heard a lot of
bad things about Edwards. Most people thought he was working for the
other side. Nimitz was even planning to can the sucker."
"And that is why you killed him?"
"No, I didn't kill Lieutenant Edwards. Didn't I just get done telling
you, it wasn't me?"
"But you knew."
"I knew he was earmarked."
"Then why did you let them do it?"
"It was out of my hands, commander."
"The hell it was." Randy went to the other side of the room and leaned
over the desk. He saw the logbook with its entries done in black ink.
The writing was fuzzy. He thought back to the red faces racing into the
shack. They never knew what was coming to them. He began blaming
himself for their deaths.
"What's the matter?" Daniels asked.
"The matter? I was just thinking about the men who died this morning on
"Don't be hard on yourself."
"Should I be happy?" Randy said as an affront.
"No, no, but don't let it go to your head. If these were good times, I
would've killed the men responsible myself, but we're living in hard
times, with a real threat over our heads. Aren't you startin' to worry
about all those families back home who might see Japanese occupation in
the coming months? Would you rather see women and children killed in
the place of one man? I sure wouldn't."
"It's just wrong."
"Well of course it's wrong. War is wrong. See, this is how I look at
it," Daniels continued. "You're the hope we need to get us on the
offensive. Haven't you looked outside commander? Haven't you seen the
papers? We're losing this war."
"I'm aware of our disposition."
"Then you know how important your success is to all those millions of
Americans hoping for you back home."
"What if I was killed in the explosion? Did you ever think I could've
been a casualty, that you would lose me forever to a foolish
"Well, that's common sense, commander. If you were so dumb as to
believe the bomb a clock and not a fuse gettin' ready to blow, it
would've been useless to send you all those cot pickin' miles only to
get your ass captured by the Japs in a weeks time. The bomb was there
to test your mettle and they were willing to take chances."
"You're making me nuts, you hear me, nuts!" Randy said it again in
"Do you need some time alone?"
"Yes!" he said and hit the wall with his fist.
"I see you're not well. I'll get out and leave you alone. You'll have
to stay in here, though. I don't want any of my men knowing of your
identity until we get out of port. Everybody's supposed to think you're
dead, and it's just too risky to have you walking around
"Go," Randy said and he sat back in his chair. Guilt hung over
"I'll be back in an hour. I'm really very sorry about all this."
Bud Williams took a long draw from his cigarette. Depression had hit
him hard. He stood outside a supply house, not working as the others
did, his mind on the early morning events. An officer came by twice to
ask why he was not lifting crates and the sailor complained of aching
joints. It was a lie, but it got him out of work. There were problems
he just could not accept and would not tell others for fear of being
blamed. I should've guessed the Jap would betray me, he told himself.
It would have been better if I hadn't of been there, if I would've just
gone on my way and never stopped to help the lying son of a
The wind almost blew the white hat away on his head and he gave it a
slap to tighten the fit.
"Damn," he said. He looked at the destroyers in the lagoon. The turrets
from their batteries hung over the side like steel broomsticks, gray
and long, not leaving one to doubt of the hidden punch they could
throw. He saw himself firing one of those guns at the officers killed
in the blast and was hit with a sudden feeling of worthlessness.
"I ought to not think of it," he said to himself. "I'm such a hard
head, I've got duties to do. I shouldn't throw the blame on me. It was
the damn Jap's fault. I'll think of tomorrow. Yes, tomorrow. Somethin'
good will happen then. We'll leave this goddamn island and it will all
be over. Leave my problems behind. No more worrying. My nerves are too
bad as it is for being hung up."
He had remembered someone telling him the island was cursed, that
Spanish pirates had died here after burying their gold, and in the
decades following, many others had come here to return home madmen.
With what had happened this morning, he could not doubt the
truthfulness in this sailor's story.
After one last puff, he walked onto the beach, and put out the
cigarette. He saw the sun was getting higher in the sky. Beyond the
reef, the waves were tall. The tops of them foamed before crashing down
on the coral. He timed the swells as they came in. There would always
be three small ones before the coming of a sizable wave. He waited. A
dip in the waters far out at sea hinted of a monster rising up. A green
wall began to breach the surface and grew higher than the bow of a
destroyer, crested, and then fell with a roar against the reef. The
breakwater rushed the whole reach of shallows before smoothing out on
"Why should I feel bad," he thought. "Shit happens. It's like this damn
ocean. It comes and goes when it damn pleases."
"Hey, Bud!" shouted a voice from behind him.
"What the hell." Bud turned and saw a sailor in a white jumper.
"Come on, we gotta' get back to da' ship. We're pushin' off today." The
sailor talked with a lisp, for he was short of brains, and had never
mastered the basics of speech. Bud shared a bunk with this fellow
in-between watches on the Patterson, and in the past week he had
complained of a foul scent arising from the sheets on their mattress.
Bud tried to get rid of it. He even put a scrub brush to the linen,
threw it back on the bed, and when it came time for a nap, he would
awaken in the middle of the night to another awful smell. It was a no
"What ya blubberin' about, Pete?" Bud asked.
"We're leaving now."
"That's a dirty lie, the Chief says we're out of here, manan?."
"You don't know what ya' talkin' about."
"I wouldn't be sayin' such hogwash if I was you. It's not every sailor
who comes out wearin' the wrong uniform. How come you're wearin' your
dress whites and not your work clothes?"
Pete took off his white cap and played with it in his hands. His black
hair was cut very short on the scalp so the skin would show and his
face was hard with a large jaw. Two gashes spread over a forehead the
shape of a half eaten doughnut with a receding hairline tucked in the
middle. The gashes were wounds inflicted back home when he fought a
rooster to the death in a cockfight.
"I lost them," he said. "I can't find them nowhere's. I've looked all
"That's just like you, losin' everything. Makes me wonder why the Chief
still keeps such a crazy guy like ya' around."
"You haven't seen them nowhere's?"
"No, but I know they'll show up, just like all the other things you
"Come on, let's go before they think we've jumped ship."
"Jus' hold you're britches. I'm comin'." Bud spit at the sands and
walked with Pete to the corrugated supply shed where men were taking
out the last crates to carry back to the destroyer.
"If the Chief see's you in those dress whites, you're goin' to get
hell. I would ask one of these guys if they got a shirt."
"Nah, they won't help me."
"Well, ya' better ask."
"Don't you have one?"
A tall man came by with a broom.
"Hey, ask Johnnie," Bud said.
"Johnnie," Pete cried.
"Yeah." The tall man stopped and when seeing it was Pete, gave a smile
that seemed to hint he knew what was coming.
"You got any shirt and pants I can borrow?" Pete asked.
"You lost you're uniform, right?"
"Yeah, can you jus' let me borrow it for the fall in? I'll give it
back, I promise."
Johnnie stood quiet for a moment, thinking how he should answer this
"Listen, Johnnie," Bud said. "If you don't have any work shirts, it's
okay. I'll go check around my bunk to see if he lost it there. You know
how he loses shit."
"Yeah, but the thing is, I don't have anything to give."
"Well, we'll find some on our own, thanks."
The two of them went down the pier. Pete was itching to run for the
destroyer, but Bud would not allow it.
"What's the hurry, we got all goddamn day to look," he said.
"No, we don't. I tol's you we have five minutes. Five minutes and we
"If you're right, you're in a whole lot of trouble."
They strode up the gangway onto the destroyer. The Patterson was one of
the sleekest ships in the Pacific fleet. Although small, its thin draft
made the boat almost weightless, and it could break through the water
at 37 knots to get into the thick of a battle. The two steel box
turrets, holding the five-inch guns, pointed at the seas horizon, and
when Bud saw them, he felt safe. Behind these guns stood a tower and an
encasement lined with windows that looked into the tired faces of
officers observing from the bridge. The sailors below on deck went to
work on readying the ship to leave port. Some of them, who knew Pete,
laughed as he came by in his dress whites.
"Pete!" one of them hollered from the bow. "Are you expectin' your
momma to come onboard? You think she's comin' here to see you in your
"No my mamma isn't here, she's in Ohio," he yelled back.
"Hey, Pete," another one said. "I'd kiss your momma flat on the lips if
she asked me to. Wouldn't you like that?"
"Are ya' gonna let em' say those things to you, Pete?" Bud asked.
"They're pickin' a fight with ya'. Why don't you go show them what ya'
do to cocks down at the farm. I bet none of them would have the guts to
fight a damn rooster with razors."
"They're all talk."
Pete went below. He climbed down the ladder well ahead of his bunkmate,
in fear he would not make the formation before throwing on a change of
uniform. Bud took his time as he followed. Like most people, he treated
this problem as not his own, and did not throw a fit over it. When they
got off the ladder, they came to a watertight door. It swung open
without a jolt and both went inside the room.
"I know I left it in here somewhere's," Pete mumbled, and he walked by
the row of beds against the wall of the crew's quarters. The electric
lights overhead gave off plenty of radiance for the two to see what
they were doing. The smell of cigarette smoke arose from the stacks of
bunk beds, and the clean olive covers were made with hospital corners.
Pete went right up to the mattress him and Bud were sharing and threw
"Why the hell did you do that for!" Bud said. "You're not the one who
makes the damn bed around here!"
"I jus' lookin'."
"That's it. I ain't goin' to make the sheets no more. Oh no, you're
goin' to learn yourself how to make a bed."
"But's it too hard, you know I do it wrong."
"Don't give me that I can't do it, shit." Bud made a baby face as he
said the words.
"Help me look," Pete said in a fluster.
"How'd you get out of basic?"
"What?" he mumbled as he put a hand on the loop wires of the bed frame,
frowned when he saw nothing on or below it, then he laid back the
"I'd like to know how you got through the first two weeks of
"Someone helped me."
"You must've had a whole lot of help."
"They hit me with a club some times."
"You don't say. If I had the chance to rap your hands with a club, I'd
do it too."
"Help me find it, will you?"
Bud went to the lockers at the other side of the room and began tapping
at their doors. "Have ya' checked your locker?"
"It's not in there. I've looked."
A door hatch flew open outside the room.
"Hey, someone's readyin' to holler somethin' down the well," Bud
"Anyone below!" a young voice called from top deck. It sounded metallic
in their ears.
"Yeah!" Bud shouted back.
"You better get up here," the voice answered. "Formation
"You gotta help me, Bud!" Pete's hands were shaking. He ran almost into
a wall trying to find his work clothes.
"There's no time for this, let's get out of here."
"No I can't, I'll get the brig for this I jus' can't. Come on, help me,
help me!" He fled to a corner of the room where he thought his uniform
might be stashed in a space between the lockers and wall pipes. His
movements were hasty. "I'm going to get the brig for this, I jus' don't
want any brig, Bud, please don't let me go to the brig!"
"Hold your horses, I'm lookin' for it."
Bud pulled himself up onto a top bunk. The covers split into wrinkles
as he stood on them. He knew a sailor was going to have a fit the
moment he walked in and saw the mess in his bed. With a swift gaze
around the room, he found it. It lay in a heap on the dusty roof of the
"There it is!" Bud shouted.
"Above your damn locker."
Pete felt relieved and went over to the locker his friend pointed out
from the top bunk. Even on his tiptoes, Pete couldn't reach for it. Bud
got off the bunk and went to help.
"You're too short, I'll get the thing," Bud said. He swiped his hand
over the roof of the locker, caught hold of a cloth, and brought it
down. "Ya' gotta be more careful next ti-," he stopped mid-sentence.
"No, I know it'll happen again. You'll probably lose the skipper's cap
next time and we'll all be in the brig." He shoved the clothes into
Pete's chest. "Put these on, quick."
The white dress pants were thrown on the floor before Bud turned around
to walk outside the room. Pete knew if he stalled just another minute,
the captain would be the next voice shouting down at them from topside.
He almost ripped the teal-colored shirt as he thrust his arms into its
sleeves. After this, he put on the blue trousers and took no time in
shoving his feet into the shoes.
"Ya' guys better get up here. The skipper's comin' onboard. Hurry!"
called down a voice from the ladder well.
"My shirts wrinkled," Pete said.
"The hell with your shirt," Bud said. "Didn't ya hear the sonofabitch?
They ran out of the room and up the ladder. Bud was the first to mount
the rungs and open the deck hatch. The breeze blew at his scalp with
the lifting of the seal and it was a welcoming change over the
stuffiness below. "Hope we made it," he thought. He began to think
about his next move. Gazing in front of him, he saw rows of sailors
standing at attention. It would be difficult now to fall into formation
without someone catching them in the attempt.
"What's wrong," Pete whispered, seeing Bud's frowning face as he came
out of the well.
"Stay behind me, will ya'."
"Are we late?"
"Don't know, jus' keep to the rear and don't say nothin'." They were
safe for now in the shade of the five-inch batteries, but only a few
yards away lay a vast stretch of no cover where the crowd of sailors
would see their advances.
"When we get in the open, stay low," Bud whispered.
With their backs bent and heads down, they ran toward the formation.
Pete heard footsteps approaching to his left, and it frightened him to
think that the captain could be so near and not see them.
"This looks like a good spot," Bud thought. He crept to a space behind
a line of sailors where two men stood furthest apart. The passage
between them was wide enough for a good fit. He was really beginning to
think he would not be caught.
Bud felt numb in the legs when heard the shout.
"Sailor!" cried the voice again.
"Yes, sir," Bud rose from his hunched position. He snapped to attention
and waited for the coming punishment.
"What were you doing back there behind my formation?"
The captain pushed through the ranks and came up to him. Bud looked
straight ahead and tried not to notice the streaks of sweat running
down the skipper's tan cheeks.
"Are you going to answer me son?"
"I was helping my friend out, sir."
"Your buddy, eh? Helping your buddy again, I see, eh." The captain
glanced at Pete, then back at Bud. "You want to know something,
"What sir?" Here comes hell, Bud thought.
"There's knuckle heads, snobs, and out right anarchists on this
vessel," the captain said. "But you're one of a kind. I like you. I see
you helping this son around, even pulling your neck into trouble to
keep him straight. It takes guts and selflessness to commit oneself to
these tasks. What I've heard about you from your Chief since coming
onboard the Patterson, has made me downright skeptical on why these
others don't do the same for their fellow sailors."
"Yes, sir." Bud smiled.
"Get in formation before I change my mind."
The two stragglers fell in with the others.
"Men," the captain added. "We're headed for Pearl. Keep an eye out for
Japanese patrols and scout planes. The fiasco we got our fleet into at
Midway has prompted a change of plans. We'll have no escorts to bring
us home. We'll be on our own, but as the old saying goes, you're safe
in a tub when a storm blow's through, well, this is our tub sons, and
long as we're in it no Japs are goin' to blow us out."
Outside Palmyra, the seas were restless from the previous night's
squall. The Narwhal broke through here in earnest. Its forecastle sunk
into a hill of water and thrust out the back like the high end of a
seesaw. The submarine was cruising in dangerous territory. Not faraway
were Japanese destroyers. Recon planes had spotted them hours ago,
heading in their direction. The sky was blue and the wind blew against
the men in the conning tower. A sailor looking down from his perch saw
the deck gun pointing forward on a steel platform, then further on, the
tongue of steel and flush decking stretch to where it vanished under
the curve of the bow. The hull of the vessel, as large in breadth as
most destroyers, took no punishment from the tumult. It punched through
with as much vigor as a boxer who never lets up in the ring.
Commander Daniels, who stood amongst others in the conning tower, wore
a rain jacket and binoculars. He had not gone down to his quarters
since the morning's argument with Randy. It would take awhile for his
guest to settle before he could talk to him, he thought, so he decided
to wait and help sailors in their search for these submarine killers.
Daniels knew the best approaches to Japan lay north of Midway. The
hardest part was getting there. Enemy patrols screened the waters just
west of Hawaii, barring entrance to American ships. A submarine in fair
working order had a good chance in getting through the net, but the
Narwhal was an exception. For weeks, the batteries had been in a bad
way, sometimes causing the vessel to lose power underwater, and since
there came no answer to his request from Pearl to allow a swift return
for repairs, the Narwhal was stuck with its problems. He looked at the
sailor next to him and saw blood dripping from a cut on his hand.
"What happened to you?" he asked.
"Oh this sir," the sailor said, looking at his wound. "That's just a
"What did you do?"
"Sliced my hand while working on some piping, sir."
"Get it cleaned up. I'll get someone to cover your watch."
"Aye, aye, sir."
The submarine sunk bow-first into another swell. A dozen hands wrapped
around a rail to keep their footing. Splashes sprung out from the sea
and soaked them.
"We'll be sitting ducks if those destroyers find us here," Daniels said
to himself. He knew his best bet would be a submerged run under the
turmoil. After a last glance over the side, seeing the choppy waves
slam against the side of the submarine and their tops white with foam,
he turned around to yell down the ladder hatch.
"Sound the diving alarm!"
A siren rang below. Voices hollered out commands from the cavern of the
vessel and the sailors who were standing near him fell down the hatch.
For a moment, Daniels remained above, waiting for the last of his crew
to clear the conning tower. Doubts to the successful operation of the
electric engines, came to his mind, but after some reflection, he
decided the machinery would pull through on this dive. The top rung was
slippery when Daniels put his foot on it and he held firm onto the
vertical guardrails while taking a careful descent into the dark
In the control room, a dank area amass with machinery, pipes, and the
steel stock of a periscope in the center, he passed sailors who were
turning valves, and others who yelled out commands like his Officer of
the Deck, a pudgy faced but lean built ex-baseball player for the Minor
Leagues. His OOD, Jeff Reynolds, held an unbeatable stealing record for
the Titans and had dove without fault for an extra base before the
pitcher could throw against a batter. Jeff had never thought those
skills would be put to use in diving from an enemy in a sardine