Saturdays around military bases are usually busy with service personnel hurrying away from those bases to find some rest and relaxation in nearby towns or cities, relieved from their duties for a couple of days, at least those able to get weekend passes.
But this was not a typical Saturday and the bars and theaters and USOs and brothels were all devoid of their usual weekend crowds of uniformed and civilian-clad soldiers and sailors seeking a few hours of fun or a first-run movie. The heightened requirements of base security and the number of ships and planes actively on duty demanded personnel to keep them on station. The nearby towns’ streets were virtually vacant, and local shop owners were all wondering where their normal weekend business was.
“Nothing from Washington so far this morning, sir.” was the response from Lieutenant Commander Lowe to the admiral’s question as the two prepared to review any overnight messages or other communication that might shed more light on the current situation.
“We have received a full report from Lieutenant Harriman, whose ship sank that unknown vessel inside the HDZ,” continued Lowe. “Guess you’ll be the first to hear if there’s going to be diplomatic blowup over that.”
“No doubt,” the admiral said reflectively. “And soon, I expect.”
“Anything more about those two picked up by shore patrol and the MPs?”
“Nothing on that front, either, sir. But if you like, I’ll get in touch with my contact at the FBI office and see if I can stir up some news.”
“Yeah, you do that. And check with Walt’s adjutant, just to be sure we have all the bases covered between us.”
“Aye, aye, sir.”
Lowe swiveled in place and briskly left the admiral’s office, softly closing the door behind him.
* * *
In the Crypt, Commander Layton was displaying high agitation far out of character with his usually calm demeanor. The paper in his hand had just been plucked from the transcribing machine and contained information that he would have to relay to the admiral as quickly as possible. The message, which had been sent from Washington, coded and on a secure circuit was unequivocal.
EXPECT DIPLOMATIC RELATIONS TO BE TERMINATED TODAY OR TOMORROW. EMBASSY HAS BEEN INSTRUCTED TO BEGIN DESTRUCTION OF CODE MACHINES, CODE BOOKS, AND COPIES OF ALL MESSAGES. EXPECT HOSTILITIES TO COMMENCE IMMEDIATELY AFTER EMBASSY DELIVERS FINAL DECLARATORY MESSAGE. INSTITUTE ALL SECURITY SAFEGUARDS NOT ALREADY IN EFFECT. END.
The commander was standing in front of the admiral’s desk, not quite at attention, but respectful as the admiral read the message for the second time.
“Well, Commander, it certainly looks like we’re going to be in a shooting war anytime now. I think we’ve done everything possible to be secure and I appreciate you getting this to me so quickly. Your people have done an excellent job keeping us all apprised of possible enemy intentions and even though they’ve changed their codes pretty often, you seem to be able to keep up with them pretty well. Give your folks a “well done” for me.
“Oh, and send in Commander Lowe as you leave, please.”
“Yes sir. Thank you, sir.”
One commander left the office and shortly another walked in.
“Lowe, we’ve just been notified by Washington that things are likely to start breaking real soon. I think we’ve done all we can at this end to not be caught off guard. Layton has made a pretty good guess — and I trust him implicitly — that the enemy carrier group is likely to be approaching from the north. That’s an area outside normal shipping lanes and they would be less likely to be spotted and reported. I know our two carriers operating are south and west, but we’ll have to get them re-routed to the coordinates that Layton has noted here.
“Also, increase our air patrols and concentrate them within an arc between 270 degrees and 30 degrees. That’s a pretty wide area and a lot of ocean, but we can’t leave any approach to chance in case their fleet moves out of the anticipated path.
“And get those extra patrols out immediately.”
“Aye, aye sir.”
Lowe turned and headed out quickly to disperse the admiral’s orders, especially those going to the air wing.
John and Ron were both annoyed at being called back to the flight line after such a short period following their earlier patrol. Ron had been aroused from a peaceful slumber at the barracks adjacent to the ready room and John was engaged in another poker game, having slept off his tiredness on the return trip from their previous patrol. Both were now being trucked to their plane, along with their flight crew, and as they approached, they could see the fuel truck pulling away and the propellers spinning as the ground crew had already received instructions to make the plane ready for flight and to have the engines warmed and ready when the flight crew arrived.
The two pilots glanced at each other as the truck neared. They could not recall an urgency before that required that the engines be already turning over when they arrived, except on those training exercises when they had been timed on how long it took to get airborne and every training crew was trying to set a new record.
“Somebody must be in a godawful hurry to get us in the air,” both pilots said almost simultaneously, and the rest of the crew chuckled at the fact that their two pilots seemed to always think the same thing at the same time, a good sign of intense training.
Indeed, time was running out.