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PART 10: June 10, 1915  

June 17/18, 1915 - New York, New York! - Part XI

(The end of June 17th and the hours before dawn)

---- 70 minutes before midnight, bridge of Aylwin, anchored

"A duet, how droll," remarked the OOD.

"Aye, sir," replied the bosun. "Beggin' yer pardon, sir. But what song is that they're playing."

I'm not sure, chief," admitted the officer, "but a good guess might be their national anthem."

The bridge watch listened as the two liners quickly synchronized in mutual support, there, alone within a harbor of skeptical neutrals. Potential allies. Potential foes.

"We don't play our national anthem," said Seaman First Class Ripley, "like it were ‘Taps,' sir. Why do the Huns?"

"Good question, Ripley. Of course, we don't HAVE a national anthem, you know."

"What?! Sir, the ‘Star Spangled Banner' is our national anthem! Ain't it?"

"Nope, Ripley, believe it or not, but we don't have one. Not officially. Here, let me explain ...."

Navy crews will do almost anything to pass slow watches. The explanation continued even after both bands had concluded.

---- about an hour before midnight, shore end of HAPAG Terminal

The lieutenant had hoped the oncoming headlights were more trucks with barricades and sandbags. Instead, it soon became apparent that the vehicles were cars. Fancy cars. Who, wondered the young man, might this be? He watched as his outermost pair of men challenged the lead car, most politely. Money might not buy happiness, he reflected, but it most definitely bought civility.

"Sir, it's the Turks," the senior Marine sentry reported after brief dialogue with the visitors.

"The Turks? At this hour? Did they say what they wanted, private?"

"No, sir. Well, at least not that I could make out. It is definitely them, though, sir. I recognized Mr. Hadi, all decked out like a, er," the soldier quickly countermarched at the look on his officer's face, "greeter at a, er, carnival, sir."

The officer erased his frown and put a smile on his face as he waved, politely, the newcomers through. The sentry resumed his post gratefully.

"Did you tell him?" His partner hissed, half under his breath.

"Not a chance," was the half-muttered reply. "He's in a mood, the lieutenant is."

The other shrugged and looked back away from the pier and the departing taillights.

"Besides," the sentry said almost to himself, " ‘strawberry shortcake'?"

The other shrugged again. "I'd almost swear to it," he said defensively.

"Well, then," demanded the first sentry, "YOU go tell him."

There was silence after that.

---- 5:00 AM, shore end of HAPAG Terminal

"Good morning, colonel." The lieutenant carefully kept the surprise out of his voice.

"Good morning," Anton replied. The senior Marine officer scowled as he looked over the barricades.

"Turnover reported that no more trucks showed up, sir."

Anton nodded and paced over to the side of the pier and looked up and down, scanning the area around the pilings. After a few moments, he walked over to the other side and repeated the process. The lieutenant swallowed. He had left the water to the patrol craft of the Coast Guard and Navy. Had that been an oversight?

"Sir, the milkman's approaching."

The lieutenant acknowledged and went back to the entry point. The ‘milkman' was actually several trucks, each filled with dew sparkling flasks of milk and cream, and iced crates of butter. The Germans' presence was certainly benefitting "Mittermann and Sons," he decided, reading the words painted on the sides of the trucks. The sentries inspected the trucks and containers perhaps a bit more carefully than they would have other wise, since Colonel Anton was there. Nothing resembling sabotage or contraband was found, though, and, after a few minutes, the first three trucks continued on their way down to the HAPAG receiving area, where the Germans had been inspecting the vehicles a second time as they were unloaded.

"Sir, more trucks."

"Thank you corporal." The pre-dawn deliveries were continuing right on schedule, the lieutenant realized, as he watched his men begin their efforts on the new arrivals. These trucks should contain the morning's fresh eggs, fruits, vegetables, and the like. All too soon, if today was like yesterday, the inshore breeze would bring them the aromas of hundreds and hundreds of hearty breakfasts.... He swallowed again, but for an entirely different reason than before.

"Lieutenant," began Anton, interrupting his salivating, "anything overnight? Anything unusual?"

"No, sir. Nothing unusual. The only thing was that there were more of the, er, Germans moving about than the night before. About 0300, between 20 and 25 men came out of the quarters area and went aboard the warship."

"Hmm, a watch turnover?"

"Could be, sir. But, sir, nobody came OFF the ship, leastwise, not yet."

"Very good, Lieutenant," the Colonel nodded in acknowledgment. Both officers watched the first two grocery trucks roll down the pier in the slowly abating pre-dawn gloom. "Roosevelt's rally may be getting them a bit anxious, too," Anton said, but he frowned in suspicion.

---- 5:15 AM, bridge of Aylwin, anchored

"Sir, lookouts report two tugs are approaching the HAPAG pier."

"Very well," replied the OOD. "Right on time," he commented to the senior enlisted man beside him. "Weren't there three of them yesterday, chief?"

"Aye, sir. ‘Spect she'll be along. Them Huns're real meth-ahhh-dical that way, sir."

The OOD looked at the man, and opened his mouth to reply.

"Sir, another tug," came the call from above. "She's just come into view, but she's shaping for the Imperator."

The young OOD closed his mouth. The older man didn't even look at him, and carefully said nothing. Junior officers were even more predictable than Germans.

---- 5:30 AM, shore end of HAPAG Terminal

The sentries were checking the departing milk trucks to make sure they were truly just empty when there was finally enough light for Anton to see most of the details at the other end of the pier. What was apparently the rest of the Strassburg's crew had emerged from the quarters areas on the Terminal as the first trucks had approached the ships, and they had begun to tote the truck cargo onto their warship. Warehousemen or others had started shifting the rest onto pallets for the liner.

"Lieutenant, your binoculars, if you please."

The grocer's trucks were about empty, he saw. The HAPAG folk had it down to an efficient routine. The stack of crates just opposite the Strassburg's quarterdeck was quickly diminishing. The trail of sailors up and down her gangway looked like ants at a picnic, and nearly the last of the pallets was being raised up onto the liner. Most of the trucks were already on their way back up the pier. He watched the interchange at the final truck closely. The German shook hands with the grocer's man, and the other got into the truck.

"Did you see that, Colonel?" It was Gunnery Sergeant Fideles, who had silently come up beside him and who had his own glasses to his face.

"I did, indeed, Gunny. Most polite, wouldn't you say, seeing as they'll be seeing them again before noon?"

"Roosevelt's rally, sir?"

"Maybe. Lieutenant, how many trucks were in the dawn deliveries yesterday?"

"Three milk and five grocer, sir."

"And today there were five milk and eight grocer," observed Fideles.

"Yes," agreed Anton, raising the borrowed binoculars again. "But it's true that they couldn't count on getting anything through until the mob's gone."

"And them shaking hands?" Fideles asked.

"Polite, these Germans," Anton commented, "very polite. But I don't like that part either, Gunny."

---- 5:45 AM, bridge of Aylwin, anchored

"Sir, pennants going up on Imperator."

This was new, the OOD thought, as he studied the gaily colored flags moving up the lines. They didn't do that yesterday, that he could recall. He looked at the senior enlisted man. The chief was already walking over to the other wing. The Destroyer had swung with the tide and the currents such that her stern pointed at the HAPAG Terminal. Numbly, the officer walked over to join him.

"Chief? Any thoughts on this?"

"Yes, sir," replied the older man from their new vantage. "The other liner's running ‘em up, too."

The lieutenant blinked and raised his own glasses.

"Sir, lookouts report that two more tugs are approaching Kaiser Wilhelm II."

The chief made a small noise, deep in his throat. It was probably just surprise, but it sounded like a growl to the lieutenant.

"Yes," confirmed the officer, "very well, I see them also.

"Strassburg!" The OOD walked back across to the other wing. "Lookout section," he called up to the men above, "any changes with Strassburg?"

The smaller ship was still hard to make out well, but the light was improving by the second. His attention was drawn to a flare of steam issuing forth from the front of Imperator's lead stack.

---- 6:00 AM, shore end of HAPAG Terminal

Colonel Anton did not see the steam, not at first. His eyes were on the dozen men who had come down the gangway of the Strassburg. He heard it though, as did most anyone did within a mile or three. Kaiser Wilhelm II cut loose with an answering blast of her own.

When he looked back, the sailors and the men from the warehouse had gone to the bollards. It was quite obvious what they were doing. What they were doing was making his life a lot easier.

"The Admiral is not going to like this," Anton remarked, but he smiled as he said it. The lieutenant was puzzled.

"Yes sir," agreed Fideles. "That's a fact." If anything, the Gunny's smile was wider than his Colonel's.

---- 6:10 AM, bridge of Aylwin, anchored

"Captain's on the bridge."

"OOD, report," ordered Commander Leverett, raising his glasses as he went to one wing.

"Sir, Imperator came off the pier at 6:05. Kaiser Wilhem's coming off now."

"And Strassburg?"

"She's still tied up, best we can tell, but she's got steam up. We saw that just minutes ago, sir. I logged it at 6:03 and called for you."

The men on Aylwin's bridge jerked their heads to face the dock as a third whistle sounded. This one was neither as loud nor as deep as the two just minutes before, but it seized their attention nonetheless.

"Sir, lookouts report Strassburg has cast off from the pier!"

"Very well, so much for that," replied Leverett. "Ah, good morning, XO. Looks like our German friends are a bit eager this morning."

"Yes, sir. I thought they were going to wait until dark?"

"So did just about everyone else," answered Leverett. "Well, let's get the anchor up. Officer of the Deck, inform engineering. They are to start bringing everything on line."

"Aye, aye, sir."

"XO, get started on a draft to Admiral Stennis. Flags, to Strassburg: ‘Interrogative.' "

"Sir, might they just be shifting position? To anchor out in the harbor to get clear of the Roosevelt rally?"

"Indeed they could, lieutenant," Leverett didn't even lower his glasses. "It might even be a clever move, at that." He watched as white water began to boil out from under the stern of Imperator, her tugs having eased away from her massive hull. "We'll know soon enough."

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