Letterstime - Ein Geleitzug
- Meeting Engagements, Part XXII
---- 6:15 PM, Moltke, stopped, roughly 40 miles SE of Coney Island
"Well, gentlemen," Hanzik resumed. "That went about as
well as could be expected."
Kapitänleutnant Lucterhand, now alongside in the American launch
with LCDR Holgate, would have agreed, due to the simple fact that the
Americans had all followed him precisely as his Admiral had directed,
quite unlike the last time similar instructions had been given. The German
officer had just managed to point out the SS Justine and get across that
she was their destination. Once Holgate had given the necessary orders,
the coxswain began to swing the boat around and the two officers finally
had the opportunity to look each other over. As they did so, both felt
a sudden kinship - two-and-a-half stripers paired for an odd and stressful
task - and nodded to each other as though into a mirror.
"Captain Stang," Hanzik continued, "there are several
other cargos here that may merit special consideration. Please review
this and give me your recommendations."
"Aye, aye, sir."
"Herren Glock and Coblentz," Hanzik noted wryly that several
winced at the names, "believe that the shipboard cranes on two of
our prizes - and maybe a third - that had just left an American port can
be adapted to transfer coal. They are off fashioning rafts ...."
Kronprinz Wilhelm's cranes would have made this far easier, having been
chosen for just such situations. In fact, they had already employed them
to transfer the Vulcanites' gear from Salamis to Moltke. Unfortunately,
those cranes were not available, as the semi-liner was presently docked
no few miles away at the HAPAG terminal south of Philadelphia. Thus, the
Germans were being forced to adapt. Again. It made many very uncomfortable
and, just weeks ago, would have been virtually unthinkable. Victory changes
Nonetheless, lashing two large steel hulls together on the open sea would
court disaster. The Vulcanites proposed instead to link - but not fasten
- a barge-like platform between two ships. First, the ships would be brought
as close together as was safe, with the barge between them. The coal would
be hoisted off the merchant and onto the raft, to be brought aboard the
warship separately. The raft would be tied to both with ropes but remain
floating freely, as any wave motion could crush the raft against or between
the hulls if it were pinned. Actually, the wooden raft might be destroyed
anyway if either ship drifted into it, but the warship hull would never
be at risk. With calm seas, it might work and so hatch covers from several
ships were being sacrificed and pontoons fashioned even as he described
it to Captains Stang and Dirk. Both captains had high levels of skepticism,
but their low levels of coal stilled their tongues.
---- 6:20 PM, bridge of Montana, at pier, New York naval base
Captain Peace and the Navigator looked up from the charts as CDR Campbell
"Skipper," the XO began, "all department heads report
ready, watchbills are posted, and we've got tugs laid on for 0930."
"Good. We're to rendezvous with our escorts below Fort Dix. A pair
of Destroyers. Admiral McDonald will detach them at noon."
Campbell joined the other two officers at the chart table. Salamis and
Rostock were both scheduled to cast off from the HAPAG Terminal pier at
noon. Even if they proceeded at a sedate pace - the incomplete Greek was
no speedboat! - he expected to near the Three Mile Limit for their transit
south by mid-afternoon. The base course on down the coast towards Philadelphia
was lined on the map, with tics noting sight lines to familiar features,
annotated with bearings. The track eventually divided, with one line traced
into the channel and the other out to sea. He placed a fingertip at the
split and looked at Peace.
"Direct from Admiral Martin," Peace explained. Stennis' deputy
had been quite clear and specific. "Upon sighting the channel entrance,
I am to detach one Destroyer for the last leg of the escort."
That explained the line heading SW and into the mouth of the channel.
"Then, in company with the other Destroyer, we are to proceed out
past the Three Mile Limit and investigate all those distress calls."
"Strassburg." Campbell had no doubts as to the nature and origin
of those wireless reports. The Navigator nodded in agreement, as did LT
Green who had come onto the bridge from the quarterdeck.
"Most likely," agreed Peace. "In any case, my orders are
to investigate and, if it really is Strassburg to determine their intentions."
And, no doubt, show the American flag in an effort to move them along.
"They can't stay out there forever, though," LT Green commented,
as he handed some papers to the XO, "even if she did top off her
bunkers in New York."
"Skipper," the Navigator began, "I got a cousin down in
Philly. He was telling me that the entire port has practically shut down,
and that Baltimore's no better."
"I'm not surprised," Peace answered. "You know, LT, Strassburg's
a bit of a puzzle no matter what."
"Strassburg probably could've made it from New York to Germany without
re-coaling." Peace paused, as he reached for his pipe. "Especially,
if she got good weather and maintained an economical speed."
"Fat chance!" Campbell interjected. He couldn't help himself;
the idea that the German warship could cruise back across the Atlantic
and past the now-alerted RN while maintaining something like eight or
ten knots was ludicrous.
"But, unlikely as that may have been," Peace continued, tamping
down the tobacco in his pipe's bowl, "it's pretty much out of the
question now. After all, she left New York two and a half days ago."
"You think it might NOT be Strassburg, Skipper?" LT Green asked.
Could it really be still another German warship?
"Oh, I think it's Strassburg, right enough but, by treaty, she can't
recoal here for another 88 days."
"From her prizes?"
Peace just shrugged, his mouth on the pipe stem as he kindled the tobacco.
---- 6:30 PM, marina, New Jersey coast near channel entrance towards New
Lannon had offered on impulse and Hadi had accepted, grandly, in much
the same spirit. Perhaps the Ottoman had been caught at a weak moment,
filled with steak and with the images of "peanut chicken." Perhaps
he had been disappointed in the invitations that had been extended to
him by the locals of the chancellory. In truth, there had been only seven
to choose from, a far and diminutive cry from the basket-full that he
had inadvertently been severed from in New York. He had already accepted
three, but not even the one at the chancellory itself had held the promise
of anything like what the so-graciously-named cook of the American gourmet
would surely produce. As for those other invitations, he'd get around
to them when he so deigned, knowing as he did that he would have months
to service them all. He sure was not going anywhere if he could help it!
Getting out of the limousine, Hadi was relieved to see the American in
plain sight, sitting on a shaded bench and talking with the unveiled woman
who had been with him last night. Lannon arose and flapped his hand cheerily
at the car as he began to approach. Hadi, intent on being a proper guest,
wondered if some flopping about of his own hand was the correct response.
Hand gestures were very tricky. Instead, he just smiled broadly as he
stepped out past his door opener, and bowed. Very slightly.
His entourage muttered behind him, much like the gulls perched on the
nearby pier posts and caracoling overhead.
["No servants?"] The speaker was scandalized. It had been a
bad enough that there had been just the one at the outer gate, but to
have none at all stationed in sight here was utterly squalid.
["What dismal place is this?" Another echoed.]
["Some of the vessels are worthy."]
["I see no guild. A bleak void."]
["No servants! I see none anywhere!"]
["Perhaps their place is within?"]
There were great sashes, gaping wide to catch the cool early evening
breeze, framed with tied back storm shutters. The inside rooms were exposed
to the eyes of all. No servants. They gasped. This was a grievous vexation!
Without evidence that servants were permitted within, the Master, as a
guest, was sure to forbid their own entry!
"Silence!" Hadi hissed without altering his lavish, false smile.
The drive had been an unexpected trial and the destination unexpectedly
drab, but there was no excuse to risk giving offense to his host. Certainly
not when Peanut Chicken might await within!
Truth be known, Hadi was a bit troubled. The chancellory had tried mightily
to gain his presence this evening. Specifically, they had tried several
telephone calls and had even sent an emissary to seek audience. These
efforts had met with no success, of course, as his servants had followed
his instructions precisely - as well they had better! Nonetheless, they
were a source of concern. He gestured subtly for his entourage to remain
without, and accompanied Lannon and Claire into the clubhouse. Maybe he
should not have come?
The instant he stepped within, the aroma told him that he was in the
---- 6:40 PM, SS Justine (formerly of Aberdeen Shipping Co., Ltd.)
The smell told Holgate the same thing, though the scents were very different.
The approach towards the captured merchant had been, for the most part,
uneventful. His conversation with the German officer had confirmed his
first guess that the other's inclusion was to signal the Americans that
they'd get full cooperation, since Lucterhand out-ranked the officer on
Justine. In fact, the Kapitänleutnant had not troubled himself to
The officer being outranked, though, was somewhat of a shock. His demeanor
was a bitter splash of cold saltwater, seemingly a caricature of the Prussian
martial ideal. Upon reflection, Holgate wondered if this LT Bornholdt
might not be MORE representative than the other officers. Certainly, the
others could have been chosen so as to enhance the prospect of a sympathetic
impression, whereas this encounter was the outcome of an unforeseen event.
It was like appearing unannounced high in the superstructure at night
to see how the lookout section REALLY kept their watch. It was something
to consider, Kyle thought, and he filed it away for later.
The Germans had pretty much insisted that Holgate start with Bornholdt,
who'd then proceeded to relate his version of events very tersely and
devoid of emotion. Neither officer spoke the other's language particularly
well, but they'd managed. Even blurred through the filter of translation,
it came through clear and cold-blooded - lacking any sign of self-doubt
or regret. To Bornholdt, the British had resisted and he'd killed them
until the rest surrendered. War was a simple thing to the sinewy, hatchet-faced
Two bodies lay on the floor, caked stains showed where their lifeblood
had drained, then dried. The sad forms were covered with what appeared
to be simple, grayish-white bed sheets; dark splotches hinted at what
waited patiently beneath. Lucterhand cleared his throat, but did not speak.
"We will now examine the men and the room," Holgate said, gesturing
at the shrouded shapes and the surrounding space. He did not know the
words for "corpses" and "ship compartment" but both
Germans nodded, hopefully in understanding.
"Do as you [require?]. In the [passageway?] will we remain,"
Lucterhand seemed to respond. In any case, they stepped back out of the
"Mayweather," Holgate began, stepping around the holed and
crumpled door on the deck, "better take a look. Sturz, see if you
can find out where those slugs went."
The American officer waited as the pharmacist mate gingerly peeled away
the cloth. An irregularity he'd noticed in the nearer outline proved to
be the man's cover resting on his chest. Its placement hid the entry wound
in an unexpected, somehow modest way. He frowned, both at the incongruity
of the sight and the rush of fetid vapors that followed the sheet's removal.
Once satisfied that the mate seemed to know what he was about, he turned
away to look for other evidence. If Bornholdt's story were true, there
should be some more blood over -- yes, there it was.
Holgate crouched and studied the marks. These were thinner, uncaked,
and they'd been tracked about.
"Most of this came from his exit wound. He bled out, 's my guess.
No powder burns I can see, sir, but look at this."
Holgate squatted beside the body. The mate's index finger was at the
right side of the man's face and neck. There were what seemed to be several
flecks of blood and, in two cases, small bits of something embedded in
the darkening skin.
"My guess, sir, is that he was standing kinda' close to that bulkhead
there when Mister Hun out there started shootin' through it."
Kyle looked up at the bullet hole. Yes, it would fit. "You sure
he was alive?"
Mayweather blinked. "You mean could they've faked this? Afterwards?
I don't see how, sir. See the blood under this one, and these two? His
heart had to be pumping. In fact, this one bled quite a bit - see his
collar, here? - but someone was swabbing it off."
The same "someone" who put the cap reverently atop his chest?
Holgate shrugged, perhaps he'd never know.
"Good work. Now look at the other one. Sturz, whatcha' got?"
"Three bullets, sir. Well, actually two bullets and one hole."
Kyle went to each mark and looked back at its likely hole from the passageway.
The outer pair diverged symmetrically, consistent with a single shooter
just outside the entrance. More agreement.
"Very well. Good. There should be a fourth one. Over there, probably,"
Kyle added, waving at the forward bulkhead.
That one turned out to be easy to find. The slug had carried a bit of
grisly evidence along with it and then left it on the surface as it burrowed
into the bulkhead. This one tracked back to just inside the entry. That,
too, was consistent with the Leutnant's story.
"This one's more of a puzzle, sir."
"Explain." As Holgate took the two steps necessary to rejoin
the pharmacist mate, he saw that the dead man's dry eyes stared into the
overhead. He frowned and looked back at the other corpse. Yes, that man's
eyes were closed.
"He took three slugs. Well, two, if the one that hit his left arm
went on into his body here. Otherwise, there's another bullet around somewhere.
This one might've killed him, or might not. Didn't matter. This other
one would have done 'im all by itself."
"And the table?"
"Ah, yes, sir. I can't be sure from where, but he IS full of splinters,
'cluding his face."
"So, he could've been crouching down behind the table?"
"Aye, sir. But if'n he was, didn't do him no good."
---- 6:45 PM, marina, New Jersey coast near channel entrance towards
There were no gold - nor even silver! - adornments in the rooms, only
a few drawings were on the walls, and the cushions appeared lifeless.
And no silks at all!
Hadi's servants strove heroically to appear stoic amidst their plight,
to conceal their distress. The Master was within and they were without!
It was intolerable! What might be said that they would not hear? One remained
at the window, its shutters cast wide to the winds, in an attempt to keep
watch, but much remained out of their sight! These infidels were notoriously
profligate with their facial expressions, but out here they could not
see them! The fida'i (NOTE 1) who watched did so very nervously - a little
"whisk-whisk" of steel was faintly audible as he unconsciously
slid his dagger in and out of its sheathe within his garments.
The other fida'iyin prowled restlessly about. There was no TELLING what
the Master might want and they had been unable to bring hardly anything
to distract him and what they had had already been consumed. And so they
searched for anything, even simple informational tidbits, that they could
administer during their return.
So far, they'd found nothing.
["He will skin us with his soles!"]
"Ah, there're y'ar!"
They froze, their only movements to ease hands nearer concealed hilts.
"Lands sakes, you boyz must be hungry out here. So's I'se broughts
y'all out sometin."
They relaxed. Some. The tall, dark, strongly-built woman strode out of
a door they'd missed. Her long dress and apron rippled in the breeze like
robes. She bore a large cloth-draped, flat-bottomed object in her arms
that she laid down on a wooden table. They drifted near, impelled as much
by curiosity as the welcoming tone of her voice.
["Did you understand any of that?"]
["Did she say 'summaq'?"] (NOTE 2)
The woman began to unfold the covering of what now appeared to be a heavy
"Sure's gonna run short on dem buttered beans, but Massa Lannon
as'ed me to make up lotsa' chicken and a real messa' biscuits."
["It's no dialect that I've ever heard of."]
["Could it be what they used on that vessel? Ask her about fishing
The removal of the cloth revealed plates piled high with blue-tinted
baked chicken and a mound of aromatic rolls. True smiles and gracious
murmurs emerged from swarthy complexions as they realized that this largess
was for THEM! The woman stood back, hands on her broad hips, smiling as
they tucked into the feed. They bobbed their heads in gratitude.
["You are supposed to be watching the Master!"]
["If he is eating as we are, he won't be calling for us!"]
["Ah! That is so."]
"If you boyz be wanting anything else, I'se'll be just inside dere.
If'n youz don't see me right off, you just ask for 'Miz Beulah.' "
[" 'Miz Beulah?!' THAT is 'Miz Beulah'?!"]
["I will tolerate no word against her in my presence!"]
The others, mouths joyously full, nodded their heads with exceptional
---- Evening, Wilhelmshaven, Germany
The Commander of the High Seas Fleet nodded morosely at the reports before
him. They were date-specific sortie strengths.
"This is the best we can do?" Letters' question was rhetorical.
"If we extend until here," Necki pointed to another sheet,
"then we'll probably have what you see there."
"Carl Johann," asked Letters, "what is your recommendation?"
"I know that every extra day leaves them hanging more and more out
in the wind," Rudberg replied. "But, sir, without enough strength
"Yes. Very well, and I agree. However, you know what that will force
Admiral Hanzik to do. I will have to discuss this ...." Letters made
no attempt to hide his sigh. "Herr Ballin said the usual time for
messages was 0900."
The other two understood. That timing would allow messages both to be
sent and received during normal business hours on both sides of the Atlantic.
"So, if you'll excuse me, gentlemen." Letters stood. He had
other offices to visit before he could sleep this night.
---- 6:45 PM, NY base hospital, Office of Commanding Officer
Captain Theargus cradled the receiver and sighed. That had not gone very
well. But, then, he could hardly have expected otherwise. They had been
grateful for the information, the report. It hadn't taken them long, though,
to turn querulous and accusatory. The hell with it! And them! He had done
his duty ever damn step of the way! He stood up and, since no one was
there to see, unabashedly supported his weight with a hand on the table
as he waited for the dizziness to subside.
He looked around the office of LCDR Cecil Starling O'Brien, MD, with
awakening curiosity. It was another world on display.
Ah, well, he thought, and reached for the door knob. Duty still called
him, and in a voice that was not to be denied, as that damn Yank had so
kindly reminded him.
"Thank you, Doctor O'Brien."
"You are most welcome, Captain. May I have an orderly assist you
back to your room now?"
"Not hardly, sir. I have many men to visit before I can sleep this
---- 6:45 PM, marina, New Jersey coast near channel entrance towards
"I had asked Miz Beulah to make you up something special and she
told she knew just the thing," Lannon was saying. "She'd just
got in some good, fresh blueberry preserves, she said, and she'd been
wanting to bake up some of her Blueberry Chicken. And, so, what do you
It was magnificent. Hadi's only trouble with expressing his fulsome
praise was that it required that his mouth be empty while doing so. And
the biscuits! Whole sutras could be written in their praise!
"She told me that the secret was in the preserves, and baking low
and slow ...."
Hadi listened intently, while chewing rapturously. He could taste cinnamon
and cloves, but the blueberry flavor that he'd first tasted just yesterday
in the muffins on Imperator blended most imperially with the meat!
Lannon had eaten his fill and more, but watched benignly as the burly
Ottoman continued to wrap himself around the food. He couldn't stand it,
and so the American reached for another biscuit.
Claire looked at him reproachfully.
"I know," Lannon confessed, "I won't be able to eat anything
for a week."
----7:00 PM, SS Justine (formerly of Aberdeen Shipping Co., Ltd.)
"I have finished in here for now," LCDR Holgate told the waiting
Germans. Bornholdt repeated it in Deutsch for the others. The two American
enlisted stood just in hearing of them.
"Next, I want to question each British and each German sailor separately.
One at a time. I want to start with the British. Will that be a problem?"
It would not, but Lucterhand had a question.
"Do you want to interrogate them in there?"
"Omigod, no," muttered Mayweather in a low voice to Sturz.
"Roger that," Sturz murmured back. "I won't be able to
eat anything for a week."
"No," Holgate answered, to their relief, "I don't think
that'll be necessary. Only if there turns out to be something I need to
follow up on."
The Germans had some difficulty with the idiom, but finally understood.
1) In Classical Arabic, "fida'i" (plural: "fida'iyin")
is "one who undertakes perilous adventures." In the Colloquial
Arabic of the last few decades, this has morphed into "fedayeen"
and taken on a different meaning. Those who serve Hadi Pasha see themselves
as "fida'iyin" and not "fedayeen." See the wonderful
2) From above, "summaq" is Arabic for sumac, a pungent Middle
Eastern spice from the berry of a type of rhus tree. Poison ivy and poison
sumac are among the ~150 varieties in that family. See also: