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PART 10: June 10, 1915  

Letterstime - Ein Geleitzug - Meeting Engagements, Part XXXI

(Noon, June 22, 1915)

---- Philadelphia

Mr. Frederick Burke of the Philadelphia Inquirer had quite the smug look plastered across his face as he most thoroughly enjoyed the scene before and around him. Amidst bright bunting and Greek flags, braying bands and speechifying officials were getting lots of clapping and cheering from the boisterous crowd. Yes, the films should come out quite nice and it made for great copy. What made it even better was that so many of his long-time fellows had been caught flat-footed by Salamis' passing up the HAPAG Terminal to the south of town, but not "Fast Freddie." Nosiree! Not Missus Burke's boy. Nuh-uh! He'd stayed with his car, well out on the access road, just in case the Greeks pulled a fast one. Freddie had also been nursing a ripping hang-over headache and had been nauseously reluctant to walk anywhere, let alone way out on some damn pier, unless or until he absolutely had to. As his headache had faded, so had his memory, becoming progressively replaced with self-congratulation on his shrewdness.

Oh, there were other reporters here, of course, but many of his arch-nemeses were doubtless still strung out on roads to the south, cursing their luck as they helplessly pounded on their steering wheels. The grin on the face of Freddie, who had pummeled many a steering wheel himself over the years, stretched a bit wider at that thought, as he snapped picture after picture of the gesturing notables and the clamoring crowd. He winced, though, at a particularly piercing horn honk, threatening as it did to bring back the headache and all those other unpleasant symptoms he was well along to happily forgetting.

Herr Jager noted the pained expression on the face of the slight reporter as he ambled past him with his crew, all of them following the pair from the Chancellery. They remained embedded in the merriment and the random comings-and-goings within the enthusiastic crowd, the Germans did, as they eased their way towards the fringe of the throng and then down the pier. Jager wondered at it, as Burke's seemed the only non-ecstatic face in sight. Well, other than the stolid expressions on his and those of his men. Like the others from Vulcan, he'd hoped for a week's vacation in America but would now gladly settle for getting safely back home. Still, they all felt the satisfaction of a tough job done, and done well, and the trip to the city called "Boston" promised to be a restful change from the enginerooms of the Salamis. At least if train's steam engine broke down, they'd not get another midnight call to come fix it!

Freddie paid them no attention, of course, intent as he was on the ceremonies in progress up on Salamis' quarterdeck. Just then, for example, Captain Liapis was leaning over to better allow a florid-faced dignitary to drape about his torso a broad, emblazoned sash.

---- HAPAG Terminal Pier, New York

The German light cruiser Kolberg had cast off without event just before noon, taking with her that commodore of theirs and LT Lionel. Standing next to Colonel Anton, both with glasses raised, Ensign Jones was not fooled that his task was done. He could see all-too-plainly the next German cruiser already in her final approach. What was her name? Augs-something, Jones seemed to recall, then he shifted his attention back to departing warship.

"Sir," he commented aloud, "Kolberg's stopped."

"Yes," Anton agreed. "There goes their small boat."

"Their commodore's in the stern," Jones noted. He didn't spot the bi-lingual lieutenant, but he was there, Jones didn't doubt it for a moment. Three more ships to go: another light cruiser, then a battlecruiser, then another battlecruiser. By then, with his luck, even more Germans would come out of the woodwork - a whole damn fleet! - and he'd NEVER get to go on leave.

---- Augsburg, stopped, New York inner harbor

"Welcome aboard, Herr Kommodore," Speck greeted.

"Thank you, Kapitan. There is much to tell you, but I have no time. None, whatsoever. There should be no problems docking. Tie up exactly where Kolberg was moored. With your bow right there at that black and yellow marker."

"Aye, aye, sir."

"Herr Schmidt is there from the embassy. You are to follow his instructions. The Americans have an armed soldier perimeter at the base of the pier. They have inspected all vehicles and packages, but there have been no problems."

Speck nodded.

"The embassy has contracted for food and other provisions to be delivered alongside, Mittermann and Sons. The food has been fresh, and of very good quality. Water is available on the pier, quantity unlimited. Flush and refill everything."

My crew?"

"Yes, the warehouse, that one there," von Hoban pointed, "has been converted into a barracks. Unlimited water, including hot water for bathing."

Speck smiled at that.

"One caution," Speck's smile disappeared at von Hoban's sharp and serious tone. "Be very courteous and correct to the Americans." Speck nodded, again. "But you are not to let them aboard to search your vessel unless Schmidt - or another from the embassy - agrees. If the Americans ask, refer them to Herr Schmidt himself. This is most important, verstehen Sie?"

"Jawohl, Herr Kommodore! What about a request just to come aboard, for a courtesy visit? If Herr Schmidt is not there?"

"A topside tour, if you think you must. You will have to use your discretion."

Speck nodded again, chest tightening at that last word. Admiral Hanzik had said used exactly the same word.

---- HAPAG Terminal Pier, New York

Admiral Martin sourly noted that that Mr. Schmidt for the German embassy was already there, where the German Augsburg had just singled up. There'd been no way to avoid this, he now realized, since Schmidt could not have been had prevented from being there when Kolberg cast off less than an hour earlier.

"Damn," said Colonel Anton at the sight, mostly under his breath. The Germans had snookered him yet again. "Damn, damn, damn."

"Infiltration tactics, sir." It was Fideles, who'd come up at his elbow. The Navy Ensign had edged out of their post, as he scanned Augsburg's topsides for his German opposite number. "The men in the warehouse, them using Salamis, even getting the reporters past us yesterday and all."

"Yes, Gunny, and I am commencing to get very tired of it."

"Sir." Fideles said a ton with that word.

"They scouted us, Gunny. Without tipping us off, figured us out, and played me for a fool." Anton swallowed. "I've gone soft, Gunny."

"Sir, they're fighting a war and we're not. They took this real serious for some reason. Why, I dunno. Now, if'n we'd been real serious about it, we'd've been changing dispositions every watch or so, and let next to nobody through no matter what. 'Sartanly none of d'em reporters, yesterday. The pier'd've been off limits and that'd've been that. We'd've just let the Greeks howl."

"You're absolutely right, Gunny, but consider: they took it serious yet managed to keep us from realizing it until now."

Fideles did not like that, his slow and grudging nod said. He half-turned as he spoke, already sizing up his posts, and thinking how to alter them. "We know it now, sir. They won't slip another one past me like this again."

"Carry on, Master Sergeant."

Fideles was dead on, Anton decided. As always, he admitted, ruefully. The Germans HAD taken this all very, very serious. Why? What had they gained?

Herr Schmidt had already exchanged a few words with Captain Speck before the American Admiral and his party had neared his ship. Just a very few, and just to identify himself, no more. To do more would be patently unwise.

Admiral Martin, through his interpreter, Commander Houseman, went through the same ritual with Augsburg's captain as he had with Speck's predecessors. The American flag officer found his eyes wandering over the other Germans in sight.

"Is not Commodore von Hoban aboard?" Martin finally asked.

"Nein, Herr Admiral," Speck answered.

"He boarded your vessel, Captain, did he not?"

"Yes, but he returned aboard Kolberg." At a subtle head gesture from the Embassy official, Speck added, "Kommodore von Hoban came aboard to inform me that Herr Schmidt - from our Embassy - was on the pier and would be available if any problems should there be."

Admiral Martin looked over at Schmidt, who bowed suavely.

"And the young interpreter, Lieutenant Lionel?"

"He also remained aboard Kolberg, Herr Admiral. I was told that Herr Schmidt and the Embassy would provide translators, as necessary."
Within a few more minutes, the formalities had been completed, leaving the Germans with their tasks and deadline, and the Americans with still another mystery.

And Ensign Kevin Jones, USN, with his leave.

---- USS Texas (BB-35), just inside Three Mile Limit off channel to New York harbor

Alerted by LCDR Barton aboard Parker (Destroyer No. 48), they had not been surprised by Moltke's appearance cresting the horizon. The big German battlecruiser had maintained a steady and sedate 12 knots. Predictably, right as the range report dropped to just over 12,000 yards, a series of flags had been reported going up the halyards of the foreign warship. The Germans would want to signal the American task force, especially since Texas flew the three-star flag of the Neutral Power task force commander. If the German Admiral Hanzik were still aboard Moltke, some deliberate formality might seem important. In any case, 10,000 meters was a safely standard signaling distance.

Now, thought Admiral McDonald, just what would they have to say? Simple pleasantries, perhaps in passing on the way into port? Some specific information to impart? A request of some sort? If Hanzik had indeed remained aboard, he might even ....

"Sir, the German admiral is requesting permission to come aboard."

"Very well," McDonald answered. "Granted."

It would not have been his first wager, though neither was it a total surprise. He gave no further orders; he would not insult New York's CO so. Besides, scuffling feet and the like made it plain that preparations had already begun.

Now, what could this dour Hanzik fellow have on his mind?

---- Boston, pier-side

The last of the liners had finally docked and the two reporters were exhausted. The pageantry of bands and crowds and the cavalcades of trucks and carts had become quite familiar to them by now. They knew what their editors had printed, and they had generally replicated what had worked best before. There were some twists, of course, and those were important to keep the story fresh, and not let it go stale. They had gone from one liner to five, and their arrival here seemed to have come as a surprise to just about everyone. They had many rolls of exposed film and pages of scribbled pages but, until their fellows showed up, they would have to stick to it. Blue, in particular, was trying to make up for a bit of lost time, though "lost" was not the word he would have used.

Both of the young reporters were sitting on a convenient ledge - an untended luggage cart had been Blue's guess when he'd spotted it earlier - at about mid-pier. Their vantage let them survey matters even as they created the annotation lists for their earlier camera shots, an essential step for later film interpretation when dealing with multiple rolls. Browning nudged Fox at the approach of one group.

"Holly!" There were several women, but Blue had eyes only for one. She had a small bag in one hand, and several porters trailed in their wake. "You're going back? Now?"

"Yes, I'm afraid I must. We all are. I don't know about anyone else, but I know that my mother will be throwing a fit as it is." Any fear or trepidation was belied by a wondrously soft smile.

"Oh, yes," exclaimed another, tossing long mahogany ringlets in vigorous agreement. "Mine'll give me the devil, I just know it."

Max, whose Colleen wore her hair just the same, smiled genuinely at the sight. The young lady brightened at that and looked demurely away. He was so tall and fit looking. A third lass giggled at the by-play, looking forward to the teasing to come.

"If you gentlemen will excuse us, we do have a train to catch." This comment was delivered firmly by a serious-faced matron of some size. Another nodded on her flank, though not unkindly, and neither moved to end the exchange.

"What about you?" Holly tried for a casual tone, and almost managed it. "What are you going to do?"

"I don't know," Blue confessed. "There're others coming up from the Inquirer. Until they get here, I dare not even leave the pier here." In other words, he was not going to come to the train station to see her off. "After that, I'm not sure. It's up to my editor."

"I, I understand." All too well, maybe.

"Ballin wouldn't - or couldn't - say how long they'd be here. A day, maybe two, maybe even a week. So, I really won't know WHAT my editor will say until I talk to him tonight."

Holly blinked, and swallowed. She'd been a fool ....

"But, Miss Greenwood? Holly?"

"Yes, Mr. Fox?" His tone sounded different. Promising?

"Nothing will keep me away from Philadelphia." He paused and looked her right in the eye. "Not now."

Oh, yes! Holly's eyes softened.

"Not even if the whole world goes to war.

"And when I do get back, Miss Greenwood, may I have your permission to call upon you?"

The giggler sighed behind her.

"Yes, Mr. Fox. You do." Holly swallowed, again, this time for a very different reason than before. "And, Blue, I will pray to speed the day."

---- USS Texas (BB-35), just inside Three Mile Limit off channel to New York harbor

Time had seemed to pass particularly slowly while the German battlecruiser made her deliberate, almost mincing, approach. Growled commands had not stopped the gawking, not entirely, but his flagship did present a sober and shipshape image that he could well be proud of - and he was. He was. Moltke, on the other hand, plainly bore the scars of battle, but battles she had won. McDonald knew quite well that she'd been in two earlier major fleet actions, ones worthy of legend, if they'd gone anything like the reports claimed. Then she'd crossed the Atlantic and destroyed just about all the combat power the Entente had had on this side of the ocean. She'd done all this while his own flagship had passed the time anchored or cruising off Mexico and the East Coast.

His crew had chipped and repainted rust, while hers had smoothed out shell hits. Some of the imperfections revealed by the bright mid-afternoon sun in his big binoculars could only have come from major caliber guns. Like those the British had had on their own battlecruisers. All of which were sunk now. Some by this big German now easing up alongside.

She had blackened spots on her hull, where painters would be hard-put to reach at sea. His Texas sported a pristine bow-to-stern coat of paint not a week old. He knew his ships' ropes and canvas were bright, tight, and squared away. Moltke's were in fast-tattering awnings. But shading their prisoners. They were both warships, but Moltke had seen much of war, victoriously, while his ....

"All stop."

The order on the bridge brought him back and he thought to look landward. Yes, just as he'd feared, the arrival of this "exotic" newcomer had not gone unnoticed. Many sails and powered pleasure boats appeared to have assumed courses that shortly would bring them all right into his lap. Whatever the Germans were about, they'd have quite an audience on hand for it.

Wonderful. Just wonderful.

---- Wilhelmshaven

"Kapitan Lantz," the crisp-tunic'ed leutnant greeted. "If you would come with me, bitte?"

Jeff felt himself relaxing, and realized that he'd been more than a little worried at his reception here within these somewhat forbidding halls. His fears had just been allayed, as his escort bore the insignia of the staff of Commander - High Seas Fleet which, as of the beginning of June, had become officially Vice-Admiral Letters. Lantz' experiences here had included both indifference and opposition, even as he successfully advanced in rank. No one, however, was likely to give him any trouble while his escort was obviously an aide to Baron Letters, the architect of "The Kaiser's Battle."

Instead of antagonism, Lantz found himself returning smiles and greetings from officers of whom he had no recollection whatsoever. He decided that Letters' star must have ascended even further these last three weeks while Jeff was "busy" lying flat in a hospital bed. It was not that surprising, actually, he decided, as the Baron's "obviously inflated" battle reports had kept getting triumphantly confirmed, one after another.

Jeff failed to consider that he himself might be a known man in his own right. There were no other officers walking the halls with an arm in a cast, let alone wearing the Pour le Merite and how it had been earned.

The aide surreptitiously studied the hero at his side. The stature of the RN light had begun to approach mythology. They had set up the Heligoland Bight disaster. Despite terrible odds, they had almost reversed the outcome at Dogger Bank, even after rescuing thousands of wounded they had pulled from the freezing water. In a succession of charges and smokescreens, they had almost saved Sturdee despite himself. At what promised to become the moment of triumph, they had instead put multiple torpedoes into the Baron's force, including one into his very flagship, and harried him and all of First Scouting clear away from The Kaiser's Battle. Then they had somehow mounted a cohesive, multi-flotilla attack in almost total darkness and driven off the entire pursuing Main Body, sending them back to port.

In fact, the Kaiserliche Marine had gotten the better of the Royal Navy light only once.

And Jeff wore that one time on his tunic.

---- USS Texas (BB-35), just inside Three Mile Limit off channel to New York harbor

Admiral McDonald simply stared at Admiral Hanzik. He had thought he was ready for anything, but that now seemed not to have been the case. Hanzik had declared that he was NOT just then taking Moltke up the channel to New York - all right, well and good. But then he had gone on to ask McDonald to ...

"All of them?"

"Yes. I do not have the precise number at my hand, somewhat over 600."

McDonald blinked, trying to think it through, unwilling to commit to anything until he'd done so.

Hanzik appeared to mistake the other's pause.

"I have given copies of the list to you, sir, and to others already. If you doubt my troth, you can certainly check the names off yourself."

"I am suggesting nothing, Admiral," McDonald replied evenly. "This is unexpected, that is all."

"I understand," Hanzik temporized.

"I'm quite sure that you do, Admiral. Quite sure. I can't help but point out that you have carefully established a clear pattern of transporting Commonwealth prisoners aboard your ships and turning them over as each one ported."

Poker chips, and reminding the British you held more of them out here. A lot more, and well beyond reach of them and us alike, he did not add, but wanted to.

"That would have had them all out of your hands in another couple days anyway. Why the change?"

"Water, mostly," Hanzik lied smoothly. Patterns, especially "clear" ones were dangerous traps, he did not add. Did not the Americans realize this most basic fact? Clearly they had not warred with a major power in a very long time. Had the Baron misjudged them after all?

"It is summer, and the heat makes water needs very greater than normal," the German continued, stolidly keeping to his story line. "We had not expected prisoners, at least not such numbers. I have not adequate facilities for their care." He waved at the flapping tenting draped about his flagship's topsides.

"I see," McDonald commented, remaining closed about his feelings. There was no way he could fit over 600 more men - possibly wounded men - aboard a Destroyer or two. He realized he was being maneuvered into conceding a dreadnought, at least one. However, he knew full well Stennis' will on this matter; there was simply no way he could reject the German's offer. Damn! What was really going on here?

"Very well," the American said. "I'll accept them. I will order Florida close aboard you, the other dreadnought battleship I have here right now. I'll call away the launches from both of my dreadnoughts, and you can transfer them to me that way. Onto Florida. Is that satisfactory?"

"Yes, and thank you, Herr Admiral." It was a quick decision. Very quick.

Hanzik did not think his surprise reached his face. This was something for which the American could not possibly have had detailed instructions regarding. Something that might touch on state policy. Yet, he'd perceived no impulsiveness in the decision. Either this McDonald was empowered far beyond Hanzik's estimates, or else McDonald had a profound understanding of his leaders' will. Or, could the Americans HAVE seen ahead to this? He liked none of those, but the last was almost frightening.

"You are very welcome, Admiral Hanzik."

The two flag officers smiled and worked through the polite forms, all the while trying to divine what was really going on in the other's head. And failing.

---- New York, Office of the Commander - Atlantic Fleet

The meeting had gone on for only 30 minutes, but it was already ending.

"Gentlemen," concluded Vice-Admiral Stennis, "I don't know what they're up to, but I've about had enough.

"Florida is on her way in with 600-odd POWs, leaving Admiral McDonald out there with two German battlecruisers and just Texas. Montana is somewhere off the Jersey coast looking for a German cruiser that's almost certainly cruising around off Boston right now." Laughing at us, was the unspoken addendum.

"Dave, I don't know what game they think they're playing, but I want you back out there. Immediately. So, Admiral Alton, you are to get underway at first light. Take your squadron out to join Admiral McDonald. Be advised that I may be detaching you, sending you on up to Boston; I just haven't decided yet."

"Aye, aye, sir," Alton replied.

"Captain Eberle, when Florida ties up, you are to take any and all measures necessary to safely but expeditiously get those men off her and over to the hospital. I've informed Dr. O'Brien that another 700 patients will be arriving there tonight. You should be aware that he lodged formal protest. Nonetheless, his orders are to do anything and everything necessary. Call in staff, double shift, triple shift, but to do whatever he had to to be able to receive them. Tonight. Your job, Captain, is to get them off Florida and over to the hospital. Tonight. Understood?"

"Aye, aye, sir."

"Admiral Alton, unless some problem shows up," and Stennis' tone suggested none had better, "Florida will be accompanying you back out in the morning to rejoin Admiral McDonald."

"Aye, aye, sir."

"Admiral Martin, I want you personally to see about expediting Arkansas and Utah. I may want to make the Germans a show of force, and we could have half the Grand Fleet in our lap in the next few days. I have been informed that President Wilson is of the view that the United States and the United States Navy does not seem to have anyone's respect right now.

"Gentlemen, if I have to sortie the entire Atlantic Fleet to get that respect, then that's preCISEly what I am going to do. Is that understood?"

"Aye, aye, sir." This was a flag officer chorus.

"General, we don't know when either or both of those battlecruisers are going to show up here. But when they do, I want a lot more security than we have there now. I repeat: a lot more. Now, I am not criticizing Colonel Anton's efforts to date - not at all - but I want to be prepared for anything. Anything at all, and that includes another rally mob like we had the other day. We got lucky, and I have no intention of going down that route again. You think about it and bring me a plan. Keep in mind that you may get as little as four hours warning."

"Yes, sir."

"And now, unless any of you gentlemen have anything to add, dismissed."

---- New York

Lannon and Nik were "dining in" at their place not far from the business district downtown. The four floor brownstone townhouses on the block all doubled as both business addresses and in-town lodgings for relatively well-heeled businessmen. Entrepreneurs and operators of small businesses such as theirs spent most of their time elsewhere, but a presence in this district for mailings, office space, and entertaining remained an absolute necessity. A great many things were sold, prices set, and contracts finalized by the shaking of right hands with after-dinner cigars in the left.

Tonight's affair was not unlike many others the two men had held over the last year or two: a baker's dozen guests, seven courses, and a string quartet in the background. The main entree was a steamship round of beef. The featured guest was a locally-known pianist who had done some touring in Europe last winter and who was looking to try out a few new pieces for which he'd declared Lannon's baby grande adequate to the task.

Tonight was indeed part of a contract of sorts, but not a business one. It was the men's quid-pro-quo in the deal that had included the fateful day sail four days earlier. Instead of notables and prospective clients, the guest list included Claire and Maggie, and nearly a dozen members of their families. Including Claire's maternal Aunt Terrilyn.

Lannon had dreaded this evening, fearing Auntie T's vitriol stemming from that confrontation on the dock. To his surprise and relief, there had yet been no mention of it, at least not directly.

Auntie T, it seemed, had been kept busy.

"... and they were laughing at my girls - even taunting them! - but I set them straight, let me tell you ..."

I bet you did, nodded Nate, hiding his smile. Poor Brits! From German bombards to American bombast. A pointed glance from Claire hinted he'd better hide it a bit better.

"... in no uncertain terms. The very idea!" Her meaty fist glinted fiercely with rings worth half-a-dozen of the boats that Lannon and Nik sold.

There was a brief pause following Auntie T's resonant sniff as she took another solid sip of her Cabernet Sauvignon.

"Nathaniel," quickly interjected another aunt of Claire's. This one was paternal side and was short and plump and oozed unctuously. "I saw the write up in the Philadelphia paper, the Inquirer, about how you had rescued all those poor British sailors."

"All four of us were there. It was just my boat. The British were running away from the Germans and just sank right alongside us. The closest thing to heroic was what Nik did. He went in alone with them on the Salamis just to make sure the Germans they had aboard didn't try anything. Just to keep them honest, Nik said."

Lannon glanced over at the other table, but Nik was nowhere in sight.

"Oooh, I hadn't heard that! There was nothing about THAT in the papers."

"Well, it's not that surprising," replied Nate. "There's not that much of a story there. Not really. We picked up seven. They've got how many in the hospital down there now? How many would you say, Aunt Ter ... rilyn? Three hundred?"

Lannon blinked in studied innocence at Claire's flashing eyes.

"Oh, at least!" Terrilyn exclaimed, instantly, obviously eager to leap back onto the stage. "And a rough and rowdy lot, at that, let me tell you! ...."

Claire was not fooled, that much was obvious. Still, Terrilyn baiting was about all the entertainment he could expect this evening. Lannon found himself wondering at Claire's relations. The women on her father's side ran short and round, overly so, while the maternal side representative - Auntie T - was more a gladiator, as Rubens himself might have painted. Claire herself resembled neither aunt, trim and athletic, a pleasure to partner on the tennis court and the ballroom dance floor, both.

"... their commander, though, he's a bit of a sweetie ..."

"Aunt Terrilyn!" Claire sounded scandalized. Lannon had to fight down another grin.

"... he's a great big Teddy Bear of a man, all ruddy and bristle-bearded ...."

Nate turned his eyes on Terrilyn's husband. The poor guy, a financier probably no taller than five-foot-eight, with thinning hair and none of it red, gazed back and just rolled his eyes without any other outward expression. No doubt about it, thought Lannon, looking away and hastily shielding his mouth, the man had hidden depths.

Lannon thus noted that his butler was poised at the room's edge, who then nodded for Nate's attention. Excusing himself, Nate headed over to see what he wanted.

"There's a telephone call, sir, for one of your guests."

What in the world?

"Indeed. Thank you, George. Which one?"

"Miss Claire's Aunt Terrilyn, sir."

by Jim

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