A TEST OF FEAR

By

Diane Farnsworth Kachmar

 

Chief Petty Officer Francis Sharkey shrugged out of his heavy pea coat and surveyed his new quarters with a practiced eye. Not bad, not bad at all. Beat sleeping over a torpedo by a mile. The closet sized cabins on the new Los Angeles class subs seemed almost spacious compared to the quarters he had on his last Skipjack.

He was looking forward to going to sea again. Shore leave was not something to be dismissed lightly, but he could only take so much of it before he got itchy. Only the sea could cure that.

The Crew roster was already hanging over the end bedpost, and he scanned it briefly. The Gold crew had lost several old hands. With the old man being promoted that could be expected. But some things never changed. He heard Art's voice, grumbling, down the corridor long before his cabin mate entered the small quarters.

"Man's got nothing better to do than drag me back two days early so we can get organized before the crew arrives." Petty Officer Bancroft maneuvered his ample body through the hatch with practiced ease and dropped his gear on the bottom bunk.

"Welcome aboard, Art." Sharkey extended his hand. "I trust you're having a good time."

"Hello, Chief." Bancroft took his extended hand and shook it warmly. "I see my misery is going to have company."

"Somebody has to keep you in line."

"I'd rather he'd kept me in Hartford for two more days. We don't shove off for at least two weeks."

Sharkey shook his head. "Lot of new hands this time around. You know what that means."

"Not another tour with sub school greenies!" Bancroft rolled his eyes. "Don't they ever give us a break?"

"You could always transfer to Mare Island or Bremerton, like you're always threatening."

"And take leave on Guam with nothing but gooney birds. No thanks."

"Then maybe you ought to marry that widow of yours and move her to New London. Then you could get a job at the school and--"

"Enough." Bancroft flopped down on the bunk and began to unpack. "In the first place, my friend, I don't ever intend to be henpecked. This way, I'm only there long enough to be appreciated, and then she's got the whole tour to miss me."

"While you're squiring girls in Naples, Rome, Venice, Athens Rhodes ...

Bancroft grinned. "Nothing quite like the Med, heh, Chief?"

"Long as I'm there to bail you out."

"That'll be the day, Art laughed, picking up his shirts and stowing them in his side of the locker. "How many greenies we got, besides the boy wonder they put in command?"

"About 40. And his name is Commander Lee Crane. I suggest you call him that.

"All right." Bancroft lifted a restraining hand. "Don't go getting your hackles up, I didn't mean any disrespect. It's going to take me a little while to get used to the idea of the Captain being young enough to be my kid. Who's he related to? Chester Nimitz?"

"Got no navy family that I know of. Passed his boards a year ago."

"C'mon, he's got to know somebody."

"He was Diving Officer on the Merrivale."

"Nelson's prototype? They nearly all bought it on that cruise."

"Except the green kid, fresh out of sub school, who had the conn didn't panic. I keep telling you, Art, don't judge them by who they are, but by what they've done. And this one's done plenty."

"Okay, okay. No more cracks. They wouldn't have given him command unless he passed his board, and that wasn't easy when Nelson made them up."

"Yeah, too bad he decided to retire. I wonder what the new Commandant is going to be like."

"We'll find out when we get back." "

"It's a shame that new hull didn't work out. I thought it had real potential, Art."

"It will never work, Chief. Steel's the only way to build a sub."

"Maybe so. But maybe the Admiral will find a way to keep it from cracking."

"Sure. Next thing you'll be telling me is that he's going to build a sub that flies, too."

"He could if he wanted to, man's a real genius."

"Most of the brass thought he was crazy, but they gave him his chance, and it didn't work."

"I know that, but I don't think the Admiral's going to give up."

"He'll never get it built by civilians."

Sharkey shrugged. "I wouldn't be too sure. Anything's possible if you're determined enough." The Chief smiled. "Life is full of surprises. Look at us. Did you ever imagine when you first signed up that you'd ship out with the youngest sub skipper in the whole U. S. Navy?"

"Don't remind me." Art pulled out more clothes, and then looked up quizzically at Sharkey. "How in the hell are we going to call him "the old man?"

"Just keep practicing, Art." Sharkey couldn't help but laugh at his friend's expression. "It has to get easier."

*****

One deck above Petty Officer's quarters, Lee Crane was sitting in his cabin, trying not to be overwhelmed by the stack of reports in front of him. There was so much that needed to be done.

He lifted the first five off the top, and scanned them briefly, then separated them into their various sections. He continued to sort until he had three separate stacks. He looked at the stacks a moment. What he could realistically expect his officers to accomplish in the next two weeks. They all knew what had to be done, but what was the best way to do it.

He found himself wishing Nelson was there. He'd know what to do. Lee shook his head. No. It was his responsibility. The old man had left, gone to California to build his sub, and wouldn't be around to consult anymore. He would have to make his decisions and live with them. Nelson wouldn't have given him the command if he didn't think he could handle it.

If only Chip had been able to transfer. Morton seemed to know what he wanted before he even asked. But Spoletti wouldn't let him go. He didn't blame the other Captain, good navigators were hard to come by, particularly on school cruises.

He would have to train Benning to be more decisive, and not wait for him to give him his orders. The old school training died hard.

Lee reached for the top report on the command stack. Operational readiness. He began reading it again. He would set up the work details in the morning with his Petty officers to get the work finished. There would be no slack for anyone until she was seaworthy.

He began to jot down notes on his clipboard. He had to be prepared. They would all be watching, waiting to see if he cut it. He was going to do his job, and if he did it right, they would do theirs. He could count on their respect, but he wanted their loyalty, too, and that was something he had to earn.

 

 

 

The End