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Authors: Jack Ambraw

Tags: #mystery, #military, #Subic Bay, #navy, #black market

Decker's Dilemma

BOOK: Decker's Dilemma
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Published by Blank Slate Press Saint Louis, MO 63110

Copyright © 2014 Jack Ambraw

All rights reserved.


For information, contact:

Blank Slate Press

www.blankslatepress.com

Blank Slate Press is an imprint of Amphorae Publishing Group

4168 Hartford Street,
St. Louis, MO 63116

Publisher's Note: This book is a work of the imagination. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. While some of the characters and incidents portrayed here can be found in historical accounts, they have been altered and rearranged by the author to suit the strict purposes of storytelling. The book should be read solely as a work of fiction.

Manufactured in the United States of America

Set in Minion Pro and Gill Sans

Interior designed by Elena Makansi

Cover Design by Kristina Blank Makansi

ISBN-13: 9781943075065 - paperback | ISBN 9781943075072 - ebook

CHAPTER ONE

2230, Monday, December 23, 1986

The cruiser sliced through the South China Sea, bearing northwest at eight knots,
twenty-three
miles from Luzon's west coast. The sailor stepped through the hatch and dogged the watertight door behind him. He stood frozen in his tracks, breathing in the salt air and waiting for his eyes to adjust to the blackness. A third-quarter moon on the horizon, mostly lost in cloud cover, provided the only light.

Elliott Decker smiled. Standing a few feet away, he recognized the familiar posture silhouetted against the water. The five-foot-six frame. Crew cut. Wire rim glasses. Extending an arm, Decker put a hand on the sailor's shoulder. Kippen jumped, his entire body quivering.

“You should've seen your face,” Decker laughed.

Kippen seized the lanky, dark-haired sailor by the shirt collar. “Are you nuts? You scared the hell out of me.”

Decker took hold of his friend by the wrists and freed himself from clinched fists. “What's got you so jumpy?” He glanced around the deserted main deck passageway. “And what are you doing out here?”

“Hack said you'd be topside.” Kippen nodded towards a nearby ladder. “Let's get away from the hatch.”

The sailors walked up a level and stood at the aft edge of the helicopter flight deck. Kippen crossed his arms. “I need to talk.”

“Good or bad?”

“Depends. It's work related.”

Decker laughed and ran his fingers through his thick, neatly combed brown hair. At six-foot-two, he towered over his friend. “You've forgotten more about the naval supply system than I've ever learned. You sure I'm the right person for this?”

“No, but you're the only one I can trust. I've found a problem with our inventory. We're missing a few expensive items. It's like parts are being ordered, but never arrive on board.”

“Maybe it's operator error,” Decker shrugged.

Kippen glared at his friend. “It's not that. I'm the one who places the orders.”

“But you're not the only one who accesses the system. Chief Fray does ,too. And he and computers don't exactly get along. He's an errant keystroke away from crashing the whole network every time he logs on.”

“That was my initial theory,” Kippen admitted. “A computer glitch causing duplicate orders, but I haven't been able to find any proof of that.”

“Have you told anyone else? Chief? How about Suppo? He worked at the supply depot before the
Harvey
.”

Kippen shook his head. “Not yet. I want to solve the problem first, so I don't get blamed for it. I
did
call the depot a few days ago, but they were no help.”

Even in the dim light, Decker could detect concern in Kippen's face.

“Has this got you that worried? You're too much of a perfectionist, Kippen. Remember when you thought you lost the message folder? You said your career was ruined. Turned out it was a simple case of misfiling.” He studied his friend's expression in the moonlight. “Unless there's something else?”

An eastward swell tipped the ship hard to starboard. The sailors squatted to maintain balance as salt spray hit their faces. Kippen took off his glasses and wiped them clean with his coveralls. “There
is
something else. Claire drove down from Clark yesterday. Said she's transferring and didn't want a long distance relationship.”

“Ouch,” Decker frowned. “Where's she going?”

“Wichita. McConnell Air Force Base.”

“That qualifies as long distance. Sorry to hear that, my friend.”

“Thanks,” Kippen sighed. He took a handful of papers from his back pocket. “I thought she might be the one.”

“You've said that about all your girlfriends.”

Kippen disregarded the observation, wadded a sheet of paper, and lobbed it into the ocean. He reached for another. “Letters from Claire,” he explained. “Want to toss one?”

Decker shook his head. “They're all yours,” he said, peering over the side. “And you'd better put more into it. I think that one blew back on the ship.”

Kippen shrugged and threw another paper ball. “How are you and Vega?”

“She mentioned the dreaded F-word the other day.”

“Friends?”

“‘Fraid so.”

“That's not a bad thing,” Kippen reasoned. He started to hurl another letter overboard, but paused in mid-delivery. “Let me get your opinion about something. I was in a trike going home the other day—”

The sound of a hatch opening interrupted the conversation. The sailors watched two boiler technicians emerge from the ship's lower level and walk aft towards the fantail.

“What about the other day?” asked Decker.

Kippen waved his hand. “It was nothing.” He pitched the last letter and turned to Decker. “I want some time alone to think about things. Thanks for coming out here. I needed to talk to someone.”

“Glad to be of help.”

“You weren't, but thanks anyway for listening. Just keep all this between us, okay?”

“Trust me, I will tell no one.” Decker gave Kippen a mock salute. “I will put my security clearance to good use for once. Oh, and Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas to you, too,” Kippen smiled, as the ship swayed to port under a swell. “Whoa, I'd better sit.”

“Good thinking,” Decker agreed, as he walked down the ladder, leaving Kippen perched cross-legged on the edge of the deck.

After a brief stop on the mess deck, Decker entered the supply department berthing, stripped to a t-shirt and skivvies, and climbed in his rack. He closed the thin blue drape, turned on the overhead light, and retrieved a notebook stashed under his mattress.

Hack Wilson peeked inside the curtain and flashed a smile, his curly blonde hair wet from a shower. “I saw your light on. Are you awake?”

Decker didn't look up. “No. Go to bed.”

“I can't sleep. What are you doing? Writing in your diary again?”

A slow exhale. “For the hundredth time, this isn't a diary. It's my Book of Dates. A record of what happens in my world.”

“Sounds like a diary to me. What are you writing about anyway?”

“Imee.”

“What about you?”

“Not ‘I' and ‘me.' I'm writing about Imee.” Decker closed his journal. “I suddenly feel like Bud Abbott.”

“Who?”

“Never mind,” Decker said. “I was writing about Imee Marcos. And Bongbong. Ferdinand and Imelda's kids.”

“What kind of name is Bongbong?”

“It's a nickname. He's Ferdinand, Jr.”

“I'd stick with Ferdinand.”

“You've got a lot to learn about your new homeland. Most Filipino's have nicknames. I know a NoyNoy, a Popoy, and a Joker. But my personal favorites are names that are bell sounds. I know a Bong, Pong, and a Dingdong. ”

“I know one of those,” Hack smiled.

“I'll pretend I didn't hear that.”

“I'd still stick with Ferdinand,” Hack countered. “Why were you writing about the Marcos family anyway?”

“It's my anniversary,” said Decker. “I reported on board the
Harvey
one year ago today.”

“My condolences.”

“Thank you, my friend.”

“What'd the Marcoses have to do with your anniversary?”

“Nothing. I was just thinking about the upcoming elections. I suspect there's going to be trouble. The anti-Marcos' forces are planning his downfall.”

“They must think Luzon isn't big enough for the both of you.”

Decker tucked the notebook under his mattress and closed his curtain. “Go to bed.”

* * *

Kippen couldn't sit still. He got up, walked down the port ladder, and cautiously made his way aft to the fantail, while holding onto the top cable of three thin metal lines that formed a safety railing around the perimeter of the ship. The two boiler techs, smoking and talking quietly waiting to go on watch, huddled near the five-inch gun mount. Kippen knew smoking was not allowed topside at night, but he also knew most of the crew ignored the rule, expertly holding the burning end of a cigarette towards their palms in a semi-closed fist. A simple “hey guys” was all he said as he walked to the starboard side and up the ladder.

Kippen made two trips around the flight deck, deep in thought. Tired of walking in circles, he sauntered forward along the starboard side where the superstructure on his left narrowed the passageway to only a few feet. He paused amidships a few frames aft of the quarterdeck and leaned against the Mark 46 anti-submarine torpedo tubes, staring at the blue-green glow of bioluminescent plankton, churned up by the ship's propeller and sent swimming along in its wake. Lost in the solitude of the night, he thought he heard footsteps behind him.

Boots on the nonskid-coated deck.

He turned, but it was too dark.
Probably nothing,
he said to himself.
The ship makes odd noises at night.
He looked back towards the ocean and rested his elbows on the chest high pyramid of three torpedo tubes, his mind drifting again to the missing parts in the ship's inventory.

* * *

Unable to sleep, Decker opened a Herman Wouk novel that he'd been slogging through off and on while underway, hoping it'd work its magic once again. Twelve pages into his nightly reading, Decker heard the familiar din of Petty Officer Pinto next to him in the aisle, the unfortunate circumstance of having sailors sleeping above, below, and in the case of Pinto, across from him. Decker concentrated on the book with great effort, desperately hoping to avoid a conversation.

Pinto inserted a key into his locker, raised the lid, and rested it on a small support post. He methodically began undressing, neatly placing each item of clothing into his laundry bag. He reached over and pulled open Decker's curtain. “You're always reading. You should exercise your body as well.”

Decker noisily turned a page.

Pinto hung a small mirror next to his locker, removed his t-shirt, and began flexing his biceps. “Take a look at these guns. They're huge.”

Decker turned another page. “I'm not looking. I'll take your word for it.”

Apparently satisfied with what he saw in the mirror, Pinto spread a towel on the deck, stripped off his pants, and lay prone on the deck in his underwear.

“Jesus, dude,” Decker said. “Now I know why I hate to go to sea.”

Pinto ignored the comment and began doing rapid push-ups, counting aloud. Decker heard Pinto reach two hundred with a shrill grunt. “I hope you're finished.”

“Just gettin' started.”

“I was afraid of that.”

Pinto stood and began rummaging through his rack. “Time for cardio. Join me?”

“No, and please get dressed.”

Pinto laughed, threw on his t-shirt and sweat pants, and headed out of the berthing, a towel slung over his shoulder.

“Why me?” Decker sighed, closing his curtain and rolling over to face away from the aisle. Twenty-four pages later, Decker drifted off to sleep as the
USS
Caine
steamed into the eye of a typhoon. Out cold by 2345.

* * *

Again the noise behind him. Kippen spun around. A shadow moved behind the captain's gig. “Who's there?”

Silence.

Kippen squinted. “Decker? Is that you? You're not going to scare me this time. Hey, I thought of something else.”

A figure appeared out of the darkness. The man approached within an arm's length as clouds drifted away from the moon, casting a dim light on his face.

Kippen took a step back, reaching for the lifeline. “Oh,” he said
. “It's you
.

* * *

In the middle of a quickly forgotten dream, the man-overboard alarm startled Decker awake.

BOOK: Decker's Dilemma
2.91Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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