Tabitha Baumander

THE POWER AND THE BLOOD; can be found on simply use my name and the title as a search tool or click here


     It was June 1943.  The sky was blue and the weather perfect.  It was just warm enough to make a working man feel glad he was alive.  Softening the warmth was a sea breeze holding the perfume of far away places. 

After months of preparations in the Philadelphia shipyards the experiment was on schedule.  Looking a little like a child’s oversized science fair project two huge generators were mounted on the forward deck of the U.S.S. Eldridge, a destroyer escort.  The generators were wired to the craft's metal structure and were ready, awaiting only the preordained time.

     On the ship seamen and officers went about their usual duties.  They were aware they were involved in something special but they were only passive participants in this scientific adventure.  While most working on deck and below kept this odd addition to their ship and its purpose in mind they simply concentrated on taking care of business.  They were seamen and their loyalty was to their captain, craft and country.  Scientists with nutty ideas might be useful and even save lives but they didn’t really deserve much attention or chatter.  The captain wouldn’t approve.

     On shore, and in small boats floating at safe distances, scientists and navy authorities watched the ship and radar operators watched their screens.  World War two was at its height.  Out on the sea’s around the world ships, men and vital supplies were being lost. 

     Some nameless faceless government scientist had proposed a theory to the admiralty.  The radar making their ships sitting ducks to prowling German submarines could be blocked or beaten by equipping ships with powerful generators that would create a magnetic field around a ship.  Theoretically this field would render a ship invisible on any radarscope.  They were about to put his idea to a large and practical test. 

     A pre test run had been done with a selection of animals in cages.  It had not been entirely satisfactory.

     A green fog had covered the ship and it appeared to vanish for a moment from radar screens.  It was a result that delighted the scientists and watching officials.  However, boarding the ship afterward they learned that all was not right.  The condition of the test animals they left in their cages on the deck had been listed in the reports euphemistically as less than optimal.  But this was war and they had no time for niceties. 

     The animals were carefully and quietly taken away for tests and plans were made for the next step.  They had to try it with people.  The necessary preparations for this more complex version of the experiment were completed with quick military efficiency.  There was nothing else left to be done. 

     Captain John Dundern stood on the bridge and looked out at his craft.  The sun hung in a near cloudless sky.  The sea was calm.  He didn’t like the idea one bit but it was almost time to turn on the power.

     Like the rest of his crew he had a general idea of what they were trying to accomplish and what they would theoretically experience.  Unlike his crew John Dundern also knew exactly how complex was the science involved in that effort.  He also knew the condition of the animals brought off the ship after the first test.  He had seen active service and considered himself far from a coward but there was a difference between bravery and foolishness.

     The day before he had expressed his concerns very firmly to his superior.

     "Admiral, war time or not I am having serious problems with the way we are rushing things here.  Sir, some of those animals were dead. Even if it does work, killing off half my crew to avoid having the enemy do the same thing doesn’t sound to me like an efficient use of resources."

     The admiral had said nothing.  His face said a great deal.  John Dundern had served under this man for a full five years and knew how to read his commanders moods.  He also knew that even admirals had to answer to someone.  As if to confirm John’s assumptions the admiral had very little choice in the matter the man had simply turned to the two scientists present at this last minute meeting and said,

“You’re opinions gentlemen?”

They were three words that said a great deal.  His commander had doubts of his own and probably a lot more information to back up those doubts.  In spite of this someone higher up had ordered this test take place.

Lacking any choice in the matter he was handing the work of convincing his subordinate himself he was going to pass on the job to the two scientists who were present.  They did this with the self-assured confidence of men who would be watching the action from a very comfortable distance. 

     "You are mistaken captain I admit to some anomalies however none of the animals were actually dead.  I assure you, you and your men are in no danger," said the first.

     His partner continued the thought without a pause.

     "We have taken the test results into account and have adjusted our equipment accordingly."

     Captain Dundern frowned remembering the complex explanation following that self assured promise.  He didn't know why he mistrusted the men who had given him the impromptu lecture.  He'd gone to university on an ROTC scholarship eventually taking his masters degree with a physics major.  If it weren't for the war there was a good chance he would have been wearing a lab coat himself.  In spite of this he did not like what was happening.

     The voice of the ship’s pilot interrupted his distracting musings.

     "All systems ready Captain.  Power up to full.  One minute to time," said the man in his usual matter of fact voice.

     Captain Dundern smiled slightly.  This was a man that could relay orders in the same voice whether they were on a calm smooth ocean or in the middle of a battle.  Just for a moment Dundern wondered if he was displaying the same steady nerve in the face of scientific suicide.

     "Very well pilot.  Go on time, not before.  We don't want to catch anyone off guard."

     The captain looked out the forward window at the deck.  He studied the two generators and wondered if he could ever get used to the presence of the great anomalous metal lumps.  He imagined if the things worked he could, but right now they just looked like twin cancers begging for removal.

     A movement drew his eyes and he noticed a crewman walking the deck busy doing one of the millions of things that needed to be done on a ship.  He knew every man on his small ship by name but for the moment he could not think of this one.  All his memory could come up with was a picture of the man hunched over a bible.  He was not usually a praying man himself but he never stood in the way of anything that gave a person comfort. 

The man in charge of the power switch had began a count down.  Listening to this captain Dundern wondered if the sailor he watched should be warned away from the edge of the deck.  The electrical field that would theoretically render them invisible to radar could just possibly give the man a nasty shock.  An electric shock victim that fell over board could easily drown before he was fished out of the drink.


     The Captain shook his head.  Shock risk or not there was no time to get any word to the distant sailor.  That man had paused in his progression and was standing and looking at the shipyards.  Perhaps he was thinking of shore leave past or future.  The common every day thoughts of any seaman.


     The far off sailor's eyes moved from the shore to a gull that hovered over the ship and moved out to sea.  Watching the graceful movement of the bird himself John Dundern smiled, feeling a kinship with the young bird watcher.  Life on the water had its advantages even in the navy.

     The captain's smile turned to a puzzled frown as he noticed this man was carrying something unusual.  He quickly put it on.  It was a life vest. 


     The captain had only a moment to wonder why?

     "two,,,one,,,POWER ON!"

                         * * *

     Frank Delany sat at the edge of the pier and let his legs dangle in mid air.  He opened his lunch box.  Working the docks was a hard unforgiving life but sometimes on good days like this Frank knew he wouldn't take a cushy factory job if you gave it to him.  Curiously he didn’t have the stomach to go to sea himself.  It was an old family joke that he sometimes felt queasy simply taking the fairy to Cony Island.  But working here by the water that was the best.

     He chewed his bologna sandwich heavy on the mustard and looked out at the sea and the passing ship traffic.  Ships made him think of his brother-in-law somewhere in the pacific.  As always he said a small prayer for his safe return.  Frank knew a lot of men who complained their sisters had married bums.  His sister had married one of life's' good guys.  All he had to do was come home.

     Frank poured a drink of coffee from his thermos and

breathed in the aroma thankful that his asthma was cooperating and his lungs seemed to want to do the job for which they were intended.  It was a condition that had kept him out of the army.  Some days, like today when the sun was out and the air smelt of freedom, he was glad.

     Frank drank some coffee and looked out at the water. Something was there floating on the waves.  First it looked like a log.  Then it looked like something that made his stomach turn to ice.  Stiffly he climbed to his feet and began waving for attention.

     "Hey.  Hey!  Somebody, anybody, come here!  Is that what I think it is?  I'll be damned if it doesn't look like a body!" he called.

     Men came running and he was quickly surrounded by a small crowd including Tim Smith his foreman, a stout balding man with half a life time on the docks under his belt.  Next to his foreman stood the Max Jenson, captain of a tugboat moored at the dock.  Jenson stuck his tongue in one cheek and squinted at the distant sight.

     "I think your right it is a body.  In fact I’m sure of it.  We gotta get out there before the current grabs it and pulls it out to sea."

     "Can you get it in the tug Max?" asked Frank.

     Jenson shook his head and said, "We're not working today, engine trouble.  Come on I think we can get it with our dingy."

     “I’m coming,” Frank said.

     He shoved his thurmos and sandwich into his lunch box then put the lunch box into his foreman's hands for safekeeping.  Leaving the surprised man to simply watch him go he and followed the tug captain to the rowboat that floated in the water behind the tug.  Letting Frank do the job of casting off and pushing them away from the tug.  Max sat in the rowers seat grabbed the ores and pulled hard moving the small boat with a speed that forced Frank to simply hang on. 

He was no seaman, but he knew why he was here.  It was a bit selfish but he’d seen the body first.  This was his scrap of excitement and he wanted to be in on the tale till the end. 

Keeping his eye on the their goal Frank gave Max directions at the same time willing his stomach to behave and let him have this little bit of glory untarnished.  Within minutes they were sitting in the water directly beside the floating body.

     "Holly crap Max, he's alive," Frank said.

     Max leaned forward slightly and nodded.  The tug captain had been on the water for most of his life.  Frank knew he’d seen just about everything and at this point. There was very little left that could excite or upset his composure.

     He said, “Yeah you’re right.  Okay Frank this is going to be tricky.  I know you’re not much of a boatman so you need to do just what I tell you when I tell you to do it.  Make a mistake and you’ll tip us over instead of pulling him in.”

     The tug captain pulled in his ores and retrieved a long pole with a hook from the bottom of the little boat.  He reached out with this pole and hooked the floating man pulling him toward their little craft.  The floating man moved with as little effort as a leaf on a stream.

     "He's navy.  They must have had some kind of accident up at the yard," Max muttered.

     "I guess so.” Frank agreed. “But, how the hell did he get all the way over here?  Even if he fell out without anyone noticing right away shouldn't they have started looking for him and fished him out before he got this far?"

     Carefully they inched the waterlogged man into the rowboat.  He was an ordinary able seaman wearing a life vest.  It was the thing that had kept him alive. 

“Usually yeah,” Max muttered. “Sometimes things happen that ain’t usual.”

Frank looked up from the semiconscious man moving sluggishly at the bottom of the boat and found something he never thought he’d see.  Impossibly the rough dock hardened tug captain looked almost afraid. 

     "What's wrong Max you look like you seen a ghost?" Frank asked.

     Max glanced toward the distant military installation then busied himself with his ores.  He turned the boat around and they started in to shore.  When he spoke his eyes were dark and full of worry.

     He said, "Guy I know, no one special just a wharf rat, said something happened there yesterday.  This guy might have been part of that something.  That’s why he got this far this boy’s been in the water since yesterday."

     Frank looked from the tug captain to the waterlogged sailor.  The man in front of him had seen action in the last war.  He had taken his boat out into hurricanes to rescue ships.  He had civilian and military medals to mark his bravery and had even had his picture in the paper.  Yet it was clear this man was in the grip of an uncertain fear.

     "What was it?" Frank asked.

     "I'm not sure I want to tell you," Max said.

     The sailor began to mumble something about the eyes of god.  Frank didn’t think anything of it, being in the water for almost a full day, even if you probably did spend most of it out cold, would cause anyone to see god.

     "What could a wharf rat learn that was so terrible?" Frank asked.

     "This guy's a old friend from the last war but the drink got him.  He gets the DT's sometimes and knows what a nut wagon looks like from the outside and the inside," began the captain.

     Frank shrugged and said, "Yeah, so?  It happens.  Life gets to you.  I got a cousin like that, what's the connection?"

     "They had ten wagons, military wagons, parked over there and they were loading sailors into them.  These were guys off the Eldrige.  Frank, they were stark staring mad.  There were others too.  Those ones were covered up like there were dead!"

     The young man, barely older than seventeen, lying in the bottom of the boat slowly opened his eyes.  He turned his head stiffly taking in where he was and who he was with.  He began to speak but Frank wasn’t sure if he was speaking to his rescuers or himself.

     "They opened the door to heaven.  I doubted their wisdom.  I was unworthy."

     By the time they reached the dock the young man was aware enough to sit up in the boat and with help climb the ladder to the dock.  He did so to the cheers of the watching dock-workers.  The war had shown them all far to much darkness.  A soggy seventeen year old kid was more than a cause for celebration.  Here the Tim Smith took charge shooing away all but the tugboat captain and Frank.

“All right you bums shows over.  We got cargo to move.  Get yer lazy asses back to work lunch is over.”

With Tim leading the way Max and Frank helped the boy to the nearby warehouse and sat him on a wooden chair.  A rough wool blanket generally used to wrap delicate objects during shipping was wrapped around his shivering form. 

     "You relax sailor I'll call your people, they'll come to get you.  You'll be just fine.  Frank you got any coffee left in that thermos?"

     The foreman pointed toward Franks lunch box left on a crate.  Frank spared a quick thought to his only half eaten lunch then pushed the thought from his mind.  Lots of guys on this dock worked whole days with nothing in their bellies.  When money was short you fed the kids first and when some kid’s half dead and shivering the hot drink goes to him.

     "Yeah, sure plenty," he said.

     Frank pulled out his thermos and brought it back to where the sailor sat dripping.

     "They don't know what they've done.  They have opened the doors to heaven," the boy said.

     Tim Smith stared blankly at the babbling sailor.  He shook his head and looked to his companions.

     "What the hell's he talking about?” he asked. “Did he say anything in the boat?  There had to have been an accident over at the shipyard or something."

     Frank looked from the thermos in his hands to the tug boat captain who shook his head slightly.  Frank knew what he meant.  Some sea stories were just not meant for sharing.

     "I don't think we wana know boss," Frank said.

     The wet sailor stared ahead as if looking at not a thing but at a single pure thought.  When he spoke a shiver when down Frank’s spine.  It was madness.

     "A door opened can be opened again.  A door to heaven opened by a live and living man."

     Suddenly the teen threw off the blanket and dashed through the warehouse toward a door that would lead to the street.  The foreman took a step to follow but was stopped by Max Jenson.

     "No!  We don't want to follow Tim.  In fact I don't think this never happened," Jenson said firmly.

     Smith pulled out of Jenson's grip and pointed in the direction the sailor had fled.

     "What do you mean never happened?” he yelled. “That boy is sick!"

     "I know!" said Max. "I know he is."

     The captain paused as if desperately searching for the words that would make the man in front of him understand.  He rubbed a hand over his stubble covered chin then ran it through his inch long graying hair.  He made a face as if the act of willing a decent man to go against his instincts was more than painful.

     "The navy did something to make him that way and I don't think the navy likes outsiders to know about their mistakes.  I heard about something that happened.  The sort of thing they lock you up for in wartime if you know.  They might even lock you up for knowing this if there wasn't a war," Max said.

     Tim Smith swallowed hard and looked from one man to the other.  Understanding slowly showed in his face.  It was a face pale with apprehension and at the same time flushed with anger.  It was common knowledge the military had secrets.  It was also common knowledge they didn’t like to share those secrets with just anyone.

     "Oh shit,” he said. “You really think it’s like that?"

     Frank studied his boss’s face and suspected his own was just as troubled.  They were good men struggling with the demons of human compassion and self interest and they hated themselves just a little for the choice they knew they had to make.  The captain had already made his choice but he stood looking at his friends willing them to be strong.

     "I guess they'll find him," Tim said reluctantly.  "Who'd miss a guy soaking wet and wandering around talking like a nut?"

     "Boss, I don't think this ever happened," said Frank. "I think maybe the guy floated to shore on his own and walked through here when no one was looking.  I mean the boys out there saw us pull a guy from the water but maybe it was just an ordinary merchant seaman.  He left when we weren’t looking.  A lot of those guys they wear uniforms just like the regulation navy."

     Max Jenson smiled at this creative solution. He gave Frank an approving nod.

     "You know Frank I think that's exactly how it happened," said Max. “Boys you know my history.  Back in the last war I had a couple of missions, more than a couple truth be told.  If I told you about them I’d get locked up even now.  The navy, the army, they like to keep their secrets, secret.”

     Tim Smith thought a long moment then nodded his head slightly.  His shoulders slumped in the face of some weight much heavier than the biggest crate on the docks.

     He said, "I'll be in my office.  Frank don’t worry about the time you finish your lunch.  You did your good deed for the day you shouldn’t have to work hungry because of it."

     Tim Smith walked toward his office.  Watching him go the tugboat captain draped the now damp blanket over a chair to dry.  Frank waited till the office door was closed before speaking.

     "So you think the navy will just pick him up?" he wondered out loud. 

     Captain Max nodded.  He led the way back to the door to the warehouse.  The day was still bright and warm and beautiful.  Deep inside Frank's chest sat a cold and bitter stone.

     "Oh sure.  Or the cops will and they'll call the navy.  There's no doubt he's got his brains scrambled Frank, but who knows if it's permanent.  Anyway he needs help and if they did it to him then they can damn well undo it!"








Make a Free Website with Yola.