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Cold is the seaA Novel
By Edward L. Beach
Naval Institute PressCopyright © 1978 Edward L. Beach
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTo most of the outside world, the Pentagon is a huge five-sided pile of cement, looming squat and commanding on the Virginia bank of the Potomac River across from Washington, D.C. It contains the offices of the Secretary of Defense, the Secretaries of the Army, Navy and Air Force, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the military Chiefs of the three Services. Behind their windows in the impressive, four-story, two-block-wide facade, these important personages can doubtless draw inspiration from the wide patriotic vista spread before them: it encompasses the mighty Potomac River in a single grand panorama from its confluence with the shallow Anacostia to Georgetown (the colonial "head of navigation"). The Lincoln Memorial on its banks, the spire of the Washington Monument and the Capitol dome all rise as if from a garden above the low screen of green bordering the river. One can visualize the high councils taking place behind those severe windows, the critically important, low-voiced briefings, the great decisions by which United States military policy is determined.
The Pentagon was built to be the world's largest office building, and it presides over the world's biggest parking lot. Some 30,000 people are housed in it fromeight to twelve hours a day, more than eighty hours a week in many cases. Its life never ceases, for there are watch officers and duty sections all over it, most especially, but not solely, in the secure operational command areas. It is not one building but about fifty, all interconnected, and they actually form five complete pentagons, placed one inside another in a series of concentric five-sided "rings."
The outermost and largest of the five pentagonal rings, the E-ring, is sumptuously finished, with marble columns, terrazzo floors, escalators and even a private elevator serving the most high-level offices. The favored office suites are all on the E-ring, with outside windows looking to the west, north and east. The smallest ring, the A-ring, is favored in a different way by having its hallway along its innermost side, so that the passerby may enjoy the view of the pentagonal central court from its windows. Between these two extremes there are rows upon rows of hallways interconnecting, rows upon rows of identical doors opening into rows upon rows of cubiclelike interior rooms occupied by the owners of most of the cars in the parking lot. Some of the interior rooms have no windows. Most, of course, do, but there is very little to look at. Through these windows, the occupants of the warrenlike spaces-that is, most of the Pentagon's 30,000 inhabitants-have a flat view of the rough-finished facing of the outside of the ring opposite. They are given an excellent opportunity to inspect, in depth, the impressions of the wooden concrete forms which held the cement in its designed place while it was hardening and also preserved imperishably the shape of every board, the pattern of its grain, its occasional knotholes, nailholes and splinters, for the ages yet to come.
The window gracelessly lighting Captain Richardson's office faced more or less to the west, but except for the direction taken by the sun's rays it held identically the same view as all the other interior windows: the casemented window frame and venetian blind of the equally drab cubicle opposite. Rich had been gazing through it more abstractedly of late, and more frequently, now that he had relatively little to do. It was raining gently, a warm, flower-benefiting rain. Outside the Pentagon a presidential campaign was in its early flowering stages as well, with nominating conventions only a few months away, and the news every day was full of learned discussion as to who might succeed the war hero who had held the post for nearly eight years.
As was the case with the real flowers which Laura tended so lovingly at home, however, Rich had had little opportunity, until very recently, to follow the blooming, or nonblooming, of the national political scene. He had had no leisure time to follow anything else, either, including the growing needs of thirteen-year-old Jobie.
Now, for the past week and a half, it was different, Jim Barnes, designated by the Bureau of Naval Personnel to relieve him, had been aboard for a month. He had used the time under Rich's tutelage well, had formally taken over his job and, technically, his "desk" (although by courtesy he was temporarily using another) ten days ago, and was already enmeshed in the latest short-fuse requirement of the Navy Secretary. He had even showed some eagerness to take over the responsibility; well, he would soon learn, just as Rich had.
Three years in the Pentagon, in the office concerned with Navy Programs and Plans, were about enough for any naval officer who would rather be at sea. Three years preparing specifications for the forces required to meet constantly changing national commitments, of endless weeks practically living in his office, responding desperately to the sudden demands of a Secretary of Defense whose habit, about 4:30 in the afternoon, was to say, "Have it on my desk at eight o'clock tomorrow morning," had given Rich a jaundiced view of Washington political officialdom and its inconsiderate demands on its minions. More than once he had worked all night because it would have been disloyal to the Navy not to, all the while wondering if the document being prepared at such personal sacrifice would actually be read by anyone, least of all by the minor official in someone's office up the line who had been the real source of the urgency keeping him there.
But all this was over now, had been for ten days, and there was nothing for Rich to do but catch up on personal business, lend a hand if his successor asked, in general try to occupy himself usefully-for the first time in his Pentagon career he was able to leave the office at the so-called "regular" hour-and wait. He was noticing, perhaps for the twentieth occasion during his three years in this particular cubicle but only now with genuine interest, that when it mined a regular river of water cascaded down the cement facing his window-when female footsteps approached his desk. Without looking, he knew it was the secretary he shared with another captain and two commanders, not to mention Jim Barnes, now, as well.
The rain did not continue down the outside wall of the building, however. Instead, much of it suddenly disappeared into the concrete through a hidden flaw in the structure. Doubtless some wretch on the floor below, perhaps an Army colonel also "program planning" for his own Service, was wondering what he had done to deserve this. If he didn't have enough sense to come up a flight and inspect the wall above his office, as Rich, however fortuitously, was doing at that very moment, he deserved to be flooded out once in a while.
"Captain, here's something from BuPers...." Rich turned, his dampened opposite number in the U.S. Army forgotten, seized the bulky envelope.
"Thanks, Marie," he said, extracting a thick sheaf of paper from the envelope she had already slit open. It was immediately evident there was but a single typed sheet, with numerous copies clipped to it.
"From: Chief BuPers," the paper said-it was not a letter but one of those forms of official gibberish by which unnamed bureaucrats protect their jobs by confusing everyone else-"To: Captain Edward G. Richardson, USN. Subj: Orders. Herdet Prorep ComSubRon Ten Porich USS Proteus Delrep 10 ..." There was more gibberish and a series of numbers that meant something to someone in the Bureau of Personnel, but for the moment he needed no more.
"Are those your orders?" Marie asked. "We know you've been waiting for them, but we'll be terribly sorry to lose you ..." Her polite words trailed off. Everyone in the office had been painfully aware of Richardson's restlessness the past few days, and the reason.
"Yes, at last," said Richardson, unconsciously rising as though he might begin acting on them immediately. "I'm getting SubRon Ten in New London."
"Congratulations, Captain. That's the squadron you were hoping for, isn't it?" Marie, after many years in the Pentagon, had seen countless naval officers come and go. Orders to sea, she well knew, were highly prized. Usually they were received weeks, sometimes months, before they were to be carried out, and there was always a reason behind any break in this routine. If no explanation was offered, it was tactful not to mention that one had noticed.
"Thanks, Marie. Yes, it is," Richardson said again, almost absently, toying with the paper. "But they've left something out, I think." He read the tersely worded document again, frowning. "I never could figure out this verbal shorthand. There was supposed to be something in here about nuclear training prior to reporting." He turned to look out the window, turned back to Marie, dismissed her with another word of thanks. He sat again at his desk, reached for the telephone. "Deacon," he said, "Rich Richardson. My orders to SubRon Ten finally landed here. It's been bad enough having to wait like this, and I know you've been doing your best to clear them through the bureau. But I've just noticed they don't say anything about that nuclear power training we were talking about. I've had my interview with Admiral Blighting, and that was all agreed. At least, that's what he said. Leaving it out was a mistake, I hope."
The voice on the other end of the line sounded slightly troubled. "It wasn't a mistake, Rich. I'm really sorry. I thought it was all set, too. But you know old man Brighting. There's just no figuring him out. The list for nuclear power he sent over last week didn't have you on it. We thought there might have been a mistake over there and called them up, but they wouldn't change."
"But dammit, man, is that why you've had me chewing my fingernails these last few days? Why didn't you tell me right away, instead of just sending over these orders after all this waiting around? When I went over there for my interview, he told me he was putting me on the list for the next class-that was the whole point of the exercise! The nuclear subs are all being assigned to Squadron Ten. I made the pitch that the squadron commander should also have a nuke ticket, and he agreed!"
Deacon Jones' voice lowered perceptibly, its unease emphasized. "Rich, I know how you feel, and you know all I can do is try to run this submarine assignment desk according to what is handed me. All I can tell you-and this better stay oft the record, please-is that there was some kind of a flap up in the front office last week between the chief and Vice Admiral Brighting. It was all on the telephone, and we're not sure who slammed down the phone first, but I'm pretty sure it was over the nukey pooh list. Yesterday I got the word to send over your orders as is. Scott was so mad we could feel the walls shaking all the way down to my end of the wing here."
"What sort of a flap, Deac? Are you telling me there was a week-long flap over me in the front office between Vice Admiral Scott and Vice Admiral Brighting, and no one even told me about it?" There was a rasp in Rich's voice as he threw heavy emphasis on the titles of two of the most important officers in the Navy. "What sort of flap? Why did that take me out of nuclear training?"
"All I can say is if they didn't tell you it's because they don't want you to know. It went on more than a week, and I sure don't know what it was about. I didn't even find out this much until a couple of days ago. You know none of us can figure out how Brighting makes up his mind about the folks on that list when he puts it out. We even have to do undercover work to find out when one is about due, and I agree, it's no way to run a navy. Anyway, there's one bit of dope you'll be glad about. Your old exec, Keith Leone, is getting the blue crew in William B. Cushing. And another one of your old JOs, Buck Williams, is getting the Manta in your squadron. Both of them have orders to the next nuke school, and when they finish they'll be reporting to you in New London. Once in a while we try to do something right. That please you?"
"It's the greatest news I've heard for a year," Rich said fervently, then hung up the phone. But it was nevertheless a deeply troubled Richardson who shortly thereafter maneuvered his ancient automobile out of the Pentagon parking lot and, for once, beat the afternoon rush-hour traffic. The rain was abating at his rented house in South Arlington; Jobie would be delighted to bring out the newly purchased baseball gloves a little earlier than usual, and afterward he would have a word with Laura.
"Well, you just have to go and see Admiral Brighting," said Laura. "Whatever he has against you, he owes it to you to tell you, and I think he will. Then you'll know what to do." It was after dinner. Conscientious young Joe, known as "Jobie" because his middle initial was B, had gone to his room to study for his eighth-grade exams. Rich and Laura had made short work of the dishes and were now relaxing in the living room. Lately Rich had treasured this opportunity to look over the evening paper. It gave him a sense of returning to the real world, after a long absence. Not tonight, however. During the fifteen years of their marriage he had frequently taken his problems home to Laura, and he had learned to value the thoughtful insight she so often was able to bring to them.
"Brighting is a peculiar man, dear," Rich said. "You don't get to see him just by setting up an appointment the usual way. My interview with him in March was a set piece; all officers proposed for assignment to nuclear subs have to be accepted by him and go through his nuclear training instruction. He insists on interviewing every one of them personally, and he only takes about half the candidates."
"I know all that," Laura said. "The Navy's been talking about that for years. He's always been against protocol, I mean, the normal way of doing things, and he likes the unusual, especially if it's contrary to the system. You ought to telephone him direct, without going through any superior office or bureau-don't even tell them-and just ask if you can come and see him. If you do it on the phone yourself, instead of first having a secretary put the call through, I think he'll say to come on over. But he'll be expecting you, though, to try to get him to change his mind."
"He can't blame me for that!"
"Of course, darling. But he'll be ready to turn you down unless you can get him to listen to your side with an open mind. Do you know anybody in his shop who might tell him there's another side to the story beforehand?"
Rich did know somebody. He had been surprised to see her passing the admiral's office as he entered for his interview.
Excerpted from Cold is the sea by Edward L. Beach Copyright © 1978 by Edward L. Beach. Excerpted by permission.
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