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From the Depths
By Gerry Doyle
McBooks Press, Inc.Copyright © 2007 Gerry Doyle
All rights reserved.
I HAD WORKED with Gen. Patterson before. I don't feel comfortable discussing the details of those instances. In all of them, however, my work involved dissecting mayhem. Figuring out how someone died. When they died. How the attacker escaped.
So when I heard Patterson's voice on the phone, I knew that further sleep would be impossible.
"Dr. Myers, this is Jack Patterson," he said. His voice was like a file sawing through a lead pipe. "I apologize for the hour."
I rolled over and struggled to bring my bedside clock into focus. The glowing green display told me I was having a telephone conversation at 2:45 in the morning. It was a Sunday. The last Sunday in May.
"General Patterson. What can I do for you?"
He didn't bother asking whether my phone line was secure. A crew from Langley came once a month to make sure it was "clean," free of bugs or taps. Calls like this meant it had to be.
"We need you to examine a submarine full of dead people," Patterson said. The words, which lacked intonation or excitement, slipped through my head without registering.
"Say that again?"
He ignored me. "But we know why they're dead. It appears that the sub was flooded with chlorine gas."
"Wait, General, I'm confused. Someone launched a chemical attack on a U.S. sub?"
"No, it was an accident. That's the way it seems at this point, anyway. And it's not one of our subs. It's North Korean. Diesel-electric."
I took a breath to ask him why he was calling me, but he cut me off.
"Look, I know this is confusing. I'll sketch the situation out as briefly as I can. This submarine contained some important weapons research, and it was defecting to the United States with its crew. It was being escorted by one of our attack subs. Last night, about eleven o'clock, the escort's sonarman heard unidentifiable mechanical noises, shouting, alarms and, finally, gunfire. A few minutes later, the North Korean boat surfaced.
"The escort tried to hail it, but no one responded. They sent a boarding party over, and that's when the chlorine accident was discovered."
"How do they know it was an accident?" I asked.
"They don't know for sure," Patterson said. "But these older boats ... you have to understand, this submarine is just barely a step up from a World War II U-boat. Chlorine gas is a pretty common danger because it forms whenever seawater comes in contact with the ship's batteries."
"So everyone on board was killed in the accident."
"Well ... no. Everyone was dead, but not from the gas. The boarding party sent in one man wearing protective gear to search for survivors. He only looked through part of the ship and didn't find anyone alive. He did, however, find a North Korean crewmember shot to death in the conning tower."
"Shot by whom?"
He laughed, and I tilted the phone away from my ear as the unnatural, gravelly sound burst through the receiver.
"That's why I'm calling you. We're going to send a skeleton crew onto the boat to get it submerged and into port. Once it's there, I need you to tell us what happened last night. Be ready to go by six. That's about three hours from now."
"Wait, that won't work."
"Dr. Myers, it will have to work. If that's too early for you, I suggest you start making coffee now." It was tough to tell whether I had pushed him beyond his usual irritated demeanor, but it was clear he was a few seconds away from hanging up on me.
I was sitting up in bed now, the covers bunched around my waist.
"No, listen. It's not too early, it's too late. If your crew has been aboard the sub for three hours, they'll have disturbed the crime scene. I don't even know how much the man in the boarding party did, what he touched or rearranged. I can't accurately reconstruct anything if I'm working with a dirty scene."
"So what would you suggest? The ship has to be submerged when the sun comes up, and it is imperative to get it to port soon."
"Where is the ship right now?"
"About forty-five miles off the coast. It was headed here, to Norfolk."
"How will your crew be getting there?"
"We're going to insert them by helicopter. Everything's below the radar."
He already had formulated a plan, and shoehorning new ideas into it had not been his intent when he called me. I didn't need to give him any reason to dismiss my suggestions. I spoke fast, trying to convey my urgency without sounding desperate.
"Then let me go with the crew. I can get to the base in fifteen, twenty minutes. Once we're onboard the sub, I can see what they're doing and make sure they don't disturb anything vital. It's not ideal, but it's better than looking for evidence after they've contaminated the scene for hours."
For a few moments, all I could hear was Patterson's breathing.
"That's a good idea," he said. "Be here in twenty minutes. The guard at the gate will tell you where to go. I'll fax you condensed dossiers of the crew and an overview of the submarine."
I replaced the phone on the bedside table, its glossy brown surface empty of pictures or decoration. I knew better than to wait for him to say goodbye.
There was no moon, but the indistinct glow of the streetlights caused a shifting lattice of shadows to dance through my bedroom. The shapes were just gnarled tree branches undulating in the wind, but the effect was unsettling.
Without thinking about it, I reached for the light switch next to the bed. The black-and- white mysteries of the dark room gave way to a pleasant, familiar mix of colors and objects as the overhead fixture clicked on.
And the last shreds of discord were washed away by the trilling of my fax machine down the hall. Patterson was moving fast.
No time to clean up. After hopping out of bed, I threw on some jeans and a Georgetown sweatshirt over a sports bra. I winced at the mirror as my reflection tried to make its unkempt black hair look presentable. In the end, a ponytail carried the day. And as a final, habitual touch, I slipped a worn rubber band into a familiar position around my left wrist.
At the bottom of my closet was a bag I kept for nights like these, when a phone call could pull me into someone else's violent world. It contained everything I would bring from my office to a crime scene: A fluoroscope for revealing stains and fingerprints. Fingerprint-collecting materials. A portable fuming chamber for latents. Evidence bags, tweezers, magnification devices, a ruler, an angle-finder, calipers, scales, chemical ID tests. A Nikon digital and a Polaroid, a Radio Shack microcassette recorder for notes. A flashlight and a box of latex gloves.
I slung the duffel over my shoulder and jogged down the hallway into my office, the faux-Persian carpet muffling each sneaker-clad footstep. The fax machine had just finished spitting out the last page. I hadn't bothered turning on the light, but the illumination spilling through the doorway showed the printout tray was full of paper. I rolled its contents up and shoved them in the duffel bag. Although Gen. Patterson could hand me all of these documents in his office, he might have thought I had someone to drive me to the base, allowing me to read them en route. But my bag would be the only passenger on this trip.
As I turned to leave, the phone warbled again. I picked up the extension in my office, looking out into the hall. Now that I was in motion, the comforting wood-and-leather interior of my workspace seemed to be clutching at me, keeping me from more important business.
"Hello, Charlie." It was my division supervisor, Dr. Charles Weber.
"I guess you've already talked to Patterson, huh?" he said. His voice was shot through with fatigue.
"Yeah. Just got off the phone. I'm on my way to the base now."
"Now? I thought ..."
"He wanted to have a bunch of sailors on that boat for hours before I got a chance to look at it. There's no way I could have done anything useful after that. So they're going to put me on the sub with the crew, and I'm going to start working immediately."
"Christ, Christine," he said, then chuckled. "I'm glad one of us is awake enough to think clearly. OK, go get this submarine mess figured out for Patterson. He seemed pretty pissed that he had to ask for help on this one. Of course, he seems pretty pissed all the time."
"I don't think he knows how not to be angry. But we're all on the same team, right? I'll give him answers, Charlie, don't worry."
"I know you will. Be safe, Christine."
And we hung up.
Then: Down the carpeted stairs, turning off lights as I went. Past the picture of Stephen, his wife, his two kids. Then Mom. Then Stephen by himself. Then the three of us together, a happy family grinning in front of a neutral background that almost matched my walls. Through the foyer and dining room, dodging the island in the kitchen. Out the back door and into the garage, where my Jeep waited next to cabinets of power tools, two bikes and a red canoe.
I tossed the bag in the passenger seat and pulled out of the garage.
I wish I could say the night seemed evil. In hindsight, it would make sense to have left the house in the middle of a storm, with vicious bolts of lightning exploding in the sky. And maybe if nature had tried harder to persuade me, I would have changed my mind and stayed home. Pored over Patterson's reports with a cup of coffee warming one hand.
But it wasn't like that at all. It was beautiful. Maybe sixty degrees, with just a sprinkling of moisture in the air and dew on the ground. I remember rolling down the window as I backed out of the driveway and inhaling that clean, damp smell.
The house was dark. I hadn't left any lights on. The two-story Victorian farmhouse was lit only by the arc-sodium streetlights, which gave its white exterior a pale orange cast. It was too much space for me — it had been for years — but it was home. As I pulled away through the tree-lined neighborhood, yards full of coifed bushes and dormant sprinklers, the building seemed comforting and solid in the rearview mirror.
Driving through the empty streets, past blinking stoplights and slumbering storefronts, pulled me into a state of half-awake introspection. This wasn't the first time I'd been called to a crime scene in the middle of the night. And it wasn't the first time I thought of my mother on such an occasion. How had she felt, watching my dad climb into his rust and blue pickup truck to go to his job the last night she — or any of us — had seen him alive?
I never discussed with her what I did for a living. Not that she disapproved of my work, but the details would make her worry. And she already had worried far too much in her life. It would be unfair to allow her to think of me being whisked away to some far-off, bullet- pocked place, not after her husband had been summoned to a burning building and never returned. I'd been a baby, then, and my brother was too young to remember any of it, but my mother had told us.
Our city wasn't even incorporated, and its fire department was all-volunteer. My dad and six other firefighters had charged into a burning barn, a routine call in our rural surroundings. How were they to know there were two barrels of ammonium nitrate simmering inside?
Lights flickered ahead. I had been transported so far back into my past that I hadn't realized how far I'd come in the present. The gatehouse emerged, ghost-like, from the fog that had coalesced as I got closer to the naval base.
The guard checked my ID and inquired about my business with an expression of stern indifference. Another soldier stood near the gate, his M-16 held barrel-down at an angle across his broad, camouflaged chest, while two other men used illuminated mirrors to check the underside of the Cherokee.
I focused on a spot in the mist about twenty-five feet beyond the gate and tried to pretend the man in the gatehouse wasn't staring at the side of my head.
The search took a couple of minutes, and when it was over I had a laminated ID badge and a card to stick on my dashboard. Before he raised the gate, he handed me a map of the base with a route marked in red felt-tip pen. At the end of the crimson trail, he told me, was Gen. Patterson's building.
I hadn't known that Patterson had an office at the naval base, but it didn't surprise me. Branch of service didn't seem to be an issue with his work. Not that I'm certain what his work is. All the times I've encountered him, however, he has been giving orders as something unusual, dangerous and covert is unfolding.
The drive through the base was surreal. Blocky buildings came and went, just gray, ephemeral shapes in the mist. Deuce-and-a-halfs and Humvees squatted in long, perfect rows. I seemed to be the only source of motion in the entire installation.
Using the map as a reference, I knew I was nearing my destination, but the light from Gen. Patterson's office still surprised me as its diffused glow colored the mist. I never had been to the two-story, nondescript concrete structure I now was approaching. Its neighbors were hard to see but probably featured the same bland, gray color. At the top of five or six concrete steps lay the only obvious entrance, a pair of steel doors with windows inset. There was no sign telling visitors what they might expect inside.
I parked in a "guest" spot, grabbed my bag, and walked around the side of the building to the steps. The right-hand door swung open as I was on the third step, revealing another fatigues-clad soldier.
"Dr. Myers? I'm Lieutenant Weeks, General Patterson's aide. If you'll follow me, please?" He managed to smile at me, although it seemed an awkward expression for his pale face.
He held the door open as I walked through, then hurried around me and trotted down the hall. He looked at least six and a half feet tall, and it was tough for me to keep up. When he stopped in mid-stride and turned, I came within a few inches of plowing into his chest.
"Oh, I'm sorry, ma'am. I just ... can I carry that bag for you?" he said.
I took a step backward.
"Um, sure," I said, handing the duffel to him. My first instinct had been to say "I'm fine" and continue down the hall. But he seemed earnest and almost desperate to follow decorum, and it disarmed me, just for that instant.
He hoisted the strap over his shoulder, turned, and began walking again. The slapping of his combat boots on the tile floor echoed through the empty corridor.
Patterson's office was in a corner, of course, on the second floor. Weeks opened the door for me, allowed me to walk in, saluted, then closed it behind me.
Patterson was sitting at a battered oak desk in a short-sleeved khaki uniform dotted with pins and medals. He managed to look crisp and dangerous despite the smudges of black under his eyes and stubble on his angular face. There was a dime-sized divot at his hair line, right in the middle of his head. It came, I suspected, from a glancing collision with something fast- moving and hard, possibly a bullet or a gun butt. It wasn't the first time I had seen the mark, but it always jumped out at me.
I keep track of faces that way. It's reflexive. Blame it on medical school, blame it on professional obsession, but when I meet someone, I catalogue their features. Without the skin. In the two sentences it takes to be introduced, bone structure, scars and teeth all get jotted down in a mental file. I'm fairly certain I could ID most of my friends' bodies, no matter how they died. But I don't tell them that.
The room's white walls were home to constellations of framed pictures and awards. His desk, two chairs and a U.S. flag in the corner were the only furniture. A motionless, wood- bladed fan hung from the ceiling.
"Dr. Myers, have a seat," he said, gesturing at an overstuffed brown leather chair across from him.
"No thanks. I'm fine."
He leaned back in his chair and ran his fingers through his salt-and-pepper buzzcut. I could hear his neck pop as he clasped his hands behind his head.
"This is a tough situation, Dr. Myers, and I appreciate your assistance, as always. Your agency always has been discreet and helpful."
"It's fortunate that we have someone with your expertise nearby." Without waiting for me to respond, he continued. "You'll be on the boat with sixteen men, all SEALs. Lieutenant Daniel Larsen is in command. He understands your mission and you will have great latitude in what you can do, but ultimately he is in charge. Do you understand?"
"Yes," I said, resisting the urge to add a "sir."
Excerpted from From the Depths by Gerry Doyle. Copyright © 2007 Gerry Doyle. Excerpted by permission of McBooks Press, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I really wanted to like this book but the plot was very predictable because it has been done in so many other books. There is nothing original here. The plot also fell flat with one dimensional characters and boring dialogue. There was very little to spice it up and having such flat characters meant that I really didn't care what happened to them. I didn't care how it ended; I just wanted it to hurry up and be over. Stephanie Clanahan
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