James and I had work to do, so a normal wedding night wasn’t going to happen. I was thrilled we had consummated our marriage, even if it was on a tiny bed in a smelly bunk room. His body was everything I imagined it to be, and he was easily the best lover I’d had. We were going to be a great team.
Two hours after going below decks, we were dressed and back up on deck. Using flashlights, we went through the submarine and dive equipment and making sure everything was charged and ready to go. James got all the data they had from the last mission and we then we made our plan of attack for the dive on the target location.
We weren’t in a hurry to get there, so I made a pot of seafood gumbo around midnight. Everyone loved it, and there was plenty left over. It was easy to microwave it plus some white rice, so Mark and Ben would have something to eat. The two of them were alternating the pilothouse duties, six on six off the whole way back.
We had gotten four steaks from Captain Parks along with the seafood and other supplies, and James volunteered to cook them as the sun rose the next morning. He set up a portable charcoal grill on the fantail, while I made hash browns and eggs in the galley. We timed it for shift change, and we all ate with the sunrise. I loved being around the guys as they told their stories, each trying to one-up the other for action, suspense or humor. I was learning a lot about James and his war exploits, but Ben was the one who had an answer for anything they came up with. Like most gatherings of men who worked in Intelligence or Special Ops, the really good stories they couldn’t tell.
“Come on, Charlotte, you must have a story,” Mark said.
I smiled, I wasn’t in combat or anything, but you don’t spend a life on the water with your Dad without a few good ones.“I might have a few,” I said.
“Oh tell, tell,” Ben teased.
“A year after my divorce, I was working from a shallow-water oil rig in the Gulf. Dad and I were inspecting the oil pipelines from the field to the terminal, using the remote sub. We were three weeks in, but as we got closer to shore, the mud was covering the line in a few places. We needed to vacuum up the muck so we could inspect, and that needed a diver. So, we worked with another boat that had a big vacuum pump, and I was clearing the muck while Dad was inspecting. We were in seventy feet of water and operating off air lines, so we’d been down there a few hours when my stomach started cramping.”
“Oh shit,” James said.
“Yeah. Some of the peppers used in the omelettes had salmonella, and I ordered a Western.” The guys started to laugh as I continued. “I felt my stomach flip and started to panic. I dropped the hose, looking back to Dad but he was busy looking at a flanged connection and didn’t see my distress. Of course, when I turned to swim back to him, I let loose inside my wetsuit.”
“Brownsuit?” James was rolling by this point.
“Yeah. I got his attention and gave him the emergency signal, and we started back up. As the pressure got lower, I started to crap my suit again. At twenty feet, I started to throw up. Dad saw me as I spit out my regulator and pulled me to the surface. As he was taking my mask off, I threw up all over him.” By now the guys were having trouble sitting up. “The dive boat came over and pulled me out, and as I was groaning in pain and holding my stomach, one of the guys thought he’d unzip my wetsuit.”
“Yeah, it practically squirted out over him, and then he started to throw up too. They had to clean us and the boat off with a firehose when we got back to the rig. I was in bed for three days after that.”
“Baby,” James said as he took my hand.
“Please wash the peppers thoroughly before cooking.” Everyone cracked up.
We retired to the bunk room, leaving Mark to drive our boat for the first half of the day. We let Ben shower first since he had to be up in five hours, and he didn’t have time to shower on the Chosin. “My lovely wife,” James said as he pulled me onto his lap. “What are you thinking?”
“I’m nervous,” I said. “I keep seeing what that flaming sword did.”
He pulled me close. “We aren’t going to dive anywhere near that, I wouldn’t risk it,” he said. “The mission is to get video and find out what it is. We’ll use the sub to take the photos, and we can use the auto-hover feature to make sure it stays far enough away the sword can’t reach it. We just have to hope the Iranians don’t find our activity suspicious.”
“Well, international waters start twelve miles out, but they don’t always follow that rule, especially in the Northern Gulf. I’m glad your sub has an auto-return program, because if they come looking for us, we may need to cut it loose, maybe even leave the area.”
“That thing is my baby, I don’t want to lose it,” I said.
“I don’t want to lose you. You have it insured, we can always build another. If we draw attention, we leave, simple as that.”
He was right; none of us could afford to be captured. Ben was a know intelligence agent who had worked against the Iranian regime, he would be tortured and hung if captured. Mark was in Naval Intelligence, specializing in the Gulf region, he would get the same. James was a SEAL, he’d worked in Iraq against Iranian-backed forces. And me? I was female and Christian. They’d rape and torture me to get the others to talk. “And if we can’t get away?”
“We take as many of them away as we can, but I already promised you, I won’t let you be captured.”
“We should get in the shower,” I said as Ben came out and walked to his bunk.
“Ladies first.” I took the quick rinse and clean, then put my hair back in a ponytail and put on clean shorts and a T-shirt. Ten minutes later, I kissed James as he went in. I was asleep on the top bunk before he came out.
James woke me when he kissed my forehead; I opened my eyes, blinking away the sleep as I looked at my husband. “Ben wants to talk to us in the pilothouse,” he said.
I slid off the top bunk into his arms, enjoying the feel of his body on mine. When this was over, we were getting a hotel suite and not coming out for a week. “I’ll be ready in a minute.”
We went up on deck into the bright sunlight and heat, stepping into the pilothouse. He handed James the binoculars. “Check the horizon at 040,” he said.
James took the glass, putting the strap over his head, and went to the starboard hatch, stepping through onto the walkway to the rail. He looked out, quickly finding the problem. “Shit,” he said as he handed them to me.
I looked in the direction he had been; on the horizon was a patrol boat, and I could just make out the long, sleek shape of the warship. I could see guns fore and aft, an antenna-filled superstructure, and long boxes on the fantail that pointed out and up. “Iranian?”
“Yes, Iranian Navy. It’s one of their patrol boats; the guns are three-inch caliber, and it carries two anti-ship missiles,” Ben said through the door.
“It’s turning towards us,” James said loudly. I looked over, it steadied on a course that would intercept us.
“James, go wake Mark up,” Ben said. He took off. “Charlotte, take the wheel. Don’t change course or speed or react in any way and stay inside the pilothouse.” He tossed me a ballcap. “Put this on and hide your ponytail under your shirt.” I took the wheel and he ran off after James.
A few minutes later, a sleepy Mark was relieving me. “Ben needs you below decks,” he said. I took one last look at the patrol ship, it was closing fast.
When I got to the bunk room, James told me to get my passport and identification. He put them in a zip-lock bag with the other stuff. “I hope you can fake an English accent,” he said. “We’re both ex-pats who have worked mainly in the Kuwaiti and Bahrain offshore oil fields. Your name is Gwen Childs, I’m Martin Childs. We’re married, and you’re here to be the cook and housekeeper.”
“At least we’re married,” I said. “What do you need?”
“Put this stuff on,” he said.He handed me a set of coveralls and a headscarf. “They don’t like foreign women, and if they see skin, they think you’re a prostitute.”
“I guess it’s socks and boots then,” I said.
He kissed me and cupped my face. “It’s probably best if you don’t come up. Cook some breakfast, that will help explain your presence here.”
Ben poked his head in. “James?” He handed him the bag. “Come on, we’ve got to set the charges and hide everything they can’t find.”
The two left, and a few minutes later James poked his head in. “We’ve got everything hidden, I’m going back topside. Stay here and stay out of trouble, please?”
“Of course, love. I’ll make something good for you.”
“Thanks.” He left, and I started making my Mom’s Stacked Breakfast. I took out a package of shredded potatoes from the freezer and put them in the microwave to thaw. I quickly chopped some onion, bell pepper, garlic, tomato and celery, browning them before adding chicken broth and spices and setting it to simmer. While it cooked, I took the potatoes out, placing them in a frypan with olive oil and flattening them with a spatula. I pulled out a packet of shrimp, waiting for the sauce to thicken up before adding them.
The potatoes finished, and I cut them into four servings and put them on paper plates.I broke four eggs and started to fry them while I stirred the sauce. When the shrimp were done, I poured the sauce over the hash browns, then put a single egg over the top. Turning to the intercom, I called the pilothouse. “Breakfast is ready,” I told them.
“I’ll come down,” James said. “The patrol boat is a hundred yards off our starboard beam, Ben is talking to them on the radio. I don’t want to do anything that might attract interest, like having a beautiful woman coming into view.”
“I look like I’m trying to hide,” I said with a giggle. The coveralls weren’t flattering, and the headscarf less so. It wasn’t a burkha, but it was close. “I’ll hand it up to you at the ladder.”
I brought two plates, and he took them to the pilothouse, then came back and got his. “This smells amazing, Charlotte.”
“What’s going on?”
“Ben’s given them our cover story, it’s a matter of how much they push it now before our story falls apart,” he said as he sat on the deck where I could see him. He took a bite. “This tastes better than it smells. If I wasn’t already married to you, I’d marry you in a heartbeat,” he said.
“And if I wasn’t hopelessly in love with my dive buddy, I’d consider it,” I laughed. We talked and ate for a few more minutes, then James handed me his plate and got up.
He came back a few minutes later with two more plates. “It worked,” he said. “They’re leaving us now. I’ll call you when you can come up again.”
The relief washed through me, and I took the plates back and did the dishes while I waited. I had just put the last pan away when I was called up to the pilothouse by the intercom. When I got up there, I could see the patrol boat on the horizon and heading away. “How close was that to being disaster,” I asked.
“Close enough,” Ben said. “I’m going to leave the charges ready to scuttle the boat; this button here will set them off,” he said as he pointed at a box sitting on the table. The button was covered by a plastic cap. “Hit that and you’ve got sixty seconds before the boat gets blown out of the water.”
We all stood around until the boat was over the horizon, as I leaned back into my husband’s broad chest. “What now?”
“I think we have one night,” Ben said. “The Ministry isn’t open today, but if the Navy follows up in the morning our story won’t last. I just wanted to check with everyone before I make the decision.”
“Can we get there in time,” James asked.
“Yes, we can be on station by nine. Plenty of time for one submarine dive, if you still want to go for it.”
We decided to take our shot, and he opened up the throttles and steered towards our dive spot. James and I went over the dive plans and checked the submarine and our diving gear again. “We’re not getting in the water, but just in case,” he said. We went over the three-hundred-foot dive plan, and made sure all our gear was ready. When the sun went down, he spread out a blanket on the fantail and we laid side by side, looking up at the stars. “Looking up from here, it’s hard to see the danger,” he said.
I watched the stars, my hand intertwined with his. “It’s the same sky we have back home,” I said.
“I want to be lying on the beach with you at night, looking up at the stars,” he said. I squeezed his hand, loving how romantic he was. “Of course, you’ll be naked.”
I sputtered out a laugh. “Of course.” I rolled into his side, and fell asleep in his arms, waking only when the throttles went to idle.
We had arrived.