Most sailors are best of friends, trustworthy men who watch out for each other. However, there are always a few angry juveniles who are inclined to commit dirty deeds against their shipmates.
Mail call aboard an aircraft carrier: A much anticipated event when sailors receive news from home.
About an hour after they announced mail call, Lieutenant Gould held two envelopes as he made a beeline to his stateroom. The letters, from his pregnant wife, made his heart ache to be with her, to see her, to place his hands gently on the bulging baby bump swelling on her lovely belly. He glanced at the letter with the older postmark and noticed the curly cursive strokes. He sniffed the paper and swore he could smell her perfume. He quickened his steps along the ship’s narrow passageway, ignoring the other men walking past in the opposite direction, ignoring the rolled fire hoses along the bulkheads, the pipes and wires in the overhead. All he could think about was reading the letters and seeing the photos his wife had sent.
He adored everything about his wife, Sarah, but she was in Delaware on the opposite side of the planet, living with her parents while he made this endless cruise. He dashed along the passageway, resisting the temptation to open the letters. He wanted to lie in his bunk and savor them in private.
As he walked along, he glanced at her name, Mrs. Sarah Gould written on the envelopes and the memory of her in a beautiful white wedding dress popped into his head. And there she was, holding her father’s arm gliding down the aisle. Her radiant beauty blew him away. Her delicate jaw, perfect nose between pronounced cheekbones and her cool hazel eyes—she was a gift from heaven.
He hadn’t seen her since leaving Pearl Harbor five months ago. She’d flown there to meet him and they spent two nights in a hotel overlooking Waikiki, ordering room service and only leaving to lie on the beach in the afternoon and dance in the hotel disco each night.
Sarah swore she was still taking birth control even though they hadn’t seen each other for months. But, pill or not, they conceived a child in that hotel room. He figured that she hadn’t really been taking her pill, or his super-high sperm count—after so many weeks at sea—overpowered the pill’s active ingredients. Either way, they hadn’t planned to have a baby for a few years, but when he heard Sarah was pregnant joy overflowed from his heart.
He wrote to her every day even though no mail came or went while Fox kept the ship cloaked behind the invisibility shield.
When he got to his stateroom, Gould laid down to read the letters. He quickly glanced at the postmarks and opened the oldest. It was the first he’d heard from her since the cloaking exercise began. Sarah wrote about how much she missed him, how her pregnancy was going. Her boobs were getting larger and her complexion glowed. Would he be home when she went into labor? The doctor said it was a boy.
Gould smiled. Yes! A boy! A little man!
The stateroom door opened and Lieutenant Rhodes, Gould’s roommate, stepped into the compartment. With the exception of a handlebar mustache curling across his cheeks, Rhodes looked a lot like Gould, the composite Navy fighter pilot—a handsome jock in a green flight suit.
“It’s a boy,” Gould blurted.
“I thought she wasn’t due for another few months,” Rhodes said, his mustache bouncing on his cheeks.
“The doctor did an ultrasound and saw his pecker.”
“Got a name picked out?” Rhodes asked, absentmindedly curling his mustache.
“I don’t know.” Gould rolled onto his back, wet-eyed with the news. A son!
He fantasized about being with Sarah for his son’s birth. Since she got pregnant in Hawaii, he knew she was almost four months along. That meant she had several months until she went into labor. He had no idea where he’d be. This cruise, unlike other’s he’d made, was open ended. They’d stay out until Fox proved that the ship’s cloaking system worked. If only the ship would pull into Singapore or Hong Kong, he could hop a flight home. But that wasn’t going to happen, so Gould resigned himself to the fact that he would not be there when Sarah went into labor.
Damn this top secret cloaking system! Why couldn’t he be there when his son was born?
Gould imagined asking his Commanding Officer, Commander Aronson for leave to go home and be with his wife, but he knew what Aronson would say: “I have three kids but I only saw one pop out! Just be glad you were there when your wife got pregnant, Gould.”
Yet he still imagined catapulting off the flight deck and flying all the way around the world to be there when his son was born.
The second letter didn’t smell like perfume. He pulled out a single sheet of paper and instantly a jolt of panic twisted his heart when he saw the photo.
The alcohol-flushed face was a little blurry, but unmistakably his own. The girl was 13, maybe 14. His tongue flicked at her nipple. She cradled his Ivy League head in her skinny, brown arms; crumpled pesos clenched in her delicate hand. Her long nails, painted brilliant pink. His hairy chest pressed against her smooth brown tummy. Beneath her pastel eyelids, a forced party-girl smile. At the bottom of the photo, his lecherous hands clutched her bare, adolescent buttocks.
—months ago, the ship visited the Philippines, right before they started the ship’s cloaking exercise. He and several other Stinger pilots went out drinking at a bar in Manila, and he got so shitfaced that he woke up with two naked girls on a dirty futon the next morning. A lumberjack smashed at the inside of his skull with a dull ax.
When he returned to the ship, the guys chided him. “Gould, you wild man,” they’d hooted. “Your little girlfriends were cute.” and “You’re out of hand, Gould. Dancing on the bar with that chick’s panties in your teeth! I thought I knew you, brother!” He remembered those stunts, but he couldn’t remember what happened afterwards. Five or six hours remained unaccounted for—locked in a booze-induced stupor— somewhere between playing around with the strippers at the bar and waking up with them.
He’d regained consciousness scratching itchy mosquito bites—shit, mosquito welts were more like it—and stumbling around looking for his clothes. His anus was sore—damn, how drunk was I, he remembered thinking at the time.
He’d had a few nights like that over the years, but the memories always came back like post cards from his subconscious.
But not that night—he had figured that night was never coming back.
How wrong he’d been, because that night was coming back to him right now on this glossy photo in the mail from his wife of all people. Dread punched a hole through his gut and everything good drained away. He read the letter from his wife, his x-wife now, full of the worst possible news. He winced as his thoughts completed the circuit—Some asshole, probably an enlisted guy, snapped this photo and sent it to Sarah. With proof of my cheating, she got an abortion and filed for divorce.
The photo prompted a vague memory of a camera flash, and he tried to recall which of his crooked shipmates had snapped the picture and sent it to his wife.
X-wife—the word burned as he rolled onto his stomach, buried his face in his pillow for fear that Rhodes would see the tears bursting from his eyes.