After Seaman Cox closed the door LT Allen stared for long, unbelieving moments at the words written on the paper. Questions leapt about in his mind. How could a Mossad plant have spent more than ten years in the United States Navy without being detected or at least suspected before events had reached the point of war? How many secrets had Patel passed along to Mossad? Was Sixth Fleet steaming into an intricately laid trap based on the information received from the Executive Officer?
One thing he knew for certain: battle plans and rules of engagement would have to be changed and that would have to be done at fleet level. This information had to be presented to the Captain immediately. The battle group was scheduled to arrive at the Straits of Gibraltar within the next twelve hours.
Captain John Gasperetti was enjoying his first command at sea. He felt destined to this moment in time and knew that he would perform magnificently when the fighting started. His tall, broad form filled the bridge chair as he observed the officers and sailors who manned the helm, plotted their course, and generally kept the ship running on an even keel. His almost cherubic face was perpetually bronzed. Many men had been caught off guard by his looks and the gentle smile that always seemed to tug at his lips. One glance into his dark, heavy-lidded eyes told the world he was having the time of his life. He was scanning the horizon and sipping coffee on the bridge when LT Allen arrived. He didn’t bother with a greeting or a salute. His voice was laced with barely contained fury.
“Skipper, we need to talk…now.”
Without a word Gasperetti slipped off his chair and moved toward the door to his at-sea cabin.
“Officer of the Deck, you have the bridge” he called over his right shoulder as he exited the bridge. As he closed the door behind him, the First Lieutenant heard the Officer of the Deck call out “The Captain’s off the bridge!”
When he closed the door to the Captain’s cabin Allen got straight to the point.
“Skipper, I’ve just received information that needs attention and it needs attention right now. Our entire battle plan will have to be scrapped and reworked.”
“Have you lost your god damned mind? Do you know what it takes to formulate a battle plan and coordinate it amongst all the members of the Sixth Fleet?”
“Yep, I sure do Cap’n, but before we talk anymore listen to this.”
Allen related the story about Seaman Cox and his discovery in the XO’s cabin after which he handed the handwritten copy to the Captain.
“I know you’ll want to open a quiet investigation of XO’s emails so we can figure out what to do next”, said the First Lieutenant.
The Captain picked up his telephone and called the Master at Arms.
“Master Chief, I want you up here right now” and hung up the receiver. “First thing we have to do is get the NCIS agent over here from USS Truman so he can bring in an Investigative Computer Specialist to retrieve all XO’s emails so we can see what we’re up against. Meanwhile, just go on about your duties as if nothing has happened and I’ll keep you posted. I’m sure I’m going to need your help in this.”
He paused for a few seconds before continuing.
“What about the steward? Do you think he can function without screwing anything up?”
Allen considered it briefly.
“I think he can, but I’ll talk to him and make sure. If he thinks he can’t I’ll get him transferred to the mess decks.”
He strode through the door, a man on a deadly mission.
Master Chief Master at Arms Mitchell Knupp reported to Captain Gasperetti and was given all the details as well as the scrap of paper Cox had written on. He was glad to be sitting. The shock of what he was hearing made him feel weak as water.
“Master Chief, I want NCIS over here and I want XO’s computer checked out from keel to mainmast as fast as it can possibly be done. Get in the next available chopper and get over to Truman and fill in the agent there and get this ball rolling. We don’t have a hell of a lot of time.”
Captain Gasperetti felt he could no longer trust electronic communication measures and the command ship was too far away for coded messages to be sent in flash so he sat at his desk to compose a letter to the admiral for delivery by helicopter. As he began his missive he decided a personal approach might be best. After calling the Air Boss to arrange a chopper flight to the admiral’s ship he gathered the notes gleaned from Patel’s computer as well as his own notes, and sealed them in a courier’s bag and began making his way down to the flight deck.
The flight to the admiral’s ship would take just over one hour to complete. In those minutes of solitude Captain Gasperetti thought again about how he had been taken in by such a double-dealing spy. How could it have happened? What did he miss? Had there been tell-tale signals or words from his Executive that he should have noticed? He felt certain this would be his last command and he would be asked to resign his commission on the heels of this crippling scandal. He couldn’t blame them, but he had kept his eyes on admiral’s shoulder boards as long as he had been in the navy. Now, he was this close and would never wear them. He thought back to the day he was promoted to Captain. He felt all his dreams had come true. That very night he stopped at the Navy Exchange and bought a set of admiral’s shoulder boards and collar insignia. He kept them in a glass shadowbox in his cabin as a daily reminder of his goal.
His reverie was broken by a voice in his headset notifying him they would be landing in about five minutes. He thanked the pilot and prepared to debark the chopper.
“Captain! To what do I owe this unexpected pleasure?” boomed Admiral Don Parsons. “Come in, come in! I’ll get some coffee up here and we’ll have a nice visit…unless this is an official call…?”
“I’m afraid it is official, Admiral” replied the Captain.
“Well, I’ll get some coffee up here anyway. We might need it.”
The Captain settled himself in the comfortable leather chair opposite the Admiral’s chair and laid his bag on the deck under the table while Parsons ordered coffee.
When the steward withdrew from the Admiral’s office Gasperetti picked up and opened the courier’s pouch as he began a brief description of what had happened aboard his ship. The Admiral’s strong face betrayed no emotion as he examined the documents and listened to his subordinate’s narrative. When Captain Gasperetti finished talking, Parsons continued sitting quietly for a moment or two. He then rose from the chair and lumbered to the other side of the room where he picked up a Boatswain’s pipe and appeared to examine it as though he had never seen it before. He began to speak in a very low voice Captain had to strain to hear.
“If any of us survive this war I want to personally thank and decorate that steward for catching this and reporting it. Right now, though, we all have a lot of work to do and almost no time in which to do it. Everything has to be redone from scratch. Let’s get started!”