Jefferson underway, and smaller framed prints of various scenes drawn
from U.S. naval history. One painting, hung near the larger one, was a
recent addition. It depicted Jefferson in the narrow confines of a
rugged fjord during the desperate fight for Norway. Tombstone Magruder
studied it for a moment before finding a seat, remembering the day it
had been presented to Admiral Tarrant and Captain Brandt by the men and
women of the Air Wing. Lieutenant Commander Frank Marinaro, call sign
“Nightmare,” liked to paint in his off-duty hours and was quite an
accomplished artist. It had been a gift to commemorate the end of
Jefferson’s last eventful cruise.
Now it was another cruise, a different sea. Some of the men and women
were the same; others were new. The ship, however, carried on.
Glancing around the large room, Tombstone thought of the other times he
had been summoned here. An admiral’s CVIC briefing for senior CBG
personnel usually signaled the beginning of a major new operation, often
one involving combat. He caught sight of the air deployment’s senior
staff near the front of CVIC and moved down the center aisle to join
them. Coyote was there, along with Lieutenant Commander Arthur Lee, the
CAG’s department intelligence officer, and Lieutenant Commander David
Owens, the OC chief of staff. Owens looked up as Magruder approached.
“Have a seat, CAG,” he said. “We’ve got the good seats, for a change.”
“Is this a briefing or a movie premiere?” Lee asked with a grin. “Maybe
I should’ve brought popcorn.”
“I doubt the admiral would approve,” Tombstone replied, sitting down.
“You’re in charge of intelligence, Art. Any idea what’s going on?”
Lee shook his head. “Not a clue, CAG. I heard tell the admiral’s staff
was up half the night with a long decoding job from Washington, but
“That’s ominous all by itself,” Coyote commented. “Either we just got
some pretty hairy new orders, or Sammie Reed’s issued another set of
“Please, not that,” Owens said in mock horror. “Anything but that! I’ll
spill everything I know, but spare me another sensitivity class”
Some of the officers nearby chuckled. In the last few years the
Pentagon’s increasing shift to political correctness had made the
institution a laughingstock in the front lines. “I’ve been waiting for a
directive telling us we’ve got too many ships named after men,” someone
said. “But I’ll be damned if I’m going to let them rename the Stephen
Decatur after some feminist icon!”
Tombstone looked at the man and grinned. It was Decatur’s captain,
Commander Richard Hough.
“They’ll probably rename it the Sammie Reed, Dick,” another man said.
There were groans from some of the officers, and a few scattered laughs.
Tombstone looked away. The banter had an air of gallows humor to it.
These were men who already felt all but abandoned by their country,
whose government cared more about budget cuts and social experiments in
political correctness than in their welfare.
Tombstone shook his head. This wasn’t the Navy he’d joined more years
ago than he cared to remember just now. That had been a close-knit
fraternity of men and women who’d dedicated their lives to the Service
and to the nation. There’d been some lingering inequities, yes, but for
the most part it had been an institution where hard work and devotion to
duty were the paths to success. Hell, it had been a Service where
millions of minority men and women had gone to get a better shake than
they would be able to on the outside. He wondered sometimes how an
American military more worried about minority quotas and sensitivity to
the feelings of others than about solid career experience would handle
the next crisis that came down the road.
“Attention on deck!”
They all surged to their feet as Rear Admiral Douglas E. Tarrant entered
the room, followed closely by Captain Brandt. Their appearances
contrasted sharply–Tarrant was tall, silver-haired, aristocratic, while
Brandt was shorter, with close-cropped hair and a bulldog-ugly face–but
the two men had proven to be a superb team in Norway and the Kola
Peninsula. A knot of staff officers followed them, finding seats near
the front of the room.