CHAPTER 39 of History of von Schatt (1913-1960)

Alone at the Officer’s Table, having just finished his SPAM and apple juice and about to enjoy his first mouthful of cherry crumb cobbler, First Officer Willis A. Streicher could no longer ignore the rising noise level on the Mess Deck, the Murmur given way to the buzz of 5,000 men in the presence of the most famous Army soldier in the world, Private Elvis Aaron Presley, whose brief but highly publicized military stint had thus far caused logistical flaps wherever he’d been stationed. Some of the other soldiers had concocted a ruse to get the King, who hadn’t planned on singing during passage to Bremerhaven, to perform in something they were calling “The USS Flatbush Variety Revue”, telling him it would improve the morale of the men, thousands of whom were soon chanting, “Let’s go El-vis!”

Streicher stood and looked around for Lieutenant Commander Quorph, but, as usual, the dolt was nowhere to be seen, probably off in a dark corner somewhere chowing down a bucket of live squid. Knowing he could wait no longer before Captain Nutso heard the commotion, the First Officer knew it was up to him alone to put a stop to it, and headed into the dense crowd that had formed around the King—

“Excuse me, First Officer coming through,” he said, but nobody paid him mind or allowed him to pass.

There was a huge cheer when Elvis finally agreed to perform, promptly followed by the bosun’s whistle—

“God damnit!” Streicher exclaimed, but nobody heard him, all of the men now on their feet cheering as a volunteer piano player sat down at Sharky’s old standup, and several tables were pushed aside to give the King an area to perform. The First Officer turned and headed for the kitchen and snatched two squares of cherry crumb cobbler, shoving both into his mouth at once and nearly choking on his way up to the Bridge—

Outside, the Atlantic appeared a sea of fire. The sun was setting behind the Flatbush, the brasswork reflecting the light and giving the Bridge a golden tint. This was September 1958, and Heinrich knew he was close, understanding now that it was not just location, but speed, timing, and a precise 180-degree arc that would commence upon turning north out of the eastbound shipping lane at Laurentian Cove and curving her back down through the southern-pointing tip of the Grand Banks Arrowhead, which she would have to pass through at precisely six knots or else the gateway would not appear and he would have to go back and start over—

As the Flatbush passed over, the vents on the floor three miles down puckered open, then shot a powerful lava stream up through the water, breaking the surface, fountaining high into the twilit sky—

Towards the end of the arc, Heinrich’s keen ear picked up a cheering crowd, prompting him to blow his bosun’s whistle—

When Streicher finally arrived, jacket lapel soiled with cobbler crumbs and cherry stains, the Captain roared, “What is this bluster on my Mess?”

“It’s Private Presley, sir. The men can’t contain their excitement. Letting him perform may be the only way to keep them calm, sir.”

“Man the helm,” von Schatt ordered. “I will handle this.”

After he was gone, Streicher thought he had survived the encounter unscathed until he heard the moaning, then noticed the fountain of lava up ahead that they appeared headed straight for. Then, in his ear, a deep, raspy voice said his birth name, “Willis Arnold Streicher”, the hot onion breath giving him goose pimples—

Down in the Mess, Elvis was performing a high-flying version of “Jailhouse Rock”, shaking his hips to the delight of his audience, morale on the USS Flatbush reaching an all-time high, more than a few of the men wetting their pants, others dancing shirtless on the tables swinging their uniform tops above their heads, until Captain von Schatt appeared at the doorway—

“Silence!” he roared, halting the Revue.

“Captain on the Mess!” someone shouted, prompting the men to stand and salute, including the shirtless ones on top of the tables, and Private Presley in his stage area. The now-silent crowd parted as the Captain, followed by Lieutenant Commander Quorph and two Ship Security Officers, approached—

“Private Presley, I presume,” said Heinrich, hands behind back.

“Uh, yes, sir,” Elvis said, bemused.

“Private Presley, who gave you authorization to sing on my Mess?”

“The Colonel, sir.”

“And which ‘Colonel’ would this be?”

“Colonel Parker, sir.”

“And who gave this ‘Colonel Parker’ authorization to authorize you to sing on my Mess?”

“Uh, sir, I was just trying to entertain the men, you know, to improve morale, sir.”

“You, a lowly private, took it upon yourself to improve the morale of 5,000 men on my ship?”

“Uh, yes, sir. I’ve played to lots of audiences larger than this, sir.”

“And do you enjoy this ‘jailhouse’ you were raving about in song, Private Presley?”

“Uh, it’s just a song I like to sing, sir.”

“Since you like this ‘jailhouse’ so much, I am sure you will enjoy our Brig.”

Heinrich turned to Quorph. “Three days. And have the piano sent to the furnace.”

“Aye, Captain.”

As the SSOs took the King’s upper arms and escorted him away, Quorph unsheathed his two-handed melee sword and ordered the 5,000 men on the Mess Deck to sit and remain silent, every one of them complying instantly—

Upon returning to the Bridge, Heinrich found it unmanned—

“Show yourself, First Officer Streicher!” he roared, but there was no answer. The moaning outside was louder than ever, and the ship, arc broken, was on a collision course with one of the fountains. Forgetting Streicher, he grabbed the helm and turned away just in time, but, when attempting to straighten her back out, realized he couldn’t move, his body from the neck down frozen in place, his grip on the helm locking the ship in her turn—

“What is happening here?” he roared, then felt his throat being massaged by warm fingers belonging to someone standing behind him, which, at first, felt nice, until his trachea started burning, and he smelled onions—

“Streicher, is that you?” he asked, voice now weak

The man laughed and stepped into view, clad in black silk robe with Asian dragon embroidery and garish red sash—

“Mr. Becker,” Heinrich said hoarsely, “remove yourself from my Bridge at once—”

“Listen to you giving me orders,” Mr. Becker laughed, stroking the underside of Heinrich’s chin with his taloned index finger. “No need to get all jazzed up, Kapitän, my work here is already done. But I’ll be seeing you again soon enough, and then you’ll be my Captain. I have a nice big vessel waiting for you, and she’s much more luxurious than this heap of scrap. Oh, and by the way, there’s someone down there who’s been dying to meet you. Ta-ta!

Heinrich awoke on the floor with First Officer Streicher hovering over him. He attempted to push himself up, but his body did not respond per usual. When he did finally get to his feet, it took a moment to find his balance.

“Are you ill, sir?” Streicher asked.

“No,” Heinrich said weakly. “Streicher dismissed.”

After his First Officer was gone, Heinrich took the helm and turned the Flatbush sharply towards open water at full throttle, a maneuver that normally would have aroused him, but now he felt nothing—

Down in the Brig, the King, who, at the suggestion of the Colonel, had strapped himself with several cash belts, spent the next three days in private luxury, bribing the guards into bringing him bedding, pillows, pajamas, peanut butter & banana sandwiches, T-bone steaks, wieners, bacon-wrapped meatballs, Pepsi-Cola, cherry crumb cobbler, Dristan, Lucky Strike cigarettes, matches, a crusty issue of Playboy, a Bible, a six pack of Schlitz, and a rainbow of pills from Sick Bay— ▪

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