Yankee Clipper

by Ron Gorence
 
 

On the TV screen, the prospective father seemed to shrink to half his size on hearing his wife's news, "We were just beginning to save some money," the actor-father looked pathetic, "I hate working at the plant! What will happen to all our plans if we have a baby now?" The Hollywood wife sobbed loudly behind him as he stared morosely at the rain-drenched streets of New York through his prop window.

Bert wanted to show that he was paying attention so he absently mumbled what he thought was a correct response, "Asshole."

He had spent most of the movie thinking about some work he'd have to do in preparation for a week of local submarine ops beginning in two days: Charts had to be corrected, periscope cameras calibrated, watchstanders assigned for coastal surveillance drills - a whole host of last minute preparations. It had only remotely occurred to him that this movie was surprisingly similar to the one that Jane had insisted he watch last night. Except that in yesterday's movie, the actor-father had fondly kissed his wife's huge belly, promising to change his evil ways forever; at which Bert had mumbled, "Crap."

Jane seldom insisted that he watch these predictable sob stories, but she'd seduced him two nights in a row to sit on the sofa and watch almost identical movies. The popcorn, cold beer and a short nightgown had slowed down his thinking, but the coincidence was too much to ignore. He pushed the Sabalo and related submarine thoughts out of his consciousness and recalled that Jane had recently been putting on a little weight, although she still looked like a model; within seconds, he thought he knew what was coming.

"Are you pregnant?" he asked.

"Yes, the doctor says April or May." Her long brown hair swept around her neck as she turned from the TV and stared at him. She didn't look surprised, but she did appear to be waiting for a Hollywood reaction.

"That's good," he said controlling his emotions to avoid whatever effect the movies were supposed to promote, "He'll probably be born just before our next WesPac run. You feeling OK?" Bert was visibly relieved that he would not have to finish watching the movie.

"That's it?" she exclaimed, "You only care about your precious submarine and your deployment to the Western Pacific? I hope I'm not disturbing the Navy's plans too much by being pregnant." He'd assumed that he'd convinced her a long time ago that his calm demeanor, whenever she was overly disappointed or joyous, was not the same as being indifferent.

Apparently he had not convinced her. She whimpered, "You care more about the Sabalo than you ever cared about me."

"No!" he said, "You know I love you, babe."

Then he put one hand on each of her shoulders and said, "Do you love me?"

"Of course I do. It's just that sometimes . . ." she said with a frustrated frown.

"And you love your dad too?" he continued, "How is that possible? I hope you didn't have to stop loving him to marry me."

She forced a smile and nodded her acceptance of his logic. Bert hugged her until the droning movie put her to sleep on the sofa.

Months later in the delivery room, with the newborn in her arms, Jane suddenly started sobbing out loud. Bert wiped his smile off and attempted to reassure her, "I can build a bunk bed when he's older." He outlined a square in the air, "A sheet of four-by-eight plywood with two bunks on one side, and one on the other." He chopped an imaginary room in half with his waving hands. "See? Like a room-divider. I'll even repaint the bedroom."

He assumed Jane was confusing him with Hollywood fathers again. "Honest, hon, you don't need to worry about anything," he comforted.

Suddenly, Jane tried to cut through the fog of his naiveté, "Bert, I have been pregnant for four years straight!" And with tears swelling in her eyes, shouted, "Four long years."

"Yeah, so?" Bert said stupidly, trying to figure out what the point was.

"Things don't smell right when you're pregnant," she hissed, "and food all tastes the same." She was begging him to understand, and the tears had stopped, "I don't even remember how my body is supposed to feel anymore."

"It feels just fine to me," joked Bert softly so that the Navy nurse tending Jane's roommate would not hear.

Suddenly, the nurse, who could have blocked for Notre Dame, yanked the curtain hanging over Jane's bed around on its track. "OK, Bucko, time to give the lady a little privacy," she sneered. She saw Bert's mouth begin to open, and grabbed his elbow and pushed him toward the door, "You can wait out there," she said, showing that she would tolerate no argument. He ambled dumbly toward a sofa in the waiting room and sat down.

Bert resented the nurse's actions, but he was also relieved because the interruption gave him some time to think about Jane's strange mood. He had to reluctantly admit to himself that his spontaneous responses hadn't exactly solidified him as her hero. Maybe Jane's sadness had nothing to do with comparing him to Hollywood fathers, he thought; maybe the nasty nurse with the lousy sense of humor had caused the whole damn thing. Gradually he began to wonder how anyone could feel tortured because things sometimes smelled and tasted differently. It struck him that, although he'd never thought much about it, it was part of everyday life on the boats. All submariners had experienced extreme variations of taste and smell, and Bert conjectured, maybe there's more to it than Hollywood, post-delivery blues, and a grouchy nurse.

Bert slouched back and let his mind explore the possibilities. Taste was the simplest to understand. Sabalo, like all diesel submarines, was alleged to have the best food in the Navy, but that was true only until after a few weeks at sea when the last of the potatoes turned into tasteless rubber. About that time, canned Spam, creamed-corn and all other foods designed with an extended shelf-life inevitably began to taste lousy. Memories of crisp lettuce, crunchy apples and firm bananas became so vivid, that any man aboard would have swapped a case of sirloins or lobster tails for one bite. It was true that diesel boat duty was often something less than a gourmet picnic but, as the men grumbled, they were also aware that their taste would immediately revert to normal whenever their environment did.

Smell was a different matter: Cooks, mess cooks and the Corpsman were the only crewmembers allowed to take daily showers, and going a month or more was not uncommon for the others. The air conditioning system was designed, not for comfort, but to cool electronic equipment, so it was left on all the time. Air was conditioned to be cool, not clean. During daylight hours the submarine was required to remain hidden, submerged and completely isolated from the earth's atmosphere. In the dark of night, whenever it was safe, the boat snorkeled to charge batteries. Until then, any odors or gasses created from past activities were completely captured and preserved in the atmosphere they breathed.

The men joked, "Passed gas and past gasses are passed around." The waste products of digested food was flushed into sanitary tanks and then vented back into the ship. Flatulence, also a byproduct of digestion, made its contributions more directly to the air which floated fore and aft through the ventilation systems for everyone to share. Submariners not only breathed their own natural smells, but air mixed and diffused with low viscosity fuel and lubricating oils, diesel exhaust, cigarette smoke, burned insulation and unburned fuel oil, minute asbestos fibers and the results of a thousand other chemical reactions.

The air inside the pressure hull actually became visible whenever an engine exhaust valve failed, a fuel leak worsened, or the temperature dropped suddenly enough for water vapor to condense. It often contained too little oxygen to keep a cigarette burning. But the air was dependably and consistently malodorous. Snorkeling during the dark hours offered some relief because the running engines sucked the odor of dirty underwear, and a hundred unwashed bodies, out of the men's lungs and replaced it with relatively fresh air.

Bert could remember several times when he'd opened the conning tower hatch, after a long time submerged, and retched at the sickeningly-sweet smell of clean air. It made him realize that he'd become so accustomed to his lair that he'd forgotten what oxygen-rich fresh air smelled like.

And Bert's wife had told him, through her tears, that she had been pregnant for four years. How must it feel to have your sense of smell and taste chemically altered for four years? Bert was beginning to understand how she might feel: like someone on a submarine patrol for four years - without snorkeling.

The scope of Bert's problem began to crystalize as he recalled the doctor's warning that another immediate pregnancy, without giving Jane's body a rest, could be very serious in combination with the heart palpitations she'd had since childhood. He remembered that when she'd delivered the second baby, his mother-in-law had jokingly showed him her cleaver, waving it toward his groin, and saying she knew how to save her daughter if it became necessary. Maybe she hadn't been joking.

Bert was a little slow when it came to understanding the female mind, but was a man who tackled problems like a hungry dog gnawing a bone. It was sometime between the baby's birth and the day the boat left for WesPac that Bert first heard about a Japanese man known as the Yankee Clipper. Like a bloodhound identifying its quarry, he investigated every clue, tracked down every rumor and followed up every piece of scuttlebutt until he knew as much about the Clipper as any man stateside. When Sabalo cast off her lines, and headed for the Western Pacific, Bert was ready.

Underway, whether in the Crew's Mess or in the Control Room, Bert managed eventually to turn most conversations around to his mission. Bert spent much of his underway time visiting with whoever had the Diving Watch on the main vent manifold. It was usually either Mac or The Bee, and if the ship was transiting on the surface, there was little else happening. When rigged for dive, there were always a couple of other watchstanders and a few old salts hanging around the Control Room with nothing better to do than tell sea stories until the ship submerged. Nothing was sacred in these submarine bull sessions, and no subject was off limits. Divorce settlements and marriages were planned, problems with car engine diagnosed, and "Dear Johns" answered. Any independent thoughts introduced were hammered, chewed up and mulled over, until the bearer submitted to the group's consensus, successfully defended his concept, or was forced to carry the stigma of being a little weird; many nicknames, like "Preacher" or "Thumper" (short for "Bible-Thumper") originated in the Crew's Mess.

"What's the big deal?" asked Stet one day while leaning on the gyro table, "Hell I had three kids before I was twenty-two." Several men weren't sure if Stet was telling the truth, but nodded and waited for Bert to answer.

The conversation was interrupted as The Bee picked up the 7MC mike and said, "Bridge, Control: Sounding: two-four-zero fathoms,"

When the bridge acknowledged, The Bee hung up the microphone and answered Stet, "Bert's had her pregnant since the day he got her drunk enough to marry him. Hell, every time he comes in from ops and throws a pair of dirty skivvies across the room, Jane gets pregnant again. He's tryin' to make an old lady out of her."

"Yeah," confirmed Bert, "In four years we've had three kids, three miscarriages, and a tube-pregnancy. And I was on six or seven month WesPac deployments three times; that's over a year and a half I wasn't even home."

A facetious comment, implying that Bert might have had some outside help, was ignored because of both Bert's serious countenance and the fact that everyone knew that the kids were almost clones.

"And Bert has about as much finesse with women as a jackrabbit," Mac interjected, "Last time Jane had headaches every night for a month, it was because the dumbshit told her that not being there when number two was born - because the boat was out - was no big deal."

Bert nodded an affirmation so Mac went on, "What was it you told her Bert, 'The Ruskies don't stop building H-bombs and missiles just because some Navy wife is having a kid?' Smooth-mouthed devil! Sorta like telling her you love her almost as much as this pigboat."

"Who you think you're fooling?" Bert shot back, "We're all volunteers on this ship, and there isn't anyone aboard who's spending half his life fighting to keep seawater out of a stinking sewer pipe just for the adventure of it. We do it because we're Americans, and there isn't one of your wives who understands that." The Bee rolled his eyes, but everyone else kept quiet and waited for him to finish.

"I may be wrong, but I usually feel the same about being a husband or father and having children, as I do about being a submariner," he looked around and continued, "But right now, I'm thinking that maybe my wife is more important. Finesse might help her understand why we do what we do, but that's not what's important."

They were interrupted by the 7MC, "Control, Bridge: Five-minute blow of the main ballast tanks with the low-pressure blower."

"Five minute blow, Control aye," responded The Bee.

After many similar conversations, six thousand miles, and nearly two months, the boat rounded Najimo Saki Lighthouse, and tied up at Pier One in Yokosuka. Bert had posted a long letter to Jane from Hawaii explaining his plans in detail, and he decided to dig through his incoming mail for her answer before going into town. The first three letters contained lists of broken toys, windows, and pieces of furniture; there were itemizations of automobile and appliance repairs and a complaint that his budget was too complicated, so she'd gotten a waitress job. Finally, he found one short sentence addressing his intentions: it would likely be a mortal sin and she disavowed any ownership of the idea and God knew what was best.

There was a good sized crowd in the Starlight Bar. Almost everyone off the boat who didn't have duty stopped off there on the way to somewhere else. There were extra bartenders and a dozen or more "hostesses" had congregated from most of the surrounding bars for the occasion. The arrival of a boat fresh in from patrol was a momentous event because all the sailors had at least a month's back pay; most of them were willing to get rid of it in one or two days.

"Hey, Bert!" The Bee hollered when Bert walked in, "Been to see the Clipper already?" he turned to Mac across the table, "Or changed your mind now that we're here?" The Bee began clucking like a chicken.

"You look a little shorter," a voice came from the back booths, "Let's hear you talk soprano;"

"Leave him alone, Auggie," Mac growled, "You're just egging him on."

"Naw, I'm still in one piece," answered Bert, "I need to get a beer and some directions first. How about some Asahi here?" Bert handed a thousand yen to one of the girls and motioned toward his shipmate's bottles.

The Bee said, "Got some Crown Royal behind the bar."

"Sounds good, but I don't think I'm supposed to drink." Bert answered, "You talk to Papa San yet?"

"You're really serious? Let's finish this beer and I'll go find him," promised The Bee.

"What about the Church?" Mac asked softly in spite of the surrounding bar noises, "How's Jane gonna take it if you get evicted, or whatever Catholics call it?"

"God helps those who help themselves. She'll die if she gets pregnant again," shrugged Bert. "Screw the Church. . . I'll just go to confession later."

"Yeah, but Jane thinks you'll go to Hell if you go through with it," countered The Bee.

They'd been over the same ground for hours in transit and on patrol, but his shipmates wanted to review all the options one more time, because they knew that seeing the Clipper was an irreversible move.

"Look," Bert said, "She thinks I'm mostly an atheist anyway, so what's gonna change? Everybody agrees that eternity's a long time, but I'm planning for many, many good years before eternity even starts."

Bert didn't speak any Japanese, so he needed The Bee to make arrangements for him. After they had rehashed all the pros and cons over several beers without changing Bert's mind, The Bee finally arranged a private interview, and translated that Papa San, for a few hundred yen, could send a messenger to talk to a nurse who, for a few hundred yen could introduce him to a taxi driver who for a few hundred yen might know where the Yankee Clipper had his office. Papa San said the Clipper would "plobly" take care of Bert for thirty or forty thousand yen.

After a few hundred yen had been distributed, and a few more beers downed, Bert was informed that the taxi driver was waiting for him in front of the bar.

"You really gonna go?" The Bee inquired.

"Screw it, let's have a real drink. You can go tomorrow," persuaded Stet.

"Don't forget to get a manicure," somebody in the back who knew about the plan, yelled as Bert approached the door.

"And then do something about that hair, sweetie. It looks like crap," said another, who then added cautiously, "I'll be happy to tell Jane all about it if you want." Bert gave him a nasty frown and regretted the fact that personal secrets were never safe in the Silent Service.

The taxi went out to the main street and drove past the Yokosuka Naval Station's main gate. Bert had never gone this way before since the White Hat Club, the Starlight, Skivvie Alley and most of Yokosuka, were all in the opposite direction. The cab wandered on a curved road around a small tree-covered hill, and passed several large stone houses which were very different than the Japanese homes he'd seen before. He could still see Yokosuka Bay and the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force Academy. He could not quite see his ship across the bay from the Academy, but felt comforted that it was so near.

Despite his familiar surroundings, Bert held the matchbook nervously. The taxi driver had given it back to him when he'd inquired about the address which was written on it in Kanji. His hands were sweating in spite of the chill air, and in case the driver was lost, he didn't want to ruin the writing. It was not unusual that there were no door handles in the back seat - all Japanese taxi drivers had a switch on the dashboard to open them - but now Bert glared at the knobs where handles should have been and began to perspire. Just as he began to wipe his forehead with the back of his hand, the driver turned up a steep circular driveway which curved around what looked like a carefully-raked sandbox, and pulled to a stop in front of two gigantic mahogany doors with shiny brass levers for door knobs. The building was built of huge grey stones, each bigger than the car, but the sides and roof were hidden by dense green leaves from the surrounding jungle. The driver popped Bert's door open, walked into the shady darkness near the door and twisted the doorbell.

An elderly Japanese man, in a black Western suit and black tie, spoke a few words to the taxi driver, who bowed, jumped back into his cab and disappeared quickly down the drive before Bert had had a chance to change his mind. The old man, behaving very much like a butler, bowed and motioned for Bert to follow him up a curving stairway. Except for the mahogany banisters and carpeted stairs, there was absolutely nothing else in the large dark room into which the front door had opened, and there was barely-audible elevator music coming from somewhere. At the top of the stairs Bert was led into a poorly-lighted room on the right, where another elderly man, similarly dressed, but much older, was playing Chopin on a polished grand piano. The pianist seemed not to notice the intrusion and continued to play while Bert was directed to a small loveseat and motioned by the butler to sit down. The butler bowed and left. In a few minutes, the pianist picked up his sheet music in the middle of a piece, and seeming to have never noticed Bert, left the room through another door.

Soon, a man who looked a little like the butler, but who was wearing a blue tie, came into the room, bowed, and stood in front of Bert. Bert didn't like bowing because he'd learned in the past that bowing back only caused more bowing; besides he was sitting down. He smiled at the blue-tied butler, and was surprised to hear him speaking fair English.

"You are mallied?"

"Married? Yes."

"Has you wife agleement with oplation?"

"Yes."

"I must terr you. The plo-ceda can no be undone. One in one-mir-yon is possibra, but onry smarr chance. Do you unstan? Has you wife aglee?"

"Yes."

"OK, I reave you arone. The docta say you must tink fo plenty o plenty-fi minute. Is selious decisio. You tink, I come back plenty minutes."

"OK."

After wondering for at least fifteen minutes what the hell he was doing here, Bert went to the door by which he had entered, and quietly tried the handle. Locked. He quietly tried all the other four doors and found them equally secure. Crap. He sat back down to contemplate his next move. He decided that the first thing he would do was to holler to get someone's attention, and explain that he'd changed his mind. Next, if that didn't work, he'd try to kick one of the doors down. They were all solid mahogany, shellacked and trimmed with gold paint, but he calculated that the latch would be a weak point. He tested a large stone base holding up the bust of some dead European, and found that he could lift it. Yeah! It was heavy enough to break through almost anything, but would make a hell of a mess. Too damn bad. He had just begun to ready his voice for the loudest yell he was capable of, when a door opened and the doctor walked in.

"You tink eno? You sultan?" Bert knew it was the doctor because of his white coat.

"Yes. I am certain!" He had been waiting for a long time.

Bert was then led into a sterile-smelling white room. Everything but a narrow stainless steel table was white, and the lighting was almost blinding compared to the other parts of the house. The doctor, whose shoes were also white, motioned for him to remove his clothing and lay on the stainless steel. When he had finally brought the steel up to body temperature, and his shivering had subsided, two short fat Japanese girls, dressed in white came giggling into the room. They bowed and then hid their teeth with their hands as they continued to giggle. Bert had never seen young short fat Japanese women before, so he snickered back. They were about four and a half feet tall, and about half as far across. Twin cherubs. Good thing they're nurses; they could never make a living in Skivvie Alley.

The girls stood on each side of the table, bowed and began to scrub Bert's private places. He decided that they weren't insulting him, since they had been giggling long before they concentrated on his manhood. He was staring intently up at the ceiling when the doctor addressed him, "All you comfolt?"

"Yes."

"Elleting OK?"

"Yes."

He frowned and shrugged his shoulders as though he didn't believe Bert, and then directed the girls to mop the sweat off their patient's forehead, which made them giggle.

"All you soo you all comfolt?"

"Yes."

The doctor shrugged again, mopped up more perspiration, and rubbed Bert's scrotum.

"You feer dis, a ritter plick," the doctor said.

Bert almost panicked in his struggle to translate what the doctor had said. It must have been an insult, because the girls were no longer giggling . . . Bam! His eyes slammed open like watertight hatches under pressure. The sharp jab was quick and painful, so he immediately forced his eyelids to shut and squeeze the tears out. He was not sure whether it was the pain's intensity or its location but his fingers tightened into white-knuckled fists.

The doctor was repeating gently, "No mole hult. Pain finish. No mole. You OK. OK? You OK?"

"Yes," said Bert as the girls giggled and wiped his forehead and the outside corner of one eye.

The physical pain was gone, and Bert could only feel the doctor pulling and pushing around the area of his otherwise numb family jewels. Mental agony was another thing. The gigglers could hardly keep up with his perspiration, and though he wasn't cold, Bert had to force himself to stop shivering . . . but he couldn't stop thinking. What if Doc had been in the war? What if he wants revenge for what we did to his father or brother at Iwo Jima? Maybe he gets together with his friends over a Saki and brags about how many Americans he ruined today. I gotta jump up right now and grab my clothes and beat it out of here!

His thoughts were interrupted by a tightening sensation in his groin. The doctor's hands and face had been below his field of view, so it surprised him when the physician suddenly leaned back and tugged firmly on Bert's intestines. The intestines were apparently attached to his tonsils at one end, and to his toenails at the other, because he felt a cable, made of gut, being pulled out of his rectum and turning his body inside out. The muscles behind his molars ached, his brain was coming detached from his skull, his Achilles tendons went limp but his toes curled toward his chin. He felt that his buttocks were at least a foot above the table, and finally after a few seconds - or eons, depending on who was measuring the time - the doctor dropped his body back to table level and held a pair of forceps halfway between a gold-toothed grin and Bert's eyes. In the forceps was a limp quarter-inch piece of soda-straw which he insisted on flopping back and forth until Bert nodded acknowledgement.

When the doctor repeated the forceps display, Bert finally realized that he had just been shown incontrovertible proof of his vasectomy. The doctor grinned, and the girls began to giggle again.

Bert had dressed in fifteen seconds, but he had a mandatory half-hour's wait in the now-silent music room as the doctor quietly watched him like he'd watch a chipmunk in the park. Finally, after much fidgeting, Bert's taxi arrived to take him back to the Starlight Bar.

"He's back!" Shouted Mac, as Bert crashed into the bar and made his way to the closest beer. The engineman at the bar, who'd paid for the beer, started to react appropriately until he saw the look on Bert's face. He wasn't a Sabalo sailor, but he apparently understood that Bert needed it more than he did.

"You did it!" Mac and The Bee were standing at their booth. "You actually did it!"

"Can he sing soprano yet?" came from the darkest corner as Bert accepted a second beer and a shot chaser, courtesy of the understanding engineman.

"Nah, you never made it to the Clipper, did you Bert," asked The Bee, looking Bert over from head to toe as he approached, "You just went to a bar. . . or a skivvy house, din'cha?"

Bert shook his head, but was unable to speak with the glass firmly tilted to his lips.

"Where's your kimono," Stet inquired, joining them at the bar, "Can you still pee standing up?" and turning to the bartender, "Give him an Old Grandad on me."

Bert had half a dozen shots of Scotch, Vodka, Bourbon and miscellaneous hard liquors plus three bottles of beer before his friends finally nudged him over to the booth where they had been sitting. He had an Asahi in each hand as they bombarded him with questions: what part of town he'd been to, what the Clipper looked like and his name, how much it hurt, how much it cost, the preparations, the procedures, the amount of blood, the smallest details, but Bert would do no more than nod until the large Asahi bottles were completely empty. Then he ordered two more, and then began to tell his tale.

"The Yankee Clipper told me I should not drink alcohol for forty-eight hours, and should stay in bed for twenty-four." He slammed his bottle on the table, "Screw that!"

"He was the biggest Japanese man I've ever seen. Bigger even than Ollie Olson! Makes Ollie look like a kid. He's got round black-framed glasses that reflect like mirrors and giant gold teeth. I had seven nurses with the biggest boobs I've ever seen," Bert said, carefully limiting his exaggeration because he recognized that he was slurring some words, and so couldn't defend anything too far-fetched, "Pro-bly forty-nine and a half D's."

"Ah, bullcrap!" interrupted The Bee. "You never even went there; you been sitting, drinking at some skivvie bar all afternoon." Mac nodded agreement.

Bert calmly slid across the booth to the end of the Naugahyde seat, staggered once, and with a slight nudge from Mac, stood up. He dropped his trousers and shorts to his ankles, and pointed to a single piece of medical tape as he lifted up his scrotum. "See, one incision's all - for both sides."

They were wide-eyed.

Then Bert sat back down and unrolled a piece of wax paper from his breast pocket showing them two small tubes that looked like they'd been cut off a ball point pen refill, "Trim pump still works like new, but all sperm's been redirected to the bilges."

They were silent while they emptied and replaced beer bottles, and he continued, "My taxi driver told me that the Yankee Clipper was a doc before the war. He signed up for the Kamikazes, but his plane ran out of gas, so they demoted him to his old job, and now he specimalizes in vasectories for Americans." Everyone frowned and there was silence.

"Yeah, I get it," The Bee said suddenly. "If he can neuter every boat sailor that comes through Yoko, he'll eliminate more Americans than Tojo ever dreamed of."

"It's not. . . I'M NOT neutered!" countered Bert, "I'm still the same, but just . . . sorta . . . just. . . just tired," and he put his head on the table and went to sleep. Mac and The Bee followed doctor's orders and sent him, with a trusted taxi driver, back to the ship to rest and avoid booze. On the way out, he mumbled, "Lil fat Angels. Tee-hee. Flying round my head. Tee-heee." The driver was instructed to ignore anything he said, and to turn him over to Sabalo's topside watch.

When the ship had tied up at the pier back in San Diego, Jane, dressed in a wonderfully short skirt, kissed Bert passionately, and then asked him whether he wanted her to drive, if he wanted to go out to dinner, take a shower, or what? Bert squeezed her hand and grinned, "Never mind what I want to do first, but the second thing I'm gonna do is put down my seabag."

That evening, after the kids were in bed, and after a very passionate welcoming, Bert rolled over and lit a cigarette, "Jane, you are the most beautiful, wonderful, smartest, sexiest woman in the whole world. The way you kept things together while I was gone, and the way you looked today on the pier - I really try hard, and I may not deserve it - but I will never, ever get enough of you."

Jane cooed, and snuggled her head up under his arm, as warm and content as she'd ever been in her life.

"And now that I'm shooting blanks, we can have sex for breakfast, lunch and supper. No more stupid movies and boring dances so you can break the 'I'm pregnant' news."

Jane rolled over to her side of the bed.

"I won't ever have to buy flowers and take you shopping to make you feel better about getting fat because you're pregnant-not ever again. Yahooo! We got it made, babe."

Jane pulled the pillow over her head, and Bert snored with the contentment of someone at total peace with the world, or a dog that had finally gnawed through to a bone's sweet marrow.

Jane's heart murmur eventually went away, and her senses of taste and smell improved completely, but her headaches never went away. Occasionally, she had them at breakfast, lunch and supper, but mostly at bed time.

 

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