Read Cayos in the Stream Online

Authors: Harry Turtledove

Cayos in the Stream

BOOK: Cayos in the Stream
11.13Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Cayos in the Stream

Harry Turtledove

illustration by gregory manchess

 

You’re the greatest writer of the age, gone to ground and subsiding into drink. You always said you wanted to catch some of those Nazi bastards in the waters around your beloved Cuba. What happens when you actually get your wish?

This novelette was acquired and edited for Tor.com by senior editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden.

S
O YOU FALL IN LOVE
. All the good stories start that way. When you do it the first time, you think all the good stories end And they lived happily ever after. That is how the fairy tales go, right?

Only this is not a fairy tale. This is life. You fall in love. You fall out of love. You fall in love again. You get bounced out of love. You fall in love one more time. You crash in flames, like a burning Sopwith Camel when the Red Baron prowls.

You keep falling in love. That is life. Every time you do, you are sure it will be perfect. You laugh at fairy tales. After everything you saw in Italy during the last war, you cannot do anything else. Somewhere down deep, though, you must believe in them. Perfect. Happily ever after. You are sure. Every single goddamn time.

You were sure with Martha, there in Madrid. Sure enough to dump Pauline. Sure enough to tie the knot again. Three-time loser now, they called you when you found out. Not me, you answered back. This one is for real. This one is forever.

They come out with a lot of crap. Every once in a while, though, they know what they are talking about. Sure, you wanted to jump on Martha’s bones. That is a big part of what love is all about. You wanted to make the earth move for her. You wanted to
see
the earth move for her. She is not the most beautiful woman you ever set eyes on. She is not the most beautiful woman you ever slept with, either. But she is the most vital. The most alive. Odds on the smartest, too.

Every single man she has ever been with wanted to be the one to make the earth move for her. Every single man wanted to be the one to make that clever face go slack with joy. Every single man before you failed. Martha knows she is catnip for the male of the species. She cannot very well not know. She likes men. She wants to make men happy. She gives them what they are after. Some of what they are after. She beds them, but she does not kindle.

Not even for you, not matter what you try. Not even that whore’s trick from Milan before you got hurt will do it. You always thought that would make a statue scream. Maybe a statue. Not Martha.

You work it out on the typewriter instead, there in the house on the Cuban coast.
For Whom the Bell Tolls
. Biggest bestseller you ever had. A movie, too. Even with two other wives to pay off, you will not burn through the money you bring in from this one.

You dedicate it to Martha. Fair is fair. The feeling was real for as long as it lasted. What you feel now, more and more, is the grit in the gears. It always seems to be there. Love can make you forget it for a while. But love does not make it go away. Love never has, not with you. You begin to wonder whether love ever will. If that is not a sign of middle age coming on, damned if you know what would be.

So once the book is done, once it is out, you get away from Finca Vigia, the house on the Cuban coast, when you can. Getting away is easier than fighting. Maybe not better, but easier. The friends you buy drinks for do not want to fight, except when they get very drunk. By that time, you are ready for a swing or two yourself.

And if you pick up a black eye or some bruised ribs, so what? You are fine again in a few days. You are ready for another go. The fights with Martha are not like that. You wish you
could
pop her one. You even wish she would haul off and belt you. Then, by God, you would both know what was what.

You claw each other with words instead. The wounds fester. They scar over, but they never quite heal up. Every time you are near each other, you feel the hurt. Even when you are not fighting, you both walk warily, talk warily. You never know when things will flare again.

Mojitos
and bar brawls look like heaven next to that.

Then the Japs bomb Pearl Harbor. Hitler declares war on the USA. We are in another scrap with Germany. You saw more of the Germans in Italy than you ever wanted to. You saw them in Spain, too. Some of their work there was by proxy. It did not look much different, though.

Now they are out to grab everything they can reach. And their arms have grown scarily long. U-boats show up off the East Coast. They torpedo one fat freighter after another. American cities are only half blacked out. Doing it right would be bad for business. Ships marked against the lights ashore make hunting easy for subs.

And U-boats show up in the Gulf of Mexico and in the Caribbean. No one expects them there. No one has imagined they will be there. The Gulf is even less ready for them than the East Coast. They send ships to the bottom by the dozen.

You want to do something to the Germans. You
want
to grab Hitler’s stupid Charlie Chaplin mustache with a pliers and yank, hard. You cannot do that.

So you do what you can do. The older you get, the more you start to wonder if that is not what life is all about. There are advantages to being a world-famous writer. Especially, there are advantages to being a world-famous writer who is not broke.

You have a boat, for instance. The
Pilar
. Pilar is what you used to call your second wife, Pauline, when you were running around on your first wife with her. You did not give Martha a pet name when you were running around on Pauline with her. You figured Pauline would be wise to those tricks. The pet names Martha gave you . . . Binglie. Warp. Dimpie. Rabby. She still throws them around. One more thing to set your teeth on edge.

But the
Pilar
. Thirty-eight feet. All wood, so she gives with the sea like a lover. Black hull. Dark green superstructure. A flying bridge you can see a longish way from. Two engines, a 75-horsepower Chrysler and a 40-horsepower Lycoming. She will make sixteen knots—just about the speed of a surfaced U-boat—on both of them, five knots on the little guy alone. She sleeps six pretty well, eight if she has to.

And you have strings you can pull. People want to know a world-famous writer, especially a world-famous writer who is not broke. People like the American ambassador in Havana. People like the local FBI agent. Yes, there is one. It is not just that the Mob gets a cut from the local casinos, either. Not these days, it is not.

There are 770 Germans in Cuba. There are something like thirty thousand Spaniards. Most of them belong to the goddamn Fascist Falange. Only a baby fifth column, but a fifth column even so. Any cancer starts with a few cells going haywire. Leave it alone and it will kill you.

People say the fifth column in Cuba has set up supply dumps and fuel stores for U-boats to use. Maybe that is true, maybe not. Even your FBI buddy in Havana does not know for sure. But he worries about it. He gets paid to worry about things. So does the ambassador.

Damn few Navy ships patrol the Florida Straits. Damn few warplanes fly over the deep blue of the Gulf Stream there. When you say you want to take the
Pilar
out to hunt for German submarines, the ambassador and the local FBI man put their money where your mouth is. They pay you five hundred dollars a month for fuel and food. They get the boat a fancy radio rig.

And they help you get hold of weapons. When you first have this idea, you want twin .50s for the
Pilar
. The FBI man is the one who talks you out of it. If the Germans see the boat sporting machine guns, what will they do? They will sink it. If they think it is only a fishing boat, they may surface instead. Stealing the other fellow’s marlin and mackerel is easier and safer than fishing for them yourself.

So the
Pilar
does not mount those lovely machine guns. She does carry Tommy guns—one for every crewman and a couple of spares for anyone to grab in a hurry. She carries grenades. And she carries a charge a lot bigger than a grenade disguised as a fire extinguisher. Chuck that down the conning-tower hatch and watch the fur fly in a U-boat!

You are proud of the disguised bomb. Well you might be, since you thought of it. It is the ace up your sleeve, if you can get close enough to use it. If. You hope the U-boat will lie alongside the
Pilar
to take away your catch. You hope so, but you do not know that for a fact. If the U-boat does not, you are in trouble. Bad trouble. It has a deck gun, and a machine gun. It has torpedoes. It can smash you at a range where you have not a prayer of touching it.

You go hunting anyhow. Anything is better than staying in the house and picking fights with Martha. No problem finding a crew. Your friends are as crazy as you are. And once or twice, when you have them, you take your sons along.

Your friends are almost as crazy as you are. One of them says, “You know, Ernie, this kind of reminds me of the dog that’s chasing the Buick. What will the son of a bitch do if he catches it?”

“Bury it like a bone,” you answer. Your eyes go to the dummy extinguisher. It sits on the cabin wall next to the real one. You know the difference. With luck, the Germans will not until too late.

With luck. Always with luck.

Your friend backs down. You are the top dog around here. “Take an even strain,” he says. “I was just asking.”

“Well, I just obscenity told you,” you rasp. You glance over at the explosive again. It is your best weapon. But a Type VII U-boat is a steel cigar almost 220 feet long. Next to the small, friendly
Pilar
, it might as well be a car next to a dog.

So is a bomb disguised as a fire extinguisher a good enough weapon? That is not the same as being your best one. Too bad. Too bad!

You tell yourself you are not alone on the Gulf Stream when you take your fishing boat out after dragons in the sea crueler than any marlin. To a degree, this is true. The
Pilar
had an ordinary radio set. Because you can pull strings, now the boat has Huff Duff, too.

That is the fancy rig. Huff Duff. HFDF. High frequency direction finder. It is a secret weapon. You are not supposed to know about such things. But you do—more strings. So now you have a Huff Duff set of your own.

It picks up any message a U-boat sends out. It does not necessarily read the message. It does give you a precise bearing. Pick up the same message on two Huff Duff sets and you can plot two bearings. Where they meet, there is your U-boat.

Even if only one Huff Duff gets a bearing, that is better than nothing. You can sail along it and hunt the U-boat yourself. Or you can radio your position and the bearing to the U.S. Navy. Warships, airplanes, and blimps will all go after the submarine then. That may not make you a hero. If it sinks a U-boat, it is . . . almost as good.

Meanwhile, the Huff Duff set fills up all of the
Pilar
’s little head. You and your crewmates have to go over the side of the boat. It is funny for a little while. Everyone makes the same stupid jokes. They get stale in a hurry, like fish on a hot day. So does hanging your ass out over the Gulf Stream, but you have got to do it.

Your ass also hangs out another way. You have to sign a receipt to get the Huff Duff set. If you ruin it, you are stuck for the bill. That bill will be upwards of thirty grand. Upwards of thirty grand is no chump change, even for a world-famous writer who is not broke.

You go out. You and your crewmates fish. You drink. You do not drink to the point where you get drunk and stupid. That is for the bars ashore and for after the fights with Martha. The
Pilar
and her merry men are part of what they call the Hooligan Navy. The regular Navy is dry, dry as the desert. It is an important difference.

Once, the ocean boils a hundred yards from the boat. “Jesus!” someone says hoarsely. Your mouth goes dry. This is what you were waiting for. Part of you—a big part of you—wishes you could wait a while longer.

And you can. The boiling in the sea is not a U-boat surfacing. It is only a whale coming up to blow. The whale is longer than the
Pilar
. Barnacles scab its smooth gray hide.

BOOK: Cayos in the Stream
11.13Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

The Amazing Airship Adventure by Derrick Belanger
Scared of Forever (Scared #2) by Jacqueline Abrahams
Bryony Bell Tops the Bill by Franzeska G. Ewart, Kelly Waldek
A Little Bit Scandalous by Robyn Dehart
Between Hell and Texas by Ralph Cotton
Frozen Enemies by Zac Harrison
Scent of Magic by Andre Norton