- Author: Jason Heaton
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a novel by Jason Heaton
Copyright © 2021 by Jason Heaton
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, write to the publisher at [email protected]
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
Published by Swimpruf Press, Minneapolis
First Edition, April, 2021
Cover design, map, and diagram by Paul Andrews.
Invertebrates and a Crow’s Foot
Into the Vampire
Circle of Life
The Deep Blue
The Buddhist Power Army
The China Bay Club
A Police Matter
Sunken Crime Scene
The Kindness of Strangers
A Father’s Secret
Looking for a Ship
Consigned to the Depths
The Depth Charge
A Grisly Errand
Mad Dogs and Michiganders
About the Author
For Gishani, and for Mom, my two Number One fans
“You don't reach Serendib by plotting a course for it. You have to set out in good faith for elsewhere and lose your bearings.”
— John Barth, The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor
Cavendish Laboratories, Cambridge, England.
9 April, 1942
“Sir John, there’s someone here to see you.” Sir John Havelock’s secretary averted eye contact, knowing her boss hated to be disturbed. “He says it’s urgent,” she added, to emphasize that this interruption was not her idea.
“Send him in, Mary,” Havelock grumbled without looking up from his desk. His consent mattered little, as the man strode into the office before the secretary had turned to go. Havelock glanced up and then did a double take. The man was young, but with a maturity on his face that war lends. He was dressed in the dark blue wool of a Royal Navy greatcoat, its gilt buttons glittering in the faint light of the dim office.
“Lieutenant James McGuinn, Sir John,” he said in a hurried voice with a hint of an Irish accent. “I’m afraid I have some bad news.” It could only be bad when a naval officer made the trip to Cambridge. This week of all weeks, Havelock feared the worst.
“We’ve lost HMAS Vampire, sir,” McGuinn said, his voice breaking. Havelock slowly set down his pen and swiveled his leather chair to face the windows. Dusty shafts of light angled through the scrim-taped X’s. “Japs sunk her and Hermes off of Ceylon. Only nine lost, but Hermes lost over 300 at last count.”
Havelock didn’t care about the crew at the moment. He could only think of Vampire’s precious cargo, now lying on the bottom of the Indian Ocean. He needed to know if it was safe. This was a question he couldn’t ask the young lieutenant who stood across his desk, now uncomfortably clearing his throat. There were only a handful who knew what the destroyer was carrying.
“And… Commander Moran?” Havelock tried to sound casual but concerned. Moran was one of the handful. After all,Vampire was his ship.
“I’m afraid he went down with her, according to survivors’ accounts,” McGuinn replied, finding it curious that Havelock would inquire only after the captain. Perhaps they were friends.
In fact, Sir John Havelock had never met Commander William Thomas Alldis Moran, Royal Australian Navy. Havelock was a civilian, a scientist who hadn’t left England since the war began, but he’d learned enough about Moran to trust him with England’s top secret. Born in Fremantle, Moran had served as a torpedo man in the British Royal Navy before being promoted to Commander at the relatively young age of 33. By 1940, he was given command of Australia’s HMAS Vampire, a scrappy 300-foot destroyer that saw plenty of action, including surviving the fierce bombardment off of Malaya that sunk two battleships, HMS Repulse and Prince of Wales.
“Will there be anything else, sir?”
The question stirred Havelock from his thoughts. “No, thank you, Lieutenant,” he said with a somber smile and stood to shake the man’s hand. “A pity about this loss. One day we’ll avenge their deaths.”
An oddly belligerent remark from this tweedy scientist, thought McGuinn as he turned to leave the office, wondering why he was told to deliver the news of a specific naval loss to an academic in Cambridge.
Once he was gone, Havelock pushed back his chair with a defiant huff and walked to the door, calling out to his secretary, “Mary, tea please. And get Paget Thomson on the phone. I need to speak with him right away.”
He strode over to the windows and peered out. His office at the Cavendish Laboratories overlooked Free School Lane. It was a sunny spring morning, and the narrow street would normally have been full of students out enjoying some of the season’s first warmth. Today it was nearly empty. The war seemed to have put every aspect of life on hold. Havelock turned back to his desk and wondered to himself how deep Vampire was. Could her cargo be salvaged? It would be risky, yes, but this was war. Risks must be taken. Mary entered his office balancing a cup and saucer.
“Everything OK, sir?” she gently asked, setting the tea down on top of some papers, along with a small pile of shortbread biscuits. “I heard that officer mention a shipwreck.”
“An Australian destroyer was sunk in Ceylon,” he muttered distractedly. “A shame, a great shame.”
“Sorry to hear that, sir,” Mary said, and turned to leave the office.