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Depth Charge

—————

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

www.swimpruf.com

 

First Edition, April, 2021

 

 

 

Cover design, map, and diagram by Paul Andrews.

 

 

 

 

Depth Charge

Contents

Prologue

Blow Down

Tube Alloys

Invertebrates and a Crow’s Foot

Into the Vampire

The Taprobane

Night Moves

Circle of Life

Deep Salvage

Bastard Son

The Deep Blue

The Buddhist Power Army

The China Bay Club

A Police Matter

Sunken Crime Scene

Gitche Gumee

Exotic Gas

Dark Descent

Free Ascent

Adrift

Strange Catch

The Kindness of Strangers

A Father’s Secret

Chance Encounter

Car Trouble

Trinco

Looking for a Ship

Terminal Depth

Deep Despair

Consigned to the Depths

The Depth Charge

A Grisly Errand

Decompression Sickness

Blast Radius

Prevailing Winds

Fallout

Mad Dogs and Michiganders

Epilogue

Acknowledgements

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

Prologue

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.

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