From: Oregon, USA
August 21, 1942
Aboard USS Gridley
Attached to: TF 154
Mission: Surface Combat
Ship's Status: Sys damage 1
Fuel: 525 (100%)
As night fell over Sydney activity in the harbor and along the waterfront slowed dramatically. It had to – Sydney was under blackout restrictions and the night was dark. The moon was past half full and waxing, and when it peeked out through the clouds the silhouettes of warships could seen at anchor out across silvery glints of moonlight on the water. At rest were the ferries, the luxury yachts converted to patrol craft, and the ship’s boats which plied the harbor during the daytime.
Gridley was tied up, for this night and the next, at the naval pier in Farm Cove, near central Sydney. Ensign Courtney was the OOD. He paced the deck near the gangway and from time to time used a small flashlight to check his watch. No one else was on deck to observe him but if anyone had been they might have said the young officer seemed nervous.
Finally, not long after 11pm, there came the sound of footsteps ascending the gangway. Courtney could just make out the forms of sailors Tanner and Vick as they came on board.
“You’re late!” Courtney hissed.
“We were delayed,” said Tanner, blandly but quietly. His eyes glinted in the dark as he looked around. “Is Masterson around?” Tanner was referring to Chief Petty Officer Masterson, master of the deck force and Tanner’s personal nemesis.
“No, I gave him some busy work below decks,” said Courtney. He eyed the heavy duffel bags both sailors were carrying. “What’s in those, anyway?”
He was not supposed to ask that question. That had been part of the deal he had arranged with Tanner – no questions. Tanner, Ranker, and Vick had not been logged out and they were not going to be logged back in. Their business was their own.
“Koala bears,” said Tanner shortly. “Carved from teak. They’ll be a sensation back home, make us a mint. C’mon, Vick.” The two men started towards the galley passageway.
“Wait, where’s Ranker?” Courtney asked.
“He was…delayed,” said Tanner. “He’ll be along, no worries.” And with that he and Vick were gone.
Courtney turned away. He shouldn’t have agreed to this, he knew that. But Tanner had offered him a lot of money.
“And besides,” the sailor had said, “the Navy takes advantage of us every chance it gets. Nothing wrong with getting a little of our own back, right?” The argument had appealed to the gnawing resentment Courtney felt at being mistreated. But now, in the quiet of the night, that argument seemed rather hollow.
Well, no point in crying over spilled milk now, the ensign thought. Besides, it was probably all pretty harmless anyway.
He hoped Ranker got back before middle watch, though. It might raise some uncomfortable questions if he didn’t. Courtney no sooner had this thought when Ranker ascended the gangway. The big sailor was panting slightly. It was hard to tell in the dark, but Courtney thought that he might be holding one of his arms awkwardly as well.
“Tanner get here already?” Ranker asked in his deep, raspy voice. Courtney was annoyed. He was the officer here, wasn’t he?
“Don’t you mean ‘sir’?” he said pointedly.
“Yeah, sure…sir,” Ranker said casually. Dammit, thought Courtney, he wouldn’t talk like that to Lieutenant Steubens, he sure wouldn’t. But this was not the time or place to get into an argument about it.
“Yes, he arrived not long ago. Now get below,” he said. And Ranker went, without another word.
He’d have to talk to Tanner about that later, Courtney thought. They might be friends, might even be doing a little friendly business together, but he was still an officer. He deserved some respect.