Thursday, February 7, 2013

Read the first pages of Surrounded by Roses

*~* Brand New Release *~*

Copyright © 2013

Chapter One

“Repel boarders! Repel boarders! Small, unknown craft approaching quickly from the starboard side!”
The duty section quickly jumped to life. Fueled by instinct, Alex and Trevor ran up to the space right outside the officer’s berthing area to quickly get outfitted with a flak jacket, ballistic helmet, and gas mask.
Once outfitted, they hurried to the forward gun locker to be issued 9mm handguns. Both of them made jokes that it would have been more effective to throw the guns at the attackers rather than shoot them, referring to the limited range and stopping power of the pistols they had both been issued.
Sonar Technician Seaman Robby Fulkerton had just reported on board the Austin a week prior to the drill. It was reflected in just about every move that Robby made. He looked nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs as he fumbled around with his flak jacket. He could barely hold his pistol due to his hands shaking so badly.
Alex tried to calm him down. “Don’t worry, kid. It’s only a drill. Just don’t put a magazine in the gun and don’t point it at anybody.”
The advice was good and exactly what Trevor would have said if Alex hadn’t beaten him to it. Both of them headed topside to the outside of the sub unaware that Robby had already put a magazine with live rounds into his gun. It was a fact that Trevor wouldn’t learn until later and when it was too late.
They came up top and the sunlight nearly blinded him. It was beating against the black surface of the boat, making it that much hotter. It was then that Robby came up the weapons shipping hatch to meet with the rest of those already in position.
The ship’s duty officer, Lt. Max Santee, shouted orders for the crew to engage the cardboard cutout of a speedboat heading toward them. Alex turned toward Trevor and started to say something when a shot rang out.
The bullet hit Alex’s face as the round penetrated his right eyeball and spread a distinct pink mist out of the back of his helmet. A split second later his best friend fell lifelessly over the side into the Gulf of Bahrain. Trevor turned to see Robby Fulkerton with his hand shaking. The 9mm he held had a small puff of smoke emanating from the barrel.
Trevor’s eyes jolted open. Wide eyed he lay in his bunky, his entire body covered in sweat. His breaths came in rapid succession as he tried to fight for air. For several painful moments he tried to erase the images from his mind. These nightmares were not only visiting him every night, but they were beginning to consume him. His thoughts, his every action brought about memories of that damn day.
He sat up in his bunk and ran his hands through his sweat drenched hair. This couldn’t go on. He couldn’t continue on a sleep-deprived path when his brothers depended on him to keep his head on straight.
Frustrated, he stood up and reached for a pair of pants and T-shirt from his locker. It pissed him off that he hadn’t been able to sort things out on his own, but it was no longer about his pride. It was about his duty. He needed help, and if seeing the Doc was what he needed to help him, so be it.
Fifteen minutes later Second Class Petty Officer Trevor Purlington sat in the corpsman’s quarters, otherwise known as Doc’s office, on board the USS Austin SSN 917. He wasn’t looking forward to this visit. It was not only mandatory, but necessary. For weeks he had been losing sleep due to the same nightmare. Each and every night as he hit the rack he knew that it wouldn’t be long before he was woken up in the midst of memories he wished he could forget.
Had it really only been weeks ago that he had sat across the table from his best friend, Electronics Technician Second Class Alex Gardetto? It seemed like a lifetime ago since he’d seen the man who grew to become his brother, and they were brothers, in every sense of the word. The two of them had met at the US Navy’s Basic Enlisted Submarine School in Groton. They also went to sub job specific school with one another and reported on board the Austin within twenty-four hours of each other.
During each of their qualification days they raced to see who could finish first. Their deal had been that the second person to get his dolphins had to buy a round of beers at the first bar they stopped at during their first six month deployment. They took it so far down to the wire that they were neck and neck for weeks. Finally Trevor had beaten out Alex by only fifteen minutes. He remembered looking down at Alex and saying, “Rule was second guy to get pinned has to buy the round.”
Alex gave him an ear to ear grin. “That’s fine. I’m buying the cheapest shit available then.”
Both of them had cracked up laughing at his reply. It wasn’t long before the rest of the sailors within earshot joined along. Those were the good old days and much happier times where all that mattered was his sub and his dolphin brothers.
They stood proudly that night, amongst members of the crew’s mess as they were welcomed into the submarine brotherhood. The silent service of submarine warfare wasn’t talked about too much in the media and that was exactly how naval command wanted it. If they were invisible and went unnoticed that only meant they were doing their job.
Only those who wore the dolphin knew just how integral they were to the safety of the world. There were things that could be done underwater, under the guise of silence that no other plane, helicopter, or surface forces could accomplish. That was what set them aside from the rest in all armed forces. That was the reason they were such an elite form of service understood only by those who served on the submersible vessels.
He wished life was as simple as it once was. He knew it never would be again though, and that was what was eating away at him. Trevor started to relive the events of that fateful day which took the life of his best friend.
It was supposed to be just another standard security drill, one that the crew had run hundreds of times before. The rundown was simple. In the scenario, the Austin was to be docked in a port somewhere in the Persian Gulf, and the ship would be attacked both on the water by a ship loaded with bombs as well as by a force of twenty-five insurgents that would attack the pier. They were actually located along the Gulf of Bahrain so the location wasn’t that far of a stretch, but with any drill, they had to pretend things were really happening as laid out to them.
The setup was modeled after the USS Cole bombing by a small craft loaded with explosives off the coast of Yemen in 2000. The day’s duty section had briefed the threat scenario at morning muster like it was a probable threat, and they were actually docked at a port in the Persian Gulf. All this helped create the realistic scenario to help train the sailors for what to do if this were to, God forbid, ever happen in real life.
He could still remember the expression on Alex’s face as they sat on the same crew’s mess where just thirteen months before they were getting their dolphins pinned on their chests. He was smiling, his look carefree and relaxed after making some insignificant joke.
Suddenly the ship’s 1MC broke the calmness in the air as loud shouts came overhead. “Repel boarders! Repel boarders! Small, unknown craft approaching quickly from the starboard side!”
Trevor could still remember the blinding sunlight as they came up top. It beat down on them against the black surface of the top, increasing the temperature by at least ten degrees.
With the drill in full force it was obvious that this crew could use some practice in the area of defending their boat. While a majority of them kept their wits about them and remained calm in the light of potential danger, there were a select few of his sub brothers that gave new definition to the terms chaos and disorder. With most of the faux boarders eliminated, the drill appeared to be almost over. After only a couple of minutes they could soon get back to what they were doing.
He could still see it playing before him. It was just like a movie set to slow motion, almost as if some evil entity was hidden inside him constantly reminding him of what had happened, never letting him forget that he could have saved his friend.
The crew, who a second before was primed and ready for an imaginary attack, stood completely still. Then the shot rang out, the puff of smoke followed and the trail of crimson dripped down Alex’s face.
“Trevor! Trevor…God damn it! Snap out of it!” The distinct voice of Hospital Corpsman First Class Vincent Soprano brought Trevor back to the present.
The crew had a few funny nicknames for the one corpsman on board the Austin. Some called him “mob doctor” because of his last name being the same as cable television’s famously notorious Tony Soprano. Others referred to him as “thumbs” because, when asked a medical question, more often than not he would give them thumbs-up or thumbs-down responses.
The most popular of all the names given to Doc was “pokey.” He loved to razz the young sailors. He would use them as a practice dummy for IV needle training if any one of them showed up hungover after a night of carousing. It was a threat that he never made good on, but it sure scared the newbies into not getting too crazy while on land.
Today was different. He no longer felt the camaraderie that was once so easy. All he could muster today was calling him Doc.
“Jesus, where the hell did you go? Did you hear anything I just said?”
Trevor shook his head and let out a sigh of frustration. “No. Sorry, Doc.”
Doc set his pen down and crossed his arms over his chest. “All right. Talk to me. What’s going on with you?”
“Shit, Doc. What do you want me to say? You know what it is.”
“The dreams still?”
“Yeah, constantly, and every damn night like clockwork it comes back.”
Doc, true to his nature, responded with a barrage of the usual medical questions. All of which Trevor answered honestly. It was the last question that was new and one that took Trevor by surprise.
“Look, I have to ask this. And whether you want to or not, you’ve got to be straight with me. This isn’t a game. We’re at war, and I need to know where your head is. So, I need to know if you feel like you could hurt yourself.”
Trevor shook his head emphatically. “No, it’s nothing like that. I swear to you. But I can’t sleep, and I really think I need some time away. I need to process this, and I can’t do it here. Maybe Emily could help me sort it out. I don’t know. Maybe she can’t. Maybe I just need to see her and be reminded of all the good things in the world. Not death. Not Alex’s death.”
Doc looked around his office and stood up. He walked to the other side of his desk and grabbed hold of Trevor’s arm. “Let’s go.”
Minutes later he was standing outside the commanding officer’s stateroom as Doc knocked on the steel door.
“Come in.” The loud and authoritative voice of Cdr. Mike Dobbs ordered.
Both of them went inside as instructed. Cdr. Dobbs had two distinct personalities. One was the top of his class at everything from the Naval Academy to his present, formal “game face” that he had on when it was required, and the other was that of a regular guy. While he was the commanding officer of the sub and took that responsibility seriously, he also wanted the crew to know that he was one of them as well. A guy that they could come to if they needed. When the time warranted a relaxed CO, that’s exactly what they got.
“Doc, Purlington, what’s up?”
Doc looked at the Commander and said, “Sir, Petty Officer Purlington is still having some recurring problems due to the events of several weeks ago. It’s affecting his sleep, and I don’t want him to fall asleep while on duty and hurt someone or damage vital equipment. I could medicate him to help him sleep while we’re here, but that would involve some very heavy drugs, and if there’s a casualty, I couldn’t guarantee his safety. Not to mention that would only be a temporary fix. Those kinds of drugs can become addictive and habit forming. The last thing I want is an addict aboard this vessel.”
Dobbs looked at the two of them and seemed to be weighing his options.
“I see.” The commander looked to Doc and then back at Trevor. “How could we help you get some rest?”
Trevor looked at Doc nervously, then back at his CO. “Sir, I think I need some time at home with my girlfriend. She could keep an eye on me at home, and I could report to the base’s psychologists during the day. Just being here is a constant reminder of Alex. She might be able to help me forget, or at least move on.”
“Shit, Purlington, I’ve seen some fast talkers in my day try and get some R and R, and I know nine times out of ten it’s bullshit, so how’s it going to look if I let you go shack up with your little honey for a few days because you can’t sleep at night?”
“I could order it, sir. As a necessary medical evaluation,” Doc chimed in.
Commander Dobbs rubbed at his chin and eyed the two of them. “Damn it. I don’t want to see one of my best sailors crack under the pressure. Besides, we’re supposed to be more tolerant these days anyway. Aren’t we?”
It was a rhetorical question. One he was asking aloud and not really expecting an answer. Trevor understood his hesitance. On one hand his CO knew him well enough to know he wasn’t bullshitting them to get home to have a quick slap and tickle with Emily. At the same time Dobbs could be a hard-ass, and he knew it was a reputation that he relished in.
“All right, Purlington. You’re asking for help, and I don’t want to see you throw your career away because you can’t get past this. But, hear me when I tell you this, you have got to get past it. This is war we’re in, and we may not be on the front lines, but men die in war. You’ve got to be able to handle that or the navy isn’t for you. Understood?”
Trevor nodded. “Understood, sir.”

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