Jaws Fanfiction: Captain Quint Shark Hunter - 10. Chapter 10 Request Denied
Chapter Ten: Request Denied
The San Diego Naval Base sprawled over more than a thousand acres of land and water, its thirteen piers providing anchorage for ships that were either scheduled for repair or decommission. Alongside the vessels – destroyers, freighters, submarines, amphibious landing craft and MTBs – riding at anchor in the bay were a number of structures that looked like castle battlements – these were the floating dry docks that were regularly shipped out to naval bases and played an essential part in the war effort.
The work never ceased and was done in shifts under the bright Californian sun by day and under huge fizzing arc lights by night. The sound of labour – the ring of hammers on metal, the whine of drills, the crackle and splutter of blow torches, and the calls of the stevedores – only fell silent when there were rumours of a Japanese raid, and the powerful lamps were shut down. In the early months of the war the possibility of enemy aerial attacks had been treated seriously, and the sighting of a Japanese submarine off the coast of Santa Barbara had caused a brief panic.
The base was home to over twenty thousand navy personnel – five thousand more than the entire population of Amity Island. Abel would have preferred to remain anonymous and keep to himself, just as he had in New York City, but it wasn’t easy. He soon gained a reputation as a fixer – someone who could start an engine even if it had a bent housing and scored injectors – and when the brass recognised his skills, he was taken off his work gang and farmed out wherever he was needed. He became a familiar sight striding through the docks with his toolbag slung over his shoulder and his cap pulled down over his eyes. Although he met with some resistance and even outright hostility at first – ‘Hey, kid, your momma know where you are?’ ‘Watch out you don’t strain yourself, kid, lifting one of them hammers.’ ‘Your momma need a lube job, son?’ – Abel never rose to the bait. Pretty soon he had won the grudging respect of even the most hard-bitten old timers. His name became synonymous with difficult jobs. After struggling with a piece of stubborn machinery in the engine room for several hours, an exasperated chief engineer would remove his cap, wipe the grimy sweat from his forehead and admit defeat by saying, ‘Looks like this is a job for Quint.’ The name would ring around the docks, like the blow of a hammer on metal.
At the end of his fourth month, Abel put on his full dress uniform, marched over to the main administration block and put in a request to see the commanding officer. He was told to take a seat in the corridor and after half an hour’s wait he was ushered into the room of a young lieutenant, who sat at a desk writing up a report. Abel came to attention and snapped a salute.
‘At ease,’ said the lietenant drily, not bothering to look up.
‘Sir, I’d like to speak to the commanding officer.’
The pen stopped scratching across the paper. The lieutenant tilted his head and regarded Abel with an expression of mild amusement.
‘Well, sailor, he’s a busy man, as I’m sure you appreciate. Maybe I can help you?’
‘I want to request a transfer, sir.’
‘A transfer? To where?’
‘Anywhere where there’s combat, sir. It’s been more than six months, sir, and I haven’t seen any action.’
The lietenant gave a faint smile. He picked up the receiver of the black telephone on his desk and depressed a white button at the base.
‘Mildred? Yes, could you bring me the file on Seaman – ‘ Here he cupped the mouthpiece with his hand and looked enquiringly at Abel.
‘Quint,’ the lieutenant said. ‘Yes, it is a rather curious name, isn’t it? Right away, if you please.’
The lieutenant replaced the receiver. He leant back in his chair and formed his long fingers into a steeple on which to rest his chin. There was a knock on the frosted glass pane of the door and a young woman came in with a manila file, which she placed on the desk. As she flashed a smile at the seated officer, Abel could have sworn that it was returned with a brief wink. The secretary closed the door softly behind her as she left and the lieutenant opened the file before him. He read it in silence for some minutes, his brow slightly furrowed.
‘Amity Island?’ he said. ‘Is that Ventura County?’
‘No, sir. It’s on the East Coast. North Atlantic.’
‘Hmm, that would explain the accent. I see you’ve made a bit of a name for yourself here. Three commendations.’
‘Yes, sir.’ Abel said proudly.
‘Commendations for ship repairs. It would seem, sailor, that you are perfectly suited for your current job. Furthermore, you should think yourself lucky to have this posting. Sunshine all the year round, plenty of lonely beautiful women, and well out of harm’s way. You should learn to appreciate these things like I do. There are plenty of men who’d be willing to change places with you, but, believe me, you wouldn’t want to change places with them – not if you really knew what it was like.’
Abel struggled to hide his disdain for the man seated before him.
‘Permission to speak sir.’
‘Permission granted,’ the lieutenant said languidly.
‘Maybe I don’t know what it’s really like in battle. I guess no man does until he’s in the thick of it, and maybe then he feels afraid. The way I see it, a man’s got a right to feel afraid when he’s looking death in the face. But if he’s sitting behind a desk, just waiting it out, taking advantage of his situation, then maybe he should ask himself if that’s the kind of man he wants to be. That’s not the kind of man I want to be. Sir.’
The lieutenant felt the insolence in the final word. He unscrewed the top of his fountain men and wrote something in Abel’s file.
‘Request denied, sailor. You’re dismissed.’
Abel came to attention, saluted and marched out of the room. As he closed the door he noticed the lieutenant’s name written on the frosted glass: Lieutenant Archer. The irony was not lost on him.