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Ninety Days Inside The Empire: A Novel by William Appleman Williams

The Admiral Loses More Than a Few Good Men

Page 107

Breckinridge called the Senior Flight Surgeon twice during the first twenty-four hours that Cat was in a coma. Then again at noon on the second day. He was given little hard information.

"He is doing as well as you can expect, Admiral."

The hospital informed him at about 1600 hours that the Lieutenant was awake.

The Admiral went to the hospital only to find both Susan and Cat again asleep. The doctor on duty was not impressed by Breckinridge's display of concern.

"He was beaten badly by people who knew what they were doing. He had no alcohol in his blood. The internal bleeding has stopped. His lungs are clear. There is swelling in the spine around the vertebra just about at the level of his arm pits. He has great courage...."

Looked hard at the Admiral.

"...and very caring support from his wife and friends. There is a good chance that he will fly again. I assume you are going to find the bastards who did this."

Breckinridge glanced at the one bar on the doctor's collar.

-- Only a lieutenant.

"The Navy takes care of its own, intern."

The Admiral did not know, would have been embarrassed to learn, that when Cat had come awake the first time Susan had been in the bed alongside him before anyone could try to stop her. Then nobody did. They truly slept together.

The problem was that the Admiral did not know how to take care of his own.

Driving home, he thought about his marriage. He did love her, and earnestly took her to bed twice a week.

-- But I can't talk to her about this. God, I haven't even talked to her about the war.

Mrs. Breckinridge's mother, herself the wife of an Admiral, had explained those facts of life. Lucy Jane had not believed her mother. But she learned, and came to content herself with enjoying her capacity for friendship with other women, skipping through an occasional affair (always with a civilian), and extending her abilities and appreciation to enjoy music and literature. She had never given up on love, accepted his respect and consideration. And he was eager in bed. Routine but eager, Most of the time that was enough. Though she did remember....

Hence, when he announced that he had to go to Washington for a few days she packed his bags, called a friend of a friend of the woman she assumed was still his comfort away from home, and gave him pleasure on the morning he left. Breckinridge promised to call every night.

The truth of it was that the Admiral was not going to see his friend. He was going to talk to some old classmates because he did not know what in the hell to do about Wye or the President's integration order. He should have listened to Taylor, but the Wye business had screwed that up.

Out on the runway going through the check list he tried to reassure himself. He had some humor left, grinned at his pride in still flying fighters.

-- I could handle this at sea. But the damn civilians screw it up. But I'll come back ready to reestablish order.

He caught a tailwind north of New Orleans and arrived early enough to have dinner with the lady who had been so thoughtfully alerted by his wife. The next morning he made breakfast and told her he might not be back. She liked him, enjoyed his company now and again, but was neither surprised nor offended when he did not reappear.

The reason for that was that Admiral Breckinridge got more help than he expected -even more than he had wanted. His three friends, two his equals, one a star higher, were sympathetic but blunt. Flying back, he sorted their remarks into a kind of sense.

"You got a problem, Breck."

"Well, it doesn't sound to me like this Wye is going to fly again; so we'll ship him back to his toy boats and send him out to the bomb tests, Get him out of your way."

"We got our own file on your Taylor. And some stuff from the FBI. Throw their shit out, and still a trouble-maker. He sank a lot of subs, but we'll pass him over and tell him it's to give him more experience. You'll be clean, Breck."

"You losing it, Breck?"

"Don't worry about the integration order. Tell the civvies to relax, we ain't moving 'em in next door. Pick a few and bump 'em up. Eat with 'em once a week, shoot a game of pool or get 'em tellin' war stories, give 'em a ride in a dive bomber. Back to business as usual."

"You losing it, Breck?"

That one cut Breckinridge deep. He wandered back and forth across his course and landed poorly. He was relieved that neither Taylor nor Mr. Hank were around, but knew that the word would get passed.