Bill Todd -- Jones: A Novel of the Early Cold War
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 Chapter 41

The Potomac

There was one night that was a little cooler, and Jones, attempting to defy his anti-romantic reputation, invited Heike for a cruise down the Potomac on an old-fashioned steamboat. He had actually discovered a place near Fort Belvoir where he could launch his rowboat, and he would have preferred to invite her out in it. But what would all those ladies who had given him advice say? He could almost hear Tensy saying,

"How to set the mood, Jones! Invite her out in your dirty old rowboat. Better take a cushion for her to sit on and figure out some way for her not to ruin her shoes in the bilge water."

The POTOMAC MAID wasn't all that clean, but the scarred paint and pitted decks came under the "antique" category, a category for which his rowboat didn't seem to qualify. Apart from that, the steamer was tall, looked top-heavy, and had a high vertical smokestack which seemed to be held in place with wires. She reminded Jones of Went's description of some of the Japanese freighters he had torpedoed. A torpedo in the gut would indeed send virtually every component of the MAID in as many directions. Jones was thankful that Went wasn't out in the middle of the river in a submarine, his grinning face at the periscope. But, of course, that wasn't the sort of topic to bring up with a young lady on a romantic evening. In the event, what Heike said as they stood waiting to board wasn't so very romantic.

"You know, I think we're about even, me with Ha-yo and you with Octavia."

"From what you've told me of Ha-yo, and what I know of Octavia, they know exactly what to say and do to interest and excite members of the opposite sex."

"Of course, there is some asymmetry. You never met Ha-yo, but I've met Octavia, and can judge for myself."

"There's also another little asymmetry."

Heike really didn't seem to get it, and Jones continued,

"You've had intercourse with Ha-yo, and I haven't with Octavia."

"Is that important?"

Jones laughed and replied,

"You might be the only one in the world who wouldn't think so."

"I'm sure Octavia was gearing up to seduce you. But she's a nice woman, and she didn't want to upset our applecart."

"And, of course, Ha-yo wasn't your idea. It was really Reggie who set you up with him."

"Are you still angry about that?"

"Yes, but he's the publisher of my journal, and he shows no signs of setting you up with other people."

"And what he and I did was in the national interest. It probably also tended to discourage war."

"I know. I don't really object."

"Will you have to go back and sleep with Octavia to feel even-steven?"

"It would be pretty weird and contrived at this point."

"Her husband would cheer you on, and I bet she'd know how to give you a really great time in bed."

"Tensy said that Ha-yo was a real professional. More so than a prostitute, and in a much more elevated way. I suppose the same might be said of Octavia."

"Okay, Jones, but you haven't really answered."

"All right. I will answer. I don't have to sleep with Octavia."

Heike, seeming satisfied, replied,

"I just wonder, if we do go to bed in our amateurish way, will we be disappointed?"

"Not if we don't expect much."

At that point, they began boarding. They immediately went up to the upper deck, Heike climbing in front of Jones. She had on a pretty blue cotton dress that Jones hadn't seen before. She also had on higher heels than usual, and he wondered if she, too, had decided to be romantic.

The steamer rocked gently at the dock as the weight of the passengers shifted, and Jones reminded Heike,

"It's a little different from a PT boat."

"Will I have a chance to shoot at anything?"

"We're stopping at a little amusement park downstream. They may well have a shooting gallery."

"Those were fifty caliber machine-guns I shot before, weren't they?"

"Yes. A lot of people were killed with twin fifties."

"I'm sure they were. But I have the impression that Jews weren't usually lined up and machine-gunned."

"I think, on the eastern front, a lot of prisoners of war would have been dispatched that way."

"Yes, when the Swiss Red Cross wasn't around to tut-tut. But, still, it's a sort of military death with a certain implied respect. Being herded into gas chambers is more the sort of thing you do with unwanted kittens and puppies, and perhaps the occasional surplus mongrel."

"I don't think about those sorts of things much. It's so unpleasant, particularly when I realize how close you were to it."

"An honest reaction, Jones. Much more so than the usual hand- wringing and ain't-it-awful."

"Do you think about it much?"

"Less each year. Everyone has ugly things in their past, and I don't think my ugly things are much worse than the average."

"Really? Most people don't have relatives who were executed."

"No, but they have a parent who died a very slow painful death, or a sister whose severely retarded child can only make noises like a goat. There's just as much pain in those things."

"It's things like that that incline a person not to have a family at all."

"By God, Jones, we aren't being very jolly. What are all those funny bells and noises?"

"The pilot house is signalling the engine room, probably for slow astern to back us out into the stream."

"Is that the captain up behind us there at the open window?"

"I imagine so. Does he inspire confidence in you?"

"He's a bit of a dandy gone to seed. I think he wants badly to do something gallant."

"There isn't much opportunity for that unless he first puts the steamer into a sinking condition. Then he could pick you up and put you in a lifeboat."

"How thrilling! What would be the best way of sinking the steamer?"

"If we side-swiped the end of that low pier over there, it would probably rip away the planking just above the water line. Then, if we turned hard to starboard, she'd heel the other way and the water would pour in."

"Great! What then?"

"She'd turn over on her port side with everything that's loose, including people, falling that way. She might turn all the way over before sinking."

"I think I'll let you rescue me instead of the captain. He's had too many mint juleps, and you're more virile."

"Thank you. I've never had even one mint julep, and I'll undertake to rescue you, one way or another, before the evening is out."

"Will you have to put me at risk in order to do that?"

"Very possibly."

The bells had, by this time, done their work. The MAID was out in the river, and, with more bells clanging furiously, she began to make way forward. There was a cheer from below decks, and Heike said,

"The passengers who are cheering are ones who got a look at the captain and didn't think he'd get us this far."

"I'll wait to cheer until we get back."

To Jones the process of careening downstream in a steamer that wouldn't last ten minutes in an ocean gale seemed all too likely to land them on a mud bank. The rescue of Heike would then lack drama, and would amount to carrying her up the bank while he sank to the ankles in the soft gooey mud.

The helmsman, quite likely the captain, took them from bank to bank with verve and a certain panache. When they passed below George Washington's house overlooking the river at Mt. Vernon, he got on the loudspeaker. It fortunately crackled so much that they couldn't make out his words.

Jones was never sure how much American folklore Heike had taken in, and he told her the story of George Washington and the cherry tree. She exclaimed,

"I have no wish to visit the home of a man or boy who cannot lie with suave assurance."

A little further on, in the twilight, they slowed and headed for the Maryland shore. Just as it appeared as if the captain, having mint julepped the whole way, was about to run his charge into the mud of a swampy creek, a little wooden dock appeared. The captain went full astern a little too late, and, the lines having been thrown and put over the bollards, they almost dragged the dock with them. Then, when the reversing propellor took hold, they almost dragged it the other way. Still, despite all the creaks and groans, the gangway was put down and the dock seemed ready to support the weight of the passengers.

Many of the passengers had a frenzied aspect, and Jones explained,

"This is the only place anywhere near here that has legal gambling, I'm not sure why."

"They must do it in those little shacks over there. You know, this whole place looks like a clearing in the jungle of a south sea island. And the steamer and the captain are perfect. They're right out of Joseph Conrad."

Just then, apparently in honor of their landing, a band struck up an amazing noise. Heike was delighted. Shouting to him over the din, she said,

"This is possibly the worst music I've ever heard. And it's so loud. I wish Reggie were here."

"Could you write down the notes they're playing and send him the score?"

"There aren't any notes, just wails and screeches."

They began to walk down the unpaved and muddy "main street" in which gravel had been poured into the more septic-looking puddles, but Heike had trouble managing with her shoes. Jones, realizing that he had again missed the romantic touch, looked desperately for the canoe rental place that the little island resort had advertized. Finally, he saw it behind them and pointed it out to Heike. She looked interested and said,

"The squalor here is fascinating. It's actually an animated parody of an amusement park. But I think we've seen enough. Let's go out on the water."

Jones carried her over an intervening patch of mud and set her down on a little wooden dock some way downstream from the steamer landing. The canoe renter looked like the country cousin of the captain, with red suspenders and sagging trousers instead of the pseudo naval uniform. But there was the same touch of nobility to his face. Heike whispered,

"The people here all look a little like Went. These must be the ones who slipped a little with each generation."

The deal was concluded expeditiously, and, with noticeable gentlemanly gallantry, the renter got Heike comfortably settled in the canoe without touching her intimately. Jones got in, and after a short slow astern to clear the dock, he propelled them powerfully out into the creek.

It was still a warm evening without much breeze, and Jones said,

"The water's nice and cool. A good night for a swim."

"Yes, but I don't think there's a beach. We'd have to wade through snake-infested mud."

"You know, I think it would be possible to get out of the canoe into the river, and then back in, without capsizing it."

Heike looked at him with some amazement, but, then, laughing, said,

"You had this all planned, didn't you?"


"We won't drown in the process?"

"Certainly not."

"I bet you want me to go first while you hold the canoe steady."


They had now moved past the amusement park, and, when Heike looked around, she saw no one. She then stood, balancing gingerly, and undressed. She almost fell, but caught the gunwale as he braced in the opposite direction. Jones tried to be appreciative without leering until she said,

"I must look like a ten-year old boy."

He was able to disagree with great sincerity.

Following Jones suggestion, Heike stood briefly on the seat and jumped clear, holding the bow rope in her hand. She exulted in the cool water when she came up and began towing the canoe with a one-armed back-stroke. Jones, having undressed, managed to time his jump as Heike held the canoe. It did almost go over, but didn't ship any water.

It was an odd, yet wonderful, sensation when they first came together, Heike still holding the rope. Nature took care of everything, and, even though their heads went underwater now and then, nothing Jones had experienced on land could match it. Heike, he soon realized, was making up for the sex she hadn't experienced until recently. Finally, they managed to get Heike back into the canoe. Jones, speaking from the water, said,

"I doubt, at this point, that I can get back in without tipping it over. Let's move it to shore."

With Heike paddling and Jones swimming, he soon found a footing in the soft bottom. Not wanting to be bitten by whatever might live there, he was soon back in the canoe. They were finally just in time for the steamer, their hair still dripping water. Heike found some paper towels in the ladies' room, and they used them effectively. Heike said quietly,

"I should start thinking about the dangers of pregnancy. I was lucky after the last episode."

"You've had a period since?"

Heike nodded and Jones said,

"I came prepared this time."

She laughed and grimaced before asking,

"One of those condom things?"


"You must look so funny with it on. I never did see it."

"It's now floating in the Potomac. Along with many others."

It was after they had gone aft on the upper deck, and were standing alone looking at the steamer's wake that Heike said,

"There's one thing nagging at me. Do you know what Went's special mission is?"

"I've been included in it. I suppose they thought you had no need to know about it."

"I do too need to know! What is it?"

It took a while to explain their plan to infiltrate the Gulf of Finland, and Heike reacted,

"They may attack you when you surface!"

"We'll be clearly in international waters, just going about our business. In fact, requesting permission to visit Leningrad."

"The military people may not be told about that. They'll see what they may take to be a missile submarine and attack without asking questions."

"That's why there's an element of risk."

"Went loves that sort of thing. But why you?"

That took another explanation, which Heike found absurd.

"If they need someone to go ashore, sip vodka, and pretend to be the captain, they should get an actor. You won't be any good at that."

"I'm a genuine naval officer, and I could easily have become the captain of a sub by this time. I know how to act."

"When is this going to happen?"

"In about two weeks. The drydock is already on its way. And, remember, you're not supposed to know about this."

"If I leak this to Drew Pearson, the whole thing will have to be cancelled, won't it?"

Jones, finding himself actually shocked, replied,

"That would be completely criminal! You'd go to jail for that!"

"I'm sure I could find a way of leaking anonymously. People put on gloves, cut out letters from a magazine, and paste them on paper. That sort of thing. Such a letter can't be traced."

"Pearson might say nothing in print and take the letter to the FBI."

"He'll take it to the FBI, but he won't be able to resist saying something in print. Once our people know that he knows, they'll have to cancel."

"But that would blow everything. Not only this mission. They'll conclude that we're also bluffing about having missile subs."

"Okay, I'm not going to just do it without further thought. How can you get out of it?"

"You'd literally have to do something like breaking my leg with a baseball bat."

"What I am definitely going to do is tell Barbara and see what she thinks."

Bill Todd -- Jones: A Novel of the Early Cold War
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