A Romantic Evening
At lunch with Susan Gatewood after the latter's date with Dr. Narrison, there were some surprises for Sandy. For a start, Susan told her that his original name was Gundvun Narveson, and that he had been a Norwegian sea captain. Fred had told her that he was an Icelander with a complicated last name that she couldn't quite remember. But she was sure that his first name had been Leif, like Leif Ericson. Susan then went on to say,
"Chronologically, he may be in his sixties, but for all practical purposes, he's in his mid-fifties."
Sandy and Samantha had worked it out that Dr. Narrison was well over seventy, and she asked,
"Did he tell you how old he is?"
"He muttered something about being over sixty, but he's so strong and vigorous. He could compete with much younger men. He lives in a nursing home as a kind of joke, and he tells wonderful stories about it."
It seemed that Susan had left her lawyer's brain at home when she went out with Dr. Narrison, and Sandy decided to wait and consider how much she should tell her. It wasn't always the best thing to tell even the best of friends everything, even when they were deluded. She did, however, say,
"I think Dr. Narrison is an older version of Calvin. They both know their way around women so well that, if you relax for even a minute, you'll end up doing things you hadn't intended to do."
Susan smiled a little patronizingly and replied,
"Goodman is a charming man, but I don't think he's had much experience with women for a long time. He really seems rather lonely."
Susan was quite animated as she leaned forward over the lunch table, and it struck Sandy that she was, at that moment, quite beautiful. She had heard that being in love could improve a woman's complexion, but had never seen it so strikingly illustrated. But then, suddenly, Susan's face clouded as she said,
"I'm a little concerned about this man, Fred, that you've met."
"You didn't mention him to Dr. Narrison, did you?"
"No, you asked me not to. But I wonder if he's really a friend of Goodman's and if he might not be tracking him with some sinister intention."
"I don't think he's violent, at least not now at this age. But I have rather wondered just why he turned up here and now. It'll be embarrassing if I have to tell Dr. Narrison that I've been seeing a man who's been secretly following him, but I'll do it if necessary."
"We can see how things go. If you'd like, I can break it to him gently."
It was Sandy's idea that they go to the roller-skating rink she had heard so much about. She also wondered if Fred would still appear to advantage when surrounded by younger people being active. He allowed that he had done some ice- skating, and he made the transition quite easily and gracefully. When they were later eating in the restaurant whose sound barrier muffled the roar of the skates, she, unlike most of the other diners, removed her skates and wiggled her toes. She then told Fred a little about Susan. Fred was quite curious, and, after Sandy had supplied a little more information, he replied,
"Leif will get whatever he wants out of her."
"Incidentally, he told her that his original name was Narveson, and that he was a Norwegian sea captain."
"That's a former name, but not his original one. And he was, at one point, an allegedly Norwegian sea captain. There's a mystery in how he went from Leif Thostolfson to Gundvun Narveson."
Fred seemed a little uneasy, and he asked Sandy if she could read German.
"I took a year in college, but I wasn't getting anywhere, so I quit."
"If you did, you could find out quite a lot about Leif in the German publications of the war years and the next year or two."
"Why don't you just tell me what I would learn?"
Sandy smiled as she said it and took the hand that was draped around her shoulders in her hand. She discovered that, on the outbreak of the second world war, Leif had been put in command of a German surface raider. This was quite natural since he had commanded one in the previous war. Fred said,
"Things hadn't changed much. The ships were a few knots faster and the radios worked better. But there were still the guns hidden behind flaps and the torpedo tubes amidships. Naturally, Leif had a lot of success."
"Did he radio in gloating reports each time he sank a ship?"
"A surface raider doesn't give its position away with radio messages. But I've done some research on the matter. Leif took great pains to cater to the needs of each captured crew and put them in their boats within easy distance of some coast. He spoke personally with each captured captain and made all sorts of humanitarian gestures. He became known world-wide as the gentleman surface raider, and they had pictures of him on file in Germany which were supplied to the press. He had a pointed beard and was quite romantic looking."
"None of it sounds very much like the Dr. Narrison I know."
"It wasn't. But Leif always looked ahead. He must have realized that the Germans might lose, and he knew how people would feel about Hitler. So he established an extremely clean reputation, which, as it turned out, he didn't need."
"Why didn't he need it?"
"His ship was eventually sunk by an English cruiser, and it was reported that the whole crew, including Leif, was lost."
"How did you find out that he wasn't dead?"
They had finished dinner by this time. Fred didn't seem inclined to volunteer any more information, and he looked through the glass partition at the rink. A Strauss waltz was on and quite a few couples were dancing on skates. Just as one couple came by, a tall pretty girl in a gray dress was spun fast enough to cause her skirts to rise well above her knees. Fred, obviously enjoying the sights, looked at Sandy out of the corner of his eye. She remarked,
"It won't do you any good to spin me like that. You have to be off to the side to see anything."
"That's why people trade partners. I could approach that young man over there and suggest it."
"You must be feeling sexy tonight. Are you under the impression that I'll go to bed with you just to find out more about Dr. Narrison?"
"It had occurred to me."
"I'm the kind of girl who's considered wholesome, which means that I'm heavily involved in pleasing people like my mother and sisters. I'm not sure they'd consider you wholesome."
"Then I should meet your mother and sisters. I wouldn't have anything to lose, and they might surprise you by thinking me wholesome."
"They still set great store on virginity."
"I suppose you are a virgin, aren't you?"
"Yes. I don't ordinarily boast about it, but I'm in psychology and committed to facing facts."
"Since we're being so frank, I can admit that I don't have the intense sexual needs a boy your age would have. I'm still interested, but it doesn't determine everything I do."
"Then, you're probably about like me. It's mostly a matter of trust, and it has to be built up slowly."
As they got up to skate again, Sandy wondered if Fred had someone like Dr. Narrison's Rosie.
The second round of roller skating was even more athletic than the first. Fred, who must have been in his mid- sixties, seemed just as vigorous as the young men surrounding them. Indeed, Sandy wondered if she might be in the process of attributing to him some of the exaggerated qualities that Susan lavished on Dr. Narrison. But Susan seemed to be falling in love, and Sandy was certain that she would do no such thing.
Although she supposed that their intimacy was necessarily increasing with each outing, Sandy was carefully drawing lines. While Fred came to her apartment to pick her up, she wasn't inviting him up for a nightcap. Still less was she inclined to go to his hotel room. That meant another late stroll by the lake.
The temperature was no lower this time, a little below freezing, but the north wind was much stronger. When they emerged from Fred's car, it whipped her coat open, and, even after she got it secured, her stockings did little to protect her lower legs and ankles. The obvious thing was to get back into the car, but, apart from thinking automotive necking sessions vulgar, Sandy didn't wish to be defeated by the elements.
Fred, with his usual cleverness, found a sheltered niche in the seawall a few feet wide and open only to the lake. They had to go down the steps to the beach to get to it, and, although Sandy was almost blown over and got sand in her shoes, she wound up standing on a concrete step with her back to the wall while Fred stood in front of her. It was a funny feeling to be really quite warm and secure while the wind blew debris along the beach and piled up the seas with foam that shone in the moonlight. A little above Fred, who was standing on the sand, she looked past him to see if there were any ships. He looked over his shoulder at the lake and said,
"This is like being on a ship's bridge on a winter night. You have shelter, and can stay warm, but you look out on a wide expanse of wild cold sea."
"How long were you at sea?"
"In both wars. In the first, I was Leif's second in command. In the second, I was an officer in the British merchant marine."
"So, in the second, you were both at sea, but on opposite sides and in different places?"
"Except for one time. Shall I tell you what I think happened in Leif's last battle as a German?"
"It happened at night in the Southern Ocean. Perhaps on a night very much like this one. You can be Leif. Stare out to the east and see if you can see a British cruiser."
"I can see a little something out there a couple of miles away."
"You're standing on the bridge trying to decide whether you're imagining something when, suddenly, a searchlight beam hits you full in the face. You're exposed."
As Fred spoke, he threw open Sandy's coat. She was still warm as he pressed against her and found herself giggling. He spoke almost into her ear,
"This is no laughing matter. You got out of this situation some twenty six years earlier by firing torpedoes, but the range is greater this time. You call the crew to battle stations and turn to starboard, but, almost immediately, a salvo of shells screams over your head."
Fred's hand, which had been exploring Sandy's back, came to the back of her neck and reached up into her hair. It felt good as it massaged her scalp, and she asked,
"Can I fire back?"
"Certainly. But your shells are six inch, and there are eight inch ones coming at you. The cruiser also has much more armor. Still, it feels good to hear the crack of your own guns."
"I'm firing my torpedoes."
"All right, port torpedoes are away. In a rough sea like this you're never sure how they'll behave. They may break the surface, in which case the waves will soon deflect them."
Sandy looked out across the water, but saw nothing disturb the parallel lines of the waves sweeping toward her. She reported,
"I think they're running straight and true."
"Very good. But now you're straddled by a salvo. The ship is shaking and you can hear and feel the explosion of at least one shell somewhere aft."
Fred shook Sandy gently, and then shouted next to her ear,
"Fire's broken out just aft of the bridge!"
"Turn the fire hoses on it!"
By the time that the fire was brought under control, there were more hits in other parts of the ship. All three of the port six-inch guns had ceased firing. Sandy asked Fred,
"How do you think it ended?"
"I think Leif probably fought it to the end. If the guns on one side were knocked out, he may have managed to turn the ship to bring the ones on the other side to bear. There would have been wounded and killed everywhere, fires out of control, and steam escaping from the boilers. There would also have been a tremendous quantity of choking black smoke and tons of oil in the water as the ship heeled over on its side. That's what it's like when there aren't any survivors."
"But Leif did survive."
"Yes. I think I can explain that."
In the first war, Leif had developed some unusual life-saving equipment which he kept on the bridge. It consisted of a number of large jerry-cans two-thirds filled with water, a large container filled with ship's biscuit and salt beef, a quantity of light line, fish-hooks, a good knife, and some convas.
"His idea was that, when a ship is sunk, the lifeboats are usually destroyed. But there's a mass of floating wreckage. If you have lots of line, you can tie it together to make a large stable raft. You can then make a mast, sail, and rudder with the canvas and the knife. You can even make a shelter on the raft. If you then have lots of water and food you can survive. He had all this tied together and tucked out of the way on the after part of the bridge."
"Isn't it sort of odd for the captain to have his own personal life-saving system there for everyone to see?"
"The fiction was that it was there for anyone to use."
"So you think he would have done the same thing in the second war with a different ship?"
"I'm almost sure he would have. It was an elaborately worked- out scheme, and a realistic one. People don't abandon notions like that without cause. So it's not so surprising that he survived. He probably just jumped overboard with his kit tied to him when the ship's bridge rolled to the water. The cruiser that sank them searched for survivors at daybreak, and there Leif must have been, sitting on his raft."
"Wouldn't others have joined him on his raft."
"You don't know Leif very well."
"Then, why wasn't it reported that he was picked up and taken prisoner?"
"I have another theory about that."
"But you won't tell me what it is unless I let you strip me naked under my coat?"
Instead of answering, Fred kissed her. Sandy kissed back. When they started talking again, their conversation didn't concern Dr. Narrison.