Dieter always put his career first, even during the War. It was a character flaw he had come to regret, ever since watching the Lusitania sink beneath the waves, while its helpless passengers were swallowed by sea and shark. Back then he was only a commander, but now he was captain of his own U-boat. But deep down, he knew, back then he wouldíve fired. He wouldíve given the order to torpedo the passenger liner without flinching. And it was that sort of blind devotion to duty, heíd now come to regret, as he and his crew chugged along to what amounted to a suicide mission.
Anna had made him see it. Yes, it was only his beautiful and stunning fianceeí that could lift the veil of hate the admirals and the Kaiser had laid across his face. How he remembered crying in her arms the night he had returned to Rostock. Crying for those who he had helped kill and the loss of his own innocence. But Anna reached down in that pit of despair and rescued him, gave him hope again. And even after he received his promotion and his new commission, the hope had stayed with him. Heíd live to be by her side and to marry and to love.
But the hope faded the instant he was given the orders to go to America. His U-boat was to mine the entrance to the Delaware River, slowing the destroyers which departed from Philadelphiaís shipyards. Half his crew were raw recruits, barely out of training and his navigator was a complete joke. They were half way up the Mullica before they realized their mistake. The sub hit a sandbar, then a rock, jostling the German-made mines and causing one of them to detonate. Within seconds, the sub took on water and rolled over onto its hatch, assuring that everyone inside would drown. As the emergency lights flickered and his clothes became soaked, Dieter took one last look at the picture of Anna in the locket she had given him. The German curses were quickly drowned out and thenÖ
J.D. has spent the last week hiding out in Batsto Village, dodging park rangers and sleeping behind displays of antique dresses and farm tools. But it wasnít long before his food ran out and the novelty of hide & seek began to fade. Still he was restless.
How long had heíd been away? Three, four years? Traveling the country, mostly by rail, leaving behind friends and sometimes, bodiesÖ But that was all behind him now, heíd returned to his Pines in the early part of June, a few weeks ago. The warm weather, combined with the return of all the familiar sites, invigorated him. It was a relief to be back in his haven, where he felt in control. Away from the rest of the cruel and pointless world beyond the trees, he was now back in a place that made sense again. It was time to celebrate and maybe have a little fun.
As he made his way through the parking lot of the visitor center, he noticed an ancient white Toyota, overloaded with equipment and a ragged, sort of angry surfer in a wet suit trying to pack it all inside. What appeared to be his hippie-esqe girlfriend stood by in a sun dress and bare feet, agitating him with her nonchalant unconcern.
"How the Hell did we bring this all up here?!" demanded the surfer to no one in particular. "I had it packed before the dive and now it wonít fit!"
"God what an amazing day," said the girlfriend, gazing into the trees.
Normally, J.D. wouldnít give the scene and a second glance, but the poor guy just seemed so aggravated and J.D. was in a generous mood.
"Need a hand?" offered J.D.
"Huh?" said the surfer accusingly, immediately backing down. "Oh, uh, yeah, sure. You good at packing scuba gear, uh, misterÖ"
"You can call me, J.D."
These days, J.D.ís attire was a little more "down-to-earth", at least for him. He had on a pair of combat boots, jeans, T-shirt and a denim vest with the familiar "JD" logo. He looked more like a biker, whoíd lost his bike and took up backpacking. J.D. still had that "mountain man" sort of air about him, but there wasnít any edge to it now. He was tan, rested and completely at ease, which was the only thing that kept the suspicious surfer from calling a Park ranger.
"Roger Minks," the surfer introduced. "This is Debbie, otherwise known as dead weight."
"Oh, my God, that reminds me!" squeaked Debbie, consumed by her own agenda. "I left my CD player back on the log! We have to go back!"
J.D. smiled to himself. Picturing himself a few days from now walking down some nameless trail in the Pines and coming across a perfectly good CD player complete with Grateful Dead CDís, just sitting there unattended.
"Jesus Christ, Debbie!" snapped Minks. "Youíd forget your frigginí head!"
While Minks raged, J.D. noticed an oxygen tank strap caught on a wooden box full of wet canvas bags. Sticking out of one of the bags was what look like an antique saber etched with a German inscription. J.D. moved the strap, which allowed the tank to move and freed up enough space to load the car.
"There ya go," said J.D. simply.
Minks, stunned that the task was completed so quickly, had an abrupt change of heart. He was going to shove a dollar in J.D.ís hand and send him on his way, but suddenly decided that the task was worth more than that.
"Thank God!" he said exasperated. "Look, I gotta run back into the Pines for Ms. Forgetful. You need a ride or something?"
"Sure, Iíll ride with you," said J.D. getting into the car.
"Where are you headed?" Debbie asked. "We need to go back to---"
"Shhh!" interrupted Minks, casting a wicked glance toward Debbie. "We gotta go back into the Pines, but weíll be heading back toward Route 30. Where do you hail?"
"Just drop me anywhere in the Pines," assured J.D. "Iíll find my way."
About half a mile outside of Green Bank, the threesome noticed a plume of smoke. Where the road bent towards the Mullica River, there was a place called "Edís Bait & Boat & Tackle". Ed died in the mid 50ís and the place only rented canoes now, but the signed stayed just the same. Unfortunately, the entire area was dotted with police cars and fire trucks. Edís was on fire. At the sight of the flashing red, Minks stopped the car and gripped the wheel nervously.
"Shit," muttered Minks. "Letís just walk from here."
J.D. kept a weary eye out for State Troopers. One glance and they might recognize him--- Or rather, the face of his twin brother, Sam. J.D. was a lot more tanner, hairier and just plain more weathered-looking than Sam, but he didnít want to take the chance. He kept following Minks and Debbie.
"Thatís weird," noted J.D.
"What?" Debbie asked.
"The way Edís is burning. The side near the water took all the damage and thereís debris all over."
"Wouldnít it burn that way normally?" she asked.
"Not unless he was storing kerosene or something. Looks like an explosion oró--"
"Who cares?!" snapped Minks. "Letís just get the frigginí CD player and get out of here!"
At last the threesome came to a clearing on the banks where a conspicuous enough log, to be known as "the log" lay. Unfortunately, there was no CD player to be found. Minks shot a glance back towards Debbie.
"But it was here," she insisted.
As Minks checked the surrounding underbrush, a police scuba diver bubbled to the surface of the Mullica and immediately spotted the trio. He waved to someone just down river and pointed to the threesome.
"Ah, shit," muttered J.D.
"Címon!" said Minks, prepared to tear up the hill to the car.
J.D. had more common sense and put his hand up to stop the excitable diver. Almost immediately, two State Troopers, accompanied by a 30ish woman in glasses, wet suit and a khaki vest, moved into the clearing.
"Thatís him!" screamed the woman, pointing at Minks. "Thatís the son of a bitch that stole my sub!"
"Take it easy, Dr. Birch," said one of the troopers restraining her.
"Sheís nuts," Minks assured to anyone who would listen. "I barely know her!"
"You wouldnít have even found it if it wasnít for me! It was my research that found the sub, you moron!"
"Itís called a U-boat, jackass! And you didnít think I was such a moron when I was doiní ya!"
At this point, Debbie launched into the argument and the first state trooper had his hands full pulling them apart. J.D. and the second trooper looked at each other as if to say, "Can you believe this?" and then laughed.
"Do you know whatís going on?" asked J.D., almost laughing.
"Not a fucking clue, pal," smiled the officer. "All I know is, someone blew up Edís and they did it from the water. Dr. Birch claims it was a submarine."
"A submarine?" J.D. said incredulous, raising an eyebrow over the din. "What kind of submarine?"
"A German U-boat," said the exasperated officer. "Like the Nazis."
"Thatís World War II, you illiterate!" snapped Dr. Birch, suddenly listening. "This is a World War I, U-boat. They didnít have Nazis in World War I! Now are you going to arrest this thief or not?!"
"Iím sorry, Dr. Birch," explained the first officer gently. "If youíre research was that important, you should have kept it in a safer place. Besides, thereís nothing here but the river bottom."
The first officer gestured to the second and both headed back towards Edís without another word. Birch stood there dumbfounded for a moment, while Minks nodded in agreement. Finally, Minks spoke.
"Debbie wants her CD player back."
"You asshole!" shouted Birch as she began strangling him.
Just before the State Troopers could turn around to separate the couple, they got another call on their radios. J.D. noticed another plume of smoke in the distance, maybe ľ mile down river. Debbie stormed back towards the car and J.D. pulled Minks to safety.
"Easy, Dr. Birch," soothed J.D. "Iím an impartial observer here, why donít you tell me your side of the story."
"Fine," she agreed, glaring at Minks. "I was doing some aerial photography a few weeks back. Iím part of an archaeological team thatís looking to do a dig where one of the old bog iron factories used to be. I developed my pictures and found this."
Dr. Birch showed J.D. an aerial photograph of the river, which included Edís. In the center of the river was a submarine-shaped object. The second picture was a more developed close up. The ship was labeled "U-13".
"My research indicates that the U-13 disappeared in Norway, but---"
"Your research?!" objected Minks. "Iím the one that found out all that U-boat crap! The U-13 supposedly sunk in Norway, but the Germans probably just managed to save it. They let the British think it was still sunk and used it for their more covert operations."
"Thatís speculation at best!" insisted Birch. "The point is, I was coming out here to save the U-boat. Not strip like some half-ass Indiana Jones!"
"Hey, look," assured Minks. "If you didnít just leave stuff lying around your apartment---"
"It was in a desk!"
"Gimme a break, doc, I needed the grade and you needed the lay!"
"Look!" interrupted J.D. "The sub is gone. The question is, where is it headed?"
"Itís a 80 year old hulk, itís not headed anywhere," corrected Birch.
"Then whatís causing things to blow up along the Mullica?" asked J.D. pointing to a second plume of smoke.
"Thatís ridiculous," laughed Minks. "If that could even happen, what would cause the sub and itís phantom crew to return now?"
"Because somebody," said J.D. grabbing Minks by the arm threateningly, "Disturbed their rest and robbed them? Heís got the stuff in his car."
"I give you a ride and this is the thanks I get?!" snapped Minks.
"Now I got you," Dr. Birch smiled, running up the hill. "Proof positive. Youíre going to jail, Roger!"
By the time J.D. got back to the road, Birch was laughing, while Minks was raging. Debbie took the car.
"That little punk ass bitch!" he fumed. "If I ever find that---"
Just then, there was a muffled explosion, like the sound of distant thunder. The couple fell silent and J.D. squinted towards the horizon. It was another plume of smoke.
"Dr. Birch, you better let me drive," said J.D. walking towards Birchís jeep.
"Drive?! Why should I even let you near my car? You---"
"Because I know these back roads better than anyone else and I think your sub is going to be a problem. And I specialize in these kinds of problems."
Birch looked back towards Minks. He shrugged.
"Well, he did pack the car."
Dieter couldnít remember how the darkness lifted or how Hans, his engineer, managed to keep the sub afloat. He thought for sure they were all dead, but here they were, chugging back down the river. Dieter looked at the sunken faces of his crew, their muddied and tattered uniforms and the rusty dials and broke gauges at their posts. Had those trees roots always been growing through that gapping hole in the hull? Helmut, Werner, Klempke and Vass were somehow able to man the 10.5 cm deck gun, even when they were underwater. Did that matter now?
All that mattered was completing the mission. Completing the mission and to survive for his Anna. Nothing would get in his way now. Nothing.
J.D., Dr. Birch and Minks arrived at the subís next foray into destruction, Pine Wood Campground. Trailers and cars were scattered about the tree rimmed clearing, which was now dotted with craters, where the deck gun had left its mark. J.D. spotted an over turned State Trooper patrol car, with the two troopers laying nearby. Dr. Birch and Minks examined the troopers, while J.D. reached into the patrol car and radioed for an ambulance and grabbed the shot gun.
"Dr. Birch, you stay here and tend to the wounded. Címon, Minks," ordered J.D.
"Me?! Why canít I tend to the wounded?"
"Because youíre the only one here that knows whatís missing out of the sub."
"Not in my car!" insisted Birch. "Not in my car!"
J.D. peeled away, ignoring further protest. He careened down Route 652 at a dangerous speed, hoping to catch the sub before it got past Lower Bank. They arrived just in time to watch it explode. From the deck of the phantom U-boat, J.D. spotted the skeletal crew point out the jeep. The crew made the motions of reloading, even though the gun fired completely on its own, an a volley of explosives belched from the cannon.
"It is the U-boat!" said Minks incredulous. "You think theyíre mad?"
J.D. jammed the stick shift into reverse as the tree beside them exploded.
"Just a little," he replied.
652 quickly became a collection of craters as the deck gun mortars showered the area. One got a little too close and the explosion threw Birchís car into a tree.