It’s dark, it’s winter in Kodiak and I’ve just changed my tire when a burly figure emerges from the gloom. “The watch captain said to ride with you.”
He notices the tire iron in my hand. “I’ll just check the lug nuts before we go.”
Joy, I get the newbie. He’s 6’2″ of roly-poly interference. I toss the iron in the back of the truck. “Get in.”
“I’ve never worked with a woman. Can I drive?”
Oh, hell no. I stare at him until he settles onto the passenger’s seat. I climb into the cab, buckle up and engage the gears. Bubba leans over and flips on the emergency lights.
“Really?” I swing my head in his direction and widen my eyes. “Would you like to run the siren?”
He reaches for the controls and I bat his hand. Satisfied he’ll sit with his hands in his lap, I ease onto the road and head for the harbor.
Bubba is quiet for 2.4 seconds when static crackles over the radio and he jumps. “Jesus, what’s that?”
“Static,” I mumble, “adjust the squelch.”
“Squelch? Where do I find squelch?”
Guess he can’t see the little knob on the radio. “Have you looked in the glove box?”
I bite my tongue as he rummages behind the vehicle registration and emergency flares. Maybe tonight isn’t a waste after all. I take a right and veer toward the air station.
“Not here,” he says, “now what?”
“Well.” I park in front of the hanger. “Pilots usually keep an emergency stash. Why don’t you run in and get a tube?”
“Okay.” He jumps from the cab and heads inside. In minutes, he’s back and flapping his arms. “They had no idea what I was talking about.”
I laugh, which means the gig is up, but to my surprise he joins in. “I know, right, how stupid can they be?”
Oh God, my insides quiver. How did this kid get through boot camp? I wipe my face, and when he’s fastened his seatbelt, I head for the docks.
The radio erupts in static and Bubba turns down the volume. “This is just wrong. What if there’s an emergency, what if there’s a fire, what if . . .”
“Relax,” I tell him, “there are three ships in port and one of them will have a spare tube of squelch. I park in front of the USCGC Storis. Bubba leaps from the truck and strides up the gangway. When he disappears below decks the watchman trots down to meet me.
“Hey Boats,” he says, when I lower the window, “what’s up with Doofus?”
I fill him in and when he stops laughing his eyes shine. “Want me to call the Morgenthau and the Citrus and give them a heads up.”
I grin. “Excellent idea.”
The remainder of the shift flashes past as we toy with Bubba. When I get back to my quarters I have a stitch in my side. Tomorrow I’ll tell him the truth.
The next morning, I sign in and reach for the keys as Bubba’s voice drifts from the squad room. “This isn’t a job for girls, why can’t I ride with someone else?”
Smoke furls about my ears. Brimstone fills my nostrils. I march out to the truck and call in a favor. This time I’m not messing around.
All too soon Bubba opens the passenger door and climbs inside. “So,” he says, “I talked to a radioman and there’s no such thing as a tube of squelch.”
My left eye twitches. “Radiomen.” I improvise. “Do not need tubes of squelch, they repair radios. We are an emergency response team. We do not have time to play around.”
Wide eyes lock with mine. “Understood?”
He swallows. “Understood.”
“Good.” I park at the infirmary. “Chief had a physical today and he left a tube of squelch at the front desk.”
Bubba heads inside. When he returns he shakes his head. “This won’t work.” He brandishes the tube. “This is just the base.”
What he holds, is hand cream with a bogus label. “Don’t worry,” I tell him, “we have lots of time to find a jar of active ingredient.”