“You went off grid,” the old man said. “Twice last month.” The old man was his commanding officer, Captain Lowel Haywood, who was a tall, slender man with silver colored hair, cropped short. He stood there looking out of his office window, dressed in his Navy khaki uniform, while Jennings stood at parade rest before his desk.
“Yes sir,” he finally answered.
Currently Jennings was stationed on land, and was working as a backup pilot for the Coast Guard doing search and rescue. The only reason he was here was because he had gotten in trouble on the last ship he had been stationed on, when he had been doing a search for the island and had been told to head back in, but instead had pretended to have radio trouble and not understand what the command was telling him, and as Haywood had just said, had gone off the search grid and went looking on his own. After the second time he had done that, the captain of that boat had pretty much thrown Jennings off it, sending him to his current shore duty station.
He had also lost a rank and been demoted from Captain to Commander.
Last week, he had said he was going to test fly a helicopter, and of course, had taken it out over the ocean for a good distance, just to see what he might find. When he had returned, Haywood had not been at all happy with him, and Jennings had been moved down from being an active pilot to a backup pilot who spent most of his time checking up on the mechanics, and doing other tedious jobs that didn’t require him to take an aircraft out over the ocean.
Basically Haywood had grounded him, unless there was an emergency.
“Commander, you know our position on searching for this mysterious island of yours,” Haywood said in a firm tone.
“Yes sir,” Jennings said softly.
“You know going off grid and searching for this island when you’re not authorized to do so, is a serious offense,” Haywood asked?
“I do, sir.”
“Do you want to lose another rank, or be sent to prison?”
“No sir,” Jennings answered. “It’s just with them cutting back on the searches . . . I know it’s still out there and . . .”
“It’s been five years, Commander, and still we’ve not found this island,” Haywood said evenly as he turned around and faced Jennings.
Jennings nodded his head. “I know it’s out there and . . .”
“You say it’s out there,” Haywood said evenly. “The survivors say it’s out there. On the record, the Navy has no official stance on it.”
“But we’ve been looking for it for five years,” Jennings insisted.
“Off the record we have been,” Haywood said again. “And for five years have found nothing. That’s why the cutbacks. Spending a huge amount of money searching the ocean for something that can’t be found . . .” he shook his head and put a sad look on his face. “It’s coming to an end, Commander Jennings, and you need to accept that. The government doesn’t want to dump any more money into this, and taking aircraft, government owned aircraft I might add, out of designated areas to go looking for this . . . island is a criminal offense. The only reason you’re not being locked up is . . . because someone likes you.”
Jennings just looked down at the floor and nodded his head. “I appreciate that. I just know with some time we’ll find it again, and . . .”
Haywood sighed as he looked down at the floor for a moment and then slowly walked over to stand behind his desk. “Search and Rescue is, Search and Rescue,” he said evenly as he looked at Jennings with his steal gray eyes. “We all know we can’t save everyone all the time.”
“I understand that sir,” Jennings replied with a nod of his head. “But this . . . it was my fault.”
“All of us in our line of work, who have lost someone, feel the same way as you do, myself included,” Haywood explained.
Jennings made no comment to that.
“Is that why you’re leaving the Navy? Because you blame yourself for leaving that girl behind?”
Jennings arched his eyebrows up as he looked at the older man. “No sir.” But that was a lie. He did blame himself.
“No, sir, it’s just that, twenty years is long enough for me,” Jennings answered, that was partly true. Jennings had been in the military since his early twenties and was a little tired of it. On top of that, he thought if he could get his own plane he could continue the search for the island, and Mae, on his own without fear of getting in trouble with the military for using their aircraft when he wasn’t authorized to do so. . .
“You’re still young, why not make it thirty?”
Jennings shook his head, no. “Twenty years is fine with me.”
“And what are you going to do with the rest of your life,” the old man asked? “Spend it looking for this island and this girl you blame yourself for leaving behind?”
Yes, Jennings thought, that was exactly what he was going to do, but allowed he said, “maybe move to Florida and work search and rescue there.”
“Florida,” Captain Haywood asked in a shocked tone? “Someone who likes action like you do, I’d expect to go up to Alaska, where they have the fishing fleets and do rescues out on the Bering Sea.”
Jennings frowned at that as he shook his head. Apparently Captain Haywood had never flown through a hurricane before. “Not a big fan of the cold. Well, not as cold as it gets up there, and for as long as it does.”
“Me either,” Haywood said as he sat down. “And I’m not too big on Grizzly Bears either.”
Jennings grimaced at that. He wasn’t a fan of any large animal with large teeth. . . that saw you as dinner.
“Hay, Jennings, how’s the search for Skull Island, going,” Commander Willingham asked in a sarcastic tone.
Jennings was sitting at a table in the officers’ mess hall, with fat, juicy cheeseburger on the plate before him and a stack of French fries beside it. The only thing missing was a beer, but he was on duty, so he had settled for a large cup of coffee instead.
When he had walked in he had seen Willingham sitting at a table some distance away, talking to two younger officers, and had grimaced. He and Willingham didn’t get along, for a number of reasons.
Despite his feelings, Jennings had taken a seat at his usual table and ate alone. He had been halfway through his cheeseburger when he became aware that Willingham was glancing at him as he talked in a hushed tone to the two younger officers who, in turn would chuckle and nod their heads at whatever Willingham was saying.
Jennings had done his best to ignore that, even when he heard Willingham say, “wasting all the Navy’s money and time looking for some island that can’t be found.”
Now Jennings looked up at Willingham and offered him a friendly smile as he showed the other man the middle finger of his right hand. At the same time he stuffed a French fry into his mouth with his left.
“Guy says he was chased around by Godzilla, or some crazy nonsense like that,” Willingham went on to tell the other two men he sat with.
Swallowing, Jennings said loudly, “It was a T-Rex, actually.”
“See what’d I tell ya,” Willingham said to the other two officers before turning around to look at Jennings. “T-Rex, Godzilla, what’s the difference?”
“A Tyrannosaur is a real living animal,” Jennings explained with a smile on his face. “Godzilla is a myth.”
“Tell that to Blue Oyster Cult,” one of the officers remarked and all three men rose to their feet, laughing as they made their way out of the mess hall.
As he left Willingham said, “enjoy your In Search Of, Monster Quest, waste of time, thing.”
Jennings saluted him while at the same time, saying, “enjoy being a dickhead for the rest of your life, dickhead.”
When he was alone, Jennings took a big gulp of coffee, wishing again that it was a cold beer, and was about to go back to eating the last half of his cheeseburger, when from behind him he had heard a voice shouting, “Commander Jennings?”
Jennings turned around to see a young third class petty officer standing there in the doorway. His name was Martin, Jennings recalled. “Yes, what is it, Martin,” Jennings asked, noticing the scared look on the young man’s face.
“We’ve a rescue,” Martin explained. “They need a pilot who can fly the chopper in this storm coming up out there, and the Chief told me to find you, sir.”
No sooner than Petty Officer Martin had finished that statement, Jennings’s phone chimed with a message. Glancing at it he saw it was from the Watch Commander, telling him to report A.S.A.P.
“See,” Jennings said as he stuffed a few French fries in his mouth, chewed quickly, and washed them down with another gulp of coffee. “This is the other reason I want to be a civilian. I’d get paid overtime for this shirt.” With that he rushed out of the mess hall, leaving his tray on the table . . .