Excerpted from Dale A. Dye’s debut Young Adult novel featuring Tracey Davis—most definitely a chip off the old Shake Davis block. In fact, her Dad is more than a little proud of his daughter, who is both a research scientist oceanographer at the famed Woods Hole Institute and a U.S. Navy Reserve officer.
New England Aquarium, Boston
Funny how evil the eyes make it look. C’mon over and see me, bad boy.
A particularly fine example of octopus vulgaris crawls toward me. It scuttles efficiently on tentacle tips that tap lightly over the rocky bottom of the aquarium. It moves like a ballerina in toe-shoes. The animal floats gently to rest at the edge of the glass. And there it sits, asking me what I want this time. Yeah, it’s the eyes. Like a cat, but the pupils run horizontal instead of vertical. What’s going on behind those evil eyes?
Staring at such fascinating sea creatures is a bigger time-suck than obsessive Lifehacking or meeting strangers on Omegle. But staring at denizens of the deep is what we mostly do at Woods Hole or any other place we get sent to stare. And I’m on the octopus watch at the New England Aquarium here in Boston.
Observing octopuses — or as the great unwashed call them, octopi — is preferable to carving them up on the dissection tables. But it’s all for science, I guess. The only thing I’ve learned for sure after six weeks of cephalopod research is that octopus vulgaris — the common octopus — is anything but common. I’m studying color patterning and how it affects their rich and nasty social lives. Others are looking at the impact of trawling on ocean popula- tions, which is important to our eight-legged population since along with being extremely weird, octopuses make good eating among a big chunk of the two-legged population.
That other weird wavy image reflected in the tank glass is me. Shaggy and disheveled, I look like Aquaman with boobs. Time for a haircut. Shaggy and disheveled won’t work in uniform, especially with the damn hat the Navy insists we wear. Unisex as a deterrent to real sex, I guess. And I’ll be wearing that hat a lot for the next month or so. The orders looming over my shaggy head won’t change just because I don’t like the uniform. Right in the middle of a fascinating research project, I’ve got to drop it all for my active-duty stint — in the Persian Gulf, no less. At least I won’t have to worry about make-up. Daily bake in the sun should take care of that.
I’ve asked for a reprieve from the detailer down in Norfolk and hinted around the project for a little support, but fat chance of that. Art Darcy, the project director, an Annapolis grad who did his reserve time teaching Mids to sail, thinks it’s hilarious that the Navy is shipping me off to the Middle East. He’s not gonna complain about one missing researcher from all the over-anxious brainiacs at the vaunted Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. That’s the way the wave breaks when you’re a lieutenant junior grade in the Navy Reserve — emphasis on the junior grade.
“Tracey, phone for you…some Navy thing. They’re asking for Lieutenant Davis.” One of the carvers at the dissection bench holds up a handset dripping goo and waves it over his head.
I snatch at the slimy phone. If that’s the detailer, I might catch a break. “Lieutenant j.g. Davis speaking. Can I help you?” “Tracey? Commander Jim Wilson here. How you doing?” “Good, sir. I was hoping to hear from you.”
“Yeah. Well, I got your request for delay or reconsideration. Sorry we can’t accommodate.”
“Yes, sir.” I’m screwed. “Guess I better brush up on my Arabic.”
“Thing like that never hurts these days, but I may have something that’s more suitable for you. Interested?”
OK, easy does it here. Every other officer and sailor in my reserve outfit is saluting and standing by to go wherever the Navy sends them. This is no time to sound like a whiney little slacker — which I am not. “Commander, you know I want to do my duty. It’s not that I’m trying to wimp out or anything…”
“I get that. I’m thinking maybe your unit can do without an oceanographer while they’re overhauling patrol boats in Bahrain. How does Florida sound for your active-duty drill?”
“Sounds great, sir!” The octopus in the tank across the room gives a little celebratory tentacle wave. “Is it something to do with ocean science?”
“Beats me, but the Navy Diving and Salvage Center in Panama City is screaming for an oceanographer to replace a guy who went down with a heart attack. I’m looking around for someone to cover while he recuperates and they decide whether or not he can return to full duty. You’re a little young and a lot junior, but you’d do as an interim. How about it?”
“Sign me up, Commander.” There are plenty of interesting cephalopods in Florida waters. I went to school down there. Perfect. And my command won’t bitch too loudly given the circumstances, filling in for a stricken fellow officer and all. “I can be ready to go tomorrow on the first flight out of Logan.”
“Then pack your seabag. I’ll send details to your command with copies to your email. That still the same?” “Yes, sir.”
After a little paperwork drill at the project admin office and a lot of guff from the director who thinks I weaseled out of the Middle East deal, I’m at the dorm to pack and do a little research on my laptop. Packing is no problem. It’s just uniforms as required, shorts and shirts plus some sandals and flip-flops. One suitcase and a carry-on plus all my computer and phone stuff. I know the deal in Florida, and I can find whatever’s currently cool after I set- tle in at Panama City. The official Navy Diving and Salvage Center website doesn’t tell me much beyond how excited I should be to serve at the largest dive training center in the world. It’s apparently located in the Florida panhandle which ain’t the keys, but it ain’t bad given the option. I’ve got plenty of time in Florida waters from my college days on the NROTC program. I may have to brush up a bit, but there’s plenty of time for that on the plane.
My immediate attention goes to the logos of all the commands that train for underwater operations at Panama City. I’ve seen all of them on one uniform or another during my time in the reserves, but there’s one that’s intimately familiar. It’s a gold-colored bust covered in a wetsuit hood, wearing a low-profile diving mask and a chest-mounted rebreather apparatus: Marine Corps Combat Diver.
I need to call my Dad.
“Sounds like you dodged a bullet, girl.”
My Dad’s voice is the usual growl, but I can tell he’s happy I’m not gonna be thrashing around in the Middle East where he’s had more than one unpleasant experience. Dad’s never been gushy or overly emotional, and he warned me I might regret signing up with the Navy Reserve to help pay for my college education. What do you expect from a guy who spent 30 years dodging real bullets as a Marine? But I know how much he loves me and I can tell he’s relieved with the news of my new assignment.
“I didn’t flake out of it, Dad. A guy on staff down there had a heart attack and they need a short-term replacement. It was like karma or something. So when the detailer called, I’m like sign me up!”
“You’ll enjoy it, Tracey. That’s Navy country all the way. Hell, it’ll be old home week. They’ve got more squids down there in the panhandle than you can count — the kind in uniform, not the ones you’ve been studying — but there’s probably a lot of those, too. You’re certified, right? You’ll get in some good dive-time. The Navy’s just putting the right person in the right place for once.”
“Didn’t you do your dive training down there?”
“Nah, I trained at Coronado. That was before the Navy consolidated all the training down where you’re headed, but I’ve horsed around that part of Florida a little bit. Nice weather, nice beaches. You’ll enjoy it.”
“Yeah, well, duty first, y’know. It’s not like I’m on Spring Break or anything.”
“You’ll do fine. Call me when you get settled. I might know some people in the command.”
“You know people everywhere in the military, Dad. If you don’t know them, they usually know you…or know of Gunner Shake Davis.”
“My reputation exceeds me…by a long shot. Call me from Florida and let me know if you need anything. I love you, girl.” The laptop beeps to let me know the official orders and a travel voucher have arrived. It’s military cheapo all the way: Delta flight from Boston to Atlanta and then a puddle-jumper into Panama City. Time for a quick visit to Supercuts.
Marine officer Dale A. Dye rose through the ranks to retire as a captain after 21 years of service in war and peace. Following retirement from active duty in 1984, and upset with Hollywood’s treatment of the American military, he went to Hollywood and established Warriors, Inc., the preeminent military training and advisory service to the entertainment industry. Dye has worked on more than 50 movies and TV shows, including several Oscar-and Emmy-winning productions. His current project, No Better Place To Die, —for which he is the writer and director—is a World War II drama about the airborne Normandy landings on D-Day. Tom Hanks has signed on to both act in and executive-produce the film.