Life Is Uncertain - Eat Dessert First!
Copyright© 2012 by Stultus
Life is always uncertain.
I learned this for the first time early in life when my father died when I was only six years old. I've had far too many reminders since. The Morrissey men in my family have a tendency to die early, long before their time. My father and his two brothers are all dead, as are my own four brothers and all but one nephew. All dead before the age of forty, too many of them before even the age of thirty.
Who is to blame? Bad genetics, poor lifestyle choices, or the very capricious whims of fate? Yes — all of the above. So far, I've defied the odds, but I wouldn't place any large bets on my streak of luck continuing.
We've always been a Navy family. My father Jeff died in a freak Navy training accident at age thirty-eight. My oldest brother Lance met his destiny during the terrorist bombing of the USS Cole. Another brother, Rick, picked up an incurable strain of flesh eating bacteria on his first sea duty and was dead a few days later. My remaining two brothers skipped the Navy but still died prematurely anyway. Dave having a diving accident during a marine archeological dive on a bronze age shipwreck in the Aegean Sea, and Hugh dropping due to a heatstroke related heart attack the day before his thirtieth birthday. I could go on and list other premature family deaths going back another couple of generations but you get the idea. Men in my family never make it to their fortieth birthday. It does take some of the pressure off of saving for retirement, but sucks in every other respect.
Us Morrissey's may not be lucky, but we do tend to be smart and insanely driven to succeed. All of us graduated early from High School and breezed through University, often with advanced degrees. I followed Lance and Rick into the Navy ROTC program and was commissioned immediately after graduation, but I was still able to continue work on my Master's degree. Dave and Hugh worked their way through school with the help of a few scholarships and were both able to complete their Doctorates. I was close to all of my brothers, but I felt especially close to Dave and Hugh.
Knowing that their careers were likely to be short, Dave and Hugh had frantically worked their entire lives together on a pet research project, an improved method of performing underwater scanning and mapping. Dave was a well respected marine archeologist and Hugh was a geologist, and together they hoped to adapt terrestrial 3-D seismic technology to quickly map large sections of sea bottom at a time. Ideally, the end result would be a method to quickly and easily locate likely sunken shipwreck sites without the long and very expensive process of slowly towing a sonar rig over small areas of ocean.
We all believed we could do this and worked together hand-in-hand as much as we could. When Hugh died, I was even quite willing to drop my own naval career to try to complete Hugh's work and hopefully pick up right where he left off.
My US Navy career had been fairly productive and had gathered no small amount of interest from higher up the chain of command. As an officer, I had gone into the sonar technical area and within a few years I knew as much about our equipment and the state of the technology as any of my most senior petty officers technicians (the guys who actually did 99% of the real work). By the end of my first sea cruise I had even submitted four separate recommendations as to how our existing equipment could be improved. After two years on a shore assignment, where I was able to finish up my Master's degree and start on my Doctorate, I received special orders to report to a Naval R&D facility where the next generation of sonar research was occurring.
I might have been a small fish in a big research pond but it didn't take me long to make a few big splashes. Promotions came fast and soon I was leading several research teams working on cutting edge sonar theories. There were always officers who outranked or were senior to me but word came down from on-high that I was someone's golden goose and was not to be messed with. Somehow, they kept me out of Navy politics and just let me work, and work I did for about the next five years without interruption.
One secret to my success was that I had Vice Admiral Thorne up at the top of the R&D ladder acting as my 'sea daddy', keeping my nose and records clean and far away from normal officer politics (and possible reassignment elsewhere). The other secret to my success was his daughter Josephine (Josie) who had official access to my labs as a civilian consultant, and unofficially smoothed every road in front of us, seeing that we got everything we wanted or needed.
I can't count the number of times that she came into my lab after midnight to put a blanket over me when I was 'just shutting my eyes for a moment' on top of one of the work tables or in a cot in the corner. She also made sure that I had fed myself at least once a day and forged my signature to handle 98% of our usual routine paperwork. It wasn't until years later that I really noticed what she had done for me ... namely, everything.
Not quite thirty yet, I was already a man absolutely and completely focused upon my career ambitions. I didn't know how much time I'd have left in my life and I didn't want to waste a minute of it asleep or away from my research. At most, I figured, I would have only ten years left in my life to complete the job my family had given their lifetime of work to, not to mention my USN research projects. I doubted that it would be enough ... but it would have to be. I was determined to get forty years of work done in the next ten!
I admit that I was attracted to Josie ... she was smart, witty, and extremely decorative. I kept telling myself that I didn't have a moment in my life to waste with romance. At best, it would only lead to another grieving wife holding a small child in a few too short years. I was determined that I would not inflict this pain on yet another generation of Morrissey widows! I was more than happy to let the family line, and the cycle, die out with me.
Hugh's sudden death brought me up short and out of the fog of work I had immersed myself into. He was only two years older than I was! Maybe I now had even less time than I thought.
I loved the Navy sonar research work, but my new family obligations were even greater. I was the last one left that could finish Hugh's life's work ... and I would. My only remaining brother Dave needed me. There were screams and howls of protests, but my letter that resigned my commission was accepted and I soon became a free man.
Four days later, while I was in Hugh's old small lab next to the family house working on our marine seismic mapping project full time and had just briefly shut my eyes to rest them a moment when I felt a familiar presence and a blanket placed over me. Josie had followed me home!
A month later we were married. It seemed only natural, for the last five years she had been taking care of me in one place and now that I was on my own she had followed to join me. I resisted her attachment to me at first, telling her that she was very likely to become an early widow, but she didn't much care. And soon, I didn't much care either — I was in love with her as much as she was in love with me.
She also didn't complain about my usual eighteen hours of work each day/every day, nor was there much complaint about our nearly nonexistent sex life. All being my fault. One hundred percent. I was not a good or proper husband, I must have told her so several hundreds of times, but for some reason she just didn't listen and stayed with me doing her part to keep the other tiny portions of my life that didn't include research alive and well. I didn't deserve her!
I raised an eyebrow when I discovered that the Navy was paying us a grant to assist me with my research, spearheaded by her father. I wasn't thrilled that they had a sort of leash on me, and a right to eventually cherry-pick over my research findings, but I let Josie talk me into agreeing to it. With this agreement, Josie's 'friend' Commander Don Blake, our Naval Affairs Coordinator, now regularly entered into our life, for which I was increasingly perturbed.
Commander Blake had apparently been an old flame of Josie's. Their families had known each other for decades and entertained in the same circles. Blake had an Admiral of his own in his immediate family tree, and several others back in the mists of history. He was handsome, witty, and superbly confident, never setting a foot wrong. I hated him nearly immediately, especially now that I was closer to achieving our long time family goal.
He was always pushing for 'preliminary results'. I held firm on "When it's done" and absolutely and specifically forbade Josie from handing over any data until I gave the final okay. It caused the most significant argument of our brief marriage.
Josie, coming from a Navy family, never understood my need to keep our family research private — at least long enough to prove that it was a success. She didn't comprehend just how badly I needed to prove that the brief lives of the Morrissey men had amounted to something at the very end. That we could give marine science a meaningful contribution that the world could appreciate — not just a few Admirals in some locked room somewhere offering us a quiet handshake instead. She attributed my lack of desire for "sharing my toys" as she put it to unwarranted paranoia and suspicion.
That still didn't explain anything close to my satisfaction why a box of Hugh's old research notes had ended up in the back of Blake's car at the end of his first visit to us. Blake at least had the good sense to be a bit embarrassed. Josie had obviously given them to him and the quiet look of stubbornness on her face spoke volumes. Forbidden or not, I was certain that Josie would go behind my back and do it all over again the next time Blake came to visit.
Once Blake had left (without the research notes), I spent the next full week of irreplaceable research time doing a security cleanup of Hugh's old files. I made a big show over locking up all of the 'critical' files in a large safe in the storage room of the lab that Josie did not have the combination to and moved all of the 'moot' materials into the basement of our family house. Formerly my father's, then Hugh's, now mine ... well, Josie's and mine anyway.
Hugh liked his research done in the old fashioned way, everything on paper, with notebooks galore tossed everywhere. I was much more modern and used several laptops and kept all of my data on CD-RW's, keeping the laptops themselves relatively clean and secure from snooping. I didn't print my files often and when I did I made sure that they were shredded immediately after use or locked up into my smaller office safe. My previous work in the Navy had instilled good security working habits and I would be very unlikely to be leaving anything lying around for unfriendly eyes or hands to find.
In fact, moving the files around was really just a rather large noisy shell game. The files now in the big safe were in fact rather worthless, mostly dead ends and early failed theories. The most harmless materials in fact that I could find. I even added some of my mother's old cooking recipes for good measure (no loss - mom was a terrible cook). Not one of the thousand odd pages of material would divulge a single new workable theory or method of application. Harmless to my family, but excellent bait for Blake's next visit. Dealing with the 'good stuff' was a bit harder to do and I needed a bit of help from almost outside of the family.
Hugh had a longtime girlfriend named Denise who had often helped him with his work before he died. She and I got along pretty well, and she didn't want to see Hugh's life work just disappearing into a Navy research lab either. We made a deal that helped us both. I gave Denise a part-time job "organizing Hugh's files", which consisted of her taking to her home virtually everything, scanning it all page by page into computer images and then burning all of Hugh's hand-written notes and binders. It took her about four months of work and she created nearly a hundred CD's of the document images. I then painstakeningly read through each CD and copied the relatively few files I might need for future reference onto a couple of working CD's. The stack of remaining disks of less or no importance were then wrapped up for long term storage and placed into a metal security box and secretly buried late one night up on a local hill at a place my brother and I had often played at when we were children.
My brother Hugh had been quite close to success before he died, and the sonar knowledge that I was now able to contribute now appeared to add the final missing puzzle piece. The new process worked well as a theory but to build the test equipment and charter a boat was going to take serious money, more than we had. Blake had been more than willing (even eager) to offer it during his visit, but at a price. Full partnership, full access to research notes, etc.
Unacceptable. Wasn't going to ever happen if I had anything to say about it. Josie had plenty to say about it. We fought nonstop for the next two weeks straight and for the next two months I slept in either the lab or the guest bedroom. I couldn't win the fight, but I was determined that I would not lose it either.
Secure storage for my handful of working discs was another but temporary problem. For awhile I used a smaller electronic safe in my office, but Josie was showing unusual interest in it, and I was fairly sure that a hired professional burglar could get into it with little trouble. The solution arrived via serendipity. Josie had talked me into going to a local antiques auction one weekend where there was a Tiffany lamp that she wanted for our living room. We had just recently declared peace between us, so I agreed to go with her, and was glad I did. I was looking at a small table that I could use for my own office when the antique dealer pointed out an interesting detail, the table had a well concealed secret compartment! Pressing two points of the side carvings caused a small drawer to be revealed. Certainly large enough to hide several CD storage cases! I won the bidding for the item at its minimum reserve price and from that day on it securely protected all of my secrets.
Josie never knew the secret about my "ugly table" and until the very end assumed that all of my secrets were still stored in my small office safe. To make things more interesting and enticing, I started to create a thick stack of entirely bogus research full of formulas and techno-babble that I eventually compiled into a large binder. To anyone else except me, this looked like the crown jewels of my family research, but in fact it was all complete twaddle ... and worthless. Perfect though, for drawing attention away from my important and real research data. During work, I kept the bogus binder close at hand and locked it every night into my safe, completing the illusion that this in fact held my true research.
It took about six months of hard work to merge the last bits of my own research into Hugh's previously completed work and finish the theory part down pretty rock solid. It looked alright ... but would it really work? The next step was bigger, build some equipment that could test the theory and (hopefully) get us working operationally.
With good news came the buzzards, namely another visit from Josie's Navy friend Commander Blake. He oozed charm from every pore, but I held firm. No data for you bud! He kept dangling money and use of boats, equipment and personnel but no dice. This project was going to be run my way — all the way. I wasn't going to let the Morrissey name be cheated from victory at the last minute on the cusp of final success.
This was, however, a very good opportunity to check and see if Josie would obey my strict orders not to allow Blake access to any of my research materials. I had primed the pump, so to speak, earlier in the week when I let her 'discover' that I had kept a copy of the combination to the large safe in the storage room of the lab written on the back of a painting hanging on the wall near it. However, she failed to discover the security camera I had hooked into a motion detector focused on the room. The files in that safe, as I mentioned earlier, were all moot and extremely obsolete. Quite harmless, but excellent bait.
I was not kept waiting for long. Reviewing the security camera footage revealed three intrusions.
The first one, the day before Blake's visit, showed Josie sneaking in on her own and opening the safe on her own but immediately locking it up again. Apparently just to check and make sure that the numbers to the safe combination were valid.
The second one, the second day of Blake's visit, showed a very long conversation between Josie and Blake. It was a very long discussion that made me wish I had bought the more expensive model that also had sound recording capability. She started off by showing him where the combination to the safe was hidden and she seemed to indicate that she had tested it and that it worked. Their body language indicated that they were rather more than good friends, in my opinion. They did not actually kiss, but they hugged several times and gave every appearance of being an intimate couple. How I wished I could have heard what they said during the forty minutes that they were there together!
The final entry into the storage room occurred later that same evening, in fact coinciding while we were all off together having dinner at a local restaurant (on Blake's expense account). The intruder was actually Blake's aide and driver whom I had seen relatively little of previously. His aide quickly opened the safe and removed all of the files, undoubtedly moving them off-site as quickly as possible. Blake would certainly not get caught this time with files in his trunk.
Blake, apparently accepting his failure to motivate me to accept the Navy's money gracefully, left the following morning. Good riddance! Now the real fun was about to begin. I made a big show out of suddenly finding that my main safe was empty and directly asked Josie if she knew what had happened to all of Hugh's files? She lied straight to my face. Repeatedly.
She swore that I had cleaned out the safe myself weeks ago and had sent the contents off to Denise (whom she did not like very much) for storage. Obviously not, but I let her think she'd gotten away with it for a little while. She also swore that she did not know the safe's combination; therefore it was impossible for her to have given it to anyone else, let alone Blake. On it went, lies and more lies. I pressured her to fess up and admit that she had all but given the files to him herself and when I tired of hearing her protests of innocence and she accused me of lying about the files to fabricate a fight. I then showed her the security camera tape.
Naturally, this started another huge fight about how "I didn't trust her". Duh, of course not! In the end she was even proud about how she had gone behind my back because I was too suspicious and paranoid to trust anyone to "make the proper decisions' about my work. She was the one looking after and protecting me from myself, etc. In other words she was right to give my family secrets away and I was wrong because I wouldn't give her boyfriend everything myself.
I told her flat out I didn't trust her to make any decisions about my own life, proper or otherwise and frankly told her I wouldn't object at all to a divorce, so she could then spend more time with her boyfriend Blake. This shocked her into silence for a good bit before we started that phase of the argument. No, I couldn't actually prove that they were lovers ... but they sure acted like it, and that was enough for me. She was embarrassed enough to let me win at least that part of our argument and she stomped off apparently to brood and plan her next discussions about the nine million other ways I was mistaken and wrong.
Well, in the end I was wrong about that too. Instead of brooding, she packed up some of her clothes and drove off to visit her family for awhile. By awhile, I mean close to six months. I started the divorce paperwork and had it mailed to her parents home. A few weeks later I woke up in the middle of the night in my lab to find that Josie was back. She had covered me up with a blanket and had left the divorce petition torn in pieces on my desk.
She was back, but things weren't quite back to normal between us. We both tip-toed around each other and for the next month we slept in separate bedrooms again. In the end, I got a grudging admission that she shouldn't have let Blake take the files and that she would never disrespect my opinions in that way again for as long as I lived. It wasn't quite an apology, but it would do for now.
Life calmed down a bit and got somewhat back to normal.
Actually, Josie's six month absence had been extremely productive for me professionally. Without all those other minor inconveniences such as sleeping or eating regular meals, I was getting a great deal of work done. In fact, I had really done just about everything there was left to be done without being out on a boat now. I had scraped up my pennies, emptied my savings and had bought, begged or borrowed nearly every piece of equipment that I needed to test with. Some of it was ad hoc, but it should do for now. The only thing I needed now was a boat and a large patch of ocean to test scan. This turned out to be the easy part.
My brother Dave, the marine archeologist, was at this time my last living male relative and I was in fairly regular contact with him. After all, that was what all of this family research had been intended for from the very beginning. A cheaper and easier way to quickly scan and map large sections of the ocean floor to find old shipwrecks, sunken cities, uncharted reefs, etc.
Dave spent at least ten months of the year in Turkey, consulting for Texas A&M's famous marine archeology department and also teaching at a local University and working bronze age shipwrecks in the Aegean. He had been contacted by a friend of a friend there that badly needed to find a World War Two era shipwreck. Quietly and immediately. Money was not really an issue but he didn't want to hire any of the big salvage firms due to privacy issues. From the sound of things, it looked like the customer wanted things done really on the quiet to avoid inconvenient minor things such as government permits, legal salvage rights, taxation, etc. Since I wasn't going to set foot into the water to recover anything, being contracted just to "find" a shipwreck suited me fine. I could test and start fine tuning the scanning equipment and let someone else pick up all of the expenses of diving and salvage recovery.
I flew out to Istanbul that summer to meet with my brother Dave and discuss terms with our prospective client. A deal wasn't too hard to work out. The client had about a one hundred square mile area of sea near Cyprus that he wanted searched, as quietly as possible. The client was pleased that we had zero interest (and no physical capability) in conducting any salvage operations of our own and that we were quite happy to be just a discovery company.
The whole thing was obviously fairly dodgy and less than 100% legal operation, but our client was rather likeable and knew exactly what he wanted ... and wasn't at all afraid to pay what it would take to get the best results. We made a hand-shake deal and got enough up-front expense money to rebuild my detection array equipment to a better standard than I had been able to afford out of my own expenses.
We now desperately needed a small but practical boat to do our testing with, large enough to stow and tow our modified detection array and launchers for our seismic detonation devices and seabed detectors, but small enough to handle shallow water and with as small a crew as possible. Cousteau might have enjoying sailing about in the Calypso, but even a two hundred foot WW-2 era minesweeper needs a large crew of about fifty people to man and a small fortune to operate. Since our client was willing to write the checks, we scoured dozens of naval surplus yards until we found just the right sort of thing. An old worn out WW-I era small 66-foot Minehunter/Patrol ship of very uncertain parentage, and an even spottier history of irregular maintenance. Originally German made and sold (or given) to the Ottoman Turks before the First World War, it had changed ownership at least a dozen times over the years. Several conspicuous gaps in the ownership suggested less than legal transfers of ownership and perhaps a sordid past that included piracy.
The ship was relatively dirt cheap as its legal title (and everything else) was a mess, but nothing that a few under table cash payments in Istanbul and six months in a repair yard in Izmir getting a complete modernization overhaul couldn't fix. The boat would be sea legal and ready to go by early March and we would have our equipment completed and ready by then as well.
The deal from this point was simple. We would search for his wreck for up to of 100 days during this spring, leaving him the full summer for his own salvage during the likely calmest weather period of the eastern Mediterranean. If we found and confirmed the wreck, we would receive a bonus of $1,000,000, plus we would get to keep the restored Minehunter. If we don't find it, we'd get nothing and go home and enjoy watching our suntans fade.
I returned home with the satisfaction that everything was going exactly to plan and that I would even have time during these next six months to finally begin to enjoy my married life, giving Josie considerably more attention for a change. I freely admit it, so far in our marriage my work had definitely come first and my relationship with Josie had definitely taken a distant second place in my priorities. With 99% of my work now done, I could reverse this behavior ... at least until the ship repairs and upgrades were completed and the start of good cruising weather in the eastern Med.
We had never taken an actual honeymoon so we made up for lost time and had a belated one ... and enjoyed it so much we went right back and took a second one. With my head out of the lab, we started to learn how to actually talk to each other and we exchanged a good number of very sincere apologies for our mutual past behaviors. Josie explained her motivations for passing on my research materials to the Navy, specifically in order to reach the hands of her father, the top R&D Admiral.
She felt then, and still strongly continued to believe, that with my research under his protection and guidance I would have the greatest opportunity to succeed. In turn, I explained that the historically extremely abbreviated lifespan of male Morrissey's made it essential that if our family invention was to ever grace the cover of National Geographic magazine, not to mention the other more scholarly marine archeological and oceanographic publications, it was essential that my work not become distracted. Our goal was locating ancient shipwrecks at the moment, and side applications of this technology such as harbor mapping, submarine location, and even undersea mineral resource positioning, despite their significance to national security, must take a back seat ... for now.
Josie agreed, and I hoped that we had had our last 'misunderstanding' over this issue. I was a bit disappointed that she did not want to come with me for the test search project, but as the absence was only likely to be at most three months, I wasn't that upset to kiss her goodbye at the airport when I caught my March 1st flight to Istanbul.
Unfortunately, I wasn't to see her again for over five years.