Diamond Lou White was a man whose life was too large to be contained
by one nickname; so someone at some point in time decided to saddle
him with every moniker ever associated with his first name. I thought
this excessive at first, but that was before he told me the story
about how he and one of his war buddies named, Seattle (who, although
he was from Seattle, didn’t get his nick name from his home
town) had single handedly won the Korean War.
I had poured him his third vodka gimlet before he got around to
asking me to do a job for him. “I should have talked to you
earlier, but I wanted to exhaust every means at my disposal before
I resorted to a private investigator.”
“I thought you had a guy you used for your court cases.”
“I do Reilly, but he, well, no offense, but he has a morale
streak in him that could interfere with the outcome of this matter;
and this case does not involve my practice and it is very important
My shift working at the Court Tavern was over, so I walked around
the business end of the bar and sat down next to Lou, choosing the
stool held together with the least amount of duct tape. I ordered
a Bud bottle and a shot of Jamison.
“Someone, a rival from my past actually, has stolen something
from me, and I want it back.”
“What did they steal?” I asked, the shot doing nasty
things to the lining of my throat.
“It’s something with concrete economic and historic
value to society, imbibed with personal sentimental value that you
can’t put a price on. Can you come on a half day field trip
with me tomorrow?”
“Where are we going?”
"The stolen property's held in Camden, but spiritually you
could could say we're taking a trip into my past."
Lou’s status as a serviceman who had served on the Garden
State gave him special privileges and access to areas denied to
the general public. This was certainly the first time I had ever
been in a military office embedded in a battleship; actually it
was the first time I had ever been on a battleship or military vessel
of any kind.
“This is where I began my military career as a yeoman. That’s
a military term for a lawyer.” Space was limited and rationed
in the military, even on a ship of this size, but I was still amazed
that Lou had prepared the legal documents necessary for the operation
of a ship during wartime from these cramped quarters.
“I don’t want sound rude Lou, but we’ve already
taken the public tour, and your own private trip down memory lane
has been both interesting and informative, but when are you going
to tell me about the stolen property?”
“This is it,” he said spreading his arms to encompass
the small room.
“What, something in this room?”
“No, Reilly, all of it.”
“The whole room?”
“The whole goddamn ship. It’s mine, bought and paid
for, and I want it back.”
According to the men who served on her, the greatest slight perpetrated
in WW II; with the possible exception of the bombing of Pearl Harbor,
was the naming of the Iowa Class Battleship BB 69. Navy tradition
dictated that main battleships of the line were named after states,
and when it came time to name one after New Jersey, the personalities
of two Senators serving on the sub committee in charge of naming
ships, combined to produce the only battleship ever named after
the slogan of a state.
Rumor had it that the right gentleman occupying one of the Senate
seats for New Jersey was a proto hippy, and the connotation of ‘garden’
soothed his conscious in the naming of an artifact carrying guns
capable of lobbing 6’ long shells 23 miles inland. The Senator
from Montana, who was slighted because the second pair of ships
of this class were planned as Montana class ships who’s designation
was changed to Iowa class to speed production, agreed with his counterpart
from New Jersey. There was also speculation that the Senator had
been rolled by a working girl during a youthful fling in Atlantic
City, and he had harbored a seething resentment against our fair
state since that day.
The name Garden State didn’t sit well with the sailors who
tended the sixteen-inch guns occupying the ships three turrets.
The name connoted flowers, and picnics, and other associations inconsistent
with the violence and death designed into a ship of this type; so
those who served on her universally knew the ship as the Goddamn
Her keel was laid in the Philadelphia Naval Yard in 1940 and she
completed the war as one of the most decorated ships to serve in
the Pacific Theatre, passing through the Panama Canal twice and
serving in both theatres of the war. She sank several ships, shot
down scores of zeros, survived a direct hit from a Kamakazie pilot
and rained a mountain full of metal on numerous enemy shore facilities.
If she had been any closer to Tokyo on VJ day, those Japanese dignitaries
dressed up in their top coats and hats would have signed the surrender
papers on her deck instead of her sister ship. It was decommissioned
for the first time in 1948, spending two lonely years in dry dock
at the Bayonne Naval Yard.
The Goddamn State awakened from hibernation every war season brindled
with new weapon platforms, as if a bear started each new season
adorned with a new high tech set of claws. Her sixteen-inch guns
were guided by sophisticated radar during the Korean War. Vietnam
saw the addition of missal systems. The first Gulf War brought the
Goddamned State into the internet age; and it was largely the internet
which brought it out of it’s most recent hibernation, this
time as a floating Museum; the Flag Ship in an ambitious urban revitalization
“I raised twenty million dollars, collected a fortune mostly
through donations to the web site I started practically single handedly,
to get this wreck towed out of Seattle, through the Panama Canal,
and into the Philadelphia shipyard that spawned her, and Troy ‘Seattle’
Carthage stole her from me.”
“Calm down, you’re making people nervous.” We
were standing in front of his gun turret, bristling with three of
his 16-inch guns I was leafing through a thick folder he had handed
to me, full of legal documents, newspaper clippings, hand written
notes, ships specs, even a couple of pages ripped out of a copy
of Jane’s Fighting Ships.
He patted the turret with an affection I usually associated with
someone interacting with a beloved pet. “I met my soon to
be ex-wife right here We had a dance on the deck while we in port.
They set up fold out chairs and had a swing band playing right in
front of this very turret.”
“I don’t see what you want me to do. Look around you
man. The museum’s already built. There must be a couple of
hundred people on the ship at this very moment. I doubt very much
they’re going to release her in your recognizance.”
“You don’t have to worry about the logistics. I’ll
figure out that part of the project. What I’m paying you for
is to find out who my old buddy Seattle paid off to get the Goddamn
State into this inferior port in this inferior city.”
“Even if I do get your boat back I don’t think your
pool is big enough for it.”
“Ship lad; she’s not a boat, she’s a ship. I
want to put her where she was originally intended, the Bayonne Ship
It was at that point that I concluded that Sweet Captain Diamond
Lou was crazy. “Comparing Bayonne to Camden is like comparing
moose shit to deer shit, one is larger than the other and I suppose
one could argue that one is more aesthetically pleasing than the
other, but they both smell as bad. What does it matter where the
ship is anyway? I mean, it’s still in New Jersey.”
“It’s not all about the ship. It’s about what
the ship represents. The revenue it can produce for a struggling
community. I had it all worked out, and that bastard Seattle, he
didn’t just steal my boat, he stole my whole urban renewal
“It’s not a boat, it’s a ship.”
Latter that day I went over the contents of the folder as I sipped
on a Bud while reclining in my hammock. I had to admit that Lou’s
assessment of Bayonne being a better port than Camden held up based
on my initial reading.
Bayonne already had a deep dock, more than sufficient to moor a
ship the size of the Goddamned State. Camden had to do extensive
dredging and overhauling of it’s dilapidated dock and the
surrounding area, a very expensive and time consuming undertaking.
Of course it would be more expensive to tow the ship from Philadelphia
to Bayonne, rather than the short haul to Camden, and although I
don’t know anything about towing fees, I thought it would
be cheaper than the construction process. Both cities had planned
huge urban renewal centers around the battleship; financial megaliths
rising out of the destruction caused by one of the deadliest vessels
The last time I had been in Camden I had been working on a surveillance
case I was parked outside an block of row houses during a bright
spring day, slumped down in my seat with a baseball hat hung low
over my eyes; waiting for a guy to enter an apartment who never
came. There was a car on fire in the middle of the street. People
walked around it like it was inconveniently double-parked. I watched
it burn for nearly five hours. No fire truck ever came A police
car passed by, but never bothered to stop. It was still giving off
a dark metallic smelling smoke when I quit for the day.
As far as I was concerned Camden was way more in need of urban
renewal than Bayonne, and If they wanted to rest the future of their
city on the hulk of an obsolete gun platform, that was their business.
Besides, if the urban renewal didn’t take, they could always
just retool the guns and point them inland. I decided, after my
fifth beer, and before I read the Jane’s Fighting Ship excerpt
that I would let someone else help Sweet Captain Diamond Lou on
his Ahabian quest.
Lou’s office was
located around the corner from the Court Tavern on Paterson Street,
right above Clyde’s Martini Bar. I got there prior to lunchtime,
hoping to catch him before he had a chance to stop at either bar.
Lou was not a man accustomed to being turned down, and I thought
he would take it a little better sober.
tough on all of us…. I know….what do you want me to
say, you know him, I can’t ever tell what he’s thinking….”
The receptionist was talking in low tones on the phone.
Lou’s office decorations
could best be described as early navy testosterone. There was a
picture of the Constitution on one wall, and an original WW II recruiting
poster staring it down from the wall across from it. He had a model
of the Goddamned State on the low table in front of the two leather
gird chairs, one of which I took a seat in as I watched the girl
talk on the phone.
“Well maybe you
shouldn’t be with him…. Of course it’s awkward….I’ve
got to go, we have a client.”
Even the girl seemed
nautical to me. Whatever she was wearing as perfume reminded me
of a cool ocean scented breeze soothing the sunburn that plagued
my Irish skin every summer. Her brownish hair cascaded in waves,
swirling around the vortex of her round face. Her eyes were blue,
not the blues of water on a clear day, more like the bluish gray
hinting at a coming storm.
“Can I help you
I stood up and held out
my hand. “Reilly. I’ve got to see Sweet… I mean,
I have to see Mr. White. I’m afraid I neglected to make an
Her hand was surprisingly
pliant, and slightly moist, her fingers corded like a rope attached
to a ship on a dock “My name is Karen. I’m sorry but
Mr. White can’t be disturbed right now, and his schedule is
very full. Perhaps I can pencil you in for some time tomorrow?”
“Tell him it’s
about his boat”
“I suspect he will
see you under those circumstance,” she said with a tone indicative
of someone whose enthusiasm about the subject had been eroded over
I checked out her body
as she went back to Lou’s office. She had a nice figure with
an ass that was just slightly too large for it, the way I liked
it. She glanced back at me, noticing me noticing her before she
knocked on the door, and I was rewarded with a slight smile.
I heard Lou say, “send
him on in.”
We passed close to each
other as I made my way towards the office.
“When your talking
to him it’s best to call it a ship.”
Lou already had a bottle
of bonded scotch out from it’s port in the top drawer of his
desk. “What do you think of my ship Reilly?”
know what results you expect, but I’ve decided to take the
He filled up two rocks glasses with scotch and ice. It was the best
scotch I ever had.
going to be a lot of leg work on this case thought. Digging through
committee minutes, going through official folders, interviewing
care about costs Reilly, I want results. Charge me whatever you
think is fair.”
about the money. I just think I would be better able to get everything
done if I had a little help. Maybe I could borrow someone from your
staff who knows about paperwork, and dealing with public officials.”
He poured us both another
shot and thought about it for a minute. His secretary came in and
put a file on his desk, and he looked at her as if he had never
seen her before. “I get it Reilly, you want someone from my
staff on your staff. I don’t think Karen would mind doing
a little legwork for you for a couple of days.”
We shook hands.
“You know, Sweet
Lou might not be as crazy as I thought he was,” Karen said
as she sifted through the papers spread out on the table before
us at Clyde’s about a half hour after I had taken the case.
“I’ve been involved in his little project but I’ve
never seen everything all together at once.”
I was glad Karen was
showing some enthusiasm for her temporary assignment. I tried to
focus on some of the paper, but the two martini’s piled on
top of the bonded scotch had made focusing a little interesting.
“Look at this,”
she placed a spreadsheet in front of me. “Lou’s organization,
the Friends of the State bought in three times the donations of
the next closest group Troy’s the Garden Fund.”
“Who made the final
decision where to dock the old battle axe?”
of the Navy.”
“I guess I’ll
have to talk to him eventually, but I think I’ll start with
The interior of Troy
‘Seattle’ Carthage’s office was painted in another
shade of testosterone; I like to call it early modern. He had a
new recruiting poster on the wall; and I inferred by the buxom sailor
saluting from the deck of the ship that they now allowed members
of the fairer sex into the Navy these days.
He had a model of some
type of high tech thing that I assume was a ship on the reception
desk of his secretary. These old time Korean vets knew how to do
their hiring, because Troy’s receptionist was almost as stunning
you in a minute,” she said to me as I sat down in a waiting
chair. This time I had an appointment.
A woman came out of Troy’s
office, tears marring her surprisingly well preserved face framed
by a mass of silverish white hair, that reminded me of foam on an
ocean wave curling inward on itself. She rushed out the front door.
A voice came over the
intercom and said, “give me a few minutes before you send
my next appointment in.”
“Some kind of scandal
going on back there?” I asked, more to pass the time than
out of any real curiosity.
“Just Troy and
his true love. The guy’s got to be over sixty and he’s
carrying on like that with another man’s wife. I don’t
know whether to be envious or disgusted,” she said.
Troy Carthage took one
look at me and said, “you look like a drinking man, Reilly.”
“I feel like one
He filled a couple of
glasses with the same brand of scotch that Sweet Lou had.
a busy trade and I’m a busy man Reilly, let’s get down
to it,” he said as he leaned back into his leather chair,
making a triangle with his arms, his fingers resting on the edge
of his nose.
some research on the history of the Garden State and I understand
that you were instrumental in guiding her to her current port.”
“Why are researching
this Reilly?” he asked.
“I’m a private
investigator working for the New Brunswick Council. The city of
New Brunswick is thinking of buying a surplus naval submarine to
use in an urban renewal program. The council is thinking of planting
it in one of the municipal parks, and they’ve hired me to
find out how one would go about it. You seem to be the biggest expert
in the state in how a project like this gets done.”
“The most important
thing is knowing who to bribe.”
We both chuckled along
about that one for a few seconds.
huh? It’s a little landlocked for something like that isn’t
it?” he asked.
know about that. You must have driven down route 295 some time.
Ever see that ships superstructure they have in the middle of the
cornfields in the middle of the state?”
“Yeah I think the
navy does some training there.”
“And Camden is
a river port, no where near the ocean, and they have a battleship
bobbing up and down on the Delaware.”
an old navy buddy who lives in New Brunswick. He tried to get the
Goddamned State for himself but I won. I’d talk to him if
I were you; although I think you already have. Get out of my office
I downed the scotch before
I left, and although it may have been the same brand that Sweet
Lou kept in his desk drawer, it didn’t taste half as good.
I was almost back to
my apartment, driving north on Route 18 in New Brunswick, when a
pick up truck tagged the back of my jeep with an impact that would
have sent me sailing through the windshield if I hadn’t have
been firmly anchored in by my seat belt.
The truck could best
be described as turnpike green, it was over ten years old, and it
looked like it hadn’t had a day off during its whole lifetime.
It had a sign that said Harvest Dock Dredging on both the doors.
The driver seemed like he was glad to meet me as we exited our cars
and accessed the damage.
I noticed that his hands
were pretty smooth and the expensive cut of his suit told me he
didn’t spend near the amount of time on a dock as his truck
little far from the Ocean for someone who works on the docks,”
I said, as I handed him my insurance card.
“So is Camden and
they have a goddamned battleship in their river; know what I mean
Reilly,” he said before he had even glanced at my name on
hard for someone to make an appointment with the Secretary of the
Navy, and not just for an itinerant PI like me. Apparently even
guys who can afford to buy battleships, like Lou and Troy, don’t
rate a space in the appointment book.
I learned this fact from a helpful secretary to the Secretary who
also gave me the name of the Naval Assistant whose job it was to
actually deal with old sailors with too much time, ambition and
money on their hands.
Surprisingly his office
had the least amount of Naval paraphernalia adorning it’s
walls out of the last three offices I had been in.
Mills,” he said to me after I had explained my credentials
to him, as we shook hands over the top of his immaculately clean
desk. He was dressed in an official looking uniform with a lot of
metal attached to it that I was sure someone like Lou could explain
the meaning of to a non military shlub like me.
“I understand you
made the final decision on the placement of the Battleship Garden
“The final decision
rests with the Secretary of the Navy. I just do the research and
make some recommendations.”
“I have some questions
about the process and criteria you used to make your decisions.”
His friendly demeanor
and eagerness to help me deteriorated with every question. I think
it was just after the fifth one when he called someone on his intercom
and had two MP’s escort me out of the building.
I had paid for an expensive
hotel room for the night so I decided to stay in Washington and
do some work on Lou’s dime. I waited outside the office building
Mills was working in until he got off his shift. I tracked him to
his car --a BMW 745 that I doubted even his boss, the Secretary
of the Navy could afford— and followed him back to his overpriced
apartment in George Town.
I waited in my car fighting
to stay awake and trying to not think about how badly I had to take
a piss, for several hours before Lieutenant Mills stepped out for
the night. I tailed him to two bars, and tried to remain inconspicuous
as he tried to hook up for the evening.
I was sipping a bud at
the second bar when someone sat down next to me and said, in a deep
baritone voice, “I haven’t seen you around, are you
new on the scene?”
not looking for a date. I like sailors,” I said.
all, I just love the military’s policy of don’t ask
I said as I left some money on the counter and walked out of the
bar. It didn’t sit a hundred percent right with me, but even
though Lieutenant Mills hadn’t asked, I would most certainly
tell if he didn’t give me what I wanted.
Carthage would probably do some time in a minimum security prison,
and he would have to pay a fortune in fines when his close association
with all of the companies that did the pier retrofitting for the
Goddamned State’s new berth came to light in a series of prominent
articles written up in the Home News.
Lieutenant Mills was
a shrewd career man. He had been keeping detailed files on all the
people he dealt with in his official capacity foreseeing the day
when he would run into someone like me. He had enough to implicate
Troy without compromising either himself or the office that he served
There was a familiar
looking woman sitting in one of the two guest chairs in front of
Lou’s desk. She was laughing at something that Lou had said.
Lou bolted up out of his chair and pumped my hand before I had a
chance to sit down, a huge smile on his face.
“Good job lad,”
he said, as he pressed a check into my hand. “I put a little
something extra in, I know how hard you worked on this one.”
know what good it’s going to do you Lou. There’s no
way they’re going to dismantle that museum and bring it up
to Bayonne,” I said as I looked over at the woman sitting
next to me and realized, that although I recognized her as the woman
with tears in her eyes leaving Seattle’s office, that was
not why she looked so familiar.
She looked familiar because
she was the spitting image of her daughter, who was sitting behind
the reception desk right outside of Sweet Captain Diamond Lou White’s
Lou might not have gotten
back his Battleship, but he had recovered what had been stolen from