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"The Goddamned State"

By Patrick J Lambe


The first time I heard my native state called New Joisey was by some guy who didn’t know the difference between the Dome at Rahway and the Dome of the Rock. I tried to explain it to him, but realized I didn’t know the difference myself. The ten people who can handle their r’s in the state call it New Jersey. I’ve lived here most of my life; busted my hump as a restaurant worker, lumber yard dog, truck driver, dispatcher, college scam artist, construction drone etc. I’m currently working as a telephone technician while writing crime stories. I've had fiction and non-fiction published or soon to be published at Allan Guthrie's Noir Originals, Plots with Guns, Shred of Evidence, Shots Magazine Crime Scene and Hardluck Stories. Check out my web site or e-mail me at

Sweet Captain 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 to me.”

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 State.

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 project.


“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 Yard.”

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 plan.”



“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 ever built.

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.

“It’s been 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 Mr…”

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 appointment.”

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 time.

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.

“Ship,” she said.


“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?”

“I don’t know what results you expect, but I’ve decided to take the case.”

“Excellent, lad.” He filled up two rocks glasses with scotch and ice. It was the best scotch I ever had.

“There’s going to be a lot of leg work on this case thought. Digging through committee minutes, going through official folders, interviewing committee members.”

“I don’t care about costs Reilly, I want results. Charge me whatever you think is fair.”

“It’s not 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?”

“The secretary of the Navy.”

“I guess I’ll have to talk to him eventually, but I think I’ll start with Seattle.


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 as Lou’s.

“He’ll see 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 most days.”

He filled a couple of glasses with the same brand of scotch that Sweet Lou had.

“Construction is 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.

“I’m doing 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.

“New Brunswick huh? It’s a little landlocked for something like that isn’t it?” he asked.

“I don’t 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.”

“I’ve got 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 Reilly.”

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 did.

“You’re a 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 the card.


It’s surprisingly 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.

“Lieutenant Vincent 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 State.”

“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?”

“Sorry, I’m not looking for a date. I like sailors,” I said.

“Don’t we all, I just love the military’s policy of don’t ask don’t tell.”

“Me too,” 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.


Troy ‘Seattle’ 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 so well.

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.”

“I don’t 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 office.

Lou might not have gotten back his Battleship, but he had recovered what had been stolen from him.

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(c) Patrick Lambe, 2004