Scott descended the ladder, rung by rung, down into the submarine, a blast of heat hitting him from below. He walked the narrow passageway, steel-toed boots stepping solidly, weaving and bending to avoid hitting his close shaven head on a maze of pipes. He had gotten used to keeping an eye out for looming metal, some sharp enough to gash his skin, poke out his eyeball, six years as a Navy submariner conditioning him to move as stealthily as the sub. Beads of sweat formed on his forehead, trickling down his once-straight nose and dripping through the metal deck grating, probably splashing onto some poor squid’s head below. He let out a long, humid breath and loosened his shoulders. He had to work with Stanley Smalls today, that weasely old coot. He was funny sometimes, just because he was so damn weird, but he hated being holed up in the same tiny space with him for hours at a time. It seemed like he always got picked to work with the crazies.
A nuclear mechanic, Scott had spent his formative years in the Navy, and when he got out had snagged a civilian job working for the shipyard, keeping him in close contact with the structure and hierarchy to which he’d become accustomed. He had been a Nuke, a machinist mate, who kept the nuclear power plant running that powered a fast attack sub’s engine. Now in CivLand, what sailors called the civilian world, he did the same thing, just without the prison uniform and on a regular schedule, performing maintenance on dry-docked subs and carriers. He went home every night and slept in a soft double bed next to his soft-skinned wife instead of in a rack above some pimply faced shipmate.
Today, he had to work with a radiological control technician who provided oversight, babysitting him to make sure radioactive material stayed where it should while he worked on the plant. This technician had never even been in the Navy, but thought he knew every damn thing about it. And he was almost a senior citizen to top it off – should have retired a long time ago.
Every time Scott was around Stanley Smalls, the wrinkly bald man made some comment that creeped him out. Scott was no stranger to lewdness. He had been a squid who did his fair share of talking shit with his shipmates about girls in their tight assed Navy uniforms and whistling at civilian chicks when they were on liberty- hell, that was just part of being a guy in the Navy- but this old asshole was different. He was ancient, first off, and that made it weird to think of some decrepit geezer ogling a girl who could be his granddaughter, especially since this guy looked like he should be sucking oxygen out of a tube. There was a fucked-up twinkle in Smalls’ eyes when he talked about sex, his favorite subject, like he wished Scott would let him in on the young, hot sex life that he imagined in his senile old skull. He got the feeling the guy wanted to live vicariously through him, or even wanted to get it on with him. It was like he talked about sex just so he could bring it up around Scott, like he was attracted to him and wanted to turn him on. Of course, Stanley Smalls despised gay men, telling anyone who would listen that fags would burn in hell for their sodomite ways, but Scott suspected he was actually an old closet case. The guy just gave him a bad vibe.
Smalls was waiting for him when he got to the control point, leaning on the bulkhead, picking at his fingernail while he eyed Davis, the young tech on watch, something resembling lust hazing his squinty eyes. Davis stood to meet Scott, relaxing his stiff features, apparently relieved to get rid of the pest which was Smalls.
“Hey there, McCaughey.” Old Smalls sneered a smile, his cigarette and coffee stained teeth jutting past his thin, wormy lips. “It’s damn hot in here. Might have to strip down before this job is over.” He guffawed at his own cleverness, picking between his two front teeth with a long, yellow fingernail.
“Ha, ha, Smalls. Very funny.” Scott was not amused at having to spend the next hour with this joker. He found it highly unsat. He exchanged a knowing glance with Davis and began walking quickly in front of Smalls, determined to keep silent. Smalls scurried behind him, huffing out of his worn, sunken chest like an asthmatic running the Boston marathon.
“Your ass is looking pretty tight in those jeans, McCaughey,” Smalls said between harsh breaths. “You been working it out on that pretty little wife of yours?”
Scott ignored him, willing him to disappear and suddenly self-conscious about walking in front of him. He stopped and waved his hand for Smalls to go ahead of him.
“You’re a goddamn gentleman. You gonna give me a goodnight kiss when this is over?” Smalls chuckled as he moved ahead of Scott.
It must have been about 95 degrees as they passed through the hatch. They entered the hellishly hot reactor compartment, a room with steel walls a foot thick that surrounded the nuclear plant that powered the sub. Scott set up his tools and quickly got to work on the operating valves, focusing intently on what he was doing. He ignored Smalls, whose sweat-stained pits seeped lower onto his thin, plaid, short-sleeved shirt, stinking the place up like a hog house. The smell nauseated Scott.
“Goddamn it, Smalls. Take a fucking shower already.” He knew he shouldn’t have said it as soon as the words left his mouth.
“Oh yeah, I bet you’d like that, McCaughey, seeing me all wet and soaped up.”
“Shut the fuck up, Smalls. Some of us are trying to work here.” He resented this old guy watching him with his beady bird-eyes, just looking for a mistake so he could report a spill. Rad Con Techs made sure that radioactive material didn’t contaminate anything, and Scott knew controls were necessary, but he didn’t appreciate being watched like a convict. He heard Smalls’ breath sucking in and out, getting closer to him. Then he felt a hot blast of air on his neck.
“Mmm. You smell good, McCaughey.”
Scott turned around and found Smalls leaning close over him, his eyes half closed, nostrils flared.
“What the fuck!” Scott stood up abruptly, almost knocking the old guy over, his stringy, greasy comb-over falling into his eyes as he jerked away, smacking his back on a valve, a steering wheel shaped piece of metal jutting from a pipe, in the process. “Get away from me, man. I’m trying to do my goddamn job.”
“So do it, buddy. No one’s stopping you.” Smalls rubbed the small of his back, a guilty smile scrunching his crackled face.
Scott shook his head in disgust and knelt back down to finish his work. He worked silently, but was agitated, his hands unsteady, Smalls’ close proximity unnerving him.
“So, McCaughey, you ever go boating? I got a boat that me and the old lady like to take out on the Elizabeth River.” Smalls made moronic small talk, acting like he hadn’t just crossed obvious boundaries by sniffing Scott’s neck. “Sometimes my brother’s daughter comes out with us. She’s real young and has a tight little ass, and she wears a teeny bikini. You’d like her.”
Scott ignored Smalls, gagging a little at the thought of the old asshole checking out his own niece. Just a few more minutes and I’ll be finished, he thought, then I can get the hell out of here. He remembered a rumor that had been floating around the shipyard that Smalls had recently rubbed another guy’s shoulder and the mechanic had filed a formal complaint about him. Scott could see why. He crouched, keeping his head down and his eyes on his work.
A shadow obscured the light behind him, making it hard for him to see the details. He sighed. “Get out of my light Smalls. I can’t see.”
Scott waited for Smalls to back up. But he didn’t. He kept working, figuring he’d ignore him until he went away. Smalls just wanted to get a rise out of him, and he wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of reacting.
A minute or so passed, and the hairs on the back of Scott’s neck stiffened. He swore he could feel Smalls’ body heat behind him, his wet breath pushing on him again. He paused, tools in hand, considering telling him off once more. Before he could say anything, he felt pressure between his crouched legs. He hesitated a moment, disbelieving his own senses, then looked down and saw a wrinkled, liver-spotted hand rubbing back and forth on the top of his jeans. He realized Smalls was cupping his balls from behind- touching him, actually touching him. A crimson rage boiled up from Scott’s crotch, into his chest, quickening his heart rate, and then up to his head, clenching his jaw until his muscles felt like they would pop. In one fluid motion, he stood up and spun around to find Smalls had also risen and faced him, his eyes wide, surprised at the furious fire in Scott’s narrowed eyes.
“You fucker.” Scott said quietly between clenched teeth.
Before he knew what he was doing, his arms exploded in front of him, shoving Smalls hard on the chest, pushing him backward. The old man lost his footing as he fell back, his arms flinging themselves wildly to the side, grasping at nothing. He would have just bumped his bony butt on the deck, but as he descended, his round head smacked a valve, a loud thump and snap echoing off the bulkheads. His skull, unable to endure the pressure, had cracked open like a coconut, splitting in the center from the back up to his forehead. Red, hot blood spurted onto the bulkhead, deck, and overhead, splashing onto Scott’s stunned face and spilling over Smalls’ gomer dead pan. He blinked his eyes and looked at Smalls’ lifeless body slumped on the deck, blank eyes staring at the overhead, mouth agape with no breath coming out of it. He reached up to wipe the blood spots off his face, looked down, and realized his shirt and pants were covered in the warm liquid. The smell of the blood made his stomach churn. Still in a daze, he hovered to inspect the damage. Blood poured from Smalls’ cantaloupe of a head like chocolate syrup, a grayish gooey substance accompanying it, which he assumed was bits of Smalls’ brain.
“Fuck! What am I gonna do?” Hysteria threatened to consume his mind. Would they believe him that Smalls had basically assaulted him? He would be too embarrassed to even tell them what Smalls had done. Was it considered self-defense? Manslaughter? A life behind steel bars flashed in his mind. He considered trying to hide the body, but quickly decided it was impossible in a submarine. Plus, he was covered in blood that was not his own. There was absolutely no way to cover up what had happened. He rubbed his eyes with his fists, Smalls’ blood burning them. He decided he would have to go to control point and tell Davis what happened. There was no way of getting out of this now.
Scott sucked in a deep breath and stepped forward to begin his march toward doom. He had no idea what the future had in store for him, but there was no way to avoid it. He stepped over Smalls’ corpse, trying not to touch him, but his foot slipped on the blood and his boot caught on Smalls’ pant leg. He was thrust forward and felt himself lose balance, falling head first toward the deck. His last view was of the valve racing toward him. It smashed into his eye. A bright, white light flashed and a searing pain pierced from his eye into the back of his head. Blackness.
Scott McCaughey flopped onto Stanley Smalls, his bleeding head smashing straight on top of Smalls’ dead melon. There he laid, spread eagle on top of Smalls, his right eye, which had popped out of its socket, a spongy globe hanging by red threads of nerves below his shattered cheek bone. Fragments of blood, bone, and brain were spattered all over the deck and bulkhead.
Three hours later, Davis grew concerned that a routine operating valve maintenance procedure was taking so long. He called up to the office and had another tech sent to check it out. When the tech got to the reactor compartment, he found the two shipyard workers’ bodies laying stiff and lifeless, one on top of the other, tangled in a dead embrace.