In October of 1633 Al and Sam Morton became instant heroes when they sank six enemy ships at anchor in the River Trave just down river from the city of Luebeck.
But that was then.
It took all of a couple of weeks before the city fathers reconsidered the status of the Mortons. In their careless enthusiasm, the brothers had sunk the ships plumb in the middle of the deep water channel. It was potentially a very expensive problem. With the channel effectively blocked, shallow draft coastal ships could sail around the wrecks, but no large merchant would be able to make it in or out of Luebeck. Someone was going to have to clear the deep water channel. The city fathers dumped the problem on the people responsible for creating it: Al and Sam Morton.
June 1634, Travemünde, Luebeck Bay
Sam Morton reassembled the non-return valves and attached the first one to the testing rig. These valves were too important not to be tested regularly. If he and his brother had ever forgotten the stories from their dive instructor about his time as a hard-hat diver, the recent stories coming out of Denmark would have been more than enough warning.
"Any word on a new diver yet?" Al asked.
Sam shook his head. "Nah, I guess the stories coming out about King Christian's latest execution machine have scared everyone off."
"You'd think the fact that we use the rig ourselves would be enough to give them confidence."
"Nah. They think we've just been lucky so far."
"Lucky? It's proper safety systems and preventative maintenance that's stopped us from having any system failures. Do they have any idea what the consequences are of a systems failure underwater?"
"You mean like what happened in Copenhagen?" Sam asked. "I think they know what the consequences are and they aren't willing to risk them."
"What we need is someone who doesn't know about the events in Copenhagen, or is too dumb or cocky to care."
"Where're we going to find anybody who hasn't heard about Copenhagen?" Sam asked.
"It'd have to be someone who hasn't seen the papers. That kind of death is too gruesome not to have been picked up by the media. I guess that leaves dumb or cocky, and I won't dive with 'dumb.'"
Sam grinned. "That leaves cocky, and I know someone who might fit the bill."
"Matt Tisdel. We certainly know he can swim."
"Yeah, I guess a state age group champion knows how to swim. Any idea what he's doing these days?"
"He was two years behind me at school, so he should have graduated this year. Let's send a cable and ask."
"Nah, we'd better go through channels and pass a request on to the Navy and let them ask Matt if he's interested in diving."
The harbor at Luebeck was hardly a hive of activity. The only vessels in port were those caught before the siege and small coastal traders able to make their way around the wrecks blocking the deep water channel. Miquel spat into the harbor. There was nothing there for a respectable sailor. It was the hiring hall again for him.
Miquel couldn't believe his luck. Not only did he have the chance of a job, but it was a well-paying one. If he got this job there would be no more sailor's hostel and miserable day laborer's wages. The Americans were offering employment for a whole quarter, by which time he should be able to secure a place on a ship out of Luebeck.
He looked down at the scrawled note from the hiring hall. It was in German, which he couldn't read. He approached a dockworker for help.
Travemünde, Luebeck Bay
Miquel knocked hesitantly on the door he'd been directed toward.
"Come on in, the door's open."
Miquel paused. That request had been in English. He knew enough of the language to recognize the instruction, but the accent was new. He pushed open the door to find two young men sitting at a table. "I am Miquel. I have come about the job, the diving job."
Miquel's English was fractured, and it was immediately obvious that the two young men had difficulty understanding him. He thrust the note from the hiring hall towards one of them.
Sam accepted the note, read it, and then passed it to his brother. "You have come about the diving job?"
Miquel was relieved that they spoke German, a language he knew reasonably well. "Yes, the diving job. I am a good diver. I dive for coral off the Isla del Aire."
"Where's that?" Al asked.
"It is an island off the southern tip of Menorca."
Sam shook his head. "Never heard of it. Where's Menorca, Miquel?"
Miquel tried to keep the disbelief off his face. How could they not know where Menorca was? They were up-timers; they were supposed to know everything. "It is the northernmost of the Islas Baleares." This time Miquel saw the blank looks and preempted the question. "They are islands off the Spanish mainland, east of Valencia."
"I guess if its east of the mainland it has to be in the Mediterranean." Sam said.
Miquel was surprised that the up-timer could even work out that detail. "Yes, the Mediterranean."
"A coral diver. Hey, Al, that's better than we expected. Miquel, welcome to the team."
"You know what?" Al asked.
Sam rolled in his bunk and looked through the shadows toward his brother. "What?"
"I don't think Miquel knows about what happened in Copenhagen."
"How could he not know? It must have been in all the papers."
"Yeah, but I don't think he can read and write."
Sam considered that for a few moments. "Do we tell him?"
"Nah! Let's just make sure he understands about the non-return valve and what it's there for. Then when he finally hears the story, he'll understand that he hasn't been at risk."
"Okay. Now try and get some sleep. We have to start teaching Miquel how to use the dive suit in the morning."
Miquel peeked over the salvage assessor's shoulder. He couldn't read the writing, but he could read the numbers. They were low, but a fair assessment of the collection of junk which was all he'd been finding. He followed the assessor into the office where Sam and Al were working.
"The assessment, gentlemen," Gotthard von Höveln said, handing his clip board over to Al. "If this is the best you're finding on the wreck then I will authorize the final breaking up of the wreck and you may proceed to the Falken."
"You think there's anything else to find, Miquel?" Al asked.
"No. The wreck was pretty much picked clean before we started. About the only thing of any value we found were her anchors."
"Right, then I guess we blow this wreck to pieces and move onto the Falken."
Miquel was happy to hear that. Whereas the other ships had sunk in barely a dozen feet of water—easy pickings for anybody with a boat, or willing to risk walking on the ice when the river froze during the winter—the Falken had sunk in probably the deepest hole in the Trave. With only the tops of her upper galleries breaking the surface she had to be in a hole at least thirty feet deep. That should have put the gun deck and the hold out of easy reach. The pickings should be better.
A couple of days later
Al walked into the cabin with a letter in his hand. "Sam, we've got a problem."
"How do you mean?"
"The admiral wants us in Copenhagen as soon as possible."
"So we go to Copenhagen. Where's the problem?" Sam asked.
"You're forgetting the little matter of the city fathers and their deep water channel. They're going to insist we finish what we started. "
"Yeah, oh! Miquel's competent, and the surface crews are well drilled, but for safety's sake we're going to have to find an assistant diver for Miquel before we can head for Copenhagen."
"Hell, it took long enough to find Miquel." Sam sighed. "Maybe he's got a friend."
"I don't think so. He spends nearly all his time on the dive tender."
"So what do we do now?"
"Send out an S.O.S. to the Navy. If they want us in Copenhagen, they need to find us a new diver to finish clearing the channel."
Hard hat diving. Matt Tisdel never thought he'd ever be doing that, but that was the assignment he'd been offered. There had been a few carrots attached. With the reputation of hard hat diving having taken a real dive with the stories coming out of Copenhagen, the Navy had been generous with its bribes.
He checked his travel orders. Yep, he was in the right place. He tossed his sea bags onto his shoulders and walked past the dive tender toward the office.
Matt had filled out a bit since Al had last seen him and it took a few seconds before recognition dawned. "Matt, what brings you here?"
"The Navy sent me."
Al gestured to a chair. "Take a seat. Actually we asked the Navy to ask if you were interested in doing some salvage diving, but that was a month ago."
"Well, I got my orders just a couple of days ago. Maybe they thought you still wanted me."
Sam poked his head through the door. "Hey, Matt. What brings you here?"
"The Navy sent him," Al answered.
We're really sorry, but this is only available to up-to-date paid subscribers.
If you're not already a subscriber you need to know that our columns and editorials are free, along with a few other items, but almost all stories and all downloads are paid only.
- The Grantville Gazette Staff