Tenacity by J.S. Law is a military thriller where a suicide aboard a nuclear submarine turns out to be anything but (available November 3, 2015).
An officer hangs himself in the engine room of naval submarine HMS Tenacity. A woman's murder bears disturbing similarities to an old case. Lieutenant Danielle “Dan” Lewis grasps for the truth before it submerges in the gray waters of the English Channel.
Cramped, claustrophobic, and under strict command, the confines of HMS Tenacity are unwelcoming in the best of circumstances. For Dan, the only female aboard, who must methodically interrogate a tightknit and hostile crew, it's her own special place in hell.
Recently reassigned to the Special Investigation Branch's Kill Team, Dan's hardheaded reputation precedes her. But facing an obstinate ship's company, a commanding officer too eager to close the case, and a constant threat of unfriendly male interest, she learns that under enough pressure everyone has their breaking point.
Thursday Afternoon—September 25, 2014
Dan looked up at the young naval policeman who was leaning around her office door as though he might lose balance and topple in if he didn’t deliver his message and be on his way soon enough.
He was young, bursting with confidence and a little overfamiliarity, but his navy uniform was immaculate and the shirt so white that it almost seemed a little bit blue in the dull glow that came in through the window. Dan could work with that; he had attention to detail.
“Head of Kill’s here to see you,” he said, using the slang term for the Crimes Involving Loss of Life division that never failed to grate on Dan’s nerves. “Commander Blackett. He’s downstairs signing in now.”
Dan watched him and said nothing, the silence drawing out between them and the young man’s position leaning on the door becoming tenuous.
He waited, watched her for an acknowledgment, and, when none came, he eventually released the door frame and stepped properly into the office, freestanding.
“Thank you,” said Dan. “Could you turn the lights on and show him up, please.”
“Ah, he asked if you would go down and go for a walk with him,” he said, trying for a smile. “The commander said”—the young policeman paused, hesitated—“He said the fluorescent lights make you grumpy.”
Dan smiled and watched the young man relax a little. She was new here, had taken over the Portsmouth unit only a day ago and had been away from the Special Investigation Branch for a good while before that. Many of the younger police didn’t know her, but they would get to, in time.
“In that case, you better leave the lights off,” Dan said. “Thank you, I’ll go down now.”
He nodded and was gone as Dan stood and grabbed her issue waterproof jacket and tricorn hat.
* * *
COMMANDER BLACKETT WAS waiting for her outside, across the parking lot near her car. His hand was moving in slow cycles from his mouth to his side and back again, the smoke signals rising after each one confirming that little had likely changed with Roger Blackett.
He took a long, deep draw on his cigarette as she approached and smiled broadly.
“You look good, Danny,” he said, reaching out to shake her hand, though it was clear he would have embraced her had they not been in uniform. “In fact, you look great.”
Dan shook her head and ignored him.
“You still torturing yourself for miles upon miles every day?” he asked.
“Too bloody vigorous, Danny. I’m sure it can’t be good for you, you know, putting your body through that, but if it keeps you healthy and happy…”
Dan watched him, one eyebrow raised, as he drew on his cigarette with the intensity of an asthmatic drawing on an inhaler.
He smiled. “Don’t you lecture me, Danielle Lewis. I’m a lost cause and, anyway, I’m giving up.”
“You’ve been giving up for twenty years.”
“Ah well, life’s for living,” he said. “All about pushing boundaries and seeing what you can get away with.” He tossed his stub into a large, wet pile of others on the ground next to a garbage can.
“How come you’re out and about in Portsmouth?” she asked. “I heard you liked being tucked up safe and warm in your office these days.”
“I came to see you,” he said, as though that were sufficient reason for the head of her branch to drive for four hours and turn up unannounced at her office, asking to go for a walk. “Can we walk for a short while then?”
Dan shrugged and waited for him to lead the way.
They walked steadily through the dockyard, Blackett talking as they went, catching her up on promotions and news from the navy police and its Special Investigation Branch, as well as gossip from a circle of mutual friends that Dan hadn’t seen or heard about for years. He was talking, but not really saying anything.
They passed the carrier berths, and HMS Illustrious, the newly decommissioned British aircraft carrier. She had seen from a distance that the flat, gray flight deck was free of aircraft. It looked as smooth and empty as a Sunday morning parking lot in the dull light. Now that she was closer, she was no longer able to see the flight deck, only the sailors who were bustling around the ship beneath it.
Roger began to tell her about his time aboard Illustrious as the master at arms, the senior policeman on the floating town that held upward of a thousand sailors when it deployed. He spoke quickly as Dan watched the sailors working on the gray passageways that looked down onto the concrete jetty, or unpacking stores and supplies on dry land, near one of the gangways.
Dan fixed her eyes dead ahead. She felt their gazes fall on her like the shadow cast by the twenty-thousand-ton hulk. Some glanced surreptitiously sideways; others simply stood up and motioned to their friends. It was as though their eyes, and the darkness cast onto the ground by the ship, possessed actual weight.
Roger talked on, oblivious, as they moved toward the rising masts of HMS Victory.
Portsmouth Dockyard had changed since she had last been here. It had grown and been modernized. There were more cars and fewer people, but the layout was the same and she relaxed again as they headed toward the cobblestones of the Historic Dockyard, passing visitors and tourists who trod them on their way to the Mary Rose, or HMS Warrior, all hoping to see some history only a few hundred feet away from the modern warships that still had a hand in shaping it.
“I was hoping to speak to you last night,” he said, a change in tone alerting Dan that she needed to listen. “I tried your mobile, thought we might be able to grab a drink.”
They walked along toward the waterfront. Several sailors saluted Blackett as they passed, Dan aware of their eyes flicking toward her after they did.
They stopped at the water’s edge, and Roger lit another cigarette. “I thought, at first, you might’ve changed your number, but your dad and sister said they haven’t spoken to you, either.”
“What’s up, Roger?” she asked.
She wrapped her arms around herself.
“I’m glad you’ve started to let your hair grow back,” he said.
The words sounded odd and random, irritating.
“It’s a long drive from Plymouth to Portsmouth to tell me to call home,” she said.
“Your dad’s worried. We all are.”
“I’ll call them.”
He nodded, seeming to accept he wouldn’t push it any further.
“That’s not the only reason I’m here,” he said. “Do you remember a sailor called Stewart Walker?”
Dan shrugged again. “Not from recently; I knew a Stewart Walker when I was in basic training.”
“That’s him. You joined up together. Then you both joined HMS Manchester straight after you passed out of Raleigh.”
Dan nodded, her features unchanged. “Yeah, ‘Whisky’ Walker, I remember him. I haven’t heard from him in years.”
“He died the day before yesterday. Hanged by the neck on board HMS Tenacity, one of the nuclear hunter-killer submarines that run out of Devonport. It’s believed he committed suicide.”
Dan turned to look at Blackett for the first time since their conversation had started.
He nodded. “This is a nasty one, Danny. I know you’ve only just arrived back with Kill, and I won’t hide the fact that I didn’t want this one for you, but I need an investigator to come and work out of Devonport Dockyard for a few weeks.”
He turned and looked out across the water.
He was hesitating; she could see it in the way he looked away from her—the way he focused out to sea as if engrossed by the nothingness between them and the Gosport Peninsula, which looked back at him from barely a mile away. She could still recognize all of his mannerisms even though she hadn’t seen him in well over a year; he was a constant.
He reached for his cigarettes, half pulled one out, and then thought better of it. His tongue poked out from between his pursed lips as he took a few moments to thread it back into the nearly new pack.
“And?” she prompted, waiting for the rest.
“And…”—he reached for his cigarettes again and pulled the same one back out, lighting it with his back to the wind—“And, I need to know how you are. I know you’ve only just taken over the Portsmouth unit, so I know that you’re back, but I need to know that you’re really ready to come back.”
“What?” asked Dan, her voice sharp, incredulous. “What does that even mean?”
“It means you had a tough time, a really tough time, and that affects people.”
“And I dealt with it.”
“Some of it.”
She turned on him, faced up to him.
They weren’t at work anymore, they weren’t in uniform, they were friends of over twenty years, and Dan was fearless in that knowledge.
“I dealt with it,” she said, her eyes boring into him and her teeth gritted.
He looked back at her, not angry, as he might well have been, just patiently waiting.
She turned away and looked out to sea in the same direction that he’d been looking.
A small white boat was being tossed around by the swell a few hundred yards from land. It was completely at the mercy of the waves around it, only held in place by a tiny, taut anchor rope that could break at any second.
The wind picked up and was topping the waves, forcing the crests down into small, white mounds, like the backs of kneeling worshippers.
Together, the elements battered the hull of the small craft and tested the anchor’s resolve.
“The Hamilton case took a lot out of all of us,” he said, his voice low and thoughtful. “None of us saw that coming and no one paid the price you did. No one could have predicted it was one of our own—”
“I’m fine,” she said, cutting him off. “Tell me about Walker.”
“The way you were treated by the press. The sheer scale of what Hamilton did.” Blackett seemed to be speaking to himself now, not really looking at Dan, as though he were seeing it all again, reading out the highlights as it played through in his mind.
“Do we have a timeline for Walker?” asked Dan. “And have interviews begun? Or can I get down there before they do?”
“What happened afterward…” His words trailed off.
Dan stopped and looked at him. He was the one she had turned to after it had happened, the one she had trusted to help her.
They looked at each other and neither spoke for a long time.
“I’m okay, Roger,” Dan said. “Really I am, and I want this. I’m ready for it.”
Copyright © 2015 J. S. Law.
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J. S. Law served in the Royal Navy Submarine Service, rising through the ranks to become a senior nuclear engineer. Tenacity is his first novel. He lives in Portsmouth, England.