Sun 15 May, 2005 05:48 pm
Wilkerson drowned of his own doing. Well, of course, he had no plan to do himself in at the beginning, but it was inevitable, once he drove his tank off the pier. In fairness, he was not aiming for the murky deep, but was attempting to drive his tank over the brow, to take his newly-won prize aboard ship, so that he could bring the clanking machinery home with him.
Ship's brows are notoriously flimsy; the one connecting the USS Aaron Burr to the pier crumpled like a Budweiser can. The tank toppled over, gouging the Burr's hull as it splashed into the brackish depths, taking the plunge upside down. It had not settled on the bottom in the time it took Big Lou Jones to jump in to try to save Wilkerson's dumb ass. Lou's muscular torso and long dungaree-clad legs torpedoed around the tank, but he was unable to locate the hatch. He shot up, sucking up lungs of air, and treading water. The rest of us scrambled far down deck for safety. We slunk back like a pack of wary rats after seeing Big Lou dive in.
"He ought to let him drown," the new Lt. said, sounding angry. "The idea, bringing a tank aboard a cruiser."
"In all fairness, sir, he would have had second thoughts, once he sobered up," I said, rallying to my fellow sonar man's defense.
"Yeah; remember the goat?" Nichols added. "Of course, the time he bit off the chicken's head when they wouldn't let him have it did seem a bit nutty."
The new Lt. continued to be irate. "Who the hell wagered a tank in the first place? No one can treat the military's property like personal possessions."
"The local soldiers live by a code all their own," Nichols said admiringly.
Meanwhile, Big Lou became increasingly vexed at not having a line thrown to him so he could get hauled out of the bay.
"Throw that damn Good Samaritan a line," the Lt. groused.
Big Lou affected surliness after that, particularly when nobody treated him like a hero. Hell, he had been The Man of the Hour for a similar action only eight months ago, when he had gone in after two sailors who had gotten dragged overboard by a refueling line. In both cases, he had failed to save the men. Where was the difference? Lou stalked off to get a change of work clothes.
I alerted the Lt. to the two Shore Patrollers hauling up to the scene.
The first one jumped out of the Jeep before it properly stopped rolling.
"Awright, where is it? What happened to the tank that was seen coming on this pier?"
He came over to where the brow ought to have been, his hard blue eyes surveying the damage. "Where is the sailor that did this?"
The Lt. pointed into the water. "Crazy bastard went down with it."
At this point, three Army Jeeps full of MPs and an irate General Crowley crowded the scene. The General stood up from the seat and began shouting.
"Where is my tank?" he roared. "What have you G-d-damned swab jockeys done with it?"
The flustered Lt. turned to Lemons, the Officer on Deck, in effect putting the matter in his hands.
"We're sorry, General, sir," Lemons yelled back. "It wasn't the Navy that did it. Wilkerson acted on his own."
"When you pull that son-of-a-bitch up, he's getting court-martialed."
"Yes, sir," Lemons said. "I hope he gets what's coming to him."
"He's dead," Nichols interjected. "What the ****?"
"I want that man on report," the Lt. said, pointing Nichols' way.
"Yes, sir," Lemons replied.
"Well?" The General appeared impervious to the evidence blatantly laid before him. "I demand an explanation. And I want my equipment, now." He turned to the MPs. "Get out and take back that tank."
Five in number, they scrambled on the pier, uncertainly confronting the two SPs. As the opposing groups milled about, a blue Mercedes stopped next to General Crowley.
"Wow," Nichols exclaimed. "Sure didn't take long for Admiral Dish to find out about this."
Admiral Dish thrust his gray head out a window. "What's that G-d-damned general doing on my base without my permission?"
"Chasing a tank, sir."
"Lemons, is that you?"
"Yes, Admiral Dish, sir. I've been trying to work this out, but I don't know any precedent--"
"You tell that general bastard to get his ass off of my base until he gets proper authorization."
"Yes, sir." Lemons gulped, looking at the general, who seemed like a storm about to spawn a dozen tornadoes. "General Crowley, sir- -"
"I heard what that Admiral Peckerwood said," the general replied firmly. "You tell that bean eating son-of-a-bitch I'm not going anywhere until I get my tank."
"Admiral Dish, sir- -"
"Tell General Crow's Feet to let the SPs escort him to the gate or expect to be put under arrest."
Lemons gulped real hard. The gift of speech deserted him.
"Do you think my MPs will stand idly by while their General gets manhandled?" Crowley threatened.
The Admiral backed off his threat for the moment, saying, "Besides, there's not any tank to be seen. Lemons, do you see a tank anywhere?"
"No, sir, Admiral, I don't."
"Why isn't there a brow? What if I want to come aboard to train some of my weaponry at these Army dog sons-of-bitches?"
"I'll call for one right away, sir."
A far off beating sound signaled an incoming Army helicopter. No one paid attention to it until it centered low over the pier. The Admiral became apoplectic.
"Get that chopper on the radio and tell him he's not to land," he shouted, his face turning purple.
But Lemons had no chance to call before the helicopter broadcast to the people below it.
"Who's that on the quarterdeck? Is that you, Lemons? Listen here. This is Jefferson, the Gunner's Mate. I just won this sumbitch in a poker game. Make me a place to land it."
This is great edgar, I have been meaning to comment since I read it last night, just haven't had computer time. Very captivating, from beginning to end, and quite true to characters.. I cracked up at the end!!
Thank you. It was a fun piece to write.
I only just read this, as i tend to steer away from the stories... but it really made me laugh - thankyou!
I've learned that on A2K, the shorter the better.
Very funny and compact. A good read.
Damn, Edgar - I could swear I served with some of those guys - or at least had played cards with 'em. I kept readin' along, thinkin' there was some point or joke or somethin', and was quite pleasantly surprised to realize you'd written a first-person slice-of-life vignette. Very handily done. :wink:
Why thank you. I served with some of the guys in the story. Only the names were changed just in case they would want to track me down.
The tank and chopper are imaginary. The part about Big Lou going in after two swept overboard by a fuel line and the one about the chicken's head getting bitten off are real.
While I'd assumed the tank and the chopper were mere literary devices, I recall an acquaintance having once won a jeep in a barracks poker match. Considerable controversy ensued, culminating in interest from the base Provost Marshall. Shortly thereafter all claims to and concerning the jeep were dropped. The fellow who wagered and "lost" the jeep, however, was at the short end of the duty roster stick for a good while, and was separated from the battalion motor pool.
Sound like a Phil Silvers episode.