A Change of Service





Patterson handed his license to the MP at the gate and waited.  The specialist looked to be only fresh out of basic, but then this was a military police school, after all.    He was supposed to look crisp and unruffled.  Pat wasn’t, though.  It was darned hot and humid.  He wiped the sweat from the back of his neck with a hand towel.  The MP handed him his ID and waved him on.   Pat rolled up the window and turned the air conditioner up to full blast.  Why in the heck did his cousin decide that the best time for a visit was in late July? 

With a lusty sigh, Patterson continued toward the barracks area marked on the map.  Derrick was a DI and heaven help the recruit that ran afoul of him.   But then, his cousin had always been a tough guy.  When they had been kids, Derrick was the one that had taken the lead whenever there was mischief to be had.  Patterson had always been content to follow in awed footsteps of his more famous, or rather infamous cousin.  And yet, there was never any animosity between them.  If either was in trouble, the other was more than willing to back him up.  The only time Patterson actually got into fights was when Derrick had gotten in over his head and the younger and smaller boy had leaped into the fray. 

Derrick had been downright jealous when he had heard of Patterson’s assignment on the Seaview over four years ago.  Now he was getting a chance to see his cousin at work.  It had seemed like such a good idea last spring when Derrick had proposed it.  Now as the sweat rolled down his neck, Pat wasn’t so sure. 

Patterson pulled into the parking lot in front of a large building and then perused the area.  Several barracks surrounded a fairly large parade ground.  He was reminded of his basic training and shuddered, glad that that experience was well behind him.  Ah, well.  Several new swabbies, hmm, he reminded himself.  Different service; different terminology.  New recruits.  He got out of his rental, his uniform sticking to his back.  Ft. McClellan, Alabama.  At least in most ports of call in the Navy, the ocean had a tendency to cool things if it did get hot.  Here?  “Private,” he called out.  The two recruits stopped, gazed coolly at him and then approached. 

“Yes, sir?” one of them asked.

Patterson smiled.  “I’m a non-com.  You don’t have to call me sir.” 

“Oh, okay.  What can we do for you?”

“I’m looking for Sergeant Derrick Maclannen,” Patterson said. 

“He’s over by Barracks 2.  He’s having to do a bit of positive reinforcement on a couple of new recruits, I understand,” the other recruit smirked. 

“Thanks,” Patterson said. 

“Where you from, if I may ask?”

“Santa Barbara, out to visit my cousin,” Pat responded lightly. 

“Have a good visit,” the recruit said.  “And by the way, it’s not always this hot here.”

“Naw, it’s sometimes hotter,” his companion popped off. 

Patterson chuckled and just waved as he walked over to the barracks indicated.   Around back, he was surprised to see that Derrick was coaching a rousing game of football.  Positive reinforcement? he thought.   Looked more like recreation.  Perhaps that was what the recruits meant.  Of course, in this heat, a good swim would be more positive.  But he guessed these guys were probably more used to it than he was.  

“Come on, Grandpa!” Derrick shouted.  “You can move faster than that!” 

Pat stood back and watched in amusement as the ten men formed up their lines; five on each side.  The calls were made, the man playing quarterback stepped back, scrambled out of the way of another acting as lineman, called to one of his team mates and then let fly.  The ball sailed accurately through the air and the receiver ran to the far end of the field.   Patterson felt a twinge of déjà vu when he heard the ‘quarterback’s’ voice, but shrugged it off.

“Hey, Randall!  You going to let an old man do that to you?” 

Patterson shook his head.  Just like Derrick.  He always loved to egg on both sides, getting great pleasure in seeing the irritation on the opponents’ faces.  After the winning team had done their victory dance, with only the man playing quarterback not participating, the receiver lofted the ball back toward Pat’s side of the field.  Several men raced for the overthrown ball and Patterson suddenly found himself a very vulnerable target.  

Derrick pivoted, saw him, and looked shocked at the imminent demise of his newly arrived cousin.  “Watch out!” he cried futilely.   The one playing quarterback reached him first, jumped and caught the ball, but his momentum carried him into Patterson.  They both crashed to the ground, other men leaping over the pair to avoid adding to the collision. 

“Pat, you all right?” Derrick asked, holding out his hand.  

Patterson nodded, but wasn’t sure of his answer.  The other man was a bit slower to get up, but when he did he still had the ball in his hands.  Patterson almost fell to the ground again, though, when he got a good look at the recruit.  “Skipper!” he cried. 

The man stood quietly for a moment, then looked puzzled and shook his head.  “I’ve gotten used to being called grandpa, old man, pops and dad, but I think that’s a new one,” the familiar voice said with a smile.  “You are obviously mistaking me for someone else.” 

“Even the voice is the same,” Pat said softly, bewildered. 

Again, the recruit shook his head.  “By the time I’d get to the rank you called me, they’ll have booted me out of this man’s Army.  Age, you know.”  He peered at Patterson and said, “You sure you’re all right?”

“That’s all, men,” Derrick said tersely.  “Go shower.”  He glanced at Patterson and then at his recruit.  “Next time, Macon, watch where you’re going.”

“Yes, Sarge.  Sorry,” Macon said, tossing the ball to one of his teammates who had run up after the collision.   The recruits walked away from the field and into their barracks. 

“I’m going to ask you the same thing again, Pat,” Derrick said.  “You all right?”

Again, Pat nodded, but he couldn’t get over the sense of having been in the presence of his captain.  “Who is that guy?”

“Oh, the old man?”   Derrick laughed.   “That is the ultimate answer to sticking it to a cheating wife.  Only thing better would be joining the Foreign Legion, I guess.”  He clapped Pat on the back and laughed again.  “When his wife ran out with a green-behind-the-ears squirt back in his home town and he filed for divorce, he decided to make it difficult for her to get some of his assets.  She got the house, but he quit his very lucrative job and joined the Army.  He was well within the Army’s age limit, although we don’t usually get them his age, but damned if he isn’t in better shape than about three quarters of my younger recruits.  And he’s got the maturity to come off better in other ways, too.  I see him doing really well as an MP.  Good officer material, if he so chose.” 

“What’s his name?”

“Benjamin Macon,” Derrick answered, gazing at Pat as though he had turned psychotic.  “Why all the interest?  Who did you think he was?”

“Don’t laugh, but your recruit is the spitting image of my skipper.  Even sounds like him.”

“You’re kidding!”  

Patterson shook his head.  “No, I’m not.”

Derrick laughed and slapped his cousin on the back.  “You are here to see me and my base, not to go crazy over a look-alike recruit.  Come on, let me get cleaned up and we’ll do the town.  At least what we can of it.  Anniston isn’t a really large city, but there are a couple of good eateries and a nice club if you’re up to it after spending half a day on a plane.”

Patterson laughed.  Yeah, a good joke on him.  “Hey, it’s still two o’clock to me, Derrick.  I’m game.”

For the next several days, he and Derrick enjoyed one another’s company, spending a day in Birmingham, a night in the hills camping, fishing, talking, remembering, generally leaving the world behind.  Patterson felt truly refreshed and relaxed when he got on the plane heading back to California.  He was looking forward to Derrick coming to visit him in a couple of months. 

It was still with a feeling of happy anticipation that he boarded the Seaview and stowed his gear.  Sharkey was already on board, as he usually was, checking out the systems and making sure all was right in his little part of the universe.   “Hey, Chief, where’s the skipper?   I want to tell him about something that happened during my leave.”

“Don’t you remember, the skipper headed back east for something before we came in,” Sharkey reminded the younger man.

“Yeah, I know, but I just figured he’d be back by now.”

“Hell, Pat, you know about these things.”

And indeed Patterson did know.  The skipper showed up on the Flying Sub with the admiral about ten days later, looking a bit worse for wear, but otherwise the same.  Patterson caught himself gazing surreptitiously at his captain and a couple of times caught Crane gazing at him.  Finally he shrugged it off as déjà vu and forgot about it.

Derrick showed up on a cloudy October day in a rental car and Pat showed him all around the Institute.  “Pat, you’ve only shown me stuff that’s the same all over.  I want to see that beautiful, sweet sub of yours,” Derrick finally told him. 

“Sure thing, Derrick.  Come on.  She’s had some repair work done and most of the crew’s gone.  Perfect time for a tour.”    Pat arranged clearance and they walked to the sub pen. 

Derrick stopped short and whistled as he gazed on the lines of the beautiful gray lady.  He grew more and more quiet as Pat led him down corridors and into rooms.  As they walked through the missile room, the pair saw a small knot of men working on the mini-sub.  As usual the skipper was right in the middle of the action, handing new components to Garr, who was installing them.  “Toss me the tester, Stu,” Crane called out.  From the other end of the room a small device sailed through the air.   It had been pitched too far and the skipper backpedaled to catch it while Riley groaned at his miscalculation.   The captain didn’t see the newcomers and as his hand caught the device, he plowed into Derrick, who had been gaping at the men.  Pat, the sergeant and his skipper all crashed to the ground. 

Crane was the first to recover and he jumped to his feet and reached out to help Derrick.  “Sorry,” he began and then stopped.  “Sergeant Maclannen?”   He gaped at Pat’s cousin and then tried to recover his aplomb.   Pat didn’t think he was entirely successful.  That scene back in Alabama came to him with stunning force. 

“Macon?” Derrick sputtered.  He studied Crane and then looked at a befuddled Pat, who just sat on the floor gazing at the two men. 

Suddenly, the skipper began to laugh.  He continued laughing even as he helped Derrick and then Patterson to their feet.   Everyone else in the room just looked confused.   Finally, Crane got control of himself and clapped the two men on the back.  “Yeah, Sarge, except I am Commander Lee Benjamin Crane.  The Macon part was my aunt’s maiden name.” 

Derrick’s mouth opened and shut a couple of times, but nothing came out. 

“So that was you in Alabama this summer, Skipper?” Patterson finally got out. 

“And I was ordering a Naval Commander around for three weeks?  Calling you the old man?” Derrick sputtered, his face turning beet red.  “They never told me why you left.”

Crane nodded.   “I can’t tell you too much, but I was there to ferret out a very deeply entrenched drug operation.  Military Intelligence knew it was going on, but had no idea who was in charge.  I would have liked to let you in on it, Sarge, but at first, I didn’t know who I could trust.  As it was, I got lucky and managed to find the leader and get out relatively unscathed.  JAG thought it was a great idea at the time and ONI agreed with them.  Undercover would be easy in a different service, they said.  No one would know me on an Army base.  But wouldn’t you know, it wouldn’t be that easy.”  He turned to the others who were still gaping at the trio.  “You can finish and then join us in the mess for some coffee.”  He was still chuckling as he led the two men out of the room.



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