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.
“I’m a non-com. You
don’t have to call me sir.”
What can we do for you?”
“I’m looking for Sergeant Derrick Maclannen,”
“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
“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
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
“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.
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!”
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,
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.”
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
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.”
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.”
Yeah, a good joke on him. “Hey,
it’s still two o’clock to me, Derrick.
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
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
“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.
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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