A man lurched from behind the barmaid and stumbled against the table as she set the drinks down.
“Hey, it’s the Flip lover. How you doing? Hello, Goody-Goody. Hey, who are you?” The man, sloppy drunk and slurring his words, brought his face close to Sam, who looked over to Frank, who shook his head.
“Senior Chief, why don’t you go back where you came from and let us enjoy our drinks.”
“What? What kind of drink are you? Let me get you all a friend.” He paused and stared at Marie. “Hey. Hey, I know you. You’re the trophy girl. The trophy girl.” He tripped as he laughed, and spilled beer on his shirt. He ran his hand over it. “Ohh, that’s cold.”
“Hey,” he called out, loud enough to be heard at the next pier. “Hey. Looky here, it’s a trophy girl.” People stared at them. Marie turned away, shaking her head. She looked at Frank.
“Senior Chief, I’m warning you.”
“Nonono, you don’t warn a Senior Chief. You’re only a Chief, a little Chief.” He indicated a little Chief with his thumb and index finger, then pointed at George. “I’m a big Chief. He’s the biggest Chief. I outrank me, no, you, and he outranks me. See?” He swayed on his feet. Bar patrons nearby were laughing, and a group of Sailors sitting a few tables away shook their heads; it was one thing for them to act stupid when drunk, quite another for senior enlisted leadership.
“Hey. Little lady. Get me a beer would you? Hey, what’s the matter with your face? Did the little Chief hit you? Little Chief, hahaha.”
Marie stood to leave as George put himself between Frank and the Senior Chief.
“Paul. Why don’t you head on back to the base? I think you’ve had enough to drink.”
“You don’t tell me what to do, Goody-Goody, when I’m on liberty.” His slurring worsened. “I don’t take orders from you off-base.”
“Paul. I’m going to ask you one last time to go back to the base, or I’ll call Shore Patrol and have them take you back. I’m sure you don’t want that now, do you?”
“I don’t care what you do, big man. Screw you, anyway. You don’t like me because I quit flying. You think I’m a coward.”
The Senior Chief’s eyes filled and he began to sob. “He was my friend. We flew together for six years. He burned up before my eyes. I can’t stop seeing him. He reached out to me for help, but what could I do.” The beer bottle flew from his hands and smashed against the deck railing. “He was on fire; what could I do! What could I do? I can’t stop seeing him.” He laid his head on his arms and leaned against the table, his shoulders heaving as he cried.
“Come on, Paul. Let’s go back to base. You’ll be all right.”
“No! I don’t want to go back to base.” He raised his head, his face dark, ugly. “I said screw you.”
“All right, Paul. I warned you.”
George turned to Sam. “Sam. Do me a favor and flag down Shore Patrol, would you?”
“Sure thing, Master Chief.” Sam pursed his lips and looked at the Senior Chief. He grabbed his beer and walked for the main bar, shaking his head.
The senior chief kept talking. “Who’s he anyway? Her boyfriend? Hey, Where’s he going?” He gripped the back of a chair to steady himself and leered at Marie. “Hey, trophy girl, how much for a short time?”
“You’re disgusting.” Marie followed after Sam.
Frank reached around George and grabbed the Senior Chief by the throat. The Senior Chief struggled but Frank held on.
“Frank, you’d better let him go. I’ll take care of this.”
“Not until he apologizes.”
“I ain’t apologizing to no whore.”
Frank lunged and punched the Senior Chief in the side of the head. His glasses flew into the bay and he stumbled and knocked over a table. Patrons scattered as beer bottles shattered and shards of glass flew through the air. The Senior Chief fell hard, hitting his head a glancing blow against the table. He fell unconscious onto the wooden deck. People on the next pier over cheered and clapped. Bar fights always a welcome diversion.
George raised his eyebrows and rubbed his chin as he considered the Senior Chief. “Well, you certainly pack a punch, Frank. That about does him for the night. I guess we can manage him now. Call Sam and Marie back, would you? No sense having Shore Patrol arrest him. Heck, it’s no fun getting arrested when you won’t remember it.”
Sam and Marie returned, Gloria with them.
“Is anyone hurt, Master Chief?”
“No, Gloria; no one is hurt. The Senior Chief is out cold, but he’s still breathing. He’ll be okay. His glasses fell into the water, though. I’d appreciate it if one of your boys would see if he can find them tomorrow.”
George lifted the table upright and set his beer down. “I sure am sorry for the trouble.”
“It’s okay. No trouble. Nothing broken except Senior Chief. Poor man. He often cries and talks about his problem when he gets drunk.”
“Come on fellas, give me a hand getting him to the car. We’ll go to the orphanage and have Sister Arnalita take a look at him. Maybe they can put us up for the night.
Marie took Frank’s hand and ran her fingers over his knuckles. “Never a dull moment with you, Frank.”
“It has been a pretty exciting twenty-four hours hasn’t it? I’d have less trouble in Vietnam.” He liked the touch of her hand and made no move to pull away. “I’m sorry about all this, Marie.”
“No need to apologize, Frank. The senior chief is only an annoyance, and I would have had to face Edward sooner or later anyway. Having you and the others with me prevented the meeting with Edward from turning worse. If he had meant to hurt me, this cut on my cheek would be minor compared to what he might have done.”
“Well, in a way, I’m glad we met Senior Chief Kelly here tonight.”
“Why is that, Frank?”
“It means we’ll probably stay at the orphanage tonight. If Edward believes George, Sam and I would return to the base, he may return to the orphanage to confront you again.”
“I would not put it past him. I know he has men watching me. Edward is vindictive, but he will not risk having the police involved. Cutting my face would give him great pleasure, but he would not chance it unless sure he would get away with it. His parents love me and were distraught at our break-up. They blame Edward for everything. His father would remove him from the company if he is involved in a crime. Edward will not risk that.”
“Well, that’s good to know, but I think we’ll play it safe and see if we can stay at the orphanage tonight.” He turned to George who was pressing Gloria to accept money to cover the damage.
“George. Sam and I will carry Paul if you’ll lead the way.”
“Gotcha, Frank. Let’s go.”
* * * * * * * * * * * *
They carried the Senior Chief to the car and put him in the back seat. He mumbled, and smelled like hell, but didn’t wake. Frank and George squeezed in around him while Marie sat in front with Sam. Minutes later, they arrived at the darkened orphanage and wrestled Senior Chief Kelly out of the car. Marie knocked on the door to the sister’s sleeping quarters. No answer. She waited a long minute before knocking again. They heard the approach of soft footsteps and Sister Aileen opened the door. Surprised to see them, she stood back and let them in. She ran to get Sister Arnalita, who hurried out and found them clustered around the Senior Chief.
“Oh, dear. What happened, Marie? Is he all right?” She sniffed. “He’s drunk.” She clucked her tongue and asked again what happened.
“Another fight, Sister, this time with a person from George’s place of work.”
“My word, Sailors seem to fight a lot.”
“He’s quite drunk, Sister,” George said, “and knocked out by Frank.”
“That’s two men you have knocked out tonight, Frank. When you leave the Navy you should seek employment as a prizefighter.”
“Well, Sister, maybe I’ll return here and work as your bodyguard. This place wasn’t exactly a place of peace and serenity tonight.”
“Speaking of peace and serenity,” Marie said, “may they stay here tonight? The Senior Chief is too drunk to take back to the base, and they don’t want to leave him. Are there rooms for them?”
“Of course, of course. Sister Aileen, please show the men to the rooms. Marie and I will tend to the drunken Sailor.”
“Yes, Sister Arnalita.”
George lingered, skeptical that the women could handle the senior chief. “Are you sure you can take care of him?”
“I have managed many a man larger than he, Master Chief. You would be surprised at how strong a woman of authority is with a firm hand and a firmer voice.”
George scratched his temple and grinned. “Aye, aye, Sister; you don’t have to convince me.”
“Please to follow me.” Frank, Sam, and George walked away with Sister Aileen, leaving Marie with Sister Arnalita.
“Thank you, Sister.” Marie paused, uncertain how to continue. She didn’t want to alarm Sister Arnalita, but she had to tell her of her fears that Edward might return. “Sister, I must inform you that, although I told Frank that Edward would attempt nothing tonight, I have a sense of foreboding and fear Edward may indeed return to the orphanage to confront me.”
“Yes. I knew something bothered you, and I knew you would tell me. You have never hidden anything from me.
Come. We will tend to the injured man.”
* * * * * * * * * * * *
The black sedan slowed as it reached the turnoff to the orphanage. Headlights off, it crept along the road until the fringe of the jungle obscured the buildings from view. Inside, sitting in the rear seat and smiling a thin, menacing smile, Edward caressed the cold, blue-black steel of the revolver, testing its weight in his palm. He nodded to the driver. The sedan pulled onto the shoulder of the highway, idling, waiting.