I had been thoroughly embarrassed by the events of the day. Being captured by
Sgt. Langley was the last thing I needed before spending the night with a mad man. After
Earl had effected my release, we had set about to recover my scattered items. It took a
while and then we collapsed into the brush to repair my damaged backpack. Using
parachute cord, I pieced together a make-shift sling by which I could carry the pack once
We evaded deeper into the woods, not wanting to be an easy target for other aggressors who might take the same route as Langley’s group. After about an hour, we checked our location again with our map. We were on route to a small building, always shown as a small black square on maps, and knew that we could make it before sundown. We were to make contact with a man who would be sitting near the building. The contact procedures set in our minds, we proceeded to the point.
There he was, a tall, skinny man with about a day’s growth of beard. We approached him from behind and called out the password, “Is that an outhouse?”
The man stood and turned in our direction. We were well hidden and were quite sure that he couldn’t see us. Ready to run at the smallest hint of trouble, we waited. He surveyed the tree line for a moment before replying, “No, it’s the Tower of Babel!”
Passwords exchanged, Earl and I stepped out of the underbrush.
He was indeed a strange man. He crammed us into the backseat of his car and commanded us to lie on the floorboard. We rode in silence in the cramped quarters and only hoped that we had made the right decision.
When the car stopped, the man opened the driver’s side rear door and ordered us out. We disembarked and stood before a run-down old barn. He ushered us inside and closed the door behind us.
“Get in the loft,” he instructed.
Earl and I spotted the rickety ladder and climbed into the half loft only about twenty feet above the barn’s dirt floor. We removed our packs and chose some bails of hay as seats. We waited.
When night had fallen, the stranger brought us some soup. As we sat eating in the loft, we heard the man begin cleaning his shotgun. The familiar sound of the gun being chambered and a ramrod scraping the barrel was accompanied by the smell of gun oil. We cast a look at each other wondering what this could mean. We said nothing.
At last, it seemed that we would have a peaceful night, but that was not to be. I had just begun to doze off when I heard a loud noise. Recognizing the sound of the shotgun’s blast, I bolted to a sitting position. Earl was awake as well and his blue eyes blinked the sleep from his mind.
Scrambling to the edge of the loft, we peered down on the strange man. He cast a wild look in our direction.
“I’m not crazy, am I?” he shouted.
We were stunned. We kept our mouths shut.
“I’m not crazy, am I?” he repeated.
We were quiet.
He raised the shotgun over his head and we flinched as he fired another round into the barn’s metal roof.
“I’m not crazy, am I?”
No time to hesitate now. “No sir, you’re not crazy!” we shouted with enthusiasm.
The ragged stranger smiled, laid the shotgun on the table and resumed his seat.
I looked at Earl, he looked at me, our eyes said, “He’s crazy!”
We did sleep, but the slightest sound made us jump and the sleep was secondary to our sense of protection.
The next day, we were loaded into the car once again. This time the man talked as he drove. He told us that when he gave the signal we were to jump from the car. There would be a phone booth that we should enter. A number was written on a piece of paper and stuffed into the change slot. We were to call the number and follow the instructions.
The car began to slow down. “Jump!” he yelled with certain glee.
I reached for the door handle. Earl did the same. As one, we opened our respective doors and bailed onto the dirt road in a roll. As I rolled to my feet, I saw the beat up blue sedan, spin its tires in the dirt and speed off in a cloud of dust. We were now alone again and we had no backpacks.
We found the abandoned phone booth, standing near the road and approached it with caution. This was an entirely new situation for both of us. We were not in the woods, we were not evading armed soldiers, we had no training for this scenario. I found the paper and called the number.
A female answered the phone and asked how many of us there were. I told her and she asked me to stand by. When she returned to the phone, she told me that we would have to be picked up separately. I was to be the first to be evacuated. Earl was to wait. I passed the information on to Earl and informed the lady that we understood. The phone went dead and I replaced the receiver on its hook.
“I guess we just sit and wait,” I said.
“Guess so,” Earl agreed.
We sat down by the phone booth and tried to relax.
Earl was not much of a talker, but I did manage to get his thoughts on the matter. He agreed that this was the strangest trip of our training. We were used to being in hard spots, but this was completely different. We chatted a while about the training, both agreeing that we would be proud to stand before the instructors and receive the coveted “cookie badge.” The small round badge that was worn by all official Survival Training Instructors was known by that name because of its shape. I couldn’t wait to have it dangle from my right blouse pocket.
Suddenly we heard a car approaching from out right. We froze, not knowing whether we should run into the woods or wait. There was no time. The car pulled up and a gruff looking man said, “Get in the car!”
I jumped up and ran toward the car.
I was told to get in the back of the car and lay in the floor. I was getting used to this treatment, so I did as I was told. It felt strange to be separated from my partner and I wondered at the wisdom of this move. But I really had no choice. In real life, the least bit of hesitation might mean death. I had to play this for real. I thought about that badge.
When the car stopped, I was told to stay put. Before long I heard the door open. “Lift your head,” the man said.
I did. He placed a black bag over my head and dragged me from the car. I was pushed roughly through a gate and then a door. Once inside the house, the man removed the hood.
I was given food by a woman in the house, but no one said much to me. I kept my mouth shut and just obeyed their requests, though they were few. I was placed in a smallish room and I waited patiently for further instructions. About a half hour later, the man entered the room.
His deep voice vibrated off the walls of the room as he spoke. I was told that I would be placed in a car and taken downtown. For this reason, I was told to remove my uniform and don some old clothes that were handed to me.
“Sir,” I said as I stood to face him, “I cannot do that.”
I knew this was risky, but I had to object.
“Sir, if I’m caught in this country with civilian clothes on, I will be tried as a spy. I cannot remove this uniform.”
I was playing it as straight as I could. Was this a test? Were they testing me on my ability to recall the “rules of war”? I had to make sure that I passed the test. I stood firm.
“Fine,” he said, turning his back to me, “then maybe,” he spun around again, but this time he pointed a German luger at my forehead, “you’d rather I just kill you now?”
I began to unbutton my shirt.
The clothes were much too big for me, but then again they didn’t know who they’d have to fit, did they? The size wasn’t as much of a problem as the style. They were definitely not something one would wear out on the town, but then again, I didn’t know exactly what kind of a place he was taking me to. There was a hole in the right knee and the shirt definitely needed pressing, but it was his game, who was I to argue? I had found out already where that road lead.
Before he took me to the car again, he handed me a pair of sunglasses and told me to put them on. The glasses were very dark, in fact, they were impossible to see through. Closer examination revealed that they were actually painted with black paint, sort of a stylish blindfold. I put them on and he lead me to the car.
As we drove, I tried to peak out of the corners of the glasses to try to determine where I was. After a while I found this maneuver to be quite useless, and painful if one was prone to get carsick. I could tell that we were entering a busy part of some town when suddenly the man began to talk. He told me that when he stopped, I was to get out quickly. Once out, I was to enter the first restaurant I saw. He would drop me off in front of it. I was to wait for my contact man who would have a yellow handkerchief in his breast pocket. He would approach me and ask for change for a dollar. I was to tell him that I didn’t have change for a dollar, but, “Would you settle for 27 cents?” He would hand me a dollar and I would hand him 27 cents. Sounded easy enough, I could do that.
Suddenly he brought the car to a stop and yelled, “Get out!”
I literally leaped from the vehicle (not wanting to know where the luger was) and stumbled up on the curve. I removed the sunglasses and looked to see a posh Lincoln pull away with my “captor” inside. I was alone. I looked around. I didn’t recognize which town in Washington State I was in, but I was in the ritziest part of it. And I looked like a bum.
I turned to survey the restaurant. It was splendid. The large plate glass windows allowed me to look right into the foyer where a matr’d stood welcoming customers in fancy clothes. I was going in there? Dressed like this? Then it hit me. I searched my pockets for 27 cents and came up empty. I was penniless.
Now, I was really in a mess. The street was lined with expensive automobiles, but absolutely no people. I could always beg for 27 cents, but who would I beg to? Then I noticed a set of car keys hanging from the passenger door of a Porsche. Cautiously, I approached. Immediately two ideas flooded my mind. I could take the keys AND the car and be back to the base before nightfall, or, I could take the keys, try to find the owner and bum 27 cents from him. I thought of my training. If I abandoned the game at this point, would I ever see that badge? I chose the second option and removed the keys.
When I entered the restaurant the matr’d approached me immediately. Holding the keys in front of me, I explained that one of his customers must have dropped them outside and I was merely returning them. He sniffed once, as if testing the air, and took the keys. He disappeared into the din of the eatery and my hopes followed him. I stood still, hoping that no one would ask me to leave before I found my contact man. I would just explain that no one had given me 27 cents. I was sure he’d understand.
Before long the matr’d returned with a customer in tow. The tall handsome man who held the keys now walked up and shook my hand. He told me that I had done a noble thing by being so honest. He handed me a $20 bill and asked the matr’d if he would serve me. It didn’t set well with him, but he honored the man’s request and seated me at a table in the corner, in the dark, where no one could see me. I waited.
A waiter approached the table and asked for my order. I told him to just bring me a diet coke and to make sure that I had exactly 27 cents worth of change. He gave me a funny look, but left to fill my order. I waited.
I sat in the corner, trying to ignore the stares of contempt, sipping my diet soda, when I noticed the man who had given me the money walking toward me with a yellow handkerchief in his pocket. I eased somewhat at the sight and had just begun to stand, when I noticed a uniformed police officer enter the room.
The man with the yellow handkerchief pointed in my direction and the officer walked over to my table.
“Stand up, young man,” he ordered.
“This man,” the officer started, pointing to yellow handkerchief, “says that you stole $20. I need to see some ID.”
My heart fell to the floor. I had no ID and I said as much.
“’Fraid I’m going to have to take you downtown, unless you can come up with his $20.”
“I don’t have it all,” I explained, wondering what had gone wrong.
“Let’s go,” the officer said as he grabbed me by the arm and ushered me through the door. I was really in trouble now. I had given away the whole mission. I had been arrested for theft and no doubt vagrancy. I would never see that badge now.
There were two officers in the police car as we drove toward the station. I was alone in the backseat and I decided it was time to sing.
I explained the entire mission. I told about the covert operation being conducted right now in this Washington town. I told of the secrecy, but under the circumstances, I didn’t feel that I had any choice.
“Yeah, right,” the second officer said with a sneer, “we believe you. Just shut up, tell it to the judge.”
I slumped into the seat. Dejection was written all over me. I had failed. Who could I even call to get me out of this mess? I was going to jail.
I sat in the cell for at least two hours. No one even came to ask me questions. Finally, the sheriff walked into the room. He approached the cell with his head hanging low.
“We found out who you are alright,” he stated.
I jumped to my feet. “Good, then you know everything?”
“No, just who you are. Ran your prints.”
Again dejection covered me like a blanket.
“I just have to ask you a few questions,” he continued.
I walked to the bars and looked him in the eye. “Whatever you want to know if it will help my cause.”
He lifted his head and a smile traced his lips. “Do you have change for a dollar?”
I learned later that the DOD aggressors had gotten a tip that the contact was going down in that restaurant. The DOD contacts had to cover the trail and had actually approached the local police department and recruited them as allies. What the military won’t do for a training exercise!
I also learned that there was exactly 27 cents in a phone booth beside the restaurant and that two other cars had keys in the ignition. But, the thing I learned most from this experience was: Never sing, till the fat lady does!
The above story and many others like it will be published under the title Ramblings of a Dinosaur. If you enjoyed this story, please, drop me a line at NDN firstname.lastname@example.org , I could use the encouragement. (grin)
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