“Okay everybody, we’re down to the warehouse again this morning. Schedule says the radios need preventative maintenance…again. It’s,” the platoon sergeant checked his watch, “0745 now, see you down there at 0900. Platoon atten-SHUT!” Twenty two pairs of mostly unpolished boots, with out-of-regulation unblackened brass eyelets showing, clicked together. “Fall out.”
“Oh come on Joe, we just PMed those fuckers last Thursday. It’s all we ever do! What the fuck, over?”
“That’s Sgt. Buckner during working hours, Aschendale, and I know. You want me to go ask Staff Sergeant if he can find you a working party painting rocks or something, shitbird?” The “peace dividend” had left us with no training budget, so we spent most of our time either cleaning the radios we never got to use, or cleaning the rifles we never got to use, or cleaning the Hummers we never got to use, leaving morale shot to hell. “Shitbird” was supposed to be an insult, but most of the members of the Comms platoon, including the acting platoon sergeant, claimed it as a badge of honor. The warehouse where the gear was stored was only a quarter mile away, but the base snack bar sat between it and the company office, so Sgt. Buckner invariably gave us an hour to cover the distance.
“Nope, I’m good, read you loud and clear. Hey Val, stop for a smoke on the way over?”
LCpl Vallen tapped the Eagle, Globe and Anchor ironed onto the breast pocket of his cammies. “All out, dude, can I bum one from you? Get you back after I hit the PX.”
I checked my pack. Half full, I’d need to buy another pack too. “Sure thing, let’s move-”
Shit, it was GySgt Hendricks. “Yes gunny?” The gunnery sergeant was the de facto link between the captain and the troops, word from him was never good news.
“Got a job for you.”
“Oh come on Gunny, I’m 16 and a wake up. I start out-processing on Monday, can’t you get somebody else?” My enlistment was almost up; in three Saturdays I’d be a civilian again, back on the block.
“You’ll like this one. The lock on the door to the captain’s office is jammed, and he needs to get in. Maintenance says they can have a locksmith here tomorrow, which isn’t going to fly. Get that hatch open, and don’t break anything. Captain and I are going to go grab some coffee, we’ll be back later.”
Comms Platoon was notorious for having more than its share of, well, problem solvers. Command wasn’t happy with what we considered problems, or how we tended to solve them, but that’s the difficulty with people with clearances. The average grunt might have a few misdemeanors on his record, but there were more than a few felons in Comms. The difference was, the guys in Comms had to have security clearances, which meant that we’d never been caught.
I weighed my options quickly. A morning spent cleaning the contacts of an antiquated radio with a pencil eraser, or a morning spent breaking into an office with full command blessing? “I’m gonna need a helper, Gunny.”
“Yeah, I bet you will. Sure, who?”
“Hey, Val! Gunny’s got a job for us. Get over here.”
“Remember Ash, just don’t break anything, especially not the lock. Off the books repair, right?” He tossed me the key to the office.
“Aye aye, Gunny. Off the books is my specialty.”
Val and I headed into the main company office. The captain’s private office was at the back, and the first thing I did was to try the key in the lock. Officers, you never knew, but while the key went in easily enough, when I tried to turn it, it wouldn’t budge. Thinking of all the times I’d heard “Hey Marine, how many knives do you need?,” I pulled my multitool out of its pouch on the left side of my belt. The right side held a Gerber lockblade, and I kept a flip knife hidden in the back of my waistband.
Better safe than sorry.
The pliers, applied carefully to the key, didn’t accomplish a thing. I checked for my wallet, which wasn’t in my pocket. Shit, left it back in the barracks. “Val, got your ID card?”
“Just give it here.” A military ID card is pretty much like a driver’s license, a thin piece of laminated plastic which, if you did it right, could be slid between the door and the frame, and, if you were lucky, be used to pop the latch of a door open. No joy, after fumbling around for a bit I realized that duh, this was a deadbolt lock, not the kind that was designed to swing closed. Wondering how the captain had managed to lock up the night before, I handed Val back his by now thoroughly chewed up ID card.
“Ash you bastard. Going to need a new one now.”
“Fuck you, Gunny’ll tell the captain to sign off on it. Let’s check outside, see what’s up there.”
When we got to the back of the building, I knew we were in luck. The windows, which were just above eye level, swung outward to allow fresh air in, and one of them was slightly open. “Boost me up, I think I can get through this porthole. Once up there, I discovered that it wouldn’t open much farther that the space of a fist, so I wouldn’t be climbing in the easy way. However, it was fixed to its frame with screws, not rivets.
“Okay, coming down. New plan. Back to the wall, I’m going to stand on your shoulders and unscrew the window.”
Val grimaced. “This is bullshit, I could be sitting at the bench cleaning me a nice radio right now.”
“Plenty of time for that next week, now get down there, let’s get this done.”
I pulled out my multitool again, flipped out the Phillips head screwdriver, and said “Okay, here we go.” Standing on Val’s shoulders, I snaked my arm inside the open window and undid the screws one by one, leaving two of them loosened but still in place so I could remove the window carefully, rather than seeing it drop and shatter. Once it was free, I stepped down slowly and leaned it against the side of the building, then had Val boost me through the opening into the captain’s office, spitting the screws that I’d been holding in my mouth to the floor. What followed was a slightly awkward descent to the deck, which was about four feet down from the inside of the window, but I was in. From the inside of the door, the lock was still stiff, but the twist knob gave me more leverage, and I was able to, with a bit of effort, get the deadbolt and then the door open.
Hmm, mission almost accomplished. “Val, hold that window up here. Little higher, okay, keep it steady.” Putting the screws back between my lips, I began to reinstall the window. “Right, done, meet me out front,” I called, and headed through the outer office to the smoke break area. “Better hang here until Gunny and the captain get back, wouldn’t do to leave that office unsecured while we clean radios.” Despite the prospect of continuing our day of make-work, the job had been a welcome break in the routine. “With any luck, they’ll give us some time to hit the PX on the way there.”
Around our second cigarette, Gunny and the Captain came back. “Office hatch is open, sir. You’ll probably want to oil that deadbolt before you lock up tonight, though,” I said, saluting.
“Outstanding, Marine. Gunny, hook these devil dogs up,” he said, returning our salutes and heading into the building.
“Aye aye, sir. You break anything, Ash? Val?” the gunny asked.
“Not a thing, Gunny. Back porthole was unsecured, so we took it out and went in that way. Fucked up Val’s ID card trying to get in the hatch though, so he’ll need a new one.” I replied.
“Right, I’ll get that sorted for you most skosh, LCpl Vallen. Captain says to hook you two up. Those uniforms look pretty unsat to me, got dust all over them, bootprints. I expect you’d better go clean up before you get back to duty. It is,” he looked at his watch, “0945. PT formation is at 0700 tomorrow morning. You think you’ll be able to unfuck your uniforms by then?”