Authors: James Jones
In a couple of minutes I heard a scrambling and scraping and a bouncing fall of pebbles and Alcorn came slouching along the sand at the road edge, blowing on his hands.
“The Greek wants you, Fatso,” I said.
He laughed, low and rich and sloppy. “I think I’m deef from this wind, by god,” he said and scratched inside his field jacket. “What’s he want now?”
“Come over here,” Mazzioli ordered. We walked over through the blackness and the wind and I felt I was swimming under water against a strong current. The Greek swung his blue light from the Junker onto us. Alcorn’s clothes hung from him like rags and on the back of his head was a fatigue hat with the brim turned up that defied the wind. He must have sewed an elastic band on it. Beside him I looked like I was all bucked up for a short-timer parade.
“Where’s your helmet?” Mazzioli said. “You’re supposed to wear your helmet at all times. That’s the orders.”
“Aw now, sarge,” Alcorn whined. “You know the steel band of them things gives a man a headache. I cain’t wear one.”
I grinned and gave the brim of my own inverted soup-plate helmet a tug. Alcorn was a character.
“When are you men going to learn to obey orders?” the Greek said. “An army runs by discipline. If you men don’t start acting like soldiers, I’ll turn you in.”
“Off with his head,” I said.
“What did you say?”
“I said, coffee and bed. That’s what we need. There’s not a man on this position who’s had three good hours sleep since this bloody war started. Putting up barbed wire all day and pulling guard all night. And then putting up the same wire next day because the tide washed it out.”
Alcorn snickered and Mazzioli said nothing. The Greek had had charge of a wire detail that worked one whole night to put up three hundred yards of double apron wire on the sand beach below the road. In the morning it was gone. Not a single picket left.
“Alcorn,” Mazzioli ordered, “get a rifle and keep a bayonet against this guy’s belly till I tell you not to.”
“I don’t know where the rifles are down here,” Alcorn said.
“I’ll get it,” I said.
I walked to the culvert and climbed down around it. The wall made a protection from the wind and I felt I had dropped into a world without breath. The absence of the wind made me dizzy and I leaned my face against the concrete. I felt the way you feel when you look out the window at a blowing rainstorm. All our blankets and stuff were down here. Against the wall of the culvert lay four rifles with bayonets on them, wrapped in a shelter-half. I pulled one out and made myself climb up into the wind again.
Alcorn took the rifle and kept the bayonet against the Junker’s paunch. Every time the Junker moved or tried to speak Alcorn jabbed him playfully in the belly. The Junker was getting madder and madder, but Alcorn was having a fine time. I knew the lewd nakedness of that scraped face someplace before. I went over in my mind all the people I had seen at the University.
The Greek was doing a bang-up job of searching the car, he even looked under the hood. I sat on the culvert and got my mess kit and put a handful of fresh sand in it from beside the road and rubbed it around and around. The dishwater that got out to us from the CP at Hanauma Bay gave us all the dysentery until we started using the sand.
I tried to think where I’d seen him. It wasn’t the face of a teacher, it had too much power. I dumped the greasy mess from the mess kit and poured in a little water from my canteen. I sloshed it around to rinse the sand out, listening vacantly to the Greek cursing and fidgeting with the car.
Just three days ago a two-man sub ran aground off Kaneohe and the second officer swam ashore, preferring capture. It was expected the sub was scouting the invasion that was coming truly any day.
They said he was the first prisoner of the war. I got to see him when they brought him in. He was a husky little guy and grinning humbly. His name was Kazuo Sakamaki. I knew a girl at the University named Harue Tanaka. I almost married her.
It seemed like the wind had blown my mind empty of all past. It had sucked out everything but Makapuu and the black rocks and blue lights and the sand-choked grass. The University with its clear, airy look from the street, its crisp greenness all hidden away in a wind-free little valley at the foot of rocky wooded Tantalus, it was from another life, a life protected from the wind, a life where there were white clouds in the sun but no wind, just gently moving air.
I wiped the mess kit with the GI face towel I kept in it and clamped it together and stuck it back in my pack that lay by the culvert, wanting to go down behind the culvert and light a cigarette.
Maybe the Junker was one of the big boys on the University board. The big boys always sent their kids to Harvard or some school on the mainland, but they were the board. The only white faces you saw were the instructors and the haoles who didn’t have the dough to send their kids to the mainland—and an occasional soldier in civvies, looking out of place. Only these and the board. And the tourists.
Then I remembered the scraped face, coming out of the main building on a hot still August day, wiping the sweat from the face with a big silk handkerchief.
“Couldn’t find a thing,” Mazzioli said, coming up from the car. “I don’t know what to do. This guy looks like a German. He even talks like a German.”
“Listen,” I said. “No German who looks like a German and talks like a German is going to be a spy. Use your head. This guy is some kind of big shot. I seen him at the University.”
“To hell with you and your University.”
“No,” I said. “Listen.”
“Why would he ask me questions about the number of men and guns and pillboxes?”
“Hell, I don’t know. Maybe he wanted to write an editorial for the
“I can’t let him go,” he said.
“All right. Send Alcorn up for the lieutenant and let him handle it. You worry too much, Greek.”
“Yeh, I could do that.” But he was dubious. He walked back to the car for a moment and then went over to Alcorn. “Alcorn, you go up and get the lieutenant down here. Tell him we got a suspicious character down here.” He turned to me. “Slade, you watch this guy and don’t take any chances with him. I’m going over this car again.”
Alcorn handed me the rifle and started off up the road. Through the darkness Mazzioli hollered after him. “Double time and jerk the lead,” he shouted. The wind carried it away. The wind carried everything away.
To me Mazzioli said, “If he tries anything, shoot the bastard.”
“Okay,” I said. I set the rifle butt on the ground and leaned on it. “Take it easy, mister,” I said. “Remember there’s a war on. The lieutenant’s coming down, and you’ll be on your way home in a little bit.”
“I am not accustomed to such treatment,” he said, staring at me with flat eyes, “and I intend to see somebody pays for this indignity.”
“We’re only doing our duty,” I said. “We got orders to stop all suspicious persons. This is important to the defense plan.”
“I am not a suspicious person,” he said, “and you men …”
I interrupted; it was probably the only chance I’d ever get to interrupt a big shot. “Well,” I said, “you were asking suspicious questions about our position.”
“… and you men should have something better to do than hold up citizens.” Mazzioli, looking harassed, came over from the car. “What’s that?” he snarled. “What’s your name?”
The Junker stared at him. “My name is Knight,” he said, and waited for it to sink in. When Mazzioli’s face was blank he added, “Of Knight & Crosby, Limited.” His voice was cold with rage and hate.
Above the wind we heard the voices of Lieutenant Allison and Alcorn on the road.
I looked at the Greek but he showed nothing. Nobody could live in Hawaii without knowing Knight & Crosby, Ltd. The Big Five were as well known as Diamond Head.
Lieutenant Allison put one hand on Mazzioli’s shoulder and the other on mine. “Now,” he said paternally. “What’s the trouble?”
Mazzioli told him the whole tale. I went back to the culvert and listened to the wind playing background music to the double tale of woe. After both stories were told, Lieutenant Allison escorted Mr. Knight to his runabout with extreme courtesy.
“You can appreciate, Mr. Knight, our position.” Lieutenant Allison put his foot on the running board and rested his hands on the door. “You can understand my sergeant was only doing his duty, a duty conceived to protect you, Mr. Knight.”
Mr. Knight did not speak. He sat with his hands gripping the wheel, staring straight ahead.
“I’m sorry you feel that way, Mr. Knight,” Lieutenant Allison said. “These men were carrying out orders we have received from Hawaiian Department Headquarters.”
Mr. Knight made no sign he had heard. He gave the impression he was suffering this association under duress and was fretting to have done and be gone.
“A soldier’s duty is to follow out his orders,” Lieutenant Allison said.
“All right,” the lieutenant said. He took his foot off the running board and dropped his hands. “You may go, Mr. Knight. You can rest assured such a thing won’t happen again, now that my men know who you are.”
“It certainly won’t,” Mr. Knight said. “Bah!” He started his runabout with a roar and he did not look back.
I watched from the culvert and grinned contentedly. “Now there’ll be hell to pay,” I told Mazzioli.
After Knight was gone, Mazzioli called the lieutenant over to the other side of the road and spoke earnestly. I watched the excited movement of his blue light and grinned more widely.
Lieutenant Allison came over to me with the Greek following close behind. “Alcorn,” he called. Alcorn shuffled over from the base of the cliff.
“I’ve been having bad reports about you two men,” Lieutenant Allison began. “Where’s your helmet, Alcorn?”
Alcorn shuffled his feet. “It’s up the cliff. I cain’t wear one of them things more’n a half hour, Lootenant,” he said. “I get a turrible headache if I do. When Corporal Slade called me down, I clean forgot all about it.”
“You’re all through down here,” Lieutenant Allison said, “Get back up there and get that helmet on. I’ll be coming around inspecting and I don’t want to catch you without a helmet. If I do there’ll be some damned heavy details around here, and if that don’t stop your headache, by god, maybe a court-martial will.
“You’re no different than anybody else. If I can wear a helmet all the time, then you can do it. I don’t like it any better than you do.
“Now get the hell back up there.”
Alcorn saluted and started for the base of the cliff.
“Alcorn!” Lieutenant Allison called after him in the darkness.
“You don’t ever go to sleep up there, do you?”
“Oh, no sir.”
“You’d better watch it. I’ll be inspecting tonight.”
I could hear the scrambling and falling of pebbles and I thought it was a very lonely sound.
“Come over here, Slade,” Lieutenant Allison said. He walked away from Mazzioli and I followed him, pleased the calling-down would be in private instead of in front of the Greek. It was a luxury.
“I’m going back up the hill,” Lieutenant Allison said. “You walk part of the way with me. I want to talk to you.” The two of us started up the road. “I’m going to send those men back down here when I get to the top,” Lieutenant Allison said. “You won’t need to go up.”
“Thank you, sir,” I said.
“Why did you let those men go up the hill tonight, Slade?”
“They didn’t get any chow tonight, sir,” I said. “I felt sorry for them.”
“You’re not supposed to feel sorry for anybody. You’re a soldier. You enlisted in the Army, didn’t you?”
“Yes, sir,” I said. “But it was because I couldn’t get a job.”
“A soldier’s job is to feel sorry for nobody.”
“I can’t help it, sir,” I said. “Maybe my environment was wrong. Or maybe I haven’t had the proper indoctrinization. I always put myself in the other guy’s place. I even felt sorry for Mr. Knight. And he sure didn’t need it.”
“What happened with Mr. Knight was the proper action to take. It turned out badly, but he could have been a saboteur with a carload of TNT to blow the demolition.”
“What will happen about Knight, sir?” I said.
“Mr. Knight is a big man in Hawaii. The Big Five run the whole territory. There may be some bad effects. I may even get an ass-eating. Nevertheless, Mazzioli acted correctly. In the long run, it will all turn out all right because we did what was right. The Army will take that into account.”
“You believe that?” I said.
“Yes,” he said. “I believe it. You don’t realize how important that road-guard is to the whole war. What if the enemy had made a landing at Kaneohe tonight? They’d have a patrol on you before you knew it. The very thing you did out of kindness might be what lost the war for us. It’s not far-fetched: if they took this road and cliff, they’d have this island in a month. From there it’d be the west coast. And we’d be fighting the war in the Rocky Mountains.”
“All for the want of a horseshoe nail,” I said.
“That’s it,” he said. “That’s why every tiniest thing is so important. You’re one of the smartest men in the Company, Slade. There’s no reason for me to explain these things to you. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t make OCS, except for your attitude. I’ve told you that before. What would you have done? Alone there with the men on the hill?”
“I knew who he was,” I said.
Lieutenant Allison turned on me. “Why in the name of Christ didn’t you tell Mazzioli!” He was mad.
“I did,” I said. “But he didn’t listen. Orders is orders,” I said.
Lieutenant Allison stopped. We were halfway up the hill. He looked out over the parapet and down at the sea, vaguely white where it broke on the rocks.
“What’s the matter with you, Slade? You don’t want to be cynical about this war.”
“I’m not cynical about this war,” I said. “I may die in this war. I’m cynical about the Army. It’s a helluva lot easier to be an idealist if you’re an officer. The higher the officer, the higher the ideals.” To hell with it, I thought, to hell with all of it.
“Slade,” he said, “I’d like for you to buckle down. I wasn’t kidding when I said you could make OCS. I’d like to see you go to OCS because you’re smart. You could do it if you’d only buckle down.”