Slow Nights On Watch I
Chapter 2: A moment of terror and brotherhoods
“Hey, Clocktower. Over.”
“You have to say over, Clocktower. Over.”
“What do you want? Over.”
“Would you ever bang a midget? Over.”
I let out a sigh as I leaned against the mount of my M240. It had been five days since we had passed the straits of Hormuz and the USS Decatur (DDG-73) had pulled a man from every shop to ready the gun mounts twenty-four- seven. The order had trickled down from the top and landed on the most junior of the ship.
We were commanded by the most junior ensign, who passed his orders to the most junior Chief petty officer down to his crew of twenty-odd sailors, none of which were barely even old enough to drink legally in their home country.
“I heard you. No, I would not fuck a midget. Out.”
“Come on, man don’t be a dick. Were all stuck out here in the middle of fucking nowhere. It’s hot, dusty, and dark. May as well have some fun with it.” The voice squawked over the radio, before adding almost pleadingly,
“Donkey Kong, Over.”
The call signs had been Ensign’s idea. A bit of something to call our own. We weren’t the small craft attack team, we were the Gold team. He allowed us to come up with our own Callsigns.
I am sure that was something he would forever regret.
I’m not sure what The Ensign expected of the call signs from a bunch of twenty-year-old sailors, but I am sure it wasn’t of the likes of Donkey Kong, Machine gun Kelly and Captain Save-a-Ho. But in the end, he didn’t go back on his words, even if he looked visibly uncomfortable at every roll call before watch.
Most of us were new to the ship, barely learning how to even do our jobs before we were sent out to the Persian Gulf. I was the only exception I knew of on the Gold Team.
Though this was my first tour to the sea, I had deployed to Iraq fresh out of Corpsman school. It was on that first deployment that I learned what war was. Long stretches of mind-numbing boredom, broken by brief flashes of pure terror. The marines had given me the call sign Clocktower during one of those brief flashes. A call sign I had carried yet again.
I let out another tired sigh before keying up the radio, scanning the horizon once more, and once again seeing nothing but darkness overlapping waves. The seas had been clear since we had entered the gulf but we all had heard the stories. Small ships filled with explosives ramming into the sides of naval vessels. Scores of pirates razing the side of ships with rocket launchers and machine gunfire.
Even away from the combat on the ground, we were all nervous. All of us are just kids playing at war.
“Clocktower to Donkey Kong. That’s how you do it, by the way, you so I knew who I’m talking to. Give you call sign and then mine, Ok?”
“Donkey Kong to Clocks, Copy that. Out.”
“Now that we got that out of the way,” I said, “How hot is this midget? Over.”
“Donkey Kong to Clocktower, she is hot as fuck, Over.”
“Copy, Donkey. And are we talking like a proportional midget or like the big head kind? Over.”
“Captain Save a Ho here, good question. Out.”
“Donkey to Clocks. Bighead kind, but not like dumpy looking.”
There was a long pause before Donkey added. “Oh, Over.”
“Clocks to Donkey, copy.” I sat for a while picturing this fiction midget while scanning the dark waters for the ghostly outline of a ship. “How drunk am I? Over.”
“Machine gun Kelly to everyone, I wish I was drunk for this conversation.” An annoyed voice crackled over the air from the aftmost fifty cal mount.
Machine Gun Kelly, also known a Seaman Kelly, was a dour sailor who spent most of his hours tinkering on the engine in the bowels of the ship. I had only met him a few times during chow and it had never been a pleasant experience.
“Clocktower to Machine gun Kelly. Over.” I said softly into the mic.
“You forgot to say out.”
There was a long pause. I could hear Donkey giggling in the dark somewhere on the deck below me.
“Thank you. As I was saying, Donkey to Clock tower.”
“Oh then yeah. I’d totally bang a midget. I’ve done worse as it is. Much worse.”
I could hear laughter peal out from somewhere in the dark from the deck below, where Donkey stood on his mount, and another laugh from the port side where Captain Save-a-Ho sat on his watch.
The door to the bridge opened and Chief Edmondson stepped out his mug of coffee and a paper cup of lukewarm coffee still steaming in his other hand. Even as long as I had stood out in the dark, it was hard to see the dark-skinned man in the near pitch black of the Persian Gulf. All lights were shut off as we traveled in through the gulf, better for us to move unseen to our mission. What that mission was exactly, I did not know.
“Clocktower to all mounts, Gold Chief on deck.”
I took the paper cup of Joe from chief as the other mounts responded with a string of copy-thats and the understanding it was time to be professional. The Chief leaned against the lifeline and took a slow swig from his coffee before looking up at the star-filled sky.
“Pretty ain’t it.” He said, “You don’t get to see stars like this anywhere else.”
“Yeah. It’s nice. Would be peaceful, you know without the war.”
“Yeah,” Chief said, before drifting in a long lull of silence as he continued to watch the stars.
I walked the deck, looking through the Night vision scope on the two M240’s mounted on both the port and starboard sides of the bridge. The light machine guns were the only ones with the scope and the main reason I had chosen this post. It was kind of a pain to have to move between the two mounts, but it gave me something to do. Plus I liked being able to see what it was that I had to shoot.
Through the night vision scope, I spied a score of fishing boats, painted green in the scope as they bobbed on the dark waves. Most of the fishermen would be asleep at this time. None seemed to notice the massive ship of steel as it drifted past on its unknown mission. I didn’t mind not being noticed. I took a grateful sip of my coffee as Chief wandered back to the starboard side.
Just a bunch of fishing boats.” I said, “all seems quiet.”
“Good.” Chief took another sip of his coffee, “You deployed before this right?”
“Yeah, Iraq. With the Marines.”
“How was that?”
“Yeah, I bet,” He laughed, before asking the question that everyone asked. “You see any action?”
“There was this time on R and R, where I met these Swedish twins in a bar.”
“Twins?” Chief Edmondson asked.
“Yeah,” I said, smiling over my coffee, “Two Swedish twins in Vietnam. Both of them Olympic gymnasts, too. They must have been double maybe, triple jointed.”
“Oh” The Chief, said, taking a long sip from his coffee.“They weren’t midgets too right?”
I raised an eyebrow at Chief and he gave me a wink before pointing at the radio clipped to his chest.
“Well, Fuck me.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Edmondson said as he leaned against the rail. “Look, whether you saw action or not aint all that important. You been out here before, in one way or another.”
He gestured to toward the vast expanse of darkness that made up the Persian Gulf.
“These guys haven’t. They are all boots and they are all away from their families for the first time.”
He finished his coffee with a single large gulp before turning back to the bridge.
“If talking bullshit helps with their nerves. Do so. Just keep an eye out for them all right, Moore.”
“Yeah,” I said watching as he closed the door behind him and sealed the door shut behind him. “Copy that.”
I leaned against the lifelines by my mount and looked up at the stars. Chief was right. They were really pretty.
“All mounts, Clocks here. Chief is back inside.”
“Donkey to Clocks, Thank god. He heard anything we were talking about?”
A smile touched my lips.
“No, we all good.”
“Machine gun Kelly to all mounts. Can we stop talking about midgets? My sister is a little person.”
There was a long awkward silence over the air before Captain Save a Ho chimed in.
“Is she single?”
Laughter pealed out across the mounts and I scanned the horizon as the Gold team busted each other’s balls and told stories and laughed. We called out the sleepy fishing vessels as we passed but none came close enough for us to ever call up to the bridge. All in all, it was just another slow night on watch, as so many nights were until they weren’t.
But that is war. Long stretches of boredom with intermittent flashes of terror.
But it is in those long lulls that friendships are made, friendships which would be tested by blood and sweat and the spray of sea salt.
And it was in those flashes that we would become more. It was in that moment of terror that we would become Brothers.
But for that night, that single night in the darkness of a Persian sea, we were just boys, quelling their fears with nothing but stories and words.
More exciting reads —
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Merlin Troy writes fiction inspired based on his time as a police officer, paramedic, and veteran. He is working on his first novel which will be available for readers when published on Kindle. Expected release: July 2021
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