Conduct Unbecoming is the first chapter of the novel, No Way to Fail, presented here on the Virtual Mirage Blog in three parts. No Way to Fail: A Novel of Cartel Wars, is third in the Cartel Wars series by Larry B. Lambert
© Larry B. Lambert, 2014
Conduct Unbecoming (Continued — part TWO of THREE)
A month before Bozo Pierce and Darryl Slater had that conversation, Chad Thomas, a radio producer at National Public Radio (NPR) approached Commander, Naval Public Affairs Support Element West, Det. Hawaii, looking to enlarge a story that they’d been working on. The talent that he produced for wanted to interview a SEAL with combat experience who had been wounded in action. The more wounds, the better.
Yeoman Third Class Jack Smith, one of the pencil pushers at public affairs ran a database through his computer and found Chief Special Warfare Operator Slater assigned to the Naval Planning and Coordination Group, located in Pearl Harbor.
“I think that I have the perfect candidate for you.” Petty Officer Smith spoke to the producer in his thick Southern Mississippi accent. He held the telephone in one hand and scraped the acne on his neck with the thin, dull blade from a Swiss Army Knife that he held in the other. “Chief Petty Officer, Navy Cross, Bronze Star with V Device, Purple Heart—awarded twice, doing a shore tour after extended overseas service.” Smith read from his computer screen, setting the penknife aside briefly so that he could manipulate the computer mouse to scroll down. “No details beyond that. Must be classified.”
“That guy sounds perfect. Wounded twice? Does it say where he was hit?” Chad Thomas knew that even on radio, the location of a wound could be played up to titillate his audience of chair bound liberals, progressives and pensioners.
“Not on my database, sir.” Smith scrolled down further. “I’ve got another guy on staff duty, a First Class SWO with a Silver Star, but he’s TDY to the mainland. Let’s see, Bethesda Naval Hospital, getting fitted with a prosthetic leg. And there’s another Chief SEAL, but he’s at Tripler Medical Center, recovering from wounds.”
“Is that the big pink hospital on the side of the hill overlooking Pearl Harbor?”
“Yeah, that’s the one, sir. There are rules about interviewing people in the hospital while they’re recovering.” Yeoman Smith reached for a book of regulations to check on the specifics. “I think that they are somewhere in BuPers.”
“Never mind the Chief at Tripler. This Slater sounds perfect. Let’s run with him.” Thomas reflected briefly. America had been constantly at war since September 11, 2001, most of the SEALs had been in one sandbox or another, killing, swimming, kidnapping, stabbing, parachuting, interrogating and doing the things, which are the mother’s milk of that peculiar branch of the Navy. Finding one who met the criteria for an interview shouldn’t to be difficult.
“Good morning sir or ma’am, Naval Planning and Coordination Group, Petty Officer Jarod, this is not a secure line.” Jarod droned, running out of breath at the conclusion of his mandated greeting. He tipped his coffee cup to freshen his dry mouth.
“My name’s Chad Thomas, I’m a producer for National Public Radio and I need to speak to your commanding officer.”
The line clicked without further notice and a moment later, the Officer of the Deck came on the line. “Captain Tanner is not available sir, I can put you through to OPS, Commander Barney Wasserman.”
“Is he a SEAL?”
“No, he’s unrestricted line – surface warfare qualified.”
“That would be wonderful.”
The National Public Radio producer didn’t think that it was all that wonderful after Commander Wasserman bent his ear on the telephone for over half an hour.
Commander Barney Wasserman struck Chad Thomas, himself a former Coast Guard enlisted reservist, as one of those surface warfare types who hadn’t been able to qualify for command for anything that floated. The story seemed all too familiar. The lame, sick and lazy always found a way to burrow themselves into cushy shore tours.
“Can I have our reporter call you directly, Commander Wasserman?”
Chad Thomas knew that the talent liked to chatter almost as much as Commander Wasserman seemed to.
“Sure.” Commander Wasserman recited his personal cell phone number.
“Her name is Dr. Sylvia Goodman.” Thomas passed the name of the talent that he worked for.
“MD or PhD?”
“She received her PhD in comparative and world literature from Harvard University but she spent most of her professional career here at National Public Radio.”
“Splendid. I’ll look forward to her call. Ah, do you think she might want to interview me too?”
“That would be up to her. I’m simply the producer assigned to this piece.”
“Thank you, Mr. Thomas.” Commander Wasserman hung up the telephone and rocked back in his office chair.
The mere thought that the smartass chief petty officer would be out from under foot for a few days thrilled Commander Wasserman. It would feel like a vacation to have Daryl Slater gone. Commander Wasserman didn’t know why SEALs felt as if their opinions mattered irrespective of their rank. Chief Slater, an enlisted man irrespective of his special warfare qualification and chest full of medals, had made it his business to point out flaws in every single project that Wasserman had approved. The concept of putting special operators in the quality control review process undermined the value of rank, such as Barney’s.
Dr. Sylvia Goodman, PhD, called Commander Wasserman early the following morning.
“My piece is called ‘Healing America’s Shadow Warriors’.”
Commander Wasserman pimped Slater shamelessly. “Frankly, I think that Chief Slater would be perfect for your interview. How long will you need him?”
“It may be as long as a week. Can you spare him?”
“We’ll muddle through.”
“I want a SEAL with recruiting poster look about him.”
“Chief Slater is nothing if not a lady-killer. But it’s a radio interview, right?”
“Yes, Commander Wasserman, but I need the right type of man for this interview. Someone who represents the best and brightest who has been in combat and was injured in battle.”
“He has that look alright.”
“Has Chief Slater killed people in combat?”
“I think if he had, it would be classified. I don’t have access to his records at that level.”
“Of course. Is he the sort of man who has seen the worst that the world can offer and still retains a glimmer of hope for humanity?”
Commander Wasserman assured her. “I can’t confirm or deny that Chief Slater has wallowed in buckets of blood but he did receive a Navy Cross that the President himself pinned on six months ago. He had been assigned to Naval Special Warfare Development Group. Those are the guys that got Usama Bin Laden. I’m not saying that Slater was along on that run, but it could have been something like that.”
Commander Wasserman knew that Slater hadn’t had anything to do with the bin Laden raid, Operation Geronimo, but he fudged.
Having Slater out of the office, if even only for a week, meant a great deal to Commander Barney Wasserman.
“Can we set something up for next week?”
“I’ll have orders cut.” The paper orders would be necessary because Commander Wasserman suspected that Slater would find a way duck out on an interview if he had any way to slither through the rocks and shoals of verbal orders.
Chief Slater reported to Lieutenant Cloris Jackson USNR, the Public Relations Officer, wearing service dress blues. The PR Lieutenant took one look at him and said, “She say she want a recruiting poster SEAL and I knew that she meant a white one. You perfect. Where you from, Chief?”
“I never heard of it.”
“Not many people have. It’s between Buffalo Bill State Park and Yellowstone.”
“I’m sorry I axed. I be from Trenton, and that a long way from Wyomin’.”
“I’ll be happy to leave.” Slater offered hopefully. “I’m sure that you can find somebody more appropriate who hails from some urban hell hole like Detroit or Philadelphia.”
“No you don’t. The world’s racist, Slater.” LT Jackson snapped her gum as she chewed. “Doctor Sylvia Goodman from NPR wants herself a white hero type to interview for her radio program on healing America’s shadow warriors. I think you’re just what she wants. I’ll tell her you’re from Wyomin’ in case she wants to add that local flavor of moose droppings.”
Two days later, on the record and on the recorder, Dr. Sylvia Goodman, a frumpy fifty-something earth mother with enough dark strands of hair on her upper lip to constitute an effort at a moustache, snapped on her digital recorder without giving Slater the benefit of a pre-interview warm up.
“If you share with me, we can cathartically dispel your pain—together.”
“What pain would that be, Ma’am?”
“The pain of having taken another human life.”
“The unparalleled agony of snatching a fellow human from his home, his family, and his future must weigh heavily on your soul.”
“See this Budweiser?” Chief Slater tapped the gold trident over the left breast of his uniform. “It means that the taxpayers pay me to kill people and I’m fine with that.”
“You don’t mean it.” Sylvia Goodman’s face took on a dreamy aspect as she closed her eyes and continued. “I can hold an image in my mind of a world without war, a world without weapons, and a world without hate. Isn’t that what you see too?”
“I can picture us attacking that world of yours, conquering it, removing its people from the gene pool and draining it of its resources, because they’d never see it coming.”
Sylvia’s heavily lidded eyes popped open and then she scrutinized Slater as if seeing him for the first time.
“And if I may be so bold, ma’am, I’d prefer it if you didn’t interview me while you’re loaded on marijuana.”
Sylvia didn’t know what to say, so she ranted on. “I know that you want the same world that the rest of us do. A world of equality and love, where you won’t ever have to be wounded again.”
“I’m not wounded.”
“You have two Purple Hearts.”
“A cook stabbed me in the hand with a fork—twice—in the chow line because I grabbed for an extra piece of cherry pie.” Slater didn’t want to tell her of the circumstances surrounding his combat wounds.
“Take my hand,” Sylvia Goodman said, reaching into a pocket and pulling out a crystal. “I can heal your soul.”
“Oh, for fuck’s sake. You’re just one of those city-bred weaklings who have never been in a fight in their entire lives. You rely on others to do all of the heavy lifting while you—report. I’m sure you had progressive parents who made excuses for you when you threw tantrums and spent way too much time praising you during toilet training. You’re just a dried out miserable old ganja smoking wanna-be hippie. And I have nothing more to say to you—ma’am.”
Sylvia Goodman pulled her hand back from Slater as if a snake just bit her and then she started crying.
Lieutenant Jackson, unable to restrain herself any longer, butted into the interview. “Slater, you can’t talk to her like that. She’s not only a reporter. She used to be a Harvard professor.”
“I’m done with this bullshit. I’m not going to mentally masturbate this bitch’s screwed up view of reality for the sake of orders or anything else.” Looking at Lieutenant Jackson, he added, “She’s as loaded on bambalacha, as a Cavite all-star, Lieutenant. This thing started out as a sanctioned, royal pig fuck and has petered out all together.”
The interview ended abruptly with the snap of the switch on Sylvia Goodman’s digital recorder.
“We can do this over again.” Lieutenant Jackson pleaded, casting a vicious glance at Chief Slater. “Let’s try it one more time.”
“Let’s not.” Chief Slater quietly said directly to Goodman, more as a threat than as a comment.
Chief Slater watched the hag, wearing the long dress in 95-degree Honolulu weather, pick up her rope purse and leave the office, still sobbing, followed by Chad Thomas, her producer, who wore a smug grin and winked at Chief Slater on the way out.
Lieutenant Jackson turned to Yeoman Smith. “Keep the Chief here. I’m going to call the captain.”
“I don’t think so.” Slater’s eyes narrowed as he stood.
The yeoman put his hand on Daryl’s shoulder and tried to push him back in his chair.
Darryl Slater, acting instinctively, took the yeoman’s hand, rotated his arm and snapped it at the elbow like so much rotten kindling.
Lieutenant Jackson shrieked and Petty Officer Smith moaned, cradling his arm with his good hand and sinking to his knees.
“Sorry about the arm, kid.” Slater grabbed his cover on his way out of the office.