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 THREE of THREE)
Darryl tried to put it the whole thing of his mind while walking down the hill from the CINCPAC Headquarters at Makalapa to the Joint Intelligence Operations Center, a tall, brown, windowless building across the street from the USS Arizona Memorial.
An ambulance raced past him up the hill, siren wailing.
He went through the metal detectors slick as a greased pig because he didn’t have anything but an ID Card, Hawaii Driver’s License and folded currency with him. Senior Chief Master-at-Arms Elmo Quinn, who knew him on sight, waved him past the pass desk and handed him a no-escort-required badge for Top Secret Cleared. Elmo suspected that Slater planned to visit the Chief’s lounge, called the goat locker, located on the third deck (floor) of the building.
“You on your way up to visit the goat locker?”
“I need a drink, Elmo.”
“You look like it, Darryl. I’m sure that the bar will be open.”
There was only one place to get an alcoholic beverage in contravention of policy and standing orders at JIOPS. The Chiefs stocked cold beer in a secured refrigerator in the goat locker.
When Slater walked in, two Marine Corps NCO’s; a gunnery sergeant (gunny) and a sergeant major (top) were downing a couple. They took note of his uniform, the SEAL trident over his left shirt pocket and his sour attitude.
“Hard day?” Gunny seemed to feel his pain. He reached into the refrigerator and tossed Slater a genuine Australian Fosters with a 15% alcohol to volume ratio. The goat locker provided only the very best refreshments. Then he threw a sawbuck into the beer stein. “Drinks are on me, Chief.”
Slater pulled the tab. “I’m about to be arrested for striking a non-commissioned officer.” He downed half of the beer before taking a breath.
“The little prick fucked with me, Top.”
The sergeant major offered a toast. “That should be sufficient cause but it won’t be.”
Top considered the matter briefly, “Witnesses?”
“The Public Relations Officer, proud-black, pudgy, female, angry.”
Gunny: “That’s not good.”
Top: “Article Fifteen?”
“That or a court marshal and time at Portsmouth Naval Prison.” Slater paused and then finished the can. The gunny fetched another one and handed it to him. “My wife won’t understand. That’s the rub. I just don’t know how to tell her that I just flushed my career down the toilet.”
“Been married long?”
“Six months. But she’s not a local girl. She’ll get it when I told her that somebody pissed me off and I broke his fucking arm. She won’t understand why the Navy is upset about it.”
Top smiled as if he reminisced. “Sounds like she’s a keeper.”
“We met—in the field, on an Op. The first time we went for a walk together I killed five men at point-blank range. I think it was a day later that I killed a man who tried to rape her sister. At least that’s what I thought he was trying to do. It turns out he wasn’t but he needed to die all the same.”
The sergeant major shrugged. “They must have fucked with you.”
“They did, Top.”
Gunny added knowingly. “And they got what was coming to them.”
“That’s why we have SEALs.”
“That’s not the way that the Big Blue Machine will look at it.”
Gunny said, “That’s because they’re pussies who’d fuck up a wet dream.”
The wall telephone rang. Slater grabbed it before either of the Marines could. “This will be for me.”
Senior Chief Master-at-Arms Quinn spoke quietly. “Darryl?”
“Yeah, Elmo. I know that there are people out looking for me.”
“And you didn’t sign in here.”
“No, as a matter of fact, I didn’t.”
“You can’t get a pass unless you sign the book. And you can’t walk into this facility without specific security clearance and a pass. The clearance I have on file for you is out of date. So I couldn’t have issued you a pass.”
“There are procedures to protect the welfare of sensitive information in this installation, Elmo.”
“That’s right—it’s America.”
“Love it or leave it.”
“Have I seen you?”
“Not today. And neither have any of my guys.”
“Pop another few and when you’re done I’ll drive you out through the basement in one of our vans. You shouldn’t go back to your car today. They’ll be watching it.”
“Soledad is burning carne asada that’s been marinating all day, for dinner tonight.”
“Count me in, Darryl.”
“Do you think they’ll be watching my house?”
“Maybe but it will be guys from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. Some people believe that they’re evil but they’re not, they’re just well-meaning, lazy and incompetent. Wait and see, they’ll be playing video games on their telephones collecting overtime they call premium pay and not paying much attention your house at all once the sun goes down. You’d have to walk up to their cars and rap on the windows to get their attention. They’re the night crew and they don’t want to be bothered with paperwork. The day crew will grab you on the quarterdeck when you check in tomorrow.”
As predicted, NIS didn’t get him when he went home. They were playing video games as predicted and pointedly avoided Chief Slater’s return home. A different crew waited for him to report for duty.
They didn’t slap handcuffs on him. The Navy Cross presented personally by the President of the United States six months prior saved him from that humiliation.
Two special agents from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service showed up at the quarterdeck of the Naval Planning and Coordination Group the next morning. One rolled his fingerprints, and filled out booking paperwork while the other one kept his hand near the grips of his pistol, just in case Chief Slater decided to go berserk on them and break their arms they way he’d broken Yeoman Smith’s.
NCIS was the subject of a television series on prime time that lent one version of the service. The reality provided a stark contrast.
Slater had been at the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, once called SEAL Team Six. Though the record of his specific operational assignments was not available to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, one could infer from one Bronze Star with V device, a Purple Heart (second award) and the Navy Cross that he’d been in very heavy shit as recently as six months ago. They’d been advised by the NCIS Special Agent-In-Charge to take extra precautions because nobody knew how somebody with actual combat experience would react to an arrest.
The closest the NCIS Agents had been, or were ever likely to get to combat, was the three-hour simulated combat course at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center at Glencoe, Georgia.
“Afghanistan?” The NCIS Agent who rolled his prints asked politely.
“No, not there. Places that I don’t think you know are places. I don’t mean any offense.”
The NCIS agents left it at that. NCIS earned a reputation in the Navy for being faggot hunters. The introduction of the don’t ask/don’t tell policy nearly put them out of a job. All of the serious violations of the UCMJ were felonies and thus, were investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Since the assault on Yeoman Smith was technically a felony, they were only there to do the booking. The Federal Bureau of Investigation would handle the actual investigation.
Slater felt a bit sorry for the NCIS guys. At the same time he was glad that he never followed that career path.
After the agents left, Darryl went back to work, attacking the plans and proposals that Commander Wasserman approved in his absence, with a passionate, red Sharpie. The transfer to the Island of Unwanted Toys followed, and the rendezvous with Bozo and the staff that kept him in stasis awaiting adjudication. And the circulating fan that didn’t circulate – and the desk with his polished leather shoes up on it.
“You simply can’t keep from pissing people off, Slater.”
Darryl looked up with his war face and it melted. For the first time in a long time, a grin split his face.
Matthew Fisher stood in the door wearing a baseball cap, civilian pilot’s shirt and faded blue jeans.
“Fish! How the hell did you get in here?”
Fish flashed a blue credential case containing his Central Intelligence Agency identification.
“I didn’t think that they let deep cover people have creds.”
“I called in a favor from David Thorpe.”
Slater stood up and hugged Fish. “I can’t tell you how happy I am to see you.”
“I checked in with your Officer-in-Charge. He doesn’t have a problem with me borrowing you. For the rest of the day.”
“I’m in a lot of trouble, Fish.”
“I heard. We heard. That’s why I’m here.”
“News travels fast.”
“NCIS sent a routine cable to FBI Headquarters and because you’re flagged in the system, it went to CIA. David Thorpe got it and since he’s the Latin America Division Chief, he sent me out here to see what we can do for you – on the QT.”
“I’m going to be drawn and quartered, Fish.”
“Get your stuff, I’m going to buy you a steak and all you can drink.”
“Can I bring Soledad along?”
“That’s the pretty girl you met—.” Fish looked around. “On that last thing?”
“Yeah. We’re married now. She knows something’s wrong but not precisely what. I can’t bring myself to tell her. It would be good if she saw you.”
“Call her and we can swing by and pick her up on the way to lunch. Where do you live?”
“We’re renting a house in Makakilo down the street from the Costco.”
As they walked past the quarterdeck and out of the run-down slat wood building, the officer of the deck tried to stop him. Fish stuck his credentials in the lieutenant junior grade’s face and said, “Chief Slater is with me.”
“I’ll log it,” the OOD said weakly.
Once out of the building, Slater asked, “What’s going on with Gary Granger?”
“Last I heard he and Corazon were in Switzerland.”
Slater misunderstood. “Swaziland?”
“No, fuckin’ Switzerland, you know, beer, lederhosen, mountain climbing, goats and edelweiss?”
Gary Granger, CIA retired, and Matthew Fisher, paramilitary ops officer and clandestine pilot went way back. They’d adopted Darryl Slater on the mission six months previously when the SEALs had eliminated a drug lord. The Navy mustered out Slater and three other SEALs from Naval Special Warfare Development Group, Gold Team, for the duration of the mission. When it concluded they were quietly re-admitted into the Naval Service. All four SEALs received the Navy Cross and Slater had received an accelerated promotion to Chief Petty Officer based on a recommendation from the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency—acting on Gary Granger’s advice.
The findings of the Naval Board of Inquiry, based on testimony from the witnesses to the assault and the results of a cursory investigation conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, were tempered by the personal intervention of Admiral Wilbur Boylan, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Nobody wanted the details of the clandestine operation that Slater participated on to filter into public view. The mere possibility drove the President to Martha’s Vineyard and a golfing vacation where he de-stressed over two rounds on the links, a prolonged visit to the nineteenth hole, five Bombay Sapphire Martinis and two joints of high grade green.
The United States Attorney refused to prosecute Chief Slater. The Navy, exercising clemency managed a trumped-up medical diagnosis of post-traumatic stress. Thus, a grateful nation dropped all charges against Chief Petty Officer Darryl Slater, released him from his term of enlistment and discharged him under honorable circumstances.
CHAPTER TWO: El Pozolero del Teo
(El Teo’s stew maker)
“Killing people is easy, disposing of the carcasses is more involved.”
–Teodoro (El Teo) Garcia Simental
–Teodoro (El Teo) Garcia Simental
Soft music played as Soledad Slater relaxed in a hot bath. A towel wrapped around her hair like a turban and cucumber slices covered her eyes. The luxury of the bathroom overwhelmed her and she hummed softly to music that came from the adjacent bedroom.
“I wish we could always afford to live like this.” She called to her husband who dressed in a business suit in the bedroom. “How much would it cost per month to live in a suite in the Hotel Astoria?”
“I’m sure that I could work out a deal. Maybe twenty-five thousand a month.”
“Dollars or pesos?”
She lifted a dainty toe through the soap bubbles floating on the bath water and then flicked water in response. “You and I would have to sell drugs.”
“Or own oil wells like Gary Granger.”
“Did you thank him for the suite?”
Soledad removed the cucumber slices from her eyes and picked up a loofah. She coated it with expensive bath gel and began to wash her arms.
“Are you sure that he doesn’t mind paying for this?”
“He came up with the idea and made the reservations.”
“This man you’re meeting, Volt?”
“Yes, he works against the drug cartels?”
“That’s right. Gary made the arrangements for me to meet him. It’s a job opportunity.”
Soledad stood, wrapped in a towel and let the water out of the bathtub. It gurgled as she stepped onto marble covered in a plush towel. “I’m not sure that I want you back in Mexico.”
Darryl walked into the bathroom, draping his tie around neck and under the collar of his white shirt as he looked into a fogged mirror.
“What are you doing here?” Soledad screamed, “My husband will be home any minute!” Then she ducked into the suds, hair towel going into the water. A look of mischievous excitement in her eyes, peering from the tub drew Darryl like a magnet.
He took the tie off and tossed it on the sink. “So what if I’m late for my meeting?”
“You’re late for the meeting,” Tom Volt stood somewhere around six feet and was at least half again as heavy as Darryl Slater and half again older.
“Unavoidably detained, sir.”
“Have a seat.” Volt gestured toward a chair near his desk. The office in the skyscraper overlooked San Diego harbor. “You look very relaxed, Slater, that means you must be late because you were getting laid.”
Slater uncharacteristically blushed.