WWII - Black Sheep Squadron Universe
Size: Approx 102K
Disclaimer: Please remember this is a work of fan fiction and not a history text book! ;-)
Authors' Note: This A/U was created by Winter and is open to anyone who might want to play.
2nd Lieutenant JD Dunne stood on the tarmac waiting to check in and board the plane that would take him to his duty station. He couldn't believe he was finally here, in the South Pacific. He had enlisted right after Pearl Harbor but when they found out he was only 16, they had tossed him in the stockade for falsifying his enlistment records. It didn't matter that he could fly circles around everyone in flight training, including the instructors. It was only because Major Larabee had agreed to take him into his unit that they'd let him out on his 17th birthday. Technically, he wasn't old enough to hold an officer's rank, but, Major Larabee had seen to it that he got his commission back, too. He didn't even know the guy, or why he had done all these things for him, but it had been really hard to be left behind bars when the rest of his class had moved on, so he wasn't about to ask any questions that might screw up the new chance he'd been given. Now that he was here, he was eager and ready to fight the Japanese.
The line moved up slowly and JD tried to be patient. One of the nurses in line smiled at him and he nodded a greeting. JD was in a spotless dress uniform. The khaki pants and shirt still had their pleats. He knew they wouldn't last long in this humidity. He'd taken off his hat and tucked it behind his belt. When his turn came he handed his papers to the sergeant.
"Lieutenant Dunne," the sergeant said reading his papers and checking off his name. "Going to VMF 277. Hope you like dealing with mavericks."
"I think I can handle it," JD said taking back his papers and heading for the plane.
JD boarded the transport plane and took a seat in the back. He'd heard a lot about Major Larabee's Magnificent Seven. The name was given to them because of the numbers in their call sign, and now that he was joining the group, there would actually be 7 of them. They had an impressive number of kills and reportedly were in a contest with the notorious squadron commanded by Major "Pappy" Boyington to see who could acquire the biggest reputation for wildness and nonconformity. JD just hoped he could fit in with the established crew.
The plane took off and JD decided to take a nap. Next thing he knew he felt the plane land and the pilot said it was Corina, the island that was home base to VMF 277. JD grabbed his duffel and exited the plane, taking a look around as he stepped onto the hot tarmac. The unit's Corsairs weren't on the runway and JD figured they must be on a run. He walked over to the mechanics area and saw the rest of the camp. There was only one Quonset hut - everything else was tents. He'd heard they lived rough in the Pacific but he never expected this. Towards the airstrip were a radio tower and a weather station.
"Can I help you?" a male voice asked.
"I'm the new replacement pilot," JD said. "Name's JD Dunne."
The sergeant looked him up and down, doubt written all over his expression, but he said, "Pleased to meet ya, I'm Yosemite. I keep the birds flying."
"Tough job?" JD asked.
"Very," Yosemite said with a smile. "The major ends up with all the hard missions and my birds come back with so many holes I can't hardly keep them patched."
JD was a little taken aback by the casualness with which Yosemite delivered that particular piece of information. "Are they on a run now?" he asked.
"Yup," Yosemite answered. "They should be back any time. You can take your gear over to the officers club until they figure out where to put you."
"Thanks." JD looked around at the collection of identical tents. "Uh...which one is it?'
"The quonset hut," Yosemite said. "It'll say 'Saloon' over the door."
JD picked up his gear and was headed towards where the sergeant sent him when a siren went off. JD stood there staring as men scrambled into trucks and headed for the runway. That's when he noticed one of the planes was coming in smoking. He left his gear and ran over to the airstrip. The crippled plane was dipping erratically as it came in for a landing. JD wasn't sure the pilot would be able to land the plane. Black smoke was pouring out of the engine. JD held his breath as the wheels touched down and the pilot brought the plane to a stop. Once the plane stopped moving the pilot jumped out and staggered away from it. He looked like he might need help, so JD ran over and took his arm. The pilot pulled the flight gear from his head and gave JD an odd look.
"Here ya go Lieutenant Standish," Yosemite said handing him a canteen. "Looks like you could use a drink."
"Yes, thank you," Standish replied. "But water wasn't what I had in mind."
"You okay?" JD asked staring. The lieutenant 's face was black from the smoke, which, JD realized, must have been what had caused him to appear disoriented. He didn't look like he was injured.
"Yes, thank you," the lieutenant said. "And you are?"
"Lieutenant JD Dunne," he said and, noticing Standish's bars were silver and not gold, like his own, quickly saluted.
"Damn, Ezra, you're one lucky son of a bitch," a dark haired pilot with a mustache and captain's bars said as he walked over.
"It was skill, not luck, Captain Wilmington," Ezra smiled.
"Whatever it was, I ain't seen flyin' like that since a hoot owl got into grandma's chicken coop." The captain laughed and clapped Lieutenant Standish on the back. JD didn't know if the remark was a compliment or what.
JD stepped back as other pilots came walking over. He felt out of place as they teased the well-spoken lieutenant about his landing. JD noticed two of the pilots stood a little off to one side. He noticed that one of them, a second lieutenant like he was, had light brown hair that was almost shoulder length - not even close to regulation. The young officer said nothing, but his blue eyes seemed to be taking in everything, including him. JD watched as he nudged his companion. The other pilot was older and had very short blonde hair - as well as a pair of gold oakleafs on his flight suit. Major Larabee. His green eyes seemed to bore into JD. He swallowed and tried to talk. Ezra smiled when he saw his predicament.
"Major Larabee," Ezra said. "May I introduce Lieutenant JD Dunne."
JD saluted sharply and they all smiled except for the major. Major Larabee returned the salute and JD lowered his hand.
"Well, kid," the mustached Captain said, "first thing you gotta learn is we ain't so formal."
"More's the pity," Ezra commented.
"I think introduction are in order," said an older officer. "I'm Captain Josiah Sanchez. The mustached fool is Captain Buck Wilmington. You've already met 1st Lieutenant Standish. This is 1st Lieutenant Nathan Jackson."
JD tried to conceal his surprise at seeing that Lieutenant Jackson was a Negro. JD knew there were a few black pilots flying bomber escorts in Europe, but, he had never heard of one being part of an all-white squadron.
"But how?" JD blurted, then quickly added, "Not that I'm complaining. I'm just curious."
"Chris can be very persuasive when he wants to be," Buck smiled.
"You mean bull-headed," the longhaired lieutenant said in a Texas drawl. JD was taken aback by his casual observation, but despite the difference in their rank, it appeared that the Major and the lieutenant were close friends. Major Larabee gave no hint that he took exception to the remark.
"And last, but not least, that's Lieutenant Vin Tanner," Josiah said.
"Welcome aboard," Chris said.
"Come on, kid," Buck said putting his arm around JD's shoulder. "You can bunk with me."
"Hope you have ear plugs," Nathan said as he followed.
"No I don't," JD said. "Do the Japanese bomb at night?"
"No," Ezra said with a smile. "Captain Wilmington snores. That's why he has an empty bunk."
"Hell, Ezra, that ain't the only reason no one bunks with Buck," Vin smiled. "We got tired of hearing him talking about all them woman in his sleep."
"Excuse me, " Buck said to JD as he grabbed Vin in a headlock. Tanner was considerably outsized, and Captain Wilmington ignored his protests as they kept walking.
"And I thought Vin was too young," Josiah commented as he watched them leave. "This one's a goddamn baby."
Chris nodded, wondering if he had made a mistake. He had expected Dunne to be young, but he was a little guy, and he looked even younger than he actually was.
"Well, he can fly, and he's here," Chris shrugged. "He'll grow up fast enough."
"Sad, but true," Josiah said.
"Well, if you gentlemen will excuse me I have an appointment with the shower," Ezra said.
Chris nodded towards Buck and the two young officers and told Josiah, "Better get on over to the club and see that they stay out of trouble.... I'll be there after I radio the General."
He turned to Yosemite. "Let me know if you can fix Ezra's plane. If not I'll have to get a replacement from Espiritos."
"Sure thing Major," Yosemite said and headed for the still-smoking Corsair.
"I could use a beer," Josiah commented.
"I'll join you," Chris said.
The officers club wasn't much to look at but they called it home. By the time Chris arrived, Ezra was his usual immaculate self, and the only ones missing were Buck and the new kid. Vin was behind the bar passing out beers. Chris walked over and leaned on the bar.
"What can I get ya, Cowboy?" Vin asked
"Just a beer," Chris said. He watched as Vin ducked behind the counter and pulled out a bottle. His long hair fell into his eyes and he pushed it back. "When are you going to get a hair cut?"
"Soon as you loosen up," Vin smiled.
"Then I'm afraid Vin's hair will grow past his knees," Ezra said dryly.
"Maybe I should grow a beard to match," Vin suggested.
"If you only could," Chris said reaching over and stroking Vin's smooth cheek.
"Fuck you, Larabee," Vin said swatting his hand away.
"Striking a superior officer," Nathan said shocked. "This calls for a penalty."
"Aw hell, Nate, it's only Chris," Vin protested.
"We have to maintain discipline," Josiah said. "Now what should the penalty be?"
"I know," Chris said smiling.
"Chris!" Vin yelled.
"Vin has to scrounge some Hershey bars the next time we're on Espiritos," Chris announced.
"Then I regret to inform you we shall never see the Hershey bars," Ezra said.
"Et tu Brute?" Vin said and Ezra gave him a surprised look. "Don't look so shocked I did read it in High School."
Buck led JD into the 'Saloon' in the middle of the bantering. He took JD over to a table and got them some beers. JD felt out of place and a little lonely.
"Don't worry, kid, you'll fit in soon enough," Buck said smiling.
"Well. Lieutenant Tanner, shall we place a wager?"
"Damn, Ezra, you'll bet on anything," Nathan said shaking his head.
"Alright, you're on!" Vin yelled. "What's the bet?"
"I bet you twenty dollars that you can't acquire seven Hershey bars," Ezra said. "One for each of us."
JD was pleasantly surprised that the fancy talking lieutenant had included him.
"Alright, but on one condition," Vin said. "If I do, I get your twenty and I get to keep the Hershey bars."
"Greedy ain't ya?" Buck teased.
"Hell ya think I'll go through all that trouble just to give y'all the chocolate?" Vin laughed.
"You have a bet, Mr. Tanner," Ezra said.
The three of them grabbed another beer each and joined Buck and JD at the table. "So, JD, did Buck give you the tour?"
"Yeah," JD nodded. "Wasn't what I expected."
"I bet" Vin laughed. "I was pretty surprised when I got here too."
"Not as surprised as Ezra," Buck smiled.
"Are you rich or something?" JD asked Ezra.
The others laughed at JD's frankness. Ezra smiled and shuffled a deck of cards. "I, sir, am a gentleman of culture and breeding."
That hadn't really answered JD's question, but Buck added, "He always has money, that's for sure."
"Yeah but he wins that playing cards," Vin drawled.
"Damn fool is gonna get himself in trouble one if these days with that fancy tongue of his," Nathan said as he took a seat.
"So, JD, where you from?" Vin asked as he sipped his beer.
"Boston," JD answered. "Lived there with my mom until she died a little over a year ago. When Pearl Harbor got bombed I enlisted. How about the rest of you?"
"Orphaned when I was young," Vin began. "Crop dusting in Texas and New Mexico when the war started. Figured what the hell. I had nowhere to go and joined up."
"Father was a missionary in China," Josiah said. "I saw first hand what the Japanese could do. My father was a pilot and he taught me. Enlisted when Hitler invaded Poland."
"Got drafted out of medical school. Was sent to the training school for Negro pilots at Tuskegee," Nathan said. "Got through all the training and had a plane shot up over Germany. They replaced her with a hunk of junk that wasn't airworthy and I told 'em as much. But they so much as told me they weren't gonna spend the money to buy a Negro pilot a new plane, so I refused to fly. I don't mind dyin' for my country, but I sure as hell ain't gonna commit suicide. Got sent back to the states in irons for insubordination." He sipped his beer and grinned. "That's when Chris picked me for his squadron."
"But how did he get you past regulations?" JD asked curious.
"Chris mostly pulled all of us out of a stockade somewhere, so regulations were never a big problem to him," Buck laughed. "You see Admiral Travis gave Chris carte blanche in putting together a squadron. He went looking for pilots who could fly, but maybe weren't so good at takin' orders. He put Nathan's name on the list."
"Forgetting to mention Nathan was black," Vin smiled.
"By the time they found out it was too late," Nathan said. "The orders were cut and I was on my way."
"They tried to stop Nathan joining," Buck added. "Chris marched into the Admiral's office and said 'Admiral you told me to pick the best and Jackson is one of them. You approved him when you thought he was white why is it different now that he's black?' And the Admiral didn't have no good answer for that, so, here he is."
"Wow," JD said in awe. "What about the rest of you?"
Vin looked around self-consciously before he spoke. "I was doin' time for something I didn't do. Guy named Eli Joe offered to give me a ride back from liberty one night. He was drunk, wrecked the car... turned out it was stolen, from a colonel, no less. I hit my head an' was out like a light when the cops got there and found me in the driver's seat. Eli Joe claimed he didn't even know me."
"Didn't help none that he wants his hair down to his butt," Buck teased and ruffled Vin's long hair.
"Ezra there was caught dealin' contraband..." Josiah began.
Ezra shook his head. "Now, that, sir, is not the exact unmitigated truth. I was merely providing a procurement service for those with lesser connections that my own."
"He was sellin' fake Japanese souvenirs."
"I never claimed they were authentic," Ezra pretended to sound hurt. "Can I be blamed if certain elements of our illustrious fighting force are... shall we say... more gullible than others?" He grinned, and JD noticed that he had a gold tooth. That must've cost a pretty bundle of cash.
"Josiah, on the other hand, was incarcerated for single-handedly dispatching with six sailors who happened to accost him at the O Club at Pearl. Unfortunately, two of them were captains."
"A finer victory was never had," Josiah grinned.
Chris didn't make any comment as the conversation continued, but rather, sat back taking note of what was not said. As with all of his men, he was fully aware of Dunne's background, and was waiting to see if the boy would make a show of it. It pleased him that the kid didn't seem to feel a need to brag. If half of what Larabee had read in his record was true, his flying would speak for itself.
They sat talking for another hour and then went to the mess tent for a lunch that consisted of something JD couldn't quite identify. Afterwards, they each went their separate ways and Vin took JD to a clear area by the planes to play catch using the two mitts and the baseball Ezra had won in a poker game. It was almost like being back home in a park, and JD couldn't believe how peaceful it was here.
"Is it always so quiet?" JD asked.
Vin was opening his mouth to answer when a siren went off. He grabbed JD and pulled him towards a bunker equipped with an anti aircraft gun. Just as they reached cover, three Zeros strafed the runway. Vin jumped up and primed the weapon. JD held the ammunition ready to feed it in as Vin fired. The Zeros came back around and Vin opened fire. JD could hear another gun across the runway. Vin hit one of the enemy planes and it banked left trailing smoke. One of the other Zeros made a strafing run right for their bunker. They both dropped behind the sandbags and watched as the plane went over. Once the plane was passed Vin was back on the gun. Vin tried to get another plane but he missed. Vin and JD were concentrating so hard on one Zero they forgot about the other. The second one came in low and dropped his bombs on the runway. JD couldn't believe how loud the explosions were. Neither of them was prepared as one went off a few yards away. The last thing JD remembered was something heavy landing on his back.
Chris fired on one of the Zeros and missed. The enemy plane came around for another run heading right for the bunker where he and Buck had taken cover. They hit the deck as bullets ripped into the sandbags surrounding the bunker. Chris could hear Vin firing across the way as he stood up and took possession of the gun. The Zeros weren't going after the Corsairs. Chris thought that was odd until he saw the bombs on the underside of the third plane, an instant before the Japanese pilot dropped them on the airstrip. Chris and Buck were again forced to take cover as the bombs exploded on impact. After dropping their payload, the two remaining Zeros broke off and headed for home. Chris stood up and looked around. There were three gapping holes down the runway, which would make it impossible to use.
"Oh shit!" Buck cursed beside him.
Chris turned to see what he was cursing at. That's when he saw the huge hole close to the bunker Vin and the new kid were in. Chris scrambled over to the bunker but Buck reached it first. He jumped down and began to move the heavy sandbags that had collapsed on top of Vin and JD. Chris climbed down and tried to help, but the small space made it difficult to work.
"Pass them up here, Chris," Josiah called reaching down his hands.
They started passing the sandbags up to the others. As Buck removed one of the bags he revealed JD's upper body. The kid was feebly moving around.
"JD stay still," Buck yelled. "Vin's on top of you and so are sandbags."
When Buck said Vin's name the pile of sandbags began to move. Chris pulled up a sandbag to find Vin pushing it from the other side. The lieutenant had a bloody nose and seemed to be disoriented.
"Easy, Vin," Chris said gripping his shoulder. "We'll have you out in a minute."
Vin settled back as they removed the last of the weight pinning him and JD down. Chris helped him sit up and he blinked owlishly at him. Chris knew Vin's ears were probably ringing from the bomb going off so close, but he didn't appear to be seriously hurt. He decided to get him out of the bunker and then check him over. Chris helped the young lieutenant to his feet, and he gasped with pain and grabbed his side. Josiah and Nathan reached down to pull him out.
"Be careful with him," Chris cautioned. "I don't know how bad he's hurt."
The two big men carefully eased the smaller one out of the ruined bunker as Chris turned to Buck to help with JD.
"Easy, Kid, we got ya," Buck said as he helped JD sit up.
"Damn," JD cursed as he put his hands over his ears.
"Ears ringing?" Buck shouted.
"A little," JD admitted.
"Come on let's get you out of here," Buck said as he pulled JD to his feet.
Ezra offered Buck a hand as he climbed out of the bunker. They reached down to grab JD's hands as Chris steadied him. They pulled JD up and sat him down. Ezra turned back to the bunker and helped Chris up. Chris went over to where Josiah was holding a rag to Vin's nose.
"How is he?" Chris asked.
"I'm fine," Vin mumbled through the rag.
"Right," Chris said. "Nathan take the two of them over to the infirmary and have them checked out."
"Will do," Nathan said as he went to get a jeep.
"I'm alright," Vin protested.
"Yeah you look it," Josiah said as he removed the rag. "Your nose is still bleeding."
"Shit," Vin cursed as Josiah put the rag back.
"How you feeling JD?" Chris asked as he turned to the new pilot.
"Ears are ringing," JD said. "Never knew they were so loud."
"Yeah, well, when they go off right next to you, you gotta expect that," Buck said chuckling.
Nathan pulled up with a jeep and Buck helped JD climb in back. Buck climbed in with him and they waited for Vin. Josiah helped Vin stand and they all noticed how he guarded his ribs on the right side, even though he continued to protest that he was 'fine.' Chris just shook his head as Josiah helped the complaining young officer into the jeep. When they were finally settled Nathan pulled away.
"It looks like Lieutenant Tanner might be out of commission for a few days," Ezra commented.
"Just like our runway," Josiah added.
Chris turned to look at the damage now that his men were taken care of. The Japanese only dropped four bombs but they had done enough damage to cripple their airstrip. They wouldn't be using the runway for a few days. Chris cursed under his breath.
"Guess I'll have to get on the horn and get the Seabees out here to fix it," Chris said.
"Good luck," Josiah said.
"Ezra, go find out if there was any damage to the planes," Chris said.
"Aye sir," Ezra said as he walked away.
"Josiah, see what damage was done to the rest of the camp."
"Can do," Josiah said.
Chris headed for the radio shack. He just hoped the Japs hadn't knocked out communications. As Chris walked past some of the tents he heard a distance rumble of thunder.
"That's all we need," Chris sighed.
+ + + + + + +
The storm hit with all its fury and hour after the bombing. Soon the holes in the runway were filled with water. Chris cursed the rain as he dashed from the radio shack to the officers club. It was a short distance but Chris was soaked as he pushed open the door and walked inside. Chris wasn't in a good mood. He'd argued with the Seabees about fixing the runway for over an hour. He was finally forced to call General Moore and have him get on the Seabee case. He knew the Seabees were stretched thin, with too few men and too little equipment, and too many repairs to be made. But damn it, he needed his runway. Without it, there was no reason to be there. With the general giving them a push, the Seabees would be there tomorrow. Chris stalked to the bar and Buck handed him a whiskey as soon as he was close. Chris downed it quickly and Buck handed him a towel.
"Thanks," Chris said as he dried his hair. He looked around and saw Vin and JD were missing. "How bad?"
"They're fine," Buck said knowing exactly whom he meant. "JD was just shaken up."
"And Vin?" Chris asked turning to Buck. "He was guarding his ribs."
"They aren't broken," Nathan said as he walked up to the bar and leaned over to get a beer. "Just bruised. Doc wrapped them with Vin complaining the whole time."
"So where are they?"
"Sleeping," Buck answered. "Me and Nate dropped them off at their tents."
"At least that's good news," Chris sighed and threw back another whiskey.
"I have more good news," Ezra said from the table where he was shuffling cards. "The planes received no damage and Yosemite says my plane should be fixed in a couple of days."
"That's good," Chris smiled. "Josiah?"
"Minor damage to the camp," Josiah said. "They went for a specific target and that was the runway. Couple of tents got riddled with holes from the gunfire but that's about it."
"So now that we know this delightful encampment and all of its occupants are still in one piece, would anyone care for a game of cards?" Ezra asked holding up the deck.
They all agreed and spent the rest of the evening enjoying each other's company. Two hours later they were still playing cards when Chris heard the rain beginning to slack off. Ezra was raking in another pile of winnings when Chris decided to call it a night. The card game broke up and Chris went outside. The rain had stopped and Chris stood looking up at the full moon. He pulled a pack of Lucky Strikes out of his pocket and pulled one out. He lit it with his lighter and took a deep drag. He let out the smoke savoring the taste.
He walked to his tent slowly so that he could finish his cigarette, taking one last drag and dropping the butt on the ground and stepping on it before he pulled the tent flap back and ducked inside. He moved to the center of the tent and switched on the light. Vin was sleeping on his back with his right arm draped over his eyes. The white bandages around his chest were clearly visible. Normally Vin would be on his stomach with one arm draped over the side of the cot. Chris shook his head when he saw Vin had forgotten to pull the mosquito netting around the cot. Before he closed the net Chris pulled a blanket over the sleeping lieutenant then went over and sat on his cot. Normally an officer of his rank wouldn't be sharing a tent with a junior officer but Chris didn't care. Vin was quiet and didn't snore and he enjoyed the company. Chris pulled off his boots then stripped down to his boxers and T-shirt. He climbed into his bunk and pulled the mosquito netting around it. He lay back with a sigh and waited for sleep.
Buck followed Chris's example and headed for bed. He was glad JD decided to share a tent with him. He missed having one of the guys to talk to at night. Not that Vin or Chris ever talked much. Buck ducked under the flap startling JD awake.
"It's okay, Kid, it's just me," Buck said.
"Sorry to be so jumpy," JD apologized.
"You'll get used to things," Buck said as he turned on the light.
"Never expected it to be like this," JD said looking around.
"Just think of it as being out camping," Buck laughed sitting on his cot and pulling off his boots.
"I guess," JD sighed, uncertainly.
"Don't worry, JD you'll be fine," Buck said as he stripped. "Don't forget to close your mosquito net. Now that the rain stopped they'll be out with a vengeance."
"Okay," JD said sitting up and looking at the gauzy netting.
"Here like this," Buck said as he showed JD what to do.
They finally got JD's closed and Buck turned out the light and crawled into his cot. JD could see him fumbling with the netting in the moonlight. Buck finally settled and JD listened to the sounds of the insects.
The rain finally stopped towards dawn leaving everything a soaking mess. Chris stretched in his cot then sat up. The sun was just starting to come up and already it was hot. He sighed and pushed back the mosquito netting. Swinging his feet to the floor, he glanced at Vin. The younger man was in his customary position stretched out of his stomach. Chris tried to move quietly so he wouldn't disturb him. He walked to his footlocker and pulled out clean clothes.
"Damn, Major, do you have to make so much noise," Vin complained.
"You know, an officer of my rank doesn't have to share a tent," Chris warned as he pulled on a pair of lightweight khaki shorts.
"Whatever," Vin said, not impressed with Chris's reference to rank. It wasn't that he disrespected the man... quite the opposite. He just felt comfortable with Chris, like he had known him for a long, long time instead of just a few months. Larabee was the first real friend he'd ever had.
Chris watched as Vin cautiously sat up. The lieutenant was his usual graceful self as he swung his legs over the side of the cot. Vin pushed the mosquito netting to the side and just sat there. Chris took pity on him and got him some clothes.
"Thanks," Vin said. "Think you can give me a hand getting these bandages off?"
"I don't think so," Chris said shaking his head.
"Come on," Vin protested. "It's too damned hot!"
"Sorry," Chris said as he pulled a T-shirt over his head.
Vin slowly pulled a T-shirt over his own head. Getting his arms through the holes was pure agony. His muscles had stiffened up overnight and he could hardly move. He knew Chris was watching him but wasn't going to give him the satisfaction of seeing him wince. Vin leaned over to pull on his shorts but once he bent over he was stuck.
"Stubborn ass!" Chris snarled grabbing the shorts.
Chris helped Vin into the shorts but Vin drew the line at Chris buttoning them. When Vin was dressed they headed for the mess tent. As the cook dropped reconstituted powdered eggs on Vin's tray he made a face.
"Ain't hungry," he decided.
"Eat it," Chris ordered as he pushed Vin along.
The cook added bacon and some toast. The next stop was the coffee. Vin knew it was the only decent thing available. They sat at a table in the corner and watched the flight mechanics file in. Vin took a cautious bite of his eggs.
"Aw hell," Vin cursed as he chased the eggs with a mouth full of coffee. "What I wouldn't give for some real eggs."
"Yeah, well, keep dreaming," Chris said as he ate.
Buck came in with JD and they walked over to the table and sat down. JD had a heaping plate off eggs with extra bacon and a glass of milk on the side.
"Damn, JD," Vin cringed. "You like powdered eggs?"
"They ain't so bad," JD replied. "As long as there's ketchup."
"Sorry, Kid," Buck laughed.
"No ketchup?" JD asked looking at Buck as if he lost his mind.
"Don't worry you don't have to eat them," Buck laughed.
"Hell yeah he does," Vin objected. "If Chris forces me to eat 'em then he has to. And you gotta drink that powdered milk, too." Vin made a face. The milk was even worse than the eggs.
"Just eat what you want JD," Chris said.
"Someone get up on the wrong side of the bed?" Buck asked.
"Yeah I did," Vin growled. "You got a problem with that?"
"Nope," Buck smiled and dug into his breakfast.
JD ate as much of the eggs as he could while Buck teased Vin mercilessly. At first JD thought he wouldn't fit in but everyone seemed to accept him, especially Buck. He already treated JD like a little brother and they only just met. The one person JD wasn't sure about was the major. Chris Larabee had a way of looking at you that made you question your worth. JD mentioned this to Buck and he just laughed. Buck told him that was the famous Larabee glare. While they were eating Josiah and Nathan joined them. Vin answered everyone in one-syllable responses whenever someone asked him something.
"Vin sure is talkative this morning," Josiah observed.
"Can't blame him," Nathan said. "I bet he's stiff and sore."
"And hot," Vin complained. "Chris wouldn't help me outta these here bandages."
"Good thing too," Nathan scolded. "Doc told you to leave them on for a couple of days."
"Yeah right," Vin grumbled.
Chris was about to argue with Vin when Yosemite came over to the table to let him know the Seabees had arrived. He also told Chris Ezra's plane would be fixed by that afternoon.
"Thanks, Yosemite," Chris said. "Tell them I'll be right there." Yosemite left and Chris turned to Vin. "I want you and JD to take it easy today."
"Yes dad," Vin said sarcastically. "Come one JD, I'll show you around the island."
"The both of you stay away from the Seabees," Buck warned. "Most of them are bigger than the two of you combined."
Vin stood up and headed for the door followed by JD. They all noticed how stiff Vin was walking.
"Damn he's gotta be hurtin'," Buck said. "Maybe I better keep and eye on them."
"Leave them be, Buck," Chris said. "Vin could do with some company his own age."
"Well alright, guess I'll go do some laundry," Buck said and headed for the door.
The four officers left the mess tent then headed in different directions. Chris wished he could just relax but he knew he had to deal with the Seabees. This was not going to be a good day.
+ + + + + + +
JD spent the morning exploring the island with Vin. Vin explained the island was about five miles wide and eleven miles long. They were lucky that the island had a natural spring so they could have fresh water. Some of the islands being used didn't and the water was shipped in barrels and it always tasted strange.
JD learned that Vin had spent most of his early childhood in an orphanage. When he was eleven he was sent to a cattle ranch in Texas. That's where he learned to fly. His foster father was a pilot and supplemented the family's income crop dusting in the area. The old crop duster had two seats and Vin always went with him. One day he just decided to let Vin fly it and he'd done it ever since. JD was curious how Vin met Chris since they seemed so close.
"Met him for the first time at flight school," Vin smiled.
"Really?" JD said surprised.
"Yeah," Vin said. "It was really something. Felt like I'd known him all my life."
"You want to hear something strange?" JD asked.
Vin shook his head no and JD continued. "I was real scared coming to this outfit. You guys had one heck of a reputation. I didn't think I'd fit in."
"That's not crazy," Vin said.
"That's not the strange thing," JD continued. "When I first saw Buck I could have sworn I knew him. Then he started treating me like a kid brother."
"Happens that way sometimes," Vin said. "Like with me and Chris."
"Still kind of strange," JD smiled.
Vin shrugged. "I reckon. But Major Larabee, he picked us all for a reason. Maybe that's got somethin' to do with it."
JD nodded. "Thanks Vin."
"For not thinking I'm crazy," JD said.
"I didn't say that," Vin laughed. "Come on I'll show you the beach."
Vin walked JD to a beautiful lagoon with a white sand beach. JD had never seen water so blue. The harbor of Boston was always murky and brown. The sun felt wonderful on JD's stiff muscles.
"Well, kid, I don't know about you but since they said take it easy I'm gonna stretch out on the sand," Vin said.
Vin suited actions to words and found a spot in the shade of a large palm tree. He stretched out on the warm sand with an audible sigh. JD smiled and joined the lieutenant. Next thing he knew he was falling asleep listening to the sound of the surf.
+ + + + + + +
Chris had been right: this had turned out to be a terrible day. The Chief in charge of the Seabees was a cantankerous old coot who argued with Chris until midmorning, claiming that the holes in the runway had to be filled properly before they could be resurfaced. Chris didn't know why the hell they couldn't just dump a truckload of gravel in each one and be done with it. They finally got started around noon, but at one o'clock the Chief declared that it was too hot to apply the overcoat to the airstrip, and that it would fail to cure properly. Chris accused him and his men of wanting to take an extended lunch, which was probably unwarranted, but hell, he needed that goddamned runway. Luckily, Ezra had been there to prevent the Major and the Chief from drawing weapons on each other.
Then, Ezra bet the Chief he couldn't find a way to have the runway finished by 1600. The Chief wanted to know what was at stake. When he found out Ezra was willing to bet a case of five-year-old scotch against a dollar from each of the Seabees, the bet was on. The Seabees went to work figuring out an alternative method for patching the holes that would enable them to win the bet.
"Is it possible to finish that job in three hours?" Chris asked.
"Of course not," Ezra said confidently. "If it was, I wouldn't have made the wager."
"But, what if they do?"
"Well, then I would say their reward will be well earned...."
Chris frowned. Seabees could be tough customers if you pissed them off. "Ezra, you do have a case of five-year-old scotch, right?"
"My dear, Major Larabee... risk is the spice of life."
"I take that means 'no.' Damn it, Ezra..."
A fight between his men and the Seabees would be the just the ending to the whole stinking day.