This story is by Shane Fitzpatrick and was part of our 2017 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the Summer Writing Contest stories here.
Gunnery Sergeant John Keogan stroked the Beretta M9 handgun on his lap, assessing his options. The air conditioning blasted chilled air from the vents in his Ford F150, yet he sweated uncontrollably. He breathed deeply, blowing a heavy breath out with gusto.
John set the gun down, with hands shaking. Twelve years of front line service hadn’t brought these nerves. He glanced at the entrance of the Naval base and looked directly opposite toward the “Back on the Block” bar. He slipped off his tie and Marine paraphenalia, putting his sidearm away with consideration.
Crossing the road, he stalled at the door. John twirled his fathers’ ring clockwise on his baby finger. He pushed open the door, taking a second or two for his eyes to adjust to the darkness.
He ordered a large tumbler of Jameson 12 year old whiskey. It sat in front of him for an age. The countertop was etched with years of misuse and brawl stains of private wars. The hum of aircraft engines rang out every time the front door was ajar.
“One for the door,” was how his Dad, Sean Keogan, had put it. In Irish it was “Deoch an Doras.” John tried to speak the language, but couldn’t manage the phonetics.
His therapist had advised appeasement. She told him to think and work like a Marine. Work things out methodically and logically. John agreed, but suspected otherwise.
Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Cheevers was arriving on a private jet.
John had two hours to prepare. He had apologised profusely to everyone – the Colonel was his last call.
As he anticpated the Irish gold sliding down his throat, the liquid started to ripple, bouncing in the centre of the glass. He didn’t get to whet his lips.
The ground shuddered underfoot and the bar was filled with a grumble, metal shrieking on concrete. The front wall vanished and a rush of air threw him off his barstool into a jukebox.
His eyes streamed as he strained to focus. His ears dulled, like being underwater. Heavy grey smoke drifted down as the polystyrene tiles above began to catch fire. Like a switch, his hearing returned, booming stillness and spitting sparks. Nothing moved, aside from the dust.
The plane filled the gaping hole in the wall, with a partially spinning propeller straddling the top of the bar.
John stepped over debris as the smell of jet fuel and burning plastic infiltrated his senses. Carefully peering through the fuselage, he saw one passenger aboard.
Blood was dripping from the side of the passenger seat, impaling his left leg. He was squashed in against the window, unable to move. Dirt and bruising obstructed his face.
John checked his pulse, sensing a faint beat. He was unresponsive.
He saw Naval insignia on his jacket. A silver oak leaf button shone from the shoulder epaulette, indicating Lieutenant Colonel.
His phone was crushed. The screen was shattered with no signal.
John removed his own shirt, tying it in a knot above the leg wound. The Colonel’s pallor was pale. His father’s words rang loudly in his ears.
“Make amends John.”
The antiquated payphone at the end of the bar had a dial tone. Response would be quick.
Grabbing a bottle of whiskey, John dashed back inside.
Checking the Colonel again, he flickered. Pinching his earlobe with his fingernail, he got a reaction. He saw recognition in the eyes.
“What the hell are you doing here Gunney?”
“Just making sure you’re okay Colonel.”
“What’s going on?”
“You’ve been in a plane crash Sir, but you’re still alive.”
‘That’s just my luck. I survive a bloody crash and see your face first.”
“I apologise for that Sir, but assistance is en route.”
“What’s the state of play Gunney?”
“You have a head wound sir and an armrest stuck in your thigh. The temporary turniquet I’ve put there seems to be stemming the bleeding. I’m going to pour whiskey on it to clean it.”
“And what about the smell of fuel Gunney? Give me a break! Sure add whiskey to sparks! That will be okay!”
“I don’t agree Sir. I’m looking after things in priority. Keeping the wound clean will help. Staying put is best for you. If you move, that bleeding could get out of control. Assistance is on the way.”
“I disagree totally Gunney! Get me out of here! And what the hell are you doing in San Diego?”
“Sir, I was actually coming to see you.”
“Why would I want to see you? You’re a shmuck!”
“I was coming to apologise. For ending your marriage.”
“I don’t give a rats ass about your apology! I care about getting out of here! You couldn’t keep it in your pants! You were like butter in the summer heat to her. You! A sergeant under my command!”
“Well again sir, I apologize, I am sorry.”
“Sorry is a word of the weak of heart.”
“Fair enough sir. I understand your anger. But, I learned a lot from my father.”
“He was a weak-ass General. Like father, like son.”
“I’m sorry you feel that way Colonel.”
“What are you doing Gunney?”
“I have apologized and you’re not being nice. Now I’m enacting your training. Cutting my losses.”
John slipped the turniquet off, out of reach of the Colonel.
“You’re going to kill me! Please put it back on!”
“You’re going to have a drink first. You’re going to sample a taste of heaven before you enter hell. Then I might consider putting the turniquet back on.”