Copyright 2003.  Bruce Martin.   All rights reserved.  No part of this document may be copied, faxed, electronically transmitted, or in any other manner duplicated without express written permission of the author.

Another Sea Story

Lou, the barber, had loaned a Sergeant Frenchette some money. Lou was certain "Frenchie" was about to bail with a set of orders. Now, I don't know if Lou practiced usury, but, to me, that's only the business of the two people doing the transaction.

It was a Monday. I was getting one of my usual twice-weekly 50-cent haircuts, with Lou on the buzzers. He was talking to the other barber. Kenny was a permanently disgruntled former black shoe sailor who left barbering in the Navy barber. He didn't like cutting hair.

"Frenchie owes me $80," Lou told Kenny. "He's got orders, and he won't take my calls."

I, a new sergeant, was acquainted in passing with Frenchie. He had close to 20 years in and had reverted from staff sergeant (E-5) to sergeant. He was in charge of the police gang at HQMC, working out of an office on the first deck, first wing. He was a scudzy-looking maggot who shined his boots with Brillo pads and Hershey bars, despite regulations requiring a high buff. Frenchie always wore fluff-dried sateen utilities. He seemed to never walk past a snuffy without trying to borrow a dollar or two. He never bought his own smokes, he smoked OP's (other people's). He probably filched four packs of Camels off of me over two years. One cigarette at a time. He worked for a retired CWO, who spent most of his time soaking suds at Links, the previously mentioned greasy spoon adjacent to the Annex.

I didn't like Frenchie. I had felt intimidated by him when I was a corporal. I liked him less when I made sergeant, but wasn't so intimidated. All good reasons, I allowed, to help Lou get his money back, without telling him or directly confronting Frenchie.

I made up plan as I went along. I started by calling my disbursing friend, Sergeant Bob Skidmore. He handled travel and advance pay at Four-Mile Run for us Company "A" enlisted pogues. Skid and I had colluded before. I asked him to call me when Frenchie drew his pay.

Meanwhile, Frenchie seemed to be laying low around the Annex. In the past, he had been quite conspicious, directing his minions loudly. I would take long detours to scope out his office -- it had double doors to accommodate a loading dock between first and second wings. He was almost impossible to spot the last week he was at HQMC. The week during which, on Monday, I had heard Lou tell Kenny of the loan about to go sour. I suspected Frenchie was about to beat feet on many of his lenders.

On Wednesday evening, Skid called me to say Frenchie had drawn his pay. The tote was in the neighborhood of $400. Frenchie had also picked up airline ticket vouchers. Skid thought Frenchie might already be detached. He was wearing civilian clothes and his wife accompanied him. Skid and I mused that she wanted to get at least a glimpse of the money.

On Thursday, when I went to get my second high-'n'-tite of the week at zero-dark hundred, I told Lou I had heard him mention that Frenchie owed him money. Frenchie owed me, too -- $20, lied to Lou. I asked if he had seen Frenchie, launching Lou into a tirade about lending money to people who had never returned it to him. He cited several examples as he removed three days growth from my head. (Remember, I worked one, two part-time jobs and my wife worked full time in the credit department at Sears on Nebraska Avenue so I could afford to serve my country, get two haircuts a week, and have spiffy uniforms.)

As soon as I returned to the DivInfo spaces -- and had our 60-cup caffeine brewery double-timing -- I used a letter-opener to access Sergeant Paul Pope's desk (he was a good Yankee Catholic from Mass, and no kin to the then Holy See, Pope Paul VI). I borrowed his phone list of "essential personnel" containing Frenchie's home number. It wasn't even 0700 yet. I called, he answered.

"Sergeant Frenchette?" I asked very formally, in response to his sleepy "Hullo."

"This is Colonel Bacchus, Code MMEA-1," I said, beginning what became the biggest -- honest to God -- lie in my Marine Corps career, and the only time I impersonated any senior rank. "Enlisted assignments, Sergeant, just in case it doesn't register with you."

Frenchie responded with the obligatory yes, sir. I pressed forward.

"I'm looking at a master set of transfer orders for Marines to Camp Butler. I see your name on 'em, and based on the by-date, I assume you are close to detaching, is that correct?" I asked, probably more confidently than I recall.

"Yessir!" Frenchie popped. "We're supposed to vacate our apartment Saturday, and then we're heading out to the Coast, sir."

"Well," I began to drive the shaft in, "it has come indirectly to my attention that you owe a civilian in the Annex a fair sum, $80, I am told. I have it in my power, Sergeant Frenchette, to modify -- or even cancel -- your orders, and believe me I will cancel your orders if the person to whom you owe the money isn't paid by 1430 today -- you understand?"

"Yes, sir!" Frenchie rejoined hesitantly. "Beg pardon, sir, but what did you say your name was?"

"Bacchus, Lieutenant Colonel Hercules Bacchus, Code MMEA-1 to be exact, Room 4312," I said, reciting my MOS for a room number. "I have someone who will tell me if you have met your obligation by the allotted time. You will not be troubled by me if you do. If you have not paid up, you will be notified tomorrow when you pick up your orders that they are cancelled."

"Yes sir, I understand, but I don't know if I can get to disbursing before 1430 today," Frenchie moaned, not knowing what I knew. "You'll find a way, I'm sure -- and don't pay your lender with a check, give 'em cash or money order, only. Clear?"

I made several trips by Frenchie's office later that morning. Just before noon, I was very surprised to spy Frenchie turned out in Winter Service "A". He was rifling through one of those blue HQMC phone books. Trying to look up a number for the strong, wine-loving Hercules Bacchus, I assumed.

I ducked into Staff Sergeant Bob Gazaway's office just down the first wing. He was out, but I grabbed his phone and dialed Sergeant Frenchette's office. The retired CWO answered. I hesitated for a second, then identified myself as Lieutenant Colonel Bacchus, Code MMEA-1 and asked to speak to Sergeant Frenchette.

"Colonel, is there something I can help you with?" the former Marine asked. "Sergeant Frenchette is detached on orders, and trying to get away today. If there's something I can do ... ."

"No, thank you, the sergeant has a task to complete before he detaches," I intoned. "I want to ask him if he needs reinforcements."

Frenchie clicked on his extension, as I heard his boss tell him who was calling.

"Sir, did you say you're Lieutenant Colonel Bacchus, Code MMEA-1?" he asked after I greeted him. "I wanted to call you but I can't find you in the directory -- there's a Major Hefty in MMEA-1, but I haven't called him yet."

"Major Hefty had a temporary assignment -- he's moved," I said, inventively. Then, I took the bluff to the max. "I'm in Room 4312 if you want to come up, or, my number is ... ." and I read Gazaway's number to Frenchie. Then, I immediately renewed the attack.

"Are you going to remain a member of Company 'A' through the weekend and into at least the next year, or, are you going to take care of your responsibility -- you only have a little more than two hours."

Lou always closed the barber shop between 1430 and 1500 -- he opened at 06 daily, remember? I made sure that I was out changing the DivInfo bulletin board by 1430 -- I did it every Friday a.m., anyway.

I kept my eyes pealed on the barber shop down the hall from DivInfo. About 1445, I was happily surprised to see Lou and Frenchie exit together. Lou was chattering -- I couldn't hear from my distance -- and Frenchie was laughing. Just before Lou headed for the ladder to exit, he extended his hand to Frenchie, slapped him on the back with the other hand, said something else, to which Frenchie laughed again.

I really don't know if Lou was given his $80 by Frenchie, but I do know that I for sure made Frenchie sweat. While he did show up in time to pay Lou, and Lou did seem as though he had gotten at least some of his money back, it's a small mystery. I never ran that "rank" scam again, and was only mentally relieved about my deed when I called Frenchie on Monday and was told he was on his way to Okinawa.

Long again, huh, and unedited. Did three yards today.

Semper fi/Bruce