Russ Rittgers a ruined Life



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Gut. Chip, Friday afternoon we go to Jena again. A nice drive, less than two hours. You will live at the house where we stay overnight. She is a friend, not a student, interested in law and government.”
***
“Dad, this is Gertrude Wiegert. She’s from Jena and will be staying with us for the next few days,” Chip said as Gertrude slipped off her backpack.
Charles Jenkins, Sr., Chip’s father, Chad to everyone who knew him, looked at Chip over the top of his copy of the Grantville Times. “O…kay. Is this something new I should be knowing about? You’re going to have underage girls coming in from out of town regularly, disrupting your mother’s and my daily schedule, eating at odd hours and possibly making loud noises after your mother and I have gone to bed?”
Dad had a weird sense of humor.
“Aw, come on, Dad! Nothing like that. She’s here to teach me German, one-on-one for a few days after Army hours. I’m, um, going to be moving to Jena, at least for a while, working with the Germans there on their Committee of Correspondence.”
“Nice of you to tell us before you took off,” his father said evenly. “Not that your leaving town would be the worst thing to happen at this point in your life. So when did you make this momentous decision?” Dad also enjoyed using words and phrasing to throw Chip and his sister off.
“Well, actually this afternoon, a little after five.”
“Uh-huh. Why don’t you go get your mother? She’s in the kitchen.”
“Hello, dear,” Deborah smiled as she entered there room with Chip a moment later. “What’s going on?”
“Chip’s headed for Jena in a few days,” Chip’s dad replied. “He’s going to be working with Gretchen Higgins’ Committees of Correspondence for a while.”
“Oh! Well… And this girl will be helping him?”
“Sort of. Gertrude, this is Chip’s mother. Debbie, she’ll be staying with us until he takes off to help him learn German.”
“All right. In fact, it wouldn’t hurt us to get more practice in German. She can sleep in the bedroom Chip used until you two built another for him in the basement,” she suggested.
…The last renovation/modification to their home was the finishing of the basement five years ago, which included Chip’s bedroom. Ten years ago, as the mines were continuing to downsize or close and people leaving for the cities, prices for good local housing had dropped drastically. Charles and Debbie sold their medium-sized but relatively modern home and purchased the grand old Williams home for a song. Two story, five bedroom, all-brick exterior, slate roof house with ten-foot ceilings, wide dark oak interior trim and a magnificent oak stairway in the middle of town. That was the good news. On the down side, it was uninsulated, had twenty old double-hung six-over-six pane windows, still used the coal furnace in the basement, had cast iron radiators and antique plumbing and electrical service. Debbie loved it. Charles was less than thrilled.
So Charles had its problems fixed and never told Debbie how much it cost. He told Chip while they were renovating his room that he didn’t even want to remember.
“Have either of you had dinner?” Debbie asked Gertrude and Chip, the smile fixed on her face, hiding any emotion. “Charles and I ate a couple hours ago with Missy. Meatloaf and we have plenty of leftovers since someone… wasn’t home at dinner time.”
Chip grinned. “That would be me. I haven’t had anything to eat yet. Gertrude?”
Nein. Ich ass um sechs.” It took a moment for her meaning to sink in that she’d already eaten at six this evening.
Ah, sehr gut, Gertrude. Funf minut und wir haben fur Chip sein…” Debbie stumbled.
Essen,” prompted Gertrude.
***
“No,” said Frank Jackson coldly Thursday afternoon as Chip stood at parade rest in front of the general’s desk. “I am not going to release you from the Army into civilian life so you can go play college boy even if you are going to work with the Committees of Correspondence. You’re in for the duration, got it?”
“Aw, come on, Mr. Jackson!” Chip pleaded, breaking his position, hands outstretched. “I’d be doing a lot more good for the country helping to keep the Jena Committee organized than I could ever do carrying around a rifle. I mean, if one more rifle is all that critical, then we need a whole lot more than one rifle.”
“I said no and I mean no,” Frank reiterated. “Jeff Higgins and Gretchen will have to find someone else to assist them. In fact, the only reason Jeff is officially allowed to go anywhere is to serve as a military escort for Gretchen.”
“Mr. Jackson, they’re leaving with the supply truck tomorrow afternoon to go up there!” Chip said desperately. “I’ve been running around all day between my duties to get Sergeant Szymanski’s and Captain Benton’s signatures on my request for discharge as well as clearing payroll and supply. I’ve got everything done, made arrangements, packed my clothes, everything!”
“Then you’ll just have to change them back, now won’t you?” Frank said icily, his eyes narrowing. “In fact,” he continued as he rose from his chair and came around the desk to put his face inches away from Chip’s, “I don’t like you. I don’t think I’ve ever liked you. Furthermore, I expect to continue not liking you for a very long time. You got that, Private? You know what else? I’m not only not going to approve your request, I’m not even going to disapprove it because you can’t have two chits with the same request in the system. It’s going to sit in the bottom of my in-basket until it falls to pieces. Do you understand me?” he coldly asked into Chip’s face.
Chip’s face burnt with fury and he literally saw Frank Jackson through a haze of red. “That’s… not… fair,” cutting the words into discrete chunks, keeping a tight grip on his emotions and body.
“Who said the Army’s fair?” Frank responded, his eyes narrow. Chip had no way of knowing how the Army had fought him every step of the way about getting Diane out of Vietnam after they were married. Following his discharge, he’d had to borrow money from everyone he knew to fly back to Vietnam as a tourist, bribe the endless numbers of local officials to get her passport and then fly her back to the U.S.A. “Winning is the Army way. Now get out of my office.”
“Mr. Jackson!” Chip pleaded.
“That’s General Jackson, Private! And if that door slams when you leave, you’re going to be digging latrines for the month. Dismissed!”
Tight-lipped, his face burning in anger and moving even more tightly, Chip turned around and leaving, closed the door gently. Okay, Plan B.
***
Friday morning over a breakfast of pancakes and sausage with the whole family except Chip who was doing PT with the rest of his company, his mother said, “I’m dropping into English now because I want everyone to understand what I’m saying. Gertrude, would you like to move in with us permanently? I’ve talked it over with Chad, Chip and Missy and asked Gretchen yesterday afternoon if she’d mind. She said it was a great idea. What do you think?”
Her own warm room? A large comfortable bed she didn’t have to share with three or more people? A nice family to stay with while she was in school? “Oh, yes! That would be great, Frau Jenkins! But I still have one question. Why do you call Chip… Chip, not Charles?”
Chad laughed. “Well, at various points we called him Junior, Charlie and Chuck. Then one day when he was about two, he got into the potato chips we’d left on the coffee table for a party. By the time Deborah found him, potato chips were everywhere. All over the floor, the couch, the table, his clothing, even in his hair. And he was still stuffing them into his mouth. So we started calling him, Chip. Verstehen Sie?”
Verstehe Du,” Gertrude corrected with a broad smile. “Parents use ‘du’ for their children. But one more question. What’s a potato chip?”
***
“Shut up, Steve, I’ve heard all I want to hear about that crap,” Chip said tightly as he and his two best friends stood well away from the rest of his company in the large drill hall after PT Friday morning. They’d been aggravating him all morning about Frank turning down his request.
“What’s the matter, Chip? Gonna cry?” Kenny Washaw teased him.
“You too, Kenny. Cut it out.”
“You going to challenge us to a duel like you did MacKay? Run around the room, flapping your arms, tears running down your face?” Steve responded cruelly, not even bothering to lower his voice.
“I’m warning you,” Chip bit back, his hands balling into fists, his right arm drawing back.
“Boo-hoo! Boo-hoo!”
Chip’s fist flashed forward, smacking into Steve’s belly. An explosive gasp came out of Steve’s mouth as he folded slightly.
“Why you sonuvabitch!” Kenny yelled, spinning Chip around to face him and then sinking his fist into Chip’s hardened stomach. It hurt but Chip came back with a right to Kenny’s jaw that sent him turning.
Steve lunged at Chip who spun away like a toreador, tripping him and punching his fist into Steve’s kidney section going away. Kenny was back and although his fist missed Chip’s mouth, it caught the edge of Chip’s cheekbone but Chip backhanded Kenny, hitting the side of his nose, causing blood to spray from it.
Steve rushed at Chip again, his fists forward and Chip first kicked him in the belly before backhanding him like Kenny but to the mouth. Kenny grabbed Chip’s right arm and punched him in the belly. Chip gasped for breath but wiggled loose from Kenny, pulling Kenny into Steve’s path and then hit Steve again. From there on, it was a slugging match with Chip holding his own.
“Atten-hut!” and all three young men stopped in mid-fight. Chip looked up and there was Frank Jackson angrily striding swiftly towards them. The open door behind him illuminated the hall in bright sunlight as Captain Benton and his sergeant rushed over from the side of the hall.
Kenny and Steve, their faces bloodied, stood at attention as best they could while Chip leaned forward, his hands on his knees blowing hard, his face flushed and sweaty, bowed but still unbloodied.
“What’s going on here?” Frank furiously inquired, a severe frown crossing his face.
“Fight, sir,” his company sergeant, Gus Szymanski said. “Me and the captain were looking the other way, recording the PT run times when we heard the guys hollering, ‘Fight’. We were running over here when you came in.”
“Sorry, General,” Captain Benton followed him up. “Happened so fast, didn’t have a chance to stop it before you came in the door.”
Frank eyed them narrowly, easily recognizing Chip and the other two. “KP all next week,” he stated concisely to Sergeant Szymanski who jotted it down next to their names on his clipboard. “Carry on, Captain,” and he began to walk away.
“Who the fuck cares, Frank?” Chip bellowed, his voice echoing through the drill hall.
Frank stiffened and spun around. If he had been John Simpson, he would simply have had the captain and sergeant escort Chip to the stockade until it was time for his court martial. But Frank had topped out as an Army buck sergeant thirty years earlier and was a staunch union man. He was used to a more hands-on approach to discipline. “What… did… you… say, Private?” Frank bit out each word, his face reddening.
Chip was in the position of a tired athlete, now standing, leaning slightly forward, his chin slightly cocked over his advanced right shoulder, that leg also in front but with arms and hands hanging, sweat pouring down from his short cut hair onto his face.
“I said, who the fuck cares, Frank?” Chip responded defiantly, the sound again filling the otherwise silent hall.
“Chip!” Captain Benton warned.
“What you going to do to me, Frank?” Chip continued loudly. “Make me dig latrines until my hands bleed and my back goes out?”
“I can think of a lot worse than that, Private,” Frank said quietly, his face flushed, barely bridling his temper.
“I don’t doubt it a bit, Frank,” Chip continued, his every word filling the hall. “Just like you stabbed me in the back every time you talked with Julie until you finally turned her against me. I thought that should have made you happy as a lark, Frank.”
“Why you little…” Frank started, his fists gathered.
“Go ahead, Frank! I dare you. Right here on the chin. Knock me out. Go ahead, General God Almighty John Simpson Jackson!”
“You… bastard!” Frank roared, bulling forward against Chip who dodged him as easily as he had defensive backs just before Captain Benton wrapped his arms around Frank.
“You can’t, General. You can’t. If Eisenhower couldn’t keep Patton in charge of his army after that slapping incident, you think Mike could possibly keep you in your position if you clobber him? Simpson would crucify him,” the captain gasped frantically as Frank violently tried to shake himself loose. “You know Chip would press charges.”
Frank stopped struggling against the captain. “Let me loose, Captain,” he said tersely and the former coach let him go. “I’ll think of something special for you, Jenkins,” he promised.
“Yeah, you won’t let up on me until I’m dead and buried, will you, Frank? Why don’t I just save you the trouble?” and Chip pulled Captain Benton’s .45 from his holster while the captain was still looking at Frank. Chip quickly pulled the slide back, pushed the safety off and brought it up towards his head.
“No!” Steve and Kenny grabbed at Chip’s arm, pushing it up above his head as Captain Benton surged forward as well, helping them.
BOOM! The hall echoed as the large caliber pistol went off. Captain Benton grabbed the pistol and turned the muzzle away from Chip as Kenny chopped Chip’s forearm, deadening the nerves of his hand, making him release the pistol.
The captain’s weapon back in his holster and secured, Frank stepped forward, Chip’s arms now secured on both sides by Kenny and Steve. “You are fucking nuts, Jenkins,” he said, his mouth tight and his eyes wide in shocked fury. “And I’m going to kick your goddamn whacko ass out of the Army right now. Sergeant, take charge of your men.” He turned and began to walk away from the silent three privates.
Captain Benton hurried out of the drill hall to catch Frank. “Uh, you can’t do that, General.”
“What? Why the hell not?” Frank furiously glared at the captain as he yanked the door to his office open.
“Not that soon, anyway. It’s in the regs, sir. To kick him out as mental, he has to have a hearing by a doctor and Doc Adams is swamped these days. Doc Nichols and Doctor Abrabanel are up in Jena talking with the dean of medicine and giving talks to some of the university professors for the next two weeks. There has to be some other way.”
“Jena! That’s it. I’ll send the punk up there. I threw that bastard’s chit in the bottom of my basket,” he grumbled, fishing out the document. “If Jenkins wants to blow out his goddamn brains, let him do it there!” and Frank angrily scrawled his signature on the chit.
***
“Have you gone completely out of your mind?”
“Oh, hi, Julie,” Chip said mildly, wearing an innocent expression as she stood on his front porch glowering at him, wearing tight-fitting jeans, plaid shirt and a light jacket. “Come on in,” he said, opening the door for her. “Guess you got an earful from Uncle Frank.”
“Uncle Frank? I haven’t seen him in days. Karen told me,” Julie said quickly as she entered. “She was in the drill hall and saw the whole thing. Have you gone totally off your rocker, trying to commit suicide?”
“Karen saw the whole thing? What did she tell you?” Chip asked, his eyebrows raised, a slight smile curving his mouth and his eyes twinkling.
“Well, she told me about the gun going off, scaring the daylights out of everyone, what you were yelling at Uncle Frank and how you and Steve and Kenny had been… Oh, my God!” Julie stopped, her hand covering her mouth and her eyes widening. “Omigod, Omigod,” she repeated more slowly, a half smile on her face, moving her hand from her face, slowly raising it, pointing her finger at Chip who stood there, his smile widening until it spread across his face.
“Omigod, Chip, you did it. You finally drove Uncle Frank over the edge! That one act play that Ms. Higham dropped because she wouldn’t let you guys bring a pistol, not even one a toy one to school, after you and Steve and Kenny spent two weeks blocking and getting the fight scene just right. You blew Uncle Frank’s mind!” she whooped.
Chip chuckled. “We did have to improvise the scene but for God’s sake, don’t tell anybody, at least not until after I’m long gone. It’d get the other guys in trouble including Captain Benton. He was so worried that the General might tell him to give the magazine to him. No way Uncle Frank could miss seeing that the next round was a blank if he really looked.”
“Ooh, you are so wicked, Chip, pushing his buttons,” Julie said, her blue eyes dancing with the saucy grin of the young putting one over on the old. “Total disrespect towards your elders including cussing and calling him John Simpson. You know he hates him with a passion.”
“That’s what made it so easy, Julie. Remember last summer when your folks went to that dentist conference in Virginia Beach and you had to stay at his place because your dad didn’t trust me not to have a sleepover with you? That 11:30 curfew Uncle Frank insisted giving really ticked you off. You had me to drive up, rap music blaring out the car window, my pants hanging halfway down my butt, and a baseball cap on sideways. Then I knocked on his door and said, ‘Yo, man! Here to pick up mah woman.’ You have no idea how hard it was to say that with a straight face. I thought he was going to have a stroke, his face got so red. Half the stuff he hates me for is because you put me up to them.”
“So you’re okay. Not suicidal at all?” Julie asked cautiously.
“No more than I was five minutes before or after you told me you wanted to break up. You know me. I blow sky high and then five, ten minutes later, I’m back to normal. MacKay last week? I was just a little drunk, that’s all. How was I to know the little guy was going to whip out a Scottish machete?”
Julie laughed easily now. She never had been able to stay mad at Chip, even though he’d embarrassed her all too often, being an insufferable jerk around all her male adult relatives, not to mention dating other, um, more willing girls occasionally. But then Chip had been her best male buddy for the past couple of years and he’d never pushed her for sex.
“Hey, I’ve got to get over to Jeff and Gretchen’s. The Army SUV to take them to Jena is going to be there in about half an hour and there is no way I want to miss that bus.”
***
Repercussions
“Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t court-martial you and those two jokers, Captain,” Frank Jackson said, frowning severely as he sat in his office chair while Captain Benton stood at attention before his desk. Chip had been gone two weeks before someone spilled the beans on how he’d maneuvered Frank to obtain his discharge from the Army. Frank had been beyond livid when he found out three hours ago and heads would roll, he’d vowed.
“Waste of scarce and valuable resources, General,” said the captain, his eyes fixed on the wall behind Frank. “Both men are exceptional soldiers and squad leaders. Personally, as you know, I have three years of experience with the US Army before rotating into the West Virginia National Guard. I have been on training duty four times since my discharge from active duty and never failed to receive less than exemplary evals. I am experienced in desert operations, having spent a year of my active duty in Saudi and Kuwait as an Infantry officer. I also spent a year in Korea close to the Demarcation Line. In short, General, I am your most experienced junior officer.”
Frank leaped from his chair, making it fall behind him and leaned forward, his palms flat on the desk glaring into the captain’s eyes. “Then, Captain Benton, with all that extensive knowledge of the United States Army and the West Virginia Nation Guard officer program, what gave you the slightest notion that it was a good idea to assist Private Jenkins in that farce played on me in the drill hall?” he frostily snapped, keeping his voice to a low growl.
“My oath of allegiance is first to the New United States, then the its army and finally to the officers appointed over me. You came in third, sir,” the captain said quietly, his eyes still fixed on the wall behind Frank’s desk.
“Did I hear you right, Captain? Are you telling me that assisting my reversal of my decision not to release Private Jenkins was something any good officer should do?” Frank asked, quietly raging.
“In my opinion, yes, General,” Captain Benton continued, eyes forward and in a neutral voice. “Your conduct, in my opinion, was based on personal animosity towards Private Jenkins and not upon a serious consideration of the circumstances. I base that remark on your blunt refusal to discuss your handling of Private Jenkins request with me that same afternoon and comments you made to me regarding him. I will say further state that in the regular Army, my major or colonel would have discussed the matter of denying the application of any of my soldiers with me. You refused to do so. Furthermore, my great-grandfather was a mineworker who fought up on Blair Mountain in ’21. I grew up with his tales of fighting unjust authority.”
Frank stopped for a moment, obviously considering the story of the Coal Mine Wars when federal troops were brought in to assist the mineowner-dominated West Virginia government against five thousand armed mineworkers. A moment later he spoke. “Did it occur to you Captain, that your… collusion with Private Jenkins in thwarting my decision might have deadly consequences?”
“That was taken into consideration, sir. Private Jenkins, the two other soldiers involved and I did a dry run of our actions with my pistol several times before we were satisfied. The entire scenario was based on a play that the three privates had worked out while in high school. As you probably have heard, blanks were in my pistol’s magazine. While they can be deadly at short distance, Privates Early and Washaw as well as myself maintained positive control of the pistol at all times. At no time did the pistol incline towards Private Jenkins’ head and it was continually pointed well above the roofline of the drill hall. I put on the safety while it was still pointed upward, sir.”
Frank shook his head in disbelief. “I cannot fucking believe you went against my will so deliberately. Fuck!” he yelled, slamming his palm on his desk.
“You are at liberty to charge myself and the two privates, sir. I will say though that I will request a full court-martial and that as the complainant, by definition you cannot sit on the Board. I would also suggest to my defense counsel that he request Chip Jenkins return from Jena and testify on my behalf defining your mental state towards him. He would tell the court of your words towards him and later as the complainant, you would be put on the stand to confirm or deny his testimony.” The captain’s eyes still had not moved from the spot on Frank’s wall.
“So you’re saying that the reason I didn’t let that little shithead go to Jena was because I hated his guts?”
“Yes, General. In fact, your last comment only confirms my opinion. In my opinion, while your actions might not precisely fit a UCMJ Article 117 violation, they were tantamount to one.”
“Goddammit, Captain! What the hell were you, some kind of barracks-room lawyer?”
“I served as prosecution and defense counsel four times during my active duty and sat on ten court-martials during my National Guard active duty training, General. As you are no doubt aware, junior officers are often tasked with counsel duty. I was only able to sit on a court when I was superior to the individuals charged.”
“So I have no recourse against you and those two privates. Is that what you are saying, Captain?” Frank raged quietly, his face red and his nostrils pinched.
“No, General, I did not say that. I only stated that if the matter goes to a court-martial that I would put on the strongest defense I was able.”
Then the captain continued. “Had you let me discuss the matter with you, General, I would have told you that if he was in my company in the Army or the Guard, at the very least I would be recommending him for NCO School at the earliest opportunity. In the regular Army, I probably would be pressuring him to apply for West Point Prep School, he’s that good.”
“Hogwash, Captain. I’ve known him his entire life. He’s a worthless snot and the punk ought to be thrown in jail for masterminding that stunt, subverting my command. Now will you quit with the shavetail lieutenant act and calling me General? Simpson might get his rocks off on that kind of action but I don’t, so cut the crap and call me Frank when we’re in private.”
“Yes sir, General, sir,” the captain responded with a broad smile, relaxing into a normal position and then seriously looked at his commander. “But with all due respect, Frank, I was his coach in basketball and his assistant coach in football. I worked with him for six months in each of the past four years if you include the time under my command here. I think I can honestly say that I know him far better than you.”
“Private Jenkins made a reasonable request with an attachment by Mrs. Higgins, the CoC leader. He forwarded his chit through the proper channels, was approved by Sergeant Szymanski and myself and had made all the preparations for his departure. You deliberately did not approve or disapprove that request in order to maintain its active status, thereby denying him even the ability to appeal your decision to anyone else within the NUS government. A Private Jenkins, whose life ambitions were frustrated by the Ring of Fire, could be made into an asset to the Army. A disaffected Private Jenkins, angry specifically with you, trust me, you do not want in your army. That is, if he didn’t desert and head for someplace like England. That ‘stunt’ as you call it, was just a very quick, limited, one-time example of his ability to organize and act.”
“Speaking of being angry specifically at you, Frank, had you considered the political consequences of your refusal to discharge him to work with the CoC?”
“What political consequences? Mike has the Army set up to be practically immune to that kind of influence. Jenkins was just a common soldier in my Army and I doubt Mike Stearns would attempt to alter my decision, even if he thought I was wrong.”
“I don’t doubt it. In fact, I suspect Gretchen Higgins would be inclined to respect your judgement in this case just as you have respected hers about who should be enlisted into the Army. What I am talking about is, have you forgotten that Grantville is still a small town with all its advantages and faults? If you had just told Jenkins he’d have to wait until he had a year in before you’d release him, that would be one thing.”
“But you didn’t. I doubt it occurred to you that our little Private Jenkins is related to every other Jenkins in town. He lived with his Grandma Jenkins for two years before high school and she takes a keen interest in him as I’ve had cause to find out over the years. She’s also a standing member of the Old Biddies of Grantville Society and they talk! Those ladies then talk to their grown-up kids after they get home from work.”
“His grandfather on his mother’s side is Willie Ray Hudson, our Secretary of Agriculture. I’ll bet Chip’s related in one way or another to a quarter of the up-timers in this town, including all the Hudsons and their kin. It wouldn’t occur to Chip to complain to his parents but the adult up-timers know everything of consequence that happens in town in less than a week. That doesn’t even count all the up-timer kids in the Army, most of whom like Chip. A reasonable deferral of his chit would be one thing but if they decided that you deliberately…, life would not be made easier for you or the Army.”
“Okay. I still say that he’s a big-headed punk.”
“Well, sir, if he was immature and big-headed, do you blame him? How many kids do you know who can quarterback a football team into the AAA championships? That takes organization and leadership, both of which the Jena CoC apparently needs.”
“If you would have talked with any of his teachers, including Melissa Mailey and now-Captain Calafano, they would have told you he always turned in his homework on time, even after week-night away basketball games. Furthermore, because I had to report to the state on our teams’ academic eligibility, I knew that not only was he in the National Honor Society but that he aced both his European History and senior Government classes. Chip had the top GPA of the football team and not counting the cross-country team, was in the top five for all our athletes. Maybe he had a big head but he’d earned all his honors.”
“Tell me, Captain. If I had just thrown him in the stockade and then given him a Section Eight or charged him with disrespect towards a superior officer, what in your considered and experienced opinion of what would have happened?”
“I think you already know, General. He would have received at the very least an administrative discharge for mental reasons and probably a dishonorable discharge. That was his greatest gamble but he’d taken steps to reduce his risk by enlisting my aid. It was my mission following your departure from the drill hall to keep your mind focused on his mental state, not his disrespect. If you had not suggested shipping him off to Jena as a resolution of the conflict, I would have found a way of suggesting it to you.
“One more thing, Frank. You were screwing over one of my men out of personal vindictiveness, not for any logical reason and everybody knew it,” Benton said intently, looking directly into his superior’s eyes. “That’s not the way to keep the respect of your troops.”
Frank stood behind his desk once again, his lips tightly pursed and his hands in fists. Then he gave up and slapped the desk. “All right, Josh, I give up. You win this round,” he grumped. “But I have to do something to the three of you or I’m going to look like a damn fool for getting caught that way.”
“No problem, Frank. Extra duty is traditional non-judicial punishment. Might I suggest guard duty and KP for the two privates and half the night duty for myself for, oh, say a month?”
“Consider it ordered, Captain,” Frank wryly smiled. “You write it up but not as NJP. The troops will figure it out.”
Then the captain gave a twist of his mouth and began chuckling.
“What the hell are you laughing about, Josh?” Frank asked, puzzled.
“The way you described Chip a few minutes ago. ‘Worthless snot’, ‘punk ought to be thrown in jail’. Sounds like the kind of guy who fifteen or twenty years ago a judge would have given the choice of joining the Army or the Marines, doesn’t it?” Josh Benton grinned.
Frank Jackson turned and stared at the captain, his eyes wide in horror at the implication. “No! No way! I will not agree to that!”
“I’m not saying you sent a future leader of our country to Jena, Frank. On the other hand, he can organize, lead and above all, we know he can think outside the box…”


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