By R. L. Keller
“Unfair, unfair, unfair!!!” Midshipman Fourth Class Charles Philip Morton
(Chip to his family and friends) muttered to himself. He was walking his first ‘Tour’ in the Yard
Chip wasn’t so much angry with his roommate as he was with
himself. But that didn’t keep him from
threatening the man with absolute mayhem.
Boy, really, Chip admitted. Lee
Benjamin Crane finished his junior and senior years of high school during the
same year and, because of his outstanding grades and performance for the last
several years in the Sea Scouts program the Navy ran for qualified youngsters,
was given a waiver to enter
Stuck with the unfortunate name of Edward Alexander Rump, the kid had been a bully from day one. Oh, he hid it okay from the upper classmen and instructors. But everyone in the squad he was assigned to – which, unfortunately included Chip and Lee – tried to stay out of his way. Lee had assured the rest of the gang that Eddie would ‘come around’; that it was just the combination of being a hefty young man with a slightly ridiculous name that caused his caustic attitude. Lee said that he’d most likely had to defend himself his whole life, and now it was just a habit that he’d eventually learn to break. Chip found it especially disgusting that it was Lee who kept defending Rump, because Lee was also the bully’s most frequent target. From day one the slightly overweight Rump had taken a dislike to skinny, athletic Lee and gone out of his way to pick on the kid. Chip had then gone out of his way to tell Rump, in no uncertain terms, to leave the kid alone. Unfortunately, the only thing that accomplished was that Lee then went out of his way to make sure Chip didn’t see the bruises Rump tended to leave on Lee’s torso from the surreptitious fist to the ribs that was his favorite ‘game.’ Other games included ‘accidentally’ tripping Lee as they ran around the track, or elbowing Lee any time Lee happened to inadvertently get close to Rump on the obstacle course. Somehow Rump always managed to keep the instructors from seeing him do it.
Lee wasn’t Rump’s only target. Chip could understand, if not approve, Rump’s physical retaliation against the backhanded verbal slams of which he was the target from other company members who resented his drag on their overall score. Rump was consistently the slow man in both pool swims and track, and there were grumbles that he just wasn’t putting out. It was all kept low-key, and below the radar screens of the company leaders. But that didn’t stop either the attacks themselves, or the mutterings of retaliation among the ranks.
Chip had never heard Lee say one thing about retaliation. If anything, Lee tended to go around calming down anyone else who started mouthing off about the obnoxious middie. Until the previous week. That past Wednesday Lee had gone out of his way to show Rump the best way to smooth out his freestyle swimming stroke and increase his speed, and Rump had ‘thanked’ him by elbowing Lee as the smaller youngster was climbing the ladder to exit the pool. It caused Lee’s hand to slip off the rung and his face to bang off of the side rail. As Chip walked with Lee toward the Infirmary to have a split lip checked, he started letting loose a series of ways to pay back the bully. Instead of defending Rump Lee had, very seriously, told Chip that no, it was Lee’s problem, and he’d deal with it. Chip had continued to mutter, accusing his friend of dealing with the problem by ignoring it. But Lee had assured his roomie that the bullying was about to stop.
That had been six days ago. The next evening Lee signed himself out to the library after supper to study. Chip didn’t think anything of it, although he’d already discovered that Lee had the disgusting talent for reading or hearing something once and pretty much commit it to memory. Chip hated him for it. And was extremely proud of the kid as well! Lee returned just before ‘lights out’ and Chip noticed nothing amiss in the youngster’s attitude or demeanor. The next day, during PT over the obstacle course, while Lee managed to stay out of Rump’s way, one of the other squad members didn’t. At least, that’s what Chip thought. He saw Lee frown as Wilkerson ‘just happened’ to take a misstep, fall against Rump, and knock Rump into the water pit underneath the jungle swing. A bunch of the guys started laughing at Rump, but the instructor got everyone under control, and there were no further incidents. That night Lee again signed himself out to the library. Chip had reason to go himself shortly afterward but, when he looked, couldn’t find Lee. Chip asked Lee about it when they had both returned to the room, although at different times. Lee had just shrugged and asked if there was a particular reason Chip was looking for him. Chip didn’t want to admit that he was “checking up” on the kid – he knew what Lee’s reaction to that would be – and let it drop.
The next day’s PT was swim class. Chip noticed that Rump’s strokes were starting to get better, but he was still the slowest man in the squad. That night, as Chip and several other squad members studied together around one of the bigger tables in the library there was a lot of muttering, kept low so as not to attract the attention of the supervising librarian, Mrs. Gustavson. It was rumored that ‘Miz Gust’ could take on half a dozen master chiefs single-handed and never even muss her hair. Chip didn’t think the rumor was true. She looked far too kindly a lady, and had been known to bring in cookies for the middies to munch on as they studied. Especially when Lee was there. But neither Chip, nor any of the others, was willing to take the risk. The muttering centered around the fact that “something” had to be done about Rump. Lee was present, but remained quiet as various theories were put forth on how to deal with the problem. Chip did see Lee listening intently to one possible solution – sidetracking Rump long enough to turn his part of his dorm room upside down just before the next ‘surprise’ inspection. No one was quite sure how Daniels found out that one was coming, but he’d so far proved remarkably accurate. Along that line there were half a dozen other ideas tossed out that, taken together, would add up to so many demerits that the middies were hoping the next thing to get tossed out would be Rump – out of the Academy!
Chip had watched Lee carefully while all the talk was going on. He’d already discovered that quiet, studious Lee had a wicked sense of humor coupled with a tremendous ability to “think totally outside the box.” Chip’s own sense of humor had been honed nearly to perfection by the simple process of having to survive three younger sisters. But he could happily bow to Lee’s greater talents in that area. He tried to feel Lee out on the walk back to Bancroft Hall, the dorm the middies all called Mother B, a bit later, but Lee just shrugged and changed the subject.
The next couple days, being the weekend, stayed pretty quiet. Chip had a computer workshop that took up all of Saturday and Sunday afternoon. He didn’t see much of Lee even in the evenings. When asked, Lee just said that he was busy, and nothing more.
Monday turned out to be fairly quiet as well – as quiet as the hectic life of a fourth year midshipman could be. PT that afternoon was track and as usual, Rump was the last to finish. As the rest of the class stood around while Rump struggled to complete the last lap, waiting to be dismissed, the instructor, Gunny Hamilton, gave them all a disapproving scowl and started lecturing them about why weren’t they out there encouraging Rump, acting more like a team than a bunch of rag-tag cub scouts. Lee instantly took off across the infield to meet up with Rump and run the last half lap with him. Not to be outdone, Chip and Jerry took off as well, and were slowly followed by the rest of the class. It wasn’t a happy bunch, spending the time muttering dark threats that because of Rump they all had to run the extra lap. Chip was surprised that Rump himself kept quiet. He was also surprised that Lee was running fairly close to the obnoxious Rump.
Chip stayed right behind the pair, close enough to see what happened in the last ten yards of the run, but not close enough to keep it from happening. Dillon took a misstep and just ‘happened’ to fall into Rump. The stocky middie was barely knocked off stride, and he pushed Dillon back into his own lane. Unfortunately, the shove was apparently a little over-energetic for the slender Dillon and he stumbled and fell, taking half a dozen others, including Chip, with him. As the instructor barked out the order, everyone scrambled to ‘Attention’. There followed a five minute lecture delivered in no uncertain terms about what Gunny Hamilton thought about klutzy 4th class middies, undisciplined 4th class middies, irresponsible 4th class middies, and just 4th class middies in general. As they were finally released to the showers, Chip glanced carefully around him. Almost without exception, all the young faces carried dark expressions, and the occasional muttered threat was cast toward Rump, walking just slightly apart from the rest. Chip was surprised to see one of the darkest glares, somewhat helped along by his already black hair and olive complexion, coming from Lee. Chip tried to move over closer to the youngster, maybe give him a little nudge. That was often all it took to push Lee out of the sulky moods he sometimes ended up in. But Lee hurried off to the shower. From there circumstances kept Chip one step behind the younger middie. Chip had just hit their dorm room in Mother B as Lee was leaving, ostensibly headed for the Library. But Chip got just a brief glance of something carried carefully under Lee’s notebook that he wasn’t able to identify. He started to ask Lee what it was, but the dark haired middie scurried off before Chip could stop him. Chip had a history paper that he needed to put the finishing touches to, then he headed for the library himself, getting a bad feeling. It only deepened when, after a careful search, Lee was nowhere to be found.
Now Chip was seriously worried. He’d not liked the look on Lee’s face after the incident this afternoon. It would be totally contrary to everything Lee had so far expressed or done for the younger man to do anything underhanded toward anyone else. But Chip knew just how hard Lee had been pushed, not to mention some of the other squad members Lee and Chip both had become fond of. Chip wasn’t totally sure, since his own friendship with Lee was so new, just how much Lee could take before his positive outlook would go cock-eyed. It didn’t help at all that, walking back into Mother B, he ran into Tim Hughes just coming out.
“You have any idea what your roomie is up to,” Tim asked, sort of puzzled.
Chip shook his head. “He mentioned something about the library, but I just came from there and couldn’t find him. Why?”
Tim’s expression turned worried. “Passed him on the way back from the midstore. He barely acknowledged me – just kept muttering ‘this has got to stop, this has got to stop’, like it was a mantra or something as he scurried off.”
Chip muttered an expression just loud enough that Tim heard it and raised both eyebrows. He’d never even heard Chip swear, let alone use that particular phrase. “Your Mom’s gonna wash your mouth out with soap for sure for that one,” Tim observed seriously. He’d met Chip’s family on Visitor’s Day between Plebe Summer and the beginning of regular classes.
Chip scowled. “It was her best friend, and my former Sunday school teacher, who taught it to me when I got her daughter home two hours late from the Senior Prom.” His scowl softened as Tim burst out laughing.
“Ah, now here I thought you were such a proper young Midwesterner,” Tim teased, and got a punch on the shoulder and another scowl before Chip also chuckled.
“For the most part,” he told his friend as the smile once again appeared before he grew serious again. “You have any idea where that skinny little roomie of mine was headed?” Chip clenched his fists.
Tim just shook his head. “Haven’t a clue. Sorry.”
“If he gets himself in trouble…”
“Trust me – it will be Rump who pays,” Tim interrupted him. They both nodded. Unfortunately, a couple of upper classmen walked up about then, and both younger men were kept busy with the relatively gentle hazing that could occur all too frequently in a 4th class midshipman’s life, until it was time to report back to their rooms. Lee was already back and either asleep, or doing an awfully good job of pretending to be, and Chip didn’t try to disturb him.
By Tuesday afternoon Chip was seriously confused. Whatever black mood Lee had been in the previous afternoon and evening seemed to have lifted. There had been nothing amiss when he and Lee attended to their morning routines, nor during the several classes they shared. Lee was perhaps a bit quieter, but that wasn’t all that unusual for the youngster. Chip did notice, however, a rather smug look that kept crossing Lee’s face at odd moments, and started getting a bad feeling. The last time he’d seen that particular expression was shortly before the end of Plebe Summer, the 7-week course that turned the civilians they were into the midshipmen they aspired to be. Seems that one of their detailers, an upper classman assigned to running plebe summer, was a real physical fitness demon. Midshipman 1st class Lawrence Daley took great delight in running the plebes in his company ragged. He’d require them all to run laps with him until he was red in the face. That ate into what little ‘free’ time the plebes had, and all were royally ticked at him. They grew tired of hearing, “keep running, I’m not red yet.” Two days before the end of plebe summer, Lee’s company was sure that they were going to have a little extra time until Daley decided to call them out for laps. He had a habit of wiping a damp cloth over his face during the runs, causing the plebes to hate him even more because it tended to postpone Daley’s face turning color that little bit longer. This time, when he did that after the second lap, his face came out scarlet. Someone who would remain nameless had put a harmless, colorless dye on the rag that turned red upon contact with perspiration. Daley actually took the prank with great good humor and let the company off to the chortles of his fellow Firsties. The culprit was never identified, but Chip definitely had his suspicions.
Today’s PT was swimming, and Chip was taken by surprise when Lee purposely chose the lane next to Rump. And to further confuse Chip, Lee, who was one of the fastest swimmers in the class, swam steadily a body length in front of the obnoxious middie. To Chip it looked like Lee was taunting Rump, swimming easily just out of reach. Chip just shook his head as Rump seemed to accept the challenge. Thrashing about a bit, at least toward the end of the assigned laps, Rump still managed to keep up with the usually much faster Lee and, while still the last one to finish, it was only by the barest of margins. As they headed for the showers Lee gave Chip a wink, and another one of his smug little smiles. All that did was cause Chip to shudder. Whatever Lee was planning, it wasn’t good!
The trouble started as Chip was getting ready to head for the library after supper. He had a major paper to gather research for in his French class. The paper wasn’t due for two weeks, but Chip wanted to get a head start on what was for him his hardest class. He was hoping that Lee would, as usual, be right there to walk him through the steps necessary to get a good grade. That was another thing Chip ‘hated’ Lee for – his natural talent for languages. But then, Chip supposed, it was just a byproduct of Lee’s having gone with his mother during vacations from school as she traveled all over the world seeking a good story. Lee had introduced his mom, a freelance writer, to Chip and his family on Visitor’s Day. Chip couldn’t say that he was overly impressed with the somewhat standoffish woman. She was nothing like his own rambunctious family members. But he could see that she adored her son, as he adored her, and understood a bit better, maybe, why Lee was as quiet as he tended to be.
But Lee, this evening, had other plans – at least for the
next hour. He told Chip that he’d try to
get to the library later, and rattled off a couple suggestions for the French
paper as he scooted out the door. Lee
didn’t say where he was going, and Chip started to get seriously worried. 4th Class Midshipmen had few
options when it came to where they were supposed to be at any time. And failure to be where you were supposed to
be was a serious infraction. There
tended to be a certain amount of fudging with the upper classmen, but 4th
classmen were kept under far too close a microscope for the very purpose of
keeping them out of trouble and settling them into a routine for their coming
years. Chip was getting extremely fond
of his underage roomie and didn’t want to see him getting into trouble –
especially this early in his tenure at
But Chip also wasn’t sure what he could do to stop Lee – whatever the kid was up to. He just knew that he had to do something. Unfortunately, just about the time that he decided to forget the research and try to follow Lee to wherever he was headed, he ran into half a dozen upper classmen also headed to the library. Once questioned as to his destination, he couldn’t exactly figure out a way of changing it, and merely heaved a huge sigh before following along behind the older men.
Chip’s apprehension only increased when he ran into Daniels, also gathering notes for his French paper. The middie reported that there was to be a surprise inspection just before Taps that night. Oh, no, Chip muttered silently. “You didn’t by any chance mention that to Lee, did you?” he asked out loud.
“He was standing right there when I told Levin and Hughes when we gathered in the Yard before supper,” Daniels confirmed. He apparently mis-read the look of panic on Chip’s face. “Relax. You and Crane got nothin’ to worry about. You two are the most squared away of anyone in the whole class. That’s why I didn’t bother tracking you down before this.”
Not what I’m concerned about, Chip muttered to himself, grabbed his notebook, and tried to slip unnoticed out of the library. He knew, in the pit of his stomach, that Lee was headed to Rump’s room to do ‘something’ that would cause trouble for the bully. Chip could care less about Rump. He just wanted to protect Lee.
He wasn’t fast enough. Stopping at his and Lee’s room just long enough to toss his notebook down and see that everything was in order there, he poked his head out the door to make sure the way was clear, and headed for Rump’s room. Chip knew that the middie who shared the room, Cleary, was gone for a couple days on medical leave – he’d gone for a hike over the weekend with his botany class, and managed to end up in the Infirmary with a serious case of poison ivy. Chip would happily have blamed Rump for pushing Cleary into it, except that Rump wasn’t in that class. Knocking, just to make sure that the room was empty, Chip slipped inside and closed the door before he turned on the light. At first, all looked normal. Everything was neat and tidy and in its place. Then Chip took a closer look in the closet and gasped. There was an ever so slight trace of mud on the side of one of Rump’s dress shoes, and his dress jacket was buttoned up incorrectly. Also, several pairs of skivvies were folded wrong. And to really put the fat in the fire, a miniature flag was ‘flying’ upside down. You had to look close to see it. But Chip had first hand experience with the upper classmen most likely to pull Inspection Duty. They were decidedly thorough. Lee, you dipstick, Chip muttered, just before there was an abbreviated knock on the door and the aforementioned 1st Classmen immediately walked in.
The next few minutes were not a highlight of Chip’s first few months at the U.S. Naval Academy, although they were definitely memorable. Chip could not explain what he was doing, unauthorized, in another middie’s room. Instant demerits. When the sabotage was discovered – it turned out that word had gotten out about targeting Rump, and the ‘Inspection’ information had been ‘fed’ to Daniels, knowing that it would make the rounds – Chip was instantly blamed. All he could do was deny it, and they couldn’t actually prove that he had. But either way, more demerits. And just on general principles Chip was assigned an instant ‘tour’; two hours to be served immediately, and further punishment to be determined at an Honor Board hearing the following afternoon. To add insult to injury to the already miserable evening, he hadn’t been outside five minutes when it started to rain.
Chip finished his walk in one direction, did a precise ‘About Face’, and headed back the direction that he’d just come, still muttering threats. But by now they were pretty much confined to his own stupidity. There was no real reason that he’d been caught up in the mess. He had learned – or should have, anyway – that Lee was as adept at getting away with infinitely subtle little indiscretions as anyone Chip had ever met. There was no need to try and watch his back every little second. But…but…dang it, he’s just a kid! With almost an audible growl Chip reached the end of that leg, did another snappy turn – and practically ran into Lee. Both were momentarily startled. It was Chip who found his voice first. “What the blazes are you doing out here?” he almost yelled. He knew that he was taking his anger with himself out on Lee, but for that instant didn’t particularly care.
The younger middie, dressed as was Chip in his overcoat, handed Chip the plastic rain guard for his cover that Lee already wore on his own. As Chip took it and worked it into place, Lee finally spoke.
“I didn’t hear about what happened until just after you’d been sent out here. Took us all a little while to get things sorted out.” Chip finished putting the guard in place, replaced his cover on his head, and just stared at Lee, so Lee continued. “McKittrick came forward and admitted to the sabotage. Seems he and Cleary had planned it after we all were talking in the library last week. Cleary was getting pretty sick of having Rump for a roomie.”
“Gee, I wonder why,” Chip grumbled.
“It was too late to stop your punishment, and technically you were where you had no right to be.”
“And so are you, if you don’t get that scrawny hide of yours back inside.” Despite the words, Chip’s voice had lost most of its hardness.
Lee just shook his head. “We all figured that you thought I was behind it, since I kept disappearing every evening, and were just trying to save my tail.”
“And just where have you been running off to?”
“I had a long talk with Eddie, and offered to work extra with him to improve his running and swimming skills, and we got permission to do it in the evening from Lt. Sears, since both of our grades are good so far and we didn’t really need the study time.” As Chip just stared open-mouthed at his young roomie, Lee continued. “I told you that I’d take care of it; that he just needed someone to take an interest in him.” Lee’s eyes lowered as he finished and he looked at Chip practically through his eyelashes, now wet from the rain.
Chip just shook his head. His under-aged, skinny, scrawny little roommate had sought out the answer that no one else could see through their own disgruntlement, and had managed to quietly put it into effect under the very noses of those doing the most complaining. Now Chip knew why Lee had been swimming next to Rump; not to tease him, but instead to pace him, to give him a target to complete the task with the rest of the class. Chip finally chuckled – again, mostly at his own stupidity. “You’d better be getting back inside before you really do get in trouble,” he said, not unkindly.
Lee just shook his head again. “Asked and received permission to serve the rest of the Tour tonight with you. Seemed only fair,” he said shyly.
Chip could only chuckle and cuff his roomie lightly on the shoulder. He finally took a deep breath and smiled to himself. Hey, I might just survive French after all,” he told himself, before the two headed, side-by-side, across the Yard.