Sneak attack

By R. L. Keller


An eerie silence hung over the Yard at the U. S. Naval Academy.  A winter storm had hit the East coast, dumping an unusually heavy layer of snow.  Walkways had been cleared and it was business as usual, but the large mounds of snow muffled most of the noise around the campus.


Here and there small groups of Middies moved around this quiet Saturday afternoon.  Among them were two men, bundled in their dark blue winter overcoats, with covers square on their heads.  Pretty much of a height, the young men walked shoulder to shoulder, their perfectly matching strides as unconsciously comfortable as their friendship.  They were Firsties, the short term for First-Year Midshipmen, their fourth and final year at the Academy.  They’d been tossed together as roommates at the beginning of Plebe Summer, as diverse in personality as they were in complexion: one blond, fair, gregarious and boisterous; the other dark, olive-complexioned, quiet and serious.  Neither was at first overly thrilled with the arrangement, but that hadn’t lasted long.  Now they were as tight as brothers, a connection that had been the scourge of many at the Academy over the years, Middies and staff alike.  They had also been first and second in their class all four years, so while not indulged by the Academy personnel, were still allowed a certain amount of latitude, especially as graduation drew closer.


Two who didn’t allow any slacking off were the two Middies themselves.  While they may show a mischievous streak from time to time they worked hard to maintain their grades and learn as much as the instructors could teach them.  To that end the pair was headed to the library to pull research for papers coming up in different classes.  Neither paper was due until after the Christmas break and the pair had been teased by friends to spend the day relaxing – free time was all too rare in a Middie’s life.  But they had decided to get as much of a head start as they could so that they could enjoy their time away more knowing that, once back from the Holidays, they wouldn’t have to scramble as hard as some of their classmates.


So suddenly that it startled them both, their quiet walk from Mother B, Bancroft Hall where their dorm room was, to the library was shattered as half a dozen white projectiles splattered against their dark overcoats and instant laughter erupted from behind a large shrub.  Both young men instantly recognized the voices as their next-door neighbors in Mother B, First Class Midshipmen Jerry Levin and Tim Hughes.  The four had formed strong bonds of friendship that first year.  They were frequently referred to, not always with affection, by Middies and staff alike as the “Four Horsemen of Annapolis.”  While rarely proved, the four were credited with all sorts of minor mayhem over their tenure at the Academy.  Never malicious or out of control, the young men had a decided knack for providing a bit of levity and balance to what could be a very stressful four years.  But there had also been times when someone or something had been directly targeted, such as the circumstances surrounding the 4th year class receiving recognition a couple of months earlier than what was usually part of the graduation rites to 3rd year Middies (see ‘Aspiring Officer,’ by Susan F.) and the graduation ceremonies themselves (see ‘Cobwebs,’ by R. L. Keller). 


The targets in this case, First Year Midshipmen Chip Morton and Lee Crane, weren’t the least bit hesitant to take up this new challenge.  Diving behind another large bush, a rousing snowball fight ensued.  Direct hits being the objective, there was no lobbing of projectiles merely over the bushes.  All four were instantly intent on diving out from cover to inflict a body shot on their opponents, intent on doing the same thing while avoiding the incoming round.  With no lack of ready ammunition and an over-supply of youthful exuberance, along with military tactics helpfully supplied by the USNA, it all too quickly became a fierce battle, albeit around the continuing laughter, frequent good-natured taunts, and shouts of victory when one of the four was nailed dead center.


Unseen by the four combatants, two officers stood quietly about 20 yards away, slightly sheltered by a large tree, it’s limbs hanging low from the heavy layer of snow.  A momentary frown hit the face of the elder man, Admiral Josiah Johnstone, Commandant of the Academy, but it didn’t last long as Capt. Harriman Nelson, an occasional instructor, chuckled next to him.  “At least they’re taking out their high energy on each other.”  The younger of the pair grinned as he watched the ‘battle’.  “That should make a good many other Middies happy.”


Johnstone finally smiled.  “True.  But I’m still getting this instant mental image of snow forts going up all over the Yard, and 49 different engagements all happening at the same time.”  His smile broadened as Nelson laughed outright.


There was a momentary cease-fire as all four Middies heard the laughter and realized that they were being observed.  Nelson barely had a chance to see an absolutely wicked gleam hit both Morton’s and Crane’s faces as they shared a quick look before Crane called out, “second limb up.”  Nelson had no idea what the young Middie meant until a barrage of snowballs from all four combatants was directed just over his head.  The sudden onslaught caused the already overloaded limb to shake, dropping its heavy load of snow onto the limb below it, which in turn dropped the entire double-layered batch on the unsuspecting officers below.  By the time Johnstone and Nelson had shaken themselves off from the deluge, all four Middies were nowhere to be seen.


Nelson burst out laughing.  “Aren’t we a fine pair,” he teased Johnstone, who was also grinning.  “Here we spend four years teaching battle tactics to a bunch of youngsters and then turn around and get caught with our pants down, out in the open, totally oblivious to the heavy munitions directly over our heads.  Definitely not one of our better battle strategies.”  He laughed even harder as Johnstone joined in.


“I say this calls for a drink by a warm fire to go over retaliation plans,” the Admiral agreed, and the pair headed for the Commandant’s Quarters to commiserate their utter defeat by an all too underestimated ‘enemy.’