(The Adventures of Travis Dooley)
by Joe W. Rush ©1997
Fortune does sometimes smile on the pure in heart.........
Travis Dooley was nobody's fool, he recognized a stroke of luck when he ran across one, and he had just run across a big one. He was just now congratulating himself on this luck and wondering what he could do to capitalize on it. He had to make a plan.
Travis was standing the 1200 to 1600 tower watch, which meant that he would also stand the same watch tonight, or rather in the morning, from 0000 to 0400. The summer season had been over long enough that the boardwalk was deserted at night, and the young Coasties who had been busiest were beginning to get their strength back after a long rutting season. Seemed like the out-of-town girls always left their inhibitions back home, if they ever had any, and this made for a very interesting summer season for the Coasties. It also made for some long nights without sleep. Travis had learned to sleep while standing straight up and leaning against the PBX switchboard that took up most of the floor space in the tower.
The situation was this; the Coast Guard Lifeboat Station was there for a purpose, and that purpose was to save lives. The Coasties were a natural adjunct to the main purpose, and as such were expected to stay awake while standing watch in the tower, among their other duties. Most of the time this was no problem, but Lordy!, there wasn't much time to sleep in the summer except while on watch. A problem with this was that there was a Detex clock locked securely in a copper frame on the wall. The key was in it, and the man on watch was required to turn the key every fifteen minutes, on the quarter hour, for the entire period of his watch. God help you if you didn't make all the punches, and at the proper time too. The First Class Petty Officer who monitored this was purely a pain in the ass when it came to explaining misses. Now, he didn't like excuses, but he did like misses. Not misses of the clock variety, but misses of the boardwalk variety.
The Petty Officer was married to a very attractive lady, and they lived somewhere in town, Travis never knew where. Trouble with the Petty Officer was that he couldn't keep his pants zipped up, he was always after one or the other of the sweet young things on the boardwalk. Someone had told his current quarry that he was married, putting the kibosh to his efforts up to that point. Someone had also told him that it had been Travis who had let the cat out of the bag. Travis was fairly new on the station and knew nothing about the Petty Officer's marital status up to that time. It was only then that he had learned that the Petty Officer was married, not single and foot-loose as he had assumed. Now the Petty Officer had a really lusty hatred for Travis, and Travis was innocent, of that charge at least.
This might be a good time to explain about Travis's stroke of luck. Travis had learned to stand up and sleep all right, but he had also developed an ability to make all of the required punches on the quarter hour on the damned clock without waking up. He did this, as explained earlier, by leaning up against the PBX board near the clock, with the additional insurance of standing with one foot on the trap-door. Standing thus, no one could sneak up on him from below.
The Petty Officer had somehow learned, or surmised, that Travis was sleeping on watch, and he intended to catch him at it. The clock offered no help, all the required punches were made at all the right times when Travis was on watch. This only served to infuriate the Petty Officer, making him more petty by the day. Travis, on watch that fateful afternoon and bored to death, had casually reached over and flipped the "listen" switch on the intercom which was connected to the Group Commander's office. That had been the stroke of luck, and what a stroke it turned out to be.
Here was the voice of the petty Petty Officer explaining to the Skipper his latest plan for Travis's future. The plan was simple; Travis had the mid-watch. The petty Petty Officer also had the duty and, knowing in his heart that Travis would be asleep, was going to sneak out of the building around 0200 and go south on the street for about half a mile. There he would cut back to the beach, start a small driftwood fire on the beach, and then he would have old Travis by the short and curly, because he would not see it. Not seeing it, he could not report it. Not reporting it meant without a doubt that Travis was asleep, because the fire wouldn't be that small. The Skipper made no comment other than that it might be more trouble than it was worth.
God is good to the pure in heart, Travis told himself several times that afternoon. He had always had a good poker face, so no one was going to learn from him what he had heard. One thing that was going to happen, though, was that Travis was damned sure going to get some sleep before his mid-watch. He couldn't afford to miss a chance like this. Ever since the petty Petty Officer had gotten his comeuppance from the sweet young thing on the beach
Travis's life had been pure hell. Now it was get-even time.
The evening was uneventful. The duty section watched a bit of television after the evening meal, and Travis had turned in early, as had most of the tired and recuperating young studs, although they all had a satisfied countenance. Travis had had no problem going to sleep, being one of the pure in heart, like I said. He was awakened fifteen minutes before his watch by the watchstander on duty so that he could fully wake up before he climbed the ladder to the tower.
Travis was alert from the very minute he closed the trap-door. As was customary, all the lights in the tower were turned off, otherwise one could not see a damned thing happening outside. Travis made several trips around the catwalk outside the tower, determined to stay awake. Actually, he couldn't have slept if someone had hit him along side the head with a beer bottle, which had been known to happen. He was wound up tight as a two-dollar pocket watch. He routed a few routine calls through the switchboard and kept an eye on the ocean and the beach.
Sure enough, about 0130 Travis heard the door open down below and surreptitiously watched as the Duty Petty Officer crept around several outbuildings and gained the street, headed south. Travis lost sight of him then, but he made an entry in the tower log that someone had been seen leaving the building after "taps", which was not supposed to happen. This entry wasn't strictly required and was seldom made, especially during the summer months, but Travis figured it wouldn't hurt. The log was meant for recording unusual events, as well as changes in weather and surf conditions during the watch. This certainly qualified as an unusual event. The log entry did not specify that it was the Duty Petty Officer who was seen leaving, but that person was supposed to be on station at all times unless something unusual happened to call him away. If he had to leave he was supposed to alert the tower and also wake up someone else to take over for him during his absence. Yes, the log entry was definitely a good idea.
Travis picked up the binoculars and began scanning everything, not only the beach to the south but also to the north and in all directions around the station, he wasn't fool enough to believe that the Petty Officer would stick to his original plan. That fellow hated Travis enough that he might even steal a boat, take it off-shore and set it afire.
Sure enough, about 0210 he saw the flicker of a fire on the beach about half a mile to the south. His first duty in such a case was to go to the PBX and call the fire and police departments, which he most definitely did, logging this into the book. He wanted to make sure they arrived while the dastardly deed was being done. After all, no one was supposed to be on the beach after midnight, and no one was allowed to make a fire on the beach at any time. Then he called for the Duty Petty Officer. He rang the phone a long time, knowing that he would get no answer, but he succeeded in waking two of the other men. He explained what was going on to the guys who had been awakened and assured them that he had a grip on the situation, but that someone needed to stand by as Duty Petty Officer, since he couldn't find the real one. This he logged also.
Travis watched with unconcealed glee as bunches of fire trucks and police cars converged on the spot near where the fire was located, just as it was taking hold and growing. He couldn't see everything clearly through the binoculars, but he had a good imagination, and he knew that the fire chief or the police, or both, were chewing on the Petty Officer's butt pretty good. Meanwhile, Travis was busy making detailed entries in his log book.
It wasn't long before a police car pulled up to the station and the Petty Officer got out. There was a heated exchange of words between him and the driver of the police car, and the Petty Officer stomped into the ground floor of the station. He didn't stop there. Travis heard every step he took as he stomped up the ladder leading up to the tower. Just as the trap-door slammed open and the Petty Officer opened his mouth, Travis started on him. Where in the hell have you been? We had a fire on the beach down to the south and I couldn't find you anywhere. I think you're in some trouble. I saw you coming back from where ever you've been and you weren't supposed to leave without telling me. Look here, I put it all in the log book. You'd better read it so that you can explain it to the Skipper in the morning. He's gonna rip a strip off your ass for sure.
The Petty Officer just hung there, half in the tower and half on the ladder, his face red as a beet and his jaw working, foam starting to form at the corners of his mouth, trying to say something. Nothing came out for what seemed like five minutes. He finally got his jaw under control, but all he could do was to shout, Goddamn you Dooley, I'm gonna have your ass for this!
Travis exhibited a state of total disbelief. What?! How the hell do you think you can blame me for the trouble you're in? I was doing just what I'm supposed to do. It says plainly right here in the procedures that I'm to call the fire and police if I see a fire on the beach, and then call the Duty Petty Officer. I couldn't find you! You left your post, man! I can't believe you'd do that! You're the one in trouble. How are you going to explain that to the Skipper? You're in a hell of a lot of trouble, like I said, just as soon as the Skipper reads this log. You'll be lucky if you don't get busted back to Seaman Apprentice. Travis continued his tirade of unconnected sentences without let up. And another thing, how the hell did you get down to that fire so fast? You must've been real close already. We'll have to get a report from the Police and Fire Departments to go along with this log book entry and tie all this together. Since you were there so fast after it started, did you catch the ignorant son-of-a-bitch that set the fire?
Travis didn't let up on the Petty Officer, he was chewing on his ass even as he slammed the trap-door and retreated down the ladder. Travis made a few more log entries to tie everything together neatly, telling especially about the absence of the Duty Petty Officer, and of his reporting everything to that Petty Officer when he did finally return to his post. He smiled a lot as he was doing that. When he was relieved at 0400 he went directly to bed and again slept the sleep of the pure in heart.
Nothing much was said at muster the next morning, only that there had been a small incident during the mid-watch. Travis was grudgingly congratulated by the Duty Petty Officer for his vigilance and the very detailed report he had made in the log book. The Skipper was trying not to smile as he added his congratulations and remarked to the assembled Coasties that it had been a long time since he had seen such a complete and exemplary report of an incident, and he urged all hands to read it for the various examples that could be gleaned from it. Travis took these accolades with a poker-face, knowing that the Skipper had made the Petty Officer congratulate him. The Petty Officer had a pained look on his face, like maybe he had eaten a really strong bowl of bad chili, and he was not smiling.
By this time most of the crew had a hint of what had happened and what was behind it, but there was no locker-room banter. Some of them had had their troubles with the petty Petty Officer, and they just wore beatific smiles.
Yes indeedy, fortune does sometimes smile on the pure in heart. Travis had won that round. There would be other rounds though, and I will tell of them later.
THE END (for now)
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