In another phase of K's life, he served in the ranks of a particular water-based armed force for a large North American nation. But in the spirit of not spelling anything out, we're being needlessly coy here. Roll with me; one of K's endearing features is a healthy sense of paranoia and he's sure someone's going to come get him if they find out he's been talking. (Another of K's endearing features is that sometimes it's hard to tell when he's kidding.)
He has many, many stories about this, since he happened to serve partially during wartime, and over the course of his career had numerous positions of increasing sensitivity. Alas, even in coy rephrasing he won't let me write down the stories from once he had a particular security clearance. So this one is from when he was simply a shipboard firefighter.
K takes a drag off his cigarette, and it glows in the dark. “I got a lot of stories about Boomer,” he says. “Guy was dumb as a box of rocks. Had a gorgeous wife, I mean drop-dead gorgeous
, people stopped and literally stared when she came into rooms. She dressed the part too, always, dressed to kill.” He shakes his head, thinking about it, and takes another drag. “And she was absolutely faithful to him. We all figured, oh man, she’s gotta be messing around on him, girl like that. But she never did. She was a lawyer or something, and obviously, she liked ‘em big and dumb.” He goes quiet a moment.
“He got hurt, actually— ended up, well, maimed.” He rolls the cigarette between his fingers, field-stripping it, then folds the butt up and puts it into the chair’s cup holder. “Pretty bad. And she stuck with him...” He examines his fingers.
“But Boomer. He was dumb, so
dumb. He was on my damage control team. One thing about him, kind of weird, he loved to build kites. Big ones, box kites. And he’d spend like a week making these things, these elaborate kites, and then he’d go to fly them and the string would break. Cuz the thing is, we’re on a warship. It’s kind of windy, out there at sea. Regular string isn’t gonna cut it. So he’d spend all these hours on these kites, then lose ‘em right away.”
“Bummer,” I comment. He pokes around and finds his mug in the dark, and drinks.
“So we found this cable. See, some liferafts, they attach ‘em to the ship by these long spools of cabling. If the ship sinks too deep, it snaps off, but otherwise, it keeps the life rafts from drifting too far away. Much easier for rescuers to find all the survivors that way. This cable is really, really thin, but it’s also incredibly strong.”
“You probably weren’t really supposed to appropriate that,” I point out, sensing where this story’s going.
“Wellll,” he drawls, “we didn’t swipe it off a liferaft or anything. There were spare reels of the stuff, stored in our locker room. So we just… borrowed one. We wun’t doin’ anybody any harm, right?”
I laugh. “I’m sure the [water-based armed force] always has a sense of humor about that kind of stuff. They’re known for that.”
“Oh yeah,” he says, “they’re known for that. So we borrowed this reel of cable, and went up to the stern of the ship, and tied this kite to it, and don’t you know, it worked a treat. I mean, we got that thing to fly really good. It was up a couple hundred feet, easy. Beautiful.”
He makes a swooping gesture with the hand that doesn’t have a drink in it. I laugh, thinking of the image of a warship with a box kite flying gaily from the stern.
“Then all of a sudden the klaxons start going off, and the ship goes to general quarters. General quarters, general quarters, and everybody’s running around. So we’re all, shit, what do we do?” He makes a face, wide-eyed. “So we tie the kite off, real quick, and go running off to our stations.”
“General quarters is bad, right?” I’m not real up on the terminology.
“I mean, it’s not bad, but it means shit is potentially gettin’ real,” he says. “So we’re scurrying off, and this announcement comes on, DC5, come to the bridge. That’s us, we’re Damage Control 5. That can’t be good. So we haul ass to the bridge, and there’s the captain. And he’s got his fancy hat on. The real
fancy one. He’s got a few different hats, see, and mostly he just wears one of the regular ones. But if you’re about to get your ass chewed out real bad, you know it because the captain has the really fancy hat on.”
“For serious?” I am enchanted by the idea of hats in varying degrees of severity by fanciness.
“For serious,” he says. “This is the [water-based armed force], we do shit like that. So anyway. We’re all like, shit, what’d we do?”
“What’s wrong with a kite?” I ask.
“We don’t even think about that,” he says. “We’re all thinking, well, we’re a bunch of trouble, mostly, so there’s probably a hundred things it could be, but we’d all been on our best behavior. Or so we thought. So the captain says, gentlemen, why are my automated defense systems telling me there is a missile incoming aft?”
“Oh God,” I say.
“Every time the radar sweeps aft, the captain says, the automated defense systems are freaking out. Might you have any idea what is hanging off the back of my warship?” He gestures, mimicking the way a radar antenna spins. “And I gotta point out, the automated defense systems are just that. They’re these things that look like R2-D2 on the deck of the ship that automatically fire on incoming missiles. So they’ve had to disable these things; they were gonna go off by themselves, at whatever the radar was picking up.”
,” I say.
“So they’ve had to disarm them. And we’re all standing there, like, why is he asking us this? What could we possibly
have to do with this? It's not like we... have... anything... flying... And then, as we’re standing there, you can see the little lightbulbs going on above our heads. And over Boomer’s head, there’s this little half-watt candle flickering. And he says, ‘Well... there’s... my kite?’”
“Ohh, shit,” I say. I’m really laughing now.
“The radar was picking up on the kite, and identifying it as an incoming missile,” he says, shaking his head. “Oh man, we got in so
“I bet you did!” I stand up to get the whiskey bottle. If he’s telling stories like this already, the night’s only going to get better.
“So,” he concludes, lighting another cigarette, “it turns out, you can clean a warship with a toothbrush. And I’ve done it.”