the-south-asian.com February 2003
FEBRUARY 2003 Contents
Page 4 of 4
'KNOCK AT EVERY ALIEN DOOR'
RUM - RUM
The next day Captain Jaffee, noticing that both Mark and I were depressed, wanted to know how it was that each of us had received bad news from home at the same time. Moods, good or bad, seemed then to be generally attributed to conditions at home, where after all a soldier's heart was supposed to be. We told him about Rum Rum. He listened intently to our tale of woe, but if he shared our feeling of loss, he gave no sign of it. He knew Rum Rum only slightly as one of the children who sometimes were a nuisance around the hospital area.
"We have some work to do," was his only comment as he sat down behind his desk and looked up at us. "One of the planes clipped the water tower on take-off. No serious injuries. A couple of the guys brought in with cuts and bruises. We'll need to keep them in a few days for observation. Thoughtful a moment, his penetrating dark eyes fixed on Mark, he continued: "I want you to go over to squadron headquarters and pick up records on these men, and find out what you can about the accident."
"Yes, Sir," Mark said, and was promptly off to his assignment.
Turning to me, Captain Jaffee said: "I want to talk to you." I made a quick mental inventory of my misdeeds as I waited for some explanation from the doctor in charge of our unit. The Captain leaned back in his chair while I sweated out his question. "How well do you know Corporal Waldrop?'
"Not well at all," I replied, relieved that I was not being reprimanded for some unheeded infraction. "He's pretty much of a loner. I doubt any of the men know him well."
"He didn't report for duty yesterday," Captain Jaffee said. "It's not like him. Sgt. Perone found him down by the reservoir. According to Perone, Waldrop had no explanation and seemed a bit off his rocker. When he brought Waldrop in, I tried to talk with him but couldn't get anything out of him."
"Do you want me to try talking to Waldrop?"
"First, talk to Sgt. Perone and see what he really knows about it. Waldrop may be putting on the old I'm gonna get-out-of-this-man's-Army act, for all I know." He leaned forward on his desk and spoke almost confidentially. "Anyway, see what you can find out. If he keeps us this crap, I'm going to put him in for observation." I promised the Captain I would find out what I could, and left immediately to finish my morning duties.
Late that afternoon when I went off duty, I found Sgt. Richard Perone -- the man some of us thought of as "The Jeweler" -- stretched out on his bunk reading a paperback book. He occupied the barracks next to mine, and was only one of two or three in quarters at that time of day.
When I sat down on the bunk next to his, he placed the book on his olive drab undershirt and looked at me, his finely-cut Italian features wreathed in a smile. "Well, if it isn't Doctor Kildare himself," he said. "I'll bet you came to see if I got those opals for you."
"No." I shook my head, remembering that I had once asked him to keep an eye out for a pair of opals I might be able to afford, when he was conducting his regular forays of Indian shops in search of precious stones to send home for his father's business. "I have another mission this time. Captain Jaffee's concerned about Waldrop. He wants to know if you know anything about --"
"I told him what I thought," he blurted out, his voice on the edge of irritation. "The guy's a certified basket case. You know ol' Waldrop. He's always been an odd duck, but this time he just went over the edge." He hesitated a moment as if giving second thought to his diagnosis. "I found him down by the reservoir wandering around like he was lost. Didn't seem to know who or where he was. Wouldn't say anything to me when I tried to talk to him."
"I wonder what set him off."
"Who the hell knows." Sgt. Perone lifted himself to a sitting position on the bunk facing me, the shiny chain of his dog tags disappearing into a mass of hair beneath his undershirt. "One of the guys did say something about him being upset by a letter he got from his wife. Maybe that's it. I don't know."
"It might be. "
"Lot's of guys get bad news from home," he said, issuing a mild protest, "but they don't go off their rocker."
"Maybe Waldrop's special."
"Specially loony, if you ask me." And then anxious to change the subject he quickly added. "I'm gonna find those opals for you, mark my word. I've got a pass next weekend. Why don't you see if you can get one and come along with me. I'll show you how it's done."
"I'll try to get a pass," I said, unsure whether I wanted to spend my whole time visiting one jewelry shop after another in search of Sgt. Perone's elusive Rosetta stone.
"It's a deal," he said, offering me the strong grip of his hand. "We'll come back with a perfect pair of opals, or my name's not Richard Perone."
I took his hand and said good-bye, making my way back to my own barracks. There I found Charlie Gonzales idly sweeping at the entrance, a delaying tactic, I soon learned, while he waited for me. I returned his hearty greeting and was about to enter when he called to me.
"Sahib," he said, frantic to get my attention as he pointed to the wristwatch on his arm, the one I had given him months before. "Don't go," he said, making a circular motion above the face with his finger. "Don't go. Sahib."
I walked over to him and, taking his arm, looked at the watch. Indeed, the hands had stopped. I removed it from his wrist, and immediately found that the winding stem was broken. Holding it in front of him, I said: "I will have it fixed, Charlie. It will take several days."
Charlie understood, and broke into his gat-toothed smile, bowing his thanks to me. "Thank you. Sahib."
Although I was convinced that Charlie could not tell time, I knew how important it was to him that the hands go around.
Maybe, I thought as I went into the barracks, I could persuade Rafikmia to take it to his friend, the mahajan, a jeweler who was also a banker and, as some insisted, the local loan shark.
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