Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Night Raid

Las Pulgas Area, 1980something
(Yet another month or two after the last time)

If you read the previous two installments, no points for guessing who had the duty on a balmy midsummer Friday night.

For some reason, the Gunny hadn't given me orders to kill anything this time, which was a disappointment to my cold green amphibious heart, but at the same time, made for a far less stressful stint of making sure everything stayed quiet and peaceful with most of the adult supervision away for the weekend.

There were other Duty nights when I had to be the Bad Guy, and inform a couple of crestfallen young lance corporals that NO, they weren't allowed to bring their sleazy hookers scantily-clad girlfriends into their 4-man room, not leastly because they were dumb enough to let me catch them sneaking them in, which meant they would probably be dumb enough to let the OD or worse catch them sneaking them out. Tactical lessons are where you find them, and they lost that battle.

There was the time I'd had to break up a fight between a beat-down Marine, who'd acquired a pick handle and done quite a spiffy job of avenging himself on one of the four guys who'd jacked him up, "by mistake" it later came out. A gaggle of ambulances and MPs later, that was sorted out.

But this wasn't one of those nights.

Even at midnight, the air was warm, it was a perfect weekend, and the only sound outside was crickets, and the occasional far-off yips and howls of coyotes prowling somewhere in the distance among the surrounding hills.

All I had to do was keep anyone from stealing the 400-foot-long building until 6 AM, and I could sleep in while my assistant watched over the place for the rest of the day.

So just past midnight, I took a walk around the battery area to make sure no one had violated the sanctity of the supply warehouse, the battalion aid station, and finally the armory. The guards there were perfection personified, the midnight relief had gone off flawlessly, and I returned to the battery office to finish out the night with a stack of Louis L'Amour novels and military correspondence courses.

On my way back, I was passing by the trash dumpsters.

Now, military dumpsters aren't like civilian dumpsters, exactly. They stand about 3' taller, thus they hold more trash. The flapping top is way too high to access, so trash is dumped in through two sliding doors on either side, about chest high, and 2 feet square each. Then you close the doors, to keep the trash and the smell inside. That's the theory.

But as I approach, I hear the sound of someone digging through the garbage.
After midnight.
In the dark.

Oh great. SomedumbMarine has probably thrown away his watch/I.D. card/sweetheart's torrid semi-porno love letter by mistake, and in a drunken frenzy, he's trying to locate it by Braille.

Just what I want to deal with at literally oh-dark-thirty at night, a desperate trash-covered drunken Marine private.

So I approach the open hatch on the side I'm closest to, and say to whoever's inside, "Hey what the f---...  !"

I mentioned it's dark, right? Like as in, there's a couple of outside lights on the building half a block away, and a streetlight half a block the other way, but the trash bin is by its lonesome in the middle of a big dark area, on a night with no moon, and the inside of the bin is even darker.

But I'm young, and gradually, the information transmitted from the rods and cones of my retinas starts to take shape in my brain, revealing in slow motion an unfamiliar camouflage pattern, which I finally work out is wearing a black mask, staring right at me in frozen astonishment, and belonging to about 50 pounds of raccoon, just about 3 feet from my head and chest.

Time halts, while with the speed of supercomputers, my brain further informs me that:
I have no gun
I have no stick
I'm standing absolutely flat-footed
I'm between the raccoon and its freedom
I don't speak raccoon
Anything spry enough to leap up to a 5 foot high opening could vault the 3 feet to my face like Spiderman on crack
Raccoons are crazy mad when cornered
Raccoons have sharp fangs and claws
Raccoons are sometimes rabid
I'm probably going to either die a horrible rabies death, or be clawed and maimed for life about the face and neck,and become the base laughingstock, somewhere in the next 2 seconds
I didn't sign up for this shit
There's not a damned thing I can do about it

Mind you, my life didn't flash before me. I didn't crap my cammies nor wet my drawers.
I didn't panic, and I didn't freeze.

I just wondered how in the wide world all this was going to work out, and when, because I was over it about a heartbeat after I realized I'd stepped in it.

And then, about a heartbeat after the info-dump to my situation hit my brain, the biggest damned raccoon I'd ever seen hissed once, jumped out the open door, hit the ground with a palpable thud, and waddled off across the parking lot at what, for 50-pound racoons, was probably something approaching ninja-speed.

NOW the adrenaline-fueled dry mouth fight-or-flight rush hit me.

"M-----f-----," I quietly swore at the retreating ring-tailed little terrorist.
And to preclude a repeat engagement another time, I reached over and slammed the near-side sliding access door firmly closed with a good hard metallic clang.

Whereupon a far bigger raccoon jumped out of the other side open sliding door, and ran even faster to catch up with his friend, now making a beeline to the drainage culvert that led under the main road, the woodlands across it, and freedom.

I felt around in the gravel nearby, and threw everything I could claw out of the ground at the receding furry little bastards. Then walloped the dumpster hard and loud to make good and certain this wasn't any more of a clowncarnucopia of garbage thieves.

After a decent interval and no additional threats to my life or health, I slammed the other side door shut too, and let my heart rate ease back down into second gear.

"Davy Crockett should've made your great-grandparents into hats back in 1830 when he had the chance!" I muttered.

And then, relieved that no one had witnessed my near-death experience, I quickly and smartly slunk back to the battery office, closed the door, and occupied myself with tales of the Sacketts and the intricacies of the M249 SAW until sun-up.

Never get out of the f-----g boat! Absolutely g--d----d right.

Lesson learned: there's nothing in regulations that says I can't carry a pick handle and a flashlight after dark. And the next guy I catch leaving the hatch open to the dumpster after emptying his trash is going to get skinned, so help me Chesty Puller.

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