“What are you going to do now, Tom?” Major Ricardo Sanchez asked his old friend. They stood in the sunshine on the lawn, holding their champagne flutes. Beyond the tent and its tables of canapes and heavier foods, the guests’ children had organized an enthusiastic game of tag with much squealing and more than a few grass stains on dresses and pants.
“I could ask you the same thing, sir.” Chief Warrant Officer Tom Paisley raised his flute in a salute.
“If you ‘sir’ me one more time, I’m going to hit you in public!”
“Then maybe they could make you a Warrant Officer.” Tom grinned. “I could lend you some bars for your jacket.”
“I never expected that appointment to the Academy.”
“You earned it, Rico. And you’ve done well since then.”
“I wish you had applied, too.”
“And how much fun would I have had at West Point?”
“It was no fun for me, Tom, but I survived.”
“I’m happy for you, Rico. But I figured out that being black was not the only problem. I’m almost more English than American. I took enough ribbing in the barracks.”
“Are you two arguing about rank again?” Margareta Paisley appeared as if magically behind the pair. They both started and stepped aside.
“How do you do that?” Rico said. “I’ll never get used to it. We’re supposed to be the trained spooks!”
“One learns, when the floorboards of the opera house are creaky and dried out.” She turned a cheek for Tom to give her a kiss.
“Rico wants to know our post-retirement plans. What is your wish, meine Geliebte?” The conversation shifted easily into German.
“Why are you asking me?”
“Because I always go where I’m sent. The Army issued the orders for 26 years. Now it’s your turn.”
“Let’s finish painting the living room and think about it.” That made Rico laugh.
“What is Hilda up to?” Rico looked back and forth at them.
“No news since you last inquired, friend,” said Tom. “She finishes nursing school in a couple of months. We’ll fly over for the graduation.”
“Then she’ll be an officer, too.” Rico winked. “Orders, yet?”
“Advanced trauma training at Bethesda, then, who knows?”
“Sounds like they don’t know what to do with her.”
“Could be. She should know more later.”
“Meanwhile, any plans besides becoming a house painter?”
“No. I will move on to something. But for a few months, I just want to enjoy not having to go to work each day. The flat is paid for, Hilda did not need a college loan, and I don’t need a car. The retired retainer covers our needs.”
“You’ll flunk retirement quickly, I’m sure. The headhunters are probably lined up already.”
“The junk mail and cold calls from Beltway bandits started last summer.”
“In the meantime, Belinda and I are counting on you two coming to Charlottesville after the family reunion with Hilda.”
“Count on it.” Tom caught the eye of his commanding officer across the pavilion and excused himself.
“Are you ready for this?” Rico asked Margareta.
“We’ve spent more time in Kaiserslautern than anywhere else. This is our home, can’t you tell?”
Tom and Margareta walked hand in hand from the bus stop down the Fischerstrasse. The retirement party had preceded a dinner at the Officers’ Club. They were both ready to put their feet up.
As they turned into the Luisenstrasse, Tom’s phone buzzed. He took it from his pocket.
“An SMS from Johann.” He scowled as he read the message from the Chief of Police.
“Tongai?” Margareta used his given Bantu name when they were alone.
“A skinhead group from Hamburg has come to town looking for black American soldiers.” He sighed. “We’ve heard this before.”
Two shadows detached themselves from the wall ahead. Without a second thought, Tom used his phone arm to move his wife behind him. “Ruf 110 an, schnell!” Call 110, quick! She took the phone and ducked into a doorway out of sight.
The two men in their twenties sported black leather jackets and shaven heads and faces. Their grim expressions did not invite pleasant conversation. One came up to Tom’s nose, the other to his shoulder. They blocked the sidewalk. Tom stopped about two meters from them.
“Go home, Yankee! We don’t need you here.” They spoke in accented English.
Tom answered in German, “We are going home. Now if you would please step aside, we’ll do just that.”
The trio faced off for what seemed like forever. Tom could outwait them, knowing that Margareta would have more time for the police to respond. After a full minute, the taller one moved toward Tom. His mistake.
Tom fixed his gaze on the man’s chest and used his peripheral vision to see them both. He sensed more than saw the man pull his arm back for a punch and fired a karate chop into his solar plexus before the first punch could take off. The man began to double over – into Tom’s other fist, which connected with his nose. Tom stepped aside as the man went down with a chop to the back of the neck.
The second man charged, only to find that Tom had twirled aside and connected his foot into the man’s right knee. As the joint cracked, Tom brought his right fist down on the man’s temple.
Both men lay in a heap as the sound of sirens came from around the corner.
An hour later, Tom and Margareta signed their statements in the police station. They walked down the hall to the Chief’s office. The door was open, and Tom’s friend Johann motioned them in.
“Thomas, ‘Reta. Please. Sit. Coffee?” They declined. “Thomas, could you let ‘Reta take down the next gang? She might do less damage.” He smiled at them.
“I’m sorry, Johann. I did not want to do more than stop them.”
“So you did. They’ll be in the hospital for a while. Helmut Spritzer, the shorter one, will walk again with a new knee. And his friend Eberhardt Steiglitz will have a headache while his neck tissues heal. You could have broken his neck.”
“Any point in my apologizing to them?”
The policeman rubbed his chin. “That’s a thought. I’m sure that it’s not what they would expect. It might help undo some of the brainwashing they got. I’ll look into it.”
“How many came from Hamburg?” Margareta asked.
“Four. We haven’t spotted the other two yet.”
“We’ll let you know if we see them.” She looked at her husband. “Maybe we’ll have time to cross the street next time.” Tom shrugged.
It was midnight when they opened the door to their apartment and stepped in. Margareta turned around as Tom locked the door. She hugged him and deposited a deep, passionate kiss on his lips. When she pulled back, he looked at her inquiringly.
“My hero.” She tapped his chest full of ribbons and badges. “You didn’t even stain your dress blues.”
“For once, it would not have mattered. I should not need to wear these again.”
“Then let’s dump them.” She unbuttoned his jacket as they walked to the bedroom….
© 2019, JT Hine