I’m Detective Staff Sergeant Deviled Yeggs. I work homicide in the big city of Tracy. My partner is Jim Wednesday. Poached Yeggs, homicide detective and my nephew, has been working with Jim and me.
It was Veterans’ Day. We had a slow day at the precinct. Just a fluke. I doubt if the slowness had anything to do with it being Veterans’ Day.
My cellphone rang. It was Callie, Poached’s wife. She said, “Uncle Deviled, can you do me a favor?”
Not knowing what she wanted, I said, “Sure, I am sure you are struggling, at home alone with a newborn. How Is Scarlett Ibis Yeggs?”
“Iby is fine. I just got her down for a nap. She was wired this afternoon. She still doesn’t have her days and nights straight. They say with a little more growth. … But Uncle Deviled, can you look for my Grandfather? He’s missing.”
“Callie, we have a department for that and they are better at that thing than I am.”
“But they require him to be missing for 24 hours. He doesn’t get out much. He doesn’t drive. He’s nearly one hundred. His friends came by and took him to lunch. But that was a few hours ago. My Mom wanted me to call you. People think you can do miracles.”
I sighed, “I am no miracle worker, but I can follow a lead. Where did they go?”
Callie answered with a family style restaurant that provides free lunches to veterans on Veterans’ Day and Memorial Day. She guessed at the one that was closest to her grandfather’s nursing home. She said that the group consisted of two Korean War veterans, five Vietnam War veterans, and two Gulf War veterans. Her grandfather served in World War II, Korea, two tours of Vietnam, and then retired, forced upon him. He had served with all the men except the two youngsters from the Gulf War, youngsters since they were in their fifties and still employed.
I told Poached to call if anything came up. I asked Jim to work some unpaid overtime on a mission of mercy, and he agreed.
I told the Captain that we would keep our communication open, but we were doing some field investigations.
The Captain replied, “And you woke me up for that?!” I did not think the Captain was sleeping in his office, but he had been doing strange things lately. I don’t think he has adjusted to being a widower. Since I have not experienced it, maybe you never do.
When we got to the restaurant, we looked around for a large group of older men. There were no such groups. We asked the manager if she had served a large group of veterans earlier, about lunch time.
She said, “Are you kidding me? This place was packed from about 11:00am until 2:00pm. Usually a veteran and his wife. Once or twice the wife was a veteran too. Are you looking for some crooks that are posing as veterans?”
I shook my head, “No, we are trying to locate a man in his 90s, a veteran, who may need assistance. He was with a group of other veterans, ages in the 50s through the 90s. Ten men in total.”
“Oh, that bunch of deadbeats. I threw them out.”
A busboy waved me over. I nodded to Jim to keep asking questions. Jim asked, “If they were getting a free meal, how could they be deadbeats?”
“One of the group was cussing. This is a family restaurant. They had eaten their free meal and demanding free refills of the coffee. We needed the table.”
“Did they give any hints about where they were going?” Jim added.
“Nope. Now if you are done, I have a restaurant to run.”
The bus boy pretended to clean a table near the entrance. I asked him if he had anything to add.
He said, “The group was not rowdy or cussing. If they had come in for a cup of coffee and nothing else, we would have allowed refills. These guys were swapping stories and remembering their friends that have passed on. And we were not busy. The manager is blowing wind up your backsides. When the guys were grabbing their hats and canes, I heard one of them say that they could watch Sally dance to kill a little time. That’s all they said. And the oldest of them? He gave a great tip. They weren’t freeloading and with a few others tipping also, they were far from deadbeats.”
Jim got nothing more from the manager. Jim suggested a strip club that was about two blocks down. It was obvious that these guys were on a schedule and leaving the restaurant early led to a change in plans.
The strip club waived the cover fee and drink minimum for veterans, and they had a dancer named Sally. She had already left for the day and a few of the crowd that was watching her left with her. No, they were not running a prostitution racket, but if the dancer went home with a few customers, that was her business.
After the manager told us this, Jim groaned, “Now we have to split up.”
The bartender heard Jim and asked us if there was one specific person that we were looking for. I showed him a photo that Callie had texted me. “Oh, him! Yeah, he and the other old guys of the group said they were going for an ice cream.”
We looked up ice cream parlors near us who were doing a Veterans’ Day freebie. There was a place a couple more blocks down the street. They had seen the six men. They had an ice cream cone free of charge. They tipped well, probably paying more than if they had paid for the cone. They sat in a corner booth and talked softly. The girl that cleaned tables said that the oldest guy had a notepad out, taking a lot of notes. To her, it looked like he was the one that kept all the phone numbers and addresses of the others. The notepad was full of that.
When we asked where they might be going, the manager laughed, “When they walked out the door, the only thing that they said in a loud voice the whole time they were here was, ‘Donuts!!!’”
Again, we found the nearest donut shop that had a free donut for every veteran. Now we knew that the group with Callie’s grandfather had six people and the older ones of the original ten. When we got to the donut shop, the manager said that the group of veterans had come and gone and she had no clue where they went, but then the guy who cleans tables said that the old geezer was still here.
He had fallen asleep, and the others had left, letting him get a nice nap. They did not think that the old sergeant might have difficulty with his directions. They had probably always relied on him to tell them what to do. He had been their rock. We found him softly snoring in a corner booth.
Jim and I sat on either side of him and I leaned in and whispered, “Hey, Top! It’s time to get the company into the morning formation.”
The old first sergeant sat up erect and commanded, “Company, Atten … SHUN!” He blinked a couple of times and then asked, “Where did everybody go?”
Jim laughed, “They all went home.”
I asked, “Top, what do you do every Memorial Day?”
He said, “I make a toast to my friends that did not come home from World War II. I had lied about my age and enlisted in enough time to see action. I had not known them long, but the bond of brotherhood was there. Then I toast my platoon in Korea. I was a platoon sergeant by then. The lieutenant might have written all the letters for the families back home, but he used my notes. He was good at those letters, but he had a lot of practice.” At this point, the tears started to flow down his face. But he continued, “Then I make two toasts for Vietnam, one for each of my tours. I was a company first sergeant both times. So many of them that didn’t make it home. … Why do you ask, young man?”
I smiled and asked another question, “And what do you do on Veterans’ Day?”
He shrugged, “I do what I did today. The only ones left from Korea were all here, just the three of us. The group from Vietnam has a few more survivors scattered around. The guys from the Gulf War were kids of some of the other survivors in my old platoon in Korea. For us, Veterans’ Day is kind of bittersweet. We owe it to those who did not come home to make the most of our lives because we made it home. And then we meet and compare notes. If you make it back home, you need to make it count. You did not answer my question, young man.”
I laughed, “We are here to help you do what you just mentioned, make it back home. Your granddaughter Callie was worried. I am the uncle of her husband.”
He huffed, “She didn’t need to worry. I know I get confused at times, so I take notes. I have those newfangled ride services on speed dial and my address is on the front page of the notepad. I spent my entire career in the Army taking care of others. I can handle it.”
Jim suggested, “But this time let the local men in blue give you a ride home for free. I can ride in the back and you can have the seat of honor in the front.”
He smiled as he thought, “No, I want to ride in the back where you put the criminals. It might enhance my street cred.”
My thought was that Callie might not need to worry about her grandfather, at least not for a while.
The idea that people might pose as veterans to get free food comes from experience, knowing people who know which restaurants want to see proof while other restaurants do not question it. In some cases, the non-veteran will wear an Army or a Navy baseball cap, but anyone can buy those. Since most restaurants do not ask, it would never be a matter for the police. It’s simply disgusting – coming from a veteran.
There are a lot of free things for veterans on Memorial Day and Veterans’ Day, but you have to read the fine print. Some will say lunch and then only have breakfast items on the special menu. Most say that they require proof that you are a veteran, but we have never been challenged. Then again, I come in with a green folder with the Army seal on it, and paperwork sticking out. And we have done two meals, a donut, and an ice cream cone, but we usually settle for just one meal these days, each since my wife and I are both veterans.
And Deviled Yeggs, in this story, may have entered a strip club, gentleman’s club, whatever you call it, but I never have been in one.
And this post was inspired by an old memory of my first “first sergeant.” He was a dark-skinned African-American. He was short. He was rail thin. And he was like a father to everyone in the company. He was tough. You did not mess with him. Like the story, he lied about his age to get into World War II in time to see action. He was in Korea and multiple tours in Vietnam. When I met him, he had been on active duty for 35 years.
I had gone through four years of ROTC. I went to graduate school right at the end of the Vietnam War. So, I went through basic engineering officer school for a few months and late in the summer of that year, I reported as a first lieutenant to an engineering battalion in West Germany, assigned to Charlie company. After my first week on the job, managing the construction of a veterinary hospital, I rushed back to the barracks, a few hours away, for my first staff meeting.
The company commander turned the meeting over to this wiry master sergeant. He slumped his shoulders so that he could see us at eye level while we sat in this tiny room. He had a gravelly voice. He had eyes that seemed to bulge, and he made eye contact with each person in the room. Then he spoke, “Second platoon is in charge of the latrine this week and I found a speck of dirt on the third urinal from the left.” Like a cobra, he struck lightning quick. In only one or two steps he was right in front of me. He leaned in close enough for me to smell his aftershave. The left eye squinted and it seemed his right eye popped out of the socket. I am sure it didn’t, but that was all I could see, complete with blood vessels that were bulging with each heartbeat. Then he added in his command voice, that I am sure could be heard outside the building, “And what are YOU going to do about it, lieutenant?”
I suddenly had a loss for words. What could I do about it?! I had been on a construction site 2-3 hours to the west of the barracks. But I was so intimidated, that I stumbled for any words at all. Other than a stammer coming from my lips, the room was silent. My platoon sergeant leaned in close and did a stage whisper that everyone in the room could hear. “Sir, repeat after me. ‘We will take care of it, Top!’” I dutifully said in a squeaky voice, “We will take care of it, Top!”
The entire room erupted in laughter. As said before, I had four years of ROTC, basic engineering officer school – with honors, and I had been promoted to First Lieutenant, but I learned that day that you never really were in the Army, until the first sergeant, usually nicknamed “Top” as the Top sergeant in the company, scared you half to death. And no, I retained full control of my bowels and my bladder … barely.
A few months later, we had a new first sergeant. Someone in Washington, DC said that 35 years of active duty was enough, and our beloved top sergeant had to retire.
Top, this was for you.
This was great, Mark.
LikeLiked by 1 person
I wanted to highlight Veterans day in a way other than talking about it. I wanted it more personal. Thank you for the comments.
LikeLiked by 1 person
It worked. Loved your account of Top!
LikeLiked by 1 person
LikeLiked by 1 person