Another Pearl (an excerpt)

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December 7, 2011 by David Gillaspie

by David Gillaspie

Light bulbs hang from ceiling wires inside the radar bunker.

Steel chairs slide under steel desks.

Electronics boxes and radar components blink their lights over an entire wall.

With a screw driver in one hand and strands of colored wire in the other, I step out from behind the equipment. Michael and Lee scan radar screens, round panels with a square grid.

I watch over their shoulders.

”I took it all the way. That’s as far as it goes.”

The signature blips of my radar upgrade light the screen.

”Good,” Michael says. “Log your readings and change it back.”

”One Mack is enough,” I tell him.

”Not for you.”

Lee waves his hand.

“We got something.”

The blips on the screen increase quickly.

”It looks big,” I say. “Too big.”

“Call it in?” Lee asks.

”Yes. Right now,” I say.

”This isn’t the Battle of Britain,” Michael says. “It’s our guys trying to get us in trouble again for calling them in. That’s their idea of fun.”

I light a cigarette and take a deep drag, exhaling in the confined space.

”This isn’t right. The signal is too strong. Make the call.”

More blips fill the screen.

”Doesn’t look good,” Lee says.

”You see a blinking light,” says Michael. “You can’t tell what it’s supposed to look like.”

”Make the call,” I tell him.

”No.”

“Give me the radio.”

”It’s not your call. This isn’t MIT and Professor Hyde isn’t here.”

I reach for the radio, but Michael grabs it away.

”There’s a lot of them,” Lee calls out, his face closer to the screen.

“It’s a squad coming in from the states,” Michael says.

I grab Michael by the shirt and go for the radio again.

”I’ll do it. You don’t have to.”

Michael pushes me away, but I slide over and hold his arms down.

”It’s a false reading,” he yells.

”It’s not false,” I yell back.

“Lee?”

He pulls the radio away and makes the call.

”Sir, we show a flight of intruders,” he says into the microphone.

An annoyed voice comes back.

“Intrude my ass, son. You know what your last intruder was? Seagulls. We had a sneak gull attack. If I report another one of those I’ll get busted back to ensign and get shipped out on a supply tub.”

”But Lieutenant…” I take the mike from Lee.

”Lieutenant? Sam Weathers here. This is a highly irregular formation approaching.” 

Inside the main radar station desks of clerks and technicians make the chatter of the stock market. The Lieutenant sits in front of the room. Mack slouches beside the Lieutenant, dressed in uniform. He holds a piece of paper with one hand and scribbling with the other.

”Report noted and logged, college boy. Over and out.”

The Lieutenant switches the Mike off and turns to Mack.

”What did I tell you?” Mack says.

The Lieutenant hands him ten dollars. 

The screens inside the radar bunker could be five time larger and still be covered by my blips. It’s not seagulls, and if it were it would be every seagull in the world flying to Hawaii.

I run out of the bunker to a buzz that grows stronger. It’s not seagulls squawking.

”Hey. HEY,” I yell to Michael and Lee. “GET OUT. NOW.”

I run to the jeep and hit the starter. It clicks, then nothing.

The first Japanese dive bombers fly over low. Then more.

Their roar fills the air. I run back to the bunker for Lee and Michael.

Lee stands near his desk. Michael blocks him from the door.

”Get out of the way, Michael,” he says.

”We’re not going anywhere.”

”Move Michael.”

”But Lieutenant. But Lieutenant,” Michael says. “You sounded like a whiny little sissy.”

“I made the call. That’s what we’re here for. Now get out of my way.”

”Give it a try, big guy. Take charge. Are you Sam now?”

I catch Michael by the collar and drag him out the door. Lee turns to the back wall to switch off the equipment. Waves of dive bombers and torpedo planes pass over.

Michael breaks away from me and runs for the jeep.

”LEE. GET OUT. LEE,” I scream.

Michael starts the jeep and takes off. I run after him a couple of steps, then stop and turn as two dive bombers blast the bunker.

The explosion blows me backward.

Flames eat at the front of the bunker, heading to the back. I run to the back and open the door.

Smoke boils along the ceiling. Wires hiss and pop. Lee lies stretched out in front of the electronics wall. I roll him over and drag him toward the door. I take a better grip and drag him toward the tree line cover.

Two fighters swoop in on a strafing run, machine guns blasting from each wing. They stitch Lee across the stomach, tearing him in half. I keep dragging the top part of Lee and fall into the underbrush. 

Hours later I walk the ruined docks around Pearl Harbor. Burning ships show their keels. Oil fires spread black clouds over the water. Orange flames snake through the smoke.

Broken men stand and watch, eyes vacant in an unbelieving daze. I stood there when I couldn’t walk anymore in my scorched clothes. My head shakes. Smoke swirls all around my feet.

We watching others lay bodies out on the ground. I walk away after they set the third row and the guys near me start wandering between them. I take one step, then another.

The wind in my ears filter the sounds behind me. I start running, turning my head so side to side so Pearl Harbor could only get in one ear. I sprint dead out toward the airport, dodging holes in the road and cars and people in shock. I exhale the smoke and death; I spit out the guns and bombs; but I don’t lose the way the air vibrated and the ground shook and how light Lee became while I pulled him over the dirt.

I look down and see splatters of Lee on my shirt. I tear it off and throw it behind me. This didn’t have to happen. I saw the planes coming in. They weren’t seagulls or B17’s. They were the wrong shape and too many of them.

If no one listens, what do you do?

Keep talking?

Keep working?

Treat it like it was an act of war instead of an act of slaughter?

Or make a difference? I run for the airport in a full-out sprint and kick in my finishing speed. I’ve never been faster. I don’t notice the low smoke that puffs away with each step, or the steady traffic driving too fast on an access road.

Make a difference is the only choice.

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