Bully British Navy Officer
. . . . .
We could deal with these shady characters, for in the end we knew they would come running to us for help. But what we couldn’t deal with were the British Royal Marines. They bred Royal Marines in England for their toughness. You knew if you picked a fight with a British Marine it was to the end. There was no giving up. One British Marine, a Sergeant Major, had a reputation that defied all others. He was a legend in his time, and feared by everyone. He was tough, and he always wore his blue uniform with all the medals and stripes and hashmarks covering his sleeves from shoulder to cuff. He didn’t smoke cigars; he chewed them. He could out drink any man, and out fight them if they were fool enough to try. It wasn’t just hearsay, not just scuttlebutt; he proved himself many times.
The sergeant was a heated topic of discussion back at the barracks. Long after the British Navy pulled out, the sergeant was all we talked about. He was an arrogant sot if there ever was one, and there didn’t seem to be any way of defeating him. I guess we wouldn’t have minded so much, but every chance he had he put down the US Marine Corps. “You are all a bunch of pussies,” he said the last time he was in port. “Bloody hell, I must say you yanks go a bit bonkers over dentistry and shampoo rather than good whiskey and a good fight.”
We agreed, the next time the British Navy came to town we wouldn’t put up with him. Terry had a plan. It was a wild idea but we all agreed. A month passed and finally the British navy steamed back to port. We went to the EM Club and sure enough there was the British Royal Marine Sergeant Major with a couple of his hooligan mates. We put Terry’s plan into action.
We marched up to his table and asked if we could buy them all drinks. “Bloody ‘ell,” he shouted, “you ‘aveu’t got ‘er knickers down so I guess you cum to the right place. Let’s see the color ah your money.”
“You ain’t gonna drink wid these bloody yank blokes, er you?” his sidekick corporal demanded to know. He was just as arrogant as the sergeant was.
“Shut your bloody gob, ye wee bastard,” shouted the sergeant to the corporal, “before I smash me pint glass into your flamin’ face.” He then pushed the corporal away from the table. “I’ll take this piss for beer you yanks peddle.” We pulled up our chairs, Terry; Chandler, Hecklinger and me.
Sitting with the sergeant and his men was like sitting on a keg of dynamite; any spark would set it off. “We always wanted to get to know you,” Terry said, “but we didn’t know how you would react.” He was lying through his teeth, and he had to kick me under the table to let me know he was in agony to say what he did.
For the first time the sergeant smiled. He had a heavy moustache that cascaded down over his upper lip, and when he smiled he revealed teeth crooked and bent and stained brown from years of smoking and neglect. When he swilled down a can of beer he didn’t stop until the can was empty, and then he’d wipe the suds from his mouth on the sleeve of his dress blues. His breath stank of stale beer. It was disgusting sitting at the same table with him but we had already started the ball rolling. So far our plan seemed to be working.
“You bloody blokes ain’t so bad after all,” he mumbled and picked up another beer from the table. The beer was in cans but he called them pints. “Another pint in ‘er eye, you bloody loafin’ yank bastards.”
He was unreal; he was a human sieve. As fast as he could pop open a can of beer with his church key he kept on a chain attached to his belt, he swilled them down. His mates couldn’t keep up with him, try as they did, and one by one they deserted him until only the corporal was left. But even he, after a while, wouldn’t be any trouble for us; he passed out in the head. We told the sarge he had left. “Wee bastard,” he said.
It was near closing time, and somehow the sergeant till managed to hold on. He just wouldn’t go down. Hecklinger came up with an idea, got up from the table and went to the bar. He came back with a fifth of White Horse Scotch. “Y’all never ask a barber if you need a haircut,” he said, “so why y’all ask a sailor if he needs a drink.”
“They’re closing,” Terry said, “let’s drink outside.”
“You sons ah bitches,” the sergeant bellowed out. “At’s want yar doin’.” He turned up a beer can but it was empty.” Yar gettin’ me shit face, and at’s da only way you can take me.
I can whip all yar asses.”
“Hey, sarge, stay here if you wanna,” Terry butted in. “We can drink by ourselves.” We got up to leave, with Hecklinger waving the whiskey bottle much like a farmer throws corn out to the chickens to draw them into the coop.
“Nar you don’t,” the sergeant said and staggered to his feet. He stumbled and nearly fell down the steps while following us out to the street where our rickshaw boys were waiting. The boys smiled and Terry nodded. It was working. “Here’s to yah,” Hecklinger said, and pulled the cork out of the bottle with his teeth and then took a long swig. He held the bottle up to the sergeant. “Careful,” he said, “careful, this ain’t that watered down piss you’ve been drinking. I reckon this is powerful stuff.”
“Powerful shit, we were weaned on this stuff,” the sergeant replied and snatched the bottle away from Hecklinger. He put it to his lips, threw his head back and didn’t stop until the bottle was half-empty. He stood straight and tall for a full minute, and then his eyes rolled back. That was his end. He would have fallen on his face had Hecklinger not caught him and propped him up.
“When you’re throwin’ your weight around,” Hecklinger said, “be ready to have it thrown around by somebody else.” He then leaned the sergeant towards the rickshaw and let him go. He fell into the seat with a thud. “Whow,” Hecklinger said, “he’s got the breath that’d make a sow turn and run.”
“So far so good,” Chandler said with delight. “Now let’s get this over with.” Five rickshaws, with the sergeant passed out in one, bolted down the street to the waterfront. We didn’t have to tell the drivers where to go. They already knew.
The street was dark but there was a light coming from the second story window where we stopped. We grabbed the sergeant, one of us under each arm, and dragged him up a flight of steps to the second deck. The door opened and a man in a black greasy apron stood there. He pointed to a barber- like chair and there we laid the sergeant down, face up. The man with the apron unbuttoned the sergeant’s blue jacket and opened his shirt. Satisfied, he turned to us, and then picking up a piece of paper from a table, he held it up. “Zeige,” he said in Chinese.
“Zeige, yes, that one,” I replied, and the man took out his tools. He said he would need at least a half-hour, and we said not to hurry. We wanted a good job. After all, it wasn’t every British Royal Marine who had an American flag tattooed on his chest.
We sent the Sergeant Major back to his ship in a rickshaw, wondering what he would think when he stood in front of the mirror the next morning to shave. We never did find out. The British Navy sailed two days later. There were some high ranking British officers poking around headquarters the next day, and they questioned Stevenson, but he said he knew nothing. We had to keep away from the EM Club until the British navy sailed away, and then we had a big blast.
I finally found the time to visit Mrs. Djung. I bought some of the goodies she liked from the PX, but when I arrived at her house, Bee Ling, the amah, opened the door partway and said the madam wasn’t in. I asked when she would be back but I could not get a proper answer. I wanted to leave the things I bought for her but Bee Ling refused to accept them. What was going on here?