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Daniel A. Brown

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Granada, Costa del Sol, Ronda (Spain) - photography by Alber
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An unauthorized sequel to "The Caine Mutiny" that follows it's main character, Willie Keith into the tumult of the Vietnam years. This essay CANNOT be copied or published elsewhere.

 

WILLIE KEITH’S CHILDREN
 
A minor sequel to “The Caine Mutiny”
 
The Characters: Professor Willard Keith. Marie, his wife. Their children, Steve, age 21 and Lucy, age 19. The setting: Princeton, New Jersey in June 1970
 
(Scene 1: a book-lined living room in the Keith residence. Professor Keith sits in his favorite easy chair. His son, Steve, stands next to the fireplace. Professor Keith has gotten pudgy with age and his hair is thinning around the crown, though not in an unpleasant way. His son is thin with lank reddish-blond hair, the legacy of his mother)
 
Prof. Keith: So tell me, my shaggy offspring, what plans do you have for the summer?
 
Steve: Well, I saw an ad in the paper for interns at the Princeton Review. It would be good practice. Maybe someday I’ll write a book about the war in Vietnam, eh?
 
Prof. Keith: Really! You might want to wait for it to end first, don’t you think?
 
Steve: It’ll never end. Besides, didn’t they write books about World War II while it was still going on?
 
Prof. Keith: Indeed they did. Bad ones by the score although we knew we were going to win that war years before we actually won it. Unlike this current madness. And speaking of authors of lousy war novels, I assume you’ve heard of Thomas O’Keefe?
 
Steve: Of course! Our prof thought he was the second coming of Hemingway. Always raved about how the guy managed to get down to the true essence of war, whatever that means.  Didn’t he win the Pulitzer for that “lousy war novel” of his, whatever its name was?
 
Prof. Keith: ‘Multitudes, Multitudes’, as I recall. He won the prize in ’47.  God, what a pretentious title, pretentious like him. I can’t believe I was so impressed when he first revealed it to me.
 
Steve: Wait a minute, Pop, you actually knew Thomas O’Keefe?
 
Prof. Keith: Knew him? We served together in the Navy during the war. On the same ship, that miserable rattletrap, the “Caine”.
 
Steve: I can’t believe I’m hearing this! How close were you? Did you two talk a lot? What was he like?
 
Prof. Keith: He was my direct superior, both when we sailed under Queeg and at the end when he was the captain and I was the exec. I started as a communications officer, decoding all the incoming traffic and he was the head of the department, although he was one lazy so-and-so.
 
Steve: You sound like you didn’t like him.
 
Prof. Keith: At first I did. But I said that about Queeg too. I’ve never been a great judge of character, I’ll admit. Anyway, Thomas O’Keefe was really Tom Keefer. He changed his name after the war.
 
Steve: Why?
 
Prof. Keith: Because that’s what famous pretentious novelists do and probably to rid himself of his past identity of which he was most unproud.
 
Steve: Why was that?
 
Professor Keith gets up and ambles over to the bar, suddenly overwhelmed by a wave of nostalgia and loathing. He thinks for a minute that his heartbeat is getting hitched on something.
 
Steve: Pop, you OK?
  
Prof. Keith: Yes, just need another Scotch. You want one?
  
Steve: No thanks, Pop, I’m a pothead, remember? Hey, don’t give me that look, I’m just kidding.
 
Prof. Keith: No, you’re not. All my students are, why shouldn’t you be. From what I read, half the troops over in Vietnam are as well. I can’t imagine fighting a war high on a drug. It was bad enough sober.
 
Steve: If you say so, but why would O’Keefe try to hide his past.
 
Professor Keith sits back down and sighs long and deeply.
 
Steve: Dad.....?
  
Prof. Keith: We were sailing off the coast of Okinawa about half a year before the Surrender. I remember it was a dull, gray day. We were doing a mail run; that’s the kind of heroic stuff we did during the war, stupid donkey work, anyway, we were at battle stations because of the kamikazes and sure enough, some lunatic in a flying piece of junk came out of nowhere and crashed into the Caine amidships.
 
Steve: Holy sh…..crap! What happened? Were you hurt? You never told us about this.
 
Prof. Keith: Well, all hell broke loose as you can imagine but the most important thing that happened was that the captain abandoned his ship.
 
Steve: Wow, you mean, like, everyone jumped overboard?
 
Prof. Keith: No, I mean this one cowardly Famous Author son-of-a-bitch “freaked out” as you kids say, and dove over the side, clutching his Famous Pulitzer Prize-winning novel with him. To hell with the ship, to hell with his crew. He cared more about his goddamn novel than about the men who put their lives into his care. I saved his fucking-
 
Steve: DAD!
 
Prof. Keith: -ship for him while he was in the drink. I should have backed the screws into him, the cowardly bastard.
 
They sit in silence for awhile, Professor Keith lost in thought, Steve trying to grasp all this.
 
Steve: Did he get back on board?
 
Prof. Keith: Oh, yes he did, with his precious novel, to boot. I have to admit, he was man enough to know that he had faced a powerful test of character and failed miserably. Called me into his cabin afterwards and compared himself to Lord Jim.
 
Professor Keith looks into this Scotch, remembering the ‘medicinal’ brandy Tom had poured for the both of them that day.
 
Prof. Keith: It’s not surprising that he never recovered from that. Events from the past have a funny habit of coming back to smite you. You think you’ve gotten over something and “Pow”, it hits you smack in the face when you least expect it. That might sound strange to you being the tender age of 21. You’d be amazed the things your mother brings up to me from time to time.
 
Steve: (laughing) She still sings those corny old songs from the ‘40’s.
 
Prof. Keith: Those “corny old songs” were the only things that kept us sane onboard ship. When you’re sitting in a hot, stinking decoding shack completely shot from no sleep, some lovely female voice crooning “I’m in Heaven” is downright soothing. I can’t imagine that Joplin girl having the same affect. I saw her on Dick Cavett the other night. She sounded like someone torturing an alley cat with a cattle prod. So I’ll take anything from the 1940’s, thank you, barring, of course, the score from “Oklahoma”.
 
 
Steve: (grinning) As we well know. Someday you might want to tell us what that’s all about.
  
Prof. Keith: Nothing too cryptic. Let’s just say that music has an unfortunate habit of framing the bad times during which you heard it played.
 
Steve: I know what you mean. I feel the same way about “The White Album”.
 
Prof. Keith: (alarmed). “The White Album”?! You listen to music sung by segregationists?
 
Steve: Dad, relax, it’s the Beatles.
 
Prof. Keith: Oh.
 
 (Scene II: The kitchen in the Keith residence. Marie and Lucy are standing near the counter baking toll-house cookies. Marie’s hair is still lush although streaked with grey. Lucy is as thin as her brother with a shock of long curly black hair )
 
Lucy: You know, Mom, these ingredients are bad for you. They contain poisons and preservatives. Why don’t you buy whole wheat flour and use a non-sugar sweetener?
 
Marie: Sweetie, if I wanted to eat something utterly tasteless, I’d fry up a piece of wallpaper.
 
 
Lucy: No, I’m serious. There’s a whole revolution taking place around what we eat these days. My friends are buying organic produce and setting up a natural food store in downtown Northampton.
 
Marie: Great. What do they offer? Bins full of dirt and twigs? I love my cookies and so did you until you get all this revolutionary doo-dah stuck in your head. (begins singing unconsciously) “You shine in my heart oh, so sweetly...mmmmm... You are the reason that I live.....mmmmmmm....”
 
Lucy: Mom, yuck! How can you sing such silly and utterly sexist songs. Those were written by men back in the Dark Ages.
 
Marie: Look, honey, don’t lecture me about being “Liberated”. I was out of the house and
working on my own from the time I was your age. Singing in the sleaziest dives for forty bucks a night while hundreds of drunken slobs undressed me with each note. I did this for years while your dad was overseas and I did it on my own without any help from him, my parents, or my “sisters”. You have no idea how easy you girls have it these days.
 
Lucy: But we’ve been oppressed for centuries. We’re finally finding our own voices and learning about who we are. That’s never happened before. At Smith, they’re actually teaching a new course called “Women’s Studies”. The whole society is changing and I want to be part of it. Your generation has no idea what’s going on these days.
 
Marie (smoldering): Maybe that’s because “my generation” was too busy fighting to survive the Depression and World War II. You damn kids never had to worry about where your next meal was coming from or whether you’d come home one evening and find your family tossed out on the street. That happened! It happened to my friends! It almost happened to me! And you can tell this to your hoity-toity professors back at Smith. It was us women who won World War II and we got nothing but shit -
 
 
Lucy: MOM!
 
 
Marie: - for it. We women built the damn airplanes and tanks while the men were away, took care of all you kids and basically ran the country for four years. Then we were told “thank you very much” and sent back home expecting us to be happy with a shiny new fridge. Did we get a crack at the GI Bill and free college education? Did we get any pensions and benefits? Not a one!
 
Lucy: So why didn’t you fight for your equal rights the way we are?
 
Marie (tears filling her eyes): You make it sound so damn easy! We were just happy to have our men come home in one piece and not have to worry anymore. We were tired of fighting to survive. Fighting for our “equal rights” was a luxury we didn’t have back then. And you better remember that I continued my singing for several years after your dad and I got hitched. That was unheard of back then. A married woman having her own career? The flak I got from your grandparents was unbelievable!
 
Lucy: So why’d you give it up?
 
Marie: Well, you two came along and frankly, I got comfortable. After your dad became full professor, we didn’t have to worry about money anymore, not that we ever had to with Nana. But I found I liked staying home with you kids and not having to tromp onto the stage every night in some smoke-filled cave singing the same old soggy tunes.
 
Lucy: The music scene isn’t like that anymore. It’s more tribal, like we’re really together with the musicians. They don’t care about money and they sing about what’s really in our hearts.
 
Marie: Don’t fool yourself, honey, it’s the same old scene, only the type of smoke has changed. It’s all about love, heartache, and money. You know, I saw that Janis Joplin person on TV. She looked like she was about to keel over and the noise coming out of her mouth was like someone being electrocuted. Whatever happened to melody? Whatever happened to beauty? You kids look like a bunch of grubby zombies…. Oh, good, these have cooled down a bit. Give me a tray, Lu, and let’s serve them to the boys.
 
Lucy: Why can’t Dad serve himself? What are you, his slave!?
 
Marie: No, sweetie, I’m his wife and I love the man and sometimes I show that love by baking him cookies. Hopefully, some day, you’ll do the same for your man.
 
Lucy: (snorting) Hmmmmph. When that day comes, that man can bake ME cookies.
 
Marie: Maybe he will, but I promise you, they won’t taste as good.
 
Lucy: I just get so pissed off when I see Dad treat you like a servant.
 
Marie: You got it backwards, honey, really you do. Your dad practically went down on his hands and knees begging me to marry him.
 
Lucy: (incredulous) He did?
 
Marie: Yes, he did and I let him grovel a bit, the way he treated me.
 
 
 
Lucy: Really? What did he do? You guys never told me and Steve how you met.
 
Marie: We met just before your pop went into the service. We were kids, really. Simple story. I sang at this wretched joint in Midtown where he played piano. He played very well, too, even then. We went out for pizza after my first audition with him and he went all gaga over me. Which is why to this day, I refuse to eat the stuff. Imagine me, a good Eye-talian girl, choking at the sight of a pie! Brings up those subconscious memories, I guess. Anyway, he went in the Navy, I kept singing and just when I was going through a really rough period in my life, your father, with his impeccable sense of timing, decided to break up with me.
 
Lucy: That’s not nice! Why?
 
Marie: (carefully weighing what to say). Well, I don’t really know. War scrambles everything up and we were ridiculously young. I know that his mother didn’t approve of me then, coming from the wrong side of the tracks, wrong side of the “Mayflower” actually. I guess I didn’t seem the Professor Wifey type to her.
 
Lucy: She seems friendly to you now.
 
Marie: (coldly) Yes, after thirty years, we get along.
 
 
Lucy: Well, what happened with you and dad after he dumped you?
 
Marie: I got involved with this no-good bandleader named Walter Feather. God, what a name! What a louse! You’ve got to remember that band leaders were to us what the Beatles are to you kids - gods - except they dressed better. This guy, Feather, was one suave cookie, looked like an elderly Clark Gable and could talk a chicken right off the bone as we used to say. Anyway, your dad came back from the war begging me to marry him.
 
Lucy: What changed his mind?
 
Marie: He was almost killed in a kamikaze attack. He told me that just before the damn plane hit, the only regret he felt was not marrying me. He wrote me a ten page letter the next day begging for my hand.
 
Lucy: God, that is SO romantic!
 
Marie: Yes, and also SO inconvenient seeing I was dating Feather at the time. He pulled some sneaky underhanded stuff to make me marry him instead.
 
Lucy: Like what?
 
Marie: Like telling me that your father was nothing but a spoiled rich brat who was only playing Sailor Boy and that I was beneath his station. That’s when I slapped him across his face and walked out the door.
 
Lucy: Alright, Mom!
 
Marie: Well, besides, he was married, too! Don’t look at me like that, he was separated at the time. Besides, men back then had to work to get us into the sack. Compared to the easy way you kids jump into bed with each other these days, we were downright monastic.
 
Lucy: MOM!
 
Marie: Want me to ask any uncomfortable questions, dear?
 
 
Lucy: (blushing furiously) No.....
 
Marie: Anyway, after letting your dad crawl for a year, I tied the knot. I guess I couldn’t get him out of my mind. Couldn’t ignore that “chiming carillon of truth” as Tom O’Keefe once wrote.
 
Lucy: You read him too! I thought he was the grooviest writer around.
 
Marie: Yes, well, don’t bring that up with your father.
 
Lucy: Why not?
 
Marie: Just trust me on this one, OK,
 
Lucy: God, your generation never talks about anything.
 
Marie: That’s because your generation never knows when to shut up. C’mon, let’s bring the cookies out.
 
(they go out)
 
(Scene II1: The living room)
 
Steve: Dad, I want to ask you something but I’m a bit scared to.
 
Prof. Keith: You know you can ask me anything, Steven.
 
Steve: (warmly) I know, Pop, and I appreciate that. But this topic is a little bit dicey.
 
Prof. Keith: Try me. Besides, my teeth are too worn down by age to bite you.
 
 
Steve: (pauses) Dad, did you ever commit any atrocities during the war?
 
Prof. Keith: (gives a short laugh, mostly from relief) Never had the chance to! We rarely fired shots in anger during my time on board and that was in self defense. The closest we came to an atrocity was a standing order during invasion days to shoot any Jap swimmers near the ship sight unseen. Didn’t matter what shape they were in, half dead, half drowned, we killed them. I never saw it happen, thank God.
 
Steve: That’s terrible! how could they order such a thing?
 
Prof. Keith: Actually it made sense. On the islands, the Japs would pretend to surrender and then toss a grenade at you. It happened so often than we stopped taking chances. You can’t blame anyone for that.
 
Steve: But, Dad, in Vietnam, we’re killing women and kids.
 
Prof. Keith: Look, son, everything seems clear and simple when you’re sitting in a comfortable house stateside, safe and warm, well-rested and well-fed. It’s a different matter when you’re exhausted, on edge, and scared half to death. Especially so when you see your friends killed in front of you every day. Don’t believe all that John Wayne heroic nonsense. Most men are terrified in combat and they should be, it’s the most dislocating thing that can happen to you and when self preservation is the issue, all the rules are off. I had a fairly easy war safe aboard a ship but still found myself scared silly during my second invasion.
 
 
Steve: (anguished) But what about My Lai! We shot babies there at point blank range.
 
Prof. Keith: And there but for the grace of God go I ...and you. Don’t kid yourself, Steven, half your peacenik friends probably would have done the same thing if they were there. Those aren’t “baby-killers” in Vietnam, just terrified kids.
 
Steve: That doesn’t make it right.
 
Prof. Keith: No, but it does make it war and that’s where they are.
 
Steve: (tentatively) Would you have done it?
 
Prof. Keith: Steve, I don’t know. No one ever plans to do such horrible things. I’m sure none of the soldiers at My Lai could have envisioned that massacre a year before it happened. They went overseas just like I did, hoping to serve their country and get home in one piece. That’s what it all comes down to.
 
Steve: Do you think we were right to drop the bomb on Hiroshima? We had a big debate about that in class last semester.
 
Prof. Keith: And what exactly did you bright young scholars conclude?
 
Steve: That it was the ultimate tragedy of the Twentieth Century, one the most evil things any nation ever did. That we were no better than the Nazis.
 
Prof. Keith: (riled) Don’t you dare say that! Don’t you ever dare compare us to the Nazis in my home! How dare you!! How can you say such a thing!
 
Steve: Dad, calm down! I didn’t say that I said that. I said we discussed that possibility.
 
Prof. Keith: What’s the difference? Do you really believe that?
 
Steve: Well, I thought I did until about a second ago. What was your reaction when you first heard about the Bomb?
 
Prof. Keith: I thought the same thing that millions of other soldiers thought which was, “Thank God, I’m not going to die”. There wasn’t one American dumb enough to think otherwise. The war was over and we were all going home. End of story.
 
Steve: You didn’t care that we killed 100,000 people with one bomb, most of them civilians?
 
Prof. Keith: No, I didn’t. They attacked Pearl Harbor, they were the ones who committed atrocities during the Bataan Death March. Ever hear about the Rape of Nanking? I can get Professor Chang over here for an evening to education you. He saw Japanese solders bayonet pregnant women to death and then slit open their bellies. Laughing the whole time while they did it.
 
Steve: Dad, please.
 
Prof. Keith: No, you brought this topic up and now you’re going to finish it with me. You think only Americans commit atrocities? 50,000,000 people, mostly innocents, died in my war. Everyone killed civilians both the good guys and the bad guys. It was a total war but you better be damned glad we won.
 
Steve: Do you hate the Japanese, still?
 
Prof. Keith: No, in fact I don’t, but I know many who do. And I know quite a few Jewish people who still won’t visit Germany or ride in a Volkswagen, which Hitler designed.
 
Steve: (laughing) They’d make lousy hippies. That’s our vehicle of choice. Hitler would have had a fit.
 
Prof. Keith: (mollified) Not to mention every parent of a Jewish hippie. Oh, look, here doth cometh the cookies and, more importantly, those who beareth them.
 
Marie: Whew, it sounded mighty ferocious there for awhile. What were you two snapping at each other about?
 
Prof. Keith: Oh, nothing really, just a little cross-generational differences about World War II and who did what to whom.
 
Lucy: God, who cares!? That’s ancient history. You should be arguing about Vietnam, the environment and the liberation of women!
 
Prof. Keith: I’ve fought my wars, thank you, both here and abroad. I think I prefer a little peace and quiet for a change.
 
Lucy: That’s the problem with you, Dad. You’re such a part of the Establishment that you probably never questioned authority your entire life!
 
Willie and Marie exchange sharp looks, his tinged with pain, hers with wry amusement.
 
Marie: Want me to field this one, honey?
 
Prof. Keith: No, I guess it’s about time I told them.
 
Steve: Told us what?
 
Prof. Keith: Told you about my part in the great Caine Mutiny
 
Steve and Lucy: (stunned) You were part of a mutiny? You?
 
Prof. Keith: Excuse me, but I can handle a cutlass as well as anyone.
 
Steve: Very funny, I’m serious. How the hell did you become part of a mutiny.
 
Prof. Keith: Do you and your sister ever notice that I rarely react to your swearing? Do you ever wonder why? Well, it’s because the cursing aboard a typical American naval vessel reaches such Shakespearean grandeur that you kids sound like Bambi and Thumper by comparison.
 
Steve: That’s very interesting but you’re avoiding the subject.
 
Prof. Keith: I know.
 
Steve: Well?
 
Prof. Keith: Do I really have to talk about this?
 
Lucy: No, but now that you’ve mentioned it, we’ll be wondering about it for the rest of our lives.
 
Prof. Keith: That’s fair.
 
Steve: So what was this big mutiny all about?
 
Prof. Keith: (abruptly) It wasn’t a damn “mutiny”! We were trying to save the fu…goddamn ship! We were in the middle of a typhoon, right on the verge of sinking with an idiot for a captain! What the hell were we supposed to do!?
 
Steve: Easy, Pop.
 
Lucy: (smirking) Been waiting awhile to get that one out, huh?
 
Marie: Hush, you!
 
Prof. Keith: (turning on her) You don’t understand….we…didn’t…do…anything ….WRONG! (tears start to form in the corner of his eyes and his voice hitches)
 
Lucy: (alarmed) Daddy?
 
Marie: (coming over to him and softly caressing his hands) We don’t have to do this if you don’t want to, Willie.
 
Prof. Keith: (catching his breath) It’s alright…maybe it’s good to get it out. I should tell them what happened. After all, it changed my life.
 
They all sit in silence for awhile, waiting
 
Prof. Keith: We were in the middle of a typhoon, something none of you can conceive of. It’s amazing how quickly a ship can shrink in size in the space of a few hours. Even a battleship can be damaged by these monsters and we were no battleship, just a bucket by comparison. When I first woke up that morning I was standing on the wall, we were heeling over so steeply.
 
Marie (alarmed): You never told me THAT!
 
Prof. Keith: There’s a lot from that day I didn’t tell you. The waves at one point were so huge they were flooding the bridge and we were all convinced that we were about to go down.
 
Steve: My God! Were you scared?
 
Prof. Keith: Scared to death. We were all in a state of shock, even the captain. Only Maryk, our exec, was keeping his head together. He knew we couldn’t hold course and save the ship so he begged Queeg to head into the wind which would give the screws and rudder some purchase.
 
Lucy: I don’t get it.
 
Prof. Keith: We were given a course that put the wind to our backs causing the ship to weathervane sideways at which point the wind and waves nearly pushed us over. Going into the wind allowed us to maintain stability. It was the wrong course, but the only safe one. Maryk knew this obvious fact and he kept begging Queeg to keep us into the wind.
 
Steve: What did Queeg do?
 
Prof. Keith: He refused. The damn fool just couldn’t think on his feet and make a decision on his own. At one point, he completely went blank, like a robot. Maryk finally got her back into the wind and sailing steady when the captain snapped out of his daze and ordered him to resume fleet course.
 
Lucy: So, did this Maryk guy give in?
 
Prof. Keith: No, that Maryk guy relieved the captain under Articles 184, 185, and 186 of Naval Regulations and that’s your big fat mutiny. No guns, no swords, no setting Queeg adrift in a longboat to drink the blood of seagulls.
 
Steve: So why were you charged?
 
Prof. Keith: I went along with Maryk.
 
Steve: Why’d you do that?
 
Under Steve’s severe gaze, Willie gets a flash of the trial, himself wilting under the harsh questioning of Jack Challee.
 
Prof. Keith: Because I thought he was the only one who could save the ship. I didn’t know it at the time, though. Our defense at the trial was based on proving Queeg was insane which was absurd. I completely botched that theory under oath. Queeg wasn’t crazy, just incompetent, cowardly, and stupid. But not crazy. I’m amazed I was acquitted.
 
Steve: Really? How were you acquitted?
 
Prof. Keith: We had some Navy lawyer who took our case. An odd duck named Greenwald who was part Perry Mason, part Gomer Pyle. I heard afterwards that he tricked Queeg into rambling incoherently in court until the judges thought that maybe he WAS nuts after all. A smart tactic, as it was. I got off but received an Official Reprimand a year later. Got that the same day I got my medal for later saving the ship. Strange, eh?
 
Steve: Why didn’t you just pitch Queeg over the side in a storm. I’ve read in “The Other” that grunts in Vietnam shoot their own officers if they don’t like them.
 
Prof. Keith: That’s disgusting! How can you even suggest that? I never would have conceived of such a vile act. No one else would have either... well, maybe Keefer.
 
Lucy: Who’s Keefer?
 
Marie: Hush!
 
Steve: Did Keefer take part in the mutiny?
 
Prof. Keith: No, of course not, although he should have. I ran into Maryk a few years ago. Saw his name in some reunion newsletter and tracked him down. We met in the city, had dinner, and got caught up. That night, he gave me another reason to despise Keefer. Turns out that Tom had been poisoning him against Queeg from Day One, warning him that the captain was insane and that he would have to take action against him eventually. He goaded Steve to depose the captain for over a year and when Maryk actually went ahead and did it, Keefer jumped ship again.
 
Steve: What do you mean by that?
 
Prof. Keith: Basically, he abandoned Maryk and left him to hang during the trial. Never came to his defense. Never got up on the stand with him.
 
Steve: What a creep!
 
Prof. Keith: Indeed. Fortunately, he didn’t get away with it. Greenwald confronted him during our so-called victory celebration, called him a coward in front of the entire room and then threw a glass of wine in his face.
 
Steve: Jesus, what did O’Keefe...Keefer, do?
 
Prof. Keith: He didn’t do anything which should not be surprising. He was nothing but a poltroon
 
Lucy: A what?
 
Prof. Keith: A poltroon, a lily-livered, recreant, craven mouse. Don’t they teach vocabulary in schools anymore?
 
Steve: Not ancient English vocabulary.
 
Prof. Keith: There’s nothing ancient about it!
 
Lucy: Anyway, what happened to Maryk?
 
Prof. Keith: After the trial he was transferred to command a LCI, which was a major slap in the face. He was in line to command the Caine and an LCI, well, that’s nothing but a big landing craft. It was definitely a step downwards. We knew about it aboard ship and figured he was sunk.
 
Steve: Was he?
 
Prof. Keith: No. The Korean War saved him, oddly enough. The Navy found themselves short of experienced seamen and Steve - yes, I named you after him - was about as experienced as you could get. Used to be a commercial fisherman before the war. Anyway, they immediately put him in command of a destroyer and stationed him off Pusan. When I met him in 1964 he was a full captain and commanding a missile cruiser. Happy as a clam generally but still quite bitter about Keefer. Refused to read his book, in fact wouldn’t even read the reviews of it. He almost wrote a piece for Naval Proceedings exposing him but thought better of it. He was married, had several kids, and looked as rugged as a character out of Conrad. We vowed to stay in touch but it never happened. I have no idea what he’s up to now.
 
Steve: So Keefer blew it twice, I guess.
 
Prof. Keith Yes, that’s a fair appraisal.
 
Steve: Is that why he committed suicide back in ‘67.
 
Prof. Keith: I’m sure it was a factor, no matter what the papers said. I’m sure they knew nothing about his wartime follies. Alcoholism and a failed marriage didn’t help much, either. And I’m really tired of having my heart ripped out of my chest with all these revelations. Are there any cookies left or did you little rascals eat them all?
 
Lucy: Who cares about cookies, for God’s sake! I could talk about this stuff all night!
 
Prof. Keith: That’s because you never had to live through them.
 
Lucy: What’s the difference!?
 
Prof. Keith: The difference is that until you’ve been tested, all your bright ideals mean nothing. I always thought that my war years were shaped by Queeg but they weren’t. Queeg was a coward and a screw-up but he never pretended to be anything but. Keefer had all this lofty intellect and insight but when the chips were down, he was a worse failure than Queeg.
 
Steven: (grinning, in spite of himself) And the moral of the story, Professor Keith?
 
Prof. Keith: (sourly) The moral is that I’m quite proud that you and your sister question and care about what’s going on in the world. Just make damn sure that neither of you become Tom Keefer when it’s all on the line.
 
Willie gets up and leaves the room without a word or a backwards glance
 
                   *       *       *       *       *

 

 

 

 


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