“$2.99 for the chicken steak sandwich, salad, pie and coffee, Chief.” The cashier at the Officer’s mess hall handed the tan cardboard folded box to Gronsky.
Captain Malcolm Zachary Fortiscue never ate lunch with the other officers. He sent his personal Aide and Clerk, Chief Petty Officer Finster Gronsky, to the Officers mess to pick up his lunch. Lunch for the Commanding Officer was always the same thing. Gronsky placed the salad, pie and sandwich in their separate cardboard containers and placed all three in the larger box. He carried the coffee with its secured lid separately. Gronsky never complained about his gopher task. He accepted it. In fact, by getting the C.O. totally dependent on him, Gronsky was able to manipulate certain documents to his own advantage. Leave and pass chits, movie theatre tickets, discount coupons for the exchange, liquor store and bowling alley all came through his office for Fortiscue’s signature. The C.O. never signed anything. He had a rubber stamp made-up with his signature on it and had Gronsky do all the endorsements. As a result, Gronsky had a good business going on the side. He sold these stamped items at a nominal charge to hospital personnel and patients alike.
Gronsky walked into his anteroom that was the waiting area outside Fortiscue’s 12-foot-by-12-foot plush office. The phone rang almost immediately and he set down the Captain’s lunch box.
“Chief Gronsky?” It was an unfamiliar voice.
“Yes, this is Chief Petty Officer Gronsky?”
“Chief this is Neally from Security. I’m not sure but I think that your car has a slow leak in the right front tire. Do you own a blue and white Dodge Dart?”
“Yeah, that’s mine.”
“Well, if you get it to the hospital gas station right now they can fix it for you. They’re closing all but the gas pumps in 5-minutes.”
“Thanks Neally. I’ll get right on it.” He ran out the door wondering who the hell Neally was.
Fortiscue was a creature of habit. He demanded his lunch at exactly 1205 every day. It had not appeared. The CO was flustered and hungry. “Where the Christ is my box lunch?” He shouted to his desk clock. He went to the anteroom to question Gronsky about it.
“Hey y’all, Chief, where is my lunch at? Chief? Chief?” Fortiscue looked around and saw the empty two red vinyl chairs and matching sofa. Gronsky was not at his desk. He saw the box lunch on the left hand outer corner of his Aide’s desk and grabbed it.
Chief Finster Gronsky returned from his tire inflation mission and was typing a letter to the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery in care of the Department of the Navy while Fortiscue finished his lunch. Gronsky thought it queer that the C.O. ate the same lunch every day. He looked at his watch–almost 1250. At exactly 1255 Fortiscue would finish his lunch with the pie and call him in to take the box to the trash container. Once Gronsky forgot to bring the apple pie wedge and Fortescue hit the overhead with rage. The Chief Petty Officer looked at his watch, got up and put his hand on the doorknob to Fortescue’s office. It was exactly 1255 and sure enough he heard Fortescue shout his name.
“Gronsky. Gronsky. Get your ass in here right now, hear. No. Wait. You-all call LCDR Norton to get here fast and then get your ass in here.” The hospital Commanding Officer sounded furious.
Gronsky and Norton entered the office to see Fortiscue pacing frantically in front of his desk. The lid to his box lunch was open. The Captain pointed to the desktop.
“F-F-Find ou-ou-out who did this? I want immediate action. Do you-all he-he-hear me?” Fortescue always stuttered when he was entering a rage state.
“What is it sir?” Gronsky looked around the room.
“I-I-In the b-b-b-ox for Christ’s sake.” Fortescue kept pointing his right hand and index finger in jerky motion to the box lunch container.
Gronsky had to go around to the back of the desk to look into the lunch box. His eyes bulged out. His jaw dropped open. He couldn’t believe his vision. There, in the opened circular pie container was a mound of shit with a file card with three words printed in large letters–THE PHANTOM STRIKES.
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