CHAPTER 11 - CAPTAIN BLACK
(AnyBooksFree) CHAPTER 11 - CAPTAIN BLACK
Corporal Kolodny learned about it first in a phone call from Group and was so shaken
by the news that he crossed the intelligence tent on tiptoe to Captain Black, who was
resting drowsily with his bladed shins up on the desk, and relayed the information to
him in a shocked whisper.
Captain Black brightened immediately. 'Bologna?' he exclaimed with delight. 'Well,
I'll be damned.' He broke into loud laughter. 'Bologna, huh?' He laughed again and
shook his head in pleasant amazement. 'Oh, boy! I can't wait to see those bastards'
faces when they find out they're going to Bologna. Ha, ha, ha!'
It was the first really good laugh Captain Black had enjoyed since the day Major
Major outsmarted him and was appointed squadron commander, and he rose with
torpid enthusiasm and stationed himself behind the front counter in order to wring
the most enjoyment from the occasion when the bombardiers arrived for
their map kits.
'That's right, you bastards, Bologna,' he kept repeating to all the bombardiers who
inquired incredulously if they were really going to Bologna. 'Ha! Ha! Ha! Eat your
livers, you bastards. This time you're really in for it.'
Captain Black followed the last of them outside to observe with relish the effect of
the knowledge upon all of the other officers and enlisted men who were assembling
with their helmets, parachutes and flak suits around the four trucks idling in the
center of the squadron area. He was a tall, narrow, disconsolate man who moved with
a crabby listlessness. He shaved his pinched, pale face every third or fourth day, and
most of the time he appeared to be growing a reddish-gold mustache over his skinny
upper lip. He was not disappointed in the scene outside. There was consternation
darkening every expression, and Captain Black yawned deliciously, rubbed the last
lethargy from his eyes and laughed gloatingly each time he told someone else
to eat his liver.
Bologna turned out to be the most rewarding event in Captain Black's life since the
day Major Duluth was killed over Perugia and he was almost selected to replace him.
When word of Major Duluth's death was radioed back to the field, Captain Black
responded with a surge of joy. Although he had never really contemplated the
possibility before, Captain Black understood at once that he was the logical man to
succeed Major Duluth as squadron commander. To begin with, he was the squadron
intelligence officer, which meant he was more intelligent than everyone else in the
True, he was not on combat status, as Major Duluth had been and as all squadron
commanders customarily were; but this was really another powerful argument in his
favor, since his life was in no danger and he would be able to fill the post for as long
as his country needed him. The more Captain Black thought about it, the more
inevitable it seemed. It was merely a matter of dropping the right word in the right
place quickly. He hurried back to his office to determine a course of action. Settling
back in his swivel chair, his feet up on the desk and his eyes closed, he began
imagining how beautiful everything would be once he was squadron commander.
While Captain Black was imagining, Colonel Cathcart was acting, and Captain Black was
flabbergasted by the speed with which, he concluded, Major Major had outsmarted
him. His great dismay at the announcement of Major Major's appointment as
squadron commander was tinged with an embittered resentment he made no effort to
conceal. When fellow administrative officers expressed astonishment at Colonel
Cathcart's choice of Major Major, Captain Black muttered that there was something
funny going on; when they speculated on the political value of Major Major's
resemblance to Henry Fonda, Captain Black asserted that Major Major really *was*
Henry Fonda; and when they remarked that Major Major was somewhat odd, Captain
Black announced that he was a Communist.
'They're taking over everything,' he declared rebelliously. 'Well, you fellows can
stand around and let them if you want to, but I'm not going to. I'm going to do
something about it. From now on I'm going to make every son of a bitch who comes to
my intelligence tent sign a loyalty oath. And I'm not going to let that bastard Major
Major sign one even if he wants to.'
Almost overnight the Glorious Loyalty Oath Crusade was in full flower, and Captain
Black was enraptured to discover himself spearheading it. He had really hit on
something. All the enlisted men and officers on combat duty had to sign a loyalty
oath to get their map cases from the intelligence tent, a second loyalty oath to
receive their flak suits and parachutes from the parachute tent, a third loyalty oath
for Lieutenant Balkington, the motor vehicle officer, to be allowed to ride from the
squadron to the airfield in one of the trucks. Every time they turned around there
was another loyalty oath to be signed. They signed a loyalty oath to get their pay
from the finance officer, to obtain their PX supplies, to have their hair cut by the
Italian barbers. To Captain Black, every officer who supported his Glorious Loyalty
Oath Crusade was a competitor, and he planned and plotted twenty-four hours a day
to keep one step ahead. He would stand second to none in his devotion to country.
When other officers had followed his urging and introduced loyalty oaths of their
own, he went them one better by making every son of a bitch who came to his
intelligence tent sign two loyalty oaths, then three, then four; then he introduced
the pledge of allegiance, and after that 'The Star-Spangled Banner,' one chorus, two
choruses, three choruses, four choruses.
Each time Captain Black forged ahead of his competitors, he swung upon them
scornfully for their failure to follow his example. Each time they followed his
example, he retreated with concern and racked his brain for some new stratagem
that would enable him to turn upon them scornfully again.
Without realizing how it had come about, the combat men in the squadron discovered
themselves dominated by the administrators appointed to serve them. They were
bullied, insulted, harassed and shoved about all day long by one after the other.
When they voiced objection, Captain Black replied that people who were loyal would
not mind signing all the loyalty oaths they had to. To anyone who questioned the
effectiveness of the loyalty oaths, he replied that people who really did owe
allegiance to their country would be proud to pledge it as often as he forced them to.
And to anyone who questioned the morality, he replied that 'The Star-Spangled
Banner' was the greatest piece of music ever composed. The more loyalty oaths a
person signed, the more loyal he was; to Captain Black it was as simple as that, and he
had Corporal Kolodny sign hundreds with his name each day so that he could always
prove he was more loyal than anyone else.
'The important thing is to keep them pledging,' he explained to his cohorts. 'It
doesn't matter whether they mean it or not. That's why they make little kids pledge
allegiance even before they know what "pledge" and "allegiance" mean.'
To Captain Piltchard and Captain Wren, the Glorious Loyalty Oath Crusade was a
glorious pain in the ass, since it complicated their task of organizing the crews for
each combat mission. Men were tied up all over the squadron signing, pledging and
singing, and the missions took hours longer to get under way. Effective emergency
action became impossible, but Captain Piltchard and Captain Wren were both too
timid to raise any outcry against Captain Black, who scrupulously enforced each day
the doctrine of 'Continual Reaffirmation' that he had originated, a doctrine designed
to trap all those men who had become disloyal since the last time they had signed a
loyalty oath the day before
. It was Captain Black who came with advice to Captain
Piltchard and Captain Wren as they pitched about in their bewildering predicament.
He came with a delegation and advised them bluntly to make each man sign a loyalty
oath before allowing him to fly on a combat mission.
'Of course, it's up to you,' Captain Black pointed out. 'Nobody's trying to pressure
you. But everyone else is making them sign loyalty oaths, and it's going to look mighty
funny to the F.B.I. if you two are the only ones who don't care enough about your
country to make them sign loyalty oaths, too. If you want to get a bad reputation,
that's nobody's business but your own. All we're trying to do is help.'
Milo was not convinced and absolutely refused to deprive Major Major of food, even
if Major Major was a Communist, which Milo secretly doubted. Milo was by nature
opposed to any innovation that threatened to disrupt the normal course of affairs.
Milo took a firm moral stand and absolutely refused to participate in the Glorious
Loyalty Oath Crusade until Captain Black called upon him with his delegation and
requested him to.
'National defense is *everybody's* job,' Captain Black replied to Milo's objection.
'And this whole program is voluntary, Milo - don't forget that. The men don't *have*
to sign Piltchard and Wren's loyalty oath if they don't want to. But we need you to
starve them to death if they don't. It's just like Catch-22. Don't you get it? You're
not against Catch-22, are you?'
Doc Daneeka was adamant.
'What makes you so sure Major Major is a Communist?'
'You never heard him denying it until we began accusing him, did you?
And you don't see him signing any of our loyalty oaths.'
'You aren't letting him sign any.'
'Of course not,' Captain Black explained. 'That would defeat the whole purpose of
our crusade. Look, you don't have to play ball with us if you don't want to. But what's
the point of the rest of us working so hard if you're going to give Major Major
medical attention the minute Milo begins starving him to death? I just wonder what
they're going to think up at Group about the man who's undermining our whole
security program. They'll probably transfer you to the Pacific.'
Doc Daneeka surrendered swiftly.
'I'll go tell Gus and Wes to do whatever you want them to.'
Up at Group, Colonel Cathcart had already begun wondering what was going on.
'It's that idiot Black off on a patriotism binge,' Colonel Korn reported with a smile.
'I think you'd better play ball with him for a while, since you're the one who
promoted Major Major to squadron commander.'
'That was your idea,' Colonel Cathcart accused him petulantly.
'I never should have let you talk me into it.'
'And a very good idea it was, too,' retorted Colonel Korn, 'since it eliminated that
superfluous major that's been giving you such an awful black eye as an administrator.
Don't worry, this will probably run its course soon. The best thing to do now is send
Captain Black a letter of total support and hope he drops dead before he does too
much damage.' Colonel Korn was struck with a whimsical thought. 'I wonder! You
don't suppose that imbecile will try to turn Major Major out of his trailer, do you?'
'The next thing we've got to do is turn that bastard Major Major out of his trailer,'
Captain Black decided. 'I'd like to turn his wife and kids out into the woods, too. But
we can't. He has no wife and kids. So we'll just have to make do with what we have
and turn him out. Who's in charge of the tents?'
'You see?' cried Captain Black. 'They're taking over *everything!* Well, I'm not
going to stand for it. I'll take this matter right to Major - de Coverley himself if I
have to. I'll have Milo speak to him about it the minute he gets back from Rome.'
Captain Black had boundless faith in the wisdom, power and justice of Major - de
Coverley, even though he had never spoken to him before and still found himself
without the courage to do so. He deputized Milo to speak to Major - de Coverley for
him and stormed about impatiently as he waited for the tall executive officer to
return. Along with everyone else in the squadron, he lived in profound awe and
reverence of the majestic, white-haired major with craggy face and Jehovean
bearing, who came back from Rome finally with an injured eye inside a new celluloid
eye patch and smashed his whole Glorious Crusade to bits with a single stroke.
Milo carefully said nothing when Major - de Coverley stepped into the mess hall with
his fierce and austere dignity the day he returned and found his way blocked by a
wall of officers waiting in line to sign loyalty oaths. At the far end of the food
counter, a group of men who had arrived earlier were pledging allegiance to the flag,
with trays of food balanced in one hand, in order to be allowed to take seats at the
table. Already at the tables, a group that had arrived still earlier was singing 'The
Star-Spangled Banner' in order that they might use the salt and pepper and ketchup
there. The hubbub began to subside slowly as Major - de Coverley paused in the
doorway with a frown of puzzled disapproval, as though viewing something bizarre. He
started forward in a straight line, and the wall of officers before him parted like the
Red Sea. Glancing neither left nor right, he strode indomitably up to the steam
counter and, in a clear, full-bodied voice that was gruff with age and resonant with
ancient eminence and authority, said:
Instead of eat, Corporal Snark gave Major - de Coverley a loyalty oath to sign. Major
- de Coverley swept it away with mighty displeasure the moment he recognized what
it was, his good eye flaring up blindingly with fiery disdain and his enormous old
corrugated face darkening in mountainous wrath.
'Gimme eat, I said,' he ordered loudly in harsh tones that rumbled ominously through
the silent tent like claps of distant thunder.
Corporal Snark turned pale and began to tremble. He glanced toward Milo pleadingly
for guidance. For several terrible seconds there was not a sound. Then Milo nodded.
'Give him eat,' he said.
Corporal Snark began giving Major - de Coverley eat. Major - de Coverley turned
from the counter with his tray full and came to a stop. His eyes fell on the groups of
other officers gazing at him in mute appeal, and, with righteous belligerence, he
'Give *everybody* eat!'
'Give *everybody* eat!' Milo echoed with joyful relief, and the Glorious Loyalty Oath
Crusade came to an end.
Captain Black was deeply disillusioned by this treacherous stab in the back from
someone in high place upon whom he had relied so confidently for support. Major - de
Coverley had let him down.
'Oh, it doesn't bother me a bit,' he responded cheerfully to everyone who came to
him with sympathy. 'We completed our task. Our purpose was to make everyone we
don't like afraid and to alert people to the danger of Major Major, and we certainly
succeeded at that. Since we weren't going to let him sign loyalty oaths anyway, it
doesn't really matter whether we have them or not.'
Seeing everyone in the squadron he didn't like afraid once again throughout the
appalling, interminable Great Big Siege of Bologna reminded Captain Black
nostalgically of the good old days of his Glorious Loyalty Oath Crusade when he had
been a man of real consequence, and when even big shots like Milo Minderbinder, Doc
Daneeka and Piltchard and Wren had trembled at his approach and groveled at his
feet. To prove to newcomers that he really had been a man of consequence once, he
still had the letter of commendation he had received from Colonel Cathcart.