A War To Win

Gene Moser
Copyright 1999

The last notes of "To the Colors" faded as Lieutenant Colonel Matthew Boydon took a small sip from his weak bourbon and water and looked towards Beatrice, his wife.  The apron covering her long skirted gray office suit and the kitchen spoon showed she'd been checking the stew they'd eat when they returned from the station. Stew without turnips, in honor of their stew loving, turnip hating son coming home from military school for Easter, 1959. "It will be nice to see Phil again. I wonder if he's grown more since his February leave," he said.

"Fifteen year olds grow. We can hope we won't hear anything about that girl. He hasn't written a word about her the last three weeks."

"That girl. You mean Elaine, of course. Maybe he's finally given up pleading with us to see her just the once. Maybe he's finally over her. You never will say her name, will you, Dear?"

She smiled. "I really should, Matt. It's just every time I do, I see them naked on his bed that day. It's going to be a long time until I give him permission to see her again."

Matt was about to laugh when the phone on the end table rang and Beatrice reached for it. "Colonel Boydon's quarters. This is Mrs. Boydon," she said. There was silence on her part and her face lost its smile and became a frown. Then her chin, even shielded by the receiver jutted out. "Are you sure? Phil is on that train." After a long pause she said, "The station at Quantico. The train arrives in about forty-five minutes. If you leave now you can be there when it arrives." There was a pause again and she said, "Yes. I agree. It would be better together. We'll meet you there." She hung up the phone, the receiver clattering onto the cradle.

Before Matt had a chance to ask, Beatrice said, "That was Mrs. Goodman. She just had a call from her mother in Staunton. That girl -- Elaine Goodman-- is on the same train with Phil. So that's why he didn't say anything. They've been too busy scheming." She twisted the towel in her hands. "I'm going to wring that boy's neck. That is if you don't beat me too it."

"I take it the Goodmans are going to meet the train at Quantico with us." Damn the boy, he thought. Why couldn't he forget about that girl? First they had been too young. And now they won't separate, no matter what we try to do. Well, that finished the chopper or plane ride he was going to give Phil, . The cadet would wait on that.

"Yes. Matt, what if they've -- done it?"

"In a train coach?"

"I didn't think they'd try before they were fourteen, either," Beatrice Boydon said.

"Well, we might as well get going," he said. "Just in case they make good time. Shirley Highway shouldn't be bad this time in the evening." He took his light jacket off the hook on the back of the front door. "At least the Goodmans won't have to worry about getting on the Marine base since the station is in town." And what if they had done it? Now they are fifteen. If they tried at thirteen, at that ridiculously young age, why not at fifteen?

"Those two," she said as Matt helped her into her spring coat. "Will this spoil Easter?" She opened the door. Matt decided right then that it would be a quiet drive from Ft.Belvoir to Quantico. And that Easter, 1959, might be a little different.

The drive was quiet, as was the fifteen minute wait until he saw Ralph and Dolores Goodman striding along the brightly lit platform. When he shook hands with Ralph he could feel the tenseness in the other man's grip.

"We've been had," Mr. Goodman said. "If anything is wrong with my daughter..."

Matt frowned. "Sort of hard for anything to go wrong in a train full of boys and girls coming home for Easter vacation. I guess it's possible that they really don't know they are on the same train."

"They do. My mother called partially to tell me Elaine acted real upset when they tried to get her to take the earlier train. They wondered when Newberry was releasing the cadets, but didn't want to make a long distance call to a stranger," Mrs. Goodman said.

Lieutenant Colonel Boydon smiled to himself. Civilians. They always seem to make a big deal out of long distance calls. Probably because they are never away from their family for months at a time. "Well, that's over. Let's see what these two will say for themselves." Then he heard the bark of a horn and knew the train was coming.

Five minutes later the train, all blue and gold and aluminum, crept into the station and jolted to a complete stop as a conductor swung a door open and put down the passenger step. The second person out of the car was Phil. His bag rested on the platform as he adjusted his hat correctly on his blond head before looking around. Matt could tell Phil saw them as he waved, picked up his bag in his left hand and marched towards them, looking every inch the proud cadet. Matt realized exactly when Phil recognized the Goodmans, as there was a sudden hesitation. Almost as though he were changing step.

Phil stopped in front of them and put down his bag again. "Hi, Mom. Hi, Dad. He turned to the Goodmans. "Hello, Mr. and Mrs. Goodman. Why are you here?" His voice sounded level, but Matt saw doubt in the hat sheltered eyes.

"Phil, go back to the train and get Elaine," Matt said.

His son looked at him with a good model of a questioning face. "Elaine? How could I get El?" he said.

"I'm sure you know where she is. She's on the train. Now go get her. Right now."

"Dad," Phil began. He'd better not lie, Matt thought. He's too old to spank, but maybe a backhand is what he needs if he lies.

Matt frowned at him just as another cadet walked past. "Have a good leave, Boydon. Nice meeting your Mystery Girl." Matt could see his son's face fall.

Beatrice said, "Phillip Matthew, go get her. Now." Without a word, Phil did an about face and headed towards the train.

"Wonder if one of us should go with him," Ralph said. "They might think of something else foolish."

"I don't think so. Phil knows his hand is in the cookie jar. He knows what will happen if he breaks it," Matt said. A glance at his wife's face told him that she wasn't sure Phil was capable of rational thought.

The conductor had called "Board. All aboard." once when a long red haired, thin girl walked down the steps, followed by Phil, holding a bag in each hand. Her pleated thigh length green skirt, white page boy blouse, and saddle oxfords made her the picture of teen age innocence, not the seductive siren they protected Phil from. She waited for Phil to move along side of her and they walked towards their parents slowly but steadily, neither saying a word, both looking straight ahead. Matt thought he should ask them if they would like a cigarette and a blindfold. No, his wife would be very upset over a joke like that. But the kids looked like they needed them.

"Well, Phillip," his wife said to their son, "so you were on a train with a girl you are forbidden to see."

Matt could see Phil's inner turmoil. He put down the bags and extended his hand towards Elaine, who shook her head. "Mom. We were on a train with half of Newberry's cadets and half of Fairview's girls. What could we possibly do?" His hands came to his side so he was almost at attention.

"I guess this is not the place for an interrogation," Matt said and he could see the other adults nod. "Shall we get together tomorrow evening? Say six?"

Ralph Goodman nodded, his mouth a straight line. "That would be fine. Make it our place since you know exactly where it is and we won't have the rigmarole of getting onto Ft. Belvoir."

Matt could see Beatrice nod. "Okay, Phillip, get your bag in the car."

"Yes, ma'am," his son said, then turned to Elaine. "Bye, El. I love you."

Elaine smiled at that, nodded her head and said, "I love you. Until next time." Matt saw her bright, darting eyes fixed on Phil.

"That wasn't necessary, Phillip," his mother snapped.

"Mom, I do love her." Phil said.

"Get in the car, son," Matt said. "Try not to bother your mother."

Phil got in the back seat of the red '55 station wagon while the adults got in the front. Matt started the wagon and saw Phil sitting straight up, his hat off, but his uniform blouse still buttoned. "At ease, mister. Get comfortable," he said, pleased that Phil's posture was better; no slouching now. Not that he was any less angry.

They drove in silence for several minutes. Matt glanced in the mirror. The blouse was off, lying neatly over the back of the rear seat but Phil still had his tie tight about his neck "Mom, Dad. Aren't you going to say something? You caught us. I'm not going to lie about it."

"Any more you mean?" Beatrice said. "You sure weren't telling the truth until your friend walked past and confirmed what the Goodmans and we knew." Matt glanced at his wife. She looked back at her son, and her eyes and mouth were still slits. Seemed like for once he would have to be the calm one, the arbitrator between child and parent.

But Phil was no longer a child. His neat, correct uniform, the three ribbons over the blouse pocket, the corporal stripes on his lower sleeve, his posture all showed that. The physical evidence only confirmed the additional reports the school had sent him. Even his performance with Elaine, with El, showed a well developed maturity. Of course that also meant sexual maturity; Phil was more than capable of impregnating and Elaine of conceiving. Did they still not understand the dangers there? Damn both of them.

"This wasn't a coincidence, Phil. That's obvious," Beatrice said.

"No, ma'am. We planned it. But what else could we do? It's been a long time since we've seen each other." Phil's voice was low and seemed to have a catch in it.

"It should be two years in August. Except for that chance meeting in the grocery store last year. Was that the last time you saw your girl?" Matt asked and immediately regretted saying "your girl." He knew what Phil would take that to mean. Question was, was his son correct?

Phil looked uncomfortable. It was obvious that the fifteen minute meeting in the A&P two months after they'd been barred from seeing each other was not the only time, even with Phil in military school during the school year and El at her grandparents in summer and Christmas. Even with them having sold the house and moving onto Ft. Belvoir. "Your silence says it's been more than tonight and in the store, son. What's the truth?"

"We've seen each other several times, sir. We've even been alone together. But we didn't do what you and Mom are worried about. El's mom can take her to the doctor again. I'll pay for the exam. We've been good."

Matt wondered if he should press that word, "good." He'd been a teenager in heat himself. And he'd never been in love at Phil's age. Not the way Phil thought of himself as being in love; not as much as he appeared to be in love.

"Phil, your mom and I can't forget that you and Elaine essential had intercourse when you were thirteen. Thirteen, I still can't totally believe that." He took his eyes off the road to glance back at Phil. "That train was full of kids, yes. But what if you two pitched in for a Pullman compartment? Then what could you have done between Leesboro and Quantico?" Matt's heart almost went into his throat when he saw the look of sheer terror on Phil's face. Was his guess right?

"Dad, I swear we haven't. Honest. We swore to each other we wouldn't. El is still a virgin. If boys are, I guess I am, too. But it's going to be harder to keep us apart. El has her license. I'll get mine this summer. We're going to see each other. We'll agree to anything reasonable. Anything just so we don't have to sneak around and lie." Phil's words came tumbling out, a verbal torrent through a broken mental dam. "Just so we can be together, even with chaperones."

" That's not going to happen, Phil," Beatrice said. "And maybe you will have to wait for your license."

"Mom, you can't do that. You promised me my license if I stayed on honor roll. I have." Lieutenant Colonel Boydon remained silent. Phil was right, but he wasn't going to get any support now. Later, but not now.

Interesting choice of girls his son had made. It wasn't her looks. Elaine Goodman wasn't plain or ugly, but she was no raving beauty, either. Freckles on thin cheeks, a pug nose and reddish hair weren't the stuff of Hollywood beauty. If boys bragged about the girl's measurements still, and he knew his junior officers and enlisted sure did, Phil had little chance of being top dog there. A bright and ready smile, obvious intelligence and talent, and a pretty voice were what Elaine offered. That and a spirit of adventure. Maybe Phil had made a good choice, despite her sexual precocity. And Phil's, too.

He could request a transfer. The Presidio might be good. It might be hard for those two to reach from the metropolitan DC area to San Francisco. Or overseas. Phil might really find Germany a great distraction. Or he might run away given either of those two options. They'd threatened that the day they were caught just before they'd tried "to go all the way" as the kids said today.

What was better? An enemy whose position was known, or one that was out there, somewhere? Obvious. You fix them and you finish them. Phil was offering to let his position be known, just so he could talk to Elaine. Damn both of them.

Lieutenant Colonel Boydon glanced at his wife. She would be a tough nut to crack. She was the one who had seen Phil and El nude on the bed, not him. She was the one who had cried herself to sleep over her baby that night. But he'd work on that, just as soon as Phil presented them with a good argument and solid promises.

Not that he wasn't still angry. It had been a long time since he'd been so mad at Phil. But anger was one thing; discipline was another, and saving a son was a third. The most important thing was saving a son. Not that there wouldn't be punishment for this trick.

He was sure that Phil was mature enough and in love enough to see his vamp again. Any maybe the vamp was really a fifteen year old girl, trying to right wrongs, too. With full chaperonage, at home, of course. Even so, he knew it would take luck to make this work. But keeping them apart had not worked and wouldn't work. Seemed like a perfect way to make them grandparents at too early an age. Let's keep the enemy in a position we know and not let them run unobserved through the jungle. That could really be a way to lose a war. And this was not a war to lose.

The End

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