Now there was a sun-shower over Valletta, and even a rainbow. Howie Surd the drunken yeoman lay on his stomach under mount 52, head propped on arms, staring at a British landing craft that chugged its way through the rainy Harbour. Fat Clyde from Chi, who was 6' 1"/ 142 pounds, came from Winnetka and had been christened Harvey, stood by the lifelines spitting dreamily down into the drydock.
"Fat Clyde," bellowed Howie.
"No," said Fat Clyde. "Whatever it is."
He must have been upset. Nobody ever says things like that to a yeoman. "I'm going over tonight," Howie said gently, "and I need a raincoat because it is raining out, as you may have noticed."
Fat Clyde took a white hat out of his back pocket and tugged it down over his head like a cloche. "I also got liberty," he said.
Bitch box came on. "Now turn in all paint and paint brushes
to the paint locker," it said.
"About that time," said Howie. He crawled out from under the gun mount and squatted on the 01 deck. The rain came down and ran into his ears and down his neck and he watched the sun smearing the sky red over Valletta. "What is wrong, hey, Fat Clyde."
"Oh," said Fat Clyde and spat over the side. His eyes followed the white drop of spit all the way down. Howie gave up after about five minutes of silence. He went around the starboard side and down the ladder to bother Tiger Youngblood the spud coxswain who sat at the bottom of the ladder right outside the galley slicing cucumbers.
Fat Clyde yawned. It rained in his mouth, but he didn't seem to notice. He had a problem. Being an ectomorph, he was inclined to brood. He was a gunner's mate third, and normally it would be none of his business except that his rack was directly over Pappy Hod's, and since arrival in Valletta, Malta, Pappy had commenced talking to himself. Not loud; not loud
enough to be heard by anyone but Fat Clyde.
Now scuttlebutt being what it is, and sailors being, under frequently sentimental and swinish exteriors, sentimental swine, Clyde knew well enough what it was about being in Malta that upset Pappy Hod. Pappy hadn't been eating anything. Normally a liberty hound, he hadn't even been over yet. Because it was usually Fat Clyde who Pappy went out and got drunk with, this was lousing up Fat Clyde's liberty.
Lazar the deck ape, who had been trying the radar gang now for two weeks, came out with a broom and started sweeping water into the drain on the port side. "I don't know why I should be doing this," he bitched conversationally. "I don't have the duty."
"You should of stayed down in first division," Fat Clyde ventured, glum. Lazar began sweeping water at Fat Clyde, who jumped out of the way and continued on down the starboard ladder. To the spud coxswain: "Give me a cucumber, hey Tiger."
"You want a cucumber,"
said Tiger, who was chopping up onions. "Here. I got a cucumber for you." His eyes were watering so bad he looked like a sullen boy, which is what he was.
"Slice it and put it on a plate," said Fat Clyde, "and maybe I will -"
"Here." From the galley porthole. Pappy Hod was hanging out, waving a crescent of watermelon. He spat a seed at Tiger.
That's the old Pappy Hod, thought Clyde. And he is wearing dress blues and a neckerchief.
"Get your ass in gear, Clyde," said Pappy Hod. "Liberty call any minute now."
So of course Clyde was off like a streak for the fo'c's'le and back inside of five minutes, squared away as he ever got for liberty.
"832 days," Tiger Youngblood snarled as Pappy and Clyde headed for the quarterdeck. "And I'll never make it."
The Scaffold, resting on keel blocks, was propped up on each side by a dozen wood beams a foot square which extended from the sides of the ship to the sides
of the drydock. From above, the Scaffold must have looked like a great squid with wood-colored tentacles. Pappy and Clyde crossed the long brow and stood in the rain for a moment, looking at the ship. The sonar dome was shrouded in a secret tarpaulin. At the top of the mast flew the biggest American flag Captain Lych had been able to find. It would not be lowered come Evening Colors; and come true nightfall, portable spotlights would be turned on and focused on it. This was for the benefit of any Egyptian bomber pilots who might be coming in, Scaffold being the only American ship in Valletta at the moment.
On the starboard side rose a school or seminary with a clock tower, growing out of a bastion high as the surface-search radar antenna.
"High and dry," said Clyde.
"They say the Limeys are going to kidnap us," said Pappy. "And leave our ass high and dry till this is over."
"It may take longer than that anyway. Give me a cigarette. There's the generator and
the screw -"
"And the barnacles." Pappy Hod was disgusted. "They will probably want to sandblast, long as she's in the yards. Even though there's a yard period in Philly coming up as soon as we get back. They'll find something for us to do, Fat Clyde."
They made their way through the Dockyard. Around them straggled most of the Scaffold's liberty section in files and bunches. Submarines too were under wraps: perhaps for secrecy, perhaps for the rain. The quitting time whistle blew, and Pappy and Clyde were caught all at once in a torrent of yardbirds: disgorged from earth, vessels and pissoirs, all heading for the gate.
"Yardbirds are the same all over," Pappy said. He and Clyde took their time. The dock workers fled by, jostling them: ragged, gray. By the time Pappy and Clyde reached the stone gateway, they'd all gone. Waiting for them were only two old nuns who sat to either side of the gate, holding little straw collection baskets in their laps and black umbrellas
over their heads. Bottoms of the baskets were barely covered with sixpences and a shilling or two. Clyde came up with a crown; Pappy, who hadn't been over to exchange any currency, dropped a dollar in the other basket. The nuns smiled briefly and resumed their vigil.
"What was that," Pappy smiled to nobody. "Admission charge?"
Towered over by ruins, they walked up a hill, around a great curve in the road and through a tunnel. At the other end of the tunnel was a bus stop: threepence into Valletta, as far as the Phoenicia Hotel. When the bus arrived they got on with a few straggling yardbirds and many Scaffold sailors, who sat in the back and sang. "Pappy," Fat Clyde began, "I know it's no business of mine, but -"
"Driver," came a yell from in back. "Hey driver. Stop the bus. I got to take a leak."
Pappy slumped lower in his seat; tilted the white hat down over his eyes. "Teledu," he muttered. "That will be Teledu."
said Teledu of the A gang. "If you don't stop the bus I will have to piss out the window." Despite himself Pappy turned around to watch. A number of snipes were endeavoring to pull Teledu away from the window. The driver drove on grimly. The yardbirds weren't talking, but watched closely. Scaffold sailors were singing:
"Let's all go down and piss on the Forrestal
Till the damn thing floats away,
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