Bluebell Saves the Day
After dinner, at the Rattlesnake Saloon
A passel of us was sitting around a couple of tables at the Rattlesnake Saloon after we'd gotten a good hot indoors meal indoors of us, and we were feeling relaxed and slouched back in our chairs. One of the fellas was saying how comfortable it was here, and how comfortable he was, and how this full load of comfortableness could be topped off by some good talk, maybe some personal stories we hadn't most of us heard yet.
And then they all looked at me, 'cause of during a short break in this meal whilst we was waiting for some more full plates to be brought out, I'd said something about the time that me and my truck and the mule had confronted a regular seaborne invasion during the big war. Now, this was a casual thing to say, and I didn't mean it as any tease, but as I looked around those two tables I was wondering if I'd been a mite rash. They were looking mighty expectant.
They were nodding, friendly-like, and these were good men for heavy work alongside, so telling a little history to entertain of an evening wasn't too much to give back. So I picked up my glass, took a long drink of branch water to clear my throat, and began.
So me, and my old Model T Ford truck, and my mule name of Bluebell, were down on this little island in the South Pacific. It was called Coconut Atoll then, although I hear the name was changed after the war to something I can't pronounce. Anyways, there were a lot of coconut palms growing there, and some brass-hat decided all them coconuts should be harvested before the Japanese fleet showed up.
See, I hadn't wanted to be on that island anyhow, as me and the truck and the mule had wangled passage on a freighter going to Australia, where we were planning to earn wartime money, mining and hauling and such. But along comes this radio message while we're way out over deep water, telling the captain to drop us off at Coconut Atoll to harvest all them coconuts, and have them ready on the beach as quick as may be. Then the next freighter along would pick up the heaps of coconuts, and bring them and me and the truck and mule on to Australia.
So I said, sure. Might as well put a good face on it, since the freighter captain wasn't going to buck orders from the Allied Navies. Never gathered coconuts before, but it couldn't be too hard.
On the island we'd been working steady for some days. Here's what we did. I'd squeeze the Model T truck up alongside a palm tree, or maybe back it close. I'd loop a rope around the tree and fasten it to Blue's harness, and he'd jerk and shake that tree until coconuts came raining down, while we danced and dodged. Any coconuts that didn't fall right into the truck, I'd pick up and toss in. Then Blue would shake the tree again, and we'd do this until we'd got all the coconuts that tree was willing to give up. When we got a truck-full we'd drive them down to the beach and add them to our big pile.
Let me tell you a little about Blue. His fancy name was Bluebell, and that's what my wife always called him; but I used that only for formal occasions, like when I was promoting his ticket on that freighter. It was quicker just to call him "Blue", and he twitched his ears and looked at you just as sharp whichever name you used. He didn't like being called "a dumb ole mule" though, in a down-putting tone: do that and he was liable to get grumpy. He was smart, and a good worker, especially if it was something he hadn't done before.
Blue and I tried a few of the coconuts ourselves, white coconut juice like milk from cows off their feed, and white solid lining of the big nuts. We decided they were okay for taste, and maybe for nourishment, but after a few we both had enough. Anyways, the freighter had left us supplies, so we didn't go hungry.
We were down at the beach, toward the end of day. We'd been working hard in warm weather. Me and Blue were ready for a breather, and the Ford was steaming a little, so we all three just set on the beach near our long heap of coconuts, and gazed out over the blue ocean.
After a while Blue's ears twitched, and his eyes squinted a bit. I seen it too, a ship outlined on the horizon. We studied on her a while; coming our way for sure. Maybe it was our'n, maybe their'n, but there were no deep woods to hide amongst on that atoll, just skinny coconut trees and some bushes. So even if it was Japanese, we might as well set there as skedaddle round that little island.
Sure enough, as it got closer we could see it was a Jap destroyer. It anchored out beyond the reef. Blue looked at me sidewise wondering if he should be worried. I shrugged and told him that, yeah, I was worried plenty but didn't see anything yet to be doing about it.
After a while, a landing boat comes nosing along to the beach with a half-dozen Jap soldiers aboard. A few of them jump out and pull the boat part-way onto the sand. The others get out and they all look at us, jabbering in some foreign language, I suppose it had to be Japanese.
Blue looks aside at me, like to say, why did they pick this spot to land? I told him that our great pile of coconuts was the only landmark on the beach, so naturally they'd come here first to learn what it is.
One soldier, I took him to be a sergeant type, barks orders. A couple soldiers circle around the coconut heap in case we got tanks back there, a couple more check the Ford for machine-guns I suppose, and the others flank the sergeant and stare at us while he barks questions.
I shrug and say, sorry, no speakee da lingo. I say it several different ways until they get the idea.
Blue, meanwhile, has gotten disgusted with these inter-national carryings-on, or maybe he just didn't like the sergeant's tone. So he gets up and ambles off.
The soldiers sent to scout the coconuts and the truck re-join the others, and they're all looking at me trying to figure how to get military secrets out of me when we can't understand each other no better than a coconut can talk to an apple, and besides I hadn't got any secrets anyway.
Suddenly there comes a great crash from the direction of the landing boat, so we all look that-away. Blue's tearing off quicker'n a jackrabbit, and there's a big hole in the side of the boat. So Blue had begun taking matters into his own hooves, if you see what I mean.
Nobody's looking at Blue anyway, they're running down to the boat, pointing and jabbering. They feel around the splintered hole, pick up a few scraps of hull. Blue hadn't just knocked out a chunk, he'd smithereened it. No way anybody could fix that hole without a workshop.
A couple of them start looking around for Blue, but he's out of sight amongst the coconut palms. Then they start yelling at me who's standing innocent as a new-thatched coconut, but the sergeant shouts them down, giving orders. They rummage around in the boat, pull out what looks like a big cased radio, with some headphones and other dinguses attached to it. The radio is carried up the beach towards the truck a ways, where they set it upright on the sand and start cranking levers and poking buttons and what-not.
Figuring I wouldn't mind some entertainment myself, I get in the truck and turn on the engine and then the radio I'd attached to the dashboard, maybe I could get some island music or at least Tokyo Rose with some fresh excuses to abandon the war.
The sergeant comes alongside my door and starts yelling and waving and pointing back to his guys hassling with their radio. I guess I'm interfering with their reception and he wants me to move the truck. So I put it in gear, but maybe I was nervous, because somehow the Ford backs right over their radio.
The soldiers jump aside, but I can feel the bump and hear the scrunch as the truck tire breaks their radio pretty awful. The sergeant is yelling real excited now, so I put the truck in forward and pull out of there quick-like, and durned if the Ford doesn't run right over that radio again, squishing the pieces down into the sand. Not needing especially to witness how they feel about this latest affront to their equipment, I drive the truck up and around in amongst the coconut trees, and park near to ole Blue who's snorting and hawing like he's laughing fit to bust. So the three of us sit up there to await developments, leaving the Japs and the coconuts in possession of the beach, but the Japs at least not too happy.
Looks like some of them want to come after us and give us what-for, but the sergeant probably reckons rightly that he can find us when he wants to. He sets men to gathering some downed chunks of palm trunk and dry fronds, and they build a nice bonfire on the beach. They cook themselves some dinner, while besides me I notice Blue getting restless.
Hungry? I say to him, but he snorts and gets up and walks away through the trees. After a few minutes I see him trotting, shadowy and quiet on the sand, straight at their bonfire. When he gets into the firelight he pulls up, swings around, and starts kicking burning logs and coals every which way. Then he vanishes into the darkness.
The soldiers are all swatting at embers on their shirts and pants for a minute, until the sergeant manages to herd them down into the breakers, where they all dunk themselves in nice cool sea water. When they get back to their fire to dry out and warm up, it's mostly gone out, and they stand around looking kind of hunched and miserable.
When Blue gets back alongside me I punch him friendly-like on the shoulder, and say softly, you done ruined their dinner! And now they're wet, and cold too.
Blue gives a couple snorts of satisfaction.
After a few minutes we notice a signal-lamp blinking from the destroyer. They surely were wondering why no signal from the shore party's radio, and what was going on that looked like an exploding bonfire?
The sergeant picked up a branch with the best bit of blaze on one end, and waved it around in the air. I don't know if he was giving real signals or not, but the destroyer blinked at them some more, the sergeant waved his branch a couple more times, then put it down and poked up the fire as best he could. After a while two stood up with their rifles, on guard, while the rest settled down and tried to sleep near what was left of their fire.
I nudged Blue, and murmured, they've turned in for the night. Let us be up right before dawn, and see what else we need to do. The mule snorted softly in the darkness. I don't think the truck had an opinion but me and Blue were in agreement that we'd done enough for one day.
Now, I reckon these Jap soldiers were brave enough when they were facing our soldiers, and could keep the air humming with bullets as good as any one. But they weren't settled in their heads to capture a beach with a big long heap of coconuts, and they weren't expecting us, neither.
Along about dawn we seen another landing boat come out from the destroyer, and its crew beached it right next to the busted one. Man in charge of this might have been an officer, anyways he put on a lot of dignity, talked much softer than the sergeant.
That first squad clustered around the officer, pointing at the hole in their boat, making arm motions like there had been some explosion aboard their boat that had blown the side out. Of course, by daylight any fool could see it was stove in and not blowed out. But I see they had supporting evidence, like the sheriff likes to say: the radio that the Ford had smunched was now laying, all in pieces, on the sand outside the hole in the boat.
See? I says to Blue. The first crew is letting on that whatever ammo of theirs exploded in the boat, also blew the radio into pieces. And I bet they lay all those burn-holes in their uniforms to the same explosion.
Blue nodded, like he didn't mind not getting credit, long as I knew, and he had satisfaction of a job well done.
The officer was gesturing at our long heap of coconuts, but the first crew were shaking their heads, like they had no idea who had piled them all on the beach, or why. The officer seemed frustrated, but I could see he was looking at his wristwatch, and after a few more minutes he ordered everyone into the second boat. They pushed off, and after their boat was lifted aboard the destroyer, the ship got to moving away.
When the destroyer slipped below the horizon, I let out a big sigh of relief, and so did Blue.
Never did learn what the Navies wanted them coconuts for. Probably kept it a secret, which is a common way with folks when their schemes don't work. The navigator of the freighter that picked us up reckoned that maybe they were experimenting with lubrication, you now, like oil. But the ship's engineer said their insides were only good for mixing with lime juice to make a base for a man's drink.
Me, I'd drunk enough coconut juice while we were working on that island to last a long time. I think Blue had, too.
I nodded around the circle of faces to signify that was the end of it, straightened a bit in my chair, and took another long drink of branch water.
© 2012 Robert Wilfred Franson