2 GIs in the Army Security Agency, stationed in the Sin City of Europe, face a personal crisis on the night the Berlin Wall goes up.
Sgt. Malinowski took several steps into the Enlisted Men’s Club and stopped. He had never seen the linguists of Processing Company this drunk, this loud or this disorderly. Everyone was yelling at once, small groups trying to make their conversations heard over their loud neighbors. Someone stood on a table, his pants dropped, mooning the universe (the sergeant didn’t recognize the buttocks) while other linguists clapped and yelled catcalls. My God, thought Malinowski. May their mothers never learn about this, or recruiting into this man’s Army would crash to a standstill. What mother would send her son to a school of drunken debauchery?
The E. M. Club was located in a Quonset hut no larger than a basketball court, and Malinowski scanned the small room for Sullivan. This was Sullivan’s short-timer’s party, he realized, and the linguist would be devastated by the news the sergeant had for him. This was why Malinowski had two M.P.s waiting right outside, just in case Sullivan took a swing at him. A short-timer’s emotions were unpredictable on any occasion, and an Irish short-timer’s provided twice the uncertainty, certainly more considering the unfortunate news the sergeant brought. Malinowski had considered waiting until breakfast before breaking the news but by then Sullivan would be packed, waiting for the bus to take him to the airport. Better to tell him tonight, let him blow up, and if he caused sufficient trouble, tuck him away for the night in the small cell in Headquarters Company built just for such an occasion.
Seventy-odd men sat along the row of double-tables
the men had pushed together across the center of the room.
Over half the company of Russian linguists were there, almost all of them wearing civvies – Malinowski had never been in an outfit where there was such a rush to change out of uniform. Beer bottles and cans cluttered every table, four or five times as many containers as drinkers, bottles of German beer and cans of American beer, some full, some empty, each obscenely inexpensive on a Nickel Night like this, beer so cheap that most linguists bought them five at a time, slapping an American quarter or a Deutsch mark at Jake, the German national who ran the club. Sullivan had made sure his going-home party took place on a Nickel Night.
Bass, whom everyone called Bear, held his guitar and was entertaining troops at the far end of the long table. Malinowski couldn’t hear what he was singing but the sergeant had heard rumors that sometimes Bear sang anti-military songs of his own composition. Malinowski wouldn’t put it past any of them to harbor such feelings. They were college boys who had joined the Army Security Agency a step ahead of being drafted. Not a career soldier among them. Foot soldiers called the linguists “Monterey Marys” after the Language School in Monterey, California, where they’d learned Russian. In Baumholder, 30,000 infantry, paratroopers and special forces were stationed across town at Smith Barracks. The “Animals” spent most of their time training for war in the surrounding farmland but this weekend were in town on pass, which is why the Marys stayed up on their hilltop base. The Animals frightened them, and the sergeant didn’t blame them.
Closer in, Malinowski saw the overweight linguist nicknamed Buddy-pooh holding court, gesturing wildly as he talked, or yelled, over the din of everyone speaking at once. A major trouble-maker, Buddy-pooh. Malinowski had heard that he’d put Hitler speeches to memory to recite for free drinks to the farmers in the local gasthaus.