Authors: Wayne Stinnett
A Jesse McDermitt Novel
By Wayne Stinnett
Published by Down Island Press, 2014
Travelers Rest, SC
Copyright © 2014 by Wayne Stinnett
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed
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Purchase only authorized editions.
Library of Congress cataloging-in-publication Data
p. cm. - (A Jesse McDermott novel)
ISBN-13: 978-0692225073 (Down Island Press)
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Most of the locations herein are also fictional, or used fictitiously. However, I took great pains to depict the location and description of the many islands, locales, beaches, reefs, bars, and restaurants in the Keys, to the best of my ability. The
is not a real place, but if I were to open a bar in the Florida Keys, it would probably be a lot like depicted here. I’ve tried my best to convey the island attitude in this work.
I’d like to thank the many people who encouraged me to write this
fourth novel, a prequel to the first three, especially my wife, Greta. Her love, encouragement, motivation, support, dreams for the future, and the many ideas she keeps coming up with have been a blessing. At times, I swear she was a Key West Wrecker in another life. Or maybe a Galley Wench, I’m not always sure. A special thanks to my youngest daughter, Jordy, for her many contributions and sometimes truly outlandish ideas. While only a twelve year old mind can conceive of some of the wacky ideas she has, many of them planted a seed in my mind that found their way into the story. I need to thank our other kids, Nicolette, Laura, and Richard for their support and encouragement.
I also owe a special thanks to my old friend, Tim Ebaugh, of Tim Ebaugh Photography and Design, for the cover
work. You can see more of his work at
Lastly, where would any writer be without great proof readers? While I can come up with a decent story line and characters, it’s Karen Armstrong and her mighty red pen and Donna Rich, with her computer wizardry that put the polishing touches on it all. Thanks also to Beta Readers Sergeant Major Thomas Crisp, USMC (retired), Marcus Lowe, Timothy Artus, Joe Lipshetz, Nicole Godsey, Debbie Kocol, Mike Ramsey, Alan Fader, and Bill Cooksey.
Many of you have emailed me, wanting to know more about Jesse, Rusty, Julie, Jimmy, the other islanders
, and their backstories. This prequel to the series should shed more light on how Jesse came to live in the Florida Keys and hopefully show a side of these character you couldn’t see in the series.
The Florida Keys
“The world was all tied together in some mysterious tangle of invisible web, single strands that reach impossible distances, glimpsed but rarely when the light caught them just right.” – Travis McGee
The Green Ripper, 1979
Today’s the day
, I thought to myself as I rose from my bed. My last day in the Marine Corps. It was twenty years ago today, that the door on a Greyhound bus opened and some guy with a Smokey the Bear hat stepped on and told a bunch of us that we had three heartbeats to get off his damned bus. I remembered that day like it was yesterday. There were twenty-six of us on the bus and we all hustled to get off of it. The guy in the Smokey hat was joined by three others, all yelling orders at the same time. The common denominator being, “Fall in! Line up! Stand on those yellow footprints!”
It’d been a great ride, but now I was ready to move on with my life. I’d given twenty years of it to the Marine Corps, had the opportunity to lead and be led by some of the greatest people I’ve ever known. The years of service and dozens of deployments had taken their toll. My first marriage lasted six years and we had t
wo beautiful daughters. They left me. My second marriage lasted only nine months and thankfully there were no kids produced with that shrew. I’d been shot at and blown up, but survived.
I took my usual seven minute shower and was dr
essed in my clean and pressed utility uniform, in three. Habits born of necessity are hard to break. Eleven minutes after rising from my bunk in the Bachelor Enlisted Quarters, I was out the door. I’d packed everything I owned the night before into a single seabag. I traveled light the last few years.
It was a short walk to the mess hall, where I joined other Marines from the several units clustered
around the 1
Marines headquarters in line for breakfast.
Looking around, I saw a few other non-coms sitting at a table in the corner and walked toward
s them. “Mind if I have my last Marine Corps breakfast with you guys?” I asked.
“Sure, Gunny,” a Sergeant by the name of Manuel Ortiz said. “We’d be proud to have you join us. Today’s the day, huh?”
“Yeah,” I replied taking a seat. “Transferring to the First Civ Div in about an hour.”
I talked with the three of them while we ate and drank coffee. Then
I went to my office at the Force Recon headquarters building. It was still very early, not even 0600 yet and as usual, there were only three people there, the Duty Officer from the night before, his driver and a young Lance Corporal who was the new S-4 Clerk. S-4 is the logistical office of a Marine unit. I said good morning to the Duty Officer, a young Second Lieutenant by the name of Scott Briggs, nodded to the Duty Driver, a young PFC I’d never met and then went into the S-4 Office.
“Morning, Gunny,” said Lance Corporal Michael Jaworsky. “I figured you’d be stopping in this morning. Want me to make an airline reservation home for you?”
I’d been thinking this over for a week already. I was leaving home, not going home. The Corps had been my home and my family for a long time now. The house I grew up in as a kid was owned by my grandparents and I sold it last year, after Mam and Pap passed away. Outside of my room at the BEQ, I didn’t have a home.
“No,” I said. “No airline. Can you rent me a car? One way to south Florida?”
He opened a folder on his desk, looked at it and asked, “One way car rental to Fort Myers?”
“Souther than that
,” I said with a grin and a bumpkin accent. “See if you can find one I can turn in somewhere in the Middle Keys. I know there’s an airport in Marathon and another in Key West.”
“The Keys? Wow, now that’s what I call retiring. I’ll see what I can do.
Any preference in what kind of car? Need a lot of luggage space? An SUV?”
I laughed and said, “That’d be overkill for my one seabag and one uniform bag. How about something sporty? Maybe a convertible?”
“I’ll let you know in an hour,” Jaworsky replied.
I really didn’t have a whole lot of work to do. I’d already checked out at medical, dental, the Battalion
Adjutant in S-1, checked in my weapons at the armory, and received my new ID card from S-2. There were a few things in my office, pictures and awards hanging on the walls that I wanted to keep.
As if he’d read my mind, Jaworsky knocked on the door frame and came in with a small cardboard box. “Thought you might need this, Gunny.”
“Thanks, Mike,” I said as I placed the box on my empty desk. He stood in front of it, with his hands clasped behind his back. “Is there something else? No way you got me a car that fast.”
“Working on it, Gunny,” he said.
“I just wanted to say it’s been an honor working with you.”
I stepped out from behind the desk and extended my hand. “It’s been a pleasure, Mike.”
He shook my hand, then turned and left the office. As I started collecting my belongings and boxing them up, several others dropped in to say goodbye. In fact, just about everyone in HQ, from the newest Private, to the Battalion Sergeant Major and the Commanding Officer, dropped by over the next hour.
Company CO stopped by, just as the Battalion CO was leaving. Captain Tom Broderick and I’d known each other for ten years, since he was a wet behind the ears Second Lieutenant, fresh out of Officer Candidate School. He was due to be promoted to Major next week and would be transferring out after that. At 32, he was on the fast track to getting a star on his collar. He was 6 feet tall, a muscular 200 pounds, with a shaved head and skin as dark as ebony.
“Really hate to see you go, Jesse.”
“I’m having a hard time believing it’s been twenty years already, Tom.” In front of other Officers, or the troops, I’d call him by his rank. But, we’d become close friends and when it was just the two of us, we used first names.
“Been a lot of water under the keel, hasn’
“Yeah, I suppose it has. Have a seat.”
We sat down and with a half grin, he said, “I can’t stay long, I have a few last minute details on some douchebag’s retirement ceremony to iron out.”
We talked for a few minutes over coffee then he had to leave. I was just putting the last things in the box when Jaworsky knocked on the door frame and stepped inside.
“How’s a red Mustang convertible sound, Gunny?”
I grinned. “Sounds a lot better than
a silver bird. Where do I pick it up?”
“It’ll be delivered in an hour,” he replied puffing his chest out just a little. “One way to Marathon, with a return date four days from today.”
“Delivered? Now that’s service. Thanks a lot, Mike.”
He left then and I glanced at my watch. It’d been a Christmas gift from my wife and daughters many years ago. That
brought on a flood of regret. Normally, at a retirement ceremony, the Corps has a junior NCO escort the wife to stand alongside her husband, where she’s given an award for putting up with his, and the Corps’, shit for twenty years. And the retiree’s daughters are given a bouquet of flowers. I wouldn’t have that. The Corps was my only family now. I’d spoken with Tom several weeks earlier and asked for a simple ceremony at morning formation.
It was 0700, time for formation. I picked up my little box of mementos and stood for a moment looking around the office
. I poured one last cup of coffee into my heavy porcelain mug that had the Force Recon logo on it and headed out the door. I talked to a couple of the office people while downing my last cup of Marine Corps coffee, then leaving the box and mug at the Clerk’s desk in front, I walked outside.
The formation was already mustering. My platoon was Scout/Snipers and we usually formed up off to the side of Weapons Platoon and Headquarters Platoon. Today, they were formed up in the center, with
my Platoon Sergeant standing at the front of the loose formation.
As I approached, Sergeant Ortiz ordered the men to attention
. Then he did an about face and said, “Scout/Sniper Platoon all present and accounted for, Gunny.”
I stood in front of Ortiz and looked over the group of men with mixed emotions, making eye contact with every one of them, even though they were supposed to be looking straight ahead. I nodded to them, then looked at my Sergeant.
“Sergeant Ortiz! For the last time! Post!” He smartly did a right face and marched to his position at the head of First Squad.
Looking over my troops once more, I gave the command, “At ease!”
With my hands clasped behind my back, I said. “Men, it’s been an honor and a privilege to be your leader. I only hope that some of what I tried to teach to you stuck, you bunch of shitbirds.”
A chorus of “Oorah!” went up from the platoon and many laughed. Some of these guys, I’d served with in other units and many had been here as long as me. There were a few new guys, too, who nervously laughed.
From behind me came a booming voice that was both strange and familiar at the same time. “Company!”
I snapped to attention
as a few whispers came from my platoon. I did an about face and shouted over my shoulder, “Platoon!” My platoon immediately assumed the parade rest position.
Ten paces in front of me stood an old
and very close friend and a legend in the Marine Corps, Master Gunnery Sergeant Owen ‘Tank’ Tankersley, dressed as usual in the Charlie uniform, green trousers and khaki blouse. Tank had been my Platoon Sergeant when I first arrived in the Fleet and was later my Company Gunny. He rarely wore utilities, because on the top of his ribbon rack sat a pale blue ribbon with five white stars, the Medal of Honor.
“Attention!” boomed Tank and about
a hundred pairs of heels came together in unison.
“You didn’t think I’d miss this, did you, Jesse?” Tank asked quietly.
“It’s an honor to have you here, Master Guns.”
Tank performed an about face and waited as the Battalion Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Brooks, strode toward him. The CO stopped two paces in front of Tank, everyone waiting. As is customary, the CO saluted Tank
, in deference to that little blue ribbon.
Tank returned the salute and said, “
Alpha Company is formed, sir!”
“Post!” barked Brooks and Tank did a left face and marched around the CO to take his position behind and to his left.
The Battalion CO looked over the three platoons, comprising just one of the Companies in his command, until his gaze finally came to rest on me.
“Good morning, Gunnery Sergeant McDermitt.”
“And a fine Marine Corps morning to you, sir,” I replied. Brooks and I went back a few years and I’d invited him to personally retire me. Normally, Tom would be commanding the formation as the Company CO.
y Sergeant Jesiah Smedley McDermitt,” he shouted. “Front and center!”
I winced at the use of my full name.
My Mom’s parents were Jewish and insisted on a Jewish name. Both my Dad and Pap were Marines, Pap having served before and during WWII. He once served under the command of one of the Corps’ greatest heroes, Smedley Butler, just before the General retired. I marched forward and came to attention two paces in front of the Battalion Commanding Officer, saluted and said, “Gunnery Sergeant McDermitt, reporting as ordered, sir.”
He returned my salute then
looked over his left shoulder and barked, “Adjutant! Report!”
A young Captain who had just transferred in from 2/4 stepped forward with several thin, red binders. He opened
the first one and began reading. It was a citation from the President of the United States, awarding me the Meritorious Service Medal. When he’d finished reading it, he stepped forward and handed the red binder and a small case to Tank, who opened the case and presented it to the CO.
Brooks took the medal from the case and pinned it onto the pocket flap of my camouflage blouse. Then Tank handed him the red binder and he handed it to me. Shaking my right hand as he did so, he said, “Congratulations, Gunny.”
The Adjutant began reading again. My certificate of retirement and transfer orders to the Marine Corps Reserve. Again, Tank handed him the red binder and he handed it to me, shaking hands once more.
The Adjutant then read letters of congratulations from the Commandant of the Marine Corps and the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps. I received them with yet another handshake.
It was at this point that the wife and family are usually recognized. Tank looked at me with a sad smile as the CO said quietly, “It’s been an honor serving with you Gunny. I know your service has come with great cost. Your nation thanks you.”
I saluted and said,
“Thank you, sir.”
returned my salute then nodded to the Adjutant, before he and Tank did a right face and marched off to the side of the formation.
The Adjutant said, “The formation has now been turned over to Gunnery Sergeant McDermitt, so that he may give his final Marine Corps order.”
I took two paces forward, stopped, executed an about face, and looked once more at my platoon. Then I looked left and right, to the men in the other two platoons, many of whom I’d worked closely with over the years. My gaze fell back to the warriors in front of me.
Company!” I shouted.
Sergeant Ortiz and the other two
Platoon Sergeants shouted, “Platoon!”