by Dan Swanson
Unlike many other young American citizens in 1942, Biff Redondo had no desire to join the military and fight against the Axis. They were driven by love of freedom and love of country. Biff was driven by love of Biff. Rather than enlisting, he was drafted, and he did his best to fail the pre-induction examinations, limping into the induction center, failing on the vision test, and deliberately getting caught cheating on some of the written tests.
Unfortunately for him, his local draft board had access to information that pretty much put the lie to his efforts. He couldn’t claim to be physically unfit, as his legendary high school athletic career had been chronicled endlessly in the local papers over the past five years. His scholastic record, though undistinguished, was adequate, which ensured he remained eligible for athletic competition. His examiners gave him secret points for creativity when he claimed he had epilepsy and had always managed to keep it hidden, but they had heard that one before, so the military physician called Biff’s family’s doctor, who had never heard word one about epilepsy. All Biff did was create himself a reputation as a malingerer, and the military checker-inners made sure to pass this information along to the NCOs at Biff’s new home, Camp Bixby, near Hamlin, Ohio.
Biff tried hard to wash out of basic training, and became the most inept boot his instructional cadre had ever seen, but nobody was washing out in those days. Under enemy fire, the foul-ups had better remember their training. And in fact, most of them did. But Biff wanted to make sure he never came under enemy fire. He didn’t want to commit a court-martial offence, because at the time, all courts-martial were followed with time in a military prison. He didn’t want to go AWOL, either, because he didn’t want to have to spend the rest of his life looking over his shoulder for the M.P.s. But he decided if he didn’t find a better way, AWOL it was, the last weekend before his unit shipped out.
He rapidly learned, however, that his bad attitude was hurting him more than it was hurting the army. The U.S. Army knew how to force a square peg through a round hole — hit it with a hammer. If that didn’t work, use a bigger hammer. In Biff’s case, the hammer that sort of finally worked consisted of constant KP, frequent extended duty assignments, everyday tongue-lashings from his superiors, and occasional short rations. Within about two weeks, Biff was tired of these kinds of things, and he started to pay more attention, not because he wanted to be a better soldier, but to make his life easier while he continued to search for a way out.
Biff really was a superb athlete with an above-average I.Q., and he could be quite good at just about anything he applied himself to, and he applied himself now, with impressive results. He went from the camp screw-up to being a very good soldier in another two weeks or so. Of course, the training cadre was pleased to see that their methods had worked so well, turning this useless bum into a model soldier. Biff went from their $#!* list to their short list. This didn’t gain him any more respect from his peers, who knew he would cut and run on them as soon as he got his chance. But who listened to a recruit? Finally, they heard that they were due to ship out to the European front in two weeks. Biff still didn’t have a plan to get bounced from the army before then.
When Biff straightened out, his trainers started to give him extra leave instead of extra demerits. His fellow recruits didn’t want him around when they were off duty, so he found a bar on the far side of Hamlin where soldiers never went, and he spent most of his evening leaves drinking in that bar. It was a very rough place, but he figured his uniform would protect him, and he was usually right. At that time, even the worst bad guys were mostly patriots, and everyone treated a uniform with respect. For the first few weeks after he found this bar, Biff had rarely paid for his own drinks, and it seemed like everyone wanted to buy a drink and hear his story.
But after a month or so, everyone got tired of his pissing and moaning and bitching about the army and the war, and he pretty much spent his evenings alone in a booth not far from the bar. This became his booth, and when he showed up, about three nights a week, whoever was sitting there would move to another table. Everyone on the far side of town — the bad side of town, the other side of the elevated railroad tracks that ran through Hamlin — knew Biff’s story and knew he was a coward, looking for some safe way out of the army.
On the night Biff’s troop found out their departure date, a strange-looking man sat down at Biff’s table, back to the bar, and slammed a full pint bottle of very good whiskey on the table. He pulled two shot glasses from one of his pockets, filled them both, and pushed one over to Biff. Biff had been about to rudely tell the man to go away, but he never turned down a free drink. Hopefully, that pint would continue to provide free drinks until it was time to go back to camp.
Biff examined the man. He couldn’t say he examined him closely — he was a little too drunk for that. It was an old coot who was bald, with thick glasses and protruding teeth, stained yellow and brown. He was taller than Biff, but skinny as a fence rail, wearing a stained white laboratory robe with stained clothes on underneath. It was evident that he hadn’t had a bath in a few weeks. And he spoke in a high, squeaky voice. The old man raised his shot glass in a toast, so Biff picked up his glass and joined him.
“To the army!” he said, and tossed down his shot.
“The hell with the army!” Biff yelled, and tossed his down, too.
The old oddball’s eyes lit up. “Sorry! I had to be sure you were the one I’m looking for! Sir, my name is Dr. Andreas Daytona. I’ve heard you are looking for a way out of the army. I can help you!”
Biff was instantly on his guard, or as much on his guard as his earlier drinks allowed him to be. He had started to realize that this kind of talk could be considered treason, and treason could be more fatal that fighting the Nazis with a slingshot. “Quiet down, old man! What gives you such a stupid idea? How do I know you’re not trying to get me in trouble? How could you help, anyway?”
“Ah, caution. Surprising wisdom in one so young!” Biff missed the sarcasm in Dr. Daytona’s voice. “Let me see if I can answer your questions. If you weren’t desperate to get out of the army, you wouldn’t talk about it with total strangers when you get drunk. Some of the people who visit this bar have found employment with me in the past, and they thought I might be able to help you achieve your goal.
“As to how I could help, you have obviously not been able to solve the quite straightforward problem of getting dismissed from the army without being shot at and without going to prison. But to one of my intellect, the solution is obvious. Of course, there are few intellects in the world that compare with mine!”
Even Biff couldn’t miss the condescension in Dr. Daytona’s voice, and his temper flared. But he didn’t let it show. Suppose Daytona could help him and Biff drove him away? “Yes, yes, Doc, you are the world’s greatest intellect. It’s obvious to everyone who lays eyes on you! Whatcha got in mind?”
“Fake an debilitating injury. You’ll get a medical discharge. Wait, don’t interrupt; I already know everything you could possibly have to say about this idea. I know. You are going to tell me you’ve already thought of it, and there’s no way you could fake anything realistic enough to get past the doctors — and you don’t want a real injury!
“Dolt! Do you think I, Andreas Daytona, super-genius that I am, haven’t considered every angle, every implication, every possibility, and allowed for them all?”
Actually, Biff had been going to tell the Doc what a great idea it was, and that he hadn’t thought of it yet. But when the Doc listed all those complications, Biff started thinking maybe it wasn’t all that great an idea after all. But the Doc kept talking, standing up, waving his arms around, and his voice kept getting louder. Biff was starting to get worried that he might spill the whiskey bottle and was thinking about trying to calm him down. But the Doc kept talking, not letting Biff get a word in edgewise.
“Idiot! Of course I have! What you need is a temporary injury — an injury serious enough to get you discharged, and apparently permanent. But not serious enough to disable you, and one that leaves no outer marks, so that when it vanishes, nobody will know that you are no longer suffering from the injury! Of course, to your puny intellect, this is an insolvable problem, but before the majestic genius of Dr. Daytona, the unsolvable melts away like so many snowflakes!” He was on a roll, now. Biff almost wasn’t insulted; he actually couldn’t see an answer. What would fit all those criteria?
“I won’t keep you in suspense. Lack of vision, blindness in one eye, is the obvious answer!”
“Hey, old man! Keep it down, you’re bothering my customers!” Daytona had finally gotten so loud that, even in this noisy, noisome dive, the bartender could no longer ignore him.
“Fool! You know the penalty for interrupting me!” He turned to face the bartender, and his hand flashed to his chest more quickly than Biff would have believed possible, reached into his discolored jacket, and pulled out a small box with a big red button on it. Immediately, every noise in the room stopped. The bartender was suddenly white, a reaction Biff had heard of but never seen before. He looked like he was trying to swallow a ton of dry sand. He hadn’t recognized Daytona with his back turned, but he sure as hell recognized him now. He crossed himself and prepared to die, or worse. But he could still beg for his life.
“Aw, jeez, Doc. Look, I didn’t know it was you, or I wouldn’t have said nothing! You know that, Doc! It was just an honest mistake, and I promise — I promise on my honor and on my manhood, that it will never happen again!” He got down on his knees in front of Dr. Daytona, put his hands together, and appeared to be praying to the old man. “Doc, I got a wife and kids! Somebody has to take care of them! Oh, please, Doc!”