The Westhampton Scare

To be Published July 15th, 2017

Chapter One

An Air Force captain named Tony Benning came to attention and saluted. He then waited to be recognized. He was very uncomfortable and tension-sweat stained the back of his uniform. He stood in front of a grumpy general’s desk. It was deep in the bowls of the Pentagon. The office was not plush, it was stark with linoleum on the floor and only the minimum of furniture. The general was well-known as a hard-ass, no frills kind of officer. The captain had the unpleasant duty of informing his superior that something was wrong. He knew that General Flogger would not take the news well.

General Earnest Flogger was a one star general who had an unremarkable career in the Air Force. He had risen through the ranks because he kept his nose clean and his command efficient. His job was to keep the inventory of Air Force hardware safe and secure. He had been given his current position just two years ago and he had three months before his retirement. He didn’t want any problems.

“Yes, captain, what is it? I’m pretty busy now.” The general blasted out his warning without looking up from his reports.

“Sir, it is about the inventory of the former base SAGE. It was codenamed ‘Bed’ as you remember.”

The general pulled off his glasses and dramatically dropped them on the desk. The captain now had his full attention. “That was the BOMARC missile base in Westhampton, New York, right?”

“That’s correct, sir.”

“We closed it four years ago in 1964. What could be the problem?”

“We have just completed an inventory of the materials from the site and something important is missing, sir.”

“How important?”

“Very.”

“God-damn-it,” the general roared fiercely. “How could this have happened?”

“I don’t know,” the captain responded sincerely. “Almost everything of importance was removed from the site over a year ago, before I came on board, and was taken to a secure holding area in Colorado.” The captain didn’t want to be blamed for the FUBAR.

“And we are just inventorying it now?” The crew-cut topped one-star general demanded as he rubbed his big head. He had a pretty good idea of what was missing. He felt a huge headache coming on. No officer had ever faced this problem before. He didn’t want to be first in that category. It would end his career and strip him of his retirement pension.

“We have counted the inventory three times, one “tip” is missing,” the subordinate responded hastily and braced himself.

“What?”

“Inside the lead-lined container, where it was stored, we found only some metal rubble.”

“Those damn Russians.” The general huffed and pounded his desk as he stood up. “They’re always after our technology.”

“Sir, we believe the item may still be on or near the closed base,” the captain offered. “It may have just been misplaced.”

“Why do you believe that?”

“There are actually two reasons, sir.”

“Let’s hear them captain.”

“A nuclear tip would be heavy, over five hundred pounds. It would be hard to move one without someone, especially a guard, noticing.”

“And the second reason?”

“I sent a team to survey the whole area around the base. They flew helicopters over the entire government held lands. They found a radiation signature.”

“Well, why haven’t they recovered the “tip” then,” the general once again roared. “I hate incompetence.”

“I need your permission to begin a search,” the subordinate responded. “There will be many people involved.”

Suddenly the leader saw some hope of finishing out his career without a court martial.

“How many resources do you need?”

“Sir, the area we are talking about is over 186 acres with much of the land heavily-wooded. We need to send in a full recovery team right away.”

The general thought for a second. “In case I’ve forgotten, are we are still guarding the base?”

“Yes sir, patrols in jeeps ride the perimeter twenty-four-seven. But only inside the fence, about fifty percent of the land is outside of our security enclosure. The head of security is Captain Robert Roy. He has only eight guards.”

“Son-of-a-bitch. I want men stationed around the total property immediately,” General Flogger ordered and pointed his finger at the captain. “I’ll get the brass to send a full recovery team ASAP. I want every inch of the woods searched too,” he demanded.

“Yes sir,” the captain responded and saluted. He began to turn to leave.

“Wait,” the general screamed and waved his arms. “I want a full investigation started immediately. I want everyone who was involved in the clean-up of the base to be interrogated. I also want anyone who has been on our property to be rounded up and questioned.”

“Yes sir,” the captain responded knowing that the general was covering his ass and also those officers above him.

“That nuclear tip must be found or it’s all of our heads. Do you understand, Captain?”

“Yes, sir.”

 

Chapter Two

The crazy incident began by accident on July 1st, 1968 and was kicked off by two mistakes. It started mid-morning in the town of Westhampton, Long Island.

Colton Banyon and his buddy, Larry (Lorenzo) Barber were bouncing along on Old Country Road near the western edge of the town of Westhampton. The road was in need of repair and was very bumpy. It was loaded with potholes. It had been that way for many years.

Larry’s old, off-white, Volkswagen beetle struggled along while sounding more like a washing machine full of laundry than transportation. But it was reliable and cheap, something college boys appreciated.

They had rolled the windows down and their longish hair was blowing almost straight back from the humidity-filled ocean breeze. The tinny-sounding radio was turned on as they traveled through the forest-lined, winding, country road. It was a beautifully seductive setting. The temperature was in the high-eighties and the sky was deep blue, not a cloud was in sight. It was a perfect summer’s day in the Hamptons. Both young men were dressed in their usual casual attire of swimsuits, golf shirts and leather flip-flops. They were in a good mood.

While they were happy and content with their world, they both were also ambitious and in need of money. The Fourth of July weekend would be four days this year starting on Thursday. That meant that the restaurant, where they both worked, would be over-loaded with vacationers who had money to spend. It would start on Wednesday night, two days hence.

Colt and Larry expected to make a lot of money over the weekend. They had learned the intricacies of high-class waitering years earlier—where they worked—at the expensive Wheel & Compass restaurant in the resort town.

Their many co-workers were young business professionals from the city who came out on the weekends for fun in the sun during the day and to work as bartenders and waiters at night. They all stayed above the restaurant in a bunk area. Colt and Larry stayed there too.

Their co-workers had spent time teaching the college men the ropes. Colt and Larry learned how to work customers for extra drinks and to make menu recommendations that padded the bill. They had learned that when a man was on a date to always ask, “the usual for you sir?”, but most of all they knew how to provide good, prompt, service. It always added up to very good tips and many return customers.

“How much do you think we can make this weekend,” Colt asked casually as he adjusted his new aviator sunglasses and lay back further on the seat.

Larry often spoke so fast that he couldn’t be understood—all the words ran together. His current response was in that category. It sounded like machine gun fire.

“What?” The laid-back Colt asked.

“I said,” Larry responded more slowly. His words dripped with sarcasm, “that I’m getting a new station in the front room of the restaurant. The tips will be larger.”

“How much is that in dollars?”

“Between three and four hundred for the weekend.”

“Great, then I can pay for the insurance on my GTO.”

“You should get a cheap reliable car like mine,” Larry responded proudly with a smile on his face while looking straight ahead. Larry was a legendarily cheapskate.

“I’ll never give up my powder-blue, convertible, chick magnet,” Colt said emphatically. “College girls love my car and I do too.”

Suddenly they heard the DJ on the radio say, “and now a new offering from the Rascals. It’s called, People Got to Be Free.” It was just released today, July 1st, 1968.

Colt quickly turned up the radio volume.

Both men were silent as they listened to the familiar voice of Felix Cavaliere of the Rascals as he rhythmically pounded out his plea for people to be set free.

After the song ended, Colt asked Larry, “So, what did you think?”

“I think that there are many oppressed people in the world. They need to be free,” his friend replied robotically.

Colt knew that Larry had answered politically. He knew Larry believed that the only way to not be oppressed was to work out of the oppression. There was no free lunch. Hard work still paid off. He felt the same way.

“No, I meant, can you dance to it?” Colt asked the question like he had heard Dick Clark inquire from dancers on the TV show called American Bandstand.

“You know that answer,” Larry quipped and snorted. Colt knew Larry Barber loved to dance. Some kids in high school had dubbed him “Lorenzo the Latin lover.” Colt wasn’t sure if it was a compliment or a jab.

Changing the subject, Colt asked a question. “Are you sure we should do this today?”

“Look we’re both taking geology next semester and agreed to partner. We already have a topic for the paper. If we take the pictures now, we won’t have to come back in the winter. The paper will be half-done before the school year starts up again.”

“It just seems so far in the future,” Colt whined. He wanted to be out on the water or at the beach, not shuffling around in some woods.

“And a little planning never hurt anyone,” Larry Barber replied and flashed his “shit-eating” grin while shaking his finger.

“But why dig a hole here,” Colt questioned and spread his arms.

“According to everything I could find in the library,” Colt’s friend replied, “the place we are going to dig is the actual terminal moraine from the great glacier. It should show the most striations in the soil.”

“But we’ll be digging on Federal government land,” Colt protested. “If we get caught, we could be in trouble.”

“Colt, they closed the base years ago,” Larry argued. “And we won’t be going inside the fence. No one will know or care.”

“We still could be in trouble if we were caught.”

“Then let’s not get caught,” Larry the risk-taker said and grinned.