GENTLEMANíS AGREEMENT

Junior wasnít called out to headquarters after that, except at irregular times like everyone else. Since he didnít have tailormades any more, Seakle and company werenít so jovial with him as they had been. They reverted back to the old practice of poking fun at him and bossing him around as the mood struck them.

"We gotta stop Ďem from doing that," Bowmar said. "Itís making him worse again."

"Canít blame them entirely, though," Pete conceded. "Heís so damn aggravatiní. Takes stuff without askiní, and borrows tobacco he knows he can never pay back."

"If everybodyíll go along with it, aní not try to boss him around, I think I can keep Junior outta other peopleís hair," Bowmar said.

"How?"

"Well, itís sort of a business manager arrangement. I talked it over with Junior last night. Ií been helpiní him ration himself on tobacco since last issue, and itís worked pretty good. If the guys will agree not to jump on him, but complain to me, Iíll do my best to keep him from botheriní them so much. Especially on the tradiní. Junior canít keep straight in his mind who he borrows from, oÁ how much, so heís agreed to keep an account of it written down, if Iíll help him. Before he makes any swaps or borrows anything heíll check with me. That might keep some of the sharpies from takiní advantage of him on the trades, too."

"Does Junior agree to it?" Pete asked.

"Yep. He says he knows part of the trouble is his own fault because he forgets. What seems to be botheriní him most is so many people jumpiní on him, telliní him what to do and orderiní him around."

"It might work, then," Pete said. "Only I wonder how weíll get the rest of the people to cooperate. Thereís several of them like to have someone like Junior they can shove around."

"Well, I thought we could ask them," Bowmar suggested. "I think most of them would go along with the idea quick enough, except maybe Hack and Seakle."

"Hackís no problem," Pete said. "If he doesnít understand any- thing else, he knows I meant what I told him the other day. Seakleís the one. I tried to remind him politely of his responsibility as an officer the other day, but it didnít work very good."

"What did he say?"

"Guess I shouldnít have reminded him he was an officer. All the sun-uva-bitch did was pull rank on me. Said, since he was an officer, no damn sergeant was telliní him what to do."

"Well, maybe thatís your answer then," Sergeant Wolfe inter- jected. Apparently occupied with the repair of a badly worn sock, he had been listening to the discussion.

"Whatís the answer?" Pete asked.

"If Seakle wants to play the old numbers game, get the major who just joined us to order him to lay off," the Sergeant answered.

"Díyou think heíd do it?" Pete asked. "Heís on pretty thin ice. One word from anyone to the chinks, and back he goes to solitary. I canít say as Iíd blame him if he wanted to keep out of it."

"Maybe we can get him to do just this much," Bowmar sug- gested. "Put Seakle in his place without everybody knowing."

"To take over in one thing he has to take over everything," Pete said. "Itíll never work unless he tells the whole group heís boss."

"Peteís right," the Sergeant told Bowmar. "Címon, Pete, letís go have a talk with the Major."

So they did. The Major had been with the group only a few days. Heíd spent several months in solitary before he joined them. When the chinks put him in with the group, they warned him heíd be right back, at the first indication he was trying to assert his position as senior officer; but when the two sergeants showed him the need, he agreed readily to take the risk. They would try Bowmarís "Junior management" scheme, and the Major would come in if it seemed necessary.

The word was circulated quietly that complaints about Junior and any trading with him would be handled by Bowmar. Things smoothed considerably, without it becoming necessary for the Major to take over, until the next time there was meat in the soup.

Meat in the soup! An occasion indeed! Carefully apportioned, there were four small cubes of fatty pork per man. "Uncle Shill" called to Junior as the youngster came away from the soup bucket.

"Have a seat here, Junior." Shiller patted the mat beside himself. "Join your olí uncle for dinner."

Although Shiller was a sociable sort who might often invite others to dine with him, there seemed to be something out of the ordinary in his invitation to Junior. Bowmar, Pete, and the Ser- geant watched Junior situate himself beside "Olí Unc" and after a while transfer the meat from his bowl to Shillerís. Bowmar stepped forward.

"What goes here?" the young medic asked.

Shiller, his mouth full of food, raised his eyes slowly to the speaker. First, he swallowed the food. Bowmar was only a foot or so in front of him, so the lieutenantís head was back and his eyes rolled upward. The awkward position lifted his eyebrows in a manner that enhanced Shillerís pretense of innocence.

"Were you speaking to me?" Shiller asked.

"Yessir, I was," said Bowmar. "What gives here?" The "sir" could hardly be considered respect. The intimacy of the prisonersí lives had eliminated most formalities of rank. Though Bowmar often said "sir" from habit, his inflection now indicated the young medic simply wanted to be technically correct in his demeanor.

"

What do you mean?" Shiller asked. Despite the studied puzzlement on the lieutenantís face, no one doubted that the question was unnecessary.

"How come you get Juniorís meat?"

Junior, shoveling rice and soup into his mouth, looked at neither Bowmar or Shiller.

"Well, I donít see that itís any of your concern," said Shiller. "But if you feel you should know, Junior and I have sort of an agreement about it. Isnít that right, Junior?"

Junior was very uncomfortable. He had violated the agreement made with Bowmar. That agreement had been voluntary and for his own good, and he knew it. The young fellow glanced at Bowmar, then away, as he answered, "Yeah, thatís right. We made a deal."

"What kind of a deal?" Bowmar asked him.

"I donít know as thatís any of your—" Shiller began.

"Iím talking to Junior, if you donít mind!" There was something more than displeasure in the medicís voice. It was rare for him to display anger.

"Just a private deal," Junior replied, sounding a bit as though he had been coached in advance.

"The kidís got a right to make some of his own decisions," Shiller said, aware that most of the other prisoners were watching now. "He isnít being gypped. What do you want him to doówelch on his bargains?"

"I ainít no welcher," Junior interjected, still shoveling rice and not looking at Bowmar. "Got a right to make my own decisions—as much right as anybody." The coaching was quite obvious. Junior had been very appreciative of Bowmarís guidance in such matters, prior to development of his intimate friendship with "Uncle Shillí." Bowmar fumed. His face became red. His left hand, holding his bowl of food, was shaking. The right hand, hanging by his side, clenched and unclenched. His eyes shifted rapidly back and forth between Shiller and Junior, but he said nothing.

Shiller took his eyes away from Bowmarís face, when he saw the medic wasnít going to speak again. As he lowered his eyes, the lieutenant swept a quick glance around the room, trying to sense the feeling of the rest of the group. He knew Bowmar wouldnít strike him while he was sitting down and wasnít likely to invite him to his feet over the matter. It simply wasnít the medicís nature. Shiller smiled to give the impression there was no ill-feeling on his part, but that he considered the issue closed.

"Itís okay, kid," Shiller said to Junior. "Just a little misunder-. standing. Itís all straightened out now."

"I keep my bargains. I know what Iím doing. You know me, huh, Uncí?" Junior sought reassurance. He kept his eyes averted from Bowmar.

In a smooth, oily tone Shiller replied, "Everybody knows your wordís as good as anyoneís, Juniorógood as gold."

Junior relaxed a little. Shiller glanced up at Bowmar, still stand- ing in front of him. Bowmar wasnít looking at him. "Junior," the medic called softly.

"What?" The youngster looked up, disturbed again.

"I want to talk to you after weíve eaten."

"What about?"

"Just a couple of little things that happened today. Nothing to worry about. I just want to be sure to see you later."

"Oh. Okay." Junior relaxed again and resumed eating.

Later he learned that one of the "little things" was what had just occurred. Though reluctant at first, Junior finally decided in view of his previous agreement with Bowmar he should tell the medic how the deal with Shiller came about. From what Junior related, it had been a shrewd bit of trading on Shillerís part.

Shiller had heard Juniorís remark about not caring for fat pork. The kid didnít realize those few bits of fat might mean the differ- ence between life and death for him that winter. To Junior, food was merely something you filled your stomach with, if you had enough, and it didnít matter what kind it was. Shiller knew better.

First came the "buttering up" process. Shiller even profited from that, when Junior had the tailormades. With the establishment of the "uncle-nephew" relationship, the groundwork was well laid. Then one day, with Junior out of tobacco several days before the next issue was due, the trap was set. "Dear Ol' Uncle Shill" rolled his "nephew" a cigarette.

"Junior," Shiller said as he handed over the cigarette, "your olí uncleís got an idea thatíll save you a lot of trouble."

"Yeah, Uncí, what is it?"

"You always run out of tobacco between rations, donít you?

"Well, usually I do."

"Aní people are always accusiní you of snitchiní from them, or borrowing and not paying back; or even cussiní you just for asking them. Arenít they?"

"Yeah. Soreheads!"

"Well, your olí uncís got a way figured to solve your problem so you wonít have to ask them any more."

"Yeah?" Junior was puzzled. "How?"

"Well, itís like this. You donít care much for fat pork, do you?"

"Naw. Damn fat pork these damn chinks give us."

"Well, I kinda like it."

"You do?"

"Yeah. Donít ask me why. I just do."

"Well, I guess itís all right—" Junior began. If Shiller liked fat pork he wanted to agree with him. The only reason heíd ever said he didnít like it was because he had wanted to agree with Seakle.

"And me," Shiller went on, not wishing for Junior to have time to change his mind, "I usually have a pretty good supply of Ďtombayí on hand—"

"Yeah—tombay—tombay!" The use of the Korean word for tobacco distracted Junior from other thoughts.

"—except when you hit me too hard after you run out," Shiller concluded his statement.

"Aw, I donít get so much."

"I was only kiddiní, nephew."

"Oh. Okay, Unc!"

"Now Iíd like to help you on this tobacco problem of yours, so you wonít have to ask the other fellows for any; then they wonít have any reason for griping at you. But I know you donít want charity." There was a pause to give Junior a chance to respond.

"Nope. Not me; I donít ask nobody to give me handouts. I may borrow a bit, but I pay off, I do. I ainít lookiní for charity."

"Right! Well, you know you can always count on your olí uncle to help you out when you run short."

"Good olí Uncí."

"—and you know youíre always welcome. But I donít want you to feel that itís charity—"

"Oh, I donít."

"—so we can work up a little trade on this thing."

"A trade?" Junior was surprised. "I donít think Ií got anything left to trade. Iíd have to ask Bowmar."

"Well, it isnít exactly a trade. More of a Ďgentlemanís agreement."

"Gentlemanís agreement? Whatcha mean?" Junior was impressed by the phrase.

"Well," Shiller said, "I just figure that since you donít care for fat pork and I do, if you want to give me your ration of it, whenever we happen to get any, we can call that paying me back for furnishing you with tobacco when you run short. That way you wonít feel like itís charity—me giving you tobacco."

"Yeah?" Junior was somewhat confused. Besides, he didnít want to give up his share of the fatty pork, because he didnít really dislike it.

"Youíll be giving me something you donít want in exchange for something I really donít need," Shiller encouraged.

"Yeah, I guess so." Junior was still uncertain.

"Of course, itís pretty much of a gamble for your olí uncle, yíknow. No more often than weíve had it in the past, we may never get any pork again. If that happens, Iím just out of luck, but I donít mind, since itís for you."

"Well, I suppose I should ask Bowmar first," Junior hedged.

"I donít see any need for you to ask him about this," Shiller said. "Youíre capable of making some of your own decisions. Besides, this isnít a trade anyway. Remember, this is a gentlemanís agreement."

"Thatís right!" In his elation over the term, Junior completely forgot the real issue. He liked nice-sounding phrases, as Shiller well knew.

"Strictly between you and me," Shiller said. "Nobody elseís business."

"Right you are, ĎUncí. Between you and meóa gentlemanís agreement!"






© 2002, 2003 by Lynn Waterman; used by permission of the author, Duane Thorin.