August 2017

“Sergeant major, huh? That’s pretty high up there, ain’t it?” the much-older man asked as he filled his truck with gas.

“Oh, I don’t know. I mostly just did the best job I could do the entire time I was on active duty and let the promotions take care of themselves.”

The truth was, Kane Archer had reached the pinnacle of his profession by making the rank of sergeant major, pay grade E-9, the highest enlisted rank in the Marine Corps, in just over 21 years then held that rank for another nine years until his retirement less than two months ago.

He’d enlisted at the age of 18, just a month out of high school, and, to his surprise found he really, really liked it. While many of the other recruits in his boot camp platoon had guaranteed jobs in aviation, Kane wanted to be in the infantry, so he’d gone in on what was called an ‘open contract’ and ended up getting his first choice of jobs or ‘MOS’ which stood for Military Occupational Specialty.

After completing the school of infantry, his permanent MOS became 0311, or rifleman, and over the years he held every job a Marine could hold in the infantry from fire team leader to battalion sergeant major.

As both a first sergeant and then later as a sergeant major, he’d also done tours all three of the active-duty Marine air wings, something he’d dreaded but came to love while learning how the other side of the Corps worked, and most importantly that Marines are Marines regardless of MOS.

He’d also done one tour as the sergeant major of a support unit in the ‘third arm of the Corps’, the Logistics Combat Element which supported both the Ground and Aviation Combat Elements of the Marine Air-Ground Task Force of MAGTF which was pronounced ‘MAG-taff’ as one word. And like all other career Marines, he was an expert in acronyms.

In short, he’d done it all and seen it all to include a three-year tour as a drill instructor at Parris Island, South Carolina, and two tours in Iraq and two more in Afghanistan.

Now, at 48, he was recently retired and back living in his hometown of Beaumont, Texas, located some 85 miles to the east of Houston. The last time he’d been home was ten years ago when his mother, Edna Archer, passed away. His father had abandoned them when Kane was six, so he had precious few memories of him, and that suited him just fine.

Kane had never been married, and never even seriously even considered it, because his entire life was dedicated to being ready to go somewhere in a moment’s notice then stay there for as long as he was needed.

Unlike many of his fellow Marines who had wives and children who often dreaded being away from home, Kane Archer looked forward to being sent someplace new. And if that new place included deploying to a combat zone, so much the better. He didn’t relish killing anyone but found the challenge of leading Marines under the most trying circumstances during war more rewarding than anything he could imagine. Until just recently anyway.

Now, however, the only thing he killed was time as he tried to unwind and figure out what to do with the rest of his life. It was late August and very hot and ungodly humid just like most of the places he’d served over the course of his 30 years of service. He’d just finished a killer workout at a local gym and was gassing up his Ford Explorer when the elderly man at the pump ahead of him saw his ‘USMC, Retired’ license plate and started asking questions.

“Well, just the same, thank you for your service, Sergeant Major,” the 80-something gentleman said after Kane’s humble reply.

“It was my pleasure, sir,” he told him honestly.

The man was wearing a ball cap, and after putting the pump back, stood up as straight as his aging body would allow and rendered his best salute. Even so, it was so awful it made the retired sergeant major cringe. He only smiled, though, and wished the man all the best.

He finished pumping his own gas then went inside and bought a six pack of beer. He wasn’t much of a drinker and knew those few bottles would last for a many weeks, but now and then a cold beer on a hot day tasted awfully good. He also picked up a bottle of Gatorade G2 which he killed on the ride home.

“Home. Yeah, right,” he said to himself as he pulled into the driveway. “More like ’empty house’, but…okay.”

That’s because it wasn’t so much home as it was a large, empty box he lived. So far, he didn’t even have a dog let alone a family, two things he’d recently started thinking about acquiring. It never even dawned on him one didn’t normally ‘acquire’ a family, but that’s how his brain was wired, and after thinking that way for so many years, it was unlikely that was going to change anytime soon. But what he hoped might change in the relatively near future was living alone.

He was still young enough, and in superb physical condition, and the thought of having a wife and maybe a kid or two—and, of course, a real dog, meaning one that barked rather than ‘yipped’—sounded Ankara travesti awfully nice of late.

He’d also been told enough times he was ‘ruggedly handsome’ that he felt pretty sure he’d be able to attract a woman he found attractive, as the last thing he’d ever do is get involved with a woman he wouldn’t enjoy waking up next to for the rest of his life. He was no movie star and wasn’t looking for one. He just wanted someone he could trust as much as love, and if she was easy on the eyes, so much the better.

He was in no hurry, but for the first time ever, he was ready, willing, and able to support a family, and whenever the opportunity presented itself, he knew he was at a place where he could definitely consider settling down.

Financially, he had what Marines called a ‘shit load’ of money after having saved most of what he’d earned for the entire time he was on active duty, spending money only on necessities and transportation. Over the years, he’d talked to enough senior officers who were getting ready to retire and who’d dropped hints about the amount of money they’d put away in 20-30 years, to realize that for an enlisted guy, he’d done damn well for himself.

Unlike one colonel he’d worked for who’d bought a lot of shares of Coca Cola and Apple along the way and then sold them for a small fortune and was retiring with well over seven figures in the bank, Kane was no millionaire. But even after laying out over forty-two grand for his new Ford Explorer Limited, he still had a little over $400,000 in the bank.

He was always too afraid to invest in the stock market, but for quite a few years he was earning 5-7% interest on the certificates of deposit he kept rolling over until the rates went to hell after the 2008 recession. Even then, he just kept pouring money into his Navy Federal Credit Union account, and had to admit he really had done pretty well for himself. Well, financially anyway.

Having never owned a home, he’d used around half of that to buy his first-ever house, a brand new, four-bedroom place that was just over 2,500 square feet and turn-key ready with hardwood floors, marble countertops, and crown molding in every room of the house. All he needed to do was furnish it, but trying to decide how to go about doing that proved to be a very difficult task.

“All the more reason to find myself a spousal unit,” he said to himself using Marine-speak for a wife when he got home and looked at the huge amount of empty space in the living room.

There was one old, ratty recliner he’d had for years and brought with him parked in front of a huge, 90-inch wall-mounted TV set he’d also recently purchased but rarely watched in the otherwise empty room.

He was equally aware that every other room was completely empty except for the king-sized bed and a single dresser and nightstand he’d also bought for the master bedroom; the room where he slept alone without even a dog to keep him company.

His only other luxury or real possession was a bass boat he bought at the same time he bought the Explorer. Fishing had always sounded like great fun, but now that he had the time to do it, the thought of sitting out on a lake all by himself in 100+-degree weather wasn’t exactly appealing. So the boat sat outside next to the garage which was also empty except for a tool chest and a skill saw.

His intention with the television set was to watch sports, but the only one he really cared for anymore was college football. For now, at least, he had high hopes of following his favorite Texas teams once the season got underway in another two weeks or so.

He dropped his keys on the kitchen counter, then hit the TV remote and watched it come to life as he walked to the kitchen to grab the last cold beer before putting the new six pack inside to chill.

The local news was still talking about the big storm that had been brewing in the Gulf of Mexico which now had the potential to become a hurricane and possibly hit the Texas coast within the next couple of days.

“Great,” he said as he switched to ESPN hoping to find something worth watching.

Kane plopped down in the recliner and took a long initial pull then slowly sipped it as he listened to the commentators yapping about the NFL and the ‘kneeling controversy’. Within minutes he was so disgusted he turned it off completely, drained his beer, then went to take a long, hot shower before deciding what to make for dinner.

Two hours later, he was back in his recliner enjoying some spaghetti noodles he’d boiled and poured a pile of Ragu sauce on before once again flipping through the hundreds of available channels on the ‘boob tube’.

As he channel surfed, every news station from CNN to Fox to the local stations were abuzz with the storm that looked like it would become a hurricane at any time. If it did, it would be named Harvey while the next one would become Irma.

“Harvey. Now there’s a manly name,” he muttered as the search continued.

He settled Konya travesti on a mindless action movie and only half watched as he ate. Twenty minutes later he was done and was, as usual, bored out of his mind; bored enough to finally break out his laptop and take a first look at dating sites—something he swore he’d never do.

But because he wasn’t a bar kind of guy and didn’t dance, he avoided the kinds of places where women tended to congregate and drink. Once churches were also taken out of the equation, that didn’t leave him a lot of places to meet women, so with a deep sigh he ventured into the world of online dating.

It didn’t take long for him to shelve that idea, too. After looking at a sample of the available women his age with a 100-mile radius, give or take five years either way, he was pretty sure that wasn’t such a good idea. While there were quite a few reasonably attractive women over 45, the profiles of the most of the ones he thought were interesting scared him more than Al Qaeda and the Taliban combined.

Maybe he was being too selective, but he just wasn’t about to lash up with some woman who was heavily into Doctor Phil or Deepak Chopra, Eastern New Age Yoga Tai Chi, or who’s primary interest in life was an organization like PETA. He loved animals dearly, just not people with causes on the fringe. He was very much a ‘to each is own’ kind of guy, but that also implied he was free to run like hell from any woman who’s life revolved around some niche area he couldn’t relate to.

“Right. Like the US Marine Corps,” he said out loud with an ever louder sigh as he realized a lot of women would rule him out for that very same reason.

He went back to the recliner to give the tube one more go, and when everything was all about the impending hurricane, he clicked it off and sat there staring up into the ceiling and watched the fan blades silently turn above his head.

“Fuck it,” he said ten minutes later before going back to the laptop and try another dating site.

He laughed out loud when he thought to himself, “Archer, you need to clean up your fucking language if you plan on finding a decent woman to put up with your sorry ass.”

He gave up again only in half the time he’d spent looking earlier. Thoroughly discouraged, he went to lay down and see if he could fall asleep at nine o’clock, knowing he’d been able to sleep pretty much anytime, anywhere he’d needed to while on active duty, even during the Battle of Fallujah where he’d been awarded the Silver Star when he manned a vehicle-mounted machine gun and held off an enemy onslaught while his Marines reconsolidated and counterattacked. But not tonight. Not even in his luxurious, king-sized, Tempurpedic bed.

After laying there for several minutes watching those fan blades spin until he was dizzy he sat up and said, “What now?”

It was just after ten o’clock when he threw on the PT gear again, in which ‘PT’ stood for Physical Training, and went outside where he stretched for a couple of minutes before hitting the bricks.

Forty minutes and nearly five miles later, he was back at the house taking another shower hoping this time he could finally relax and get some sleep. Having only the option of watching TV or going online, he chose television yet again, and there was the same damn massive, yellow-and-red blob in the gulf on every news channel even at midnight.

It had indeed been upgraded to hurricane status and was already a Category 2 storm. He watched for a few minutes and saw the projected path was going to take it over land somewhere between Corpus Christi, a city that got hit fairly often, and Rockport, Texas.

“Sucks to be you,” he said as he tried looking for anything sports-related.

The only thing he could find was a rerun of the US victory in curling, and he was finally getting sleepy enough that maybe watching rocks slide on ice would do the trick. Evidently it did, because the next thing he was aware of was waking up in the recliner when the morning sun shone through the curtain-less windows in his living room.

“What the hell time is it?” he asked himself as he forced one, sleep-shut eye to open. The dial on his huge wristwatch told him it was 0500, which to Marines is ‘zero five’ but never ‘oh-five hundred’ let alone ‘oh-five hundred hours’.

He had just enough bacon and eggs to make himself breakfast, which along with two cups of coffee got him going. As he ate, he turned the monster TV back on, and there was the same big blob, only it had moved inland and then backed out into the Gulf, and was now drifting eastward toward Houston. What caught his attention was the amount of possible rainfall the prognosticators were calling for.

“Holy shit!” he said with his mouth half full of food when he heard the amount expressed in feet rather than inches.

It was a range of rainfall rather than an exact figure, but if they got anyway near the higher end over land, it would cause some very serious flooding. If İzmir travesti that happened in an urban area like Houston, God only knew the amount of damage it could cause.

And for the first time he wondered if it could possibly drift as far as Beaumont. He fully understood the eye didn’t have to travel that far. The storm itself was huge with tentacles reaching out for over a hundred miles in all directions. If it did get to Houston it could easily dump a shit load…a lot of rain on Beaumont.

Having been stationed on the island of Okinawa three different times, he’d been through many typhoons, the Atlantic Ocean’s equivalent of a hurricane. He’d been assigned to storm preparation teams during each of those tours, and knew what kinds of things had to be done to keep water out of a building.

Ironically, the biggest danger wasn’t the water. At least not until it reached a certain height. It was the wind blowing at a hundred miles an hour sending something through a glass window hard enough to break it, which, in turn, would allow torrents of rain inside the structure flooding everything inside even if there was very little standing water outside.

The retired sergeant major now had a mission which gave him purpose, and he hoped he hadn’t waited too long. He grabbed a tape measure from his toolbox then went outside and recorded the measurements of every window on his house on on an app called ‘Notes’ on his iPhone. Once that was done, he grabbed his keys and headed to Home Depot where there were already quite a few people getting a jump on storm preparation.

He was fortunate to have an attractive, female associate who looked to be about his age walk up to him and ask if she could help. The way she smiled at him told him she might possibly be interested, and were he not on a mission, he might have tried to get her number. Instead he told her how much plywood he wanted and she, in turn, led him over to another employee who was cutting an order for someone else.

“You’re next, mac,” the man yelled at Kane over the sound of a saw ripping a sheet of 3/4″ plywood for someone with the same idea.

While his new designer shutters were being cut, he walked around throwing supplies into an orange buggy. A little over an hour later, he had the plywood, a huge amount of sandbags, a nail gun, and a whole bunch of other supplies to board up the house. He also picked up several battery-powered lanterns with replacement batteries and a hand-cranked emergency radio. Just as importantly, he’d thrown in a camp stove with several propane bottles just in case, too.

On the way home he stopped at a grocery store and picked up a couple of week’s worth of food, bottled water, more batteries, and anything else he could think of that might come in handy once he got ready to hunker down. There was barely room to sit in the driver’s seat once he got back in to leave the store, but he wasn’t about to learn the hard way what being unprepared could mean.

By the time he finished with the shutters it was dinner time, and the clouds were looking pretty ominous. He put everything away then went back inside to check the weather and grab something to eat.

“Shit,” he said out loud when he saw how much further east the storm had moved in the last six to eight hours. Houston was already getting hit pretty hard with rain, and all anyone could do now was hope Harvey would pass through quickly or head back out to sea even though it looked like neither of those things were going to happen.

“Those sandbags won’t fill themselves,” he said when he realized Beaumont was going to take a beating, too. It wouldn’t be as bad as Houston, but he knew his hometown wasn’t going to escape the wrath of this monster storm. He also knew it was likely overkill, but he’d learned over and over that if you don’t prepare for the worst case scenario, it could result in the worst case happening to you.

With that truth in mind, he went back outside and got busy. He double-checked the boat to make sure it was securely on the trailer then hooked it up to the hitch on the Explorer—just in case.

Then began the long task of filling sandbags. He had a very large backyard and only half of it was sodded so used the other half to dig up dirt to fill the bags one at a time. By the time he finished, it was after midnight. He stacked them up to his chest at the front and back doors, three deep. He could still open them both and look outside if need be, but he couldn’t think of any ‘need’ to do so, and with that, he called it quits for the night.

By then it had been raining off and on for an hour as the wind came in light gusts. That told him the spiral bands from the storm were close. If this thing didn’t stop soon there was no telling how much rain they might get. The only good thing he could think of was he wasn’t responsible for another human being or even the dog he suddenly really wished he had to keep him company.

By the time he finally got to bed the rain was coming down a lot harder with less time between the squalls. The wind was also picking up, and although it was nothing compared to the 120+ mph winds he’d experienced on Okinawa a couple of times, it was becoming loud enough to act as a kind of white noise which let him fall asleep.

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