Throwing the last of the tickets on the table in disgust, Aaron looked at Matt and the rest of the table and said, “Well, I guess we got snookered again. Sometimes I think that is my typical luck, and it seems like it’s rubbed off on everybody else tonight.”
Matt laughed, “Well, we’re not going home empty handed Aaron, and I think the Colonel will be pretty happy with this, considering our competition this weekend. I don’t think we could legally have won anything anyway.”
The old man, Jesse, Matt and Aaron sat in a companionable silence, sipping coffee and nibbling on the deserts and cookies. Watching the other shooters, wives and girlfriends circulating between tables and admiring the various plaques the different teams had won and the winners of the raffles admiring their prizes.
There was a small crowd looking at the scores, and more than a few glances were coming their way. Both SAS and the SEAL team were off in a corner by themselves and raucous laughter was heard every few minutes. Jesse was looking at the plaque Matt and Aaron had won as the third place military team and decided to eat one more cookie.
“Oh damn, here comes the grunt again,” Matt moaned.
The old man looked across the table with a quizzical expression, “what’s the problem?”
“He keeps trying to catch us without our coins sir, Sergeant you’ve got yours right? Matt shook his head and started digging in his wallet for his as Aaron went for his breast pocket.
Jesse, not understanding what was happening looked over and asked, “Papa what coins are y’all talking about?”
The old man was reaching into his shirt and pulling out a pouch that was around his neck on a leather thong, from it he extracted an old silver looking coin and palmed it in his right hand. “Just wait and see Jesse,” he said with a evil grin on his face.
The Army Sergeant weaved up to the table and slapped his hand down on the table, calling out, “Coin check you misguided children! 101st, put up or buy up boys!” And revealed a coin laying on the table.
Matt and Aaron both slapped their hands down on the table, saying in unison, “Two MEF.” And showed their coins.
The Army Sergeant looked over at the old man, “Do you even know what we’re talking about old man?”
The old man raised his hand to the table top, gently laid it on the table and said, “DOL, Fifth Group; you know what we drink.” And showed the old silver coin in his palm.
The Army sergeant literally turned pale and quickly put his coin back in his pocket, saying “Yes Sir, be right back Sir,” as he turned away and headed for the bar.
Jesse, now totally confused, looked at Matt and Aaron, who were also confused at this point and realized the old man was smiling, if it could be called that. “Papa, what in the hell is going on?”
“Well, he stepped on his dick is what just happened Jesse; he didn’t think there would be any chance of running across one of us here, and he got caught out. I hope y’all like brandy.”
Jesse asked, “what do you mean one of ‘US’ Papa, and what’s DOL?” Matt chimed in, “I’ve never seen him do that either, what did you show him sir or was it what you said?”
Grinning, the old man spun the coin in his hand and passed it to Jesse, reaching under his shirt and taking off the pouch that had held the coin, “There are a few of us old farts around that go back to the early days when Fifth Group was the main Special Forces group in Vietnam.“ Pointing at the coin he said, “All of the old farts like me got silver coins presented by the General in country, and we all had these elephant hide pouches made for them. We all wore them around our necks, and vowed never to be without them. DOL is De Oppresso Liber, Latin for to free from oppression and the motto of Special Forces.”
As Jesse looked at both sides of the coin and passed it to Matt, she shook her head and just looked at the old man, “Why is THIS the first time I’m finding this out Papa? And what’s this about drinking, I’ve never seen you take a drink in my life at least that I can remember.”
“Honey, there are a LOT of things you don’t know, and I hope to God you never find out; that was a different life and a different time from today.”
At that point a very subdued Army Sergeant returned to the table with four shots and quietly asked, “Sir if there is nothing else, may I be excused?”
The old man just nodded. He gestured to the others and each picked up the shots, and he toasted, “De oppresso libre;” as they downed their shots. Jesse shivered and wondered what she had gotten into, and realized she didn’t really like brandy.
Matt realized the old man they were sitting with was one of the real warriors, and at least for him, things began to fall into place. The attitude, the old but well cared for rifle, the shooting ability, and his watchfulness all snapped into place and he decided he truly did not want to get on the wrong side of this man. And he decided that this old man had put more than a few in the ground over the years…
He also wondered if Aaron had picked up on it, or was too enthralled by Jesse to be aware of the bigger picture.
The old man turned to Jesse, “You about ready girl? We got miles to go tomorrow and I ain’t gettin any younger.”
Jesse just shook her head, “Well Papa, I guess since ‘you’ need your sleep I guess we better get you to bed.”
Aaron looked like he was going to say something, but stopped when Matt gave him the quiet hand signal. Matt noticed the old man smiling, and he guessed he caught it. The old man got up and so did Matt, Aaron and Jesse.
Fishing in his wallet, the old man passed Matt and Aaron cards, “Matt, Aaron, it was a pleasure to meet y’all, and I wish you the best in your careers; and if you ever get to West Texas, give me a call. I’ll treat y’all to some good BBQ on me.”
Aaron reached across and shook the old man’s hand, and Jesse walked around the table to give both Matt and Aaron hugs, and a peck on the cheek for Aaron, who promptly started turning red again.
Matt took the card and shook hands with the old man saying, “Mr. Cronin, if I ever get out that way I will, and thanks for letting us join you. I couldn’t help but notice that you’ve never even checked your scores. Do you know how well y’all did?”
“Nope, and I really don’t care. This trip was just for fun and to get outta Texas for a bit, and let Jesse see a different part of the country,” the old man replied.
Jesse looked at Matt asking, “Did you go look? And if you did, how’d we shoot? Papa never tells me anything.”
Matt, looking at both Jesse and the old man responded, “Well sir, y’all out shot everybody but the SAS and you tied them at 462 of a possible 470 points. AND you did that without really modern guns, or scopes or spotting scopes. If y’all had been a bit faster, you would have won the law enforcement side hands down, and probably beaten most of the military folks.”
Jesse and Aaron both looked at Matt in incredulity, but the old man just smiled. Jesse hit the old man on the shoulder, “Dammit Papa, why didn’t you tell me we did that good?”
“Cause I don’t care hon, this is all for fun, so it don’t make a damn how good we did. And I knew coming in I was too old to run that far that fast. But I wanted you to see that YOU can compete with the boys, and you don’t have a damn thing to be apologetic for. Now lets go,” said the old man as he shook Matt’s hand.
The old man and Jesse slipped out the back door, as quietly as they’d come.
Thanks to FarmGirl and Vine for the roofpreading… All errors are on me :-)
And thanks to those who read and commented both here and via email…