The next morning Rich ate breakfast at the Marine company’s mess along with two lieutenants. By 8:00 the mess was transformed into a classroom of 102 Marines.
Rich explained what he had learned about the background of the weapon and the inventor. He related what he learned about the weapon from the Marines in Maine. Rich handed off the AK-47 and the Marines passed it around.
When it was handed back to Rich he asked, “Who is the fastest at field stripping their rifle blindfolded?”
“Watkins,” several said.
“Little friendly competition between a civilian and a Marine?” Rich said to Oaks.
Oaks nodded and said, “Watkins, get your weapon.”
Rich, with the help of two marines, set a table in the middle of the mess hall. Watkins, a muscular Lance Corporal came back with his rifle, an M-16.
“Take it apart and lay it on the table,” Rich said.
Watkins quickly did so.
“Familiarize where everything is,” Rich said and he laid the AK-47 on the table across from Watkins.
“You know where everything is?” Rich said.
“Yes, sir” Watkins said.
“Don’t call me, sir,” Rich said, “I work for a living—well, not really.”
Oaks tossed two towels to two Marines. “Blindfold them.”
“Aren’t you going to tear your weapon down?” Watkins said.
“Yep,” Rich said, “but I’m going to tear it down blindfolded and reassemble it blindfolded.”
With the blindfolds in place, Oaks said, “Go!”
Rich and Watkins quickly went through the task of field stripping their respective weapons; Rich tearing his apart and reassembling and Watkins reassembling only. Precision snaps and clicks came from both tables.
Watkins grabbed for the magazine of the M-16 on the table. Rich clicked the magazine to the AK-47 in place and said, “Bang.”
Rich and Watkins shook hands.
“Not bad,” Oaks said.
“When you do it blindfolded on a rolling sea, this is pretty easy,” Rich said. “Once these two weapons are put back together, I’m runnin’ for the hills, against an M-16. Back in Maine, this thing couldn’t hit a bull in the butt at 50 yards. If fact the bull’s life would never be in danger.”
“Let’s step over to my office,” Oaks said.
At Oaks’ office, the Major sat behind his desk and Rich in a chair in front of the desk.
Oaks leaned forward and pressed his lips before speaking. “A communique arrived early this morning.”
“About me,” Rich said.
“Yes,” Oaks said. “I’m to offer you billet, rations, anything you need.”
“What if I refuse?” Rich said.
“I’m supposed to detain you, if necessary,” Oaks said.
“Sounds like I’m being arrested,” Rich said, “and I’ve done nothing but hang myself out to dry. Hells bells, where were the Marines in Patagonia?”
“Let me tell you something,” Oaks said looking into Rich’s eyes, “I take my orders from the United States Marine Corps and nobody else. I don’t know what kind of pinball game they’re playing with you, son, but it’s all to their advantage. We never leave a Marine behind, but we’ve had to go in and get the men they’ve either forgotten or purposely decided to ignore. That’s not to say I haven’t met some good men in that outfit, but they have a mission and it’s to accomplish it at all coast. They’re paid to lie and be sneaky.”
Rich held his head down and stared at the floor for a moment.
“You’d been better a Marine,” Oaks said.
“Can I get a ride back to my boat?”
“Sure,” Oaks said and picked up the phone and ordered a jeep.
“You going to sail out of here?” Oaks said.
“If I told you, you wouldn’t have deny ability,” Rich said.
“I’m not worried about them,” Oaks said. “I made plans to go sailing with you this weekend.”
“That wouldn’t be very honorable of me to invite you to do something and not be there,” Rich said.
Oaks stood up. “Let’s go out front. The jeep will be here in Marine minute; I’ll drive you back.”
“What’s a Marine minute?” Rich said.
“It’s already done,” Oaks said.