Notice of Appeal
by John Davis Collins.....© 2001 by John F. Clennan, All Rights Reserved
The door of the trial defense offices flung open with the burst of the fiery fury of a blast furnace and sent a breath of dry Texas air across the checkerboard floor of the waiting room. A dark figure big as a Minnesota moose filled the doorway eclipsing the unforgiving Texas sun.
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A few GIs wedged in the waiting room in Army issue chairs propped against the wall in slumber, like captured pawns out of play might have opened an eye on the monstrous silhouette in the doorway. "Where is Captain Romero?" The specter demanded, "What happened to my appeal?
Congress fought with the President. Overage equipment sputtered and died. The Army lacked money for pens, yet in our trial defense field office at the Armored Division, I could count on Sargent Ford's periodic visit especially if my boss Captain Romero departed for a meeting after lunch and added, "Don't expect me back".
Standing in the doorway, the Minnesota Moose complained, "One year is more than enough time to prepare an appeal". And in that year Captain Romero left the appeal sitting on the corner of his desk with an excuse "further research was necessary."
"Where is my appeal?", Ford demanded. That boom had rumbled through the office for more than a year, but on this afternoon the sound was more plaintive, with an undertone of desperation.
"Sergeant Ford", I beckoned to the shadow. "Come in, close the door and bust my head off if you want, but don't kill the air conditioner", I laughed. In an Army which could not field running tanks or provide pens and pencils, budgets had overlooked the air conditioning we secretly installed. "Didn't the Armored Divisions legendary commander General Fox once say, `If I owned Hell and Texas, I'd rent out Texas and live in Hell.' "
I sighed. Most afternoons Sergeant Ford's visits were a pleasant diversion. I usually didn't mind a few minutes of his recounting the legends he claimed he had made possible. I even chuckled watching Sergeant Ford's eyes train on the door to check if Captain Romero had returned with news of the appeal.
This wait was in vain. I knew Romero had no intention of moving Ford's appeal off the corner of the desk where it had been laid when Sergeant Ford was marched to the main gate, and yet, could I in my tenacious position afford to share that truth with Ford?
I wasn't Ford's lawyer. I was as much a bemused bystander as the snoozing GIs in the waiting room seeking a refuge from duties and sweltering heat.
Only sweat and determination, Sergeant Ford claimed, kept antique rusted hulks rolling. "How?, Not information,"Ford would snort, "to be shared with officers!"
Ford's massive hands grasped the doorway like Sampson ready to wreck the heathen temple. He shook his head in resignation.
Today I had no time to babysit the North Country wonder for Captain Romero.
"No sir, you're busy." Ford shook his head in resignation, "I'll come back when you're free."
"Free?", I asked, "Court martials don't usually hang the lawyer instead of the client, tomorrow the court martial panel may make an exception. You aren't the only highly charged political case the Armored Division ever tried, Sergeant."
The soldiers lined up in chairs along the walls didn't mind Their eyes remained shuttered, no doubt they'd enjoy more time in air conditioned splendor, on the sidelines, like pawns out of play on the edge of the board.
I'm not sure I understood Ford's purpose in his regular visits. An old hand with a claim in a share of so many of the past legends must have known the hidden secret from the very moment he had been marched under guard out the post gates. Romero would not file the appeal. Maybe Ford wished only to hear the truth in person, man-to-man, instead of the fairytales and pretenses.
"Sergeant Ford," Ford paused reflectively from his lively jaunt across the black and white tiles, "it has just the right ring." After his pause, Ford continued, "now, about my appeal."
Just under one year earlier, my first day at Fort Gates, Ford's last, Ford had come with the same question about his appeal. Without invitation, plopping himself in front of my desk, Ford drew from his starched khaki blouse a blue bound record of trial.
My protests were quelled by a glance from Ford's commanding eyes. "A sergeant outranks an officer of any speciality....", Ford warned. In a softer tone, "Good that a youngster like you acquaints himself with a record of trial that has movie rights. Good training!".
I was unsure. Should I befriend an ex-sergeant under armed escort to exile at the post gates? Yet in obedience, I read the record, "Movie rights?", I exclaimed, "for a comedy! You were court martialed for being overweight!"
"Overweight is to Sergeant, " Ford snickered, "as Sergeant is to Ford." A giddy look appeared on Ford's round face. "A new string of synonyms like General Fox and Armor"
"Oh yes, General Fox, the hero of the division, whose family developed American armor from scattered US Cavalry and ceremonial equestrian units, " I noted.
"And whose Sergeant Ford made that possible!, Ford roared. Ford pointed down to the record.
I obediently read aloud from Fox's testimony, "Tanks roll", General Fox told the court, "and helicopters sail on clouds. That's what we must accomplish. How, that's Sergeant Ford."
Ford muttered, Time was when a word from Fox would have scuttled charges. "Not today, the old warrior told me, when the verdict came down."
I resumed reading. "Your were sentenced to a $50 fine." I looked up. "What's the armed escort for?"
"General Fox's successors have made an issue," Ford grunted, "out of me to stamp their own imprint on the division. The people who replaced fox don't care if tanks roll or helicopters hover above, much less how."
I snickered. "Just how does one Sergeant Ford keep tanks rolling and helicopters aloft.?" Ford smiled. "Sergeants secrets are never shared with officers." The smile faded into a stern command "Captain Romero and my appeal!", Ford thundered.
Almost a year later the same question still rang out, the appellate form still lying on Captain Romero's desk went un-filed. "Time is running out....I can't find a job..I'm lost." Ford confessed with wide eyed terror.
"Time is running out indeed, Sergeant Ford," I responded, "the statute of limitations on that appeal is one year. But, the question is what can I do?"
Captain Romero's solution was avoidance whenever Sergeant Ford was expected. At this point, Ford deserved honesty.
"Get me Romero and my appeal!" Ford insisted.
Immersed in my own delicate cases, I could appreciate and even sympathize with Captain Romero in his caution, though I might say that our dilapidated equipment seemed to flounder on its own treads after Sergeant Ford was ceremoniously ejected from the main gate.
Inside my office, Ford carefully closed the door, gently leaning against it as it closed shout. "Get me back in, sir. You've become a demon with the ARs, Army Regulations." With a mixture of command and desperation, Ford entreated, "pull out an AR and bend it around, I cant' live without the Army."
I was caught between laughter and tears. Though an excellent mechanic, Ford proved to be "Not-Competent Outside", in his own words.
"You're Captain Romero's client," I told Ford, "talk to Captain Romero." I grunted. "I have my own clients, my own problems. I'm myself in the middle of a politically charged case."
"Why should you add Ford to your troubles?" Ford offered to continue the thoughts. "See, sir, you don't care about the Army, Restoring Sergeant Ford, is the greatest get-over, punishment you'll ever impose." Ford looked up in wonder. "I who love the Army must consort with a demon to get myself back in."
I didn't answer. Ford the master of the undisclosed magic that made the tanks roll believed me to be invested with an even stronger demonic power. Could he be trusted with the solution to his own problem? In the midst of an explosive case,,I had to be sure.
"Are you prepared," I asked, " to deal with Lucifer? My quota of souls seems to be filled" I wondered who really had the magic and who could be trusted with it?
Ford seriously accepted my remarks. "Out of a job for a year--no money--I did repairs for friends--and got paid in beer--You could have several dozen cases of beer--I'm an ace mechanic, I could repair your car..."Ford's voice trailed off." Ford jumped up and stomped his feet. "Tell me what I gotta do!"
"Tell me what magic keeps tanks churning on their treads and helicopters floating on air." I chided. I had to be sure of Ford. Ford's teeth gritted. He did not want to speak. I would have dismissed Ford with an impervious wave and returned to work.
"Never to be repeated." Ford hesitated and looked forward and closed the door. "I visited auto crashes and took parts from wrecked cars and refitted the tanks with parts of castoff automobiles. You don't have enough original parts in the entire division to run a single tank."
I looked at Ford. I could not risk an error. "You and I along with General Fox know this.". When Ford nodded, "and so it shall be that only those same three will know you took the appeal form from Captain Romero's desk and mailed it yourself."
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