Friday, May 24, 2024

My Crime Fiction: 'The Cherry Boy'

The below story is chapter 17 of Olongapo, a crime novel I hope to soon publish. 

The story originally appeared in American Crime Magazine. 

The Cherry Boy

By Paul Davis

Wilbur Grady grew up poor on a farm in Arkansas. 

His family was deeply religious, and Grady was advised by his father not to let the sins of the flesh and other temptations make him stray from the flock while he served in the U.S. Navy. 

But Wilbur Grady’s father did not foresee the temptations of Olongapo, nor did he see the greed and treachery of John Bland. 

Grady, a shy, soft-spoken young man with blonde hair, did not curse, did not drink, did not take drugs, did not gamble, and did not consort with fast women.   

On the Kitty Hawk’s initial visits to Subic Bay, Grady did not leave the base and go into Olongapo. He enjoyed Grande Island and other base entertainment, but he stayed clear of Olongapo’s bars and bar girls. 

Grady was not a good sailor. He did not adjust well from his sheltered life on the farm to Navy life on an aircraft carrier. He was in a perpetual state of nervousness and that nervousness made him error prone. He fouled up often and he was often chewed out by the chiefs and petty officers, which of course increased his nervousness. Gray failed in nearly every task he was assigned to. Grady even failed to make coffee properly for the message center. 

Coffee was important to us in the Communications Radio Division, as we worked hard on our eight-on and eight off watches, and we were so wound up that many of us had trouble sleeping during our eight hours off watch. Strong Navy coffee helped keep us alert and able when we went back on watch.  

I had the top rack above two other racks in the berthing compartment, which was good as the top rack was open at the top, so I didn’t feel like I was in a coffin. But just above me were pipes for the steam catapult system that launched our aircraft off the carrier’s flight deck. 

During flight operations, the gush of steam that ran through the pipes and the thump of the aircraft launching above me often prevented me from sleeping or woke me if I were already asleep. So when I had to report for my watch, a good cup of strong Navy coffee was essential.  

We had a three-foot high coffee urn in a cubbyhole room in the message center. The low-ranking seamen had to refill the urn with water and make fresh coffee for the officers, chiefs, petty officers, and other seamen on watch in the message center. Once filled with water, the urn was quite heavy and awkward to carry from the head to the message processing center. 

I recall one watch when Grady was assigned to make the coffee. We had a deep sink in the head and several new seamen, including Grady on this day, spotted it and laid the urn in the deep sink and filled it with water. Grady then lifted the heavy urn up and carried it into the message center and made the coffee. 

It did not take long before one of the chiefs gagged on the fresh coffee and demanded to know what numbskull made the coffee. Grady was severely chastised and informed that the deep sink in the head produced salt water rather than fresh water.  

I had been warned not to use the deep sink for coffee by my older shipmates. I was told that the proper but difficult way to fill the large coffee urn with water was to stand in a shower stall and direct the stream of cold water into the urn. 

Grady’s nervousness was further fueled by his witnessing a prank in the message center’s coffee cubbyhole. Chief Hank Newly was a demanding and unpopular chief who often ordered seamen to refill his coffee mug, which we resented. We usually muttered, “Why don’t you get your own fucking coffee” under our breath. 

None of the other chiefs, or even the officers, ever asked the seamen to get them coffee. In fact, Lieutenant James Horn, a cool officer we all liked, said to Newly, “I get up and get my own coffee, so why can’t you, chief?”

Newly just looked at the officer without comment. 

Seaman Matt Svenson was a weightlifter and jokester from Kansas who truly resented getting the chief coffee. The muscle-bound sailor smiled at me, Grady, Greenberg, and a seaman named Mick Stills as we crowded into the cubbyhole as Svenson was filling Chief Newly's coffee mug. 

“Watch this,” Svenson said to us. He then placed the tip of his penis into the coffee in the chief’s mug. 

His jokester’s grin disappeared as he screamed out in pain. Greenberg took hold of the mug before it crashed to the floor. He laid the chief’s mug on a counter and held on to Svenson’s arm. 

“The coffee’s hot, you fucking idiot,” I said as Svenson collapsed against a bulkhead. Stills laughed and Grady appeared to go into shock. Greenberg took Svenson’s arm and told him that he would take him to sick bay.

“Tell the corpsman in sick bay that you burned your dick getting into a hot shower with a hard-on,” Greenberg told Svenson.

Greenberg and Svenson left for sick bay, leaving me to tell the grumpy chief that Svenson burned himself and was taken to sick bay. I didn’t tell him how or where Svenson had burned himself. The chief grumbled and cursed Svenson. He did not inquire about the cause or extent of Svenson’s injury.

Seaman Alfred Oswald came up behind me and I moved to the side. Oswald was an awkward and odd 25-year-old sailor from Michigan. He had sandy hair, wore thick glasses and had a prominent Adams Apple that rose and fell in his neck like a bobbing apple. We called him “Lee Harvey” after President Kennedy’s odd-ball assassin

Oswald had retrieved the chief’s coffee mug from the counter in the cubbyhole after we left, and he handed the mug to Newly. “Here’s your coffee, chief.”

“You’re a real kiss ass, Lee Harvey,” I said as I walked away.

I saw Stills walking about the message center, telling the young sailors that Svenson placed his penis in the chief’s coffee mug. Every time the chief raised the mug to his lips, the young sailors burst out laughing.

“What’s wrong with you morons?” the chief asked. “Turn fucking to!”

Svenson recovered and he happily told all the enlisted sailors his “dick in the chief’s coffee mug” story. I’m not sure if the story reached Chief Newly or not. If so, he didn’t take disciplinary action against Svenson, or ever mention the incident to anyone. But the chief never again asked Svenson to get him coffee.


Grady was never quite able to get the image of Svenson’s burnt penis in the chief’s coffee mug out of his mind, which increased his anxiety. John Bland saw an opportunity shortly after the dick in the chief’s coffee mug incident and latched onto Grady. Grady was a trusting and naive young man, so when Bland offered to help him overcome his nervousness and become a better sailor, Grady was thankful. Bland manipulated Grady easily and had him running errands for him and doing some of his work while we were at sea.

I thought Bland was a creep. I recall when the Kitty Hawk dropped anchor in Da Nang Harbor just off the huge American base in South Vietnam. The Kitty Hawk pulled into Da Nang Harbor to hold a change of command ceremony aboard the carrier for the Task Force 77 outgoing and incoming admirals. 

I was leaning over the catwalk watching the activity ashore at Da Nang as well as on the ships and boats that sailed by us in the busy harbor. The sailors on the boats were curious to see the giant aircraft carrier in their midst, and many American sailors on 50-foot Swift Boats and other craft looked up and waved, as did many of the Vietnamese fishermen. I waved back. 

Bland came up and stood beside me on the catwalk. As a Vietnamese fishing boat sailed by, Bland hit the deck and put his arms over his head. 

“What the fuck are you doing?” I asked. 

“I think that gook on the boat had a rifle,” Bland replied as he laid shakily on the catwalk’s deck. 

“You think a Viet Cong guerrilla is going to take on an 80,000-ton aircraft carrier with a rifle? Or maybe you think a Viet Cong sapper is out to assassinate you in particular? You’re a smacked ass, Bland.”

Later, while in Olongapo, I saw Grady and Bland in the Starlight and I just knew that Bland had Grady buying all of the drinks for himself, Bland, and the two bar girls at the table. I’m certain that Bland told Grady one of his sob stories about a family crisis at home that caused Bland to send his entire pay back home to his family, leaving him broke. I’m equally sure that Grady believed Bland’s fairy tale.

The two bar girls appeared to be overjoyed with the ‘Cherry Boy,” as he was buying. Svenson saw the group as he was walking by the table, and he sat down in an empty chair.

“Hey, Cherry Boy Grady. I see you finally come to town,” Svenson said. “And I see you got yourself a Cherry girl too. You know, she’s only had two lovers before you – the 6th and 7th Fleet.”

Grady just smiled nervously as the others laughed.

“I hear that some sailor caught VD from your girl,” Svenson said to Grady. “Well, here today, gonorrhea.”

Grady didn’t know how to react to Svenson’s taunting and old jokes, so he continued to smile nervously as the other sailors laughed. The bar girl next to Grady took offense and she flicked a lit cigarette at Svenson and said, “Fuck you, sail-lor.

Svenson chuckled at the irate bar girl, and he got up from the table and went to the bar. He returned to the table and offered Grady a hard-boiled egg. I suspected that the egg was a balut, a fertilized developing duck egg that Filipinos considered a delicacy but nauseated most Americans. I tried to stop Grady from cracking open the shell, but I was too late. Seeing and smelling the duck embryo made Grady physically sick and he threw up on the floor.

Svenson, Bland and the bar girls laughed. Grady didn’t laugh, nor did the Filipino who came out with a mop and bucket to clean up the mess.

“You might say that Grady’s had a premature ejaculation,” Svenson said.

“You’re an asshole, Svenson,” I said.

At some point in the evening, Bland and Grady slipped out of the Starlight and left the two bar girls behind. I suspect that Bland didn’t want to pay the mama-san for taking the girls out of the bar early, as he was notoriously cheap, even when it was Grady’s money they were spending. Bland later solicited a street prostitute for Grady’s first tryst.

The following day back on the carrier, Bland told the other sailors that Grady had his first piece of “poontang,” and how much the young virgin farmer loved it. What Bland did not say was that he took some of Grady’s money and bought heroin, which he had convinced Grady to take to overcome his nervousness by being with a woman for the first time.

According to Lorino, Olongapo had nearly pure “smack,” and the strong heroin caused a user to become addicted to it very quickly. 

After another long line period on Yankee Station, we pulled back into Olongapo.

I saw Bland and Grady hurrying to get off the ship and into Olongapo. Some of the sailors laughed after Svenson said, “Grady got him a taste of that good Olongapo pussy, and now he can’t wait to get more.”

What I didn’t know at the time was that for the entire line period Grady had been injecting heroin. Bland convinced Grady that “shooting up” heroin would help him with his chronic nervousness.

Bland and Grady were anxious to get into Olongapo so they could score more heroin to satisfy Grady’s growing addiction. Bland did not do heroin, but he graciously offered to buy the drug for Grady. Knowing Bland, he inflated the price for the heroin and overcharged Grady, keeping the additional money for himself.

The heroin Grady took did help to calm him down, but it didn’t help with his poor job performance. In fact, being on heroin made him an even worst sailor.

I saw Grady in the head stumbling around and I asked him, “Are you on drugs?”

Grady admitted to me that he was shooting up heroin and he explained Bland’s encouragement, believing that Bland was helping him. I warned Grady that Bland was a cheap con artist, and he was using him, but I don’t think Grady believed me.

I was pissed at Bland, and I told Hunt about it. Hunt and I were in the head talking about Bland when he walked in. Hunt punched him square in the face and Bland fell against a bulkhead, his nose bloody.

“You’re a piece of shit, Bland.” Hunt said and he and I walked out of the head.    


Later, while on watch in the message center, Grady nodded from the heroin and fell out of a chair. He could not be revived, so he was carried to sick bay. The doctor diagnosed that Grady was a heroin addict. The doctor also discovered that Grady had Gonorrhea. Grady was put on report. Grady was to be issued a general discharge and plans were made to fly him off the carrier and to Subic Bay for his processing out of the Navy once he was cured of his venereal disease.

Grady, like me, was 18.

Over the course of only three months, Grady went from a teetotaler to a full-blown heroin addict. And he went from an innocent virgin to getting the clap from having sex with a Olongapo street prostitute.

Grady came to me to say goodbye prior to his flight off the carrier.

“I don’t know what to do,” Grady said to me. “My family disowned me. I got me no money and I know I’m gonna need some more smack when I get to San Diego.”

“You need a smack in the mouth,” I said. Grady smiled sheepishly.

“When you get to San Diego, check in with the Veterans Administration and get placed in a rehab center. Get clean and sober and start your life over.”

“Good advice, Davis. Thank you.”

“And don’t ever, ever come back to Olongapo.”

© 2024 Paul Davis  

Note: You can read my other posted Olongapo chapters via the below links:

Paul Davis On Crime: Chapter One: Butterfly

Paul Davis On Crime: My Crime Fiction: 'Salvatore Lorino'

Paul Davis On Crime: My Crime Fiction: The Old Huk

Paul Davis On Crime: My Crime Fiction: Join The Navy And See Olongapo

Paul Davis On Crime: My Crime Fiction: 'Boots On The Ground'

Paul Davis On Crime: My Crime Fiction: 'The 30-Day Detail'

Paul Davis On Crime: My Crime Fiction: 'Cat Street' 

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