The Streets of San Francisco, McHale's Navy, and Black Sheep Squadron / Baa, Baa Black Sheep belong to others. No copyright infringement is intended.

WASHING MACHINE CHARLIE

Act 1

SFPD, 1973

Steve Keller ambled into his partner's office, two cups of coffee in hand. Depositing one on the cluttered desk, he perched on the side table and studied the older man, noting his intense concentration on the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle.

"What's caught your interest, Mike?" he questioned. "A new unsolved crime? A million-dollar robbery? The start of World war III?"

Stone laughed, "Nothing that serious, Buddy Boy." He shoved the paper at the young detective. "Here, take a look." He pointed to an article.

"Black Sheep Reunion," Keller read. "Black Sheep?" He shrugged his shoulders. "It's just some old World War II flyboys. What makes them so important?"

"They're just the fightingest bunch of United States Marine Corps pilots you'd ever want to meet!" Stone couldn't keep the pride from showing in his voice. "Here," he pointed, "Just look at that picture!"

Steve did as he was commanded. Then he stopped short. "Hey!" He indicated a young marine standing just in front of the wing of a battered Corsair fighter, "Is that you?"

"I knew all that college was good for something," Mike snickered. "I was a Black Sheep during the war. Served under Major Greg Boyington. It was back in 1943, just after Guadalcanal, and I was recovering from a shoulder wound. We were after a Japanese marauder, Washing Machine Charlie. Turned out to be almost more than we bargained for . . ."

o-o-o-o-o

Black Sheep Base, Vella la Cava, 1943

Sergeant Andy Micklin, chief mechanic, chewed the end of his ratty cigar as he studied the young corporal. "You said your name's Stone?" he growled. "I asked for a mechanic and they send me a mud Marine! You know anything about engines?"

"Cars. I can take any car engine apart blindfolded and put it back together."

"These aren't cars, buddy-boy! They're planes, Corsairs. And they're mine. Those college kids just fly them, but I own them." He fixed his new assistant with the kind of look you'd give a particularly nasty insect. "And I own you for the duration! If you can make it! Now, where'd you say your last duty station was? Some Mainland training base?"

"Guadalcanal."

"The Canal? Damn!" his attitude softened. "I was in the China campaign. Guys who served there had to be part commando, part Indian tracker, and 100 percent mean. Now c'mon. Lemme me introduce my planes."

Micklin and Stone walked down the flight line, the older man grousing about the rough treatment "those college flyboys" subjected his planes to. They stopped at one with 16 rising sun flags painted on its fuselage. "That's Boyington's plane. He got another one today. He'll be wanting another flag pronto."

"Guess that's my first job!"

"Got to watch out for subs around here, too," Micklin went on. "One of those Mosquito Fleet guys from Taratupa caught one down the channel last week. And then there's good old Washing Machine Charlie . . ."

"Washing Machine Charlie?" Mike looked suitably confused.

"Pilots an old Zeke. Engine's out of sync. Sounds like an old washing machine. The guy does a bombing run every afternoon around 1500. Never hits anything. The rest of the Zero pilots probably think he's a joke." Micklin checked his watch. "Ten minutes to go. Time to head for the bunker."

From the safety of the bunker, Mike watched as Charlie managed to knock down a couple of palm trees. He looked around to hear Major Greg "Pappy" Boyington's growl. "We're getting too comfortable with that guy. Someday he's gonna hit something besides the trees. And I don't mean that still you guys think you're hiding!"

o-o-o-o-o

Taratupa PT Base

"Washington Machine Charlie! Washington Machine Charlie!" Captain Wallace B. Binghamton's voice reached near-hysterical levels. "That's all Admiral Rogers talks about. Washing Machine Charlie!"

The PT boat commanders ranged in front of the enraged captain's desk took a step back. Binghamton in full tirade wasn't a pretty sight. One of the officers was having difficulty stifling a grin.

"Wipe that smirk off your face, McHale," the captain roared. "All leaves are cancelled until Charlie is caught, sunk, demolished . . . " Binghamton stopped to take a breath. "And that means you, McHale."

"But . . . but . . . ," the barrel-chested officer began. "We were just getting ready to head for New Caledonia. We haven't had any real leave for two months!"

"And you won't get any until you knock Charlie out of the sky! Out on patrol and don't come back until you do. That's all, McHale. Take that crew of pirates you call Navy men and get underway."

o-o-o-o-o

"No leave? Old Leadbottom can't do that to us! We earned that leave!" Torpedoman Lester Gruber wound up for a classic rant. "Besides, Skip, we got all the souvenirs packed."

"Unpack 'em!" the peeved Skipper growled. "We gotta find Charlie's hideout, then we'll be able to write our own leave papers."

With more than a few curses aimed at the base commander, the crew began the tedious job of unpacking and repacking. Just what they needed - another patrol.

"Any idea where to hunt?" Executive Officer Chuck Parker questioned. "You know, I was really looking forward to meeting some of those cute French girls on New Caledonia. Virgil said he'd introduce me to some. I haven't had a date since . . ."

"Since when?" Tinker Bell, the 73 Boat's engineman and jack of all trades teased. "Kindergarten?" Parker blushed. The clumsy ensign's shyness was legendary.

The good-natured banter, punctuated by an occasional colorful complaint about Binghamton's orders, continued for a few moments, that is, until radioman Willy Moss popped out of the old boat's small cabin, excitement coloring his voice.

"Skip! Guys! Just intercepted a message from those Marine flyboys over on Vella la Cava. Charlie's been hitting them, too. Maybe we can work together; you know, help each other."

"Work together? With Marines?" Gruber snorted, "I'd rather work with the army."

"Knock it off, you meatheads. Someday we might even be working with the Air Force!"

o-o-o-o-o

Vella la Cava

"Stone!" Micklin's bellow echoed the length of the small airfield. "The Old Man wants to see you! On the double!"

The young corporal headed for Pappy's tent and knocked on the pole. "Corporal Stone reporting, sir."

"Pappy," Boyington answered. "Everybody here calls me that. You might as well get used to it. Now, what do you know about Quinton McHale?"

Stone frowned. "McHale? He's a PT boat captain over on Taratupa. The old 73. Why?"

Boyington looked over a paper on the battered table that served as a desk. "You were in the hospital there. After Guadalcanal. Ever meet the guy?"

"Once or twice," Stone's confusion showed in his voice. "And I heard some pretty unbelievable stories."

"Stories?" The CO raised an eyebrow. "Go on."

"That guy is a one-man Navy. He's got more hits than any other PT boat skipper in the South Pacific. Destroyers, submarines, Jap patrol boats, Zekes. You name it, he's sunk it. Don't know how he does it. He's aiming for an aircraft carrier next, or so I'm told." Stone paused, unsure if he should continue. Boyington's look told him he'd better.

"Old Leadbottom - that's Captain Binghamton, the base CO - keeps trying to get him and his crew court-martialed for what he calls 'unauthorized activities.' Seems his crew runs a floating casino, makes its own booze, commandeers supplies from the officers' club. But the captain can't do a thing to get rid of them. They're too good at knocking down the enemy. Any time Admiral Rogers has a special mission, he asks for McHale."

Pappy's laughter caught the younger Marine's attention. "Sounds like they'd fit right in with the Black Sheep. Anything else I should know?"

"Well," Stone considered, "From what I heard, McHale's been sailing these waters since he was a kid. Knows them as well as I know my old neighborhood back in the Potrero. Turns out he speaks a few languages, too, besides English, that is. Italian, German, Japanese, some of the Island dialects. And he's got an 'understanding' with old Chief Urulu on Taratupa. The chief gave him his own private island for a base."

"Private island?

"Yeah. Binghamton doesn't want McHale's crew contaminating the other PT boats," Stone chuckled. He thought for a minute, then questioned tentatively, "Why are you asking me all this . . . Pappy?" He sounded a bit uncomfortable with the use of his CO's nickname.

"Because he's coming here. He's been ordered to get Washing Machine Charlie and wants to make it a joint operation. You'll be working with him. Sounds like a better job for a mud Marine than helping Micklin polish the planes."

Sarge isn't gonna like this. The thought went unvoiced. "When does he get here?"

"Tomorrow," Pappy supplied. "I'll tell Micklin you're reassigned." Mike breathed a sigh of relief.

"Then I gotta tell the guys."

o-o-o-o-o

"We gotta do what!?" The Sheep Pen erupted with howls of disbelief. "Work with the Navy? Not even Navy pilots but some PT boat skipper with delusions of grandeur? What kind of record does he have? He's never been in a dogfight, probably wouldn't recognize a Zeke if it dropped a bomb right on his little rowboat!"

Pappy held up his hands for silence. The complaints continued. The CO grabbed a mug and smashed it on the table. That caught everyone's attention. The silence was deafening.

"McHale's no ninety-day wonder. He's sailed these waters for years, knows almost every island backwards, forwards, and inside out. He's been assigned by Admiral Rogers to get our pal Charlie and he's smart enough to know he'll need our help. So we're gonna give it to him – whether you flying misfits like it or not. And you're gonna like it!"

o-o-o-o-o