Man was it cold. Snow was falling. No, snow was flying sideways, as it usually did in Iceland. I'd heard the expression, when it rains or snows in Iceland it does so sideways. The winds blew so hard that rain and snow were whipped out of their fall from above into an above ground "comin' straight atcha" blast of water or snow flakes. The snow flakes often came so fast and thick "atcha" that it became what was called a whiteout, meaning visibility was negligible since the sky and ground became a completely white environment. We remained indoors when this phenomenon occurred. This particular night was simply windy with scatterd snow pelting my face. I pulled my raincoat tighter as I trudged over the frozen ground between my work place and the mess hall.
Things were slow at the "office." I was working the graveyard shift with a few squids who asked if I would make the trek to the kitchen this early morning.
"It's cold out there, fellas," I said. Who wanted to leave this warm cozy place to wander the freezing wind?
"They got some bear claws with our names on 'em. All you gotta do is walk over and get 'em."
"How come they're giving us bear claws?" I was new to the place. I was new to the hours. There were six of us minding the store while the base slept.
"Those pastries just came out of the oven, Lieutenant. If you go get 'em we'll make a fresh potta coffee."
It sounded good. The coffee was in a ten gallon pot sitting on the table at the front door. It was easy to flip that lever to fill a cup after hanging up hat and coat. This particular pot had been there since yesterday afternoon.
"OK. Tell me the way to the kitchen and I'll go."
"Thanks, Lieutenant. And by the way, could you detour over to the radio station after hitting the kitchen?"
"Huh? Why would I do that?"
The squids looked at each other with smiles.
"The disc jockey said we could borrow some cans of film. The night's gonna be quiet and we were gonna set up the projector for some flicks tonight."
"You mean movies and refreshments on our watch? What's the brass gonna think about that?"
"They haven't caught us yet."
"I don't know guys. I've only been on watch for a couple of weeks. I don't want to get my bacon in the pan this soon."
"No. No. It's not like that. We won't get in trouble. The watch is covered. The night promises to be really quiet. If anyone comes to the door we can have everything ship shape in seconds. We do it all the time."
It was true that the night shift was usually very calm with little activity other than straightening up the area. My tech looked at me and smiled.
"It's OK, Lieutenant. I'll watch out here til you get back."
As I was putting on my coat I looked back and asked, "Why are these guys giving us movies and pastries? You guys got something on them?"
"NO! They scratch our backs and we scratch theirs."
"What do we do for them?"
"It's OK, Lieutenant. We gotcha back. You go get the flicks and claws. We'll have fresh coffee and the projector ready when you get back."
Dubious, but hungry, I told them alright and set out to brave the weather.
So there I was leaning into the snow-ladened wind crunching along to the kitchen. When I opened the door I was met by a cook in a scruffy apron and mushroom hat.
"Here you go, Lieutenant. One bag of pastries fresh from the oven."
"Thanks, seaman. Wow, you're right that bag is warm."
"Just keep it next to you and it'll help in the cold. You be careful going back, Sir. Those boys want their bear claws."
"Thanks, again, cookie. I'll be careful. One more stop though."
"OK. See you in a bit, sir."
"OK," I said, wondering what he meant. Outside the warmth of the bag o' claws was a welcome relief in the biting wind. The radio station was two doors down in the quonset hut marked Radio Shack. I pushed the door in stamping my feet on the concrete floor.
"There he is!" someone shouted. "We were beginning to worry about you, Lieutenant. "Thought maybe the wind took you. Here you go, sir, a bag of Fractured Flickers. Those guys over their love these."
"Thanks, seaman." He handed me a canvas bag filled with cans of film. The sudden weight surprised me as I took them. I slipped the loops over my shoulder and turned to go.
"Oh, Lieutenant. Tell the boys I'll be over at three like they said."
"OK," I said. It was a puzzling statement. Why would he come over to watch movies when he can watch anything he wanted any time.
"You coming over for coffee, pastry and entertainment?" I asked.
"Oh, no sir. I'm coming over to collect."
Must be a bet amongst the squids, I thought. The football pool was a big one here, especially the Army/Navy game.
"See you then, I guess."
"Yessir, see you then."
When I opened the door at the office the smell of fresh brewed coffee hit me. One of the navy boys came over to relieve me of my canvas bag. The film cans rattled as he carried them over to the projector. One of the others took the bag of pastries and set them out on plates beside the coffee pot which was percolating away. The screen was being pulled down as I poured my first cup of the night. I grabbed a paper plate for a bear claw then wandered over to my desk as one of the boys loaded the first reel.
The lights were cut and the first feature began. Hans Conreid announced the title of the film, Fractured Flickers, which was an old movie spliced with new dialogue. It was surprisingly funny. We laughed the night away as we sipped coffee and wolfed down pastries. Along about three the buzzer sounded and one of the navy boys answered the door. I paid no mind but out of the corner of my eye I saw someone slip in and disappear into the dark. A particularly funny line made me laugh and I returned my full attention to the screen.
An hour later the buzzer sounded again with the same action. Being new I figured it was part of the workshift's routine. Someone delivering dispatches or something. I turned again to the screen.
An hour later, about two hours before our shift eneded, the buzzer sounded again. For the third time one of the navy boys slipped to the door cracking it just wide enough to allow someone to pass through. Into the dark they disappeared. It was beginning to peak my curiosity but not enough to get up and check it out. The last Fractured Flicker was starting on the screen. I watched.
Then an hour before the watch was over the buzzer sounded once more. This time I sat up to observe the same activity. The door was opened just wide enough to allow someone to slip into the office and away into the dark. All of a sudden I freaked. All this furtive activity suddenly hit me hard. On my watch these squids were pulling something over on me. It was the military. These guys were actively involved in something nefarious, I thought. My ass is grass. Only been in Iceland a couple of weeks and I'm in the middle of a spy ring. My watch! My responsibility! It's San Quentin for me! My mind was afire with fear.
"Geez, guys! What's going on here? You're gonna get me locked up for the rest of my life!"
"Whoa! Lieutenant. Calm down. You got bear claws and flicks. It's alright."
"Alright! Alright! What are you? Crazy? I've seen you sneaking guys in here. You're spies and now I'm involved! They'll throw us under the jail! It's war time! We'll be lucky to get life! It's a firing squad during war! I don't want to go up against the wall!"
"Calm down, sir!" It was my tech. The blue uniform of the Air Force didn't comfort at all.
"How can you ask me to calm down when you've sold me over to the enemy's side for a bear claw and a movie. It was so easy to flip me! I sold out my country for a pastry and a cup of coffee! I thought I was at least worth a million bucks to turn traitor. You guys have screwed me roayally!"
Laughter erupted all around. A couple of them had fallen out of their chairs from laughing so hard.
"What the hell's so funny!?" I was red from yelling so loud.
"You are, Lieutenant." It was my tech speaking through his laughing.
"You...you... you think we're spies."
"Well, what else can I think with you slipping people through the door while I'm engrossed in some film?"
"It isn't like that, sir," said the bell bottomed anchor-clanker beside me. "We're just paying our debt."
"Yes. Follow me, sir." My tech lead me into the darkness that had swallowed our mysterious guests. Up some stairs and into a small booth that housed a red phone.
"This is where we bring our visitors."
"What is it?"
"It's our direct phone line to the states."
"You think those guys give us goodies out of the goodness of their hearts? No way. They trade what they have for what we have."
"I still don't understand."
"We give them a link to home. They come here to use the phone to call their families back in the states. This is a free call for them. It's expensive using a pay phone here. So for pastries and movies from them we give free phone calls. It's one of the perks for working the night shift."
"I'm not going to prison? I won't have to wear a blindfold and smoke my last cigarette?"
"No, sir. You get to eat bear claws and drink coffee while watching movies."
"Sounds fair," I said relieved that I wasn't a spy. "I think I need one of those Danishes and another cup of coffee."
My shift was up an hour later. I collapsed into bed at home. Being an almost spy was tiring.