The whole thing happened, when we get down to it, because of a vanilla frappuccino.
Why the general requested a vanilla frappuccino, no one knows. Maybe he felt especially parched that day, as he stood in the dusty, hot command tent and shouted orders at his inferiors. Maybe a couple neurons got crossed in his brain, and he had a momentary flashback to a conversation with his teenage daughter, who was going through that particularly disagreeable phase in her life when she felt as if she ought to be completely independent, despite still needing her parents to provide her with everything.
In any case, when the unfortunate lieutenant who pulled that week’s “drinks bitch” duty sidled up to the general and asked if he’d like something to drink, the general spun to glare at him from beneath stormy, overgrown eyebrows, a pair of gray caterpillars writhing across his face.
“Vanilla frappuccino!” he snapped at the hapless lieutenant. “And make sure it’s cold!”
The general had spoken, and out here on the dusty edge of the desert battlefield, his word carried more weight than any mere god. The lieutenant nodded, snapped an instinctive salute, and dashed away from the men who could put him on latrine duty with a single word.
Outside the command tent, however, with the hot desert sun beating down on him, the lieutenant paused, his brow furrowing. He knew that, off in the supply tent a dozen yards away, a battered and ancient coffee maker churned out a blackish sludge. If you closed your eyes, deprived yourself of sleep for a few days, and maybe gave yourself a couple whacks in the head with a rifle butt for good measure, the sludge could almost pass for coffee.
That sludge could never, however, be a vanilla frappuccino.
With the sun’s rays piercing through the lieutenant’s buzzed hair, he made a decision. Not sure of how to handle this situation, he took refuge in the time-honored, ancient military tradition of passing the buck.
“Hayes!” he shouted, sticking his head into the supply tent.
Sergeant Alamander Hayes looked up, his expression resigned. Whenever a superior shouted for him, Alamander Hayes knew, he was going to receive another challenge.
At a “positive psychology to improve your life” seminar that Alamander once wandered into by accident, the speaker told his assembled flock to think of problems as challenges. Alamander was actually lost and looking for something to eat, hoping to sneak in early to the conference’s buffet area, but that message stuck with him, although he gloomily suspected that he didn’t handle “challenges” any better than he dealt with most “problems”.
“Right here, Lieutenant,” Alamander replied, not bothering to raise his voice as he twisted a small piece of wire with a pair of pliers. “What can I do for you?”
The lieutenant moved in closer, surprised at how much cooler the supply tent felt than the stifling command tent a dozen yards away. “What’s that, Hayes?” he asked, looking over Alamander’s shoulder.
Alamander nodded at the mostly disassembled unit in front of him. “One of the toaster’s heating coils burned out. I’m jury-rigging another.”
The lieutenant hesitated. On one hand, this didn’t seem like a particularly productive use of the sergeant’s time. But the lieutenant had also once seen a particularly fussy colonel go through a full meltdown, screaming and throwing glass paperweights like snowballs, when he didn’t get his toast cut into soldiers, so he held his tongue.
“I need a vanilla frappuccino for the general,” he said instead.
Alamander looked up at his superior through long-suffering eyes that knew exactly how openly he could speak before he risked a reprimand. “The general knows that this is a military base, not a Starbucks, doesn’t he?”
The lieutenant just shrugged, one working man commiserating with another over the craziness of their bosses. “Hey, he’s the one who shouted at me. What can you give me?”
“Any chance that he’s never actually had a vanilla frappuccino before, and we can give him a cup of sludge?”
After a moment, the lieutenant shook his head. “Too risky. Other options?”
“There’s actually a Starbucks in the town nearby,” Alamander offered. “We could send a couple privates over there with a Humvee, tell them to pick one up and bring it back?”
“We don’t have a spare Humvee for-” the lieutenant paused. “Wait, there’s a Starbucks here? In the middle of godforsaken nowhere?”
“The reach of corporate America,” Alamander shrugged. “Apparently they’re doing plum business, though. Lots of folks out here like paying seven bucks for a big sugary drink.”
Watching as Alamander continued shaping the new coil of heating wire for the mostly disassembled toaster, the lieutenant weighed his options. “If I send you with the Humvee, can you make sure that no one else finds out about this?” he asked.
Alamander put aside the wire and focused very hard on not letting the lieutenant hear him groan. Of course he’d be sent along. Privates couldn’t be trusted on their own, not when the general’s choice of beverage was involved. And he’d been making such good progress on fixing the toaster.
Still, general trumped colonel, and the colonel would just have to settle for white bread along with his eggs for tomorrow’s breakfast. He stood up, stretching out his legs.
“By the way,” called out the lieutenant as he tagged along at Alamander’s shoulder, “why’s it so comfortable in here?”
Alamander pointed off to the side. “Testing out the AC units to see if my repairs worked,” he explained, and ducked out the side of the supply tent.
Fortunately, the two men soon found a Humvee idling near the runway, with two men sitting inside the cabin and thanking Willis Carter for his invention of the air conditioning unit. The lieutenant gestured to them, and then Alamander climbed up and knocked on their door when they didn’t notice the wave.
“We need this vehicle,” he said politely when one of the men rolled down his window a crack, unwilling to lose any more of his cool air than was necessary. “We’re going on a coffee run.”
The driver frowned back at him. “This is the general’s ride,” he replied haughtily. “If he needs to evacuate, he needs this vehicle-”
“Perfect,” Alamander groaned. He grabbed the rear door handle of the Humvee, and was gratified to find the door unlocked. Before the startled driver could hit the door lock button, he climbed inside. “This is an errand for the general, after all. Now, let’s get going.”
“But if he needs to get out of here-”
“Then we’ll be back to evacuate him, with his vanilla frappuccino in hand,” Alamander finished. “Don’t make me tell the lieutenant out there to pull rank on you, boys.”
The driver still looked like he wanted to protest, but his copilot sighed. “Just drive, Barry,” he said to the driver, settling back in his seat.
They were five minutes out from the base when they heard the rumble behind them. Barry the driver tried to glance back over his shoulder, cursing, and then thought better and hauled the whole Humvee over to the side of the road.
The three men stared back at the cloud of dirt rising up, aftermath of the explosion. “Should we…” Barry began, but Alamander leaned forward and patted him sadly on the shoulder.
“No rush now,” he replied. “And honestly, I could really use a cold drink right now.”