The Killer Joke
Steve Mount

"Go ahead, do it."

"Look, this was funny at first, but..."

"Shut up. Dial the phone."

Private Williams sighed and thought for a second, but then smiled. Yes, it would be funny to see, he thought. "Alright," he said. "Alright."

"Great," Private Johns said, smiling. He was into this kind of thing, always looking for that killer joke, the perfect prank, but he didn't like doing it himself — especially if there was risk. He remembered the time in high school when he talked a classmate into setting a garbage Dumpster on fire. There was little danger to anyone, since the Dumpster was set back from the school at the edge of an unused parking lot. Someone had seen old Jacob Moors light the match, and he ended up suspended for two weeks. But Eddie Johns got off scot-free, and watched in delight as his plan had been executed. His tastes in pranks had grown darker, however, in the two years since he was a high school junior.

Williams dialed the phone, and waited for the answer, all the while nervously tapping his fingers on the desk of the Charge of Quarters, the CQ desk. The Platoon Sergeant had gone to chow — and Williams and Johns had watched him leave from their hiding place in the latrine. They had a good twenty minutes, at least, before his return.

"First Brigade S-2, Sergeant Ball speaking, may I help you sir?" came the reply, finally. Williams pointed to the phone and looked up at Johns, excitedly. Johns moved his hands to say "Well, get to it!".

"Hello?" the S-2 said.

"Yes, uh, hello," said Williams. He picked up a piece of paper he and Johns has prepared earlier. "There is a, uh, a bomb placed some where in the Brigade area. It is planted and set. Nothing you can do can prevent it from, uh, from exploding." Williams looked up at Johns to see how he was doing, and Johns was giving an approving nod and smile. Perfect, Johns thought.

The sergeant sat up quickly in his squeaky old chair when he heard the word "bomb" and pulled out a previously unused Bomb Threat Record card. He picked up his pencil and quickly checked the MALE box, then wrote down the time of the call. "When is the bomb supposed to explode?" he asked, reading from the card.

"Some time this afternoon," Williams said. Johns started coughing quietly, and Williams held his finger to his lips and shushed him. Ball wrote everything down — at least two people, one coughing.

"Where is the bomb?" he asked.

"I told you — somewhere in the Brigade area."

"What does it look like?"

"If we'd wanted you to find the damn thing, we'd have painted the word 'bomb' in big orange letters, now wouldn't I?" Williams was really starting to like this.

Ball noted the caller's use of the word we, and also noted that the caller mixed his usage of we and I — a possible language pattern clue. "What will cause the bomb to explode?" he asked.

"Time, sarge, just time."

Sarge — military terminology. "Did you place the bomb yourself?"

"Fuckin' eh, we did."


"Why not?"

"What's your address?"

"None of your business; you think I'm crazy?" Williams was now really getting a kick out of this. It was fun, a way to get back at the drills for all the push-ups they'd made them do. Time to give a little back to the Army. Suddenly, though, the fun had to end. Drill Sergeant Saunders was coming to the door. Williams heard him yelling to another drill across the courtyard: "Doubtful, man, doubtful!", then faint laughter from the two Army buddies.

"Hang up!" Johns said in a harsh whisper. "Hang up!" He turned and went up the steps. Williams watched as Johns walked away.

"Johns!", he called lightly, then he remembered the open line: "That's all!" he yelled into the phone as hung it up and ran after his partner in crime.

Just then, Drill Sergeant Saunders walked in and looked around. Good, he thought. No damn privates around — bad enough they didn't have shit for food at chow; it would have been even worse if there had been a pesky private or two sitting around to aggravate him. He went into the day room and tried to decide whether to watch Andy Griffith or Wheel of Fortune.

Sergeant Bruce Ball was finishing up his paperwork hurriedly. He checked "Message read by threat maker" and "Foul language" on the form. He also wrote "John or Johns", and he noted that the caller hung up just as he had heard other, far-off voices. He checked the "Local call" box, and the "Clear" box, and wrote that he heard a faint echo in the call; it may have been made from a small, enclosed area. He marked the date, double-checked the time, and lamented that he didn't have caller ID, or that the phone system here didn't have call-back capabilities, like his phone in his off-base apartment had. He made a call to the Physical Security and Counter-Terrorism Specialist, a friend of his in the MP's.

"Tower," Ball heard in his earpiece. So much for phone protocol.

"Jack, this is Sergeant Ball at 1st S-2."

"Bruce, how the hell are you?"

"Fine, but I have something for you."


"A bomb threat."

Ball could almost hear Tower straighten in his chair, just as he had minutes ago. "No shit. When?"

"Just now."

"Give me the details." Ball read his notes and check marks off his Threat Card. "Sounded like a prank," Ball noted.

"Same here, but we have to treat it as one hundred percent real."

"I know."

"Dick head."

"Fuck you."

"You just left me there," Williams said. Johns was enjoying this. "Jesus, if I'd been caught, it would have been my ass!" Williams was livid with anger and petrified with fear at the same time. Johns was really enjoying this.

"So?" came Johns's nonchalant reply.

"Fuck," Williams said, exasperated. He turned and left Johns next to his bunk. He went and sat in the latrine until word came to evacuate the building, less than ten minutes later. Everyone was ushered to parking lots set back from the buildings. The mess hall was emptied as were all Company Orderly rooms across the Brigade area. The day was hot and deuce-and-a-halfs pulling water buffaloes went to each parking lot where troops were amassed. The day passed slowly for every one in the hot Kentucky sun at Fort Knox, as MP's and the bomb squad searched billets and offices, sniffing for the bomb.

It was a grueling day for every one. The troops were able to get in some drill and ceremony training, but it got called off when the drills were told the cadence was unnerving the bomb squad. The bomb-sniffing dogs had to stop every thirty minutes to gulp down water and sit in the shade. The civilian workers were sent home, and the hospital treated twenty-four cases of heat stroke.

By the time ten o'clock came around, and no sign of a bomb was found, the Brigade Commander and Post Commander decided it was safe to send the troops back in for bed. The threat was over. A prank, they agreed, with Ball and Tower concurring in their advisory notes.

"Find him," said General Bates to Tower, his last command of the night.

The Brigade S-3 pulled a bunch of files, but one stuck out. There were lots of "John"'s for a first name, but only one "Johns" for a last name. Johns, Edward T., 241-28-2888, from Durham, North Carolina. 2nd Platoon, Bravo 1-81. Under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, that was evidence enough for Johns to be picked up for interrogation.

MP's went to B-1-81 and asked the CQ to have Johns come down. Not knowing exactly what was going on, the drill sent his runner up to retrieve the Private. Johns came down, not expecting anything more than a few push-ups for whatever the drill caught him doing.

But the MP's didn't make him do push-ups. They had something better for him — a warrant. "Private Johns, you are hereby served with this warrant for your arrest for interrogation, signed by Colonel Garcia. You have the right to remain silent and the right to have an attorney present when questioned. A JAG lawyer can be appointed to you if you so desire."

"What's this for?" the CQ asked.

"Bomb Threat, Sergeant", one of the MP's answered.

"Shit," Johns said quietly. His prank had back fired.

"Private E-2 Bernard Williams is hereby granted a General Discharge, as part of the plea agreement in exchange for his testimony in the case of United States Army v. Johns."

"Yes sir," Williams replied, disappointed he wasn't ever going to get a silver star now. He wouldn't even be able to play weekend warrior in the National Guard or Reserves. But at least he wasn't going to the stockade.

"Private E-1 Edward Johns, for your part as the prime motivator in this case, this court-martial finds you guilty on all counts. You are hereby dishonorably discharged, and are sentenced to serve no fewer than 10 years of hard labor in Leavenworth Federal Prison." Johns said nothing. "This court, then, is adjourned."

As the tribunal rose, Johns rose, too, and pulled something from his shirt, aiming it at the floor. "Gun!", yelled one of the MP's guarding the proceedings. Some in the audience yelled and ducked for cover. The other MP in the room had his M-16 raised to his shoulder in a split second and had Johns in his sights as Johns turned to the exiting tribunal. Williams, the lawyers, and the judges all were either crouching, diving for the floor, or running toward a door.

"Put down the weapon!" called out one of the MP's, but Johns took a stance and leveled the weapon, pointing at the tribunal. A shot rang out, from the first MP, then another from the second, and Johns fell to the ground, his weapon falling from his hand to the floor as he hit the ground. One MP ran up to the weapon, his M-16 still raised and scanning, and stepped on it so he could push it out of Johns's reach. When he did, it crumbled beneath his boot.

He looked down, and raised his weapon. He reached down and touched the crumbled mass, and brought a piece to his eyes, then his nose. "It's soap," he said. He looked at his fingers, blackened. "Carved and covered with shoe polish," he said, guessing correctly

Johns's JAG lawyer went down to him. The wounds, professionally placed shots, looked fatal, though the other MP was calling for a medic already. "Why?" the lawyer asked.

"It was just a joke", Johns gasped. He laughed quietly, and then stopped.

Eddie Johns's last joke really was a killer.

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Last Modified: 10 Mar 1999

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