In the Cordova Hotel, near the docks of Barcelona, fourteen Marine Corps fighter pilots from the aircraft carrier Forrestal were throwing an obstreperously spirited going away party for Lieutenant Colonel Bull Meecham, the executive officer of their carrier based squadron. The pilots had been drinking most of the day and the party was taking a swift descent toward mayhem. It was a sign to Bull Meecham that he was about to have a fine and memorable turbulent time.

The commanding officer of the squadron, Ty Mullinax, had passed out in the early part of the afternoon and was resting in a beatific position on the table in the center of the room, his hands folded across his chest and a bouquet of lilies carefully placed in his zipper, rising out of his groin. The noise from the party had risen in geometrically spiraling quantities in irregular intervals since the affair had begun shortly after noon. In the beginning it had been a sensible, often moving affair, a coming together of soldiers and gentlemen to toast and praise a warrior departing their ranks.

But slowly, the alcohol established its primacy over the last half of the party and as darkness approached and the outline of warships along the harbor became accented with light, the maitre d' of the Cordova Hotel walked into the room to put an end to the going away party that had begun to have the sound effects of a small war.

He would like to have had the Marines thrown out by calling the Guardia Civil but too much of his business depended on the American officers who had made his hotel and restaurant their headquarters whenever the fleet came to Barcelona. The guests in his restaurant had begun to complain vigorously about the noise and obscenity coming from the room that was directly off the restaurant. Even the music of a flamenco band did not overpower or even cancel out the clamor and tumult that spilled out of the room. The maitre d' was waiting for Captain Weber, a naval captain who commanded a cruiser attached to the fleet, to bring his lady in for dinner, but his reservation was not until 9 o'clock. -- Pat Conroy