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  1. The Ordeal Donnie paused, leaning on his shovel. “Where are we?” “You're standing in a hole about two feet deeper than necessary. I'm sitting on a case of artillery shells talking to you.” Old Guy snickered. He always appreciated his own humor. “You know what I mean.” Donnie went back to his digging. “We're in Belgium. Not far from Mons, I think.” Old Guy produced a map. “Near a place called Florennes, unless that last MP was lying to us.” “Any chance of beer? Women?” “Beer is brewed everywhere, Donnie. And women seem to occupy at least half the Earth. Chances are we'll encounter both as we travel the countryside.” “Why do you always answer questions that way? Is the beer any good here? Are the women good looking? Jeez.” Old Guy started to reply, then sighed and shook his head. “It's called sarcasm, my boy. I keep forgetting you're from Iowa. We'll have to sample the various beers in order to figure out which ones are any good. Same with the women.” “1944 is almost over. I'd like to get laid by Christmas. When can we start sampling? ” “An astute question for a change.” Old Guy glanced up as a twin-engine plane banked overhead and went out of sight to the east. “I believe that was a Black Widow. It appeared to be letting down for landing. The airfield we seek is not far off. Once we deliver our messages, we may be able to begin experimenting with the local brews. There are usually women in the vicinity of bars, taverns, pubs, or whatever the local name is for places serving booze.” “Hot damn! Maybe I can get laid -- finally.” “Always a possibility. You've progressed to the point where only the largest melons send you into a coma. We ate those last two. You'll have to find some more. Practice, practice, that's the key.” A staff sergeant from the artillery unit they'd decided to laager up with for the night gave them a shout. “Mess truck is here. C'mon over.” Old Guy began rummaging in the jeep for his mess gear. “Looks like you don't have to put up with my cooking this evening. Let's go see how if artillery mess cooks are any better than infantry cooks.” The artillery cooks proved capable of a workmanlike job with 10-in-1 rations and local produce. Old Guy spent the evening swapping lies with the gun bunnies. Donnie finished digging a semi-bunker complete with overhead cover (timbers taken from a partly burned barn) and straw for the floor. Donnie was sitting in one corner of the bunker when Old Guy returned. “Damn, you've outdone yourself. The roof is a tad low, but other than that, I believe this is your best effort yet.” “Good soil,” replied Donnie with a shrug. “I had to quit digging because it was gettin' dark.” He held up a pair of medium size pumpkins. “Liberated these from a farm field. Gotta practice.” He closed his eyes then placed the pumpkins side by side in the opposite corner of the dugout. Sitting back, he took a deep breath and opened his eyes just a fraction. A low moan escaped him, but he remained conscious. “You can do it!” cried Old Guy. “Eyes open wide!” Donnie gritted his teeth and did as instructed. He was able to focus on the two pumpkins for a full thirty seconds before he had to look away. “Hell,” said Old Guy, looking up from his watch. “A new record. Are you ready for the TEST?” “Gimme a minute, dammit!” Donnie covered his eyes and sagged back against the dirt wall. After a couple minutes his breathing became less ragged. “Okay. No. Wait. Maybe I'm not ready.” “Faint heart never won a fair maiden.” “It ain't fair or foul that gets to me,” retorted Donnie. “It's them with chests out to here.” He mimed a very full sweater. “I can't focus on nothin' but -- but -- them -- uh . . .” “Boobs! Come on. Say it. Boobs!” Donnie weaved like a drunken sailor. “I can't -- I can't focuuuuus -- oooon nothin' but -- booooobs!” “Wow! At this rate you may get laid sometime in 1965. But I could be wrong. You're making good progress. Shall we try the TEST?” Without waiting for a response, Old Guy reached over and laid a piece of knit fabric over the pumpkins. “Noooooooo! I ain't ready!” Donnie's eyes bulged. After a few seconds he began to relax. “Hey. I ain't passin' out.” His laughter was that of a homicidal maniac suddenly freed from a strait jacket. “Easy,” cautioned Old Guy. He retrieved the fabric. “You passed the TEST, but look. Pumpkins. Remember? These are just pumpkins. I think you're ready for the big time. All we have to do is find a bar stocked with well-endowed women.” “I better keep practicin', huh?” “Yeah. But don't expect instant improvement. Look how long them flyboys have been trying to hit German targets. They try and they try, but nothing seems to help. You've had this condition since you were -- what? -- twelve? It may take some time before you're really cured.” “Right. Let's do the TEST again.” Ten seconds later Donnie was out cold. Old Guy sighed and tucked the fabric away. “Poor Donnie. I'm afraid the strain was more than he could bear.” (tbc)
  2. Out of Bondage Three days after the enraged infantry lieutenant had them tossed in the stockade (a much damaged warehouse in Carentan) the captain in charge released Old Guy and Donnie. He had too many POWs and not enough guards. “You two take a batch of prisoners down to the beach. Then you can return to your unit.” “What about the officer who had us confined?” asked Old Guy. “I don't want to run into him and have the bas -- uh -- have him think we escaped or something.” “Don't worry about him. He didn't charge you with anything. Just told me to hold you for a couple days and then let you go. You really pissed him off.” “Not me.” Old Guy grinned. “Donnie and a couple others went into shock and had to be carried a mile or so out of the bush. One of the victims was the lieutenant's own platoon sergeant.” “Jeez,” said the captain. “What was it? Shell shock? Combat fatigue?” “Boob shock,” explained Old Guy. Donnie had the grace to look embarrassed. Old Guy mimed a fantastic set of knockers. “Marie was her name. She's in the Resistance.” “Dang, I'd like to meet the lady.” The captain laughed. “My brother-in-law has the same affliction. Can't take the guy to a strip club -- unless you want to carry him home and explain why he's out cold to my sister. She ain't very understanding.” The two dispatch riders retrieved their firearms and went out. Inside a barb wire enclosure MPs were shoving a gaggle of prisoners into a semblance of order. “What is this here 'affliction' the captain talked about? I got some kinda disease?” “Not a disease. If you caught the clap, that would qualify as a disease, but you don't stay conscious long enough for that nonsense. Yours is more of a mental affliction.” “Mental? That means something wrong with my brain, right?” “That's right. Fixating on boobs is not normal behavior. But it's not a serious disorder. It's not like you're a mass murderer or anything. It's more of a labor problem.” “Labor? What the hell do you mean?” “You see a nice set and your mind goes on strike. Plus, those around you have to do your work and take care of you -- like packing your fat ass a mile through the woods.” Donnie giggled. “I'm sorry about that.” He didn't look the least contrite. “But I'm glad I have an -- uh -- an affliction.” “Good God! You're glad?” “Yeah. Proves I got a brain. Nobody can call me brainless. I mean, they might, but I can tell 'em about my mental affliction. You can't have one of those unless you got a brain.” Old Guy sighed. “You're beginning to make sense. And that makes me worry about my own mind. Let's go collect this batch of supermen and herd them down to the beach.” “They don't look so super to me.” “Neither do you. Hell. Neither do I.” An MP opened the gate and signaled the German prisoners to move out. “Here ya go. Fifty Krauts headed for America or Canada. Lucky bastards.” The man watched as the group marched by. “Hell, I'd go home in a minute, if I had the chance. I'd even go to Canada. It's gotta be better than this hole.” “Don't be too sure,” warned Old Guy. “Lots of lonely women in Canada, but it gets cold as hell in winter. Sometimes even in summer.” “Sounds good to me,” said the MP. “A warm woman and a snug cabin. I wouldn't complain.” “Shit, Joe. Yes you would,” said his fellow MP. “You'd find something to bitch about.” “Yeah, yer prob'ly right. Come on. Let's get another batch ready to go. If the captain can find a few more idiots to guard them, we might get rid of all the bastards today.” The second MP grinned at Old Guy and Donnie. “Won't do any good. We got more comin' in.” “Goddamn Army,” snarled Joe. “I should be guarding the gate back at Fort Benning and shacking up with one of those Southern belles.” “Keep yer eyes open. Sooner or later someone's gonna capture some of them German WACs.” “Shit. Won't do us no good. Some damn colonel will grab 'em.” Old Guy and Donnie moved off behind the POWs. The nattering of the two MPs faded out behind. The prisoners moved along in glum silence all the way to the beach where they were loaded aboard a small landing craft. A tired looking sergeant explained. “They'll be transferred to one a them cross-Channel ferries and hauled over to England. Then they put 'em on a ship an' send 'em to America.” He spat into the sand. “I hope one a their own subs sinks 'em.” As they walked away, Donnie glanced back. “That feller talked awful bad about them Germans. I mean, those guys are prisoners now. What's his beef?” Old Guy stopped and pointed. The sergeant had a working party of prisoners loading another landing craft with ungainly shapes in blood-stained mattress covers. Row upon row of bodies lay on the sand. Men moved among them, examining tags, writing on clipboards. Donnie didn't say anything else until they reached the top of the hill above the beach. He stopped and surveyed the massive jam of men and equipment below. “Can we go back to carrying messages? I don't wanna shoot nobody else, unless I have to. I don't wanna guard no more prisoners, either.” “Neither do I. Come on.” Old Guy examined a sheet of plywood covered with crude signs. “I think the battalion CP is up this way.” Five minutes later they caught a ride on a weapons carrier. “Damn,” moaned Major Dude. “I thought you clowns were gone for good. My luck ain't in.” Old Guy shrugged and shook his head. “We figured you'd be glad to see us, Major. Or have we been replaced? I can always go back to Supply and Donnie is experienced at digging latrines.” “Hey!” cried Donnie. “I don't wanna dig no more holes.” “Well, you're in luck,” said Dude. “You haven't been replaced. In fact, I'm short of messengers. For instance, Corps command is crying for guys like you to carry dispatches. Sending everything by radio is a pain in the ass. The commo network is maxed out.” “You got more motorcycles for us, sir?” asked Old Guy. “If not, we could always go down and get our old ones back. I know where they are -- or where they were a few days ago.” “Right. I should send you down there so you can get lost for another week or two. No way. I got a radio jeep you can have. You should be happy about that. More room for booze and souvenirs.” “Well,” said Old Guy, “the French do press a lot of wine on us, sir. But any Nazi weapons, like Lugers and MG-42s are always turned in -- as regulations require.” “I'm sure they are.” Dude leaned back and put his feet on the table he was using as a desk. “Speaking of souvenirs, I'd like to acquire one of those Lugers. What's the going rate?” “I've heard rumors of Lugers going for $500 each -- in England.” “That's in England,” said the Major. “You can only get maybe $200 here.” He smiled. “If I had a Luger I might feel up to signing leave papers for a couple messengers to take a few days leave -- in England. The First Sergeant wants a PPK. If he had one, I think he'd be happy to have a clerk type up such papers.” Old Guy grinned. “Consider it done, sir. Where are you sending us?” Dude thumped his feet to the floor and sorted through the mess on his desk. “Here it is.” He handed Old Guy a large envelope. “Don't lose this. It's your orders. The papers for the jeep are in there as well as blank trip tickets with my signature.” “That ought to keep us out of trouble, sir.” “Why do I feel like I'm handing you a license to steal?” “Well . . .” Old Guy hesitated. “You are, sir. But I -- Donnie and I promise not to abuse your trust.” “Right.” Dude waved them away. “Don't get caught with anything you can't explain.” Outside they found the First Sergeant leaning against a radio equipped jeep. He smiled. “I'd like a PPK, preferably one issued to the SS.” “Whatever could he be talking about, Donnie?” “I dunno, man. Ever since the Major handed you them orders I been lost.” Old Guy walked around the little vehicle. “One jeep with radio and mounted .30 caliber machine gun. Did you pack us a lunch, First Sergeant?” “I'm sure you're capable of handling your own rationing.” The First Sergeant handed over a small bound notebook and patted the radio. “Don't lose the code book. You'll need a new one in six days. Try to check in on the battalion net at least once a day.” “Depending on where Corps sends us, that may not be possible,” said Old Guy. “You can always get a short message relayed by Corps.” The First Sergeant turned to go. “Don't get yourself killed. I really want that PPK.” Old Guy laughed. “See you in the funny papers, First Sergeant.” Donnie climbed in behind the wheel. “I'd rather have my Harley. Where we goin' first?” “Supply, then Corps headquarters.” Old Guy swung the machine gun down and checked the feed mechanism. Then he inspected the two carbines. One was clipped to the dash, one occupied a sheath beside his right knee. “Let's get out of here -- before the Major has an attack of common sense and tosses us back in the stockade.” “Why?” Donnie started the jeep and put it in gear. “We ain't done nothin'.” “We ain't done nothing -- yet. I suspect we won't get very far without breaking a few rules.” “Well that ain't nothing new. I ain't seen a regulation yet you haven't figgered a way around.” “Thank you, Donnie, for recognizing my inborn talents. You don't have to kneel. A simple kissing of my hand will suffice. Now head for the Supply tent. We need some stuff.” “I ain't kneelin'. Just sittin' right here. And I ain't kissin' your hand. I ain't no sissy.” “Not until you see boobs,” said Old Guy. “Or a woman carrying melons.” “Dammit! Can't you forget that? It only happened once. I can usually tell melons from boobs.” (tbc)
  3. Evening twilight was giving away to true night as Old Guy and Donnie coasted to a stop at a road junction. Engines off, they sat listening. Distant artillery boomed fitfully. Nothing could be seen in either direction on the cross road. The road they'd come south on ended at the intersection. Old Guy dismounted and walked across the road where neatly lettered signs pointed left and right. “First signs I've seen,” said Donnie. “I thought the Frenchies tore 'em all down.” “German efficiency, Donnie. And they ain't sloppy knock-offs either. Neat black lettering on white paint. They probably have a mobile workshop that does nothing but signs.” “Good for them.” Donnie shrugged. The US Army was strange enough to him. He didn't need a bunch of useless information about the Krauts. “Periers to the left, Lessay to the right. Which way we need to go?” “Neither.” Old Guy produced a hand-drawn map. “4th Armored HQ is supposed to be in Sainteny. Periers is located on a main road southwest of there -- maybe four or five miles. That MP back in Battalion sent us the wrong way.” “I told you we never shoulda asked an MP for directions. Them guys are all morons.” “I'd keep that opinion to myself if I were you. Those morons carry guns and batons.” Donnie waved off the unwanted advice. “How wrong are we? Can you tell from that so-called map you drawed? And why can't we get a decent map?” “I imagine all the decent maps are stored in a warehouse in England where a PFC clerk is wondering what to do with them -- when he's not thinking about his English girl friend. Some brass hat forgot to requisition them, I suppose. As for where we are, I'd call it way wrong.” Old Guy tucked his map away. “Like on the wrong side of the lines.” He gazed back the way they had come. “The Germans should have had somebody blocking the road. Hell, our guys should have had a security position set up to stop GI's from motoring south and Germans from moving north. I didn't see a damned soul.” “Me neither. What's going on? Have the Krauts pulled out?” “Not likely. The Major told me this section of the line is being held by remnants of several divisions. Things are screwed up on our side. Imagine how disorganized the Germans must be.” “Okay. So we go back the way we came, right?” “We do. At least we try going back. I'd bet money the road isn't wide open any more. That's the kind of thing platoon sergeants get cranky about. Even if the officers don't know their ass from first base, some sergeant will see the problem and put some riflemen and a machine gun or two in place.” Old Guy began turning his Harley around. “We may end up ditching these rigs and doing some hiking in order to get back where we belong.” “I zink zat would be a wise decision.” The voice came from the shadows under the trees fringing the west side of the road. Old Guy cursed under his breath and stopped moving. Donnie chuckled. “I thought you Montana cowboys never got sneaked up on.” “Keep ze hands in sight.” A woman's voice. “We want no accidents.” Armed figures stepped out of the dark. “Zey are Ami,” said the woman. She grinned at Old Guy. “We shot you almost. But zese motorzycles sound not like German motors.” “Thank God for the Harley V-twin,” said Old Guy. “I take it you are with the Resistance?” “Of course,” said the woman. “I am Fifi. Zese others are Gerard, Louis, and Marie.” “Call me Old Guy. This lump is Donnie. We're dispatch riders.” Gerard slung his weapon and thumped the canvas pack perched atop the front fender of Old Guy's Harley. He spoke to Fifi in French, gesturing toward the north. “He says we must get off ze road and hide ze motors. Ze Germans fear ze day so zey move only at night. You must come wiz us.” “Best offer I've had since the invasion started,” said Old Guy. “Lead on.” They fired up their cycles and idled along behind their guides. A few hundred yards north of the road junction Gerard led them off the paved surface and on to a narrow dirt lane. The track curved to the east and became little more than a rough path. After some minutes they were directed into a narrow cut in a hill side. The cut opened into an area covered with netting. At a signal from Gerard, they shut off the machines. “Nice place,” observed Old Guy. “Have you used this often?” “Only for ze last two days,” said Fifi. “Leave you motors. Take what you can carry. We won't be coming back here until ze Germans are pushed back.” “That may take some pushing.” Old Guy began stuffing items into a pack. “How far will we be walking tonight?” “About two kilometers.” Fifi watched the two men for a few moments. “Your friend is very quiet.” “Donnie? Oh, don't worry about him. He's been struck dumb ever since he saw Marie.” Fifi laughed aloud. “Oui. She has what we call a four cycle chest.” “Four cycle? I don't know what you mean.” “When Marie walks up to a German guard post and flirts wiz ze Boche, we can count on running at least four bicycles past zem while zey stare at her chest.” “Hah! I understand. It's something like that with Donnie. Right now you could drive a Tiger tank over his foot and he wouldn't even notice.” Fifi snarled something in French, then said, “Men! Zey see only women wiz big chests.” “Well, uh . . .” Old Guy tried to think of something gallant to say about Fifi's endowments, which appeared inadequate only when compared to Marie's superstructure. He eventually decided to remain silent on the subject. His smattering of high school French wasn't up to the task and he didn't think Fifi would understand American jargon like 'nice rack'. Fifi waited a moment then turned abruptly and stomped off. Old Guy shook his head and shouldered his pack. Donnie was ready, pack and all, though there was no telling what he'd stuffed into it. Old Guy guided him toward the opening. The lad emitted a low calf-like moan, but that was all. **** The room was dark. Fick stood at the window watching men and equipment moving up the road. He turned away suddenly, as if in pain. “Herr Oberst, is something the matter?” Gefreiter Whizkid touched the colonel's arm. “Dummkopfs, Vhiz. Dummkopfs marsch in der night.” “Ah . . . the 2nd SS Panzer isn't a foolish unit, sir.” “Sie marsch, marsch, marsch to der Nord, goink into der lines. Sie expect to defeat der Americans unt der Britishers bevor der lunch tomorrow. Dummkopfs!” Whizkid decided the colonel needed to be reminded about their own orders. “Herr Oberst, we must be on the road within the hour. You recall our show planned for tomorrow night at Coutances?” “Coutances. Ja. I know, Vhiz. Mit luck ein Americans von't be there ahead of us. How many do ve haf left?” Whiz knew what Fick was referring to. “Of the actors we have all the Germans, except for those two SS deserters. They evidently deserted again. The French are all gone. The only stage hands left are the Russian prisoners.” “How far ve haf fallen, eh, Vhiz? Ein Russians stay because sie speak no French, the Germans are afraid to desert because der French might kill them, unt the French are hiding somewhere sewing FFI armbands unt hoping no one saw them acting in German plays put on for occupying troops.” “As you say, Herr Oberst. Still, the show must go on.” “Who says? Vhy does ein show haf to go on?” “Orders, Herr Oberst. If the show doesn't go on we will all be handed rifles and sent to infantry units. I do not wish to end my days shooting at a sky full of American fighters and bombers.” “Vell, since you put it that vay . . .” Fick slumped into a chair. “Ah, Vhiz. I had such plans. Dreams. Dreams of glory. Unt not a hint of this endless nightmare.” “Plans, Herr Oberst?” “I vas in early, Vhiz. Der Party, I mean. Those vere vunderful days!” “Were you a Blackshirt? Brownshirt?” “Nein. Unt that is vhere I made my mistake, Vhiz. I vasn't either of those.” “There were other groups of thugs?” “Not thugs, Vhiz. Ours vas an organization of people mit vision, manners, breeding.” Fick smiled for the first time in days. “Ve did a lot of breeding. Hah! Such orgies!” “Sounds like the Brownshirts, Herr Oberst.” “Nein. Ein Brownies veren't our kind of girl, if you take my meaning.” “I've heard stories.” “I can tell you stories!” Fick sighed and got up. “Blackshirts vere alvays such intense people, full of bile, unt not much into orgies -- not in those early days. Help me mit my tunic.” Whizkid assisted Fick into his uniform jacket. “But you've done well, Herr Oberst.” Fick shrugged. “Colonel in charge of das acting troupe, Vhiz? It is true that few men wear ein mauve shoulder straps of das Entertainment Corps, but -- not many ever vanted to.” “Someone has to do it, Herr Oberst.” “True.” Fick sighed again. “Now ve must get this show on der road.” (tbc)
  4. Old Guy

    Scouts Out!

    Yep, our two heros -- and other Simians -- are still out there! The two motorcyclists rolled to a halt in front of a building sporting a hand-painted sign which read, 3rd BAT OPERASHUNS. Major Dude stepped outside and stopped to light a cigarette. He caught sight of his two dispatch riders. “How the hell did you get here so fast?” Old Guy made a vague motion that might have been a salute. “We came in by glider. Donnie got us a ride with some 82nd Airborne guys. He nearly got us killed to boot. So here we are.” Dude glanced toward the beach. “I guess you noticed the mess. Everything is screwed up. I doubt if battalion HQ staff will be ashore by next week, the way things are going. We can use you.” “I was afraid of that,” murmured Old Guy. Louder he said, “What have you got for us, sir?” “Company B is moving out in a few minutes. I'm sure Captain Spectre would like a couple scouts.” “Ah . . . yes, sir. I imagine he would. Motorcycle couriers don't make good scouts. Sir.” “You're all we've got.” Dude grinned. “You've done this kind of thing before. In Tunisia.” “Well, sure. It's different in the desert, sir. Open country. Here it's all cut up into little fields bordered with trees and brush. The only way we can find an ambush is to ride into it.” Dude shrugged. “You might have to get off those motorcycles and play frontier scout for a while. I'll get you a map – if I've got anything usable.” Old Guy followed the major inside. A couple ragged paratroopers trudged by. One stopped and stared at Donnie. “Dint I see y'all last night?” “Uh . . . maybe. Me an' Old Guy rode in by glider. We spent the night in the woods.” Donnie tried to recall the men they'd encountered the previous night. “Slim. Ain't you Slim? From Alabama?” “That be me. I ain't from Alabam. Tennessee is mah home. Where be that old fart y'all was with?” “Inside. They're sendin' us out to scout for a rifle company.” “Sorry ta hear that, pardner.” Slim gestured with a Garand. “Busted ma carbine on a Kraut skull. Picked this here raffle of a daid paratrooper. I ain't shot nobody with it. Yet.” “Let's go,” said his companion. “Before some jerk decides to send us back out there.” “Y'all be careful, heah?” Slim shouldered his weapon and followed the other man down the track. Old Guy walked outside. “Who were you jawing with?” “Slim. That hillbilly we run into last night.” “What about Grainger?” “Didn't see him. Didn't think to ask.” “He had his shit together. Probably he's okay.” “What we gonna do? Major give you a map?” “No regular map.” Old Guy handed Donnie a folded scrap of paper. “I made a rough sketch of the area B Company is moving into. That'll have to do.” Donnie turned the paper one way, then another. “Rough ain't the word. I can't read your writing. And these lines look kinda like the wrinkles on my grandma's face.” Old Guy snatched at the map. “I never claimed to be an artist. And I don't know your granny. Fire up your cycle and let's get outta here before the major dreams up something even worse.” “Grumpy old bastard,” muttered Donnie as he kicked his Harley to life. Old Guy led the way up a narrow farm road leading generally south. They weaved in and out of a line of slow-moving vehicles and heavily laden soldiers. Captain Spectre leaned over the hood of his jeep, marking on a map. A gaggle of lieutenants and platoon sergeants stood watching. A few appeared to be taking notes. All had the studied casualness affected by men about to enter the cauldron of combat. Old Guy coasted to a halt a few yards from the group and waited for the briefing to be over. “Look what the cat drug in,” drawled a familiar voice. Old Guy stared at the bedraggled figure leaning against a parked half-track. “Gunny! What in hell are you doing here? Last I knew you were a Marine.” “I'm still a Marine.” Gunny waved away any possible questions. “It's a long sad story, beginning with my taking a commission up in Iceland. I'll tell you all about it later.” “Jesus,” said Donnie, chuckling. “You an officer? They musta dropped the gentleman requirement.” “Lots of officers ain't gentlemen,” replied a gruff voice. Old Guy and Donnie sprang to attention and saluted Spectre. “I see you met my temporary Exec. You got messages for me?” “No, sir,” said Old Guy. “I mean, nothing official. Major Dude told us to report to you for scouting duties.” He indicated their motorcycles. “I imagine we'll leave these here and go on foot.” “That would be wise. If you leave them with the battalion motor sergeant they might not get stolen. On the other hand, if someone steals them you won't have any trouble misappropriating a jeep or even a tank, would you?” “Sir,” said Old Guy, affecting a hurt expression. “I've never misappropriated Army property. The proper forms have always been submitted. In triplicate.” “I'm sure that's true, Sergeant. Otherwise you'd be in Leavenworth, breaking rocks.” Spectre produced a smile that belied the murder in his eyes. “The Germans might make you yearn for a prison cell.” Undaunted, Old Guy laughed. “I've toured Leavenworth, Captain. The climate sucks and the food is terrible. I'll take my chances with the Germans.” “Show them our plan of attack, Mr. Exec. Then send them on their way.” Spectre executed a snappy about-face and marched away. “Friendly cuss,” observed Donnie. “I take it you served with the captain before?” Old Guy nodded. “I did. Before the war. At Fort Benning. There were several misunderstandings about rations and quartering. Nothing serious.” “Sounded like he doesn't share y'all's opinion of what's serious,” observed Gunny. He grinned. “For what it's worth, he don't like me neither. His Exec was killed in a traffic accident last week and I was sorta sent over as a temporary replacement and for what the Corps calls inter-service training.” “That's bad,” said Donnie. “For both of you.” He hefted his pack. “Damn! This is heavy. Do I really need so much ammo and all these grenades?” “Leave the wine bottles and cheese,” suggested Old Guy. “Without the ammo and grenades the Germans will soon have you – and your cheese.” “Y'all got any kind of a map?” asked Gunny. “I don't have any extra.” “He has paper with a bunch of chicken scratchin' on it,” said Donnie. “No map.” “It's a perfectly good map,” snarled Old Guy. “Just a little hard to decipher.” “Maps aren't the only thing we're short of,” said Gunny. “I can't give y'all a radio. Rations are tight. Ammo isn't getting up as fast as it should. Tanks. I ain't seen any of ours.” “So what the hell are we supposed to do?” asked Old Guy. “England is full of rations and ammo, not to mention women and booze. What have you got plenty of?” “No women. Not much booze. Lots of Germans. A few Tiger tanks. Not many, thank the Lord. As for what y'all are supposed to do, it's simple. Find the Germans. Don't get shot. Bring word back to the captain. We got naval fire support and pretty good artillery. They'll take 'em out. Sometimes.” “My morale is sagging already,” said Old Guy. He compared his hand-drawn map to the one on the captain's jeep. “Close enough I guess. Saddle up, Donnie. We're scouts now.” **** “I feel like I'm in the middle of Times Square with no clothes on,” murmured Donnie. Old Guy led the way to the right, away from the cow path they'd been more or less following. “You ain't never been to New York, much less Times Square.” “New York? Times Square is in New York? I figgered it for Chicago or maybe Detroit.” “Pipe down, dammit,” hissed Old Guy. “The Krauts can hear that sawmill whisper of yours a mile off.” In fact, because of the wind and constant drumbeat of artillery in the distance, he was certain that whatever noise they made was not likely to be noticed by anyone more than a few yards away. He'd heard vehicle noises several times. So far they hadn't seen anything more dangerous than a milk cow. A sudden burst of rifle fire sent them both down flat. “We just came that way,” said Donnie. The firing grew in volume, then dropped off. A machine gun chattered. More rifles opened up, closer than before. An automatic weapon fired, buzzsaw-like. Donnie squirmed deeper into the grass. “What in hell was that?” “MG-42. German machine gun.” Old Guy crawled into a patch of small trees and got to his knees. “It's not far away. On the other side of that path we were following.” “Christ on a crutch. We musta walked right past them guys.” “Maybe. Or more likely they moved in from the north after we passed.” “I don't care if they fell from the goddamn sky. They're between us and the company.” “Ease up, Donnie. We don't have to go back that way.” Old Guy listened as the German gun fired off a long burst. “He'll soon need to change barrels, shooting that way.” Rifle poised, he began moving slowly through the trees toward the sound of the machine gun. “Come on.” Donnie didn't move for a long moment. Then, afraid to be left alone, he managed to get up and crawl rapidly after the crazy bastard. “Wait. Goddamn it. Wait for me. Shit. He's gonna get us both killed.” At the edge of the patch of trees, Old Guy halted and studied the vegetation lining the other side of the path. It seemed to be a sort of hedge crowned with thick brush and a few trees. A wooden gate blocked a narrow cut directly across from his position. Beyond he could see a small pasture lined with similar hedges on all sides. As he watched the MG fired again, another long burst. He couldn't see the men working the gun but did note muzzle blast shaking small branches a few feet above ground level. He pointed out the German position to Donnie. “The Krauts are dug into that hedge. Our guys must be over to the left, on the far side of the field or whatever it is. Pasture, I guess.” “I see a couple dead cows,” said Donnie. “So it must be pasture. Right?” “I'm amazed at your grasp of animal husbandry. Let's circle to the right and try to take those bastards from the rear. There may be more infantry flanking the gun. Be careful.” Donnie waited until Old Guy had moved out about twenty feet before he followed. “Be careful, he says. That's just what I told Trixie and what did she do? She got pregnant. Being careful ain't all it's cracked up to be.” It seemed to Donnie as if they crawled and ran across ten miles of French countryside before Old Guy stopped beside a moss-covered stump. He cautioned Donnie to silence and just knelt there for a long time eyeballing the path and the orchard beyond. “Somebody drove a couple jeeps along here yesterday.” Old Guy pointed at the tracks pressed into the muddy lane. “Somebody else put tracks down on top of those within the last few hours. A horse-drawn cart of some kind.” “Yeah,” agreed Donnie, though the tracks all looked the same to him. “Can we go back now?” The Kraut machine gun began firing again, this time in shorter bursts. Donnie flinched and crouched lower. Old Guy sprinted across the lane and took cover beside a pile of logs. A few seconds later he moved out again, running in a low crouch. “Jesus, get me outta here,” moaned Donnie. “He's gonna get me killed.” Rifle gripped in shaking hands, he trotted across the lane, expecting a storm of bullets at every step. Crashing into the log pile, he lay there panting. Old Guy reappeared. “Get your ass up. We gotta take out that fucking gun.” “But . . .” The old fart was already gone again. Sighing with frustration, Donnie heaved himself up and followed. His partner was moving in short sprints, using the fruit trees for cover. The trees looked too small to stop a rock, much less a bullet, but Donnie began doing the same thing. He only tripped and fell down twice as they neared the German position. He dodged around a clump of bushes and nearly fell over Old Guy. “Down. Cover me.” With that his companion moved forward at a crouch. Cover me? Donnie anxiously scanned the area, but could see no one other than Old Guy, who now gripped his Garand in his left hand and brandished a pistol in his right. Where in hell did he get a Luger? Then Donnie saw the Germans. Old Guy shot the ammo carrier in the back of the neck. The assistant gunner turned and pulled his pistol. A bullet in the head stopped him. Old Guy stepped forward and shot the gunner twice, then put another round into each of the other men – just to make sure. He holstered the pistol, slung his rifle and grabbed the machine gun. Donnie knelt by the bushes, gaping. Jesus! A few seconds and it's all over for three Krauts. Old Guy motioned him forward. “Grab these ammo cans. Come on. Be quick about it.” The German officer came scurrying out of the brush to Donnie's right. The man slid to a stop, mouth agape. He croaked something and grabbed for his sidearm. “Shit,” moaned Old Guy. He dropped the machine gun and started to bring his rifle around. For an eternity Donnie stood frozen, rifle pointed skyward. As the officer clawed at the flap on his holster the obvious response oozed into Donnie's brain. He swung his rifle toward the man and jerked the trigger. Nothing happened. Now the officer had his pistol out and was thrusting it forward. “Shoot! Shoot!” Old Guy's words snapped Donnie into terrified alertness. His rifle was still on 'safe'. Still staring at the German, he shoved the safety forward and raised his weapon. The officer hesitated between targets. One soldier was still struggling with his rifle and the other man seemed unable to act. He swung the pistol toward Donnie, then pointed it at Old Guy. Donnie fired striking the German in the chest. He kept pulling the trigger until the empty clip ejected. A hand touched his shoulder. “You got him. Now reload and grab those ammo cans.” Moving without thought, Donnie did as instructed. They were thirty yards into the orchard before the realization hit him. I just killed a man. God forgive me, I just killed a man. He stumbled after Old Guy, mind filled with conflicting emotions. “We'll set up here.” Old Guy dropped behind the same log pile they'd originally used for cover after crossing the lane. “Those other bastards will be headed this way shortly.” “Jesus Christ,” cried Donnie. “You just shot three men. Doesn't that bother you?” Old Guy paused. “Some. I shoulda been a little quicker. That second guy had his hand on his weapon before I greased him.” He looked at Donnie closely. “Hell. I didn't know you was a virgin. That was the first Kraut you killed?” “Y – yeah. Jesus, I never even tried to get him to surrender.” “Surrender? He was about to blow my head off, then kill you. Be damn glad you got unstuck and blew him away.” Old Guy chuckled. “Next time, save your ammo. Two rounds would have been plenty.” “Shit.” The killing re-ran in Donnie's mind. “Man. I guess you're right. I never done that before.” “Hell, you were in the desert. You must have been in action there.” “Not me. I had latrine duty the whole time. They dragged a bunch of us together when the Germans tore us up at Kasserine, but nothing ever came of it. I went back to digging holes.” “Damn, Donnie. I thought I had a regular combat veteran watching my back.” Old Guy shrugged. “I guess that's true now.” He moved some logs, making space between two large ones. Placing the gun in the resulting opening, he directed Donnie to one side. “The thing feeds like this.” He demonstrated replacing the ammo drum. “You figure the other Germans will be looking for us?” Fear made Donnie's voice squeaky. “There should be squad leader and a couple riflemen. They will be moving back now that the gun crew and their officer has been killed.” Old Guy settled himself behind the gun. “I don't know why that captain was there at all. I don't think there was more than the one machine gun squad. Maybe he was trying to be a hero or something.” “I don't wanna be no hero. They get shot a lot.” “Yeah.” Old Guy laughed again. “Especially if PFC Donnie is doing the shooting.” Voices and a clatter of equipment silenced their conversation. Down the lane came a man leading a mule pulling a small cart. His rifle was slung. Other figures trotted along behind. “I see three behind the cart,” whispered Old Guy. “I'll take them. You shoot the one in front, then get ready to change drums.” Donnie had no time to think about anything. Old Guy opened up. The man leading the mule crouched down, dragging at his rifle. Donnie aimed and fired. His target went down and the mule jumped into the trees across the lane, cart shedding equipment as it bounced along behind. At least one rifle responded. Donnie stood up and pumped two more rounds into the man he'd shot. A bullet smashed into his Garand, knocking him to his knees. He crawled up beside Old Guy and tried to pick up an ammo drum, but his arm was numb from the shock. Finally, using his left arm, he managed to shove one of the drums up to where Old Guy could grab it. Old Guy reloaded and fired a couple more bursts. There was no answering fire. “I think that last guy took off. Or else Company B got their act together and came up behind. I heard some Garands.” “You heard a Garand? How the hell did you know what it was?” “No big trick. You know the difference in the sound of a Mauser and a Garand. And you sure as hell know what an MG-42 sounds like.” “Well. Yeah.” “Now you just have to learn to listen without thinking about it.” “Hell, I can do that. I do a lot of stuff without thinking.” “I've noticed.” Old Guy sat up. “Look who's coming our way.” Gunny walked out of the trees across the lane cradling a Springfield rifle. “Any more Krauts?” “I thought the last one bugged out,” replied Old Guy. “But you probably got him.” “That ain't a Garand,” observed Donnie. “The Springfield fires the same round,” said Old Guy. “Only a Marine would happen to have one.” Gunny walked to where the German teamster lay dead. “You knock out the gun crew?” “That was us,” conceded Old Guy. “Donnie lost his virginity. Shot a German officer about a hundred times. Then he wanted to find a church and confess his sin. He's over it now.” “Good.” Gunny made a form-on-me gesture and more men came out of the brush. “We're moving back and heading for a town a few miles away to relieve some paratroopers. You wanna come along?” Old Guy picked up the MG-42. “Sure. But only if we can have our Harley's back.” He cleared the weapon. “How much do you think some rear area puke would give for this thing?” “It's kinda beat up.” Gunny studied the gun. “Does that make it worth more?” “Of course. I figure I can get 150, maybe 200 dollars for it.” “Lugers are more popular. I heard you can get up to 500 bucks for one in England.” “I got a Luger, but I'm keeping it.” Old Guy looked thoughtful. “500 bucks? I'll have to start a collection. For my retirement.” Gunny laughed. “The only thing you'll have in retirement is a shovel and a furnace. Right beside me in one of the lower hells.” “We better report to Spectre,” said Donnie. “I hope he don't send us back out here.” “Don't worry about him,” said Gunny. “I'm the company commander now – at least temporarily. Spectre took a bullet in the butt. He's been evacuated.” “He got hit in the ass?” Old Guy grinned. “So now he's got a couple extra assholes. As if he needed 'em. Maybe I've seen the last of that bastard.” He handed the MG to Donnie. “Hang onto that. Don't let any officer take it away. Tell 'em you have strict orders to deliver it to military intelligence.” Donnie balanced the weapon on his shoulder. “What would those bozos want with a German machine gun?” “I have no idea. No one knows what MI does.” Gunny got his company headed back toward their original assembly area. Old Guy and Donnie fell in behind the lead platoon. “What we gonna do now?” asked Donnie. “First we'll sample some of that wine you been packing around, then follow Gunny to that little town. Somewhere along the line an officer will want to send messages to another brass hat and we'll be back in the dispatch rider business.” “What if there ain't no messages?” “Christ, Donnie, you've been in the Army long enough to know that ain't possible. There's always a moron who can't wait to inform his boss about . . . oh . . . about anything. Going to the latrine without pissing on his hands. Stuff like that.” “Hell, I do that all the time. Well, most of the time.” “True. But you don't have anybody to tell.” “I can tell you.” “Yeah. Except I don't wanna know. Don't send me no messages.” “Fine friend you are. But I can always write to Trixie. Send her messages, like.” “Take it from me, Donnie. She don't wanna know about your piss calls.” End
  5. (This is a prelude to the previous story) “I don't remember volunteering for this,” grumbled Old Guy. He had to shout in Donnie's ear, wedged as he was between a strapped-down Harley-Davidson motorcycle, a burly paratrooper sergeant, and Donnie, his fellow dispatch rider/scout. “You didn't,” cried Donnie. “I volunteered us both. The alternative was going across in a landing craft. You know I get seasick.” The glider lurched and shuddered. Nobody breathed for several seconds. As the craft steadied the men huddling on troop seats relaxed ever so slightly. Somewhere below lay the English Channel. Normandy was yet twenty minutes or so ahead. At that moment every man aboard (save for Old Guy and Donnie) wished to be riding in a C-47 preparing to jump out over occupied France. Going to war in a damned glider wasn't in keeping with the glory of the paratroops. All things considered, Old Guy preferred to be in a glider. Jumping out of perfectly good airplanes seemed like a reasonable description of insanity. He wasn't exactly thrilled to be there at all. Further discussion with Donnie was called for. The last thing Old Guy remembered was attending a party thrown by some casual acquaintances in the 82nd Airborne. Security being tight, there were no women present, but he vaguely recalled an amazing quantity of booze, some brewed by the paratroops and quite good in spite of that. The next memory was of being dragged from a dingy tent and pushed into a group of troopers standing beside a smallish glider. Some helpful soul wheeled his Harley into the fuselage through the open front end of the beast, then swanned off, waving a cheery goodbye. If Old Guy could find out who the smiling sonofabitch was, he'd kill him. “What the hell are you clowns gonna do with these here motorcycles?” bellowed the paratrooper sergeant seated to Old Guy's right. “Ride 'em,” he shouted back. “Carry messages. Scout ahead of troops – sometimes.” The sergeant nodded and shrugged. “The 319th is a field artillery battalion. We don't have no scouts. You'll get yer ass blown away ridin' around on them noisy bastards.” Old Guy shook his head. “Some damn general thought otherwise.” No sense blaming his predicament on Donnie. That would involve a good deal of explanation complete with historical examples. Every soldier already knew the Army was screwed up. “Stupid bastards,” agreed the sergeant. Time seemed to speed up as they approached the drop zone. Over the drone of engines Old Guy could make out the sporadic crack of exploding antiaircraft shells. For the hundredth time he resolved to kill Donnie – provided the Germans didn't finish them both off first. “What's the landing zone like?” The sergeant produced a map sealed in acetate. “Open fields mostly. An east/west road on the north. Trees to the south. Scattered trees north of the road. Not many houses.” He placed the map in his left trouser leg bellows pocket. “Expect anything. We might wind up in Norway or Africa.” “I been in Africa,” said Old Guy. “Don't wanna go back.” Further conversation was cut off as a series of sharp blasts tossed the glider up and to the right. Steel bits ripped through the thin walls. Men cried out. Curses filled the cabin. Donnie shouted in Old Guy's ear. “We must have crossed the coast!” He was smiling like a chimp. Old Guy grabbed Donnie's field jacket and snarled, “If you get me killed I'll haunt your ass forever!” “Jeez. I was just tryna get us here in one piece. I coulda just left you lying under that table where them paratroopers was partying. We're getting to France with dry shoes and no seasickness. A guy could be grateful, y'know.” “Grateful?” An explosion rocked the glider. Old Guy grabbed his Harley. The paratrooper sergeant slumped against him, head lolling. Gently, Old Guy pushed him away. The body swayed for a moment as the glider bounced around, then flopped forward. Blood drizzled to the cabin floor. Donnie tugged on Old Guy's arm. “Hey! The guy next to me is dead.” “Everybody seems to be dead – except us – and I don't give us good odds.” Just to give a lie to his statement, a dumb bastard wearing lieutenant's bars stood up. “We've been cut loose! Brace yourselves!” Men stirred, grabbing for supports. Tightening restraints. The glider's motion was definitely different. Nose down, it swooped left then right, as if the pilot were seeking something familiar below. “Hell, Donnie,” cried Old Guy. “We might make it after all.” A sudden thought pushed his fear aside. “You got a map? Where are we supposed to go after we land?” “I ain't got no map. They tole me to find 82nd Division HQ and have them direct us to wherever.” “Christ. We can't just wander around the countryside. It's crawling with Krauts.” Old Guy gingerly retrieved the paratrooper sergeant's map. There was no blood on it, for which he was very grateful. The pilot evidently never found what he was looking for. At the last moment the glider leveled off over a field sprouting a veritable forest of poles. Anti-glider obstructions. He missed the poles but couldn't avoid the trees lining the edge of the field. Plunging through the trees, the glider shed its wings and landing gear, then slid forward a hundred feet or more before glancing off a timber obstruction. The tail section ripped away, vanishing into the night. Dust filled the air. Groaning, the wrecked glider coasted to a stop. Someone cursed. Another man moaned with pain. Slowly, men began to move. In the distance a cannon fired. One machine gun stuttered, joined by another – and another. “Everybody out!” It was the lieutenant. Still alive, still giving orders. “We need a medic here,” shouted a trooper. “If you can move, get out,” ordered the officer. “The medic's dead. I'll detail someone to care for the wounded. Move it!” He glanced around the dark cabin. “Sergeant Wheeler?” No one replied. Old Guy dragged himself to his feet. “If the man next to me is Wheeler, he's dead.” The lieutenant didn't hesitate. “Corporal Keller! Get the men out.” In an instant the cabin emptied, save for the wounded who couldn't walk and those who would never move of their own accord again. Old Guy pulled Donnie to his feet. “That lieutenant has his shit together. We need to unload our Harleys and make sure they still work.” Getting the motorcycles out was as simple as removing the straps and wheeling them out the gaping hole in the aft fuselage, which was resting on the ground. The last of the light faded as they shoved the cycles under a tree. The lieutenant arrived and tossed Donnie a blood-soaked first aid bag. “Those motorcycles won't be of any use until daylight, if then. For now you're medics. I can't leave any men for security, so be careful. When we make contact with Regiment, I'll send someone to collect the wounded – and the dead.” “Can't you call someone, sir?” asked Old Guy. “I don't mind playing medic, but . . .” “I know.” The officer sighed and shrugged. “Both radios are blown to shit. I'll get some help.” He turned as a burst of firing erupted not too far away. “Just do what you can.” With that, he vanished into the dark. “I don't know nothin' about medic stuff,” said Donnie. “You don't know nothin' about nothin',” replied Old Guy. “But you got us into this mess. Now bring that aid kit and help me with the wounded.” “Oh, man. I don't like blood. I might pass out.” “Pass out and I'll shoot you,” promised Old Guy. He knelt beside a paratrooper lying on the fuselage floor. “Help me get this one outside. Get your flashlight. Mine too.” Donnie didn't think Old Guy would really shoot him, but the old bastard was pretty pissed at Donnie's arrangements for getting them to France. Besides, he was from Montana. All that open country and blue sky seemed to have driven him partly insane. Donnie went to get the flashlights. They rifled packs for shelter halves and arranged them on the ground a few feet from the glider, then carried the wounded out and laid them side by side on the canvas. One had a head wound and never regained consciousness during the long night. His dog tags named him R. Jones, Protestant. The other man had shrapnel wounds in the body, but nothing had penetrated deeply. Old Guy applied field dressings, gave him a shot of morphine and hoped for the best. The guy lay propped against his pack, smoking. He hadn't said much during the whole process, but when Old Guy finished with him, he spoke up. “Rhodes. Walter Rhodes. Thanks for patching me up.” “Rhodes, eh? They call you Dusty?” “Naw. My mother wouldn't allow it. After I joined the Army it just seemed right not to let people call me 'Dusty'. That make any sense?” “Probably not,” admitted Old Guy. “But your mom will be pleased.” “Yeah. That's what I thought.” Two dead were carried out, laid on shelter halves, and covered with a tarp Donnie found in a storage compartment inside the glider. The two men in the cockpit were both dead, but the crumpled wreckage made it impossible to remove them. “What the hell is that?” asked Donnie. Old Guy looked up from the man with the head wound. “What?” “That noise. Sounds like some big damn crickets. Or something.” “Um – didn't I hear something about noisemakers everybody was supposed to be carrying?” “I dunno. Nobody gave me one.” “We all got them,” said Rhodes. “We were supposed to use them to identify ourselves to friendly forces.” He listened as the cricket sounded again. “Yeah, that's sounds like one.” He produced a small metal object and clicked it several times. Old Guy picked up his Garand and moved away from the wounded men. “Get your weapon,” he hissed. “Lets move over by the motorcycles, by the tree.” “What for?” whispered Donnie as he complied. “Those are our guys.” “Or Germans with clickers they captured or took off dead GIs. If it's Germans, we shoot 'em.” “What if they want to surrender?” “Just shoot 'em, Donnie. We can't handle any prisoners.” Old Guy thought for a moment. “Unless it's a medic. He'll be carrying an aid bag, marked with a red cross. Like our guys have.” “Right. How am I supposed to identify a medic? It's blacker than your conscience out there.” “I don't have one. Just be careful. Let's try not to shoot any friendlies.” Two men crept out of the night and stood looking down at the men on the ground. Old Guy and Donnie quit whispering and knelt on opposite sides of the tree. Rhodes looked up and saw the intruders. “What the hell are you guys doing here?” “Don't ask me,” replied one of the men. “You with the 82nd?” “Yeah.” Rhodes called out. “Old Guy. These clowns are from the 101st.” The men decided to stay at the glider. “No sense wandering around trying to get shot,” said one, a Tech Sergeant armed with a Thompson. “Come daylight we can try to find our unit – or some kind of unit. The guys that dropped last night are scattered all over hell. I been lost all day.” He introduced himself as Phillip Grainger. His companion, a thin PFC packing an M-1 carbine, sagged to the ground and took off his boots. “I been wantin' ta do that all day. Paratroopers ain't s'posed ta hafta walk all over creation just ta find a few Krauts ta kill.” He started changing his socks. “I dint find nobody but Sar'nt Grainger.” “That's Slim Baker,” said Grainger. “Don't listen to his complaining. He's a hillbilly from Tennessee. I figger he's been walking those hills down there since he was hatched.” “I wasn't carryin' no dad-burn pack in Tennessee,” returned Slim. 'Always packed a raffle, tho.” “In the morning somebody should be here to pick up Rhodes and the other guy,” said Old Guy. “I reckon we can all get some rest. One of us should stand guard.” “I'll take first watch,” offered Grainger. “There any food in that glider?” “Check it out,” said Old Guy. “The dead guys packs should have something. Donnie and I carry rations on our motorcycles. We'll be good for a couple days, if need be.” “Medics better get here in the morning,” said Rhodes. “Jones ain't gonna make much beyond that.” Old Guy didn't think Jones would see the sun rise, but he kept that to himself. Jones almost made it. About an hour before dawn he coughed, took a deep breath, and exhaled it slowly. Old Guy knelt down and checked for a pulse. “He's gone.” “Y'all sure?” asked Slim. “I dint hear no rattlin' sound. Ain't dyin' folks supposed ta rattle a bit just afore kickin' off?” Old Guy covered Jones with a shelter half. “I guess he decided to go quietly.” “He was married,” murmured Rhodes. “Got letters two – three times a week from her and their little boy. The wife and his mother both work in an airplane factory in Florida. Near Tampa Bay, I think. Only brother was killed in the Philippines – early on. He didn't have to be here.” Nobody else wanted to talk about Jones and why he was in a glider assault on occupied France instead of safe at home. Donnie loomed out of the dark, mincing along as if walking through a mine field. “Germans!” he hissed. “Three or four. Headed this way.” Old Guy grabbed his rifle. Grainger rolled up from where he'd been trying to sleep. He woke Slim, holding a hand over his mouth to keep him from making a sound. Rhodes ground out his cigarette. “Slim and I will be over by the glider,” whispered Grainger. “Donnie,” called Old Guy. “Come on.” He posted Donnie behind the tree sheltering their Harleys and found good cover for himself behind a fallen log a few feet away. Rhodes lay quiet. The Germans came out of the east, moving without noise in single file. Behind them the horizon blushed with the first light of dawn. Old Guy identified the distinctive profile of Kraut helmets. The dark figures were distorted by their packs and jutting weapons. Their leader halted about fifty feet from the glider. He went to one knee, evidently having spotted the angular shapes of the damaged wings and fuselage. The others followed suit. A long minute crawled by. Old Guy blinked in the semi-dark, trying to focus on his target – the last man in the file. He nearly fired when the leader stood and motioned the others forward. The men spread out, stepping carefully. Grainger fired first – a carefully controlled burst. Old Guy saw the lead German go down even as he squeezed off a round. His target was flung backwards, legs visible as he went over. “God damn!” Old Guy rose slightly and scanned for more targets. He knew men didn't go down that hard unless they were hit by more than one bullet. One of the others must have fired at the same man. Shadowed ground hid the other two Germans. Sullen echoes faded out across the field to the east. A single shot rang out. Wood chips showered Old Guy. He slid backwards and crawled to his right. He heard the snap of a spoon flying off a grenade. Five seconds later the morning erupted with a sharp explosion. An animal-like scream rose up then died away. As he slid into a shallow depression a voice called out words he didn't understand. Grainger answered. “Hande hoch! Schnell!” The German replied in a questioning tone. Grainger fired a burst in the air and repeated the command. As the German slowly stood up, hands raised, Old Guy noticed that he could see the man clearly. He glanced at the sky. Morning had arrived. “Y'all see that Kraut go down ass over teakettle when I tagged him?” Slim sat next to Rhodes cleaning his carbine. Their German prisoner knelt in the middle of the clearing, hands on his head. The skinny PFC spat to one side and looked up at Old Guy. “Sar'nt Grainger put the hurt on that there front guy. How come y'all didn't far? Or did y'all miss?” Old Guy shrugged. “I reckon we both hit the same man. Donnie too. It happens.” Donnie's ability with a Garand was legendary. In four attempts he'd failed to qualify on that rifle or on any other weapon. Finally, his drill sergeant sent another trainee to fire in his place. Otherwise Donnie would probably be peeling potatoes in a mess hall someplace in the States. Old Guy didn't see any sense in complicating things by explaining his partner's history. Especially to a tobacco-chewing hillbilly who could probably shoot the eyes out of a squirrel. Because of the more or less constant drone of aircraft, they didn't hear the rumble of approaching vehicles until they were about five hundred yards away. “We got company,” said Grainger. He pulled the German to his feet and steered him over by the glider. The sound echoed across the field lying to the west. Old Guy walked to the edge of the trees. North of the field lay a sunken road lined with brush. He couldn't see any vehicles until a small scout car rolled past a break in the vegetation. The soldiers riding in the car wore British-style helmets. He trotted back to the others. “Looks like relief has arrived. Limeys.” “Could be Canadians,” suggested Grainger. “I hope it is,” said Old Guy. “I can usually understand Canadians. If it's Aussies, forget it.” The small column proved to be scouting ahead of a British armored unit. Their medical staff took care of Rhodes. He was soon in an ambulance, heading for a rear area hospital. Grainger and Slim went along, reasoning that someone closer to the beach should know where the 101st hung out. A nattily dressed lieutenant glared at the Americans as if they had just crawled out of a sewer. He said nothing, though, apparently determined not to criticize allied troops, even if they were bloody colonials. A sergeant suggested Old Guy and Donnie follow the same road back to the beach. “Watch yourself, lads. The sodding Krauts are just as disorganized as we are. You might run into a whole damn division of the bastards where there ain't supposed to be none.” They made good time and the only Germans they saw were walking toward the beachhead, prisoners of war. At a major crossroad a harried MP told them he didn't know where the god damn 101st was and he didn't give a good god damn if the division still existed. He also didn't like jerks riding around on motorcycles like they was on a god damn vacation and wished they would get the hell out of his god damn road before he had them arrested. “I didn't like that MP,” said Donnie when they stopped at a sprawling supply dump to take on some rations and fuel. “I'm sure he doesn't care what you think of him,” said Old Guy. “The poor guy has probably been answering dumb questions all morning.” “Asking the location of a unit ain't dumb – is it?” “We're officially not supposed to be lost in the first place. On the other hand, people do get misplaced and seeking information from a responsible official is not, by definition, dumb.” “So he was just being an ass, right?” “Like I said, he's heard a lot of stupid questions. It can be tough to sort out the good from the bad, the wheat from the chaff, so to speak. In that situation a man can be forgiven for being a surly bastard.” Donnie looked thoughtful, which is always a bad sign. Old Guy stepped back, expecting a blast of swamp gas. Instead of gas, Donnie produced PHILOSOPHY. “It's like women. Some are good, some are bad, and some have big boobs so it don't make no never mind except that you hope they're bad so you can get your mitts on those boobs. Right?” End
  6. (A little story suggested by today's "This Day in ..." post) “I'm gonna buy one of these when I get home.” Donnie patted the gas tank of his Harley-Davidson motorcycle. He flipped a cigarette butt toward a puddle and immediately lit another. Old Guy glanced up from a map. He sat astride an identical motorcycle. Both men wore tanker jackets and paratrooper trousers, mud splattered and showing the effects of long use. Like Donnie, he carried a .45 Colt in a shoulder holster. An M-1 Garand rested in a scabbard mounted on the right side of the front fender. Various bags and ammo boxes were strapped all over the cycle. “Buy what? One of these torture machines?” Old Guy stepped off his vehicle and stretched. “My ass is numb and my arms feel like someone hammered on them with a baseball bat.” “That's cause you're older'n dirt,” said Donnie. He glanced up at the sullen sky. “A roof would be nice at times, but mostly I like being a dispatch rider. Admit it, you old fart, you're just bitching to hear yourself talk. Given the choice of walking with the grunts or riding a Harley, which do you prefer?” “Neither. The Army could better use my skills by assigning me to Supply, preferably back in England, where I could keep the fighting troops better supplied than the thieving bastards they have in charge now.” Old Guy removed his helmet. “I'd have a nice little WAC secretary for . . . for handling requisitions and stuff. A warm Quonset hut for quarters. No damn tents!” Donnie snickered. “I'll bet that WAC would handle more than requisitions.” “I can't help it if women flock to me like bees to honey.” “We ain't seen any honeys lately. No bees either, come to think of it. Lotsa flies.” “They're drawn to corpses. It's a product of our times.” Both men chuckled. The humor was weak, but serviceable. A low growl announced the arrival of another vehicle, climbing the rise behind them. Donnie got on his cycle. Old Guy put his helmet back on. “What the hell is that?” asked Donnie. “Some kinda armored car?” “It's British,” answered Old Guy, removing his helmet again. “I don't know what they call them. The Brits are supposed to be a little further north.” He pulled out his map. “Unless we're lost.” “Judging by those clods in that village we passed through this morning, we're still in France. You're the navigator. I just follow you – or my nose.” “Hah! Your nose usually leads you to bad wine and ugly women.” “Too true. I think the Krauts drank all the good booze in France. And our officers have corralled all the good looking broads – as usual. Maybe this Limey is out of his reckoning.” The Limey in question peered down at them from his position in the turret of the strange vehicle, which pulled up beside the two motorcycle riders and stopped. He shoved his goggles up and grinned. “Two Yanks! And bloody well lost. Or I am. We're all out of cigarettes. You got any for a valiant ally?” Donnie rummaged in his kit bag and tossed up two packs of Crottin Chevals. “You must be brave. Drivin' around in a crate like that. Those are all I have. We ain't seen our own supply jerks for a couple weeks. They seem to prefer rear areas – of battle zones and young boys.” “Sounds like our chaps.” The Brit dropped one pack into the turret and opened the other. In response to a muffled voice from below he snarled, “I know they're French! Smoke the sodding things and stop with the bloody whining.” “We were just discussing the possibility that we've gone astray,” said Old Guy. He held up his map. “I think we're about ten kilometers east of Sur Mere. Where do you think you are?” “The same.” The Brit studied a map of his own. “The dividing line between my brigade and you lads has been moved. It runs through that village. I guess we're both where we ought to be.” This homely meeting of staunch allies was interrupted by the bellowing of not-too-distant engines. “Bloody hell, Tigers, or I'm a sodding Socialist.” Old Guy donned his helmet. “More than one, I think. Time for us to get out of here.” “Too bloody right,” agreed the Brit. He called down inside. “Call it in, Boz. Six Tigers at – .” He read off a map coordinate, then grinned down at the two Americans. “Might as well stir up the rear area lads, eh? Take their filthy minds off those young boys.” Donnie started his Harley and took off. Old Guy paused. “You better get the hell out. An 88 won't even slow down going through that crate of yours.” “We'll be right behind you, Yank. It's a Chevrolet, by the way. Made in your country. Some boffin named it the Staghound. She actually moves bloody well. Don't slow down or we'll run you over.” “Staghound? Never heard of it.” Old Guy's words were lost in the roar of engines as he cranked up his Harley and the armored car driver started his rig. As he rode away, the Brits began turning around in the small clearing. Donnie awaited him at a crossing, three hundred yards down the road. “Which way?” “Straight ahead. Maybe we missed some booze in Sur Mere. Or further west.” The sharp crack of a high velocity gun killed the banter. Both men twisted around in time to see the Staghound disappear in a bright yellow flash and a cloud of black smoke. Pieces tumbled through the air and smashed into trees. “Jesus,” breathed Old Guy. “Let's get the hell outta here!” cried Donnie. Suiting action to words, the two men accelerated down the road leading west. Behind them greasy black smoke rolled up from the blazing heap of metal lying in a small clearing. An hour later Old Guy reported the presence of heavy German armor to regimental HQ. A beehive of activity erupted. He and Donnie slipped into a nearby village and found refuge in front of a small cafe where a surly, fat woman provided stale rolls and bad wine. “Your famous luck is in,” chuckled Donnie. He nodded toward the woman. “I think she likes you.” Old Guy wasn't paying attention. He gazed at the two mud-covered motorcycles parked a few feet away and nodded his head, as if making up his mind about something. “After this fracas is over I'm gonna get me one of those.” “The hell. A couple hours ago you didn't want nothing to do with Harleys, ever again.” The old fart shrugged. “A man can change his mind.” He waxed philosophical. “A woman and booze will only get you into trouble. A Harley will always get you out of that trouble.” “Jeez, the crap is getting deep here. I'm glad I have boots on.” Donnie eyed the road to the east. “You think those Germans are coming this way?” “Who knows? Who cares? When we leave here let's head for Division. Maybe that T-5 commo guy buddy of yours can find a bunch of messages we can take back to Army HQ or something. If it gets dangerous around here we don't want to be hanging around.” “He ain't my buddy, dammit! I don't know why he's always hanging around me.” “He's in love, dummy. Just smile at him. You want to live through this mess so you can buy that Harley don't you?” “God, you're a real ass, you know that?” “Finish your wine. We need to get out of here.” Donnie shoved his glass away. “I don't want any more of that piss. I'd rather drink Army coffee.” Old Guy drank down his own wine and grimaced. “It's bad, all right. But not quite that bad.” He finished Donnie's drink and stood for a moment, empty glass in hand. “Well, maybe it is . . .” “Come on, you old drunk. Let's go before the Krauts show up.” “Lead on, Macduff.” Old Guy strapped his helmet on and started his Harley. “Who the hell is Macduff?” Old Guy shrugged and drove away. Donnie followed, still muttering. End
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