Boots race across the sand, fast. A tall well built soldier, Clint, runs hard, no weapon, no shirt, sweaty, frantic. His boots kick up sand; his breath comes in gasps of exertion.
“I got ’em. I got ’em,” someone yells in the distance.
Clint turns and looks back, eyes wide. He grits his teeth as a football lands on his chest.
An Army encampment is set up along the road. A group of soldiers plays football near their tents.
Smith, a young soldier with a thick New Orleans accent, is the quarterback, “Fuckin’ perfect!” he jumps up and down in a victory dance as Clint holds the ball high in the air.
Matty and Pilch walk past the game and into the camp.
Clint holds up the ball, waving to them, “Texas A&M, All American, baby.”
Matty smiles as Clint and Smith collide into a bear hug. He notices trucks unloading new troops and supplies. His smile drops when he sees body bags being tossed into the empty trucks.
Pilch looks to another soldier, Lewis, who sits on an oriental rug meditating with incense burning around him. Lewis starts chanting, and Pilch shakes his head, “That guy ain’t right in the head.”
Matty stares as body bags are roughly tossed into the trucks, no care given to the occupants. A towering man blocks his view as he comes their way.
Pilch stares at Lewis with a look bordering on disgust, “What a moron.”
“Just look at ’em.”
“Pilch!” Matty barks, and Pilch looks over to see Sergeant Monte storming up to them.
“Where the hell you two been?”
Oddball, the platoon screw-up and general ass kisser, scurries up behind Monte, “Yeah, where you two been?” he says in a whinny sniveling voice, interrupting Monte.
Monte glares at Oddball.
Pilch smiles, “Matty stopped to do a little shopping. I hung back to make sure he caught up.”
Embarrassed, Matty struggles to get the gold box into his pack. Pilch puts an arm around him and helps him shove the box into his pack, “Just trying to help you look after the men Pal.”
“Pilch, I believe precisely jack of the shit that comes out of your mouth.”
Oddball takes a step toward Pilch, “Yeah, this ain’t no vacation, ya’ know. The new L-T’s back and…”
Monte smacks Oddball in the back of the head, “Shut up.”
Pilch looks across the football game to where a young lieutenant talks to Platoon Sergeant Pender and Yusif.
Pilch looks curious, “What’s the score, Monte?”
Monte steps forward and pushes Pilch in the chest with a finger, “That’s Sergeant to you.”
“What? You was just a corporal, like me.”
“Long time ago.”
“Long time? It was two days ago!”
Monte comes nose-to-nose with him, “Like I said, a long time ago.”
Pilch and Monte stare each other down.
Matty tries to break the tension, “We going back out, Sarge?”
Pender calls out, “Monte, bring ’em in.”
Monte breaks his gaze with Pilch and looks to the football game, whistles loudly and waves the men in. The football game breaks up, Lewis rolls up his rug, and men crawl from tents. Monte spins and with Oddball in tow, he moves back toward Pender. Matty looks to Pilch with a quizzical worried expression. Pilch gives him a shrug. Matty shakes his head, “Why you gotta push him like that?”
Pilch smiles with one eyebrow raised, and Matty can see the wheels turning in his crafty head.
The platoon gathers before Pender with the usual muttering and complaints that comes with being in the Army. Johnson, a tall lanky Texan, squats next to Pilch and Matty.
“Who’s the Arab?” Margrave asks.
Pilch cocks his head and looks at him with malice, “Who the hell are you?”
Pilch assesses the new recruit; a baby face that shows he couldn’t be more than a few months out of high school and a uniform so new there isn’t one stain or tear on it.
Johnson comes to his aid with his thick Texas drawl, “Fellahs, meet Margrave. He’s from Texas. His pa’s a preacher, so ya’ll be nice.”
“Howdy,” Margrave says with a bashful wave.
“Did you just fucking wave at me?” Pilch says in shock.
Margrave looks down embarrassed.
“I’m Matty, from Brooklyn.”
Margrave perks up, impressed, “New York?”
Pilch looks to Johnson shaking his head with a smirk, “You grow ’em smart down there, don’t ya?” and he takes a drag on his cigarette and blows the smoke out toward Margrave, “Nah, Brooklyn, Ohio.”
Matty smiles, “Don’t mind Pilch; we just ignore him most of the time.”
Pilch turns to Johnson, “Thought we agreed not to get to know the new guys.”
“But he’s from Texas.”
“Yeah,” Margrave says drawing the word out in his Texas drawl, “Abilene,” he whines.
Pilch rolls his eyes, “Abilene. Well, that changes everything.”
Pender clears his throat. The men look up, ready for a briefing or lecture like they have many times before, “Alright, listen up,” he gestures to Yusif, “This is Yusif, the local Bedouin Commander; his men hit a German company yesterday.” Johnson pulls a bag of chewing tobacco out and offers it to Margrave as Pender continues, “A squad of Kraut survivors is holed up in a bunker. We’re going in to clear ’em out.”
The men groan; Johnson spits a mouthful of chew into the dirt, “So we’re the cleanup crew again?”
Pender eyes him with a look that tells Johnson to tread lightly, “We can’t have a Kraut squad wandering around in our rear Johnson.”
Pilch shakes his head, “Why can’t the damn A-rabs go clear ’em out? They shot ’em up.”
Some of the men nod in agreement.
Pender looks to Pilch, “Shut your mouth, Private.”
“I’m a Corporal,” Pilch protests.
“Not for long,” Pender advises him.
Monte looks to Yusif, “What kind of bunker we talking about?”
“It is an ancient temple,” Yusif reports with a slight accent.
Oddball perks up, “Like with buried treasure and stuff?”
Yusif shakes his head, “No. Not like that.”
Oddball looks to the men, “We do a little digging and who knows?”
Clint nods in agreement, “We should bring shovels.”
Smith smiles, “We got shovels, moron,” and he taps the entrenching tool on his pack.
Johnson chimes in, “I spent a summer mining copper out in Wyoming.”
“Yeah, yeah!” Oddball replies excited.
“It is not like that!” Yusif snaps.
All eyes turn to him.
“Alright, Moses. Keep your turban on,” Pilch says.
“Pilch!” Monte snaps, and he clams up.
Pender continues, “Now, I know we all like Lieutenant Groves, but he’s gone, and we ain’t getting him back. I got a letter from him. He’s in England and… well they couldn’t save his leg, so he won’t be back. This here is Lieutenant Harris, our new platoon leader.”
All eyes turn to Harris. He looks the band of boys over with obvious disdain, “I’m only going to say this once; I run a tight platoon, and I run it by the book. I don’t like what I’m seeing already. I don’t like the whining, I don’t like the grumbling, and I don’t like the lack of discipline. It will stop. Weapons inspection in fifteen. We move out in thirty.”
Monte steps forward, “You heard him, girls! Strip ’em and clean ’em!”
Despite the passionate speech by Harris, the men grumble.