Cookie’s War

Once a day, that’s how often he plies his trade. Once a day he wakes and prepares for this one task, cooking for all that have the coin. To prepare, he seeks food in its various states. The morning is cold when he steps outside, his breath comes out in a white cloud. The old boots on his feet, resoled many times, but personal to him so each stain on the soft leather surface he can remember, take the beating well as he picks up his speed and jogs. The street is empty as he leaves the village and enters the ancient forest. A place of many memories. But changed since the war came.

Instead of a rifle, he swings a spatulae as a weapon and with the sun an hour away he’s not ready yet to put hash on the grill. So he puts a bit of hustle in his step. When the day starts he will need eggs, and other produce the forest can provide and none of it will be openly available without a fight. He is happy to do this chore, gather the morning’s ingredients- even with the battle so close that it stings his nose with rot and cordite.

Soon enough he shoos a wild hen from her nest and finds a dozen eggs, then by a trickle of a stream, some wild garlic, and under a bush, dug up by a wild boar, a few tubers.

Supplied and happy he is able to open for business. Soon enough he is telling the men, children really, not meant to know anything more than how to pray and how to die, that he has mushroom omelets, and fresh-baked cakes available. They don’t know the difference or care and only want more and quickly he sells out.

Cleaning up he talks with one of the senior enlisted.

“Going to be a big day Cookie, do or die, type day.”

Cookie nods, because that’s life isn’t it? Do or die. and he tells this to the top-kick and gets a chuckle, “you say that now, but bettin’ at the pointy end of a bayonet your tune sounds different.

Cookie nods again because sometimes that’s all a damn fool can do. And he knows tomorrow he won’t be so busy.

And he’s right, there almost is no tomorrow- after the enemy comes in what the historians will call the last will of the patriots.

And the next morning after the invasion he finds himself waking early in a small prison camp that once was his home.

That morning he finds a small heel of stale bread early on, but with the forest filled with soldiers he was told, not once, but over and over- with the dangerous end of a rifle- to get back to town. So he made due, carving out the crumb and using a few chutes of fresh garlic-grass and some lucked-out-to-find dandelion-greens, growing almost within arms reach. He makes a small fire and over a few orange coals cooks his small meal, lamenting, “I wish I had a little fat.”

Suddenly a hand, “Here.” In the palm, creases packed with black soot and the dried blood of patriots, are a few old olives presented as if an ageless treasure.

Cookie takes them because they will do nicely and after a bit adds some water and cooks the mush down into four cakes.

He gives two to his new friend and the next morning the enemy military moves on. As does he. Going further North, where the scraps are even harder to find. But he survives one guest at a time, because there is always something to cook.

Holy Dead

The private stands just outside the still-smoking ruins of the catholic church. He wants to look for gold, in fact he’d consider any precious metal a nice find. Little melted droplets of riches he can send home and have mama save for him until when the war ends. Yet he stands in what once was a door, unsure. He heard it was a platoon in the Five-oh-Deuce that did the torching.

Let half a dozen German infantry burn alive inside and he finds himself wondering if that’s a fingernail stuck in a gouge on the scorched wood.

He shakes it off. Since Normandy, he knows he has seen worse. Gold and maybe some souvenirs he reminds himself, about to push off on his quest, when a hard hand grips his shoulder and turns him around.

“Whoa, soldier! You ever heard you should never go into a burned down church, ever?”

The Brooklyn man’s face was brown from the French Summer sun, all except the wicked white scar running the length of his bulbous nose, picked up in Africa he claimed once to someone who asked. He wore two forty-fives strapped to his chest and a cluster of grenades on his waist that would make grapes jealous.

“Why, sarge?” The private asks, hoping the question distracts from the many military-laws he was just about to break.

“Things that die in a church fire never truly die. You giving me a look like you don’t believe me. Well,” he tsks, tapping a wet tongue off nicotine-stained teeth. “Truck of replacements coming into today at noon, why don’t you go find out.”

“No, that’s okay sarge, I trust you.”

“I am not worried about who you trust. I am worried about what haunts my bivouac. Get going.”

A Soldier’s End

Once, their blood ran hot. It ran and ran and ran and no one could stop it. They died doing things they wished they never had to do. They were forced by point of gun to achieve whatever ridiculous thing that was asked. Take that hill, defend this bridge, shoot that way. Suppress, suppress, suppress, and always aim center mass.

What I hear is few people actually aim in combat.

Kids.

Teenagers.

The untrustworthy and emotionally inexperienced, proof that we are all the same and one of us is just as capable as the next if given time and consideration, or disposable if not.

It’s this right? The grand equalizer, the white stain of useless ground made sacred by men unwilling or unable to earn peace.

Sadly, yep.

Party

He is nineteen years old and takes a swig from the near empty bottle of Johnny Walker red. It makes him gag. It tastes like wood and smoke and something he thinks should be called peat.

He doesn’t know what peat is, to him it’s an idea. Reminds him of wet mud and grass. Something in Scotland.

The scotch has been a chore to drink.

Being nineteen years old he had to have someone else buy it for him and now he feels obligated to drink it.

And he drank it until his mouth sweats and the world spins.

He is pretty sure he’s about to vomit.

The laughter from the small party still going on behind him seems to be aimed at him.

He has a name, but it stopped mattering a year ago. Since then he has been called private, or soldier, or some hurtful nickname given to him by the E-4’s in his unit. The nickname changes so often he isn’t even sure they are even talking to him sometimes.

He is called tubby when he falls out of runs, Fat Superman because he wears glasses, white boy, trailer trash, bookworm because he always has a book in the cargo pocket of his BDU pants.

Mostly he is Hey You.

To be fair Hey You doesn’t really care. He has gotten over it. He is a nobody in the machine that is the U.S. Army. A small easily replaced cog that does mindless chores, chores that wet the ground with blood sweat and tears to aid whatever the Army has coming next.

He is one of a million Hey Yous. Replaced every year with thousands of the same. His name only becomes valid on a letter to his parents if he dies defending the flag or constitution or hole in the ground he dug just the day before.

He is told he has the second most dangerous job in the military.

Not special forces, or helicopter pilot, no his job, 88M, truck driver, is right behind the infantry in mortality expectations.

Improvised explosive devices, not bullets, are his enemy, if they don’t kill you they will take an eye, or a limb, or your cock.  

Hey You, leans against a tree willing himself not to throw up.

There are four soldiers left at this little Friday night gathering, he and three others.

Most drank beer. There are many bottles laying around. It is the same every Friday and Saturday night. They get left there until morning, then soldiers on extra duty, soldiers who fucked up somehow, come and gather them up.

There is a female soldier named Janice still out tonight.

She likes to drink.

Everyone is nice to her.

“Hey, Janice you want another beer?” It sounds like Specialist Toby. A skinny mechanic, who is always smoking and keeps his butts so he can roll the tobacco when he’s broke.

“Nah I am going to bed.”

“Alone?” sounds like the fat black dude everyone calls Spunk. He’s a private also, but it’s like being black puts him on a different tier.  That, or he is better able to handle military life, or doesn’t get lonely, or has some other kind of magic Hey You doesn’t know about.

“Yah, alone Spunk!” she laughs and Hey You wonders if she would laugh at him if he asked the same question, or slap him, or tell him off, or report him to HQ.

“Come on Janice, I will walk you back to your room.”

Hey You pictures Toby putting his arm around her and walking off toward B building.

The lower enlisted ladies always got called by their first name. Everyone is nice to them. Trying to butter them up. Do their work for them. Go to lunch with them., but there seems to be a price for them to pay at some point. The talk is always about how long until they end up pregnant In the special uniform and no longer having to do PT.

Seems the prettier ones are a safe bet for sooner rather than later.  

The dizziness passes as does the fear he will have to taste the scotch on the way up also.

Hey You turns around and finds he is the last one out.  

The Bench in front building C is loaded with beer bottles and the cherry from Toby’s cigarette is still smoldering.

So the party is over and he is drunk and he doesn’t want to go back to his twin bed in the two-man dorm and listen to his roommate snore.

Loneliness hits him in the gut.

A helicopter roars overhead in blackout mode. He thinks he can spot the soft red lights in the cockpit.

Then the pop pop pop of a night fire range from a few miles away.

Across the yard separating the transportation unit from the famous 327 infantry battalion some soldiers laugh. They are loud and he has half a bottle of Walker left. He thinks maybe he can share.

He imagines the infantry smoking cigarettes and drinking beer and arguing about whatever it is grunts argue about.

He’s nineteen, drunk off cheap scotch, and still wearing the woodland-pattern BDU bottoms and his brown work t-shirt, and canvas-topped-jungle-combat boots. His t-shirt is stained with salt from sweat and his face is greasy from breaking down tires all day.

And he wants to be a part of something.

So he goes toward the laughter.

He steps into the circle of yellow light streaming from a security lamp and five soldiers, wearing sweaty PT shorts and shirt, stop talking and stare.

Angry voices hit him all at once.

“What the fuck do you want pogue?”

“You out of uniform private? Where’s your headgear?”

“Who knows this motherfucking REMF?”

“Who dis?”

He has inadvertently entered a den of noncommissioned officers fresh from a night road march.

He takes a nervous sip from his scotch and coughs as it goes down the wrong pipe and reaches out to offer out his bottle.

An infantry sergeant with bulging shoulders rips the bottle from the private’s hand and upends it onto the ground The scotch pours out and seeps through the canvas top of Hey You’s boots soaking into his wool socks. The sergeant tosses the bottle against the wall where it shatters.

A huge hand clamps down hard around Hey You’s fleshy bicep and he is marched toward the 129 support battalion HQ.

Next Saturday morning he is out with other disciplined soldiers picking up beer bottles his party certainly over.

 

Bait

The air smells like rotting fish and dead men saturated with too much grog. The clamor is squealing seagulls and wood banging on wood, the scrap of rusting metal and sailors. So many salty blokes singing and yelling and fighting and walking with their bow-legged strut like the earth was heaving underneath them.

Christian is happy for the dark shadows between the buildings that lean on crap foundations into the street. He puts his shoulder to the wind-roughened wood and smokes a paper of tobacco and watches the crowds moving off the docks. He is not a sailor. He is afraid of drowning. He doesn’t like men either and their stink. He prefers softer company at night and not occasionally either, between months at sea, but every night.

He draws the cherry bright hot and inhales the smoke leaving it a moment in his lungs then lets it loose through his nose.

Through a haze of nicotine, he watches and waits.

He waits for the seaman who is beyond drunk and alone and wearing the brine striped clothing of one that’s not in a navy.  Ethnicity does not matter, but size does, the smaller the better.

Then he sees the perfect target. A boy in the midst of his teen years. Tall and skinny, barefoot with clothes that are a tad bit snug as if he has grown since purchasing them. His sandy hair floats in the bay breeze. He sways. Christian can imagine the stink of rum on him.

He signals the girl. She is a young and plump in the all the right places. Rosy cheeks and big blue puppy dog eyes. She dresses the part of an innocent, showing just enough skin to be fashionable, but not overtly sexual. How she gets them is the way she moves her body. It sways and jiggles in all the right ways.

She does her skit. She smiles and the youth falls in love.

It’s so perfect that when the girl takes his hand and guides him toward the dark alley he follows as if his pants were already around his ankles.

Christian grips the iron knuckles in his pocket and pulls them free. The metal is warm and his fingers slide perfectly into its rings.

The girl walks by and the youth follows and he lifts his arm to crack the youth in the back of the head, but before he can swing he feels the back of his own head explode with pain and the ground come up fast to meet his face.

As his vision fuzzes and fades he hears his girl scream. The scream echoes in his head as blackness surrounds.

***

When he wakes his head throbs and his stomach churns with the waves as the ocean lifts the huge galleon up and drops it down again. A man with a face filled with a red braided beard and tiny little seafoam colored eyes reaches for him. He wears the colors of a British sailor.

Each of his fingers are tattooed with a different naked woman.

He lifts Christian easily to his feet and beyond. As he dangles with just his toes touching the deck the bearded brut shakes him and demands, “work or sink. Choose!” then drops Christian and tosses a mop toward him.

Christian picks it up hoping he can escape at the next port.

 

 

On an FTX

The boy is a trained killer in woodland-camo, rip-sole jungle boots, a kevlar helmet and a scowl. He digs shovelfuls of wet sucking mud from a hole.

Drenched and miserable, he is sick as fuck of the army and all its machinations.

The hole is for a sixty-caliber machine gun that will be aimed at an empty field. Once dug a soldier will be in this hole ready to provide suppressive fire at an enemy force that may attempt to breach the perimeter.

Fake war bullshit.

The LT arrives to study the boy’s efforts and Leavenworth stops being a deterrent.