This story is part of a new series I am creating.
| Sergeant King faced his truck west, killed the engine, and jumped out. After checking the angle of the five-ton truck in relationship to the mountain in the distance, he climbed carefully onto the hood. The Sergeant removed the grenades from his ammunition belt, and piled them next to his rifle. He let out an exhausted sigh of relief as he leaned back against the windshield and loosened his ill-fitting flak vest. After getting a Marlboro screwed between his lips, King began systematically searching all sixteen pockets of his combat uniform for a lighter. As if by instinct, his eyes scanned the desert without watching what he was doing. A sound hit his ears from the ground next to the truck, and without seeing it Sergeant King knew what it was. Marlboro still firmly between his lips, he began to yell to the ground. “Damn-it Stevens!” The sergeant growled, “That rifle is the only thing standing between you and a body bag, and you want to throw it in the sand?” Producing a lighter from his shirt pocket, the sarcasm paused only long enough for the flame to singe the sergeant’s smoke. “I’ll tell you what Private… (puff, puff) Just go ahead and start doing push-ups, and I’ll let you know when I get tired.”
“One Sergeant, two Sergeant, three Sergeant…” Stevens began counting his push-ups aloud. King peeked over the side of the truck to have a look at his soldier torturing himself in the desert heat. “Sixteen Sergeant, seventeen Sergeant, eighteen Sergeant…”
Sergeant King’s eyes locked on the Private’s lower back. “Stevens,” the Sergeant yelled, “What is that tucked into the back of your ammo belt?”
Stevens froze in the push-up position and called back, “A package the mail clerk asked me to deliver to you, Sergeant.”
“Get up here now,” King yelled in the tone of an annoyed parent. Stevens gathered his equipment and a stack of envelopes. He hoisted himself and his gear up onto the hood as quickly as his tired muscles would allow. Before laying his rifle between them, the Private scanned the horizon and sat next to his boss. Reaching behind himself the Private produced a small priority mail package, and handed it to his Sergeant. King ripped the top off the box revealing two five-packs of chocolate flavored cigars. With a satisfied smile, he flicked his cigarette to the ground and pulled two cigars from the pack.
“They didn’t send you a letter?” Stevens asked confused. “They just sent you some cigars in a box?”
“I ordered the cigars online. Every two weeks they charge my account and send me two boxes of cigars.” He handed Stevens a cigar and unwrapped his own.
“Oh, no thank you Sergeant. I don’t smoke.”
“Well, I’m up here to celebrate. So you can join me, or you can get the hell off my truck,” King said just before holding the fire to the end of his stogie and puffing it to life.
“I guess it depends on what we are celebrating, Sergeant.”
“We successfully completed a 72 hour convoy, and we are back inside our own perimeter.”
“Successfully Sergeant? Our truck canvas looks like Swiss cheese, Specialist Bayly has a bullet hole in his hand, and Grinde is dead,” Stevens’ voice was low and serious, and all the while he never took his eyes off the cigar in his hands.
“You need to wake up. Canvas can be replaced and both of those men are on their way home. No one was left behind, and every truck and soldier in our company has been refueled or supplied. We did our job and we did it well.”Stevens unwrapped his cigar and turned it silently in his fingers. The dark chocolate aroma of Sergeant King’s burning stogie wafted into Stevens’ nasal passage.
“At least it smells good while it gives cancer,” Stevens smirked.
“Light it, smart-ass,” King said dryly as he handed over his lighter. “Just make sure you don’t inhale rookie.”Stevens lit the cigar, handed King his lighter back, and began thumbing through his mail.
“It doesn’t look like I have any cookies today, Sergeant.”
“That’s fine by me. I’m not finished digesting last weeks batch,” King joked.
“I think I’m going to tell my wife to stop trying to bake cookies, and to start sending candy. At least I would eat some of the candy. I can’t believe your teeth don’t break off when you bite into those rocks she’s baking.”
“Don’t you dare,” King snapped. “I know you are only eighteen, but you can’t possibly be this stupid. Your wife isn’t cooking with just flour and sugar… (puff, puff) she’s using her heart. Those cookies are a baked expression of her love. So take it from a divorced twenty six year old, tell her you love them and keep passing them to me. Besides, I’ve been using them to bribe kids in the ville to stop crying. Those little brats love them. On top of all of that, we can throw them at tangos if we run out of ammo.”
“Okay, okay,” Stevens said. I won’t cut off your petrified oatmeal cookie supply.” Stevens pulled an official looking windowed envelope from his stack and ripped it open. His eyes scanned down the page, and he cursed under his breathe, “Shit!”
“What’s the catastrophe now, Private?” King asked sarcastically.
“I can’t afford our long distance bill.”
“Well, you guys have to quit calling each other so much. International calls aren’t cheap.”
“It’s not that. My wife spent two hundred dollars calling her mother.”
“Oh, I see,” there was a hint of compassion in the Sergeant's voice now. “Well, you left her at the base alone, she didn’t have a chance to make many friends before you left, and now she wants to talk to her mom. How much are you going to be short after you pay the other bills?”
“It looks like about eighty bucks.”
Sergeant King pulled out his wallet, took out a one hundred dollar bill, and said, “I’m going to make you a deal. No one writes to me these days, and I kind of miss getting news from the states. So I’m offering you a hundred bucks for one of your letters.”
“Yeah right. What’s the catch?” Stevens asked suspiciously.
“No catch… I have something you want, and you have something I want. I get to pick the letter. If you ever tell anyone, I will deny it and beat your ass. What do you say?” As he asked, Sergeant King held out the C-note. Without a word Stevens took the money and handed his boss his stack of mail. Sergeant King turned them face down, fanned them like a deck of cards, and chose a thin envelope. Without looking at it, he stuck the letter in his pocket.
“Aren’t you even going to read it?” Stevens asked.
“Later,” The Sergeant answered. “You need to get to the sleep tent. We have to leave again at 0300 hours, and I want you rested.”
“You know Sergeant, they have a cot set up for you in the tent. No one can figure out why you sleep in the truck.”
“Do you guys ever use your little brains. Mounted on top of this truck is a .50 caliber heavy machine gun. If anything goes down while we are sleeping, then I want to wake up as close to that weapon as possible. Now get out of here before I get infected with your stupidity. Oh, and don’t forget to wake me as soon as the C.Q. wakes you guys.”
At 0303 hours Stevens was knocking on the driver’s side door of Sergeant King’s truck. King swung the door open, climbed out, and silently headed to the back of the truck. After relieving himself, he came back to the front and looked at Stevens. The Private was wearing all of his gear, had his rifle slung, and was ready to roll. “Are the other guys getting ready?” King asked.
“Yes Sergeant,” the Private answered sharply.
“Okay, give me five minutes and I’ll be all set. Tell the other men that there is no time for breakfast, and we will eat on the road.”
“Yes Sergeant… And, um Sergeant?” Stevens stumbled.
“What’s your problem now Stevens?” King asked aggravated.
“Did you read that letter last night?”
“What did it say?”
“Nothin much. Just the usual stuff.”
“Who was it from?”
“None of your business. I bought that letter fair and square.”
Stevens pulled the hundred-dollar bill from his pocket. His jaw muscles tightened and he said, “Here Sergeant. Take the money back and give me my letter. I changed my mind.”
“Correction Private it’s my letter, and it’s not for sale. Now go give everyone the message, and lets get to work.” Sergeant King turned his back to the Private, and reached for the door handle. At that moment Private Stevens grabbed King’s shoulder, turned him back around, and hit his Sergeant in the jaw with every ounce of strength in his body. Without hesitation the Sergeant tackled the Private to the ground. Insubordination was dealt with immediately in King’s platoon. En route to the dirt Stevens’ rifle slipped on its sling, and wedged itself between the two as they collided with the earth. On impact, Stevens’ hands were instinctively trying to secure the wayward weapon. When Stevens’ finger jerked the trigger in a blind grab, the barrel was squarely in the center of King’s chest. King’s body went limp, and he collapsed on top of the Private.
“Oh shit, oh shit,” Stevens cried as he pushed King off and onto his back. Stevens kept repeating, “I’m sorry it was an accident. I’m so sorry Sergeant.”Having heard the shot, a medic came running from a nearby tent.
After trying everything he could think of, the medic looked up at Stevens and said, “I’m sorry. I think it hit him in the heart. He’s dead.”Stevens looked down at his Sergeants lifeless body through the tears welling up in his eyes. That is when he noticed the corner of an envelope sticking out of King’s breast pocket. Stevens closed King’s eyes and gently removed the letter. The blood on his hands stained the paper as he opened it. It read;
I’m so sorry I have to write you this in a letter, but I can’t go on without you knowing the truth. I have fallen in love with another man, and I’m filing for a divorce. I’m going to stay with my mother, and you will be getting a letter from my attorney. I know how hard this is for you to read. I only hope you can forgive me someday.