A corporal pays a high price for an indescretion
| The colonel's wife stood in the doorway of the ballroom greeting the well wishers from France. Mrs. Slaughter had placed an orchid behind her ear, and there was a halo of light about her head which made her look stunning. The Americans had arrived with all the pomp and majesty of royalty. They were, after all, dealing with the French. Mrs. Slaughter was effusive, with a verve brought on by several glasses of champagne. Colonel Slaughter tried to stay by his wife's side, but she was too active and vivacious for him. The colonel had a reputation as a womanizer, and Maria Slaughter was not one to accept affronts like that. She didn't have to. She came from a prestigious military family with the strongest connections. The band played an elegant waltz, and a dazzling chandelier hung overhead. Light sparkled off the medals of the men and the bottles of champagne, but the jewelry of the women outshone everything. They were the stars of the show.
"Maria, you're being too forward with the men," Colonel Slaughter whispered into his wife's ear.
"That's good. You have more little bastard children than you can count, and you tell me I'm being too flirtacious," Maria Slaughter countered.
"Maria, I am an officer in the United States Army. You owe me deference," Colonel Slaughter whispered again.
"And my father is Lieutenant General Martin Garcia. You owed me respect, and you didn't give me what you owed me. Don't think you can cheat on me with impunity."
"Maria, you're making eyes at my driver, for Christ's sake."
"Why shouldn't I? Corporal Meeker is an attractive man, and he's a fine soldier."
"Maria, I got him his first woman. She was a prostitute."
"That's a horrible thing you did, forcing a fine, sensitive man like Cpl. Meeker to go with a creature like that."
"I try to make sure none of my men die as virgins," Colonel Slaughter answered.
"I'm sure God in heaven will reward you, but what are you going to tell the women these men marry when they bring sexual diseases home with them?"
Maria spent the rest of the night away from her husband. She was enchanting, and she ignored her spouse. When the party died down she got a bottle of champagne and two glasses. She went outside to the colonel's staff car and approached Corporal Meeker.
"Hey there, soldier, care to take a drink of champagne with a lonely woman?" Maria Slaughter asked as she pressed her breast against Meeker's side and rubbed her thigh against his.
"How could a beautiful woman like you be lonely?" Meeker asked in disbelief.
"You'll understand in time."
"Well you look like the most gorgeous thing I've ever seen, but what about your husband?"
"Don't worry about him. He's drunk and he can't do a thing. My father would put him in front of a firing squad if he laid a finger on us."
"Mrs Slaughter, I would go with you if your husband was General Hamilton."
"Maria! Call me Maria, and General Hamilton is my uncle."
Cpl. Meeker had discovered that a soldier's life can be lonely. The girls willing to take rowdy soldiers looking for a good time were not creatures with deep feelings. They left Meeker feeling empty. Now this incredible woman wanted to be with him. She was so vibrant, and so tender. The way she moved, the way she caressed him, the way she breathed on him brought Meeker to a feverish desire. War was hell, but Maria was heaven.
Cpl. Meeker was relieved when they put him in a front line infantry unit. His good looks were what make him Colonel Slaughter's driver. Meeker didn't want to be safe while other men died. The fact that his looks kept him from danger made Meeker feel strange. Colonel Slaughter often pinned medals on Meeker, which humiliated this fine corporal. He didn't want to wear decorations he hadn't earned.
The fact that Colonel Slaughter now hated him caused Meeker some disquiet. Everyone said that Colonel Slaughter was a disgraceful womanizer, but still, Meeker had slept with the Colonel's wife. Now Corporal Meeker was put where the combat was heaviest.. When Meeker arrived at his new unit he heard a few of his new comrades call him "the garrison soldier", but this soldier would soon earn their trust and respect.
One time Meeker led a patrol into no man's land at night. A flare lit up the sky.
"Get down!" Meeker whispered to his men.
Hard of hearing and unobservant, Pvt. McMillan remained standing. A machine gun cut the private down.
"See what happens when you don't listen!" the corporal hissed.
A second machine gun opened up, firing a hail of bullets just above the soldiers lying flat on the ground.
"We're pinned down. We'll never get out of here!" Pfc. Hughes lamented.
"What can we do?" Pvt. Saunders asked Meeker.
"Who has grenades?" Meeker responded.
The men passed two grenades up to their squad leader.
"Cover me with your rifles," he told his men.
Meeker half swam and half crawled through the mud. Exploding artillery shells lit up the night in brilliant flashes. Ahead automatic weapons knocked out the sound of death. The men handling the guns were unfeeling in their dispensation of horror, with little idea that death was creeping towards them. Bullets flew over only inches above Meeker's head. He burrowed into the ground as he approached their position. He yanked the pin from the grenade and lobbed it into the machine gun nest.The bomb exploded with a flash and a boom. Meeker charged the position. A wounded man pointed a rifle at him. Meeker shot him in the chest with his pistol. He grabbed the automatic weapon and turned it on the other site. The men on the machine gun died in a hail of bullets.
From that day on Meeker was regarded by his fellow soldiers as a true hero. The men of that patrol gave their testimony to their squad leader's bravery. Their platoon leader recommended him for the medal of honor, but everyone knew that because Colonel Slaughter commanded at brigade nothing would come of it.
The next time they were on patrol twenty Germans chased them. Meeker dropped back to man a machine gun nest. Two Huns over ran his position, but Meeker shot them with his pistol. He cut down the rest of the Germans with his automatic weapon. Again this corporal was recommended for the medal of honor. Nothing came of it.
Despite the good will of his fellow soldiers Meeker was miserable. He never said anything. He just stared ahead blankly when people talked to him. If he was guilty of something his comrades didn't care. What he did on the battlefield more than made up for anything bad he could have done. Who cared about what Meeker did with the colonel's wife? The way that officer treated a superb woman like Maria he deserved what he got.
The great war ended and the men celebrated the peace. Soon they would be home. The men of second platoon wanted to imbibe with their squad leader. Maybe that would cheer him up. Then word came down that the corporal would be put in a "battlefield reclamation unit". Meeker would not go home for a while. His fellow soldiers were indignant. He had done so much. He had gotten his men through one scrape after another, but there was nothing they could do.
Captain Douglas and Lieutenant Buster discussed the almost fearless Corporal Meeker.
"This individual is the bravest kind of soldier, but like so many of this type he has one weakness: he can't stomach the blood and gore of the battlefield. Meeker can't handle seeing the bodies. Most men of this type can't endure it, and they either desert or get themselves discharged, often through a self inflicted wound. They're brave in combat, but the carnage traumatizes them. Meeker carried his burden. By dint of his super human will he handled this problem.
Now Colonel Slaughter has put him in a battlefield reclamation unit. His job will be to carry dead and decayed soldiers off the battlefield," the captain told the lieutenant.
Lieutenant Buster whistled through his teeth. "Whew, what could possess Colonel Slaughter to do such a thing to so fine a soldier?"
"He slept with the colonel's wife, and Colonel Slaughter is a cruel man. Cpl. Meeker will put up with this abuse because this brave soldier could never disobey a direct order, but it will destroy him. He will go mad," Captain Douglas told the lieutenant.
"The man hath penance done/And penance more will do," Lieutenant Buster mumbled.
"What are you saying?"
"Nothing. It is a line from a poem."
The two men stared over the former battlefield, where the finest young men of many nations had died. It seemed empty, and eerily quiet. Who would believe that just a few weeks before artillery was raining down on these soldiers, lighting up the night and roaring with the sound of death.
"We've got a couple dozen dead bodies lying in the mud over that hill," Colonel Slaughter told Cpl. Meeker.
The corporal held the shovel in one hand, and his gut in the other. Strain was on his face and he looked nauseous.
"What do we do with them?" Meeker asked.
"There are warehouses full of caskets where we stack the bodies. If they still have their dog tags we put the information on a piece of paper on their casket. If they don't have dog tags we put them in a casket marked "unknown".
"Do we check for letters and other personal possessions?"
"Yes we do. God, soldier, you simple son of a bitch. You're already going to puke."
The corporal dropped his shovel and wretched up his breakfast.
In a brief moment the colonel did something that seemed out of character. Maybe it was the mercy of one man for another, out of respect for his masculinity. But maybe it was for a more sinister reason. Feeding a man the poison of alcohol to get him through a tough spot caused addiction and made the wound fester like an infection. In truth, it was a diabolical confusion of both.
"Meeker, I have got something you are going to need - corn brandy - pure nitroglycerin. Pour this into your gut. You'll be all right."
The colonel took a large bottle out of the truck, twisted off the lid, and took a few hard swallows of the firey liquid.
"Let me have some," Meeker requested.
The corporal drank a sizable portion of the bottle. The alcohol didn't affect him much because he had to hold onto himself so tightly to do his job.
"Meeker, I am going to drive this truck over to where those men died. I want you to load them on back."
The bodies looked like spirits in anguish to the young soldier. They were contorted, like they died writhing in pain. Their eyes were worse. Some were still in their sockets. They stared ahead, seeing nothing. Others had rotted out, or had been put out in some other way. Rats swarmed over the dead men.
The corporal took his shovel and approached the scene. He turned back and went to his bottle. He took a couple of hearty snorts, grabbed his shovel, and went forward with a will to contain his revulsion. Meeker began to dig. Colonel Slaughter sat in the cab of the truck and watched the young soldier with a deep satisfaction. He too nursed a bottle.
"Now, soldier, you'll find out what it means to mess with another man's wife. I can't believe you would forget your place so much. A corporal should never offend a colonel," the high ranking officer mused.
Meeker wretched again, but this time only a little liquid came out.
"Here, corporal, take your bottle," the colonel said.
The colonel went out with Meeker every day for a while so he could savor his revenge.
Meeker put in a request to see the chaplain. He had to spend a couple of weeks digging up bodies before he could see the religious man.
"When I close my eyes I see dead bodies. They come alive when I go to sleep. They clutch at me," the corporal told the chaplain.
"We all have to bear our crosses. Christ bore his cross, so we have to bear our own. Be thankful for what you have, soldier," the chaplain answered.
The chaplain was an old and severe man. He sat behind his desk, and he regarded Meeker as no more than a rat. The price of sin had to be high to this chaplain, and he thought it was his personal mission to exact that price.
"Haven't I done enough. The men of my unit recommended me for the medal of honor two times. I fought so hard. Do I have to go to hell for what I did?" the corporal asked.
"Soldier, you fornicated with the colonel's wife. You knew better. If you think I am going to give you pity you are wrong. You are going to hell for what you did. Now you are getting your first taste of the wages of sin. This is how you will spend eternity," the chaplain stated.
"But she was so tender and sweet - so passionate and soft - how could God punish me for something that felt so right?"
"Don't you dare presume that you can speak to me about almighty God! You sinned! You are going to hell! Don't think you can come to me mewling and puking. I'll tell you what it is to mess with another man's wife!" the chaplain shouted.
"But I fought so hard ... "
"Don't try to tell me what you deserve. Accept your eternal damnation without complaint. God in his mercy might give you a breath of kindness, and that is all you will get. Now get out of my sight. You make me sick."
Life became a nightmare of constant carnage for Cpl. Meeker. He saw it all day when he worked. He dreamed about it when he slept. Meeker rested, but he got no relief. He was in torment. He sometimes wondered if the chaplain was right. This was his first taste of hell, where he would live for eternity. He sometimes wished there were still snipers around, so they could end his life. He had his pistol. Maybe he could end his own existence. What if this wasn't the end? What if there was "the undiscovered country", and it was worse? Meeker wondered if he would make things harder on himself if he ended his own life. What if he couldn't escape by suicide?
One day Colonel Slaughter came into the warehouse where Meeker identified the bodies.
"Soldier, you are one miserable pantie waste, being afraid of something that can't hurt you," the colonel said.
The colonel advanced on the body on which the corporal worked. He kicked the corpse on the leg several times. A putrid odor filled the air.
"Kick the body, Meeker. Kick it. That body can't hurt you," the colonel snarled.
"I'd rather not," the young soldier answered.
"God, Meeker, he's still got something you lost a long time ago," the colonel said as he pointed at the cadaver.
"Please, sir, just let me do my job," the corporal begged.
"Take it out, soldier. I want to see if you still got one. I know you do, but you have no use for it. Take your pecker out. I want to see if it works better than the one on this dead body," Colonel Slaughter said as he kicked the body again.
"Please, sir ... "
"Get out of here, Meeker. Your pecker is never going to work again. You know why? Because every woman's body will remind you of a corpse. Any body you touch is going to remind you of these dead fellows. Get out of here you no good piece of trash, you piece of scum. I'm putting you out of the army. I'm going to remove all of your records. The army will never know you existed. You are now no longer a soldier," Colonel Slaughter shouted.
Meeker staggered down the road with a bottle of corn brandy in his hand. The cars passing by swerved away from him, though it was unnecessary. The ex-soldier stopped. The beautiful French countryside lay before him. Meeker played back in his mind the words Colonel Slaughter had said to him - "Because every woman's body will remind you of a corpse." Would he ever be free of that? Martins swooped through the air in a beautiful ballet. Not every woman's body would remind him of a corpse. He could still find women to love. He remembered the words of the chaplain - "God in his mercy might give you a breath of kindness, and that is all you will get." Is that what this moment was - a breath of kindness? No. Meeker rejected that. He had fought bravely, from beginning to end. He had never disobeyed an order. He had done everything he was supposed to do, and now he was free. He could laugh. He could love. He set his bottle of corn brandy down beside the road. He was done with that.
A car pulled over.
"Get in here! Get in here now you beautiful man!" Maria Slaughter shouted at Meeker.
As they travelled down the road Maria expressed the vibrant sensuality of her nature.
"My husband is going to pay for what he did to you. I'm going to see that he gets court martialled. My uncle Thomas Hamilton is going to hear of this. I helped break you, so now I am going to fix you. I know I can do it, because, baby, I am irresistible."