In theory, if Jake were to write a second novel after Mr. Devil Man about his time in World War II and specifically about how he punched a certain dictator in the face, these three chapters might be how it would begin.
Feedback, criticism (especially negative) welcomed and appreciated.
The last drop of water tumbled out of my canteen and onto my tongue, providing momentary refreshment until a grim reality set in:
None of us had a clue where our next source of hydration was going to come from.
Clank. Clank. Clank.
“I hate your guts Dag,” I said as I laid down across the side of the M4 Sherman Tank under my command. “Before we all die of heatstroke out here I just want you to know that.”
Clank. Clank. Clank.
Victor “Dag” D’Agostino was my mechanic, a fast talking Italian fella from Brooklyn, not all that far from my hometown of Bayonne, New Jersey in the grand scheme of things. He was a decent enough guy, though a little twitchy. He was a real bundle of nerves, able to fly into a blind rage at the slightest provocation.
Luckily, he was a small fry so he wasn’t able to do too much damage.
“Got any 7’s?”
On the opposite side of the turret, a no holds barred game of Go Fish was underway.
“No. Look, right here. You have a seven. If someone asks you if you have a seven, you’re supposed to fork it over dummy.”
I closed my eyes and listened to the Southern drawl of my second-in-command, Corporal Samuel T. Calhoun. He was a big fella, at least 6’5” and packing two-bucks and some change of solid muscle. It was a bitch to share a tank him on account of his massive size, but I was glad he was on our side.
“Larry,” Sam said. “I can’ t for the life of me figure out how we’ve been playing this all damn day and you still don’t know the rules.”
“I can’t figure out why two red blooded American males aren’t playing poker,” I interjected.
“Nothing to bet with Sarge,” came Sam’s reply. “Except sand, sand and more sand.”
Clank. Clank. Clank.
“I can’t gamble anyway,” Larry added. “I promised Lorraine before I left that this war wasn’t going to turn me into a disciple of the devil and by God I’m going to keep that promise.”
Sam and I groaned. I don’t remember what we each said, but it was along the lines of “Oh for the love of” and “not this again.” We made our lamentations at the same time.
Private Larry Torkilsen was a freckle faced, red-haired Iowa boy, straight out of the corn field and as naive about the world as he was goofy looking. None of us had the heart to tell him that Lorraine had probably run off with a Good Time Charlie as soon as he shipped out.
“Does this girl even exist?” Sam asked.
“Of course she does, here’s a picture.”
A moment passed. A few more clanks and then a, “BLECH!.”
Larry walked around the turret to visit me. I was feeling feint from being baked alive under the hot North African sun so naturally, there was a part of me that wanted to tell the kid where to shove his photograph.
On the other hand, the private’s scrawny carcass blocked the sun’s rays, giving me a little relief, but not much.
“Wanna see my girl, Sarge?”
“Give it here.”
I opened my eyes to see a snaggle toothed walrus of a gal, but even under the stress of the predicament I was in, I recalled two of Ma Hatcher’s most important lessons:
1) It’s what’s on the inside that matters.
2) If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.
“Top notch broad you’ve got there, Larry,” I said as I handed the photograph back. “If I were you I’d be all over that like stink on a monkey.”
Clank. Clank. Clank.
“Thanks Sarge,” Larry said. The kid sat down a few inches from my feet and allowed his to dangle over the side of the giant metal beast.
Crapola. He was probably going to want to talk.
“You ever get scared, Sarge?”
I could literally feel my flesh searing. I felt like a nice juicy porterhouse must feel when it hits the frying pan.
“Please,” Sam interrupted as he took a seat on top of the turret. “The Sarge has a big ole pair of brass clankers.”
“Everyone gets scared now and then,” I said. “Anyone who tells you they don’t is a damn liar.”
Finally, some silence….but not for long.
Clank. Clank. Clank.
“But the person who should be scared is Dag, who was given…”
I raised my voice to make sure the little twerp would be able to hear me through all the racket he was making.
“…A DIRECT ORDER TO HAVE THIS CONTRAPTION IN TIP TOP SHAPE BEFORE WE LEFT!”
Dag lifted his head away from the engine. He was still wearing his leather helmet with the goggles that made his beady little eyes look bigger than they wear.
“What do you want?! Do you think I asked for this?!”
I sat up. The three of us became an audience ready to take in a comedy show we’d seen plenty of times before.
“Do you think I was sitting there one day in my ma’s kitchen, gobbling up one of her delicious Sunday dinners, thinking to myself, ‘Holy Shit, I really hope that a bunch of shit head politicians will decide that I have to travel all the way across the Atlantic Ocean to some Godforsaken desert wasteland just so I can fight a bunch of Krauts who stole a wasteland from the Frogs who, by the way, stole it from Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves or whoever the shit owned this shit hole first.”
I apologize, modern 3.5 readers. People weren’t very nice when it came to talking about race back in those days. Looking back on it, I was ahead of my time in my progressiveness. I never used words like, “Krauts” or “Frogs” when “Germans” and “French” would do.
“You’re right, Sarge,” Dag continued. “This is all my fault, because after I wished to be snatched up and sent over here, I also got down on my hands and knees and prayed to God every single night to please, please stick me in the shittiest excuse for a tank in the Third U.S. Army.”
“It’s been three days, Dag,” I said. “Can you fix the engine or not?”
Ever the clown, Dag reached a hand down into the back of his pants and fished around.
“I dunno,” Dag said. “Let me see if I have any spare parts up my ass.”
“Probably not with your head taking up all the room,” Sam said.
Dag lifted up his goggles, threw down his wrench and put up his dukes.
“You wanna go, Hayseed?”
Sam unfurled himself to his full standing length. The Empire State Building with legs is the best description of the guy I can think of.
3.5 readers, it was the 1940’s, OK? I’m not excusing it, but I can’t whitewash history either.
“Enough!” I shouted.
The men piped down.
“Dag,” I said. “Do you realize we’re missing the war?”
“Yes,” Dag replied. “Hell, you should be thanking me.”
“Thanking you?” I asked. “Someday they’re going to sing songs about how Patton shoved his .357 Magnum up Rommel’s ass and the only thing I’m going to be able to tell my grandkids is that I sat around in the desert with a broke tank and a gallon of sand up my ass crack!”
“That’s if we make it back at all,” Sam said. “No water. We can start walking now and it’ll be days before we reach any kind of civilization.”
“Maybe we should of started walking while we still had some water,” Dag said with a smarmy look on his stupid puss.
“Maybe I thought you weren’t such a moron that you’d be able to fix this rust bucket!”
In the distance, there was the slightest sound coming over the horizon. Larry was the only one paying any attention.
“Well,” Dag said as he waved a finger in my face. “Maybe YOU’RE the moron for thinking I’M not a moron!”
Dag instantly regretted that statement as Sam and I bursted out laughing.
The sound got louder. It was a bunch of men yelling.
“Does anyone else hear that?” Larry asked.
“Quit your bellyaching and get back in there,” I said. “I don’t want to see your ugly mug again until this rattle trap is ready to roll, see?”
Larry was whiter than a ghost that had fallen into a vat of vanilla ice cream. We turned around to see what he was pointing at.
“No,” I thought. “It can’t be.”
I grabbed my binoculars and got a better gander.
There they were. Over a hundred Moroccan riders galloping their horses faster than bats out of hell right at us. They wore turbans, long flowing robes and scarves protected their faces from the sand that was whipping up into the air all around them.
They all had those fancy curved swords. Scimitars they called them. Every rider had one and was swinging it around in the air.
Plink. Plank. A few of them had even embraced more modern weaponry, given the rifle shots that were ricocheting off the tank’s hull.
Dag made a run for the hatch and popped it open.
We all piled inside.
The last thing I heard before I pulled the hatch shut?
“LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA!!!!”
Copyright Bookshelf Q. Battler 2015. All Rights Reserved.