Days of Burning, Days of Wrath – Snippet 02
Carrera finished the white flag, then stood silently for a long minute. Finally, he wiped one hand across his face, sighed and said, “This is defensible, too, Jamey. Maybe more importantly, it’s for the good of my soul.”
Soult shook his head, resignedly, the scowl disappearing. “Still stupid,” he insisted, chin down and mind expecting the worst.
Velasquez and Cruz, standing not far away, simply shook their heads, faces kept carefully blank.
Carrera pretended not to notice. Instead, he demanded, “Now tell me again what your orders are.”
Velasquez, being senior and in command, replied. “If they kill you, we butcher them to a man, hacking the wounded into spareribs and tossing survivors on the points of our bayonets. If you’re not back in an hour, same thing. But if they give up, you want us to stand and cheer, salute and give them an honor guard to the POW camp.”
“Very good. Now have you got those half-dozen each cans of legionary rum and cigarettes I asked for.”
Passing over a satchel that looked about the right size and bulged in about the right way to be holding two hundred and forty disgustingly strong cigarettes and forty-eight ounces of preposterously strong rum, Cruz said, “The pogues I confiscated these from are not happy campers, but fuck ’em. I put in a couple of can openers, too.”
“With luck, Sergeant Major, I’ll be able to make it up to them.” Turning to the cohort commander, Carrera asked, “Now, your boys are all under cease fire?”
“Yes, sir,” Velasquez answered. “But the number of guns and mortars we have to support us is going up by the minute.”
“I’m sure. Jamey, how many Cruz de Corajes are in the case?”
“Twenty-one,” Soult answered.
“That’s good enough. Get about a dozen of them ready. And see if we can’t get another few gallons of rum, will you?” Carrera twisted to take his pistol from its usual holster, then tossed that underhanded to Soult. “And away we go.”
This is possibly even dumber than Jamey knew, Carrera thought, inching his way over the broken, chewed up ground and shattered, fallen trees. He had to work his way around some progressivines, torn up by the barrage as was everything else, but remarkably resilient and thick.
With all the fires having lifted, those guys have got to be primed to fight off an assault. And with all the crap in the air they probably can’t…
“‘Alt!” said someone in some variety of an Anglian accent, “Oo goes there, friend o’ foe?”
“A foe who means you well,” Carrera answered. His eyes strained to make out where the voice was coming from. But whoever and wherever the speaker was, he was damned well camouflaged, indeed. “Can you take me to your commander?”
“Nao; all th’ officers is dead, bu’ one, and ee’s bloody useless. We go’ a sarn’ major oo migh’ wan’ to talk with ya.”
“Bring me to him, then, please.”
“Wha’s in that bag yer carryin’?”
“A gift, but it has to go to your sergeant major. You can carry it if you like.”
“Roight. Ease i’ off yer shoulder and pu’ i’ on th’ ground. Gen’ly!”
“I’ll do that,” Carrera agreed, “and gently.”
First driving the pole bearing the white flag into the dirt, Carrera hooked his now freed right thumb under the carrying strap that ran over his left shoulder, then slid it off. He clutched the strap tightly with all fingers, then lowered the satchel to the ground.
His right hand then curled around the pole. “Now can one or more of you come take charge of me?
Two armed men in battle dress stood up warily, both keeping their rifles’ muzzles pointed in Carrera’s general direction.
Oh, they’re good all right; I still can’t see where they were hidden. He looked again, taking in bandages, one of them leaking a spot of red. Both wounded, too. Tough bastards; I can hardly wait to send them home.
The smaller of the two came forward, even as the larger trained his rifle more precisely on Carrera’s head.
“‘Oly shi’! Are you really…?”
Carrera nodded solemnly. “Patricio Carrera, Dux Bellorum of the Timocratic Republic of Balboa. And we really don’t have that much time. Please take the satchel – that, or let me carry it – and get me to your sergeant major.
“I’m not armed, but you can take the time to search me if you insist. However, if you’re willing to skip the formalities, you and your regiment have my parole for as long as I’m here. By the way, what regiment is it, if I can ask?”
“Die ‘ards, sir.”
“Ah, the old Fifty-Seventh. I might have guessed.”
“I think we’ll accep’ yer parole, sir. But I ‘ave ta blindfold you.
“That’s fine, go ahead. Who are you, by the way.”
“Corporal Cleric, sir” the Anglian answered, tying a thick-folded cravat-type bandage around Carrera’s eyes. When he was done, he placed his rifle in his right hand, reached down to pick up and sling Carrera satchel crossways, and then put his left around Carrera’s bicep to lead him into the interior of the perimeter. “Thus way, sir,” Cleric said. “Carruthers, you stay ‘ere.”
Someone was weeping, intermittently, not far away, and with the sound of heartbroken agony. A deeper voice said, “If you must die, Smithers, at least die like a man. Quietly.” The weeping stopped.
“Sarn’ Major,” Cleric announced, as he guided Carrera down the sharp and ragged slope of a large crater, “you ain’ gonna believe oo’s come callin'” To Carrera he added, “You can take the blindfold off now, sir.”
“Deserter is it, Cleric?” asked the sergeant major of the regiment, with disgust. “If so, he’s the dumbest bastard in two armies.”
“You’re possibly half right, sergeant major,” Carrera agreed, lowing himself to sit on the muddy side of the trench. “About the dumb part, that is. Indeed, I’m pretty sure that you and my warrant could agree on that completely.”
Not knowing he was repeating Cleric’s own words, albeit in a higher class accent, the sergeant major said, “Holy shit!” before standing to attention and rendering a proper salute.
Not really expecting that – Should have, I suppose – Carrera stood again and returned it, then returned to his seat.
“Sergeant Major,” he said, “we need to talk. We seriously need to talk.” Glancing at his watch, Carrera added, “And at this point’ we’ve got a bare forty-three…no, forty-two minutes to do it in.”
“If I may ask, sir; to do what?”
“Hopefully arrange some way to keep from all of us getting killed,” Carrera replied, “Ummm…RSM….?”
“Ayres, sir, RSM Ayres.”
“Thank you. Me, I guess you know.”
The RSM said, softly, “Oh, yes, we know,” and then shuddered slightly. Carrera didn’t think it was about him, exactly, or even his being there, but something else, maybe something having to do with the battle.
“We’re not surrendering, sir.” The RSM pointed at a radio with an obvious bullet hole in it. “Shot it myself, sir, when the order to surrender came. We’re not interested.”
“All your officer are dead?” he asked. No sense saying that the corporal let that information loose. That wasn’t changing the subject; that was an attempt to figure out if there was anyone above Ayres who might surrender.
“That, or badly wounded, a couple, and unconscious,” Ayres replied. “All but one, sir. Major McQueeg is in a deep bunker, playing with himself last I saw. He…” – and there was that shudder again – “he broke during the bombardment.”