Ft. Indiantown Gap, PA, United States of America, Sol III
1400 EDT October 2nd, 2004 ad
"Teri, you have got to stop getting into pissing contests with enlisted men."
Teri Nightingale sighed deeply as Ernie Pappas's strong, oil-covered fingers dug out the tensed muscles on her back. The first sergeant's thumbs rolled up along both sides of her spine, smoothing away the accumulated stresses of the day. At the accusation she could feel the muscles try to tense, but forced calm into her system. It was no good getting angry; he was right.
"I know," she said with another resigned sigh. "I know. But I was so goddamn mad at Stewart I couldn't stop myself."
"And now you've ended up looking like an ass," said Pappas with toneless brutality. "And such a nice ass it is," he added, giving it a little pat as he rolled off her back and propped himself up on one fist.
The tiny motel on the outskirts of Hummelstown was as far as they could reasonably get from the post. But Pappas was fairly sure a few of the company suspected something. Which must have really confused them when he quietly corrected his lover after her latest outburst.
The Old Man had left a list of missions to work on in his absence, missions that he specifically felt the unit was weak on. Earlier that day, practicing an envelopment maneuver, the entire exercise fell apart. The Posleen had attacked with more ferocity than normal and exploited a gap between First and Third platoons to roll up the company.
Stewart, in the after-action review, had injudiciously pointed out that proper employment of the reserve would have plugged the gap and saved the maneuver. They still would have taken more casualties than their "norm," but less than the total wipeout they had experienced.
It was the casual remark of a young man who was rapidly turning into a brilliant tactician. The formal training of the military had taken an untutored but febrile mind and rocketed it into areas of genius. He proceeded to outline four other simple steps that, either before or during the engagement, would have saved the company's ass. It was a given that he had thought of them in the thick of the action and not as a "Monday Morning Quarterback" reaction after the drill. He was only trying to be helpful, but the XO had taken it as a direct attack and responded at length.
When the harried XO, in front of most of the leaders of the company, had finished describing her opinion of the comments she went on to discuss Stewart's parentage, unfortunately probably with more truth than she realized, education and probable future. Before she realized what she was doing, she had thoroughly poisoned the well.
When she finished, the young NCO had stood up, stone-faced, and left the room without a word. And also without asking permission, which was a legally objectionable action. No one had suggested that he stay. Or be charged for that matter.
Pappas's comment had been pithy, succinct and to the point: "Lieutenant Nightingale, with all due respect, that was a stupid thing to do."
Their discussion of how to rectify her mistake had drifted to bed, as many of their discussions did. The relationship had taken both of them by surprise, but when Nightingale put her hand on his neck the first time and hesitantly drew him towards her, Pappas's sixty-year-old brain had been run over by his freshly rejuvenated twenty-year-old hormones. Although he had been faithful to his wife during his entire previous enlistment, the current situation was just too tough. For Nightingale, the combination of nearly a half century of sexual experience and a twenty-year-old's body had been an intensely pleasant surprise. Pappas not only knew some of the oddest tricks, he was back in condition to be able to use them.
He now ran a finger down her perfect back, hooked a thumb into her armpit and turned her to look at him. He pulled her to him, tucking her leg over his and slid his hand down her back. "You had better get a handle on this, soon, or the Old Man will turn you to paste." He gently caressed her inner thigh then slid his hand upward.
She made a hissed inhalation and arched her back. "I know," she said with a little gasp. She paused for a moment then went on, panting slightly. "I just cannot get a handle on . . ." She paused again, making little inhalations through her nose. The nostrils fluttered in and out prettily.
"On . . . uhm . . ." she said as he moved his hand slightly to the side. She stopped trying to talk.
"Are you listening?" he asked, backing away slightly then sliding forward. Docking was abrupt and perfect.
"Umm-hmm," she murmured. "Definitely." She slid her leg up to hook over his hip.
"Stop fighting with Stewart and listen to him. He's better at this than anyone else in the company besides the Old Man."
"Okay," she squeaked, starting to rock back and forth.
"I'm serious," said Pappas, giving a little gasp of his own as well-trained muscles clamped. He was on the losing side of the battle now.
"I'll make up to the shrimp," she said pushing his shoulder to roll him over on his back. She grabbed his short thick black hair in both hands. "Now hang on."
* * *
Duncan popped the top off the unlabeled beer bottle with a K-bar combat knife and wordlessly handed it to Stewart. The younger NCO was staring unseeingly at the wall of his tiny room. He took a swig without looking at the product, then stopped and stared at the bottle.
"Damn," he said, looking up at the recently arrived staff sergeant. "I thought I had balls. Raiding the Old Man's home brew is a capital offense." Beer was getting harder and harder to find. Materials such as barley and hops were strictly controlled under emergency rationing and storage plans. The easy accessibility of the materials to the company commander was a closely held secret of the company.
"He'd understand," said Duncan, slipping a pack of Marlboro Reds out and lighting one. "He's good people." He took a deep drag on the butt and blew smoke at the ceiling.
"Unlike certain unnamed stuck-up bitches," snarled the younger NCO and clenched both hands. His arms were shaking in anger.
"Who is currently getting her ass fucked off by Top," noted Duncan, with a wry smile.
Stewart shook his head. "I never thought I'd see the day."
"Well, he's a good-looking guy . . ." said Duncan.
"No," interrupted Stewart with a grimace. "I was talking about Top fucking her, not the other way around. I mean, damn, the Gunny was always such a straight arrow!" Only then did he realize that the other NCO was jerking his chain.
"Well," mused Duncan with another puff on the cancer stick, "I wouldn't kick her out of bed for eating crackers."
Stewart snorted. "Yeah, neither would I. Gotta admit it. Great set of knockers. Prime slice any way you cut it."
"So," asked Duncan with a smile. "Is your anger with Gunny Pappas because he is fucking your Public Enemy Number One, or because he's getting some and you're not?"
"Who says I'm not getting any?" snapped Stewart, machismo aroused.
"Oh, fuck you," said Stewart, trying not to laugh.
"And Arnold has already nailed up Lieutenant Slight, so she's right out."
"No!" gasped Stewart, starting to double up in laughter. "Jesus! Arnold and Slight? Are you sure?"
"Well, I suppose he could have been demonstrating mouth to mouth. . . ."
"Oh, shit!" laughed Stewart, finally letting go of the tension of the argument with the XO. "So when are you and Boggle gonna do the dirty deed?"
Duncan's face took on a look of deepest sorrow. "I fear never," he said, placing a hand on his chest in simulated despair. "Methinks that Sergeant Boggle pines for Lieutenant Fallon!"
Stewart laughed so hard that nut-brown ale spurted out of his nose and he started gasping. The battles between the Second platoon leader and his female platoon sergeant were as legendary as his own with the XO. The image of "Boggle" Bogdanovich and the West Pointer wrapped up in Eros's embrace was as implausible as . . . the XO and Top.
"Jesus," he swore again, after regaining control of himself. "You don't think?"
"Well, not yet," said Duncan, leaning forward and taking the home brew for a swig. "If you're just going to waste this blowing it out your nose . . ."
"Oh," commented Duncan, handing the bottle back and waiting for Stewart to take another slug, "I was thinking about . . . Summerhour."
Beer blasted across the room again. Summerhour was a nearly seven-foot, not particularly bright, fairly ugly, male, heavy weapons private. Since Stewart was fairly sure Duncan was straight, the choice could not have been more unlikely.
Stewart finally wiped up the mess, wiped his eyes and gave up on drinking. "You think the Old Man knows?" he asked soberly.
Duncan shook his head. "Everybody thinks I'm some sort of expert on Captain O'Neal. I was only with him for a couple of days. You guys have been training with him for over a year. You answer the question."
Stewart thought about it. "Probably. I've never seen anything surprise him."
"I have," admitted Duncan. "But only when the enemy pisses all over his battle plans. He gets really angry then. Really angry." He shook his head and finished the brew to the yeasty dregs. "You don't want to see him when he's angry."