The men were laying around on top of supplies in improvised bunks and hammocks. Each one was filthy looking, smelled of sweat and oil, and appeared to have forgotten what a razor was. They had made some sort of hovel from parking three trucks together in a semi circle and used tarps to fashion a large but rudimentary tent.
Corporal Carter looked around at the men, offended by their lack of decorum and military bearing. “Where is your Commanding Officer? Who’s in charge here?” Carter said, with a raised voice full of repudiation.
Without answering, one of the men raised an arm and looked as if he was about to point, but raised two fingers in a rude gesture and then absently swatted at a fly. Flies were everywhere in this cursed desert. One could only sleep free of them under netting, but that only helped make you sweat more, which was even more irritating than the flies. Everything about this desert irritated Carter. He had been making lists of everything that he found irritating. He just added these men to that list.
“Right.” Carter stiffened. “I shall ask one last time before I report the lot of you to the Field Commander. Where is your Commanding Officer? I am looking for Captain Geoffrey Poulden.”
This time, the gesturing hand pointed to the sleeping man in the hammock in the darkest corner of their shelter. “Well, why didn’t you say so in the first place?” He muttered under his breath, “Prat”
“That’s him in the back.” The gesturing man said with a voice full of impatience.
Carter sneered, “And who might you be, Sir?”
The man rolled up from where he was lounging in just his underwear, and in one move, was suddenly standing in front of the Corporal putting a dirty finger to Carter’s lips in the universal gesture of “Shush”. He was tall and covered in sandy blond hair from his head, chin, and chest. The man was almost a full head taller than Carter and twice as thick. One arm was as thick as one of Carter’s leg. He looked down at Carter and flicked the insignia on Carter’s collar and spoke in a tone only just above a whisper with a sharp threatening tone, “I am Staff Sergeant Nathanial Allum… Corporal… Carter. And you are being far too loud when we are trying to sleep. We’ve come back from a long range patrol, haven’t slept in three days, and here you are, disturbing that well deserved rest.”
Corporate Carter snapped to attention. “My apologies, Sergeant. Message from headquarters for Captain… ”
“Ssshhhh…” Nate put his finger on Carter’s lips again. The Corporal held out a large envelope and Nathaniel snatched it out of his hands.
“Thank you, I’ll consider the message delivered. I’ll be off now.” He said much quieter than before.
As Nathaniel started opening the envelope, he growled at the young man. “Not so fast, Corporal.”
Carter stopped mid turn.
“Gather up some rations for us, if you don’t mind. We’ve not been resupplied in some time. Even if you do mind, actually. Oh… and a couple cases of thirty caliber.”
“Sergeant?” Carter did not expect to be receiving any orders here.
“I’m sorry, Corporal. Which words did you not understand?” Nate looked at him sympathetically, like he’d look at a stupid child.
Carter found it to be highly irritating. “No, I understand…“
“Then why are you still here, Corporal? Get moving!” Nathaniel shouted suddenly.
“Yes, Sergeant!” The Corporal turned on his heels and disappeared into the too bright sunshine just outside of the tent, stumbling has he did so. Nathaniel chuckled as he pulled a neatly typed sheet of paper out from the envelope and started to read. “Damn it.” He grumbled.
From back in the darkest corner, Captain Geoffrey Poulden spoke up. “What is it, Nate?” Poulden had been listening the whole time with some amusement. Partly because he thought Nate was hilarious when he was giving random enlisted a hard time, and partly because he really was truly exhausted.
“Looks like the Skyboys lost a bomber, ” Nathaniel said. “And they want us to go find it.”
“Don’t they remember where they left it?” Poulden got up and walked over, taking the paper from Nathaniel. The Captain was just as tall and powerfully built as Nathaniel, but his hair was a shade darker, and he work a thick full beard. He took a moment to read through the whole thing. “Where’s the map?”
Nathaniel found the bag with their maps and compass, and orders and other forms critical to the war effort… which would probably end up being used as fire starters. He pulled out the map and spread it out on the only surface available… the sand at their feet. And then oriented the map to the compass direction.
Both men kneeled and started looking the map over searching for their current position.
“Okay, here we are, just east of Haydrah.” Nathaniel pointed.
“Right.” Geoffrey said, “And the plane’s last known position was here… “ He said, pointed south of their position. “He had come from our base in Egypt, and he was supposed to be heading to a target here… where he reported he was engaged. They never made it to the target… so we need to start looking in this area.” He used a finger to draw an imaginary circle around half of Tunisia and half of Algeria.
“Well. That narrows it down a bit. They’re practically found already.” Nathaniel said with forced optimism.
Poulden looked up. “The order said to search. So that’s what we’re going to do. This just happened last night. If we’re fast and lucky, we might be able to bring them home in time for breakfast tomorrow.”
Nate nodded in agreement. Then he turned to the rest of the sleeping men. “Alright, Lads! Looks like our nap time is cut short!” He gently kicked at Staff Sergeant Roger Friedman, who frowned without opening his eyes.
“Hey, I’m training my Blanket Drill here. Go bother someone else,” Friedman said, refusing to wake up.
Nate walked over to Staff Sergeant Logan Weston and Sergeant Dale Collier, who were sleeping on top of crates of rations and belts of ammunition. It looked incredibly uncomfortable, but for seasoned soldiers, any surface was sleepable as long as it was relatively horizontal and didn’t jostle about too much. “Shake it out you fine gentlemen. We’ve work to do. Places to go. People to see. And some wayward Aviators to find. Poor bastards forgot where their nest was.”
Geoffrey was still studying the map when suddenly stood up and looked around. “Where’s Eugene?” Lt. Eugene Baskett was not with the group. Everyone either shrugged or muttered that they didn’t know. Captain Poulden had a good idea where Baskett had run off to. “You guys make ready to move out and I’ll go find my wayward lamb.”
Near the Hospital Tent, Lieutenant Eugene was leaning against the raised water tank. He was talking at the cute nurse who was polite enough to make listening noises. This nurse was new, slender, and very cute with her bright blue eyes and petite nose. The nurse had been busy washing some surgical implements. Every time the Lieutenant stopped talking for a moment, she’d glance up, hoping he was done. He had just told her all about his horses back home. Or so she thought. She wasn’t sure. English wasn’t her language. She was French and only spoke French and a little Spanish. The Officer was just starting to tell her about a dog when her supervisor came storming up. Thankfully, her attention was on the Officer and not her.
“Lieutenant Baskett, Sir!” She shouted without shouting. It was Nicollette Westfield. Eugene seemed to shrink from the ferocity of Nurse Westfield’s verbal assault. “How many times must I remind you to leave my Nurses alone and let them do their jobs?”
He held up his hands in a futile effort to stop the incoming barrage. “I wasn’t getting in anyone’s way here! Just admiring… Just talking to…” The Nurse that had been washing the stainless steel tools quickly bundled them in a towel and rushed back to the hospital tent, eager to make her escape. He looked down at the basin that the Nurse had been using… For the first time he noticed that the water had been tinged red with blood. “Oh.”
“Just admiring? You are married, Sir! You shouldn’t be admiring anything on this side of the camp.” She poked him in his chest with a finger that felt like it was made of surgical steel. “Need I remind you of that? Don’t you have a ring, or something?”
“Ouch,” Eugene winced. “In my defense, Sarah isn’t nearly as pretty as some of the nurses here. Or maybe it’s just been over a year since I’ve seen her.” Eugene’s face had flushed. “We’re not all as lucky as you are.”
“What’s that supposed to mean, Lieutenant?” Nicollette said, putting one fist on a hip and the other one pointing at the lecherous officer. Nicollette Westfield was not to be trifled with. At least not by anyone else other than the Captain. She was not a petite little thing like the nurse had had been trying to flirt with. Nicollette was taller than most of the women in the nurses corps. She had dark hair and dark eyes, and spoke with a slight hint of a french accent mixed with her english. She got that from her Mother. Her military bearing from her Father, who was a high ranking officer in the Royal Navy. One day they would name a ship after him. Or a base. As such, Nicollette grew up knowing how to take orders and how to give them. She was strong of body, mind, and will. Not only did she command all the nurses at the field hospital here… she seemed to command some of the doctors as well.
“Yes, just what is that supposed to mean, Lieutenant Baskett?” A stern, baritone voice asked.
“I’m sorry, Captain! I was just indicating my genuine admiration for… the luck you two…” Eugene was too flustered to think. “Bollocks.”
Nicollette tried not to smirk as Geoffrey seemed to bristle.
“Lieutenant Baskett! Language! In front of the lady, if you would please, sir! Now go see to the platoon, we’ve got new orders. We need to leave as soon as we’re ready. Nate can fill you in.”
“Sorry, Sir.” The younger officer said, sounding exasperated and took off at a jog, rubbing the sore spot on his chest.
Nicollette stepped up to Geoffrey, looked up into his face, and smiled. Geoffrey Poulden melted inside. “I’m sorry about him… he is incorrigible.” Geoffrey said.
“He’s right though,” Nicollette said as she reached a hand up behind his neck and pulled the large man down to her. “We are lucky.” She kissed him. Then pulled away grimacing and batting away at his beard. She wasn’t used to the facial hair, but understood it was necessary given his job.
“I’m the luckiest man in the world.” He said, smiling down at her. “So who was he picking on this time? Amy again?”
“No, our new girl. Rose. She hardly understand a word of English.”
“I don’t think that would make any difference to Eugene.”
“Any understanding might be taken as encouragement.” Nicollette laughed as she spoke. Then suddenly she snapped back into her stern mode. “Now what about these new orders? You just got back. You can’t be serious.”
“I’m afraid so, my love.” He sighed. “We’ve lost one of our bombers. It may have been shot down. We’ve been ordered to go look for it, and bring back the crew if we can.”
“Can’t they send anyone else?” Her voice was back to being tender and the grip on the back of his neck softened.
“Who else can they send? The rest of the desert group is already out on missions.” His voice was quieter and he dropped his forehead down to hers. She loved it when he did that. “If that crew has any chance… it’s with us.”
She nodded, letting her head roll against his. She kissed him again, firmly, but briefly. “I know. Go. You’ve got lives to save. So do I. We’ve both got work to do. When this is over, we’ll be wed, and we will be able to spend more than one day together.”
“And never one apart.” He said.
“Never one apart.” She echoed. Then let go, turned, and walked away.