Night time in the desert isn’t what most people would think it’s like. It can be scorching hot during the day, and absolutely freezing at night. Geoffrey pulled the thick woolen blanket around his shoulders. But that wasn’t what was irritating him. Dale Collier snored like some large dying beast. Full of volume and stuttering resonance, like Geoffrey had never heard before. He looked over at Nathan.
Even in the dark, Nathan caught the glance and just shook his head. “Let the lad be, Poulden.” He said quietly. “It’s best he gets what rest he can. He’s cross when he doesn’t get enough… and then he burns through more ammo.”
Geoffrey nodded, consenting to the logic. “What gets me is that he’s maybe only twelve stone at the most… but snores like a gigantic fat man.”
“It’s the deep slumber of a man with nothing on his conscious.” Allan said. “Not a care in the world.” He jumped out of the truck. “Unlike us.”
They had stopped just below the crest of a hill. Just after sundown it was best to give the eyes time to fully adjust to the darkness for maximum night time vision. Because unless they absolutely had too, they always kept their headlights off at night. On a clear night like tonight, there was plenty of light. Which is also why it was so cold tonight. Radiational Cooling they called it. Geoffrey understood the science behind it, but the practical application of it after cooking under the sun was a different reality than what he had read about in school.
Geoffrey looked up into the sky. The sky was completely filled with stars. It was a spectacular view. He stood up and stretched and adjusted his blanket again. Looking back he could see Dale’s hair poking out from under the edge of a couple blanket on one side, and the soles of his boots on the other, and crossed in between was his Thompson. Dale didn’t like a gun if it didn’t spew bullets like a hose.
Geoffrey jumped down out of the truck to help Allen, who was in the process of pulling out fuel cans and lining them up. Allen didn’t bother with wearing a blanket like a cape for extra warmth. He had cut one down and wore it under his jacket for an extra layer, and then used scarves around his neck. A damn fine idea Allen had.
They took turns holding the funnel and pouring fuel from the heavy cans. They had supplied fuel cans, and then they had German “Jerry Cans” that were much better and easier to use. They always kept the German cans and tossed the others. Once they had topped off the truck’s fuel and stowed the jerry cans away for future use, Geoffrey looked to the other trucks.
Truck two was parked about twenty yards away with Lt Basskett sitting on top of the bed’s frame. He had a set of binoculars and was watching the horizon. Friedman was wrapped like a cocoon in a blanket, but watching everything. Their gunner was also asleep. “Captain.” Friedman nodded.
“How are you holding up, Roger?” Poulden asked. “I know you’ve not had much rest.”
“I’m fine, Sir. The Lieutenant keeps plenty of tea in me,” Roger said. “I couldn’t sleep if I wanted to.”
Geoffrey patted the driver’s bundled shoulder. “Have him switch to coffee. it’s going to be some time before we get another break.” The Captain looked up at the younger officer, who was just pulling his eyes out of the glass. “See anything noteworthy, Eugene?”
“The stars are certainly beautiful tonight,” The Lieutenant said. “But you might want to look at this.” He gestured for him to climb up, and Geoffrey did, swinging his Enfield to his back and taking the binoculars. Basskett pointed. “Just under the horizon below the constellation Libra.”
Geoffrey looked through the binos and adjusted the focus to his eyes, found Libra, and slowly searched the area below it. There were regular angled shapes silhouetted against the starry sky. The profile was unique and he recognized it immediately. Halftracks. There was an occasional pinprick of red light around the dark shapes of the vehicles. The Germans had been sloppy. They were parked on open ground, and not in a wadi or other depression. Their commander must be inexperienced and didn’t have a seasoned NCO with him… or he didn’t listen to the NCO. He handed the binos back to the Lieutenant. “Good job spotting them. Are you refueled and ready to move out?”
“We gassed up as soon as we stopped.” Basskett said.
“Excellent. We’ll be moving again soon.” With that, he jumped out of Truck Two and headed over to Anvil.
Lieutenant Philip Clayton saw him coming and hailed him in a raised whisper. “Too close to the Jerries for comfort and too far away to shoot them. We should close the distance.” Clayton was standing in the bed of the truck leaning on the armored plate of Anvil’s cannon. He was wearing his khaki kilt, boots, and nothing else but his hat. Over one shoulder was a Mauser 98 Karabiner. Tucked into his belt behind his ragged sporran was the hilt of a large knife. Philip Clayton was possibly mad.
The Mauser was taken from a dead German that Clayton had killed the first day Geoffrey had met him. He was trading insults with the German Soldier who was hiding behind a small broken stone wall. Geoffrey had run up behind Clayton. “Are you Lt Philip Clayton?”
“That’s what people keep telling me, Sir.” Clayton’s eyes were wide and fierce as he looked at Geoffrey, who found it unsettling.
Then German yelled “Afrika belongs to the Fatherland!”
Unlike the other comments, this one seemed to anger Philip more than anything else. “Oh THAT IS IT!” He looked around and then snatched a grenade off Poulden’s kit. “I’m going to borrow this.”
Clayton pulled the pin and let the spoon fly. “Watch your head.” He said with a demented tinge. He stood up and shouted “GET YOUR FILTHY HANDS OFF MY DESERT!” And then he threw a grenade at the German. It was a great throw. Geoffrey could have sworn he heard it whistling as it flew.
The German soldier peaked his head over the wall, “What was that?” The grenade hit the German square in the face with a wet crunch of breaking nasal cartilage and teeth, and then it exploded. There was a shower of red stained debris.
Clayton calmly walked over to the dead German, picked up the empty rifle, shook off the dust and sand and turned around and saw Geoffrey standing there. Clayton explained, “It wasn’t what he said, but the way he said it. The utter belligerence of it is what offended me. Oh. Sorry about your grenade. I seem to have broken it. Here’s another.”
He handed Geoffrey a German stick grenade, then slung the rifle over his shoulder and walked away. The rifle was his ever since. Some time later, “Filthy Desert” was scratched into the right side of the buttstock. The gun was always cleaned and oiled, and close by.
Some time after that incident, Geoffrey had found out that before the war, Philip had been an undergraduate student at a law school. It seemed that warfare suited Philip Clayton better than a lecture hall.
“Relax, Philip… We’re not on a patrol. We’ve got a different mission.” Geoffrey couldn’t help but like the Lieutenant’s enthusiasm for destroying the enemy. “Did you refuel Anvil?”
“Yes, Sir. She was especially thirsty,” Philip said.
Geoffrey nodded, “It’s all the extra supplies. Don’t worry though. We’ll be glad we have it soon enough.” They had loaded up twice the amount of drinking water, fuel, and rations with the anticipation that they will need it to take care of the aircrew once they found them.
Captain Geoffrey Poulden looked at his Lieutenant for a moment. “For the love of King and Country, man… it’s freezing. Why are you shirtless?”
“Cold, Sir? Not for a Highlander.”
Geoffrey just shook his head. “Get Anvil ready to move. We’re going to roll out in five minutes.”
Philip grinned and turned to his crew. “You heard the Captain. We’re not going to kill these krauts… They’re too small so we’re throwing them back and we’ll keep fishing.”
As Geoffrey walked back to Truck 1, he heard. “Don’t worry boys. The Captain will find us better things for Anvil to murder.”