“Sorry,” said Santiago, pulling the wheel hard to the left. The streaks of mud on the windshield quickly washed away under the heavy rain and the powerful rhythm of the wipers.
Turville leaned carefully to his side so he could look up at the blue and black clouds that marched across the sky. His neck didn’t hurt as bad anymore—very much a relative state, unfortunately. Above him, the contrasts in the sky were dramatic as a strong northerly wind pushed thunderheads over them.
“Crummy weather,” Santiago said.
“At least it’s not snow.”
“Yo, man, you are right about that.”
Quiet reigned in the humvee for the next several minutes. Behind them, standing on a small platform, PFC Tilman manned a machine gun. Nowell had his face buried in the latest Seth Harwood paperback. He was an absolute junkie for crime novels.
“Turville, can I ask you a question?”
Turville looked over at Santiago. “Yeah, what’s up?”
“What crawled up Corporal Meigs’s ass?” As he asked the question, Santiago’s face twisted in anger. He was usually pretty a pretty level headed guy. The obvious anger was more than a little unusual.
“I don’t know. What did he do?”
Santiago waved his hand, as if trying to scare away a bug. “Eggh …. Yesterday when we were headed back from chow—Tilman and me, anyway—out of the blue he comes up and starts messing with us. Uniform out of order, we’re slouches. Man, I ain’t no slouch. I bust my ass. Besides, he’s not my corporal, you are. What the hell?”
Turville grinned. “Santiago, if I had a clue what was up with Meigs, I’d let you know. I don’t. He’s always on top of somebody—used to be me. I’ll talk to Sergeant Nguyen about it if you want.”
“Yeah, I want. If you don’t mind.”
They rode in silence for a few minutes, then Nowell chimed in. It only took a second before Turville wished he hadn’t.
“He’s pissed at you, Turville. It’s about that Bronze Star—he doesn’t think you should have gotten it.”
Turville turned his head—too far—back toward Nowell. A cry burst from him and he twisted his body around to accommodate the pain.
“What the hell are you talking about?”
Nowell shrugged. “I’m just saying, Turville. I heard him bitching about it right after the formation.”
Santiago muttered, “Motherfucker.”
Turville shrugged. “If it wasn’t that, it’d be something else. Meigs is just a very angry dude. I don’t think it has much to do with any of us. Anyway, let me know if you he gives you any trouble.”
“Cool,” Santiago said, nodding his head in rhythm with his entire upper body.
Turville carefully turned back to the front. Ahead of them, the road continued to twist in hairpin turns up and over the mountains.
They weren’t that far from where the platoon was ambushed last week. However, they were arguably better prepared. The patrol—the entire platoon this time—was spread out in 12 humvees, each driving more than 50 yards behind the one in front of it. Four squads of nine riflemen each, plus the heavy weapons squad with its twin M-240 machine guns. All in all, more than 40 well armed and pissed off men. It would be a foolhardy militia-member that attacked this column.
Of course, that was just while they were on the move. Once they settled into Whitesville and its environs, things might change fast. The company was moving into Boone County to stay.
“Where you from, Santiago?” Turville asked.
“Yeah?” said Nowell, chuckling. “How come you’re not in the Honduran Army?”
Santiago jerked a thumb back toward Nowell. “PFC Nowell thinks he’s funny, yeah. It’s no laughing matter. I make good money since I’ve been in the Army, and I get my U.S. citizenship quickly. Once I have that, I can bring my wife and son to live with me.”
Turville stared in silence, but Nowell chimed in—again. “Well, I’ll be damned. You got a wife back home? But you’re always checking out the girls!”
Santiago looked in the rearview mirror. “My friend, I said I was married, not castrated.”
A shout from Tilman, above them, cut that short.
“Heads up. Car!”
“Easy guys,” Turville said. Make sure you have your weapons, but don’t do anything with them. Clear?”
The others murmured assent.
The vehicle, coming around a switchback toward them, was a brown and white pickup. Maybe twenty years old, maybe more. Turville felt himself tense as it approached.
“All elements, this is Blue Six,” they heard over the radio. “Maintain calm, report any problems. Blue six, out.”
“Yeah,” Turville said. “Keep it chilled.”
“And if it’s some fucking hillbilly terrorist?” Santiago replied. His voice was screwed up tight.
“Then we’re fucked.”
Santiago spat out the unzipped window. Scarcely a second later the pickup passed them headed in the opposite direction. The driver, a woman in her forties with deep lines her face, waved and smiled as the drove by.
“See?” Turville said, trying to keep his sign of relief quiet enough the others couldn’t hear. “Nothing to it.”
He nearly jumped out of skin when Nowell leaned forward and shouted “Boo!” in his ear.
“God damn it, Nowell!”
Santiago chortled. “Corporal Turville, you’re all right.”
“Sorry, Turville,” Nowell said. “I just couldn’t help it.”
Turville shook his head and laughed.