Turville’s mind was still outside, holding Rebecca, when he walked into the base camp. He barely noticed when he walked into the old ramshackle house that the guys from his fire team were in the front room, shouting over a game of hearts.
Sergeant Nguyen was sitting in the small room that served as his shared office with the Lieutenant.
“I’m back, Sarge,” Turville said.
Nguyen looked up from the report he was studying. He peered at Turville, then said, “Corporal. Welcome back. Is there anything I’m going to need to worry about from the last couple days?”
Turville shook his head. “No, Sarge.”
Nguyen frowned. “Then why the hell do you look so happy?” He held the frown for a few more seconds, then gave up and grinned. “Third platoon is going back out shortly. Make sure your fire team gets plenty of rack time, we’ll be covering the dam for the next week, starting at 0700.”
Turville nodded, said, “Roger, sarge.”
Nguyen waved a dismissal, and Turville turned back down the hall toward the front room again. He was trying to memorize the taste and smell and feel of her lips as they brushed against his.
Unfortunately, as he entered the front door, he heard a raised voice. Corporal Meigs.
“What the fuck is wrong with you, Santiago? Your uniform looks like shit.”
Turville heard a low, murmured response from Santiago.
“Stand at attention, soldier,” Meigs replied.
Turville walked into the room and assessed the situation. Meigs was standing about two inches from Santiago, tension in his body. The rest of the fire team was watching from the table where they had been playing hearts.
He approached Meigs and Santiago and said, “Corporal Meigs, if you’ve got a problem with Santiago’s uniform — or anything else — you need to come to me with it.”
Meigs spun and faced Turville, hostility written on his face.
“Turdville,” he said. “Your soldier looks like crap. Is this the standards you’re holding up? Oh—that’s right, you’re not holding up any standards. You’re off screwing with some civilian girl while the rest of us spend our pass at Camp Wingham.” In a sarcastic voice, he said, “Did you have a nice vacation?”
Turville narrowed his eyes. “Yeah, I did, Meigs. Why don’t you run along, so I can talk with my team.”
Meigs stepped closer to Turville. His eyes were narrowed, his whole body tense. Turville could see the muscle in his neck twitching. Jesus, Meigs was angry. What the hell was his issue?
“Turville, you don’t tell me what to do. Understand? Just because you got yourself shot in January doesn’t mean you deserve all kinds of special treatment.”
“I didn’t ask for any special treatment, Meigs. I asked you to leave my guys the fuck alone, understand? You’re not their fire team leader. I am.”
“Maybe you should learn to do your job then, Turville. Your fire team is just like you: shit.”
“Meigs, back off!”
Meigs reached out and shoved Turville. Turville stumbled back, then grabbed Meigs by the forearm to regain his balance.
Meigs’s face twisted in anger and he pulled his arm back. “Dirty motherfucker, keep your hands to yourself. Isn’t your teenager slut enough for you?”
Turville didn’t think. As the words left Meigs’s mouth he reacted instantly and with rage. He balled up his fist and threw a badly aimed punch at Meigs’s face. Instead of squarely hitting, his fist was deflected, barely brushing his face.
Meigs attacked back in a rush, throwing three punches in succession, one of them connecting solidly with Turville’s nose. Shouting rose in the room, the guys running and grabbing both of them.
Santiago and Nowell held Meigs back.
Suddenly Sergeant Nguyen stood there, in between them, filling the room. He shouted in a voice that could probably be heard all the way at Rebecca’s house five miles away.
“What the fuck is going on here?”
Turville sagged. Putting his hand to his face, he felt blood trickling out of his nose.
“Meigs! Turville! In my office, now! Move!”
Turville moved automatically, without thought. Back in Nguyen’s office, he stood at attention in front of the desk. Meigs did the same, two feet to Turville’s left.
They waited. Several minutes passed by, and Turville could hear Nguyen’s voice, as well as the other men from the fire team, drifting from the front room. He couldn’t make out any individual words.
Meigs stayed silent, as did Turville.
Ten very long minutes passed by before Nguyen finally entered the office. He stalked into the room, his face tense and angry, then stood behind the desk.
Nguyen stared at them without a word. Turville kept his eyes on the wall above Nguyen’s shoulder.
In a low voice, Nguyen said, “You two have been at each other’s throat for a year now. This comes to a stop today. It’s damaging our unit cohesion, and sets an unprofessional example for your subordinates. I’m of half a mind to bust both of your asses back to private and put someone else in charge of your fire teams. We’re supposed to be fighting the enemy, not each other. Explain yourselves. Meigs first.”
Meigs spoke, his voice barely concealing fury.
“Sergeant Nguyen, Turville intervened when I was disciplining a soldier for lax uniform standards. He’s a crappy leader, sergeant: he wants to be friends with his fire team. He doesn’t enforce standards. And then he threw the first punch.”
Turville twisted his face in anger.
“Turville?” Nguyen said.
“Sergeant, Meigs continually harasses my guys. When I came in he was being abusive to Santiago, and yeah, I intervened. Then he started throwing out insults. He shoved me, and called Rebecca a slut.”
Nguyen frowned. He took a deep breath, then said, “You’re both a couple of children. So I’m going to treat you like the children you are. I’m changing up the schedule. Turville, your team stays here. You and Meigs will guard the dam, together, just the two of you, for the next forty eight hours. And if I hear one whisper of another fight, then I’ll have both of you busted back to private. Am I absolutely fucking clear?”
Turville frowned. The dam required at least two guards at all times. Neither of them would be able to sleep. He responded, “Yes, sergeant.”
Meigs nodded. “Yes, sergeant.”
“Then get your asses out of my office. Go relieve the men on the dam. I’ll see you in two days.”