“Where’re my cigarettes?” barked the Staff Sargent. The two Sergeants outside his tent straightened automatically, but he caught their weary glances. “Boys, what is wrong with this picture?” Staff Sargent Lenore held up his empty hand. “Well?”
Sargent Phillips did not hesitate. “No cigarette, sir.”
“No cigarette!” he yelled. “Do you know why?”
Staff Sergeant Lenore turned to Sergeant McCall. “You know why?”
“No sir,” responded McCall.
“Because it takes six guys twelve weeks to approve my orders to go to New York, meanwhile I’m stuck camping out in the middle of…” He looked around at the trees surrounding the campsite, the white-grey rocks and mossy ground. “Phillips, where are we again?”
“Lithuania, sir. About ten miles east of the Russian border.”
“Eh, figures. We’re probably camped over some holy relics, is that right, Sergeant?”
“I wouldn’t know, sir.”
“Well while I’m here disturbing the mojo or whatever you want to call it, Base still ain’t processing my orders for home.”
Phillips frowned, confused. “And that’s why you don’t have a cigarette?”
“Sure don’t. McCall, you’re not doing anything. Go find me a cigarette. It’s about time we moved out of here anyway.”
“Yes, sir.” The Sergeant walked away, clearly happy to be relieved of standing outside Lenore’s tent all day.
Lenore took a swig from his canteen and then offered some to Phillips. “You heard from Andrews?” he asked.
Phillips took a quick gulp and handed the canteen back. “No sir. Not since yesterday.”
“I don’t like it.”
“Should we send someone to make contact?”
Lenore paused. “If we don’t hear by the end of the day, we’re moving out.”
Just then Corporal Dean waved from his look-out point at the cleft of a rock.
Lenore rushed to the base of it. “Dean?”
“Movement ahead, sir. One person, looks like a kid.”
“Six meters, maybe less.”
“Bomber?” Lenore wondered.
Dean peered through his binoculars. “I don’t think so, but won’t know for sure till they get closer.”
“Yeah, or we do.” Lenore grabbed Phillips, who had followed him. “I want you and Thumper on that. If it’s a friendly, bring him back here.”
Phillips nodded. He didn’t need to be told what to do if the trespasser wasn’t a friendly.
Lenore waited at the base of the rock, watching Phillips and Thumper’s retreating backs. He even saw the rabbit’s foot Thumper carried –hence the nickname- swinging from his pocket. Eight men had been stationed at this campsite, including Staff Sergeant Lenore. Phillips and McCall had graduated BOOT Camp together, and had somehow managed to stay buddies through their careers. McCall had been working at a desk, though he was good at what he did. Dean was a small arms expert. Trayl –or Thumper, as they called him- a typical soldier. Clovis, Bunnerman, Lipinski, all of them had worked well together. All of them had been deployed before. Only Lenore had seen action. And of the six soldiers who stayed behind while their brothers ventured into Lithuanian territory, none of them spoke. Silence rose from the moss like vapor, seeping into their skin and chilling their bones. Lenore swept his gaze through the wooded area that was visible, searching for any signs of movement. His ears strained for any signs of… anything.
Dean, focused through his binoculars, waved his hand down at Lenore. “Three approaching,” he said. “Phillips’s in front. The kid’s behind him. There’s Thumper, too.”
A sigh of relief rushed from Staff Sergeant Lenore. No matter how long he was in the field, no matter how trite the orders, he didn’t think he would ever accept that they were truly safe, that they were good enough to be safe. All it took was one moment to not be safe. One hour or moment could always be your last. Lenore was just glad he had survived this one. “Good work, Dean.”
“Thank you, sir.”
Lenore stepped around the rock just as Phillips that the others came into view. “You bring me back my cigarettes?” he called.
Phillips laughed. “I thought that was McCall’s job.”
“Hey!” called McCall with a mocking glare.
Phillips pushed the newcomer into their camp perimeter. “Lackey for Andrews,” he said. He was grinning, and in a moment, Lenore understood why.
The lackey was a girl.
Lenore coughed down his laughter before it could erupt from his chest. He cleared his throat. “Staff Sergeant Lenore,” he said, extending his hand.
“De Vil,” she answered, but then blushed, as if she’d spoken too soon.
“Miss De Vil. Why is Andrews making his secretary send messages to active soldiers in the field?”
“I’m not his secretary!” she exclaimed. Huh. British. A long way from home, he thought. Then again, so were the rest of them.
“Oh, sorry,” said Lenore. “Are you his, um… personal assistant?”
McCall and Bunnerman erupted in laughter this time, but Miss De Vil only glared as if she’d heard it all before.
“I’m not Andrews’s personal anything, but I will gladly report back to him and let him know that you and your band of idiots are wasting his resources. Do you think those orders for New York would go through then, Staff Sergeant?”
Lenore went silent for a few moments. De Vil indeed. “Step inside my office.” He gestured to the tent and Miss De Vil entered first.
“I don’t suppose these will help lick your wounds?” From her pocket she produced a box of cigarettes and tossed them to Lenore.
He caught them reflexively, glanced at her, and then popped one out of the box. He offered it to her.
“No thank you. I don’t smoke.”
“Your loss. So what does Andrews say?”
“The Master Sergeant said to prepare your men to move in tomorrow morning at first light. That means you should leave well before daybreak and use the tree line as your camouflage. It’s going to be cloudy tomorrow, an added bonus. His men will be waiting for you just outside the gate. He can take over from there.”
Lenore surveyed De Vil with a mixture of trepidation and… well, no, mostly trepidation. “Is that all he said?”
“And also to bring back his cigarettes.”
Lenore laughed around the item in question. “Sorry, sweetheart, but these babies aren’t going anywhere.” He slid them into his breast pocket and gave a hearty puff.
De Vil barely flinched. “Shall I tell Master Sergeant Andrews that you will meet his men tomorrow at dawn?”
“Sure. Why not?”
The girl nodded and then froze. She listened. “Get down!” Diving for Lenore, they hit the ground just as shots rang through the air and through the tent. Lenore heard McCall and Bunnerman outside, as well as the clean shots Dean was taking. One –two –three –fourfive –sixeseveneight…
De Vil rolled off Lenore and grabbed his sidearm. Crawling to the front of the tent, Lenore watched as the girl took careful aim –five whole seconds- and fired eight rounds. Three, two, then four. Foreign voices sounded outside the camp, but Lenore recognized Dean’s sharp bullets as they were practically magnetized to their targets.
The whole thing had lasted less than two minutes.
When all was quiet again, Lenore carefully turned onto his stomach and crawled next to the girl, peered out at the camp.
He saw no bodies, and none of his men appeared injured. Looking up, he caught sight of Dean, still on his perch. The man pulled something from his pocket and tossed it into the woods.
Cautiously, Staff Sergeant Lenore emerged from his tent. His men gathered around, their eyes alert and guns poised.
“Dean,” he said. “What happened?”
“Sorry, sir. They were behind me. Didn’t see ‘em comin’.”
Lenore turned to the girl, who was carefully picking herself up. She gazed out at the woods as if seeing them for the first time. She looked like a child in a grown man’s uniform, dropped into the woods with only stories of snakes and mountain lions as her guide.
“Miss De Vil,” he said.
Her sharp grey eyes focused on him, and it seemed to take that action for her to find her bearings again. “Staff Sergeant,” she said, her voice possessing a slight tremor. “Are you all right?”
“Thanks to you.” He extended a hand out. “What did you say your name was?”
The girl smiled. “Cruella. At your service.”