I stood in the shadows behind the CQ desk for about an hour, thinking dark thoughts.
Cobb had murdered that guy. I knew it was strongly as I knew he’d wrapped his goddamn dickbeaters around my fucking neck. The place wasn’t haunted, but it was a fucking wreck, and Mann was right. Ionization was fucking our shit up. Same place every time for the batteries to cut out in the basement, and batteries didn’t last too long when they were in use.
The Nazi’s had left, that much we knew. When the US troops found this building, they did a cursory sweep and left. There had been POW’s stored on this post during World War II, and it was a “Displaced Persons” encampment following World War II. Knights had fought here at one point. We were smack in the middle of the Fulda Gap, the first line of defense against the Red Steamroller.
Bad things had happened here. Rumors of torture practice, garrote practice. Stokes had told me about there being an off-limits area where the whipping post, with its iron ring that people’s hands were lashed to, was still intact.
Wounded animals nest up, son. My father’s voice whispered inside my mind.
I turned from where I was staring at the hallway, moving slow so I wouldn’t attract attention. The SS dagger was in my hand, I’d put the .45 in my pocket.
FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK!
Two slow steps took me there, and I gently pressed down on the door handle. It clicked, the sound buried beneath a low moan of agony drifting down the hallway. I pushed open the door, and looked in.
Cobb was passed out on the single bunk in the office, a bottle of Bacardi 151 still in his hand.
He had been there all along. Too many people had come in, too many unfamiliar faces, and he’d retreated to his nest where he’d hidden from the sounds of the barracks when he was here all alone.
He didn’t try to roll his thumbs.
If you’re really strangling someone, you roll your thumbs to crush the windpipe. He’d just squeezed. As I stared at him, I sincerely doubted he could murder anyone. I’d met murderers, rapists, and the like in maximum security before I was transferred. Cobb wasn’t a killer, he was scared shitless.
I knelt down next to him. He reeked of booze.
“Cobb,” I whispered, shaking him. Nothing. He didn’t even flinch. I pinched his earlobe between my thumbnail and fingernail. He didn’t even so much as fart. He was fucking wasted. I picked up his pack of smokes and took some, putting them in the pocket of my parka. You never know when you might need cigarettes.
I stood up, and quietly left him to his nightmares. I locked the door, more out of politeness than anything else. I went over to the dayroom, unlocked the door, and went inside.
Captain Bishop was sleeping right next to the door, and I shook him awake.
“Sir, come with me,” I said. He looked at me oddly, but followed. I closed and locked the door behind me.
“What is it, Private?” Captain Bishop asked. At least he kept his fucking voice quiet.
“I found Cobb,” I told him.
“Fuck, you didn’t kill him, did you?” Bishop asked.
“No, he’s passed out in his little hidey-hole with a bottle of 151.” I pointed at the door. Captain Bishop followed where I was pointing and let out a laugh.
“You’ve got to be fucking kidding. We turned this place upside down, and he was in there asleep the whole fucking time?” I nodded. “Ain’t that some shit.” He let out a long breath. “Fucking figures. God, I hate this building.” A moan drifted down the hallway, and the crashing noise came from upstairs. I checked my watch.
“The crashing, it comes every forty-five minutes to an hour, every night,” I said.
“So? Spit it out, Private.”
“I’ve got a theory, but I’m not sure.”
“You’ve got a theory? You? You didn’t even finish high school.” SFC Vickers scornful voice said from the doorway. I’d heard it open, but figured it was someone going to take a piss. SFC Vickers stomped out into the CQ area.
“Who the fuck are you talking too out here, Private Monkey? You’re supposed to be on guard duty, not running your fucking mouth. Private Cobb could have ran by you playing a goddamn bugle with all the noise you’re making.” He stomped right by Captain Bishop and I, up to where my flashlight was sitting on the counter.
About 10 feet from me. Moron.
“He’s talking to me, Sergeant. Do you have a problem?” Captain Bishop’s tone was colder than the wind outside.
“No, no sir, I don’t. I thought, well, I didn’t see you there.” He was turned toward us, trying to squint in the light of my flashlight.
“Seeing as your GT is under 100, and you failed your last SQT, I don’t think you should be commenting on anyone’s intellect.” Captain Bishop finished.
“Well, I thought Monkey was just out here showing off.” Vickers finished lamely. Showing off? No, that would be if I walked up to him, pulled his goddamn bullying head off, and shoved it in his ass.
“Who was responsible for searching the CQ area and the first floor, Sergeant?” Bishop’s tone was freezing now. I thought about breaking out the swimming trunks and standing outside to warm up.
“I supervised three of the new soldiers,” Vickers replied.
“AND HOW DID YOU FUCKING MISS COBB PASSED OUT IN A FUCKING BUNK?” Bishop yelled. It pleased me to no end to see Vickers flinch. I’d been right. He’d bully the lower enlisted, but sucked up and looked all buddy-buddy the minute someone higher ranking was around.
“They assured me that they searched the entire area, sir.” He sounded like a fucking weasel.
“Well, they didn’t. Private Cobb could have been found hours ago, if you did your job.” Captain Bishop took a deep breath.
“You found Cobb?” Smith asked from the dayroom door. Behind him I could see the glint of lots of eyes and looming shadows.
“He’s passed out drunk in that office.” Captain Bishop told everyone. “He wasn’t grabbed by dead Nazi’s, the ghost of LT Greer didn’t get him. He just returned to the place he’d been living after seventeen hundred and went to sleep.”
“Oh.” Someone said from inside the room, and the door shut.
“Sergeant, if I ever hear you use that tone again, or disparage a soldier again, without due cause, and I will follow the recommendation from your last CO and have you ejected from this man’s Army. Do you follow?” The cold tone was back.
“Yes, sir.” Vickers said, hanging his head. He turned and went into the dayroom, leaving me alone with Captain Bishop.
“How’d you figure it out?” Captain Bishop asked, nodding toward Cobb’s hiding place.
“He’s got cabin fever. Too many people he didn’t know. He went out of his way to make friends with me, always lighting me cigarettes and offering me hits off his bottle and sitting next to me when we ate.” I told him. “I’ve read the FM on psych, and he fits the description of cabin fever.”
“It’s called disambiguation, Private.” Captain Bishop replied. “Where did you get medical FMs?”
“One of my DI’s got them for me. I’ve read a lot of FM’s since I joined the Army.” I replied.
“Hmmm,” He rubbed his jaw and stared at me.
“Carry on. Can you handle the rest of the night?” he asked.
“Yes, sir,” I answered.
Cobb came stumbling out of his little fortress about 0400, staggered into the bathroom, and I could hear him throwing up over the sound of the wind outside. When he came out, he saw me leaning in the shadows and shambled over.
“Got a light?” He asked me.
“Yeah,” I answered, lighting two cigarettes and handing him one. I didn’t smoke, but Cobb needed a friend right now.
“Thanks, Monkey, you’re an OK guy,” he told me. I shrugged. He didn’t know me that well yet.
“I didn’t kill that guy.” He told me. He leaned against the wall and sighed.
“I believe you.” I told him.
“My room-mate in maximum security before I was transferred to Fort Lost In the Woods was a murderer. All he talked about was how he was innocent. Plus, no offense, but you aren’t too good at the whole assault and battery thing.” He looked at me oddly.
“That’s not just a rumor?”
“No.” He waited for me to explain, then just dropped it.
“I hate this place.” He told me. We both looked over when the dayroom door opened. One of the newbies walked out scratching his ass and went into the latrine.
“We’re stuck here,” I told him. We stood silently. The newbie left the bathroom and back into the dayroom.
“Go snuggle up next to Stokes, dude. Get some rest. Captain Bishop wants everyone up at 0600.” I told him. He stared at me for a moment. “Oh for Christ’s Sake, I didn’t fuck her, I’m married. She just stayed in my room. Fuck.”
“Oh,” Cobb replied. I watched him go into his hidey-hole and get his blanket, then go into the dayroom. He closed the door and locked it, leaving me to my thoughts.
What the fuck happened to Tandy?
Outside, snow was starting to blow. I stood and watched it, nearly hypnotized by its dancing. That was when it dawned on me.
The light poles at the end of the walk never flickered or went out!
I took out my green notebook, and jotted that little fact down, then returned it to my breast pocket. It meant something, and my brain was whirling to figure it out.
In the morning, I’d throw all the main breakers, and have someone watch and see if they turned off. If not, that meant they were on a separate circuit, which meant there was another fuse box somewhere. Maybe outside, or somewhere else, and the power for the building was all fucked up due to having two separate fuse boxes.
It made sense.
At 0600, I could hear Captain Bishop waking everyone up. He dragged two mermite cans out for us to eat out of. I sat and ate, thinking about the various theories I had come up with. I didn’t even flinch when there scream sounded through the stairwell. I was pretty sure there were air leaks and as strong as the wind was out there, it would shriek as it passed through the gap.
I had all of it figured out.
Really, smartass? What happened to Tandy, then? Huh?