“You’re bluffing! There's no way you can win another hand. You bluffed your way through the last two hands, you’re doing it again!” Glaring across the makeshift table at the accused bluffer, Private First Class Daniel ‘Lunch’ Toranto threw in a pile of chips.
Specialist Everett Nevers, the bluffer, raised one eyebrow and the opposite corner of his mouth in a wicked grin. “I raise you ten.”
Three of the other four soldiers had already folded and watched with enthusiasm. Sergeant Hank ‘Spank’ Bowman shook his head and threw in his cards. Another soldier, about 20 meters down the road, kept a relaxed watch over the rear avenue of approach. Toranto made a careful inventory of both the cards in his hands, his chips, then threw in all he had. “Tapped out. Let's see your cards.” He laid down two pairs, queen high.
Nevers kept up his grin and laid his cards face down. He looked at the chips, and proceeded to meet the bet and raise yet another ten.
“Holy shit, man! Either you won or you lost no need to keep raising the damn pot.” Spank was upset but started grinning anyway. “Come on, show your cards already!”
“Nevers,” Sergeant Pete Davis interrupted the concentration of the two players, “Either you won or you didn't, either way I think we know you have more chips than Lunch. Show your cards now or fold.”
Toranto stood up, “Forget it, I don't even want to know. You can take your cheap flimsy ass cards, your MRE box table and all my damn chips and shove 'em up your ass!” He kicked the box pushing it closer to the winning card player, and walked to the reluctant guard.
Nevers began to rake his earnings into his Kevlar helmet. Spank started picking up the cards. The other four stood to help. Nevers finally cracked a whole smile, and flipped over his cards while continuing to rake in the chips. Full house.
When he finished, he and Specialist Al Parks stood and walked to the middle of the deserted country lane they had stopped on. The two contrasted each other completely. Parks was tall, muscular, and black, Nevers short, wiry, and nicely tan from the elbows down and the neckline up. For combat gear, Parks wore only his protective mask and carried no weapon, Nevers wore his mask and full field gear while carrying his M16 slung over his shoulder. As he finished removing his winnings from his Kevlar he hooked over his left canteen and pocketed the pot.
Second Lieutenant Steve Jacobson helped Spank clear away the cards and table while Davis went to relieve Air Force Master Sergeant Mark Ybarovich at the rear guard.
Jacobson was built the same as Nevers. He wore Army issued glasses. He had been fidgeting through the tense showdown at the end of the game because he was ready to move on. They had been here too long with nothing happening and it was time to get going. Having been an enlisted soldier himself only a few short months before, he felt similar to the rest of the crew. All were self-confidant but still a little scared of the situation they were in. He would worry about any
man sent off to combat who was not a least a little afraid of how fast things could become ugly.
Davis lit a cigarette. “Smoke, Sergeant?” He offered the pack to Ybarovich.
Ybarovich looked at the package. It had been opened from the bottom. That kept other people's hands off the filter end. It was strange the things one noticed before they betray their country. “No thanks, Davis. I'm fine.” He glanced at his watch, any second now.
“Do you want to take a break? I can watch things for a while if you like.” Davis scanned the area Ybarovich was guarding. “I think they might be convinced to play spades if you join them, Sarge.” It sure did look quiet. What were they doing in this country anyway?
Ybarovich shook his head, “Thanks, but I don't know how to play spades, and as for guard, I don't really mind, it's not often a guy of my rank gets to pull OP duty. In a way it's nice, plenty of time to think.” Too much time actually.
“Well, if that's what you want.” Davis turned and walked toward Parks and Nevers.
Lieutenant Jacobson handed the makeshift table to Spank and cleared his throat, “Let's get moving. We've been here long enough.”
Parks and Nevers headed for the Hummer, which sat to the side of the five-ton truck they had been playing cards in front of. “Not every day you get to have an E 7 pull guard for you, is it?” Parks asked as Davis met with the two men.
“No, it isn't, and it also ain't every day you find an E 7 who doesn't know how to play spades either. I don't think I trust a guy who's been in that long that can't play spades. I mean even my eleven year old plays.” said Davis.
Nevers glanced toward Ybarovich and noticed movement in the bushes in front of the observation post. He held his tongue; surely, Ybarovich would say something.
Nothing came from Ybarovich's mouth. Relief flooded his mind; he turned away, and headed for the trucks. He noticed Nevers looking in his direction. One glance told the old timer he was in trouble. Nevers had seen the movement. Caught in the act. Was this how Benedict Arnold felt. Now what? No time to panic now. He made the signal to be quiet. Nevers patted Davis and Parks to get their attention.
Bowman glanced at the three, then Ybarovich and got the message. Lieutenant Jacobson was on the back of the truck. He jumped down. His boots scraped the tailgate of the truck. The muffled thump as he hit the ground was awkward to the silent troops. Jacobson heard the vehicle before he saw the movement.
Ybarovich turned to the movement. All eyes were on him. What would he do now? If they made no noise, they might escape unharmed, and worse for the soon to be traitor, they would not be captured. He had no choice; he would have to alert the enemy ground troops somehow.
Before Ybarovich could bolt from the OP and reveal their position, something incredible happened. At least it was incredible to Ybarovich. Toranto came running in to the position. He charged at Nevers and knocked him off his feet. Nevers’s M16 fell from his hand and hit the hard packed dirt road. If the clatter of the weapon hitting the ground was not enough to give away the men, the round that fired from the weapon was. Shouting in Spanish came from the bushes ahead.
The silence shattered. Every man ran for cover. Ybarovich hit the ground. Parks jumped in the ditch beside the road; Davis joined him, and did a combat roll toward the movement. Jacobson darted for the front of the truck and knelt between the bumper and the truck with the winch in front of him.
Nevers was in shock, he tried to pull himself to his weapon, while the even more startled Toranto froze in shock. The yelling stopped but the noise of movement spread out and seemed to be coming for the band of soldiers. In the distance, a track vehicle could be heard. Its throttle suddenly opened fully wide open.
Nevers, his heart pumping wildly, sprinted for the area between the two vehicles. Time seemed to stand still. It was like a dream. A dream where everything moved fast but the dreamer. The forty meters to the rear of the truck seemed to take a full minute to cover.
He cussed his gear in his head as he ran. Why had he worn it all? It only slowed him down. Three seconds was all that had passed in actual time. He was between the trucks now, with only the length of the trucks left to travel to the front.
His weapon slipped from his hand. He grabbed for the sling without thinking and drug the rifle the remaining half meter.
Time returned to normal. He slumped down behind the truck. The flap covering the rear of the Hummer was open. He peeked around the vehicle. Davis was high crawling to the rear of the trucks. Toranto had broken his paralysis, and rolled to the ditch where Davis had been. Bowman held his weapon carefully and rolled to the other side of the road.
Jacobson moved behind the middle wheel of the five ton. Davis whispered something to him. The Lieutenant slipped under the truck and headed for the opposite side. Davis pulled out his knife and cut the rope holding down the canvas on the side between the trucks.
Jacobson cut the same rope on his side, rolled back under the truck, and crawled to the rear. Davis pulled even with Nevers.
“We're going to get in the bed, throw back the canvas and open fire when they get in range. You with us?” he whispered.
Nevers stopped fumbling with his gear. He had already removed his mask. He shook his head. “I'll watch and tell you when to throw back the canvas. I'll throw a rock at the tailgate,” he whispered back.
Davis nodded, and moved to help the lieutenant in the back. He crawled in himself, and the waiting began.
Nevers watched the road from his belly. Enough of the five ton was in front of him that unless they were looking straight at him, no one would see him. He noticed the canvas at the front of the truck bed moving. It appeared to be caught. Davis' knife had not finished the cut. Shit, thought Nevers, now what?
He slipped out of his field gear, and let his weapon go. He crouched then sprang at the tire of the five ton. Hiding behind the truck, he deftly moved up and cut the rope that Davis had missed. As his knife finished the cut, Bowman's M4 went off.
Davis and Jacobson threw the canvas back and opened fire. Parks and Toranto fired. Nevers ran for the back of the trucks again. As he reached the rear, his feet slipped on wet leaves and he slid past his gear. He scrambled back to the truck and grabbed his rifle. A relic of a Soviet made BMP appeared down the road.
Half of the BMP's soldiers had already dismounted, the other half jumped out after it had passed the American soldiers. Nevers ducked behind the Hummer again. He peeked around the side and saw an AK 47 pointed at Toranto. He brought his rifle around to fire. The enemy was in his sights. Good sight picture, steady position, no way in hell he could possibly get his breath under control, three out of four, if he could just squeeze the trigger and not jerk it. Basic Rifle Marksmanship skills were coming into play now.
Gentle pressure on the trigger. The round being fired should come as a surprise to the person firing. Nevers had quite a surprise coming to him. A little more pressure.
Misfire. The round would not go off. Nevers jerked the trigger. Nothing. He jerked again. The head of the man holding the AK 47 exploded. Nevers' rifle still would not fire.
A scream came from the five-ton. Jacobson had been hit, as well as Davis. They were down. Bowman was the man who shot the enemy Nevers had seen. Rotating his head back toward the rear of the truck, Nevers again tried to control his breathing. Hard to do before you shoot someone, equally hard to do when you watch a man get shot. His heart pumped loudly in his chest. He breathed in quick gulps of air. This was it; he was definitely not re-enlisting now.
The troops from the BMP were mopping up now. Despite having wounded and at least one dead soldier, the Atlantican troops were not trying to kill the Americans. One man covered Bowman, while another cursed him in Spanish. When he tired of cursing, the man kicked Bowman first in the chest, then in the head.
Nevers scrambled into the back of the Hummer and cowered in the darkness of the vehicle. He could hear Ybarovich talking, asking for the man in charge. Parks, Toranto, and a doubled over Bowman, were rounded up and headed towards the back of the five ton.
He heard his comrades being forcefully pushed into the five-ton, and the huge diesel engine being started. In horror, he remembered his gear was outside the truck. As the thought hit him, the flap covering the rear of the truck was pushed aside. Sunlight streamed around a smiling, gap toothed, dirty face.
Bits of light streamed into the truck bed. Bowman, Davis, Jacobson, and Parks had all been shot. No wounds were life threatening. Toranto had been punched a few times, but whoever was in charge stopped the beating. Nevers was the only untouched one of the group. Except of course for Ybarovich. Nevers stood bending his head to miss the roof and walked toward the front of the truckbed.
The road was far from smooth. Nevers peeked out from beneath the canvas. No one had bothered to replace it. He stood between the bows. Ybarovich was providing air cover from the hole in the cab roof from the mounted MK 19 Grenade Launcher. He was looking ahead and left, so he did not notice Nevers.
The truck was moving through a heavily wooded area. As Nevers watched, they came upon a beach. It was a creek of some sort. The truck turned left, running parallel to the placid water. The BMP was nowhere to be seen. Nevers glanced behind, no other vehicles of any sort around.
The woods became thick again, but only blocked out the creek for an instant. The trees fell away quickly, and the truck turned to the right. The engine noise remained constant, but speed fell off quicker than the trees had. Nevers looked down. Sand. Wet sand. The truck was bogging down in the sand.
Tire tracks pock marked the area. Several trucks had come through here. Many had become stuck. Nevers could see the signs of winch cables on trees and manmade holes where the sand had reluctantly let the trucks free. Nevers glanced across the creek. Only about twenty meters wide, but the other side did not look one bit better than the side they were on.
The rear wheels lost traction and slid to the left, the driver expertly allowed the vehicle to slide, and as the instant the wheels caught traction again gunned the engine. Water spewed straight up as the truck hit the water. Ybarovich ducked, Nevers scuttled under the canvas, and pushed himself rearward.
He stopped next to Davis. “I told you not to trust an E7 who couldn't play spades.” He grunted through his tightly closed jaw.
Nevers grunted a short laugh. Davis managed a small smile. This was not a situation to laugh at, or about, but they had to make the best of it while they could.
Water poured through the hole in the canvas. It washed the floor of the truck. The first thing they had been ordered to do was dump everything out of the truck. The night vision goggles, weapons and field gear had been confiscated. All the rest of the equipment was left behind. No telling what the troops in the BMP did with it.
Nevers felt the truck slide again. This time to the right. With a jolt, the truck hit the shore. The driver eased off the gas for a second, before hitting it hard once again. They fishtailed back and forth for a few seconds, then the rough and tumble hard packed dirt roads were once more under the truck.
Nevers continued to be bounced between the bows. He would surely have bruises there the next day. The trees seemed to go on and on. The muddy road smoothed out. It turned into a gravel road. The road was still full of potholes, only now it was easier for the driver of the five ton to miss a few.
Nevers looked forward. The truck passed a sign that he could not quite read. He did, however, recognize the location. Three days before Nevers and his captured comrades had left the Logue Air Force Base, the American foothold on the tropical Caribbean island of Aragon. They left with a Master Sergeant who was somewhat familiar with the host country Cortina. Nevers glanced at their turncoat guide. He had guided them out of this same gate three days ago.
Since the Spanish American War at the close of the 19th Century there had been an American presence on the island. More American forces had been invited to nation of Cortina in the early 90s because as the Iron Curtain fell the Cortinians were afraid of their neighbors, the People’s Democratic Republic of Atlantica. They had enjoyed the backing of the Soviet regime but with the downfall of The Wall several in Cortina were afraid of a preemptive strike before power faded. It never came, but the base was built up. The ensuing inflow of American cash had stimulated the economy which only served to heighten the difference of life in the two countries. The uneasy tension between ideologies had remained a war of words. Until today.
He looked back at the road. Nevers knew there were several small arms ranges coming up to the east of the road. In less than five hundred meters he was rewarded with a sign that read Range 40. Would anyone be there? The range flag was out. That was supposed to indicate that the range was open.
The five ton slowed as it passed the range. Sure enough, there were people at the range. Unfortunately, they wore the same uniforms as the group that now had the Americans captured. Nevers looked out on the range.
Six Atlantican troops had AK 47's trained on four American soldiers. The Americans looked worn out. An additional eight Cortinians stood around. Some watched the five ton go by. Yet another was holding a bag of golf clubs.
One member of the group took up a stance and hit a golf ball onto the range. Bad slice. As an Atlantican prodded him with the muzzle of his weapon, one of the Americans ran down the range to recover the ball. The show over, the five-ton speed back up.
Nevers knelt under the canvas and relayed their position, and what he had just witnessed. Bowman managed a smile; he coughed twice, and said, “I knew we were in a 'Fore'th world country.”
Other than a few grins, no one acknowledged the pun. Parks sat at the rear of the troop seats. He had taken down the rear canvas, so the group could at least see where they had come from. As Nevers looked out the back, he saw some sort of guard post set up. Two Atlantican soldiers watched as the truck passed their position.
The truck reached an sphalt road finally. Now the ride was greatly improved. Nevers watched the gravel fall behind. Soon they would be entering the main part of the base. Too bad, he had not bothered to memorize the base layout; he had thought he would not be there to long.
Buildings appeared. The road became curvy. Ybarovich, no longer pulling air cover, was giving directions to the driver to take them down back roads. Nevers assumed they were headed to the main part of post. Around one hairpin curve, the truck slowed and almost came to a complete stop. Toranto jumped out the back of the truck. Nevers could not believe his eyes. Parks jumped, too. Davis waved him on, and jumped on the soft ground behind the curve. Nevers heard the truck being given more gas, in a split second it would again pick up speed. It was now or never.