by Kim Crumb
“Heads up. Here he comes.” Sergeant Morgan nudged Snowden. “You ready?”
“Yup.” He suppressed a chuckle as their unsuspecting prey wandered up the narrow dirt path to where the five men sat on the low sandbagged walls of Gun Team Two’s mortar emplacement.
“Wait. Here.” Shipley pulled the glasses from the man next to him and handed them over to Snowden. “These will make you look more studious.”
“Hey, why don’t you give him yours?” After glaring at Shipley, the owner of the glasses watched as Snowden set them in place.
“Because, the LT knows that I wear glasses. You, being a new guy, he doesn’t know from Adam.”
“Damn,” Snowden squinted a bit, “these are almost painful.”
“I’ve been here for two weeks, just like you guys…”
“Yeah, I can smell ya,’ now settle down.” Morgan rose to his feet as Lieutenant Register stopped a few feet from the little group.
Sweating profusely, the officer tilted his helmet back and wiped and his forehead with back of his hand. “Men.”
“Lieutenant,” they each responded before letting Morgan take the lead. Morgan smiled. “I believe that we have a solution to our current dilemma.”
“Well, that’s good to hear. I find it refreshing that you men would take the time to seek out solutions to…” He looked off to one side for a moment. “A solution to…” His eyes came back to Morgan. “To…”
“The dilemma.” Shipley offered.
And here we go, thought Snowden. Across from him, Tanari, the team’s gunner, slipped him a wink. Snowden winked back and began. “Um, LT, we’ve been considering the lack of really good reading material, and its impact on our mature, but still young minds.” He pushed the glasses down slightly to peer over them.
“Yes, reading material.” As each man had adopted a serious look, Register folded his arms across his thin chest and nodded his agreement.
“We’re planning on starting a library and are looking for donations. You know, just a few MPC to get things rolling, you see.”
Each man then looked expectantly at their Platoon leader, who abruptly unfolded his arms and reached for his back pocket. “Oh, right. A donation.” In a few moments he’d slipped out his wallet and taken it from its plastic cover. “Is five MPC..?”
“Perfect, LT.” Shipley took the bill and held it up. “Our first donation.”
Accompanied by a chorus of “thank you, sirs,” the other men clapped politely.
“My pleasure, men anything I can do to alleviate…”
“Which oddly enough brings us to our real problem. Our lack of water.”
The applause ceased and all eyes, including LT Register’s, were on Shipley, who deftly slipped the MPC note into his fatigue shirt pocket. “It’s a little known fact, but prior to Snowden’s entrance in the Armed Forces, he was a biomechanicalfluidtransferdynamisist student at a small Northern California college.” Shipley gestured to his friend.
“A biomecha…” Register paused. “A, um.”
“Biommechanicalfluidtransferdynamisist.” Snowden repeated for him. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Morgan cover his mouth with his hand. “You see, sir, there is actually water all around us.” He made a large circular motion with his hand. “We just can’t get to it.”
“We have the creek down the hill.” The officer gestured off to their left
“Which is great, except that it nearly a klick away. Each man only carries one two-quart and a pair of a single canteens. So it’s pretty much impossible for us to haul up enough water for say…”
“A shower.” Tanari finished for him.
“Yeah.” The soldiers nodded in agreement.
“Look, men.” Giving the men a stern look he began. “This is why a tour of Vietnam is a called a ‘hardship tour.’ We all get a little extra pay to do without the usual niceties of life. With any luck it’ll rain soon and there will be plenty of water. Why, when I was in the Jungle Warfare School in Panama…” Register hooked his thumbs in his web belt, warming to the subject.
“We don’t have to wait for rain, sir.” Shipley placed an arm around Snowden’s shoulder. “Using his college skills, Snowden has developed a solution which he is willing to share with everyone.”
Everyone’s attention went back to Snowden, who cleared his throat. With all eyes upon him, he adjusted his glasses with one hand while his right hand went to his shirt pocket. “It’s right here LT.” He retrieved a small plastic capsule and held it up between his thumb and forefinger.
“An ear plug holder?” The LT frowned.
“Not even, sir.” He popped the upper half off. “Of course, without a proper lab, and under these primitive conditions…” He tilted the lower half until a small white pill spilled into his palm.
“Wow!” Shipley leaned closer to peer intently at the object in Snowden’s hand.
“Yeah, check it out.” Morgan leaned in next to his buddy.
Register frowned. “That’s. That’s an aspirin.”
Snowden closed his hand over the pill and shook his head. “I told you guys that this would be a waste of time.”
“Give him a moment.” Morgan pleaded.
“Yeah, after all the work you put in while on radio watch.” Shipley added.
“Alright, alright.” Palm up, Snowden opened his hand. “After spending my senior year at honing my skills as a potential Biomechanicalfluidtransferdynamisist, I obtained an assistant doctorate minor degree in the ‘reduction’ phase of Biomechanicalfluidtransferdynamics. Hence the resulting, ah, diminutive size of the final product.”
“Damn. I always wanted to take that course.” Morgan looked away. “Sometimes life is so damn unfair.”
“Me too.” Tanari reached over at tapped the sergeant on the shoulder. “You know, when we get back to The World. We’ll have the GI Bill to allow us to continue our studies.”
“I’m going back to Junior College too. The world will be our clam.” By the looks from the others, the new guy knew he had blown it. He smiled weakly.
“I thought it went ‘the world is our oyster?” Register offered.
“He’s not a Floridian, such as yourself.” Shipley shook his head. “Guys from up north are a little different.”
“Yes.” Register smiled at the new guy. “You see, where I come from, clams are dug out of the sand and just don’t have the succulent good flavor of a fresh oyster. Why, next door to my daddy’s gas station there’s a diner owned by an old black man that serves the best….” He realized that Morgan’s gaze had narrowed a bit. “Um, negro, that is to say, African…um, soul brother…”
Morgan smiled thinly. “Do they serve crackers with the oysters?”
Unhappy with the sudden turn of direction of the conversation was taking, Snowden cut in to get it back on track. “Sir. We were discussing the tablet.”
Register gingerly held up the pill. “Damn, it sure looks like an aspirin. What do you add to this to get water?”
“According my calculations, based on the availability of the proper amount of sub-nutriatic-hydro-oxygenated atoms in the air added to particles found in various grains, I’d estimate that about a case of beer combined with this tablet would provide us with, ah, two hundred gallons of drinkable water.
As the five soldiers watched their platoon leader heading off toward the small bunker passing for the Observation Post’s command center, Morgan sat down on the dusty edge of the sandbagged gun pit. “If my mom and grandma had witnessed that, they’d both say, ‘Herbert Morgan, you have become such an evil, evil person. Picking on that poor young officer. Why we hardly recognize you.”
“You think we’ll get any beer out of this?”
The other four soldiers gave the new guy a long look. Snowden had returned his glasses and he was polishing the lenses with a light blue bandana.
Suddenly Snowden laughed. “You know, it’s not about the beer.”
“It’s about the journey.” Shipley finished. “Just remember, when you’re putting this in your journal, you mention my muscular torso and steely-eyed gaze.”
‘And his full head of wavy red hair.” Morgan gave a pretend wince at Shipley’s look.
“I keep a journal too.” The new guy had his glasses back in place. “Is it okay if I write about this? I mean you guys came up with the whole water thing.”
Snowden shrugged. “Sure, you’re part of it.”
“Do you think anyone will believe this?”
“I just wonder if anyone will care.”
“Well, I’ll buy your book.”
“Novel.” Snowden corrected his buddy. He smiled. “And since you brought it up, I’m collecting deposits for copies from the first printing.”
“Here you go.” Shipley produced the crumpled MPC bill. “I assume this will cover shipping, and an autograph.”
“You know, I just hope that our messing with the Lt doesn’t come back to bite us.”
“Ah Morgan, it’ll go something like this.” Shipley affected a faraway look. “The Lt’ will show the captain his magic pill. In true from he will hint that he was instrumental in its creation. With any luck he’ll request the beer. With any real luck the Captain will somehow arrange for it to be flown here. Most likely, in an officerly like way, he’ll politely ask the Lt. to leave the command post.”
Later that afternoon, with the sun bearing hard down upon the little hill, a lone Huey touched down on the dusty landing zone. The door gunner waved to the watching soldiers, then pulled a mail bag from beneath his seat. Morgan dashed over through the red dust kicked up from the rotor wash. After exchanging a few words with the gunner, he turned, nearly running into Lt. Register, who was shoving his pack into the Huey’s cargo area. The officer nodded to Morgan, turned and pushed himself into the cargo bay. As the blades picked up speed, the Lt was making himself comfortable against a bulkhead while Morgan ducked as he hurried back to the waiting group of soldiers. By the time he had reached them, the helicopter’s skids were lifting from the ground and the men turned their backs against the blast.
“What’s with the Lt?” Shipley asked, his eyes on the Huey departing across the valley.
“The gunner told me they were picking up an officer suffering from ‘heat exhaustion.’” Morgan dropped the bag at Shipley’s feet. “The Lt is heading back for a few days rest in the rear.” The sergeant sighed. “Likely spending his time there in an air conditioned officer’s club.”
“Nooo.” The Huey was fast becoming a tiny speck when Snowden and Shipley spoke as one.
“You guys going to have that sorted anytime soon?” Captain Pelton, Bravo Company’s company commander of some three weeks and the senior officer on O.P. Destroyer, stopped in front of the three men and nodded toward the mailbag.
“Yes, sir.” Morgan handed the bag over to Snowden. Traditionally, the mail was sorted by the personnel in mortar’s FDC. “We’ll have it for you in tee tee.”
Pelton nodded and started to turn.
“Sir. You sent our lieutenant to the rear?” Shipley’s words were flat with obvious disappointment.
The officer eyed them for a few moments. “He’ll be all right. I think that the heat and God knows what else out here was getting to him. He had what was left of this little white pill and some theory about, “dehydrated water.” The man shook his head. “Being new to all this, I thought it prudent if I erred on the side of caution. A few days in the rear, and he’ll be back to his old self.” He shook his head. “I’m sure you men understand.”