Wednesday, December 17, 2008

LNHFCOJ Update and Excerpt: Peter Potter Takes a Leak Again

I posted the first half of this chapter before, I went back to rework it and ended up polishing it a bit more, I did a lot of fiddling with the second half of the chapter. This chapter takes place at the scene of Mack's helicopter crash about a day after the fact. It's not one of my favorite chapters because it's mostly functional in the sense that it's meant to introduce Fritter and Adam's other platoon members and expand a bit on their personalities. I wanted to share this chapter in its entirety since I'd already shown part of it before. So once again, Peter Potter Tak


 

Chapter 6

Evening, Day 13: Peter Potter Takes a Leak

 

            Cowboy stood squarely with his rugged jeans and tall brown boots, beaming down on the wreckage. The ravaged palm grove stood nestled about his ankles. Soldiers scuttled through battered tree trunks and fallen fronds, diligently scouring the wreckage of the downed black hawk.

            The polished brass of his Texas-sized belt buckle glimmered in the fading touch of daylight. He offered a brisk tip of his hat to the receding sun on the western horizon.

            "Evenin' Miss," he said. With a faint quirk at the corner of his lips, he greeted the faint red star to his left.

            "You’re lookin' mighty fine tonight. Mighty fine." His mellow western charm coated the sky a placid salmon hue, which quickly purpled, and fell into the dark bluish gray tint of early evening. The moon shied away, hiding the pain of going unnoticed by her rustic companion.

            “Howdy Adam,” Cowboy said, peeling his sweat stained hat from the crown of his head. His mottled gray hair clung to the sides of his face. He placed his hat over his heart reverently. “see y’all are still pokin’ ‘round here. Any luck findin’ him?”

            Adam pressed his shoulder against the side of his platoon’s lead vehicle, and with his left hand he yanked the door latch upwards. The smell of stale air tinted with gun lubricants evacuated the interior of the Humvee. Adam moved the starter switch a single click to the right, and then pushed it all the way, electing not to acknowledge the recommended wait time prescribed in the maintenance manual. The engine cranked and turned, rumbling with the roaring hunger of a diesel fed dragon. Adam clicked on the headlights, illuminating the bent helicopter and the fluttering tips of the Union Jack that had intertwined with the rotor mechanisms atop the felled aircraft.

            Adam shook his head.

            “Nope. Not yet. It’s not looking good.” He said, reaching into his pocket for his cigarettes. His eyes shot to the rippling waterway, scanning the illuminated areas for the slimy eyes, slippery tails and spiny fins of sea monsters. He didn’t see them.

            “Even if he survived the crash, there’s no way he could have escaped the serpents.” Adam said, reaching blindly for the plastic lighter in his other pocket.

            Adam was grimy from his chest to the toes of his boots with milk chocolate muck. Sweat ran in rivulets down his body, creeping through the fabric of his uniform and ballistic vest to mix with the waste from the irrigation ditches he had been skulking through. The river rose ominously before him in the fading glow of day, brown slowly fading to black as night’s grip tightened on the recovery site.

            “Reckon not.” Cowboy acknowledged, the hope in his face deflated, making the ruddy contours of his face seem flat and pale. He tucked a clump of chew in his mouth and began to work at it.

            “You need to turn the truck this way, Blue.” Specialist Peter Potter yelled from the fringe of the palm grove. Adam ignored him as he plucked a cigarette from the soggy hard pack. He dragged his thumb over the roller of the lighter, sparking a flame. He brought the burning lick of fire to the tip of the cigarette mashed between his lips. He shot out the first mouthful of fumes, ejecting smoke and spent lighter fluid. Then he drew inward, Adam filled himself with smoke as he rested his side against the steel plate bolted to the door of the truck.

            Peter Potter ambled with a practiced nonchalance towards Adam. He held his fore and middle fingers to his lips, using body language to confer his desire to smoke one of Adam’s cigarettes. Peter’s liberal upbringing had taught him to have a sense of entitlement to things which inherently belonged to others. The warmth of Adam’s heart had taught him to give things, which were inherently his, to those in need. In that regard, Adam and Peter got along swimmingly.

            Adam tossed the filthy pack of Camels to Peter.

            Peter pilfered a single length of tobacco, filter and paper. He brought it to his lips and struck his lighter to life. He took a long drag, closing his eyes behind the fashionable frames of his designer glasses. Peter handed the pack back to Adam as he stepped closer.

            “Can we get the lights over there? We need to be able to see where we’re wasting our time.” The conspiracy in Peter’s voice indicated that his vocalization of dissatisfaction was meant only to fill the short space between his face and Adam’s. Peter relished his secret rebellions, the moments he crafted for them were deeply satisfying expressions of his angst and generally characterized by whines thinly disguised with notes of sarcasm. Peter’s rampant disinterest in the mission was fueled by a life long and passionate apathy towards goal oriented activities. Peter was the product of a changing America. The country had become, over time, a place where those who could, often chose not to do. A place where those who wish they could, but couldn’t, believed they could anyway. The American dream had come to foster an environment where the stupid and talentless aspired to greatness, and the facile minority aspired to nothing more than a buzzing social commentary rooted in snobbish criticism. Peter was a lazy intellectual, with a haughty bone to pick with the institution that paid his bills. The government of the United States and every brain-dead soul that worked for it were in the cross-hairs of Peter’s jibes. He also had larger and less immediate issues with God. God didn’t seem to care.

             “Fuck it.” Adam said, trying to sound casual. He had bigger worries than the bellies of the muddy irrigation ditches. The bellies he was worried about had eyes, fangs and scales wrapped around them. For the sake of everyone, Adam would suffer his comrades to fumble in the dark while he kept watch against the unseen evils of the river Tigris.

            “Yeah, fuck it. I think we’re getting out of here soon, anyway.” Peter replied, shooting a jet of smoke from his nostrils. “This is bullshit, they had crew out here a half-hour after the crash and they didn’t find a damn thing. They wait twelve hours, bring us out and have us spend the whole day combing wreckage? What the fuck is that? Retarded.”

            “Fucking retarded.” Adam agreed half-heartedly.

            “Damn ol’ ungracious little pistol startin’ polecat.” Cowboy spat. “Got no respect for the goodness of folks. I’m half a hair off trackin’ down his pa and settin’ him straight for the wrongness he done raisin’ that boy. I’d set him straight by bustin’ his ribs, for one.”

            The moon plugged her ears and held her breath. Foul language and violence had a way of taking a toll on her, and she wanted nothing to do with any of it. She watched Cowboy shadowbox the sprawling emptiness of space, cussing and spitting Peter’s parentage. His spurs spun brightly as he stomped and growled. The moon waxed bright red as her cheeks bulged into the night. When he reached for his flask, she knew it was safe to surrender her guard, so she did.

            Cowboy tipped whiskey into his mouth, gulping twice before relaxing the bottle. He wiped his mustache clean with the sleeve of his checked shirt, and turned his ornery eyes on Peter who, for his part, was still being a prick.

            “I mean, who the hell cares?” Peter asked. He brushed the smoldering end of the cigarette against the side of the humvee, leaving an ashen streak across the armor. Peter cupped his mouth in his hand and pulled it down across his chin, his fingers dragging the sweaty sheen that had gathered around his lips away from his face.

            “I’m gonna go piss.”

Peter walked off. He trucked down the river bank towards a stand of reeds outside of the prying eyes of the humvee headlights. His M4 assault rifle bounced against his legs as it waggled in its sling.

            “If I’m not back in ten minutes… widen the search area.”

            “I hope them critters get him.” Cowboy said, his lips working effortlessly around the mouth of his flask. “Serve him right.”

            “What a horrible thing to say, Cowboy.” The moon admonished.

            “Serve him right all the same.” Cowboy snapped, knowing even as he said it, that it wasn’t true. No one deserved the cruel fate that befell anyone unfortunate enough to be eaten by sea monsters.

            “Hey guys! Bring it in!” Lieutenant Oliver Brenard called from the bank of the river. He turned his head to whisper into the handheld radio clasped to his vest. He started his walk up the path of light leading to the humvee.

            “Come on! Hurry the fuck up, people!”

            Soldiers from the company emerged from the palm grove, their gear dangling like Christmas ornaments from steel rings attached to their vests. Their faces were hollow with exhaustion as they formed a circle around the Lieutenant.

            “Alcott, make sure we got everybody. We’re rolling out. They’re bringing in a crane or something to pull that chopper out of the water. They want the area clear.”

            Sergeant Alcott shifted uneasily in his boots, as his ham fingers counted off the soldiers in his platoon.

            “We’re missing one.” He said.

            “Damn it, who? Think quick.” Oliver demanded, purposely not giving Alcott time to think.

            Alcott cringed, scratching at his armpits. His face contorted, causing his eyes to bulge more than usual behind his chunky plastic goggles.

            “Think quicker, you fucking moron.” Oliver said. He was young and in charge, and being of sound competence, he had the liberty of taking no pity on Sergeant Alcott’s struggles with the trappings of leadership.

            “Adam, help him.” The moon begged.

            Adam’s fingers tangled in the sling of his gun, wrestling with the all too intimate burden of his knowledge of Peter Potter’s bladder functions. Just as he opened his mouth to speak, Peter tumbled out of the reeds. He was awkwardly shoving buttons through eye-holes to conceal his freshly drained crotch.

            Alcott, having been rescued by circumstances, found his confidence.

            “Potter, get over here!” He bellowed. “You trying to get yourself killed? Go ahead, wander off. See how long it takes you to walk into some shit. See how long it takes Al Qaeda to saw your fucking head off. I’ve got something for you when we get back to the FOB.”

            “It better be a fucking medal, Sergeant. ‘Cuz I’ve got something for you right now.” Peter said, a smug grin running the width between his dimpled cheeks. He held something between his thumb and forefinger, a sparkling something.

            “What? Medal? Shitbags don’t get medals.” Alcott replied, forgetting that he himself had been awarded several medals.

            “I don’t really want a medal you dipshit. Look at this.”

            “Potter, watch it... that dipshit you’re talking to is a Sergeant First Class.” Oliver mumbled.

“Goddamned right I am.” Alcott said, puffing his chest ineffectually within his armor.

            Peter glanced at Oliver, who glanced back at Peter, then they both looked to Alcott. Together, they shared a mutual sense of resignation: the Army was broken, and Alcott was material proof of a failing system. Peter held up his prize, shining in the headlamps, a glittering nugget.

“Shutup, dipshit.” Oliver turned back to Peter. “What’ve you got?”

            “It’s a tooth, a gold capped tooth.”

            “So?” Alcott’s face jerked involuntarily, having been none too subtly exposed as an incompetent, he struggled to lift himself back into a position of authority.

            “It’s Colonel Carrington’s tooth.”

            “So?”

            “I found it over there, on some rocks.” Peter said, pointing to the reeds.

            “The helicopter is over there.” Peter pointed in the opposite direction.

            “So?”

            “Fucking, Christ.” Oliver could take no more. “It means he probably isn’t dead. It means he could’ve walked away.”

            Hope filled Adam’s heart.

            “He did not leave the crash. He was spirited away.” A voice said, slithering into the circle. “He is likely… dead.”

            Lieutenant Colonel Fritter stalked towards the soldiers, his dark eyes dreaming reasons for Mack Carrington to be dead. His heart pumped for control, for mastery over the apparatus of military might just within his reach. He put a hand on Adam’s shoulder, and leaned close to his ear. His bifurcated tongue lashed loudly next to Adam’s face, splitting the atmosphere with the duplicitous lies of terrifying and false revelations.

            “It is evident, that the terrorists who shot down our Colonel have collected him as a trophy of their ill deeds. They are not ignorant of our rank structure. They saw the bird fixed upon his chest, and they stole him away. Colonel Ramirez was submerged, thus obfuscating his rank, which is why he was left behind,” to swell and pop and fester. “So while, indeed, Colonel Carrington may have made it over to yonder rocks, there is little evidence he did so of his own accord. He is,” rotting meat, “somewhere out there in that devil waste and it is our charge to find him. We shall not slack in our duty to return him,” in a box, “to those he loves,” picked clean to the bone by the wild scavengers, ”and the terrorists. What of them? We shall hunt them so long as,” it is required to maintain the air of concern and dignity,” hope exists.” Hope does not exist. “We shall search for him, as we do for all those brave souls gone missing in action.” The search will be in vain, “We shall be a,” false, “ray of hope for his wife and family,” thinking of his wailing widow, the tear dappled faces of his orphans, “in the bleak times to come. Your tenacious optimism is a credit to your high spirits,” but is grossly misplaced. “we will gather that strength and,” bend it to my villainous ends, forgetting all Mack Carrington taught you, “for good, we will endeavor to,” destroy, “a legacy of mercy and justice and,” under the auspices of,  “heroism, we shall encourage the establishment of things which might be called sacred,” in the wickedest way it can be said, ”this is our charge. We bear this burden for Colonel Mack Carrington” and we curse, “his love of country, his pride in fairness and his mentorship.”

Colonel Fritter’s malevolent voice betrayed the delight he took in smashing the hopes of others. When his mouth closed, his fangs still shone brightly between his parted lips, a reminder of the work his maw was meant to do: tear things apart. The circle was silent, helmeted heads, like tombstones, stood still in the warm fetid breeze rising off the Tigris.

            “Don’t believe them lies, Adam. He wants you dead inside, he wants you dead inside so he pull your insides out and look’em over. That sonofabitch is a schemer and schemers ain’t nothin’ if you’re somethin’.” Cowboy said, his hand sliding dangerously close to the ivory handle of the six-shooter strapped to his hip.

            “Mount up.” Oliver saluted Fritter quickly, and his hand springing for the latch of the passenger door.

            “Be safe.” Fritter looked hungrily at Adam Blue’s still hopeful eyes. “Let’s not have another accident.”

            “Roger, sir.” Oliver said, hastening into his position in the humvee.

            Adam scaled the hood, splitting his attention between getting into the gun turret, watching for the lurking serpents in the river and the pearly blades infesting Colonel Fritter’s mouth. He jumped into his fighting position, pulled on his gloves and checked the machine gun. Lastly, he velcroed his headset on. He was wired into the machine.

            Jane’s voice came through the earpieces.

            “Everyone good? Blue, you good up there?”

            “Yeah, I’m good.” Adam replied. He lit a cigarette as the humvee jumped forward.

            “You’re the best Adam. You really are. We love you.” The moon said.

            “Ah shucks, don’t go mistin’ the feller up with your female sensitivities. He needs to be concentratin’ on makin’ war and all.” Cowboy projected manliness across the great black chasm of the cosmos. His testosterone filled words flew freely in the wide reaches of space, bouncing against the effeminate twinkles of far away stars. More delicate celestial bodies pursed their lips and pouted indignantly at the thought of forbidding exclamations of love. Stars of all sorts were a generally romantic bunch, and most cringed at the thought that love of any sort might go unexpressed. Their sentimentality had risen from untold generations of lovelorn humans looking to them for hope.

---

            Across the countryside, on craggy roads, the convoy bumped and rattled. The city lights grew in the distance; sparse beads of golden light grew larger and whiter as the trucks rocketed toward them. First, the shanty town outskirts: sagging mud homes with rippled sheet-metal roofs, and chicken wire windows. Then there were the proper muhallas, proud neighborhoods with mosque minarets emerging up from the sea of flat-topped structures. The buildings were built of crumbling concrete and warped rails. Low electrical wiring dipped over muddy streets and alleyways. Small communities were separated by fields of garbage. The sweet stink of rotting waste wafted over low rooftops and cloth awnings. Arabic signs advertised mobile phone services, and warned parents of the dangers of letting children play with explosives. The city yawned in the night, engulfing the trucks.

            The flickering bars of fluorescent lights on the sides of the buildings lining Route Werewolf made the whole world seem desperate and clingy. The flash of the bulbs blasted into the gun-barrel darkness, igniting the gaps between the tightly packed hovels. Adam’s eyes shot in and out of the lit spaces, windows and thin corridors. Iraqi men and Iraqi women made lives in front of him, and he snatched precious glimpses into their alien worlds.

            Crouching in his turret, Adam was ready to react to, aim at, and gun down the enemy. The enemy had no name. Sometimes the people Adam worked with called the enemy Al Qaeda, or Jaysh Al-Islam, or Taweed Al-Jihad. No one was really sure who was who, people just looked like people to Adam. People looked unhappy. What Adam didn’t know is that people were the enemy, and at that very moment the enemy had plans. The enemy planned to say goodnight to its mother, smoke a cigarette and go to bed. It was 2300, by military account, and well past the bed time of the meat and potatoes of the insurgency. Young adults, Adam's age and younger, conspired to tuck themselves into warm beds and get cozy. They plotted their surrenders to heavy eyelids. They were all tuckered out from a long day of insurging... for some, visions of virgins danced in their heads. Others slept, but did not dream. Still, there were even more that would relive the nightmares of their lives, the horrible deaths of loved ones and adversaries alike. Adam was wide awake, peering up at the sky through his foggy goggles. He couldn't see to save his life.

            The 240-Bravo machinegun rattled and spun in the steel mount trying to break free of the cotter pin, the slender length of metal that kept death safely pointed in the right direction. Adam slammed a green glove into the top of the pin pounding it back into place, averting a small disaster. Adam wondered who, in the absence of Colonel Carrington, would keep death pointed in the right direction.

            “Nice helmet, you son of a turtle fucker.” A voice shouted from behind the muddy cloud of Adam's goggles. Adam reached a finger past his cheek and wiped the moisture off of his protective glasses. The starry night burst forth, and the shit talking star was exposed, a dishwater gray pinprick sullying the orchestrated grandeur of existence.

            “You look like your mother fucked a turtle!”

            There are over ten thousand stars visible to the human eye,

            “You hear me? Your mother fucked turtle! Your stupid helmet on your stupid head looks like a turtle shell, you get that?”

            "Now hold up a galldarn second there you rascal! The kid’s got a job to do and I'll be hornswaggled if I’m gonna let you get these folks killed with your bullshittin’.” Cowboy drew down on the rascal star. “Don't you reckon now’s a time to shut your galldarn mouth?" Cowboy said, tipping his imaginary hat back and waiting for his good old fashioned commonsense to take hold. He spat a wad of chewing tobacco into a black hole.

            "Well don't you reckon, you sonofabitch?"

            The rascal star had grown quiet, Adam could tell that he was actually reckoning at that very moment. It sounded like a power steering problem, and then the engine died. The truck coasted to the side of the road, and then over the curb and into a shallow ditch.

            "Fucking cunt, piece of shit truck, fuck!" Jane’s voice ripped open the intercom.

            "Fuck!" She yelped, trying to emphasize to no one in particular just how very pissed off she was.

            "That gal’s meaner than a man-eatin’ Injun." Cowboy marveled aloud.

            “Oh that’s not so, and you, you know that’s not true. Native Americans aren’t cannibals. That’s racist.” Said the moon, softly interjecting.

            “I swear I seen’em do it with my own two eyes, darlin’. I swear it, sure as Sunday, them Injuns were dancin’ around a cook fire what had some poor bastard on the spit.” Said Cowboy. His voice was filled with truth, but his memory was sopping wet with booze. He’d seen nothing of the sort.

            “Fuck this!” Jane hopped out of the truck into the ankle deep muck. The slick puddles of black water absorbed her weight and she kicked and splashed and sploshed and swore. The other two trucks in the convoy pulled into defensive positions, the other gunners spinning their turrets to create a fan of protective coverage. Weary soldier extracted themselves from the armored safety of their trucks to augment the hasty perimeter. They kneeled in the dark, rifles at the ready.

Jane stomped and raged, splashing mud as she lifted the hood of the truck. Adam grinned, as she fumed in smoldering acridness rising from the engine.

 “What the fuck are you smiling about Blue? You think it’s funny? Our fucking engine dies in the middle of fucking Baghdad and you want to have a fucking laugh? Is Potter down there tickling your goddamned balls or something?”

            “No, he’s not.” 

Jane growled inarticulately, curling her nose up into her skull as best she could to escape the combined stench of sewage and burnt oil.

            Adam peered over the top of the turret at Jane. 

            “Hey, Sergeant…”

            “What Blue? What the fuck?”

            “You’ve got shit on your face.”

            “I’m in a big fucking muddy ditch, Blue. We’re moving from one muddy fucking ditch to another. That’s all this fucking place is, a bunch of muddy fucking ditches and we’re just jumping in and out of them. Fuck this place.”

            “Yeah, but that’s not mud.”

            The one lesson that every soldier in Baghdad learned was that mud was never mud. Jane had forgotten.

            “Fuck these cocksucking ragheads.” Jane dragged her sleeve across her cheek, smearing the greasy sewage across her face and arm.

            “Now, there, that there’s somethin’ racist for you. Injuns is Injuns… but raghead? That’s just hateful. Arabs invented science and such.” Cowboy sucked at his whiskey, polishing off the bottle.

            The moon shrugged helplessly. She was not in the habit of distinguishing between schools of bigotry.

            “Apples and apples,” whispered the moon, “apples and apples.”

             ‘Raghead’ is what some of the people Adam worked with called Arabs. In fairness, the Arabs called the people Adam worked with some pretty awful things too. Mutual animosity flew wildly on either side of the language barrier. The understanding of misunderstanding prolonged the conflict but also kept its participants from fully understanding the depth of each other’s contempt, in that regard, it was useful in keeping heads from getting blown off.  

            Adam dug into his pocket. He pulled out his Camels, and stole a glance at the gutted carcass of cardboard and foil. Three cigarettes floated aimlessly inside. Adam liked cigarettes because they didn't make plans. They weren't going to college. They weren't going into the work force to do a job at a fair wage. They were tumbling towards oblivion, and Adam was happy to have them along for the ride.

            Adam lit a cigarette. It tasted like mud, which is to say, it tasted like shit.

1 comments:

Anonymous said...

I pooped in your breakfast.

-frac