You okay, Pratt? I ask.
M'fine, Suh, he says. This ain't nuthin'. I worked through worse storms in the fishin' fleet.
I try to see the analogy, then give up.
Ramirez shouts: You expecting an attack tonight, Sir? I'm sorta goin' crazy doin' nuthin'. I haven't fired a shot in days, I swear to God.
Whalen says: You got gunner's tourette, Ramirez.
No shit, First Sarn't, Ramirez says. Whatever that means. He asks me again: So... ?
I say: Maybe. Maybe they'll come for us tonight. I got a feeling.
You gotta respect those feelings, Sir, you know what I'm saying?
Pratt says: Be perfect weather for it - if it happens.
Ramirez laughs happily and slaps his thighs. Finally! he exults. Time to kill some badass motherfuckers. I'm stoked!
A gust of wind whips away his bandana and he spends the next few moments cursing wretchedly while trying to tie it around his face again.
Fuckin' sand in my eye! he yells.
You're an open target, Ramirez, Whalen says calmly, stating fact.
Like hell I am. Aah! Fuck this.
It might help if you put on your wraparounds, I suggest, stating the obvious.
Can't see when I have them on, Sir. No peripheral vision.
Jes' put 'em on, Ram, Pratt says.
Pratt's an Athabascan fisherman from north of Fairbanks, and functionally illiterate. He's also the most lethal fighter in the platoon. Rumor goes, before he joined the army, he once waded into a dockyard scrim and disemboweled three men as casually as if he were in some barroom brawl. He always carries an ice pick tucked in his belt and rarely speaks; when he does, you have to lean close to catch what he's saying. In contrast, Ramirez rarely shuts up. By his own admission, he used to be a drug runner along the Arizona-Mexico border.
Strictly part-time, he's quick to qualify. Strictly part-time, Sir. The rest of the time I worked the night shift at the local 7-Eleven. A bored restlessness is his signature style; he's a deadly shot, a crack poker player, and he seldom sleeps. Together, Pratt and Ramirez make an unpredictable team, and the other men give them a wide berth.
The base is shaped like an oblong, and Whalen and I circle around the entire perimeter one more time, past the sandbagged mortar pits, the burn-shitters, the plywood B-huts, stopping to check each guard position until we return to where we began. And all the while, the banshee wind scourges the base. I glance back at the plastic shitter screens billowing crazily in the storm.
What do you think? I ask Whalen again as we take shelter behind the medical tent.
I don't like it.
We're completely blinded, he says. They can take us out any way they please.
How? If we can't see anything, neither can they.
They could surround us and we wouldn't even know it, he says tersely. It's my nightmare scenario. Three-hundred-sixty-degree catastrafuck.
Whalen's thirty-seven, a career soldier and another veteran of Iraq, like Espinosa, and I listen to everything he has to say because he's always sound. All the same, I rib him now.
You've been watching too many movies, First Sarn't.
He laughs. You asked.
I say: At the same time, I don't know what else we can do in this situation but wait it out. I'm clean out of ideas.
It's all that college learning, Lieutenant, Suh, he says mockingly.
You're prob'ly right, I tell him, thinking for a moment. Then I make up my mind: Wake up Grohl and Spitz and send them out to replace the ANA. I'm pulling the Afghans back. They're useless in a situation like this.
All right. I'm also going to wake the Cap'n.
No. Let him be.
He hesitates. As First Sergeant, he answers directly to Evan Connolly, Alpha Company's Captain, but we both know that Connolly's not the best leader in a crisis, so Whalen's had very good reason to seek me out first, and I've the same good reason to avoid waking Connolly.
Excerpted from The Watch by Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya. Copyright © 2012 by Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya. Excerpted by permission of Hogarth Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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