A former airlines pilot? McCord wondered. What's he doing in the army as a sergeant? A Green Beret sergeant?
"Glad to have all the help I can get," McCord said.
He had another thought: I wonder if "the airlines pilot" caught whatever is wrong with his face and hands in the Congo? I wonder if it's contagious?
Felter looked around the room. "I have rough OPPLANs here. Study them overnight, and be prepared to offer fixes for what is wrong with the OPPLAN
tomorrow morning." He paused, then went on. "That will be all for now, gentlemen. Thank you. But keep yourselves available."
Felter and three of the three Green Berets started to leave the room. Lowell opened a well-stuffed briefcase. Felter caught the sergeant's attention and nodded toward General McCord. The sergeant went to General McCord.
"Colonel Felter said I am to make myself useful, sir," he said.
McCord resisted the temptation to offer his hand.
"You've been into Stanleyville, Sergeant? Flown into Stanleyville?"
"Purely as a matter of idle curiosity, I've looked at the Jepp charts," General McCord said. "I know we can get 130s in there."
"Yes, sir, easily."
"But I should have looked closer," McCord said. "How many will it take at once?"
Portet's swollen face wrinkled in thought.
"No more than six at once, sir," he said. "To be safe, I would say no more than five. There's not much of paved tarmac, and the unpaved areas won't take the weight of a C-130."
"Colonel Felter said you were an airline pilot?"
The rest of the question went unspoken, but Sergeant Portet answered, smiling wryly.
"I got a postcard from my friends and neighbors at the draft board, General."
Then, as if he was no longer able to resist an awful temptation, he put his hand up and scratched at the open blotches his face-with a hand that was similarly disfigured with suppurating sores.
"What's wrong with your face, son?" General McCord asked. "And your hand?"
"It's nothing, sir. A little rash."
"A little rash, my ass," General McCord said. "How long has it been that way?"
"It started on the plane from the States, sir," Jack said. "It's some kind of an allergy, probably. Nothing to worry about."
"Where were you in the States? Bragg?"
"Come with me, Sergeant," McCord said.
He had seen the military attaché's office on the way to the conference room, and he led Jack there.
There was a captain on duty, who glanced up and was not very impressed with what he saw. Two messy Americans in mussed clothing, one of them with what looked like a terminal case of scabies on his face.
"Yes?" he asked.
"I'm General McCord," McCord said, which caused the captain to come to his feet and to stand to attention.
"Would you be good enough to get me the commanding officer of the nearest U.S. military medical facility on the telephone, please?"
"General," Jack said. "I'll be all right. I don't want to get put in a hospital now."
"I expected as much from a Green Beret," McCord said. "But I would be very surprised if they'll let you get on the airplanes, much less jump on Stanleyville. It looks to me as if the whole purpose of the Belgians is to keep Americans out of it."
"My stepmother and stepsister are in Stanleyville, General. I'm going in."
McCord looked at him. Before he could frame a reply, the captain handed him a telephone.
"Colonel Aspen, sir."
"Colonel, this is General McCord. This may sound a little odd, but I want you to dispatch, immediately, one of your best medical officers. I am in the U.S. Embassy, and I have a young sergeant with me who, if my diagnosis is correct, has been rolling around in poison oak." There was a pause. "No, Colonel, he cannot come there. I don't want to argue about this. I expect to see either you or one of your doctors here within twenty minutes."
Reprinted from Special Ops by W.E.B. Griffin by permission of Putnam Books, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright (c) 2000 by W.E.B. Griffin. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
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